Clemson lost the College Football Playoff National Championship to Alabama last month, 45-40, but that was by no means the peak for the Tigers program. Head coach Dabo Swinney has already won too many big games and recruited too well for Clemson to suddenly drop off the face of the college football earth.
Despite coming up just short in the biggest game of the year, could Clemson still see a recruiting bump that one would normally be associated with national championship winners?
There are still a few pieces that need to fall into place, but the short answer is yes. The more relevant question is by how much.
Clemson has typically recruited well under Swinney, especially over the last five classes. There's no magic recruiting number that correlates to a national championship per se, but the rule of thumb is you need to consistently rank somewhere in the top 10-15 nationally, as noted by Paul Myerberg of USA Today:
It's a hard pill to swallow, but remember heading into NSD: If your classes are annually outside the top 15, there's no NC in your future.— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) February 1, 2016
Dating back to 2011, Clemson has done just that, for the most part:
|Year||ACC Rank||National Rank|
|2015||No. 2||No. 9|
|2014||No. 3||No. 17|
|2013||No. 3||No. 15|
|2012||No. 3||No. 15|
|2011||No. 2||No. 10|
|2010||No. 4||No. 28|
|2009||No. 5||No. 31|
But with a mere two days before signing day, the Tigers have the chance to earn their highest class ranking to date under Swinney.
It's a fluid situation, but Clemson holds down the No. 10 class nationally as of Monday afternoon. With four early enrollees and 11 verbal commits, Clemson's class is on the smaller side this year. There might be a few headlines on signing day, but the Tigers aren't hauling in a star-studded class of 25 players.
Clemson could, however, jump up several spots if it lands No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary. According to Brandon Rink of the Independent Mail, "with Gary’s addition alone, they [Clemson] would move to as high as sixth." Keep in mind, too, that Clemson has never landed a No. 1 overall recruit under Swinney.
According to 247Sports' Crystal Ball graph, the 5-star prospect is expected to sign with Michigan, but underdog Clemson has made the finalists cut.
Gary took an official visit to Clemson on Jan. 29 and was sent home with one heck of a recruiting cake, as tweeted by Gary's mother, Jennifer Coney:
Courtesy of Clemson. .coming home with me! pic.twitter.com/ohiShnkfxl— Jennifer Coney (@jfeeshan) January 30, 2016
Gary's official visit apparently also went "even better" than expected, according to David Hood of Tigernet.com.
Swinney is never one to give up on a big-time prospect. One of the things he can point to in the '16 class is how stout the Tigers D-line could be in the future. Clemson already has 5-star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, who enrolled early, and 4-star defensive end Xavier Kelly as a verbal commit.
Add Gary to the mix, and the '16 D-line class goes to an entirely different level.
Gary isn't the only prospect who could provide Clemson's class with a late bump. Offensive lineman John Simpson, the No. 2 in-state recruit, looks like he could sign with the Tigers over Florida. Trayvon Mullen, a 4-star cornerback, reportedly has the Tigers as a top-three candidate going into signing day, according to CardinalSports.com. Another 4-star defensive back, Romeo Finley, is "very high" on Clemson, according to an interview with Phil Kornblut of the State.
The smallest class Swinney ever signed at Clemson was his first in 2009, which had just 13 signees. But the '16 class is on track to have the highest number of top-end players despite not being large in size. Even if only a couple of Clemson's top targets sign with the Tigers, this class should get a nice boost.
The prize, though, is Gary. Stealing him would put Clemson at a level in recruiting it hasn't reached under Swinney. It would only add to the momentum the Tigers program has experienced in recent years.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.