Growing up, National Signing Day was a holy day for me. After a teacher in the fifth grade, the father of a letterman from a prominent program, showed me there were websites that ranked the players that would be entering college the next year, I was hooked. Recruiting has changed a lot since then, the fall of 2005, and so has signing day. For one, there’s now two of them in college football. The first is the early signing period, that the NCAA instituted in 2017, is the third Wednesday in December and runs until the third Friday in December. The traditional February signing day remains the first Wednesday of that month.
The early signing day has been the more popular one amongst prospects, with around 80 percent of power 5 prospects signing their letter of intent in the early period as opposed to the late period.
With arguably the craziest coaching carousel in the sport’s history, storylines heading into early signing day are abundant. Here are some of the most intriguing from around the country.
*All recruiting rankings are based on the 247 composite rankings unless otherwise noted
1. Texas A&M Poised to Sign Best Class in School History
When Aggie administrators and boosters signed Jimbo Fisher to a then-record 10-year $75 million contract after the 2016 season, recruiting classes like the one Fisher is poised to bring to College Station in this cycle are what they had in mind in Aggieland. The class as it looks now is elite. It’s highlighted by the nation’s top player in interior defensive lineman Walter Nolen, a coup led by recruiting wunderkind Elijah Robinson, the defensive line coach for the Aggies. It also features the nation’s top wide receiver in Evan Stewart, and a five-star quarterback in Conner Weigman, the highest-rated signal caller Fisher has brought to College Station.
More could be coming for the Aggies, enough to give them a recruiting national championship. They’re still in it for several five-stars including Cypress (TX) linebacker Harold Perkins, South Florida d-lineman Shemar Stewart, and Houston-area corner Denver Harris, who may be my favorite player in the entire class. Some of those guys may not sign tomorrow, and Stewart’s recruitment has been complicated by Mario Cristobal returning to Miami. Cristobal is working around the clock to keep the Florida native home.
There’s one very big prospect out there for the Aggies I haven’t mentioned yet, which leads me to…
2. What Does Kiyunta Goodwin Do?
I said there was a big prospect, and I meant that, literally. Goodwin is arguably the most physically imposing offensive tackle in the class, and the Kentucky commit would be one of the biggest signings in the history of Wildcat football. But, this recruitment seems wide open, with A&M, Michigan State, Florida State, Michigan, and Alabama all getting official visits this fall. The five-star could still sign with Kentucky, but no one really has any clue how this one is going to go tomorrow.
3. James Franklin Gets His $80 Million Quarterback
Some around the nation were shocked when Penn State signed Franklin to an $80 million extension in November amidst Penn State limping to a 7-5 campaign. It was the second straight unsatisfactory season for Franklin after Penn State won 11, 11, 9 and 11 games from 2016-2019. One reason Penn State was willing to invest so heavily in Franklin?
Enter Drew Allar.
The Ohio native may be someone the Buckeyes wish they had recruited harder earlier, as Allar has risen up rankings unlike anyone else, regardless of position, in the entire class. Allar got a late start to the quarterback position, but he’s taken to it like a fish and water. He’s rated as the third best player in the nation in the 247 rankings as well as being the top quarterback. His film is as good as any quarterback recruit in at least a decade, and that includes former 2022 quarterback Quinn Ewers. His size, athleticism, ball placement and arm strength would impress NFL scouts right now. Time will tell if he will live up to the billing, but his impending arrival, as well as the rest of a top-ten ranked Nittany Lion recruiting class that also features the nation’s top running back in Nicholas Singleton is what Penn State bet big on.
4. Can Steve Sarkisian Capitalize on Momentum?
Seemingly for the first time in his year-long tenure, Steve Sarkisian seems to have built some momentum at Texas after the commitment of Quinn Ewers Sunday. Before the circus he brought upon himself by reclassifying from 2022 to 2021 and enrolling early at Ohio State to capitalize on NIL opportunities, Ewers was considered by many to be the quarterback recruit of a generation. The Southlake Carroll (TX) product decided to go to Texas, the school he was committed to originally before flipping to Ohio State last fall. The Longhorns also got a five-star commitment from offensive tackle Kelvin Banks over the weekend, moving the recruiting class into the top ten at number seven. Of course, that would make them only the fourth best class in the SEC, where Texas will end up as soon as possibly next season.
That class could be added to though. The aforementioned Evan Stewart is reported to have a close bond with Ewers and could flip from Texas A&M to Texas. Five-star offensive tackle Devon Campbell is considered likely to choose the Longhorns, as well. While lack of talent has never been an issue at Texas, landing a few more blue chippers Wednesday and beyond would certainly signify that Sarkisian has the respect of the type of players he will need to get Texas up to speed in the SEC.
5. Lincoln Riley Makes His Pitch
The newly minted USC coach has hit the road running in Los Angeles. The Trojans only have four commits for their 2022 class, but one of them is Top 50 overall running back Raleek Brown, a flip from Oklahoma. He’s also already flipped the second overall player in the 2023 class, quarterback Malachai Nelson, from Oklahoma, as well as high school teammate and five-star athlete Makai Lemon, who was also headed for Norman. Late Monday night, news broke that top-100 receiver and Southern California product C.J. Williams was decommitting from Notre Dame. USC is seen as a heavy favorite to land Williams, whether it be Wednesday or later on in the process.
Unlike most coaches across the country who are convincing kids to put pen to paper on Wednesday, Riley will be doing the opposite. He’s surely working the phones telling targets who may be committed elsewhere to hold off on signing right now and take a visit to USC between now and February. The allure of an all-expenses-paid trip to Los Angeles is something that could persuade some to wait around and see what Riley has to offer at USC.
One recruit that will not wait is five-star defensive back Domani Jackson. The seventh-ranked player in the 247 sports composite will decide between Alabama and USC on Friday. These are the types of recruits Clay Helton did not keep in Southern California, and Riley keeping the Mater Dei product home would send quite a message that USC is going to operate at its full potential.
6. Oklahoma Tries to Stop the Bleeding
If you’ve been living in a cave for the last few weeks and came out of hiding to read some signing day articles, I hope you’re not an Oklahoma fan. It was less than three weeks ago that Lincoln Riley stared at the media and said he would not be taking the LSU job, easing the minds of Sooner fans. Of course, he took the USC job instead, and recruits and current players fled Norman like someone had dropped plague-infested rats in the city. Oklahoma has had ten players decommit in the 2022 and 2023 classes. Nine of those ten were ranked in the top 150 in their respective classes. Spencer Rattler was likely to portal no matter where Riley was next year, but offensive playmakers like Theo Wease, Jadon Haselwood and Austin Stogner all also entered the portal before Oklahoma hired Brent Venables.
Venables has his work cut out, and no program this year may be more victimized by an early signing day than Oklahoma. Things are looking up though, as Venables landed a commit from 2022 top 247 quarterback Nick Evers on Monday. It appears like there is a good chance 2023 Heisman candidate and last year’s top quarterback recruit before the reclassification of Ewers, Caleb Williams, is going to stay in Norman, Oklahoma. Top 150 linebacker Kobie McKinzie, who flipped to Texas after decommitting when Riley left, flipped back too, preferring to play for the defensive-minded Venables.
Venables may be in a similar situation to the guy he replaced in that he may be on the phone with recruits telling them to hold off on signing and getting them to visit Oklahoma before the February signing period.
7. What’s Going on at Clemson?
After Clemson beat Alabama for the national title for the second time in three years back in January of 2019 with a freshman Trevor Lawrence at the helm, one could’ve said with a straight face that Clemson was the best program in America, and if not that, 1B with Alabama has 1A. Things haven’t gone quite as well since. They only won one more playoff game with Lawrence, and limped to 9-3 this year in a god-awful ACC.
It’s the off-the-field stuff that is most concerning, though. Clemson had been more stable than the other elite programs of the last seven or so years, as they’ve had much less coaching turnover than Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State. That unraveled in a big way over the last few weeks. Longtime Tiger defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who many thought would be a lifer with Dabo Swinney, left for Oklahoma. Offensive coordinator Tony Elliot, the ace recruiter for Clemson on that side of the ball, is now the head coach at Virginia. To put the cherry on top, esteemed athletic director Dan Radakovich, thought of as one of the nation’s best, was poached by Miami.
