Texas Tech football: Should we even care about National Signing Day anymore?

Lubbock-Cooper's Kaden Carr signs with Texas Tech football during a National Signing Day ceremony on Wednesday, December 21, 2022.Bimg 6175
Lubbock-Cooper's Kaden Carr signs with Texas Tech football during a National Signing Day ceremony on Wednesday, December 21, 2022.Bimg 6175 /

There was once a time, about a decade ago, when college football’s National Signing Day (the day when high school and JUCO recruits could officially ink their letters of intent with universities around the county) was for many fans the adult version of Christmas morning.  Every year, Texas Tech football fans would join fans of every other football program in waking up early to monitor message boards and social media accounts to see which players had officially joined their school’s football program.

In those days, I would hang on every development, celebrate every fax received by the football staff, and keep a close eye out for the big-time flips that might bring an unexpected recruit into the fold at the last minute.  It truly was one of the biggest days of the year – a day filled with can’t-miss drama that consumed my every waking moment.

However, in 2022 I just can’t find the energy to invest in signing day.  It isn’t because I’m less rabid of a fan or because I’ve matured and other priorities have taken over my life.  Rather, it is because the landscape of college football has changed to the point that the importance of high school recruiting has been forever diminished by the emergence of the transfer portal.

Now, it is fair to ask whether national signing day is even worth paying much attention to.

For most of our lives, college football has been about program building.  Championships were won with homegrown talent that had been recruited to your program and been allowed to develop over the course of four or five years.

Now, teams can bring in talent from the portal to instantly fill holes and upgrade the roster in what is essentially the college version of free agency.  Of course, that also means that players who were jewels on National Signing Day can also jump ship just as easily.  Thus, is there even any reason to invest much time and energy into getting to know the players that a program signs each year?

For instance, consider the 2022 Texas Tech football roster.  Of the 22 starters, 12 did not sign with the Red Raiders out of high school with 9 of those players coming into the program as transfers from another FBS program.

Take it a step further and consider how many of this season’s top performers arrived via the portal.  QB Tyler Shough, DE Tyree Wilson, CB’s Malik Dunlap and Rayshad Williams, safeties Reggie Pearson, Tyler Owens, and Marquis Waters, TE Baylor Cupp, and OL Monroe Mills all played massive roles for this year’s team and all were signees to other programs on their National Signing Day.

On the flip side, consider how few members of the 2019 signing class (which should have been the backbone of this year’s team) actually proved to be significant contributors to this program.  Of the 19 enrollees that inked with Tech that year, only Tony Bradford Jr., Dadrion Taylor-Demerson, Jonathan Garibary, Austin McNamara, Landon Peterson, Travis Koontz, and Kosi Eldridge ever turned out to be starters.

Meanwhile, of the top ten players in that class according to their recruiting rankings at the time they signed, six would depart the program before exhausting their eligibility.  That’s just the new reality for the world of college football.

There once was a time when signing classes were the primary means of talent acquisition for programs with only the rare transfer making any type of meaningful impact.  That’s why signing day was at one time one of the biggest days on the calendar.

Now, it is more likely that the players who sign with a program are going to finish their careers in other ports of call than it is that they will pan out to be starters for the program they sign to play for out of high school.

Schools are no longer willing to wait for young players to mature and develop into contributors.  Instead, turning to the portal is how coaches make their roster better.  Just look at Texas Tech as a reference.

With Marquis Waters out of eligibility after this year, Tech has brought in San Diego State transfer safety C.J. Baskerville to fill that role.  With middle linebacker Krishon Merriweather also set to graduate, the program will likely turn to former Virginia transfer Jacob Rodriguez, who was added this past offseason, to be the starter at that spot.  To offset the loss of departed defensive lineman Philip Blidi, Tech has added Quincy Ledet from Louisiana Monroe.

What’s more, Tech has hosted a number of key transfer targets in recent days.  Speedy Austin Peay wide receiver Drea McRay has taken a visit to Lubbock this month as has Western Kentucky center, Rusty Staats.  And that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg being as transfers can enter the portal anytime they wish during the offseason and can sign with new programs well into August.

Thus, the most impactful additions to this program aren’t likely to happen on signing day.  Instead, the next group of difference-makers will trickle in one by one over the next few weeks and months with Tech almost certain to add multiple offensive linemen, a receiver, a linebacker, and maybe even a veteran backup QB to take the place of Donovan Smith (who has committed to play for Houston).

Therefore, take with a grain of salt the recruiting class rankings that are being reported on over the last two days.  That includes Tech’s class, which is in the top 25 of almost every recruiting service and which is the highest-rated group Tech has signed since 2011.

The reality is that the world of college football recruiting is not what it used to be even five years ago and many of the players who are now the cowbells of their respective classes are going to end up at other schools before their college careers are over.  The portal has radically changed how programs are built and how fans track the recruiting process.

Now, at least for me, National Signing Day is no longer the college football version of Christmas morning but rather, a day that only makes you wonder just which of the recently signed players are worth putting any mental equity into.  While it is still an important day for programs, it is no longer the bonanza that it used to be, and that takes some of the magic away from what was once a day that college football fans obsessed over.