Winners and losers from college football signing days – USA TODAY

The advent of an early signing day in December has drastically altered the recruiting landscape in college football. No longer is the first Wednesday of February the watershed day when the vast majority of major recruits put pen to paper on their national letters of intent.
However, that doesn’t mean there is a lack of significant prospects that delay an early decision or important calls being made by fast-rising recruits that finalize their school choice on the previous day that dominated the calendar. And those decisions will impact the outlook for the successes and disappointments from this year’s recruiting cycle.
So with programs — especially those with new coaching staffs — given a second bite at the apple in recruiting, a look at the winners and losers of this year’s two combined signing days.
It’s remarkable what the Aggies have done in finishing with the consensus No. 1 class. The group is notable for its diversity among positions. QB Connor Weigman addresses a significant need. He is joined on offense by receivers Evan Stewart and Chris Marshall. Defensive linemen Walter Nolen and Gabriel Brownlow-Dindy lead that side of the ball. The late signing period brought further reinforcements with DL Shermar Stewart. Jimbo Fisher’s haul is the story of signing day as it represents a major step in Texas A&M being able to go toe-to-toe with Georgia and Alabama on and off the field.
The Nittany Lions are another program in need of major recruiting successes to reach the top of their conference. James Franklin delivered with one of the school’s best classes since his arrival in 2014. Ranked comfortably in the top 10, the highlight of the group is QB Drew Allar, who Franklin pulled from the state of Ohio. Five-star DL Dani Dennis-Sutton should provide immediate help along with RB Nicholas Singleton. Penn State fans have to be happy with this haul that comes on the heels of their coach receiving a massive extension that should eliminate doubts about his future. Now the Lions just have to build on the momentum.
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You’re not supposed to pull off a top five class after going 5-7 in your first season. But that’s exactly what Steve Sarkisian did. More important than the ranking was the Longhorns addressing their biggest concern with seven offensive line additions, led by heralded prospects Kelvin Banks and Devon Campbell. DB Terrance Brooks leads a strong group of defenders. How quickly newcomers can make an impact could determine the team’s success in 2022 and 2023 as Sarkisian tries to rebuild the program with an SEC move on the horizon.
Georgia and Alabama occupied their expected positions at the top of the class rankings, and Texas A&M made its mark. But the the middle of the conference also flexed its recruiting muscle in an impressive fashion. Missouri grabbed five-star WR Luther Burden as part of its top 15 class. Tennessee and Kentucky were in the same neighborhood with QB Tayven Jackson and OL Kiyaunta Goodwin the notables of their respective groups. Mississippi State added DL Trevion Williams as part of its haul that finished just behind the other three success stories.
The inauspicious start of the Bryan Harsin era continues with this recruiting class that sits at the back end of the top 20 after finishing in a similar position last year. Better results are expected with fans unsatisfied unless the Tigers are SEC West contenders. The hope is that LB Robert Woodyard and DBs Austin Ausberry and JaDarian Rhym, along with junior college DL Jeffrey M’ba, are players that bolster the defense. Harsin better hope so after a 6-7 start to his tenure and the departure of both coordinators.
If the Seminoles are going to get anywhere near the top of the ACC again, it will have to start with winning the recruiting battles against the other major programs in their region. Mike Norvell looked to have things on track in December with a top 10 class before No. 1 overall prospect Travis Hunter made his surprise flip to Jackson State and several other commitments or possible pledges fell through. FSU still finished inside the top 20 — a good sign overall. But this didn’t become the class that was supposed to jump-start its resurgence.
The biggest impact of the early signing period is the accelerated timeline given to coaches as they attempt to salvage existing recruiting classes at their new schools with only a few weeks available to make connections with commitments or bring in new players. Making matters worse for some is the instability of the programs they are joining.
USC went without a coach for three months of the season, so it’s no surprise Lincoln Riley managed just eight signings in a class that had quality but no depth. LSU fired Ed Orgeron with more than a month left, and while Brian Kelly did his best, the Tigers were squarely outside of their usual place in the top 10. Oregon and Miami (Fla.), both impacted by the move of Mario Cristobal, had smaller-than-usual groups. Florida also took a step back even with Billy Napier pulling off some late wins.
The lone newcomer that finished strong was Oklahoma’s Brent Venables. The Sooners had some big losses when Riley departed but still ended with a top 10 class with the late adds of RB Jovantae Barnes, LB Jaren Kanak and WR Jayden Gibson.
The good news for this coaching group is their tenures won’t be judged by this one year. Recruiting for 2023 already is in full swing. The transfer portal can also offset some of their needs, too. Riley was aggressive as the Trojans landed QB Caleb Williams among three former Oklahoma players that followed him. The Sooners and LSU have also been aggressive in this area.

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