Early National Signing Day 2018: Winners and Losers for Every Power Conference

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2018

Early National Signing Day 2018: Winners and Losers for Every Power Conference

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    College football loves all the national signing day drama so much that the sport split it into two cycles per year to give us twice the shenanigans.

    Wednesday's second-ever early signing period provided its share of chaos with more flips than a gymnastics competition, new ways to announce college decisions and last-minute "what just happened" moments.

    If there's one thing this week proved, it's that the rich get richer. The four College Football Playoff participants flexed their muscle on the recruiting trail yet again, and powerhouses like Georgia, Texas and Michigan made their presence felt in the recruiting rankings as well.

    A couple of programs that have been up-and-down recently on the trail—Texas A&M and Oregonrevived their names by wrapping up stellar early signing period hauls.

    But all wasn't rosy.

    Schools like Louisville, Miami and USC have major questions that remain unanswered.

    There were some clear storylines that materialized and prospects who stood out in their major moments to shine. Let's take a look at the winners and losers from college football's early signing period.

ACC: Winners

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    Clemson really is "too deep"

    The Clemson Tigers have a football rap anthem called "We Too Deep," and it was emblazoned across all of their commitments' profiles as the faxes rolled in.

    With how coach Dabo Swinney continues to recruit, the Tigers really are as deep as anybody in the nation across the board. No matter what they lose, reinforcements await.

    Clemson continued that trend, rolling out the ACC's top class and the No. 5 overall haul in the nation so far, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Their group of 27 players includes elite cornerback Andrew Booth and 5-star receiver Frank Ladson to highlight.

    Eleven 4-star prospects ensure Swinney will continue churning out elite playmakers. The way the Tigers are developing guys, Clemson is in the College Football Playoff picture to stay.

                

    Mack Brown's return

    After a five-year hiatus from coaching college football following his dismissal from Texas, Mack Brown is back in his old stomping grounds where he coached North Carolina from 1988 to 1997.

    The 67-year-old is proving he's still got a connection with the youngsters on the recruiting trail, especially in-state.

    The Tar Heels surged up the rankings to No. 39 from relative obscurity Wednesday, flipping North Carolina product and Florida State quarterback commitment Sam Howell along with 247Sports 4-star offensive tackle Triston Miller.

    Defensive end Tomari Fox also committed Wednesday, and Brown has wide receiver Khafre Brown committed as well. It's a big step forward for UNC's program.

             

    Syracuse commit Cooper Dawson

    On a day that screams "Look at me!" as just about every high school kid makes a college decision, it gets no better than Dawson, whose commitment moment was everything that should be right with the game.

    The defensive end chose the Orange over offers from Clemson and Central Florida, among others, but he allowed his friend Kingsley Feinman to announce the choice. Feinman was born with cerebral palsy and is paraplegic.

    "I brought Kingsley out here today because he's inspired me a lot through the torn ACL process," Dawson said, according to SI.com's Khadrice Rollins. "He taught me that the only disability is a bad attitude. And if he can come around every day with this big ole smile on, I can do it just the same."

ACC: Losers

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    Louisville's rebuild

    The Cardinals made a strong hire, convincing Appalachian State alum Scott Satterfield to leave Boone and come to Louisville to try to resurrect a program Bobby Petrino ran into the ground. Jeff Brohm elected to stay at Purdue, opening the door for Satterfield.

    This isn't an overnight fix, though.

    The recruiting woes from early signing period punctuate that. The Cardinals have just five signees in a class ranked 132nd in the country behind teams such as UTEP, Coastal Carolina and North Dakota State.

    There's still time to salvage something, but Louisville is not viewed as a premier program right now.

    Satterfield wants to sign at least 10 more prospects in this year's class and told the Associated Press the next few weeks give him "more time to get out and build relationships. Hopefully, we'll sign a bunch of guys like the ones we got today."

              

    Hurricane damage

    How bad did recruiting spiral out of control for the Miami Hurricanes and Mark Richt?

    According to SBNation's Alex Kirshner, the program's decommitments would rank higher than the actual group of players who comprise the Hurricanes' No. 33-ranked class.

    Ouch.

    Miami lost players like linebacker Anthony Solomon (Michigan), cornerback Akeem Dent (Florida State), defensive end Derick Hunter (Florida State) and offensive lineman Michael Tarquin (Florida).

    The 'Canes have signed six 4-star players, five of whom will give them help at all levels of the defense. But the class began to unravel before defensive coordinator Manny Diaz left to become Temple's head coach, and the bleeding hasn't stopped.

    The downward spiral led to a spin on the popular saying that "Mark Richt has lost control of Miami recruiting."

