CFB Recruiting 2014: 1 Burning Question for Each BCS Team

Jonathan McDanal@@jdmcdanalContributor IIIJuly 12, 2013

CFB Recruiting 2014: 1 Burning Question for Each BCS Team

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    We are just over five months removed from the last national signing day, and that means there is slightly more than half a year for every single college football team to iron out the kinks in its recruiting strategy for the 2014 class.

    While standard questions always surround each program's recruiting philosophy or execution, some questions bear more weight than others. Here is one burning question for each BCS-AQ team heading into the home stretch of recruiting season.

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Alabama Crimson Tide

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    Alabama has led the way in everything for the past few seasons. Recruiting is included in that analysis, even though the Tide didn't earn the No. 1 ranking in every season. Alabama may not get the players it deserves, but it gets the players it needs.

    The biggest question for Alabama is: How many quarterbacks will transfer after the 2014 class is signed, sealed and delivered?

    While it's Alabama's policy to sign at least one passer in every recruiting class, the problem with that setup was exposed with the transfer of Phillip Sims.

    Granted, Sims was not only a victim of circumstances beyond his control, but with three quarterbacks from the 2013 class being joined by at least David Cornwell in 2014, people will fall through the cracks and choose the transfer option.

    Which ones decide to bail will determine the success of the Alabama passing attack over the next few years, plus it will affect the Tide's ability to land more blue-chip prospects at the position.

Arizona Wildcats

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    Arizona is under construction in many ways. First, the Wildcats have new facilities on campus. Second, Rich Rodriguez is building the program from the player perspective.

    The biggest question for Arizona is: Can Rodriguez keep the in-state talent inside the state?

    He'll be up against every team in the nation for the blue-chip recruits who are necessary to build a legitimate national contender, including in-state rival Arizona State.

    Arizona missed out on Taylor Lewan in 2009, but that was because Rodriguez siphoned him over to Michigan. Now that Rodriguez is on the Wildcats' side, can he turn things around in 2014, or will he have to make it to the Pac-12 title game before recruits start coming in droves?

    He improved the Arizona program vastly in his first season, but was it enough?

Arizona State Sun Devils

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    Arizona State is up against the mighty Rodriguez from Arizona, and the Sun Devils have a lot of work to do before seriously contending for anything beyond a regular-tier bowl win.

    Arizona State's biggest question is: Who will replace Will Sutton?

    Sutton will enter the 2014 draft as a senior, so finding another top-notch defensive lineman is a high priority for the Sun Devils. Yes, they have other positions to fill, but if they can find a decent replacement for Sutton, that will keep one familiar position solid for another few years.

    Right now, Sutton's backup is also going to be a senior, so the position stands to weaken considerably if it isn't addressed now.

Arkansas Razorbacks

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    Arkansas needs to do some major damage control with the 2014 recruiting class. The Razorbacks took a step back in 2012, and 2013 is already going to be devoted to learning coach Bret Bielema's schemes and developing a new quarterback.

    That's not to say that Arkansas isn't heading to the 2013 postseason, because that's highly probable. However, it is a formative season for what could be a great run toward the playoffs starting in 2014 or 2015.

    The Razorbacks' biggest question for this recruiting class is: Does Bielema have what it takes to recruit in the SEC?

    Simply put, he took Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl in each of the last three seasons. He has a track record of success, even with losses. The good news for Arkansas is that he'll have the weight of the SEC name behind him this time.

    The short answer to the question is probably "yes," but that doesn't mean that it's a given. He'll still have to command the respect of recruits who are actively being recruited by teams like Alabama, LSU, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Ole Miss, just to name a few.

    The road isn't going to get any easier, but there is the doubt that 2012 has cast on the program. Arkansas needs to win in order to give Bielema the best opportunity to succeed.

Auburn Tigers

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    Auburn is another team that has had a recent run of bad luck—or consequences for an ill-advised decision, depending on your perspective. Fortunately, the Tigers have a long history of challenging Alabama to lean on for the recruiting process.

    The biggest question for Auburn is: Can the Tigers get a quarterback?

    The Tigers had a national championship in 2010, and they followed that with two seasons of nothing. Gus Malzahn will have the Tigers firing on all 22 cylinders soon, but the anticipation is killing Auburn fans.

    They want the success that they saw in 2010, because they are fully aware that it can happen. No, Cam Newtons don't grow on trees, but even a couple of great players can be the difference between 14-0 and 3-9.

    Auburn needs a quarterback, and the Tigers need to see if they can draw one of the nation's top 10. With the way the SEC West is shaking out, things aren't going to get any easier for them anytime soon.

Baylor Bears

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    Baylor has yet another quarterback stepping up in 2013, and fans shouldn't be nervous at all. If Art Briles and company have proved themselves capable of anything, it's developing a passer.

    Unfortunately, stellar offensive lineman Cyril Richardson will be heading to the NFL via the 2014 draft this May. That leaves a huge gap on the front line.

    Baylor's biggest question is: Can it land an anchor for the line of scrimmage?

    Honestly, while the offensive line is naturally important for the Bears, even a stout defensive leader would be sufficient. The Bears could use some major improvements all over the field, but the line is where it all starts.

    College football is all about who controls the line of scrimmage, and Baylor needs to start addressing the future as soon as possible. The Bears loaded up on some serious talent in 2013, but the offensive line must be a top priority in 2014 or at least second to the overall defense.

Boston College Eagles

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    Boston College hired a new head coach after last season, because things couldn't get much worse than 2-10 and the Eagles had no interest in finding out if they were wrong.

    Now that Steve Addazio (formerly of Temple) is in charge, there's only one major question: Will it get better with the 2014 class?

    The Eagles have issues to address at almost every position on the field. Not that they don't have talent, but there are zero positions that a 5-star athlete couldn't take over in his rookie year.

    The Boston College fanbase wants success, and there's no single area that they demand improvement. The whole field needs an upgrade. The question is whether Addazio can do some damage on the recruiting trail this season.

    He may be able to offer the most guaranteed playing time in the entire BCS-AQ echelon. He should use that as his starting point on the trail.

BYU Cougars

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    BYU is losing one of the best defensive players in the nation, regardless of position, after the 2013 season. Kyle Van Noy will be heading to the 2014 NFL draft since he is a senior this fall.

    BYU's biggest question: Can the Cougars get another Van Noy in 2014?

    Honestly, that's a tough question. The odds on any kid being as talented as Van Noy are low, much less the odds on whether BYU lands that particular recruit.

    Fortunately, the Cougars will have a probable first-round draft pick to hail on the trail. If they play their cards right, another Van Noy plus upgrades at a lot of different positions are possible.

    With a little more talent on the roster, BYU is a contender for the playoffs. Without a solid recruiting class, though, the Cougars will have to settle for fleeting Top 25 appearances.

California Golden Bears

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    Cal is under the management of last year's duo that was in charge of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. Despite missing out on the postseason due to a slight error in judgment, the Bulldogs were one of the best teams in the country.

    They took Texas A&M to overtime late in the season (something even Alabama couldn't do), and quarterback Colby Cameron set more than one NCAA record in the process.

    Cal's biggest question: Is it getting the next Cameron in 2014?

    After Brett Hundley's excellent performance for UCLA and USC's disappointing run under new head coach Lane Kiffin, Cal is coming from a position of authority on the recruiting trail for the first time in recent memory.

    The Golden Bears can offer two things that the other local schools can't:

    1. Immediate playing time.
    2. Training by coaches who have at least one major recent quarterback on their resumes.

    Cameron may not have been the No. 1 pick in the draft, but neither was Matt Barkley (USC). As far as UCLA goes, it'll be sticking with Hundley as long as he's willing to stay.

    Cal needs people like wide receivers and linemen, too, but a stellar quarterback can help offset those weaknesses. Cameron certainly did against Texas A&M.

Cincinnati Bearcats

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    Cincinnati chose to replace Butch Jones with Texas Tech's Tommy Tuberville. Tuberville has a knack for building defenses, but his players at Texas Tech lacked the consistency to contend for a Big 12 title.

    The biggest question for Cincinnati is: Can it get the building blocks for a stout defense in 2014?

    The American Athletic Conference is known for offense rather than defense, but it's still not known for national champions since the major contenders took off for other conferences.

    If a team like Cincinnati could form a defense that could stop the high-octane offenses of the conference, a slightly above-average offense could take the league by storm.

    Simply put, the Bearcats are in dire need of a complete team, but a defense that relieves some pressure off the offense can make an immediate and decisive impact.

