There is no AP Top 25, Coaches or College Football Playoff poll to pore over during the off-season. The next best thing? Recruiting rankings. They function as a sort of status update on the quantity and quality of talent in a given high school class that programs have amassed. The rankings will be adjusted as players commit and decommit from programs, and further alterations will be made because of changing star ratings.
While inconclusive until National Signing Day, in the meantime the rankings do a good job laying out which programs are having the most success attracting coveted prospects. Classes need not be complete, or even close to it, at this point in the cycle, but the work some programs have done in the first half of the year could prime them for bountiful closing stretches. After analyzing five programs that have gotten off to slow starts in the 2018 cycle last week, this week SI.com is breaking down five programs that have sped out of the gates. All rankings are from Scout.com.
Only three of the top 10 prospects in the class of 2018 have issued verbal commitments to programs; the Tigers can lay claim to two of them: five-star Cartersville (Ga.) High quarterback Trevor Lawrence and five-star IMG (Fla.) Academy defensive end Xavier Thomas. (The other committed top-10 prospect is five-star quarterback Matt Corral, to USC.) Lawrence is by far the biggest prize of this haul, a 6’6", rocket-armed conductor with first-round-pick upside who’ll push Deshaun Watson’s successor when he gets on campus, and whose arrival will come only a year after Clemson welcomed in one of the top QBs in the 2017 class, Hunter Johnson. Thomas’s verbal is no small thing, mind you, particularly for a program whose defensive line loomed so large in its back-to-back national championship game runs the last two years.
While rival programs will have a difficult time reeling in a more promising duo than Lawrence and Thomas, their starpower shouldn’t obscure the bigger picture: This class looks really good in full. The Tigers have surrounded those two gems with four other top-250 recruits and also picked up a pledge from three-star Jake Venables, the son of defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
In case the message in the introduction didn’t hit home, it’s worth pointing out again that the team recruiting rankings on signing day will not look the way they do today. Yet that shouldn’t occasion a total disregard of the state of affairs in the No. 1 slot. That’s where Miami, with 17 commitments and a 3.71 average star rating, has taken up residence.
The Hurricanes got there largely by tapping into a fertile source: local talent. They’ve picked up 14 pledges from players based in Florida, including a pair who decamped from New Jersey (four-star quarterback Artur Sitkowski) and California (four-star wide receiver Brian Hightower) to transfer into powerhouse IMG in Bradenton. That in-state group should expand too, as highly coveted recruits like American Heritage (Fla.) High cornerback Tyson Campbell and legacy Al Blades Jr. are high on the Hurricanes. (As an aside, another former NFL defensive back’s son in the class of 2018 who hails from the Sunshine State, Patrick Surtain Jr., looks like a bigger reach for Miami.)
The Hurricanes’ class could suffer some defections if they squander the momentum developed in head coach Mark Richt’s first season, but it’s clear his pitch is resonating with players nearby.
The Buckeyes were the only program to close the 2017 cycle with an average star rating above 4.00 (4.17). They may not hit that mark in 2018 (though it’s definitely possible), but another top-four class is a reasonable goal.
Ohio State’s recruiting efforts in this cycle have offered yet another reminder of the program’s expansive reach. It has plucked a top-flight DB from the West Coast, St. John Bosco (Calif.) High four-star Jaiden Woodbey, and dipped into SEC country for elite prospects such as four-star quarterback Emory Jones (Franklin, Ga.), four-star running back Brian Snead (Seffner, Fla.), four-star defensive end Brenton Cox (Stockbridge, Ga.), four-star offensive tackle Max Wray (Franklin, Tenn.) and five-star defensive tackle Taron Vincent (who transferred to IMG from the Gilman School in Baltimore). More out-of-state blue-chippers could hop on board, such as five-star Harrisburg (Pa.) High defensive end Micah Parsons and five-star Lamar (Texas) High cornerback Anthony Cook.
The Buckeyes are also poised to nab Ohio’s highest-rated player, four-star offensive tackle Jackson Carman, and have already earned commitments from two of the state’s other top-five prospects, four-star Westerville-South High athlete Jaelen Gill and four-star St. John’s Jesuit High outside linebacker Dallas Gant.
Tom Herman’s first recruiting class at Texas didn’t meet expectations (it ranked 28th nationally), but those expectations were probably unfair to begin with. After being hired away from Houston in late November 2016, Herman had a little more than two months to court high schoolers who’d spent the fall watching the Longhorns go 5–7 and lose to Kansas. It’s more fair to appraise Herman’s recruiting acumen based on what he accomplishes in this cycle.
So far, so good: Texas has received verbal commitments from 11 prospects, nine of which have been given four-star ratings. The defensive backfield is the strong suit of this haul right now; the Longhorns have sealed pledges from four-star Angleton (Texas) High safety B.J. Foster, four-star Arp (Texas) High safety DeMarvion Overshown and four-star Steele (Texas) High safety Caden Sterns. That esteemed DB cohort may add an even more highly regarded prospect than the three safeties, too, in Cook, who rates as the state of Texas’s No. 1 overall prospect. (The Longhorns, unsurprisingly, are also targeting the Lonestar State’s No. 2 recruit, five-star wide receiver Brennan Eagles.)
Herman also did well to flip four-star Newbury Park (Calif.) High quarterback Cameron Rising from Big 12 rival Oklahoma, and earn a commitment from four-star Southmoore High passer Casey Thompson, a Sooner State product.
The Trojans’ placement in the team rankings is deceptive. They currently check in at No. 16 nationally with only six commitments, but no other program owns a higher average star rating (4.17). Long Beach Poly (Calif.) High five-star Matt Corral projects as a productive multi-year starting quarterback with all-conference potential whose addition would ease the sting of Sam Darnold’s possible departure for the NFL after this season. Bishop Gorman (Nev.) High five-star linebacker Palaie Gaoteote is one of the best defenders in this class, full stop. Two other top-25 recruits could follow them to Los Angeles. One is a top-shelf target for and high school teammate of Corral (five-star wide receiver Jalen Hall), and the other is a hard-hitting, rangy playmaker to put next to Gaoteote (five-star linebacker Solomon Tuliapupu).
The momentum USC generated with its rousing close on signing day this February clearly has not subsided. The Trojans remain a really attractive destination for prospects, particularly those on the West Coast, even after enduring near-constant coaching turnover and lackluster performance on the field over the last half-decade. If it makes good on its College Football Playoff potential this fall, USC will become an even more enviable option for recruits, local or not, who’ve drawn lots of scholarship offers.