Ranking the Top 10 Classes One Week Before National Signing Day 2013
National Signing Day is just over a week away, and recruitment has the college football world in a tizzy.
Kids are announcing commitments. Some are taking top secret official visits. Others are getting the big in-home visit from head coaches in an effort to seal the deal.
With the exception of the players who opted to enroll early, drama is peaking. Some kids will remain committed, while others will be swayed another way. Given the fluidity in recruiting, at least until the fax machines start rolling, things are bound to change.
However, right now, a week before the big date, here are my top 10 teams competing for the Recruiting National Championship. It must be noted that getting on the list is an achievement in and of itself. All of these classes are darn good, and the separation between first and 10th boils down to opinion and preference.
If you have not figured this out by now, I'm a big-time defensive and physical play guy. Wide receivers and quarterbacks are nice; they wow fans and draw headlines. Linebackers and defensive backs put you over the top when it comes to the fist fight that is a push for a successful season.
10. USC and Ole Miss
To be honest, I could not square leaving either of these two teams out of the top 10, so they get a magical tie. On one hand, you have Lane Kiffin and his small class of elite players, and on the other, you have Hugh Freeze surprising folks with his robust class, which includes some high-quality talent.
USC has the pieces in the boat to replace T.J. McDonald, Jawanza Starling and Nickell Robey in the defensive backfield. Kiffin also has a pair of running backs and a quarterback who hope to challenge for playing time early. The issue for USC, and it is very real given its scholarship restrictions, is going to be the depth of the class. Not a lot of kids, which that means generating depth will be impossible.
Ole Miss is seeing everything fall into place. It is still very much in the running for Robert Nkemdiche, the nation's No. 1 recruit, and Tony Conner, one of the top safeties in the 2013 cycle. What it has in the boat is a gaggle of high-quality players at some game-impacting positions. Certainly, you'd like to see more girth out of the class; big bodies on both sides of the line go a long way towards winning in the SEC.
That said, both Lane Kiffin and Hugh Freeze are doing a mighty fine job of addressing their programs' needs.
The Dawgs have 29 kids in their current class, including a whopping 13 early enrollments. Expect that move to pay dividends for Mark Richt, especially in the case of John Atkins, the defensive tackle who has a shot to play early and often, and athlete Tramel Terry, once they figure out where to play him.
Richt, as he's done over the last few seasons, has brought a ton of speed into Athens. He also has some kids who have a lot of potential but will be projects. Obviously, Terry has to learn a position and find somewhere to fit into the Dawgs' scheme, but there are also linemen and linebackers who will need some development before they make their major contributions.
The true beauty in Richt's class is that these kids have some of the ability to be among the SEC's best. As with most players, it will come down to not what they did to be highly touted out of high school, but what they do once they get to campus.
I feel weird about this Bayou Bengals class, because when you just look at the kids on the list and watch their tape, it looks so good. Yet LSU has become such a beast in recruiting that this just feels like what it is supposed to have in a class.
They have defensive talent on the line and in the secondary, some big offensive linemen who want to push people around and a host of "athletes" who will have to find a way to get on the field.
There is talent galore in the form of both kids whom we can expect to come in early and play, as well as guys who will need to develop and grow into their roles. With only one early enrollment, it will be interesting to see how many guys crack the two-deep in August.
Les Miles has certainly reloaded after losing key defensive players, including Barkevious Mingo, Sam Montgomery, Kevin Minter, Eric Reid and Tharold Simon.
LSU's in good shape.
I've probably got UCLA a little higher than most folks would, but I love this class. Jim Mora is building a team the way I enjoy seeing it done: get good defensive backs, tough offensive linemen, quality linebackers and a running back who wants to tote the rock.
No, there is no quarterback who makes folks drool in the current class, but that's OK because they have a solid player right now in Brett Hundley, and Mora has a little time to get his guy.
Of the five defensive backs in this class, four of them are 6'1" or taller. That's a coach's dream—big physical guys who can run, cover good range in the back end and deliver a blow when it comes to making tackles. Mora is getting guys who will help him beat tough Pac-12 opponents such as Arizona, Oregon, USC and Stanford.
Watching the Bruins close the cycle will be interesting since they still have areas of opportunity. Mora's adding big bodies to the offensive line and building some depth in the defensive front-seven; this is a true treat to watch.
6. Ohio State
Urban Meyer is at it again. The man is putting together an awesome class. Watching him operate with his legitimate celebrity among the current crop of high school kids is just fun. He is one of those coaches who can walk into a school in Ohio, Florida or most places between and at least pull the ear of the big-time recruit.
The lack of offensive linemen as a whole (just two currently) would be bothersome, except that's a coffer the coach put work into a season ago. Guys like Joey Bosa, Marcus Baugh and Michael Hill will probably step up early and play often on the defensive side of things, while Ezekiel Elliot will likely get early snaps taking hand-offs from Braxton Miller.
Marshall will play a bigger role as the Mr. Do-Everything. The converted quarterback will be taking hand-offs and running routes, and if he grows into that role well, he could be the best part of this class.
