Stars can lie.
While I'm not one to completely buy into the sheer number of stars a team accumulates equating to success on the field (I present Florida as exhibit A), there have been analyses done that show a correlation between the two.
Televised, hyped, and packed-out rivalry games can solidify or crush a team's momentum heading into postseason recruiting. That much we know. Regardless of what a team's needs are and how many stars a high school senior may own, the last few weeks of the college football season are of vital importance to head coaches across the nation.
With national signing day's February 5 deadline quickly approaching, programs have only a few precious weeks to leave a positive impression.
We'll be tracking the SEC teams' progression throughout the next few months, and the time has come for the first analysis of where each stands compared to one another and nationally.
6'5", 304lb. OT Andy Bauer (4 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 29
247Sports National Ranking: No. 31
Top Recruit: Andy Bauer (OT, No. 88 Overall)
What head coach Gary Pinkel has done with the amount of talent, at least stars, on his roster has vaulted him into National Coach of the Year discussions. In the SEC Eastern Division driver's seat, Mizzou is perhaps the best counterpoint to the recruiting services.
The Tigers' recruiting efforts have finished at, or near, the bottom of the SEC since they joined the league and would have ranked there beforehand. Despite this, starting quarterback James Franklin—ranked 218th nationally out of high school—has emerged as one of the nation's top signal callers.
With 24 commits, Mizzou has the second-biggest recruiting class in the nation thus far. Despite that, Bauer and Lawrence Central OLB Brandon Lee are the team's only commits ranked higher than 3-stars.
With what Franklin's done with what he's had so far, the future looks bright in Columbia. Tiger fans will be hoping that this season's breakout performance will help the staff recruit at a level that can compete in the meat grinder that is the SEC.
5'11", 180lb. ATH Jamoral Graham (4 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 38
247Sports National Ranking: No. 32
Top Recruit: Jamoral Graham (ATH, No. 203 Overall)
Though head coach Dan Mullen has struggled to break through the SEC's formidable glass ceiling in 2013, next season might just be "the year."
With an emerging senior quarterback and most players at skill positions returning, Mississippi State was due for a recruiting off-year. The team's combination of experience, the league's relative inexperience in 2014 and a comparatively soft league schedule could mean Mullen and crew finally have the season that MSU fans have been hoping for.
There are some solid additions for 2014, however. Graham is one of the four recruits that the Bulldogs will add that are among the state of Mississippi's top ten players out of high school.
With LaDarius Perkins graduating, incoming 4-star freshman RB Aeris Williams will be learning behind talented names like Josh Robinson and Ashton Shumpert.
Mullen has shown that he is capable of competing with some of the nation's best on the recruiting trail. Rarely making it out of the bottom half of the league in team recruiting rankings, however, that might just not be good enough to build State into a regular SEC contender.
6'1", 334lb. DT Bijhon Jackson (4 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 33
247Sports National Ranking: No. 30
Top Recruit: Bijhon Jackson (DT, No. 86 Overall)
The transition from Wisconsin's well-oiled machine to the rebuilding project at Arkansas has been a tough one for head coach Bret Bielema.
The Razorbacks will miss out on a bowl for the second consecutive year in 2013 and a program revitalization is desperately needed. An influx of talent would certainly help that cause, though it doesn't seem this will be the year.
Though three commits in the nation's top 300 isn't shabby, "good" simply doesn't compete in the Southeastern Conference. With 17 commitments for the year and a slew of losses coming to graduation, the road doesn't get easier. 'Back fans can hope that, with a senior quarterback returning in Brandon Allen, there will be some signs of improvement in Bielema's second year at the helm.
6'2", 210lb. QB K.J. Carta-Samuels (4 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 21
247Sports National Ranking: No. 26
Top Recruit: K.J. Carta-Samuels (QB, No. 216 Overall)
Starting quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels is having a solid season for Vanderbilt. Having passed for 1,856 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season, Austyn will be leading the Commodores to their third straight bowl for the first time in history.
His brother K.J. hopes to surpass that.
Though he'll have some competition, K.J. will be fighting for the starting quarterback spot from day one in Nashville. Two other 'Dore commits are ranked at or near the nation's top 300 recruits, though head coach James Franklin will be hoping that this season's performance will bolster his efforts in the offseason.
Vanderbilt is beginning to push its way into the nation's top 25 recruiting classes and if these kinds of efforts continue, Vandy might be here to stay.
6'4", 210lb. QB Drew Barker (4 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 8
247Sports National Ranking: No. 15
Top Recruit: Drew Barker (QB, No. 114 Overall)
If there's one thing a Stoops can do, it's recruit.
While the national rankings are a bit inflated due to the size of the Kentucky class so far, if new head coach Mark Stoops keeps raking in the talent at this level, the Wildcats are destined to work their way out of the conference's cellar.
