We associate the week of Christmas with gift giving and receiving. For college football coaches, they receive their biggest presents of the season just a few days before the holiday when the early signing period begins.
Most of the elite recruits confirmed their choices by putting pen to paper Wednesday, while others made late announcements or surprising flips to new school. The ramification of these decisions will be felt for the next three to four years as those that have evaluated correctly and successfully pursued their right targets are in position to benefit when those players hit the field.
While recruiting is always going to be an inexact science, there is inarguably a higher correlation of success for those rated at the top of the charts. With that in mind, we break down the winners and losers of the 2023 class.
Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State
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Yes, it’s a big shocker this trio again leads the way with three of the best classes. The Crimson Tide are the consensus No. 1 finishers helped by some late additions. Defensive lineman Keon Keeley – a former Notre Dame commit – came aboard last week and Kadyn Proctor, a longtime offensive lineman pledged to Iowa, flipped this week. Samuel M’Pemba could be the next defensive line standout for the Bulldogs, who have a class that is unusually short on the very top talents but has impressive depth throughout. The Buckeyes, unsurprisingly, landed two of the best wide receiver signees – Brandon Inniss and Carnell Tate – both from Florida.
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The Longhorns were the surprise winners of the long and highly publicized chase for Arch Manning’s signature and his commitment powered an impressive group of newcomers to Austin. Also jumping on board later in the process were two in-state defenders – linebacker Anthony Hill and defensive lineman Colton Vasek, who decommitted from Texas A&M and Oklahoma, respectively. The offensive side of the ball gets a boost from wide receiver Johntay Cook and running back Cedric Baxter. Both could see immediate playing time next fall.
No program experienced the highs and lows of the recruiting season in the final week more than the Ducks. They appeared to have their quarterback of the future resolved when five-star Dante Moore committed this summer. The departure of offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham for the Arizona State job helped persuade Moore to join Pac-12 rival UCLA. Oregon moved quickly to add longtime Baylor quarterback commitment Austin Novosad from Texas on signing day. The Ducks then sprung two five-star surprises in a matter of minutes Wednesday by getting Notre Dame defensive back commitment Peyton Bowen to flip and successfully pulling defensive lineman Matayo Uiagalelei from finalists Ohio State and Southern California. There is some drama surrounding Bowen, who had yet to sign as of Wednesday evening.
The Hurricanes stumbled to a disappointing campaign under first-year coach Mario Cristobal, but still were able to pull together what appears to be a class that will finish in the top five. Cristobal’s background as an offensive line coach also came in handy with the signings of Samson Okunlola and Francis Mauigoa, two five-star prospects who could provide immediate help up front next fall. The lone question is the status of five-star defensive back Cormani McClain, the jewel of the incoming group that pushed off signing Wednesday.
Two consecutive College Football Playoff appearances should have the Wolverines in the mix with other elite programs. But they finished with a class barely inside the top 20, lacking the strength in the trenches that has driven the team’s recent success and also doesn’t include a quarterback that could be groomed next season with J.J. McCarthy possibly entering the 2024 NFL draft. On the positive side, the late additions of wide receivers Karmello English and Semaj Morgan bolster that position.
It wasn’t that the Fighting Irish didn’t do well in Marcus Freeman’s first full class. They finished comfortably in the top 10 with running back Jeremiyah Love and defensive back Christian Gray signing from St. Louis high schools and in-state linebacker Drayk Bowen coming aboard. However, this had the potential to be one of their best classes in decades before defection of Keeley and expected loss of Bowen, two players that are the profile the program needs to win in the playoff.
It was always going to be hard for the Aggies to replicate last year’s phenomenal class that earned praise as one of the best in the modern history of recruiting. However, the Aggies have already lost significant pieces from that group to the portal and struggled to gain the same traction with some of the biggest recruits this cycle. The disappointing play of Jimbo Fisher’s offense and a 5-7 finish certainly had an impact, but finishing well outside the top 10 – even with a smaller class than others – is a disappointment for a program that needed to keep building on the impressive 2022 haul to get where it wants to go.
The early signing day forces new hires from outside the current program to assemble classes in a matter of days, and not months, during a period of time where instability and recent results leave little foundation for this recruiting cycle. Hugh Freeze of Auburn was only coach in this situation to have a top 25 class. Among those that need to take advantage of the late signing period and start building for 2024 are Ryan Walters of Purdue, Scott Satterfield of Cincinnati, Kenny Dillingham of Arizona State and Deion Sanders of Colorado.