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The One Recruit Each Top 25 Class Wishes It Had Signed for 2014

Tyler DonohueNational Recruiting AnalystFebruary 10, 2014

The One Recruit Each Top 25 Class Wishes It Had Signed for 2014

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    Da'Shawn Hand's commitment to Alabama stung for other squads.
    Da'Shawn Hand's commitment to Alabama stung for other squads.Credit: 247Sports

    College football recruiting offices across the country have pushed the reboot button and reset the countdown clock for Feb. 4, 2015, when the next wave of heralded high school players signs their national letters of intent. The fate of the 2014 class has been sealed, with several recruits already on campus and the rest to follow this summer.

    While coaches and evaluators shift their focus to the nation's new batch of 5-star prospects, some level of disconcertion will afflict practically every program. No coach ever feels like he assembled the complete class, perennially wondering why that prime target opted to compete elsewhere.

    We survey the nation's top 25 recruiting classes to cast a spotlight on the most glaring missing link. Here's a look at the players who left an entire coaching staff lamenting when they selected another school.

     

    Star ratings courtesy of 247Sports composite rankings. Team order based on Bleacher Report recruiting class rankings.

25. Virginia Tech

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va.)

    Where He Signed: Florida State

    The Hokies hosted top in-state defensive target Derrick Nnadi less than two weeks before national signing day but came up empty in the pursuit of his signature. The 6'1", 305-pound Ocean Lakes High School star followed with a visit to Virginia before picking Florida State on signing day.

    Nnadi, rated seventh nationally among defensive tackles, represented another swing and a miss for Frank Beamer on his home turf. Virginia Tech didn't secure a commitment from any of the state's top eight prospects in 247Sports composite rankings.

24. Arizona State

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star running back Darrel Williams (Marrero, La.)

    Where He Signed: LSU

    The Sun Devils envisioned Louisiana playmaker Darrel Williams as a dangerous offensive weapon in the desert. Arizona State ultimately lost his commitment when SEC interest mounted.

    He received late offers from Tennessee, Florida and LSU after a senior season that featured 2,200 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns, per 247Sports. Williams chose the Tigers, who also feature top incoming freshman running back Leonard Fournette.

     

23. Penn State

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y.)

    Where He Signed: Florida

    Penn State managed to finish strong on signing day despite a late coaching change. James Franklin retained most of Bill O'Brien's recruits and flipped several standouts from other programs.

    However, he was unable to hold onto dominant defensive tackle Thomas Holley. The nation's No. 4 prospect at the position flipped from Penn State to Florida due to his unfamiliarity with a new Nittany Lions regime.

    "It would have been difficult building a relationship with a new staff in two weeks," Holley told The New York Daily News. "Especially after I built one with the previous staff over the previous 10 months."

22. Kentucky

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 3-star offensive tackle Derrick Kelly (Havana, Fla.)

    Where He Signed: Florida State

    Kentucky held a commitment from Derrick Kelly for nearly six months until he jumped ship in early December. The Wildcats remained in the hunt for his services before he signed with the Seminoles.

    Head coach Mark Stoops visited Kelly in January. The 6'5", 295-pound East Gadsden High School star also considered Florida, USF and LSU late in the process.

21. South Carolina

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star running back Derrell Scott (Havelock, N.C.)

    Where He Signed: Tennessee

    North Carolina running back Derrell Scott was arguably the nation's top uncommitted ball-carrier during the final weeks of this recruiting cycle. The 5'11", 180-pound prospect picked up at least 1,700 rushing yards in each of the past three seasons and scored 81 touchdowns on the ground during that stretch, per 247Sports.

    His final mix of schools centered on South Carolina and Tennessee. Scott spent an official visit with the Gamecocks in November but it wasn't enough to sway him toward Steve Spurrier.

    He committed to the Volunteers on Jan. 27, leaving South Carolina to search for alternative options in the offensive backfield next season.

20. Oregon

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star athlete Budda Baker (Bellevue, Wash.)

    Where He Signed: Washington

    Oregon appeared set to welcome versatile skill player Budda Baker to Eugene next season but a late change of heart altered his collegiate course. The 5'9", 174-pound playmaker flipped to Washington on Jan. 17, citing proximity as a formidable factor.

    "I'm just a big family person, family always comes first," he told KING 5 News (h/t Yahoo! Sports). "I'll be close to my family and they'll be able to come see me play so it's just a true blessing."

    The Ducks' loss is a crucial gain for new Huskies head coach Chris Petersen.

19. UCLA

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    The One Who Got Away: 5-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif.)

