There’s a wide variety of reasons why elite high school football recruits choose to play for the schools they do. Factors such as early playing time, NFL preparation, playing for a prestigious power program, proximity to home, the ability to play on television every week and the comfort with a coaching staff can all play a role in a player’s decision.
While we still have a lot to learn about just exactly which factors are the most important for this year’s top prospects, there are already certain schools that stick out as logical landing spots for many of them.
Here’s a look at the best school for every blue-chip recruit in the 2015 class.
*What Constitutes an Elite Recruit? For this article, I included players who were ranked as a 5-star prospect by at least two of the three major recruiting services: Rivals, Scout and ESPN. 17 players in total made the cut.
QB Josh Rosen, St. John Bosco (Bellflower, California)
Best Choice: UCLA Bruins
Rosen committed to UCLA back in March, even though he had offers from high-profile programs such as Florida State, Michigan, Notre Dame, Texas and USC. That decision was the right one for the northern California native.
With star QB Brett Hundley expected to leave for the NFL following the 2014 season, Rosen will likely have the chance to immediately compete for a starting job in Noel Mazzone’s offense as soon as he arrives on campus.
The 6’4’’, 205-pound 5-star recruit still has to add some more muscle to his lanky frame, but he’s arguably the most gifted natural passer in this year’s class. The tall, prototypical pocket-passer may not be the dual-threat weapon that Hundley is, but Rosen would still be a great fit for Mazzone’s offense. It’s a system that helped mold both Philip Rivers and Brock Osweiler into NFL quarterbacks, and it could do the same for him.
DT Trent Thompson, Westover (Albany, Georgia)
Best Choice: Georgia Bulldogs
Thompson has reportedly narrowed his top-five schools down to Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida State and Georgia. Obviously, the 6’4’’, 292-pound tackle couldn’t go wrong with any of those choices. Ultimately, though, his best bet would be to stay in his home state and suit up for the Bulldogs.
The All-American run-stuffer, who totaled 83 tackles and 12 sacks as a junior, has the massive build and anchor strength to grow into a dominant nose tackle in Jeremy Pruitt’s 3-4 defense.
Based on his physical stature and playing style, the No. 1 DT in the 2015 class certainly looks like he belongs in the SEC.
DE CeCe Jefferson, Baker County (Glen Saint Mary, Florida)
Best Choice: Florida Gators
Ronald Powell, the former highly touted No. 1 overall recruit of the 2010 class, never came close to materializing into the dominant defender Florida fans were hoping he would. Luckily for the Gators, however, it looks like another former 5-star prospect: LB Dante Fowler Jr., is on his way to becoming terrorizing edge-rusher.
Fowler is a highly athletic tweener, who has the prototypical skill-set to fill the role of hybrid “Buck” linebacker for Will Muschamp’s defense. When looking for a player in the 2015 class who has the type of unique skills similar to Fowler’s, which are needed for the Buck position, CeCe Jefferson is a player who immediately sticks out.
The 6’2’’, 250-pound Florida native, who totaled 17 sacks as a junior, may not overwhelm opposing lineman with his size, but his explosive speed off the edge is the great equalizer.
Jefferson has what it takes to follow in Fowler’s footsteps and become the Gators’ next Buck ‘backer.
LB Malik Jefferson, Poteet (Mesquite, Texas)
Best Choice: Texas Longhorns
After watching Texas’ disastrous defensive performance in a 40-21 loss at BYU last year, it’s become quite clear that the Longhorns lack a true game-changer on the defensive side of the ball. The team no longer has an elite defender like Brian Orakpo, Earl Thomas, Michael Huff or Derrick Johnson to lead the charge.
LB Malik Jefferson could instantly be the savior and defensive linchpin that the Texas defense desperately needs. The 6’2’’, 215-pound outside linebacker is one of the fastest and most athletic defenders in the 2015 class. He’s also been blessed with outstanding natural playmaking instincts, which he showed off this past season, when he totaled 93 tackles 14 sacks.
