National Signing Day is in the books and the Sun Belt Conference wraps a strong recruiting season.
Sun Belt teams grabbed a total of 72 three star players, the second highest amount in conference history. Spearheading the charge was Texas State and head coach Everett Withers. The Bobcats finished with the top class in the conference and signed 11 three star players. Withers took advantage of the talent-rich region as 22 of the Bobcats’ 24 signees came within the Texas borders.
Outgoing schools New Mexico State and Idaho struggled to attract talent, finishing second to last and last, respectively. Together, the two schools signed four three star players with three of them going to New Mexico State. Idaho has finished in the bottom three during each recruiting cycle of its second stint in the Sun Belt, while New Mexico State’s best class in this span was in 2014 when it finished eighth.
With the top and bottom of the conference sorted out, let’s take a look at three things we learned from the rest of the Sun Belt on National Signing Day.
Georgia State and Shawn Elliot mean business: Georgia State is determined to build and brand its football program as a future conference contender. After firing Trent Miles, athletic director Charlie Cobb dipped into the ranks of the SEC and hired South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliot. Elliot immediately set the recruiting trail ablaze, signing 19 players from seven different states.
Purchasing and debuting new plans for Turner Field, now called Georgia State Stadium, certainly didn’t hurt. Georgia State plans to transform the former baseball park into a state-of-the-art football stadium and revitalize the crumbling surrounding area. Pitching a new stadium and having full support from administration produced immediate payouts in recruiting.
Perhaps the most notable signee, quarterback Jack Walker, chose the Panthers over offers from Miami, conference rival Troy, and Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic.
Georgia State finished last season with just two wins but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the amount of excitement growing in Atlanta. Elliot has the program off to a hot start, but the real test begins in the fall.
No need to worry in Jonesboro: Arkansas State ended national signing day with the number eight class in the conference. If it seems odd to you for a team that has won at least a share of five of the last six Sun Belt titles to finish in the back half of the conference, then your doubts would be understandable.
Up until now, the Red Wolves have finished in the top five in each of the past 15 years. The only reason that number isn’t any bigger is because 247sports started covering Sun Belt recruiting 15 years ago.
Despite the historic finish, it was not a bad recruiting cycle for head coach Blake Anderson. It was simply a case of not having many areas that needed filling. The primary holes were on the offensive line and Anderson got just what he needed.
Three star tackle Dwayne Fisher comes in as one of the top offensive line signees in the Sun Belt. Fisher chose the Red Wolves over offers from Arkansas, Mississippi State, Colorado, and Virginia Tech. At 6-5 300 pounds, Fisher has the size and skillset to contribute right away.
Another area of need was in the defensive backfield. Junior college safety Michael Johnson is listed as the seventh best player at his position and was formally committed to Oregon State and then Nevada before signing with Arkansas State to be closer to his home state of Florida. Johnson is another signee that will likely see immediate playing time for the Red Wolves.
Troy football stock continues to rise: After the program’s first ten win season in its Division I history, Troy capitalized on its in-season success with the second-ranked class in the conference. Head coach Neal Brown was able to use his team’s meteoric rise to close on key recruits and enter spring camp with momentum.
The best package deal of the day went to the Trojans when twins Kevin and Kyle Nixon both signed with Troy. Kevin, a linebacker, and Kyle, a safety, represent two of Troy’s top three high school signees. The Nixon brothers could both vie for early playing time with the graduation of several defenders, most notably Sun Belt Defensive player of the Year Rashad Dillard.
With another strong class in the books for Brown and the Trojans, a foundation has been laid for the return to Sun Belt prominence.
Expectations are high in Troy with the amount of talent in town and the talent that will soon be arriving. Fall will be the first time that Brown’s team will come face to face with lofty expectations and the team’s reaction to it will define the season.