SEC recruiting well ahead of Big Ten

Auburn and Illinois have the ninth-ranked recruiting classes in their respective conferences, according to Rivals.com.

We'll assume the Auburn fan base feels a bit better about their recruits arriving on campus than Illinois faithful.

Rivals.com has the Tigers' incoming class rated 24th-best in the country.

Illinois, on the other hand, checks in at No. 62.

It's just one example of the chasm that has opened up in college football recruiting.

It's the Southeastern Conference ... and then everyone else.

"It's not just the Big Ten that's trying to make up ground," ESPN recruiting analyst Jared Shanker said. "You look at the top of the recruiting standings, it's loaded with SEC teams."

Recruiting rankings will fluctuate.

For instance, Rivals has Tennessee atop the team standings while ESPN has Michigan as the top team.

Conversely, Rivals lists Michigan as having the eighth-best class and ESPN lists Tennessee's class as the sixth-best. It's a constant give and take.

And it will change even more before early February and National Signing Day.

"All these SEC schools are going to make late runs," Shanker said. "You look at some of the best uncommitted guys in the country, and they've all got the SEC interested in them. The Big Ten is still trying to play catch-up to the SEC. Even if Michigan holds on to the top ranking, there's a good chance two through seven will be SEC schools."

Before Michigan hits Rivals' list, four SEC schools in Tennessee, Alabama (No. 3), Kentucky (No. 4) and Texas A&M (No. 6) are on the board.

The fourth-best team in the Big Ten, Michigan State, doesn't enter the picture until No. 25.

Alabama and Texas A&M had memorable 2012 seasons that ended with January bowl triumphs, including a national title for the Crimson Tide.

It's an easier sell to recruits.

But Tennessee finished 5-7 and Kentucky went 2-10.

Both have new coaches, though, and Butch Jones at Tennessee and Mark Stoops at Kentucky have revitalized interest in the program.

At least from a recruiting standpoint.

"That gives you an idea as how good the conference as a whole is recruiting," Shanker said.

The SEC recently came into Illinois' backyard and picked off a player.

Danville safety Trent Sherfield chose Vanderbilt on July 4 ahead of offers from Illinois, Indiana, Northern Illinois and Purdue.

Three Big Ten programs and a Mid-American Conference team coming off an Orange Bowl appearance.

"Vanderbilt had been recruiting Sherfield a little bit, but they had held out on offering," Shanker said. "That’s more telling to the struggle Illinois is having in-state. Sherfield knew as soon as he was going to get one offer, he’d be jumping ship and leaving the state. It goes to show you that Illinois is not a hot topic among recruits in their own state."

Northwestern is.

The Wildcats and Pat Fitzgerald have the 27th-ranked class in the country, according to Rivals.

Two suburban Chicago players who garner four-star status in Wheaton North quarterback Clayton Thorson and Glenbard North running back Justin Jackson (players Illinois was recruiting) picked the Wildcats.

Another four-star recruit from Ohio that Illinois was recruiting, athlete Dareian Watkins, selected the Wildcats as well.

So did Jacksonville offensive lineman Blake Hance, a solid three-star recruit Illinois was hopeful would pledge to the Illini.

"Previously I had kids tell me that Fitzgerald was the best recruiter that they had ever dealt with, and they didn’t even pick Northwestern," Shanker said. "They’re all being bolstered by a pretty strong recent track record of winning. This is a team that appeals to a lot of players."

And its fan base, although who knows if Northwestern's mediocre attendance will improve in 2013 even with the Wildcats coming off a Gator Bowl victory.

The Illinois fan base doesn't seem too pleased with the lack of a big-name recruit so far in the Class of 2014.

Most of the eight commits Tim Beckman has secured thus far have Illinois and a host of MAC schools among their offers.

"I think there is a legitimate concern from the fans about who else is in on these players," Shanker said. "At this point, you have to trust the staff’s evaluation. With this class, I'm giving the coaching staff the benefit of the doubt. They were in on some guys in-state. They just didn’t end up getting them. If you’re an Illinois fan, you hope that the guys they're getting potentially become a quality player once they do get to Champaign."
 

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