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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.

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.