Competition will be fierce in SEC for class of 2014
The recruiting cycle for the class of 2014 has begun.
With spring practice having already begun for some and just around the corner for most, coaches will begin to see where their recruiting efforts need to be focused, and the press on rising seniors will accelerate. Rivals.com's team of local writers combined with our recruiting analysts to compile what are believed to be each team's needs and the chances that each program can fill them with this class. Over six days, Rivals.com is breaking down the five major conferences, as well as select schools that do not play in conferences that automatically qualify for the BCS. This will be our first nationwide look at recruiting involving the recent conference realignment. Today is a look at programs in the SEC, listed alphabetically.
• What it needs in '14: The team that just keeps winning on the field and the recruiting front actually does have needs. The Tide will be losing a lot off of the offensive line, and that will need to be restocked. The defensive backfield will be addressed -- namely at the safety spot -- as well. While the staff is at it, there will likely be two or three defensive linemen targeted.
• Can it be done? Really? What a terrible section for Alabama. Of course it can be done. Even the most jaded Alabama hater has to be impressed with what seems to be the annual parade of quality classes mixing top-end talent and three-star depth. The targets will be national even as the talent in Alabama is on the rise. The first commit to the class is Bo Scarbrough from Tuscaloosa (Ala.) Northridge, who pledged in September and is rock-solid from the backyard of the program. Added to the fact that his close friend Reuben Foster was a member of the Class of 2013, there is no prying him away.
• What it needs in '14: Arkansas has signed only one high-school defensive tackle in each of the last three classes, and the projected starters are both going to be seniors. A couple of prime targets are in-state with Rivals100 and Rivals250 members Josh Frazier and Bijhon Jackson. The team has signed just five high-school offensive linemen in the last two classes, so that will be a focal point. In the last class, Arkansas brought in two wide receivers, but neither was a highly regarded recruit, and there will be additional efforts at that position.
• Can it be done? On the defensive line, Frazier has committed to Arkansas, so his retention should be easier than landing his pledge. The offensive linemen in Arkansas and Texas are OK, so there may be more depth brought in, but not as much elite talent. The receivers across the country are plentiful, so the new staff should be able to convince several to join the SEC program. The results on the field will need to rebound to jump start the positive momentum that was being built under Bobby Petrino but came crashing down with his motorcycle accident and subsequent dismissal.
• What it needs in '14: This is a laundry list that starts at linebacker. The team missed on Reuben Foster and on Trey Johnson. Tre Williams of St. Paul's Episcopal in Mobile will be one of the top targets, regardless of his early intentions. The running back spot is of concern because many are still not sure the team has the stud it really needs. The offensive line is another question because no one is sure what Auburn has there. Avery Young is supposed to be good, but he got hurt last year. Jordan Diamond is supposed to be good, but he was hurt all of last year. Greg Robinson was merely OK last year. Shon Coleman was a five-star guy, but he missed a full year while undergoing chemotherapy for leukemia. The program didn't target an offensive lineman in 2013 and will have to do something this year. At cornerback, the program really wanted Mackensie Alexander and lost him to Clemson, leaving this a position of need.
• Can it be done? Good news for Auburn fans is that the state of Alabama has a lot of talent at cornerback and linebacker, so there are local targets. The offensive line will be a grab bag, and most likely the players it wants will also be circled by Alabama. That will make for a tough sell. The defensive backfield can be found in Atlanta, which is a close drive for recruiters to get players. Nothing is too much to ask in this cycle, but the needs are great and similar to those of other SEC teams.
• What it needs in '14: Without question, Florida's No. 1 priority is to sign a top-tier quarterback. Having missed on its top targets in 2012 and 2013 -- and after the transfer of Jacoby Brissett -- the Gators have precious little talented depth behind projected starter Jeff Driskel. Like any school, Florida could use help across the board, particularly at tight end, defensive end and cornerback.
• Can it be done? The program has landed the commitment of Rivals100 member Will Grier out of North Carolina. While he will be targeted by other programs in the early going, there are generally few flips from quarterbacks after the summer circuit. Of the other needs, the hardest to fill will be tight end because it is a position that just doesn't come out of Florida with any regularity. The program will have to go into other areas of the country if it wants to pull in a highly regarded player and not just a role player.
