National Signing Day 2019: Chip Kelly's Class Is a Flop and Other Big Takeaways

Brad Shepard@@Brad_ShepardFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2019

National Signing Day 2019: Chip Kelly's Class Is a Flop and Other Big Takeaways

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

    From the rich getting richer to a battle between in-state foes to a national signing day's flip-filled finale, this year's recruiting cycle left us with tons of storylines heading into spring practice.

    It's clear from the classes of Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Clemson and Oklahoma that some of the nation's marquee programs aren't going anywhere any time soon.

    Other programs like Texas A&M and Florida continued to cement their status as teams on the rise, while Tennessee's and Maryland's classes held promise for the future.

    While Ohio State's Ryan Day didn't finish a smallish class the way he hoped, he fared better than UCLA's Chip Kelly, who seems to have lost his golden touch on the trail, and Florida State's Willie Taggart, who may wind up having to hold open tryouts at quarterback.

    Wednesday held plenty of drama with a watered-down pool of unsigned talent in college football's signing free-for-all, but with just a handful of unsigned prospects remaining, questions remain for several programs.

    For others, it's a matter of just how high they can rise.

    Let's take a look at some takeaways from national signing day 2019 as we close the book on yet another wacky cycle of recruiting.

SEC Royalty Stays Rich

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    It's becoming a trend seeing Alabama and Georgia sitting atop the recruiting rankings, but here we are once again.

    Last year, the Bulldogs won the mythical recruiting crown in the 247Sports composite ratings, edging the Crimson Tide. Coach Nick Saban's national runner-up returned the favor in this class, signing 27 playersincluding 23 4-stars and three 5-starsin yet another elite, top-ranked class.

    (For good measure, Alabama ranked first and Georgia third in 2017, too.)

    Perhaps only these two teams can have the kind of up-and-down day Alabama experienced and still win the recruiting race by a wide margin. The Tide saw Christian Williams flip to Miami and Khris Bogle flip to Florida, and they lost out on Henry To'oto'o (to Tennessee) and Devonta Lee (to LSU).

    Beating SEC West rival LSU for massive Louisiana defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher was the coup of the day.

    Georgia pursued 5-star receiver and Auburn commitment George Pickens along with Ole Miss commitment Jonathan Mingo to attempt to add a game-breaking receiver to its class, and it paid off when Pickens flipped from the Tigers. Despite Mingo sticking with the Rebels, it was a huge victory for UGA.

    The Bulldogs lead the nation with five 5-star commitments and added 15 4-star pledges, proving Kirby Smart's machine is running just fine, thank you very much, despite losing defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to Colorado as head coach and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney to Tennessee.

    Alabama and UGA are the cream of the class when it comes to convincing players to attend their schools, and Smart is well on his way to building the type of program that can compete with Saban every year. By the way, the Tide aren't going anywhere.

Chip Kelly Has to Revamp His Recruiting Style

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    UCLA fans didn't expect this when they won the Chip Kelly sweepstakes last offseason.

    "This" is being an afterthought on the minds of recruits across the country, signing a class that is ranked No. 43 nationally and just seventh in the Pac-12. The group of 18 prospects features just one 4-star player, and though there are a few options remaining, the class is virtually done.

    On Wednesday, the Bruins signed tight end Michael Martinez, receiver Charles Njoku and linebacker Noah Keeter but swung and missed on Tuasivi Nomura (USC) and Kenyon Reed (Kansas State). 

    This is the first time since 2011 the Bruins have finished outside the top 20 in recruiting, and you have to wonder if Kelly will ever be able to return to recruiting form he enjoyed during his heyday shredding defenses with the Oregon Ducks.

    It's hard to envision after seeing how his first full class with the Bruins shook out.

    "It's weird to not see them in the top 25, but I see what (Kelly) is doing," 247Sports national recruiting analyst Greg Biggins told the Los Angeles Daily News' Thuc Nhi Nguyen. "He's getting guys with upside and potential. And all the kind of guys that were considered maybe reaches, they do have something in common. These are all guys with pretty long-term upside with some measurables."

    Will this kind of class close the big gap in the Pac-12, though?

    On one hand, you've got to feel good about the Bruins' gradual improvement in '18 under Kelly, despite what wound up a 3-9 record. But it shouldn't be this hard to convince elite players (or even mid-tier 4-stars) to come to Westwood.

