Mississippi State, Alabama strike big on JUCO signing day
Wednesday marked the start of the 30-day period when junior college prospects can sign with four-year programs and, as expected, some SEC programs were heavily involved.
Here are a few thoughts on Day 1 of the JUCO signing period.
1. Mississippi State put in work: The Bulldogs signed six JUCO prospects Wednesday and are likely to have at least three more join by the end of the week. This is an interesting step for the program as head coach Dan Mullen clearly sees a lot of holes on the roster — perhaps holes he might not be able to fill in his next two recruiting classes.
The Bulldogs are moving to a 3-4 defensive alignment. Wednesday, they signed defensive tackle Lee Autry from Itawamba College and defensive end/tackle Deion Pope from Copiah-Lincoln to really add some beef up front. Don’t sleep on the addition of former Michigan State lineman Montez Sweat, a tall-rangy lineman who should bolster their pass rush.
The Bulldogs aren’t done either. They received a commitment from top JUCO safety Johnathan Abram (Jones County CC), although he hasn’t signed yet. Former Bulldogs commit Ravian Pierce had to go to Southwest Mississippi CC but he could be on his way back to Starkville too.
2. Auburn continues working toward a QB solution: For the second year in a row, the Tigers dip into the junior college ranks to find an answer at quarterback. Last year they signed John Franklin from East Mississippi in hopes that he could be a dual-threat magician in the backfield, but he’s more like an athlete who can throw a deep ball on occasion than an actual quarterback.
This year Auburn signed former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham. Stidham left Baylor around the time the program decided to fire Art Briles and he was 7-0 as a starter with the Bears.
Officially a part of the @FootballAU family! Time to get to work! #WDE
— Jarrett Stidham (@Jarrett_Stidham) December 14, 2016
Stidham will be a redshirt sophomore and will join the team for Sugar Bowl practices on Dec. 19. With Jeremy Johnson out of eligibility and Franklin likely to move to another position, the battle between Stidham and Sean White promises to be one of the more entertaining storylines of spring.
3. Alabama continues to bolster line depth: The Crimson Tide’s success with JUCO prospects is often overshadowed by their signing day heroics, and rightfully so.
But Alabama signed the top-rated defensive lineman, Mississippi Gulf Coast’s Isaiah Buggs, and the top-rated offensive lineman, San Francisco City College’s Elliott Baker.
If you had to put your finger on the one thing that makes Alabama what it is, it would be the ability to bridge the gap between the strongest and weakest link on a unit. Maybe Buggs and Baker will turn into All-Americans, maybe they will just be special-teamers and backups, but to have starting-quality linemen to fill holes on special teams protection is something very few other programs have the luxury of doing.
4. The Rest of the SEC isn’t staying quiet: This is just the first day and things move a little slower than the high school ranks, so expect more signings over the rest of the week and into the weekend. Arkansas already has a signing from tight end Jeremy Patton (Arizona Western) but it is eyeing top wide receiver prospect Brandon Martin out of Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Former Alabama five-star recruit Kendall Sheffield has done his two years at Blinn College in Texas and is looking at Texas A&M as a potential destination; the Aggies are trying to fight off a late charge from Ohio State.
Ole Miss had a relatively quiet day compared to their in-state rivals but the Rebels will likely have four signings before the evening is done. The mostly highly regarded of the group is defensive end Markel Winters, who had been looking at Mississippi State and Florida State in the final weeks.
A few other fun notes: Sheffield isn’t the only former Alabama commit going somewhere else. Linebacker Adonis Thomas, a member of Alabama’s 2015 class, appears likely to sign with Florida State before the weekend. And quarterback Blake Barnett committed to Arizona State last week and should sign soon. When he enrolls at ASU he will have to sit for the first third of the season.
The most interesting JUCO signing is quarterback De’Andre Johnson, who became the first signee of the Lane Kiffin era at Florida Atlantic.
Johnson signed with Florida State out of high school but was dismissed after punching a woman at a bar.
The video of the incident has been widely viewed and Johnson transferred to East Mississippi, where he is expected to be one of the main characters on the second season of “Last Chance U.”
Johnson visited FAU last weekend before Kiffin was announced as head coach, but it appears easy to connect the dots and believe that Johnson’s interest in FAU was due to Kiffin’s potential involvement.