Utah football appears set for its best recruiting class in the Pac-12 era

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Kyle Whittingham as Utah faces Oregon in the Pac-12 football championship game in Santa Clara, Calif., on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019.

The first Wednesday of each February used to be a much bigger deal across the country in terms of football recruiting.

That first Wednesday, dubbed National Signing Day, marked the beginning of the regular signing period for high school recruits. The vast majority of Division I recruits signed National Letters of Intent on NSD. Between recruiting-specific websites and ESPN broadcast entities dedicating countless hours to recruiting, NSD is its own industry.

In 2017, the NCAA instituted an early signing period for college football in mid-December. The first day of that three-day early signing period essentially took over as the new National Signing Day, making that first Wednesday in February almost moot.

Take the University of Utah for example. On Dec. 18, the Utes announced the addition of 22 new players, including 21 freshmen. On Dec. 20, the final day of the early signing period, Utes head coach Kyle Whittingham said he and his staff were approximately 90 percent done with recruiting.

[Read more: BYU will add a Ute to its roster on National Signing Day]

The old National Signing Day arrives on Wednesday, at which time, Whittingham is expected to announce no fewer than four more commits, all of whom hold three-star ratings via the 247sports composite.

Those four are California defensive tackle Keanu Tanuvasa, Texas cornerback Faybian Marks, Arizona linebacker Jeremy Mercier, and Oregon pro-style quarterback Cooper Justice.

A fifth, Texas running back John Gentry committed in November, before the early signing period, but never signed an NLI. Per 247sports, Gentry took an official visit to Utah State on Jan. 24. Tanuvasa will serve an LDS mission immediately out of high school, delaying his arrival in Salt Lake City.

When the dust settles Wednesday, Whittingham is expected to have Utah’s highest-rated recruiting class of the Pac-12 era, which began in 2011. Through Tuesday afternoon, the Utes’ 2020 class was ranked 28th nationally and fifth in the Pac-12.

Since 2011, Utah has never finished a recruiting cycle better than 33rd nationally (2017, 2018) or fifth in the Pac-12 (2018).

The grand prize of this recruiting class is four-star cornerback Clark Phillips III, who flipped his commitment from Ohio State. Phillips III is the highest-rated recruit in the history of the program.