On November 27th, the University of North Carolina hired Mack Brown (again) as their head football coach. At the time, North Carolina’s 2019 recruiting class was ranked in the mid 60’s nationally and essentially the bottom of the ACC. Carolina had a handful of verbal commitments, a few of whom de-committed with Larry Fedora’s firing. Flash forward to the end of the “traditional” Signing Day and the Tar Heels finished with the 32nd ranked recruiting class in the country, and 6th best in the ACC in just a few months. Mack Brown and his staff have done an unbelievable job in their first few months in Chapel Hill.
Carolina wasn’t the only school who closed strong during the last few months of this recruiting cycle, however. Between freshmen who just signed and both incoming and out going transfers some programs going to look a lot different next year. So, in no particular order, here’s a review of some impact players and overall recruiting classes coming into the ACC.
Manny Diaz: Head Coach, Miami Hurricanes
Diaz has the unique distinction of being the head coach at two different universities during Signing Day in the SAME YEAR. We’ll have to have our research department double check this, but with the Early Signing Period being only a few years old it’s possible he’s the first coach to accept a head coaching job at one school (Temple) for the Early Signing Period, then accept a second head coaching job (Miami, FL) by the traditional Signing Day. Between previous Hurricane coach Mark Richt resigning and Miami hiring Diaz, the Hurricanes suffered over fifteen de-commitments, five of which were four or five star players.
The biggest get for Diaz on the February signing period was four-star cornerback Christian Williams out of Daphne, Alabama. Williams is a top 200 player nationally and Miami was able to flip Williams from his commitment to Alabama on Signing Day. If Williams were to flip, LSU was considered the favorite to land him, so that was the biggest get of the day in Coral Gables.
The most noticeable additions to the Hurricanes next season are coming from transfers. Diaz signed transfers from USC, Ohio State, UCLA, and division rival Virginia Tech. Transfers don’t count towards a program’s recruiting ranking, so that Miami had a top thirty class not including those four impact transfers says a lot. One of those transfer players could have an extremely big impact on the Hurricanes’ season, that would be former Ohio State Buckeye...
Tate Martell: Quarterback, Miami Hurricanes
Tate Martell was part of the 2017 recruiting class for Ohio State, and was the presumptive favorite to take over for Dwayne Haskins in Columbus next season. Fast forward through a weird season in Athens, Georgia and uber-talented Justin Fields announced he was transferring from the Bulldogs to Ohio State. Even before Fields officially transferred, Martell was very publicly confident that he’d still be the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes in 2019.
Next thing we knew Tate Martell (who apparently is actually named Tathan!) is in Coral Gables and Miami has a real shot at winning the Coastal next year. Just one season removed from their Orange Bowl appearance, the Hurricanes went 7-6 and finished the season getting embarrassed by Wisconsin. Richt could not decide between two less than stellar options in Malik Rosier and N’Kosi Perry at quarterback last season, which was not the only reason Miami underwhelmed, but certainly is the first issue that Manny Diaz needed to fix. Along with Virginia and Virginia Tech, Martell’s transfer (and pending eligibility) makes Miami one of the early favorites to win the Coastal. Tate Martell *could be the best quarterback in the division next season and gives Miami invaluable depth at quarterback, which leads us to...
Unsigned Player: Quarterback, Florida State Seminoles
Junior quarterback James Blackmon has the distinct privilege of being the only scholarship quarterback on Florida State’s roster, let that sink in for a bit. Blackmon actually put his name into the now infamous NCAA transfer portal in mid January, but Deondre Francois’ dismissal from the program makes it look like Blackmon is staying in Tallahassee.
The Seminoles’ quarterback room includes Blackmon and class of 2018 walk on Nolan McDonald, leaving a pretty empty quarterback room. It’s not that Florida State isn’t recruiting any quarterbacks, they simply keep whiffing. In the 2018 class the top rated recruit Justin Field’s finalists were Florida State and Georgia, but he ended up staying in state with the Bulldogs (see Tate Martell). In the 2019 class, four-star Lance LeGendre spurned Florida State for Maryland on the traditional Signing Day in February. The Seminoles did have the third ranked pro-style quarterback in the country committed to them since April of 2018, but during the Early Signing Period he flipped to Mack Brown and conference rival North Carolina. That quarterback was...
