Signing Day 2014 primer: SEC
The SEC fell short in its quest for an eighth consecutive BCS title, but the conference still appears to be dominant on the recruiting trail. Six SEC programs currently rank within Rivals.com’s top 10 classes while nine schools sit in the top 15. Moreover, 10 of the top 20 prospects in this year’s Rivals100 have already pledged their services to SEC programs.
Can the conference close out the final days before National Signing Day with a bang? Here’s a breakdown of each school’s recruiting class.
• Alabama: Much like they have been on the field for a good portion of the past five years, the Crimson Tide are once again the top-ranked team on the recruiting trail in 2014. Coach Nick Saban has secured five five-star commitments — no other program boasts more than three, according to Rivals.com — including the country’s No. 1 overall prospect, defensive end Da’Shawn Hand. The Tide have commitments from the top offensive tackle prospect (Cameron Robinson), the top center (Joshua Casher) and the No. 2 athlete in the nation (Bo Scarbrough). Alabama did miss out on blue-chip defensive tackle Matt Elam when he pledged to Kentucky earlier this week, but that loss served as a minor setback to what should be the top class in the country for the sixth time in the last seven years.
• Arkansas: The Razorbacks’ 22-member class has only three four-star prospects and ranks 31st in the country, according to Rivals.com. That translates to the 11th-rated haul in the SEC. Arkansas opted to wait until after National Signing Day to bring in a new defensive coordinator to replace Chris Ash, who accepted a spot on Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State. That instability could hurt the program in coin-flip battles for some prospects in the waning days. One bright spot in the current crop? Four-star quarterback Rafe Peavey, who received more than 20 offers before pledging to Bret Bielema’s squad.
• Auburn: On the heels of last year’s success both on the field and the recruiting trail, Auburn is primed to lock up another top-10 class. The Tigers are set to bring in three five-star players to add to a roster than reached the BCS title game last season. Five-star receiver D’haquille Williams, a juco transfer and early enrollee, could be a nice weapon for returning quarterback Nick Marshall. Meanwhile, five-star tailback Racean Thomas is the country’s No. 2 running back and should be a big get for a backfield that loses the prolific Tre Mason. All signs also point to uncommitted five-star linebacker Rashaan Evans, an Auburn native, selecting the Tigers on National Signing Day, too.
• Florida: There’s no sugarcoating it: The Gators’ 2013 season was a disaster. The good news is, coach Will Muschamp is showing he can still lure top talent to Gainesville. Perhaps the biggest name in Florida’s class is five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor, who flipped from Arizona and is among nine early enrollees on campus. The Gators also have 11 four-star commitments and remain in the running for a handful of top-tier prospects: Lorenzo Carter (defensive end), Damian Prince (offensive tackle) and Adoree’ Jackson (athlete) have kept Florida in their consideration sets.
• Georgia: The Bulldogs’ 2013 campaign didn’t pan following a number of injuries to key players, including to running back Keith Marshall and quarterback Aaron Murray. But Georgia fans can take solace in the fact that Mark Richt still might land a top-10 class. The No. 3 running back in 2014, Sony Michel, remains committed to the Dawgs over SEC foes Alabama, Auburn, Florida and South Carolina. Georgia may still be in the running for Evans, too; he’s reportedly keeping Georgia among his list of suitors.
• Kentucky: The Wildcats currently sit at No. 13 in Rivals.com’s team rankings — and no, we’re not talking about basketball here. Second-year coach Mark Stoops’ 27-member class looks poised to finish as the best in program history. This week, Stoops landed in-state defensive tackle Elam, who picked Kentucky over ‘Bama. Elam preached Stoops’ rebuilding process when asked why he selected the Wildcats over the Crimson Tide. Kentucky’s class also boasts a couple of talented four-star receivers in Dorian Baker and Blake Bone, as well as six early enrollees. In all, the current crop features 10 four-star players; according to Mark Story of the Lexington Herald-Leader, the program signed 14 four-star Rivals.com prospects combined in the 11 seasons (2002-12) before Stoops’ arrival.
• LSU: Once again, Les Miles’ roster lost a host of talent to the NFL draft. And once again, Miles is ready to reload. The Tigers boast the country’s sixth-rated haul in Rivals.com’s team rankings, and perhaps no prospect shines as brightly as New Orleans running back Leonard Fournette. Fournette is a consensus top-five overall player and should make an immediate impact in the backfield, where LSU lost Jeremy Hill. The Tigers’ 19-member class could still improve: LSU is still in the mix for defensive tackle Travonte Valentine and in-state receiver Malachi Dupre.
• Mississippi State: The Bulldogs’ 2014 class features two local four-star prospects in linebacker Gerri Green and athlete Jamoral Graham. Based on rankings alone, however, Mississippi State appears poised for a drop-off. In 2013, it finished 26th in Rivals.com’s team rankings. Currently, it’s ranked 47th. For a coach facing a pressure to win now, Mullen might need a few Signing Day coups.
• Missouri: The Tigers’ run to the SEC Championship Game hasn’t translated into a recruiting bump — at least not yet. Still, Mizzou is set to sign two four-star recruits: Offensive lineman Andy Bauer and wide receiver Nate Brown. Five players, including three-star quarterback Marvin Zanders, are already on campus. Missouri remains in the running for three-star defensive tackle Poona Ford, who will announce his destination on National Signing Day.
• Ole Miss: The Rebels were the surprise of the 2013 recruiting cycle, and while their ’14 class lacks the same punch, there’s plenty to like in coach Hugh Freeze’s haul. Ole Miss has commitments from six four-star players, but its biggest target has yet to declare. Five-star receiver Dupre tweeted over the weekend that he enjoyed his official visit to Oxford. A Louisiana native, Dupre has Ole Miss on his short list.
• South Carolina: The Gamecocks’ current class doesn’t boast any stars like Jadeveon Clowney, but Steve Spurrier has managed to bring in an admirable amount of in-state talent. South Carolina has eight pledges from between state lines, including four-star offensive lineman Donell Stanley and four-star tight end Kevin Crosby. Spurrier plucked some nice defensive players out of Georgia, too, such as defensive end Dante Sawyer. The Gamecocks did let a few in-state stars slip, though; blue-chip linebacker Christian Miller committed to Alabama while four-star quarterback Jacob Park pledged to Georgia.
• Tennessee: Considering it’s coming off back-to-back five-win seasons, Tennessee’s current class might be the surprise of 2014. Coach Butch Jones’ first full haul currently boasts 33 commits, including 13 early enrollees. Five-star prospects Jalen Hurd and Josh Malone are among the players already on campus. The Vols needed depth across the board after lagging on the recruiting trail during the Derek Dooley era. Jones is making Tennessee a major player again.
• Texas A&M: The Aggies might have their quarterback of the future in five-star early enrollee Kyle Allen, the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in this class who should compete immediately to replace Johnny Manziel. He’ll join two other five-star prospects in wide receiver Speedy Noil and defensive end Myles Garrett. Meanwhile, 6-foot-7 receiver Frank Iheanacho looks like the next Mike Evans on the edge. The Aggies could add some more star power in four-star linebacker Kenny Young on Signing Day.
• Vanderbilt: Perhaps no recruiting class in the country is facing as dire a situation as Vanderbilt. Former coach James Franklin’s exit to Penn State prompted 10 decommitments, six of whom followed Franklin to State College. Currently, Vandy sits with a nine-prospect haul only a few days before National Signing Day. Still, as SB Nation’s Christian D’Andrea told SI.com this week, a weaker class might not be so disastrous for the ‘Dores, particularly given the depth Franklin left behind.