    Where He Signed: USC

    A growing territorial recruiting battle between the Bruins and Trojans resulted in a tug-of-war for Adoree' Jackson, a do-it-all playmaker from Los Angeles area Junipero Serra High School. The nation's top-ranked cornerback considered LSU and Florida but his recruitment ended with a pair of Pac-12 programs jockeying for position.

    Jackson visited both USC and UCLA in the final week leading up to signing day. He chose the Trojans, following the path of former Serra stars Marqise Lee and Robert Woods to campus as a key recruit for first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian.

18. Ole Miss

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star offensive tackle Andy Bauer (St. Louis, Mo.)

    Where He Signed: Missouri

    Ole Miss lost an irreplaceable piece of its recruiting class in early November. Offensive tackle Andy Bauer opted to revisit his original college pledge by flipping back to Missouri.

    The 6'6", 304-pound prospect is rated America's 15th-best player at the position. Bauer expressed remorse upon his decommitment from the Rebels in a written letter he posted to Twitter.

    I want to thank [head coach Hugh] Freeze for the opportunity to play at Ole Miss. I want to thank [offensive line coach Matt] Luke as well for recruiting me and developing a very strong relationship with me, he is a great person and someone I look up to. I am disappointed that these relationships will end. This was a very tough decision and one that was not taken lightly.

17. Michigan

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    The One Who Got Away: 5-star defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Woodbridge, Va.)

    Where He Signed: Alabama

    Michigan seemed to lose significant recruiting momentum in November, when dynamic defender Da'Shawn Hand chose Alabama over the Wolverines and Florida. Brady Hoke appeared to have the edge in his high-profile recruitment, as Michigan garnered 88 percent of predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball projection.

    Hand racked up 53 sacks in the past three seasons, per 247Sports. His skill set is exactly the kind of talent infusion Michigan needs on the defensive front.

    He spent an official visit in Ann Arbor during the second week of the regular season but ultimately decided to call Tuscaloosa home for the next three or four years.

16. Texas

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson (Longview, Texas)

    Where He Signed: Texas A&M

    Charlie Strong was unable to retain the commitment of Zaycoven Henderson, one of the top-tier defensive linemen he initially inherited in the Longhorns' 2014 recruiting class. The 6'1", 280-pound prospect backed off his pledge days after Texas introduced its new coach.

    Henderson, who previously decommitted from TCU, signed with in-state rival Texas A&M. The Aggies boasted a substantially more impressive recruiting class than Texas this year and Henderson is a key part of the equation.

15. Clemson

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    The One Who Got Away: 4-star wide receiver Josh Malone (Gallatin, Tenn.)

    Where He Signed: Tennessee

    Clemson landed four 4-star receivers in the 2014 recruiting class but Josh Malone may have been the best of the bunch if he signed with the Tigers. The Station Camp High School standout spent time on campus in November and received a visit from Clemson coaches days before he announced his decision on national television.

    Malone finished his senior season with 71 receptions for 1,404 yards and 19 touchdowns, per 247Sports. He is already enrolled at Tennessee and has an opportunity to carve out an early role with the Volunteers.

14. Stanford

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star defensive end Nifae Lealao (Sacramento, Calif.)

    Where He Signed: Vanderbilt

    Nifae Lealao followed former Cardinal defensive coordinator Derek Mason to Vanderbilt, where he accepted the head coaching position. The nation's sixth-ranked strong-side defensive end decommitted from Stanford in January, ending a four-month pact.

    His departure from David Shaw's class removed a top playmaker but may have helped pave the way for 5-star Texas defensive end Solomon Thomas to pick Stanford on signing day.

     

13. Oklahoma

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star defensive end Deondre Clark (Oklahoma City, Okla.)

    Where He Signed: LSU

    Deondre Clark dismantled offensive game plans during his career at Douglass High School. He tallied 221 tackles and 58 sacks in the past three seasons, per 247Sports.

    Clark visited the Sooners in January despite a commitment to LSU. He stuck with his pledge to the Tigers after flirting with the idea of staying home to compete for Bob Stoops.

12. Miami

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine (Hialeah, Fla.)

    Where He Signed: LSU

    The mammoth Miami area athlete backed off his pledge to the Hurricanes in early January. Al Golden attempted to bring him back into the fold prior to signing day but the Champagnat Catholic High School star opted to play for LSU.

    Travonte Valentine registered 91 tackles and 17 sacks as a senior, according to the Miami Herald. The opportunity to compete at college's highest level lured him to Baton Rouge.

