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AAC Signing Day Round Up

The first Wednesday of February is the traditional signing day. That doesn’t mean as much as it used to, but there is still plenty to take away now that 2022 classes are settled.

NCAA Football: Cotton Bowl Classic-Cincinnati at Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

National Signing Day used to be a national holiday. From the moment you woke up until the very end of the day, recruiting news was constant. Who is signing where? What program flipped a top commitment? It was incredibly entertaining.

That’s changed now, though. The early signing day was added in mid-December, and everything changed with that decision. The idea of that was to allow players to sign early, so recruits didn’t have to deal with being recruited as long and could get to campus sooner. This makes things much harder for first year coaches, who only have a couple of weeks, at the most, to recruit their entire class. Add in the transfer portal and the world of recruiting is in another galaxy.

Still, National Signing Day is a landmark day. Players do sign on it, and teams finish up their classes. At this point, the players a class has are the ones who they’re bringing in this year. Trends can be found, and conclusions can be drawn. So, let’s dive into takeaways from each AAC team’s recruiting class.


Cincinnati

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=2nd in AAC, 51st overall (1st in recruiting, 6th in transfers), ESPN=1st in AAC, 32nd overall, On3=1st in AAC, 44th overall

Key Recruits

  • Mario Eugenio, edge rusher-Listed as a four-star recruit, Eugenio chose the Bearcats over teams like Michigan and Iowa State. This Under Armor All-American has been favorably compared to UCF’s Tre’mon Morris-Brash.
  • JQ Hardaway, cornerback-Hardaway is a four-star corner with excellent length, looking to continue the legacy of great Cincinnati corners. Another Under Armor All-American, Hardaway held 28 different offers.

Key Transfers

  • Ben Bryant, quarterback-Bryant originally played at Cincinnati. Then, he transferred to Eastern Michigan so he could compete on the field. Now, he’s back and very well could be Desmond Ridder’s successor.
  • Nick Mardner, wide receiver-With Alec Pierce moving onto the NFL, there is room for a new top receiver at Cincinnati. Mardner, one of the players who left Hawaii due to the Todd Graham Scandal, could fill that role.

Team Takeaways

  • Cincinnati continues to dominate recruiting. Between their trip to the College Football Playoff and Big 12 call-up, no one is surprised.
  • While the Bearcats didn’t ignore the transfer portal, they clearly feel that they’re in a good spot to recruit good players and develop them. For now, the transfer portal is to find stopgaps and fill in holes.
  • Fickell and staff are still dominant in recruiting Ohio
  • A freshman quarterback and a transfer quarterback are coming in with this class. That would imply it’s an open competition, or the staff wasn’t ready to turn over the reigns to Evan Prater without that competition.

Recruiting Trends

According to 247 Sports, four of the last five Cincinnati classes have been the top class in the AAC. Being able to do that, as well as develop an identity, is what got Luke Fickell and company where they are today.

NCAA Football: East Carolina at Central Florida Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

ECU

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=8th in AAC, 94th overall (7th recruiting, 8th transfers), ESPN=unranked, On3=8th in AAC

Key Recruits

  • Jacob Sacra, offensive line-Sacra is a three-star recruit with good size coming in to play tackle at ECU. He held eight offers, including five Power Five offers.
  • Samuel Dankah, linebacker-Dankah is a 6ft 4in linebacker from Virginia. A three-star prospect, Dankah was underrecruited for his potential.

Key Transfers

  • Jaylen Johnson, wide receiver-The Georgia transfer, Jaylen Johnson has been in Athens since the 2018. Now, the former walk-on has a chance to shine at ECU.
  • Parker Moorer, offensive line-The trenches have been a weak point for ECU, but this West Virginia transfer should help on the offensive side.

Team Takeaways

  • ECU isn’t taking a quarterback in 2022. That’s not ideal, but with Holton Ahlers returning they have another season to develop the quarterbacks already on their roster.
  • North Carolina is a tough state to recruit in, just because of how many FBS teams there are in the state, but the 94th overall class is low given recent on-field success.
  • The Pirates probably could have used the portal more to fill gaps on their roster.