    That didn't happen in this cycle, and there's no sugarcoating this class for Kelly, at least on paper.

This Late-Signing Flip-O-Rama Is a Sign of Things to Come

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    Longtime Alabama commitment Christian Williams flipped to Miami.
    Longtime Alabama commitment Christian Williams flipped to Miami.Credit: 247Sports

    Get used to this, as it's going to be a byproduct of the early signing period moving forward.

    With such a watered-down group of elite players available in the late period after so many kids are choosing to sign with their schools of choice in December, it's going to be a no-holds-barred, free-for-all slugfest going after the top remaining players left on the board in February.

    What you have is what we saw Wednesday with so many flips. It's the new wave in college football: going off gut feel with the program that woos you the best late and then entering the transfer portal if it doesn't work out. Welcome to 2019.

    There were multiple high-profile flips highlighting national signing day. Khris Bogle and Christian Williams started the day, flipping from Alabama to Florida and Miami, respectively. George Pickens was a longtime 5-star pledge to Auburn who wound up signing with Georgia.

    Doug Nester flipped from Ohio State to Virginia Tech, LeDarrius Cox flipped from Tennessee to Ole Miss, Adonis Otey flipped from Arkansas to USC, and Velton Gardner flipped from Texas Tech to Kansas.

    If that seems like a lot of players who changed their minds, it's because it is. Sure, it happens every year, but with a wild and wacky late signing period compressed into basically a month after bowl season, this is what's going to happen.

    When you already have 75 percent of your class signed, schools can double and triple resources toward prospects. Relationships can be established quickly, and powerhouse programs can become players for kids they slow-played in the early cycle.

    Wednesday's flip party is a sign of the times, and there's nothing wrong with the added excitement.

The Wild West Shootout Between Texas Schools Was Fun

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Alabama and Georgia may have finished at the top, but it was a fun back-and-forth battle to see who wound up getting the honors for the nation's third-ranked class.

    That race was between former hated rivals Texas and Texas A&M, and though the two programs no longer play one another, there's no love lost among fans of the schools.

    The Longhorns hold the edge right now with the classes likely finished. Coach Tom Herman had to go out of the Lone Star State to secure much of a class of 24 prospects that finished third nationally, thanks in part to former USC 5-star prospect Bru McCoy.

    Jimbo Fisher's arrival in College Station brought with it a resurgent season in 2018, and he followed it up with an equally noteworthy class. The Aggies may have finished just behind Texas in the rankings, but they owned the 'Horns in convincing in-state prospects to play in the SEC.

    Besides McCoy, Texas nabbed brilliant pass-catcher Jordan Whittington, along with potential stars like offensive tackle Tyler Johnson and hard-hitting linebacker De'Gabriel Floyd.

    A&M countered with elite offensive tackle Kenyon Green, in-state tight end Baylor Cupp, 5-star defensive tackle DeMarvin Leal and dynamic pass-catcher Kam Brown. 

    Both classes are deep and talented, and they both are broadcasts to the college football world that the Lone Star State is back on the map in college football recruiting and on Saturdays moving forward.

    It was Herman vs. Fisher, mano y mano. This was a terrific battle in the rankings that was an actual toe-to-toe tilt in living rooms, and it's not going away anytime soon.

Tennessee's Finish Was Colossal

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    Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

    Last year in Tennessee, coach Jeremy Pruitt's first partial class in Knoxville took a lot of home run cuts in the late recruiting period but didn't have many hits. They signed quality defensive backs Bryce Thompson and Trevon Flowers but missed on most of their big targets.

    That isn't the case in 2019.

    The Vols were massive winners Wednesday, closing their recruiting class with the top uncommitted offensive player and defensive player entering the day.

    Massive 5-star offensive tackle Darnell Wright, who was long thought to be a UT lean, signed with the Vols after late overtures from in-state West Virginia. Tennessee rallied late to steal 4-star linebacker Henry To'oto'o from Alabama and Washington, grabbing the nation's Nos. 10 and 44 players.

    Speedy 3-star cornerback Kenney Solomon also chose Tennessee over Louisville and Colorado on Wednesday, but Wright and To'oto'o made major national headlines and proved the former Alabama defensive coordinator is a recruiting force moving forward.

    Those two paired with guys like Quavaris Crouch, Wanya Morris, Ramel Keyton and Jaylen McCollough, who highlight a No. 12-ranked class that could go a long way in helping the 5-7 Vols become a force in the SEC East.

