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Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee)
The second early signing period in college football history begins today and runs through Friday.
It's a chance for Southeastern Conference coaches to prove they are a little more comfortable with the NCAA's new recruiting timetable, if only that was the case.
"This has really sped things up," LSU's Ed Orgeron said. "We are going to sign as many guys as we can and leave a couple open for some guys who are going to wait until February, but there has definitely been a crunch when you go in the homes of 19 or 20 young men in a span of two or three weeks after the Texas A&M game.
"That's the part that speeds things up, because there is a smaller window now to get in all these homes, but I like the early signing period, and I think it's great."
Judging by the team rankings on 247Sports.com, the SEC is capitalizing on recruiting's new landscape way more effectively than its conference counterparts. Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU owned the top four collections of commitments as of Tuesday evening, and the league accounted for 11 of the top 22 classes.
All seven SEC West programs entered today with top-20 classes, with Auburn ranked 14th, Mississippi State 17th, Arkansas 18th and Ole Miss 19th.
Yet the SEC's success in this recruiting cycle has been accompanied by continued chaos for coaching staffs, even those achieving at the highest level. Georgia's Kirby Smart is trying to top Alabama for the nation's No. 1 class after https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/sports/college/story/2017/dec/21/georgilands-nations-no-1-early-signing-class/459649/" target="_blank" title="Georgia top class">accomplishing that feat in last year's cycle, but the early signing date occurs before many top college juniors decide whether they are leaving for the NFL.
"In talking to my colleagues in the profession, it's a very tough time to deal with a signing date before a junior-declare date and a signing date before we have all our grades and all our information back from this last semester," Smart said. "We don't have that back to know who's eligible, who's not eligible, what losses you may have, the juniors coming out or transfers. I think the early signing date was thought to be for 50 percent or 60 percent of the prospects, but I would say this year it's going to be 90 or 95.
"You're making a decision before you know your entire roster, before you know grades, before you know about juniors and before you know about transfers. It's really tough to manage that number, and we're experiencing that right now."
Running back Elijah Holyfield, tight end Isaac Nauta and receivers Mecole Hardman and Riley Ridley are among Georgia's junior players who are considering bypassing their final seasons.
Adding to the task of roster management is the adjustment of when prospects are now taking their visits.
"The thing that's changed for us is that we've had a lot more official visits during the season and during home games," Missouri's Barry Odom said. "That has sped up the process for some prospects, and we've now had more visitors in April, May and June than I thought we initially would."
With the traditional signing date remaining the first Wednesday of February, coaches are debating the ideal recruiting timetable, which may or may not exist.
"I don't think there was enough foresight by the coaches and by all the rules makers that this was all going to collide, but it's all equal, so it's not like anybody has a major competitive edge," Smart said. "I do think that the gap between the two signing days is too small. It's only six weeks, but if we had an August signing date, others would say, 'Well, that's just speeding it up more, and you're already complaining about that.'
"We didn't know the ramifications when we moved it up of dealing with the juniors, and the other argument would be to move the junior-declare date up earlier. They have to decide before the bowl game whether they are going to play or not anyway, and a lot of them aren't. There are debates about both, and there will be issues with both."
The lone top-five national prospect entering today without having committed is running back Trey Sanders of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. The 6-foot, 214-pounder is originally from Apalachicola and was once committed to Alabama, but several recruiting analysts expect Sanders to pick Georgia over the Crimson Tide and Florida this afternoon.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.
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