ACC tipping point classes 

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
In the state of Florida, the current recruiting landscape is run by Florida State coming off the last BCS National Championship a season ago, a College Football Playoff appearance this season and the success of many players in the last few years. For Miami (Fla.) -- and Florida for that matter -- it’s a fight to not only keep the best at home from the two most talented counties in the country, Dade and Broward, but also to gain momentum on the recruiting trail in a region where battles with Alabama, Auburn and Florida State are the norm.

Jimbo FisherDon Juan Moore/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher has been able to attract top recruits to continue Florida State's success.
Alabama and Nick Saban have set the national recruiting pace the last five years, and that is not going to change in the week leading up to signing day as they close on a fifth consecutive recruiting title.

However, Florida State is not far off and in Saban’s rearview mirror is the familiar face of his former offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher.

Florida State was the last program to finish ahead of Alabama in the rankings (2011), and the Seminoles are the only other team that will have a top-three class for the fourth time in the last five cycles. Their five-year average finish of 3.4 is second to only Alabama.

That’s why the FSU program is the strongest it has been the last decade and why there should be optimism among Seminoles fans now that award-winning quarterback Jameis Winston as well as a bevy of starters are now off to the NFL.

The reality is 2015 is a transitional period for the Seminoles. Twelve players over the last three years have left early for the NFL. They’re replacing nearly the entire offensive line and two best receivers, defensive linemen and cornerbacks. And gone, of course, is one of the greatest players in program history.

Two losses this upcoming season is not out of the question for Florida State, which has lost only once over its last 30 games.

Yet a fourth consecutive ACC championship would be equally unsurprising, too. There was the thought Florida State might have missed a championship window at the end of the 2012 season, which ended with two losses. Eleven players were drafted from that team including five in the first two rounds. It’s hard to compensate for that many impactful departures just a season prior.

Of course, the Seminoles went undefeated the following season and went on to claim their first national title since 1999, and did it with key players from Fisher’s first recruiting class.

As many as a dozen former Seminoles could be selected in this upcoming NFL draft. While that means Florida State is losing a significant amount of talent, it also indicates how well Fisher and his staff are recruiting. It shows the sustained recruiting success Fisher has had over the course of his five-year tenure, and it’s why blue-chip prospects are stampeding down Interstate 10 toward Tallahassee, Florida.

Half of the Seminoles’ 22 commitments are ESPN 300 prospects, and with a few more scholarships remaining, that number figures to grow. The Seminoles have the No. 1 athlete and top-rated safety. They also have top-five players at quarterback, running back, defensive end, cornerback and linebacker.

To replace Winston, Fisher has three ESPN 300 quarterback commits (if including athlete Kai Locksley) to go along with 2014 ESPN 300 signee JJ Cosentino and Sean Maguire, who started in place of Winston against Clemson. Down the line, 2016 No. 1 quarterback Malik Henry plans to leave Southern California and head east to Florida State. (Henry is one of six 2016 FSU commitments, and five are among the top 184 players nationally.)

While all of those players have the high school credentials, there are countless quarterbacks and high school players who fail to live up to the hype. Fisher has a track record of helping his players realize their potential, which is why the draft numbers have skyrocketed. Winston could be the second No. 1-overall pick Fisher has tutored (Jamarcus Russell).

Before Fisher, the Seminoles finished in the top 12 of the rankings in three of Bobby Bowden’s last four recruiting classes, but there were too many misses during those cycles.

Florida State’s ability to develop players has been a key recruiting pitch, and it’s the reason Abdul Bello, No. 4 among offensive tackles, committed to Florida State. The ESPN 300 lineman emigrated from Nigeria to Florida and admits he still doesn’t know many of the nuances to the game. He was looking for a coaching staff that would be able to mature his raw athleticism, and it’s why he said so many top recruits are joining him.

“When those players [from earlier classes] were going there, they were good players but when they went there … the coaches gave them good coaching,” Bello said. “We’ll get that same great coaching, same attitude, same hunger and that same will to win with this coaching. We’ll be really good.”

Fisher’s recruiting efforts are being boosted now that Florida State has joined the college football arms race. The school received cosmetic upgrades recently with a new indoor practice facility and overhauled football offices and locker rooms. The school is also allocating more money to be spent on assistant coaches. The recruiting budget has increased to where the Seminoles are at least competitive with other top schools. Florida State might always struggle to keep up with the Joneses in Tuscaloosa and throughout the SEC, but Fisher has the pivotal pieces in place.

