Who are the big winners and big losers on National Signing Day '14?
No head coach has ever had a bad National Signing Day.
No head coach at any school has ever come out on NSD and said, “You know, we just didn’t address any of our needs. We are disappointed with the group we’ve signed. And we are very concerned moving forward about the future of our program.”
Nope, from their viewpoint, every coach in the nation passed the National Signing Day test with flying colors.
Many recruitniks view the first Wednesday in February as the end of a long and arduous process that began years before and ends with two dozen signatures. However, the reality of the situation is that Signing Day is just the beginning. Coaches, new and old, get an injection of talent for their depth chart. Fans have new crushes to fawn over and the players' journey from high school superstar to brutally vicious adulthood actually begins.
And, no, despite what every coach tells you, not everyone was a winner on National Signing Day.
There were 316 four- and five-star prospects in the nation according to the composite 247Sports rankings. Of those 316 top-level recruits, 29 of them had yet to make a decision heading into Signing Day. Of course, there were plenty of surprise flip-flops and decommitments as well.
So now that the dust has settled, who were the big winners and big losers of National Signing Day 2014?
NSD ’14 Winners
The team that had the best day on Wednesday was Steve Sarkisian and the USC Trojans. Three of the top 38 players in the nation, including two five-star talents, picked the Trojans over Pac-12 rivals UCLA, Oregon and others. Adoree’ Jackson (No. 7 overall) was the highest-ranked uncommitted player in the nation and he picked USC over UCLA, LSU and Florida. JuJu Smith (No. 20) was the fifth-highest rated uncommitted player in the country and he picked USC over Oregon, UCLA and Notre Dame. Those two five-star prospects also keep USC’s streak of landing at least one five-star prospect since 2003 alive. Damien Mama (No. 38) is one of the highest-rated four-star prospects in the nation and the massive offensive guard picked USC over UCLA and Notre Dame. Not only did Coach Sark land some elite talent but he beat his conference rivals in the process. The Trojans moved from outside the top 25 to No. 11 in the final team rankings and put together the best class in the Pac-12.
The second-highest rated player available heading into NSD was Auburn (Ala.) High School linebacker Rashaan Evans (No. 15). The 6-foot-3, 220-pounder hails from within the shadows of Jordan-Hare Stadium at Auburn High School and was considered a heavy Tigers lean. But just like last season when Reuben Foster shunned the hometown Tigers to head to Tuscaloosa, Evans signed with the Crimson Tide. The addition of Evans locked Nick Saban’s class in as the best in the nation in 2014 and gave the superstar coach his third consecutive recruiting national championship. According to the composite 247 rankings, Alabama signed six of the top 16, eight of the top 50 and 13 of the top 100 players in the nation. It was once again pure domination from Saban and the Tide on the recruiting trail.
Not only did the Cardinal have one of the best days but they might have done it with the best style. The national headlines began with five-star defensive end Solomon Thomas (No. 25) picking Stanford over Texas, Ohio State and Arkansas. The Coppell (Texas) High product pulled an actual pruned miniature tree out from beneath the table during his press conference and donned the signature Nerd Nation glasses. David Shaw then followed that up with the addition of New Orleans defensive back Terrance Alexander. Stanford’s class moved up to No. 14 nationally and the strong finish gave the Cardinal the Pac-12’s second-best class (USC). Stanford has a clear brand identity and Shaw has honed his ability to effectively sell it on the trail.
Signing Day began with a boom for the Dawgs when they pulled the first big shocker of NSD 2014 when they landed Isaiah McKenzie (No. 307). The four-star wide receiver was thought to be picking between Ole Miss, Florida and Virginia Tech but signed with Georgia in a coup for Mark Richt. Later in the day, Georgia landed another huge blow when it beat Alabama, Florida and LSU for the services of five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (No. 25). Certainly, adding Jeremy Pruitt has helped bolster UGA's recruiting efforts but Georgia running backs coach Bryan McClendon is the one who deserves the credit. He was named National Recruiter of the Year by 247Sports for the 2014 cycle.
Early in the day, Steve Spurrier flipped three-star defensive end Blake McClain from Nebraska. Then in the early afternoon, Spurrier was back at it again stealing appropriately named four-star defensive tackle Dexter Wideman from the defending champion Florida State Seminoles. Finally, the Ol’ Ball Coach wrapped up his sneaky good NSD by inking four-star defensive back Wesley Green from Lithonia (Ga.) MLK. The three big pick ups for South Carolina moved the Gamecocks into the top 20 nationally. This class features six defensive linemen and five cornerbacks, as stopping the pass is clearly becoming more important in the SEC.
It was a wild day for Florida State fans. Jimbo Fisher was guaranteed an excellent class but there was an outside chance FSU could have pushed Bama for the No. 1 slot. While the Noles didn’t catch Bama — it finished third nationally and No. 1 in the ACC — they certainly had some excitement. Four-star prospects Roderick Johnson (No. 125), Derrick Nnadi (No. 99) and Derrick Kelly got things started in a big way for Fisher and company before five-star wide receiver Ermon Lane (No. 24) and former Virginia Tech commitment Javon Harrison eventually picked the Seminoles. Fisher did lose quarterback Treon Harris to Florida and Dexter Wideman to South Carolina but made up for it by stealing Harrison from the Hokies in the 11th hour. This is an elite group that is poised for another title run or two.
No team jumped more in the team recruiting rankings than the Commodores. Weeks after James Franklin decimated a top-25 class when he headed to Penn State, Derek Mason rallied the troops by flooding the market with scholarships and landing more than a few quality prospects. Four-star defensive end Nifae Lealao (No. 103) was the prized gem of the group as Mason closed strong with a dozen commitments/signings over the last official visit weekend. In the end, Vandy moved up 35 spots in the team rankings in one week and salvaged a top-50 class. Vandy is ranked 50th by Rivals and Scout and 46th by 247Sports after ranking in the 80s for most of the last few weeks.
NSD ’14 Losers
The Big 12
Oklahoma had an excellent finish to its cycle with the additions of Michiah Quick (No. 56) and Steven Parker (No. 108), but on the whole, it was once again a disappointing season on the recruiting trail for the Big 12. New Texas coach Charlie Strong had to recruit against Mack Brown down the stretch and finished well outside of the top 10 (No. 15). Texas’ class would be just the ninth-best class in the SEC and no other Big 12 team landed in the top 25 nationally. As a league, the Big 12 signed just seven top-100 prospects after inking just four top-100 players last year and six the year before that. By comparison, the SEC signed 45 top-100 recruits this cycle and, more painfully, former Big 12 member Texas A&M signed more five-star prospects (3) on Wednesday than its former conference combined (2). This is still a great league with great programs and solid classes but the elite-level talent doesn’t seem to be heading to the Heartland any longer.
The Bruins landed a solid overall class, finishing 21st overall in the team rankings. But when the dust settled in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, the Bruins hadn’t won many battles on Signing Day. Kenny Young (No. 175) from New Orleans picked the Bruins but UCLA missed out on every other prospect it was in on. Five-star talents Adoree’ Jackson, Malachi Dupre and JuJu Smith went elsewhere while Damien Mama, Michiah Quick and Budda Baker shunned UCLA as well. More importantly, three of them — Jackson, Smith and Mama — signed with the crosstown rival Trojans of USC while Baker went to Washington. This is a solid class that finished fourth in the Pac-12, however, with a strong day, Jim Mora could have boasted the best class in the league. Instead, USC is celebrating that moniker.
Brady Hoke wasn’t expecting to have a dramatic finish to his ’14 cycle but the Michigan brand was noticeably absent from any meaningful conversations on Signing Day. The class dropped out of the top 20 nationally as other teams leapt ahead of the Wolverines. The Maize and Blue finished second in the Big Ten, but fell significantly behind Ohio State in the team ranks. Hoke missed out on a five-star in-state talent in defensive end Malik McDowell, who picked arch rival Michigan State instead, and the Wolverines weren't even in the mix for anyone else. It wasn’t supposed to be a big class but the 16 signatures are the fewest by any team ranked in the top 40. So while Michigan treaded water on NSD, Penn State, Michigan State and Maryland made moves and gained ground on the Wolverines within the division. Few schools nationally lost as much momentum on the recruiting trail throughout the course of the football season as the Wolverines did in losing five of their last six games.
Conference expansion has been a huge part of college football over the past few years and it has changed the way some teams are viewed on the recruiting trail. TCU was accustomed to signing the best classes in the Mountain West but finished outside of the top 50 nationally and eighth in the Big 12 on Wednesday. Utah and Colorado boast two of the worst Big 5 classes in the nation as Rivals ranks the Utes last in the Pac-12 while 247Sports ranked Colorado last in the league. Louisville is normally sitting atop its league in the Big East or AAC when it comes to recruiting. However, the Cards ranked ninth in the ACC and 47th overall by 247Sports, was 10th in the ACC and 46th overall by Rivals and didn’t get a top 40 mention by ESPN. Additionally, Syracuse and Pitt finished ninth and 12th respectively in the ACC while Maryland and Rutgers finished ninth and 10th respectively in the Big Ten. Even Nebraska finished sixth in the Big Ten.
Bret Bielema had a nice group, finishing 31st nationally in the team rankings. However, the Hogs, a team that finished very well last year with Alex Collins and Denver Kirkland, missed on their two big targets in Solomon Thomas (Stanford) and Richard Yeargin III (Clemson) this year. The Hogs finished 11th in the SEC in the team ranks, miles behind the top four classes in the league — all of which hail from the SEC West (Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Auburn). The already steep uphill climb appears to be getting tougher rather than easier for the Hogs' field general.
Purdue and Illinois
Neither the Boilermakers nor the Illini had a lot left on their boards entering the day but both Purdue and Illinois finished at the bottom of the Big Ten. The duo finished 70th (Purdue) and 71st (Illinois) respectively in 247Sports national team rankings and finished only ahead of Colorado among Big 5 schools. Tim Beckman was last in the Big Ten in recruiting this year and Darrell Hazell was 13th. The already extremely difficult turnaround projects in West Lafayette and Champaign don’t appear to be getting any easier. And, by the way, Indiana had a solid class ranked in the top 50 nationally by some.