NGSC Sports

SEC classes highlight varying philosophies

[airesizeimg src=”$-300×156$.jpg” alt=”SEC” class=”alignleft size-medium wp-image-874″ ]IT HAS BEEN trendy to herald the fall of the Southeastern Conference after its stranglehold on the national championship ended at seven years (let’s not get into how ludicrous it is to make such statements, especially after the SEC still managed to reach the big game).

Likewise, there has been a lot of rumbling that the SEC’s massive recruiting advantage eroded during this past cycle.

That’s a difficult argue for anyone to make. Across the broad realm of recruiting services, Alabama and LSU had the consensus best classes and SEC teams accounted for seven of the top 10 hauls. For those who would like to knock Nick Saban down a peg, he responded this year by taking a top recruit directly out of Auburn, under the nose of the recruit’s father, an Auburn alumnus.

Then there’s this: Depending on the service you prefer, the SEC snagged the top recruit out of every Big 12 state. That’s an exercise in sustained excellence.

Let’s take a closer look at the SEC’s final haul. We will use the 247 Sports consensus player ratings and national rankings as a default.

Five star recruits: 6
Four star recuits: 15
Rank: 1st

This class is absolutely loaded, from OLB Rashaan Evans (the Auburn kid) to quarterback David Cornwell (top prospect in the state of Oklahoma) to a pair of cornerbacks that should be downright frightening to face for the next three seasons (Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey, the state of Alabama’s top prospect).

Brown and Humphrey in part and Evans in particular herald a change of philosophy for Saban’s defensive staff. After getting scorched by Texas A&M in victory and Auburn and Oklahoma in defeat, the Crimson Tide clearly has moved toward simpler personnel packages that emphasize the type of athletes who can stay on the field against no-huddle offenses.

“One of the goals we had was to get a little more fast-twitch, quicker body type guys to play on the edges for us,” Saban told the media on Signing Day. “We’re playing against a lot more spread. I feel between the outside backer types we got as well as some of the more athletic kind of defensive ends we got that maybe we satisfied that need as well.”

Five star recruits: 0
Four star recruits: 4
Rank: 30th

The Razorbacks pulled in the league’s 11-best class, according to 247 Sports, which was still good for 30th nationally. Does that say enough about this conference’s recruiting cachet?

Watch Arkansas these next few seasons because what we are seeing with the Razorbacks is a clash of philosophy that is at odds with most of the SEC. Second-year head coach Bret Bielema’s influences are Iowa’s Hayden Fry, Kansas State’s Bill Snyder and Wisconsin’s Barry Alvarez. As such, he’s a system guy, more interested in finding the players for his system, rather than their overall ranking or broad skill set.

Now, that approach has worked out magnificently at those schools, but none of those schools are in the SEC. Can a system philosophy work against teams loaded with sheer athletic ability? We’ll find out.

As for the class itself, Bielema went out and loaded the defensive and defensive lines. He’s building from the inside out and that is going to take time. Therefore, we’ll have to take the long view on the Razorbacks and only really rate this class as it relates to the ones that follow. One skill player Bielema did snag was dual-threat quarterback Rafe Peavey.

Arkansas will have to dig out of a deep hole here. Essentially, there are now three recruiting classes put together by three different coaching staffs. Bielema should have a long leash. This is the epitome of the five-year project.

Five star recruits: 2
Four star recruits: 11
Rank: 6th

It is interesting to note that Auburn’s class is rated anywhere from the fourth-best class in the SEC to the eighth-best. That is due in large part to Evans’ stunning decision to spurn his hometown team and go to Alabama.

That said, despite the defection of Evans, Auburn’s overall rankings actually climbed on Signing Day. Look no further than Auburn’s dip into the junior college ranks for the ripple in their ratings from service to service. No service seems to have a good handle on how to rank juco prospects.

In Auburn’s case though, look out for their big four juco signees. Wide receiver D’haquille Williams was considered the top juco player in the nation by many services and he, along with fellow Mississippi Gulf Coast safety Derrick Moncrief, is already on campus.

Center Xavier Dampeer (Copiah-Lincoln) and defensive tackle Devaroe Lawrence (Georgia Military) are the other incoming juniors.

If you’re an Auburn fan, get fired up for that Nick Marshall-to-Williams hookup next fall. At 6-3, 213 pounds, few corners are going to be able to match up, even in the vaunted SEC.

Five star recruits: 1
Four star recruits: 8
Rank: 9th

Is it possible to be disappointed with the No. 9 overall recruiting class? Yes, if that rank merely means you’re the seventh-best in your own conference and your coaching staff was entering a make-or-break season.

