The only thing more fun and ephemeral than the crazy and wonderful spectacle of National Signing Day is arguing over which programs did the best jobs of convincing high school seniors to enroll at their universities. We've already checked out who won which conferences, so let's get to the question at hand: who are the winners and losers from National Signing Day and the 2011 recruiting season in general?
I didn't think I would put Clemson on any winners list when the Tigers' 2010 swoon began. The Tigers limped to an unimpressive 6-7 record after playing Auburn as tough as anyone (Clemson allowed a 21-point third quarter and still forced overtime) and wasted one of the better individual seasons in Clemson history, a nation-leading 15-sack performance from Da'Quan Bowers. And yet the Tigers pulled off a couple of upsets on Signing Day and could have another coup in the offing.
Bringing in Tony Steward early in the morning, likely snatching him from ACC rival Florida State, was a good start; pulling Stephone Anthony later in the day suddenly gave Clemson two of the nation's best linebackers. Between those two players and wide receivers Sammy Watkins, Charone Peake, and Martavis Bryant, Clemson is suddenly deep at two key positions, and the Tigers still have a hook on the biggest fish of this class, Jadeveon Clowney. If the Tigers can beat out in-state rival and presumed frontrunner South Carolina and the national behemoth that is Alabama, it might go down as one of the most impressive sway jobs in recruiting history.
Blog Reaction: Shakin The Southland runs down Clemson's recruits and calls the work Dabo Swinney's done "an incredible job."
As mentioned above, Florida State lost Tony Steward to Clemson. But that, a big loss, couldn't derail the Seminoles' bullet train to the best recruiting class in the nation.
Look anywhere on the list of recruits and you'll find a ton of talent and potential. Karlos Williams could be a game-altering safety. Tim Jernigan could be a Warren Sapp-esque defensive tackle. Kelvin Benjamin might be a quicker version of Braylon Edwards. James Wilder brings uncommon power to the running back position. Nick O'Leary was the nation's top tight end. Nick Waisome could be a shutdown corner. There is depth on both lines. The list goes on and on, and if you listen to Jimbo Fisher's effusive praise, it might be endless.
Florida State cleaned up in the state of Florida, and dusted its two major in-state rivals thanks in no small part to the flux at the top for both Florida and Miami. Fisher and crew might not always have this much success on the recruiting trail, but if it translates to success on the field, that recruiting might get easier.
Blog Reaction: Tomahawk Nation pulls no punches, dropping this lede that's sure to give 'Noles fans reason to smile: "It's official. FSU signed the top recruiting class in the country."
It's hard to pick just one school that made the most ground in the SEC, but it suffices to say that there's enough talent in the conference to keep its national championship incubator whirring.
Alabama snagged a couple of big-timers from the state of Florida in Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix — that's "Ha-Ha" to you and Nick Saban, who winced while saying it — and Dee Hart, snagged Jeoffrey Pagan and Brent Calloway on Signing Day, and remain in the mix for Clowney and Cyrus Kouandjio. Auburn got a "commitment" from Kouandjio, but not a Letter of Intent; that couldn't ruin the Tigers' day or class, highlighted by Kris Frost, Christian Westerman, and Gabe "Nick Who?" Wright, and gives the defending national champions a chance to get an even better haul.
Georgia built Mark Richt's "Dream Team" almost exactly to specifications, thanks in part to Isaiah Crowell and his incredibly cute puppy and awesome hat. LSU finished with Jermauria Rasco and is the only SEC school with three committed five-star Rivals prospects — La'El Collins, Anthony Johnson, and Jarvis Landry. Only Clemson has more.
Heck, Tennessee stocked up on depth, which it had a dearth of after the flight of Lane Kiffin, and blunted the blow of impending NCAA punishment. South Carolina signed a massive class, protected the Palmetto State, and is likely to land the nation's top recruit in Clowney. Florida stabilized its class thanks to some quick work by Will Muschamp, and pulled in a much better class on paper than the program did following the transition from Ron Zook to Urban Meyer in 2005.
As is always the case in the SEC, the rich got richer. And richer. And richer.
Blog Reactions: Roll 'Bama Roll recapped the Crimson Tide class but is also reading the Cyrus Kouandjio tea leaves; And The Valley Shook has an LSU reactions thread; Alligator Army is soliciting grades for Will Muschamp; and Track 'Em Tigers has an entertaining thread.
