Friedlander: 5 things to watch in the ACC on Day 1 of Early Signing Period
National Signing Day used to be the football equivalent of Christmas morning.
It was a day coaches, players and especially those dedicated fans who paid almost as much attention to recruiting as the actual games their teams played looked forward to with great anticipation.
Thanks to the addition of the Early Signing Period, a shift from February to December, changes in the NCAA’s transfer rules and other factors, that’s no longer the case.
These days, the start of the Early Signing Period has become more like the opening day of the Major League Baseball draft. Only instead of getting called up to the bigs after a couple of years of seasoning, many of those submitting their National Letters of Intent on Wednesday will end up getting their chance to shine at schools other than where they started.
And yet, there’s still a certain anticipation and excitement associated with the day in which high school seniors across the country, after “careful consideration and prayers,” start to make their initial college choices known.
Here are 5 things to watch in the ACC as the commitments become official and the signings are announced.
Seminoles playing defense
Florida State heads into Wednesday with a class ranked No. 6 nationally by 247Sports. Whether it will still be that high by Wednesday evening depends on how well coach Mike Norvell and his staff can to play defense.
They have their hands full trying to keep their top-rated recruit, 5-star safety KJ Bolden, in the fold.
Bolden, a native of Buford, Ga., committed to the Seminoles in October. But that hasn’t stopped Auburn from putting on a full-court press to flip him. According to the Auburn website Tiger Wire, coach Hugh Freeze visited Bolden last Tuesday. Bolden, however, said this week that he remains committed to FSU and wasn’t going to visit Auburn.
FSU is no stranger to losing its top commitment in a signing day surprise. It was stunned 2 years ago when 5-star cornerback Travis Hunter, the nation’s No. 1 prospect, decided to sign with Deion Sanders and Jackson State instead of the Seminoles.
And even though Bolden has said he will be a Seminole, he isn’t the only potential 11th-hour recruiting disappointment.
Armondo Blount, a 5-star edge rusher from Miami Central HS who flipped from Miami to FSU in October, is now apparently having second thoughts and could stay home. Instead of taking an official visit to Tallahassee as planned, he instead went to Coral Gables for an OV with Mario Cristobal and his staff.
— Armondo Blount (@ArmondoBlount) December 15, 2023
While there’s a heavy focus on keeping their own recruits, the Seminoles also have the potential to do a little flipping of their own. Among the players on their radar are Ohio State pledge Jeremiah Smith, the No. 1 wide receiver in this year’s class, and defensive tackle LJ McCray, who is committed to Florida.
Cristobal might have trouble remembering to have his quarterback take a knee and other end-of-game clock management situations, but man, the guy can recruit.
He put together a top-10 national class that included several immediate contributors – including offensive tackle Francis Mauigoa and ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Reuben Bain – in his first effort with the Hurricanes last year. This year’s class looks to be just as strong.
And it’s still getting stronger with Monday’s announcement that 4-star running back Jordan Lyle has decided to stay close to home after originally committing to Ohio State to Miami. Lyle prepped at St. Thomas Aquinas High School. Another Broward County product, Wisconsin pledge Xavier Lucas of American Heritage, could also be ready to flip. The 3-star defensive back made an official visit to Miami last weekend, as did 4-star linebacker and Florida commit Adarius Hayes.
With 27 players already committed, led by 5-star defensive lineman Justin Scott and 4-star receivers Ny Carr, Josiah Trader and Chance Robinson, the Hurricanes are currently ranked No. 6 nationally in 247Sports’ recruiting rankings. They still have the potential to rise even higher if Cristobal can flip any or all of his other signing day targets, including Blount.
Tigers losing their bite
Clemson has now gone 3 straight years without a College Football Playoff appearance and the drop-off is taking a toll on recruiting. Dabo Swinney saw his streak of 5 straight top-10 classes snapped last year when haul was ranked No. 11 overall and 2nd in the ACC behind Miami.
This year’s class is in danger of slipping even lower. The Tigers sit at No. 13 nationally and 3rd in the conference behind their 2 rivals from the Sunshine State.
There’s still plenty of quality, especially as it pertains to filling the program’s biggest need with commitments from 3 highly-rated wide receivers – 5-stars Sammy Brown and Bryant Wesco, and 4-star TJ Moore. Swinney also addressed another area of concern that plagued his 2023 team by recruiting the nation’s top-ranked kicker Nolan Hauser.
If there’s 1 glaring omission from the group of 18 players in the fold, it’s the absence of a quarterback. Barring a signing day addition, Swinney will either be forced to pick up 1 off the transfer portal, something that goes against everything he holds dear, or go into 2024 with only 2 scholarship quarterbacks – incumbent starter Cade Klubnik and redshirt freshman Christopher Vizzina.
Big class not in the Cards
Jeff Brohm made an immediate splash last year when, despite getting a late start as a new hire, he still managed to put together a class ranked 4th in the ACC with 7 4-star signees. The early momentum continued onto the field this fall with a 10-win season that earned his Cardinals a trip to the ACC Championship game.
That success, however, doesn’t appear to have given Brohm and his staff a recruiting bump in the current cycle.
Perhaps they’ve concentrated more effort on recruiting the transfer portal, where they’ve already made some significant pickups. Whatever the reason, their incoming freshman class on the eve of signing day consists of only 15 prospects. And only 1 of those, wide receiver JoJo Stone, is rated as high as a 4-star. Stone flipped from LSU to the Cardinals in November.
I’m HOME ❤️ https://t.co/qFFk0ix2sB
— Jojostonejr (@jojostonejr) November 4, 2023
As it currently stands, the class is ranked only 11th out of 14 ACC teams. But it should also be noted that defensive lineman TJ Capers, the 4th-highest-ranked recruit in program history, reclassified to be included in last year’s highly-rated class.
New coaches playing catchup
Fran Brown earned a reputation for being one of the nation’s best recruiters in helping Georgia coach Kirby Smart build a roster that won back-to-back national championships. It’s one of the qualities that helped him land the head coaching job at Syracuse last month.
Although he’s only been on the job for a short time, Brown’s recruiting chops are already paying dividends for the Orange. Not only has he attracted a strong transfer class, headed by former Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord, but he and his new staff are also in the process of putting together a strong group of freshman prospects.
Within the past few weeks, they’ve picked up commitments from athlete Emanuel Ross, receiver Jaylan Hornsby and running back Yasin Willis. All are 3-star recruits. Ross flipped from soon-to-be ACC rival Stanford (sorry, that still sounds strange), Hornsby from Texas A&M and Willis from Pittsburgh.
The ACC’s other new coach, Duke’s Manny Diaz, has had significantly less time to assemble his first class after being hired to replace Mike Elko only last week. He admitted during his introductory press conference that he’s in scramble mode and that his top priority beyond building a staff was holding onto as many of Elko’s prospects as possible.
He’s already lost 2 of the 20 committed players: 4-star quarterback Tyler Cherry and 3-star safety Kaden McFadden, who has since flipped to TCU. Waiting to see how many pledges stay and how many others decide to leave will make for some suspenseful moments Wednesday.