Barker will be one of the most talented quarterbacks to step foot on the UK campus and, considering the Wildcat struggles this season at the position, he'll have a very good chance at starting as a freshman.
The class certainly doesn't end with Barker, either. Four other 4-star recruits are planning on being Wildcats and, according to Stoops tradition, they're mostly defensive standouts. The five 4-stars are already the most for Kentucky since 247Sports has been tracking them.
One of the Wildcats' best recruiting classes ever should help UK bounce back and begin competing for bowl eligibility within a couple of years. If the momentum can continue, perhaps the football program can once again step from the shadows of the campus's hoops tradition.
6'3", 305lb. OG Roderick Taylor (4 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 13
247Sports National Ranking: No. 16
Top Recruit: Roderick Taylor (OG, No. 46 Overall)
Following a 2013 debut that saw his team rank among the top ten nationally in recruiting, head coach Hugh Freeze is still working wonders in Oxford.
Ole Miss, currently ranked 24th, has a shot at a ten-win season and has pushed its way up the SEC Western Division ladder the past couple of years. Recruiting classes like Freeze's will help a team do that.
Gone are the days where Dan Mullen and Mississippi State owned the state of Mississippi. Roderick and Meridian safety C.J. Hampton are ranked first and second, consecutively, in the state and are both committed to the Rebels.
An experienced Ole Miss team will lose a good bit of experience on the offensive side of the ball and the past two years' all-star freshmen will be needed to step into some big roles. Though 2014 may find Ole Miss struggling to match the success of 2013, the following two years and beyond look very bright for the Rebels.
6'0, 170lb. WR Shaq Davidson (4 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 35
247Sports National Ranking: No. 29
Top Recruit: Shaq Davidson (WR, No. 82 Overall)
Having built South Carolina into a perennial SEC contender, head coach Steve Spurrier is off to a slow recruiting start for 2014.
Ranked 16th in the country a year ago, the Gamecocks have only four recruits ranked above 3-stars. The most sought-after among them is Davidson, a Shrine Bowl invitee who recently fell to a knee injury. Davidson was offered by the likes of Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia.
With this season looking like yet another 10-win success, don't expect the Gamecocks to stay this low.
6'2", 220lb. ATH Jalen Hurd (4 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 2
247Sports National Ranking: No. 2
Top Recruit: Jalen Hurd (ATH, No. 38 Overall)
Remember how Missouri's national ranking was inflated by its number of commits, ranking second in the nation? Tennessee ranks first with 31.
No doubt, though, that the Vols and new head coach Butch Jones have put on a show on the recruiting trail. A class starring 16 4-star recruits will be led by athlete Jalen Hurd, who had an astounding 5,422-rushing yards and 69 touchdowns to his name before 2013 even started.
Jones is no joke. In a conference seemingly flooded with revitalizing teams such as Ole Miss, Missouri and Auburn, Jones hopes to grab his piece of the pie with a historically powerful Tennessee program.
It would be wise to not bet against him.
5'11", 196lb. RB Racean Thomas (5 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 17
247Sports National Ranking: No. 13
Top Recruit: Racean Thomas (RB, No. 33 Overall)
A year ago, a Gene Chizik-led Auburn team won three games, costing a coach two years removed from a national title his job. Life in the SEC isn't easy.
Coming off of that disaster of a year, expectations for head coach Gus Malazhn were modest. Consider those expectations blown through the roof. Auburn, ranked sixth and with only a single loss, is one upset of rival Alabama away from the Western Division title.
With the Tigers' top four running backs graduating within the next two years, accounting for 3,101 yards and 36 touchdowns, newcomer Racean Thomas and his 4.48 40-yard dash will be vital in Malzahn's explosive offense.
Thomas joins six other recruits ranked with at least 4-stars in a solid outing for the coach's first season. If Auburn's resurgence continues, and it doesn't appear to be going anywhere, college football should continue to revolve around the state of Alabama for years to come.
5'11", 190lb. RB Dalvin Cook (5 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 14
247Sports National Ranking: No. 11
Top Recruit: Dalvin Cook (RB, No. 21 Overall)
Entering 2013 having won 11 games the previous season, ranked in the Top Ten and with hopes of a national title, the Gators now find themselves having to upset a bulldozer of a Florida State team that's ranked second nationally. Not exactly what Gator fans were hoping for.
Though a tremendous amount of injuries certainly took their toll, head coach Will Muschamp is beginning to feel the heat. A program as big as Florida, with two national championships recently added to the mix, should always compete with the nation's elite on the recruiting trail.