Big Ten: Winners

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    Big Ten East

    Power in the Big Ten is heavily weighted to the East Division until Wisconsin, Purdue, Iowa and Nebraska can change it.

    A trio of elite programs on that side of the league continued to roll up with marquee playmakers Wednesday, with no end in sight to the dominance from the East.

    Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State continued to flex their muscle, finishing as the top three ranked programs in that conference at Nos. 8, 10 and 12, respectively.

    Those teams pulled dynamic players too. Michigan got one future superstar (more on that later) to go along with an impressive 15 4-star players. Though Ohio State lost some playmakers like Dwan Mathis, the first Ryan Day-led class was strong.

    The Buckeyes capped Wednesday with a pledge from 5-star defensive end Zach Harrison to go along with fellow elite players like receiver Garrett Wilson and offensive lineman Harry Miller. Reinforcements abound on the defensive side, and OSU has the highest average star rating in the league.

    Finally, PSU continued to impress with 5-star linebacker Brandon Smith, and the Nittany Lions' 16 4-star players are second only to Alabama.

               

    Michigan and Daxton Hill

    Kudos to Michigan's Daxton Hill, the nation's top-ranked safety.

    Yes, there was plenty of drama after Hill decommitted from Michigan and flipped to Alabama just 11 days before early signing period following a secretive visit to Tuscaloosa.

    Even though all's fair in recruiting and it happens every year, when a kid does that to a program at this juncture, there's little time to rally. But Hill and the Wolverines stayed in contact the following couple of weeks, and he flipped back to the Wolverines and signed.

    Hill's original decision to decommit from Michigan was stunning in its own right.

    "It caught everyone by surprise," 247Sports recruiting analyst Steve Lorenz said, according to Nick Baumgardner of the Detroit Free Press. "Since I've been doing this, I'd probably accurately say that's the first time the Michigan staff found out about a kid decommitting when we all did."

    Alabama, of course, will survive. The Tide responded by flipping Ohio State safety Jordan Battle, because that's what the Tide do. They've got kids lined up to play there.

    But Hill did a good thing, recommitting to the program he had been pledged to since September. It's a huge deal for Jim Harbaugh, who gets arguably the best defensive prospect in the nation.

                 

    Wandale Robinson

    If there's a player who's perfect for a system, it's all-purpose back Robinson in Scott Frost's offense at Nebraska.

    The Cornhuskers don't have a player like the former Kentucky commit, who flipped from the Wildcats and became a centerpiece of Frost's full class. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, get the ball in space and do a lot with it. He'll be an ideal complement to quarterback Adrian Martinez.

    As well, Nebraska could keep athlete Luke McCaffrey at quarterback like brother Dylan at Michigan, or it could get him the ball in creative ways like other brother Christian did at Stanford and still does with the Carolina Panthers.

    Frost is an innovative offensive mind, and he needs utility-knife guys like Robinson and McCaffrey to make things tick. These are going to be fun puzzle pieces.

Big Ten: Losers

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    The beginning of the Mike Locksley era at Maryland

    There wasn't enough time for Locksley to piece much together for the Terrapins. But the former Alabama offensive coordinator is known as being an excellent recruiter and should be pulling players from his talent-rich surroundings before long.

    Even so, this was a rocky start.

    Not only does Maryland have just 11 commitments, ranking 83rd nationally and dead last in the league; it also has just one 4-star player in receiver Isaiah Hazel. Locksley told reporters he has 21 or 22 scholarships available in this cycle, and he's going to get creative.

    "All those positions of need, especially coming in Year 1, if we have to use graduate transfers, junior college players, big-time high school seniors, they're all going to be utilized to fill out this class," Locksley said.

    There are going to be some early bumps, especially after the tough year on and off the field the Terrapins had. They also tried to sway Tennessee strength and conditioning coach Craig Fitzgerald to return to his alma mater, but he's electing to stay with the Vols.

    Locksley should have recruiting success, especially since he's familiar recruiting the DMV. Things can only go up from here.

               

    Rutgers. Again.

    Scarlet Knights coach Chris Ash is on shaky ground after a 1-11 season, and that's translating on the recruiting trail as they have the No. 60 class in the nation.

    Of the 17 commitments (16 signed), there are zero 4- or 5-star players. That's OK, as there's plenty of potential, but Rutgers needs some instant-impact players to turn things around in a hurry, or somebody else will be coaching them.

    New Jersey is a state with sneaky-good football talent, and Rutgers needs to keep those players home. The one 5-star prospect from Jersey (DE Antonio Alfano) signed with Alabama along with 4-star receiver John Metchie.

