Ranking 10 best college football recruiting classes after the second national signing day
When it comes to evaluating recruiting classes in 2023, traditional high school prospects represent only part of the equation.
The speed with which the transfer portal has transformed roster management in the Football Bowl Subdivision means any evaluation has to focus on the two types of newcomers: recruits and transfers.
The best classes strike a balance. The one exception is Clemson, which has been among the least active Power Five teams when it comes to the portal. But teams such as Alabama and Georgia continue to be aggressive on the transfer market as a way to patch up very specific concerns — with a new tight end here for the Crimson Tide and a new receiver there for the Bulldogs, for example.
Almost every Power Five program was essentially finished with traditional recruiting after the first signing period in December, which left few impact recruits still uncommitted heading into Wednesday's second signing day.
Instead, teams have largely spent the last month combing through the portal. Combining traditional prospects with transfers sets these 10 classes apart from the rest of the FBS:
Biggest recruit: OT Kadyn Proctor
Impact transfer: TE CJ Dippre (Maryland)
The consensus top-ranked class in the Bowl Subdivision contains a whopping eight five-star prospects and 18 four-year signees ranked inside the nation's top 200 recruits. The biggest of the bunch is Proctor, who flipped his verbal commitment from Iowa in December and could step right into a starting role. Dippre (30 receptions for 314 yards in 2022) will be a nice security blanket for Alabama's replacement for quarterback Bryce Young. And speaking of quarterbacks, the Crimson Tide brought in two, Eli Holstein and Dylan Lonergan. One of these freshman passers could end up as the primary backup in 2023 should the loser of the competition between Ty Simpson and Jalen Milroe decide to transfer when the portal reopens in May.
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Biggest recruit: DL Damon Wilson
Impact transfer: WR Dominic Lovett (Missouri)
The back-to-back national champions get even richer with a group heavy on receivers, linemen and defensive backs. The best of the bunch, Wilson, is one of three five-star prospects signed out of Florida. Kirby Smart didn't sign a quarterback and seems unlikely to pull one out of the portal, however, indicating his faith in the Bulldogs' options following Stetson Bennett at the position. Lovett (56 catches for 846 yards) excelled in relative obscurity at Missouri but is a huge addition for a receiver corps that needs another option to join Brock Bowers and Ladd McConkey.
Biggest recruit: QB Arch Manning
Impact transfer: DB Jalen Catalon (Arkansas)
Manning is the crown jewel of an excellent class for Texas and coach Steve Sarkisian, who can tap into this group to quickly bolster the Longhorns' depth heading into what could be a make-or-break season. Manning is expected to challenge Quinn Ewers for the starting job and has a realistic shot at being in the lineup for the Longhorns' season opener against Rice. Five-star running back Cedric Baxter Jr. is already on campus and ready to challenge for the spot left open by Bijan Robinson's departure for the NFL. Catalon gives Texas an all-conference defender on the back end if he can stay healthy, an issue the last two seasons.
Biggest recruit: OL Zalance Heard
Impact transfer: LB Omar Speights (Oregon State)
Brian Kelly's first full class is a good one: LSU signed 16 four-star prospects and 11 transfers, all but one from the Power Five. In addition to Speights, one of the top linebackers in the Pac-12, the Tigers inked a possible starter and definite contributor in Syracuse cornerback Duce Chestnut. LSU ended up nabbing seven of the top 13 prospects in Louisiana as ranked by 247Sports.com, including two of the top recruits regardless of position in Heard and wide receiver Shelton Sampson. Heard has massive potential but needs time to develop.
Biggest recruit: WR Brandon Inniss
Impact transfer: DB Ja’Had Carter (Syracuse)
Ohio State continue to reload at wide receiver with five newcomers, including three of the top recruits at the position in Inniss, Noah Rogers and Carnell Tate. Ryan Day and his staff also dipped into Texas late to grab four-star cornerback Calvin Simpson-Hunt away from his verbal commitment to Texas Tech. The Buckeyes haven't been major players in the portal but did nab Carter, the best Power Five safety on the market, and added important quarterback depth in Oregon State transfer Tristan Gebbia.
Biggest recruit: QB Jackson Arnold
Impact transfer: OL Walter Rouse (Stanford)
Year 2 under Brent Venables looks much better for the Sooners, which again went heavy into the transfer portal to find plug-and-play starters from the Power Five. The most important is Rouse, who was briefly committed to Nebraska before joining the Sooners. He's likely taking over at left tackle with former starter Anton Harrison off to the NFL. Another signee to watch is edge rusher Adepoju Adebawore, who may be the most ballyhooed prospect to come out of Kansas City in decades. Arnold was the Sooners' top-rated signee and should see some snaps behind Dillon Gabriel in 2023 before taking the job the following season.
Biggest recruit: OL Francis Mauigoa
Impact transfer: LB Francisco Mauigoa (Washington State)
Francis Mauigoa is one of several offensive and defensive linemen brought in to establish a more physical style and change the direction of the program after a brutal first season under coach Mario Cristobal. Unsurprisingly, Cristobal has put together a terrific group of high school prospects despite the Hurricanes' five-win finish thanks in part to the opportunity for immediate playing time. There's more help in the trenches coming through the portal, led by former Central Florida center Matt Lee and Alabama guard Javion Cohen.
Biggest recruit: QB Nico Iamaleava
Impact transfer: LB Keenan Pili (Brigham Young)
The Volunteers have leaned on a breakthrough season to complete one of the program's top signing classes in years. The gem is Iamaleava, a five-star recruit out of Southern California who may have the most upside of any quarterback prospect in this cycle, Manning included. Tennessee's class is heavy on defense, with five linemen, three linebackers and five more defensive backs; several of the additions to the front seven are pegged as edge rushers. An offense in need of wide receiver depth will be boosted by the arrival of Oregon transfer Dont'e Thornton (21.5 yards per catch in 2022).
Biggest recruit: OL Charles Jagusah
Impact transfer: QB Sam Hartman (Wake Forest)
Any discussion of Notre Dame's crop of new arrivals has to begin with Hartman, who joins the Irish after several terrific years at Wake Forest and dramatically boosts this team's chances of reaching the College Football Playoff. The Irish added two more impact transfers in wide receiver Kaleb Smith (Virginia Tech) and linebacker Javontae Jean-Baptiste (Ohio State). Jean-Baptiste played 250 snaps for the Buckeyes last season and could have a big year with extended playing time. The traditional signing class lacks a five-star standout but hits the mark across the board, with special emphasis on receiver and the secondary. Running back Jeremiyah Love has potential but could struggle to find a big role in 2023 given Notre Dame's current backfield depth.
Biggest recruit: WR Jurrion Dickey
Impact transfer: DL Jordan Burch (South Carolina)
The Ducks' transfer haul lands them ahead of Clemson, which continues to just barely dabble in the portal. (The Tigers are set to add only former Alabama and Arizona State quarterback Paul Tyson, who could be the backup to Cade Klubnik.) Oregon's signing class is loaded with defensive linemen, including one of the nation's top edge prospects in Matayo Uiagalelei and Colorado's top recruit in Blake Purchase. On the other side of the ball, the Ducks bring in the top junior college offensive lineman, George Silva, and five-star wide receiver Jurrion Dickey. Combining these recruits with the strong transfer group gives Oregon the best class in the Pac-12.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Signing day: Ranking top 10 college football recruiting classes