- Jared Shanker, ESPN Staff Writer
It is a chicken or the egg argument. Has the SEC ruled college football for much of the last decade because the conference annually places five or more teams among the top 10 of the recruiting rankings? Or is the SEC’s recruiting dominance a result of seven straight national championships?
The ACC, though, could be the David to the SEC on the field and in recruiting. In the 2014 cycle, two ACC schools have top-five classes. Will that remain the same come signing day?
We look at that question and nine others as we examine the most pressing ACC recruiting questions leading up to signing day.
1. Will FSU and Miami remain in the top five of the class rankings?
Both classes are close to completion, so it could be tough for the Noles and Canes to finish in the top five of the rankings. Alabama is at No. 1 and could end up running away with another recruiting title. The rest of the SEC will charge hard come signing day, too. Tennessee should be a safe bet to finish in the top five, and programs such as Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss and more could break into the exclusive group come February. Tennessee recently jumped both schools, pushing Florida State to No. 3 and Miami to No. 4.
2. Can Miami surpass Florida State for the ACC’s top class?
If both were to fall out of the top five, there is still some pride in finishing with the top class in the conference. The Noles are ahead of the Canes at the moment, and it will be tough for the Canes to jump FSU. It looks as if Miami has two spots left and should finish with Johnnie Dixon and Anthony Moten. But the Noles could sign more than 30, and some of the country’s truly elite prospects have Florida State among their finalists. It looks doubtful that Miami -- or any ACC team -- will catch and pass Jimbo Fisher’s class.
3. Will Clemson finish in the top 10?
Sitting at No. 12 in the rankings, the Tigers have a good chance to finish in the top 10 and even an outside chance to crack the top seven. Defensive end Lorenzo Featherston (Greensboro, N.C./Page) is No. 27 in the ESPN 300 and a Clemson lean. It would be a surprise to see him land anywhere but with the Tigers. Cornerback D.J. Smith (Marietta, Ga./Walton), No. 88 in the ESPN 300, also looks to be leaning Clemson’s way, and the same could be said for defensive end Andrew Williams (McDonough, Ga./Eagles Christian Landing), No. 168 in the rankings. The prize of the defensive class would be five-star inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan, however. He is slated to visit officially later this month, and the No. 12 player and top linebacker in 2014 has the Tigers among his top three.
4. Can Pitt close out with three of its four Western Pennsylvania targets?
For Pitt’s class to be considered a success, Paul Chryst needs to do just that. The Panthers are struggling some with Pittsburgh-area prospects in 2014, but the same happened in 2013 before Pitt landed Dorian Johnson and Tyler Boyd. In February, the Panthers hope to land Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mt. Lebanon), Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) and Shai McKenzie (Washington, Pa./Washington); Henry, Bookser and Nicholson are all in the ESPN 300 and have Pitt among their finalists. Henry is a Pitt legacy. Bookser looks to be focused on Ohio State and Pitt; Nicholson will decide in December and is projected to Pitt.
5. Will Duke sign an ESPN 300 prospect?
The Blue Devils have never signed an ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 prospect since the rankings began almost a decade ago. That was going to change in 2014 with quarterback Nicodem Pierre (Miami/Coral Reef), but the dual-threat dropped from the ESPN 300 in October. However, Trevon Lee (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Cardinal Gibbons) could be leaning Duke’s way with the Blue Devils on a roll this season. With a guaranteed winning regular season -- their first in nearly two decades -- Lee is thinking hard about Duke. Academics are big for the 241st-ranked player, so a decision could come down to Duke and Vanderbilt.
6. Does Mike London -- and UVA’s top-25 class -- survive?
It has been ugly in Charlottesville this season. Freddy Krueger is a certified dime compared to the Cavaliers’ season. Virginia is 2-8 with seven consecutive losses -- a 21-point loss to Ball State included among them -- and has dropped its last two games by a combined score of 104-24. London could very well be on the way out following the season, but his saving grace could be Virginia’s best class in a long time, maybe ever. The top-ranked defensive tackle (Andrew Brown) and safety (Quin Blanding), both five-star commits, are on board, and a total of five ESPN 300 prospects are pledged to the Cavs. Four-star quarterback Corwin Cutler from Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy is also on board, and he could be a quick fix to Virginia’s atrocious offense. But if London goes, much of the class probably will, too.
7. Does Jamil Kamara sign in the ACC?
One player who likely does not go to Virginia if London is not retained is Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan), No. 269 in the ESPN 300. He was a shoe-in for the Cavs’ class before the season, but the lack of offense and the poor record in Charlottesville is making some of his other finalists all the more enticing. Kamara has recently officially visited Michigan State and Wisconsin, and Pittsburgh will host him after the season. Virginia and Pitt were the unquestioned top two, but Wisconsin made a big impression on Kamara in October. There could be a few dark horse teams, too, before a January decision, so no guarantee he lands in the ACC anymore.
8. Will an ACC championship game berth fortify Virginia Tech's recruiting efforts?
For all its flaws and ugly losses, it looks as if the Hokies could be heading back to another ACC title game. They do not control their own destiny, but Georgia Tech is at Clemson this weekend and Duke has to play Miami and at a surging North Carolina to close out the season. If the Yellow Jackets and Duke lose, the Hokies are in, which would be another feather in the cap for Frank Beamer in the houses of recruits. Even when the country is down on the Hokies, they still are the ACC’s most consistent winner and vying for another BCS bowl. Virginia Tech’s class already has been significantly upgraded the last few months, and the balance of power in Virginia very well could begin shifting back to Virginia Tech in the coming months.
9. Who does Florida State close with?
If everything falls into place, the Seminoles could sign around 32 prospects. And with Jameis Winston and a possible national title, no team in the country is poised to close stronger than Florida State. Just a few of the ESPN 300 names that are high on Florida State: Adoree' Jackson, Marlon Humphrey, Tony Brown, Malachi Dupre, Josh Malone, Joe Mixon, Mattrell McGraw, Travis Rudolph, Donte Thomas-Williams, Damian Prince and Kentavius Street. Jackson, Humphrey and Brown are all five-star cornerbacks. Highly recruited juco OT Chad Mavety also could be leaning the Noles’ way. So with a possible seven spots left, Florida State could sign one of the best classes in FSU history.
10. Will UNC’s second-half resurgence help in 2015 with in-state recruits?
North Carolina was off to a horrific start to the season, and the 2014 class within the state’s borders suffered. However, UNC very well could finish the season on a six-game winning streak and finish at 7-5 with a bowl berth. That would go a long way with in-state recruits in the future class. North Carolina struggled with in-state prospects in 2014, and if Larry Fedora is going to right the ship in Tar Heel Country it will begin with better in-state recruiting. There are a total of 16 ESPN Junior 300 prospects from North Carolina.
It is a chicken or the egg argument. Has the SEC ruled college football for much of the last decade because the conference annually places five or more teams among the top 10 of the recruiting rankings?