National Signing Day 2015 roundtable: Sizing up key college football recruiting questions facing teams, prospects.
National Signing Day is upon us. SI.com's team of college football writers breaks down some of the biggest questions surrounding key prospects and programs.
Which team has the most to gain on Signing Day?
Zac Ellis: Florida. It’s still jarring to see just how far the Gators’ class has fallen. As of Monday morning Florida has 13 commitments for a haul that ranks No. 82 in the country, per Rivals.com. That group includes no four- or five-star players. But that’s exactly why new coach Jim McElwain has plenty to gain on Signing Day. Defensive ends Byron Cowart and CeCe Jefferson and offensive tackle Martez Ivey are all five-stars who list Florida among their finalists. The program is facing an uphill battle, but McElwain’s first class could close strong.
Martin Rickman: Florida. If you asked me this question last week, I’d have gone with Texas. But with quarterback Kyler Murray’s heart set on Texas A&M, this title now belongs to Florida. The Gators are in on several of the top-rated uncommitted recruits, and McElwain has a chance to come out ahead if he can pull a few hat flippers. The Gators could use some luck after the past two seasons.
Chris Johnson: USC. The Trojans are already set to finish with one of the top classes in the country, but could upgrade their haul by landing any of four guys. Five-star defensive back Iman Marshall, five-star defensive lineman Rasheem Green and five-star linebackers John Houston and Porter Gustin (who plans to announce his decision on Feb. 3) are all considering USC. Marshall, in particular, would be a huge get for second-year coach Steve Sarkisian. The nation’s top-rated cornerback should be able to help shut down Pac-12 passing attacks right away.
Lindsay Schnell: Michigan. New coach, new era and a need for new talent. Jim Harbaugh hasn’t been on campus long, and since his hiring he has locked up only three commitments: a quarterback, a defensive end and an offensive lineman. But I fully expect Michigan to make a strong Signing Day push. The class is small right now, with just nine commits, because of the disaster that was the 2014 season. Still, Harbaugh has pulled a few rabbits out of hats in his time (turning Stanford into a national power would be high on that list). Don’t count out Michigan yet.
Colin Becht: USC. For the first time since 2006, the Trojans enter Signing Day without an NCAA investigation or sanctions looming over their heads. While the legacy of those sanctions means USC will remain short of its maximum allotment of scholarships even after a full ’15 recruiting class, the school seems poised to close out an exceptional recruiting cycle. Already No. 2 in Rivals.com's rankings, USC remains in the mix for five-star recruits Marshall, Houston, Green and Gustin.
Ben Glicksman: Florida. USC is probably set for the biggest Signing Day haul, but the Trojans are a lock to secure one of the nation's top classes. The Gators, on the other hand, are in dire need of some blue-chip prospects. Florida currently has the No. 82 class in the country, according to Rivals.com, and will go head-to-head with former coach and Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp for several prized recruits. Among them: Ivey, Jefferson and Cowart.
Whose decision intrigues you the most?
Ellis: Cordell Broadus. The four-star receiver out of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas is only the 27th-ranked wideout in the 2015 class, according to Rivals.com, but is also the son of rapper Snoop Dogg. Snoop has been a longtime fan of USC and expressed hope his son will sign with the Trojans. At the same time, Broadus is fielding interest from rival UCLA and fellow Pac-12 foe Arizona State. Will the young prospect follow his father’s path? Or blaze his own?
Rickman: Daylon Mack. I want to say tailback Soso Jamabo, who recently named a top two of ITT Tech and the University of Phoenix, on the off chance that he does something crazy like announce he's going to Oklahoma by riding a covered wagon through his high school halls. But I’ll go with Mack, as I want to see if Texas lands him following a late surge. Mack is a big dude who hits really, really hard. He would be a great fit in coach Charlie Strong’s defense.
Johnson: Mack. The four-star defensive tackle committed to Texas A&M in October 2013, but renounced his pledge hours after Malik Jefferson committed to Texas in December. Mack later released a top two of LSU and TCU, but former Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis’ decision to leave Baton Rouge to accept the same position at A&M helped the Aggies’ chances. Over the last 10 days Mack has tweeted out a Photoshopped image of him wearing a Texas uniform and a real picture of him with Kevin Sumlin and Chavis. Where will he end up?
Schnell: Iman Marshall. Can you imagine being days from one of the biggest decisions of your life and having six options on the table? No thanks. Marshall has “narrowed” his list to USC, Florida State, Notre Dame, Michigan, LSU and UCLA. From the outside it seems like USC would be the natural choice, but when dealing with a kid who used a movie trailer to name his finalists, be ready for anything.
Becht: Byron Cowart. As the No. 1 overall recruit, Cowart is the obvious choice. But I'm also eager to see where Mack lands. The recruiting battles between Texas and Texas A&M have been particularly entertaining this year, like a prize fight that keeps going back and forth. The Aggies landed a major late punch when Murray finalized his commitment, but the judges' cards won't be in until Signing Day. Mack, who decommitted from Texas A&M in December, would be quite the final blow for either Lone Star State school.
Glicksman: Marshall. Now that Murray has reaffirmed his commitment to Texas A&M, I’ll pick Marshall, who Rivals.com recently compared to Arizona Cardinals star cornerback Patrick Peterson. Marshall is considered a heavy USC lean, but is going above and beyond to prove he remains undecided and met with Florida State’s coaching staff last week. Will the Long Beach, Calif., product choose to stay local? Or will he pull an 11th-hour surprise?
