The first Wednesday of February each year has historically been one of the most important dates on the college football calendar, as National Signing Day was the culmination of years of hard work for coaches, prospects were officially beginning a new phase of their lives and fans could better project what their favorite team might look like for the next few years.
This coming Wednesday will be a little bit different, however. After years of chatter, the NCAA finally instituted an early signing period for the 2018 class, giving prospects who had already decided which school they want to attend the chance to ink National Letters of Intent, and giving coaches the opportunity to get a head start on their 2018 recruiting classes.
No one knew quite how the period, Dec. 20-22, would unfold in terms of how many prospects would sign with schools. As it turned out, a lot did, with some programs filling out their entire class.
According to a tweet from Barton Simmons, director of scouting for 247Sports, one of the leading recruiting sites in the country, approximately 79.8 percent of prospects who were already committed to a school signed on the first day of the early period, and approximately 65.1 percent of the total class was signed, a number based off how many signees there were in 2017.
“Get ready for 35 percent of the drama in February,” Simmons tweeted.
Locally, among FBS teams, the early signing period was a bit quieter than it was in general around the rest of the country, as BYU signed 14 players, Utah State 12 and Utah just seven (programs can have up to 25 new scholarship players each season), meaning the schools still have some work to do this week.
Here’s a closer look at where each program sits heading into Wednesday.
BYU: After a disappointing 4-9 season in 2017, some of the excitement surrounding head coach Kalani Sitake’s program waned among recruits, and that hit was felt even harder when offensive coordinator Ty Detmer was fired.
Most notably, elite California quarterback Tanner McKee, the top uncommitted signal caller in the country, is thought to have cooled considerably on the Cougars at that point. It would have been a battle to beat Alabama, Stanford, Washington, Texas and Texas A&M for his services, but BYU at least was still heavily in the running up to that point.
On the bright side, wide receiver Gunner Romney, one of Arizona’s best prospects, has stuck with his commitment to the Cougars despite heavy interest from Arizona State. He’s on his official visit to Provo this weekend, and, although nothing is official until he inks his NLI, it’s certainly a good sign for BYU that he would take his official visit the last weekend before Signing Day.
There are a few prospects other than Romney who have long been committed to the Cougars who opted not to sign early, including Lehi tight end Dallin Holker and defensive back Isaiah Herron of Las Vegas. Texas wide receiver Jaren Mitchell decommitted Dec. 23 but said he was still considering BYU, while East linebacker Viliami Tausinga and California linebacker Alexander Miskela have committed over the past few weeks.
California linebacker Merlin Robertson and former Kearns standout Amone Finau, who was committed to Utah before serving an LDS mission, are undecided players to watch on Wednesday.
Utah: With a bevy of previously signed players returning from missions this season, the Utes’ 2018 class will be on the smaller side, which was reflected in part on the number of prospects who signed during the early period.
Beside the seven who are already signed, a couple of locals have long been committed but wanted to wait until February to sign so they could do so with other teammates. That list includes Highland’s Hunter Lotulelei and the Herriman duo of Tevita Fotu and Jaren Kump.
A few players have committed since the early signing period ended, including East’s Paul Maile, Andrew Mata’afa of California, and Texas twins Blake and Brant Kuithe. Timpview's Jackson Cravens, the nephew of head coach Kyle Whittingham, announced his pledge on Saturday afternoon.
There should be a good amount of suspense for Utah on Wednesday, as it’s still in the running for a number of high-level prospects. Chief among them is local Desert Hills offensive lineman Penei Sewell, the top player in the Beehive State. Sewell had planned to sign somewhere during the early period, but he decided not to and is still considering the Utes, Alabama, Oregon and USC.
East linebacker Tennessee Pututau and receivers Solomon Enis (Arizona) and Tre’Shaun Harrison (Oregon) are other names to watch.
Utah State: After returning to a bowl game in 2017, the Aggies used the early signing period to beef up their offensive line, adding four prospects, with head coach Matt Wells saying that this Wednesday should bring more skill players.
There are eight players committed to the program who have either been long committed and decided to wait until now to sign or who have pledged since the early period ended. Three hail from East, including linebacker Johnson Hansen, defensive back Christian Nash and defensive lineman Seni Tuiaki.
Timpview’s Karene Reid and Highland’s Elijah Shelton are pledged as well, and Herriman’s Karter Shaw announced his commitment on Saturday. Two cornerbacks are set to sign from out of state, California’s Michael Anyanwu and Florida’s Deven Thompkins.