After a day full of hats on heads and socially distanced announcements, National Signing Day is in the books and the early signing period is off and running. The 2021 recruiting rankings have settled after some major shake ups and the competition for the top classes has been reset before the home stretch in late January and early February.
It has been a year of uncertainty in nearly walk of life and the same has been the case for recruiting for the 2021 class. NCAA rules due the pandemic limited the in-person contact that’s often used by both coaches and players to help finalize the decision-making process, so Zoom calls and unofficial visits to campus had to suffice for players who were looking to end their recruitment here in on the December signing day.
As it turns out, that uncertainty did not result in a drastic shifts in the number of top players who decided to commit today instead of waiting until February. More than 40 of the top 50 players in the 247Sports Composite chose to sign or announce their commitment on Wednesday with a few more soon announcing in a U.S. Army All-American Bowl declaration special on Jan. 2.
Even more consistency among uncertainty can be seen in the battle for the No. 1 class. Alabama appears on its way to not only securing the top class in the country but challenging 2010 Florida for the highest-rated class in the history of the 247Sports database. The competition for the Crimson Tide in the coming weeks will include Ohio State at No. 2, LSU at No. 3 and Georgia at No. 4. This recruiting cycle has been unlike any in history, and yet, the same names are getting the best players and putting together the top classes in the country.
Now that the dust has settled (for now), lets highlight some winners and losers from the early National Signing Day.
Alabama: As if the reclaiming of the No. 1 spot and the potential of the «highest-rated class in recruiting history» weren’t enough, a deeper dive on Alabama’s class showcases how Nick Saban is going to keep fielding explosive offenses. The group of Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle will be gone after this year, and they will be replaced not only by John Metchie III but also with five-star wide receiver Jacorey Brooks and four-star Christian Leary. There’s also two five-star offensive linemen (JC Latham and Tommy Brockermeyer) and the No. 2 offensive guard in the country (Terrence Ferguson) coming in to provide depth for a group that will be tasked with being the anchor for an offense that will highlight those playmakers on the outside. Saban asked if this is what we wanted football to be when he was questioning the up-tempo and high-scoring offenses at the beginning of the decade, but he’s ending it doing a better job recruiting offensive players than anyone in the country.
Ole Miss: One of the biggest surprise on the day was the flip of M.J. Daniels from Mississippi State to Ole Miss. Daniels is a four-star prospect rated as the nation’s No. 10 athlete, according to 247Sports, but a three-star in the 247sports Composite; he was reaffirming his commitment to Mississippi State as of a few days ago. Then on Wednesday, with thousands of Mississippians watching a Facebook stream of the announcement, Daniels picked up an Ole Miss cap instead of Mississippi State or Texas A&M. Lane Kiffin has been slowly moving Ole Miss up in the class rankings and winning head-to-head battles against Mississippi State in this 2021 recruiting cycle. Ole Miss doesn’t need to be in the top five like Alabama, LSU and Georgia in order for Kiffin to find success, but top 20 classes will do the trick.
LSU: It’s been a really good week for LSU, starting with the upset win against rival Florida and now checking in with the No. 3 class at the end of National Signing Day. The opt-outs, self-imposed bowl ban and on-field struggles may have dominated the headlines in recent months, but behind the scenes, this LSU staff has been working tirelessly to secure the future of the Tigers’ program. LSU not only landed the No. 1 prospect in Louisiana with five-star defensive tackle Maason Smith, but it went into Florida to win a key commitment from four-star cornerback Damarius McGhee and into Ohio to get four-star running back Corey Kiner. Relationships forged in the wake of LSU’s magical 2019 season are still paying off in a way that can guarantee 2020 was a blip on the radar of Orgeron’s otherwise-impressive tenure as head coach.
USC: One of the themes of last year’s recruiting cycle was how far USC had fallen from its days of annually finishing in the top five or top 10 of the class rankings, moving outside the top 50 in the 2019 team rankings. The Trojans started the day at No. 15 and jumped all the way to No. 11 as they welcomed in signed letters of intent from 12 four-star prospects from its 20-player class. One notable headline from the day was the commitment of four-star quarterback Jaxson Dart, the No. 9 pro-style quarterback in the class, who chose the Trojans over in-state BYU, Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State and more.
Mississippi State: The other side of Ole Miss’ recruiting wins in the state of Mississippi is a lot of disappointment for Mississippi State. The MJ Daniels flip was particularly painful on the Egg Bowl rivalry level, but there was also losing out on four-star wide receiver Malik Nabers. The Bulldogs were a finalist for Nabers, a top-50 wide receiver and one of the top-10 players in the state of Louisiana, but the in-state Tigers landed his commitment on Wednesday. Of the most notable signing day flips in the SEC, Mississippi State was on the losing end of two of them.
Auburn: It’s tough to ask Auburn to close at its normal pace with Gus Malzahn out and no replacement named, so this is less a judgment on the skeleton staff running the show as the opportunities lost by having a signing day in the middle of a coaching transition. Auburn is down at No. 46 in the country and No. 12 in the SEC, and while there were some blue chip prospects who have stuck with the program regardless of the coach in charge (like four-star Demetrius Davis out of Texas and four-star defensive tackle Lee Hunter) there’s a feeling that the Tigers would have been in on some more of the top SEC prospects with a more stable coaching situation.
Virginia Tech: The school has decided to stick with Justin Fuente after some speculation that a change might be ahead, and the charge for him moving forward will be to try and improve this class (either through high school talent or the transfer portal) before February to close the gap with where the Hokies want to be among their peers. Virginia Tech can recruit at a top-25 level, but it currently ranks No. 43 in the country. Perhaps even more concerning is not the national ranking but how Virginia Tech stacks up against the rest of the ACC, closer to Boston College and Georgia Tech at No. 10 in the conference while Pitt and rival Virginia are in the top five.