SEC Spotlight: How has pandemic impacted recruiting?
They say all politics are local and the same adage might be true in recruiting, never more than during a global pandemic. Commitments are coming off the board at a rapid pace this offseason and an argument could be made it’s because of the NCAA's moratorium on in-person recruiting.
With so many pledges already done, the expectation is there could be a massive decommitment season coming as well and that could change the scope of every recruiting class. Here is a look at each program in the SEC, how they have recruited locally and away from home as the summer continues into an uncertain fall.
CLASS OF 2022: Top 100
Staying home: Alabama’s first two commitments - LB Deontae Lawson and DT Anquin Barnes - are in-state prospects, but since that time the Crimson Tide has flexed their recruiting muscle almost exclusively outside the region and especially in Florida, to no one’s surprise since Alabama has recruited so well there for years. Still, the national powerhouse has landed four-star LB Ian Jackson from Prattville, Ala., and dipped into Louisiana for four-star DB Kaine Williams, along with flipping Mississippi prospect Kadarius Calloway from Mississippi State.
Hitting the road: So many Alabama greats have come from the state of Florida and that could be the case again in 2021 as the Crimson Tide have already landed commitments from top-end WRs Jacorey Brooks, Agiye Hall and ATH Christian Leary, who’s expected to play receiver. OL JC Latham and LB Dallas Turner are also from the Sunshine State. Alabama also recently flipped Cincinnati (Ohio) La Salle three-star CB Devonta Smith from Ohio State.
Farrell’s take: Alabama, like others in the SEC, recruits well nationally and South Florida continues to be good to Nick Saban. However, a few big-time prospects have slipped out of Alabama in recent years so that has to be a focus. Losing Brooks to Tennessee hurts a bit and the Crimson Tide need to finish strong in-state. The Midwest is interesting for Alabama with Latham and Smith hailing from there. Saban has built a program that can recruit through almost any circumstance.
Staying home: The first two commits in Arkansas’ class were in-state prospects, but since that time the Razorbacks have gone out-of-state for all their recruits. First-year coach Sam Pittman has had regional success, though, with three pledges from Oklahoma as DBs AJ Green and DB Keuan Parker and ATH Javion Hunt are all high-level three-stars. Arkansas has also landed three commitments from Texas that are within seven hours of campus and one from Missouri.
Hitting the road: Recruiting the Southeast can be difficult for Arkansas since it’s much further away than other SEC programs, but Pittman and his staff went to Georgia for former Nebraska pledge Christopher Paul, to Rockledge, Fla., for three-star ATH Raheim Sanders (more than 17 hours away from Fayetteville), Louisiana for OL Devon Manuel and San Antonio, Tex., for QB Lucas Coley.
Farrell’s take: Pittman knows how important it is to recruit out-of-state and use his Southeast ties, but so far that has been up and down. Paul and Sanders are good gets, but more need to come from the Southeast. Recruiting in Texas is key as well and that has been solid. Chad Morris made a splash with his recruiting but not with his coaching, so Pittman needs to be more of a developer than a recruiter.
Staying home: The first two commits in Auburn’s class were in-state prospects, but since then the Tigers have put a tremendous amount of focus on talent-rich Florida and Texas and it’s paid off. Three-star OLs Garner Langlo and Caleb Johnson are both from Florida and could be sleepers in this class.
Hitting the road: Texas has been a major priority in this Auburn class with three pledges from the state in three-star tight end Landen King and four-stars Jaeden Roberts and Dematrius Davis, a former Virginia Tech commitment. South Florida has also been a priority and since ATH Tarvarish Dawson and DB Phillip O’Brien are more than seven hours away from Auburn, they fit neatly into this category.
Farrell’s take: With Morris on staff, the state of Texas has become key and Auburn is a massive threat there now. The Tigers will always be second to Alabama in in-state recruiting, but they are keeping things close which is key and hitting Georgia is huge. This is a well-balanced class geographically since the shutdown.
