CLEMSON, SC - NOVEMBER 07:  (L-R) Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles talks to head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers before their game at Memorial Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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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.

Top-rated DT Marvin Wilson commits to Florida State

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In a somewhat surprising move, 5-star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson announced a commitment to Florida State on Wednesday afternoon.

Wilson ranks as the nation’s No. 6 overall player and the top-ranked defensive tackle, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He hails from Houston’s Episcopal High School, where he was a teammate of the nation’s No. 10 player and No. 3 offensive tackle Walker Little, a Stanford signee.

Industry experts pegged Wilson to LSU at a 59 percent rate on the Crystal Ball forecasts, and Ohio State also pursued him hard.

Wilson also represented the Big 12’s last shot at landing a true blue-chip recruit through Oklahoma, who were truly only tangentially connected to the Wilson hunt.

As for the team Wilson is joining, he joins a class that already contains 5-star running back Cam Akers, 5-star all-purpose back Khalan Laborn and 5-star defensive end Joshua Kaindoh among the Seminoles’ 24 signees. Florida State is ranked sixth among all teams and tops in the ACC in the 247 Composite rankings.

FSU confirms WR Travis Rudolph leaving ‘Noles for NFL

RALEIGH, NC - NOVEMBER 05:  Wide receiver Travis Rudolph #15 of the Florida State Seminoles makes a touchdown reception against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)
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It was reported Thursday that the 2016 season was the last for Travis Rudolph at Florida State.  A day later, that’s been confirmed.

FSU announced via a press release that Rudolph is foregoing his remaining eligibility and declaring for the 2017 NFL draft. “This was a very difficult decision and one that I didn’t take lightly,” Rudolph said in a statement, adding, “It has truly been an honor to wear the Garnet and Gold.”

Rudolph will leave Tallahassee seventh on the football program’s all-time charts in career receptions with 153 and eighth in receiving yards with 2,311.  This past season, he led the Seminoles with 56 catches for 840 yards and seven touchdowns.

The 6-1, 192-pound wide receiver’s best catch, though came when, on a trip to a Tallahassee middle school by the FSU football team, he noticed an autistic boy eating lunch by himself and joined him.

Florida State chops banged up Michigan for wild Orange Bowl victory

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30:  Deondre Francois #12 of the Florida State Seminoles scores a touchdown in the fourth quarteragainst the Michigan Wolverines  during the Capitol One Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on December 30, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
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Dalvin Cook and Florida State taking on Jabrill Peppers and Michigan in the Orange Bowl was pegged early on as one of the best matchups of the season and a bowl that might be better than one of the two College Football Playoff semifinal games.

While we didn’t get to see Peppers due to a hamstring injury, we did see plenty of Cook and the Wolverines battling back and forth in a thrilling game that the Seminoles ultimately ended up winning 33-32 after a pair of wild fourth quarter comebacks.

FSU led for most of the contest and used a couple of big plays in the passing game to control the first half. But the Wolverines came clawing back as momentum shifted between both squads in the second half like a game of hot potato. Cook wound up rushing for 145 yards and a touchdown (adding another 62 on three receptions) as he likely closed out his career in garnet and gold not far from where he grew up.

Quarterback Deondre Francois (222 yards, two scores) began the game by leading Florida State on a 75 yard opening drive that ended in the end zone, but his play trailed off in the third quarter and tossed an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Mike McCray.

That pick-six was the spark Michigan needed after coming so close to breaking out some big plays to cut into the lead. After allowing Francois to find the end zone on the next drive to make up for his mistake, the Wolverines rallied behind a balanced attack that busted open several big plays on a tired defense.

Quarterback Wilton Speight found Khalid Hill in the end zone to finish off a quick drive in the final quarter and then Chris Evans rumbled 30 yards run to cap off 15 point outburst in under four minutes to take the lead for the first time all night.

A huge kick return allowed Florida State to get right back into things and snatch momentum back in a flash, finishing a crazy stretch when Francois found Nyqwan Murray in the end zone for what proved to be the game-winning points. The extra point was blocked and returned for a defensive score, giving Michigan another slim opening to capture the win.

 

Eventually the talented ‘Noles defense came up with a huge stop on fourth down to seal the victory and cap off one of the best Orange Bowls in a long, long time.

Florida State rolls to big halftime lead as Michigan deals with Jabrill Peppers, Jake Butt injuries

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - DECEMBER 30:  Deondre Francois #12 of the Florida State Seminoles looks to pass in the first quarter against the Michigan Wolverines during the Capitol One Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium on December 30, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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Things got off to an ominous start for Florida State at the Orange Bowl when mascot Renegade was spooked in pre-game activities and knocked Chief Osceola off just as he was about to plan the team’s famed flaming spear at midfield.

As it turns out, that would be about the only time that the Seminoles struggled as they jumped out to a 20-6 lead heading into halftime of the first New Year’s Six game of the season.

The Wolverines had to deal plenty of their own adversity, as do-everything star Jabrill Peppers was ruled out pregame with a hamstring injury and Mackey Award-winning tight end Jake Butt was taken to the locker room after suffering a shot to his knee late in the second quarter. While the former won’t play at all, it’s possible the latter does return for a team that needs all the help they can get.

Michigan quarterback Wilton Speight threw for only 60 yards but was under pressure on just about every dropback as defensive end Demarcus Walker was in the backfield on every play and was one reason why the team only rushed for 18 yards in the half.

Taking advantage of the absence of Peppers on the Wolverines defense were Dalvin Cook (70 yards, one score rushing) and Deondre Francois (177 yards, one touchdown pass), with the two leading the Noles to an opening drive touchdown to set the tone early in the game.

While things have been fairly one-sided in the Orange Bowl so far, there’s still a lot of football left to be played and it should be fun to see how the chess match between Jim Harbaugh and Jimbo Fisher plays out after some halftime adjustments.