Recruiting Trends

ECU isn’t an easy place to recruit to, especially given that their 2021 campaign was the first that ended in bowl eligibility since 2014. Since Mike Houston has been there, he has put together a 7th ranked (2019), 6th ranked (2020), and 8th ranked (2021) classes at ECU. This year, the Pirates are 8th again. That’s not exactly trending up, but Houston has made it work so far.

NCAA Football: The American Athletic Conference Championship-Houston at Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Houston

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=3rd in AAC, 56th overall (2nd recruiting, 7th transfers), ESPN=3rd AAC, 55th overall, On3=3rd AAC

Key Recruits

  • Matthew Golden, wide receiver-Golden is a four-star wide receiver from Houston, Texas who is staying home. He chose the Cougars over teams like TCU, Baylor, and Arkansas.
  • Demetrius Hunter, offensive line-Hunter is a four-star prospect, likely to play guard for the Cougars. Houston out-recruited Oklahoma to land him.

Key Transfers

  • Jamal Morris, linebacker-Morris is a transfer from Oklahoma, who was a four-star prospect in the Class of 2019. He has experience at safety, which makes him great for rover type positions.
  • Joseph Manjack, wide receiver-Manjack returns to his home state of Texas, after having gone to USC. An elite athlete, Manjack was also a sprinter on the track.

Team Takeaways

  • Houston has all the means to be the best recruiting team in the AAC every season, Dana Holgorsen is starting to take advantage of that.
  • Joining the Big 12 doesn’t hurt a recruiting class.
  • Houston is going quarterback-less, but they have plenty of wide receivers coming in the 2022 class

Recruiting Trends

Holgorsen’s time in Houston hasn’t been easy, between gambling on redshirting the team’s seniors in 2019, then the pandemic in 2020, things didn’t look good. Recruiting struggled too, as the 2020 class was 5th, while the 2021 class was just 7th. The consensus is that the Cougars brought in the third ranked class this year, with their Big 12 peers.

NCAA Football: Nicholls State at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=4th in AAC, 63rd overall (4th recruiting, 4th transfers), ESPN=4th AAC, 69th overall, On3=4th AAC

Key Recruits

  • Joshua White, defensive line-A three-star defensive lineman who chose Memphis over Missouri and Arkansas among others, White should help boaster the Tigers defense.
  • Tevin Carter, quarterback-Carter was expected to go to Georgia Tech, but he chose Memphis over those Yellow Jackets in the end. Carter was an Elite 11 quarterback.

Key Transfers

  • Joseph Scates, wide receiver-Scates comes to Memphis from Iowa State. A former four-star recruit, Scates rarely saw action but was explosive when he got his opportunities.
  • Geoff Cantin-Arku, linebacker-Coming over from Syracuse, Cantin-Arku should be able to help the Memphis defense immediately.

Team Takeaways

  • Different recruiting services will have slight differences in their rankings, but Memphis is pretty much universally fourth in the AAC.
  • The top of Memphis’ class is defense heavy, likely trying to fix a weak point on the roster,
  • Memphis is in between a lot of key recruiting locations, and it’s hard to pin down a pipeline for the Tigers. Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee remain key for the Tigers, though.

Recruiting Trends

Fourth is pretty good in the AAC right now. That means they’re the top team not leaving for the Big 12. It does still feel like a step back from Ryan Silverfield’s first two classes, though, which were both second in the conference.

NCAA Football: Navy at Memphis Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Navy

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=11th in AAC, 144th overall (11th recruiting, unranked transfers), ESPN=unranked On3=11th AAC

Key Recruits

  • Christopher Calhoun, quarterback-Calhoun chose Navy over both Air Force and Army, which is a big deal. The triple option is difficult to run. Your quarterback needs to make quick decisions and take a beating while doing so. Otherwise, the offense will collapse on itself. Calhoun has every capability to be the next great Navy quarterback.
  • Gracen Bell, tight end-At 6ft 6in tall, Bell has massive size for the tight end position. That’s not something Navy usually benefits from, though. He should be able to play right away and his size could give Navy a legitimate red zone threat in the air.