Staying home: Almost Florida’s entire recruiting class is from a seven-hour drive of the Gainesville campus and most of them are from much closer than that. The Gators have really hit a home run with many in-state prospects so far as 11 recruits are from Florida. They’ve also done an impressive job in Georgia with four pledges, including one from four-star QB Carlos Del Rio, who could be an emerging talent at the position. One commit from South Carolina and Mississippi just made it under the seven-hour window from campus.
Hitting the road: Only three commits are from outside the region and three-star quarterback Jalen Kitna out of Texas could be the most interesting one since he’s a talented player at that position as well. Four-star DB Clinton Burton from powerhouse Baltimore (Md.) St. Frances and JUCO OG Deyavie Hammond is now playing in Kansas.
Farrell’s take: The Gators need to keep more prospects home and that’s been a focus for Dan Mullen and his staff. And it’s clear they are having success. The pandemic will boost in-state recruiting for most programs and the Gators are starting to get better at keeping kids home anyhow. The big test will come once visits can begin again.
Staying home: Kirby Smart does an incredible job with in-state recruiting and it has carried on so far this recruiting cycle with seven of Georgia’s nine commits staying home. Led by five-star quarterback Brock Vandagriff, who had previously been committed to Oklahoma, the Bulldogs have four four-stars from the state and OL Micah Morris could be inching toward an even higher ranking. The big fish, though, five-star OL Amarius Mims (the state’s top prospect), remains uncommitted. The Bulldogs also just flipped Tennessee native Adonai Mitchell from Ole Miss so border recruiting is going well also.
Hitting the road: Georgia has not had to do much work outside the state so far this recruiting cycle, but the program has landed two quality commitments in four-star defensive end Elijah Jeudy from Philadelphia and four-star ATH Lovasea Carroll. Last week, three-star LB Jamon Dumas-Johnson picked the Bulldogs out of Baltimore (Md.) St. Frances.
Farrell’s take: UGA has won recent recruiting titles for a reason and that reason is the non-stop effort of Kirby Smart and his staff. They continue to recruit well locally as Vandagriff and Morris show, but I’ve always been impressed with Smart’s ability to recruit the East Coast especially. Jeudy is another good get from Pennsylvania and the DMV is another area they can steal players from. And the West Coast pull is still there as they are high on the list for Brock Bowers and Korey Foreman, among others.
Staying home: Mark Stoops has done an impressive job landing commitments from two of the top five in-state recruits and two others remain open in their recruitments, so there is still a lot of opportunities for the Wildcats. Four-star receiver Dekel Crowdus and three-star safety Jordan Lovett lead the way among four in-state prospects who have pledged. Kentucky has also done well to the north in Ohio with three pledges and in Alabama with two others.
Hitting the road: Out of 13 commitments, only four are from outside a seven-hour radius of campus, but Georgia has been productive for the Wildcats as two players from that state - LB Martez Thrower and WR Chauncey Magwood - are committed. JUCO LB Joko Willis from Kansas and Australian kicker Wilson Berry are also in the class.
Farrell’s take: Kentucky always did a nice job recruiting Georgia and Florida under Stoops and that needs to step up a bit. Ohio has been very good to the Wildcats and Vince Marrow continues to make noise there. In-state recruiting has been solid. This is a bit down for Kentucky overall.
Staying home: LSU routinely dominates in-state recruiting and that could very well be the case again, but not to this point. The Tigers have three in-state commitments from WR Chris Hilton, DE Saivion Jones and kicker Peyton Todd and just as many from neighboring Texas in QB Garrett Nussmeier, who could see a move up in the rankings, along with WR JoJo Earle and DE Landon Jackson. Mississippi native Deion Smith is also considered a local prospect living less than three hours from campus.
Hitting the road: More than half of LSU’s recruiting class is from outside the region although two Georgia prospects - DB Khari Gee and LB Zavier Carter - are just outside the seven-hour threshold to get to Baton Rouge. The Tigers have also gone to Virginia for Naquan Brown, hit the Midwest for Corey Kiner and Garrett Dellinger - statements that LSU could hit that region as well - and got four-star LB Raesjon Davis from powerhouse Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. LSU also dipped into South Florida for DT Anthony Hundley and Vero Beach, Fla., DE Keanu Koht recently committed. Four-star LB Greg Penn was a major recent pledge from Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha.
