college football writer
Twice a year, college football has to dust the fax machines as recruits across the country send in their signatures on programs that have high hopes of making a big impact. Some exceed such expectations, others don’t come close.
On National Signing Day, however, each and every one of them represents another dose of excitement when pen meets paper and the next wave of gamers officially land at one school or another. At the end of the traditional signing date of the first Wednesday in February, which schools have the best recruits and which have a little left on the table?
Here are some grades for key teams around FBS as the Class of 2023 draws to a close:
[National Signing Day Tracker]
Part of the reason Dan Lanning was brought to Eugene is that he is a recruiter, and his first full class as a head coach validates the work he’s done on the trail. Early in the contract, the Ducks beat USC/Ohio State for five-star pass rusher Matayo Uiagalelei, brought in Bo Nix’s replacement in four-star QB Austin Novosad from Texas and five-star pass catcher Jurrion Dickey Andere . They cleaned up further on Wednesday with the signing of CB Rodrick Pleasant, topping a top 10 league that brings tons of talented players to an already good roster for next year.
The Coach Prime era has got off to a fantastic start, with a roster overhaul that looks unlike anything we’ve seen before. Over 40 players are expected to arrive in Boulder before the start of next season and the signing of five-star CB Cormani McClain to pair up with Travis Hunter, the latest addition to the standings, is a coup in itself. The staff didn’t stop there, however, getting four-star RB Dylan Edwards to make a move from Notre Dame in the early window before landing impact transfers like ex-Alabama LB Demouy Kennedy in February.
After suffering through a disappointing 2022 campaign and complaining about the state of recruitment in the NIL era, Nick Saban went out just once more and reiterated that he’s the greatest, signing the No. 1 class with a whopping performance nine Five-star (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 slated to be part of the Bryce Young succession plan. Most of the group is already on campus after registering early, but the Crimson Tide went out Wednesday anyway to confirm their death grip on first place in the team standings for the 10th time in 13 years.
This developed into a tenure-defining course for Steve Sarkisian, and he delivered a great performance at the end. The headliner is obviously No. 1 overall Arch Manning, already settled in Austin, but he’ll be joined by other five-stars like jam Cedric Baxter Jr. and wideout Johntay Cook II. Throw in key transfers like Georgia WR Adonai Mitchell, battle other recruiting forces around edge rusher Tausili Akana and local four-star athlete Jelani McDonald, and the Longhorns have a chance to climb to the top of the Big 12 once more before elimination the SEC becomes official.
Successive national champions have all had a quiet string of signing days. Nonetheless, Kirby Smart kept things going in Athens with a consensus No. 2 class that ticks a lot of the boxes for a squad bringing back tons of production as they aim for a three-peat in 2023. Five-star defensemen like Florida’s Damon Wilson and Raylen Wilson should be next in line on the NFL assembly line representing the Dawgs’ defense, while a slew of talented offensive linemen like Bo Hughley and Monroe Feeling will help each to protect who Stetson Bennett takes over from under the middle. They added five-star CB Ellis Robinson IV from IMG Academy on Wednesday, but otherwise it was ho-hum for the gold standard in esports.
James Franklin is bringing a lot back for 2023 and has the Nittany Lions eyeing another Big Ten title. That may have limited the team a bit in terms of numbers, but it still ended up in a top 15 class with incredible geographic diversity. They include Virginia four-star orienteer Alex Birchmeier, Florida safety Elliott Washington, Connecticut four-star corner Zion Tracy and Alabama four-star safety DaKarri Nelson. Throw in the best player in the state (offensive tackle J’Ven Williams) and it’s been a very good catch-up for PSU on the recruiting path this cycle.
Matt Rhule has a tall order to turn the Cornhuskers around, but he doesn’t seem to waste time flipping a flawed roster. Just under half of the scholarship list will arrive in Lincoln from that class between nearly 30 high school signers and a dozen transfers. Georgia Tech’s QB Jeff Sims is an excellent building block to start with, but the diversity of four- and three-star companies from states like Colorado, California, Florida, New Jersey, and Texas is quite impressive for a new hire who sees a lot of it has spent the last few years in the NFL.
State of Arizona: B+
Kenny Dillingham brought much-needed energy to the Valley and down the recruiting path by basically bringing a normal whole class of transfers (approximately 25) and a whole class of high school signers (20+). The biggest win was undoubtedly the most talked about recruit of the last six weeks in QB Jaden Rashada. The four-star team not only gives the team a QB of the future, but also loads of momentum. Seventeen players coming from other Power 5 programs should also contribute to the turnaround after bottoming out last season.
While it’s not quite the top-five league everyone thought, Lincoln Riley’s first full-on recruiting effort is still a top-10 group with a number of impressive playmakers (it’s attractive, as it turns out, with the Heisman Trophy winner to play). . Five-star Zachariah Branch is considered by most to be the best prep receiver in the country and Malachai Nelson appears to be Caleb Williams’ heir apparent. Alongside some key transfers like Texas A&M defenseman Anthony Lucas, Riley signed highly regarded TE Walker Lyons and four-star WR Ja’Kobi Lane on Wednesday, adding a deep group for the Trojans.
Despite a tough end to the season a few weeks ago, the Horned Frogs appear to be doing well on the trail, with a slight bounce following their run to the national title game. Sonny Dykes has compiled top 25 classes both in the high school ranks and across the transfer portal, highlighted by four-star wideout player Cordale Russell, the country’s top JUCO player in corner Channing Canada, as well as former five- Stars players from Alabama in RB Trey Sanders and OT Tommy Brockermeyer. Given that the fruits of a great season usually don’t begin to be seen until the following year, TCU has made a pretty impressive start to raising its recruit cap.
State of Ohio: B
It speaks to the expectations in Columbus that a top 5 class is seen as rather dull and slightly below what was hoped for the class of 2023. Despite missing a handful of their top targets, the Buckeyes still landed on five-star Brandon Inniss as WRU’s newest signing, plus two other top-10 prospects at the position. The defense was reloaded with two top corners like Jermaine Matthews and Calvin Simpson-Hunt as well as a much-needed reinforcement in the trenches in four-star offensive lineman Luke Montgomery. It’s not quite the flashy bunch of years past, but something says Ryan Day & Co. will be excited about the production once everyone comes onto campus and contributes.
Chip Kelly strikes a different tact when it comes to recruiting, with one of the bigger dichotomies in terms of what he values versus what analysts might think. Still, the ability to flip five-star Oregon QB Dante Moore was a massive move as the team progressed into the Big Ten, and four-star receivers like Jeremiah McClure and Grant Gray are helping create a fast group on the fill outside. The transfer portal was also used liberally, with star MAC backwater driving west Carson Steele and underrated receiver J. Michael Sturdivant going from Berkeley to Westwood.
Jim Harbaugh’s second straight off-season flirtation with the NFL seems to have hampered the Wolverines’ recruitment a bit again. That’s not to say things aren’t bad by any means, just that things could have been significantly better had there been more clarity about the program’s governance. Four-star offensive lineman Amir Herring and defensive lineman Enow Etta highlight new arrivals from the high school class, while transfers include ex-Indiana TE AJ Barner, Stanford OL Drake Nugent and Coastal Carolina’s edge rusher Josaiah Stewart, who could have immediate repercussions for a still-loaded group seeking a third straight Big Ten title.
Bryan Fischer is a college football writer for FOX Sports. He has been covering collegiate athletics for nearly two decades at outlets such as NBC Sports, CBS Sports, Yahoo! Sports and NFL.com among others. Follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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