Let's get something out of the way here: Nobody won anything on Wednesday. It's understandable -- and correct -- to get excited about National Signing Day and the results of recruiting. It's the closest thing we've had to a college football result in almost a month, and the closest thing we'll have to a score for almost seven months. And the recruiting services are actually pretty good at ranking players and classes, a point that's been proven over and over in recent years.
All that said, though, recruiting is not destiny. A ton of blue-chip talent and subpar head coaching gets you the Ron Zook Era at Florida. Gary Pinkel, meanwhile, has made an art form of getting very good results with recruiting classes that are less than stellar. Other coaches and programs tend to be on a continuum somewhere between those two extremes. All other things being equal, it's better to have a No. 1 recruiting class than a No. 10 class, and far better to be ranked No. 10 than to end up at No. 50.
So what can we take away from Wednesday's action? Here are five of the most important things about the end of the 2015 recruiting process, with rankings coming from Rivals, Scout and the 247Sports composite.
Yeah, it's Alabama again. The Crimson Tide are the top team in the recruiting rankings for the 57th season in a row. (That might be an exaggeration.) And when it comes to SEC, Alabama's recruiting prowess approaches dominance: The point difference between Alabama and Tennessee, the No. 2 team in the conference, in Rivals is more than twice as large as the difference between the Vols and Texas A&M. The Aggies are ranked sixth in the SEC. It's a less significant gap in the 247Sports composite -- though the 25 points separating Alabama and Tennessee is still larger than the gap between the Vols and the Aggies, and A&M is ranked sixth there as well -- and things are much tighter between Alabama and Scout's second-ranked SEC team, Auburn. But there's a reason that Alabama is a contender for the national title more often than not. Combine that kind of recruiting with a coaching mind like Nick Saban's, and you're going to win many, many more games than you lose. (Particularly when your offensive coordinator knows how often to run the ball.) It's almost unfair.
It's going to be hard to shut down the Tennessee hype machine now. With the 4-1 finish to the season that began with a win over (a diminished) South Carolina and ended with a convincing bowl victory against Iowa (for the first three quarters, at least), the chances that Butch Jones was going to be able to manage expectations heading into next year were always vanishingly small. They're now probably gone. Tennessee ended with a consensus Top 5 class and the second- or third-best recruiting haul in the SEC, depending on which of the services you listen to. Obviously, few of those players are going to contribute right away, but anything that adds fuel to the era of good feelings in Knoxville is going to contribute to the Volunteers' emergence as the 2015 dark horses du jour in the always wide-open SEC East. And it would be foolish to count Tennessee out of the race at this point -- though mostly for other reasons than the recruiting class that was made official Wednesday.
Florida finishes strong. It was just a few days ago that we were musing about the possibility that Florida might have to settle for a class in the 40s -- and that was perhaps a bit optimistic, given where the Gators were at the time. Not so much. Jim McElwain hauled in some major catches in the closing hours of the 2015 recruiting period, and finished with the consensus No. 21 class in the nation -- an increase of 45 places from the most recent 247Sports composite, and up more than 50 spots from where the class was when we posted that gloomy piece about UF. A week ago. They probably don't keep records for the best recovery in recruiting, and they wouldn't go back very far if they did, but it's safe to say that would probably be one of the better ones. Now, the harsh reality: Florida still finished 10th in the SEC according to 247, ahead of only Missouri (a perennial overachiever when it comes to recruiting vs. results), Arkansas, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. The Gators were 10th in the SEC (23rd overall) in Rivals and 12th in the SEC (29th overall) in Scout. Still, that comes with an upside; if history is any guide, this will be very close to the floor for McElwain at Florida, and things could get much better in the next few years.
BERT might be okay at this recruiting thing. Looking at things relatively in the SEC can lead to some misconceptions. It's possible to have a good recruiting class in the nationwide rankings and bring up the rear in the SEC. Arkansas is a prime example of this. The Hogs were No. 25 according to Rivals, No. 22 according to Scout and No. 23 in the 247 Sports composite. In the SEC? No. 11, No. 10 and No. 12, respectively. But zero in on the national numbers a minute, and it should start to do away with some valid reasons one could have had a few years ago to doubt whether Bret Bielema could recruit at an SEC level. As far as Rivals and Scout go, this is his first Top 25 recruiting class as a head coach. Ever. At either Wisconsin or Arkansas. In fact, Bielema never had a class ranked higher than No. 30 in Rivals, Scout or the 247Sports composite before he arrived at Arkansas. He passed that rank in all three years at Arkansas in the Rivals and 247 rankings. (Scout pegged the 2013 and 2014 classes both at No. 33.) It's too early to declare that Bielema and his Fayetteville staff can recruit well enough to compete in the SEC West, but the signs are encouraging. Combine that with some work by 538 suggesting that Wisconsin was the most consistently overachieving program from 2005-14 -- a period that was for the most part overseen by Bielema -- and you have the makings of some realistic optimism. Don't put the Hogs in Atlanta just yet, but realize that the idea is getting harder to dismiss out of hand.
Steve and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Or maybe it wasn't all that bad. There's no question that when you look at what this year's recruiting class could have been for South Carolina, ending the year with the 19th-ranked class (Rivals, 247Sports composite) or the 20th-ranked class (Scout) is a major disappointment. But when you consider what preceded it -- a season that barely extended Spurrier's run of non-losing seasons and perhaps the dumbest thing the Head Ball Coach has ever said, which helped lead to a stampede of decommitments -- the final results could have been worse. Furthermore, when you remove the couldabeen aspect of it, the class isn't that far off where South Carolina's classes have typically been, on a rolling four-year average.
Throw in the fact that South Carolina under Spurrier has been on the right side of 538's chart, and there are reasons for Gamecocks fans to -- well, to not panic, if nothing else. The next National Signing Day could be worse, though, if South Carolina can't find a transition plan or a winning season to offset the newspaper clippings about the "two or three" more years comment that opposing head coaches are certain to show recruits.