National Signing Day will have a different feel to it in 2018. This cycle marked the first time senior prospects were allowed to ink National Letters of Intent during an “early” period, a 72-hour window the week before Christmas. Most of the top recruits in the country did so. That cut down the number of blue-chippers who reveal their college choices on Wednesday. Among the holdouts are some big names whose decisions are worth monitoring as teams fill out the remaining slots in their respective classes. Here are seven storylines to track heading into the traditional signing day:
The battle for No. 1
This distinction probably receives more attention than it should. Whether a class is the best or second- or third-best in the country, it’s still filled with a crop of really good high school players who’ll excel at the next level. In any case, the program that does sign the No. 1 haul, according to the 247Sports Composite, will be rightfully lauded for its talent procurement during the 2018 cycle.
Georgia claimed the top spot during the early period, when it flipped a four-star defensive back (cornerback Nadab Joseph) from Alabama and added a pair of five-star offensive linemen (guard Jamaree Salyer and tackle Cade Mays), a five-star defensive lineman (end Brenton Cox) a four-star linebacker (Channing Tindall) and the No. 3 tight end in the country (Luke Ford). Ohio State has since picked up multiple commitments (three-star wide receiver Chris Olave and four-star defensive linemen Tyreke Smith and Tyler Friday) and currently leads the Bulldogs, but Georgia could overtake the Buckeyes depending on what happens with a few of its targets, and Alabama’s expected signing-day climb (more on that below) might make things interesting.
Two five-star cornerbacks, one high school
Two of the three most highly regarded uncommitted recruits in the country play the same position and attend the same high school, American Heritage in Plantation, Fla. Patrick Surtain Jr., the son of the three-time Pro Bowl defensive back of the same name (the elder Surtain is American Heritage’s head coach), and Tyson Campbell are rated the No. 1 and No. 2 cornerbacks, the No. 2 and No. 4 players in the state of Florida and the No. 6 and No. 12 prospects overall in the class of 2018, according to the 247Sports Composite.
Both of them would be massive local pickups for Miami, but it would be an upset if either Surtain or Campbell stays in South Florida to play for the Hurricanes. LSU is viewed as the frontrunner to land Surtain, who has family ties in Louisiana, and Georgia is favored to reel in Campbell. Getting Campbell in the fold would aid the Bulldogs’ push for the No. 1 class in the nation, while Surtain would give the Tigers another late-cycle DB triumph to follow up the re-commitment of 2018’s No. 5 safety, Scotlandville Magnet (La.) High’s Kelvin Joseph, during the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
The last elite quarterback available
There shouldn’t be much drama on signing day involving the position most likely to make or break recruiting classes. Only one quarterback ranked among the 247 Sports Composite’s top 22 players at that position remains undecided, and he plans to unveil his choice on Wednesday. That QB, Centennial (Calif.) High four-star Tanner McKee, is technically part of the class of 2018, but he’s a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) and plans to serve a two-year mission before enrolling in college. That timeline makes it more useful to think of him as a class of 2020 recruit.
Plenty of big-name programs would be happy to wait for McKee. At 6'6", 220 pounds, he has the size and the arm to develop into a high-end starter in the Power 5. McKee has cut his list down to the following schools: Stanford, Washington, Alabama, Texas and Texas A&M. The Cardinal’s recent track record of luring top-shelf pocket passers for their pro-style system, such as projected returning starter K.J. Costello, plus their location, makes them a logical fit for McKee.
