NCF On The Trail: Louisville Cardinals

Louisville signed the 30th-best 2015 class and is already off to a great start in 2016. The Cardinals have a good group of receivers on board and look to be in great shape with ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Jawon Pass.

Three-star running back Matt Colburn has landed at Wake Forest, a week after Louisville asked him to delay his enrollment, drawing national headlines.

Colburn made the announcement at his South Carolina high school on Wednesday, and Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson tweeted out the news after the school received his letter of intent.

Colburn drew widespread attention after Tony Grantham told him on Feb. 2 that there was no scholarship available for him in 2015. Instead, he was asked to grayshirt, delaying his enrollment until 2016.

To read Andrea Adelson's full report click here.
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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.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson coach Dabo Swinney, left, and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher lead elite programs that are forcing the rest of the ACC to keep pace.
The last time the ACC signed two top-five classes was in 2008, back when the playoff was a pipe dream, conference realignment was but a whisper, and Deshaun Watson was in the seventh grade. Miami and Clemson put together the nation’s two best signing classes, but neither program saw immediate dividends. An NCAA investigation unmoored any hope the Hurricanes could return to national prominence, and Clemson parted ways with its head coach just eight months after he signed the country’s No. 2 class.

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.
"Signing day delivers usual intrigue and drama"

The headline that capped the madcap fun that is the first Wednesday of every February did not apply to the ACC this year.

That had to be a relief to coaches across the league.

While No. 1-rated ESPN 300 prospect Byron Cowart dawdled between Auburn and Florida, the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12 each withstood their share of nationally televised signing day announcements, flips and flops.

In ACC country, nobody had to wait on a hat choice. Clemson finished up its No. 4 class by mid-morning with nary a surprise. Of course, it helps that 15 of its freshmen had already enrolled, including five-star offensive lineman Mitch Hyatt.

Florida State did not have to wait on pins and needles for wavering recruits, either. The Noles had eight early enrollees themselves, including elite players Josh Sweat, George Campbell and Derwin James.

As FSU reporter Jared Shanker wrote:
"A program once known for its signing-day surges had no surprises as all 20 commitments faxed their letters of intent by mid-morning. Even the signing-day addition of ESPN 300 safety Marcus Lewis was mostly expected, capping the nation’s No. 2 class at 21 signees."

The same went for Virginia Tech, which had nearly its entire Top 25 class ready to sign for weeks. The Hokies had seven early enrollees, but several commits withstood late offers -- including tackle Mike Arnold -- to hold firm.

"We had one guy make a decision to join our class in the last two weeks,” Virginia Tech recruiting coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “The rest of them have been committed. We held on to this class, and I think we're really proud of that."

It was an unusual feeling, considering every coach is prepared for the twists and turns that come with 18-year-olds making big decisions about their future.

“You have those signing day moments every year,” Stinespring said. “That's what you expect. You hope they're to a minimum. This is one we really felt good throughout with this class. I like for it to always be that way, but we know it's probably not going to go that way often.”

Louisville may have provided the most drama not only on Wednesday but in the days leading up to signing day: first offering troubled defensive end Devonte Fields, then coming under scrutiny for asking long-committed back Matt Colburn to grayshirt.

On signing day itself, Louisville held on to commitments from defensive end G.G. Robinson and quarterback Lamar Jackson after late pushes from SEC schools (Auburn for Robinson; Florida for Jackson). The Cards lost just one player, defensive end Sheldrick Redwine flipped to Miami.

Still, Louisville finished with the No. 30 class in the ESPN RecruitingNation rankings, as 12 ACC teams finished in the top 50.
  • No. 2 Florida State
  • No. 4 Clemson
  • No. 23 Miami
  • No. 24 North Carolina
  • No. 25 Virginia Tech
  • No. 30 Louisville
  • No. 33 NC State
  • No. 41 Georgia Tech
  • No. 42 Wake Forest
  • No. 45 Duke
  • No. 46 Virginia
  • No. 48 Pittsburgh

"It's a celebration," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said after announcing his class Wednesday. "And no drama. That’s the way it ought to be.”

Completed class: Louisville Cardinals

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Louisville has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN JC50
Devonte Fields DE -- Trinity Valley Community College, Texas
Jeremy Smith RB -- Fresno City College, Louisiana

ESPN 300
Traveon Samuel ATH -- Central High School, Alabama
Devante Peete WR -- Saint Thomas Aquinas High School, Florida

