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

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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.

Illini DE who suffered severe spinal injury speaking, eating and sitting up

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There is some positive news when it comes to a distressing situation that developed over the weekend.

Illinois true junior defensive end Bobby Roundtree sustained what was described as a severe spinal cord injury in a swimming accident Saturday and underwent surgery a day later.  According to the Associated Press, Roundtree is progressing well following the surgery and, while he remains hospitalized, is speaking, eating and sitting up.

Several members of the Illini football program, including Lovie Smith, traveled to Mease Countryside Hospital in Safety Harbor, Fla., to be with the injured player.

“Bobby Roundtree is exactly what you want in a student-athlete,” a statement from the head coach began. “He is a hard worker, dependable, a dedicated student and a leader.

“This is devastating to his teammates, the entire Fighting Illini family and his family and friends. We will give Bobby all the support possible as he battles through his recovery. Please keep Bobby and his family in your thoughts and prayers.”

Roundtree, who played his high school football in Largo, Fla., has started 20 games the past two seasons since coming to the Illini as a three-star member of their 2017 recruiting class.  This past season, the 6-5, 245-pound end led the Illini in tackles for loss with 12.5 and pass breakups, and was second in sacks with 7.5 and quarterback hits with four.

For that, the media named Roundtree honorable mention All-Big Ten for the 2018 season.

Iowa State officially adds Arkansas’ leading receiver

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Matt Campbell has officially added an experienced and productive piece to his Iowa State passing attack.

La'Michael Pettway revealed via Twitter in mid-January that he would be transferring from Arkansas; nearly four months later, he used the same social media vehicle to deliver the message that he would be continuing his collegiate playing career at Iowa State.  Monday, it was confirmed by the football program that the wide receiver has officially enrolled in classes at the university.

As a graduate transfer, Pettway will be eligible to play immediately for the Cyclones in 2019.

“I think the biggest thing he brings is he gives a veteran presence to this receiver group,” the head coach said according to the Des Moines Register. “[T]he opportunity to get a guy that’s done it at a very high level against really high-end competition can just add some veteran-ness to a group where there’s a lot of youth.”

This past season, Pettway led the Razorbacks in receiving yards with 499 and receptions with 30.  His four receiving touchdowns were good for second on the team.

Prior to 2018, Pettway had totaled 102 yards and a touchdown on seven catches.

NFL Network to air 10 Conference USA games each fall

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The NFL Network and Conference USA struck a deal that will see the league air 10 C-USA games, starting this fall.

“While exploring new media options for football, NFL Network stood out as an excellent opportunity for national exposure,” C-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod said. “We look forward to showcasing our conference through their tremendous platform and reach.”

The contract runs for four years, and will see NFL Network air one game a week for 10 weeks.

“We are excited to showcase the next generation of NFL athletes to our fans on a weekly basis,” said Hans Schroeder, Chief Operating Officer of NFL Media. “Our fans crave live football, and partnering with Conference USA – a conference which boasts several Hall of Fame players – provides us with an excellent opportunity to do so.”

Specific game announcements will be named at a later date. It’s an important move for C-USA, who has seen more and more of its games moved off of TV and onto streaming platforms, such as ESPN Plus, Stadium and Facebook. The league also has a TV deal with CBS Sports Network.

June Jones resurfaces as XFL Houston head coach

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The last we saw of June Jones, at least in the continental United States, he was mailing it in as SMU’s head coach. After leading the Ponies to four straight bowl trips from 2009-12, Jones watched SMU slip to 5-7 in 2013, then walked out the door after losing the first two games of the 2014 campaign by a combined score of 88-6. (That SMU team would finish the ’14 season at 1-11.) It seemed the then-61-year-old had given football all he had to give, at least on a competitive level.

Jones took 2015 off, then spent 2016 in a semi-retirement gig as the offensive coordinator at a high school in Hawaii.

But Jones must have really missed football, because he gave up the Hawaiian life to spend the past two seasons as head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and now he’s back stateside as the head coach of the XFL’s Houston franchise.

“I’ve spent a few years coaching in Houston, and having a chance to return to be a head coach in the XFL is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” said Jones. “I had a really great time coaching in the CFL, but this new fresh opportunity to build a team from the ground up is extremely rare in this game, and I’m looking forward to working with Brian Cooper and our coaches to give football fans in Houston a team that’s truly exciting to watch and worthy of their support.”

He was formally announced in a press conference at the University of Houston, and the as-yet-unnamed club will play its games at the Cougars’ TDECU Stadium.

It will be the fourth different professional league Jones has coached in, following stints in the USFL and NFL, in addition to six-plus seasons at SMU and eight at Hawaii.

The eighth of eight head coaches to join the league, Jones will join a roster that includes Bob Stoops and former Michigan offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.