Signing day preview: 2023 college football recruiting storylines

ByESPN college football staff ESPN logo
Tuesday, December 20, 2022

It has already been an exciting week in college football recruiting as we lead up to the early signing period for 2023 that starts Wednesday.

Five-star quarterback Dante Moore flipped his commitment from Oregon to UCLA on Monday, and a number of transfer players have picked new schools to compete for a starting job. The high school prospects will be front and center Wednesday.

Not all recruits are announcing in December, as some will wait until February to sign, but there are some highly touted prospects ready to announce. Five-star teammates Jaquavious Russaw and James Smith are a package deal and will announce their decision Wednesday, as will defensive end Damon Wilson and cornerbacks Damari Brown and Jyaire Hill. More recruits in the ESPN 300 will pick their schools as well.

With Alabama currently sitting with the No. 1 recruiting class, there is a target on its back with Georgia, Notre Dame, Miami and Texas trying to take over.

To give you a look at what to expect Wednesday and how we got to this point, let's go through a few of the most interesting aspects of this signing period. Check out the "College Football Live: Signing Day Special" at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN2 on Wednesday.

Jump to a section:

Where things stand | Who will commit?

Breaking down the top classes | Transfer impact

6 schools with the most at stake

Where do things stand for the 2023 class?

Thirty recruits in the ESPN 300 remain uncommitted heading into Wednesday. Here's how the numbers break down:

  • 15 of the 18 five-star prospects in the ESPN 300 have committed.
  • 10 schools have at least one five-star commit (USC, UCLA, Miami, Alabama, Texas A&M, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Texas, Clemson, Iowa).
  • 44 of the top 50 prospects in the ESPN 300 have committed.
  • Alabama's 19 ESPN 300 commits lead the country, with Georgia (17), Notre Dame (16) and Florida (16) not far behind.

A trio of quarterbacks -- Malachi Nelson (No. 1), Arch Manning (No. 2) and Dante Moore (No. 3) -- are the top three overall recruits in the ESPN 300.

Nelson, from California prep power Los Alamitos High School, initially committed to Oklahoma in July 2021, but he flipped to USC when Lincoln Riley left Oklahoma to coach the Trojans.

Manning, the nephew of Peyton and Eli and grandson of Archie, set numerous program records at Isidore Newman School (Louisiana) and committed to Texas in June after also considering Alabama and Georgia.

Moore, a product of Martin Luther King High School (Michigan), initially offered his pledge to Oregon in July; however, he flipped to UCLA two days before the early signing period. He is the Bruins' highest-ranked commit since Jaelan Phillips, who was the No. 3 recruit in the 2017 class.

The cycle's top two running backs, Richard Young (No. 19 overall) and Justice Haynes (No. 21), have both pledged to sign with Alabama.

Ohio State has kept adding to its wide receiver room by hauling in pledges from Brandon Inniss (No. 30 overall), Noah Rogers (No. 69) and Carnell Tate (No. 236). Including them -- plus Jeremiah Smith, the No. 11 prospect in the 2024 class -- the Buckeyes have 13 ESPN 300 receivers since 2020. -- Blake Baumgartner

Who are the uncommitted players expected to sign?

Five-star linebacker Jaquavious Russaw, the No. 7 overall recruit, told ESPN he and Carver High School (Alabama) teammate James Smith, a five-star defensive tackle ranked No. 11 overall, are likely to commit to the same school. They both took official visits to Alabama, Georgia, Florida and Auburn.

Four-star defensive end Damon Wilson, the No. 31 recruit in the 2023 class, will decide between Alabama, Georgia, Miami and Ohio State on Wednesday as well.

Desmond Ricks (No. 17 overall), a cornerback who reclassified from the 2024 class in October, will commit to either Alabama, LSU or Florida on Thursday.

Wide receiver Karmello English (No. 82 overall) confirmed to ESPN he plans to sign with a school this week. English, who decommitted from Auburn in September, has Michigan and Kentucky atop his list.