    Penn State signed two 4-star recruits, Notre Dame signed two, Ohio State signed one and Michigan signed one. None went to Rutgers.

    That needs to change. Failing to keep those guys home is hurting Ash. Getting out-of-state guys like Kay'Ron Adams and Aaron Young could help turn around the program, but that remains to be seen. Is this group good enough to ramp up the turnaround?

    Maybe so. But it doesn't move the needle that much on paper.

Big 12: Winners

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    Oklahoma's quarterback legacy

    If you're a star quarterback, why wouldn't you want to go to Oklahoma right now?

    Not only have the Sooners participated in the past two College Football Playoffs, they've also cultivated back-to-back Heisman Trophy signal-callers in Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. It's almost like coach Lincoln Riley is the Quarterback Whisperer.

    Next year may be Austin Kendall's turn, but Riley got his quarterback of the future in this class with 5-star prospect Spencer Rattler. He can do it all, and though he doesn't have prototypical size (6'1", 181 pounds) doesn't that make him more likely to be a star in Norman? After all, Mayfield and Murray were both small, and look what happened.

    Rattler sits at the head of a stellar class that finished the early signing period ranked seventh nationally and first in the Big 12. There's no reason to believe this Sooner Schooner will stop rolling anytime soon.

              

    The Texas secondary

    Last year, the Longhorns bolstered their secondary with a slew of high-caliber prospects, but the area was still a weak link for Tom Herman in 2018. Their pass defense ranked 115th nationally, and in the pass-happy Big 12, if you can't at least slow down opponents, it's going to be a long year.

    That should tell you just how good the rest of Texas' team was in a regular season that ended in a rematch with OU in the Big 12 Championship Game.

    Reinforcements are on the way, though. The No. 9 recruiting class features cornerbacks Kenyatta Watson and Marques Caldwell as well as safeties Tyler Owens and Chris Adimora. That's a trio of 4-star prospects and a 3-star with 6'1", 171-pound size.

    Once the 'Horns shore up that area, they're going to be an even better program.

             

    Baylor's incremental steps forward

    Matt Rhule is taking Baylor to a bowl game in just his second season in Waco as he tries to move the program forward. This year's class will help.

    247Sports named the Bears the sleeper class of the conference after they signed 19 players in a class that now ranks 36th and fourth in the league.

    "Baylor has been stockpiling athleticism and position versatility, particularly on the defensive side of the ball," 247Sports' Gabe Brooks wrote. "That theme continued Wednesday."

    Athlete Peyton Powell could play quarterback, and 4-star signal-caller Jacob Zeno signed too.

    Ten defenders are in the class, led by outside linebackers Tyrone Brown and Matt Jones. There are two other athletes who potentially could project to that side of the ball. This is a program on the rise.

Big 12: Losers

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    New coaches

    There may be brighter days ahead for Texas Tech's Matt Wells, Kansas State's Chris Klieman and Kansas' Les Miles.

    There almost have to be.

    It's a struggle recruiting for all three programs as they look to turn the page. Miles basically inherited nothing, and the Jayhawks have the nation's No. 116-ranked class. Harvard, Buffalo and Georgia Southern are a few of the programs that rank ahead of them.

    They have just 10 3-star players. With six JUCO prospects, Miles needs to hope they help turn things around quickly so building blocks follow.

    Klieman's hire was universally praised after his immense success at FCS North Dakota State, but it's going to take time to recruit to his plan at Kansas State in the post-Bill Snyder era. Snyder made his living grabbing JUCO kids, and Klieman has just one in a class that ranks 72nd.

    Wells corralled just 11 signees in the early period, and all were 3-stars. It's going to take time to build the Red Raiders, and it will have to start with a group that is currently 61st.

             

    A no-go for Holgo

    There were rumors going around after Kliff Kingsbury got fired from Texas Tech that West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was interested in the job but wasn't interviewed.

    Apparently, he isn't alone if he didn't want to call West Virginia home. As evidenced by the nation's No. 52 class, prospects had a hard time committing to go to Morgantown too.

    That's disappointing considering how great a college town it is and the immense success Holgorsen's program had in 2018 with Will Grier and Co., hanging around the playoff picture for a large swath of the season.

    With seven spots left to fill, though, WVU should move up.

    "The only two schools with as few as 16 signees that are ranked ahead of the Mountaineers nationally are Ohio State and Miami," wrote WVMetroNews' Alex Hickey.

    The best news for WVU is the top three commits are all members of the secondary. Holgorsen can develop offensive players, but getting 4-star safety Osita Smith, 4-star cornerback Dreshun Miller and 3-star safety Tykee Smith is a bonus.

