The Coastal makes a stand in this recruiting cycle
Over the past decade, the Atlantic has been the dominant division of the ACC. Clemson has been king for several years and before the Tigers' arrival at the top, Florida State ruled the roost. Since Virginia Tech's conference title in 2010, the Tigers and the Seminoles have combined to give the Atlantic Division 10 straight ACC champions.
But could things be turning in the Coastal's favor? While it is true that Clemson is still firmly established as the league's prominent team, a few Coastal programs have bolstered their rosters with coveted recruits in recent years, especially in the recently signed 2021 class.
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for ACC schools over the last five (2017-21) classes, according to 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings, and each team's record over the last five (2016-20) 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 2021
Here come the Heels
For the second straight recruiting cycle, Mack Brown assembled a top-15 class. The Tar Heels cleaned up in their home state, landing 11 of the top 20 prospects from North Carolina. The headliners are 5-star defensive end Keeshawn Silver and quarterback Drake Maye, a high 4-star recruit that had offers from Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, and Ohio State. North Carolina, coming off an Orange Bowl appearance and seeing major roster upgrades, just might be the ACC team best situated to challenge Clemson in the next few seasons.
Miami is building too
The Tar Heels may have whipped the Hurricanes on the field this past season, but Miami actually had the highest-ranked class in the Coastal. Manny Diaz landed the nation's No. 12 class and like UNC, the Miami group was loaded with local players. Fifteen of the 21 players in the latest recruiting haul hail from either Dade County or Broward County and only two signees are from outside the Sunshine State. In defensive tackle Leonard Taylor and safety James Williams, the Canes picked up a pair of top-15 overall prospects.
Hello Pittsburgh and Virginia
The Panthers under Pat Narduzzi have been very consistent on the field, finishing between 5-7 and 8-5 in each of the past six years. That had carried over into recruiting until this year, when Pitt jumped up to No. 26 in the 247Sports Composite Team Rankings. Signing 4-star defensive tackle Elliot Donald – the nephew of former Panther and now three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald – certainly helped. It wasn't that long ago that Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall was lamenting the plight of his roster. The 32nd-ranked 2021 class, the highest for the school since 2013, will go a long way in providing the Cavaliers with formidable ACC-level talent.
Jeff Hafley and Boston College make a big jump too
On the Atlantic side, it was Boston College that made the most impressive leap forward. The Eagles' 35th-ranked class is their best since finishing in the same spot in 2007. And Hafley scanned the entire country to secure talent, getting players from 14 different states including California, Texas, and Georgia. Keeping local lineman Drew Kendall home despite offers from Michigan and Penn State was a big deal, but the shocker was landing Clinton Burton, a corner from Baltimore that was committed to Florida and could have chosen Alabama, Clemson, or USC.
Georgia Tech's recruiting ranking slid back but...
It wasn't all bad. From a strictly incoming freshman class perspective, it was down both in numbers and top-end talent compared to 2020. There are no Jahmyr Gibbs and Jeff Sims in this group and head coach Geoff Collins only signed 16 high school seniors. But the Jackets hit the transfer portal in a big way, adding seven players from other FBS programs. Former Texas corner Kenyatta Watson and Alabama transfer Kevin Harris will be expected to make immediate impacts.
But Clemson will remain king of the ACC castle
While it's nice that several ACC programs made significant gains in this recruiting cycle, they all remain miles behind Clemson. It's not surprising, considering the ascension of the program since 2015, that Dabo Swinney's top two recruiting classes have been the two most recent. But it's also scary to think what Clemson could become with consistent top-five hauls when the Tigers have already achieved so much without being at the very top of the rankings after National Signing Day. This year's crop includes three 5-star prospects with 17 of the 19 signees ranked among the top 250 recruits overall.
— 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.