Clemson Tigers

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    Clemson is entering the final season with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. While the Tigers do need to maintain quality on the lines, those players have to be replaced as soon as possible.

    As of right now, Clemson's question is: Are reinforcements coming in 2014?

    Unless a stellar set of offensive skill players comes in with the 2014 class, the Tigers are going to have to write that season off as a rebuilding year. If those players show up, though, Clemson will be a recurring presence in the Top 25.

Colorado Buffaloes

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    Colorado is not having a good time in the Pac-12 yet, and the Buffaloes have a lot of recruiting to do to fix that. Colorado's biggest issue is not at the skill positions, though.

    Colorado's biggest question: Can it get linemen?

    Colorado needs to start by building a team modeled after Stanford's success. After the Buffs build a solid line of scrimmage, they can start finding their identity on offense.

    Controlling the line of scrimmage is the biggest difference-maker, especially in their conference. Stanford didn't outgun Oregon last season, and that kind of solid, physical play has proved successful over the past few years.

    That's how the SEC is winning championships, and that's how Colorado can move from 1-11 to 6-6 in a matter of two years.

Connecticut Huskies

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    Connecticut lost five players to the 2013 NFL draft, and that will help the Huskies on the recruiting trail. The question isn't whether UConn can recruit.

    The big question is: Can UConn get a quarterback?

    The Huskies had a leading quarterback who threw nine touchdowns to 16 interceptions last season. No matter how you slice it, that can't happen if they expect to contend for any sort of title.

    UConn has enough of a base that a stellar quarterback can bring them decent seasons. After that, focus will need to shift in order to aim for championships.

    UConn needs to shift into high gear when chasing a quarterback this coming cycle.

Duke Blue Devils

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    Sean Renfree is gone, and Duke will feel that in 2013. Luckily, the recruiting trail is never cold, and the Blue Devils can use their relative lack of success in 2013 to push for stars in 2014's class.

    Duke's biggest question: Is there a leader on the horizon who can bring back regular bowl appearances and maybe even wins?

    Duke needs to scout the quarterback position and spare no expense of energy to land the next Renfree or better. The Blue Devils are in the same conference as Virginia Tech (Logan Thomas), Miami (Stephen Morris), Clemson (Tajh Boyd), UNC (Bryn Renner) and Florida State (Jameis Winston).

    The ACC does not have issues recruiting quarterbacks, even at basketball-centric schools like North Carolina. Duke needs to step up and grab a piece of that pie. Starting time and a postseason appearance should be enough for Duke to land a 3-star recruit at the position.

    Duke doesn't need the next Peyton Manning to win a bowl game. A simple David Ash could do the trick. (At least let 2013 play out before burning me in effigy for the David Ash comment, please.)

Florida Gators

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    Florida had a terrible passing attack in 2012, and the Gators finished 118th of 124 in that category. The Gators aren't hurting anywhere else on the field, really.

    Even the Sugar Bowl would have been different with a legitimate threat under center. Florida's biggest question: Can the Gators land a quarterback who can compete with the defenses across the SEC?

    Florida's passing situation isn't hopeless. Jeff Driskel has a lot of potential, but the Gators need to bring in more than one passer with the 2014 class. If another Driskel situation occurs, they need another option.

    Clearly, putting all their eggs in one basket did not turn out as they wished. Of course, Driskel has the entire 2013 season to prove that he is a legitimate threat at the position, so things don't have to be all bad for the Gators this year.

Florida State Seminoles

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    Florida State lost some major talent in 2013, and ideally the Seminoles would have replaced it during the 2012 or 2013 classes. However, Bjoern Werner and company aren't easily replaced.

    FSU's biggest question: Can it actually bolster the linebacking corps in 2014?

    Florida State stands to lose Christian Jones from the linebacker position after the 2013 season, and his replacement needs to be in this class.

    With a weakened defensive line, the last thing the Seminoles want to do is have the linebacker unit get weaker. The linebacking corps needs to be the strength of the 2014 team, especially with Jameis Winston entering the prime of his collegiate career.

    FSU needs linebackers in this class, and it is off to a great start with more than one 4-star commit. However, nothing is settled until there is ink on paper in February. If you've followed college football recruiting, you know that even a tattoo isn't a guaranteed signature.

Georgia Bulldogs

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    Georgia's biggest question isn't necessarily who is going to replace Aaron Murray. First, that guy should already be in uniform. The SEC has recruiting power that other conferences don't have right now, mostly due to its string of national championships.

    Georgia's biggest question: What's next?

    Seriously, the Bulldogs are facing a rebuilding season in 2014, and it will include everything from quarterbacks to defensive backs. What is next for Mark Richt and the Dawgs?

    That answer has come with some solid recruiting classes, but the 2014 class is going to have to be a step forward instead of another step back. Georgia's 2012 class ranked fifth, but the 2013 class slipped to 10th, with Ole Miss jumping up to fifth that season.

    In 2014, if the downward slide continues, Georgia may have to find some new staff members to carry the Dawgs over the hump. Richt has taken Georgia to two straight SEC title games, but he either has to win one or prove that he can recruit well enough to give the school hope for the near future.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

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    Georgia Tech appeared in the 2012 ACC Championship Game but only because neither UNC nor Miami was eligible. (Miami by choice.) Georgia Tech has a good base for success, but the Yellow Jackets have to admit that they need help at one major position.

    Georgia Tech's biggest question: Can it get a passer?

    The Yellow Jackets run an option offense that centers on the run, but that will only take them so far. Their attack needs to be more balanced to find real success. No, they don't need to shoot for equal yardage from the run and the pass, but more equal scoring would be ideal.

    Last season, the Yellow Jackets scored 48 rushing touchdowns to only 12 passing scores. Yes, that was enough to beat USC in the Wind Bowl, but that won't cut it when it comes to championship games, whether conference or national.

    Again, Georgia Tech has a strong foundation on both sides of the ball, but the Ramblin' Wreck needs a solid passer who can keep the defense off-guard. Without any element of surprise, the Yellow Jackets will be predictable and vulnerable to a stout rushing defense.

    Those stout rushing defenses make a lot of trips to national championship games.

Houston Cougars

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    Houston is entering a BCS-AQ conference for the first time in 2013. The Cougars joined the American Athletic Conference, and they need to begin recruiting immediately.

    Houston's biggest question is: Can it get an offense?

    Houston was a force when Case Keenum was under center, and the Cougars had the expected rough ride through 2012. Keenum's stats are not easily repeated.

    Houston is one quarterback away from contending with almost anyone in the AAC, but that quarterback needs to come soon. Outside of that one position, the Cougars are going to need to rebuild from the ground up.

    However, priority No. 1 should be a signal-caller. That one player can make Houston stand out from the crowd early and gain the needed recruiting advantage to gun for the conference title soon.

Illinois Fighting Illini

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    College football fans may be familiar with the Toledo Rockets and their recent success. If so, then there's your hope for the Illinois football team. Tim Beckman built that program in the midst of scandal (not his, of course).

    Illinois' biggest question is: Can the Illini get better than a 3-star at any position? Essentially, can this rebuild happen any faster?

    Illinois is off to a great start with a slew of 3-star commitments highlighted by two players in the top 30 at their respective positions. The turnaround has started, but Illinois doesn't have the same buying power on the trail as Ohio State, Michigan and other Big Ten teams.

    The rebuild is going to be slow and steady, not like Alabama's was with Nick Saban. The 4-star recruit is far from necessary, but it would cut some time off the rebuild by bolstering the recruiting oomph of the Illini.

Indiana Hoosiers

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    Indiana had a great season in 2012, despite the four-win record. Half of the losses were in close games, and one single linebacker could have made the difference in any one of those contests.

    Indiana's biggest question is: Can the Hoosiers land Brandon Lee?

    Brandon Lee is from Indianapolis, and the Hoosiers have to be focused on retaining at least the in-state talent if they are going to compete in the Big Ten. With coaches like Brady Hoke and Urban Meyer dipping into the SEC's breadbasket, that is a must.

    Indiana can compete in the Big Ten, but the make-or-break year seems to be 2014. If the Hoosiers don't make a successful run for talent in this coming class, they may be on the sidelines watching everyone from Ohio State to Illinois succeed without them.

    Lee is being recruited by greats such as Cal, Oregon, Louisville and other squads that are on the cusp of greatness. If Indiana can retain him, this could be just the beginning for the Hoosiers.

Iowa Hawkeyes

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    Iowa is in a similar position as Indiana, though the Hawkeyes were one possession shy of victory in five games last season as opposed to Indiana's four-game mark. Iowa has the potential for success but must strive harder than some to maintain competitiveness with the rest of the Big Ten.

