National Signing Day, from dawn to dusk

National Signing Day, from dawn to dusk
February 2, 2012, 6:50 pm
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I have observed and evaluated the coverage of the finals of the state football playoff for the last few years, eight games over two days, with only a hot turkey sandwich and leftovers from Thanksgiving Day to provide nourishment and a sense of sanity.

But national signing day? That figured to be a whole different experience...two television networks, ESPN vs. CBS, Tom Luginbill vs. Tom Lemming, 10 hours of non-stop coverage, more unsigned blue chippers and more flip-flops than ever before...and no hot turkey sandwiches.

Here is how it went on Wednesday:

8 a.m.: ESPNU opens with Reece Davis, Dari Nowkhah, David Pollack, Butch Davis, Tom Luginbill, Craig Haubert, Corey Long, Houston Nutt, Jamie Newberg, Mark Schlabach and Miami coach Randy Shannon in the studio and reporters on 13 campuses from coast to coast.

"College football's future is built on national signing day," they advertised. "The next generation of college football stars."

What could possibly be happening at 8 in the morning, you ask?

8:06: The first news story of the day. Darius Hamilton of Ramsey, New Jersey, one of the nation's most celebrated uncommitted players, announces he has committed to Rutgers.

8:09: Defensive lineman Mario Edwards of Denton, Texas, the No. 1 player in the nation according to ESPN, commits to Florida State. "They cared about me as a studentathlete. It felt like home," he said.

8:15: Josh Harvey-Clemons of Valdosta, Georgia, announces for Georgia. "I knew after my visit. It felt like home. They have put a lot of players in the NFL," he said.

8:28: At scandal-ridden Penn State, reporter Pedro Gomez, who last was seen covering the Barry Bonds scandal, said the Nittany Lions have lost their top three commitments but has 15 signees to date. "They just want to hold serve," he said.

8:33: At Florida State, reporter Jeannine Edwards said coach Jimbo Fisher had traveled 8,200 miles to 15 cities to recruit a class that could challenge Alabama for the No. 1 ranking. She said Fisher admitted that Harvey-Clemons' commitment was a surprise, a last-second decision.

8:44: The first flip-flop is reported. Wide receiver Bralon Addison leaves Texas A&M for Oregon. "That's a coach's nightmare. It leaves a hole. How to you use the scholarship? Can you replace him with a player of equal quality," former North Carolina coach Butch Davis said.

8:50: Tracy Howard of Miramar, Fla., who is rated as the No. 1 cornerback in the country by ESPN but only rates as the No. 102 player in the nation by recruiting analyst Tom Lemming of CBS Sports Network, chooses Miami over Florida and Florida State. "I'm ready to rock with Miami," he said. He said he looked at Miami from an academic standpoint.

8:54: "People don't understand how much pressure there is for the top 30 kids in Florida to stay in Florida," Butch Davis said.

8:59: Alabama coach Nick Saban is putting the lid on the nation's No. 1 class. He has 24 of 26 commitments signed, sealed and delivered. "We develop good relationships," he said. Then he showed off the Crimson Tide's newly acquired national championship trophy. "It's a symbol of success, a challenge for future players," he said.

9:04: Eddie Goldman of Washington D.C., one of the nation's most coveted defensive linemen, chooses Florida State over Alabama and Auburn. He joins Mario Edwards in what is shaping up as a top 10 class.

9:08: Tom Luginbill, ESPN's recruiting director, wonders if all of these personalities will fit together, if they can manage all of those egos, if it will have a negative impact on the program.

9:09: Defensive lineman Reggie Northrup de-commits from Miami and opts for Florida State.

9:12: Georgia coach Mark Richt is excited about the commitment from Harvey-Clemons. He said he went to church with the recruit and had a spaghetti dinner. "He fell in love with Georgia and the players and what we're doing on defense," Richt said.

9:16: Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham of Springfield, Missouri, Lemming's choice as the No. 1 player in the country, chooses Missouri over Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. He reads from a prepared statement, thanking everyone in the gym. "It fulfills my dreams to play at Missouri," he said. Lemming describes him as "the next Randy Moss."

