NCF On The Trail: Pittsburgh Panthers

Signing day wrap: ACC

February, 5, 2014
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Signing day is known for the crazy. Condense an entire college football season into 12 hours and that offers a glimpse -- albeit minimally -- into the first Wednesday of February.

It began with ESPN 300 defensive lineman Malik McDowell (Southfield, Mich./Southfield), arms folded and chest out, announcing his intention to sign with Michigan State. His intention to sign. A glare from his parents and whispers in the gym let it be known this saga was not going to end at 10 a.m. in front of a microphone.

Both of McDowell’s parents would like to see their son, No. 60 in the ESPN 300, at any school in his top four not nicknamed the Spartans. Florida State is among those finalists, and several predicted the Seminoles would land McDowell considering his parents' distaste for all things Green. So Jimbo Fisher and those inside Doak Campbell are keeping the fax machine plugged in, offering a few more hours' respite from the storage closet for the condemned technology.

Ultimately, McDowell, whether of his own volition or executing his parents’ will, did not fax a letter of intent to Michigan State as of 8:00 p.m. ET, and the Noles finished signing day with the No. 3 class sans another elite lineman.

Compared to the McDowell drama, the rest of the morning was tame for the ACC. There were some tense moments, but signing day pretty much went the way most expected.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Nnadi
John Albright/Icon SMIGetting ESPN 300 DE Derrick Nnandi on Wednesday helped make national signing day successful for Florida State.
No team had more of an opportunity to close strong than the Noles, and Fisher did a fine job closing. It was unrealistic to expect Florida State to land every recruit on the board, five-star Lorenzo Carter (signed with Georgia) and No. 1 receiver Malachi Dupre (LSU) among them. However, into the fold for Florida State was ESPN 300 linemen Derrick Nnadi (Virginia Beach, Va./Ocean Lakes), Roderick Johnson (Florissant, Mo./Hazelwood Central) and Derrick Kelly Jr. (Quincy, Fla./East Gadsden), who was poised to sign with Florida but gave his commitment at the 11th hour.

Florida State was involved with a handful of signing day flips, but none that caught the Noles’ staff off-guard. No. 7 dual-threat quarterback Treon Harris (Miami/Booker T. Washington) switched to Florida and Dexter Wideman (Saluda, S.C./Saluda) signed with South Carolina, but the Noles flipped Ja'Von Harrison (Lakeland, Fla./Kathleen), No. 117 in the ESPN 300. Harrison was committed to Virginia Tech for 18 months before his signing day change of heart. Harrison, ranked as an athlete, finalized what could be the best receiver class in the country. It was one of the best classes nationally, too.

“We’ve had large numbers this year, got needs all the way across the board and filled it with great players and everyone position across the board we had somebody in,” Jimbo Fisher said at his signing day news conference. “We were excited about that.”

Miami’s flipping efforts went for naught, but it prevented one of its own from changing allegiances. Local defensive end Chad Thomas (Miami/Booker T. Washington), ranked No. 3 among Hurricanes commits, took late official visits to Alabama and Florida State. There was some panic from fans when Thomas’ fax did not roll through exactly at 9 a.m., but Canes coach Al Golden said Thomas’ mother reassured him the 65th-ranked player in the country would stay near South Beach.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney would scoff at the claim FSU has the best receiver class. The Noles received the signing day pats on the back for landing No. 2 receiver Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead) and Harrison on Wednesday while the Tigers had three four-star receivers already on campus. ESPN 300 receivers Demarre Kitt (Tyrone, Ga./Sandy Creek), Artavis Scott (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake) and four-star Kyrin Priester (Snellville, Ga./Fork Union) enrolled in early January. ESPN 300 receiver Trevion Thompson (Durham, N.C./Hillside) signed Wednesday.

“It was a critical need for us ... and we are excited about all four,” Swinney said at his signing day news conference.

Mike London had a quiet signing day in his Charlottesville office, but that is all he could have hoped for following a winless ACC campaign. The Virginia coach did most of his 2014 recruiting work before the 2013 season, and he was able to secure the signatures of five-star Quin Blanding (Virginia Beach, Va./Bayside) and ESPN 300 recruits Jeff Farrar (Upland, Calif./Upland), Jamil Kamara (Virginia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan) and Steven Moss (Fredericksburg, Va./Chancellor High).

“Obviously keeping the class was important when the season didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to ... but the in-state kids wanted to play together and build a brand together,” London said on the ESPNU signing day telecast.

While the day was quiet for Duke, it was still most the shocking signing day Durham has ever seen. The Blue Devils, coming off a 10-win season and an ACC title game, signed its first ESPN 300 recruit and four four-star recruits overall. Between 2010 and 2013, Duke signed only one four-star prospect -- a kicker.

