Another National Signing Day has come and gone, wrapping up college football’s recruiting class of 2017.
Alabama may have lost the national title game to Clemson, but yet again, the Crimson Tide are the champions of February, earning the No. 1 class ahead of Ohio State, Georgia, USC and Michigan, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
Alabama. Surprise, surprise. In 2011, the first full recruiting cycle after Nick Saban’s first national championship at Alabama in 2009, the Crimson Tide signed the No. 1 class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. They did it again in 2012. And in 2013. And 2014, ’15 and ’16. Now, they’ve done it 2017. For the seventh straight year, Alabama sits atop the consensus recruiting rankings. Yes, Alabama has won only one national title in the past five seasons, but it continues to have the best chance to do so every year. This year’s class includes six five-star recruits and 18 four-stars, headlined by RB Najee Harris, OT Alex Leatherwood, LB Dylan Moses and QB Tua Tagovailoa, who are three of 12 players who enrolled early to participate in spring practice. Alabama’s class is so loaded that it ran out of room, and four-star DE Jarez Parks, who had a video prepared for his commitment to Alabama, may be forced to grayshirt — delay his enrollment until 2018 — unless he chooses to sign somewhere else. On Wednesday, Alabama also secured a signing day commitment from one of the top remaining uncommitted players, landing five-star DE LaBryan Ray.
Florida State. Heading into signing day, 16 of the nation’s top 100 recruits in the 247Sports composite rankings were still undecided. None was more highly rated than Marvin Wilson, a 6-foot-4 defensive tackle from Bellaire, Texas, ranked No. 6 overall. His final five schools were Florida State, Ohio State, LSU, Oklahoma and South Florida, and late Wednesday afternoon, he unzipped his jacket to reveal a Florida State shirt live on ESPN2, giving the Seminoles their fourth five-star recruit in a typical loaded class that also includes RB Cam Akers, DE Joshua Kaindoh and RB Khalan Laborn. The Seminoles easily landed the top class in the ACC.
Ohio State. The Buckeyes fell short of the No. 1 class, but second place behind Alabama isn’t so bad. Urban Meyer signed five five-star recruits and 14 four-stars, edging Michigan in the rankings with the help of five top-25 players: DB Jeffrey Okudah, DE Chase Young, LB Baron Browning, CB Shaun Wade and G Wyatt Davis. It’s the second time in five years that Ohio State has been the runner-up, and it’s the Buckeyes’ seventh straight top-seven class.
Michigan. Jim Harbaugh’s signing day event wasn’t filled with celebrities this year, but it did feature, again, a long list of high-profile recruits for another top-five class. The Wolverines won one of the biggest battles of the day by securing a signature from five-star DT Aubrey Solomon from Leesburg, Ga., over teams like Alabama and Georgia. (Michigan also entered the heart of SEC country to land Pinson, Ala., WR Nico Collins.) Given the Michigan defense’s 2017 attritions, young players have an opportunity to make an early impact, and Solomon could end up forming a devastating tandem with 2016 No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary. The other top name in the Michigan class is early enrollee WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, who is also in line for a possible big role early with Michigan’s top receivers gone. Those who sign with Michigan aren’t just signing up for football; they’re also signing up to be world travelers. Harbaugh had already announced this April’s team trip to Rome, and on Wednesday he revealed plans for future opportunities abroad.
USC. USC is essentially a lock for a top-10 class every year — few programs recruit themselves quite like the Trojans, given their prestige and location — but coach Clay Helton has nevertheless done a phenomenal job changing the narrative about the team under his watch. After a 1-3 start to the 2016 season, USC ended the year on a nine-game winning streak, capped by a dramatic Rose Bowl win over Penn State. Now, the Trojans have the nation’s No. 4 recruiting class, which included blue-chip signing day commitments from WR Joseph Lewis (Los Angeles), OT Austin Jackson (from Phoenix), DT Jay Tufele (South Jordan, Utah) and LB Levi Jones (Austin, Texas). USC cleaned up nationally, not just in California, and is the only top-10 class in the Pac-12. (Stanford is 14th.)
