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How College Football's New Coaching Hires Recruited Out of the Gate in Early Signing Period

Tracking key recruits signed and transfer commits for Brian Kelly, Lincoln Riley and more coaches leading new programs into 2022

Mercifully, the college football coaching carousel has begun to slow down. Every open Power 5 job is filled, at least at the top, and each old face at a new place will have to balance roster construction with bowl prep, the holidays in some cases health and safety protocols

The first wave of tangible roster additions to track came to a close alongside the Early Signing Period, too. Most programs added close to double-digit recruits to the mix, with some of the new staffs transitioning with a recruiting splash or two along the way. Most had to work to hold onto longtime verbal commitments while building out assistant coaching staffs and traveling at the end of the contact period simultaneously. 

There were different approaches to talent acquisition, with Lincoln Riley at USC and Billy Napier at Florida seemingly taking their time, while others like Texas Tech's Joey McGuire, Virginia Tech's Brent Pry and TCU's Sonny Dykes hit the ground running with commitment flips and volume at their new stop. With the signing day and week dust now officially settled, it’s worth peaking into the progress of the 14 new leaders of Power 5 programs.

Brian Kelly, LSU

Recruits Signed: 13

Transfer Commits: OT Miles Frazier, Florida International

The new Tiger coach will be graded on the trail like those before him in how well he keeps top Louisiana talent home. Keeping defensive lineman Quency Wiggins local and landing former Penn State pledge Jordan Allen along with one-time Miami commit Landon Ibieta was a strong start, but signing day came and went without hitting the top tier among the uncommitted elites from the Boot. Several ended up at Alabama among skill position prospects while elite safety JaCoby Mathews and running back TreVonte' Citizen are still on the market today. Landing either would push perception forward a nudge and help Kelly compete for a top 25 class come February. Adding Frazier from the portal is one of the biggest transfer gets of the cycle thus far, however, addressing a major team need in the process. 

Billy Napier, Florida

Recruits Signed: 9

Transfer Commits: QB Jack Miller, Ohio State

The Miller transfer news was encouraging relative to the need for depth in the quarterback room after longtime commit Nick Evers signed with Oklahoma and 2021 starter Emory Jones announced his intent to transfer. Napier and his staff actually cut ties with several prospects inherited on the commitment list in what looked like a slow-play relative to the Early Signing Period, at least until signing day, where UF was a big winner. It was just one of just three programs to add three SI99-ranked recruits (Texas A&M, Alabama) while winning true head-to-head battles with SEC foes Georgia and Alabama along the way. Expect the Gators, who have the smallest group of prospects signed in the SEC, to add volume to the tally come February via the prep ranks and the portal alike. A name to watch closely is Clemson legacy running back recruit Trevor Etienne, out of Louisiana. 

Lincoln Riley, USC

Recruits Signed: 7

Transfer Commits: DL Earl Barquet, TCU

If Napier's staff is executing a slow play, Riley's is even slower in how methodical it was in isolating top targets after the regular season came to an end. With much more time to work, the narrowed focus was of course in California and with elite talent in the Pacific time zone. The Trojans added an immediate pledge from former Oklahoma commit Raleek Brown, the first of the Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei Monarchs to end up at USC. Top cornerback Domani Jackson became the second on Friday and the remaining target, former Notre Dame wide receiver commit C.J. Williams, comes off the board January 8. USC also snagged SI99 safety Zion Branch out of Las Vegas, in what could be a natural kick-starter to the 2023 class with his younger brother soon to come off the board on his end. Riley already has a pledge from arguably the top 2023 passer in the country in Malachi Nelson and teammate Makai Lemon. Few new staffs have come close to dipping into the next cycle immediately like Riley's has, thanks in part to multi-class recruiting effort while at Oklahoma. 

Marcus Freeman, Notre Dame

Recruits Signed: 21

Transfer Commits: N/A

This one stands differently than all others on this list in that Freeman was already on the Irish staff, promoted to head coach just days after Kelly bolted for LSU, able to maintain most recruits along the way. The two who backed off of Notre Dame, SI99 cornerback Dante Moore and C.J. Williams, began leaning towards staying in their respective states before the coaching change in South Bend. Notre Dame isn't as prevalent in the portal compared to other programs but at least one big fish remains among the undecided at the prep level in Hero Kanu, who is committing in January between the Irish, Ohio State, Georgia and others. A top 10 recruiting class is all but locked in at this point despite the change of leadership. 

Brent Venables, Oklahoma

Recruits Signed: 14 

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Transfer Commits: N/A

Oklahoma's class underwent transition but remained a top 20 group despite it. Between Vanables and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby, perception was salvaged in Norman despite minimal time between hire and the early period opening up. On offense, adding SI99 QB Nick Evers just days before Spencer Rattler announced his transfer destination felt big regardless of what Caleb Williams decides. Even getting Evers on campus for the last weekend of the contact period, when many staffs were reaching out to him, was a big deal. Fellow former Florida commit Jayden Gibson, in a similar situation, also visited and ended up in the class. On defense, Kobie McKinzie's flip from Texas both hurts a rival and boosts a team need in Norman. Several Sooner targets remain undecided entering the Holiday weekend, too, with favorable battles for offensive linemen Devon Campbell and Josh Conerly, along with running back Jovantae Barnes, among them. 

