National Signing Day could still bring surprises for Alabama, Ohio State and others

There’s no denying the buildup leading into this week’s National Signing Day lacks some of the glamour and glitz we’ve become accustomed to on the first Wednesday in February.

On that day, high school seniors put pen to paper and sign their national letters of intent, locking in their college destinations. But thanks to the new early signing period in mid-December, much of the drama surrounding Wednesday has been muted.

“The numbers have just been so streamlined. You go from really the player pool shrinking into a puddle,” said Tom Luginbill, ESPN’s National Recruiting Director.

There are typically about 2,800 players in a given recruiting class who sign letters of intent to play at the Football Bowl Subdivision level and, according to Luginbill, more than 2,000 players signed early — roughly 72 percent of the entire 2018 class. It leaves about 700 recruits available, with half of those already committed entering this week.

While the collection of elite athletes still mulling their college options may be smaller than normal, there could still be some entertaining moments Wednesday.

“I think there’s plenty of opportunity for drama especially considering the guys that we would get most of the drama from, the really highly-recruited kids that had a lot of pressure and a lot of stress surrounding their decision based on the big-name programs that were chasing them, that hasn’t changed,” said Barton Simmons, national recruiting analyst for 247Sports.com. “The quantity of the decisions being made is certainly less, but the pressure on the few remaining guys, if anything, has intensified.

“I think the atmosphere is right still for that kind of drama to remain, and I don’t know if that’s ever going anywhere.”

And the theatrics of National Signing Day aren’t just limited to the recruits themselves.

Alabama has taken home the top recruiting class during the past seven years, but the Crimson Tide enter this week on the outside looking in with the No. 6 class in the country, according to 247Sports.com. Ohio State, meanwhile, has the nation’s top class, followed by Georgia and Texas.

While Alabama may have the most to gain on Wednesday, the national champions have a difficult challenge trying to continue their stretch of recruiting dominance. Difficult for sure, but not totally out of the question for the Tide, according to Simmons.

“I think they do have a chance but it would take some stumbles towards the finish line from Georgia and Ohio State,” Simmons said. “Frankly, Alabama could control some of those stumbles. They’re battling Ohio State for [Tampa Berkeley Prep offensive tackle] Nicholas Petit-Frere. They’re battling Georgia for [Fort Lauderdale American Heritage cornerback] Tyson Campbell. If either Ohio State or Georgia gets those guys, it’s going to be tough for Alabama to catch either one of them.

“But if somehow Georgia or Ohio State misses on those guys, I think the door is suddenly open for Alabama.”

Outside of the top 10, there are some new coaches who could make a big impact on Wednesday.

“Whether it’s Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M, Willie Taggart at Florida State or Chip Kelly at UCLA, because of their late start, they also have some room to grow in their [classes],” Simmons said. “As we’ve gotten closer to signing day, they’ve started to gain some traction with some guys. That could result in some serious movement for those programs as well.”

And that’s not all.

“I think Tennessee is going to make a bit of a push,” Luginbill said.

Despite being saddled with a debacle of a coaching search, the Volunteers (19) have managed to put together a top 20 class ahead of signing day.

“Jeremy Pruitt at Tennessee has made some impressive strides since he’s gotten on campus,” Simmons said. “They’ve got a lot of names out there that they can continue to help them out and continue to make moves towards, but what they’ve done already … he’s probably the most impressive new hire at the coaching position.”

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