CLEMSON — For years there has been a growing talent divide in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.
From 2006-09, Clemson signed 18 of the nation’s top 150 prospects, Florida State signed 14 and the rest of the division signed eight.
The talent gap increased over the last three recruiting cycles when Florida State signed 35 top 150 prospects, Clemson signed 19 and the rest of the division signed just five.
The recruiting disparity is beginning to show up on the playing field.
No. 10 Clemson (8-1, 5-1 ACC) and Florida State are tied atop the division and own a 16-2 combined record. The rest of the division is 16-20. Maryland (4-5, 2-3) had its first 10-loss season in program history in 2009, it endured another 10-loss season in its first season under coach Randy Edsall last fall, and is a 31-point underdog this weekend at Clemson – the largest points spread in an ACC game since 2000.
While Florida State and Clemson are rising, the rest of the ACC is in decline.
“I know Florida State has recruited well. I think we have recruited well. I’m just focused on Clemson, on building this into the best program we can be,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “Everybody else has to focus on those issues.”
The talent divide has created not only an imbalance atop the Atlantic Division but in the conference in general.
From 2010-12, Florida State signed nearly as many top 150 prospects (35) as the entire Coastal Division (36). This season the Coastal Division has been in turmoil. It will not have an attractive candidate to represent the division in the ACC title game.
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris was asked if his offense has had an overwhelming talent advantage in nearly every game it has played this season.
“I don’t really look at it that way. It’s hard to say,” Morris said. “We’ve played some teams with a lot of talent. ... We’ll see if we can’t create a mismatch. But overall do I say ‘we just got more talent and don’t have to work as hard this week?’ Absolutely not.”
Clemson and Florida State have benefitted from strong brands on the recruiting trail, and the recruiting has reached new levels of productivity under coaches Swinney and Jimbo Fisher, who are each regarded as able recruiters.
But can Clemson and Florida State sustain their recent impressive talent acquisition track records?
The task is easier for Florida State, which is located in one the three richest states for football talent. The others being Texas and California.
While Clemson is located in a small state, Swinney has successfully recruited in North Carolina and Georgia. And while there are just 4 million residents in South Carolina, there are about 7 million people within a two-hour drive of Clemson – with both Atlanta and Charlotte within that radius.
In the short term, the talent split is showing no signs of receding. Clemson and Florida State each have five top 150 recruits committed for 2013, and the rest of the division has none.