- Jamie Newberg, RecruitingNation
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With national signing day (Feb. 2) around the corner, here is a breakdown of how things are looking in the SEC. Schools are listed in alphabetical order, not in order of their rank in the conference.
Overview: Has any team in the nation recruited as well as Alabama over the past several years? This class is no different, as the Crimson Tide currently sit at No. 3 overall. It has star power and the Crimson Tide filled needs. You have to be impressed with what coach Nick Saban and Alabama did once again, especially out of state, landing players like safety Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips), running back Demetrius Hart (Orlando, Fla./Dr. Phillips), linebacker Trey DePriest (Akron, Ohio/Springfield), defensive end Xzavier Dixon (Griffin, Ga./Griffin) and wide receiver Bradley Sylve (Port Sulfur, La./South Plaquemines).
Top prospect: Clinton-Dix is the top-rated commitment to date, but that could change with what's left on Alabama's board. Regardless, the nation's No. 2 safety prospect brings it all to the table. He has size, speed and plays with great instincts. He supports the run and can play the pass.
Don't be surprised if: The Crimson Tide land the nation's top prospect, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe). He's torn between Alabama and South Carolina and there's the chance he doesn't do anything on national signing day. Instead, he could wait and sign on his birthday which happens to be Valentine's Day, Feb. 14. Alabama is also sitting pretty with the nation's No. 3 prospect, offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha), and the Tide are also co-leaders for the country's No. 4 prospect, running back Isaiah Crowell (Columbus, Ga./Carver).
Overview: A lot of firepower is headed to Arkansas with this 2011 class, currently ranked No. 17 in the country. Coach Bobby Petrino has help coming in at every position, including wide receiver, tight end and across the defensive front. Arkansas has nabbed eight four-star prospects including receiver Quinta Funderburk (Chesapeake, Va./Oscar Smith), defensive end Lonnie Gosha (Lake Butler, Fla./Union County) and tight end Demetrius Dean (Fayetteville, Ark./Fayetteville). Quarterback Brandon Allen (Fayetteville, Ark./Fayetteville) should be an ideal fit in Petrino's offense.
Top prospect: Offensive guard Mitch Smothers (Springdale, Ark./Springdale) looked very good all week during the Under Armour practices, battling some of the nation's top defensive linemen. The nation's No. 3 guard prospect gets off the ball well and excels at both run blocking and pass protection. He played tackle in high school.
Don't be surprised if: Arkansas pulls a surprise or two, especially from Louisiana. The Razorbacks are battling Florida and Texas to try to get defensive end Jermauria Rasco's (Shreveport, La./Evangel Christian Academy) last visit this weekend.
Overview: Auburn has so much momentum coming off its epic season and national title. The Tigers' big need was offensive line and they recently landed five-star OT Christian Westerman (Chandler, Az./Hamilton) to go along with center Reese Dismukes (Spanish Fort, Ala./Spanish Fort) and guards Greg Robinson (Thibodeau, La./Thibodeaux) and Thomas O'Reilly (Marietta, Ga./Pope). They also landed their ideal fit at quarterback in Kiehl Frazier (Springdale, Ark./Shiloh Christian) and currently sit at No. 8 overall and they are climbing.
Top prospect: Westerman is the No. 6 recruit overall and the No. 2 offensive tackle prospect in the country. He originally committed to Texas, but changed his mind late last week, as the Longhorns made changes within their coaching staff (i.e., losing OL coach Mac McWhorter). He's good enough to get on the field next year at Auburn and has an incredibly bright future.
Don't be surprised if: Auburn has a big closing finish to this class. The Tigers are still on some big-time recruits like Kouandjio, Crowell and four-star prospects defensive lineman Gabe Wright (Columbus, Ga./Carver) and safety Erique Florence (Valley, Ala.). Should be an interesting final few days for the Tigers.
Overview: While fans out there are questioning what's going on in Gainesville with the new Will Muschamp regime in regard to recruiting, let's remember that of their 15 commitments, six are ESPNU 150 members. Florida has landed the nation's top quarterback in five-star Jeff Driskel (Orlando, Fla./Hagerty) as well as wide receiver Ja'Juan Story (Brooksville, Fla./Natures Coast), tight end A.C. Leonard (Jacksonville, Fla./University Christian), running back Mike Blakely (Bradenton, Fla./Manatee) and defensive backs De'Ante Saunders (DeLand, Fla./DeLand) and Jabari Gorman (Miami/Pace). Florida is currently ranked No. 5 overall.
Top prospect: Driskel is No. 1 for a reason; he has all the tools and makeup to become an outstanding signal caller for Muschamp and Florida offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. He has size (6-foot-4, 224 pounds), good speed and deceptive athleticism. Driskel has an outstanding arm and should excel in the pro-style set.
