CLEMSON — The snowball effect has produced a sunny forecast in Clemson.
Long lauded primarily for his prowess on the recruiting trail, Dabo Swinney along with his staff now has the on-field victories — 42 in the last four years, a school record — to showcase in front of high school prospects.
The kids are taking notice. On the dawn of National Signing Day, Clemson’s 2015 class is rated third overall by Rivals.com, one of the most decorated bunches in program history.
“They’ve built up so much momentum on the recruiting trail that they’re able to be more selective and push for more guys earlier,” said Paul Strelow, recruiting analyst for TigerIllustrated.com in the Rivals network. “There are certain dynamics that appeal to recruits and parents alike, and Clemson has done a very good job of establishing a unique brand with a low-key atmosphere and the family feel.”
With 23 commitments (three 5-star, nine 4-star), the Tigers only trail Alabama and Southern Cal in the Rivals team rankings. Even though Florida State, Tennessee and Texas each have more combined 4-star and 5-star commits, Clemson still ranks sixth overall in average star per commit.
Granted, recruiting stars don’t score touchdowns or get third-down stops. But the development of already-solid classes translating into such wins over Florida State and Auburn, over LSU and Georgia, over Ohio State and (finally) South Carolina, gives Clemson fans reason for unprecedented optimism toward the future.
“Some prominent wins against schools that resonate in their recruiting territory have shown Clemson can compete at that level,” Strelow said. “That has paid dividends.”
The night before Signing Day often keeps coaches up at night, dreading changes of heart at the eleventh hour if and when rival schools poach their verbal commitments. However, Swinney and the Tigers’ staff had the right to slumber, considering Clemson already had secured a record 15 freshmen’s enrollment in January courses, including blue-chip offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt and defensive lineman Albert Huggins.
“We’ve got a lot of new guys that will make spring practice a lot more fun,” offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “It’s really good to have that opportunity to come in and really get a chance with the time management, the weight-lifting, all the different things a freshman has to go through.”
So long as five-star Florida athletes Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain fulfill their long-term commitment by signing Wednesday, this class will more than satisfy Clemson’s needs. Reports broke last week of McCloud and Cain sneaking in a late visit to Auburn, but they are still believed to be firm with Clemson.
Now the Tigers turn their attention toward winter workouts, and spring practices begin March 2. Of paramount importance will be developing depth at quarterback.
Since Deshaun Watson is out for the offseason rehabbing his torn ACL, true freshman quarterbacks Tucker Israel and Kelly Bryant will log the lion’s share of spring snaps, potentially putting one in position to serve as Watson’s 2015 backup.
“We’ve got hardly any quarterbacks. So to have Tucker and Kelly come in January, that’s huge for us,” Swinney said. “But then there’s other positions where you don’t really have as big a need today. So some guys have to be a little more patient.”