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College football National Signing Day 2017 outliers: Who’s surging, and who’s not?

For the most part, recruiting doesn’t change much from year to year. Here some exceptions to that rule.

Rice v Stanford Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Recruiting class rankings tell part of the story of program building. A more complete picture comes when you combine them with recent years’ rankings to get a better idea of which way a team is trending. One year can be misleading.

But in a vacuum, outlying recruiting classes are, if nothing else, interesting things to point to as far as how individual teams are doing from one cycle to the next. The 2017 recruiting cycle had a few of them, so let’s look at them. Class data is from the industry-generated 247Sports Composite.

The good outliers

Stanford: As far as the class ranking is concerned, Stanford’s No. 14 finish in the Composite wasn’t terribly out of the ordinary. What’s attention-grabbing is the high-end quality of the class. The Cardinal signed three of the six highest-rated players they have ever brought to Palo Alto, including the best player at two different positions (No. 1 pocket passer Davis Mills and No. 1 TE Colby Parkinson). They missed out on the best OT, but signed Nos. 2 and 3 (Foster Sarell, Walker Little) at the position, and I’d say that makes up for it. (Many evaluators do have Little as the No. 1 tackle.)

Elite OL Walker Little tosses a DL at The Opening

Elite offensive lineman Walker Little literally tossed a dude at the Nike Football Opening. He's a top Texas Longhorns target.

Posted by SB Nation College Football on Saturday, July 16, 2016

Maryland: Despite losing four-star RB Cordarrian Richardson, who originally committed FROM OUTER SPACE, the Terps signed the best signing class in school history. There is a lot of talent in the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia areas, and for D.J. Durkin to land the No. 18 class speaks volumes about his skill as a recruiter and what Maryland can actually be when it’s humming.

Colorado: The Buffaloes had an Olympic middle-distance runner delivering Signing Day correspondence, and she repeatedly came in with extremely good news.

Coach Mike MacIntyre landed a class that ranked No. 34 in the team Composite rankings. For a team that typically finishes in the 60s and 70s of the recruiting rankings, this is a coup to build on a Pac-12 South-winning 2016 season.

Washington State: Best signing class in at least a decade at No. 44, but what Wazzu is doing goes to show that the second tier of the Pac-12 continues to improve. Well, most of it does, that is. (More on that in a bit.)

FAU: Don’t let Lane Kiffin’s extremely hungover-looking promo video distract you from the fact that the Owls just landed the best recruiting class in school history.

The best player is former Florida State QB De’Andre Johnson. For a Conference USA team, that in and of itself is a coup. The Owls also landed a top JUCO receiver whom UCLA had really wanted, in another example of punching above their weight.

UTSA: The Roadrunners had never finished higher than 101st in the Composite team rankings in the program’s short history, but this year vaulted to No. 73. The Frank Wilson effect is real. Wilson finished No. 5 in the nation in 247Sports’ coach recruiting rankings in hist last year at LSU. His first full class in San Antonio shows his prowess with prospects.

Navy: The service academies don’t give out NLIs, so while the number of 48 committed recruits is going to turn some heads, it’s a bit of a misnomer. There is quality in that quantity, relatively speaking. Navy’s recruiting class ranks No. 83, the second year in a row they’ve finished better than 100th. Despite getting twice the number of kids to commit in comparison to a normal FBS program, the average player rating is still 78.47 (close to the three-star line of demarcation, which is 80).

Not-so-good outliers that deserve some more context.

Clemson: On the surface, it’s a little troubling that the national champions finished No. 16 in the Composite rankings. Digging deeper, you see that they finished with only 14 commits, and things become clearer. The Tigers just didn’t have a ton of space to take kids. They also aren’t out here signing two-stars. They’re bringing in two five-stars, including QB Hunter Johnson.

Ole Miss: If the NCAA actually did nail Ole Miss to a cross, the program is yet to resurrect itself. Two top-10 classes and four top-20 classes since Freeze arrived in Oxford have given way to a No. 30 class this season. Three four-stars is the fewest since Freeze’s transitional 2012 recruiting class as well.

He described this class in a weird way.

“We’ve suffered penalties. This recruiting class: it was a penalty. To be under the cloud we’re under.”

Marshall: A typical class in the 60s and 70s ends up at No. 93 in the Composite this season. But the Thundering Herd are likely not done on the recruiting trail. They will typically add a few non-qualifiers here and there later in the year, because Conference USA allows them to do so. A non-qualifier is an athlete who doesn’t meet grade or SAT/ACT requirements to immediately sign an NLI. They have to take a year off from competition, and it counts against their eligibility clock. But, they can earn the year back on the back end if their grades are high enough. Marshall may add a few of those players and boost this class later in the summer.

West Virginia: Not a great Signing Day season for the Mountaineers. A class ranking that typically sits in the 30s absolutely tanked this season, falling all the way to No. 57. To make matters worse, they lost arguably the staff’s best recruiter: Florida hired RB coach JaJuan Seider away from Morgantown.

Extraordinarily rough transitional recruiting classes.

Your first recruiting class as a head coach is usually not so great. Think about it; first, you get hired in December or so, with two months or fewer to get a recruiting class together. Oftentimes you’re coming from a different state and you have to do the other things to get your program together like — oh, I don’t know — building an actual coaching staff of assistants around you. We don’t judge transitional classes terribly harshly, but some are notable in their eye-catching deviation from the norm.

Texas: Horns fans, I know times are tough with a recruiting class you’re not happy about. Texas’ class ranked No. 26 and that’s not great. We talked on Signing Day about why it’s probably fine, though.

There is also the fact that Texas’ team is stocked with talent as it is, and a team like Texas can afford a down class. As of last season, the Longhorns still had the No. 11 five-year recruiting ranking. Yes, that will change after this year, but the talent on the roster currently is still good enough to have the requisite blue chip ratio required to win a national championship. And most of it is coming back to Austin next season.

Texas is No. 6 in returning production next season bringing back 82 percent.

Temple: Geoff Collins is a gifted recruiter, but this transitional recruiting class is nearly 60 spots lower than last season’s at No. 112 in the Composite. It’s about 40 spots below the Owls’ usual pace over the last decade.

Cal: Well, it wasn’t a great day for the Bears. They have enjoyed a couple top-20 classes in the last decade, but typically settle in the 30s. They, uhh, did not do so this recruiting cycle, with a No. 70 signing class. It’s a transitional recruiting class for Justin Wilcox, but it certainly isn’t a good one.