College football recruiting: Everything you need to know as early signing day approaches

The common tie that bonds together the top teams in the College Football Playoff Rankings is, predictably, talent. Among the top five program the 247Sports Composite rankings for team talent, four of them are in the top five of the College Football Playoff Rankings. All of the top five have rosters that fall inside the top eight of recruiting talent. It is fitting, then, that as these programs jostle and position for postseason invitations, they are also trying to finish off the recruiting classes that will keep them in the hunt for years to come.

The Early Signing Period for college football takes place between Dec. 18-20 this year. Less than a month away, those three days will be the most important days of the recruiting calendar in college football. The more old-school National Signing Day in February 2020 will tie up some loose ends, but it's December when the heavy lifting is done. In 2018, close to 80 percent of FBS signees were December signees. So as this year's playoffs are decided on the field, the playoff landscape of the future is going to be crystalizing on the recruiting trail. 

Here's what you need to know to set the stage for Dec. 18.

The race for the No. 1 class

Clemson: Coming off of a national championship season, Clemson is currently ranked No. 1 in the 247Sports Composite team rankings and is pacing towards potentially one of the highest-rated classes of all time. It's a class that features the No. 1 player in the country (DE Bryan Bresee), the No. 1 quarterback (DJ Uiagalelei) and five of the nation's top 30 players, according to the 247Sports Composite. Clemson is also in strong position to land two more top-five commits and could conceivably finish with four of the nation's top five players.

LSU: Fueled by its recent surge on the field, LSU has emerged as the top contender to challenge Clemson's recruiting supremacy this cycle. The Tigers shocked the nation when they landed five-star tight end Arik Gilbert out of Georgia a few weeks ago, and that helped propel the Tigers to No. 2 in the team rankings with some more out-of-state steals potentially in store.

Alabama is in the unfamiliar position of playing from behind given the Clemson and LSU's banner cycles, but the Crimson Tide remain in striking distance. They flipped five-star USC quarterback commit Bryce Young earlier this fall to help position themselves for the future offensively, and they have five-star commits out of Texas (OLB Drew Sanders) and Maryland (DE Chris Braswell) to go along with in-state defenders Quandarrius Robinson and Demuoy Kennedy knocking on the door.

Ohio State: Ryan Day is proving that he has the chops to keep the Buckeyes recruiting at an Urban Meyer-esque pace, and it's led by the best wide receiving group in the country this cycle. Ohio State also has the nation's top offensive tackle committed (Paris Johnson Jr.) and is hunting down the nation's top uncommitted quarterback in CJ Stroud.

Georgia's class sits at No. 5, and while there is a gap between the Bulldogs and the top four, Georgia is also one of the programs with the most upside down the stretch. Five-stars from the West in CB Kelee Ringo, TE Darnell Washington and LB Noah Sewell could give some major juice and add to a class that is already boasting one of the best offensive line hauls in the nation.

Top uncommitted prospects

DE Jordan Burch (Columbia, SC): The No. 2 player in the country, Burch has been very guarded about his recruitment. He's in South Carolina's backyard, but the 247Sports Crystal Ball favors Clemson. Alabama and LSU have both received official visits this fall, and Georgia is also in play so this one has all the heavy hitters taking swings.

RB Zachary Evans (Houston, TX): Long considered the top running back in the country, Evans has found some competitors for that title, but his recruitment should remain among the most dramatic. LSU has emerged of late, but Evans has shown that he's not above surprising everybody.

LB Trenton Simpson (Charlotte, NC): There's not a lot of drama surrounding Simpson. It appears that he's North Carolina-bound, but as one of the top defensive prospects in the country and a former Auburn commit, he's a great representation of the surge that Mack Brown has given Chapel Hill in football recruiting.

TE Darnell Washington (Las Vegas, NV): At 6-foot-7-plus, 260 pounds-plus, Washington is perhaps the biggest athletic freak in a 2020 class with plenty of them. Despite his Western roots, he's trending towards the southeast with Georgia currently the favorite on the Crystal Ball, but Alabama, Florida, Miami, Tennessee and Oregon are all heavily involved.

LB Noah Sewell (Orem, UT): The younger brother of star Oregon left tackle Penei Sewell, Noah is a Devin White-style linebacker who is massive but can really run. He was trending towards the SEC but a recent visit to Oregon has reenergized Oregon's pursuit of him and the Ducks are currently the trending team here.

The race to be the No. 1 prospect

DT Bryan Bresee (Clemson commit): Rashan Gary, the Bosa brothers, JJ Watt. These are a few of the reasonable comparisons for Bresee, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound edge rusher with outstanding feet and the physicality to move inside if asked. He's been the No. 1 player for the majority of the 2020 recruiting process and has never wavered, but talented players are surging to catch him.

QB DJ Uiagalelei (Clemson commit): He's nearly 6-foot-5, nearly 250 pounds, is a major league baseball prospect, can throw the football 80 yards and has plays at one of the top high school programs in the country. Uiagalelei is a JaMarcus Russell-level talent without the off-the-field baggage, and he's poised to keep Clemson strong at the quarterback position.

QB Bryce Young (Alabama commit): A one-time USC pledge, Young is the new era quarterback that lacks size but has instincts, arm talent and courage as a thrower that will remind Tide fans of a right-handed Tua Tagovailoa.

DE Myles Murphy (Clemson commit): Another edge rusher heading to Clemson, Murphy has special edge speed but is also sturdy enough at 260 pounds to be a factor in the run game early in his college career as well.

OT Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State commit): More of an outside-the-box candidate, Johnson plays a premium position at offensive tackle and possesses special length and athleticism. He is still relatively raw but has an athletic ceiling on the offensive line that could put him as high as the first name off the board in the NFL Draft some day.  

CBS Sports Writer

Barton Simmons has been involved in college football and recruiting since 2000, first as a player and then as a reporter and analyst. As a player, he was a two-time All-Ivy League safety at Yale before... Full Bio

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