Recruiting in the SEC is downright nasty. It is a cutthroat, cannibalistic big business that is microscopically analyzed by fans, administrators and media members alike. Recruiting in the SEC is unlike recruiting in any other league. And the team rankings bare that out in painful clarity. Well, painful if you are coaching in any other major conference.
That said, one recruiting class does not define a new coaching staff or guarantee future success or failure on the field. But the rankings in the SEC hold truer than in any other league. The four best teams in recruiting the last five years — Alabama, Florida, LSU and Georgia — have the four best win-loss records.
In the toughest, back-stabbing-est conference in the nation, one man is standing above the rest:
Nick Saban’s reign isn’t ending anytime soon
Saban once again is the czar of the recruiting trail. He picked a handful of stars from the Northeast, got an elite QB from Utah, landed the top five players in the state of Alabama and dipped into border states in every direction to land 25 more athletes. He broke an Athlon Sports record with 15 Athlon Consensus 100 recruits and it landed him his third No. 1-rated class in the last six cycles. He has been no lower than fifth in the nation rankings since 2008 and all it has netted him is three BCS national titles. Sorry folks, the Crimson Tide “ain’t going nowhere”.
Perception has changed in Oxford
Ole Miss has won four SEC games in the last three seasons. After landing a historic nationally ranked top 10 class — a group ranked ahead of LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn more importantly — Hugh Freeze now has the burden of expectations. All eyes will be focused on Oxford, Miss., for more reasons than one from now on. Fellow recruiting coordinators at rival schools now see a bullseye on the back of Colonel Reb. The media coverage will be heightened and fans will expect results on the field. It's an exciting time to be a Rebel but no doubt the pressure to win is now through the roof.
The Lone Star Sleeping Giant
Kevin Sumlin and that small patch on the Texas A&M Aggies' shoulder pads were the missing pieces. College Station, Texas has long been a sleeping giant of college football. Consistent underachieving has plagued the 12th Man for decades. But that all could be changing now as what appears to be a great leader is running the ship in Sumlin. The with added cachet of the SEC brand behind him, he is establishing a new TAMU image on the recruiting trail. He dominated in state while his rival Mack Brown at Texas struggled this year. The upside is immeasurable for this program. It does help to have a rock star Heisman Trophy winner playing quarterback as well.
Bittersweet Signing Day for new coaches
Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, Tennessee Butch Jones and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema all finished very well on National Signing Day. The Hogs landed a pair of elite stars, the Vols finished with a flurry and Kentucky had one of its best classes in recent memory. Optimism should be running high in Lexington, Knoxville and Fayetteville. So how depressing is it that Tennessee was 11th in the league, Arkansas was 12th in the league and Kentucky was 13th in the SEC rankings? Can you beat Saban, Miles, Sumlin, Spurrier, Richt and Muschamp with the 12th best class in the conference?
Has anything actually changed at Auburn?
Unlike his newbie counterparts, Gus Malzahn built an elite top-10 recruiting class nationally. He closed strong and rebuilt his roster —the defensive linemen in particular — with some super star talent. But so did Gene Chizik every season. So the question for fans on The Plains will be the same it has been asking itself for decades: How do we get all of these great athletes to live up to their potential? In the SEC West, the new head man at Auburn has his work cut out for him, but he is giving himself a great chance with some of the nation’s top prospects.
Missouri can’t survive like this
The Tigers’ class would have ranked sixth in the Big 12 at No. 35 nationally. However, they finished dead last in the SEC. After struggling in their first trip through SEC play, Gary Pinkel didn’t do that much to help his longterm case of success in the nation’s toughest conference. This team is much closer to Vanderbilt — well, the Vandy of old — in terms of upside and potential than Alabama or Texas A&M. This one class means very little to the direct success of Mizzou in the SEC, however, consistently finishing last in the league in recruiting will not be sustainable for the current coaching staff.
The marvelous James Franklin
Vanderbilt put together arguably the greatest recruiting class in school history this fall. Increased talent in the state of Tennessee and back-to-back bowl seasons for the first time is certainly an explanation for the Dores’ current recruiting success. However, the coaching staff led by Franklin is the main the reason. They have a built an exciting, fun and hard-working atmosphere on West End and it is permeating the recruiting trail.
2013 Athlon Sports SEC Team Recruiting Rankings: