An SQ Roundtable: College Football's Favorite Holiday, National Signing Day
National Signing Day has come and gone, and it sure didn't disappoint. Once again Alabama asserted its dominance, the battle for the West Coast came down to the wire between USC and UCLA, and Florida coach Jim McElwain pulled a rabbit out of his hat to save his 2015 class. As you can see, there were quite a few storylines that unraveled during this year's event. Let's take a look at what some of our writers had to say about the day.
1. Which school, in your opinion, came out on top for recruiting?
Nick Cicere: Alabama has made bringing in the upper echelon of talent look so easy, so it wouldn’t really be fair to just concede them as the most impressive of schools this signing day, despite yet another top-ranked class. As for who did the “best," I was surprised at how strongly Jim Mora and his UCLA Bruins were able to finish and put together a very impactful crop of incoming freshman. At every level of football, quarterback play will determine team success, and it appears Josh Rosen is the future face of UCLA. His 6’4'' frame will allow to him add even more muscle mass, while he has all the tools to be a superstar at the collegiate level. Running back Soso Jamabo is a versatile player and defensive end Keisean Lucer-Smith needs to get bigger, but his length and speed are already first-rate. The Bruins even added some starpower with Cordell Broadus, Snoop Dogg’s wide receiver son. UCLA needed a talented class like this that could finally put them over the hump in the PAC-12.
William McFadden: I’m going to go outside of the box here for a second and say that Florida did the best job. Kudos to the push that UCLA was able to make on National Signing Day, but Florida made the biggest jump. Jim McElwain’s staff had almost no time at all on the recruiting trail, but were still able to move up significantly when the letters came in. The Gators landed a stud lineman in Martez Ivey and an equally impressive CeCe Jefferson. All told, Florida managed to reel in six offensive lineman, more than Muschamp brought in over his first two years in Gainesville. A No. 21 recruiting class may seem like a loss for many Gator fans, but the surge they made on National Signing Day gives reason for optimism. Besides, Muschamp always recruited well, but couldn’t find success. Maybe McElwain is hoping for the opposite.
Sean Berger: Truth be told, Alabama did have the nation's no. 1 overall recruiting class and anyone who thinks otherwise is probably an Auburn fan. However, I have to agree with Will on this one. Seeing what Jim McElwain pulled off in such a short period of time is something that can't be overlooked. The week before National Signing Day, 2015 looked like it was going to be a recruiting disaster for the Gators. The Gators had just seven recruits - all but one of which were rated three-stars - and were ranked as low as 80th at one point. National Signing Day arrives, and at first it looks bleak. Byron Cowart signed with Auburn and a couple of highly rated hopefuls that Florida had its sights on also landed at Auburn, following Cowart and former Gators coach Will Muschamp. But then the tides changed; Martez Ivey chose Florida and more and more recruits started to follow suit, including five-star DE CeCe Jefferson. Overall this was a leap in the right direction for McElwain and his staff.
David Street: Like William, I also think Florida did the best job. It’s true that they did not have a top-ten class and it’s true that this is their worst class in years. However, given the circumstances, it could have been a lot worse. In just a limited time, Jim McElwain and his staff managed to jump Florida’s recruiting class up 45 spots to #21, by far the highest jump of any Division-1 school. Signing the best OT recruit in the nation in Martez Ivey was crucial for a team that has a thin offensive line and the signing of defensive end CeCe Jefferson was huge for an already solid defense. Florida was the only school in the SEC and one of only two schools to land two top-ten recruits (the other being Florida State). No one knows how McElwain will do in his first season as Florida’s head coach, but he sure has made quite a first impression with this impressive recruiting job.
Preston Cole: I agree with Nick on this one; I think it was UCLA. The Bruins had a great day, locking up QB Josh Rosen (as mentioned). Also, the addition of 6’5'' tight end Chris Clark was huge for UCLA. No doubt you could make a case for other teams as well. The Gators, Trojans, Buckeyes and Crimson Tide all had big days, amongst others, but UCLA showed that they are able to recruit on a national stage as well, pulling highly sought-after RB Soso Jamabo out of Texas.
2. Which newly signed recruit will make the biggest impact on his team?
Nick: The obvious choice is Byron Cowart, but it’s the right one. Gus Malzahn has created a monster on offense, but his defense has kept his team from being true contenders in the SEC. With Will Muschamp coordinating the defense, Cowart will have the opportunity to show off his freakish speed and size off the edge. Because Auburn needed to make a splash on the defensive side of the ball, Cowart is the guy that could have the biggest impact.
William: I really like the position that Terry Beckner, Jr. is in. He is a tremendous interior player on the defensive line, and heads to Missouri, which has had some of the top defensive linemen over the past five years. Beckner will be able to step in and fill the shoes of Shane Ray, Sheldon Richardson and Michael Sam, among others. The 6’4”, 300-pound tackle will likely be worked on by the Tigers’ coaching staff, and could end up playing at close to 275 pounds. Considering that Beckner runs a 4.89 40-yard dash at 300 pounds, imagine what kind of havoc he could create at a lighter weight.
