CLEMSON – The sting of Clemson’s humiliating home loss to Florida State dissipates a bit with each subsequent victory over middling ACC fare, but only time figures to heal the wounds incurred on the Tigers’ recruiting efforts.
First, a disclaimer: There is typically a misconception about the value of a single-game outcome in recruiting. The same principle applied when Clemson opened the season by beating Georgia in a similarly high-profile contest. Prospects place more weight on relationships, game environments and various style points.
The Tigers’ 37-point loss certainly didn’t leave a favorable impression, but signing day isn’t even a month later, much less a week. The loss will slide out of sight and out of mind. Furthermore, it’s not as if the majority of the country’s programs don’t have comparable if not worse scabs for opposing recruiters to pick at. All but a handful of programs have experienced a major blemish this season. Clemson’s just so happened to occur in a rather public lashing.
In fact, most of the marquee attendees gave glowing reviews of the experience. The underlying imprint was that if they went to Clemson, they would have the chance to play in games of that magnitude and atmospheric fervor. That matched or trumped their experiences at other ACC schools and many of their SEC trips.
Still, the outcome on the field does figure to come with collateral damage on the trail.
For starters, it hurt or smothered Clemson’s chances with the kids who might have already been on the fence or were giving the Tigers their first look in general. The program played host to a handful of distant coveted recruits that weekend. Allen (Texas) 2015 four-star quarterback Kyler Murray is likely to wind up at Texas A&M anyhow, but you can probably rule Clemson out now. Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier 2015 linebacker Justin Hilliard can’t reasonably be expected to look at the Tigers in the same light now as his local suitors with tradition, e.g. Ohio State.
Clemson’s season-opening win against Georgia and preceding Chick-fil-A Bowl triumph against LSU did wonders for giving the Tigers credibility in a recruiting marketplace where the SEC is fawned upon as the gold standard.
They got a taste of the other side with the FSU loss. The two teams have split decisions in recent years, but the lopsidedness this time gives Clemson a tough sell for being on the precipice of greatness.
In the short term, that could matter with at least two remaining targets. Hinesville (Ga.) Liberty County 2014 five-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan is giving Clemson stronger consideration than many realize, but unbeaten Ohio State and recruiting machine Urban Meyer loom the largest. McMillan can basically pick his school, and so long as the Buckeyes and fellow suitors like Alabama keep rolling, that’s one obstacle the Tigers will have to overcome.
The other big fish left is Gallatin (Tenn.) Station Camp four-star receiver Josh Malone. Tennessee and Georgia are believed the two top contenders, followed by Clemson and FSU. Both the Vols and Bulldogs have their warts this season, too. But they also both have more help in terms of support in the ear of Malone’s camp, so the Tigers might have that much more convincing to do in light of their stumble.
A victory might have given Clemson another chip in its corner with McDonough (Ga.) Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy four-star defensive end Andrew Williams; Williams appears to be trending toward Auburn but is expected to schedule official visits to Ole Miss, Clemson, South Carolina and Notre Dame after the season. And a better showing couldn’t have hurt fend off the trio of SEC suitors – Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina – likewise after Walton (Ga.) Marietta defensive back D.J. Smith.
Better Talent Showed In Game
The manner in which the game unfolded supported arguments for why recruiting rankings matter. Certainly the early turnovers and overall contrasting quarterback performances played significant roles in the outcome, among other factors. But there was a readily apparent difference in the size, speed and skill level of FSU’s receivers, running backs and secondary compared to Clemson’s players at those positions.
This was about Florida State’s ascension from a series of stellar top-five recruiting classes – a rise spurred by the arrival of a potentially transcendent quarterback in Jameis Winston.
Here is the Rivals.com ranking for the Seminoles’ recent classes: No. 10 (2013), No. 6 (2012), No. 2 (2011), No. 10 (2010) and No. 7 (2009). The last four classes, they have averaged 6.8 spots higher than Clemson.
With Winston neutralizing Clemson’s usual advantage with quarterback and offensive system, the Tigers had a smaller margin for error considering the talent differential.
And that gap only stands to grow if FSU capitalizes on the exposure and positive buzz generated from such a showing on the national stage. Winston’s profile will resonate with blue-chip skill players, and the Seminoles have increasingly competed with Alabama for several prospects – which is a stamp of validation for any kid these days.
Another example: A pair of projected 2016 top-end recruits were on hand from a school roughly 30 miles south of the FSU campus: Crawfordville (Fla.) Wakulla receiver Keith Gavin and quarterback Feleipe Franks.
Given Clemson’s success attracting C.J. Spiller and Sammy Watkins among a handful of Sunshine State stars the last few years, one couldn’t discount the Tigers’ chances of planting an impressionable seed that could pay dividends in another year or later with one of those 2016 prospects.
It still could happen. But common sense says they probably would not hold Clemson in the same light as if the Tigers had reversed that outcome. On the flip side, if FSU wants them, it likely gets them.
If nothing else, the bar seems to be raised for what Clemson should have as its standard on the recruiting trail. Now each time a commitment is evaluated or even taken by the staff, fans want to know one thing: Can or will that prospect help them beat FSU?