College football recruiting: Five storylines to watch for on National Signing Day 2018

The week is upon us, and soon the results will be in. On Wednesday, the early signing period for the class of 2019 will commence, extending until Friday, Dec. 22. It's the new reality, where recruiting classes are shaped well before the final whistle in the college football season rather than the finality of February we've been used to in years past. Here are five storylines I'm most anxious to follow this Wednesday.

Zach Harrison and what he means for Ohio State

Harrison is perhaps the most compelling announcement to watch of the 2019 cycle. His athleticism and profile as a prospect is freakish, but it's his recruitment that has everyone captivated. As a Columbus native with a five-star ranking, Harrison is the type of prospect that typically is a lock to Ohio State. But the defensive end with 4.5 speed has been pointing instead towards "The Team Up North" for most of the fall with the drama surrounding Urban Meyer's future certainly playing a factor. Now that the decision is upon us, the winds have shifted and Ohio State and Penn State are now trending in what is likely a photo finish with Michigan.

With a signing day announcement slated, Harrison's commitment is big on a number of fronts. It will be either Ryan Day's first validating win in recruiting as he tries to replace one of the greatest head coach recruiters of all time, or it could signal a new era of a recruiting mortality for Ohio State in the Big Ten. Even ignoring the significant impact Harrison can have on the actual field, this recruitment is turning into quite the momentum grab in the rugged Big Ten East given the three teams involved.

Georgia and Alabama's ongoing heavyweight bout

Alabama has beaten Georgia twice on the field -- both classics -- within the last calendar year to win an SEC championship and a national championship. Sandwiched in between those games, Georgia beat Alabama for a 247Sports recruiting national championship, ending a seven-year streak of No. 1s for Nick Saban. Now, in the class of 2019, Alabama and Georgia are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively and they are battling once again.

This week, the names to know are five-star offensive tackle Evan Neal, five-star running back Trey Sanders and five-star linebacker Nakobe Dean. While all three have other teams involved, you could make a strong case that all three are ultimately a Georgia-Alabama battle. Georgia pulling some late upsets could be the only thing keeping Alabama from returning to the No. 1 spot. Last year, Kirby Smart put together the perfect early signing period. Can he work some magic again?

Can we see a changing of the guards in the Big Ten?

In his first year at Penn State, James Franklin brought in the No. 24 ranked recruiting class. Since then, it has been a gradual climb up the national rankings. He landed the No. 14 class the following year, dipped back down to No. 20 in 2016, jumped back up to No. 15 in 2017 and peaked last February with the nation's No. 6 recruiting class. What happens over the next few days, coupled with the departure of Meyer at Ohio State, could determine if Franklin is ready to take over as the big kid on the block in Big Ten recruiting, even over Jim Harbaugh.  

I talked about Zach Harrison above. On Wednesday, Penn State added Top100 edge rusher Adisa Isaac. It also has four-star running back Noah Cain, four-star defensive tackle D'Von Ellies and four-star wide receiver Cornelius Johnson among those in its crosshairs. With a close featuring Harrison and a couple others, Penn State should creep back into the top six once again and take the Big Ten recruiting title. Without Harrison though, Penn State likely concedes the conference back to a Michigan-Ohio State battle.

Who will win the state of Florida?

Nobody seems to want the state of Florida. As we creep towards Wednesday, there's not a team out of the state of Florida ranked in the national top 10. Florida could shake things up by landing guys like Trey Sanders, and beating Miami on the likes of four-star tight end Keon Zipperer, four-star defensive end Lloyd Summerall and four-star cornerback Chris Steele out of California.

Miami has lost five 2019 commits since the beginning of December. It has lost four more in the class of 2020. It has also lost its defensive coordinator. Can the Canes right the ship by beating Florida and others on Zipperer and Summerall? Can they knock off Alabama and Georgia for five-star offensive tackle Evan Neal? Can it finish the job with five-star wide receiver Jadon Haselwood, a prospect it has been trending for since his decommitment from Georgia?

For Florida State, holding on to quarterback commit Sam Howell is a big one as North Carolina and others are charging. It could also land offensive line mauler William Putnam out of Tampa and Raymond Woodie III at defensive back. But while the Noles are currently ranked the highest among the Big 3 in Florida at No. 14 in the country, they also feel less involved in the big relevant battles as the other two.

Who is the new coach surprise?

There isn't quite the same influx of new blood in the head coaching ranks as we saw last year, but in some ways it's an even more intriguing cycle given the nature of some of the new hires. Can Les Miles' recruiting juice at LSU translate to Kansas? Mack Brown dominated in recruiting on his first go-around, does he still have it in his golden years at North Carolina? Scott Satterfield is a great coach, but Louisville fans are anxious to see if a Sun Belt guy can win recruiting battles in the ACC. How quickly can Geoff Collins resurrect a lifeless recruiting program in a vibrant recruiting territory at Georgia Tech? Mel Tucker was one of the nation's best recruiters when he was wearing Alabama and Georgia polo shirts. Will he have the same results when he throws on that Colorado logo?

Herm Edwards surprised a lot of people last year when he had one of the nation's best closes late in the process. That foretold of a good season that more people should have perhaps expected. It will be fun to see which coach does more than we expect and what that means for the future. 

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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