Well, that was different.
The very first early National Signing Day in college football has come and we finally found some answers for something that many fans of the sport were wondering about. Even if you are not following recruiting like a junkie, you probably had reason to get excited over the next class of freshman for your team or league as coaches far and wide lay the ground work for championships (or their eventual firings).
Sorting through everything from coast-to-coast, here are a few takeaways after the initial flurry of news out of the signing period and what to take note of:
1. Dabo Do and Kirby Can
The center of the recruiting world on Wednesday? That just might be in the 75 mile stretch between Athens and Clemson.
The Tigers and head coach Dabo Swinney inked the No. 1 and No. 3 players in the 247Sports Composite rankings and three of the top 10 recruits in the country. Perhaps most notably, they plucked the top offensive tackle out of Ohio in Jackson Carman, yet another top-ranked quarterback out of Georgia in Trevor Lawrence and the best defensive lineman in the country out of IMG Academy in Florida in Xavier Thomas. Considering how small the class is going to be in terms of numbers, it’s certainly not lacking for impact players.
Not a bad little haul for a team that is No. 1 in the country and playing for a second straight national title next month.
Then there’s that other semifinalist this year in Georgia. Kirby Smart certainly has turned the Bulldogs into a recruiting machine and has the No. 2 class in the country at the moment. It’s not just quantity for the SEC champs but a lot of quality too. That includes the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in Justin Fields and a total of three of the top 10 players in the rankings.
What’s even crazier is they’re not even done and still involved in several other top 100 guys over the next few days and through the February signing period. The rich certainly seem like they will get richer and we’re not talking about that new tax bill either.
2. Urban Meyer and the Ohio State narrative
It’s kind of wild to see the discussion surrounding the Big Ten champions as Wednesday unfolded because it almost felt like many were disappointed in the effort Ohio State had on the recruiting trail.
Urban Meyer managed to walk away from Wednesday with the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation — by a wide margin. It’s loaded with four- and five-star players and might just be the best non-Alabama group anybody has signed in the past few years. Defensive coordinator Greg Schanio managed to wind up ranked as the No. 2 recruiter among all assistants per 247Sports as well.
Yet there was quite a bit of grumbling from some OSU fans about some missed opportunities with the Class of 2018. As mentioned above, Carman left the state for Clemson and longtime quarterback commit Emory Jones flipped to Florida (in addition to strongly considering Florida State). Five-star defensive lineman Micah Parsons, who was involved in a bit of a recruiting scandal in Columbus, also signed with division rival Penn State.
The only flip that noted recruit-flipper Meyer managed to turn was probably Cameron Brown, a four-star wideout who was previously set to join Nebraska.
Make no mistake, the Buckeyes got better with this class of recruits and ended the day with a better group than, well, everybody. It didn’t quite seem that way as the day unfolded but Ohio State probably won’t mind when all is said and done when these guys suit up over the coming year.
3. Fresh faces, new places
One of the most talked about aspects of the early signing period has been the impact on programs hiring new head coaches quicker than ever to keep pace with the accelerated recruiting calendar. How did it all shake out? Pretty much as expected to be honest, with a few notable flips from some recruits but mostly business as normal for most.
Down in the SEC — where there was greater movement than any league — things were perhaps the most intriguing. Dan Mullen landed Jones as his quarterback in the future while new Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt managed to flip highly-touted signal-caller J.T. Shrout away from Cal. Joe Moorhead reeled in a top 25 class at Mississippi State and new full-time coach Matt Luke did a remarkable job in getting Ole Miss into the same zip code given NCAA sanctions in Oxford.
Then there’s Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M, which will ink a top 20 group (currently sitting at No. 18 in the 247Sports’ rankings) that has room to rise as the Aggies are in on several top prospects that should sign in the regular period in February. His old job isn’t doing so hot though, as Willie Taggart and the Seminoles are sitting in the 60’s as the biggest shock of the day.
Things weren’t so smooth out West either. Chip Kelly saw only a handful of his 10 commitments sign on the dotted line and had the Bruins a few spots behind crosstown rival USC with the gap growing by the day. Oregon’s new staff did well to secure a top 15 class but saw several decommitments down the stretch and a handful of non-West Coast prospects opt to wait until the next signing period instead of inking with the Ducks.
4. Who didn’t sign
As much as this new early signing date was about who did send in their National Letter of Intent, it was also about who didn’t. That includes both the uncommitted players for 2018 and the ones who are verbally committed to teams but not signing.
Among the players who didn’t wind up faxing in their letters on Wednesday (as of 2 pm. ET) in the 247Sports’ top 20: cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. (No. 5 overall), wideout Terrace Marshall (No. 11), receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown (No. 12) and offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere (No. 17).
