Alabama is the defending national champion and Nick Saban may have signed his best class yet

Beyond bringing hope and enthusiasm to a college football program, recruiting rankings can be a fair gauge of what fans can expect on the field in terms of wins and losses in the coming seasons. Not all pan out, and not all 3-star talents are accurately scouted, but somewhere in the middle there is a best guestimate of which college football programs will have success in the future based on National Signing Day. The rankings also give us a chance to see which programs fell below lofty expectations.

With the early signing period and the time in between, the 130 FBS programs were left limited options entering Wednesday. There were only 12 players ranked as a 4-star or better uncommitted before National Signing Day and only 15 that were committed but had not signed yet. There was only one flip among the 4-star group — defensive tackle Rayshaun Benny changed from Michigan State to Michigan. The Wolverines also flipped 3-star Texas defensive tackle Ikechukwu Iwunnah from Colorado. No team doubled up on top players making that dramatic leap fans are accustomed to on NSD.

Note: Class rankings referenced are according to the .

Winners

Alabama

From the early signing period to National Signing Day, the Crimson Tide went wire-to-wire. The haul per the recruiting stars is one of the best ever: seven 5-stars, 15 4-stars, and four 3-stars. Within the numbers, 15 of the players are among the top five at their position. The Crimson Tide closed strong adding yet another 4-star on Wednesday, from John Paul II in Tallahassee, Florida.

USC

The Trojans took perhaps the most significant jump in the rankings among the elite programs between December and now, going from 13th all the way up to No. 8. A few months ago, USC had 12 4-stars and eight 3-stars committed. The tally has been bumped up to 22, including the No. 1 overall recruit in the nation, Centennial (Corona, Calif.) defensive end Korey Foreman. Clay Helton’s class (one 5-star, 14 4-stars, seven 3-stars) is loaded with athleticism.

Missouri

One doesn’t have to be on the phone call with a recruit to know the enthusiasm for the program is translating through conversations with the Tigers’ coaching staff. In head coach Barry Odom’s last cycle (2019), Missouri was ranked 37th nationally. It has not taken current head coach Eli Drinkwitz very long to put his stamp on the program’s recruiting efforts. After inking the 51st-ranked class (one 4-star, 16 3-stars) last year, Drinkwitz just put the finishing touches on a top-30 crop (currently 28th per 247Sports) that includes two 4-star signees and 21 high-end 3-star talents.

Honorable Mention

Jackson State

With now running the show at Jackson State, players are answering the phone. The FCS program out of the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) is outperforming many solid Group of 5 teams, as well as Power 5 member Oregon State (only signed 10 players). Furthermore, the Tigers’ class does not count all the top transfers heading to Jackson. Sanders’ first recruiting class has 16 commits — including three 4-stars (one of them being his son, ) and seven 3-stars — but he also has landed transfers from USC, Mississippi State, Florida State, South Carolina, Missouri, and Auburn. That’s an additional eight former 3-star and three former 4-star recruits joining the roster.

Losers

South Carolina

With transition on the sidelines from Gus Muschamp to former Oklahoma assistant Shane Beamer, the Gamecocks plummeted in the recruiting rankings, dropping below the top 100 during the early signing period. There was a bit of a rebound, with South Carolina currently sitting 77th overall, but that still places the Gamecocks ahead of only Oregon State (No. 108) among Power 5 programs. Consider that last year, South Carolina’s class ranked 19th overall.

Arizona

The Wildcats can thank the football gods for Oregon State and South Carolina, as Arizona (76th) is just one notch ahead of the Gamecocks, for now. A new head coach can spell trouble with recruiting, and former New England Patriots quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch has been playing catch up since he signed his contract. His NFL ties have not helped to this point, as Arizona was ranked 65th in December has since fallen.

Upon completing a 6-2 (6-1 Big Ten) campaign with a midseason ranking of No. 9 in the AP poll, one would think the Hoosiers staff could capitalize on the momentum and add some highly sought-after players. As is, Indiana has a solid class of 14 players (two 4-stars, 11 3-stars), but seeing them ranked 54th after all the work head coach Tom Allen has put into transforming the program is both surprising as well as a little disappointing.

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades’ worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, . Follow him on Twitter .