Getty Images

10 Takeaways from the new early Signing Day and the Class of 2018

3 Comments

Well, that was different.

The very first early National Signing Day in college football has come and we finally found some answers for something that many fans of the sport were wondering about. Even if you are not following recruiting like a junkie, you probably had reason to get excited over the next class of freshman for your team or league as coaches far and wide lay the ground work for championships (or their eventual firings).

Sorting through everything from coast-to-coast, here are a few takeaways after the initial flurry of news out of the signing period and what to take note of:

1. Dabo Do and Kirby Can

The center of the recruiting world on Wednesday? That just might be in the 75 mile stretch between Athens and Clemson.

The Tigers and head coach Dabo Swinney inked the No. 1 and No. 3 players in the 247Sports Composite rankings and three of the top 10 recruits in the country. Perhaps most notably, they plucked the top offensive tackle out of Ohio in Jackson Carman, yet another top-ranked quarterback out of Georgia in Trevor Lawrence and the best defensive lineman in the country out of IMG Academy in Florida in Xavier Thomas. Considering how small the class is going to be in terms of numbers, it’s certainly not lacking for impact players.

Not a bad little haul for a team that is No. 1 in the country and playing for a second straight national title next month.

Then there’s that other semifinalist this year in Georgia. Kirby Smart certainly has turned the Bulldogs into a recruiting machine and has the No. 2 class in the country at the moment. It’s not just quantity for the SEC champs but a lot of quality too. That includes the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in Justin Fields and a total of three of the top 10 players in the rankings.

What’s even crazier is they’re not even done and still involved in several other top 100 guys over the next few days and through the February signing period. The rich certainly seem like they will get richer and we’re not talking about that new tax bill either.

2. Urban Meyer and the Ohio State narrative

It’s kind of wild to see the discussion surrounding the Big Ten champions as Wednesday unfolded because it almost felt like many were disappointed in the effort Ohio State had on the recruiting trail.

Wait, what?

Urban Meyer managed to walk away from Wednesday with the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation — by a wide margin. It’s loaded with four- and five-star players and might just be the best non-Alabama group anybody has signed in the past few years. Defensive coordinator Greg Schanio managed to wind up ranked as the No. 2 recruiter among all assistants per 247Sports as well.

Yet there was quite a bit of grumbling from some OSU fans about some missed opportunities with the Class of 2018. As mentioned above, Carman left the state for Clemson and longtime quarterback commit Emory Jones flipped to Florida (in addition to strongly considering Florida State). Five-star defensive lineman Micah Parsons, who was involved in a bit of a recruiting scandal in Columbus, also signed with division rival Penn State.

The only flip that noted recruit-flipper Meyer managed to turn was probably Cameron Brown, a four-star wideout who was previously set to join Nebraska.

Make no mistake, the Buckeyes got better with this class of recruits and ended the day with a better group than, well, everybody. It didn’t quite seem that way as the day unfolded but Ohio State probably won’t mind when all is said and done when these guys suit up over the coming year.

3. Fresh faces, new places

One of the most talked about aspects of the early signing period has been the impact on programs hiring new head coaches quicker than ever to keep pace with the accelerated recruiting calendar. How did it all shake out? Pretty much as expected to be honest, with a few notable flips from some recruits but mostly business as normal for most.

Down in the SEC — where there was greater movement than any league — things were perhaps the most intriguing. Dan Mullen landed Jones as his quarterback in the future while new Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt managed to flip highly-touted signal-caller J.T. Shrout away from Cal. Joe Moorhead reeled in a top 25 class at Mississippi State and new full-time coach Matt Luke did a remarkable job in getting Ole Miss into the same zip code given NCAA sanctions in Oxford.

Then there’s Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M, which will ink a top 20 group (currently sitting at No. 18 in the 247Sports’ rankings) that has room to rise as the Aggies are in on several top prospects that should sign in the regular period in February. His old job isn’t doing so hot though, as Willie Taggart and the Seminoles are sitting in the 60’s as the biggest shock of the day.

