College Football Teams Having the Most Success on the 2020 Recruiting Trail

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2019

College Football Teams Having the Most Success on the 2020 Recruiting Trail

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    Elite California cornerback Elias Ricks already has given LSU coach Ed Orgeron a 2020 class centerpiece
    Elite California cornerback Elias Ricks already has given LSU coach Ed Orgeron a 2020 class centerpieceCredit: 247Sports

    Recruiting is the lifeblood of any college football program, and several have already gotten a head start on the 2020 class.

    It may be time for spring practice, but recruiting happens year-round. While some of the teams on this list are annual front-runners with coaches who've established themselves as the top lurers of talent in the nation, there are some surprising early entries as well.

    Most of these teams have surged to the top of the 247Sports composite recruiting rankings. Others are off to starts that are stunning compared to where they were a year ago or where they normally finish in recruiting rankings.

    Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney have their teams on the list (obviously), but then there's an old war horse like Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who's found the fountain of youth in convincing young players to come to his Hawkeyes.

    Of course, it's where you finish, not where you start. But a strong start is more important than it has ever been with the early signing period. Let's take a look at some of the college football teams off to a surging start in recruiting for the '20 haul.

Alabama Crimson Tide

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    5-star defensive end Chris Braswell
    5-star defensive end Chris BraswellCredit: 247Sports

    Ho-hum. Alabama won yet another mythical recruiting championship in the 2019 cycle, even if the Crimson Tide fell woefully short of the real championship in a 44-16 setback to Clemson.

    The way coach Nick Saban recruits, the Tide are going to be in the College Football Playoff every year, and they're expected to be right back at the top again in the '19 football season. The same goes for the 2020 recruiting class.

    Players simply want to be at UA. It's why 2019 prospect and Alabama signee DeMarcco Hellams told 247Sports' Chris Hummer kids continue to migrate to the Capstone.

    "The factory of producing great NFL players who have great NFL careers, the opportunity to be coached by the greatest coach in college football history and the opportunity to play in the toughest conference in the country," Hellams said.

    Maryland 5-star defensive end Chris Braswell gives the Tide an elite centerpiece to the start of their top-ranked '20 class. He's going to be yet another big-time defender from the Atlantic region who chose 'Bama, following in the footsteps of Antonio Alfano.

    Alabama is racking up instate already in the '20 class. The class of 12 players so far consists of 5-star Braswell and 10 4-star prospects, including six from the Yellowhammer State. 

    Alabama cornerback Malachi Moore and Georgia defensive back Javier Morton give UA a pair of stellar secondary guys, while offensive playmakers Javon Baker (receiver) and Roydell Williams (running back) round out the top.

    It's going to be another dominant group.

Clemson Tigers

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    4-star defensive tackle Demonte Capehart
    4-star defensive tackle Demonte CapehartCredit: 247Sports

    The national champions aren't going to have a talent drop-off anytime soon.

    Though they finished 10th in recruiting in the 2019 cycle (but first in the ACC and with a class Dabo Swinney is typical of signing), they boasted a school-record 17 midterm enrollees.

    Swinney is off to an even more impressive start this year. The Tigers have the third-ranked class so far, getting a recent boost with the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Mitchell Mayes.

    The biggest coup so far is massive, 6'4.5", 270-pound Demonte Capehart, who looks like he could add 30 to 40 pounds to his frame and be a defensive tackle in the mold of Christian Wilkins. Capehart will team with Washington, D.C., product Tre Williams for a sterling start to the D-line class.

    All nine of Clemson's early commitments are 4-star prospects, and the class meets major needs along the defensive and offensive fronts. Five of the nine commitments are offensive linemen, so this is going to be a valuable class, no matter where the rankings wind up.

    It just so happens Swinney is meeting needs and getting pledges from elite players at the same time.

    When you consider Clemson may be the front-runners for top-ranked quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei as well, this class could finish special and help keep the Tigers at the top.

Florida Gators

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    4-star receiver Leonard Manuel
    4-star receiver Leonard ManuelCredit: 247Sports

    Florida wasn't supposed to do much on the gridiron in 2018 in coach Dan Mullen's first season in Gainesville, but the Gators did.

