Signing Day 2014 primer: ACC
Last season, the ACC did what no conference outside the SEC had done in seven years: It won the BCS title. Florida State’s thrilling 34-31 national championship victory over Auburn proved that the ACC had returned to relevance on a national scale. The same could be said on the recruiting trail, as three teams from the conference are currently ranked in Rivals.com’s top 12 classes of 2014.
So, with just more than a week remaining until National Signing Day on Feb. 5, where do the ACC programs stand? Here’s a breakdown of each school’s potential 2014 haul.
• Boston College: The Eagles’ class may not be flashy, but the program outbid a handful of ACC foes for the services of four-star prospects. Boston College plucked defensive end Harold Landry away from the likes of conference rivals Clemson, Florida State and Miami, and it secured the commitment of running back Jonathan Hilliman, who was being wooed by several big-time programs from outside the ACC, including Alabama and Wisconsin. Hilliman, in particular, should help fill the void left by departed running back Andre Williams. Linebacker Connor Strachan, the No. 10 inside linebacker in this year’s cycle and a Massachusetts native, is also committed to coach Steve Addazio’s squad. He should help shore up a defense that loses the bulk of its front seven.
• Clemson: The Tigers’ class is headlined by quarterback Deshaun Watson, the country’s top dual-threat prospect and the likely heir to Tajh Boyd. Watson and four-star receivers Demarre Kitt and Artavis Scott are all early enrollees who should benefit from participating in spring practice. Four-star running backs Adam Choice and Jae’lon Oglesby will look to add depth to coordinator Chad Morris’ offense, while linebacker Korie Rogers, a four-star prospect out of Buford, Ga., might be the biggest coup on the defensive side of the ball.
• Duke: The Blue Devils put together the first 10-win season in program history in 2013. However, that doesn’t mean things are getting easier on the recruiting trail. Coach David Cutcliffe’s team remains largely on the outside looking in, with 15 three-star commits and two two-star commits. The good news? That’s an improvement from last year, when Duke finished with only 11 three-star signees in its 20-player class. Cutcliffe does have three defensive line commits to bolster a unit that loses all but one starter, and the Blue Devils have already signed Johnathan Lloyd – the No. 28 athlete in the country who fielded offers from Ohio State, Florida and Clemson — to a National Letter of Intent.
• Florida State: The newly crowned national champs lose a handful of key players to the NFL draft for the second straight season, but the Seminoles’ 2014 class — which ranks fifth nationally, according Rivals.com — should help cushion the blow. Five-star running back Dalvin Cook has already signed his National Letter of Intent and could see early playing time replacing Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. Meanwhile, five-star receiver Travis Rudolph could be a new top target for Jameis Winston following the departure of Kelvin Benjamin. Florida State is also still in the mix for uncommitted cornerback Marlon Humphrey, the ninth-ranked prospect in this year’s cycle.
• Georgia Tech: Defensive back Step Durham is a top-25 player at his position, a four-star prospect and an early enrollee for the Yellow Jackets’ incoming class. That’s good news for a program that lost three-star defensive back Miles Taylor to Iowa over the weekend. Georgia Tech is still in the running for Norcross, Ga., wide receiver Myles Autry, who is currently considering the hometown Jackets along with Florida State and Oregon. Autry’s commitment would help boost Georgia Tech’s 18-member class.
• Louisville: Following coach Charlie Strong’s departure for Texas, the Cardinals lost commitments from receivers Isaiah Ford and George Rushing, offensive lineman Lukayus McNeil and defensive linemen Chris Nelson and Poona Ford. New coach Bobby Petrino could still earn back some of those commitments, but his first class currently features only one four-star prospect in defensive back Nilijah Ballew. However, as SB Nation’s Mark Ennis told SI.com’s Martin Rickman last week, Petrino is making inroads with some new names, including a couple of Georgia commits.
