B/R Recruiting: CFB Teams That Could See Recruiting Boost with On-Field Resume

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    One look at the top part of the 247Sports Composite team recruiting rankings, and you probably close your eyes, then close the window. After all, the usual suspects like Alabama, Georgia, Penn State, Ohio State and Notre Dame are (yawn!) at the top again.

    But you may be surprised at some teams that could close strong, regardless of whether they surge to the top or not. Several programs that haven’t traditionally been tearing it up in recruiting could double down on terrific on-field resurgences this year to get in the ears of prospects.

    Of course, this doesn’t take into consideration the rumor mill like Michigan State’s Mel Tucker heading to LSU, or the inevitable swirl that will surround guys like Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell and Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.

    Those are just three of the teams enjoying a terrific 2021 season. Others—like Arkansas, Oregon State, Arizona State and North Carolina State—narrowly missed the list, as did programs that normally find themselves in the top 15 in recruiting rankings, like Michigan and Tennessee.

    When you take into consideration the resources some of those schools can throw at recruiting and some other positive momentum like Group of Five powerhouses making the leap to the Power Five in conference realignment, plenty of coaches have talking points at their disposal.

    Let’s take a look at some teams ready to surge up the rankings if they keep producing in the win column.

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    It’s not a major deal when Auburn recruits well. The Tigers always have done a pretty good job of selling recruits on “family” on the Plains.

    But they had to get some late boosts last year after making the change from Gus Malzahn to Bryan Harsin to crawl up to 19th nationally, albeit good for just seventh in the SEC. It’s been a much slower start on the trail this year, though as the Tigers currently have the No. 35 class nationally.

    That’s not going to cut it in the SEC West, and while Harsin has done a good job on the field, his message hasn’t resonated yet with Southern recruits after making the cross-country journey from Boise State.

    Thankfully for the Tigers, Harsin’s resume is being padded on the field. Auburn is currently ranked 18th nationally, has a 5-2 record and has looked solid on both sides of the ball, especially in the run game.

    Though things get dicey with a grueling close to the year—beginning with a battle against Ole Miss this week—Harsin has a lot to sell.

    Auburn is a great school with a beautiful campus and a rich history. With some high-profile recruits left on the board like receiver Darrius Clemons and defensive lineman Khurtiss Perry, Harsin has some big fish on the line. If he can keep showing his system works in the SEC, prospects will listen.

    Don’t expect Auburn to finish as low as it currently is in the rankings.

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    After an atrocious short season a year ago in his debut, Dave Aranda has been one of the coolest stories in college football this year, albeit quietly.

    Though his predecessor, Matt Rhule, did an outstanding job rebuilding the program torn apart by the controversy during the Art Briles era, Aranda looked every bit the first-time coach a season ago. The Bears went right back to bottom-dweller in the Big 12.

    Not anymore.

    This season, they’ve surged to a No. 16 ranking and a 6-1 record with the only setback being a close loss to fellow resurgent conference foe Oklahoma State. Now, it’s just a matter of Aranda mining some of that deep pool of talent in the Lone Star State.

    The Bears are No. 33 nationally in the current recruiting rankings, and all but one of their 19 commitments are 3-star prospects. As you’d expect from a former renowned defensive coordinator, Aranda has done a stellar job of recruiting defenders, but he needs more playmakers on the other side of the ball.

    The only 4-star prospect 247Sports has with any interest in the Bears currently is Florida edge rusher Dante Anderson. It’s possible with a few more wins under their belt, Aranda can start to address some offensive needs.

    Baylor needed a defensive jolt in this class, and it’s getting one. But some bigger names may listen if the wins keep piling up.

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    Julio Cortez/Associated Press

    The Cincinnati Bearcats aren’t just a nice little story, anymore.

    Coach Luke Fickell’s team is the nation’s second-ranked team, and they should be on a collision course with the College Football Playoff if they continue to do what they’re doing. If they make it, the Bearcats will be the first Group of Five participant in college football’s Final Four.

    After accepting an invitation to join the Big 12, perhaps as soon as 2024, all the high school prospects electing to head to the Queen City this year will find themselves in a Power Five conference before exiting college.

    Those are some massive selling points.

    Oddly enough, the first three teams on this list are huddled right in there together in the recruiting rankings. It’s difficult to believe all the positivity hasn’t resonated with recruits yet, but Fickell’s team is ranked No. 34 nationally, right there with Auburn and Baylor.

