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Early signings put coaches in a rush

CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times Tampa Bay Tech quarterback Michael Penix, Jr (9) looks for a receiver during the Spring Football Jamboree in Seffner, Fla. on Thursday, May 18, 2017.
CHARLIE KAIJO | Times Tampa Bay Tech quarterback Michael Penix, Jr (9) looks for a receiver during the Spring Football Jamboree in Seffner, Fla. on Thursday, May 18, 2017.
Published Dec. 23, 2017

While it might take a few cycles to understand the effects of college football's early signing period, here are a few things learned in the 72-hour inaugural run that ended Friday:

It looks like it will largely replace the traditional February signing day.

"Well, it did today," Miami coach Mark Richt told reporters Wednesday.

More than two-thirds (201) of ESPN's top 300 recruits in the country signed Wednesday, with 11 more signing by Friday. Richt's Hurricanes landed a dozen of them, plus seven others as part of the nation's No. 6 class. The top four teams (Georgia, Ohio State, Texas and Penn State) signed a combined 81 recruits, filling most of their classes, too. Minnesota signed 25 — an entire class,

Winners: Schools that aren't blue bloods.

Tampa Bay Tech quarterback Michael Penix signed with Indiana, over USF and Florida State. If Willie Taggart had another six weeks to recruit him to FSU, maybe the three-star recruit would be headed to Tallahassee. Instead, he's locked in with Tom Allen's Hoosiers.

USF coach Charlie Strong, a veritable dual threat (recruiting and coaching) lately, is on track to give the Bulls their best class since 2014, now that their 22 early signees can't be poached by bigger programs.

"It's really tough because you're still trying to prepare them for a bowl game and then you have to go out and recruit and you have to go make the home visits," Strong said at Friday's news conference for the Birmingham Bowl. "It's so packed in that … there's not much time because if you don't sign that player, then maybe he's going to go somewhere else, so you have to make sure that, 'Hey we have to continue to recruit him and whatever it takes, guys.'?"

Losers: Schools that changed coaches.

New Florida coach Dan Mullen had only 3½ weeks from his hire to signing day. He flipped four-star quarterback Emory Jones from Ohio State but said the time crunch kept him from getting more than 13 signees.

"We just didn't have the time to have the relationship with them with a short window," Mullen said.

Taggart had only two weeks to hit the recruiting trail running in Tallahassee. That explains why FSU signed only seven players as part of a class that sits 34th nationally and sixth in the ACC.

"In the past, when you had this transition, you still had the rest of December and you had January to do those things," Taggart said. "And now you don't have that."

It shows. Seven programs with new coaches sit among the nation's top 35 classes: Oregon, UF, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, UCLA and FSU. Those programs averaged 11 signees. The top-35 programs that didn't change coaches? They averaged 19 signees.

Timing is not great, for reasons beyond the coaching carousel.

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"Are there pitfalls in the timing? Of course there is," Plant High coach Robert Weiner said. "We had a signing day in the middle of exams."

Weiner plans to make up for it by including those recruits in the traditional February signing ceremony, but that doesn't fix other problems.

The Gasparilla Bowl was played Thursday, right in the middle of the signing period. Florida International tried to get its recruits to sign Wednesday morning before current players woke up for final game preparations. USF arrived in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday, roughly 14 hours before the early signing period commenced.

"Stressful," said Temple coach Geoff Collins, who signed 23 players Wednesday and beat FIU the next night at Tropicana Field.

Players seem to like it.

The period is designed to help recruits who know where they want to go and want to end the process. Prospects such as Wesley Chapel's four-star defensive back Isaiah Bolden, who signed with the Seminoles on Friday. "I just wanted to do it and get it out of the way," he said. "You only get your senior year once. Enjoy it."

Even players who waited seem to like the clarity it provides. Armwood quarterback Devin Black chose not to commit to Indiana or Louisville — two schools that have since signed quarterbacks — but has since turned his focus to Florida Atlantic.

"I think as seniors it's important to get locked in," he said, "but I'm glad I waited."

The traditional signing day could still have drama.

With the early period over, schools will re-evaluate their rosters to see which positions and prospects need the most attention before the usual Feb. 7 signing day.

"What we do now is we'll reset," Mullen said. "I imagine everybody around the country is going to do the same thing."

What that means depends on the school. Miami's class is 80 percent full. FSU is less than halfway to its target of 16-18 recruits.

Because so many top prospects have already signed, Penn State coach James Franklin expects recruiting to become even fiercer than usual in the next six weeks.

"In the past, those schools were trying to chase 20 guys, and now you're going to have 20 schools chasing one guy," Franklin said. "It's going to get interesting."

Times staff writers Bob Putnam, Joey Knight and Rodney Page contributed to this report. Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com.


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