What is college football's National Signing Day? An FAQ for the casual fan

In 2011, No. 1 recruit Jadeveon Clowney picked South Carolina over Alabama and Clemson on National Signing Day. - Streeter Lecka

Your primer on college football's wackiest day, and why it's so important.

If you're a casual college football fan who doesn't really delve into the world of recruiting, National Signing Day might be a great mystery for you. You've come to the right place, so let's try and explain it all.

Well, what is it anyway?

National Signing Day is an annual event wherein high school football prospects around the country sign their letters of intent, officially announcing which college they will be attending. It also allows for coaches to talk about their incoming freshmen for the first time, as it is an NCAA violation for them to refer to unsigned players by name in public before the paperwork is in.

It's the closest thing college football has to a draft, except players get to pick their destinations from among all the schools who've offered them scholarships. The five-stars will have their choices of premier programs, while lesser players will get in wherever they can.

When is it?

All day long on Wednesday, February 5.

So recruiting season starts this week?

Recruiting season never really starts or ends, other than for a couple breaks earlier in the cycle calendar. Many members of the 2014 class have been recruited by college coaches for years now. Many members of the 2015 and 2016 classes already have offers, and some have even already committed. College coaches spend more time on scouting and recruiting prospects than on any other task.

Don't we know what colleges most of them will be attending anyway?

In theory, yes. Most of the 2014 prospects have already announced, but it's not actually official until they put the pen to the paper (the exception: many schools have handfuls of early enrollees). There are always a few Signing Day surprises, such as when a prospect who has verbally committed to one school signs with another instead (obviously, "committed" doesn't mean exactly the same thing in recruiting lingo as it does in the dictionary) or something really bizarre happens, as well as some marquee names set to announce on the day.

Okay, so who's set to announce?

Five-star cornerback Adoree' Jackson (Florida, LSU, UCLA, USC), five-star outside linebacker Rashaan Evans (Auburn, Alabama), five-star wide receiver Malachi Dupre (LSU, UCLA, Alabama, Florida State, Ole Miss), five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter (Georgia, Florida State, LSU, Florida), five-star athlete John Smith (USC, Notre Dame), five-star defensive end Solomon Thomas (Stanford, Arkansas, UCLA), and five-star offensive tackle Damian Prince (Florida, South Carolina, Maryland), and a few other blue-chips.

SB Nation recruiting editor Bud Elliott made his predictions for where the top prospects would end up.

These days, most of them just say a few words and put on a hat. In previous years, kids went for theatrics. Can anyone beat Isaiah Crowell's announcement? Probably not.

Who's going to have the best class?

It's a safe bet to answer Alabama with this question, as they've had the top class in each of the past three recruiting cycles, and this year is no different. The Tide hold a healthy lead over Ohio State in the 247sports Composite rankings, with LSU and Florida State each trying to make late runs for the top. Texas A&M should also finish in the top five.

Each school will announce its full class at some point on Wednesday.

Who are the best players?

New Orleans running back Leonard Fournette is this year's No. 1 prospect, with many comparing him to Adrian Peterson. He's basically a 226-pound track star. He committed to LSU over Alabama, Texas, and everyone else.

Defensive end Myles Garrett (Texas A&M), cornerback Jabrill Peppers (Michigan), offensive tackle Cameron Robinson (Alabama), and defensive end Da'Shawn Hand (Alabama) round out the top five on the Composite. Kyle Allen of Arizona, a Texas A&M commit, is considered the country's best quarterback.

But recruiting rankings don't really matter, do they?

We just told you Alabama wins every year. So yes, they do.

There's a direct correlation between recruiting rankings and All-America selections, not to mention just regular ol' team success. In addition, as far back as recruiting rankings go, every national title winner has signed 50 percent or more four- or five-stars over the previous four recruiting classes.

Recruiting rankings are also becoming more accurate over time, as the growing industry allows the four major rating services -- Rivals, Scout, ESPN, and 247 -- to devote more coverage. Look at the 2011 class, the most recent to have matured as prospects. Three of its top seven high school recruits -- Jadeveon Clowney, Cyrus Kouandjio, and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix -- could all go in the top 10 of this year's NFL Draft, with plenty of other stars further down.

And as Elliott says, recruiting comes into play just as much when depth is concerned:

Recruiting at an elite level doesn't guarantee success. What it does do, however, is give a team much better quality depth. And while lesser-rated recruits turn out just as good as the superstar recruits, they also have a much greater chance of busting, leaving a team in a big hole.

How should I keep up with all this?

Odds are good that SB Nation has a site devoted to covering your team. Take a look here. Also check in with our national recruiting hub.

You should also follow @SBNRecruiting and @SBNationCFB on Twitter and SB Nation College Football on Facebook.

ESPNU will be all recruiting all day, showing announcements and broadcasting live from these schools:

And SB Nation's Bud Elliott and Dan Rubenstein will be doing multiple episodes of 'Crootin, our recruiting show, on Wednesday. Here's the latest episode:

More from SB Nation college football:

28 National Signing Day predictions

CFB players forming a union: Why this just might work

Grading this year’s 20 FBS coaching hires

How to win: College football’s five most important stats

College football news | Auburn might claim three old titles

Long CFB reads | The death of a college football player

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