Which schools are off to a fast start for 2026? Top 10 recruiting classes

NCAAF

As the calendar flips to July, college and high schools programs across the country are closing in on preseason camps. And while college programs commit plenty of attention and resources toward solidifying their 2025 classes, they’re actively building out solid foundations for their 2026 classes as well.

We’re taking an early look at the 10 strongest 2026 classes and the top names to know in each class. Among the highlights: three programs from Florida, a potential successor to Arch Manning at Texas, Oklahoma’s unusual path (by its recent standards) to a five-star quarterback, plus why Syracuse and Mississippi State seem like programs on the rise.

coverage:
ESPN 300 rankings for 2025
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Previewing every conference

While the Seminoles’ 2025 class has been picking up steam in recent weeks, they also have been active for the 2026 cycle. They have capitalized on in-state talent with additions such as ESPN Junior 300 athlete Efrem White, who was among the first to jump on board. White projects as a receiver but has been a jack-of-all-trades early in his high school career, playing quarterback, corner and returner as well. He’s slightly built at 155 pounds but possesses good speed with excellent quickness and can create and make plays with the ball in his hands. Similarly, Darryon Williams is a versatile addition who projects to receiver. He has good speed and contributes in a variety of ways. He’ll form a talented young duo with White.

The Seminoles did travel far to land their quarterback, pulling ESPN Junior 300 signal-caller Brady Smigiel out of California. A competitive player and a passer with good anticipation and timing, he has proven production, having already thrown for more than 7,000 yards in his high school career.


The Sooners’ past four four-star quarterback pickups have all come out of Texas, including 2023 signee Jackson Arnold. For the 2026 class, they have traveled a different path, pulling Jaden O’Neal out of California. Among the most physically talented QBs in the class, he could be the player to replace five-star Arnold if he meets expectations. O’Neal has a strong arm with a smooth release and also can adapt well and do a nice job of changing arm angles.

The Sooners returned to the familiar recruiting ground of Texas to land ESPN Junior 300 running back Jonathan Hatton Jr. He has a nice blend of size (6 feet, 205 pounds) and speed. As a sophomore, he rushed for more than 1,200 yards.


The Trojans have been very active, landing perimeter talent with a focus on in-state players. Brandon Lockhart is a top-10 cornerback prospect with excellent height (measuring close to 6-foot-3). For a tall defender, he’s smooth in his movements. Lockhart needs to fill out but has shown he can use his size to be aggressive in press coverage and highpoints the ball well. USC pulled another ESPN Junior 300 defensive back, Dominick Kelly, out of Florida. He shows nice physicality and upside to develop at corner or safety.

Wide receiver Ja’Myron Baker is a good early in-state addition. He won’t wow with his measurables, but he is a good route runner with quick hands and can add quality depth to that unit and be a productive pass catcher.


Fran Brown has wasted little time elevating and accelerating Syracuse’s recruiting since being hired from Georgia in late November. The Orange closed strong in the 2024 cycle, currently have a top-15 2025 class and are off to a good start in 2026. Demetres Samuel was a nice early pickup out of Florida. The ESPN Junior 300 corner performed well at the UA Next Miami camp in March, displaying good explosiveness and speed. He shows an aggressive style of play on film.

Syracuse remained active in the fertile Florida recruiting ground, landing defender Izayia Williams. He’s a linebacker prospect who has shown good movement skills in testing. He’s a sudden and physical player on film and brings very good tools to work with. Williams can be a productive player when locked in.


The Longhorns head into the 2024 season with 2021 five-star Quinn Ewers leading the offense and still have highly touted 2023 five-star Arch Manning waiting in the wings. With Ewers moving on after this season, they are adding more five-star talent to their QB room and preparing for the potential post-Manning era with the commitment of Dia Bell. A rangy prospect with nice physical upside, Bell has a smooth delivery; in his first season as a starter, he threw for more than 1,900 yards and completed 65% of his passes. One of Bell’s strengths as a passer is his nice touch on his deep ball, and a potential future deep-ball target for him could be wide receiver Chris Stewart, who can explode off the line and hit top speed quickly.


One of the top prospects in the state, Messiah Mickens was the first player on board and has already been a longtime commit. He is a runner with nice size and power but also has speed to generate big runs, having been measured hitting almost 21 mph in game play at roughly 200 pounds. After having only one commit for months, the Nittany Lions recently added ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Troy Huhn. Still growing into his tall frame, he has room for development but also possesses a big arm and threw for more than 1,600 yards as a sophomore.


The Hurricanes are mining in-state talent, including close to home, landing south Florida ESPN Junior 300 linebacker Jordan Campbell. He is a defender with excellent length and good initial quickness and range, and while he needs to continue to fill out, he has promising upside as an edge rusher. On offense, Malachi Toney is a bit of diminutive target but has good quickness and body control and can make tough catches. Last season, he led his team with 49 catches, including eight TDs.


The Tigers are always tough to beat for homegrown talent and are already beginning to land some top prospects from Louisiana. New ESPN Junior 300 entry Jakai Anderson can be a vertical threat and productive return man as he possesses very good game speed, hitting more than 21 mph. While projected to offense, he could also end up contributing at cornerback. On the defensive line, Richard Anderson is a stout presence at more than 300 pounds but also has good initial quickness.


The Bulldogs have been active in the early going of the 2026 cycle with multiple commits, including quarterback Michael Johnson. A multisport athlete who can be a dual threat, Johnson can improvise well with a quick release and ability to change arm angles and also can take off and make plays with his legs. He needs to continue to fill out his lean frame but is a player with very good physical tools and could develop into a steal for Mississippi State. In-state running back commit Jaeden Hill rushed for 18 TDs last season.


Coming off the key signing of five-star quarterback D.J. Lagway this past cycle, the Gators don’t currently have a passing prospect in their 2025 class but have struck early in the 2026 cycle by landing ESPN Junior 300 QB Will Griffin. A passer with a sturdy build and big hands, he has a strong arm and can drive the ball downfield and into tight windows. On defense, rangy cornerback prospect Jaelen Waters was a onetime commit to in-state rival Florida State.

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