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February 25, 2013

ACC: Class of 2014 positions of need

MORE: Virginia prospects rise to top of rankings

Dallas Jackson is the National Columnist for Rivals.com. Email him your comments or story ideas to DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him on Twitter.

The recruiting cycle for the class of 2014 has begun.

With spring practice having already begun for some and just around the corner for most, coaches will begin to see where their recruiting efforts need to be focused, and the press on rising seniors will accelerate.

Rivals.com's team of local writers combined with our recruiting analysts to compile what are believed to be each team's needs and the chances that each program can fill them with this class.

Over the course of the next six days, Rivals.com will break down the major conferences as well as select schools who do not play in conferences that automatically qualify for the BCS.

This will be our first nationwide look at recruiting involving the recent conference realignment. Today features programs in the ACC -- listed alphabetically -- including Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse.

What it needs in '14: With the change at the top of the program and a change in philosophy on offense, there are needs on that side of the ball. The class of 2013 did not include any offensive linemen, so there will be prime importance placed on bringing in bodies to keep the roster moving forward. The team will also be looking for another dual-threat quarterback and likely a running back. On defense, the need for an athletic pass rusher is glaring.
Can it be done? The Northeast is light in the offensive lineman department. With that group being the most pressing need, look for Boston College assistants to bring in players from New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania, where the talent pool is a little deeper this year. The running back need was a hurdle cleared early when the program received a from Marcus Outlow from Norwich (Conn.) Free Academy. He chose the local school over offers from Ohio State and Connecticut.
What it needs in '14: The Tigers will be looking for impact players, and that will require high-level recruiting. The program must replace Tajh Boyd at quarterback, and it needs wide receivers who will be ready to fill in holes left by the departures of Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins. Beyond that, adding a legitimate tight end and multiple linebackers will be in focus for Dabo Swinney & Co.
Can it be done? One of the most important pieces seems to have been found because five-star quarterback Deshaun Watson of Gainesville (Ga.) has committed to the program. His retention will be as important as his early commitment. The wide receiver position is not particularly strong in South Carolina this year, so expect Clemson to stay in Georgia and harvest talented players from the Atlanta area. Linebackers in the recruiting area that Clemson usually patrols are fairly plentiful, which is good news. The Carolinas have become a free-for-all, so the prospects in North Carolina in particular can expect to have Clemson calling.
What it needs in '14: The Blue Devils are set up for a perception fail this year because it will be a small class by design. By most counts there are only 11 scholarships available, so the overall ranking of this class will take a major plunge. Of those 11 expected commitments, there will be seven used on the offensive side. The biggest needs will be on the offensive line -- which will likely get three of the scholarships -- and wide receiver, which will add two. The four offers that will be handed out on defense likely will be spent heavily on linebacker, where the program could take two if not three players.
Can it be done? With only 11 scholarships to give, it should be easy to accomplish the needs listed above. The difference for Duke is that the program isn't really dependent on the talent pool because it usually is not battling for the top-tier players but relying more on scouting and uncovering players. The team has landed a linebacker in Zavier Carmichael of Mobile (Ala.) St. Paul's, which would be a strong indication that coaches are impressed with him because those early offers in a small class are meaningful.
What it needs in '14: The Seminoles will need to land offensive linemen in this class. The position hasn't been recruited well during the Jimbo Fisher regime, so it is a must-get this time. The program missed on several prospects last year and landed only one offensive tackle (Wilson Bell), and he was offered late. The Seminoles will continue to stockpile bodies at running back, where the main two players will be juniors this year and depth is lacking, and explosive prospects in the defensive backfield. FSU will sign one quarterback.
Can it be done? The early returns have been much of the same for Florida State. The program has seven commitments and none on the offensive line. There are two running backs already in the class -- including four-star Joseph Yearby from Miami (Fla.) Central. The state of Florida is solid but not spectacular for offensive linemen in the this class, with 18 players holding early offers. Florida State figures to go hard after Reilly Gibbons and K.C. McDermott, and it could land both.
What it needs in '14: With a move back to a 4-3 defense from the 3-4, there is a major need for defensive linemen -- especially tackles who can occupy two blockers and let the linebackers flow to the play. Additionally, the team is in desperate need of cornerbacks. Last season, the Jackets had only one cornerback committed throughout the process, and he flipped at the last minute. There has been only one cornerback signed in the last two classes, and it does not take a hardcore recruiting fan to know that only one cornerback on the roster is not enough.
