1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes went wire-to-wire as Scout’s No. 1 class. Ohio State got off to a fast start with 22 commitments pledging to the Buckeyes by the Fourth of July. It had been a quiet autumn for the Buckeyes with only one commitment since Sept. 1. Then they locked up the No. 1 spot by signing offensive tackle Marcus Hall. The Buckeyes are looking to inject a heavy dose of speed with five defensive backs signed, headlined by two-way athlete Corey Brown and offensive imports from the Sunshine State in running back Jamaal Berry and wide receiver Duron Carter.
Alabama made another mad dash for the No. 1 spot, only to come up just short. With a solid contingent already committed before Signing Day, Alabama had a huge Signing Day haul, including linebacker Tana Patrick, running back Eddie Lacy and offensive tackle Brandon Moore. Alabama has an impressive class across the board, headlined by five-star-rated running back Trent Richardson, linebacker Nico Johnson and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. Michael Bowman and Kevin Norwood are big, talented receivers who should complement Julio Jones well. Alabama recruited depth and talent at every position including a deep pool of offensive linemen spearheaded by massive tackle D.J. Fluker.
|Ruben Randle’s signing was a big reason LSU was ranked so highly. (Kita Wright / Associated Press)|
The Bayou Bengals of LSU enjoy one of the best location-based recruiting advantages in the entire country as the only BCS school in a talent-rich area. Les Miles and his Tigers have stretched beyond the state of Louisiana though, securing a commitment from one of the most dangerous players in the country in quarterback Russell Shepard of Houston. LSU also has a commitment from the nation’s No. 1-ranked safety prospect in Craig Loston, another Texas product. All of the big names aren’t from out of state though, as five-star defensive tackle Chris Davenport hopes to maintain the recent tradition of dominating interior linemen for the Tigers. Michael Ford, Scout’s No. 3 running back, also hails from Louisiana. Signing Day decisions by defensive end Sam Montgomery, linebacker Barkevious Mingo, and No. 1 wide receiver Ruben Randle lifted the class.
One of the big movers on Signing Day, UCLA had a terrrific finish with signatures from big offensive linemen Xavier Su’a-Filo and Stan Hasiak, as well as a cross-country pull in four-star running back Damien Thigpen. UCLA also signed a top-10 class in 2008. Four-star quarterback Richard Brehaut could be thrust into action early next year, and a new favorite target should be the nation’s No. 1 tight end, Morrell Presley. Presley wasn’t the only former Trojan commit that inked with UCLA. Randall Carroll made the switch as well, vaulting the Bruins past the Trojans in the rankings and into the top 5.
5. North Carolina
North Carolina did a terrific job of securing the state’s top talent. With four ACC teams within the state borders, the Tar Heels secured signatures from five of the top seven prospects from North Carolina. UNC is doing more than just securing its own borders though with high-profile commitments from out-of-staters, including quarterback Bryn Renner (Virginia) and offensive linemen Brennan Williams (Massachusetts) and Johnnie Farms (Georgia). The headliner in this Tar Heel class, though, is a homegrown product: Scout.com’s No. 1 defensive end Donte Moss from Jacksonville, N.C.
No stranger to the top 10, Texas selects players as much as it recruits them. The Longhorns have taken early recruiting to a new level, as they’ve typically filled their class by the spring evaluation period. Of Texas’ 20 signees, only one of them occurred after June 1, and only one of them has come from outside the state borders. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert and wide receiver Greg Timmons provide the sizzle in this Longhorn class, while big linemen Alex Okafor (defensive end) and Mason Walters (offensive tackle) provide the steak.
Another year, another spot in the top five for USC. The Trojans are headlined by Scout’s No. 1-ranked quarterback Matt Barkley of Santa Ana, Calif. The Trojans are bringing in a bevy of speedy, versatile defenders who Scout currently has ranked as safeties, including No. 2 T.J. McDonald, No. 4 Patrick Hall, No. 5 Jawanza Starling and No. 6 Byron Moore. The Trojans felt an unusual amount of competition from crosstown rival UCLA and seemed to recruit against their own depth chart for much of January with an inordinate amount of losses on their commitment list, including wide receiver Ashlon Jeffrey to South Carolina. Starling and Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones helped ease any Signing Day pain the Trojans may have been feeling.
The Bulldogs have a pair of highly regarded quarterbacks signed in No. 3 Aaron Murray and No. 14 Zach Mettenberger. Wide receiver Marlon Brown is a five-star target who should complement A.J. Greene well, but it’s on the defensive side of the ball where Georgia has made a mark. No. 2-ranked cornerback Brandon Smith is one of the fastest players in the country and is a weapon on either side of the ball. The linebacking corps is scheduled for a heavy dose of speed as Mike Gilliard, Chase Vasser and Dexter Moody are all long, rangy athletes. Defensive end Montez Robinson may have the most upside of any of the commitments; he’s a 4.5-40 defensive end who is new to the game.
