National Signing Day Takeaways
It's over and done with, now. Commitments have fallen to the wind like so much celebratory confetti. Unfortunately, there are far, far too many names to truly give the 2016 class justice. Two years from now, prospects that even the Internet has failed to touch will be putting up huge numbers, just because recruiting is that unpredictable. That being said, I'll examine a few of the big hitters as we try to piece together what just happened. Rivals serves as my ranking outlet of choice unless otherwise noted. And away we go!
Alabama continues to be Alabama
OK, well, I guess we're stuck with them. Love the Tide or hate the Tide (I personally live in fear of them, but that's just me), there's no denying that Nick Saban just knows how to run this machine. They started the day with a low Top-10 recruiting class and that lasted for about my first cup of coffee. Then the names started rolling in. LB Ben Davis, Rivals' No. 5 overall in the country, represented their biggest catch. He declared in the morning and set the stage well enough. Along the way to their seventh No. 1 recruiting class in the last nine years, Bama scooped up five-star blue-chippers in DE Terrell Hall (20), OL Jonah Williams (24) and LB Lyndell Wilson (No. 26). They added another 10 four-star recruits and nine three-star names, just for the heck of it. You might be bored of seeing it over and over again, but it's hard not to at least respect Nick Saban for the fact that he can do this in his sleep.
Couldn't quite rule the day
LSU still finished with the No. 6 recruiting class in the country, but they were struck a notable blow when five-star LB Erick Fowler (13) chose to head for Austin and the Texas Longhorns. As is, the Tigers finished without landing a single five-star recruit. This was being talked about as, potentially, one of the best recruiting class by a school in a decade. For not one five-star recruit to opt for LSU is eye-opening—of Rivals Top-15, LSU was the lone team to achieve that negative feat. Maybe the November rumors about Les Miles' job security shook some kids up. Maybe some don't think he'll be there next year. Maybe all of that or none of that. It's just odd. LSU also failed to sign a quarterback in the Rivals250. In Brandon Harris, I trust. They'd best capitalize on RB Leonard Fournette's final season with the team, though, because if they don't, I'm not sure if the Mad Hatter will keep his job.
Wait until next year
Everything's relative and relatively speaking, Georgia did great. They finished with a Top-10 recruiting class (exactly 10th, actually), a quarterback of the future in Jacob Eason (7) and a do-everything athlete in Mecole Hardman (11). They also finished behind Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss and Alabama within the SEC. It's all relative. But be warned, universe: That Kirby Smart managed to hold onto Eason after the firing of Mark Richt could turn the conference on its head in a few years, if the 6-foot-5, 207-pound gunslinger can meet his upside.
SEC haters don't have a ton of ammo these days
I haven't even touched on Ole Miss (7th class in country) or Auburn (9th). One conference secured half of the Top-10. Throw in respectable showings from Florida (14), Tennessee (15) and Texas A&M (conveniently, 16) and it's very difficult to find anything to hate. Though conversely, you might count “SEC hatred” a winner, because there's that much more fuel.
Most balanced class (in the country?) resides in Tallahassee, Florida.
The Seminoles did see S Jamel Cook (not ranked) back out of his commitment for USC, but FSU otherwise finished strong. Among their coups on the day, they managed to jar four-star DT Shavar Manuel (110) free from a Florida commitment. In addition to Manuel, they're bringing in 17 other four-star prospects. No other team in the country profited as much on the low-upper end. It's this strong middle of the class that allows for a legitimate argument that FSU—and not Alabama—deserves ultimate bragging rights. And QB Malik Henry (34) is as intriguing as any recruit in the country. Two years ago, Henry was viewed as a No. 1 prospect at his position. He played in just seven games this year, with an ill-fated transfer to IMG Academy the lynchpin. While Henry attended four schools in four years as a high schooler, Jimbo Fisher won a title with Jameis Winston. He can build Henry up.
