There's a strange sense of calm that has replaced the tumult typically associated with college football recruiting this time of year.
The arrival of a December signing period has removed much of the suspense from the traditional national signing day that takes place on the first Wednesday of February. About three-quarters of the top 250 high school football prospects already have signed , according to a composite ranking of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports.
While college coaching staffs around the country have spent the last few days making final sales pitches as they attempt to complete their recruiting classes, the atmosphere isn't nearly as hectic as before.
"It does feel a little less frantic,'' said Barton Simmons, the director of scouting for 247Sports. "I think there's still plenty of drama surrounding some of the bigger names and more elite prospects in this class, but the general frenetic pace that we're used to - the chaos of the final weekend - is definitely taken down a notch or two.''
There's something else different about this recruiting season: For the first time in several years, Alabama might not land the nation's top class.
Alabama has posted the nation's No. 1 class, according to the 247Sports Composite, each of the last seven years but currently ranks sixth in the team standings. Simmons said the reigning national champions still have a remote chance at finishing first in the recruiting standings but added it would "be a pretty big upset'' if anyone other than Ohio State or Georgia ended up No. 1.
Georgia already has signed seven players rated as five-star prospects by Rivals and remains one of the top contenders for Tyson Campbell, a five-star cornerback from American Heritage in Plantation, Florida. Rivals director of recruiting Mike Farrell said if Georgia signs eight Rivals five-star prospects, it would match the record set by Southern California's 2004 class.
Some of the five-star recruits in that 2004 USC class included eventual first-round NFL draft pick Keith Rivers and second-round selections Fred Davis and Deuce Lutui.
Still, Alabama remains one of the main stories heading into the final days of the recruiting season because it remains in play for many of the top uncommitted recruits.
"Alabama's interesting because they're involved with all the (uncommitted) five-stars but not the favorite for anybody,'' Farrell said. "But you know they could pull one or two of them easy.''
Some things to watch as the remaining unsigned high school seniors prepare to finalize their college decisions.
FOCUS ON FLORIDA: The top three uncommitted prospects are all from the state of Florida. Patrick Surtain Jr., a cornerback from Plantation American Heritage, appears to have LSU and Alabama atop his list. Offensive tackle Nicholas Petit-Frere of Tampa's Berkeley Prep is considering Florida, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Alabama. Campbell, also from American Heritage, is choosing among Georgia, Alabama and Miami.
TALENTED TEAMMATES: In addition to the Surtain-Campbell duo from American Heritage, there's another set of unsigned high school teammates with five-star rankings. Quarterback JT Daniels and wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown of Mater Dei in Santa Ana, California, have verbally committed to Southern California and are expected to sign with the Trojans this week. Daniel had been considered a 2019 prospect before announcing in December he would graduate from high school a year early to start his college career.
USC'S RISE: The additions of Daniels and St. Brown could be part of a big week for USC. The Trojans are currently 11th, but Simmons believes they could end up in the top five. USC remains in play for cornerbacks Olaijah Griffin (the No. 28 overall recruit in the 247Sports Composite) and Isaac Taylor-Stuart (No. 32) and wide receiver Devon Williams (No. 40) among others.
MONITORING NEW COACHES: This later signing period is most important for new coaches who didn't have much time to contact recruits before the December signing period. Florida State's Willie Taggart and Tennessee's Jeremy Pruitt have been particularly busy lately trying to upgrade classes that had been ranked outside the top 50 about six weeks ago. Florida State had moved up to 15th and Tennessee had risen to 20th as of Monday morning, but both could move even higher.
LESS FLIPPING: This normally is the time that numerous verbally committed players suddenly change their minds and sign elsewhere, but the early signing period has made that less of a February event. Most of the recruits who were going to back out of commitments already have done so. ``That's one of the things that make it less hectic than before,'' Farrell said. There are still a few potential candidates who could flip. Outside linebacker Quay Walker (No. 31) has committed to Alabama but is being pursued by Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn. Outside linebacker Otis Reese (No. 87) has committed to Michigan but also is considering Georgia.