EDITOR'S NOTE: Later this week we will rank the Top 50 FCS signees/recruits, and the Top 25 FCS recruiting classes. We'll wait for all of the dust to settle a bit before we put those two rankings in stone.
When it comes to recruiting accolades, everything is subjective. There is no perfect way to quantify a class–no matter how you break it down. A 6-foot-7, 330-pound lineman isn't necessarily better than a 6-3/280 lineman, so being bigger doesn't give you an instant check mark. And those guys who run 4.3-second times in the 40-yard dash could drop the ball every time it's thrown to them, so the speed doesn't make them the top receiver.
So there are a lot of intangibles that go into recruiting. No coach will disagree. Scouting kids is an inexact science, and luck is involved.
So Mr. FCS thought he'd take a shot with his own opinions–which are typically strong and annoy some people. So here we go.
UPSTARTS OF THE YEAR
A couple schools come to mind immediately when it comes to upstarts in recruiting. Yeah, we know the usual suspects are going to have great classes — James Madison, North Dakota State, Jacksonville State, Harvard, Montana, you name it. But the following upstart programs have really stood out this recruiting cycle in comparison to their 2015 finishes off-the-field.
First of all, something's brewing with Columbia in the Ivy League. Al Bagnoli and his staff have rocked it in recruiting this year. There are some outstanding classes coming in within the Ivy League, but the Lions are just doing a phenomenal job bringing kids on board following a 2-8 season. And how about Lamar and Stephen F. Austin in the Southland Conference? Both schools are (not surprisingly) tapping into that rich Texas talent pool and mining it well, even following their struggles of 2015. The coaches have done extremely well. Out west, one that jumps out of you is UC Davis. Its 2-9 finish last year hasn't affected this class at all. It is loaded. Love the QBs–Columbia's Matt Dame, Stephen F. Austin's Zach Hall and UC Davis' Kevin Davidson, and the Crosley brothers at Lamar–David and Daniel.
INDIVIDUAL SLEEPER PROSPECTS
Savannah State recruit and Brooksville (Fla.) native DeShawn Smith rushed for more than 3,700 yards and 60 touchdowns. No, not in a career, just 2015. Because of academic challenges Smith opted for the FCS route. He is an absolutely fantastic pickup for Savannah State, and you'll hear about him in the MEAC soon. My colleagues at the Tampa Bay Times newspaper have watched this kid for years and told me Smith is every bit as legit a RB as anybody who has come through the greater Tampa area in many years.
A very close second is Eastern Kentucky QB Austin Scott. The South Carolina native somehow wasn't offered by any ACC schools, even though he was under their noses for years. Watch what happens when he gets a chance to take some snaps.
IVY LEAGUE WINNER
Yale. Hands down. We mentioned Columbia above and the Lions should get all the props in the world for what they've done this year, but Yale is better. The Bulldogs landed two of the most underrated and explosive offensive players in the nation in RB Alan Lamar and WR J.P. Shohfi, and half a dozen incoming Yale players had the option of playing in the FBS, like linemen Sterling Strother and Charles Callender.
This is a very, very strong recruiting class–and it's huge. The Bulldogs will add a group in the high 20s, which isn't unprecedented in the Ivy League (with no scholarships) but still shows this class has the quality and the quantity of one of the top groups in the country. Perennial Ivy League power Harvard's class is excellent too, but the Bulldogs win it this year.
Mr. FCS is in love with the group Bethune-Cookman is bringing in, and it's not just because he spent a decade working in Daytona Beach (Fla.) — home of BCU. Coach Terry Sims and his staff have done extremely well in talent-rich Florida and they've done their usual good job going the junior college routes. The Wildcats have become a destination, whether it is Sims in charge or former coach Brian Jenkins, who is now at Alabama State.
The recent addition of Miami lineman Keldrick Cesar was big: "BCU was always there, since my sophomore year," Cesar told HERO Sports on Tuesday. "They show how committed they were and how family is important to them, and also the tradition they carry."