It appears at least one team in the Big 12 is getting serious about defense. After watching teams light up the scoreboard like a pinball machine in the Big 12, the Sooners are bringing in several players capable of making early contributions including Scout’s No. 1 cornerback Gabe Lynn. Lynn is one of five defensive backs in this Sooner class. Defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland may be the top prospect regardless of position in this class, and Oklahoma also received signatures from five linebackers. Linebacker Ronnell Lewis was the Sooners’ first commitment for the Class of 2009. He saw his ranking skyrocket at the end of his senior season.
10. Penn State
While the big question in Happy Valley for the last several years has surrounded Joe Paterno and his future, the present for Penn State has never looked better. A Rose Bowl appearance on the field and a top-10 class off of it have given Paterno more ammo to fight off his doubters. While skill-position players get more ink, it’s the offensive linemen who can make or break a team, and Penn State is bringing in one of the top linemen in the country in Eric Shrive. Scout’s No. 2 offensive tackle in the country should protect the blind side and open up holes for dynamic dual threat quarterback Kevin Newsome. “Linebacker U” isn’t ready to forfeit its title as Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges are big-time talents. Wide receiver Justin Brown is an exciting offensive prospect who should work well with Newsome.
Michigan is bringing in a nice blend of “system” players, as well as players that fit any system. There are smaller, faster players who will specifically fit Rich Rodriguez’s style of offense, like receiver Jeremy Gallon and quarterback Tate Forcier. And there are big linemen who fit any scheme, including five-star defensive tackle William Campbell and bookend offensive tackles Michael Schofield and Taylor Lewan.
12. Texas A&M
The Aggies of Texas A&M are going for a heavy dose of talent infusion in the Class of 2009 with 27 commitments and a top-15 ranking that has held steady all recruiting season. While the Aggies had most of their recruiting done by the time the 2008 season kicked off, the headliner in this class came just after Christmas in the form of Scout’s No. 4-ranked running back, Christine Michael. Michael should get plenty of help as two of the Aggies’ most highly regarded prospects are offensive tackles Rhontae Scales and Clinton Narron.
13. South Carolina
Never known as a recruiter at Florida to the same extent that he was thought of as a great football coach, the “Evil Genius” has made some people have to rethink their definition of Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks have gone head to head with in-state rival Clemson and held their own, getting a big commitment from five-star safety Stephon Gilmore. The Gamecocks have added some explosion in the offensive backfield in running back Jarvis Giles, a former Tennessee commitment. Jumbo safety Devonte Holloman has as much potential as anyone in the country, and if the light comes on for him, he’s an NFL player. South Carolina also had a big Signing Day switch in the form of wide receiver Ashlon Jeffrey, who had previously been committed to USC.
One of the surprises of the recruiting season was Stanford. The Cardinal staff has recruited well across the board but was particularly successful at tight end. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are ranked the No. 4 and No. 6 tight ends in the country respectively, and Ryan Hewitt is No. 30 nationally. Shayne Skov was Stanford’s first commitment, and the No. 3 middle linebacker is also the highest-rated on the board at five stars. The one concern in this class may be on the offensive line, but with three tight ends and four defensive linemen committed, Stanford has ample athletic big men in this class.
Bolstered by re-signees like five-star linebacker Eltoro Freeman, four-star running back Onterrio McCalebb and four-star defensive lineman Nick Fairley, Auburn’s new staff hit the recruiting trails hard and secured previously committed players like tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and defensive end Dee Ford. The hiring of Gene Chizik from Iowa State raised a lot of eyebrows among Auburn followers, but staff additions such as Trooper Taylor, Tracy Rocker, Ted Roof and Gus Malzahn should pay future dividends on the recruiting trail.
16. Ole Miss
No one made a stronger Signing Day dash than the Ole Miss Rebels. Ole Miss had seven commitments when the season kicked off, and at last count on Signing Day, the Rebels were at a whopping 37 signatures, including huge recruiting wins like five-star wide receiver Pat Patterson, the nation’s No. 1 postgraduate player offensive tackle Bobby Massie, four-star quarterback Raymond Cotton, and linebacker Willie Ferrell among others. Houston Nutt didn’t arrive in Oxford with the reputation as a great recruiter, but he served notice to the rest of the south on Signing Day.
17. Florida State
There was a time in the not-so-distant past that the Florida State Seminoles were the strongest closers in recruiting. While Florida State has changed its philosophy to a certain extent with big early commitments, including the nation’s No. 1 defensive tackle Jaccobi McDaniel and athlete Willie Downs, the Seminoles haven’t completely given up on the last-minute drama. Cornerback Greg Reid, a former Florida commitment, was a bit of a Signing Day surprise.
