We enter the dead period with a lot of uncertainty heading into signing day. Normally Clemson has everything completely finished with their classes the weekend before the last weekend of recruiting. Clemson likes to use the last weekend of recruiting to springboard into the next class. This was not at all the case this year.
First, we can cross Michail Carter off the board. He loved the official visit to Clemson but was always going to go lean towards Alabama or Georgia if they had room to carry him. Exiting the official visit Carter was favoring Clemson, but once the visit magic wore off, he settled into waiting on his instate school or possibly being taken by Bama. I continue to hear both as possibilities, but it depends on who they get to drop. Bama recently kicked a long time commitment to the curb by saying he would need to grayshirt to clear another spot. Regardless, both will find room for him. Kirby Smart is going to be a force in recruiting going forward and won't be lazy like Richt's former staff. Carter is a good prospect and a guy I would have wanted to land, but with numbers tight it wasn't the best allocation of scholarships.
Our defensive back recruiting this year has been our weakest recruiting of the year. We were worried about numbers and only planned on losing Kearse and Alexander so we kept waffling between taking one or two defensive backs or even pocketing anything for 2017. To be clear: we are going to sign 5 DBs in 2017 and we are in a good position with about 8 highly ranked players. This indecision really hurt our chances with good players this year, however.
We started targeting Saivion Smith and held a sizable lead early until LSU came into the picture. That lead never cracked. We then slow-played Troy Pride because of concerns about height and feeling like we could land the instate product later and weren't aggressive enough with Marquill Osborne. We didn't foresee a school like Notre Dame swooping in and securing Pride. To clarify, we were looking for a bigger CB for this particular take because many of our current guys at CB are shorter. We wanted a taller, longer prospect. This also meant that we let Robbie Robinson walk away early.
Here we are with some uncertainty at the finish line. Finley will decide on Tuesday evening and I think he trends favorably in our direction. Mullen is still a mystery. A recent interview with his mom shows her affinity for FSU and saying Louisville is not in Mullen's top three. I think this is a Clemson and LSU battle with LSU having the edge, but those close at FSU feel like he is their's to lose. Still a tough read.
This brings us to Isaiah Simmons (6'3 205) from Kansas. Simmons looked like an almost lock to Clemson a couple of weeks ago. Nebraska has charged hard and Simmons final visit to Clemson was not a finishing slam dunk. Simmons still wants to play WR and Clemson views him solely as a Safety take. Simmons is a big athletic body that would fit what we are trying to do at Safety in the Venables defensive era. He is long and athletic, great in run support but would need to learn pass coverage. Unfortunate turn of events because with the players remaining on the board, he most fits our immediate needs and style. Nebraska has the edge because of the WR opportunity (they are selling him on playing both ways...), proximity to his home, and I imagine all our attention being paid to Gary and the 2017 prospects wasn't ideal.
K'Von Wallace (6'1, 180) is the other late possibility at DB. He can definitely play CB and is/was a Cincinnati commitment. After Clemson offered late on January 25th, Urban Meyer decided to continue with his Clemson mimicry and offered. Of course, Wallace's childhood fav dream school is the Buckeyes. He visited Clemson and then canceled a Pitt visit to go to the Buckeyes over the weekend.
Wallace has good hands (he also plays WR but will play DB on the next level) and pretty good speed. He is long and athletic. Tough to evaluate his pure cover skills because he played a good bit of Safety, zone concepts in high school. He will come up and tackle but could be more physical in that area. Decent for a CB. What I really like is he is always in a good position to make a play on the ball--seems like a smart, poised player with the ball in the air. Raw CB technique but a lot of physical tools to work with and definitely not a fallback guy. The Ohio State offer is certainly some serious validation.
With Wallace it is all about the numbers. Ohio State is waiting on two players, Jordan Fuller and Damar Hamlin ranked higher on their board. They also are after Carlos Becker, but he is almost certain to go to FSU. Wallace is behind those two. The other factor here is JUCO offensive lineman Malcolm Pridgeon. Ohio State could possibly, though not likely, take Fuller, Hamlin and Wallace but my understanding is that they won't take all four. If Pridgeon goes to OSU that really helps Clemson. If things work out then Clemson is the destination. We won't know the outcome until signing day on this one.
What to say about Rashan Gary?
