Comparing every '16 SEC recruiting class to historical trends
With the exception of one or two stragglers, all 14 SEC recruiting classes are finalized for 2015.
How does each program’s recruiting ranking compare with historical averages?
After a close look, we graded four programs as “better than usual” and 10 as “in line with normal trends,” although a case could be made for bumping LSU down to that second grouping. As hard as we tried, we couldn’t classify any of the teams as “worse than usual.”
SEC recruiting is as strong as ever, with six of the top 12 teams and a huge chunk of the top-rated players. If the SEC can’t win another national championship in the next few seasons, don’t blame the talent level.
BETTER THAN USUAL
- LSU. Typical Les Miles, right? Survive a messy coup attempt, then piece together arguably the second-best class in school history — and the composite No. 3 class in the country. If only the Tigers had retained a quarterback like Feleipe Franks.
- Ole Miss. Hugh Freeze is making a statement with this class, which is loaded with five-star players and could be even better on paper than the 2013 group. The Rebels are not one-hit wonders with Laquon Treadwell, Laremy Tunsil and Robert Nkemdiche, and will have the talent to keep competing for big-time bowl games.
IN LINE WITH NORMAL TRENDS
- Alabama. This one’s difficult, as the Tide finished with the No. 1-ranked (composite) class for the sixth consecutive year. With National Signing Day pickups from a pair of touted linebackers, there’s almost as much elite talent in this class than there has been in Nick Saban’s best classes. Still, finishing best in the country has become the standard for Bama, and one can’t call this group “better than normal.”
- Arkansas. Coach Bret Bielema landed the quintessential Razorbacks recruiting class once again. Four of the five highest-rated players are linemen or running backs. Overall, the group rates on the fringe of the top 25. Most importantly, the team no longer has any excuses about a lack of depth, even with a strong departing cast of offensive standouts.
- Auburn. Technically, this represents an exact average for coach Gus Malzahn (average class rank: No. 8). After losing so many key members of his defensive coaching staff, all of them strong recruiters, the Tigers still managed to put together an impressive group that’s right in line with historical averages.
- Georgia. Mark Richt’s recruiting classes were much like his seasons: Full of promise, commendable, but not quite championship-worthy. With a top 10 class on his first National Signing Day as head coach, Kirby Smart has kept the stream of incoming talent steady. Now we’ll find out what he can do with it.
- Kentucky. The Wildcats landed some touted offensive linemen and got most of their 2016 commitments early, including seven January enrollees. Attracting talent hasn’t been an issue for Mark Stoops, at least relative to UK’s historical trends. But it’s time that he wins more than five regular-season games.
- South Carolina. The Gamecocks rank as low as this program has in recruiting since 2010. That’s ironic because Will Muschamp (and his staff) has been touted as a much better recruiter than Steve Spurrier. But in more than a decade on the job, the Spurrier regime hovered near the top 20 on average, while this Gamecocks class rates at No. 26. It’s not an indictment on Muschamp, who actually did a good job after getting hired. The outlook should improve for 2017. It’s better than the Gamecocks have done in the long-term history. But this class still is not as good as South Carolina has become accustomed to putting together in the last four years.
- Tennessee. The Vols slipped to 14th after ranking seventh and fourth the last two years, but that isn’t necessarily an indictment of coach Butch Jones and his staff. After putting together two monstrous classes in 2014 and 2015 — leading the SEC in games played by first-year players each season — the Vols didn’t have as many scholarships available this time. Still, Tennessee locked down 10 four-star players, including another strong quarterback.
- Vanderbilt. Derek Mason and the Commodores appear to have found their level in recruiting. Mason now has finished 46th, 46th and 53rd with his first three recruiting classes. This one features pro-style quarterback Deuce Williams and a plethora of receivers and defensive backs.
WORSE THAN USUAL
- Florida. Identifying a historical baseline for the Gators is difficult considering the herky-jerky nature of the program long-term. But Florida consistently ranked in the top 10 under Urban Meyer and Will Muschamp. This class, which ranked 13th, included 16 three-star players. Four-star defensive lineman Shavar Manuel flipped to Florida State on National Signing Day, and the Gators didn’t sign a single top 10 player in the state. In other words, this is a volume play for Jim McElwain in his first full recruiting cycle. There’s some good talent, but it’s not near the couple of special classes that Meyer once brought to Gainesville.
- Texas A&M. There’s nothing wrong with ranking in the lower teens, especially for a program like the Aggies. But coach Kevin Sumlin’s staff averages a top 10 class, so this represents a slight decline. Texas A&M did string together several four-star players. But high-profile defections (five-star OT Gregory Little and four-star WR Quartney Davis, though the latter eventually signed) and the lack of a big-time quarterback (transfer Trevor Knight is a temporary fix) adds to the feeling that this class represents a momentum shift in College Station.
- Mississippi State. Coach Dan Mullen and his staff have done an outstanding job of developing talent in Starkville, winning 19 games the last two years despite consistently ranking low in SEC recruiting rankings. But the Bulldogs have earned top 25 rankings in most recent seasons, including a spot at No. 18 last year. Mississippi State ranked 40th the night before signing day before closing to No. 31. But Mullen and company rely in first-year players less than any other coaching staff in the SEC, so there will be time to develop this collection of talent.
- Missouri. The Tigers never have been recruiting superstars. But after back-to-back SEC East titles, Mizzou snuck into last year’s top 25 on the strength of five-star defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. This year’s coaching transition from Gary Pinkel to Barry Odom, the 5-7 season and a few other events almost conspired to keep the program out of the top 50 in the 2016 class rankings. (The team finished at No. 50.) Mizzou always was going to need to continue to identify and develop less-touted talent, but with just one four-star player, the team is at a big disadvantage compared to the rest of the conference.