This isn’t your older brother or sister’s National Signing Day.
Not long ago, recruiting junkies would live for the first Wednesday in February. It was the day that your team would sign the latest batch of players sure to take the program to the next level. This day was a national holiday for college football fans. Now it feels like an afterthought.
How did we get here so quickly?
December 2017 was the first time that players were allowed to sign earlier than February. There was a lot of curiosity about how the early signing period would affect recruiting. Now, in the third cycle of the rule, we have a good sign of how things are going. The one big wild card in the data is undergoing a coaching change. Consider that in the 2018 recruiting class, 11 of the Huskers’ 25 commitments signed in February. The transition class for Coach Scott Frost and his staff has turned out to be rough. There was a lot of scrambling to fill spots but there are still some bright spots in the class.
The Huskers had only two players in the 2019 class not sign in December. Demaryion Houston was recruited more during the run up to the late signing period. He committed and signed in February. Keem Green was also a late addition to the roster.
The current cycle of 2020 took a step beyond what we saw in Frost’s first full recruiting class. Nebraska signed all 23 commitments during the early signing period. The Huskers also added defensive back Luke Gifford and wide receiver Ty Hahn as walk-ons. The plan is for them to go on scholarship soon.
But let’s go behind Nebraska and take a look at the Big Ten picture as a whole. Doing so allows us to see that 94% of verbally committed players signed in December, per 247Sports. Each school in the conference signed at least 17 players. Illinois is the only exception. The Illini signed 12 but are still a young football team. By my count, the Huskers hosted 48 official visitors before the December signing period. Only two of those 48 did not sign in December. Defensive end Nusi Malani and defensive end Tanoa Togiai will decide on Wednesday, Feb. 5.
Let’s zoom out a bit more and take a look at the national picture. According to 247Sports, 76.8% of the 2020 class signed in December. According to 247Sports’ composite rankings, 92 of the top 100 prospects signed with a school on Dec. 18. Three of the eight prospects left are 5-star players. Yet, two of those three are verbally committed and expected to sign with those programs. There are just four uncommitted prospects in the entire top 100.
Some of the criticism of the early signing period centers around two factors: coaching changes and the sped-up recruiting calendar. I generally disagree that those two reasons are enough to make any sweeping changes. Schools are always going to announce coaching changes after the signing day. It doesn't matter when that date is. It happened in February when that was the only signing period. It happens in December now. There will always be random timing too, like Mark Dantonio leaving Michigan State on Feb. 4.
If prospects are going to be able to make decisions earlier, then the process needs to start earlier. It's natural for the calendar to speed up. It's ultimately in the best interest of families and schools who should be hoping to make an informed decision. It feels a bit strange for Nebraska that January has been 99% focused on the class of 2021 but that is just where we are now.
Times have changed in short order. It’s probably time we refer to December as National Signing Day. February is now the ‘late signing period.’
Welcome to the new recruiting reality.
Greg is the Recruiting Analyst for Hail Varsity and has covered Husker athletics since 2013. He has always had a passion for sports while growing up in the Chicago area. As he got older and had to hang up his cleats and sneakers, he realized his passion for sports went beyond just watching and attending games. He has covered many events from the Rose Bowl to championship boxing matches. If he’s not talking sports, he’s hovering over his grill. He is married to an amazing woman, Kim, and they have a dog that barks when Greg yells at the TV during games.