In the curious case of the Florida Gators, it has to be considered something of a victory that embattled head coach Will Muschamp managed to keep his hands on all his commitments.

ESPN is overjoyed by Florida’s class, stating the Gators nabbed 13 ESPN 300 prospects. Other services are not quite as sky-high on the Gators. ESPN also gives Florida credit for “flipping” Florida State quarterback commitment Treon Harris, but is it really a flip if a kid just doesn’t want to back up a reigning Heisman Trophy winner who himself said he’s thinking of staying put two more years?

Harris obviously is not going to play quarterback at Florida, which is why using ESPN’s rankings is just giggle-worthy. He’s too small and the Gators already have Will Grier, North Carolina’s top prospect and the nation’s No. 2 pro-style quarterback.

For the most part, the strength of Florida’s class is on the defensive side of the ball (Harris could end up on this side, too. Hard to say). That isn’t a bad strategy in the SEC East, where two years ago, Florida rode a lights-out defense to within a hair of the division title.

Five star recruits: 3
Four star recruits: 10
Rank: 8th

As such things go, Georgia brought in one of the smaller classes you’re going to see at a Big 5 school. That is obviously a sign of just how youthful the Bulldogs were this past season after massive graduation losses following the 2012 season.

With last year’s class and this one, the emphasis has been on defense and there, this class did not disappoint. Weakside defensive end Lorenzo Carter was the top recruit in the state of Georgia and easily the top recruit in the Bulldogs’ class. There will be numbers in the secondary as well, where as many as five of the 21 signees will play.

Offensively, Richt appears to have brought in the heirs apparent to Georgia’s current Thunder and Lightning duo of Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb both check in at more than 200 pounds and should be able to ease into their roles.

In its own little way, for the needs that were addressed, this might be the best recruiting haul in the SEC.

Five star recruits: 0
Four star recruits: 6
Rank: 22nd

A touch mind-blowing to see a Kentucky team ranked among the nation’s top 25 recruiting classes, right? Another argument against those who would say the SEC is losing its bite is Kentucky flipping a FLORIDA STATE recruit on Signing Day.

While defensive end Denzel Ware cannot necessarily be considered a truly elite get for Kentucky, it does signal head coach Mike Stoops is turning the tide on keeping the state’s top players within its borders. Ware waffled between the Wildcats and the Seminoles before Stoops’ defensive reputation eventually won out. Such a get signals to the rest of the state that the home team isn’t one to look past any longer. It’s also the first step to building a truly solid foundation for your program.

Now that would have made for a great day if that had been Stoops’ only coup … but there was another. Snagging defensive lineman Matt Elam out of Alabama’s grips was another key in-state save for the Wildcats. Elam, depending on which scout is talking, is considered the state’s best overall player.

Five star recruits: 4
Four star recruits: 12
Rank: 2nd

Yawn. Anyone surprised by this?

Les Miles, that quirky dude, is some sort of Svengali. After suffering several notable embarrassments on the recruiting trail, LSU counterpunched by picking up the consensus No. 1 player in the country, running back Leonard Fournette. If you’re hunting for a comparison for Fournette, many publications bring up the name Adrian Peterson.

Jeremy Hill might be lucky he’s graduating.

After losing his top two receivers to graduation, Miles responded by locking up top-10 talents Malachi Dupree and Trey Quinn. The defense will be anchored by two five-star talents in linebacker Clifton Garrett and safety Jamal Adams.

Just another day at the office for the ol’ Bengals in Cajun Country.

Five star recruits: 0
Four star recruits: 6
Rank: 16th

Hugh Freeze is another head coach employing a specific strategy with this year’s recruiting class. The Rebels cobbled together their group primarily by targeting junior colleges, prep schools and, in some cases, grayshirts over high school seniors.

As a result, six already are in classes, giving them a very good shot at contributing in the fall.

Another interesting aspect of this 25-player class is the fact there is no emphasis on any particular unit. There are players for virtually every position on the field, including kicker. It’s hard to say where the breakout star will come from, but keep an eye on guard Roderick Taylor, receiver Markell Pack and, down the road, Garrald McDowell, a defensive lineman who is an athletic tweener, size-wise.

Five star recruits: 0
Four star recruits: 3
Rank: 38th

Welcome to the sleeper class of the SEC. As you can see, there are no five stars in Dan Mullen’s haul and only three four stars. But get this: There are a whopping 19 three-star athletes, making 22 of the 23 signees at or above the three-star level.