Farrell’s take: LSU has the biggest in-state advantage of any team in college football but with Ed Orgeron focusing on national recruiting the Tigers are still on a roll with prospects from all over. Commits like Dellinger and Kiner are bonuses as they hit the Midwest harder and Gee and others from Georgia are great as well. The Cali connection continues as well with Davis. When you win a national title, recruiting will go well and it has despite the travel restrictions. And that’s good news because we all know Orgeron is even more dynamic in person.
Staying home: Three of the top four prospects in the state of Mississippi are committed to schools elsewhere - and that’s a problem for Mississippi State and Ole Miss - but the Bulldogs have loaded up with other local prospects as well. Seven of 10 commitments are in-state recruits with JUCO DB Cortez Eatmon leading the way.
Hitting the road: Texas has also been fertile recruiting territory for first-year coach Mike Leach and his staff and the biggest commit maybe in the whole class came from four-star quarterback Sawyer Robertson from Lubbock (Texas) Coronado. When Robertson committed, the Bulldogs already had three-star QB Daniel Greek out of the Lone Star State committed. Four-star WR Theodore Knox from Houston and DB Myzel Williams out of Florida have also pledged.
Farrell’s take: Leach is not known as an elite recruiter but winning with sleepers doesn’t happen in the SEC. They are landing in-state prospects, but the best are getting away. I’m not surprised to see Leach hit Cali and Texas, but those connections won’t do the job. They need better at recruiting locally.
Staying home: Five of Missouri’s first seven commits in the 2021 class were in-state prospects and all seven were within a seven-hour radius of the Columbia campus as first-year coach Eliah Drinkwitz focuses on local prospects to build the program back up again. National powers are still coming into the state to pick off top recruits, but whether it’s DE Travion Ford, RB Taj Butts or others, the Tigers are battling for more players from home.
Hitting the road: Missouri has also hit some talent centers hard so far this recruiting cycle and could be finding some undervalued players from across the country such as Zachary Lovett, Zxaequan Reeves or Davion Sistrunk from Florida, Darius Jackson and new commit Jonathan Jones from Texas.
Farrell’s take: I like what Mizzou is doing overall with local recruiting and dipping into Florida and Texas. Keeping players like Ford and Butts local is huge for Drinkwitz. Programs will continue to come in and steal players as Ohio State did with DB Jakailin Johnson and that cant be helped, but Drinkwitz has shown to be an active recruiter that prospects like and the lack of travel and visits has helped him.
Staying home: It has been a slow start for first-year coach Lane Kiffin when it comes to recruits, but the Rebels are doing decently close to home with two in-state commits and they were doing an excellent job in Tennessee before losing four-star WR Adonai Mitchell to Georgia. The Rebels still have three-star DB Kyndrich Breedlove from Tennessee however. Ole Miss has also gone to Alabama and Georgia for commits.
Hitting the road: The only commit outside the seven-hour radius from the Ole Miss campus is arguably the biggest recruiting victory for Kiffin is four-star receiver Bralon Brown, who picked the Rebels this offseason after performing incredibly well at numerous events. He had more than two dozen offers and it was a huge win for Kiffin early in his tenure.
Farrell’s take: I expected more from Kiffin so far so he needs to step it up. In-state recruiting will always be toug,h but this is a guy with a huge national name who has recruiting the Southeast and California. More recruiting upsets outside the seven or eight hour radius are needed and Kiffin has probably suffered from the shutdown because he’s so much better in person than on video or phone.
Staying home: Will Muschamp and his staff did not have to go far to start putting this recruiting class together as all but one pledge lives within seven hours of South Carolina’s campus. Two are in-state prospects and then Georgia was an incredible focus in this class. There are seven commits from Georgia, led by QB Colten Gauthier and LB Trenilyas Tatum. Also represented is Alabama, North Carolina and Bryce Steele from Alexandria (Va.) Episcopal, which is six hours, 58 minutes away, and the newest commit, three-star defensive end George Wilson out of Virginia Beach (S.C.) Green Run.
