NCF On The Trail: Kentucky Wildcats
As of Friday, the SEC has seven teams ranking within the top 15 of the ESPN's RecruitingNation team rankings. Five of those teams -- Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee -- are ranked inside the top 10. Alabama, which has 18 verbal commitments (16 ESPN 300 members), is No. 1, while Texas A&M (13 verbal commits/nine ESPN 300 members) is ranked second.
Here's a complete look at how the SEC is faring on the recruiting front, as we enter the month of June:
2015 verbal commitments: 18
Spotlight: You know that Nick Saban loves collecting gems in the secondary, and that's exactly what he has in four-star cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick of Jersey City, N.J. He's a very smart corner who has good size -- with room to grow -- to compete with bigger receivers.
ESPN 300 members: 16 (Fitzpatrick; WR Calvin Ridley of Coconut Creek, Fla.; WR Daylon Charlot of Patterson, La.; DT Jonathan Ledbetter of Tucker, Ga.; TE Hale Hentest of Jefferson City, Mo.; OLB Mekhi Brown of Columbus, Ga.; OG Lester Cotton of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; S Deionte Thompson of Orange, Texas; S Shawn Burgess-Becker of Coconut Creek, Fla.; RB DeSherrius Flowers of Prichard, Ala.; OG Richie Petitbon of Washington, D.C.; DE Christian Bell of Birmingham, Ala.; DT T.D. Moton of Shreveport, La.; OG Dallas Warmack of Atlanta)
2015 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: Defensive tackle Hjalte Froholdt of Warren, Ohio, is exactly what Bret Bielema wants and needs along his defensive line. The ESPN 300 member could add some weight, but has nice strength and quickness to make him a valuable get for the Razorbacks.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Froholdt; DE Jamario Bell of Junction City, Ark.)
2015 verbal commitments: 15
Spotlight: Athlete Kerryon Johnson of Madison, Ala., is not only the third-ranked athlete in this class, he's the No. 1-ranked player in the state of Alabama. With his combination of size, speed and strength, Johnson could line up all over. He could be a running back or safety for the Tigers.
ESPN 300 members: 6 (Johnson; OLB Jordan Colbert of Griffin, Ga.; S Ben Edwards of Jacksonville, Fla.; OG Kaleb Kim of Hoschton, Ga.; ATH D'Anfernee McGriff of Tallahassee, Fla.; OG Marquel Harrell of Fairburn, Ga.)
2015 verbal commitments: 8
Spotlight: The Gators need to upgrade in the offensive playmaking department and athlete Derrick Dillon of Franklington, La., has made a lot of noise as a quarterback, but will likely play receiver at the next level. With his speed and explosiveness, he'll fit right in with Kurt Roper's up-tempo, spread offense.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Dillon; OG Tyler Jordan of Jacksonville, Fla.; WR Tristan Payton of Jacksonville, Fla.; S Deontai Williams of Jacksonville, Fla.)
2015 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: Athlete Terry Godwin of Hogansville, Ga., could hit a couple positions of need for the Bulldogs. He has excellent ball skills to be a cornerback and his hands yell wide receiver. His speed and athleticism should only get better as the year progresses.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Godwin; DE Chauncey Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga.; DE Natrez Patrick of Atlanta; S Rico McGraw of Nashville)
2015 verbal commitments: 9
Spotlight: As the Wildcats look to enhance their defensive talent, outside linebacker Eli Brown of Bowling Green, Ky., is exactly what Mark Stoops needs. With questions and depth issues at linebacker, Stoops needs top-flight players to come in at that position, and Brown could be a great pass rusher for the Wildcats in the future.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Brown)
2015 verbal commitments: 12
Spotlight: Cornerback Kevin Toliver II of Jacksonville, Fla., is the nation's top-rated corner prospect and has the build of that prototypical, elite LSU corner. He has great size and instincts, and excels in man coverage.
ESPN 300 members: 5 (Toliver; OG Maea Teuhema of Keller, Texas; RB Nick Brossette of Baton Rouge, La; RB Derrius Guice of Baton Rouge; S Kevin Henry of Baton Rouge)
2015 verbal commitments: 16
Spotlight: Outside linebacker Timothy Washington of Yazoo City, Miss., could provide some very good depth if junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney decides to leave early for the NFL. He's still a little raw, but has the speed and quickness to be a real threat off the edge.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Washington)
2015 verbal commitments: 7
Spotlight: Quarterback Drew Lock of Lee's Summit, Mo., could come in handy for the Tigers in the future. This is Maty Mauk's team, but once he's gone, let the battle begin. Lock is more of a drop-back passer than Mauk, but knows how to buy himself time in the pocket.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Lock)
2015 verbal commitments: 6
Spotlight: The Rebels will have to help their depth at running back, and Eric Swinney of Tyrone, Ga., is a quick, strong, explosive back who has the ability to hit the home-run ball at any moment. Swinney's natural talent and upside could give him the opportunity to compete for playing time early.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Swinney; ATH Willie Hibbler of Sardis, Miss.)
2015 verbal commitments: 11
Spotlight: Defensive end Arden Key of Lithonia, Ga., has great size at 6 feet 5 inches, and has plenty of room to grow with his 210-pound frame. He also has solid speed to cause trouble as a pass rusher and has the patience/strength to play well against the run.