    Though they had a couple of setbacks, they were ultimately Georgia's biggest rival in the SEC East standings, finishing 10-3 with a Peach Bowl win over Michigan to cap off a finish that included four consecutive wins.

    There's momentum in the Swamp, and Mullen is capitalizing with convincing players to come to Gainesville.

    The Gators currently have the nation's sixth-ranked class. The seven commitments consist of six 4-star prospects, and Florida is finally beginning to recruit the way they're capable of.

    Leonard Manuel, a 6'4", 200-pound elite pass-catcher from Ocala, Florida, is already a massive recruiting win over rival Georgia, and he headlines the group. Gervon Dexter is a 4-star defensive tackle who can help UF keep its defensive prowess, and Johnnie Brown is a good bet to line up beside him in the future.

    Rashad Torrence is a potentially elite safety Florida grabbed from Marietta, Georgia.

    Mullen is going to win at Florida, and when he starts getting his players in there, the program is only going to continue to improve. This is a big step toward doing that, and everybody in blue and orange should be thrilled to see what he's doing on the recruiting trail.

    The coaching acumen is not a concern, after all.

Florida State Seminoles

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    4-star safety Jadarius McKnight
    4-star safety Jadarius McKnightCredit: 247Sports

    Is this the year the trio of Florida schools have a recruiting renaissance? If so, college football in the Sunshine State may be fun again soon.

    One thing's for sure: There's a long way to go in Tallahassee where first-year coach Willie Taggart took Florida State to a 5-7 season and the first bowl-less season in 36 years. The offensive line is putrid, there are myriad quarterback issues and the defense wasn't that good, either.

    The Seminoles need reinforcements, and the 2020 class should provide them. They're currently ranked eighth in the 247Sports composite rankings with four 4-star recruits and a trio of 3-star prospects.

    The best player in the group is elite 6'0", 195-pound safety Jadarius McKnight of Fort Myers. Demorie Tate and Isaiah Dunson will be excellent cornerbacks to help with 2019 top-shelf incoming prospect Akeem Dent.

    If Taggart can grab a couple of signal-callers and five or six offensive linemen in this class, it's going to be a group that meets needs. FSU knows it needs help all over the field, but there is talent still left over by former coach Jimbo Fisher.

    There just isn't enough of it.

    This class is off to a terrific start, but Taggart has to do a better job of hanging onto them and turning them into difference-makers on the field.

Iowa Hawkeyes

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    4-star defensive tackle Logan Jones
    4-star defensive tackle Logan JonesCredit: 247Sports

    Back in the day when Kirk Ferentz first started at Iowa, he outfitted the Hawkeyes with quality recruits. It wasn't uncommon for them to have top-30 classes back in the early 2000s.

    Though they're playing a winning brand of football in Iowa City, it's not normally with a group of players the pundits fall in love with in February. The past eight years, Iowa's recruiting classes ranked 40th, 39th, 41st, 47th, 59th, 58th, 56th and 40th.

    Maybe this is the year they break through.

    So far, Ferentz is bringing in a quality group of players for 2020. Maybe getting a game-changer like A.J. Epenesa is paying dividends.

    The '20 class so far is headlined by 4-star defensive tackle Logan Jones of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Texas quarterback Deuce Hogan is another big-time player whose commitment was a bit of a shock this early in the process.

    Hogan had offers from Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma State, Syracuse and others but wants to be part of what Ferentz is building, and his pledge could bring the same type of hype as Wisconsin's Graham Mertz.

    "You feel good about Hogan coming in and pushing that quarterback room in year one," 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong wrote.

    Those are the only two 4-star recruits so far, but there also are six 3-star prospects in a class that is currently ranked 11th nationally. Though there are teams ranked higher, there's perhaps not a bigger surprise in the top 15 than the Hawkeyes, so that's why they're on the list.

LSU Tigers

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    4-star quarterback Max Johnson
    4-star quarterback Max JohnsonCredit: 247Sports

    It's hard to ignore what coach Ed Orgeron is doing, but LSU has never been that difficult to lure players to regardless. Plus, when SEC West teams like Alabama and Texas A&M are out-recruiting you in the rankings, you sometimes get overlooked.