Hitting the road: The only South Carolina commit from outside that threshold is three-star athlete Simeon Price out of Pensacola (Fla.) West Florida Tech, which is just under eight hours away from campus. He picked the Gamecocks over Arkansas, Georgia Tech, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Tennessee and others.
Farrell’s take: Muschamp is know as an excellent recruiter and he’s won some key battles over Clemson since he started with the Gamecocks. Not enough, but a few. But one could argue that Georgia is more important to the Gamecocks than even their home state and things are going well there led by Gauthier and Tatum. Virginia has been a nice surprise as well, but they need to do a better job in Florida quickly.
Staying home: With the second-best recruiting class nationally, Tennessee scored a huge recruiting win when the nation’s top tight end Hudson Wolfe picked the Vols over Ohio State and many others. Tennessee only has two other in-state commits but the coaching staff has done a tremendous job recruiting within the region with four commitments from North Carolina led by ATH Kaemen Marley, four from Alabama with DE Dylan Brooks leading the way and three from Georgia as four-star RB Cody Brown is the highest-ranked.
Hitting the road: Tennessee also has to do some national recruiting to become a major contender in the SEC and the Vols have accomplished that so far this recruiting cycle. Dipping into South Florida for high four-star linebacker Terrence Lewis was huge, as Lewis is one of three Florida prospects to pick the Vols. Two other Alabama prospects but outside the seven-hour radius for this series are also in this class along with two from Baltimore and a JUCO prospect in Tiyon Evans. Tennessee went to Cedar Hill, Texas, for quarterback commit Kaidon Salter.
Farrell’s take: The Vols have done an excellent job balancing local recruiting with deep dives into states like Florida and Texas. Lewis stands out as a great get from the Sunshine State and they landed their quarterback, Salter, but the key for the Vols is Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and other regional states. They kept the top player in state home in Wolfe and they beat Alabama for Brooks. At one point Jeremy Pruitt was doing the best pandemic recruiting in the country.
Staying home: The top three prospects in the state of Texas remain uncommitted, so there are still some opportunities there for Texas A&M but the Aggies are already doing quite well in the state with six pledges from Texas, half their recruiting class so far. Four-star wide receiver Shadrach Banks leads the way but four-star QB Eli Stowers is really interesting as well and he was the first pledge in the class.
Hitting the road: Jimbo Fisher is not exactly going national in his pursuits of top prospects, but he’s picking-and-choosing from talented regions with lots of success in the Northeast of all places. Philadelphia (Pa.) Northeast DB Tyreek Chappell is one of the newest pledges and Brooklyn (N.Y.) Erasmus Hall’s Jahzion Harris is also in the class. Recruits from California, Colorado, Arkansas and North Carolina fill out the group.
Farrell’s take: Fisher is an excellent recruiter and his ties to Florida and the East Coast have been helpful. While the Aggies haven’t dipped into Florida successfully yet in 2021, you know they will. Local recruiting is key and difficult with Texas, LSU, Oklahoma and others all battling for the same players, so the in-state start has been a good one. Make no mistake about it, Fisher has done a nice job during this pandemic.
Staying home: Vanderbilt has no commitments yet from the state of Tennessee after only landing one last recruiting cycle, but the states of Alabama and Georgia have been good to the Commodores early on with two commits, with Hoover, Ala., running back Dylan Betts-Pauler being the latest.
Hitting the road: A little more than half of Vanderbilt’s recruiting class is from outside the seven-hour radius of its Nashville campus but by a small margin, with Louisiana tight end Jack Bech being the highest-rated three-star. The Commodores also have pledges from prospects in Michigan, Florida, Maryland and New Jersey.
Farrell’s take: Vanderbilt is a different animal in the SEC as they can’t go head-to-head with the big boys for consistent wins and have higher academic standards. They’ve done an OK job away from home but are last in the conference as expected.