The Ultimate ESPN 300 is RecruitingNation's ranking of the best prospects since we began evaluating high school athletes in 2006. That means there are many names on the list known to college football and recruiting fans since coming out of high school. The list can also provide glimpses of which states have been top producers since 2006 and which teams have done the best and worst jobs of evaluating prospects and producing players.
Here are 15 things to know about the Ultimate ESPN 300:
15. Some classes turn out better than others, and that is true of the 2009 class. There are 45 players from the class in the Ultimate ESPN 300, the most of any class, including 15 that became first-round NFL draft selections. That includes four who signed with Alabama: Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack.
14. Bob Stoops recruited and coached 13 players on the list. Of the 13, four were first-round NFL draft selections led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. Nine of the 13 were also members of the Sooners team that lost to Florida for the 2009 BCS National Championship.
13. The teams that played for the 2012 BCS National Championship, Alabama and LSU, were supremely talented. There are 22 players from those rosters in the Ultimate ESPN 300, including 14 for the Crimson Tide.
12. Quite possibly the most important part of the recruiting process for coaches is keeping the best at home. Well, only 137 of the Ultimate ESPN 300 stayed in state to play college football. One important aspect of this stat is that not every player on the list had the option to stay in state.
11. The teams from the 2014 BCS title game are well represented on the list. Twenty-three players from Florida State and Auburn make the list, with the Seminoles accounting for 18.
10. NCAA FBS single-game-rushing record holder Samaje Perine enters the list after a freshman season of 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Oklahoma Sooners. His 427 yards against Kansas in 2014 broke the record a week after Melvin Gordon had set a new mark.
9. The 2011 class is special. That class has 41 players in the Ultimate ESPN 300, including 12 first-round NFL draft picks with more possible, including Marcus Mariota, La'El Collins and Shane Ray. The Sunshine State led the way in the 2011 class with first-round picks: Sammy Watkins, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Shazier, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kelvin Benjamin with more possible to be added to the list.
8. As expected, the state of Florida leads the way with 52 players on the list. Texas is second with 35, and California third with 28. Georgia follows with 18. Only 23 of the 52 from the Sunshine State stayed in state for college, but 19 of those players left college with national championship rings.
7. There are 15 players who signed with USC on the list, including Jarvis Jones, who would later transfer to Georgia. That's the most from a school on the list that hasn’t won a national championship since 2006. Notre Dame is second on that list with 12.
6. There are six quarterbacks from the state of Texas in the Ultimate ESPN 300, and only one was recruited heavily and offered early by the University of Texas: Matthew Stafford. The five who weren’t offered or recruited as quarterbacks by the Longhorns: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Ryan Mallett and J.T. Barrett.
5. There are 17 players on the list recruited by Urban Meyer. The impressive list includes Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, along with Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett from 2015 national champion Ohio State.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the high school with the most players on the list with six. That includes NFL running backs Gionvani Bernard and James White, who were members of the same backfield.
3. Nick Saban has recruited 25 players to Alabama on the prestigious list. Of those 25, 11 have been first-round NFL draft selections, with that number to hit 13 in a couple of months with Amari Cooper and Landon Collins projected to be 2015 first-rounders.
2. South Florida's Dade and Broward counties are the two most talented counties in the country that neighbor each other. To illustrate that fact, 22 members of the Ultimate ESPN 300 are from the otherworldly talented counties, including five NFL first-round draft picks, with that number expected to jump to seven or eight in April. Add in Palm Beach County, which neighbors Broward, and that number jumps to 29 of the 300, including seven first-round picks, with that number sure to hit double digits in two months. If one is a Miami (Fla.) fan, time to turn away, as only four of the 22 from Dade and Broward counties played for the Hurricanes.
1. How do you win three national championships in six years? Jimmys and Joes are where it must begin, and Alabama has the most of any school on the list with 27. More than half of the 27 have been or will be first-round draft selections after this year's draft. Both Florida and Florida State have 18 apiece on the list.
Here are notes on some of the top players in attendance:
Here is the latest on several Sunshine State prospects.
