Best of the best: Filling recruiting needs

Dallas JacksonClick MORE: Current Rivals.com team recruiting rankings Here to view this Link. is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.comClick MORE: Current Rivals.com team recruiting rankings Here to view this Link. and follow him on TwitterClick MORE: Current Rivals.com team recruiting rankings Here to view this Link..

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The season for making premature judgments in sports is summer.
The time between spring and fall practice in college football creates too big a gap to fill with logic, and the dog days drag on with idle chatter.
Over the next three days, Rivals.com will break down the current recruiting classes by jumping to sweeping conclusions seven-plus months before National Signing Day.
Today looks at which programs are best meeting their recruiting needs, Wednesday will take the other side and focus on programs that have yet to add key commitments, and Thursday will be a breakdown of which programs atop the team rankings have staying power and which are lurking in the shadows but poised to make a run.
This series is based on needs identified early in the cycle by the team of local writers and national recruiting analysts.
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Head coach Mark Stoops and his staff are doing a tremendous job with recruiting, The Wildcats have been sitting atop the SEC rankings for nearly a full week -- and they spent several days atop the national rankings.
This space is not a citation for the cumulative ranking, but it is recognition for checking the boxes that the program needed -- which is the true goal of recruiting and the measurement of classes.
In March, it was clear that the program had a laundry list of linebacker, offensive line, Drew Barker and playmakers for the quarterback.
The class of 2013 did not bring a single linebacker, and entering July there are four pledged to be headed to Lexington. Huber Heights (Ohio) Wayne inside linebacker Dorian Hendrix and Olney (Md.) Good Counsel outside linebacker Kobie Walker are high three-star players, and they are joined by Lyman (Fla.) Longwood prospect Nico Firios and depth-building Brenham (Texas) Blinn Community College athlete Ryan Flannigan.
There is work to do on the offensive line, but Derrick Kelly of Havana (Fla.) East Garden and Jarrett LaRubbio from Liberty Township (Ohio) Lakota East have given verbal commitments and are expected to be joined by two more linemen.
It wasn't that the program just needed a quarterback to build around. It needed Barker, the signal caller from Burlington (Ky.) Conner. After Kentucky nearly lost out on him during the Joker Phillips regime, Stoops made an immediate impact with Barker and convinced him to join this class and begin recruiting other player.
Rivals.com national analyst Mike Farrell has been amazed by the transformation.
"They are selling an exciting offense, and they are getting kids to buy in," Farrell said. "From a pure perception stance, a lot of the kids who have committed had offers from better programs but the vision and the offense that can be implemented at Kentucky have people wanting to go there."
Completing the class are the players who are ready to play alongside Barker.
Kentucky has commitments from four-star receiver Thaddeus Snodgrass from Springfield (Ohio) High and a pair of four-star running backs in bruising Mikel Horton of West Chester (Ohio) Lakota West and the No. 1 all-purpose runner from Bethlehem (Ga.) George Walton Academy, Stanley Williams.
The class headlines those that are getting the job done, but from June to February is a long time to keep the wheels from falling off.
Farrell said he believes the message from Stoops to the recruits will remain consistent.
"The staff has to be relaying the message that the improvement begins with this group," he said. "It is the best way to make sure that this class stays together: temper the expectations so that a 3-9 or 4-8 record doesn't make the kids bolt.
"It has been absolutely ridiculous seeing what is happening at Kentucky -- not only in filling the needs but filling them with quality kids."
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What it needed in '14: Clemson was slated to be looking for impact playmakers -- the type who come to the school with some competition from many other programs. With the impending departure of quarterback Tajh Boyd, a replacement of equal parts accuracy and athleticism is a key to the class. The next step is finding players who can ease the loss of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. Once all of those things were figured out, the expectation was that coach Dabo Swinney would be looking at a tight end and a couple of linebackers.
