Early Predictions for Biggest Winners and Losers in 2020 CFB Recruiting Classes

Ian Wharton@NFLFilmStudyFeatured Columnist IVFebruary 13, 2019

Early Predictions for Biggest Winners and Losers in 2020 CFB Recruiting Classes

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    Mike Stewart/Associated Press

    The 2019 recruiting cycle closed with one final round of fireworks on February 5's national signing day, but it's time to focus on the future as we await the start of spring games. The 2020 collection of prospects are next in line to enter the spotlight, and top programs are continuing the never-ending recruiting grind to land the country's most talented players.

    A lot can shift before 2020's signing day. Some prospects will lean one way and then flip their commitment in life-changing decisions. But some programs are on their way to dominating next year's recruiting cycle, while others are dropping the early battles.

    Using 247Sports' composite rankings and expert crystal ball prognostications, we've predicted five winners and four losers for the 2020 class.

Winner: Miami Hurricanes

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    Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press

    The Miami Hurricanes had a down 2019 class, finishing just 28th as they failed to land a 5-star recruit for the sixth time since 2011. Now with Manny Diaz at the helm, there's a renewed excitement around the program. And the early returns on the recruiting trail are proving it.

    With the second-most hard commitments at nine, Miami's assembling a deep class filled with speedy playmakers. The Hurricanes rank third in overall points despite not having a 5-star, thanks to a few fringe prospects. If Diaz can continue to stack talent, the Hurricanes will land a top-10 class in 2020.

    Some individuals are especially notable. Four-star running back Don Chaney Jr. has a terrific skill set that includes high-end speed and explosiveness, and he could headline their class if he's promoted to a 5-star. Of the other eight commitments, three are 4-star targets (wide receivers Bryan Robinson and Marcus Fleming and 4-star tight end Dominic Mammarelli.

    Diaz is looking to overhaul this offense quickly, and this type of haul can accomplish just that.

Loser: Michigan Wolverines

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    Carlos Osorio/Associated Press

    Jim Harbaugh and the Michigan Wolverines had a terrific 2019 class, as they finished first in the Big Ten and No. 8 overall. Two 5-stars and several high-end 4-stars helped carry them past a small but great class for Ohio State and a similarly impressive haul by Penn State.

    Harbaugh already has ground to make up to catch up to those programs, though.

    Their six commitments make for a good start, but there's a lack of momentum with uncommitted top-200 recruits for the Wolverines. Kalel Mullings, a four-star linebacker, is the highest-rated prospect, at No. 102, to be predicted to select Michigan. This is a stark contrast to how many impactful recruits are linked to the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.

    The other top-200 recruit predicted to land with Harbaugh is 4-star safety Makari Paige. Mullings and Paige would be great signings if the Wolverines can close, but the team will need to pump in bigger fish to stay competitive with elite conference foes. Landing third in the conference without a headlining 5-star would be a harmful step back from 2019.

Winner: North Carolina Tar Heels

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    With only four 4-stars in his 2019 class, new North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Mack Brown surely knows things need to improve off the field before the on-field product can. The 67-year-old's had a hot start, already getting three 4-stars for 2020. Brown may surprise like the 64-year-old Herm Edwards did in his debut season with Arizona State last year despite age concerns.

    The Tar Heels haven't been inside the top-20 classes since 2011, and it's shown on the field. Outside an 11-3 season in 2015, the program has been stuck in mediocrity since Brown's last tenure there ended in 1997. They must improve their ability to sign talent and develop it once inside the program.

    The smooth-talking coach from Tennessee had recruiting success at Texas but struggled to develop that talent. We'll have to wait to see about the latter issue, but the former appears to be in an encouraging state. Four-star safety Cameron Roseman-Sinclair, linebacker Ethan West and receiver Ray Grier each have dynamic profiles that have them looking like early-career contributors.

Loser: Oregon Ducks

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    Timothy J. Gonzalez/Associated Press

    Mario Cristobal and the Oregon Ducks have reversed the downward recruiting cycle that former head coach Mark Helfrich set the program on after Chip Kelly's 2012 departure. Finishing seventh in 2019 and landing No. 2 overall player Kayvon Thibodeaux was a monumental moment for his staff. The country will have all eyes on the Nike factory to see if Oregon can repeat its performance in 2020.

    It doesn't appear to be as fruitful of a haul for 2020 yet. It goes beyond the Ducks' two commitments, 4-star athlete Avantae Williams and 3-star tight end Seth Figgins. Like with Michigan, there's just not much buzz within the top 250 for Oregon, but there's a ton for the competition.

    Just three players in 247Sports' top 250 are predicted to land with the Ducks. Meanwhile, USC, Stanford, Washington and even UCLA have significant interest from prospects. The Ducks can't afford to drop in the Pac-12 recruiting race.

    Securing commitments from 4-star linebacker Noah Sewell and 4-star receivers Elijhah Badger and LV Bunkley-Shelton would be a good start for Cristobal. He'll have to sway more away from other premier West Coast destinations to replicate the Ducks' 2019 returns.       

