Recruiting season is almost over, with the much-ballyhooed national signing day coming on February 6. There are currently 17 players out of the Top 25 committed to various institutions, and those 17 will be examined in this piece.
From Penn State to USC, there are 10 different schools who already have verbal commitments from a Top 25 recruit. While some of them have starters who are firmly established in their roles, others will be looking over their shoulders at the new kids on the block.
Are the best kids in the nation better or worse than their already-established mentors? Let's take a gander at the commits from the Top 25 and find out.
*All referenced overall ranks are from ESPN 150.
Robert Foster is the No. 25 recruit on the ESPN list. Listed as an athlete by ESPN, Foster projects at wide receiver for the Crimson Tide according to Scout.com. He's the fourth-ranked receiver in the 2013 class.
Foster is up against Amari Cooper and Kevin Norwood for the starting wide receiver spot, and those are two huge talents to go up against. Cooper was a true freshman difference-maker in 2012, and Norwood is the Tide's second-leading receiver.
Norwood is consistently a dark-horse championship tool. He catches a few passes throughout the season, but he performs well in the national championship games.
Opponents prepare less for him than they do the leading receiver, and the results are astonishing:
2011: 17.3 yards per catch overall and 22 yards per catch during the national championship game.
2012: 15.9 yards per catch overall and 19.5 yards per catch during the national championship game.
If Foster is going to have a shot at displacing a starter, the best wide receiver since Julio Jones is not going to be the one. Foster is 6'3", 190 lbs. and has a 40 time of 4.82. He's a little taller and lighter than Norwood, and he will not be looking to redshirt for the Crimson Tide.
Norwood's time in the system will keep him as the starter, and it may allow Foster to successfully redshirt his first season to preserve the Tide's potential in the future.
That will not be an indication that he's worse than Norwood, merely that his skills are not needed as much in 2013 as they will be after Norwood leaves.
Verdict: Robert Foster is better than Kevin Norwood, but worse than Amari Cooper.
Max Redfield is ESPN's 23rd-ranked recruit, and once again we will go to Scout.com to find out more about his "athlete" status.
Browne is projected as the nation's fifth-best safety, and the Irish certainly need more defense if they are going to come away with a national championship soon.
Standing in Redfield's way are Nicky Baratti and Matthias Farley. Baratti will be a sophomore in the 2013 season, and Farley will be a junior. Redfield is going to have a battle to get on the field for the Irish, but it may not be as tough a battle as some think.
His only listed weakness on his Scout profile is his tackling ability. Judging from the performance in the national championship game, that's a weakness that the Irish are dealing with across the entire defense.
Baratti is heavier and shorter than Redfield, which will instantly give Redfield an advantage in keeping up with smaller, shiftier wide receivers. Redfield also has an even bigger height advantage over Farley, though their weights are closer together.
Verdict: Max Redfield is better than both the starters at his position on the Irish roster. Also, if he should go the wide-receiver route, he would be the best one on the field for Notre Dame.
Greg Bryant is the 22nd-ranked recruit of the 2013 class, and he's tabbed as a running back. Since the Irish lose both Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick this offseason, that's great news for the Notre Dame faithful.
Bryant is listed at 5'10", 210 lbs. and has a 4.56 40-yard speed. He is a power back that looks sturdy enough to take on the feature role at Notre Dame. Unfortunately for Bryant, the up-and-coming back for the Irish is George Atkinson III.
Atkinson comes in at 6'1", 210 lbs. and gained 7.1 yards per carry on 56 carries in 2012. Bryant is good enough to earn playing time as a freshman for the Irish, but the question is whether he'll displace Atkinson.
Atkinson's extra height gives him a better view of the field, which lends itself to elusiveness. Since one of Bryant's weaknesses is elusiveness, that gives Atkinson a decided advantage. Bryant will get valuable reps as a freshman, just not over the established tailback.
Verdict: Greg Bryant is worse than George Atkinson III, but will get meaningful playing time as a rookie.
