NCF On The Trail: Vanderbilt Commodores

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Monday’s offerings: After a few weeks to recover from the holiday that was signing day, it’s always interesting to analyze the data to get a better understanding of what really happened. This past Friday, I took a look at the teams that saw the biggest gains from 2013 to 2014. But what were some of the teams that were on the other end of the spectrum?

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Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson’s first recruiting class was put together in a matter of weeks -- a timetable cut unenviably short, much like the task of Penn State coach James Franklin.

Their approaches, though, were vastly different.

When Clawson left Bowling Green, he also left his recruiting class. Franklin, however, continued to pursue some of the recruits he had committed to Vanderbilt, and was praised for flipping five pledges from his former school. For some of those teenagers, the relationship with the head coach overrides the actual school. They commit to the coach, not the program.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesWake Forest coach Dave Clawson didn't believe it was right to try to recruit players who were committed to Bowling Green, his former school.
"It's not about the buildings; it's about the people inside the buildings," Franklin told ESPN.com Big Ten reporter Adam Rittenberg. "That comes down to relationships and trust and all those things. We've had guys we've been recruiting across the country for two years, and we were going to stick with those guys. The same thing with the recruits and families. They were comfortable with us and who we are as men and how we conduct ourselves. It also helped that we went from one school to another that has similar philosophies when it comes to academics."

Clawson, who was hired in December, used the recruiting dead period to hire his staff and called it a “three-week sprint” to start from scratch on the recruiting trail. He didn't consider Bowling Green’s targets much of an option, for several reasons.

“I didn’t think it was right to do that,” Clawson said. “We didn’t want to recruit anybody who had committed to us at our previous school. There were a handful of guys we had recruited there that had not committed there, and part of the reason they didn’t commit there is they were probably above us. Some of those players were able to get on [at Wake Forest], and I think those were some of our better commits.”

Ironically, so was a former Vanderbilt pledge.

Once Franklin left Vandy, that opened the door for Wake Forest to recruit some of those pledges, too. The Deacs’ top recruit, receiver Kameron Uter, was once a Vanderbilt commit. Head coaching changes open the door for last-minute decisions and late pushes by rival coaches. Clawson said the Wake staff was careful, though, to respect solid commitments.

“What we did, quite honestly, was, if that relationship was intact -- probably not too many kids were going to switch if they had committed to a place that had the same head coach, same coordinator, same recruiting coach, all those relationships,” he said. “If there were instances that that relationship had changed because of a head coaching change, we certainly approached those players and asked if they were still committed. If they told us no, that became our opportunity to get guys we felt were ACC-level players that we weren’t now at a relationship disadvantage.”

Clawson and his staff did the best they could under the circumstances -- just as Franklin did at Penn State. They just had a different philosophy in how to get it done.
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Now that the 2014 class is in the books it’s time to take a look at which teams need to make a big splash in recruiting for the 2015 class. Below are five teams we feel have to perform well in recruiting to move forward and re-establish their programs among the college football elite. There are always peaks and valleys in recruiting, but there’s also an expectation level that some programs no matter what will always perform to a high standard and that’s not always realistic.

For these programs, it won’t just be about how good the players are that they sign in 2015; it will also be about what type of person that player is to represent the program and establish a new chemistry. These programs are laying down a new foundation, and it will be this class that will be looked back upon as one that got the ball rolling. These programs need to make the Tennessee-type splash of 2014. Just ask Ole Miss about its 2013 class and what one recruiting cycle can do to reenergize a program. We’ve closed the door on the 2014 class now, here’s to opening the door for the 2015 class. Let’s get off to a fast start shall we?


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Signing day wrap: SEC

February, 5, 2014
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The Southeastern Conference had a strong finish the 2014 recruiting class. Alabama, which received a commitment from four-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala./Auburn) on Wednesday, finished with the top overall class by a landslide, and seven of the top 10 recruiting classes in the country are in the SEC. Here’s a closer look at some of the top news from around the SEC on national signing day.

Top class

[+] EnlargeRashaan Evans
AP Photo/Butch DillESPN 300 OLB Rashaan Evans, who chose Bama over Auburn, made a great class even better.
There is no question Alabama had the top overall class. The Crimson Tide finished with 27 signees, including 19 ranked in the ESPN 300 and five five-star prospects. In addition to the incredible class Alabama put together leading up to signing day, the Crimson Tide were also able to land Evans, the No. 52 player in the country. Evans chose Alabama over arch-rival and hometown Auburn Tigers.

The Alabama class was led by the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country, Cameron Robinson (West Monroe, La./West Monroe), the No. 2-ranked defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge) and the No. 2-ranked cornerback in the country Tony Brown (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen), who is already enrolled.

The SEC West alone had three schools, Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M, finish in the top five of the final recruiting team rankings. In all, 13 of the 14 SEC schools finished in the top 40 of the team recruiting rankings.