UCLA. The Bruins’ class doesn’t have the depth of their cross-city rivals, but after a dreadful 4-8 campaign in 2016, Jim Mora can at least feel pretty good about how UCLA recruited. After all, the 247Sports composite No. 1 overall player, DE Jaelan Phillips, is already on campus, and the Bruins also landed five-star CB Darnay Holmes. On Wednesday, they beat out Texas for Austin native OT Stephan Zabie, a four-star prospect, who could be a key player for the future of the UCLA offensive line, which has been a huge liability.
Georgia. Average the past five class rankings, and only Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State and LSU have recruited better than Georgia. But Kirby Smart has taken things up another level with his first full year of recruiting, as the Bulldogs landed the No. 3 class (of those previous five, the best was No. 6). Smart is quickly becoming a worthy adversary for his former boss, Saban, on the recruiting trail, and his job is to try to do a better job locking down the home state, as the Atlanta area is one of the most competitive recruiting grounds in the country. Georgia landed an absurd 16 blue-chip recruits from the state of Georgia, in addition to successful pushes north for five-star OT Isaiah Wilson (New York) and four-star RB D’Andre Swift and WR Mark Webb (Pennsylvania).
Clemson. Recruiting-wise, Clemson was actually pretty quiet. Because of the large number of underclassmen on the roster, the Tigers didn’t have room for a big class, so they are only 16th in this year’s rankings. But 11 of their 14 commitments are four- or five-star prospects, headlined by five-star QB Hunter Johnson and five-star WR Tee Higgins. The real national championship bump should come in next year’s class, with a full cycle following the title, and Clemson aided its efforts by unveiling its amenity-loaded new football building on ESPN’s recruiting show on Wednesday.
Baylor. It would have felt impossible to say this a couple months ago. When Matt Rhule was hired, Baylor had only one verbal commitment in the class of 2017, following the scandal that ravaged the program and cost Art Briles his job. There was no way for Rhule to sign a top class, but despite not having much experience recruiting the state of Texas, Rhule cobbled together a respectable class late, rising to 39th with 27 commitments (plus Arizona graduate transfer QB Anu Solomon). Rhule and his new staff faced an impossible task, and given the circumstances, he couldn’t have done much better. A potentially disastrous class instead ranks a respectable fifth in the Big 12.
Florida Atlantic. After being chastised for a hilariously unenthusiastic marketing video, Lane Kiffin showed why Florida Atlantic hired him, landing a solid class for a Conference USA team that has a new coach. The Owls are 71st overall and first in Conference USA, after ranking 100th last year, and on signing day, Kiffin landed three-star juco WR DeAndre McNeal, beating out UCLA for his services. Kiffin’s class at FAU is ranked higher than Charlie Strong’s class at South Florida. Get excited, Owls fans…
Colorado. The Buffaloes’ sudden rise to the Pac-12 South title was startling for a variety of reasons, including the fact that they hadn’t signed a class better than 66th since 2012. This year changed that. Mike MacIntyre and his staff capitalized on the 2016 success, landing a class ranked a solid 35th — a huge improvement vs. recent history — led by top-100 overall OT Jake Moretti. The ranking places them sixth in the Pac-12.
Florida. Every year is bound to have a team that makes a late recovery, and this year that was Florida. Questions had arisen about Jim McElwain’s recruiting ability, but the Gators finished strong to reach 10th nationally and fifth in the SEC. Their class was boosted on Wednesday by the late additions of 360-pound Tedarrell Slaton, one of the top guard prospects, and four-star WR James Robinson, whose status had been in jeopardy after he was cited for marijuana possessionduring his official visit to Ohio State. McElwain has undoubtedly heard his critics …
Maryland. “Sleeping giant” is too strong, but Maryland is a job that is seen as having untapped potential because of Under Armour’s influence and the solid talent pool in the D.C. area. In his first full year as coach, D.J. Durkin made a statement, landing the No. 18 class after four straight years in the 40s. The class includes two four-star prospects from nearby prep powerhouse DeMatha Catholic, RB Anthony McFarland and G Marcus Minor. The Terps still finished only fourth in the Big Ten East, but they’re ahead of Michigan State and landed an impressive nine four-star players, plus a signing day flip of three-star WR Tahj Capehart from Virginia Tech.
