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National signing day is Wednesday. Here are 5 things to know

Here’s how conference championships and the coaching carousel will affect the early signing period, which runs from Wednesday-Friday.
Armwood High's Desmond Watson is one of four Tampa prospects orally committed to Florida.
Armwood High's Desmond Watson is one of four Tampa prospects orally committed to Florida. [ Times ]
Published Dec. 15, 2020
Updated Dec. 15, 2020

If the early signing period sneaked up on you this year, you’re not alone. Recruiting has been easy to overlook during this chaotic season.

The Gators and Seminoles are among the teams who are preparing for games this weekend as they formally add — and battle for — recruits from across the state and country. Others, like USF and UCF, haven’t had a game since last month. And a few teams are juggling recruiting with an ongoing coaching search.

“It’s very unusual,” Miami coach Manny Diaz said. “You’ve got some teams that are playing, some teams that aren’t playing.”

Related: Gators’ Kyle Pitts lobbied to play against LSU, expects to be 100 percent for SEC championship

And some, like Diaz’s Hurricanes, that thought they’d be playing but had their games called off. Alas, that’s just more time for Miami to devote to its 11th-ranked class.

Here are five things to know about this unique early signing period, which runs from Wednesday-Friday. All recruiting rankings come from the 247Sports composite rankings.

1. There’s a lot going on

Dan Mullen's Florida Gators are preparing to play No. 1 Alabama in this weekend's SEC championship ... while also signing the bulk of a top-10 recruiting class.
Dan Mullen's Florida Gators are preparing to play No. 1 Alabama in this weekend's SEC championship ... while also signing the bulk of a top-10 recruiting class. [ JOHN RAOUX | AP ]

A few teams every year are stuck practicing for bowl games during the early signing period. But prepping for conference championships while finalizing a class — as the Gators are doing — is unprecedented. Florida coach Dan Mullen is relying on his staff to stay organized and compartmentalize responsibilities during what has become the biggest week of the season.

Related: Six random thoughts on Florida-Alabama in SEC championship game

“It’s been a unique year with a lot of unique challenges,” Mullen said, “and this is just another one.”

2. The Gators’ haul has a strong Tampa flavor

Jefferson High's Gage Wilcox is part of the Gators' recruiting push in Hillsborough County.
Jefferson High's Gage Wilcox is part of the Gators' recruiting push in Hillsborough County. [ SCOTT PURKS | Scott Purks, for the Times ]

UF has the state’s top class (seventh nationally and fourth in the SEC), thanks in part to a big push in Hillsborough County. Four of UF’s 26 oral commitments are from Tampa: four-star tight end Gage Wilcox (Jefferson High), three-star cornerback Jordan Young (Gaither High) and a pair of Armwood High prospects, four-star athlete Charles Montgomery and three-star defensive tackle Desmond Watson.

Related: Florida’s 2021 recruiting class leans heavily on Hillsborough talent

The Gators have only signed that many Hillsborough prospects once this century; the 2006 class headlined by Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin featured Tampa prospects Jim Barrie, Jarred Fayson, A.J. Jones and Trent Pupello.

3. The best programs are still getting the best players

Spoiler alert: Nick Saban is still signing really good players at Alabama.
Spoiler alert: Nick Saban is still signing really good players at Alabama. [ ROGELIO V. SOLIS | AP ]

In a stunning turn of events, Alabama will enter signing day with the No. 1 recruiting class, followed by Ohio State, Georgia, LSU and Clemson. That’s the same top five as last year, albeit in a slightly different order. ‘Bama, whose haul will include four-star Bloomingdale High receiver Agiye Hall, has signed the nation’s top class in eight of the past 10 years; Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs finished first the other two times. Yawn. If you’re looking for a somewhat new player at the top, Oregon sits sixth. That’d be the Ducks’ highest finish in the Rivals era.

4. The coaching carousel is a major wild card

The Illini haven't yet replaced Lovie Smith (seen here in 2019). That won't help recruiting.
The Illini haven't yet replaced Lovie Smith (seen here in 2019). That won't help recruiting. [ CHARLIE NEIBERGALL | AP ]

In 2017, the inaugural early signing period helped spur Florida State to speed up its coaching search so its eventual hire (Willie Taggart) could try to salvage a class. This cycle is even crazier. The later end to the regular season has the coaching carousel behind schedule. Three Power Five schools (Auburn, Illinois and Arizona) are without a head coach. Two others (South Carolina and Vanderbilt) have new head coaches who are recruiting for their new programs while preparing for conference title games as assistants at their previous gigs.

The uncertainty matters. Three-star defensive end George Wilson decommitted from South Carolina a week and a half after Will Muschamp was fired. Auburn became an option, but the Tigers just fired Gus Malzahn, which means the Virginia native could end up at FSU.

5. There will be drama

As Armwood's Byron Cowart reminded us in 2015, there is always drama surrounding signing day.
As Armwood's Byron Cowart reminded us in 2015, there is always drama surrounding signing day.

As always. Four players are set to announce their commitments during ESPN’s coverage, including four-star Pensacola cornerback Damarius McGhee (who lists Miami as an option) and five-star linebacker Xavian Sorey, an IMG Academy product who’s choosing between the Gators, Alabama and Georgia. Another name to know is quarterback Jake Garcia, a top-50 overall prospect from Georgia. Miami and FSU are after the former USC commit.

And given how unpredictable 2020 has been, expect more twists on one of the craziest days of the sports calendar.