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February 4, 2014

National Signing Day: Top storylines

MORE: Ranking the classes as Signing Day nears

National Signing Day arrives Wednesday and Rivals.com will have every twist and turn -- not to mention the hat-donning antics -- covered throughout the day. Rivals.com analysts look at some of the top stories in each region.

Southeast Region

Sunshine State trifecta in store?

One of the most enigmatic players in the class of 2014 is Immokalee (Fla.) defensive back J.C. Jackson. The talented two-way player originally committed to Florida State in early 2013, only to flip to Florida in June. Since then he's been anything than solid to the Gators, entertaining the Seminoles once again, taking an official visit to Minnesota and visiting Miami multiple times. The Hurricanes once owned Immokalee, and Jackson's father Chris was a high school teammate of Miami legend and Immokalee native Edgerrin James. Jackson elected to take an unofficial visit to Florida this past weekend and insists he's committed, but if he flips to the 'Canes on Signing Day, he would be first prospect in recent memory to commit to all three of the Sunshine State power players within a calendar year.

Rivals100 QB still on the board

Another Florida product still weighing his options between the three in-state powers is Rivals100 quarterback Treon Harris. He's been committed to the Seminoles since July, but recently took official visits to Florida, Auburn and Miami. Harris is a non-conventional quarterback -- he's listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds -- but he was under center all season for one of the best high school teams in the country. He seems like a natural fit for Auburn's offense, but the Tigers already have Rivals250 quarterback Sean White in their class.

New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper bringing a more creative offense to Gainesville provides an exciting option, but the Gators have Rivals100 QB Will Grier committed. When it comes down to it, it looks like no matter where Harris lands he'll have to fight for playing time; but his versatility makes him a prize for any of the four schools on his list. Adding a Rivals100 prospect and stealing him from the defending national champions would be a major coup for the Gators, Tigers or Hurricanes.



Same story, different year?

A big-time linebacker from Auburn (Ala.) High seems destined for Auburn, but Alabama makes a last-minute move. We saw it last year when Reuben Foster flipped from the Tigers to the Tide on National Signing Day and now Rashaan Evans is following the same trajectory. Evans never actually committed to the Tigers, but it seemed like only a matter of time before he officially joined the class. Now Nick Saban and company have put the full-court press on Evans and could be in position to steal another player right out of the Tigers' backyard. UCLA is also on the outside looking in and hoping to nab this elite defensive player from SEC country. Evans has shown that he's one of the best players in the country, so landing him would be a huge signing day victory in recruiting version of the Iron Bowl.

Volunteer army

As of Tuesday, Tennessee had 33 verbal commitments; the question among Vols fans and fans across the Southeast region is just how will they make the numbers work? It remains to be seen whether Tennessee will ask players to grayshirt or have them forgo signing on Signing Day altogether and start in the fall as walk-ons. While I fully expect it to work, opposing schools have been targeting Tennessee commitments in an effort to steal them away at the last minute. The Vols need a major injection of talent, and this class is expected to bring that, assuming everyone sticks to their word on Signing Day. Tennessee is also in great shape to land Nashville (Tenn.) Ensworth defensive tackle and former Vanderbilt commit Michael Sawyers, who would truly be the icing on the cake for the 2014 class.

How will Georgia close?

After taking a big number of commits last year, Georgia doesn't have quite as many spots to work with down the stretch, but one name that is at the top of its list is Rivals100 defensive end Lorenzo Carter. He was on campus over the weekend, and the Dawgs coaches have made him their top priority. It's likely that Carter plays linebacker at the next level, and Georgia still hasn't hired a position coach, which appears to be the one weakness in its courtship of Carter. Florida and LSU remain a factor, but Georgia needs Carter in the class. Uncommitted four-star defensive end Andrew Williams also took an official and is reportedly high on Georgia now, but will it be enough to overcome an early lead built by presumed favorites Auburn and Clemson? A couple of other players already committed to Georgia spent the weekend looking around, three-star defensive tackle Lamont Gaillard visited Miami, while three-star defensive back Kendall Gant took a trip to Marshall. If Georgia can land Carter and Williams and keep all of its current commits in the fold, it will be a nice finish to the 2014 cycle.

