How much has college football's offseason changed in the past few years? What 2019 recruits are poised to become the next Rondale Moore or Trevor Lawrence? And what about the top names in the class? Adam Kramer explores what's happening in college football in this signing day edition of his weekly notebook. (All player rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite.)
It used to be easy. A handful of coaches would leave or be asked to leave. Assistants would receive promotions or be asked to take their employment elsewhere. And then early on in February, an entire class of high school seniors would reveal—in unison—where they would be playing football the following fall.
Even the mania seemed foreseeable. The college football offseason used to have a rhythm even in its most manic moments, starting with national signing day when optimism, legitimate or otherwise, would overpower everything in its way.
But the "offseason" we used to know is dead. National signing day is now a two-act event—one that occupies real estate in the heart of the sport's finale. And the act of committing to a college football program and finishing at that same program three or four years later is becoming increasingly less likely.
Like the NBA, college football is quickly becoming a sport not confined to any schedule or calendar. The traditional signing day has been replaced by flurry of activity in December, another blitz in February and now the unknown that surrounds the mystical transfer portal.
Yes, this is a real place. Well, sort of. And yes, the transfer portal has become the "it" destination for some of the sport's current and future stars. This hub, which allows players in a program to connect with other coaches at other football programs, has become more significant than any 5-star player in the 2019 recruiting class. It is not a fad but a destination that will be frequented more and more.
The transfer portal has already helped former 5-star QB Justin Fields, 4-stars Tate Martell, Jalen Hurts, Jack Tuttle and Brandon Wimbush, and others find new teams. Some of these players, including Hurts, will be eligible to play immediately as graduate transfers. Others, including Fields and Martell, are seeking hardship waivers so they can play immediately—the same waiver that Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson was granted last year that allowed him to start immediately for the Wolverines.
Even the presence of the waiver, which is still a great unknown in terms of timing and execution, has extended the college football calendar. And its existence is something others will explore.
This change has hit the 2019 recruiting cycle, where former USC signee Bru McCoy, the No. 1 athlete in the class, entered his name in the transfer portal after Kliff Kingsbury left his post as Trojans offensive coordinator for the NFL.
Although McCoy signed with USC, he has since left the school and signed a financial aid agreement at Texas. He is likely to petition to play this upcoming season citing the circumstances behind his departure as justification for playing immediately.
Whether it's allowed or not, McCoy's decision will be felt in future classes for years to come—the kind of move that will undoubtedly shift the calendar and offseason itinerary even further away from what it used to be.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. While the early signing period has thrown the sport into a strange rhythm, this seismic shift in our offseason syllabus is taking place largely because players are finding a voice and exercising the newfound power.
The end result is a wildly unpredictable, entertaining and engulfing stretch that used to be calm and unremarkable—the kind of chaos that will provide a bridge to the actual games.
And at this point, there's no reason to believe we'll be looking back anytime soon.
Let's Find This Year's Next Batch of Breakout Candidates, Shall We?
It is in our nature to seek out the Next Big Thing™ in college football, largely because the buffer that once existed to prevent players from breaking out early on is long gone. In fact, no season in recent memory showed us just how significant of an impact a true freshman can have (see: Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence) like 2018 did.
As for this class, let's take a stab at forecasting likely candidates using this year's magnificent crop of frosh superstars as our templates.
This Year's Rondale Moore: Running Back Wandale Robinson
The nation's No. 1 all-purpose running back flipped from Kentucky to Nebraska late in the recruiting cycle, which is horrendous news for the rest of the Big Ten. A star at Western Hills High School in Frankfort, Kentucky, the 5'9", 175-pound do-everything back tallied 1,973 rushing yards, 725 receiving yards and more than 40 touchdowns in 2018. If the violent wiggles and shakes Robinson executes in the open field next year look familiar, don't be surprised. Robinson doesn't just play like Moore. The two worked out at the same gym in Louisville together before Moore left for Purdue and became a star after the first week of the season. Playing in Scott Frost's offense at Nebraska, Robinson could follow a similar path.
This Year's Trevor Lawrence: Quarterback Spencer Rattler
Let's be completely honest about how difficult it is to find a quarterback that could even sniff the life-altering year Lawrence had at Clemson—one that culminated in a dominant postseason and a trashing of Alabama in the national championship. But some of the ingredients are at least in place for Oklahoma signee Spencer Rattler to be that player. Rattler, the No. 1 pro-style QB in the class, will be joined by Jadon Haselwood (No. 1 WR) and Theo Wease (No. 3 WR). He will also benefit from playing for Lincoln Riley, who has groomed Heisman-winning QBs in consecutive seasons. But the presence of Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts undoubtedly clouds the possibility of Rattler making the same immediate impact Lawrence did. Plus, Lawrence might be a transcendent talent. Rattler's time might not come as early, but the big-armed righty from Arizona is likely to have his moment sooner than later.
