With the dust settling on National Signing Day, it’s now time to have a look at each team’s recruiting class, making note of what position each team leaned heaviest on, who was their best pick, and who are the dark horses in each recruiting class. Ratings are taken from ESPN.
#52 Central Florida (18 recruits)
In a small class, the Knights did a good job picking up solid recruits who were overlooked by the bigger schools. UCF signed most of their recruits out of Georgia, and picked up 3 4-star recruits (2 in the ESPN 300), and 15 with 3-stars.
Loaded up on: Defensive tackle or secondary, depending on where George O’Leary opts to play a couple of guys designated as “athletes”. The marquee signing was safety Kyle Gibson, rated in the top 10 at his position. JUCO defensive tackle Lance McDowdell could be a ready-made replacement for departing EJ Dunston.
Best Signing Quarterback Tyler Harris. With Blake Bortles off to the NFL, UCF has a gaping hole at the most important position. Harris is very similar to Bortles, and could start sooner rather than later.
Dark Horse: Wide receiver Jordan Franks isn’t going to burn anyone, but he has the size and hands to be a quarterback’s best friend.
Overall: A good job of replacing outgoing talent, even if many of the recruits aren’t ready to go straight away. The way O’Leary coaches his kids up, the Knights should keep ticking away for the next few years.
#65 Cincinnati (23 Recruits)
A decent sized class, the Bearcats pulled in one ESPN 300 commit in linebacker Kevin Mouhon (4-star), and 19 3-star recruits. Much of the class came from in-state, but a sizable number of recruits came from SEC country.
Loaded up on: Wide receivers and defensive line. Cincinnati have a massive senior class graduating in 2015, and this incoming group will go some way towards replacing them. JUCO receiver Casey Gladney should be able to step in straight away for Anthony McClung.
Best Signing: With quarterback Brendon Kay graduating, and Munchie Legaux’s availability in question after a serious knee injury, JUCO signing Jarred Evans makes a lot of sense. He has a good mix of accuracy and athleticism needed to run the Bearcat offense
Dark Horse: Defensive tackle Cortez Johnson wasn’t rated, but he flashed some talent in high school. Johnson lined up all over the pitch, making plays and showing a nose for the ball. He likely will need some time to grow, but keep an eye out for him down the road.
Overall: An average class according to the ratings, but the Bearcats have a knack for getting the right guys for their system and coaching them up. Check back in 4 years.
Connecticut (15 recruits)
UConn hasn’t been the best draw for top recruits, and this small class is no different with just 8 3-star recruits. They managed to pull a couple in from Florida, but the bulk of their class came from Connecticut and New Jersey.
Loaded up on: Running back. The position isn’t a huge area of concern depth wise, but the Husky running attack has struggled to attain mediocrity over the last couple of years. Three of their top 4 recruits were running backs, and any of the three are good enough to start.
Best Signing: Offensive tackle Trey Rutherford may not be ready to start out of the gate, and may even need to take a redshirt as he bulks up and improves his technique, but he has the skills for a promising future here in Storrs.
Dark Horse: Jamar Summers is a mid-year enrollee who stuck by UConn even with the coaching change. He could play either corner or receiver at the FBS level, and can also return kicks. It would be in his best interest if the coaching staff could make the call on his position sooner rather than later.
Overall: It’s Connecticut and they’ve a new coaching staff in place. They’ve pulled in some nice talent, but the Huskies need to start getting better recruits if they want to compete regularly in the AAC. Make sure to grab Uconn football tickets for this season!
East Carolina (27 recruits)
The conference new boys would like to make the same splash their other former conference peers did last season. The pulled in a big class of 27 recruits, but just 8 are 3-star recruits. Most of their new guys come from SEC country, but they showed a presence in Virginia too.
Loaded up on: Offensive tackle and defensive end, with 7 of the former and 5 of the latter. Tackle was an obvious need, as the Pirates struggled at times in pass protection last season, and there will be losses on the defensive line in 2015, giving the new recruits some time to grow.
Best Signing: Linebacker Ray Tillman may not have the speed to play outside, and his size may have cost him a shot at a bigger school, but with a summer in the gym, he should be ready to go as a freshman. The Pirates have plenty of vacancies going into camp too.
Dark Horse: Even with star running back Vintavious Cooper graduating, the Pirates only signed 1 potential replacement, Anthony Scott. The Virginia product doesn’t stand out in any area, but does everything well. His skillset suits the offense here, and he could start, or at least contribute, in the early going.
