National Signing Day 2013 has come and gone. Fans, coaches and players alike rode a yearlong roller-coaster to the first Wednesday in February and it all ended with over 3,000 new college football players.
While coaching and leadership is still the No. 1 factor in winning and losing games, recruiting and the subsequent rankings are a close No. 2. Having better players than the next guy will go a long way in winning. What happens when you have both? How about three BCS national championships in four years.
Some programs spent NSD ’13 celebrating thousands of hours of work with deep and talented signing classes that point to future success on the field. Others’ dreams were dashed when players flip-flopped in the 11th hour or simply decided to go elsewhere.
Who were National Signing Day’s biggest winners and toughest losers?
Ole Miss Rebels
There is only one place to start this Signing Day and it’s Oxford, Miss. The momentum leading into NSD was tangible in The Grove after the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver, Laquon Treadwell (No. 14), committed two weeks ago. Then the first Wednesday in February got started in the best possible way for the Rebels when the top player in the nation, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, picked Mississippi over LSU. He was then followed by the nation’s No. 1 offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil (No. 4) and four-star blocker Austin Golson (No. 108). Finally, one of the nation’s elite safeties in Antonio Conner (No. 32) shunned Alabama for the in-state Rebels as well. To put into perspective the job Hugh Freeze did with this class, Ole Miss has signed four total AC100 — or Top 100 — recruits in the five classes. No player ranked in the top 35 of the AC100 had previously signed with Ole Miss, as 2012 signee Channing Ward ranked the highest at No. 38 nationally. In this class, Freeze signed two of the top four, three of the top 15 and four of the top 32 players in the nation.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Urban Meyer has a reputation on the trail as one of the most cut-throat closers in the business. Coaches all over the Midwest will attest to that as he sliced and diced through the region a year ago. What did he do for an encore in 2013? He snagged former Oregon commit and AC100 running back Dontre Wilson (No. 71) from Texas. He pulled four-star wide receiver James Clark from the state of Florida. And dipped into Georgia for an elite AC100 safety prospect in Vonn Bell (No. 27). The Buckeyes entered National Signing Day battling Michigan for the Big Ten recruiting title, but left the day with not only the best class in the conference but the only group that came close to challenging Alabama for the No. 1 spot in the nation. Meyer is simply a beast on the recruiting trail.
Florida State Seminoles
The day started well for the Seminoles as star AC100 linebacker and top-10 player in the nation Matthew Thomas (No. 8) picked FSU over Alabama, Georgia, Miami and USC. Next came confirmation that long-time USC commit Jalen Ramsey (No. 15) did, in fact, switch in the 11th hour to Florida State. Both Thomas and Ramsey rank in the Top 15 nationally of the AC100 and are two of the top gets on NSD. Last but not least, nationally ranked defensive tackle Keith Bryant picked the Noles over Alabama, Miami, Tennessee and South Carolina. In true Bobby Bowden fashion, Jimbo Fisher closed extremely well and added three more superstar defensive prospects.
When Chip Kelly told the Ducks he would return, potential signees all across the nation breathed a sigh of relief. But two weeks later when Kelly bolted for the NFL, those same recruits started looking elsewhere. And while star tailback Dontre Wilson did land at Ohio State, new head coach Mark Helfrich did an excellent job to stabilize the 2013 haul. Twin two-sport athletes Tyree and Tyrell Robinson were reportedly leaning towards Washington after a last-second visit to Seattle, but Helfrich calmed their nerves and got the four-star tandem to sign with Oregon. Additionally, he stole four-star defensive end Torrendy Prevot from USC and Texas A&M while inking Cameron Hunt away from the Cal Golden Bears. This was a tenuous class to watch the last month but all signs are positive after a strong showing on NSD ’13.
Alabama Crimson Tide
It’s good to be Nick Saban. How many teams can miss out on top-40 prospects like Laremy Tunsil, Matthew Thomas, Montravius Adams, Vonn Bell and Tony Conner and still consider the day a huge success? That is where Alabama and Saban are in the recruiting world. National Signing Day got started two nights earlier when the nation’s No. 1 inside linebacker Reuben Foster (No. 7) picked the Tide over archrival Auburn. Alabama then stole long-time Texas commit and AC100 defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson (No. 34) late in the process. Saban also won the battle for AC100 running back Alvin Kamara (No. 42) with Georgia. And 'Bama defeated Miami head-to-head for the appropriately named AC100 defensive lineman Dee Liner (No. 47). This is the best class in the nation for the third time in six years and it is a top-five class for the sixth consecutive season.
