National Signing Day 2014 Primer: Bama, Butch, B1G Butts, and More

Tomorrow is National Signing Day, which is basically college football’s version of a draft. A bunch of overly caffeinated coaches will spend the day hovering around their fax machines, anxiously awaiting signed letters of intent. Solid verbals will become binding commitments, message boards will become cyber-havens for anonymous middle-aged men to lob personal attacks at teenagers, and ESPNU’s Tom Luginbill will become a full-blown vampire. In other words, it will be the best day on the college football calendar that doesn’t involve any actual football.

Will certain five-star prospects ultimately fail to live up to the hype? Will a blue-chipper eventually get kicked out of his school of choice for stealing a laptop and wind up starring at Auburn instead? Well, yes and yes. Does that make Signing Day any less exciting or devastating, depending on your preferred team’s fortunes? Absolutely, positively not! To that end, here’s a primer to help you experience NSD 2014 like a seasoned recruitnik. Enjoy!

Note: Team and player rankings reflect ESPN RecruitingNation’s lists as of Tuesday morning.

1. Is Alabama’s Two-Game Losing Streak Hurting Its Recruiting Efforts?

The Crimson Tide are currently in the midst of a two-game losing streak that’s going to last eight months. It’s disgraceful. Just think: Southern Miss has experienced the thrill of victory more recently than Bama, and the Golden Eagles went 1-11 last season. Paul Finebaum has offered radio-dispensed therapy for many in Tuscaloosa, and you don’t even want to know how Harvey Updyke is coping. And yet, surprise, surprise: Bama boasts ESPN’s top-ranked class, because the world is an inherently unfair place bent on SEC elitism. That’s life.

Nick Saban has already locked up a third of the nation’s five-star talent, including left tackle Cameron Robinson, whose highlight package resembles an all-you-can-eat special at Denny’s: pancakes, pancakes, and more pancakes. Defensive end Da’Shawn Hand is more of a lunch guy, seeing as he made the most important decision of his life at a freaking Wendy’s. Cornerbacks (and close friends) Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey will ensure that Bama’s secondary remains a Revis Island outpost for years to come — except against A&M, of course. And lest you doubt Saban’s demonic powers, consider that RB/“athlete” Bo Scarbrough was all set to make an official visit to Miami this past weekend, but then “met with Coach Saban” and “changed his mind.” Likely story.

2. Has Texas A&M Found an Heir Apparent for Johnny Manziel?

It has indeed: The Aggies have a commitment from Kyle Allen, who happens to be the top-ranked pro-style quarterback prospect in the country according to ESPN and the top overall QB according to Rivals.com. No pressure, dude. You’re only the centerpiece of A&M’s second-ranked, SwagCopter-aided recruiting class. I bet the Aggies faithful will be very understanding if you fail to win the Heisman next year. It’s not like they already named their field after you or anything.

As for Allen’s off-field persona, folks hoping for JFF 2.0 will be saddened to learn that Allen does not hang out with Drake or wear Scooby-Doo costumes or skive off at the Manning Passing Academy. Moreover, as a traditional pocket passer with only “adequate-to-good mobility,” Allen doesn’t even resemble Manziel on the field. Hey, the Ryan Tannehill era wasn’t so bad!

3. Is Leonard Fournette the Next Adrian Peterson?

Decide for yourself:

Fournette, a New Orleans native and ESPN’s top overall prospect, has opted to stay in-state and attend LSU, essentially making him the anti–Joe McKnight, which is about the highest compliment one can pay to an elite running back prospect. Fournette plans on becoming the first true freshman to ever win the Heisman, and with Zach Mettenberger and Jeremy Hill off to the NFL, the Tigers’ offense could very well run through Fournette next season.

Plus, if you follow Fournette on Twitter, you know that he’s the leader of #BugaNation, which appears to be some sort of secret society that will, in all likelihood, take over the world by 2015. They may practice voodoo, and they are very into their hand signal. FEAR BUGA NATION.

4. What Does Urban Meyer Value Above All Else in His Recruits?

Big butts. Seriously. In a journal entry for 247Sports last May, five-star linebacker and Ohio State commit Raekwon McMillan wrote, “Of all the head coaches recruiting me, I’d say Urban Meyer is probably the funniest. He calls me ‘Bubble.’ That’s because he said I have a linebacker butt. I have a wide butt with a great leg base. Every time we talk, he calls me that.” Good to know! Meyer also told McMillan that former Florida legends Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, and Percy Harvin were great because of their “huge butts and great strength bases there.”

