College football recruiting season is almost halfway over, but the season still remains one of the biggest bargaining chips of the year. If a team does well, it's likely to sway more recruits its way.
If the team does badly, then it can sway difference-makers toward your team if they believe that they can make the difference between an 8-4 season and a perfect one.
Some recruits also play football with other targets' prospects. If your team has one of those on its commit list, then that's obviously one of the most important objectives of its campaign.
Here is the most valuable commit on every Top 25 team's list. For this piece, the third edition of ESPN's way-too-early Top 25 was used. It's far more current than last season's final Top 25, and there is not an official preseason AP Top 25 yet.
*All recruiting information is from 247Sports.com
Wisconsin has one major question mark on its commit list, and that's the country's No. 4 dual-threat quarterback, D.J. Gillins. He is also the most valuable recruit in the bunch, and he's out of Florida.
Not only is he a valid option at quarterback, but dual-threat guys like him can back into other positions like tight end, running back or wide receiver if they don't pan out. More important than his "bail-out" ability (nobody wants him to use that) though, is his location.
The SEC has some of the most fertile recruiting grounds in the nation. As long as the other power conferences are successfully recruiting in the SEC's back yard, the college football world will eventually be spared the constant winning from the current conference-in-charge.
Northwestern is heading into a season full of hope and expectation. From Venric Mark to quarterback Trevor Siemian, the Wildcats have a lot working in their favor for 2013.
The 2014 class is the best-timed class for the Wildcats to get a quarterback to carry on what Siemian has started. While another passer could step in between the two, the ideal situation presents itself to Clayton Thorson.
Assuming this important commit sticks with Northwestern, Thorson will come in and learn from the coaches while Siemian is playing out his senior year. As Siemian graduates, Thorson will take off the redshirt and assume the role of starting quarterback.
Currently, he's the No. 11 player at his position, and he is a solid prospect for Northwestern. He was the first 4-star recruit to commit to Northwestern, and the Wildcats can continue to use him as a selling point for the future.
He isn't necessarily the most talented recruit on the commit list, but he's certainly the most valuable.
USC's defense was exposed last season, and to think that it will grow into a championship unit with one recruiting class is a bit optimistic. The Trojans still need defenders to build depth. Throughout 2012, teams like Texas and Missouri proved for the umpteenth time in history that depth is one of the most important factors in the sport.
Luckily for USC fans, the Trojans are operating as if they are fully aware of this. So far, three of the four biggest commits on the board are defenders. The most important is outside linebacker Derik (D.J.) Calhoun.
Not only is Calhoun a 4-star prospect at a position USC sorely needs improvement in, but he also has some friends over whom he could have more than just a little sway. USC has the commitment, but keeping it is paramount.
Nebraska doesn't yet have a headliner for the 2014 class, but it has an incredibly valuable prospect in Zack Darlington. Darlington is the No. 9 dual-threat quarterback in his class, and he will suit the Cornhuskers quite nicely.
So far, Taylor Martinez has displayed the Huskers' ability to capitalize on a dual-threat quarterback all the way to the Capital One Bowl against the Georgia Bulldogs. Sure, they had moments of horrible execution, but the biggest one was in a rematch against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Rematches don't usually end well for the winner of the first match, as LSU proved in the 2011 national title game. Now that we're through evaluating Nebraska's use for him, back to Darlington.
Darlington is a potential step up from Martinez, and his highlight video shows that he has the ability to hit the deep ball in stride more often than not. This extends what would have been chunk plays into long touchdowns.
If he pays attention to his coaches, he could be the steal of the class. As an aside: Nebraska is reaching deep into SEC territory (Florida) for this prospect. Just as Wisconsin's most valuable commit helps the Big Ten, so does Darlington.
Whether you agree or disagree with the attention that Boise State has garnered over recent years, there's little argument that the Broncos haven't earned it. While the results are proof enough, the Broncos compete with the best in the country for recruiting classes.
