National Signing Day 2014: Top 10 storylines
Fresh off its first BCS title since 1999, Florida State could have a recruiting finish similar to those it enjoyed during the Bobby Bowden era. Also, will Alabama sign the highest-rated class ever? Those items and more as signing day week gets started on Super Bowl Sunday.
College football's national signing day is Wednesday and there are plenty of storylines to watch down the stretch. Here's our top 10.
1. Could be a Bowden-esque finish at Florida State: A decade ago, you could count on fireworks at Florida State under Bobby Bowden during the last weekend of the recruiting cycle and on signing day. It was like clockwork. Opposing recruiters shook in their boots whenever one of their commits or top targets scheduled that last visit weekend to Tallahassee. Times have changed in terms of the number of players deciding late and under Jimbo Fisher; the Seminoles get more than their share of commits spread throughout the cycle. But coming off the school's first national title since 1999, there's a ton of momentum late and plenty of elite, undecided prospects who have the Noles high on their list. Five-star wide receivers Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) and Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla.), five-star defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich.), four-star offensive tackle Roderick Johnson (Florissant, Mo./Hazelwood Central) and four-star defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes) are some of the top uncommitted prospects who could end up signing with the Noles. On top of that, FSU could flip four-star athlete Javon Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen) from a long-standing pledge to Virginia Tech. Florida State’s class currently ranks No. 5 nationally.
2. Alabama has outside shot at best-ever class: While there are plenty of programs that have signed great classes this cycle, Alabama numerically is a safe bet (barring something unforeseen) to finish with the No. 1 class according to 247Sports team rankings (based 100 percent on 247Sports Composite rankings -- so it's more of a recruiting industry consensus than the opinion of one outlet) for the fourth straight cycle. That led to some questions about the class perhaps rating higher than any on record. The best class on record is Florida’s 2010 effort, which had a score of 321.80. Right now, the Crimson Tide class has a score of 314.76.? It’s close, but it is going to take Alabama landing two five-star targets -- Dupre (behind LSU, Florida State and perhaps UCLA) and No. 1 outside linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala.); Alabama must top hometown Auburn for Evans. While you can never doubt the ability of Alabama to close on players (Da'Shawn Hand and Tony Brown were both surprises this cycle), getting both is not something you can put in the "likely" category. If they do land Evans and Dupre, Alabama's class will rate 324.05, according to the 247Sports Class Calculator, which will make it the best-ever numerically. Most likely, though, it will just end up being No. 1 this cycle.
3. Michigan State has momentum: There may not be a program with more momentum right now (recruiting and otherwise) than Michigan State. The Spartans won the Big Ten championship (handing Ohio State its first loss under Urban Meyer) and the Rose Bowl, and have an outstanding recruiting class brewing (from a rankings standpoint purely, as it's hard to argue that some of the classes Mark Dantonio and staff have signed haven't been vastly underrated by the recruiting industry). McDowell has Michigan State clearly in the mix and he could just as easily end up in East Lansing as elsewhere. The Spartans are trying to flip four-star offensive tackle Jamarco Jones (Chicago, Ill./De La Salle) from Ohio State and four-star defensive tackle Craig Evans (Sun Prairie, Wisc.) from Wisconsin and have a good shot at both. Four-star defensive tackle Daniel Cage (Cincinnati, Ohio/Winton Woods) and three-star safety/athlete T.J. Harrell (Tampa, Fla./Catholic) also are strong possibilities for the Spartans, who could end up with a class ranked inside the top 20 and a big momentum-building finish. Looking ahead to the Class of 2015, which features in-state talent like elite running back Michael Weber (Detroit, Mich./Cass Tech) that is leaning early to the Spartans, the momentum should continue in the near future.
4. Malik McDowell's destination: So on that note, where will McDowell, the No. 32 overall prospect in the 2014 class, end up? For most of the cycle, it looked like Michigan and the Wolverines are still in the picture. Michigan State had serious momentum and could still land him, but that doesn't look like a layup. Florida State has always felt good about McDowell and recruiter Tim Brewster and the Seminoles staff have the defending champs squarely in the mix. Then, there's Ohio State, which has proximity and closes as well as any program. The Buckeyes also have been known to come from behind a time or two late in the cycle and land a big-time player (Vonn Bell comes to mind). This is a rare situation where any of the four could land the 6-foot-6, 280-pound jumbo athlete and may be the top storyline, given the programs that are involved and the uncertainty of the situation, involving a single prospect on signing day.
