Reuben-Foster(1)

Your Complete Signing Day Recap

Well folks, the coaches have left the office, the ink has gone dry on the Letters of Intent, and the fax machines are shut off until the first Wednesday of February 2014. Signing Day is officially over.

So what were the story lines following the wackiest day of the college football calendar?

Let’s take a look:

Winner, Winner, Rebel Black Bear Dinner:

Ok, that pun was weird and made absolutely no sense, but then again, nothing in Oxford, MS makes sense these days. The Ole Miss Rebels closed on a number of key players Wednesday, and incredibly, find their class ranked in the top five nationally by just about every recruiting service in the country. By now you know the names of the newest group of Ole Miss football stars, as guys like Robert Nkemdiche, Laremy Tunsil, Antonio Conner were lined up, and Hugh Freeze knocked ‘em down. Simply put, this was one of the most improbable recruiting runs in recent college football history.

And really, that’s what’s most incredible about what happened at Ole Miss on Wednesday: Nobody could’ve ever imagined this coming. Not when Freeze was hired a year ago. Not when the Rebels needed to beat Mississippi State in the last game of the regular season just to get bowl eligible. And not even a week ago when rumors first started to circulate that this “Dream Team” of sorts may actually come together.

Now in terms of how this class did come together, Freeze was quick to credit a lot of outside variables for the Rebels’ success on Wednesday. The fact that Nkemdiche’s older brother Robert plays at Ole Miss doesn’t hurt, and neither does the fact that Connor just so happens to hail from South Panola High School, one of the top programs in the country, which just so happens to be right up the road from Ole Miss and has fed the Rebels program for years.  

At the same time, Freeze and his staff need to give themselves some credit too; it’s quite humble of this staff to credit outside variables, except, well, if this program had gone 4-8 this season instead of 7-6, would any of these kids have come to Ole Miss? Not to mention that for all the ties Ole Miss had, the Rebels still closed on a couple of unlikely prospects, including Tunsil, the No. 1 rated offensive tackle in the country that was heavily courted by Alabama and Georgia.

Point being, that a lot of variables went into Ole Miss’s success on Wednesday. And don’t be surprised if Ole Miss is able to carry that success onto the field this fall too.

As Much as Things Change, They Stay the Same:

If Ole Miss was the winner Wednesday, Alabama was the winner overall in this recruiting cycle, as incredibly, for the fourth time in five years the Crimson Tide find themselves as the No. 1 ranked class in Rivals’ recruiting rankings. As much as things change, they stay the same in Tuscaloosa, huh?

With that said, there are a couple of things to point out about this Alabama class. Well besides stuff like “Damn they’re good!!” anyway.

The first is that while Alabama always has top-ranked classes, it isn’t often that they close a recruiting cycle with the gusto that they did this past week. On Monday the Crimson Tide got a commitment from the top inside linebacker in the country in Reuben Foster, and followed it up on Wednesday by inking five star defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson, four-star defensive lineman Dee Liner (insert your own joke about his name and corresponding position) and running back Alvin Kamara. All three are considered to be ranked in the Top 100 players nationally, and all three were coveted by just about every other school in the country.

Speaking of Kamara, he is one of four- yes FOUR- running backs who committed to the Tide, giving Alabama an embarrassment of riches at the position. It’s tough to say if all four will stay in the backfield, and there are already rumors that one of them, Derrick Henry (who just so happens to have the record for most career rushing yards in the HISTORY of high school football) could be headed to the other side of the ball. Only at Alabama and only in 2013 could the greatest running back in the history of high school football end up at linebacker, huh? (By the way, we should also mention that Alabama also has some guy named T.J. Yeldon returning at the position as well. You know, the only freshman in the history of the program to rush for over 1,000 yards. Not too shabby!).

And finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention those running backs, and the other skill position guys Alabama brought in. Because for all the hype about this team’s defense (with good reason), it’s pretty darn impressive that they also brought in a five-star tight end (O.J. Howard), a five-star wide receiver (Robert Foster) and one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in the country (Cooper Bateman) to go along with those four running backs.

Again, it’s just an embarrassment of riches at Alabama and incredibly, this offense could be even more dynamic in two or three years than it was this past season. You know, when they put up 42 points in the BCS National Championship Game!!

Regardless, it’s safe to say that this program is going to continue to win games for a very, very long time.

Staying in Alabama:

With all the buzz in state of Alabama focused on the Crimson Tide, it was also hard not to be impressed with the way that Gus Malzahn closed on his first class across the state at Auburn. Given that Malzahn only had a few weeks to put together a staff and hit the ground running, finishing with the No. 10 ranked class overall is quite a respectable accomplishment.