“I'm not a spoiled kid. If I want it, it's because it's going to make our organization better. Every decision we make is about winning and developing our players,” Fisher said not long after FSU unveiled its latest facility upgrades in July. “... I always ask folks, when you walk into an organization, you go into a business, the minute you walk in you make a first impression: Is this place committed to excellence, is it a championship organization?”

Florida State is one of those organizations now, which is why the future is promising for the Seminoles even with so many unknowns awaiting them in 2015.
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Patrick Peterson, No. 8 in 2008 class

Coming out of Blanche Ely High in South Florida, the nation's top cornerback prospect went by the name Patrick Johnson. Originally a Miami (Fla.) commit, he opened up his recruitment during his senior year and ended up coming down to Florida, Florida State and LSU with the Tigers winning out. Johnson was a member of a 2008 LSU class that included Deangelo Benton, Jordan Jefferson and others.

Peterson appeared in all 13 games as a true freshman, including four starts to end the season. He finished his freshman campaign with 41 tackles and one interception.

As a sophomore in 2009, Peterson was awarded All-SEC second-team honors after starting 13 games and totaling 43 tackles and two INTs. He was also tabbed as a second-team All-American by the Sporting News following the season.

Peterson’s junior season would be his best. Not only did Peterson tally 33 tackles and four INTs in 11 games, but he also totaled 1,106 yards and two punt return touchdowns. He took home a number of awards following the season, including the Thorpe Award, Bednarik Award, first-team All-American, All-SEC first-team and SEC special teams player of the year.

Peterson entered the 2011 NFL draft following his junior season. He was selected No. 5 overall by the Arizona Cardinals, and has been selected to the Pro Bowl each of his four seasons in the league.

Honorable mention: Taylor Mays, No. 8 in 2006 class. Mays chose USC out of O’Dea High in Seattle, and lived up to his billing as an elite athlete at the safety position. After a standout career for the Trojans, he was selected in the second round (No. 49 overall) by the San Francisco 49ers.

On The Trail Show (Noon ET)

January, 29, 2015
Jan 29
We're less than a week from national signing day and facing a critical weekend of visits. RecruitingNation's panel of experts break down the biggest visits this weekend and what to expect during the last few days of the 2015 cycle.

Despite making a commitment to Alabama last week, ESPN 300 offensive tackle Isaiah Prince said Wednesday he's visiting Maryland and will give the Terps a solid look.

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1. Ryan Day spent the past three seasons as offensive coordinator for Steve Addazio at Temple (2012) and Boston College (2013-14). Addazio comes out of the Urban Meyer School of Offense -- a big, physical running game and, hopefully, the quarterback can do his share of the running. In the past two seasons, Chase Rettig and Tyler Murphy combined to throw 28 touchdowns for the Eagles, two-thirds of what Marcus Mariota threw this season alone. But Day is the new quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Here’s where you should know that Day started at quarterback for three seasons at New Hampshire, where his position coach was Chip Kelly.

2. All the ado about Marshawn Lynch and his unwillingness to speak with the media made me think of a 2006 profile of him at Cal. I remembered a nice, polite kid. Lynch’s first quote of the piece: “I’m just trying to play. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t do interviews.” The Bears’ head coach at the time, Jeff Tedford, not only called Lynch “the best athlete on the field,” but praised his intelligence. “We’re able to put him in so many positions and he’s so smart,” Tedford said. “He can get it in the meeting and take it on the field and have a pretty good idea of what we’re looking for.” That’s how you stay a force in the NFL for eight seasons.

3. Kudos to North Carolina and Wake Forest for scheduling a “nonconference” home-and-home series in 2019 and 2021. The downside of conference expansion is that plenty of historic rivalries have been sacrificed. But playing a conference opponent and calling it a nonconference game is silly. Let’s say North Carolina loses to Wake in 2019 and goes on to tie Duke for the ACC Coastal Division championship. If you’re Duke, wouldn’t you be upset that Carolina’s loss to Wake didn’t count? Especially if you beat Wake that season?
APOPKA, Fla. -- With one week remaining until national signing day, five-star offensive tackle Martez Ivey is finally closing in on his decision.

The fifth-ranked player in the ESPN 300 will announce his decision between Auburn and Florida next Wednesday on ESPNU but contemplated announcing early just to get the process over with.

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Missouri’s 11-3 season with an SEC East Division title and a bowl win meant there were plenty of good performances across the board. But there are still areas that could use improvement heading into 2015 and we look at one of them today:

Position to improve: Quarterback.

