COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- When the top prospects get together at an even such as the Pylon 7-on-7, there are always a number of interesting topics on the recruiting front to be discussed. In particular, last weekend’s 7-on-7 featured many of the top skill prospects in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties and that meant the Miami Hurricanes were a topic of discussion.
When talking about Miami in it’s current state, the main question is when or if The U will be back among the nation's elite.
After a 9-4 season in 2013, the Hurricanes took a step back in 2014, finishing 6-7, albeit with a talented freshman quarterback in Brad Kaaya who certainly provides Miami fans hope for 2015 and beyond. That means the 2015 season is a make-or-break one for Al Golden and staff with the rival Florida State Seminoles winning and recruiting at a very high level and the Florida Gators sure to get the recruiting bounce in 2016 after a coaching change and the ability to sell a vision for the future to top prospects in the Sunshine State.
The Ultimate ESPN 300 is RecruitingNation's ranking of the best prospects since we began evaluating high school athletes in 2006. That means there are many names on the list known to college football and recruiting fans since coming out of high school. The list can also provide glimpses of which states have been top producers since 2006 and which teams have done the best and worst jobs of evaluating prospects and producing players.
Here are 15 things to know about the Ultimate ESPN 300:
15. Some classes turn out better than others, and that is true of the 2009 class. There are 45 players from the class in the Ultimate ESPN 300, the most of any class, including 15 that became first-round NFL draft selections. That includes four who signed with Alabama: Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack.
14. Bob Stoops recruited and coached 13 players on the list. Of the 13, four were first-round NFL draft selections led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. Nine of the 13 were also members of the Sooners team that lost to Florida for the 2009 BCS National Championship.
13. The teams that played for the 2012 BCS National Championship, Alabama and LSU, were supremely talented. There are 22 players from those rosters in the Ultimate ESPN 300, including 14 for the Crimson Tide.
12. Quite possibly the most important part of the recruiting process for coaches is keeping the best at home. Well, only 137 of the Ultimate ESPN 300 stayed in state to play college football. One important aspect of this stat is that not every player on the list had the option to stay in state.
11. The teams from the 2014 BCS title game are well represented on the list. Twenty-three players from Florida State and Auburn make the list, with the Seminoles accounting for 18.
10. NCAA FBS single-game-rushing record holder Samaje Perine enters the list after a freshman season of 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Oklahoma Sooners. His 427 yards against Kansas in 2014 broke the record a week after Melvin Gordon had set a new mark.
9. The 2011 class is special. That class has 41 players in the Ultimate ESPN 300, including 12 first-round NFL draft picks with more possible, including Marcus Mariota, La'El Collins and Shane Ray. The Sunshine State led the way in the 2011 class with first-round picks: Sammy Watkins, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Shazier, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kelvin Benjamin with more possible to be added to the list.
8. As expected, the state of Florida leads the way with 52 players on the list. Texas is second with 35, and California third with 28. Georgia follows with 18. Only 23 of the 52 from the Sunshine State stayed in state for college, but 19 of those players left college with national championship rings.
7. There are 15 players who signed with USC on the list, including Jarvis Jones, who would later transfer to Georgia. That's the most from a school on the list that hasn’t won a national championship since 2006. Notre Dame is second on that list with 12.
6. There are six quarterbacks from the state of Texas in the Ultimate ESPN 300, and only one was recruited heavily and offered early by the University of Texas: Matthew Stafford. The five who weren’t offered or recruited as quarterbacks by the Longhorns: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Ryan Mallett and J.T. Barrett.
5. There are 17 players on the list recruited by Urban Meyer. The impressive list includes Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, along with Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett from 2015 national champion Ohio State.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the high school with the most players on the list with six. That includes NFL running backs Gionvani Bernard and James White, who were members of the same backfield.
3. Nick Saban has recruited 25 players to Alabama on the prestigious list. Of those 25, 11 have been first-round NFL draft selections, with that number to hit 13 in a couple of months with Amari Cooper and Landon Collins projected to be 2015 first-rounders.
