National Signing Day 2019: Winners and Losers of the Recruiting Cycle's Final Frenzy
The dust has finally settled on National Signing Day. So who's No. 1?
If you trust Rivals among the major college football recruiting news services, Georgia was the recruiting cycle's top dog for the second straight year. If you're partial to ESPN or 247Sports, it was Alabama back atop the heap. This much is clear: the Bulldogs and the Crimson Tide are in a tier by themselves when it comes to the talent acquisition game that dictates which programs have the horses to compete for the College Football Playoff.
After exiting December's early signing period with the consensus No. 1 class, Alabama took an early hit on Wednesday morning when defensive end Khris Bogle flipped to Florida and DB Christian Williams chose Miami, but the Crimson Tide bounced back with the retention of defensive tackle Byron Young and the surprise signing of Ishmael Sopsher, a Louisiana D-lineman presumed to be bound for LSU. Nick Saban’s 2019 class broke the record for the most ESPN300 prospects in a single signing class, with 24.
Georgia was believed to be finished with the balance of its gigantic recruiting wins before the first Wednesday in February, but the Bulldogs tacked a fifth five-star onto their already stellar class when wide receiver George Pickens, who had been an Auburn commit, elected to head to Athens. Kirby Smart's work adding onto a class that already boasted the 247Sports Composite ratings' top player, defensive end Nolan Smith, helped UGA keep a healthy distance from the other SEC East programs that made notable recruiting gains this cycle.
We won't agree on a true No. 1 class for 2019 until years down the road—although future Georgia–Alabama SEC championship game meetings may offer hints at each program's trajectory—but we can spotlight the programs farther down the rankings that experienced the highest highs and lowest lows of a signing day in which only a few blue-chip prospects entered undecided.
All star ratings and class rankings below are according to 247Sports unless otherwise specified.
The Volunteers jumped from the back of the top 20 to the fringe of the contenders for a top-10 finish in the class rankings with a late-afternoon surge that Jeremy Pruitt hopes will lay the foundation for the type of program he wants to build in Knoxville. Huntington (W. Va.) High School five-star offensive tackle Darnell Wright followed through on what many expected him to do and signed to give Tennessee two five-star tackles in this year's class, joining Wanya Morris, who signed in the early period. He was joined by four-star linebacker Henry To'oto'o, four-star safety Anthony Harris and three-star cornerback Kenney Solomon to bulk up the first class Pruitt had a full year to construct. A few more classes like this (and some big wins that prove Pruitt is up to the tasks of developing this talent and deploying it in big games), and Tennessee will begin to move away from the position of ridicule among the SEC's most storied programs.
This is a rare sentence to type on signing day, but it's true: We have to start with the punter. The Hurricanes made the first splash of Wednesday’s festivities on Tuesday night by officially inking Louis Hedley, a 6'4", 215-pound, thoroughly tattooed punter who hails from Mandurah, Australia. Hedley worked as a scaffolder and played low-level Australian rules football before deciding to give punting a shot, and thanks to the time difference, his official signing ensured that everyone was talking about Miami for hours before the big recruits made their decisions.
New Hurricanes coach Manny Diaz certainly hasn't stopped there in his quest to salvage this year's class after Mark Richt's surprise retirement. He lured Williams away from Alabama to help bring his first class back into the top 30 of the national rankings and has been extremely active on the transfer portal, bringing in ex-Virginia Tech D-lineman Trevon Hill, ex-UCLA D-lineman Chigozie Nnoruka and former USC DB Bubba Bolden. Diaz doesn't look too keen on making excuses for Miami's 2018 nosedive, turning over every stone (including those located in Western Australia) to return the program to ACC relevance.