Team Takeaways

  • For the most part, you can ignore Navy in recruiting. Seriously, they’re completely different from any other AAC team. They have to recruit players who are able to get into the Naval Academy and want to join the United States Navy. At the same time, those players have to be good enough to compete at the Division I level. That’s a microscopic pool of players.
  • Navy is adding several quarterbacks and athletes as they look to have their offensive production take off.
  • No transfers are coming into the Naval Academy, so Navy isn’t impacted as much by that particular rule change.

Recruiting Trends

You really can’t judge Navy against the AAC. You have to judge them against the other academies. In 2022, for instance, Air Force finished ahead of Navy overall, but Army came in behind.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

SMU

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=6th in AAC, 75th overall (6th recruiting, 3rd transfers), ESPN=unranked On3=5th AAC

Key Recruits

  • RJ Maryland, tight end-A four-star tight end, Maryland chose SMU over Boston College and 23 other schools. Look for him to fit into the Mustangs’ passing attack, similar to how Grant Calcaterra.
  • Pierre Goree, safety-Goree is a three-star safety from Duncanville, Texas who collected 18 different offers, including 10 P5 teams. SMU needs help preventing big plays, and Goree might be a long-term solution to that problem.

Key Transfers

  • Beau Corrales, wide receiver-Coming home to Texas from North Carolina, Corrales should be able to help replace the receivers SMU is losing to the NFL.
  • Joshua Moore, wide receiver-Another receiver to help with attrition at the position, Moore is a former four-star coming over from Texas.

Team Takeaways

  • SMU, given its location and recent success, should be able to recruit better than the middle of the AAC. However, between the Big 12 expansion and a coaching change, SMU didn’t take as many people as they likely wanted to.
  • SMU loaded up on wide receivers, tight ends, and offensive linemen. Not so much on the quarterbacks or running backs.
  • Sonny Dykes was a master of the transfer portal, and it looks like his former offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee is going to invest in the portal too.

Recruiting Trends

It’s hard to judge trends with a first year head coach. However, there are a few keys to look out for going forward at SMU. Can Rhett Lashlee wall off Dallas-Fort Worth and get key recruits from the area? Will he continue to use the transfer portal liberally? As conference realignment takes off, can SMU rise to the top of the AAC?

NCAA Football: Temple at East Carolina James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Temple

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=10th in AAC, 117th overall (9th recruiting, unranked transfers), ESPN=unranked On3=9th AAC

Key Recruits

  • Jackson Pruitt, offensive lineman-An interior offensive lineman, Pruitt has a great frame that he can build strength on. A three-star prospect, Pruitt had 33 total offers.
  • Corey Yeoman, linebacker-It’s been a while since Temple was Temple Tuff. Yeoman has a chance to be a part of a larger culture change in Philadelphia now, choosing Temple over UMass and Coastal Carolina among others.

Key Transfers

  • James Faminu, offensive lineman-Faminu is a 6ft 6in offensive tackle transferring into Temple from Houston. He has multiple years of eligibility.
  • Dominick Hill, cornerback-A cornerback transferring in from South Carolina, Hill was originally a three-star recruit from Orlando. As a recruit, he had held offers from just about everyone in the Southeast.

Team Takeaways

  • Temple is unranked by 247 Sports’ transfer rankings, despite having three listed incoming transfers. This is likely due to how new that system is, and is likely to change.
  • Stan Drayton got an extremely late start due to when he was hired. Don’t hold this poor class against him. Next year will show how he’s doing.
  • While most of Temple’s recruits are from the Northeast, the Owls are also attacking Florida.

Recruiting Trends

Right now, it’s impossible to say what direction recruiting is trending at Temple. There just isn’t enough information to even get an idea of how Drayton wants to build the roster. It would only make sense to add more transfers after Spring practices when players will want to look for new homes again.

