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National Signing Day 2014: 10 Biggest Takeaways

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2014

National Signing Day 2014: 10 Biggest Takeaways

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    National signing day came and went on Wednesday, and with it came the official-unofficial start of the 2014 season—the first of the College Football Playoff era.

    So far, it's been much of the same.

    Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and Florida State—arguably the four most dominant programs during the BCS era—landed the top four classes in America, per the 247Sports team rankings. Between them, 13 5-star players and 56 4-star players are signed up to play next fall.

    Beyond that, signing day was its usual, crazy self, producing winners and losers across the board. Theatrics were toned down in many cases, but the day still yielded a number of important takeaways.

    Here are 10 that stuck out.

     

    Note: All team rankings and star ratings via the 247Sports composite.

Saban 'Gonna Saban

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    Nick Saban is still the king of Alabama...and the SEC...and the entire college football populace. Despite a shaky end to the 2013 season, the Crimson Tide still reign supreme.

    Of course, we knew all these things before national signing day, when Alabama had essentially locked up the No. 1 class. But with the commitment of No. 1 outside linebacker Rashaan Evans—sorry, No. 1 outside linebacker Rashaan Evans of Auburn, Ala.—Saban shoved those facts down our throats and made an emphatic statement.

    Alabama has had some very good classes during Saban's tenure, but this might be the best of the bunch. With six 5-star players, per the 247Sports composite, the rich didn't just get richer.

    They hit another Mega-Millions jackpot.

USC Still Owns Los Angeles

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    UCLA has beaten USC on the field the past two seasons in thorough and convincing fashion. This was supposed to be the year where that would translate to recruiting, especially given USC's coaching change and relative struggles on the trail.

    So much for that.

    USC was no doubt the biggest winner on national signing day, landing all three of their biggest targets: Damien Mama, Adoree' Jackson and John "JuJu" Smith. They closed about as strong as any program we've ever seen, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

    After starting Wednesday No. 26 in the country, the Trojans now rank No. 11, making the biggest jump of any team that started inside the top 55. In the process, not only did they finish above in-state rival UCLA, they finished tops in the Pac-12 conference.

...But Washington Is Fine Without Sark

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    USC made the biggest jump of any team that started Wednesday in the top 55, but Washington made the biggest jump of any power-conference team not named Vanderbilt.

    The Huskies have struggled to retain recruits in the midst of a coaching change, but Chris Petersen finally got some momentum going on Tuesday and Wednesday, finishing his first half-class strong and setting himself up well for next year's full recruiting cycle.

    The headliner was in-state product Budda Baker—the No. 6 athlete in America and a consensus top-60 player.

    Formerly committed to Oregon, Petersen was able to edge out the Ducks and UCLA for his services, sending a message that Washington can keep its very best athletes at home.

     

Bob Stoops Rides the Momentum

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    Oklahoma had its share of ups and downs on the field in 2013, closing strong with season-defining wins over Oklahoma State in Bedlam and Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

    Apparently, its targets were paying attention. A class that left much to be desired before the final two days now leaves far less, even though it's also far from perfect.

    Commitments from 4-star prospects like safety Steven Parker and wide receiver Michiah Quick were not at all locks entering the week, but both men put their name on the dotted line for the Sooners.

    So did No. 1 all-purpose back Joe Mixon, who committed to Bob Stoops' club earlier in the year but was always viewed—at least by Norman's most-paranoid minds—as a candidate to flip.

    OU finished with the No. 1 class in the Big 12.

Ohio State Still Rules the Big Ten (in Recruiting)

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    At the end of the 2013 season, Ohio State lost its firm grip on the throne of the Big Ten, ceding it to the usurper Michigan State.

    At the end of the 2014 recruiting cycle, it got that throne back.

    Yes, Sparty got a commitment (but no letter of intent) from 5-star defensive lineman Malik McDowell, but Ohio State kept its hold on 4-star offensive tackle Jamarco Jones, who was choosing between the Buckeyes and Michigan State. It also poached MSU commit Darius Slade in a stunningly fast turn of events.

    Now, Ohio State checks in with the No. 3 class in America, while no other Big Ten school could even crack the top 20. Rival Michigan petered out after a quick start to the recruiting cycle, while Sparty, Penn State and Wisconsin all finished with up-and-down days.

    There was no sad pizza for Urban Meyer on Wednesday.