Can Vanderbilt save face?

When James Franklin left Vanderbilt he not only took nearly his entire coaching and support staff with him, but he also took several committed Vanderbilt prospects. A few other big-name players were also quickly poached by schools from around the country. Now new head coach Derek Mason is tasked with trying to rebuild the class on the fly. This past weekend Vanderbilt landed several recruits, although most are developmental prospects. One big name that could help Commodores fans feel a little better is former Stanford commit Nifae Lealao. He's very close with Mason and only de-committed after Mason left Stanford for Nashville. If Vanderbilt can land Lealao and close with legacy wide receiver Caleb Scott and three-star offensive lineman Andrew Mike, it could help salvage what has been a disastrous situation.

- Woody Wommack

West Region

Everyone waiting on Adoree'

Five-star athlete Adoree' Jackson is going to announce his college commitment on National Signing Day, and this has been one of the more dramatic recruitments this cycle.

USC, LSU, Florida and UCLA are the four finalists for the Gardena (Calif.) Serra star who could thrive on offense, defense and special teams in college. Track is also an important factor in his decision since Jackson wants to long jump in the 2016 Olympics.

Talk to different people and they all have an opinion on where Jackson ends up. The three most likely destinations are USC, LSU and Florida. His parents are now in Los Angeles and there will surely be discussions leading up to his announcement. No leader has emerged in the closing days.

Will JuJu Smith pull a signing day surprise?

Every year on National Signing Day, there are things that happen that not many people expect; and one could be John Smith pulling a surprise with his commitment. USC is considered the big frontrunner, and so many things make sense for him picking the Trojans, but watch out for Oregon.

The Long Beach (Calif.) Poly five-star safety has been rumored to be concerned about the depth at his position at USC and that the Ducks are making a serious resurgence in the final days. Smith decided against a last-second unofficial visit to Oregon this past weekend but there is a little smoke that the Ducks are making a move.

Ballage the Bruin?

UCLA is the biggest threat to steal four-star running back Kalen Ballage, who is currently a soft commitment to Arizona State. The Bruins received Ballage's final visit, and the package Westwood offers has the Falcon (Colo.) High School prospect's attention. Nebraska and, to a lesser extent, Colorado, are also still recruiting Ballage, but UCLA seems like the only legitimate landing spot outside of ASU.

Ballage hasn't done many interviews in the recent past, so any change of heart could come on suddenly and take most off guard.

Brown to announce

Junior college players are usually an afterthought come signing day, but Grossmont (Calif.) Community College cornerback Kweishi Brown is joining the fun. Brown, the No. 29 junior college player in the nation, will announce his choice on a day that most of the spotlight will be on his high school counterparts.

Brown's final visit was to Arizona State, and most think the Sun Devils will land his signature. Nebraska is also in play, and Brown has visited Arkansas as well.

- Adam Gorney, Rob Cassidy

Mid-Atlantic Region

The Prince and his subjects

The Prince is five-star offensive tackle Damian Prince and his subjects are the Maryland Terps and the Florida Gators. The Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara standout just took an official visit to Gainesville and, by all accounts, it was a great trip and probably the best of his four official visits. The Gators have a lot going for them right now. Five-star defensive back Jalen Tabor was an early enrollee at Florida, and he is Prince's best friend. Prince has a very good rapport with Gators offensive line coach Mike Summers, and there is the possibility of early playing time in the SEC.

Maryland also has a lot going for them. Prince has a lot of friends at Maryland and has visited the campus too many times to count. His familiarity with the coaching staff and campus are a big draw for Prince. He also really likes Greg Studrawa, Maryland's new offensive line coach. Three of the most important things to Prince are being close to his family, a good relationship with his position coach and a chance to play early. Maryland can offer Prince all three of those things.


Who will get the Nnadi?

