An updated look at the latest from the SEC on National Signing Day.
|Robert Nkemdiche (right) is in the Ole Miss fold, but Chris Jones (left) stuck with Mississippi State. (US Presswire)|
6 p.m. ET: Was there ever any doubt? Last July, possibly? Maybe last February? October of 2011, say? When was the last time anyone would have placed a bet on anyone other than Alabama finishing the 2012-2013 recruiting cycle atop the team rankings? Not every ranking service agrees with 247sports or even its composite rankings, but who are you gonna believe: the coaching staff that's won three of four national titles and had its pick of nearly any national recruit that wasn't listening to Hugh Freeze's pied piper flute, or your lyin' spreadsheet?
The Tide capped off their 2013 class with -- ho-hum -- another five-star offensive tackle (this one plucked out of Texas) and another four-star, top-75 tailback (their fourth). At this point, it's the same thing repeated every signing day ad nauseam, but Nick Saban's perpetual-motion recruiting machine doesn't allow for any other kind of analysis: the Tide have proven they will win national titles if they recruit at this level, and they recruit at this level every single year.
Is there hope for the rest of college football? Yes, in the sense that even the best college football teams can always drop a game or two by random chance. In the sense that the Tide won't loom over the national title discussion on an annual basis like a celluloid alien spaceship drifting over New York, until Saban finally departs? No. That hope is long gone.
One other final note: Whiffing on Alvin Kamara and Clemson-bound guard Tyrone Crowder meant that there's no other way to spin Mark Richt's signing day than as one of disappointment. Between the single three-star defensive end landed in Wednesday's finale, the poor in-state showing (the Bulldogs signed 2 of 247Sports' top 15 Georgia prospects), and zero five-star signees, Georgia fans aren't going to be happy.
That's not to say this class is a disaster. Thirty-two signees strong, it ranked 12th in the final national rankings, and thanks to a healthy 14 four-stars it finished with a better per-recruit ranking average than Auburn's 23-member No. 11 class. But that's almost the point: the Tigers just went 3-9, fired their entire staff, and share a less talent-rich state with Alabama. Should defensive line coach Rodney Garner's switch from Athens to Auburn really have been so monumental as to propel the Tigers ahead of the Bulldogs despite all of the former's disadvantages and the latter's advantages? If Richt has found a number of diamonds-in-the-proverbial-rough, it won't matter, but on its face this class may not be good enough in today's SEC.
Final winners: Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU, Florida, Texas A&M.
"Why can't Vanderbilt win a national championship?" -James Franklin— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerCBS) February 6, 2013
The honest truth is that there's an awful lot of reasons why Vanderbilt can't win a national championship. But the difference between Franklin and other coaches who have made similar claims about their own lesser-regarded programs (remember Tommy Tuberville making similar noises at Ole Miss in the long, long ago, only to bolt for Auburn at the first opportunity?) is that Franklin legitimately seems to believe he can build that kind of program at Vanderbilt.
That belief has made him a terrific salesman for his Commodores program. And even if the Dores' recruiting isn't yet actually at the level Franklin's reputation might suggest (Vandy currently ranks 30th, and 12th in the SEC, in the 247Sports composite team rankings), the fact that recruits like Signing Day additions Zach Cunningham (a 247Sports top 247 linebacker) and Stanford-coveted four-star receiver Jordan Cunningham are willing to actually put their names on the dotted line with Vanderbilt is an accomplishment as amazing as their back-to-back bowl berths.
No, Vanderbilt isn't winning a national title any time soon. But the Commodores have become a relevant program on National Signing Day, and are expected to be a relevant program on National Signing Day. Franklin may not be a miracle worker (that honor, today at least, goes to Hugh Freeze) but he might be the next best thing.
1 p.m. ET: The SEC East appeared to gain some ground on the West on the field in 2012, with Florida downing LSU, Georgia pushing Alabama to the limit in the SEC title game, and the West's middle class (Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi State) failing to deliver on expectations. But could Signing Day be turning the tide back in the West's direction?
That's not to say there's not good news for Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. The Dawgs picked up a high-upside prospect in three-star DE Davin Bellamy, the Vols earned a huge win by flipping four-star Arizona State quarterback commitment Joshua Dobbs at the last minute, and Florida picked up talented in-state DT Jay-nard Bostwick. But after premature reports that New Jersey four-star DE Tashawn Bower had signed with the Gators, he instead faxed his NLI to LSU. Tennessee missed out on what they thought was a near-sure thing when five-star safety Vonn Bell went to Ohio State. And aside from Bellamy, Georgia has precious little to get excited about today.
