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Which new recruits will sign up early to be behind the UGA locker room doors next season?

How will Kirby Smart and UGA attack the new early signing day?

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. The budget for Friday calls for a look at the new NCAA early signing period and what that might mean for Kirby Smart and his top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. 

We are 40 days away from the next-to-last Wednesday in December. For the recruiting world, it means something beyond one of the last Amazon Prime shopping days until Christmas.

That Dec. 20 dateline will be a shiny new toy for college football as it marks the first day of the NCAA’s new early signing period. There are now three allotted days ― Dec. 20-22 ― for prospects to sign up to 45 days earlier than the traditional first Wednesday in February.

The signing period is available to both mid-year enrollees and the recruits who will finish their senior year in high school and report to campus in late May or early June.

It will be a wait-and-see period for everyone involved. The new early signing period will mean more players than ever will be sweating out their school choice in the midst of a state football playoff run.

Kirby Smart-UGA recruiting
Georgia coach Kirby Smart squeezes in a family moment along the Dawgwalk prior to the Mississippi State game earlier this season. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

But that’s always been the case for January enrollees. The best part of this plan is it is a take-it-or-leave-it option.*

*(In theory, prospects can do everything the same way they always have. Sorta. Top programs will shift to signing all their commits early in December. At least. Let’s not kid ourselves. That’s what every program will hope to do.)

The new wrinkle offers flexibility for recruits. They now can sign early to take the off-ramp from the information superhighway and the constant online attention about where the top prospects will play college ball.

It also will lead to prospects taking their official visits next summer. And that will be weird. I’m not sure any big-time program wants to sell an empty stadium and bare campus to a blue-chip prospect.

What does Georgia think about all of this?

“I’m not ready to comment,” Kirby Smart told the media in a post-practice news conference on Oct. 24. “I’ve never been through it. I’m going to be open-minded about it and see how it plays out. I think it’s going to be very stressful twice as opposed to very stressful once.”

There is also a potential schedule concern. There now is a contact period through Dec. 17, which allows for official and unofficial visits for the Class of 2018 at that time.

“That’s not usually a real busy time in the season for us,” Smart also said on Oct. 24. “That’s bowl prep. It’s a little bit of a down time because kids are in final exams. For us, the focus will be on the recruiting aspect and getting those players signed. We may or may not be in bowl practice then so I don’t honestly know.”

The big questions regarding the 2018 class

The big question I hear from fans on the recruiting beat these days focuses on the potential size of the 2018 class.

Georgia is a hot team. There are 5-stars and flips and de-commits and potential de-commits coming out of the woodwork to visit and potentially choose the Bulldogs.

That’s just going to be pretty hard to do with 18 scholarship slots already publicly filled for the 2018 class. That’s because there are at least eight to nine uncommitted players who UGA likely would move mountains for to squeeze onto the roster.

Zamir White-UGA recruiting
Five-star running back Zamir White has said he plans to enroll at Georgia in January. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

It leads to some Willy Wonka math: DawgNation continues to project the scholarship number for this year at 24. The maximum amount of players that any SEC team can sign per cycle is 25. That’s a league rule.

My calculations also lead me to believe the Bulldogs will not be able to back-count any mid-year signees to the Class of 2017, too. Rock. Hard place. All that.

Could that change? It is feasible. Smart manages his roster with a deft touch. He doesn’t waste any available scholarship slots. If there is any wiggle, he’ll be all over it.

There also will be the delayed enrollment option in the form of a prospect not showing up in January and waiting until June. That greyshirt option is also on the table. Alabama has used that method at times when it was overflowing with roster candidates.

That should not be ruled out, given the number of top players who might want to play for the Bulldogs. Fans should remember what Smart said about the Toniel Carter situation last December. That was where Smart outlined the program’s philosophy of not dropping players.

College football is a business. Smart’s charge is to make sure the Bulldogs sign the very best players they possibly can. That includes the top talent, but also the players who fill the holes in the roster and fit the program’s style of play.

