One Nightmare Scenario for Every Top 25 CFB Recruiting Class
College football recruiting has become a multiyear ordeal, so putting together a quick start on the trail is critical. But that's just one part of an elaborate process.
Although coaches of the nation's top 25 classes are already feeling optimistic about 2018, it's hard to sustain this pace. If a program is unable to maintain the current group—whether due to decommitments, a lack of verbal pledges or a combination or both—concerns will arise as national signing day in February remains well in the distance.
And for some schools, that restlessness may develop into a nightmare. We're identifying and delving into one of several—perhaps unlikely yet not unrealistic—problematic scenarios. They might be similar for a few teams too.
The rankings are entirely based on Scout's Top 25 as of June 19. As a result, notable teams such as Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida and USC are absent even though the programs will almost certainly climb the rankings before signing day.
25. Michigan State
Nightmare scenario: Star power never comes
Head coach Mark Dantonio relied on development to establish Michigan State as a dangerous opponent. But to become a perennial championship contender, the Spartans need the next tier of talent.
And right now, they're lacking that.
Pickerington Central teammates cornerback Xavier Henderson and tight end Trenton Gillison are a pair of top-300 recruits, while quarterback Theo Day and safety Michael Dowell are both 4-star prospects. While that's a solid foundation for a class, it's probably not a program-elevating group.
MSU can build a quality class on 3- and 4-stars as usual, but snagging a couple of high 4-stars is essential to raise the team's ceiling in future seasons.
24. North Carolina
Nightmare scenario: Committed in-state talent bolts
Dominating the state isn't a realistic goal for head coach Larry Fedora, but he and the coaching staff cannot afford to let premier local talent escape without signing a couple of top prospects.
Fedora and Co. must take advantage of the unusually large 2018 group, and they're on the right track. The Tar Heels have already received verbal pledges from 4-stars outside linebacker Payton Wilson, wide receiver Dyami Brown and off guard Avery Jones.
Wilson, Brown and Jones are three of UNC's four highest-rated talents so far. Not only would losing them be a major blow to the class, but Fedora would lose a terrific chance to build his recruiting reputation within the state.
Nightmare scenario: More losing turns off recruits
However, there is plenty of skepticism about Jason and the No. 23 haul since Kansas has been, well, really bad lately. The 2015 team lost all 12 games, and the 2016 squad mustered a 2-10 mark—which includes a win over Rhode Island.
Beaty has assembled a commendable 13-man group at this point, but the excitement about becoming "the class that changes Kansas football" might wear off if the Jayhawks go 2-10 again.
Nightmare scenario: Strike out at WR
Wisconsin needs receivers. In case there was any question, 247Sports' list of 42 offers at the position provides an emphatic answer.
Although the Badgers thrive on attracting in-state talent, none of those 42 prospects are located in Wisconsin. That poses a major challenge for head coach Paul Chryst, especially because Jazz Peavy—the offense's only returning wideout with significant experience—is a senior.
Late-rising prospects and new offers will bring new targets, but settling for a couple of decent depth pieces won't improve Wisconsin's offense dramatically in 2018 and beyond.
Nightmare scenario: End cycle without DT reinforcements
Over the next two seasons, the Wildcats will lose Tyler Lancaster and then both Jordan Thompson and Fred Wyatt. Depth is a potential issue in the middle of the trenches.
The current class headliner is Devin O'Rourke, but the 4-star is a defensive end. No tackle is committed.
Yes, Northwestern has two years before Lancaster, Thompson and Wyatt are gone, but playing on the line as a freshman is a huge challenge. The Wildcats must build depth at the position now and give the signees a year to adjust before making them backups.
Otherwise, 2019 could be a rough year for the middle of the defensive front.
Nightmare scenario: Volume outweighs quality
If you're thinking, "Wait, that's the nightmare scenario?" that's a reasonable reaction. But the simple truth is head coach P.J. Fleck will lift Minnesota's recruiting to a level unmatched recently.
As he rebuilds the roster, though, Fleck shouldn't waste scholarships and roster spots merely because he can. Right now, all 17 commits are rated 3-star or lower by Scout, and just one is among the top 500 in the 247Sports' composite rankings.
Granted, everything is relative. For the Gophers, the lack of national standout recruits is nothing new. Fleck is legitimately on track to sign the best recruiting class in program history, so quality is outweighing volume right now.
Unless Fleck leaves Minnesota after 2017, a true nightmare scenario is unrealistic. Just don't expect the Gophers to stick in the Top 25 come signing day.
Nightmare scenario: Stoops fired, prized commits follow
Kentucky is slowly but steadily moving in the right direction. That's not keeping head coach Mark Stoops from the hot seat, though.
Early on, the 2018 cycle looks like the program's best recruiting effort since 2014 in terms of highly rated prospects. Four 4-stars, OG Marquan McCall, off tackle Darian Kinnard, OLB DeAndre Square and QB Jarren Williams, are already committed.
What happens if the Wildcats stumble, miss the postseason and the powers-that-be elect to fire Stoops? Holding on to this encouraging class would immediately become a struggle.
