By JAMES MORAN | Tiger Rag Associate Editor
What’s shaping up to be the wildest offseason in some time comes with a new wrinkle that’s already proving itself to be a catalyst of chaos. College football’s early signing period, a 72-hour window which lasts from Dec. 20-22, has created one more hurdle for coaches — whether on the new-job carousel or not — to gear up for in the midst of bowl preparations and the silly season. Here’s what you need to know from an LSU perspective.
- What’s new?
The obvious is a good place to start. Football has always had this December signing period, but previously it was only for junior college prospects and other mid-year enrollees who’d signed financial aid agreements after graduating from high school early. What’s different this time is that any prospect can now decide between signing early or waiting until the regular signing period that begins on National Signing Day in February and runs until April 1. How many actually will, well, that’s the $500,000 question.
- How many will sign early?
The early signing period will never replace the first Wednesday in February for those uncommitted prospects who want their moment in the national spotlight. Coaches like Ed Orgeron are simply hoping — and pushing — their firm commitments to sign early and allow their staffs to spend the home stretch of the recruiting cycle adding to their class instead of defending their verbal pledges from rivals.
“How many guys are going to sign on December 20th? Obviously we’re pushing for all our guys that are committed to sign on December 20th,” Orgeron said last month. “I don’t know that number yet. I don’t know how many commitments we have right now, but hopefully they’ll all sign.”
- Has it accelerated the coaching carousel?
There’s little doubt that the early signing period has sped up the decision making process as there’s more openings in the Southeastern Conference this cycle than there’s been in 71 years. Ole Miss, Florida and Tennessee fired their coaches before or during the season. Arkansas and Texas A&M followed suit not long after and the Mississippi State job came open when Dan Mullen jumped ship to Florida. Orgeron, who just completed his first season, is now the third-longest tenured coach in the SEC West. Athletic Directors across the league are scrambling to find some semblance of stability as the early signing period draws near. “I think there’s going to be a sense of urgency to get the coaches in place more than ever now. And I think it’s smart, obviously,” Orgeron said during his final press conference of the regular season. “Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program, especially when you go in there your first year. You better have the time to recruit them and evaluate them and make sure that they fit your system. So, yeah, I can see a sense of urgency there, and I think it’s the right thing to do.”
- Has it changed the way programs recruit in-season?
Difficult to say, but Orgeron backlogged a slew of official visits for the regular-season finale against Texas A&M with the early signing period in mind. LSU wanted Senior Night in Death Valley to be the last on-campus visit for a bevy of blue chip prospects before the open contact period begins and coaches can go in-home with prospects in the final weeks before the signing period begins. LSU had six official visitors on hand for the 45-21 rout of the Aggies, including 5-star receiver Terrace Marshall and Louisiana’s No. 1 quarterback, Justin Rogers. “It’s going to be fun to go out recruiting tomorrow,” Orgeron smiled after thumping Texas A&M. “It’s always fun to go out after a win and sell them on the things we’re doing. We’ll hit a couple of pieces here, a few pieces there. We have six official visitors, all outstanding players, and a bunch of unofficial visitors, a lot of young guys that like the atmosphere of the night, and sell them on Tiger Stadium.”
- It’s still a big deal for JUCO prospects and mid-year enrollees, right?
Oh yes, and if you’ve listened to Orgeron’s press conferences throughout this season, you know LSU is actively looking to sign multiple linemen from the junior college ranks. Among the six official visitors for the Texas A&M game were JUCO offensive linemen Badara Traore and Damien Lewis. Traore is considered a possible plug-and-play starting tackle wherever he winds up and would be a pivotal addition if right tackle Toby Weathersby decides to test the NFL waters. Lewis, an athletic guard currently at Northwest Mississippi C.C., committed to LSU the morning after the LSU-A&M game as the open contact period got underway. LSU also holds a commitment from JUCO defensive end Travez Moore.