National Signing Day for college football players started with a bit of whimsy.
Solomon Thomas, a five-star defensive end from Coppell, Texas, signed his letter of intent to attend Stanford on Wednesday seated at a table displaying a tree that symbolized the Cardinal’s mascot and wearing nerd glasses with tape in the center to signify the school’s academic reputation.
The 6-foot-2, 258-pound Thomas, ranked as one of the top players at his position in the country and No. 25 overall by 247Sports, chose Stanford over Arkansas and UCLA.
His commitment helped Stanford’s class vault to a No. 13 national ranking by 247Sports.com.
At the end of the day, Alabama sat atop the 247Sports national team rankings for the fourth consecutive year, followed by Southeastern Conference rival LSU, which moved up with a strong late push. Ohio State of the Big Ten and BCS national champion Florida State of the ACC were next.
The Crimson Tide secured commitments from three of the top-10 recruits and six five-star players. Among them were offensive lineman Cameron Robinson of West Monroe, La., defensive end Da’Shawn Hand of Woodbridge, Va., cornerback Tony Brown of Ozen, Texas, athlete Bo Scarbrough of Tuscaloosa County, Ala., and cornerback Marlon Humphrey of Hoover, Ala.
“The biggest challenge for all these guys is how do they develop as a college football player,” Alabama coach Nick Saban told ESPN. “I think that’s a challenge for us and for them, and I think that’s something our staff has done a really good job of in the past.”
The SEC dominated the team rankings with seven schools in 247Sports’ top 10. In addition to Alabama and LSU, Texas A&M was at No. 5, Auburn at No. 6, Tennessee at No. 7, Georgia at No. 8 and Florida at No. 9.
The other non-SEC school in the top 10 was Notre Dame at No. 10.
In addition, the Crimson Tide’s 27-man signing class marks the third consecutive year in which it finished No. 1 in the ESPN rankings.
Also in Alabama’s class was standout linebacker Rashaan Evans, who spurned hometown school Auburn for its bitter rival.
Auburn posted a profile of Evans, the top-ranked outside linebacker in the county, on its website on Wednesday morning before taking it down when it became apparent that he was going to Alabama.
“With all of the schools, it really wasn’t a bad decision for me,” Evans said. “All of them are great schools and I really just had to pick the best school for me.”
All was not lost for Auburn. The Tigers landed four-star offensive lineman Braden Smith of Olathe, Kan., the nation’s No. 3 guard prospect, in a recruiting battle with Texas A&M and TCU. They also grabbed four-star defensive end Andrew Williams, who went with Auburn over Georgia and Clemson.
LSU pulled off a coup by landing five-star wide receiver Malachi Dupre of River Ridge, La., ranked the No. 2 receiver in the country. He went with the Tigers on signing day over Florida State, Ole Miss, Alabama and UCLA.
“I had a lot of opportunities and places I could’ve taken my talents, but I thought it was best I stay here,” Dupre said.
The centerpiece of LSU’s class was running back Leonard Fournette, rated as the No. 1 prospect in the nation. LSU coach Les Miles told CBSSports.com that Fournette could play in the Tigers’ opener against Wisconsin next season.
Ohio State, by far the Big Ten leader on all recruiting lists, apparently lost out on a potential flip when five-star defensive end Malik McDowell of Southfield, Mich., committed to conference champion Michigan State over the Buckeyes, Florida State and Michigan. But Rivals.com reported that there are questions concerning McDowell’s signing.
“It was really stressful,” McDowell said. “I took a lot of input from my family. I listened to what they said, but I had to make my own decision.”
McDowell made a late visit to Ohio State and his parents lobbied had against him signing with a school in his home state of Michigan, turning to the media to express their concerns.
“He showed me a lot today, he stood firm and didn’t back down from anything,” McDowell’s father, Greg, said, according to the Detroit Free Press.
The Buckeyes’ top recruit was five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan of Hinesville, Ga.
Florida State reaped the rewards of a national title with a class that included five-star wide receiver Ermon Lane of Homestead, Fla., who chose the Seminoles over Alabama and Florida; offensive tackle Roderick Johnson of Hazelwood, Mo., the No. 24 overall prospect, and defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, rated No. 7 at his position.
Texas A&M landed two of the top 10 overall — No. 2 Myles Garrett, a defensive end, and No. 8 Speedy Noil, a wide receiver. Tennessee signed a huge class of 33 highlighted by 16 four-star players.
Florida received a boost when dual-threat, four-star quarterback Treon Harris of Miami flipped from Florida State to the Gators.
“He was confident with his decision, but it came down to the last minute,” his high school coach and father, Tim “Ice” Harris, told USA Today. “It was hard because even when you’re telling another coach the bad news, they’re making last-minute pitches to get him to change his mind.”
Georgia picked up an early surprise commitment from four-star wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, who was expected to choose among Florida, Ole Miss and Virginia Tech. McKenzie decided to follow running back Sony Michel, his high school teammate in Plantation, Fla., to Georgia after the Bulldogs extended an offer on Monday.
Georgia solidified its class with five-star defensive end Lorenzo Carter of Norcross, Ga., the No. 18 overall prospect who had Florida State, Florida and LSU as his finalists.
The Bulldogs also flipped three-star tight end Hunter Atkinson with a late recruitment. Atkinson had committed to Cincinnati last month.
Southern Cal claimed three highly regarded undecided players and rose to No. 11 in 247Sports’ rankings.
Cornerback Adore’e Jackson of Gardena, Calif., was rated No. 1 at his position and No. 7 overall; 6-4, 370-pound Damien Mama of Bellflower, Calif., was the top-rated guard and 6-1, 200-pound Juju Smith of Long Beach, Calif., was the No. 3 athlete and No. 20 overall.
UCLA landed four-star linebacker Kenny Young, the No. 17 inside linebacker, out of New Orleans. The Bruins were one of three Pac-12 teams in the top 20, coming in at No. 19. Oregon was just outside at No. 21.