What may be even more impressive is that for a head coach known as an “offensive genius,” Malzahn’s true genius may lie in the fact that the top three players in this class not only play on the defensive side of the ball, but are defensive linemen specifically. Some believe Carl Lawson to be the second best player in the country regardless of position behind only Nkemdiche, Montravious Adams is a five-star guy and four-star Elijah Daniel decided to switch his commitment from Ole Miss to the Tigers within the last few days (proving that even Ole Miss doesn’t get EVERYONE they want), giving three elite talents, at football’s most important positions.

To look at it a different way, just think about it like this: Last week on my podcast, ESPN recruiting guru Tom Luginbill told me (and I’m paraphrasing) “You can get running backs anywhere. Wide receivers are a dime a dozen. But where you win is with good trench guys.”

Apparently Malzahn was listening, and really, Luginbill was right (of course he was. He’s the best in the business). Malzahn will get running backs. He’ll get wide receivers. He’ll find a quarterback.

And when you add those guys in with who he signed on the defensive side of the ball today?

Well crap, big things are ahead on the Plains.

Dark Skies at USC:

As recently as six months ago many believed that USC was putting together one of the finest classes in college football recruiting history. Then the wheels came off, and after a slew of decommitments, USC only signed 12 total players on Wednesday. Not quite what Lane Kiffin had in mind put together this monster class back in the summer, huh?

Sadly for USC fans, the slew of kids who decommitted from USC reads like an All-American team that in its own right could win a National Championship, and could eventually lead to one of the greatest “What-If” propositions of all-time: What if Kiffin had held onto this class?

Seriously, look at the names just on USC’s decommitment list: Jalen Ramsey (Florida State) is considered to be the best cornerback in high school football and Max Redfield the No. 2 safety, ranked only behind S’ua Cravens at the position, a player who ironically is already at ‘SC. Kylie Fitts (UCLA), Eddie Vanderdoes (still undecided as of this publication), Torrodney Prevot (Oregon) are all defensive lineman at a key position of need, and Jason Hatcher (Kentucky) is a linebacker who certainly could’ve helped out too.

Now of course the good news for Kiffin is that in terms of sheer talent, USC did still sign unquestionably the most talented class player-for-player of anyone in college. All 12 committed players were ranked in the ESPNU Top 300, all 12 were at least four-stars or better, and five of the 12 are listed as five-star guys by Rivals.com. The Trojans are the only team in the country with five, five-star players, an accomplishment that not even Alabama can claim.

At the same time, it’s not about quality (which is undoubtedly there) but the quantity. Simply put it’s impossible to compete in modern college football when you bring in just 12 players, especially when so many of them were lost at positions of need such as defensive line and defensive back.

USC might be ok next year, and frankly, I suspect they’ll be better than most people realize. The problem isn’t the present, but the future though, and at some point, this tiny, 12-man recruiting class will catch up with them.

An Urban Revival:

Although all the recruiting headlines came out of the SEC on Wednesday (as they always tend to do), one of the quietest and most confident finishers was Urban Meyer at Ohio State. The coach who was a one-man recruiting tornado during his days at Florida put together a 2013 class which finished second in the country this year, according to Rivals.com.

What made Meyer’s haul so impressive though was his combination of getting a number of big-time commitments early, while closing strong late too. Entering Wednesday Ohio State already had a top-five class buoyed by guys like Mike Mitchell (a Crystal Ball Run darling), linebacker Trey Johnson and running back Ezekiel Elliott, but also closed on Signing Day by getting five-star safety Vonn Bell and four-star running back Dontre Wilson, a player who’d previously been committed to Oregon.

There is one other interesting thing to note about Ohio State’s class and that’s this: When Bell announced he’d be going to Ohio State over his hometown Tennessee Volunteers (a team he grew up rooting for), he called it a “business decision.” While a lot of fans will make their “paying for players” jokes, the implication by Bell is clearly that Meyer is selling Ohio State as a place where National Championships are much easier to attain than anywhere in the SEC.

Don’t be surprised to see Meyer use that recruiting pitch to sell Ohio State to kids for years to come. He should compete for plenty of National Championships because of it as well.

A Wait and See Approach:

Interestingly, one team that usually finds itself atop these recruiting rankings was conspicuously absent from Signing Day drama. That team is the Texas Longhorns, who signed just 15 players on Signing Day, finishing the day ranked 24th nationally according to Rivals.com.    

While this alone isn’t cause for red flags to be flown at half-mast around Austin, it is something to keep an eye on.