    Tennessee's ace recruiter this cycle was Brian Niedermeyer, who was the lead recruiter for Crouch, Wright, To'oto'o, Tyus Fields, Savion Williams and more. 247Sports named him the national recruiter of the year for his efforts.

    "Oh man, he was huge," To'oto'o told 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong. "He created a lot of connections with me and my family. He was able to come out here and make everything feel like home. I knew I could trust him and everything when I go down there."

    Rocky Top is feeling like home sweet home to a lot of top-shelf prospects again.

USC's Uncertainty Is Resonating with Recruits

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    Harry How/Getty Images

    Rewind to the Army All-American Bowl, and things were looking up for the USC Trojans. Sure, they'd just missed a bowl game, and head coach Clay Helton kept his job with a surprising vote of confidence from athletic director Lynn Swann.

    But the Trojans made a massive splash hire in Kliff Kingsbury to be offensive coordinator. It also looked like the USC brand wasn't suffering too badly, as receivers Bru McCoy and Kyle Ford committed to the Trojans over a slew of high-profile offers during the game.

    Then, things fell apart. Again.

    Kingsbury left to be the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, and though McCoy signed, he left after just a couple of weeks and transferred to Texas. All was up in the air with Ford and fellow star receiver prospect Puka Nacua, who hadn't yet signed.

    Since then, USC made another strong hire for offensive coordinator (at least on paper) in North Texas' Graham Harrell, himself another former Texas Tech quarterback like Kingsbury. While Ford entertained offers from other marquee programs in the late cycle, he signed with USC on Wednesday.

    Nacua did not, and he is still trying to decide on a destination.

    Helton's class isn't bad, and there are plenty of potential difference-makers. But USC missed out on Enokk Vimahi, long thought to be a Trojans lean, when he committed to Ohio State. Nacua may seek other pastures, too.

    A class of 26 prospects ranked just 18th is uncharacteristically pedestrian for the blue-blood Trojans.

    It's vital USC rebounds in 2019 with what will still be a young roster. If the Trojans don't, Helton could be gone.

Big Finishes Highlight the Day Down South

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    Credit: 247Sports

    We've touched on the big successes of Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee so far, but that trio is hardly the end of the SEC's recruiting successes, especially Wednesday.

    Florida's Dan Mullen enjoyed one of the splashiest debuts where it matters the most (on the field) in 2018, and recruits paid plenty of attention. The Gators surged to ninth nationally, thanks to a huge national signing day.

    It started with Khris Bogle's flip from Alabama. The South Florida native was once thought to be a Miami lock, but he committed to the Crimson Tide during the Army All-American Bowl. With Manny Diaz back with the Hurricanes, Bogle seemed destined to stay home if a flip was in the cards.

    Instead, Mullen pulled the coup, and he wasn't done.

    Longtime commit Diwun Black followed through with his Gators pledge, and UF withstood a late rally by hated rival Georgia (and some gamesmanship by the Bulldogs, who hired away secondary coach Charlton Warren) to sign Kaiir Elam.

    Warren was Elam's primary recruiter, but the star corner went to Gainesville anyway. Those signings capped an exceptional first full class from Mullen, who looks like he's well on his way to making the Swamp feared once again.

    A surprising addition to the SEC's stellar Wednesday was Ole Miss, a huge winner late in the cycle. The biggest pull was running back Jerrion Ealy, a Rebels de-commit who recommitted to Ole Miss rather than head to Clemson or Alabama.

    The nation's top JUCO linebacker Lakia Henry committed to the Rebels rather than go to Arkansas, LeDarrius Cox flipped from Tennessee to Ole Miss, and coach Matt Luke kept receiver Jonathan Mingo from going to Georgia or Auburn. It was a huge day for the Rebs.

Florida State's Quarterback Situation Remains Scary

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    Lance King/Getty Images

    Florida State's quarterback situation is bleak and dire, and that's not hyperbole.

    After Deondre Francois was removed from the program, the Seminoles failed to follow through and sign 4-star prospect Lance LeGendre on Wednesday in a stunning turn of events that saw the supposed Seminoles lean sign with Maryland and coach Mike Locksley instead.

    The 'Noles lost prized commit Sam Howell in the early signing period to home-state North Carolina, leaving coach Willie Taggart with a tenuous quarterback situation. All that's transpired since then makes things much, much worse.