Things weren’t so smooth out West either. Chip Kelly saw only a handful of his 10 commitments sign on the dotted line and had the Bruins a few spots behind crosstown rival USC with the gap growing by the day. Oregon’s new staff did well to secure a top 15 class but saw several decommitments down the stretch and a handful of non-West Coast prospects opt to wait until the next signing period instead of inking with the Ducks.

4. Who didn’t sign

As much as this new early signing date was about who did send in their National Letter of Intent, it was also about who didn’t. That includes both the uncommitted players for 2018 and the ones who are verbally committed to teams but not signing.

Among the players who didn’t wind up faxing in their letters on Wednesday (as of 2 pm. ET) in the 247Sports’ top 20: cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. (No. 5 overall), wideout Terrace Marshall (No. 11), receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (No. 12) and offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere (No. 17).

Only a handful of schools like Notre Dame and Washington were able to lock up their entire recruiting class of verbal commitments on Wednesday. That means the work certainly isn’t over yet for many head coaches over the coming months as they work to reassure some players and lure others into a commitment.

5. Strange sight in the Pac-12

Taking a glance at where Pac-12 programs rank nationally at the moment might cause a bit of a double-take.

To start with, the top class in the conference is at Washington, which was the only team out West to crack the top 10 (for the moment) after overtaking a sliding Oregon. The Ducks are still sitting pretty with a top 15 class given the coaching change but that was not quite where they were in the top five just a week ago.

After those two though? You’ll have to all the way down to… USC. Well no surprise there, right? Wrong, because the Trojans are hovering in the mid-20’s and have just 11 commitments. The cardinal and gold are naturally in the mix to land several guys down the stretch but it’s still strange to see the team around the N.C. State’s and Michigan State’s of the world as lunch comes and goes on Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Also a notable absence in the top 20 like they normally are? Stanford. The Cardinal are always a bit of a unique program when it comes to recruiting and the limited numbers they take do them no favors when it comes to the formulas used to determine these things. Still, it’s not what we’re used to seeing on National Signing Day compared to the past few years and a possible sign of things being a little different with the new date.

6. Alabama’s grip at the top

Sunrise, sunset and Alabama landing the No. 1 recruiting class. It seems like it’s been routine up to this point but that’s because it has as Nick Saban has landed the No. 1 recruiting class every year since 2011.

Think about that, the best group… every year… for seven years. Even when you think somebody might pass the Tide, they end up closing strong by signing a few more five-stars and Saban winds up smiling for the cameras when all is said and done just like normal.

That will not be the case with the Class of 2018 barring a huge surprise however. Heck, Alabama might not even wind up No. 1 in their own conference.

While the team rankings are far from finalized given that we have two more days left here in December and another period to go in February, it seems like the king of recruiting will finally be topped this cycle. Ohio State currently sits at No. 1 in the team rankings and No. 2 Georgia is closing on them quickly by signing six — count ‘em, six — five-stars on Wednesday. Neither appear to be done either.

7. Big 12’s big dogs (and then some)

Remember when there was some discussion earlier this year of Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman starting a Red River Rival edition of the 10 Year War after their first seasons at Oklahoma and Texas? Well, if you didn’t believe it at first maybe you’ve reconsidered after this month.

The Sooners made it to the College Football Playoff, saw Baker Mayfield grab the Heisman Trophy and now have inked a top 10 recruiting class to keep the momentum going. While things have been a bit disappointing on the 40 Acres for the Longhorns, they still bounced back to land the Big 12’s best class and the third-best group in the country after Wednesday according to the rankings. Significantly, that includes a near sweep of the Lone Star State’s highest rated prospects and included maybe the best secondary haul of anybody in a long time with six defensive backs in the top 100 in the nation.