• What it needs in '14: UGA will be targeting offensive linemen, defensive tackles, outside linebackers and running backs. Like most schools in the conference, there is a need in the trenches. The outside linebacker position in the SEC often is filled by players who were weakside defensive ends in high school, so the commitment list may appear heavy with defensive linemen, but look for some of the more rangy players to stand up in the defensive alignment once they get onto campus.
• Can it be done? Georgia often cannot win the perception battle, regardless of results. The class of 2013 was talented and finished inside the top 15 nationally, but the finger gets pointed at what the team didn't get from its own state. That tone has been brought into this class because there need to be some major signees to show fans that the team can recruit and then compete with Alabama on the field. Four-star Georgia running back Stanley Williams is already in the fold, as is four-star defensive back Nick Glass from Suwanee (Ga.) Peachtree Ridge, so that is an early statement within the state. Missing on Montravius Adams, Laremy Tunsil, Carl Lawson and Robert Nkemdiche was a tough pill to swallow, but there is good work happening at Georgia.
• What it needs in '14: The Wildcats are circling two positions of need: linebacker and offensive line. The team also is targeting a specific, big-time quarterback. Drew Barker is the one the staff wants. The brutal truth is that upgrading talent across the board is the main need, and many are expecting this to be a banner recruiting class. As good as the class was in 2013, Kentucky did not get any linebackers, and there weren't many good options available on the offensive line.
• Can it be done? Mark Stoops was aggressive in his first few months on the job, and that has given many reason to believe that it can be done. There are players local to Lexington whom the program is already in on, and a move into Cincinnati returned early results in the last class. The first commit into this class is four-star Denzel Ware of Opp (Ala.) High, and that gives more encouragement because it shows prospects believe in Stoops' track record of success and want to come to Lexington. If the team does not get Barker, look for it to move on to Robert Jones, who reminds many of Dennis Dixon and Pat White.
• What it needs in '14: The list starts at receiver in a big way. It then moves to running back. At receiver LSU has offered Speedy Noil, Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre, and many believe the staff badly wants all three of those guys. The class of 2013 didn't include a running back, and some say that's a huge risk by design because the Tigers want Leonard Fournette to know he's their guy. LSU wants two or three backs, but it starts with Fournette as the lead dog.
• Can it be done? Louisiana is loaded at receiver and has top-end talent at running back, offensive line and linebacker. This is one of the best classes of kids in the state, and historically that bodes well for LSU. This really is a great year in terms of timing for what LSU needs and what is in high supply locally. The class will contain at least three receivers, and there are slot guys, possession guys, and deep threats ripe for the picking.
• What it needs in '14: There really don't appear to be many glaring needs for Mississippi State for this class the way there have been in years past. Two years ago the team signed a heavy class of defensive linemen, and in 2013 it was wide receivers. Judging by the early offer list, linebacker looks to be this year's most heavily recruited position. The Bulldogs signed only one linebacker (Dezz Harris) on signing day and redshirted Beniquez Brown and Richie Brown.
• Can it be done? This class likely will be spread evenly and maybe have some highlights with players who were targeted. It is tough to tell which players are going to emerge from the state of Mississippi -- and then which are going to qualify -- so right now the waters are murky. The program has been charging east and has spent a lot of time this month in the Atlanta area trying to build inroads in talent-rich Georgia.
• What it needs in '14: Missouri is slated to graduate 15 following the 2013 season, and that puts the estimate for 2014 class at 20 signees. In reality it may not be exactly 20, but that's usually a safe bet with Missouri's average signing class over the past five seasons. Look for a lot of the additions to be on defense, including five on the line. The linebackers could take two players, and there may be three in the secondary as well.
• Can it be done? Missouri could struggle to land local players in the secondary because the raw numbers are not there. The players needed on the line will likely be from out of state. Where the in-state talent could be used is in bringing in athletes to compete. The St. Louis area is increasing its output in raw players, and they are very athletic and have shown to be coachable. If the staff can take advantage of that and dip into surrounding states, this could be a complete class.
• What it needs in '14: After landing the No. 7 class in the country, the staff will have to get right back on the road because there are needs to be addressed. The main targets will be offensive line, linebacker and cornerback. So much work was done up the middle on defense last year and with quarterback and receiver on offense that the two need to be flipped this year.
• Can it be done? Early returns say yes. Ole Miss has landed two defensive back commitments in four-star C.J. Hampton from Meridian (Miss.) High and Ronald Walker. Both are listed at safety and bring talent into the defensive backfield. The class has four-star D.K. Buford committed to be a running back and offensive lineman Tyler Putman from Southaven (Miss.) DeSoto Central aboard. While that doesn't address much on the list, it shows that the momentum is rolling, which should lead to substantial returns again.
• What it needs in '14: The Gamecocks will be looking at three main positions while trying to round out a complete class: defensive end, wide receiver and defensive back. The class of 2013 brought only one defensive back, two ends and none listed at wide receiver, although one of its three athletes could slide over if need be. The class went heavy on linebacker, so do not look for many to be brought in this year, which should free some attention for the other spots.
• Can it be done? South Carolina has taken the mentality that Atlanta is its home territory and has faced little resistance from Georgia Tech in pushing it out. The metro area is loaded at cornerback, and there could be a pair brought to South Carolina. The same can be said for defensive end, where the local crop isn't as top heavy as it has been in recent year. There is still some depth that can be brought out. Receiver has been strong across the country, and that doesn't figure to be a spot that will give many teams a problem this year.
• What it needs in '14: Tennessee is in a position to sign a big class in 2014, but as Butch Jones continues his rebuilding project there are plenty of needs. Tennessee has needs at running back, offensive line, defensive line (end and tackle) and linebacker. The program has been struggling to have a top-flight back have his recruiting ranking and play on the field make ends meet, and getting a feature back will be key.
• Can it be done? There are six players from the state of Tennessee inside the first release of the Rivals250, so battling for that in-state talent will be a priority. The group is led by running back Jalen Hurd of Hendersonville (Tenn.) Beech at the No. 15 position in the Rivals100. Alex Bars of Nashville (Tenn.) Montgomery Bell Academy is No. 55 and on the offensive line. Defensive back Todd Kelly is No. 59 and at Knoxville (Tenn.) Webb School, making him a local product whose father played at the school. Gallatin (Tenn.) Station Camp receiver Josh Malone is No. 72 nationally, and linebacker Petera Wilson of Memphis (Tenn.) White Station is No. 245. While most of those players are on the Vanderbilt side of the state, look for the Vols to be major players for each. Vic Wharton, the No. 229 player in the Rivals250 from Nashville (Tenn.) Independence, committed to the Vols, sending a strong message that up-and-coming Vandy will have a battle on its hand from its big brother.
• What it needs in '14: Texas A&M will target offensive linemen after the school signed only six prospects at the position in the past two years. The school has seven offers out. Defensive back also figures to be a major position getting attention. The staff has 12 offers out at the position and two commits in a year when there are 11 defensive backs in the Rivals250 from the state of Texas.
• Can it be done? Texas A&M is keeping pace with Texas in terms of commits and talent early, which is illustrating what can be done in College Station. The defensive back group already has four-star Cedric Collins from Dallas (Texas) Skyline and Nick Harvey from Richmond (Texas) Fort Bend Bush, who can slide to the spot. Linebacker wasn't a position of need, but when one of the top players in the state wants to commit, it is accepted. Hoza Scott from La Porte (Texas) High did just that. The program is expanding its footprint and being heard in a lot of new places. The exposure and excitement are being capitalized on.
• What it needs in '14: The first spot to be addressed will have to be running back. In the 2012 recruiting period, the staff was looking to sign at least two tailbacks and only signed one. In 2013, the target was to sign two, if not three, and only one signed -- after Johnathan Ford flipped to Alabama late. Safety, offensive line and defensive tackle will also be high on the priority list.
• Can it be done? The Vanderbilt staff has targeted several rising seniors from all over the country, but it wisely is not ignoring local talent Jalen Hurd. Georgia standouts Nick Chubb, Treyvon Paulk and Dallas Rivers, as well as Colorado all-purpose back Christian McCaffrey, will be in the first group to get recruited, but there will need to be a couple of players taken to backfill the depth. This is a unique recruiting cycle for Vanderbilt because it will be at a time when there are more eyes than ever on the program. Recruits want to see if there is a next step to be taken, and commitments could come late if Vanderbilt shows it has matured under James Franklin. The recruiting could explode or fizzle, depending on the first few weeks of the season.
For additional coverage, check out Rivals' college football recruiting hub.
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