College Football Teams Having the Most Success on the 2022 Recruiting Trail
The 2022 recruiting cycle really has just started for some, but plenty of college football coaches have been developing relationships for years.
In cases like Alabama's Nick Saban, it's a slow and steady start, but never fear, the perennial recruiting (and on-field) national champions are still represented. In others, coaches entering their second full seasons have seen some work they've already done on the trail beginning to pay off.
There are some usual suspects at the top of the 247Sports composite recruiting rankings, but there are also some surprising programs you wouldn't really expect to see.
Teams like Cincinnati, Michigan, Oklahoma State, USC and Baylor narrowly missed this list, but all of those teams have done good, early things on the trail, and you wouldn't expect to see those teams doing so, besides the Wolverines and Trojans.
Others are making more noise. There's a long way to go before December's early signing day, but it's easier to finish strong overall when you build a sturdy foundation. These football programs are doing that through recruiting in the '22 class.
Alabama Crimson Tide
This time last year, Alabama was sputtering along in picking up commitments, and some were wondering what was wrong with the Crimson Tide's recruiting.
Nick Saban wound up signing the highest-rated recruiting class ever, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, and as Hank South wrote, it was deep, talented and phenomenal.
All this, and UA just steamrolled competition on its way to another national title, cementing Saban's '17 class as arguably the most decorated group ever.
This year, the Tide aren't tearing up the rankings yet, ranked just 16th nationally. But a deeper look shows they're well on their way to another top-rated class (or close to it). Alabama has two 5-star prospects out of their five overall pledges.
The biggest star of the group is signal-caller Ty Simpson, who went from being a Tennessee lean when Jeremy Pruitt was there to choosing Alabama over Clemson and the Vols. The Martin, Tennessee, native is the son of UT-Martin head coach Jason Simpson and is a talented gunslinger.
Running back Emmanuel Henderson of Hartford, Alabama, is the other 5-star prospect and the nation's second-ranked player at his position. 'Bama has two 4-star prospects, too. Don't expect them to slow down any time soon. History tells us Saban won't.
Florida State Seminoles
A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Florida State was feared on the recruiting trail and the football field. Seminoles fans have waited a while since the halcyon days of Bobby Bowden and then Jimbo Fisher working wonders in recruits' living rooms.
Things haven't gone well lately for one of the biggest college football powers of the past 30 years, as they've watched Clemson pass them in the ACC and plenty others out-recruit them. But the start in the '22 recruiting cycle should give 'Noles hope.
Coach Mike Norvell supplemented his team in the 2021 recruiting class with transfers and got a big late signing in receiver Destyn Hill, and the momentum is carrying over into this year. FSU is currently ninth in the nation, and it has two pledges already from 5-star prospects.
The nation's second-ranked cornerback in the country is Travis Hunter of Suwanee, Georgia, and he is heading south to play for FSU as of now. The 'Noles also grabbed 5-star athlete Sam McCall of Lakeland, Florida. Both of those players are game-changing talents and exactly the kind of player Norvell needs to turn things around.
FSU has two more 4-star prospects, including a commitment from Arizona quarterback Nicco Marchiol, who makes it two signal-callers in three years for Norvell from that state, following Chubba Purdy.
That pledge proves the Seminoles brand is still strong, and maybe Norvell is selling it well. A big season on the gridiron would help more than anything.
Without a doubt, the biggest commitment for coach Kirby Smart in this recruiting cycle so far came when a coaching change elsewhere dropped a star into the Bulldogs' lap.
When South Carolina fired Will Muschamp (and subsequently offensive coordinator Mike Bobo), 5-star signal-caller Gunner Stockton of Tiger, Georgia, began to explore his options. Rather than head to Auburn with Bobo, Stockton decided to stay in his home state and become a Dawg.
It's the second year UGA flipped a commitment from a star in-state signal-caller, following Brock Vandagriff dropping Oklahoma for Smart's program a year ago.
Stockton plays a fun brand of football and is a star in the making. But he is only the centerpiece of an already-loaded group of playmakers for Smart.
Athlete Deyon Bouie of Bainbridge, Georgia, can play on either side of the ball and will have a great career no matter what position he plays in Athens. He and Stockton are two huge reasons Smart has built the nation's fourth-ranked class so far.
Smart also has six 4-star players in the boat, including three additional top-100 players. Perhaps the player with the highest upside of any of those prospects is defensive tackle Tyre West. Out of UGA's eight total pledges, seven hail from the Peach State.
They're doing a good job of keeping elite players home.
Here's the thing about recruiting to LSU: If you can keep the top talent at home in Louisiana, you're going to stand a good chance at having a top-10 recruiting class every year.
Favorite son Ed Orgeron hasn't always enjoyed smooth sailing as the head coach of the Bayou Bengals, and the uber-high expectations he built with an undefeated national title season in 2019 were drowning last year when the Tigers went 5-5 in a rebuilding campaign.
