Wednesday is the first day high school seniors can sign a binding Letter of Intent to play college football at a given program. The LOI guarantees the player a scholarship next season if he meets the necessary academic requirements of the school and NCAA.
Until Wednesday, a player can make a non-binding verbal commitment but still be recruited by other schools. Once he signs an LOI, he is locked into that commitment and can't be recruited by other programs.
Whether or not players should sign an LOI instead of say a scholarship agreement, which gives him more freedom in the event of unforeseen developments like the departure of a coach or sanctions being handed down, is another matter entirely.
Why is it so important?
What the draft and free agency is to professional sports, Signing Day is to college football, an opportunity to acquire players that will form the core of the program for the next three, four or five years.
The increasing media attention has made it into a sort of national holiday for college football fans, a bridge between the end of the previous season and the start of spring practice.
ESPNU and CBS Sports will offer wall-to-wall television coverage Wednesday, while websites like Scout have allowed fans to cover the recruiting process from when a player is first offered to when he commits and ultimately signs.
What is the timeframe for players to sign?
Even though recruits have from February 1 to April 1 to sign an LOI, most of the drama will be over by the end of Wednesday night.
Are there any restrictions?
Teams can sign no more than 25 players to scholarships in any given class and have no more than 85 players on scholarship in the program at any time.
There are ways to get around that 25-man limit, such as early enrollees. Cal has two players – quarterback Zach Kline and offensive tackle Christian Okafor – that are now on campus, attending classes and eligible to participate in spring practice.
Enough about the process; how is Cal's class shaping up?
Depends if you like to play the "what if?" game.
Before the departure of defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi and wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau, the Golden Bears were on pace to land a top 10 class nationally with several elite headlines.
After losing them, Cal has been left scrambling, losing out of five-star defensive lineman Arik Armstead, five-star safety Shaq Thompson and four-star wide receiver Jordan Payton, the latter two who had made verbal commitments to the Bears.
Is there one player to serve as the barometer of the Class of 2012 for Cal?
Bellflower (Calif.) St. John Bosco wide receiver Bryce Treggs is a five-star prospect that has been committed to Cal since last July, but is still considering UCLA and USC.
Treggs is an immediate contributor in the Keenan Allen mold and Allen's likely successor in 2013.
If he signs with either of the Los Angeles schools, it is officially time to panic.
Can winners and losers be determined Wednesday?
Like the draft, teams really won't know what they have for three years. Short of signing an immediate contributor and superstar like an Adrian Peterson or Sammy Watkins, most of these players won't make an impact for a while.
For example, Stanford's 2008 class was ranked 43rd nationally, produced quarterback Andrew Luck, offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro and outside linebacker Chase Thomas, and formed the basis of teams that played in back-to-back BCS bowls.
UCLA's class was ranked 10th in the country that year and helped lead to the firing of Bruins head coach Rick Neuheisel.
Dan Greenspan is the publisher of Cal Sports Digest and covers the Pac-12 for Fox Sports/Scout.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanGreenspan.