Florida State has taken a step backward on both the field and the recruiting trail under Willie Taggart
This year will be one of turnover for the ACC's college football programs. Miami, Georgia Tech, Louisville, and North Carolina are all starting over with new head coaches, and productive starting quarterbacks need to be replaced at Florida State, Duke, NC State, Syracuse, and Georgia Tech. Plus, a good chunk of Clemson's dominating defense is moving on.
But that is the nature of college football; change is constant and programs always have to adapt. Recruiting successfully on a year in, year out basis is the only way teams can overcome the annual personnel losses. For years, Florida State had the best players and owned the ACC. Now, it's the guys in Orange that have won the last four league titles and two of the last three national championships. This is a look into signing classes past, with an eye on how it will affect events going forward.
Below are the national recruiting ranking averages for ACC schools over the last five (2015-19) classes according to 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings and each team's record over the last five (2014-18) 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 2019
Clemson does more than just stockpile talent
The Tigers have had the top-rated recruiting class in the ACC over the past two cycles and their 2017 group was ranked as low as it was (16th nationally, third in ACC) in large part because they only were able to sign 14 players that year. On the field, Clemson is now on equal footing with Alabama as the nation's most elite program, but their recruiting rankings are not on par with those of the Tide. Why Clemson has climbed to the top is, in a way, very simple, but also it is a task that is difficult to execute. The Tigers' staff is able to maximize each recruit's potential and their top-end recruits are never busts. Just look at last year, with Trevor Lawrence, Justyn Ross, and Xavier Thomas already showing off star qualities. So when you look at 2019's incoming freshmen and think that Clemson could have done better than the nation's 10th-best group, just know that Dabo Swinney will get the most out of this class.
Florida State's rankings look fine...
But there are obviously much deeper issues, as the 12-13 record over the past two seasons indicates. A lack of stability in the program and gaps in recruiting have been big problems for the Seminoles. Jimbo Fisher recruited for a system that is much different than that of current head coach Willie Taggart and as a result, many of the FSU players that have remained in the program are not a fit from a skill set perspective. Also, the offensive line has been an area where the Noles have lacked quality bodies and though five new blockers are part of the most recent class, only one was a top-500 prospect. Plus, for the second year in a row, Taggart failed to land a quarterback. With Deondre Francois no longer part of the program, James Blackman is the only scholarship signal-caller on the roster and an injury to the junior would be devastating.
Duke and Virginia are coming in the Coastal
Duke's David Cutcliffe and Bronco Mendenhall of Virginia have an exceptional track record of developing talent. Their problem has been getting quality athletes. Last summer, Mendenhall claimed that he only had 27 ACC-caliber players on his roster. Well, that is changing. In a division that is always up for grabs, these two exceptional coaches signed very good classes in 2019. Duke is bringing in the eighth-best class in the ACC, one that is headlined by four-star cornerback Tony Davis. Virginia is one spot better, at No. 7 in the league. Top-100 defensive lineman Jowon Briggs is UVA'shighest-ratedd recruit since they landed five-stars Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown in 2014.
Mack Brown kept the Heels afloat
In some circles, there was ridicule of North Carolina bringing Brown back to Chapel Hill. The critics were quick to point out that the 67-year-old Brown hadn't coached in six years and his tenure at Texas was taking on water at the end. Whether Brown can coach anymore, we will find out soon. But he is great at developing and nurturing relationships and that is paying off. After two dismal seasons, North Carolina's recruiting could have fallen off the map. But sparked by the flip of quarterback Sam Howell from Florida State in the early signing period in December, Brown and the Heels closed strong to secure the ACC's fifth-best class and they already have five quality commitments for 2020.
Louisville's tough times
Interestingly, the coach that many thought North Carolina should hire — Scott Satterfield from Appalachian State — wound up at Louisville. For whatever the reason, Satterfield was not as successful as Brown in salvaging a solid 2019 class. The Cardinals have the lowest-rated group of incoming freshman in the ACC. It consists of 14 signees, featuring only one four-star and just six other recruits in the top 1000 of the 247Sports Composite Index. Louisville plummeted quickly under Bobby Petrino, and it looks like it's going to take Satterfield some time to get the Cards back on track.
— 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.