Since 1981, the first Wednesday in February has been the date when it comes to college football recruiting. Coaches would scurry to get the commitments from high school players in order, and the recruits would sign their letters of intent on National Signing Day.

But that’s all changing, and come next month, the recruiting world will go through a seismic shift.

The NCAA in April approved an early signing period for college football, which will run Dec. 20-22. There still will be a signing period that begins the first Wednesday in February (Feb. 7, 2018) and runs through April 1, but expect a lot of fireworks on Dec. 20.

“It’s going to be interesting. It’s the first time around for everybody,” said Ryan Burns, publisher of GopherIllustrated.com, a website with a recruiting focus. “We’ve been talking about this in the recruiting community amongst each other, and what is going to happen? I’ve talked to numerous college coaches, and they’re unsure as well. They’re unsure if they want to sign their full class [on Dec. 20].”

One coach who is sure he wants to sign his full class — or as close to full as he can get — on Dec. 20 is the Gophers’ P.J. Fleck, who sees the early signing period as beneficial. “For us, it definitely does [help],” Fleck said Tuesday on KFXN-FM. “I would like to see it even earlier.”

The Gophers have received 23 verbal commitments. Burns expects three or four more players to commit, and that all but possibly one or two will sign on Dec. 20. He said getting players signed early will protect the Gophers from higher-profile programs luring away recruits.

“There have been many instances over the six, seven years I’ve been covering that a kid committed in December, but once it comes to January ‘helmet’ schools like Florida State have come in and flipped commits,” Burns said. “If you were able to get them signed in December, you wouldn’t have to worry about any of this.”

Fleck sees another big benefit from getting his Class of 2018 all but finished in December. He then could concentrate on the Class of 2019.

“If the signing day is in February, you’re still working on your ’18s,” he said. “You can get all your ’18s done Dec. 20 and now all of the sudden, January can be truly dedicated to my 2019 class. That’s priceless to me.”

Burns said locking in the class before the new year would be quite the change in Minnesota. “The previous regimes, in terms of Jerry Kill and Tracy Claeys, they were always using those two or three weeks before signing date to fill their class,” he said.

While Dec. 20 is a huge date, the weekend of Dec. 8-10 is big, too, for Fleck and the Gophers. All 23 of the players who have verbally committed, plus up to a dozen more, are scheduled to visit.

“It’s going to be the largest official visit weekend in the history of the University of Minnesota Golden Gopher football program,” said Burns, who expects 30 to 35 recruits. “They want to get the entire recruiting class on campus to spend time with one another.”

To fit the entire class, there will have to be some scholarship openings. “Minnesota only has 17 or 18 spots available,” Burns said. “… I think you’re going to see some transfers after the season pretty quickly.”

Said Fleck, “It’s going to be an interesting finish for us.”

 

Randy Johnson covers college football for the Star Tribune. Twitter: @RJStrib E-mail: rjohnson@startribune.com