18. Mississippi State
While Mississippi State struggled on the football field in 2008, head coach Sylvester Croom had done an outstanding job of hitting the recruiting trails heavily, taking advantage of a coaching-transition year at rival Ole Miss. Croom didn’t survive the 2008 season, but much of his work in recruiting did. Import former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to run the show, and Mississippi State has been able not only to solidify prior commitments, but bring some high-profile targets on board, including four-star wide receiver Chad Bumphis. Quarterback Tyler Russell has the physical ability the Bulldogs have been missing at the position for years.
Miami was serious about restocking its talent level last year when it signed a whopping 33 prospects for the Class of 2008. Many of those players made an immediate impact, including quarterback Jacory Harris and linebacker Sean Spence. While the numbers aren’t going to be the same for the Class of 2009, the quality will still be there. With 18 commitments, Miami is going long on quality with a commitment from Scout’s No. 1 prospect regardless of position, running back Bryce Brown. Brown didn’t sign his scholarship papers on Signing Day, but he still considers himself a Miami commmitment. Miami’s running back haul for the Class of 2009 should help the Hurricanes remember the days of dominant running backs, as Brown is joined by four-star runners Lamar Miller and Mike James. On defense, Ray Ray Armstrong and Brandon McGee are difference-makers at safety and cornerback respectively.
When he was at Louisville, Bobby Petrino was my choice as the coach who got the most out of his talent. Now that he’s at Arkansas, he’s attracting an even higher level of player. That’s good news in Fayetteville as Arkansas is securing the state’s top talent, including five-star athlete Darius Winston and offensive guard Colby Berna. The recruit likely to make the biggest impact for the Razorbacks is former No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett, who started at Michigan and sat out his transfer year last season.
Florida found itself in a similar situation to USC this year, an annual recruiting power having more trouble recruiting against its own depth than against other teams. Florida uncharacteristically lost a couple of commitments the last few days before Signing Day, but all is not lost in Gainesville. Wide receiver Andre Dubose, defensive tackle Gary Brown, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, and offensive tackle Xavier Nixon are rated at five stars by Scout. While Signing Day may have been a bit disappointing for Florida fans, the Gators have to be considered the odds-on favorite to repeat as BCS champion. When a team has trouble recruiting because it’s too good, that’s a nice problem to have.
The Tennessee Vols stood up and issued a challenge to the Mighty Gators. Two of Tennessee’s Signing Day switches came right off the Florida commitment list in Marsalis Teague and Nu’Keese Richardson. Teague and Richardson have similar stories in that both of them are quarterbacks who will play another position in college. Teague is the thicker of the two and will find himself on defense; Richardson is an open space nightmare at wide receiver and one of the most explosive prospects in the country. This could be as low as we see Tennessee for several years.
23. West Virginia
Pat White, Noel Devine and the exciting Mountaineers offense have gotten the attention of recruits around the country, as West Virginia’s five highest-rated commitments are on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Eugene Smith of Miramar, Fla., will add a more vertical threat to West Virginia’s offense as he is a terrific passer with good mobility. Smith is bringing a pair of highly regarded receivers to West Virginia with him in No. 8 Logan Heastie and No. 15 Deon Long. It’s not all about offense for West Virginia though as defensive tackle Dominik Davenport and safety Jonathan Scott can play for anyone.
24. Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s No. 2 recruiting class last year on the heels of the worst season in Irish history is arguably the most impressive job of recruiting I’ve ever seen. The Irish have come back to earth a little this year, but that’s understandable with back-to-back disappointing years and questions about Charlie Weis’ future much of the summer and fall. Hawaiian hit man Manti T’eo, Scout’s No. 1 linebacker, was a Signing Day surprise for the Irish, but the class is headlined by big men in the trenches. Chris Watt is Scout’s No. 1 offensive guard, and he’ll have company with No. 6-ranked guard Alex Bullard. The main benefactor of these two people movers is No. 6-ranked running back Cierre Wood. Shaq Evans is a two-way standout from California who could make an impact at wide receiver or safety.
The USF Bulls have gotten a taste of the big time, and they’re not anxious to give it up any time soon going after getting players they expect to make an impact right away. USF is bringing in eight junior college or postgrad players including five-star defensive end Jason Pierre Paul and four star defensive tackle Leslie Stirrups. It’s not all about the older players though, as Tampa native Ryne Giddens is the No. 12 defensive end in the country by Scout, and is a landmark recruit of sorts for the Bulls. He’s the first high school player that was heavily pursued by “the big three” of Florida, Florida State, and Miami, and chose USF. The Bulls have had more success on the field than two of the big three the last couple of years, and recruits are taking notice.