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February 6, 2013
Signing Day's winners and losers
Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.Exhale. And unplug the fax machine.
Signing classes from across the country are present and accounted for -- unless your prospect's mom stole the letter of intent -- and now it is time to rush to judgment as to which programs had the best and worst of National Signing Day.
The winners on the day were clear and stood out from the pack, while the losers were less and sometimes in relative terms.
Classes listed in alphabetical order.
Rumors of the class' death were greatly exaggerated. After two months of uncertainty and conjecture, Gus Malzahn capped a fantastic close to the class of 2013. At the top of the class, the Tigers kept a five-star in Carl Lawson and added another in Montravius Adams. The coups did not stop there. Four-star defensive end Elijah Daniel flipped from Ole Miss, while four-star offensive guard Deon Mix jumped the Mississippi State ship and joined Auburn. The class also added Mackenro Alexander to its secondary. Alexander is listed as a three-star prospect but has a major chip on his shoulder because of it and could become a nasty force for the program.
The Buckeyes' class ran neck-and-neck with many powers in the SEC atop the Rivals.com national team rankings this season, and the last couple of days continued the push upwards. Urban Meyer closed with five-star safety Vonn Bell out of Georgia and four-star receiver James Clark from Florida. They also got four-star running back Dontre Wilson on Monday. What may have been icing on the top was that with a midday announcement the program retained the pledge of running back Ezekiel Elliott -- the top player from the state of Missouri. Elliott was promised early in the process that he would be the only back recruited in the class, and when Wilson was approached it gave pause to Elliott. He responded by visiting Missouri just before signing day. Keeping everyone in the class and adding Bell, Clark and Wilson late was impressive.
Despite being the worst-kept secret in recruiting, Ole Miss landed the signature of Robert Nkemdiche -- the No. 1 prospect in the Rivals100. Later in the day, the team added Laremy Tunsil -- the top-rated offensive tackle -- to join the nation's best receiver, Laquon Treadwell. If that wasn't enough, the program stole four-star offensive lineman Austin Golson from Florida State and added the No. 2 player from Mississippi to the class when Antonio Conner faxed his letter. The cumulative effect is easily the best class for Ole Miss in the history of Rivals.com and a sure reason to celebrate in Oxford.
The departure of Chip Kelly to the NFL sent the Oregon class into a shake-up, but when the faxes came in there was barely any damage done, outside of losing Dontre Wilson. The ability to protect five-star Thomas Tyner and four-star twins Tyree Robinson and Tyrell Robinson was a major victory for the remaining staff. That alone could have been considered a victory, but that was not all. Oregon flipped Rivals250 offensive lineman Cameron Hunt from California and followed by absolutely stealing Rivals250 defensive end Torrodney Prevot from USC. All told, the period after Kelly left may have been more active and productive than the time from the end of the regular season until the announcement was made.
The Nittany Lions did not gain a single commitment after Dec. 14, but they were a major winner on signing day because of the calm they kept throughout. Bill O'Brien and his staff did one of the best under-the-radar recruiting jobs in the country, working in the face of major sanctions to keep three four-star players on board with a five-star quarterback. Christian Hackenberg, Adam Breneman, Garrett Sickels and Brendan Mahon were the first four players to buy into the program, and all four made it to the finish line. While some will point to the middle-of-the-pack finish in national recruiting, this class is a victory because it could have been much worse.
The Aggies were relatively inactive on National Signing Day, but a top 10 finish nationally is a signal that this class could merge nicely with the young talent already in College Station. Daeshon Hall was a four-star defensive end addition on Wednesday, but the real work was already done. Kevin Sumlin was fiercely active on the defensive side of the ball, landing four-star defensive tackles Justin Manning, Hardreck Walker and Isaiah Golden to go with Hall. The four are joined by four-stars Kameron Miles and Noel Ellis in the secondary, and each could play an important role in overhauling a unit that was bent, and at times broken, this past season.
