It’s OK.

It’s not what it used to be, but there’s still plenty of intrigue in what happens during the Early Signing Period. In the NIL era, it’s changed our expectations for late flips. In the transfer portal era, it’s changed our expectations for how to build a roster.

Even with those modern day developments, the Early Signing Period still represents a prime opportunity to bring more talent through your door than your rival. We’re still living in a world in which talent acquisition is the name of the game.

Keep in mind that as of Tuesday morning, 90 of the nation’s top 100 recruits in the 247sports composite rankings are at least committed to programs. Of course, plenty will probably flip.

Let’s dig into some SEC storylines for the Early Signing Period, which runs Wednesday through Friday:

1. I’m old enough to remember when Nick Saban was falling off

Nick Saban is heading into the start of the Early Signing Period at No. 1 in America once again. Once upon a time, there was a sentiment that his frustration with NIL meant that he was falling off on the recruiting trail. Nope. Saban is still out here dancing to land recruits and reminding us why he’s the ageless G.O.A.T.

The question is whether Saban can fend off Kirby Smart and land the nation’s top class. That could come down to whether Alabama could add another blue-chip recruit or 2, though those chances certainly improved on Tuesday when the Tide flipped 5-star offensive lineman Kadyn Proctor, who had been committed to Iowa since June.

Here are all the uncommitted top 200 players who are still projected to sign with the Tide based on the 247sports crystal ball:

  • 5-star DL James Smith
  • 5-star EDGE Qua Russaw
  • 4-star CB Damari Brown (50-50 between Alabama and Miami)

Alabama natives Smith and Russaw are set to announce their commitments together at Montgomery Carver (Ala.) at 2 p.m. ET on Wednesday. It’ll be broadcast on ESPNU.

That group of potential Alabama signees doesn’t include 5-star cornerback Desmond Ricks, who reclassified in the fall and is down to Alabama, LSU and Florida.

Speaking of Ricks …

2. Who will land Desmond Ricks?

It’s a good old fashioned SEC race to the finish for the 5-star recruit. Ricks visited Alabama, LSU and Florida following his reclassification. The No. 2 cornerback and No. 23 player nationally is set to announce his decision on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET.

The IMG Academy star is the younger brother of Eli Ricks, who started his career at LSU and transferred to Alabama. The younger Ricks would be a huge potential feather in the cap of longtime LSU assistant and current Florida defensive backs coach Corey Raymond. Of course, you could say the same for Brian Kelly, who is closing in on a top-5 class and would love to further quiet the notion that his recruiting was what held Notre Dame back from being elite.

There’ll be plenty of narratives formed based on Ricks’ decision.

3. Take a breath and remember why reported NIL numbers are being reported at all

Between the reported $8 million figure for Nico Iamaleava at Tennessee and the $9.5 million deal that Jaden Rashada reportedly signed with Miami — Rashada flipped to Florida — remember to take these things with a grain of salt. Numbers are being floated out by agents because it drives up the price for everyone. Just because one site reports that a large sum of money was paid to sign a specific player doesn’t mean that’s actually what went down.

It’s not like these schools can come out and refute the figures that are being reported. Therein lies the difference between college sports and pro sports. This isn’t public information. It’s private information that’s being treated as fact by far too many. Agents have an agenda. Remember that when you see the absurd figures that are being reported.

4. We’re about to see offers pulled at the 11th hour because of roster management

I cannot imagine having to manage 85 scholarships in this era of college football. You need to manage 17-18 year-old recruits at the high school level while also making sure you can properly recruit the portal. It sounds next to impossible, even with beefed up support staffs. Granted, I’m not a coach making several million dollars per year to figure it out.

I fear that we’re about to see a few more instances of scholarships being pulled. That gets sticky in this world of collectives, too. We’ve seen coaches like Josh Heupel and Jim Harbaugh have to manage ugly public situations wherein a player was told the week of signing day that he no longer had an offer. Don’t be surprised if a few high-profile coaches join that dubious club.

5. What should we make of first full cycles for Brian Kelly and Billy Napier?

If I’m an LSU fan, I’m extremely encouraged by Kelly’s start. A top-5 class is the standard in Baton Rouge, regardless of whether a coach is from Louisiana or Boston. Kelly is in line to do just that with some of it depending on the aforementioned Ricks. Locking down elite in-state talent like Kelly did was huge. Of the 17 recruits rated as 4-stars or better in Louisiana, Kelly already has commitments from more than half (8) of them. That’s a massive win.

