Mark Lindquist

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National Signing Day Questions

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


National Signing Day Loose Ends


Our traditional version of National Signing Day, the first Wednesday every February, feels like something of a muted affair this year. That’s thanks to the new early signing period in December, which took a number of notable prospects off the board headlined by quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields. There’s still plenty of intrigue, though, and plenty of questions to be answered as we wrap up the 2018 cycle. We’ll hit a few of those below. Player and team rankings from Rivals unless otherwise noted.


What’s up with Jimbo Fisher and Texas A&M?


It’s somewhat difficult to fathom, but the Aggies currently boast the No. 50 recruiting class in the country. Low key, it’s been far from a smooth start for Jimbo Fisher since leaving Florida State for College Station in December. It speaks in part to the respect that Kevin Sumlin had on the trail, but it’s an odd turn for Fisher, who routinely cleaned up with top-10 classes in Tallahassee. It would be easy to chalk that up to “well, it’s a coaching transition,” but that does not explain everything. All it takes is a glance at the team he just left -- the Seminoles have crushed it under Willie Taggart, gaining multiple commitments on his watch, including a former four-star Duck pledge in four-star WR Warren Thompson. Fisher shouldn’t be considered completely sunk quite yet -- Texas A&M could be in play for the likes of four-star S Leon O’Neal and four-star WR Jaylen Waddle, among others -- but we’re not betting on a magical one-day rebound. Our closest recent analog came with Texas’ hiring of Tom Herman from Houston a year ago. The Longhorns finished No. 31 for the 2017 cycle. They’re up at No. 3 this year.


Does USC or UCLA reign supreme in California after Wednesday?


USC would tend to be the answer, here, as the Trojans routinely close out strong on NSD, but Chip Kelly’s addition at UCLA has made exactly the kind of splash that the Bruins had to have been hoping for when they hired him. Unlike Jimbo Fisher, whose star wattage just hasn’t kicked in yet for whatever reason, Kelly -- who landed five new pledges in the final full week before signing day -- has been routinely mentioned by recruits in terms of the allure of the program. Three-star TE Matt Alaimo said after visiting the Bruins that Kelly’s selling job (a successful one) not only involved his planned schemes at UCLA, but also his use of Zach Ertz with the Philadelphia Eagles. That NFL card turns out to be a good one to play. Now, USC may well end up with a top-10 class. They’re in play to sign a pair of stud uncommitted corners in four-star Olaijah Griffin -- who decommitted from UCLA after Kelly was hired, actually --  and four-star Isaac Taylor-Stuart on Wednesday, plus LB  Soloman Tuliaupupu. And they already have enough firepower in the stable, including QB J.T. Daniels and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, that they’ll likely finish ahead of the Bruins in terms of pure class ranking. We’ll see about next year, though, when Kelly has had a full cycle in which to work.


Does Georgia hang onto the nation’s No. 1 class?


The Bulldogs bulldozed through the early signing period to astonishing degree, repeatedly cleaning up in signing the likes of QB Justin Fields, RBs Zamir White and James Cook, G Jamaree Salyer and T Cade Mays, among a cast of many, many others. They’ve already signed 20 players, nine of whom are enrolled at the university. In terms of whether UGA can hold off Ohio State (No. 2), Texas (No. 3), Penn State (No. 4) and Miami (No. 5) in ending with the No. 1 class for the cycle, an anticipated signing of five-star CB Tyson Campbell may well seal the deal. Given the strides they’ve already made, they don’t necessarily need to dominate to finish at the top of the mountain.


Is Alabama dead?


Despite the fact that they were unable to sway four-star Princeton QB Brevin White after he visited Tuscaloosa late in the cycle, we’ll hold off on proclaiming Bama dead in the water. Though they did just lose a recruiting battle with Princeton. The defending champs have been swimming in the lower half of the top-10 on Rivals for a while. We keep expecting them to put their foot down and gain some steam, but to this point, they have not. So once more, with real feeling in the back -- we think Alabama will have a top-five class when all is said and done. They’re a strong contender to land four-star in-state wideout Justyn Ross and could also net Texas A&M four-star target Jaylen Waddle, who profiles in a similar role as the departed Christian Kirk, if the day’s in their favor. If the day’s really, really, going in their favor, five-star T Nicholas Petit-Frere (the highest-rated uncommitted lineman) would opt for Nick Saban and crew. He’s No. 11 on Rivals for the cycle. Look for big gains in the secondary, too -- five-star CB Patrick Surtain and the aforementioned Campbell are both looking at Bama and the program’s additionally in play for uncommitted four-star S Leon O’Neal. We expect the Tide to finish strong.


Who’s willing to wait for Tanner McKee?


The highest-rated uncommitted quarterback in the 2018 class, McKee ranks as Rivals’ No. 78 overall prospect. Not only is he the highest-rated quarterback without a home, he’s the only quarterback remaining uncommitted on the Rivals250, period. He’s still available because he won’t be playing football for another two years, as he will take a mission for the LDS church and will not play until 2020 at the earliest. This, understandably, makes his recruitment something of a Rubix Cube to solve. Alabama, Stanford, Texas, Texas A&M and Washington are all among his finalists. The Cardinal look likely to make the long-play, here. That feels about right, as K.J. Costello is just coming off his redshirt freshman year and looks to be locking in as starter, allowing McKee time to fulfil his church obligations before the Cardinal might need him.


Who’s in danger of flipping?


Probably the most noteworthy name on this front would be OLB Quay Walker, Rivals’ No. 38 overall prospect, committed to Alabama since last summer. If the Tide are to feel the heat, it’ll come from Georgia or Tennessee. Both programs helmed by former Nick Saban defensive coordinators, of course. The troubling part for Alabama, less than the possibility of losing Walker as an individual, is that there’s just a little less foot space in recruiting, now. That’ll show in the future, even if it doesn’t show immediately. Also keep watch on Miami DT pledge Nesta Silvera, a power interior lineman who took an official visit to Florida in mid-January and could turn for the Gators. Last week, we saw Kentucky fail to hang onto four-star LB Xavier Peters, who flipped in favor of Florida State.


Does the Big Ten exist beyond Ohio State and Penn State?


We’re a bit concerned about Michigan at this point. If Alabama’s incrementally losing recruiting foot space to Georgia and the like, the Wolverines do not appear to even be dancing to the same song as their Big Ten overlords. UM currently sits at No. 17 on Rivals (OSU and Penn State are at No. 2 and No. 4, respectively), a stark placement given that they have turned in the outlet’s No. 4 class each of the last two cycles. That previous talent will mature in the next year or so, but beyond then? It’s not like it’s Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and then a wide gap between that trio and the rest of the conference. Both Michigan State and Nebraska -- Scott Frost is going to put a cold spell on the 2019 cycle; we’ll escort ourselves out, thanks -- are nipping on the tails of the Wolverines on the rankings board. Michigan’s window to remain a serious contender will be open through the 2019 season. And then it might start to get dicey. Maybe the real question is whether HC Jim Harbaugh is willing to stick it out that long.

    




Mark Lindquist holds a master's degree from the University of Iowa and writes baseball and college football for Rotoworld.com. He's currently working on a memoir about life, death, rock 'n' roll and his year teaching at a Chinese university. You can reach him on Twitter @markrlindquist.
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