Last year, college football entered unfamiliar territory with the first early national signing period, a creation in mid-December that some had been pushing for years to happen. While a few coaches predicted chaos, in the end it turned out to be just like the regular National Signing Day in February on a slightly smaller scale and right in the thick of bowl season.
As a result, we’re all seasoned vets by now as the second edition of the early signing period rolled around on Wednesday with the typical fanfare. Big names put on hats, the usual suspects dominated the recruiting rankings and a handful of surprises took the college football world by storm to throw fans into a frenzy.
What are the biggest takeaways from the first date the Class of 2019 could put pen to paper? Here are 10 that you need to know.
1. Alabama’s best ever?
I know you’re going to be shocked by this but Nick Saban and Alabama had a pretty good day on the recruiting trail. It turns out sending a bunch of guys to the NFL and making the playoff every season is a pretty compelling pitch to high school stars. Who knew?
The Crimson Tide inked 21 players by the time evening rolled around in Tuscaloosa and not surprisingly cleaned up. They were far and away the easy pick as the No. 1 team by all the major recruiting services and there was a pretty solid gap between them and the rest of their SEC rivals like Georgia. That’s notable because it comes just 10 months after the program shockingly lost their grip on the top spot in the team rankings to the Bulldogs, which prompted Saban to hire a number of new staff members and double-down on the recruiting trail.
Safe to say, it paid off.
Among the litany of five- and four-star recruits that signed with Bama were some notable names like Taulia Tagovailoa, a quarterback who is indeed the younger brother of current starter Tua. Don’t let anybody sleep on the fact that the program also brought in Will Reichard either, as special teams has been an issue and the Hoover native is the nation’s concensus top ranked kicker.
But let’s face it, this is a class loaded with studs who will be contributing for the team sooner rather than later. The Tide earned Signing Day commitments from five-star offensive lineman Evan Neal and running back Trey Sanders among others and flipped four-star cornerback Jordan Battle from Ohio State as well. They went into New Jersey for five-star DE Antonio Alfano, plucked four-star linebacker Shane Lee out of the DMV area, nabbed CB Jeffery Carter out from under Texas A&M and signed a number of terrific prospects from Florida, Georgia and even Baton Rouge, Louisiana (that would be four-star LB Christian Harris).
Every single member, sans the kicker, was rated four-stars or higher and this group is stacked with both quality and quantity at nearly unprecedented levels. This has led some to say this could be Saban’s best ever recruiting class. Time will tell if things live up to that kind of billing but it goes without saying that the No. 1 team in the polls for 2018 will have a hard time getting knocked off that perch given the work they’ve put in with the incoming crop of 2019 recruits.
2. Urban Meyer’s retirement makes way for a ‘New Day’ in Columbus
Urban Meyer’s retirement as head coach at Ohio State has been something discussed as far back as this summer and even before he made things official a few weeks ago, it’s clear that the up’s and down’s of him stepping down had an impact on the Buckeyes’ recruiting class.
While OSU has almost always finished the year in the top five or even top three of the team rankings, they found themselves slotted No. 12 overall by 247Sports. That’s not only lower than we’re used to seeing them but also behind rival Michigan and Penn State in the Big Ten alone.
Size was certainly a factor in all that given that the school only announced 15 players had signed their paperwork but it was still a stark contrast to what the scarlet and gray are used to. We’ll see if the February date adds any more names — and the program is one of the reported front-runners for UGA QB Justin Fields too — but there were a handful of high-profile deflections. While that’s to be expected given the coaching transition, we’ll see if the loss of QB Dwan Mathis and CB Jordan Battle will wind up hurting down the road.
That said, Day and his coaching staff, specifically DL coach Larry Johnson, did win a few battles on Wednesday. They held off several late charges for five-star WR Garrett Wilson, got a pledge from five-star DE Zach Harrison (Ohio’s top ranked player) and added DT Jaden McKenzie among others.
We’ll get Day’s full impact as a recruiter in the big chair with the class of 2020 but it was pretty much as expected with some positive news and some negative news out of Columbus with this year’s group given the transition away from Meyer.
3. A new West Coast order
The Pac-12 has rightfully taken plenty of lumps in the press and among the fan base for the way things have played out this season but it was interesting to see just how much things have changed on the recruiting trail out West too.