Pound-for-pound, Boise State scores some of the best classes of anyone in the country. (After all, it's infinitely easier to recruit to schools like Alabama than to Boise State.) The Broncos currently have one major player on the commit list: Jalen Greene.
If you were worried about the Broncos when Kellen Moore was under center, here are quite a few reasons to be even more afraid now:
1. Moore was an excellent passer, but he had negative career rushing yards.
2. Greene is the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the country.
3. Boise is recruiting a better quarterback than Big Ten power Nebraska.
While Boise has found success with stellar passers, the Broncos could be heading toward an Oregon- or Texas A&M-style hurry-up offense. If that happens, then the Broncos will have yet another way to even the playing field against national powers like Oklahoma.
If the Broncos can keep Greene committed, which is likely, then they just may have a playoff-worthy roster before anyone else notices they've even gotten better.
Kansas State may not have the most hard commits in the country, but the Wildcats definitely have one worth mentioning. Dalvin Warmack is a 4-star tailback out of Missouri, and he's heading for The Little Apple.
Kansas State may have some rebuilding to do over the next few months, but a ball-carrier like Warmack will be a nice addition to the 2014 (or 2015) starting lineup. Assuming the new quarterback (either Daniel Sams or Jake Waters) steps up and earns the right to keep playing, Warmack is going to be the tailback that balances the offensive budget for the Wildcats.
Warmack is rated as highly as No. 7 in the state of Missouri, and he's 17th at his position. Bill Snyder has been able to do more with less at Kansas State, and this tailback is definitely not in the "less" category.
UCLA went a long way from the comfort of its home state to Pennsylvania to offer one of the nation's best JUCO prospects. Jermaine Eluemunor is the country's No. 1 JUCO offensive tackle (No. 2 overall). With a beast like him blocking for Brett Hundley, there's no telling where the Bruins will go in 2014.
Eluemunor is a 300-pound, 6'6" monster who will be able to hold his own against any one of the country's best defensive lines. He is easily a cornerstone for the Bruins' offensive line, and he will assist in making UCLA a premier program in the Pac-12 again.
TCU is adjusting well to the strength of the Big 12, and things will either get dicey for TCU or scary for the Big 12 with the 2014 signing class. This isn't TCU's only chance to start edging the traditional powers, but it is certainly one of the best opportunities.
So far, the Horned Frogs have one major recruit on the commit list. That is cornerback Nick Foster. He may not be the highest-rated recruit, but he's a brand-accurate addition to the Frogs' roster. TCU is known for its defense, and Foster fits right into the scheme.
While the Frogs' fanbase would like to see some highly-touted talent start rolling in, it all has to start somewhere. Bringing in a 4-star anchor for the secondary is going to help TCU maintain its defensive identity.
That, in turn, will help the Horned Frogs build an already-established brand into a nationally-recognized one in a hurry.
Oklahoma has a lot of solid prospects on its commit list, but that should come as no surprise. After all, it's Oklahoma. The Sooners are perennial contenders for the Big 12 title, and they are on preseason Top 25 lists just as often.
Oklahoma's most important target is easily Dallis Todd. He's a 4-star, 210-pound, 6'5" wide receiver out of California. While there are plenty of important prospects on the list, Todd is the one constant who will help Oklahoma through any potential quarterback hiccups.
Todd can anchor an offense for years while helping any quarterback adjust to the Sooners' system. Besides, no matter how good your quarterback is, receivers are still going to have to catch the ball.
LSU has one of the best defensive coordinators in the business, John Chavis. Despite losses to the NFL every season, Chavis consistently fields one of the country's top units. LSU is continuing that tradition big-time with the 2014 class.
The most important recruit on the Tigers' commit list is 5-star safety Edward Paris. Paris is a lean 190-pound, 6'1" defensive back out of the heart of Texas, less than 200 miles from Texas, Texas A&M and Baylor.
