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9 winners and 5 losers from National Signing Day, as the book closes on 2019 recruiting

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Tennessee’s fortunes might have changed, the rest of the SEC finished strong, and USC’s struggles continue.

Tennessee v South Carolina Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

The main National Signing Day is now the one in December. Most of the action that shaped the class of 2019 happened then or earlier. But there were a few key moments on February’s old Wednesday Signing Day, and now we have clarity on where teams’ classes finished.

Signing Day’s one of the most perpetually optimistic times of the year. Every team that signs a bunch of four- and five-stars looks great. Every team that signs three-stars insists those players will be good, and no one can really disprove that at this point. So there are generally more winners than losers, but here’s a crack at labeling some standouts.

Winner: Tennessee

The Volunteers had a hell of a last hour of the last recruiting day of the year. Around 3 p.m. ET, they landed the country’s No. 3 outside linebacker, Henry To’oto’o, over Alabama and Washington. Around 4 p.m., they got the No. 10 overall player in the class, OT Darnell Wright and the highest-rated player still on the board entering the day. To get Wright, the first five-star in the history of the state of West Virginia, the Vols had to hold off a furious push from home-state WVU, which sent its whole staff to visit Wright before Signing Day.

There are six five-star offensive tackles in the class, per the 247Sports Composite, and Jeremy Pruitt signed two of them, with Wanya Morris already in the fold. The Vols have a foundation in place for a mean, road-grading line for years to come.

Winner: Georgia

The Dawgs have to be a winner, because they secured the day’s highest-profile flip when they landed five-star receiver and longtime Auburn commit George Pickens. It was a huge rivalry blow, with the Tigers losing the highest-rated player in their class to a team they see every year in SEC crossover play. They also landed a high-three-star tight end, Brett Seither, who had an offer from Alabama.

UGA had a turbulent winter, both with transfers and high-profile decommitments, but the Dawgs should feel good about a day that locked them into the country’s No. 2 class.

Winner: Auburn
Loser: Auburn

The Tigers have to be a winner, because they landed and signed two of the top-100 players in the country on a day when fewer than 20 of those players were available to start. Those were defensive end Charles Moore (the No. 69 overall player) and ATH Mark-Antony Richards (No. 90). They also have to be a loser, because the best player in their class left them for the Dawgs. Life’s complicated sometimes. War Eagle.

Loser: Florida State

FSU, which is short on QBs, expected to land a possible QB of the future. The Seminoles expected to sign four-star New Orleans prospect Lance LeGendre, the rare blue-chip passer available this late in the recruiting game.

But LeGendre instead decided to sign with Maryland, a program that had only recruited him for two weeks, according to Terps coach Mike Locksley. The Noles did some good things on Signing Day, but they’re looking at a QB situation that ranges anywhere from decent to disastrous in 2019. After their worst year in decades, that’s miles from an ideal spot.

Winner: Florida

The Gators made one of the day’s biggest splashes when they got a commitment from (and signed) four-star cornerback Kaiir Elam, the No. 4 uncommitted player entering Wednesday. Elam’s commitment was long expected but still great to formally secure. UF also flipped four-star edge defender Khris Bogle, a top-100 player, from Alabama. That’s even better than it sounds, because Bogle was widely rumored to be flipping to Miami instead.

Loser: USC

The Trojans, after a difficult start to the offseason, had a few balls in the air on Signing Day. They had verbal commitments from two blue-chip receivers, Kyle Ford and Puka Nacua, who hadn’t actually signed NLIs yet. And they were trying hard to land four-star Hawaiian guard Enokk Vimahi, whom analysts widely expected them to sign.

They did ink Ford. But Nacua still hasn’t signed, and Vimahi signed with Ohio State around the time the Buckeyes lost another blue-chip guard, Doug Nester, to Virginia Tech.

The Trojans entered NSD with the No. 18 class, by far the worst in their history. They finished it ranked in the exact same place.

Winner: the SEC

This was the most dominant recruiting year by one conference in the history of recruiting rankings. The SEC had four of the top five classes, a feat that has no real analog. (Those rankings: No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Georgia, No. 3 Texas, No. 4 A&M, and No. 5 LSU.)

The SEC is always the conference that comes closest to packing the top of the rankings, but it’s never done such a thorough job as it did in 2019. The talent gap between this league and its peers was already substantial, and it’ll only grow now.

Winner: Texas

The Longhorns broke up the all-SEC party at the top of the national rankings, finishing with the No. 3 class. Their Signing Day was quiet, with the biggest news being that a four-star verbal commit, OT Javonne Shepherd, hung with them instead of taking an offer from Texas A&M, Alabama, or Georgia. But being the lone non-SEC squad to ink a top-five class makes the Longhorns a default winner. They also got to announce to the world that they’d flipped the class’ No. 1 athlete, Bru McCoy, from USC.

Loser: Hawaii

The Rainbow Warriors have to contend with lots of West Coast recruiters every cycle. It’s common for the best players on the islands to play their college ball on the mainland. But in 2019, the top 18 recruits from Hawaii all signed with non-UH programs. Washington was the best recruiting team on the islands, while Ohio State, USC, Notre Dame, UCLA, UCF, Navy, BYU, Army, Washington State, and Arizona State all signed players from that group.

Winner: Ole Miss

Ole Miss was one of the busiest programs on Signing Day itself. The haul included:

Ole Miss settled with a top-25 class and has come out of much of its NCAA sanctioning looking pretty good. Recall that in November 2018, the NCAA overturned a restriction on unofficial visits that would’ve hobbled recruiting efforts through the 2020 season.

Loser: Clemson

Ealy was expected to pick Clemson, and he didn’t. The Tigers will keep on dominating anyway, but I just wanted to put them here because nobody’s gotten to call Clemson a loser in anything for more than a year, and probably won’t for at least another 49 weeks. Ha, ha.

Winner: Hat Theory

Around these parts, we’re big fans of using the hats scattered on the table in front of a recruit at his signing ceremony as clues to where he’s going. This year offered a few commitments that vindicated Hat Theory as a way to pick a destination.

First:

That’s Shepherd, who indeed signed with Texas.

Second:

Three-star offensive lineman Ira Henry signed with FSU.

Winner: Alabama

Oh, right. Bama finished with the No. 1 class, getting back to a perch it occupied seven years in a row before slipping slightly in 2018. The Tide lost two blue-chip commitments on Wednesday, and it didn’t come close to taking them out of the No. 1 ranking.

Who else? What’d I get wrong?

Let me know.