National Signing Day 2013 has come and gone, and the vast majority of the recruiting for college football's freshman class of 2013 is over. Familiar powerhouses and new interlopers alike struck gold on Wednesday, and traditional titans faltered. But so much happens on any one Signing Day that it's hard to know who has won and who has lost until the smoke clears.
After 12 hours of industrious huffing and puffing, I'm proud to announce that I've gotten all that smoke to disperse. Here are the winners, losers, and the in between from National Signing Day.
Consider this: on Wednesday, Alabama signed running backs Alvin Kamara, who picked the Crimson Tide over Georgia, and Altee Tenpenny, who resisted the urge to stay in-state at Arkansas. Both are four-star prospects, and either would be the centerpiece of all but perhaps two or three other schools' recruiting classes. Neither one is the centerpiece of Alabama's recruiting class at running back, thanks to the presence of Derrick Henry, who's probably going to just be a freshman version of Eddie Lacy, and not even Henry was the centerpiece of Alabama's Signing Day efforts.
Alabama operates on its own plane in recruiting right now, and its ferocious close (six Alabama players have committed since January 30, four committing on Signing Day) comes after the Tide had to spend more time than most elite teams on preparation for a meaningful game in December. The Tide hauled in Kamara, Tenpenny, Dee Liner, and A'Shawn Robinson, plus held on to Reuben Foster, whom most expected to be in the eye of a hurricane on Wednesday; essentially, they took one elite recruit each from Georgia and Arkansas, flipped two from Auburn, and pulled away Texas' biggest prize.
The ease with which Alabama can win titles and vacuum up players who will win more isn't fair and is infuriating if you're a fan of any other team. But if you root for the Tide, you have to love that their current roll seems unstoppable.
Alabama had the best National Signing Day, but Ole Miss had the most impressive, and might be 1B to Alabama's 1A anyway. No school got a duo of prospects nearly as good as Robert Nkemdiche and Laremy Tunsil, and both of those players come at positions of need at Mississippi and premium positions in the SEC. (It's going to be very neat for coaches to watch them go head-to-head in practice for three years.) Antonio "Tony" Conner is a top-five safety, and Austin Golson is a top-five offensive lineman, and Arshad Jackson and Marcus Robinson are good upgrades for a team without SEC-caliber depth.
All that would constitute a great Signing Day for LSU or Georgia or Florida. It's history for Ole Miss, which spent the day basking in ESPN's attention and looking like the SEC team with the steepest upward trajectory, facts of a 7-6 record in 2012 be damned. If Hugh Freeze can't capitalize on the momentum established by this class, and get to eight or nine wins in 2013, it won't be because there isn't elite talent on his roster: it'll be because he doesn't have enough, or can't coach it well enough. And Ole Miss hasn't been able to draw a line through the no-elite-talent excuse for much of its modern existence, save those years Eli Manning was in Oxford.
Actually, most of the SEC
Florida didn't have a showy National Signing Day, but the Gators added to one of the nation's best recruiting classes with much-needed depth on the defensive line with Jay-nard Bostwick and Jarran Reed. Auburn landed two big names with big frames in Montravius Adams and Elijah Daniel, offsetting the losses of Reuben Foster and Dee Liner to Alabama. Texas A&M swiped Daeshon Hall from Washington. LSU kept Frank Herron and snatched Tashawn Bower from Florida's jaws. Arkansas is still going to get Alex Collins, it seems. Mississippi State held on to Chris Jones despite an Ole Miss end run. Vanderbilt grabbed Jordan Cunningham from Stanford. Kentucky -- Kentucky! -- landed Jason Hatcher, a former USC commit.
None of those SEC teams did quite as much as Ole Miss or Alabama, but neither did anyone else nationally, and days like Auburn's (both of the Tigers' commits have a five-star rating somewhere) and Florida's (two good players at a lone remaining position of need) only seem underwhelming by comparison. SEC teams have to recruit hard until Signing Day, with dozens of nutty recruitments happening on a yearly basis, but the fruits of that labor are sweet.
Urban Meyer doesn't have it as easy down south as he did when Florida was his leviathan. But Ohio State dove below the Mason-Dixon anyway for Vonn Bell, taking a guy Alabama and Tennessee coveted, and James Clark, pulling him away from Florida with the lure of Percy Harvin-style usage. That's a great close to a great class, even without considering Meyer's flip of Dontre Wilson from Oregon earlier this week, and a sign that Meyer's not about to admit defeat in his old stomping grounds or limit his recruiting to the Rust Belt.