Signing Day Losers
Ole Miss. For a few years, Ole Miss was a breakout success story as a recruiter, landing players like Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and Robert Nkemdiche. And then … an NCAA scandal. The Rebels are still under investigation and have already docked themselves a handful of scholarships. Naturally, the NCAA cloud has hindered recruiting efforts, and Freeze said that opponents have used the scandal against them on the trail.
After four straight top-20 classes, Ole Miss is just 33rd this year with two four-star recruits, placing it 12th in the SEC. Signing day is typically a time for coaches to meet the media and be overwhelmingly positive about the future, regardless of who their class is rated, but Freeze didn’t exactly hide his displeasure with the results.
There was at least one fun moment for Ole Miss, as offensive tackle Taekion Reed announced his commitment to the Rebels by first throwing a Mississippi State hat across the room.
Texas. New coach Tom Herman has established himself as an ace recruiter, first on Urban Meyer’s staff at Ohio State, then in his two years at Houston. No coach should be judged by what happens in his first recruiting class, given that they have only a few weeks to cobble together a class rather than an entire cycle. Still, after Charlie Strong closed with a fantastic finish last February, Herman’s first class was a struggle, by Texas standards. Texas is accustomed to hanging around the top 10; this class is 26th, with 18 total commitments, seven of which are four-stars. Improbably, none of the top 19 players in the state of Texas chose to play for the Longhorns. The team’s highest-ranked in-state recruit is QB Sam Ehlinger, after four-star DE K’Lavon Chaisson spurned Texas to go to LSU on Wednesday. Again, Herman shouldn’t be judged based on what happens in his first, abbreviated recruiting cycle, but Texas’ class of 2016 still falls well short of what the Longhorns typically hope for.
Big 12. The Big 12 signed zero five-star recruits, and the depth beyond Oklahoma was rough this season. Oklahoma landed 18 four-star recruits. The conference’s other nine teams combined for 14 four-star recruits, seven of which chose Texas. Oklahoma is the only team in the conference with a top-25 class. Meanwhile, the SEC has nine of the top 25 classes.
Michigan State. The Spartans have never been a recruiting power, even after their most successful years under Mark Dantonio. Still, this class did take a slight step back after the 3-9 season, falling to 34th after three straight top-25 classes. The Spartans had one of the most bizarre stories of the day, too, as three-star DE Donovan Winter ended up not signing because he’s in jail after being arrested on Monday, according to the Orlando Sentinel. The Spartans did sign four four-star players, including WR Hunter Rison — the son of former MSU and NFL receiver Andre Rison. Michigan States class is sixth in the Big Ten but fifth in the Big Ten East, behind Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Maryland.
Big Ten West. It’s no surprise that there’s a massive disparity in recruiting in the Big Ten between its two divisions, but the final results in 2017 reinforce it. The Big Ten’s top four classes belong to the Buckeyes, Wolverines, Nittany Lions and Terrapins out of the East. The only team from the West better than 40th nationally is Nebraska, which did a solid job at No. 22 (with a class that includes the sons of both Keyshawn Johnson and Les Miles). Of the conference’s 77 blue-chip commitments, only nine signed with teams in the West, five of which chose the Cornhuskers. Ohio State and Michigan combined for 40.
California. After firing Sonny Dykes less than a month before signing day and then hiring Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, Cal put itself in a horrendous position this recruiting cycle. Wilcox had hardly any time to secure a class, and the result is Cal ranking 72st nationally — the lowest rated Power Five class, with only 14 commitments.