Ultimate Guide to 2018 National Signing Day

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystFebruary 6, 2018

Ultimate Guide to 2018 National Signing Day

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    Nicholas Petit-Frere
    Nicholas Petit-FrereAndrew Ivins (247Sports)

    Wednesday's national signing day is just around the corner, and we've put together a primer to let you know what has already transpired and what more to expect.

    The big thing you'll likely hear is that this isn't as big of a deal as it used to be, which is undeniably true. There was a 72-hour "early" signing period in late December, but so many players signed their national letters of intent during that time that February now feels like the late signing period as opposed to the normal one.

    Still, it's a crucial day that will help frame the trajectory of programs for years to come. The teams lucky enough to sign remaining uncommitted stars like Patrick Surtain Jr., Nicholas Petit-Frere or Tyson Campbell will get quite the boost. There shouldn't be too much moving and shaking in the class rankings, but those potential instant-impact players will provide the exception to the rule.

    But let's not get ahead of ourselves. We'll first discuss the top players and classes in this year's recruiting cycle, and then we'll dive into the burning questions and some thoughts on the top unsigned players. And while there shouldn't be anywhere near as much flipping on national signing day as there has been in years past, read to the end to find out about the one player who could make a major last-minute shift.

Who Is the Best Player in the Country?

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    Trevor Lawrence
    Trevor LawrenceDanny Parker (Scout.com)

    The answer to this question depends on what type of quarterback you prefer.

    Pro-style signal-caller Trevor Lawrence and dual-threat field general Justin Fields have been jostling for the top spot in the recruiting rankings for quite some time. It's kind of wild they also played for high schools separated by just 15 miles in northwestern Georgia.

    Fields is a whole lot of fun to watch and should immediately contend for playing time with the Georgia Bulldogs.

    He had at least 20 passing touchdowns and 15 rushing touchdowns in each of his last two seasons at Harrison High in Kennesaw. It'll only be a matter of time before he accounts for a Lamar Jackson-like 300 passing yards, 100 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a single game. He may not be the most polished player in the country, but there's a strong case to be made that he's the most dynamic.

    Lawrence, on the other hand, is taking his cannon of a right arm and his 6'6" frame to Clemson.

    Over the past three seasons at Cartersville High, he threw for more than 10,000 yards and 134 touchdowns against just 14 interceptions. As a senior, his touchdown-to-interception ratio was 40-to-1. The NFL will need to wait until at least 2021 before it can get its hands on him, but he's so physically gifted that he would probably get drafted this April if he were eligible.

    Kelly Bryant, Jake Fromm and at least a dozen others will have a say in the matter, but it wouldn't be all that shocking if Fields and Lawrence gave college football fans a second consecutive year of true freshmen quarterbacks battling for the national championship.

Who Will Have the No. 1 Class?

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    Kirby Smart
    Kirby SmartDavid Goldman/Associated Press

    As with the top player, the top class is a toss-up between two options: Ohio State and Georgia.

    At the moment, the Buckeyes are slightly ahead of the Bulldogs, 311.2-309.2. I have no earthly idea how those scores are calculated, but I do know that's a razor-thin margin compared to the drop-off to team No. 3 (Texas, 298.2), which is well ahead of team No. 4 (Penn State: 280.4).

    Though Ohio State has two 5-star recruitsneither of whom is ranked in the 247Sports composite top 15it is loaded with second-tier studs. Urban Meyer signed 10 of the top 75 incoming freshmen, as well as the No. 1 JUCO transfer, DT Antwuan Jackson Jr.

    The Buckeyes have had a combined 16 players selected in the first three rounds of the past two NFL drafts and will likely have another five or six taken there this April. But with recruiting classes like these, it's no wonder Ohio State finishes in the top 10 of the polls year after year.

    Meanwhile, Georgia has six of the top 25 incoming players in the nation and has a reasonable expectation of landing at least one more on national signing day. If that happens, it would be the first time in the 247Sports databasewhich dates back to 2000that a team signed seven 5-star recruits in one class.

    The Dawgs have had a top-eight class in each of the last four years, but this one blows those out of the water. Kirby Smart is quickly turning this program into what should be one of the top preseason favorites for the national championship on an annual basis.

Other Powerhouses to Watch

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    Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney
    Nick Saban and Dabo SwinneyGerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Alabama Crimson Tide

    We'll have more to say about Alabama in the "Burning Questions" section, but it's worth noting here that Nick Saban, per usual, has a darn fine collection of incoming talent.

    There aren't as many 5-star guys as we typically see choosing the Crimson Tide. In fact, there's just one committed 5-star recruit (Eyabi Anoma) and only one other commit in the 247Sports composite top 70 (No. 31 Quay Walker). But they are loaded with 4-star guys and are still working to land some of the top remaining prospects.

        

    Clemson Tigers

    Dabo Swinney has a small but mighty class of 15, one-third of whom are of the 5-star variety. Trevor Lawrence leads the pack, but Clemson also signed No. 3 Xavier Thomas, No. 14 KJ Henry, No. 17 Jackson Carman and No. 26 Derion Kendrick.

    Because of the lack of quantity of players in the class, the Tigers are only ranked No. 8. In terms of quality, though, Clemson is easily in the top five and headed for a few more years of vying for the national championship.

        

    LSU Tigers

    LSU is typically one of the top challengers to Alabama for the best recruiting class in the nation. The Tigers have ranked in the top seven in each of the past five years, including landing at No. 2 in both 2014 and 2016.

    Heading into national signing day, though, they aren't quite dominating like they usually do.

    This could change in a big way, as LSU is the heavy favorite to sign the highest-rated recruit still on the board, Patrick Surtain Jr. If he were to spurn the Bayou Bengals, though, they might finish outside the top 15 for the first time since 2002.

Programs on the Rise

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    Matt Rhule
    Matt RhuleCooper Neill/Getty Images

    Baylor Bears

    Baylor was never a top-10 destination for recruits, and the Bears had even more difficulty luring quality recruits in the aftermath of the sexual assault scandal. Their class ranked 40th in each of the previous two years. But Matt Rhule has this program pointed back in the right direction, as it enters national signing day ranked No. 24. After they signed just one 4-star recruit in the past two seasons combined, the Bears already have six such players committed in this class.

        

    Miami Hurricanes

    The U is back on the recruiting trail. Miami has been trending upward in the past few years after a disappointing 2015 class that ranked 27th nationally. Led by 5-star running back Lorenzo Lingard, the Hurricanes have signed five top-100 recruits and have the fifth-best class. It's the first time the Canes have ranked in the top nine since they signed the No. 1 class in 2008. And if they nab 5-star cornerback Tyson Campbell, they might even sneak into the top three.

        

    Penn State Nittany Lions

    From 2001 to 2017, Penn State had only one class ranked in the top 10 nationally. The Nittany Lions were No. 7 in 2006. Then, they didn't even rank in the top 30 from 2011-13. But with 5-star players Micah Parsons, Justin Shorter and Ricky Slade, the Nittany Lions are looking to build on back-to-back 11-win campaigns with the No. 4 recruiting class.

        

    Texas Longhorns

    Recruiting at Texas is supposed to be easy. Mack Brown almost always had a top-15 class, if not one in the top five in the nation. But the Longhorns ranked No. 17 in 2013 and 2014 and were No. 25 last year.

    Tom Herman has them back near the top of the mountain, entering national signing day with the No. 3 class. The group doesn't include the bevy of 5-star talent Clemson or Georgia has, but Texas has 10 of the top 150 players in the country, including top-25 recruits Caden Sterns and BJ Foster.

        

    Minnesota Golden Gophers

    Keep in mind that "on the rise" is a relative term, as Minnesota (No. 34) isn't anywhere close to Miami, Penn State or Texas.

    For most of the 2010s, the Golden Gophers had one of the worst recruiting classes among major conference teams. 2016 (No. 46) was the only year Minnesota ranked in the top 50 nationally, and it still wasn't enough to finish in the top half of the Big Ten. P.J. Fleck isn't signing top-100 recruits just yet, but it's clear he has made the Gophers more appealing than they have been in a while.

Burning Questions

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    Willie Taggart
    Willie TaggartMark Wallheiser/Associated Press

    Can Florida State recover from a slow start?

    The Seminoles have had multiple 5-star recruits in nine of their last 10 classes. The one exception was 2016, when they got one 5-star and 17 4-stars and finished with the third-best class in the nation.

    But after a disappointing season and a coaching change, the program is in unfamiliar territory. It will enter national signing day without a single 5-star commitment and a class ranked 15th.

    There are several top-50 recruits still available, but 247Sports doesn't list Florida State as anything better than "cool" on any of them. As a result, the 'Noles might not be adding any big names.

        

    Will Alabama reclaim the throne?

    The Crimson Tide has had the No. 1 recruiting class in seven straight years and has not ranked below No. 4 since 2007. It is No. 6, but how much will that change by the end of Wednesday?