ESPN 300 members: 5 (Key; ILB Sherrod Pittman of Jacksonville, Fla.; CB Mark Fields II of Cornelius N.C.; DE Shameik Blackshear of Bluffton, S.C.; WR Jalen Christian of Damascus, Md.)
2015 verbal commitments: 11
Spotlight: Preston Williams of Lovejoy, Ga., is the prize of the class, as the nation's No. 2-ranked wide receiver. The Vols might have signed a couple of impressive receiving talents in the last couple of classes, but getting a big, physical and fast player like Williams on campus would be extra icing on the cake.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Williams; DE Andrew Butcher of Alpharetta, Ga.; OG Jack Jones of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; ATH Jauan Jennings of Murfreesboro)
2015 verbal commitments: 13
Spotlight: Don't be surprised by all the foaming at the mouth from Aggies fans after the commitment of quarterback Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas. He's the nation's No. 1 dual-threat QB for a reason. He isn't the biggest player at 5-11, 170 pounds, but he has tremendous speed and athleticism and delivers a beautiful ball inside and outside of the pocket.
ESPN 300 members: 9 (Murray; DT Daylon Mack of Gladewater, Texas; S Larry Pryor Jr. of Sulphur Springs, Texas; WR Kemah Siverand of Houston; OT Trevor Elbert of Heath, Texas; TE Jordan Davis of Houston; OT Connor Lanfear of Buda, Texas; RB Jay Bradford of Splendora, Texas; S Justin Dunning of Whitehouse, Texas)
2015 verbal commitments: 3
Spotlight: Cornerback Donovan Sheffield of Nashville would fill a hole at a position of need once on campus. He's a very patient and smart player, who has exceptional coverage skills.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Sheffield)
DESTIN, Fla. -- If the college football recruiting landscape does change, the SEC made sure this week that it will be ready.
A couple of weeks after watching the ACC propose an early signing period to begin on Aug. 1, the SEC on Wednesday offered its own recommendation to have a signing day on the Monday after Thanksgiving.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive said he hopes there won't be an early signing period, but if there is, he wants his league to be prepared.
The league wasn’t happy about the ACC’s proposal for an earlier signing period because of how it would change the recruiting calendar, something the SEC absolutely doesn't want. The league also decided that in its model, it would ban official visits for recruits who want to sign early, therefore lessening the pressure and clutter of having overstocked official visits during the season and on game weekends.
An early signing period would also save money as coaches wouldn't have to invest in recruiting trips to re-recruit already committed prospects.
“I’ve been a proponent of that for years,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “It’s long overdue.
“It clears the picture up.”
To Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, it clearly makes sense for the league.
“It’s one that keeps our calendar pretty consistent. It allows the guys that have been committed to their school to sign with that school,” Mullen said. “It also protects the student-athlete as best as possible.”
When Mullen says “protects,” he means that players who don’t want to bother with the recruiting process won’t have to hear from opposing coaches still trying to get their signature before national signing day on the first Wednesday of February. The recruit also would guarantee his spot in the class by signing early.
Mullen also said that the SEC's proposal would protect the schools that don’t want to lose those recruits with months remaining before they sign their national letters of intent.
In the current recruiting culture, you just can’t take every recruit at his word. This way, you take him at his signature before Christmas rolls around.
The SEC’s model would make the Monday after Thanksgiving a one-day signing day and a dead day for communication between coaches and recruits. The Sunday before would become a quiet day, and Tuesday would begin the next recruiting period.
“The goal would be to not make this the new national signing day. This is just for the handful of prospects whose minds are made up.
One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1. We think that would be crazy.” -- Georgia coach Mark Richt, on an ACC proposal for an early signing day
“Obviously, if you’ve got guys that have signed and are with you no matter what, you don’t have to continue to worry, ‘Is this guy going to change his mind; is he going to flip at the last second?” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “Everyone would like some sanity in that regard.”
What Richt does find insane is the ACC’s proposal to have an early signing period before the regular season even starts, which would essentially destroy the current recruiting calendar and rush spring and summer evaluations.
“One of the other leagues proposed Aug. 1. We think that would be crazy,” he said. “We think there would be no summer for anybody, no sanity for anybody.”
The SEC and ACC have plans, but whether this happens is unknown. To Florida coach Will Muschamp, getting enough people to agree on a date could be a mountain of an obstacle because of varying agendas for different schools.
“A lot of coaches, including myself, don't want an inordinate amount of visits during the season because it takes away from your football team and your preparation, your preparation for the next week, so I really think we're going to have a hard time agreeing on something that's good for everybody just because of the regions of the country,” Muschamp said. “A lot of the northern schools don't want kids visiting in January because it's freezing cold and they lie to them and tell them it's really warm year-round. I think that's something you've got to deal with, so I don't know if we're ever going to come to a common ground in my opinion, based on the information I have.”
Judging by what many conference members have said, it appears the sport is creeping closer and closer to an early signing day, with the interest mounting from coaches. What’s a little more change in college football, anyway?
The state of Florida has always been known for producing some of the top athletes in the country. The term "athlete" is sometimes looked at as a negative term, but it really means our scouts believe these talented prospects could play more than one position in college. Here is a closer look at some of the top athletes from the Sunshine State in the 2015 class.
