Saturday, July 20, 2024

College football recruiting: Five key storylines to follow during National Signing Day 2023

It was a simpler time six years ago. The lone National Signing Day for the 2017 cycle was the first Wednesday in February, but that was before everything changed 10 months later with the introduction of the early signing period in December. Since that first early signing period during the 2017-18 recruiting cycle, we’ve witnessed a seismic shift in the timing of when top recruits announce their college choices and sign with their schools, a timeframe that has heavily shifted to December. 

Though the landscape has drastically changed, there remains a few uncommitted/unsigned players who have yet to make their decisions and will do so on Wednesday, Feb. 1. So there are still plenty of storylines to follow during the traditional National Signing Day which will take center stage next week, so let’s break down some of the top ones to follow as the 2023 recruiting cycle quickly comes to a close. 

1. Coach Prime’s time

In December 2021, Deion Sanders and Travis Hunter shocked the world when Hunter announced he would flip his commitment from Sanders’ alma mater, Florida State, to sign with Jackson State. After Sanders was hired at Colorado, Hunter waited things out a bit before announcing on the evening of the first day of the early signing period in December 2022 that he would be joining Sanders in Boulder.

It was deja vu during the early signing period last December with Colorado because, on that day, five-star Miami commit Cormani McClain opted to not sign with the Hurricanes as scheduled. Last week, McClain announced he was flipping to the Buffs and will sign with Sanders and Colorado next Wednesday.

Should McClain provide that signature on National Signing Day, his addition would give the Buffs two consecutive five-stars in consecutive classes that would be following Coach Prime in Colorado. 

2. What’s the deal with Jaden Rashada?

Five-star quarterback Jaden Rashada signed with Florida during the early signing period after flipping his commitment from Miami to the Gators one month prior. But after playing in the Under Armour All-America Game, Rashada returned home to the Bay Area in California instead of reporting to Gainesville to join his school. That was the first indication that the relationship had gone sideways somewhere along the line. 

Rashada then requested a release from his National Letter of Intent with Florida, a request that was eventually granted. 

Since he’s already signed an NLI this cycle, Rashada won’t sign another with a new school, he’ll just enroll in classes. At this point, if it’s a semester school, it would be in the summer, though a quarter school could bring him to campus for the spring in either March or April. 

Arizona State, where his father, Harlen, played, had him on campus last weekend with new head coach Kenny Dillingham, who pursued him when he was Oregon’s offensive coordinator. This weekend, he’s expected to be in Fort Worth, Texas, to visit national runner-up TCU. New Horned Frogs offensive coordinator Kendal Briles recruited Rashada when he was at Arkansas, and the offensive-minded Sonny Dykes is always looking to ramp up the quarterback room.

3. Keep an eye on the national champs

Georgia finished No. 1 on the field for the second consecutive year, and while the Bulldogs are still in play for a couple of targets set to announce next week, it won’t be enough to catch Alabama for the top spot in the recruiting rankings. Still, Georgia has some intrigue to follow come signing day with two of the best tight ends in the country still in play for the Dawgs.

The team that boasts Mackey Award winner Brock Bowers, a California native, is going back to the West Coast in their pursuit of Duce Robinson, the No. 1 tight end in the 2023 class. A talented baseball player who could be drafted in this summer’s MLB Draft, Robinson and Georgia have been rumored to be the match for weeks as he’s set to announce his decision on National Signing Day. Georgia is also in the mix still for Walker Lyons, a top-10 tight end nationally.

Speaking of Lyons …

4. Schools in pursuit of Walker Lyons

Lyons is a Northern California native, like Bowers, but his recruitment is a little more unique. Lyons is leaving to serve his LDS mission this month in Norway and won’t enroll anywhere until the fall of 2024.

Georgia had the last in-home visit with him this week with Kirby Smart, offensive coordinator Todd Monken and tight ends coach Todd Hartley making their last pitches. Utah is also heavily involved with Lyons and has made the biggest push to add him to a roster that’s full of returning LDS missionaries.

USC and Stanford are also trying to secure Lyons’ commitment, and in the case of the Cardinal, they’re actually trying to get him back. Lyons committed to Stanford in July before reopening his recruitment shortly after coach David Shaw resigned during the 2022 season. Stanford replaced Shaw with Sacramento State coach Troy Taylor, who was a championship coach at Folsom (Calif.) High School before returning to the college ranks.

Where did Lyons play his high school football? That’s right — Folsom. 

5. Top prospects with lofty track & field aspirations

Only four of the top 100 players in the 2023 cycle are uncommitted. Robinson and Rashada are two of those players, while the other two are five-star athlete Nyckoles Harbor and four-star cornerback Rodrick Pleasant. Neither Harbor nor Pleasant are just football players, though. Both are also elite track athletes with realistic ambitions of playing football in college and the NFL as well as participating in the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics.

Harbor is set to visit Oregon this weekend, which affords him the chance to visit Eugene — better known as TrackTown USA.  Maryland, Michigan and South Carolina will all be keeping a close watch on Harbor’s visit to Oregon.

Pleasant, who has already visited Oregon, is the defending California 100m and 200m state champion. He’s named a final five of Boston College, Cal, Oregon, UCLA and USC, but has no more visits left in advance of his decision next Wednesday.

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