    Whereas Florida State is unlikely to sign any of the nine uncommitted top-50 players, Alabama is listed as "warm" or "warmer" on all but one of them. As far as the 247Sports crystal ball predictions are concerned, Nick Saban is only the favorite on two of the nine. But does anyone seriously think he's getting fewer than three of his targets?

    Climbing all the way to No. 1 might not be possible, given how strong the classes of Georgia and Ohio State are. But Alabama could certainly jump up to No. 3 by landing a few of those top-50 recruits.

        

    Where the heck is Stanford?

    The Cardinal was one of the biggest winners of 2017 national signing day, nabbing three of the top 15 recruits in the nation and finishing with a top-25 class for the fourth consecutive season.

    This year, Stanford will enter national signing day ranked at No. 45.

    David Shaw typically signs smaller classes than most, and the quality of players already in this class is solid. Moreover, the team is probably going to get 4-star quarterback Tanner McKee and has a great shot at 4-star linebacker Dax Hollifield. Signing either of those guys would get Stanford into the top 40. Signing both might be enough for it to sneak onto the fringe of the top 25.

    Nevertheless, it's jarring to see Stanford's class ranked in the same vicinity as Indiana and Syracuse given its recent success both on the field and on the recruiting trail.

Headliners

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    Patrick Surtain Jr.
    Patrick Surtain Jr.Andrew Ivins (247Sports)

    Though most 5-star recruits signed their national letters of intent in December and are already on their respective college campuses, there are still a handful of big fish left in the pond.

    These are the guys who are going to make the most noteworthy splashes on national signing day, likely shaking up the top 10 class rankings.

    5-star CB Patrick Surtain Jr. (No. 1 CB, No. 6 overall): There are four cornerbacks in the 247Sports composite top 35, and not one of them has signed with a program yet. It seems everyone is waiting on Surtain to make his decision. For years, LSU has been the heavy favorite to sign the son of the former three-time Pro Bowler, but Alabama and Florida State are pushing hard to get him.

    5-star OT Nicholas Petit-Frere (No. 1 OT, No. 7 overall): Petit-Frere is a bit smaller than your average 5-star offensive tackle, weighing in at just 272 pounds. But he has the hands and footwork to be an All-American if and when he packs on a bit of mass. Florida has high hopes that the young man from Tampa will suit up with the Gators. He is also being courted by Alabama, Notre Dame, Michigan and Ohio State.

    5-star CB Tyson Campbell (No. 2 CB, No. 12 overall): Campbell runs faster than greased lightning and is a strong candidate to become a first-round draft pick with the proper coaching. Considering Urban Meyer's recent history of top draft picks from the secondary, Ohio State is on the short list of teams with a realistic shot. Georgia and Miami are Campbell's more likely destinations, though.

    5-star CB Olaijah Griffin (No. 3 CB, No. 28 overall): One of the top recruits from the state of California, most of the experts believe Griffin will stick close to home and attend USC. But this could be how Jeremy Pruitt hits the ground running as the head coach at Tennessee. The former defensive back who coached the position before becoming a coordinator is all-in on trying to steal Griffin from the West Coast.

    4-star QB Tanner McKee (No. 3 QB, No. 46 overall): There are a few wide receivers and cornerbacks in the overall top 50 who are still on the open market, but the primary 4-star recruit to keep an eye on is McKee. From Corona, California, he is expected to sign with Stanford, but Texas A&M, Washington and BYU are all candidates to swoop in and ink this potential program-changer.

Teams to Watch

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    Jimbo Fisher
    Jimbo FisherSam Craft/Associated Press

    For the most part, national signing day is going to be a collection of small ripples rather than big waves. After all, there are only six unsigned 5-star recruits and only nine extra top-50 players still available.

    On the other hand, the small collection of teams able to sign those players will be the big winnersespecially the ones who land more than one of them.

    These are the teams in the running to do so.

    Texas A&M Aggies

    Targeting: S Leon O'Neal Jr., WR Jaylen Waddle, CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart

    From the moment Jimbo Fisher made the move from Florida State to Texas A&M, Aggies recruiting became one of the top stories to monitor this offseason. A&M is listed as the favorite to sign O'Neal, and it has a good shot at getting Waddleboth of whom attended Texas high schools. And there's at least a chance Taylor-Stuart also chooses the Aggies. If you have to predict one team to be the big winner, this one wouldn't be a bad choice.