The fate of four top-75 wideouts
There are four wide receivers ranked in the top 75 of the 247Sports Composite who are set to reveal their decisions on signing day. Jaylen Waddle is a 5'9.5", 175-pound pass catcher with a reported 4.37 40-yard dash to his name who Alabama is trying to pull out of the Houston area, and away from Texas A&M. Devon Williams is a big target (6'4", 200 pounds) who named Oregon his leader over the summer but could end up staying in-state and playing for USC. Justyn Ross is a dangerous playmaker out of Central High in Phenix City, Ala., whom the Crimson Tide and Auburn would like to keep home, but who could end up joining a program both of them have faced the last two seasons, Clemson. And Jacob Copeland is a Pensacola, Fla., product who rescinded his verbal commitment to the Gators in November but who could ultimately decide to sign with them despite competition from Alabama and Tennessee. Among these four wide receivers, Waddle, ranked No. 5 at the position as well as No. 3 in the state of Texas and No. 39 overall in the class of 2018, is the most highly touted.
Alabama’s race to the finish line
There was a time earlier in this cycle when Alabama’s recruiting class was ranked well outside the top 25 nationally. It made up a lot of ground before the early signing period, but for a program that had assembled the top haul in the country seven years running, the Crimson Tide were off the pace. The streak at No. 1 probably will end this year (see above), but Alabama is in position to surge on Wednesday.
The Crimson Tide are in contention for a number of esteemed prospects, including Surtain, Campbell, Waddle, Ross, Copeland, five-star Berkeley (Fla.) Prep offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere and four-star Lee (Ala.) High defensive end Malik Langham. Alabama will not close on all of those players, and there’s a chance it could lose multiple verbally committed recruits to other programs, including four-star Crisp County (Ga.) High linebacker Quay Walker and four-star Boxing (Tex.) High athlete Vernon Jackson. But bet on the Crimson Tide moving up from their current No. 6 team ranking in the 247Sports Composite.
New coaches trying to close with a flourish
In the lead-up to the early signing period, new head coaches scrambled to convince recruits to ink NLIs and persuade others not to jump ship, and they’ve spent the month-plus since then trying to make up for lost time. Because of the rushed nature of their efforts in this cycle, it’s best to reserve judgment on their recruiting prowess until the first Wednesday of February 2019, by which point they’ll have had much more time to develop relationships with targets.
Among the programs that underwent changes this winter but could significantly upgrade their hauls on Wednesday are Texas A&M (Kevin Sumlin out, Jimbo Fisher in), which is in the running for Waddle and Alabama verbal Jackson; Florida (Jim McElwain out, Dan Mullen in), which is in the running for Copeland, Petit-Frere and four-star American Heritage (Fla.) School defensive end Andrew Chatfield; Oregon (Willie Taggart out, Mario Cristobal in), which is in the running for Williams, Desert Hills (Utah) High offensive guard Penei Sewell and four-star Colony (Calif.) tight end Michael Ezeike; and Arizona State (Todd Graham out, Herm Edwards in), which is in the running for four-star Junipero Serra (Calif.) High linebacker Merlin Robertson and four-star Long Beach Poly (Calif.) High safety Aashari Crosswell.
USC’s race to the finish line
The Trojans’ propensity for fruitful finishes to recruiting cycles is well-chronicled. It was only a year ago that USC came away as the nation’s biggest winner on signing day by reeling in six prospects, all assessed four-star ratings or higher. The Trojans will bolster their 2018 haul on Wednesday. That’s clear. How many currently undecided recruits will sign with them is not, but they’re in the mix for several top-100 players, according to the 247Sports Composite, among them Taylor-Stuart, Williams, Sewell, Mission Viejo (Calif.) High cornerback Olaijah Griffin and Mater Dei (Calif.) High inside linebacker Solomon Tuliaupupu.
As it stands, USC’s class is already one of the best in the country on a per-player basis. Although the Trojans check in at No. 15 in the 247Sports Composite team ratings, their average player rating of 93.58 is higher than all but that of two teams, Ohio State (94.18) and Georgia (93.83). (Among Pac-12 squads other than USC, only Washington is above 90, at 90.41.) The Trojans already have secured commitments from the state of California’s top two recruits, five-star Mater Dei quarterback-wide receiver duo JT Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown, and they can up their tally to five of the Golden State’s top six prospects by inking Griffin, Taylor-Stuart and Williams.