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Top Dawgs: Georgia takes recruiting crown in 2018 and other takeaways from National Signing Day

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National Signing Day — Part II — is pretty much in the books, wrapping up another wild day in college football as we find out where the game’s next stars will be playing at. While the Class of 2018 was the first with an early signing period, there was still plenty of action on the traditional first Wednesday in February date and scores of coaches across the country will be able to claim their teams got much better with the next wave of recruits on board.

Sorting through all the announcements and tallying up the multitude of recruiting numbers, here are a few takeaways from National Signing Day:

1. Top Dawgs

Kirby Smart finished second last season but was second to none when it came to recruiting this cycle.

Georgia finished with the consensus top-ranked recruiting class in 2018 and pretty much picked up where they left off in the early signing period. The Bulldogs landed five-star cornerback Tyson Campbell, flipped both Otis Reese (previously committed to Michigan) and Quay Walker (Alabama), plus went into Texas to grab a pledge from lengthy wideout Tommy Bush. And that was just on Wednesday morning. All told the team is bringing in a CFB-high seven (yeah, seven) five-star recruits in this cycle and 15 others who are ranked as four-stars. Whether it’s by sheer volume or by average star rating, this is one of the best recruiting classes any program has put together and a pretty incredible feather in Smart’s hat. While the good news in February probably won’t take all the sting out of what happened in Atlanta last month, it sure does help to smooth the pain a little and keep the Bulldogs in the running for SEC titles and playoff appearances for years to come.

2. Alabama double-take 

One of the most bizarre sights when the dust settled on signing day was the placement of Alabama at No. 7 in the 247Sports‘ team rankings. That puts an end to one of the more remarkable streaks in college football as the Crimson Tide had hauled in the top-ranked class every year since 2011 and finished outside the top three for the first time since Nick Saban’s initial class in Tuscaloosa. No one will be crying for the national champions however, especially not with three true freshman keying that comeback against Georgia in the title game. Alabama still landed top cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr., who could start right away with the team given what the depth chart looks like going into the season. Still, it was strange to see the program that had been a recruiting juggernaut lose battles to Georgia, Ohio State, ClemsonStanford and USC. Saban made several staff changes this offseason that were no doubt aimed at getting better on the recruiting trail so this dip is probably temporary but it was nevertheless strange to see the Tide not crushing everybody like they normally do on and off the field.

3. USC’s big day

Death, taxes, and USC rolling up commitments on National Signing Day. The Trojans once again had a frenzy of top-ranked players don the cardinal and gold on Wednesday, including the majority of the big hitters in their backyard. Everybody already knew five-star quarterback J.T. Daniels had reclassified from 2019 to 2018 to bolster the class but the team also added four-star teammate Solomon Tuliaupupu, landed the services of five-star corner Olaijah Griffin then secured another top player in four-star corner Isaac Taylor-Stuart. Just as important, they leapfrogged Pac-12 rivals Washington, Oregon and UCLA. While the fan base may not have been thrilled at Clay Helton receiving a new contract yesterday, the results on Signing Day may have them reconsidering.

4. Dabo does it again

The biggest commitment Dabo Swinney and Clemson received came last month when three potential first round picks along the defensive line announced they would return to school for another season. Add that group to yet another top 10 class and the Tigers look like they’ll remain in the nation’s elite for years to come. Two of the top three recruits in the country are already on campus and Clemson signed the top-ranked player from a whopping six states, including plucking five-star wideout Justyn Ross out of Alabama and away from the Crimson Tide. Only Georgia signed more five-stars and you’d be hard pressed to find many teams with a better average than this group.

5. Jimbo Fisher and Willie Taggart close strong

The biggest mover from the first signing period to today appears to be Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M. After getting behind the eight-ball with his hire coming a little late in the cycle, the Aggies went on a roll to close strong with the class of 2018. They landed Louisiana TE Glenn Beal over Tennessee and others, plucked Jeremiah Martin out of California, got four-star QB James Foster and flipped DL Bobby Brown from Alabama among other moves. It will still take time for the new regime in College Station to establish ties in the state of Texas but as far as first recruiting classes go, it was a heck of a first effort from Fisher and company.