    “Family is all I need. It’s like family at LSU," Valentine told Miami Herald reporter Andre Fernandez. "I thought about mine this morning because they’re all here. But I thought if I went to LSU I’d have a better opportunity to win a national championship, win my conference and get a degree.”

11. Notre Dame

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    The One Who Got Away: 5-star athlete John Smith (Long Beach, Calif.)

    Where He Signed: USC

    Explosive Southern California playmaker John Smith focused on the Fighting Irish, USC and Oregon during the final stretch of his recruitment. The 6'1", 200-pound Long Beach Poly High School standout visited Notre Dame in October.

    Brian Kelly could've used Smith at either safety or wide receiver, with offense as his likely destination. Smith instead chose to stay close to home with the Trojans, spurning South Bend.

     

10. USC

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star outside linebacker Derik Calhoun (El Cerrito, Calif.)

    Where He Signed: Arizona State

    USC underwent a high-profile coaching change early in the regular season but managed to largely keep its recruiting class intact and finished with a flurry on signing day. However, Derik Calhoun was lost in the shuffle following the firing of Lane Kiffin.

    The nation's 12th-ranked outside linebacker flipped to Arizona State in October. He figures to be an immediate part of the Sun Devils' defensive rotation.

     

     

9. Florida

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    The One Who Got Away: 5-star running back Dalvin Cook (Miami, Fla.)

    Where He Signed: Florida State

    Florida looked to Cook as a catalyst who could charge up a dormant offensive attack in Gainesville. The Miami Central High School star committed to the Gators last spring and remained a pledge during his run to a state title and Florida's Mr. Football honors.

    That pact came to an end on New Year's Eve, when Cook officially flipped to Florida State. He enrolled on campus early and will start spring practice with lofty intentions.

    “I just think Heisman,” Cook told Orlando Sentinel reporter Brendan Sonnone. “I see [Jameis Winston] won it and I think I can win it too.

    If his career achievements in Tallahassee even approach that level, it will be a tough pill to swallow for Florida fans.

     

8. Auburn

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    The One Who Got Away: 5-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Ala.)

    Where He Signed: Alabama

    This is likely to sting at Auburn for a long time. The nation's top-ranked outside linebacker, and son of a former Tigers running back, surprisingly picked Alabama over Auburn on signing day.

    Prior to Rashaan Evans' announcement, the Tigers published his bio on the team website. It was quickly removed and now Auburn must accept the fact that a star is leaving its backyard to head west with Nick Saban.

7. Tennessee

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 3-star inside linebacker Kevin Mouhon (Norcross, Ga.)

    Where He Signed: Cincinnati

    Mouhon, a 6'0.5", 223-pound middle linebacker prospect, committed to Tennessee last July. The Volunteers' class quickly ballooned to more than 30 players, which may have ultimately contributed to his decision to decommit two weeks before signing day.

    He went from one of five Volunteers linebacker commits to a premier member of Tommy Tuberville's Cincinnati class. Mouhon didn't announce his commitment to Cincinnati until signing day.

    “Kevin Mouhon may be the best linebacker in the country,” Tuberville told Cincinnati.com writer Tom Groeschen.

6. Georgia

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    The One Who Got Away: 5-star inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan (Hinesville, Ga.)

    Where He Signed: Ohio State

    Mark Richt and Georgia made Raekwon McMillan a primary in-state target throughout his recruiting process. The 6'2", 242-pound Liberty County High School prospect is rated the nation's No. 1 middle linebacker prospect and spent significant time on campus in Athens.

    He attended Bulldogs summer camp last July and used an official visit at Georgia in September. McMillan committed to Ohio State in December and is currently enrolled at the university.

    The decision certainly left members of his hometown scratching their heads.

    “My whole community, they are Georgia fans or Dawg fans," McMillan told Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Michael Carvell last June. "At first, it was just a no-brainer to stay at home. But some of the top guys in the nation from Georgia are going out of state...You’ve got to look out for yourself at the end of the day.”

5. Texas A&M

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    Credit: 247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 4-star linebacker Kenny Young (New Orleans, La.)

    Where He Signed: UCLA

    Defensive deficiencies cost Texas A&M throughout the 2013 season and must be remedied in order for the Aggies to emerge as a legitimate SEC title threat. Kenny Young, a 6'2", 220-pound defender from John Curtis Christian High School, is a complete package at the heart of a defense and displays the skill set to make an immediate difference at the next level.

