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At this time of year, the team recruiting rankings are more of a product of quantity than quality.
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Ultimately, that means the picture painted today does not reflect where we will be on National Signing Day, when quality is the main factor in the Rivals.com team recruiting rankings.
Here are some numbers to consider:
In recent years, the Rivals.com national recruiting champions have been right around a 5.9 average Rivals Rating (RR) for their top 20 commitments.
A 5.8 average historically leads to a class ranked from 5th to 10th in the team rankings.
A 5.7 average usually ends up between 15th and 20th.
Of course, the Rivals250 bonus points shake things up, as do de-commitments and updates to the prospect rankings between now and National Signing Day.
That said, here is a way-too-early look at the major contenders, and pretenders, for the 2014 Rivals.com National Recruiting Title.
Notre Dame (current team ranking -- tied for first): The Irish have the nation's second-highest average RR among their commits at 5.840, trailing only Alabama. The Irish also lead the nation with two five-star commits. While Notre Dame might not be a clear leader for more five-stars at this time, the Irish showed the ability in 2013 to enter the picture late for top prospects, and win -- five-star running back Greg Bryant, for one. If the Irish have another great season on the field, and Brian Kelly and Co. show that same ability to close, they could end the Alabama dynasty of recruiting titles.
LSU (current team ranking -- sixth): The Tigers have a 5.789 RR average, despite a lack of early returns in state. Louisiana's top six prospects, including five-stars Leonard Fournette and Cameron Robinson, are uncommitted. All have LSU among their top choices. But don't forget about the Houston area, where five-star cornerback Tony Brown hails, and is also heavily considering LSU. If the Tigers clean house and protect their borders, and get a few top prospects from Texas or elsewhere, they could make a run at the top spot.
Alabama (current team ranking -- 11th): Though Nick Saban's program stands at No. 11 in the team rankings, it holds the nation's best average RR at 5.883. The hundreds of interviews with elite prospects that Rivals.com conducted during the Rivals Camp Series proved one point -- Alabama is the "dream school" for a lot of top prospects. There is no reason to think Alabama can't build on that quality number of 5.883 and run to another recruiting title. The list of five-stars that the Tide are firmly in the game for is long - Lorenzo Carter, Leonard Fournette, Cameron Robinson, Damian Prince, Marlon Humphrey, Tony Brown and Raekwon McMillan. You can argue none are shoe-ins for the Tide, but it's hard to imagine Alabama not getting its fair share of top-end talent.
DON'T GET YOUR HOPES UP
Texas (current team ranking -- tied for first): The Longhorns have zero commits ranked 6.0 or higher.
That is no recipe for the top-ranked class come National Signing Day. The 13 commits they do have average a 5.715 RR -- on pace for a class finishing around 15th. The biggest issue: the Longhorns are not dominating in-state recruiting. When Texas won the 2002 recruiting title, there were 14 prospects from Texas in the Rivals100 -- the Longhorns signed seven of them. Texas A&M signed one. This year, there are 14 Texas prospects in the Rivals100. The Longhorns have commitments from two of them, Texas A&M has four. Add to that the richer appeal of the SEC and programs such as Alabama and LSU coming into Texas to recruit, and you have a deck of cards heavily stacked against the Longhorns to remain, or even stay close to, No. 1.
Louisville (current team ranking -- ninth): The Cardinals are not a threat for the national recruiting title, but are a surprise at No. 9. However, it's difficult to see top 10 status lasting long. Louisville is ranked ninth in large part because the Cardinals lead the nation with 14 commits. But a 5.623 average RR of those 14 commits is not a good pace to stay in the top 10. In fact, the Cards would need to pump up the quality just to finish in the top 20.
USC (current team ranking -- 34th): USC fans should expect to see the Trojans near No. 1, since that's been the norm the past 10 years. Last season, USC spent a good chunk of the year at No. 1 by getting early commitments from many prospects in a deep pool of five-star talent on the West Coast. In July 2012, USC had 3,103 points, just 63 fewer than Alabama's title-winning total on National Signing Day 2013. The West Coast talent in 2014 is not up to the 2013 level, and the Rivals100-type prospects in USC's backyard are looking nationwide much more than last year's group. USC is not getting a fast start, and the Trojans will have to work hard to land home run commits down the stretch to have any hope of being near No. 1. The Trojans will fare much better than 34th, but a hard charge toward No. 1 doesn't seem likely.
MORE ON RANKINGS
Texas A&M is not a stranger to being near the top of the team rankings early in the season. In the past, that has been because of a high number of commitments.
Now, the Aggies are high on the list because of quality. Currently fourth, the Aggies have a 5.81 average RR -- trailing only Notre Dame and Alabama.
Biggest surprise? Penn State, without a doubt. Not only do Nittany Lions have nine commitments, but they average a 5.678 RR. That includes a pair of 5.8 four-stars and five prospects rated at 5.7. If Penn State keeps up this pace, a top 20 class and a top three class in the Big Ten, is likely. To put things in perspective, when the NCAA announced penalties for Penn State last July, the Lions were 14th in our 2013 rankings. Penn State then struggled on the recruiting trail and crossed the finish line at 43rd on National Signing Day 2013. The Nittany Lions are currently 16th in the 2014 team recruiting rankings, back in the top 20 and looking strong.
Georgia and Florida always finish prominently, but two other SEC East programs are off to exciting starts. Tennessee is ranked third in the team recruiting rankings. Their average RR is just 5.75, which would be on pace for a top 10 class, but the Vols are in position to make a huge impact on Georgia's deep pool of talent, and if they do well with a strong crop of in-state talent, the Vols could be have a top-5 class. Kentucky is no slouch, either. The Cats are at No. 18, even though they have just seven commitments. They do have a 5.743 average RR, and are on pace for a top-15 class.
Every team in the top 31 of the current Rivals.com team recruiting rankings is in the Eastern or Central Time zone. Do teams out West have a problem? Actually, this is pretty normal. With the exception of USC, most programs in the Pac-12 region tend not to collect many commits early. UCLA closed strong last year and finished eighth in the 2013 team rankings, but the Bruins are currently 64th. Washington finished 18th, and is currently 41st. Oregon is at 53rd, after finishing 22nd last year. Those teams should be expected to make huge charges up the ranks later in the recruiting season.
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