Quickly

  • Is the first Wednesday in February the real National Signing Day anymore? And if not, how will everyone spend January in a world where the recruiting drama drops off after December? Plus, we move into the first week of 2018 without a football game on any level in the latest Punt, Pass & Pork.
By Andy Staples
February 05, 2018

The e-mail was a reminder of how fast everything had changed. It was a press release touting the Pac-12 Networks’ coverage of National Signing Day on Wednesday. The extravaganza will end with a three-hour show beginning at 3 p.m. PT. In any other year, that release wouldn’t have prompted any questions at all. This year, it generated a few:

• Are we still referring to the first Wednesday in February as National Signing Day?

• If we are, should we be? Should it be Diet National Signing Day or National Signing Day Lite now?

• Should anyone tell the folks at the Pac-12 Network that most of the available players signed while their network was ignoring the early signing period in December?

This isn’t to pick on the Pac-12 Network—though it did completely whiff on coverage of an event its viewers probably would have preferred to the replay of a 19-year-old basketball game that did air when other networks covered the early signing period. Everyone is playing catch-up at this point, because no one knew exactly how this would play out when the NCAA’s Football Oversight Committee recommended a huge package of changes last year.

The next few days should answer our remaining questions and give us an idea of what to expect going forward. The biggest question from a calendar standpoint is this: How big of a deal should the February signing period be at this point?

More than 70% of the players who will sign in the class of 2018 signed in December. Only 25 of the top 200 players in the 247Sports.com composite remain unsigned. Does this mean all the drama will be sucked from Wednesday? Maybe not. Remember, in past years, the focus of National Signing Day coverage was on uncommitted players and players whose recruitments took odd turns in the final days. Without a December signing period, the players who signed this past December would have quietly signed their letters of intent and generated very little news. The players who planned to enroll in January would be at their chosen schools, just as they are now. The group that remains is a self-selecting sample of players whose recruitments would have been the most dramatic anyway. So it’s quite possible a recruit will commit using a live animal mascot—please don’t let it be a Florida A&M signee—or a recruit’s mother will abscond with her son’s national letter of intent and refuse to sign it until he chooses the school she wants. Because many of the remaining recruits opted not to sign in December because they wanted schools fighting over them, some of the same soap opera elements remain in play. At the very least, we certainly want to know where Mission Viejo, Calif., cornerback Olaijah Griffin, the son of rapper Warren G, will be regulating the boundary side for the next few years.

One major difference this year is that coaches probably won’t have spent five consecutive sleepless nights leading up to Signing Day. With most of the proverbial hay in the barn, coaches haven’t stressed much at all about the 2018 class since December. And while there were some high-profile complaints about the early signing period (Nick Saban’s, for example), the response among coaches has been overwhelmingly positive, and it has gotten even sunnier now that they understand what their January will be like in the future.

In previous years, coaches spent January on the road checking in on every player in the class—even the ones who had been committed for months. They spent a lot of their time babysitting. Now, they’re using January to evaluate. With most Power 5 programs only seeking five or fewer players for the current class, that allows a lot more time to evaluate players in future classes. The college coaches couldn’t talk to the 2019 and 2020 players, but they could visit their schools, talk to their coaches and teachers and watch them play other sports. (Watching a recruit play basketball is a great way to determine whether he’s as athletic as he appears in his football game video.) In essence, they got another spring evaluation period. Only this time, the head coaches were allowed on the road.

One head coach—who was an assistant in 2008 when the NCAA banned head coaches from the road in the spring after some coaches complained because Nick Saban and Urban Meyer were outworking them—said he imagined this is what May was like before that rule was passed. Basically, it offered a lower pressure environment for head coaches to get a better idea about who they should be recruiting for their next two classes.

Several coaches I spoke to said a potential downside is the extra evaluation in January combined with the ability to take official visits in April and May (new for this year) likely will speed up the offer-commitment process even more. As discussed many times here, the only real way to slow that process is to eliminate the concept of signing day and let players sign whenever they want. That may sound counterintuitive, but in practice it would make coaches more cautious with their offers because it would eliminate the concepts of “committable” and “non-committable” offers. That probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon, though.

As for the players who will sign Wednesday, many will be “best available” signees. ESPN recruiting analyst Tom Luginbill said he’s been hearing this phrase—which has been a staple of NFL draft lingo for decades—quite a bit from college coaches who had never used it before when referring to recruits. Basically, coaches who feel like they filled their glaring positional needs in December will seek the best athletes they can get and figure out where to play them. And if those coaches don’t get the three or four players they targeted, don’t be surprised if they simply save their scholarships. They can use them later on a graduate transfer or to backcount early enrollees so they can sign a bigger class in 2019. They also may want to have some scholarships available when the NCAA’s transfer rules change. Even if the Big 12’s big idea doesn’t pass in full, the rules are going to loosen in some form. Coaches may want to hold back a scholarship or two in case a player they want decides to transfer.

