1. Ohio State
The Buckeyes are looking for a wire-to-wire No. 1 class as Ohio State debuted at the head of the class in June. Ohio State got off to a fast start with 22 of its 24 commitments having pledged to the Buckeyes by the Fourth of July. It's been a quiet autumn for the Buckeyes with only one commitment since Sept. 1, but when a team is sitting at the No. 1 spot, quiet is good. The Buckeyes are looking to inject a heavy dose of speed with five defensive backs committed, headlined by two-way athlete Corey Brown and offensive imports from the Sunshine state in running back Jamaal Berry and wide receiver Duron Carter.
A surprise entry into the top five, North Carolina has done a terrific job of securing the state's top talent. With four ACC teams within the state borders, the Tar Heels have secured commitments from five of the seven prospects from North Carolina. UNC is doing more than just securing its own borders though with high-profile commitments from out-of-staters, including quarterback Bryn Renner (Virginia) and offensive linemen Brennan Williams (Massachusetts) and Johnnie Farms (Georgia). The headliner in this Tar Heel class though is a homegrown product: Scout.com's No. 1 defensive end Donte Moss from Jacksonville, N.C.
The Bayou Bengals of LSU enjoy one of the best location-based recruiting advantages in the entire country as the only BCS school in a talent-rich area. Les Miles and his Tigers have stretched beyond the state of Louisiana though, securing a commitment from one of the most dangerous players in the country in quarterback Russell Shepard of Houston. LSU also has a commitment from the nation's No. 1-ranked safety prospect in Craig Loston, another Texas product. All of the big names aren't from out of state though as five-star defensive tackle Chris Davenport hopes to maintain the recent tradition of dominating interior lineman for the Tigers. Michael Ford, Scout's No. 3 running back, also hails from the state of Louisiana.
No stranger to the top five, Texas selects players as much as it recruits them. The Longhorns have taken early recruiting to a new level, as they've typically filled their class by the spring evaluation period. Of Texas' 20 commitments, only one of them occurred after June 1 and only one of them has come from outside the state borders. Quarterback Garrett Gilbert and wide receiver Greg Timmons provide the sizzle in this Longhorn class, while big linemen Alex Okafor (defensive end) and Mason Walters (offensive tackle) provide the steak.
Another year, another spot in the top 10 for USC. The Trojans are headlined by Scout's No. 1-ranked quarterback Matt Barkley of Santa Ana, Calif. The Trojans are bringing in a bevy of speedy, versatile defenders who Scout currently has ranked as safeties including No. 2 T.J. McDonald, No. 4 Patrick Hall and No. 6 Byron Moore. Scout's No. 1-ranked middle linebacker prospect Vontaze Burfict is arguably the meanest defensive player in the country. The Trojans have felt an unusual amount of competition from crosstown rival UCLA.
The Bulldogs have a pair of highly regarded quarterbacks committed in No. 3 Aaron Murray and No. 14 Zach Mettenberger, but it's on the defensive side of the ball where Georgia has made a mark thus far. No. 2-ranked cornerback Brandon Smith is one of the fastest players in the country and is a weapon on either side of the ball. The linebacking corps is scheduled for a heavy dose of speed as Mike Gilliard, Chase Vasser and Dexter Moody are all long, rangy athletes. Defensive end Montez Robinson may have the most upside of any of the commitments; he's a 4.5-40 defensive end who is new to the game.
7. Texas A&M
The Aggies of Texas A&M are going for a heavy dose of talent infusion in the Class of 2009 with 26 commitments and a top-10 ranking that has held steady all recruiting season. While the Aggies had most of their recruiting done by the time the 2008 season kicked off, the headliner in this class came just after Christmas in the form of Scout's No. 4-ranked running back, Christine Michael. Michael should get plenty of help as two of the Aggies' most highly regarded prospects are offensive tackles Rhontae Scales and Clinton Narron.
It appears at least one team in the Big 12 is getting serious about defense. After watching teams all season light up the scoreboard like a pinball machine in the Big 12, the Sooners are bringing in several players capable of making early contributions including Scout's No. 1 cornerback Gabe Lynn. Lynn is one of five defensive backs in this Sooner class. Defensive tackle Jamarkus McFarland may be the top prospect regardless of position in this class, and Oklahoma also has commitments from five linebackers. Linebacker Ronnell Lewis was the Sooners' first commitment for the Class of 2009; he saw his ranking skyrocket at the end of his senior season.
