The 2017 recruiting cycle has come and gone, and although the SEC signed 5 of the nation’s top 10 classes, there’s little time for coaches to enjoy their accomplishments. The conference’s efforts for 2018 already are taking full focus.
There’s hard work ahead for everyone, but the stakes vary from team to team. Alabama comes off another SEC championship and its seventh consecutive No. 1 class in national recruiting. Georgia jumped all the way up to No.3 in the country in Kirby Smart’s first full cycle. Florida closed strong to a top-10 finish, while Auburn stayed there for the fifth consecutive year.
But what about the programs that disappointed? Or ones feeling the heat on the trail because of other factors?
SEC Country has 3 teams in mind that really need to kill it during the 2018 recruiting cycle:
Ole Miss went from signing the No. 5 class in the country last year to finishing No. 30 for 2017. You can assign at least a chunk of the blame to the ongoing NCAA investigation.
After all, that’s what coach Hugh Freeze did, calling his incoming class ‘a penalty, to be under the cloud that we’re under.’ The Rebels signed three blue-chip prospects during the cycle and finished better than just two SEC schools in the final rankings — Missouri and Vanderbilt. The state of Mississippi’s top recruit, 5-star running back Cam Akers, added to the disappointment by signing with Florida State.
So, yeah, Ole Miss recruiting has seen much better days. Considering how poorly Freeze’s squad finished on the field in 2016, this latest February haul is especially concerning.
The 2018 class gives the Rebels a chance to rebound. But as long as the NCAA drags this investigation out, rival schools will be able to use that as a recruiting weapon against the program. Freeze and his staff will have difficulty escaping that shadow. The only way to do that is to show, honestly and truly, that Ole Miss is committed to cleaning up its image.
Even after Les Miles got canned in September, the Tigers finished with another top-10 recruiting class and signed two 4-star quarterbacks. That’s a testament to new coach Ed Orgeron and his staff.
But since the passing of National Signing Day, LSU had a couple developments that raised concern. The demotion of Jabbar Juluke irked New Orleans high school coaches to the point that they threatened boycotting the Tigers’ program. And although that flareup seems to have ended pretty quickly, it’s not the most encouraging start to Orgeron’s tenure. The New Orleans area is a hotbed of in-state talent, producing among others Leonard Fournette, Tyrann Mathieu and Donnie Alexander.
On top of that, Kansas, of all programs, is threatening LSU’s hold on The Boot. The Jayhawks hold commitments from four of the state’s top 25 prospects, including 4-star receiver Devonta Jason and 4-star cornerback Corione Harris — both products of New Orleans’ Landry-Walker High School. That happens to be the same school that Mississippi State quarterback signee Keytaon Thompson attended.
RELATED: Grading LSU’s 2017 recruiting class
The state of Louisiana was always the foundation of LSU’s recruiting success under Miles. It remains to be seen if Orgeron will give his home state the same priority and what level of success area recruiter Mickey Joseph will have in Juluke’s place.
Regardless, Orgeron will be under pressure to impress during his first full recruiting cycle as coach of the Tigers.
Had they not secured a 28-player class, the Vols might not have cracked top 20 in national rankings. All but five of Tennessee’s 2017 signees were 3-star recruits, and while Butch Jones did land the state’s No. 1 prospect, Trey Smith, his program missed out on Tennessee’s other two 5-star players. JaCoby Stevens chose LSU and Tee Higgins wound up at Clemson.
Clemson also swiped 4-star wideout Amari Rodgers — the son of Tee Martin — and ex-UT quarterback commit Hunter Johnson. LSU snagged 4-star linebacker Jacob Phillips.
You can say a lot about the in-state recruiting fallout, but I’m willing to bet you aren’t saying, ‘Wow, Tennessee is back.‘ Jones and staff enter 2017 under a microscope after a highly disappointing end to last season that saw upset losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
On-field performance will be bigger for Jones, but a strong start to the 2018 recruiting cycle would certainly improve perception at Tennessee. The Vols already have a strong foundation, holding commitments from 5-star tackle Cade Mays and 4-star athlete Alontae Taylor.