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10 Major Takeaways from Early National Signing Day and the Class of 2020

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The “early” National Signing Day is on its third edition this December so at this point, it’s no longer just a new normal but the normal way of going about business on the recruiting front. The Class of 2020 once again proved that point, as the traditional February date looks less and less important in the wake of such a bustling period of activity on the third Wednesday of the final month on the calendar.

What are the biggest takeaways as pen met paper and the future of college football was officially linked with a particular program? Here are 10 things to remember about National Signing Day 2019 and everything that went on.

1. Clemson caps off a 2019 to remember

Clemson will begin and end 2019 by winning a pair of national championships.

The first one happened in early January when they thumped Alabama to win the only trophy that matters. The second one happened on Wednesday as Dabo Swinney ditched his ‘ROY’ Bus for a fully loaded Cadillac in landing the No. 1 class in the country.

“Maybe this might be our first-ever No. 1 class, but that’s not a goal of mine,” Swinney said at his signing day press conference. “It just so happens that the best players in the country this year are great fits for Clemson.”

He’s not joking. The Tigers netted the signatures from the No. 1 DT (Bryan Bresee out of Maryland), No. 1 QB (DJ Uiagalelei from California) and many services top DE (Myles Murphy from Georgia) among others. The number of five-stars they landed were double that of Alabama and two more than the combined total of the three other teams in this year’s College Football Playoff.

Clemson has always been impressive on the recruiting trail in recent years as they’ve climbed the college football mountain top under Swinney but this year was even different as both the quality and the quantity of recruits was unsurpassed. We’ll have to wait until everything gets settled in February but a historic year for the program appears to be continuing unabated.

2. Ohio State continues to separate from the Big Ten

The Tigers’ semifinal opponent in the Fiesta Bowl isn’t slacking on the recruiting front either.

As The Athletic’s Ari Wasserman pointed out, Ohio State wound up signing eight top 100 prospects on Wednesday. The rest of the Big Ten? Six.

The stark disparity is even worse under the microscope. The highest-ranked player not going to Columbus in the Big Ten is ticketed to Maryland (five-star Rakim Jarrett is staying home) and the next highest after that clocks in at No. 44 according to 247Sports. Michigan signed just one top 100 prospect while Penn State had two. Taking out those two programs and Nebraska and the entire rest of the conference has the same number of four- and five-star recruits combined as the Buckeyes do.

OSU has consistently been one of the best recruiting programs in the league for decades now and nothing has changed on that front in the wake of the coaching transition from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day. If anything, the gap between the current conference champions and the rest of the Big Ten is only growing wider.

3. USC was historically bad on the trail

It turns out that having a coach on the hot seat for two full years has a negative impact on recruiting. Like, a historically big impact.

It’s just so jarring to see but USC turned in their worst recruiting performance of the internet era on Wednesday and ranked dead last in the Pac-12 by most metrics. While the Trojans were always going to take a small class due to the way their numbers shook out, just 11 total recruits signing up to be in cardinal and gold was still a bit hard to fathom — especially given that one of them is a kicker.

Overall numbers aside, there was not much for Clay Helton to hang his hat on other than aggressively netting some big bodies along the offensive and defensive lines. USC failed to sign a five-star player period and netted only one four-star. The program actually was closer in the 247Sports team rankings to UMass than they were the next best Pac-12 team (Arizona). While it’s trending toward four-star Corona (Calif.) WR Gary Bryant Jr. picking the Trojans, at the moment the school doesn’t have a single top 25 prospect from their own state.

Heck, Maryland has three times as many four/five-star recruits than Southern Cal does. Bowling Green is ranked higher.

So yeah, USC fans have every right to keep posting either the ‘Not Great Bob’ or fire burning around dog memes on social media because… it isn’t exactly all sunshine and roses out West for one of the typical recruiting superpowers.

4. Pac-12’s balance of power has shifted

Speaking of being out West, the absence of USC on the trail has allowed others to come in and fill the void quite nicely. This has been a recent trend in the last couple of years but was really driven home on Wednesday as Oregon particularly made their presence felt in Southern California.