Kenny Bigelow is a 4-star defensive tackle and the No. 21 recruit in the 2013 class. If anyone noticed against, well, almost every team that beat the Trojans, USC needs a defensive line.
USC's rushing defense ranked 71st in the country for the 2012 season, giving up 167 yards per game. The defensive line needs some serious work, and Bigelow is a great start. He's 6'3" and 280 lbs. with only sophomore Leonard Williams standing in his way.
Williams is 6'5" and 270 pounds, which gives him a higher center of gravity than Bigelow. While that doesn't make him the worse choice right off the bat, it's certainly a positive for the incoming tackle.
Williams started out as the No. 13 defensive tackle of the 2012 class, and his talent is slightly underdeveloped as of the end of 2012.
Bigelow will be a valuable addition to the Trojans squad, and his ceiling is sky-high. With this much ability to work with, the Trojans have a true freshman commit that's ready to start in Week 1.
Verdict: Kenny Bigelow is better than Leonard Williams, though that may be more a coaching issue than pure talent.
Max Browne is the No. 20 recruit of the 2013 class, and he's a pocket-passer quarterback. After Max Wittek's performance against the Georgia Tech Bulldogs, there is some doubt about whether or not he's got what it takes to be a starting quarterback in a conference like the Pac-12.
If he can learn not to panic and remember what passing lanes are, then he will be fine. If not, then Max Browne will be happy to take over for him. Browne is the country's best quarterback in the 2013 class, and he will be ready to compete for the starting job upon arrival at USC.
As far as ability goes, here's an excerpt from his scout.com profile: "...his ball placement, release, and drops are college level right now."
On top of all that, his current obstacle has only started two games for USC: Notre Dame (loss) and Georgia Tech (loss).
In the Georgia Tech game, USC only scored seven points. That's not much success for Mr. Browne to overcome.
Verdict: Max Browne is better than Max Wittek.
Laquon Treadwell, the nation's No. 19 recruit is currently committed to the Ole Miss Rebels. Ole Miss is rising through the SEC West at an alarming rate, improving from two to six wins in Hugh Freeze's first season.
Recruits like Treadwell are only going to make things worse for the perennial powers like Alabama, LSU and instant-star Texas A&M. Treadwell is up against Donte Moncrief, Korvic Neat and Ja-Mes Logan for a starting wide receiver spot.
While junior Moncrief is probably out-of-reach for Treadwell, the other two are statistically beatable for the nation's fifth-best receiver. Ole Miss lacks serious threats in the deep end of the field, and Treadwell will provide the Rebels with an immediate deep threat.
Treadwell is 6'3" and 190 lbs. With his size, he should be able to contribute right away. After all, if you catch the ball deep, yards after catch don't seem to matter as much.
Verdict: Laquon Treadwell is better than Korvic Neat and Ja-Mes Logan but worse than Donte Moncrief.
Kendall Fuller, No. 18 on ESPN's list, is the nation's third-ranked cornerback and is committed to the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Hokies finished 44th in the country in terms of interceptions with 13, a ho-hum average of one per game.
Standing in Fuller's way are cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum. Exum grabbed five of the Hokies' 13 interceptions, and Fuller picked up two of them. Both Fuller and Exum are seniors, which puts Kendall Fuller at a serious disadvantage for starting time.
Kyle is also Kendall's older brother, which makes ousting him for the starting gig even more difficult. If he were to switch to wide receiver, he'd have an easier time breaking onto the first-string roster.
Verdict: Kendall Fuller is worse than seniors Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum.
Darius James is ranked 17th as the No. 1 center of the 2013 class. His upside is huge, and his competition is smaller than he is. James is 6'4" and 310 lbs., and Dominic Espinosa is currently listed at 6'4" and 298 lbs. Espinosa will only be a junior in 2013.
The 12-pound difference isn't going to push James into the starting role, but his quick feet and natural talent can help him push Espniosa out of the way.
Tailback Johnathan Gray could use a stout offensive line to run behind. The stouter the better.
