Months, even years of hard work between college football coaching staffs and top recruits across the nation came together on Wednesday with the beginning of the early signing period for the Class of 2020. Countless hours building relationships both in-person and over the phone between coaches and players covering gridiron schemes, academics, and campus life were brought together and formalized with hundreds signing a National Letter of Intent. Heading into the momentous event, some college football staffs were poised for a stellar day while others came out on the short end of the proverbial stick.
When each signing period opens up, most of the high-achieving programs are well-prepared for what is about to happen with very few surprises… this was not the case for some on Wednesday. Clemson and Alabama entered the day one-two respectively in the rankings followed by LSU, Ohio State, and Texas A&M.
After all the NLIs were faxed in on Wednesday, Ohio State jumped to No. 3 followed by Georgia, dropping LSU to fifth with Texas A&M in sixth place. The SEC and Big 12 continued their recruiting domination on the national landscape with Auburn coming in at No. 7 followed by Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma to round out the top 10. The rest of the top 25 was filled by three Big Ten, three Pac-12, four ACC, and four SEC squads. This means that Wednesday was not a good day overall for the Big 12 or any Group of 5 conference.
Early Signing Period High Achievers
Going into the signing period, the Clemson was set with 22 commits that included six five-star players. The Tigers' historic feat of landing six top recruits was bolstered by adding their 11th four-star recruit, Highland Springs (Va.) High School safety Malcom Greene. The bonus in the Clemson clubhouse, Greene was a flip from LSU. The ACC Tigers’ domination was such, three of their signees were regarded as the best at their position in the nation; defensive tackle Bryan Bresee, defensive end Myles Murphy, and pro-style quarterback DJ Uiagalelei.
There is no denying the Volunteers are building something special in Knoxville. After a 2-5 start to the 2019 season, Tennessee won its final five games to become bowl eligible and has a date with Indiana in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2. Second-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt capitalized on the forward momentum and opportunity for early playing time with a run on Wednesday. The Volunteers jumped from 22nd nationally into the No. 15 spot by increasing their four-star total from nine to 12 and their three-star prospects from eight to 10. The big “gets” of the day were four-star defensive end Morven Joseph and Tyler Baron along with linebacker Len’Neth Whitehead. The Volunteers now have 23 commits with room to inch up to their Class of 2019 No. 13 ranking come Feb. 7.
Florida State Seminoles
Beyond the sheer volume of outstanding recruits landed by Clemson, Florida State may have had the most impressive day of any Power 5 program. After Willie Taggart was dismissed from the sidelines in Tallahassee, the outlook to land a solid 2020 class for the Seminoles was not promising. But no one would have guessed the enthusiasm former Memphis head coach Mike Norvell has brought to the recruiting trail. With the Noles’ recruiting stock plummeting, not only did Norvell and Co. hold down the fort but added substantially to the haul, jumping from 26th in the team rankings to 21st. The rise was brought about with five new players, adding four-stars Bryan Robinson at receiver and flipping dual-threat QB Chubba Purdy from Louisville mitigating the previous deflection of Sandalwood (Fla.) High School’s Jeff Sims (Georgia Tech). Norvell not only got his quarterback of the future, but now has momentum to push his first recruiting class into the top 15, which would be an improvement over last year’s ranking at No. 19.
Depending on one’s point of view, LSU either had a really bad day or impressed by rebounding from two pieces of bad news. The Tigers dropped from third in the nation to fifth losing aforementioned four-star Malcom Greene and five-star receiver Rakim Jarrett to Maryland early Wednesday morning. LSU took another hit late in the day when long-time, four-star California receiver commit Jermaine Burton decided Georgia was his ideal fit. Instead of moping, the Tigers’ staff stayed busy, adding to their haul landing four-stars in linebacker Phillip Webb and offensive tackle Marcus Dumervil. Despite the optics of losing two high-profile recruits, the Tigers’ 2020 class is loaded with two five-stars and 13 four-stars with room to improve heading into February.
