The natural flow to the three-ring circus that has been major college football recruiting the past couple of decades is about to be rerouted.

For the first time, prospects will have a 72-hour early signing period, starting Dec. 20, to sign a national letter of intent instead of waiting until February.

The February signing period will still be available, and early enrollees can still show for classes in January even without signing. But the buildup to what has come to be known as signing day is about to take a huge hit, or at least gain a competitor.

“Those college football fans that like national signing day should be excited about this new rule because now you’ve got two of them,” Bucknuts recruiting analyst Bill Kurelic said. “How this all plays out, will the new period dominate and diminish the February period? Who knows? I guess we’re going to find out.”

He expects 11 and perhaps 13 or 14 of the 18 players already committed to Ohio State to sign during the early window. Among those are defensive end Brenton Cox of Stockbridge, Georgia; linebacker/athlete K’Vaughan Pope of Dinwiddie, Virginia; running back Master Teague of Murfreesboro, Tennessee; receiver Blue Smith of Huber Heights; linebacker Teradja Mitchell of Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Max Wray of Franklin, Tennessee.

Highly sought offensive lineman Jackson Carman of Fairfield has indicated he will sign in the early period, but he hasn’t said with whom. He is scheduled to make an official visit to Southern California the weekend of Dec. 15; his other primary suitors are Ohio State and Clemson.

The reason the second signing period won’t become an afterthought, at least this time, is that some big names who have no intent of enrolling early or at least not signing early will still be out there. For example, in the case of Ohio State, defensive end Tyreke Smith of Cleveland Heights and Jayson Oweh of Blairstown, New Jersey, plan to make their college choices known during the Under Armour All-America Game on Jan. 4 in Orlando, Florida.

And the Buckeyes remain in pursuit of Las Vegas, Nevada, defensive lineman Palaie Gaoteote who, even though he has committed to USC, plans to keep an open mind until February.

So that’s the new norm for coaches and their support staffs — especially those on the recruiting side such as Ohio State player personnel director Mark Pantoni. They must adjust as they weigh landing the big fish who want to sign early while staying in the hunt for those who want to wait.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer indicated he has been bracing for it for a while, because it’s not a simple dynamic when it comes to the Buckeyes.

“The issue that’s going to come up here is this early signing period, and then you still don’t know who’s going to declare for the draft a month later,” Meyer said.

Like last year, when six Ohio State players declared for the NFL draft in January, including three from the secondary. The Buckeyes rounded up a deep class of defensive backs, with most enrolling early. But now they won’t have as many options left when they need to react.

“The other thing you’re going to see is the guy you keep on the back burner and try to flip him at the end, he signs on the 20th, you don’t have those guys either,” Meyer said. “So it’s going to be an interesting year.”