Post-Signing Day Top 25
Alabama, Texas A&M Big Winners On Signing Day
Another national signing day has come and gone.
And while we might not know for another couple of years whether a five-star prospect was really worth five stars (or two), and vice versa, there's no question that recruiting is the lifeblood of every program.
And with the sport's heavyweights continuing to dominate recruiting like never before -- SEC teams signed seven of the top 10 recruiting classes in the country, according to ESPN RecruitingNation -- it seems the sport's rich are only getting richer.
With signing day behind us, it's time to take another look at the 2014 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25. Defending BCS national champion Florida State remains No. 1 after signing another top-five recruiting class. Alabama, which added another bumper crop of recruits and a high-profile transfer quarterback, moved up to No. 2. The Crimson Tide are followed by Oregon, Michigan State and Oklahoma.
Say hello (again) to UCF. Say goodbye to Louisville.
Here's the Post-Signing Day Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25:
The defending BCS national champions added another top-five recruiting class to their already impressive roster, signing 13 players from the ESPN 300. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher added a couple of offensive weapons who might help reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston this coming season, including Dalvin Cook, the No. 3-ranked running back in the country, according to ESPN RecruitingNation, and wide receivers Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph. Fisher also bolstered his offensive line with juco guards Chad Mavety and Kareem Are and ESPN 300 tackle Roderick Johnson. Linebacker Kain Daub and defensive end Lorenzo Featherston were the top signees on defense. After unexpectedly losing defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt to Georgia, Fisher promoted linebackers coach/special teams coordinator Charles Kelly to replace him.
Alabama coach Nick Saban signed the country's No. 1-ranked recruiting class for the third year in a row, and recruiting analysts believe this crop might be his best one yet. The Crimson Tide signed 19 ESPN 300 prospects, including No. 1-ranked offensive tackle Cameron Robinson, No. 2 defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, No. 2 cornerback Tony Brown and No. 2 athlete Bo Scarbrough. Saban added much-needed help for Alabama's offensive line, its Achilles' heel last season, by signing juco offensive tackle Dominick Jackson and the country's top two center prospects, Josh Casher and J.C. Hassenauer. The Tide's biggest recruit might be FSU backup quarterback Jacob Coker, who is transferring to Alabama and will be eligible to play this coming season. Coker, who has two years of eligibility remaining, will miss spring practice in Tuscaloosa, but he's expected to compete with senior Blake Sims and incoming freshman David Cornwell for the starting job this fall. A prototype pocket passer, Coker seems to be the player to beat in the Tide's race to replace three-year starter AJ McCarron, who guided them to two BCS national championships.
3. Oregon Ducks
The Ducks' recruiting class didn't rank among the top 25 in the country, but coach Mark Helfrich believes his team met its needs by signing five defensive backs and four defensive linemen. Three juco transfers -- cornerback Dominique Harrison, offensive lineman Haniteli Lousi and defensive lineman Tui Talia -- might be able to help this coming season. The Ducks might take a long look at incoming freshman Royce Freeman, the No. 10 running back prospect, who, at 6 feet, 227 pounds, is bigger than the runners they've had in the recent past. Oregon also signed No. 6 cornerback Arrion Springs and No. 13 safety Mattrell McGraw, who might help fill some holes in a Ducks secondary that loses three of four starters. The Ducks promoted longtime assistant Don Pellum to replace retiring defensive coordinator Nick Aliotti and also hired Philadelphia Eagles assistant Erik Chinander as their outside linebackers coach. The Ducks' best recruiting jobs might have been persuading quarterback Marcus Mariota(a draft-eligible sophomore), All-America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu to come back for another season.
