Nobody was quite sure how college football's first early signing period would go, but the answer was familiar: Even amid preparations for bowl games, the third Wednesday of December felt a lot like the first Wednesday of February.
In the past, recruits have not been able to sign letters of intent until February, but this year brought a new early signing period that began on Wednesday and runs through Friday. Although many top players remain uncommitted and will wait until the traditional signing date, most top players and most verbally committed prospects made things official on Wednesday.
So let's run through 10 things we learned.
Unless otherwise noted, all references to recruiting rankings are via the 247Sports composite team and player rankings, which combine various services into one ranking. References to rankings are as of Thursday morning, Dec. 21.
1. Kirby Smart is building a powerhouse at Georgia.
After a forgettable 8-5 debut season as head coach in 2016, Smart has worked wonders at his alma mater in 2017. In February, Smart signed the nation's No. 3 recruiting class of 2017, locking down the state of Georgia in a fruitful year for the area. The state's top two players went elsewhere, but the Bulldogs still signed 16 blue-chip prospects (four and five stars) from their home state. One of those players, Jake Fromm, became the starting quarterback this fall as a true freshman for a 12-1 team that won the school's first SEC championship since 2005 and is going to the playoff with a chance to play for the first national title since 1980. And now, on Wednesday, Georgia signed a ridiculous eight of the nation's top 38 players in the class of 2018, including three top-10 players: QB Justin Fields, RB Zamir White and G Jamaree Salyer. Nick Saban and Alabama have signed the No. 1 class seven years in a row; Smart, who helped Saban build many of those classes as defensive coordinator, could dethrone his former employer, as Georgia moved to No. 1 after Wednesday with six five-stars and 11 four-stars. That includes a late flip of four-star cornerback Nadab Joseph from Alabama.
2. Clemson is not slowing down.
The defending national champion Tigers are about to make their third straight playoff appearance. Dabo Swinney and his staff have done a phenomenal job of improving Clemson's recruiting and consistently developing players. There's no sign of a letdown, either, as they continue to build post-championship momentum. Clemson signed the nation's No. 1 player, according to the 247Sports composite, in quarterback Trevor Lawrence. (Last year, Clemson signed No. 2 QB Hunter Johnson.) Tackle Jackson Carman, the No. 1 player in the state of Ohio, chose Clemson over Ohio State, and the Tigers also got a Wednesday commitment from five-star DE KJ Henry. With those players joining DE Xavier Thomas, Clemson has signed four of the nation's top nine prospects.
Dabo Swinney totaled four Rivals 5-star signees over his first five classes. He has 14 5-stars in his past five. We are investigating possible correlation with winning.- Larry Williams (@LarryWilliamsTI) December 21, 2017
3. Penn State lands the biggest commitment of the day.
James Franklin already had the verbal commitments to form one of the best Penn State recruiting classes of the 21st century, and this is despite the fact that the Nittany Lions had been on the wrong side of decommitments from QB Justin Fields, ranked No. 2 overall and now heading to Georgia, and DE/LB Micah Parsons, a Pennsylvania native ranked No. 4 overall. On Wednesday, Penn State got Parsons back to further bolster an impressive class. The 6-foot-3, 235-pound Parsons initially verballed to Penn State on Feb. 27, 2016 but decommitted on April 23, 2017. Ohio State seemed to be the leader for his services, but it backed off in part because of, according to The Lantern, self-reported recruiting violations that occurred when Parsons met and was photographed with Kirk Herbstreit and others from the "College Gameday" crew on his visit to the school. (Recruits are not allowed to meet with the media on visits.) Regardless of how the recruiting drama played out, Parsons announced on Wednesday that he would sign with the Nittany Lions, making him the highest-ranked player to announce his decision during the early signing period.
Franklin said that Parsons, who is enrolling early, will begin his career at middle linebacker during spring practice. With Parsons aboard, Penn State is now ranked fourth in the 247Sports composite, with three five-star recruits in Parsons, WR Justin Shorter and RB Ricky Slade. Four-star receiver Jahan Dotson also flipped from UCLA to Penn State on Wednesday.
In the previous four years before James Franklin came to #PennState, PSU had 17 combined 4 & 5-star signees. In the four years with Franklin, the Nittany Lions have now signed 45 four and five-star recruits.- Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) December 20, 2017
4. Alabama's recruiting championship streak is in jeopardy.
The Crimson Tide rank sixth right now, and while they did take a step forward with the help of a Wednesday commitment from five-star DE Eyabi Anoma, they're still in danger of seeing their seven-year streak atop the 247Sports composite coming to an end, thanks in part to the dominance of Georgia. Of course, this is only a "problem" for the Crimson Tide. Alabama is still sixth and still has commitments from 12 blue-chip players. Tuscaloosa will inevitably be the destination of a few more top players by the time the February signing date rolls around, so it's not as if the Crimson Tide won't land yet another star-studded, championship-caliber class. It's just that Smart, the former Alabama assistant, and Swinney, the former Alabama player, are both making life a bit more difficult for their former school.
Saban said Alabama can take 23 players in the 2018 class, so eight spots remain open. Fifteen players have signed so far today- Matt Zenitz (@mzenitz) December 20, 2017
5. Ohio State didn't have its finest day, but it doesn't matter.
Four-star quaterback Emory Jones, ranked No. 40 overall, flipped from Ohio State to Florida on Wednesday. Five-star safety Jaiden Woodbey, ranked No. 27, flipped from Ohio State to Florida State. Five-star tackle Jackson Carman, the No. 1 recruit in the state of Ohio, chose Clemson over Ohio State and claimed that Dabo Swinney told him Urban Meyer is moving into the later stages of his career.
Dabo Swinney told Jackson Carman during his recruitment that Urban Meyer is on the back end of his career in terms of years left. "It wasn't a major factor, but it was an underlying one," Carman said.- Ari Wasserman (@AriWasserman) December 20, 2017
And yet, despite all these early signing losses, Ohio State flipped four-star receiver Cameron Brown from Nebraska and merely fell from No. 1 to No. 2 in the class rankings, behind only Georgia. The Buckeyes still have 18 blue-chip commitments. They'll be fine.
6. Dan Mullen begins solving Florida's passing problem.
Florida hasn't had a top quarterback since Tim Tebow, who was coached by Mullen (then Florida's offensive coordinator) through his junior season in 2008. Since Tebow's departure after the 2009 season, the Gators' offense has been a mess. Here are the team's national rankings in passer rating from 2010-17: 94, 71, 69, 78, 95, 72, 76 and 114. An upgrade in coaching and talent is needed. Mullen was hired in large part to fix the team's quarterback problem, and thus there was perhaps no more important signing on Wednesday than Florida flipping four-star QB Emory Jones from Ohio State. Ranked as the No. 4 dual-threat QB in the class, Jones will enroll early and compete with Feleipe Franks, Kyle Trask and Jake Allen right away.
7. Maryland signs a former No. 1 recruit in another impressive class.
The No. 1 player in the class of 2018, Trevor Lawrence, is heading to Clemson. The No. 1 player in 2015, according to Rivals and ESPN, is heading to Maryland. Defensive lineman Byron Cowart began his career as a five-star recruit at Auburn, where he had 15 tackles in two-plus seasons. He played in three games this season for the Tigers before leaving the team and enrolling at Hillsborough Community College. Now, Cowart has signed with Maryland, hoping to reboot his college career in the Big Ten. He joins an excellent Terrapins recruiting class. D.J. Durkin signed the No. 18 class last year, ranked fourth in the Big Ten, and that's exactly where Maryland stands again as of Thursday morning. Competing with Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan on the recruiting trail in the Big Ten East is nearly impossible, but Maryland is outrecruiting the rest of the Big Ten to give it a chance to be more competitive moving forward.
8. Willie Taggart has a lot of ground to make up.
Taggart spent just one year at Oregon. What was supposed to be his first full recruiting class in Eugene is ranked 13th -- it was in the top 10 when he left -- as he had made immediate improvements to Ducks recruiting. However, he left to replace Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, which has signed four straight top-six classes and is annually one of the biggest recruiting powers in the sport. Alas, that's not yet the case in the class of 2018: After arriving late, Taggart signed four players on Wednesday, with five more verbally committed. With just those nine commitments, Florida State ranks 44th in the 247Sports composite, behind schools like Rutgers, Indiana and Colorado -- teams that are never in the same ballpark as the Seminoles. No coach is ever judged by his first recruiting class, and the early signing period makes things even more difficult for late arrivals like Taggart, who has been on the job for only a few weeks. Now, with so many players already signed elsewhere, the question is how much ground Taggart can make up heading into the second signing period in February.
9. Tom Herman is taking over the state of Texas.
Taggart's class of 2019 is the one to watch, because new coaches at national powers typically clean up on the recruiting trail in their second class, which is their first full year cycle. There's new energy and excitement with a second-year coach, and that often leads to a big bump in recruiting. Herman is experiencing that at Texas now. Without much time, Herman's first class at Texas ranked 25th, with 18 commitments. This year's class is third, with 18 players already signed and three more verbally committed. Herman has signed seven of the top 101 players nationally, five of whom are defensive backs. Herman is also doing what every Texas coach needs to do: He is owning the state of Texas. Twelve of the state's top 15 players, according to 247Sports, have announced commitments. Ten of those 12 -- including all seven committed players who are in the top 10 in the state -- are going to be Longhorns. Herman has dominated the home state after the Longhorns signed zero of the top 18 players last year. Texas and Texas A&M may not play each other on the field anymore, but Herman's recruiting rivalry with new Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher will be worth paying close attention to moving forward.
10. February has become secondary, but it's still important.
Nobody was quite sure how many players would sign in the early period. The answer: The vast majority of verbally committed prospects made things official on Wednesday, which shaped up to be a bigger day than the traditional signing day in February will be. Some verbally committed players are going to wait to sign, but, for example: 18 of Georgia's 23 commits signed letters of intent. Twenty-one of Penn State's 22 signed. All 21 of Ohio State's commits are official. However, there's still plenty of recruiting to be done, as 27 of the top 100 players in the 247Sports composite have yet to verbally commit to anybody, a group that's led by five-star cornerback Patrick Surtain Jr. (yes, the son of that Patrick Surtain), and a handful more have yet to officially sign. Feb. 7 will still be important, but Dec. 20 made sure that the traditional signing day won't be as much of a circus as we've come to expect.