10 College Football Programs That Are Screwed in Class of 2021 Recruiting Window
For many college football programs, national signing day (Feb. 3) will provide a satisfying culmination of much hard work and a promising glimpse of the future.
For others, that date on the calendar looms ominously, like a science fair for which they've long neglected to work on their project.
There's still a little bit of time for the latter set of teams to turn things around, but given how many players already signed their national letters of intent during the December window, there's only so much that can be done.
Whether the product of a coaching change, a backlog of scholarships during an unprecedented year or simply an inability to sign the caliber of players they used to get, these are the 10 teams that appear to be screwed in the recruiting cycle.
Programs are presented in alphabetical order. Class rankings accurate as of Monday.
Class Ranking: No. 75
Arizona has never been a popular destination for top recruits. The Wildcats have signed only one Top 100 player in 247Sports history, and Devin Ross made that unorthodox decision back in 2006.
But the Wildcats aren't typically this far down the rankings.
This is presumably going to be their fourth consecutive season outside the Top 50, but their worst previous ranking was No. 61 in 2018. Before this recent rough patch, they were typically in the mid-40s annually.
Recruiting was already a struggle under Kevin Sumlin, but this year's class is especially disappointing since Arizona has a new head coach in Jedd Fisch.
The Wildcats haven't signed anyone even close to a 4-star recruit. Players with an overall grade of 0.89 or better receive a 4-star grade, and Arizona's top commit (KC Ossai) is rated 0.8527—which puts him slightly outside the Top 1,000.
Some teams with worse classes than usual are willingly in that boat because key veterans are using the extra year of eligibility or they don't necessarily need the help, but that couldn't be further from the case with Arizona. Of the 127 teams that played in the fall, the Wildcats ranked 118th in scoring offense and 120th in scoring defense. They need help at basically every position. Maybe they'll get it next year.
Class Ranking: No. 48
Auburn paid a buyout of more than $20 million for Gus Malzahn to go away.
The greater cost might be what comes next.
The Tigers had a Top 12 recruiting class every season from 2010-20. During that 11-year window, they signed a dozen 5-star recruits, from Michael Dyer and Trovon Reed to Bo Nix and Owen Pappoe.
Even with all that recruiting pull, Auburn has had trouble keeping pace with Alabama and LSU, going 4-9 against each of those SEC West rivals since 2008.
But while Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M boast Top Seven 2021 recruiting classes, Auburn is 48th, edging Vanderbilt for 12th in the SEC.
It's a small class. Auburn has only 12 commits, while 11 other SEC teams already have at least 20. So the Tigers could climb the rankings just by virtue of filling it up.
However, 93 of the 247Sports Top 100 recruits have already signed their letters of intent, and Auburn isn't listed as a strong candidate for any of the seven players still available. And as things stand, the Tigers have signed just one Top 200 recruit.
This is uncharted territory. Auburn signed 10 Top 200 players last year and has inked at least two Top 100 recruits in 11 consecutive years.
The Tigers disappointed with a 6-5 record last season. We'll see in two or three years how much of a negative impact this recruiting class has on the program.
Oregon State Beavers
Class Ranking: No. 119
Oregon State's class is the worst among power five teams' by a wide margin.
There are silver linings, though.
First, that ranking is much more of a quantity issue than a quality issue.
The Beavers have gotten commitments from just nine players, while the other 11 Pac-12 teams have an average of 18.0. But two of the players Oregon State has signed—running back Damir Collins and linebacker Easton Mascarenas—rank in the Top 500. The last time they signed even one player rated that highly was 2017.
And that quantity issue is a product of Oregon State's not having many scholarships available.
The Beavers do have several substantial players who are departing: running back Jermar Jefferson, linebacker Hamilcar Rashed Jr. and defensive back Nahshon Wright, but they should have a ton of returning starters from a team that upset Oregon and played tough in just about every game in 2020.
Jonathan Smith also has been doing some "recruiting" via the transfer portal. The Beavers have already added South Carolina running back Deshaun Fenwick, Georgia wide receiver Makiya Tongue and Kansas defensive back Elijah Jones, and they likely are not finished trying to add veterans who can contribute. (Acquisitions via transfer do not count toward a team's recruiting ranking, though JUCO transfers do.)