The Spartans carried their momentum from a 13-1 finish, Big Ten championship and 24-20 victory over Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio to secure what is widely regarded as the Big Ten's fourth-best recruiting class. The Spartans are still hoping to sign No. 5 defensive tackle Malik McDowell, who announced he was signing with them on national signing day but has yet to submit a signed national letter of intent. MSU coach Mark Dantonio continued to build his team through the trenches by also signing juco offensive tackle David Hedelin, No. 4 center Brian Allen and No. 32 defensive tackle Enoch Smith Jr. No. 30 athlete Montae Nicholson and No. 1 fullback Gerald Owens were the top skill players who signed with the Spartans. MSU ranked well behind Big Ten rival Ohio State in recruiting, but Dantonio was able to compile a 42-12 record the previous four seasons with recruiting classes that weren't as highly regarded as this one.
After closing the 2013 season with consecutive victories over then-No. 6 Oklahoma State and then-No. 3 Alabama in the AllState Sugar Bowl, the Sooners also closed very well in recruiting. OU added plenty of firepower to help on offense, including No. 6 running back Joe Mixon, No. 17 running back Samaje Perine, No. 9 athlete Michiah Quick and No. 5 dual-threat quarterback Justice Hansen. Offensive linemen Alex Dalton and Natrell Curtis and athlete Jordan Thomas also were big additions. It seems that sophomore Trevor Knight has won the starting-quarterback job based on his strong performance in the Sugar Bowl. Senior Blake Bell is moving to tight end this coming season, and junior Kendal Thompson is transferring. Hansen has already enrolled at OU and will participate in spring practice along with former Texas Tech starter Baker Mayfield, the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year in 2013. Mayfield has joined the Sooners as a walk-on and is ineligible to play this coming season.
After falling just short in a 34-31 loss to FSU in the Vizio BCS National Championship, Auburn continued to work its magic on the recruiting trail, as second-year coach Gus Malzahn stockpiled a top-10 class. The Tigers secured immediate help on defense with juco tackle DaVonte Lambert and juco outside linebacker Derrick Moncrief, who have already enrolled in school. D'haquille Williams, the No. 1 juco wide receiver, also signed with the Tigers. After losing junior tailback Tre Mason to the NFL draft, the Tigers signed No. 5 running back Racean Thomas and No. 20 running back Kamryn Pettway. There's also help coming for Auburn's much-maligned secondary; the Tigers signed two of the country's top 10 cornerback prospects, Stephen Roberts and Kalvaraz Bessent. The defending SEC champions are bringing back eight starters on offense, including quarterback Nick Marshall, who figures to be a better passer in his second season in Malzahn's spread offense.
Urban Meyer wanted to transform Ohio State's football team with SEC-like speed, and he dipped into Florida, Georgia and Texas in his most recent recruiting class to try to do it. Meyer concentrated on improving OSU's defense and building depth on its offensive line while landing another top-10 recruiting class. The Buckeyes signed four linebackers, including No. 1 outside linebacker Raekwon McMillan of Hinesville, Ga., who already has enrolled at OSU, and No. 8 outside linebacker Dante Booker Jr. of Akron, Ohio. No. 5 wide receiver Johnnie Dixon, No. 7 cornerback Damon Webb and No. 5 athlete Marshon Lattimore, who is expected to play cornerback in college, also could help the Buckeyes right away. They won't be the only new faces on OSU's defense this coming season. Meyer hired former Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash to serve as co-defensive coordinator and hired longtime Penn State assistant Larry Johnson Sr. to coach the defensive line.
After a disappointing 8-5 season in 2013, Georgia coach Mark Richt was still able to put together a top-10 recruiting class, even after overhauling his defensive coaching staff. The Bulldogs landed No. 3 defensive end Lorenzo Carter and No. 4 defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard to help on defense, along with a pair of much-needed cornerbacks, No. 10 athlete Malkom Parrish and juco transfer Shattle Fenteng. Georgia also signed two of the country's top-10 running back prospects, Sony Michel of Plantation, Fla., and Nick Chubb of Cedartown, Ga. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt might have been Georgia's biggest recruiting coup, as he'll try to turn around a defense that struggled mightily the past two seasons. Pruitt put the finishing touches on his defensive staff, hiring former Auburn and Tennessee Titans assistant Tracy Rocker, former South Alabama defensive coordinator Kevin Sherrer and former USC assistant Mike Ekeler. If Georgia can stay healthy and fix its problems on defense -- 10 starters are coming back on that side of the ball -- it might be the team to beat in the SEC East in 2014.
