Do not expect an eventful National Signing Day. The drama and intrigue that make the first Wednesday of February one of the most entertaining days of college football’s offseason calendar for recruiting zealots that keep tabs on their schools’ offers, visits, commitments and decommitments all year long probably won’t do much for everyone else. There is a simple explanation for this: the new early signing period.
Starting this year, high school seniors could sign a National Letter of Intent during a 72-hour window beginning on Dec. 20. Not every FBS recruit opted to put pen to paper, but a majority of the most highly regarded ones did. According to analyst Tom Luginbill, about 71% of the class of 2018 was off the board before Christmas. As of Tuesday, eight days out from the traditional signing day, only four of the 29 five-stars and nine of the top 50 recruits in the 247Sports Composite were undecided.
The number of big names still available is small, but impartial observers looking for something to home in on in the run-up to what’s shaping up to be a rather dull signing day shouldn’t pick any one prospect. They should pick a program, one that has developed a reputation for delivering rousing closing stretches on the recruiting trail. That program is USC, which currently checks in at No. 15 in the 247Sports Composite team ratings but could move up in short order.
We’ve seen the Trojans do this before. Look no further than this time a year ago, when they sealed verbal commitments from two four-star prospects in late January, defensive tackle Marlon Tuipulotu and athlete Isaiah Pola-Mao, before adding five four-stars and a five-star on signing day: wide receiver Joseph Lewis, athlete Greg Johnson, linebacker Levi Jones, defensive tackle Jay Tufele, offensive lineman Austin Jackson and tight end Josh Falo.
USC began its finishing kick for the 2018 cycle in early January, when Mater Dei (Calif.) High’s Amon-Ra St. Brown, the No. 2 wide receiver in the class of 2018 according to the 247Sports Composite, announced during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl that he would join the Trojans as part of the same class as five-star pro-style quarterback JT Daniels, a high school teammate of St. Brown’s who announced in late December that he would reclassify from 2019 to 2018.
Here’s a quick look at some other highly touted prospects who could make the call for USC either before or on signing day:
WR Devon Williams
247Sports Composite rank: No. 40 overall, No. 6 wide receiver
High school: Antelope Valley (Lancaster, Calif.)
Named Oregon the leader of his recruitment over the summer, but that was before a head coaching change. He visited USC in mid-January.
CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart
247Sports Composite rank: No. 32 overall, No. 4 cornerback
High school: Helix (La Mesa, Calif.)
Released a top six in early December: Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC. The Crimson Tide and Aggies could be the Trojans’ biggest competition, and Taylor-Stuart’s burger chain preference won’t help USC.
S Julius Irvin
247Sports Composite rank: No. 155 overall, No. 12 safety
High school: Servite (Anaheim, Calif.)
Son of former Los Angeles Rams defensive back LeRoy Irvin. A late scholarship offer from Alabama gave Irvin an appealing alternative to staying on the West Coast. He’s set to decide between Alabama, USC and Washington on Jan. 31.
CB Olaijah Griffin
247Sports Composite rank: No. 28 overall, No. 3 CB
High school: Mission Viejo (Mission Viejo, Calif.)
Former UCLA commit (and son of West Coast hip-hop artist Warren G) who reopened his recruitment in November. Signing him, Taylor-Stuart and Williams would give USC five of California’s top six prospects, per the 247Sports Composite.
G Penei Sewell
247Sports Composite rank: No. 57 overall, No. 2 G
High school: Desert Hills (St. George, Utah)
Took an official visit to USC in November, but Alabama and Oregon are also in pursuit. Trojans have already offered Sewell’s younger brother, Noah, a class of 2020 linebacker.
ILB Solomon Tuliaupupu
247Sports Composite rank: No. 86 overall, No. 3 ILB
High school: Mater Dei (Santa Ana, Calif.)
Won Butkus Award honoring the nation’s top high school linebacker in 2017. Teammate of Daniels and St. Brown at Mater Dei. Notre Dame and UCLA are considered the other main players in his recruitment.
Regardless of how many of those players pick the Trojans, they’ve already assembled a class brimming with top-end prospects who can help them hold off Chip Kelly-led UCLA in the Pac-12 South and remain in contention for College Football Playoff berths. USC signed 10 players in January, and it has three other players from whom it has earned verbal pledges: Daniels, St. Brown and four-star defensive tackle Trevor Trout. (Another four-star DT, Tuli Letuligasenoa, flipped to Washington recently after initially making the call for USC.)
Taking into account all 13 of those recruits (three five-stars, nine four-stars and one three-star), the Trojans have the No. 2 class in the Pac-12 behind Washington, according to the 247Sports Composite team rankings, and their average player rating of 93.58 is higher than all but those of two other programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision, Ohio State (94.18) and Georgia (93.80), which hold the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, respectively, in the same team rankings.
The Trojans’ haul is stuffed with blue-chippers, including two top-100 defensive signees in Bishop Gorman (Nev.) High linebacker Palaie Gaoteote and Crescent Valley (Ore.) High athlete Talanoa Hufanga, and one of the nation’s top wide receivers in St. Brown, but Daniels looks like the most important pickup. Before deciding to reclassify, he was set to spend the fall of 2018 lighting up Orange County defenses. Now he’ll have an opportunity to compete to replace outgoing starter and possible top-three NFL draft pick Sam Darnold.
USC might be out of the running to leapfrog Ohio State and Georgia to claim the No. 1 class, but it has the potential to be the biggest riser in the country between now and the end of signing day. The Trojans’ haul is already great. How great it will be once they cross the 2018 cycle finish line will be determined in no small part by their finishing kick.