2. South Florida's Dade and Broward counties are the two most talented counties in the country that neighbor each other. To illustrate that fact, 22 members of the Ultimate ESPN 300 are from the otherworldly talented counties, including five NFL first-round draft picks, with that number expected to jump to seven or eight in April. Add in Palm Beach County, which neighbors Broward, and that number jumps to 29 of the 300, including seven first-round picks, with that number sure to hit double digits in two months. If one is a Miami (Fla.) fan, time to turn away, as only four of the 22 from Dade and Broward counties played for the Hurricanes.
1. How do you win three national championships in six years? Jimmys and Joes are where it must begin, and Alabama has the most of any school on the list with 27. More than half of the 27 have been or will be first-round draft selections after this year's draft. Both Florida and Florida State have 18 apiece on the list.
Here are notes on some of the top players in attendance:
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Here is the latest on several Sunshine State prospects.
Eli Stove, WR
ESPN Junior 300 ranking: No. 80
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In each of the past six years, during the offseason, I have come up with a projected top 10 of the preseason AP poll on my website. I do this by taking several different factors into account:
• Most AP voters usually look at a couple of criteria when they evaluate a team for the upcoming season. First, they look at the number of returning starters the team has coming back, particularly at the offensive skill positions. A team that returns its starting quarterback and a combination of its running backs and wide receivers, for example, is often more highly regarded than a team that loses its starting quarterback but returns its entire offensive line. Similarly, a team that returns most of its starters on offense but loses a lot of its defensive playmakers is usually more highly regarded than a team that returns a majority of its defensive starters but loses its skill-position players on offense.
• Another factor weighed heavily is the performance of the team in its bowl game, which is undoubtedly the lasting image voters carry with them during the offseason. A team coming off a huge bowl win is usually more highly regarded than a team that is coming off a bowl loss, regardless of what its schedule looks like for the upcoming season.
• Also weighed heavily is where the teams finished the previous year. Naturally, teams that finished somewhere in the rankings (top 25) have a much better chance of being preseason top 10 than a team that finished unranked last year.
Using these factors -- and a few others, such as strength of schedule -- I project the preseason AP top 10 every year at the start of February, which in most cases is six months in advance of the poll's release. Now, as you all know, a lot can happen between February and August, including injuries, suspensions and transfers. But over the past six years, I have been very successful using this method, correctly projecting 56 of 60 teams (93.3 percent), including a perfect 10-for-10 again in 2014.
Before I go into the rankings, it is important to make the point that this is NOT my preseason top 10 for next season, but rather what I am projecting the AP top 10 will look like to start the season. If you're familiar with my college football preview magazine, you will know that every year I tend to go out on a limb for a couple of teams in my top 10, and this year will be no different.
Now, let's take a look at this year¹s projected preseason AP top 10 teams.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes
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The list includes 25 players, with just three coming from the ACC: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas and Florida State RB Dalvin Cook.
It’s tough to argue with those selections. If we’re making a list of ACC player of the year candidates, those would certainly be among the favorites. Having said that, there are plenty of other big-time playmakers around the league.
Obviously Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Tyler Boyd warrant mentioning, while Miami’s Brad Kaaya, UNC’s Ryan Switzer and Clemson’s Artavis Scott and Mike Williams all are emerging stars.
But looking a bit deeper, here are a few more names who figure to be legitimate weapons around the ACC in 2015…
QB: North Carolina’s Marquise Williams was terrific last season, and he’s poised to be even better this year with a more established O-line and some talented receivers to work with. After Mitch Trubisky was shuffled to the bench full-time starting in October, Williams racked up 25 touchdowns. Only five Power 5 QBs had more, and four of them finished in the top 10 in Heisman balloting.
