Nick Saban, Urban Meyer finally have five-star Signing Day competition

It’s early, but it’s not too early to make the following value judgment after the first edition of an early signing period in advance of National Signing Day on Feb. 7. 

That observation? Alabama’s Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer — college football’s unquestioned masters of recruiting — have some company on the trail for once. 

What caught our attention? 247Sports.com gave 26 recruits in the 2018 class a five-star ranking. Clemson, Georgia and Penn State combined to haul in 13 of those commitments on Wednesday, and that’s with seven players still undecided. Alabama and Ohio State, meanwhile, combined for four five-star commits. 

MORE: Clemson, Georiga hauls lead early signing day winners

Dabo Swinney, Kirby Smart and James Franklin have emerged as big-time recruiters on the national scene, and their ability to bring home that much collective five-star talent shows they can be closers, too. Why is that important? Five-star players are the difference-makers. The Bulldogs and Tigers won their conference championships this year and reached the College Football Playoff.

The Nittany Lions have been the stiffest competition for the Buckeyes in the Big Ten the last two seasons. The more difference-makers those schools pick up, the more competition will heat up even more on and off the field.

That doesn’t mean Alabama and Ohio State are in trouble by any means. 

The Buckeyes are hanging on to the No. 1 class ranking — thanks to just another banner class from Meyer’s staff — built around five-star defensive tackle Taron Vincent (IMG Academy) and Jaelen Gill (Westerville, Ohio). Ohio State’s class was great, but it could have been even better. Penn State landed five-star defensive end Micah Parsons (Harrisburg, Pa.). Clemson pulled five-star tackle Jackson Carman (Fairfield, Ohio) out of the state. Meyer faces even more challenges with every cycle, which even included some negative recruiting from Swinney.

MORE: On verge of history, Clemson takes on new role vs. Alabama

Saban, meanwhile, faces a few more. Smart, a former Saban assistant, landed a whopping six five-star commitments at Georgia this season. Swinney landed four more at Clemson. This is a board Saban typically owns — the Crimson Tide have brought in 247Sports.com’s top recruiting class every year since 2011. There’s time to beef up the class, but there’s a good chance Alabama won’t be No. 1 for the first time in eight seasons.

That’s significant. It means somebody — whether it ends up being Ohio State or Georgia — beat Alabama on the recruiting trail. Remember, this game is all about perception. The College Football Playoff pairings reinforced that one more time.

So do the recruiting rankings. Take another look at that top 10 as of now. That includes all four playoff teams and New Year’s Day Six Bowl teams such as Auburn, Miami and Penn State. It’s not a fluke. 

Georgia nailed six five-star targets in quarterback Justin Fields (Kennesaw, Ga.), running back Zamir White (Laurinburg, N.C.), defensive end Brenton Cox (Stonebridge, Ga.) linebacker Adam Anderson (Rome, Ga.), offensive linemen Cade Mays (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Jamaree Salyer (Atlanta). Four of those players are in-state products, and they even took one out of Tennessee.

Clemson grabbed the No. 1 overall player in quarterback Trevor Lawrence (Cartersville, Ga.) and surrounded him with five-star defensive ends Xavier Thomas (Bradenton, Fla.) and KJ Henry (Clemmons, N.C.). The Tigers also pulled Carman out of Meyer’s backyard. It’s impressive. 

Penn State landed Parsons along with five-star receiver Justin Shorter (Monmouth Junction, N.J.) and all-purpose back Ricky Slade (Woodbridge, Va.). Franklin recruited well at Vanderbilt. He’s on the next level with Penn State.

MORE: Coaches still figuring out early signing period

It’s all pushed up on an accelerated timeline with the early signing period. Which big-time programs will this hurt? It’s way too early to tell. But Oklahoma, Texas, Miami, Washington, Michigan and Texas A&M aren’t far behind either. Saban and Meyer remain the standard, but the challenge is staying ahead of all that competition and bringing in that blue-chip talent. 

Saban and Meyer have done that better than everybody else for years. They have company now, however, and Swinney, Smart and Franklin aren’t going away. Everybody can see that now. 

Especially those five-star recruits. 

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