That’s impressive and much-needed for the Big 12 to have both of their bluebloods recruiting and playing at an elite level.

It was also quite notable to see TCU back in the top 25 again and Baylor punching as far above one’s 2017 season as you can get by landing a top 25 class as well despite winning just one game all year.

8. The great unknown comes next: coaching changes

Lost amid all the excitement that came on Wednesday will be what assistant coaches will end up changing jobs. It happens every single year after the normal signing date in February and nobody quite knows if that will be the case again after the December period closes.

Remember, there’s still seven weeks between now and the next date for pen meeting paper. Add in the fact that schools can hire a 10th assistant in early January and there’s bound to be a lot of movement over the coming days, weeks and months when it comes to assistant coaches. How will that re-shape the rankings and commitments? Nobody really knows just yet.

9. All-Name Team

The great Matt Hinton cobbled together another great group of All-Namers from the Class of 2018, many of whom signed on Wednesday. Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool might be MVP of the team but we, for one, can’t wait to have Joe Tessitore or some other play-by-play man get really excited about Rachad Wildgoose Jr. making a tackle or picking off a pass.

10. Until next time

There was a lot of energy put into Wednesday as the first ever early signing period got underway and many schools treated it just like they did back in February. That includes live stream shows from various football facilities, flashy new graphics to announce new players who signed and wall-to-wall coverage on TV (seven hours on the Big Ten Network!).

So let’s do it all again in two months.

In all seriousness, it will be fascinating to see how the later date plays out across the country on February 7th. Will things be a bit more muted the second time around or will it feel like normal? We didn’t get many live TV announcements, no parent drama, non-faxed NLI’s or commitments involving animals this time around — will that be the case on the next go around?

Nobody knows for sure but it will be worth following along.

Texas A&M AD Ross Bjork puts Arkansas series at AT&T Stadium on the chopping block

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Week 5 means it’s time for Arkansas and Texas A&M’s trek to the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex for their annual conference game at AT&T Stadium but the days of the old SWC-turned-SEC West rivals meeting in the area might be on the way out.

While a number of fans on both sides have clamored for a return to campus sites for the yearly division meeting, it seems they have picked up a key ally in new athletic director Ross Bjork, who gave some pretty strong indications to the Dallas Morning News that the series is unlikely to continue after the contract runs out after 2024.

“Here’s how I should view it: we should have every SEC home game on our campus from here on out,” Bjork said. “How we do that after the contract is over is still yet to be determined. I think we should have four SEC home games every single year on our campus.”

Bjork said he has spoken about the series with his counterpart at Arkansas, who has even more of a juggling act to do given that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (a former player and prominent booster) enjoys hosting his old team at his palace of a stadium. Still, the Razorbacks have to be interested in a return to campus in at least some form given that they also play a number of games in Little Rock and have just two SEC games in Fayetteville some years — including in 2019.

We’ll see what ultimately becomes of the Arkansas-Texas A&M dance in Dallas but the comments out of College Station right now certainly put it on a path to ending in the near future.

Former Syracuse football player gives program $25 million donation

Getty Images
Leave a comment

There’s giving back as a former player and then there’s giving back to your old program.

The latter was certainly the case for Syracuse this weekend as the school announced a record $25 million gift from former offensive guard John Lally during their game against Western Michigan at the Carrier Dome.

“For Syracuse University Athletics to become even more competitive in both the ACC and on the national stage, the program needs to have first-class facilities, operations and support,” Lally said in a statement. “Laura and I are committed to Syracuse University Athletics, and in particular positioning the university to attract, recruit and retain high-performing student-athletes who succeed on and off the field, inside and outside the classroom and in their communities.”

Lally made his money as the owner and president of PCB Piezotronics Inc., a company he founded after playing offensive guard for the Orange from 1977 to 1981.