ESPN 300 athletes from Florida
No. 8 Torrance Gibson: Gibson is a skilled athlete who can make plays on offense. The five-star athlete led his high school, Plantation American Heritage, to the state championship game. In the game, he had a touchdown run of 80 yards and also a long touchdown pass that was among the "SportsCenter" Top 10 plays. He wants to play quarterback on the next level, but he’s the most talented wide receiver on his South Florida Express 7-on-7 team. Whatever position he chooses, Gibson has a bright future ahead of him.
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Take this case of five-star defensive end Josh Sweat, for example.
Tennessee fans have been retweeting this direct message with @JoshSweat9 and @TotalVolsMove, where Sweat indicates he would take a visit to Tennessee if the conversation gets retweeted 1,000 times. As of Tuesday afternoon, it had been retweeted more than 840 times and favorited more 75.
Tennessee fans also started flooding message boards and Twitter with excitement when @JoshSweat9 posted that most of his followers were Tennessee fans. Heck, @JoshSweat9 also encouraged Kentucky fans with a tweet saying he would visit Lexington if he got 500 retweets on another message.
If I get 500 RTs I'll be down there this summer #BBN!!— Josh Sweat (@JoshSweat9) May 12, 2014
The only problem is that this isn’t really Sweat, the nation's No. 4 prospect.
“No, he doesn’t have a Twitter account,” Redd Jenkins, a close family friend to Sweat, told ESPN.com. “I’m a million percent sure it's not him. A million times infinity. I even sent Twitter a request to try to get them to shut the account down, but I’ve not gotten a response.”
This isn’t the first time that somebody has pretended to be Sweat or another prospect on Twitter. Ironically, there is another fake account, @J_SmoothSweat, that has more than 760 followers.
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Just months removed from a 2-10 debut that resulted in Kentucky's fourth straight losing season, Stoops secured the No. 20 recruiting class in the ESPN rankings. It was the highest-ever finish for Kentucky in ESPN's recruiting rankings.
Stoops rubbed shoulders with the SEC's best, signing 28 players, including six ESPN 300 members and eight four-stars. Stoops flipped a Florida State commit and beat out Alabama for a highly coveted defensive tackle. He snagged a top-10 quarterback and filled critical holes on both sides of the ball.
Stoops has zero SEC wins on his Kentucky resume, but he got a major win on signing day.
"We hit on a lot of areas," Stoops told ESPN.com Thursday.
But the Wildcats couldn't afford to just fill space. That would have been counterproductive for a team looking to rebuild. Kentucky needed both quality and quantity, which can be a tough task for a new coach at a struggling program.
Stoops said he and his coaches set out with a simple message of building relationships and getting in front of as many quality prospects as possible. They got players on campus for junior days when Stoops' crew first arrived last year, they got them to last year's record-setting spring game, they got them to basketball games to see that other historic program on campus, and they stayed confident in their message of the future.
There was no magic selling point, just very detailed process of showing prospects exactly what they were doing in the program, not just in games.
"They understood that we were in for a little bit of a struggle -- that this is a rebuild -- and we need good players to rebuild this program," Stoops said. "They understood very clearly the success that we've had before and what we do offensively and defensively. These coaches have been very successful and showed them exactly what our plan was for the future."
Stoops held a top-20 class for most of 2013, proving that players didn't waver, despite the Wildcats' on-field struggles. He was able to keep ESPN 300 defensive end Denzel Ware, who flip-flopped between Kentucky and Florida State for months before staying with the Wildcats. He kept ESPN 300 early enrollee quarterback Drew Barker, who went through winter workouts and has a chance to push for the starting spot this year.
Stoops also kept ESPN 300 standouts Thaddeus Snodgrass (wide receiver) and Stanley Williams (running back), and he sold Kentucky to four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam, who picked the Cats over Alabama last month.
"It's very important to win your fair share of battles, and we're going to win our fair share," Stoops said. "We're going to recruit very hard, we're going to recruit the best players, and we're not afraid to go in and compete. You're going to win some and lose some, but I thought we did a nice job of hitting a very high percentage of guys we targeted."
Where Kentucky really succeeded was in the secondary, signing ESPN 300 cornerbacks Darius West and Kendall Randolph. Stoops desperately needed offensive playmakers, but gaining talents like this in the secondary was crucial.
"It's a real issue," Stoops said of the depth in his secondary.
"For us, it's hard for me to pinpoint an area, but we were clearly not very good in the secondary so I thought that was very important to hit that [hard] as well."
Stoops left fingerprint in 10 states and came away with a handful of players who could make an immediate impact in Lexington. But Stoops understands that this class can't do it alone. He needs development to continue with his current players already on campus. He needs competition to blossom and he needs his upperclassmen to mesh with the youngsters in order to get Kentucky up and running.
"We're at a point where we're still trying to put together a top-notch first team," Stoops said. "Not only do we need depth, we need some playmakers with our starters as well.
"In our business, no one has patience, everybody wants to win now. But it is a process, and we're working to improve every day and we're getting better."
The ceremonies have concluded, the ink has dried and the fax machines have been turned off once again. And with that, the Class of 2014 is mostly in the books. As is the case annually, there were a number of winners but also some losers on national signing day. Here is a look at a few schools that excelled -- and a couple others that didn't.
