For the first time, the NCAA offered college football recruits the opportunity to officially sign on to their college future before the holidays. Many of the nation’s top players jumped at the opportunity, and brought plenty of drama with them.
There was back-biting among two of the nation’s top coaches. There were flips and flops and plenty of great props. There was even a scenic trip to Italy. No, really.
Here are the teams that came out on top, and those who still have plenty of work to do before the traditional National Signing Day arrives on Feb. 7.
PENN STATE: Not only did coach James Franklin’s program land it’s top target — the nation’s No. 1-rated defensive end Micah Parsons — it also flipped a four-star wide receiver recruit from UCLA. Jahan Dotson’s decision to dump new coach Chip Kelly for the in-state Nittany Lions was a surprise and provides a big boost for the Penn State offense in the Class of 2018. Among the other key Penn State signees was Ricky Slade Jr., a Hylton (Va.) four-star running back considered the top prospect in his home state.
GEORGIA: The Dawgs were already expected to ink one of the nation’s best classes, but they officially added three huge, five-star pieces at the first opportunity: offensive guard Jamaree Salyer, offensive tackle Cade Mays and defensive end Brenton Cox. That trio could lift Georgia ahead of Ohio State for the mythical national recruiting title, a major accomplishment for coach Kirby Smart on the heels of his program’s first entry to the College Football Playoff.
CLEMSON: The Tigers could have landed on this list just by getting an official signature by top quarterback and overall prospect and ALL-USA Offensive Player of the Year Trevor Lawrence, but they did plenty more. Coach Dabo Swinney convinced Jackson Carman, the nation’s top offensive tackle and an Ohio native, to head south rather than sign with Ohio State (more on that later). They also added four-star running back Lyn-J Dixon despite a late push from Oklahoma State. Think things couldn’t get any better for Swinney and co.? Think again. His program wrapped up the big day with the signing of five-star defensive end K.J. Henry from neighboring North Carolina.
FLORIDA: Dan Mullen didn’t revolutionize the Gators’ recruiting fortunes, but he hooked the two big fish he needed: Four-star quarterback Emory Jones — a Georgia native who was long committed to Ohio State — and four-star Georgia safety Trey Dean. Both players had previously been considered lock recruits for other programs, with Dean backing out of a Tennessee pledge following the Volunteers’ coaching change.
NOTRE DAME: It’s not that Brian Kelly’s program landed anyone surprising, or even inked a star who was choosing from a list of three. It’s just that the Fighting Irish signed their entire 20-man recruiting class at the first opportunity. Every player in the class — including four-star cornerback Houston Griffith, four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec and four-star safety Derrik Allen — all signed their Letters of Intent, clearing a path to early enrollment. That makes it easier for the nation’s seventh-ranked class to contribute early in South Bend, which is a very good thing for Kelly and his staff.
OHIO STATE: First, a caveat: It’s entirely possible that Ohio State will finish February with the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, and they added four-star wide receiver Cameron Brown, a previous Nebraska commit. Still, the optics were rough for coach Urban Meyer and co. Jackson Carman said he picked Clemson rather than Ohio State in large part because Swinney convinced him Meyer is on the downside of his career. Jones bolted for Florida rather than Columbus at the last hurdle, and the quarterback they replaced him with — Matthew Baldwin of Texas power Lake Travis — is only rated as a three-star recruit. Then there’s the case of Parsons, whom Ohio State allegedly stopped recruiting after self-reporting a minor recruiting violation when he visited the campus during an ESPN College GameDay taping. It all added up for an Alka Seltzer-type day for Ohio State fans, even as a crop of four and five-star recruits signed on.
UCLA: While Jim Mora Jr. didn’t win as often as Bruins fans may have liked, he always drew top recruits. New coach Chip Kelly may well, too, but Wednesday he only had four of his Class of 2018 sign. Beyond that, the Bruins class is remarkably slim, a list of just 10 after the departure of Dotson to Penn State. If any of the Bruins’ remaining four-star commits such as Olaijah Griffin or Dorian Thompson-Robinson change their mind before February, the Bruins could find themselves scrambling.
FLORIDA STATE: Let’s be fair: Coach Willie Taggart has barely been in Tallahassee long enough to make sure his visor fits. Still, the Seminoles current Class of 2018 is ranked 44th in the country by 247Sports. Forty-fourth! That’s behind schools like perennial Big Ten struggler Indiana and just one spot in front of Syracuse and two in front of the AAC’s Cincinnati. The Seminoles had just eight commits before the high profile Wednesday night addition of five-star Jaiden Woodbey, and only three (plus Woodbey) rushed out to sign their letters of intent Wednesday morning. That doesn’t bode well for Taggart’s first year at the helm. The good news? Woodbey gives Taggart some momentum, and it’s not like the cupboard is bare. The program returns plenty of top veterans. It looks like Taggart’s going to need them.
TENNESSEE: Sure, new coach Jeremy Pruitt is winning over converts on the recruiting trail. He just didn’t have enough time to make an impact so soon. The addition of two in-state commits from Cordova in Jerome Carvin and Jeremy Banks helped, as did the official signings of four-star defensive tackles Brant Lawless and Greg Emerson, but the quality of the Vols class hasn’t caught up to the recruits who left for other programs after the firing of coach Butch Jones. Like Taggart, Pruitt now has six weeks to convince the nation’s remaining top prospects that Knoxville is the right place for them under his tutelage.