Sean: This is really a tough decision for me to make. I can really see Cowart having a huge impact right away, especially with Muschamp at the helm of Auburn's defense. However, my pick is going to be Martez Ivey, the top offensive tackle that's headed to Florida. Ivey comes in as the country's most touted offensive lineman, and he plays a position that Florida needed to fill with this recruiting cycle. Ivey is a very athletic lineman with great footwork that sets him apart from other players at the same position. He's got a real chance to make an immediate impact and help Florida get back to an elite level offensively.
David: I will say that Martez Ivey will have the biggest impact. Like I mentioned, Florida’s offensive line is thin and needs a player of Ivey’s caliber. He is widely regarded as not only the best high school offensive lineman in the country, but also as the best overall player, winning the Hall Trophy in 2014, which is given to the most outstanding high school football player in the country. Ivey was the first offensive lineman to ever win the award, so that should indicate how much he meant to his high school team. Combine his superb skills with maturity beyond his age, and you have a guy who could be a difference maker in just his first year in college.
Preston: Again, I have to side with Nick on this one. Byron Cowart is the top ranked player in this class for a reason, and I think he has a unique opportunity. He is already a force on the defensive side of the ball, and with a little coaching from Muschamp, he could be a nightmare for opposing offenses.
3. Which incoming freshman has the best chance to start immediately?
Nick: Besides Cowart, one guy to keep an eye on is safety Derwin James of Florida State. Jam
es is a stout 6’2'', 20 pounder that loves to bring the boom, and the Seminoles could surely use an enforcer in the secondary. James enrolled in school early January, enabling him to put on more weight, go through spring practice, and be ahead of the curve. Come August, don’t be shocked if James is penciled in somewhere in the back-end of FSU’s defense.
William: Trenton Thompson at Georgia could become an immediate star. The Bulldogs needed to fill a large hole along the defensive line after losing several veteran starters, and the 6’4”, 311-pound Thompson may be able to fill that hole all by himself. Thompson is Georgia’s prized recruit, and has been considered by many to be the top recruit in this year’s class. He may already be the best player at defensive tackle on Georgia’s roster, and it seems more likely than not that Thompson will make an impact early and often.
Sean: This is where the obvious answer is Byron Cowart. He's got a shot to really create some waves his freshman season. Auburn is looking forward to fortifying its defense after seeing it be a huge weakness last season. Muschamp has been incredibly high on him ever since he began recruiting him while he was the head coach for the Gators, and nothing has changed his mind. Cowart is the type of guy that can really be a great playmaker on the defensive line. His athleticism coupled with his ferocity will be the thing causing quarterbacks to have nightmares come Friday night before and Saturday night after the game.
David: I already implied that Ivey will start immediately. My other favorite choice is Terry Beckner, Jr. for this simple reason: he is going to Missouri, a school which is widely known for its defensive line and developing these players for the NFL. With proper adjustments, Beckner should fit right into the system.
Preston: Iman Marshall. This guy is an animal. The top ranked corner in his class, he will look to improve the USC secondary this season. At 6’1'', Marshall has decent size for a corner, and I think he will impress coaches, and earn himself a starting role week one.
4. Tennessee has been a recruiting power these past couple of years. Is this the year the Volunteers finally put a good product on the field?
Nick: Butch Jones will enter his third year as the head coach of the Vols, which means we’ll really have a chance to see his first and second recruiting classes contribute on the field. Tennessee has shown flashes of potential, but as with any rebuilding team, there have been times of ineptitude as well. However, this is a Volunteer program that’s getting back to where it needs to be. Home games against Oklahoma, Arkansas and Georgia will likely put Tennessee back in the spotlight, and those are games that should bring Rocky Top back to its glory days. Given the schedule, there’s no reason the Vols can’t win 9-10 games in 2015.
William: I truly believe this is the year that we see Tennessee make a run for the top spot in the SEC East. Last year the Vols were able to make a bowl game despite replacing the entirety of both lines, and playing an absolutely brutal schedule. The young talent Butch Jones has brought in has been molded through the fires of an SEC schedule, and should be in a much better position to succeed in 2015. In this year’s class, the Vols landed a whopping 18 4-star players. A large number of these recruits are able to play on the offensive and defensive lines, and should push for starting spots. There is no question that Butch Jones has Tennessee moving in the right direction, and this is the year they will most likely put it together. I think Georgia should be the preseason favorite, but I would put Tennessee right there with them in the SEC East.
Sean: It's been a while since the nation has seen Tennessee as a relevant name in the college football scene. There was that disaster with Lane Kiffin and then Derek Dooley didn't really pan out the way fans had hoped. But ever since Butch Jones has arrived in Knoxville, there's been some stirring, and the Vols look to have one of the up-and-coming teams of the SEC. We could be looking at the 2015 version of how Ole Miss was in the season prior. The offense looks to have turned a corner since Joshua Dobbs took over as the team's signal caller. With the SEC East still very mediocre at best, this could be the best opportunity Tennessee has to put a winner on the field.
