National Signing Day 2019 Preview: Five Key Storylines to Follow

The final holdouts of the 2019 recruiting class will announce their decisions soon, and several schools are in line to either close strong or be left second-guessing. Here's what you should be watching out for.
Publish date:

The second and final National Signing Day of the 2019 recruiting cycle is upon us, and while most of the nation’s top talent has already decided where they will attend school next fall, a few final holdouts elected to weigh their options beyond the late-December early signing period before sending in their national letters of intent.

Much of the drama has been taken out of what used to be a defacto national holiday in the college football world. Last season, two-thirds of all FBS signees put pen to paper in the early signing period; this year, over three-quarters of the pool of expected FBS recruits signed in the early period, according to numbers from the 247Sports database.

The battles for top prospects still aren't over for several blueblood programs, and Wednesday could swing where schools grade out in the final team rankings. Here are five storylines to keep an eye on as the fax machines are fired up once again.

STAPLES: Why Geoff Collins's Georgia Tech Rebuild Starts With a Rebrand

Where will the top unsigned players land?

Of the top 100 prospects listed by 247 Sports, only 13 haven’t signed their National Letter of Intent. The highest-ranked recruit among the unsigned is Darnell Wright, a five-star offensive lineman out of Huntington, W.Va. Wright has been in Tennessee’s crosshairs for a while, although West Virginia has pushed hard to keep the No. 10 overall prospect in-state. Jerrion Ealy, a 5'10", 200-pound running back from Mississippi, is another one to watch. Ealy decommitted from Ole Miss last month, which appears to have given Clemson the chance to swoop in and add to its riches. But Ealy's future is more up in the air than most five-stars: As a projected first-round pick in June’s MLB draft, he could pass on college football entirely and play baseball.

Amite (La.) High School defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher, the top unsigned defensive player, figures to have narrowed his decision down to LSU and Alabama, although several other SEC schools have pursued him. The race for Sopsher comes with a twist, as he has publicly said he will only sign with a school that also offers a scholarship to his brother Rodney, who is a defensive end at Southwest Mississippi Community College.

Can Alabama keep its No. 1 ranking?

The minute the clock struck zero on Clemson's national championship thrashing of Alabama in Santa Clara, Nick Saban’s task was to bring in another group of players to make sure another championship beatdown wasn’t on the horizon. The restocking of talent after seven players left early for the NFL draft is an annual rite of winter in Tuscaloosa, and the 2019 class includes 12 players ranked in the ESPN 300. Alabama signed two five-star offensive linemen: in-state prospect Pierce Quick and Evan Neal, a 6'8", 365-pound behemoth out of IMG Academy in Florida. Alabama even snagged the nation’s top kicker in Hoover (Ala.) High School's Will Reichard.

The Crimson Tide have a nearly insurmountable lead in the 247Sports composite rankings, but Saban’s biggest competition in the national recruiting battle is its closest SEC challenger Georgia, which signed 22 players during the early period. Sopsher could choose LSU and Alabama, which has four four-star commitments who have yet to sign, would still be in line to close with an incredible class.

LITMAN: Texas, Texas A&M Will Spend the Offseason on the Same Hype Train

The other playoff teams

Clemson signed 27 players in the early period before cruising through the College Football Playoff, raiding the nearby talent hotbeds of Georgia and Florida, with 14 of those signees coming from those two states. While the Tigers have the luxury of quarterback stability with Trevor Lawrence on campus for the next two seasons and plenty of returning talent at the skill positions, four-star wideouts Frank Ladson and Joe Ngata are names to watch as the highest-rated newcomers on the offensive side of the ball, and the class's lone five-star, cornerback Andrew Booth, is in the fold but not yet on campus. If Ealy gives the Tigers a five-star on offense to go with Booth, it would be the cherry on top of a banner winter for Dabo Swinney.

Notre Dame signed 21 players in the early signing period and half are already enrolled in school, leaving little to be addressed this week. The Irish lost out when four-star safety Asa Turner recommitted to Washington but might be able to hang onto a top 15 recruiting class when all is said and done—they sit at No. 14 in the 247Sports composite rankings entering the week.

Oklahoma needs a ton of help on defense as coordinator Alex Grinch overhauls that side of the ball, but Alabama grad transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts will be joined by plenty of promising newcomers on offense, including 2019’s top quarterback Spencer Rattler and the top two wide receivers, Jadon Haselwood and Theo Wease. With a total of four five-stars in the fold, the Sooners are closing in on a top-five class for the first time this decade.

Trouble in the land of Troy

USC’s turbulent offseason has been well-documented. USC's prolonged search for an offensive coordinator to replace Kliff Kingsbury left many Trojans fans with little confidence in Clay Helton, and after five-star WR Bru McCoy transferred to Texas mere days after he enrolled, closing strong this signing period will be particularly important for the Trojans.

Even with that, Helton signed 22 players coming into this week, including 10 four-star prospects. But none of that will matter if it doesn’t translate into success on the field. And if USC isn’t at least in contention for a conference title, Helton could pay for it with his job and more highly touted players might be entering the transfer portal sooner than later.

SINGLE: Les Miles Is the Best Actor in His New Movie

Mack Brown and Les Miles's first classes

To say that North Carolina and Kansas have some catching up to do is an understatement. The Jayhawks hired Les Miles in November, and he has struggled to salvage what was already a thin class. Miles landed just 10 signees during the early period, and cracking the Top 100 of the team overall rankings would be considered a win at this point.

North Carolina is in the same boat, and the return of 67-year-old Mack Brown, who coached the Tar Heels for a decade before enjoying his highest-profile success at Texas, signifies a return to better days in Chapel Hill. Larry Fedora didn’t leave Brown a bare cupboard before he was dismissed after losing 18 games in the last two years, and UNC will do well to build off its biggest victory of the early signing period: keeping four-star quarterback Sam Howell in-state by convincing Howell to flip his commitment from Florida State.