    The nation's seventh-ranked inside linebacker spent an official visit at College Station in mid-January. Young tallied 122 tackles as a senior, per 247Sports, and he was predicted to end up with the Aggies in 247Sports' Crystal Ball formula.

    Instead, he signed with UCLA. Young visited Jim Mora and the Bruins a few days before his decision.

4. Florida State

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    The One Who Got Away: 5-star wide receiver Malachi Dupre (New Orleans, La.)

    Where He Signed: LSU

    The reigning national champions are led by Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston next season and perhaps again in 2015, so it's no surprise a top-tier pass target like Malachi Dupre would be interested about the prospects of joining Florida State's passing attack.

    The nation's No. 2 receiver recruit visited Tallahassee in January, when he was hosted by Winston. Dupre followed with trips to Ole Miss and UCLA but the Seminoles seemed to emerge as the greatest threat to nearby LSU.

    He chose the Tigers on signing day, turning down a chance to join the quest for a title repeat.

    "At the end of the day, it was a very tough decision," Dupre told NOLA.com reporter James Smith. "It was hard for me to make a decision because Florida State and UCLA were also great schools that I felt I could thrive in and have good success."

    Jimbo Fisher managed to reel in former Florida receiver pledge Ermon Lane on signing day, which lessens the sting after coming up empty in the Dupre sweepstakes.

     

3. Ohio State

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    247Sports

    The One Who Got Away: 5-star defensive end Malik McDowell (Detroit, Mich.)

    Where He Signed: Committed to Michigan State but has yet to sign LOI

    Malik McDowell's commitment to Michigan State remains a tenuous and growingly strange situation, per USA Today, as his parents have yet to sign the national letter of intent and are on record as saying they want him to leave his home state for college. The 6'7", 290-pound Southfield High School standout is still able to sign with the Spartans without parental consent after one day into the fall semester so this decision remains in his hands.

    If he ultimately ends up in East Lansing, Ohio State is the squad left on the doorstep. Urban Meyer and new defensive line coach Larry Johnson recruited McDowell hard down to the wire.

    He spent his final official visit in Columbus and considered the Buckeyes a strong out-of-state possibility, along with Florida State. Ohio State assembled a superb defensive class during the 2014 recruiting cycle and McDowell could've been the ultimate exclamation point.

2. LSU

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    The One Who Got Away: 5-star defensive tackle Gerald Willis (New Orleans, La.)

    Where He Signed: Florida

    You could certainly make a case for 5-star wide receiver Speedy Noil in this slot but LSU's inability to secure a signature from his Edna Karr High School teammate Gerald Willis has greater consequences. The Tigers took care of business at receiver on signing day, adding fellow 5-star New Orleans playmaker Malachi Dupre to a crop of pass catchers that already included all-time national receiving yardage leader Trey Quinn and promising Texas product Tony Upchurch.

    The Tigers didn't do quite as well in the defensive tackle department, although flipping former Texas commit Trey Lealaimatafao and adding one-time Miami pledge Travonte Valentine provides immediate depth at the position. Willis, arguably the most disruptive interior lineman in the country, collected 141 tackles and 15 sacks as a senior, according to 247Sports.

    He spent time in Baton Rouge during the 2013 regular season and used an official visit at LSU in December. Willis revealed his intentions to sign with the Florida Gators in early January.

    His mother, an ardent Tigers supporter, showed her displeasure following his national television announcement at the Under Armour All-America Game. LSU lost out on a dominant defender, who Les Miles and company must now face during the next few seasons.

1. Alabama

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    The One Who Got Away: 5-star running back Leonard Fournette (New Orleans, La.)

    Where He Signed: LSU

    Alabama won't warrant much sympathy after assembling the nation's No. 1 recruiting class for a fourth straight year, according to 247Sports composite rankings. It's a group that includes America's top-rated players at several positions and six 5-star prospects, punctuated by signing day surprise Rashaan Evans.

    Still, Nick Saban's latest star-studded haul could have been even better. The Crimson Tide emerged as the only legitimate threat to LSU for prized St. Augustine High School playmaker Leonard Fournette, ranked the nation's No. 1 overall recruit.

    The running back spoke highly of his visit to Tuscaloosa in November, when he watched Alabama beat the Tigers. Aside from Les Miles, Saban was the only coach to land an official visit from Fournette.

    He ultimately chose LSU in early January at the Under Armour All-America Game.

    “It was close,” St. Augustine head coach Cyril Crutchfield told Advocate reporter Ted Lewis. “Leonard had a strong relationship with both schools, and he couldn’t go wrong either way. It finally swayed to LSU. And once he had made his decision, he was done.”

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