SEC: Each team's biggest Early Signing Period question
The Early Signing Period is just over six weeks away and programs across the country are looking for answers as they prepare to sign their 2019 classes. We look at the biggest questions facing each SEC program over the next six weeks.
ALABAMA: Will the Tide finish No. 1?
Alabama is coming off a 29-0 win over LSU in Baton Rouge and the Crimson Tide have shown they are the best team in college football this season. We know they will sign an elite class, so the real question is, will Nick Saban and his staff sign the top recruiting class this cycle?
Alabama currently sits on top with a 55-point lead over Oregon. There are some big-time targets still out there that Alabama is serious contenders for. It starts in state with five-star center Clay Webb.
The list is long after Webb. Running back Trey Sanders, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux, defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher, offensive tackle Darnell Wright, offensive tackle Evan Neal and linebacker Nakobe Dean are all top-32 prospects in the country that have the Tide high on their list.
Expect Alabama to make a serious run this cycle.
ARKANSAS: Can the Hogs hang onto their prized class?
The Razorbacks are set to sign one of the best classes in school history, currently holding commitments from 10 four-stars, including Rivals100 wide receiver Trey Knox and Rivals100 tight end Hudson Henry. But in the SEC things are never final until they’re final and the early signing period can’t get here soon enough for Arkansas fans. Assuming the Razorbacks hang onto the 10 four-stars and add a few more like defensive backs Gregory Brooks and Devin Bush, there will be plenty to celebrate for Chad Morris and company.
AUBURN: Can the Tigers hold onto Pappoe?
Instead of visiting Auburn for the Texas A&M game, Owen Pappoe was in Knoxville to see Tennessee defeat Charlotte 14-3. Pappoe is a five-star linebacker out of Loganville (Ga.) Grayson that committed to Auburn over Georgia May 1. This season has been up and down for the Tigers and Gus Malzahn may need to be worried about keeping Pappoe. Tennessee is a real threat. The Vols are expected to receive an official visit from Pappoe close to the dead period in December. His teammate and good friend, Wanya Morris is committed to Tennessee and this is something to watch. We have said from the beginning with Pappoe; nothing will be official until the ink dries.
FLORIDA: Will the Gators return to form?
Despite back-to-back losses, Florida has still exceeded expectations this season on the field, but things are still going rather slow on the recruiting trail. Florida is currently ranked outside the top 25 nationally and sits ahead of only Missouri and Vanderbilt in the conference rankings. What’s even more surprising is that the Gators have more commits from outside the state of Florida (eight) than they do from inside the Sunshine State (seven). Dan Mullen and company will need to pick up the pace to keep up with the rest of the conference, especially considering the success other first-year coaches are having.
GEORGIA: More success in South Florida?
Under Kirby Smart, Georgia has always hit the recruiting trail hard in South Florida and the level of the Bulldogs' success in this class could hinge on who they land from that area in the coming months. Running back Kenny McIntosh will take his official visit this weekend and he is a priority. Tyrique Stevenson and Kaiir Elam are Rivals250 defensive backs that Georgia is targeting. Elam is expected in Athens this weekend for an unofficial visit. He and Stevenson could be considered Georgia leans at this time, but there is still a long way to go. This South Florida duo will be two the Bulldog Nation follows until they sign their letters of intent.
KENTUCKY: Can the Wildcats cash in on their big season?
It’s been a magical year for Kentucky on the field, with the Wildcats having a shot at the SEC title game up until this past week’s loss to Georgia. Even though they won’t be headed to Atlanta, it’s clear that things continue to trend up in Lexington. Now will recruiting follow suit?
Most recently, Kentucky nabbed a commitment from in-state four-star athlete Wandale Robinson after he seemed destined to commit to Nebraska. Now the ‘Cats are trying to do the same with four-star defensive end J.J. Weaver, who is looking at Miami, Purdue and a few others. Landing Weaver would be another sign that prospects are buying in and as long as the team closes the season strong, it should continue to pay dividends in recruiting.
LSU: Will the best in Louisiana stay home?
Regardless of who the head coach is at LSU, the key to success in Baton Rouge is how the home-state is recruited. At this time, Ed Orgeron has commitments from five of the top 10 players in his state. All 10 may not be top targets, but we know quite a few still are.
Orgeron said after the loss to Alabama that he needs defensive linemen to play at the Crimson Tide’s level. The No. 2 prospect in the state is Ishmael Sopsher, a five-star defensive tackle for which LSU is battling Alabama. The same could be said about athlete Devonta Lee, Sopsher’s teammate at Amite.
