With less than two months left until national signing day, it's time to take a look at the status of the recruiting classes in the SEC.
What's happened: The Tide have accumulated what many believe to be the top-rated class in the nation. Even though they trail Texas in the ESPN rankings, there's a good chance for Nick Saban and his staff to finish on top. The current haul includes the No. 2 safety in the nation -- Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips) -- two of the top seven outside linebackers and two of the top 13 wide receivers. All in all, seven of Alabama's 19 verbal commitments are in the ESPNU 150.
What's next: The status of four-star running back Demetrius Hart (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips) is very important to the Crimson Tide's class. Hart committed to Michigan in October, but over the past week some outlets are saying he will commit to Alabama between now and Jan. 8. Beyond that it's all about the big names at this point. The top-ranked player in the nation, Jadeveon Clowney (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe) is thought to be between South Carolina and Alabama. Running back Isaiah Crowell (Columbus, Ga./Carver) is going to be choosing between Alabama and Georgia. Right now the Crimson Tide are probably trailing for both players but there are few who doubt that Saban and staff are capable of a signing day shocker. Alabama is also heavily invested in its 2012 class and has several early commitments with a promise of more to come in the new year.
What's happened: With 24 verbals in the bank, Arkansas is nearing a full class and it's probably the best in Bobby Petrino's short time in the program. Flanked by Under Armor All-American linemen Brey Cook (Springdale, Ark./Har-Ber) and Mitch Smothers (Springdale, Ark./Springdale), the Razorbacks have the 16th ranked class in the nation.
What's next: If any team is equipped to take on Alabama, Auburn and LSU as the top team in the SEC West it would be the Sugar Bowl-bound Razorbacks as long as Petrino is there. If there were any criticism of the team this season it was that the defense wasn't as strong as it needed to be in big games. To address that issue Arkansas has dipped into the junior colleges for immediate help and will bring in outside linebacker Alonzo Highsmith, defensive tackle Robert Thomas and cornerback Isiah Wiley. The good news is that many of the elite defensive prospects in the Southeast had Arkansas on their boards at one point and the possibility of bringing in a few more defensive standouts as part of the 2012 class is high.
What's happened: With a 13-0 record and heading to the BCS National Championship Game one would think Auburn has a top five recruiting class in the works. However only three of Auburn's 13 commits are in the ESPNU 150, although that could change.
What's next: The Auburn staff will be just as focused on its class as they are on the Oregon Ducks. The Tigers are looking very good for defensive backs Marcus Roberson (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas), Erique Florence (Valley, Ala./Valley) and are also on the radar for ESPNU 150 tight end Jay Rome (Valdosta, Ga./Valdosta). Defensive tackle Terry Bell (Lakeland, Fla./Tenoroc) has been expected to make a decision sooner than later and says he's deciding between Florida State and Auburn. Fans have been wondering why the Tigers haven't signed or been in the hunt for some of the big names in the Southeast, but Auburn has reached a national championship level by finding the players that best fit its system. With that being said Auburn has the No. 14-rated class in the nation and should get into the top 10 by signing day.
What's happened: Urban Meyer will most likely continue his string of top 5 classes. Although it's unlikely the Gators' 2011 class will be as highly regarded as last year's class, there will be no complaints about a group that includes quarterback Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, Fla./Hagerty) and running back Mike Blakely (Bradenton, Fla./Manatee).
What's next: After last week's 31-7 loss to Florida State, Meyer made it a point to say he has to recruit tougher players. Is this an indictment of a 2010 recruiting class that has had a few early disappointments and defections? Maybe. Is it an indictment of Meyer himself for recruiting more national names and not grabbing as many players out of talent-rich Florida as he did earlier in his tenure? Maybe. One thing that we do know is that Meyer will be as aggressive as any coach in the nation. Florida has already identified defensive back Jabari Gorman (Miami, Fla./Monsignor Pace) as a must-have. Gorman had previously been leaning toward Ohio State and is considering Alabama and Miami, as well. The Gators are also going to be looking to switch defensive end Anthony Chickillo (Tampa, Fla./Alonso), who remains a soft commitment to Miami. Another player that the Florida staff covets is defensive tackle Tim Jernigan (Lake City, Fla./Columbia), but their chances with the 6-foot-2, 275-pounder might be slipping with the loss of defensive line coach Dan McCarney to North Texas.