Clemson continues to be the cool kid on the block
The other clear winner within the conference continues to float along on a happy little cloud. Dabo's squad did whiff on Rashan Gary (1), but that's understandable and it does little to dim their day. While they leaked talent to the draft last month, their new wave includes a number of juicy prospects, led by DT Dexter Lawrence (2) and linebackers Rahshaun Smith (6) and Tre Lamar (16), plus DB Trayvon Mullen (117). Sprinkle in RB Tavien Feaster (102), who's a strong candidate for the “Who was that?” player who you see running for a long touchdown while you tidy up the house, and WR Cornell Powell (36) and the Tigers join the Seminoles as the class of the conference.
“Bring Back The U”: An Annual Tradition
We won't see the full impact of Mark Richt's ways until he's able to bring in his own complete recruiting class in 2017, but the Hurricanes are already making February noise. Which is something, anyway. Four-star WR Sam Bruce (Rivals No. 47, also the nephew of former Rams receiving metronome Issac) has been vocal about bringing The U back to prominence. The diminutive (5-foot-8, 180 pounds) wideout figures to produce as a freshman given Miami's absence of receiving talent beyond Stacy Coley. One player we won't see this year will be four-star QB Jack Allison (205), who will sit behind starter Brad Kaaya in 2016 before battling it out with Malik Rosier in the spring of 2017. Side note: A quick Googling of “Miami recruits bring back The U” results in 19,500,000 hits. That sounds about right. End side note.
That sound you just heard is a closing window
While Florida State's in the conversation for the best recruiting class in the country and Clemson's still reaping the benefits of their Playoff run, and while Miami offers intrigue and noise, things aren't so bright at Chapel Hill. North Carolina's coming off a bitter season-ending loss to Clemson in the ACC title game and a thumping at the hands of Baylor in bowl action. After which, senior magician/quarterback Marquise Williams rode into the sunset. And then, National Signing Day happened. Or didn't happen, in this case. The Tar Heels failed to pick up a single Rivals250 name. That in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean they're going to collapse into a sadness hole, but it could well mean exactly that. It's difficult to see anybody challenging FSU or Clemson in the next few years, though Miami might begin to nip at their heels soon enough.
Maybe Jim Harbaugh's crazy like a fox rather than just crazy
Harbaugh capped off the most Harbaugh of recruiting cycles by hanging out with Derek Jeter, Tom Brady and Ric Flair at a Signing Day Event. He deemed his event to be “awesome.” Everything's awesome when you can secure not just the No. 1 player in the country (Gary), but also a Top-50 overall tight end in Devin Asiasi, who already tips the scales at 6-foot-5, 253 pounds. Asiasi was among the last big names to make his intentions known, helping to boost the Wolverines to a No. 4 recruiting class in the process. Not all of their 28 recruits will make immediate impacts and not all will pan out, but at this point, it's unlikely that even Harbaugh will be able to maintain a grip on expectations.
Fly, Sparty, Fly
Mark Dantonio knows his lane. It is a flat lane, surrounded by farmland. It's located in the middle of the country. And it is occasionally crossed by cattle. Yes, not one of Michigan State's seven Rivals250 recruits resided outside of the Midwest. Here's something you wouldn't necessarily expect from Sparty, though: They just pulled in oodles of receiving talent, racking up a trio of four-star wideouts in Donnie Corley (61), Cameron Chambers (127) and Justin Layne (210). The Spartans don't have an immediate replacement for Connor Cook—it takes time to find somebody with the right combination of arm talent and prickly pear demeanor—but there's a heavenly deliverer coming to town. That would be actual human being and quarterback Messiah deWeaver (178), who somehow beat out Prince Sammons and Boss Tagaloa for the most grand name in the recruiting game. Dantonio's indicated that deWeaver will be competing in camp, though senior Tyler O' Connor's the odds on favorite to take over Cook's starting gig. We could start to see that receiving talent make an impact from the jump, though.
