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NSD: Grading the SEC programs

Jace McClellan
Jace McClellan (Rivals.com)

The usual suspects sit perched atop the SEC recruiting rankings following the conclusion of the Early Signing Period. But not everyone had a perfect period, with some hits and misses throughout the league. Today, we give each team a grade following the Early Signing Period.

RELATED: Grading the Big Ten after National Signing Day

CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

ALABAMA

Alabama was hoping to land five-star wide receiver Rakim Jarrett, but instead, he flipped from LSU to Maryland. The Crimson Tide did flip four-star running back Jace McClellan from Oklahoma, though. It was scheduled to flip Javion Cohen from Auburn on this day as well, but it happened days earlier instead.

Overall, once again, Nick Saban has inked a very impressive class. Out of the 26 commitments, 22 signed and out of that group of signees, only two are three-stars. There was some buzz that LSU had a chance to flip five-star linebacker Demouy Kennedy, so Alabama getting him signed was another significant victory.

Grade: A

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ARKANSAS

The Hogs were really up against it when it came to the class, especially considering new coach Sam Pittman was hired with just one recruiting weekend left on the schedule. Nevertheless, Pittman managed to salvage a decent close as the program nabbed and signed six new prospects during the Early Signing Period. The class currently sits at No. 85 overall in the country, which is not ideal, but with so little time to work, it’s hard to fault the school for not doing more. Pittman did a nice job of keeping several top prospects in state and capped things off by flipping four-star Myles Slusher away from Oregon.

Grade: C-

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AUBURN

Auburn closed strong, landing four on Signing Day with two being four-stars. The Tigers took one of the best out of Mississippi in tight end Jeremiah Pegues and a top defensive back out of Louisiana in Eric Reed. The Tigers beat Alabama for Pegues and Georgia for Reed. They also beat out Tennessee for linebacker Desmond Tisdol and flipped Romello Height from Miami, both prospects from Georgia. The Tigers have 24 commitments, 22 signees and have solidified a top-10 class this cycle.

Grade: A-

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FLORIDA

The Gators might be the toughest school in the conference to grade because they missed out on several marquee prospects on Signing Day, but still managed to put together the nation’s No. 7 overall ranked class. The top prospect in the class, five-star linebacker Derek Wingo, had been committed since June and despite seeing his stock rise, never looked around at other options. The same can be said for long-time Rivals100 commit Gervon Dexter, who briefly flirted with Georgia before electing to stick with the Gators. Missing out on names like E.J. Smith, Timothy Smith and Clyde PInder hurts, but Florida fans should still be very happy with a top-10 class.

Grade: B

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GEORGIA

Georgia really changed its wide receiver room with the signing of four four-stars last week and that was a big need for the Bulldogs. They need speed at that position and they got it. They missed out on quarterback target CJ Stroud and kind of missed on Jordan Burch (he committed to South Carolina, but did not sign), but it was still a successful day. Kelee Ringo and Darnell Washington, two five-stars are going to announce their decisions at All-American games early in January, and both are expected to sign with Georgia. The Bulldogs have picked steam once again with five-star running back Zachary Evans, too, so that is another recruitment to watch.

If they already had Evans, Ringo and Washington, this would be an A+ class. They will look to hang onto a couple of offensive line commits that did not sign and maybe add a piece or two in February to round this class out.

Grade: A-

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KENTUCKY

The Wildcats get high marks here as they closed with five new four-stars during the Early Signing Period, highlighted by defensive players Joel Williams, Josiah Hayes and Octavious Oxendine. Kentucky’s recent success on the field has opened doors across the country on the recruiting trail and now the Wildcats are taking a more national recruiting approach.

All told, Kentucky signed prospects from 12 different states, including atypical recruiting areas like Louisiana and Mississippi. Finishing in the Top 20 in the recruiting rankings isn’t something that happens often in Lexington and the program's grade reflects that.

Grade: B+

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LSU

If all things would have gone right for Ed Orgeron and the LSU Tigers, then we could be talking about them as the No. 1 class in the country. LSU lost more than they gained last week. Demon Clowney decommitted and will sign in February. Jermaine Burton flipped to Georgia, Rakim Jarrett flipped to Maryland and Malcolm Green flipped to Clemson. They also missed on five-star Jordan Burch.