9. UCLA Bruins
The Bruins didn't really capitalize on the success of their past two seasons -- or the coaching changes at USC -- and finished with a recruiting class ranked just outside the top 25 nationally. UCLA coach Jim Mora added some key signees on defense, including No. 11 outside linebacker Dwight Williams and No. 8 inside linebacker Zach Whitely Jr., who flipped from Alabama to the Bruins. No. 23 wide receiver Austin Roberts and running back Nathan Starks were two of the most important signees on offense. The Bruins lost a few head-to-head battles with crosstown rival USC, which seemed to be energized by the hiring of former Washington coach Steve Sarkisian. But with quarterback Brett Hundley returning for his junior season, along with seven other starters on both offense and defense, UCLA looks like the team to beat in the Pac-12 South this coming season.
10. Baylor Bears
As if the defending Big 12 champions weren't fast enough on offense, the Bears put together a top-25 recruiting class by signing what is arguably the fastest corps of receivers in the country. Bears coach Art Briles signed four of the country's top 50 receivers from Texas: K.D. Cannon of Mount Pleasant (No. 4), Davion Hall of Texarkana (No. 4 athlete), Ishmael Zamora of Houston (No. 32) and Chris Platt of Willis (No. 44). Terence Williams of Ennis, Texas, the No. 38 running back nationally, might help ease the loss of leading rusher Lache Seastrunk, who left for the NFL draft, and juco guard Jarell Broxton might get a chance to replace All-American Cyril Richardson. The Bears signed a slew of juco transfers to help on defense, including cornerbacks Chris Sanders and Tion Wright and linebacker Grant Campbell. Only four starters are coming back on defense, and the Bears will have to replace three starters in their secondary.
Stanford coach David Shaw continues to follow the same blueprint that helped him guide the Cardinal to back-to-back BCS bowl games, loading up on blue-chip linemen in another top-15 recruiting class. Stanford's prized recruit was No. 4 defensive end Solomon Thomas of Coppell, Texas, who chose the Cardinal over UCLA and Arkansas, among other schools. The Cardinal also added No. 5 offensive tackle Casey Tucker of Chandler, Ariz., and No. 15 tackle Reilly Gibbons of Saint Petersburg, Fla. Keller Chryst of Palo Alto, Calif., the son of San Francisco 49ers quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst, might be Stanford's quarterback of the future. Shaw had to revamp his coaching staff after defensive coordinator Derek Mason left to become Vanderbilt's new coach. Shaw promoted outside linebackers coach Lance Anderson to coordinator and hired Peter Hansen to replace inside linebackers coach David Kotulski, who joined Mason as Vanderbilt's defensive coordinator.
Coach Steve Spurrier continues to take the Gamecocks to unprecedented heights, following up his third straight 11-win season with another top-20 recruiting class. The Gamecocks focused on rebuilding their defensive line and secondary after each unit lost starters. South Carolina signed three of the country's top cornerback prospects: Chris Lammons of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (No. 12 athlete), D.J. Smith of Marietta, Ga. (No. 12 cornerback) and Wesley Green of Lithonia, Ga. (No. 13 cornerback). Dante Sawyer of Suwanee, Ga., the No. 9 defensive end, and juco tackles Jhaustin Thomas and Abu Lamin might be able to help on the defensive line right away. South Carolina lost a bunch of talent to the NFL draft, including star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles, but they should be right back in the mix in the SEC East. They'll play rivals Georgia and Missouri at home this coming season.
