It's a day away.
National signing day is Wednesday, and the importance of high-quailty recruiting classes cannot be overstated in college football.
How big is NSD? Well, it helped spawn a cottage industry for Internet sites that totals in the hundreds of millions of dollars, and it has become an unofficial "sick" day for the most avid — some could say rabid — college football fans.
That said, there still is little debating its importance, especially for a rebuilding program such as the University of Tennessee.
That importance has little to do with the ratings and remarks of the so-called experts. There is simply no way to know today or tomorrow or even next season which class is the best and which players will have the most success.
Case in point: Much has been made about the UT 2007 class, which was ranked as high as No. 3 nationally by some recruiting services. Other than Eric Berry, who was every bit as good as advertised, the Volunteers' collection of five-star signees turned out to range from OK to awful.
But all disappointing recruiting classes are equal parts underachieving and over-ranked. Aside from Berry, the Vols' next biggest contributers from that 2007 class were Gerald Jones (four-star recruit), Art Evans (three stars) and Denarius Moore (three stars). UT's four other five-star recruits, including Brent Vinson and Kenny O'Neal, barely got on the field.
That class — which would have been seniors last fall — and the overwhelming overhaul of the coaching staff since have been the biggest parts in the Vols' slide into mediocrity. And UT is hardly the only program that has been hamstrung by a recruiting haul that was more hype than production.
Georgia also has struggled on the field of late, posting a 6-7 record last fall in Mark Richt's first losing season with the Bulldogs. UGA has finished ninth, seventh, sixth and 15th nationally in recruiting the last four years.
That seventh-ranked class in 2008 had two five-star players: A.J. Green and Richard Samuel. The former will be one of the first 10 players drafted in April; the latter has practiced at running back and linebacker and played little and produced less.
The NFL is no exception, either, even for the two teams that are going to play in the Super Bowl this Sunday.
Some of the best Pittsburgh Steelers were signing-day afterthoughts. All-Pro linebacker James Harrison had exactly one scholarship offer, and that was from Kent State. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is trying to become just the fifth quarterback to win three Super Bowls, but Big Ben's lone scholarship offer to play quarterback was from Miami of Ohio.
Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews walked on at Southern Cal. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers played his first collegiate season at Butte College before Cal coach Jeff Tedford found him while scouting another player.
Lots of stars now had few stars then. The only thing college programs can truly control is addressing needs. From there, though, it's about evaluation and preparation. And often luck.
Programs and fans must have faith — in their coaches and the process — and then are forced to practice the toughest of all virtues in sports — patience. The first step is almost here.
Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...