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Storylines to know with Signing Day around the corner

The final push to Feb. 6 and National Signing Day is upon us with the dead period coming to a close this weekend, college coaches heading back on the road and prospects lining up their final official visits over the next four weekends.

There’s not much fat left on the bone with roughly 77 percent of all prospects putting pen to paper during the Early Signing Period in December, but there is still plenty of big names and interesting recruitments to follow down the stretch.

TWO 5-STARS IN PLAY

Of the 34 recruits that hold an industry-generated 247Sports Composite five-star grade, two remain in the nation’s No. 1 defensive tackle Ishmael Sopsher and the country’s No. 1 offensive tackle Darnell Wright.

For Sopsher, who checks in as the No. 9 prospect regardless of position, he looks SEC-bound with Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M among the contenders down the stretch. The Tigers have long been the 247Sports Crystal Ball favorite while the Crimson Tide have always been considered the biggest legitimate threat, if not considered the leader by some as well.

For Wright, who checks in at No. 10 overall, Tennessee has been consistently named as a major player and the other contestants have changed. Now it appears West Virginia may be the Vols’ biggest challenger with Georgia, North Carolina and possibly the Tide in the mix as well.

MORE BLUE-CHIPPERS TO FOLLOW

There are only four more uncommitted prospects in the Top100 of the Top247 Composite Player Rankings.

The recruitment of Concord (Calif.) De La Salle Top247 linebacker Henry To’oto’o will be settled this month following official visits to Tennessee this weekend and then Alabama the weekend of Jan. 25. Washington rounds out the top three and USC and Oregon are in play but the Tide and Vols have been considered the two major players much of the cycle and Nick Saban and company are trending on the 247Sports Crystal Ball.

The nation’s No. 4 running back Jerrion Ealy decommitted from Ole Miss earlier this month and Clemson has quickly trended on the Crystal Ball. Mississippi State has long been in the thick of this one too for the promising baseball player that could hear his name called very early in the Major League draft.

Florida or Georgia has been the buzz for quite some time regarding the No. 7 cornerback in the country Kaiir Elam.

The Gators, Auburn and Penn State are battling it out for the country’s No. 3 athlete Mark-Anthony Richards who is also a Hurricanes legacy.

COMMITTED, BUT NOT DELIVERED

There’s no question college recruiting offices have been examining commitment lists from around the country checking to see who didn’t ink during the Early Signing Period.

Prominent names include …

Auburn has had the nation’s No. 7 receiver George Pickens committed since July of 2017 but he stuck to the script and didn’t sign, taking several visits to other places throughout the process. As it stands now, Georgia and Tennessee look like the biggest threats to flip the No. 2 recruit in Alabama.

The country’s No. 5 safety Nick Cross has been in Florida State’s class since September but the Nittany Lions remain strongly in the picture. Penn State probably gets an official before Cross makes a final decision. Don’t count out local Maryland as well.

The No. 5 offensive guard in the nation Doug Nester is a long-time Ohio State commit dating back to August of 2017, but Urban Meyer’s retirement has shook this one up and the Nittany Lions are making it interesting. Virginia Tech is in the picture too. Recruiting rules allow Nester to return to Columbus for another official since there has been a coaching change.

The No. 6 defensive tackle in the land Nathan Pickering has been in the fold for Mississippi State since June but he’s also made the rounds with several officials scheduled in January. Alabama is a threat, Florida, LSU, Ole Miss and Oregon are swinging to at the coveted interior lineman.

Then you have the country’s No. 9 cornerback Maurice Hampton who’s been a pledge to LSU since July of 2016. While Major League Baseball may be the Tigers biggest challenger, Auburn got an official and he’s looking into a few others as well.

Three commitments who announced their commitments in the last week that aren’t signed include USC five-star Kyle Ford, Alabama defensive end commit Khris Bogle and Florida receiver verbal Arjei Henderson. No doubt Ford’s phone is ringing after the Trojans lost offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury to an NFL coaching job, Bogle changed his mind several times down the stretch and Henderson still has an official to Florida State on the schedule later this month after checking out the Gators for the first time this coming weekend.

POLYNESIAN BOWL ANNOUNCEMENTS

The All-American Bowl had eight blue-chip recruits announce their college decision during last week’s national broadcast and Under Armour had three more do their thing on ESPN. The CBS Sports Network will carry the Polynesian Bowl on Jan. 19 and several are set to announce from Hawaii as well.

Locked in and ready to declare their next destinations are Gilbert (Ariz.) Williams Friend Top247 safety Noa Pola-Gates and Owings Mills (Md.) McDonogh School Top247 defensive tackle D’Von Ellis along with a pair of offensive linemen, Logan Sagapolu and Lokahi Pauole.

Nebraska is the 247Sports Crystal Ball favorite for Pola-Gates with Arizona State and USC rounding out the final three. Penn State is the 247Sports Crystal Ball favorite for Ellies with USC and Ohio State being two other programs that received an official visit. Oregon is the 247Sports Crystal Ball favorite for Sagapolu who also visited Utah and BYU. Sounds like San Diego State is out front for Pauole who also has Arizona State and Boise State among others.

Top247 offensive guard Enokk Vimahi could also announce with USC considered the favorite for now but Oklahoma and Ohio State trying to change that. A Polynesian Bowl official says Top247 linebacker/safety Asa Turner could also announce between Notre Dame and Washington.

COVETED 3-STARS INCLUDE

Five to know include your prototypical defensive end Smith Vilbert, versatile linebacker Christopher Russell, tight end Garmon Randolph, massive offensive tackle Dawand Jones and cornerback Jay Ward. Those five are coveted prospects among a talent pool greatly diminished because of the Early Signing Period. The Nittany Lions are considered the favorite for Vilbert with Russell looking at Arkansas, Texas and Tennessee. LSU and Ole Miss are in it to sign Randolph, the Buckeyes are battling Penn State, Oregon, Texas, USC and Florida for Jones and the Aggies and Florida State are among the group battling for Ward. There will be more that fit this description.

LAY OF THE LAND

Alabama has all but wrapped up the nation’s No. 1 class, currently sitting on 28 commits with three holding a five-star grade and 24 more sitting at four-stars. Georgia and Texas A&M round out the top three. Oklahoma has the No. 1 class in the Big 12, sitting at No. 4 overall. Clemson has the No. 1 class in the ACC sitting at No. 6 overall. Oregon is aiming for their first No. 1 class in the Pac 12 in the 247Sports era sitting at No. 7 overall. Michigan has the No. 1 haul in the Big Ten currently holding down the No. 8 spot. The Buckeyes have finished No. 1 every year dating back to 2010 but currently sit No. 3 in the league behind Penn State checking in at No. 14 nationally. However, Ohio State does have the country’s No. 3 class per average ranking per commit trailing only the Tide and Georgia. It’s just a smaller class in Columbus this cycle.

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