Florida State ended up with the No. 1 class in the nation on signing day, unseating Alabama for the top spot. As has been noted before, Jimbo Fisher has had the top class in the ACC every year he has been head coach.
But is a group of incoming freshmen enough to vault the Seminoles ahead of Clemson in the Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2016? ESPN.com columnist Mark Schlabach says yes.
Schlabach has Florida State No. 2 in his post-signing day Top 25, four spots higher than the first version that appeared after the national championship game. Clemson dropped from No. 1 to No. 5, mostly because it lost six defensive players as early entrants to the NFL draft.
To explain the Seminoles' rise, Schlabach writes: "The Seminoles were already loaded enough to challenge Clemson in the ACC, and then coach Jimbo Fisher signed the country's No. 1 recruiting class. If FSU can get more consistent play at quarterback, it might be the team to beat in the ACC."
There is no question both Florida State and Clemson are both national championship contenders headed into 2016 given all the players they return on offense. But Matt Fortuna, David Hale, Jared Shanker and myself all agree Clemson should remain No. 1 in the Way-Too-Early ACC power rankings for a few reasons.
First, the Tigers return a proven quarterback in Deshaun Watson, who had 5,209 yards of total offense a season ago. His dynamic performance keyed Clemson's run to the national championship game. Wayne Gallman and Jordan Leggett each decided to return to school; six of the top seven receivers return, along with Mike Williams.
Yes, Dalvin Cook has been nearly unstoppable for Florida State. But the Seminoles do have more unanswered questions on offense despite returning all its starters. And it all begins with quarterback.
Second, Clemson knows how to rebuild its defense. The Tigers went into 2015 with only three starters back, and were nearly as good as the No. 1 group in the country in 2014. Losing players to the NFL draft has become standard practice, and defensive coordinator Brent Venables has proven he knows how to reload. Having Ben Boulware, Carlos Watkins and Cordrea Tankersley back, along with Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant, Scott Pagano and a soon-to-be healthy Korrin Wiggins gives the Tigers a nice starting foundation.
This debate won't end today. But it's a good problem for the ACC to have, considering it has two teams in the national championship mix. But here is one thing that's not up for debate: the Clemson-Florida State game Oct. 29 will more than likely determine the league champion -- perhaps even ACC playoff representative.
Now here is a look at our Way-Too-Early ACC power rankings post-signing day.
1. Clemson: Hard to take the Tigers out of the top spot considering the proven players that return on offense, starting with Watson.
2. Florida State: The Seminoles are an absolute playoff contender with Cook leading the way.
3. Louisville: With 18 starters back, expectations are soaring for the Cards.
4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels don't plan on going anywhere after winning the Coastal Division in 2015.
5. Miami: Mark Richt signed the No. 19 class in the country as he tries to get the Canes into their first ACC championship game behind quarterback Brad Kaaya.
6. Pitt: Coach Pat Narduzzi closed well on signing day, adding to a team that surprised some with its eight-win season in 2015.
7. Virginia Tech: The Hokies didn't make huge headlines on signing day, and now have questions to answer at quarterback.
8. Duke: Coach David Cutcliffe signed the best class in school history, with four ESPN 300 prospects who could be difference-makers early.
9. Georgia Tech: The Jackets return Justin Thomas but need to cure what ailed the offensive and defensive lines last season.
10. NC State: This is a crucial season for coach Dave Doeren, whose team moves forward without Jacoby Brissett leading the way.
11. Virginia: Bronco Mendenhall and his staff have been social media stars. Can they make the Hoos exciting to watch again?
12. Wake Forest: Will this be the year the Deacs get out of the basement?
13. Boston College: The Eagles have a new offensive coordinator and an entirely revamped defensive staff. Will they be able to get them back to a bowl?
14. Syracuse: Plenty of work ahead for new coach Dino Babers, especially on offense.