For the past few seasons, it always seemed like the Arkansas State and Louisiana Lafayette were always in the mix at the top of both the Sun Belt recruiting rankings and the conference standings themselves. This year the balance of recruiting power has shifted a bit to the southeast, although stAte is right in the mix of things as you would expect.
The Excellent Recruiting Classes
1. Georgia Southern Eagles
Something's gotten in the water of "beautiful" Eagle Creek, and it isn't mosquitoes or cholera. Tyson Summers and his staff not only avoided any real attrition from former head coach Willie Fritz going to Tulane (and trying to poach a few recruits in the process), they thrived.
Take a look not only at the sheer star quality--12(!) three star players according to 247--but also at some of the offer lists of Georgia Southern's commits. There's ACC and SEC offers all over the place, including even a couple from in-state bully UGA, which is a testament to Southern's recruiting regardless of the coaching change in Athens. OG Drew Wilson out of South Carolina is a monster get for the o-line, CB Monquavion Brinson out of Atlanta had seemingly half the south after him, and Southern picked up a couple of very solid safeties in Rakeem Hightower and Martial Washington.
#GATA is in good position: They usually avoid head to head battles with Georgia Tech and UGA, and their only real in-state competition is Georgia State, who is still an unknown among many. Troy represents a long term threat, but overall, the Eagles have carved out one hell of a recruiting niche for themselves.
2. Arkansas State Red Wolves
A-State fans are no doubt howling with delight (probably literally), as the Red Wolves have put themselves in good position to defend their Sun Belt title with a great recruiting class highlighted by some very high profile transfers. DE Dee Liner (Alabama) and WR Kendall Sanders (Texas) and Cameron Echols-Luper (TCU) will get all the headlines, but three star RB and all-name 1st teamer Armond Weh-Weh and a couple of three star safeties in BJ Edmonds and Ben Sukut are solid gets for Coach Blake Anderson as well.
For a more detailed rundown of the class, check out our detailed stAte recruiting profile from our esteemed Jeremy Harper, who is probably tearing couch cushions apart with his teeth right now in celebration.
3. Troy Trojans
Neal Brown's been recruiting up a storm in southeast Alabama, netting at least six JUCO players and getting plenty of three star talent to do their part in Rebuilding the Wall. The Trojans got a couple of very solid defensive additions in three star monsters OLB Zo Bridges and DE Kelvin Lucky, as they beat out a number of Sun Belt and even some P5 schools for their services. Same with dual threat QB Sawyer Smith out of Florida and TE Sam Letton. Brown's credibility in SEC recruiting circles is already paying off, and Troy will more likely than not rebound from their recent skid within the next 2-3 years.
The Very Good Recruiting Classes
T-4. Texas State Bobcats
Texas State had their 23-member class effectively done and dusted after official visits this past weekend, so there have been few surprises. That's not a bad thing, however, as new head coach Everett Withers was able to win back some solid talent in showcase RB Tyler Tutt and three star dual threat QB/athlete Devin Williams. He also picked up some needed three star talent at DT, LB, and DB. There's still some question about depth at noseguard, but two star signee John Lilly could end up being a vital pickup at that position as well. Overall, it's a pretty balanced class that fills needs at a number of positions (and thankfully, is no longer heavy on JUCOs).
T-4. South Alabama Jaguars
Joey Jones decided that the answer to an incredibly young team and a 5-7 record was to bring more than a few JUCO players to Mobile. Eight of them, in fact. It's a risky strategy, but there are definitely some gems to be had in this class.
RB Jalin Buie out of Jacksonville, FL spurned a laundry list of P5 offers including Tennessee, Auburn, and UGA for USA, and is undoubtedly the centerpiece of an eclectic class Coach Jones has assembled. CB Jay Woods turned down Pitt, Memphis, and sudden recruiting monsters UAB for Mobile, and Sean Brown is a solid pickup at offensive guard. But will the JUCO-heavy approach be a blessing or a curse in the long run?