    Iowa's biggest question: Can the Hawkeyes make it into the top 25 this recruiting cycle?

    Iowa is already at 41 on the list of recruiting rankings at, and that's with only 10 current commits (two are 4-star recruits).

    The Hawkeyes, as stated, are at a crossroads. If they can't gain some ground on the 2014 trail following the Big Ten's down season in 2012, then things are only going to get more difficult. Iowa needs a big class, even if it isn't top-10 material.

    A simple top-25 finish (or at least close) should be enough to get Iowa some wins over teams in the middle of the pack.

Iowa State Cyclones

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    Iowa State is still close enough to the 2011 upset of then-undefeated Oklahoma State that it should make a difference on the recruiting trail. Not a huge difference, mind you, but a difference nonetheless.

    Iowa State's biggest question: Will the Cyclones follow through and retain Allen Lazard?

    Lazard is the No. 7 wide receiver of the class, and you can bet that a lot of teams are going to be after him. He is a strong commit, but there are still some months left before signing day. Oregon, Stanford, California and Notre Dame have all extended offers to him.

    While California and Notre Dame are unlikely to sway him, Oregon and Stanford have both appeared in BCS bowls (or better) over the past few seasons. Iowa State should be able to keep him on the list, but the Cyclones cannot let their guard down.

    If they start ignoring him because he's "locked in," then Stanford could make a good pitch for him. The sky is the limit for Lazard, and Iowa State does not have the strongest resume of all the teams that have expressed interest in him.

Kansas Jayhawks

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    Kansas is in a serious rebuilding mode. The Jayhawks aren't trying to overcome the loss of a few players to the draft; they are trying to find success where none has existed in quite some time.

    The Jayhawks have been to one BCS bowl and won it. That was the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2007 season. That success is recent enough to provide them with recruiting pitches, but they also have Charlie Weis at the helm. That's a recruiting advantage, but it's also a coaching disadvantage.

    Kansas' biggest question is: Can the Jayhawks incite a coup and take back Peyton Newell?

    Newell has Kansas in his top five, but the 'Hawks are slipping in the rankings. Nebraska and South Carolina are the front-runners, and Newell is a solid defensive tackle who will anchor whatever team he goes to.

    For Weis, a grab like Newell would further improve his reputation on the recruiting trail, and it would also provide Kansas with a lineman around whom to build a championship defense.

Kansas State Wildcats

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    Kansas State has seen a great run of success under Bill Snyder, but Collin Klein is gone now. The Heisman finalist wasn't a stellar passer, but he was a great all-around quarterback.

    Kansas State's biggest question is: Can the Wildcats land Malachi Dupre?

    Dupre is a huge target. He's a top-tier wide receiver ranked in the top three at his position. Kansas State needs some monster recruits in 2014 because this is the time to strike in the Big 12.

    Powerhouse programs are going to be down that season, since stars will be leaving top-tier programs after the 2013 season. Kansas State doesn't necessarily need a superstar recruit in 2014, but to land Dupre would mean great things sooner rather than later for the Wildcats.

    Kansas State should pour a lot of energy into the playing time pitch, but it's still a long shot to pull a star out of New Orleans into the Big 12.

Kentucky Wildcats

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    Kentucky is at the bottom of the SEC with nowhere to go but up. The good news is that the Wildcats hired Mark Stoops in place of Joker Phillips at the end of 2012. Stoops has a lot of work to do in August, but his recruiting efforts are already under way.

    Kentucky's biggest question is: Can the Wildcats close the deal with Davin Pierce?

    Pierce is a stellar wide receiver/cornerback prospect out of Florida, and Kentucky could use him at either position...badly. He's also interested in Louisville, so the Wildcats have a lot of selling to do.

    Playing time is not really a point in Kentucky's favor, because he'd likely get just as much at Louisville. The best thing Kentucky can do is pitch the vision of a bright future in the SEC. That's going to be hard to do against a team like Louisville, which just won a BCS bowl. (Meaning that the future is already bright with the Cardinals.)

    Ultimately, Kentucky needs great athletes, and Pierce is an excellent start to bringing the desired future into sharp focus.

LSU Tigers

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    LSU reloads each season as it shoves players into the NFL repeatedly. While plenty of questions surround the program, there is a big one for the 2014 cycle.

    LSU's biggest question is: Can the Tigers land D'haquille Williams?

    The Tigers are in the hunt for a lot of the nation's top prospects, but wide receiver Williams is the No. 1 recruit of the class. He has narrowed his options to Auburn, LSU, Texas and Texas A&M.

    LSU can use any 5-star recruit at any position. The Tigers are that good. But what they could really use is a wide receiver comparable to some of the other stars in the SEC. LSU has had loads of talent at every position, but there has been a recent lull at wide receiver.

    LSU doesn't have a weakness other than the quarterback position, and that is due more to lack of experience than anything else. However, a recruit like Williams would make the receiving corps the strength of the team.

Louisville Cardinals

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    Louisville has Teddy Bridgewater and high hopes at this point in time, but he is heading to the NFL this coming draft. That means that the window of opportunity is closing.

    Louisville's biggest question: Can the Cardinals parlay Bridgewater's success into a great recruiting class?

    Currently, Louisville has one 4-star commit. The other prospects are all rated lower. Louisville has Bridgewater for one more season, and his effect is going to be greatest on the 2014 results.

    After demolishing the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl, Louisville is a position for recruiting. If anyone in the American Athletic Conference has a shot at a national championship in the near future, it's the Cardinals.

    For that to happen without Bridgewater, the Cardinals are going to have to bring in a top-notch class. As players like Hakeem Smith and Bridgewater leave for the NFL, Louisville is building a national brand.

    The Cardinals must be taking advantage of that at every turn in order to retain their upward trajectory.

Maryland Terrapins

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    Maryland is locked in on the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback of the 2014 class, Will Ulmer. While he is not nationally ranked as an overall recruit, Maryland doesn't need a Cam Newton to improve as a team.

    Maryland's biggest question: Can Ulmer take the Terrapins to a bowl?

    Ulmer has the talent to move Maryland up from the bottom range of the ACC to at least a postseason appearance. Whether his talent will turn into skill is another story entirely.

    The Terrapins are hurting all over the field, but a dual-threat quarterback could be just the thing they need. After all, Stefon Diggs can't make the difference all by himself.

Memphis Tigers

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    Memphis is yet another squad entering the AQ ranks for the first time in 2013. The Tigers have a long road ahead of them in order to steal success away from teams like Louisville and Cincinnati.

    Memphis' biggest question: Can the Tigers land the current potential headliner?

    Memphis has a lot of interest from 2- and 3-star recruits, but that isn't going to get them to the top of the conference as soon as 4- and 5-star athletes would. Currently, it has a lot of interest from Jarvis Cooper, the 4-star inside linebacker/defensive end from West Memphis.

    The Tigers will have a lot of competition from Arkansas and Ole Miss, but Memphis has the geographical edge because the school is located in his home city. Arkansas doesn't really have the clout to pull him away right now, but that could change over the next few months.

    Ole Miss is a legitimate concern because Hugh Freeze has built a strong program in a short period of time. However, neither Ole Miss nor Arkansas can guarantee Cooper time on the field as soon as Memphis can.

    If the Tigers can land Cooper, it would be the first step on the journey to solid recruiting classes in the future. He needs to be a priority for the 2014 class.

Miami Hurricanes

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    Miami is rising in the ACC, and it's happening so quickly that many teams may be taken by surprise. The Hurricanes have a lot of talent on the roster already, but what do they need in 2014?

    Miami's biggest question: Can it land the top-notch wide receiver, Ermon Lane?

    Lane is a 5-star wideout from Homestead, Florida. He's being wooed by Alabama, Florida and Miami. While Florida is a concerning opponent on the recruiting trail, the Hurricanes need to worry about Alabama.

    The Tide have rolled through the past four years with three national titles. Florida may have made a BCS bowl in 2012, but Miami shouldn't have a difficult time convincing Lane that Miami is in better offensive condition than the Gators.

    Lane would easily be the headliner of the 2014 Miami class, and he would be the first skill-position recruit to see the field if he signed. Plus, with Stephen Morris leaving after the 2013 season, the Hurricanes need players who can make the next passer's job easier.

    Lane is one of those players.

Michigan Wolverines

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    Michigan has been moving up in the college football world since Rich Rodriguez was at the helm. When Brady Hoke took over, things continued to get better, albeit with a few hiccups last season.

