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Seven National Signing Day Takeaways from the Class of 2017

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The T’s are crossed, the I’s are dotted and the Class of 2017 is in the books for college football programs across the country. What did we learn as National Signing Day came and went on Wednesday? Here are seven takeaways from the day that was as the calendar can officially flip forward and take us full steam into the upcoming season.

1. Illinois State won National Signing Day

Yes, tiny FCS program Illinois State was the biggest winner of National Signing Day bar none. Why? Simple, the Redbirds announced they had signed superstar All-Name first-teamer Kobe Buffalomeat. Yes, you read that right, his name is Kobe Buffalomeat. Soak up all that attention and more kid, you’ve earned it.

MORE: Independents and Group of Five National Signing Day Recap: Irish bounce back, Memphis tops AAC

2. Alabama dominates once again

Ho-hum, Alabama rolled to their seventh straight recruiting national championship. At this point, Nick Saban isn’t even reloading even more in Tuscaloosa — he’s refilling, refreshing and restocking the Crimson Tide shelves twice over. When you don’t even have enough room for a bleeping top 100 recruit who committed in a video from France, you know things are at just a different level than everybody else.

MORE: SEC National Signing Day recap: Alabama reigns supreme but Georgia isn’t far behind

3. Meyer, Harbaugh are waging Ten Year War on the recruiting trail too

As good as Alabama was in putting together their class, the Big Ten was no pushover thanks to the league’s two powerhouses and their two big name head coaches at Ohio State and Michigan. Urban Meyer assembled a class that was right there with any in the SEC and actually out-paced the Tide when it came to average star rating, finishing just a tick behind Saban and company thanks to a smaller number of scholarships. The Buckeyes wound up with five five-stars in all and the top rated player at three different position and the No. 2 player at six others. The OSU head coach was basically searching for flaws and having a hard time coming up with negatives. His opposite number up North was no slouch either, as Jim Harbaugh dipped into the heart of the SEC to grab a top defensive tackle and fanned out across the country to pull talent to Ann Arbor. There’s been a lot of talk of a new Ten Year War between the two rivals given their head coaches and we certainly are in for one given the way they recruit.

MORE: Big Ten National Signing Day recap: Ohio State lands historic class, Michigan not far behind

4. USC continues to recruit itself

We’re to the point where it’s safe to say that no matter what, USC is going to land a top five recruiting class on Signing Day. At least it seems that way after the Trojans once again closed in impressive fashion to dominate the headlines out west and even draw a few eyebrow raises from the southeast. Whether it was locally in Southern California or across the country in places like Utah, Arizona or Florida, the cardinal and gold was typically on the head of many top recruits during announcements. In a way, the strong push across the line with the Class of 2017 was fitting given the job Clay Helton did this past season. Those calls for a new coaching staff in Los Angeles seem so, well, five months ago.

MORE: Pac-12 National Signing Day recap: USC surges late once again but don’t sleep on Stanford

5. Programs deal with scandals in different ways

Every college football team goes through ups and downs but dealing with off the field scandals can sometimes affect programs in unexpected ways. We saw that play out a little bit for a few folks on National Signing Day. One the positive side, Matt Rhule and the new staff at Baylor did a mighty fine job shrugging off all the negative publicity from the sexual assault scandal (and seemingly daily headlines) to land a top 40 class. That’s far better than most predicted just a few weeks ago and was one spot behind Big 12 rival Oklahoma State, which nearly won the league title. The flip side was Ole Miss, a mainstay in the top 10 the past few years that had suddenly found itself at No. 30 overall — one spot behind Kentucky (and yes, it’s football we’re talking about). Head coach Hugh Freeze seemed fairly grumpy about NCAA sanctions hanging over the Rebels and that was clearly reflected with the less than stellar group he signed.

MORE: Big 12 records worst signing day in conference history

6. Awful season? Wouldn’t know it at some programs

All good things must come to an end and there were a number of teams that took a drastic step back in 2016. Among those that would rather forget last season were Notre Dame, UCLA, Oregon, Mississippi State and Michigan State. Nobody from that group ended up making a bowl game, the Ducks ended up hiring a new head coach while the others all made significant staff changes. Despite all that, the Irish landed a top 12 class on Wednesday, the Bruins secured the No. 1 overall recruit, Oregon and MSU found themselves in the top 25 of the team rankings while the Spartans managed a pretty solid haul.

MORE: ACC National Signing Day recap: Florida State, Clemson impress once again

7. It was a relatively drama-free day but there were still some surprises

Despite there being more attention than ever on recruiting, this seemed like one of the most drama-free Signing Days in a long, long time. Part of that had to do with so few uncommitted players heading into the week — and only one major decision really going against conventional wisdom when top-rated DT Marvin Wilson committed to Florida State. Despite the lack of drama, there were still a few surprises like Maryland finishing with a top 20 class that was eight spots better than Texas, Clemson not ranking as high as you would expect because of their super small class, Florida’s late surge toward a respectable top 10 group, Lane Kiffin stealing a commit and the Big 12 looking very lackluster outside of Oklahoma.