LSU: The Tigers began the day at No. 3 in the RecruitingNation class rankings and ended with 2014's No. 2 class. The reason is simple: Les Miles and staff got the prospect they had to have in the nation's No. 1 wide receiver, Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian). The Tigers lost both Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson to the NFL, making defensive tackle a key position of need, and they inked a pair of talented tackles in ESPN 300 Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnant Catholic) and four-star Trey Lealaimatafao (San Antonio, Texas/Earl Warren). Under the radar but significant is three-star defensive end Sione Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller), who flipped from Texas to LSU. Teuhema’s younger brother Maea Teuhema (Keller, Texas/Keller) is the No. 38 junior in the ESPN Junior 300 and has pledged to LSU as well. Holding off Auburn and UCLA to keep ESPN 300 defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine) was another win on Wednesday.
Florida State: The Seminoles entered signing day with the No. 4-ranked class but were poised to close with a vengeance, and Jimbo Fisher and staff did just that. While the Seminoles moved up only one spot to No. 3, the hits on Wednesday are significant. Leading the way was No. 2-ranked wide receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead). The Noles weren’t done at receiver either, as Fisher and staff flipped Virginia Tech commit and No. 117 overall Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen). No. 158 Roderick Johnson (Saint Louis, Mo./Hazelwood Central) and No. 253 Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes) were key gets at offensive tackle and defensive tackle, respectively. Three-star offensive tackle Derrick Kelly Jr. (Quincy, Fla./East Gadsden) was another key win over rival Florida.
USC: The Trojans stood to have a big signing day, and Steve Sarkisian and staff certainly delivered. Not only did USC win the hotly contested battle for five-star athlete Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra), but the Trojans won the race for ESPN 300 No. 24 Juju Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and signed No. 67 overall Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) as expected. More than the names and rankings, Wednesday was a huge perception win for the Trojans and Sarkisian. USC jumped to No. 14 from No. 24 in the RecruitingNation class rankings.
Georgia: The Bulldogs didn’t have a big day in terms of number of commits, but quality ruled the day. Mark Richt and staff signed the player they had to have in five-star outside linebacker/defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross). While Carter’s announcement was the big one Wednesday afternoon, the morning started off with a bang for Georgia with the signing of No. 286 overall Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), who was first offered on Monday and never even visited Athens. Those two big signings kept the Bulldogs in the top 10 at No. 9.
South Carolina: One of the big movers in the class rankings on Wednesday was the Gamecocks. Not only did South Carolina make a jump from No. 27 to No. 19 throughout the day, but the Gamecocks also addressed major areas of need. Steve Spurrier and staff had key areas of need at cornerback and along the defensive front, and they delivered by picking up a pair of ESPN 300 corners in No. 87 overall Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and No. 120 Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King), as well as flipping ESPN 300 defensive tackle Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and three-star defensive end Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. Fighting off the late January runs by Alabama and Georgia for ESPN 300 linebacker commit Bryson Allen-Williams (Ellenwood, Ga./Cedar Grove) has to be included in the huge wins in recent days.
Kentucky: Sure, Kentucky plucked only one key target on Wednesday in three-star former Vanderbilt and Penn State defensive end commit Lloyd Tubman (Louisville, Ky./Seneca), but it was still a huge day at the finish line for the Wildcats. The 2014 class marks the first time in the nine years that ESPN has ranked recruiting classes that the Wildcats have finished with a top 25 class, and that includes a big win over Alabama for in-state four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam (Elizabethtown, Ky./John Hardin). Signing six defensive backs fills a huge need as well.
Michigan State: The Spartans had a near dream season on the field, and followed it up by closing strong in recruiting. Not only did Michigan State jump nine spots in the class rankings from No. 38 to No. 29 on Wednesday, but it did so while filling a big need on the defensive front with big-time talent. ESPN 300 defensive end Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield) was a big win over Ohio State, Florida State and Michigan, while flipping four-star defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wis./Sun Prairie) from Wisconsin earlier in the week was another huge win for the Spartans.
Pac-12: The conference as a whole was quite possibly the big winner on signing day. Of the 13 live commitments on ESPNU throughout the morning and afternoon, seven committed and signed with Pac-12 programs. The winner within the Pac-12 was USC, but Stanford also enjoyed a big day with No. 25 overall Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell) and three-star corner Terrence Alexander (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian).
UCLA: Along with USC and South Carolina, the UCLA Bruins came into today with the most to gain. While Jim Mora and staff scored with four-star linebacker Kenny Young (River Ridge, La./John Curtis Christian), it was mostly misses throughout the day. Jackson and Smith picked crosstown rival USC, while Dupre opted for home-state LSU. At defensive end, the Bruins missed out twice on Wednesday with Thomas selecting Stanford and Godchaux sticking with LSU. And finally, No. 52 overall Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) stayed in state by picking Alabama over Auburn.
Ole Miss: It’s difficult to place the Rebels' No. 17 class with the losers on signing day, but that was the case in Oxford, Miss. Not only did Ole Miss drop a spot in the class rankings, but it also came up dry with explosive ESPN 300 receiver and return man Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage), after Hugh Freeze and staff worked the Under Armour All-America Game standout all the way up until Wednesday morning before McKenzie announced for Georgia. While Dupre was a long shot, he was yet another prospect who went elsewhere. The Rebels also lost out on Alexander, who selected Stanford over Notre Dame. The bright spot for the Rebels on Wednesday was signing former Notre Dame transfer and No. 22 in the ESPN JC 50, Tee Shepard
It was another successful national signing day for the SEC. After all 14 schools officially announced their 2014 signing classes, the SEC finished the day with 10 schools in the top 25 and 13 schools in the top 40 of the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings.
