Ultimate Guide to College Football's 2019 Early National Signing Day
College football prospects still get their moment in the spotlight when they choose their next programs in mid-December—they're just doing it a couple of months earlier.
The early signing period is the trendy way for high schoolers to commit. If coaches don't build relationships early, they miss out on most of the marquee players.
Yes, several of the elite playmakers will wait until the traditional February national signing day to put pen to paper, but that's becoming a thing of the past. According to 247Sports' Steve Wiltfong, 65 percent of prospects signed early in the 2018 cycle, and that number skyrocketed to 77 percent last year.
The early period allows coaches and players to solidify their commitments and helps coaches consolidate their focus on other players.
But there's always the threat that coaches leave and players are stuck. Of course, with the growing usage of the transfer portal, that street runs both directions. Just ask Bru McCoy, who signed with USC last year, entered the transfer portal, went to Texas and has since gone back to the Trojans.
Welcome to the wacky world of recruiting.
Let's take a look at the nuts and bolts of the early signing period and then cover everything you need to watch for during the three-day frenzy that's like Christmas for college coaches.
What You Need to Know (Including Television Signing Schedule)
How long does it last?
The early signing period will begin Wednesday, and players can sign starting at 7 a.m. in their time zones. The signing bonanza ends Friday at 11:59 p.m. A few prospects may sign letters of intent and keep it quiet until later, but most will make it known.
You're likely to know the majority of the new names that will be added to a team's roster by Friday.
What does signing mean?
Just like any national letter of intent, the scholarship papers are binding as soon as they're faxed in, and coaches and players are locked into that decision. Any backing out will result in entering the transfer portal and leaving decisions to the whim of the NCAA and its fly-by-the-seat-of-its-pants decision-making.
Of course, players who sign may have to endure the departure of assistants and sometimes even head coaches. Most players then see themselves at the schools they commit to for more reasons than the coaching staffs.
One of the major benefits of signing early is locking down a spot in classes that rapidly fill up. It's a security situation for both sides. As the numbers show, many see the advantage.
The ESPN family of networks released its schedule of signee announcements Monday, and players' decisions will be televised live all day. All times are Eastern, and the announcements will happen sometime within the hour, although they're subject to change.
11 a.m. hour: OT Marcus Dumervil (Florida, Louisville, LSU, Oklahoma)
11 a.m. hour: WR EJ Smith (Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Stanford, Texas A&M)
Noon hour: OLB Phillip Webb (Alabama, Florida, LSU)
Noon hour: QB CJ Stroud (Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, Oregon, LSU)
1 p.m. hour: ATH Arian Smith (Alabama, Georgia)
1 p.m. hour: CB Kendall Dennis (Florida State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Tennessee)
2 p.m. hour: OLB Justin Flowe (Clemson, Miami, Oregon, USC)
2 p.m. hour: DE Jordan Burch (Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina)
5-Star Tandem Making It Official
Two of the biggest remaining prizes in this recruiting class will come off the board during the early signing period, and they are going to make a couple of teams extremely happy.
Defensive lineman Jordan Burch, from Columbia, South Carolina, could go anywhere in the nation, but it appears LSU has a legit bead on earning his signature.
The Bayou Bengals are joined by South Carolina, Clemson, Alabama and Georgia in the race. Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp needs to win this battle to keep him home, but Burch may be scared off by Muschamp's potential lame-duck status.
The 6'5", 275-pound lineman is going to be a major get for whoever can convince him.
Another defender ready to make his decision is linebacker Justin Flowe. The Upland, California, native could continue Dabo Swinney's rich recent history of cross-country coups for the Tigers.
It's also possible Oregon coach Mario Cristobal could keep Flowe out west in what seems like a two-team race. The Ducks have come on late, and Flowe could be the biggest win of the cycle for Cristobal in Cali.
The 6'2", 225-pound defender is a plug-and-play contributor no matter where he goes.
They are both expected to announce on ESPN's family of networks in the 2 p.m. ET hour Wednesday.
Cornerback Kelee Ringo, running back Zachary Evans and tight end Darnell Washington are the other 5-star players who have yet to decide where they'll play their college days, but all of them are expected to announce in the late signing period, perhaps at an all-star game.
Still, Flowe and Burch will give us a couple of big-name playmakers to watch.
What Kind of Noise Will the New Guys Make?
Several new coaches will find themselves in the spotlight during the early signing period as they try to sway big-name players to their schools without having had time to develop longstanding relationships.
While Lane Kiffin and Mike Norvell may bring a prospect or two with them, neither coach should be recruiting the same caliber of athlete at his new stomping grounds. Kiffin left Florida Atlantic for Ole Miss, and Norvell will be trying to rebuild Florida State after four years at Memphis.
Kiffin has the recruiting chops to sell the Rebels right away, and his success luring top-level recruits in previous stops at Tennessee and USC will help tremendously.
Plus, he just gets it in recruiting.
"He knew already that I could play practically any position on the defensive line no matter the type of defense," said 3-star defensive tackle DeSanto Rollins, according to the Clarion-Ledger's Nick Suss. "This means he had done his homework before coming to see me. This really got me pumped."
Norvell doesn't have the recruiting acumen as Kiffin, but he has blue blood Florida State to do the selling for him.
He has received a pledge from Georgia quarterback Tate Rodemaker as his first Seminoles commit, but there's a lot of work left to be done.
"We only have 10 days until signing day," Norvell told Seminoles.com recently (h/t The Athletic's Tashan Reed). "Obviously, it's going to be a lot of time building relationships and be able to showcase to the student-athletes that we're recruiting what is to come."