9:28: ESPN's updated team rankings are revealed. Florida State has moved past Texas into the No. 2 spot behind Alabama. Notre Dame has climbed into No. 9 and Miami has moved ahead of Oklahoma into the No. 10 spot.

9:32: LSU lost the nation's top-rated quarterback Gunner Kiel of Columbus, Indiana, to Notre Dame. But coach Les Miles got Jeremy Liggins, a 6-foot-3, 270-pound quarterback from Oxford, Mississippi.

9:40: Ohio State coach Urban Meyer singles out defensive lineman Noah Spence of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as the the centerpiece of what figures to be a top 10 class. He has addressed the Buckeyes' No. 1 need by signing three pass rushers.

9:51: Defensive lineman Dante Fowler, apparently uncomfortable with the signings of Edwards and Goldman, de-commits from Florida State and opts for Florida.

"He looked at the depth chart and decided where he can go and play," Butch Davis said. "The best players don't care about the depth chart."

Fowler had his own explanation. "I felt Florida was the best place for me. I can get on the field faster," he said.

10:05: Linebacker Kwon Alexander of Oxford, Alabama, picks LSU over Alabama and Auburn. "God told me where to go," he said.

10:12: Alexander's teammate, wide receiversafety Trae Elston, picks Ole Miss over LSU and Oklahoma State.

10:20: Thomas Johnson, a wide receiver who de-committed from Texas, chooses Texas A&M over TCU, Oregon and California.

10:30: Reporter Shelley Smith receives a text from USC coach Lane Kiffin. "We need to get Nelson Agholor," he said.

10:39: There is concern because quarterback Jameis Winston of Hueytown, Alabama, hasn't sent his signed letter to Florida State. He is in Austin, Texas, for the World Bowl. But it is much ado about nothing.

"I'm a Nole, man," Winston said. "I will sign on Friday or next Wednesday. I'm trying my best to get others to come to Florida State. I want Ronald Darby and Nelson Agholor to join me."

10:44: Former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer, an instructor at the Elite 11 quarterback camp, said Winston is a can't-miss quarterback. He also touts Brigham Young-bound Tanner Mangum and Clemson-bound Chad Kelly, nephew of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly.

"I want to challenge their souls," Dilfer said of his mission at the camp. "Which guys can be picked on the first day of the NFL draft and go on to play in the NFL?"

10:52: USC, limited to only 15 scholarships because of NCAA sanctions, gets defensive lineman Leonard Williams of Daytona Beach, Florida. He picks USC over Florida, Miami and Florida State. "He has the most upside of any defensive lineman in this class," Luginbill said. "He is a monumental signee for USC."

10:57: Wide receiver Deontay Greenberry, probably Notre Dame's second leading recruit, de-commits from Notre Dame and signs with Houston.

11:15: Lane Kiffin gets his wish. Nelson Agholor of Tampa, Florida, perhaps the best athlete in the class, commits to USC over Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma.

"USC was my first love," he said. "I want to be a tailback or wide receiver or an offensive weapon. Go with your heart, I was told. I want to catch passes for Matt Barkley, a Heisman Trophy candidate."

11:20: Trouble in Baton Rouge? There is uncertainty about 6-foot-3, 336-pound defensive lineman Toshiro Davis. The biggest need at LSU is for defensive linemen and coach Les Miles is counting on Davis. But sources say Davis is de-committing and going to Texas.

11:28: A refreshing interview with Northwestern recruit Ifeadi Odenigbo, one of the most widely recruited defensive ends in the country. He chose NU over Notre Dame and Stanford. He wants to study economics and maybe get a masters degree at NU's Kellogg School of Business.

"I truly think Northwestern has come a long way and is showing dedication to the football program. It will be up to par with Ohio State and Alabama and other powerhouses," he said.

11:37: Is Toshiro Davis leaving LSU to go to Texas? Texas-bound quarterback Connor Brewer tweets: "Welcome to Texas."