Overall: ECU will have to recruit a lot better if they want to compete in their new conference, but they are happy enough with this group and they generally fit the system. If nothing else, they have boosted their depth for the next 4 years.
#70 Houston (24 recruits)
The Cougars may have stepped up to the AAC, but they haven’t changed their recruiting practices, with 22 of their 24 recruits coming from the state of Texas. They pulled in 20 3-star recruits and 2 2-stars.
Loaded up on: Secondary, and in particular, cornerback. It’s no trade secret that UH had problems last season defending the pass, and a quarter of their new recruits (4 CB, 2 S) were brought in to try to fix that.
Best Signing: With the defensive line getting hit by graduation, Mason Denley has a chance to contribute early at defensive end. He needs to hit the weights and work on his technique, but he has the size and athleticism (he could play tight end) to be a factor on the Houston defense.
Dark Horse: Jerard Carter played all along the defensive line in high school, but will likely be at his best at defensive tackle in college. He’s not quite ready yet, as he needs to add some ballast before he can mix it with the big boys on the opposite side of the ball, but the should be a productive, if not flashy, player.
Overall: The Cougars success over the last 8 years, despite 3 different coaches, suggests they’re doing something right, and picking the right guys for your system is a big part of that. Tony Levine has done well replicating the success of his predecessors, and this class should continue that.
Memphis (22 recruits)
The Tigers recruiting classes have gotten better every year recently, and this was their best effort yet, with 14 3-star recruits out of 22. Their first season in the AAC resulted in just 3 wins, but the Tigers were mostly competitive (don’t mention Connecticut). If they keep improving their recruiting classes, moral victories may become real victories. Memphis travelled all over to recruit, but the majority came from in-state.
Loaded up on: Linebackers, with 6 in this class. They nabbed some good ones too, with Shareef White a possible replacement for departing Anthony Brown. Memphis are also in the market for a quarterback with Jacob Karam graduating, and they did well recruiting here with a couple of solid picks.
Best Signing: Quarterbacks Jason Stewart and Clay Holgorsen. Holgorsen was overlooked due to his size, and could be a hidden gem, while Stewart is a JUCO who’s good enough to keep things ticking over as Holgorsen gets up to speed. Assuming he needs to.
Dark Horse: Safety Brujoun Bonner needs to add some strength but he has a lot of tools to be a fine safety in the right defense. He has good range in coverage and takes good angles as a tackler. Should the Tigers opt for a “Spur” type defense, Bonner could fill the role admirably.
Overall: A decent enough class. The Tigers are building up slowly but surely, and improving their depth nicely. They are a couple of years away from contending, but they have the needle pointed in the right direction.
#75 Southern Methodist (24 recruits)
After a so-so recruiting class in 2013, the Mustangs did a much better job this season, pulling in 1 4-star recruit and 15 3-stars, despite coming off a 5-win season. The majority of their work was done in the Texas area, as is their wont, and also picked up 3 recruits out of Army Prep and a transfer Arizona.
Loaded up on: Last season’s offensive line was shaky at best, getting little push in the running game and allowing quarterback Garrett Gilbert to get pounded, so it’s no surprise that SMU picked up 6 recruits for this unit, including 2 of their top 3 guys.
Best Signing: Remember star running back Zach Line? Say hello to his replacement, Daniel Gresham, a 236-pound bowling ball who will enjoy taking advantage of teams sneaking in an extra defensive back to counter SMU’s passing attack. Gresham is more than “3-yards and a cloud of dust” type, he’s a productive 3-down guy who is as capable of running around defenders as over them.
Dark Horse: Bozidar Antumovic, a former track star (shot put), was originally tabbed as a defensive end by coach June Jones, slated to follow in the footsteps of Margus Hunt. Jones has changed his mind though, and sees Antumovic as an offensive line prospect, where his outstanding upper body strength and athleticism could make him a star. He has 2 years (transfer) to make Jones look smart.
Overall: A decent class with a solid mix of future starters and solid depth, the Mustangs are building their team with an eye to competing sooner rather than later. Gresham looks like a slam dunk.
#40 South Florida (28 recruits)
It’s no surprise that USF pulled in a top 40 class – they always recruit Florida well – what is surprising is they haven’t done anything with it. Willie Taggart’s first real recruiting class as head coach was a gem, pulling in 6 4-star recruits (1 ESPN 300) and 21 3-stars, and giving them the top class in the conference by a wide margin.
Loaded up on: It’s a fairly balanced class, but the Bulls brought in 5 new linebackers, maybe 6 if one of their “athletes” moves there. One of the few bright spots on the defense last season was Dede Lattimore, and he’s graduated, so it made sense to load up at the position. They have some options now if they’re willing to go the “rookie” route.