RB: NC State’s Matt Dayes didn’t get a full workload last season, and that might not change dramatically in 2015, but when it comes to all-around weapons, he’s one of the ACC’s best. Dayes was the only player in college football last season to tally at least 300 yards rushing, receiving, and on returns while scoring at least 10 touchdowns. In the last decade, just 14 others have done that, and the list includes some big names such as Reggie Bush, DeMarco Murray, C.J. Spiller, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Maurice Jones-Drew and Jeremy Maclin.
WR: Florida State’s Travis Rudolph averaged 15 yards per catch last season, the sixth-best total among returning ACC receivers, as a true freshman. He improved dramatically as the year went along, catching 11 passes for 136 yards in the ACC Championship Game and Rose Bowl.
TE: Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges is as big a mismatch on offense as any team will have this season. The Hokies used him as a traditional tight end, split him out wide and lined him up in the Wildcat routinely last year. He was among the ACC’s top red-zone targets, and only Wake’s Cam Serigne had more catches among returning Power 5 tight ends.
And while Bleacher Report’s list included just one full-time defensive player, FSU’s Jalen Ramsey, Duke's Jeremy Cash, Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander, Virginia’s Quin Blanding, Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins all warrant discussion, too.
A few more links:
- Clemson -- not Florida State -- is the early favorite to win the ACC in 2015, writes Tomahawk Nation.
- Dabo Swinney tells The State that he doesn’t believe the difference between Clemson and FSU was that wide to begin with.
- Our Travis Haney ranks the top 10 assistant coaching hires of the offseason, with the ACC getting two nods.
- A Georgia Tech assistant coach is interviewing with Oklahoma, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Matt Colburn’s high school coach talks to the Winston-Salem Journal about the Wake Forest signees’ rocky recruitment.
- The Roanoke Times weighs in on the likelihood that Dwayne Lawson could play early for Virginia Tech.
- Syracuse got a late signee when QB Kenterius Womack (Luverne, Alabama) signed his letter of intent on Wednesday, writes Syracuse.com.
James Conner, Pittsburgh: No surprise that the ACC’s player of the year was really good down the stretch, but it’s worth noting that by Game 6, Conner’s performance was starting to lag because of the a heavy early workload. But after a bye, he came back strong, averaging 6.3 yards per rush (up from 5.6 in the first half) and scoring 17 times on the ground.
Dalvin Cook, Florida State: It was in FSU’s sixth game of the year against Syracuse that Cook finally got a long look, getting 23 carries and rushing for 122 yards, and though he still shared time with Karlos Williams after that, he quickly emerged as one of the nation’s best young runners. In the second half of the season, Cook averaged 6.2 yards per rush and had 27 carries of 10 yards or more (seventh among Power 5 backs), totaling 925 yards from scrimmage -- just 16 shy of Conner’s tally.
Wayne Gallman, Clemson: The Tigers’ ground game was abysmal in first half of the season. Set aside the big day against FCS South Carolina State, and Clemson ranked 102nd nationally in rushing per game (116) and 115th in yards per carry (2.8). But things improved down the stretch, even without star quarterback Deshaun Watson, thanks largely to Gallman. His 610 rushing yards in the second half of the season ranked fifth in the ACC, and his 18.3 rushes per game ranked third behind only Conner and Duke Johnson. On 128 second-half carries, Gallman didn’t fumble once.
Of note: Just 5.4 percent of Shaquille Powell's rushes in the second half went for a loss or no gain, the second-lowest rate in the league. Virginia Tech's J.C. Coleman ended the season with four straight games of 95 yards rushing or better. North Carolina’s T.J. Logan carried 86 times in the second half, and 44.2 percent went for at least 5 yards. Only Pitt’s Conner and Chris James had a better rate among ACC running backs.
Receivers and tight ends
Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: His 833 receiving yards in the latter half of the season ranked eighth nationally, and his 48 catches ranked 12th. As Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik got more seasoning, Boyd was the benefactor, hauling in 112 yards or more in five of his last six games. He was one of just seven receivers to rack up five 100-yard games in the season’s second half. More impressive is that Boyd did it without a legitimate No. 2 option. He accounted for a whopping 48 percent of Pitt’s receptions and 58 percent of its receiving yards in the second half, both easily the highest rates in the country.
