By STEVE MEGARGEE
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Leave it to the Southeastern Conference to provide some drama on signing day that otherwise seemed anticlimactic.
Even though the vast majority of recruits already had finalized their college decisions in the December signing period, the traditional February signing date still provided a few surprises as players SEC teams were targeting backed out of longstanding verbal commitments.
Wide receiver George Pickens, the nation’s No. 24 overall prospect according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports, flipped his commitment from Auburn to Georgia. Alabama lost a couple of top-200 verbal commitments when defensive end Khris Bogle (No. 71) chose Florida and cornerback Christian Williams (No. 160) signed with Miami.
“The big surprise was George Pickens picking Georgia over Auburn,” said Barton Simmons, the director of scouting for 247Sports. “That’s a kid who had been committed to Auburn for two years.”
Alabama still topped the 247Sports Composite team recruiting rankings for the eighth time in the last nine years, thanks mainly to the wealth of heralded prospects it signed in December. Alabama enhanced its class Wednesday by signing defensive tackles Ishmael Sopsher (No. 47) and Byron Young (No. 77) and running back Keilan Robinson (No. 244).
“Alabama is just more than championships,” Sopsher said. “Coach Nick Saban, he’s going to turn you into a man and he’s going to set you up for life.”
Even so, all those signing day switches added some suspense to a February signing date that has lost plenty of relevance since the 2017 arrival of an early signing period.
The SEC had four of the top five teams in the 247Sports Composite rankings as of early Wednesday evening. Georgia was second, Texas A&M fourth and LSU fifth. Also in the top 15 were Florida at No. 9 and Tennessee at No. 12.
“The SEC is known for flips, known for decommitments, known for cut-throat recruiting,” said Mike Farrell, the director of recruiting for Rivals.
Some other notable recruiting stories from around the SEC.
Alabama’s move to the top of the recruiting rankings came one year after it signed a class that ranked fifth in the team standings, ending a string of seven straight first-place finishes. Georgia topped the 2018 team standings .
“We’re certainly satisfied,” Saban said.
Ole Miss had one of the day’s biggest victories when it beat out Clemson and Alabama for running back Jerrion Ealy, rated 29th in the 247Sports Composite.
But the Rebels shouldn’t celebrate just yet.
Ealy also is a talented baseball player and a potential first-round pick in June’s draft, which could force him into deciding whether to play football at Ole Miss or launch a professional baseball career.
INVADING ENEMY TERRITORY
One interesting element of Georgia’s class is that the Bulldogs signed the top two prospects in the state of Alabama .
Center Clay Webb, ranked second in Alabama and 26th nationally, signed with Georgia in December. The Bulldogs got the top prospect in the state Wednesday when Pickens made his switch from Auburn to Georgia.
The top four prospects in the state of Florida all chose either Alabama or Georgia, though they’d all signed in December. Georgia got defensive end Nolan Smith and cornerback Tyrique Stevenson, while Alabama added running back Trey Sanders and offensive tackle Evan Neal.
Florida did a better job of protecting its home state Wednesday by getting Bogle to switch from Alabama to the Gators and beating out Georgia for cornerback Kaiir Elam (48th).
FORTIFYING THE LINE
Tennessee landed the nation’s top remaining unsigned prospect when it added offensive tackle Darnell Wright, who was 10th overall in the 247Sports Composite.
The additions of Wright and December signee Wanya Morris (28th) should provide a big boost to a Tennessee offensive line that has struggled mightily the last two seasons.
Tennessee added anotherr top-50 recruit Wednesday as linebacker Henry To’oto’o (44th) announced he was choosing the Vols.
“One of the big selling points we’ve had right now that has helped us in recruiting has been our (top-ranked) men’s basketball program,” Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said. “Everywhere I go, everybody wants to talk about our basketball program. I think that’s a great thing, putting Tennessee on the map again, building the brand.”
Some schools used the signing date as an opportunity to announce the arrivals of transfers. One of the more notable additions was Vanderbilt’s addition of Ball State graduate transfer quarterback Riley Neal, who becomes a potential successor to departing four-year starter Kyle Shurmur.
Vanderbilt also added former Michigan State defensive end Lashawn Paulino-Bell, who spent the 2018 season at East Mississippi Community College.
The Commodores would love these transfers to approach the success of running back KeShawn Vaughn, an Illinois transfer who rushed for 1,244 yards this past season.
AP sports writers David Brandt, Brett Martel, Charles Odum and Teresa Walker contributed to this report