Meanwhile, Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU (thanks to Bower), Texas A&M and of course Alabama have all scored huge victories Wednesday. According to the 247Sports team rankings, Auburn has the ninth-best class in the country ... but only the fifth-best class in the SEC West. Meanwhile, Florida is the only East school to rank in that top 10. (Georgia's No. 12.) The richer side of the SEC is indeed getting richer.
12 p.m. ET: Perhaps even more remarkable than Ole Miss hauling in the nation's No. 1 and No. 3 prospects is that none of the national top three will play outside the state of Mississippi; No. 2 defensive end and national overall No. 2 prospect Chris Jones of Houston, Miss., elected Wednesday to stick with his commitment to Mississippi State. Keeping Jones was an absolute must-get for Dan Mullen, who has seen some of his other prized recruits (like JUCO receiver Corey Smith, who signed with Ohio State) plucked away by bigger recruits in recent weeks.
Elsewhere, Alabama hasn't had the kind of smashing Signing Day it's grown accustomed to under Nick Saban, losing five-star safety Tony Conner to Ole Miss's unstoppable momentum after seeing Laremy Tunsil head to Oxford, too. But thanks to Reuben Foster sticking with his Monday commitment to Alabama (in a Nick Saban-approved outfit, no less), No. 51 overall running back Altee Tenpenny sticking with his Alabama commitment after a big push from Arkansas, and now four-star defensive tackle Dee Liner committing to Alabama as expected, it's still a signing day only just this side of smashing. Where is Alabama ranked in the 247Sports composite team rankings despite the Conner and Tunsil misses? No. 1, that's where.
12 p.m. winners: Mississippi State, Alabama.
10 a.m. ET: The nation's No. 1 offensive tackle, Laremy Tunsil, announced for Ole Miss -- giving the Rebels the nation's No. 1 player and No. 1 DE, No. 3 player and No. 1 OT, and in Laquon Treadwell they have a five-star wide receiver considered by many to be the No. 1 WR as well. Again: Ole Miss. (They also quietly added Prattville, Ala. OT Austin Golson, who's "only" the No. 144 player in the country. That that went "quietly" tells you what kind of noise the Rebels are making otherwise.)
All by itself, this 2013 class won't overturn the established SEC hegemony ... but if Freeze can continue to coach as well as he did in 2012, and if he follows up this class with anything similar in 2014, yes, the Rebels will be legitimate SEC players.
Elsewhere, Auburn added its third five-star defensive lineman of the class with tackle Montravius Adams, the No. 10 overall player in the country. Adams joins Elijah Daniel (see below) and five-star defensive end Carl Lawson to form what should be the foundation of one of the SEC's most dangerous future defensive lines. New Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner was always one of the SEC's best recruiters at Georgia, but hanging onto Lawson and adding Daniel and Adams in the mere weeks since the Auburn graduate returned to the Plains ranks among anything he accomplished in Athens.
As for the program he left behind, missing out on both Adams and fast-rising four-star OT George Adeosun -- two major in-state propsects -- means Mark Richt could use some good news.
10 a.m. winners: Ole Miss, Auburn Losers: Georgia.
9 a.m. ET: The first domino to fall on Signing Day 2013 also happened to be the biggest, as five-star defensive end and consensus No. 1 overall recruit Robert Nkemdiche pledged to Ole Miss. Nkemdiche becomes the third consecutive No. 1 overall prospect to take his talents off the path usually beaten by recruits of his caliber, following in the footsteps of Dorial Green-Beckham's signing with Missouri and Jadeveon Clowney's with South Carolina. Unlike those decisions, however, Nkemdiche's isn't motivated as much by a need to stay closer to home (he's from Loganville, Ga.) as his family connection to Rebels linebacker and brother Denzel Nkemdiche.
Whatever the reasoning, though, one thing is clear: You don't have to be Alabama, USC, or Florida to have a chance with the nation's No. 1 overall recruit any more, and this year it's Ole Miss that's benefited.
That's not to say it's all wine and roses so far in Oxford: Five-star defensive end Elijah Daniel from Avon, Ind., pulled a last-minute switch from the Rebels and will sign with Auburn, according to his coach. That, in turn, might have influenced the decision of longtime Auburn commitment Tashawn Bower, a four-star defensive end from New Jersey who's reportedly signed with Florida after a big late push from Florida. Add that pull to the signing of four-star defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick, and it's the Gators who have the best ratio of good news (lots) to bad news (none) in the early going.
9 a.m. Winners: Florida, Ole Miss, Auburn. Losers: n/a