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Lynne Sladky/Associated Press
The transfer portal is a living, breathing organism that could completely change the landscape of college football depending on who goes in and where the guys who are already there wind up.
But after Wednesday’s national signing day, most of the pieces are in place, and we can make an educated guess about how things are going to shake out in the rankings, at least to start the season.
With national champion Alabama gutted by the loss of a lot of star players who are off to the NFL and the other three College Football Playoff participants also losing key pieces, 2021 could wind up with more parity at the top than any other season in recent memory.
At this point, though, it’s difficult to bet against any of the teams that typically find themselves near the top of the rankings.
It’s tough to pick a preseason top 25, but where is the fun in not trying? Though the usual suspects are still going to be there, others could emerge and surge.
Please note these rankings are just a personal opinion. The B/R college football staff already released a super-early preseason top 25 after Alabama beat Ohio State for the national title.
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Josh Morgan/Associated Press
1. Alabama Crimson Tide
2. Oklahoma Sooners
3. Clemson Tigers
4. Georgia Bulldogs
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
6. Iowa State Cyclones
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
8. Cincinnati Bearcats
9. Texas A&M Aggies
10. Oregon Ducks
11. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
12. Iowa Hawkeyes
13. USC Trojans
14. Texas Longhorns
15. Miami Hurricanes
16. Indiana Hoosiers
17. Florida Gators
18. Coastal Carolina Chanticleers
19. Wisconsin Badgers
20. Arizona State Sun Devils
21. LSU Tigers
22. Northwestern Wildcats
23. Penn State Nittany Lions
24. Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns
25. Oklahoma State Cowboys
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Wilfredo Lee/Associated Press
The Alabama Crimson Tide have compiled what is universally regarded as the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class by all three major services. As a matter of fact, it’s the best ever, according to 247Sports’ Hank South.
It kinda sounds like the 2020 football season, doesn’t it?
Both teams put the finishing touches on outstanding hauls Wednesday as the Tide landed 4-star prospect Terrion Arnold over Florida and Georgia.
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day will try to close an insurmountable gap with Alabama a tiny bit, hoping the nation’s third-ranked overall player, Washington defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, will sign with the Buckeyes and join the Apple State’s Emeka Egbuka in scarlet and gray.
Tuimoloau didn’t sign Wednesday, and it may be some time before he does, according to 247Sports’ Matt Howe. The Buckeyes hold the Crystal Ball lead for him, but Alabama is in the mix, too.
Alabama wound up with an astounding seven 5-star prospects in its massive, loaded class of 27 players. The Buckeyes have five of their own so far in a slightly smaller class of 21. Each has playmakers on all levels of the offense and defense.
Both Alabama and Ohio State have tons of quality among the quantity, and if you’re sick of hearing about Nick Saban‘s and Day’s programs, you’d better find a rock somewhere and hide under it.
They’re not going anywhere for a long time.
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Ron Jenkins/Associated Press
As long as Nick Saban is at Alabama, the Crimson Tide are going to be at or near the top of the recruiting rankings. Saban disciple Kirby Smart didn’t fall far from that tree, either, as the Bulldogs had signed the nation’s top group of talent two of the past three years.
Georgia, again, is ranked third nationally in this year’s cycle.
But the SEC’s dominance of the recruiting rankings is nowhere near what it was a year ago when a remarkable seven of the top 10 teams in the 247Sports composite recruiting rankings hailed from the battlegrounds of the Southeast.
In the 2019 cycle, that number wasn’t quite as high, but the SEC accounted for half the teams in the top 10 and seven of the top 13.
This year, there were only four SEC teams in the top 10, which saw Notre Dame sneak into the group after a deep, steady class of 27 signees that includes 12 4-star prospects. USC’s loaded class, which will turn heads nationally, occupied a place in the top 10, as well (more on the Trojans later).
It’s no surprise LSU head coach Ed Orgeron rekindled his annual recruiting magic even after a disappointing encore to the Bayou Bengals’ 2019 national championship. They compiled one of the deepest, most talented classes in the country.
Also, Jimbo Fisher kept his momentum going after his Texas A&M Aggies finished fourth in the nation by signing yet another top-10 class. The Aggies capped another terrific class by signing 4-star running back LJ Johnson over rival Texas on Wednesday, and 3-star offensive lineman Jordan Moko could follow Thursday morning.
If you’ve got SEC fatigue, though, this was a strong year for the other conferences trying to close that gap.
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Ashley Landis/Associated Press
Oregon didn’t have the season it wanted to kick off the post-Justin Herbert era in 2020, but the Ducks still regrouped, rallied and beat USC for the Pac-12 title.
The way head coach Mario Cristobal is stockpiling talent in Eugene, the Ducks are going to be right in the mix for conference championships—if not national titles—for the next few years.
They highlighted another banner class Wednesday when 4-star cornerback Avante Dickerson, who had previously recommitted from Minnesota, pulled a bit of a surprise and committed to the Ducks over home-state Nebraska.
But the team they dispatched in the league championship game may be making a comeback on and off the field, too. With the signing of star linebacker Raesjon Davis over Ohio State and LSU, the USC Trojans remain two spots behind the Ducks in the overall recruiting rankings.