I lived in Iowa, it's really not that bad
If you can ignore the threat of death-by-humidity/death-by-tornado/death-by-Iowa-State-Fair during the summer and the long classically Midwestern winters, Iowa City can be downright delightful. Kirk Ferentz clearly failed to pitch it like that, because the Hawkeyes finished with the No. 42 recruiting class in the country, with no five or four-star talent to their name. Wisconsin (33), Nebraska (24), Penn State (22), Michigan State (19), Michigan (4) and Ohio State (3) all finished ahead of them within the conference. Ferentz has indicated that he thinks 2015's almost-Playoff season has helped recruiting, though, and he could be right. Iowa's biggest catch in the last month came when four-star DE A.J. Epenesa tossed them a commitment. Unfortunately, they'll have to hope that the No. 27 player in Rivals' 2017 class sticks to his word a year from now. As an Iowa person, kind of, I'll make my pitch. A cat resides in one of IC's bookstores. There's a park. My apartment contained a fireplace that I wasn't allowed to use, wood floors and high ceilings, and an air conditioner unit that once crushed my fingers. You could rent that apartment. Tornado sirens can be exciting until they're not. Sold yet?
Baylor makes world headlines by cloning Corey Coleman
Coleman's NFL-bound, but that's never stopped science. Art Briles brought in four-star wideout Devin Duvernay (52), a 5-foot-11, 193-pound speed freak out of Sacshe, Texas. He and Coleman are the same height, but Duvernay has about eight pounds on the now-former star for the Bears. Imagine a very, very fast animal, like a mako shark or a cheetah or a velociraptor. Now combine them into a super-animal. Now turn that super-animal into a football player. Now unleash him upon your foes. That's Devin Duvernay, who ran the 100 meters in 10.27 seconds last spring. And he's strong. And he's agile. And he's moving to an offense that puts up more points than any in the country. And there are catches out there for him. And etc. If you dislike waiting around several years for your recruits to earn a pinch of seasoning, Duvernay's the guy for you. He posted a 62-1142-16 receiving line as a senior at Sacshe High this past season and has the potential to be an immediate factor. Fun fact: Three-star athlete Donovan Duvernay's also heading to the Bears. They are related.
Oklahoma turns in quiet day, has luxury to be quiet
The Sooners finished out with the No. 25 recruiting class in the country, wedged between Nebraska at 24 and South Carolina at 26. In the case of Oklahoma, that's OK. The team lost one commitment in four-star DT Chris Daniels (212), who was stolen away by Texas (more on Charlie Strong's giant performance on National Signing Day in a moment), but earned a strong evening signing from LB Caleb Kelly (14) to help ease any sting from Daniels' flip. The reality is that whatever comes from this recruiting class, OU returns 16 starters in 2016, including most of their key contributors on offense.
Texas! Texas! Texas!
Dark clouds of existential pain have hovered over the Longhorns for years, but Charlie Strong pulled off a massive heist on National Signing Day. The aforementioned swipe of LSU-assumed-signee Erick Flowers was perhaps the biggest move of the day, but that was far from Strong's only trick on the way to pulling off a somewhat unexpected No. 13 overall class. The program also brought four-star LB Jeffrey McCulloch (169) and DB Brandon Jones (97) into the Longhorn family (both of whom were considering Texas A&M), two of the 10 four-star recruits who opted for the Longhorns. Solid work all the way around. Those dark clouds of existential pain might remain for another few seasons, but bright rays of existential joy are beginning to peek through. May more golden hats be prepared for the brighter future that lies ahead.
Clay Helton 1, Me 0
On Tuesday, I questioned USC for having had an “uninspiring” recruiting season. A day later, I'll retract my lack of inspiration. Angels are in my midst. Trumpets are sounding. I'm so inspired right now. The Trojans not only kept all 13 of the players committed to their cause, they added seven more to the pile to finish out with 13 five/four-star studs and seven of the three-star species. The late sprint to the finish pushed them all the way up to Rivals' No. 8 recruiting class. Stanford (No. 18) and UCLA (No. 11) both have classes they can be proud of, too, but Wednesday reminds us that USC remains the go-to West Coast school.