After back-to-back two-win seasons under former head coach Chad Morris, a new head coach in Sam Pittman who has never been a head coach, and an incomplete coaching staff that does not include an offensive coordinator, yet the Razorbacks had an impressive day gathering new commitments. Ranked 120th looking up in the rankings at Wyoming, UTSA, Princeton, and Central Michigan with six three-star commitments, the Hogs closed the day adding four including flipping four-star Oklahoma safety Myles Slusher from Oregon. Thanks to new defensive coordinator Barry Odom, the Razorbacks also flipped two Mizzou recruits; three-star lineman Ray Curry Jr. and Texas running back Dominique Johnson. They also added Louisiana linebacker Kelin Burrle, a one-time four-star recruit who had verbally committed to UTSA in the summer. Still, this class has a long way to go as the lowest-ranked Power 5 team on the recruiting trail.
Without the specifics, one would not think much of anything happened to Oregon on Wednesday, but a lot went down. The Ducks entered the day at No. 16 and closed at the same position, but suffered through losing four-star Calabasas receiver Johnny Wilson, a former five-star, to Arizona State, and the aforementioned Myles Slusher to the Razorbacks. Oregon did not go quietly, however, adding four-star quarterback Robby Ashford and shocked the nation by securing their second five-star recruit in California linebacker Justin Flowe. Fan bases at Clemson and USC, among others, were hopeful he would go their way on signing day. The Ducks have a solid foundation to build off of going forward with 22 total commits.
Had a Bad Day
Life in Los Angeles has not been easy for USC head coach Clay Helton. After posting 10- and 11-win campaigns in his first two full seasons with the Trojans, Helton has gone just 13-12 (11-7 in the Pac-12) since. Given the fertile recruiting grounds of the LA area, Helton underperformed with his 2019 class, finishing 20th nationally. As “hot seat” rumors swirl around his tenuous position, securing a highly regarded class could cool the watercooler talk. Yet, in a head-scratching day, USC started off 80th in the FBS ranks and ended at No. 78 adding only three-star defensive tackle Tuli Tuipulotu from nearby Lawndale High School. The Trojans normally close strong in February, but that might not happen this time around. Of the four-star recruits left in California, there are just five uncommitted players. USC will have to greatly expand its recruiting grounds if the Trojans want to come close to signing a top-20 class in 2020.
At the end of the 2016 college football season, Tom Herman was a rising star in the coaching ranks at the University of Houston. Texas jumped on Herman to replace Charlie Strong and has come up with mixed reviews (shading to the negative). Two seven-win seasons weigh heavily but have been sandwiched by a 10-win 2018 run with a Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia. The Longhorns' 2019 class was impressive, ranked No. 3 overall with two five-stars and 15 four-star players. Texas went into Wednesday ranked No. 10 with 16 commits and somehow came out at No. 9, adding only a three-star prospect. Make no mistake, a top-10 recruiting class is fantastic, but this is Texas, which comes with bigger expectations. Comparatively, Texas A&M is rocking it at No. 6 nationally with Oklahoma at No. 10. The state of Texas has 53 players rated as four-star or higher prospects, only nine remain uncommitted.
Even if one does not like Louisville be it as a Kentucky Wildcats fan or at a rival ACC school, those with compassion have to feel for head coach Scott Satterfield and staff. Coming off an improbable 7-5 (5-3 ACC), regular season in Satterfield's debut, the Cardinals appeared ready to take that next big step with a tremendous recruiting class – and then everything seemingly fell apart. Perched at No. 30 nationally with 25 commits, the Cards were then blindsided by three-star defensive end Josh Griffis and four-star QB Chubba Purdy flipping to Florida State. Louisville dropped to No. 39, ending the day with 24 commits, all three-stars. There may not be much room for advancement if a full class is taken at 25 players. The only in-state, four-star prospect left is safety Vito Tisdale. The silver lining, the Cards already had a quarterback in the haul with Tee Webb out of Georgia.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.
(Top photo by Andrew Salinero/FSU Athletics, courtesy of @FSUFootball)