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Ole Miss steals the show at National Signing Day

By By The Sports Xchange
Published On: Feb 07 2013 10:07:25 AM CST
closeup of football laces

iStock/joecicak

National Signing Day is normally pretty predictable. The top college football programs reap a bountiful harvest of high school talent and the lesser-tier teams fight for the leftovers.

So when Mississippi emerged with the No. 1 recruit in the country, the top-ranked offensive tackle and the highest-rated wide receiver on Wednesday, there was a Rebel yell in Oxford.

Coach Hugh Freeze reeled in a star-studded class to Ole Miss, led by linebacker Robert Nkemdiche, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsell, wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and No. 3-ranked safety Antonio Conner. By most accounts, it not only was the school's best group of recruits in history, it was among the nation's consensus top 10 and as high as the top five in several rankings.

"It's unbelievable," Freeze said. "The guys in this room (current players) have done such a phenomenal job in building relationships with these guys."

It was no surprise, though, that reigning BCS national champion Alabama emerged with the No. 1 class in most rankings. The SEC has dominated recruiting in recent years and 2013 was no exception.

Joining the Crimson Tide and the Rebels in the top 10 were Florida (as high as No. 2), LSU and Texas A&M. Auburn also had a good day, particularly in adding five- and four-star players on defense, as did Georgia.

Outside the SEC, Ohio State and Michigan made the most noise as coaches Urban Meyer and Brady Hoke work to raise the bar in Columbus and Ann Arbor. Scout.com put the Buckeyes' 25 signees at No. 1 and arch-rival Michigan at No. 2. The only other Big Ten school to crack the top 20 was Nebraska.

"Great day. I thought it would be a good day, but now I'll put it in the great category," Meyer said.

Notre Dame, last season's BCS runner-up, also finished in the top five on all the major lists with a 23-player class that included the No. 2-ranked player, linebacker Jaylon Smith. Florida State and Clemson led the ACC with top-15 rankings.

UCLA, possibly benefiting from several late de-commitments to USC and the head coaching change at Oregon, climbed to third on the Scout.com list and finished ahead of the Trojans across the board.

--Ohio State's ascension in recruiting is no surprise considering Meyer's track record of success, particularly at Florida, where he won two national championships.

Meyer was expecting a strong class this year, but he received a bonus Monday when running back-wide receiver Dontre Wilson flipped from Oregon to Ohio State. Then two more surprises came Wednesday when wide receiver James Clark of Florida spurned the Gators for the Buckeyes and safety Vonn Bell of Georgia picked Ohio State over Tennessee and other SEC schools.

"I thought if we hit one out of three, it would be all right," Meyer said. "Two out of three would be a good day. Three out of three was going to knock it out of the park. So we hit three out of three. We're very pleased."

Later Wednesday, the Buckeyes wrapped up their class with a letter of intent from running back Ezekiel Elliott of Missouri.

--Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher made inroads on defense by signing two five-star players who appeared headed to other schools.

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey of Tennessee, ranked No. 3 in the country at his position and No. 10 overall, changed his mind about going to USC and committed to the Seminoles. Matthew Thomas, ranked second among the nation's linebackers and 15th overall, chose Florida State over hometown Miami.

That helped the Seminoles reach the top 10 in the ESPN and 247Sports rankings.

But Florida State did lose out on offensive linemen Austin Golson, who chose Mississippi, and Devon Kirkland, who decided on Arkansas.

--Like father, like son. Notre Dame is hoping that rings true with two of the 23 recruits that signed with the Fighting Irish.

Torii Hunter Jr. is the son of Detroit Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter. The younger Hunter is a wide receiver from Prosper, Texas.

And then there's wide receiver Corey Robinson of San Antonio, the son of basketball Hall of Famer David Robinson.

They'll join current Irish players Austin Collinsworth, the son of former NFL receiver Cris Collinsworth, and Josh and Geroge Atkinson III, sons of former NFL defensive back George Atkinson, next season.

Another son of a famous father signed Wednesday with Miami. Ray Lewis III, whose dad is retiring Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, confirmed his commitment to the University of Miami, where Lewis played.

--Alabama coach Nick Saban kept the Tide rolling with a recruiting haul ranked No. 1 by most websites.

Saban reeled in five-star linebacker Reuben Foster, a former Auburn commitment; four-star defensive lineman Dee Liner, another previous Auburn recruit; four-star running back Alvin Kamara and five-star lineman A'Shawn Robinson.

More than half of Alabama's 25 newcomers were rated four- or five-star talents by Rivals.com.

Here's where the top 10 recruits in the country landed:

Robert Nkemdiche, DE, Loganville, Ga./Mississippi. Nkemdiche, who has a big upside at 6-feet-4, 282 pounds, is a major coup for Ole Miss. He will step in right away to join his brother, a defensive back who led the Rebels in tackles last season.

Reuben Foster, MLB, Auburn, Ala./Alabama. Foster changed his mind late in the game and picked the Crimson Tide over Auburn. He's ranked No. 1 at his position.

Jaylon Smith, OLB, Fort Wayne, Ind./Notre Dame. James is considered a big-time athlete who could make an immediate impact in South Bend. His brother, Rod, is a running back at Ohio State.

Su-A Cravens, S, Murietta, Calif./USC. Cravens, who showed great versatility in high school as a two-way player, is the country's top-ranked safety by Scout.com. He enrolled early at Southern Cal, which could help him see playing time next year.

A'Shawn Robinson, DT, Arlington Heights, Texas/Alabama. Robinson is a five-star player who is considered the No. 1 defensive tackle in 2013. Pulling him away from Texas is considered a nice prize for the Tide.

Vernon Hargreaves III, DB, Tampa, Fla./Florida. Hargreaves heads an impressive list of Florida recruits. He is ranked the top cornerback on most national lists and was an MVP in the Under Armour All-American game.

Matthew Thomas, LB, Miami, Fla./Florida State. A five-star recruit, Thomas chose the Seminoles over Miami and could compete for playing time next season at the Sam linebacker spot.

Laremy Tunsil, OL, Lake City, Fla./Mississippi. The second player in the top 10 to land with the Rebels. Tunsil is literally a huge get at 6-feet-5, 295 pounds and was ranked the No. 1 offensive lineman nationally.

Kenny Bigelow, DT, Elkton, Md./USC. Bigelow went west to Southern California. Like fellow top-10 recruit Su-A Cravens, Bigelow already is enrolled at USC and should have a shot at playing right away.

Montravius Adams, DT, Vienna, Ga./Auburn. Adams checks in at 6-4, 310 pounds and is considered a strong pass rusher. He has a chance to get on the field early under a new coaching staff.

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