What's happened: Mark Richt decided to build a fence around Georgia and work hard to keep the state's top recruits in-state. So far the results have been mixed but if things fall right it could be a top-five class.
What's next: Nine of the top 10 prospects in the state remain uncommitted and Georgia is in the hunt for most of them. Three names stick out for Georgia fans as must-signs -- defensive end Ray Drew (Thomasville, Ga./Thomas County Central), Crowell and Rome. Right now it's safe to say that Georgia is in the lead for Crowell, ahead of Alabama, and is possibly the team to beat for Drew and Rome, although both players are playing things a little closer to the vest. If Georgia is the team to beat for Rome, could he possibly sway teammate Malcolm Mitchell away from his lean to Alabama? It's certainly possible. Cornerback Damian Swann (Atlanta, Ga./Grady) and Xzvavier Dickson (Griffin, Ga./Griffin) are also thought to be Georgia leans and would be a crucial part of the fence that Richt wants to build.
What's happened: Three of the Wildcats' top five commitments are projected to play on the offensive line and there are several defensive upgrades. So far the Wildcats have signed three of the top five prospects in Kentucky.
What's next: They could sign the top four prospects in the state if linebacker Lamar Dawson (Danville, Ky./Boyle County) decides to stay home, but while the 6-2, 230-pounder says he's considering both Kentucky and Louisville, his actions seem to hint toward going elsewhere, like Tennessee, Florida or Michigan. Also high on Kentucky's radar is outside linebacker Antonio Poole (Cincinnati, Ohio/Winston Woods), who plans on visiting the school in December and will most likely choose between Kentucky, Nebraska and Cincinnati. The Wildcats will probably try to fill the remaining spots in their class with prospects from neighboring states like Poole and linebacker Jaiari Dunaway (Murfreesboro, Tenn./Siegel).
What's happened: The Tigers are flexing their muscles in their home state, signing five of the top 10 prospects including standout lineman La'El Collins (Baton Rouge, La./Redemptorist) and defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (New Orleans, La./Perry Walker)
What's next: Although a loss to Arkansas knocked the Tigers out of contention for a BCS bowl, it doesn't seem to be swaying recruits very much. With the recent commitment of former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger, the Tigers have made necessary upgrades at the quarterback position to go along with what they've already done at running back with Kenny Hilliard (Patterson, La./Patterson) and Jeremy Hill (Baton Rouge, La./Redemptorist). The Tigers take pride at being tough in the trenches and defensive end Jermauria Rasco (Shreveport, La./Evangel) is the type of in-state recruit that LSU never wants to lose. If they can somehow pull Jernigan from the state of Florida, it would make an impressive group along the lines that much better. Drew has taken a visit to LSU but that might be a bit of a long shot. However, former Florida commit Jeoffrey Pagan (Asheville, N.C./Asheville) could be a guy that the Tigers jump in late on.
What's happened: After being criticized for "over signing" in 2009 and 2010, Ole Miss currently has a more manageable 22 verbals in the 2011 class. Coach Houston Nutt continues to use his connections in Arkansas and Florida and to fight Dan Mullen and Mississippi State for in-state talent. ESPNU 150 defensive back Gerrod Holliman (Miami, Fla./Southridge) is the top recruit in the class.
What's next: One of Ole Miss' main objectives will be to keep Holliman in the class because the defensive back says he's keeping all of his options open. Those options include Louisville, West Virginia, Florida and quite possibly visits to Cincinnati and Oregon. For a team that has struggled on defense like Ole Miss did this season, holding on to a top recruit like Holliman is going to be a tall task. And with more defensive upgrades needed immediately it's no surprise that Nutt and his staff are working the junior colleges, especially for interior linemen. Defensive tackle Sylvester Williams (Coffeyville, Kan./Coffeyville JC) took a visit to Ole Miss and the Rebels are in his top five along with North Carolina, USC, Oklahoma State and Georgia. It's also possible that junior college All-American defensive lineman Cornellius Carradine will take an official visit. Linebackers Cedrick Cooper (Lithonia, Ga./Lithonia) and Keith Lewis (Tampa, Fla./Freedom) are also of high interest to Ole Miss. Cooper visited the campus this past weekend and is also looking at Clemson, South Carolina and Arkansas.