Paris is a huge grab for the SEC as a conference, but he's an even bigger grab for LSU, who pulled the star right out of another SEC contender's back yard (Texas A&M). If LSU can continue pulling recruits like this even after losing to Clemson in the postseason, heaven help the rest of the SEC when the Tigers get back on top.
Oklahoma State has a stable offense. Yes, constant recruiting is part of keeping an offense stable into the future, but it is obvious that any scoring defense ranked No. 64 in the nation (out of 124) needs help. That defense was Oklahoma State in 2012.
OSU has help on the way, though, in the form of natural defensive leader Gyasi Akem. Akem is a 4-star linebacker out of Oklahoma, and he will be a great asset for the 'Pokes in the near future. Whether he hits the field in 2014 or 2015, Akem will be a great improvement for the Cowboys' linebacking corps.
Florida State has been rising in the ACC for some time, but the journey is almost over. The Seminoles lost 11 players to the NFL this past draft, and that proves that the talent level at FSU is formidable.
The Seminoles recruit, develop and perform with the best of them. They took the ACC title last season, and they won the Orange Bowl over a plucky and talented Northern Illinois squad.
Linebackers are the headliners of the defense, as they are the playmakers who stop the action from getting too far past the line of scrimmage. FSU has a potential headliner on its hands with Kain Daub.
Daub is a top-notch 4-star recruit ranked No. 3 at his inside position. Daub can easily become the next Christian Jones, but there is hope that he will simply become one of the best linebackers in recent memory.
Texas should have a much better season in 2013 than it has in a long time. While it's jumping the gun to call them favorites for the BCS title game, a Big 12 title is definitely within reach.
Texas is a constant on the recruiting trail, and the Longhorns will be a force for years to come as long as nothing horribly bad happens for an extended period of time. So far, the 2014 class is bringing the 'Horns one major prospect: Jerrod Heard.
Heard is the nation's No. 2 dual-threat quarterback for this cycle, and Longhorns fans are going to start reminiscing about the last national championship. It's difficult to blame them, because Heard is simply that good.
He's the type of player the 'Horns can build a championship offense around if he performs to his potential. Hard work, dedication and attention to detail can have him on award watch lists in no time once he signs with Texas.
Clemson ended 2012 on a high note with a gritty win over a perennial SEC power (LSU) in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Tigers have been staples near the top of the ACC over the past few seasons along with Virginia Tech and Florida State.
Things are about to get more difficult in that conference as these next few years play out, but the Tigers have reinforcements on the way already. We have already covered a few dual-threat quarterbacks, but No. 1 has yet to rear his head...until now.
The Tigers have a hard verbal commitment from Deshaun Watson, the dual-threat star from Georgia. If Clemson is trying to build a national championship squad, the Tigers are certainly off to a great start.
Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd will take care of business in 2013, but Watson could be the starting quarterback one short year from now.
Florida had a problem with its passing attack last season, and the blame rested solely with Jeff Driskel. This doesn't mean that people should write the Gators off in 2013, because Florida wasn't supposed to perform as well as it did last year.
The Gators are going to continue to build a powerhouse in The Swamp, and Will Grier is a perfect example of that for the 2014 class. He's the No. 4 pro-style quarterback of the class, and Florida needs to keep recruiting top-notch talent until someone pans out.
Simply put, it's logistically great to be in a position where quarterbacks are transferring out of your school due to lack of playing time. It stinks to be a quarterback that ends up transferring, but those days are a long way off at Florida.
With a good offense, Florida can win a national title, assuming the defense remains close to as stout as it was last season. If Grier performs as expected, the Gators will be in the playoffs soon.
Notre Dame has a ton of valuable recruits on its commit list already. However, there is one major situation that needs to be addressed with this class. The Irish have two potential first-round draft picks on their defensive line: Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix III.
That means that the top priority for Notre Dame's 2014 recruiting efforts should be the defensive line. That's what put Andrew Trumbetti on this list over offensive linemen and offensive skill players.