Artavis Scott, Clemson: Would you believe a true freshman playing with a struggling quarterback had as many receptions in the second half of the season as Boyd? That’s true of Scott, who caught 48 balls from Game 7 on, trailing only Rashad Greene and Jamison Crowder in the ACC, and his five receiving touchdowns trailed only Miami’s Phillip Dorsett. The biggest reason for Scott’s success? He had 642 yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Info, which nearly doubled any other ACC receiver.
Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech: No ACC player was targeted more often in the red zone from Week 8 on than Hodges (10), and his five catches and three touchdowns both ranked second in the conference during that span. He caught 28 balls from Week 8 through the end of the season, the second-most by any Power 5 tight end, trailing only Mackey semifinalist Jimmay Mundine.
Of note: Clemson’s Mike Williams hauled in 29 first downs in the second half of the season, trailing only Boyd among ACC receivers, and 16 of his 17 catches on third or fourth down went for conversions. Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne had six catches and four touchdowns in the red zone, both tops in the ACC. Virginia’s Canaan Severin had nine catches of 20 yards or more, more than any other ACC receiver aside from Boyd.
Sheldon Rankins, Louisville: The Cardinals dodged a bullet when Rankins announced he would return for his senior season in 2015. In the second half of last season, he racked up six sacks -- tops in the ACC and 12th among all Power 5 defenders. He also forced a fumble and picked off a pass.
Josh Jones, NC State: The redshirt freshman started the final five games of the season at strong safety, and not coincidentally, the Wolfpack’s defense improved dramatically, cutting its opponents’ completion percentage from 60 to 49, YPA from 7.0 to 5.9 and creating nine takeaways in five games after racking up just 11 in its first eight. Jones was at the forefront, picking off three passes in those last five games -- the third-most in the nation.
DeVon Edwards, Duke: After a boom-or-bust freshman campaign in 2013, Edwards was productive from the outset in 2014, but his second half was particularly impressive. He racked up an ACC-best 81 tackles during the second half of the season, including double-digit totals in six of Duke’s last seven games, and though his interception total dipped, he did chip in with five tackles for loss down the stretch.
Of note: Virginia Tech’s Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem combined for 18 TFL and 9.5 sacks during the final six games. Wake Forest linebacker Marquel Lee racked up 51 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss and three sacks, during Wake’s final six games. Georgia Tech’s D.J. White had six pass breakups and three interceptions in the latter half of the season, the most total passes defended among ACC defensive backs.
Colleague Mark Schlabach presented his revamped Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2015 earlier this week. Now, Brad Edwards gets his turn. Edwards decided to take a crack at predicting all the teams that would make the New Year's Six bowl games, with quite a few surprises.
Michigan makes the Rose Bowl. Tennessee makes the Sugar Bowl.
But wait, there's more.
Florida State, which has made the Orange Bowl, BCS national championship game and College Football Playoff in the last three years did not make the cut.
Neither did Clemson, expected to be the highest-ranked ACC team when the preseason polls come out in August.
Only one ACC school made Edwards' list: Georgia Tech, in a Peach Bowl matchup against the team everybody loves to hate, Boise State.
Now, seeing the Jackets included is not nearly as big a surprise as Michigan or Tennessee. Georgia Tech had a terrific season in 2014, returns Justin Thomas and will be ranked in the Top 25. This team should be the favorite to get back to the ACC championship game in 2015. Edwards' explanation makes complete sense:
Yes, I have only one ACC representative, and it's not Florida State or Clemson. Those teams both lost half of their starters from last season, and both are inexperienced on the offensive line. They've recruited well enough to prove me wrong, but I'm going with Georgia Tech to win the league. I like the experience on defense, and the returning talent on offense is where it needs to be for a team like this -- at QB and on the O-line.
