National signing day isn't national signing day without some surprises. Prognosticators and recruiting services get better at their jobs and more precise each and every year, yet they're still trying to accurately gauge the minds of people who were just recently allowed to drive after midnight.
It's an inherently flawed process, but one that engenders itself to whatever fun you can gleam from these festivities. Gawking and hooting and hollering at the decisions of 18-year-old kids is unavoidably icky and highlights the corruption of college sports. But there is this schadenfreudian feeling you get when a middle-aged fan throws an absolute hissy fit when these kids don't choose their school.
The surprises expose the stupid and make everything fun.
Plus, there has to be some satisfaction from these kids making everyone look foolish. Folks track their every move like they have honing devices attached, so that the gigantic "HA!" moment when you prove everyone wrong comes with some level of pleasure.
And everyone is cheering for you. That typically helps. I know when I chose Penn State, it made me feel awfully great to hear the raucous cheers. And those were just coming from my mother, who was pleased to not be chipping in on out-of-state tuition. The people who cheered for these high-profile recruits actually had a vested interest in where they landed.
With that in mind, let's quickly recap national signing day by highlighting a couple of the biggest surprises.
Rashaan Evans, LB, Auburn (Ala.) High School, Committed to Alabama
Here's one pretty much everyone got wrong. Including Auburn themselves. Coming into Wednesday's press conference, Evans was considered a borderline lock to stick around his hometown and become a Tiger.
247Sports' Crystal Ball had him pegged as a 96 percent favorite to attend Auburn. His father played running back there in the 1980s. Gus Malzahn and other members of the Auburn coaching staff even attended Evans' grandfather's 80th birthday party—a sign of solidarity, and one that received a bit of curious attention.
Hell, Auburn even thought it was a done deal. As noted by Andrew Bone of TideSports, the Tigers' official website even had him listed as being on the roster, equipped with a ready-to-go biography and everything:
Ummmm...Oops? pic.twitter.com/ZOpTOY7Nvq— Andrew Bone (@AndrewJBone) February 5, 2014
Looks like it isn't home sweet home after all. Not only will Evans not attend Auburn, he'll be spurning Malzahn and Co. for the rival Alabama Crimson Tide, according to ESPN.com.
"When I was up there at the podium, I was thinking, 'Man, maybe I should go to Auburn,'" Evans said on Wednesday, per ESPN. "But then I really thought about it, and Alabama was the best place for me."
A 5-star recruit at local Auburn High, Evans was considered the top outside linebacker prospect in the nation and the second-best player in the state of Alabama. He's one of a whole heaping pile of recruits Nick Saban landed on Wednesday and throughout the 2014 recruiting trail, proving the coach still has some skills even when the Tide don't win the national championship.
He's the second player in as many years from Auburn High to spurn the local university. Last year, highly touted 5-star linebacker Reuben Foster did the same, bucking a commitment to Auburn to eventually land in Tuscaloosa. Evans and Foster are close friends from their time as teammates, and the former indicated the latter's decision swayed his own.
"It impacted my decision very much," Evans said, via the same ESPN report. "Me and Reuben, we played together in high school and we've had a great relationship. ... He's influenced me a lot."
Malzahn did a great job of rebuilding Auburn University in his first year as head coach. We'll have to see if he'll be able to do the same at Auburn High School in the coming years.
Treon Harris, ATH/QB, Booker T. Washington (Fla.) High School, Committed to Florida
Make that 2-of-2 in surprises sorely affecting BCS National Championship Game participants. Harris initially committed to the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles in July (ESPN Insider subscription).
Before Jameis Winston. Before the crystal football. Before all the good things you'd think would engender a young man to a campus.
Harris had chosen Florida State over Miami. ACC schools, at the time, seemed to be his only concern—and his decision to attend FSU over the local school seemed to indicate a rather firm commitment.
In a somewhat surprising move, Harris flipped his commitment on Wednesday and decided to become a Florida Gator, per the Orlando Sentinel's Edgar Thompson. For those who had been paying close attention, Florida was becoming an increasingly likely option as the Gators coaching staff put on a full-court press.
They liked how Harris, a dual-threat quarterback, would fit within a spread system and very likely played on every kid's desire to play early.
Where he ultimately lands for the Gators, though, remains to be seen. Will Muschamp already landed the highly touted Will Grier, a 4-star recruit considered the second-best pro-style quarterback in the nation by 247Sports. Grier's commitment was seen as a major coup for Muschamp when it happened. It's unlikely that Harris will have the first crack at being the starting quarterback among incoming freshmen.
Ranked as the No. 123-overall player and No. 9 athlete, Harris has the skill set and athleticism to fit in elsewhere if needed.
"Undersized at the QB position but a dynamic player with the football in his hands," Craig Haubert, an ESPN recruiting analyst said, per Jared Shanker of ESPN. "[He] could possibly move to corner for the Gators."
Jimbo Fisher, while certainly disappointed, probably isn't crying into his bowl of Cheerios too hard here.
Winston still has at least one more year in Tallahassee, Sean Maguire is waiting behind him and the Seminoles landed 4-star quarterback JJ Cosentino on signing day. Something tells me Florida State's talent cupboard is going to be juuuuuust fine.
Isaiah McKenzie, WR, American Heritage (Fla.) High School, Committed to Georgia
Mark Richt is far slyer than anyone gives him credit. One of the SEC's longest-tenured coaches, Richt often comes up only in passing when discussing the hierarchy of the nation's most powerful conference.
He's not as accomplished as Les Miles or Nick Saban, so he rarely gets brought up among the "best" tier. He's not as shiny and new as someone like Gus Malzahn, whose one-year resurrection of Auburn became instant legend. He's not as embattled as Will Muschamp nor as charming with the media as Steve Spurrier.
Overall, Richt is just a steady dude. He could probably do a better job at Georgia, but he could certainly do a worse one.
But after national signing day, it's clear that if you're not watching him, he'll come and steal your touted recruit in the dead of night. Isaiah McKenzie wasn't supposed to be considering Georgia. The Bulldogs were completely off the radar for most of the process, and they didn't even have a hat on the table when McKenzie came out to announce his decision.
Florida, Ole Miss and Virginia Tech were supposedly the only considerations. All good programs with storied histories, it stood to reason that there was no malfeasance afoot.
Right until 5-star Georgia commit Sony Michel came out of the woodwork with a Bulldogs cap, McKenzie placed it on his head and the teammates celebrated their renewed three-plus-year commitment together, per Mike Farrell of Rivals.com.
It was a shock to some and a nose-thumbing that makes this stuff so great. McKenzie, a 5'8" receiver who will probably spend his entire career in the slot, received a 4-star grade from 247Sports and is the No. 44 wide receiver in the nation. He doesn't have the ideal top-end foot speed you'd want from a slot guy, but he is still incredibly quick and shifty on his feet.
As for why Georgia wasn't put on the radar before, it's simple: The Bulldogs hadn't offered him a scholarship before this past Monday, per John Taylor of College Football Talk.
Marc Richt, surprising everyone and frustrating Gators, Rebels and Hokies nationwide.
All recruiting information comes via 247Sports.
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