Grading Every Top 25 Team's Recruiting Class Before National Signing DayJanuary 30, 2023
Grading Every Top 25 Team's Recruiting Class Before National Signing Day
Recruiting doesn't always translate to on-field success, but it certainly is a major factor most of the time.
Every once in a while, you've got a David-like Tulane with his slingshot pulled back at a big, bad Power Five Goliath in a big-time bowl game, but the best teams normally have some of the best recruiting classes.
While that is one of the things that made this year so awesome seeing the Green Wave topple the Trojans of USC and TCU make it all the way to the natty before getting bombarded by Georgia, you've got to recruit well to sustain success.
Which teams are doing that this year?
Taking a look at the final Associated Press Top 25 rankings of the season and glimpsing at each team's recruiting classes can at least give us an educated guess of the staying power of the programs. While transfers may be mentioned, the letter grades are only for the high school/JUCO recruiting efforts.
As we glide into the final few days before national signing day, here are letter grades and intel on where every Top 25 team's class stands in the 11th hour.
Nos. 25-21: Texas, Fresno State, South Carolina, Pittsburgh, UCLA
25. Texas Longhorns
Key signees/commits: 5-star QB Arch Manning, 5-star LB Anthony Hill, 5-star RB Cedric Baxter Jr.
Analysis: Without question, Texas needs to take a step forward in 2023 after a pedestrian 8-5 season this past year. This recruiting class is a great start.
The Longhorns have compiled the No. 3-ranked class in the nation. It's loaded from top to bottom with playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Manning is the nation's top-ranked overall player with the pedigree to shine, and Baxter is the best running back in the nation, too. Hill is a sideline-to-sideline linebacker who could start right away, and other stars like the wide receiver duo of Johntay Cook II and DeAndre Moore Jr. make this class special. The Longhorns have 14 of the nation's top 247 recruits.
24. Fresno State Bulldogs
Key signees/commits: 3-star WR Tim Grear, 3-star S Brandon Ramirez, 3-star DL Dupre Mendoza
Analysis: What a season for Jeff Tedford and the Fresno State Bulldogs, who finished 10-4 with a LA Bowl win over Washington State. The season would have been better had star quarterback Jake Haener not gotten injured.
Now with Haener gone, Fresno looks to the future, and it has the third-best class in the Mountain West Conference and the No. 78-ranked overall class. Tedford obviously is looking for instant-impact help with JUCO players like Grear and Mendoza coming in.
Though he doesn't count on this list, getting UCF transfer quarterback Mikey Keene could be huge for keeping the Bulldogs relevant, too. But this class should be better.
23. South Carolina Gamecocks
Key signees/commits: 4-star IOL Markee Anderson, 4-star Edge Desmond Umeozulu, 4-star LB Grayson Howard
Analysis: Shane Beamer's program can hang their '22 hat on beating Tennessee and Clemson at the end of the season and keeping them out of the College Football Playoff.
Mission accomplished for the spoilers of the year award. They lost the Gator Bowl 45-38 to Notre Dame, though, and finished the year with a mediocre 8-5 record.
Beamer is building the defense up with this year's class, though, with six of the top eight signees coming on that side of the ball. Quarterback LaNorris Sellers is an intriguing prospect, but the strength of this class is in the trenches. It's a solid group.
22. Pittsburgh Panthers
Key signees/commits: 4-star LB Jordan Bass, 3-star DL Isaiah Neal, 3-star S Cruce Brookins
Analysis: There's no question the strength of the Panthers' newcomers in 2023 is going to be its transfer portal haul, where the quarterback duo of Phil Jurkovec (Boston College) and Christian Veilleux should spark excitement for coach Pat Narduzzi's program.
But the recruiting efforts otherwise are pretty "meh."
Coming off a 9-4 season, the Panthers signed just one 4-star player in Bass, who is a potential star second-level defender. Neal out of prestigious St. Frances Academy in Baltimore could carry on the tradition of great Pitt DLs. This class isn't terrible, but it's not great, either.