Of the three, Georgia Tech returns the most starters. The Jackets have 13 back, while Florida State and Clemson each have 11. All three teams will have their opportunity to win the ACC as they all play each other during the regular season. Given the way Georgia Tech played this past season, it would not be a surprise to see the Jackets as the last team standing in the ACC.
But getting only one team into the New Year's Six bowls, while also missing a spot in the College Football Playoff, would not exactly be considered progress for the league.
Elsewhere around the ACC:
- Clemson backup linebacker Kellen Jones is leaving the program.
- New Florida State defensive line coach Brad Lawing knows his first priority is improving the pass rush.
- Hopes are high for new Miami receivers coach Kevin Beard, and his ability to recruit in the South Florida area.
- NC State unveiled "The Wolfpack Promise," with a commitment to guaranteed scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance.
- Bud Foster says Virginia Tech hit all its defensive needs with this recruiting class.
- Several Virginia players visited a quadriplegic man in a nursing home with a big love for Hoos football.
- Could not agree more with this column from Matt Hayes at The Sporting News: Coaches bailing out after signing day means there should be changes to the rules that bind players to their letters-of-intent.
- Please make this happen at football games. That is all.
Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech: No quarterback in the league posted a better second-half Adjusted QBR than Thomas’ 83.8, which ranked seventh nationally from Game 7 through year’s end. Thomas tossed 11 touchdowns compared with just three interceptions, averaged a league-best 9.95 yards per attempt, and added another 497 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Marquise Williams, North Carolina: Williams spent the first month of the season sharing reps with Mitch Trubisky, but once he secured the job full-time, few quarterbacks in the country were better. From Game 7 on, only five Power 5 quarterbacks accounted for more total touchdowns (20), and three of them earned Heisman votes. Williams’ 299 yards of total offense per game over that stretch outpaced even Jameis Winston in the ACC.
Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh: Perhaps the most under-the-radar improvement of the second half last season was Voytik. Of all ACC quarterbacks with at least 75 second-half attempts, Voytik ranked second in passer efficiency (154.3), third in completion percentage (63.9), yards-per-attempt (14.0), completions of 10 yards or more (56.5 percent), and Adjusted QBR (79.6). He also added another 372 yards on non-sack rushes.
Work to do
Brad Kaaya, Miami: The only ACC quarterback to toss more touchdowns in the second half of the season than Kaaya (13) was Winston, but the Miami freshman also threw 10 fewer interceptions than the defending Heisman Trophy winner. Kaaya’s 8.3 yards per attempt ranked third among ACC quarterbacks, and his 4.3-to-1 TD:INT ratio was tops in the league and sixth among all Power 5 quarterbacks nationally. The problem for Kaaya, however, was he completed just 55.4 percent of his throws, which ranked 47th among Power 5 quarterbacks with at least 75 second-half attempts.
Jacoby Brissett, NC State: The first half of the season included some impressive numbers for Brissett, who accounted for 14 touchdowns and just five turnovers in the first six games. In the second half, that production dipped to 12 TDs and seven turnovers over the final seven games, which led to his per-game offensive output dropping from 261 yards to 224. But that also coincided with a tougher schedule and a more balanced attack from the Wolfpack’s ground game, and Brissett’s Adjusted QBR only fell slightly.
Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech: The early part of Brewer’s season was marred by turnovers, and he cut down on those dramatically in the second half. In his first six games, he had 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In the second half, he threw nine TDs with just four interceptions. The flip side, however, was that Brewer’s production dipped, too. His completion percentage dropped from 62 to 57, his yards-per-attempt dipped from 6.4 to 5.8, and his passing yards per game fell from 235 to 183. The biggest reason? His sack rate more than doubled from 4.3 percent to 9.1.
John Wolford, Wake Forest: When you’re throwing a true freshman into a starting role with a historically bad offensive line and ground game to support him, you’re probably just hoping he doesn’t get killed. But not only did Wolford manage to start every game for Wake Forest last season, he actually made some dramatic improvements in the second half. In spite of a more difficult second-half slate, he tossed the same number of touchdowns (6), dramatically cut his turnovers from 13 to four, and more than doubled his Adjusted QBR from 22.4 to 46.4. That’s incredibly encouraging for 2015.