5. USC looks close with the big three in LA: The top uncommitted prospect in this recruiting cycle, cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), five-star safety/athlete John "JuJu" Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly), and the No. 1 offensive guard prospect in the country Damien Mama (Belflower, Calif./St. John Bosco) all are somewhat strong possibilities for Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans. Landing the trio would give USC three of the five prospects in California for this cycle, including the top two in Jackson and Smith. But this is not a done deal by any stretch. USC must hold off Florida and LSU for Jackson and Notre Dame and Oregon for Smith (there is some buzz about the Ducks). The Trojans are the overwhelming favorite to land the 6-foot-4, 370-pound, light-footed Mama.
6. Battle for Big 12's top class: The Red River Rivalry stretches into recruiting here as either Oklahoma or Texas will have the top class in the Big 12. The Sooners are in the thick of things for four-star athlete Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East), battling Notre Dame. They also would like to land four-star safety Steven Parker (Jenks, Okla.) and flip (from LSU) four-star defensive end Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City/Douglass) in-state. Additionally, elite offensive tackle Kenyon Frison (Salt Lake City, Utah/Granger) has Oklahoma in the mix, along with Arizona State, Nebraska and Utah. Landing their share of these players likely puts the Sooners atop the Big 12 class rankings, ahead of Texas, which is currently No. 1. As for the Longhorns, new coach Charlie Strong inherited an excellent class from Mack Brown and most of it remains intact. Texas has a big need at defensive tackle and former Louisville commits Poona Ford (Hilton Head, S.C.) and Chris Nelson (Lakeland, Fla./Victory Christian) appear Austin-bound. If the Longhorns land those two and Oklahoma doesn't have as big of a finish as it hopes to have, Texas will have the top class in the league.
7. Notre Dame could be California Dreamin': The Fighting Irish have another excellent class, ranked No. 9 nationally by 247Sports, that is heavy on outstanding linemen and defensive prospects. All eyes are on the Golden State in terms of how this class finishes up as Smith and Quick are the two highest-profile targets that remain on the board. As noted, Notre Dame is battling USC and Oregon for Smith and Oklahoma for Quick, so it won't be easy to pull off the two-recruit California sweep, but Irish passing game coordinator/tight ends coach Mike Denbrock is the Notre Dame recruiter-of-record for both and is outstanding, so it would not be a surprise. While things did not work out ultimately, the Irish were able to sign Eddie Vanderdoes out of California on signing day last year when most thought he would sign with UCLA.
8. LSU still set up for a great class: After losing some top in-state prospects to out-of-state programs, Tigers fans probably are of the thought that this class is not what it could have been, but the reality is it stands a good chance to finish in the top three nationally. LSU is in good shape to land four-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine and is in heavily the mix for Jackson, Dupre, four-star linebacker Kenny Young (Dupre's teammate) and high-upside offensive tackle Derrick Kelly Jr. (Havana, Fla./East Gadsden), among others. A big signing day could land LSU as high as No. 2 nationally, depending on what some other schools do.
9. Auburn eyes top-five finish: Coming off a trip to the BCS Championship Game, Auburn has primed itself to finish with another outstanding recruiting class. The Tigers have perhaps the top class of junior college prospects in the country, led by five-star impact receiver D'haquille Williams, who has already enrolled. From the high school level, Auburn is waiting on some top targets, including Evans, Parker, four-star offensive guard Braden Smith (Olathe, Kan./Olathe North) and four-star defensive end Andrew Williams (McDonough, Ga./Eagles Landing Christian), among others. Landing Evans (battling Alabama), Smith (battling TCU, Texas A&M) and Williams (battling Clemson) would boost this class toward or into the top five, depending on what happens at other programs.
10. Loads of talent heading to the SEC ... again: When all of the returns are in Wednesday evening, chances are it's going to be another recruiting cycle where a chunk of the elite talent heads to SEC programs. Currently, of the 33 prospects with a five-star rating according to 247Sports Composite rankings, 17 are committed to SEC schools with Evans, Jackson, Dupre, defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Norcross, Ga.) and offensive tackle Damian Prince (District Heights, Md./Bishop McNamara) all possibilities to end up in the SEC. Evans and Carter are near SEC locks with Auburn/Alabama battling for Evans and Georgia/Florida for Carter. Jackson could head to Florida or LSU and the Tigers are favored to keep Dupre in-state. Prince could go to the Gators as well. Most likely, the SEC ends up with more than 60 percent of the five-star prospects and while SEC programs have five-star commits from states like Virginia, Illinois and D.C. -- which are not within the league's geographic footprint, 21 of the 33 prospects with five-star ratings this recruiting cycle are from states with an SEC program located within its borders.
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