Five-star Jabrill Peppers is the cornerstone of Michigan's 2014 recruiting class. (Tony Kurdzuk / Newark Star-Ledger)
Where’s the drama?
There used to be 25-30 top recruits that would wait until National Signing Day to announce where they were going to college.
But in recent years, the top-tier FBS schools have their classes all but filled well ahead of what ESPN national recruiting director Tom Luginbill calls “college football’s Super Bowl” — National Signing Day.
This recruiting season, which culminates today when players sign national letters-of-intent, won’t be completely devoid of surprises. But the biggest big-time FBS programs continue to nab the nation’s top players and, with it, the national spotlight.
Alabama has the consensus No. 1 recruiting class and that’s unlikely to change today.
Michigan and Michigan State could be done with their classes — though both Brady Hoke and Mark Dantonio probably went to bed Tuesday night not knowing whether Southfield five-star lineman Malik McDowell wanted to be a Wolverine or a Spartan — or neither. But there are discrepancies over where U-M and MSU should be ranked. After a strong start in recruiting, U-M sits at No. 12 by ESPN, No. 23 by Scout and No. 29 by Rivals. Michigan State is ranked No. 24 by Rivals, No. 27 by Scout and No. 39 by ESPN.
Tom Lemming of Prep Football Report, and recruiting analyst for CBS Sports, said some recruiting services have dropped Michigan too far. The Wolverines’ 16-player class includes eight of Scout’s three-star prospects, seven four-stars and one consensus five-star — cornerback Jabrill Peppers of Paramus, N.J.
“That’s a misconception of recruiting,” Lemming said. “When you get your commitments early some forget about you. They have just 16 commitments but all are quality players. Their linebackers, Michael Ferns (Saint Clairsville, Ohio), Noah Furbush (Kenton, Ohio) and Chase Winovich (Clairton, Pa.) are all four-star players.”
Lemming said Michigan State could move past Wisconsin to No. 3 in the Big Ten (behind Ohio State and Michigan) if the Spartans can land a top recruit today.
One possibility is Chicago offensive lineman Jamarco Jones. Jones committed to Ohio State in June but visited East Lansing last weekend. Another is McDowell, who will pick MSU, U-M, Florida State or Ohio State.
Lemming said that no matter what happens today, “nobody will catch Alabama” in the national rankings.
There are 26 players in the Crimson Tide’s class (two have already enrolled) and it includes six of Scout’s five-star prospects and 13 four-stars. Thirteen of the 26 players are in the top 10 nationally in Scout’s position rankings.
“It’s a fantastic class,” Lemming said. “There’s no guessing why — it’s the work ethic (of Nick Saban and his staff). If his assistants don’t do the job he gets rid of them. I visited a number of high schools in the South recently looking at 2015 recruits and Saban was right behind me. I was told he was at six or seven schools in three days.
“It’s been like this the last couple of years. More and more are committing early. Now the month of January the coaches are looking at 2015 recruits. Before, January was used to close in on recruits for this year.”
Rivals national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell said the surprises now are team-related. For example, Tennessee’s class is ranked No. 3 by Rivals and Kentucky’s is ranked No. 13. The Volunteers have had four consecutive sub-.500 seasons and the Wildcats are coming off a 2-10 year.
“There’s not much drama,” Farrell said. “I don’t see many guys flip-flopping either. ESPN has 13 players (on its signing day show) making their announcement. That’s not a lot.
“There’s not as many recruits wavering. I think next year the circus will be back. But who knows? (Today) could be interesting.”
McDowell’s decision today will undoubtedly affect the final national rankings. He’s ranked No. 26 overall in the nation by Rivals, No. 36 by Scout and No. 60 by ESPN.
A similar situation is taking place in Gardena, Calif., where defensive back Adoree Jackson of Junipero Serra High will chose between Florida, LSU, USC and UCLA. He is the No. 6 player nationally according to Scout and Rivals.
Other top uncommitted players include receiver Malachi DuPre of River Ridge, La., (Alabama, Florida State, LSU, Mississippi or UCLA) and linebacker Rashaan Evans of Auburn, Ala. (Alabama, Auburn or UCLA).
Scout national recruiting analyst Scott Kennedy said the only school with a slim chance to pass Alabama is Florida State. The national champions could land a few top recruits today, including defensive end Chad Thomas of Miami (Alabama, Florida State or Miami) and Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga., also a defensive end (Florida, Florida State, Georgia or LSU).
“Alabama has had a top-five recruiting class all but one year since 2008,” Kennedy said. “(Saban) delivers. He’s got the best track record.”
Analysts agree that stability within a program holds water in recruiting. Coaching changes often have an adverse effect. Washington lost Steve Sarkisian to USC and grabbed the Boise State’s Chris Petersen.
Washington has 20 recruits, including two just four-stars, and is ranked No. 49 nationally by Rivals. USC hasn’t cracked Rivals’ top 30 (they’re No. 34) but Lemming said the Trojans are likely to finish strong, perhaps finishing inside the top 20.
Penn State, on the other hand, probably benefitted from a coaching change. James Franklin left Vanderbilt to take over for Bill O’Brien and Penn State is one of the surprises in 2014 recruiting. The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 19 by Scout, No. 20 by Rivals and No. 22 by ESPN.
“Franklin works hard at positive reinforcement,” Luginbill said. “He has a creative approach and there’s a constant self-evaluation.”