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Texas A&M football coach Jimbo Fisher, left, and Alabama's Nick Saban have recruiting classes ranked among the top five teams nationally heading into next week's early signing period. / Alabama photo by Kent Gidley

Ready or not, here come the signees.

College football's early signing period starts next Wednesday and runs through next Friday. This marks the third recruiting cycle since the 72-hour window in December was implemented by the NCAA, giving coaches even more experience for this chaotic time that coincides for dozens of programs with the start of bowl preparation.

"The recruiting calendar has changed a lot of things," Tennessee coach Jeremy Pruitt said earlier this year. "It's moved the timetable up, so you start recruiting ahead and planning ahead."

Greater familiarity with the early signing period still can't counter the challenges that result from players who decide to forgo remaining eligibility. Underclassmen have until Jan. 20 to announce their intentions, which is precisely a month after next week's early signing period closes.

Alabama and Georgia are expected to be the two Southeastern Conference programs most impacted by early departures, with the Crimson Tide and Georgia having combined for nine early exits last year.

"In talking to my colleagues in the profession, it's a very tough time to deal with a signing date before a junior-declare date and a signing date before we have all our grades and all our information back from this last semester," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said last December. "You're making a decision before you know your entire roster, before you know grades, before you know about juniors and before you know about transfers. It's really tough to manage that number, and we're experiencing that right now."

The early signing period became the primary signing period immediately, with 72% of all Football Bowl Subdivision signees in the 2018 cycle electing to ink in December 2017 instead of the traditional February date. In last year's recruiting cycle, that number bumped to 76%.

Georgia had 91.7% of its 2019 class sign early, while Tennessee had 90.5% and Alabama 88.9%. It should be more of the same next week, as 43 of the top 50 national recruits according to 247Sports.com are committed.

The SEC entered last December's early signing period with the four highest-rated classes of commitments — Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU — and 11 of the top 22. It's a similar feel this time around though not as dominant, with the Atlantic Coast Conference's Clemson challenging Alabama for the top spot and with nine SEC members among the top 20 in the 247Sports team rankings.

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Running back Tank Bigsby of Hogansville, Georgia, is the top-rated commitment in Auburn's 2020 signing class. / Photo by 247Sports.com

Here is how the SEC recruiting classes stack up entering next week's early period (with national ranking by 247Sports in parentheses):

1. Alabama (1st): The Tide have 24 commitments, including five-star quarterback Bryce Young of the Mater Dei factory in California that produced Matt Barkley and Matt Leinart, five-star defensive end Chris Braswell of Baltimore and five-star athlete prospect Drew Sanders of Denton, Texas.

2. LSU (3rd): The Tigers have 24 commitments and have their own five-star trio of tight end Arik Gilbert of Marietta, Georgia, cornerback Elias Ricks of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, and receiver Rakim Jarrett of Washington, D.C.

3. Texas A&M (5th): The Aggies have 20 commitments, including 11 from the Lone Star State. Among the in-state pledges are five-star receiver Demond Demas from Tomball and four-star quarterback Haynes King from Longview.

4. Georgia (8th): This is a very atypical cycle for the Bulldogs, who have commitments from six of the top 60 players nationally but only two of the top 25 Peach State prospects — offensive tackles Broderick Jones of Lithonia and Tate Ratledge of Rome. Ratledge received a visit Wednesday at Darlington School from Smart and new Bulldogs offensive line coach Matt Luke.

5. Florida (9th): The Gators have 22 commitments, and the five highest-rated of them are on defense. Topping the in-state elite are Lake Wales defensive tackle Gervon Dexter and Fort Lauderdale outside linebacker Derek Wingo.

6. Auburn (10th): Five of Auburn's six highest-rated commitments are from Georgia, with the exception being McCallie School defensive tackle Jay Hardy. Headlining the 20 commitments for the Tigers is five-star running back Tank Bigsby.

7. Tennessee (18th): The Volunteers have 18 commitments, with nine of them four-star recruits. Topping the list is the in-state tandem of Ensworth safety Keshawn Lawrence and Briarcrest Christian defensive tackle Omari Thomas.

8. South Carolina (19th): The Gamecocks have 19 commitments, including two top-100 prospects — running back MarShawn Lloyd (39th) of Hyattsville, Maryland, and in-state quarterback Luke Doty (65th) of Myrtle Beach.

9. Mississippi State (20th): The Bulldogs have 22 commitments, including eight from junior-college prospects. The top prep pledge is running back Jo'Quavious Marks from Atlanta's Carver.

10. Kentucky (23rd): Defensive tackle Justin Rogers, a top-50 national prospect and the No. 1 player from the state of Michigan, headlines Kentucky's 16 commitments. Mark Stoops is assembling yet another class that has strength on both sides of the line.

11. Ole Miss (39th): The Rebels are in a transition cycle from Matt Luke to Lane Kiffin, who has been handed 16 three-star commitments. Kiffin doesn't have enough time to be a miracle worker, and he can't afford the instability of his one class at Tennessee, which had only five of 22 signees reach the finish line in Knoxville.

12. Missouri (51st): New coach Eli Drinkwitz inherited 14 commitments and an obvious task to claim St. Louis. Nine of the state's top-10 prospects are from St. Louis, and only one of those nine have committed to Mizzou.

13. Vanderbilt (69th): The Commodores have 12 commitments, with Pearl-Cohn long snapper Wesley Schelling their lone Volunteer State pledge. Vanderbilt is looking to avoid its lowest-rated class since 2008, when the Commodores ranked 76th.

14. Arkansas (118th): That's not a typo. The Razorbacks had the No. 23 signing class for 2019 but are on pace for the worst crop in SEC history, magnifying the challenge for new coach Sam Pittman. With a commitment list of just six, Arkansas should be the league's most active program between now and February.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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