5 things to know for college football's new early signing period

Yahoo Sports

You are the mainstream college football fan. Dedicated enough to have season tickets, tailgate and maybe even a pair of preppy pants with your team’s logo. But you are not the hardcore fan, the type with a rivals.com subscription, holes in your man cave plaster commemorating field-goal misses and known around your home stadium by your message board handle.

The meat-and-potatoes college football fan is slowly coming to the realization that a significant change in the calendar arrives suddenly this week – the debut of the new early signing period from Dec. 20-22. The February National Signing Day bacchanal has, in part, moved to December.

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For you, this is something more than a development to monitor between the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl and the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl. This is a day that will serve as a bellwether for your favorite program’s future. It has already overhauled the timetable of the coaching carousel and will cause an unprecedented flurry of assistant coaching moves in the upcoming weeks.

To you, this is a pleasant distraction to the fading days before bowls start randomly appearing on mid-day television for the holidays. To the coaches, coaching carousel and recruits, well, it kind of has changed everything. With that in mind, here’s what to expect when the fax machines start humming on Wednesday – including the requisite jokes about how antiquated fax machines really are.

College football’s blue blood programs may not like the sport’s new early signing period. (Getty)
College football’s blue blood programs may not like the sport’s new early signing period. (Getty)

1. What’s changed in the macro with the new early signing period?

So, this hasn’t exactly opened a window to an interloper like Kent State dominating the recruiting rankings. The names you’ll see at the top of the rivals.com rankings on Wednesday are familiar – Ohio State, Miami, Georgia, Texas and Notre Dame. The blue bloods haven’t changed their hue. Alabama is lagging a bit at No. 9, especially considering its stranglehold on the No. 1 spot for most of the past decade. But the Crimson Tide can still make up ground during this signing period. And the next one, as the normal National Signing Day in February will still be in effect for the few recruits who choose not to sign this week.

The biggest question coaches still have is what percentage of players will sign this week? No one is sure, but all signs point to a high percentage. Ohio State expects to sign all of its recruits on Wednesday. So does Boston College. Tulane expects to sign all but two or three. Texas coach Tom Herman and Syracuse’s Dino Babers told Yahoo Sports they expect to ink two thirds of their recruits. Established coaches don’t want to babysit recruits for another month, so having them sign and focusing their energy on the 2019 class makes sense.

For new staffs, the dynamic is much different. Many are scrambling to get recruits to delay their commitments, which would give recruits a chance to visit campus in January where the coaching staff can convince them to flip. Rice’s Mike Bloomgren, who took over on Dec. 7, is lobbying potential recruits to pump the brakes: “We’re trying to convince guys not to sign and give us an at-bat in January,” Bloomgren told Yahoo Sports.

2. What’s changed in the micro?

Herman bumped into Georgia coach Kirby Smart at the Home Depot Awards show in Atlanta earlier this month and they concluded: “I had no idea this many kids would sign in the early period.” They commiserated over the new reality they were living – they better get used to being run ragged every December while juggling postseason awards with recruiting visits and bowl practices.

Last week, Herman hosted official visitors on Sunday and flew to California. On Monday, he did a home visit in California and another in Salt Lake City before returning to Austin at 3 a.m. On Tuesday, he awoke at 7, coached practice, flew to Louisville for a home visit and slept in Bradenton, Florida. On Wednesday, he did an in-school visit there and flew to Houston for three more visits before attending an event for the Touchdown Club of Houston. He got back home at 2 a.m. On Thursday, he coached practice in the morning and flew to both Shreveport (Louisiana) and Dallas for home visits before arriving home at 2 a.m. again. On Friday afternoon, he recounted this on his ride home from the office. Herman was tired, admitting Red Bull fueled his week. “You are literally living two days, every day,” he said.

3. How will this impact assistant coaching hires?

The biggest unintended consequence of the new early signing period will be an industry-wide flurry of assistant coaching movement. Nearly one-third of assistant coaching jobs in college football could turn over in the upcoming weeks. In other words, there’s a one-in-three chance the assistant who has been courting a high school prospect the past 18 months will be slipping on a new polo shirt soon.