That's good for the Buckeyes, because it's been a long, long time — it's been eight years since USC obliterated Oklahoma for the 2004 title — since a team won a national championship without the majority of its players coming from the South. And no matter what happened on Signing Day, Ohio State was already set up for incredible success in the Big Ten; Meyer already has his latest charges set for his customary Year 2 national title push, and he needs to be meeting the needs of a title contender. On Wednesday, he did.
One year ago, UCLA had just reeled in a surprising top-20 recruiting class. On this Thursday, UCLA has just reeled in a surprising top-10 recruiting class, and closed much, much better than crosstown rival USC, making it far more likely that Jim Mora Jr.'s second year in Westwood will swing the balance of power in SoCal than anything Rick Neuheisel ever did.
The Bruins got their insurance for and heir to Brett Hundley at quarterback in Asiantii Woulard, who becomes crucial if the malevolent sprite that dogged UCLA QBs for years comes back, Isaac Savaiinea gives them more depth up front, and Priest Willis delaying his announcement doesn't mean he won't eventually pick UCLA. Formally completing the pickup of Kylie Fitts, who was unceremoniously forced out of USC's class, was just a bonus.
The Florida State-Miami rivalry
Neither FSU nor Miami had a great Signing Day — if you don't credit FSU with Jalen Ramsey, who was essentially committed as of Tuesday, there's a decent argument to be made that Florida got about as much out of Signing Day as either of its in-state rivals — but each school snagged a commitment from a player once thought to be a lock to the other side, with Stacy Coley and his swaggiest of swaggy hats picking Miami and Keith Bryant defecting from South Florida for Tallahassee. And the biggest in-state prospect of the day, Matthew Thomas, came down to Florida State and Miami, too, with the Seminoles winning out after a closer-than-expected tussle for the five-star linebacker.
Will Miami be able to absorb its NCAA sanctions and stay competitive in the ACC and in Florida? That's anyone's guess, though it seems more and more like the NCAA won't be able to use its heaviest hammers on the Hurricanes. But Miami's not going gently into that good night, an especially impressive feat given how often the 'Canes have come up short against the Seminoles on the field and the recruiting trail. It bodes well for the future of the rivalry.
Eddie Vanderdoes is not the best defensive tackle in the 2013 class, because Montravius Adams is also in the class, but the Irish's new big man in the middle will fit nicely with the rest of a rising defense. And the context of Notre Dame's strong finish (four commitments since New Year's Day, two of them consensus five-stars), which came after Alabama vaporized the Irish in Miami, Alex Anzalone bailed at the 11th hour to enroll at Florida, and that whole Manti Te'o ... thing, makes it significantly more impressive.
This person gets to tell people, for the rest of his life, "I appeared on national television dressed in an elephant costume and gave someone an Alabama hat. Roll Tide."
Here is what USC ended up with on National Signing Day: Quinton Powell, a former Florida commitment that the Gators turned away when he wanted back in the class, and Nico Falah, who USC kept after a charge by Washington, and who becomes the second offensive lineman the Trojans landed in the 2013 class. And the Trojans couldn't find room for Jason Hatcher, who ended up being Kentucky's gem, lost Eddie Vanderdoes to rival Notre Dame and saw former commit Kylie Fitts opt for UCLA.
If it sounds bad that Lane Kiffin's been reduced to taking another Florida coach's second choices (remember Nu'Keese Richardson?) despite now being in far more fertile recruiting territory and is constructing the shallowest offensive and defensive lines in college football, it is — but that's not the whole story, because the whole story is both better and way worse. Kiffin's trying to spin a tiny class of 12 recruits (among its Pac-12 brethren, only Stanford's was as small, and Stanford simply didn't have spots free) as a good one because of the caliber of the recruits in town, and bringing in a handful of five-stars helps his case.
But USC had Torrodney Prevot, Jalen Ramsey, Max Redfield, Fitts, Hatcher, and Vanderdoes in the fold in January, and replaced them with Leon McQuay III and Powell. McQuay could be elite, and Powell's a good player, but, combined, they're not a third as good as that super six was. And the slide is even more damaging to a team dealing with scholarship limits that simply cannot afford more than one or two misses a year. And bringing in three combined offensive and defensive linemen for a team that was thin at both points of attack last year is nearly unforgivable. It's no secret that Kiffin's coaching for his job in 2013, but he's far better at recruiting — and if this was him recruiting for his job, I fear the Trojans may make tire fires look beautiful in the fall.
Most of the SEC East
For an SEC team, a Signing Day spent not keeping up with the conference's title contenders and rising teams is a failure.
