Tuesday, December 17, 2013
ACC signing day storylines
By Jared Shanker
Signing day and Feb. 5 still might feel far away (50 days away to be exact), but for coaches the sense of urgency has officially set in. The offseason dead period was extended and began Sunday. It will last a month into mid-January, leaving coaches with only a few weekends left to host recruits on campus visits and meet prospects and their families inside their homes.
So with signing day closer than it appears in college football’s mirrors, here are 10 storylines in the ACC to watch between now and Feb. 5.
1. Who will sign the ACC’s top class?
It was a foregone conclusion Florida State would have the conference’s top class a few weeks ago. The real question was whether FSU would finish No. 1 nationally. But then a funny thing happened; Miami made a surge and Florida State suffered a few decommitments. While the Seminoles are poised to make a solid run before signing day, they might not land as many top-flight recruits as it looked like they would in November. The Hurricanes recently added several commitments, including a few ESPN 300 prospects. It won’t be a daunting task for Florida State to jump Miami, but the Canes have positioned themselves well to finish No. 1 in the ACC.
Will Florida State or Miami be able to flip Florida RB commit Dalvin Cook?
The No. 4 running back nationally is the Florida Gators’ second highest-rated commitment and No. 20 in the ESPN 300. The problem for the Gators is that Cook is hardly committed at this point. He plans to make a final decision next month at the Under Armour Game, and the favorite to actually land his signature is Florida State. Don’t count out the local Hurricanes for the Miami Central running back, though. Cook’s teammate Joseph Yearby, the No. 3 running back, is a Miami commit. Whether it is Florida, FSU or Miami, whoever lands Cook can build its offense around the elite prospect for years to come.
3. Is Chad Morris a candidate at Texas?
The Clemson offensive coordinator’s name has not come up as one of the Longhorns’ top targets, but it would not be a surprise to see his name surface. Morris is considered one of the country’s top assistant coaches and he spent several years as a high school coach in Texas. He coached at Stephenville, which was a launching pad for Baylor coach Art Briles. If Morris leaves or even sees his name rumored with the Texas gig, it would be interesting to see the effect on No. 1 quarterback Deshaun Watson (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville), a Tigers commit. Watson will enroll immediately following the Under Armour Game and will compete to replace Tajh Boyd during spring and fall camp.
4. How many ACC teams finish in the top 40?
Not counting Louisville, the conference has six teams ranked in the top 40 after Boston College recently dropped out. But the Eagles very well could find themselves back in the rankings with the recent commitment of ESPN 300 running back Jonathan Hilliman (Jersey City, N.J./St. Peter’s Prep), bringing the total to seven. A handful of teams expect to surge before signing day (see: USC), however, and could knock out a few ACC teams. The conference finally has a national title contender again in Florida State, and now it is up to the rest of the conference to raise its level of play and put an end to the #goacc jokes.
5. Who signs ESPN 300 receiver Jamil Kamara (Virgnia Beach, Va./Bishop Sullivan)?
This decision very well could come down to the ACC, as Pittsburgh and Virginia make up two-thirds of Kamara’s final group (Wisconsin is the other). He took official visits to Pitt and UVa on back-to-back weekends, and a decision very well could come down to those two. The Hot Board projects Kamara to the Cavs and that has never wavered, but their 2-10 season definitely impacted him. There is an opportunity for the Panthers to steal Kamara from their new ACC foe. If the talented receiver and 269th-ranked recruit commits to Virginia, it will put Mike London’s class over the top despite not winning an ACC game in 2013.
It originally looked as if Clemson was a lock. Then the top-five defensive end snuck down to Tallahassee for an unofficial visit after already officially visiting Florida. NC State is making a push while UNC fades. It is anyone’s guess as to where the No. 27 player in the ESPN 300 lands. What is certain is that wherever the 6-foot-7 defensive end signs, that team will get a pass rusher with significant potential. The safe bet is still Clemson, for now.
Paul Chryst needs to put last week behind him. The Panthers missed on the No. 1 player in Pennsylvania in Henry, who comes from Pitt stronghold Aliquippa (Pa.) High. But there are still three more Western Pennsylvania prospects that Pitt needs to land before signing day. ESPN 300 prospects Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mount Lebanon) and Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) are both considered Pitt leans, even if by a small margin. Both could decide before Christmas. Three-star running back Shai McKenzie (Washington, Pa./Washington) is also deciding soon. At the very least Pitt is in the top two for all three. But such was the case with Henry too.
8. Can Jimbo Fisher take a page out of his former boss’ book?
Fisher is not in uncharted territory as a coach trying to balance recruiting and playing for a national title, as he did it in 2003 as an assistant at LSU. But now he is the head coach. So did he learn a thing or two from Nick Saban when both were in Baton Rouge on how to handle preparing for a national title while recruiting for the future? FSU already got off to a late start having to play in the ACC championship game, and while some staffs (such as rivals Florida and Miami) can focus most of their attention on recruiting, Florida State is putting in extra hours scheming for Auburn’s option offense as well as calling recruits and high school coaches. Saban has still been able to land the No. 1 class in championship years, so it will be interesting to see if Fisher can do the same.
In November, it looked as if FSU could land a few prospects with five gold stars next to their name. Now the Noles could be shut out. That is not a slight to Florida State’s class in any way, but the question remains as to whether FSU can haul in a five-star recruit before signing day. The most likely five-star commit would come from cornerback Marlon Humphrey, but he is from Hoover (Ala.) High and is naturally down to the Crimson Tide and FSU. Some believe Florida State is the leader for Humphrey, but it is not often you can count out Saban for an elite in-state recruit.
10. Does ESPN 300 athlete Myles Autry (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) follow his brother?
It originally looked as if Autry would sign in Tallahassee, but the parties have gone in separate directions since the end of the season. Now the favorite looks to be Georgia Tech, where Autry’s older brother, Anthony, plays. The Yellow Jackets are in his top five but could see stiff competition from Oregon. Autry battled injuries his senior season, so a few teams might pull their offer to Autry. Georgia Tech is the logical choice to secure his commitment.