Why so much? Well, there are many unspoken agreements for assistant coaches to wait to switch jobs until after the early signing period. It’s an age-old maneuver to lure in the talent and sprint for greener pastures once said talent is secured. This year, that number will uptick for a few reasons. Schools can hire a 10th assistant coach in January, which means there’s basically 130 new jobs. Most of the new hires haven’t filled out their staffs yet at the nearly 20 jobs that have opened, which means there’s at least another 100 jobs. Also, there’s likely 10 NFL jobs opening and a shallow NFL assistant coach pool, meaning a surprise job could pop in college. The quick flurry of movement because of the early signing period gave way to some temporary staff freezes for bowl games and the first batch of signatures.

Once those end, it’s easy to foresee nearly 400 assistant coach jobs changing hands the next few weeks. “It’s going to be a feeding frenzy,” Herman said.

And let the bidding begin. One industry source predicted we’ll see the first $2 million coordinator in the next few months. (Oregon just paid $1.7 million to keep Jim Leavitt as defensive coordinator, and LSU’s Dave Aranda will make $1.85 million next year). There are defensive coordinator openings at Florida State, Texas A&M and Arkansas that will dictate the market. There are offensive coordinator positions at Missouri and South Carolina. Among many, many others. You get the point.

One widely expected move, for example, is that Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch will go to Ohio State as the 10th coach. That’ll create a significant trickle down, and there will be many more like it. Then there are jobs that could open after the early signing period, as there are rumblings that Matt Canada and LSU could end up parting ways. (Ed Orgeron doesn’t appear enamored with jet sweeping his way through the SEC West.)

The human side of this mass coaching turnover won’t be fun for families: “It’s going to be sad,” Bloomgren said, “how close to Christmas this is all going to happen.”

4. What’s the long-term impact?

There are a lot of reasons why coaches like Urban Meyer and Nick Saban were so against the early signing period. But opposing coaches at schools without such a marquee profile would always point out that dominant programs could sit back and cherrypick recruits from smaller programs as National Signing Day approached. (After they’d whiffed on five-stars, of course.) That’s more difficult to do now, which some think will even the playing field a bit in college football. “For schools like Oklahoma and Alabama, it’s not good,” Syracuse coach Dino Babers said. “For everyone else not like them, it’s really good. In the long haul, it’s going to bring a lot of parity back to college football after three or four years.”

One veteran coach pointed out there’s really only two types of kids who won’t sign in the early period. It’s either a recruit who’s holding out for a better offer or a five-star who wants more attention. (There’s also the recruits who want extra time to figure things out amid the coaching changes.)

Perhaps the most tangible immediate result will be how many coaches, with nearly all their 2018 class complete, use the January recruiting period to get a jump on 2019. One coach made the analogy that the January period will become like the old May period, except that head coaches will be able to be out on the road. (Foolishly, the coaches can’t talk to 2019 recruits when they visit their high school, and that’s a rule that should change.)

5. What are the signing day storylines to watch?

There’s plenty of intriguing five-star drama that will go down Saturday, as schools like Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama tussle over the few remaining uncommitted elite players on the board. (Rivals.com did a great breakdown of remaining 5-stars and their decision).

What’s the most intriguing decision to come over the next few days? With all the tumult at Tennessee, including losing two quarterbacks for this signing class, the stakes are high surrounding the recruitment of sleeper quarterback JT Shrout. His father, Jim Shrout, told Yahoo Sports on Monday that his son will be choosing between Tennessee and California this week. (Shrout visited Tennessee this weekend after being a Cal commit since June.)

Shrout was at the QB Collective Camp this summer and his technical proficiency and throwing motion wowed the NFL coaches in attendance. What made Shrout most intriguing, however, was that he’d accepted a scholarship to California without playing a full high school game. (He’d started one game as a sophomore and got hurt.)

Shrout didn’t quarterback shop high schools, instead waiting until his senior year to start at Hart High School in Newhall, California. He threw for more than 3,000 yards and finished with 27 touchdown passes and 25 interceptions this season. His unique story and strong play caught the attention of former USC quarterback coach Tyson Helton, who is Tennessee’s new offensive coordinator.

Jim Shrout said his son had an “outstanding visit” to Tennessee and would make a decision at some point this week, likely either Wednesday or Thursday. Jim Shrout said his son has “two great choices in front of him.” He said he’s told JT: “Let all the emotions calm down and make a rational decision,” Jim Shrout said. “Let’s get away from it for a day or two and let everything settle down and go over it.”

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