If new coach Charlie Strong wants to turn Texas back into a championship contender, he has to start landing players the caliber of Jefferson, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
QB Torrance Gibson, American Heritage (Plantation, Florida)
Best Choice: Auburn Tigers
Gibson is the most exciting and intriguing dual-threat quarterback in the 2015 class. Auburn has one of the most exciting offensive systems in college football, one that is built for a quarterback like him to flourish.
It seems like a perfect match, especially when you consider that the starting job will be up for grabs next offseason, following senior signal-caller Nick Marshall’s departure.
Gus Malzahn is one of the most innovative minds in college football today. It would be a ton of fun to see how he would potentially shape his unique spread system around a playmaker like Gibson.
The 6’4’’, 200-pound Florida native recently announced that he had trimmed his list down to seven schools: Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Oklahoma, UCF, Miami and Ohio State. The Volunteers appear to be the leader right now, but in terms of overall fit, the Tigers are really the most sensical choice for Gibson.
OT Mitch Hyatt, North Gwinnett (Suwanee, Georgia)
Best Choice: Clemson Tigers
Mitch Hyatt committed to Clemson back in February, spurring offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State and Georgia.
Hyatt’s desire to play for the Tigers is understandable. For starters, the 6’5’’, 271-pound All-American lives less than two hours from the Clemson campus. More importantly, though, the Georgia native likely loved what he saw from Dabo Swinney’s squad in their exciting 40-35 victory over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl. Plus, he’s surely intrigued by the idea of joining a team that’s finished with double-digit wins in each of the past three seasons.
Family ties also likely played a key role in the decision. Hyatt’s uncle, Dan Benish played for Clemson’s 1981 national championship team. Benish told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “There was never any pressure from me to pick Clemson. But there has been a brainwashing going on since he was five or six years old. Never pressure, but a little brain-washing. And being around Clemson, whether we went there for a game or watched it on TV. I have a bunch of Clemson memorabilia around my house, whether it’s Clemson t-shirts or sweatshirts for his birthdays.”
DT Daylon Mack, Gladewater (Gladewater, Texas)
Best Choice: Texas A&M Aggies
Kevin Sumlin has done a great job turning Texas A&M’s offense into one of the most powerful and potent attacks in college football. But the problem is that the Aggies won’t be able to seriously contend for an SEC title until Sumlin sures up a defense that ranked 96th in the nation in scoring defense in 2013.
He can do that by bringing in an elite defensive lineman like DT Daylon Mack.
Mack, who racked up a whopping 36 tackles for loss during his junior year, committed to the Aggies last October. The 6’2’’, 310-pound tackle is exactly the type of disruptive interior force that the Aggies defense needs.
DE Josh Sweat, Oscar Smith (Chesapeake, Virginia)
Best Choice: Florida State Seminoles
Jimbo Fisher has helped remold Florida State into an SEC-esque power by filling the roster with speed and explosive athletes on both sides of the ball. During Fisher’s tenure, the Seminoles have had 25 players drafted by NFL teams, including six defensive linemen.
The Seminoles coaching staff has proven that it can mold d-lineman into pros, which is something that has to be appealing to the top defensive end in the 2015 class: Josh Sweat.
Sweat proved that he has what it takes to be a special type of pass-rushing threat during his breakout junior campaign, in which he totaled 22 sacks and 94 tackles. The 6’5’’, 230-pound edge-rusher is an explosive athlete, as evidenced by his incredible 128.1 rating at the Charlotte Nike Sparq Combine back in February.
Florida State may already have an emerging star at defensive end in Mario Edwards Jr. However, Edwards could potentially test the NFL waters if he has the type of dominant junior year he’s capable of. That would open up a hole for a blue-chip prospect like Sweat to come in and immediately make an impact as a freshman next fall.
