McKnight pushes USC to the top

Originally Published: March 7, 2007
Scouts Inc.

When the dust settled on national signing day, USC had secured letters of intent from each of the top three prospects in the ESPN 150. Landing No. 1 overall prospect Joe McKnight to go along with No. 2 overall Chris Galippo and No. 3 Marc Tyler was enough to push the Trojans' recruiting class of 2007 past Florida and into the top spot on our class rankings. Here's how the classes stack up:

1. USC
Quality, not quantity. This is not going to be a big class, but it's certainly impressive. The Trojans really cemented their class by adding the No. 1 player in the country, RB Joe McKnight (Riveridge, La./John Curtis Christian), giving them the top three players in the country. The Trojans signed eight other players who rank in the top five of their respective positions, including ILB Chris Galippo (Anaheim, Calif./Servite), RB Marc Tyler (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) and DE Everson Griffen (Avondale, Ariz./Agua Fria Union). If Griffen gets his motor going full-time, he could be a great one. QB Aaron Corp (Orange, Calif./Lutheran) has huge upside.

2. Florida
What area of their roster have the Gators not solidified? Today, they added the last piece of the puzzle in WR Deonte Thompson (Belle Glades, Fla./Glades Central). What's most impressive about this class isn't just the top end, but the middle and tail end, too, with guys like S Joe Haden (Fort Washington, Md./Friendly) and RB Bo Williams (Oakland Park, Fla./Northeast). Cornerback and offensive front are really the only areas Florida did not address. The Gators slid from No. 1 to No. 2 in the rankings not because of what they didn't do but because of what USC did.

3. Texas
Texas reloads once again, particularly in the offensive front with mammoth OT Tray Allen (Grand Prairie, Texas/South Grand Prairie). CBs Ben Wells (Beaumont, Texas/Ozen) and Curtis Brown (Gilmer, Texas) are lockdown guys on the perimeter. The Longhorns replaced QB John Brantley, who switched his commitment to Florida, by luring QB G.J. Kinne (Canron, Texas/Gilmer) away from Baylor. Watch out for unheralded RB Cody Johnson (Waller, Texas) and DE Sam Acho (Dallas/St. Marks).

4. South Carolina
Steve Spurrier proved he doesn't need to be at Florida to land top talent, bringing one of the nation's top classes to Columbia. Spurrier might have landed his quarterback of the future in long-haired gunslinger Stephen Garcia (Tampa, Fla./Jefferson). The offense also received a boost at the other skill positions with one of the nation's best big running backs in Brian Maddox (Anderson, S.C./T.L. Hanna) and two solid receivers in hometown Mark Barnes (Columbia, S.C./Richland Northeast) and athletic Joe Hills (Palmetto, Fla.). Offense might be Spurrier's forte, but the defense also has benefited from this class, adding two ESPN 150 defensive ends in Cliff Matthews (Cheraw, S.C.) and Travian Robertson (Laurinburg, N.C./Scotland).

5. Tennessee
The Volunteers are the comeback team of this recruiting season. After a disappointing 2006 class in which the Vols landed only one ESPN 150 prospect, they have stormed back and amassed a fine class that has seven such prospects. The cornerback position has really benefited, signing the nation's No. 1 prospect at that spot in Eric Berry (Fairburn, Ga./Creekside) and the No. 9 corner in Gerald Jones (Oklahoma City/Millwood). The front seven also received some fine additions as Tennessee beat out Notre Dame for hard-hitting, in-state linebacker Chris Donald (Huntington, Tenn.). The Vols also lured away Ohio native DE Ben Martin (Cincinnati/La Salle) and bolstered their wide receiver corps late by adding Ahmad Paige (West Monroe, La./Sterlington).

