Valdosta Daily Times

Local Sports

February 4, 2014

SEC still holds firm at the top of recruiting race

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The Southeastern Conference is still reigning supreme on the recruiting trail.

Florida State ended the league’s seven-year stranglehold on the national title, but Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU & Co. have been racking up wins in the living rooms of top prospects from across the country.

The Crimson Tide is poised to bring in another top-rated recruiting class on Wednesday’s national signing day. Six SEC rivals also have built top 10 classes, according to the 247Sports composite rankings of the major recruiting sites.

“It’s kind of a rich get richer kind of thing,” said JC Shurburtt, national recruiting director for 247Sports.

Based on the rankings, the SEC is cleaning up. ESPN.com has four SEC classes ranked in the top 5: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Texas A&M, No. 4 LSU and No. 5 Tennessee.

ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill thinks the Pac-12 stands the best chance of closing the gap on the SEC on Wednesday.

Six of ESPN.com’s eight highest rated prospects, and 25 of the top 50, have signed or committed to SEC teams. Five of the 15 prospects with five-star ratings are Alabama bound, including offensive tackle Cameron Robinson and defensive end Da’Shawn Hand. Luginbill calls it “a sensational class” that might be Nick Saban’s best with the Crimson Tide.

“It may be one of the best classes of offensive line personnel regardless of program and regardless of year,” he said.

Here are five things to watch from the SEC on signing day and beyond:

TOP AVAILABLE: Several top uncommitted prospects could wind up in the SEC. That includes Gardena, Calif., cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, who lists Florida, LSU, UCLA and Southern California among his finalists. The top-rated outside linebacker, Auburn (Ala.) High School’s Rashaan Evans, has listed Auburn, Alabama and UCLA as his final choices. New Orleans five-star wide receiver Malachi Dupre’s list includes Alabama, LSU, Florida State and UCLA. Shurburtt thinks Evans is the unattached prospect that could have the biggest immediate impact in the SEC. He expects him to join five-star linebacker Tre’ Williams at Auburn.

RUNNING BACKS GALORE: SEC teams are hoping they’ve found future successors to departed star runners like Auburn’s Tre Mason and LSU’s Jeremy Hill. Four of 247Sports’ composite’s five five-star running backs appear bound for the SEC, including Georgia commits Sony Michel and Nick Chubb. LSU has top overall prospect Leonard Fournette and Auburn’s biggest offensive pledge is Racean “Roc” Thomas of Oxford, Ala. “Leonard Fournette, he’s one of the best running back prospects in 10 years,” Shurburtt said. “You look at it from that standpoint, the running back talent in the league is already very good, and it’s just getting better.”

BEYOND BORDERS: SEC coaches have gone well beyond their own states and regions to snare recruits. Alabama is expected to pull in players from at least 15 states. Texas A&M went beyond its own talent-rich state to pull in wide receiver Speedy Noil from New Orleans and quarterback Kyle Allen from Scottsdale, Ariz. Both are the No. 1 prospects at their positions, according to multiple recruiting sites. Kentucky dipped into Ohio for 11 commitments. And those are just a few examples of the SEC coaches’ travels.  “In a way it’s not fair,” Shurburtt said. “The SEC schools are in the part of the country that produces the most talent. The numbers back that up, and yet they’re able to go and cherry-pick guys in other states that are not SEC states.”

POSITION LEADERS: If recruiting rankings are like draft boards, where teams rank players overall and at their position, then the SEC has plenty of first-rounders. Seven SEC pledges are rated the best at their position in the composite rankings out of the 14 spots where the No. 1 guy has committed. Shurburtt said that’s sometimes a better gauge than just the number of stars by a player’s name.

PASSING FANCY: Gone are quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger. It’s not easy to come right in and start at quarterback in the SEC, but five of 247Sports’ top six pro-style quarterbacks are entering the league. They’ve all already enrolled, including Texas A&M’s Allen, Florida’s Will Grier, Alabama’s David Cornell, Georgia’s Jacob Park and Kentucky’s Drew Barker.

It could make for some interesting competitions.

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