21. UCLA Bruins
Key signees/commits: 5-star QB Dante Moore, 4-star WR Jeremiah McClure, 4-star WR Grant Gray
Analysis: Suddenly, Chip Kelly is recruiting at a sustainable level in Westwood, and despite a disappointing, season-ending 37-35 loss to Pittsburgh in the Sun Bowl, the future looks teal.
The group of newcomers will look great because of a transfer haul, but high school recruiting is still just so-so. But the Bruins did pull off the steal of the early cycle when 5-star Moore flipped from Oregon.
Life after Dorian Thompson-Robinson doesn't look so bad, especially when you consider Kent State's Collin Schlee transferred to UCLA, too.
McClure and Gray give Kelly two pass-catching weapons, and there are quality prospects in the 3-star ranks, too. But Moore is special; it's going to be fun watching him develop. He boosts this class on his own.
Nos. 20-16: Mississippi State, Troy, Notre Dame, Oregon State, LSU
20. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Key signees/commits: 4-star S Isaac Smith, 4-star QB Chris Parson, 3-star OT Leon Bell
Analysis: There's a lot to love about a recruiting class that largely stuck together, even in the wake of the tragic death of the coach who recruited most of them, Mike Leach.
Parson was a big piece of the puzzle and glue guy who kept the class together, and he will have a chance to play after Will Rogers leaves. Bell is a JUCO OT who could start right away, and stellar weapons like WR Creed Whittemore and FS Isaac Smith are also high-impact guys.
This is a class Bulldogs fans should be proud of for a number of reasons, even if they aren't the highest-ranked group.
19. Troy Trojans
Key signees/commits: 3-star CB Jack Tchienchou, 3-star LB Chris Rodgers, 3-star DL Malaki Pegues
Analysis: A remarkable turnaround season for Jon Sumrall's group came to an exciting conclusion when the Trojans upended UTSA 18-12 to win the Cure Bowl to finish the year with a 12-2 record.
Unfortunately that hasn't translated on the recruiting trail at all.
This group of players isn't even in the top 100 and is in the bottom third of the Sun Belt Conference, which is puzzling. But Troy traditionally doesn't recruit well, so maybe the details are in the development. Tchienchou is the only prospect in the top 1,000 recruits in the composite rankings.
18. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Key signees/commits: 4-star LB Drayk Bowen, 4-star OT Charles Jagusah, 4-star RB Jeremiyah Love
Analysis: You can't mention the Fighting Irish's 2023 recruiting class without thinking about what might've been with decommitments like Keon Keeley (Alabama) and Peyton Bowen (Oklahoma). But Marcus Freeman sure can recruit, and he continues to prove it.
Notre Dame finished with 12 of the top 247 recruits in the nation, and instant-impact guys like Drayk Bowen and CB Christian Gray already are on campus. Jagusah has the look of a future first-round draft pick offensive lineman, and Love is an explosive, every-down back.
It was an up-and-down season for the Irish, but there is plenty of buzz around next year, especially with transfer QB Sam Hartman coming over from Wake Forest. The playoffs are back in the picture.
17. Oregon State Beavers
Key signees/commits: 4-star QB Aidan Chiles, 4-star DL Kelze Howard, 3-star WR Montrel Hatten
Analysis: Comparatively speaking, this is an "A" class by Beavers standards. Coach Jonathan Smith's program is on pace for its highest-ranked class since 2018, and they continue to be the least talked-about good team in the country.
After dominating Florida in the Las Vegas Bowl, Oregon State finished the year 10-3, and kids are taking notice and heading to Corvallis.
Chiles is a terrific-looking prospect, and even though he's raw from the COVID-19 pandemic robbing him of valuable high school reps, he can play. Howard is a powerhouse DL who has a bright future, and Hatten should play right away.
