National Signing Day is Wednesday and will lack all the bells and whistles that used to accompany what traditionally was the first day of the national signing period during which high school football seniors could sign letters of intent for their college destinations.
With the addition of an early signing period in December, most of the programs, including Michigan and Michigan State, pretty much wrapped up their recruiting classes for the 2018 freshman class then.
“Obviously, we've entered into uncharted waters for the second time after completing a first early signing period and how that's now affected this Signing Day this coming Wednesday,” ESPN recruiting director Tom Luginbill said on a conference call this week. “On average, you're going to have between 2,700 and 2,800 kids sign an FBS letter of intent.
“Each and every class, close to 72 percent of the class has already signed. That's a little over 2,000 players. Of that 2,000 players, very close to around 900 prospects actually signed with Group of Five programs. So the early signing period made an impact outside of the Power Five conferences as well. That leaves us with approximately 700 players remaining on the board, about half of which are currently verbally committed, the rest are undeclared. The player pool has shrunk from a pool to a puddle. Let's just see how this thing works out on Wednesday.”
Michigan and Michigan State are putting the finishing touches on their 2018 classes.
Michigan is hoping to solidify its commitment from four-star Georgia outside linebacker Otis Reese, ranked No. 87 nationally. He has been committed to Michigan since June 2016, but Georgia has made a strong push.
“He’s never left although it has felt like it,” Allen Trieu, who handles Midwest Recruiting for 247Sports, said of Reese. “He’s been very quiet. Michigan got him up for a late visit, and Michael Barrett (from Georgia who committed to Michigan last month) seems to think they’ll keep Otis.
“Him taking an official visit to Central Michigan (last month) and spending time with his brother helps too. Jim may want to send (Central Michigan coach John) Bonamego a card for letting him come up to visit his brother. Central didn’t have to do it.”
After signing all 20 of its commits during the early signing period, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio made it clear the Spartans were looking to add a couple of players by Wednesday.
The first target was a wide receiver, and Dantonio landed a commitment over the weekend from three-star Jalen Nailor of Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas.
At 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, Nailor is ranked the No. 136 wide receiver in the 2018 class, according to 247Sports.com. He committed to Arizona State in November, but after the Sun Devils fired coach Todd Graham, Nailor re-opened his recruitment and the Spartans moved in after originally offering him a scholarship last spring.
Dantonio also said the Spartans were looking for a defensive tackle and the best bet has been three-star Dashaun Mallory of Bolingbrook (Ill.) High. He has been in consistent contact with the Michigan State coaching staff, but he 310-pound all-state selection has been slowed due to academic issues.
There’s a chance things won’t be cleared up for Mallory until after signing day, but that doesn’t close the door on Mallory making it to Michigan State. Continued academic progress could lead to him joining the class in the spring.
A couple other names to keep an eye on Wednesday are four-star receiver Tommy Bush of Samuel Clemens in Schertz, Texas, and three-star defensive end Habakkuk Baldonado of Clearwater (Fla.) Academy International.
Bush is a longshot at this point, but Michigan State is one of his finalists along with Georgia, Baylor, Texas and Ole Miss. He’s expected to announce on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-5 Baldonado is a native of Italy who has moved quickly up the rankings. He took an official visit to Michigan State and is also considering Pittsburgh and UCF.
Bottom line – the Spartans are pretty much set with this recruiting class.
“For the most part, the Michigan State class we talked about in December is the class it is now, and that’s not a bad thing,” Trieu said. “I’m sure the fans want more. It just feels like because this is the first year of the early signing period, it makes this signing day feel boring.”
Currently, Michigan’s class is ranked No. 17 by 247Sports, while Michigan State is No. 29. Neither program has landed a five-star prospect. Of Michigan’s 20 commitments, eight are ranked four stars, while 12 are three stars. The Spartans have three four-star players and 18 three stars.
By no means is this a down class for Michigan, Trieu said, despite the lack of five stars and the abundance of three-star players.
“This is very typical Michigan recruiting under Jim Harbaugh, who takes some guys who are sleepers,” Trieu said. “In this particular class, there’s not a Rashan Gary, Jabrill Peppers or Donovan Peoples-Jones who masks that. In every other class, they’ve taken guys they found at a satellite camp or they’ve taken a guy who hasn’t had a lot of offers.