The first big number up ahead for 2018

The one-game-at-a-time mentality serves any championship team well. But I also think that applies here. Sorta.

Let’s call it the one-signing-day-at-a-time mentality. That pile of wood gets the ax first.

Who will sign and enroll early? That could dictate some things with the eventual 24 on the back end in regard to the traditional signing day.

There could be a target out on the players who are through with high school (see all the IMG Academy seniors) who desire to move on to college football in January. Will the Bulldogs have enough room at that time? That blue-chip might want to enroll at School X in January more than he wants to move to Georgia in June.

Kearis Jackson-UGA recruiting
Four-star wide receiver Kearis Jackson has said he will enroll early in January. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation)

How many are coming in? That hinges on how many scholarship slots under the NCAA-mandated number of 85 are available at that time. That’s a fluid situation that will be impacted by roster migration via transfers and early entries to the 2018 NFL Draft.

That is the other important number that must be on every fan’s recruiting horizon. No SEC team can sign more than 25 players in a year. But a team can also never exceed 85 enrolled student-athletes on scholarship at any time.

We’ve done some research on what that might look like this week. DawgNation has tracked the commits and also the major targets who expect to sign early.

Five-star QB Justin Fields has yet to make a decision about when he will enroll at UGA. He has to complete paperwork to apply to be on the list to potentially enroll. Whether he does that will be up to Fields and his family.

Which UGA commits and targets plan to enroll early? 

Commits
1. 4-star WR Kearis Jackson: Yes (1 early enrollee)
2. 5-star RB Zamir White: Yes (2)
3. 4-star C Warren Ericson Yes (3)
4. 4-star junior college DT Devonte Wyatt: Yes (4)
5. 5-star QB Justin Fields: Maybe (potentially 4 or 5)
6. 3-star OT Owen Condon: No
7. 4-star RB James Cook: No
8. 3-star K/P Jake Camarda: No
9. 4-star CB Chris Smith: No
10. 4-star OLB Adam Anderson: No
11. 4-star OLB Azeez Ojulari: No
12. 4-star DT Tramel Walthour: No
13. 3-star TE John FitzPatrick: No
14. 3-star S Rachad Wildgoose Jr: No
15. 3-star DE Jaevon Becton: No
16. 4-star OLB Caleb Tannor: No
17. 4-star WR Elijah Moore: No
18. 3-star Aaron Brule’: No

Priority targets (presented in alphabetical order, not priority)

1. 4-star DT Christian Barmore: Not likely

2. 5-star CB Tyson Campbell: No

3. 4-star DT Robert Cooper: No

4. 4-star DT Jordan Davis: No

5. 3-start OT Daniel Faalele: Yes

6. 4-star TE Luke Ford: No

7. 5-star DE/OLB KJ Henry: Yes

8. 4-star OG Trey Hill: Yes

9. 5-star OT Cade Mays: Yes

10. 4-star LB Otis Reese: No

11. 5-star OG Jamaree Salyer: No

12. 4-star DT Rick Sandidge: No

13. 4-star ATH Alontae Taylor: Yes

14. 4-star LB Channing Tindall: No

 

In short, the Bulldogs will have room for a few, but maybe not all, of their top targets. The Bulldogs must have room under that 85-scholarship cap in January to enroll all their priority mid-year targets.

The senior class and roster attrition will help, but they also have to be sure that a key mid-year target does not interfere with the scholarship budget at that respective position to preclude a higher-value target from enrolling in the summer of 2018.

That’s where the numbers for 25 signees per year and 85 scholarships at one time must be addressed simultaneously when it comes to the big picture for 2018.  Dawgnation projects that number to be 24 for 2018 because the Bulldogs used a blue shirt to enroll a player this fall.

That blue shirt then counts against the 2018 class.

 

Miss any Intel? The DawgNation recruiting archive will get you up to speed faster than Georgia All-American candidate Roquan Smith can find the football after the snap.