NCF On The Trail: North Carolina Tar Heels

The linebacker position doesn't often receive much attention during 7-on-7 events, where quarterbacks, wide receivers and defensive backs dominate headlines. But with hundreds of players descending upon Las Vegas for the Pylon Elite 7v7 event this weekend, Caleb Kelly and Lokeni Toailoa -- the top outside and inside linebackers in the West region -- were among several must-see prospects on hand.

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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: North Carolina Tar Heels

February, 4, 2015
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North Carolina Tar Heels

North Carolina has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN 300
Jalen Dalton, DE -- West Forsyth High School, North Carolina
Ty'Son Williams, RB -- Crestwood High School, South Carolina
Tommy Hatton, OC -- Saint Joseph Regional High School, New Jersey
Carl Tucker, TE-H -- Hough High School, North Carolina

Four-stars
Johnathon Sutton, ILB -- Swansea High School, South Carolina
Jason Strowbridge, DE -- Deerfield Beach High School, Florida
William Sweet, OT -- First Coast High School, Florida
Juval Mollette, WR -- Randleman High School, North Carolina
Mason Veal, OT -- Ardrey Kell High School, North Carolina
Mike Hughes, ATH -- New Bern High School, North Carolina

Three-stars
Andre Smith, OLB -- Trinity Christian Academy, Florida
J.K. Britt, S -- Newnan High School, Georgia
Aaron Crawford, DT -- Stone Bridge High School, Virginia
Nick Polino, OG -- Buford High School, Georgia
Jake Bargas, TE-H -- Saint Andrews School, Florida
Anthony Ratliff-Williams, QB-DT -- Butler High School, North Carolina
Nathan Elliott, QB-DT -- Celina High School, Texas
Corey Bell Jr., CB -- Hough High School, North Carolina
Charlie Heck, OT -- Rockhurst High School, Missouri
The shockwaves from Texas A&M quarterback commitment Kyler Murray’s unofficial visit to Texas on Wednesday were still being felt Thursday because he's such an important target for both schools.


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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Even it looks like there is momentum for an early signing period in mid-December, college coaches still are torn on whether that’s a good thing. Plus, what does an early signing period do to the financial aid agreements players are already signing?


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Midyear additions: North Carolina

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According to GoHeels.com, the following players have signed with North Carolina:

J.K. Britt, S
HT: 5-11 WT: 185
Positional Rank: #49 S
Stars: 3

Hunter Crafford, LS
HT: 6-2 WT: 200
Positional Rank: N/A (TR)
Stars: none

Jalen Dalton, DE
HT: 6-5 WT: 240
Positional Rank: #9 DE
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (#86)
Under Armour All-American

Juval Mollette, WR
HT: 6-4 WT: 195
Positional Rank: #48 WR
Stars: 4

Anthony Ratliff-Williams, QB-DT
HT: 6-1 WT: 189
Positional Rank: #34 QB-DT
Stars: 3

Andre Smith, OLB
HT: 6-0 WT: 215
Positional Rank: #33 OLB
Stars: 3

Williams Sweet, OT
HT: 6-6 WT: 280
Positional Rank: #34 OT
Stars: 4

Carl Tucker, TE-H
HT: 6-2 WT: 220
Positional Rank: #4 TE-H
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (#275)

Ty'Son Williams, RB
HT: 6-0 WT: 202
Positional Rank: #15 RB
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (#139)

Mason Veal, OT
HT: 6-5 WT: 288
Positional Rank: #39 OT
Stars: 4

UA practice notebook: Day 3 

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Todd Wofford knows a good football player when he sees him.

As the coach at Central Gwinnett High School, Wofford has worked with some special players over the years, including ESPN 300 outside linebacker and current Alabama commitment Adonis Thomas and current Ohio State linebacker Trey Johnson. So it speaks volumes when he gushes about the running back talent he is tutoring this week at the Under Armour All-America Game.


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UA Day 1: Best sights and sounds

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Several players made incredible plays on Day 1 of the Under Armour All-America game practices. Byron Cowart had several sacks, quarterbacks Kyler Murray, Deondre Francois and Brandon Wimbush all made impressive throws, and Notre Dame commit Shaun Crawford had a big pass breakup. Here’s a closer look at some of the top plays caught on camera.

Notre Dame pledge Shaun Crawford with nearly perfect technique on a pass breakup of a pass intended for George Campbell.

Quarterback Kyler Murray with a beautiful touchdown pass.

George Campbell coming down with the catch.

Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins against Alabama recruit Richie Petitbon.

Georgia recruit Terry Godwin makes a catch against Iman Marshall.