Only a handful of schools like Notre Dame and Washington were able to lock up their entire recruiting class of verbal commitments on Wednesday. That means the work certainly isn’t over yet for many head coaches over the coming months as they work to reassure some players and lure others into a commitment.
5. Strange sight in the Pac-12
Taking a glance at where Pac-12 programs rank nationally at the moment might cause a bit of a double-take.
To start with, the top class in the conference is at Washington, which was the only team out West to crack the top 10 (for the moment) after overtaking a sliding Oregon. The Ducks are still sitting pretty with a top 15 class given the coaching change but that was not quite where they were in the top five just a week ago.
After those two though? You’ll have to all the way down to… USC. Well no surprise there, right? Wrong, because the Trojans are hovering in the mid-20’s and have just 11 commitments. The cardinal and gold are naturally in the mix to land several guys down the stretch but it’s still strange to see the team around the N.C. State’s and Michigan State’s of the world as lunch comes and goes on Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Also a notable absence in the top 20 like they normally are? Stanford. The Cardinal are always a bit of a unique program when it comes to recruiting and the limited numbers they take do them no favors when it comes to the formulas used to determine these things. Still, it’s not what we’re used to seeing on National Signing Day compared to the past few years and a possible sign of things being a little different with the new date.
6. Alabama’s grip at the top
Sunrise, sunset and Alabama landing the No. 1 recruiting class. It seems like it’s been routine up to this point but that’s because it has as Nick Saban has landed the No. 1 recruiting class every year since 2011.
Think about that, the best group… every year… for seven years. Even when you think somebody might pass the Tide, they end up closing strong by signing a few more five-stars and Saban winds up smiling for the cameras when all is said and done just like normal.
That will not be the case with the Class of 2018 barring a huge surprise however. Heck, Alabama might not even wind up No. 1 in their own conference.
While the team rankings are far from finalized given that we have two more days left here in December and another period to go in February, it seems like the king of recruiting will finally be topped this cycle. Ohio State currently sits at No. 1 in the team rankings and No. 2 Georgia is closing on them quickly by signing six — count ‘em, six — five-stars on Wednesday. Neither appear to be done either.
7. Big 12’s big dogs (and then some)
Remember when there was some discussion earlier this year of Lincoln Riley and Tom Herman starting a Red River Rival edition of the 10 Year War after their first seasons at Oklahoma and Texas? Well, if you didn’t believe it at first maybe you’ve reconsidered after this month.
The Sooners made it to the College Football Playoff, saw Baker Mayfield grab the Heisman Trophy and now have inked a top 10 recruiting class to keep the momentum going. While things have been a bit disappointing on the 40 Acres for the Longhorns, they still bounced back to land the Big 12’s best class and the third-best group in the country after Wednesday according to the rankings. Significantly, that includes a near sweep of the Lone Star State’s highest rated prospects and included maybe the best secondary haul of anybody in a long time with six defensive backs in the top 100 in the nation.
That’s impressive and much-needed for the Big 12 to have both of their bluebloods recruiting and playing at an elite level.
It was also quite notable to see TCU back in the top 25 again and Baylor punching as far above one’s 2017 season as you can get by landing a top 25 class as well despite winning just one game all year.
8. The great unknown comes next: coaching changes
Lost amid all the excitement that came on Wednesday will be what assistant coaches will end up changing jobs. It happens every single year after the normal signing date in February and nobody quite knows if that will be the case again after the December period closes.
Remember, there’s still seven weeks between now and the next date for pen meeting paper. Add in the fact that schools can hire a 10th assistant in early January and there’s bound to be a lot of movement over the coming days, weeks and months when it comes to assistant coaches. How will that re-shape the rankings and commitments? Nobody really knows just yet.
9. All-Name Team
The great Matt Hinton cobbled together another great group of All-Namers from the Class of 2018, many of whom signed on Wednesday. Arkansas linebacker Bumper Pool might be MVP of the team but we, for one, can’t wait to have Joe Tessitore or some other play-by-play man get really excited about Rachad Wildgoose Jr. making a tackle or picking off a pass.
10. Until next time
There was a lot of energy put into Wednesday as the first ever early signing period got underway and many schools treated it just like they did back in February. That includes live stream shows from various football facilities, flashy new graphics to announce new players who signed and wall-to-wall coverage on TV (seven hours on the Big Ten Network!).
So let’s do it all again in two months.
In all seriousness, it will be fascinating to see how the later date plays out across the country on February 7th. Will things be a bit more muted the second time around or will it feel like normal? We didn’t get many live TV announcements, no parent drama, non-faxed NLI’s or commitments involving animals this time around — will that be the case on the next go around?
Nobody knows for sure but it will be worth following along.