National Signing Day 2020: Top Early Storylines to Follow
With the College Football Playoff National Championship in the rearview, the college football world turns its attention to national signing day.
On Feb. 5, the 2020 recruiting cycle will come to a close, and each school's recruiting class for next season will be locked in.
While most of the nation's top prospects signed their letters of intent during the early signing period, there are still several notable recruits on the open market, including 5-star running back Zachary Evans.
With Clemson, Alabama and Georgia in a virtual three-way tie for this year's No. 1 recruiting class, the final days and weeks of recruiting could determine who takes the top spot.
Let's take a look at some of the biggest storylines to follow leading up to national signing day.
Can USC Finish Strong, Salvage Recruiting Cycle?
The offseason began for USC with the controversial decision to retain head coach Clay Helton, who is 39-22 since replacing Steve Sarkisian midway through the 2015 season.
After the program announced his return, Helton told reporters:
"Our future is bright. We have a young team on the verge of doing something special. We have seen what this team can do, having the season we have had despite going through adversity and injuries. We are headed to a great bowl and we plan to finish the season strong. And we are putting the final touches on an outstanding recruiting class. I believe in our team and in our fan base. I know we will all come together to succeed. I am excited about the future."
An outstanding recruiting class?!
USC has the nation's 56th-ranked class, ahead of only Washington State and Arizona among Pac-12 schools. Only 12 players have signed on for 2020, headlined by a pair of 4-star recruits in wide receiver Gary Bryant Jr. (No. 57 overall) and offensive guard Jonah Monheim (No. 352).
By comparison, the Trojans checked in with the No. 20 class in 2019. Even that was a disappointment after five straight years with a class that ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Suffice it to say, falling outside the top 50 doesn't cut it.
"You really should be able to put together a top-20 recruiting class at USC without even trying. Just say, 'OK guys, let us know if you wanna play here. Cool.' That USC is in the 70s should be impossible," tweeted Alex Kirshner of Banner Society back in December.
The Trojans are still in the mix for 4-star all-purpose back Michael Drennen ll (No. 230) and 3-star pro-style quarterback Blake Shapen (No. 925), among others, but they have as much work to do as any team in the country between now and signing day.
Will New Coaches Make an Immediate Impact?
Eight Power Five programs have new coaches at the helm, and that number will climb to nine once Baylor finds a successor to Matt Rhule after he made the jump to the NFL.
There are a lot of familiar names on this list:
- Arkansas: Sam Pittman
- Boston College: Jeff Hafley
- Florida State: Mike Norvell
- Mississippi State: Mike Leach
- Missouri: Eli Drinkwitz
- Ole Miss: Lane Kiffin
- Rutgers: Greg Schiano
- Washington: Jimmy Lake
Here's a look at the national recruiting rank for each of those schools:
- Arkansas: 59th
- Boston College: 65th
- Florida State: 21st
- Mississippi State: 27th
- Missouri: 70th
- Ole Miss: 45th
- Rutgers: 62nd
- Washington: 15th
Seven major conference programs, and only one ranks in the top 20 in recruiting with four slotted outside the top 50.
It's worth noting that the Washington situation is unique. Chris Petersen stepped down of his own accord after an 8-5 season, and the team kept continuity by hiring from within and promoting Jimmy Lake, who has been on the coaching staff since 2014.
Is there enough time left in the 2020 recruiting cycle for these coaches to snag a few impact recruits?
Who Will Snag the Remaining 4-Star Recruits?
Eighteen 4-star recruits have yet to make a commitment in the 2020 recruiting cycle.
Here's a look at the full list, along with players' overall rank in the 2020 class and projections for who will land them based on 247Sports' Crystal Ball Predictions and recent trends:
- S Avantae Williams (No. 55)—Florida
- SDE Alfred Collins (No. 71)—Texas
- DT McKinnley Jackson (No. 113)—Texas A&M
- WDE Demon Clowney (No. 135)—Ole Miss
- RB Kevontre Bradford (No. 136)—LSU
- S Javier Morton (No. 219)—Georgia Tech
- DUAL Malik Hornsby (No. 220)—Arkansas
- OT Ty'kieast Crawford (No. 227)—LSU
- APB Michael Drennen ll (No. 230)—Kentucky
- RB Daijun Edwards (No. 254)—Georgia
- SDE Princely Umanmielen (No. 269)—Baylor
- RB Darvon Hubbard (No. 294)—Utah
- RB Henry Parrish (No. 301)—Ole Miss
- RB Lamy Constant (No. 314)—Florida
- CB Isaiah Dunson (No. 322)—Texas
- OG Marcus Henderson (No. 342)—Georgia
- ATH Kelvontay Dixon (No. 346)—Texas
- SDE Andy Boykin (No. 357)—Arkansas
There is a lot of talent still on the board. For teams that want to put the finishing touches on their recruiting classes, these are the top names to keep an eye on.
Where Will 5-Star Running Back Zachary Evans Land?
Not long ago, Zachary Evans to Georgia looked like a lock.
The 5-star standout from North Shore Senior High School in Houston is the top running back in the 2020 class and the No. 14 recruit overall. He has been linked to a number of major programs throughout the recruiting process.
Kipp Adams of 247Sports broke down the twists and turns for the uncommitted prospect leading up to national signing day:
"Evans has had a roller coaster recruitment, as programs like Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU have each been thought to be the leader at some point. Georgia was trending heading into the fall, and many felt the Dawgs would land his commitment on Sept. 5. But Evans would postpone an announcement following a multi-game suspension from his high school team. Heading into December, LSU was the program many had pegged as the landing spot for the five-star, but Georgia got a lot of buzz in the final three days leading up to the Early Signing Period in mid-December."
His recruitment was expected to finally wrap up with an official announcement during the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 2. He revealed that he had signed a national letter of intent during the early signing period but remained vague on his plans.
A few days later, it emerged that the NLI was to Georgia, but only in the form of an announcement that he was being released from that NLI with no restrictions and his recruitment was open once again.
So where will the nation's top running back prospect land?
According to Chris Hummer of 247Sports, he is expected to "zero in on LSU and Texas A&M." Both schools already boast stacked recruiting classes.
Who Will Finish with the No. 1 Recruiting Class?
- Clemson: 311.90 (six 5-stars, 11 4-stars)
- Alabama: 310.39 (three 5-stars, 19 4-stars)
- Georgia: 309.05 (four 5-stars, 14 4-stars)
Most years, there is a clear-cut No. 1 recruiting class in the nation. The perfect example is 2019, as Alabama (317.50 recruiting points) easily beat out Georgia (309.12), Texas (287.69), Texas A&M (285.46) and LSU (284.06) for the top spot.
This year, though, it will go down to the wire.
Here's a look at the current top three in the 2020 recruiting rankings, via 247Sports:
Clemson has reeled in six of the 28 5-star recruits in the 2020 class, including defensive tackle Bryan Bresee (No. 1 overall), strong-side defensive end Myles Murphy (No. 3) and pro-style quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (No. 13).
Alabama has three 5-star recruits, led by No. 1 quarterback Bryce Young, along with a whopping 19 4-star recruits that have helped bridge the gap.
Georgia added cornerback Kelee Ringo (5-star, No. 8 overall) and athlete Darnell Washington (5-star, No. 10) during the first week of January to jump up to the No. 3 spot and into the conversation for the year's top class.
All three schools still have irons in the fire for the top remaining uncommitted recruits, so the activity on national signing day will likely determine who finishes in the No. 1 spot.
All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.