It’s a big week for all the recruiting junkies out there as National Signing Day has finally arrived. Despite the Early Signing Period taking some luster off what was once the biggest day on the recruiting calendar, Wednesday should still have plenty of excitement and drama.
Here’s our preview of National Signing Day in the SEC as programs hit the stretch run of the process that will make or break their chances on the field starting immediately in 2018.
Reign of Terror Just Beginning
The 2018 season will mark the 10th anniversary of the first Urban Meyer-Nick Saban SEC Championship Game. Their programs would meet the following season, seemingly setting up an epic rivalry that would grip the league for years to come. Of course, that never transpired after Meyer’s tenure in Gainesville was unknowingly close to its end while Saban’s Alabama program was just revving up. Based on what we saw transpire on the field last season, combined with recent recruiting results, Alabama could finally have an East rival once again.
We might not have gotten the Alabama-Georgia matchup in Atlanta many predicted last preseason — the one we did get certainly made up for it — but the next round in the 2018 SEC title game seems to be all but written in stone as we head into this offseason. Based on the talent each program has coming in this offseason, it’s fair to say this could be the annual heavyweight battle we missed out on following Meyer’s departure from Florida.
Georgia will finish no lower than No. 2 in the recruiting rankings and will likely finish at No. 1 if things go their way on National Signing Day. Meanwhile, Alabama’s recruiting dominance is only noteworthy this year due to the fact the Crimson Tide aren’t going to finish with the No. 1 class for the first time in eight years. Expect Alabama, which was loaded with true freshmen talent in 2017, to finish with a top 4 class by the time all the signatures come in Wednesday.
New Faces (Kinda) Around the League
There are six new head coaches in the league in 2018, counting Matt Luke who was promoted from his interim position by Ole Miss, but interestingly enough, four have deep roots in the SEC. Taking that into consideration, only Joe Moorhead and Chad Morris can be considered actual new faces to the league.
While the Early Signing Period was a new experience for everyone, figuring out how to deal with the unknown challenges of two recruiting periods was expected by most to hit the new staffs the hardest. Everyone thinking that appears to have been proven correct, as Florida is the only new staff to rank in the top 5 among SEC recruiting class heading into National Signing Day. Tennessee (No. 7), Mississippi State (No. 8), Ole Miss (No. 9), Texas A&M (No. 10) and Arkansas (No. 14) have all paid the price for having new coaches forced to juggle the transition into new roles while at the same time attempt to evaluate the previous staffs’ pledges and fight off defections that the schools wished to keep on board.
Dan Mullen’s Florida staff might rank the highest among the new SEC hires, but the most impressive, if not unexpected, recruiting work among new hires has been taking place in the Magnolia State.
Despite being a complete unknown to the SEC and the state of Mississippi, Joe Moorhead has managed to keep an impressive Hail State recruiting class together despite overtures from Mullen to lure several of the prospects to Gainesville with him. The Bulldogs loaded up at receiver, the team’s weakest position group on the roster, while managing to keep several of the state’s prospects from reopening their recruiting following the coaching change. MSU also held on to Texas QB Jalen Mayden and has already received his letter of intent. Considering the lack of overall QB depth on the roster, that move can’t be overlooked.
Not to be outdone, the coaching staff in Oxford ain’t doing so bad, either. After flipping U.S. Army All-American QB Matt Corral, a top 100 overall prospect, from Florida, the Rebels flipped receiver Elijah Moore from Georgia during the Early Signing Period. Considering the fallout from the end of the Hugh Freeze era and the uncertainty of Luke’s future all season at Ole Miss, it was expected the program would struggle in recruiting. After ranking near the bottom of the league’s recruiting rankings for the better part of the season, Ole Miss has experienced a nice rise following a flurry of commitments at the end of January. While it remains to be seen if it will stand, Luke is currently out recruiting Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M.
NSD scheduled commitments: The Leans
Sure, the vast majority of the elite prospects in the nation already signed, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be plenty of announcements to watch on National Signing Day. The decisions made Wednesday could alter your school’s fate over the next 3-5 years. These prospects, described as “leans,” have likely already made up their minds on where they will play college football.
1) 5-star DB Patrick Surtain Jr., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The nation’s No. 1 cornerback prospect is expected to sign with LSU, but he recently took official visits to Alabama and Clemson. His father, NFL veteran Patrick Surtain, even interviewed for a position on Nick Saban’s staff this offseason.