Everybody is talking about Clemson transfer QB DJ Uiagalelei coming in to battle Ben Gulbranson, but Smith is building his alma mater for the long haul.
16. LSU Tigers
Key signees/commits: 5-star OT Zalance Heard, 5-star Edge Dashawn Womack, 4-star WR Shelton Sampson Jr.
Analysis: All that talk about it taking a while for Brian Kelly to build a program and to recruit to Baton Rouge was just offseason nonsense. He already has everything trending in the right direction at his new stomping grounds.
Following a 63-7 thumping of hapless Purdue in the Citrus Bowl, the Tigers finished 10-4 and shocked everybody by going to the SEC Championship Game. Recruiting is booming, too.
Not only is Heard one of the highest-ceiling linemen in the class, Womack should step in and take BJ Ojulari's vacated snaps coming after the quarterback. Sampson and Jalen Brown are an elite combo at receiver, and the running back duo of Kaleb Jackson and Trey Holly is strong, too.
Kelly signed 15 of the top 250 players in the nation. This class is deep and talented.
Nos. 15-11: Oregon, Kansas State, Clemson, USC, Florida State
15. Oregon Ducks
Key signees/commits: 5-star WR Jurrion Dickey, 4-star Edge Matayo Uiagalelei, 4-star QB Austin Novosad
Analysis: Few are doing it better at such a young age in recruiting than Oregon second-year coach Dan Lanning, but there has been a lot of volatility and movement in the Ducks' class this year.
Guys like Dante Moore (UCLA) and Peyton Bowen (Oklahoma) were once committed but signed elsewhere, but the Ducks still are doing just fine. And they are supplementing nicely in the portal, too.
When Moore became a Bruin, Novosad flipped from Baylor quickly. Uiagalelei (the younger brother of DJ) was a 5-star until recent rankings, and Dickey is an electrifying athlete who'd be the nation's top receiver if not for Zachariah Branch. Twelve commits from the top 250 is a strong haul.
14. Kansas State Wildcats
Key signees/commits: 4-star QB Avery Johnson, 4-star ATH Asa Newsom, 4-star Edge Jordan Allen
Analysis: You have to go all the way back to 2007-08 to find a recruiting class ranked as high as the Wildcats are expected to be this season. At press time, coach Chris Klieman's team was ranked No. 36, which is stout for the program.
That's what happens when you win the Big 12 and play Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Though that game didn't turn out the way they'd hoped, it's still a bumper crop in recruiting.
Johnson is the star of the show, a major coup from Maize, Kansas, who looks like he'll fill Will Howard's shoes when he leaves. He's going to have players around him, but the other big wins for Klieman were on the defensive side of the ball.
Newsom is an outside linebacker/safety who will make plays all over the field, and Allen could find his way on the field early.
13. Clemson Tigers
Key signees/commits: 5-star DL Peter Woods, 4-star DL Tomarrion Parker, 4-star QB Christopher Vizzina
Analysis: There isn't a ton flashy about this recruiting class, but coach Dabo Swinney put together another very (quietly) strong group.
Everybody with the Tigers are excited about Swinney hiring away TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley to hopefully change the tune of things on offense, and Vizzina could be a beneficiary of that down the road after Cade Klubnik leaves.
The biggest wins on the trail in this class, though, are on the defensive line where 5-star Woods, 4-star Parker and 4-star Vic Burley look like the next great ones in a long line of Tigers stars on the front. This class is loaded with Alabama and Georgia prospects, and it looks very solid throughout.
Only eight Top 247 prospects dips the grade a tiny bit, though.
12. USC Trojans
Key signees/commits: 5-star WR Zachariah Branch, 5-star QB Malachi Nelson, 4-star WR Makai Lemon
Analysis: Stop me if you've heard this before, but Lincoln Riley can recruit offensive superstars.
