- Nobody's recruiting class is completely settled in mid-December, but as the three-day early signing period draws to a close, everyone has a clearer picture of where they stand heading into the new year.
The 2018 recruiting cycle is not over yet. Many recruits signed National Letters of Intent during the new, 72-hour period that ends on Friday, but the rest of the nation’s top prospects can wait until the traditional date, the first Wednesday of February. That said, the early window has been packed with momentous developments, with rippling effects on Power 5 rosters across the country. Some programs will enter the new year having mostly filled out their classes, while others still have a lot of work to do. Here are the biggest winners and losers so far:
Clemson: The defending national champions will enter January having gotten signatures from four of the top 10 players in the class of 2018, the most in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite. (Georgia, at three in the top 10, is the only other program with more than one.) Two of those players had been verbally committed to the Tigers for months, but the other two made the call for Clemson on Wednesday. The more surprising grab was Fairfield (Ohio) High’s Jackson Carman, the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country, whom head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff plucked out of Ohio State territory (possibly with some help from negative recruiting aimed at Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer). Clemson also added another elite defensive lineman to their stockpile in West Forsyth (N.C.) High’s KJ Henry, who picked the Tigers over South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Georgia and Alabama.
Georgia: The Bulldogs’ run to the College Football Playoff this season has validated the wisdom of the program’s decision to dismiss Mark Richt in 2015 and hire Kirby Smart. Georgia’s future under Smart looks even rosier after it compiled what currently ranks as the No. 1 recruiting class in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.
The Bulldogs’ biggest win of the early period was fending off other suitors looking to pry away dual-threat quarterback Justin Fields, the No. 2 player in the class of 2018, and they also added two five-star offensive linemen (tackle Cade Mays and guard Jamaree Salyer), a five-star defensive lineman (Brenton Cox) and 2018’s No. 2 tight end (Luke Ford) and weakened an SEC rival by flipping four-star defensive back Nadab Joseph from Alabama.
Florida: One thing new Gators head coach Dan Mullen definitely needs to kick Florida’s offense into high gear right away is a quality quarterback, and he looks to have gotten one with the signing of Emory Jones, a four-star dual-threat signal-caller out of Heard County (Ga.) High who flipped from Ohio State. The Jones pickup should pay big dividends on the field, but it also could reverberate across the state as an important recruiting triumph for Mullen over in-state rival Florida State and new head coach Willie Taggart, who also courted Jones late in the process. Florida got more good news on Wednesday from a less high-profile, but still talented prospect, Trey Dean, a four-star safety from Dutchtown (Ga.) High who chose the Gators over Alabama and Kentucky.
Texas: The focus of this piece is on developments that took place during the last two days, but the Longhorns deserve to be honored for something they did over the course of several months that culminated with one recruit’s announcement on Wednesday. When Anthony Cook, a five-star cornerback out of Lamar (Tex.) opted for Texas over finalists Ohio State and LSU, it rounded out a staggering collection of top-shelf defensive backs that also includes the No. 1 (B.J. Foster), No. 3 (Caden Sterns) and No. 6 (DeMarvion Overshown) safeties in the class of 2018, as well as the No. 5 (Cook), No. 6 (Jalen Green) and No. 14 (D’Shawn Jamison) cornerbacks, according to the 247Sports Composite. Cook’s pledge also completed the Longhorns’ monopolization of top-tier high schoolers in one of the nation’s most talent-rich states: All of the top five and eight of the top 12 prospects in Texas signed with the Longhorns.
Penn State: The Nittany Lions’ top target entering the early period was an incredibly valuable one: the highest-ranked uncommitted prospect in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite. Harrisburg (Pa.) High standout defensive end Micah Parsons wound up signing with the Nittany Lions after previously committing to them in February of 2016 and then reopening his recruitment in April of this year. Parsons, Penn State’s third five-star in its 2018 class (the two others are wide receiver Justin Shorter and all-purpose back Ricky Slade), is the type of trench difference-maker that can give the Nittany Lions an edge over their blue chip–stocked competitors in the Big Ten East. Penn State also did well to sign another of the state of Pennsylvania’s top players, Nazareth Area High’s Jahan Dotson, a four-star who flipped from UCLA after committing to the Bruins in September.