In that regard, the Gators are performing adequately. Three 5-stars have been added to the mix, most importantly perhaps is quarterback Will Grier. Though not UF's highest-rated recruit, Grier is an All-American pro-style quarterback that—considering the abysmal performance at the position this season—will compete for the starting role from the second he sets foot on campus.
Florida is perhaps the counter-example to Missouri. While James Franklin has taken predominantly three-stars and maximized their abilities, Muschamp has taken a stable of five-stars and likely missed out on bowl eligibility. Another disappointing year will cost him his job.
6'1", 190lb. S Edward Paris (4 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 15
247Sports National Ranking: No. 12
Top Recruit: Edward Paris (S, No. 41 Overall)
As teams bubble up to the top of the SEC, some top teams will be forced to take a step back. Teams like Missouri, Ole Miss and Auburn have stolen the reigns from powerhouses like Georgia, Florida and LSU.
LSU is another program that should be able to generally hand-pick recruits. Head coach Les Miles has never truly had an issue on the recruiting trail, and this class is looking to follow suit.
Only four LSU commits thus far are not 4-star recruits and the selection is predominantly from talent-rich Louisiana. If the Tigers want, however, to become a yearly competitor with Alabama once again, very talented may not be enough. The Tide have three 5-star commits already and are poised to lead the nation in recruiting for a fourth straight year.
A Top 25 season may be a success for the majority of programs, but LSU fans will be expecting more in 2014.
6'4", 240lb. DE Myles Garrett (5 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 5
247Sports National Ranking: No. 4
Top Recruit: Myles Garrett (DE, No. 11 Overall)
When Texas A&M applied for, and was granted, admission to the SEC, head coach Kevin Sumlin knew that everything was about to get harder. The level of competition both on the field and on the recruiting trail was going to increase exponentially, and his staff's efforts were going to have to increase with it.
Boy, did he respond.
The Aggies quickly established themselves as a legitimate contender in the SEC on the field and a top five recruiting class will do the same off the field. Combined with last year's top ten effort, no wonder Sumlin is the leading candidate for the USC opening.
The class includes five of the top 100 recruits in the nation, complimented by seventh-highest ranked junior college player in Lackawanna Community College OT Jermaine Eluemunor. A&M's defense has struggled at times and Sumlin has addressed that concern in a big way with this talent-filled class with six of his top seven commits on that side of the ball.
Texas A&M is serious about challenging the conference's top dogs, and classes like this and a coach like Sumlin will help get the program to that level. The big "if", of course, if whether Sumlin returns once his Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel presumably leaves for the NFL.
5'11", 205lb. RB Sony Michel (5 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 3
247Sports National Ranking: No. 3
Top Recruit: Sony Michel (RB, No. 18 Overall)
Injuries doomed an otherwise promising season for 13-year head coach Mark Richt. A perennial player in the SEC East, Georgia just can't seem to put the pieces together well enough for a breakout, championship-caliber season.
Recruiting classes like this one should help.
Richt and company ventured into rival territory to steal Florida's top-ranked recruit in Michel out from under the Gators of Florida. The All-American will help infuse some talent into a UGA team that on paper looks to return a decent amount of experience at skill positions in 2014. With the obvious exception of senior quarterback Aaron Murray, Michel will fall behind outstanding RB Todd Gurley on a very talented 2014 squad.
Georgia fans are still waiting for that year. The year that makes the program. The year that takes a powerhouse and vaults it into the elite with Alabama. That kind of move will take more classes like this one.
6'5", 330lb. OT Cameron Robinson (5 stars)
Rivals National Ranking: No. 1
247Sports National Ranking: No. 1
Top Recruit: Cameron Robinson (OT, No. 1 Overall)
For the fourth year in a row, head coach Nick Saban has found himself atop the national recruiting leaderboards.
Highlighted by the top recruit in the country, 330-pound offensive Tackle Cameron Robinson, the class includes 23 commitments. Depending on who you ask, Robinson is one of either two or three 5-star 2014 recruits for the Tide and only a few of the 23 are below four stars.
Of note, only five of those recruits are from the state of Alabama. Robinson was stolen out from under the nose of rival LSU in West Monroe, LA, with some of the other big names like DE Da'Shawn Hand and ATH Bo Scarbrough being plucked from Virginia and Florida, respectively.
Saban is a beast not only through his gameplans on the gridiron, but on the recruiting trail as well. When late Alabama athletic director flew to Miami to help convince the then-Miami Dolphins head coach to jump ship, he knew he needed a man that could use Alabama's resources and prestige to his advantage.
Little did Moore know how well Saban would do. Fighting for his third-straight national title and hand-picking recruits from across the nation, Nick Saban is indeed one of the greatest, most underpaid coaches to ever coach the sport.
Follow me on Twitter @SEC_Nerd.