Signs of trouble
Greyson Lambert, Virginia: Banged up and splitting time in the first half of the season, Lambert was largely ineffective. He did manage to start five of Virginia’s final six games, and though that helped distance him from Matt Johns on the depth chart and nearly doubled his passing attempts, he also saw his Adjusted QBR dip, his completion percentage fall by nearly 10 percentage points, and Johns still posted better deep-ball numbers across the board.
Syracuse: The Orange had no consistency at quarterback all season, with three different players getting a start, and though that means there will be more experience on the roster in 2015, it’s not necessarily encouraging. A.J. Long, Austin Wilson, and Mitch Kimble combined to average just 4.92 yards per attempt in the second half of the season, the fourth-worst rate in the nation, while tossing just two touchdowns compared with 10 interceptions. Terrel Hunt wasn’t much better when he was healthy, but there was little reason to think he shouldn’t still be Syracuse’s best option when spring practice opens.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson: It’s hard to say what Watson might have been if he’d been healthy in the second half of the season, but instead the freshman attempted just 25 passes. It’s worth noting though that on those 25 attempts, he tossed two touchdowns, posted an Adjusted QBR of 94.0, and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt -- numbers that stood in stark contrast to the limited production of his replacement, Cole Stoudt. Obviously, the key for 2015 for Watson is simply staying healthy.
Louisville: Like Syracuse, Louisville cycled through three different starting quarterbacks last season, with Will Gardner, Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin all seeing action in the second half of the season. Each had highlights and each made mistakes, but the aggregate performance was actually pretty good. Despite the inconsistency at the position and the third most sacks in the conference during the latter half of the year, the Cardinals were at or better than the league average across the board, and they combined to toss 36 completions of 20 yards or more -- tops among all ACC teams. Gardner and Bolin each posted Adjusted QBRs of 72 and combined for eight touchdowns and just four picks. Bonnafon was more of a work-in-progress, with a dreadful sack rate of 22 percent -- by far the worst in the country during that span. And all three quarterbacks will have to go to battle in 2015 without receiver DeVante Parker, who was probably the biggest reason for the second-half success in 2014.
Neither move is necessarily a bad thing.
The Hurricanes already announced a new receivers coach, promoting Kevin Beard from assistant director of football operations. Beard, who was on the 2001 Miami national championship team, grew up in South Florida and has deep recruiting ties in the area. His promotion was widely applauded. One recruit, ESPN Junior 300 receiver Sam Bruce, played for Beard when he was an assistant at Fort Lauderdale University School.
Bruce told the Sun-Sentinel: “I’m excited, not just for him, but also for me to know I’m going to be coached by him again. He’s not just a coach, he’s more than a coach. He’s a mentor and I can go to him with any of my problems. He’ll give me his advice and talk to me about the things he’s been through. He’s an all-around great guy.”
The move comes on the heels of a report in The Miami Herald that quoted several high school coaches in South Florida discussing a disconnect between Miami and the fertile recruiting ground in the area. Last week, the Canes only signed two of the 16 Miami-Dade and Broward County players on the ESPN 300. Al Golden dismissed that, saying the Canes targeted offensive linemen in the 2015 class and had to look outside South Florida for the best linemen available.
Still, high school coaches in the area have been voicing their displeasure more frequently. That includes former Miami player Mike Rumph, who played with Beard. Rumph told a local radio station last week the Canes did not have enough of a presence at his school. Two of his players ended up at Florida State and Ohio State.
While nobody has been announced to replace Franklin yet, there is no doubt the Canes could use some fresh blood to coach up this unit. The Miami defensive line has been lacking physicality, aggressiveness and a dominating presence for quite some time. It has been years since Miami overpowered anybody on the line of scrimmage, and Miami has had one defensive lineman drafted in the last four years.
