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SEC Football: Current State of Recruiting in the Western Division

At the peak of summer, let's take a look at the current recruiting leaderboard in the SEC West. Is there a team that can surpass LSU?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The summer typically sees a lot of breaking recruiting news, as this period is dead smack in the camp and unofficial visit season. Talented players wishing to end their recruitment prior to their senior seasons are on the cusp of making their decisions. Some recruits will be pressured to commit as programs relay that they are considering multiple prospects and will only hold a specific spot for one. Meanwhile, no games have been played, and hope springs eternal to varying degrees from the small programs all the way to the major ones expected to compete for conference titles and beyond.

As SB Nation's National Recruiting Director Bud Elliot has thoroughly explained, it takes a certain percentage of blue-chip recruits to compete for national championships. Recruiting is the programmatic lifeblood of successful programs. Missing on a single signing class can have an impact that will echo throughout future seasons. At best, a team has depth issues for a season, maybe two. At worst, poor recruiting and roster mismanagement becomes a gaping wound remorselessly exploited week-to-week by opponents until we begin to see the inept failures in our dreams like a bizzaro, sport-specific form of PTSD that we're too ashamed to admit to anyone in normal life, but will do so anonymously on a message board where our brethren—or brothers in arms, if you will—have mutual experiences (not that I'm a bitter Kentucky fan or anything).

At the end of the day, signing great athletic talent will make up for missed assignments, inevitable attrition, bad play-calling, and half-ass motivations. Now, a lot can happen between now and National Signing Day that will alter recruiting rankings (assuming you put stock into them in the first place). There could be: decommitments, an individual's ranking increases, an individual's ranking decreases, academic causalities, and several other possibilities. A school's intended signing class also affects the final rankings, which can vary dramatically over the rest of the year depending on attrition, early jumps to the NFL, or something else entirely.

With that giant disclaimer out of the way, let's take a look at the current state of recruiting rankings in the SEC West.

247 Sports Composite: June 20th, 2014
Team 2015 Signing Class Size (est.) Number of Commitments Number of Four- or Five-Stars % Blue Chips Overall Ranking SEC Ranking
LSU 24-25 17 12 71% 1 1
Alabama 24-25 15 8 53% 5 2
Ole Miss 20-22 14 6 43% 7 3
TAMU 21-24 14 4 29% 11 5
Auburn 20-22 10 5 50% 19 9
Miss St. 17-19 11 0 0% 27 10
Arkansas 15-17 9 2 22% 39 12

Assorted thoughts:

  • LSU currently holds the top-ranked class in the country. Arguably, the gem of the class is five star defensive tackle Edwin Alexander, but there are also five blue chips that hail from out-of-state. To build on that more-than-sturdy foundation, LSU also gets the benefit of having a talented in-state base to further bolster this class. What perhaps sets this cycle aside from others is LSU's strong recruiting in both Texas and Florida. The signing of blue chip defensive backs further reinforces the school's reputation as "Defensive Back U", and regularly putting receivers in the NFL probably helped get a commitment from blue chip Texas receiver Dee Anderson. Teaming up recruiting aces like Frank Wilson and Ed Orgeron like a Cajun Voltron may be the causal factor. What's scary for LSU's opponents: the 2017 Class is already shaping up to be another strong one.
  • If anyone can catch LSU this year a likely candidate is, naturally, Alabama. The Crimson Tide started slow this cycle, but things have picked up this summer. The hometowns of Alabama's commitments display just how much the program is a national brand which is also a credit to Nick Saban's assistants and staff. Alabama is a school that could probably get by only recruiting the south, and yet in this cycle it's final signing class from in-state and nearby will probably be a minority in the class' overall make-up. To do that and still have a chance at landing a top 1-5 class is ridiculous given their geographic location. It's almost like the 'Bama staff is looking for a recruiting challenge. In any case, there are several major in-state and out-of-state recruits the Crystal Ball currently projects to 'Bama, so expect the ranking to rise.
  • Another team with high upside is Auburn which currently sits at 10 commitments. The highest rated player being receiver Eli Stove, who is another highly-rated Florida athlete that assistant Dameyune Craig has brought to The Plains. Speaking of recruiting done by assistants, newly-hired defensive coordinator Will Muschamp does not immediately appear to have made a recruiting impact yet, but it's still very early. Muschamp did a fair bit of recruiting as a coordinator at Texas, and it will be interesting to follow his recruiting efforts over the long-term at Auburn. Overall, the Crystal Ball predictions for Auburn show they have a better than even chance to land double digit blue chips this cycle. No big surprise there.
  • Ole Miss has started off this cycle strong after not finishing in the top ten since 2013's historical class. There's a theory that signing classes require a commitment from a Pied Piper-esque blue chip quarterback early in a cycle to be great. The idea being that specific position has a disproportionate effect on swaying the hearts and minds of other minors. If you're one who subscribes to this, then Ole Miss' commitment from five star quarterback Shea Patterson in February probably reinforces your view. Ole Miss has done well with in-state recruiting so far, but the remaining in-state blue chips don't appear to be a lock. In-state rival Mississippi State is favored for a few of those, per Crystal Ball predictions.
  • Texas A&M's signing class probably overtakes Ole Miss in the next few months based on their projected signing class size and the rankings of their remaining targets. In fact, if everything goes well TAMU probably finishes in the top 7-10 signing classes. A&M's already has commits that it can build upon in this class which is headlined by the number two recruit in the country, offensive tackle Greg Little. Nonetheless, adding to their bounty will be difficult given how contested recruiting in Texas has become with the emergence of TCU and Baylor along with historical rival Texas. What's interesting to this neutral observer is that despite Kevin Sumlin's name consistently being attached to a future NFL job, the Aggies perennially compete for the best recruits in Texas.
  • Mississippi State and Arkansas both appear hamstrung this cycle by small senior classes which leaves little wiggle room for an 85-man roster. Attrition always happens, and some spots will almost certainly open up, but it's unlikely either program will get to a top twenty finish without signing at least 20 recruits. If they have great seasons -- Mississippi State repeats the 2014 season, and Arkansas builds upon last year's campaign -- their relatively smaller classes can emphasize quality over quantity. A possible indicator if successful seasons come to pass: spring or summer recruits decommitting in December and January as those staffs gingerly inform recruits that they are going another direction.

It's still a long way to National Signing Day, and the SEC West's final standings remain in doubt. LSU is currently the leader, but there are several other schools who could surpass them in the coming months. If any program is likely to fall, it's probably Ole Miss based on the (estimated) remaining signing class size and the quality of competition for their major targets. Nonetheless, all of the programs listed above are probably immune to an under-performing season which is unlike the SEC East. A 7-8 win season (God forbid!) probably won't impact their standing with blue-chip recruits. If anything, it may free the coaching staff earlier to do more recruiting which could pay dividends in this class or 2017.