    The past couple of classes have still been brilliant for the Bayou Bengals.

    In '19, potential immediate-impact stars like cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. and running back John Emery Jr. highlight an elite class. The '20 group is off to just as strong a start.

    The nation's second-ranked class trails only Alabama and surged ahead of Clemson with the Saturday pledge of Demon Clowney, the cousin of Jadeveon. That makes eight 4-star prospects already for the Tigers, who are surging.

    Perhaps the best committed player out of any nationally is 5-star cornerback Elias Ricks, who wanted to be a part of DBU and will follow in the footsteps of a ton of other greats. Greedy Williams will be the latest in a long line of former Tigers stars to head to the NFL in the upcoming draft, and Grant Delpit will follow in 2020.

    Kristian Fulton likely will follow, and it's just a matter of Stingley being three years removed from high school before he joins them.

    The Tigers are also off to a great start in recruiting, nabbing Georgia standout Max Johnson, the son of former NFL quarterback Brad Johnson. Louisiana quarterback TJ Finley is a 6'6", 233-pounder who will make things interesting in that future battle under center.

    Kayshon Boutte is a national top-40 receiver who will provide a target for the winner of the QB derby. There's a lot to love about this group.

Miami Hurricanes

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    4-star running back Don Chaney Jr.
    4-star running back Don Chaney Jr.Credit: 247Sports

    If you were following recruiting a season ago, you witnessed Miami's class going from one of the nation's top groups to completely falling apart.

    At one point in the late signing period, the group of Hurricanes decommitments would have been ranked higher than the committed class. When former coach Mark Richt decided to leave, it actually helped recruiting.

    The 'Canes hired former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to be the head coach, and he helped bring the swag back, rallying to put them at 28th in the final rankings. Still, it was a painful blow to watch difference-makers like Khris Bogle (Florida) and Tyrique Stevenson (Georgia) head from South Florida elsewhere.

    That can't happen again.

    Diaz hit the transfer market hard, grabbing quarterback Tate Martell, defensive end Jaelan Phillips and others. Now, the 2020 recruiting class is heading in the right direction too.

    The headliner is running back Don Chaney Jr., who looks like the kind of prospect who can play as a true freshman.

    Miami has eight 4-star players and a pair of 3-star prospects in the early class, and guys like receiver Bryan Robinson, defensive end Samuel Anaele and defensive tackle Willie Moise are the kind of long-term building blocks Diaz needs.

    The way he attacked the transfer market and went out and paid Alabama assistant Dan Enos to be the new offensive coordinator proves he wants to win now, and the future appears in good hands too.

Ohio State Buckeyes

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    5-star offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr.
    5-star offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr.Credit: 247Sports

    Recruiting was never an issue at Ohio State in the days of Urban Meyer, but not every coach can prove he has the connection with kids that the Hall of Fame Buckeyes coach cultivated.

    Early returns are positive for coach Ryan Day and his new staff, who are proving they can do a good job of convincing kids to head to Columbus. The Ohio State brand does a fine job of recruiting too.

    Getting Georgia transfer Justin Fields was one of the biggest early coups of any coach, though it won't show up in recruiting rankings. The '20 class is following suit.

    Though Georgia and Tennessee are coming on strong in trying to flip him, right now 5-star offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. from Cincinnati appears solid to the Buckeyes, though they'll have to fight to hang onto the nation's best O-lineman. He's a class centerpiece to a group ranked fifth nationally so far.

    The Buckeyes also have four 4-star prospects and a duo of 3-star prospects in their budding class. They also look like they could build on that with a lot of quality prospects on the board, led by the nation's top-ranked player, Bryan Bresee.

    Many of the nation's best have the Buckeyes on the tip of their tongues.

    Arizona pro-style quarterback Jack Miller is Day's handpicked new leader, and Luke Wypler will be snapping him the ball in the future as the nation's top-ranked center. Receiver Gee Scott Jr. and Jaxon Smith-Njigba are a pair of exciting pass-catchers, too.

    This has the potential to be a really strong Ohio State class, and Day's start is one that should draw approvals everywhere.


    All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are from the 247Sports composite.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.