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February 4, 2014
National Signing Day: Top storylines
National Signing Day arrives Wednesday and Rivals.com will have every twist and turn -- not to mention the hat-donning antics -- covered throughout the day. Rivals.com analysts look at some of the top stories in each region.
Sunshine State trifecta in store?
One of the most enigmatic players in the class of 2014 is Immokalee (Fla.) defensive back J.C. Jackson. The talented two-way player originally committed to Florida State in early 2013, only to flip to Florida in June. Since then he's been anything than solid to the Gators, entertaining the Seminoles once again, taking an official visit to Minnesota and visiting Miami multiple times. The Hurricanes once owned Immokalee, and Jackson's father Chris was a high school teammate of Miami legend and Immokalee native Edgerrin James. Jackson elected to take an unofficial visit to Florida this past weekend and insists he's committed, but if he flips to the 'Canes on Signing Day, he would be first prospect in recent memory to commit to all three of the Sunshine State power players within a calendar year.
Rivals100 QB still on the board
Another Florida product still weighing his options between the three in-state
powers is Rivals100 quarterback
Treon Harris. He's been committed to
the Seminoles since July, but recently took official visits to Florida,
Miami. Harris is a non-conventional quarterback -- he's
listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds -- but he was under center all season for one of
the best high school teams in the country. He seems like a natural fit for
Auburn's offense, but the Tigers already have Rivals250 quarterback Sean White in their class.
A big-time linebacker from Auburn (Ala.) High seems destined for Auburn, but Alabama makes a last-minute move. We saw it last year when Reuben Foster flipped from the Tigers to the Tide on National Signing Day and now Rashaan Evans is following the same trajectory. Evans never actually committed to the Tigers, but it seemed like only a matter of time before he officially joined the class. Now Nick Saban and company have put the full-court press on Evans and could be in position to steal another player right out of the Tigers' backyard. UCLA is also on the outside looking in and hoping to nab this elite defensive player from SEC country. Evans has shown that he's one of the best players in the country, so landing him would be a huge signing day victory in recruiting version of the Iron Bowl.
As of Tuesday, Tennessee had 33 verbal commitments; the question among Vols fans and fans across the Southeast region is just how will they make the numbers work? It remains to be seen whether Tennessee will ask players to grayshirt or have them forgo signing on Signing Day altogether and start in the fall as walk-ons. While I fully expect it to work, opposing schools have been targeting Tennessee commitments in an effort to steal them away at the last minute. The Vols need a major injection of talent, and this class is expected to bring that, assuming everyone sticks to their word on Signing Day. Tennessee is also in great shape to land Nashville (Tenn.) Ensworth defensive tackle and former Vanderbilt commit Michael Sawyers, who would truly be the icing on the cake for the 2014 class.
How will Georgia close?
After taking a big number of commits last year, Georgia doesn't have quite as many spots to work with down the stretch, but one name that is at the top of its list is Rivals100 defensive end Lorenzo Carter. He was on campus over the weekend, and the Dawgs coaches have made him their top priority. It's likely that Carter plays linebacker at the next level, and Georgia still hasn't hired a position coach, which appears to be the one weakness in its courtship of Carter. Florida and LSU remain a factor, but Georgia needs Carter in the class. Uncommitted four-star defensive end Andrew Williams also took an official and is reportedly high on Georgia now, but will it be enough to overcome an early lead built by presumed favorites Auburn and Clemson? A couple of other players already committed to Georgia spent the weekend looking around, three-star defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard visited Miami, while three-star defensive back Kendall Gant took a trip to Marshall. If Georgia can land Carter and Williams and keep all of its current commits in the fold, it will be a nice finish to the 2014 cycle.
Can Vanderbilt save face?
When James Franklin left Vanderbilt he not only took nearly his entire coaching and support staff with him, but he also took several committed Vanderbilt prospects. A few other big-name players were also quickly poached by schools from around the country. Now new head coach Derek Mason is tasked with trying to rebuild the class on the fly. This past weekend Vanderbilt landed several recruits, although most are developmental prospects. One big name that could help Commodores fans feel a little better is former Stanford commit Nifae Lealao. He's very close with Mason and only de-committed after Mason left Stanford for Nashville. If Vanderbilt can land Lealao and close with legacy wide receiver Caleb Scott and three-star offensive lineman Andrew Mike, it could help salvage what has been a disastrous situation.
- Woody Wommack
Everyone waiting on Adoree'
Adoree' Jackson is going to announce his college
commitment on National Signing Day, and this has been one of the more dramatic
recruitments this cycle.
Will JuJu Smith pull a signing day surprise?
Every year on National Signing Day, there are things that happen that not many
people expect; and one could be
John Smith pulling a surprise with his
commitment. USC is considered the big frontrunner, and so many things make sense
for him picking the Trojans, but watch out for Oregon.
Ballage the Bruin?
UCLA is the biggest threat to steal four-star running back
Kalen Ballage, who is currently a soft commitment to
State. The Bruins received Ballage's final visit, and the package Westwood
offers has the Falcon (Colo.) High School prospect's attention.
and, to a lesser extent, Colorado, are also still
recruiting Ballage, but UCLA seems like the only legitimate landing spot outside
Brown to announce
Junior college players are usually an afterthought come signing
day, but Grossmont (Calif.) Community College cornerback Kweishi Brown
is joining the fun. Brown, the No. 29 junior college player in the nation, will
announce his choice on a day that most of the spotlight will be on his high
- Adam Gorney, Rob Cassidy
The Prince and his subjects
The lone five-star in the region -- Southfield, Mich., defensive end Malik McDowell -- is also the biggest story heading into National Signing Day. Four teams remain in contention -- Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State -- and a case could be made for each school ending up with his signature. McDowell himself has been very high on the Spartans, but his parents want him to look harder at other schools. Florida State and Ohio State also impressed him and his parents on official visits in the month of January, while Michigan was the favorite for a large portion of this recruitment.
Spartans look to finish strong
Michigan State is a factor in the majority of the top remaining recruiting battles in the region, including the two remaining Rivals100
prospects: McDowell and Chicago De La Salle offensive tackle Jamarco Jones. Jones is committed to Ohio State but took an official visit
to East Lansing this past weekend. MSU started out the week on a high note, landing former Wisconsin commit Craig Evans, a
four-star defensive tackle. The Spartans are also a top contender for four-star athlete T.J. Harrell out of Tampa and three-star defensive
tackle Daniel Cage of Cincinnati. A finish that includes multiple four-stars should boost the Spartans into the top three of the final
Big Ten recruiting class standings.
While Michigan State is looking to flip another four-star prospect from a Big Ten program, several more committed recruits in the Midwest are
still considering other schools after taking late official visits or have already made the switch. Just in the last few days, we have seen Evans
change his commitment, three-star center Nathaniel Devers flip from Cincinnati to Marshall, three-star athlete Simmie Cobbs
flip from Purdue to Indiana and three-star wide receiver Conner Krizancic flip from Cincinnati to Minnesota. Another
potential loss for Cincinnati could be linebacker Kaleb Harris, who took official visits to Marshall and Western Michigan in the last
A quarter of the four and five-star recruits in the Midwest have committed to
SEC schools, and the main aggressors have been Tennessee and Kentucky.
Former University of Cincinnati coach Butch Jones has taken the reins
in Knoxville and his staff has deep ties to the Midwest. The Volunteers pulled
three four-star recruits out of the region in 2014, headlined by Rivals100
defensive end Dewayne Hendrix.
Before 2014, the highest a Mid-American Conference school has finished in the national team rankings since the they were first established in 2002 was Kent State's 2009 class, which finished at No. 62. That record looks likely to be surpassed this year by Western Michigan, which currently boasts the No. 58 ranked class in the country. First-year head coach P.J. Fleck started landing three-star prospects early in the class and has 14 committed heading into National Signing Day. The Broncos out-recruited BCS schools for many of those prospects, including fending off the likes of Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Virginia to keep Southfield, Mich., offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor in-state.
- Josh Helmholdt