Top linebacker prospect Justin Flowe went with the Ducks and follows the program landing No. 1 overall prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux the year prior. They were the only team that signed multiple five-stars in 2020 in the Pac-12 and Mario Cristobal’s staff also did some quality work in the Juco and transfer markets.

Rival Washington still wound up with the top-ranked class in the Pac-12 overall on Wednesday but some of the most impressive pulls on the day of belonged to the folks in Eugene. In short, the conference of champions sure feels like the heavyweights will remain the North and not the South

5. Alabama and the usual SEC suspects roll again

Sunrise, sunset, the SEC dominated recruiting on Signing Day like usual.

Six of the top 10 teams in the 247Sports team rankings were from the conference and a whopping 10 of the league’s 14 teams managed to haul in a top 25 recruiting class when all was said and done. Alabama and Nick Saban were the SEC standard bearers as they usually have and responded to some fluctuation on recent recruiting results by turning in one of their most well rounded crops of recruits in several years. Five-star QB Bryce Young out of California is one of the headliners but this was a deep and impressive group that really added an infusion of skill position talent to the Crimson Tide roster that was already among the best in the sport.

Georgia continued to gobble up talent in the region and beyond to net another top class for Kirby Smart while Ed Orgeron is certainly capitalizing on an SEC title and a magical season in Baton Rouge by flipping several commits and winding up with a top five class of their own. Of note is the increased geographic diversity out of the Tigers in 2020, with more out-of-state recruits than you’d typically find with the school.

Texas A&M, Auburn and Florida also put forth strong efforts, with the latter in particular capitalizing on the other in-state programs being in a state of flux this year. Perhaps the most impressive of the bunch however came with Mark Stoops signing a quartet of four-stars on Wednesday, all of whom hailed from different states. The Wildcats ranked just ninth in the SEC overall but were 23rd nationally in the 247Sports  team rankings at last check.

That speaks to how the conference does overall on the recruiting front and why signing day just means more in the southeastern part of the country.

6. New faces, new places

The early signing period has made life even more difficult for new head coaches and that trend mostly held true far and wide again in 2019. Some interim coaches with their tags taken off fared better than others, as both Memphis and Appalachian State landed groups in the upper half of their respective leagues and the Mountaineers impressively inking the best class in the Sun Belt. Others weren’t so lucky as USF’s Jeff Scott could only cobble together a class in the low 90’s and Willie Taggart found himself inheriting a small group that was in the triple digits.

One major exception? Washington’s Jimmy Lake, who kept the Huskies entire class in tact after Chris Petersen announced his surprise decision to step away. That in itself was hard to fathom but he also managed to score the best class in the Pac-12 to boot. It’s going to be rare, if ever, that we see that again.

7. Drama was limited at the top

The recruiting calendar being moved up so much in recent years has resulted in a lot less drama than we’re used to seeing among top players. For one, they’re mostly signing in the early period and doing so largely with the programs that were pegged as the favorites coming into the day. The three card monte hat trick some recruits pull was kept to a minimum on Wednesday and things mostly played out without incident.

While there were a few major announcements like Jordan Burch staying home to play for South Carolina or Rakim Jarrett flipping from LSU to Maryland that made waves, there was nowhere near the Wild West theme going on that one had typically come to associate signing day with.

8. Baylor, Notre Dame and plenty of others get creative

One of the better parts about Signing Day is the effort that schools put in just to announce who has sent in their Letter of Intent. We’ve started to see a bit of an arms race on this front in particular as some programs try to out do others, but the bottom line is that just posting a simple name graphic with a star ranking simply isn’t cutting it for most.

We saw some unique ways of attacking these announcements as a result. Notre Dame did a fantastic job of incorporating family members into videos they used to confirm signees and Syracuse went with a comic book theme this year.

However nobody won the day quite like Baylor did, which took things to another level with muppet-esque videos for each player and a special one for head coach Matt Rhule:

It will be hard to top that in future years though others will undoubtedly try.