    Michigan's biggest question: Can the Wolverines retain Jabrill Peppers?

    Peppers is the No. 1 athlete in the class, and he can slide in at Michigan in the wide receiver, running back, cornerback or safety slot quite well. Peppers is the type of recruit that a team can build around, and the Wolverines need to make sure that he stays committed.

    Alabama, Auburn, Boston College and Florida aren't going to give up on recruiting him because he's committed. The battle may have been lost, but the war is not over until February.

    Michigan had better not ignore one of the top recruits in the nation. If that happens, then the SEC will step in and make him feel important again. Or the Boston College Eagles could make him feel like he's the key to success with them, which he would be.

    He's solidly committed to Michigan, but things can change, especially if the Wolverines fall short of expectations during the 2013 season.

Michigan State Spartans

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    Michigan State is in trouble for the 2014 recruiting class. There are 14 targets on the board, and four of those are committed to the Spartans. Unfortunately, there is little interest from any of the rest, and some are already committed to other schools.

    Michigan State's biggest question: Can the Spartans regroup and make the top 25?

    Michigan State had a lot of success under quarterback Kirk Cousins, and the Spartans were close to a BCS bowl in 2012, despite the deceptive number of losses.

    The Spartans are still contenders in the Big Ten, but if they are going to keep up with the big dogs in the conference, they need to start figuring out how to succeed at the most basic challenge in college football: recruiting.

Minnesota Golden Gophers

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    Minnesota is having a decent run on the recruiting trail, but its big board has some major issues. Specifically, there are some missing pieces that are going to put the Golden Gophers at a disadvantage in the Big Ten.

    Minnesota's biggest question: Are the Gophers even going to try to land a 5-star?

    Minnesota's board has a lot of interested recruits on it, but the "target" and "high choice" sections are both devoid of top-notch stars. Are the Gophers going to land the No. 1 class in the country in 2014? No. They haven't had enough success to merit a class that big.

    However, by not "wasting" any time at all on 5-star athletes, the Gophers are perpetuating the stereotype that they can't compete with the powerhouses all over the country.

    Minnesota can pitch playing time in a power conference. That's at least worth enough to land a 5-star, even if it's at a lesser-known position. After all, Jadeveon Clowney and Taylor Lewan both play unsung positions at their schools, and they both get plenty of publicity.

    Minnesota needs to step out of the "little brother" role on the trail. If not, then the Gophers may never see the type of success that will put them in the playoffs. Minnesota has to get out there and at least make an effort.

Mississippi State Bulldogs

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    Mississippi State started the 2012 season with a 7-0 run before it met Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU in three straight weeks. The Bulldogs are close to contending in the SEC, but the 2014 class is a potential turning point.

    Mississippi State's biggest question: Can the Bulldogs land Marlon Humphrey?

    Mississippi State is recruiting dozens of players of varying talent, and a lot of its listed players have little interest in playing for the Bulldogs. While it may look like wasted effort, Ole Miss proved that landing a powerful recruit can set off a chain of events that leads to a top-10 class.

    Humphrey is the No. 1 cornerback in the country, and he's inside the top 10 overall. If the Bulldogs can win his signature over Alabama (currently leading the pack), Florida, Florida State and South Carolina, they can watch as his signature tips the scales in their favor.

    While it may or may not happen, Humphrey should be Mississippi State's biggest time investment. Without stepping over the line, the Bulldogs should do whatever it takes to land him over Alabama. Playing time is a huge selling point, as is the conference strength.

    The best thing they can do other than that is win at least nine games in 2013. Humphrey is the linchpin.

Missouri Tigers

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    Missouri has had some issues adjusting to the SEC, but so would any team that went through as much injury as the Tigers did in 2012. Missouri needs to seek equalization on the recruiting trail. It's the quickest route to success, and Missouri has some buying power.

    Missouri's biggest question: Can the Tigers flip Rafe Peavey?

    Peavey is a great pro-style quarterback in the 2014 class, and he's the No. 3 player in the state of Missouri. There are many reasons that the Tigers need to land him, but we'll cover just a couple of the biggest.

    First, the SEC's strength starts on the recruiting trail. Keeping in-state recruits inside the borders is a must if a team is going to compete. Naturally, if you're targeting a better recruit in another team's backyard, it's OK to let the in-state kid sign elsewhere. Overall, you should keep the talent close and not lose the home-field battles.

    Secondly, the Tigers aren't set up with a stellar prospect at quarterback. While the SEC as a conference is built on stellar defense, Texas A&M proved that even the best defenses can be caught off-guard by a great offense.

    Texas A&M is seeing a lot of success with a stellar offense while building a championship defense. Missouri needs to take that same approach. Peavey is a home-state quarterback, and he's currently heading to Arkansas.

    If Missouri can't outsell Arkansas now, there is little chance that the Tigers will be able to do it after Bret Bielema fixes the Razorbacks soon. The Tigers can make the biggest push right now, and Peavey needs to be the top priority.

Nebraska Cornhuskers

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    Nebraska has as good list of targets, and an even better wish list for the 2014 class. Currently, all commits are 3-star prospects. While that needs to change, the Cornhuskers have seven months left to make that push.

    Nebraska's biggest question: Can it simply pull in the second- or third-best class in the Big Ten?

    Ohio State has Urban Meyer, and Michigan has Brady Hoke. Bo Pelini has to do better than either one of them but not necessarily both. The 'Huskers are good, and they have been around the top of the conference for years.

    However, to make the push from near the top to at the top, the 'Huskers need to hit the recruiting trail hard and fast. The "fast" train has already sailed, but it isn't even close to too late.

    The 'Huskers can win the Big Ten, but losing ground on the recruiting trail is not in the recipe for success. Nebraska needs to land a top-three class in the conference and preferably at least second place.

UNC Tar Heels

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    North Carolina is sitting on the nation's No. 21 recruiting class at the moment, and that's excellent for the Tar Heels. They have 16 commits so far and have plenty of time to improve their situation.

    North Carolina's biggest question: Can the Tar Heels stay in the top 25?

    UNC isn't a football powerhouse, but things are shifting all over the ACC. Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech have been the teams to beat over the past three seasons, but UNC, Miami, Duke and Georgia Tech have been steadily building strong bases during that period.

    The 2014 recruiting class will go a long way toward sorting the conference out. If North Carolina can keep drawing in top-25 classes, then the Tar Heels might be able to win the ACC in football and basketball before the decade is finished.

    North Carolina needs to focus on the success that Bryn Renner and company have brought to the program. Using that sales pitch should help UNC edge out a lot of the equally talented teams in the middle of the ACC.

NC State Wolfpack

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    NC State is seeing some success in the ACC, but quarterback Mike Glennon is gone. The Wolfpack took down then-undefeated Florida State in 2012 and made some serious waves. However, one stellar victory doesn't make a whole season.

    NC State's biggest question: Can the Wolfpack make some progress on the line of scrimmage with this class?

    Right now, NC State doesn't have any commitments from anyone better than a 3-star prospect. The Wolfpack already have players coming to help out in the secondary and at offensive skill positions.

    That's good, and 3-star prospects have more than enough talent to do well in college. After all, Alabama's Mark Ingram was a 3-star. What NC State needs to do now is reinforce the lines. The team that controls the line of scrimmage controls the rest of the field.

    NC State has an offensive class that's forming quite nicely. As stated, 3-star prospects are talented enough to win games. What the Wolfpack need to do now is seek out recruits like Lamont Gaillard and make sure they keep them at NC State instead of teams like Georgia.

    It's not an impossible task, but it is going to be difficult.

Northwestern Wildcats

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    Northwestern had a surprisingly good season in 2012, which ended with a decisive (though close) victory over the SEC's Mississippi State Bulldogs. Northwestern created turnover after turnover to maintain competitive advantage over the Bulldogs in that game, further cementing the Wildcats as a team worthy of any recruit's consideration.

    Northwestern's biggest question: Can the Wildcats keep the momentum going?

    So far, Northwestern has commitments from three 4-star recruits and another eight 3-star prospects. The Wildcats have a good mix of skill players, linemen and defensive contributors.

    The question, again, is whether the Wildcats can continue this momentum that has gotten them to the No. 24 slot in the class rankings. Northwestern can contend for the Big Ten within the next few years (2013 included), but recruiting is where the playing field is most level for it.

    Own the trail, and you eventually own the field.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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    Notre Dame has 12 4-star commits and one 3-star. The Irish are cashing in on the perfect regular-season record from 2012, and they are off to a great start. Notre Dame stands to take a step backward in 2013 as far as win-loss record is concerned.