13. LSU Tigers
Is any program in the country better than LSU at replacing a boatload of talent? After losing six more underclassmen to the NFL draft (and 17 in the past two seasons alone), Tigers coach Les Miles put together the country's No. 2 recruiting class. After losing star receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry, guard Trai Turner, tailback Jeremy Hill and defensive tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson to the pros, LSU might need some of their incoming freshmen to contribute right away. The Tigers signed running back Leonard Fournette of New Orleans, the No. 1 prospect in the country, according to ESPN RecruitingNation, No. 1 wide receiver Malachi Dupre of River Ridge, La., and No. 3 receiver Trey Quinn of Lake Charles, La. The Tigers also signed three of the country's top defensive prospects: No. 2 safety Jamal Adams, No. 2 inside linebacker Clifton Garrett and No. 4 safety Edward Paris Jr. With that kind of talent coming to LSU, it's hard to imagine the Tigers not winning at least 10 games for the fifth consecutive season under Miles. The Tigers hired former Virginia Tech assistant Jeff Grimes as their new offensive line coach, and they'll have to find a new special teams coordinator after the New York Jets hired Thomas McGaughey.
Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen's first full recruiting class looked a lot like the Badgers' recruiting efforts of the past. The class is heavy on linemen, which is where Wisconsin likes to win football games. The Badgers signed five offensive linemen, including No. 10 tackle Jaden Gault of Monona, Wis. They also dipped into the Southeast to shore up their receiver corps, signing Natrell Jamerson of Ocala, Fla. (No. 72) and Krenwick Sanders of Jesup, Ga. (No. 85). Dareian Watkins of Galion, Ohio (No. 43) also figures to end up at receiver, as Wisconsin tries to replace departed star Jared Abbrederis. Dual-threat quarterback D.J. Gillins of Jacksonville, Fla., has already enrolled in classes but will probably spend this coming season behind returning starter Joel Stave. The Badgers will have to find a replacement for running backs coach/recruiting coordinator Thomas Hammock, who was hired by the Baltimore Ravens.
15. Texas A&M Aggies
The Aggies' move to the SEC continues to pay huge dividends, as coach Kevin Sumlin signed what is being called one of the best classes in school history. Texas A&M's class of 22 signees was ranked No. 4 in the country by ESPN RecruitingNation, and Sumlin spent half of his available scholarships trying to shore up the Aggies' porous defense. Myles Garrett of Arlington, Texas, the No. 1 defensive end prospect in the country, chose the Aggies over Alabama, Ohio State, TCU and Florida State. He might be able to help the Aggies' inconsistent pass rush immediately. Wide receiver Speedy Noil of New Orleans (No. 1 athlete) and quarterback Kyle Allen (No. 1 pocket passer) have already enrolled in classes and will participate in spring practice. Allen, from Scottsdale, Ariz., will battle senior Matt Joeckel and sophomore Kenny Hill for the unenviable job of replacing departed starter Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. Juco linemen Avery Gennesy and Jermaine Eluemunor might be able to help on the offensive line right away, after the Aggies lost All-America left tackle Jake Matthews.
North Carolina's recruiting class wasn't ranked in the top 25 nationally and was probably in the middle of the pack in the ACC, but coach Larry Fedora continued to upgrade the Tar Heels' needs and build depth. The prized signee was running back Elijah Hood of Charlotte, N.C., who ran for 3,609 yards last season, the second-most in state history. Hood has already enrolled in classes at UNC and seems like a perfect fit for Fedora's spread offense. Wide receiver Austin Proehl of Charlotte is the son of longtime NFL receiver Ricky Proehl. Fedora is handing over play calling to new assistant head coach for offense/tight ends coach Seth Littrell, who spent the past two seasons as Indiana's offensive coordinator. He replaces former offensive coordinator Blake Anderson, who left to become Arkansas State's head coach.
Coach Brian Kelly didn't deliver his highest-ranked recruiting class at Notre Dame, but it was still ranked No. 11 in the country and might end up being his most important because it's so lineman-heavy. Twelve of Notre Dame's 23 signees are projected to play on either the offensive line or defensive line, including No. 7 offensive tackle Alex Bars of Nashville and No. 10 defensive end Andrew Trumbetti of Demarest, N.J. Kelly wants his team to get stronger in the trenches, and there's immediate help needed on the defensive line, after Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III left early for the NFL draft. The Irish also wanted to get more athletic at linebacker, and No. 5 inside linebacker Nyles Morgan and No. 11 inside linebacker Greer Martini fill that need. The biggest addition might be quarterback Everett Golson, who returned to school after missing the 2013 season because of an academic suspension. With Golson back under center, the Irish figure to be more consistent on offense this coming season.
