College football writer
Twice a year, college football finds the need to dust off the fax machines as recruits across the country send their signatures to programs with high hopes of making a big impact. Some exceed those expectations, others don’t come close.
National Signing Day, however, each represents another dose of excitement as pen meets paper and the next wave of players officially lands at one school or another. As the traditional signing date of the first Wednesday in February draws to a close, which schools did better with their incoming crop of recruits and which still left a little off the table?
Here are some notes for key FBS teams as the Class of 2023 winds down:
[National Signing Day Tracker]
Dan Lanning was brought to Eugene in part because of his emphasis on recruiting, and his first class as a head coach confirms the work he’s done along the way. In the early signing period, the Ducks beat out USC/Ohio State for five-star pass rusher Matayo Uiagalelei, brought Bo Nix’s successor in four-star QB Austin Novosad out of Texas and inked pass catcher five-star Jurrion Dickey, among others. They continued to clean up Wednesday with the signing of CB Rodrick Pleasant, capping off a top-10 class that infuses tons of talented players into an already prime roster for next year.
The Coach Prime era is off to a great start with a roster overhaul that looks unlike anything we’ve seen. More than 40 players will arrive in Boulder before the start of next season and the signing of five-star CB Cormani McClain to pair with recent No. 1 overall draft pick Travis Hunter is a coup in itself . The staff didn’t stop there though, getting four-star RB Dylan Edwards out of Notre Dame in the first window before landing impact transfers like former Alabama LB Demouy Kennedy in February.
After suffering through a disappointing campaign in 2022 and complaining about the state of recruiting in the NIL era, all Nick Saban did was come out and reassert himself as the greatest, signing the No. 1 class with a whopping new five stars (almost as many as Georgia and Texas combined). That includes a pair of edge rushers in Qua Russaw and Keon Keeley, a much-needed impact receiver in Jalen Hale and two quarterbacks to be part of Bryce Young’s succession plan. Most of the group is already on campus after enrolling earlier, but the Crimson Tide still came out Wednesday to assert its stranglehold on the top spot in the team rankings for the 10th time in 13 years.
This was shaping up to be a tenure-defining class for Steve Sarkisian, and it ended up paying off in a big way. The headliner is obviously No. 1 player Arch Manning, who has already settled in Austin, but he’s joined by five other stars like Cedric Baxter Jr. and Johntay Cook II. Throw in key transfers like Georgia WR Adonai Mitchell, battling other recruiting powers for running back Tausili Akana and local four-star athlete Jelani McDonald, and the Longhorns have a chance to climb to the top of the Big 12 a once again before the start of the SEC it becomes official.
The back-to-back national champions had, all things considered, a quiet set of signing days. Still, Kirby Smart continued to keep things going in Athens with a consensus No. 2 class that fills a lot of needs on a roster that returns tons of production as they aim for a triple in 2023. Five-star defensemen like Damon Wilson out of Florida and Raylen Wilson should be next on the NFL assembly line that is the Dawgs defense, while several talented offensive linemen like Bo Hughley and Monroe Feeling will help protect whoever takes over for Stetson Bennett under center They added five-star CB Ellis Robinson IV out of IMG Academy on Wednesday, but otherwise it was a bit of gold for the sport’s gold standard.
Penn State: B+
James Franklin is rebounding a ton for 2023 and has the Nittany Lions’ sights on another Big Ten title. That may have limited the team a bit in terms of numbers, but they still managed a top-15 class with incredible geographic diversity. That includes four-star OL Alex Birchmeier from Virginia, Florida safety Elliott Washington, four-star cornerback Zion Tracy from Connecticut and four-star safety DaKarri Nelson from Alabama. Throw in the best player in the state (offensive tackle J’Ven Williams) and it was a very good rebounding effort for PSU on the recruiting trail this cycle.
Matt Rhule has a big task in turning around the Cornhuskers, but he seems to be wasting no time turning around a flawed roster. About half of the scholarship list will come to Lincoln out of this class among nearly 30 high school signees and a dozen transfers. Georgia Tech QB Jeff Sims is an excellent starting block, but the diversity of four- and three-stars from states like Colorado, California, Florida, New Jersey and Texas is pretty impressive for a new staff that has had a big time part of the time the last few years in the NFL.
State of Arizona: B+
Kenny Dillingham has brought much-needed energy to the Valley and the recruiting trail, bringing in what is essentially a full normal class of transfers (approaching 25) and a full class of high school signees (past 20). The biggest one was arguably the most talked about recruitment of the last six weeks in QB Jaden Rashada. The four-star not only gives the team a QB of the future, but also a lot of momentum. Seventeen players arriving from other Power 5 programs should also help the turnaround after hitting rock bottom last season.
While not quite the top-five class everyone thought it would be, Lincoln Riley’s first full recruiting effort is still a top-10 group with an impressive array of playmakers (as it turns out, playing with the winner of the Heisman Trophy is attractive) . Five-star Zachariah Branch is considered by most to be the best prep wide receiver in the country, and Malachai Nelson appears to be Caleb Williams’ heir apparent. In addition to landing some key transfers like Texas A&M defensive lineman Anthony Lucas, Riley signed highly regarded TE Walker Lyons and four-star WR Ja’Kobi Lane on Wednesday, adding to a deep group for the Trojans.
Despite a rough end to the season a few weeks ago, the Horned Frogs appear to be doing well along the way, with a slight bounce back from their run to the national title game. Sonny Dykes has assembled a top-25 class both in the high school ranks and through the transfer portal, highlighted by four-star Cordale Russell, the nation’s top JUCO player in cornerback Channing Canada, plus former Alabama five stars in RB Trey Sanders and OT Tommy Brockermeyer. Given that you usually don’t really see the fruits of a great season until the following year, TCU is off to a pretty impressive start in raising their recruiting ceiling.
Ohio State: B
It speaks to Columbus’ expectations that a top five class is considered rather pedestrian and slightly below what was expected with the class of 2023. While the Buckeyes missed out on a handful of their top targets, they still got five star Brandon. Inniss as WRU’s latest addition, along with two other top-10 prospects at the position. The defense was reloaded with a pair of top cornerbacks in Jermaine Matthews and Calvin Simpson-Hunt, plus a much-needed reinforcement in the trenches in four-star offensive lineman Luke Montgomery. Not quite the flashy group of the past few years, but something says Ryan Day & Co. you will be delighted with the production once everyone gets on campus and contributes.
Chip Kelly marches at a different pace when it comes to recruiting, with one of the biggest dichotomies in what he values versus what analysts might think. Still, the ability to flip five-star QB Dante Moore from Oregon was a massive move as the team moved into the Big Ten, and four-star receivers like Jeremiah McClure and Grant Gray help fill out a group fast outside. The transfer window was also used liberally, with MAC star Carson Steele heading west and underrated wide receiver J. Michael Sturdivant going from Berkeley to Westwood.
Jim Harbaugh’s second straight offseason flirtation with the NFL appears to have once again hampered the Wolverines’ recruiting efforts. This is not to say that things are bad, but that things could have gone a lot better if there had been more clarity around the leadership of the show. Four-star offensive lineman Amir Herring and defensive end Enow Etta highlight additions out of the high school class, while former Indiana TE AJ Barner, Stanford OL Drake Nugent and Carolina Coast running back Josaiah Stewart are are among the transfers that could have an immediate. impact for a still loaded group that was aiming for a third straight Big Ten title.
Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering college athletics for nearly two decades at outlets including NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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