OU football: Oklahoma's early work toward 2019 class makes for quiet late period

Kyle Phillips / The Transcript

Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley watches the field during the Sooners' game against Alabama on Dec. 29, 2018, at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida.

NORMAN, Okla. — This time last year, Oklahoma football was still engaged in some of the fervor that has traditionally surrounded the February signing period.

Though an estimated 72 percent of the 2018 class signed the previous December, four-star defensive tackle Michael Thompson loomed as an eventual OU signee and four-star defensive back Leon O’Neal Jr. was in the mix too, before ultimately committing to Texas A&M.

Still, by late winter OU had already signed 17 players from the early period and wrapped up the majority of its class in advance. And this year, in an expected trend during college football’s second season with an additional signing date, things are even quieter.

The Sooners have signed 23 players to their 2019 class, which is currently ranked fifth by the 247sports composite. On the eve of the late signing period’s opening day, OU was only expected to sign four-star defensive end David Ugwoegbu, who committed Jan. 17.

Otherwise, with the exception of a few surprises — which may happen — Wednesday could be uneventful for the Sooners, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

It’s a reflection that many top prospects now view December as the primary signing period. It’s also a tribute to how OU’s coaching staff maintained a hectic recruiting workload during the season, then again between the conference championship game and the December signing day.

OU coach Lincoln Riley doesn’t view the in-season workload as a burden, even though it books his December calendar solid.

“It’s good for us. Now, if I’m playing in one of those [bowl] games on [Dec.] 20th, 21st, 22nd, that would be a lot,” Riley said. “I don’t know how those guys have done it. Hopefully we don’t play in any of those. So it’s been good to be later certainly.

“Has it been a little hectic during this time? Yes. But we, keep in mind, we’re used to playing on seven days. We’ve still got more than that time and we’ve been able to get a lot of work done. I don’t feel rushed or uncomfortable with it at all.”

That isn’t the case with everyone.

Even Alabama’s Nick Saban admitted the two signing dates required adjustments. At first, the Crimson Tide didn’t handle the change as well as it could have, he said, which was reflected in the recruiting rankings. Alabama had the nation’s top recruiting class for seven straight seasons until falling to No. 5 in 2018; its current class is again ranked No. 1.

“As predicted, this has become ‘the’ signing day. It’s not the early signing day. It’s ‘the’ signing day,” Saban told reporters in December. “It’s accelerated the recruiting cycle, you have more guys visiting in the season … I think we figured out you have to get ahead on more players. You’ve got to start the process earlier. You’ve got to get them in earlier and develop relationships with them. I think that’s what we did a little better [this year].

“I think last year we tried to save more spots for guys who didn’t sign early and then with all the coaching turnover we had we lost a lot of relationships with those guys, and I think it hurt us in the end. This year we were probably a little more aggressive.”

So was OU. With most of its 2019 group in the books, the Sooners are already working on 2020 prospects.

Junior college receiver Kundarrius Taylor committed in late January and OU picked up another 2020 commitment in receiver Davon Graham on Tuesday. The Sooners have offered 2020 recruits Antwaun Powell (defensive end), Antonio Doyle (outside linebacker) and Eric Taylor (defensive lineman) in recent weeks.

But for 2019, much of the work is already done.

OU 2019 recruiting class

Signees: 23

Commitments: 24

247sports composite team rank: No. 5

Late signing period: Feb. 6-April 1