Cincinnati’s rise to national prominence and overall strength of the American Athletic Conference attracted an array of impressive new talent to East Carolina’s major foes last Wednesday during college football’s early signing period.
Both the Bearcats and Central Florida signed prospects that earned them spots among the top 50 classes in the nation, which marks just the second time in league history that has occurred. Cincinnati landed its highest rating ever at No. 37 in the rankings compiled by 247Sports.com, while the Knights checked in at No. 41. The AAC also had two schools among the top 50 last year for the first time when Cincinnati was No. 45 and Memphis was No. 47.
Of course, those rankings are subject to change between now and the traditional signing period next February as schools pursue the remaining unsigned prep prospects, junior college graduates and the mass of talent in the NCAA Transfer Portal.
While we wait for those transactions to occur, here’s a brief look at the early signing period highlights for all 11 of the current AAC football playing programs.
National rankings: No. 37 by 247Sports.com; No. 37 by Rivals.com; No. 45 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Signed 19 players and added one transfer during the early period. … Prospects come from 10 different states, including eight from Ohio. … Class includes one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, three offensive linemen, six defensive backs, two defensive tackles and two defensive ends. … Nine of the signees will enroll for the spring semester in January. … Four players backed off pledges to Cincinnati and signed elsewhere – linebacker Melvin Jordan (Oregon State), wide receiver Randy Masters (UNLV), wide receiver Eian Pugh (Illinois) and safety Mumu Bin-Wahad (West Virginia).
Names to remember: The Bearcats beat out the likes of Michigan, Miami, Oregon and Wisconsin for consensus four-star defensive end Mario Eugenio (6-3, 245), who is regarded as one of the nation’s best pass rushers in the 2022 class. Cornerback Jonquis “JQ” Hardaway (6-2, 190), the Bearcats’ first signee from Alabama, and defensive tackle Derrick Shepard (6-3, 305) were also ranked among the top 25 nationally at their positions.
Portal power: After a season in which Cincinnati cycled through multiple kickers, Cincinnati grabbed Ryan Coe from Football Championship Subdivision Delaware out of the NCAA Transfer Portal to compete for the job. Coe finished 2021 tied for 21st among FCS kickers with an 82.4% field-goal rate and was perfect on extra-point attempts.
Still waiting on: Three-star tight end Danny Lewis, who was the MVP of his state title game in Louisiana, committed to Cincinnati in September. But with offers coming in from Florida and Nebraska in early December, Lewis decided to wait until the traditional signing day in February to make his final choice.
Coach said it: “We are excited and happy about the class we got. I think we have nine high school guys and one transfer that will be in here as of January 10 to be involved in all of our winter workouts and spring football which gives us and those guys a big advantage to see if they can help us early on, especially with the amount of seniors we are losing.” – Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell.
National rankings: No. 41 by 247Sports.com; No. 44 by Rivals.com; No. 41 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Signed 15 players, including one transfer. … Of 14 high school signees, 10 are from the state of Florida. … Class features three wide receivers, two defensive linemen, two linebackers, two cornerbacks, one offensive linemen, one quarterback, one running back, one tight end and one safety. … Four of the signees will enroll for the spring semester in January. … The Knights flipped four players from other FBS programs – running back Xavier Townsend (Iowa State), defensive end Jamaal Johnson (Miami), wide receiver Quan Lee (Miami) and tight end Grant Stevens (Coastal Carolina).
Names to remember: Cornerback Nikai Martinez (5-11, 170) is a consensus four-star prospect from the talent-rich area in Apopka, FL, that has produced literally dozens of NFL players in the last decade. Martinez has started in the Apopka High secondary since his freshman year and was courted by college heavyweight such as Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame and Penn State among others. The aforementioned Quan Lee (6-0, 175), who holds a four-star rating from 247Sports.com, will be a candidate to start immediately for the Knights at one of the receiver positions.
