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Early Signing Day: 10 CFB Recruiting Story Lines to Track One Month Out

One month from Monday, the college football recruiting class of 2022 will begin inking a National Letter of Intent

Action speak louder than words, so we'll believe it when we see it. Right?

Clichés aside, it often applies in sport and even in the future of sport, a.k.a. college football recruiting. The words come throughout the year in the form of verbal commitments, as most programs are near capacity on non-binding promises, while the action of actually signing with a program locks the prospect in. 

That process begins in one month, Dec. 15, to kick off the Early Signing Period window in the class of 2022 (running through the 17th before another window opens in February). Plenty of change is expected in the coming weeks before things become official, so let's run down the biggest stories still to be told. 

1. Race for No. 1

Of course the macro takes precedent. It's simple around the water cooler the morning of December 16—who has the best class?  Alabama jumped to No. 1 to kick off November and its chief competitor, like it has long been, is right on its heels at Georgia. Both have added new commitments since, with the Tide grabbing Canada's top prospect in Isaiah Hastings and Georgia flipping longtime Florida pledge Julian Humphrey. We're pretty sure the race is going to come down to SEC programs, but it may not just be the pair set to face off on the field in Atlanta next month. 

If there is an SEC dark horse for the top class in the country, perhaps paired with a perfect finish, it could be Texas A&M. The Aggies are hot on the trail having added two SI99 recruits this month, including new class headliner and the nation's No. 1 defensive recruit Walter Nolen. A bevy of top Texans remain uncommitted and the ceiling in College Station is looking stronger than most others in the state, especially compared to the University of Texas. Names like Denver Harris, Evan Stewart, Harold Perkins, Omari Abor a nd Kam Dewberry are each needle-movers in the state, alone. A&M's target net is much wider, too. 

Outside of the SEC, Penn State, Notre Dame and Ohio State rounded out the top five of the November rankings. The group, and perhaps Oregon, have a shot to make moves closer to the top spot before all is said and done. 

2. The Return of In-Home Visits

One of the true neutralizers against recruits changing their mind in the 2021 recruiting cycle was the lack of the in-person communication by some of college football's top coaches, of course due to the pandemic. We won't see that problem this year, though, as Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Jimbo Fisher, Mario Cristobal, James Franklin, etc. will be prevalent throughout the homes of top targets and commitments ahead of the signing period opening up. Known as the 'contact period' on the recruiting calendar, coaches can hit the road to both evaluate and connect with prospects from November 28 through December 11— just four days before kids start signing NLI's. 

It's one thing to connect with a coach like Saban in his office, for 30 minutes, in between him running a team meeting and hitting the field to coach the Crimson Tide on a Saturday. It's another world when he visits your home, sits on your couch and then eats your family's home-cooked meal (a gift and curse for coaches on the road) with the pitch in place for hours. Sometimes the next great coach is waiting outside the door for his shot, too. With a year off from the art of the in-person close, the elites will serve staunch reminders relative to their reputation come December. 

3. The Final QB Domino

As SI evaluates recruiting classes, the premium position field is an important comparison tool in separating one class from another. Of course that conversation begins at quarterback, where most of the programs in play for a passer have either locked in their candidate or await the impending flood from the transfer portal for more of a temporary fix. Among high school QBs, most of the elites are settled in their situation following Justyn Martin opting for UCLA at the end of October. 

However, there is one committed quarterback still very much shopping at the 11th hour. Devin Brown, a longtime verbal pledge to USC, remains on board with the program still looking for its next hire, but he has long been working the visit trail for due diligence just in case the new coach's fit isn't in line with what he is looking for at the next level. The Draper (Utah) Corner Canyon star, who is among the nation's leaders in passing this season, has already visited UCLA, Ole Miss, BYU and of course USC. He was at Texas over the weekend and is considering a late trip to Ohio State either Saturday when Michigan State is in town or sometime after the season wraps up. With the programs contending for him, his December 15 signature will boost one school's class and leave the others looking elsewhere at the game's most important position. 

4. More Flips Incoming

Aside from Brown, a prime commitment flip candidate for obvious reasons, more changes of heart are likely on the way down the stretch. We've seen several go down just in the last two weeks, from the aforementioned Humphrey (Florida to Georgia), wide receiver Isaiah Sategna (Oregon to Arkansas) to portal prospects like Bless Harris (UCF to Florida State). New Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire flipped Arizona State pledge Syncere Massey a day after taking the job, so the avenue for action is set to be a strong one for the next month. 

One doesn't have to look deep into the SI99 recruiting rankings to find flip candidates that would move the needle. No. 2 recruit Walter Nolen visited Tennessee, the local program, less than a week after picking A&M. No. 43 Khamauri Rogers says he is strong to Miami but has visited Ole Miss and Mississippi State and plans to see Tennessee before all is said and done. No. 64 Kiyaunta Goodwin is Kentucky's class headliner but trips to Alabama, Michigan State and Florida State in the last month has some worried in Lexington. No. 67 Jaheim Oatis is a Mississippi native who has visited Oxford three times this fall despite a commitment to Alabama. No. 86 JaDarian Rhym has Auburn and Florida State pushing his LSU pledge. No. 95 Jaron Willis has FSU, Ole Miss and others pushing Georgia Tech for a flip.  