Sam Howell: Quarterback, North Carolina Tar Heels
Four-star quarterback Sam Howell from Monroe, NC committed to Florida State in April of his junior year while holding offers from Alabama, Clemson, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia, among others. According to 247 sports, Howell is the third ranked dual threat quarterback in the country, the second ranked player in the state of North Carolina, and a top one hundred player nationally.
Part of the reason UNC Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham brought Mack Brown in was because North Carolina’s in-state recruiting had fallen off. Mack Brown made it his mission to win the state, and all of that started with Sam Howell. Being able to flip Sam Howell from the Seminoles and keep him in state was the most impactful signing of the 2019 class, possibly in the entire conference. As previously mentioned, it’s part of the reason conference rival Florida State hasn’t signed a quarterback for two seasons.
Howell isn’t the savior of the program, and as talented of a player as Howell is, his signing with UNC is a lot more than just a really good quarterback coming to Chapel Hill. Just like all of us track recruiting news, so do high school players. More than any other position, recruits are paying attention to which quarterbacks sign there. Signing Sam Howell in December gave Brown and his staff almost two months in between the Early Signing Period and the traditional Signing Day to show recruits that the buzz around the program was legit. Howell’s commitment wasn’t the single factor for any one player, but it’s a lot harder to see Carolina signing everyone they did on the traditional Signing Day without him on campus already. One of the biggest players to sign their NLI with UNC on the traditional signing day was...
Eugune Asante: Outside Linebacker, North Carolina Tar Heels
Asante held offers from Florida State, UCLA, Maryland, Tennessee, Miami, and TCU, among others. His recruitment ultimately came down to Virginia Tech and North Carolina, signing with the Tar Heels on Signing Day. Asante is a top 300 player nationally, and the twelfth ranked outside linebacker in the country.
Asante was the highest rated player to sign with UNC on the traditional Signing Day. The best part about signing him was that he didn’t sign with division rival Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech still had a really good recruiting class, ranked 3rd in the ACC and 26th nationally. Justin Fuente’s problem in Blacksburg isn’t with recruiting new players, though, as he’s averaging top 25 classes nationally at Virginia Tech. Fuente’s problem has been with keeping players on his roster, most notably...
Justin Jackson: Quarterback, Undecided
Heading into the 2018 season, Virginia Tech was considered a favorite to win the division, and Josh Jackson was at worst a dark horse candidate for ACC Player of the Year. The Hokies started the year off by steamrolling Florida State in Tallahassee and looked like they could go unchallenged in the Coastal division. Then FCS Old Dominion rolled into town and embarrassed Virginia Tech at home.
Worse than the score, however, was that quarterback Josh Jackson suffered a season-ending ankle injury. Virginia Tech limped to a 6-7 overall record. By mid-January Jackson had announced his intent to transfer from Virginia Tech. Jackson is one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, so his loss is meaningful.
Unfortunately for Justin Fuente, he’s not only dealing with quality losses to transfer, but quantity losses. Including Jackson, at least seven players have also announced their intent to transfer. In college football in 2019 transfers are just a part of the business, every coach deals with them. Seven is a major red flag, though.
Early in the 2019 offseason the Virginia schools were expected to be the favorites to win the ACC Coastal Division. With all the departures, Virginia Tech has effectively taken a back seat to Miami as the early co-favorite with Virginia. We’ve already discussed Miami and their new quarterback, Tate Martell. The Cavaliers signed their own new quarterback in...
Luke Wentz: Quarterback, Virginia Cavaliers
Wentz will have the least impact out of anyone mentioned in the 2019 season. His signing is worth mentioning, however, as Cavaliers head coach Bronco Mendenhall went all the way to Germany to recruit and sign Wentz. If we’re not counting Australian punters, Germany is considered one of the top countries as far as American Football development. Still, that a Power Five coach was willing to sign a German quarterback speaks highly of the international development of the game.
A lot will likely change between now and the time the season starts in August. However, the closest indicator to on field success is recruiting. While overall rankings are important to look at, taking a deeper look shows that some programs had more productive classes than others. Miami and North Carolina filled crucial holes, while despite highly ranked classes, Florida State and Virginia Tech have as many questions as they have answers.