ACC Coastal recruiting breakdown
From top to bottom, this side of the ACC, in our opinion, has a leg up in terms of team speed and overall athleticism. The question is which one of the top four -- Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami and North Carolina -- will take their game to another level and not only compete for the ACC crown, but also dispel the myth that the ACC isn't up to task when it comes to competing for the BCS title.
The teams in the ACC Coastal are very young and thus do not have a ton of large classes, which means the ACC should be stronger in 2010 than it was in 2009.
Under the direction of coach David Cutcliffe, Duke continues to put together solid recruiting classes capable of winning seasons in this conference, and we see this happening sooner rather than later. Two quarterbacks upgrade the depth, including Brandon Connette (Corona, Calif./Santiago). More speed and athleticism join the offensive side of the ball, led by RB Juwan Thompson (College Park, Ga./Woodward Academy).
Top prospect: QB Anthony Boone (Weddington, N.C.) is our top-rated player, but his grade puts him essentially in the same group as the rest of Duke's top five commits. He's a good player with skills similar to those of Thaddeus Lewis.
Don't be surprised if : DE Kareem Martin (Roanoke Rapids, N.C.) lands in a Duke uniform.
Paul Johnson and his staff continue to impress with a small but talented class -- especially in the defensive front four. DTs Shawn Green (Loganville, Ga./Grayson) and Denzel McCoy (Duluth, Ga./Northview) are stout in the middle, and DE Anthony Williams (McDonough, Ga./Union Grove) is explosive off the edge. The Yellow Jackets know that if they are good on defense, the offense will play keep-away, and this recipe earned them a BCS bowl berth this season.
Top prospect: CB Ryan Ayers (Douglasville, Ga./South Paulding) is a corner with a free safety mentality when it comes to ball hawking and playing the run. He plays bigger than his measurables.
Don't be surprised if: This class stays small. The bulk of the roster is returning, which is a good thing for Jackets fans. However, the addition of ATH Marcus Smith (Columbus, Ga./Hardaway) would be terrific, since he could be an option quarterback.
Miami boasts one of the deepest classes based on upside in 2010, and this coaching staff is very good at developing young talent. Miami recently added DE David Perry (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School of Nova Southeastern), who has loads of upside and provides depth along the front. This is a class with multiple prospects in the three-star range who in time could blossom into four-star material.
Top prospect: RB Storm Johnson (Loganville, Ga.) is a load of a back with deceptive speed. He has the physical tools to carry the load, wear down a defense and still rip off a long run.
Don't be surprised if: Miami lands unheralded WR Willis Wright (Miami/Springs) and he ends up being very good. Also, O-line and D-line would be welcomed.
Much like Georgia Tech's class, the Tar Heels' class is small but fruitful, and the majority of the roster is returning for next year. TE Alex Smith (West Chester, Ohio/Lakota West) is a big-bodied guy who is competent in the passing game and is a very good blocker. North Carolina needs to reload at the linebacker position and they are doing so with two, led by Ty Linton (Charlotte, N.C./Christian). We would like to see another quarterback here for North Carolina, but the right guy just isn't out there at this point.
Top prospect: OG James Hurst (Plainfield, Ind.) is a sound, consistent performer at the guard position with good lower-body strength and the ability to control the line of scrimmage.
Don't be surprised if: The Tar Heels pull in RB Brandon Gainer (Miami/Central) come signing day.
The rebuilding process begins under new coach Mike London, who understands the Virginia dynamic when it comes to recruiting players to Charlottesville. However, the first recruiting effort will likely be his least fruitful, given the late start. This team needs playmakers in the worst way, and hopefully WR E.J. Scott (Olney, Md./Good Counsel) is a step in the right direction.
Top prospect: RB Kevin Parks (Mount Ulla, N.C./West Rowan) may not be very tall, but he could get on the field quickly. He is underrated.
Don't be surprised if: Virginia takes at least two years to become a factor in the ACC Coastal again.
As usual, Frank Beamer knows how to evaluate personnel and couldn't care less about hype, which is why, despite a few big names in each class, the bulk of the class ends up being responsible for on-field success because the bottom third of the class is always strong. DE Zach McCray (Lynchburg, Va./Brookville) has an outstanding motor and great speed -- a staple of Hokies defenses. Sleeper QB Mark Leal (Delray Beach, Fla./Atlantic Community) may lack great height, but he can zip it and is a good athlete.
Top prospect: S Nick Dew (Virginia Beach, Va./First Colonial) is fast, explosive and rangy and could end up becoming an outside linebacker. He can really run and is a smart player.
Don't be surprised if: Virginia Tech adds another wide receiver to the group -- maybe Brandon Coleman (Forestville, Md./Bishop McNamara).
Tom Luginbill is the national recruiting director for ESPN's Scouts Inc.
COUNTDOWN TO SIGNING DAY
The day that high school seniors -- and the coaches courting them -- have been waiting for has arrived. Feb. 3 marks a new beginning for programs. ESPN.com will be following all of the action. Recruiting home