Still, this ranking is an eyesore. Illinois had the worst Power Five ranking in 2020, and the Illini ended up at No. 88. If the Beavers finish outside the Top 90, they would be the first Power Five program to do so in at least a decade.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Class Ranking: No. 24
Penn State's situation is nowhere near as dire as most on this list, as the Nittany Lions are the only team with a Top 40 class.
But by James Franklin's standards, this is more than a little disappointing.
In each of the past four years, Penn State put together a Top 15 recruiting class. After back-to-back 11-win seasons in 2016 and 2017, it even had the No. 6 class in 2018, including 5-star recruits Micah Parsons, Justin Shorter and Ricky Slade.
However, Penn State has lost so many players—including Shorter and Slade—via the transfer portal over the past few years that it seems recruits are thinking twice about Happy Valley.
Even the in-state talent is skipping town. There are five Top 100 recruits from Pennsylvania in the 2021 class, but they chose Ohio State (two), Clemson, LSU and Wisconsin. The two who picked Ohio State weren't even close to the Buckeye State border, either. Both went to high school in Philadelphia.
Getting the in-state guys used to be Franklin's bread and butter. In 2015, Penn State signed six of the top seven recruits from Pennsylvania, most notably Saquon Barkley. (Shame Franklin didn't sign that Kyle Pitts fella from Warminster in 2018, though.)
With all those local prospects slipping through his fingers, Franklin was unable to put together a class even remotely on par with those of Ohio State or Michigan. Even Maryland and Wisconsin have better recruiting classes, which should be a rude awakening for the Nittany Lions. The last time they had a worse class than either of those teams was 2012, in the wake of Jerry Sandusky's being charged with multiple counts of child sexual abuse.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Class Ranking: No. 88
From 2011-20, South Carolina had a Top 25 recruiting class every single year. That included a Top 10 player in each of the two most recent classes—Zacch Pickens in 2019 and Jordan Burch in 2020.
Given that standard, this year is shaping up to be a disaster.
The Gamecocks signed three Top 100 recruits, six Top 300 recruits and 12 Top 600 recruits in 2020. It was their fourth consecutive year signing at least 12 of the top 600 high school players in a cycle.
They have no such players signed in their 2021 class.
Yes, they made an in-season coaching change and didn't hire Shane Beamer as their new head coach until nearly three weeks after they fired Will Muschamp. That sort of gap in leadership is always liable to have a negative impact on recruiting, particularly in the early signing period.
But it's staggering how far South Carolina is behind the rest of the SEC. Even Vanderbilt ranks in the Top 50, while the Gamecocks are clinging to a spot in the Top 90.
Making matters worse, Gunner Stockton—the No. 2 quarterback in the 2022 class—backed off his August commitment to South Carolina in mid-January, leaving the Gamecocks sputtering in this cycle and scrambling in the next one.
South Carolina was already a mess with a 6-16 record over the past two seasons. Things could get even worse with the way the talent pool is trending.
Texas State Bobcats
Class Ranking: Not Ranked
Four years ago, Texas State had the top-rated recruiting class in the Sun Belt Conference. There weren't any 4-star or 5-star recruits in the Bobcats' class because that has never happened, but they signed 10 3-star recruits and 26 players overall.
This year, though, we're still waiting to see if they'll sign a single high schooler.
In lieu of incoming freshmen, Texas State has evidently decided to go all in on transfers. Jake Spavital has signed 11 of them—nine from the FBS, one from the FCS and one JUCO player. Of those nine FBS pickups, six came from Power Five programs.
This is year No. 2 of this approach to building the roster. In the 2020 cycle, Texas State signed seven transfers from Power Five programs and 11 JUCO transfers. (The Bobcats did at least sign eight high schoolers in 2020, too.)
Maybe it'll work. Maybe it won't. But for a team that has at least nine losses in six consecutive seasons, you have to admire the willingness to try something new.
If nothing else, they're building a nice stockpile of talent they weren't able to sign out of high school. With Lane Kiffin no longer at Florida Atlantic, maybe Texas State could become the new destination for Last Chance U types.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane
Class Ranking: No. 124
Tulsa just had its best season in decades. The Golden Hurricane peaked at No. 18 in the Associated Press Top 25, which was their highest ranking since 1952.