UCLA: The Bruins should be commended for what they achieved in the weeks leading into the early period after axing Jim Mora and hiring Chip Kelly, including commitments from three-star running back Kazmeir Allen, four-star athlete Bryan Addison and four-star wide receiver Chase Cota. But on Wednesday, UCLA lost two esteemed prospects to other programs, Dotson and Abdul-Malik McClain, a four-star defensive end who flipped to crosstown rival USC.
The Bruins countered with a flip of their own from the Trojans in four-star linebacker Bo Calvert, but they also watched coveted junior college offensive lineman Mikey Grandy pick Texas and had their two top commits, cornerback Olaijah Griffin and quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, pass on inking their NLIs. Though Thompson-Robinson hasn’t indicated that he has misgivings on a future in Westwood, UCLA undoubtedly would have preferred that he put pen to paper.
Alabama: The Crimson Tide were in on Jones, who spurned them in favor of an SEC East team (Florida). They were also in the running for Dominick Wood-Anderson, the top junior college tight end in the nation, but he picked yet another SEC East team (Tennessee). And they were hoping to grab Cox after his recent decommitment from Ohio State, only to lose him to a different SEC East team (Georgia). The Bulldogs also stung the Crimson Tide by flipping Joseph and reeling in Ford, who at one point looked like a good bet to end up in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama did secure an A-List pass rusher in five-star Eyabi Anoma, plus a big body to put in the middle of its defensive line in four-star tackle Christian Barmore, but the early window wasn’t as productive as hoped for a program trying to extend a seven-year streak as the country’s recruiting kingpin. Georgia’s ascension to No. 1 in the class rankings didn’t ease any of the angst.
Texas A&M: For the Aggies, the most dispiriting aspect of the early signing period involved not what they didn’t do, but what other Power 5 programs in the state of Texas did do. Namely, Texas signed the No. 3 class in the country heading into Christmas, according to 247Sports, and Baylor assembled the No. 21 haul despite winning only one game this season.
New Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff have time to make major gains in this cycle, including with highly regarded prospects like four-star wide receivers Jaylen Waddle and Joshua Moore and former safety commit Leon O’Neal Jr., but there’s more pressure for a strong close now that the Longhorns have assembled a star-studded haul capable of catapulting them back into the Power 5’s upper crust. Texas A&M also lost a commitment from four-star defensive tackle Bobby Brown on Wednesday.
Ohio State: Context is required in labeling the Buckeyes an early signing period loser. They still own the highest average player rating in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite, and the No. 2 recruiting class overall, behind only Georgia. A handful of the guys Ohio State signed will probably go on to earn all-conference honors while powering Big Ten championship and playoff pushes. That said, it was stunning to see the Meyer-led Buckeyes whiff on a prime recruit in their backyard (Carman), and while neither Jones’s flip to Florida nor that of five-star safety Jaiden Woodbey to Florida State were unexpected, both helped dragged down Ohio State’s haul enough for the Bulldogs to leap into the top spot of the national team rankings. The Buckeyes still have other premium prospects in their sights, including four-star defensive linemen Tyreke Smith and Jayson Oweh, but the early period didn’t offer an emotional lift after a disappointing College Football Playoff selection day.
February’s signing day: For some college football fans—including, but not limited to, the “recruiting rankings don’t matter” crowd—the traditional National Signing Day on the first Wednesday of February is a sensationalized spectacle that draws more attention than it deserves. For others, it’s a day-long thrill ride filled with fax machine-related mishaps, artful baseball cap pump-fakes, slick video-taped reveals and enough drama to keep you locked into your Twitter feed and/or message board of choice from sunrise to dinner time.
Unfortunately for the latter group, it just doesn’t feel like it’ll be the same going forward. Most of the big names in the class of 2018 unveiled their college decisions before or during the early signing period, and many of the holdouts could well do the same next month. There will be some unknowns heading into February 7, but the December window will drain a lot of the intrigue out of what had become one of the sport’s most eventful days of the offseason.