Wednesday, Dec. 19 marks the first day of the early signing period in college football. This will be the second cycle in which the early signing period has been utilized. Check back in with the Rotoworld NFL Draft section on Wednesday for wall-to-wall coverage of every commitment, flip and occasional weird pledge. Here are a few questions that we have heading into the endgame of the recruiting cycle.
1. Who finishes with the No. 1 class?
Or maybe the question is, who finishes behind Alabama? Following Georgia’s monster No. 1 class a year ago, some questioned whether the Crimson Tide -- who finished with Rivals’ No. 8 class -- might have passed the torch. We were among the “some,” here, and would now like to recant. Alabama rebounded from its relatively subdued 2018 class in terrifying fashion in the current cycle and will enter Wednesday with the nation’s No. 1 class. The aforementioned Bulldogs will have a say in whether they finish the day in the same slot, currently sitting at No. 3 on Rivals (Texas A&M is wedged between the pair). Making matters all the more rich, UGA and Bama are competing for several of the same big-name recruits, including a trio of five-star names in LB Nakobe Dean, T Evan Neal and RB Trey Sanders. Sanders is Rivals’ No. 2 overall player in the class. Beyond the SEC, Oregon (No. 5) and Oklahoma (No. 8) would both be in contention for top-three classes with big hauls.
2. Can Oregon capitalize on the pledge of ESPN’s No. 1 prospect, Kayvon Thibodeaux?
Speaking of the Ducks, Oregon scored a stunning hit when they earned a pledge from the five-star California native during halftime of Saturday’s New Mexico Bowl, with the 6-foot-5, 234-pound defensive end opting in with Mario Cristobal’s crew. Oregon is tracking toward its best recruiting class, ever. Thibodeaux was the ninth five-star prospect to commit to Oregon, ever. Whether his decision to head to Eugene over fellow finalists Alabama and Florida State will have a further ripple effect on Wednesday remains to be seen, but it’s been a smashing success of a class to date. Outside of No. 5 Oregon and No. 17 Washington, the Pac-12 is not represented in Rivals’ top-20 classes for 2019. The Ducks have a chance to build something in what’s a mostly weak conference.
3. Any quarterbacks to watch?
With four-star Jayden Daniels committing to Arizona State last week -- heck of a pick up for Herm Edwards -- the quarterbacking board is pretty dry, as tends to be the case. Quarterbacks, more than any position, tend not to stick around uncommitted at this time of the year. Which makes sense given the resources that programs put into getting (and keeping) those pledges. The lone ESPN 300 quarterback who remains uncommitted is the strong-named Lance LeGendre (No. 152 on ESPN), who had been pledged to Kansas up until the beginning of August. Unfortunately, we can’t even milk any drama out of Legendre’s decision at this juncture, as he does not plan on signing until February. All quiet on the Western Front for now, though four-star FSU QB pledge Sam Howell could make some noise if he takes a flirtation with UNC and turns it into an outright romance and flips.
4. Does Urban Meyer’s retirement have a tangible impact on Ohio State’s 2019 class?
Currently, the Buckeyes have the 16th-best class on Rivals. Beyond the modest number, they aren’t working from a position of strength within the conference, with both Penn State (No. 11) and Michigan (No. 10) out ahead of OSU. Meyer’s announced retirement at the end of the season has not caused catastrophic damage thus far on the recruiting front outside of a few smaller decommitments. We don’t see the boat rocking too much on this front when all is said on Wednesday. The transition from Meyer to Ryan Day is about as seamless as you’re going to get. In-house promotions are simply easier on recruiting, for obvious reasons. And Day is going have a chance to land one of the biggest fish in the pond right off the bat. That would be Mr. Zach Harrison. More on him below.
5. Where does Zach Harrison land?
If you’re all about tuning in to the Worldwide Leader for draft commitments galore on Wednesday, you’d best also be checking your phone. That’s because 6-foot-5, 245-pound DE Zach Harrison won’t be throwing a big commitment party. He won’t have a ceremony. He won’t be shooting his pledge into space, or releasing a zany video. Instead, Harrison will take the low-key approach and just tweet it out. As for who’s in play, here, it’s the three aforementioned Big Ten teams in Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Whoever ends up earning his pledge -- the 247Sports Crystal Ball has UM at 58%. If that prediction comes to fruition, it will be a bitter blow for Ohio State. Harrison (Rivals No. 14 overall prospect) calls Lewis Center, Ohio, home. His high school coach views him as a future face of a program.
6. Who should we put on FLIP WATCH?
Gotta love FLIP WATCH. We already touched on Florida State pledge Sam Howell, who is being courted by Mack Brown and the Tar Heels. He’s one to watch. Other prospects of note in this conversation include Auburn four-star LB Owen Pappoe (Tennessee wooing), Purdue four-star DE George Karlaftis, FSU four-star LB (Auburn and Michigan wooing), and Alabama four-star DE Justin Eboigbe (Tennessee, Miami, wooing). Florida State’s class currently ranks No. 13 on Rivals, but if Wednesday breaks poorly for HC Willie Taggart, we could see a precipitous dip for the Seminoles.
7. Does Clay Helton have a chance for immediate redemption?
We didn’t want Helton brought back to begin with, and as much as you have to love new OC Kliff Kingsbury, the Trojans aren’t going to be adding considerably in this class barring a late change. A year ago, they cashed in with QB J.T. Daniels and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown. There will be no repeat of this feat. Rivals ranks USC’s as the No. 33 class for the cycle. Virginia, Cal, Virginia Tech and Kentucky all have betters classes to this juncture. Arizona State sits just one slot back of them (Jayden Daniels boost!). The Trojans had a young team during their lost 2018 season, but there doesn’t appear to be much coming behind that. Helton has generally done a nice job recruiting with the Trojans, but USC fans might want to have a flask present this time around. USC is supposed to be an easy recruiting destination, but this is a program which is going in the wrong direction. They might be driving into a ditch on Wednesday.
It could be worse, though. Helton could be, say, Mark Richt. Somewhat unbelievably, Miami ranks 40th (!) on Rivals as of this posting on Tuesday morning. Duke and Baylor are both pulling better classes right now. The Hurricanes entered the 2018 season as a potential Playoff contender. What a fall.
8. What are some potential sleeper teams to watch on Wednesday?
To lead off this space, we talked up who might end with the No. 1 class (hint -- the answer was Bama). We’ll end focusing on some of the more intriguing under-the-radar teams who could make big moves on Wednesday. We don’t even know if we could count Arkansas as under the radar. Here’s something cool for you -- a year ago, Arkansas finished with 2018’s No. 61 recruiting class. They’re currently sitting (no foolin’) at No. 12. That’s a leap of 49 spots. The rest of the SEC should be very, very afraid of Chad Morris. He will have this ship righted within the next two years. Further down the board, we’re keen to see if Purdue (No. 26) gets any further bounce from Jeff Brohm’s decision to stick with the program after receiving overtures from Louisville. Whether ASU has anything else left in the tank after grabbing Jayden Daniels will also be worth watching.