9. Best of the best

Using 247Sports’ composite of the best players in the country, here’s where all the No. 1 ranked recruits at their position wound up:

QB: Bryce Young (Alabama)

WR: Julian Fleming (Ohio State)

TE: Arik Gilbert (LSU)

OT: Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State)

OG/C: Nate Anderson (Oklahoma)

DE: Myles Murphy (Clemson)

DT: Bryan Bresse (Clemson)

LB: Justin Flowe (Oregon)

S: Jaylon Jones (Texas A&M)

10. Who’s left

Some of the top remaining uncommitted prospects still left to sign, per 247Sports:

No. 8 overall, CB Kelee Ringo (Georgia/Texas)

No. 10 overall, ATH Darnell Washington (Georgia/Alabama/others)

No. 14 overall, RB Zachary Evans (LSU/Georgia)

No. 55 overall, S Avantae Williams (Miami/Florida)

No. 57 overall, WR Gary Bryant Jr. (USC/Oklahoma)

No. 59 overall, WR Xzavier Henderson (Clemson/Florida)

No. 76 overall, CB Dontae Manning (Oregon/Arizona State/Georgia/Oklahoma)

No. 80 overall, RB Daniyel Ngata (Arizona State/Oklahoma State)

Starting East Carolina DE Chance Purvis arrested on felony kidnapping charge, suspended

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For the second time this month, this time by way of a member of the East Carolina football program, a college football player is facing some serious off-field allegations.

According to 247Sports.com, Chance Purvis was arrested Tuesday and charged with one count each of second-degree kidnapping and breaking/entering with intent to terrorize or injure.  Both of those charges are felonies.

No details of what led to the arrest and charges have been released thus far.

As a result of the arrest, though, the redshirt junior defensive end has been suspended by East Carolina football head coach Mike Houston.

“We are aware of the situation concerning Chance Purvis and consider these charges as very serious and completely unacceptable,” a statement from the coach began. “Chance has been suspended from all football-related activities until further notice. We will continue to monitor the situation, but since this is a legal matter, any additional comment on our part would be inappropriate at this time.”

Purvis didn’t play at all his first two seasons with East Carolina football.  In 2018, the lineman played in 10 games, starting one of those contests.  This past season, Purvis started all 12 games for the Pirates.  He was second on the team in tackles for loss (12) and sacks (four).

Depending on how the off-field situation plays out, Purvis would be the only returning starting lineman on the defensive side of the ball for East Carolina football in 2020.

Purvis is actually the second East Carolina football player arrested this year.  Last month, Cortez Herrin was arrested on one felony count of possession with the intent to sell or distribute.  He’s also facing a misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana paraphernalia.

When healthy, Herrin has been a part-time or full-time starter at left guard for ECU the past three seasons.

In 2018, Houston started all 12 games for the Pirates.  He made five starts in 2017 as well.  A knee injury in 2019 helped limit him to five starts.

Michigan State investigating allegations of NCAA violations committed under Mark Dantonio

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Mark Dantonio may have retired as the Michigan State football head coach, but his impact on the program will continue. On and off the field.

In May of 2017, Michigan State confirmed that the university had “parted ways” with Curtis Blackwell after opting not to renew the football staffer’s contract.  Blackwell, whose official title with the program was director of college advancement and performance, was suspended with pay February 9 of that year, the same day three unidentified Spartan football players were suspended in connection to sexual assault allegations.  While Blackwell was a part of the police investigations into the allegations, he was not accused of participating in the alleged sexual assault but rather failing to disclose information he knew about the incident.

In a lawsuit filed in November of 2018, which named Dantonio, among others, as a defendant, Blackwell alleged that his employment contract was violated when it wasn’t renewed by the university. According to recent court filings connected to that ongoing suit, Blackwell and his attornies are also alleging that NCAA violations were committed by Dantonio.

From ESPN.com:

The mother of current Notre Dame defensive end Daelin Hayes said in an affidavit that Blackwell attended an in-home visit at their house in Michigan along with former head coach Dantonio and assistant coaches Harlon Barnett and Mike Tressel. LaKeshia Neal, Hayes’ mother, also provided a photo of the coaches and Blackwell on that visit.