Nelson has as much upside as any signal-caller in the class, Branch is the most explosive playmaker in the entire group of '23 players, and Lemon has a lot of potential, too. But the Trojans have to improve dramatically on defense, and this group provides that, too.
Edge Braylan Shelby, LB Tackett Curtis and CB Maliki Crawford are all great-looking prospects who can help right away, and they all look like cornerstones who can help make that side of the ball better quickly.
Throw in the great work Riley always does in the transfer portal, and USC is going to be loaded again next year. Maybe '23 won't end in shambles like this year did.
11. Florida State Seminoles
Key signees/commits: 5-star WR Hykeem Williams, 4-star OT Lucas Simmons, 4-star LB Blake Nichelson
Analysis: You want a dark horse for the 2023 College Football Playoff? Look no further than Tallahassee, where coach Mike Norvell has spent his second straight year loading up on elite difference-makers in the transfer portal, which is obviously where his focus is.
This year, he supplemented it with a solid recruiting class, too.
Williams is a stud who can do it all and will earn starting reps at receiver right away. Simmons is one of the best tackle prospects in the country and doesn't get enough hype. There are defensive stalwarts up and down the class, too.
Following a 10-3 season that saw the 'Noles wind up one of the nation's hottest teams and end the year with a 35-32 win over Oklahoma in the Cheez-It Bowl, there is a lot of hype. This class could be a part of big things.
10. Utah Utes
Key signees/commits: 4-star OT Spencer Fano, 4-star OT Caleb Lomu, 4-star WR Mikey Matthews
When it comes to Kyle Whittingham getting the most out of the guys he recruits to Utah, you never have to worry about it. The veteran identifies the guys he wants, and by the end of their careers, they're getting used to winning Pac-12 championships.
Now, if the Utes could only break through in the Rose Bowl, where they've lost the past two.
Utah has put together another stellar class this season, likely its best on paper in years. The power is Fano and Lomu along the offensive front, and both of those guys have major pro potential.
Matthews is the type of playmaking receiver the Utes aren't used to getting, and there are other quality players like edge-rusher Hunter Clegg, a great cornerback duo in CJ Blocker and Smith Snowden, and running back John Randle Jr.
"Nothing helps recruiting more than success," Whittingham told KSLSports' Michelle Bodkin back in December. "Back-to-back Pac-12 Championships and the back-to-back Rose Bowls—all of that stuff matters."
This is a really good class.
9. Tulane Green Wave
Key signees/commits: 3-star OT Darion Reed, 3-star Edge Matthew Fobbs-White, 3-star S Jai Eugene Jr.
Nobody will ever be able to take away Tulane's magical run through the 2022 football season that culminated with an improbable 46-45 come-from-behind win over USC in the Cotton Bowl.
With Tyjae Spears tearing through defenders and Willie Fritz coaching his way into becoming a household name, the Green Wave won the American Athletic Conference then shocked the world against the Trojans.
In no way, shape or form has Fritz ever enjoyed recruiting success while coaching at Tulane or in a previous stop at Georgia Southern. But he obviously knows what he's looking for and pulls everybody together to just win games. Don't doubt he'll do it again.
On paper, this is a "meh" class for the Green Wave, even if Eugene may be a household name because his father is a former top recruit and LSU player. But you'd better believe a guy like one of the running back duo of Arnold Barnes and Trey Cornist is going to be a great player.
Fritz knows how to identify talent. But the expectations were higher for this class.
8. Washington Huskies
Key signees/commits: 4-star CB Caleb Presley, 4-star CB Curley Reed, 4-star WR Vincent Holmes
It's been a long, winding road for the Washington Huskies who, not too long ago, were the top team in the Pac-12 before Chris Petersen left and the Jimmy Lake experience ended with a thud.
Kalen DeBoer came to town, though, and changed things in a hurry. In his first year after leaving Fresno State, DeBoer reunited with former Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who he tutored as the Hoosiers offensive coordinator, and they teamed to go 11-2.