While the ACC did not touch the SEC in the number of teams toward the top of the class rankings, for the most part the conference as a whole improved, and Florida State went a long way in challenging Alabama to become college football’s next dynasty.
Some are can't-miss prospects, such as Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback was ESPN's No. 1 QB in the Class of 2012, won the Heisman Trophy in his first season as the Seminoles' starter and added a national championship to cap his redshirt freshman year.

Others are not so easy to find.

Andre Williams, who finished three spots behind Winston in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting, was a two-star prospect in the Class of 2010. All the Boston College running back did this past fall was tally the fifth-highest rushing total in FBS history (2,177 yards).

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Andre Williams
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesAndre Williams and Jameis Winston came from opposite ends of the recruiting spectrum.
With national signing day coming Wednesday, we figured this is a good time to revisit where our All-ACC players stood when they signed with their schools. The results, as usual, offer some surprises.

Just one ESPN.com All-ACC player from this past season entered college as a five-star prospect. Williams was one of two two-star prospects. There were 11 four-star prospects and eight three-star prospects. Two players, both of whom are from the high school Class of 2009, don't have star ratings, as ESPN didn't start using star ratings until 2010. Kickers and punters have no ratings, rankings or grades.

(All rankings and information are from ESPN's Recruiting Nation.)

Offense

  • QB Jameis Winston, Florida State via Hueytown (Ala.) High: Four stars, No. 14 overall prospect, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 84
  • RB: Andre Williams, Boston College via Allentown (Pa.) Parkland High: Two stars, No. 152 RB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 73
  • RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State via Miami Central High: Four stars, No. 15 RB, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson via South Fort Myers (Fla.) High: Four stars, No. 39 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 82
  • WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State via Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas High: Four stars, No. 125 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke via Monroe (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 65 WR, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
  • TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina via Greensboro (N.C.) Smith High: Four stars, No. 8 TE, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • T: Cameron Erving, Florida State via Colquitt County (Ga.) High: Three stars, No. 83 DT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 76
  • T: Brandon Thomas, Clemson via Dorman (S.C.) High: No. 60 OG, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76*
  • G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke via Chicago Lane Tech High: Three stars, No. 65 OG, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 75
  • G: Tre’ Jackson, Florida State via Wayne County (Ga.) High: Three stars, No. 50 DT, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
  • C: Bryan Stork, Florida State via Vero Beach (Fla.) High: No. 45 TE, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76*
Defense

  • DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson via Adairsville (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 19 ATH, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 80
  • DE: Kareem Martin, North Carolina via Roanoke Rapids (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 59 DE, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 80
  • DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt via Pittsburgh Penn Hills High: Four stars, No. 22 DT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • DT: Timmy Jernigan, Florida State via Lake City (Fla.) Columbia High: Four stars, No. 17 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 84
  • LB: Telvin Smith, Florida State via Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes High: Four stars, No. 107 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 81
  • LB: Kelby Brown, Duke via Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High: Three stars, No. 88 OLB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 75
  • LB: Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College via Stamford (Conn.) The King & Low Heywood Thomas School: Four stars, No. 20 OLB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • CB: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State via Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas High: Five stars, No. 6 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 87
  • CB: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech via Baltimore Mount St. Joseph High: Three stars, No. 43 CB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 77
  • S: Terrence Brooks, Florida State via Dunnellon (Fla.) High: Three stars, No. 21 CB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 70
  • S: Anthony Harris, Virginia via Cheesterfield (Va.) Lloyd C. Bird High: Two stars, No. 203 ATH, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 72
Special Teams

  • K: Nate Freese, Boston College via Strongsville (Ohio) High: Class of 2009
  • P: Pat O’Donnell, Miami via Palm Beach (Fla.) Central High: Class of 2009
  • SP: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina via Charleston (W.Va.) George Washington High: Four stars, No. 59 WR, Class of 2013. Scout grade: 80

Biggest flips: ACC 

February, 3, 2014
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With prospects making commitments earlier than ever, naturally there are second thoughts before signing day. That leads to a number of recruits decommitting and flipping to another school.

Here is a look at five of the biggest flips in the ACC in the 2014 recruiting class.


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Ultimate 300: ACC's top classes 

January, 30, 2014
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Clemson has the most top-20 players in the Ultimate ESPN 300, which ranks all top recruits since 2006. Florida State has the most overall. So which ACC school has recruited the best since 2006?

Here is a look at the five ACC schools that consistently put together strong recruiting classes and have developed that high school talent.