South Carolina, LSU and Georgia finish strong

South Carolina had arguably the best finish of any class in the SEC. The Gamecocks were able to flip ESPN 300 defensive end Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) from Florida State and defensive tackle Blake McClain (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) from Nebraska. They were also able to land ESPN 300 defensive backs Chris Lammons (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Plantation) and Wesley Green (Lithonia, Ga./Martin Luther King) giving the Gamecocks a very athletic secondary.

If South Carolina was the best, LSU wasn’t far behind. The Tigers were able to land the No. 1 wide receiver in the country Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla./Champagnat Catholic). Dupre chose LSU over UCLA, Ole Miss, Alabama and FSU. Valentine had decommitted from three different schools – Louisville, Florida and Miami -- over the course of his recruitment before finally settling on LSU. The Tigers were also able to hang on to defensive end Davon Godchaux (Plaquemine, La./Plaquemine), who had been wavering on his commitment leading up to signing day.

Georgia, meanwhile, added five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross), who chose the Bulldogs over LSU, FSU and Florida. They also added four-star wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage). The ESPN 300 wide receiver wasn’t even considering Georgia until earlier this week, but a late offer from the Bulldogs was enough for McKenzie to pull the trigger and sign with Georgia.

Several schools lose commits

Signing day was full of surprises, including several prospects who backed off of their commitments and signed with a different school. Three-star defensive tackle Cory Thomas (McCalla, Ala./McAdory), a long-time Tennessee commit, spurned the Volunteers and signed with Mississippi State. But not all was good news for Mississippi State. Ole Miss was able to steal junior college defensive back Tee Shepard (Fresno, Calif./Holmes CC), the No. 22-ranked player in the ESPN JC 50. The Vols took another hit when three-star offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. (Duluth, Ga./Peachtree Ridge) unexpectedly signed with Oklahoma. The Volunteers, however, were able to land four-star defensive tackle Michael Sawyers (Nashville/The Ensworth School), and had the No. 5 recruiting class in the country -- one that included 11 players ranked in the ESPN 300.

Quarterback Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) backed off his pledge to FSU and signed with Florida. Offensive tackle Andrew Mike (Tucson, Ariz./Sabino) was only a part of Vanderbilt’s class for one short day, but the three-star tackle flipped on Tuesday night and signed with Florida on Wednesday. Four-star Alabama safety commit Chris Williams (Kingsland, Ga./Camden Co.) flipped and signed with UCF because of personal family reasons. Four-star wide receiver DeSean Blair (Jacksonville, Fla./Sandalwood) flipped his commitment from Louisville and signed with Missouri.

Vanderbilt able to rebound

The Vanderbilt class may not be filled with four- and five-star prospects, but the job new head coach Derek Mason did to rebuild the Commodores’ class is nothing short of amazing. After James Franklin left to take the head coaching job at Penn State and a string of decommitments followed, Vanderbilt was down to eight verbal commitments. After an impressive few weeks of recruiting the Commodores finished with 22 signees, including 17 prospects ranked three stars or higher.

The class is led by ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) and four-star running back Dallas Rivers (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson). After losing ESPN 300 quarterback Kyle Carta-Samuels to Washington, Vanderbilt was able to flip Pitt quarterback commit Wade Freebeck (Fort Lauderdale, Fla/St. Thomas Aquinas) and former ECU commit Shawn Stankavage (Raleigh, N.C./Cardinal Gibbons).
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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:
ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian) gave some much-needed punch to Vanderbilt's recruiting class on Wednesday.

The nation's No. 243 overall prospect and No. 20 defensive tackle committed to the Commodores, helping new coach Derek Mason salvage some of a recruiting class that was decimated by the departure of James Franklin to Penn State.


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Gators flip Vanderbilt commit Mike

February, 4, 2014
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Just one short day after verbally committing to Vanderbilt, three-star offensive tackle Andrew Mike (Tuscon, Ariz./Sabino) has switched his commitment to Florida and will sign with the Gators on national signing day.

The news was first reported by the Arizona Daily Star. His head coach, Jay Campos, told the Star Mike received a "full-court press" by the Gators coaching staff.

"He was a little bummed out to tell the Vanderbilt coaches but they understood,” Campos told the Daily Star. "He's very excited and is sure he made the right decision.”

With the proper development, Mike has a chance to develop into a solid contributor on the next level.

“Mike needs to keep physically developing but shows flashes of good ability to get the job done,” his Recruiting Nation scouting report reads. “With some work he could offer multi-position versatility along the O-line."

With Mike’s commitment, the Gators now have 22 commitments, including 12 ranked in the ESPN 300.
On the eve of national signing day, it's always fun to go back and examine where the top players in the SEC from this past season were ranked coming out of high school.