Which of Derrick Nnadi's top five will get the nod? Virginia Tech and Florida State are the frontrunners but the Rivals100 defensive tackle from Virginia Beach (Va.) Ocean Lakes took an official visit to Virginia last weekend and Ohio State and Penn State are still in the game. Nnadi took all five of his official visits and he liked the visits to Blacksburg and Tallahassee the most. The official visit to Charlottesville was good as well, but Nnadi has changed his mind a lot throughout the recruiting process, so this should be very close coming down to Wednesday's decision.

Mid-Atlantic exports

At the beginning of the 2014 recruiting cycle, teams in the Mid-Atlantic were licking their chops because of all of the highly rated local talent. Thirteen prospects rated four-stars or higher from the state of Virginia. Maryland and New Jersey had 10 each, Pennsylvania had nine and, in an above-average year, New York City had three prospects rated four-stars or higher. Early in the process, it looked like a number of these highly rated prospects were going to choose one of the schools close to their hometown; but they decided to go to a school outside the Mid- Atlantic region. Virginia Tech had a very good shot with Da'Shawn Hand, Jalyn Holmes and Alec Eberle. At one point, Maryland was the favorite for Jalen Tabor, Jared Cohen, D'Andre Payne, Rick Leonard and Sam Mustipher. Pittsburgh natives Montae Nicholson and Chase Winovich opted to go to separate schools in Michigan. Thomas Holley looked like a Penn State lock and Rutgers had a very good shot at Noah Brown.

Virginia reels in some five-stars

Many people thought that, with the season Virginia just had, the Cavaliers would not be able to have that strong of a recruiting class, but Mike London pulled off a miracle of sorts. Never has a team had a two-win season and then secured commitments from two five-stars. Andrew Brown and Quin Blanding picking Virginia was far from an upset because of their Virginia connections, but it was hard to understand from the outside looking in why two of the highest-caliber players in the country would decide to play for a team that has gone 18-31 and 8-24 in ACC in the last four years. In addition to Brown and Blanding, four-stars Jamil Kamara and Steven Moss are committed to Virginia. The Cavaliers' 13 other commitments are rated two- and three-stars. Having such a disparity between the highest and lowest rated players in one class is very uncommon.

The dissolution of the Rutgers class

At one point during the 2013 season, Rutgers had commitments from five four-stars. As the Rutgers class stands right now, the Scarlet Knights have commitments from zero four-stars, 15 three-stars and nine two-stars. Thirteen players de-committed from Rutgers between the middle of the 2013 season and early February. All of the four-stars left. Kiy Hester chose Miami, Saeed Blacknall went to Penn State, Tyler Wiegers flipped to Iowa, Adonis Jenningswent to Pittsburgh and Jonathan Hilliman decided Boston College was a better choice. Three-stars David Njoku, Pete Mokwuah, Lamont Simmons, Deion Hallmon, Justin Herron and Jordan Fuchs all de-committed and chose other schools. Each player, including two two-stars, had their reasons for flipping, but this type of mass exodus doesn't normally occur when there isn't turnover at the head coach position and that team makes it to a bowl game.

-- Adam Friedman

Midwest Region

Five-star fireworks

The lone five-star in the region -- Southfield, Mich., defensive end Malik McDowell -- is also the biggest story heading into National Signing Day. Four teams remain in contention -- Florida State, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State -- and a case could be made for each school ending up with his signature. McDowell himself has been very high on the Spartans, but his parents want him to look harder at other schools. Florida State and Ohio State also impressed him and his parents on official visits in the month of January, while Michigan was the favorite for a large portion of this recruitment.

Spartans look to finish strong

Michigan State is a factor in the majority of the top remaining recruiting battles in the region, including the two remaining Rivals100 prospects: McDowell and Chicago De La Salle offensive tackle Jamarco Jones. Jones is committed to Ohio State but took an official visit to East Lansing this past weekend. MSU started out the week on a high note, landing former Wisconsin commit Craig Evans, a four-star defensive tackle. The Spartans are also a top contender for four-star athlete T.J. Harrell out of Tampa and three-star defensive tackle Daniel Cage of Cincinnati. A finish that includes multiple four-stars should boost the Spartans into the top three of the final Big Ten recruiting class standings.