1. Florida State
The top of the recruiting rankings often reflect the top of the BCS rankings (see: Alabama), so to those who follow recruiting, it should not have been too much of a surprise to see Florida State finally return to the ranks of college football’s elite. Jimbo Fisher has strung together back-to-back top-two recruiting classes and could claim the recruiting title in 2014. Known for developing quarterbacks, Fisher turned E.J. Manuel into a first-round pick and coached Jameis Winston to a Heisman Trophy. The defensive-line recruiting has been outstanding, too. Bjoern Werner was a first-round pick in 2013, and Timmy Jernigan has the looks of a first-round selection. The same could be said for former No. 1 recruit Mario Edwards, an FSU sophomore who was among the best defensive players in the national championship game. In total, the Seminoles have 18 players in the Ultimate 300, by far the most of any ACC school. One of the best indicators of how well a team recruits is to look four years down the road at the NFL draft. And in 2013, the 11 Seminoles drafted were the most of any school.


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Ultimate 300: ACC's top recruits 

January, 29, 2014
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An interesting look at recruiting classes over the better part of the past decade, the Ultimate 300 took years of data and on-field performance and compiled it to complete the list of the 300 best recruits since 2006. It is no surprise that Alabama had the most former recruits in the rankings, but it is an ACC school that finished No. 2.

How a prospect fared in college impacted where he was slotted, although NFL production was not considered. Below are the top five recruits in the Ultimate ESPN 300 to sign within the ACC.

1. DE Da'Quan Bowers -- Clemson
Ultimate ESPN 300: 12

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Most important targets: ACC 

January, 28, 2014
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This is the time for schools to make final visits and final pitches to recruits. Only a select number of prospects remain uncommitted, as most programs’ classes are close to completion, which means coaching staffs are focusing their attention on the final big pieces to the puzzle.

Here are the top targets remaining for each ACC school:

Boston College
DT Oseh Saine (Worcester, Mass./Worcester)
6-foot-4, 295 pounds
Not rated
It is possible Boston College will add another commitment between now and signing day. Coach Steve Addazio is hoping for a quiet signing day, as his first full class at BC is a good one, and any unexpected news on Feb. 5 could be bad news for the Eagles. Postgraduate defensive lineman Oseh Saine could sign, however, and he made an official visit after the Eagles had offered. There are academic hurdles, but if Saine is playing FBS football next season, it likely will be with the Eagles.


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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- James Franklin hasn't even spent one night in Happy Valley, but Penn State's new head coach has already thrown down the recruiting gauntlet against Pittsburgh and other teams in the northeast.

"Our recruiting philosophy," Franklin said Saturday afternoon during his introductory press conference, "we are going to dominate the state. We are going to dominate the region.

"I'm going to call all the high school coaches. I'm calling all the people in the state that we need to come together like never before."

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsJames Franklin didn't mince words when talking about recruiting, say that it's his mission for the Nittany Lions to dominate within the state of Pennsylvania.
Franklin emphasized every line about recruiting and spoke passionately during his first-ever news conference as the Penn State head coach. He's been widely regarded as an incredible recruiter -- he reeled in 22 four-star commits during his time at Vanderbilt -- and he didn't hesitate when asked about his high recruiting hopes.

The new coach's bold statement comes after years of PSU routinely losing out in western Pennsylvania. Sure, Penn State has earned commitments of some prospects such as wideout Troy Apke, but it's missed more than it's hit. PSU fell out of favor with ESPN 300 targets such as WR Tyler Boyd (2013 commit; Pitt), ATH Dravon Henry (2014 commit; West Virginia) and DB Montae Nicholson (2014 commit; Michigan State).

Beating Pitt out for recruits in its own backyard is a daring statement. So, a few minutes after answering his first recruiting question, Franklin was given a chance to soften his words. This time, he was asked where his recruiting focus lay -- but he again wasted no time in reinforcing his original point.

"I don't know if I mentioned this before, but we're going to dominate the state," he said matter-of-factly. "That's the first thing we're going to do."

And after that? Well, Franklin said next comes the region, in such states and areas as New Jersey, New York, New England, Virginia and Delaware. And, then, comes the nation.

"I think you sell yourself short when you don't do that," said the coach who got three commitments from California in Vanderbilt's last class.

Of course, Franklin never specifically mentioned Pitt at that point in the press conference. Maybe he'd back down if that was spelled out to him, maybe he'd try to soften up all this talk of dominating and controlling. It was an interesting thing to say, after all, for his first day on the job.

But Franklin just doubled-down on those statements when Pitt was specifically mentioned in one reporter's question.

