How will Kirby Smart and UGA approach the NCAA’s new early signing period?

Want to attack every day with the latest Georgia football recruiting info? That’s what the Intel will bring at least five days a week. The budget today calls for a look at the new NCAA early signing period and what that might mean for Kirby Smart and his top-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. 

We are 40 days away from the next-to-last Wednesday in December. For the recruiting fans out there, it now means something beyond one of the last Amazon Prime shopping days until Christmas.

When Dec. 20 rolls around, it will also be a shiny new toy for college football. That will mark the first day of the NCAA’s new early signing period. There are now three allotted days in December for prospects to sign up to 45 days earlier than the traditional first Wednesday in February.

That goes for mid-year enrollees, but also those prospects who will finish out their entire senior year in high school and report to their new team in late May or early June.

It will be a wait-and-see period for everyone involved. The new ESP will mean more players than ever before could be sweating out their school choice in the midst of a state playoff runs.

Kirby Smart-UGA recruiting
Georgia coach Kirby Smart squeezes in a family moment along the “Dawgwalk” prior to the Mississippi State game earlier this season. (Jeff Sentell/Dawgnation)

But that’s always been the case for January enrollees. The best part of this plan is it is a take-it-or-leave-it option.

It is just one with an asterisk. In theory, prospects can do everything the same way as they always have. (Not really. Top programs will now prioritize signing their prospects up early in December. Let’s not kid ourselves. That’s what every program will want to do.)

The new wrinkle is they can also go ahead and sign and get off of the information superhighway when it comes to the constant attention on top prospects about where they will play ball.

It will also lead to prospects taking their official visits in the summer. And that will be weird. I’m not sure any big-time program wants to sell an empty stadium and bare campus to a blue-chip prospect.

What does Georgia think about all of this?

“I’m not ready to comment,” Kirby Smart told the media in a post-practice presser on Oct. 24. “I’ve never been through it. I’m going to be open-minded about it and see how it plays out. I think it’s going to be very stressful twice as opposed to very stressful once.”

There is also a potential schedule concern.

“That’s not usually a real busy time in the season for us,” Smart also said that day. “That’s bowl prep. It’s a little bit of a down time because kids are in final exams. For us, the focus will be on the recruiting aspect and getting those players signed. We may or may not be in bowl practice then so I don’t honestly know.”

The big questions regarding Georgia and the 2018 class

The big question I hear from fans on the recruiting beat these days is about the potential size of the 2018 class.

Georgia is a hot team. There are 5-stars and flips and de-commitments and potential de-commits coming out of the woodwork to visit and also potentially choose the Bulldogs.

That’s just going to be pretty hard to do with 18 scholarships already filled for the 2018 class. That’s because there are at least 8-9 uncommitted players out there that Georgia would likely move mountains for to try to squeeze onto the roster.

It leads to some Willy Wonka math: DawgNation continues to project the scholarship number for this year to be 24. The maximum amount of players that any SEC team can sign per cycle is 25. That’s a league rule.

My calculations also lead me to believe that Georgia will not be able to back-count any mid-year signees to the Class of 2017, too. That’s the proverbial rock and hard place zone.

Could that change? I guess it is feasible. Smart manages his roster with a deft touch. He doesn’t waste any available scholarship slots. If there is any wiggle to be found, he’ll be all over it.

There will also be the delayed enrollment option in the form of a prospect not showing up in January and waiting until June. Let’s also not forget that greyshirt option. Alabama has used that method at times when it was overflowing with roster candidates.

That should not be ruled out given the number of top players that want to play for the Bulldogs. Fans should remember what Smart said about the Toniel Carter situation last December. That was where Smart outlined the program’s philosophy on not dropping players.

I do think that college football is a business. Smart’s charge is to make sure that the Bulldogs sign the very best players they possibly can every cycle. That includes the top talent, but also the players that fill the holes in the roster and fit Georgia’s style of play.

The first big number up ahead for  2018

The one-game-at-a-time mentality serves any championship team well. But I now also think that should also apply here. Sorta.

Let’s call it the one-signing-day-at-a-time mentality. That pile of wood first gets the ax first.

The first one up ahead is the one that DawgNation should prioritize. Who will sign and enroll early? That could dictate some things with the eventual 24 for 2018 on the back end with the traditional signing day.

There could be a player out there that is through with high school (see all the IMG Academy players) and wants to move on to college football in January. Will the Bulldogs have enough room at that time?

How many are coming in? How many scholarship slots under the NCAA-mandated number of 85 will be available at that time. That’s another number that must be locked onto every fan’s recruiting horizon. No SEC teams can sign more than 25 guys in a year, but they also can never go over having 85 student-athletes enrolled on scholarship at any time, too.

Here’s who Dawgnation has tracked so far as far as commits and major targets that are expected to sign early. It should be stated right from the jump that 5-star QB Justin Fields has yet to make that decision about when he will enroll at UGA.

He does have to apply and be on the list to potentially enroll. Whether he does that will be up to the Fields family to decide.

Which UGA commits and targets plan to enroll early? 

1. Kearis Jackson: Yes (1 early enrollee)
2. Zamir White: Yes (2)
3. Warren Ericson Yes (3)
4. Devonte Wyatt: Yes (4)
5. Justin Fields: Maybe (potentially 4 or 5)
6. Owen Condon: No
7. James Cook: No
8. Jake Camarda: No
9. Chris Smith: No
10. Adam Anderson: No
11. Azeez Ojulari: No
12. Tramel Walthour: No
13. John FitzPatrick: No
14. Rachad Wildgoose Jr: No
15. Jaevon Becton: No
16. Caleb Tannor: No
17. Elijah Moore: No
18. Aaron Brule’: No

Priority targets
4-star DT Robert Cooper: No
5-star OG Jamaree Salyer: No
5-star DE/OLB KJ Henry: Yes
5-star CB Tyson Campbell: No
4-star TE Luke Ford: No
4-star DT Rick Sandidge: No
4-star LB Channing Tindall: No
4-star OG Trey Hill: Yes
5-star OT Cade Mays: Yes
3-star OT Daniel Faalele: Yes
4-star DT Christian Barmore: Not likely
4-star DT Jordan Davis: Not known at this time
4-star LB Otis Reese: No

In short, it does look like the Bulldogs will have room for a few of, but maybe not all, of their top targets.

Miss any Intel? The DawgNation recruiting archive will get you up to speed faster than Georgia All-American candidate Roquan Smith can find the football after the snap.

The post How will Kirby Smart and UGA approach the NCAA’s new early signing period? appeared first on DawgNation.

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