Other coaches—like Missouri's Eli Drinkwitz, Arkansas' Sam Pittman and, to a lesser extent, Rutgers' Greg Schiano—will be watched closely too. How good are they at salvaging what is widely expected to be a "throwaway" class? Stay tuned.
4-Star CJ Stroud Headlines a Hefty Group of Quality QBs Yet to Decide
California is rich in football talent, and the spotlight shines on that state every year when it comes to elite playmakers.
One of the top quarterbacks who will make his college choice late in the game is Rancho Cucamonga signal-caller CJ Stroud, a 6'2½", 194-pound athlete who has as high a ceiling at his position as anybody in the class.
He looks like an ideal fit to slide into Justin Fields' spot when the Georgia transfer ends his college days at Ohio State, possibly as soon as following the 2020 season. Coach Ryan Day would love nothing more than to find his next dual-threat pupil in Stroud.
But the Georgia Bulldogs and Michigan Wolverines also are high on Stroud's list, and he's expected to announce his decision on the ESPN family of networks in the noon hour Wednesday.
Robby Ashford decommitted from Ole Miss, and now the Hoover, Alabama, product is back on the market. Chandler Morris of Dallas is down to Oklahoma, USC and Virginia Tech and should be choosing his school soon.
Since Sims and Ashford only recently opened up their recruitment, they may wait until later in the process to choose a school. However, all these guys could finalize decisions and sign scholarship papers in the frenetic final few days ahead of the early signing period.
Stroud is the biggest jewel remaining at the position, but there are plenty of other headliners too.
Movers and Shakers to Watch
One of the biggest things to watch at this time of year is players who decide at the last moment to change their commitments.
Several flips will come out of nowhere, but others are telegraphed by watching their visits.
Which players are flip risks entering the early signing period?
Though it would be a shock if Rakim Jarrett didn't sign with LSU, the Alabama Crimson Tide have been hot and heavy after the elite pass-catcher from Washington, D.C.
Nick Saban's team may have to replace lots of weaponry if Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and DeVonta Smith leave early, so Jarrett has to listen.
Still, with the numbers LSU has put up this season with Joe Burrow and with blue-chip prospect Max Johnson and 3-star TJ Finley coming in, it would be a surprise if Jarrett flipped. He also has flirted with Maryland and Tennessee throughout the process, among others.
Speaking of the Vols, they're trying to convince athlete Jimmy Holiday to drop his commitment to TCU. Holiday wants a shot at quarterback, and UT is selling the opportunity. He's been a hot name with a lot of quality schools offering recently.
Oregon has kept 4-star safety Myles Slusher in the fold for a while, but the Oklahoma native has visited Nebraska, is flirting with UCLA and went to Arkansas last weekend. Can anybody pull him from the grasp of the Ducks?
Ohio State pledge Clark Phillips III seems solid with the Buckeyes, but the cornerback visited Utah this past weekend, and the Utes would love him to be the centerpiece of the class. Several like him have taken visits, and there are always some shocking twists.
That's why the signing days are must-see TV.
Can a Couple of Surprises Close Strong?
In 247Sports' top 25 recruiting rankings, a couple of ACC programs stick out as potential surprises that could have big finishes.
Without question, the cycle's biggest unexpected story is how Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins' message has resonated in Atlanta and beyond. The Yellow Jackets are essentially flipping the roster from Paul Johnson's triple-option attack, and this year's 3-9 record showed the rebuild won't be easy.
But there were glimmers of hope in Tech's on-field performance, and recruits are noticing. It's why Collins has pieced together a good class.
Grabbing a few more top recruits would make this a truly huge first step for Collins and Co.
Mack Brown's first full class at North Carolina suffered a difficult blow this past weekend when Clemson offered 4-star linebacker Trenton Simpson and secured his commitment. The Tar Heels were the expected leader for Simpson, which would have been a coup.
Defensive end Kedrick Bingley-Jones, safety Ja'Qurious Conley and dual-threat quarterback Jacolby Criswell are also high-level pledges. Brown is proving his message is being heard across and outside the state.
Will These Top Programs Rally?
Some of the nation's top programs hold uncharacteristically low rankings and need a major rally to avoid an embarrassing finish.
As Mike Norvell replaces Willie Taggart at Florida State, the Seminoles are on the cusp of the top 25 and a respectable class. Their massive visit weekend before the early signing period could help steady things considerably.
It's much more dire for a couple of Pac-12 powers.
At USC, the status of coach Clay Helton's future is hindering the Trojans' ability to lure top-notch talent to Los Angeles.
Even when there has been a shake-up, USC typically has the ability to convince kids to play for the historic program. But the way Helton's past couple of seasons have been handled by the administration cannot help. He will be back next year for sure, but it seems like a vote of confidence while the program waits on a chance to upgrade. Even a late winning streak hasn't been enough to save the class.
The Trojans are 81st in the recruiting rankings with 10 commits and a single 4-star prospect. That's the biggest story of this recruiting cycle without a rally. There's still time, but if the class was complete today, USC would be next-to-last in the Pac-12.
The only team worse? Conference runner-up Utah, surprisingly. Coach Kyle Whittingham doesn't have a rich history of landing top classes like the Trojans, but it's still a stunner to see the Utes at 82nd nationally and dead last in the league.
Utah has no 4-star commitments. Though it recently flipped 3-star running back Ty Jordan, the class is on life support as of press time.