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IU football early signing period preview

Get the fire started. It’s college football hot stove season.

NCAA Football: Michigan at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no game to look forward to this weekend, but at least we’ve got ourselves some crootin’ talk.

The early signing period opens Wednesday morning, and Tom Allen is expected to get the majority (if not all) of his Class of 2021 commits to put pen to paper. It’ll be the fourth full class of Allen’s head coaching tenure, a group that’s heavy on offensive skill.

Let’s take a look at where things stand heading into Wednesday:

(All ratings taken from 247 Sports, unless otherwise noted)

Don’t get too hung up on the class rankings

Neither IU’s position nationally (No. 58) nor within the conference (No. 12) jumps out. But there are a few good reasons why you shouldn’t be too concerned. The plan all along was for this to be a smaller class, so the overall group ratings aren’t going to get the boost they otherwise might. Instead of focusing too much on how the overall class compares to peers at the moment, take note of how the individual prospects are graded. The average rating of Indiana’s recruits (.8649) is the highest in program history. Here’s how that average compares to recent classes:

  • 2021: .8649
  • 2020: .8500
  • 2019: .8577
  • 2018: .8490
  • 2017: .8319
  • 2016: .8367
  • 2015: .8378
  • 2014: .8235
  • 2013: .8335
  • 2012: .8242
  • 2011: .8113

So, pretty good, right? During a strange recruiting cycle, one that was already going to see IU prioritize the few over the many, it is very much a quality over quantity situation.

This class has (at least) one stud

That would be Lawrence North quarterback Donaven McCulley, a local product Rivals considers the No. 100 overall player in the country, the No. 4 dual-threat passer in the class, and the second-best player in the state (more on that in a moment). Simply put, McCulley is probably as good of a prospect that IU can probably get, and he’ll add additional depth to a quarterback room that doesn’t want for high-end talent. From Rivals Midwest Recruiting Analyst Josh Helmholdt:

“McCulley has one of the most dynamic arms in the 2021 class, and that is a hefty statement considering the quarterback talent coming out this year. This fall the Indiana commit proved his abilities as a leader and field general, directing Lawrence North to its first winning season in 15 years and earning county Player of the Year honors for the second time. McCulley is the type of player that can make the success the Hoosiers are experiencing this season commonplace in Bloomington.”

If you change channels, 247 Sports believes IU might have landed more than one prized recruit. That service ranks four-star Georgia receiver Jaquez Smith atop the class, making him the fourth-highest ranked recruit in program history (during the recruiting rankings era, at least). In his 2019 Summer Underclassmen publication, recruiting analyst Tom Lemming seemed especially high on Smith’s upside:

Here’s what Lemming had to say about Smith, who also landed offers from heavyweights such as Alabama, Notre Dame, LSU and Georgia, among others:

“I first ran into J.Q. over at Marietta where he was one of the players on the front cover of our summer magazine in 2018.

“On Film–I was impressed with him at both the WR and DB positions. His old coach, Richard Morgan, called him the best athlete on the team. A pure cover corner, he has the length, explosive moves, and instincts to become a five-star prospect. On the opposite side of the ball, he has the great hands, the moves, and the explosive speed needed to be a go-to WR. He shows good separation speed, can catch the ball at its highest point, and has proven to be a difficult tackle after the catch.”

Tom Allen landed some of the state’s best prospects

There’s some good high school football played on Hoosier soil, and Allen and his staff did a nice job landing a few of the best prospects Indiana has to offer. In the 247 rankings, McCulley ranks third in the state, Bloomington North tight end Aaron Steinfeldt ranks fourth and Brownsburg tackle Joshua Sales ranks fifth. Then there’s Valparaiso defensive end Cooper Jones, who is No. 11 statewide in the 247 site rankings and No. 7 in the 247 Composite.

Jones feels like a really intriguing addition to the class, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound three-star recruit who also received offers from Ohio State, Michigan, Iowa and Purdue. Lemming called him the “fastest-rising prospect in the state of Indiana” in his 2019 evaluations:

“Cooper can come off the edge like a rocket, gets great leverage, and shows loose hips and explosive moves to the ball. As a sophomore, he was a lights-out pass rusher who can dip and bend and has been blessed with very good closing speed. He still has room to grow and could wind up weighing 270 at the next level. He is quick thinking and very much aware of everything that is going on around him.”

IU paid a lot of attention to the offensive skill positions

McCulley should have plenty of help around him in the years to come. Smith, obviously — and quite literally — tops the list. But he has company. At the receiver spot, that includes three-star prospect Jordyn Williams. The Texas native is considered the No. 103 receiver nationally in the Composite rankings, receiving offers from Alabama, Louisville, Maryland and Mississippi State, among others. There’s also Florida State transfer D.J. Matthews, a former four-star recruit and Army All-American in the 2017 cycle. Though not a traditional recruit, he’s worth a mention here. Matthews had an up-and-down run in Tallahassee, but he should at least be able to provide some depth between the receivers room and the return units. And with Whop Philyor and Ty Fryfogle probably moving on after the season, depth is a good thing, right?

Indiana also addressed the backfield, adding some thunder and lightning to its running back room. Three-star Illinois athlete Trenten Howland is more of a bruiser, according to 247 Sports national analyst Allen Trieu, while three-star Michigan product David Holloman has high-end speed. At The Opening Regional in 2019, Holloman was clocked at 4.39 seconds in the 40-yard dash. So Indiana projects to have a variety of skill sets to choose from at the running back spot in the years to come.

Once the dust settles on Wednesday afternoon, we’ll circle back and see how it all played out.