6. LSU
Coach Les Miles might be winning with players recruited by former coach Nick Saban and his staff, but this will be the second consecutive excellent class for the Tigers under Miles and his troops. CB Phelon Jones (Mobile, Ala./McGill-Toolen) was a big steal away from Miami, and OC T-Bob Hebert (Alpharetta, Ga./Greater Atlanta Christian) is the best lineman we saw at getting to the second level and adjusting to moving targets. The late addition of Chad Jones (Baton Rouge, La./Southern Lab) adds to an already impressive class.

7. Auburn
The hiring of Nick Saban has focused a lot of media attention on Alabama, but the Tigers very quietly are putting together an excellent class. Down the stretch, the defense added the nation's No. 1 safety Michael McNeil (Mobile, Ala./Davidson), a reckless and physical player. The offensive line also got a jolt late with the addition of top-five OT Lee Ziemba (Rogers, Ark.). Ziemba joins center Ryan Pugh (Birmingham, Ala./Hoover) and Chaz Ramsey (Madison, Miss./Central), who could play a number of spots, to give Auburn three ESPN 150 offensive linemen. The defense went into Florida State's backyard and landed a short but quick and productive ESPN 150 defensive tackle in Tim Lamb (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln).

8. Notre Dame
Met needs across the board with upper-echelon offensive players such as QB Jimmy Clausen (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian), WR Golden Tate (Nashville, Tenn./Pope John Paul II) and WR Duval Kamara (Hoboken, N.J.). Unheralded DE Kerry Neal (Bunn, N.C.) can run like a deer. Our real concern is the lack of interior front-four depth at defensive tackle, with Ian Williams (Longwood, Fla./Lyman) being the only member of the class at that position, but every other area has been addressed. The Irish offensive class is elite despite WR Greg Little (Durham, N.C./Hillside) switching to North Carolina. The defense landed good players, but the question is, is it enough? The two signing-day defections hurt.

9. Miami
The Hurricanes got off to a good start with their 2007 class, landing players such as the nation's No. 2-rated guard, Harland Gunn (Omaha, Neb./Central). Things came to a screeching halt, however, as head coach Larry Coker battled through bad press and eventually was fired. Miami lost some prospects but, since the hiring of Randy Shannon, has been making up for lost time. The Canes lured QB Robert Marve (Tampa, Fla./Plant), who was named Mr. Football in the state of Florida, away from Alabama. Shannon really showed an ability to close, landing one of the premier defensive prospects in Allen Bailey (Darien, Ga./ McIntosh Academy). When Shannon was hired, he quickly worked to re-establish roots in South Florida by landing versatile and athletic defender Adewale Ojomo (Hialeah, Fla.). Miami has had several big and quick defensive tackles over the years and secured another one recently. One-time Miami commit Chris Perry (Keller, Texas/Fossil Ridge) de-committed and switched to Nebraska, only to recently decide to re-commit to the Hurricanes. On signing day, Shannon was able to land RB Lee Chambers (Coffeeville, Miss./Coffeeville) to increase the speed in Miami's backfield.

10. Michigan
Fans didn't care much for the Wolverines' 2006 class, but the 2007 class should please the masses. WR Junior Hemingway (Conway, S.C.) does not get enough credit for his abilities -- watch out for him. QB Ryan Mallett (Texarkana, Texas/Texas) might have the most upside of any quarterback Michigan has had during Lloyd Carr's days in Ann Arbor, including his days as an assistant. Where are the cornerbacks, though?

11. North Carolina
Within a week of Butch Davis' hiring as coach, the Tar Heels lured S Quantavius Sturdivant (Oakboro, N.C./West Stanley) away from Florida and were able to keep DT Tydreke Powell (Ahoskie, N.C./Hertford County) at home, as well. QB Mike Paulus (Syracuse, N.Y./CBA) might be counted on to compete right away. Davis really proved his worth by making the biggest splash on signing day. He was able to keep WR Dwight Jones (Burlington, N.C.) on board, giving the Tar Heels a massive target. In addition, he was able to lure in-state receiver Greg Little (Durham, N.C./Hillside) away from Notre Dame. Jones and Little quickly upgraded the receiver corps. The big story was landing the two biggest uncommitted prospects on signing day, starting with DT Marvin Austin (Washington, D.C./Ballou). Austin and Powell quickly improved UNC's defensive line. The icing on the cake was offensive lineman Kevin Bryant.

