Florida currently claims the No. 1 recruiting class in the country; hard to argue when 11 out its 19 total prep commitments are sitting in the ESPN 150. Georgia continues to slide up to the top of our recruiting board with a great class and a handful of 2008 prospects with the skills to assist in a 2008 national championship run. After a disappointing season for the Gamecocks, Steve Spurrier has not put together a class with the clout of last year but could still make a push. Tennessee's off-the-field issues and coaching changes have hurt its efforts to this point. Here's a look at each class:
Schools in order of 2007 finish
Signing day storylines: At this point the Volunteers' class is shaping up more like 2006 (non top-25) than 2007, when they claimed the No. 5 spot in our final class rankings. There are no Eric Berry types, but wide receiver Rod Wilks (Smyrna, Tenn.) is a physically-imposing receiver with Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona Cardinals) qualities.
Like in '06, Wilks is the lone ESPN 150 prospect headed to Knoxville in a class comprised of only 11 commitments. Despite a strong finish and 10-win season, speculation surrounding Phillip Fulmer's future (he was recently awarded just a one-year contract extension) and the departure of offensive coordinator David Cutcliffe, who was instrumental in attracting interest from some prize recruits like Terrelle Pryor, could be hurting on the recruiting end. Offensive tackle Antoine McClain (Anniston, Ala.) is scheduled to visit this week and could fill a need along the offensive line.
Top prospect: Wilks is a difficult one-on-one matchup when positioned on the outside with his supreme blend of size and strength. Not as tall as some of the elite big-catch receivers in this class but comes up with the difficult grab just as effortlessly. Shows great concentration adjusting to the deep ball and is a threat with his deceptive speed after the catch. This top-100 prospect has the physical tools to make an immediate impact next fall if not just in early red-zone packages.
Class highlights: Wilks could help fill some of the offensive void left by senior quarterback Erik Ainge and Cutcliffe. On the cusp ESPN 150 running back Tauren Poole (Toccoa, Ga./Stephens) has Tampa Bay Buccaneers' RB Cadillac Williams qualities when running the ball and could develop into a high- carry, workhorse during his career in Knoxville. Aaron Douglas (Maryville, Tenn.), ESPN's No. 18-rated tight end prospect, is well-balanced in the run and pass and fits into the H-back role Fulmer could still employ with Cutcliffe's departure.
Could see the field in 2008: Wilks.
Signing day storylines: Coming off an 11-2 season in which some argued Georgia should have played for a national championship, the Bulldogs currently have an excellent recruiting class. Sliding up to No. 2 in the latest 2008 class rankings, Georgia's latest rise stemmed from the early impact talent, particularly on offense, we now foresee headed to Athens.
Wide Receiver A.J. Green (Ridgevile, S.C./Summerville), tight end Dwayne Allen (Fayetteville, N.C./Terry Sanford) and running back Carlton Thomas (Frostproof, Fla.) could provide quarterback Matthew Stafford with some added weapons as true freshmen. Even projected center Benjamin Jones (Centreville, Ala./Bibb County), who recently rose into the ESPN 150, shows the skills and physical maturity to add depth to Georgia's young offensive line next fall.
Allen is still taking visits despite his commitment, but the class overall looks stable and could help assist Georgia's national championship run in 2008.
Top prospect: In a class deep with outstanding big receivers, it is hard to find a smoother one than A.J. Green. His supreme blend of size, speed and athleticism are outstanding. The hands and separation speed we saw out of his breaks and after the catch really impressed us an Under Armour All-America Game. A bit frail, Green did show deceptive strength and hand technique breaking the press versus some talented cornerbacks, our one question mark we had about him making an impact as a freshman. We expect him to be an immediate red zone threat and deep ball target in Athens.
Class highlights: Georgia has 25 verbal pledges three weeks out from signing day and a striking nine ESPN 150 members. The combination of offensive skill comprised of four players ranked in the top 10 at their respective positions and a duo of top-3 interior lineman in Jones and guard A.J. Harmon (Louisville, Ga./Jefferson County) is impressive.
On defense, top-50 overall prospect Deangelo Tyson (Statesboro, Ga.) is a physically-gifted tackle and ESPN 150 end Toby Jackson (Griffin, Ga.) offers good versatility with his physical tools to develop on the inside or remain explosive off the edge.
