June 21, 2024
National signing day 2023 preview: Football recruiting storylines

National signing day is Wednesday, which will be the last official day when college football recruits in the 2023 class can sign their national letters of intent.

Between the early signing period in December and the transfer windows that closed on Jan. 18, there isn’t much left on the board for the February signing period. In total, 293 of the recruits in the ESPN 300 have either signed with their school of choice or are committed and will sign Wednesday.

How did we get here? A wild week in December. Oregon flipped a few recruits, including quarterback Austin Novosad from Baylor, running back Jayden Limar from Notre Dame and corner Daylen Austin from LSU. Five-star safety Peyton Bowen flipped from Notre Dame to Oregon, only to flip again to Oklahoma the next day.

Alabama flexed its recruiting muscle in December by flipping five-star tackle Kadyn Proctor from Iowa, signing defensive end Keon Keeley and getting top-25 teammates Jaquavious Russaw and James Smith. Those additions helped keep Alabama at No. 1 in the class rankings and helped shape the current landscape of where the 2023 class currently stands.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to watch or talk about, though, as coaches look to wrap up their recruiting classes this week. Of the seven uncommitted top-300 recruits, four are ranked in the top 100.

None are drawing more attention than quarterback Jaden Rashada, the No. 31 prospect, who signed with Florida in December only to ask for a release from his national letter of intent after a multimillion-dollar name, image and likeness deal fell through with a Florida collective.

Despite the small number of available recruits, there is still plenty to discuss, quite a bit to recap and a whole lot to look forward to. Our ESPN writers give you a look at what to watch for and how things have played out in this 2023 recruiting cycle. — Tom VanHaaren

Jump to:
Uncommitted recruits | Top classes
Standout coaches | Question marks

Who are the uncommitted recruits still available?

Four top-100 recruits remain uncommitted entering signing day, led by the No. 2-ranked dual-threat quarterback, Jaden Rashada.

Rashada’s recruitment has been a whirlwind. Name, image and likeness issues after he signed with Florida prompted the Pittsburg High School (California) quarterback to request a release from his national letter of intent with Florida, which the program granted on Jan. 20.

Rashada, who threw for 3,055 yards and 32 touchdowns as a high school senior, initially committed to Miami on June 26, then changed course and flipped to Florida on Nov. 10. He signed during December’s early signing period before a reported $13.5 million NIL contract with Florida’s Gator Collective fell through.

Now, Arizona State, TCU, Washington and California could all be potential landing spots for him. Rashada was in Fort Worth, Texas, visiting Sonny Dykes and the national runner-up Horned Frogs this past weekend.

Nyckoles Harbor (No. 39, No. 1 ATH) and Duce Robinson (No. 40, No. 1 TE), the only other top-50 uncommitted recruits, decided to wait until February rather than sign in December.

Harbor, who doubles as a track star out of the Washington, D.C., area with Archbishop Carroll High School, is looking at Maryland, South Carolina, USC, Oregon, Michigan, LSU and Miami.

Robinson, meanwhile, is down to Alabama, USC, Texas and Georgia. Robinson, who also is a high-level baseball prospect, hauled in 56 passes for 1,067 yards and 10 touchdowns for Pinnacle High School (Arizona) in 2022.

Rodrick Pleasant (No. 100, No. 11 CB), from Junipero Serra High School (Georgia), is also signing on Wednesday. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound cornerback is considering Oregon, UCLA, USC, Boston College and California. — Blake Baumgartner

Which recruits are committed but unsigned?

Five-star cornerback Cormani McClain (No. 14 overall, No. 1 CB) didn’t sign with Miami in December despite committing to Mario Cristobal and the Hurricanes in late October. Then on Jan. 19, he flipped to Colorado, just days after visiting Boulder.

The 6-2, 165-pound McClain, a product of Lakeland High School (Florida), became the highest-ranked recruit to commit to Colorado, making this the second consecutive cycle that coach Deion Sanders landed the top-ranked cornerback recruit (Travis Hunter at Jackson State).

Four-star wide receiver Raymond Cottrell (No. 162 overall), who caught 46 passes for 651 yards and nine TDs as a senior for Milton High School (Florida), committed to Texas A&M on Jan. 1. Athlete Mikal Harrison-Pilot (No. 184 overall), who attends Temple High School (Texas), committed to Houston on Jan. 7.

Shamar Easter (No. 198 overall, No. 6 TE-H), from Ashdown High School (Arkansas) has been committed to Sam Pittman and Arkansas since Aug. 13, 2021. He recently reaffirmed his intent to sign with the Razorbacks, bolstering a class ESPN has ranked 22nd overall. — Baumgartner

Which schools have the top recruiting classes in each Power 5 conference?

ACC: Miami (No. 5 overall). The Hurricanes’ 2023 cycle has come with some defeats, losing commits like Rashada and McClain along the way, but there have been more big wins. During his first full cycle as the head coach, Mario Cristobal has Miami sitting atop the ACC rankings and allowing for hopes of a brighter future coming off a five-win season. A pair of five-star offensive line signings (Francis Mauigoa and Samson Okunlola) and some key hometown additions anchor the ACC’s top class.

Big Ten: Ohio State (No. 8). The Buckeyes are on the verge of signing the top class in their conference for the fourth straight year. Penn State and Michigan both sit inside the top 20 overall, but neither is in a position to catch the Buckeyes. This top-10 class should keep their WR corps a strength with three ESPN 300 signings and includes one of the big risers in the final player ranking update in Jermaine Mathews, an in-state cornerback who has recorded a blazing 21.9 mph max speed.