Look, a lot of this is because of the symbolic weight of snagging De'Anthony Thomas from USC's maw. But that's a huge deal: not only was Thomas one of the nation's best players and a cornerstone of the Trojans' class, he's exactly the kind of fleet-footed runner that could make Chip Kelly's offense even scarier than it has been in the last few years.
Oh, and Thomas is about as local as it gets for USC: his high school is literally two turns away from the Southern Cal campus, meaning that Kelly stole one of the nation's top recruits and a former USC commit away from a staff known for its recruiting above all else despite the recruit being from almost within shouting distance for USC.
Oregon's class is very good in other respects, and probably the program's best ever, but Thomas may be the best recruit in school history, and could signal a sea change on the West Coast. If you had any doubts that Oregon's stock was Google-hot, douse them.
Blog Reaction: Yeah, Addicted to Quack is on the "best class ever" train.
Louisville has one of its best classes ever, and maybe the best in the Big East ... Texas has a fantastic class despite a lack of late flash ... while Nebraska's in turmoil, Bo Pelini may have his best class ... Toledo leads the MAC classes ... Texas Tech gets a good class under Tommy Tuberville ... Notre Dame has a strong class in Brian Kelly's first full year ... Villanova's class is impressive ... Wyoming cleaned up — for Wyoming, anyway.
Given the circumstances Lane Kiffin has had to work with at USC, he's done well, especially in recruiting. Marqise Lee, Christian Heyward, Lamar Dawson and Aundrey Walker are testament to that from just yesterday, and USC has stocked up on enough Rivals and Scout stars to shine through the Los Angeles smog. But, warning: that was the faint praise part.
Kiffin has also managed to lose one of the nation's top recruits to a conference rival despite numerous and seemingly invaluable advantages, lost a recruit to UCLA after swaying him briefly despite the Bruins upstaging their own miserable season with some woeful recruiting, and performed the likely unprecedented trick of reportedly facing NCAA sanctions for work done at a previous school while serving as the head coach of a school currently under NCAA punishment ... for violations committed while he was an assistant coach at that school.
If it seems like Kiffin's playing a game of Jenga with balsa wood to you, you're not alone, trust me.
Blog Reaction: Conquest Chronicles on UCLA recruit turned USC recruit turned UCLA recruit Torian White, in two parts:
I CAN'T WAIT FOR THE MELTDOWN TO BEGIN ACROSS TOWN!!!
They are still irrelevant. That White EVEN considered USC shows just how bad the wasteland is in Westwood.
Floyd Raven definitely wins for most bizarre recruitment of 2011, or at least most baffling National Signing Day: forged Letters of Intent from Mom don't come into play very often. But this is the sort of thing that college football fans tend to remember very well, and it is now incumbent on Raven to produce as much excitement on the field for Texas A&M as he did for A&M and Ole Miss on a day when all he had to do was fax paper.
Anyone Who Has Read Or Will Read The "That's So Raven!" Jokes About Floyd Raven On Twitter And Does Not Have A Sense Of Humor To Process References Of That Caliber
Apologies in advance.
The Non-Florida State/Clemson Parts Of The ACC
I would wager you could read about four dozen variations of "Daddy's home" on various Florida State message boards tonight. Tomahawk Nation is pretty blunt in its bluster about what the Seminoles' haul means:
This is Florida State's best class in a decade and serves notice to the rest of the college football world that FSU will soon be back and contend at the highest level. And it serves notice to the other 11 other ACC programs, who cannot hope to compete with the Seminoles talent if FSU continues to stockpile in this fashion.
And though Florida State has seen mother lodes turn to coal in Tallahassee before, this time they appear to be coached by someone with a bit more acumen than late-period Bobby Bowden. The only ACC team even on Florida State's plane in 2011 recruiting is Clemson; if you don't think Jimbo Fisher can outcoach Dabo Swinney four of five times with superior talent, I think I want whatever you and the Clemson Tiger are having. Virginia's recruiting class is nice, but it's not in FSU's stratosphere.
That said, two caveats: Virginia Tech virtually never has classes that make recruiting services take notice, and yet the Hokies somehow seem to be playing in a BCS bowl game on a fairly regular basis; the ACC is still mostly a perpetual chaos device until any team proves it is dominant, and that goes for FSU, too.
UConn has some ennui to deal with ... Miami closed hard but is still a distant third — maybe fourth! — in Florida, so weeping is appropriate ... Bruins Nation's latest take on UCLA football includes "UCLA FOOTBALL DESERVES BETTER THAN THIS," but because Bruins fans are moving on past a mediocre-at-best recruiting class and training their vitriol on a defensive quality control coach in a completely rational manner.