COLUMBUS — In years past, January was when football recruiting burned the hottest. Late decisions, players flipping commitments, and high-profile hits and misses made for interesting theater before the traditional signing day on the first Wednesday in February.
Now that players also can sign with schools during a three-day period that begins Dec. 20, however, the game has changed for everyone involved.
As programs and recruits approach the new signing period, two major questions remain in the world of recruiting.
What happens if the biggest and best recruits opt to delay signing until February?
And what will the player pool look like in early 2018 for the schools still looking to add to their classes?
“For the most part, what I think happened is that all the activity that used to happen in January has really happened this month,” said Allen Trieu, who covers the Midwest for 247Sports. “It’s sort of moved the busy season, the flurry of recruiting, from January to December.
“What we don’t know is what January will be like.”
Under the current schedule, the top-tier players have license to wait until the traditional signing period if they so choose.
Virtually all of the players currently committed to a school have been pressured to sign Dec. 20, but the four and five-star players still deciding their future home have the leverage to wait another seven weeks — after most of their class already has signed — and end up in their desired location.
“The interesting thing will be in January after the dead period,” said Bill Greene, who covers Ohio recruiting for 247. “Guys will have signed — but who didn’t sign? How furious does it get with those kids down to the wire? We’ve never seen anything like this.”
Ohio State, for example, is in the defensive-end market. Five-star prospect Brenton Cox previously was committed to the Buckeyes but has since backed off, leaving Ohio State searching for another top-end talent at the position.
Two of the Buckeyes’ targets, Tyreke Smith of Cleveland and Jayson Oweh of New Jersey, will not make their college decisions until January, after the early-signing period has closed.
Should the Buckeyes enter later January without an end committed, finding a backup won’t be nearly as easy as in years past.
The Buckeyes were in a similar spot last year at wide receiver. A high-profile decommitment forced OSU to search elsewhere, and the Buckeyes did so successfully. Shortly before signing day, Ohio State turned its focus to Texas prospect Elijah Gardiner, who was committed to Missouri, and lured him to switch his allegiance.
However, the end result could have been much different this cycle for a player like Gardiner, who might well have signed with the Tigers had December signing been an option.
“That scenario probably doesn’t happen this year,” Trieu said. “If you’re Ohio State — I know they’re in on several top defensive ends — if you don’t get one of those defensive ends, it’s not like you can go poach an Indiana commit or an Iowa commit or something like that. Those guys are probably all signed.”
Trieu added that he actually did not foresee “too much craziness” in the coming weeks. For the most part, Trieu said he thinks the majority of committed players will sign as expected on the 20th, and the players who wait longer will pick from the same schools they were considering before the early-signing period.
But for the players who do make it to January without having signed a letter of intent, it once again will be open season.
“If you don’t sign on the 20th, then you’re not committed to your school,” Greene said. “The school you committed to is going to have to re-recruit you, and the schools that are looking at you are going to know you’re open for business. It’s going to be a huge sign across the country.”
The next week will be watched closely in college football, which is going through its new recruiting calendar for the first time.
The option of signing in December is available — but how many recruits will take it?
“The fun begins when you look at those lists on the 23rd and see who didn't sign,” Greene said. “It’s going to be a riot to watch what happens.”
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