UPDATE 2:30 CST: Well hey, look what came out of nowhere:
Former Alabama commit Riley Cole, who was offered a late grayshirt, ends up at South Alabama: https://t.co/uYmEuauRYw— John Talty (@JTalty) February 3, 2016
6. Louisiana Ragin Cajuns
UL recruiting is always a bit of a mystery, but our own Jeremy Adcock has a solid rundown of the Cajuns' class. They did get a couple of quality pickups in RB Trey Ragas, who had a fairly impressive offer list, CB Dontrell Allen, who Hud plucked away from TCU, Mississippi State, and Tulane, and a couple of Texas terrors in TE Cody Mitchell and S Edward Hayes, who both spurned a number of in-state suitors including Texas State as well as some P5 teams to head to Lafayette. Overall, it's not a bad class given recent NCAA troubles and a 4-8 finish, but UL might not have it as easy in the 'Belt as they used to going forward.
7. Appalachian State Mountaineers
Scott Satterfield's approach to getting recruits is a bit different compared to some of its counterparts in this tier. Unlike Texas State, who has 11 other FBS programs in the state to deal with, or UL, Troy, or USA, which have to butt heads with in-state and SEC foes alike on a regular basis, the Mountaineers seemingly made a living on picking up recruits that are coveted by seemingly every G5 school on the east coast as well as a ton of FCS schools. Take a look at the offer lists for three star signees KJ Chamberlain, Matthew McClurg, Marcus Williams Jr., and Aris Duffey, for example.
It may not have the "wow" factor of grabbing a recruit away from a Texas Tech or Auburn, but it's always good to have players who are coveted no matter the level. It's also a smart approach given App State's recruiting territory. Overall, a solid and possibly underrated class will be heading to Boone, and Satterfield will no doubt coach 'em up.
8. Georgia State Panthers
Don't jump down my throat too much, #ATLiens. The Panthers were a great example of stars mattering little last year as they plowed through the back end of their schedule and shocked everyone (including hated rival Georgia Southern in Statesboro) with their high flying offensive attack to make a bowl game.
Now they've put together a class that's definitely the best in the school's short history, and gives them some solid pieces to work with. Safety Kendrec Grady and S/RB Kwon Williams turned down multiple P5 offers for Atlanta, and RB Darius Stubbs gave the stiff arm to Troy and Syracuse in favor of the Panthers. Peyton Moore also looks to be a solid pickup at defensive end. GSU have a long way to go to keep up with the likes of Georgia Southern and Troy recruiting (at least on paper), but Panther fans will take winning on the field over winning the offseason every time.
9. ULM Warhawks
There's talent in Louisiana, but getting it to come to Monroe is always a challenge. Most of the more talented G5-level recruits will look at Louisiana Tech, UL, and Tulane first, and ULM's northeast location within the state means it also needs to find diamonds in the rough in Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, where their brand always plays second or third (or even fourth) fiddle to the in-state schools.
Therefore ULM has to get creative, and new head coach Matt Viator scrapped together 14 commitments in two weeks and found a few key out of state players in C Noah Ramsey (Georgia), OT Samuel Williams (AR), OG T.J. Flailoa (OK), and CB Logan Latin (TX). It's definitely a o-line heavy class, but given last year's offensive woes, that's a smart strategy.
10. New Mexico State Aggies
Arguably the biggest news for NMSU recruiting came via a graduate transfer in Southern Miss QB Tyler Matthews heading to Las Cruces. It's a huge get for them, as consistent quarterback play along with Larry Rose III at tailback could give Sun Belt defenses some massive headaches. As for recruiting everywhere else, NMSU by necessity is forced to try and find overlooked recruits in Texas (just like Larry Rose III) that might not have any other offers and potentially battle FCS schools for recruits. This class very much fits that mold.
However, Darius Anderson is a solid pickup at DT, and RB Gamarquis Girdy got at least some courtesy attention from Texas, so it's not as if this class is completely devoid of known talent.
11. Idaho Vandals
Much like NMSU in Texas, Idaho has to mine for overlooked recruits in California and recruit nationally as well. Many of their recruits only have one offer and some aren't even rated by recruiting services at all. Therefore it's hard to know just what caliber of talent is headed to Moscow until Coach Paul Petrino puts them on the field. It's certainly not out of the question that Petrino will coach up this latest batch of players who have signed with the Vandals, but at least on paper, there aren't a lot of standouts here (yet).