Which team has impressed most this cycle?
Ellis: Alabama. Eighteen of the Crimson Tide’s 23 commitments are from four- or five-star players, according to Rivals.com. That haul includes five-star skill players like running back Damien Harris and receiver Calvin Ridley. Recruiting success is nothing new in Tuscaloosa. After all, if Alabama maintains this momentum, it will notch its fifth straight No. 1 class. The SEC didn’t emerge from the postseason smelling like roses, but Nick Saban is still luring plenty of top talent.
Rickman: Florida State. The Seminoles shouldn’t have much Signing Day drama after locking up the majority of their recruits early, but the guys they’ve pulled in are incredible. We’re not hearing much about Josh Sweat after his injury, but he could’ve been the No. 1 player in the entire class had he stayed healthy. Derwin James and George Campbell are really good, as is Da’Vante Phillips, who played in high school with Dalvin Cook. The ‘Noles just keep reloading.
Johnson: Tennessee. Butch Jones uses the phrase “brick-by-brick” to express his desire to set a strong foundation for the program he took over two seasons ago. He furthered that goal with his 2015 class, which includes three five-star prospects and 14 four-stars. Perhaps the best part of the Volunteers' haul is its defensive line talent. Tackles Kahlil McKenzie, Shy Tuttle and Quay Picou, as well as ends Kyle Phillips, Andrew Butcher and Darrell Taylor, will join a unit that already includes freshman All-America Derek Barnett.
Schnell: Texas. The Longhorns won just six games and took a rough bowl loss in 2014, but are locking up defensive talent left and right the last few weeks. Strong and his staff are smack in the middle of a couple of battles that will go down to the wire. Texas might’ve lost out on stellar quarterback and A&M commit Murray (or so we think), and needs to sign some offensive talent to avoid more bowl games with total outputs of 59 yards. But Strong is showing why he was a terrific hire.
Becht: Alabama. Even by the Crimson Tide’s standards, this class is absolutely loaded. Alabama boasts commitments from 10 of the top 100 prospects, including the No. 1 running back (Harris), the No. 1 receiver (Ridley), the No. 3 defensive tackle (Daron Payne) and the No. 3 quarterback (Blake Barnett). The Tide already have 18 four- or five-star commitments and could improve by landing four-star receiver Daylon Charlot.
Glicksman: Clemson. The Tigers have been holding firm in the recruiting rankings over the last few years: They checked in at No. 14 in 2012 and ’13 and No. 13 in ’14, per Rivals.com. Yet this cycle they’re making a splash. Clemson sits at No. 3 nationally with commitments from five-star talents Deon Cain, Christian Wilkins and Ray-Ray McCloud III. Coupled with the return of presumably healthy quarterback Deshaun Watson, this class could spell big things for the program come fall.
Who do you expect to make an instant impact?
Ellis: Trenton Thompson. A five-star recruit and the nation’s No. 2 defensive tackle, Thompson could fit immediately into coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s defense. The Georgia pledge has the talent to take over the nose tackle spot between ends Sterling Bailey and Lorenzo Carter. Thompson has been a firm Bulldogs commit since last fall, and the Albany, Ga., prospect is the kind of in-state product coach Mark Richt should sign on a regular basis.
Rickman: Kahlil McKenzie. The five-star defensive tackle from Concord, Calif., has the chance to slide into Tennessee’s rotation and add to what is already a young and rapidly improving defense. He is absolutely enormous (6-foot-4, 340 pounds) and can cause all kinds of havoc in the backfield, plus has plenty of room to get better. Even with all of his size, it’s impressive how well he moves, and that could bode well for his transition to the college game.
Johnson: Canton Kaumatule. A four-star defensive end, the Oregon-committed Kaumatule impressed at Under Armour All-America Game workouts by showcasing an imposing combination of strength and quickness. The Punahao (Hawaii) School standout should have the opportunity to compete for immediate playing time after Arik Armstead declared for the NFL draft. The good news for the Ducks? Fellow underclassman defensive lineman DeForest Buckner elected to return to campus. While it remains to be seen how much Kaumatule will contribute, his presence inspires confidence that Oregon’s defense can avoid a letdown after finishing eighth in Football Outsiders' defensive S&P + Ratings.
Schnell: Kaumatule. I don’t necessarily buy the narrative that Oregon needs to change its recruiting and get more physical on its lines. I think the Ducks squashed such criticism with wins over Michigan State, Stanford and Florida State. Still, every team would like more help in the trenches, and that’s where Kaumatule comes into play. A 6-7, 275-pound defensive end from Honolulu, Kaumatule can provide immediate help for a Ducks’ defensive line that must replace Armstead.
Becht: Josh Rosen. It'd be hard for Rosen to walk into a better situation. The No. 1 quarterback recruit in the 2015 class joins a UCLA squad that fell a game short of winning the Pac-12 South, rebounded to win the Alamo Bowl and returns every offensive starter except Brett Hundley. Rosen enrolled early and is learning the playbook. He should get every opportunity to compete for the starting job.
Glicksman: Derwin James. The five-star prospect from Haines City, Fla., is the consensus top safety in the 2015 class. Heck, he’s the highest-ranked safety in the history of Rivals.com. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher extended an offer when James was in ninth grade, and James committed in February ’12. The physical defender should bolster a secondary that loses a ton of talent to the NFL.