There seems to be a rhythm to each winter over the last few years; an SEC team wins the BCS Championship in January and then the league cleans up in recruiting on the first Wednesday in February. Those two annual events are very intertwined, and we have written for years about how vitally important recruiting is to elite football success. It was Nick Saban’s first priority when he came to Tuscaloosa, and it was Urban Meyer’s top focus when he landed in Gainesville. Quality recruiting has kept Mark Richt employed at Georgia despite being on the hot seat, and the same applies to Les Miles at LSU.
The SEC has now won five straight national titles (by four different schools) and that is because of the players that are signed each February. It should surprise no one that the last two BCS champions - Auburn and Alabama – finished with Top 5 classes this year. Besides the fact that they battle instate, both the Tide and Tigers are now able to reach across the country to bring in top talent because of their tradition and the SEC’s national profile.
LSU and Georgia were ranked in the Top 10 by most services, while Tennessee and Florida were both in the 11-14 range. Three more schools (Arkansas, Ole Miss, South Carolina) were in everyone’s Top 25. Those numbers show how tough it is to compete in the SEC. Most analysts thought Derek Dooley did a solid job with his first full recruiting class in Knoxville, finishing 12th or 13th in the country. However, that quality national finish only gets you a 5th or 6th ranking in America’s toughest league. It’s amazing how well SECschools must recruit just to keep up.
It was obvious last February that Jimbo Fisher and his new staff were having an immediate and positive effect on Florida State’s talent base. After a solid season on the field, Fisher has the fans in Tallahassee buzzing over what many are calling the nation’s top recruiting class. The Seminoles obviously benefited from coaching changes at Miami and Florida, but FSU had already built up huge momentum over the past year. It definitely looks like Fisher is taking Florida State to the top of the conference and back to national prominence.
Another school that has recruited well lately is Clemson. Coach Dabo Swinney has had some staff changes, but the Tigers continue to bring in top talent. One key to their success has been the Florida pipeline that started with former All-American C.J. Spiller. In this class, Clemson brought in top national recruits like linebacker Tony Steward of St. Augustine, tailback Mike Bellamy of Punta Gorda and receiver Sammy Watkins of Fort Myers. Swinney must now translate his talent base into winning games in the fall, as the Tiger fan base is growing restless.
New Miami coach Al Golden signed a below par class for 'The U', and much more will be expected next year with a full season to recruit south Florida. It’s always tough to come in late, especially when you’re not used to the high-pressure Sunshine State recruiting scene. We will learn a lot about Golden’s ability at this time next year. We also should point out the job done in recruiting by University of Virginia coach Mike London. The Cavaliers had a Top 20 class and won some battles against powerhouse programs for some of the top players in the South and Mid-Atlantic. London is showing great early returns in Charlottesville.
It’s the same ole story here. Texas and Oklahoma dominate recruiting while the rest of the league drags behind. Tommy Tuberville brought in a nice class at Texas Tech, but this 10-team conference is the Big 2 and everyone else. We’ll write more in the upcoming weeks about the new Texas/ESPN partnership which created a Longhorn Network that may eventually damage the league beyond repair.