18. USC Trojans
It didn't take long for Sarkisian to make his mark on the recruiting trail, as the Trojans did much better than expected on national signing day under their new coach. The Trojans signed two of the country's most explosive athletes -- No. 3 cornerback Adoree' Jackson and No. 3 athlete Juju Smith -- who are fast enough to play on both sides of the ball. Sarkisian and his staff did a good job of addressing USC's lack of depth on the offensive line, signing three top-10-rated guards: Damien Mama (No. 4), Viane Talamaivao (No. 5) and Toa Lobendahn (No. 8). Sarkisian plans to install a wide-open, no-huddle offense when USC begins spring practice, and Cody Kessler, Max Browne and incoming freshman Jalen Greene are expected to compete for the starting job. Former USC quarterback Max Wittek is transferring and is reportedly eyeing Texas, Hawaii and Louisville as possible destinations. Sarkisian completed his USC coaching staff by hiring former Georgia defensive line coach Chris Wilson.
19. Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa's recruiting efforts look a lot like its on-field product: nothing flashy but yet surprisingly productive. The Hawkeyes' class was ranked No. 49 in the country, and only one of their 19 signees -- No. 35 athlete Jay Scheel -- was included in the ESPN 300. Four-star quarterback Tyler Wiegers of Beverly Hills, Mich., who also considered Central Michigan, Rutgers and Toledo, might be the Hawkeyes' starter down the line. For now, returning starter Jake Rudock and backup C.J. Beathard will continue to battle for the starting job, although coach Kirk Ferentz indicated Rudock has a pretty firm grip on the job after throwing for 2,383 yards with 18 touchdowns last season. Starting in spring practice, Ferentz is going to have to replace three very productive linebackers and two starting defensive backs from a unit that ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense, allowing only 18.9 points per game.
20. Clemson Tigers
After losing record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd and top receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, the Tigers reloaded their explosive spread offense through recruiting with the No. 12-ranked class. Quarterback Deshaun Watson of Gainesville, Ga., the No. 1-ranked dual-threat quarterback and No. 16 prospect overall, has already enrolled in classes at Clemson and will compete with senior Cole Stoudt and sophomore Chad Kelly for the starting job in spring practice. Coach Dabo Swinney also signed three of the country's top-25-ranked receivers: Artavis Scott of Tarpon Springs, Fla. (No. 9), Trevion Thompson of Durham, N.C. (No. 20) and Demarre Kitt of Tyrone, Ga. (No. 22). Milan Richard of Savannah, Ga., the nephew of 1982 Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, was the No. 2 tight end nationally. Swinney was able to keep highly regarded offensive coordinator Chad Morris for at least one more season, after his name was prominently mentioned in a couple of head-coach searches.
Wolverines coach Brady Hoke, who is trying to regain momentum after a disappointing 7-6 finish in 2013, signed a smaller recruiting class that wasn't as highly ranked as his previous two. Michigan still signed nine ESPN 300 prospects, including No. 1 cornerback Jabrill Peppers of Paramus, N.J., and No. 10 wide receiver Drake Harris of Grand Rapids, Mich. Three incoming defenders -- tackle Bryan Mone, end Lawrence Marshall and inside linebacker Michael Ferns -- also were ranked in the top 15 nationally at their respective positions. When spring practice opens on Feb. 25, Michigan's starting-quarterback job will be up for grabs, according to Hoke. Rising senior Devin Gardner, who struggled with turnovers last season, will try to hold off rising sophomore Shane Morris, who started in Gardner's absence during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who left Alabama to replace Al Borges at Michigan, also will take a look at freshman Wilton Speight, an early enrollee, and Russell Bellomy, who missed last season with a knee injury.
