Recruiting in the SEC recently replaced baseball as the South's most beloved pastime.
The season is year-round, there are about as many games, and they're far more interesting to watch.
With that in mind, I'd like to begin a series of top-10 ranking slideshows with the granddaddy of them all, the SEC.
I ranked these classes on perceived strength, i.e. stars, but I mostly took into account the team's needs at certain positions and how those needs were getting addressed by the school's staff.
This led to some surprises at the top, but I've offered my explanations, and I'm sure each of you will be so kind as to offer yours.
A really underwhelming class in terms of ratings and size, Bobby Petrino's hat currently hangs on offensive tackle Cam Feldt (pictured), the eighth-overall tackle and a top 150 player to ESPNU, hailing from Pilot Point, Tex.
Even on Feldt, there's disagreement. Despite his frame (6'5", 295 pounds), he's a guard to Scout, and only the 29th-best tackle to Rivals.
On film, he's a beast in run-blocking, so he'll be a fixture at the right tackle position for Arkansas' growing rushing game.
Outside of Feldt, there must be some pressure to keep the scholarships low after Petrino's 31-man monster class from last year, which featured five-star corner back Darius Winston.
Scout thinks the Razorbacks have Jatashun "Big Tex" Beachum locked up for the defensive tackle spot (he's a soft verbal as of now), and he'd be a great help in shoring up Arkansas's iffy run defense.
Jeremiah Jackson, the No. 37 DT to ESPN, has already committed and will also assist in this regard, though he'll need to add bulk to play tackle or shed it to play end.
Another physical project is OLB Chris Smith. ESPN liked his ability to shed blocks, but he's also undersized.
All in all, this is a class that will take time to have an impact.
Building off of the 31-man class from last year makes that a possibility, and Beachum would be a great addition, but I was on the verge of ranking Kentucky's class (which is larger, but has a few too many two-stars and unranked players) or even Vanderbilt's (no four-stars, but plenty of three-star talent, especially at the defensive back position).
In a vacuum, this class underwhelms.
The Rebels' class is small—only 15 players so far—though this might have something to do with Nutt's monster 37-man recruiting class in 2009.
This class got a boost from the commitment of high three-star Bryon Bennett, a hometown prospect, at defensive end.
But the big landing was of four-star JUCO Wayne Dorsey (pictured), who has already signed a letter of intent and will enroll at Ole Miss in January.
Dorsey drew extremely high praise from his high school coach, who equated his talents to Terrence Cody, and was a five-star to Scout and a four-star to Rivals and ESPN respectively, making both of their top 150 lists.
Damien Jackson, a defensive back and Dorsey's teammate at Gulf Coast Community College, will also join the Rebels.
He's a four-star to Rivals but only a two-star to Scout, which projected him as a safety. ESPN didn't evaluate him.
Aside from the offensive line, Ole Miss' focus on defensive players has to be welcome news, since All-SEC DE Greg Hardy, as well as underrated and productive DEs Emmanuel Stephens and Marcus Tillman, depart for the pros.
This class is light on offensive firepower, and since the Rebels lose all-everything quarkback Dexter McCluster to graduation, I'm not sure that's in this team's best interests.
Next year, Ole Miss is hoping to stage a run at the SEC West, this time a little more out of the limelight. Though a strong defense is never a bad idea, I'd be encouraged if they added more skill talent to aid the return of Jevan Snead.
Scout's enthusiasm for Mississippi State's class is tempered—they list only one four-star, Kaleb Eulls, at defensive end—but Rivals' assessment of Mississippi State is very encouraging.
They list Eulls, DT James Carmon, RB Rajion Neal, and WR Fred Johnson as four-stars.
The most encouraging sign from this class is the job Dan Mullen is doing in convincing Mississippi's finest to stay home. Twelve of the 17 commits are native sons.
Mullen's attempt at shoring up the run game is evident. Along with the four-stars Neal and Ballard, ATH Michael Carr (pictured), No. 21 to ESPN, projects as a run-first quarterback to go with his outstanding ball-hawking skills at corner.
The Bulldogs lose starting running back Anthony Dixon, who led the conference in yards per game, as well as Tyson Lee, and though they've found Lee's replacement in QB Chris Relf, Dixon's might be a little harder to come by.
All these homegrown versatile athletes will help clear up that situation next year.
Low numbers will keep this class behind the heavy hitters, and I wouldn't mind seeing a ranked offensive lineman or two.
Still, I place this class above Ole Miss' (pending the Rebels signing more warm bodies) because of its aggressive pursuit of offensive firepower to meet its immediate needs.
