College Football Programs Exceeding Expectations in Recruiting
The 2014 college football recruiting cycle is quickly approaching national signing day. We've come to expect the unexpected, as players routinely have late changes of heart that greatly affect programs involved in the process.
Annual recruiting titans like Alabama and Ohio State continue to collect commitments from premier prospects, but several squads have achieved more on the recruiting trail than many initially anticipated. We take a look at teams exceeding expectations when it comes to landing top-tier talent.
Class rankings courtesy of 247Sports composite rankings.
The Arizona recruiting department continues to make strides under the direction of second-year head coach Rich Rodriguez. He consistently constructed outstanding classes in previous tenures at Michigan and West Virginia.
Arizona has assembled the top-ranked recruiting class in the Pac-12 this year. The Wildcats currently hold the nation's No. 17 class, representing a substantial step for the program.
The team hasn't finished among the top 40 teams in recruiting since 2008, when it wound up at No. 25. Rodriguez and his staff have collected commitments from 27 prospects, including seven 4-star players.
Arizona enjoyed a strong October. The Wildcats welcomed in offensive tackle Layth Friekh (Peoria, Ariz.), wide receiver Kaelin Deboskie (Tucson, Ariz.), offensive tackle Levi Walton (Cape Coral, Fla.) in a three-day span late in the month.
The team beat out conference rivals California, Washington and Oregon State for 4-star running back Nick Wilson (Fresno, Calif.). Los Angeles linebacker Marquis Ware picked Arizona over UCLA, Stanford, Miami and Florida State.
Tennessee has risen to the top of recruiting rankings during the season. The Volunteers' class currently ranks second nationally and is nearly complete.
This year's recruiting success dates back to March, when the class hit another level with commitments from 5-star athlete Jalen Hurd (Hendersonville, Tenn.), 4-star safety Todd Kelly (Knoxville, Ga.) and 3-star running back Treyvon Paulk (Alpharetta, Ga.).
Wide receiver continues to be a position of strength for Tennessee. 4-star pass targets Lavon Pearson (Feather River College, Calif.) and Dominique Booth (Indianapolis, Ind.) have both pledged to the Vols.
Tennessee hasn't landed a top-10 recruiting class since 2010. It was Lane Kiffin's lone recruiting class, although he departed the program prior to national signing day.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers understands the importance of its 2014 recruiting class. This will be the first group of freshman to represent the Scarlet Knights as Big Ten Conference competitors.
The squad stacks up favorably against its future foes. Rutgers ranks 22nd nationally.
Among 2014 Big Ten teams, only Ohio State and Michigan have assembled stronger recruiting classes so far.
Rutgers has reeled in top talent from New Jersey, including 4-star prospects Saeed Blacknall (wide receiver), Kiy Hester (safety) and Adonis Jennings (wide receiver). St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City) running back Jonathan Hilliman selected the Scarlet Knights from an offer list that features Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio State, Michigan and Miami.
Rutgers finished ranked 50th nationally in recruiting last year.
Baylor is making significant recruiting noise in a state that features perennial prospect favorites Texas, Texas A&M, TCU and Texas Tech. The Bears recruiting class currently sit at No. 18 nationally, and second overall in the Big 12.
Baylor is on track for its strongest recruiting class in recent memory.
Kentucky has skyrocketed beyond expectations during this recruiting cycle. The Wildcats hold the No. 15 ranking on the national chart, a vast improvement for a team that last cracked the top 30 in 2007.
Kentucky was able to keep 4-star quarterback Drew Barker (Hebron, Ky.) in his home state despite offers from Miami, Louisville, Illinois, Ole Miss and Tennessee. He headlines an offensive haul that also features 4-star running back Stanley Williams (Monroe, Ga.) and 4-star wide receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass (Springfield, Ohio).
The Wildcats will use this class to reload on defense. Kentucky holds commitments from 4-star prospects Denzel Ware (defensive end; Crestview, Fla.), Cory Johnson (defensive tackle; Chambersburg, Pa.) and Darius West (safety; Lima, Ohio).
Kentucky continues to build a strong foundation for the future. It's a crucial effort as the Wildcats aim to gain respectability in the stacked SEC.