That is an impressive bit of work for the forgotten Mississippi school in Starkville.

Like Bielema, Mullen is a system-oriented coach. He seeks out those players who not only would fit his system, but might have a fire lit beneath them for being overlooked by the marquee schools.

Running back Aeris Williams, generally speaking, is this group’s top talent, but you could rank the next nine players in any order and not get much of an argument. Williams, though, should give Mullen some great flexibility in the read-option next season.

Five star recruits: 0
Four star recruits: 3
Rank: 39th

It was a little baffling to see Missouri struggle so much on the recruiting trail after reaching the SEC title game and winning the Cotton Bowl. It is even more peculiar that none of Missouri’s signees have enrolled early and very little was done to address the massive defensive line losses of Michael Sam and Kony Ealy.

For whatever reason, it seems head coach Gary Pinkel’s class wax and wane over the years. It could be that Missouri has enough talent on campus already to keep the program at a high level. If that’s not the case, there’s not a whole lot of immediate help in the wings. Linebacker Brandon Lee might be able to help in the fall, but he’s a reach to stay at his current position at 210 pounds. We’ll see.

Five star recruits: 0
Four star recruits: 10
Rank: 15th

More than anything the Gamecocks have done over the past three seasons, nothing says a program has arrived like a superb class after sustained success and major graduation losses.

Steve Spurrier has moved South Carolina from up-and-coming to reloading. It’s one of the best construction jobs any coach has accomplished in recent memory.

If you’re stuck on that goose-egg next to the five-star category, unstick yourself with this: Of the 21 players South Carolina signed, NONE are less than three-star caliber. That’s not to say there isn’t work to do or that the Gamecocks missed out on some talent. The consensus top two players in the state left the state, so that was unfortunate.

Then there is the issue of filling the void – nay chasm – left by the departures of Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles along the defensive front. This seemed to be of particular concern to Spurrier and Co., who went out and signed a pair of juco standouts and surrounded them with some stellar incoming freshmen.

From the group of Abu Lamin, Dante Sawyer, Dexter Wideman, Jhaustin Thomas, Black McClain and Taylor Stallworth, the Gamecocks should mine a few gems.

Five star recruits: 0
Four star recruits: 16
Rank: 7th

Butch Jones pulled out all the stops during his first full year on the recruiting trail and the result of his efforts is a whopping 33 signees, all of whom fall into four-star and three-star categories, according to 247 Sports.

It’s a truly breathtaking class and 14 of them already are enrolled. Jones joked during his signing day press conference that his entire starting lineup would be freshmen and while numbers certainly dictate that as a statistical probability, it is difficult to figure out which of the group will truly contribute immediately.

No, likely the most immediate impact will be made by the class’ three junior college recruits. Dontavius Blair is a massive offensive tackle who will be on NFL radars right away. Defensive tackle Owen Williams is slightly undersized but comes with solid credentials while linebacker Chris Weatherd has prototypical size for his position and should make plenty of noise.

Five star recruits: 3
Four star recruits: 11
Rank: 5th

Life after Johnny Football finds Texas A&M firmly established among the SEC’s elite programs, at least on the recruiting trail. The Aggies’ jump from the Big 12 has accomplished exactly what the school had hoped – A&M is winning the recruiting battle with in-state 800-pound gorilla, Texas.

Among Kevin Sumlin’s many recruiting successes are: the nation’s top-rated QB prospect in Kyle Allen; offensive tackle Jermaine Eluemunor, considered the nation’s No. 2 junior college player; the No. 2 high school offensive tackle in Zaycoven Henderson; the No. 1 overall defensive end in Myles Garrett and for giggles, Sumlin even stole LSU’s top recruit, receiver Speedy Noll.

Again, pointing out the uselessness of ESPN’s recruiting rankings, The Mothership rated A&M’s class a mere fifth-best in the SEC behind Alabama, LSU and … um … Kentucky and Tennessee.

Five star recruits: 0
Four star recruits: 2
Rank: 46th

The Commodores suffered the double whammy of James Franklin’s late departure and his open invitation to commitments to follow him to Penn State. That left incoming coach Derek Mason scrambling to shore up a crumbling class while getting out and doing what he could to fill the gaps.

This isn’t much of a class and is certainly overrated at 46th nationally (thank you, SEC reputation), but Rashad Canty should play right away and continue the school’s tradition of towering wide receivers. Nifae Lelao was a consensus top-10 talent at defensive end and safety Emmanuel Smith has prototypical size to be a bruising run stopper.

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