For the past 35 years, the first Wednesday in February — national signing day — was a red-letter day in college football. Recruits would assemble in packed high school gyms, pick among baseball caps adorned with logos of their college finalists and put pen to paper on their national letters of intent.
You will still see those scenes across the country Wednesday, just not nearly as often or with as much drama because of the new early signing period that debuted in December. During that period, many schools put together the bulk of their Class of 2018, taking the luster off the traditional February signing day.
"Essentially, 75 percent of guys who are going to sign in this 2018 class at the Power Five level signed in the early period," said Josh Helmholdt, Midwest recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.
Gophers coach P.J. Fleck embraced the early signing period, getting his entire scholarship Class of 2018 signed Dec. 20, so Wednesday won't carry the pomp and circumstance of December. Instead, the Gophers are expected to announce the group of preferred walk-ons who will join the program.
When the Gophers signed their class in December, 247Sports.com, a recruiting-focused website, ranked it 30th nationally in its composite of major media recruiting services. Entering Wednesday, that ranking had dropped to 34th, with other programs adding commitments since the early signing period. Still, that's a big jump from last year, when the Gophers' class ranked 59th after Fleck, who took the Minnesota job in early January, had only a month to assemble the group.
In the Big Ten, the Gophers entered Wednesday ranked seventh in the 247Sports composite and second among West Division teams, recently being passed by Nebraska under new coach Scott Frost.
"It's very solid class," Helmholdt said of the Gophers. "In and of itself it's not going to win a Big Ten championship, but there are pieces in this class that — combined with subsequent classes if they can do well — could win a Big Ten championship. … It's a class that can build the foundation for the future."
By completing the 2018 class early, Fleck and his staff were able to focus on 2019 recruits. The Gophers have received three verbal commitments for 2019 — Eden Prairie quarterback Cole Kramer, Owatonna athlete Jason Williamson and St. Peters, Mo., long snapper Brady Weeks — and have offered 118 players, according to GopherIllustrated.
Because of the early period, Helmholdt sees an increased emphasis on future classes when coaches hit the recruiting trail in January.
"January has turned into a very junior- and sophomore-centric recruiting period," he said, "with a much smaller pool of available talent left in the senior class."