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Five programs facing a make-or-break 2017 season

RELATED: Schools haven't given up on Notre Dame commit Derrik Allen

Perception is almost everything in recruiting. Accurate or otherwise, the way prospects view a certain program forms narratives that decide the way things break on Signing Day. Below are five programs that stand to see a shift in said narrative this season and need to view 2018 as a make-or-break year from a perception standpoint.


Brian Kelly
Brian Kelly (AP Images)

Coach: Brian Kelly

2018 Class: Notre Dame currently has the No. 4 recruiting class in the country. The haul included eight four-star prospects and is headlines by Rivals100 defensive back Derrik Allen.

Why it’s make-or-break: Well, this one’s obvious. Coming off a 4-8 record, the program’s worst finish in a decade, Kelly’s job is about as secure as a 45-minute old game of Jenga. If Kelly is removed as the program’s head coach, it will be open season on the eight four-star prospects already in the fold for 2018. A bad start could prove to be just as harmful, as it’s not particularly difficult for coaches recruiting against Kelly to raise questions about the Irish’s immediate future. Notre Dame has plenty of recruiting momentum, but that could change in a hurry this fall.


Hugh Freeze
Hugh Freeze (AP Images)

Coach: Hugh Freeze

2018 Class: Not great. Ole Miss has just one verbal commitment thus far. Recruiting buzz in Oxford is close to non-existent. An ongoing NCAA investigation certainly hasn’t helped matters.

Why it’s make-or-break: Ole Miss’ one-season bowl ban won’t affect recruiting. It’s what happens if more penalties are imposed that should have people in Oxford worried. The looming possibility of more sanctions is what has impacted the program’s 2017 class. Add in the fact that the Rebels are coming off a 5-7 season, and most eyes on the program will be critical in nature this season. The idea of cleaning house and starting anew has to be in some way appealing to the powers that be.


Jim Mora
Jim Mora (AP Images)

Coach: Jim Mora

2018 Class: UCLA stands at No. 16 in the recruiting rankings. Rivals100 quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson gives the Bruins’ class a nice foundation, but Mora and staff will have to find way to beat USC for in-state talent if it hopes to right the ship and inspire any semblance of recruiting confidence.

Why it’s make-or-break: Mora has been painted as an underachiever in recent years and the impressive recruiting power the program wielded not so long ago seems to have dried up substantially. With rival USC back in the national picture, the pressure is on Mora to take the next step and join the Pac-12 title hunt. The Bruins’ win total has declined in each of the past two seasons, and last year’s 4-8 record is almost certainly giving recruits pause.


Butch Jones
Butch Jones (AP Images)

Coach: Butch Jones

2018 Class: Tennessee has not had much trouble attracting good recruiting classes in recent years and currently stands at No. 14 in the recruiting rankings. The program’s success landing talent is part of the reasons the expectations in Knoxville have grown. Five-star offensive lineman Cade Mays, the No. 2 tackle in the country, headlines the Vols’ class.

Why it’s make-or-break: Jones’ seat is not as hot as some other coaches’ on this list. There’s little chance he’ll be fired in 2018. Still, the upcoming year seems important to the trajectory of his program. Prospects are still on the fence about what Tennessee is becoming under Jones and things could go either way this season. A 10-win season would paint the picture of a team coming into its own and taking the next step. Another 9-4 effort or -- something worse -- would make the Vols look like a program perpetually struggling to get over the hump.


Bret Bielema
Bret Bielema (AP Images)

Coach: Bret Bielema

2018 Class: With four total commits, Arkansas isn’t exactly off to a blazing start in 2018. There’s a chance that prospects want the Razorbacks to prove progress on the field this fall before jumping on board. Should all go well, Bielema could be in position to see some benefits from Ole Miss’ current situation as well as a new, unproven staff at LSU.

Why it’s make-or-break: Arkansas has come a long way under Bielema, who went 3-9 in his first season as head coach. Still, the fact that he’s failed to win more than eight games since arriving in Fayetteville is starting to become concerning. Recruiting is perception and the Razorbacks aren’t that far away from being perceived as a mediocre SEC team rather than a program on the rise. Bielema probably isn’t in serious danger of being fired, but his program needs a statement season in order to start attracting high-profile prospects.