11:54: Trouble in Tuscaloosa? Alabama coach Nick Saban has the signatures of all his recruits except one--top-rated safety Landon Collins. He is committed to Alabama. But his mother wants him to go to LSU. Where is that letter?

Noon: CBS Sports Network launches its signing day show with Tom Lemming, host Adam Zucker and former coaches Ron Zook of Illinois and Rick Neuheisel of UCLA.

"It's Christmas morning for people who enjoy college football," Neuheisel said.

"It's the first time in 30 years that I have woken up without a knot in my stomach," Zook said. "It's a lot of fun but every (signing) day is different. I hope it will be a happy day."

12:28: Jordan Payton, a wide receiver from Westlake Village, California, de-commits from California to announce for Washington, then changes his mind and pledges to UCLA, all in a matter of a few hours. Stable? Confused? Nobody, including Payton, seems to know.

12:32: In an interview, Urban Meyer talks about how he had to accelerate the relationship process when he got the job at Ohio State in November. He said he started with defensive lineman Noah Spence, whom he describes as the "prize of the class," from ground zero. He addressed a major need by bringing in three defensive ends who rank among the top 100.

"(Glenbard West's) Tommy Schutt reached out to us and wondered if we'd be interested," Meyer said. "We looked at film and said we were."

12:38: Offensive lineman Andrus Peat of Tempe, Ariz., whose father played at Northern Illinois and the NFL and whose brother plays at Nebraska, picks Stanford over USC, Florida State and Nebraska.

12:56: LSU coach Les Miles said: "We needed a quarterback (after losing Gunner Kiel to Notre Dame) and we got Jeremy Liggins." He signed 15 players from talent-rich Louisiana. Linebacker Kwon Alexander is the centerpiece.

12:58: Ronald Darby of Potomac, Maryland, who originally had committed to Notre Dame, chooses Florida State over Auburn, Clemson, USC, Maryland and Notre Dame. He is one of the fastest players in the nation, a superior two-sport athlete. He could be a running back, wide receiver, cornerback or kick returner.

1:05: Offensive tackle Avery Young chooses Auburn over Florida, Georgia, Miami and Alabama.

1:25: A survey reveals that 92 of the top 150 players in the nation are going to SEC schools. Do you need to ask why the SEC has won six national championships in a row? The South produces more 6-foot-5, 240-pound defensive linemen. They'd be power forwards in Chicago or St. Louis. But they play spring football in Alabama or Louisiana or Georgia.

1:31: Nick Saban isn't worried about Landon Collins' missing letter. He said he has signed it and it's on the way. Saban has spent most of the day on the phone with 2013 recruits.

1:48: The news isn't so good in Athens, Georgia. Harvey-Clemons' letter hasn't arrived. His family has left the high school, gone home and turned off all cell phones. He apparently is re-thinking his choice. He wants to go to Georgia but the family wants him to go to Florida.

1:50: Reacting to the loss of wide receiver Deontay Greenberry, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said: "Notre Dame isn't the place for everyone. I want kids who want to go to Notre Dame."

He said Gunner Kiel will have a chance to compete for the starting quarterback position in the spring. "We have four good quarterbacks and we have to sort it out. Last year, we were out of sync at the quarterback position. We left three or four wins out there," he said.

2:05: USC coach Lane Kiffin is excited about the signing of do-everything Nelson Agholor. Despite having only 15 scholarships because of NCAA sanctions, he is signing a top 10 class. What if he had a full class to recruit?

"We had to let some kids go," Kiffin said. "We had a plan in place for over a year. That's the advantage of having Matt Barkley, the No. 1 recruit in the country."

2:07: Nick Saban just received Landon Collins' signed letter. "Our kids are of good character and stick to their word," he said.

2:09: Josh Harvey-Clemons says he is 100 percent committed to Georgia and is going to send his signed letter to coach Mark Richt.

2:29: Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher insists he has six or seven recruits who could play as freshmen. That's how good his class is.

2:31: At Penn State, reporter Pedro Gomez said new coach Bill O'Brien has indicated he will open up the offense like never before.