But Orgeron relates well to kids from his home state, and it shows on the trail. It led to the third-ranked class in the '21 cycle, and the Tigers are off to another great start this year. LSU has the third-rated class in the country with two 5-star players, six 4-star players and two 3-stars.
Seven of those prospects are from the Boot.
Five-star signal-caller Walker Howard is the top player in the class, and the 6'1", 195-pound dual-threat quarterback from Lafayette is going to be a fun player to watch develop for years in Baton Rouge. Fellow 5-star Will Campbell could end up protecting Howard's blind side.
Howard also has another Lafayette player coming with him in cornerback Laterrance Welch.
Orgeron pulled a couple of 4-star players from difficult rival states in Georgia cornerback JaDarian Rhym and Alabama offensive guard Lucas Taylor. This is shaping up to be one of Orgeron's top classes early on, and that's saying something for the relentless recruiter.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Brian Kelly probably isn't a threat to sign the nation's top-ranked class at Notre Dame, but he's done a good job of building his program over his time there.
The Irish are off to one of their best recruiting starts ever in this cycle, and though there's not enough star power at the top to keep them at the very top of the rankings, they are putting together the nucleus for another great haul in South Bend.
Currently, Notre Dame is second nationally, and that's in large part because it already has 11 commitments. Though none of them are 5-star or top-100 players, Kelly has seven 4-star prospects and a strong group of players at need positions.
The top commit so far is 4-star outside linebacker Joshua Burnham of Michigan, a 6'4", 215-pound athlete who had offers from across the country. Weak-side defensive end Tyson Ford gives Notre Dame a pair of quality defenders at the top.
The Irish always seem to get great offensive line prospects and develop them into NFL players, and two prospects from the '22 class who could follow suit are Joey Tanona and Ty Chan. Texas running back Jadarian Price and New Jersey quarterback Steve Angeli prove they are hitting with skill-position players, too.
Nothing jumps out about this class, but it's deep. Others will eventually leapfrog the Irish, but do not discount the quality of the prospects so far.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Alabama may wind up with the No. 1-ranked class again, but the Crimson Tide have a long way to go to catch the class Ryan Day is building in Columbus.
The Buckeyes finished a distant second to the Tide in the recruiting rankings during the '21 cycle (and on the football field for the '20 season), but there's nobody putting together the kind of class the top-ranked Buckeyes have this year.
Much like with Georgia getting Gunner Stockton, Ohio State benefitted from Texas firing Tom Herman, flipping 6'3", 206-pound consensus No. 1 overall player Quinn Ewers from the Longhorns. The pro-style quarterback from Southlake, Texas, looks like a future star.
In a year loaded with quality quarterbacks, Ewers is the best.
The Buckeyes also have a commitment from cornerback Jaheim Singletary, the ninth-ranked overall prospect, who is leaving the Sunshine State for Columbus. Former OSU coach Urban Meyer had a lot of luck recruiting Florida from his days as the Gators coach, and Day appears to be carrying on that tradition.
Five-star receiver Caleb Burton of Texas will join his state mate Ewers with Ohio State, too, rounding out a trio of 5-stars so far.
The remaining eight of Ohio State's commitments are all 4-star players, including three more top-100 prospects in Ohio outside linebackers Gabe Powers and C.J. Hicks, as well as Indiana athlete Dasan McCullough.
Kids are taking notice of one of the nation's most established programs, and Day obviously is connecting with the class' top players.
Newsflash: Lincoln Riley's offense is attractive to elite high school prospects on that side of the ball.
In case you weren't already aware of that by now, the 2022 recruiting class is yet another example.
The Sooners have the nation's seventh-ranked class so far, and it's highlighted by a duo of 5-star prospects. St. Louis pass-catcher Luther Burden is a 6'2", 194-pound prospect with a college-ready body who could have committed anywhere in the nation.
California running back Raleek Brown gives Riley an exciting playmaker to line up behind either Spencer Rattler or Caleb Williams in the future, too.
The Sooners have three more 4-star prospects among their seven commitments, and all are in the top 120 players in the nation. Talyn Shettron of Edmond is staying in his home state to play in Riley's offense.
Inside linebacker Kobie McKinzie of Lubbock, Texas, and Garland, Texas, receiver Jordan Hudson are two representatives from the Lone Star State, where Riley has snagged some terrific players every season. As a matter of fact, Oklahoma already has four pledges from Texas in this cycle.
It's another great start to what is shaping up to be a top-10 class.
Penn State Nittany Lions
The 2020 season was forgettable for several programs, and few had worse showings than Penn State, which finished 4-5. The silver lining for the Nittany Lions, who dropped five straight to start the year, was winning their final four.
The bad showing on the gridiron hasn't hurt coach James Franklin on the recruiting trail.