Simply put, Texas had limited scholarships this year, so it’s tough to really gauge whether they “struggled” in recruiting or not. At the same time, they saw a slew of decommitments over the course of the last calendar year, including the nation’s top wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones (who went from Texas to Texas A&M) and four-star running back Kyle Hicks, a one-time Longhorns commit who decided to go to TCU instead. Most surprisingly, five-star defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson flipped his decision from the Longhorns to Alabama just in the last few days, leaving Texas with a grand total of zero five-star prospects. That just doesn’t happen in Austin, where five-star players used to fall off trees like leaves in the fall.

So what does it mean going forward?

It’s tough to say. But it’s no secret that there has been a bit of concern in recent months around Austin. Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M are coming on like a freight train and three straight disappointing seasons haven’t helped matters either.

So for Texas, the best thing the Longhorns can do is win, and win big in 2013. It should be something they’re primed to do, with a club which should start the year ranked in the Top 15 nationally.

Odds and Ends:

- The strangest story of the day undoubtedly came from South Florida, where Alex Collins was set to sign with Arkansas… until his mother refused to sign off on it, and left his press conference with Collins’ paperwork. While nothing is confirmed, it seems as though Collins’ mother preferred that he stay closer to home and play at Miami.  

Simply put, in the bizarre world of college football recruiting, this is one of the most bizarre things we’ve seen ever. At the time of this publication, we have yet to find out if, or where Collins will sign to play football next year.

This will be something to keep an eye on in the coming days and weeks.

- We mentioned Reuben Foster before, but would be remiss if we didn’t mention the get-up he chose to wear to sign his Letter of Intent. Foster elected to put on an old-fashioned, Nick Saban straw hat when signing his paperwork to play at Alabama next season.

Simply put, this was just about the most awesome thing that happened all day. It also led to the question: Is Reuben Foster allowed to be my favorite college football player before he’s ever even played a game?  

- Along with Ohio State, both Michigan and Notre Dame had quietly efficient days, with each finishing with classes that were in the top-six nationally. What was maybe most impressive is that both did it with little of the drama that surround Signing Day, quietly inking just about every player that was expected to sign with the school.

Beyond that, what’s most fascinating is that while each school is building a similar team designed to hold up in the cold conditions of the Midwest, this year they approached that task in completely different ways.

After the debacle that was the BCS title game, Notre Dame loaded up with speed on defense, with five-star safety Max Redfield and five-star linebacker Jaylon Smith headlining their class. Meanwhile at Michigan it was about evolving from the Denard Robinson spread attack to a ground-and-pound game featuring five-star running back Derrick Green, four-star pro-style quarterback Shane Morris, and a slew of big, physical offensive and defensive lineman.

Both programs appear to be in good hands going forward with their respective coaches.

Add them in with Ohio State, and maybe the SEC isn’t going to run away with the next 10 National Championships after all.

- It was a quiet day in the ACC, where the usual suspects killed it on the recruiting trail. Dabo Swinney got elite cornerback Mackensie Alexander to come to Clemson, and as he always does, Jimbo Fisher closed as strong as anyone. Florida State was barely ranked inside the Top 20 entering the day, but after getting Jalen Ramsey to flip from USC to the Seminoles and then adding linebacker Matthew Thomas and defensive tackle Keith Bryant, Florida State finished with the No. 11 class overall.

Not bad when you consider this was a bit of a “down year” for Florida State’s recruiting, huh?

- Out West, UCLA closed up an impressive first full recruiting cycle under Jim Mora. The Bruins swooped in and stole Fitts from USC, and added a surprise when four-star dual-threat quarterback Asanti Woulward chose to come West from Florida and back-up Brett Hundley for a few years as well.

Add in a slew of big defensive backs and a litany of four-star linebackers and lineman, and Jim Mora is building a program that should compete for Pac-12 titles for years to come.

- Finally, speaking of Pac-12 titles, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Oregon Ducks. Just two days ago we wrote about concerns in Mark Helfrich’s first class after Dontre Wilson elected to decommit and go to Ohio State, yet to his credit Helfrich closed strong on Wednesday.

For Oregon, the Ducks were able to hold onto every other big-time recruit they’d had committed, including speed-burners Thomas Tyner of Oregon and twins Tyrell and Tyree Robinson. Most importantly though, they added bulk along the line, with offensive lineman Cameron Hunt and surprised just about everyone when they convinced Torrodney Prevot to come to Eugene. Prevot had been committed to USC and most assumed that if he did decommit, it’d be to stay in Texas and attend A&M.

Maybe those obituaries that were written on the Oregon program were a little premature after all.

For all his opinion, analysis and insight on college football, be sure to follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

Follow Crystal Ball Run on Twitter @CrystalBallRun.
 

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.

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