Nightmare scenario: USC dominates on the field and trail
It's not exactly polar opposite situations, but the cross-town rivals are entering 2017 with distinctly different outlooks.
USC, after surging with Sam Darnold under center, is viewed as a national championship contender. Meanwhile, UCLA needs to bounce back from a 4-8 campaign. Josh Rosen's return from injury should help, but the Bruins are no sure thing.
Barring a complete implosion this season, head coach Jim Mora's job is probably safe. But if the Trojans run circles around UCLA on and off the field, the tension will increase to unsafe levels.
Another cycle with a few blue-chip recruits is a must for the Bruins.
Nightmare scenario: Tom Herman takes over Texas
There is too much talent inside the Lone Star State for Matt Rhule and Baylor to not sign a handful of ranked prospects, but Tom Herman and Texas could limit the options.
Rhule knowingly took over at a disaster of a situation at Baylor, so his No. 1 objective is undoubtedly to change the program's reputation. Considering the problems, that isn't a one-year process, and you can't really blame a major talent for straying.
While the Bears attempt to rebuild, they'll be tasked with keeping Herman within reach. Rhule has 15 commits, but ATH Josh Fleeks is the only Top 300 recruit so far.
Nightmare scenario: Fall short on major DL need
There will be plenty of transition over the next two seasons on Oklahoma's D-line. Matt Romar and D.J. Ward will leave after 2017, followed by Du'Vonta Lampkin and Que Overton in 2018.
Being prepared with depth is important, but a team with championship expectations must have a high-impact player, too. The Sooners might not have that guy committed yet, depending on one's opinion of 4-star Ron Tatum III.
Transitioning from Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley as head coach shouldn't be an issue for Oklahoma. Two straight years of an underwhelming group of defensive linemen might be, though.
Nightmare scenario: Shortage of top-choice defenders
Since the group of seniors is relatively small this season, Washington must be selective about its recruiting class.
After winning the Pac-12 and reaching the College Football Playoff in 2016, Chris Petersen and his staff shouldn't have much trouble on the trail. But it's also unwise to count players before they commit, and the Dawgs currently have just two defenders pledged in 3-star DE Draco Bynum and LB Jack Sirmon.
Many of Washington's coveted targets are uncommitted, so the concern level isn't high. Yet a couple more months without a high-profile defensive player might create some anxiety.
14. Oklahoma State
Nightmare scenario: No recruiting bump despite success
Oklahoma State fans are rightfully optimistic about 2017. The Mason Rudolph-led offense should be outstanding and is the driving force of the team's Big 12 title potential.
But what if that excitement doesn't translate on the trail?
You might be thinking, "Well, that's not much different than recent seasons, and OSU is considered a contender this year. What gives, man?" That is true. Now just think of what head coach Mike Gundy could do with some top-tier talent.
Nightmare scenario: Settle for or not take a QB
According to Land of 10's Chris Heady, Nebraska offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf placed the importance of signing a quarterback as a nine on a 1-10 scale.
However, Langsdorf also said: "You don't want to just take a guy to take a guy." A late-rising prospect might need to emerge for the Cornhuskers to avoid doing that
It appears Langsdorf has a challenging stretch ahead in a year the coaching staff is particularly focused on signing a QB.
12. Florida State
Nightmare scenario: Fail to solidify QB position
Deondre Francois established himself as Florida State's starter last season, but he's a redshirt sophomore. Consequently, the NFL could come calling anytime after the 2017 campaign ends.
Perhaps the coaches are confident recent 4-star signee Bailey Hockman is the quarterback of the future. That would be great news, considering the chance Francois does depart this year. Yet it doesn't change a troubling lack of depth.
The Seminoles, who are heavily recruiting 5-star Justin Fields, must add a legitimate starting candidate in 2018.
Nightmare scenario: Class crumbles after coaching change
Even with a disappointing season, head coach Butch Jones might have another year at Tennessee because of the roster transition in 2017.
Or maybe not.
Contract details offer credence to the idea the fifth-year coach will remain in Knoxville for a while longer. However, the school may decide Jones is a fine leader who simply won't guide the Vols to a championship level and then absorb a not-insignificant financial hit.
The class, which currently has five 4-stars and four Top 300 prospects—including the nation's No. 21 overall player—might not stay together if Jones is forced out.
Nightmare scenario: Lose out on top-tier prospects
Michigan, like almost every other program in the Top 10 of the list, has a high recruiting floor. The team has continually improved under head coach Jim Harbaugh, and there's no reason to suggest that progress will slow despite a potential "down" year in 2017.
In other words, the biggest nightmare for the Wolverines isn't a "the sky is falling" scenario. But after reeling in two 5-stars and six top-100 players last cycle, their only similarly ranked prospect is CB Myles Sims, who is rated No. 89 nationally.
While there's plenty of time remaining to secure the targeted, high-profile options, Michigan is still working for the commitments.
Nightmare scenario: Prized commits bolt
Unlikely? Absolutely. Possible? Well, it's recruiting, so anything is.
