National Signing Day 2018: The Biggest Takeaways
College football's 2018 national signing day didn't have as many noteworthy names available as in years past, but there was no shortage of drama to accompany the major swings in class rankings.
As far as those class rankings are concerned, Georgia and USC came away from Wednesday as the biggest winners. Georgia did so by cementing its spot at No. 1 with four key additions, including an unprecedented seventh 5-star player. And USC was a winner by jumping from outside the top 10 into the top five with four key signings of its own.
There weren't many big negative swings in the rankings, but it sure did feel like Alabama, LSU and Michigan left a lot on the table while compiling their worst classes in recent program history.
It was supposed to be a relatively quiet day. Most of the 4-star and 5-star recruits already signed their national letters of intent during the early signing period in December, so there weren't as many candidates for flipping commitments as there usually are—typically the most dramatic and joy-/rage-inducing part of NSD.
However, it was open season on that limited pool of players, as guys like Quay Walker, Otis Reese, Bobby Brown and at least a dozen others had last-minute changes of heart in their choice of school.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the final day of this recruiting cycle.
Kids Don't Always Follow Their Parents' Dreams
According to the 247Sports composite rankings, Jacob Copeland is the 12th-best wide receiver and the No. 69 recruit in this year's class. But his mother didn't think it was very nice for him to spurn both of her favorite schools to follow his heart.
Copeland donned a Florida Gators hat, much to the chagrin of his mother, who was seated next to him in an Alabama sweater and a Tennessee knitted cap—a wardrobe combination that boggles the mind of any proper sports fan. And in what was easily the most viral moment of national signing day, she got up from the table and walked away in disgust.
Mom eventually came back and gave him a hug, so he probably didn't need to call an Uber to get home. Copeland also tweeted after the fact that he thought what his mom did was hilarious, saying, "If you knew her personally, that's her job. Put on a show!" But on Tuesday morning, he tweeted about how stressed out he was feeling in trying to make the decision, and it didn't much look like he thought she was joking around at the time.
Who knows how authentic any of it actually was, but a lot of people were immediately reminded of Landon Collins' commitment to Alabama back in 2012, which was not well-received by his LSU-loving mother. Considering how well Collins panned out with Alabama, Florida has to be hoping the parallels between the two players don't stop at breaking their moms' hearts.
The USC Trojans Won the Day
In my "Ultimate Guide to Signing Day" preview, I called USC the biggest wild card of the day.
The Trojans had two 5-star hard commits (JT Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown) who technically still could have changed their minds and flipped Wednesday. They were also targeting four of the top uncommitted recruits in the country. They entered the day at No. 12 in the class rankings, but they legitimately could have ended up anywhere from No. 3-25.
Rather than the potential disastrous route, everything came up cardinal and gold.
Both 5-star guys stuck with their decisions and signed with the Trojans. They were joined by another 5-star player, CB Olaijah Griffin, one of the four 5-star guys still available on NSD. USC also got No. 32 overall recruit CB Isaac Taylor-Stuart, No. 40 overall recruit WR Devon Williams and No. 86 overall recruit ILB Solomon Tuliaupupu.
There were just 16 uncommitted top-100 players at the start of the day, and Clay Helton signed 25 percent of them.
Sure, it helps that all four of them played high school football in California, but those were crucial additions all the same. They got USC up to the No. 4 class in the nation, even though the Trojans only signed 18 players.
Georgia Had an Incredible Day, Too
Building on the momentum of a national championship appearance, Georgia closed with ferocity to wrap up the No. 1 recruiting class in 2018.
Whereas USC signed four of the best uncommitted players, Kirby Smart was more of a savage, targeting both uncommitted players and committed ones that he could potentially flip.
On the previously uncommitted front, Georgia got one of the best players on the market: 5-star CB Tyson Campbell. Not only could he immediately contribute (or maybe even start) in the defensive backfield, but this speedster could be a weapon as a return specialist. Smart also signed another top-200 recruit in 4-star WR Tommy Bush.
Whether it makes a difference to be No. 1 or No. 2 in the 247Sports composite team rankings is an argument for another day, but Smart needed each of those NSD flips to finish a few points ahead of Ohio State for the No. 1 spot.
Campbell was also a historic addition, because he became Georgia's seventh 5-star commitment in this year's class—more than any other team has ever had in 247Sports history dating back to 2001.
Maybe Herm Edwards Knows What He's Doing After All
It has only been a couple of months, but everything about the Herm Edwards Experience at Arizona State has been...let's call it "out of the ordinary."
He had not been a coach since January 2009 and had not coached at the collegiate level since 1989. Thus, the biggest question for the 63-year-old who had never really done this before was: Can he recruit?
Even early on national signing day, it sounded like the answer was a resounding "No!"
Per The Athletic's Stewart Mandel, Edwards said on ESPN2, "Signing day is a little bit unusual for me, because in pro football, you get to draft them. In college, they get to pick you!"
No kidding, coach. Welcome to the world of recruiting.
Once that comment went viral, so did the tweets about Arizona State's pithy class ranking. Barrett Sallee of CBS Sports tweeted a screenshot of the Sun Devils ranking 76th at the time, directly in between Louisiana Tech and Colorado State with just 14 commitments.
Over the course of the next few hours, though, Edwards and his staff got commitments from seven more players, including two of the top 20 players who began the day as uncommitted, per Max Olson of The Athletic. The Sun Devils soared all the way from No. 76 to No. 36 in the class rankings.