Why it was a problem: Missouri ranked 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game and 13th in yards per attempt. Against SEC competition (including the SEC title game), Maty Mauk completed only 48.9 percent of his passes and threw nine touchdowns to seven interceptions in those nine games. The Tigers want to take the next step from SEC East Division champions to SEC champions, and improved play at quarterback has to be part of that equation. Mauk is a playmaker who can make great throws, improvise with his feet and produce highlight-worthy plays, but more consistency is needed from him if the Tigers are going to move into elite status.

How it can be fixed: Gary Pinkel voiced confidence in Mauk, even during his struggles, saying, “He’s our guy” in the aftermath of the Tigers’ 34-0 loss to Georgia in October. The Tigers then reeled off six straight wins. It stands to reason that, barring unforeseen circumstances, Mauk will remain Mizzou’s guy heading into his junior season. So it’s on Mauk simply to play better in 2015. The Tigers are 14-4 when Mauk starts, so despite some shaky play at times, Missouri has still been successful with Mauk behind center. Backup quarterback Eddie Printz, a redshirt freshman last season, attempted only one pass in three appearances in 2014. Corbin Berkstresser, the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart, will be a senior this fall. The Tigers are bringing in a highly touted prospect at the position, ESPN 300 quarterback Drew Lock, a four-star prospect who is the No. 107 overall player nationally and the sixth-ranked pocket passer. Lock, an in-state prospect from Lee’s Summit High, is a nice acquisition, but this will still be Mauk’s team going into 2015.

Early 2015 outlook: With an offseason to improve and 18 starts under his belt, next season has some potential for Mauk. Can he improve his completion percentage and lower his interception total? If he can without taking away from his improvisational ability and style that makes him compelling to watch, it would be huge for the Tigers’ offense. Missouri says goodbye to its three leading receivers from 2014 – Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt and Darius White – who were all seniors. Mauk has to quickly establish a rapport with the new crop of pass catchers, if he can, it bodes well for the Tigers. Moments like this one and the way he finished the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl win over Minnesota provide optimism. If Mauk can play that way more consistently, the Tigers will be in good shape.

Recruit breakdown: DT Daylon Mack 

January, 28, 2015
Jan 28

What he brings: Daylon Mack is a compact, but thickly built and powerful defensive tackle who is capable of being a disruptive force in the trenches. He lacks some in ideal height, but built like a powder keg the five-star can quickly explode off the ball and create problems. With a quick first-step and good snap anticipation, Mack is capable of blowing up plays in the backfield, but strong and with a low center of gravity, he is tough to move and control even when blockers can get a piece of him. He may be closer to his ceiling of development than most of the five-star prospects, but is a pretty darn good player at this stage. If he can continue to refine his technique and manage his weight, he has demonstrated the tools needed to be a handful at the college level and likely can begin causing havoc soon after hitting campus.

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Our Big Ten-wide examination of positions that need improvement continues with a look at the Purdue Boilermakers.

Problem position: Quarterback

Why quarterback is a problem: There are plenty of places to look within a program that's won one Big Ten game over the past two years. Sometimes, though, the most obvious answer is the correct one. Purdue has coined itself as the cradle of quarterbacks, producing stars at the position such as Len Dawson, Bob Griese, Gary Danielson, Jim Everett and Drew Brees. When the Boilermakers find a gunslinger, all other problems fade into the background. It's struggling under Darrell Hazell to identify a reliable option. Austin Appleby was the latest to try, starting the final seven games as a sophomore with varied success.

How it can be fixed: Appleby had his moments in 2014, playing well against Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota before the Boilermakers put too much on his shoulders in November. As his pass attempts rose, efficiency dropped. Purdue can help its quarterbacks by improving in the run game. Another offseason of work under Hazell and offensive coordinator John Shoop should help Appleby if he remains atop the depth chart, by no means a certainty.

Early 2015 outlook: Look for Appleby to face stiff competition in the spring from Danny Etling, another rising junior who started as a freshman in 2013 and for the first five games of 2014. He threw for 800 yards but committed seven turnovers. David Blough, a redshirt freshman, also enters the mix. Each came to Purdue as a solid prospect and recognized on the national level in recruiting circles. For Purdue to take the desired big step as a program, one of its quarterbacks must emerge as elite.
This week, we're taking a closer look at one specific area each Big 12 team needs to improve before 2015. We continue the series with the Oklahoma State Cowboys:

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: Injuries and graduation caught up with the Cowboys up front in 2014. And after longtime assistant Joe Wickline bolted for Texas, replacement Bob Connelly struggled to put a coherent offensive line together with a collection of unproven performers. Oklahoma State actually ranked next-to-last in the Big 12 in career offensive line starts heading into the opener. As a result, for much of the season, the Cowboys failed to keep immobile quarterback Daxx Garman upright, while the running game stagnated, as Oklahoma State dropped five games in a row.