    Like the Bears, all but one of their 19 commitments are 3-star players. Unlike the Bears, that ranking is good enough for first in their conference.

    Fickell covets 3-star safety Delian Bradley, as well as some potential program-changing prospects like 4-star defensive end Caden Curry, 4-star defensive end Christen Miller and 4-star athlete Barion Brown. Getting any of those guys would be an unexpected coup considering they’re expected to be leaning elsewhere.

    All Cincy can do is keep winning. There’s no way with everything going on that it won’t translate into big-name commitments. It’s just a matter of which one drops first.

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    A season ago, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz recaptured some of that magic from the early 2000s when he was a known commodity in recruiting circles. His Hawkeyes finished with the nation’s No. 24-ranked class, which included seven 4-star prospects.

    All that talent and the upperclassman experience at the skill positions led to what has been a much-better-than-expected 2021 season on the gridiron. The Hawkeyes rose all the way to No. 2 in the rankings before getting dominated by Purdue last week.

    That was a disappointing fall from grace, but they’re still 6-1 and ninth nationally, boasting an elite defense and a strong running game.

    Recruits aren’t impressed, at least so far, in this cycle. Iowa is all the way back at No. 52 in the recruiting rankings, with just 11 commitments (one 4-star). That’s only 11th in a competitive Big Ten.

    This isn’t the kind of rebound class Ferentz wanted in Iowa City, but the cycle is far from over. Guys like 4-star safety Xavier Nwankpa and offensive lineman Carson Hinzman could provide a huge boost to that ranking.

    With the Hawkeyes maybe taking around 15 or so commitments after last year’s big class, the final ranking isn’t going to be great. But the quality of player definitely could trend upward as Ferentz looks to fill those final spots.

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    Butch Dill/Associated Press

    Kentucky is a basketball school, right? Right?

    Don’t tell that to coach Mark Stoops, who has the surprising Wildcats at 6-1 and ranked 12th nationally, with the only setback coming in Athens against top-ranked Georgia. If you haven’t seen the Bulldogs play this year, losing to them is pretty much expected.

    After Stoops went out and got offensive coordinator Liam Coen and Penn State quarterback transfer Will Levis, the Wildcats have experienced the offensive balance necessary to succeed in the SEC. When you couple that with a dynamic running game and a strong defense, it’s been a good year in Lexington.

    UK has interesting matchups against Mississippi State and Tennessee the next two weeks, but those are two games the ‘Cats expect to win. The rest of the schedule is more than navigable for a memorable campaign.

    The strong season is paying off with prospects, too. After finishing last year 34th in recruiting, UK is all the way up to 19th this year, with the centerpiece being 5-star offensive lineman Kiyaunta Goodwin. Recent pledges of Tyreese Fearbry, DeCarlos Nicholson and Brandon White have boosted the ranking.

    Plenty of key targets remain for Stoops like 4-star athlete Barion Brown, offensive tackle Aamil Wagner, receiver Dane Key and 3-star edge Joshua Josephs. Getting at least a couple of those guys will ensure the Wildcats continue this surge.

    A class like what the ’22 haul is shaping up to be would make this much more than just a one-year wonder.

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    Adam Hunger/Associated Press

    As mentioned in the intro slide, when you have the kind of success Mel Tucker has experienced in East Lansing during his second season, the rumors are going to fly.

    The hottest one has Tucker being courted by LSU, which would give him the opportunity to return to the recruiting hotbed of the SEC, where he was an assistant at both Alabama and Georgia and a finalist to be the head coach at Tennessee when Phillip Fulmer instead selected Jeremy Pruitt.

    Yes, if the Bayou came calling, it would be intriguing. And, as Tucker showed when bolting Colorado for Sparty, he does more than listen to interesting offers. 

    There’s no question No. 8-ranked Michigan State wants (and needs) to keep Tucker, and the Spartans don’t need this type of distraction before this weekend’s massive matchup with fellow unbeaten and hated rival Michigan.

    Recruits don’t seem fazed yet. The Spartans haven’t been a recruiting juggernaut since 2016 when Mark Dantonio lured a top-20 crop. Tucker is doing the same this year. The Spartans are ranked 18th nationally with five of their 20 prospects being 4-star players.

    Maybe the biggest commit of the bunch is 4-star quarterback Katin Houser, who is the kind of prospect Michigan State hasn’t gotten in recent memory at that position.