Of the 23 position players who made the 2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team, seven were three-star prospects, according to the ESPN Recruiting Nation rankings. The only five-star prospects were Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio and South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Beth Hall/USA TODAY SportsJadeveon Clowney was one of only two five-star recruits on the 2013 ESPN.com All-SEC team.
Even more telling, only eight of the 23 players were ranked among the top 10 players at their respective positions.

Of note, Vanderbilt's record-setting Jordan Matthews was ranked as the No. 153 receiver, Mississippi State's Gabe Jackson was the No. 125 offensive tackle, Arkansas' Travis Swanson was the No. 91 offensive guard, Missouri's Michael Sam was the No. 75 defensive end and LSU's Lamin Barrow was the No. 82 outside linebacker.

Here's a closer look:

OFFENSE

  • QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Three stars, No. 39 QB, Class of 2011. Grade: 78.
  • RB Tre Mason, Auburn: Four stars, No. 21 RB, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama: Four stars, No. 55 overall prospect, No. 4 RB, Class of 2012. Grade: 81.
  • WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M: Three stars, No. 52 WR, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: Three stars, No. 153 WR, Class of 2010. Grade: 74.
  • AP Odell Beckham Jr., LSU: Three stars, No. 62 athlete, Class of 2011. Grade: 78.
  • TE Arthur Lynch, Georgia: No. 7 TE, Class of 2009. Grade: 79.
  • OL Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State: No. 125 OT, Class of 2009. Grade: 74.
  • OL Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama: Five stars, No. 3 overall prospect, No. 1 OT, Class of 2011. Grade: 87.
  • OL Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: Four stars, No. 90 overall prospect. No. 7 OT, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • OL Greg Robinson, Auburn: Four stars, No. 10 OG, Class of 2011. Grade: 80.
  • C Travis Swanson, Arkansas: No. 91 OG, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
DEFENSE

  • DL Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Five stars, No. 1 overall prospect, No. 1 DE, Class of 2011. Grade: 95.
  • DL Dee Ford, Auburn: No. 35 DE, Class of 2009. Grade: 79.
  • DL Kelcy Quarles, South Carolina: Four stars, No. 124 overall prospect, No. 11 DT, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • DL Michael Sam, Missouri: No. 75 DE, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
  • LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia: Four stars, No. 11 ILB, Class of 2011. Grade: 79.
  • LB C.J. Mosley, Alabama: Four stars, No. 99 overall prospect, No. 7 OLB, Class of 2010. Grade: 81.
  • LB Lamin Barrow, LSU: No. 82 OLB, Class of 2009. Grade: 76.
  • DB Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama: Four stars, No. 19 overall prospect, No. 2 S, Class of 2011. Grade: 84.
  • DB E.J. Gaines, Missouri: Three stars, No. 57 CB, Class of 2010. Grade: 76.
  • DB: Kenny Ladler, Vanderbilt: Three stars, No. 43 S, Class of 2010. Grade: 78.
  • DB: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: Three stars, No. 78 athlete, Class of 2011. Grade: 77.
National signing day is a huge day for future college football stars. It's a crazy day for fans. And it's a very important day for college coaches.

Signing days can make or break programs, as those noisy fax machines provide an early glimpse into the future.

Some coaches make a killing on signing day, some kick back because their classes are already pretty much taken care of, and others sweat and grind down those nails. On Wednesday, the SEC should yet again bathe in the glory that is a successful signing day, but there are still some coaches who need to have big days as they guide their programs forward.

Who are some of those SEC coaches this year? Let's take a look:

Bret Bielema, Arkansas: It's no secret that Bielema's first season in Fayetteville wasn't much of a success, but a strong closing on signing day could provide this program with some much-needed momentum. What Bielema needed in this class was depth up front on both sides of that ball and help at receiver, linebacker and in the secondary. Getting eight total linemen helps, and ESPN 300 defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson (El Dorado, Ark./El Dorado) could make an immediate impact.

Still, the Razorbacks are looking to secure letters of intent from ESPN 300 defensive end Solomon Thomas (Coppell, Texas/Coppell), who visited Fayetteville on Jan. 24. He'd be a major snag, as would be four-star linebacker Sharieff Rhaheed (Fort Pierce, Fla./Fort Pierce Central) and Florida State athlete commit JoJo Robinson (Miami/Miami Northwestern). Finding another receiver and getting any of these targets would certainly bolster a class that currently ranks No. 32 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings and would provide Bielema with the quality players he needs to help get things going at Arkansas.

Will Muschamp, Florida: The Gators have been hot on the recruiting trail since the 2013 season ended. It's almost as if last year's 4-8 record didn't even happen. But Muschamp is still holding out hope on a handful of talented prospects who could help make an immediate impact for a Florida team looking to get back to national relevancy. Five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) would be a major get for the Gators, who need depth at the linebacker/defensive end hybrid Buck position. Florida is also looking for another playmaker on offense, and five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra) could be that guy. Florida would let him play either side of the ball, and the Gators' track and field program is very attractive to Jackson.

