Early National Signing Day 2018: Odds, Predictions for Top Football Recruits

Adam Wells@adamwells1985Featured ColumnistDecember 14, 2018

Source: 247Sports

For the second successive year, the nation's top football recruits will have a three-day window to sign a national letter of intent to get an early start on their upcoming college career.

Early National Signing Day 2018 will run for three days from Dec. 19-21. In addition to giving players a headstart on their future, it offers teams a chance to determine their early strengths in recruiting and continue to pursue other positions before the February's traditional National Signing Day. 

Here is a look at the top players expected to commit during the early signing period and predictions for which school they will attend. 

           

Zach Harrison, DE, Olentangy Orange HS (OH)

Hailing from Lewis Center, Ohio, Zach Harrison figures to be the most sought-after recruit during the early signing period. 

Per 247Sports, he is a 5-star prospect who is ranked as the No. 4 overall player in the 2019 class. The crystal ball rankings give Michigan a 62-31 percent edge over Ohio State to land the star defensive end. 

Recruiting for the Buckeyes has been difficult to project after the announcement that Urban Meyer will step down after the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1. Offensive coordinator Ryan Day, who served as interim head coach for the first three games in 2018 when Meyer was suspended, will take over on a full-time basis. 

Ohio State has a strong incoming class already with 16 commitments, including two 5-star players. Harrison will be the program's first test since Meyer made his intentions known. 

Per Steve Lorenz of the Michigan Insider, Meyer took more of a hands-off approach in Harrison's recruiting because the Olentangy Orange star "did not see eye to eye" with the Ohio State coach. 

Despite Meyer's retirement, Lorenz noted the Buckeyes' odds of landing Harrison didn't necessarily improve because he's had "little to no contact" with Day throughout the recruiting process. 

Running back Giles Jacksona 2019 recruit also on Michigan's radar—told Evan Petzold of Wolverines Wire last month that Harrison's relationship with Michigan commit Joey Velazquez could play a role in the Ohio native's decision. 

"I think it could happen, honestly," Jackson said. "(Harrison) talks to our other commit Joey mostly because they live so close."

It's been a difficult time for the Wolverines in their rivalry with Ohio State, but Jim Harbaugh seems poised to score a huge victory when Harrison makes his decision. 

Prediction: Harrison commits to Michigan

             

Nolan Smith, DE, IMG Academy

The nation's No. 1 overall recruit in 2019, Nolan Smith gave a verbal commitment to Georgia in January 2017. He noted in the announcement that his recruitment would remain open to other schools until officially signing. 

A funny thing has happened on Smith's journey to Athens: He was among the group of 2019 recruits who took an official visit to Tuscaloosa for the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn on Nov. 24. 

According to 247Sports' crystal ball rankings, Georgia still leads the race for Smith at 56 percent. Alabama is in second at 22 percent, followed by Clemson and undecided tied at 11 percent. 

Per Mike Farrell of Rivals.com, there have been some strong indications that Smith will give Alabama another win over Georgia by the time this recruiting season comes to an end:

"I think he flips to Alabama. That's everything I've heard. A lot of people think it's already a done deal that he's going to do that. I don't think it's advantageous. Both programs are great. Both programs would probably use him the same way and he's going to be successful no matter what. Alabama is going to close really strong. It is the best team in the country and always in the top two or three when it comes to recruiting."

It probably doesn't hurt the Crimson Tide's chances that they have defeated Georgia both times the teams squared off in 2018—the College Football Playoff Championship Game in January and SEC Championship Game in November. 

The Bulldogs won't go quietly in the race to sign Smith, though. He has a personal connection to the program after growing up in Savannah, Georgia. There's a reason he gave head coach Kirby Smart an early commitment. 

Until Smith says otherwise, expect Georgia to celebrate his official commitment, possibly as soon as the early signing period. 

Prediction: Smith commits to Georgia

               

Chris Steele, CB, St. John Bosco (CA)

Cornerback Chris Steele has attracted the attention of SEC and Pac-12 powers like Florida, USC and Oregon.

It's not hard to see why those programs want to entice him. The California native is a 4-star prospect and No. 40 overall player in the 2019 class. He's listed at 6'1" and 187 pounds already, making him physically capable of stepping into a college defense as a true freshman.

Per CBS Sports' Barton Simmons, Steele intends to sign with a school this month before publicly announcing his decision in the new year during the Blue-Grey All-American Bowl on Jan. 5. 

Steele originally committed to USC before announcing in October he was opening up his recruiting:

Greg Biggins of 247Sports noted at the time that Florida continued to pursue Steele even after he committed to USC:

"Defensive backs coach Ron English has a great relationship with the family and we know playing in the SEC, where you can be more physical as a corner which is Steele's strength, is something that interest him.

"Not only that, Steele connected well with the players on the Gators roster. He developed solid relationships with a handful of Gator players and we know a few even reached out following his de-commitment this morning."

Unlike Smith's decision to keep his commitment open, however, Steele seems more likely to flip because of how things ended for the Trojans in 2018. 

USC was 4-2 at the time of his announcement before losing five of its final six games. Florida had a strong season, going 9-3 in Dan Mullen's first year as head coach. 

The Gators are trending upward, albeit in the SEC where Alabama and Georgia continue to reign over every other program. The competition isn't nearly as stiff for USC in the Pac-12, but the program has struggled to maintain consistency year to year since Pete Carroll left after the 2009 season. 

Prediction: Steele commits to Florida

          

All recruiting information via 247Sports.com

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