Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - In the FBS, it's never too early to start looking toward next season.
Recruiting is a year-round job, especially for elite programs attempting to stay at or near the top of the ranks, and with players leaving school early for the NFL at a higher rate than ever before, it's never been more important to keep replenishing the talent pool with top-level high school recruits.
While a few blue-chip prospects still remain undecided heading into National Letter of Intent Day on Wednesday, most of the recruits have already made a verbal commitment, leaving a pretty clear view of which schools have fared the best when it comes to its 2014 recruiting class.
Alabama lost out on a chance of winning its third consecutive BCS national championship when its perfect season was ended by Auburn in the Iron Bowl, a performance which was followed up by a lackluster showing in a loss to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, but the Crimson Tide have wasted no time in attempting to correct their late-season woes and get back to being the cream of the crop.
Of the Tide's initial 25 commitments, they have locked down five five-star recruits, according to Rivals.com (only four other programs were able to nab more than one).
Headlining the class is arguably the nation's top defensive recruit in defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, and the 6-foot-4, 262-pound freak from Woodbridge, Va., will likely be an integral piece in Nick Saban's elite defense from Day 1.
The Crimson Tide also are ready to sign the consensus top offensive line prospect, Cameron Robinson (6-5, 330), who will be expected to fill in for the departed Cyrus Kouandijo at tackle. Five-star cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (6-0, 179) and Tony Brown (6-0, 196) are on their way to Tuscaloosa, as is hyped offensive weapon Bo Scarbrough, who has a combination of size (6-2, 215) and athleticism (4.4-second 40-yard dash) that simply can't be taught.
The race for the nation's second-best recruiting class likely won't be determined until all the undecided signees make their decisions on Wednesday, but it appears Texas A&M has the edge.
Of the Aggies' first 22 commitments, three are of the five-star variety, including Myles Garrett (6-5, 247), a home-grown Texas kid who's considered to be neck-and-neck with Hand as the nation's best defensive end prospect.
The squad also is adding another weapon to its potent offense in Speedy Noil, the nation's top receiving prospect, who, as his namesake would suggest, has explosive playmaking ability with the ball in his hands.
The Aggies also are bringing in quarterback Kyle Allen, who eventually may fill the big shoes of Johnny Manziel.
While the Tide and the Aggies cleaned up this recruiting season, they were far from the only two SEC teams to lock down top-notch classes. With the competition in the nation's best conference stiff from top to bottom, the need to one-up each other is higher than ever, which has led to the conference currently owning the majority of the top-ranked classes.
LSU is right in the conversation with Alabama and Texas A&M thanks mostly to its prized get, running back Leonard Fournette. The 6-1, 226-pound tailback in considered to be the nation's top recruit by many scouting services. The New Orleans native opted to stay close to home and is expected to thrive in Les Miles' running back-friendly offense.
The Tigers' class may be headlined by Fournette, but they will fill plenty of other holes with safeties Jamal Adams (6-0, 204) and Edward Paris Jr. (6-0, 201), wide receiver Trey Quinn (6-1, 200), linebacker Clifton Garrett (6-2, 224) and quarterback Brandon Harris (6-2, 186).
Tennessee has fallen from the upper echelon of the SEC in recent seasons, having missed out on a bowl appearance in three straight years, but a turnaround appears to be in place under second-year head coach Butch Jones, and an elite recruiting class will certainly help matters.
The Volunteers have 33 commitments, more than any other team prior to signing day. The emphasis this year comes on the offensive side of the ball with the addition of receiver Josh Malone (6-3, 195) and running back Jalen Hurd (6-3, 230).
Auburn is following up its improbable run to the national championship game with a strong class, headlined by running back Racean Thomas (5-11, 202), quarterback Sean White (6-1, 199), and cornerbacks Stephen Roberts (6-0, 180) and Kalvaraz Bessent (6-0, 175).
While the SEC has dominated the recruiting headlines, everyone's still looking up at reigning national champion Florida State heading into next season, and the Seminoles are making a splash of their own by committing to running back Dalvin Cook (5-11, 196) and receiver Travis Rudolph (6-1, 188) on the offensive side of the ball, while also replenishing the defense with linebacker Kain Daub (6-4, 243) and defensive end Lorenzo Featherston (6-7, 220).
Ohio State has reeled in just one five-star recruit, linebacker Raekwon McMillan (6-2, 249), and while that number my pale in comparison to some of its SEC counterparts, the Buckeyes have made up for it with the addition of a national-best 15 four-star signees, with receivers Johnnie Dixon (5-11, 197) and Marshon Lattimore (6-0, 178), cornerback Damon Webb (5-10, 179) and offensive tackle Jamarco Jones (6-4, 300) just to name a few.
Michigan's class as whole is a modest one at best, currently ranking just 28th on Rivals.com, but it has landed one of the most high-profile players in the country in Jabrill Pepper (6-1, 205), the unquestioned top cornerback prospect.
While the majority of players already know where they are heading, there still remains some intrigue for national signing day with several top recruits undecided.
The top talent still making his suitors sweat is cornerback Adoree' Jackson, who will either choose Florida, LSU, UCLA or USC. Rashaan Evans, an Alabama- born-and-breed linebacker, will choose between bitter rivals Auburn and Alabama.
Other top players still unannounced include wide receiver Malachi Dupre (deciding between LSU, UCLA, Alabama, Florida State and Ole Miss), defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Georgia, Florida State, LSU and Florida), athlete John Smith (USC and Notre Dame) and offensive tackle Damian Prince (Florida, South Carolina and Maryland).