How it can be fixed: The fix began to occur late in the season. Zachary Crabtree returned from an injury to give the Cowboys a solid pass-protecting tackle. And the emergence of Mason Rudolph at quarterback gave the Cowboys a little more mobility in the pocket, taking the pressure off the rest of the line. Other young players up front like center Paul Lewis and tackle Michael Wilson began to emerge at the end of the season. That culminated with Oklahoma State controlling the line of scrimmage in a 30-22 TicketCity Cactus Bowl win over Washington, which coming in boasted one of the top defensive fronts in the country.

Early 2015 outlook: The line should return to being a strength for the Cowboys again. Crabtree, Lewis, Wilson and guard Jesse Robinson are all back. Oklahoma State also expects to sign a total of seven offensive linemen, including a trio of junior-college recruits as well as transfer Victor Salako, who manned left tackle for UAB last season. Add that all together, and the Cowboys figure to be seasoned and deep in 2015.
Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

Position to improve: Wide receiver

Why it was a problem: Take a look at the final ACC stats, under receptions/game and receiving yards/game. You will find players from 3-9 Syracuse and 3-9 Wake Forest. But you will not find anybody listed from 8-5 N.C. State. The Wolfpack simply did not have a go-to guy in their group in 2014. Their leading receiver was a true freshman -- Bo Hines, with 616 yards and just one touchdown catch. Only three other schools had their top leading receiver finish with fewer yards: Boston College (a running team), Wake Forest (a team that was offensively challenged) and Virginia (not known for its passing offense). While it is true N.C. State likes to use its tight ends and backs in the pass game, there is no doubt the Wolfpack need a wide receiver to emerge in 2015.

How it can be fixed: Another year with quarterback Jacoby Brissett under center will help. One big area N.C. State hopes to improve is its deep passing game, which was virtually nonexistent a year ago. Brissett struggled to throw the long ball with accuracy; and the Wolfpack are in need of a dynamic receiver who can stretch the field. Coach Dave Doeren is also hopeful the addition of receivers coach George McDonald will help a young group returning as well. "He has a really good way about him of teaching the game," Doeren said recently. "With a young receiver corps, we need somebody who can take every detail of the position and get them to do it where they’re excited about playing the position and doing it the way we want to get it done."

Early 2015 outlook: Bo Hines decided to transfer to Yale after the season. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, third among the wide receivers, also is gone. So among the top three returners in receiving yards, only one is a wide receiver: Bra'Lon Cherry, with 27 catches for 354 yards. More will be expected of tight end David J. Grinnage. But among receivers, Cherry, Johnathan Alston, Maurice Trowell and Stephen Louis will be expected to increase their production. Also watch for true freshman Nyheim Hines, on the ESPN 300. Though he is listed as a running back, he could be a good choice to fill Bo Hines' spot at receiver. There are no seniors in the group of players mentioned above.
In the 100 days leading up to signing day 2015, RecruitingNation will be looking back at our ESPN recruiting rankings from 2006 to the present and count down the best player of the past 10 years at each ranking position, No. 100 to No. 1.

Andrus Peat, No. 9 in 2012 class

Coming out of Corona Del Sol in Tempe, Arizona, Peat’s recruitment was considered a toss-up with many predicting Nebraska early on because his brother, Todd Peat, played for the Cornhuskers at the time. While Peat officially visited Nebraska, his recruitment actually came down to Stanford, USC and Florida State along with Nebraska. Peat was part of a terrific offensive line class for Stanford with Joshua Garnett, Kyle Murphy and Nick Davidson.

Peat made his mark as a freshman for the Cardinal, playing in 13 games. He rotated at left tackle in 2012, playing more snaps as the season moved along.

As a sophomore in 2013, Peat began showing that he had a NFL future. He started all 14 games at left tackle, earning All-Pac-12 second-team honors from the league coaches, as well as Stanford’s Most Outstanding Sophomore Deswarte-Ellar Award.

Peat’s junior season would prove to be his best. After starting every game at left tackle for a second consecutive season, he was tabbed All-Pac-12 first team by the league coaches as well as numerous All-American teams by media outlets, including second team by the AP.

Peat chose to forgo his senior season and enter the 2015 NFL Draft, where he is expected to be drafted in the first round.