Best Signing: There weren’t too many bright spots on offense last season. In fact there were really just 2 in running back Marcus Shaw and wide receiver Andre Davis. Shaw is gone, leaving the Bulls with a sizeable hole. Step forward Marlon Mack, a tough runner who has a knack for avoiding hits. If they can get a semblance of a passing attack going, Mack could star here.
Dark Horse: The sole unrated member of the class, Elkanah Dillon could be the star. Dillon played both ways in high school, but was a star at tight end, catching 45 passes for 596 yards and 6 TDs. Why is he unrated? He didn’t start playing football until 10th grade, but has the size (6’5, 247) to be a hit. He passed on Wisconsin to come to Tampa.
Overall: It’s hard to knock a top 40 class, and Taggart is obviously making his presence felt on the recruiting trail. Now he has to make his presence on the field. Taggart’s getting the pieces in place to do it too.
Temple (24 recruits)
Temple’s first couple of seasons in the AAC/Big East were pretty tough, although they arrived with a bunch of MAC talent. They’ve done a solid job recruiting since then, and in their 3rd season back, they may be ready to take a step forward in the conference. Most of their efforts were concentrated in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but there is a sizeable Florida contingent.
Loaded up on: Safeties. Lots of safeties. Six, or perhaps even 7, depending on where “athlete” Lenny Williams ends up. Pass defense was a big concern for the Owls last season, and they’re bringing in a bunch of guys, some of whom could play corner, or even linebacker.
Best Signing: PJ Walker did a solid job taking over at cornerback early in the season, but he may have a fight on his hands with the arrival of Frank Nutile. Nutile hails from high school power Don Bosco, and is a strong, confident passer – something they haven’t had a lot of in Temple lately. The training camp battle should be a blast.
Dark Horse: Jaelin Robinson was a standout basketball player who only played football in his senior year. He’s as green as they come, but his size (6’7, 300) and athleticism make him a very enticing prospect who may slipped under the radar. Expect a redshirt, and maybe even a limited freshman season after that, but write that name down.
Overall: Not a bad class, as the Owls filled a lot of holes and added depth at others. They’re still not quite ready to compete for the league title, but they are getting closer with each passing year.
Tulane (24 recruits)
Tulane had a couple of decent classes the last couple of years, but slipped a little this year when they should have been pulling in better recruits on moving to the AAC. Sticking mostly to Louisiana, but dipping into Florida and even Georgia, the Green Wave pulled in 24 recruits, just 8 of whom were 3-star.
Best Signing: Nick Montana was decent last year prior to his injury, but even if he’s back to 100% this season, he’s only around for another year. That gives Glen Cuiellette, a dual-threat quarterback who’s comfortable passing or running, the chance to learn off the bench. Even if he takes a redshirt next season, he should be the starter in 2015.
Dark Horse: Dontrell Hilliard wasn’t rated, at least by ESPN, but he was one of the top rushers in the state of Louisiana. A quick runner with great hands, Hilliard comes into a situation where the Green Wave’s top runner, Orleans Darkwa, has graduated. Hilliard could compete for the starting job straight away, although it may be more prudent to take a redshirt and pack on some muscle.
Overall: Tulane have been in the doldrums for a while now, and they need to step it up in a big way to be a viable member of the AAC. Recruiting well would be a good start, and last season’s effort was a bit of a setback after the previous 2 years helped them earn a bowl slot.
Tulsa (23 recruits)
Tulsa university, a private institution that is easily one of the smallest in the country, has the uphill battle that many of the other small schools suffer from, but like their small-school peers, overcomes them with great coaching. Now, with a step up in conference, Tulsa needs to step up in recruiting. The current class, favoring the home state, adds 1 4-star recruit, but just 7 3-stars.
Best Signing: The Golden Hurricane lost one of their top linebackers to graduation, so 4-star recruit Petera Wilson is arriving at a good time. He played on the line as well as linebacker in high school, so he’ll have to learn coverage on the fly, as Tulsa doesn’t bring in top recruits to warm the bench.
Dark Horse: D’Angelo Brewer played quarterback in his senior year in high school, but also saw time at running back and receiver prior. With Tulsa’s top 2 rushers departing, the need for young guys to step up becomes paramount. Brewer has excellent speed and agility, and could have a major impact
Overall: Tulsa had a good class, for CUSA, but gets a hall pass for this year as they’re a small school who is successful regardless of class. They need to improve on the quality of recruit though, or the rest of the conference will pass them buy.
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