Portal power: The Knights added an important piece to their blocking corps by landing 6-7, 290-pound offensive lineman Tylan Grable from FCS Jacksonville State. Grable, who began his college career at tight end, earned all-league and All-America status last season for the Gamecocks. He’ll arrive just in time to compete for a starting job at one of the vacant tackle spots.
Still waiting on: Offensive tackle Leyton Nelson gave a verbal commitment to the Knights back in August, but called the staff just before signing day to say he wouldn’t be joining the class just yet. Nelson has not decommitted. Although with head coaching changes occurring at Florida, which originally recruited him, and Miami, he may be waiting around to gauge any new interest from those schools before signing in February.
Coach said it: “First of all, just very excited about our first class. We signed 15 players. They’re big-time players. I think most of them have a chance to play in the NFL. They’re super young men. It’s one of the best classes in school history. Could end up being the best. We talked about laying the foundation. Really feel like we have a class when we go into the Big 12 next year we think we’ll be in super shape with these guys right here.” – UCF coach Gus Malzahn
National rankings: No. 59 by 247Sports.com; No. 67 by Rivals.com; No. 61 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Signed 10 players, including three from the junior college ranks. … Eight of the 10 hail from Texas. … The class features two cornerbacks, two offensive linemen, two wide receivers, one defensive end, one defensive tackle, one linebacker and one tight end. … Six of the signees will enroll for the spring semester in January. … The Cougars flipped five players who were originally committed to other FBS schools – wide receiver Matthew Golden (TCU), offensive lineman Demetrius Hunter (Oklahoma), wide receiver C.J. Nelson (SMU), JUCO defensive end Nadame Tucker (South Alabama), JUCO defensive tackle Asi Langi (Maryland).
Names to remember: The Cougars signed three of the top-10 highest ranked prospects in school history. Heading that esteemed list is consensus four-star receiver Matthew Golden (6-0, 190), who also has LSU and Texas among his suitors. Golden is a phenomenal athlete who decided at the last minute to stay home and play his college football. Offensive lineman Demetrius “Pancake” Hunter (6-2, 300) is another four-star recruit that could fill an immediate need at center. Rounding out the trio is Moses Alexander (6-3, 185), who is rated the No. 2 cornerback in the junior college ranks by 247Sports.com.
Portal power: He wasn’t listed along with Houston’s 2022 signing class, but wide receiver Brice Johnson (6-0, 190) announced via Twitter on Dec. 8 that he’ll be joining the Cougars as a transfer from Mississippi. Johnson is a former Ole Miss walk-on who started his college career at Navy. He saw limited action for the Rebels, but could provide some depth at Houston.
Still waiting on: Texas defensive lineman Quardale Patt made his verbal pledge to Houston in June over offers from Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, SMU, Tennessee and Toledo. Patt, however, didn’t make Houston’s early signing list by the time the period ended Dec. 17. All recruiting sites still list him as committed to the Cougars, but no reason has been given publicly for his absence on signing day.
Coach said it: “We’ll end up signing, probably, 22 or 23 more on top of what we have. This is a good start. We didn’t set a true number that we felt like we had to have. So there is going to be another recruiting opportunity the second week of January when we’ll bring more people in. How many depends on how many are available.” – Houston coach Dana Holgorsen
National rankings: No. 63 by 247Sports.com; No. 57 by Rivals.com; No. 71 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Signed 15 players, including five transfers. … Only three of the signees are from Tennessee. … The class features three defensive backs, three defensive linemen, three linebackers, three offensive linemen, one running back, one tight end and one quarterback. … Ten of the signees will enroll for the spring semester in January. … The Tigers secured commitments from five members of their signing class between Dec. 12 and 15. … JUCO offensive lineman Terrence McClain and JUCO cornerback Ladarian Paulk both revealed their decision on signing day.
