SEC Spotlight: Breaking down the 2023 class
National Signing Day has concluded which means recruiting classes across the country are mostly complete aside from a small handful of finishing touches from prospects that have yet to decide.
For the SEC programs, first-year staffs and developed classes made up the conference ranks as each program signed key components for its future. Here is how each team in the conference fared in the 2023 cycle.
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CLASS OF 2023 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Team | Position | State
CLASS OF 2024 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Team | Position | State
CLASS OF 2025 RANKINGS: Rivals100
HOW THEY FINISHED
1. Alabama (No. 1 nationally) - The Crimson Tide signed a monster class that included five five-stars. Not only is the class loaded at the top, but is deep with 18 players holding a Rivals Rating of 5.9 or better. The talent is spread to both sides of the ball making what Nick Saban and his staff accomplished even more impressive.
2. Georgia (2) - Bulldog fans were waiting on a late push by Kirby Smart and got it. Seven prospects were added to the class after Nov. 25. That stretch run brought five-stars Damon Wilson and Samuel M’Pemba to Athens. The base of this class that will bring wins to the program are the 17 signed four-stars.
3. LSU (5) - Coach Brian Kelly did an impressive job securing a top-five recruiting class in his first full cycle. Keeping five-star OT Zalance Heard in-state for college will make the fans happy, but will make them happier in the long run are the 18 four-stars going to Baton Rouge. Outside of defensive tackle, the Tigers restocked the shelves at all positions.
4. Tennessee (12) - The Volunteers got an early jump on their 2023 class securing 20 of their 25 commitments by mid-August. There was great balance to the class as well with 13 of the signees set to play defense. Tennessee loaded up on speed and athleticism on the outside, at linebacker, and in the secondary.
5. Florida (13) - The Gators signed the fifth-best class in the SEC and were on the verge of challenging LSU and Georgia for a higher ranking. While Florida may have missed on a couple of prospects, the upside is this staff is getting their message across to elite talents. An impressive 18 four-stars will be added to the 2023 roster. Worth noting that Florida’s star raking (3.9) was second-best in the SEC.
6. Texas A&M (14) - The Aggies’ fan base may not have been happy with the slide from No. 1 in the 2022 class to No. 14, but the fans have reasons to be optimistic. Getting five-star defensive tackle David Hicks Jr. is one very big reason to be excited about the future of the program. Running back Rueben Owens II, offensive linemen TJ Shanahan Jr. and Chase Bisontis and cornerback Jayvon Thomas are a few more reasons to be hyped.
7. Auburn (16) - In early October, Auburn’s recruiting class was slotted at No. 50. For this class to finish inside the top 20 is pretty amazing. The new staff under head coach Hugh Freeze worked diligently, signing 21 overall including five-star Keldric Faulk.
8. South Carolina (17) - Among the teams to rally late was South Carolina. The Gamecocks added seven of their 24 on Dec. 18 and after. Head coach Shane Beamer and his staff built a lot of late momentum with the big win coming on National Signing Day in the form of five-star tight end Nyckoles Harbor.
9. Arkansas (21) - The Hogs weathered some late storms dropping out of the top 15 and settling at No. 21. Head coach Sam Pittman signed eight four-stars, spreading the Razorbacks’ recruiting footprint in landing players from nine different states.
10. Mississippi State (22) - No team went through the challenges Mississippi State faced. Through the hardships of losing head coach Mike Leach, the Bulldogs still signed a top 25 class in landing three four-stars and 21 three-star prospects. Under Leach, the Bulldogs never chased stars and put a bigger emphasis on fit. Looking at the group signed, the incoming class should fit the mold under new head coach Zach Arnett.
11. Kentucky (26) - The Wildcats are one of the conference’s best at finding players who fit their scheme regardless of player rankings. The 19 tied to the class ranked No. 26 nationally. Players soon to make their name in the state of Kentucky includes tight end Khamari Anderson, linebacker Grant Godfrey, offensive lineman Koby Keenum and running back Jamarion Wilcox.
12. Missouri (32) - Eliah Drinkwitz is still building heading into his fourth year in Columbia. The Tigers had a better 2022 season than their 6-7 overall record. Perception may have hurt Mizzou on the recruiting trail dropping from a national team recruiting ranking of 12 in 2022 to 32 this time around. One reason for optimism is the hopes laid in the arm of four-star quarterback Gabarri Johnson.
13. Mississippi (33) - For a team that plans to rely on the transfer portal, the Rebels did a good job landing high school talent. Even if the quantity is low (16), the quality is high. The staff brought three on board ahead of the Early Signing Period with a big win being receiver Cayden Lee. By NSD, the staff added four more including a pair of overlooked but talented defensive ends in DeeJay Holmes and Chamberlain Campbell. The headline grabber was signing five-star linebacker Suntarine Perkins.