The Tigers must be selective, so once-interested mid-tier prospects may focus elsewhere as available spots dwindle.
If Lawrence, Thomas or any blue-chipper eventually committed leaves, the replacement might be a flier instead of a Plan A guy.
8. Texas A&M
Nightmare scenario: Sumlin fired, OL/DL class falls apart
It seems there's a common theme for SEC programs, doesn't it? Like Kentucky and Tennessee, Texas A&M will have the dreaded "hot-seat coach" cloud lingering over the 2017 squad.
During Kevin Sumlin's four-year tenure, the Aggies have never finished outside of Scout's Top 25. And (yes, clearly) they're poised to continue that streak thanks to seven early 4-star pledges highlighted by defensive end Max Wright, the No. 43 overall prospect.
After loading up at skill positions in the 2017 cycle, the current haul provides much-needed bulk. Losing linemen after parting ways with Sumlin could set A&M back another year.
7. Notre Dame
Nightmare scenario: Recruits sour on Kelly after losing season
Even after a terrible 4-8 campaign, the annual preseason optimism for Notre Dame has returned. Expectations aren't being lowered for head coach Brian Kelly in 2017.
Say the Irish lose five or six games this season, though. Would the school really fire Kelly, who signed an extension in 2016? Remember, Notre Dame ended up paying an $18.97 million buyout on Charlie Weis, per Laken Litman of the Indy Star.
Perhaps that memory would deter the administration from handing Kelly a pink slip. The impact might instead be felt on the recruiting trail, where a group of eight 4-stars could start to wonder how long Kelly will remain in South Bend.
6. Penn State
Nightmare scenario: Top recruits flirt but don't sign
Given what has already occurred in the 2018 cycle, it's impressive for Penn State to remain at No. 5 nationally. The Nittany Lions are already experiencing their nightmare.
A pair of consensus 5-star prospects—QB Justin Fields and DE Micah Parsons—backed off their commitments. Scout considers Fields the No. 5 player nationally, while Parsons only trails Clemson pledge Trevor Lawrence for the No. 1 spot.
Fields and Parsons could return to the class, but they're likely headed elsewhere. Instead of enjoying a historic haul, the Nittany Lions may be content with the signings yet remember 2018 as "the year that could've been."
Nightmare scenario: Top prospects flip
Laying out an elaborate scenario could be done. However, the simple truth is Herman will excel as a recruiter in 2017, basically no matter what happens on the field. He's an exciting coach and a proven winner in a small sample.
The Longhorns currently boast nine Top 300 prospects—six of which are rated 122nd or higher—and are squarely in the picture for more than a dozen uncommitted players in that category. It'll take a problem that's unrealistic to project for Texas to fail this cycle.
Really, the worst thing that can happen is once-pledged talents choose a different school. As of now, only Ron Tatum has defected.
Nightmare scenario: Taggart flops in first season
Willie Taggart seems like an ideal fit as head coach, considering he's a master of offense and a respected recruiter. The combination should help Oregon return to national prominence soon.
While that is admittedly a lofty expectation, it's one the coaches are probably pitching right now anyway. Only a second straight losing season could derail the Ducks' momentum.
Dropping a few games won't be a problem because Taggart and Co. can frame the losses as "look what you can help change." But the plan would appear far more believable if Oregon finishes 8-4 instead of 5-7 or worse.
Nightmare scenario: Not adding enough offensive weapons
Only two teams, Miami (14) and Ohio State (11), have more 4-star commitments than the nine verbally pledged to LSU. The class already features eight Top 300 players, too.
Where's the scoring, though?
Defense hasn't been a problem for the Tigers lately. What's keeping them from dethroning Alabama is an offense that stumbles in a big way against the best competition.
Four-star WR Kenan Jones, 3-star WR Jaray Jenkins and 2-star TE Dantrieze Scott are the only skill-position commits in an 18-man class. Head coach Ed Orgeron and his staff must close strong with running backs, receivers and tight ends.
2. Ohio State
Nightmare scenario: Unable to replenish DE depth
Ohio State is going to destroy some backfields in 2017. Aided by Dre'Mont Jones in the middle, the four-headed monster of Nick Bosa, Jalyn Holmes, Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis has the potential to leave a lasting legacy on the program.
While that's exciting, the Buckeyes must brace for a mass departure. Holmes and Lewis are seniors, and Hubbard could declare early. Depending on how much playing time reserves can manage in 2017, Bosa might be the only experienced returning D-end.
Still, nothing is official until the fax machine says so.
Nightmare scenario: Flurry of DB decommitments
Head coach Mark Richt patched an immediate need in the secondary with grad transfer Dee Delaney and JUCO prospect Jhavonte Dean, but those are short-term answers. While the 2017 class brought a few solid players, the 2018 haul is loaded with DBs.
Now, the 'Canes must keep them while trying to add another top talent.
Since most of Miami's usable depth graduates in 2019, holding on to this impressive bunch is essential for the defense's future.
All recruiting information via Scout. Stats from cfbstats.com or B/R research. Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bleacher Report CFB Writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.