12. Illinois
Ron Zook proved once again why he has been called an excellent recruiter. Despite a 2-10 record in 2006, Zook landed four ESPN 150 prospects, including Martez Wilson (Chicago/Simeon), the nation's No. 1 defensive end. Wilson, an Illinois native, is a high-motor and physical defender but also is a productive wide receiver. Zook and his staff also were able to keep another fine defensive line prospect close to home with DT Josh Brent (Bloomington, Ill./Central Catholic). Illinois landed one of the class' most versatile big men in D'Angelo McCray (Jacksonville, Fla./Jackson), who could play tight end but most likely will play along the defensive line. To help a struggling pass offense, the Illini scored a big recruit in Arrelious Benn (Washington, D.C./Dunbar), the nation's No. 3 wide receiver.

13. Georgia
To say the least, Georgia met needs on the offensive line, signing seven prospects, including OT Trinton Sturdivant (Wadesboro, N.C./Anson). The Bulldogs lost Antwane Greenlee (Columbus, Ga./Hardaway) but replaced him with Chris Little (Jeffersonville, Ga. Twiggs County). They lost out on in-state CB Eric Berry, but WR Israel Troupe (Tifton, Ga./Tift County) is outstanding, although he might choose baseball. QB Logan Gray (Columbia, Mo./Rock Bridge) does not shy away from competition.

14. Georgia Tech
Balancing stringent academic standards and on-field success is extremely difficult, and Chan Gailey has done a masterful job. This is by far his best class top to bottom, with RB Jonathan Dwyer (Marietta, Ga./Kell) and speedy edge rusher Derrick Morgan (Coatesville, Pa.) headlining the group. QB Josh Nesbitt (Greensboro, Ga./Greene County) could be a surprise under center, and guess what? He's taller than 5-foot-9!

15. Virginia Tech
There will be comparisons to Michael Vick, but QB Tyrod Taylor (Hampton, Va.) is out to prove he is as good a passer as he is an athlete. To help protect Taylor, the Hokies landed a wonderful offensive tackle prospect in Blake DeChristopher (Midlothian, Va./Clover Hill). The emphasis for this class is offense, but the nation's No. 1 defense last season is getting some fine additions, too, including linebacker Barquell Rivers (Wadesboro. N.C./Anson).

16. Texas A&M
While Texas makes the headlines, the Aggies quietly have been putting together an impressive class, featuring unrelated Stephenses on each side of the ball -- OLB Derrick Stephens (Houston/Cypress Falls) and RB Bradley Stephens (McAllen, Texas/Memorial). QB/ATH Billy Chavis (Beaumont, Texas/West Brook) could be a huge surprise regardless of position. Defense and quarterback needs have been addressed.

17. Alabama
Nick Saban's hiring created a buzz around Bama's recruiting. Although his late arrival wasn't enough to sway some big prospects his way, he has upgraded the class nonetheless. He bolstered the defensive line by landing in-state DT Kerry Murphy (Birmingham, Ala./Hoover) and luring versatile Luther Davis (West Monroe, La.) away from LSU. Talented quarterback Robert Marve (Tampa, Fla./Plant) eventually switched to Miami, but Saban was able to land former Miami commit QB Nick Fanuzzi (San Antonio/Churchill). On signing day, Saban was able to lure two good receivers into the program in Brandon Gibson (Mobile, Ala./UMS Wright Prep) and Marquis Maze (Tarrant, Ala./Tarrant). Both guys can add speed and explosiveness to the offense. OG William Vlachos (Birmingham, Ala./Mountain Brook), a one-time grayshirt candidate, also signed on to the 2007 class.