The good news was they landed to four-stars, linebacker Phillip Webb and offensive tackle Marcus Dumevil. They will add more pieces in February and they still have a top-five class at this time, so the class is strong despite a relatively rough Signing Day.

Grade: A-

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MISSISSIPPI STATE

If you are talking about Joe Moorhead and Mississippi State having success getting their commitments signed in the Early Signing Period, then they had success landing 21 out of 21. The top signees are four-star running back Jo’Quavious Marks and four-star cornerback Emmanuel Forbes. They added a couple of four-stars from the junior college ranks.

This looks to be the best class Moorhead is going to sign in his tenure, especially at the skill positions, so he will need to turn it up offensively next season and build on this with some victories on the field. It sits at No. 25 in the Team Rankings now.

Grade: B-

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MISSOURI

Eliah Drinkwitz has been on the job in Columbia just over a week, so having success that quick was nearly impossible. The Tigers had 11 commits entering the 18th and 10 of those signed. They have no four-stars or five-stars on their list, so upgrading the talent will be crucial for Drinkwitz come February, and especially his first full cycle in 2021.

The Tigers will go into the new year with double-digit spots remaining in this class. He may not fill up with high school talent, but instead use some spots for transfers. He is really going to be graded that first week of February.

Grade: C

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OLE MISS

If we could grade the class incomplete, we would. The same for Drinkwitz at Missouri. Lane Kiffin had about a week to evaluate the class, remove players he didn’t wait in it, try to keep the ones he liked and try to get uncommitted players to sign. It was really too quick for anyone to do too much.

Fans would have liked Kiffin to come in, flip a Mississippi State commit or two, sign a top in-state prospect immediately and have some momentum as they enter the new year. It did not really happen. He retained in-state guys like Kentrel Bullock and Eli Acker and four-star Alabama tight end Demarcus Thomas, so that was solid.

Grade: C

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SOUTH CAROLINA

The Gamecocks had one of the biggest additions on Signing Day in five-star defensive end Jordan Burch, who committed to South Carolina over LSU, Georgia, Clemson and Alabama. The only problem? Burch committed but didn’t sign, leaving Gamecocks fans to sweat things out for another six weeks.

In fact, five of the Gamecocks 22 commitments didn’t sign so there will still be plenty of work to do as the coaches work to lock everyone up for good come February. Sitting at No. 20 in the team rankings is good but not great for South Carolina, which could be headed into a make or break season for coach Will Muschamp.

Grade: B

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TENNESSEE

The Vols finished with a bang over the week-plus leading up to the Signing Period, adding a total of eight commits and signing all of them on Wednesday. The group was highlighted by a pair of Rivals250 in-state defensive linemen in Omari Thomas and Tyler Baron, both of which were looking at other SEC options all the way up until their final decisions.

The late additions of both Volunteer State prospects highlighted a great year of in-state recruiting for Tennessee as it signed 10 in-state prospects, up from just four total in the 2019 class. With a few remaining spots in the class, Tennessee might have a chance to climb even higher than the current position of No. 9 in the team rankings.

Grade: B+

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TEXAS A&M

The Aggies missed out on running back E.J. Smith when he made his Signing Day choice of Stanford. With five-star running back Zach Evans also likely headed out of state, the position is one area that brings the school’s grade down a notch.

Overall, the Aggies did close with a few important prospects signing, including Rivals100 offensive lineman Chris Morris, who had been flirting with Ole Miss, and four-star defensive tackle Dallas Walker, who had been looking hard at Auburn. Add in landing and signing four-star defenders Brian George and Antonio Doyle last week and the Aggies earned their spot at No. 6 overall in the Rivals.com team rankings.

Grade: B

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VANDERBILT

The Commodores actually closed pretty strong, rising up to No. 51 in the team rankings thanks to five late commitments. The group was highlighted by high three-star quarterback Mike Wright, who flipped to Vanderbilt after being committed to UCF for months. Given the school’s struggles at the position in 2019, it’s possible Wright will have a chance to come in and compete for the job alongside fellow freshman signee Ken Seals.

The Commodores still have some work to do in terms of hanging onto highest-ranked commit Donovan Kaufman, who elected to delay signing after late interest from several programs.

Grade: C

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