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The 2013 football recruiting cycle is coming to an end but there are plenty of fireworks still to track.
National Signing Day 2013 is here!
It’s college football’s version of Christmas morning when millions of dollars, thousands of man-hours traveling and countless phone calls come to fruition in the form of a single sheet of faxed paper. Nowhere in sports are grown adults held captive by the musings of teenagers like the first Wednesday in February.
Bizarre flip-flops, surprise press conferences, unique props and wacky storylines all make NSD one of the more intriguing days in all of sports. And 2013 should have its fair share of teams, players, coaches and recruits to watch:
All eyes on Oxford, Miss.
The Ole Miss Rebels are the top college football recruiting storyline for the 2013 cycle. Hugh Freeze is coaching a team that has won four SEC games over the last three years but is hotter than any team in the nation on the recruiting trail. With the additions of the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell, and Athlon Consensus 100 defensive lineman Elijah Daniel joining the fold in recent weeks and rumors swirling that four-star lineman Austin Golson will switch from Florida State to Ole Miss, Freeze is pushing for a top 10 class nationally. Needless to say, NSD ’13 could be historic for Ole Miss football.
Robert Nkemdiche is the nation’s No. 1 player and his older brother, Denzel, plays in Oxford. Ever since decommitting from Clemson, the Rebels have long been the favorite for the elite defensive end. LSU made a strong push, but it would be an upset if Nkemdiche signed anywhere but with Ole Miss. He is a game-changer who will make an immediate impact, however, the nation’s No. 1 prospect isn’t the only highly-coveted name on Freeze’s recruiting board.
Ole Miss has put the full-court press on the nation’s No. 1 offensive lineman, Laremy Tunsil (AC100 No. 4), fast-rising star defensive end and longtime Mississippi State commitment Chris Jones (No. 18) and elite defensive backs Mackensie Alexander (No. 30) and Antonio Conner (No. 32). If the Rebs can land just one of these names in addition to Nkemdiche, National Signing Day 2013 would be considered a massive success and would make Freeze the toast of Oxford.
But Nick Saban still owns college football
The Crimson Tide has three national championships in four years and is the No. 1 name brand on the recruiting trail. Saban has landed five top-five classes in a row after finishing No. 1 in 2012 and '08, No. 3 in '11 and '09 and No. 5 in '10. Entering Wednesday, 247Sports has the Tide at No. 1 in the team rankings, ESPN lists Alabama at No. 2, Rivals has the BCS champs at No. 3. Scout is the lone outlier with “just” a ninth-place ranking nationally.
What is scary, however, is how Saban and Alabama could finish on Wednesday. Rumors are that the Tide have already flipped long-time Texas Longhorns commitment A’Shawn Robinson (No. 34) and the nation's No. 1 linebacker, Reuben Foster (No. 7), announced his intentions to join the Tide on Monday evening. The star AC100 duo could be just the tip of the what might be a devastating iceberg.
Six of the top ten players in the nation are still uncommitted and Alabama is a finalist for five of them. There are 15 players left uncommitted in the AC100 and 10 of them list the Crimson Tide as a finalist. Other national recruits like Kylie Fitts, Jordan Cunningham and Keith Bryant have Bama figured heavily into the mix as well. Certainly, there is no chance that Saban lands all or even a majority of these names. However, if four or five sign with Alabama, the Crimson Tide is all but assured their third recruiting national championship in six seasons. And while Ole Miss might be a bigger story, Alabama would still have the best players.
What happens out West?
Lane Kiffin has watched his consensus No. 1 overall recruiting class take a major step back of late. Losing commitments left and right has hurt the Trojans and Kiffin needs to stop the bleeding immediately. Jalen Ramsey (No. 15) is rumored to be looking around and could be off to the state of Florida while former commitments Eddie Vanderdoes (No. 6) and Kylie Fitts appear to be headed to crosstown rival UCLA. This class isn’t very big in the first place due to sanctions, but still has some room to grow. Four-star prospects Quinton Powell, Nico Flash and Torrodney Prevot might be the Trojans' only hope at a top-ten class this year. With Tosh Lupoi excelling on the trail in Washington, Jim Mora constructing a top-ten class of his own in L.A. and new coaching staffs up and down the west coast gaining steam, the pressure is on the Men of Troy to finish well. This program is accustomed to winning the first Wednesday in February virtually every season so a slow NSD ’13 would only increase the temperature beneath Kiffin’s hind-quarters.