    Notre Dame's biggest question: Will the Irish maintain the stellar class despite the 2013 adversity?

    Any recruit who is currently being courted by the Irish should already be aware of the fact that the loss of Everett Golson, Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert is going to affect this coming season's results. The lack of a perfect record should not scare off recruits.

    However, this is college football, and these kids are making one of the most important decisions of their lives. An 8-5 or 9-4 season (including the bowl game) should not hurt Notre Dame's class, but a 6-6 or 7-6 run could do some damage.

    The question is whether Notre Dame's recruiters have the charisma to help the recruits see past the temporary results of 2013 into the future where 2012 happens more often than not. Honestly, if the recruiters can't sell that type of pitch, the perfect regular season that just ended might be the last one for a while.

    If they can succeed, though, Notre Dame might be a perennial contender for the playoffs.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    Ohio State was the only undefeated team at the end of 2012. National champion Alabama lost to Texas A&M, Fiesta Bowl champion Oregon lost to Stanford, and undefeated Notre Dame lost the national championship game to Alabama.

    Regardless of the success or lack thereof in 2013, Ohio State has a major bargaining chip for the 2014 class: The Buckeyes became a powerhouse overnight. With such blatant power happening so early in Urban Meyer's reign, the Buckeyes should theoretically be able to snap up any recruit they wish.

    Ohio State's biggest question: Can the Buckeyes infiltrate the SEC recruiting footprint enough to make a significant difference?

    Ohio State's big board is full of 4- and 5-star prospects, and the commit list contains no player rated lower than 4 stars. While that's already good, the Buckeyes are in prime position to snatch some talent back to the Big Ten.

    Meyer has seen success in the SEC at Florida, and he is the lone coach in the Big Ten who can authoritatively claim that he has what it takes to beat the best in the SEC. He has done it.

    Meyer's recruiting results can be the beginning of the next power shift in college football. While the SEC has the track record of national champions, none of the Big Ten teams was blown out by its SEC opponent in this past round of bowls.

    If Meyer can get the SEC-bred talent to consider the Big Ten, the conference is already poised to overthrow the "nation's best conference." Nebraska and Michigan needed only a few points to knock off two of the SEC's best, and a slight tilt in the direction of the Big Ten could change the face of college football.

    Sure, that's a lot of potential consequences resting on one man's shoulders, but Ohio State can make that kind of impact. It has the history to compete with anyone in the nation, and now it has a coach who can do the same.

Oklahoma Sooners

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    The Big 12 is at a critical juncture in the national landscape, and a solid recruiting class is needed to re-establish the conference among the best in the country. Overall, the Big 12 puts a lot of teams into the postseason, but the top-notch quality has been degrading recently.

    Oklahoma's biggest question: Can the Sooners be Big 12 champions on the recruiting trail in 2014?

    Oklahoma doesn't need to win the Big 12 on the field in 2013 to make a major contribution toward its future, though that would be nice for Sooners fans. What the Sooners need to do is outrecruit everyone else in the conference.

    With Texas A&M's move to the SEC, power in Texas shifted away from the Big 12. (The SEC doesn't own Texas by any means, but it does have more influence now.) What Oklahoma needs to do now is take advantage of the 2012 results as much as possible.

    Oklahoma was one of the best teams in the nation, but it did encounter some serious problems...namely against Texas A&M. Oklahoma needs to keep recruits focused on the 2012 relationship between Texas and itself.

    A beatdown of that magnitude will ring true with the recruiting base, and it can even be used to gloss over a slight loss to Texas in 2013, should that happen. Oklahoma needs to capitalize on recent results in order to claim the conference recruiting title in 2014.

    If not, then there are going to be a lot more teams competing for players in its own backyard in the near future. Almost every conference besides the Big 12 is getting stronger. If Oklahoma can't parlay that into massively talented signing classes, then that issue needs to be addressed quickly and decisively.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

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    Oklahoma State is in a great position to recruit. Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden almost brought the Pokes a national title, and Oklahoma State still won a bowl game to finish 2012 with an 8-5 record. That's not too bad for a rebuilding season.

    Oklahoma State's biggest question: Can the Cowboys win back Trey Quinn?

    Oklahoma State has a solid class going, and it's currently ranked 36th in the country with only 12 recruits. The Cowboys need to land some solid targets for their quarterbacks. The sooner they do that, the better.

    While we're on the subject, Oklahoma State would really do itself a favor by targeting some 5-star prospects. There is a glaring absence of them on the big board. The Cowboys have enough clout to pull some of the top recruits.

    After the near-championship in 2011, they can say, "All we need is a quarterback and a wide receiver." Even if those positions were the only ones filled with 5-star athletes, the Cowboys would have a good shot at the Big 12 title or better.

    Oklahoma State is selling itself short, but landing Quinn would be a step in the right direction. As of right now, the Cowboys are in a group behind LSU and Clemson. Oklahoma State will have a better passer in 2014 than either of those two teams.

Ole Miss Rebels

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    Ole Miss is coming off one of the greatest recruiting classes in school history, and that leaves a lot of questions unanswered. Some of those questions were completely unasked before the coup of the decade in 2013.

    Ole Miss's biggest question: Was 2013 a fluke?

    If Hugh Freeze can continue to land the big fish and improve the Ole Miss program year after year, the Rebels are heading for great things in the next half-decade or so. While some look at Ole Miss as having gotten too much talent in 2013, Freeze did one thing that other mid-major schools still aren't doing: He recruited the top talent in the country.

    Oklahoma State was just covered, and the Cowboys are a great example of a team that sells itself short and doesn't even ask the big boys if they want to play there. Freeze has the opposite mentality.

    He recruits all sorts of talent and lets the kids pick where they want to go. That landed Ole Miss the No. 5 recruiting class last season, and it should do well in 2014. The results at the end of the recruiting cycle will tell everyone whether last season was a fluke.

    The rest of the SEC had better hope that it was a one-time deal. If not, then the SEC West is about to become the best division in the nation by a long shot. If it was a sign of things to come, the Rebels are going to hoist a crystal football before Freeze is gone.

Oregon Ducks

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    Oregon saw success under Chip Kelly that it had never seen before. Oregon has been to a bowl or a national championship game in all eight of the most recent seasons, and there is no reason to expect failure in 2013.

    Oregon's biggest question: Can Mark Helfrich continue Kelly's success?

    Helfrich was the offensive coordinator for the Ducks until Kelly's departure to the NFL. Helfrich has some huge shoes to fill, and his recruiting ability will be judged heavily in 2014. His success on the field is almost guaranteed, given his previous position and the Ducks' amount of talent.

    The quickest way to evaluate him under the circumstances is on the recruiting trail. If he is going to fail as a head coach, the first place that failure will be noticeable will be in the signing class of 2014.

    Oregon needs to keep its targets seriously interested. Guys like Royce Freeman need to sign with Oregon over USC and UCLA, and that's all going to come down to the recruiting pitch.

    If Helfrich and company can't sell Oregon over the rest of the Pac-12 after the 2012 results, then chances are that it will never get any easier. Sure, Stanford has a slight competitive edge head-to-head, but even the Cardinal weren't almost in the national championship last season.

Oregon State Beavers

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    Oregon State made waves last season with wins over UCLA, Wisconsin, Arizona and BYU. The Beavers also held close matches with some of the nation's most recognizable names, such as Stanford and Texas.

    Oregon State's biggest question: Can the Beavers get the Pac-12 flip of the year with Morgan Mahalak?

    Oregon State has an offer extended to Mahalak, the dual-threat quarterback who is currently committed to the Oregon Ducks. While the Beavers are still a fair distance away from upsetting the Ducks on the field, it all starts here.

    One flip here, an "upset" signature there and soon the Beavers could be contending regularly for the Pac-12 title. If there is one recruit who would be worth flipping, it's Mahalak. His ability as a dual-threat quarterback could be just the boost that Oregon State needs to grow from a potential contender into a real one.

Penn State Nittany Lions

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    Penn State is entering the meat of its sanctions, though the "immediate transfer" rule that the NCAA tossed in last season did enough additional damage that Penn State got a good idea of what it can expect over the next few seasons.

    Fortunately, Bill O'Brien turned the mess into an eight-win season even after an 0-2 start. Penn State may be facing an obstacle course right now, but it's not an insurmountable set of obstacles.

    Penn State's biggest question: Can O'Brien maximize his recruiting efficiency to dull the sting of the NCAA sanctions?

    The short answer is: So far, yes.

