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  • Nobody can say for sure exactly how the three-day early signing period will change this year's recruiting cycle, but one thing is certain: By the end of the week, everyone will know everything. Plus, more thoughts on the biggest recruiting storylines, memorable moments from the year's first bowl games and the rest of this week's Punt, Pass & Pork.
By Andy Staples
December 18, 2017

College football’s first annual Show Your Cards Day* takes place Wednesday, and it seems we aren’t sufficiently excited enough for this. While it may take a few recruiting cycles to figure out whether college football’s new early signing period will be good for players, coaches, both or neither, we do know this: It will be fascinating for those of us who prefer our college football with an extra side of chaos.

The old first-Wednesday-in-February quasi-national holiday provided some drama—the occasional mom-refusing-to-sign-a-National-Letter-of-Intent, fax machine hijinks—this new system should produce some interesting situations as coaches and players attempt to navigate the new landscape. High school and junior college players will be allowed to sign National Letters of Intent between Wednesday and Friday, but they also can choose to wait until the usual February signing day. Players with true leverage (read: many offers from good programs) don’t have to sign an NLI at all. They can pull a Roquan Smith. The most likely outcome is that most players who will sign with Power 5 schools for the class of 2018 will sign this week. But it will be an adventure before the fax machines stop humming on Friday.

*I can’t take credit for Show Your Cards Day. The credit goes to Matt Dudek, who was Arizona’s director of player personnel when he coined the phrase during an interview in January. Dudek currently serves as the Director of Recruiting at Michigan.

The reason we’re calling Wednesday Show Your Cards Day is because programs and recruits now have to make their intentions clear to one another while the programs and the recruits still have time to make other arrangements. Let’s look at two situations that would have played out before the lone signing day previously and how they might turn out differently this year.

Old System

Situation No. 1: A recruit commits to a school in June, but he takes all five official visits in the fall. He insists he is still committed, but on National Signing Day he signs with another school. The coaching staff must scramble to find another player, but most of the best options are gone.

Situation No. 2: A recruit commits to a school in June, but a few days before National Signing Day he is told that there is no room for him in the signing class. He’ll need to accept a grayshirt—delaying enrollment until the following January—if he wants to play for that school. If the player wants the scholarship he expected, he must find another school, but most of the best options are gone.

New System

Situation No. 1: A recruit commits to a school in June, but he takes all five official visits in the fall. He insists he is still committed, but when the time to sign his NLI comes in December, he opts not to sign and says he’d like to wait until February. He has shown his cards. He isn’t actually committed.

Situation No. 2: A recruit commits to a school in June, but he does not receive NLI paperwork from the coaching staff this week. The coaching staff has shown its cards. Its scholarship “offer” wasn’t real.

Feelings will be hurt on all sides this week, but at least coaches and players will know where everyone stands with a chance to regroup and make alternate plans for February. The coaches don’t like the new system because it forces them to try to secure a signing class while also preparing for bowl games and playoff games. They also don’t like it because it will force them in some cases to prove that an offer is real and not simply code for “we’ll take this defensive end if the defensive end we really want doesn’t flip to us from our rival.” Players who chose their schools long ago and simply want to be done with the recruiting process—this is most players, by the way—will love being able to sign and enjoy the remainder of the holiday season with the knowledge that their spots are secure. Players who enjoy being courted incessantly by schools may want to stretch their recruitments into February, but if they’ve already committed somewhere, they run the risk of having an offer pulled if they don’t sign with the school to which they proffered said commitment. And that makes perfect sense. If you claim you’re committed and you don’t sign the NLI the school sends you, are you really committed? Of course not. The coaching staff probably should pull the offer in that case.

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said last week he will evaluate any such situations on a “case-by-case” basis. This is wise. Some players might be good enough to be worth waiting for until February. Others might be easily replaced by another player who wants to sign right now. Players, meanwhile, will need to evaluate their situations carefully before they turn down a bird in the hand. A player with 40 Power 5 offers can afford to prolong the recruiting process. He has leverage. A player with two Power 5 offers probably is better off signing now. The key for recruits and for coaches is to be brutally honest with themselves about where they or their programs stand in the pecking order. Any overestimation of one’s place in the world could result in a lost scholarship or a lost player.

There are plenty of other situations that coaches and administrators are watching closely this week because no one knows exactly how the process will play out.

Will the bottom and middle of the Power 5 get squeezed? And might that help the Group of Five?

One fear from Power 5 programs that don’t load up on four- and five-stars is that they might not be able to flip players signed to Group of Five programs leading into February. The prevailing logic is that the players will take the sure thing and sign with the Group of Five school before the Power 5 staff determines whether it has a scholarship available. In truth, this probably isn’t going to be a big change. Most flips of Group of Five players in recent years have come in December or earlier. So, knowing players would be signing in December, the staffs at those Power 5 schools probably began recruiting Group of Five-committed targets a little earlier. There still will be flips. But they’ll probably come this week.

Will a new coach in a familiar state be able to sway recruits in time?

Florida State’s class fell apart as uncertainty reigned in the final weeks of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure there. But Willie Taggart is one of the best recruiters of the Sunshine State, and if he had until February, the idea of salvaging the class wouldn’t seem that far-fetched. But Taggart, who hasn’t been able to announce much of his staff yet, has to do a lot in a compressed time period. That’s why this official visit weekend was critical. Miami tailback James Cook, the younger brother of former Seminole Dalvin Cook, has been committed to Georgia for a while but spent the weekend in Tallahassee. James Cook plans to sign with either Georgia or Florida State on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Seffner, Fla., defensive end Malcolm Lamar has been recruited by Taggart since Taggart worked at South Florida (which was only a little over a year ago). Lamar is committed to Oregon, but will a relatively new offer from Florida State sway him? The star-studded group also included Fontana, Calif., safety Jaiden Woodbey, who is committed to Ohio State but also considering USC.

