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With No. 1 in sight, Clemson on verge of historic recruiting class

Dabo Swinney is within reach of a career win milestone at Clemson. Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

To say Clemson is rolling on the recruiting trail would be a serious understatement.

Building off consecutive national title game appearances, a title in 2016, with 14 NFL draft picks to come, The Tigers have put together three straight top-10 recruiting classes. Even with all that, and jaw-dropping facilities, Dabo Swinney and his staff are on the verge of something historical.

Small in numbers

For the 2017 class, Clemson became the first team in the 12 years ESPN has ranked prospects and recruiting classes to sign a top-10 class with less than 15 signees. The class, with no five-stars and only 14 members, Clemson signed the No. 10-overall class.

In 2018, the Tigers are again expected to sign a small class with as few as 13 players, but no more than 15. Clemson’s 2018 class debuted at No. 4, bolstered by five-star commitments in defensive end Xavier Thomas and QB Trevor Lawrence, among the eight commits.

Swinney & Co. are in the mix for a bevy of top-50 players, even with scant few spots remaining. Staying in the top five will be difficult, but not unheard of. Florida’s 2009 class was the last to finish in the top five with 17 or fewer signees. For a top-three finish, another five-star commitment (or two) will have to go the Tigers’ way. USC’s 2007 class is the only top-three class in the history of ESPN’s ranking to finish with fewer than 20 commits. That class, of course, featured the top three overall players in No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Chris Galippo and No. 3 Marc Tyler.

Speaking of five-stars

The Tigers' otherworldly start to the 2018 class is headlined by the No. 1 (Thomas) and No. 3 (Lawrence) overall players. Four more five-stars are high on Clemson’s list. Alabama’s 2014, No. 1-ranked recruiting haul included a jaw-dropping five five-star prospects in No. 3 Cameron Robinson, No. 6 Da’Shawn Hand, No. 8 Tony Brown, No. 12 Bo Scarbrough and No. 15 Marlon Humphrey.

Since ESPN assigned star-rankings to prospects in the 2010 class, Clemson has signed a handful of five-star prospects -- Tony Steward (No. 9-overall) and Charone Peake (No. 14) in 2011, Mackensie Alexander (No. 4) in 2013, Mitch Hyatt (No. 18) in 2015 and Dexter Lawrence (No. 6) in 2016.

The Tigers are a threat to equal both numbers with No. 5 Patrick Surtain Jr., No. 6 K.J. Henry, No. 8 and Penn State verbal Micah Parsons and No. 11 Jackson Carman. While Henry is arguably the only one of the four that the Tigers have the lead heading into May, it’s unlikely they will miss out on the other three despite Carman being recruited by home-state Ohio State and Surtain being wooed by LSU, Florida State and Florida.

And the rest of the class

Like the lofty five-star prospects, the Tigers could also challenge the record for most top-10 prospects in a class.

In 2010, the Florida signed the nation’s No. 1-ranked class that featured four of the top-10 overall prospects in No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 3 Dominique Easley, No. 9 Matt Elam and No. 10 Jonathan Dowling.

With Thomas and Lawrence already in the fold, and Surtain, Henry and Parsons in play, challenging the Gators’ record is a strong possibility.

One record Florida has from that star-studded class that will not likely be touched by Clemson or anyone else is signing 11 of the top-50 prospects overall in 2010. The Tigers could approach 10 with No. 14 Zamir White, No. 15 Tyson Campbell, No. 28 A.J. Lytton, No. 29 Jamaree Salyer, No. 35 Anthony Cook, No. 39 and LSU verbal Kelvin Joseph, No. 41 Teradja Mitchell and No. 44 Jacob Copeland still in play, along with the four five-star’s already mentioned. To do that, the class would have to expand to at least 15 members.

Is No. 1 a possibility?

Clemson has never signed the top-rated class, finishing No. 2 in 2008 in a class that featured No. 1-ranked prospect Da’Quan Bowers, running backs Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington, defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, offensive tackle Antoine McClain and tight end Dwayne Allen. That Clemson class signed 25 to challenge Miami’s No. 1-ranked class that had 32 signees.

While Miami, with 16 commitments, begins 2018 at the top, the numbers make it unlikely the Hurricanes finish No. 1 with so many elite prospects yet to decide. When looking at the Tigers likely competition for the nation’s No. 1-ranked class, not at all discounting Alabama’s annual run into the top three, Ohio State and Florida State stand out. Clemson will be going head-to-head with the Buckeyes and Seminoles for many of the prospects already mentioned. Carman is an Ohio State vs. Clemson battle; Surtain has Clemson, Florida State and Ohio State in the mix along with LSU; Campbell is Ohio State, Clemson and Miami, along with LSU; Lytton has Florida State in the lead with Clemson, Alabama and Maryland; Cook has Ohio State in the mix with Clemson, LSU and Texas and Mitchell is Florida State, Clemson or Ohio State unless Virginia Tech can pull the upset.

Should Clemson win enough of the key head-to-head battles, which would require two more five-stars, then that first-ever No. 1 class could happen.

More than that, the Tigers might make history.