Head coach Clay Helton’s strong early signing period push, which included 4-star quarterbacks Jaxson Dart and Miller Moss, got even better after December. The nation’s top-ranked prospect, Korey Foreman, announced in January he’d signed with USC in the early session.
Smooth, athletic defensive back Ceyair Wright and Davis enhance a class that was already very good.
While Oregon’s group of prospects, which includes elite prospects like offensive tackles Kingsley Suamataia and Bram Walden, receivers Troy Franklin and Dont’e Thornton, quarterback Ty Thompson and running back Byron Cardwell, won’t force the program to take a step back, it’s worth asking if USC is closing the gap.
After a disaster of a ’20 class, this is more like what the Trojans are used to, and there are difference-makers who can help move them closer to contention.
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Michael Conroy/Associated Press
It’s not uncommon to see the Wisconsin Badgers or Iowa Hawkeyes in the top 25. Those two rugged, hard-nosed Big Ten programs play the kind of grind-it-out games for which the conference is known, and Paul Chryst and Kirk Ferentz are good coaches.
Neither of those guys is known for posting banner headlines in February, though.
That’s changed in the 2021 recruiting cycle.
Iowa’s class is currently ranked 23rd nationally, which is the best finish Ferentz has put together since his sixth-ranked group way back in 2005 when he was still known as a young, dynamic personality who could lure top talent to Iowa City.
Wisconsin’s 15th-ranked class is the best the Badgers have put together in the modern recruiting era. No class ranking even approaches that one dating back to 1999, which is as far back as the 247Sports recruiting rankings go.
Yes, both classes are heavy on offensive linemen, as you’d expect. But there are also exciting athletes who could help change the perception of both programs.
When you throw in Mike Locksley’s surprising 19th-ranked class at Maryland, which includes a trio of star defenders who are talented enough to play anywhere in the nation in Demeioun Robinson, Terrence Lewis and Branden Jennings, that’s an impressive surge for the Big Ten.
Add Nebraska, which is going to finish with a top-20 recruiting ranking for the third consecutive year despite another subpar showing in the standings, and things are looking up for the conference. This isn’t just the Ohio State show anymore.
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Chris O’Meara/Associated Press
Several big names flew off the board Wednesday even though few high-profile prospects remained.
Some of the final destinations may have surprised casual college football fans, though.
Destyn Hill, a 4-star wide receiver, wound up committing to longtime favorite Florida State despite offers from Alabama, LSU and several other quality teams. Though Mike Norvell’s Seminoles are down, they prioritized the Louisiana athlete and got the signature.
Hill’s was exactly the type of recruiting battle the ‘Noles needed to win in order to return to relevance.
After a season highlighted by an explosive offense, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin addressed his team’s defensive needs with his first full class in Oxford, and the Rebels put an exclamation mark on a quality group by convincing 4-star defensive tackle Tywone Malone to sign with them Wednesday.
Malone will come to Mississippi from New Jersey and is expected to play baseball and football for the Rebs.
Finally, while Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is struggling on the field, he certainly isn’t on the recruiting trail. The Wolverines leapfrogged Oklahoma into the top 10 with a pair of important flips Wednesday.
The biggest came in the morning when they got 4-star defensive lineman Rayshaun Benny to change his commitment from Michigan State to Michigan. Then 3-star fellow lineman Ikechukwu Iwunnah changed his pledge from Colorado to Michigan.
It was a big day for the Wolverines, Rebels and Seminoles.
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Vasha Hunt/Associated Press
As always, there are far too many storylines to talk about in one slide as we peek ahead to spring football, but it’s exciting to project some items that could be stealing newsprint when teams (hopefully) kick off practice early next month.
There’s probably no bigger storyline than what the defending national champion Crimson Tide are going to look like without Mac Jones, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Najee Harris, Landon Dickerson, Alex Leatherwood, Dylan Moses, Patrick Surtain II and others.
Nick Saban has stars lined up, led by dynamic quarterback Bryce Young, but it’s going to be a different-looking team.
The same goes for playoff participants Ohio State, Clemson and Notre Dame, which all must replace superstar signal-callers in Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence and Ian Book, respectively. The Tigers also have to find another standout ball-carrier following Travis Etienne’s departure. It’s D.J. Uiagalelei’s team now, but how will it look?
Everybody is excited to see the newest version of Texas after the failed tenures of Charlie Strong and, most recently, Tom Herman. It’s now Steve Sarkisian’s turn, and the excitement around Austin is palpable. With Sam Ehlinger gone, a fresh start is necessary, but it should be an exciting one.
Then there are tough situations for former SEC powers Auburn and Tennessee, which have new coaches in Bryan Harsin and Josh Heupel, respectively. The latter program may be dealing with some NCAA issues, and its roster has been gutted by defections.
All that brings us to the Oklahoma Sooners, who signed three of those UT portal departures (running back Eric Gray, offensive lineman Wanya Morris and defensive back Keyshawn Lawrence). With Spencer Rattler at the helm and a much-improved defense, could ’21 be the year OU wins it all?
Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter at @Brad_Shepard.