Eli Stove, WR
ESPN Junior 300 ranking: No. 80
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Success on the field in college football generally goes hand-in-hand with success on the recruiting trail. For the fourth consecutive season, the Alabama Crimson Tide signed the No. 1 class, according to ESPN RecruitingNation rankings. In fact, coach Nick Saban has brought in a top-3 class for eight straight seasons, and those elite recruits have led the Tide to three national championships and a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff in that span.
The best players don't always guarantee success, of course, and many programs struggle on the field despite the fact their rosters are loaded with talent. We calculated program profiles for each team based on multiple years of recruiting rankings and compared those rankings with every FBS game result of the past five seasons. In total, the team that fielded a more talented roster beat the less talented opponent 65 percent of the time.
On Thursday, we chronicled the overachievers who routinely do more with less.
The five teams on today's list of underachievers have not been able to consistently translate prospective talent into wins on the field. Each school signed a number of new potential stars last week, but each still needs to prove that it can consistently win games against less-loaded rosters.
Five-year record as more talented team: 36-28 (.563)
2015 RecruitingNation class rank: 9
From 2009 to 2012, the Longhorns signed four consecutive classes ranked in the top 5 in ESPN's RecruitingNation ratings. Those classes did not meet expectations, however, as they posted two losing seasons in the past five years and never lost fewer than four games in a season in that stretch. In the same span, the Longhorns plummeted from the No. 2 overall team in our program ratings to outside the top 40.
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Click here for the rest of the series:
Key storyline | Coach under pressure | Instant-impact recruit | Under-the radar talent
Edward Aschoff: Mississippi State
It took Dan Mullen five years to get to this point and it isn’t exactly easy to recruit to Mississippi State. But Mullen and his coaches did a tremendous job in signing the nation’s No. 16 recruiting class, equipped with seven ESPN 300 members. When you’re at a program like Mississippi State, you can’t get caught behind, ever, if you want to build off any sort of positive momentum. Mullen signed the No. 2 safety (Jamal Peters), No. 2 inside linebacker (Leo Lewis), No. 2 juco receiver (Donald Gray) and No. 1 juco offensive tackle (Martinas Rankin). He hit needs with top talent and signed five of the state of Mississippi’s top six players. That’s called reloading, and its exactly what Mississippi State needed to continue to trend upward.
David Ching: Missouri
Missouri has never been known as a national recruiting juggernaut, but Gary Pinkel’s staff has earned a well-deserved reputation for developing talent as effectively as any group of coaches in the country. Now what might the Tigers accomplish after landing their first top-20 recruiting class since ESPN began compiling team rankings in 2006? The star of Mizzou’s class is obviously Terry Beckner Jr., the No. 2 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and top defensive tackle. But the Tigers also landed perhaps their next star quarterback in Drew Lock, addressed a glaring need at wide receiver after losing their top four pass-catchers (Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Darius White and running back Marcus Murphy) and added a couple of instant-impact junior college transfers in defensive end Marcell Frazier and running back Chase Abbington. Seven SEC teams finished higher in the class rankings than Missouri, but that’s nothing new. If Pinkel’s crew does its usual solid work with this crop of signees, the Tigers should be able to remain among the top SEC East contenders.
Sam Khan Jr.: Tennessee
Butch Jones is trying to bring back the winning tradition to Rocky Top and he and his staff have done a wonderful job of recruiting so far. Adding a top-five class for a second consecutive year is huge – and necessary – to build the depth of talent needed to compete with the best of the best in the SEC. When it comes to the Vols' highest-rated recruits, this class was heavy on the line of scrimmage, with five of their seven top prospects playing on the defensive or offensive lines. That's the way to build a winner.
Chris Low: Auburn
When the final recruiting rankings were tallied, Auburn wound up third in the SEC behind Alabama and Tennessee, but few classes anywhere in the country were more important than the one the Tigers put together this year. For one, they were coming off a disappointing finish to the 2014 season and needed some momentum, especially with Alabama reeling in its fourth straight No. 1 class. They desperately needed pass-rushers, too, and got them in Byron Cowart and Jeffery Holland. What's more, the Tigers were confident that new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp would make a big impact on the recruiting trail, and it's safe to say he delivered in his first year on the Plains with the way he helped land several players late.