Some good it did them on the recruiting trail, though.
Tulsa has by far the worst class in the American Athletic Conference.
As was the case with Oregon State, though, it's much more of a quantity problem than a quality problem.
Tulsa has signed two Top 1,000 recruits in quarterback Braylon Braxton and running back Bill Jackson. They're barely in the Top 1,000, but they do rank among the top 25 recruits that Tulsa has signed since 2000.
And, let's be frank, no one in this conference has much recruiting pull. The AAC has signed just one 4-star recruit in 2021, and perhaps SMU got quarterback Preston Stone because he can just about walk from his high school to Gerald J. Ford Stadium.
Even by Tulsa and AAC standards, though, there's a lot of work to be done. The Golden Hurricane typically rank near the bottom of the recruiting barrel in the AAC, but they have never ranked last in their seven seasons in the conference.
Utah State Aggies
Class Ranking: No. 138
There are only 130 FBS programs, so, you know, ranking 138th isn't great.
Jackson State (Prime Time, baby!), Northern Arizona, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Cal Poly, Idaho, James Madison, Eastern Washington and Penn rank ahead of Utah State, even though they all play in the FCS.
Much like Texas State, the Aggies have at least been putting in some work via the transfer portal, signing players from Texas, Miami, TCU, Oregon State and Kansas, not to mention the Arkansas State quarterback-wide receiver combo of Logan Bonner and Brandon Bowling.
But they've hit rock bottom as far as conventional recruiting is concerned.
It wasn't always like this. In 2015 and 2019, the Aggies had one of the Mountain West's best non-Boise State recruiting classes. They ranked 90th with that 2019 class, not far behind nearby BYU.
Over the past three seasons, however, they've spiraled from 11-2 to 7-6 to 1-5. And we're not talking 1-5 but competitive. Each of the Aggies' losses came by at least 19 points.
They need an influx of impact talent, and that means transfers. They hoped Utah's Jason Shelley would provide that boost at quarterback in 2020, but it didn't work out.
Time to double down with more transfers.
Class Ranking: No. 171
If Utah State at No. 138 was troubling, UTEP at No. 171 is really something.
The Miners have been bad for a while, and so has their recruiting. Their high point in the past eight years was ranking No. 112 in 2019. Often, they have one of the five worst classes among FBS teams.
But this is a disaster.
At least Texas State and Utah State are atoning for their recruiting efforts with a healthy dose of transfers.
UTEP has done nothing of the sort. The Miners have signed one high school quarterback from Texas and one JUCO quarterback from Mississippi. That's it. That is their entire list.
I can appreciate that UTEP probably won't lose much from this year's team given the free year of eligibility and the lack of NFL-level talent on the roster. Still, it's wild for a team to basically do nothing. Every single FBS team added at least 12 high school or JUCO players to its roster last year.
UTEP actually had 30 signees in 2020, so maybe the Miners are just overcorrecting after that haul.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Class Ranking: No. 43
On the one hand, this is better than the 76th-ranked class Justin Fuente put together during the 2020 recruiting cycle after Virginia Tech ranked in the Top 30 in all but one year from 2012-19. He did sign eight transfers last year, including the indispensable Khalil Herbert and two key defenders, Devin Taylor and Justus Reed. But, phew, that recruiting class was rough.
On the other hand, at least Fuente signed a 4-star recruit last year.
He has nary a 5-star nor 4-star this year. In fact, the only two future Hokies in the Top 700 are No. 396 DJ Harvey and No. 586 Jack Hollifield.
And with 27 players already committed or signed, it's unlikely the Hokies will add much, if any. They'll probably slip outside the Top 50.
Fuente will get at least one more year to salvage his job, but Virginia Tech has a 19-18 record over the past three years and is on the verge of a second consecutive significantly subpar class. If the Hokies have another rough season in 2021 and make a change at head coach, one has to wonder who would actually want to inherit the rebuild.
It's already tough to envision who the key players are going to be in 2021 with Herbert, Hendon Hooker, Rayshard Ashby and many others moving on this offseason. With the way recruiting has been going, things could get ugly a year or two from now.