    Tucker is swinging for the fences with high-profile defensive linemen like Hero Kanu and Deone Walker, and while those guys may be long shots, MSU winding up with a top-20 class is not. The Spartans just need to pony up and do what it takes to keep Tucker on the sideline.

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    Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

    Oklahoma State has won plenty of football games this year, but its unbeaten streak came to an end last week in Ames against Iowa State. 

    Regardless, the Cowboys have somewhat unexpectedly marched to a 6-1 record and No. 16 ranking. They don’t have near the star power they did when Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace were anchoring the offense.

    Coach Mike Gundy needs to restock the pantry a bit on offense, especially in the passing game, where OSU has had difficulty finding consistent weapons for quarterback Spencer Sanders this year. Defensively, they are among the top programs in the Big 12, though.

    If the Cowboys can pair another strong group of recruits with last year’s No. 30-ranked class, it would go a long way in helping them stay near the top of the Big 12. They’ll have the opportunity to assert themselves as one of the conference’s powers with Oklahoma and Texas leaving.

    Five 4-star players outfit Oklahoma State’s class, including some terrific offensive playmakers. Wide receiver Talyn Shettron, running backs Ollie Gordon and CJ Brown, quarterback Garret Rangel and offensive tackle Tyrone Webber give the Cowboys a nice offensive nucleus to build around in coming years.

    After last year’s class was defense-heavy at the top, this is exactly what Gundy needed. If he can grab a few more impact guys in this class, it will continue an upward trend for Oklahoma State in recruiting.

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    Lane Kiffin has traditionally been one of the best closers in recruiting. It’s just like him to hold off on some big commitments, getting the prospects to go public on or near national signing day.

    So, don’t read too much into the Ole Miss Rebels’ current No. 28 recruiting ranking.

    Perhaps it’s better to notice the Rebels are 6-1 and ranked 10th in the AP Top 25 heading into this weekend’s grudge match against Auburn. Truly, though, Kiffin’s class this year is better than what it normally is at this point of the recruiting cycle.

    Last year, Kiffin rode a whirlwind finish to corral a No. 17 recruiting ranking that was defense-heavy. It definitely needed to be, too, considering how atrocious the Rebels were on that side of the ball. 

    Despite this year’s strong ranking, they could still use more help on that side of the ball. Kiffin is also trying to prepare for life after quarterback Matt Corral by luring a top-notch quarterback. The hope in Oxford is California signal-caller Justyn Martin will come across the country.

    According to the Daily Breeze‘s Damian Calhoun, Martin will choose between the Rebels, UCLA and Michigan on Thursday after decommitting from Cal. However, it may be a long shot for Kiffin to get a commitment from Martin, who may be leaning toward the Bruins.

    Kiffin always swings for the top recruits, and guys like 4-star running back Jovantae Barnes, receiver Antonio Williams, offensive tackle Riley Quick, cornerback Davison Igbinosun and linebacker Stone Blanton ensure there are still some quality targets out there.

    You can bet Kiffin will get his share.

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    Before this season, Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi was known as a brilliant defensive mind who could get some quality commitments on that side of the ball and develop them into NFL players.

    His pedigree as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator and his time with the Panthers cemented that reputation.

    Then along came quarterback Kenny Pickett, and suddenly, Pitt can light up scoreboards with the best of them, too. After this weekend’s win over Clemson to give the Panthers a resume win, they’re all the way up to 17th in the rankings with a 6-1 record.

    Had it not been for a stunning loss to Western Michigan, who knows how high they’d be?

    Narduzzi has a legit recruiting area in Pennsylvania. Grabbing headline wins like this weekend’s will only help, especially when former 4-stars like receiver Jordan Addison are making plays.

    Pitt needs a boost on the recruiting trail, so maybe the on-field resume will help. Currently, Narduzzi’s team is 61st nationally in recruiting with just 11 commits, including one from a 4-star (offensive tackle Ryan Baer).

    PittsburghNow’s Mike Yukovcan mentioned Saturday’s win over the Tigers was in front of more than 150 recruits, and he has reactions from several, including players in the ’23 and ’24 classes. How will it it impact this year’s class remains to be seen, but Pitt isn’t done recruiting, so it could change things.

    Especially considering they don’t look like they’re done winning yet, either.

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    Looming at the end of the second-ranked Cincinnati Bearcats schedule on Nov. 20 is a date with fellow unbeaten SMU. The two Group of Five powerhouses could be on a collision course for a national TV game.