“Ben Mason was that kind of guy, very under the radar, and he played last year. Sean McKeon, he was a camp guy. There is nothing to be alarmed about. I think it’s very typical of a Harbaugh class. You can’t have a room full of stars. Your three stars are your team guys. You can’t sign a class of 25 super stars.”
He sees plenty of plusses in this class, including Aidan Hutchinson, Jalen Mayfield, Ryan Hayes and German Julius Welschof, the first European in the Michigan program.
“This class is very athletic and it’s very big,” Trieu said. They’re all 6-6-plus.”
Welschof is an interesting add for Michigan. He flipped from Georgia Tech and signed with the Wolverines in December.
Before the bowl game, Michigan defensive coordinator Don Brown said there is plenty of upside with Welschof, who has described himself as being extremely fast. The former skier often shares videos on social media of his various, impressive training methods.
“Be careful with the ‘project’ statement,” Brown said last December about Welschof. “Brandon Collier, who was his coach, played for me at UMass. So it’s not like the coaches are taking a flyer and taking this guy. This guy is big. And he can run. He’s an athlete. He’ll have the best defensive line coach (Greg Mattison) in the country to tutor him. He’s so long, he can run, he’s athletic.”
While this may be a mostly typical recruiting class for Harbaugh, who is entering his fourth season with the Wolverines, what has been missing are the offseason recruiting headlines. There have been no stories of recruiting sleepovers, or climbing trees or go-karting.
“I think you're not seeing a lot of the shenanigans or hijinks or notable media headlines coming because the on-the-field product wasn't what it needs to be,” Luginbill said, referring to Michigan’s 8-5 record last season. “Jim Harbaugh recognizes that. They've had some staff turnover. They've had to make some shifts there. They've got new faces out on the recruiting trail.
“If you actually look at the players that have signed in this class, it is a very, very talented group. I'm really impressed with this class in relationship to the caliber of player that has been signed. They've made additions at the defensive back end in the secondary, where I think is a need position for them to improve. They've also done so on the offensive and defensive line, two premium positions that I consider to be very, very important to the overall outlook of the success of their football team up front.
“And with the addition of Shea Patterson if he's eligible immediately, and the addition of (early enrollee) Joe Milton, they become more athletic at quarterback. And I think even Jim Harbaugh is now realizing we need to become more diverse and more dynamic under center if we're truly going to compete for a championship in our league or on a national scale.”
As for the Spartans, they impressed the recruiting experts with their defensive haul in this class.
“For me, it’s the defensive backfield,” Trieu said of MSU’s strength. “I think you’ve got a couple corners and safeties who will end up being really good. They’ve got guys who could play early and look the part. Big, long defensive backs. You have versatility in this class. They’ve got guys who can play different positions. I like the different options they have.”
Luginbill also likes Michigan State’s overall recruiting, especially on defense.
“When your top two graded players are four-star corners, in my opinion, you've hit the jackpot because those are premium positions, and both of them have length,” Luginbill said. “Everyone is looking for length on the perimeter on defense, tall corners that can match up with big wide receivers.
“They added a quarterback. They added a top-ten tight end in Trenton Gillison, and then they've really done a good job in their offensive and defensive front. Parks Gissinger, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated defensive end prospects in this entire class. We have him as a four-star player, and I know we have him graded higher than most places do. But we're impressed with him. So I'm really impressed with this class coming in.
“Keep in mind, if you look at Michigan State's current roster, that's the youngest, most productive team that Mark Dantonio has probably ever had because they didn't play with a lot of redshirt juniors and redshirt seniors like you see them generally playing with. They played with a lot of young guys. So this young class is going to be coming into what is already a young team. I think that what they'd like to do is try and add a defensive end, if they could, whether it's a Leonard Taylor out of Springfield, Ohio, he's a very intriguing guy, in my opinion. Dorian Hardy is another guy along the defensive front. I think you're looking for a front seven player, whether it's at linebacker or defensive end, to try to round out Michigan State's class.”
Here are Big Ten and national team rankings heading into Wednesday’s National Signing Day:
1. Ohio State
4. Penn State
29. Michigan State
1. Ohio State
4. Penn State
9. Notre Dame
14. Florida State
2. Ohio State
4. Penn State
20. Michigan State
2. Ohio State
4. Penn State
T7. Notre Dame
15. Florida State