SEC winners and losers from Early Signing Day
It came and went like Christmas.
Early Signing Day might not have been Christmas for all, but it certainly was for some. SEC teams got major, last-minute additions who could be stars years from now.
Obviously, I don’t have a crystal ball. I can’t sit here and pretend that I know which 2-star kid is going to make it to the NFL. But what I can do is evaluate the day as a whole.
To be clear, “winners and losers” is based strictly on the day that was with the context we had. A team can have a top-10 class and still feel like it could’ve had a much better day. You don’t “win” the day by having a longtime verbal commit simply sign his National Letter of Intent. And on the flip side, some classes might not have yielded a top-10 ranking, but they could’ve gotten their top target to provide a huge boost.
So with that, let’s dig into some SEC winners and losers of the Early Signing Day:
Oh, what it day it was for Boom. Here’s some perspective on landing Jordan Burch, AKA the 5-star defensive end out of Columbia. Yes, he’s the Gamecocks’ top-rated recruit since a fella named “Jadeveon Clowney.” Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Burch is also the highest-rated SEC commitment in the 2020 class. There’s a reason why LSU and Georgia made strong late pushes to land the freakish defensive end, but there was so much mystery surrounding the announcement.
It was a massive win for Will Muschamp, who landed Burch despite being on every pre-2020 hot seat list in America. Or rather, he will be. And how did Muschamp feel about winning one over on his competitors after some expected negative recruiting against South Carolina? Um, pleased.
“When you don’t have the year you want to have, you deal with a lot on the recruiting trail,” he said. “About 90% of it is not true from some of our lovely competitors.”
WATCH: Part of Will Muschamp’s opening statement at his Signing Day press conference. Throwing a little shade at some other schools potentially negative-recruiting against South Carolina.
— Cam Gaskins (@CamGaskinsTV) December 18, 2019
Burch can potentially fill a major need on that defensive line with the departure of Javon Kinlaw. It wasn’t just Burch’s announcement that made South Carolina’s day successful. The Gamecocks fended off Oklahoma and Florida State to land top-20 athlete Jahiem Bell out of Georgia.
As a result, South Carolina closed Wednesday with the No. 17 class, which would be the best of the Muschamp era if it were to hold.
They might not’ve landed a recruit as coveted as Burch, but the Vols just got key pickup after key pickup on Wednesday. The list of Tennessee commitments/signees on Wednesday was significant:
- 4-star athlete Len’Neth Whitehead
- 4-star defensive end Tyler Baron
- 4-star defensive end Morven Joseph
- 3-star quarterback Jimmy Holiday
- 3-star defensive tackle Reginald Perry
Those were 5 of Tennessee’s top targets entering the day, and all of them are coming to Knoxville.
It was the teams who Tennessee beat to land said recruits that stood out. Joseph, a Florida native, picked the Vols over the Gators and Florida State. Baron picked Tennessee after a late push from Kentucky. Holiday, an all-state quarterback in Mississippi, flipped from TCU to Tennessee on Wednesday morning. Whitehead had some late interest from South Carolina and UCLA, but ultimately left the Peach State for Rocky Top.
It was a key close for Jeremy Pruitt’s staff, which ended the day with a top-15 class that was good for No. 7 in the SEC. That’s a far cry from where they could’ve been when the Vols were the laughing stock of the college football world following losses to Georgia State and BYU.
Now, though, Pruitt’s close should pay dividends in a hurry.
Somewhat quietly, Kentucky has a chance to sign its highest-rated class of the recruiting rankings era. Mark Stoops took a major step toward doing that by picking up a few key commitments down the stretch. One of those was 4-star lineman Josaih Hayes out of Mississippi. Lane Kiffin’s staff made a late push to land the Magnolia State product, but Hayes picked the Cats over the likes of Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn and Memphis.
That was a major get, and as it turned out, it was a major chance for Kentucky assistant and former Ole Miss assistant Jon Sumrall to troll Kiffin after Hayes’ decision came in:
— Jon Sumrall (@CoachJonSumrall) December 18, 2019
The real area that Kentucky won the week was on the offensive line. The position where the Cats absolutely dominated this year got some major additions. On Tuesday, Under Armour All-American offensive guard RJ Adams announced his commitment to Kentucky, and not long after that, No. 2 JUCO offensive tackle Jeremy Flax gave his commitment to the Cats, as well.