Across the state, new Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn put together his own top-ten recruiting class. Convincing elite prospect Carl Lawson (No. 21) to honor his commitment was the first big step while an 11th hour swipe of AC100 defensive end Elijah Daniel only furthered the excitement on the Plains. The biggest get of the day for Malzahn, however, came when the No. 10-rated player in the nation picked the Tigers. Montravius Adams picked Auburn over Alabama, Clemson, Florida and Georgia. The day was then capped by four-star tailback Johnathan Ford officially becoming a War Eagle. There is some excellent offensive talent in this class, but it’s the defensive line that makes this group special. Three AC100 prospects give Auburn one of the most talented D-line classes in the nation.
The Bruins, like many other programs out west, have capitalized on the struggles across town by USC. Entering NSD, Jim Mora had picked up pledges from former Trojans commit and four-star offensive lineman Kylie Fitts on Tuesday. He also had a stellar month of January, landing four total commitments, including AC100 prospects Priest Willis (No. 39) and Tahaan Goodman (No. 65) just a two weeks before Signing Day. The momentum was there for Mora and he closed strong by landing star dual-threat quarterback Asianti Woulard all the way from Florida and AC100 linebacker and former Stanford commitment Isaac Savaiinaea. It was a huge day for UCLA as the Bruins claimed the top class in the Pac-12.
Few teams elicit a response nationally like the Lane Kiffin-led Trojans. With a poor showing on the field and coaching instability, USC watched its consensus No. 1 overall class wilt before their eyes. This group is still a solid haul with an impressive nine AC100 signees, but elite AC100 stars Jalen Ramsey and Eddie Vanderdoes decided to sign elsewhere on Wednesday. Their decisions capped a horrible stretch run for the Men of Troy who watched upwards of six or seven players decommit and sign with arch rivals like Notre Dame and UCLA. This class is still stacked with talent as the nine top 100 prospects indicate, however, the bleeding in L.A. only stopped because the cycle came to an end.
Much like USC, Mark Richt signed an excellent class that is highly regarded in the national rankings. However, Georgia missed on every major target it had left on the board entering Signing Day. Not only did the Dawgs not land Tunsil, Foster, Thomas, Adams, Kamara or four-star lineman Tyrone Crowder, but all of them signed with SEC or Southern arch-rivals. There are 10 players in the AC100 from The Peach State and the Bulldogs missed on eight of them, including the top seven players in the state. Again, with 13 early enrollees and a deep roster returning, this class is still extremely solid, but this team did absolutely nothing on Wednesday while their direct competition took major steps forward.
There weren’t a lot of targets on the board for Charlie Strong but the Cardinals missed on all of them. Denver Kirkland, Jermaine Grace and Jason Hatcher signed with Arkansas, Miami and Kentucky respectively and all were high on Strong’s wish list. This is a roster without many holes so a deep class wasn’t expected, but finishing outside of the top 50 in the national rankings has to be disappointing considering the monumental success on the field in 2012.
Texas limped to the finish line and has one of its worst classes in recent memory. Oklahoma signed a typically strong group but sits well outside the top ten in national team rankings. No other team will finish in the top 25 in recruiting and not one major recruit picked a Big 12 team on Signing Day. The fact that Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M signed an elite class and that Bo Pelini inked his best group at Nebraska only rubs salt in the open recruiting wound in the Big 12.
Steve Sarkisian has a great class coming in this cycle, but his National Signing Day wasn’t as fruitful as expected. The Robinson twins were rumored to have been leaning towards the Huskies after long being committed to Oregon. The Huskies failed to flip them at the last moment. Talented defensive end prospect Daeshon Hall also decommitted from Washington at the last minute and signed with Texas A&M. This class is still very strong, especially at wide receiver and along the defensive line, but what could have been a top ten class looks more like a top 20 group instead.
Crazy recruiting parents
Every year there is at least one bizarre incident with a mother, father, uncle or grandparent of a big-time recruit and this season was no different. Elite AC100 running back Alex Collins hails from Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) South Plantation High School in South Florida. He made his decision on Wednesday to play for Arkansas and Bret Bielema over Florida State, South Florida and Miami. He signed his Letter of Intent and was ready to take the next step in his football life. His mother, Andrea McDonald, had other ideas. She wanted her son to play close to home so badly that she confiscated the paperwork — which she has to sign for Kamara to play anywhere as his guardian — and left the building. She refused to sign the paperwork, which means her son's destination for the fall has yet to be decided.