By Ralph D. Russo
AP College Football Writer
Officially, national signing day allows high school football players to start signing a letter of intent with the college of their choice.
In reality, national signing day is not a starting block but a finish line. All the flip-flopping, committing, de-committing and re-committing stops.
“It’s the end of the fiscal year of college football,” said former UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel of the Pac-12 Network. “Truthfully, the next year has already started. It’s a culmination of lots of work, two and three and four years of work to get these guys into the boat.”
Sure, there are occasional stragglers among the blue chippers. Some kids get cold feet and need a little extra time. Or maybe mom flips out, and needs to be reassured that her baby is in good hands. But for the most part, by the time Wednesday is over, the vast majority of FBS teams will have their latest haul of players locked up.
“It’s a long day,” Neuheisel said.
For a coach, the best signing days are drama-free.
“The last thing any coach wants at the 11th-hour is a surprise,” Neuheisel said.
Five things to know about signing day 2014:
S-E-C!: The reason why the Southeastern Conference wins all those national championships and bowls is apparent every signing day. When it comes to quality and quantity, the Deep South is the most fertile football recruiting territory in the country. SEC schools are sinking big bucks into coaches’ salaries and facilities to make sure all those studs stay close to home. Heading into signing day, the leading recruiting news sites — Rivals.com, Scout.com, ESPN.com and 247sports.com — all had nine SEC teams ranked in the national top 20. That includes Tennessee, which finished 5-7 last season and Kentucky, which won two games. Expect Alabama to be crowned recruiting national champs – again – by most experts. The Crimson Tide has had the No. 1 class according to Rivals each of the last three seasons. Coach Nick Saban has commitments from five of Rivals’ five-star recruits. No other school has more than three. Those schools? Alabama’s SEC West rivals Auburn and Texas A&M.
SIGNING DAY STARS: Most of the top prospects have already made solid verbal commitments. Signing day is a formality. But a few of the most-sought after recruits in the nation are still undecided:
• Defensive back Adoree’ Jackson, from Gardena, Calif., took late trips to USC and UCLA and is also considering Florida and LSU. “That’s a family fight,” said Mike Farrell, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
• Running back Malik McDowell from Southfield, Mich., appears to be leaning Michigan State, though his parents aren’t. “That’s a pretty publicized family battle,” Farrell said.
• Wide receiver Malachi Dupre from River Ridge, La. He and two of his teammates took a late trip to UCLA. Farrell says LSU is still his best guess on where Dupre lands, but watch out for Florida State.
FLIP-FLOPPERS: Last season, three of Rivals’ five-stars flipped on signing day, including Florida State star defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Farrell said running back Joe Mixon of Oakley, Calif., is a candidate to pull a similar move this season. He’s committed to Oklahoma, but maybe UCLA can change his mind.
MAD HATTERS: The routine is familiar to most college football fans. Recruit sits at a table with a microphone and announces his college choice by grabbing a hat with the logo of the winner. A few turn to props, like a live bulldog puppy to choose Georgia. Oh the drama! But sometimes the prospect’s future coach knows what is coming. “Two nights before (signing day), there’s a bunch of what we call secret commitments,” Neuheisel said. “No one knows but the coach and (player) because they want to make a big splash and big surprise.”
PERSPECTIVE: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was a two-star recruit, according to Rivals, when he signed with North Carolina State in 2007. The top-rated QB in that class was Jimmy Clausen. This is not an exact science.