Mike Locksley's return to College Park was welcomed by Maryland fans eager for a recruiting vision more closely aligned with the big boys in the Big Ten, and Locksley landed a big fish in Warren Easton (La.) four-star quarterback Lance LeGendre, the top uncommitted QB entering the day. LeGendre chose the Terps over Florida State, which had a wide-open depth chart and more recent history to sell to him. And once you can secure the signature of someone with this fresh a suit, the program turnaround has officially begun.
The Tigers lost out on Pickens, but Gus Malzahn didn't sound too broken up about it in his post-signing day press conference.
Malzahn's mood may have been improved by the victories he secured after Pickens chose to head to the other side of the Deep South's Oldest Rivalry. Four-star defensive lineman Charles Moore, the No. 4 overall prospect in Mississippi, will spend a year soaking up wisdom from the Tigers' terrifying front seven returnees, while four-star running back Mark-Antony Richards has a chance to contribute early and often.
The state of Texas
Both Texas and Texas A&M didn't have a lot of work left to do on signing classes that already resided within the nation's top five, according to 247Sports, but it's nice to officially start the hype train for 2019. The Longhorns made official the transfer/signing of former USC commit Bru McCoy, the five-star receiver that sought other options after new OC Kliff Kingsbury jumped to the NFL, while the Aggies held onto what some outlets considered the third-best class in the country after Alabama and Georgia.
Elsewhere in the Lone Star State, Sonny Dykes's first full SMU class got a lift when offensive lineman Danielson Ike chose SMU over Oklahoma and Kansas State.
Ole Miss—for now
The Rebels signed their first five-star recruit since their postseason ban was lifted with Jackson product Jerrion Ealy re-committed to play college ball in Oxford. However, Ealy’s calculus could change this summer if he's taken in the first round of the MLB draft, and he told a national audience on Wednesday that although he wants to play two sports in college, "baseball has my heart." Until the situation sorts itself out, Matt Luke has a coup to kick-start his first season of postseason eligibility as a full-time head coach.
Seminoles fans handled the news that they had lost a quarterback recruiting battle to Maryland about as well as you might expect, and Willie Taggart was cryptic in his Wednesday press conference about how the program would address its quarterback depth after Deondre Francois's dismissal (and Bailey Hockman's transfer in the fall) left James Blackman as the leader of a very thin depth chart. For the second consecutive year, Taggart failed to sign a quarterback, and while the transfer portal remains an option to fix any and all roster holes, the Seminoles' lack of momentum stood out in contrast with Florida's strong close and Miami's late rally.
The Trojans only signed two of top 20 players in California this cycle, a concerning development for Clay Helton's regime to say the least, and they will have to wait on four-star WR Puka Nacua, the top player in the state of Utah who elected not to sign on Wednesday after being committed to USC but visiting Oregon, UCLA and Washington.
Helton and new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell enter a pivotal season with a high-stakes mission to show proof of concept.
Losing the Ishmael Sopsher sweepstakes to Alabama had to really sting in Baton Rouge. Tigers fans were so eager to fend off Nick Saban for the pride of Amite High School that Louisiana governor and Amite native John Bel Edwards mentioned his recruitment specifically in an interview with SI's Ross Dellenger last fall. As that story details, Saban relishes the chance to return to his old stomping grounds and beat LSU out for local kids. The Tigers' class remains top-five caliber, with two of its three five-stars (CB Derek Stingley and RB John Emery Jr.) hailing from Louisiana, but adding Sopsher would have been a welcome flourish in their endless struggle to reach the Crimson Tide's level.
Someone has to finish last among Power 5 schools in the class rankings. And when you're being used as a prop in a hat selection game that favors Florida Atlantic, it’s hard to call the day a success.
Scott Satterfield won’t be expected to clear the wreckage of Bobby Petrino’s Louisville exit in one season, and the 247Sports rankings that left Louisville ranked so poorly (No. 73 as of Wednesday evening) place an emphasis on the number of recruits signed that can lead to some misleading broad assessments. The Cardinals will pull in more than 14 recruits next year, when Satterfield has an entire cycle to get his message out.