SEC Football Recruiting: Key to Every Team's 2014 Class
Once again, it appears the Alabama Crimson Tide will bring home a recruiting national title. The crystal ball may rest in Tallahassee, Fla., for the moment, but there is no doubt that the nation's top talent remains in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Also without question is the Southeastern Conference's domination on the recruiting trail. A ridiculous seven of the nation's top 10 recruiting classes are headed for SEC territory, including three of the top four.
Signatures and the age-old fax machine are the only things that stand between the SEC and its recruiting title. Signing day is just one day away on Wednesday, Feb. 5, so it's time to take a glance across the conference to briefly analyze the most important aspect of each class in the meantime.
Alabama: Avoid Flippage
Nick Saban has pulled in the previous 4,839 top recruiting classes (all numbers approximate), and 2014 will be no different. With five 5-star commitments, two more than any other school, and at least one more possibility in linebacker Rashaan Evans, Alabama is set in the talent department.
Though the Crimson Tide rarely have issues with recruits decommitting, no news will be good news in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday.
Arkansas: Securing Solomon Thomas
Head coach Bret Bielema has been known for his massive, physical front lines. His running game and defense rely heavily on physicality and aggressiveness.
After nailing down a solid class in both regards, the Razorbacks' focus remains on defense in the form of defensive end Solomon Thomas. A 2014 U.S. Army All-American Bowl selection, Thomas is one of the most athletic defenders in the country and could help an anemic defense immediately.
Seen as a Stanford favorite, Bielema will have to hope that Solomon's late-January visit will be enough to sway the Coppell, Texas native toward Fayetteville.
Auburn: Keep Rashaan Evans at Home
Locked in a battle with Alabama for Auburn native Rashaan Evans, the Tigers are seen as the favorite to bring home the nation's top outside linebacker.
Evans' parents both attended Auburn, so all signs point to his signature filing across head coach Gus Malzahn's desk on Wednesday. In a now-famous story, recruiters from both Auburn and Alabama attended a birthday party for Evans' grandfather this past Saturday.
Evans is fast and athletic for a linebacker and took his final official visit in late January with Auburn.
Florida: Run the Gamut
Although the Gators are only ranked 10th nationally at the moment (and I use the word "only" with tongue in cheek), Florida has a solid chance of following 'Bama for second place with a solid signing day.
Three 5-star recruits and a top 4-star athlete are in head coach Will Muschamp's sights for Wednesday. Athlete Adoree' Jackson seems like a good bet, but offensive lineman Damian Prince has 36 offers and will be a challenge. Defensive end Lorenzo Carter is a stretch and is suspected to be favoring home state Georgia.
If the Gators can pull some miracles and sign all three, while flipping stud athlete Treon Harris from Miami, this class could go from good to great.
Georgia: Secure the Running Backs
The Bulldog class is highlighted by two 5-star running backs that, with the question marks at quarterback, will play important roles in the talented, but thin stable in Athens.
First is Nick Chubb of Cedartown, Ga. Chubb's low center of gravity, balance and speed make him a tough tackle. Chubb runs a 4.47 40-yard dash and is the top recruit out of the state of Georgia. Sony Michel is of similar stature, with a slightly smaller frame, and is more difficult to catch in the open field.
Assuming neither pulls a signing-day shocker, the Bulldogs will likely shore up a top 10 recruiting class.
Kentucky: Flip T.J. Harrell
The Wildcats badly need a backfield defenseman.
The Wildcats have recently, and aggressively, shifted focus to flipping safety T.J. Harrell away from leaning toward Louisville. Harrell is the cousin of former Kentucky tailback Chad Scott, but the 3-star hasn't taken an official visit to Lexington.
Ranked 20th nationally, this class will be well-rounded if head coach Mark Stoops can pull the upset on Wednesday.
LSU: Sign Travonte Valentine
Battling for second nationally in recruiting, the one big question mark for the Tigers is Travonte Valentine.
His only official visit was to Baton Rouge, so the chances look good. The 338-pound defensive tackle stands 6'3" and is ranked third at his position nationally. With a defense that is suddenly struggling to match the output of its offense, signing a breakout blitz threat would go a long way to bringing back the once-vaunted Tiger defense.
Mississippi State: Buckle It Down
If recruiting classes were like people, this class for Mississippi State would be on the bench. Important, but not a starter. A role player, if you will.
A great deal of experience returns for the Bulldogs, so it's important to seal down the class that is. Most prominent is running back Aeris Williams, the 10th best at his position nationally, who is ultra athletic and will be in the mold of do-everything current MSU wide receiver Jameon Lewis.
Without any surprises, State will be built well for the long term.
There might not be another staff in all of America that can find unheralded talent and coach it up like that of Missouri.
Keeping in mind what former 2-star recruits Michael Sam and L'Damian Washington have done in Columbia, this staff needs to keep up that pace. Recruiting against the rest of the SEC is no easy task, and it's shown with Missouri currently ranking 13th in the conference.
None of that will matter, though, if some of these recruits are ready to fill those massive shoes.
Ole Miss: Hold onto Markell Pack
Ultra-athletic wide receiver Markell Pack will play a big role for the Rebels from the start. After losing Donte Moncrief to the NFL, plus Ja-Mes Logan and Jordan Holder to graduation, there seems to be a short ladder to a starting position for Pack.
Pack is explosive and known for his speed. He seems to be a lock for the Rebels and if he stays, he could see significant time on the field for 2014.
South Carolina: Get Some Signatures
While most other programs are hovering between 15-20 commitments at this late stage in the recruiting process, the now-perennial powerhouse Gamecocks have just 10.
That's partially due to the level of team experience and partially due to some big names still left on the board. A consensus top 200 recruit, cornerback Wesley Green out of Lithonia, Ga., could be a big help for the USC secondary. He's a probable Gamecock; his official visit coming just a couple of weeks ago.
Adding some names to the commitment pool will help solidify the class' depth, if nothing else.
Tennessee: Hold Down the Fort
Conversely, the Volunteers have 24 commitments and counting. Sixteen of those are 4-star recruits.
At this point, sheer numbers are to the benefit of head coach Butch Jones, who needs to get some talent on the field. Keeping this amount of players committed will be a tall task, considering the obvious questions of playing time, but if this staff can keep the class mostly intact—perhaps even adding a few more—this sixth-ranked class could push even higher.
Texas A&M: Avoid Any Flips
Head coach Kevin Sumlin has taken his breakout 2012 campaign to the bank, snatching up three 5-star recruits and pushing his class to rank third nationally.
The class includes the nation's top recruit in defensive end Myles Garrett, a motor guy who has elite strength that will make an impact from day one for a lacking defense. The Aggies' other two 5-stars are already on campus, but keeping other schools away from Myles will be important on Wednesday.
Avoiding defections will secure this class as one of the best in Texas A&M history.
Vanderbilt: Salvage What You Can
Former head coach James Franklin's sudden departure left behind a recruiting class in shambles. He took with him to Penn State what were at one point more recruits than Vanderbilt had commitments remaining.
New skipper Derek Mason has recovered from the loss of 11 recruits and grabbed no fewer than six verbal commitments over the weekend. The class is still ranked 69th nationally, last in the conference by a long shot, but the disaster has been mostly averted.
The class is up to 11, which is small but not horrendous, and Mason is likely hoping he can add a few more names to the list before Wednesday.
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.
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