    At this point, FSU may need to hold open tryouts on campus to back up James Blackman.

    Taggart told the Orlando Sentinel's Chaunte'l Powell he has some ideas how to address FSU's signal-caller situation, mentioning the transfer portal and graduate transfers, but he was coy on details.

    "Yeah, we have a plan; I think a pretty good plan. I don't necessarily want to discuss it right now, but I think we've got a pretty good plan of where we want to go," he said.

    There's still a possibility that talented Louisville transfer Jordan Travis could be granted a hardship waiver from the NCAA, and there's also walk-on Nolan McDonald, who was a 3-star prospect in the 2017 class who committed to Air Force but never followed through.

    LeGendre's Wednesday decision is just the latest in a long line of puzzling or unfortunate occurrences that transpired with the quarterback position under Taggart. At this point, it's essential the Seminoles hit the transfer market hard to find somebody for depth purposes, if nothing else.

    Getting the 4-star New Orleans signal-caller was huge for Locksley at Maryland, but it's another blow to the early FSU tenure of Taggart, who failed to take the 'Noles to a bowl game in 2018.

    Quarterback recruiting continues to be an epic fail for the 'Noles.

Big Ten's National Signing Day Headlines Didn't Include Ohio State

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    John Bazemore/Associated Press

    Every year, the Ohio State Buckeyes sit near the top of the recruiting rankings, but that wasn't the case in this cycle.

    A group of 17 commitments is rarely going to break the top 10, and coach Ryan Day's first group in Columbus didn't, finishing 14th overall. But if you think this was a bad class, look closer. Among those signees are three 5-star prospects and nine 4-stars.

    Still, things didn't go the way Day hoped Wednesday. Though he got a huge pickup in offensive lineman Enokk Vimahi, longtime offensive line commitment Doug Nester flipped to Virginia Tech.

    This is hardly a blip for the Buckeyes, but does it open the window just a tiny crack for other Big Ten programs to close the gap?

    Michigan and Penn State's recruiting classes are clearly better, stronger and deeper than the Buckeyes' this year. The Wolverines' class especially looks terrific, highlighted by difference-making safety Daxton Hill, elite running back Zach Charbonnet and 5-star defensive tackle Chris Hinton.

    Though Penn State's class is rated 13th, the Nittany Lions have a class of 23 players. Other teams like Wisconsin, Nebraska, Purdue and Michigan State had good classes again.

    Maryland's ranking isn't good, but the Terrapins enjoyed a late surge and are going to be a force on the trail looking ahead with Mike Locksley at the helm.

    Nobody is suggesting Ohio State is ready to relinquish its Big Ten crowd. Day is an up-and-coming coach who has hired a good staff and has a roster full of playmakers coming back. You can't count transfer quarterback Justin Fields in this class, but he has a chance to keep the Buckeyes elite.

    Yet if you're Michigan, Penn State and others, you have to look for hope. And they may have closed the gap just a smidge this cycle.

Oklahoma's Offense Is Going Nowhere

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    Lynne Sladky/Associated Press

    Sorry, Big 12 defensive backs; your long-standing national nightmare is nowhere near over.

    If you thought maybe coach Lincoln Riley's High-Flying Boomer Sooner Show would hit the skids a little with Kyler Murray and Marquise Brown off to the NFL, think again. The Sooners went out and grabbed Alabama transfer quarterback Jalen Hurts.

    Now, they're bringing in arguably the best stable of offensive recruits in the country.

    Elite signal-caller Spencer Rattler will be a star in Norman if he sticks around, waits his turn and gets a chance to shine behind center. It's going to be hard for him to fail with three dynamic receivers in the same class along with him.

    The Sooners added a little embarrassment to their riches when 5-star Jadon Haselwood committed to them in the Army All-American Bowl, joining Theo Wease and Trejan Bridges.

    Oklahoma always has a big pass-catching tight end to complement its offense, and Austin Stogner looks like the future at that position.

    In case you forgot about returnees—such as big-play receiver CeeDee Lamb and 1,000-yard rushing freshman Kennedy Brooks (as well as backfield mate Trey Sermon)—it isn't like OU is having to restock an empty pantry, either.

    There are holes to be mended defensively, of course, but the Sooners aren't dropping from the top of the Big 12 standings. Not with the kind of offensive talent they're stockpiling in Norman.

             

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

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