The prospect the most LSU fans are talking about right now may be running back John Emery. He recently decommitted from Georgia and LSU is trending in a big way. The way LSU finishes is extremely important to the program moving forward and it all starts in state.
MISSISSIPPI STATE: Is there more in-state success coming?
Joe Moorhead is very active in recruiting. So many prospects talk about him, how he reaches out to them and how involved he is. That is a positive. Out of the Bulldogs' 19 commitments, 10 are playing high school or junior college football in Mississippi. Moorhead wants to keep the best at home. He is working on the top uncommitted prospects and trying to flip a few between now and Signing Day.
The Bulldogs have really made the race for Derick Hall interesting. He was close to committing to Auburn on more than one occasion. Now, the race is too close to call. Keep an eye on Florida State commit Charles Cross, too. Mississippi State is recruiting him the hardest and he is expected to take an official visit to Starkville. Moorhead is now bowl eligible in year one and he hopes to carry some of that momentum onto the recruiting trail.
MISSOURI: Can the Tigers lock up the local commits?
Like many schools, Missouri’s recruiting starts in-state. Of the Tigers' 15 commitments, five are from in-state prospects. Barry Odom and his staff are working to get all five to sign during the Early Signing Period and it looks like that may happen. The only question may be CJ Boone. He has mentioned a potential visit to Kentucky, but with that said, he is actively recruiting others to Columbia, so he appears to be a strong commitment. The storyline here is to get the in-state commitments locked up and signed in December. There could be another name on that list too. Jalani Williams is another local recruit that the Tigers are in pursuit of and he is committing soon, so that is something to watch moving forward.
OLE MISS: Who will the Rebels flip?
Matt Luke and the Ole Miss Rebels have a strong class of 26 commitments, and they are planning to add more. Some of their top remaining targets are currently committed to other schools. Maurice Hampton (LSU), Zion Logue (Georgia), De’Monte Russell (Mississippi State), Jaren Handy (Auburn) and Eric Gray (Michigan) are some of the top Ole Miss targets, and the Rebels fans should keep an eye on each of them, but there are two others who they may have the best shot at flipping right now. Both are in-state recruits and committed to other schools in the SEC West.
Brandon Turnage is a long-time Alabama commit and Jamond Gordon is committed to Auburn, but he was at one time committed to Ole Miss. We feel pretty confident that Ole Miss will flip at least one of these when all is said and done.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Who will be the final pieces in the class?
The Gamecocks have a class of solidly committed prospects and only a few valuable slots left available, the question is, which prospects will fill them?
The Gamecocks continue to recruit several prospects committed elsewhere, most notably Rivals100 Georgia defensive tackle commit Travon Walker. If the Gamecocks can pull off a coup like Walker and supplement him with a few remaining three-star targets, a top 20 class nationally is in play.
TENNESSEE: Can the Vols land a five-star haul?
Despite limited success on the field this season, the Vols are swinging for the fences when it comes to recruiting. It’s clear an infusion of talent is needed in Knoxville and early playing time at an SEC program has its appeal to elite recruits.
The Vols already have five-star offensive tackle Wanya Morris committed and recently hosted his friend and high school teammate five-star Owen Pappoe on campus. Tennessee has also long been involved with five-star tackle Darnell Wright as well and will hope to close with his signature. Even if the Vols can pull two of the three it would be a major coup and go a long way toward the program’s rebuilding efforts.
TEXAS A&M: Can Jimbo finish strong again?
Texas A&M finished its 2018 recruiting class off with a flurry of commitments and vaulted all the way to No. 16 nationally. That momentum carried over nicely into the class of 2019 and the Aggies are currently No. 3 in the nation. A top-five finish will be tough considering the Aggies already have 24 commits and some programs below them are likely to add big names, but a top-10 finish is within range and very doable if the school can land uncommitted four-stars like Marcus Stripling and Jalen Wydermyer.
VANDERBILT: Will the Dores climb out of the basement?
Vanderbilt currently sits last in the SEC recruiting rankings, despite having a borderline top-50 class nationally. That shows how difficult and competitive recruiting is in the conference but it isn’t exactly new for the program over the past few years. Last year, Vanderbilt finished 13 out of 14 teams, ahead of only Arkansas, which have moved all the way up to No. 6 in this year’s class.
Vanderbilt (4-5) will have a huge recruiting weekend in December in an effort to finish the class strong and if the team is practicing for a bowl game at that time, it would only help efforts.