That's harsh truth, point blank, and while it's harsh to say that Georgia (misses on Alvin Kamara, Laremy Tunsil, Montravius Adams, and Tyrone Crowder, with only Davin Bellamy to make up for it), Tennessee (whiffs on Vonn Bell and E.J. Levenberry), and South Carolina (an afterthought for Keith Bryant) all failed to keep up with SEC East rival Florida, and harsher still to wonder what on earth Missouri is doing one year after it pulled the No. 1 prospect in the country, pulling in the conference's worst haul. But much as a team with scholarship limitations can't miss on more than a couple prospects, an SEC team basically can't afford even a merely good class if it wants to win the conference and play for a national title, and can't expect a bad class to put it anywhere but the conference's cellar.
Recruiting in the SEC is different, more cut-throat and more difficult, and failing at recruiting in the SEC is a great way to make your life difficult and your job hard to keep. Missouri's the only true failure in there — Georgia's class is still a top-15 group, though the Bulldogs have more quantity than quality, and South Carolina and Tennessee have top-25 hauls. But whiffs in February have a way of costing SEC teams in October.
To balance all that negativity about Missouri above there, here's a positive: the Tigers (No. 39 according to 247Sports' 247Composite rankings) had a better recruiting class than Louisville, which was only coming off a Big East title, a Sugar Bowl win over a much more talented team, and an extension for a beloved head coach who has resurrected a program that fell very hard after Bobby Petrino's departure. The Cardinals got spurned by both Jermaine Grace and Jason Hatcher, and lost Hatcher, teammate of Louisville commitment James Quick, to Kentucky.
This would be okay if Louisville were staying in the Big East, because that recruiting class is still the, er, class of the Big East (Rutgers is next at No. 47, though Rutgers is Big Ten-bound before long anyway; next up is USF, which is at No. 52). But that same class would be ninth in the ACC this season, and nothing but a miracle will keep Teddy Bridgewater in Cardinal red as they transition. Either Charlie Strong will eventually get Louisville up to speed in the ACC, or he'll regret staying at Louisville.
That said, nothing's touching Texas for disappointing recruiting classes this year. The Longhorns' new herd isn't even that bad, at No. 16 according to the 247Composite, but Texas got nothing on National Signing Day, got punked in state by Texas A&M, the program it considers its baby brother, with the Aggies getting whatever they wanted in the Lone Star State, and it got punked by Ohio State with Mike Mitchell and Alabama with A'Shawn Robinson, and it got punked on virtually every skill position player, leaving its strength almost solely on the offensive line, where its top three 2013 recruits will play. Texas' class is small, like USC's, but with less wattage and no built-in excuse for that.
The only team that can come all that close to Texas is Oklahoma, which should theoretically be able to do great things in years Texas is tripping over itself. Not so much: the Sooners lost as many five-star prospects (Greg Bryant) as they eventually landed (Keith Ford), and Oklahoma was a non-factor just like Texas was on Signing Day. The Sooners weren't punked by A&M (except on the field) and didn't lose much from Oklahoma (there's nothing to lose, in fairness), but they didn't gain much, either.
These two classes were still the best of the Big 12 (a strong Baylor class checks in at No. 27 in the 247Composite rankings, 12 spots back of No. 15 Oklahoma), but the logic applied to Ohio State is worth applying here, too: if you're not recruiting on par with the nation's elite teams, chances are you're not going to be competing on the same level with them.
A few words about Alex Collins
Describing Collins' story — short version: star running back wants Arkansas, mom wants Miami, mom takes son's papers in interest of preventing him from going to Arkansas — as wrong or disturbing, definitively, seems inaccurate, and saying there are good guys and bad guys in it would seem to be blaming someone for doing something that is probably well-intentioned at heart.
But Collins' story is definitely a sad one.
When we think of 17- and 18-year-olds making decisions about where to spend the next four years of their lives, we think of the good things about those decisions, the opportunities afforded by a college scholarship and the joy attached to seeing a child grow and achieve. We don't think of the immense public pressure that recruits live with for a year or more, or the tremendously strange existence as a producer of news for the recruiting industry, or the non-traditional family structures like Collins' that make decision-making harder.
If nothing else, this story has thrust some of the weirdness of recruiting — an inherently weird process that gets weirder still when filtered through some of the factors present in talented young football players' lives — back into the public eye. And maybe it won't change anything, and maybe it'll just be topped next year, and maybe a mother trying to halt her son's efforts to make his dreams come true and a son having to consider the possibility of going against his mother's wishes to attend a college will someday seem quaint, given the rate of change in American society.
Maybe we'll see this as a turning point, though, and ease up on the pressures to make every recruit's decision a spectacle. Maybe, as a result, a parent of a great 2014 player will help his or her son handle the process with no drama whatsoever, or maybe fewer outlets and reports will sensationalize the news. Maybe things will get better, and calmer, and more sane.
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