Kirby Smart locked up the No. 1 recruiting class this cycle as Georgia signed four five-star prospects
National Signing Day is the thing dreams are made of for college football fans. The beginnings of a program's success or failure commence on the first Wednesday in February each year with the addition of a recruiting class. The efforts put in on the recruiting trail identifying top prospects that will fit the scheme of an offense or defense and then nurturing that relationship until the recruit signs their National Letter of Intent is not only measured by wins and losses but also rated day of based on "star" rankings. The more five-, four-, and three-stars acquired, the higher the ranking.
There are always teams that achieve prosperity in talent and athleticism above and beyond the rest. As the ink dries on contracts across the nation tying a specific player to a specific program, we look at the winners, losers, and teams that surprised all with their Class of 2020 recruiting haul.
The Bulldogs were in great shape before the early signing period in December and kept at it, building upon a great foundation laid. Their class jumped from seventh nationally to No. 1 (247Sports) by landing 25 total commits, four five-stars, and 15 four-stars. The class is highlighted by the top corner in the nation, Saguaro's Kelee Ringo, and bolstered by offensive tackle Broderick Jones, defensive tackle Jalen Carer, and tight end/defensive end Darnell Washington. Six four-star recruits were able to enroll early, enroll getting a head start on adding depth to the 2020 roster.
No program moved up the rankings as dramatically, and meaningfully, as Tennessee. The Volunteers were hanging in at No. 20 before the early signing period and end Wednesday with a top-10 class. With 23 total commitments, the staff was able to sign 13 four-star prospects. A lot of attention was given to the box on defense with nine signed. Getting four-star QB Harrison Bailey on campus for the spring semester is an added bonus.
Oregon may have not matched last year's ranking status (7th), but this team is loaded. In a tough geographical fix, the Ducks were able to pull from 13 other states hitting California the hardest (7). The staff weathered some high-profile four-star deflections to sign 22 total players, including three five-stars. Head coach Mario Cristobal wants Oregon to be rugged in the trenches, which shows in this class with five offensive and defensive linemen signed. Pac-12 running backs cannot be happy seeing linebackers Noah Sewell and Justin Flowe in this class.
Former head coach Chad Morris had Arkansas in position for a top-25 recruiting class, had the Razorbacks produced a winning 2019 season. As is, he was dismissed and former Georgia offensive line coach Sam Pittman was brought in to rebuild the program. When Morris left, the recruiting class was depleted with four-stars jumping ship, plummeting the class to 120th overall, leaving a total of six three-star players. The new staff got after it securing 21 total commitments, a mix of four four-stars and 17 threes, finishing at No. 30. Pittman's staff closed hard, landing four-star QB Malik Hornsby and four-star guard Marcus Henderson on NSD.
Florida State Seminoles
Another team that experienced a transition at the top was FSU. After two seasons, the Seminoles parted ways with Willie Taggart bringing on Memphis head coach Mike Norvell to change the program's fortunes. The switch between the two changed very little, perhaps proving that the program recruits itself as much as anything. Florida State was ranked 26th overall in December, and finished 22nd. The makeup consists of eight four-stars and 16 three-star players. Having a top-25 class under Norvell’s belt should help when greater scrutiny goes towards next year’s seniors.
Old Dominion Monarchs
The overall recruiting rankings may not show it, but ODU had a fantastic NSD. Left for dead in December after a 1-11 season under former head coach Bobby Wilder, the impact Ricky Rahne has had cannot be understated. Throughout the day on Wednesday, the Monarchs were reeling in one three-star recruit after another, ending the day with 21 total players. The early part of the class was comprised of eight three-stars, and is now filled with 17. To put this into perspective, ODU has more three-star players than higher-profile programs like Illinois, SMU, Houston, and Virginia Tech.
Showing how fickle the rankings can be with the addition of a couple of players, the Trojans were 83rd overall heading into the early signing period with 10 commits, one four-star and nine three-stars, and have somehow jumped up to 55th adding just one four-star and two three-stars. Given all the talent in Southern California coupled with the success on the field in 2019 and the program’s rich history, USC should never be left desperately needing players to fill a class. Adding to the sting, UCLA pulled in 20 players, four four-stars and 16 three-star players to finish 32nd.
Virginia Tech Hokies
If not for Illinois (88th), Virginia Tech would be the lowest-rated Power 5 team in the recruiting rankings at No. 70. The Hokies have quality talent signed, but only have 15 players in their incoming class. The drop-off for head coach Justin Fuente is dramatic; Tech was ranked 26th nationally a year ago. Per the rankings, Tulane, East Carolina, and Toledo outperformed the Hokies on Wednesday and during this cycle.
It might be time for fans in Tucson to start worrying. The Wildcats are 9-15 under head coach Kevin Sumlin, and it does not appear help is on the way to change the success of the program. Arizona signed 18, all three-stars; so that is a bonus. But the staff fell short signing a full class and did not land a four-star, all while rival Arizona State (24th) constructed a top-25 class.
— 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.