1. #1
    Hman
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    Surprise college football teams off to fast starts in 2021 recruiting 🏈

    Surprise college football teams off to fast starts in 2021 recruiting

    ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)


    The 2021 recruiting cycle has been unique to say the least. Coaches have had to deal with adjustments to the recruiting calendar, with a prolonged dead period because of the coronavirus pandemic.


    Those limitations haven't stopped teams from pushing through on the recruiting trail, though, and we have seen a few teams rise up in the rankings. There are some programs that have crept up in the rankings that aren't the typical teams we see near the top.


    Here's a look at the surprise teams for each conference.


    SEC

    Tennessee Volunteers

    Class rank: 2
    This list has to start with the Vols because of how well the staff has recruited so far in this cycle. Jeremy Pruitt and his staff have 23 total commitments, eight ESPN 300 commitments and the No. 2-ranked class overall.



    That's the highest-ranked class in the SEC, four spots ahead of Florida and five spots ahead of LSU. Within those rankings, the Vols have five-star linebacker Terrence Lewis on board and defensive end Dylan Brooks, who is the No. 17 recruit overall.


    The sheer numbers are part of what makes Tennessee's class so impressive. No other team in the top-25 class rankings has more than 19 total commitments. Ohio State is the lone school with 19, and the Buckeyes have the No. 1-ranked class.


    Among June recruiting rankings going back to the 2016 recruiting class, this is the highest Tennessee has been ranked. The Vols were outside the top 25 in June for the 2020 cycle, outside the top 15 in 2019, No. 8 in both 2018 and 2017, and No. 20 in 2016.


    Getting all the way up to No. 2 overall is pretty impressive, but the focus for Tennessee now is going to be holding on to those players and adding a few more big pieces to maintain that ranking. Because Tennessee has so many recruits committed already, moving up or maintaining this ranking might be difficult as more programs add to their classes.


    Tennessee had the No. 8 class in June for the 2018 cycle but ended up finishing No. 23 overall in February. The Vols had the No. 8 class in June for 2017 and finished 15th. The staff was able to climb in the rankings from June to February for the 2019 and 2020 cycles, so Vols fans are hoping Pruitt can continue that trend in 2021.


    ACC


    North Carolina Tar Heels

    Class rank: 4
    Coach Mack Brown has steadily improved North Carolina's recruiting ranking in each recruiting cycle for which he has been head coach this time around. Brown's first class in 2019 finished No. 35 overall, and the Heels moved up to 16 in 2020. Now, in the 2021 cycle, Brown and his staff have North Carolina ranked No. 4 behind Ohio State, Tennessee and Clemson.


    In this 2021 class, North Carolina landed its second five-star defensive end in as many years with Keeshawn Silver. The staff was also able to flip a big-time recruit from Alabama in ESPN 300 quarterback Drake Maye.



    Brown has said he wants to build a fence around the state of North Carolina and keep the top prospects at home. He has been able to land 11 of the 16 ESPN 300 prospects from North Carolina who have made commitments, with four other in-state recruits yet to announce decisions. That includes the No. 1 in-state recruit, Silver, which gives North Carolina the top in-state prospect two classes in a row, as the Heels landed five-star defensive end Desmond Evans in 2019.


    Seeing this class at No. 4 overall, just one spot behind Clemson, shows the recruiting power Brown and his staff have and gives a glimpse of what they can build if they continue to show improvement on the field.


    Prior to Brown's first recruiting class at North Carolina in 2019, the Tar Heels had finished in the top 25 of the class rankings only four times from 2009 to 2018. They finished No. 24 in 2015, No. 21 in 2013, No. 16 in 2011 and No. 13 in 2009.


    Brown has already finished in the top 25 once in his first two tries and by all accounts seems headed to North Carolina's highest-ranked class since ESPN started its class rankings in 2009. If Brown can finish with a top-five class, it would be a big statement within the conference.


    Big Ten


    Minnesota Golden Gophers

    Class rank: 9
    P.J. Fleck had a proven record at Western Michigan of improving the team's record and recruiting profile year over year, and he's showing the same trajectory at Minnesota.


    Minnesota's class ranking has stayed pretty steady in the 30s since Fleck's first class in 2018, but now it's starting to move up as prospects have seen the product on the field improve drastically. Even getting the program into the 30 range was a jump, as Minnesota didn't have a class ranked higher than No. 55 from 2013 to 2017, before Fleck was hired.



    This class has two ESPN 300 commitments in cornerback Avante Dickerson and quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis. Dickerson, from Omaha, Nebraska, had offers from some of the top programs in the country, including Georgia, Oregon, USC and Tennessee, but he chose the Gophers.