Telly Lockette takes job at Florida State as TEs coach

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As Willie Taggart constructs his first coaching staff at Florida State, he’s added yet another familiar face.

Taggart, FSU announced earlier Thursday, has hired Telly Lockette as the Seminoles’ tight ends coach.  Lockette had spent the past three seasons as the running backs coach at Oregon State.

Prior to that, Lockette was a member of Taggart’s coaching staff at USF as running backs coach for two seasons and maintains deep ties to the fertile recruiting soil of South Florida.

“I’ve known Coach Lockette for a long time and am excited he is joining our staff at Florida State,” Taggart said. “He was an important part of my first staff at South Florida and has gained Power 5 experience with his last three seasons in the Pac-12. Coach Lockette is a tremendous recruiter and coach who does a phenomenal job developing student-athletes on and off the field. While we were at South Florida he was the primary recruiter for the Miami area and helped us sign a number of impact players, including Quinton Flowers, Khalid McGee and Deatrick Nichols. His expertise will benefit our current and future Seminoles.”

The job with Taggart at USF was Lockette’s first at any level of college football.  The first 10 years of his coaching career were spent at the high school level, including a five-year stint at Miami Central from 2008-12.

Amidst Arizona State chatter, Texas Tech DC David Gibbs signs contract extension

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Almost without fail, it pays to have your name circulating through the annual churning of the coaching rumor mill.

The latest example is David Gibbs, with the Texas Tech defensive coordinator being rumored as a target for the same job with Herm Edwards at Arizona State over the past few days.  Fast-forward to Thursday night, and Tech announced that it has finalized a new two-year contract extension with Gibbs.  The coordinator is now signed through the 2019 season.

According to the school, Gibbs’ pay will be bumped from $550,000 per year to $650,000.  That number puts Gibbs right in the middle of Big 12 DC pay.

“We are fortunate to have one of the top defensive coordinators in the country in Coach Gibbs,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said in a release. “Since the conclusion of the regular season, finalizing this new contract to keep Coach Gibbs at Texas Tech has been a priority for myself and [athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt]. We look forward to continuing to build one of the nation’s top defenses in the years to come under Coach Gibbs.”

Long a punchline, the Red Raiders’ defense has steadily improved in the three years under Gibbs.  This season, their 27 takeaways led the Big 12 and are the most in a season for the football program since 2008.  They’re also currently seventh in the country with four defensive touchdowns.

With Gibbs back, he’ll have 10 returning starters with which to work next season.

“There isn’t a better person to work for than Kliff Kingsbury, and I’m looking forward to continue building this program with him,” Gibbs said. “There is still plenty of work that needs to be done, but I’m excited about the future of our team.”

RB Justin Crawford to skip West Virginia’s bowl game, begin preparing for NFL draft

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Sometimes the personnel gods giveth, and sometimes the personnel gods taketh away.

Thursday evening, West Virginia announced that quarterback Will Grier will return to Morgantown for the 2018 season.  Not long after, the same football program confirmed that Justin Crawford has decided to eschew playing in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Instead of preparing for Utah in the postseason, the senior running back will instead begin preparations for the 2018 NFL draft.

“Justin has logged a lot of miles and been a key contributor for us the past two seasons,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He made a decision to not play in the bowl game based on what is best for him and his family. He came to West Virginia to further his education and be a featured back in the Big 12 and he accomplished his goals. As he starts his preparation for the NFL Draft, we wish him nothing but the best.”

Crawford has led the Mountaineers in rushing each of the past two seasons.  He’s the first WVU player to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Noel Devine in 2008-09.

After finishing third in the Big 12 this season with 1,061 yards on the ground, he was named second-team all-conference for the second straight season.  Following the 2016 season, he earned the league’s Newcomer of the Year honor.

SMU graduate assistant GJ Kinne to call plays in Frisco Bowl

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New SMU head coach Sonny Dykes has been busy assembling his staff as he prepares to jump right in the saddle to coach the Mustangs in the Frisco Bowl next week, but he will have one holdover from the previous staff to help call the shots on offense. Graduate assistant GJ Kinne will call the offensive plays for the bowl game, according to Adam Grosbard of The Dallas Morning News.

This would seem to be the most logical choice for Dykes to make in this scenario. Kinne has been working in the SMU system all season long under former head coach Chad Morris, who has moved to Arkansas with a handful of assistants. Having the most experience with the current roster and a better comfort level makes sense to have Kinne take on this responsibility so close to the bowl game. This will be a major promotion for Kinne, the former Tulsa quarterback, even if just for one game.

I certainly trust G.J. It’s going to be fun to give him an opportunity to be highly involved and it’ll be one of those things he remembers for the rest of his life,” Dykes said of the decision to have Kinne calling the offense from above. “When you’re a GA and you get to call a bowl game, it’s a pretty awesome opportunity.”

Just how smoothly this all goes is anyone’s guess. Fortunately, if things go awry, Kinne and Dykes can always just resort to going back to a chuck-it-deep mentality and see what happens.

SMU faces Louisiana Tech in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20.