The 10 biggest SEC storylines of the Early Signing Period
Believe it or not, Early Signing Period is upon us.
Stunning, I know. The recruiting season flew by. Like, more than ever.
Part of that was because this regular season went deeper into December than usual, and with Year 3 of the Early Signing Period, we’re now talking about the shortest end-of-season turnaround ever.
Thoughts and prayers to the new coaches. Brutal, this is.
But that’s reality in 2019. Or, well, this is technically the 2020 class. That’s something to remember.
These 10 things are also worth remembering as the Early Signing Period kicks off Wednesday:
1. The continued battle for No. 1
This isn’t a year in which there’s a clear-cut No. 1. Clemson has been out front most of the way. Alabama grabbed the top spot on Saturday, and Clemson took it back Sunday, and who knows who will have it by the time Wednesday ends. Those teams, as well as Ohio State, Georgia and LSU (Texas A&M isn’t expected to be in the mix for 5-stars enough to make the push from No. 5) could all threaten for the top spot.
That’s right. Georgia, AKA the team that was sitting at No. 8 in the 247sports class rankings as recently as Sunday, could vault all the way up to No. 1 if the ball bounces Kirby Smart’s way, which it often does this time of year.
Much of this will depend on the announcement of 5-star recruits like Jordan Burch, Darnell Washington, Zachary Evans, Kelee Ringo and Justin Flowe. It feels like the winner of those battles is going to make the strongest late push.
The only issue? Washington and Evans aren’t announcing until the Under Armour All-America Game, which means we might not have a true No. 1 until the February signing day.
2. What impact does the Sam Pittman move have?
We already saw 4-star offensive lineman Joshua Braun drop his commitment to Georgia after Pittman went to Arkansas. Of course, he turned around he committed to Florida … just in case this wasn’t a rough enough week for Georgia fans.
Given Pittman’s status as an elite recruiter, Georgia fans were wondering if guys like 4-star offensive lineman Tate Ratledge would flip at the last minute. Fortunately for UGA, he reaffirmed his commitment … and did so in probably the best possible way outside of with a video of him kissing Uga.
— Tate Ratledge (@tateratledge22) December 14, 2019
But what about 5-star offensive lineman Broderick Jones? He took unofficial visits to Auburn before the Pittman move happened, and it’s fair to wonder what his final decision will be.
Pittman was far too good of a recruiter not to at least make some commitments rethink their decisions. Now if he somehow gets Georgia commits to flip to Arkansas at the last second, Pittman deserves “recruiter of the year” mentions.
3. What about the SEC teams with coaching moves?
Speaking of Pittman, what a tough situation to inherit. He, even more so than Lane Kiffin and Eli Drinkwitz, has some serious heavy lifting to do. It was big for Pittman to keep 3 in-state Arkansas commits, but to be heading into the final 2 days before the Early Signing Period with just 6 commitments is a daunting thought.
An even more daunting thought? As of Monday morning, Arkansas had zero offensive commitments. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Fortunately for Arkansas, this is what Pittman does best. He hits the recruiting trail, turns on the charm, tweets out a “YESSSSSIIRRRRRR” video and moves on to the next one. Pittman made a big last-minute push for 4-star safety and Oregon commit Myles Slusher, who visited Fayetteville over the weekend and will make his final decision this week.
As for Kiffin’s flip prospects, he’s hoping to flip 4-star Texas A&M commit Chris Morris. The West Memphis (Ark.) offensive lineman visited Oxford over the weekend a week after Kiffin’s hiring was announced. Kiffin is also hoping to land No. 2 safety Avantae Williams, who just dropped his Oregon commitment but isn’t expected to announce until February.
Kiffin seems more likely to land a top 40 class than Drinkwitz. The new Mizzou coach has a tough task of keeping his current class in place, which got even tougher following the flip from Mizzou to Minnesota by Columbia native Jalen Logan-Redding. Drinkwitz doesn’t have the recruiting ties that Kiffin or Pittman do. He did, however, keep some of the previous staff in place. A move like is usually made to help on the recruiting trail, which Drinkwitz will take all he can get at this point.
4. Jordan Burch’s recruitment
Talk about a star-studded cast of hopefuls. Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina are all vying for Burch.
The Columbia, S.C., native and 5-star defensive end has kept his thoughts close to the vest throughout this process. Clemson remains the favorite, but Georgia got the last official visit and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Smart make a huge splash.
Alabama and LSU make strong late pushes to land the top-rated uncommitted recruit. And obviously, it’s worth remembering that he’s in South Carolina’s backyard. Will Muschamp’s son playing on Burch’s Hammond squad certainly doesn’t hurt matters, either.
The battle for the Palmetto State defensive end could have plenty of twists and turns before Wednesday’s announcement.
5. Does anyone punt on making a Wednesday decision?
It seems inevitable with the Early Signing Period that a couple of blue-chip recruits will hold off on an announcement this week. Some will hold off until playing in an All-America game while others will wait until February when, you know, the OG signing day is.