It has been a four-star close for Jim Mora Jr. and the staff, and it continued to the wire. The run started in early December and carried through National Signing Day as UCLA added Alex Redmond and Caleb Benenoch to its offensive line in December and went on a run of skill-position players. Receivers Eldridge Massington and Thomas Duarte were next in the fold, followed by defensive backs Johnny Johnson, Tyler Foreman and Tahaan Goodman. The day before signing day, UCLA swooped in on for USC pledge Kylie Fitts and was locked in a battle to keep Priest Willis away from the Trojans. Mora landed his potential quarterback of the future by getting Asiantii Woulard to commit. The staff has made UCLA a real destination for kids in Los Angeles and the rest of Southern California. This program looks prepared to battle with the Trojans for more top-tier players.
This is the peak of situational losing. Georgia is sitting just outside of the top 10 in national recruiting, it yet is being considered among the losers on signing day. The program signed 32 prospects and averaged 3.47 stars per player, but it could not fend off many raiders inside of its own borders. In a year in which the state produced four five-star players -- five if you count Reuben Foster because he transferred out of state as a senior -- the Bulldogs landed none. They protected only two of the top 15 players within the state. Carl Lawson reaffirmed his commitment to Auburn, Montravius Adams joined him, Vonn Bell went to Ohio State and Laremy Tunsil -- an offensive lineman from Florida whom the staff felt great about -- chose Ole Miss. While the class is solid, and if other schools had this list it could represent a major victory, it is a tale of what could have been.
If Bill Snyder doesn't care about star ratings, why should we, right? The Wildcats are coming off back-to-back great seasons -- this recent one ended with a BCS bowl berth -- but the class has only 19 players and a four-to-one ratio of two-star to four-star players. It is a comically bad class for a program that should theoretically be on the rise in recruiting. This is a relative-speaking loss because Kansas State has never been a major player for elite recruits and Snyder has shown that he can pressure diamonds from lumps of coal, but in the world of jumping the gun this is a wasted opportunity.
Written about ad nauseum, this is a tough class to call a winner or a loser but the optimism coming into National Signing Day ended with a thud. Miami bungled the recruitment of Denver Kirkland and lost him to Arkansas. It likely pushed away five-star Matthew Thomas as well. Alex Collins' mom tried to make the former commit sign with the school, but it appears he is headed to Arkansas as well, with former 'Canes coach Randy Shannon dipping back into the South Florida market. The day was not all a loss, though, because the program landed four-star linebacker Jermaine Grace and four-star receiver Stacy Coley. There are major questions about the defensive line, which went relatively unaddressed in this class, and even with the backdrop of self-sanctioning many people expected more than this.
Welcome to the SEC; act accordingly. Missouri was a disaster in recruiting, barely finishing inside of the top 50 and easily at the bottom of the conference. In a year when the team had moments of looking lifeless, this was not an inspiring performance in the living room to make anyone believe in future gains. The class has one four-star player in Chase Abbington, who is also the only skill-position player to be clocked under a mid-4.5 time in the 40- yard dash. With a cracked window to maybe land Ezekiel Elliott when he was upset that Ohio State was taking another running back, the program was unable to close on him. Topping it off, the Tigers lost a great recruiter in quarterback coach Dave Yost. All in all, a clear loss on the class and the day.
The Longhorns did not receive the memo that recruiting is now a year-round process, apparently. Texas ended the season with just 15 commitments, and only four of them were gained in the last eight months. It lost in-state five-star A'Shawn Robinson in the last weeks of the process. There was very little that went right in this cycle, and positive reflection would be really stretching for a silver lining. The school is bringing in six of its 15 players as three-star players. If all of that were not bad enough, it is juxtaposed with Texas A&M, which is building a monster with a high-paced offense and a dynamic head coach who emphasizes the grind of recruiting and believes in the process. A loss this year could turn into the norm if it Texas does not stem the tide.
The caveat with every negative to the USC class failure is the top-end success. USC signed more five-star players than any other program, landing five elite-level players. The problem is that it also saw a bevy of them de-commit. The Trojans lost five-star players Max Redfield, Jalen Ramsey and Eddie Vanderdoes, as well as four-star prospects Kylie Fitts, Torrodney Prevot and Jason Hatcher. They could not backfill with five-star Matthew Thomas and then failed in the attempt to land four-star defensive backs Priest Willis and Tahaan Goodman from UCLA as a package. After what looked like a class that many would call one of the best of all-time, it trickled down to a 12-man crew that wound up outside the top 10 nationally and limped to the finish with just four-star Quinton Powell coming aboard. Depth was an issue for USC this past season and, with a limited class like this, it could be again.