Honorable mention: Jimmy Clausen, No. 9 in 2007 class. Clausen played at Notre Dame and was drafted in the second round (No. 48 overall) in the 2010 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. Jelani Jenkins, No. 9 in 2009 class. Jenkins starred at Florida and was drafted in the fourth round (No. 104 overall) by the Miami Dolphins in the 2013 NFL Draft. Matt Elam, No. 9 in 2010 class. Elam played a Florida and was drafted No. 32 overall in the 2013 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens. Derrick Henry, No. 9 in 2013 class, and Adoree' Jackson, No. 9 in 2014 class are both starring in college and expected to be drafted in the next two years.
This week, we're examining a problematic position for each Big Ten team during the 2014 season and how it can potentially be repaired in 2015.

Penn State takes its turn in the spotlight now.

Problem position: Offensive line

Why the offensive line was a problem in 2014: Everyone who followed the Nittany Lions worried about the O-line going into the season. Miles Dieffenbach suffered an injury in the offseason that would keep him sidelined most of the year, leaving left tackle Donovan Smith as the only experienced player on the unit. Depth was so thin that coach James Franklin and his staff had to flip a couple defensive tackles over to the offensive guard spots. The problems ended up being worse than just about anyone imagined, as Penn State fielded the league's worst rushing attack (101.9 yards per game) and gave up an almost unfathomable 44 sacks, which was more than every Power 5 team except Wake Forest. For comparison's sake, the 44 sacks were more than Michigan State, Wisconsin and Rutgers combined to allow in 2014. The line woes were encapsulated by this unforgettable image.

How it can be fixed (solutions on the roster): Smith played well despite the chaos and chose to enter the NFL draft rather than use his final year of eligibility. Dieffenbach, who missed the first eight games last season, also departs. Andrew Nelson showed promise as a redshirt freshman at right tackle and could move to the left side. Angelo Mangiro and Brian Gaia join him as returning starters. Penn State also redshirted four offensive linemen last season and will hope at least a couple of them are ready to contribute in 2015.

How it can be fixed (potential help from 2015 recruiting class): The Nittany Lions currently have four offensive linemen committed in this year's class, three of whom are in the ESPN 300: tackles Sterling Jenkins and Ryan Bates and guard Steven Gonzalez. The fourth is a junior college transfer: 6-foot-8, 300-pounder Paris Palmer, who could step in and start right away.

Early 2015 outlook: Franklin and position coach Herb Hand know offensive line is a major problem right now, and they have worked to address that in recruiting. Scholarship cuts from NCAA sanctions and injuries hit the unit hard, but help appears to be on the way. The line looks to be incredibly young in 2015, however, so some quick development will be needed to better protect quarterback Christian Hackenberg and establish a more reputable run game.
Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Position to improve: Secondary

Why it was a problem: North Carolina had issues all over the defense in 2014, but it was particularly vulnerable to the pass. No Power 5 team in the country allowed more yards per attempt (8.5), only Baylor and Fresno State surrendered more plays of 25 yards or more through the air, and only six teams nationally allowed more passing touchdowns (31).

How it can be fixed: The Tar Heels' biggest issue in the secondary may have simply been youth. There was just one senior -- safety Tim Scott -- on the team's two-deep, and the Heels started three sophomores in the defensive backfield. UNC finished 88th in sack rate, too, and the lack of pressure up front certainly didn't help the secondary. The pass rush did show some improvement as the year went along, and emerging stars such as Nazair Jones and Dajaun Drennon should continue to make an impact in 2015. The big change, however, is the man calling the plays. UNC hired former Auburn coach Gene Chizik to take over the defense, and his hard-nosed style promises to translate to a more fundamentally-sound secondary.

Early 2015 outlook: North Carolina should improve defensively in 2015 if for no other reason than it would be virtually impossible to be any worse. Still, it's going to be an uphill battle. Young players are going to need to take big steps forward this offseason, and it remains to be seen how Chizik's personality and style will mesh with the players already on the roster. The Heels have two four-star DBs committed, but adding more youth to the mix isn't necessarily an ideal scenario. Moreover, Larry Fedora's offense moves at lightning speed, and the result of that was that no defense in the country spent more time on the field in 2014 than UNC. That's asking a lot of a group that is young, lacks depth and had fundamental flaws routinely exposed. How much of that can Chizik clean up in 2015? How much might Fedora try to adjust his offensive pace to account for some of those defensive shortcomings? How much can the youngsters grow in one offseason? We may not have those answers for quite a while.