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February 6, 2011

Roundtable: What surprised on Signing Day?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Which team's recruiting haul surprised you the most -- good or bad?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
A program that hasn't won a conference championship in nearly 20 years, coming off a losing season and with a coach that is at least starting to feel some heat typically doesn't attract five-star rated prospects in droves. Yet, no team signed more five-star prospects than Clemson's four. Tony Steward's somewhat surprising decision to sign with Clemson over Florida State was the high point of an awesome National Signing Day for Dabo Swinney. Rivals.com ranked Clemson's class eighth, ahead of such powers as Ohio State, Oregon, Oklahoma and Florida.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
I was impressed by Ole Miss' haul. The Rebels signed the No. 18 class in the nation despite going 4-8 in 2010 with a last-place finish in the SEC West. No school with a worse record finished higher in Rivals' rankings, and only one -- Virginia at No. 25 -- had as bad a record. It just reinforces the recruiting skills of Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, who outrecruited archrival Mississippi State despite the Bulldogs' outstanding season that included a Gator Bowl victory. The Rebels raced up the rankings based on a fast finish, reeling in top in-state prospects in LB C.J. Johnson and WR Nickolas Brassell. What's it all mean? Nutt should have Ole Miss back in the bowl business in 2011.

David Fox's answer:
Take a look at how the ACC rankings lined up after Florida State for the biggest surprise. Clemson at No. 2 in the conference and No. 8 nationally (with room to grow if DE Jadeveon Clowney ends up being a late signee) is a major shocker. Following a 6-7 season with Dabo Swinney inching toward hot-seat status, the Tigers landed four five-star prospects. I could see Clemson picking up an elite offensive skill-position player or two late on the heels of the arrival of coordinator Chad Morris, but the late push was aided by LBs Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony. Even behind Clemson, the ACC had some surprising classes. North Carolina reeled in the third-ranked class in the league and 16th nationally despite the agent-related problems that threatened to derail Butch Davis' program a few months ago. Mike London, in his first full recruiting cycle as an FBS coach, landed the No. 25-ranked class at Virginia.

Mike Huguenin's answer:
Clemson's sparkling class was a surprise. I certainly didn't see anything on the field in 2010 to lead me to believe the Tigers would sign the No. 8 class in the nation and bring in four five-star prospects. Now that they have reeled in all that talent, Dabo Swinney and his staff need to show they can coach it. If not, well, the guy who replaces Swinney after the 2011 season will have a ton of talent to work with. On the flipside, UCLA's relatively lackluster class isn't good. The Bruins' poor season on the field in 2010 carried over to National Signing Day, and that bodes ill for Rick Neuheisel's future. Other things that caught my eye were Ole Miss routing Mississippi State in bringing in in-state talent, Penn State's second consecutive so-so class, N.C. State's mediocre class (especially compared to North Carolina's) and Texas A&M finishing behind Texas Tech in the recruiting rankings.

Steve Megargee's answer:
Clemson just completed its first losing season since 1998 and played poorly enough to raise questions about Dabo Swinney's long-term job security, so I certainly didn't expect the Tigers to sign the most five-star prospects (four) of any school in the nation. Making that feat even more impressive is that not one of those five-star recruits is from South Carolina. Clemson landed LB Tony Steward (the nation's No. 13 recruit), WR Sammy Watkins (No. 15) and RB Mike Bellamy (No. 25) from Florida and plucked LB Stephone Anthony (No. 24) from North Carolina. Clemson got signatures from Steward and Anthony despite facing uphill battles for both. Steward had grown up rooting for Florida State, while Anthony's cousin is Virginia Tech linebacker Barquell Rivers. Yet Steward ended up choosing Clemson over the Seminoles, while Anthony picked the Tigers over Virginia Tech. We still have legitimate questions about Swinney's coaching ability, but nobody can question his strength as a recruiter. While Clemson's class was the most surprising, UCLA's was the most disappointing. I figured the sanctions against USC gave UCLA a golden opportunity to sign elite prospects who otherwise might have picked the Trojans. USC instead made the most of its appeal to the NCAA -- a move that put the sanctions on hold -- to sign the nation's second-ranked class while UCLA signed just three four-star prospects.

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