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National Signing Day 2015: Recapping the SEC East with A Sea of Blue's Will Marshall

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With the letters of intent mostly in and signed, let's take a look at what the rest of the SEC was able to accomplish on NSD. I'm joined by ASoB's Will Marshall, who gives us his take on the SEC East.

Don't look so sad, Mark! You still finished second in the East!
Don't look so sad, Mark! You still finished second in the East!
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

SEC East 2015 Recruiting Rankings -- 247 Sports Composite

Team SEC Rank National Rank # of Commits 5 Star 4 Star 3 Star Average Total Points
Tennessee 2 4 29 1 15 12 89.78 286.16
Georgia 5 10 28 2 11 15 89.65 274.98
South Carolina 9 19 30 0 10 19 87.00 236.78
Florida 10 21 21 2 3 16 87.23 228.39
Missouri 12 25 23 1 2 19 86.48 217.02
Kentucky 13 40 21 0 2 16 84.41 191.48
Vanderbilt 14 46 18 0 3 14 84.87 181.80

Will Marshall (@wamars2), editor of SB Nation Kentucky blog A Sea of Blue and a contributor at Team Speed Kills, emailed with me during National Signing Day as we tried to put the day in context. Presented below --with editing only to fix grammatical mistakes -- are our exchanges, and my thoughts on our SEC East opponents.

Hunter: The Bulldogs managed to hold onto most of their commitments despite Auburn's attempt to raid them, but South Carolina and Mizzou both lost prominent recruits to LSU -- four star defensive end Arden Key flipped from the Gamecocks and three star wide receiver Brandon Martin flipped from the other other Tigers. Did anyone other than Georgia and Tennessee have a successful signing day?

Will: Nationally, I think the answer is Southern Cal followed by UCLA -- it's pretty incredible how well those two programs closed (USC finished number one in both Rivals and ESPN team recruiting rankings). In the SEC, it has to be Tennessee. It's insane what Butch Jones and his staff are doing. UT is young, but it's recruiting at a pace that makes me think you guys are an SEC West school. LSU also had an impressive day.

Hunter: Looking at the SEC East right now, how do you think the winners and losers shake out on signing day? I'd think UT is up, UGA holds steady, UK holds steady or trends slightly up -- and Florida, South Carolina, Mizzou, and Vandy all trend down -- either they didn't meet needs or just had mediocre classes. I'm trying not to look at this as a trendy homer pick -- Florida's class is clearly not up to their usual standards, South Carolina finished okay but didn't measure up to what they could have done (the Gamecocks were holding a top five class in November), Mizzou has one guy (Beckner) and a handful of three star mediocrity, and Vandy is Vandy.

Will: UT wins obviously, but I don't think it's a decisive victory over UGA, who closed out the 2015 cycle strongly. After that, I think there's some distance, and I'd then put South Carolina, Florida, and Missouri on the next pedestal. I think I'm higher on Mizzou than you. Then more distance where I'd put UK, and then Vandy would be at the bottom.

I think it's fair to categorize South Carolina as a "loser" today, but that's really only because they looked like they'd finish in the top 5-8 last summer. Still, having a consensus top 15-20 class makes them a "loser" with a very, very small "l". Today's winners are Tennessee, because of some of their late flips, and Florida for closing very strongly this afternoon, but that's not to say that I think they have a great class, either. They had to have this afternoon go right, and that prevents them from being higher in my book.

Tennessee

Best Recruit Kahlil McKenzie, DT, 5 Star, 0.9968
Blue Chip Ratio 55% (16/29)
2015 National Rank 4
2014 National Rank 7

We've covered it extensively with the rest of our signing day material, but the Vols landed a very good recruiting class. Even with a slightly smaller class than last year, Tennessee increased the percentage of blue chip recruits, flipped four star offensive tackle Drew Richmond from Ole Miss, landed consensus five star defensive tackle Kahlil McKenzie, and finished in the top five nationally in every recruiting ranking after finishing in the top ten last year. That's a good National Signing Day.

Georgia

Best Recruit Trent Thompson, DT, 5 Star, 0.9991
Blue Chip Ratio 46% (13/28)
2015 National Rank 10
2014 National Rank 8

Georgia head coach Mark Richt did a masterful job of weathering the loss of offensive coordinator Mike Bobo and offensive line coach Will Friend to Colorado State. Richt quickly hired former NFL offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, and continued to pursue recruits who had preexisting relationships with the prior offensive staff. As a result, the Bulldogs were able to hold off Auburn, Florida, and several other programs who tried to flip offensive players in the class close to signing day. Top recruit Trent Thompson is an in-state defensive tackle who is absolutely massive, and Georgia recruited enough other blue chip players to stay right on the edge of championship recruiting.

South Carolina

Best Recruit Marquavius Lewis, DE, 4 Star, 0.9587
Blue Chip Ratio 33% (10/30)
2015 National Rank 19
2014 National Rank 16

Oh, what might have been! South Carolina clearly suffered from HBC Steve Spurrier's reported comments that he felt like he had a couple of years left in him, as other programs used his age and seeming indifference for negative recruiting. LSU flipped the Gamecocks top recruit, four star defensive end Arden Key, but South Carolina had already enrolled four star defensive end Marquavious Lewis from Hutchinson Community College (aka, Cordarrelle Patterson's alma mater). In all, this is a very large and talented class, but South Carolina had problems last year getting recruits through the NCAA Clearinghouse and onto campus, so the Gamecocks may end up needing every single recruit from the 2015 class.

