Rashan Gary, Alabama lead National Signing Day 2016 storylines to watch
In less than 24 hours, high school football players can finally sign with the college teams of their choice. After all the buildup to National Signing Day, pen will finally meet paper and paper will finally meet fax machine on campuses all across the country.
So what will happen on arguably the biggest day of college football’s off-season? Here are the top 10 storylines to follow heading into National Signing Day 2016.
1. Rashan Gary’s landing spot
It’s easy to see why Gary, the consensus No. 1 player in the country, is the top target on most recruiting boards. He’s a versatile defensive lineman with speed (4.86 seconds in the 40-yard dash) that seems impossible given his size (6’4”, 286 pounds). Gary has taken official visits to Auburn, Michigan, Ole Miss and USC but saved his final visit last weekend for Clemson. However, Jim Harbaugh and the Wolverines, who currently hold the fifth-best crop of the commits in the country, are the presumed leaders in this race. It probably helps that Gary’s former coach at Paramus Catholic (N.J.) High is Michigan linebackers coach Chris Partridge, who came to Ann Arbor last year as director of player personnel. Gary reportedly trimmed his list to the Wolverines and Clemson on Monday.
2. Alabama’s next class
Nick Saban’s recruiting prowess is well documented, and each one of his signing classes at Alabama has won a national championship at some point during their time in Tuscaloosa. So the Crimson Tide’s current spot in Scout.com’s rankings (No. 6) might seem lower than usual. But the reigning national champs can still cap a stellar class, as Saban and company remain in the running for a slew of top-notch players. Five-star linebacker Ben Davis (Gordo, Ala.) and four-star linebacker Lyndell Wilson (Montgomery, Ala.) are just two of several uncommitted prospects expected to consider Bama. Don’t expect the Tide to sit out the fanfare of Signing Day.
3. The Big 12’s finish
Recruiting is very fluid at the 11th hour, but it remains striking that no Big 12 team currently boasts a top-10 signing class. In fact, TCU (No. 12), Baylor (No. 15) and Oklahoma (No. 19) are the only Big 12 schools in the current top 25. But 28th-ranked Texas could single-handedly shift the conference narrative: Coach Charlie Strong remains in the running for a few committed recruits like four-star offensive tackle Patrick Hudson (Baylor) and four-star defensive end Mark Jackson (Texas A&M), as well as uncommitted five-star safety Brandon Jones. With an uncertain future regarding realignment and a conference title game, the Big 12 is arguably the least stable of the Power 5 leagues. A slow finished on National Signing Day wouldn’t help the league’s perception.
4. Ohio State’s reloading
The Buckeyes were quickly forgotten on the national scene after their loss to Michigan State effectively ended their shot at a second straight title. Yet it shouldn’t shock anyone that Urban Meyer is poised to cement another top-tier recruiting class. Ohio State’s current 23-player haul ranks second in the country behind LSU and three spots ahead of rival Michigan. The Buckeyes’ class includes five-star defensive end Nick Bosa, brother of departing star Joey Bosa, and has 17 four-star prospects with the addition of New Jersey defensive back Jordan Fuller on Monday. Even if Ohio State whiffs on a few late additions, Meyer’s latest class should sooth the blow of losing nine underclassmen to the NFL draft.
5. LSU’s quest for a No. 1 class
Remember when folks in Baton Rouge wanted to kick Les Miles to the curb as the 2015 season came to close? Miles is acting like that never happened. How? By luring in a signing class that ranks No. 1 nationally just ahead of Signing Day. That group features two five-star players in defensive tackle Rashard Lawrence and cornerback Saivion Smith, as well as 15 four-star prospects. Including Lawrence, 11 of those players are Louisiana products ranked four-star or higher, part of what many consider the best talent from the state in years. For a guy who nearly received a pink slip, Miles has the Tigers in an enviable position on the recruiting trail.
6. How will first-year head coaches close?
While Georgia coach Kirby Smart walked into a favorable situation in Athens, he has likely surpassed expectations with his first recruiting class. The former Alabama assistant is just one of many coaches working to recruit in just a few short weeks in a new job. The Bulldogs’ 16-player class currently ranks 13th nationally and includes two five-star players in quarterback Jacob Eason and tight end Isaac Nauta. Now can any other new head coach impress like Smart? Will Muschamp has upped South Carolina’s recruiting profile since arriving in Columbia last month. Meanwhile, new Miami coach Mark Richt has used social media to spread the Hurricanes’ brand during this cycle. For now, however, Smart’s class is the best of any new head coaches.
7. The battle for Los Angeles
UCLA and USC seem to be on different ends of the recruiting spectrum right now. As it stands, the Bruins hold the Pac-12’s top class (No. 10) while the Trojans’ 13-player group sits just inside the top 25 at No. 24. But this Los Angeles rivalry remains up in the air ahead of National Signing Day. UCLA, which has 10 four-star players committed, is the presumed favorite for five-star linebacker Mique Juarez, a former USC commit. Meanwhile, five-star defensive back Jack Jones is expected to pledge to Trojans, which would certainly boost coach Clay Helton’s first class. The real intra-city drama comes with players like four-star tight end Devin Asiasi who are considering both UCLA and USC. Which school makes a bigger splash on Signing Day?
8. Florida State’s perch atop the ACC
Florida State has secured the ACC’s best signing class in each of the last two seasons. Even though Clemson won the league and played for the national title in 2015, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher should make it three straight top classes on Wednesday. The coach’s 21-player haul currently ranks seventh nationally and features the top cornerback in the country, five-star Virginia prospect Levonta Taylor, as well as 11 four-star prospects. Plus, the Seminoles remain in play for impact recruits like four-star offensive lineman Landon Dickerson and four-star defensive back Trayvon Mullen. Clemson’s current haul is nothing to laugh at (No. 18 nationally), but the ‘Noles look prepared to stand atop the ACC on Signing Day.
9. Can Houston hold on?
The best recruiting class of any Group of Five team is currently set to head to Houston, where second-year head coach Tom Herman is doing work in the state of Texas. His crop of commits ranks 42nd nationally and includes one five-star prospect in Houston-area defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Last month Oliver told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that LSU “will always be my dream school,” but he intends to follow his heart to Houston. If Herman can hold onto four-star receiver Tyrie Cleveland, who just took his final official visit to Florida, Houston could grab some unusual attention on Signing Day.
10. Ole Miss’s class in light of NCAA news
Hugh Freeze appears primed to ink another strong recruiting class at Ole Miss. The Rebels’ latest haul currently ranks third in the country with two five-star commits in offensive tackle Greg Little and quarterback Shea Patterson. But last week’s report of NCAA charges of rules violations in three sports, including football, seemed likely to drop a cloud over the home stretch of Ole Miss’s recruiting. However, the 22 recruits who traveled to Oxford last weekend appeared unaffected by the NCAA news. For the moment, the allegations don’t appear to implicate Freeze and his staff, so expect the Rebels to weather the storm and cap a top-10 class.