Teams competing for the national championship this season got good news well before the College Football Playoff — even if they didn’t have much time to celebrate.
The early signing period opened Wednesday with three playoff teams — Clemson, LSU and Ohio State — landing eight of the nation’s top 16 prospects according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports.
They worked to sign those recruits while preparing for playoff matchups, one consequence of the early signing period that arrived two years ago. Ohio State faces Clemson and LSU meets Oklahoma in the CFP semifinals on Dec. 28.
“You have 14 guys coming in mid-year, you have award shows to go to and, by the way, once you get off the road you have two weeks to prepare to play Clemson,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “That’s a very stressful time. But it is what it is and we’re keeping our head down and going.”
Those busy schedules haven’t stopped the usual suspects from reaching the playoffs and topping the recruiting rankings each year.
Many of the elite recruits that didn’t choose LSU, Clemson or Ohio State are instead heading to Alabama and Georgia, two other recent playoff participants. Those five programs have commitments from about half the top 50 prospects.
Clemson tops the 247Sports Composite team recruiting rankings and was followed in order by Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and LSU as of early Wednesday evening. Oklahoma’s class was ranked ninth.
“More teams are recruiting at an elite level,” said Barton Simmons, the director of scouting for 247Sports. “Usually, it’s one, two or three (teams) tops. This cycle there’s legitimately four or five teams recruiting at a national championship level.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he needed a big recruiting haul as he attempts to replace a senior class that is trying to help the Tigers win their third national title in four years.
“When you graduate players like that, you better have quality coming in the door,” Swinney said.
Clemson signed seven of the nation’s top 29 prospects according to the 247Sports Composite. That included No. 1 overall recruit Bryan Bresee, a defensive tackle from Damascus, Maryland.
Ohio State’s class features wide receiver Julian Fleming (No. 2) and offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. (No. 7). The Buckeyes landed the top uncommitted quarterback Wednesday when C.J. Stroud (No. 87) chose Ohio State.
LSU signed two of the nation’s top 12 recruits in tight end Arik Gilbert (No. 9) and cornerback Elias Ricks (No. 12).
The top two uncommitted prospects to sign Wednesday were Upland (California) linebacker Justin Flowe and Columbia (South Carolina) defensive end Jordan Burch. Flowe, ranked fourth overall, picked Oregon. Burch, the nation’s No. 5 prospect, chose South Carolina.
Here’s a rundown of some notable events on Wednesday:
LSU WINS SOME, LOSES SOME
LSU had one of the most eventful days of any program.
The Tigers landed two previously uncommitted top-100 recruits in outside linebacker Phillip Webb (42nd) and offensive tackle Marcus Dumervil (97th) but also lost three players who had verbally committed to them.
Wide receiver Rakim Jarrett (20th) made a switch to Maryland, wide receiver Jermaine Burton (52nd) opted for Georgia and four-star safety Malcolm Greene selected Clemson.
TOP FLORIDA, CALIFORNIA PROSPECTS LEAVING HOME
Seven of the top 10 prospects in Florida according to the 247Sports Composite picked out-of-state schools. Clemson landed three of Florida’s top four recruits in running back Demarkcus Bowman (No. 16), defensive tackle Demonte Capehart (No. 24) and cornerback Fred Davis II (No. 26). The top Florida prospect is the LSU-bound Ricks.
The highest-rated California player to sign with a home-state school so far is Stanford-bound wide receiver John Humphreys, ranked 14th in the state and 114th nationally.
NO EARLY SIGNING DAY SURGE FOR USC
Southern California lost out on the top California prospect when Flowe picked Oregon over the Trojans.
USC’s class currently is ranked last in the Pac-12 and outside the top 75 nationally as the uncertain status of coach Clay Helton hindered the Trojans’ recruiting. USC still has a chance to move up in the next couple of months now that it’s announced Helton will be back next season.
“They’ve got two years of uncertainty and instability with the coaching staff and two years of disappointing seasons,” Simmons said. “That’s catching up with them. So has the emergence of Oregon and the emphasis that teams like Georgia, Ohio State and Alabama have placed in going out west.”
OHIO STATE SEPARATES ITSELF
Ohio State continued to distinguish itself from its Big Ten rivals on the recruiting trail.
As of late Wednesday afternoon, Ohio State had signed eight top-100 recruits according to the 247Sports Composite. The other 13 Big Ten teams had combined to sign six top-100 prospects.
FORGING HIS OWN PATH
All-purpose back E.J. Smith, the son of Hall of Fame running back and former Florida star Emmitt Smith, had a Gators hat on the table along with caps from various other schools as he prepared to announce his college choice.
But the top-150 recruit from Dallas Jesuit chose Stanford instead.
Smith isn't the only Pac-12 recruit with strong family connections. Colorado signed wide receiver Brenden Rice, the son of Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice.
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham, Pete Iacoelli, Paul Newberry and Mitch Stacy contributed to this report.