You can start with USC, whose rough season on the field carried over to the early signing period. The Trojans, mainstays in the top seven of the team rankings, had a less than stellar day as Clay Helton had to battle plenty of rumors about his job security and a deal with a staff overhaul. Those were no doubt big factors in the team’s 21st ranked class, which by late afternoon in Los Angeles shockingly had zero five-stars recruits in the fold and was behind Arkansas and Mississippi State among others.
USC did close with some key additions like Juco DL Nick Figueroa and DE Drake Jackson, plus they flipped safety Briton Allen from IMG Academy. Still, it wasn’t quite the normal kick we’ve seen in these situations and that left the door open to several of their Pac-12 rivals.
Namely, the two growing super powers in the Pacific Northwest.
You can start at Oregon, where Mario Cristobal was retained as head coach in part because of his terrific reputation as a recruiter. That has been evident with the Class of 2019 as the Ducks compiled a top five ranking that is headlined by five-star Kayvon Thibodeaux, a player some services have ranked as the best in the country. Add in a host of others from California like four-star Sean Dollars, DT Keyon Ware-Hudson and CB Mykael Wright and it’s pretty clear that Oregon has jumped to another level on the recruiting trail.
Not far behind though was rival Washington, which will have a top 15 group with tremendous upside when all is said and done. The Huskies are not in the thick of the race for five-stars quite like their peers with Chris Petersen in charge but the school signed an impressive roster on Wednesday, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines. UW won head-to-head battles with USC, Oregon and a host of other national powers for several kids and really opened up their pipelines to Hawaii and Northern California.
Stanford, Arizona State, Arizona and Cal also did quite well too.
That said, it was also interesting to see UCLA nowhere near the usual heights we’ve seen in the team rankings — checking in at No. 51 according to 247Sports. While that may lead to worry from some wearing powder blue, keep in mind that Chip Kelly is looking for a particular type of fit with his system and the result might not be a class full of four- and five-stars like we’ve typically seen in Westwood. The program did land star offensive tackle Sean Rhyan in a big recruiting battle and signed several key defensive players but it was simply a different vibe with the Bruins.
That’s no cause for concern just yet but it does reflect the fact that there appears to be a new pecking order in the Pac-12.
4. Texas Two-Step (and Boomer Sooner too)
The most interesting battle in the early signing period may not have been about a specific player but the body shots that some of the Southwest super powers were landing on the trail throughout. Namely we’re talking about old (and current) rivals Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma, who all finished in the top 10 of the team rankings.
You can start with Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies, who predictably made a huge push following the title-winning coach’s first full season in College Station. They kept two five-star prospects in the state at home in OL Kenyon Green and DT DeMarvin Leal and landed a number of others, including four of the Lone Star State’s top 10 and seven of the top 16 recruits. Fisher’s national cache also paid off as A&M earned pledges from nationally ranked players in Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Arizona too.
All that led to the Aggies earning the No. 3 spot in the team rankings on Wednesday, ahead of LSU and not too far off Georgia.
Not to be out-done, the Longhorns were back to their usual self as the Tom Herman era begins to transition into Year 3. Texas landed badly needed reinforcements like WR Jordan Whittington and OL Tyler Johnson plus went into Arizona, California and Georgia to sign four-star players. There’s a ton of skill position talent with this group already and UT might not be done either with a number of other players they’re still in the running for signing in February.
While it was no surprise to see those two schools do well, few had to be happier with their haul than Lincoln Riley was. Oklahoma signed the best QB in the country in Phoenix signal-caller Spencer Rattler and added two top 10 overall wide receivers from the Dallas area to boot. The Sooners really showed they are a national brand by beefing up their California pipeline even more and signed the top players in Arizona, Washington D.C. and Oklahoma with several other impact recruits littered throughout.
The Fisher-Herman-Riley trio appear locked in at their schools for the long-term and one shouldn’t be shocked that they’ll be battling it out for recruiting supremacy quite a bit going forward.
5. Notre Dame reloads
Fresh off another perfect season and their first appearance in the College Football Playoff, it’s no secret that Notre Dame would do well on the recruiting trail this year. The Irish put together a class ranked No. 13 overall by 247Sports and signed a full 20 players with a little room for more in February.
The reach was certainly impressive, including four-star OT Quinn Carroll from Minnesota, Pennsylvania’s top player in OL Andrew Kristofic and a host of guys from California, Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas. All told, there were 15 four-stars signed and nearly every one of them fell into the top 300 nationally. The players in the trenches were certainly big given the names that the program is replacing next season but there’s some really impressive guys like tailback Kyren Williams out of St. Louis and Atlanta safety Kyle Hamilton that could make an impact as freshmen too.
