By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The first Wednesday in February used to really mean something.
It used to be more than just another cold winter day in the shortest month of the year.
The first Wednesday in Februrary used to be the one and only national signing day for college football, a day in which fans celebrated and welcomed the newest additions to their favorite football team.
But then along came the new early signing period this past Dec. 20th to steal the spotlight and most of the fun.
The Iowa football team, for example, had 16 players sign national letters of intent in December. That doesn’t include Indianapolis defensive backs D.J. Johnson and Julius Brents, both of whom are believed to have signed with Iowa in December, but won’t release it until the later signing period on Wednesday.
South Dakota linebacker Seth Benson also signed with Iowa in late December.
The three newest additions to Iowa's 2018 class are Michigan athlete Kaevon Merriweather, Georgia linebacker Jayden McDonald and South Hamilton linebacker Logan Klemp.
McDonald announced his commitment to Iowa on Monday, picking the Hawkeyes over Mississippi, Kansas State and Purdue.
His commitment came with the usual excitement on social media as Hawkeye fans reached out to welcome the Suwanee, Ga., native to the program.
Iowa also landed athlete Nico Ragaini in early January. He then enrolled at the UI for the spring semester after attending a prep school in Connecticut this past fall.
There always could be another late addition heading into Wednesday, but Iowa’s 22-player class was nearly two-thirds full in December.
It made sense to add an early signing period for football. Basketball has one in November and it seems to work well.
But the later signing period for basketball is in April, which means the two signing periods are separated by about five months.
In football, the two signing periods are only separated by about six weeks.
It would make more sense to have the early signing period in August or September to create some separation, and to allow the first Wednesday in February to still mean something.
Iowa’s 2018 class is currently ranked 33rd nationally by Rivals and seventh in the Big Ten. That is slightly higher than usual, considering Iowa's previous two classes were ranked 42nd and 40th nationally by Rivals.
Some will say the rankings don't matter when their team is ranked low, but everyone seems to enjoy promoting the higher rankings, including the media.
Iowa's 2018 class already is being described as one of Kirk Ferentz's best classes simply due to the rankings.
But that is the nature of any signing day where everything is upbeat and optimistic.
It could be just a coincidence that Iowa has one of its best classes on paper under Ferentz with the early signing period now in effect.
Or maybe not. Maybe we're seeing why Ferentz wanted an early signing period because he felt it would help a developmental program like Iowa.
Without an early signing period, some of the recruits who signed with Iowa in December could have eventually landed offers from more elite schools in January and and February then gone in a different direction.
One thing that hasn’t changed despite the addition of an early signing period is that the rich still are getting richer.
Ohio State’s 2018 class is ranked second nationally behind Georgia and includes two five-star recruits and 17 four-stars, according to Rivals.
Iowa’s class, on the other hand, includes four four-star recruits, 14 three-stars and four two-star prospects.
On paper, it’s a mismatch between Iowa and Ohio State, and many times on the field, too.
That’s why it felt almost surreal to watch Iowa dismantle the talent-rich Buckeyes 55-24 this past Nov. 4th at Kinnick Stadium.
Iowa’s 2018 class is heavy on defensive players, including five defensive backs. And that makes sense with all the defensive backs that have moved on recently, including Desmond King, Greg Mabin, Anthony Gair, Miles Taylor and Josh Jackson just in the last two years.
The class has four linebackers, which is another position in transition at Iowa with senior starters Josey Jewell, Bo Bower and Ben Niemann all having used up their eligibility.
The class also includes four-star quarterback and California native Spencer Petrus. He signed with Iowa in December and is now enrolled for the spring semester.
Iowa always needs help at receiver and the 2018 class has at least two recruits who are expected to play that position in Indianapolis native Tyrone Tracy and Florida native Calvin Lockett. Ragaini also could play receiver in college.
There is a family connection in the 2018 class with Iowa City West linebacker Dillon Doyle the son of Iowa strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle.
The class also includes high school teammates Jeff Jenkins and Samson Evans from Crystal Lake, Ill. Jenkins, an offensive lineman, was the first player to commit to Iowa’s 2018 class on Jan. 22, 2017.
Iowa's 2018 recruiting class
Seth Benson, LB, 6-1, 210, Sioux Falls, S.D.
Dallas Craddieth, DB, 6-1, 180, Florissant, Mo.
Dillon Doyle, LB, 6-3, 215, Iowa City
Samson Evans, ATH, 6-1, 190, Crystal Lake, Ill.
Henry Geil, RB, 6-0, 211, Green Bay, Wis.
Cody Ince, OL, 6-5, 260, Balsam Lake, Wis.
Jeff Jenkins, OL, 6-4, 272, Crystal Lake, Ill.
D.J. Johnson DB, 6-0, 170, Indianapolis, Ind.
Tyler Linderbaum, DL, 6-2, 255, Solon
Jack Plumb, OL, 6-8, 245, Green Bay, Wis.
Terry Roberts, DB, 5-10, 169, Erie, Pa.
Daviyon Nixon, DL, 6-4, 305, Iowa Western C.C.
Noah Shannon, DL, 6-2, 285, Oswego, Ill.
Tyrone Tracy, ATH, 6-0, 187, Indianapolis, Ind.
Julius Brents, DB, 6-2, 179, Indianapolis, Ind.
John Waggoner, DE, 6-5, 245, Des Moines
Calvin Lockett, WR, 6-2, 170, Largo, Fla.
Spencer Petras, QB, 6-5, 225, Kentfield, Calif.
Logan Klemp, LB, 6-3, 210, Jewell, Iowa
Kaevon Merriweather, DB, 6-2, 195, Belleville, Mich.
Nico Ragaini, WR, 6-0, 190, West Haven, Conn.
Jayden McDonald, LB, 6-1, 210, Suwanee, Ga.
2018 Big Ten recruiting rankings according to Rivals
National ranking in parenthesis
1. Ohio State (2)
2. Penn State (4)
3. Michigan (17)
4. Michigan State (20)
5. Nebraska (23)
6. Maryland (26)
7. Iowa (33)
8. Minnesota (36)
9. Wisconsin (37)
10. Indiana (43)
11. Purdue (45, tied with Colorado)
12. llinois (47)
13. Rutgers (53)
14,. Northwestern (56)
Also: Iowa State ranked 51st nationally