Preseason prognosticators like Athlon Sports — the most accurate college football preview magazine on the stand — use many things to attempt to predict what the coming football season will look like. Returning starters, scheduling, historic trends, coaching, pending off the field issues and, of course, recruiting rankings all help Athlon editors predict the future of college football.
Recruiting rankings have their detractors. Yes, evaluating 16- and 17-year-old kids is an inexact science. No, star rankings aren’t the only thing that matters. Yes, leadership (e.g., Nick Saban) is more important than national recruiting rankings (See Auburn).
But using national team recruiting rankings to attempt to pinpoint how “talented” any given roster is can be an interesting and illuminating practice.
For the sake of this discussion, the 2013 conference alignment was used to calculate, rank and organize teams and leagues. Rivals.com national team rankings over a five-year span (2008-12) were used for the sake of consistency. And the 72 “BCS” conference teams as well as Notre Dame, Boise State and BYU were used to form the 75-team ranking.
Therefore, in the ACC rankings below, fans will find where Pitt and Syracuse have been ranked in the team rankings.
So what do the team recruiting rankings teach us about the ACC:
Has Florida State underachieved?
There is little doubt which team in the ACC has the best rosters. The Florida State Seminoles have “won” the ACC recruiting crown four straight years and were No. 2 in 2008. Their national average of 6.8 is good for fifth nationally behind only Alabama, USC, Texas and Florida. Yet FSU has just one conference title in the last seven years to show for it. Yes, this team built up to a national title run in 2012 that never came to fruition and it ended up with an Orange Bowl victory. But if this is the fifth best roster in the nation, shouldn’t the Noles be better than 27-13 in the ACC?
Frank Beamer’s system works
The Hokies have finished no higher than fourth in the ACC in recruiting and no lower than fifth since 2008. Yet, until 2012, Virginia Tech had won at least 10 games in eight straight seasons and multiple ACC titles. Their highest national class was 18th (2008) and it was the only group to be ranked in the top 20. Stability on the sidelines and in the locker room clearly indicates that the ACC can be won with slightly inferior talent. Tech has the best overall (49-19) and ACC (30-10) record in the league over the last five years. However, it remains to be seen if finishing 23.8 in the national rankings can win a national title.
Miami and Clemson just needed coaches
Because athletes aren’t the issue. Both programs have always had great athletes and plenty of success on the recruiting trail. Over the last five years, Miami is second in the ACC with an average national ranking of 16.2, which is good for 13th among power conference teams. Yet, the Canes have lost 27 games over the last five years. Al Golden appears to have righted the ship and will no longer allow all that talent to go to waste. Dabo Swinney is in a similar situation. Clemson has always had elite players but somehow underachieves consistently. From 2008 to 2010, the Tigers lost 18 games but Swinney’s squad has lost only six times in the last two seasons. Both programs appear to be headed in the right direction.
Pitt will be competitive right away
According to the national rankings, the Panthers, amidst four coaching changes, still have a solid brand on the recruiting trail. Especially, as far as the ACC goes. Pitt has done a better job recruiting over the last five years than Georgia Tech, NC State, Duke, Boston College and Wake Forest. No, it hasn’t been elite—one top-30 class over that span—but it is tied with Virginia for seventh in the ACC and sits at 40th in the national rankings overall. It means that with just a little bit of coaching from Paul Chryst, the Panthers should be contending for bowl games or more right out of the gate in the ACC.
Jim Grobe is one helluva coach
His best class over the last five years was ranked 58th nationally (2008) and he has three straight classes ranked 69th in the nation. Over that span his roster is the 13th best collection of talent in the ACC and is 64th in the overall national rankings. Yet, Grobe has led the Demon Deacons to the postseason in four of the last seven years. A 16-27 ACC record may not seem like much, but with this level of athlete, he should be given a trophy for what he has accomplished in Winston-Salem.
Maryland will be back
Many people don’t understand why a founding member of the ACC would be leaving for the Big Ten or why the Big Ten would want the Terps. Maryland wants the money of the B1G and the Big Ten wants a program with upward mobility. The Terps offer an underrated recruiting base as a team that has finished 33rd among power teams over the last five years despite a 25-37 overall record during that same span. They rank sixth in the ACC in terms of talent and with some coaching stability, the Terps have much to be excited about moving forward.
North Carolina needs to stay out of trouble
Because if they do, there is no reason they can’t win big in the ACC. They are fifth in the conference in terms of roster talent and are a top 25 (25th) team nationally in terms of recruiting ability. If this team can stay out of trouble academically, on Twitter, with the NFL and the NCAA, Larry Fedora should be able to bring in enough athletes to compete for conference crowns.
The triple option doesn't need elite recruits
Only Virginia Tech (30-10), Clemson (27-13) and Florida State (27-13) have won more ACC games over the last five years than Tech's 26-14 record. Yet, the Yellow Jackets claim the ninth-best roster in the league and are barely cracking the top 50 nationally. Paul Johnson's system has had some ups and down, but the doubts about the triple options working at a higher level haven't impacted the recruiting rankings.
The Orange are in for a rough ride
In the Big East, the 76.6-ranked national recruiting ranking could create a contender — as Doug Marrone proved. But in the ACC, it means the Orange have the worst collection of players in the league. Now, with a new coach in a new league, the Orange could be facing an uphill battle to return to the postseason. The only “BCS” teams with worse rosters than Syracuse are SMU, Washington State, UConn and Temple.
ACC's National Team Recruiting Rankings Breakdown:
Avg Nat'l Rank