5. Texas A&M
Kevin Sumlin has used the SEC and his elevated position in the state of Texas to hit the recruiting trail hard. He has 32 pledges in the boat for 2013, and he is addressing every area of need that the Aggies could possibly have.
He's got offensive linemen and JUCO players who will have to contribute immediately at key spots. He has project players in whom he sees potential and will ask them to develop in his program. Most importantly, he has 15 defensive players committed, an area of direct need for the Aggies.
The head coach is not only dominating the Texas landscape, but has also dipped into Les Miles' backyard for a couple of kids and gone out to Pac-12 country, as well. Sumlin has really taken ownership of the A&M brand, and high schoolers are buying in. It started before their dream season, and with the success of Johnny Manziel, there is no true end in sight to the momentum.
It's always nice to see a clear plan come together. Hoke is looking to use this class to transition Michigan into his brand of "run the ball and play good defense" football.
It starts with the offensive linemen. He's got players who fit into that prototype mold and want to fire off the ball and move bodies. Throw in the recent commitment of Derrick Green, one of the nation's top running backs, and you have a clearly packaged effort to run the ball.
Quarterback Shane Morris has to be mentioned here too. A pro-style guy who improved his mechanics in his senior season, he will benefit from not only the line play, but from the running game as well.
While Hoke does have some developmental guys, he also has players like Mike McCray who will come in with a lot of the pieces to play early. Putting McCray into the mix with Jake Ryan and Joe Bolden is going to really up the competition in the linebacker ranks, and that's a good thing.
Will Muschamp's team got beat down in the Sugar Bowl, and all they got was a couple of big-time commitments from talented players to show for it. The most notable was Alex Anzalone, a guy who was rumored to be big on Florida all along and used Brian Kelly's NFL flirtation to publicly jump on the Gators.
Despite the embarrassing loss to Louisville and the loss of some solid playmakers, things are looking up in Gainesville.
Quarterback play was a bugaboo for the Gators in 2012, and Muschamp is losing Jacoby Brissett to NC State, but he picks up Max Staver. Staver's not as highly rated as some of the more high-profile quarterbacks, but he fits what Muschamp is looking for: a big, physical guy who can stretch the field and is not afraid to carry the ball.
Kelvin Taylor is going to look to challenge for time at the running back spot, and there are defensive players who will use the departures as an opportunity to play early. Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian are both early enrollments, and that means they will have more time to digest the playbook and compete for early playing time.
The jewel of this class, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, is going to compete for time as well. Not because of departures, but merely because he comes in with the skills and talent to beat out the current Gator corners. Hargreaves is that unique blend of elite athleticism and polished technique that you rarely see out of high school kids. It is going to be a treat to watch him push for time come August.
Nick Saban is at it again. The four-time BCS Championship winner is just a wizard on the recruiting trail. He is in the running for some elite recruits, but his current list stands up by itself as a top-notch group. Saban has a knack for meshing his project players with guys who already possess college bodies and mixing them into one class.
This class is headlined by three top-level running backs, and as is Saban's way, he'll let them sort that out themselves in August. If they are up to snuff, they'll get reps on Saturdays. If not, they will be sitting on the sideline watching. Competition is a beautiful thing.
There is a lot to talk about with Saban's class. He has linebackers to continue the embarrassment of riches at that position, plus the quarterback who just seems to fit his mold. Offensive line talent and a lot of wide receivers help too.
However, the big get for the Tide is tight end O.J. Howard. This is a kid who has some real skills when it comes to catching the football and getting open down the field. He has the ability to really open up the offense in Tuscaloosa, and that will be a major problem for defenses. An elite, pass-catching tight end paired with the power rushing attack is a true nightmare for SEC safeties.
1. Notre Dame
I really like Notre Dame's 2013 class. The offensive line coming in is a plus. They have some defensive backs who are going to be true athletic upgrades over the likes of Zeke Motta. Plus, the Irish get another quarterback who fits into Brian Kelly's mold.
Malik Zaire is going to be an interesting addition to the Fighting Irish quarterback depth chart. He's a lot like Everett Golson in terms of his scrambling abilities, and the kid throws a pretty, catchable football. Gunner Kiel, last year's No. 1 quarterback, is going to have some competition on his heels.
On the defensive side of things, Max Redfield and Jaylon Smith are definitely next-level-caliber players. Expect Redfield to step in and compete for the starting safety spot that was just vacated by Motta.
Bob Diaco's use of Smith will be a key storyline where this class is concerned. Smith's athleticism affords him the ability to play inside, outside and with his hand in the dirt. Smith needs to add weight, but the fluidity that he's exhibited will help him get some looks for early time.
Picking the top class is essentially splitting hairs. The truth is, if your school is up near the top 10, then you are doing quite alright. With a week to go, there could certainly be some additions and subtractions to these commitment lists. Ultimately, the coaches who ink these kids are going to determine just how great a class is by developing them.
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