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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.

Mike Gundy says AD ‘was very apologetic’ after recruiting criticisms

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I guess you can chalk this up to much ado about (mostly) nothing.

In a mid-June interview, Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder seemed to take a shot at his head football coach’s recruiting prowess, saying he “wants to finish higher in those… rankings than we consistently do.” After not saying much publicly since, Mike Gundy seemed to stoke that fire a little further during the Big 12 Media Days Tuesday by tersely declining to answer a question posed to him about that situation.

Not long after he was away from the podium, however, Gundy completely diffused any type of lingering issues over the comments.

“I knew what he was trying to say,” Gundy said by way of ESPN.com. “He just didn’t do a good job of getting the information out there. That’s the same thing I told him. He was very apologetic. I said, ‘Coach, I know exactly what you were trying to accomplish. You don’t have to worry about me.’

“It’s difficult to say the right thing all the time.”

Gundy added that Holder “just doesn’t have a way of saying things that fit in the society today where people understand. He’s just very, for a lack of a better term, old-school in his approach.”

The 69-year-old Holder — he’ll turn 70 in mid-August — has been the AD at OSU since 2005.  That was the same year Gundy took over as the head football coach at his alma mater.  In those 13 seasons, Gundy has led the Cowboys to a 114-53 record overall and a 69-42 mark in Big 12 play.

On June 13, it was announced that Gundy had reached an agreement on a new contract that would keep him in Stillwater through the 2023 season.  Nine days later, it was announced that Holder was on the receiving end of a contract extension through the 2021 season.

WR Brandon Martin no longer listed on Arkansas’ roster

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There’s been yet another personnel change at a Power Five school a couple of weeks before summer camp kicks off.

In an update released earlier this week, Brandon Martin is no longer listed on Arkansas’ roster. Citing sources close to the program, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette writes that the wide receiver “has run into an academic issue and is trying to regain his eligibility.”

Per a school spokesperson, however, the door has been left open for Martin, who would be a redshirt junior this season, to eventually return to the Razorbacks football team. Martin’s head coach, though, doesn’t seem as optimistic.

Don’t know if he will become part of our roster again,” Chad Morris said at the SEC Media Days Tuesday. “I don’t know at this point. ..

“I do not see that happening right now,” the head coach added when asked if he could see the receiver rejoining the team this year.

Martin came to Arkansas from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, rated as the No. 1 junior college receiver in the Class of 2017 and the No. 7 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite rankings.

In his first year in Fayetteville, Martin caught nine passes for 119 yards. Both of those totals were eighth on the Razorbacks, while his 13.2 yards per reception was sixth on the team.

CFB Hall of Fame Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabe Rivera, dubbed Señor Sack, passes away

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Former Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabe Rivera passed away on Tuesday. He suffered a perforated bowel while attending a social services function on Friday night and his family was preparing to move him to hospice care when he passed on Tuesday morning. “Gabriel went home to the Lord at 9:25,” Rivera’s wife, Nancy, told KENS-TV in San Antonio.

A San Antonio native, Rivera played defensive tackle at Texas Tech from 1979-82, where he earned All-American status after recording 62 tackles and five sacks as a senior. “He was one of the most dominating defensive lineman to ever play the game and a loyal Red Raider throughout his life,” Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement.

Selected 21st overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1983, Rivera, dubbed “Señor Sack,” recorded two sacks in his first six games, but was left paraplegic after getting in an automobile crash in October.

“From the accident in ‘83, it took maybe five, six, eight years to get control,” Rivera said in 2012. “At one time, I just changed my life and started going forward. I was mad at the world, mad at God and stuff.”

He moved home to San Antonio after the injury, where he remained and raised a family until his death. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012 and Texas Tech’s Ring of Honor and had his No. 69 jersey retired in 2014.

Rivera was 57 years old.

Northern Illinois, Miami (Ohio) to play for Mallory Cup

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The Mid-American Conference has a proud history of fostering future College Football Hall of Fame coaches. From legends such as Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler to modern day titans such as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, the MAC has served as the launching pad of coaching greatness for generations. But despite all that talent, only one coach won the MAC at two different schools: Bill Mallory.

Mallory went 39-12 as Miami (Ohio)’s head coach from 1969-73 — he took over for Schembechler, who left for the Michigan job — and led the RedHawks to a perfect 11-0 season, a No. 15 final AP ranking and a win over Florida in the Tangerine Bowl in ’73. That success led him to Colorado, but he was let go after the 1978 season. After sitting out the ’79 campaign, Mallory got back in at Northern Illinois, guiding the Huskies to a 25-19 mark from 1980-83. His 1983 team went 10-2, beat Cal State Fullerton in the California Bowl and won the Huskies’ first of four MAC titles.

Mallory parlayed that 1983 season into the Indiana job, where he remained until his 1996 retirement. In 27 years as a head coach, Mallory went 168-129-4, including a 64-31 record in nine combined seasons in the MAC.

To honor his May 25 passing, Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio) announced Monday they will play for the Mallory Cup moving forward. The first such game will take place on Nov. 14 in DeKalb, Ill.

“Bill Mallory was a special coach and a great man who left a lasting legacy in the Mid-American Conference and certainly at NIU and Miami,” NIU AD Sean Frazier said.  “The Mallory Cup honors a man whose impact on both programs should and will be remembered each time our teams meet on the football field.  We’re happy to work with our colleagues at Miami on this initiative and invite all fans to be here at Huskie Stadium on November 14 for the first Mallory Cup game.”

“Miami is proud to partner with Northern Illinois University in the creation of the Mallory Cup,” added Miami AD David Sayler. “It is a fitting tribute to a wonderful man and coach that has meant so much too so many. Although Miami and NIU will not play every year in football, it is good to know that when we do, Bill Mallory will be honored and remembered for the tremendous legacy he has left here in Oxford and in DeKalb.”

The Huskies and RedHawks have played 17 times in a series that dates back to 1970. NIU holds a 9-8 advantage; Miami won seven of the first nine meetings, but Northern Illinois has taken seven of the last eight, including the most recent match-up by way of a 45-12 decision on Oct. 17, 2015.