College football early signing period winners, & others with work to do

Thursday, December 20, 2018

After the first day of the early signing period, 238 of the ESPN 300 prospects signed national letters of intent. That number is up from 221 last year and doesn’t leave many highly ranked recruits for programs to sign during the February signing period.

While the early signing period is open through Friday, most of the prospects announced commitments and signed on the first day.

Because there are so few prospects left to sign, the recruiting class rankings likely won’t move much from now until Friday.

Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M finished in the top three spots, with Alabama atop the class rankings. This is the sixth time Alabama has landed the No. 1-ranked class, which is remarkable considering no other school has finished with the top class more than twice since ESPN began its rankings in 2006.

Michigan and Oregon round out the top five, with Oregon primed to finish with the top class in the Pac-12 for the first time ever. Mario Cristobal and his staff landed the No. 1-ranked recruit in defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux four days prior to the start of the early signing period and have skyrocketed in the rankings for 2019.

All of those teams have finished on top for the entire cycle, but there were some big winners from today as well.


Class rank: 1

The Crimson Tide landed ESPN 300 running back Trey Sanders, ESPN 300 offensive lineman Evan Neal and flipped ESPN 300 safety Jordan Battle from Ohio State on Wednesday. That haul helped Alabama get to 21 ESPN 300 commitments, which is tied for the most the Crimson Tide have ever had in one class.

The addition of Neal on Wednesday gave Alabama commitments from four ESPN 300 offensive linemen, three of whom are ranked as top-10 tackles in the class. Sanders chose the Tide over Georgia, Texas and Florida and was the second running back commit in the class for Alabama, along with Keilan Robinson.

Alabama finished the 2018 cycle ranked No. 6 overall, and it now looks nearly impossible for the coaches to relinquish the No. 1 spot in 2019.

Class rank: 2

The Dawgs finished 2018 with the No. 1-ranked class and are currently sitting at No. 2 behind Alabama in 2019. They were No. 3 before the early signing period started and moved up largely because of the signatures of ESPN 300 linebacker Nakobe Dean and ESPN 300 quarterback Dwan Mathis.

Dean chose Georgia over Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Ole Miss and is currently the third-highest-ranked commit for Georgia at No. 23 overall.

With the news of Justin Fields’ potential transfer, the staff had been looking to add another quarterback to this class and was able to flip Mathis from Ohio State. The No. 299-ranked recruit, Mathis had seemingly been comfortable with Urban Meyer retiring from the Buckeyes and new coach Ryan Day taking over. Georgia coming in late was too much to pass up, however.

Class rank: 4

It wasn’t all good news for Alabama today. Michigan opened up signing day by flipping five-star safety Daxton Hill from the Tide. Hill, the No. 13-ranked recruit, was originally committed to Michigan but flipped to Alabama before the early signing period.

Rumors swirled about Jim Harbaugh potentially having interest in an NFL job, but Harbaugh publicly refuted those rumors and the staff worked to get Hill back in the class. Those efforts paid off as Hill is now the highest-ranked signee in the No. 4-ranked class.

Michigan also landed ESPN 300 wide receiver Cornelius Johnson on Wednesday to go with receivers Giles Jackson and Mike Sainristil.

This class gives the Wolverines their first top-five class on a signing day since ESPN began ranking recruits in 2006. Michigan also currently has the top class in the Big Ten, which snaps an eight-year run of Ohio State finishing atop the conference.

Class rank: 16

The Gators entered the day ranked No. 20 overall with only two ESPN 300 commitments from the state of Florida. The staff now has the No. 16-ranked class after landing a handful of commitments on Wednesday.

That included a trio of teammates out of Lakeland High School, ESPN 300 recruits Keon Zipperer, Lloyd Summerall and Deyavie Hammond.

Zipperer is one of the top-ranked tight ends in the class and No. 63 overall. Summerall will fill Florida’s BUCK role on defense and provide some versatility, while Hammond can play at tackle or on the interior of the offensive line.

The class ranking still isn’t where Florida fans want it to be, but moving up four spots and landing these three prospects is a big momentum boost for this class and for this staff.

Teams that have work to do in January

Class rank: 34

The Hurricanes finished with a top-10 class in the 2018 cycle, finishing at No. 8 overall, but fell drastically in 2019, currently sitting at No. 34 in the rankings. The Hurricanes have lost 16 commitments throughout the entire 2019 cycle, which is more than they currently have committed, at 15.

There are three ESPN 300 prospects signed in the class, but there wasn’t much noise from Miami on the first day of the early signing period.

It will take quite a bit of work to climb up the recruiting rankings in January, and while there are some big-name recruits still available, the talent pool has shrunk tremendously. Some of the targets thought to be leaning toward Miami — including five-star wide receiver Jadon Haselwood — are now leaning elsewhere.

Haselwood decommitted from Georgia earlier this year and was very interested in Miami, but now it looks like Oklahoma and Georgia are firmly in the picture.

This class is not what coach Mark Richt needed after a disappointing 7-5 season.

Florida State
Class rank: 18

The Seminoles finished No. 11 in the 2018 class rankings and are sitting at No. 18 in 2019, but similar to Miami, there wasn’t a lot of noise out of Tallahassee.

The biggest movement from Florida State was literally out of Tallahassee, as ESPN 300 defensive lineman Derick Hunter flipped from the Seminoles to Texas A&M and ESPN 300 quarterback Sam Howell flipped from Florida State to North Carolina.

Howell flipping to the Tar Heels is especially troubling because the Seminoles now have not signed a quarterback in the 2019 or 2018 classes. There is still time in January to pick up a quarterback, but the only unsigned four-star quarterbacks left are Georgia commit John Rhys Plumlee and Lance Legendre.

Coming off a 5-7 season and a disappointing signing day, this is going to be an uphill battle in January for Willie Taggart and his staff.

Class rank: Unranked

You read that right. UCLA is currently unranked after the first day of the early signing period. ESPN’s class rankings go down to No. 50 and UCLA is outside the top 50. In the talent-rich state of California, it is remarkable for the Bruins to have an unranked class this late in the process.

Coach Chip Kelly and his staff wanted to take a slow, methodical approach to recruiting, but with the early signing period that strategy might not work.

The staff has 17 total commitments and only one is ranked as a four-star. Kelly landed only 12 ESPN 300 commitments during his time as head coach of Oregon, but none of his classes was ranked this low. He also didn’t have the early signing period back then, which has turned recruiting into a different process.

Oregon currently has the top two ranked prospects in California committed and six ESPN 300 commits from California, so even if there are quite a few recruits left unsigned in January, many of the top local recruits have already come off the board.

Class rank: 23

USC was able to land ESPN 300 defensive end Drake Jackson and ESPN 300 safety Briton Allen on Wednesday, but similar to UCLA, there is a lot of work left.

The difference between USC and UCLA, however, is that January could be a fruitful month for the Trojans, with quite a few prospects still on the board who are planning to make commitments in January or leading up to the February signing period.

The Trojans finished 2018 with the No. 7-ranked recruiting class. They are now sitting at No. 23, though, and with only 62 ESPN 300 recruits left unsigned, other programs are going to be targeting the prospects USC is after too.

If USC can close January strong, similar to how it did in the 2018 class, it will help answer a lot of the questions that still remain with this class.


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