Don't be surprised if: The Gators have an explosive close to their recruiting class. They are in on some big-time prospects like ESPNU 150 members Stephone Anthony (Wadesboro, N.C./Anson), Curtis Grant (Richmond, Va./Hermitage) and Curt Maggitt (West Palm Beach, Fla./Dwyer), all linebackers. Then you have two defensive line studs like Tim Jernigan (Lake City, Fla./Columbia) and Rasco. They are also trying to turn Texas Tech commit Marcus Roberson (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./St. Thomas Aquinas) and Michigan OL Jacob Fisher (Traverse City, Mi./Michigan West), but it won't be easy.
Overview: While the Dawgs may not have landed everyone on their "Dream Team," coach Mark Richt is coming pretty close. In-state stars like defensive end Ray Drew (Thomasville, Ga./Thomas County Central), tight end Jay Rome (Valdosta, Ga.), wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (Valdosta, Ga.), safety Damian Swann (Atlanta/Grady), defensive end Sterling Bailey (Gainesville, Ga./East Hall), offensive tackles Watts Dantzler (Dalton, Ga.) and Xzavier Ward (Moultrie, Ga./Colquitt County) are all headed to Athens. Plus, quarterback Christian LeMay (Mint Hill, N.C./Butler) and linebacker Ramik Wilson (Tampa, Fla./Jefferson) are two big-time out-of-state commits. A big haul for this program considering the season they had.
Top prospect: Lots of stars here, but the top-rated recruit for Georgia is Drew. The No. 2-rated end in the nation has good size, runs very well and can create problems for an offense coming off the edge. Not to mention that he is the centerpiece of the "Dream Team" and could help lure even more big-time recruits to the Dawgs.
Don't be surprised if: Georgia closes with five-star running back Isaiah Crowell. He will likely wait until Wednesday, and that would cap the Dream Team class very nicely. UGA is also in good position to turn linebacker Kent Turene (Sunrise, Fla./Boyd Anderson) away from USC and perhaps land juco standout defensive tackle Jonathan Jenkins (Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C.).
Overview: Hats off to Joker Phillips and Kentucky for a job well done with their 2011 recruiting class. They are a fringe top 25-30 team and that doesn't happen very often in Lexington when it comes to football. The nucleus of this class is littered with 14 three-star commitments and some really good football players like safety Glen Faulkner (East St. Louis, Ill./East St. Louis), linebacker Demarius Rancifer (Pensacola, Fla./Catholic), running back Marcus Caffey (Atlanta/Grady) and offensive tackle Darian Miller (Lexington, Ky./Bryan Station).
Top prospect: Jon Davis (Louisville, Ky./ Eastern) is a tremendous talent. The ESPNU 150 athlete is extremely versatile and run the ball, catch the ball or chase the ball on the other side. Davis could play a variety of positions for the Wildcats and is a great get for Phillips and Kentucky.
Don't be surprised if: Kentucky closes with a few big-name recruits like linebacker Lamar Dawson (Danville, Ky./Boyle County). He's keeping things close to the vest but the in-state Cats could prove tough to beat. They are also working Alabama commit Daryl Collins (Gadsden, Ala./Gadsden City), who is scheduled to visit Kentucky this weekend.
Overview: When it's a great year on the Bayou, like it is this season, you can bet the farm that the Tigers will reel in one of the top recruiting classes in the nation like they have this year. Coach Les Miles is loading up again and currently has the nation's No. 10-ranked class. Ten of their top 11 commits to date are in-state studs, led by two five-star prospects in defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (New Orleans/O. Perry Walker) and offensive tackle La'El Collins (Baton Rouge, La./Redemptorist).
Top prospect: Johnson is an absolute beast in the middle at tackle. He's explosive, very strong and athletic enough to line up a defensive end and give you a speed rush. He's a dynamic talent who has a chance to be the next great defensive lineman in Baton Rouge.
Don't be surprised if: LSU closes with another defensive lineman or two. The Tigers have been in the thick of it for a long time with Jernigan and Rasco. It will take some doing to seal the deal, but LSU is on the prowl.
Overview: This is a very good class headed to Starkville. In a normal year it would get the deserved publicity, but the SEC is far from normal -- especially the way the league has recruited as a whole this season. Once again, Dan Mullen and his staff have landed some dynamic athletes on both sides of the ball. The Bulldogs have also loaded up on linemen on both sides of the ball and have a talented signal-caller headed their way in Dakota Prescott (Haughton, La./Haughton).
Top prospect: Athlete Jermaine Whitehead (Greenwood, Miss./Amanda Elzy) is a versatile talent who can play on either side of the football. He's terrific with the ball in his hands, has very good speed and quickness. He's just a dangerous offensive weapon. Defensively, he could line up at either cornerback or safety.
