Best Class: Marshall Thundering Herd
Head coach Doc Holliday is Conference USA’s recruiting huckleberry. He inked three four-star prospects in the Herd’s 2013 class — that’s more than such power conference teams as Missouri, Texas Tech and yes, in-state counterpart West Virginia.
Only two of his four-star signees will be eligible in 2013, but each is capable of making immediate impacts, and on both sides of the ball. Wide receiver Deontay McManus is perhaps C-USA’s best overall prospect in this class, but rover Stefan Houston has high potential to make big plays on the Herd defense.
Worst Class: UTEP Miners
UTEP replaced Mike Price with Sean Kugler in the off-season, who brings a Miner pedigree and wealth of NFL knowledge upon his return to El Paso. Other former professional coaches have parlayed their experience on Sundays into victories on the recruiting trail, like Jim Mora at UCLA. Unfortunately for Kugler, he had a more difficult sell.
The Miners class has just one three-star commitment. Charlotte matched that total, and the 49ers have yet to even play a down of competitive football.
Most Surprising: Tulane Green Wave
Tulane last had a winning season in 2003. The 2012 Green Wave showed signs of life in a 2-10 season, simple by notching a pair of C-USA victories. With such a tremendous track record of failure plaguing the program, kudos are in order for Curtis Johnson. The second year head coach signed a respectable class that includes six three-star prospects — all from the state of Louisiana.
With the Green Wave competing for local prospects with La.-Lafayette, La.-Monroe and Louisiana Tech, all of which finished above .500 last season, such a haul has to be considered a victory.
Most Disappointing: East Carolina Pirates
Ruffin McNeill’s 2013 signing class isn’t exactly bad; the Pirates rank in the top half of the conference. But ECU has been one of Conference USA’s most consistent programs over the past half-decade, including an eight-win campaign in 2012. Such success would seemingly translate to more success on the recruiting trail.
Alas, the Pirates signed six three-star prospects: fewer than Southern Miss and Marshall, and as many as Tulane. That total exceeds Tulsa’s five three-star signings, but the Pirates cannot match the Golden Hurricane’s inking of a four-star recruit, offensive lineman Rob Boyd.
To emphasize, it’s not a bad class; quarterback Kurt Benkert could flourish in ECU’s explosive offense. It’s just surprising given the program’s track record.
Top Prospect: Deontay McManus
Deontay McManus was a 2012 West Virginia commit coming out of Baltimore’s Dunbar High, but spent a year at prep school in Virginia. He’ll still play his college football in West Virginia, but opted instead for Huntington over Morgantown.
The four-star wide receiver prospect would have fit Dana Holgorsen’s uptempo, vertical offense nicely. But with the nation’s leading passer in 2012, Rakeem Cato targeting him, McManus should be just fine
Marshall might also have the best prospect for next season already locked up in this class. One-time Miami commit Angelo Jean-Louis was unable to academically qualify for The U., but the Hurricanes’ loss became Marshall’s gain in 2014.
“Marshall’s been here for me since Day 1,” Jean-Louis told The Palm Beach Post.
The Palm Beach Central product will reportedly participate in Marshall’s prop program, designed to get players academically eligible during a redshirt season.
Names to Know
1. Marshall Thundering Herd: Deontay McManus, Stefan Houston, Jeremiah Benjamin
2. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs: Hakim Gray, Terrell Pinson, Xavier Woods
3. Tulsa Golden Hurricane Rob Boyd, C.J. Gooden, Dalton Rodriguez
4. Southern Miss Golden Eagles: Rod Crayton, James Cox, Dylan Bradley
5. Tulane Green Wave: Kenneth Santa Marina, Brandon Godfrey, Chris Taylor
6. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders: Shon Akins, Jevontey Smith, Kamani Thomas
7. East Carolina Pirate: Kurt Benkert, Darren Dowdell, Demetri McGill
8. Rice Owls: Cole Hunt, Cole Thomas, Anthony Canady
9. UTSA Roadrunners: Tevin Broussard, Justyn Eddins, Aron Taylor
10. FAU Owls: Robert Relf, Austin Bland, Lance Burlingame
11. FIU Golden Panthers: Xavier Hines, Vontarius West, Silas Spearman
12. UAB Blazers: De’Vante Scott, T.J. McCollum, Rodney Morris
13. Charlotte 49ers: Tevin Lawshe, Kalif Phillips, Jordan Starnes
14. North Texas Mean Green: Chad Davis, John Schilleci, Sed Ellis
15. Old Dominion Monarchs: Shane McCarley, Gary Scruggs, Shane McCarley
16. UTEP Miners: Jaylon Scott, Quentin Tezeno, Aaron Jones