National Signing Day 2021: Alabama, USC and Texas A&M among winners as new staffs struggled – CBS Sports

After a day full of hats on heads and socially-distanced announcements, 2021 National Signing Day is in the books — and with it, the Class of 2021 is nearly complete. The 2021 recruiting rankings have settled with Alabama not only on top but pulling in the highest-rated class of all-time

It has been a year of uncertainty in nearly every walk of life, and the same has been the case in recruiting for the 2021 class. NCAA rules due the pandemic limited the in-person contact that’s often used by both coaches and players to help finalize the decision-making process, so Zoom calls and unofficial visits to campus had to suffice for players and coaches. 

Now that National Signing Day has wrapped up, let’s take a look at who came out on top, and who lagged behind, on Wednesday.

Winners 

Alabama: The Crimson Tide locked up the No. 1 recruiting class of all-time, edging out 2010 Florida. There was little drama in it as 25 of the 27 players in Alabama’s class signed early in December, and even the 26th member was verbally committed in Camar Wheaton, who made things official at his school before lunch. Alabama’s class has 16 of the top 91 players in the country. There are an incredible seven five-star prospects. This includes the top two offensive tackles in the nation: JC Latham and Tommy Brockermeyer.

The Tide also have the No. 2 guard in Terrence Ferguson and the No. 1 center in James Brockermeyer. They also have four of the top 10 wide receivers in JaCorey Brooks, Agiye Hall, Christian Leary and JoJo Earl. Oh, plus the No. 2 running back Wheaton. Nick Saban has now hauled in six of the 10 highest-rated recruiting classes ever during his tenure at Alabama. Every class Bama has signed under Saban has won at least one national championship. 

Established coaches: Recruiting in the pandemic was quite difficult. There were no visits to college campuses or to high schools. There were no in-person evaluations. No summer camps. No official visits. This gave a big advantage to staff who had pre-existing relationships prospects. Of the top 15 classes in the 247Sports Composite team rankings, none hired a coach in 2019 or 2020. 

Texas A&M: The Aggies held off Texas for the commitment of four-star running back LJ Johnson. Texas A&M is rebuilding on the line of scrimmage with this lot, and in total, it has one five-star and 16 four-stars, according to the 247Sports Composite. The Aggies are No. 4 in the SEC and might not be done as No. 1 junior college offensive tackle Jordan Moko commits Friday. 

Oregon and USC: Parity can be fun on a week-to-week basis. The Pac-12 badly needs some teams to emerge as elites. A year after finishing 64th in recruiting, Clay Helton retooled his coaching staff and found his Trojans No. 8 in the country. Linebacker Raesjon Davis, a former commitment to LSU, picked USC over Ohio State and Oregon on National Signing Day. 

Speaking of Oregon, the Ducks outdid USC in signing the No. 6 class in the nation. This is the third consecutive year in which Oregon has had the best class in the Pac-12, and the Ducks best three classes in their history have all come under coach Mario Cristobal. The Pac-12 and the SEC are the only two conferences to have two teams in the top eight.    

Michigan: After a bad year on the field that included a lot of drama surrounding coach Jim Harbaugh’s future, Michigan retooled its defensive coaching staff and went on a run, flipping defensive tackle Rayshaun Benny from Michigan State and beating out a number of top schools for George Rooks. The Wolverines have the No. 2 class in the Big Ten and the No. 10 class overall. 

Wisconsin: Don’t look now, but Wisconsin might be turning its decade plus of winning ways on the field into something better on the recruiting trail. The Badgers signed their highest-rated class ever — by a wide margin. The No. 15 class in the country includes five-star offensive tackle Nolan Rucci and five other four-star players. Wisconsin’s previous high-water mark was the 2020 class, which finished ranked 26th. The Badgers are trying to go from Big Ten West contenders to Big Ten contenders. 

Losers

New coaching staffs: Unlike their entrenched counterparts, most new staffs struggled quite a bit. Those whose first season was in 2020 — or even worse, those who were just hired — ended up signing a lot of players they have never met. None landed a class in the top 15. None had an average recruit rating of 90+. Most were well below their recruiting standard of the last decade, though Ole Miss and Rutgers did hit or exceed their average of the last decade. 

Some, though, basically punted, electing to leave space open for future classes to back count or for transfers. Florida State signed just 17 players. Washington took 15. Auburn has just 16 signees. South Carolina has just 13 under new coach Shane Beamer. 

High schoolers who were not standouts: The numbers are still tricking in, and players can sign for the next few months, but early data suggests there were a couple hundred fewer players signed to scholarships at the FBS level this year. The reasons are pretty obvious: the transfer portal and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Many schools preferred to hold back scholarships for existing college players in the transfer portal who the schools know can play as opposed to high schoolers who had limited or no reps this fall due to the pandemic. Staffs simply never got the chance to see them play in person. 

“If it is a borderline recruit for us, we’d rather take a transfer who we know can cut it physically at the college level,” said one staffer. Read more about the transfer situation here

Another limiting factor was money. While all 2020 seniors have been granted the ability to come back to school for a bonus year and not count against the scholarship maximum of 85 due to the pandemic, many schools in the Group of Five and even some in the Power Five are unwilling to fund scholarships above and beyond the normal 85 max. That means that many schools will be playing at 85, and if they accept some bonus seniors back for 2021, that self-imposed cap limited the number of high school players they could sign.