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ACC National Signing Day recap: Florida State, Clemson impress once again

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Few leagues have transformed their reputation on the field more than the ACC has the past several seasons and the biggest reason for that has been because Clemson and Florida State captured national titles. As a result, it should come as no surprise that those two programs once again paced recruiting for the league when all was said and done on National Signing Day.

The Seminoles remained among the national elite with another stellar class while the Tigers used their limited number of scholarships to land some top-notch talent, possibly including Deshaun Watson’s successor in five-star QB Hunter Johnson (who’s already on campus).

In addition to the league’s two powerhouses, Miami put together another solid class to help them close the gap under Mark Richt while other schools like Pitt and North Carolina pleasantly surprised with some good hauls. It should all make for an even more competitive ACC in the coming seasons and allow us to look back to Wednesday and see where it all began.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 2 overall Cam Akers (RB, Florida State), No. 6 overall Marvin Wilson (DT, FSU), No. 19 overall Tee Higgins (WR, Clemson), No. 28 Khalan Laborn (RB, FSU), No. 30 overall Hunter Johnson (QB, Clemson)

Top 25 classes: No. 7 Florida State, No. 13 Miami, No. 16 Clemson, No. 25 Virginia Tech

Biggest storyline: Florida State and Clemson continue to keep pace with college football’s elite, Miami closing the gap

Same ol’, same ol’ in the ACC when it comes to the recruiting rankings. The league’s past two title winners both turned in great classes full of impact players and continue to keep pace with the elite programs in the sport. The Tigers’ class wasn’t as highly rated as many expected coming off that championship down in Tampa but a lot of that has to do with the limited number of spots that the program had and nothing to do with the talented that signed with Dabo Swinney. The Hurricanes once again signed a quality group and even went outside the state to land speedy four-star receiver Jeff Thomas from Missouri.

Biggest surprise: Wilson heads to Tallahassee.

Wilson was one of the few recruits that had any drama surrounding his decision on Signing Day. While many expected it to come down to either LSU or Ohio State, it was the Seminoles who closed strong to add another top 25 player into the fold. The last five-star defensive tackle the team landed from the Lone Star State worked out well and history might repeat itself with the very talented Wilson.

Don’t sleep on: Louisville

It was a banner season in many ways for the Cardinals and that was true even if the ending was a bit rough on the field. After seeing quarterback Lamar Jackson capture the Heisman Trophy, Bobby Petrino’s staff really went after addressing needs along the offensive line while also adding size and speed on defense. It may not be as highly rated as the top tier ACC programs, but this a good effort on the recruiting trail for Louisville once again.

We’ll see about: Everybody else

The ACC is full of programs that are hard to peg when it comes to recruiting classes simply because they rely so much on developing recruits over several seasons. Duke landed a top 50 classes while Georgia Tech was right around the same area in most team rankings. We probably won’t know about those two or the Wake Forests of the world until a few years down the road so stay patient if you’re a fan of an ACC program that isn’t in the top 25.

ACC unveils 2017 football schedule

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The ACC ended this past football season as the home of the 2016 national champion as well as the best bowl record of any FBS conference as well.  Tuesday, the league turned its attention to next season as the conference released its schedule for 2017.

Wake Forest will kick off the ACC’s 2017 season with a home date against FCS Presbyterian on Thursday, Aug. 31.  The first game against an FBS program comes one day later as Boston College travels to Northern Illinois.  The first conference games will be played in Week 2, and includes Boston College-Wake Forest and North Carolina-Louisville.  Both of those games will be played Sept. 9.

ACC teams will play five neutral site games on the opening weekend of the season: Florida State-Alabama (Sept. 2) and Georgia Tech-Tennessee (Sept. 4) at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as part of the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games; Virginia Tech-West Virginia at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland; Louisville-Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis; and North Carolina State-South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte in the Belk College Kickoff Game.

As has been the case the past couple of seasons, there will be five games against Notre Dame: Boston College (Sept. 16), North Carolina (Oct. 7) and Miami (Nov. 11) all will play host to the football independent. NC State (Oct. 28) and Wake Forest (Nov. 4) will both travel to South Bend.

College Football Playoff champions Clemson will open defense of its title with a home date against Kent State.

“Our ACC football programs are coming off a record-setting season that was capped off with nine postseason wins, including Clemson’s National Championship and Florida State’s Orange Bowl Title,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford in a statement. “Our football success over the last few years has helped put the ACC in one of the strongest positions we have ever enjoyed as a league. As we look ahead to 2017, conference games will continue to be extremely competitive and our schools are once again playing what is arguably the top non-conference schedule in the country. This is a great tribute to our schools and programs, and it will be exciting on a weekly basis for our fans.”

For a complete look at the ACC’s 2017 football schedule, click HERE or HERE or HERE.

