- National Signing Day for the 2018 class of college football recruits is a long way away, but these five programs have plenty of work to do on the recruiting trail between now and then.
The best way to think about the team recruiting rankings early in a given cycle is as a progress report. They offer a snapshot of how much talent programs have compiled and measure it against the amount of talent compiled by other programs. These rankings are not final. They will undergo significant changes before National Signing Day. Programs will add and lose commitments from prospects, and many of those prospects will be assessed different star ratings as recruiting services continue to evaluate them. It’s early June, so programs ranked lower than expected don’t have to panic yet. But that doesn’t negate their urgency to get going. While classes don’t need to be filled out now, they will in several months. Below are five programs off to slow starts with their 2018 hauls. All rankings are from Scout.com.
The Crimson Tide have finished in the top four of the team rankings the last six cycles. At this pace, they won’t extend the streak to seven. The May 18 decommitment of Bainbridge (Ga.) High running back Dameon Pearce left Alabama with two pledges, only one of which has been given a rating of four stars or higher (wide receiver Xavier Williams). The Crimson Tide grade out poorly in head-to-head comparisons between them and other programs with which they often compete in recruiting. SEC West division rival LSU, for example, ranks third nationally with 15 commitments and fellow recruiting juggernaut Ohio State checks in at second with 12. Those numbers are daunting, and Alabama won’t close the gap overnight, but it’s important to bear in mind that the Crimson Tide are better positioned than perhaps any other program to stack up talent quickly. Head coach Nick Saban and his staff can spend the summer honing their list of targets, including four-star Central (Ala.) High wide receiver Justyn Ross and four-star Colquitt County (Ga.) High linebacker JJ Peterson, before capitalizing on the momentum of another likely College Football Playoff run. Even if the end result isn’t another world-beating class, it should be a really good one.
Sun Devils coach Todd Graham will enter 2017 as a popular name on coaching hot seat lists after back-to-back losing seasons, which followed consecutive 10-win campaigns in 2013 and ’14. Reeling in the worst recruiting class in the Pac-12 definitely won’t help his cause if things go south again this fall. Arizona State’s 2018 haul is at risk of drawing that distinction, as it features only two commitments, from junior college cornerback Dominique Harrison and Bishop Alemany (Calif.) High safety Ely Doyle. Doyle’s pledge, announced in a Twitter post on Saturday, is a nice step, but it will take a few more prospects of his caliber to form the type of group Graham will need to keep the Sun Devils competitive long-term in a division headlined by a USC program that looks primed to regain its status as a perennial national championship contender. The first order of business, though, is reversing Arizona State’s decline on the field this season, which would bolster Graham’s pitch to recruits. One name to watch for the Sun Devils is North Canyon (Ariz.) High’s Solomon Enis, a four-star safety who rates as Arizona’s top player. However, he picked up a scholarship offer in February from Penn State, where his father, Curtis, starred as a running back in the 1990s.
The Bulldogs would have been an even more convincing choice for this list had it been released earlier this month. Last week they secured verbal commitments from three players, bringing their total to five: two-star Miami Northwestern Senior (Fla.) High safety Rachad Wildgoose Jr., three-star Ocean Lakes (Va.) High defensive end Jaevon Becton and four-star North Gwinnett (Ga.) High offensive guard Warren Ericson. The flurry of pledges sent Georgia flying up the team rankings, but it still tops only three other SEC programs (Alabama, South Carolina and Missouri). There’s little doubt the Bulldogs will improve their position over the coming months. A possible verbal from five-star Scotland (N.C.) High running back Zamir White in a few weeks would be a huge triumph, and second-year Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart demonstrated his recruiting prowess on signing day this year, when he helped his program ink the No. 2 class in the nation. At the same time, Georgia has already whiffed on the Peach State’s (and the country’s) top overall quarterback recruit, Trevor Lawrence, who’s committed to Clemson (although fellow in-state stud QB Justin Fields is on the market after renouncing his verbal to Penn State on Tuesday). And, while duly noting that star ratings are subject to revision, the Bulldogs’ * average for this class is 3.00, compared to 3.96 for their 2017 class.
The Tigers hired Cuonzo Martin as their new men’s basketball head coach in March, and he promptly got to work putting together a top-10 recruiting class, one headlined by the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA draft (Michael Porter Jr.). Missouri football’s recent recruiting efforts haven’t been nearly as fruitful. The Tigers have landed verbal commitments from just two players, neither of whom rates higher than three stars. That doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t develop into productive college players. Knox rebuffed reported offers from Power 5 programs like Baylor, Utah and Wisconsin, and he clocked a 10.66 in the 100-meter dash this spring. The Mansfield Timberview (Tex.) High star could blossom into a dangerous multi-purpose playmaker in offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s uptempo system. Yet Missouri, slotted No. 70 in the team rankings, is still lagging far behind most of its SEC peers and is tracking toward a worse finish than 2017. An improvement on a disappointing 2016 season would enable head coach Barry Odom to sell a brighter future to prospects wary of joining a program that has backslid from consecutive double-digit win campaigns in 2013-14 under former head coach Gary Pinkel to a combined nine victories the last two years.
The Scarlet Knights’ tepid opening stretch to the 2018 recruiting cycle makes sense. They won only two games last season, suffered the worst loss this millennium in a game between FBS teams (78-0 to Michigan on Oct. 8 in Piscataway) and they don’t project to make a major leap in the Big Ten in 2017. Yet if second-year coach Chris Ash is ever going to exhume Rutgers from the pile of ineptitude under which it’s been buried for most of this decade, he needs better players. This class may not provide many. As currently constructed, it comprises two commitments, one from a two-star cornerback (Jarrett Paul) and the other from a three-star quarterback (Jalen Chatman). There’s room for upward mobility here, but the Scarlet Knights’ most obvious path to a standout class involves beating out more esteemed Big Ten programs that have had their pick of the litter within state lines of late. Rutgers managed to pull four of New Jersey’s top eight recruits in 2017; of the state’s top eight prospects in 2018, five have issued verbal commitments, none of which has been to Rutgers. News of Garden State product (and NC State commit) Devin Leary’s superlative showing at the Elite 11 Finals over the weekend had to sting.