One week stands between the 2016 college football recruiting class and some of the most prominent programs in the country, and many of the best recruits are letting the suspense build right up until national signing day on Wednesday, Feb. 3.
In a class particularly loaded with immense talent on the defensive side of the ball, four of Scout’s Top 10 recruits remain undecided on where they will play next season and 28 of the recruiting site’s Top 100 are waiting to make their announcement.
Despite the holdouts, the early returns have LSU Tigers head coach Les Miles and Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer as the big winners in the 2016 class. Earning commitments from five-star recruits like defensive end Nick Bosa and linebacker Keandre Jones, as well as 14 four-stars and six three-stars, the Buckeyes sit atop Rivals.com’s rankings as the best class of 2016.
However, over at Scout.com, the Tigers are at No. 1 thanks to five-star cornerback Savion Smith and defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence. Rivals has Lawrence, an in-state product for Miles out of Monroe, Louisiana, ranked as a four-star prospect as opposed to Scout’s five-star rating, which partially explains why the Tigers are second in its rankings. Otherwise, the programs are quite level at 14 four-star commitments and six three-star recruits.
But all that could change if the Tigers manage to wrangle five-star, consensus overall No. 1 recruit and hulk of a defensive tackle Rashan Gary out of Paramus Catholic High School in New Jersey. Landing a 6-foot-4, 286-pound pass rusher and run stopper like Gary, who also reportedly clocks a 4.86 40-yard dash, would immediately hand LSU the nation’s best recruiting class this year.
Getting Gary to commit is a whole other story for Miles. Gary’s considering Alabama, Michigan, Auburn, Ole Miss, Clemson, Ohio State, and USC, and as of yet he’s made only an unofficial visit to Death Valley. Gary’s mother reportedly told Scout her son made another unofficial trip to Ann Arbor, and he could use his final official visit on Clemson or Alabama.
While Gary may choose the SEC path that so many other top prospects have taken, there is a good chance he joins the Trojans as their fourth five-star recruit. The coaching staff for USC were forced to scramble to confirm their recruits following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian during the middle of last season, but managed to keep defensive end Oluwole Betiku, athlete Michael Pittman, and wide receiver Tyler Vaughns on their list of recruits.
Adding Gray to the mix would boost Helton’s haul to four five-star recruits, when he already has those three locked down, currently the best tally in the nation ahead of six other programs with two.
Vaughns, in particular, could be a huge difference maker for USC. He’s stands out as the top-ranked receiver in this year’s class and all along the West Coast after netting 1,319 yards and 13 touchdowns in his final season at Bishop Amat High in La Puente, California. After completing their sophomore seasons, star receivers JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson will likely consider opting for the NFL Draft in 2017.
Of course, Miles, Meyer and the rest of the country’s top coaches remain in the edge of their seat while Alabama’s Nick Saban toils away at most of the undecided and top-ranked players. After ranking in the top five between 2011 and 2015, the Crimson Tide find themselves at No. 8 on Scout and No. 12 on rivals, despite securing commitments from five-star offensive linemen Charles Baldwin and Jonah Williams. Saban’s also locked down 11 four-star and five three-star recruits by Scout’s count, but he could pad his five-star tally in the next week.
Along with Gary, every one of the undecided five-star prospects in Scout’s top 10 all have Tuscaloosa on their radars and all just saw what Alabama’s stacked defense accomplished in the national title game earlier this month.
Specifically the Tide are still in the running for No. 8 overall prospect and outside linebacker Mique Juarez, defensive tackle Derrick Brown, and defensive end Jeffery Simmons, with No. 11 prospect and inside linebacker Ben Davis also in the mix. Davis is actually No. 5 overall on Rivals Top 100 list, and there’s some consensus over at Scout, who view him as the best inside linebacker of this year’s class.
But despite Saban and Alabama’s domination of the recruiting trail, Davis could very well be the lowest hanging fruit for Notre Dame and head coach Brian Kelly. Rivals has placed the Fighting Irish’s newest class at No. 5 overall after they received a commitment from five-star linebacker Daelin Hayes, swiping the Ann Arbor product away from the Wolverines back in December.
Hayes, and potentially Davis, would make a devastating tandem behind the Irish’s 12 four-star and eight three-star recruits, including four-star defensive end Khalid Kareem.
There’s also the chance five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly out of Fresno, California, joins Hayes and maybe Davis. Notre Dame’s in contention with Michigan, Oklahoma, Oregon, and Texas for Kelly, who at first seemed set on picking between the Irish and Sooners until he visited Oregon last week.
Other players to watch for on signing day include athletes Demetris Robertson (Savannah, Georgia - Savannah Christian School) and Mecole Hardman Jr. (Bowman, Georgia - Elbert County High School) as well as defensive back Jack Jones (Long Beach, California - Poly High School).