Friedlander: 10 things to watch in the ACC on National Signing Day
The anticipation, the hat ceremonies, the surprises.
The sound of a fax machine whirring.
They’re all still here. That is, except for the fax machine, which has gone the way of the leather helmet thanks to the advancement of technology.
Even with the introduction of the transfer portal and a veteran free-agent market that has reduced the impact of traditional recruiting greatly, National Signing Day continues to hold a special place on the college football calendar for coaches, players and fans alike.
Wednesday is the day in which high school seniors, after “careful consideration and prayers,” will make good on their commitments and sign on the dotted line of their National Letters of Intent.
Or in some cases, change their mind at the last minute.
Here are 10 things to watch as the fax machines start to whir (at least in your imagination) and the signings are announced.
Just remember to “respect their decision.”
Super Mario strikes again
The book still is out on how good a coach Mario Cristobal really is. But man, the guy can recruit.
He showed it at Oregon by landing the nation’s No. 1 prospect, Kayvon Thibodeaux, during 2019, then amassing the 3rd-ranked class nationally in 2021.
Now, he has taken his talents to South Beach.
Despite a 5-7 season that was even more depressing than the record indicates, Cristobal is on the verge of signing another top-5 class at Miami. It’s a 25-player haul that, barring any 11th-hour flips, will include 3 5-star prospects and 12 4-stars, and is ranked No. 3 nationally by 247Sports.
Only Alabama and Georgia are ranked higher.
— Canes Warning (@CanesWarningFS) December 17, 2022
Beyond the volume of top recruits, Cristobal has succeeded in 2 key areas with his 1st full class since returning to his alma mater.
First, he has re-established a foothold at home with commitments from 17 players from Florida, including 7 from Dade and Broward counties. That includes 2 of the 3 highest-rated players in the state – offensive tackle Francis Mauigoa and cornerback Cormani McClain.
More substantively, Cristobal has succeeded in addressing his team’s most pressing need, the offensive line. Besides Mauigoa, he also has commitments from fellow 5-star tackle Samson Okunlola and 3 other linemen.
Now all he has to do is figure out how to get them to play, develop and win
Will he or won’t he?
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has put together a top-10 class with 25 commitments. But as he noted last week, he might not be done.
“The hay is pretty much in the barn,” he said. “Maybe the door’s cracked a little bit, maybe we can stuff a little bit more in there.”
The extra stuffing to which he refers is Jamarius Haynes. A 3-star running back from Roanoke, Ala., Haynes originally indicated he would wait until the traditional signing period during February to make his college decision. But in a social media post Monday, he changed his mind and announced plans to sign Wednesday.
Haynes has reported offers from Georgia Tech, Washington State and Western Kentucky, in addition to Clemson. The 6-foot, 185-pound speedster rushed for 476 yards and 5 touchdowns – all on runs of at least 52 yards – for Handley High during a 54-41 win against Jacksonville on Sept. 3.
He would be the 2nd running back in this year’s class if he joins the Tigers. Jarvis Green of Dutch Fork High in Irmo, S.C., also a 3-star prospect, committed last week.
Carolina feeling blue
Mack Brown has put together 3 straight top-20 classes, including a No. 11 national ranking in 2022. This year’s class, however, doesn’t project as high.
A big reason for that, Brown said, is the impact of money being offered to young players through name, image and likeness opportunities.
“You look at our recruiting. It’s not as high as it has been in the past,” Brown said this month of his 2023 class. “It’s because every player that we’ve got that’s coming is coming because he wants to come to the University of North Carolina. He wants to come for academics, and he’s coming for the right reasons.
“Sadly enough, we’ve probably lost 5 great players that aren’t going to come that would have normally come if NIL hadn’t been an issue. But that’s just the world we live in.”
NIL was never intended to be a pay-for-play scheme that involved buying recruits or poaching players off opponents' rosters. Mack Brown has addressed the issues surrounding NIL that need to be fixed: https://t.co/RbhnfkZllC #UNC pic.twitter.com/pdLjaMc928
— InsideCarolina (@InsideCarolina) May 27, 2022
Among those recruiting losses is 4-star linebacker Kaveion Keys, the 4th-highest rated prospect in the class when he committed to the Tar Heels during August. He decommitted Dec. 8 and pledged to Penn State 8 days later.
Another major loss is 3-star defensive tackle Joshua Horton, who flipped to ACC rival Miami the day after UNC’s loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.
Brown was able to soften the blow of Keys’ departure by picking up a late commitment from 3-star linebacker Michael Short of Charlotte’s Mallard Creek High. But he’s still scrambling to fill the void on the defensive line, either through high school recruiting or the transfer portal.
Brown isn’t the only Triangle coach with his finger in the dam trying to keep recruits in the fold until signing day.
NC State’s Dave Doeren is fighting a similar battle.
Highly rated running back Kyron Jones announced on social media last week that he’s reopening his recruitment. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound prospect was among the earliest players to commit to State. But after rushing for 1,346 yards and averaging better than 10 yards per carry for Charlotte Christian this season, he has amassed about 20 offers.
Reigning national champion Georgia, which has a history of snagging talented backs from North Carolina, appears to be the new leader for his services.
Jones isn’t the only top recruit likely to defect.
Although 3-star wide receiver Tamarcus Cooley from Rolesville, N.C., still is listed as being committed to the Wolfpack, recent buzz has him flipping to Maryland – where his brother, former Louisville running back Trevion Cooley – is rumored to be headed off the transfer portal.
Top Cardinal staying in the nest
Micah Carter is a 6-5, 260-pound defensive lineman and the No. 2-rated prospect in Kentucky in the Class of 2023.