Don't be surprised if: Mississippi State lands defensive tackle Kevin McReynolds (Washington D.C./St. Johns College). He raved about his official visit there last weekend, but he did the same after visits to UCLA and Syracuse. He travels to Kansas State this weekend, and while the Bulldogs have a shot they are trailing UCLA and Syracuse right now. McReynolds is waiting until national signing day to make his decision.
Overview: There's been a Rebel rising over the past few weeks, as Ole Miss has been on fire on the recruiting trail. In typical Houston Nutt fashion we are seeing a team close fast and with big numbers. Over the past couple of weeks they have won major recruiting battles for wide receiver Tobias Singleton (Madison, Miss./Central), defensive tackle Uriah Grant (Fullerton, Calif./Fullerton C.C.), cornerback Floyd Raven (Reserve, La./East St. John) and athlete Philander Moore (Brenham, Texas/Blinn C.C.). Then they beat Mississippi State for four-star inside linebacker prospect C.J. Johnson (Philadelphia, Miss.) this past Tuesday.
Top prospect: Singleton has good size (6-1, 190 pounds), speed and is a guy that can pretty much do it all. He racked up over 1,800 yards of offense and 19 touchdowns as a senior.
Don't be surprised if: The Rebels close with two more in-state studs in athletes Nickolas Brassell (Batesville, Miss./South Panola) and Jermaine Whitehead. Brassell was once committed to the Bulldogs and is now likely headed to Starkville. He is scheduled to visit Alabama this weekend. Meanwhile, the Rebels are trying to turn Whitehead away from Mississippi State.
Overview: Steve Spurrier and South Carolina reeled in a large 2011 class with help coming in from everywhere. The defense will get a boost with recruits like defensive linemen Kelcy Quarles (Fork Union Military Academy) and Gerald Dixon (Rock Hill, S.C./South Pointe), linebacker Edward Muldrow (Snellville, Ga./South Gwinnett) and safety Kadetrix Marcus (Stone Mountain, Ga./Stephenson). Wide receivers Damiere Byrd (Sicklerville, N.J./Timber Creek) and Shamier Jeffery (Saint Matthews, S.C./Calhoun County), tight end Drew Owens (Charlotte, N.C./Kell) and Brandon Shell (Goose Creek, S.C.) should bolster the South Carolina offense.
Top prospect: Marcus is a playmaker on the back end who can support the run or play the pass. He's tough, aggressive and doesn't shy away from contact. Marcus also plays with great instincts and is more suited at the strong safety position.
Don't be surprised if: Clowney stays home. Most feel it will be tough for him to leave South Carolina for Alabama, especially with the in-state pressure mounting by the hour. It has to help Clowney see in-state stars shine in Columbia like Alshon Jeffery, Marcus Lattimore and his former teammate Stephone Gilmore. Also, South Carolina should find out early next week whether it lands defensive tackle Phillip Dukes (Manning, S.C./Manning).
Overview: The Vols have quietly put together a top 25 recruiting class with a chance to really move up over the next few days. This group is led by four ESPNU 150 members in wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett (Saginaw, Mich./Saginaw), offensive guard Marcus Jackson (Vero Beach, Fla./Vero Beach), linebacker A.J. Johnson (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville) and running back Marlin Lane (Daytona Beach, Fla./Mainland). They have also done well replenishing both lines of scrimmage, as well as the safety position.
Top prospect: Arnett should complement receivers Justin Hunter and Da'Rick Rogers very well because he's an inside guy who lacks great size but has unreal quickness and is very dangerous with the ball in his hands.
Don't be surprised if: Tennessee makes a big jump in the recruiting rankings as it is awaiting decisions on some big-name prospects like defensive lineman Gabe Wright, linebackers Curt Maggitt and Lamar Dawson, and offensive tackles Cameron Clear (Memphis, Tenn./Central) and Antonio Richardson (Nashville, Tenn./Pearl-Cohn).
Overview: Eleven of Vanderbilt's 15 commitments are three-star prospects. This class is dominated with offensive linemen as five are headed their way. The Commodores also landed a couple of quarterbacks and running backs led by Damien Fleming (Jacksonville, Fla./Ribault) and J.J. Keels (Melbourne, Fla./Florida Air Academy). Defensive prospects are low on numbers now, but that could change over the next few days for new Vandy head coach James Franklin.
Top prospect: Keels is a three-star prospect and the No. 37 running back prospect in the nation. At 5-10, 182 pounds, he has pretty good size and shows good balance, vision and quickness. As a junior he rushed for over 1,800 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Don't be surprised if: The Commodores make a nice late run. Right now they have a big last visit weekend scheduled with over a dozen recruits coming in.
Jamie Newberg has been covering recruiting both in the Southeast and nationally for 19 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.