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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.

Rutgers hires Andy Buh to coordinate defense

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Rutgers has hired Andy Buh as its defensive coordinator, the program has announced.

“We are excited to add Andy to the Rutgers football family,” head coach Chris Ash said in a statement. “He is an outstanding linebackers coach and has extensive experience in the Big Ten. Andy and I share a defensive philosophy and he is very familiar with the scheme we run, which will benefit the continued development of our defense.”

Ash and Buh worked together previously at Wisconsin, where Ash was the defensive coordinator and Buh the linebackers coach. He spent the past three seasons as the defensive coordinator at Maryland and has previous coordinator experience at Stanford, Nevada and Cal.

Buh replaces Jay Niemann, who served as the Scarlet Knights’ defensive coordinator for the first three seasons of the Ash era. Rutgers was 69th in total and yards per play defense and 89th in scoring in 2018, surrendering 31.4 points per game. Buh’s Maryland defense placed 78th, allowing 28.7 points per outing.

Rutgers is 7-29 under Ash and 3-24 in Big Ten play.

North Texas inks home and homes with Baylor, Tulane

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North Texas celebrated MLK Day by announcing a slew of future football opponents.

The Mean Green announced Monday it will play home-and-homes with Baylor and Tulane in the 2028 and ’29 campaigns. North Texas will visit the Bears and Green Wave in 2028, then host both in 2029. UNT will visit Baylor on Sept. 2 and Tulane on Sept. 23 in 2028, while the Mean Green will host Baylor and Tulane in back-to-back weeks to open 2029, with the Bears coming on Sept. 1 and the Green Wave on Sept. 8.

A previously scheduled home game with Army was bumped from 2027 to 2028 in conjunction with Monday’s announcements. North Texas also announced a home game with Texas Southern for Sept. 24, 2022.

Baylor will be the fourth Power 5 program and the second Big 12 opponent to visit Apogee Stadium, which opened in 2011. Indiana visited in Apogee’s opening season, Cal will make a visit in 2022 and Texas Tech will come to Denton in 2027.

“I am thrilled to announce two quality home-and-home series have been added to our schedules,” Mean Green AD Wren Baker said in a statement. “Baylor joins Cal and Texas Tech as Power 5 conference teams coming to Denton over the next few years. Tulane is a quality American Athletic Conference team that will be a fun trip for our fans when we return to New Orleans. I appreciate (COO) Jared Mosley‘s diligent efforts to find compelling games for our fans.”

North Texas and Baylor have met 13 times previously. The Bears have won 12 of those meetings but North Texas took the most recent meeting in Denton, a 52-14 thumping in 2003. That remains UNT’s most recent win over a Big 12 opponent.

The Mean Green and Green Wave have played just once previously, a 21-14 Tulane victory in New Orleans in 2013.

Baylor has a previously scheduled trip to Oregon slated for 2028, a return trip for the Ducks’ flight to Waco in 2027. Tulane also has a home-and-home with Iowa State in 2028-29, with the home dates flipped from the UNT series.

Boise State to replace iconic blue turf (with more, newer blue turf)

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Boise State became a household name through playing on its trendsetting blue turf (and winning a lot), such that the school now owns a trademark for any non-green collegiate field.

The current blue playing surface is set to go away this spring, only to be replaced by a newer, bigger, bluer (probably) version.

“It’s needed,” Boise State AD Curt Apsey told the Idaho Statesman. “We’re not just doing it to do it. It’s near the end of the usual lifespan.”

The current playing surface was installed ahead of the 2010 season; FieldTurf surfaces usually have a lifespan of eight to 10 years.

“The field is shredding,” Broncos head coach Bryan Harsin told the paper last summer. “It’s just old. It needs to be replaced. It’s just time.”

Boise State has played on a blue surface since 1986, when then-AD Gene Blaymaier put in blue AstroTurf at a cost of $750,000. The school did not even join FBS until a decade later.

The new surface will extend beyond the playing field to cover the area that previously held the Broncos’ track. It is expected to cost between $600,000 and $1 million, but the school is approved to spend $600,000 as of now.

Super Bowl starters offer (further) proof that stars matter

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Tom Brady was a sixth-round pick and is the most accomplished player in football history. Tony Romo was not drafted at all and became a franchise quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. JaMarcus RussellRyan Leaf and Akili Smith were taken first, second and third overall but busted.

Therefore, if given the hypothetical choice between a top-3 pick or an undrafted free agent, your favorite NFL team’s GM should just throw his hands up and say, “Eh, give me either. They’re both the same.” Right?

Of course not. That would be insane.

In the NFL, we can all understand that not all first-round picks pan out and some undrafted free agents become Pro Bowl caliber players, but somehow a sect of college football fans — though, admittedly, not as many as there were a decade or so ago — will tell you with a straight face that, “Stars don’t matter.”

Part of this is due to the simple nature of college football. In the NFL, a team’s talent is not necessarily a reflection on its head coach, but in college ball, the head coach has to also serve as his own GM and since the vast majority of coaches don’t sign 5-star talent, it becomes easy to convince yourself — and your fan base — that you’re better off with a team full of gritty 2-stars than a lazy 5-star, then point to Wes Welker as the type of guys you’re really after. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, right?

Except any coach would take a 5-star over a 2-star on the whole, and that’s because 5-stars are really, really talented and really, really hard to come by. It’s easy to point to the 5-star busts because there’s a limited number each year (think of them like first-round draft picks) and the 2-star trend-buckers because not many of them become All-America level players. When seven out of 30 5-stars bust, it’s easy to focus on the seven and not the 23; when 20 out of 1,500 2-stars shine, it’s easy to focus on the 20 and not the 1,480.

But you’re a smart college football fan and already know this, right?

Let’s put some numbers behind these words. SB Nation crunched the numbers for the New England Patriots’ and Los Angeles Rams’ starting lineups and found that, yeah, it’s a lot easier to become an elite pro football player if you’re an elite high school football player. Eight of the Pats’ 22 starters were 4- or 5-star recruits, while half of the Rams’ starters were ranked similarly. That means 19 of the 44 starters next Sunday in Atlanta were blue-chip recruits.

Put in graphical terms, it looks like this.

If your team’s head coach was given a hypothetical choice between a gritty 2-star and an entitled 5-star, remind him it’s a lot easier to light a fire under a 5-star than to teach a 2-star to play like a 5-star.