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SEC National Signing Day recap: Alabama reigns supreme but Georgia isn’t far behind

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When it comes to recruiting, there’s Alabama and there’s everybody else playing for second. It seems that way on the field each season and it is certainly evident on the first Wednesday of every February when Nick Saban puts together yet another ho-hum No. 1 overall recruiting class.

How high of a level are the Crimson Tide operating on? Well, when you are so loaded that you are grayshirting top 100 recruits, you know things are going pretty well in Tuscaloosa.

Despite another banner day for the defending SEC champions though, the rest of the league once again impressed when it came to reeling in the talent. Schools from the conference stacked half of the top 10 in the class rankings and nine of the 14 programs cracked the overall top 25. Nobody surged as much as Georgia did, with Saban protegé Kirby Smart cleaning up in the state while cherry-picking some great players elsewhere too. Only Alabama and Florida State signed more five-stars than the Bulldogs and the Tide and Michigan were the only two programs in the same league when it came to top 100 players. LSU closed strong in Ed Orgeron’s first recruiting class as head coach of the Tigers and SEC West stalwarts Auburn and Texas A&M continued to add depth with top 12 classes.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 3 overall Najee Harris (RB, Alabama), No. 4 overall Alex Leatherwood (OT, Alabama), No. 13 Dylan Moses (LB, Alabama), No. 14 Trey Smith (OT, Tennessee), No. 16 Isaiah Wilson (OT, Georgia)

Top 25 classes: No. 1 Alabama, No. 3 Georgia, No. 7 LSU, No. 9 Auburn, No. 10 Florida, No. 12 Texas A&M, No. 17 Tennessee, No. 21 South Carolina, No. 24 Mississippi State

Biggest storyline: Georgia finds plenty of success to keep the Tide from rolling away

Alabama’s recruiting domination is no surprise but it’s the Tide’s former defensive coordinator who made one of the biggest splashes on Signing Day by landing a top three class. Of course it’s not too hard to recruit at a school like Georgia in such a fertile recruiting area but the fact that Smart and company were able to haul in the group they did is still impressive. Adding this group to the young team that is returning for 2017 should ratchet up expectations even further in Athens going forward.

Biggest surprise: Ole Miss’ dramatic departure from the top 25

The Rebels have been a mainstay in the top 15 ever since Hugh Freeze took over the program but the specter of impending NCAA sanctions really hampered the team’s recruiting efforts in 2017. Ole Miss found itself in the 30’s of the team rankings, right behind Kentucky with fewer four- and three-star players than the Wildcats. Freeze didn’t exactly sound like a happy camper on Wednesday and there’s no secret why that is.

Don’t sleep on: Auburn

Their in-state rival took home all the headlines but don’t overlook the work that Gus Malzahn did despite not having an offensive coordinator for several weeks. Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham will rightfully get the most attention and he could be one of the most talented QB’s to head to the Plains since a recent Heisman Trophy winner. In addition, the Tigers landed five-star offensive tackle Calvin Ashley and came out of nowhere to snag Markaviest Bryant from several of their SEC rivals.

We’ll see about: Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina

Georgia was the top, um, dawg in the rankings among SEC East teams but the other half of the league still managed to put together some fairly highly ranked classes. Florida closed very strong on Wednesday to sneak into the top 10 with some late flips, but the Gators still missed on adding an impact defensive tackle and landed only one top-tier offensive lineman. The Vols had the No. 1 offensive tackle enroll early but didn’t quite have the momentum of past years on the recruiting trail. South Carolina was among the surprises in the top 25 team rankings but the question with the Gamecocks and the other two divisional rivals listed above is if that is all going to be enough to close the gap on the SEC West.

Auburn wide receiver Kyle Davis potentially out for spring

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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was optimistic about wide receiver Kyle Davis returning to the team at some point this spring, but the tune has changed regarding his future. Malzahn is now saying Davis may be out for the remainder of Auburn’s spring practices due to personal reasons.

“Kyle Davis is still taking care of some personal business,” Malzahn said, according to SEC Country. “I’m not for sure if he’s going to be back before the end of the spring. He will be back for the fall, just taking a little bit longer than we initially thought.”

It was just a few weeks ago Malzahn said Davis was going to be out for the start of spring practices, which are now close to half over. For now, the plan is simply to have him return over the summer in preparation for the fall.

In the meantime, Malzahn confirmed John Franklin III is working primarily as a wide receiver, which had previously been suspected to be the case.

Penn State announces three captains for 2017 season

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With Penn State just about to get started with spring football practices, head coach James Franklin wasted no time in naming his captains for the 2017 season. Quarterback Trace McSorley, linebacker Jason Cabinda, and safety Nick Scott have been voted captains by their peers on the team.

