The Virginia Tech Hokies didn’t reel in all the high-profile recruits they were aiming for in the 2014 recruiting cycle, but the program still is pretty well positioned in the ACC.
Clemson, Miami and Florida State all were rated higher than the Hokies in 247Sports’ 2014 class rankings, but Tech still filled enough positions of need to be sitting pretty in the conference going forward.
That’s not to say that the loss of prominent recruits like Derrick Nnadi or Andrew Brown to other ACC schools didn’t hurt the Hokies—there’s no question that Tech’s staff should be perturbed by their inability to land in-state recruits like these.
However, the Hokies did well enough in this recruiting class to give Tech fans hope going forward that the team can contend in the conference once more.
In the Coastal Division
Despite the Hokies’ myriad issues in 2013, the team still very nearly won the ACC’s Coastal division.
After reeling in a strong class of recruits, the team seems well-positioned once more.
Miami pulled in the best batch of recruits in the division, and there’s no doubt that its continued success on the recruiting trail after a few down years will ensure they pose a major threat going forward.
However, much like the Hokies themselves, it is searching for answers at quarterback with the departure of veteran Stephen Morris. Most observers peg senior Ryan Williams as the future starter, and his 6’6”, 223-pound frame certainly gives him the look of a star.
But Williams has only played in relief of Morris a few times, so it’s tough to predict exactly how he’ll perform as the team’s starter. The Hurricanes also have redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen and redshirt sophomore Gray Crow on the roster, in addition to signing 4-star prospect Brad Kaaya in this class, so things are hardly settled at signal-caller here.
The division’s reigning champions, the Duke Blue Devils, weren’t exactly able to turn their breakout season into recruiting success either.
David Cutcliffe was only able to bring in the 58th-ranked group in the nation, and while he’s certainly proved he’s a coach that’s able to do more with less, it still would’ve been encouraging for Duke to make a statement on signing day.
The team has plenty of returning veteran talent—ESPN’s Phil Steele actually pegged them as one of the most experienced teams in the whole country heading into 2014—but they certainly suffered their losses as well.
Players like defensive end Kenny Anunike and cornerback Ross Cockrell provided a veteran example on defense that the Devils will truly miss.
The Hokies also lose some veterans on defense, most notably defensive tackle Derrick Hopkins, linebacker Jack Tyler and cornerback Kyle Fuller, but the team brought in enough impact recruits to soften this blow.
There’s no doubt that Tech will have more challenges in the division than it's had in recent years, but if the Hokies can figure out their quarterback situation quickly, then nothing about this signing day seems to indicate that they can’t contend for an ACC Championship Game (ACCCG) berth once more.
In the Conference
While the returns from national signing day may be largely positive in the division, things look a little less rosy in the conference as a whole.
The Atlantic division has long been the more talented group in the ACC, and signing day only further enforced this situation.
Of the division’s powerhouses, Clemson lost the most talent following the 2013 season. The Tigers lose both Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, a pair of players that helped the program get back to prominence, so there should be some concern that the team will suffer in the immediate future.
But head coach Dabo Swinney allayed some of those fears by signing an excellent 2014 class. Tigers fans have to particularly excited by the prospects of dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson, the nation’s top-rated recruit at the position.
Watson could start immediately upon setting foot on campus so long as he can impress early over the likes of sophomore Chad Kelly and senior Cole Stoudt.
However, Clemson’s fortunes don’t directly affect the Hokies in 2014, as the Tigers aren’t on the schedule until 2017, but Tech always has to be conscious of any threats for the ACCCG.
The immediate contender for the Hokies to consider is the Florida State Seminoles.
Not only did the Seminoles win the national title in 2013, but they also brought in the nation’s fourth-ranked recruiting class.
Included in that class was a pair of players the Hokies thought they’d be able to sign. Nnadi, a 4-star defensive tackle out of Virginia Beach, Va., and Javon Harrison, a 4-star athlete that committed to the Hokies in July 2012, each spurned Tech for the Seminoles.
Not only did these players bolster an already impressive FSU class, but they also made the pecking order in the ACC perfectly clear. For as strong as Frank Beamer’s program is, it can’t compete with the national success of the Seminoles.
There’s little reason to think this type of trend won’t continue going forward, as Heisman winner Jameis Winston returns to lead the Seminoles, in addition to returning stars like Terrance Smith.
Should the Hokies somehow find their way to the conference title game, they’d like to face the same fate the Blue Devils did when facing the Seminoles.
However, Beamer and Co. have long tried to keep their focus on the Coastal.
Should the Hokies be able to combine some of their veteran talent with the new recruits they signed on Feb. 5, they’ll be able to contend in the division once more.
Things get rockier on the national stage when considering the conference as a whole, and a stronger recruiting class could’ve certainly helped in this arena.
But as it stands now, for better or worse, Tech should once again contend in the division, even if national prominence is a distant memory.