Byron Cowart, Jim Harbaugh among National Signing Day 2015 storylines
There won’t be another college football game for several months, but the recruiting cycle has reached its apex. National Signing Day is Wednesday, and the country’s best coaches are trying to stock their rosters with elite high school talent.
Can Alabama secure another top class? What can we expect from Jim Harbaugh’s first haul at Michigan? There should be plenty to monitor as recruits sign on the dotted line. Here are the top 10 storylines entering Signing Day.
1. The future of the No. 1 overall recruit
Like Da’Shawn Hand and Robert Nkemdiche before him, the top recruit in the 2015 class is a talented pass-rusher. Armwood (Fla.) High defensive end Byron Cowart is expected to pledge his services to Auburn, Florida or Florida State, and the 6-foot-4, 250-pounder could make an immediate impact. Cowart seems to be avoiding the chatter as his decision nears, even deleting his Twitter account this week. Most signs point to Cowart heading to the Gators or the Tigers, but coach Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles are hoping to make a late surge.
2. The Jim Harbaugh effect at Michigan
The biggest coaching hire of the offseason has his work cut out for him. Between the time Michigan fired Brady Hoke and brought in Harbaugh, its recruiting class shrunk to six total commitments. With Harbaugh now on the job, the Wolverines’ haul ranks No. 82 in the nation, according to Rivals.com, and features five four-star pledges, including quarterback Zach Gentry, who flipped from Texas on Jan. 24. That ranking may seem low for a traditional power, but it’s hard to accurately assess a new coach’s class in an accelerated recruiting cycle. Plus, we don’t know whether Harbaugh can turn recruiting success into wins. Hoke inked top-10 classes in 2012 and '13 but accomplished little with them.
3. Assessing the SEC -- behind Alabama
Alabama is inching closer to a remarkable fifth straight top-rated recruiting class, according to Rivals.com. But where will the conference stand behind the Crimson Tide? Last season seven SEC classes finished among the top 10 nationally. Five sit in Rivals.com’s top 10 currently, with Tennessee (No. 5) and Georgia (No. 6), Texas A&M (No. 8) and LSU (No. 10) just behind the Tide. Plenty of questions remain. Can Volunteers coach Butch Jones close out another impressive class? Is Will Muschamp's presence at Auburn set to make a difference? Alabama should reign supreme, but several SEC teams could get a notable Signing Day boost.
4. Late recruiting magic at Florida
Speaking of the SEC, perhaps no school has as much to gain on Signing Day as Florida. As of Tuesday the Gators’ class had moved up to No. 55 nationally, per Rivals.com, and first-year coach Jim McElwain's haul could ascend much higher by Wednesday afternoon. Uncommitted five-star prospects Cowart, defensive end CeCe Jefferson and offensive tackle Martez Ivey all list Florida among their finalists. Can the Gators make a major splash?
5. The battle for the Lone Star State
Texas coach Charlie Strong almost pulled off a major recruiting coup by flipping four-star quarterback Kyler Murray from Texas A&M. Murray recently reaffirmed his pledge to the Aggies, but the Longhorns remain in position to ink their first top-five class since 2012. Nine of Strong’s 26 commitments hail from outside Texas, an approach that differs drastically from that of Strong’s predecessor, Mack Brown. Strong’s class, which ranks No. 9 nationally, according to Rivals.com, could still add talent such as four-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, a onetime A&M commit. The Longhorns don't play the Aggies on the field, but Strong is giving Kevin Sumlin quite a run on the recruiting trail.
6. Recruiting after the national title game
It comes as no surprise that the national championship participants stand to pull in strong recruiting classes. It’s business as usual for Ohio State, which sits at No. 7 in Rivals.com’s rankings and could secure a few more high-profile prospects. One is wide receiver K.J. Hill, who is considering the Buckeyes along with Alabama and Arkansas. Meanwhile, Oregon hasn’t claimed a top-10 class since 2011, the year after it played in the BCS title game. The Ducks sit at No. 14 in the rankings, but have six early enrollees, including prized defensive end Canton Kaumatule.
7. The quest for ACC recruiting supremacy
The best on-field ACC rivalry is looking equally competitive on the recruiting trail, as Clemson and Florida State sit at No. 3 and No. 4 in Rivals.com's rankings, respectively, and count eight five-star commits between them. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney went into Florida for receiver Deon Cain and athlete Ray-Ray McCloud III, though the duo recently visited Auburn. Meanwhile, the ‘Noles have two blue-chip defensive backs (Derwin James and Tarvarus McFadden) and the top-rated dual-threat quarterback (Deondre Francois). Which program will emerge with a more heralded Signing Day haul?
8. Locked and loaded: Penn State and USC
Penn State’s James Franklin and USC’s Steve Sarkisian had to endure scholarship reductions when signing their 2014 classes, but both found ways to make the most of it. The Trojans enjoyed one of the best Signing Days of any program, securing prospects like Adoree’ Jackson and JuJu Smith. The Nittany Lions, on the other hand, snuck into the top 25 of the recruiting rankings. Now free of sanctions, both are set for even better hauls in '15. USC’s class currently ranks No. 2 overall, while Penn State's sits at No. 12, the second-highest of any Big Ten team.
9. The success of first-year head coaches
Harbaugh isn’t the only new face in a new place. A number of other programs brought in fresh coaches this offseason, and they had to hit the ground running. Mike Riley’s first class at Nebraska already has more four-star commits (five) than Bo Pelini’s final group in 2014 (four). At Wisconsin 10 prospects have decommitted since Paul Chryst took over for Gary Andersen. Meanwhile, Andersen’s first class at Oregon State sits at No. 80, per Rivals.com, last in the Pac-12. Can a new coach other than Harbaugh or McElwain make a Signing Day charge?
10. Crazy and creative commitment watch
Some recruiting commitments are more entertaining than others. USC's Jackson pulled out everything from a shoe to a Gatorade bottle before pledging to the Trojans last February. Defensive back Jamal Adams committed to the “University of LSU” at the 2014 Under Armour game. Will anything surprising happen this year? Keep an eye on five-star tailback Soso Jamabo. He is the prospect who previously named ITT Tech and the University of Phoenix as his finalists.