Seven schools -- Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn and Georgia -- ranked in the top 10, while Alabama took home the nation's No. 1 class. The Crimson Tide signed 27 players, including 19 ESPN 300 recruits and five five-star prospects: OT Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), DE Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge), CB Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), RB Bo Scarbrough (Northport, Ala./Tuscaloosa County) and CB Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover).
LSU ranked second, bringing in 22 signees, including 15 ESPN 300 members and one five-star prospect: No. 1 running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans/Saint Augustine). The Tigers could add No. 23 and their 16th ESPN 300 member Thursday once defensive end Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) signs his letter of intent. The four-star prospect was unable to sign his LOI after weather canceled his signing ceremony Wednesday.
As a whole, the SEC brought in 120 ESPN 300 prospects (the most of any conference) and 10 of the 15 five-star prospects in the ESPN 300.
You can check out all 14 SEC schools' 2014 recruiting classes in our ESPN RecruitingNation database:
The future is almost here, folks, so here's one last recruiting scorecard for the 2014 recruiting season.
As of Tuesday, seven SEC teams rank in the top 10 of ESPN's recruiting class rankings. Alabama and Texas A&M lead the charge for the league, ranking first and second, respectively. Alabama has 27 verbal commitments, with 18 in the ESPN 300. Four are five-star prospects. Texas A&M has 23 commitments, including 11 ESPN 300 members and two five-star prospects.
How's the rest of the SEC doing before signing day? Let's take a look:
2014 verbal commitments: 27
Spotlight: Defensive end Da'Shawn Hand of Woodbridge, Va., is a huge addition for the Crimson Tide. He's the nation's No. 2-ranked defensive end and could provide an immediate spark to a front seven that wants to generate more pressure on opposing backfields.
ESPN 300 members: 18 (Hand; OT Cameron Robinson of West Monroe, La.; CB Tony Brown of Beaumont, Texas; RB Bo Scarbrough of Tuscaloosa, Ala.; CB Marlon Humphrey of Hoover, Ala.; S Laurence Jones of Monroe, La.; OLB Christian Miller of Columbia, S.C.; WR Cameron Sims of Monroe, La., QB David Cornwell of Norman, Okla.; Ross Pierschbacher of Cedar Falls, Iowa; ATH Ronnie Clark of Calera, Ala.; ILB Shaun Dion Hamilton of Montgomery, Ala.; DT Joshua Frazier of Springdale, Ark.; C Josh Casher of Mobile, Ala., C J.C. Hassenauer of Woodbury, Minn.; WR Derek Kief of Cincinnati; DT O.J. Smith of Bossier City, La.)
Key targets: After gaining Humphrey's recent commitment, No. 1-ranked wide receiver Malachi Dupre of River Ridge, La., remains the Tide's top target.
2014 verbal commitments: 23
Spotlight: Defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, Ark., is the top player in the state and ranked as the nation's No. 6 defensive tackle. At 6-foot-2 and 334 pounds, Jackson can clog the middle for the run, but has the quickness off the line to be a threat against the pass as well.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Jackson; OT Brian Wallace of St. Louis)
Key targets: Offensive lineman Rashawn Shaw of Fort Pierce, Fla., was very much on Arkansas' radar, as the Hogs look to add much-needed depth up front, but he recently committed to Wake Forest. Florida State receiver commit JoJo Robison recently visited and could be one to watch with Arkansas, as could ESPN 300 linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed of Fort Pierce, Fla.
2014 verbal commitments: 21
Spotlight: Tre Mason might be gone, but Gus Malzahn hopes he has a solid replacement in running back Racean Thomas of Oxford, Ala. The nation's No. 5 running back runs hard and has the explosiveness to make some real noise in Auburn's offense. He's also elusive and strong enough to stretch plays.
ESPN 300 members: 10 (Thomas; QB Sean White of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; CB Stephen Roberts of Opelika, Ala.; CB Kalvaraz Bessent of Kingsland, Ga., ILB Tre' Williams of Mobile, Ala.; ATH Nicholas Ruffin of Atlanta; DE Justin Thornton of Prichard, Ala.; DT Dontavius Russell of Carrollton, Ga.; ATH Stanton Truitt of Monroe, Ga.; RB Kamryn Pettway of Prattville, Ala.)
Key targets: Auburn is almost done with this class, but ESPN 300 linebacker Rashaan Evans of Auburn, Ala., and defensive end Andrew Williams of McDonough, Ga., are still in the mix. Florida State quarterback commit Treon Harris is also very much in the mix for the Tigers.
2014 verbal commitments: 21
Spotlight: Quarterback Will Grier of Davidson, N.C., is already on campus and gives the Gators a real quality body to work with behind Jeff Driskel. Grier appears to be he future of the position, and he totaled 4,989 passing yards with a national-best 77 touchdowns and rushed for another 1,251 yards with 13 more scores in 2013.
