Higher-rated recruits could have Clemson, FSU in battle for ACC Atlantic title in coming seasons
CLEMSON -- Since the Atlantic Coast Conference adopted a divisional format in 2005, Florida State and Clemson have never finished a season occupying the top two spots in the Atlantic Division standings. This streak seems likely to end soon.
The talent divide is growing between Florida State and Clemson and the rest of division. Maturing, talented young players could make the rivalry matchup the division's decisive game, perhaps as early as 3:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN) when No. 11 Florida State (2-1) travels to No. 21 Clemson (3-0).
Consider from 2009 to 2011, Florida State signed 25 players ranked in ESPNU's top 150, Clemson signed 13 and the rest of the Atlantic Division combined for four.
The separation in talent increased from the prior three-year period when Florida State signed 14 top 150 players, Clemson signed 18 and the rest of the division combined for eight top 150 prospects.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was asked if the recent highly ranked Florida State and Clemson recruiting
classes will increase the stakes in the rivalry in the coming seasons. Each program signed top-10 rated classes this February.
"If they continue to recruit well and we continue to recruit well, then absolutely, absolutely," Swinney said. "I'd like to say we are the greatest coaches to ever to walk the sidelines, but we're better coaches when we have great players."
Clemson and Florida State each have talented first-year starting quarterbacks in Tajh Boyd, a sophomore, and E.J. Manuel, a junior, who will likely face off against each other the next two seasons.
"In the years to come it's going to be a great (rivalry)," Boyd said. "Right now this is a pivotal game."
The two programs share more than elite recruiting ability. They also often share the same recruiting turf.
Some of Clemson's best players in recent seasons have come from Florida. Former stars like C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford and emerging ones like Sammy Watkins and Mike Bellamy.
Clemson's practice of supplementing its roster with elite talent from Florida has helped offset the in-state limits of recruiting, where a small South Carolina population limits the number of Division I prospects produced each year.
But is it a sustainable practice in keeping up with Florida State?
Clemson has graduated one assistant coach to head coach in Swinney, who proved adept at mining northern Florida in signing Spiller and Kyle Parker, and lost another key assistant in Brad Scott, who has moved into an administrative role. Scott recruited Watkins and Bellamy.
Swinney said the relationships Scott formed in Florida have transferred to his son Jeff Scott, Clemson's recruiting coordinator, who has also picked up Swinney's old recruiting territory along the Interstate-10 corridor in northern Florida.
"We certainly wouldn't have Sammy Watkins or Mike Bellamy without relationships in place," Swinney said. "They are probably the easiest two highly-recruited guys Brad Scott's ever recruited in his life because of life-long relationship. … We work really hard at (recruiting). We meet every week. We do a lot of evaluating we stay in touch of people.
"It's starting to pay off."