As for the guy who took his old job at Florida State, Willie Taggart delivered one of the other big surprises in the team rankings as the Seminoles moved from the 30’s in the team rankings into the top 12. They won the battle for Jamarcus Chatman over in-state rival Miami and also secured the signature of four-star defensive end Malcolm Lamar among other moves but were very active in locking up another talented class despite not having much time to work with. Perhaps just as importantly, it looks like FSU is already rolling with the class of 2019 and will be a force to be reckoned with all those quality recruiters on staff.

6. Texas returns to the top

Up the road in Austin, second-year coach Tom Herman appears to have the Longhorns back among the elite recruiters in college football this year after trending downward the past few years. UT finished with a consensus top three class and landed some impact players in the secondary with a pair of five-star safeties. Even more notable is how the program cleaned up in-state, landing 11 of the top 15 players in Texas.

7. Michigan’s disappointing effort

In a way, the Wolverines’ recruiting mirrored their most recent season and finished on a down note. Jim Harbaugh does have a pretty good roster coming back to Ann Arbor for 2018 but it was a bit of a head turner to see the team ranked No. 21st in the 247Sports’ team rankings after so much talk about the program the past few years. They finished well behind division rivals Ohio State and Penn State in the rankings and failed to land a top 100 prospect. To add insult to injury, they lost five-star offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere to the Buckeyes and saw their highest rated commit flip to Georgia. Not exactly attacking recruiting with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.

8. New coaches, new rankings

Here’s how new head coaches in the Power Five finished in the 247Sports’ team rankings:

Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin: 58th overall, 11th in the Pac-12

Arizona State’s Herm Edwards: 36th overall, 5th in the Pac-12

Arkansas’ Chad Morris: 54th overall, 14th in the SEC

Florida’s Dan Mullen: 14th overall, fourth in the SEC

Florida State’s Willie Taggart: 11th overall, third in the ACC

Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead: 27th overall, ninth in the SEC

Nebraska’s Scott Frost: 22rd overall, fourth in the Big Ten

Oregon’s Mario Cristobal: 16th overall third in the Pac-12

Oregon State’s Jonathan Smith: 69th overall, 12th in the Pac-12

Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt: 20th overall, eighth in the SEC

Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher: 17th overall, sixth in the SEC

UCLA’s Chip Kelly: 18th overall, fourth in the Pac-12

9. Turning our attention to 2019

This was the first class that could sign early in December so from players to coaches to parents, the altered recruiting cycle was an adjustment period for just about everybody. While the vast majority of players decided to put pen to paper in the first period, there was still plenty of drama left for recruiting junkies to get excited about in January and February despite worries there would not be. It’s still too early to pull out some big takeaways from how everything is going to play out long-term given all of the unique factors involved in the Class of 2018, but it’s possible we’ll see some tweaks in strategy from programs large and small going forward. One thing is for certain, teams are not wasting any time getting started with the Class of 2019 and the team that sits atop the 247Sports’ rankings this year is the same one that is in pole position next year as Georgia already has seven commitments — all four-stars or better. As we know though, it’s a long road between now and then.

10. Still plenty of NSD strangeness

Despite the early signing period taking some of the buzz out of the air in February, there was still plenty of the regular strange moments we’ve come to expect from National Signing Day. Twitter accounts getting suspended, moms walking off the stageSnoop Dogg and more.

Ahh, ‘crootin.

Coach battling brain tumors staying on WKU staff, but OL role being taken over by former Wisconsin, Oregon State assistant

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As one member of the Western Kentucky staff continues to recover from a serious health matter, job security, not surprisingly, will be way, way, way down on his list of worries.

In late October, Western Kentucky head coach Mike Sanford confirmed that offensive line coach Geoff Dartt had undergone surgery to remove a pair of brain tumors. Friday, WKU announced that it has hired TJ Woods as its new offensive line coach.

In the same release, the Hilltoppers confirmed that Dartt will remain on the staff as Sanford’s 10th assistant in an unspecified new role.