While the extra large gift didn’t have any specifics attached to it, the size certainly points to at least some minor facilities upgrades. According to Syracuse.com, Lally already donated nearly $1 million for renovations to the Carrier Dome prior to writing an even bigger check on Saturday in the middle of the Orange’s victory over the Broncos.

It’s not uncommon but for players, especially those in the NFL, to pony up for a new locker room or weight room at their old program but the size of Lally’s generosity is certainly notable in a very welcome gift for Syracuse.

Ole Miss officials not happy with Pac-12 refs after ending against Cal

Getty Images
4 Comments

There were some absolute bonkers endings in the Pac-12 this weekend, from the #Pac12AfterDark special that was UCLA’s comeback against Washington State, to Colorado stunning Arizona State to California remaining the league’s only undefeated team thanks to a goal line stand against Ole Miss.

While the Golden Bears escaped Oxford with a 28-20 win, the victory was not without controversy — something Rebels officials want answers on.

For those who didn’t catch the action, Ole Miss was down eight in the final minute. After a big pass play got the team into the red zone, the Rebels faced 3rd-and-goal from the three yard line with just 17 seconds left. QB John Rhys Plumlee rolled out and quickly threw it to Elijah Moore right at the goal line.

Officials, who were from the Pac-12, ruled Moore short of the end zone however and marked him down inside the one yard line. The home team had no timeouts left and scrambled to get a QB sneak in, which was stuffed by Bears linebacker Evan Weaver.

Ole Miss interim athletic director Keith Carter took to Twitter to express his frustration over Moore’s catch not being reviewed (which would have stopped the clock) as to whether he broke the plane or not, not holding back at all at the Pac-12 officials involved.

The conference has already acknowledged an error their crew made in Arizona State’s victory over Michigan State last week, where Pac-12 refs missed a call that would have allowed the Spartans to get a first down on a missed field goal. Something could be released on Sunday afternoon but that’s unlikely to appease the Rebels, who now sit at 2-2 on the year and face the always brutal SEC slate over the coming months.

All of which Pac-12 fans probably shrug their shoulders over and say get in line Ole Miss given the mistakes the league’s officials make on a weekly basis out West.

Cal shoots up to No. 15 in latest AP Poll, UCF sinks to No. 22 after loss to Pitt

Getty Images
5 Comments

AP Poll voters shook up their ballots quite a bit after a fairly wild Week 4 of action in college football.

Among the biggest risers are No. 15 Cal, which celebrated a controversial victory at Ole Miss on Saturday to become the Pac-12’s only unbeaten and now the conference’s second-highest ranked squad after No. 13 Oregon. The folks out West had a number of movers and shakers when all was said and done, with previously ranked Arizona State and Washington State dropping out after losses and No. 21 USC returning to the top 25 after beating a Utah squad now ranked No. 19 on Friday night.

One of the big drops came at the hands of new No. 22 UCF, which had been sitting in the top 15 prior to losing at Pitt on Saturday in a wild one from Heinz Field. That left new No. 16 Boise State as the highest ranked Group of Five team. Michigan State also returned to the rankings at No. 25 while Kansas State is now ranked in both the AP and Coaches Polls after an idle week. No. 23 Texas A&M hung on to a number in front of their name after a second loss to a top 10 team while Michigan dropped nine spot and sat at No. 20 after being destroyed by Wisconsin.

In the top 10, Notre Dame stuck around after their close loss to Georgia, the Badgers moved to No. 8 and Oklahoma and Ohio State flipped spots in the 5/6 range after the Sooners were off and the Buckeyes scored 76 unanswered against Miami (OH).

Here’s the full AP Poll heading into Week 5:

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Georgia
  4. LSU
  5. Ohio State
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Auburn
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Florida
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Texas
  12. Penn State
  13. Oregon
  14. Iowa
  15. California
  16. Boise State
  17. Washington
  18. Virginia
  19. Utah
  20. Michigan
  21. USC
  22. UCF
  23. Texas A&M
  24. Kansas State
  25. Michigan State