Early Signing Day winners & losers: Georgia, Alabama reload; Florida, Colorado struggle

The Early Signing Period for the 2024 college football recruiting class opened Wednesday, an event that still favors the blue-blooded powerhouses. 

Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State all brought in loaded classes. The Buckeyes landed No. 1 recruit Jeremiah Smith (Chaminade Madonna, Hollywood, Fla.) after some late drama, a prospect who could be the next big-time receiver in college football. 

The Crimson Tide and Bulldogs also restocked, and there were more than a few surprises in this year’s cycle. While the transfer portal and NIL might change the future for some of these recruits, this remains the best way to build a contender. 

Here is a look at the winners and losers from Early Signing Day:

Winner: Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State 

The rules have changed, but the name of the recruiting game remains the same. It’s about talent accumulation, and no three schools do it better than Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State. They are the only three schools to assemble top-5 recruiting classes each of the last five years. The recruiting calendar, transfer portal and NIL have not changed that. 

Here is a look at their class rankings since 2020, according to 247Sports.com

SCHOOL 2020 2021 2022 2023 2024
Alabama 2 1 2 1 2
Georgia 1 4 3 2 1
Ohio State 5 2 4 4 3

Georgia locked in 247Sports.com’s No. 1 class after flipping five-star safety KJ Bolden (Buford, Ga.) from Florida State on Wednesday. Cornerback Ellis Williams (IMG Academy) and defensive tackle Justin Williams (Oak Ridge, Conroe, Texas) are the core of yet another elite defense-in-waiting for Kirby Smart. 

Nick Saban built another blue-chip class with the Crimson Tide around five-star quarterback Julian Sayin (Carlsbad, Calif.), who will have a year to develop behind Jalen Milroe. Five-star receiver Ryan Williams (Saraland, Ala.) and cornerback Jaylen Mbakwe (Pinson, Ala.) were among the top in-state players. 

The Crimson Tide also flipped close-to-home four-star running back Kevin Riley (Tuscaloosa County, Northport, Ala.) from Miami.

Despite a late push from other suitors, Ohio State held on to Smith, a 6-foot-3, 198-pound receiver who is the latest prize for offensive coordinator Brian Hartline. That softened the blow when four-star receiver Jeremiah McClellan (Christian Brothers College, St. Louis) flipped to Oregon earlier in the morning. Defensive lineman Eddrick Houston (Buford, Ga.) also stuck with the Buckeyes despite a late push from the Crimson Tide.

MORE: Latest news from Signing Day tracker

Loser: Michigan 

This is a tough one because the Wolverines have shown the last few years that they can win with the combination of recruiting and the transfer portal. Yet despite winning three straight Big Ten championships, the Wolverines have watched their class ranking go down from No. 12 in 2022 to No. 16 in 2023 to No. 20 in 2024. Shouldn’t that go the other way? 

Michigan did not sign a five-star player. There are good pieces to build around, including four-star quarterback Jaydn Davis (Providence Day School, Charlotte, N.C.) and running back Jordan Marshall (Moeller, Cincinnati). Marshall is the first Ohio Mr. Football award winner to sign with Michigan since Charles Woodson in 1994. 

Still, Michigan has not been able to parlay that on-field success into top-10 classes, and Harbaugh’s almost-always uncertain future is back at the forefront after a season in which he served two separate three-game suspensions. Black Monday in the NFL also is looming.

MORE: Predictions for the CFP semifinals

Winners: Oregon and Texas 

The Ducks and Longhorns are moving to different conferences in 2024, and they are accepting the challenge on the recruiting trail

Oregon put together back-to-back top-10 classes for the first time in the College Football Playoff era, and that is a nod to second-year coach Dan Lanning’s approach. It’s the second-best class among Big Ten schools behind Ohio State. 

It works in the portal. The Ducks grabbed Oklahoma’s Dillon Gabriel and UCLA’s Dante Moore, which solidifies the quarterback plan for the foreseeable future. Lanning also added some help on defense with five-star defensive tackle Aydin Breland (Mater Dei, Santa Ana, Calif.) and Elijah Rushing (Salpointe Catholic, Tucson, Ariz.). 

Texas also landed a second straight top-10 recruiting class under Steve Sarkisian, one that includes four five-star players. Receiver Ryan Wingo (St. Louis University, St. Louis) maintained his commitment, and that will add another target for either Quinn Ewers or Arch Manning in 2024. The CFP recruiting momentum will help Texas assemble a roster that is ready for the rigors of every-week SEC play. 

Loser: Florida and Florida State 

Florida and Florida State still had top-10 classes, but there were some unexpected bumps for both teams. 

Bolden was another painful Signing Day flip for Florida State, and might have a little too much like Travis Hunter in 2022. Florida State also made a late push for Smith, who affirmed his commitment to the Buckeyes. 

Let’s check in on Florida …

How did that happen? Four-star linebacker Adarius Haynes flipped from the Gators to Miami, and four-star defensive lineman Amaris Williams (Clinton, N.C.) flipped to Auburn. Defensive back Zavier Mincey (Mainland, Daytona Beach, FL) was expected to flip to Alabama. 

Then, five-star defensive lineman LJ McCray – Mincey’s teammate – did not commit on Wednesday. McCray is expected to commit in the next few days, and the Gators could make good on that.

Five-star quarterback DJ Lagway (Willis, Texas) did stick with his commitment. 

The state of Florida had five recruits with a five-star rating this season, a list that includes Smith and Robinson. IMG Academy tackle Jordan Seaton and defensive lineman David Stone, an Oklahoma commit, also went out of state. If McCray goes out of state, then that would mean neither the Gators nor the Seminoles could keep the elite five-star talent in state in this cycle. 

Winner: Syracuse 

Fran Brown pushed the Orange’s recruiting class into the top 50 for the first time since 2019. Brown worked his connections from his time as Georgia’s defensive backs coach the last two seasons, and he landed four-star edge rusher KingJoseph Edwards (Mill Creek, Hoschton, Ga.) and tight end Jamie Tremble (Wesleyan School, Norcross, Ga.).

Syracuse had already made a splash when they landed Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord in the transfer portal. McCord is an upgrade at the most-important position. Brown is making a strong early impression that Syracuse might become a player in the ACC. 

MORE: Latest from QB transfer portal tracker

Loser: Colorado 

Seaton, a five-star tackle from IMG Academy, had committed to Colorado in early December, but he did not make an announcement Wednesday. It appears Maryland may be his destination after all. Seaton played three years of high school ball in the Washington D.C. area before playing at IMG as a senior.

With or without Seaton, second-year coach Deion Sanders’ first full recruiting cycle produced the lowest-ranked class in the Big 12. That is based on numbers to some extent, the Buffaloes had just five commitments other than Seaton. That included a pair of Top 100 recruits in four-stars Dreion Miller (Silisbee, Texas) and Kamron Mikell (Statesboro, Ga.). Colorado would not have been in those conversations a year ago. 

Still, it is clear that Coach Prime prefers the portal, where he’s gained 16 players, over the recruiting trail, where it might be a few cycles before the Buffaloes can compete with the heavy hitters.

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Winner: Matt Rhule

Rhule helped flip five-star quarterback Dylan Raiola (Buford, Ga.) – a legacy commit that gives the Huskers their highest-rated quarterback this century. Raiola should be able to help attract more four- and five-star talent on the perimeter at Nebraska. 

There were complimentary pieces in the class with three four-star recruits.  Tight end Carter Nelson (Ainsworth, Neb.), tackle Grant Brix (Logan-Magnolia, Logan, Iowa) and athlete Roger Gradney (Rice Consolidated, Garwood, Texas) should help Raiola make that transition to the next level. Nebraska finished 5-7 and just missed a bowl game in Rhule’s first season, but we have seen his model work at Temple and Baylor. This will be an enhanced version with the Huskers.

MORE: What Raiola’s flip means to Nebraska, Georgia

Loser: Lincoln Riley 

The Trojans have a bit of a mess after a disappointing 7-5 season on the field. USC had 16 players enter the transfer portal, including past five-star recruits in quarterback Malachi Nelson and edge rusher Korey Foreman. 

USC’s 2024 class slipped out of the top 10, and Riley was unable to snag a five-star recruit in this cycle. It’s not devoid of talent. Four-star cornerback Marcelles Williams (St. John Bosco, Bellflower, Calif.) will develop under new defensive coordinator D’Anton Lynn. 

Yet Riley, who is the ultimate quarterback whisperer, now has a hole at the position with Caleb Williams likely headed for the 2024 NFL Draft and Nelson in the portal. Riley likely will have a portal quarterback as a starter in 2024. Redshirt sophomore Miller Moss, who will start in the Holiday Bowl against Louisville, is the only scholarship quarterback on the roster. 

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