I have struggled with how much to say about Gary's visit and Clemson's chances. Sometimes less is definitely more. Remember, Gary was set to make a decision on Sunday night but coaches can still make contact despite the dead period (not only through social media to commits) but to friends, family, and coaches close to the situation. It is in Clemson's favor that Michigan and other schools not perceive Clemson as much of a threat or to keep things on the down-low as much as possible. That said, here are some brief takeaways.
Clemson was prepared for this visit. Weeks of preparation and planning have gone into making this visit as perfect as possible. National analysts, especially those relying on Gary's words at the Atlanta press conference, had no clue what kind of a threat Clemson really was to the frontrunner Michigan. This does not mean that Alabama didn't make a late charge, however. Saban is also very good at what he does. Going into that official visit, Bama felt like they had zero chance at an official but they were able to wiggle and try to pry a half visit away. That didn't happen for Saban, but not from a lack of effort.
Anyone who complains about recruits switching commitments needs to remember this situation. Gary and his mom did a wonderful job of managing this but once Gary hit Atlanta it was bees to honey. Every coach wanted more time to talk and the promise or possibility of a visit. Think about another recruit without a strong parental figure being emotionally torn by competing coaches. And NCAA rules? Throw those out the window for some of these coaches with regards to contact at this late stage (hardly ever gets reported and when it does it is a minor violation with no consequences anyway).
Back to Clemson. National analysts have been writing for weeks that this trip to Clemson would be a glorified family trip and that Gary was a Michigan lock. Not at all the case.
You have likely read the tweets about eating at the Smokin Pig and the best dining Clemson has to offer. You also saw his entourage of recent 5* enrollees (Dexter Lawrence, Shaq Smith, Christian Wilkins). The visit went very well both from a 'fun' standpoint, fitting into the Clemson family culture, but also an educational standpoint. Clemson needed to sell its academics a bit because Michigan really scored points in that area with classes, professors, and academic prestige. Almost more importantly, Clemson needed to win a slightly different educational battle and clear the record on certain things (not even going to allude to what those might be). I also think that Michigan might underestimate (certainly the national analysts have) how important family is to Gary and his mother. Gary's family is right down the road in Anderson and very supportive of Clemson and Gary in whatever decision he makes. However, there is something to the safety and security of having family right down the road. The first visit to campus was marred by Easter Break and Clemson needed to pull out all the stops to reposition the campus. I think that was done, but the degree to which it was done will be a factor.
The ability for our Athletic Director AND University President to meet and answer questions for an extended period of time is a recruiting asset almost unheard of at other P5 schools. AD's often get in the act but the University President? You would be lucky to get 15 minutes and then you would be lucky if the President knew much at all about football. Our President genuinely gets it, it isn't some forced/manufactured care. It is one thing for a college coach to say something, but when that is solidified by a University President--that can be compelling.
Michigan has seven visits under their belt and a good number of friends and teammates to sell. Gary's former high school coach is also at Michigan (although I think this specific point is oversold). Ann Arbor is a nice town, certainly. There are many in the Gary circle who really favor Michigan. There is a reason Michigan has been the frontrunner for so long and in the position they are in and a couple of days isn't going to make that instantly evaporate. Mom is going to guide Rashan, but she will not make the decision for him. I think a lot of the decision will come down to whether or not Gary feels like playing with his current friends and teammates is more important than the connections he has made with Clemson players. To that point, Gary has known these guys to a limited degree at camps and all-star games. There is pre-existing familiarity there and Gary's mom has also gotten to know some of those players before getting on campus (again, this wasn't just a two day fling--this has been in the works). The visit was a ten out of ten, beyond recruiting hyperbole, and went as well as Clemson could have ever expected. Mom was happy. Gary was happy.
The last factor in all of this is how much of the post-official visit euphoria washes away before the decision is ultimately made. I want to argue that this is more than a flash in the pan (and it definitely is), but which factors are going to hold up when everything is put on the table. That is what we don't and can't know. Many are saying this is a 50/50 game and I would go so far as to give Clemson the slight advantage. I don't know if that will hold up against the familiarity and push that will come from Michigan. But I'd rather be Clemson than Michigan right now and you can't ask for anything more when you are battling it out for the number one player in the nation.
No team has ever landed the #1 and #2 players in the country. There is a legitimate chance that it could happen this year--to Clemson. Let that sink it as you try to work for the next couple of days.