Trumbetti is an exceptional defensive end, and he answers the Irish's need to address the issues that cost them the national championship. The defensive line looked helpless against Alabama, and the faster Notre Dame fixes that, the more likely the Irish are to be considered for the playoffs.
At 6'5" and 250 pounds, Trumbetti is just a half-season in the weight room away from being able to go head-to-head against any offensive lineman in the country. Look for him to be the next headliner in Notre Dame's trenches.
"Hands down," Jabrill Peppers is Michigan's most important commit for the 2014 class. In fact, there is almost no way that anyone can ever take his spot on this list. You Wolverines fans may recognize a pun at the beginning of that first sentence.
For those of you who don't know, Peppers is actively trying to get Da'Shawn Hand to join him at Michigan. Even if Peppers doesn't get Hand to sign with the Blue, he's still the No. 2 recruit in the country (Hand is No. 1.)
Peppers is going to be an incredible defender for the Wolverines, unless he's moved to offense out of absolute necessity (don't count on that). He would be the most valuable commit on any team's list in the nation.
Wolverines fans are simply thrilled that he's on theirs.
South Carolina is going to need to keep recruiting stellar wide receivers as the years go on, as well as pulling some major defenders. The Gamecocks' defense could use some help, which is probably news to some fans due to Jadeveon Clowney's general demolition of most of his opponents.
Right now, South Carolina's most important commit is a JUCO transfer by the name of Jhaustin Thomas. He's a defensive end, and he's ranked No. 6 at his position.
While there are already athletes on the commit list who could surpass him in skill over the next few seasons, he's a solid immediate contributor who will help the Gamecocks as soon as they'll let him. Thomas will be relatively unheralded until he starts performing.
Now don't get me wrong, he's not the next Clowney, but he will be one member of the 2014 class who will have few growing pains. He simply has to adjust from JUCO to FBS football. It's considerably easier than adjusting from high school to the FBS.
Georgia is losing Aaron Murray after this season, but not Todd Gurley or Keith Marshall. With an offensive attack as potent as Georgia's, preserving that potency is as important as it gets.
For that reason, Jacob Park edges out the rest of the commits on Georgia's list. He's the No. 3 pro-style quarterback of the class, and he could end up rescuing the Bulldogs if the current reserves don't work out as planned.
If he does indeed sign with Georgia, his rookie season will come on the heels of Murray's entrance to the NFL. The timing couldn't be more perfect if he ends up being college-ready immediately. Even if it takes a full year to earn the starting spot, he'll still be suiting up at the same time as the rest of this class.
The value of Texas A&M's richest recruit is different from some others on this list. While he is definitely a step toward securing a successful SEC future for the Aggies, he is also a big-time score for the program.
Kyle Allen is the No. 1 pro-style quarterback of the 2014 class, and he is currently under center in Scottsdale, Arizona. That's important because it's less than a 15-minute drive from Arizona State. It's also less than 120 miles from the University of Arizona.
Both of those teams are rising in the Pac-12, and they each assigned a recruiter responsible for targeting Allen. Well, Texas A&M has won the battle so far, and it has thus secured its future for the post-Johnny Manziel era.
Stanford is right behind Texas A&M. While the Aggies may have gotten a verbal from the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country, the Cardinal have secured the commitment from the nation's No. 2.
Keller Chryst is set to go to Stanford, and Cardinal fans are probably salivating over the prospect of another Andrew Luck-type run of success. Luck's overall success isn't going to be repeated anytime soon, of course, but Chryst is theoretically close.
Chryst fills a need at Stanford, even if it comes a little later than hoped. The Cardinal again proved themselves (post-Luck, too) against Oregon last season, and they showed that defense and line-of-scrimmage control are not issues.
Stanford has the quarterback of the future committed, and all that remains is to win against Arizona State in Week 4 (Stanford's third game). After all, there's no argument more convincing than a head-to-head victory.
