The final minutes of the 2014 recruiting cycle are ticking and more than 25 ESPN 300 prospects and 50 recruits ranked four stars or higher are still on the board. Thus, Wednesday is sure to have plenty of twists and turns. Here are 10 predictions for what we'll see on signing day.
The West is where most of the major headlines on signing day will occur, with four of the top eight players on the West Coast still on the board, including five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Gardena, Calif./Serra), No. 3 athlete Juju Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Poly) and No. 4 guard Damien Mama (Bellflower, Calif./St. John Bosco). Heading into the final few hours before signing day, USC is in very good position with all three prospects, and I project the Trojans will land all of them, pushing them into the top 20 of the class rankings. Even if they miss on any combination of the three, the job new coach Steve Sarkisian has done down the stretch proved to a lot of observers that USC will be a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12. Mama announces at 11 a.m. ET, Jackson at 2 p.m. and Smith at 4 p.m. -- all live on ESPNU.
My head tells me I'm going to regret making his prediction, because history tells me Auburn doesn't lose these types of battles for guys in its backyard. But I'm going to predict Alabama lands No. 2 outside linebacker Rashaan Evans. I know that bucks virtually every projection out there, and my head tells me the Tigers are the right pick, but with the way former five-star recruit and current Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster has been hanging out with his former Auburn (Ala.) High School teammate, you can't diminish the Tide's chances. At this point, Alabama and Auburn coaches aren't sure which way Evans is leaning, and both staffs pulled out all the stops by attending Evans' grandfather's 80th birthday party on Saturday night at a hotel in Auburn. Something just tells me Alabama has a better chance than most people think.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops was asked shortly after the Allstate Sugar Bowl how the victory over Alabama would help on the recruiting trail, and he said it would provide the Sooners "a big boost." He was right. They have surged down the home stretch and it will continue on signing day. Oklahoma will land the No. 75 player in the ESPN 300 and No. 9 athlete, Michiah Quick (Fresno, Calif./Central East), and No. 139 player and No. 9 safety Steven Parker II (Jenks, Okla./Jenks). The Sooners also are in good shape with three-star offensive tackle Kenyon Frison (West Valley, Utah/Granger), and if they reel him in, they could end up with the best class in the Big 12. Heading into signing day, the Sooners are just two spots behind Texas at No. 16 in the class rankings.
New Washington coach Chris Petersen raised a lot of eyebrows when he told a local radio station late last week he anticipated this class would "finish strong." After he was hired, many Huskies fans were worried Petersen and his staff wouldn't be able to recruit with the big boys of the Pac-12, as a number of top targets were on the brink of heading elsewhere. But Petersen got to work right away, and all signs now point toward Washington closing as strongly as anybody in the conference. The Huskies landed Bishard Baker, the No. 7 safety out of Bellevue (Wash.) High, on signing day eve, and they could also get about five more players on Wednesday. Getting Baker, who at one point seemed like a lock for UCLA, would be a huge get for Petersen because he's a Seattle guy, and it would mean he protected his home turf against a very good UCLA recruiting staff.
Few recruits have kept people in suspense like Braden Smith, the four-star offensive guard from Olathe (Kan.) South. Smith, the No. 9 offensive guard, hasn't kept people in the dark on purpose. It's not his style to give detailed reports on his top schools, so there is certainly some mystery about whom he signs with Wednesday. The projection here is that Smith signs with Auburn, picking it over TCU and Texas A&M. Smith and his family have talked to Auburn's track coaches about allowing his sister, Megan, to use their facilities after she graduates from TCU in preparation for international competitions in the shot put and discus. In the end, that -- and playing for a school that has immediate holes to fill along the offensive line -- will make the difference.
With great recruiters like Jimbo Fisher and Tim Brewster leading the way and the Seminoles red-hot after winning the national championship, Florida State is primed to make some major noise on signing day. It's almost a given the Noles will land Ermon Lane, the nation's No. 2 receiver out of Homestead (Fla.) High, so that's really not a shocker. The Noles are on the final lists of No. 1 receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) and No. 6 defensive end Chad Thomas (Miami/Booker T. Washington), though, and conventional wisdom says Dupre signs with LSU and Thomas sticks with Miami. But don't rule out something big happening with either. The most obvious candidate to flip is four-star athlete Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen). Harrison has been a longtime Virginia Tech commitment, but it's always hard for out-of-state schools to hold on to commits when an in-state team like Florida State makes a push before signing day. Don't rule out FSU with Malik McDowell, the No. 5 defensive tackle from Detroit Loyola, either.
This time last year, Rutgers fans were riding high. The Scarlet Knights were making the move to the Big Ten, 13 New Jersey prospects were ranked as four stars or higher and many expected Rutgers to capitalize on the recruiting trail. Fast-forward to today, and Rutgers' 2014 class will be signing day's most disappointing class. At one point, the Knights had one of the best groups in the Big Ten, featuring local players such as four-star Saeed Blacknall (Manalapan, N.J./ Manalapan). But 12 decommitments later, Rutgers is limping into signing day. It's a remarkable level of attrition for a team that hasn't been hit with NCAA sanctions or had a coaching change. There's just no way to put a positive spin on things for Rutgers.
You will never see Kansas State in the top 25 in the recruiting rankings, and this season the Wildcats are at the bottom of the Big 12 and likely will remain there after signing day. But big names and stars don't mean anything to somebody like coach Bill Snyder, who prefers to make something out of nothing. Snyder is famous for taking three-star recruits and turning them into five-star players by the time they graduate. Count on the Wildcats to do the same thing again with a number of the players in the 2014 class.
New Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason was asked to do the impossible. He was given less than two weeks to turn around a Vandy class that was devastated by the departure of now-Penn State coach James Franklin. A highly rated class just wasn't going to happen. But Commodores fans should take comfort in knowing this will be the worst class Mason signs while he's in Nashville. He has a tremendous eye for talent and knows how to target kids of a higher academic standard. So watch for things to turn around with the 2015 class.
This statement is less of a prediction and more of a sure thing. You can count on not seeing a single coach get in front of a microphone on Wednesday and say his recruiting class stinks or he missed out on his top targets. Most coaches will say it's best to judge how good the class truly is in four or five years, but then will gush for 30 minutes about the quality of the players they just landed. That's one of the reasons why signing day is so special for every team in the country. On Wednesday, everybody is a winner. Everybody got the guy who will help them win a lot of games in the future. Everybody has hope. That's what makes signing day a sports holiday.