ESPN 300 members: 12 (Grier, CB Jalen Tabor of Washington, D.C.; OT David Sharpe of Jacksonville, Fla.; DT Gerald Willis III of New Orleans; DT Thomas Holley of Brooklyn, N.Y.; ATH J.C. Jackson of Immokalee, Fla.; WR Moral Stephens of Perry, Fla.; CB Duke Dawson of Cross City, Fla.; ATH Brandon Powell of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; DE Justus Reed of Clearwater, Fla.; S Quincy Wilson of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Key targets: ESPN 300 members Lorenzo Carter (defensive end from Norcross, Ga.), Damian Prince (offensive tackle from Forestville, Md.) and Adoree' Jackson (athlete from Gardena, Calif.) remain the Gators' top targets, while Treon Harris from Miami and former Florida State receiver commit C.J. Worton from Homestead, Fla., are very much in the mix.
2014 verbal commitments: 19
Spotlight: The Bulldogs have had some recent success at the running back position and just added to it with Sony Michel of Plantation, Fla. The 5-11, 194-pound Michel is the nation's No. 2 RB and is an every-down back who can do it all. He has a chance to see the field early in his career at Georgia.
ESPN 300 members: 9 (Michel; DT Lamont Gaillard of Fayetteville, N.C.; RB Nick Chubb of Cedartown, Ga.; ATH Malkom Parrish of Quitman, Ga.; QB Jacob Park of Goose Creek, S.C.; TE Jeb Blazevich of Charlotte, N.C.; OG Isaiah Wynn of Saint Petersburg, Fla.; DE Keyon Brown of Wauchula, Fla.; WR Shakenneth Williams of Macon, Ga.)
Key targets: ESPN 300 defensive end Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga., is the top remaining target on the Bulldogs' board. Georgia appears to be in good shape for the five-star prospect. Georgia is also hoping to gain ground with Rashaan Evans and is still in the hunt for South Carolina linebacker commit Bryson Allen-Williams.
2014 verbal commitments: 28
Spotlight: After being committed to Florida State for a year, defensive end Denzel Ware of Crestview, Fla., committed to Kentucky, before decommitting, and then committing again. He appears solidly committed to the Wildcats and has tremendous upside to match his explosiveness off the line.
ESPN 300 members: 6 (Ware; QB Drew Barker of Hebron, Ky.; WR Thaddeus Snodgrass of Springfield, Ohio; RB Stanley Williams of Monroe, Ga.; CB Darius West of Lima, Ohio; CB Kendall Randolph of Tallahassee, Fla.)
Key targets: With Elam in hand, the Wildcats are looking to add to their defensive line with fellow ESPN 300 member Travonte Valentine of Hialeah, Fla.
2014 verbal commitments: 19
Spotlight: Running back Leonard Fournette of New Orleans was the recruit LSU had to have. Not only is he the nation's No. 1 overall player but he immediately fills the need at running back with Jeremy Hill's departure. His excellent combination of size, speed and strength will get him on the field early in Baton Rouge.
ESPN 300 members: 14 (Fournette; S Jamal Adams of Lewisville, Texas; ILB Clifton Garrett of Plainfield, Ill.; OG Garrett Brumfield of Baton Rouge, La.; TE Jacory Washington of Westlake, La.; S Devin Voorhies of Woodville, Miss.; WR Trey Quinn of Lake Charles, La.; QB Brandon Harris of Bossier City, La.; S Edward Paris Jr. from Arlington, Texas; DE Davon Godchaux of Plaquemine, La.; OLB Donnie Alexander of New Orleans; WR D.J. Chark of Alexandria, La.; DE Deondre Clark of Oklahoma City; WR Tony Upchurch of Pearland, Texas)
Key targets: Five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson is still on the board, as is Lorenzo Carter. ESPN 300 receiver Malachi Dupre from River Ridge, La., is in the mix and would be a major get for the Tigers.
2014 verbal commitments: 21
Spotlight: ESPN 300 athlete Jamoral Graham of Decatur, Miss., has been committed for nearly a year and gives the Bulldogs their most versatile commitment. The 5-11, 180-pound Graham has 4.4 speed and can play on both sides of the ball. He will probably end up as a defensive back for the Bulldogs.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Graham; WR Jesse Jackson of Petal, Miss.)
Key targets: Committed ESPN 300 defensive tackle O.J. Smith (Alabama) of Bossier City, La., and three-star defensive tackle commit Cory Thomas (Tennessee) are still in the mix with the Bulldogs.
2014 verbal commitments: 27
Spotlight: With the Tigers losing two starting linebackers from the 2013 team, the addition of outside linebacker Brandon Lee of Indianapolis could be big down the road. There will be a lot of competition for those open spots, and Lee has a chance to get some reps, especially with him already being on campus. He has good speed and should fit any scheme once he adds some weight.
ESPN 300 members: 2 (Lee; OT Andy Bauer of St. Louis)
Key targets: ESPN 300 defensive tackle Poona Ford of Hilton Head, S.C., is one of the Tigers' top remaining targets, as is four-star linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed of Fort Pierce, Fla. Tennessee defensive end commit Derek Barnett is also still on Mizzou's radar.
2014 verbal commitments: 24
Spotlight: It won't be easy to replace Donte Moncrief, but adding wide receiver Markell Pack of Purvis, Miss., to the roster will help soften the blow early. He's a natural playmaker who can get to the next level quickly with his speed. He'll need to add some weight when he gets on campus, but he's a major get at a position of need.
