If you’re the superstitious sort, go ahead and click on something else. Or at a bare minimum, knock on wood, sacrifice a goat, or otherwise go where you go and do what you do.
But there’s no use hiding from it: after a sleepy start to the year, North Carolina’s football recruiting has woken up with a vengeance. It’s early yet, but 10 recruits into the 2018 recruiting cycle, to say nothing of two recent 2019 recruits (Hakeem Beamon and Jayden Curry, both likely DB’s), it’s hard not to start thinking big thoughts. Despite the ever-present NCAA cloud that has yet to entirely evaporate, Larry Fedora and his staff seem to have developed the most coveted and elusive of all recruiting elixirs: momentum.
In the month of June alone, the Tar Heels have received commitments from Tyler Shough and Jace Ruder, two highly recruited quarterbacks, along with defensive back prospects Javon Terry, Trey Morrison and DeAndre Hollins. That group joined elite in-state recruits Payton Wilson, Dyami Brown and Avery Jones, along with Chris Collins, who is arguably the best defensive line prospect in the state of Virginia, and Bryson Richardson, another well-regarded DB prospect out of Georgia. And that, of course, doesn’t include the small matter of the best running back prospect in the country, whose prospects of becoming a UNC commitment have gone from “not happening” to “fasten your seat belts” in very short order.
All of which raises the question: what does a top-notch UNC recruiting class look like, and can the 2018 class get there?
To answer those questions, I reviewed the accumulated data of consensus recruiting rankings from 2002-present (historical recruiting data gets sketchy beyond that point). In brief, the answers are: really good, and yes. One quick qualification: I am defining a “top-notch” recruiting class as one based on pre-college rankings, not what the players in that class actually produced once on the field.
Let’s start with the basics. Fedora’s recruiting classes have roughly averaged a consensus ranking of 28, which is right in line with the Tar Heels’ historical average over this time period. That alone is no small feat – he’s the only coach in the bunch to have spent his whole career recruiting against the threat of NCAA doom. To no one’s surprise, the coach with the best overall recruiting ranking during this timeframe is Butch Davis, with an average recruiting ranking of 19. Discounting the lost year of Everett Withers (43rd), John Bunting brings up the rear with an average rank of 31st, with two absolute disasters (49th and 46th) leavened by some better-than-you-remembered-them classes: 17th and 19th (2003-2004).
The best classes in recent UNC history both belong to Davis, whose 2007 and 2009 classes both graded out at consensus #11. The only class in the vicinity that might compete with those is Mack Brown’s final class at UNC. That class included Ronald Curry, likely the most elite football recruit ever to commit to UNC, but a useful consensus ranking of that class for comparison is elusive.
So let’s take #11 as a benchmark of something approaching UNC’s historical recruiting ceiling. What does a class like that consist of? Each of the 2007 and 2009 classes included a single 5-star recruit (Marvin Austin and Donte Paige-Moss, respectively). They also both contained a healthy number of 4-star players: 7 in 2007 and 10 in 2009. Things diverge a bit from there. 2009 got bonus points for class size—there were 28 members of that class, and oversigning is now prohibited (every team is capped at a maximum of 25 scholarships per season). There were only 23 recruits in 2007. In 2009, there were 14 3-star consensus recruits, meaning that of their 28, only three were below a 3-star rating. The 2007 class was much more top-heavy, with only 10 3-star players and four of 23 below that level.
Loosely speaking, then, for Fedora to achieve a top-end UNC recruiting class his staff would have to land approximately one 5 star player, seven or more 4-star players, and fill the bulk of the remainder of the class with few if any sub-3-star talents.
With eight months still to go, the Tar Heels are already closing in. There are 10 recruits thus far, four of which are 4-star consensus players and all of the other six of whom are 3-stars. Fedora has never recruited a consensus 5-star (although Elijah Hood was rated as a 5-star player by some), but in a week’s time we will know whether Zamir White has become the first. If he does, then three or more 4-star players, plus a handsome set of 3-star guys (Fedora’s classes have never had more than 2 below that level), and UNC football will hit a recruiting gear it has not seen since Davis’ latter days as the UNC coach.
There’s every reason to think it can happen. In addition to the fact that Leddie Brown (RB, 4 stars, currently committed to West Virginia) has suddenly shown interest in UNC, several other 4-star players are very real possibilities for the Tar Heels, including LB Dax Hollifield, OT William Barnes, WR Jordyn Adams, DT Rick Sandidge, DT Alim McNeill, DT Jordan Davis, WR Daniel George, DE Azeez Ojulari, and WR Warren Thompson. For the mathematicians among you: a 30% success rate among that group, plus Zamir White, and we’re there, and that assumes no new names, positive surprises, or rating upgrades.
It’s a long time between now and signing day, but if you’re feeling like things have gone to a new level, well . . . you’re not crazy. But hang on.
And do what you do.