During Clemson’s run to the national championship game, coach Dabo Swinney drew high praise for the way he has elevated his program through his tireless recruiting efforts.
That part is undeniable. For the sixth straight season, the Tigers finished signing day with a top-15 class in the ESPN recruiting rankings.
That has not been good enough to lead the ACC, though.
As good as Swinney has been, his conference rival has been just a little better.
Since Jimbo Fisher took over at Florida State in 2010, he has had the top class in the ACC every season.
And after finishing No. 1 in the nation in the ESPN class rankings Wednesday, Fisher joined Saban (4) and Urban Meyer (2) as the only head coaches with multiple No. 1 classes since ESPN’s recruiting rankings began in 2006.
What Nick Saban is to recruiting in the SEC, Fisher is to recruiting in the ACC. Both cast quite a large shadow. Swinney is only now closing in as he works to build Clemson from a regional brand into a more national one.
Florida State has not been shy about recruiting outside its general footprint. Fisher is an excellent recruiter, for starters, and he has much more history and tradition to sell than his Atlantic Division counterparts. Perhaps that has made it easier to break away from regional recruiting.
Look at this year’s class as an example. Eight out-of-state ESPN 300 recruits signed with the Seminoles, the most in a single season in the ESPN 300 era.
Clemson has focused on recruiting in the Southeast and has built a big pipeline into Florida, where it has had immense success since Swinney made that state a priority. The Tigers beat Florida State for ESPN 300 cornerback Trayvon Mullen.
But with the recent success the football program has had, more recruits are aware of Clemson, Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables. So Clemson has expanded out further. The fact that No. 1 overall recruit Rashan Gary – from Paramus, N.J. – had Clemson as one of two finalists speaks specifically to that.
That is a position Florida State has been in under Jimbo Fisher, and it has helped set Florida State just ahead of the rest. He can walk into any home across the country and his program is instantly recognizable. The same goes for Saban and Alabama.
That doesn’t make it any easier to sell a recruit. Fisher has worked tirelessly to build his reputation as one of the best recruiters in the country. Based on what Swinney has done at Clemson, he is up there, too.
Both have put their programs in position to compete for national championships, as we have seen during the last three seasons. They got there with countless recruiting victories and highly rated classes.
To be sure, Swinney has made major inroads.
But he hasn’t quite caught Fisher.