Say what you will about Meyer’s ass-tastic recruiting strategy, but it’s definitely working. Ohio State’s sixth-ranked class is versatile, fast, and destined to widen the gap between the Buckeyes and everybody else in the Big Ten. It’s practically unheard of for in-state talent to spurn OSU for other top-tier programs, and the Glenville pipeline, which brought studs like Ted Ginn, Donte Whitner, and Troy Smith to Columbus a decade ago, has officially been restored thanks to commitments from four-stars Marshon Lattimore (athlete) and Erick Smith (safety).

Still, it’s Meyer’s ability to poach elite prospects from SEC country that really sets this class apart from its B1G counterparts. In fact, the only Big Ten class that’s even remotely close to OSU’s is Michigan’s, which ESPN currently ranks 12th. With scholarship numbers tight in Ann Arbor, the group is only 16 strong, but it includes cornerback Jabrill Peppers, the nation’s no. 2 overall prospect. Peppers announced his decision to attend Michigan back in May via free verse. It was a moving spectacle.

5. How Are the New Head Coaches Faring on the Recruiting Trail?

Being a new head coach on the recruiting trail is like transferring to a new high school a month before prom, and that’s why new head coaches tend to deliver fairly mediocre debut classes. Some try to salvage the situation by convincing the prospects they recruited to their old schools to jump ship with them, which is exactly what ex-Vandy boss James Franklin has done to keep Penn State’s class afloat. More importantly for Franklin: Four-star pro-style quarterback Michael O’Connor, who considered reopening his recruitment after Bill O’Brien’s departure, liked the Franklin hire and promptly enrolled at PSU. Like Christian Hackenberg, O’Connor is a 6-foot-5 behemoth with underrated mobility and impeccable accuracy. Barring a Hackenberg injury, we won’t get to see O’Connor play anytime soon, but ESPN’s scouting report assures us that he’ll be “a fun guy to track.”

Charlie Strong’s had a tougher time keeping his first class together at Texas, which isn’t so surprising considering someone as effortlessly cool as Kevin Sumlin is recruiting in Strong’s backyard. Texas fans will tolerate one middle-of-the-road class as Strong gets his feet wet in Austin, but he won’t hear any “good job, good effort!” chants if he lands the nation’s no. 14 class again next year. Also worth noting: Mack Brown (who’s still a university employee!) is NOT helping matters in the least.

In a truly shocking turn of events, new/old Louisville coach Bobby Petrino seems to be having trouble convincing recruits and their parents that he’s a “changed man” who’s committed to Louisville — and to good behavior — for the long haul. Prospects are dumping the Cardinals left and right, and it’s unlikely that Petrino’s first class will finish in ESPN’s top 40.

Steve Sarkisian is having a slightly better go of it at USC, but his class is nothing to write home about … yet. With a number of top uncommitted prospects still considering USC, Signing Day could prove especially pivotal for the Trojans.

6. Can Anyone or Anything Stop Butch Jones?

Do you look good in orange? Do you have at least a year’s worth of NCAA eligibility remaining and a passing knowledge of the spread offense? What is your opinion on the Gap Band? Is it positive? OK, cool, Butch Jones wants you to become a Tennessee Volunteer.

Jones has already amassed 34 commits, and he’s gunning for more. True, the Vols will probably lose a couple prospects to last-second changes of heart (looking at you, Cory Thomas), and yes, Jones is clearly exploiting oversigning loopholes. But it seems to be working out:

7. How Much of an Influence Will Malik McDowell’s Parents Have on Their Son’s Decision?

McDowell is a humongous (6-6, 260) four-star defensive tackle from Southfield, Michigan. Unfortunately, he and his parents don’t see eye-to-eye on this whole college thing.

The issue here seems to be that McDowell’s parents aren’t particularly fond of some of his non-football friends at Michigan State. “I think he should leave the state because he has some friends who aren’t athletes … I don’t want them to be a distraction,” his father, Greg, explained to ESPN.com. Florida State, Ohio State, and Michigan are also in the running for McDowell’s services, and each one has a legitimate shot at landing him. The Seminoles are obviously the reigning champs, but the Buckeyes got to make a final impression on McDowell this past weekend. Nevertheless, this is a kid who very clearly wants to stay in-state, so Michigan might be in play as a potential “compromise” between McDowell and his staunchly anti-MSU parents. He’ll make his plans known tomorrow morning, and for maximum entertainment value we should all be rooting for him to side with Sparty. Rich Homie Quan approves this message.

