Recruiting 2013 - What Just Happened?
UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr.
UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr.
CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Feb 7, 2013


Ole Miss was the big story, but what else mattered on Signing Day?

2013 Signing Day

What Mattered?

E-mail Pete Fiutak
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Another first Wednesday in February has come and gone, and now the recruiting die-hards can take a moment to rest before gearing up for another year of bothering children, using social media outlets to be all screamy after some kid dared to take his talents to Big State, and pretending to care about little things like grades, brains, character or future endeavors.

Like most rational human beings, you probably didn’t spend 17 hours diving into the minutiae of whims while basking in the all-day parade of butt smooching to prospects who you’ll probably never hear from again. However, if you’re reading this, at the very least you’re enough of a college football fan to wonder what the heck just happened on Signing Day 2013 and why it all matters to the real world. And yes, it was, as it always is, a day of interesting theater. Here’s what Signing Day 2013 will be remembered for.

Ole Miss decided it's time to sit at the adult table

Forgetting for a moment that there’s so much skepticism from opposing SEC fans about the Ole Miss recruiting class that head coach Hugh Freeze launched a preemptive strike by asking people to contact the Rebel compliance office with any evidence of violations – like if there's an itemized receipt for a giant bag of cash – this really was a phenomenal haul of recruits. All of a sudden, the program that wasn’t going anywhere under Houston Nutt has upgraded the talent level so much that the landscape of the SEC West might have changed. At the very least, it’s going to be harder than ever to get through the division alive.

No, Alabama and LSU aren’t going to close up shop, but this was a devastating momentum shift away from Mississippi State and other SEC programs trying to keep up in the best division in the best conference in college football.

Freeze and his staff did a tremendous job before Wednesday, and then the big day started off with a bang by getting everyone’s No. 1 recruit, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, who’s joining his brother, tackling machine linebacker, Denzel. The fun continued by signing No. 1 offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil to go along with fellow tackle Austin Golson, who’d be considered the team’s franchise blocker in just about any other year. And then came the cherry on top when superstar safety prospect Antonio Conner decided to stay close to home. It’s being called the program’s greatest recruiting class ever, however …

One program’s greatest recruiting class ever is just another day at the office for just about everyone else in the SEC

Here’s the problem. While the Rebels might have been the talk of Signing Day, Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida and Georgia all had better classes according to the Scout.com rankings, and Auburn, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and South Carolina weren’t far behind with all nine SEC programs finishing in the top 21.

Georgia, for example, had a rough afternoon losing out on some key in-state prospects, highlighted by running back Alvin Kamar’s decision to go to Alabama, and it still finished one spot ahead of Ole Miss. Not among the SEC teams among the top 25 is Arkansas, especially because it’s waiting on …

MOM … THE MEAT LOAF!!!

Bret Bielema had almost no time to put together his first recruiting class at Arkansas, scrambling in just a few short weeks to get what he could, but he appeared to hit a grand slam by getting one of the nation’s top running backs, Alex Collins out of Miami. Collins announced he was going to be a Hog, but the crown jewel of the class had one issue tougher than any linebacker he’ll deal with in the SEC.

His mom.

Ma – Andrea McDonald – wants her son to go to Miami, his original choice, so she took off from the signing ceremony without putting her signature on the letter of intent. Collins still wants to go to Arkansas, mom still wishes he’d stay closer to home, and Signing Day now has an all-timer of a story. Collins will still end up running for Bielema.

UCLA’s Big Day and USC’s Big Battle

The NCAA sanctions against USC continue to sting. Much was made throughout the morning about how Lane Kiffin lost out on some key players who changed their minds - like star corner Jalen Ramsey flipping to Florida State - but he was hamstrung. The Trojans have scholarship restrictions with just 12 available openings, meaning they not only had to be extremely selective, but they couldn’t miss on their picks. The other problem was that there was no wiggle room.

Usually, if a program has, say, 23 open scholarships, it's able to sign a few extra guys and then figure out ways to make it all work out. That’s not the case with the USC class that has eight of the 12 recruits ranking four stars or higher, but with no depth. A few prospects who normally would’ve been a lock to go to USC went elsewhere, and no one took advantage of the situation more than UCLA.

Head coach Jim Mora Jr. is a strong recruiter with no problems battling with USC and the rest of the Pac-12, but this year he was helped by the situation getting Tennessee offensive tackle Christian Morris away from Kiffin, along with a slew of SEC teams, and snagging defensive end Kylie Fitts and linebacker Isaac Savaiinaea to make an already great class better.

The Urban and Brady Show

So much was made throughout the day about what Ole Miss was doing and the soap opera that is SEC recruiting that it flew a bit under the radar that three of the best classes – three of the top four according to Scout.com – were from the Midwest.

Brian Kelly already had most of his class in place weeks ago, but he was able to land superstar defensive tackle prospect Eddie Vanderdoes out of California to give Notre Dame a signature get to eventually anchor the line. However, even that signing didn’t boost the loaded Irish past Ohio State and Michigan in the rankings.

Recruiting rankings are like horseshoes and hand grenades; as long as you’re close, you’re fine. Being No. 1 is nice, and Michigan is still hovering around the top spot after finishing off its class with No. 1 running back prospect Derrick Green a few weeks ago. That made Signing Day irrelevant for Brady Hoke and his staff, but Urban Meyer and Ohio State were able to squeeze past the Wolverines to get on top of the rankings after coming up with a huge signing in safety Vonn Bell out of Georgia along with running back Ezekial Elliot and receiver James Clark. Throw in Dontre Wilson, who changed his commitment from Oregon to OSU, and all of a sudden, the arms race between the Big Two has escalated.

Surprises, Winners and Happy Programs (even though all coaches say they’re happy with their recruiting classes)

- Nebraska. Very, very quietly, Bo Pelini put together a sneaky-good class of rock-solid midrange prospects. Michigan and Ohio State might have won the Big Ten recruiting battle, but the Huskers didn’t lag too far behind.

- Vanderbilt. James Franklin finished off a great offseason with a special day on Wednesday after getting receiver Jordan Cunningham out of Florida and taking linebacker Zach Cunningham away from Alabama and Clemson.

- Clemson. It was a rocky start to the day for Dabo Swinney, but everything changed when four-star corner Mackensie Alexander spurned Auburn for Death Valley. Just when it seemed like the good class was complete, Swinney capped things off with a huge get taking guard Tyrone Crowder away from Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Florida State.

Disappointments, Losers and Sad Programs (even though everyone’s a winner on Signing Day!)

- Texas. To be fair, the Longhorns didn’t have a lot of room after coming up with one of the nation’s top classes last season. The problem, though, is that this is no longer the hot program in its own state – Texas A&M has the buzz. It used to be that Mack Brown didn’t really need to show up on Signing Day, but now it appears that he and his staff have more of a fight for top in-state talent than ever.

- New head coaches. Auburn and coach Gus Malzahn came up with Scout.com’s No. 13 recruiting class and Oregon's Mark Helfrich was able to get the No. 17 haul. No other team that underwent a coaching change this offseason finished in the top 25. Cal with Sonny Dykes was close – he had a great recruiting season – and Tennessee’s Butch Jones, Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops all got into the top 40, but it was a tough year for coaches who had little time to prepare. No one had a rougher time than …

- Syracuse. Pitt and head coach Paul Chryst had an amazing recruiting season as they make the move into the ACC. Syracuse, not so much. Scott Schafer had nothing to work with in his short time after Doug Marrone left and he had a hard time keeping some of the old coach’s key prospects.