You're not going to believe this, but North Dakota State has another great class. The Bison have a well-rounded group and know exactly what they want out of a class. Not surprisingly, Northern Iowa's group is outstanding, and South Dakota State and Illinois State are right there too, but the Bison did a big-time job mining the midwest and beyond, and also stocked a great walk-on class. As usual, they win. There's no way around it. Now, do they have the top class in the nation? We'll take a look at that after the dust settled, as mentioned above. "I feel this class will be very special," NDSU recruit Karson Schoening told HERO Sports on Wednesday. "I know all of us are looking forward to continuing NDSU's dynasty and winning championships."
Linebacker John Daka is a wrecking ball of energy defensively, and defensive tackle Rondre Knowles-Tener is a terror on the line and is a cerebral player to go with it. The big boys wanted these two and couldn't get them. And QB/ATH D.J. Daniels is going to be fun to watch one day under center. And Daniels is a huge fan of Vad Lee (hint hint). He is the real deal–and these are just three of the guys among many who will impress. Chalk one up for the Dukes.
BIG SKY WINNER
No big shock here — Montana. The thing that really sticks out with the Grizz is this group of linemen coming in. Thayne Jackson, Ashton Torres and Dylan Eickmeyer form easily the best line trio going to any FCS school. These guys are going to be able to pound the opposition into the pieces up front. The wide receivers are very impressive too.
I have a lot of respect for UC Davis' exemplary group, Northern Arizona's group and of course Eastern Washington and Portland State. But there's no question that the school that averages the best in the FCS in attendance is also the Big Sky winner on signing day.
Sam Houston State has a great group and had the deepest playoff run this past year, but it is McNeese State that put together the cream of the Southland Conference crop of classes. The undefeated Cowboys of a year ago return a ton of talent this season, and they also bring in some good players in this recruiting class.
Parker and Cody Orgeron are the twin sons of well-known college coach and recruiter Ed Orgeron, who is at LSU currently. Parker is the WR, Cody is the QB, and they hope to play pitch and catch with each other as soon as possible vs. Southland competition. "The coaching staff went out and got competitors, and we've become pretty close just from going on our visits, I'm excited about it," Parker told HERO Sports on Wednesday.
OHIO VALLEY WINNER
Not surprisingly, Jacksonville State is following up its national runner up finish with a great class–and arguably one of the nation's hottest finishes in January. But don't overlook Eastern Kentucky, which got two players — QB Austin Scott and OL Nathan Murray — the FBS just flat out missed the boat on. And they're going to prove it. So we'll go with JSU at No. 1 but when it comes to quality pick ups, EKU is a very close No. 2 in the OVC.
They run in the same recruiting circles often, so we'll combine these three conferences and throw the nod to Colgate — a team parlaying its FCS playoff success into a gigantic class. Coach Dan Hunt did his usual good job in Florida, as well as in the closer recruiting grounds the Raiders have found success in.
Last year Lehigh's Dom Bragalone became the freshman gem of the Patriot League. We'll go ahead and predict that this year's true freshman gem will come from Colgate — just not yet sure which one. Quarterback Carmine Scarfone could be the next good one at Colgate.
In the NEC, Sacred Heart got a true recruiting gem with LB/DE Chris Agyemang. It's not often an NEC program gets a player with Power Five Conference offers, but this time Sacred Heart did. "I played linebacker in high school and they really believe I have a high potential to transform into a really good defensive end," Agyemang told HERO Sports on Wednesday. "I'm looking forward to learning the position and I love the coaches there."
BIG SOUTH/SOUTHERN WINNER
Just like NEC/Patriot/Pioneer combo, these two conferences frequently do battle for recruits, so we'll combine them and pass on giving the nod to Coastal Carolina since the Chants won't be in the FCS a year from today (though they clearly have the best group in these two conferences).
With Coastal Carolina not in our mix, we'll go with a three-way tie between Chattanooga, Samford and Furman. Great groups with some serious talent coming in for these schools, and don't ignore Charleston Southern and Western Carolina, either.
The Southern Conference is clearly the most difficult to put in order. Samford's addition of former Tennessee recruit TaDarryl Marshall is the coup of the SoCon. "It was a roller coaster ride all the way through but it all worked out in the end," Marshall told HERO Sports on Wednesday. "(I like) the vibe the coaches give off. I have a personal relationship with them all. I've grown up with them and I've also grown attached to the school."