A 27-20 Alamo Bowl win over Texas kept the momentum going, and Penix is coming back to school, too.
Nobody is going to mistake the Huskies for a recruiting juggernaut, but they are probably going to wind up with a top-30 class that features a quality defensive back duo of Presley and Reed.
Vincent Holmes and Rashid Williams are a pair of good-looking receiver prospects, and while everything seemed set up for Lincoln Kienholz to be flinging them darts the next few years, the quarterback flipped to Ohio State. Still, even without him, this is a good class.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions
Key signees/commits: 4-star OT J'ven Williams, 4-star IOL Alex Birchmeier, 4-star LB Tony Rojas
Not many teams can sustain elite recruiting year-in and year-out. Programs like Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State and Texas are a few that are doing a good job of it.
But you need to start paying attention to the classes James Franklin is stacking in Happy Valley.
After the '22 cycle that had fantastic player after player, the Nittany Lions have followed it up with another really strong class. It isn't as highly rated as last year's, but there are several multiyear starters in this group.
Williams is a special talent at tackle, and Birchmeier is one of the top interior line prospects in the nation. Rojas and safety King Mack are big-time defenders, and the tight end trio of Joey Schlaffer, Andrew Rappleyea and Mathias Barnwell have plenty of potential.
Edge Ta'Mere Robinson is a really good developmental player, too. This is one of the most underrated classes out there.
6. Tennessee Volunteers
Key signees/commits: 5-star QB Nico Iamaleava, 4-star DL Daevin Hobbs, 4-star LB Arion Carter
The Tennessee Vols locked up coach Josh Heupel with a contract that will pay him $9 million a year following an 11-2 campaign capped with an Orange Bowl win.
Rocky Top is back, and the program is recruiting at a high level again, too.
Iamaleava is a program-changing quarterback who will battle Joe Milton III for the starting position right away. He may be the best player in the entire class and leads a loaded group of signal-callers.
Nathan Leacock had a monster senior season to surge up the rankings, but Heupel identified him early, and getting guys like him and Swiss army knife Cameron Seldon will keep the offense rolling.
The big thing for the Vols, though, is they really recruited well on defense, beating rival Alabama for stars like Hobbs and Carter, who could start right away. Edge-rushers Caleb Herring and Chandavian Bradley have high ceilings, and a strong defensive back group led by Jordan Matthews and Rickey Gibson III looks good, too.
This is the type of class that will keep the program moving in the right direction.
5. Alabama Crimson Tide
Key signees/commits: 5-star S Caleb Downs, 5-star OT Kadyn Proctor, 5-star Edge Keon Keeley
As if Alabama's recruiting class wasn't already simply incredible, the close the Crimson Tide had to the early signing period was flat-out stupid.
The Montgomery (Alabama) duo of James Smith and Qua Russaw signed with the Tide, then Alabama continuing to recruit longtime Iowa OT commit Proctor paid off when he flipped. Desmond Ricks, another 5-star, committed, too.
That haul gave Nick Saban a ridiculous seven 5-star players. If you think it's just top-heavy, well, the Tide also have 14 of the top 100 players (and the top two JUCOs). This may be one of the two best classes the legendary coach has ever signed, which is saying something for a program at the top of the rankings every year.
RBs Justice Haynes and Richard Young, edge-rusher Yhonzae Pierre, and the QB duo of Eli Holstein and Dylan Lonergan add depth, talent and options.
In today's transfer portal world, of course they won't wind up all staying in Tuscaloosa. But Saban is going to have the deepest, most talented prospects from which to choose.
This group is special.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes
Key signees/commits: 5-star WR Brandon Inniss, 4-star WR Carnell Tate, 4-star CB Jermaine Mathews
Ohio State was oh-so-close to taking down the eventual national champion Georgia Bulldogs in the national semifinals, even though they took the back door into the final four.
