ATHENS – Whatever everybody was expecting to gain from the new early signing period for college football, this isn’t it. It definitely isn’t turning out how Kirby Smart expected.
Then again, Georgia’s recruiting dynamo of a head coach was a bit leery of it from the start.
“It’s been a great challenge,” Smart, at his Rose Bowl media day news conference on Monday, said of the early signing period. “I don’t think people anticipated — at least I didn’t anticipate — some of the repercussions.”
It has been a “challenge” for Georgia from a time-and-effort standpoint. But don’t take that to mean it hasn’t gone well. On the contrary.
First, some background. The idea of an early signing period in football – like they long have had in basketball – has been kicked around for years. It was finally adopted last year and implemented in this one. So, from Wednesday through Friday of this week, while normal people will be in the final rounds of shopping for stocking-stuffers for Christmas, college coaches and a major college prospects will be scrambling to get names on the dotted lines of NCAA letters-of-intent.
As we creep ever closer to this new period, the heat is getting turned up, both on coaches and on prospects. At a time when recruiting was traditionally slowing down in the past, it’s cranking up instead.
Twenty of the nation’s Top 25 prospects are expected to sign early, according to DawgNation’s recruiting expert Jeff Sentell. If all goes to plan, Georgia could sign as much as 80 percent of its class on Wednesday. That would mean only four spots would remain, with only about a half-dozen or so prospects vying for them. At the very least, Sentell expects the Bulldogs ink two-thirds to three-quarters of the 2018 class by the end of this week.
While that’s certainly good for UGA, it’s not necessarily good for the prospective student-athlete as a whole. It’s definitely not helpful for those recruits of the non-bluechip variety.
The original concept for an early-signing period was simple: Offer an earlier window for prospects who have already made up their minds and want to go ahead and end the craziness of recruiting. But somehow this first crack at it seems to have morphed instead into an early round of musical chairs.
Coaches want the elite blue-chippers to go ahead and hop on board, which not only locks down their top priorities but provides momentum for the stretch run into National Signing Day on Feb. 7. Meanwhile, other recruits are wanting to go ahead and lock up roster spots before the numbers game gets really crazy.
All the while, the coaching carousel is whirling around at a break-neck pace, so nobody can really be sure if their position coach or primary recruiting contact will even be at State U when they are. The recent departures of Jeremy Pruitt from Alabama to become Tennessee’s head coach and Kevin Sherrer from Georgia to join him as the Vols’ defensive coordinator has had a reverberative effect.
Where the Bulldogs are concerned – and Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma – add in the extra element of trying to prepare for a national championship run.
“You’ve got to look at it from both perspectives, from the perspective of us as coaches and then also the kids,” Smart said. “I am all about if it benefits them then it’s for a better cause. I think there’s going to be 20 to 30 percent of the people who sign Wednesday that this is a beneficial process. But there are a lot of other kids that feel rushed.”
The pressure is falling on prospects at the opposite ends of the spectrum. Of course Georgia would like 5-star prospects like Justin Fields and Jamaree Salyer to go ahead and sign now (and it looks like they will). Why wouldn’t the Bulldogs want that?
But recruits of that ilk are the only ones who could afford to do wait and take visits in January like they used to and wait to sign on Feb. 7. Championship-caliber programs aren’t going to wait around for those of a lesser pedigree to do that.
It’s like Christmas shopping for the best presents in October and November rather than waiting to the last minute. Then again, it can be really tough on those prospects who might turn out to be exceptional college players but just haven’t gotten as much notice.
The end result has been something resembling a scholarship version of the Hungry Hippos game
“They feel like they’re making decisions amidst a sea of coaching changes, and they’re having to hurry up and make a decision and not really getting the chance to develop relationships with the people to the places they’re going,” Smart said. “I think the public perception is you choose the school and you go to the school; you don’t necessarily go to a coach. Everybody can say that until it’s your son or your daughter, and you’re having to meet these coaches. You make decisions based on relationships.”
The best news — and probably most important to Georgia fans — is all the recruiting attention hasn’t distracted the Bulldogs’ coaches from their Rose Bowl preparations. At least that’s the assertion of some of the players.
“I wasn’t even aware of it,” noseguard John Atkins, a fifth-year senior, said of the early period. “They’ve been around like always.”
“That’s why they’re coaches and I’m a player,” junior Roquan Smith said. “I have heard about it. It’s Dec. 20th I think, right? It’ll definitely be big getting some of the guys locked up in the early period. I’ve introduced myself to some of those guys. Hopefully they’ll become Dogs.”
And that’s the bottom line on all this. It’s all working in Georgia’s favor right now.
The Bulldogs are hot. They’re one of only four teams playing in the College Football Playoffs. And even if they weren’t, Smart has built some tremendous recruiting momentum in his first two seasons in Athens. Georgia is very much living in the category of “the rich getting richer.” The biggest key at this point seems to be not losing any coaches to exhaustion.
But once again it doesn’t look like an NCAA concept that was adopted under the guise of benefiting the grand majority of prospective student-athletes is doing anything of the sort. Recruiting cycles that seem to only start earlier every year have definitely been sped up yet again.
The idea of having an early signing period for football made sense at first. But then I was expecting them to offer it in late July or early August. That way, the prospect who already had been through the recruiting process and had his mind made up could go ahead and lock up his aid and concentrate on his senior year in high school.
What we have instead is what we have this week — more recruiting chaos. Elite recruits are being pushed to go ahead and sign while the unheralded 3-star prospect is either squeezed out or has to sign before he’s ready, or else he won’t have a seat on the bus.
It makes for some great recruiting drama in late December. Then again, national signing day might be a bit anticlimactic when it finally rolls around on Feb. 7.