Recruiting is the lifeblood of every college football program. That has been true for decades, but the recruiting itself—and the way teams go about it—has changed considerably over the last few years, especially since the introduction of a December signing period in 2017. Now in its fifth year, the “early” signing period has replaced the traditional February signing day as the main time for most teams to scoop up their future players. The loosening of transfer rules over the last three years has also resulted in more player movement: Teams are forced to consider not just high school athletes but also players on other active rosters. Both kinds of prospects played a role in this year’s National Signing Day.
The December signing period is open through Friday, but the majority of the moving and shaking happened on Wednesday. (The second and third days of the signing period rarely see much action.) Now that the dust has settled, here are a few key takeaways from National Signing Day 2021.
Key Takeaways From National Signing Day 2021
1. Jackson State Picked Up This Year’s No. 1 Recruit
— Travis Hunter (@TravisHunterJr) December 15, 2021
In the recruiting rankings era that goes back to around 2002, an FCS school has never landed a No. 1-ranked recruit, or anything close to it. Neither has a historically Black university.
That was true until Wednesday, when the Deion Sanders-coached Jacksonville State Tigers flipped Rivals’ No. 1 overall recruit, cornerback Travis Hunter, from his verbal commitment to Florida State. There will be endless speculation about what led Hunter to make the historic commitment to JSU, including whether or not he inked a name, image, and likeness deal that the school somehow facilitated.
What’s clear right now is that Sanders has pulled off a coup just as Jackson State gets set to play South Carolina State in the Celebration Bowl on Saturday—with the FCS national championship on the line. The Tigers are 11–1 this year, and they’ve lined up a chance to finish the year with just about the biggest splash possible.
2. JSU’s Gain Was Florida State’s Loss
On Tuesday, FSU announced a one-year extension for head coach Mike Norvell that keeps him under contract in Tallahassee through the 2026 season. Norvell is 8–13 in two seasons at FSU, but the school was evidently impressed enough by his recruiting efforts and a strong finish in 2021 to keep him on. Then on Wednesday morning, he lost offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham to Oregon. And on Wednesday afternoon, he lost Hunter, his prized recruit, to a team coached by Sanders, a beloved Florida State alum.
A small group of FSU fans started a Twitter space called “Fire Mike Norvell,” and well over 6,000 people joined it at one point. For hours, Seminoles fans let their head coach have it and urged the school to can him. That seems impossible at the moment, but it’s hard to imagine a worse day for Norvell.
3. QB Transfers Were Some of the Biggest Signings of the Week
Your new @TexasFootball QB: Quinn Ewers
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 13, 2021
Recruiting is a year-round game now, and players already on college rosters are a big part of it. One of the biggest gets of the week for any team was one of those players: quarterback Quinn Ewers, the No. 1 overall player in last year’s class, who announced he’d transfer from Ohio State to Texas. Ewers was stuck behind Heisman Trophy finalist C.J. Stroud in Columbus, but he’ll be in line to start in Austin, which will be good for both his football career and his endorsement deals.
Former Oklahoma QB Spencer Rattler, the preseason Heisman frontrunner who lost his job to freshman Caleb Williams, announced he’d play for South Carolina next year, along with his star tight end, Austin Stogner. (Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer worked at Oklahoma while both Rattler and Stogner played there.)
Ex-UCF QB Dillon Gabriel is widely expected to transfer to UCLA, while Texas A&M looks ready to pick up former LSU QB Max Johnson. Other transfer passers like Bo Nix (from Auburn) and Kedon Slovis (from USC) are still on the market.
The QB musical chairs will continue, and how they settle will affect the 2022 season at least as much as anything else that happens on the recruiting trail.
4. Texas A&M Moved Closer to Competing With the Top of the SEC
The Aggies haven’t suffered from a lack of talent, but that’s not the same as signing the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. For now, though, that’s exactly what Jimbo Fisher has pulled off: The Aggies sit first in the industry-consensus 247Sports Composite recruiting rankings. The Aggies’ 2021 class features four five-star prospects, including No. 2 overall player Walter Nolen, a defensive tackle.
A&M expected to contend for a Playoff spot in 2021 and finished a disappointing 8–4 while wasting an elite defense. But the Aggies did beat No. 1 Alabama, and they might’ve been a few wins better if starting quarterback Haynes King weren’t lost for the season after an injury in Week 2. For now, all Fisher can do is add as many reinforcements as possible. You can’t compete regularly with Nick Saban unless you recruit like him.
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