Furthermore, it did not exactly reflect well on the Hurricanes when Anthony Chickillo drew high praise for his performance at the East-West Shrine game last month and then ripped the coaching he received afterward. He took aim at the entire defensive scheme. Maybe that is the larger, overriding issue. But it is hard to overlook the way the line as a whole has played in recent years.
Now here's a look around the rest of the ACC:
- Clemson is already assembling a strong 2016 recruiting class.
- It was demolition day at Duke.
- Combine invitations have gone out. Florida State leads the way with 12 invitees. Louisville and Alabama are tied for second with 11 each.
- Terrific story from Stephen Bailey in the Syracuse Post-Standard on new Orange signee Evan Adams and the promise he made to his dying father.
- David Teel in The Daily Press asks whether Virginia Tech or Clemson can unseat Florida State and Georgia Tech.
- The Virginia Tech signing class might be low on skill players, but the Hokies are high on quarterback Dwayne Lawson and running back DeShawn McClease.
- Athlon presents ACC team recruiting consensus rankings.
It’s been seven years since a team other than Florida State or Clemson won the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and after the Seminoles and Tigers each signed a top-five recruiting class this year, the balance of power doesn’t appear poised to shift any time soon.
That might be a problem for the ACC overall. With FSU and Clemson jockeying for command of a conference that has struggled to keep up appearances compared with the neighboring SEC, consolidating power at the top while the rest of the league picks up the scraps might not be the best way to convince the public -- or future playoff committees -- that there is more to the ACC than its top two teams.
But what if a great rivalry at the top also means a boon for the teams farther down the ladder? Consider it trickle-down economics for the college football set.
At the same time, the balance of power was shifting in the SEC. Alabama had hired Nick Saban the year before, and by the end of 2008, the Crimson Tide were back in the national spotlight. Auburn, meanwhile, finished 5-7, and the gauntlet was thrown.
Over the next few years, the longtime rivals traded blows -- on the recruiting trail, on the fund-raising circuit, and on the field. The SEC was already the nation’s preeminent conference, but investment in maintaining that success grew exponentially. Alabama and Auburn paced the growth, but if Georgia and Tennessee and LSU and Florida wanted to keep pace, they had to go all-in, too. Cut-throat coaching changes, major renovations in facilities, bloody recruiting battles, huge pay raises for assistant coaches -- these became the norm. It was an arms race, and the two teams at the top set the pace.
The same groundwork isn’t there for the ACC just yet, but what Florida State and Clemson are doing could set a similar precedent. Just look at what’s happened in the past few months.
NC State had its best signing day in years.
Virginia Tech signed a solid class in spite of hot-seat rumors for head coach Frank Beamer. That group joins an already outstanding group of rising freshmen in Blacksburg.
Duke signed its best class under David Cutcliffe, too, while renovations to the stadium are ongoing.
North Carolina is still fending off its own NCAA black cloud, but to fix its disastrous defense, it brought in the same coach who engineered Auburn’s national title in 2010.
Overall last week, the ACC had six teams finish in the top 30 in ESPN’s recruiting rankings (the most by any conference other than the SEC), had 12 in the top 50, and saw Louisville, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest all jump at least 13 spots from the previous year’s rankings.
Meanwhile, FSU and Clemson keep chugging along, raising the bar again and again. The Seminoles will send more players to the NFL combine this year than any other program in the nation. Clemson just announced a $75 million investment in upgrading its athletics facilities. These two programs push the goal line a little further down the field, and everyone else is forced to keep pace.
That is not to suggest the ACC is poised to change perceptions on the national level just yet. The league signed 47 members of the ESPN 300 this year, which would sound pretty nice if the SEC hadn’t nabbed 116. Those six ACC programs that finished among the top 30 signing classes still represent just half of the SEC’s tally. North Carolina and Miami still must escape NCAA purgatory and build consistent winners, Virginia Tech must capitalize on its young talent to salvage Beamer’s job, and the young coaches at NC State and Wake Forest need to prove they can develop the talent they’re bringing in.
