National Signing Day 2016 winners and losers: Texas, Alabama lead way
College coaches around the country can finally breathe a sigh of relief: National Signing Day has come and gone. Recruiting never really ends, of course, but on Wednesday the vast majority of highly touted recruits were able to sign their Letters of Intent. For the moment, at least, the future of most college football programs is officially set in motion.
Naturally, some teams emerged from Signing Day in a better position than others. Who surprised on recruiting’s biggest day, and who disappointed? SI.com breaks down the winners and losers, presented alphabetically, from Signing Day in 2016.
We should have known that Alabama would not sit quietly on Signing Day. The Crimson Tide secured several last-minute signatures on Wednesday, pushing the program to the very top spot in Scout.com’s team rankings. Coach Nick Saban’s biggest get might have been Ben Davis, a five-star linebacker from Gordo, Ala., whose father, Wayne, played for Alabama. But the Tide also landed several four-stars on Wednesday like cornerback Shyheim Carter, defensive end Terrell Hall and linebacker Lyndell “Mack” Wilson. Folks in Tuscaloosa have come to expect top-tier signing classes, and Alabama continued its Signing Day dominance in 2016.
Florida State didn’t win the ACC last season, but it remains the league’s standard in recruiting. The Seminoles started the day with the seventh-best class in the country but added a few big names to finish ranked No. 3. One week after taking a visit to Florida, five-star defensive end Brian Burns chose Florida State over the Gators as well as Alabama, Clemson and Georgia. Jimbo Fisher also added a couple of four-stars on Wednesday like linebacker Dontavious Jackson, offensive guard Landon Dickerson and defensive tackle Shavar Manuel, the latter of whom decommitted from Florida earlier in the day. Fisher once again did a remarkable job of luring more talent to Tallahassee.
Anytime you land the No.1 recruit in the country, you’ve had a pretty good day at the office. Jim Harbaugh ended Signing Day with five-star defensive tackle Rashan Gary headed to Ann Arbor, proving that Michigan has returned to being a force on the recruiting trail. Gary, who played at Paramus Catholic High in Paramus, N.J., is sizeable (6'4", 286 pounds) yet quick (4.86 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and can play all across the defensive line. Gary pledged to the Wolverines over the likes of Clemson, Ole Miss and USC. Of course, Michigan missed on a couple of Signing Day commitments; four-star defensive end Connor Murphy, for example, pledged to USC on Wednesday. But Gary, as well as commitments from four-star players like tight end Devin Asiasi, helped Michigan finish with the No. 6 class in the country.
Hugh Freeze is recruiting so well at Ole Miss, other SEC coaches are starting to notice—in one way or another. Regardless, the Rebels’ latest signing class might be Freeze’s best since arriving in Oxford. Ole Miss finished the day with the fifth-best group of signees in the country, led by two five-star prospects in offensive tackle Greg Little and quarterback Shea Patterson, the nation’s No. 1 prep signal-caller. But Freeze bolstered his latest haul with a few late additions like running back D’Vaughn Pennamon and safety Deontay Anderson, both four-star prospects. Freeze also dealt a blow to rival Mississippi State by plucking the No. 4 receiver in the country, A.J. Brown, out of Starkville.
Perhaps no program had a better Signing Day than Texas. Just last week, Charlie Strong’s latest class sat at No. 38 in Scout.com’s rankings. But after a flurry of late commitments on Wednesday, the Longhorns surged into the top 10 and finished at No. 8. The program’s biggest gets came on defense, where it landed the top safety in the class in five-star prospect Brandon Jones, who picked Texas over Texas A&M. Plus, defensive tackles Chris Daniels and Jordan Elliott, defensive end Erick Fowler—who flipped from LSU—and linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch were all four-star commits lured in by Strong on Signing Day. With Strong’s third season in Austin looming, this class should serve as a nice building block for the future.
UCLA entered Signing Day with the Pac-12’s best crop of commits, and it finished that way, as well. The Bruins’ seventh-ranked class featured the Wednesday addition of five-star recruit Mique Juarez, the nation’s No. 1 outside linebacker. Juarez opted to stay in California at UCLA despite offers from SEC powers like Ole Miss and Alabama. Coach Jim Mora also added some four-star talent in defensive tackle Boss Tagaloa and athlete Brandon Burton, the latter of whom announced his commitment in a video of him playing paintball.
How would Clay Helton fare with his first signing class as head coach at USC? If Wednesday was any indication, the Trojans could be in good hands. Helton managed to land a number of Signing Day commitments, including the No. 1 athlete in the class in five-star prospect Jack Jones. Jones, who also considered Alabama and Texas A&M, announced his pledge in the most Hollywood way possible: a video with Snoop Dogg. Helton also convinced Miami-area safety Jamel Cook, a four-star player, to decommit from Florida State and sign with USC. Throw in commits from four-star prospects like Georgia-based offensive lineman E.J. Price, and Helton can’t be upset with a class that finished 11th in the country.
New Maryland coach D.J. Durkin had a huge opportunity in the recruitment of four-star athlete and in-state prospect Trevon Diggs. Diggs’s brother, Stefon, was an All-Big Ten receiver in College Park and now plays for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. But the younger Diggs committed to Alabama in December and solidified his pledge on Wednesday by signing with Saban and company. Signing Day didn’t get easier for Maryland, which watched former commits like four-star quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. and four-star linebacker Keandre Jones sign with Ohio State. Durkin’s first class ended up 47th overall with just three four-star prospects.
Two years ago, Oklahoma State inked a signing class that finished 14th in the country, per Scout.com. This season? The Cowboys closed Signing Day with the 43rd-ranked group of prospects, which limps to seventh among Big 12 teams. The good news is coach Mike Gundy managed to snag the top player in the state, four-star offensive tackle Tramonda Moore, from Oklahoma. The bad news is Gundy’s latest haul features just two other four-star players. Meanwhile, former commits like three-star quarterback Nick Starkle (Texas A&M) and three-star defensive end Tramal Ivy (South Florida) ended up elsewhere. While Texas, TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all capped top-25 classes, Oklahoma State didn’t measure up with its crop of commits.
Oregon likely saw the writing on the wall regarding four-star cornerback Jared Mayden, a one-time Ducks pledge who decommitted from the program last month. But on Signing Day Mayden officially signed with Alabama, dealing a blow to Mark Helfrich’s latest class in Eugene. Unfortunately, Oregon’s whiffs didn’t end there: Helfrich’s staff missed on commitments from four-star defensive end Connor Murphy, who signed with USC, and five-star linebacker Caleb Kelly, who committed to Oklahoma.
After an off-season defined by the departure of two former five-star signees, quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, Texas A&M needed good news on Signing Day. Unfortunately for coach Kevin Sumlin, his program missed on a few big targets at the 11th hour. The Aggies were in the mix for five-star players like safety Brandon Jones and athlete Jack Jones but watched them sign with Texas and USC, respectively. Meanwhile, one-time A&M commit and four-star offensive tackle Patrick Hudson signed with Baylor, while four-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch spurned the Aggies for the Longhorns. Texas A&M’s class may finish in the top 20, but Sumlin and company came away from Signing Day a bit empty-handed.