National Signing Day is a college football holiday, and after many recruits officially signed their National Letters of Intent yesterday, fanbases across the country are celebrating the prospective futures of their respective programs.
While few supporters ever believe that their classes are below par, some teams surged ahead of where they were at this time last February, while others have seen significant drops in recruiting level, according to the major recruiting databases.
Using average team rankings from Scout and Rivals, we’ve compiled a list of the teams who most improved on their 2013 recruiting, as well as those whose recruiting has tailed off the most:
Here are the top 15 programs who improved the most in 2014.
T- 15. Wisconsin
2013 Average = 47
2014 Average = 31
Difference = +16
Coaching changes are a common theme on these lists. After losing Bret Bielema to Arkansas following the 2012 season, Wisconsin brought in Utah State head coach Gary Andersen. Andersen took the job on December 19, 2012, giving him little time to work on last year’s class. Despite the transition, Andersen’s Badgers looked a lot like those of Bielema and Barry Alvarez, and Wisconsin finished second in the Big 10 Leaders division at 9-3, earning them a trip to the Capital One Bowl, where they lost to South Carolina.
Wisconsin is the model of consistency, winning at least seven games every season since 2002, and after a successful first season for Andersen, the rebound in recruiting was to be expected.T-15. Texas Tech
2013 Average = 55
2014 Average = 39
Difference = +16
Texas Tech has long been thought of as a school that plays an extremely fun brand of football, and Kliff Kingsbury brought that image back in his first year as head coach. Texas Tech wasn’t the best team in the Big 12 by any stretch, but the Red Raiders put up points at a level that’s reminiscent of the Mike Leach years. He also seems to have an energetic personality that players love in coaches.
Kingsbury got a lot of press this year for his youth and his “cool coach” persona, and that undoubtedly helped spur Texas Tech’s ascension in the rankings this year. A blowout of No. 14 Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl doesn’t hurt either.13.
2013 Average = 88.5
2014 Average = 71
Difference = +17.5
How Temple secured Rivals’ 60th ranked class after going 2-10 under first year head coach Matt Rhule is a bit of a mystery, but credit Rhule and his staff for doing a great job of locking up local talent. Philadelphia native offensive lineman Aaron Ruff (four stars on Rivals) headlines a class that pulled in nine players from Pennsylvania and five from New Jersey. Locking up local talent is immensely important for a regional school like Temple, and Rhule did just that in his first full recruiting cycle.12. Penn State
2013 Average = 44.5
2014 Average = 24.5
Difference = +20
Between the lifting of some scholarship limitations by the NCAA and the surge of talent that came along with the hiring of James Franklin this winter, it should come as no surprise that Penn State saw great gains in recruiting in 2014. Former coach Bill O’Brien did a very good job of keeping the Nittany Lions afloat during very trying times, and his classes were incredibly impressive given the circumstances, but Franklin really helped Penn State kick it up to a new level this year. Sorry, Vanderbilt fans.11. Army
2013 Average = 114.5
2014 Average = 94
Difference = +20.5
Army is an incredibly difficult job, but it seems like the hiring of new coach Jeff Monken has paid dividends so far. Monken, the former head coach of Georgia Southern, comes from the Paul Johnson coaching tree, and like arch-rival Navy, that complex triple option offense is Army’s best chance to compete at the D1 level.
Monken was able to grab a few recruits with big time offers. Offensive lineman Isaiah Holland claimed offers from Pac-12 schools Arizona State, Colorado, Oregon State, and Washington State, while defensive end Jarvis Polu had them from Colorado, Washington State, and Wisconsin.
2013 Average = 73.5
2014 Average = 52.5
Difference = +21
Scott Shafer had difficulty holding down some commits after former Orange head coach Doug Marrone left for the Buffalo Bills following the 2012-13 season, especially those from his New York City, where Marrone’s staff did very well.
Shafer exceeded expectations in his first year, going 7-6 with a bowl win, and a very solid 4-4 record in the ACC, and that has paid dividends in this recruiting cycle. Syracuse has gone away from New York State a bit, as the Philadelphia, Chicago, and Miami areas were very beneficial to the Orange. ESPN has both of SU’s quarterback commits, AJ Long and Alin Edouard, rated four stars, while wide receivers KJ Williams, Steven Ishmael, and Adly Enoicy are all well-regarded prospects as well.
9. North Carolina State
2013 Average = 50
2014 Average = 28
Difference = +22
Dave Doeren’s first year in Raleigh was quite difficult, as the Wolfpack went 3-9 while adapting to his unique system. His first full recruiting class has to have NC State fans excited, especially with talents like quarterback Jalan McClendon, defensive end Kentavious Street, and cornerback Troy Vincent aboard.
Doeren’s offense is quite different from that of his predecessor Tom O’Brien, so a few years of transition to get the appropriate players in place is to be expected. This class is definitely a step in the right direction for NC State.
