SCOTT: Who signed the best class?

We could sit here and argue all week about which SEC program signed the best recruiting class. Most experts believe it's Florida, but LSU and Tennessee could make their own cases, and Auburn, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama have to be mentioned in the debate.

Really, none of us will know the answer for another three or four years. Players transfer. Some flunk out. Some get in trouble. Others don't work hard. Still others lose their interest and move on. And then, there are players – no matter how hard they try – that just don't get a whole lot better, and it's no one's fault.


No matter what schools win the recruiting race, there's a bigger argument to be made – and won. It's the one thing we can all agree on: the SEC won in recruiting.


"It bodes well for the future of the conference, which right now is the best conference in college football," recruiting analyst Tom Lemming said. "With the way they're recruiting, it could be awhile before they relinquish that."


With seven schools appearing on various top-10 lists, recruiting has never been better in the SEC. No conference came even close to the SEC this year.


"There's a lot of good programs in the SEC right now, a lot of good coaches," new Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "That probably is indicative of the results in recruiting."


Saban did his part to elevate the competitive intensity of recruiting this year, but the same can be said of Florida coach Urban Meyer, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier and Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer.


Meyer waved Florida's national championship flag high and wide and set the tone for the rest of the SEC.


"The Gators landed ten five-star prospects in this recruiting class, and six of them committed after the big game on January 8th," Bob Redman, Associate Editor for, told "The early recruiting efforts by the Gator staff probably would have landed a few of those, but big time prospects, like defensive end Justin Trattou (who was previously committed to Notre Dame), offensive lineman James Wilson (USC), safety Jerimy Finch (Indiana) and defensive end Carlos Dunlap (a South Carolina native), had to be impressed with what the Gators did on the national stage."


Spurrier put more personal time and effort into recruiting than ever before, and South Carolina signed the best class in school history.


"South Carolina's 2007 recruiting class has to be considered the best in school history, if you look at the quality of talent brought in from top to bottom. Steve Spurrier and staff did an excellent job of hitting the recruiting trail and building relationships with prospects early on, and that paid great dividends in the months leading up to Signing Day," Jonathan Jolley, recruiting writer for, told "The Gamecocks entered this class with major needs at wide receiver, defensive end, and cornerback, and they were able to address all three areas in grand fashion. USC landed seven quality wide receivers, in what could arguably be considered the top wide receiver class in the country. They landed a pair of stud defensive ends in Cliff Matthews and Travian Robertson; and even after the loss of Gary Gray to Notre Dame, Carolina landed three solid cornerbacks in Jamire Williams, Akeem Auguste, and Addison Williams. Whenever a coaching staff is able to meet their needs that well in a recruiting class, it's mission accomplished."


In Tennessee, Fulmer seemed to regain his recruiting touch after a couple of relatively down years.


"The Vols are back near the top in recruiting with a great haul," said Jamie Newberg, National Recruiting Analyst. "They cleaned up at running back and wide receiver and got some great ones on defense, like defensive end Ben Martin, linebacker Chris Donald and cornerback Eric Berry."


And then, there's Auburn – where coach Tommy Tuberville and his staff quietly put together a top-10 class in the shadow of Saban's spotlight.


"The Auburn Tigers assembled a terrific in-state and out-of-state recruiting class," said's southeast recruiting analyst Andrew Bone. "They landed the state's top prospect safety Michael McNeil, center Ryan Pugh, linebacker Eltoro Freeman and cornerback Ryan Williams. They ventured out-of-state to land quarterback Kodi Burns, offensive lineman Lee Ziemba, running back Enrique Davis and linebacker Josh Bynes. Coach Tommy Tuberville put together an amazing 2007 recruiting class."


And there's Saban, who entered the game late and spent a lot of time butting heads with other SEC programs (does the name Luther Davis ring a bell?) and swinging for the fences for some major recruits – many having already committed to other schools. After calling Cajuns' coonasses and missing on many of those prospects, Saban still finished strong and put together a surprisingly good class. At the same time, he made an in-roads with coaches and prospects that should pay off in the future.


"To put things in relative perspective," Saban said, "our most difficult year at LSU was our first year, and we took that job in early December; so even there, we had more time to build relationships. That is the only thing I can compare it to, although even that isn't a fair comparison. In recruiting, the most important thing is to develop relationships. But this year, we were developing contacts, just trying to get ourselves into people's minds. It's a totally different dynamic, but I am very pleased with the class we got."