Quarterback Deondre Francois with a nice touchdown pass over the middle.

UNC OL pledge Tommy Hatton winning a battle against the No. 1-ranked player in the country, Terry Beckner Jr.

Oregon recruit Canton Kaumatule with a great spin move to win his one-on-one battle.

Byron Cowart with a nice move on Drew Richmond for the sack of Blake Barnett.

South Carolina commit Arden Key with the tackle.

Brandon Wimbush with a nice touch pass.

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James Franklin comes up big again on the recruiting trail, playing a key role in landing talented cornerback Garrett Taylor. Plus, don’t be surprised if the silly season produces some major recruiting drama over the next two months.


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Class rankings: Nov. 19 update

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The top five remains steady, but Ohio State has moved a step closer to potentially breaking into that group. The Buckeyes, whose class is led by three five-star prospects, added a commitment from an eighth ESPN 300 player in offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. The top-10 OG is a big, tough and competitive player. He needs to continue to better blend technique with his aggressive nature, but with some work he can be a physical and productive presence in the trenches for Ohio State.

It has been a challenging season for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels, who have won three of their past four games, were able to score a big victory on the recruiting trail. With a commitment from ESPN 300 DE Jalen Dalton, North Carolina was able to keep the state's No. 3-ranked prospect at home. A lengthy and athletic defender with good upside, Dalton is a promising player who could grow into a potential playmaker for a team that needs major help on defense. Despite some of the struggles this season UNC has still managed to put together a strong class that now sits at No. 21 and features five ESPN 300 prospects.

Inside the rankings

The biggest challenge for Urban Meyer and his staff since he arrived in Columbus has been luring top-flight defensive front personnel and overall skill from the Midwest that is comparable to what he had at Florida. It has been a down period in Ohio for the 2014 and 2015 classes in terms of sheer numbers and caliber of players, which led to the Buckeyes going after guys like Joey Bosa (Florida), Raekwon McMillan (Georgia), Vonn Bell (Georgia) and many others to help supplement the roster. That trend is continuing with the commitment of 2015 athlete Torrance Gibson.

The good news for the Buckeyes is that the upcoming in-state 2016 class is much stronger and deeper, which hopefully will allow for them to not have to venture too far south this time around to supplement the roster. The Buckeyes already have four players committed in 2016 and all are from Ohio.



To read the full class rankings, click here.

Scout's Take: DE Jalen Dalton to UNC 

November, 13, 2014
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North Carolina has secured a commitment from Under Armour All-American defensive end Jalen Dalton. Below, see what the addition of this key in-state prospect means for the Tar Heels:


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Kansas State and TCU battle in one of the biggest games of the weekend, and Horned Frog coach Gary Patterson said both teams have been built off a comparable recruiting philosophy. Could landing ESPN 300 Junior recruit Jovanny Garcia start a trend for Minnesota?


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ESPN’s RecruitingNation released the updated class ranking for 2015 on Wednesday. Of course, Alabama remains in the top spot, but will be challenged by Georgia and Florida State for the top spot come National Signing Day.

Looking deeper into the class rankings, five teams off to poor starts could have a difficult time holding off rival teams for top recruits, including:

South Carolina

One could argue that the Gamecocks aren’t in need of a strong close in 2015 with 28 prospects already committed and a current place in the Top 10 classes, but needs remain on defense at tackle, linebacker, and cornerback for sure. A 6-6 or 7-5 season could make it tough to close, and give momentum to others trying to flip South Carolina commitments. Closing on Florida State defensive tackle commit and South Carolina native D.J. Jones could be tough, because the Seminoles remain atop the polls, and Clemson and Alabama are also possibilities. The same can be said for ESPN300 athlete Darius Slayton, who will likely choose between Georgia and South Carolina with a preference for wide receiver at the next level.

Miami (FL)

There was increased excitement headed into the 2014 season with the NCAA cloud lifted, and a number of exciting playmakers returning on offense. Throw in the otherworldly start to the 2016 class with seven ESPNJr300 pledges, and it looked like the Hurricanes were set up for a big finish in 2015 with momentum. Now 3-3 with a 6-6 finish a real possibility, the Hurricanes are no longer in the closing position. In fact, holding onto ESPN300 running back Dexter Williams could be difficult, and the Hurricanes have already lost ESPN300 tight end Bowman Archibald to Wake Forest. The Miami (FL) staff will be working hard to keep prospects such as Williams and ESPN300 linebacker Charles Perry in the fold, while attempting to finish the 2015 class that is need of playmakers and pass-rushers on defense.


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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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