The Southeastern Conference dominated the recruiting landscape even more than usual this year.
As the remaining unsigned football prospects finalized their college plans Wednesday, the SEC had six of the nation’s top eight classes, according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports.
The rankings included No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 LSU, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 7 Auburn and No. 8 Florida. Only Clemson at No. 3 and Ohio State at No. 5 broke things up.
The SEC last had as many as six teams in the top eight in 2014, when it had seven of the top nine classes. The SEC had seven of the top 10 classes this year, with Tennessee moving up during the late signing period to grab 10th place.
“Maybe it’s because of the results LSU had on the field, the new era at Florida and the general positive momentum a lot of these schools had,” said Barton Simmons, the director of scouting for 247Sports.
Alabama and Georgia had been behind Clemson in the 247Sports Composite rankings after December’s early signing period. Georgia moved to the No. 1 spot by signing more players this week, a group headed by four-star running back Daijun Edwards.
This marks the second time in the last three years that Georgia has topped the 247Sports Composite rankings. Georgia also finished No. 1 in the Rivals rankings for a third straight year.
“This class will be judged on how we finish, not where we’re ranked right now,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said.
HOLDING THE LINE
Georgia needed to replenish the depth on its offensive line. Left tackle Andrew Thomas, right tackle Isaiah Wilson and guard Solomon Kindley left school early to enter the NFL draft. Versatile lineman Cade Mays transferred to Tennessee.
The Bulldogs signed offensive tackle Broderick Jones and center Sedrick Van Pran on Wednesday. Although both already had verbally committed to Georgia, they visited other schools after former offensive line coach Sam Pittman was named Arkansas head coach.
“Broderick Jones liked Auburn, but they lost their offensive line coach as well,” said Mike Farrell, Rivals’ director of recruiting. “Van Pran looked around but didn’t see anything better. Georgia’s losing offensive linemen, so those guys know that they’re going to play early.”
Texas A&M made one of the biggest additions when it beat out Alabama for defensive tackle McKinnley Jackson of Lucedale, Mississippi. Jackson, ranked 61st in the 247Sports composite, was one of the few top 100 recruits who remained uncommitted until Wednesday.
Tennessee vaulted into the top 10 by signing wide receivers Dee Beckwith and Malachi Wideman. Both are multi-sport athletes, and Volunteers coach Jeremy Pruitt said they also will have the opportunity to play basketball at Tennessee.
NEW COACHES FACE OBSTACLES
The four SEC schools with new coaches – Mississippi State, Arkansas, Mississippi and Missouri – are currently 10th through 13th and ahead of only Vanderbilt in the league’s recruiting rankings. They faced obvious challenges because of the transition, as Mississippi State’s Mike Leach didn’t even take over until after the December signing period.
There was some cause for optimism.
Simmons cited Pittman’s ability to lure four-star quarterback Malik Hornsby to Arkansas as a positive sign for the Razorbacks. Arkansas already has Florida graduate transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks ready to take over this fall, but Hornsby offers hope in the long term.
Five-star running back Zachary Evans, ranked 16th in the 247Sports composite, remained unsigned late Wednesday after being linked to a few different SEC programs.
Georgia never confirmed whether he signed with the Bulldogs in December. Evans visited both Tennessee and Ole Miss in January.
“It might be that he just shows up (somewhere) in June and starts taking summer classes,” Farrell said.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp’s son Jackson, a quarterback, won’t be playing for his dad. He instead will be a preferred walk-on at Georgia, his father’s alma mater.
Jackson Muschamp had originally committed to Colorado State before choosing to join his dad’s college teammate and good friend, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart. It was never the family’s intention for Jackson to join Will with the Gamecocks.
“Coach Smart’s known Jackson since he was born,” Will Muschamp said. “Obviously there’s a relationship there.”
Jackson Muschamp played at Hammond School in Columbia, South Carolina, with five-star defensive tackle Jordan Burch, ranked eighth overall in the 247Sports composite and a verbal commit to South Carolina.
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AP Sports Writers Pete Iacobelli, Charles Odum and John Zenor contributed to this report.