    Fleck has been able to land six ESPN 300 commitments combined in his four recruiting classes from 2018 to 2021. That might not sound like a lot, but consider that Minnesota had only four ESPN 300 commitments in the nine recruiting classes from 2009 to 2017 and you can see the improvement.


    Taking all of those past numbers into account, the fact that Fleck has been able to put together the No. 9 class so far is beyond impressive. This is uncharted territory for Minnesota in the rankings era, going back to 2009. Fleck's record at Western Michigan was impressive, but what he's building at Minnesota could top what he did in Kalamazoo.


    Honorable mention: Maryland deserves some mention, but given that we're keeping it to one team per conference, Minnesota got the nod. Maryland isn't far behind Minnesota in the rankings, sitting at No. 11 overall with four ESPN 300 commitments in the class.


    Head coach Mike Locksley is showing why he is known as a good recruiter, but the Terps need to show prospects that the product on the field is improving if they want this success to be sustainable.


    Pac-12


    USC Trojans

    Class rank: 5
    It's strange to see USC in this category, considering how well the Trojans have recruited in the past. But things got away from USC quickly in the past two classes, and that has landed it on this list.


    USC signed one ESPN 300 recruit from the state of California in the 2020 class, which is unheard of. Granted, it was a smaller class overall, but to land only one top-300 in-state recruit shows that something is wrong.


    Oregon has come in and been able to steal quite a few of the top recruits, landing three in 2020 and six in both 2019 and 2018. That included the No. 2 in-state prospect in 2020, linebacker Justin Flowe, and the No. 1 overall prospect in 2019, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.


    To illustrate how quickly things started to fall for USC, the Trojans landed nine ESPN 300 recruits in the 2018 cycle, including the top three recruits in the state. USC finished with the No. 54 class in 2020 and No. 19 in 2019 after finishing No. 7 in 2018 and No. 5 in 2017.


    To fall from the fifth-best class in the country to the No. 5-ranked class in three seasons is difficult to do. But the Trojans have found their way again, if the current ranking is any indication of what will happen in the future.


    Coach Clay Helton brought on new coaches, including defensive backs coach Donte Williams, who helped start the "Take Back the West" movement for the Trojans. Currently back in the top five, the Trojans needed a boost of energy and revitalization on the recruiting trail.


    New athletic director Mike Bohn has helped inject resources into the recruiting efforts, including increasing the size of the recruiting staff, which was essential. Helton has taken on a new mentality toward recruiting and has even bulked up the graphic design staff, hiring Will Stout, who was one of the main cogs in creating LSU's widely popular hype videos last season.


    The Trojans were off track for a few recruiting classes, but this 2021 cycle has helped get the program back on track, as long as it can finish strong all the way to February.


    Big 12


    Baylor Bears

    Class rank: 21
    This isn't a surprise as much as it is to say that Baylor is recruiting well under new coach Dave Aranda and showing promise for what's ahead.


    As it stands now, Baylor is No. 21 in the class rankings, one spot ahead of Oklahoma and six spots behind Texas. It should be noted that part of why Baylor is ahead of Oklahoma is that the Bears have 15 total commitments and the Sooners have nine.



    But we're looking at the ranking at this point in the cycle, so it's a good sign for Baylor to be where it is. In fact, if Aranda and his staff can finish the class in the top 25, it will mark only the fourth time that Baylor has finished that high in the rankings since the 2009 class.


    That's four times in 13 recruiting cycles, and Aranda could do it in his first recruiting class as Baylor's head coach. That would be pretty impressive and a good sign for the future.


    Of course, the product on the field is going to dictate what the staff can sustain in recruiting, but it doesn't hurt to get things started on the right foot.
    It's very likely that Oklahoma and Texas will finish ahead of Baylor in this class, given the players each team still has on its board. If Aranda can finish with the third-best class in the conference, however, it still seems like a win. There is a lot of time left in this class, but Aranda has already shown that he should have success recruiting at Baylor in the long term.

  2. #2
    Mr KLC
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  3. #3
    BigdaddyQH
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    Will they even play this season. If not, a lot of players who would have gone pro after the season may not. That will be fun in 21.

  4. #4
    DISTROYA
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    said it in other threads, I simply cannot imagine 100 people in a locker room or on the field on top of each other going at it in practice and games without spreading it. There's gonna be huge clusters very quick, If they even make it to training camp. Then what you quarantine the whole team and who they played, do you have a back-up 100 players+staff each time an outbreak happens?
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