NCF On The Trail: North Carolina State Wolfpack

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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.
Since the advent of ESPN.com's recruiting rankings in 2006 and through the 2013 class, NC State was abysmal recruiting its own state.

The Wolfpack signed two nationally ranked North Carolinians, and simply put, that isn’t good enough, especially considering there were 44 ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 recruits from the state during that period. The Wolfpack signed one more ranked player than East Carolina and Wake Forest.

Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren harped on that when he was hired after the 2012 season. In a division that includes Clemson (which signed seven nationally ranked North Carolina recruits from 2006-13) and Florida State, settling for third-tier prospects within his own state’s borders would only extend the program’s two-decade run of sustained mediocrity.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Frasier
John Albright/Icon SportswireNC State signed three in-state ESPN 300 prospects, including No. 80 Johnny Frasier.
"If [in-state recruits] want to leave, it's going to be really hard," Doeren said at his introductory news conference. "They are going to have great relationships with me and our coaches. ... We are going to get them here, get them to our games, and we're going to make it very difficult.”

Recruiting relationships are now a two- and three-year process, and NC State is seeing the dividends in Doeren’s third year. NC State signed three ESPN 300 prospects from North Carolina in the 2015 class after bringing in two nationally ranked recruits the class prior.

“We handled our business in state,” Doeren said in a Wednesday phone interview with ESPN.com. “We signed [12] in-state and that means a lot to our fans and in general where they don’t leave and play against us.”

It did not look as if that would be the case going into the 2014 season. During the spring and summer months, when most commitments in this accelerated cycle tend to happen, Doeren and his staff were forced to sell a vision.

Hardly any prospects could see it as Doeren was selling a program that was winless in the ACC and had just three wins under his direction.

In the fall of 2014, though, behind transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett, the Wolfpack began the season 4-0 and put a scare into No. 1 Florida State in the ACC opener. They would finish the season 8-5 with a bowl win against AAC co-champion UCF.

“It had an impact on a lot of these guys. We knew once we started winning games the interest would peak,” Doeren said. “… It’s having a tangible message.”

Fourteen of NC State’s 22 signees, or 64 percent, committed after the opener. No ACC team had a higher percentage of its class pledge after their first game. The five highest-rated signees in NC State’s class, including all three ESPN 300 recruits, committed after its 4-0 start. Johnny Frasier, the sixth highest-ranked running back nationally according to RecruitingNation, flipped from Florida State to NC State less than two weeks before signing day.

“We’re not car salesmen over here. We speak the truth of what we’ve done and where we’re going,” Doeren said. “… [NC State] is such a great opportunity with our fan base and facilities. I don’t know why it wasn’t being sold in the right way but it’s a matter of marketing.

“We’re a sleeping giant and we’re letting people know.”
"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: NC State Wolfpack

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NC State has announced its 2015 class:

ESPN 300
Johnny Frasier RB -- Princeton High School, North Carolina
Nyheim Hines RB -- Garner Senior High School, North Carolina
Darian Roseboro DT -- Lincolnton High School, North Carolina

Four-stars
Emanuel McGirt OT -- Hillside High School, North Carolina

Three-stars
Reggie Gallaspy RB -- Southern Guilford High School, North Carolina
Quentez Johnson DT -- Cedar Grove High School, Georgia
Vernon Grier WR -- Mallard Creek High School, North Carolina
Riley Nicholson ILB -- Kissimmee-Osceola High School, Florida
Jarius Morehead WR -- Eastern Guilford High School, North Carolina
Tyrone Riley OLB -- Calvary Baptist Day School, Georgia
Freddie Phillips WR -- Pelion High School, South Carolina
Aaron Wiltz OT -- Catholic High School, Louisiana
Brian Sessoms WR -- Carver High School, North Carolina
T.J. McCoy OG -- South Lake High School, Florida
Daris Workman OT -- Contra Costa College, North Carolina
Freddie Simmons WR -- Bethlehem Catholic High School, Pennsylvania
James Smith-Williams OLB -- Millbrook High School, North Carolina
Jakobi Meyers QB-DT -- Arabia Mountain High School, Georgia
Phillip Walton OT -- Charlotte Christian School, North Carolina