Verdict: Darius James is better than Dominic Espinosa.
Christian Hackenberg is the No. 15 recruit, and he's the nation's No. 2 quarterback. Luckily for Hackenberg, he's joining the Nittany Lions as senior Matthew McGloin is leaving.
That puts Hackenberg in direct competition with the Nittany Lions' backup quarterback Paul Jones. Jones has only appeared in two games for the Lions, and he has attempted zero passes.
If the Nittany Lions are looking for a great quarterback to develop, Hackenberg is the wave of the future. Jones is a skilled quarterback, and he's got similar arm strength to Hackenberg.
If Jones is going to be the guy, the Lions will already be designing the offensive scheme around him. If they are looking for a pure pocket-passer to shred opposing defenses, then Hackenberg is the guy they should go with.
Verdict: Christian Hackenberg and Paul Jones are neck-and-neck. The starting position will completely depend on the offensive scheme that Bill O'Brien wants to run.
Jalen Ramsey is the second-ranked cornerback in the country and the nation's 14th-best recruit. Josh Shaw and Kevon Seymour are ahead of him on the depth chart, but Kiffin made it clear that Shaw only played in 2012 as soon as he did because injuries forced his hand.
Seymour was one of the players ousted from the depth chart due to injury, and he only played in two games last year. Ramsey enters the locker room with a set of skills that could put him right onto the field in Week 1.
As far as skill, he's as good as they come in 2013. He should use his 6'0" height and 190-lbs. frame to bust in on the roster immediately.
USC needs serious help on defense, and Ramsey is a freshman that could help rescue the secondary from games like the Oregon debacle in 2012.
Verdict: Jalen Ramsey is better than Josh Shaw and a recovering Kevon Seymour.
The other recruit coming to help USC in the secondary is No. 1 safety Su'a Cravens. He's the No. 12 overall recruit, and he's a beast at 6'1" and 205 lbs. He's ready to start as far as size and speed are concerned, and he's a stellar pass-rusher.
Cravens is up against Demetrius Wright and Gerald Bowman for a starting gig, but Wright's 2012 campaign was crushed by injury. That means the road ahead of Cravens is fairly smooth.
Cravens can contribute to the secondary immediately, and that's welcome news for Trojans fans. With all the injuries plaguing the defense last season, depth is always a priority when recruiting.
Luckily for USC, this recruit loads the depth chart with guys who have already played in college games.
Verdict: Su'a Cravens is better than Demetrius Wright and Gerald Bowman. If he is moved to wide receiver, Cravens will make a nice replacement for Robert Woods.
Eli Apple, the nation's No. 11 recruit and Ohio's top prospect, is a cornerback committed to Ohio State.
Ohio State had some tackling issues in 2012 that forced the secondary to pick up the slack. Fortunately for the Buckeyes, the secondary was able to clean up to the tune of a 12-0 record.
That's a little rough for Apple, because it means the secondary is already great at preventing the scoring play.
In fact, the Buckeyes finished 2012 allowing only 22.8 points per game. While that's not an elite mark, Ohio State made vast improvements compared to the 6-7 run of 2011.
The Buckeyes still have plenty of work to do, though, and bringing in players who can defend against the pass is a must. While Ohio State's deep unit did a great job of cleanup, they also finished 112th in the nation against the pass of 10 or more yards.
Starting corners Bradley Roby and Adam Griffin need to watch out, as Apple will not be satisfied waiting behind them for long, if he even has to wait at all.
Verdict: Eli Apple is better than Bradley Roby and Adam Griffin. He will be a welcome improvement to the Ohio State defense...or offense should he transfer to wide receiver. Either way, he should start as a freshman.
Alabama once again hit the tailback jackpot with Derrick Henry, the nation's No. 4 running back and No. 9 recruit overall. Henry will be an immediate contributor to the Tide's offensive scheme, but that's not the question.
The question is whether or not he is better than the current starter. That is presumably T.J. Yeldon, since Eddie Lacy is leaving in the 2013 NFL draft. Yeldon rushed for 1,000 yards in his rookie season in the SEC, and that's a load of talent that will be hard to overcome.