David: I am very impressed with the job that Butch Jones has done at Tennessee, at least in the recruiting area. Turning a team into a championship contender takes time. It does not happen overnight. If all the pieces fall into place, Tennessee should have a very competitive squad. Here’s my prediction: Tennessee finishes their season at 9-4, which would be their first time winning at least nine games since 2007.
Preston: Ehh...I don’t think so. All the pieces are there for Tennessee, and they have been for some time. They are in a winnable SEC east, they consistently bring in big time talent, they have a rabid fan base...but no results on the field. I think the problems at Tennessee are deeper than just coaching or recruiting. You never know; they may just make a move this year, but personally I don’t think so.
5. Which school's recruiting class was the most disappointing?
Nick: Going to have to go with Miami here. Al Golden is “strongly disliked” among South Floridians, and the Hurricanes needed to make a splash with immediate impact talent. Miami should be able to fence off the talent pool of the surrounding area, but Golden and his staff have failed to do so, yet again. There aren’t any buzzworthy freshmen in a class made up of other powerhouses' scraps, leaving Golden, in all likelihood, in his last go-round with the Canes. It’s a real shame, because college football is much more exciting when Miami is in the championship fold.
William: Michigan. Like McElwain, new head coach Jim Harbaugh did not have much time on the recruiting trail, but the Wolverines only managed 14 recruits. This really surprised me, because I thought that Harbaugh’s name alone would be enough to sway some targets. Only five of the 14 recruits were 4-stars, with the other nine comprised of 3-star players. Former coach Brady Hoke did a decent job at recruiting, so Harbaugh may have some talent to work with, but you don’t turn a program around with only 14 new guys.
Sean: I have to agree with Nick on this one. Watching Miami fall out of the top-20 and almost 10 spots down had to be disheartening for Hurricanes' fans to see. Even Florida, who had a down year recruiting and had to deal with the firing of its head coach, was able to pull everything together and reel in a salvageable class. Not to mention, the Gators did steal two former Miami commits in Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett. Al Golden is walking on very thin ice right now, and another disappointing or sub-par season could spell the end for him.
David: I have to say that TCU’s class was the most disappointing. The Horned Frogs did not land any five-star recruit, only got one four-star recruit, and plummeted ten spots down from their previous ranking. That is very disappointing for a team that just came off a very good season and almost made the playoffs. I’m not saying they should have had a top-ten finish, but they definitely could have had done better.
Preston: William beat me to it! Yes, it was by far Michigan. About a decade ago, it would have sounded ludicrous to suggest that Michigan would finish behind Michigan Sta te in recruiting...oh, how the tables have turned. Michigan finished last in the Big Ten in terms of number of commits, and they had ZERO 5-star recruits. Things got only worse when 4-star target Mike Weber, a running back from Detroit, decided to sign with Ohio State on signing day. All this Harbaugh talk, at least for now, seems to have gotten them nowhere. Like William said, there are still pieces to work with, but this was truly a putrid recruiting job.
6. What do you make of all the drama that recruits have been causing as of late by holding off on signing or waiting to send in their letter of intent (i.e. Byron Cowart and CeCe Jefferson)?
Nick: Picking where you hopefully plan on spending the next 3-4 years of your adult life, especially with the hope of playing at the next level, should be made with as much focus as humanly possible - especially when we’re subjecting 18-year-olds to national media scrutiny, social media annoyance, and year-long provocation. Let’s step back and allow these high schoolers to be 100% sure regarding their commitment, and please, for all that is holy, find a more efficient piece of technology than a fax machine!
William: I think it is only fair to look at both parties involved. Why is it fair for a coach that has recruited and built a relationship with a player to up and leave, but a recruit taking some more time is looked down upon? National Signing Day is not a deadline. It is only the beginning of the signing period, but we have turned it into a circus. Don’t get me wrong, if a player is committed to a school, then commit. If situations change however, or if a player needs more time, I am completely okay with a recruit waiting before sending in his letter.
Sean: As much as I love watching the events of National Signing Day transpire and all the drama that it creates, it does get to be a little annoying. However, I don't necessarily blame the athletes for this. The media is the biggest culprit in creating this spectacle. Turning even the slightest of murmurs into a headline that captivates the country is something that I'm not really a fan of. These kids are making a decision that will affect the rest of their lives and they shouldn't feel pressured to pick one side over another. It should solely be about the school and the program.
David: I have one simple thing to say. You’re either committed to a school, or you’re not.
Preston: Well, the waiting to fax over the signed letter...that’s just kinda weird. I’m not sure what the point of that is. But as far as holding off on actually signing, I love it. From a fan's perspective, the most exciting part of National Signing Day is when the recruit has the three hats in front of him and you truly have no idea where he is going to go.