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VOL. 132 | NO. 25 | Friday, February 3, 2017

Football Recruiting: Memphis, Mississippi State Move Forward

By Don Wade

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The top of the college football recruiting period looks like it usually does. Alabama pulled in the consensus No. 1 recruiting class for 2017 for the fifth time in six years and coach Nick Saban said the kind of ridiculous things that a guy presiding over a football factory says.

University of Memphis coach Mike Norvell landed the best recruiting class in the program's history. It was ranked 60th in the nation by rivals.com and is headed by four-star offensive lineman Obinna Eze. 

(Daily News File/Andrew J. Breig)

“I didn’t know these guys, where they were rated, how many stars they have,” Saban said. “I don’t know anything about that. We kind of evaluate the players like we’re going to draft them and take the guys that meet the criteria, the critical factors that we want at positions.”

Like speed, strength, size and talent. Gotcha.

Recruiting always has been, and always will be, a survival-of-the-fittest contest. The best of the Power 5 schools eat first so, no surprise, the top-5 rated recruiting classes from rivals.com looked like this: 1. Alabama. 2. Ohio State. 3. Georgia (National Signing Day was a huge victory for second-year coach Kirby Smart). 4. Michigan 5. Florida State.

Then the other traditional powers take their turn at the trough. And then the rest of the Power 5 schools.

But this year, Mike Norvell’s second as head coach at the University of Memphis, saw the Tigers cut the line. At rivals.com, their recruiting class checked in at No. 60, the second-best non-Power 5 class in the country behind only fellow American Athletic Conference member UCF (tied for 58th with Minnesota).

To better understand what the ranking means, look at the schools that finished just behind Memphis: 61. Kansas State. 62. Brigham Young University. 63. Vanderbilt. And Boise State, in recent years the banner carrier among non-Power 5 schools, finished 66th.

Coming off an 8-5 season, 5-3 in the AAC, Norvell has positioned the Tigers for yet another leap forward. The top gets in this class, widely deemed the best in program history, are offensive lineman Obinna Eze, corner back Terrell “T.J.” Carter and tight end/wide receiver Nick Robinson.

Eze and Carter are both from Nashville, which bodes well for future inroads by the Memphis staff. Eze, a 6-foot-8, 283-pound offensive lineman from Davidson Academy, was a four-star recruit and the highest-rated prospect in Tigers’ history. Carter, from Stratford High School, goes 5-11 and 180 and was a consensus Top 20 player in the state. Robinson, who is 6-4 and 200 pounds, is from Oklahoma City. In his last two seasons at Putnam City West High School, he made 88 catches for 1,486 yards with 23 touchdowns.

The class also includes a couple of intriguing quarterbacks. Norvell has compared Connor Adair of Hewitt-Trussville High School in Alabama to current Tiger QB Riley Ferguson. La’Andre Thomas, out of Wingfield High School in Jackson, Miss., is a more athletic quarterback and was a consensus Top-50 dual-threat QB in the nation.

In all, Memphis signed 25 players, including a handful of local recruits, and the complete list is available at www.gotigersgo.com.

“We wanted to focus on size, speed and playmaking ability,” Norvell said. “I believe we hit a home run in every one of those areas. We were able to address a lot of needs that we had and we got guys we feel can be instant impacts.”

Meanwhile, the SEC was ever-dominant and put eight schools in the rivals.com Top 20 recruiting rankings: 1. Alabama. 3. Georgia. 8. LSU. 9. Florida. 10. Texas A&M. 14. Auburn. 15. Tennessee. 16. South Carolina.

Arkansas was No. 24, Kentucky No. 26 and Mississippi State No. 27. Ole Miss slid to No. 37. Missouri finished at No. 48. And Vanderbilt was last at No. 63 (composite grade point average did the Commodores no good here).

While the No. 15 ranking for the Vols might look pretty good, it still represented a step back after cracking the Top 10. Ole Miss, however, fell the farthest. A losing season and an NCAA investigation hurt the Rebels.

“This recruiting class was a penalty … the cloud that we’re under,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.

MSU’s No. 27 finish in the rivals.com rankings was a win for head coach Dan Mullen and the class is headlined by Starkville High School’s 6-foot-2, 223-pound Willie Gay, the state’s top defensive recruit and considered a Top 5 outside linebacker in the country.

“A special player,” Mullen said. “I expect him to be in the rotation week one of next season.”

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