College Football Recruiting 2014: Struggling Programs with Promising Classes

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College Football Recruiting 2014: Struggling Programs with Promising Classes
Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

National signing day is the type of event that can inspire hope. 

Sure, most everything you're going to hear will be about Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State and other powerhouse programs, and the last thing those schools need is hope. 

But recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, and for certain schools that haven't been all that accustomed to winning the last several years, a top-ranked class or recruit can send a program into a complete 180. 

Let's take a look at some schools that did just that in 2014. 

 

Tennessee Volunteers

Tennessee, a program that once went to the Orange Bowl and two Fiesta Bowls in successive years during the late 1990's, hasn't won a bowl since 2007, hasn't appeared in a bowl since 2010 and hasn't finished a season over .500 since 2009. 

At least in terms of schools that expect to win, you aren't going to find a program that has suffered through more turmoil in the last five years. 

But Butch Jones is changing everything in Knoxville. As UTSports.com's Brian Rice suggested, via Tennessee Football's Twitter feed, national signing day in Knoxville felt more like the NFL draft:

Rice clarified:

The feel wasn't just due to the quality of student-athlete that made a formal pledge to attend Tennessee on Wednesday, It was also the way Jones talked about the class meeting needs. And for the 14 Volunteers that began classes in January, their first introduction to the media involved an NFL Draft staple: The custom jersey presentation.

Another NFL concept, the emphasis on size and speed, was a focus of the Vols' recruiting effort for the signing class of 2014.

Jones is 100 percent changing the culture, but it's not just that. He has also mended the in-state pipeline.

In 2012, the Vols secured the commitment of just one of the top 10 ranked players from the state of Tennessee, per 247Sports' composite rankings. In 2013, when Jones had about two months to recruit, that number jumped to three

But in 2014, after Jones and his staff's first full year of recruiting, the Vols pulled in an astounding eight of the top 10 ranked players from Tennessee, including the top three in Josh Malone, Jalen Hurd and Todd Kelly. 

"You look at all the great programs, they own their state," Jones said, via Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples. "It was critical to lock down the best players in our state."

Put it all together and the Volunteers finished with the No. 7 class in America. Their 33 overall commitments and 16 4-stars were both more than any other school. 

Jones and Co. have already changed the entire recruiting landscape in Knoxville. The wins will soon follow. 

 

Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky is supposed to be a basketball school, and while that will likely never change, Mark Stoops is clearly intent on at least diminishing the gap between the school's two programs. 

The Wildcats, who have gone 2-10 the previous two seasons and haven't been to a bowl since 2010, finished with a class that ranked No. 22 in the nation and No. 10 in the SEC. 

Those may not jump out as overwhelming numbers, but consider the Wildcats' previous classes:

Kentucky's Recent Recruiting Classes
Year National Rank SEC Rank
2009 42 13
2010 45 13
2011 37 12
2012 50 14
2013 34 13
2014 22 10

247Sports

Much like Jones, Stoops controlled his own state, securing the commitment of four of the top five players from Kentucky, led by pro-style quarterback Drew Barker and big defensive tackle Matt Elam. The second-year head coach talked about the school's recruiting success, via The Courier-Journal's Kyle Tucker:

Kentucky may not be ready to compete with the powerhouses of the SEC, but the arrow is undoubtedly pointing up. 

 

Virginia Cavaliers

In four seasons as head coach, Mike London is 18-31 with just one bowl appearance. His job isn't what you would call safe, but a recruiting year like this one isn't going to hurt his cause. 

Whose class was most surprising?

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Virginia only ended up with 17 total recruits, but thanks to the commitments of 5-star defensive tackle Andrew Brown and 5-star safety Quin Blanding—both top-15 players nationally—the Cavs finished with the No. 32 class overall

This isn't going to completely turn the program around, but it undoubtedly changes things for the better.

Anytime a school is able to get two game-changers like that—guys like Jamil Kamara, Steven Moss and Corwin Cutler shouldn't go unmentioned, either—immediately after a 2-10 season, the staff is clearly doing something right in the recruiting world. 

Blanding, a dynamic safety with size and instincts who had offers from Alabama and Auburn among others, talked about why he chose Virginia, via Sports Illustrated's Stanley Kay:

[London] was the realest [sic] and that’s why I stuck with him. With him, I knew [the Cavaliers] were there to recruit me, but they also let me breathe while recruiting me. Some coaches were always on my back worrying about everything. But Virginia let me breathe and told me they wanted me and came to me as a real person instead of just making promises.

Coach London always told us we can be the greatest player ever and all of that, but he’s also telling us that he wants to make us a better man at the end of the day.

With these type of instant-impact recruits, Virginia will be back to a bowl extremely soon.

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