Winners and losers from college football's early signing day
No official visits. No in-person evaluations. No in-home visits. Zoom calls. Virtual tours.
This has been the strangest recruiting cycle in modern college football history. It's also been the quietest.
Nearly every Bowl Subdivision program went into Wednesday's early signing period without any noticeable intrigue, as most coaching staffs awaited the confirmation of longstanding verbal commitments and few major prospects hung in the balance.
That continues a recent trend. The addition of the early period has changed the recruiting calendar and worked as planned, leading to earlier commitments and decreased pressure on prospects and coaches.
Among the changes influenced by the coronavirus pandemic, the inability to perform in-person assessments of individual prospects could lead to more mistakes than usual in talent evaluation. On the other hand, this marks the first cycle since the explosion of recruiting coverage in the 2000s where hidden gems may fly under the radar.
Here are the winners and losers from Wednesday's signing period:
Alabama, Ohio State and more
The best get better every signing day. (Don't listen to anyone who says you can win national championships without stacking several top-ranked classes in a row.) As of Wednesday afternoon, Alabama had the nation's best class per the team rankings compiled by 247Sports.com, followed by Ohio State, Georgia, LSU and Clemson. There were few surprises inside the top 25, which includes seven teams from the SEC. History tells us these classes will keep the Crimson Tide, Buckeyes, Tigers and others at the top of the FBS and race for the College Football Playoff. Don't look so surprised.
One name did stand out near the top, however. Wisconsin inked the nation's No. 16 group, per 247Sports, roughly a dozen spots higher than the Badgers' normal ranking. Look back at recent history: Wisconsin's class ranked 26th in the 2020 cycle, 29th in 2019, 46th in 2018, 39th in 2017 and 35th in 2016. That didn't stop the Badgers from going 44-16 in the past five seasons. This year's class includes three offensive line prospects ranked in the top 140 nationally, led by five-star offensive tackle Nolan Rucci from Pennsylvania.
After losing quarterback Jake Garcia earlier this month — Garcia is expected to sign with Miami (Fla.) — USC rallied to land a signing day commitment from four-star passer Jaxson Dart, one of the prime illustrations of this year's weird recruiting flow: Dart went from zero scholarship offers just six months ago to a spot just outside the top 100 prospects nationally, per 247Sports. The commitment gives the Trojans two quarterbacks in this year's class, joining fellow four-star Miller Moss.
New Jackson State coach Deion Sanders made an immediate impact in his first signing period by flipping former Georgia commitment De'Jahn Warren, a four-star recruit and one of the top junior-college prospects in this cycle. The late turn comes one day after Sanders' son, Shilo, announced his decision to transfer into the program from South Carolina. He'll join his brother with the Tigers: Shedeur Sanders, a four-star quarterback from Trinity Christian (Cedar Hill, Texas), verbally committed to JSU in November and signed Wednesday.
Auburn, South Carolina and more
It's hard to build a recruiting class on the fly as a newly hired coach and even harder to retain verbal commitments amid a coaching staff change. While new South Carolina coach Shane Beamer has a solid pedigree as a recruiter, the Gamecocks are well behind the curve in the SEC and will look more toward the traditional signing period in February to fill gaps in the roster. Auburn lost four-star defensive end George Wilson to Florida State, while several other prospects opted against signing Wednesday while waiting on Gus Malzahn's permanent replacement.
It's a pretty solid group overall: Mike Leach's first full class ranks inside the top 40 nationally. That's still good for only 10th in the SEC, highlighting the league's recruiting edge on the rest of the Power Five. But the Bulldogs' class could've been better. MSU lost a pair of four-star prospects to SEC rivals on signing day, as LSU flipped wide receiver Malik Nabers and rival Mississippi did the same to cornerback MJ Daniels.
The Hokies continue to struggle on the recruiting trail — the 2021 class ranks 43rd nationally — and particularly with crucial in-state prospects, two issues that raise additional concerns over how coach Justin Fuente plans to bring the program's overall talent level in line with the ACC's best. Just four of Virginia Tech's 24 signees are from inside the state, compared to nine signees for rival Virginia. According to the 247Sports' team rankings, the Hokies' last two classes have ranked 10th and 14th, respectively, in the 14-team ACC.