Names to remember: Rivals.com awarded four stars to Joshua White (6-4, 275) from Ellenwood, GA, and ranked him the nation’s No. 20 strongside defensive end prospect. White missed a good chunk of his senior year with an injury, but his size and explosion coming off the edge still had schools such as Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Mississippi State, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio State, Ole Miss and Tennessee extending scholarship offers.
Portal power: Two key performers were snared from the transfer portal by Memphis. The Tigers got a late-morning surprise on signing day when wide receiver Joseph Scates (6-2, 200) announced via Twitter he was transferring in from Iowa State. Scates caught 16 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns in three seasons with the Cyclones. Then, 72 hours after signing day, linebacker Geoff Cantin-Arku of Syracuse used Instagram to reveal his intentions to join the Tigers next season. Cantin-Arku had been a starter at times and played regularly for the Orange before entering the transfer portal with two games left in the 2021 season. He had 104 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and five sacks in two seasons.
Still waiting on: Roswell, GA, quarterback J.C. French and Cleveland, TN, wide receiver Destun Thomas held signing ceremonies at their respective schools, but are not on the official signing list released by Memphis.
Coach said it: “The Memphis Football program just got a lot better today. We are excited about the addition of these great student-athletes. These young men will have bright futures on the football field, in the classroom and in our community. The future here is very bright.” – Memphis coach Ryan Silverfield
National rankings: No. 71 by 247Sports.com; No. 68 by Rivals.com; No. 68 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Signed 18 players, including three transfer players who are New Orleans residents. … Six of the signees are from the state of Louisiana. … The class features one quarterback, two running backs, four wide receivers, a tight end, two offensive linemen, five defensive linemen, one linebacker and two defensive backs. … Defensive back Cadien Robinson intercepted seven passes as a senior at Rockwall (TX) High and returned three for touchdowns.
Names to remember: Blake Gunter, a 6-3, 230-pounder from Madison, MS, is rated the No. 19 tight end nationally by Rivals.com. Arkansas, Florida State, Mississippi and Tennessee were among the programs pursuing Gunter, who averaged 16.3 yards per catch during his career at Madison Central High. Forty-eight hours after signing day, the Green Wave scored a major coup in landing in-state defensive lineman Maxie Bandoin IV (6-3, 290). Bandoin didn’t even have Tulane among his top 10 schools back in April, and appeared headed to Auburn. But a late charge by the Green Wave brought the three-star prospect to New Orleans.
Portal power: The Green Wave were very active in the transfer portal, securing four players from other Power Five conference programs. The two most significant are wide receiver DeaJaun McDougle (5-11, 175) from Maryland and defensive lineman Patrick Jenkins (6-2, 293) from TCU. Jenkins was a four-star prospect coming out of high school and played in 18 games for the Horned Frogs. McDougle saw limited action with the Terrapins, but was a big-play maker at Deerfield Beach High in Florida where he was a teammate of current Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt. Green Wave coach Willie Fritz called both “impact” players during his signing day press conference. Tulane also added wide receiver Lawrence Keys III (5-11, 180) from Notre Dame and running back Ashaad Clayton (6-0, 200) from Colorado.
Still waiting on: Three-star defensive lineman Jacob Holmes, from Chandler, AZ, had six Power Five conference offers before committing to Tulane on Nov. 13. Although still listed as committed to the Green Wave on the various recruiting websites, he isn’t on the school’s official list of early signees.
Coach said it: “We feel like we signed an excellent class. With rankings, you never know about those things, but this is one of the higher ranked classes Tulane has had. We signed student-athletes from six different states. We always recruit nationwide. We’ve got some really good guys signed up to play on the defensive line.” – Tulane coach Willie Fritz
National rankings: No. 76 by 247Sports.com; No. 71 by Rivals.com; No. 91 by On3.com.
By the numbers: The Pirates signed 17 players, including three graduate transfers, two junior college transfers and a prep school prospect. … The recruits represent seven different states. … Eleven of the signees are scheduled to enroll in January for the spring semester. … The class features two running backs, one receiver, five offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, one linebacker, four defensive backs and a punter.
