- Georgia regained top-dog status in the 2018 recruiting rankings, but Athens wasn’t the only site of an enthusiastic National Signing Day celebration. Meanwhile in Michigan, the heat on Jim Harbuagh intensifies.
By the time the first Wednesday of February 2018 arrived, many teams had already filled out the bulk of their recruiting classes. This cycle brought the introduction of an early signing period, a 72-hour window beginning on Dec. 20 in which senior prospects could ink National Letters of Intent. While most of the nation’s top players took the opportunity to effectively end their recruitments before Christmas, a good number of highly regarded guys waited until the traditional signing date.
Below is rundown of some of the day’s biggest winners and losers. These assessments are based on what took place on Wednesday, not what unfolded over the course of the entire cycle.
The Bulldogs entered Wednesday ranked second in the 247Sports Composite team rankings. They left it ranked first after a rousing finish that included adding the nation’s No. 2 cornerback, American Heritage (Fla.) High’s Tyson Campbell, as well as a four-star wide receiver, Samuel Clemens (Tex.) High’s Tommy Bush. The Bulldogs also convinced two coveted prospects committed to brand-name programs hop on board, flipping four-star Lee County (Ga.) High linebacker Otis Reese from Michigan and four-star Crisp County (Ga.) high linebacker Quay Walker from Alabama. Georgia may have fallen just short of winning a national championship this season, but it’s stocking its roster with the talent needed to make College Football Playoff appearances a regular occurrence going forward.
When SI.com named the Aggies one of its losers for the early signing period, it noted that there was “more pressure for a strong close now.” Texas A&M definitely delivered. Even though the Aggies whiffed on their top-ranked target, Episcopal (Tex.) High four-star wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, head coach Jimbo Fisher and his staff strengthened the roster with a number of promising pieces, including four-star Lanier (Ala.) High dual-threat quarterback James Foster, four-star Rockledge (Fla.) High running back Jashaun Corbin, four-star Park Crossing (Ala.) High offensive guard Tank Jenkins and four-star Cajon (Calif.) High defensive end Jeremiah Martin. The Aggies also flipped four-star Lamar (Tex.) High defensive tackle Bobby Brown from Alabama and plucked three-star tight end Glenn Beal out of John Curtis (La.) High.
Ceding the No. 1 spot in the team recruiting rankings to Georgia is a bummer, but that hardly diminishes what the Buckeyes accomplished on Wednesday. First, one of the more inscrutable, high-profile recruitments of this cycle broke in Ohio State’s favor, as five-star Berkeley Prep (Fla.) offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere chose the Buckeyes over Alabama, Florida, Michigan and Notre Dame less than a week after taking an official visit to Columbus. Not only is Petit-Frere the top player at his position in this class, he’s far more highly regarded than the offensive tackle who picked Penn State at Ohio State’s expense on Wednesday, North Point (Md.) High four-star Rasheed Walker. The Buckeyes also snagged Bergen Catholic (N.J.) High four-star linebacker Javontae Jean-Baptiste.
Three four-star prospects made the call for the Fighting Irish on Wednesday: McDonogh 35 (La.) High wide receiver Lawrence Keys III, H.D. Woodson (DC) cornerback Noah Boykin and Mission Viejo (Calif.) High offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson. Boykin wasn’t the only defensive back from the nation’s capital that Notre Dame signed. It also reeled in three-star St. John’s College High cornerback D.J. Brown and flipped three-star Pike County (Ga.) High running back C’Bo Flemister from Georgia Tech. The Fighting Irish’s 2018 class does not include any players rated higher than IMG (Fla.) Academy High cornerback Houston Griffith (70th in the 247Sports Composite), but Wednesday was a productive day that could pay dividends in the form of multiple future starters.
Willie Taggart recruited four-star Garfield (Wash.) High athlete Tre’Shaun Harrison to Oregon and persuaded Harrison to follow him to Tallahassee after leaving Eugene in December to take Florida State’s head coaching job. Harrison was one of two four-star recruits to elect to join the Seminoles on Wednesday. The other was Armwood (Fla.) High’s Malcolm Lamar, the No. 9 strongside defensive end in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite. Florida State also scored a solid win over in-state rival Miami by pulling three-star defensive tackle Jamarcus Chatman out of Rome (Ga.) High, and it flipped two other Peach State products, three-star Buford High running back Anthony Grant and three-star Heritage High wide receiver Jordan Young, from Tennessee.
The Gators did not have a perfect day. Petit-Frere turned them down for Ohio State, four-star American Heritage (Fla.) School defensive tackle Nesta Silvera affirmed his pledge to Miami instead of flipping and Boykin signed with Notre Dame. Yet Florida was able to add a pair of four-star defensive ends, American Heritage’s Andrew Chatfield (who revived a program tradition with his unveiling) and Lee (Ala.) High’s Malik Langham. It also held onto a wavering offensive line verbal, four-star Cambridge Christian (Fla.) School tackle Richard Gouraige, and got Escambia (Fla.) High’s Jacob Copeland, the No. 12 wide receiver in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite, back in the fold after his previous decommitment in November. Copeland’s mom seemed unhappy about his choice.