Woods spent the past three seasons as the line coach at Oregon State. Prior to that, he served in the same capacity for two seasons at Wisconsin.  In fact, this will mark the first time Woods starts a season without Gary Andersen as his head coach since 2008 as he was also at Utah State from 2009-12.

“The addition of TJ Woods to our program is a game-changer for our offensive line unit,” Sanford said. “He has overseen dominant rushing attacks at the highest level of college football. I look forward to working directly with TJ to produce a balanced and explosive offense on The Hill in 2018 and beyond.”

“My wife, Kelly, and I are excited to be a part of the Hilltopper family,” Woods said. “To be able to work for Coach Sanford and represent Western Kentucky University is a tremendous opportunity, and I look forward to building on the great tradition of tough, tenacious offensive line play here at WKU. My family and I are eager to join the Bowling Green community and get to work.”

Hawaii’s Brandon Kipper tweets transfer to Oregon State

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It won’t help this season, but Oregon State has added some talent to its offensive line.

On his personal Twitter account Wednesday night, Brandon Kipper announced that he has decided to transfer into the Oregon State football program.  The offensive tackle comes to Corvallis as a transfer from Hawaii.

Kipper will have to sit out the 2018 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.  Beginning with the 2019 season, he’ll then have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

Kipper was a two-star 2017 recruit coming out of high school in Idaho.  As a true freshman, the 6-6, 270-pound right tackle played in 11 games in a backup role.  He was expected to compete for a starting job with the Rainbow Warriors had he stayed at the school.

Devin Winters, 2018 prospect being recruited by Ole Miss, Syracuse, dies suddenly

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Less than two weeks before National Signing Day, tragedy has struck the recruiting trail.

According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, New Orleans high schooler Devin Winters was found unconscious in his home last Thursday night and was unable to be revived.  He was just 19 years old.

Details surrounding Winters’ passing, including a cause of death, have not been revealed.

“I’m so proud of him, and he was so loved,” Winters’ mother, Cavanda Kelley, told the Times-Picayune. “I know he’s in a better place right now. It’s hard. I’m trying. I’ve got a lot of support, and I thank everybody for it. [There are] so many people out here, half of them I don’t even know, but I’m thankful and grateful for everybody who came out to show love and support for my son.”

Winters, a two-star defensive lineman, was scheduled to take an official visit to Syracuse this weekend and then take one to Ole Miss the following weekend, just a couple of days before signing day.  The Daily Advertiser labeled Winters as a soft commit to the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns along with the Power Five interest.

“Very saddened by the unexpected (news),” former UL head coach and current Mississippi State tight ends coach Mark Hudspeth told the paper.  Billy Napier, the coach who replaced Hudspeth with the Ragin’ Cajuns, had continued to recruit the lineman.

Winters had also held offers from, among others, Cincinnati, Houston, Kansas, Oregon State and SMU.

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to those affected by Winters’ passing.

Report: Mike Riley to be paid $50,000 annually at Oregon State

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Have to admit, this one made me chuckle quite a bit.

In late November, Mike Riley was fired as the head coach at Nebraska after three seasons.  Less than two weeks later, Riley was hired to be an assistant on Jonathan Smith‘s first coaching staff at Oregon State, where he spent two separate stints totaling 14 seasons.

Because Riley found a new job, anything he makes with the Beavers will reduce the buyout he received from the Cornhuskers.  The thing is, Riley will be paid, relatively-speaking, peanuts at his new job: a smidge over $50,000 annually.  Again, that’s $50,000.  A five, followed by a scant four zeroes.

From LandOf10.com‘s Erin Sorensen:

When Nebraska fired Mike Riley in late November, the former coach’s buyout was $6,630,000 — or $170,000 per month until Feb. 28, 2021. That total would be reduced if Riley were to obtain employment elsewhere…

Despite finding new employment, Riley’s new contract with Oregon State breaks down to only $4,167 per month. That means Nebraska still owes $165,833 per month to the former coach.

As diehard Cornhuskers fan Larry the Cable Guy might opine, I don’t care who you are, that’s funny right there.

One final contract note: According to the Corvallis Gazette-Times, Riley received a $35,000 signing bonus as part of the contract he reportedly signed Jan. 9.