College football rang in the month of February with its famed National Signing Day and again, it was the same old story; domination in the recruiting world by the conference that has dominated on the field, by winning the last six BCS National Championships, the Southeastern Conference. With fifty-three recruits from the ESPNU 150, the SEC nabbed over a third of the nation’s top recruits and more than doubled the number of ESPNU 150 signings of any other conference in America. A breakdown of where the ESPNU 150 signed is as follows: SEC (53), PAC-12 (25), ACC (24), BIG 12 (21), BIG TEN (12), Notre Dame (5), and the BIG EAST (3). Of the fourteen teams in the SEC (remember, both Missouri and Texas A&M will be leaving the BIG 12 in 2012 to join the SEC), just two, Kentucky and Arkansas, failed to land at least one ESPNU 150 recruit. Additionally, every other team in the conference signed two or more players from the list, with the exception of Mississippi State and Vanderbilt. So, while the SEC stole the show once again, a few schools outside of the conference enjoyed tremendous 2012 recruiting classes. Alabama boasts the top class in the nation, but here are the No. 2 and No. 3 classes and their key signings.
Florida State Seminoles
It seems the Seminoles have one of the top classes every year, but can anybody remember the last time that converted into major success on the field? Florida State hasn’t competed in a BCS Bowl game since their 26-23 loss to Penn State in the 2005 Orange Bowl, and even then, they entered the game at just 8-4. From 1987-2000, coach Bobby Bowden turned the ‘Noles into a college football dynasty. In that fourteen year stretch, while earning bids to twelve major bowl games (Orange, Rose, Sugar, or Fiesta) and capturing two National Championships, Bowden and the ‘Noles posted a remarkable 152-19-1 record. Pairing the No. 2 recruiting class in the country with last year’s No. 1 class, Jimbo Fisher looks as if he may be onto returning Florida State back to the glory that was once expected. Fisher locked up the No. 1 player in the nation, DE Mario Edwards. But on the defensive line, he did not stop there. The ‘Noles also signed DT Eddie Goldman (No. 10 overall) and DE Chris Casher (No. 23), making it three of the country’s top five defensive lineman. In Edwards, the Seminoles get a combination of size and athleticism. At 6’4” 297, he has the ability to flourish as a DE or if he adds a little more bulk, could be an overwhelming DT. Also on the defensive side, the ‘Noles add CB Ron Darby (No. 38), DT Justin Shanks (No. 114), LB Ukeme Eligwe (No. 116), and S P.J. Williams (No. 133). Darby, a track star who decommitted from Notre Dame in January, will be utilized at several positions on the field, as his 4.31 forty yard dash time makes him one of the fastest recruits in the nation. Let’s not forget about the top QB in all the land, Jameis Winston (No. 14). Winston is not only a dual threat, but also a dual sport athlete. He’s a baseball player who has been working diligently on improving his accuracy as a pocket passer, but when a play breaks down and he needs to improvise, look out, he can dazzle you with his feet. Joining Winston, as weapons on the offensive side of the ball, for Coach Fisher are RB Mario Pender (No. 72), an explosive trackster with big play ability and WR Marvin Bracy (No. 76), yet another track star for the ‘Noles. Bracy may be just 5’9” 168, but he is a handful for defenses to contain.
Mack Brown will enter his fifteenth year as the Longhorns head man and with his fourth straight top five recruiting class, it’s about time the Longhorns get back to their winning ways. After four BCS Bowl games from 2004-2009, including the National Championship instant classic victory over USC, Texas has fallen flat on its face the last two seasons. 2011 was a step up from 2010, but still light years away from where Brown and the Longhorns want to be. In the last two seasons, his Horns have lost as many games (12) as they lost in a seven year span, from 2003-09. Enter Gatorade National Player of the Year, RB Johnathan Gray. Remember that name. At a school rich in its tradition of great running backs (Earl Campbell, Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson, Jamaal Charles), Gray will join RB Malcolm Brown, a 2011 five-star recruit, to form another scary backfield for the Longhorns. Gray has a great combination of size and speed and is a force when he gets headed down field. His high school rushing numbers are straight out of a video game. From his sophomore to senior seasons, he rushed for a combined 9,799 yards and 169 TDs. Trust me, this is not a typo!! His senior year alone, in which he went for 3,906 yards and 65 TDs, can be considered an amazing high school career for many running backs. Oh…and umm…none of this even includes his numbers as a receiver, where he added nearly 500 yards and 5 scores as a senior; simply amazing. Heading to Austin along with Gray, will be DT Malcom Brown (No. 12), OLB Peter Jinkens (No. 57), OT Kennedy Estelle (No. 58), DE Torshiro Davis (No. 77) who decommitted from LSU on National Signing Day, OG Curtis Riser (No. 78), CB Bryson Echols (No. 79) who has the tools to become an elite cover corner, as well as five other ESPNU 150 recruits. Good things could be on the horizon in Austin, TX.
Where did other notable names sign? Here’s a glance at some of the better prospects in the land and what hat they wound up wearing on National Signing Day.
(No. 3) WR Dorial Green-Beckham – Missouri Tigers: Green-Beckham shattered the hearts of Arkansas Razorback fans everywhere as he slipped on the hat of his home state Tigers on National Signing Day. Green-Beckham has always admired the Razorbacks and their system, but at the end of the day, home was where the heart was for Dorial. At 6’6” 220, Green-Beckham is Megatron-esque, reminding many of Calvin Johnson.
(No. 4) DE Noah Spence – Ohio State Buckeyes: Urban Meyer’s first big recruit, Spence is a disruptive pass rusher, with great speed off the edge. Expect to hear much more on National Signing Day 2013, as Meyer begins to build his Buckeye dynasty.
(No. 5) RB Keith Marshall – Georgia Bulldogs: Much like Gray, who signed with Texas, Marshall is built low to the ground and pairs excellent vision with great quickness. In Marshall, the Bulldogs should get the RB they’ve lacked since Knowshon Moreno left for the NFL.
(No. 6) S Landon Collins – Alabama Crimson Tide: The Tide’s top recruit in 2012, Collins is a ball-hawking safety who has a knack for getting his hands on the ball. He’s solid against the run and could also provide the Tide with a boost on special teams, as if they need it.
(No. 16) S Shaq Thompson – Washington Huskies: Thompson made headlines when he decommitted from Cal, where his brother played, in March 2011. Shaq is a playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. The type of player who changes the course of a game, with the plays he’s able to make. A great pick up for the Huskies.
(No. 52) QB Gunner Kiel – Notre Dame Fighting Irish: The Columbus, IN product comes from a long line of QBs. His two brothers, father, and uncle all played the position in college. And while Kiel originally committed to play for Indiana, where his brother Dusty plays his college ball, he changed his mind in October 2011. That decision became LSU, but once again Kiel was unhappy with his decision and ultimately chose Notre Dame, where his uncle, Blair Kiel, played. To my fellow Notre Dame fans, let’s hope his on-the-field decision making is much better! Kiel is the third ranked QB in the class. An exceptionally strong pocket passer, he is deceptively athletic. Coach Brian Kelly hit a homerun for the Irish with this signing.
(No. 80) RB Barry Sanders Jr. – Stanford Cardinal: Yes, THAT Barry Sanders. Like his father, Barry lacks the ideal height for the position, but is built eerily similar. I mean, if you haven’t seen a picture of this kid, “google” his name now, because his looks and build are identical to Barry Sr. Following in the footsteps of a legend is not an easy thing to do, but Barry Jr. has all the tools Barry Sr. possessed at this stage of his career. His shiftiness, acceleration, and big play ability remind many of…who else; his father.