Florida also needs another receiver and is looking to add depth at quarterback and on the offensive line. Former Florida State wide receiver commit C.J. Worton (Homestead, Fla./South Dade) could join this class, while current FSU quarterback commit Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) is seriously considering the Gators. ESPN 300 offensive tackle Damian Prince (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara) is fresh off a visit to Florida and would be a big addition at a position that needs help going forward. Muschamp did really well in January, but there are still guys at positions of need that Florida needs to close with.

Derek Mason, Vanderbilt: He was way behind the 8 ball before he even stepped on Vanderbilt's campus, but Mason grabbed some major momentum over the weekend with six commitments. After dipping into single digits after Mason arrived, Vanderbilt is back up to 17 verbals in this class. Mason has already done a good job of filling this class back out, but he'd like to add some more quality bodies on Wednesday.

Keep an eye on ESPN 300 defensive tackle Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif./Capital Christian), who is fresh off of a visit to Vandy. He's someone who could provide early help up front. The Commodores are also still in the hunt for Tennessee ESPN 300 defensive end commit Derek Barnett (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy). Grabbing another wide receiver and running back would also be a nice way to close as Mason looks to provide Vandy's fan base with a little more excitement on signing day.

SEC recruiting scorecard

February, 4, 2014
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And just like that, national signing day is a day away.

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:

ALABAMA

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.

ARKANSAS

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.

AUBURN

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.

FLORIDA

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.

GEORGIA

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.

KENTUCKY

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.

LSU

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.

MISSISSIPPI STATE

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.

MISSOURI

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.

OLE MISS

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.

SOUTH CAROLINA

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.

TENNESSEE

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.

TEXAS A&M

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.

VANDERBILT

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.

Closing the deal in the SEC

February, 3, 2014
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National signing day tends to be anticlimactic for a lot of the SEC schools. Most of the hay is in the barn. But there are still uncommitted prospects out there wrestling with their decisions, and others who are committed may be wavering.

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)
New Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason made it very clear when he was hired that he wasn't going to try to be former Commodores coach James Franklin. While that might hold true in the months to come, Mason mimicked Franklin pretty well in the realm of recruiting over the weekend, as he helped secure six verbal commitments.

For a school that watched the bottom fall out of its recruiting class after Franklin left for Penn State last month, Vandy received a healthy amount of good news just days before national signing day, rejuvenating a program that hit a bit of a wall in the last few weeks.

Not only did the Commodores gain six more commitments, they actually got five of them to flip prior verbals to other schools: three-star safety Tre Tarpley (Pittsburgh/Pittsburgh Central Catholic) flipped from Boston College, defensive end Hawkins Mann (Burbank, Calif./John Burroughs) switched from Nevada, quarterback Shawn Stankavage (Raleigh, N.C./Cardinal Gibbons) switched from East Carolina, three-star offensive tackle Bruno Reagan switched from South Florida, and defensive end Charles Wright (Irvine, Calif./Beckman) switched from San Jose State.

The sixth commitment came from long snapper Davis Winkie (Cumming, Ga./South Forsyth).

After losing 11 verbals following Franklin's departure, the Commodores' commitment number dropped all the way to eight. Now, they have some good momentum going into signing day, which just happens to be Wednesday. This class certainly doesn't look as glamorous as it once did, but Mason had a very big weekend at the right time.

It's normal for new coaches to struggle with their first recruiting class, and Mason came in having to feel the blowback from the loss of Franklin, who completely changed the culture at Vandy and recruited like no other Vandy coach before him. Mason still has a commitment from ESPN 300 running back Dallas Rivers (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson) and could close with a few more commitments before signing day is over.

Transition is always tough for coaches, but Mason helped soften the blow of the recent mass exodus in this class with a huge final recruiting weekend in Nashville.

Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

February, 3, 2014
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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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Breaking down the 'stars' in the SEC

January, 31, 2014
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In the last four years, nobody in college football has signed more four- and five-star players than Alabama and Florida, according to ESPN's recruiting rankings.

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.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban and the Crimson Tide
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesNick Saban and Alabama have brought in a nation-best 66 four- and five-star players over the last four classes (2010-13).
Nobody would argue that Alabama has lacked for talent over the last four years, and the Tide obviously have something to show for it with two of the last four national championships.

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.


SEC class rankings analysis 

January, 29, 2014
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With one week left until national signing day, 13 of the 14 schools in the SEC have spots in the ESPN class rankings. As expected, Alabama continues to have a stranglehold on the top spot with Texas A&M sitting at No. 2. All told, the conference has four schools ranked in the top five, seven in the top 10 and nine in the top 20.


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