The NCAA has reached out to Hayes to ask about the incident, a source said. Per NCAA rules, Blackwell was not allowed to be part of off-campus recruiting during that time at Michigan State because he was not one of the program’s on-field coaches.

In documents filed two weeks ago, Blackwell alleged that Dantonio helped arrange jobs for the parents of an unnamed, high-profile recruit as well. The day after those documents were submitted, Dantonio abruptly announced his resignation.

Dantonio has claimed that the allegations had nothing to do with his decision to step down. One of Dantonio’s lawyers labeled the claims as “false, scandalous, and wholly unsupported accusations.”

As a result of the allegations made by Blackwell, the university — and the NCAA — is in the process of investigating the claims.

“We are aware of the allegations made by Curtis Blackwell as part of his litigation,” an MSU spokesperson stated. “As with any allegation concerning NCAA compliance, MSU is investigating and working with the NCAA and Big Ten. We have fully complied with our self-reporting obligations to the NCAA throughout this case.”

Feb. 12, Colorado’s Mel Tucker was hired by Michigan State football to replace Dantonio. As part of Tucker’s six-year contract, there is a clause that protects the new coach should Michigan State football be sanctioned by the NCAA for the actions of the previous coaching staff. The language of the deal calls for an additional year to be added to the length of the contract “as of the date the sanction takes effect or, if such sanction lasts more than one year, the six-year term will be extended to match the length of the sanction period.”

Colorado QB Blake Stenstrom heading to transfer portal

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Citing “circumstances beyond his control,” Colorado quarterback Blake Stenstrom has announced he is entering the transfer portal.

“[Due] to recent events and circumstances beyond my control, I have made the difficult decision that it is time for a new chapter in my football journey,” Stenstromg said in a statement posted to his Twitter account on Wednesday afternoon.”

While Stenstromg doesn’t say exactly what those circumstances beyond his control are, it could very well be the second head coaching and staff change in Boulder in the past two years. Stenstrom originally signed in Colorado’s Class of 2018 for former Buffs head coach Mike MacIntyre. MacIntyre was relieved as head coach in 2018 and replaced by Mel Tucker. But after just one season in Boulder, Tucker has already moved on to become the new head coach at Michigan State. A third head coach and an entirely new staff in as many years makes for a tough situation for any college football player.

By entering the transfer portal, Stenstrom is free to have contact with any college football program. As is the case for all players entering the transfer portal, Stenstom may also withdraw his name from the portal at any time and remain at Colorado.

Stenstrom appeared in four games in 2019, in which he attempted three pass attempts and completed one for 12 yards. He was intercepted on one of his two other attempts. Stenstrom will have to sit out the 2020 season if he ends up transferring to another FBS program. After sitting out the 2020 season, Stenstrom will have two years of eligibility remaining. Of course, that could change very soon with the NCAA moving toward making it easier for players to have immediate eligibility with an approved waiver in their favor.

TCU grad assistant and former QB Kenny Hill promoted to offensive analyst

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Former TCU quarterback Kenny Hill is taking the next step up within the Horned Frogs family this year. Hill is being promoted from his role as a graduate assistant to the position of offensive analyst.

As an analyst, Hill will not be doing any direct coaching of TCU football players, but he will help break down film and prepare game plans for the offense. Analysts are not permitted to have any direct coaching interactions with players, but having a handful of analysts preparing game plans and breaking down film is never in short demand. This is especially true with power conference programs that can afford to pay a few more analysts to do the work.

Hill originally joined the TCU football family as a transfer quarterback from Texas A&M. After being granted a release from his scholarship by Texas A&M in early 2015, Hill officially joined TCU later that spring. After sitting out the 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Hill led the Horned Frogs on an 11-3 campaign in 2016.

Hill returned to TCU after trying to land a job in professional football in 2018. Hill signed with the Oakland Raiders in 2018 but was released that summer. He later signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL.