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:
A special announcement… pic.twitter.com/YCnRhGiYTj
— Matt Rhule (@CoachMattRhule) December 18, 2019
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)