9. Penn State
While the big question in Happy Valley for the last several years has surrounded Joe Paterno and his future, the present and future for Penn State has never looked better. A Rose Bowl appearance on the field and a top-10 class off of it have given Paterno more ammo to fight off his doubters. While skill-position players get more ink, it's the offensive linemen who can make or break a team, and Penn State is bringing in one of the top linemen in the country in Eric Shrive. Scout's No. 2 offensive tackle in the country should protect the blind side and open up holes for dynamic dual threat quarterback Kevin Newsome. "Linebacker U" isn't ready to forfeit its title as Glenn Carson and Gerald Hodges are big-time talents.
Worth a thousand words:
The Crimson Tide have quietly worked their way into the top 10. An already impressive class is headlined by five-star-rated running back Trent Richardson and linebacker Nico Johnson. Michael Bowman and Kevin Norwood are big, talented receivers who should compliment Julio Jones well. Don't expect the Tide to stay at 10. Alabama made a late dash for the No. 1 recruiting class last year, and with a host of five-star talent still being recruited by the Tide, including cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, other teams are going to be hard-pressed to keep Alabama out of the top five.
Speaking of risers, Florida is one of the last remaining teams that seems to prefer making a splash in January as opposed to loading up on early commitments. Despite being ranked at No. 11, the Gators have the fewest amount of commitments (16) of any team in the top 30. A team that's won two of three BCS championships has talent and has little trouble recruiting more talent. The Gators collect five-stars at a greater clip than they collect championship rings, and that's saying something. Wide receiver Andre Dubose, defensive tackle Gary Brown, and offensive tackle Xavier Nixon are rated at five stars by Scout. It's fairly safe to say these three will have company by signing day.
Michigan lost an inordinate amount of talent to the NFL prior to the 2008 season. Coupled with an entirely new system, it was obvious that not all players are recruited to fit the same schemes as the Wolverines struggled mightily last year. The Wolverine staff has hit the recruiting trail hard, and while they've suffered some setbacks along the way, this is still a terrific Michigan class. There are smaller, faster players who will specifically fit Rich Rodriguez's style of offense, like receiver Jeremy Gallon and quarterback Tate Forcier. And there are big linemen who fit any scheme, including five-star defensive tackle William Campbell and bookend offensive tackles Michael Schofield and Taylor Lewan.
It's a good debate as to which is the bigger surprise to this point, UNC at No. 2 or Stanford at No. 13. The Cardinal staff has recruited well across the board but specifically at tight end. Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo are ranked the No. 4 and No. 6 tight ends in the country respectively, and Ryan Hewitt is No. 30 nationally. Linebacker Shayne Skov was Stanford's first commitment, and he's also the highest-rated on the board at five stars and No. 3 at middle linebacker. The one concern in this class may be on the offensive line, but with three tight ends and four defensive linemen committed, Stanford has ample athletic big men in this class.
Miami was serious about restocking its talent level last year when it signed a whopping 33 prospects for the Class of 2008. Many of those players made an immediate impact, including quarterback Jacory Harris and linebacker Sean Spence. While the numbers aren't going to be the same for the Class of 2009, the quality will still be there. With 18 commitments, Miami is going long on quality with a commitment from Scout's No. 1 prospect regardless of position, running back Bryce Brown. Miami's running back haul for the Class of 2009 should help the Hurricanes remember the days of dominant running backs as Brown is joined by four-star runners Lamar Miller and Mike James. On defense, Ray Ray Armstrong and Brandon McGee are difference makers at safety and cornerback respectively.
15. South Carolina
Never known as a recruiter at Florida to the same extent that he was thought of as a great football coach, the "Evil Genius" has made some people have to rethink their definition of Steve Spurrier. The Gamecocks have gone head to head with in-state rival Clemson and held their own, including big commitments from five-star safety Stephon Gilmore. The Gamecocks have added some explosion in the offensive backfield in running back Jarvis Giles, a former Tennessee commitment. Jumbo safety Devonte Holloman has as much potential as anyone in the country, and if the light comes on for him, he's an NFL player.
16. West Virginia
Pat White, Noel Devine and the exciting Mountaineer offense have gotten the attention of recruits around the country as West Virginia's five highest-rated commitments are on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Eugene Smith of Miramar, Fla. will add a more vertical threat to West Virginia's offense as he is a terrific passer with good mobility. Smith is bringing a pair of highly regarded receivers to West Virginia with him in No. 8 Logan Heastie and No. 15 Deon Long. It's not all about offense for West Virginia though as defensive tackle Dominik Davenport, cornerback Michael Carter and safety Jonathan Scott can play for anyone.