Stoops has been criticized for not being able to dig into the south enough in his recruiting. In his No. 23-ranked class, he’s got signees/commitments from 10 different states, 7 of which are in the SEC. That’s as good a sign as any for Kentucky, who continues to show that 2018 wasn’t a flash in the pan.
The deck was stacked against Mizzou from the jump. Eli Drinkwitz was smart to keep some of Mizzou’s staff in place, but with his lack of recruiting ties in the Southeast, it was next to impossible for him to somehow improve Mizzou’s class with roughly a week and a half of time.
Mizzou went into the day having lost a Columbia native to Minnesota — that was over the weekend — and simply tried to stay afloat. To Drinkwitz’s credit, he did keep 4-star receiver and top recruit Javian Hester on board, and all-purpose back Elijah Young kept his Mizzou commitment. But the Tigers lost 3-star running back commitment Dominique Johnson to Arkansas, and 3-star offensive lineman Ray Curry Jr. also left Mizzou for Sam Pittman’s squad.
Oh, and this wasn’t the best look for Drinkwitz:
In a (now deleted) tweet, a family member of Dominique Johnson calls out new Mizzou coach Eli Drinkwitz for “deceit.” Johnson was committed to Mizzou, ended up signing with Arkansas. pic.twitter.com/BRBkC1SpTM
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) December 18, 2019
Say what you want about that, but that’s the last thing a coach wants to see said about himself on signing day.
Here’s the thing — Mizzou sits there at No. 80 nationally with just 10 signees. That means the Tigers should be plenty active leading up to February with essentially half a class to fill. Now that Drinkwitz actually has his staff in place, there should be a much clearer plan of attack.
Arkansas did steal a couple of Mizzou commitments, and getting 4-star Oregon pledge Myles Slusher to flip to the Hogs was the big win of the day for Sam Pittman. How the new Arkansas coach handled the day was commendable, though like Mizzou, it was a bit impossible.
Again, the deck was stacked against Pittman with such a quick turnaround to salvage a class that was in shambles when he arrived. As of 2:50 p.m. ET on Wednesday, they had 5 signees and 3 verbal commitments. Meanwhile, the majority of the rest of the SEC has close to 20 signees each, and it looks like the vast majority of their work is done.
That’s the issue. Arkansas’ numbers are still hurting, despite those additions. We’re talking about a program with some major roster overhaul expected that’s sitting there with just 7 signees. I’d be stunned if Arkansas’ numbers were still lacking by the time February rolled around, but for now, that’s all we have to judge Pittman’s first class on.
Before you blast me, LSU fans, let me say this. The Tigers are in the midst of a season for the ages. The fact that LSU is set to finish with a top-5 class is a tip of the cap to the job that Ed Orgeron and his staff have done. And to be clear, Wednesday had plenty of positives.
Fending off Alabama and Georgia to hold onto the commitment from 5-star tight end Arik Gilbert was huge, as was getting 4-star linebacker Phillip Webb to pick LSU over Alabama and Florida.
But it felt like LSU had a chance to end up with the No. 1 class and continue this incredible wave of momentum it had. Instead, this happened:
#LSU receiver commit Jermaine Burton flipped to Georgia.
Today, LSU has:
-Lost 5-star receiver Rakim Jarrett to Maryland
-Lost top-100 receiver Jermaine Burton to Georgia
-Lost a tough battle on No. 5 overall DE Jordan Burch
-Clyde Edwards-Helaire suffered a hamstring injury
— Brody Miller (@BrodyAMiller) December 18, 2019
The Jarrett news was the stunner of the day. The 5-star verbal pledge wasn’t expected to sign until February, but Mike Locksley pulled a fast one on LSU. Losing Burton had been feared for awhile, but was the second elite receiver to elect not to play in LSU’s high octane offense, which was surprising. Missing out on Burch probably stung a little extra for Ed Orgeron, who is obviously an elite recruiter defensive linemen.
That tweet didn’t include how LSU started the day, which was losing 4-star safety Malcolm Greene to Clemson. And 4-star defensive end Demon Clowney dropped his LSU commitment after 9 months and announced that he’ll sign somewhere in February.
I realize the Edwards-Helaire news wasn’t related to signing day, but it felt like another blow to what was at least a slightly disappointing day for LSU.
Orgeron said that LSU was going to beat Alabama in recruiting during his hyped post-game speech this year, but his class is ranked behind No. 2 Alabama and sits exactly where it was last year. Again, having the No. 5 class in American is NOTHING to complain about. The Tigers are loaded.
But could the day have been significantly better in Baton Rouge? Absolutely.