Second signing classes could set foundation for four ACC coaches

Coming off a season in which Virginia finished last in the ACC's Coastal Division, it was clear there were some gaping holes on the roster, and when Bronco Mendenhall summed up the needs of the program, he went big picture: size, speed, athleticism, strength, depth.

In other words, a little of everything that makes a football program competitive.

“And we addressed that with this signing class,” Mendenhall said.

To be sure, he also clarified that one signing class wouldn’t be an instant fix for Virginia’s problems. And given that the Cavaliers finished 48th overall by ESPN’s signing day rankings, it’s probably not a class that will put Mendenhall’s team in contention for the College Football Playoff.

But as Mendenhall and three other ACC coaches begin Year 2 with their programs, Wednesday’s festivities represented something big. It was, after a whirlwind recruiting pitch the previous year for the ACC’s newest coaches, the first class of recruits that was completely theirs.

The results, from a rankings standpoint, were good. Mendenhall’s class ranked 48th, but that’s up from 60 a year ago.

Dino Babers had the 62nd-ranked haul in 2016, but on Wednesday, Syracuse inked the No. 49 class, highlighted by ESPN300 QB Tommy DeVito.

Justin Fuente’s first class at Virginia Tech ranked 39th, but this year the Hokies cracked the top 25.

And at Miami, where Mark Richt is working the same recruiting magic he did at Georgia, the Hurricanes signed the No. 12 class in the country, with 10 ESPN300 recruits.

So progress is being made when it comes to talent at all four places, but turning that talent into a winner is a much larger task. Still, look back at the history of the league’s top coaches, and that’s exactly what happened.

Jimbo Fisher’s second signing class laid the foundation for the 2013 national championship with Timmy Jernigan, Nick O’Leary, Rashad Greene, Devonta Freeman and Kelvin Benjamin, among others.

This year, Clemson signed just 14 players -- the smallest class since Dabo Swinney’s first, he noted. Ah, but Swinney’s second class, in 2010, was a beauty, with Martinis Bryant, Bashaud Breeland, Vic Beasley and DeAndre Hopkins, again setting up a run of six straight 10-win seasons.

If those same seeds have been sewn at Virginia, Syracuse, Virginia Tech or Miami, we’re not likely to know for sure for another year or two. But the coaches there each made statements and each improved their rosters on Wednesday, and that’s a big step.

“A year ago, we were just trying to see who was committed, trying to see who was still on the board as far as the previous staff,” Richt said Wednesday. “This year, we had a lot more time to get into the high schools, spend time with the high school coaches, just try to help them understand what we’re about, and getting faith in confidence that if they send their young men to our school, they’re going to get everything they need.”