• Miami: The Hurricanes’ 2013 season didn’t end the way they hoped, especially after their 7-0 start. Miami coach Al Golden has done a remarkable job with his latest recruiting class, however, which ranks ninth nationally despite early rumors that he might jump ship for Penn State. Five-star defensive end Chad Thomas is perhaps the biggest get, though Florida State has begun to push hard for Thomas’ services. The Hurricanes’ class also includes two four-star offensive linemen (Trevor Darling and Reilly Gibbons) and a four-star receiver (Braxton Berrios). Keeping defensive tackle Travonte Valentine from flipping to LSU would be a big boost.
• North Carolina: Coach Larry Fedora caught a big break when the Tar Heels landed running back Elijah Hood, a five-star prospect and an instant-impact playmaker. Hood decommitted from Notre Dame last fall before pledging to North Carolina over Clemson, Florida State and Miami, among others — he’s a big reason why Fedora’s 2014 class currently ranks 19th in the country, according to Rivals.com. The Tar Heels’ haul boasts a handful of talented four-star prospects, too, including Caleb Henderson, the No. 13 pro-style quarterback, and Bentley Spain, a 6-foot-6, 285-pound offensive lineman who has already signed his National Letter of Intent.
• NC State: The Wolfpack’s 2014 class currently boasts 30 commitments, including a host of impressive defensive prospects. Coach Dave Doeren landed two top-15 defensive ends in four-stars Kentavious Street (No. 4) and Justin Jones (No. 14), along with a four-star linebacker in Germaine Pratt. NC State is doing a terrific job building a fence around the state: According to SB Nation’s Backing The Pack, the program has locked up 14 of the the state’s top 50 prospects. The Tar Heels are the next closest team with seven.
• Pittsburgh: The Panthers have a pair of strong in-state commitments who should help improve offensive line depth. Alex Bookser and Mike Grimm are both four-star prospects who should help Paul Chryst’s team right out of the gate. Four-star running back Chris James, a top-25 player at his position, and four-star receiver Adonis Jennings could also contribute immediately. Things might not get easier for Pittsburgh, though, now that James Franklin has taken over at Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ 2014 class currently ranks 22nd in the country, per Rivals.com.
• Syracuse: The Orange lost a big prospect over the weekend when defensive tackle prospect Zeek Rodney committed to Wake Forest. Perhaps the biggest name in Syracuse’s 2014 class is four-star receiver K.J. Williams, who committed to the Orange over the likes of Michigan, UCLA and Wisconsin. Coach Scott Shafer and company will need to take bigger steps in future recruiting to ultimately contend in the conference.
• Virginia: The Cavaliers went 2-10 in 2013, their worst mark since 1981. But that didn’t stop them from hanging on to two of the nation’s most sought-after prospects. Virginia natives and five-star prospects Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown are both bound for Charlottesville. That’s two big names who could contribute immediately on defense, particularly since Brown is an early enrollee. Still, this class drops off considerably; there are only two four-star players among the other 15 commitments.
• Virginia Tech: The Hokies’ class — which ranks 21st nationally, according to Rivals.com — includes a few skilled early enrollees. Though just a three-star prospect, quarterback Andrew Ford is expected to give senior Mark Leal a run for the starting job in replacing the departed Logan Thomas. Four-star tailbacks Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams are also already on campus. Wide receiver Javon Harrison is a more interesting case; the Lakeland, Fla., product is receiving heavy interest from Florida State.
• Wake Forest: Jim Grobe’s departure hasn’t put a dent in the Demon Deacons’ recruiting efforts. In fact, coach Dave Clawson has already secured a handful of impressive commitments. Wake Forest not only flipped Rodney from Syracuse, but it also snagged three-star defensive end Rashawn Shaw away from Louisville. The Demon Deacons aren’t hauling in any top-tier talent, but early returns suggest Clawson is providing a spark to a program that hasn’t made many recruiting headlines in recent years.