        

    Florida Gators

    Targeting: OT Nicholas Petit-Frere, WR Jacob Copeland, OT William Barnes

    Only 15 247Sports experts have offered a guess at where Petit-Frere will sign, but more than two-thirds of them expect him to suit up for the Gators. That would be huge for a class that does not include a top-80 player. There's also a 70 percent chance Florida signs Copeland. If they got both, it would likely vault the Gators into the top 10 from their position at No. 18.

        

    Oregon Ducks

    Targeting: OG Penei Sewell, WR Devon Williams

    Oregon is the heavy favorite to sign Sewell and Williams, each of whom is a top-60 recruit. That would be one hell of a finish to a recruiting cycle in which the Ducks' head coach has changed from Mark Helfrich to Willie Taggart to Mario Cristobal.

        

    USC Trojans

    Targeting: CB Olaijah Griffin, CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart, WR Devon Williams, OG Penei Sewell

    USC is the wild card. The Trojans have two commits, are big favorites to sign two more and have an 18 percent chance on another. It could be a huge national signing day for a team just outside the top 10 in the class rankings. Even if USC whiffs on all its targets, though, it'll still be in good shape.

Ranking the Power 5 Conferences

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    D'Andre Swift
    D'Andre SwiftJohn Bazemore/Associated Press

    There's still plenty to be determined on National Signing Day, but there's a clear hierarchy of the power conferences based on what we know thus far.

        

    1. SEC

    Top 4 Classes: Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, LSU

    The SEC isn't quite as dominant as it usually is. Last year, this conference was responsible for six of the top 13 classes. The year before that, it was seven of the top 14. But with a day remaining until national signing day, it only has four of this year's top 17. Still, top to bottom, there's no question which league is bringing in the most talent.

        

    2. Big Ten

    Top 4 Classes: Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, Nebraska

    The Buckeyes and Nittany Lions have two of the best classes in the nation. If the Big Ten had one more team in the top 10, it would have a strong case for the top spot. However, things drop off in a hurry after those two. Michigan is comfortably in the top 20, but there might not be another top-25 class when the smoke clears.

        

    3. ACC

    Top 4 Classes: Miami, Clemson, Florida State, Virginia Tech

    Like the Big Ten, the ACC has a pair of great classes leading what is otherwise a lackluster group. We've already discussed Florida State's disappointing class. Virginia Tech and North Carolina State aren't bringing much to the table, either, and they're in better shape than more than half the ACC.

        

    4. Big 12

    Top 4 Classes: Texas, Oklahoma, TCU, Baylor

    Lather, rinse, repeat. The Big 12 has two stellar classes up top. Tom Herman is already building a monster at Texas, and Oklahoma has its best crop of incoming freshmen since 2010. But there's a steep decline to TCU and Baylor outside the top 20 and another drop to Oklahoma State and West Virginia in the middle of the pack.

        

    5. Pac-12

    Top 4 Classes: USC, Washington, Oregon, UCLA

    There's still time to change this, but the Pac-12 does not have a top-10 class. It was unequivocally the worst power conference last season, and this won't help close that gap. That said, USC, Washington and Oregon have each done well in recruiting this year and could cement themselves as the Pac-12 teams to beat for years to come.

Will Anyone Flip?

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    Quay Walker
    Quay WalkerAndrew Ivins (247Sports)

    One of the biggest reasons national signing day has become its own spectator sport over the years is the flipping of recruits. Hat ceremonies and commitment videos are cool, but sometimes a 4-star recruit's flipping can be even bigger news than a 5-star's signing.

    There are any number of reasons for a high school kid to change their mind about the college they once felt could be their next home. Maybe the program signed multiple other players at their position and they want to go somewhere they're more likely to earn playing time. Maybe there was a coaching change that left them uncomfortable with their future. Or maybe they just had a great visit elsewhere and experienced buyer's remorse.

    Whatever the cause, until pen touches paper, there's always a chance of a flip.

    However, there were already a ton of pens on papers in December, making it unlikely there will be any high-profile flips on national signing day. Basically, all the top-50 recruits who have committed have also already signed their national letters of intent. Many of them are already enrolled at those colleges.

    One name to keep an eye on, though, is Quay Walker. The linebacker committed to Alabama in June, but he took visits to Tennessee and Auburn in January and Georgia on Thursday. Florida and Florida State are also hoping to flip the No. 31 player in the class.

    But don't expect a free-for-all. If there's more than one top-150 player who flips Wednesday, it'd be a surprise.