The first early signing period for major college football has dawned, and by the looks of things — especially from Ohio State's perspective — it could turn out to be the signing period that counts.

The Buckeyes are poised to receive faxed copies of national letters of intent from the 20 prospects who have stood by their commitments to the 2018 class, and they might add the nation’s highest-ranked offensive lineman — Jackson Carman of Fairfield, Ohio — by noon Wednesday. By late Tuesday night, Carman had not revealed his choice, which left Ohio State, Southern California and Clemson still thinking they had a chance.

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The February signing period is still there for those who opt to wait. But in adding the early period this year, NCAA officials wanted to give those who already know where they’re going the chance to get it over with.

“I think it’s probably good for the kids, not having to drag it out, and for the college coaches, too, being secure in some of their kids,” said Pickerington North coach Nate Hillerich, whose towering defensive end Alex Williams is expected to sign with the Buckeyes after flipping in the past couple of days from West Virginia. “But it’s new, and in talking to coaches from Mid-American Conference, from Ohio State and the Big Ten, and others, the big thing you hear is no one really knows how it’s going to turn out.

“Are all of their guys going to sign? Will a couple hold out? We have to see how it shakes out.”

Hillerich's experience Wednesday could be a microcosm of how the process plays out nationally. For example, he said, North defensive back Tyler Potts is expected to sign with Ball State. But Potts could be on, say, a Big Ten team’s B list of players they might pursue should an A list player who previously had been committed signs with someone else. However, if Potts signs with Ball State, he is obligated.

“It’s tough, because you don’t know what to tell the kids — take the sure thing or wait?” Hillerich said. He added that his quarterback Jimmy Weirick, lightly recruited by Football Bowl Subdivision schools, is going to wait just for that reason, to see whether a school gains interest in him after Wednesday.

The major schools such as OSU, Alabama and others have long relied on making up for defections in the weeks headed toward the February signing day by having that B list handy.

“The 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 last month. “So it’s going to be an interesting year.”

Yet this first time around with the early date, Bucknuts recruiting analyst Bill Kurelic pointed out, Ohio State appeared simply to accelerate the process. For example, the Buckeyes pumped up the pitch to North’s Williams after five-star Brenton Cox of Georgia decommitted a couple of weeks ago. They did the same with quarterback Matthew Baldwin of Lake Travis High School outside Austin, Texas, when it became apparent long-time pledge Emory Jones of Georgia was likely to sign with someone else, perhaps Florida, on Wednesday.

Williams and Baldwin are expected to sign Wednesday along with at least 18 others who include, according to the 247sports composite ratings, the No.1 tight end in the nation, Jeremy Ruckert of Lindenhurst, New York, and the No.1 defensive tackle, Taron Vincent of IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.

The Buckeyes are still in pursuit of others, including defensive end Tyreke Smith of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, but the bulk of what recruiting services have ranked the No.1 class in the country so far is expected to be in the fold before noon.

“That’s why this year at least, this is the real signing day,” Kurelic said.

tmay@dispatch.com

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