Starting strong and building momentum in recruiting is crucial, but nothing is more important than being able to close on the recruiting trail.
Anybody can get a commitment in the spring, but it's the great recruiters who can land prospects with a ton of interest in other major programs once national signing day draws nearer.
If there's a time during a recruiting cycle that you want your program to be hot, it's midway through the season and heading into December. This is when recruits really start to pay attention both to games and to recruiting pitches, knowing that their final decision is just a few months away.
Come January, the best of the best programs start to distinguish themselves on the recruiting trail. By February we usually have a pretty good indication of what programs are going to clean up shop and come away with impressive classes.
Of course, there's always a surprise program or two though.
With all of that in mind, here are five programs that I predict will finish strong on the 2014 recruiting trail.
It's just far too obvious to put these teams on the list. If they didn't finish strong, it would be huge news.
So for now, let's consider these teams the obvious choices to be major players come the end of the 2014 recruiting cycle:
Nick Saban is a proven recruiter and national championship caliber coach. Enough said.
While Alabama fans would argue that Urban Meyer isn't on Saban's level, he's on his own level below Saban. Meyer is also known as one of the best closers in recruiting.
Will Muschamp is quickly becoming one of the best recruiters in football. The Gators defense should be elite in 2013 and I expect they'll be a championship contender. That should be huge on the recruiting trail.
Les Miles is the anti-Saban in many ways, but that plays extremely well with recruits. LSU boasts an elite team on a yearly basis, and it's a huge draw with recruit—especially defensive ones.
Brady Hoke is becoming a recruiting power and Michigan football is back on the rise. If Michigan has a good year on the field, a top-five recruiting class should be the expectation.
Notre Dame can recruit itself with many players because Brian Kelly has his program set up to be a national championship contender for the next few seasons. The Fighting Irish should be a recruiting powerhouse once again in 2014.
Yes, they deserve to be on this list right now.
The Johnny Manziel factor is huge for the Aggies, and Kevin Sumlin is doing a great job with recruiting. If Texas A&M pulls off a few more big wins, the Aggies could boast epic recruiting momentum.
Jimbo Fisher proved last recruiting cycle that he can be a closer, so I don't expect anything else. Florida State's program looks poised to dominate the ACC on the field and in recruiting.
Jim Mora is doing an excellent job with the Bruins both on the field and on the recruiting trail.
And a huge 2013 season could really put UCLA over the top in both categories.
The Pac-12 is vulnerable with both USC and Oregon facing their own respective question marks in 2013 (new quarterback for USC, new coach for Oregon). This could be the year that UCLA gets over the proverbial hump and takes over the conference.
If Mora can lead his team to a Pac-12 championship, the Bruins will finish red hot on the recruiting trail.
UCLA was already one of the hotter teams in the 2013 class, and the program's growth on the field played a huge part in that. The city of L.A. is seemingly up for grabs in a recruiting sense with USC in turmoil more often than not, so Mora and his staff could make a huge statement with a big year on the field in 2013.
Beating USC again is a must, but making a statement by beating Stanford and Oregon could really garner the Bruins some major attention on the recruiting trail.
UCLA could go from an interesting program to one of the most hyped up programs in the country with a big showing in the Pac-12.
And the Bruins are primed to do just that.
Gus Malzahn is the right coach for the job at Auburn.
We saw how he was able to pull together an excellent class and finish the 2013 recruiting cycle on an extremely strong note.
I don't expect 2014 to be any different.
In fact, Auburn could actually have a better recruiting cycle in 2014 if the Tigers go out and put together a better year on the field. Considering Malzahn's offensive scheme and what should be a much improved defense, that's very probable.
Auburn needs to go out and improve on its 2012 record (which shouldn't be hard at 3-9), and more importantly show some legitimate progress. If they can do that, then the Tigers could very well finish the 2014 cycle as one of the more hyped up programs in the country.
If anything, Mazahn's offense should be exciting, and recruits will take notice.
If the Tigers can go out and beat one of their tougher SEC opponents like Georgia, Mississippi State, Arkansas or even Texas A&M, LSU or Alabama, the buzz surrounding Malzahn's rebuild will be undeniable.
That will translate on the recruiting trail in a big way.
Say what you will about Mack Brown and the Longhorns descent from power in the world of college football, Texas is still a huge recruiting draw.
The Longhorns may not boast an elite program or reputation anymore, but all it takes is one good year for that to change around in a hurry. The first step will be changing that perception in recruiting.
This is where I believe the Longhorns can find major success.
Texas has already started extremely hot on the 2014 recruiting trail. Brown's 2014 class features 11 commitments, and all display great potential. The Longhorns are also in the running with some big-time recruits including 5-star cornerback Tony Brown, 5-star receiver Speedy Noil and 5-star defensive end Solomon Thomas.
If Texas can pick up the performance on the field, get a few big wins and continue to recruit well, the Longhorns will undoubtedly finish the 2014 recruiting cycle strong
If Miami can ever get out from under the shadow of the NCAA, I believe we'll see the Hurricanes' football program return to a prominent spot in the college football landscape.
Miami may not relive the glory years anytime soon, but Al Golden has done a tremendous job with recruiting given the circumstances.
So the future is very bright.
The 2014 recruiting cycle could be the year when everything comes together for Miami recruiting. And so far, the Hurricanes have started strong.
Miami still has a chance to land a few more elite recruits.
Ermon Lane is an interesting 5-star wideout recruit from Homestead, Florida. Lane does have Miami in his top four according to 247Sports, though he did recently claim (h/t GatorBait.net/subscription needed) that Alabama, Florida and Clemson are his early leaders.
Miami is also listed as the favorite for 4-star defensive tackle Khari Clark.
If Miami can hold on to the 5-stars, potentially land one or two more and bring in a few more elite 4-star recruits, there's a good chance the Hurricanes can finish with a top-10 recruiting class in 2014.
The Tennessee Volunteers are currently one of the hotter teams in college football recruiting.
If Butch Jones can lead the program to a few meaningful wins in 2013, the Volunteers could finish with one of the stronger 2014 recruiting classes.
There's no doubting the fact that Tennessee has been down and out, but much like coach Malzahn at Auburn, Jones appears to be the guy for the job.
He's doing a phenomenal job of slowly but surely rebuilding a culture of pride at Tennessee.
Jones seems to be focusing on bringing in legacy players that have a family investment in the football program, and that investment will displays itself on the field in the form of pride and hustle.
Jones is recruiting much like Brady Hoke does at Michigan. Hoke wants dedicated "Michigan Men" that will give their all to rebuild Michigan to dominance.
And it's working so far.
Tennessee's big commitment right now is 5-star running back Jalen Hurd. And if the Volunteers can upset a few teams in the SEC, they'll ride a wave of momentum all the way to national signing day 2014.
Oh, what a few wins in the SEC would do for Tennessee's momentum in recruiting...