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WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 7, 2007
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SEC keeps firm grip on luring top recruits

By John Zenor
Associated Press Writer

Those Southeastern Conference football teams are at it again, jockeying for position, vying for Top 10 rankings and creating quite the logjam.

This time they have been racking up wins not on the field but in the living rooms of top recruits. Six SEC teams are likely to land Top 10-rated recruiting classes Wednesday, national signing day.

"I've been doing this for 28 years and this will be the first time there will be six," said Tom Lemming, recruiting analyst for College Sports Television.

In the ratings game, the Florida Gators are expected to follow up their national championship with the No. 1 recruiting class.

If recruiting classes, like mutual funds, come with the disclaimers that "past performance is no guarantee of future success," it doesn't hurt either.

"It bodes well for the future of the conference, which right now is the best conference in college football," Lemming said. "With the way they're recruiting, it could be awhile before they relinquish that."

Following close behind the Gators is East Division rival Tennessee, a consensus No. 2 pick leading up to college football's busiest signing day. The ratings could still get shuffled on Wednesday, when some coveted recruits will make their announcements or even switch schools.

The verbal commitments are nonbinding until schools receive signed letters-of-intent.

South Carolina, LSU, Georgia and Auburn are also in position for Top 10 classes in rankings compiled by both Lemming and Rivals.com. Powers Southern California, Texas and Notre Dame are also among those hauling in highly rated classes as usual, but the top SEC teams are collecting an impressive lineup.

It's no mystery why, either. There are enormous pools of talent in states like Florida, and three SEC teams finished ranked in the Top 10 after last season.

Plus, there are big-name coaches with national championships on their resumes: Florida's Urban Meyer, Tennessee's Phillip Fulmer, South Carolina's Steve Spurrier (at Florida) and Alabama's Nick Saban (at LSU).

"Those guys all have credentials where they can go into just about any living room in the country," said J.C. Shurburtt, Southern recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "Are they going to bat 1.000? No, nobody does."

But they got plenty of hits nonetheless.

Florida's signing class is expected to include defensive end Carlos Dunlap of North Charleston, S.C., rated the fifth-best prospect by Rivals.com. Meyer also landed commitments from several quarterbacks, including Atlanta's Cameron Newton.

The Gators landed coveted quarterback prospect Tim Tebow last season as heir apparent to Chris Leak.

At Tennessee, the Volunteers' signees are expected to include top-rated (by Rivals.com) defensive back Eric Berry of Fairburn, Ga., plus impressive groups of running backs and linebackers.

South Carolina might be pulling in its best-ever recruiting class under Spurrier, who was not known for his willingness to pound the recruiting trails during his Florida days. The haul includes Tampa, Fla., quarterback Stephen Garcia (who has signed), and Garner, N.C., wide receiver Chris Culliver.

"Don't be mistaken, I don't think they would be (seventh) in the country right now without Steve Spurrier as their coach," Shurburtt said. "It helps tremendously."

Spurrier has been involved directly with top recruits,
Lemming and Shurburtt both said.

"This year he's proven he's a guy who's willing to get out there and adapt to the modern way of recruiting and fight for his share of prospects, and it's paid off big-time," Shurburtt said. "They've got several guys that if he hadn't gotten involved, would have gone elsewhere."

LSU loaded up on receivers and offensive and defensive linemen, but coach Les Miles is still awaiting word from his most high-profile target.

Running back Joe McKnight of John Curtis High School in River Ridge, La., is expected to announce his college choice Wednesday. He's rated the nation's No. 2 overall prospect by Scout.com and Rivals.com, behind Notre Dame-bound quarterback Jimmy Clausen.

Georgia's recruiting priorities were clear. Of seven players who have already signed letters of intent, five were offensive lineman and two defensive linemen.

Among the others expected to sign Wednesday is Caleb King of Norcross, Ga., rated the nation's No. 1 running back prospect by Lemming.

Alabama's Saban isn't surprised by his SEC colleagues' recruiting success.

"There's a lot of good programs in the SEC right now, a lot of good coaches," said Saban, who jumped back into the recruiting after two seasons with the Miami Dolphins.

"That probably is indicative of the results in recruiting."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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