It’s no great mystery: Clemson has the best talent in the ACC. While Dabo Swinney is an excellent gameday coach and he has a first-class staff, the players that he has recruited to Clemson are simply better than those at the other ACC schools.
What the league needs going forward is for another team (or two... or three) to make a step forward. At this point, dethroning Clemson seems like a lot to ask. But having a couple of other teams firmly entrenched in the Top 25 of the polls is something that was missing this past fall and would enhance the perception of the league going forward. But have any Atlantic Coast Conference schools recruited well enough to get to that level in 2020?
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for ACC schools over the last five (2016-20) classes according to 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings and each team's record over the last five (2015-19) seasons. Obviously, this doesn't take into account attrition but, over time, this should be considered relatively even across the conference.
Ranking the ACC's College Football's Rosters in 2020
Could Clemson actually widen the gap?
The Tigers won two national titles, went to two other title games, and made the College Football Playoff five years in a row without compiling a top-5 recruiting class over that time. But things are changing. The 2020 class checked in at No. 3 and at the early stages of the 2021 cycle, the Tigers are near the top of everyone’s chart. It’s hard to imagine Clemson getting better, but they won’t be falling off either. And Miami at No. 13 is the only other ACC program listed in the top 20.
Florida State trending in the wrong direction
The Seminoles have fallen at least four spots in the rankings every year since 2016, with their lowest-rated class being the most recent. Hopefully for FSU, things will change with Mike Norvell now in charge. But the Noles now have fewer higher rated players on the roster than they have had in decades.
The Mack Brown bump
Carolina definitely saw a boost in recruiting success during Brown's first year back in Chapel Hill. Taking the job in December 2019, it was impressive how Brown was able to salvage that class, with earning the signature of quarterback Sam Howell being his most important coup. The 2020 class, headlined by receiver Josh Downs, gives Brown even more weapons to use.
Big doings in Hotlanta
The Heels weren't the only ACC program with a new coach that made strides this recruiting season. Geoff Collins and Georgia Tech came in at No. 26, making this the best Yellow Jacket class since 2008. And in running back Jahmyr Gibbs and quarterback Jeff Sims, Collins was able to land offensive talent that fits his vision.
What went on in Blacksburg?
Virginia Tech had recruited at a very even, consistent level for several seasons. Then came this year. The Hokies signed 15 players and finished dead last in the ACC in recruiting. It is true that Virginia Tech didn't have many spots available and the Hokies have added some key transfers. But it is not only the quantity that drove down the rankings, it is the quality as well. Just one Hokie signee is listed among the top 500 prospects per 247Sports' rankings.
On their morning show on the ACC Network, Mark Packer and Wes Durham often talk about the glob in the middle of the ACC basketball standings. That pack is there in football as well and it really showed up in the recruiting rankings. Eight ACC schools ranked between 41st and 62nd after signing day was over. Interestingly, this was not a one-off situation, as seven league teams have a rankings average in the 40s or 50s over the past five years with NC State and Virginia Tech hovering just above the line and Boston College just below.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.