Late commitment flips

While Michigan State is looking to flip another four-star prospect from a Big Ten program, several more committed recruits in the Midwest are still considering other schools after taking late official visits or have already made the switch. Just in the last few days, we have seen Evans change his commitment, three-star center Nathaniel Devers flip from Cincinnati to Marshall, three-star athlete Simmie Cobbs flip from Purdue to Indiana and three-star wide receiver Conner Krizancic flip from Cincinnati to Minnesota. Another potential loss for Cincinnati could be linebacker Kaleb Harris, who took official visits to Marshall and Western Michigan in the last week.

SEC invasion

A quarter of the four and five-star recruits in the Midwest have committed to SEC schools, and the main aggressors have been Tennessee and Kentucky. Former University of Cincinnati coach Butch Jones has taken the reins in Knoxville and his staff has deep ties to the Midwest. The Volunteers pulled three four-star recruits out of the region in 2014, headlined by Rivals100 defensive end Dewayne Hendrix.

Kentucky, however, did the most damage in the region, pulling in 11 Midwest prospects, all from the state of Ohio. Former coach Joker Phillips practically ignored the neighboring state to the north during his tenure despite it being one of the top five talent-producing states in the country, but Mark Stoops has made Ohio a second home-state. Five of their 11 state of Ohio commitments are rated four-stars.

MACtion

Before 2014, the highest a Mid-American Conference school has finished in the national team rankings since the they were first established in 2002 was Kent State's 2009 class, which finished at No. 62. That record looks likely to be surpassed this year by Western Michigan, which currently boasts the No. 58 ranked class in the country. First-year head coach P.J. Fleck started landing three-star prospects early in the class and has 14 committed heading into National Signing Day. The Broncos out-recruited BCS schools for many of those prospects, including fending off the likes of Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Virginia to keep Southfield, Mich., offensive tackle Chukwuma Okorafor in-state.

- Josh Helmholdt

Midlands Region

Solomon Says

Solomon Thomas tells the world where he will play his college career on Wednesday. He has not said a whole lot to tip his hand one way or the other throughout the recruiting process and has not rushed into any decision he has made throughout the process.

Now, the standout defensive end is ready to announce his decision on Signing Day at 8 a.m. CST. He has narrowed his options to Stanford, Arkansas, and UCLA. He has taken multiple visits to each school, he has established strong relationships with each coaching staff, and he has thoroughly researched each option.

Going into the big day there are some thoughts on where he will end up, and plenty of guesses. The good news is it looks like there will not be a long wait to find out the answer.

Patriot Watch

The eyes of college football coaches and fans across the country are focused on John Curtis Christian High School, in River Ridge, La., and the big winners will be partying like it is Mardi Gras.

What is at stake? Only the top four uncommitted prospects in the state of Louisiana. There is five-star wide receiver Malachi Dupre, there's Rivals100 linebacker Kenny Young, and standout defensive backs Mattrell McGraw and Terrence Alexander.

Who will be watching? The list of interested parties includes the likes of Oregon, Ole Miss, UCLA, LSU, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M, Florida State, Arkansas, and Alabama. It's kind of a big deal.

When will we know? It will be must see TV at 9:30 a.m. CST Wednesday.

Leaving Texas

Unless something crazy happens, history will be made on Signing Day. For the first time in Rivals.com history, more than half of the top 10 prospects in the state of Texas are heading outside the borders of the Lone Star State to play their college football.

It sounds crazy, but as for back in the database as you can go back, which is 2002, you will not find another class where six of the top 10 went out of state to play their college careers.

A few years came close, five to be exact. In 2008, 2007, 2005, 2004, and 2002 five of the top 10 prospects went out of state, but never did a sixth one leave. So unless Thomas chooses a school outside of his top three, or Jamal Adams or Demetrius Knox have a change of heart, history will be made.



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