He’s from Louisville, having recently helped St. Xavier High win its 9th state championship. And he loves his hometown Cardinals. But he also loved the idea of playing his college football for coach Jeff Brohm, which is why he committed to Purdue last summer.
Circumstances have changed since then. And when Brohm decided last week to leave the Boilermakers to replace Scott Satterfield at Louisville, his alma mater, Carter’s decision to follow him was easy.
He officially announced his commitment to the Cardinals on Monday in a Twitter post that said simply: “So happy to be home.”
— Micah Carter #99 (@BigMicgetbusy) December 19, 2022
In addition to landing Carter, Brohm has been hard at work since taking the Louisville job. Last weekend, he hosted a large group of recruits – some already committed to the Cardinals, some committed to other schools and a few who still are undecided – along with several transfer-portal veterans in hopes of piecing together a solid class on short notice.
Tough times in Charlottesville
Tony Elliott and his staff already were dealing with recruiting challenges because of their team’s performance on the field in their 1st season at Virginia. But their task became even tougher after the deaths of players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.
One thing that will help the Cavaliers is an NCAA ruling granting any current player whose eligibility was set to expire during 2022 an extra season after their final 2 games were canceled in the wake of the on-campus shootings.
The coaches have spent as much time trying to help their current players cope with the tragedy and heal as they have recruiting newcomers. While it’s yet to be seen how much, if any, effect the events of Nov. 13 will have on the Class of 2023, the Cavaliers have received only 18 commitments thus far, And it’s a group that ranks near the bottom of the ACC.
The most recent commitment came Monday, when Elliott picked up 6-5, 220-pound 3-star defensive end Mekhi Buchanan of Acworth, Ga.
Quality over quantity
Mike Norvell’s current list of commitments is only 15 players deep. But because the group includes a 5-star prospect in wide receiver Hykeem Williams, along with 7 4-stars and recently added 3-star quarterback Brock Glenn – a flip from Ohio State – 247Sports has Florida State’s class ranked 3rd among ACC programs and No. 18 nationally.
Norvell isn’t finished recruiting. He hopes to add at least a few more members to his 2023 class now that the early-signing period has begun, including several more potential flips from other schools.
But he has stressed that he won’t take players simply to bolster the programs’ numbers.
“You’re addressing a lot of the needs that we have to continue to improve as a football team and program. We’re getting the right guys,” he said last week, adding that those who already have committed have “got the right mindset. They’ve got the right heart. They’re excited about the direction of where we’re going and it definitely fires me up.”
Pry-ing them away
Brent Pry might not have won a lot of battles on the field during his 1st season at Virginia Tech, but he’s having a lot better luck in his 1st full recruiting cycle since getting the job last December. He picked up 3 significant victories during the final week before signing day by flipping a trio of players previously committed to other schools.
All 3 are rated as 3-star prospects by 247Sports and help the Hokies’ most pressing needs on offense. They fill out what is expected to be a full class of 25 incoming freshmen.
Ayden Greene is a 6-2, 170-pound wide receiver who decommitted from Cincinnati after Luke Fickell left to take the job at Wisconsin. Green caught 56 passes for 956 yards and 15 touchdowns as a senior at Powell High in Powell, Tenn.
Jeremiah Coney, a 6-0, 194-pound running back from Hermitage High in Richmond, Va., originally committed to Appalachian State. He is a physical runner who also played linebacker and rushed for 1,342 yards and 26 touchdowns as a junior during 2021.
William “Pop” Watson III is perhaps the most consequential get of the group. He’s a dual-threat quarterback who passed for 2,059 yards and 17 touchdowns while also running for 863 yards and 21 scores this season. The 6-0, 175-pound Massachusetts native was prepared to sign with Nebraska, even after the hiring of new coach Matt Rhule, before flipping to Tech.
Patience is the Key
After getting off to a slow start following the removal of his interim tag this month, Brent Key appears to be picking up recruiting momentum as signing day approaches.
The Georgia Tech coach has picked up several commitments since last weekend, both on the high school front and from the transfer portal – including Texas A&M quarterback Haynes King.
4 players commit to Georgia Tech, including Texas A&M QB Haynes King https://t.co/pDQuR7vv8n
— AJC Sports (@AJCsports) December 19, 2022
Steven Jones Jr., a 6-2, 190-pound cornerback from Gadsden, Ala., became the latest addition to the Yellow Jackets’ 2023 class Monday night. He joins recent additions Shymeik Jones, a 3-star defensive lineman from Camden, S.C., who flipped from Appalachian State, linebacker Nacari Ashley from nearby Marietta, Ga., and 3-star defensive end Ezra Odinjor from Acworth, Ga.
The 4 has increased Tech’s haul of commitments to 17. But Key’s 1st class still ranks 13th of 14 ACC teams, ahead of only Syracuse, according to 247Sports.
Speaking of the Orange, Dino Babers might have saved his job by leading Syracuse to 6 wins and a date against Minnesota in the Pinstripe Bowl, but after suffering through a 5-game losing streak late in the season his future with the program still is teetering on the brink.
He is under contract through 2024. Whether he makes it that far will depend a lot on how his team fares next season.
That uncertainty hasn’t helped Babers’ recruiting effort heading into this year’s early-signing period. His current class, which is ranked last in the ACC, currently has only 12 high school commitments to go along with 3 junior-college transfers.
While he’s actively working to add more players to his 2023 class, including a large contingent of prospects attending the Orange’s basketball game Saturday against Cornell, he’ll do well just to keep those he already has. The highest-rated member of the group, 4-star quarterback LaNorris Sellers of Florence, S.C. – continues to be courted heavily by South Carolina.