8. How Does Al Golden Keep Landing Elite Classes When His Teams Are So Relentlessly Average?

I know what you’re thinking …

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… but the days of taking Miami recruits to booster-sponsored yacht parties and the VIP room at Club LIV are OVER. The Hurricanes are now all about academic/administrative integrity, which frankly makes Golden’s eighth-ranked class (a) booooooring, and (b) totally unexplainable, especially since Golden was on his hands and knees begging for the Penn State job less than a month ago. And Golden’s class could get even better, as four-star dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris is a real threat to rebuff Florida State for Miami even though nobody has a better track record of getting his quarterbacks paid than Jimbo Fisher.

9. Which Team Has the Nation’s Worst Recruiting Class?

Troy. No one wants to play football for Troy.

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This is somewhat flummoxing. Who wouldn’t want to play in the Fun Belt? The Fun Belt is by definition fun, and also where NFL legend Lawrence Tynes got his start. Anyhow, best of luck to the seven daring individuals who make up Troy’s universally panned class of 2014. We’re all behind you.

10. Where Might Some of the Top Uncommitted Prospects Sign?

(All times Eastern; all announcements on ESPNU.)

Five-start cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, the top-ranked uncommitted recruit, is scheduled to make Wednesday’s most anticipated announcement at 2:05 p.m., and you should probably clear your schedule for it. Just last week, he narrowed his search down to four teams: Florida, LSU, USC, and UCLA. I’m sure the fans of those programs are tweeting totally rational things at him right now. Anyway, nobody has a clue where he’s going. Florida has seemingly come out of nowhere to lead the race, but Jackson’s from California, so USC and UCLA are the sentimental favorites. Of course, Les Miles has more charisma than Steve Sarkisian, Jim Mora Jr., and Will Muschamp combined, so don’t rule out LSU. And don’t bother asking any of Jackson’s friends for information about his decision: They’d tell you, but they’d have to kill you.

Meanwhile, five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter seems to be favoring his hometown Georgia Bulldogs, but that didn’t stop Muschamp from trudging through last week’s snowpocalypse to make an in-home visit. Fisher visited the Carter home a day later, and Mark Richt made his final sales pitch over the weekend. Awkwardly enough, some of these visits ended up overlapping at one of Carter’s basketball games, where assistant coaches were literally jockeying for position to sit near Carter’s mom. Recruiting does NOT bring out the best in people.

Offensively, 6-foot-3 wideout Malachi Dupre is the most coveted uncommitted prospect. Dupre boasts Louisiana state track titles in the long jump, triple jump, and high jump, and will be making his announcement at 10:30 a.m. The five schools vying for his services are UCLA, LSU, Ole Miss, Florida State, and Alabama, and Saban has unleashed his new secret weapon in a last-ditch attempt to land him: offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who knows a thing or two about the SEC recruiting trail. Kiffin looks really enthused about his move from Southern California to Tuscaloosa.

Athlete Juju Smith, owner of inarguably the coolest name in the class of 2014, may have tipped his hand on Friday by reportedly uttering the words “GO DUCKS!” at a high school football banquet. Because recruiting experts can put two and two together, everyone’s latest projections have Smith pegged to Oregon, but you’ll have to wait for his noontime announcement to find out for sure.

Finally, be sure to check out the announcements of defensive end Solomon Thomas (Arkansas, Stanford, UCLA) at 8:10 a.m., linebacker and Auburn native Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Alabama) at 11 a.m., and top offensive guard Damien Mama (USC, BYU, Alabama) at 11:30 a.m., all of which are sure to be doozies.

Filed Under: College Football, Recruiting, National Signing Day 2014, Recruiting Rankings, SEC, Alabama Crimson Tide, Texas A&M Aggies, Ohio State Buckeyes, Tennessee Volunteers, Leonard Fournette, Kyle Allen, Malik McDowell, Jabrill Peppers, Lorenzo Carter, Malachi Dupre, Juju Smith, Matt Borcas

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Matt Borcas is a contributing writer for Grantland.

Archive @ mattborcas