Names to remember: Running back Marlon Gunn Jr. (5-10, 199) and offensive lineman Jacob Sacra (6-5, 295) were both heavily recruited by prominent programs other than ECU. Gunn considered offers from California, Virginia, Florida State, Purdue, SMU and TCU, and even made a late visit to Cal before picking the Pirates. Sacra listed Boston College, Maryland, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Virginia among his choices. Perhaps the most exciting athlete in the class is Brock Spalding (5-11, 180), a record-setting receiver from Virginia.
Portal power: The Pirates made some significant additions from the NCAA Transfer Portal, adding offensive lineman Parker Moorer from West Virginia, punter Dave Chapeau from Air Force and defensive lineman Shaundre Mims from Charleston Southern. Mims, the older brother of incoming ECU freshman defensive lineman C.J. Mims, was an FCS All-American in his final year at Charleston Southern. Moorer appeared in 20 games with the Mountaineers and made five starts. He should compete for a starting job with the Pirates. Chapeau didn’t get to punt at Air Force, but averaged 43 yards per boot as a prep senior.
Still waiting on: Every player verbally committed to ECU signed a letter of intent. The Pirates did, however, lose a significant talent late in the process when Power Springs, GA, receiver Kaleb Webb backed off his pledge to ECU just 10 days before the signing period. Webb, rated a four-star prospect by 247Sports.com, wound up signing with Tennessee.
Coach said it: “”This is the beginning of this year’s class. You’ll see us add possibly a couple of guys before January and the spring semester starts. I think you’ll probably see us add more in May. I think (it) will be an ongoing process.” – ECU coach Mike Houston
VIEW SAMMY BATTEN’S EARLY SIGNING DAY ANALYSIS FOR ECU: SURPRISES, DEPTH HIGHLIGHT EARLY RECRUITING HAUL
National rankings: No. 86 by 247Sports.com; No. 95 by Rivals.com; No. 78 by On3.com.
By the numbers: New SMU head coach Rhett Lashlee signed nine players, eight of whom are from the state of Texas. … The Mustangs lost five committed players before the regular-season finale after the departure of head coach Sonny Dykes to TCU. … Two of those, wide receiver Jordan Hudson and safety Chance Biddle, were the two top-ranked non-quarterback prospects committed to SMU since 1987. … The early signing group features a quarterback, wide receiver, two offensive linemen, three defensive linemen and two defensive backs.
Names to remember: Pieree Goree (6-1, 220) is rated the No. 52 safety nationally by 247Sports.com and committed to the Mustangs over offers from Arkansas, Indiana, Purdue and others last summer. Goree, who has been timed at 10.5 seconds in the 100 meters, stuck with SMU through the coaching change. The Mustangs added 6-5, 210-pound three-star defensive end Trey Fite on signing day. Fite was first committed to Louisiana, but backed off that pledge after making an official recruiting visit to SMU on the weekend before the start of the signing period.
Portal power: Beau Corrales (6-3, 210) left Georgetown, TX, in 2017 to play for North Carolina. He made 18 starts over four seasons and played in 35 games before injuries interrupted his career. Having received his undergraduate degree, Corrales opted to play his final college season closer to home at SMU. If healthy, he’ll make an immediate impact for the Mustangs, who lose three senior receivers from the 2021 squad.
Still waiting on: Nobody. Everyone still verbally committed to SMU signed during the early period. But seven players who had previously made pledges to the Mustangs backed off following the coaching change. Four of those – wide receiver Jordan Hudson, safety Chance Biddle, offensive lineman Quinton Harris and defensive end Michael Ibukun-Okeyode – all followed former SMU coach Sonny Dykes to TCU.