    O'Brien's recruiting board has six top targets, and he's gotten verbal commitments from four of them, including DeAndre Thompkins, the No. 10 wide receiver in the class. None of the commits is outside the top 35 at his position.

    If you have a shortened supply of scholarships to dole out, maximizing efficiency is the only way to ensure that it doesn't crush your team permanently. Sure, the Nittany Lions will have a hard road ahead, but O'Brien is doing a good job of making sure that he gets kids who can handle the trials in the future.

    If he can maintain his solid grip on the Penn State program, the Lions may have brighter years after the sanctions than they ever did under Joe Paterno.

Pittsburgh Panthers

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    Pittsburgh is heading into the ACC this season, and that is going to be a big adjustment. The ACC isn't that much better than the Big East was, but the differences between the top and bottom teams in the conference are much bigger than in Pitt's old league.

    Pitt's biggest question: How well will it do in the ACC?

    Currently, the Pitt Panthers are ninth out of 14 teams (35th nationally) with respect to the 2014 recruiting class rankings. That's close enough to the middle of the pack that a single big fish could boost them into the upper tier of the conference.

    Pitt is rebuilding at quarterback, and its defense is not ready for what Florida State, UNC, Miami, Clemson and the other teams in the ACC are going to hand it every week in 2013. This is why Pitt's recruiting pitch needs to be honed to minimize the damage that a 6-6 record would normally have on a program.

    Sure, bowl eligibility is a great selling point, but when you're up against teams that consistently bid for BCS bowls, it's tougher to sell any old bowl to a kid who is looking for a potential NFL career. Pitt has chops, and its consistent presence in the postseason is a big plus.

    Pitt just needs to sell itself well, and bringing up the triple-overtime loss to Notre Dame in 2012 would be a great place to start.

Purdue Boilermakers

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    Purdue is yet another Big Ten team that can make or break its near future with the 2014 signing class. The Boilermakers are rising in the conference, but sustained success is going to demand that they bring in as much talent as they develop (or more).

    Purdue's biggest question: Can Purdue increase its intensity in the SEC's backyard?

    So far, the Boilermakers have commitments from players in Texas, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia. While they aren't blue-chip recruits, that's the issue we're discussing. Clearly, Purdue has the ability to step into the SEC's backyard and pull 3- and 4-star talent.

    The question is whether the Boilermakers will take the step forward and start pitching to major 5-star athletes. In almost any endeavor in life, you are your own worst enemy. You get in your way far more than anyone else does.

    This is Purdue in a nutshell. If the Boilermakers will step out and take a risk, they may find more success than they thought possible. Again, it takes the initial step of confidence and faith in the own program to do this.

    Start small. Pitch a few 5-star picks each season until you land one. Put them on your big board near the top. Let your staff know they are priorities and act accordingly. Confidence inspires people.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

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    Rutgers is entering its in-between recruiting year. When national signing day rolls around, Rutgers will have played its last game as an AAC member, and it will be heading into its first season in the Big Ten.

    Rutgers' biggest question: How will the move affect the limbo recruiting class?

    The Scarlet Knights can let the move hurt them or help them. The lack of having played a season in the Big Ten will hurt them, of course, because recruits can only guess how they'll do head-to-head every week. However, the increased exposure from playing against teams like Ohio State and Michigan will help.

    What Rutgers has to be extremely careful of is the Big Ten's new level of influence in their backyard. While playing against Ohio State could be a point in your favor, Ohio State can always step in and offer the opportunity to actually play for the Buckeyes.

    Rutgers really needs to sell the locals on the combined opportunity of Rutgers and the Big Ten. To focus on either side of that equation too much would cause the argument to work against the Knights rather than for them.

    This class could be the best one in recent memory, or it can be a complete bust.

SMU Mustangs

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    SMU has one thing that's been looming over the program for decades. Simply put, when someone says "SMU," the first thing a college football fan thinks of is the death penalty. Even the current offseason featured a TV special on the story surrounding the worst punishment in the history of the sport.

    SMU's biggest question: Will moving to an AQ conference finally provide the Mustangs with the clout to move into the national spotlight?

    True, this question won't be totally answered with the 2014 signing class, but it will be a good barometer of how the move will affect the football program in the long run. If SMU doesn't move up in the recruiting standings with this class, there's no reason to lose hope.

    However, if the Mustangs do move up in the standings immediately, the answer is a clear "yes." SMU is targeting 4-star prospects, which is a good sign for Mustangs fans. This means that they are taking the move seriously, and they are going to use it to their advantage as much as possible.

    SMU can use the move to the AAC to build the program it has always desired, but if they let the likes of Houston and Memphis gain an instant recruiting advantage, the AAC move is going to be lateral instead of forward.

South Carolina Gamecocks

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    South Carolina made a big move toward the top of the SEC soon after Steve Spurrier took over as head coach. However, that place hasn't changed much over the last few seasons. South Carolina has a unique opportunity in 2014, and the Gamecocks better recognize it.

    South Carolina's biggest question: Can the Gamecocks make a move toward the top of the conference on the recruiting trail?

    The fact is, South Carolina is going to have to log some "best in conference" recruiting titles in order to jump from high-level bowls to national championships.

    South Carolina is currently tied for sixth place in the SEC if you simply take average rating per recruit into account. (They are 11th overall but have received only nine commitments.) Spurrier needs to gun hard for the big fish, especially considering his chances at getting into the SEC title game this coming season.

    If South Carolina can't land a top-three recruiting class in the final conference standings this time around, the chances of it happening in the future go down. The other thing he needs to do is focus on a quarterback.

    He has two good quarterbacks on the roster right now, but he's going to have to land a big-time talent at some point if he wants to break through to a national title.

South Florida Bulls

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    South Florida is in the middle of a coaching transition, and the 2014 class could suffer as a result of the uncertainty. Yes, Willie Taggart is expected to stay with the Bulls, but the situation could get worse before it gets better as Taggart implements his system.

    South Florida's biggest question: Can Taggart maintain a hold on the current commits and pitch well enough that USF improves its talent base from 2013 to 2014?

    South Florida is just coming off a terrible season that cost Skip Holtz his job. There is not a lot of momentum when it comes to pitching a recruit, especially with the excessive number of national contenders in the same state.

    South Florida can expect to see more success in the near future than it did under Holtz, but how much is completely dependent upon how well Taggart can pitch his beautiful program. It also depends on how well he can get the Bulls to perform in 2013.

    It's a tall order, but even a slight improvement would go a long way to making the "we're going to be better" line sound good.

Stanford Cardinal

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    Stanford has a great head coach in charge, and he's put the team in back-to-back BCS bowls. There were a lot of questions about him that he has already answered in that short time, but there's one big one for the 2014 recruiting class.

    Stanford's biggest question: Are the Cardinal getting a passing game?

    While the meat of the Stanford program will stay around the line of scrimmage with linemen, linebackers, tight ends and running backs, there was a certain explosiveness with Andrew Luck under center.

    The Cardinal need to make sure that they bring in talented receivers and a suitable quarterback. So far, they have a commitment from Keller Chryst, the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the class. However, competition will be fierce from USC, Arizona, Georgia and Pittsburgh.

    There isn't much to worry about from Pitt at this point, but Georgia is a real concern. Arizona qualifies as a minor concern, but Stanford is much closer to a national championship than the Wildcats at this point. Stanford's recruiters need to make sure that the edges of the team are improved in 2014.

    The core of the team is solid, and it's time that the Cardinal actively seek out the difference-makers at the skill positions. The losses to the NFL left Stanford hurting, and a record-breaking class is in order.

Syracuse Orange

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    Syracuse is entering the ACC in 2013, and the Orange are set to do fairly well in the conference. Yes, they are without quarterback Ryan Nassib and NFL lineman Justin Pugh, but there are some seriously bad teams in the conference right now.

    Syracuse's biggest question: Can the Orange succeed enough to garner more attention from desired recruits?

    This isn't directly a question about the recruiting game, but Syracuse has to answer some questions on the field before expecting to win head-to-head recruiting battles against teams like Miami.

    Syracuse has a couple of big-time recruits on its target list like Damian Prince (OT) and Corey Holmes (WR). Without success on the field, there is a slim chance that the Orange will get them to come to school in New York.

Temple Owls

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    Temple's lack of success on the field may be closely related to its intensity on the recruiting trail. The Owls are suffering from the same mentality as a lot of other "lesser" programs. They aren't as successful because they don't shoot for the moon.

    Temple's biggest question: Can the Owls at least keep their current headliner?

