National signing day has come and gone with the usual surprises mixed in with business as usual. Mike McDaniel and myself are here to break down the very best and the very worst of the day as it relates to the ACC.
Without question, the best two programs in the conference got better with both Clemson and Florida State pulling in top ten classes. Florida State is ranked slightly higher by the recruiting service, but do you see much daylight between them Mike?
Mike: Well I think that when you look at these two teams, they have clearly separated themselves from the rest of the ACC. Jimbo Fisher is batting 1.000 at this point as a recruiter, as the Seminoles have ranked as the conference’s top class in every year since he took over as head coach in 2010. With Clemson coming off of a National Championship appearance, I suppose it isn’t a huge surprise that they were the second ranked class in the ACC. With the championship appearance not withstanding, the Tigers have been playing well over the last few seasons anyway, and the program that Dabo Swinney has built will be in the recruiting race and ACC race for years to come.
I guess the other obvious winner today is Miami, right Justin?
Justin: Mark Richt seems to be fitting in just fine back home at his alma mater. Despite signing just 18 kids, they have a remarkably complete class. The Canes added a quarterback, running back, a tight end, plus a number of receivers. The only area missing on offense was offensive line, but that’s because they’ll have more than a dozen guys returning up front. They brought in two 6’6″ defensive ends which is terrifying, and there are some nice linebackers in this group highlighted by Shaquille Quarterman. The Canes want to push back into the top tier of the conference while North Carolina is trying to stay up there with a comparable group.
Mike: You nailed it with Miami for sure. It’s undoubtedly a small class, but one with incredible talent for Mark Richt and his staff as they are just taking over there in Coral Gables and getting on track.
Speaking of North Carolina, it’s really hard not to be impressed with what Larry Fedora has established there in Chapel Hill with the Tar Heels. Sure, they got upset in the opener against South Carolina, but the recovery they had after that loss throughout the rest of the season to get into the mix and come an onside kick and score away from taking down Clemson to win the conference was extremely impressive. Even though they struggled defensively in the bowl game against Baylor, it was a very successful year for the Tar Heels where they vastly improved on both sides of the football.
Now with that being said, the defense is an obvious Achilles’ Heel (no pun intended). Coach Fedora and his staff did a fantastic job of nailing down some big-time talent on that side of the ball. Four-star defensive end Tomon Fox might be the most impressive in my mind. He really jumps out at you with his athletic ability on film, and already has great size for the position, coming in at 6’3″ 232 lbs. as only a freshman. He will have to put on some muscle, and the weight room will do him wonders, but he has the length and athleticism to make a sizable impact should he see the field this fall.
Outside of UNC, I came away from signing day really impressed with Pittsburgh. How about you Cates?
Justin: Absolutely. The second tier of the conference did really well. Pitt put together a really strong group that should help to build the program into Pat Narduzzi’s vision. My only concern would be that it’s a defense heavy group, but that makes sense with Narduzzi’s background on that side of the ball. Duke assembled perhaps the best class in program history, even dipping into SEC territory to get a number of kids from Georgia. They also went head-to-head with a number of ACC schools and beat them for kids in Virginia and North Carolina. I say this every year but it bears repeating, Duke isn’t going away folks. David Cutcliffe’s group is the real deal. Louisville did well too even adding highly-touted quarterback Jawon Pass so that maybe Bobby Petrino can run a four-QB rotation next season.
Now how about the program’s that didn’t fare so well?
Mike: N.C. State is a school that is signing a bevy of recruits in this year’s class. Due to the sheer number of recruits that they have signed to this class (27), I expected them to make a play as a top five ACC class when the day concluded. They definitely didn’t strike out with any notable recruits on Signing Day, but the fact that they were passed by teams like Pittsburgh, Duke, and North Carolina late in the process only proves that the parity within the ACC is increasing once you get outside the likes of Florida State and Clemson. The ‘Pack class isn’t extremely flashy outside of four-star TE Thad Moss and four-star WR Kelvin Harmon, but they have plenty of playmakers signed on both sides of the football that will make up a very solid core for years to come. Don’t sleep on Dave Doeren’s club in the next couple of seasons as his staff continues to try to build the program.
As far as National Signing Day losers, I think the one school you can point to is Virginia Tech. While the Hokies performed as expected with the prospects that were solid on their commitments to the school, they were unable to successfully corral some guys that entered the day undecided on their respective decisions. I thought striking out on edge rusher Tomon Fox was a big miss for the program, especially considering the fact that his good friend and high school teammate, OLB Emmanuel Belmar, signed with the Hokies on Wednesday. From all indications, it was a very good official visit last weekend in the final push before Signing Day for Fox, but it was not enough to sway him away from his commitment to conference rival North Carolina.
While the prospects may have been hit or miss for the Hokies on Wednesday, I believe the biggest blow came in the early evening hours when it was reported that defensive backs coach Torrian Gray was heading to his home state to take over the same position at the University of Florida. While I suppose it is not a huge surprise, given the reports of the pay cut that he took to stay on board with the new staff at Virginia Tech, it is a sizable blow dealt to the Hokies defense nonetheless.
What stood out to you Justin?
Justin: That Torrian Gray news was definitely the biggest blow of the day for the Hokies. That’s difficult to stomach especially given the timing. Most coaches have already landed at new jobs so it will be interesting to see who ends up filling Gray’s role in Blacksburg. As for the players, the Hokies picked up some very talented players including JUCO quarterback Jerod Evans and defensive back Khalil Ladler who is recovering from a torn ACL.
And all the school’s in the “losers” category can really say the same. Virginia’s class doesn’t blow you away but they addressed their needs and put together a 24-player class after a coaching change. Boston College and Georgia Tech only signed 18 players each, but BC got a promising quarterback from New Jersey in Anthony Brown and the Yellow Jackets landed a terrific defensive end in Jordan Woods. Even Wake Forest and Syracuse brought in balanced groups that addressed plenty of needs for two programs with many of them. In fact, both of those schools had the best classes they’ve seen in years. While fans of many teams around the conference might be somewhat disappointed in rankings and flipped recruits, the sky is currently falling on no one in the ACC.
Thanks for following along with our back-and-forth on another national signing day now in the books. Follow me on Twitter @BestCates and follow @MikeMcDanielACC. Like Inside The ACC on Facebook and check out @InsideTheACC.