National Signing Day for high school football recruits is a month away, Wednesday, Feb. 3, and here are five things we will be watching:
The player at the top
Defensive tackle Rashan Gary from Paramus Catholic (N.J.) showed in the Under Armour All-America Game on Saturday that he is deserving of his No. 1 overall ranking. Gary had three sacks in the game as Team Highlight blanked Team Armour 27-0. Gary is ranked No. 1 by ESPN, Rivals, 247 and Scout. Gary says his list still has nine schools, although Gary’s mom said he’s down to two as far as she can tell.
He has an official visit scheduled to USC on Jan. 15 and indicated during Under Armour week that he might return to Michigan as soon as next week to visit Kareem Walker, the nation’s top running back from Wayne, N.J., who is an early enrollee in Ann Arbor. Gary has been considered a Michigan lean. He also has taken official visits to Mississippi and Auburn and LSU, Clemson and Georgia could get the last one.
Gary also figures to get a number of home visits once those are again allowed in mid-January. He said his schedule has not been nailed down. So what will push him over the edge for a particular school? “Comfortability for my family, education and food, to be honest,” Gary said.
Gary anchors a group that makes defensive tackle the “it” position with four players in the top 10. In the spring, Dexter Lawrence had been ranked as the No. 1 player in this class by Rivals.com. Lawrence from Wake Forest, N.C., is heading to Clemson. Uncommitted Derrick Brown from Buford (Lanier, Ga.) is ranked No. 8 in the 247Sports Composite and Houston commit Ed Oliver from Westfield (Houston) – named the Team Armour MVP – is ranked No. 10. Rashard Lawrence (Neville in Monroe, La.) is ranked No. 22 in the 247 composite, although a number of services have him ranked higher.
The Clemson effect
There is no doubt Clemson has recruited well over the past few years to get to the No. 1 ranking and a spot in the college football national championship. But consider that Alabama – the Tigers’ title game opponent – has 43 former Under Armour All-Americans on its roster compared to nine for Clemson. Winning is a good way to attract elite players. In Dexter Lawrence and Spartanburg (S.C.) running back Tavien Feaster, Clemson has two top-15 players. Ten of the Tigers’ 15 hard commits are ranked as four or five stars. How many more high-end recruits will Dabo Swinney and staff land?
With significant turnover among head coaches – especially with a number of schools creating openings at midseason – the pressure is on for the new coaches to retain those recruiting classes and make a final push. Two coaches under the microscope are Georgia’s Kirby Smart and South Carolina’s Will Muschamp.
Smart quickly took care of his first priority, making sure American Family Insurance ALL-USA quarterback Jacob Eason was still coming to Athens, and he also locked in All-American offensive lineman Ben Cleveland. The Bulldogs are viewed as the front-runner for a number of elite players, including Derrick Brown and tight end Isaac Nauta — he is expected to announce Saturday at the U.S. Army All-American Game — and are hopeful of keeping in-state stars such as Mecole Hardman (Elbert County; Elberton, Ga.) at home.
Muschamp got wide receiver Bryan Edwards back in the fold after he decommitted following the staff change and picked up a surprise commitment from wide receiver Cavin Ridley after the Under Armour game.
Also worth watching is Maryland’s DJ Durkin, who is off to a good start in keeping the “DMV Movement” going among players from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia in the region. Guard Terrance Davis from DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, Md.) committed to the Terps during the Under Armour game. Durkin’s biggest goal will be keeping quarterback Dwayne Haskins, from the Bullis School in Potomac, Md., on board. Former Georgia coach Mark Richt’s arrival in South Florida at Miami also could shake up a talent-rich area.
The top school
Which school is No. 1 depends on whom you ask. ESPN has Ole Miss, LSU and Ohio State. Rivals has LSU, Ole Miss and Michigan. For 247, it’s LSU, Ohio State and Florida State. Barring a slew of decommitments, one school among that group will be able to claim the recruiting title. The challenge, of course, is to turn those four- and five-star high school players into college players who help programs win football games, but bringing in talent is the first step.