T-8. Michigan State
2013 Average = 42.5
2014 Average = 20
Difference = +22.5
Apparently recruits are interested in playing for a program that had the nation’s best defense and locker room celebrations. Who knew? Michigan State’s leap here has nothing to do with a regime change, and everything to do with the incredible season that Sparty just put together. Michigan State has been a consistent winner under Mark Dantonio but this year’s 13-1 record, Rose Bowl victory, and undefeated run in the Big 10 took things to a new level. It probably doesn’t hurt that Dantonio seemed to open up a bit this year. Never underestimate Rich Homie Quan’s recruiting chops.
2013 Average = 27
2014 Average = 4.5
Difference = +22.5
Whether or not it’s fair, big classes generally have an edge on small classes in these rankings, and no one pulled in the number of players that the Volunteers did. With 32 kids sending in their letters of intent, Tennessee has loaded up on freshmen, and should have very solid depth down the road. Despite the 5-7 2012 record, Tennessee graduated a high number of seniors, and early playing time is always a big selling point. This new batch of Vols has the rare chance to make an early impact, which isn’t always a given in the SEC.
2013 Average = 117.5
2014 Average = 89
Difference = +28.5
Sometimes there’s no place to go but up. FIU had one of the worst ranked classes in college football in 2013, so it was probably inevitable that things would get better, especially for a school in talent-rich Florida, and FIU made substantive improvement in 2014. With the jump, FIU finishes fifth in Conference USA in average team ranking out of 14 teams. Having a large class of 29 players, with 27 coming from the Panthers’ home state helps as well.
T-6. San Jose State
2013 Average = 118
2014 Average = 89.5
Difference = +28.5
San Jose State is a West Coast mirror image of FIU. The Spartans rebounded from a poor 2013 to put together a mostly-respectable 2014 class, although Scout and Rivals have differing opinions on the new batch of Spartans. Like FIU, San Jose State did a good job of locking up local talent—19 of the 20 Spartan commits come from California. Head coach Ron Caragher did a decent job with San Jose State in his first year, going 6-6 after the program moved to the Mountain West Conference, which was a solid step up in difficulty from the WAC.
4. Georgia Tech
2013 Average = 78.5
2014 Average = 47.5
Difference = +31
Georgia Tech’s class in 2013 included some well-regarded players like Shamire DeVine and Travis Custis, but ultimately the 14-person class was too small to do much damage in the team rankings. Tech’s 2014 class is 21 players deep, and replete with solid three-star prospects, as well as big time commits like Myles Autry and Step Durham. Even with the rise, Georgia Tech’s class is ranked tenth among the 14 ACC schools including Louisville, though Paul Johnson’s spread option system is very unique, and players who fit are probably significantly more important for its success than just getting the best ranked players at every spot.
3. Boston College
2013 Average = 89
2014 Average = 50
Difference = +39
Head coach Steve Addazio is the man who made Temple football somewhat competitive, so when he left the Owls for the Eagles of Boston College, he looked like a very strong candidate to bring BC back to respectability. So far, so good. BC was one of the ACC’s surprise teams, going 7-6 on the back of Heisman finalist Andre Williams, and recruits seemed to take notice.
Addazio has done a good job of keeping the better players in New England home, and has used strong ties to New Jersey to bring in a number of solid players from that talent-rich northeastern state. The 2014 class is also very large, with 28 players signing with BC, which has helped matters. Time will tell if there is another Andre Williams-type talent in the bunch, but it is a good start for Addazio.
2. Western Michigan
2013 Average = 101
2014 Average = 57
Difference = +44
The PJ Fleck hire has not paid off on the field thus far for Western Michigan—the Broncos finished 1-11 in his first season, with losses to FCS Nicholls State as well as in-state rivals Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan. The excitable young coach has done amazingly well so far on the recruiting trail despite the on-field struggles, however, and brings in the top ranked MAC class based on this Scout/Rivals average. In fact, it’s not even close. WMU’s average rank of 57 is over 30 slots higher than the second MAC school, Toledo who comes in at 87.5.
WMU has landed recruits who claim offers from schools like Arkansas, Syracuse, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Florida, Iowa, Oklahoma, Missouri, Ohio State, and West Virginia, among others. While it’s hard to tell the validity of some players’ full offer lists, this is still an impressive showing by Fleck. Wins were hard to come by at WMU in 2013, but on the recruiting trail, Fleck has some impressive kids “rowing the boat.”
2013 Average = 60
2014 Average = 14.5
Difference = +45.5
The job that the combination of Jim Harbaugh and now David Shaw has done building the Stanford program is nothing short of amazing. The Cardinal have become the premiere destination for elite football players with top academics, and its easy to see why. As one of the nation’s premiere schools, and a football program that has gone to four straight BCS bowl games, there is no school with a better combination of football prowess and academic reputation. With two five-star players and another handful of four-stars committing to the Cardinal yesterday, there is little doubt that they will remain a PAC-12 power. The thought of Stanford continuing to improve its talent level has to be terrifying for rival fans and coaches.