Though the Virginia native hasn’t given any true indications on where he’s leaning just yet, there’s no doubt that the Seminoles have to be near the top of his list of considerations.
CB Kevin Toliver II, Trinity Christian (Jacksonville, Florida)
Best Choice: LSU Tigers
Kevin Toliver II has been committed to LSU since his sophomore year of high school. Though Toliver told AL.com’s Mike Herndon that he plans on taking official visits to Auburn, UCLA and Virginia Tech, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll change his mind before National Signing Day. He’s reiterated that he’s “110 percent” committed to the Tigers.
It’s hard to argue with the 6’2’’, 185-pound corner’s choice. In recent years, LSU has produced plenty of standout star defensive backs such as Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Eric Reid.
Toliver has the size, speed, lockdown cover skills and overall “it” factor to grow into LSU’s next great DB.
CB Kendall Sheffield, Fort Bend Marshall (Missouri City, Texas)
Best Choice: Texas Longhorns
New Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford has helped develop plenty of outstanding defensive backs during his years as a coordinator and a position coach. The list of his former pupils includes high-profile names such as Charles Woodson, Joe Haden and Calvin Pryor.
Bedford would make a great mentor for a gifted young corner like Kendall Sheffield.
The 5’11’’, 180-pound track star is one of the most impressive athletes in the 2015 class, possessing elite speed and explosiveness.
Sheffield is still a raw cover man who relies mostly on his athletic advantage to shut down opposing receivers. However, Bedford is the type of coach who could help him grow into a complete cornerback at the collegiate level.
LB John Houston, Junipero Serra (Gardena)
Best Choice: USC Trojans
USC has built quite a strong pipeline with Junipero Serra High School, which is located just 10 miles from campus. In recent years, the Trojans have plucked heralded recruits such as Marqise Lee, Robert Woods and Adoree Jackson out of Gardena.
Serra is one of the most talent-stocked teams in the country this season. The Padres have a few big-name prospects that new head coach Steve Sarkisian would love to get his hands on. But the real prize is LB John Houston.
The 6’3’’, 211-pound inside linebacker is coming off a sensational season in 2013, in which he totaled 137 tackles and helped anchor a defense that allowed an average of just 16 points per game.
Sarkisian has already made a few splashes on the recruiting trail by reeling in commitments from highly touted prospects such as QB Ricky Town and OT Chuma Edoga. But Houston is the player who could potentially elevate the Trojans’ 2015 class to elite status.
DT Tim Settle, Stonewall Jackson (Manassas, Virginia)
Best Choice: Clemson Tigers
Back in May, Tim Settle tweeted a list of his top schools, which was headlined by Tennessee at No. 1, Alabama at two, Clemson at three, Florida State at four and Texas at five. However, a few weeks ago, he seemed to change his tune, when he tweeted that “Clemson is my new No. 1” following a campus visit.
In an article on sportstalkSC.com, the 6’3’’, 320-pound tackle is quoted as saying, “It was an amazing visit. The atmosphere, the facilities, the stadium, it’s an up and coming program. Coach (Dan) Brooks is one of my favorite defensive line coaches.
Settle is obviously enamored with Clemson’s campus atmosphere. But he also has to be drawn to the idea of early playing time. The Tigers’ top three defensive tackles: Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson are all seniors.
If Settle’s ultimate goal is to make it to the NFL, Clemson is a program that could properly prepare him to become a pro. The Tigers have had 10 defensive linemen drafted in the last decade, and they’ve produced plenty of standout d-lineman such as Vic Beasley, Da’Quan Bowers, Andre Branch, Brandon Thompson and the late Gaines Adams.
DE Byron Cowart, Armwood (Seffner, Florida)
Best Choice: Oregon Ducks
When watching highlights of Byron Cowart, it’s easy to see shades of current Dolphin and former Oregon standout Dion Jordan. Like Jordan, the 6’3’’, 252-pound defensive end is a long, fluid athlete who has the speed and agility to fly around the field. Maybe that’s seemingly why it’s so easy to foresee Cowart ending up in a Duck uniform.