Four-stars
Emonee Spence WR -- Flanagan High School, Florida

Three-stars
Khane Pass S -- Carver High School, Georgia
Lamar Jackson QB-DT -- Boynton Beach High School, Florida
Geron Christian OT -- Trinity Catholic High School, Florida
Amonte Caban ILB -- Smiths Station High School, Alabama
Darius Smith ATH -- Florence High School, Alabama
James Allen RB -- North Marion High School, Florida
G.G. Robinson DE -- Parkview High School, Georgia
Trey Smith RB -- Madison Central High School, Mississippi
Drew Bailey DT -- Pearl River Community College, Georgia
Jonathan Greenard DE -- Hiram High School, Georgia
Tim Bonner DE -- Demopolis Academy, Alabama
Chandler Jones OG -- McEachern High School, Georgia
Jaire Alexander CB -- Rocky River High School, North Carolina
Khalil Hunter OT -- Eastern Arizona College, Arizona
Jaylen Smith WR -- Pascagoula High School, Mississippi
Kenny Thomas Jr. OT -- Prattville High School, Alabama
Cole Hikutini TE-Y -- City College of San Francisco, California

Ungraded
Paul Harris WR -- Iowa Western Community College MD
Kiola Mahoni OT -- College of San Mateo, California
Jamari Staples WR -- University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alabama
National signing day, and the build up to it, is as close as Texas and Texas A&M get to actual football competition these days, to see who will in fact “run this state.”

Well, right now it’s neither school. The Lone Star State is run by Baylor and TCU, the Big 12 co-champs that narrowly missed the initial College Football Playoff field.

That’s why the 2015 recruiting class and the season are so vital to both the Longhorns and Aggies, with each power striving to re-establish itself -- not just regionally, but nationally.

Texas and Texas A&M lead off our look at programs and coaches that need the 2015 class to pay off, and the sooner the better.

(Note: The RecruitingNation ranking and number of commitments are updated as of Sunday evening.)

1. Texas
Ranking: 9
Commitments: 26

The Longhorns have secured a number of solid, team-building pieces in this class, and a few high-end targets -- DT Daylon Mack and RB Soso Jamabo, among them -- remain distinct possibilities to sign with Texas this week.

Still, Wednesday

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ESPN 300 prospect Holton Hill is one of only three elite cornerbacks remaining on the board in the 2015 class, and that means coaches are doing all they can to land his commitment.


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Top 10 instant-impact recruits in 2015 

January, 14, 2015
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With signing day a few weeks away, early enrollees already on campus and the national championship game in the books, which teams are reloading with talent that can hit the field and make an immediate impact?

Here are 10 committed prospect who have the chance to contribute early and often in the 2015 season:


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Time to see if Petrino can still recruit 

December, 30, 2014
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There were many questions surrounding Bobby Petrino’s return to Louisville, and many were focused on how he would do on the recruiting trail. Would recruits respond, or will they fear he might bolt for another school, as he has done in the past? For the 2015 class, it seems recruits like what they see. The Cardinals have a top-40 recruiting class and appear well on their way to a solid finish this recruiting cycle.


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Midyear additions:  Louisville

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Louisville has signed seven players for the spring semester, according to ESPN's Gerry Hamilton:

Jaire Alexander, CB
HT: 5-11 WT: 165
Positional Rank: #67 CB
Stars: 3

Drew Bailey, DE
HT: 6-4 WT: 280
Positional Rank: N/A (JC)
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Tim Cook, ATH
HT: 6-1 WT: 235
Positional Rank: #4 ATH (JC)
Stars: 3

Paul Harris, WR
HT: 6-3 WT: 205
Positional Rank: #N/A (JC)
Stars: Evaluation Pending

Khalil Hunter, OT
HT: 6-4 WT: 295
Positional Rank: #14 OT (JC)
Stars: 3

Traveon Samuel, ATH
HT: 5-7 WT: 175
Positional Rank: #17 ATH
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (#187)

Jeremy Smith, RB
HT: 6-1 WT: 225
Positional Rank: #6 RB (JC)
Stars: 3
Are four-star DT Carlos Davis and his twin, three-star tackle Khalil Davis, still committed to Nebraska? Good luck figuring that out. Plus, handicapping the finalists in advance of Josh Sweat’s Wednesday decision.

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Several of the West’s top uncommitted recruits such as Christian Kirk and John Houston Jr. will be at ASU this weekend for visits that could alter the recruiting race in the Pac-12. Plus, Carlos Davis and Khalil Davis are doing everything they can to help their team advance in the Missouri state playoffs.

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While Louisville’s upset bid over Florida State came up short on Thursday night, the Cardinals certainly showed prospects a glimpse of what the future may hold under Bobby Petrino. With ESPN Junior 300 quarterback Keaton Torre (No. 64) already in the fold, the Cardinals' 2016 class is off to a good start. On Friday, a second ESPN Junior 300 prospect, wide receiver Desmond Pitzpatrick, threw his name in the hat for Louisville.


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About this time of year coaches scour junior college ranks for offensive line talent, and thathas helped Tyler Howell become one of hottest targets around. Plus, is Clemson in danger of losing ESPN 300 commitment Juwuan Briscoe?

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Help is on the way: ACC 

October, 8, 2014
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Each year on the recruiting trail, schools are met with needs that need to be addressed to shore up depth issues both immediately and down the line. With four months until national signing day for the class of 2015, many teams have addressed and met needs.


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