Can it be done? Atlanta is loaded with defensive backs in this class, and if the program cannot sign at least two, that is a bad sign. The Yellow Jackets need a good season, and a marquee win would be nice. There is little positive momentum happening and more teams are feeling comfortable going into Atlanta and coming away with talent, and that just cannot happen. Defensive tackle could be a tall order because there are no Montravius Adams-type players in the in the state. While there is depth, it would figure that Tech will have to dip into South Georgia to find some of the more raw products at the position.
What it needs in '14: Louisville must sign at least one high-caliber running back. The Cardinals lost redshirt junior Jeremy Wright to graduation this season and could lose power back Dominique Brown and speedster Senorise Perry after next season if Brown's medical redshirt paperwork isn't approved. UofL didn't sign a running back in the 2013 class, and it could go into spring practice in 2014 with just two scholarship running backs on the roster, current redshirt sophomore Corvin Lamb and redshirt freshman Brandon Radcliff.
Can it be done? The state of Kentucky doesn't appear to have a running back whom Louisville would have much interest in after early evaluations. The need for a back is obvious, and the good news is that the program has been active in South Florida, where it is a stocked pond for running backs in this class. Louisville went on a slash-and-burn campaign last week, offering kids across the Southeast -- especially Georgia and Florida. If those offers produce results, it will have been a trip worth making.
What it needs in '14: After not addressing the position with the class of 2013, there will be a focus on landing a defensive tackle. The defensive line was poor for Miami, and there aren't many impact players waiting to step in. The class figures to be defense heavy because the team also needs to add linebackers and cornerbacks. The focus on offense will be on bringing in a running back or two. This is a class that has sweeping -- and pressing -- needs, and it would be a major victory if Miami secures players at all those spots.
Can it be done? On offense, it should be a snap. There are running backs aplenty in South Florida, and at least five players within a 30-minute drive of campus would be a fit for the Hurricanes. Defensive tackle could be a harder task to cross off the list because it is a thin position at the top level and most of the best players in the region are committed. Flipping a player becomes the challenge. Inside linebackers across the region are down, but the outside linebacker position looks more plentiful. Cornerbacks are never hard to find in Florida, either, so that should be a place to have success on the recruiting front.
What it needs in '14: The Wolfpack needs to improve its front seven on defense, so look for multiple defensive ends, tackles and linebackers to be targeted. On offense, the need is for a quality quarterback. Coach Dave Doeren had an athletic, running quarterback at Northern Illinois and nobody like that exists on the Wolfpack roster, so bringing in a dual threat will be a priority if the fans expect to see an offense similar to what has worked before for Doeren.
Can it be done? The best players in North Carolina simply have not been looking at N.C. State as a real possibility. The last three classes have not yielded a top 10 player from the state. The change in offensive philosophy may make it a more attractive destination, but that has yet to be seen. Even if it were to change on a dime, there does not appear to be a quarterback on the level that would fit at this program, so it would figure that the staff will try to go into Georgia or Florida to land an under-the-radar three-star player to fill the need. On defense, it will be scatter shot to try to plug the holes. The staff needs to work hard to build relationships in the state.
What it needs in '14: For UNC, the big recruiting need is offensive line. The Tar Heels just graduated three starters (Travis Bond, Brennan Williams and Jonathan Cooper), and they have another senior who will leave after 2013 (James Hurst). Even though the program signed three in 2012, there is heavy speculation that there could be four or five offensive linemen in the 2014 group.
Can it be done? The offensive line market tends to be one of the slower to develop across the country, and that is no different this year. Discussions and evaluations are still out on many prospects, and seeing who has taken the next step in the offseason will result in more offers later in the year. The good thing for North Carolina is that the NCAA cloud is behind it and there is more positive momentum happening with the program. This staff has the most going for it in recruiting of the schools in the state, and landing players it needs and wants may be around the corner.
What it needs in '14: The biggest needs or Notre Dame are on the defensive and offensive lines, with linebacker third on the list. The Irish signed five players on the offensive line last class, but that followed a three-year run during which they signed only eight total players at that position. Of those eight, one is on medical redshirt, another had heart surgery and the third is organizational depth. The defensive line is similar in numbers because of a quality class in 2013, but ND expects to lose a couple of current players and has signed only four total players on the line in the previous two classes.