Looking at Clemson’s recruiting class, it’s not much more encouraging. Yes, the 247 composite ranking’s top quarterback Cade Klubnik will sign for Clemson on Wednesday. And Klubnik is good, don’t get me wrong. He’s about to lead Austin Westlake, in my opinion the nation’s best high school team this year, to a second consecutive state championship in Texas. But, the rest of the class is underwhelming to say the least. It features only fifteen commits heading into national signing day. That number is not as alarming as it has been in the past around the country, as the advent of the transfer portal and free transfers has allowed teams to save scholarships on high school kids and focus on proven college players. However, Swinney has been reluctant to recruit from the portal since its advent. He’s softened his stance in the last month or so, but the enthusiasm he has for it does not meet the level of what it should be for a program that right now is projected to be double digits under the 85-scholarship cap for next season.
For the first time in nearly a decade, there’s real belief Clemson is going backwards. A strong national signing day would help beat back that narrative, but that seems to not be in the cards for the Tigers. When the dust settles Wednesday, expect Clemson’ mediocre (for their recent standards) class to be a topic of conversation.
8. Michigan Looks to Capitalize on a Playoff Bump
What a difference a year can make. It looked like the Jim Harbaugh experiment was as good as dead a year ago. Fast forward, and the Wolverines are the No. 2 team in America heading into the playoff after finally getting over the Ohio State hump, and recruits are taking notice. Most of the playoff bump will likely take place in the 2023 class, but Michigan’s performance this season has surely helped them with a few prospects.
Top 100 wide receiver Darrius Clemons visited Michigan last week, and Michigan appears to have a real shot of landing the Portland native. Top 100 defensive lineman Derrick Moore of Maryland also visited Ann Arbor Friday, and while no one is sure where he’s going, Michigan seems to have as good of a shot as anyone. Keon Sabb, a New Jersey-turned-IMG top 100 safety, has been predicted to go anywhere but Michigan up until the last few weeks. If Michigan lands those three, that would be icing on the cake of a Top 10 ranked recruiting class as it currently stands.
9. The Transfer Portal Looms Large
Classes going into signing day are smaller than normal for a few reasons, but the biggest reason is the transfer portal. More specifically, the 2021 special edition of the portal. After the NCAA voted to allow basically all NCAA student-athletes one free transfer during their eligibility clock with no sit-out penalty, it created what is more-or-less free agency in college football. And, with on-campus recruiting severely curtailed for the class of 2021 due to the pandemic, many players enrolled at schools they had never been to, thus more likely to transfer. The NCAA surprisingly expected this and decided to allow teams to take up to 32 new scholarship players this year, up from the previous limit of 25. At this point that’s just a one-year rule, but many expect it to be renewed.
So, if you’re a fan of a program who has had a rough go of it in recruiting, or a place who lost their coach and a lot of recruits, like Oklahoma, not all is lost. Michigan State had the nation’s 46th recruiting class last year coming off a 2-5 season in 2020, and they used the transfer portal to turn themselves into a ten-win team this year.
Programs like Arkansas, who brought in Jadon Haselwood, have already been active in the portal with big additions that could pay huge dividends in the win column next year. One thing is for sure. There are now two entirely different and important groups of recruits: those in the transfer portal and those coming out of high school.
10. Even with the Portal, Recruiting High School Players Still Matters
Some said that the transfer portal would harm the chances of high school players. They may have a point in college basketball, where coaches are deliberately undersigning and waiting to bring in portal options. But, despite classes being just slightly smaller, the effect has been overstated in college football.
Recruiting budgets across the country reached an all-time high, pandemic be damned. Fan interest in recruiting is at the levels it was previously. And top programs like Alabama, while they will use the portal, will bring in the vast majority of their new players next year via high school recruitment. The portal certainly can help programs fill holes, as it did for Alabama this year with Jameson Williams at wide receiver, among others. But, the bottom line is, coaches know the pathway to national titles is bringing in the best prep talent and coaching them up. That has yet to change, and likely never will.
Follow Garrett Carr on Twitter @GarrettCarr