“These three young men have been leaders in our program, on and off the field,” Franklin said in a released statement. “They live our four core values and act with the program’s best interest in mind. Our team is in good hands with these guys!”

McSorley took over the offense as Penn State’s starting quarterback in 2016. A bit of a mystery to most entering the season after being the backup to Christian Hackenberg, McSorley ended his 2016 season with a Big Ten-leading 3,614 passing yards and 29 touchdown passes with eight interceptions and played a key role in guiding Penn State to a late run to a Big Ten championship and an appearance in the Rose Bowl. He enters the 2017 season as one of the top quarterbacks returning to the Big Ten, along with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett.

Cabinda, an All-Big Ten third team player in 2016, was Penn State’s third-leading tackler last season with 81 tackles. He accumulated that many tackles despite missing five games due to injury. He is slated to be the leader in the middle of the Penn State defense with a starting role already locked down and will look to help guide some younger linebackers stepping into key roles in the defense this upcoming season, such as Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer.

Scott has been a special teams leader for Penn State and is expected to continue to lead the special teams effort once again this season.

New Arkansas house bill will allow some concealed guns at football games

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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has signed a bill regarding a person’s ability to carry a concealed handgun into various buildings at a public university or college into state law. However, House Bill 1249 will not allow all legal gun owners to carry a gun to a football game in the state of Arkansas.

Football games will be considered a “sensitive area,” which require enhanced training in order to be allowed to carry a gun into a football stadium. The law supposedly trumps any provisions already in place to prevent guns from being allowed on the premises.

“The enhanced level of training is very important, and I am convinced the public will be more safe,” Governor Hutchinson said. “This bill, in my view, reflects the view of the general assembly.”

The bill has received praise from Arkansas Republican state representative Charlie Collins and the NRA.

While the bill has now become an act in the state, it will not go into effect until January 2018, so guns will still not be allowed in football games where Arkansas, Arkansas State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, or Central Arkansas during the 2017 season.

The news of the new Arkansas state law comes on the same day the SEC has just unveiled a new clear bag policy for football games in the 2017 season. How the SEC handles this latest state law within its footprint remains to be seen (as well as the Sun Belt Conference). The bigger question will be where the SEC stands on this law considered the law is designed to overrule any stadium policies. The way the law is written, the SEC may not be able to do much to stand in the way, but the conference has those clear bag policies hammered down, rest assured.

Kentucky hands Mark Stoops a two-year contract extension

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After guiding Kentucky through its best season in nearly a decade, Mark Stoops has been rewarded.

Kentucky announced Wednesday afternoon that Stoops’ contract has been extended by two years.  The head coach’s previous deal had been set to run through June 30, 2020; the extension pushes that date out to June 30, 2020.

Stoops will earn $3.5 million in 2017, with the new contract calling for annual $250,000 raises.  In the last year of the contract extension, and barring any additional tweaking, Stoops could earn $4.75 million.

Additionally, if the Wildcats win at least seven games but no more than nine in a season, the contract automatically extends by one year.  If the team wins 10-plus games, it extends by two years. “Stoops will continue to receive $250,000 for each win beginning with the seventh win of each season and $50,000 per semester in which the team grade-point average is 2.75 or higher,” the release stated.

Participation in an SEC-affiliated bowl will net Stoops a $100,000 bonus, provided the Wildcats win at least six games that season.  There’s also a $50,000 bonus for earning a spot in a non-SEC bowl game, with the same six-win threshold.  Last season, UK qualified for a bowl game for the first time under Stoops and the first time under anyone since 2010.

“The last four years have been a grind for Mark and his staff, but he has never wavered in his commitment to building Kentucky football into a consistent winner,” a statement from athletic director Mitch Barnhart began. “While the work isn’t close to finished, we believe Mark is the coach to take us there. We are thankful to Mark and Chantel for all they have done to this point and we look forward to our program’s bright future under his leadership.”

The Wildcats’ 7-6 record last season was the program’s best since hitting the same mark in the last season under Rich Brooks in 2009.  The first three seasons with Stoops in control, UK posted a 12-24 mark.

In SEC play, they are just 8-24 since 2013, although they were 4-4 in conference play this past season.  The Wildcats have finished seventh (2013), sixth (2014), tied-fourth (2015) and tied-second (2016) in league play with Stoops as head coach.

“I want to thank Dr. (Eli) Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart and the Board of Trustees for their continued support,” Stoops said. “When we came here, doing a rebuild in a challenging situation, I said that full support from everyone involved was imperative and we have always received that. We needed great commitment, we’ve had great commitment and we’re continuing to get great commitment.”

If Stoops is fired by UK, he’s entitled to receive 75 percent of the remaining guaranteed compensation on the contract.  If Stoops leaves of his own accord, he’d owe the university $1 million regardless of how many years are left on the deal.