In a previous article I argued that South Carolina would be returning arguably Steve Spurrier's most seasoned unit on offense.
QB Stephen Garcia, leading rushers Kenny Miles, Brian Maddox, and Jarvis Giles, WRs Tori Gurley and Alshon Jeffery, and the addition of Stephon Gilmore, an athlete who runs the Gamecocks single-wing formation, might signal the offensive explosion that Spurrier's hire promised five years ago.
To that end, the Gamecocks' addition of seven offensive linemen in a 19-man recruiting class is addressing the appropriate concern—adding weight and depth, and making sure the lanes are open for the rushers to burst through.
The two standouts are AJ Cann and Eric Mack. Cann recently impressed ESPN scouts with his toughness and physicality on the interior—the only concern with him is adding bulk. Mack is an in-state prospect with offers from every SEC school, and is the No. 6 overall guard to Rivals.
The Gamecocks better make sure they hold onto Mack—he was reportedly "shaken" by the news that SC offensive line coach Eric Wofford took the Youngstown State head coaching job, and there are rumblings that he is reopening his recruitment with Auburn.
Aside from the OL, South Carolina is reloading on their already fearsome defense, gaining commitments from defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles, a fringe five-star and No. 2 overall defensive tackle, as well as linebacker Toquavius Gilchrist, a JUCO transfer at middle linebacker, who could assist immediately at replacing SC's standout OLB, Eric Norwood.
ESPN shared their ongoing skepticism with Spurrier's ability to recruit a quarterback, and related the possibility that ATH Connor Shaw might see some snaps at quarterback.
Shaw would join Reid McCollum and the aforementioned Gilmore behind Stephen Garcia, but the lack of depth and outstanding talent at QB still remains.
Pending the decisions of RB Marcus Lattimore and Pennsylvania DT Sharrif Floyd, this is a fringe top-10 class, heavy on in-state talent that will provide immediate, needed depth on the lines and in the backer position. Holding onto Mack will be top priority.
The status of LSU's class remains very much in the air.
A few late commitments on signing day could return the Tigers to the preeminent position in SEC recruiting and build on the top-10 classes Les Miles has consecutively compiled.
Four-star safeties Eric Reid and Tharold Simon add to the embarrassing riches of the LSU defensive backfield.
Reid is outstanding in run support and is reliable in tackling, while Simon is an outstanding free safety with great pattern-reading ability and a knowledge of combo coverage.
The LSU line will also welcome the talents of DE Justin Maclin, and Jordan Allen and DT Cassius Marsh, two four-stars.
Travis Dickson (a TE), Justin Hunter, and Spencer Ware will shore up the receiver position, with Hunter (pictured) as your typically imposing LSU wide receiver: tall, lanky, with outstanding hands, in the tradition of Brandon LaFell, Demetrius Byrd, and Dwayne Bowe.
And depending on how you feel about LSU's QB situation, the Tigers are either adding to the wealth or addressing a concern by signing four-star Zach Lee out of Texas. At 6'3", Lee is a prototypical pocket passer with down field prowess, and a change of pace for Miles' squad, which had been predominantly recruiting dual threats.
Gaining commitments from RB Lache Seastrunk, WR Darius White, and/or DE Jackson Jeffcoat would elevate this class into the top five, but I wouldn't mind it if LSU just held onto the riches they had, particularly with the departure of outstanding running backs coach and recruiting coordinator Larry Porter to Memphis.
His replacement, Frank Wilson, is a Louisiana native who might help LSU's prospects in-state, particularly in the talent-rich South, in the future, and maybe he could make a late pitch for some Louisiana players who have committed elsewhere.
An already fearsome secondary gets more impossible to throw against with the commitments of Demarcus Milliner and Keenan Allen, the nation's No. 1 overall corner back and safety, respectively, according to Scout.
Those two are joined by Jarrick Williams and Nick Perry, high four-star safeties.
And don't forget about Alabama landing No. 1 overall CB Dre Kirkpatrick, who had originally committed to Arkansas, in last year's recruiting season. Saban's prowess at coaching secondaries looks to be paying off.
One of the larger defensive backs might need to roll down to the linebacking corps, considering Alabama's projected losses at the position (assuming Rolando McClain turns pro).
Eryk Anders and Cory Reamer leave, and the only true linebacker in the class is four-star Devonta Bolton, so if the Tide miss out on Jordan Hicks (whom I predict will go to Texas), they'll need to find a replacement in one of those athletic DBs to play outside linebacker.
I should mention that they took five-star Nico Johnson and Tana Patrick in last year's class, so the attrition won't be huge.
Let this year end the speculation that Saban can't recruit an offense, as well.