As for Napier, well, the aforementioned Rashada was always the big target, which he landed. Well, there was also the well-documented Cormani McClain whiff. That was a tough blow for Florida after the 5-star Lakeland (Fla.) cornerback was seen as a likely Gators commit. But still, Napier can close with a top-10 class in the overall rankings. He preached quality over quantity, which appears to be the case. Florida’s average recruiting ranking is only behind Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

Kelly looks like he’ll have the higher class ranking while Napier could finish with the higher average recruit ranking, both of which could be top-5 nationally. What does that mean? Two coaches in their first full cycles are getting it done.

6. How does Mike Leach’s death impact MSU’s class?

Way, way, way down the list of things impacted by Leach’s death was MSU’s 2023 class. But Zach Arnett getting the full-time job within days of Leach’s death allowed the Bulldogs to keep some continuity. Speaking of that continuity, Leach’s quarterback shared quite the message with potential MSU recruits who were thinking about bolting:

MSU did lose a commitment from 3-star offensive lineman Joe Crocker, but so far, that’s it. Could the Bulldogs make a huge splash by landing 4-star safety Isaac Smith after LSU made a strong late push? Finishing the class with a bang would be a nice way to honor the late coach.

7. Hugh Freeze’s first Auburn class is looking _________.


To be fair, most new coaches have thin classes in the Early Signing Period/transfer portal era. We know that Freeze’s predecessor was under fire for his recruiting, or lack thereof. What Bryan Harsin failed to do was get a seat at the table for that truly elite talent. Freeze probably isn’t poised to do that just yet, even if he does get a late flip from 4-star Ohio State pledge Kayin Lee.

It doesn’t seem likely that Auburn will pull off a late surprise and land the aforementioned in-state 5-star recruits Russaw or Smith, especially after both took visits to Alabama following the Freeze hire. If neither picks Auburn or if the Tigers can’t get a blue-chip prospect to flip, it’ll be without a top-100 recruit heading into the home stretch of the cycle. Mind you, that’s a year after Auburn whiffed on landing a top-100 recruit for the first time since 2009.

Auburn lost 3 commitments in the first week of December, and the feeling was always that Freeze was going to need to make some major waves in the transfer portal. I’d be surprised if that wasn’t the plan for a class with 15 verbal commitments heading into Wednesday.

8. Jimbo Fisher’s finish is looking strong … even if it’s not historic

Fisher was blasted a few months ago by some because of the drop-off in recruiting class talent following the No. 1 class of the 247sports era in 2022. While it doesn’t look like Fisher is about to flirt with even a top-5 class, he still appears to be on his way to finishing strong in the 2023 cycle.

A&M flipped Ole Miss quarterback commit Marcel Reed (more on him in a second) and it appears the Aggies could flip former Arkansas pledge Micah Tease, who’ll announce his decision Wednesday. Two weeks ago, the Aggies got a huge pickup with the commitment of the top running back in the class, Rueben Owens, who originally committed to Louisville.

It was never going to be a particularly large class after what the Aggies did last year, but heading into Wednesday, Fisher and his staff can take solace in knowing that A&M’s average recruit ranking was still 8th nationally. Not bad for a team still trying to settle on an offensive play-caller.

9. Is Lane Kiffin’s QB situation going to change at all?

So we know that the aforementioned Reed flipped to A&M just 2 days before the Early Signing Period. As only Kiffin could do, he retweeted the news of the flip:

Even for Kiffin, that’s … bold.

Also bold? Going into the new season with just 1 scholarship quarterback. Luke Altmyer hit the transfer portal. We know that Kiffin didn’t sign a quarterback recruit in last year’s class, though that was an afterthought because he signed Jaxson Dart out of the portal. Now, Dart is Ole Miss’ only scholarship quarterback on the roster. There aren’t any imminent prospects on the horizon, either.

It’s a difficult sell to a potential transfer portal quarterback knowing that Dart is returning as the starter and even though he’s draft-eligible after 2023, he’s still got multiple years of eligibility left. It looks like Kiffin is going to have to get a little creative to add some much needed depth at the game’s most important position.

10. Will we get a Georgia commitment from a No. 1 overall recruit?

No, not Arch Manning. That ship has sailed. I’m talking about the No. 1 overall recruit from 2022.

That is, Travis Hunter.

The assumption was that Hunter, just as he did last year when he made the stunning move to flip from Florida State to FCS Jackson State, would follow Deion Sanders and transfer to Colorado. But the 2-way star did officially enter the portal and naturally, there are dots being connected. He played his high school ball at Collins Hill in Georgia and obviously, the Dawgs were heavily invested in his original recruitment. On3 reported that Georgia would be in the mix along with a handful of others.

Colorado is still a huge favorite, but Smart has pulled off some stunning Signing Day moves before.

Landing Hunter would be his biggest to date.