3:00: Harvey-Clemons still insists he is 100 percent for Georgia and will sign soon. But his grandfather, his legal guardian, says he isn't ready yet.

3:05: ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, a former quarterback at Ohio State, weighs in on the "four hats on a table" pageantry.

"I am excited to see kids get the opportunity (to make their announcements) but I'm not big with the hats and over-the-top insanity. There is too much theatrics. ESPN is to blame as much as anyone. It's all about me, me, me. The kids think they are more important than the team, not one of 25."

Herbstreit wonders if the whole signing day hoopla is overblown. "Look at last year's top 10...Oklahoma State, Boise State, Washington, Arkansas. Where did they finish in the recruiting ratings?" he said.

3:29: Nick Saban: "It was one of the smoothest signing days in memory."

3:30: LSU cheers the signing of linebacker Kwon Alexander but bemoans the loss of defensive lineman Toshiro Davis to Texas.

3:31: Georgia still is waiting (yawn) for the signed letter of Harvey-Clemons. DawgNation.com reports he is 100 percent for Georgia.

3:41: CBS interviews quarterback Kevin Olsen of Wayne Hills, New Jersey, the top-rated prospect in the class of 2013 according to Tom Lemming. He is the younger brother of former Chicago Bears tight end Greg Olsen and former Notre Dame and Virginia quarterback Chris Olsen. He already has accumulated 25 scholarship offers. He lists Miami, Florida, Florida State, Oklahoma, Stanford and North Carolina among his favorites.

3:47: Offensive tackle Kyle Murphy picks Stanford. The Cardinal has signed seven offensive linemen, including Glenbard West's Johnny Caspers.

4:07: ESPN analyst and former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz reminds college coaches: "Don't worry about who you lose, worry about who you take."

4:32: Bill O'Brien, Penn State's new football coach, admits he has been spending more time in his job as the New England Patriots' offensive coordinator and preparing for Sunday's Super Bowl and has left the bulk of recruiting to Larry Johnson and his staff.

"I'm not into recruiting rankings," O'Brien said. "I don't know how to can rank a class until you see them in college."

5:01: The discussion turns to three big-time recruits who still are uncommitted and unsigned--Simeon offensive lineman Jordan Diamond (Illinois, Arkansas, Auburn or Wisconsin), wide receiver Stefon Diggs (Florida, Arkansas, California, Maryland or Ohio State) and running back Davonte Neal (Arkansas, Notre Dame, Arizona, USC or Ohio State).

Butch Davis recalls when he was head coach at Miami, he learned about Whitney Young's Russell Maryland late in the recruiting process and signed him. Maryland went on to star on a national championship team and was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.

5:25: Things are good at Florida State. ESPN rates coach Jimbo Fisher's incoming class as the second best in the nation, behind only Alabama. Better yet, an alum has donated 5 million for a new indoor practice facility.

5:33: Texas coach Mack Brown acknowledges the signing of Torshiro Davis. "He is a pass rusher in a league that throws the ball," he said. The centerpiece of his highly rated class is running back Jonathan Gray. It is Brown's fifth top three class in the last seven years.

"We are in better shape tonight than we were this morning," Brown said. "We have been working on juniors for three weeks. We will host a junior day in 10 days."

5:37: Some closing predictions from ESPN's Luginbill and Haubert: 2015 Heisman Trophy winner? Texas' Jonathan Gray. Best defensive player? Florida State's Mario Edwards. Best interior lineman? Florida's D.J. Humphries. Best wide receiver? Missouri's Dorial Green-Beckham.

No. 1 player in 2013? Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, a 6-foot-6, 265-pounder from Loganville, Georgia. He already has 10 offers, including Alabama, USC, Florida, LSU, Georgia and Oregon. Best quarterback in the class of 2013? Shane Morris of Warren, Michigan, who already is committed to Michigan. Best linebacker in the class of 2013? Michael Hutchings, a 6-foot-2, 210-pounder from Concord, Calif.

5:59: Signoff. Has anyone heard from Josh Harvey-Clemons?