Team rankings: Race slow to take shape

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Every time the team of recruiting analysts re-ranks prospects, we take a close look at the team recruiting rankings. In May, individual team recruiting classes had barely taken form, but we were able to see that Alabama was well positioned to make another run at a recruiting title, while Texas and Louisville's team ranking at the time did not look like they would hold. The Tide have moved from 11th to second since May. Texas fell from tied for first to eighth, Louisville from ninth to 16th.
Today, recruiting classes look a bit more like they will on National Signing Day, with many teams surpassing the 20-commit benchmark that is a key factor in the team rankings formula.
We still have two more prospect re-rankings (post regular season in November and final rankings in January), and the normal flood of commitments and de-commitments, so every team's ranking is subject to big changes.
One thing is for sure: The race for number one is wide open.
Where is the remarkable class?
No team is even close to where USC was at this time last year (3,067 points), but that was the greatest start ever in the era.
Tennessee's current 2,311 points would have ranked fourth at this time last year.
Michigan was second at this time last year with 2,542 points, 231 points ahead of where Tennessee is now. LSU had 2,495, 184 more than the Vols' number.
Eleven teams had surpassed the 2,000 point mark at this time in 2012, while just six have this year.
So while Tennessee's top ranking is impressive, it isn't very notable compared to previous years.
The Vols average Rivals rating (RR) for their top 20 commits is 5.8, a number that historically makes a top-10 class very likely, but certainly not number one. That 5.8 average is tied for third-best in the nation, trailing Georgia (5.819) and Alabama (5.805) and tied with Texas A&M.
The Vols will need more Rivals100-level commitments, have their commits fare well in future rankings and keep their current class together to stay near the top.
In fairness, every team needs to do more in what is a recruiting season that lacks a remarkable start like the one USC enjoyed last year.
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Who has the inside track to number one?
Last year, just two teams had held the top spot by late August -- Michigan and USC -- and the Trojans would hold onto the number one spot until mid-December. USC finished 13th after several de-commitments, while Michigan finished fifth.
Five teams have held the top spot so far this year: Texas, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Texas A&M and Kentucky. Texas has held the top spot three different times, and Tennessee also led in late May.
So, early leaders give little indication of who will win on National Signing Day.
We can tell you two key traits of a national recruiting champion.
1. The class normally has an average RR right around 5.9.
2. The national recruiting champion has averaged signing roughly four five-star prospects. With the exception of LSU in 2003, each recruiting champion has signed at least three five-stars.
So far, just one team has more than one five-star pledge, and that is Virginia, with two.
Cavalier fans should be ecstatic about commitments from Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown, but their recruiting class is ranked just 43rd in the nation. Barring a miracle, Virginia won't be the 2014 National Recruiting Champion.
Keep an eye on the individual five-star prospect battles between Alabama and LSU. They could go a long way toward determining the champion.
There are three top-15 prospects in Louisiana, each uncommitted and heavily considering Alabama and LSU: No. 3 Cameron Robinson, No. 6 Leonard Fournette and No. 15 Malachi Dupre.
Add Tony Brown, the No. 17 prospect, who is also eyeing LSU and Alabama, among others, and you have a major SEC West rivalry playing out on the recruiting trail, perhaps to determine the national recruiting champion. That's because they are the only two teams at the moment who figure to factor heavily into the recruitment of four or more five-star prospects.
The difference is Alabama's current list of commitments, and its stance with a few more five-star prospects. No. 5 prospect Marlon Humphrey is in Bama's backyard, while No. 18 Raekwon McMillan and No. 20 Jalen Tabor also list Alabama highly.
Alabama is currently ranked second in the team rankings. LSU is 17th, but the Tigers' average RR (5.764) is seventh best. If they take care of their home turf, they could be this year's biggest riser in the rankings down the stretch.
There is a long way to go, and if we have learned anything, August tells us little about what the team rankings will look like the evening of National Signing Day.
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