Ohio State vs. Michigan
Urban Meyer jumped head-first into Big Ten recruiting last year and made no friends among his coaching brethren. He swiped commitments from Wisconsin, Notre Dame, Penn State and Michigan State en route to the No. 4 class in the nation. Michigan and Brady Hoke were No. 6 last season and many believe that a new Ten-Year War has begun not only on the field but on the recruiting trail.
Scout has Michigan and Ohio State ranked No. 1 and 2 nationally in the team rankings. 247Sports and ESPN have both teams in the top five nationally while Rivals has them both in the top six. These two programs don’t like each other, will do anything to land elite players and should distance themselves from the rest of the conference in terms of talent.
Both classes are fairly stable on the eve of National Signing Day with just a few names left for either team. Vonn Bell (No. 26) is the top prize for the Buckeyes while Ezekiel Elliott, Cornelius Elder, James Clark and Dontre Wilson (No. 71) could still be in the mix as well. Michigan is waiting on word from Henry Poggi and Cameron Hunt. While it is unlikely that either wins the recruiting national championship, both are safely in the top five nationally and either could win the Big Ten recruiting championship on Wednesday.
Channel your inner Bobby Bowden
The Hall of Fame icon in Tallahassee made a living dominating National Signing Day by closing strong each and every season. Now, it’s Jimbo Fisher’s turn. Two of the top ten players in the nation, Tunsil and Matthew Thomas (No. 8), have the Seminoles listed as a finalist while three other AC100 talents, Mackensie Alexander, Alex Collins (No. 41) and Stacy Coley (No. 64) are possibilities as well. Collins is a longshot and Tunsil appears to be down to Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss, but landing Thomas, Coley and/or Alexander is well within the realm of possibility.
If Fisher can somehow lure five-star USC commit Jalen Ramsey to Tallahassee and finish strong with names like Denver Kirkland, E.J. Levenberry, Jermaine Grace or Yannick Ngakoue, this class has a chance to work its way up the rankings and into the top ten nationally.
New coaching staffs offer plenty to watch
Major college football powerhouses at Oregon, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Tennessee and Auburn are all installing new coaching staffs and each has to capitalize on the renewed energy that comes with a coaching change. Bret Bielema landed star tailback Alex Collins on Monday night, so what can he do for an encore on Wednesday? Will Gus Malzahn convince Mackensie Alexander Auburn is the right place for him? Can Mark Helfrich keep the Robinson twins (Tyrell, Tyree) in Eugene while appealing to Dontre Wilson? Will Butch Jones convince Vonn Bell that Knoxville is the right place for him? Even Mark Stoops at Kentucky has seen a small recruiting surge of late as his first NSD approaches. All of these staffs and many other new coaches have their first tangible chance to prove they belong as the 2013 cycle comes to a close.
Who needs a strong finish?
Depending on which recruiting service you prefer, Tennessee, Louisville, Stanford and Miami are four programs that stand out as needing to finish strong to salvage the year. All four are ranked outside of the top 20 by every service and many have these teams ranked outside of the top 50 nationally. Each program has plenty of talent left on the board but small miracles will have to be done to get the Cardinal or Cardinals into the top 50. Should the Vols land Vonn Bell, many will be pleased with Butch Jones’ finish to the ’13 cycle. It is the Hurricanes, however, that have most upside of the bunch. Matthew Thomas, Stacy Coley, Alex Collins, Denver Kirkland, Jordan Cunningham and Jermaince Grace all still have Miami very much in the mix and all could land in South Beach. Al Golden has his work cut out for him, but the payoff could be one of the best NSD’s in the nation. Look for at least two or three of above names to sign with The U.
Johnny Heisman’s ripple effect
Ricky Seals-Jean (No. 25), Justin Manning (No. 75) and Sebastian LaRue are all elite prospects who have recently cast their lot with the Texas A&M Aggies. Few programs have as much going for them right now as Kevin Sumlin’s squad. A new home in the SEC, a Heisman Trophy-winning redshirt freshman quarterback and a highly effective, electric offensive scheme that is irresistible to elite prospects have all made TAMU one of the hottest brand names on the trail. This class is one of the biggest in the nation (32 verbals) and doesn’t have a ton of space to grow, but it will be fun to watch what type of NSD drama the Aggies deal with on Wednesday. Kenny Hill and Torrodney Prevot are just two names to keep an eye on in College Station.