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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.

Butch Jones says the most Butch Jones quote of all time

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It’s become a theory among some in the media that Butch Jones is conducting a social experiment or participating some sort of performance art. While that’s the more charitable and fun interpretation, I tend to think the Tennessee head coach is just frighteningly insecure and, thus, fighting for every inch of public approval he can in a likely doomed attempt to keep his job.

That approach has backed him into some verbal corners that, in the long run, make his job more difficult on himself.

I’m talking about the “Champions of Life” quote of last season or, in February, actually stating that he didn’t want 5-star players, he wanted 5-star hearts.

This season has seen Jones go on an odd rant blaming the media for negative recruiting and saying Tennessee had one of the best bye weeks ever last week.

It wasn’t one of the best bye weeks ever, because Tennessee lost at home to South Carolina, 15-9. And you’re not going to believe Jones’s explanation for why Tennessee loss. Scratch that. You will believe his explanation, and that’s the problem here, isn’t it?

Here’s the full quote.

Jones is 33-24 in his four-plus seasons in Knoxville, and 14-21 in the SEC. Those numbers will likely fall to 33-25 and 14-22 after Saturday, when the Vols face No. 1 Alabama. The end is likely near.

And here’s the grand irony of Jones’s everything’s-sunny-here p.r. strategy: his attempt to keep his job by stating blatantly cliche quotes in the state of the obvious will live on much longer than Jones’s actual tenure. Two and three years from now, when Jones is working on someone else’s staff or sitting on his buyout money, the next time an on-the-hot-seat coach says his team won the game everywhere except the scoreboard, we’ll see he Pulled a Butch.

Houston Nutt settles lawsuit with Ole Miss

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Houston Nutt wanted money and an apology from Ole Miss. He’ll have to settle for the second of the two — and a largely different future for the program he used to lead.

It was Nutt’s lawsuit, remember, which exposed the documents that led to a Mississippi State fan finding Hugh Freeze‘s call to a Tampa escort service, which led to Freeze’s resignation, which led to… we have no idea what it will lead to, but, whatever that future is, it will be wildly different than if Freeze was still the Rebels’ coach.

Nutt amended his lawsuit in August to seek simply an apology from Ole Miss, and that apology finally came on Monday.

Each side released their own bitter, short statements.

Nutt will go on, with his apology but without any monetary compensation, while Ole Miss will play out the string of this season, hire a new coach, and move into a future that will be immeasurably different that the one it would have lived had it apologized to Nutt in the first place.

Washington loses LT Adams, CB Miller for the season

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No. 12 Washington’s loss to Arizona State was a disaster on the field — for more reasons than one.

The Huskies not only put their College Football Playoff hopes in danger — they’ll need to sweep their next six games, including a finishing kick that calls for games against No. 22 Stanford, No. 15 Washington State and, presumably, No. 11 USC, two of them away from Seattle. But the road to get there became noticeably more difficult after losing two starters.

Left tackle Trey Adams suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, and cornerback Jordan Miller sustained a broken ankle. Head coach Chris Petersen confirmed Monday that both will be lost for the season. Miller is the third Husky this season to suffer a broken ankle.

The Seattle Times noted that Washington is also without another starting corner in Byron Murphy, who is expected to return later this year from a broken foot. The Huskies are expected to replace Miller with either a pair of true freshmen or a converted running back.

But Adams may be the bigger loss for the Huskies. A junior, Adams was widely expected to be a first round pick in this spring’s NFL Draft. It’s the second straight season Washington has lost a key player in the trenches to a season-ending injury; a year ago, it was linebackers Joe Mathis, who finished one sack away from the team lead despite playing in only seven games, and third-leading tackler Azeem Victor.

Maryland AD Kevin Anderson to take 6-month sabbatical

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Maryland AD Kevin Anderson will not be the Maryland AD for the next six months.

Anderson announced Monday he will take a 6-month sabbatical to focus on “professional development.” That leave of absence will see him remain on his national committees with the NCAA and NACDA, the professional organization of ADs.

It was reported over the weekend that Anderson would be out completely as Maryland’s AD, but those reports were knocked down by the university.

Additionally, Maryland announced that former Georgia AD and current Terps associate AD/CFO Damon Evans will run the department in Anderson’s stead.