Henry's lone weakness is his toughness, which he should already be taking care of in the Alabama weight room. Henry is up against a running back who competed extremely well against an established starter with the reigning national champion.
Henry is better than a lot of running backs already taking reps with teams across the land. Alabama's starter is not one of them.
Verdict: Derrick Henry is worse than T.J. Yeldon, but he will see meaningful carries in his freshman season.
Kelvin Taylor is the 2013 class's eighth-best recruit, and he's committed to the overachieving Florida Gators who were one lucky break away from taking on Alabama in the BCS National Championship last season.
The departure of Mike Gillislee will open the tailback position up to the best contender. Matt Jones will be Taylor's main concern for the starting battle. Jones comes in at 6'2" and 226 lbs., which is a little heavy for a tailback.
The other weakness in Jones' 2012 run was his lack of effectiveness in the receiving game. He only had three catches for a total of 10 yards. That leaves the door ajar for Taylor.
Taylor weighs in at 205 lbs. with a 5'10" frame to hold the weight. He's built low and fast, which is the prototypical build for a tailback in any league. Maybe some would consider his short height a disadvantage, but Ray Rice would highly disagree.
Taylor is definitely going to help the Gators get over losing Mike Gillislee.
Verdict: Kelvin Taylor is better than Matt Jones, the second-leading rusher for the Gators in 2012.
Jaylon Smith is giving Notre Dame something it desperately needs: defense. The Irish had a perfect 12-0 run through the 2012 regular season, but they are losing some major defenders to graduation and the draft.
Smith might as well be listed as a defensive athlete, since his skills are so complete. He is actually listed as an outside linebacker, and he is 2013's best at that position. Standing in his way are Ben Councell (2011's No. 32 OLB) and Joe Schmidt (walk-on in 2011).
Notre Dame's realized success in 2012 is going to help them a little in the 2013 recruiting cycle, but it's only the beginning.
Over the next couple of years, the Irish are going to rack up recruits that are going to push current starters out of the way on a consistent basis.
It starts here at linebacker.
Verdict: Jaylon Smith is better than Ben Councell and Joe Schmidt.
Vernon Hargreaves III has more than a little work ahead of him. Yes, he's the nation's No. 3 overall recruit and the No. 1 corner in 2013. However, there are two established starters in his way, Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson.
Roberson immediately started at Florida in his freshman season, and Purifoy did the same. It's rare for a player to start as a true freshman at a school as prestigious as Florida, but Hargreaves is up against two players who did what he hopes to do.
Luckily for Hargreaves, he's a unique talent and is the best corner in the country coming out of high school. He's going to contribute almost immediately at Florida, and he will definitely make the two-deep chart in the fall.
If he can fix his tackling issues early on, then he can pass one of the two starters.
Verdict: Vernon Hargreaves III is better than Loucheiz Purifoy but worse than Marcus Roberson.
After losing junior Corey Lemonier to the 2013 NFL draft, the starting position is open for defensive ends all over campus. Dee Ford and Craig Sanders will be the favorites to win the jobs, especially since they are both seniors.
However, the country's No. 2 overall recruit and No. 2 defensive end, Carl Lawson, will have something to say about that. Lawson will be entering the Auburn threshold with talent and no experience in college football.
Considering what Gene Chizik did in attempting to develop the talent currently on the Tigers' roster, that lack of experience may actually be an asset instead of a liability.
Lawson will arrive on campus as a wet lump of talented clay for the new staff to mold into a defensive end.
Fortunately, the two seniors standing in his way were coached from being national champions to being 0-8 in the SEC last season by the previous staff. The new era at Auburn will begin with a lot of new faces, and Lawson's will be one of them*.
Verdict: Carl Lawson is better than Dee Ford and Craig Sanders.
*The new coaching staff will start to fix things in 2013, but the players that were messed up by the previous staff will have to play catch-up to the extremely talented new arrivals.