"When I say Pennsylvania, when I say Penn State, that's the whole state," he said. "That is the whole state. We will recruit every corner of this state, every school of this state, every neighborhood of this state.

"And when I say recruit, not only just the student-athletes. I mean the people of the great state of Pennsylvania. We will recruit everybody, and that is with tremendous respect for the University of Pittsburgh. But we are ... Penn State."

Most important targets: ACC 

January, 8, 2014
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With less than a month until signing day, ACC schools are focused on closing out their 2014 classes before moving onto 2015. Here is the top signing day target for each ACC program.

Boston College
DE Harold Landry (Fayetteville, N.C./Pine Forest)
6-foot-3, 230 pounds

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Pittsburgh did not close out 2013 like it hoped, but the new year has brought a new outlook for the Panthers. A four-star commitment goes a long way in fostering that outlook, too.

Adonis Jennings (Erial, N.J./Timber Creek) pledged to Pittsburgh on Sunday during the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl. Jennings is No. 141 in the ESPN 300 and ranked 17th among receivers.

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FULLERTON, Calif. -- Four-star outside linebacker Jimmie Swain IV (Olathe, Kan./North) is listed as an uncommitted recruit, but that distinction is not exactly true.

Following the first day of practice for the 2014 Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl, Swain said he has known for a while where he will play his college football and he has let the coaches of his finalists know his decision. The public will be let in on the secret during the game on Sunday, when the 6-foot-3, 229-pound linebacker will announce his commitment.

Swain is down to four schools -- Arkansas, Michigan State, Oregon and Texas A&M -- and all but the Spartans have received official visits.

As for his leaders, Swain gave a quick look into why they stand out in the race for his signature.

"[Michigan State has] always been in my top five ever since I started watching college football," Swain said. "At Arkansas, I have a good relationship with Randy Shannon and I fit in well with the players on my visit. At Oregon, it's the whole coaching staff. My mom really enjoyed them when they came to visit. They've been at Oregon so long, and the football there speaks for itself, when a 10-2 season is considered a bad season. With Texas A&M, I had a fun visit down there. A lot of people worry about what happens to them when Johnny [Manziel] is gone, but their recruiting class is really good and I don't think they're going to skip a beat."

Swain has been avoiding interviews and any real talk of recruiting in recent weeks, as he said he's been "relaxing and enjoying time with family." But he'll make some significant noise on Sunday, particularly for the program that receives a verbal commitment from the standout linebacker, who plans on pursuing a double major in marketing and finance.


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Army Bowl notebook: Dec. 31 

December, 31, 2013
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SAN ANTONIO -- The second day of practice for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl -- on the last day of 2013 -- has come to a conclusion. Here is Tuesday’s notebook featuring some of the nation’s elite athletes:

LB Williams: Law and order equals '98 percent'


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ESPN 300 WR Jennings has final three 

December, 27, 2013
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The recruitment of Adonis Jennings (Erial, N.J./Timber Creek) has seen its fair share of twists over the last two months, but the ESPN 300 receiver has settled on a final three.


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Bookser could be first domino for Pitt 

December, 19, 2013
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Paul Chryst was hoping to double dip in Pittsburgh this weekend. It turns out he is going for the trifecta.

The Panthers are waiting to hear from ESPN 300 defensive back Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) on Thursday and three-star Shai McKenzie (Washington, Pa./Washington) on Friday. Wholly unexpected was four-star and No. 149 prospect Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mount Lebanon) committing to Chryst and the Panthers late Wednesday.


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Offensive tackle Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon) decided to stay close to home and is now the Pittsburgh Panthers' top pledge. Read below to how our scouts believe he'll fare at the next level:


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ACC class rankings analysis 

December, 18, 2013
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This week is starting to look a lot like the week leading up to signing day. Four of the country’s premier ESPN 300 prospects committed Tuesday and a handful more will make decisions in the coming week.

Naturally, it has caused a few shakeups, so here is a breakdown of the updated class rankings, and how it affects the ACC.

Trending up: Once again this distinction belongs to Florida State after two commitments last week and another one Wednesday with junior college lineman Kareem Are (Fort Scott, Kan./Fort Scott CC) deciding Wednesday morning The Noles have added two juco linemen over the last 10 days; Chad Mavety (Garden City, N.Y./Nassau) pledged to the Noles Dec. 9. Three-star Brock Ruble (Hyattsville, Md./DeMatha Catholic) also joined the offensive line class with a commitment Friday. As for the rest of the class, things still look good to flip ESPN 300 running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/ Central) and landing five-star cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Ala./Hoover). There is still a chance for No. 1 cornerback Adoree' Jackson and No. 1 receiver Malachi Dupre (River Ridge, La./John Curtis), too.


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