NCAA Football: Houston at Tulane Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Tulane

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=7th in AAC, 78th overall (5th recruiting, 5th transfers), ESPN=unranked On3=6th AAC

Key Recruits

  • Blake Gunter, tight end-It was a bit of a surprise when Gunter chose Tulane over Ole Miss, but it was a huge win for the Green Wave. A three-star recruit, Gunter should fit well into Tulane’s system.
  • Maxie Baudoin IV, defensive line-First off, how wonderfully Louisiana is the name ‘Maxie Baudoin IV?’ He was actually expected to go to Auburn, but he chose Tulane out of 22 different offers.

Key Transfers

  • Lawrence Keys III, wide receiver-A wide receiver originally from New Orleans, Keys III found some success at Notre Dame. He should be able to come in and provide a spark to the offense almost right away.
  • Ashaad Clayton, running back-A former four-star recruit, Clayton went to Colorado in the Class of 2020 but is on the move back home to New Orleans. With him comes four years of eligibility and track speed.

Team Takeaways

  • Tulane is a team in perfect position to get transfers coming home. New Orleans is full of talent, but keeping that talent home to go to Tulane can be a challenge. The one time transfer rule can help bring back homesick players or players who just need a fresh start in a familiar setting.
  • Tulane dipped into South Florida for another quarterback.
  • The Green Wave seem to be recruiting Texas harder than Louisiana. This actually matches what LSU does, just on a smaller scale.

Recruiting Trends

Tulane has a ton of great natural recruiting advantages, but it also has its own challenges that other AAC schools don’t deal with on the same scale. That’s part of where their lack of historic success comes into play. Fritz has been in New Orleans for a while now. So, there are no excuses in recruiting. Other than 2020, when Tulane finished third in the conference, the middle of the pack is where you can expect the Green Wave to finish up.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Oklahoma State Brett Rojo-USA TODAY Sports

Tulsa

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=10th in AAC, 123rd overall (10th recruiting, 9th transfers), ESPN=unranked On3=10th AAC

Key Recruits

  • Keith Wheeler, wide receiver-Tulsa added Wheeler, a three-star receiver from Texas. He held five offers, including Kansas and Houston.
  • Cardell Williams, quarterback-Williams is a three-star quarterback from Texas. He’s raw for right now, but could develop into a solid starter under Montgomery’s guidance.

Key Transfers

  • Jayden Simon, defensive lineman-Simon is coming to Tulsa as a transfer from Colorado. He has excellent size and should be able to play in replacement for Jaxon Player, who transferred out.

Team Takeaways

  • Being 111th for recruiting coming off back-to-back bowl seasons is...bad. Frankly, no AAC team should be worse than 100 unless they’re going through a coaching change. That’s a fundamental failure by Philip Montgomery’s staff.
  • Tulsa has only brought in one transfer to this point. That seems like it might be a mistake, as there are talent gaps to fill. Tulsa, also, could be a good in-between school for good low-level players moving up and former P5 players who want playing time.
  • This recruiting class leans on the offensive and defensive lines. Those have been Tulsa’s strength in recent years, and it looks like that’s Montgomery’s plan for the future too.

Recruiting Trends

Tulsa is a small school in a state without a ton of recruiting talent. That’s not easy to recruit to, but recent success should help. It hasn’t, though. In 2021, they were 11th in the AAC, 10th in 2020, and 10th in 2019. The last time they had a class better than 100th, it was 2018 and they were 97th. Imagine how good Tulsa could be if they figured out how to recruit?

NCAA Football: Connecticut at Central Florida Mike Watters-USA TODAY Sports

UCF

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=1st in AAC, 38th overall (3rd recruiting, 1st transfers), ESPN=2nd in AAC, 49th overall, On3=2nd AAC

Key Recruits

  • Nikai Martinez, cornerback-Martinez is a local prospect who decided to stay home and play for UCF over teams like Auburn and South Carolina. He held 15 total offers.
  • Quan Lee, wide receiver-Gainesville native Quan Lee chose UCF out of 29 offers, most notably Miami. A track athlete, Lee could very well be the next great UCF wide receiver.