Sometimes that can happen if a new coach is in the mix at one of the contending schools, or perhaps a move like Pittman leaving Georgia would want to make a recruit take a longer look at their decision. As much as the new norm is for early enrollees to get a head start and be there for all of spring ball, it makes sense that some would take more time to get as much information as possible before making a life-changing decision.
Consider this a reminder that when (not “if”) that happens on Wednesday, it’s not necessarily a sign of indecisiveness from an 18-year old kid.
6. Kentucky’s potentially historic class
Mark Stoops’ mantra the entire offseason was that he “built a program, not a team.” Backing up last year’s 10-win season with potentially 8 wins is a sign of that, as is finishing with potentially Kentucky’s top-rated class of the recruiting rankings era.
The mark to beat is the 2014 class, which finished ranked No. 22 (Kentucky was at No. 24 as of Monday morning). That seems plenty realistic considering there are still a half dozen 4-star recruits whom Kentucky is in the mix for. That includes Tyler Baron, Josaih Hayes, Tennessee commit Jimmy Calloway, Joel Williams, Vito Tisdale and Michael Drennen II.
Those aren’t just a bunch of Ohio kids waiting to see if they’re in good standing with Ohio State, either. Stoops’ staff has done a tremendous job of getting outside its geographical comfort zone and truly having a presence across the Southeast. Of course, top-rated Kentucky commit Justin Rogers is the No. 1 recruit from the state of Michigan. As long as Rogers doesn’t pull a last-minute surprise with a flip to Michigan State, this is shaping up to be a record-setting class for Stoops.
It’s been quite the 16-month stretch in Lexington.
7. Does Lane load up on quarterbacks?
We know a few things about Ole Miss.
It has an extremely young offense and it has a new leader. We also know that 4-star quarterback Robby Ashford dropped his commitment from the Rebels shortly after the coaching switch. We also know that Kiffin landed his first commit Monday, and fittingly, it was an off-the radar quarterback (3-star pledge Kade Renfro). That was after redshirt freshman-to-be Grant Tisdale took his name out of the transfer portal and Matt Corral announced he’s not leaving Oxford, either.
But there are several things we don’t know. Like, what does Kiffin do with the rest of his quarterback room? John Rhys Plumlee is expected to return and be the guy, but with him off playing baseball this spring, Kiffin can afford to have a full evaluation at the position. That would mean adding yet another quarterback to the mix by the time the 2020 class comes to a close.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to see as many as 6 scholarship quarterbacks for Kiffin to have by the time spring ball rolls around.
8. One would think LSU should close well, but …
I wouldn’t necessarily bet on that. On the surface, an LSU team in the midst of a historic season with the awards season dominance and someone like Ed Orgeron should add up to a strong close for potentially the No. 1 spot. That could happen, but there are a couple of big flips that could prevent that from happening.
Clemson made a late-push and is suddenly in position to flip 4-star LSU commit Malcolm Greene while longtime pledge Jermaine Burton took an official visit to Georgia over the weekend and could end up being one of Smart’s last-second flips. Why a receiver would be more interested in going to Georgia over LSU at this current juncture is somewhat baffling, but obviously there are other factors at play.
The good news for LSU? It still has a top 3 class as of Monday morning, and it could actually get better if it lands the aforementioned Burch or Evans.
Orgeron wouldn’t mind flipping Crimson Tide commit Demouy Kennedy, who is the top-rated player from Alabama. And if 4-star Georgia linebacker Phillip Webb picks LSU over Alabama — the 247sports crystal ball is at 100% LSU — Orgeron and the Tigers will easily stomach a couple late losses.
Betting against LSU these days seems like a foolish endeavor.
9. The flips, the flips, the flips
Besides all those aforementioned flip possibilities, it’s inevitable that we get some flips in the SEC on Wednesday. Maybe that’s with a prospect who is already verbally committed to a school, or maybe that’s with someone who flips after a Wednesday announcement. Those are what making signing day worthwhile entertainment.
Think Dante Fowler going from Florida State to Florida in 2012. Think Cyrus Kouandijo announcing his Auburn commitment on National Signing Day … only to then not sign his National Letter of Intent with the Tigers and send it to Alabama instead.
That’s the type of drama we need on Wednesday.
10. The SEC is going to dominate the national rankings
Tell me something I don’t know, right? I can do that.
The SEC is poised to have 6 of the top 10 classes at the conclusion of the Early Signing Period. That hasn’t happened since 2014, when the SEC somehow had 7 of the top 9 classes. It would be a surprise if that feat is matched considering how much ground the likes of South Carolina and Tennessee would have to make up, but still.
That would be the SEC’s most impressive showing in the rankings since the Playoff era officially began (the 2014 season). It’s not that surprising considering we’re looking at a conference with elite recruiters like Saban, Smart, Orgeron and now even Jimbo Fisher.
In other words, don’t expect this trend to fade anytime soon.