Back in April, the Florida native told 247Sports that the Ducks are the team to beat at this point, but the home-state Gators, Auburn and Alabama are also in the conversation as well.
Great athletes seem to gravitate to a program like Oregon. The program now boasts a world-class facility that can help a budding physical specimen like Cowart reach his full potential and become the best football player he can be.
With DE Tony Washington entering his senior year, Cowart would have the opportunity to compete for serious playing time as soon as he arrives in Eugene.
ATH Terry Godwin, Callaway (Hogansville, Georgia)
Best Choice: Auburn Tigers
There’s no questioning the type of impressive physical talent that Terry Godwin possesses. The only major question swirling around the Georgia native is which position is he best suited for at the next level: wide receiver or cornerback?
Godwin has been tagged with the “Athlete” label by most recruiting services. Still, when you factor in the dynamic playmaking ability he’s shown during his high school career, it would be a shame if he didn’t get the chance to have the ball in his hands in college.
Though Godwin has committed to his home-state Bulldogs, he recently told AL.com that Auburn and Alabama are in the running as well.
The dynamic 6’0’’, 168-pound playmaker would seem to be a great fit for Gus Malzahn’s spread offense. Malzahn would figure out plenty of creative ways to unleash Godwin’s explosiveness onto opposing defenses.
Don’t be surprised if the Georgia commit flips his intentions by the time National Signing Day rolls around.
DB Iman Marshall, Long Beach Poly (Long Beach, California)
Best Choice: USC Trojans
USC’s secondary is currently led by one of the top corners in college football: Josh Shaw. Unfortunately, 2014 will be the senior corner’s last season in Los Angeles. Shaw’s impending departure is one of the main reasons why CB Iman Marshall is one of the Trojans’ top priority targets in the 2015 class.
Like Shaw, the 6’1’’, 190-pound Marshall—appropriately nicknamed “Biggie”—is a tall, imposing corner who has the size and speed to go toe-to-toe with any receiver that steps in front of him.
The general feeling is that USC is the overwhelming favorite to land the Long Beach Poly product. If he does end up ultimately choosing the Trojans as expected, Marshall would be able to step in immediately and be a viable replacement for Shaw.
DT Daron Payne, Shades Valley (Birmingham, Alabama)
Best Choice: Alabama Crimson Tide
It takes a special type of player to handle the responsibilities that come along with being the nose tackle in Alabama’s 3-4 defense. You need the size, the strength, and most importantly, the guts to handle the role.
Daron Payne is exactly the special type of tackle who possesses all the prerequisites for the position. At 6’2’’, 330-pounds, Payne obviously has the size. Judging from his workout numbers: most notably a 460-pound bench-press and a 500-pound squat, he clearly has the strength. And if you’ve seen highlights from his junior year at Shades Valley High school, then you know he’s got plenty of guts, and the type of tenacity and grit to handle being the centerpiece of the Tide’s defensive line.
Though the monstrous tackle has yet to name a favorite school, the fight for the Alabama native will likely come down to the Tide and Auburn. Ultimately, though, the appeal of playing for defensive masterminds like Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will be just too good to pass up.
OT Martez Ivey, Apopka (Apopka, Florida)
Best Choice: Florida Gators
Florida currently has two former highly touted recruits: DJ Humphries and Chaz Green, manning its two offensive tackle positions. But one of the Gators’ main focuses for the 2015 recruiting class will be finding a new young tackle to be the future linchpin of the line.
They won’t have to look far. The top lineman prospect in the state of Florida: Apopka’s Martez Ivey, has already shown serious interest in the Gators.
Not only is the campus close to home, Florida also will afford Ivey the opportunity to prove himself against some of the top edge-rushers in the country in the SEC.