Deseret News photos
Among the storylines for the early signing period will be how many recruits sign with BYU and Utah, as well as where Desert Hills star offensive lineman Penei Sewell signs.
It’s kind of like a new frontier, a bit of uncharted territory, so I think everyone’s getting a feel for it, including the recruits and the coaches, so they’re all trying to feel it out. —Blair Angulo

Up until now, prospects, coaches and fans had to wait until National Signing Day on the first Wednesday in February to see how football programs’ recruiting classes came together.

Now, however, they’ll get a jump start, as the NCAA back in May instituted an early signing period akin to the one that has long been in existence for college basketball. This year’s early signing period will be Dec. 20-22.

So what to expect this week? In truth, there’s a high level of uncertainty even among recruiting experts, as some predict that many schools will sign a large number of players early, leaving not much to do in February, while others feel that there will still be plenty of action on National Signing Day.

This uncertainty largely has to do with numbers. Schools are only allowed 25 new scholarships per recruiting class, and only 85 for an entire team. From the players’ perspective, do they want to lock in their spot at a given school or have a few more weeks to make their decision? Do coaches want to ensure they get certain players or wait for those who want to sign in February?

Those are just two of a bevy of questions both players and coaching staffs will sort through this week in determining who signs and who doesn’t.

“It’s kind of like a new frontier, a bit of uncharted territory, so I think everyone’s getting a feel for it, including the recruits and the coaches, so they’re all trying to feel it out,” said Blair Angulo, who covers recruiting in the Western part of the United States for 247Sports.

Although there is a good deal of uncertainty, previous actions taken by both BYU and Utah coaching staffs, as well as some of the top local high school players, give a good indication of what could happen in the Beehive State this week. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from the Cougars, Utes and top in-state prospects.

BYU

With nearly 20 players currently committed, the Cougars are at least in position to sign a large portion of their class this week. Some such as Lone Peak’s Connor Pay, Weber’s Tysen Lewis, Olympus’ Brach Davis and Talan Alfrey of Washington have said they will indeed sign early, while Lehi’s Dallin Holker is one who has said he’s planning on signing in February.

The potentially big wrench thrown into how this week might shake out for BYU is the ouster of former offensive coordinator Ty Detmer and the subsequent hiring of Jeff Grimes in his place.

Multiple players who are currently committed have told the Deseret News that they wanted to first learn who Detmer’s replacement would be and then understand how that might affect them should they sign with the Cougars before making a final decision, meaning they could opt to push the choice out to February.

From the team’s perspective, Angulo feels coaches could take the approach of making sure some spots are left open for players who Grimes might hit it off with or players who would fit well in the schemes he wants to run.

“If they do sign guys (this week), I would be probably leaning more toward them going after those defensive guys that they want to lock up,” Angulo said.

Utah

Unlike BYU, which has nearly an entire class full of players committed, the Utes have just 10 so far, with three having committed since Sunday.

Steve Bartle, who covers Utah recruiting for 247Sports, anticipates that a maximum of six players will sign with the Utes this week, a number that accounts for both players who are committed and one or two who want to sign early but haven’t publicly announced a final decision on where they’ll be going.

“They’re kind of taking a more deliberate approach with (the early period),” Bartle said of Utah’s coaching staff. “They’re being a little more patient and kind of seeing how things are playing out at other schools.”

Overall, Utah’s class is expected to be on the smaller side (Bartle predicts about 15), as a large group of players are primed to join the team at some point before next fall after returning home from missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (high schoolers who will be leaving before playing don’t count toward this year’s 25 scholarship limit, but will count when they return).

Local high schoolers

The (literally) big unknown this week in the Beehive State is where Desert Hills star offensive lineman Penei Sewell will sign. He indicated on Twitter last week that he will in fact be signing on Dec. 20, but it’s still thought to be a battle among schools such as Alabama, Oregon, USC and Utah.

A surprise to end all surprises would be if Sewell chose Nevada, where two of his brothers play and a school he has long insisted is in the running for his services.

Beyond Sewell’s decision, however, there isn’t expected to be a whole lot of drama this week among top Beehive State prospects. Three of the five others in 247Sports’ top six rankings are already committed and plan to sign early, while East’s Junior Angilau is committed to Texas, but it is not clear if he will sign early or wait out the process more. His Leopard teammate, Tennessee Pututau, has not yet announced a decision.

Of the next four in the top 10, Highland’s Hunter Lotulelei (Utah) and Alta’s MJ Tafisi (Washington) are slated to sign early, while Brighton’s Salua Masina and East’s Paul Maile have not yet committed to a school or indicated plans to sign early.