Alabama coach Nick Saban discusses the signing day successes of 2014 at the Mal Moore Athletic Facility in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Wednesday. AP photo.
The Southeastern Conference dominates recruiting as thoroughly as it rules the rest of college football.
As Signing Day came to a close Wednesday, SEC schools filled seven of the top nine spots in the 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings, which equally weigh the ratings of all the major recruiting services. Last year, seven SEC programs ranked among the top 13 teams.
Alabama led the way by finishing atop the team standings for a fourth consecutive year. Other SEC teams in the top 10 included No. 2 LSU, No. 5 Texas A&M, No. 6 Auburn, No. 7 Tennessee, No. 8 Georgia and No. 9 Florida.
“It’s the nature of our conference,” Tennessee coach Butch Jones said. “That’s why it’s the most competitive conference in the country.”
The SEC landed most of the top talent in its own territory and made an impact across the country.
According to the 247Sports Composite, SEC schools landed the No. 1 prospect in the state in such non-SEC areas as Arizona (Texas A&M quarterback Kyle Allen), Iowa (Alabama offensive tackle Ross Pierschbacher), Illinois (LSU linebacker Clifton Garrett), Oklahoma (Alabama quarterback David Cornwell), Virginia (Alabama defensive end Da’Shawn Hand) and Wyoming (Florida offensive tackle Taven Bryan).
The country is getting smaller,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “It is smaller with the technology. Phones are computer devices. Planes fly more efficiently and you can travel more efficiently. That’s what’s going on. Guys want the opportunity to play at the best programs. They want to go to places where they can play as freshmen. They want to go to places where they can show their skills to the NFL. Those schools have those advantages and that’s where the players want to go.”
And even though the SEC must replace departing star quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger, it’s reloading quite well. Six of the top eight pro-style quarterbacks in the 247Sports Composite signed with SEC schools: Allen, Will Grier (Florida), Cornwell, Jacob Park (Georgia), Drew Barker (Kentucky) and Sean White (Auburn).
Best class: Alabama’s class was ranked first in the nation by all the major recruiting services and included seven players rated as five-star prospects by at least one service. Alabama’s collection of five-star prospects includes defensive back Tony Brown, linebacker Rashaan Evans, Hand, defensive back Marlon Humphrey, offensive lineman Dominick Jackson, offensive lineman Cam Robinson and all-purpose athlete Bo Scarbrough.
Impact player: LSU’s Leonard Fournette should step in and help the Tigers replace 1,400-yard rusher Jeremy Hill. Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon have shown recently that SEC running backs can make major impacts as freshmen. Fournette is rated as the nation’s No. 1 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite.
Players to watch: Texas A&M has a couple of them in Allen and defensive end Myles Garrett. Allen already has enrolled and will participate in spring practice with a legitimate shot at replacing Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. Defensive end Myles Garrett, the nation’s No. 2 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite, should boost the pass rush of a Texas A&M defense that allowed the most points and yards per game of any SEC team last season.
Biggest surprises: Tennessee had its fourth straight losing season last fall and Kentucky went 2-10, yet both teams signed their top classes in recent memory. Tennessee kept the state’s top players at home, something that had been a problem in recent years. Kentucky signed a prize quarterback prospect in Barker - a home-state product - and also made plenty of inroads in nearby Ohio.
Biggest dud: A potential top-25 class at Vanderbilt was decimated after former Commodores coach James Franklin left for Penn State. New coach Derek Mason needed a flurry of commitments in the last 72 hours just to get Vanderbilt back in the top 50.