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5. DB Dominoes to Fall

The highest ranked undecided recruit in America is Denver Harris, a defensive back projection out of Texas. No. 4, Jaheim Singletary and No. 9, Domani Jackson, are also undecided at the cornerback position as big, new-age types with plenty of attention. It's likely the trio ends up at different programs all together, so tracking where and when they wrap up their process will influence the race for the top class as well as folks looking ahead to the instant-impact element of recruiting. We don't envision either of the three sitting very long. Harris has Texas, Texas A&M, Alabama and LSU high on his list. Jackson is likely to land at Alabama or Michigan, following his Sunday decommitment from USC. Singletary may be Georgia's to lose at this point, though Florida and Miami remain in the running amid uncertainty with each program's coaching staff. 

Top safety projections Kamari Wilson, Xavier Nwankpa and Zion Branch are also still on the market, also likely to end up at different programs although Ohio State is in on both Nwankpa and Branch. Wilson is looking at Georgia, A&M, LSU, Florida State and Florida most consistently. Nwankpa is also considering Notre Dame and in-state Iowa while Branch has USC and Alabama in the mix in addition to the Buckeyes. 

6. New Coaching Staffs at Work

We've already seen instant success of a popular hire like McGuire at Texas Tech, so can the more established programs do the same once they announce their new leaders? USC's methodical approach to its next head coach has cost them in recruiting already, losing two SI99 recruits along the way (Jackson and Mykel Williams). It has been said that new hires shouldn't be expedited for recruiting the same way retaining a subpar coach recruiting relatively well shouldn't buy him another year, but the frantic nature of the 2021 coaching carousel could push things in another direction. 

Jim Mora at UConn and Clay Helton (speaking of USC) at Georgia Southern are the only other FBS jobs to be filled to date. Each veteran coach is very early into the tenure at the new digs with a month to work on signing some talent. Within the Power 5, LSU, USC, TCU, Washington State and Washington, which opened on Sunday, are still open, so plenty is left to be determined. Of course, chatter at Florida, Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke and elsewhere could make things more interesting. 

7. Timing of New Hires

Domani Jackson's decommitment from USC all but indicated he did so because there was still a lack of clarity on the Trojan coaching search, though it was the first Power 5 job to open in September. The other two programs he is considering, and visiting, are sound in the structure department—Alabama and Michigan. Not only is he curious on the new hire, as we all are, but on the potential of assistants like interim coach Donte Williams being retained. 

Jackson's case isn't isolated among elite recruits in the cycle, even on the USC commitment list, as quarterback Devin Brown has taken several visits as insurance. Urgency is a contention point in the new hire discussion, but from a recruiting standpoint, it gives the new hire a chance ahead of the ESP. Otherwise, there has to be a reliance on the portal to satisfy the lack of recruiting success and natural roster attrition coaching changes tend to create. For the LSU and USC fans out there, scanning current college rosters may be as prevalent to the future of your favorite roster as tracking the SI99 will be down the stretch. 

8. Floridians Taking Their Time

The focal point of college football recruiting is at it again in the 2022 cycle as the state of Florida's top talent is largely undecided. The state's top three prospects are all still searching for their future landing spot, with Shemar Stewart and Marvin Jones, Jr. representing south Florida from the bunch. Singletary is the other. Top 50 prospect Earl Little, Jr., No. 1 safety Kamari Wilson, SI99 pass rusher Mario Eugenio, south Florida pass rusher Nykalik Kelly, offensive lineman Julian Armella and speedy linebacker Wesley Bissainthe are just some of the prospects from the Sunshine State still up for grabs. 

Most of the group mentioned above have trips still to be determined or signing day decision plans in place, so don't expect any tangible movement to be released any time too soon. Jones released a top five on Sunday, to the surprise of few, including Florida State, Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and Oklahoma. All but A&M has hosted him on campus this fall. The destinations surrounding this group, including the perception of in-state programs Florida, Florida State and Miami, will create the foundation for the discussion on how the 2022 cycle wraps up.

9. Offensive Line Talent Available

Quarterback and defensive back talent remains, as mentioned above, but a position with a surprising amount of top talent still left to be determined lies up front on offense. Leading the way here are SI99 prospects Devon Campbell, the No. 1 interior offensive line projection, and offensive tackle Josh Conerly. Kam Dewberry is the third SI99 offensive lineman available, but the list just beyond is also plentiful with Armella, California's Earnest Greene, Washington's Malik Agbo, Florida's Matthew McCoy and now Mississippi's Bryson Hurst, fresh off of a decommitment from Ole Miss, on the market. 

Texas seems to be in play for most on the list, which makes sense given the lack of strong play up front under Steve Sarkisian so far. Ohio State, Georgia, Auburn, Alabama and Florida are among those in the mix for more than one of the top offensive trench talents listed. It won't be as flashy when they commit and/or sign to a program, but it won't lessen the importance down the line. 

10. Looking at Louisiana 

As one would expect, the decision to move on from Ed Orgeron has halted the recruitment of many of Louisiana's best. The impact has been felt from longtime LSU verbal commitments like SI99 quarterback Walker Howard, who visited Notre Dame and was considering a trip to Ole Miss, to the top undecided talent in the state on both sides of the ball. Only Howard and J'Mond Tapp, a Texas pledge, are currently committed among SI99 Louisianans. 

The state's top senior prospect is Nickel projection Kendrick Law, who has offers on offense and defense depending on the school. Alabama, Florida State and LSU are among those in the mix. Defensive back Jacoby Matthews decommitted from LSU in late July and has Texas A&M, Alabama and Florida among jockeying for position right now. Wide receiver Shazz Preston could be a classic LSU-Alabama battle when all is said and done, though Georgia and Texas were named to his top group in September. Other notable Louisianans yet to come off the board include pass rusher Quency Wiggins, running backs Le'Veon Moss and Trevor Etienne and defensive back Jordan Allen are others who could push a class at the end of the cycle.