College football recruiting: Six announcements to watch as 2018 National Signing Day approaches

We are now exactly one week out from the start of the early signing period, which kicks off on Wednesday, Dec. 19 and runs through Friday, Dec. 21. It is a new landmark on the recruiting calendar that has quickly surpassed the first Wednesday in February as the most important date of the recruiting cycle. There will still be a handful of highly regarded prospects that wait until February to make their final decisions, but the bulk of college football talent will be locked up in December and some huge decisions are on deck.

Here are six college commitment announcements that are coming on or before the early signing period that will most dramatically shape the 2019 recruiting cycle.

Four-star QB Jayden Daniels (Cajon High School, San Bernardino, CA)
Announcement: Thursday, Dec. 13

The No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the country is done with a wildly productive high school career and threw for 4,500 yards, 60 touchdowns and four interceptions as a senior while also rushing for another 1,500. He has a host of Pac-12 schools chasing him with Arizona State carrying the most momentum into signing day. UCLA, Utah and Cal are also involved with a quarterback that throws one of the prettiest deep balls in the country.

Five-star DE Kayvon Thibodeaux (Oaks Christian, Thousand Oaks, CA)
Announcement: Saturday, Dec. 15

The No. 2 player in the country, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, is a prototypical pass rushing monster with an elite ceiling. He's taken fall official visits to Alabama, Florida State, Oregon and Florida. He's got the personality of a kid that is willing to blaze his own path and it appears that Oregon has positioned itself best as an upstart program that he can help take to the next level during a historic recruiting cycle under Mario Cristobal. We wouldn't put it past Thibodeaux to surprise us though.

Five-star DE Zach Harrison (Olentangy Orange, Lewis Center, OH) 
Announcement: Wednesday, Dec. 19

The biggest athletic freak in the class of 2019, Harrison is all of 6-foot-6 and runs a 10.7 100 meter as a defensive end. He's raw but he's got special upside and has attracted all of the blue bloods of college football. Michigan appears to have the edge with signing day approaching, but he lives in the shadow of the Horseshoe near Ohio State and now that there is clarity on the head coach situation, the Buckeyes may be poised for a late charge. Penn State is also heavily involved in this one as it's been a three-team race throughout the fall.

Five-star OT Evan Neal (IMG Academy, Bradenton, FL)
Announcement: Wednesday, Dec. 19

Neal is the Orlando Brown of the 2019 class. He's just an enormous human being that has the feet and physicality to dominate at offensive tackle. Ranked as the No. 20 player in the country, Miami may be the biggest contender here to steal him away from an Alabama staff that has really charged of late and appears to be the favorite. An official visit to Georgia last weekend is also worth keeping an eye on as Sam Pittman has been a miracle worker on the recruiting trail at offensive line for the Bulldogs.  

Five-star RB Trey Sanders (IMG Academy, Brandenton, FL)
Announcement: Wednesday, Dec. 19

One of the safest bets in the class of 2019 as a big and physical but versatile and explosive back, Sanders was once committed to Alabama very early in the process only to back out of the pledge and explore his recruitment. Now it appears Alabama could be positioning to land him once again. If it doesn't, perhaps Florida -- where his brother is on the roster -- will be able to snag him, or maybe Georgia did enough in hosting him last weekend for an official visit to convince him to add to the strong recent running back lineage there. Texas is also a dark horse candidate here and has some quiet optimism.

Five-star LB Nakobe Dean (Horn Lake High School, Horn Lake, MS)
Announcement:
Wednesday, Dec. 19

Ranked as the No. 14 player in the country and the No. 1 inside linebacker, Dean is really smart, really athletic and a big time striker. He's also the rare highly regarded prospect in the state of Mississippi that has appeared to be very open to leaving the state. Even with Ole Miss charging, this one still feels like a battle between Georgia and Alabama. Georgia has long been considered a leader, but Alabama may have inched ahead as his decision approaches. Along with the Rebels, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M are all giving chase.

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The new challenge for college programs in the early signing period is not navigating roster numbers or scholarship offers, but rather navigating coaching changes. With the head coaching carousel spinning, so too is the coordinator carousel and that results in some major uncertainty for prospects signing early. Here are three coordinator moves that are going to have a major impact on recruiting.

1. Kliff Kingsbury to USC as offensive coordinator. The USC logo was looking a little less shiny after a five-win season and Clay Helton job security questions, but the hire of Kingsbury buffed it right back up in a hurry. During a cycle in which the west coast features a host of really talented pass-catchers, many of whom were already committed or trending towards USC, Kingsbury's arrival delivers some confidence and credibility to that offense and should help USC sign Puka Nacua, Kyle Ford and Bru McCoy, which would make up this cycle's best receiver haul.

2. Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley to Maryland as coach. We can be totally certain about one thing with Maryland's hire of Locksley: he is going to recruit and recruit well. He has recruited well at Alabama and his departure could loom large with the recruitment of RB Trey Sanders. It could also make vulnerable some Alabama commits like Washinton D.C. native Keilan Robinson and safety Demarcco Hellams. Locksley just added Hellams' high school coach, Elijah Brooks, to his staff to oversee the running backs.

3. Florida State offensive coordinator Walt Bell to UMass as coach. Bell doesn't necessarily represent a seismic shift in the recruiting department at Florida State, but he does play a significant role in the quarterback department. Sam Howell, Florida State's quarterback commit and a North Carolina target, was recruited specifically by Bell even back to Bell's days at Maryland. Now that Bell is no longer in the picture, the Seminoles have to re-recruit him as Mack Brown charges from Chapel Hill and others jump in and try to poach. Howell has said he won't sign during the early signing period, opting instead to simply enroll in January at the school of his choosing.  

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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