While Mississippi State struggled on the football field in 2008, head coach Sylvester Croom had done an outstanding job of hitting the recruiting trails heavily, taking advantage of a coaching-transition year at rival Ole Miss. Croom didn't survive the 2008 season, but much of his work in recruiting did. Import former Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen to run the show, and Mississippi State has been able to not only solidify prior commitments, but bring some high-profile targets on board, including four-star wide receiver Chad Bumphis. Quarterback Tyler Russell has the physical ability the Bulldogs have been missing at the position for years.
Rich Rodriquez was not the only high-profile new coach to struggle on the field in 2008, and he's not the only high-profile new coach to start making inroads in recruiting. Rick Nueheisel's Bruins were a disappointment on the football field, but Rome wasn't built in a day, and the Trojans aren't going to be caught in a year. UCLA signed a top-10 class in 2008, and the Bruins are back at it again in 2009. The Bruins had highly regarded quarterback Richard Brehaut and linebacker Todd Golper committed early in the season, and they were able to poach No. 1 tight end Morrell Presley and four-star cornerback Marlon Pollard off of USC's and Notre Dame's commitment list respectively.
19. Florida State
The rise of the Florida Gators and disappointing seasons by both Florida State and Miami can't be considered a coincidence. A strong Seminole and Hurricane team can do much for the rest of the country in keeping the Gators in check. The heart of the Seminoles' class, as has been the case through recent years, is on the defensive side of the ball. Jaccobi McDaniel is Scout's No. 1 defensive tackle and a top-10 prospect regardless of position. The Seminoles class mirrors USC's class on defense with a host of versatile defenders, including four safeties headlined by Tallahassee product Willie Downs.
It wasn't that long ago (2005) that Tennessee was scouring the nation and signing the No. 1 class in the country. The Class of 2005 on the whole served a lesson in how important it is not only to sign players but to keep them in school, as much of the class never had an impact at Tennessee. Four years removed from the No. 1 class in the country, Tennessee is bringing in a new crop of Vols, led by a new crop of coaches. Lane Kiffen is putting together a staff that has a good blend of Xs and Os as well as energetic recruiters. This could be as low as we see Tennessee for several years, both on and off the field.
When he was at Louisville, Bobby Petrino was my choice as the coach who got the most out of his talent. Now that he's at Arkansas, he's attracting an even higher level of player. That's good news in Fayetteville as Arkansas is securing the state's top talent including five-star athlete Darius Winston and offensive guard Colby Berna. The recruit likely to make the biggest impact for the Razorbacks is former No. 2 quarterback Ryan Mallett who started at Michigan and sat out his transfer year last season.
22. Notre Dame
Notre Dame's No. 2 recruiting class last year on the heels of the worst season in Irish history is arguably the most impressive job of recruiting I've ever seen. The Irish have come back to earth a little this year, but that's understandable with back-to-back disappointing years and questions about Charlie Weis' future much of the summer and fall. The Irish class is headlined by big men in the trenches. Chris Watt is Scout's No. 1 offensive guard, and he'll have company with No. 6-ranked guard Alex Bullard. The main benefactor of these two people movers is No. 6-ranked running back Cierre Wood. Shaq Evans is a two-way standout from California who could make an impact at wide receiver or safety.
They're a little more laid back on the West Coast and after seeing teams like Texas fill up with recruiting by May, the Golden Bears have slowly, but steadily, been rising up the recruiting rankings. Cal entered the 2008 season with only three commitments, but they added such stalworts as Scout's No. 1 center Mark Brazinski and No. 9 offensive guard Stan Hasiak. With only 18 commitments to date, Cal still has room to continue its assault on the Top 25.
Bolstered by re-signees like five-star linebacker Eltoro Freeman, four-star running back Onterrio McCalebb and four-star defensive lineman Nick Fairley, Auburn is adding top-notch talents like tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen and defensive end Dee Ford. The hiring of Gene Chizik from Iowa State raised a lot of eyebrows among followers of Auburn, but staff additions such as Trooper Taylor, Tracy Rocker, Ted Roof and Gus Malzahn should pay future dividends on the recruiting trail.
Ralph Friedgen is one of the top offensive minds in the game, and he's getting a weapon that should be a lot of fun to watch. Running Back Caleb Porzel is a 4.3-40 guy at 5-foot-7 and 172 pounds. He's electric in the open field. Two hundred twenty pounds of D.J. Adams will provide the thunder to Porzel's lightning as a powerful 1-2 punch in the offensive backfield. On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Travis Hawkins and defensive end DeOnte Arnett headline the Terrapin class.