Ungraded
Emmanuel Olenga DE -- Olympic High School, North Carolina
Tyler Griffiths LS -- Sun Valley High School, North Carolina
Eurndraus Bryant DT -- Fort Dorchester High School, South Carolina
NC State has a new headliner for its 2015 class after luring ESPN 300 running back Johnny Frasier from Florida State. Here's a look at how big this commitment is the the Wolfpack:

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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Midyear additions: N.C. State

January, 8, 2015
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Six prospects from the 2015 class and two greyshirts from 2014 have enrolled at N.C. State, according to the school's official website GoPack.com:

Kyle Bambard, K
HT: 5-9 WT: 175
Positional Rank: #12 K (2014)
Stars: 3

A.J. Cole, K
HT: 6-4 WT: 210
Positional Rank: #19 K (2014)
Stars: 3

Reggie Gallaspy, RB
HT: 5-10 WT: 208
Positional Rank: #44 RB
Stars: 3

T.J. McCoy, OG
HT: 6-2 WT: 314
Positional Rank: #77 OG
Stars: 3

Riley Nicholson, ILB
HT: 6-0 WT: 224
Positional Rank: #25 ILB
Stars: 3

Freddie Phillips, WR
WT: 6-1 WT: 193
Positional Rank: #119 WR
Stars: 3

Darian Roseboro, DT
HT: 6-4 WT: 285
Positional Rank: #19 DT
Stars: 4
ESPN 300 (#166)

James Smith-Williams, OLB
HT: 6-4 WT: 205
Positional Rank: #111 OLB
Stars: 3

Early Offer: Isaac Nauta keeps FSU rolling 

December, 15, 2014
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The addition of No. 1 2016 TE Isaac Nauta shows that the Florida State recruiting machine shows no signs of slowing down. Plus, Tennessee continues to impress with its 2015 defensive class.


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Top sleeper commits: ACC 

December, 15, 2014
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Five-star and ESPN 300 prospects create the most buzz, but with more than a hundred FBS programs competing for talent, it takes more than just those top-rated prospects and rosters are built with mainly prospects that enter college with little fanfare, but their development and contributions are key to a program’s success. Every year we see prospects who flew under the radar, but developed into some of their conference's top players.

Throughout our evaluations we come across many players who show promise and based of their upside for development or scheme fit are great additions.

Here are five unheralded commitments in the ACC worth keeping an eye on.

OG Wyatt Knopfke, Boston College
While Knopfke is an ESPN 300 player, he’s not as well-known as other interior linemen in the rankings. The big man out of Florida is a physical, strong player with the tools to be a good well-rounded player. And while listed at guard, he could be a candidate to develop at center as well. With an Eagles line that was loaded with seniors this season, head Coach Steve Addazio, an O-line coach himself, has a player who can develop into a key contributor in Knopfke.

DE LaSamuel Davis, Clemson
Four-star prospects like OT Zach Giella and athlete Van Smith are talented prospects and still rated highly, but they could be overlooked in a Tigers’ class that features double-digit ESPN 300 prospects. Another prospect in that group is Davis who notched over 100 tackles and 16 sacks this season. A rangy defender with wiry strength, he can use his hands well, flashes a good first-step and displays the tools to at least develop into a productive edge rusher. He needs to work to fill out his frame and be more consistent with his motor, but among this great collection of talent, Davis could emerge in time as a productive defensive contributor.


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Early Offer: Who will land Soso Jamabo? 

November, 20, 2014
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Soso Jamabo loved visits to UCLA and Notre Dame, but is it too early to count out the Texas schools? Plus, NC State added a key pledge on Wednesday that should give the Wolfpack much-needed help on the offensive line.

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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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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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Randy Edsall knows recruiting is the lifeblood of his program, and he is really impressing local coaches with his effort. Plus, don’t be surprised if you see NC State finish with a flurry.

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Scout's Take: DT Roseboro to NC State 

October, 11, 2014
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Defensive tackle Darian Roseboro has become NC State's first ESPN 300 pledge for 2015. Read below to see how quickly Roseboro can make an impact along the Wolfpack defensive line:


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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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