But there is a standard being set at the top, with Florida State and Clemson upping the ante in recruiting, player development and financial investment in their programs, and that’s good for everyone. It’s not Auburn-Alabama yet, and it probably never will be, but it’s a spotlight on a conference that has long coveted a bigger stage, and it’s a pace-setter for the second tier of the league that now needs to run a bit faster just to keep up.
“We’re very fortunate to have the resources, but we’re still not where we need to be comparatively to some of our competitors,” Swinney told The Post and Courier. “But I know Clemson’s getting a good bang for its buck.”
The story calls it “an arms race,” which is certainly an apt comparison. While USA Today compiled some basic numbers on what public schools are spending on recruiting last week, that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
After all, what exactly do those recruiting budgets entail? It’s mostly just the travel and expenses directly associated with landing a recruit, but there’s so much more when it comes to indirect costs.
As The Post and Courier notes, adding staff is one major area in which the big money schools can distance themselves on the recruiting trail. For places like Alabama, Florida State, USC and others, it’s not simply about landing a recruit. It’s the long, tedious task of identifying the players that they need to sell the most. That takes man hours, and the big-budget programs can afford to hire the people to study it. While on-field staff is limited by the NCAA, the support staffs at schools can vary widely, and numerous coaches I’ve spoken to point to that as one of the biggest disparities in the sport.
Of course, there’s also the issue of facilities, and Clemson just agreed to spend some big dollars on upgrading theirs.
This is nothing new either. Florida State finally got its indoor practice facility built before winning a national title in 2013, but that nice addition is more necessity than perk in this day and age. As we wrote at the time, even big spenders are feeling the push to spend more and more.
As arms races go, this isn’t one that’s likely to settle out too soon, and for programs like Clemson, it’s hard to say what the appropriate dollar value is to get from 10 wins a year to a national title.
A few more links:
- Jimbo Fisher has looked for an edge in recruiting by targeting some undervalued stars, writes the Orlando Sentinel.
- SI.com has a rundown of early enrollees who could make an instant impact, and the list include a couple of players from the ACC — and one more ACC teams could see a lot of this year.
- Virginia Tech tight end Bucky Hodges was arrested on charges of public intoxication over the weekend, reports The Roanoke Times.
- Todd Grantham was on the radar for an NFL job, but instead he’s getting a bump in salary at Louisville, writes The Courier-Journal.
- And lastly, sad to say goodbye to Dean Smith, one of the great figures in college sports. If you never read Tommy Tomlinson's profile of Coach Smith, take some time today to do so.
National signing day came and went, unless you're one of those highly regarded recruits who can't seem to make up your mind.
College football's rich continued to get richer, as three of the four teams that played in the inaugural College Football Playoff landed top-10 recruiting classes. Alabama signed the No. 1 class in the country, while Florida State's was No. 2 and Ohio State's was No. 6. Oregon had the No. 15 recruiting class.
With national signing day behind us, and most of the coaching moves complete, it's the perfect time for the second edition of the 2015 Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.
Ohio State is the new No. 1 (we heard you loud and clear, Buckeyes fans), and Alabama now joins OSU, TCU and USC in the top four.
Say goodbye to Utah, Oklahoma State and Minnesota. Say hello to Texas, Missouri and Louisville.
Here's the rest of the 2015 Way-Too-Early Top 25:
2014 record: 14-1, 8-0 Big Ten
Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense, 2 special teams
These 2016 QBs Can Start From Day One
TBD South Carolina North Carolina TBD Duke Tulane TBD Alcorn State Georgia Tech TBD Elon Wake Forest
TBD Maine Boston College TBD Wofford Clemson TBD Texas State Florida State TBD Bethune-Cookman Miami (FL) TBD Troy North Carolina State TBD Youngstown State Pittsburgh TBD Rhode Island Syracuse TBD Virginia UCLA TBD Louisville Auburn