Big 12: Texas (No. 3). Texas and Oklahoma both sit in the top five and have traded spots throughout this cycle, with the Longhorns currently sitting one spot ahead. This race for the Big 12’s top class is not locked in yet, and both classes are led by five-star QBs in Arch Manning (No. 5) for Texas and Jackson Arnold (No. 3) for the Sooners. While the race certainly remains one to watch, it appears Texas should be able to outlast and edge its rival to finish No. 1 in the conference.

Pac 12: Oregon (No. 9). Oregon currently leads the conference and sits within the top 10 overall. USC has some ground to make up at No. 14 overall, but the Trojans are still in play for several commits who could give them a boost, like top-rated tight end Duce Robinson and speedy defensive back Rodrick Pleasant, both top-100 prospects. Nevertheless, Oregon is not sitting passively by and could even extend its lead and rise inside the top 10. The Ducks are also in play for Pleasant and could slam the door shut on the conference recruiting title if they can land Nyckoles Harbor.

SEC: Alabama (No. 1). The SEC occupies the first two slots overall, and that doesn’t look to change as Georgia seems poised to still add some more ESPN 300 talent to its class. That still won’t be enough to pass Alabama, though, which has a nation-leading 23 ESPN 300 commits (13 in the top 50 overall). The Crimson Tide not only have the best class for the 2023 cycle; there is an argument it’s the best class we’ve seen since maybe the Crimson Tide’s impressive 2017 haul. — Craig Haubert

Which new college football coach has stood out and made key moves since the early signing period?

Tom Luginbill: Zach Arnett, Mississippi State. Not only did Arnett have to lead the program through the death of coach Mike Leach on Dec. 12, but he also had to prepare a team for a bowl game and was named coach of the Bulldogs on Dec. 14, one week prior to the early signing period. All he did was secure the No. 26 class with 25 total signees, 12 of whom are early enrolled. Seven additions have also come through the portal in January.

Even if the Bulldogs don’t sign any players Wednesday, Arnett has been remarkable. Keep in mind, Arnett and his staff did this with the vast majority of the class not knowing who would or would not be on the coaching staff for 2023.

VanHaaren: ​​Jeff Brohm, Louisville. Brohm has done quite a bit to add to the roster for the Cardinals. He was able to hang on to four-star quarterback Pierce Clarkson, and while he lost a commitment from ESPN 300 running back Rueben Owens II, Brohm has plenty to be happy about. He and his staff used the transfer portal in a big way, adding Cal quarterback Jack Plummer (who played for Brohm at Purdue); receivers Jamari Thrash, Kevin Coleman Jr., Jimmy Calloway and Jadon Thompson; and running back Isaac Guerendo.

On defense, the Cardinals added corner Marquis Groves-Killebrew, defensive ends Stephen Herron and Rodney McGraw, and safety Gilbert Frierson.

Haubert: Deion Sanders, Colorado. I need to first give a hat tip here to Matt Rhule and the job he has done at Nebraska in a short time. The Cornhuskers have added several quality three-star prospects, and he has them in contention for a top-25 class. That appeared to be a home run hire, and early returns support that, but ultimately, this question can’t be addressed without mentioning Sanders. Colorado hired him from Jackson State to elevate this program, and so far he has brought its recruiting into Prime Time.

A year after shocking the recruiting world by flipping cornerback Travis Hunter, Sanders did it again by flipping McClain, a lengthy five-star corner with excellent range and body control, from Miami. That move alone is enough to land Sanders here, but he and his staff have continued to work the transfer portal hard and have brought in several more potential early contributors to join Hunter and QB Shedeur Sanders, like former Kentucky RB Kavosiey Smoke.

Which teams have the most to gain?

VanHaaren: TCU and Arizona State. Both schools are in the mix for Rashada, and the No. 31 overall prospect would be a big get for either. Kenny Dillingham and his new Sun Devils staff have taken in some transfer quarterbacks but could use a nationally known recruit who could help bring in other prospects.

TCU, on the heels of reaching the national championship game, could keep its offense at a high level with a high-level quarterback. If Sonny Dykes could help turn Max Duggan into a Heisman finalist, it would be interesting to see what he could do with Rashada leading the offense. We don’t yet have a commitment date for Rashada, so it might come after Wednesday, but the fact remains that Rashada could help either program.

Luginbill: Colorado. While what the Buffaloes have done in a short period of time under Sanders is impressive, he knows there is more work to be done, particularly at the high school level. Twenty-three incoming transfers might be the short-term magic wand, but also consider 12 of those prospects are coming from either FCS or Group of 5 schools.

Hunter and Shedeur Sanders obviously instantly upgrade the roster, but the core of this rebuild is going to have come from the high school ranks. While McClain is a huge addition, Coach Prime needs it to have a domino effect, as the Buffaloes are going to have to be national in their recruiting efforts. He knows better than anyone that he has as far a reach and as big of an impact as any coach in America right now.

Haubert: Maryland. Heading into the early signing period, I had identified Maryland as a class with quite a bit at stake. The Terps closed well, but it was an uneventful 72 hours. Now, they have a chance to add more talent, starting with the top-rated prospect in the crucial DMV recruiting footprint for Maryland: Nyckoles Harbor. A 6-foot-5, lengthy prospect with elite speed (10.28 100-meter dash), he can be a versatile player developing as a disruptive edge defender or, more likely, a big-play vertical threat at tight end.

Landing Harbor would boost the class — the Terps entered signing day ranked No. 32 overall — and be a statement pickup for coach Mike Locksley. Track is obviously a factor in his recruitment, and the Terps have competition, led by Oregon, but they are in the thick of it for this key target.

Beyond Harbor, the Harris twins, Andrew and Michael, would also be big defensive additions for the Terps. Maryland is in play for the two ESPN 300 prospects who were strong performers at the Under Armour All America game. Landing all three would naturally be a big close for the Terps; getting either would still be a nice finish; and missing on all three would be a disappointment.