What's happened: Mullen has proven himself to be a master of hype and success on the field. Both can be credited with Mississippi State landing five of the state's top 10 recruits, including the state's top linebacker, C.J. Johnson (Philadelphia, Miss./Philadelphia).
What's next: It's not a shock that Mullen's name has been mentioned as a replacement for Randy Shannon in Miami. In some circles he's considered the top choice of the Hurricane brass now that their attempts to get Jon Gruden from the broadcast booth have fallen short. But Mullen has said that he believes Mississippi State is a better job and that sort of bravado has made him a fan favorite in Starkville and a favorite of the state's recruits. Defensive end Barron Dixon (Alpharetta, Ga./Chattahoochee) has Mississippi State high on a list that includes Arkansas and Maryland, and he will probably visit the school early in the new year. Tight end David Reeves (Greensboro, Ala./Greensboro) is another player that is high on the Bulldogs and might be waiting for the Mullen situation to sort itself out before he commits. If Mullen is out of the hunt for the Miami job and working on a long-term deal with Mississippi State, like he hinted to in a Sunday news conference, the Bulldogs will be major players in Southeast recruiting this year and in the near future.
What's happened: Although Steve Spurrier has always had a reputation of being less-than-fully engaged in the recruiting process, he knows how to get the players he wants and with 25 verbals in house, the remaining few spots are for some very big names.
What's next: As important as Marcus Lattimore was to the 2010 recruiting class for South Carolina, Clowney is quite possibly more important. The Gamecocks have been aggressively recruiting the 6-6, 250-pound phenom for a couple of years and if they lose him to conference rival Alabama, the results could be very demoralizing for that group. Defensive tackle Gerald Dixon (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe), a teammate of Clowney, and Dixon's brother of the same name, Gerald Dixon Jr. (Rock Hill, S.C./Northwestern), are also on South Carolina's board as their father Gerald Dixon Sr. played for the Gamecocks in the early '90s. However, the focus of the coaching staff is 100 percent on Clowney and his commitment to the program would be another step toward a top status in the SEC.
What's happened: If anyone questioned coach Derek Dooley's ability to recruit, they were answered with the commitment of wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett (Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw) from right under the noses of Michigan and Michigan State. The focus has been on linemen and eight of Tennessee's 19 verbals are on the offensive and defensive line.
What's next: The Vols will also need more talent on offense to go along with Arnett and running back Tom Smith (Apopka, Fla./Apopka), and one of the names they are looking at is ESPNU 150 running back Kevin Grooms (Hollywood, Fla./South Broward). He can play on either side of the ball but he has done most of his damage in high school at the running back position. Rome has recently added Tennessee into the mix along with Georgia and Clemson. On the defensive side of the ball Tennessee is also one of the schools that Pagan is going to be looking at and the Vols recently took in an official visit from three-star linebacker Gionni Paul (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen), who appears to have shot Tennessee to the top of a list that includes Auburn, LSU, Texas Tech, Michigan and Florida. Cornerback Ronnie Harris (Atlanta, Ga./Westlake) is another name Tennessee is working hard for and its primary competition appears to be Stanford.
What's happened: Without a head coach, Vanderbilt is in the process of interviewing its first group of candidates that includes some very interesting names including Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn and longtime Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster.
What's next: Vanderbilt currently has 14 verbal commitments in house and several more that were being courted during Robbie Caldwell's tenure as head coach. It's obvious that the people behind Vanderbilt's selection would like to make waves with their next hire, hence the open courting of Malzahn, Foster and Temple head coach Al Golden. There are several factors (prestige, tradition, academic standards, etc.) that have kept Vanderbilt out of the running for many of the more prominent recruits in the Southeast and the hope is that inking a coach with a strong name will help close that gap significantly. If Vanderbilt can put together the type of financial package that can sway a Malzahn, Foster or Golden to Nashville, it will be interesting to see how much they can accomplish in a short period of time before national signing day.
Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.