    While beating the Mustangs could mean a playoff date for Cincy, a win for the other side would be sweet considering SMU is currently still in the AAC after not being invited to the Big 12.

    Coach Sonny Dykes is proving he doesn’t need to be in a Power Five conference to recruit at a high level, though. Last year, the Mustangs landed elite 4-star quarterback Preston Stone, and they are back at it again this year.

    Though they’re currently just 64th nationally in recruiting, it’s more because of the low number of commitments (nine) than the quality of their prospects. The Mustangs have four commitments currently ranked in the top 700, including elite 4-star receiver Jordan Hudson and safety Chace Biddle.

    The duo of Garland, Texas, teammates continued the trend of some Dallas-area players staying home, and it’s something Dykes is trying to sell. With dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate Tanner Mordecai leading the offense and Stone waiting in the wings, there is a lot to sell.

    SMU hopes to lure prospects like 3-star defensive lineman Dylan Frazier and edge rusher Maliek Bogard. Dykes will try to keep convincing Power-Five-level players to change the narrative at SMU, and his undefeated record this season proves the message has merit.

    With Dykes’ name being thrown around for the brand new Texas Tech opening, the Mustangs will attempt to keep the momentum going on the field and try to snag another few quality recruits to surge up the rankings. A win over Cincinnati would work wonders.

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    Few expected UCLA would have to play the “long game” when it paid big money to get Chip Kelly out of the NFL booth and back on the college football field.

    But the rebuild in Westwood from Jim Mora Jr.’s dwindling talent to the type of roster Kelly wanted hasn’t been easy. He hasn’t exactly lit the trail on fire with quality recruiting in his return to the Pac-12, either.

    On the field, the Bruins are 5-3 and nearly came back to upset conference favorite Oregon on Saturday in a game they were actually favored. They are close.

    Kelly has enjoyed some big hits in the transfer portal with running backs Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown, as well as future quarterback Ethan Garbers. But things are looking better on the recruiting trail this year, too. With USC enduring a coaching change, Kelly needs to take advantage.

    The Bruins are 45th nationally but only have 11 commitments with plenty of room to grow. The class already includes strong potential stars like tight ends Jack Pedersen and Carsen Ryan, as well as electric receiver Jadyn Marshall.

    With 6’4″, Inglewood, California, quarterback prospect Justyn Martin expected to come off the board Thursday, Kelly could be getting big news with his offensive leader of the future. In the 247Sports Crystal Ball, 100 percent of the predictions are Martin to the Bruins.

    That’s exactly the kind of jolt this already budding class needs.

    “UCLA is the school I’ve always followed growing up. For some people, it was USC, but I always liked UCLA a lot—that was the team I wanted to play for,” Martin told 247Sports’ Greg Biggins.”I like the direction the program is going in and I think their offense is a really good fit for me as well.”

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    Wake Forest is never going to light up the recruiting rankings. It just isn’t a “big-name” program with recruits, and the academic standards are going to make it a tough place to lure a lot of high-level recruits.

    It’s a bit more like Duke and Vanderbilt on the gridiron when it comes to recruiting than Cal and Stanford.

    But maybe that’s going to change a little. At the very least, coach Dave Clawson’s team could experience a nice uptick in recruiting after a 7-0 start has the Demon Deacons ranked 13th in the nation.

    This is like the days of Tim Duncan and Randolph Childress on the hardwood in Winston-Salem.

    The Deacs currently have the nation’s No. 58-ranked class, which features 11 3-star commitments out of a group of 12. If Wake Forest keeps that recruiting ranking, it would be around where the program is used to finishing but still be slightly higher than it has in recent memory.

    With the way Sam Hartman and Co. are throwing up points, though, other recruits are going to take notice before the end of the cycle, especially those who also excel in the classroom.

    Wake would like to add some players like 3-star offensive tackle Grayson Morgan and cornerback Rodney Johnson, and it’s possible Clawson could get into the conversation for some higher-profile players, especially if the Deacs keep winning.

    It’s not out of the realm of possibility they could pull off a huge upset and win the ACC. If that happens, Clawson’s program could crack the top 50 in recruiting.

    All stats courtesy of CFBStats and Sports Reference. Recruiting rankings via 247Sports’ composite rankings unless otherwise noted.

    Follow Brad Shepard on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.

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