Recruiting in college football is downright nasty. It is a cutthroat, cannibalistic big business that is microscopically analyzed by fans, administrators and media members alike. The ACC has been taking a beating on the field and in the media from fans and analysts alike for its recent lack of success. It has struggled in BCS bowls and, in particular, against the SEC. While the conference isn't nearly as bad as the incessant badgering would indicate, the results of this year's recruiting cycle still has to leave ACC fans nervous.
No top-10 class
The ACC has had at least two top-10 classes nationally in four of the last five recruiting cycles. Only 2010 featured a single ACC top-10 class. So for the conference’s best class (Florida State) to be ranked 11th nationally doesn’t bode well for an already tarnished image. For comparison, the ACC had three teams land in the top 25 while its regional rival, the SEC, posted 11 top 25 classes. Florida State, Clemson and Miami carry the mantle of recruiting in this league and if none can pull a top-10 class, the league will continue to be ridiculed nationally. In particular, Jimbo Fisher and Florida State is accustomed to being not only in the top 10, but the top five nationally. An 11th-rated class is still an excellent haul, but it remains to be seen if that can get the Noles back to national championship relevance. The good news? Seven different teams landed at least one Athlon Consensus 100 prospect and the league more than doubled the numbers of top 100 signees than that of the Big 12.
Dabo maintains status quo… and then some
Dabo Swinney has had an interesting up-and-down career at Clemson. He has been doubted and questioned. He also won the team’s first ACC title in 20 years. Over the last five recruiting cycles, Clemson has finished no better than third in the ACC just once (2011). With the No. 2-rated class in the league this time around — and his second in three seasons — Swinney has put Clemson in a position to become the dominant team in the league. The Tigers won a couple of National Signing Day battles and it finished just two spots behind the vaunted Seminoles (No. 11). This highly touted top 15 class will only add to the pressure of being the likely preseason pick to win the ACC in 2013.
Al Golden continues to work miracles
A 26th national ranking isn’t anything to write home about for Miami football recruiting. But after the biggest BCS signing class in the nation a year ago (33 signees) led to double-digit freshman starters, Golden didn’t have too many scholarships to offer. Yet, he made the best of it by winning some late battles for key players. His four AC100 signees are tied with Florida State for the ACC lead and only seven other schools in the nation signed more. This wasn’t supposed to be a big class (16) but there are plenty of marquee instant impact prospects in the group. And for a team facing a litany of NCAA inquiries, Golden continues to deserve major kudos for his work on the trail.
Quality over quantity
Miami wasn’t the only school to sign a smaller class with an emphasis on quality. Virginia Tech landed a top 25 class with just 18 signees and North Carolina finished 28th nationally with just 17 new faces. Both were ranked in the top five in the ACC ranks and both signed top-level talent. The Tar Heels landed six four-star players while the Hokies landed seven that received at least four stars. Essentially, a third of each class were elite-level national talents. Give both Frank Beamer and Larry Fedora credit for landing highly touted classes without the benefit of deep numbers.
Paul Johnson’s scheme better work
First, Georgia Tech only signed 14 players, so it was going to be tough to land an elite class with such small overall numbers. That said, 11th in the ACC and 77th nationally isn’t what Yellow Jackets fans want to see. Johnson has averaged a 47.6 national recruiting ranking and has ranked no better than 41st or no worse than 55th nationally since arriving in Atlanta. No, his triple-option system doesn’t need five-star athletes to be effective, but this 2013 haul is easily his worst class to date. Only time will tell if Tech is devolving or simple rebuilding.
Mike London needs to get back to winning
London stepped on to campus in Charlottesville and reinvented the Cavaliers' name brand on the recruiting trail. He has landed the 25th- (2011) and 27th-rated (2012) classes in the last two years and added to it with the 31st-ranked group in 2013. And it appeared that the energy on the recruiting trail was going to translate into wins, going from 4-8 in his first season to 8-5 in his second. Yet, a major step back in 2012 (4-8, 2-6) has raised concerns. The 2013 class was another solid group for the Wahoos and the pressure is now back on London to generate similar results on the field.
Pitt will be fine, Syracuse not so much
The Panthers landed the seventh-rated class in the ACC and the 39th-best class in the nation. It puts Pitt dead in the heart of its new conference in terms of talent. With Paul Chryst leading the way, this program should be able to adapt and compete rather quickly if it can maintain this type of recruiting. New Orange head coach Scott Shafer will have a much tougher job ahead of him, however. This team has consistently been one of the least talented BCS rosters in the nation over the last five years. Shafer will have to do improve Syracuse's recruiting prowess — which was 74th nationally this cycle — or work minor miracles on the practice field.
ACC’s hierarchy is painfully obvious
Florida State (13), Clemson (2) and Virginia Tech (4) have won 19 of the last 22 ACC championships. Only three times since 1991 has a team other than those three won an outright ACC title — 2001 Maryland, 2006 Wake Forest and 2009 Georgia Tech. This is due in large part because those three programs have the best players. Boston College, Duke, Wake Forest and NC State consistently finish in the bottom of the league in recruiting and 2013 was no different. All four, along with Georgia Tech, ranked outside of the top 50. There is a reason this group is a combined 62-98 in ACC play over the last five years. It doesn’t look like this trend will end anytime soon and makes the ’06 Demon Deacons team that much more impressive.
2013 Athlon Sports ACC Team Recruiting Rankings: