11Alive Sports offers up a continuous, real-time blog of Early Signing Day occurrences affecting UGA, Georgia Tech, the SEC, ACC and other prominent colleges inside the state of Georgia.
We'll also have a Signing Day tracker in this piece, separating the Early Signing candidates (Wednesday through Friday of this week) by their school of choice.
WEDNESDAY -- 6:30 p.m.
In a post-early signing day press conference, UGA Head Coach Kirby Smart summed up the day and the players acquired, saying: "It was a good day for us. got a lot of good Bulldogs. We have a few spots left and we have a few targets left that we want to go after."
But it wasn't too far into the presser that Smart addressed what was on everyone's minds: What about Justin Fields?
Reports indicate that the freshman quarterback plans to transfer from the Bulldogs program in the coming weeks.
Smart said Fields has been practicing, "working very hard," and still plans to play in the upcoming Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Nevertheless, Fields is "looking at his options."
"We have been very open and honest that we want him to stay," Smart said.
Here's what else he had to say about Fields' decision.
WEDNESDAY – 2:58 p.m.
Another tense hour on the #EarlySigningPeriod clock for UGA, another top-ranked player in the fold.
Wednesday afternoon marked Nakobe Dean's time to assume the spotlight of choosing a school for the foreseeable future; and the Mississippi native made the most of his star turn, reaching into an Air Jordan box during the announcement ceremony ... and gracefully pulling out a red Georgia shirt.
With this move, the Dawgs landed the highest-ranked inside linebacker on Rivals.com's Big Board, with Dean earning an overall tally of 19th nationally.
Only a small handful of linebackers accrued '5-star' status with Rivals this year, and Dean leads this exclusive pack at 6-feet tall and 215 pounds.
In case you're scoring at home ... Georgia has signed or garnered commitments from the Class of 2019's highest-ranked defensive end (Nolan Smith) and center (Clay Webb), along with Top 100 talents such as Travon Walker (defensive end), Kenny McIntosh (running back), Lewis Cine (safety) and receiver Dominick Blaylock.
WEDNESDAY -- 2:29 p.m.
Let's take a brief respite from the recruiting hysteria ... to recall the downside of blindly projecting high school kids for college greatness.
Look at Rivals.com's top-20 listing of pro-style quarterbacks from 2016.
The group breaks down to one 5-star prospect (former UGA star Jacob Eason, now with Washington), a slew of 4-star passers (including Stanford's K.J. Costello, Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins and South Carolina's Jake Bentley) and one noteworthy talent from the 3-star bin (Notre Dame's Ian Book).
But alas, it's hard to find many bankable college stars among this cluster of athletically gifted, but ultimately middling talents.
Especially in the top 10. Check this out:
Feleipe Franks (Florida)–Two-year starter with a completion rate below 57 percent. Franks accounted for 29 touchdowns this season, but also looked dreadful in back-to-back losses to Georgia and Missouri.
Austin Kendall (Oklahoma)–Seldom cracked the Sooners' starting lineup, lagging behind Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray. Only 39 career passes.
Brandon Peters (Michigan)–Showed small flashes of potential greatness last season; but attempted only two passes in 2018, the result of trailing Shea Patterson on the depth chart.
Patrick O'Brien (Nebraska)–Has attempted only 30 college passes (recent transfer to Colorado State), with zero career touchdowns.
Messiah deWeaver (Michigan State)–His entire career with the Spartans entailed zero passes and four rushes for minus-1 yard. Ouch.
Jack Allison (Miami)–Never got off the bench with the Hurricanes. Transferred to West Virginia and has a decent chance of becoming the starter in 2019
Jake Zembiec (Penn State)–Zero career passes at the college level.
WEDNESDAY -- 1:19 p.m.
Well, so much for the SEC trending downward, on the whole.
Roughly six hours into the Early Signing Period, Rivals.com has four SEC programs (Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, LSU) commandeering the top four slots of the national recruiting rankings, relative to the Class of 2019.
And at No. 5, there's Clemson (four straight trips to the College Football Playoff) ... which carries itself like an SEC powerhouse year after year after year.
The SEC is also well-represented in the next cut of national recruiting prowess, with seven member programs (Arkansas, Tennessee, Florida, Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Ole Miss) claiming spots in Rivals.com's top 25.
WEDNESDAY -- 12:44 p.m.
It wasn't all puppies and rainbows for the UGA football staff on Wednesday.
Lanier High quarterback Zach Calzada, Rivals.com's 22nd-ranked pro-style passer, sided with Texas A&M over Georgia ... the result of a hotly contested battle between the programs.
In fact, Cazalda even marveled over how UGA had made great strides with its recruiting pitch in the final days, perhaps as a means of compensating for the transfer loss of freshman Justin Fields, formerly a 5-star dual-threat prospect.
Had Calzada signed with UGA, it would have immediately sparked a debate of which incoming freshman would be deemed as the proverbial 'quarterback of the future,' whether it involved waiting one or two years behind Jake Fromm.
But as we've stated all week with the Fields pieces, in today's instant-gratification world, it's doubly hard for big programs to corral multiple 4- or 5-star quarterbacks in the same class, or even over back-to-back campaigns.
As such, Calzada will anchor A&M's highly touted recruiting class, which has a national-ranking range of second to fifth overall.
WEDNESDAY -- 10:37 a.m.
This just in: Kirby Smart isn't messing around, folks.
Justin Fields' purported transfer after just one season will undoubtedly be a loss to the UGA football family.
However, it might not be a mitigating factor on the field, now that Georgia has rebounded with a surprise coup at the quarterback slot.
On Wednesday, the first day of the Early Signing Period, Dwan Mathis–the No. 2-ranked dual-threat quarterback, according to Rivals.com–verbally flipped his commitment from Ohio State to Georgia, siding with the Bulldogs earlier in the morning.
Within this stunning turn of events, it's fair to wonder if the rampant rumors of Fields transferring to Ohio State played a part in Mathis' change of heart.
If that's the case, Georgia just brokered an eye-for-an-eye swap at the backup quarterback slot ... while putting one more year of distance between Mathis and entrenched starter Jake Fromm.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Mathis, the pride of Oak Park, Mich. (suburban Detroit), sidestepped the litany of opportunities within the Big Ten (Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State, Minnesota) to make the move to Athens.
WEDNESDAY – 9:27 a.m.
The Georgia Bulldogs signed 12 players in essentially the first 2 1/2 hours of Wednesday's Early Signing Period; and as part of that mix of big-time talent, the Dawgs welcomed their coup-de-grace signing of Nolan Smith--the top defensive end in the Class of 2019 (according to Rivals.com).
Rivals has Smith listed as the No. 5 prospect in the nation, whereas some publications have Smith pegged for No. 1.
Either way, the IMG Academy alum (Bradenton, Fla.) could be a devastating addition to the UGA defensive line in the coming years, perhaps cracking the Bulldogs' already-deep rotation in Year 1.
According to Rivals, Smith turned down Alabama, Clemson, Florida and LSU to secure the connection with Georgia, which will face Texas in the upcoming Sugar bowl. At 6-foot-3, 228 pounds Smith is blessed with great speed of the edge, quick feet, raw power and a body control that's typically uncommon in growing teenagers.
WEDNESDAY -- 8:12 a.m.
Georgia launched the day by formally announcing the signings of O-lineman Clay Webb (the nation's top center) and 4-star wideout Dominick Blaylock, who just finished his senior campaign at Walton High School in Marietta.
Throw in the JUCO additions of DJ Daniel and Jermaine Johnson, and the Bulldogs are off to a flying start ... with plenty of surprises likely in store.
WEDNESDAY -- 6:33 a.m.
If you're in metro Atlanta today, here's the tentative schedule of big-name signings at The Battery area of SunTrust Park (Sports @ Social restaurant):
9:30 a.m. -- QB Zach Calzada (top candidates: Texas A&M, UGA)
10 a.m. -- QB Jordan Yates (Georgia Tech)
11 a.m. -- O-lineman Harry Miller (Ohio State)
OTHER EXPECTED SIGNING CEREMONIES
DE Chris Hinton (Michigan)
LB Owen Pappoe (Auburn)
WR Dominick Blaylock (UGA)
TE Ryland Goede (UGA)
WEDNESDAY -- 6:06 a.m. EST
This should be one heckuva news cycle involving UGA football today, factoring in the grand expectations for Early Signing Day and coach Kirby Smart's anticipated comments regarding Justin Fields' purported transfer.
Here a few Fields-related stories to tide you over, before all the craziness of Early Signing Day kicks in:
MONDAY -- 3:32 p.m. EST
At this moment, Georgia ranks third nationally with Rivals' team recruiting rankings for 2019, highlighted by the verbal commitments of four high-end talents:
DE Nolan Smith -- Rivals' top-ranked defensive end (No. 5 overall)
OL Clay Webb -- Rivals' top-ranked center (No. 23 overall prospect)
DE Travon Walker -- Four-star prospect (Ranked 40th nationally)
WR Dominick Blaylock -- Four-star prospect (52nd nationally)
About National Signing Day:
WHEN DID NATIONAL SIGNING DAY BEGIN?
The modern-day incarnation of this coveted date on the college football calendar launched in February 1982, after the College Football Association (along with high-profile coaches) successfully lobbied for a universal date for all NCAA football institutions.
Since then, National Signing Day has essentially covered the first Tuesday or Wednesday of February; and within this uniformity, the TV networks (read: ESPN) found a way to market the coverage of the event ... not unlike how ESPN transformed interest in the NFL Draft in the early 1980s.
WHEN DID EARLY SIGNING DAY BECOMING A THING?
We're entering Year 2 of this three-day window in December, where high school seniors can officially sign with their schools of choice before the Christmas and New Year's holidays.
DOES EARLY SIGNING DAY BENEFIT PLAYERS OR COACHES MORE?
For the kids, especially those participating in winter sports at the prep level (basketball, wrestling), Early Signing Day allows them to clear their plate of potential distractions during recruiting season.
But wouldn't a simple, solid verbal agreement for a school have similar cachet?
On the surface, yes. But if you've spent five minutes covering college football at the highest level, you'd know that NOTHING's official ... until the student-athlete signs on the dotted line.
For the coaches, it's baffling to see how this measure ever got majority-rule approval, since it can be a major distraction from bowl season -- particularly the schools competing in the upcoming College Football Playoff (Oklahoma-Alabama in the Orange Bowl ... Clemson-Notre Dame in the Cotton).