The Tide landed the top pro-style quarterback, Philip Sims, as well as TE Brian Vogler, four-star RBs Corey Grant and Jalston Fowler, and WRs Deandrew White and Ronald Carswell.
K Cade Foster, a four-star, will compete with Jay Williams for the position vacated by Tide all-time leading scorer Leigh Tiffin.
The Tide still need to replace Terrance Cody, Brandon Deaderick, and Lorenzo Washington on the D-line, and there are no outstanding DTs in the class, so they'll probably be hoping to grab either or both of Carlton Martin and Jeff Whitaker, who are still on the board.
Four-star DE Alfy Hill (pictured) is, at the moment, too small to play DT, but he's a great prospect at end and could fill out and move inside if the Bama coaches see fit.
It's hard to say the Tide "need" anybody at any position. The nucleus of the offense (McElroy, Mark Ingram, and Julio Jones) all return, and the depth on the D-line isn't a major concern.
But filling out their remaining slots with a solid finish in the front seven (or maybe an OL?)
They also lose starting guard Mike Johnson and OT Drew Davis, and only hold commitments from two three-stars) would make this a more well-rounded class.
I'm dinging them placing too much emphasis in the secondary, though there might not be such a thing.
Georgia's struggles in the secondary and on the offensive line are getting addressed phenomenally by Mark Richt's staff.
They've held onto five-star safety Alec Ogletree, whom ESPN assessed as being an outside linebacker with safety speed, despite the departure of defensive coordinator Willie Martinez, and added depth with the commitments of four-stars Jakar Hamilton and Nickell Robey, and three-stars Marc Deas and Derrick Owens.
AJ Green, Georgia's indomitable wide receiver, will get some help on double teams with the arrival of five-star Da'Rick Rogers (pictured), whom many are comparing in size and athleticism to Georgia Tech all-star Calvin Johnson. Rogers is the No. 2 wide receiver overall to Rivals and a projected first-year starter.
As mentioned, the offensive line got a boost with OT Brent Benedict and four-star OG Kolton Houston, both of whom are outstanding physical specimens that project as three-year starters and could see time next year.
ESPN also likes RB Ken Malcome's stamina and thinks he projects well at the college level, and Rivals likes the potential DE Jalen Fields has at DT.
Another key grab was DT Garrison Smith. Smith is a five-star to Scout, but he's undersized and will need to either bulk up for the three-tech position, or slim down and play strong-side DE.
Too few players (and a few too many three-stars) keep this class from cracking my top three, and if Rennie Curran bolts, Georgia might struggle with rush defense next year like they did through the air this year.
But the Dogs also have multiple athletes still in play and are favored for some of them, so they could have a strong showing in 2010 that puts them ahead of at least some of the competition.
They're flirting with five-star RB Marcus Lattimore, from whom they will get a visit in January, and remain on DE Jackson Jeffcoat's radar.
There's a chance they grab another receiver from the mixed bag of Christian Green, Chris Duncan, and Adrian Coxson, and are also being considered by DE Corey Lemonier.
Assuming the quarterback situation post-Joe Cox will be decided fruitfully between Logan Gray, Aaron Murray, and Zach Mettenberger, Georgia's troubles on the lines and in the defensive backfield could be behind them, as long as they get a defensive coordinator, like, now.
The tenure of defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has paid dividends for the Vols. He already has a reputation as a charismatic recruiter and has helped the Vols gain commitments from four four-star defensive ends: J.C. Copeland, Jacques Smith, Corey Miller, and Brandon Willis (who remains a soft verbal).
Miller is the standout to ESPN for his burst and quickness, while Scout thinks that Jacques Smith will be the speedy disrupter at DE/OLB.
The Vols also signed DT Calvin Smith, a four-star talent who might also facilitate UT's recruitment of DE Corey Lemonier. The two are rumored to be a package deal.
Looks like Kiffin put his money where his mouth was concerning Georgia, raiding the Peach State for Copeland, as well as standout receiver Markeuth Ambles and OT Jewaun James (pictured), both fringe-five star talents who will help Tennessee's offense get up to speed.
The other big news for UT was the commitment of two quarterbacks.
ESPN thinks Tyler Bray, at a ponderous 6'6", looks like Matt Leinart did coming out of high school, while JUCO transfer Matt Simms chose the Vols after leaving Louisville in 2008.
Simms, the son of Phil Simms and brother to Chris, provides immediate competitiveness at the quarterback position, which will be wide open after the graduation of Jonathon Crompton.
Some have indicated that Nick Stephens is the natural successor, but if he couldn't beat out Crompton while the latter was struggling with interceptions, I'd say Simms or even Bray has a shot at unseating him.
