There are two very good reasons why SEC football is considered the best in the country: the conference always does exceptionally well at recruiting, and it has some of the best coaches in the nation to develop that talent. National Signing Day 2011 was no exception.
To be clear, though, the signing period is not over yet. Four of the Rivals.com top 100 prospects have yet to sign, including DE Jadeveon Clowney (considering South Carolina and Alabama), OT Cyrus Kouandjio (considering Auburn and Alabama), and QB Jacoby Brissett (considering Florida but not expected to go there). Kouandjio provided some of the highest drama of the day by announcing for Auburn but then not signing his NLI after his family protested. His brother Arie Kouandjio currently attends Alabama. Rivals top ten JUCO DT Johnathan Jenkins (considering Georgia, Florida, and Auburn) is still out there too.
So with that said, here's how the SEC schools stack up as of this morning:
*Rivals is only showing its top 50 classes at the moment.
**ESPN only ranks the top 25 classes every year.
If you're counting along at home, that's nine teams in everyone's top 25. Mississippi State slid into Rivals' top 50, and all 12 schools placed in Scout's top 50. All in all, it was one of the best years for SEC recruiting, period.
Alabama had a sterling class as always under Nick Saban, landing contested prospects LB Brent Calloway and DE Jeoffrey Pagan yesterday. It has a chance to get even stronger if Kouandjio follows his brother and/or Clowney decides to leave his home state of South Carolina.
Auburn parlayed its national championship into a fantastic class, and it doesn't come a moment too soon. With the 2010 Tigers senior laden and a couple of juniors lost to the draft, the Tigers have only seven returning starters for 2011. If Kouandjio's announcement from yesterday sticks, he will have a chance to play right away if he can prove himself.
Georgia closed strong in the last few weeks, picking up commitments from DE Ray Drew and RB Isaiah Crowell. Mark Richt took advantage of coaching upheaval at Florida and Miami to keep most of Georgia's top talent in-state and raid Florida for a few choice prospects. The talk in Athens was of putting together a "Dream Team," and the experts seem to agree that Richt did it.
LSU did what it does best, which is keep nearly all of Louisiana's best talent at home. This year featured one of the state's strongest crops of recruits in recent memory, so doing that was key for Les Miles. Perhaps none will be examined more closely than Zach Mettenberger, the former Georgia QB who did a year in JUCO purgatory last year. He has the skills to push Jordan Jefferson for the starting job.
Tennessee needed to have a strong class to combat the effects of roster attrition that's plagued the Vols through their many coaching changes over the past few years. Derek Dooley believes he got a class of high character guys who are unlikely to leave or cause trouble, and the experts think they're all pretty good players as well. One of the biggest questions about Dooley when he was hired was if he could recruit well, and his first full class landed just outside the national top ten. Not bad.
Florida went for quality over quantity with the Meyer-to-Muschamp transitional class, landing just 18 players but ranking much higher in average stars than total recruiting points. The biggest battle of the class was won weeks ago when QB Jeff Driskel kept his commitment and enrolled early in Gainesville. The Gators could really use the JUCO DT Jenkins, as this class was a bit thin on the lines.
South Carolina has a huge class this year, with 30 commitments in hand already. Already confirmed academic casualties reduce that number to 27 for this year though, one below the national limit. That 28th spot is being reserved for Clowney, one of the state of South Carolina's best high school players ever. He could make a Marcus Lattimore-like impact for the defense, but the competition for him is fierce right now between the Gamecocks, Bama, and Clemson.
Arkansas had one of its highest rated classes in recent years after breaking through and appearing in a BCS bowl for the first time. The Hogs won a few key battles yesterday, including keeping former Florida State commit DT Lonnie Gosha and picking up TE Andrew Peterson out of Dallas. The highest rated prospect of the bunch is OT Brey Cook out of Springdale, who is already a massive 6'7", 314 lb beast.
Ole Miss has continued the strong recruiting under Houston Nutt that it started in the Orgeron era. It's key addition of yesterday was WR Nickolas Brassell, one of the many top rated recruits in the state of Mississippi that the Rebels hauled in. As is often the case with Ole Miss, the class has a distinct JUCO flavor to it. Ole Miss was a part of the strangest story of the day: CB Floyd Raven decided at the last minute to switch to Texas A&M, but he didn't tell his mother about it. She forged his signature on the Rebel NLI and faxed it in to help him out, but it got voided and Raven ended up an Aggie.
Mississippi State has a somewhat disappointing signing day as it was plagued by decommits recently and lost out on many of the state's top rated recruits to Ole Miss. Losing defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to Texas at close to the last minute didn't help the cause.
Kentucky had a solid effort in Joker Phillips' second time around as head coach, including bringing in consensus four-star DB Glenn Faulkner from St. Louis. Perhaps the best pickup namewise is DT Shaq Love, who Phillips smuggled over the border from Tennessee.
Vanderbilt didn't see much of a difference in James Franklin's first class than normal, as the 2011 bunch is entirely two- and three-star prospects. Maybe as a sign of things to come, though, is that Vandy stole Virginia Beach QB Lafonte Thourogood away from Virginia Tech yesterday. He had been committed to the Hokies for a while and was slated to be their only quarterback prospect signed this year.