Greg Ostendorf: Mississippi State
Mullen just signed his best class ever at Mississippi State, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Bulldogs lost 14 starters from last year’s team, and several signees from the 2015 class will be asked to contribute early. For Mullen to compete year in and year out in the SEC, he needed a class like this. Without it, there’s a chance Mississippi State would have fallen off next season and maybe more so the following year, when Dak Prescott is gone. Now, there’s a foundation to build upon. The future is bright.
Alex Scarborough: Auburn
No team met it needs more on signing day than Auburn, which closed strong and finished with the nation's No. 7 class. After watching his defense implode during the second half of the season and subsequently firing its coordinator, coach Gus Malzahn clearly focused on improving personnel. Including the nation's No. 1 player in DE Cowart, four of Auburn's top five signees will play defense. There's even a chance that the fifth, athlete Kerryon Johnson, spends time at safety. With so much talent coming in and Muschamp now leading the charge, there are no more excuses why defense should be Auburn's weakest link.
Derek Tyson: Florida
It has to be Jim McElwain's new team. A week-and-a-half before signing day, the Gators had only 10 verbal commitments but finished with 21. Florida landed two five-star prospects in offensive tackle Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson, two other ESPN 300 prospects D’Anfernee McGriff and Antonio Callaway and four-star running back Jordan Cronkite — all on signing day. The Gators needed offensive line help desperately and landed five linemen, led by Ivey and ESPN 300 center Tyler Jordan.
It was another incredible year of recruiting in the SEC. More than one-third (117 prospects) of the ESPN 300 signed with SEC schools. The conference also signed 12 of the 20 five-star prospects, and 218 four-star prospects. All but two of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 40 of the final ESPN class rankings. Here is a closer look at the 2015 recruiting cycle in review.
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Here are a few guesses as to who those players will be:
Edward Aschoff: DT Jabari Zuniga, Florida
Talk about flying way under the radar. Most Florida fans probably don’t even know who this kid is, but Zuniga has a chance to help the Gators up front this fall, and Florida’s staff was very excited about flipping him from NC State. Just take a look at his film and you can’t help but be impressed. He’s incredibly quick off the line, has great burst in the backfield and showcases a lot of power. He was reclassified from the 2016 class to 2015, which contributed to his low ranking (No. 45 DT), but he has the potential to be a real steal for the Gators, who need help along the defensive line.
David Ching: RB David Ducre, LSU
LSU’s coaches think they got a steal in running back David Ducre. He didn’t get the national attention that fellow backfield signees Derrius Guice and Nick Brossette did – probably because he’s a bit of a tweener. But Ducre is a perfect fit at LSU, and he fills an immediate need since the Tigers don’t currently have a scholarship fullback on the roster. Ducre is a power back who is fast enough to play tailback, but expect to see him lining up in front of Leonard Fournette, Darrel Williams and his two fellow 2015 signees more often. Since he’s an early enrollee, he seems likely to make an immediate impact.
Sam Khan Jr.: OL Zach Rogers, Arkansas
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema knows his offensive linemen well and that's why I think four-star guard Zach Rogers has a really bright future in Fayetteville. Rogers, though not in the ESPN 300, is a big (6-foot-1, 318 pounds), physical, tough player who I could see mauling opponents down the road and thriving for the Hogs. If we're talking three-star prospects, I'm a huge fan of outside linebacker Richard Moore. The Texas A&M signee is undersized (6-1, 210) but turn on his highlights and it's easy to see why he had two dozen offers. He's aggressive, hits like a truck and is fast.
Chris Low: TE Austin Cantrell, Arkansas
Tight ends have always been an integral part of Bret Bielema's offense, and that's only going to be reinforced now that Dan Enos is calling the plays. Arkansas signed three H-backs/tight ends in this class, and all three are a little bit different. Of the three, Austin Cantrell of Roland, Oklahoma, is the lowest rated, but he might also be the most versatile. The 6-4, 248-pound Cantrell played tight end, running back, defensive end and linebacker in high school. Oklahoma got on him late after he had a big senior season, but Cantrell stuck to his commitment to the Hogs. The initial plan is for Cantrell to work with the Arkansas H-backs, but he's the kind of football player who could make an impact a couple of different places.
Greg Ostendorf: TE Chandler Cox, Auburn
When Jay Prosch graduated a year ago, it left a huge void at Auburn’s H-back position. He wasn’t always the sexiest player, but he got the job done and the running game was better for it. There’s a reason Prosch beat out the longtime starter in his first training camp with the Houston Texans. The coaches believe Chandler Cox can be that same type of player. He needs to bulk up some, but he might already be a better pass-catcher than Prosch. The three-star prospect enrolled early at Auburn, giving him an even better shot at early playing time.
Alex Scarborough: QB Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt
Signing day came and went without much being said about Vanderbilt, and judging by its 18 total signees and No. 44 class ranking that makes sense. But if we're looking for an under-the-radar signee, look no further than Kyle Shurmur, the Commodores' newest quarterback and most highly-rated recruit. The nation's No. 7 QB-PP has everything you look for at the position, with good height (6-4), ideal weight (220 pounds) and a strong throwing arm. And unlike many freshmen quarterbacks in the SEC, he doesn't have much competition in front of him. Considering the fact that six players took snaps at QB for Vanderbilt last season, combining for 13 touchdowns and 19 interceptions, it's not a stretch to imagine Shurmur starting from Day 1.
Derek Tyson: LB Jordan Griffin, Vanderbilt
Defensive end Byron Cowart, the No. 1-ranked player in the country, might get all the attention at Seffner (Florida) Armwood High School. But it’s his teammate, Jordan Griffin, that might have a bigger impact next season. The three-star linebacker, who flipped his commitment from Wisconsin to Vanderbilt on signing day, is a tackling machine. Having seen Griffin play on multiple occasions I feel confident in saying he will make an impact at Vanderbilt early in his career. In the state championship game against nationally ranked Miami Central, Griffin totaled 19 tackles, four for loss, and two forced fumbles.
When looking at the top prospects in the Ultimate ESPN 300, it became clear that a top-10 class doesn't guarantee success on the field. Consistently signing top-rated classes, though, can increase the chances for consistent success.
Below is a look at the 10 programs that assembled the "ultimate" classes from 2006 to 2014. These teams have not only been able to ink highly rated classes, but have also consistently developed top players while winning big. During this span these programs have accounted for eight top-rated classes and six BCS championships, as well as all four participants of the first College Football Playoff.
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
Alabama has signed seven straight top-three recruiting classes and 2014 marked its third straight top-ranked class. That success on the recruiting trail has helped produce consistent success on the field over this span, including three BCS titles and a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide's recruiting haul during this period included a Heisman Trophy winner in RB Mark Ingram as well as three other finalists in QB AJ McCarron and RB Trent Richardson, who signed in 2009, and most recently WR Amari Cooper from the 2012 class. Alabama's recruiting success also resulted in numerous All-Americans and All-SEC players. While the Tide have consistently recruited well under Nick Saban, their 2008 and 2009 classes were the most impactful. The 2008 class included Ingram, WR Julio Jones and several key defensive players like Marcel Dareus and Dont'a Hightower. McCarron, Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick and outstanding OLs Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker were members of the 2009 class. The 2014 class delivered No. 1 OT Cameron Robinson, who became the first true freshman to start at left tackle for Alabama since Andre Smith in 2006.
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Across the SEC and the Power 5 conferences as a whole, there were several coaching changes made after national signing day.
Once a recruit has signed his letter of intent, he is bound to the school he signed with. It seems unfair to the recruits, who have built relationships with coaches over the past two years just to see them leave for another job as soon as the player signs.
Every high school football recruit, at one time or another, has been told by a coach, parent or mentor to "choose a school not a coach."
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You have around six to eight months of college acclimation ... not too bad.
The SEC is just feeding off early enrollees, and it has become and intricate part to recruiting in this part of the country over the last few years. This year, the SEC welcomed 81 early enrollees, with Tennessee bringing in a league-high 10. Last year, the SEC landed 72 early enrollees, with the Vols leading the way with 14.
Back in January, colleague Derek Tyson listed five of the top early enrollees to watch this year. It's a good list, and here's a look at how each school in the SEC did with its early enrollees for 2015:
QB Blake Barnett
RB DeSherrius Flowers
S Ronnie Harrison
OL Brandon Kennedy
RB Bo Scarbrough
DL Jonathan Taylor*
S Deionte Thompson
OL Dallas Warmack
DT Daytrieon Dean
DT Hjalte Froholdt
TE Will Gragg
DT Jeremiah Ledbetter*
OG Jalen Merrick
OG Zach Rogers
QB Ty Storey
OL Tyler Carr
FB Chandler Cox
QB Tyler Queen
RB Jovon Robinson
OT Bailey Sharp
ATH Jason Smith*
DL Maurice Swain*
TE Daniel Imatorbhebhe
WR Kalif Jackson
S Johnathan Abram
LB Chuks Amaechi*
DE Michael Barnett
TE Jackson Harris
LB Jake Ganus (UAB transfer)
DE Jonathan Ledbetter
LB Natrez Patrick
S Jarvis Wilson
OL George Asafo-Adjei
TE C.J. Conrad
DE Kengera Daniel
TE Greg Hart (Nebraska transfer)
LB Jordan Jones
LB Courtney Love (Nebraska transfer)
FB David Ducre III
QB Justin McMillan
CB Kevin Toliver II
TE Hanner Shipley
MISSISSIPPI STATE (6)
DE Johnathan Calvin*
WR Malik Dear
WR Donald Gray*
OT Martinas Rankin*
OL Michael Story
WR Deddrick Thomas
OL Malik Cuellar
OL Tanner Owen
OLE MISS (5)
DB Tony Bridges*
LB Terry Caldwell*
DL D.J. Jones*
QB Chad Kelly*
OL Javon Patterson
SOUTH CAROLINA (8)
LB Ernest Hawkins*
LB Jalen Henry
DE Marquavius Lewis*
WR Christian Owens
LB Sherrod Pittman
CB Darin Smalls
WR Jerad Washington
DE Dexter Wideman
DL Andrew Butcher
QB Quinten Dormady
DB Stephen Griffin
OL Chance Hall
QB Jauan Jennings
OL Jack Jones
RB Alvin Kamara*
LB Darrin Kirkland Jr.
DL Kyle Phillips
DL Shy Tuttle
TEXAS A&M (7)
TE Jordan Davis
DB Justin Evans*
LB Claude George*
WR Christian Kirk
LB Richard Moore
WR Damion Ratley*
OL Keaton Sutherland
DE/LB Nehemiah Mitchell
*Junior college transfer
For all the solid work Jim McElwain and his coaches did down the critical 2015 recruiting stretch in the past month, those efforts should stand as a starting point for Florida's football program. That is by no means an end game or a standard for the Gators.
Not to sound like I'm getting ahead of myself too much, but Florida's 2016 recruiting class is critical to the success McElwain hopes to have during his tenure in Gainesville. The SEC is too good and the threat of sliding further and further in the SEC is nothing for the Gators to play around with. Just look at how long it's taken Tennessee to get back to relevancy, and that journey back toward the top still has a steep climb ahead for the Vols.
McElwain has yet to name a starting quarterback, let alone coach a single moment of practice, but in a fast-paced, cutthroat college football society, he and his coaches can't waste any time getting some sort of time with this 2016 class, which really could make or break McElwain's time at Florida. That might sound harsh or even like a bit of hyperbole, but look where Florida's program is now and look at the SEC around it. You can't afford to be a weak link in a conference as cannibalistic as the SEC.
The good news for McElwain is that he and his staff proved they have a clutch closing gene that helped transform a once hopeless 2015 Florida class into a top-20 group equipped with two five-stars and six ESPN 300 members. Another thing to consider is that recent new coaches in this league have had very good success with their second recruiting classes. From Urban Meyer to Butch Jones, a handful of first-year coaches in the SEC have cleaned up in recruiting with their second classes, and McElwain has to continue that trend.
What McElwain got in his first class with the Gators was a mixed bag -- some contents quality, some unknown. Landing immediate-impact five-star prospects Martez Ivey (offensive tackle) and CeCe Jefferson (defensive end) and playmaking hopefuls like running back Jordan Scarlett, wide receiver Antonio Callaway, and athletes D'Anfernee McGriff, Jordan Cronkrite and Chris Williamson gives the Gators a solid early foundation to work with, but it's no secret Florida needs more star power in its 2016 class.
McElwain desperately needed depth along the offensive line and signed five lineman, including two ESPN 300 recruits. That certainly helps with depth, but getting a little more quality there in 2016 will be essential. The same is absolutely true about the wide receiver spot, where Florida again needs legit playmakers, and quarterback, where questions abound this season.
Florida currently has just one 2016 commitment -- wide receiver Rick Wells -- but if recent history is any indication, McElwain and Co., who can sign a big class with such low scholarship numbers for this current team, could really make a statement with next year's class.
Not to immediately compare McElwain to Meyer and Nick Saban -- although Gators fans are hoping he reaches their level -- but those two went from having OK first classes at Florida and Alabama, respectively, to consensus top-five classes by major recruiting services (ESPN.com, Rivals.com and Scout.com) in Year 2. Florida ranked No. 1 in ESPN's class rankings in Meyer's second year (2006), while Alabama ranked third in Saban's second year (2008). Meyer went on to win two national titles at Florida, while Saban has won three at Alabama.
After bringing in a top-20 class during his first year at LSU in 2005, Les Miles landed a consensus top-eight class nationally in 2006 and won the national title in 2007. Former Auburn coach Gene Chizik reeled in a top-25 class in 2009, then won a national title in his second year and brought home a top-five class in 2010.
Even coaches who haven't won titles have recently had second-year recruiting success in the SEC. Hugh Freeze began his time as Ole Miss' coach in 2012 with a class that barely registered on the recruiting radar and then signed arguably the school's best class ever in 2013 with headliners like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil.
Butch Jones signed a top-30 class in 2013 and now has back-to-back No. 5 classes in ESPN RecruitingNation's class rankings. Of course, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn has signed back-to-back top-10 classes in his two years at Auburn, but he's just bragging at this point.
McElwain has a long way to go as a coach and a recruiter at Florida, and he hasn't even seen his team run actual plays on a field yet. But having a strong second year of recruiting is essential to righting Florida's ship. Heck, even his predecessor, Will Muschamp, signed the No. 4 class nationally in his second year, so there's a formula for recruiting success McElwain can follow. And with the way the SEC is moving, McElwain can't afford to get behind and must emulate those before him.
Continuing this week’s SEC series of post-signing day roundtable discussions, today we’ll examine the conference coaches who are under pressure to make something happen after signing their newest class of recruits.
Edward Aschoff: Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss
Year 4 of the Freeze era is beginning, and expectations are about to explode in Oxford. After being on the cusp of an SEC West title and a spot in the first College Football Playoff, Ole Miss now has to stay in the thick of the title hunts. While Freeze has been enormously successful during his time at Ole Miss, he has now signed three straight top-20 classes, and now the 2013 class (the crown jewel of Freeze’s tenure) will be all grown up. If the bulk of that class is going to bring a championship to Ole Miss, the time is now because the heavy hitters, like Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, will likely head to the NFL after this coming season. There’s too much talent in Oxford for Ole Miss not to compete for a spot in Atlanta, and anything else will be considered a failure.
David Ching: Derek Mason, Vanderbilt
I was tempted to focus on Mark Richt or Les Miles because the natives seem to be getting restless at Georgia and LSU, but let’s go in a different direction. Mason probably needs to get more out of this 2015 class immediately than those two SEC veterans. Last season was a mess at Vandy, with the Commodores failing to put up a good fight in most of their nine losses. Their three wins came against UMass (by three points), Charleston Southern (by one) and Old Dominion (by 14), and they lost by an average of 18 points per game in SEC play. Now Mason enters his second season with two new coordinators (actually he’ll be his own defensive coordinator) and a recruiting class that ESPN ranked No. 44 nationally, dead last in the SEC. Mason told reporters on signing day that he staked his reputation on the quality of this class, which is all well and good. But if the Commodores don’t start looking like a more competent team this fall, I’m not sure Mason’s reputation as a head coach will be too great.
Sam Khan Jr.: Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
I think Travis Haney said it best that Sumlin must begin to reap the fruits of the recruiting labor he and his staff have put in over the last three years. The Aggies' classes ranked eighth, fourth and 12th nationally in Sumlin's first three full recruiting cycles, and the team now enters its fourth year in the SEC. He made significant coaching staff changes (including paying a pretty penny for former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis), and overall the Aggies have recruited better than any team in their own state -- which is talent-rich -- since Sumlin has been there. It's time for the recruiting hauls to translate to the standings.
