It’s pretty difficult to talk about five schools poised to close well in the 2015 class without mentioning Alabama, but that is exactly what is about to happen. It’s a given that Alabama won’t end 2015 without adding another key piece or two, but there are actually five programs that could be the headline on national signing day other than the Crimson Tide even if Nick Saban inks the No. 1-ranked class again.
1. Ole Miss
Headed into this season, the Rebels were my team that had the most pressure to win. That is because the SEC West is a recruiting war zone, and it’s very difficult to rise in the ranks and overtake programs such as Alabama, Auburn and LSU. Well, Hugh Freeze and staff are answering the bell in otherworldly fashion right now having beat Alabama and Texas A&M in back-to-back weeks. With Tennessee, at LSU and Auburn the next three, Ole Miss is sitting at No. 3 in the polls, waves of momentum gathering and the chance to blast through a door that is difficult to push open. Currently sitting at No. 24 in the class rankings, Ole Miss is a strong bet to make a top-15 class push, if not closer to the top 10 with a strong finish to the season. The 2016 class is already being built toward a top-10 finish.
ESPN 300’s in play: No. 7 CeCe Jefferson, No. 59 Javon Patterson, No. 70 DaMarkus Lodge, No. 92 and Penn State commit Adam McLean, No. 161 Kyle Phillips, No. 163 and Alabama commit Joshua McMillon, No. 173 Ryan Newsome, Auburn commit and top junior college cornerback prospect Tony Bridges and others.
2. Florida State
The Seminoles currently sit at No. 5 in the ESPN RecruitingNation class rankings, and have as much left on the recruiting bone as any program. With as many as 10 ESPN 300 prospects as realistic possibilities to end up in Tallahassee, Florida State could easily be this cycle’s storyline come signing day. The lone issue for the Seminoles is the numbers game of not having the possibility to have the huge class of numbers that could overwhelm Alabama and Georgia in the end. With that being said, a top-3 finish is a high percentage and taking over No. 1 isn’t out of the question.
ESPN 300’s in play: No. 1 Josh Sweat, No. 2 Byron Cowart, No. 4 Terry Beckner Jr., No. 5 and LSU commit Kevin Toliver II, No. 7 CeCe Jefferson, No. 9 Kendall Sheffield, No. 44 Tarvarus McFadden, No. 46 Jacques Patrick, No. 49 Da’Vante Phillips, No. 61 Matt Burrell Jr., No. 133 Cordell Broadus, No. 178 Holton Hill, No. 275 Kris Boyd and others.
The Trojans are here for a few reasons. One, there may be only two or three programs with as many top targets remaining uncommitted and seriously in play with USC considered the favorite for some of the nation's best. Two, the fact that UCLA is struggling on the field and not taking that next step only helps Steve Sarkisian and staff with the message of the future vision for USC. Lastly, the win at Arizona was a shot in the arm the program needed, especially in Sarkisian’s first year. The recruiting message and vision gains strength with each meaningful win, and especially coming off the bad loss at Boston College. Currently sitting at No. 14 in the class rankings, a top-10 finish looks like a given.
ESPN 300’s in play: No. 8 Iman Marshall, No. 22 Rasheem Green, No. 28 Keisean Lucier-South, No. 36 Christian Kirk, No. 70 DaMarkus Lodge, No. 88 John Houston Jr., No. 101 Marvell Tell, No. 109 Chris Clark, No. 119 DeChaun Holiday, No. 124 Osa Masina, No. 133 Cordell Broadus, No. 159 Porter Gustin, No. 294 Ykili Ross and others.
The Bulldogs make the list for two reasons. First, they have a shot to challenge Alabama for the No. 1 class with a strong close, and second, there are some key ESPN 300 targets remaining on the board in a class that already has 12 300 prospects committed. With the SEC East looking like the Bulldogs to lose, the finish on the field combined with Jeremy Pruitt recruiting on the defensive side looks like momentum is headed in the right direction – as of today.
ESPN 300’s in play: No. 1 Josh Sweat, No. 26 Roquan Smith, No. 44 Tarvarus McFadden, No. 80 Rashad Rountree, No. 149 Nyheim Hines, No. 167 Albert Huggins, No. 198 Darius Slayton, No. 217 Donte Jackson, junior college cornerback Justin Martin and others.
5. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish scored big with the flip of No. 71 Brandon Wimbush from Penn State. In doing so, Brian Kelly and staff punched a Midwest recruiting rival in the stomach, and have now set up the chance to close strong with the team on the field also sitting in the top 10. One key for Notre Dame is the continued struggles of the Big 10 and the perception that lingers on the trail, as well as UCLA and USC’s lack of dominance on the field on the very important West Coast. Notre Dame is currently sitting at No. 15 in the class rankings with the ability to finish in the top 10 and flex the muscles in the Midwest and upper East Coast.
ESPN 300’s in play: No. 8 Iman Marshall, No. 27 and Alabama commit Minkah Fitzpatrick, No. 32 Soso Jamabo, No. 5 Equanimeous St. Brown, No. 52 and UCLA commit Alize Jones, No. 97 and LSU commit Nick Brossette, No. 133 Cordell Broadus, No. 159 Porter Gustin, No. 182 Frank Buncom IV, No. 294 Ykili Ross and others.