The Crimson Tide’s dream scenario heading into Wednesday did not materialize. They didn’t come close to making a run at the No. 1 spot in the recruiting rankings, and there were a handful of misses, including Copeland (Florida), Langham (Florida) and the top recruit in the state of Alabama, four-star Central (Ala.) High wide receiver Justyn Ross (Clemson). The Crimson Tide are winners because they landed the most prized recruit available entering signing day, five-star American Heritage (Fla.) School cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr., even though a division rival, LSU, was the longstanding favorite in his recruitment. Plus, they offset Ross’s decision by beating out Texas A&M for Waddle to bolster a receiving corps already loaded with young talent.
This would have been an easy call a week ago. As is their wont, the Trojans scored big at the 11th hour, nabbing four-star Mater Dei (Calif.) High linebacker Solomon Tuliuapupu, four-star Antelope Valley (Calif.) High wide receiver Devon Williams as well as two of 2018’s top cornerbacks, Mission Viejo (Calif.) High five-star Olaijah Griffin, the son of West Coast rapper Warren G; and Helix (Calif.) High four-star Isaac Taylor-Stuart, who told the world he’d be playing for the Trojans while sitting at a table inside a taekwondo studio. The additions of Griffin, Taylor-Stuart and Williams give USC five of the top six prospects in the state of California, according to the 247Sports Composite. (The Trojans already had Mater Dei quarterback JT Daniels and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown on board. The only one in the top six who didn’t choose USC is four-star St. John Bosco High safety Jaiden Woodbey, who’s off to Florida State.)
The Tigers were never going to recover after Surtain’s surprising decision this morning. They had long been viewed as the frontrunner in his recruitment, but in the end, they couldn’t keep him away from the program, Alabama, that represents their biggest obstacle to national championship contention. Other disappointments on Wednesday included Foster picking Florida State and four-star Lee's Summit West (Mo.) High athlete Mario Goodrich choosing Clemson. SEC West foe Texas A&M’s late climb won’t make LSU’s dispiriting day any easier to swallow. There was some positive news, though. Scotlandville Magnet (La.) High's Kelvin Joseph, the No. 5 safety in the nation according to the 247Sports Composite, made good on his January pledge to the Tigers by putting pen to paper, and LSU also inked a top-100 wide receiver, Archbishop Rummel (La.) High’s Ja’Marr Chase.
National Signing Day
There were announcement stunners, artful baseball cap reveals, apparent intra-family discord, flips that thrilled one program’s supporters and chagrined another’s. Anyone who’s followed recruiting for a while would have had a hard time not enjoying what took place on Wednesday. That said, the paucity of elite prospects in the aftermath of the early window dampened the drama. There were blue-chippers still on the board entering Wednesday, but most of them ended their recruitments before Christmas. The focus shifted to less highly touted recruits, who remain major draws in certain corners of the college football universe depending on which programs are in contention for their signatures but don’t really move the needle nationally. The new normal of the traditional signing day is less entertaining than it was under the previous setup, and that’s a shame.
Arizona State’s decision to fire Todd Graham, pay him $12 million in buyout money and hire Herm Edwards to replace him was met with widespread skepticism. Athletic director Ray Anderson formerly served as Edwards’s agent, and Edwards hadn’t coached in college since the 1980s (as a defensive backs coach at San Jose State) and in the NFL since 2008. The Sun Devils didn’t win over any critics with a bizarre press release describing a “restructured” football model with an “NFL approach,” and did Edwards didn’t help himself by giving off the impression at his introductory press conference that he was not familiar with Arizona State’s mascot. In an appearance on ESPN2’s signing day coverage on Wednesday, Edwards didn’t do anything to assuage doubts about his qualifications as a Power 5 head coach in 2018.
ASU's Herm Edwards on ESPN2: "Signing Day is a little bit unusual for me, because in pro football, you get to draft them. In college, they get to pick you!"— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) February 7, 2018
On a more positive note, Arizona State did sign two key targets in four-star Junipero Serra (Calif.) High linebacker Merlin Robertson and four-star Long Beach Poly (Calif.) High safety Aashari Crosswell. As of Wednesday evening, the Sun Devils’ recruiting class ranked fifth in the Pac-12 and 36th in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite.
The biggest disappointment of the day involved a player ranked higher than any in Michigan’s 2018 class. Reese, a high school teammate of 2017 five-star and current Wolverines defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon at Lee County, had been verbally committed to Michigan since June 2016, but after opting against inking his NLI during the early window in December, he spurned the Wolverines in favor of signing with local program Georgia on signing day. The Wolverines also failed to beat out Ohio State for Petit-Frere even after practicing at his high school before their Outback Bowl matchup with South Carolina. After finishing fifth in the 247Sports Composite team rankings a year ago, Michigan sat at 21st in 2018 as of Wednesday afternoon, well behind fellow Big Ten East teams Ohio State (No. 2) and Penn State (No. 5).