    Predictors have cornerback Anthony Davis going to West Virginia, even though he has committed to Temple. This is a prime example of commitments not being taken seriously, because they are not binding.

    Temple has one 4-star prospect, and that's Davis. He's got offers from 22 schools. Arizona, Miami, Michigan State, Nebraska and West Virginia are just a few of the programs that could woo him from the Owls.

    Temple is going to have to put up a fight to keep him, even with his early commitment. The Owls better be ready to compete at every level of the game. With the expansion of the AAC, Temple is going to find more intense battles on and off the field as these next few years pass by.

Tennessee Volunteers

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    Tennessee is finally at the point where it can see the theoretical light at the end of the tunnel. As the team improves over the coming months, that light will get closer and more real to the players and fans. So far, Tennessee is doing one major thing correctly: The Vols are actively pursuing some of the most talented players in the country.

    Tennessee's biggest question: Can the Vols use the current momentum to maintain one of the best signing classes in the SEC?

    Tennessee currently has the No. 1 class in the conference, but that's by overall score, not average rating per recruit. The Volunteers are currently recruiting off brand power and Butch Jones' reputation right now, and they are putting together an excellent commit list.

    All the Vols need to do now is figure out how to maintain this trajectory through the season. Recruits need to be schooled on what to expect, and more importantly what not to expect, from Tennessee in 2013. If the coaches can let the kids know that 2013 is not an indicator of what they want to do in the future, they can keep the class intact.

Texas Longhorns

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    Can Texas retain control of the state during A&M's rise to stardom? Texas historically recruits well, but has been slipping lately due to the steady reduction in on-field accomplishment.

    Texas' biggest question: Can the Longhorns win the big recruiting battles?

    For instance, D'haquille Williams is a top target for Auburn, LSU, Texas and Texas A&M. There are many other teams who have extended him offers, like Alabama and Miami.

    Williams may be a bad example, as he was covered in the LSU slide specifically for the Tigers. However, this is not the only battle that Texas will have for a top-notch recruit. The Longhorns have to be prepared to defend every position on the list with gusto.

    Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas A&M, Oklahoma and Stanford are just a few of the teams who went to better bowls than Texas and are fighting the Longhorns for defensive end Solomon Thomas. These battles are intense, and Texas can't afford to lose very many.

    The state can slip away from Texas if it isn't careful, and a big 2014 class would be an excellent form of damage control. So would winning at least 10 games in 2013, which is more likely than some would like to admit.

Texas A&M Aggies

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    Texas A&M is in a great position to recruit, but the Aggies' ability to actually get these fish in the boat will rely heavily on their success on the field this season. Luckily, they have an incredibly talented roster that should help them win a lot of games.

    Texas A&M's biggest question: Can the Aggies really keep Kyle Allen away from the other interested teams?

    Allen is the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the class, and there are some serious teams gunning for him. Boise State is going to sell him on being the next Kellen Moore, and Alabama is going to sell him the national championship aspect of its game.

    Fortunately, Texas A&M can say it has beaten Alabama at least 50 percent of the time, regardless of what happens in 2013. The Aggies have a current Heisman winner under center, and that may be the trump card that keeps Allen at Texas A&M.

    However, Alabama has specifically put Doug Nussmeier in charge of Allen's recruiting. Nussmeier developed Jake Locker at a previous school, and even Kevin Sumlin will have a tough time winning that particular argument.

TCU Horned Frogs

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    TCU is heading into what could be the most incredible season in school history. TCU is going to contend for the Big 12 title in its second season in the conference. While that gives way to the obvious "what can they do with Big 12-level recruits?" there are more pressing immediate questions.

    TCU's biggest question: Can TCU land the next Devonte Fields?

    Myles Garrett is the No. 2 defensive end in the 2014 cycle, and he's interested in TCU and Oklahoma from the Big 12. Unfortunately for the Horned Frogs, he's more interested in the Texas A&M Aggies.

    On the bright side, if A&M does worse in the SEC than it did in 2012 and the Frogs do better in the Big 12, then Garrett could swing over to TCU. The Frogs need to maintain contact as much as possible with him throughout the season.

    They need to be prepared to tell him that whatever losses they incur in 2013 could have been prevented by a guy like him standing on the line.

Texas Tech Red Raiders

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    Texas Tech is under new management, and the Red Raiders are also breaking in a new quarterback. The Red Raiders are hoping that Michael Brewer's limited sample of stats from last year are a good indication of what he'll bring to the table. If so, he'll be better than Seth Doege was.

    Texas Tech's biggest question: Can we target a quarterback at least as insurance for the future?

    So far, the Red Raiders have a commitment from Patrick Mahomes, the No. 32 pro-style quarterback of the class. While the Red Raiders don't usually land one of the best quarterbacks in the country, a 3-star prospect that isn't even in the top 15 at his position seems a bit of a gamble.

    Brewer's replacement is likely to be signed in 2014, as Brewer will be a senior while the 2014 recruit is taking his redshirt year (or not). Mahomes is a serviceable quarterback, and being in the top 30-ish at any position is great.

    However, if the Red Raiders don't start setting their sights on major headliners, they aren't likely to contend for a Big 12 title in the near future. With teams like TCU joining the conference and Baylor improving at every turn, Texas Tech needs to kick the entire program into high gear.

UCF Knights

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    UCF is in dire straits in the AAC, and things simply aren't going to get better by chance. The Knights are going to have to work for it, and they're probably going to have to work harder than any other school in Florida.

    UCF's biggest question: Can the Knights generate some contagious interest in the program?

    So far, UCF does have some commits to speak of for the 2014 round. On the other hand, UCF is also next-to-last in the AAC recruiting rankings at the moment. UCF resides in a fertile football state, and the Knights need to start pushing for some serious results.

    Yes, they are at a disadvantage since Florida, Florida State, Miami and South Florida are also competing for recruits from the area. However, UCF needs to figure out a way to generate at least enough interest in the program that the recruits themselves act as word-of-mouth advertisers.

    After all, this is a team that was led by Blake Bortles in 2012. He was a highly underrated passer last season, and he'll be underrated again in 2013. The Knights need to get him a few skill players who will push them up the conference standings.

    Even if they can't come up with a marketing scheme, getting some wins on the field would help a lot.

UCLA Bruins

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    UCLA showed real improvement in 2012 with Brett Hundley under center. Since he was a freshman, the Bruins can expect a couple more seasons of improvement, possibly ending in a first-tier bowl at least once. UCLA is rising in the conference, and the ascension was quick to say the least.

    UCLA's biggest question: Can the Bruins get defensive support with this class?

    The Bruins have interest from a slew of defensive stars: Adoree' Jackson, Solomon Thomas, Josh Bonney, Malik Dorton and Richard Yeargin III are all interested in playing for UCLA. UCLA has offense, but the team needs to find more balance.

    Baylor beat the Bruins far too badly in the Holiday Bowl (49-26) for a team that competed in the Pac-12 title game. Yes, Baylor did have one of the best offenses in the country, but UCLA clearly lacked defense.

    The difference between UCLA contending for a national title and hoping for another Holiday Bowl is simply an improved defense. The sooner the Bruins get it, the better off they'll be. Shooting for a defensively strong 2014 class is a great idea.

    Sidebar: The Bruins should also recruit a quarterback to replace Hundley. The timing is right.

USC Trojans

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    USC is coming off a disappointing season that followed a 10-win jaunt through the Pac-12 when it couldn't get the Trojans to the postseason. After that, there are tons of questions buzzing around the program, but only one can make it in here.

    USC's biggest question: Is this the class of linemen that will push USC to the top of the nation?

    So far, and it's only July, USC has six commitments from linemen (three offensive and three defensive). Three of those commits are 4-star recruits, and the other three are 3-star athletes.

    While that's not likely to be the best line of scrimmage in the country, USC's offense traditionally performs well enough that a line that good should get them into the title game at some point.

    This assumes that Lane Kiffin and his staff can get together and develop them into skilled players.

Utah Utes

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    Utah just put Star Lotulelei into the NFL via the first round of the 2013 NFL draft (No. 14 to the Carolina Panthers). Utah may be short on national championships, but the school is long on wins.

    Utah's biggest question: Will the 4-star recruits put ink on paper with Utah?

    Utah can contend in the Pac-12, but recruits are going to have to start seeing the Utes' vision for the future. Utah is targeting 4-star prospects, and pursuit is the first step toward signing. Utah doesn't have the BCS appearances (aside from beating Alabama in the Sugar Bowl in the 2008-09 season) to pitch to recruits, but the Utes do have on-field success.