That isn't quite as well as they had been doing in the past five years, but that jump of 40 spots in one afternoon was quite remarkable, particularly for a coach who has often seemed confused about how this job works.
Maybe Jim Harbaugh Is Losing His Touch
Over the last two seasons, Jim Harbaugh was one of the best recruiters in the nation. If he wanted a guy, he went and got him—even if that meant showing up at 12:01 a.m. for a sleepover at a kicker's house to get him to flip from a conference rival.
In 2016, Michigan's class ranked No. 8 in the nation. The Wolverines signed the No. 1 overall recruit (Rashan Gary) and five other top-100 guys.
Last year, they were No. 5 with two 5-star guys and a total of 10 top-125 recruits.
But this year, they're No. 21, and the only top-100 player who had committed to Harbaugh (Otis Reese) changed his mind and flipped to Georgia on Wednesday.
As a result, Michigan ended up with as many 4-star recruits (seven) as Georgia got 5-star recruits. Of the five teams that finished directly ahead of Michigan—Oregon, Texas A&M, UCLA, South Carolina and Tennessee—four changed their head coach at least once during this recruiting cycle. Heck, Michigan only signed one of the top three recruits in its own state. Last year, it nabbed all six of the top guys.
Harbaugh does already have three top-100 guys committed in next year's class, so it would be a bit premature to say he has lost his touch on the recruiting trail. Still, this was a disappointing showing for a program trying to keep pace with Ohio State and Penn State.
This Is LSU's Worst Recruiting Class in Many Moons
The last time LSU had a recruiting class ranked 15th or worse in the nation was in 2002 when the Tigers were No. 21.
So, by ranking No. 15 this year, the Bayou Bengals put together their worst class in more than 15 years and ended a five-year streak of ranking in the top seven nationally.
It's not like it is poorly ranked because it's a small class, either. Ed Orgeron signed 22 players, which is perfectly average. The Tigers just didn't get the top-notch talent this year, with the exception of 5-star WR Terrace Marshall Jr. Only two other players—S Kelvin Joseph and WR JaMarr Chase—rank in the 247Sports composite top 195.
The big fish that got away was 5-star CB Patrick Surtain Jr. The 247Sports Crystal Ball Predictions had him as a virtual lock to sign with LSU for about 28 months. However, that changed drastically in the past several weeks when Nick Saban and Alabama came calling with a more enticing offer.
Not only was Surtain the No. 6 overall recruit in this year's class, but he has roots and family members in New Orleans. Though he attended high school in Florida, LSU was considered much more of a "hometown" favorite than Alabama. But, alas, the Tigers were unable to get their man.
They did get Chase on Wednesday, so the day wasn't completely lost. It wasn't anywhere near as good as it could or should have been, though.
Florida State's New Coach and Former Coach Both Thrived
Not that long ago, both Jimbo Fisher's current team (Texas A&M) and former team (Florida State) were in less than ideal shape in this year's recruiting cycle. But both programs finished strong, despite a lack of 5-star talent.
Let's start with Florida State, where Willie Taggart turned two former Ducks and two former Volunteers into Seminoles.
While he was still in Eugene, the former Oregon coach got commitments from 4-star ATH Tre'Shaun Harrison and 4-star DE Malcolm Lamar. But when Taggart left for Tallahassee, both of those guys decommitted in December. They eventually decided to follow Taggart to FSU, signing Wednesday.
Taggart was also on the receiving end of a pair of NSD flips, getting both 3-star WR Jordan Young and 3-star RB Anthony Grant to bail on their pledges to Tennessee to instead sign with the 'Noles, helping them climb to No. 11.
Fisher had a big day at Texas A&M, too. He signed arguably the top available QB in James Foster, flipped both 4-star DT Bobby Brown and 4-star ATH Vernon Jackson away from Alabama, and signed top-300 guys Tank Jenkins and Jeremiah Martin. The Aggies entered the week in the No. 35 range in the class rankings, but they closed at No. 17.
Neither National Champion Had a Big Day
First things first: Alabama finished with an impressive class and had two key additions on national signing day: 5-star CB Patrick Surtain Jr. and No. 39 overall recruit WR Jaylen Waddle. In the end, Nick Saban got two of the top six players in the country in DE Eyabi Anoma and Surtain, as well as nine other top-150 recruits.
But the reigning national champions lost a handful of guys who flipped—most notably OLB Quay Walker (Georgia) and DT Bobby Brown (Texas A&M)—missed out on a lot of their top targets Wednesday and only finished with the seventh-best class in the nation.
For most schools, seventh-best would be amazing. For Alabama, it was a painful way to break a streak of seven consecutive years as the top recruiting class.
Have Saban and Alabama lost some of their allure on the recruiting trail, or was this simply an outlier year? The fact that the No. 1 recruit in Alabama—WR Justyn Ross—chose Clemson could be evidence to support the former.
The undefeated, self-declared national champions didn't do very well, either.
UCF did get its highest-rated commitment Wednesday, signing No. 438 overall recruit WR Ke'von Ahmad. Aside from that, though, all that time spent trying to tell people they were the true national champions didn't do the Knights any good on the recruiting trail. They ended up with a class ranked 72nd, behind the likes of Marshall and Florida International.