The wild card in this class is running back Richard Samuel (Cartersville, Ga./Cass), currently ranked as the No. 35 overall player in the country with Adrian Peterson-type running qualities. This physical specimen will enter Georgia as a 17-year-old freshman but could still be ready to carry the rock behind Knowshon Moreno or be utilized at outside linebacker, the one area of need we feel the Dogs could have done better in this class.
Could see the field in 2008: Green, Allen, Samuel, Thomas in a scat-back or third down role, Tyson and Jones.
Signing day storylines: The Gators have limited scholarships for 2008 but sure have filled the vacant spots with premium talent at positions of need. Florida currently has eight ESPN 150 members, half of its committed class -- a big reason why they have slid into the top 10 in our latest class rankings.
Despite a loss to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl, the Gators still managed nine wins with a fairly young team. With the number of impact players currently committed, Urban Meyer has to feel pretty good about his 2008 squad suiting up in the Swamp.
The current class is stable and loaded from top to bottom with skill and in the trenches. The area of need for the Gators is still a game-changing running back, and Florida has its eyes set on landing either Darrell Scott (Moorpark, Calif./Saint Bonaventure) or Jamie Harper (Jacksonville Fla./Trinity Christian), ESPN's No. 2 and 3-rated running backs.
Top prospect: Will Hill (West Orange, N.J./Saint Peter's Prep) is an electrifying athlete, arguably the best in this class, and will be taking his skills as a defensive back to Florida. His outstanding blend of size, speed and coverage skills have made him one of the more highly-coveted prospects in the country. Far from just a finesse or cover guy, Hill can close with great acceleration on the football and is one of the hardest hitters in this class. Fits well in the Gators defensive system, his versatility to play both free and strong safety should land him early playing time in a young but talented secondary.
Class highlights: The defensive secondary heading to Gainesville is jaw-dropping. Hill and fellow safety Dee Finley (Auburn, Ala.), impressively sit No. 1 and 2 in the country and No. 4-rated cornerback Janoris Jenkins' (Pahokee, Fla.) stock has recently soared when we saw his skills as an Under Armour All-American. Landing ESPN 150 inside linebacker Brendan Beal (Bethlehem, Pa./Liberty) gives the Gators a versatile defender who could play all three linebacker spots and even put his hand down at end during his career.
On offense, Athlete Jeff Demps (Groveland, Fla./South Lake) should be one of the fastest players in all of college football next year, and receiver Frankie Hammond (Hallandale, Fla.) is an under-the-radar steal in our eyes as evaluators. Landing two solid lineman in ESPN 150 guard Ricky Barnum (Lakeland, Fla./Lake Gibson) and tackle Matthew Patchan (Tampa, Fla./Armwood)
make this class even more impressive.
Could see the field in 2008: Hill, Finley, Jenkins, Demps, Beal and Caleb Sturgis (Saint Augustine, Fla.), one of the premier kickers in the country.
Signing day storylines: The Wildcats created an early national buzz this fall and finished strong with a win over Florida State in the Music City Bowl. Despite back-to-back winning seasons and consecutive bowl victories, there is not a lot of excitement for Rich Brooks heading into signing day.
The Wildcats currently lack an ESPN 150 prospect for the first time in three years, and with three weeks to go before signing day, their committed class is not comprised of any players rated in the top 25 at their respective positions. Kentucky does have a shot at No. 1-rated in-state prospect, wide receiver Aaron Boyd (Lexington, Ky./Henry Clay), a tall, much needed playmaker right out of Lexington. Boyd would be a huge pickup considering the Wildcats will be low on receiver depth in 2008 and they have already lost out on the remaining top-six in-state talents, not a good sign for a program trying to turn the corner in a difficult conference.
Top prospect: Defensive end Donte Rumph (Saint Matthews, S.C./Calhoun) is a versatile prospect with a fine blend of size, strength and quickness off the line. A solid defensive lineman at this point with a good base and strong hand technique, but he will need continued physical development, improved explosiveness and refined pass rushing technique to make an impact in Lexington.
Class highlights: Along with Rumph, Kentucky has another talented defensive player locked up for 2008. There is some depth at corner but we felt the Wildcats needed to recruit a prospect who could compete and match up against the strong SEC receiver talent. Cartier Rice (Duncan, S.C./James Byrnes) could be that guy. Lack of height will hurt him, but he is well-versed in a variety of coverages showing the tools to play press, mirror in off coverage or turn and stick to the hip in man.
