With the NCAA dead period finally lifted, SEC recruiting action picked up big-time on Thursday, with coaching staffs hitting the trail and working furiously to secure their 2017 classes in the final few weeks before signing day (Feb. 1).
We know how each of the conference’s teams stack up recruiting-wise: Alabama still holds pole-position and Georgia is a close second, followed by the clustered pack of LSU, Texas A&M, Tennessee and Auburn. But which school could close out the strongest as this recruiting cycle enters its final turn?
Several SEC Country recruiting experts weighed in with their thoughts in this week’s roundtable:
Zach Abolverdi: Florida
Florida is an SEC program that needs to finish strong in the 2017 recruiting cycle. The Gators are ranked outside of the top 15 nationally, but only two-thirds of their class is complete. They’re expected to add nine more recruits to their commitment list, which currently sits at 15. There’s scholarship room for 24 signees.
UF probably won’t reel in a 5-star recruit or finish with a top-10 class, but several quality targets still remain on the board. Florida will host more than 20 recruits for official visits over the next three weekends as National Signing Day nears.
The best-case scenario would be to land 4-star WR James Robinson, 4-star OL Kai-Leon Herbert, 4-star DT Tedarrell Slaton, 4-star LB Levi Jones and 4-star cornerbacks C.J. Henderson and Brad Stewart. Five of those six recruits are All-Americans, and all of them are scheduled to visit Florida this month.
The Gators are also the team to beat for 3-star RB Adarius Lemons, 3-star DB Brian Edwards and 3-star DT Tyrone Truesdell. If UF lands the aforementioned prospects, it will be a huge haul for Jim McElwain and his staff.
Chris Kirschner: Florida
Florida only has 15 commitments with just over two weeks to go until signing day. The Gators have the 8th-best class in the SEC right now and the No. 19 overall class in the country. That’s not great for a team that has appeared in the SEC championship game the past two seasons.
Florida should be able to close strong, though, as it is considered the favorite to land 4-star prospects Tedarrell Slaton, James Robinson, Chris Henderson, Levi Jones and Brad Stewart. The Gators will also likely flip 4-star Michigan OL commit Kai-Leon Herbert. Florida really needs to land these guys to have any chance at a top 10 class.
Trent Shadid: Ole Miss
There’s a lot of uneasiness surrounding Ole Miss with an ongoing NCAA investigation hanging over the program. Coach Huge Freeze has also been tasked with hiring five new assistants since November. Oh, and the Rebels are coming off a 5-7 season, their worst in five years under Freeze.
With all this going on, recruiting has undoubtedly been negatively affected. The Rebels have just 14 combined commits and signees, tied for the least in the SEC with Vanderbilt. Ole Miss’ 2015 class finished No. 5 nationally, and the Rebels have secured a top-20 class in each of the past three seasons. If they’re going to get anywhere near that this year — their class currently ranks No. 45 nationally — then they need to close very strong.
The good news is some major targets remain uncommitted. Ole Miss is certainly hopeful to get back the commitment of 4-star in-state linebacker Willie Gay, who de-committed in October. Missouri’s top recruit, 4-star defensive end Chester Graves, also remains a possibility. The most-realistic top option at this point appears to be 4-star cornerback Chevin Calloway from Dallas. Calloway officially visited Ole Miss last month, and gives the Rebels a slight edge with visits to Arkansas and Texas still to come.
Jesse Simonton: Tennessee!?!?!?
Truly, Georgia has the framework of an outstanding class, but based on my time spent in Texas, I have to go with Alabama. While the Crimson Tide already boast the nation’s top-ranked class, it could become flat-out bananas by National Signing Day.
At worst, Alabama is a finalist for a number of blue-chip prospects. Most likely though, five All-Americans are Tide leans. Come NSD, the Tide could add 5-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon, 4-star defensive ends Jarez Parks and LaBryan Ray and 4-star receivers DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs to a class that already includes the likes of Najee Harris, Dylan Moses and Jerry Jeudy. Sure, Clemson won on Monday, but the Tide will certainly claim another recruiting title in three weeks.
Sam Spiegelman: LSU
Alabama and Georgia, presumably, will finish with two of the highest-ranked recruiting classes in 2017. They already rank Nos. 1 and 3, with 26 and 23 commits apiece, respectively.
LSU is on the outside of the top five looking in with the No. 7-ranked class and 19 commits heading into the first major official visitor weekend. That means there are upward of nine spots available with a slew of blue-chip targets remaining on their board.
Consider this: LSU is a finalist for some of the best uncommitted receivers in the country, including 4-stars DeVonta Smith and Nico Collins and sought-after SEC target Racey McMath. The Tigers are also in the running for 4-star running back Travis Etienne, who holds offers from most SEC schools.
Defensively, it’s hard to ignore the blue-chip prospects that are not only still on LSU’s board, but that the Tigers are also considered favorites to land. They include 5-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, 4-star defensive end Phidarian Mathis and 4-star safety Todd Harris. The pursuit of linebackers has been tricky — to say the least — after whiffing on Baton Rouge natives such as Dylan Moses and Christopher Allen. But Allen, an Alabama commit, is still a flip target for LSU. As are Oklahoma commit Jacob Phillips, Tennessee commit Will Ignont and one of the class’ top uncommitted prospects at the position, Willie Gay.
So while LSU sits at No. 7 in the class rankings, its ability to add up to nine more blue-chip commits before National Signing Day puts the Tigers in favorable position to close on a top-five recruiting class.
Benjamin Wolk: Florida
The Gators haven’t been sharp on the recruiting trail since Jim McElwain’s staff took over two offseasons ago. Now Florida finds itself in one of its most desperate situations yet. The Gators are No. 19 in the team rankings right now, which isn’t an acceptable position for that program — or its fan base.
But unlike many of its SEC counterparts, Florida’s work isn’t anywhere close to finished between now and National Signing Day. As it stands, there are 15 commitments in Florida’s 2017 class. That leaves around 9 spots remaining that the Gators hope to fill. If Florida can land the right pieces, it has a chance to bolt up the team recruiting rankings. The final result still might not meet the high-flying Florida expectations, but the school has a chance to finish much better than barely scratching the top 20.