Key Transfers

  • John Rhys Plumlee, quarterback-Plumlee lost his job at Ole Miss to Matt Corral. Now, he’s on the move to UCF, where he should be an elite dual threat in Gus Malzahn’s system. He’ll also play baseball at UCF.
  • Kobe Hudson, wide receiver-Hudson said that Auburn coach Bryan Harsin kicked him off the team after the two had a disagreement. Last season, he was Auburn’s best receiving option.

Team Takeaways

  • Gus Malzahn is hitting the transfer portal hard. He’s also done it incredibly successfully. The question is whether or not this is just something he’s doing to bring in his players quickly, or if this is how he will always approach recruiting in the modern era.
  • It’s worth pointing out that UCF had a quiet National Signing Day. Malzahn’s wife, Kristi Malzahn has been hospitalized for the last three weeks, and Gus Malzahn has reportedly spent most of his time with her in the hospital. It’s possible this changed his approach to signing day-not that anyone is judging that choice. Family is more important than football.
  • UCF’s new recruiting strategy has been to turn Orlando into “The State of Orlando.” This class was pretty successful in doing so too. That’s a stark contrast to Josh Heupel, who struggled to recruit the state of Florida.

Recruiting Trends

This is only the second class Malzahn has had anything to do with at UCF, and it’s his first class that he recruited entirely on his own. So, trends are hard to find, but this was a good class compared to a lot of recent classes and it was much better than Heupel’s classes.

NCAA Football: Houston at South Florida Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

USF

Class rankings by recruiting service: 247 Sports=5th in AAC, 74th overall (8th recruiting, 2nd transfers), ESPN=unranked On3=7th AAC

Key Recruits

  • Michael Williams, linebacker-A recent addition to the class, Williams is a three-star linebacker who chose USF over UMass, Arizona State, and others. The Bulls struggled on defense, where he should provide support.
  • Jhalyn Shuler, linebacker-Another linebacker, Shuler comes to USF from the JUCO ranks. He had five offers, including one from Texas Tech. The hope is that he can come in and help right away.

Key Transfers

  • Ajou Ajou, wide receiver-Coming over from Clemson, Ajou looks to help the USF wide receivers take the next step. Out of high school, he drew comparisons to Allen Robinson.
  • Jatorian Hansford, edge rusher-USF needs help to fix their struggling defense. Hansford, who is transferring in from Missouri, could help give the Bulls the edge rush that they need.

Team Takeaways

  • Jeff Scott knows the pressure to win is on now. It’s been two years of relative failure. Now, he needs to show proof of concept. So, he is bathing in the transfer portal to try and find solutions to what ails the Bulls.
  • Fixing issues on the defense seems to be the primary goal of this class that Jeff Scott put together.
  • It’s still surprising how few players from the Tampa area are signing with USF. At some point that has to change, right?

Recruiting Trends

Jeff Scott has been with USF for two seasons now. 2022 represents his second fully recruited class. It was a step back from 2021, which had been a major step forward from 2020. That leaves them in the middle of the AAC pack. That’s probably about where USF belongs too. After all, The Bulls are still catching up in terms of facilities, but have a great location.

Final AAC Recruiting Thoughts

  • The three teams leaving for the Big 12 dominated in recruiting. To a certain extent, that’s to be expected. Players know they’ll soon be playing in the P5. On top of that, the teams who got invites to the Big 12 have had lots of recent success and have heavily invested in football. So, they should recruit well anyways.
  • Recruiting is not the only way to judge a team’s talent. It also matters how well you develop that talent. Some coaches and programs are better at developing talent. Some are better at recruiting. Very few do both well. Those are the unicorns.
  • Remember that some teams recruit players based on their needs, how they think a player will fit their system, and a million other factors that recruiting rankings don’t take into account.
  • An individual recruiting ranking really doesn’t matter. Those are based on how someone scouted a high school player. They’re volatile. However, in the aggregate, the teams who recruit better tend to win more.
  • Throw away Temple and SMU’s classes. First year head coaches shouldn’t be judged on those.
  • Who is positioning themselves for the most success in the new AAC? It feels like a fight between Memphis and SMU.
  • Don’t think that we’re done seeing players transfer. This Summer, following Spring practices, is going to see another rash of transfers leaving and joining different programs.