Another vestige of the old National Signing Day is Moving Day. Previously, the day after signing day launched a flurry of moves by assistant coaches—much to the chagrin of the players who just signed to play for those coaches. There wasn’t a ton of movement after the December signing period, which means that process probably hasn’t caught up to the change in signing dates. Expect a lot of moves in the next week, followed by the inevitable backfilling of the jobs that opened. Some potential moves have already revealed themselves. Rumors of Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano potentially leaving to replace Matt Patricia as the New England Patriots’ defensive coordinator began leaking last week. That Schiano might leave shouldn’t surprise any of Ohio State’s signees or recruits, though. He accepted the Tennessee head coaching job in November before Volunteers fans revolted. In January, the Buckeyes hired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch away from Washington State. No one who has been paying attention thought Grinch—who could have been a defensive coordinator almost anywhere and is a future head coach—was taking $800,000 a year to be a position coach.

Other coaching moves will elicit more surprise. But this could be the last time Moving Day comes in February. It might be moving to December, just like most of the action that used to take place on National Signing Day.

A Random Ranking

These are the top five commercials from last night’s Super Bowl.

1. Australia

Danny McBride eventually realizes he’s starring in a commercial for Austrailia’s tourism board and not in a Crocodile Dundee reboot, but I would absolutely watch the McBride/Chris Hemsworth/Paul Hogan Crocodile Dundee reboot. Hollywood (or Sydney), make this happen.

2. The NFL

Any commercial that features the best movie soundtrack duet of the ’80s is getting ranked high. 

3. Febreze

Finally, someone examined the physical and psychological ramifications of what happens when a person’s [bleep] don’t stink.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9NliY5tPp2k]

4. Amazon Alexa

Gordon Ramsay, Rebel Wilson and Cardi B do yeoman’s work replacing a sick Alexa.

5. Tide

Want America to shift the conversation away from stupid people attempting to eat Tide pods? Hire Hopper from Stranger Things to turn every Super Bowl ad into a Tide ad.

Three and Out

1. The Indianapolis Star looked into Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick’s prior role with USA Gymnastics in relation to the Larry Nassar scandal.

2. Oklahoma State may have found its successor to quarterback Mason Rudolph on the graduate transfer market. On Saturday, former Hawaii quarterback Dru Brown announced he will spend his final season of eligibility in Stillwater.

Brown threw for 2,785 yards and 18 touchdowns last season for Hawaii. He leaves a starting job to join a competition that also includes senior Taylor Cornelius, sophomore Keondre Wudtee and freshman Spencer Sanders.

3. Former TCU receiver Kolby Listenbee has sued TCU, coach Gary Patterson, former TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte, other coaches and the Big 12, claiming that he was rushed back to the field too soon from a hip injury during his senior season. TCU has since filed a motion asking that it be removed from the suit because the doctors who treated Listenbee were contractors and not TCU employees. TCU filed its motion in Tarrant County, where the school is located. Listenbee’s lawsuit was filed in Dallas County, where Big 12 headquarters is located.

What’s Eating Andy?

We won’t see another football game that counts until August, but at least we got one of the greatest Big 12 games of all time Sunday in Minneapolis.

What’s Andy Eating?

You are bad influences.

On Dec. 29, I sat in my hotel room in New Orleans and asked this question.

More than 1,400 of you voted, and by a three-to-one margin you recommended that I consume a piece of meat intended to feed two adult humans. And I love you for that.

Because without that push, I wouldn’t have walked into Galliano and ordered the 32-ounce prime rib. I never would have tasted what turned out to be the best piece of meat I ate in 2017. I also wouldn’t have a new must-eat restaurant in a city full of them.

Andy Staples

We’ll start with that beautiful hunk of bone-in prime rib. As you can tell by the photo, Galliano doesn’t cook its prime rib the way most restaurants do. The more common method is to bake a standing rib roast and slice it into sections before serving. If it’s cooked properly (rare to medium rare), this results in a juicy slab that highlights the beef’s natural flavor but doesn’t offer much in the way of crust.

At Galliano, they take a 32- to 40-ounce piece of rib roast and marinate it for three days in Cajun spices. The meat is then baked and finished in a cast-iron skillet, creating a glorious crust that offers a contrast to the tender, juicy meat beneath it. Just like traditional prime rib, this also should be ordered rare or medium rare. That’s especially important in this case, because cooking these monsters any longer would rob them of the melt-in-the-mouth texture that any good prime rib should have.

I wound up going to Galliano two more times in the succeeding days. At lunch two days later, I had the chicken andouille gumbo and a spinach salad with diced strawberries. While I eat a lot of salads, I don’t typically write about them in this space. This one gets a mention because of its excellent bacon vinaigrette dressing.

On New Year’s Eve, I planned to try the Pork Chop La Place, which is a giant chop stuffed with andouille sausage and covered with pickled red onion rings and Tiger sauce. I had seen these coming out of the kitchen while eating the prime rib on a previous visit, and they looked incredible. Unfortunately, I never tried that pork chop. On that night, I met up with Steve Coughlin, who is better known to viewers of Scott Van Pelt’s SportsCenter as superproducer Stanford Steve. Coughlin wanted to try the prime rib. As he planned his order, I began having second thoughts about the pork chop. I didn’t know when I’d be back in New Orleans to eat that prime rib again. I couldn’t pass up another chance.

A few minutes later, two guys ate enough prime rib for four people. All thanks to you and your terrible influence.

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