    It's still a disappointing ranking considering the progress on the field last year.

Pac-12: Winners

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    Super Mario's message

    The Quack Attack is alive and well.

    When the Oregon players stood up and let the administration know a year ago they wanted Mario Cristobal to replace Willie Taggart after the latter bolted for Florida State, it was obvious the former Florida International head coach and Alabama assistant was a players' coach.

    His recruiting message solidifies it. Kids love what they're hearing from Cristobal, and his first full class with the Ducks is superb. They're ranked sixth nationally and signed the nation's No. 2 player, defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux.

    The call is resonating beyond the Pacific Northwest. Cristobal pulled Thibodeaux out of prestigious Oaks Christian School in California, where the bulk of the Ducks' class hails from.

    Tennessee receiver Lance Wilhoite continues the trend of Volunteer State pass-catchers headed to the school, joining Dillon Mitchell. Cristobal's Florida connections are prevalent in the class, and there are kids from Alabama, Texas and other places too.

    It's a thorough, strong and deep group that is the class of the conference.

              

    U-Dub's replacement party

    The Pac-12 champion Huskies are losing offensive stalwarts in quarterback Jake Browning and running back Myles Gaskin, as well as several important defenders, but reinforcements are coming.

    Georgia transfer signal-caller Jacob Eason is in line to run Chris Petersen's offense next year, but pro-style quarterback Dylan Morris looks like an excellent prospect who will either contend for the job now or in the future. Cameron Davis looks like an ideal replacement for Gaskin's workload.

    On defense, the Huskies are losing linemen like Greg Gaines and Jaylen Johnson, so it's huge that the team's two best recruits are defensive linemen Jacob Bandes and Faatui Tuitele.

    Petersen also stocked the offensive line in a class that should fortify his program for years to come. He's preparing for the Rose Bowl and enjoyed a huge class. His philosophy is working.

    "Doesn't get much better than that," he told reporters.

                        

    Jayden Daniels' immediate-impact ability

    For anybody worried about Arizona State coach Herm Edwards' ability to connect with prospects, don't.

    There are Pac-12 classes ranked higher than the Sun Devils at No. 30, but this is an exciting group of 20 players who will help the program move forward after a surprising 7-5 regular season in Edwards' first year.

    The biggest pledge came from Daniels, who chose ASU over several other top Pac-12 programs and looks like a perfect replacement for senior Manny Wilkins. The 6'3", 175-pound dual-threat quarterback was a top-100 player who will be a star in the desert.

    If Daniels struggles early, they signed another 4-star signal-caller in Joey Yellen who expects to compete. This is a very good, deep class for Edwards, and the Sun Devils may make some noise in the conference soon.

Pac-12: Losers

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    Clay Helton's benefit of the doubt

    When the USC Trojans elected to keep Clay Helton around for another year, it was a surprising move by athletic director Lynn Swann. Even though they made a splash hire by pegging Kliff Kingsbury as the offensive coordinator, it didn't quite resonate with prospects.

    Maybe they're not sure who'll be coaching them as sophomores.

    There's nothing wrong with the No. 21 class in the country, but there's also no reason the Trojans should ever be ranked that low, especially with 20 players (18 of which are signees).

    But there's still time. USC 247 reporter Ben Weber wrote about targets who could still become Trojans, such as Bru McCoy, Chris Steele and Kyle Ford, among others. There's also plenty of room remaining for USC to build the class and move up in the rankings.

    "We all know who's out there," Helton said, according to Weber.

    He'd better go get a few more of them for this to be a USC-worthy class.

                

    UCLA

    You can find the Bruins on most signing day "losers" lists. Though nobody expected Chip Kelly to light up the recruiting rankings, he still landed some stellar players and highly-rated guys in his days at Oregon.

    This UCLA class doesn't have that yet.

    The No. 48-ranked Bruins have just one 4-star in the class: offensive tackle Sean Rhyan. With an emphasis in bulking up numbers and talent along the offensive front and defensive backfield, this class (so far) met needs. But you still need difference-makers.

    Are there some in this group? It's hard to see that, at least on paper.

    "It's typically in a new coach's first full recruiting class that he sells the promise of the future and, most importantly, the potential for early playing time," USA Today's Paul Myerberg wrote. "It was fair to expect more than a class currently ranked outside the top 50 nationally."

SEC: Winners

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    Gold standards

    When it comes to recruiting rankings, the SEC is always the king of college football. That didn't change Wednesday as the signees rolled in.