2) 5-star DB Tyson Campbell, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Perhaps the most incredible note of the 2018 recruiting cycle, Campbell was a high school teammate of Surtain at American Heritage. Surtain comes with more hype, but Campbell could prove to be the better college player by the time his college career ends. Campbell’s signature could seal the nation’s best signing class for Georgia, as the Dawgs are expected to land the south Florida prospect. He’s taken visits to Alabama, Tennessee and Miami leading up to signing day.
3) 5-star DB Olaijah Griffin, Los Angeles
Griffin decommitted from UCLA following the coaching change from Jim Mora to Chip Kelly and now appears likely to play for the Bruins’ crosstown rival USC. However, before the Trojans took all the moment with Griffin, Tennessee was the reason the southern California native backed off his pledge to UCLA. Griffin is also considering Alabama.
4) 4-star WR Justyn Ross, Phenix City, Ala.
It’s not often the Crimson Tide lose an in-state prospect they badly want, but Ross might very well be the latest example of that. Clemson and Auburn are after the talented receiver, but Alabama appears to have all the momentum with his recruitment heading into signing day.
5) 4-star WR JaMarr Chase, Metairie, La.
The top target remaining on LSU’s board, the Tigers didn’t just send the entire offensive staff to visit Chase leading up to the dead period — they sent the entire coaching staff. That move followed Chase’s unofficial visit to Auburn, the school thought to be LSU’s main competition. Chase will make his decision between the two on signing day, but he seems destined to be a Tiger.
NSD scheduled commitments: The Wildcards
On the other hand, these prospects could go anywhere. National Signing Day is annually full of surprises and unexpected drama, and this year should be no different. The reads on these players are all over the place and there’s no telling where they could sign with National Signing Day just days away.
1) 5-star OL Nicholas Petit-Frere, Tampa, Fla.
The nation’s top offensive tackle prospect, Petit-Frere has kept his recruitment extremely close to the vest. Many suspect he’ll end up in Gainesville, but that’s mostly speculation. Considering he’s an in-state prospect and he plays at a premium position of need for the Gators, the logic makes sense. He’s also been courted by Alabama, Ohio State and Notre Dame and could select any of them.
2) 4-star OLB Quay Walker, Cordele, Ga.
While listed as an Alabama commit, he obviously didn’t sign with the Tide and appears set on playing elsewhere. Tennessee appears to be the frontrunner but he was the only official visitor in Athens last weekend and had Georgia QB signee Justin Fields, among others, publicly recruiting him to join the UGA recruiting class. Walker also recently took a visit to Auburn.
3) 4-star DB Isaac Taylor-Stuart, San Diego
One of the top cornerback prospects in the nation, Taylor-Stuart has several elite SEC programs beating down his door. He visited Texas A&M, Alabama and Tennessee in recent weeks could select from any of them. The most likely option appears to be USC, which hopes to pair him with Griffin, giving the Trojans one of the best cornerback duos in the nation for this recruiting cycle.
4) 4-star WR Jaylen Waddle, Bellaire, Texas
One of the first real battles between Alabama and Texas A&M since Jimbo Fisher was hired in College Station, keeping Waddle in-state would be a huge boon to the Aggies’ 2018 recruiting efforts. The U.S. Army All-American might be the nation’s best kick returner prospect and would be an ideal replacement for Christian Kirk for the Ags.
5) 4-star WR Jacob Copeland, Pensacola, Fla.
Copeland is a tough one to read, as he’s constantly supporting one school after another online after looking like a lock to sign with Alabama early in the process. Copeland committed to Florida under Jim McElwain but backed off the pledge after his firing. Now Dan Mullen appears to be close to reeling him back in, but his relationship with Jeremy Pruitt has not only kept him in the mix at Tennessee, it literally put the Vols on his radar. The Crimson Tide and Texas A&M are also competitors for his services.
Started from the Bottom Now We’re Still Here
Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt had an opportunity to make some ground in recruiting and take advantage of the coaching turnover all around them but have failed to do so this recruiting cycle. The three schools rank dead last in the East and only outrank Arkansas in the conference overall when it comes to the 2018 recruiting cycle.
Each program had an opportunity to sell stability and in Kentucky’s case, and somewhat Mizzou’s, the upward progression of the program. That’s not to say those program won’t continue their current upward swing, but finishing at the bottom of the SEC in terms of recruiting rankings has historically proven that the job will now be tougher for both of them to do. The three schools combine to have five 4-star prospects in this cycle, that’s simply not going to cut it moving forward when Florida and Tennessee are bound to get things rolling under new coaches in 2019.
SEC Recruiting Rankings pre-National Signing Day
*247 does not list Tennessee pledge Brandon Davis as a commitment, but he is included here
* All listed rankings come via 247Sports Composite Rankings