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LSU coach Ed Orgeron speaks Tuesday, January 14, 2020, during the champions news conference following LSU's 42-25 win over Clemson in the CFP National Championship Game in New Orleans.

How much is different about February’s national signing day in 2021 compared to say, 2001?

How different is the roiling pot of a backyard crawfish boil to the small simmering saucepan you need to boil an egg on your stovetop?

The first Wednesday in February used to be a day of names going up on a big board. There was a dawn-to-dusk party to watch them roll. Food, auctions, interviews, an appearance by the brass section of the LSU marching band in a downtown Baton Rouge convention hall. And, memorably one year, former coach Les Miles publicly bashing a player who didn’t sign with the Tigers for not having “the chest” to come to LSU and compete.

Certainly the pandemic would have eighty-sixed most of those festivities this year, but it’s all changed anyway. Now with the early signing period, most of it is over barring a couple of shouts come February. LSU signed 20 players in December, two more as of close of business Wednesday afternoon.

Strange as it seems, the February signing period has become practically obsolete, to the point where its elimination is something the NCAA should consider going forward. Still, that doesn’t mean for now there aren’t important things to hear even though the volume has been turned way down on signing day.

You just have to listen a little more closely.

First of all, the class Ed Orgeron and LSU pulled in is another strong one. The Tigers stood Wednesday ranked No. 4 nationally according to 247Sports.com. It is LSU’s third straight top-five recruiting class in those rankings, a claim only Alabama and Georgia can also make.

Now, a top-five class is no guarantee of future success. Just ask now unemployed Texas coach and former unrequited LSU love interest Tom Herman, who signed the No. 3-ranked class in 2019 (doesn’t that seem like a million years ago?). Or dare to ask Orgeron after a rocky 2020 season that needed a 2-0 finish to end up at 5-5. But stacking classes as LSU has should have you in the title conversation on a Southeastern Conference and national level. It is fair to expect the Tigers to begin the climb back into those conversations starting this fall.

Recruiting rankings are one thing, the raw calculus of player ratings and star power. There is also filling needs. What does it benefit a football program to sign seven four-star wide receivers and no defensive linemen? Here LSU has also checked the boxes. It has nimbly assembled a collection of players representing every position group — quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker, cornerback, safety, even punter — except place-kicker. Given that Cade York will be a reclassified sophomore this fall, that isn’t a worry this year.

LSU’s haul includes its second straight top-10 rated quarterback prospect. Last year it was Max Johnson, who will be a prime contender in the derby to take that first snap Sept. 4 against UCLA in the Rose Bowl. In this class it’s Lake Charles native Garrett Nussmeier. Next, LSU has another top-10 signal caller lined up in legacy Walker Howard from St. Thomas More in Lafayette, the top-rated prospect in what promises to be a stacked Louisiana recruiting cycle for 2021-22.

It’s also about the players LSU didn’t get. Yet.

Three seats remain at the Tigers’ recruiting table. One of them you have to think could be filled soon by the state’s highest-rated unsigned prospect: Walker wide receiver Brian Thomas. But LSU will also surely be stepping into that new theater of recruiting wars: the graduate transfer market.

A couple of years ago, Orgeron would have gotten roasted on the message boards for not signing a full 25 by February. In 2021, it looks like shrewd business sense.

“Experience tells me to save a couple of scholarships to get great graduate transfers,” Orgeron said Monday. “I wouldn’t want to go into the spring not having spots for great graduate transfers or anybody in the transfer portal.

“I do believe we’ll have at least two, or maybe three, and that we’re looking at specific needs — especially at linebacker. If we feel that there’s some linebackers that can come in here and help us immediately, we’re going to go after ‘em.”

Transferring has become all the rage in college football, as LSU well knows (Exhibit A: tight end Arik Gilbert to Florida). But it is a two-way street. The key is not to get played, but to play both sides. It is into that thick traffic that Orgeron and his staff now merge, with the idea of rounding out their class of glittering youth with some savvy veterans.

If they can do that, down the road there may still be reason for LSU fans to want to strike up the band.

Email Scott Rabalais at srabalais@theadvocate.com