    Once the smoke cleared on the first day of the early signing period, league programs held the top four spots in the rankings: Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU.

    Of course, the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs met in the SEC Championship Game, and they continue to load up on the nation's top-rated players.

    The amazing thing for coach Nick Saban's program is that it lost 5-star safety Daxton Hill, who flipped back to Michigan on Wednesday, and still finished the early period ranked first. The Tide are loaded with stars like running back Trey Sanders, who committed Wednesday, and safety Jordan Battle, a former Ohio State pledge.

    Evan Neal, a 5-star offensive lineman, committed Wednesday too.

    The Bulldogs shocked the world by flipping Ohio State dual-threat signal-caller Dwan Mathis. Wins like Nolan Smith, Nakobe Dean and Clay Webb will prove huge too. The rich, indeed, are getting richer.

              

    Fisher king

    There are enough prospects in the Lone Star State to outfit the Aggies, Longhorns and a handful of other elite programs. Coach Jimbo Fisher reaped the rewards of sitting on that hotbed during his first full season in College Station.

    It's no surprise the former Florida State coach continued his recruiting acumen; he never struggled when he was with the Seminoles. The Aggies are one of the biggest surprises in this cycle, ranked third currently with 23 signees.

    Plenty of help is needed for A&M, which anchored both trenches with stars such as 5-star offensive tackle Kenyon Green and 5-star defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal. The Aggies also are excited about a secondary haul that includes Brian Williams, Demani Richardson and Erick Young, among others.

    With quarterback Kellen Mond and a group of players who surprised on the field this year in games like a narrow home loss to Clemson and an epic seven-overtime win over LSU, the future is bright at A&M.

    This group of players should be a major boost.

             

    Hogging the prospects

    There was not a lot to be excited about in Fayetteville this year as first-year coach Chad Morris took Arkansas to a 2-10 record that rarely featured competitive games.

    But a surprisingly stellar recruiting class hopes to change that.

    The Hogs have 21 players who signed a letter of intent and currently have 27 total players in their class, led by eight 4-star players. Morris' offense is going to get a jump-start with guys like quarterback KJ Jefferson and a pair of Tennessee receivers in Trey Knox and Shamar Nash.

    "I think it's the biggest surprise of signing day," Rivals.com Southeast recruiting analyst Woody Wommack told Yahoo.com's Pete Thamel.

    Collin Clay, Mataio Soli and Zach Williams should help a nonexistent pass rush too. There are a lot of reasons to be excited about the incoming Hogs.

SEC: Losers

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    Everybody playing catch-up

    It's hard trying to surge up the list in the SEC, especially against perhaps the greatest coach in the history of the sport, Alabama's Nick Saban, and a hot coaching commodity, Saban disciple Kirby Smart, at UGA.

    Toss in Jimbo Fisher's prowess at Texas A&M and Ed Orgeron's relentless approach at LSU, and you've got madness mixed with machinery that churns out NFL players.

    That makes it nearly impossible for coaches such as Auburn's Gus Malzahn, Florida's Dan Mullen (who had a massive close with the Lakeland High School trio Wednesday), Mississippi State's Joe Moorhead and Tennessee's Jeremy Pruitt to close the gap.

    Those guys are piecing together quality classes, but they pale in comparison to those top four.

    Alabama and Georgia don't look like they're slowing down anytime soon. The way they're not only luring but also developing players is how powerhouse factories are built. UA and UGA are remarkable programs right now, and everybody else is at the back of the pack.

    Maybe the Aggies and Tigers are creeping up with classes like this, but don't bet on it.

               

    2018 parlays

    The Kentucky Wildcats finished 9-3 in 2018, placed 14th in the CFP rankings and are on their way to playing 12th-ranked Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. No. 23 Missouri is on its way to face Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl.

    Both programs had breakthrough seasons on the field, but they couldn't translate it into the recruiting rankings.

    In fairness, neither program is known for recruiting prowess; player development has helped them build strong groups. Still, the Wildcats are ranked 31st and Mizzou is ranked 34th in the recruiting ratings, which is a bit of a disappointment.

    MU coach Barry Odom at least has made a splash elsewhere, landing transfer quarterbacks Kelly Bryant (Clemson) and Shawn Robinson (TCU) for life after Drew Lock. With potential stars like them, the Tigers could keep from taking a major dip. UK coach Mark Stoops will need to keep developing mid-level recruits.

    Maybe he'll do it, but neither of these classes is rife with playmakers on paper.

             

    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of Sports Reference and CFBStats.com. All recruiting information is from 247Sports, and rankings are 247Sports composite.

    Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter, @Brad_Shepard.