Coach said it: “I mean the overall mission was, you know, we had some guys committed that we wanted to keep. We had some guys out there that we kind of discovered in that quick little seven to 10 day window that we felt like would fit what we’re trying to do. Couple defensive ends, obviously, the quarterback with Kevin (Henry-Jennings). So, what we wanted to do is find guys that we knew fit, we wanted, but we didn’t want to reach because this is just the early signing period. We have you know, the second signing period, we have really all spring. So I’m really happy with the guys we got, the quality we got and still having some flexibility to continue to improve our roster, you know, in the next six months.” – SMU coach Rhett Lashlee
National rankings: No. 90 by 247Sports.com; No. 81 by Rivals.com; No. 87 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Signed 25 players, including 12 from the NCAA Transfer Portal and two from the junior college ranks. … The list includes seven players from Tampa Bay area high schools. … Defensive line signees Jhalin Hobbs and Jacquez Williams were originally part of USF’s recruiting Class of 2021, but were unable to enroll at that time. … USF coach Jeff Scott said 19 of the 25 signees will enroll for the spring semester in January. … The signees feature two quarterbacks, two running backs, four receivers, two tight ends, two offensive linemen, seven defensive linemen, three linebackers and three defensive backs.
Names to remember: Multi-talented Eddie Kelly (6-4, 265) from Winter Garden, FL, had the most impressive offers list of any signee with Florida, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi and Purdue among his suitors. Although ranked as the No. 35 strongside defensive end nationally by Rivals.com, Kelly was also a prominent tight end prospect and some have speculated he might have a dual role with the Bulls.
Portal power: The Bulls clearly signed the top recruiting class from the transfer portal. Eleven of the 12 portal signees have played at Power Five conference schools, including three from national power Clemson where USF head coach Jeff Scott played and was once co-offensive coordinator. That trio of wide receiver Ajou Ajou, running back Michael Dukes and safety Ray Thornton should make an immediate impact with the Bulls. Likewise, Missouri transfer defensive end Jatorian Hansford, who had 27 tackles for loss with the Tigers, should compete for immediate playing time. Scott also brought in four other ex-ACC players, including defensive end James Ash (Wake Forest), offensive lineman Derrell Bailey Jr. (Virginia Tech), wide receiver Khafri Brown (North Carolina) and defensive lineman Clyde Pinder (North Carolina).
Still waiting on: Tony Newsome, a three-star cornerback prospect from Winter Garden, FL, committed to the Bulls on Halloween, but didn’t participate in the signing day celebration. There is speculation that Newsome could delay his enrollment until after football season and become part of the 2023 recruiting class.
Coach said it: “The transfer portal is huge. You look at Michigan State. They signed 15 transfers (last season), including their starting running back (Kenneth Walker) who was considered for the Heisman Trophy. SMU took close to 75 transfers over four years and that helped turn around their program. We’re losing some guys on the defensive front and we have a chance to bring in some older experienced guys. And it’s not just a stop-gap solution. They can be here for three or four years. That part gets me excited. These are some advantages and opportunities that have never been out there before.” – USF coach Jeff Scott
National rankings: No. 99 by 247Sports.com; No. 95 by Rivals.com; No. 100 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Signed 12 players, from six different states and Australia. … Five of the 12 signees are from Texas. … The Hurricane added four receivers, two linemen and one quarterback to the offense. Defensively, Tulsa inked one defensive back, one lineman and two linebackers and a long snapper for special teams. … Junior college receiver Nick Rempert spent one year at Northern Illinois where he was a defensive back. … Four of the signees are scheduled to enroll for the spring semester in January.
Names to remember: Keith Wheeler (6-1, 175), from Humble, TX, is a three-star prospect rated the nation’s No. 150 wide receiver by 247Sports.com. Wheeler also entertained offers from Arkansas, Houston, Kansas and USTA before choosing to join the Hurricane in mid-October. The class sleeper has to be linebacker Zachary Nielsen (6-1, 220) from Bisbane, Australia. Although born in New Mexico, Nielsen spent his prep years playing football in Australia. He came to the United States with a group of international players to attend several college camps and impressed Tulsa with his coverage skills and ability to play against the run.