Mario Cristobal, Miami

Recruits Signed: 9

Transfer Commits: DL Jake Lichtenstein, USC

One of the better pound-for-pound hauls in the country belongs to the Miami Hurricanes. Leading into the ESP, it was about maintaining verbal commitments among the contested like quarterback Jacurri Brown as well as cornerbacks Khamauri Rogers and Chris Graves. But the Canes also added talent to the haul in elite local pass rusher Nyjalik Kelly over Florida State before flipping the nation's No. 1 tight end Jaleel Skinner from Alabama on Friday. More splashes could be ahead for Cristobal and company into the New Year, too, with No. 1 slot receiver Kevin Coleman , top 10 overall recruit Shemar Stewart and fellow pass rusher Cyrus Moss all weighing UM tenders late in the process. Keep an eye on former Oregon commitment T.J. Dudley, a three-down linebacker out of Alabama, too. 

Joey McGuire, Texas Tech 

Recruits Signed: 16

Transfer Commits: 4, DB Tyler Owens (Texas), WR Brady Boyd (Minnesota), OL Cade Briggs (New Mexico), LB Dimitri Moore (Missouri State)

In both adding recruits and immediately-eligible transfers, McGuire and the new staff in Lubbock wasted no time adding talent to the 2022 roster. Particularly on the defensive side of the ball, Tech added late-rising gems to the class from Alabama in Trevon McAlpine (a silent commit to Oklahoma State) as well as athletic linebacker Tavares Elston. In-state, it picked up one-time USC pledge Ty Kana at the second level and Joseph Adedire just before signing day, too. Holding onto explosive out-of-state athlete Maurion Horn was big, too, after the initial surge McGuire's hire brought to the program. Adding Western Kentucky offensive coordinator Zach Kittley, who helped Billy Zappe re-write the passing record books this year, will only help balance out the roster build going forward. 

Dan Lanning, Oregon

Recruits Signed: 7

Transfer Commits: QB Bo Nix, Auburn

While Oregon has work to do in keeping verbal commitments on board through February's signing period, the front end of winning big battles has been notable both in the portal and from the prep ranks. Nix should accomplish two major tasks in Eugene in reuniting with assistant coach Kenny Dillingham, help make plays through the natural roster attrition expected and help bring along 2021 elite quarterback recruit Ty Thompson along the way. On the trail, UO held onto coveted defensive recruits Harrison Taggart and Jalil Tucker while flipping Texas two-way commitment Anthony Jones, too. 

Kalen DeBoer, Washington

Recruits Signed: 5

Transfer Commits: QB Michael Penix, Indiana

Don't let the lack of volume fool, especially given the condensed window DeBoer dealt with after being brought on board. There were big wins in there, retaining tight end Ryan Otton chief among them, though big, polished wide receiver Germie Bernard shouldn't go unnoticed. Of course bringing in Penix will feel similar to that of rival Oregon adding Nix, in helping foster a head-turning young talent in Sam Huard while providing an experienced, mobile instant fix at the game's most important position. 

Jack Dickert, Washington State

Recruits Signed: 10

Transfer Commits: LB Daiyan Henley, Nevada

Wazzu kicked off the week with a big transfer addition in Henley, who is an athletic linebacker with considerable experience to his name. Half of the 10-man prep class came from within state lines, not as big a surprise with Dickert getting the bump to head coach. Expect more moves in the portal in Pullman, though. 

Tony Elliot, Virginia

Recruits Signed: 9

Transfer Commits: WR Devin Chandler, Wisconsin

One of the surprises, among many, in the coaching carousel was that of Virginia's sudden change after the season was wrapped up. The longtime Clemson assistant, Elliot finally pounced on a head coaching job he believed in on and off the field. The wide receiver transfer came before the new coach was named, another sign of the strength of the university itself. From the prep ranks, it was a mixed bag of decommitments and maintenance of the commitment list, understandable with just five days in between making the hire official and pen meeting paper. UVa did add linebacker Trey McDonald late in the game but holding onto speedy California quarterback Delaney Crawford is where intriguing eyes should be drawn.

Brent Pry, Virginia Tech

Recruits Signed: 21

Transfer Commits: N/A

A handful of decommits stung Tech, particularly with in-stater Ramon Brown, but Pry helped steady a ship in signing the biggest class among Power 5 programs making a true overhaul on the coaching staff. Tight end Benji Gosnell, offensive linemen Brody Meadows, Hunter Mclain and Braelin Moore, pass rusher Keyshawn Burgos along with NFL legacy Xayvion Bradshaw all jumped on board this month. It means Tech added more than it lost on the trail despite the late move, impressive relative to most programs attempting turnover with a similar timeline.

Mike Elko, Duke

Recruits Signed: 16

Transfer Commits: N/A

Elko's first order of business after getting the Duke gig was to get his quarterback of the future on board despite others trying to poach. New York's Henry Belin considered signing in February, but changed his mind due to considerable one-on-one time with the new lead Blue Devil. Similar to Virginia, there was a sense of the university standing alone among Duke commitments, so maintaining those already on board was very doable otherwise. Among the sneaky gems in the class are two-way talent Kenzy Paul, a Canadian prepping in Tennessee, and all-purpose back Eric Weatherly of Jacksonville (Fla.) Bartram Trail. Just two pledges elected to sign elsewhere last week. 

Sonny Dykes, TCU

Recruits Signed:

Transfer Commits: LB Terrence Cooks, Texas

In addition to the in-state transfer pull from the Longhorns, Dykes has secured plenty of momentum early in his tenure. The local transition from SMU helped in bringing prep talent with him to his new stop, led by explosive wide receiver Jordan Hudson and defensive back Chace Biddle -- two of four SMU commitments to make the switch. It also flipped quarterback Josh Hoover from Indiana, wide receiver Kyron Chambers from Arizona and defensive lineman Damonic Williams from Cal at the eleventh hour before inking each.