UCLA replaces lost talent as expectations rise
The Bruins lost do-it-all LB Myles Jack to the draft, but they found his replacement almost immediately in Torrance, California, native Mique Juarez (9). They also added a new toy for QB Josh Rosen to play with in four-star WR Theo Howard. He graduated in December and his academic advisor said, “Theo just gets it done.” That's what you want to hear from an academic advisor, though I must say, mine just stared at my transcript and shook her head. But Theo gets it done and the 6-foot, 175-pounder could earn himself a starting role his freshman season if he comes on strong in spring and summer camp. Even if he doesn't pop quite like that, he should still see playing time come the opening kickoff against Texas A&M on September 3. Of UCLA's six leading receivers from last season, five have either graduated or decided to give the NFL a shot.
Mission Abort. I repeat, mission abort.
I just want to give the duck a hug, honestly. Oregon's wheels shed rubber for a long, long time before the recruiting bus starting running on rims, but Wednesday turned into a lackluster day for the long-time Pac-12 contender. We'll set aside that whole six-week-without-a-commitment thing to focus on National Signing Day. On Wednesday, their biggest headline came when USC swiped four-star RB commitment Vavae Malepeia (159). The Trojans will do that, sometimes. When that's your lead, you're probably in trouble. At the close of the day, the Ducks managed Rivals' 28th best recruiting class, secruring only five four-star recruits. Remember, Florida State had 18 of them. Five. Oregon also failed to land a quarterback in Rivals Top-250. A few of their signees are sure to break out because Oregon can attract athletes like Lamar Winston (187), a 6-foot-3, 205-pound linebacker who was also a receiver at Central Catholic High in Oregon. He's probably going to play defense at the collegiate level. Oregon can bring home high-upside guys like Winston, but it's unclear what, exactly, their long-term plan might be. If it exists. Side note: I haven't watched all of the X-Files reboot episodes that've aired, but I've hopped in here and there to relive the 90's of my childhood. Anyway, I have a strong suspicion that David Dachovny's contract contains a bonus clause for every time he says “I want to believe.” This is a long way of saying that I'm worried about Oregon.
I guess I'll write about you, Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish did just fine, checking in with the No. 12 recruiting class. They picked up an offensive lineman here (Tommy Kramer, Rivals No. 41; Liam Echenberg, 194) and a five-star LB there (Daelin Hayes, 31 and the last five-star in the rankings), maybe a few wide receivers (Javon McKinley, 59; Chase Claypool, 109) along the way. Just a leisurely recruiting jog. They've lost the likes of WR William Fuller, T Ronnie Stanley and RB C.J. Prosise, but the core of the offense remains and this recruiting lull (and it's a very small lull) probably won't change their record this year.
A Few Bonus Words
I think I've heard this story before
If Alabama reloading for the nth time isn't samey enough for you, I've got a few more. First, let's start with Nick Bosa (21), younger bro of Joey Bosa (who's could well be frantically calling Eli Manning as we speak to ask how one gets traded away from the San Diego(?) Chargers). Bosa the Younger is actually considered a more advanced prospect than Bosa the Elder was at this time in his development. Unfortunately, he suffered a knee injury during his senior season at St. Thomas Aquinas and it's uncertain as to when he'll be ready to return. But when he does, another Bosa will be running around wrecking the Big Ten. So that'll be something you've already seen. We've touched on Devin Duvernay, who measures eerily close to Corey Coleman in terms of height and weight. And down at Auburn, Gus Malzahn continues a quest, perhaps an impossible quest: To replicate his championship season with Cam Newton. It didn't quite work with Nick Marshall, it's not looking great for Jeremy Johnson (who was benched midseason after a horrendous start) and I'm guessing, unfortunately for the Tigers, it's not going to pan out with Woody Barrett (n/a), who has athletic ability and accuracy issues. But you never know. You can't blame Malzahn for trying to find someone who can run his system to perfection. We will live our entire lives with various Bosas tearing up the field until the end of eternity, but when we next see a quarterback like Newton, who carried his team to a title in college and is poised to do it again in the NFL, that's impossible to tell.