As we’ve come to see under Brian Kelly, Notre Dame continues to hold their own with some of the best programs out there and things might be even better in South Bend given how the class of 2020 is shaping up too.
6. Dabo continues to separate from the ACC pack
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney continues to kill it in recruiting and put even more separation between his program and the rest of the ACC. The Tigers fell just short of another top five class after the early period but this still looks to be a foundational group of players that includes a pair of five-stars and 10 four-stars ticketed to Death Valley over the coming months.
Cornerback Andrew Booth, an old teammate of current QB Trevor Lawrence, is probably the headliner but Clemson has a number of guys who will be in the mix for playing time next fall. Wideout Frank Ladson figures to be the latest pass catcher to turn into a star at the school after coming up from South Florida and fellow receiver Joe Ngata might not be too far behind after making the cross-country trek from California. After hitting the trenches hard the last couple of years, the Tigers really found a diverse group of guys across a number of skill positions and Lawrence in particular has to be thrilled at some of the weapons he’ll have to work with going forward.
One thing is very clear though: the gap between an elite program like Clemson and the rest of the ACC continues to grow. Florida State did wind up ranked No. 14 overall but didn’t quite have the number of blue chippers as you would expect and Miami was met with a rash of recruiting defections from their class. Not a single other program from the league other than FSU and CU cracked the top 25 team rankings either. It’s possible somebody like N.C. State can get there by February but it remains the Tigers and then everybody else in the ACC — same as it ever was.
7. New faces, new places
It was a relatively light coaching carousel so there were not a ton of major surprises as some of the new head coaches did their best to cobble together a class after a quick turnaround.
Perhaps the biggest impact of any of the new faces was an old one in UNC’s Mack Brown. The Tar Heels actually finished above Miami in the team rankings and inked a pair of four-star players as well. One of those top recruits was QB Sam Howell who Brown kept in-state and flipped from rival Florida State. Another top prospect from North Carolina is also staying home in WR Khafre Brown. While it remains to be seen if the game has passed Mack by, nobody is doubting his ability to recruit and that showed up on Wednesday.
Elsewhere, Les Miles did no wonders with Kansas’ small class (10 signees) but does have a number of junior college and local recruits that could come in and play early on. We’ll see if he can close strong in the second signing period but it’s clear there’s work to be done from both him and new K-State coach Chris Klieman.
8. Sophomore jumps
While the new guys struggled for the most part (as expected) the coaches about to enter their sophomore seasons with their school appeared to thrive for the most part. Jimbo Fisher led to a big jump for Texas A&M (17th to 3rd), as did Herm Edwards (37th to 30th), Mario Cristobal (13th to 5th) and Joe Moorhead (27th to 19th). Don’t discount the work Florida’s Dan Mullen and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt did either in landing several blue chips this cycle too.
9. All-Name Team takes the cake
Matt Hinton always puts together a great list of some of the best names from each recruiting class and the 2019 group is once again stellar. There are a number of play-by-play folks who are rooting for many of these players to turn into stars in college just so they can excitedly scream their name.
10. Who’s left?
So after all that, who is left to sign? Here’s the top 10 uncommitted recruits, per 247Sports as of Wednesday evening.
No. 6 Jadon Haselwood, WR, Ellenwood, GA (Oklahoma/Georgia/Miami)
No. 7 Bru McCoy, ATH, Santa Ana, CA (USC/Texas/Oklahoma)
No. 9 Ishmael Sopsher, DT, Amite, LA (LSU/Alabama)
No. 10. Darnell Wright, OT, Huntington, WV (Tennessee/Alabama)
No. 29 Kyle Ford, WR, Orange, CA (USC/Washington/Oregon)
No. 38 Tyrique Stevenson, CB, Homestead, FL (Georgia/Miami)
No. 39 Quavaris Crouch, ATH, Charlotte, NC (Tennessee/Clemson)
No. 40 Chris Steele, CB, Bellflower, CA (Florida/USC)
No. 57 Khris Bogle, DE, Fort Lauderdale, FL (Miami/Tennessee/Alabama)
No. 61 Kaiir Elam, CB, North Palm Beach, FL (Florida/Georgia)