ESPN 300 members: 4 (Pack; OG Rod Taylor of Jackson, Miss.; DT Garrald McDowell of Covington, La.; S C.J. Hampton of Meridian, Miss.)
Key targets: Yet again, Malachi Dupre is in the mix here, as are ESPN 300 members defensive end Andrew Williams, safety Steven Parker II of Jenks, Okla., and running back Dacorius Law from Haines City, Fla.
2014 verbal commitments: 18
Spotlight: Defensive end Dante Sawyer of Suwanee, Ga., might not be Jadeveon Clowney, but he could help ease the pain of losing that physical freak. One plus about Sawyer is that he's versatile enough to play both defensive end and outside linebacker, which should allow the Gamecocks to move him around and show different looks to opposing offenses.
ESPN 300 members: 7 (Sawyer; CB D.J. Smith of Marietta, Ga.; TE Kevin Crosby of Bamberg, S.C.; WR Shaquille Davidson of Gaffney, S.C.; OLB Bryson Allen-Williams of Ellenwood, Ga.; OG Donell Stanley of Latta, S.C.; ATH Terry Googer of College Park, Ga.)
Key targets: ESPN 300 cornerback Wesley Green of Lithonia, Ga., and former Florida cornerback commit Chris Lammons are top targets for the Gamecocks, as is Florida State defensive tackle commit Dexter Wideman.
2014 verbal commitments: 34
Spotlight: The Vols need to add more athleticism and playmaking ability to the wide receiver position, and Josh Malone of Gallatin, Tenn., could step right in and get a healthy amount of reps this spring. Having him on campus now will help him as he continues to develop into a more sound receiver.
ESPN 300 members: 11 (Malone; S Todd Kelly Jr. of Knoxville, Tenn.;RB Jalen Hurd of Hendersonville, Tenn.; OLB Dillon Bates Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.; RB Derrell Scott of Havelock, N.C.; DE Dewayne Hendrix of O'Fallon, Ill.; S Cortez McDowell of Locust Grove, Ga.; ILB Gavin Bryant of Jackson, Ala.; CB D'Andre Payne of Washington, D.C.; ATH Evan Berry of Fairburn, Ga.; DE Derek Barnett of Brentwood, Tenn.)
Key targets: Four-star defensive tackle Michael Sawyers from Nashville has become a very important target for the Vols, who need another interior linemen. Tennessee's staff is still going after Alabama commit Bo Scarbrough.
2014 verbal commitments: 23
Spotlight: Defensive end Myles Garrett of Arlington, Texas, is a major addition to this Texas A&M class. The Aggies need more playmakers on defense, especially up front, and Garrett, the nation's No. 1-rated defensive end has a chance to compete for immediate playing time and should add more of a presence in the pass rush.
ESPN 300 members: 11 (Garrett; ATH Speedy Noil of New Orleans; QB Kyle Allen of Scottsdale, Ariz.; ATH Nick Harvey of Richmond, Texas; WR Frank Iheanacho of Houston; DT DeShawn Washington of Nederland, Texas; OLB Otaro Alaka of Houston, Texas; DE Qualen Cunningham of Chandler, Ariz.; RB Shaun Nixon of Austin, Texas; ATH Armani Watts of Forney, Texas; OLB Josh Walker of Gilmer, Texas)
Key targets: Safety has become a spot of need, so the Aggies are going after ESPN 300 safeties Steven Parker II of Jenks, Okla., and Mattrell McGraw of River Ridge, La. ESPN 300 linebacker Kenny Young from River Ridge, La., is also still on the board.
2014 verbal commitments: 17
Spotlight: Running back Dallas Rivers of Stone Mountain, Ga., is the Commodores' top commitment and he's been solid with Vandy since committing last March. He's the type of playmaker Vandy needs going forward and will provide a grinder in the middle of the field, who can also stretch the field with his speed.
ESPN 300 members: 1 (Rivers)
Key targets: The Commodores are in the hunt for Tennessee ESPN 300 defensive end commit Derek Barnett.
Here’s a checklist of players SEC schools are still waiting on:
- CB Terrence Alexander, River Ridge, La. (Arkansas, Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Stanford)
- ESPN 300 DE Derek Barnett, Brentwood, Tenn. (Missouri, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt)
- ESPN 300 OLB Bryson Allen-Williams, Ellenwood, Ga. (Georgia, South Carolina)
- ESPN 300 ATH Miles Autry, Norcross, Ga. (Florida State, Georgia Tech, Georgia)
- ESPN 300 DE Lorenzo Carter, Norcross, Ga. (Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU)
- ESPN 300 WR Malachi Dupre, River Ridge, La. (Alabama, Florida State, LSU, UCLA)
- ESPN 300 OLB Rashaan Evans, Auburn, Ala. (Alabama, Auburn, UCLA)
- ESPN 300 DT Lamont Gaillard, Fayetteville, N.C. (Georgia, Miami)
- ESPN 300 CB Wesley Green, Lithonia, Ga. (Georgia, South Carolina)
- ESPN 300 CB Adoree' Jackson, Gardena, Calif. (Florida, LSU, UCLA, USC)
- ESPN 300 ATH J.C. Jackson, Immokalee, Fla. (Florida, Miami)
- ESPN 300 ATH Chris Lammons, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (South Carolina, Wisconsin)
- ESPN 300 S Mattrell McGraw, River Ridge, La. (Oregon, Texas A&M)
- ESPN 300 S Steven Parker, Jenks, Okla. (Auburn, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M)
- ESPN 300 OT Damian Prince, Forestville, Md. (Florida, Maryland)
- WR JoJo Robinson, Miami (Arkansas, South Florida, TCU)
- DT Michael Sawyers, Nashville, Tenn. (Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Tennessee)
- ESPN 300 OG Braden Smith, Olathe, Kan. (Auburn, Texas A&M, TCU)
- ESPN 300 DT O.J. Smith, Bossier City, La. (Alabama, Mississippi State)
- ESPN 300 DE Chad Thomas, Miami (Alabama, Miami)
- DT Cory Thomas, McCalla, Ala. (Clemson, Mississippi State, Tennessee)
- ESPN 300 DE Solomon Thomas, Coppell, Texas (Arkansas, Stanford, UCLA)
- ESPN 300 DT Dexter Wideman, Saluda, S.C. (Florida State, South Carolina)
- ESPN 300 DE Andrew Williams, McDonough, Ga. (Auburn, Clemson, Georgia)
- LB Kenny Young, River Ridge, La. (Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M, UCLA)
Mark Stoops, who just finished his first season as the Wildcats’ coach, has delivered with what’s shaping up to be the program’s highest-ranked signing class in history.
The big get last week was four-star defensive tackle Matt Elam of Elizabethtown, Ky. Kentucky was able to beat Alabama for the 6-5, 350-pound Elam, which is always a telltale sign that a program is headed in the right direction.
When you’re beating the top teams in your league on the recruiting trail for marquee prospects, that’s the quickest way to start beating them on the field. It’s also significant that Stoops was able to keep one of the top prospects in the state of Kentucky at home. That has been a priority.
Three of the top four in-state prospects in the 2014 class have opted for the Wildcats. The other two were ESPN 300 quarterback Drew Barker of Hebron, and three-star defensive tackle Adrian Middleton of Bowling Green.
Stoops also has cashed in on his Ohio roots and done very well in that state. Nine of Kentucky’s 28 commitments in this class are from Ohio, a state traditionally laden with talent. Ohio State and Michigan can’t take them all.
Kentucky has eight four-star prospects committed in this class. In Stoops’ first class a year ago, he reeled in six four-star prospects. That’s 14 in two years. For perspective, in the three previous classes combined, the Wildcats signed a total of four four-star prospects.
Stoops knows what a talented roster looks like. He came to Kentucky from Florida State.
Upgrading the talent level is the only way Kentucky is going to make a move in the SEC, and based on these last two classes Stoops and his staff have put together, there’s hope on the horizon.
This was the final weekend before national signing day, and of course, there was a ton of news around the SEC. Vanderbilt added a slew of commitments, as did Alabama and Texas A&M. There were also some key visits and a decommitment from an SEC West school. Here’s a closer look at the latest recruiting news around the SEC.
Biggest commitments: After suffering 11 decommitments after coach James Franklin left for Penn State, Vanderbilt was in desperate need of a big recruiting weekend, and it finally got it.
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The Crimson Tide and Gators are dead even with 66 apiece during that span, which covers the 2010-13 signing classes. The Gators lead the way with eight five-star prospects during the last four classes.
With national signing day approaching on Wednesday, it's a reminder that merely raking in a bunch of highly rated players isn't a guarantee for success.
Florida, on the other hand, hasn't even been to the SEC championship game in the last four years and is coming off its first losing season since 1979. The Gators won 11 games in 2012 and played in the Sugar Bowl that season. But in three of the last four years, the Gators have lost five or more games.
From a national perspective, after Alabama and Florida, Texas checks in with 60 four- and five-star signees over the last four years. Then it's Georgia with 57 and Auburn and Florida State with 54 apiece.
Interestingly enough, the only four schools in the country that have won 11 or more games in each of the last three years are Alabama, Oregon, South Carolina and Stanford. Of the four, only Alabama has signed more than 33 four- and five-star prospects over the last four years. The Gamecocks have signed 33, which is in the middle of the pack in the SEC, while the Ducks have signed 30 and the Cardinal 25.
The Gamecocks certainly have dialed up their recruiting under Steve Spurrier. But when you start comparing the number of ESPN 300/ESPN 150 prospects the Gamecocks have signed in the last four years to those teams who've signed the most in the SEC, there's no comparison.
South Carolina has signed 11, which includes ESPN 300 players in the 2013 class and ESPN 150 players in the 2010-12 classes. That ranks the Gamecocks ninth in the SEC. Alabama has signed the most (50) followed by Florida (49), LSU (33), Georgia (32) and Auburn (27).
Just in last year's class alone, Alabama and Florida combined to sign 34 ESPN 300 players.
Missouri's success this past season is yet another reminder that it's not all about the "stars" in recruiting. The Tigers won 12 games and played in the SEC championship game in 2013. But in the last four years, they ranked 13th among SEC schools in terms of four- and five-star prospects signed (11) and have signed just four ESPN 300/ESPN 150 players during that span.