On offense, Deaunte Mason (Nashville, Tenn./Pearl-Cohn) is a legit dual-threat quarterback who could blossom in this spread system with his playmaker, Andre Woodson-type qualities.
Could see the field in 2008: Rice.
Signing day storylines: Down year for the Gamecocks on the recruiting trail, but does Steve Spurrier have some tricks up his sleeve down the stretch? It would be impossible to duplicate the success he had last year landing the No. 4 class; South Carolina currently has just one ESPN 150 prospect heading to Columbia in 2008 compared to the eight it signed last year.
A hot start followed by a five-game losing streak left South Carolina home for the holidays and the disappointing season probably did not help on the recruiting end. Nevertheless, Charles Whitlock (Chester, S.C.) was a huge pickup in early December adding elite talent to disappointing class thus far. Spurrier will need to close on T.J. Lawrence (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen), a gifted receiver/athlete ranked No. 49 in the ESPN 150, and a running back like Martin Ward (Jonesboro, Ga./Mount Zion) now that Jamie Harper appears out of the picture to salvage this class.
Top prospect: Whitlock is one of the better athletes in this entire class and a kid who Spurrier will probably use creatively on both sides of the ball and in the return game. He is a playmaker with the ball in his hands and possesses outstanding feet and quickness. His physical tools, elite explosiveness and ability to cover ground quickly will probably land him at corner to start his career. Either way, expect Whitlock, rated as the No. 54 player in the ESPN 150, to see the field early.
Class highlights: Aside from Whitlock, the Gamecocks did a good job this year locking up other talented prospects in the back seven, an area of needed depth. Outline linebacker Shaq Wilson (Jacksonville, Fla./First Coast) is one of more underrated linebackers in the entire country, a player we liked on film and even more when evaluating him live. Reggie Bowens (Garner, N.C.) is another potential sleeper at outside linebacker with a good blend of size, speed and upside at the next level. Projected safety Darrell Simmons (College Park, Ga./Benjamin E. Banneker) is a big-hitter and aggressive box defender who could also help improve the Gamecocks lackluster run defense.
Could see the field in 2008: Whitlock, Wilson.
Signing day storylines: Going against some of the best competition in the country week in, week out, Vanderbilt has steadily improved its competitiveness between the white lines and overall roster talent. Regardless of its poor ending, head coach Bobby Johnson's job appears to be safe and the Commodores have put together a respectable class.
Vanderbilt has 14 pledges at this time with four ranked in the top-50 at their respective positions. We thought Vandy needed to add depth on both sides of the line to bolster its rushing offense and defense and it has added serviceable players. Linebacker, another voided position with the graduation of standout Jonathan Goff, required a big commitment and the Vols got it with DeAndre Jones (Memphis, Tenn.).
Top prospect: Jones is simply a steal for Vanderbilt; he is a productive, well-built linebacker with a great nose for the football. Explosive in the short-area, Jones generates great power for his size allowing him to shed through cutoff blocks but also shows the lateral quickness to shift through the trash. Coverage and blitzing skills are also impressive; the only area that is lacking with this kid is great speed and range. Expect Jones, who chose Vanderbilt over Stanford, Michigan State and SEC foe Kentucky, to compete for Goff's vacated job and follow in the All-SEC second team linebacker's footsteps.
Class highlights: Aside from overachieving a bit with the talented Jones, athlete Micah Powell (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake), a well-rounded football player with the physical tools to develop on both sides of the ball in Nashville, could be another steal for Vanderbilt. Al Owens (Springtown, Texas) is a great-looking safety prospect with good range and is solid versus both the run and pass.
On offense, tight end Taylor Thompson (Prosper, Texas) stands 6-foot-7, and has a boatload of potential at the next level as he continues to physically develop, fill out his lean frame and grow more coordinated with his long body.
Could see the field in 2008: Jones.
Billy Tucker is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. and has close to a decade of coaching experience at the college and high school level. Tucker has served as a recruiting coordinator for two nationally ranked Division II colleges. Most recently, he was the associate head coach and defensive coordinator for Merrimack College, which advanced to the Sweet 16 in the 2006 NCAA Division II playoffs.