National Signing Day 2017 winners and losers: USC surges, Texas flops
There’s one major problem with identifying who won and who lost on National Signing Day: We don’t really know how good any of these players will be at the college level. Sure, programs that land four- and five-star prospects on the last day of the recruiting cycle seem to position themselves for future on-field success. History suggests that, contrary to whatever Coach X says about the futility of recruiting rankings, stars matter. The recruits rated at the top of their respective classes, on balance, outperform those with only a couple of Power 5 scholarship offers. But the rankings do not have a perfect track record. Blue-chippers have failed to live up to the hype, just as two-stars from small high schools sometimes blossom into stars. It’s important to keep this stuff in mind if you feel the urge to agonize over or celebrate what went down on signing day. With that in mind, here are five winners and losers from Wednesday:
What didn’t go right for the Trojans on signing day? Plucking Westlake High four-star linebacker Levi Jones from Texas’s back yard marked an early conquest (he gets bonus points for the method of his reveal, a shirt-shedding maneuver completed with a standard baseball cap placement), but USC was just getting started. North Canyon (Ariz.) High five-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson followed suit. Ditto for Bingham (Utah) High five-star defensive tackle Jay Tufele. By the end of the day, the Trojans would add another five-star prospect, Augustus F. Hawkins (Calif.) High wide receiver Joseph Lewis, and two four-stars, Inderkum (Calif.) High tight end Josh Falo and athlete Greg Johnson, Lewis’s teammate at Augustus F. Hawkins. This is not the first time USC has stolen the show on signing day, but that shouldn’t detract from what the program accomplished under a head coach who was the subject of hot seat speculation just a few months ago. Now Clay Helton will add one of the best recruiting classes in the country to an already loaded roster.
Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh was so thrilled about a commitment from a heralded prospect earlier this week that he jumped in a pool to celebrate it. But the decision of that prospect, West (Iowa) High four-star wide receiver Oliver Martin, was only a prelude to a superlative signing day. Michigan beat out two SEC recruiting heavyweights, Alabama and Georgia, for another pass-catcher, Clay Chalkville (Ala.) High four-star Nico Collins, to round out an impressive cluster of wide receivers in its 2017 class that also includes Cass Technical (Mich.) High five-star Donovan Peoples-Jones and Cheshire (Conn.) Academy four-star Tarik Black. The Wolverines’ biggest victory of the day, though, came on the other side of the ball. Another top-shelf prospect from the Southeast, Lee County (Ga.) High five-star defensive tackle Aubrey Solomon, spurned the Crimson Tide and the Bulldogs in favor of the Wolverines. The two additions completed another haul that will help Harbaugh keep Michigan competing at the top of arguably the most challenging division in the Power 5, the Big Ten East.
The Bears would have been winners even if they didn’t land any prospects on signing day. Since the program hired Matt Rhule from Temple in December, a move skeptics questioned because of his lack of recruiting ties to Texas, Baylor has added 26 players to its 2017 class. Two joined the party on Wednesday: England (Ark.) High three-star defensive end Brandon Thompson and East Ascension (La.) High three-star defensive end Justin Harris. Their choices punctuate a rousing pre-signing day stretch for a program with a dismal recruiting situation. The influx of talent may not pay major dividends in 2017. These prospects will need some time to develop, and remember, the Bears struggled to keep their 2016 haul intact. But by signing so many quality players in such a short span, Rhule laid the groundwork for a successful rebuild. For more on Baylor’s recruiting, read Pete Thamel’s feature from Waco.
The disappointment Crimson Tide fans carried into the off-season after their favorite program lost in the national championship game should have evaporated on Wednesday. Alabama provided a reminder of why it has been, and will continue to…