Can it be done: The Midwest is weak for offensive and defensive linemen, so the way for Notre Dame to fill those spots will be to rely on its national brand. The California crop appears to be one of the better ones this year, and that could be a place to go for players on both sides of the ball. Linebacker is a position that is strong in the local radius this year -- especially in Ohio -- and Notre Dame should save some of its recruiting budget by getting a few players much closer to campus.
What it needs in '14: The Panthers look to be in need of players at three primary positions. The offensive line group figures to land a few commitments, and running back and defensive back will be the other key spots. The move to the ACC doesn't change much for Pitt because the program has been a consistently solid recruiter in the Big East and will not need to change its evaluation process or the type of player it brings into the program. That is a good spot to be in because the school will not need to go to JUCO-level players to fill immediate needs.
Can it be done? This is a great year to need the positions that Pitt needs. The offensive line group in the local area is strong, and staying close to home will be a priority for the Panthers. The same can be said for defensive backs. There is a great group of players within a close radius of the school, and they should be immediate targets. There are always a few running backs who emerge out of Western Pennsylvania, but none is jumping off the page right now and the expanded footprint of the ACC could help with that position.
What it needs in '14: Defense. Case closed. The program will be looking at defensive ends, defensive tackles and safeties. The team will be breaking in a new coach, and while the program looks like it may have turned the corner, there isn't a lot of buzz. The class of 2013 was an assortment of things but mainly focused on the offensive line, and this year the Orange will need to flip the script.
Can it be done? There is good news. The talent in New York is improving ,and this year there is a good group of players for Syracuse to go after. The defensive back collection is among the best in recent years in the region, so that bodes well. The defensive line is not as good as it was last year, so there will be more of a search needed to land what the team needs. ACC territory has opened doors for Syracuse, so that will help because the upstate New York area isn't deep enough to sustain the program.
What it needs in '14: Virginia will have a small class, which will allow the staff to target high-end players -- namely the three five-star players who make up perhaps the highest-quality in-state class since 2002. Virginia's needs aren't necessarily position based; instead, it's about geography and perception. If it's true that all politics are local, then head coach Mike London needs to pull in two of the three five-star prospects in his backyard for a host of reasons. Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown are top talents locally and nationally, and in the fourth year of London's time as the head man in Charlottesville it's all led to this moment for him and the program.
Can it be done? London has done fantastic in the area, landing four-star Demetrious Nicholson in 2011, four-star Eli Harold in 2012 and Taquan Mizzell in 2013, so the writing on the wall is that he can. The perception of many in the state is that Blanding and Brown are heavy Virginia leans, and not signing them would be a big disappointment. What the Cavaliers "need" in 2014, in the face of seriously big expectations, isn't a safety or a defensive tackle but to cash in on London's recruiting philosophy of long-term relationships.
What it needs in '14: Virginia Tech has to land at least a couple of the high-rated defensive linemen from Virginia. They include Da'Shawn Hand, Andrew Brown, Ricky Walker, Derrick Nnadi and Jalyn Holmes. It's been a while since VT has been on this many highly rated guys, especially in Virginia, and it would be a huge disappointment not to grab at least a couple of them. After missing with four-star Fork Union RB Drew Harris (for two straight years), the Hokies are in desperate need of a running back for the future. Jerome Wright is a good complementary back who joined this year from FUMA after signing last year, but VT needs to hit it big with an every-down, primary back.
Can it be done? Like Virginia, Tech needs to cash in on a good year of prospects within the state. Neither program has the position of need that those players are at, but being in-state targets they become must-gets and that puts pressure on the staff. Running back may be a tougher place to secure talent within the state, but Virginia Tech has a good cache and history with backs so finding a player willing to come in and help shouldn't be hard.
What it needs in '14: The needed position has to be defensive lineman, and many would suggest that it is specifically nose tackle. Nikita Whitlock will be a senior, and transfer Hasan Hazime was there just one year. The school added Shelldon Lewinson in 2012, but the position is still a priority in 2014. At defensive end, Zach Thompson will be gone after the 2013 season, and last season 2012 signee Tylor Harris played backup DE as a true freshman. That opportunity will be possible for 2014 prospects as well.
Can it be done? Why Wake Forest has yet to offer Deshaywn Middleton is beyond puzzling. The 6-foot-2, 300-pound player is just down the road at Winston-Salem (N.C.) Parkland and would be an ideal solution for the spot of need. Middleton showed out at the U.S. Army National Combine, where he was named to the second team by Rivals.com. That would be the simplest way to close the door on a position of need and keep a kid home.



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