As the ink dries on National Letters of Intent signed nationwide, some college football teams have essentially filled their 2020 signing class before the big-big day on Feb. 7 and can now focus on the '21 haul. Other programs are not so lucky.
The perennial powerhouse programs like Clemson, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, and LSU took the majority of top recruits leaving the rest of the Power 5 programs scrambling to lockdown talented four-star players. In that push to get the desired players on the board signed, some top teams fell shy of high expectations and need a big rally on the first Wednesday in February to fill team needs going forward.
Recruiting rankings are not the end all be all but provide a pretty good measuring stick of signs to come. Some coaching staffs can mold three-star recruits into all-conference performers getting the most out of the talent on their roster, while other programs need the big-time recruits to come ready-made, and simply try to overwhelm the competition by hoarding the most players with the most "stars" next to their names. Some programs just need that one difference-maker.
If recruiting stars translates to wins and losses on the field, there are five teams that have a lot of ground to make up between now and Feb. 7.
Top Programs Needing a Push Before National Signing Day
Virginia Tech Hokies
After an eight-year run from 2004-11 tearing up the ACC under then head coach Frank Beamer, the Hokies have had one 10-win season (2016) since then, in Justin Fuente's first campaign in Blacksburg. Tying recruiting rankings to win-loss records, the Hokies have turned in national recruiting rankings at No. 26 in 2017, No. 24 in '18, and No. 26 a year ago. As the clock winds down on the early signing period, the Hokies are ranked 62nd overall, one slot ahead of Boston College in the ACC cellar. Tech has 15 total commitments with one four-star and 14 three-star prospects; a solid base is there, but far more talent needs to be added if a finish nearing the top 25 is desired.
Michigan State Spartans
There may have been a time in the Big Ten when Ohio State was the only real threat for Michigan State, and maybe Wisconsin, but teams across the board have stepped up their game. On the field, Penn State and Minnesota are on the rise, Iowa remains consistent, and there's bitter in-state rival Michigan. Even Indiana and Illinois are taking their programs to another level. The Mark Dantonio style of doing less with more and out-coaching other squads may need a change of perspective with a bigger focus on recruiting. The Spartans are consistently ranked in the 30's, and could make that leap come February, but have settled in at 40th overall for their 2020 haul thus far with 20 total commits, all three-star players. The winning formula could be in the overall haul already, but adding a few dynamic four-star talents would not only help the recruiting rankings but also help on the field against other Big Ten teams that are out-recruiting the Spartans. Dantonio's teams have gone 26-24 over the past four seasons with one 10-win season (2017).
The USC fan base is the hammer and head coach Clay Helton is the proverbial nail. After an 8-4 regular season in 2019 with the Trojans winning five of their final six games, Helton is taking heat. The Trojans' performance in the 2020 class is not helping his case either. A team like USC should never be in the bottom rungs of the Pac-12 recruiting rankings, especially this time of year. USC has 11 total commitments with just one four-star. The end result is a class currently ranked 79th in the country. For perspective, Bowling Green, SMU, Appalachian State, and Western Michigan have better classes thus far. In Helton's favor, the Trojans addressed a major need on the offensive line bringing in six recruits. The flip side of that, why have the other position coaches not brought in their share of Southern California's top talent? USC closed the 2019 class ranked 20th, but got five-star receiver Bru McCoy and four-star corner Chris Steele as transfers after spring ball to add a little more luster. The big question, is there enough talent in the area left unsigned for USC to make that leap back into the top 20 this year?
Not every Power 5 team can be in the top 30, but more is expected from head coach Kevin Sumlin than what he has produced thus far, both on the field and recruiting trail. Since his arrival prior to the 2018 season, the Wildcats have finished 61st, 55th, and are currently ranked 70th in the recruiting rankings. The current grouping has 15 commits with 13 three-star players. Comparatively, Arizona State also has 15 commits but is significantly higher in the rankings at No. 36, thanks to five four-star players that are heading to Tempe. Perhaps apples to oranges, but Sumlin's last haul at Texas A&M for the Class of 2017 was 13th nationally. He can recruit well, it is just not happening in Tucson.
If there is a head coach to believe in that makes things happen, it is Baylor's Matt Rhule. It took him one year at both Temple and Baylor to turn the programs from losing to winning. In his third season in Waco, Baylor's rise from a 1-11 squad in 2017 to an 11-win program was amazing. The Bears got it going on the recruiting trail a year ago, finishing 35th overall. The current class resides at No. 52 with 15 commits, two four-stars, and 13 three-stars. After six- and seven-point losses to Oklahoma this season, the Bears have to feel they are close to taking that next step to winning Big 12 titles, and the way forward is with recruiting. There are still eight four-star players from the state of Texas uncommitted that could potentially take this Baylor class from average to great. Regardless, Rhule has shown he will get the best out of his players no matter their recruiting rankings.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.