The COVID-19 pandemic put the Big 12 and the rest of its Power 5 conference counterparts into a scheduling conundrum for much of the past few months.
Most leagues held their teams to just one or zero nonconference games after scrapping schedules that had been set for over a year.
Bye weeks were more frequent to make rescheduling easier on schools that would inevitably have to postpone a contest due to the virus.
Some games just weren’t played, not that it mattered much to the Big 12, which had its conference championship game contestants in place a week before the regular season was slated to end.
The one thing that went untouched was the start of college football's early signing period, which is essentially National Signing Day because most programs have their recruiting class finalized well before February.
The timing of the early signing period, which lasts from today through Friday, isn’t so strange for teams not playing on conference championship weekend. It’s far from business as usual, though, for OU and Iowa State, both of which have needed to split their attention between locking down prospective student-athletes and preparing to compete for a Big 12 title.
OU coach Lincoln Riley didn’t seem too concerned with the timing of the Sooners’ trip to Arlington, Texas, and the de facto recruiting holiday.
“I think a lot of our preparations and work for signing day has been done well before this in knowing that if we were in the Big 12 Championship Game, that we would potentially be busy,” Riley said.
It didn’t hurt the Sooners’ final road game against West Virginia was called off last Saturday. OU couldn’t have hosted any last-minute visitors — the Sooner coaching staff is stuck with Zoom video conferences, phone calls and text messages to sell their program with the NCAA in-person recruiting dead period in effect.
Riley said he was able to virtually chat with OU’s recruiting class, which ranks No. 10 nationally according to 247Sports.com as of Tuesday, the members of which are expected to finalize their commitments by signing today.
OU currently has 15 verbal commitments for its 2021 class, which includes one five-star prospect and 11 four-star prospects.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect to this year’s recruiting cycle is the absence of in-person visits and evaluations.
Removing those from the equation is a disadvantage for high school football players who might have not had a proper chance to build a relationship with a program, Riley said.
Relying on players' video portfolios and endorsements from their coaches hasn’t been easy on coaches either.
“It’s hard for us on the other side in that we’re making decisions for the future of our program,” Riley said, “and it’s difficult to do that with people you’ve never seen play live or never met or all that as well.”
Riley anticipates an intriguing next few months with the early signing period, National Signing Day on Feb. 3, the potential for looser immediate eligibility guidelines and the transfer portal, which Riley referred to as “going nuts” at the moment.
“I think it will be interesting as we watch across the country just how teams approach this. So much has changed,” Riley said. “You haven’t been able to go out and evaluate these guys in a long, long time, close to a year now. ... It’ll be interesting what people do.”