This Year's Patrick Surtain II: Cornerback Derek Stingley
Statically speaking, it is far more difficult for a freshman defensive player to have a Rondale Moore-like impact on a football game. But Patrick Surtain II, thrown into meaningful action from the moment he got to Alabama, provided a glimpse of what he was capable of. LSU signee Derek Stingley, the No. 1 cornerback in this class, could be asked to do even more for the Tigers defense. At 6'1" and 188 pounds, Stingley, who attended Dunham School in Baton Rouge, is a long, electrifying athlete who will likely be tasked with filling the hole Greedy Williams left in the secondary when he declared for the NFL draft. With Kristian Fulton coming back for his senior year and able to provide some stability to the secondary, Stingley seems destined to become the next great defensive back to emerge from a program that has known its fair share. And it could happen quickly.
National Signing Day Top 25
Until spring football kicks up in earnest, this will be one of the final opportunities to enrage the masses by arbitrarily ranking the best 25 football teams in the country leading into next season.
Coaching staffs (for the most part) have been assembled. The vast majority of the nation's premier recruits have signed. And with the exception of the transfer portal and the possibility of players such as quarterback Justin Fields receiving a waiver to play immediately—a moment that could impact these rankings a great deal—the early outlook for the upcoming year is slowly taking shape.
With that, let's rank some football teams.
5. Ohio State
7. Notre Dame
9. Texas A&M
15. Penn State
16. Washington State
17. Iowa State
Five National Signing Day Questions With Barton Simmons
To truly capture the nuance on signing day, you need the opinions of those who cover and celebrate recruiting 365 days a year. Barton Simmons, director of scouting for 247Sports, does it better than anyone.
I caught up with Simmons to gauge his thoughts on his favorite players, favorite classes and a name to keep an eye on in 2020.
AK: Who is a player in this class down the rankings a bit that you think has gone completely overlooked and undervalued?
BS: TCU has a wideout named Blair Conwright [No. 108 WR] out of Lubbock, Texas, who is skinny, a little bit slight of build, but he's got track times. He's a really good basketball player, he's a three-sport athlete and he is one of the most productive receivers in the state of Texas. I've seen him just run circles around big-name players at a camp.
They have a track record with kind of undersized guys that are athletic. I think he's the type of kid that could go to TCU and be a really big-time player.
AK: Is there a class, say, outside the top eight that you feel strongly about—maybe one that is a little bit underrated from where it is perceived nationally?
BS: I think that Middle Tennessee State has got some guys that are, in my opinion, Power Five-level guys. I think it's a class that will produce multiple NFL-like draft picks.
As for a Power Five team, I think NC State has put together a really good class. This is what a great class at NC State should look like. They have a bunch of physical, defensive front-seven-type guys. The way they develop there, with how good their strength program is, I think this class has the potential to have a bunch of bullies in it.
AK: After great quarterback classes, the 2019 recruiting class has garnered the reputation of being below average for the past year. Would you say it's as weak as the reputation it has acquired?
BS: No. I've changed my tune on this, and it's taken some convincing. But I'm now of the opinion that this is a good quarterback class. Given the reputation that this quarterback class has sort of carried through most of the process, it's going to be ironic when we look up and there's a bunch of true freshmen starting this year, because I do think that that's a real likelihood.
When you look at some of the spots that guys are walking into, whether it's Jayden Daniels at Arizona State, Bo Nix at Auburn, Max Duggan at TCU, there's just a lot of opportunity in this class for immediate starters.
AK: What position really jumps out in this class?
BS: I think this is a really good defensive line group. There are a lot of guys on the defensive line that we feel very comfortable throwing 5-star-type of ratings around on and guys that really check all the boxes on that front. And so that's another position that I think we'll see some really impactful true freshmen from the top of our rankings.
AK: Turning the page to the 2020 recruiting class, who is the player you think that will be the talk of the class?
BS: The No. 1 player in the country is a guy named Bryan Bresee, who's a defensive lineman with offers from everywhere. But I think the guy who is sort of emerging as the name to know from kind of a high-profile perspective is D.J. Uiagalelei, who's a quarterback out of Southern California. He's 6'4" and 240 pounds, and he has legitimately one of the strongest arms we've ever seen.
Five Names You Need to Know in the Class of 2019
Disclaimer: The following names are not here because of their abilities. As the header implies, these players are being celebrated for their monikers and their monikers alone. We spend far too much time discussing skills and speed and program fit and not enough time on some of the glorious appellations each recruiting class has to offer.
Storm Duck: The 3-star cornerback out of Boiling Springs, South Carolina, signed with North Carolina in the spring. The fact that Storm Duck never received an offer from Oregon is a tremendous marketing opportunity lost.
Shitta Sillah: The nation's No. 45 outside linebacker has a name that will be cheered and appreciated for years to come. Sillah, a New Jersey native, has already signed with Boston College. There is zero chance he won't be a game-day favorite.
Artemus McCorkle: This is a name meant for the back of a football card. That might seem like a stretch for the nation's No. 85 ranked cornerback right now—a Murray State signee—although you never know.
Cobe Bryant: The JUCO offensive lineman was the first player to sign with SMU for the 2019 class. At 6'5" and 320 pounds, it is unknown, at least right now, what kind of mid-range jumper he has or if he is capable of leading the fast break.
Steele Chambers: He's 6'1" and 215 pounds. He played running back in high school, and he could very well do the same thing at Ohio State where he's already signed. This does not sound like a human being you'd tackle for giggles.
Adam Kramer covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @KegsnEggs.