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Wednesday could still be wacky.
During college football's traditional national signing day, someone somewhere might plop a bulldog puppy onto a table — or if we're especially lucky (unlucky?), pull a baby alligator from a backpack when everyone expected a duck — to announce his college choice. There will be signing ceremonies in high school gymnasiums, wall-to-wall coverage by cable sports networks, updated and then finalized rankings from various recruiting services and, especially designed for the most devout fans, special events to attend, celebrating their favorite school's new signing class.
But no one is sure what to expect. The noise has been turned down — and we'll see, but maybe a lot — by the advent of a December early signing period.
"There's no doubt it's different," Auburn coach Gus Malzahn says. "From our standpoint, it won't be near as hectic as it was."
Over the past few decades, the first Wednesday in February had carved a significant spot in college football's calendar. For fans, it had become something of an unofficial holiday.
"This is always like Christmas to me," Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre put it, and he was only echoing many others. To coaches and fans alike, on the day high school seniors made their college choice official, each arriving letter of intent was like an exquisite gift.
But this year things have changed. College football's Christmas came at, well, Christmas. Many schools secured the majority of their recruiting classes December 20-22 after the establishment, for the first time, of an early signing period for football.
According to ESPN's rankings, 221 of the top 300 players signed letters of intent in December. Only nine of the top 50 players in 247Sports' composite rankings remain unsigned.
Approximately 80% of prospects in the 247Sports database who had given schools non-binding, verbal commitments signed. Using the total number of signees from the 2017 class as a baseline, 247Sports estimates 65% of prospects in the Class of 2018 have already signed.
"In terms of the big names and the big stories, it's gonna be similar to every other signing day," says Barton Simmons, director of scouting for 247Sports. There's plenty of drama that we're used to for signing day — the difference is, there's just not the same quantity of it.
"There's not the depth of drama. There's not the frenetic energy to it that we've seen in years past, where every school in the country is scrambling to hold onto a class or fill it out."
Instead, many schools hope to fill the last few slots in their signing classes. Coaches will still emerge from war rooms to tell us this recruiting class met all their needs and is filled with talented guys and hidden gems, all of whom are great fits for the program, both athletically and in character, and so on.
But it will feel a bit odd, because most of the gifts have already been unwrapped.
If the new December signing period appeared to slip by largely unnoticed, it was probably in part because fans aren't yet adjusted to the new spot on the calendar and also because the season wasn't over: in many cases, their favorite team was preparing for a bowl game when the letters of intent rolled in.
For almost everyone, it became a jump-start on next year and the next — another acceleration of the overall recruiting process.
"Everybody would always look forward," Norvell says, "but when you're trying to hold onto a class or to put one together, that's what your focus had to be in January. Now with the majority signed, we focused on the few spots available and ahead for the future. ... We basically gained a month."
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