Five programs that need to close well by National Signing Day
With 12 days left before National Signing, recruiting for the class of 2017 is in the home stretch. For some, this period is mostly a time for defense, making sure their highest priorities don’t flip to other programs. Alabama, for example, already has 25 commitments, including five five-stars and 16 four-stars. Sure, there’s always room for improvement, and if five-star Devonta Smith wants to join the Crimson Tide, they’ll happily take him. But with the No. 1 class currently committed, Alabama’s haul is already loaded.
For others, this closing stretch is more of a make-or-break period. There’s still time for teams to finish strong and climb the class ranking, but they need to land their last remaining targets. So who still has work to do? These five programs are the most in need of a strong closing argument.
*All recruiting rankings are according to Scout.com
Dabo Swinney has repeatedly backed up his ability to develop talent into top-tier college football players. But to stay among the elites of the nation, Clemson needs to start recruiting like one sooner or later. Yes, the Tigers have pulled some big-name stars—just look at their defensive line this year or Deshaun Watson—but they have yet to fill a full recruiting class with the high-end talent their competitors do.
Over the past three years, Clemson’s class has ranked no better than 15th. This year’s group currently sits at 21st. That’s hardly a disaster, and the Tigers do have some standout commitments, including four-star QB Hunter Johnson and four-star wide receiver Tee Higgins. But when you’re going up against the Alabamas, Ohio States and Florida States of the country, all programs that frequently bring in top 10 classes, 21st puts the Tigers behind.
Clemson still has time to climb and is in the mix for five-star guard Tedarrell Slaton. The Tigers are also making a late push for four-star running back Travis Etienne. Their national championship proves they can win with the level of talent they’ve been getting, but maintaining that success will be much easier if Clemson can recruit at a championship level, too.
The Cardinal have some of the biggest names in the class of 2017, including No. 2 overall recruit Foster Sarell, No. 4 overall recruit Walker Little and No. 6 overall recruit Davis Mills. That’s an outstanding trio to build around, and Stanford has three four-star recruits to go with those three five-stars.
The biggest problem is that all that talent might be getting a little lonely. Stanford has just 11 commitments right now, which pushes its class ranking down to No. 28. The average star rating of the Cardinal’s commits ranks fourth in the country at 3.91, but they simply lack bodies right now. Stanford's class currently includes only two defensive players.
The Cardinal could still add some major pieces to their recruiting class, including four-stars Connor Wedington, Leonard Warner and Ryan Johnson. But more important than a few more four-stars, Stanford simply needs players.
Last year, the Longhorns closed with a wild flourish on National Signing Day to finish with the No. 3 class in the nation. Texas could use a similarly exceptional homestretch this year, as its current class ranks No. 38. Expecting a repeat is unlikely, though, as Tom Herman had a shorter timeframe to build relationships with recruits after taking over for Charlie Strong in late November. A better benchmark may be Strong’s first class in 2014, which finished No. 15.
So how could Texas climb? The Longhorns have an outside shot at five-star Marvin Wilson, the No. 10 overall recruit in the class. They are a leading candidate for five-star defensive end K’Lavon Chaisson. Texas is also chasing four-stars Levi Jones, Chevin Calloway and Stephan Zabie.
The biggest concerns for Texas center on programs outside the Lone Star State. Oklahoma is not just compiling the best class in the Big 12, but it’s doing so by a wide margin. The Sooners’ haul ranks No. 5 in the nation, 33 spots ahead of the Longhorns and the only Big 12 class in the top 30. The other program of concern is Ohio State. While Urban Meyer’s achievements as a recruiter are no surprise, he’s been particularly successful in Texas this year, landing two of the state’s six five-star recruits and three of the top 10 high school prospects in addition to five-star juco recruit Kendall Sheffield.
The situation in Waco isn’t as dire as last year, when the Bears’ sexual assault scandal and Art Briles’s firing left Baylor with only a 15-member class that was further decimated by high-profile transfers like four-star receiver Tren’Davian Dickson. It’s definitely not as bad as when new head coach Matt Rhule was hired in December and Baylor’s 2017 class included just one commitment.
Still, the Bears have a lot of room for improvement under Rhule. Baylor’s class now counts 15 commitments, a measure of Rhule’s busy work since his hiring. But that group includes no four-stars or five-stars. It may be asking too much for any elite recruit with offers from top-tier Power 5 programs to pick Baylor this year; the Bears have four-star Connor Wedington coming in for a visit next week, but he’s widely expected to pick Stanford.
A year ago, Houston blew past what seemed possible for a Group of Five program, outrecruiting many power conference programs and landing five-star defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the No. 6 overall recruit in the class. Now the Cougars take on the tall order of replicating their success without—and often in direct opposition to—the coach who helped launch it.
Houston’s first post-Tom Herman class ranks No. 72, behind other Group of Five programs Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Toledo, Memphis, Colorado State and Boise State. After nabbing Oliver and two four-stars in 2016, Houston has no commits ranked higher than three-stars. Losing four-star linebacker Mohamed Sanogo’s commitment definitely hurts. But with only 13 commitments in the class right now, there’s still time for the Cougars to rise in the rankings if they can land a few more pledges by signing day.