Luke Fickell adds two coaches to Cincinnati staff

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Six weeks after landing the head-coaching job at Cincinnati, Luke Fickell continues to make headway in completing his initial Bearcats coaching staff.

In a press release Tuesday, UC confirmed that Fickell has added Ron Crook and Al Washington as line coaches.  Crook will coach the offensive line, Washington the defensive line.

“I’m glad to wrap up a pair of key hires with great coaches like Al and Ron,” the head coach said in a statement. “You win and lose football games in the trenches and both bring an intense and physical mindset to their jobs. Looking at our staff top to bottom with a few hires still to come, we have attracted high-quality coaches who can teach the game and lead our student-athletes to success.”

Crook, who began his collegiate coaching career at UC as a grad assistant in 1993, returns after spending the past four seasons at West Virginia. He’s also spent time on staffs at Illinois and Stanford among others.

Washington, meanwhile, spent the past five seasons at his alma mater Boston College. He was the line coach as well as special teams coordinator last season after coaching running backs the three previous years.  His only other FBS job came at North Carolina State.

With the twin hires, Fickell now has seven of his nine on-field staff in place: Cook, Washington, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Denbrock (HERE), defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Marcus Freeman, special teams coordinator/tight ends coach Doug Phillips, wide receivers coach Joker Phillips (HERE) and safeties coach Jon Tenuta.

Shai McKenzie details restrictions Virginia Tech placed on transfer

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Right or wrong, but unsurprisingly, Shai McKenzie‘s departure from Blacksburg comes with some strings attached.

Nearly two weeks ago, McKenzie took to Twitter to announce his decision to transfer from Virginia Tech and continue his collegiate playing career elsewhere.  On the same social media site Monday, the running back revealed that his future elsewhere won’t include any ACC schools as well as none of the teams on the Hokies’ 2017 and 2018 non-conference schedules.

The latter group includes Notre Dame, West Virginia, East Carolina, Old Dominion, Delaware and William & Mary.

A four-star 2014 recruit, only one signee was rated higher than McKenzie in Tech’s class that year.

The Pennsylvania native’s career actually began with promise as he was second on the team in rushing as a true freshman when he went down with a torn ACL in the fifth game of the season.  At that time, McKenzie had 269 yards on the ground; in the two years since, he ran for a combined 126 yards.  His 2015 season was limited to two games because of the lingering effects of the ACL injury.

The three biggest overperformering and underperformering teams of 2016

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It’s been two weeks since Clemson dramatically was crowned champions of the College Football Playoff over Alabama, putting a close on the 2016 season. The dust is settled and recruiting pushes are the focus across the country, but how about one final look back at what happened last season?

I’m a devoted follower of S&P+, which measures a team’s efficiency, explosiveness, field position, drive finishing and turnovers (it’s pretty intuitive; for a brief primer click here, for a full glossary, click here). I generally use S&P+ rankings as a way to see which teams did the things necessary to be successful, though they don’t tell the whole story — a few bad fourth quarters, strange coaching decisions and/or special teams gaffes can skew a team’s record down, for example (see: Notre Dame).

So let’s take a quick look at which teams over-performed their S&P+ ranking:

West Virginia (S&P+: 29, final record: 10-3)

The Mountaineers were the lowest-ranked 10-win Power 5 team by S&P+, and their No. 29 ranking put them behind two sub-.500 teams that we’ll get to later.

Georgia (S&P+: 68, final record: 8-5)

Georgia finished one spot ahead of fellow SEC East side Mizzou, which went 4-8. The Bulldogs won two games they were expected to lose by S&P+ (over Mizzou and Auburn).

Boston College (S&P+: 86, final record: 7-6)

Steve Addazio’s dudes were the lowest-ranked Power 5 team to finish with a record over .500 and finished only two spots ahead of 2-10 Virginia.

And now, the underperformers:

LSU (S&P+: 4, final record: 8-4)

By S&P+, LSU did the things necessary to get them into the College Football Playoff, though they didn’t show up in three of their five games against top-15 opponents (even if those games resulted in close losses). For a team that changed coaches mid-season, though, eight wins sounds about right.

Notre Dame (S&P+: 26, final record: 4-8)

Seven of Notre Dame’s eight losses came by eight points or fewer, and the toxic combination of awful early-season defense (in losses to Texas, Michigan State and Duke), brutal special teams mistakes (in losses to Michigan State, Duke and N.C. State), head-scratching coaching decisions (in losses to N.C. State, Stanford and Navy) and second-half nosedives (in losses to Stanford and Virginia Tech) were the perfect recipe for a team that did enough things right to at least make a bowl game finishing with an embarrassing 4-8 record.

Ole Miss (S&P+: 27, final record: 5-7)

Ole Miss had a greater than 50 percent win expectancy against Alabama (63 percent) and Arkansas (70 percent) and lost both games. But the Rebels’ final three games were horrid, with win expectancies of 18 percent, zero percent and zero percent against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.