Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football, and it's no surprise that year in and year out the nation's most successful conference on the field and the most successful conference on Signing Day are the same.
But not everybody can emerge victorious from the first Wednesday in February. While most SEC squads at least held their own yesterday a few really missed the boat. Others stockpiled talent like a fat kid hoards moon pies. Let's look at who the winners and losers were when most of the ink dried.
Alabama. It's a cliche for sure, but oftentimes the rich just do get richer. Alabama signed the consensus top class in the country, headlined by, well, pretty much everyone in the class. Personally, I'm expecting big things from Florida receiver Calvin Ridley, whose world-class speed, solid hands, and elusiveness in the open field will make it hard to keep him off the field. Of note: only 7 of the Tide's 24 pledges came from recruits hailing from the Yellowhammer State. That's a symptom of 1) the relatively small number of true bluechip players produced by the state (as compared to Georgia and Florida, for example), 2) having to share those recruits with Auburn, and 3) Nick Saban's ability to get an invite to the living room of virtually every recruit from coast to coast.
LSU. Again, so what else is new? No one cleaned up on the perimeter better than the Tigers, whose signing of Tyron Johnson, Kevin Tolliver, and Donte Jackson gives them an unbelievable haul. Any of these guys would have been the top recruit in all but 3-4 classes in the conference. Le Smiles* also picked up a late commitment from lean, athletic defensive end Arden Key (a South Carolina defection) and 5 star offensive tackle Chidi Valentine-Okeke, two players with amazing long term potential. Given how young they were in 2015, how much talent they have returning, and what they picked up in this class, I predict LSU is about to be very tough for an extended period of time.
Auburn. As is often the case Signing Day was full of blue chip players rediscovering a previously undocumented but lifelong love of the University of Auburn. Of course Georgia fans are aware of Darius Slayton's decision to decamp to the Loveliest Little Village. But the WarPlainsTigerCashFlashers also picked up 5 star defensive end Byron Cowart, rangy linebacker Jeffery Holland, and sleeper Prince Tega Wanogha, Jr. While Wanogha suffered a serious injury in a basketball game recently and actually spent his Auburn visit being pushed around in a wheelchair, he has as much upside as any prospect in the country assuming he makes a full recovery.
Georgia. This seems like a bit of a homer move. Granted. But there were few teams in the league who signed more difference-makers than Georgia. Trenton Thompson is the rare defensive lineman who could start in the SEC as a true freshman. He's one of an impressive 6 defensive linemen ranked among the top 300 players in the nation by ESPN who committed to the Red and Black. That's unprecedented success at a position of need. Terry Godwin is as electric with the ball in his hands as any player you'll see. And tight end Jackson Harris, already on campus, looks like a star in the making in an offense that is likely to rediscover the tight end under Brian Schottenheimer.
Ole Miss. The Rebels suffered a late defection by Richmond, but on the whole Hugh Freeze's staff did a good job of continuing to upgrade the talent in Oxford. DaMarkus Lodge and Van Jefferson are both difference makers at receiver. The Rebels also brought in a solid haul on the lines of scrimmage. led by mauling offensive lineman Javon Patterson.
Tennessee. For what seems like the eighth year in a row, the Volunteers signed a bunch of solid recruits, 27 in all with a couple of guys who will gray shirt and arrive later. Former Norcross standout and Alabama signee Alvin Kamara returns from the JUCO ranks and gets another crack at the SEC. Alabama's offense was always a bad fit for Kamara, and signing with the Tide was a mistake. But if new offensive coordinator Mike DeBord wants speed on the field, he could do worse than Kamara. The Vols also signed three quarterbacks in their elusive quest to top the mythic production of Creamsicle-clad legends Jim Bob Cooter and Justin Worley. The big news for Tennessee was that 12 of their pledges are along the offensive and defensive lines, where they need to get better to contend in the SEC East. Those included huge defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie and 5 star offensive tackle Drew Richmond, a late flip from Ole Miss. The issue for the Vols?
Vols with another top 5 class this year. One thing to remember, though, is that 7 four-star players from '14 class are gone or transferring.— Chris Low (@ClowESPN) February 4, 2015
Florida. Not counting 5 star CeCe Jefferson, whose situation remains somewhat in limbo (though it looks promising for the Saurians), Florida signed a total of 20 players. Only four are rated 4 stars or higher in the composite industry rankings compiled by 247Sports. That means Jim McElwain is going to need a lot of guys to play above their billing in the next couple of years, and that's not accounting for areas like wide receiver and offensive line where the Gators have had some real issues in the past couple of years. That being said, expectations are unusually low in Gainesville right now. If McElwain can go 7-5 in year one and avoid obvious flatulence during in home visits over the next 12 months, he'll sign a top 8 class in 2016.
Kentucky. The Wildcats started the 2014 season 5-1 and then never won another game. That was also kind of how the 2015 signing period went, as the Bluegrass Boys lost 6 commitments in the final 10 days before Signing Day, basically doing other more prestigious programs' scouting for them. Apparently the poor also get poorer.
South Carolina. The Head Ball Coach sort of kind of hinted that he may not coach forever and recruits started running for the doors. The Gamecocks ended up with 29 commitments, though none could fairly be described as true national top 50 players, and 6 were from the JUCO ranks. That's the kind of class South Carolina used to put together in the Holtz era. Lots of warm bodies, not a lot of sure things, even to the limited extent that term can be used in college football recruiting.
Vanderbilt. Go ahead, name a Vanderbilt football signee. I dare you.
Who do you think knocked it out of the park on Wednesday?