Rivals national recruiting analyst John Garcia Jr., fellow national recruiting analysts Cole Patterson and Sean Williams and longtime site publisher Kelly Quinlan tackle three topics and determine whether they believe each statement is FACT or FICTION.
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1. It’s time for Alabama fans to worry about Auburn on the recruiting trail.
Williams: FACT. In the last month, Auburn was able to flip four-star wide receiver Perry Thompson from Alabama. The Tigers also swooped in and flipped the No. 2 outside linebacker Demarcus Riddick from Georgia, a prospect Alabama was also heavily courting. Since Hugh Freeze has been at Auburn he’s been flipping so many high-profile prospects from other traditional blueblood programs that IHOP cooks are impressed. Freeze hasn’t coached his first game at Auburn yet, but he’s already winning one-on-one recruiting battles with Alabama. That will add plenty of fire in the Iron Bowl showdowns with Nick Saban.
Garcia: FICTION. I’m almost – almost – there. Many different programs have challenged recruiting king Nick Saban over the last two decades – most notably Georgia – but at different points the worry meter in Tuscaloosa was more pointed toward Florida, Florida State and even Texas A&M before Auburn. But that feels so different in the class of 2024. Auburn has already flipped a pair of Alabama commitments, and just as impressively it won out for Riddick over both Saban and Kirby Smart. Those splashes, especially on defense despite the offensive-minded Freeze leading the Tigers program, should not be overlooked moving forward. My hesitation here is the novelty of the new staff working well on the Plains, especially in the offseason, where we have seen many programs come and go before it counts on Saturdays.
2. Mississippi prospects continue to land outside of state lines, and that’s a trend we should expect to continue.
Patterson: FACT. With so many factors in play now, from NIL opportunities to conference realignment, it’s not difficult to imagine more and more top players from Mississippi leaving the state in future. In the 2024 cycle, Jamonta Waller and Kahnen Daniels are headed to Florida. The top-ranked player in the state, Kamarion Franklin, looks to be headed out of the state, as well. That’s not to say that everybody will leave, but it’s not far-fetched to see more top talent looking elsewhere.
Garcia: FACT. It’s never easy to pluck elite talent from the state of Mississippi, but with the combination of a coaching change in Starkville and Ole Miss‘ reliance on the transfer portal – coupled with NIL movement and newer staffs like Florida and Auburn with true ties to the state – this trend won’t soon slow down. On top of that, it’s all but proven that national title contenders need to recruit nationally to remain near the mountaintop, pushing the Egg Bowl programs further into the SEC footprint while the traditional powers continue to explore new territory within the still underrecruited state in some respects. The more new programs – like Oklahoma and Arkansas – make waves into the state the more fluidity we’ll continue to see there.
3. South Florida holds the No. 1 recruiting ranking among Group of Five programs. It will hold on to that spot.
Quinlan: FACT. South Florida sits just inside the top 50 with 17 commits and it still has a lot of room to add players in the 2024 class. Prime targets like Keishawn Marshburn, Chenellson Exume and Dinellson Exume could all end up in Tampa. First-year head coach Alex Golesh and his staff have hit the ground running with their recruiting and they could end up flipping a few Power Five commits before things are all over. Before winning a single game the Bulls already have one of the better classes committed, going back almost a decade. If they win five games or more this upcoming season they could really close strong and end up in the top 40 and that would give them the Group of Five crown for this cycle.
Garcia: FICTION. Yes, gone are the runs we’ve seen from Cincinnati and UCF through the Group of Five recruiting ranks, thanks to their promotions to the Big 12, but we’re in the infancy of this first wave of conference realignment. Outside of the Power Five, it feels like so many programs could be in position to go on a deep run, especially if the on-field product rises in surprising fashion like with Cincinnati’s College Football Playoff run or Louisiana’s push under Billy Napier. Programs like Memphis, Appalachian State, Boise State, Tulane or UTSA could get hot on the field and see their recruiting immediately rise. That said, USF is doing a great job in-state and with early evaluations, prioritizing potential Power Five talent before others in the state have. Its run is far from over.