22. Texas Longhorns
With only three weeks to try to keep Texas' recruiting class intact and add other significant pieces, Charlie Strong's first effort with the Longhorns was largely successful. There were six defections after longtime coach Mack Brown resigned, and Strong and his staff were able to add five new signees, including defensive tackles Chris Nelson of Lakeland, Fla., and Poona Ford of Hilton Head, S.C. The Longhorns were able to keep No. 8 defensive end Derick Roberson of San Antonio and added No. 7 outside linebacker Edwin Freeman of Arlington, Texas. Jerrod Heard of Denton, Texas, the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback, might be the most important piece of Strong's class. He passed for 2,136 yards, ran for 2,161 yards and combined for 49 touchdowns as a senior, leading Guyer (Texas) High to a Class 4A state championship. He might have a chance to battle sophomore Tyrone Swoopes and returning starter David Ash (if he's medically cleared for concussions) for the starting job this fall. Strong put together an impressive coaching staff, bringing defensive coordinator Vance Bedford and assistant head coach Shawn Watson with him from Louisville, and hiring former Oklahoma State offensive line coach Joe Wickline as his offensive coordinator.
23. Florida Gators
If Will Muschamp is able to survive what figures to be a make-it-or-break-it season in 2014, he's probably going to need a lot of help from his incoming freshman class. The good news: Muschamp was able to assemble the country's sixth-best class, according to ESPN RecruitingNation. The Gators signed 13 ESPN 300 players, including five-star cornerback Jalen Tabor of Washington, D.C. The fact that Muschamp and his staff had so much success on the recruiting trail coming off a forgettable 4-8 campaign in 2013 says a lot about their recruiting abilities. The Gators' class includes No. 2 offensive tackle David Sharpe, No. 2 defensive tackle Gerald Willis III and No. 3 defensive tackle Thomas Holley. UF signed two quarterbacks -- Will Grier of Davidson, N.C., and Treon Harris of Miami (a longtime FSU commitment) -- and they might have a chance to unseat returning starter Jeff Driskel this coming season. Driskel, who is coming back from a broken leg, will work under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, formerly of Duke, when spring practice begins. Roper is expected to install more spread and option elements to UF's pedestrian offense.
24. UCF Knights
After finishing 12-1 and defeating Baylor 52-42 in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, the Knights will be the team to beat in what's left of the American Athletic Conference in 2014. The Knights will have to replace quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson, who left early for the NFL draft, but they'll bring back six starters on offense and as many as 10 on defense. Incoming freshman Tyler Harris of Blackshear, Ga., the No. 12 pro-style quarterback prospect in the country, might have a chance to win the starting job this fall. Harris has already enrolled at UCF and will compete with Pete DiNovo and Justin Holman during the spring. UCF coach George O'Leary also signed No. 10 safety Kyle Gibson and No. 19 safety Chris Williams (a former Alabama commitment). Two juco transfers -- defensive tackle Lance McDowdell and linebacker Errol Clarke II -- also might be able to help right away.
Given his late start in recruiting, new Huskies coach Chris Petersen managed to put together a decent recruiting class. The Huskies had only eight commitments when Petersen was hired from Boise State to replace Sarkisian, but they finished with a class of 24 signees that was ranked in the middle of the pack in the Pac-12. The Huskies fought off Oregon and UCLA to land No. 7 safety Bishard Baker of Bellevue, Wash., the highest-rated prospect in their class and top-rated prospect in Washington. Three-star cornerback Naijiel Hale, the son of the late rapper Nate Dogg, also might be able to help Washington's thin secondary immediately. Washington also signed Kyle Carta-Samuels, the No. 14 pro-style quarterback, who was previously committed to Vanderbilt. Incoming freshmen Greg Gaines and Jaylen Johnson might be able to help on the defensive line right away. When spring practice begins, Petersen will start to assemble his first Washington team, which lost quarterback Keith Price, tailback Bishop Sankey and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Washington has suspended quarterback Cyler Miles, the heir apparent to Price, and wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow indefinitely. The two are suspects in a series of alleged attacks during Super Bowl celebrations following the Seattle Seahawks' win.
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