Louisville has Teddy Bridgewater, and there is little hope of getting another quarterback that skilled in the 2014 class. Simply put, he was a steal in his class who has risen to potential Heisman heights in his short tenure with the Cardinals.
Another star player at Louisville is Hakeem Smith, and he's leaving for the 2014 NFL draft along with Bridgewater. While the offense certainly has hope with quarterback Reggie Bonnafon, the most valuable commit for the Cardinals is safety Michael Johnson.
Johnson is a 190-pound, 6'3" potential monster who will be flying around the secondary helping Louisville improve where it needs help the most: defense. The Cardinals need to improve their defense steadily in the future in order to continue contending for national titles.
The first edition of the playoffs (which will exist as-is until 2020) will not have any form of automatic bids from any specific conferences. (That is, unless the committee decides that is the "fairest" way to do things.)
Louisville is far from winning a national title, but take that with a grain of salt. The Cardinals were also supposed to be in one of the most boring bowls in history this past season, but they won it anyway.
Johnson could be the step forward that the defense needs, and it all depends on his response to the coaches. If he plays to his strengths and does what he needs to do to improve, he'll be the anchor Louisville needs to replace Smith.
Morgan Mahalak is the country's No. 5 dual-threat quarterback, and he's heading to Oregon. While that may not look that scary, Scout.com had Marcus Mariota rated as a 3-star quarterback ranked No. 34 at his position.
Scout's site has Mahalak as a 3-star ranked No. 31 at his position. If Oregon's offense doesn't already make you nervous, then there's nothing to say. If you are in agreement that Mariota has earned his spot on the preseason Heisman watch list, then you know how scary a second one would be.
Mahalak is that replacement. Quarterback classes vary from year to year, but Mahalak has what it takes to shred defenses with a little coaching. Coaching he is sure to get from the Ducks' staff.
Alabama has a good number of hard commits already with 15. The Tide are currently stacked with talent at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and just about every other position on the field. That's what happens when a team wins three national championships in four seasons.
Alabama basically has pick of the litter when it comes to the recruiting trail. No, the Tide don't win every recruiting battle, nor do they get the top 25 recruits on any particular big board each (or any) season. However, Nick Saban gets the talent that he needs to sustain the unbelievable level of success he has at the program.
The Tide's most valuable commit so far is 4-star center JC Hassenauer (cue rampant backlash). The center is possibly the most overlooked position in college football, unless the snap is bad, then it's the most debated and praised slot on the roster...until the media goes to sleep.
Hassenauer is ranked No. 1 at his position, and he will be tried heavily at Alabama. The center ensures that the offensive line is orchestrated correctly for every play that takes place. After he snaps the ball, he's got to get wherever he's going.
It sounds simple, but different plays will call for him to pull and run up the field to block for a running back to get into the secondary. Other plays will simply require him to stand up and block straight ahead. Of course, the entire line operates that way, but the rest of the players don't have to deliver a football on target while viewing the world upside down first.
The center is one of the most complicated positions on the field, and as a solid specimen, Hassenauer is easily the Tide's most valuable commit as of this piece.
Ohio State has entered a new era of hope. Urban Meyer has brought success more quickly than anyone anticipated, and he has proven himself capable of maintaining success for at least a few seasons at a time while coaching at places like Florida.
Ohio State already has a 14-commit-strong 2014 class, and only three of those prospects have fewer than three stars. Ohio State won 12 games last season, but six of those games were decided by one possession.
The biggest weakness was the defense's inability to bring runners down on first contact. There is a commit on the list who will immediately help alleviate that issue: 5-star linebacker Dante Booker. He's the No. 1 outside linebacker of the class, and he'll instantly seal whichever edge he's given upon arrival.
Growing pains aside, Booker is a beast who will quickly help Ohio State's defense look as good as its 2012 win-loss record. Easily the most important commit, Booker will likely be the most important signee once the class is fully signed up.