Taggart’s hit rate from this official visit weekend likely will determine the success of his first class at Florida State.

Are there enough QBs to go around?

Florida and Tennessee both have new coaches and both parted ways with committed quarterbacks after those new coaches were hired. Long Beach (Calif.) Poly High quarterback Matt Corrall committed to Jim McElwain at Florida but will wind up playing for Matt Luke at Ole Miss after new Gators coach Dan Mullen began searching for a dual-threat signal caller. Mullen has made his case to top prospect Justin Fields—who remains committed to Georgia. Ohio State commit Emory Jones, a Georgia native who learned last week that the Buckeyes also plan to sign Austin, Texas, quarterback Matthew Baldwin, visited Florida this weekend and also may consider Florida State. Meanwhile, new Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt also is in the market for a quarterback. Adrian Martinez of Fresno, Calif., flipped last week to Nebraska, and Tampa quarterback Michael Penix wrote in a Twitter post last Wednesday that he was no longer part of Tennessee’s plans. (Though he still hopes to sign with a school on Wednesday.)

Will the Gators or Vols find the QBs they seek? And if they do, will that send two other schools scrambling?

There may still be more questions than answers when the early signing period ends on Friday, but at least we’ll have some idea of how this new format is going to work. No matter what, it will be an interesting week.

A Random Ranking

Zach Rau, who you may remember as one of the stars of my story on LSU tailgating, posted his top five Garth Brooks songs last week. I took issue with it. So he challenged me to make my own.

Challenge accepted, sir.

1. “Unanswered Prayers”
2. “Standing Outside The Fire”
3. “The Thunder Rolls”
4. “The Dance”
5. “Shameless”
6. “Friends In Low Places”
7. “The River”
8. “Callin’ Baton Rouge”
9. “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)”
10. “Papa Loved Mama”

Three And Out

1. Boise State’s receivers looked like the Pips with this spin shortly before a Brett Rypien-to-Ryan Wolpin touchdown in the first quarter of the Broncos’ 38–28 Las Vegas Bowl win on Saturday. Hopefully, this formation is called Midnight Train To Georgia.

2. One of the gifts Kansas State players received for making the Cactus Bowl is a Yeti Tundra 35 cooler, which retails for $299. Kansas State punter Nick Walsh is giving his away to one of the Twitter users who retweets his message encouraging fans to sign up for Big Brothers Big Sisters to help young people in need.

3. Arkansas State inside receivers coach Kyle Cefalo made the best fashion choice of the bowl season before the Red Wolves’ 35–30 loss to Middle Tennessee in the Camellia Bowl. Now we need to see an entire staff in ugly Christmas sweaters for a bowl game. Don’t let us down, Lane Kiffin.

For Your Ears

Advanced stats guru Bill Connelly of SBNation joins to break down the playoff matchups and to help improve the college football box score. Also, if you’re looking for a last minute gift, buy Bill’s new book, The 50 Best* College Football Teams of All Time.

What’s Eating Andy?

I hope I never hear the phrase “survive the ground” in a college football game. The play should be over when the caught ball crosses the plane of the goal line. The ruling being correct doesn’t mean the rule isn’t dumb.

What’s Andy Eating?

I learned last week that one of the stars of Bar Rescue had opened an Ivy League-themed bar in Austin. Some of the drinks look cool, but the concept seems ultra-pretentious with its pumped-in “ambient scents and pheromones” and “a professional quality camera system installed to facilitate live streaming and produced content.” That probably will fit well in a hipster haven like downtown Austin, but a Google Maps search for the place reminded me of the decidedly unpretentious spot just across the street that you’ll probably like better.

I reviewed the regular offerings at Frank six years ago on my old Heaven Is A Buffet blog, and you absolutely should try the antelope, rabbit and pork sausage that serves as the backbone for the Jackalope. (I know that sounds a little pretentious for cased meat, but I promise you won’t feel that way when you walk in the place.) What I didn’t realize until a trip to Austin earlier this year is that Frank also may serve the best brunch in the city.

Frank only serves brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays, but given the steady convention business in downtown Austin, the place probably could make a mint serving it every day to hungover sales reps and medical professionals. Everything on Frank’s regular cocktail menu remains available, which is why I started this particular Sunday morning with a cup of coffee and an Old Fashioned shake. I don’t mean old fashioned as in traditional ingredients. It’s an Old Fashioned (bourbon, bitters, simple syrup) blended with vanilla ice cream and topped with a cherry and whipped cream.

Andy Staples

Next came two cheddar biscuits covered in sausage cream gravy guaranteed to soak up any bad memories from the previous evening. The biscuits were soft and fluffy and slightly cheesy. Imagine the classiest possible version of Red Lobster’s Cheddar Bay biscuit. Now dump sausage gravy on it. Now you understand.

Andy Staples

I wanted to order everything. The Makers Toast (buns battered in custard with Makers Mark bourbon blueberry sauce) looked divine. The Grilled Cheese Waffle Sammy (a cheesy pulled pork sandwich that uses bacon waffles for buns) seemed equally nap-inducing. I finally settled on the Donetzel Board, a trio of pretzel doughnuts. These beauties have chewy crust on the outside, soft bread and tasty filling inside, and they’ll make you wonder why anyone ever waited in line for a Cronut when this is clearly the finest treat to ever escape from the bakery of Dr. Moreau. The fillings change every week, but pray when you go that they fill one of your Donetzels with Bananas Foster.

Andy Staples

The new bar across the street can try all those gimmicks, but Frank doesn’t need to pump in pheromones during brunch, lunch or dinner. It always smells like sausage and pancakes, which means it’s already the sexiest place in town.

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