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National Signing Day: Winners and losers

Eli Drinkwitz
Eli Drinkwitz (AP Images)

Even with an Early Signing Period sweeping away 85 percent of the Power Five-caliber prospects, the traditional February National Signing Day still has a knack for producing drama, and the 2020 version did not disappoint. After all the dust has settled there are some clear winners and some disappointed losers.

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WINNERS 

The Georgia Bulldogs 

Sedrick Van Pran
Sedrick Van Pran (Rivals.com)

Kirby Smart was using the Jedi mind trick on Wednesday. Everything he wanted to came to be. Unsigned five-star Broderick Jones? Signed him. Signed the No. 1 offensive center, Sedrick Van Pran, too. The Dawgs also added new prospects to the class on Wednesday who were not previously committed. They got their seventh offensive lineman in the class with in-state three-star Cameron Kinnie, who signed early in the day. Then, Smart and staff got Louisiana cornerback Daran Branch to flip his commitment from SEC rival Ole Miss. At day’s end the Bulldogs were looking at their third straight Rivals recruiting title, holding on to their narrow lead against a Clemson team that did not add anyone, and an Alabama program that missed on some big targets late.

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*****

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz 

Ennis Rakestraw
Ennis Rakestraw (Sam Spiegelman)

What was the biggest shocker of the day? How about Missouri beating out recruiting powerhouse Alabama and in-state program Texas, which is a pretty strong recruiting machine in its own right, for three-star defensive back Ennis Rakestraw. If you were not sure just how big this get was for the Tigers, then the reaction of first-year Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz would have clued you in. Video of Drinkwitz watching Rakestraw’s announcement and then parading around the football offices, slapping fives and giving hugs went viral on Wednesday. There are SEC schools that have not beaten out Alabama for a recruit in more than a decade. Drinkwitz was able to do it in year one.

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*****

Miami safeties coach Ephraim Banda 

Avantae Williams
Avantae Williams (Rivals.com)

Another coach on cloud nine Wednesday was Miami co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Ephraim Banda after pulling off one of the biggest National Signing Day coups. The recruiting world had assumed Florida would land the No. 1 safety in the class, Avantae Williams, but when the four-star announced his decision it was a Miami hat that covered his head. Now, Banda is not only getting plaudits for pulling off one of the biggest signing day stunners, but he also gets to coach the top prospect in the class at his position. Williams and Banda have known each other since the former was in the eighth grade, which is also about the time he landed an offer from the Hurricanes. That relationship will now continue into college, where the pair hope they can help further each other’s careers.

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OUT-OF-STATE SCHOOLS

Jalen St. John
Jalen St. John (Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)

In recruitments that pitted in-state schools versus out-of-state schools, the out-of-state schools were triumphant in an extraordinarily large number of those battles. The choice of Rakestraw to Missouri instead of his home-state Texas Longhorns or Alabama was the most surprising, but he was far from the only notable prospect to leave his home-state. Four-star offensive lineman Jalen St. John out of St. Louis had previously been committed to Missouri, but after de-committing and checking out other schools he chose Arkansas. Four-star receiver Malachi Wideman, meanwhile, flipped his commitment from the home-state Seminoles and signed with Tennessee. Cincinnati went heads-up with Colorado for Cleveland athlete William Anglen, only to see the three-star pick the Pac-12, while four-star Princely Umanmielen spurned in-state schools Baylor and Texas, instead opting for Florida. Then there were committed guys such as Javon Baker and Sedrick Van Pran who were considering in-state schools late in the process, but decided on Wednesday to stay with their out-of-state commitments.

LOSERS 

Michigan State's 2020 signing class   

Jordon Simmons
Jordon Simmons (Nick Lucero/Rivals.com)

While there were some surprise commitments and big flips, this National Signing Day week will be best remembered for Mark Dantonio’s surprise retirement the day before the Late Signing Period opened. The 19 prospects who signed with the Spartans in December are no better off than their brethren at Baylor, Mississippi State or Washington State who inked letters of intent to play for head coaches who are no longer there. The timing, though, put Michigan State’s three unsigned commitments in a bind. Two – linebacker Jasiyah Robinson and running back Donovan Eaglin – decided their best option was still to sign with the Spartans despite the program’s uncertain future. However, Georgia three-star running back Jordon Simmons, whose brother had some criticism for Dantonio on Tuesday night, opted not to sign, making him the only prospect in the Spartans' class who will ultimately get a choice in this matter.

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*****

Florida Gators 

Dee Beckwith
Dee Beckwith (Rivals.com)

Like Casey at the Bat, Florida just kept swinging and missing on Wednesday until the very end. Although the Gators got some late redemption by snagging four-star defensive end Princely Umanmielen, this day did not deliver on the promise Gator fans had hoped it would. It started early when Alabama athlete Dee Beckwith chose Tennessee over the Gators. That was not a huge surprise, and neither was Ashaad Clayton sticking with his Colorado commitment after officially visiting Florida last month. However, around mid-day the tide had officially turned against the Gators when Rivals100 safety Avantae Williams, who had been considered a strong Florida lean coming into the day, announced he was signing with Miami. Dan Mullen’s staff would also fail to flip four-star Jahmyr Gibbs from Georgia Tech, and does not meet the need at running back in this 2020 class.

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*****

Zach Evans 

Zach Evans
Zach Evans (Rivals.com)

However this saga ends, it is hard to see it finishing on a positive note for five-star running back Zach Evans. The Houston native apparently did sign with Georgia in the Early Period, but the Bulldogs never sent in his letter, effectively making that letter null and void. There was no new movement with Evans on Wednesday, though Georgia head coach Kirby Smart made comments at his signing day press conference that many took to be related to the troubled back. Smart said now that he is older and wiser he has learned not to chase prospects who do not hold the same principles as his program. There was no mention of Evans in that statement, but it is clear the five-star has limited his options with the way he has handled himself and his recruitment over the last few months.

*****

Indiana Hoosiers 

Sidney Williams
Sidney Williams (Rivals.com)

Indiana did land a nice addition from former Ole Miss offensive line commit Khalil Benson on Wednesday. However, the Hoosiers were blindsided by a couple blows few saw coming. The Hoosiers came into the day feeling very good about landing Sidney Williams, the No. 35-ranked safety prospect in the 2020 class, only to see Florida State make a late offer to Williams on Wednesday morning and stealing his commitment away. Even more disappointing was the news that started to break shortly after that co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach Mark Hagen expected to take a job on Tom Herman’s staff at Texas. Head coach Tom Allen has done good things with that program since taking over in Bloomington, but it has to feel like every time he takes a step forward the Hoosiers get dealt a blow back.

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