Tennessee's recruiting might take a necessary blow from the NCAA's investigation into multiple violations stretching all the way back to Kiffin's hire.
Their numbers might also suffer now that Frank Wilson, UT's WR coach, left for LSU, and Eddie Gran, RB and special teams coach, departed to Florida State.
Gran was the primary recruiter for ATH/DE Delvin Jones and WR Ted Meline, both South Florida prospects who might reconsider their offers to Ole Miss and LSU.
This is not as well-rounded a class as UT needs, but there's still room for the pending commitments of safeties Dietrich Riley and/or Sean Parker, either of whom would help replace Eric Berry if he forgoes his senior year.
Defensive back is the one position this class is light on (the other being at RB), and their verbals would help UT crack the top five as long as they were able to hold onto the recruits they have.
I also wouldn't mind seeing a running back commit, but considering Kiffin's ability to recruit up to the eleventh hour, I'd say all RBs south of the Mason/Dixon are still in play.
Florida is the new USC, playing catch-up with their early departures and turning out gifted athletes almost in spite of their better interests.
With the pending departures of juniors CB Joe Haden, DE Carlos Dunlap, the Pouncey twins, Ahmad Black, Aaron Hernandez, and, of course, the senior class, Florida will need to restock a majority of talent as well as anticipate similar departures next year.
Such is life when you take the most talented players in the business—you face the football equivalent of the one-and-done.
Still, Florida is bringing in many of the country's most talented athletes and is slated to sign more by the end.
They took the country's top two safeties and the second-best corner in Jonathon Dowling, Demar Dorsey, and Matt Elam (pictured), respectively, and added Joshua Shaw, Cody Riggs, Demar Dorsey, and Jaylen Hawkins, four more defensive backs who are all fringe five-star talents.
Don't be surprised if, like with Alabama, the Florida coaches see a need at OLB and move one of them down in camp.
The Gators are in play for top DE Ronald Powell and running back Lache Seastrunk, and they've got five-star RB Mack Brown of Georgia in the fold, in case Jeff Demps decides to leave, too.
Four-star TE Gerald Christian will either train behind or replace Hernandez, and Neiron Ball, Leon Orr, and Lyndon Trail, all four-stars, are immense talents who will train immediately for the Gator D-Line.
ESPN thinks OT Ian Silberman is one of the best tackles in the nation, and he'll need to be if he has to protect John Brantley's blind side in the coming years.
Florida struggled with offensive line protection under the dubious direction of OC Steve Addazio, who might be getting his walking papers if the Gators struggle against Cincy.
They missed out on Jeff Luc, the five-star middle linebacker who committed to Florida State (probably once he heard Charlie Strong was leaving for Louisville), and the UF defense's struggles with Brandon Spikes on the sideline are an indication that they could use an all-star here.
But there's no one currently on the Gators' radar, and, at least for this class, that's a bad miss.
I consider Seantrel Henderson still a possibility, though many believe he's Big Ten bound, but there's also Seastrunk, WRs Darius White, Christian Green and the very likely Chris Dunkley to consider. Still, wide receiver is not as important as middle linebacker, and in my eyes, that's a miss the Florida defense will be feeling next year.
Auburn has built on the solid 2009 recruiting class with the commitment of feature back Michael Dyer (pictured), a solid, low-to-the-ground runner who will have an immediate impact filling in for the departed Ben Tate.
He sounds a bit like Mark Ingram—quick through the holes, outstanding on jump cuts, with a burst and acceleration that will surprise you, and with outstanding yards after contact.
Offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is also recruiting plenty of talent on the outside. Three four-stars at wide receiver—Trovon Reed, Jeremy Richardson, and Antonio Goodwin, join four-star Brandon Mosley, a tight end and early enrollee, and will help whomever emerges from the QB race between Barrett Trotter, Tyrik Rollison, and Clint Mosely.
But the Tigers are also keeping an eye on the most important position of all—offensive line. Keeping the QB protected will be up to three more four-stars at the tackle position: early enrollee Roszell Gayden, Ed Christian, and Shon Coleman.
Between Joel Bonomalo, who missed ESPN's evaluation because of a shoulder injury, and LaDarius Owens, the Tigers landed two four-star talents who will be beastly DE/OLB speed rushers off the edge, Sergio Kindle-style.
Even with Dyer, the Tigers are also in play for South Carolina RB Marcus Lattimore, another five-star who would complement Dyer's thunder with speed and outstanding field vision out of the backfield.
I love this class—it's huge, well-balanced, and will make an impact both immediately and in the long term. Good show, Gene.