Winner: UCLA Bruins

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    There's no question that Chip Kelly's first year with UCLA was underwhelming. The innovative coach took half of the 2018 season to find something that worked on the field, and his recruiting strategy was too limiting to build a good return. The Bruins slid to 44th in national rankings in the most recent cycle.

    Kelly will have no chance against Pac-12 powerhouses if that continues. He offered only 76 scholarships for the 2019 class, which was second-to-last among Power Five programs, in front of Stanford. That's not acceptable.

    The good news is the program has implemented a new gimmick to roll out more scholarship offers. While it's unclear how it'll work exactly or what its effectiveness will be, some recruits will accept due to Kelly's prestige, the Bruins' allure or the chance for playing time. And UCLA needs to take in as much quality talent as it can.

    Two players predicted to select UCLA could make for a terrific class. Five-star receiver Johnny Wilson and 4-star running back Bijan Robinson can immediately play, as the attack lacks playmakers. Luring impact offensive stars will put Kelly on the rebuild fast track.       

Loser: Virginia Tech Hokies

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    Gerry Broome/Associated Press

    The ACC proved to be a deep conference again in 2018, and the recruiting cycle that followed led to solid classes for middle-tier programs behind Clemson. Virginia Tech, which maintained its standard with a top-30 haul, will be a program to watch for 2020. The Hokies could either catapult ahead of teams tightly packed as next-tier contenders within the conference or fall behind.

    Justin Fuente's 2020 class has only three 3-stars committed. But what'll be key is if he lands land the higher-caliber prospects available in the region. They're battling North Carolina, NC State, Miami, Florida State, and Duke in the conference race to challenge Clemson.

    We've hit on the Tar Heels, Tigers and Hurricanes already, and both NC State and Florida State are well-positioned to have great classes based on early predictions. The Hokies, though, must win tightly contested battles to reach their potential.

    Four-star cornerback Miles Brooks and 4-star defensive end Tyler Baron are 50-50 between the Hokies and other programs. If Fuente can grab that duo and 4-star receiver KeAndre Lambert, they'll quickly turn into big winners from this recruiting season. We'll see if they can hold off their powerhouse competition.

Winner: Stanford Cardinal

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    It's probably safe to say the Stanford Cardinal won't maintain their No. 1 Pac-12 ranking as more decisions are announced, but David Shaw still has his program in a great position to finish strong. Having 5-star offensive tackle Myles Hinton from Georgia and 4-star receiver Bryce Farrell is a tremendous kickoff to the recruiting season. 

    More offensive firepower could be on the way, too. No. 2 pro-style quarterback Jay Butterfield is a 6'6", 180-pounder who is projected to land with the Cardinal, as are 4-star receivers John Humphreys and Matt Sykes

    Humphreys and Sykes would bring elite size to the Cardinal offense with their 6'5" and 6'3" frames, respectively. As top-200 prospects, they'll be expected to contribute within their first few years. Butterfield may take longer, depending on 2017 No. 1 quarterback recruit and 5-star Davis Mills' status.   

    Shaw could be in the midst of building a College Football Playoff contender if he can secure these elite prospects.

Loser: Ole Miss Rebels

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    Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

    The Ole Miss Rebels did a great job of adding 31 commitments in the 2019 class as their scholarship allotment returned to the normal 85. Head coach Matt Luke added dearly needed depth throughout the roster. Now it's time for this program to rise within the SEC since the restrictions are gone.

    The early 2020 returns lack promise, though. Since they have only one hard recruit—3-star offensive tackle Eli Acker, who weighs 259 pounds—Luke and Co. will have to dominate battles against accomplished SEC coaches. On top of Nick Saban's, Ed Orgeron's and Kirby Smart's prowess, it also doesn't help that Texas A&M and Texas have each re-emerged as elite recruiters and are owning in-state prospects.

    The lone top-100 recruit predicted to land with the Rebels is 4-star offensive tackle Marcus Henderson. Four-star defensive tackle Josaih Hayes and 4-star athlete Jeremiah Pegues are the only others within the top 250 with Ole Miss at the top of their lists.

    That won't cut it. The Rebels will have to put in impressive work to overcome the aforementioned teams as well as Tennessee and Mississippi State.

Winner: Clemson Tigers

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    Including the defending national champions as a winner should seem obvious, but Dabo Swinney and his staff had a 2019 class filled with more depth than stars. Now that it's a blue-blood program, Clemson had a disappointing haul compared to its competition. But the Tigers' 2020 class more accurately reflects the type of star power they should draw.

    Already with eight 4-stars committed, the Tigers are looking to continue on their success under Swinney. They won't be done anytime soon, as they're competing for No. 1 overall recruit Bryan Bresee, No. 1 pro-style quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, No. 21 and 22 defenders Antoine Sampah and Jordan Burch, and No. 49 overall recruit Demonte Capehart (who has verbally committed).

    Even if Swinney can't land them all, the Tigers will resupply with more high-end talent. The pathway to playing time is also clearing up as the NFL awaits Clemson's premier playmakers and contributors. The promise of playing time for a title favorite can quickly sway the decision of competitive prospects.