• There was plenty of cause to celebrate National Signing Day outside the top 10 teams in the recruiting rankings. One week later, a look ar one team from each Power 5 conference that pulled in an quietly encouraging haul.
By Joan Niesen
February 14, 2018

Now that signing day has wrapped up, teams have a few weeks to step back and analyze their 2018 classes before spring practices begin next month. Georgia won the first Wednesday in February in a landslide, wrapping up its 26-person class with seven five-star recruits in the fold to finish atop the 247Sports Composite rankings, while reigning champion Alabama came in at No. 7 with two five-star players and 12 four-star signees. Georgia’s successful signing period came as no surprise as Kirby Smart continues to gain momentum in Athens, and the teams behind the Bulldogs in the top 10 were all perennial powers that routinely land some of the nation’s best recruiting hauls.

Below, we go beyond the headliners to look at the 2018 rankings from a different perspective, examining five teams, one from each Power 5 conference, that pleasantly surprised with their recruiting class’s spot in the final 247Sports Composite rankings. Because recruiting rankings are often a reflection of the past more than a predictive tool, these surprises reflect five teams that recruits view to be trending positively. Let’s look at why.

Washington (No. 13)

Five-star recruits: 0
Four-star recruits: 11
Three-star recruits: 10
In-conference class rank: No. 2 in the Pac-12
2017 class rank: No. 22 overall, No. 5 in the Pac-12

The Huskies finished 2017 ranked 16th in the final AP Poll after logging double-digit wins for the second consecutive season. Coach Chris Petersen is heading into his fifth year at Washington, and even after his team failed to return to the College Football Playoff after its first appearance in 2016, there’s a sense he is building something big. The Huskies managed to flip a four-star player who’d committed to USC, De La Salle (Calif.) DT Tuli Letuligasenoa, and they’re winning recruiting battles with the cream of the college football crop. If that continues, this team should be loaded to compete for the Pac-12 for years to come.

South Carolina (No. 19)

Five-star recruits: 0
Four-star recruits: 9
Three-star recruits: 13
In-conference class rank: No. 7 in the SEC
2017 class rank: No. 21 overall, No. 8 in the SEC

South Carolina finished second in the SEC East in 2017, going 9–4 and 5–3 in conference play. That marked its first winning record since ’14 and its best record since ’15, and though the Gamecocks’ recruiting ranking didn’t rise dramatically from 2017, cracking the top 20 is evidence that Will Muschamp is not just riding the coattails of the previous regime two years into his stint in Columbia. Georgia will be an enormous obstacle in the division next season and likely for many to come, and the Bulldogs dipped into the Palmetto State to grab four-star linebacker Channing Tindall, the No. 3 player in the state, but the Gamecocks did land three of the top 10 in-state prospects, the same number as Clemson did (though they are still waiting on four-star Dutch Fork DB/WR Bryce Thompson to meet academic requirements). If South Carolina is as well-stocked as it appears to be, it might be able to make the Bulldogs’ road to Atlanta uncomfortable.

NC State (No. 26)

Five-star recruits: 0
Four-star recruits: 6
Three-star recruits: 17
In-conference class rank: No. 6 in the ACC
2017 class rank: No. 53 overall, No. 10 in the ACC

Jumping 27 spots is a remarkable leap for the Wolfpack after an up-and-down 2017. After losing the season-opener to South Carolina, NC State ripped off six straight wins, peaking at No. 14 in the AP Poll before losing to Notre Dame and Clemson in consecutive weeks. After a handful of offseasons on the hot (more like moderately warm) seat, Doeren flirted with the Tennessee job in November and ultimately parlayed those conversations into a new five-year contract to stay in Raleigh. That vote of stability must appeal to recruits, who have seen a talented team that’s never quite been consistent enough in recent seasons. And with the several of the Wolfpack’s star defensive linemen off to the NFL, including near-certain first-round pick Bradley Chubb, Doeren and company needed returns like this to keep pace in the ACC Atlantic.

Baylor (No. 30)

Five-star recruits: 0
Four-star recruits: 6
Three-star recruits: 16
In-conference class rank: No. 4 in the Big 12
2017 class rank: No. 40 overall, No. 5 in the Big 12

Baylor won exactly one game in its first season under new coach Matt Rhule. In the wake of the sexual assault scandal that rocked campus, the Bears appeared to still be picking up the pieces from Art Briles’s ouster—but their record was better than it looked at face value. Four of Baylor’s losses came in one-score games, two of which were against ranked teams: No. 3 Oklahoma on Sept. 23 and No. 23 West Virginia on Oct. 21. Despite a dismal record, Rhule proved last fall that his team, at its best, could play with anyone. Apparently recruits agree.

Minnesota (No. 37)

Five-star recruits: 0
Four-star recruits: 3
Three-star recruits: 23
In-conference class rank: No. 7 in the Big Ten
2017 class rank: No. 59 overall, No. 12 in the Big Ten

The P.J. Fleck Effect is taking hold. The most exciting young coach to move jobs last offseason didn’t exactly deliver fireworks in year one at Minnesota as the Golden Gophers finished 5–7 and missed a bowl game, but when it comes to recruiting, he seems to be gaining a foothold. After just about a month on the job last winter, Fleck signed the country’s No. 59 class; now, after losing four more games than it did in 2016, Minnesota’s class ranks No. 37. (It’s also one of the larger recruiting classes out there, at 26 players.) Compared to other Big Ten teams, the Gophers are also upping their game, rising to seventh in the conference rankings after sitting above only Indiana and Purdue the previous season. Fleck’s biggest signing was arguably IMG Academy (Fla.) offensive lineman Daniel Faalele, a four-star recruit rated among the nation’s top 20 tackles. Faalele is inarguably Fleck’s biggest signing in a literal sense: He is listed at 6'8" and 400 pounds.

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