    Currently, the Utes are ranked 58th overall in recruiting for the 2014 cycle, and that's an OK position to be in during the month of July. However, the Utes will have to push harder. Right now, following a five-win 2012 season, the Utes will have to push for a few 4-stars to help improve performance.

    After a couple of seasons of bowl appearances, the Utes can begin to pursue more of them until 5-star prospects are viable options. Utah is adjusting well to the Pac-12, but the transition is almost never as quick as fans (or schools) would like. (Texas A&M is a huge exception, not the rule.)

Vanderbilt Commodores

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    Vanderbilt lost quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy this past offseason, and the Commodores will be clamoring to figure out how to maintain the offense without them. Wide receiver Jordan Matthews will be the biggest factor in that equation, and this is his final season.

    Vanderbilt's biggest question: Can the Commodores land Josh Malone?

    The predictions at 247Sports have him heading to Tennessee or Georgia (mostly to Tennessee). While it's difficult to compete with Georgia, Vanderbilt completely whipped Tennessee 41-18 in 2012. That was with Tyler Bray under center for the Vols.

    Vanderbilt can win a head-to-head recruiting battle against Tennessee with direct logic. The other teams on his interest list are not as easily defeated. Six of the 10 teams had better seasons than Vanderbilt last year, and even more than that will probably have a better 2013 run.

    Vanderbilt needs to land the bigger recruits. After the Rodgers/Stacy era, the Commodores have plenty of ammunition to sell the idea of a successful future. It's time that they put that success to work on the recruiting trail.

Virginia Cavaliers

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    Virginia had a rough season in the ACC last year, and the Cavaliers haven't won a bowl game since the Music City Bowl in 2005. Virginia needs to start fixing this on the recruiting trail, and it is behaving as if it is fully aware of that.

    Virginia's biggest question: Can the Cavaliers keep the elite in-state commits it has right now?

    Virginia has landed two major commitments: Andrew Brown (DT) and Quin Blanding (S). Both players are No. 1 at their respective positions, and Virginia can build an entire team around talent like that.

    Virginia currently sits at No. 30 in the recruiting rankings by overall score, and the Cavaliers currently have just nine commits (five are 3-stars or higher). The Cavaliers have an excellent class forming, and the two headliners are both from Virginia.

    This bodes well for the school, but the question is whether Virginia can keep them committed.

Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Virginia Tech has had a roller-coaster experience over the past two seasons, and recruiting well can fix that. Besides the fact that Logan Thomas needs to perform better to help make that possible, Virginia Tech has other questions to answer.

    Virginia Tech's biggest question: Can the Hokies finish strong and push for a top-15 finish?

    Virginia Tech has a bunch of 3- and 4-star commits in this class already, and the Hokies also have the No. 1 JUCO prospect as a commit as well. The Hokies may or may not contend for the ACC, but the deck is stacked way against them for a national title.

    However, with how their recruiting class is shaping up, the Hokies can move up in the ACC as soon as these kids hit the field. Virginia Tech has the makings of a rock-solid recruiting class. If it applies the same strategy to the rest of the cycle, the Hokies could be a major surprise, even potentially landing in the top 10.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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    Wake Forest had a decent season, barely missing a bowl game by five points against the Maryland Terrapins. (The Demon Deacons also missed two other wins by one possession each.) The Demon Deacons are facing a conference expansion in 2013, and that's going to be difficult to overcome if they don't get a head start with the current class.

    Wake Forest's biggest question: Will the Demon Deacons get off the bottom of the conference recruiting rankings?

    Wake Forest is commandingly at the bottom of the ACC's rankings, and the Demon Deacons are tied for No. 97 nationally. If there's one adverb you don't want to describe your team's place at the bottom of its conference, it's "commandingly."

    The Deacons have an outright score of 120, and the next lowest team has 450. Even with rating-per-recruit numbers, the Deacons are last. Wake Forest needs to make a change in its recruiting philosophy to alter its predicament.

    At this point, the football department couldn't do worse if they put the basketball program in charge of recruiting for their roster. Even athletic basketball players could raise the score if they played wide receiver or defensive back.

    Wake needs to wake up and hit the pavement. No matter how well you coach, you can't turn average high school players into ACC champions in the short amount of time they are eligible for collegiate sports.

    *Disclaimer: This assessment doesn't apply to Wake's entire depth chart, just to the current state of the 2014 class.

Washington Huskies

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    Washington had bright spots throughout the 2012 season, including a signature win over the Stanford Cardinal. Washington is one of the most efficient programs in the country on the recruiting trail. Not a single one of its top targets is disinterested in the school.

    Washington's biggest question: Will the Huskies take home the efficiency title for the 2014 class?

    No, there is no actual "[Sponsor] Cup" that is awarded to the team that wastes the least amount of energy in recruiting. However, if there were, Washington would be a front-runner.

    As stated, all seven of Washington's top targets are interested in the school. Two are highly interested, and one is verbally committed. The kicker to all this is that, should Washington land all seven (thus claiming the fictional award), the Huskies would have one of the strongest lines of scrimmage in the Pac-12.

    Also, the Huskies would have an above-average secondary, a leader for the linebacking corps and an athlete who could fill any one of many positions if injury struck the roster. The Huskies may not be national champions in the near future, but recruiting classes like this are exactly where champions start.

Washington State Cougars

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    Washington State had a tough 2012 season, but the Cougars finished it off with a big win over the Washington Huskies in the in-state battle for the Apple Cup during rivalry weekend. The Cougars have officially taken the lead for that efficiency award mentioned in the previous slide, but there's an asterisk beside their name.

    Washington State's biggest question: Are the Cougars really not planning on aiming at any 4-star prospects?

    Seriously, Washington State has commitments from all five of its top targets. Yes, that's impressive on the surface, but it's also a clue that you're not aiming high enough. It's a simple application of the supply-vs.-demand model.

    1. If you are selling lemonade for 25 cents and everyone is lining up so much that you can't make enough for everyone, then it's time to raise prices.

    2. If you are not even in the middle of July and all your top targets are verbally committed, it's time to raise the bar.

    Washington State is working on a lot of different issues at the same time right now, but recruiting should be one of the first areas targeted for improvement. It's the foundation of the program.

West Virginia Mountaineers

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    West Virginia had a great offensive run through the Big 12 last year, but the defense was sorely lacking. As in 117th-in-the-nation lacking. The Mountaineers are clearly rebuilding on offense after the departure of Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey and Geno Smith, but the clear constraint on the field was the defense.

    West Virginia's biggest question: Are the Mountaineers even aware of the problem?

    "Knowing is half the battle." - G.I. Joe

    West Virginia has 11 top targets for the 2014 class. One is an athlete, leaving 10 players targeted for either offense or defense. If the staff was paying attention last season, at least five of those targets would be defensive players.

    Of course, the reality is that seven of them are on the offensive side of the ball to only three defensive prospects. If the Mountaineers are convinced that offense wins championships and defense doesn't mean anything at all, then someone needs to inform them otherwise.

    If that were the case, then Louisiana Tech (No. 1) would have played Oregon (No. 2) for the national title, and Notre Dame (No. 80) would not have qualified for a bowl at all.

    Yes, that's a reductio ad absurdum, but it carries the point quite well.

Wisconsin Badgers

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    Wisconsin is a perennial participant in the Rose Bowl. Forget being a conference contender, the Badgers are staples in the BCS lineup. Now that Bret Bielema is gone to Arkansas, hopes may be low in Wisconsin, but they shouldn't be. Utah State's Gary Andersen is in charge now, and he's more than capable of coaching a successful team.

    Wisconsin's biggest question: Can Wisconsin sweep its 5-star target list?

    Wisconsin has six verbal commitments from its list of 17 targets, and the majority of those verbals are 4-star prospects. At the top of that want list stand two 5-star beasts by the names of Joe Mixon (APB) and John Smith (ATH).

    The Badgers are doing well with Smith, and they remained neck-and-neck on his list of schools. On the other hand, Mixon has started to lean toward USC. That's not surprising since he's a California resident. Of course, so is Smith.

    If the Badgers can land one or the other, his decision could sway the other. That's not something to bank on, of course, but it's a possibility. Wisconsin has some work to do to move from conference champion to national title contender, but a coup right in the middle of California would be a great jump-start for the Badgers' hype train.

    Wisconsin is capable of much more than fans have seen, and the fans aren't disappointed with what's been shown. If the Badgers can make the push toward another elite recruiting class, the balance of power could shift from the SEC to the Big Ten even faster. (See Ohio State slide for explanation.)