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College football’s early signing period was a grand experiment this week. It seemed as though no two coaches had the exact same feeling about how exactly it would play out — and opinions within the media were often misinformed and misguided.
With the first ESP in the books, here’s what we learned.
1. December Will Never Again Be ‘Early’ — February Is Late
Nearly 2,000 of the 2,800 players who will sign with with FBS programs this winter did so during the early signing period. Only around 400 unsigned, uncommitted players remain.
No one was totally sure how this first early signing period would go, but, as it turns out, it’ll never again be considered “early.”
Programs such as Georgia and Oklahoma signed near-entire classes this week. Roughly three-quarters of 247Sports’ Top 100 prospects will be off the table by the end of the day Friday.
So what does that mean? Well, in essence, it means what we said it’d mean.
Take Ohio State, for example. The Buckeyes have 21 players signed from the class of 2018 — along with the added luxury of knowing that they won’t have their top targets at quarterback, safety, or tackle. So, now, instead being left empty handed at worst or scrambling to poach during the first week of February at best, Ohio State can poach with precision and emphasis, with seven full weeks to develop relationships with just a few top targets at positions of need.
The ESP is particularly challenging for coaching staffs that have only been on the job for a couple of weeks — especially when the class they inherited was relatively poor to begin with.
Programs that match that description were forced to sprint through the past two weeks, hoping to flip a few kids they built relationships with at their previous school — while locking in whatever commits they came into.
They can turn lemons into lemonade by going hard after the small pool of three- and four-star prospects with a fresh pitch.
2. A Commitment Means Next To Nothing After Dec. 22
Verbal commitments are flimsy anyway, but if a player was committed to a program and didn’t sign this week, that commitment matters very little at this point.
As Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio put it, “I would expect anyone that's committed to us to sign with us in the early signing period. Otherwise they probably aren't really committed is the reality of it.”
With extremely rare exceptions, the only players who didn’t sign this week were those who still have some uncertainty about where they’d like to play. And, with every program having had the opportunity to gain some significant insight to who it will and won’t have, it will be open season on these unsigned prospects over the course of the next seven weeks.
3. Kirby Smart Has Completely Transformed Georgia
I wrote about it a couple of months ago, but the Mark Richt-to-Miami and Kirby Smart-to-Georgia transactions worked out well for both programs.
In just his second season, Smart has turned UGA into a very real threat to Alabama’s SEC superiority for the foreseeable future. Not only did the Bulldogs win the SEC en route to a College Football Playoff date with Oklahoma, but Georgia also won the ESP — and it was relatively resounding.
How good is this @FootballUGA signing class?— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) December 22, 2017
TE Luke Ford (No. 63 in the 2018 ESPN 300) signed on Thursday.
Ford would be the highest-ranked commitment for 111 FBS programs.
He’s currently the TENTH-highest ranked recruit in Georgia’s 2018 class. pic.twitter.com/gfVU9sO8MM
The Dawgs’ early haul included a dozen players ranked in the top five at their positions, including No. 1 overall player and (dual-threat) quarterback Justin Fields, No. 1 running back Zamir White, No. 1 guard Jamaree Salyer, and No. 1 linebacker Adam Anderson.
A prospect’s perception of Georgia both in-state and beyond has changed drastically in a short amount of time. We’re on the doorstep of a dynasty in Athens.
4. Remember When 'Clemsoning' Was A Negative Verb?
Today, Clemsoning means crushing signing day and playing for national championships.
Dabo Swinney and the Tigers raked in four of the top seven players in the country during the ESP, including the other No. 1 overall player and (pro-style) quarterback Trevor Lawrence and stud defensive end Xavier Thomas.
Clemson didn’t sign the volume of talent that, say, Georgia or Ohio State did, but the Tigers are the favorites to land four-star wide receiver Justyn Ross and — along with Florida, which flipped quarterback Emory Jones — dealt a major blow to Ohio State’s class by stealing the Buckeyes’ top-ranked prospect, tackle Jackson Carman.
Carman, you might recall, expressed publicly his opinion that Ohio State should bench JT Barrett for Dwayne Haskins — which, naturally, led to a Twitter fight with Kirk Herbstreit.
5. Apparently Tweeting Random Fan Nonsense At Recruits Isn’t A Terrible Idea
St. John Bosco (CA) defensive back Jaiden Woodbey is the second-ranked safety in the 2018 class. Woodbey had 29 offers from a list of suitors that included just about every blue-blood program: Alabama, Oklahoma, Southern Cal, Georgia, to name a handful.
He did not have an offer from Florida State, however, despite the fact that FSU was apparently his dream school all along.
But, while Jimbo Fisher had apparently forgotten about Jaiden, @SeminoleLifer had not.
Willie Taggart — who had offered Woodbey while the head coach at Oregon — promptly offered him the opportunity to join the ‘Noles, and barely a week after landing his 30th and final offer, Woodbey decommitted from Ohio State and signed with Florida State.
What a world.