Portal power: Defensive lineman Jayden Simon (6-4, 280) wasn’t listed as part of Tulsa’s signing class, but he did announce his plans to join the Hurricane on Dec. 12. Simon was a redshirt freshman this season at Colorado, where he made three tackles in nine games as a reserve. Simon’s size and experience makes him a candidate to provide an immediate impact in an area of need for the Hurricane.
Still waiting on: Three-star offensive tackle Landon Roaten remains committed to Tulsa. But the departure of Hurricane offensive line coach Zach Hanson for USC led Roaten to delay his signing until the traditional February period.
Coach said it: “I’m really pleased with our class. For us to continue to keep building and growing and getting our program to the level we want it to be, we need to keep bringing in strong classes like this one.” – Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery
National rankings: No. 111 by 247Sports.com; Unranked by Rivals.com; No. 125 by On3.com.
By the numbers: Temple hired new head coach Sam Drayton on signing day, which limited the Owls ability to sign recruits. … The Owls did wind up signing three high school prospects. … The trio featured one offensive lineman, a linebacker and a safety. … Three players backed off their pledges to Temple after Rod Carey was fired as head coach in November. … The signees represent the states of New York, Michigan and New Jersey.
Names to remember: The Owls landed a potential multi-year starter in three-star Corey Yeoman (6-2, 214), whom 247Sports.com ranks as the No. 84 linebacker nationally. Yeoman’s brother Anthony played collegiately at USC and spent some time in the NFL, so the bloodline is strong. Temple beat Coastal Carolina, Colorado State, Massachusetts, Navy and Toledo for Yeoman’s services. Offensive lineman Jackson Pruitt (6-5, 300) is ranked No. 49 nationally among interior line prospects by 247Sports.com.
Portal power: So far, the Owls haven’t taken advantage of the transfer portal. But with players available it’s only a matter of time before Drayton and his staff take advantage.
Still waiting on: Three-star linebacker Khalif Kemp and three-star athlete Reese Clark, both from Philadelphia, remain committed to Temple but didn’t sign. No doubt they are waiting to see what kind of staff Drayton can put together before signing on the dotted line.
Athletics Director said it: “We are very excited that these young men are committed to Temple University. They have stood firm on their commitment to the University regardless of the head coach and it was important that we stayed committed to them as well. I believe that our next head coach will be pleased with the character that these young men have exhibited as they work together in the coming months and years. I also feel strongly that our next head coach will be able to find additional student-athletes to support this recruiting class in time for February’s National Signing Day.” – Temple Athletics Director Arthur Johnson.
National rankings: No. 125 by 247Sports.com; Tied for No. 75 by Rivals.com; Unranked by On3.com.
By the numbers: Navy doesn’t traditionally issue a signing list until the spring when recruits arrive on campus. … But according to the recruiting websites 21 players have made verbal commitments to play for the Middies. … The list of players represent 13 states, including six from Florida. … The class features one quarterback, three running backs, a tight end, three offensive linemen, four defensive linemen, three linebackers and six defensive backs. … Navy lost two previously committed players to rival Air Force – offensive lineman Jeremiah Jackson and wide receiver Aaron Rice.
Names to remember: Grace Bell (6-6, 230) is rated the No. 72 tight end nationally by 247Sports.com. Bell is the grandson of Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame linebacker Bobby Bell. Athlete Aaron Jones (5-10, 180) was courted by BYU, Colorado State, Nevada and Oregon State before casting his lot with the Midshipmen.
Portal power: Navy has not been active in the transfer portal.
Still waiting on: No one at this point because Navy doesn’t announce its recruiting class until the spring. But the Middies did have five players back out of verbal commitments with safety Gavin Gibson flipping to Maryland, offensive lineman Jeremiah Jackson and receiver Aaron Rice to Air Force, defensive end Joshua Hardy to Boston College and receiver Nathaniel Hill to Villanova.