Twenty-nine FBS programs have secured verbal commitments from multiple four-star recruits in the 2018 class. Three of those programs are "basketball schools" who have won zero combined outright conference championships since the JFK Administration.
Though we're still seven months away from the new early-signing period for 2018 recruits and every commitment should be taken with a grain of salt until the recruit has signed a letter of intent, Duke, Kansas and Kentucky are building impressive classes.
The Jayhawks flew out of the gates with the biggest recruiting day in program history on Feb. 4. They received six commitments in one day, headlined by four-star prospects Devonta Jason, Corione Harris and Ja'Marr Chase, all of whom hail from Louisiana and all of whom passed on big-time offers from programs that have won more than 14 games in the last seven years, among them Auburn, Florida, LSU and Tennessee.
Though Chase decommitted nine days later, head coach David Beaty and associate head coach — and his secret recruiting weapon — Tony Hill, a former Louisiana high school coach, have hung onto Jason, Harris and two other Louisiana recruits, three-star defensive back Aaron Brule and three-star running back Anthony Williams.
“I have known Coach Hull since he coached at Warren Easton,” Harris said in February. “He knew me back when I was playing little league football. He is an awesome man. He has a great personality and always wants what is the best for the kids. That has always stuck out to me and he treats me like he is a father.”
Kansas' eight-man class currently ranks 20th nationally (Rivals), and Jason and Harris would match the total number of four-star recruits they signed between 2014-16. Jason would also be the highest-rated player (No. 5 receiver, No. 25 overall) to ever sign with the Jayhawks.
Three spots below KU sits Duke, who has eight commitments in their 2018 class — two four-star and six three-star players. The Blue Devils' crown jewels are St. Thomas Aquinas product Rocky Shelton, the 12th-ranked inside linebacker in the nation, and Tahj Rice, the 13th-ranked strongside end.
“I also had to look at the after-football part of this,” the 6-foot, 200-pound Shelton told the Orlando Sun Sentinel in February, two months before he picked Duke over Florida State, LSU and others. "I get to play football and get a degree from a top university.”
Shelton and Rice will earn the national headlines but David Cutcliffe's group is remarkably deep and diverse. Their eight commitments have come from players at seven positions. Tight end Zamari Ellis from nearby Henderson, N.C., is a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder who should compete for immediate playing time, and offensive lineman Casey Holman passed on offers from Auburn, Florida and Oregon.
One spot below Duke at No. 24 is Kentucky, who has rocketed up the rankings with two four-star commitments in the last two months, most recently guard Marquan McCall, a 6-foot-3, 323-pounder from Michigan. The state's top prospect and 94th-ranked player in the nation committed to Kentucky on Monday, spurning in-state Michigan and Michigan State — along with Penn State and Wisconsin.
"Big thanks to Coach Stoops and Clinkscale for believing in me and being honest at all times," McCall said on Twitter, noting the efforts of fifth-year head coach Mark Stoops and second-year defensive backs coach and lauded recruiter Steve Clinkscale.
Like Kansas, all of Kentucky's 2018 recruits have committed since February, when three-star talents Marvin Alexander, Davoan Hawkins and Alex Reigelsperger gave verbals between Feb. 21-25. Though the McCall commitment felt odd to recruiting traditionalists who didn't expect Michigan to lose an elite prospect to an SEC program that hasn't won nine games in a season since 1984, it's become commonplace under Stoops.
All five of his recruiting classes have been ranked in the top 35, including No. 17 in 2014 when they signed 10 four-star prospects. Kentucky has signed at least two four-star players in each of his five years. For Duke and Kansas, this is unchartered territory.
Since arriving in 2008, David Cutcliffe has only once compiled a top-50 class (No. 31 in 2016) and twice signed multiple four-star prospects (2009, 2016).
Kansas hasn't finished in the top 50 since 2011 (No. 34) and while they have signed 12 four-star recruits since 2009, the coaching and roster turnover is so depressing that their recruiting history is not worth dissecting. With as many head coaches (including interim) since 2009 as Big 12 victories (five), KU fans have suffered enough.
There's still a long ways to go but these three "basketball schools" are doing pretty well in convincing football prospects to take a chance.