Florida

Best Recruit Martez Ivey, OT, 5 Star, 0.9990
Blue Chip Ratio 24% (5/21)
2015 National Rank 21
2014 National Rank 9

Florida's recruiting hit its lowest point in years, as coaching change really took a toll on the Gators' recruiting. Florida's top recruit, Martez Ivey, is probably the best offensive tackle in the 2015 cycle, but new head coach and Jim Bob Duggar clone Jim MacElwain had trouble recruiting depth and talent to surround Ivey, as he found himself recruiting against coaches with long-established relationships in the state. To compound the issue, he found himself recruiting against his predecessor, Will Muschamp, who took the defensive coordinator job at Auburn and several of Florida's most important defensive recruits, including five star Byron Cowart.

Hunter: What is going on with Florida?! That class seems awful to me, and Hutchins (editor-in-chief at Alligator Army) seems to think it's good! Who's wrong? I just don't see how a class that ranks so far below traditional Florida recruiting measures can be sen as anything other than a disaster. Right now, they're looking at a class ranked 33rd (the Gators picked up a late commitment to move up to 21st), but they fired a guy who never finished lower than 12th!

Will: I think it's a confluence of factors. Obviously the coaching change hurt -- the staff didn't get in place and hit the recruiting trail until probably 3 or 4 weeks ago. There are only so many hours in the day, so they couldn't build relationships with many guys, and they probably also had to narrow their scope. I think the UF brand is probably slightly diminished as well (not that it can't bounce back with one great season!), and the resurgence of FSU makes in-state recruiting that much tougher. That's not even to mention how well Clemson has done in Florida the last cycle or two.

Having said that, they did make an impressive bounce back today, and did it by taking only 21 commitments. What would trouble me if I'm a Gator fan is that this class is arguably only the third or fourth best class in the SEC East. That wouldn't be too big of a deal, except their previous classes haven't really developed since they arrived on campus.

I wouldn't label their class "garbage", but I don't think it's worth celebrating either despite some of the really big names attached. Then again, I think the new staff deserves some healthy latitude.

Missouri

Best Recruit Terry Beckner Jr., DT, 5 Star, 0.9918
Blue Chip Ratio 13% (3/23)
2015 National Rank 25
2014 National Rank 39

The other other Tigers' top recruit, Terry Beckner, Jr., is exactly the kind of home grown talent that Missouri needs to keep at home. One of the best defensive tackles in the nation, Beckner should flourish in Mizzou's scheme under the tutelage of a very good defensive line coach. The problem with Gary Pinkel's class is just about everyone else -- this is a thin class full of three star projects, while the rest of the conference is bringing in instant impact guys. If Missouri can manage to redshirt some or all of this signing class, they'll have time to develop and make an impact down the line like previous stars Kony Ealy and Michael Sam -- but if they're thrown into the fire immediately because of injury or anything unexpected, the other other Tigers could be in trouble.

Kentucky

Best Recruit Eli Brown, LB, 4 Star, 0.9006
Blue Chip Ratio 10% (2/21)
2015 National Rank 40
2014 National Rank 22

With a month to go before National Signing Day, Kentucky was holding onto a borderline top 15 recruiting class, and the future looked bright in Lexington. Then things began to fall apart, as recruits who had been committed to the Wildcats for months were wooed by bigger schools, and in-state stars like Damien Harris decided to go elsewhere. Kentucky still finished a respectable 40th, and top recruit Eli Brown is a good looking linebacker prospect, but clearly head coach Mark Stoops' rebuilding project is still in progress.

Hunter: It seems like Kentucky's class really fell apart in the last two weeks -- what happened? Clearly Stoops can evaluate, because other programs came swooping in to steal his commitments. Is this a problem of overblown expectations, or is there something else going on in Lexington?

Will: It really started to fall apart in December when (four star in-state running back) Damien Harris chose Alabama over Kentucky. At that point, the snowball started rolling down the hill until last weekend when it became a giant Indiana Jones boulder. At the end of the day, UK is targeting players who drew interest from blue-blood programs this cycle when that wasn't the case the last two cycles for various reasons. Losing commitments to Ohio State, Michigan State, Auburn, Virginia Tech, and 'Bama is just going to happen when you're UK. They have to start making the postseason to at least give themselves a fighting chance.

NSD went better for UK than many thought it would, myself included. It's not a class with the rankings that will strike fear in the heart of other SEC fanbases, nor should it, but Kentucky addressed the positions where they critically needed depth. The recruits they got for those positions are also UK's best in this class -- they signed some really big receivers and defensive backs, along with a defensive lineman who I really like. Hopefully, they all get a chance to redshirt, and I think this class will be just fine in three years.

Vanderbilt

Best Recruit Josh Smith, LB, 4 Star, 0.9343
Blue Chip Ratio 17% (3/18)
2015 National Rank 46
2014 National Rank 46

Vanderbilt's top recruit, Josh Smith, is a pretty talented linebacker from middle Tennessee. The rest of the class is decent enough, by Commodore standards. The real question here has to do with head coach Derek Mason's on-field recruiting -- former head coach James Franklin left him a young, reasonably talented roster with a recent history of winning, and Mason drove the program right into a ditch. Firing offensive coordinator and the target of my own personal voodoo doll attacks Karl Dorrell has to help, but hoo boy that was a bad first season on West End.