14. Vanderbilt (47) - The Commodores have struggled to find their footing since James Franklin left but appear to be turning a corner under head coach Clark Lea. From winless in 2020 to producing five victories last fall, the program is tracking in the right direction. Along the recruiting trail, the same thing can be said. Of the 23 tied to the class, 19 are three-star prospects. There are some gems within including defensive back Martel Hight, linebacker Ethan Crisp and running back Sedrick Alexander.
BIGGEST SIGNING: Tennessee walked away with the biggest signing among SEC teams securing the second-ranked player in the class, Nico Iamaleava. Some would argue that Iamaleava at this point in his career might be better than the top-ranked quarterback in the class, Arch Manning. The two will be tied together going forward and may have a chance to show who is best on the field when Texas moves into the SEC.
BIGGEST STEAL: Auburn closed as strong as anyone heading into the Early Signing Period, ending with the nation’s 16th-ranked class. One of the two late “steals” that helped propel the class into the top 20 was flipping defensive end Keldric Faulk from Florida State. The Tigers got another steal in corner Kayin Lee pulling him away from Ohio State.
BIGGEST SLEEPER: Kentucky may have signed the biggest sleeper in three-star defensive end Tavion Gadson. The Wildcats pulled the state of Georgia product away from Florida State two days before the Early Signing Period began. Gadson has the size, quickness and strength to be a candidate for early playing time. He has the upside of an All-SEC performer.
TOP THREE SEC RECRUITERS
Tray Scott, Georgia: The Bulldogs signed what would be a top class in any other cycle, but ran into a monster Alabama recruiting effort. Part of piecing together UGA’s fantastic class was Scott. Five defensive linemen were signed by Georgia in the 2023 cycle, and that included three five-stars and two four-stars. For Scott’s efforts, Rivals named him Recruiter of the Year.
Freddie Roach, Alabama: Receivers coach Holmon Wiggins is often mentioned in recruiting circles when Bama is brought up, but in this go-round it was Roach who landed a very talented group. Seven defensive linemen were signed, two tackles and five ends. In that mix were five-star ends Keon Keeley and Yhonzae Pierre. Securing in-state linemen James Smith and Jaquavious Russaw were big wins as well. This group is talented and set to keep the Crimson Tide atop the college football landscape.
Cortez Hankton, LSU: If just by the position alone, Hankton did a great job landing four four-star receivers, but there’s more to the story. Hankton reached beyond the position coached to help land more top talent for LSU. Since his SEC start with Vanderbilt (2015-17) and onto Georgia (2018-21), Hankton has built a reputation as an elite recruiter and he did nothing to tarnish the reputation with his 2023 efforts.
WHO WON ...
Quarterbacks: Tennessee - Landing the second-ranked prospect in the class at the position seals the deal for the Vols.
Running Backs: Alabama - The Crimson Tide signed the top-ranked tailback in Justice Haynes and the fourth-ranked in Richard Young to outpace the rest of the conference.
Wide Receivers: Alabama - LSU and Alabama both signed four four-star receivers in this class with the Crimson Tide getting the nod on rankings. Bama signee Jalen Hale was the top in the group with an RR of 6.0. Adding to that mix, Cole Adams and Malik Benson were 5.9s and Jaren Hamilton was a 5.8.
Tight Ends: LSU - An argument can and will be made by Georgia fans that they have the best group coming in with Pearce Spurlin and Lawson Luckie, but LSU was the team that signed two top-10 prospects at the position, Mac Markway and Ka’Morreun Pimpton.
Offensive Line: Alabama - Texas A&M at guard and Georgia overall were in the running, but, again, Alabama top to bottom signed the best offensive line class. The group includes three tackles in the positional top 10 highlighted by five-star Kadyn Proctor.
Defensive Line: Georgia - By the numbers, Alabama wins this positional group signing seven in the defensive trenches. But looking at the five Georgia signed, there is an argument to be made the Bulldogs are the winners here. UGA tackle signee Jordan Hall has an unlimited ceiling and Jamaal Jarrett has all-conference upside. Damon Wilson might be the most polished end in the class. Gabriel Harris is fantastic as well. If Samuel M’Pemba continues to evolve his game, he will be a beast off the edge, giving this one to Georgia.
Linebackers: Georgia - UGA wins this group running away thanks to Raylen Wilson, CJ Allen and Troy Bowles.
Defensive Backs: Alabama - Signing two five-stars – safety Caleb Downs and corner Desmond Ricks – catapulted Alabama to the top of this positional rankings battle. Adding to the haul, Tony Mitchell was a top 10 safety, and Jahlil Hurley was a top 10 corner.