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College Football Playoff participants also contend for team recruiting title

Jesuit senior running back EJ Smith, son of NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith, committed to play at Stanford.
Jesuit senior running back EJ Smith, son of NFL all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith, committed to play at Stanford.Jeffrey McWhorter/The Dallas Morning News via AP/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Teams competing for the national championship this season got good news well before the College Football Playoff — even if they didn’t have much time to celebrate.

The early signing period opened Wednesday with three playoff teams — Clemson, LSU and Ohio State — landing eight of the nation’s top 16 prospects according to composite rankings of recruiting sites compiled by 247Sports.

They worked to sign those recruits while preparing for playoff matchups, one consequence of the early signing period that arrived two years ago. Ohio State faces Clemson and LSU meets Oklahoma in the CFP semifinals on Dec. 28.

“You have 14 guys coming in mid-year, you have award shows to go to and, by the way, once you get off the road you have two weeks to prepare to play Clemson,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.

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“That’s a very stressful time. But it is what it is and we’re keeping our head down and going.”

Those busy schedules haven’t stopped the usual suspects from reaching the playoffs and topping the recruiting rankings each year.

Many of the elite recruits that didn’t choose LSU, Clemson or Ohio State are instead heading to Alabama and Georgia, two other recent playoff participants. Those five programs have commitments from about half the top 50 prospects.

Clemson tops the 247Sports Composite team recruiting rankings and was followed in order by Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia and LSU as of early Wednesday evening. Oklahoma’s class was ranked 11th.

“More teams are recruiting at an elite level,” said Barton Simmons, the director of scouting for 247Sports. “Usually, it’s one, two or three [teams] tops. This cycle there’s legitimately four or five teams recruiting at a national championship level.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he needed a big recruiting haul as he attempts to replace a senior class that is trying to help the Tigers win their third national title in four years.

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“When you graduate players like that, you better have quality coming in the door,” Swinney said.

Clemson signed seven of the nation’s top 29 prospects according to the 247Sports Composite. That included No. 1 overall recruit Bryan Bresee, a defensive tackle from Damascus, Maryland.

Ohio State’s class features wide receiver Julian Fleming (No. 2) and offensive tackle Paris Johnson Jr. (No. 7). The Buckeyes landed the top uncommitted quarterback when C.J. Stroud (No. 87) chose Ohio State.

LSU signed two of the nation’s top 12 recruits in tight end Arik Gilbert (No. 9) and cornerback Elias Ricks (No. 12).

The top two uncommitted prospects to sign were Upland (California) linebacker Justin Flowe and Columbia (South Carolina) defensive end Jordan Burch.

Flowe, ranked fourth overall, picked Oregon. Burch, the nation’s No. 5 prospect, chose South Carolina.

LSU had one of the most eventful days of any program.

The Tigers landed two previously uncommitted top-100 recruits in outside linebacker Phillip Webb (42nd) and offensive tackle Marcus Dumervil (97th) but also lost three players who had verbally committed to them.

Wide receiver Rakim Jarrett (20th) made a switch to Maryland, wide receiver Jermaine Burton (52nd) opted for Georgia and four-star safety Malcolm Greene selected Clemson.