College football's National Signing Day is in the books and the focus for all 130 programs can officially turn to offseason workouts and practices and the pursuit of a championship. While a chunk of the focus every year is what happens on the field, the National Signing Day and recruiting efforts for every team is just as important. Talent development is essential for every program but landing four and five-star prospects at a higher level clearly matters in reaching the CFB Playoff. The top three teams - Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State - in last year's national roster rankings have claimed national championships in recent years, while Clemson at No. 12 wasn't too far behind.
Certainly, winning big in college football takes great coaching, enormous support staffs, state-of-the-art training facilities and plenty of luck. But whoever has the most talented roster, has a head start in the race for conference and national championships.
National Signing Day 2017 gave us more than 4,000 new players to root for and track over the next four or five seasons. So which teams are in the best shape for 2017?
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for SEC schools over the last five classes according to 247Sports Team Composite rankings and each team's record over the last five seasons. Obviously, this doesn't take into account attrition but, over time, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.
Ranking the SEC's College Football's Rosters in 2017
Alabama No. 1 for the Seventh Year in a Row
For the seventh consecutive season, Alabama claimed the No. 1 spot in the national recruiting rankings. Under Nick Saban’s direction, the Crimson Tide continue to raise the bar and set the standard for the rest of college football to aim for on and off the gridiron. And even with significant personnel losses for the 2017 season, elite recruiting will compete Alabama at the top of most preseason polls for next fall. According to the 247Sports Composite, 24 of Alabama’s 29 signees rated as a four or five-star prospect. Additionally, the 322.5 total points by the Composite team rankings for Alabama in 2017 was the most for a class since Florida’s 323.66 in 2010.
No Shortage of Talent in Baton Rouge
Just one glance at the recruiting data from recent years was enough to justify LSU’s decision to part with Les Miles. The Tigers average a 4.8 finish nationally in recruiting rankings, yet are just 25-15 in SEC play since 2013. Additionally, LSU has lost at least three games in every year and has not finished higher than No. 13 in the final Associated Press poll since 2012. For a program that reels in elite talent and recruited eight five-star prospects from 2014-16, the expectation is SEC Championships, playoff berths and trips to New Year’s Six bowls. Can Ed Orgeron elevate this program a step higher? The hire of Matt Canada as the team’s new play-caller was one of the top offseason additions and should help this offense take a step forward in 2017.
Make-or-Break Year for Gus Malzahn and Kevin Sumlin
The success on the recruiting trail hasn’t quite matched the results for Auburn under coach Gus Malzahn. The Tigers have reeled in a top-10 class in each of Malzahn’s five seasons, but Auburn is just 18-22 in conference play since 2013. The only teams with fewer than 18 wins in SEC action in that span? Vanderbilt (14-26), Kentucky (8-32), Arkansas (12-28) and Tennessee (15-25). Texas A&M isn’t far behind Auburn in the national total (11.0), and coach Kevin Sumlin’s team is just two games over .500 (21-19) in SEC action.
Related: Early SEC Predictions for 2017
Kirby Smart Delivers on the Recruiting Trail
The top of the SEC East is tough to sort out in the early 2017 projections, but Athlon’s first power rankings placed Georgia as the team to beat. The Bulldogs finished 8-5 in coach Kirby Smart’s first season, with three losses coming by three points or less. Even though Smart’s debut wasn’t among the best for new coaches, he delivered the No. 2 signing class in the SEC. Georgia inked 26 prospects in its 2017 class, with 20 of those as a four or five-star recruit. The Bulldogs 300.98 total in the 247Sports Composite was the team's highest mark since 2000. Combine the talent addition from the recruiting trail, the return of sophomore quarterback Jacob Eason and running backs Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, and it’s easy to see why Georgia appears to be trending up entering coach Kirby Smart’s second year.
Florida’s Recruiting Under Jim McElwain
Recruiting has been a source of concern for some in the Florida fanbase since Jim McElwain took over the program prior to the 2015 season. Despite claiming back-to-back SEC East titles, Jim McElwain has yet to reel in a class higher than No. 10. After finishing 21st in McElwain’s first haul, the Gators finished 13th last season and improved to 10th in 2017. A late surge of commitments helped Florida improve from a top 20-25 class into a No. 10 haul on National Signing Day this year. After reeling in five five-star prospects from 2012-14, Florida has landed just two from 2015-17. Additionally, when Athlon Sports compiled this data back in 2014, Florida ranked No. 2 in the SEC with a 5.6 national average. A couple of years later, Florida’s average finish nationally is 11.2. That ranks just ahead of Tennessee (13.2) but a bit behind Georgia (7.0). In an effort to improve recruiting, McElwain hired standout Florida recruiter JaJuan Seider away from West Virginia. Let’s see if this moves helps the Gators reach the top five once again in national recruiting rankings in 2017.
Uncertainty Taking a Toll on Ole Miss
For the first time since 2012, Ole Miss did not land a top-20 signing class. After finishing No. 6 last year, the Rebels tumbled to No. 30 nationally in 2017. The ongoing NCAA investigation took a toll on the program’s recruiting efforts, which also allowed in-state rival Mississippi State to land a better class (No. 24).
Kentucky’s Recruiting Under Mark Stoops
Kentucky has momentum on its side after its best season under coach Mark Stoops, and the Wildcats also inked the No. 29 class on National Signing Day. The No. 29 class helped raised Kentucky’s five-year total to 31.4, which is up from 37.6 just two years ago. The Wildcats have some work to do in closing the gap to Arkansas and Mississippi State. However, Stoops has widened the gap from Kentucky to Missouri and Vanderbilt in the overall roster rankings.