- Tom Luginbill, ESPN Staff Writer
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One theme in recent years in the ultracompetitve ACC, particularly in the Coastal Division, has been that the teams with the best quarterback play are going to have a leg up in competing for the conference championship. But a lack of consistent quarterback performance is a problem that has plagued the league.
Right now, Virginia Tech has an advantage in the Coastal Division with Tyrod Taylor leading the Hokies in 2009. The rest of the Coastal is young at QB -- outside of Duke's Thaddeus Lewis. You could argue that North Carolina, Miami, Virginia Tech and even Georgia Tech are going to be consistent conference leaders and BCS hopefuls for years to come; those programs' classes to this point give the Coastal a bright outlook.
This is a huge class already, with 27 verbal commitments. David Cutcliffe and his staff have really ramped up their efforts with quality personnel. DT John Drew (Columbus, Ga./Northside) is a load in the middle, and QB Sean Schroeder (Dana Point, Calif./Dana Hills) is a sleeper who is a nice fit for Cutcliffe's scheme because he understands timing and rhythm in the passing game. The top half of this class is better than what we have seen in the past from the Blue Devils.
Top Prospect: RB Desmond Scott (Durham, N.C./Hillside) is an undersized, but shifty and fast, scat-back who could have some upside at corner, too. The former Rutgers commit adds another dimension (and much-needed skill) to this offense.
Don't be surprised if Duke is a .500 team by 2010.
This is a class that has a terrific balance between academic standards and good players. Coach Paul Johnson has hit on many positions that add talent and depth across the board. Jackets fans should be excited about QB Jordan Luallen (Greenwood, Ind./Center Grove) as both an athlete and a guy who fits their scheme perfectly. You hear us talk all the time about the importance of building a team from the inside out, and Tech has hit the mark at QB, on the O-line and on the D-line -- with guys like mammoth DT J.C. Lanier (Twin City, Ga./Emanuel County Institute) and DE Izaan Cross (Flowery Branch, Ga.).
Top Prospect: The two highest-rated prospects in this class are OG Will Jackson (Knoxville, Tenn./Farragut) and ATH David Sims (St. Matthews, S.C./Calhoun County). Sims, like Luallen, has the skills to play at QB, but he could truly play any skill spot and is a great athlete.
Don't be surprised if Georgia Tech is an ACC power and is in contention for the ACC championship game late in the season, every season Johnson is at the helm. The combination of good players and a scheme that is nearly impossible to prepare for in three days will be a thorn in the conference's side
Last year's No. 1 overall class obviously delivered on the field in 2008, and the 2009 class shows no signs of slowing down. Randy Shannon & Co. have been able to lure championship-caliber defensive talent to South Florida; their most recent addition, S Ray Ray Armstrong (Sanford, Fla./Seminole), could be another Kenny Phillips. The Canes must hold onto RB Bryce Brown (Wichita, Kan./East) down the stretch and grow up in a hurry on offense with their current roster. We feel that between the 2008 and 2009 classes, Miami has the pieces of the puzzle to become a national power once again.
Top Prospect: Well, it's Bryce Brown, for now. There has been much speculation that Brown might jump to Eugene, Ore., and become a Duck. If that happens, it could be a big blow because Brown is a kid capable of being the centerpiece of an offense. However, no one player ever makes a recruiting class.
Don't be surprised if ATH Jamal Reid (Mayo, Fla./Lafayette) becomes one of the jewels of this class, either on defense at corner or on offense at wide receiver. Regardless, he could be a contributor quickly as a return man.
Remember the comments I made about quarterback play in the ACC? Well, UNC has addressed that issue with QB Bryn Renner (Lorton, Va./West Springfield). Renner is one of the more underpublicized prospects in this class; he's a terrific athlete who could easily become a dual-threat guy in Chapel Hill. However, the talent in this group does not stop there. If ATH Donavan Tate (Cartersville, Ga.) decides to play football along with baseball, he could give UNC a huge boost at the QB position and really upgrade their roster. DE Donte Moss (Jacksonville, N.C./Hillside) leads an impressive defense group.
Top Prospect: WR Jheranie Boyd (Gastonia, N.C./Ashbrook) is the highest rated prospect in this class, but he is also a wide receiver, and wide receivers are everywhere. It's a boost for this class with Hakeem Nicks opting for the NFL. In our opinion, the QBs are the headliners here.
Don't be surprised if DE Sam Montgomery (Greenwood, S.C.) chooses the Tar Heels come signing day. This would be a huge haul for Butch Davis and crew when you consider the level of defensive interior personnel they have brought in over the last two classes -- including DE Robert Quinn, DTs Tydreke Powell and Marvin Austin. Montgomery would play opposite Moss.
A disappointing season on the gridiron has not slowed down the Cavs just yet. Al Groh was forced to make some tough staff decisions, including the dismissal of his son Mike as offensive coordinator. However, this class is not flashy, but very solid. Five prospects are graded at 78 or higher, and five at 77. Virginia has really loaded up on the defensive front with the likes of DEs Jake Snyder (Glen Allen, Va./Deep Run) and Justin Renfrow (Philadelphia/William Penn Charter). The Cavs have hit on multiple positions across the board.
Top Prospect: TE Tucker Windle (Charlotte, N.C./Catholic) is the highest-rated prospect; yet no player in this class is graded at 80 or higher, which is a bit surprising. Windle is an upside guy in a down year for tight ends. He is athletic and a better receiver than blocker at this stage, which is not surprising given his lack of bulk right now.
Don't be surprised if Canadian import DE Brent Urban (Mississauga, Ontario/Lorne Park Secondary) develops into a heckuva football player. His size, ranginess and long arms, coupled with excellent overall athleticism, give him nice upside.
This is a class with a potential difference-maker at RB in David Wilson (Danville, Va./George Washington), who has more speed than incumbent Darren Evans. He could be a spark to Evans' power. Only four of VT's 20 verbal commitments are from outside the state. This offers further proof that Virginia is a talent-rich state that does not always garner the respect it should. ATH Logan Thomas (Lynchburg, Va./Brookville) could be a "slash" type player as a wide receiver, H-back or even QB. He's built a lot like Terrelle Pryor.
Top Prospect: As mentioned, RB David Wilson is an explosive, strong runner, and with last year's Ryan Williams and now Wilson, Frank Beamer has a stable of runners for the future. Wilson eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark and even broke his own single-game record this past fall with 349 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns.
Don't be surprised if ATH Theron Norman (Richmond, Va./Hermitage) plays early and often. He could start out at wide receiver because of the need there for the Hokies, but he has real safety upside, too.
Tom Luginbill is the National Recruiting Director for ESPN's Scouts Inc. He has an extensive background in professional football talent evaluation and coaching. He played quarterback at Georgia Tech (1994) and Eastern Kentucky (1995).