The cycle's best athlete, Nyckoles Harbor (No. 35), and tight end, Duce Robinson (No. 36), intend on signing in February. Harbor, who doubles as a track star, took an official visit to Maryland from Dec. 9 to 11 and is also considering Michigan and South Carolina.

In addition to his prowess on the football field, Robinson is a highly regarded baseball player for Pinnacle High School (Arizona) and will weigh options there. -- Baumgartner

Which schools are vying for the No. 1 ranking?

Alabama sits at No. 1, and while maintaining that ranking is not a lock, the Crimson Tide are in good position to notch their eighth top-ranked class under Nick Saban. Whether the Tide secure the No. 1 class could come down to the commitments of five-star teammates Russaw and Smith, both scheduled to announce on Wednesday.

Though SEC foes like Florida, Auburn and Georgia are in the mix, if Alabama can land the pair, it would give Saban and his staff over 20 ESPN 300 commits (three five-stars) and widen their margin to a point that would be difficult to overcome.

Recruiting is full of surprises and anything can happen. With that in mind, the race is not over yet. A staple among the top classes -- seven straight top-three finishes and currently sitting at No. 2 -- Georgia remains a threat. If Russaw and Smith land somewhere besides Tuscaloosa and the Bulldogs can finish with a few big commits such as Wilson, then the Bulldogs could make the battle interesting.

Notre Dame has been a consistent near top of the rankings all cycle and need to get five-star safety Peyton Bowen-- who has interest from Oklahoma and other schools -- across the finish line to stay in the hunt. Even with that, though, there doesn't look to be enough remaining targets to get them to the top, however Marcus Freeman is poised to sign the Fighting Irish's highest-ranked class in a decade.

Texas recently adding five-star linebacker Anthony Hill and Miami landing five-star offensive tackle Samson Okunlola have both the Longhorns and Hurricanes in the top five and are longshot contenders to watch down the stretch. LSU, Oklahoma, Florida and Ohio State are threats to break into the top five, but a run at No. 1 at this stage is distant. -- Craig Haubert

How has the transfer portal impacted the 2023 recruiting cycle?

Installing transfer windows (Dec. 5-Jan. 18) has given coaches a more precise timeline of when they might lose players or when they can add them. For roster management, the windows allow coaches to figure out how many scholarships are available to give out to high school prospects and how many transfers they can take.

We have seen some players from the 2022 recruiting class enter the portal, including Travis Hunter, a former five-star, wide receiver Chris Marshall, corner Denver Harris and linebacker Dasan McCullough, among plenty of others. Coaches could be more inclined to go after that type of player, who already has college experience, than taking a flier on a high school recruit. Because of the sheer number of players that entered the portal -- more than 1,900 as of Monday night -- we are very likely to see a trickle-down effect for high school prospects.

Recruits who otherwise might have gone to a lower Power 5 school might not have a scholarship available now and could move down a level if their spot is taken by a transfer. The transfer market will end up taking scholarships away from the high school recruits to some degree, so it will have an impact one way or another. -- Tom VanHaaren

Which schools have the most at stake over the next few days?

Alabama: The Crimson Tide are currently holding on to the No. 1 ranked class, just one spot above Georgia. The talk of the last few years is how Georgia is beating Alabama on the field, how Texas A&M had the No. 1 recruiting class in the 2022 cycle and about Alabama's place in the SEC.

Nick Saban doesn't rest on his laurels and is going to fix any perceived problems to get his program back to the top. Alabama has a chance to hang on to the top spot, but also fend off some other big programs for a few five-stars in Russaw and Smith. If he can widen the gap from No. 1 to No. 2 by adding some more incredible talent, he's putting all of those questions about the future of Alabama to bed. -- VanHaaren

Miami:Coach Mario Cristobal left Oregon to come back to Miami with hopes that he could bring the U back to national prominence. The team went 5-7 with losses to Middle Tennessee, Duke and Pittsburgh, and seemed to regress under center in Year 1. Cristobal needs an influx of talent, and he has had a successful 2023 cycle in recruiting.

The Hurricanes currently have the No. 4 class overall with three five-star commitments from cornerback Cormani McClain and offensive tackles Francis Mauigoa and Samson Okunlola. The staff has a chance to add to the class, as corner Damari Brown is still considering Miami and announces on Wednesday, so continuing the stretch of November and December commitments would be a big deal for the staff. More importantly, adding more competition and talent to the roster to right the ship is imperative in this cycle.-- VanHaaren

Auburn:The Tigers' greatest asset in recruiting right now is their ever-expanding treasure chest of NIL clout, especially at the most important position in all of sports: quarterback. With the hiring of Hugh Freeze, Auburn will be an instantly attractive destination not only in the transfer portal, but also at the high school level.

Auburn has a chance to use this momentum and close with the likes of in-state prospects Smith and Russaw. Freeze must target multiple quarterback options, which is priority No. 1 in upgrading this roster right away. -- Tom Luginbill

Colorado:This may be the only coaching hire in which the head coach could close out the 2023 class cycle without the need for his whole staff to be entirely in place. It's all about Coach Prime. The No. 8-ranked running back in the class, Dylan Edwards, was the first domino to fall the first week of December when he flipped from Notre Dame.

Expect the transfer portal to jump-start the Deion Sanders era, though. Keep a close eye on how many current Colorado players depart the program, as this could be one of the biggest total roster flips in the portal era. The quarterback position is obviously addressed, and rest assured, nobody is safe committed or not with Coach Prime in charge. -- Luginbill

Texas A&M:It is amazing how quickly things can change. At the end of the recruiting cycle last year, Texas A&M was sitting atop the recruiting world with a No. 1 class that was being discussed among the strongest ever. A disappointing season, a flurry of players entering the transfer portal and a smaller class for 2023 has the Aggies sitting in a much different spot a year later. Only one team in the ESPN 300 era had signed the No. 1 class and failed to finish in the top 10 the next cycle (Florida, 2010-11), and given they currently sit just inside the top 20, this class would suffer the biggest drop from a previous top-ranked class.

Granted, some freshmen from last year's class showed great promise this season, and the Aggies have the fewest commits of any team ranked inside the top 20 of the class rankings, so despite the low quantity, there is quality talent (four players ranked in the top five at their positions). If they can hold on to five-star DT David Hicks and flip an additional ESPN 300 recruit or two, it will be interesting to see if Jimbo Fisher and the Aggies can reclaim some momentum on the recruiting trail they had just a year ago. -- Haubert

Maryland:Flash back to just the 2021 cycle when the Terrapins signed the No. 18 class and were creating a buzz. Since that point, their top three commits are no longer with the program. Mike Locksley's return to Maryland as a top offensive mind and elite recruiter brought with it high expectations, and the team has improved under his watch. But entering Year 5, it has yet to take the next step. A key challenge is keeping local talent at home. They did so last year in LB Jaishawn Barham out of St. Frances Academy, who had an impact freshman season. Several top prospects are leaving the area again this cycle, but the door is open for the Terps to infuse some hometown talent that can elevate this 2023 class.

They did just reel in lengthy edge defender Dylan Gooden, a key hometown pickup, and he gives their class two ESPN 300 commits in the past week, joining DE Rico Walker out of North Carolina. While the class has gotten a boost down the stretch, there are still some local targets needed to finish strong, such as recent South Carolina decommit Tosin Babalade, a powerful OL. It may take until February, but versatile elite speedster Nyckoles Harbor is a vital remaining target in the mix as well. He would be a statement addition to this class as one of the top remaining uncommitted prospects in the nation. If the Terps can close strong, perhaps they can finally take that next step as a program. -- Haubert