National Signing Day never seems to disappoint nowadays. Every year, somebody ups the ante on the hijinks.
On Wednesday, we had Deontay Anderson announcing his decision to go to Ole Miss while skydiving. Mecole Hardman had four cakes and didn’t eat any of them because the Georgia commit was just trolling everyone. And the nation’s top recruit Rashan Gary and his large contingent of family and friends flew up to Bristol, Conn., to reveal his school of choice in ESPN’s studios.
But none of that topped “Signing of the Stars” extravaganza at the University of Michigan. Thanks to a highly polished production by The Players’ Tribune, the show was part-pep rally, part-American Idol and mostly an informercial for the Wolverines. The star-studded cast included Tom Brady, Derek Jeter and Lou Holtz, but the one who brought the house down was Ric Flair.
Just like on the football field in the fall, whenever there’s competition, there are winners and losers. Here’s our quick take on the recruiting scoreboard after Signing Day:
(All rankings courtesy of Rivals.com)
Jim Harbaugh: The man who can’t stop making news was once again the headliner. Not only did he conceive “Signing of the Stars” that packed the Hill Auditorium on the Michigan campus, he also hauled in the Wolverines’ best class in a decade, coming in at No. 4 after securing the commitment of the aforementioned Gary. And of course he didn’t stop there: Harbaugh says Michigan will have its first week of spring practice at the IMG Academy in Florida, which will cause lots of teeth gnashing and whining down south.
Alabama: While Harbaugh made the most noise, Nick Saban quietly came out on top, with a flurry of signings – nine in all – on Wednesday to finish with his fifth top-ranked recruiting class in the last six years. The defending national champions just did a quick reload, especially on defense.
SEC: LSU and Ole Miss came close to dethroning ‘Bama for the top-ranked recruiting class and finished sixth and seventh. In all, SEC teams occupied half of the top 10 and eight of the top 16 spots. Saban’s protege Kirby Smart did well to haul in the No. 10-ranked class despite splitting time after getting the Georgia job while continue to coordinate the Tide’s title-winning defense.
USC: Despite all the turmoil – a third coaching change in the last three years – the Trojans had a spectacular Signing Day to end up with the eighth-ranked class after beating ‘Bama for first last year. Clay Helton, only named permanent head coach in early December, capped off the day by nabbing five-star corner Jack Jones out of Long Beach Poly to finish with the best class in the Pac-12, and west of the Mississippi.
Charlie Strong: Coming off a 5-7 season, things were looking pretty bleak for the coach entering his third season in Austin. Texas’ recruiting class were ranked well outside of the top 20 coming into Signing Day but Charlie finished strong, not only landing a few five- and four-star recruits but picking them off Texas A&M to boot. Strong’s class ended up 13th, easily the best in the Big 12.
ACC’s Also-Rans: Florida State and Clemson have dominated the ACC for the last five years, and that trend doesn’t look to be halted anytime soon. The ‘Noles and Tigers finished with the second- and fifth-ranked classes, respectively, while no one else in the ACC landed in the top 20. Mark Richt’s rebuilding project at Miami will require some patience as the ‘Canes came in a distant third among ACC schools, at No. 22.
Non-Power 5: How big is the gap between the haves and have-nots? Look no farther than Signing Day, as the top-rated class by a Group of Five school came in 44th, well behind such Power 5 bottom feeders as Kentucky and Maryland. And that class belongs to Tom Herman’s Houston Cougars, who were coming off a brilliant 13-1 season capped by manhandling Florida State in the Peach Bowl.
Penn State: James Franklin’s class came in fourth in the Big Ten … the bad news is that it’s also fourth in the cut-throat Big Ten East, well behind Ohio State, Michigan and even Michigan State. The Nittany Lions’ No. 23-ranked class was hurt by a few late defections, most glaringly top-rated kicker Quinn Nordin, who flipped to Michigan after Harbaugh came to his house for a sleepover.
Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights joined the Big Ten with the expectations that being in the preeminent conference in college sports will help them keep a good number of New Jersey’s top players, as the state is a fertile football recruiting ground. That didn’t happen, at least not on this Signing Day, as nine of the state’s top 10 players did indeed stay in the Big Ten, just not going to Rutgers (the other went to Tennessee). That includes Paramus Catholic’s Gary, the top-rated recruit.
Pac-12 Network: While ESPN’s networks, including the SEC Network, and the Big Ten Network competed for audience on Signing Day, not much was heard from the Pac-12 Network, as it joined the fray way too late in the day when all the festivities were nearly over. In addition, since the network is still lightly distributed even in the conference’s own footprint, never mind nationally, few even thought about tuning in anyway.