Making it back is going to be extremely tough with CJ Stroud off to the NFL, but playmakers abound for the Buckeyes on offense, and with Jim Knowles leading the defense, that side of the ball took a huge step forward in '22.
This recruiting class will help on that side of the ball with Mathews and Calvin Simpson-Hunt having lockdown potential. Ohio State recruited stellar defenders on all levels, which means the talent just keeps flowing into Columbus.
Flipping QB Lincoln Kienholz from Washington was a big deal for the future even if it won't mean anything much for next season because he's an athletic developmental signal-caller with a high upside.
Then, of course, the strength of the class is in the WR trio of Innis, Tate and Noah Rogers, which is the best group on paper in the country. There's depth and talent here for coach Ryan Day.
3. Michigan Wolverines
Key signees/commits: 4-star RB Cole Cabana, 4-star CB Jyaire Hill, 4-star DL Enow Etta
You may think this is a harsh grade, especially considering the Michigan Wolverines rallied to wind up in the top 20, and their grade is not really in line with those around them.
But so much is expected of coach Jim Harbaugh's program, they should be held at a higher standard than some of the teams with higher grades ranked lower than them. Harbaugh has never had issues recruiting before, which makes this even more puzzling.
Back-to-back trips to the College Football Playoff should produce top-five classes in Ann Arbor, not a No. 18 class that features just 10 4-stars and four top-200 players.
Thankfully for Harbaugh, the Wolverines have done good work in the transfer portal so far, and they still have a massive iron in the fire, heavy in the race for 5-star athlete Nyckoles Harbor. If they land him, they can salvage a "B" class.
Cabana is a strong prospect. Hill and Etta have big futures, too, but there's not much elite ability beyond those guys.
2. TCU Horned Frogs
Key signees/commits: 4-star WR Cordale Russell, 4-star DL Markis Deal, 4-star DL Avion Carter
TCU finished ranked higher than anybody besides Georgia despite taking a monumental beatdown in the title game. Even while the Horned Frogs are ranked a few spots behind Michigan in recruiting, they have a better letter grade.
Why? Again, Michigan is a program that is established. Coach Sonny Dykes' program is just blossoming, and this is the beginning of big things in Fort Worth. This may not be a great recruiting class yet, but the Frogs are bringing in better players than they were under Gary Patterson.
Give it time.
Plus, they are deep in the Jaden Rashada sweepstakes, which would make this an even better class. Even without him, it would be pretty good. But getting a quarterback with Max Duggan gone is essential for an offense-heavy team that just hired Kendal Briles.
The DL duo of Deal and Carter is a foundational block, and Russell looks like a future star in this offense. There's a lot to like about the players coming in. The Frogs have done very well in the transfer portal, too, but getting that field general is the big missing piece.
1. Georgia Bulldogs
Key signees/commits: 5-star Edge Damon Wilson, 5-star LB Raylen Wilson, 5-star OT Monroe Freeling
Georgia was the beneficiary of some red-and-black-tinged re-ranking of prospects in the late recruiting cycle, going from just one 5-star player to five once all the services finished their process.
When you're the two-time defending national champion, you're going to get the benefit of the doubt. Kirby Smart has earned that right, and this is a very good class. If the Dawgs want you the past few years, you're obviously a pretty strong prospect.
This was a great class before the re-ranking, but now the numbers back it up even more.
Damon Wilson is a dominant force who looks like the next great pass-rusher in Athens. Raylen Wilson is a fearsome, sideline-to-sideline 'backer who is worthy of his five stars. The DB duo of Joenel Aguero and AJ Harris are potential stars, too.
Throw in late-rising Monroe Freeling, who surged to 5-star status, and the Dawgs look very strong at the top.
UGA has 12 top-100 players, and guys like edge Samuel M'Pemba and LB CJ Allen have big upsides, too. This is a deep, strong class. It isn't as good as Alabama's, but it's the clear second-ranked class in the nation.
All stats courtesy of cfbstats and Sports Reference. Player rankings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.