Les Miles Is an All-Star Closer

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    Much ado has been made about the prospects LSU didn't sign this cycle, about the ones who got away.

    Five-star Louisiana products like Cameron Robinson, Speedy Noil and Gerald Willis all opted to play at different SEC powers—Alabama, Texas A&M and Florida, respectively. Had Les Miles lost his charm?

    Fat chance.

    Miles and the Tigers closed with a flurry on Wednesday afternoon, locking up 5-star receiver Malachi Dupre, 4-star defensive tackle Travonte Valentine and a couple of other solid pieces.

    Combined with No. 1 overall player Leonard Fournette, this oft-criticized LSU class—this group that's discussed more for what it "could have been" than what it actually is—still finished No. 2 in the country, right behind Alabama.

    Today, the Mad Hatter is a happy one.

Oregon Will Be Oregon...For Better or Worse

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    Oregon finished outside the top-20 classes in America, which, in and of itself, is bad. Broken down by position, the group looks even worse.

    Per the 247Sports composite, Oregon's top five recruits are: a running back, a cornerback, a receiver, a running back and a dual-threat QB.

    In the words of Clara Peller, "Where's the Beef?"

    Oregon closed with no legitimate help in the trenches, which is precisely where it needed the most improvement. The Ducks got pushed around by Stanford, again, in 2013, and Stanford added some serious beef this cycle. So did Pac-12 rival USC.

    Heck, the Ducks have to play Michigan State in the early weeks of next season—a team that actually out-muscled Stanford along the lines in the Rose Bowl. Oregon will continue being Oregon, headstrong in its attempt to prove that speed and innovation beat power.

    For better or worse.

Will Muschamp Recruits Better Than He Coaches

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    Florida finished far away—very far away—from the top 10 in the final polls of 2013, but Will Muschamp managed to sneak out a top-10 class after national signing day. That deserves some modest applause.

    That holds doubly true since Florida missed out on Damian Prince and Adoree' Jackson—two 5-star recruits it had a strong chance of landing. Entering the day, if someone told you the Gators would get neither of those guys, you likely would have thought they'd be a loser.

    But Muschamp made a lot of under-the-radar moves on Wednesday, chief among them flipping 4-star athlete Treon Harris from Florida State. If Will Grier's development goes something like Jeff Driskel's, Harris is a mobile quarterback prospect who ensures some depth at the position.

    There will not be another Tyler Murphy—or worse, Skyler Mornhinweg.

Kevin Sumlin Is a Great Coach and Better Person

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    Save Johnny Manziel, no man is more responsible for Texas A&M's recent explosion than head coach Kevin Sumlin, who, considering both on-field exploits and recruiting prowess, is one of the five best coaches in America right now.

    Sumlin proved the latter once again this cycle, leading the Aggies to a top-five class. Myles Garrett and Speedy Noil are both 5-star prospects and two of the biggest recruits in program history.

    But neither is the signee who mattered most this cycle.

    That would be cornerback Cedric Collins, who suffered a traumatic injury in November 2012—months after accepting his scholarship to Texas A&M—and was told he would never again play football.

    However, Texas A&M chose to honor his commitment and will still pay his academic tuition the next four years.

    "Collins is a guy who committed to us early," Sumlin said of honoring his scholarship, per A&M's official twitter account. "I thought it was important we showed the same commitment."

    Kevin Sumlin: brilliant coach, awesome recruiter, better human being.

The SEC Still Means Something in Recruiting

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    Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

    The SEC was knocked off its haughty perch at the end of last season, as Florida State won the last BCS title over Auburn and Alabama lost to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.

    For the other power conferences, this cycle was of utmost importance. They had to strike while the iron was hot, before the SEC could regain momentum. For once, there was evidence saying that it wasn't as much better as it thinks itself.

    Whoops.

    The SEC has seven on the top nine classes in America. It also has nine of the top 16. Ole Miss and South Carolina, which finished in the bottom half of SEC recruiting, both finished ahead of Texas and would have challenged Oklahoma for the top class in the Big 12.

    They also would have finished second in the Big Ten, and third in the Pac-12 and ACC.

    Part of this has to do, and will always have to do, with regional density. The southeast (and greater south region) values high school football more than other places, so the SEC will always have the pick of the litter during 'crootin season.

    That doesn't explain a 5-star like Kyle Allen leaving Arizona for Texas A&M, or another 5-star like Clifton Garrett leaving Illinois for LSU.

    The SEC still means something to them.

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