Chris Low: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
As it turns out, the sky didn't fall at Kentucky after the Wildcats lost six commitments in a span of eight days leading up to signing day. Thanks to some hustle by Stoops and his staff, Kentucky was able to plug some of the gaps late and finish with the nation's 43rd-ranked class. The problem was that Stoops reeled in the 20th-ranked class the year before, so expectations were lofty. As Stoops enters his third season at Kentucky -- with a brand-new contract that will pay him an average of $3.57 million per year -- expectations will be equally high on the field. Kentucky will be aiming for its first winning season since 2009. The Wildcats looked like they were on their way in 2014 after starting out 5-1, but wound up losing their last six games.
Greg Ostendorf: Jim McElwain, Florida
All things considered, McElwain deserves credit for this class. He took over two months before signing day and closed with a top-20 class that included five-star prospects Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson. But this class had a chance to be more than solid. It had the potential to be great. Florida missed on a number of homegrown prospects, including Byron Cowart and Jeff Holland, who both decided to leave home to play at Auburn for the man McElwain replaced. The first-year coach deserves a pass for this class, but he can’t keep letting the top players out of the state. Losing battles to Florida State is one thing. Losing battles to Will Muschamp and Auburn is another.
Alex Scarborough: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
The great thing about Steve Spurrier is that you can take him at his word. But this time I think his openness hurt him. By telling reporters he thought he'd stay at South Carolina 2-3 more years, he had to turn some recruits off. I mean, who would commit to a program knowing the head coach wouldn't be there the whole way through? Though his 31-man signing class was solid, coming in at No. 21 overall in the country, it was what was missing that Gamecocks fans should find troubling -- most notably, four-star defensive players Damon Arnette and Arden Key, who both decommitted heading down the stretch. While you have to appreciate Spurrier’s honest assessment of himself, reading a head coach say this has to be jarring: "I don't think I did a very good job of maybe going full-speed as much as we needed as it turned out."
Derek Tyson: Butch Jones, Tennessee
After two top-five recruiting classes in a row, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones now has the talent on his roster to make a move in the SEC East. With Josh Dobbs showing promise last season and several other freshmen having standout years, including Derek Barnett, Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly Jr., the talent is in place to have a big season on the field this year. Another 7-6 season could have Tennessee fans getting a little restless.
2. One decision that hasn't been made is the one concerning where ESPN 300 linebacker Roquan Smith is going to attend college. The four-star prospect from Montezuma, Georiga, dramatically picked UCLA -- like having place cards and a bag full of gloves dramatic -- before almost immediately stating that he wasn't ready to make a final decision on where he wants to play college football. Of course, Georgia is a finalist and was the favorite going into national signing day, but Smith's high school coach, Larry Harold, says there's no timetable on when he'll make his actual final decision and sign. Harold said that there isn't any pressure on Smith to sign yet, and he really can take a ton of time if he wants, but this hammers home the point that if a high school prospect isn't ready to sign with a school, he shouldn't make any sort of public announcement. There's absolutely no point. You don't have to sign on national signing day, it's just the first day you can sign with a school. Take your time and really think, kids.
3. Did you know that there were 14 coordinator changes in the SEC this offseason? Eight of them were on offense, while six were on defense. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is even taking over the defensive responsibilities for the Commodores. If you want real perspective on this, only Alabama and Ole Miss didn't make any changes with their coordinators. A lot of new faces in new situations means some growing pains and some adjustments that will need to be made this spring before we can really get a feel for what these guys will do in their new positions. With that said, Athlon Sports decided to really dive into the coordinator carousel and picked four winners and losers, along with four "Wait and See" situations.
Around the SEC:
- Incoming Alabama safety Ronnie Harrison is confident that he'll get a "good opportunity" with the Crimson Tide in 2015.
- Foley knows it might hurt Florida, but he understands that former employee Will Muschamp is free to recruit as he pleases now that he's the defensive coordinator at Auburn.
- Here are five names to keep an eye on, as LSU tries to replace Adam Henry as its wide receivers coach.
Today is the day that I officially become a Florida Gator,sorry for the wait #GatorNation! Sending my LOI in shorty =¯= = = = =— G7orG8? (@cecejeferson7) February 9, 2015
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