Of course, this isn't going to make life any easier in the SEC. Ole Miss brought in some important linebackers and receivers, Kentucky continued to tap its plentiful pipeline in LaGrange, Ga., to sign defensive end D.J. Stafford, while Mississippi State trumped Ole Miss for running back Robert Elliott. Even Vanderbilt appeared to help itself overall.


As for Arkansas ... well, the Razorbacks didn't do as well as they'd hoped, after an SEC West championship followed by a tumultuous past two months, but coach Houston Nutt and his staff have done a good job of mining overlooked talent in recent years. Both of Arkansas' early departures to the NFL – defensive end Jamaal Anderson and cornerback Chris Houston – were not highly recruited. Now it's highly possible both will be drafted in the first round this spring.


If we thought the SEC was competitive in the past, what's it going to be like in the next 3-5 years?


"Most conferences have two or three teams at the top and the rest of them are ok," Fulmer said. "In our league, you better be great every Saturday. It's the same thing in recruiting."


And no matter how much you folks may have each other and might not want to admit it ... that's a good thing for the entire SEC.


Ok, admit it. How many of you were ready for college? No, not to get away from mama and daddy for the first time and start partying and sleeping until noon everyday, we're talking a full load of classes, daily workouts and all the other demands that come with being a full-time scholarship football player in the SEC.


That's why we need to applaud all those kids that enroll in January.


Yes, there's a major advantage for the programs that get these players in early – especially when it comes to participating in spring practice and the off-season strength and conditioning programs in preparation for the season.


But it's more than that.


The fall semester is difficult enough with two-a-days and a game every week. Spring football and the off-season programs aren't as demanding on college football players, so January is an excellent time to get started on a college education. Plus, let's all remember that these kids have worked to graduate early from high school.


There's an additional advantage for both the football programs and the athletes involved in early enrollment. Just ask quarterback Tim Tebow and receiver Percy Harvin, who enrolled early at Florida last year, or quarterback Matthew Stafford, who did the same at Georgia.


"Spring's not stress. Spring's a great time to be a college student," Meyer said. "Fall is hard as a football player. Your day's gone. You're getting into your dorm room after study hall and training table at nine or 10 o'clock at night. In the spring, it's not that time demanding, so they get acclimated to college life in the spring and hit the fall running. It's a tremendous advantage."


That is why eight freshmen and one junior college signee are already enrolled – attending classes and participating in winter workouts at Florida. Georgia has five players on campus – five of them are linemen getting a head start on their careers. Tennessee has five players already involved in the program. At South Carolina, standout freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia is doing the same.


"We took nine this year. Four years ago, I don't think there were any," Meyer said. "I could see that going from nine to 10 to 12 every year. Kids are already talking about that. We're already starting recruiting juniors, and they are already getting their things in order to graduate early."


With so many players leaving early, the more industrious students can make good use of their time and still graduate by the time they pass up their senior seasons to enter the NFL Draft.


"We've taken a new attitude. Every freshman, in my opinion, will play next year," Meyer said. "Obviously that won't happen, but we're taking that approach. It used to be more we'd like to save this guy. I've learned my lesson, and that's over. Everybody's playing. We're going to let you go play, and we'll worry about your fourth year down the road. If it's in the best interest of the young player, we'll hold him and redshirt him, but we're going to play him."


Early enrollment is no longer a trend. It's a movement and teams that don't get on that train will be left behind.


"High school students should start looking toward this," Tennessee signee Todd Campbell told The Tennessean. "I see it continuing to happen."


Campbell is getting up early for workouts – at sunrise, going to class in the day and lifting in the afternoon – preparing to make a possible impact in the fall.


"Three receivers are leaving, and four are coming back with some experience," Campbell said. "It's a situation where you have to be able to step in. I thought about it and realized it had to be done so I would have a better chance of getting on the field earlier. This gives me a chance to learn the offense and get ahead of my class, especially as a receiver. I thought, ‘Hey, I can get ahead of these other guys.'"


But what about their final semester of high school? Senior skip day? Prom? The careful final months before life gets more demanding?


"I've been to prom," Campbell said. "Not that big of a deal."




Richard Scott is a Birmingham based sports writer, author and feature columnist in Tiger Rag.  Reach him at

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