18. Clemson
QB Willy Korn (Duncan, S.C./Byrnes) has been committed to the Tigers since before his junior season, and the ESPN 150 quarterback is already on campus. The Tigers stayed in state to get talented OLB Scotty Cooper (Lake City, S.C.) but went up into North Carolina to land athletic and physical corner Marcus Gilchrist (High Point, N.C./T.W. Andrews), who also can be a weapon in the return game.

19. Pittsburgh
Although everyone fell in love with coach Dave Wannstedt's class in 2006, this class is every bit as good -- if not better -- but hasn't received the same attention. The Panthers addressed just about every position, and QB Pat Bostick (Lancaster, Pa./Manheim Township) and OG Chris Jacobson (Pittsburgh/Keystone Oaks) are excellent additions. S Maurice Williams (Erie, Pa./Strong Vincent) is the surprise athlete of the group.

20. Ohio State
Is the Buckeyes' class poor? Absolutely not. It just isn't what many expected, given their on-field success in 2006. OLB Jermale Hines (Cleveland/Glenville) and CB James Scott (Daytona Beach, Fla./Seabreeze) are both excellent, and the Buckeyes need cornerbacks. S Eugene Clifford (Cincinnati/Colerain) is fast and rangy. Versatile athlete Devon Torrence (Canton, Ohio/Canton South) can play just about anywhere.

21. Penn State
The Nittany Lions' 2007 class lacks the name recognition of last year's class, but it still is a good effort. The offensive line added a versatile and talented center prospect in Stefen Wisniewski (Pittsburgh,/Central Catholic) and a hard-nosed guard in Josh Marks (Catawissa, Pa./Southern Columbia), both Pennsylvania products. Coach Joe Paterno didn't have to go far to land athletic Nathan Stupar, as the projected linebacker hails from State College. Big, strong and fast Nick Sukay (Greensburg, Pa./Central Catholic) is a nice addition to Penn State's wide receiver group.

22. Nebraska
Coach Bill Callahan lost a key recruiter but could be putting together his best class since his initial effort. The Cornhuskers used a backfield by committee in 2006 and are recruiting to maintain that philosophy with two talented backs in this class. Marcus Mendoza (Houston/Spring Woods) is an undersized but explosive athlete, and Prince Amukamara (Glendale, Ariz./Apollo) is a home run threat. The secondary addressed some needs, adding three good corners, including David Ross (Compton, Calif./Dominguez), who has good size and skills.

23. Oregon
The 2006 season ended on a disappointing note for Oregon, but the Ducks are back at the drawing board trying to put together a team to topple Pac-10 leader USC. The defense added talented pass-rusher Kenny Rowe (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and kept DT Myles Wade (Portland, Ore./Benson Polytech) in-state. Few teams protected the quarterback better than Oregon in 2006, and the Ducks have added another promising offensive lineman in Darrion Weems (Woodland Hills, Calif./Taft Union). The receiving corps got a big deep threat in Drew Davis (Denver/Montbello).

24. Iowa
Although last year's class was considered disappointing, Iowa's 2007 group could be a pleasant surprise to Hawkeyes fans. Iowa lost out on ILB Brian Smith to Notre Dame late, but no single player makes a class. ATH Jordan Bernstine (Des Moines, Iowa/Lincoln) is versatile and a playmaker. DE Broderick Binns (St. Paul, Minn./Cretin-Durham) is underrated and can run. OLB Tyler Nielsen (Humboldt, Iowa) won't disappoint and is a Kirk Ferentz kind of guy, defensively.

25. Florida State
Bobby Bowden is known as a closer, and although he did not close as well as in past years, it was enough to push a very average class into the Top 25. Bowden was able to land hometown athlete Brandon Paul (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln) and lure WR Markish Jones (Spartanburg, S.C./Broom) and one-time Georgia commit Antwane Greenlee (Columbus, Ga./Hardaway) to Florida State.

Rankings compiled by Scouts Inc. recruiting analysts Tom Luginbill and Craig Haubert.