What has happened to date: The commitment from Gainesville (Ga.) High dual-threat quarterback prospect Deshaun Watson has stuck -- although it has been the subject of plenty of rumors and recruiting battles -- and he is still in the fold. Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek receiver Demarre Kitt is probably more Hopkins than Watkins -- if he is either Clemson fans would be thrilled --and the four-star player is one of the most coveted in the Southeast. The program also added a pair of four-star running backs in Adam Choice of Thomasville (Ga.) Thomas County Central and Jae'lon Oglesby from Central (S.C.) D.W. Daniel. Completing the needs are a pair of tight ends highlighted by four-star Milan Richard of Savannah (Ga.) Calvary Baptist and a trio of linebackers with four-star Buford (Ga.) High prospect Korie Rogers leading the way.
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What it needed in '14: The expectations were that Northwestern was going to have a small class and time could be spent getting the players that the program wanted. The top needs looked to be cornerback and slot receiver -- or athletes who could play one of those two -- as well as a quarterback. The rest of the needs were not as positional, but a few defensive linemen could be expected.
What has happened to date: The program has landed 12 commitments and may be close to filling out with only a few spaces left. It is ranked as the No. 6 class in the Big Ten behind Ohio State, Michigan, Rutgers, Penn State and Michigan State, but that does not mean it has not done a better job of meeting its immediate needs. The Wildcats have commitments from Sylvania (Ohio) Southview receiver Nate Hall -- who may end up at outside linebacker -- and defensive back Jordan Thomas from Klein (Texas) Collins. Added to that are two athletes who may find their way to either side of the ball but look likley to battle for that slot position in Dareian Watkins and Solomon Vault from Galion (Ohio) High and Gaithersburg (Md.) High, respectively. Clayton Thorson is the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the country, and the four-star has decided to make the short move from Wheaton (Ill.) North to Evanston. The Wildcats also won a recruiting battle for running back Justin Jackson out of Carol Stream (Ill.) Glenbard North with their quality-over-quantity class mentality.
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What it needed in '14: The Oklahoma State class was expected to look a lot like that of 2013, with a lot of attention being paid to the defense. The team needed defensive backs and defensive linemen in the worst way, but adding quality linebackers is never a bad plan of attack. There was thought to be a mix of junior college talent in the secondary and in the trenches to balance out some major voids in the roster breakdown and provide immediate depth. The staples of every class are to add a quarterback and to keep talented players in-state.
What has happened to date: Yes, Oklahoma State is behind Texas, Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in the conference, but the Cowboys went right to action, grabbing four linemen who can fill in the holes at defensive end and tackle. The highest-ranked is three-star defensive tackle Joyan Williams from New Orleans (La.) Edna Karr, and the largest is junior college defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, who will come in at 6-foot-3 and nearly 280 pounds. The program has added a commitment from another Karr player in cornerback Juwan Offray. And 6-foot-2, 202-pound Trevion Roberts from Aldine (Texas) Eisenhower has committed as a defensive back despite primarily playing quarterback for his high school. The highlights of the class right now are the players who elected to stay home. Broken Arrow (Okla.) High linebacker Gyasi Akem is a four-star prospect, as is his teammate and running back Devon Thomas. Underrated quarterback Mason Rudolph could provide a major impact because his high school offense at Rock Hill (S.C.) Northwestern is very similar to that run in Stillwater.
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What it needed in '14: The Trojans signed only 13 players in the class of 2013, and with the sanctions placed on the program depth has become an issue across the board. The main areas of need are on both sides of the line. The program brought in only 2-1/2 defensive linemen in the last two classes -- the half is because Morgan Breslin is a JUCO transfer. The offensive line depth chart looks just as bad. The Trojans have only 10 players on the roster, which barely will fill a two-deep.
What has happened so far: It is hard to say that USC is joining its conference brethren in a slow start because its five commitments mean that the program is nearly halfway complete with its class. It is currently behind Arizona and California in the conference, but each of its five commitments is on the line. On offense, La Jolla (Calif.) Country Day tackle Jordan Poland and La Habra (Calif.) High guard Toa Lobendahn are the highest-ranked players in the class. Just behind Lobendahn is four-star defensive tackle Tashon Smallwood of Fresno (Calif.) Central East. Corona (Calif.) Centennial defensive end Austin Maloata and Monterey Park (Calif.) East Los Angeles College defensive tackle Michael Wyche are three-star defensive linemen who round out the small but needed group of early commits.
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