The Lions currently have the nation's sixth-ranked class, and though—like Notre Dame—it isn't a strong enough start to keep them at the top, it's going to be a strong haul for Franklin if this is any indication. All eight of Penn State's commitments are 4-star players.
Though none of them are in the top 100 prospects, the group of playmakers is deep and is led by players at a major need position in receivers Mehki Flowers and Kaden Saunders. Both prospects are among the nation's top 136 players, and national No. 188 player Anthony Ivey gives Penn State a trio of pass-catchers.
Offensive tackle Drew Shelton should team with 2021 commit Landon Tengwall to give Penn State a pair of strong starters for years to come on the offensive front.
Needing a difference-maker at quarterback, which they haven't had in a long time, the Nittany Lions have a duo of possible prospects to fill that role in this class. Big-bodied pro-style passer Drew Allar resembles a young Ben Roethlisberger, and dual-threat quarterback Beau Pribula gives the program some diversity of skill sets.
This is a strong class so far by Franklin, who could finish with a top-five group if he hits on a couple of big swings.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The most surprising class near the top of the rankings could wind up being one of the biggest stories of the recruiting cycle.
In his first full class back at Rutgers, coach Greg Schiano is using his deep ties to New Jersey to build a strong class that is going to be better than any the Scarlet Knights have landed in years. Last year, Schiano's first partial class finished 41st nationally.
That was the best since the 2012 haul, which followed Schiano's last year as Rutgers head coach. The program never pulls top talent unless it has Schiano at the helm, and it is once again a force to be reckoned with on the trail.
Rutgers is currently 10th nationally, and though the nine pledges include just two 4-star players, Schiano could wind up pulling six to eight 4-star players, which would go a long way in helping turn around the program.
He's having the same type of impact in living rooms in the area as Mike Locksley is at Maryland.
Four-star linebacker Anthony Johnson of Philadelphia is going to stay close to home, and Florida receiver Amarion Brown is the other 4-star prospect pledged to the Knights. That's huge news in itself.
When you consider neither of the two best recruits are from Jersey, it bodes well for the nucleus of this class, because Schiano is going to convince some top talent to stay in-state. The class already includes five New Jersey natives and four offensive linemen, which is a major need for the program.
Is this class going to be a top-10 group? Probably not. But Schiano could sign a top-25 class, which would be massive for the trajectory of the program.
Texas A&M Aggies
Coach Jimbo Fisher and quarterback Kellen Mond rightfully get a ton of credit for Texas A&M's quick turnaround on the football field, but they aren't the only reasons.
Since introducing Mike Elko as the defensive coordinator a couple of years ago, the Aggies have revamped the defense by luring top prospects on the defensive front.
The Aggies are off to another strong start on the trail in the '22 cycle with eight commitments, including seven 4-star prospects. The best of the bunch is Malick Sylla of Katy, Texas, who is a 6'6", 230-pound weak-side defensive end and the nation's No. 45 overall player.
He will continue the trend of Texas A&M getting top talent on the defensive front. But he's not the only quality player in this class.
Conner Weigman is a 4-star, dual-threat signal-caller from Cypress, Texas, who could vie for the starting job in a couple of years, while offensive tackle PJ Williams and tight end Donovan Green are good-looking prospects, too. All of those guys are among the top 120 players in the nation.
Every season, it seems like Fisher pulls a 5-star player or two, so this could wind up being another exciting class for a program shaping up to be Alabama's biggest competition in the SEC West for the next few years.
Fisher's program doesn't appear to be going anywhere. The Aggies have the fifth-rated class in the country so far, and that should only improve.
When Texas lost future star signal-caller Quinn Ewers to Ohio State, it was a major blow. But it didn't take new head coach Steve Sarkisian long to find a new cornerstone for the program he wants to build in Austin.
The way Sark has developed quarterbacks through the years has to be attractive to top talent, and that has proved to be the case in luring 5-star quarterback Maalik Murphy from California.
The 6'4.5," 225-pound pro-style quarterback from Gardena is raw, but he has every skill coaches covet in a field general. Murphy could be a star down the road under Sark. He is a major early victory on the trail for the new coach, but he isn't the only one.
Houston running back Jaydon Blue is a top-50 player who could team with Bijan Robinson next year and take over once the latter leaves for the NFL. Though the Horns didn't get prize back LJ Johnson in the '21 cycle, Blue will help ease that sting.
Receiver Armani Winfield and safety Bryan Allen Jr. are top-100 prospects from Texas who prove Sark is going to have some staying power in grabbing players from his backyard, and cornerback Jaylon Guilbeau is another 4-star defensive back who could make an impact.
In all, the Longhorns have six verbal pledges in the nation's eighth-ranked recruiting class, with one 5-star player and four 4-stars. It's shaping up to be just fine in recruiting for Sarkisian, and though it's going to take him a while to build his program, there are quality players already entrenched.
Texas is a prime candidate for a quick turnaround.
Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.