For the first time in a while, North Carolina’s football team has returned to relevance. The return of coach Mack Brown has brought an invigorated offense, great coaching, and a powerful recruiting presence.
This has shown itself in the upcoming 2021 class, where the Heels already have the third-ranked group, highlighted by No.7-ranked player and five-star cornerback Tony Grimes. The team also landed four-star quarterback Drake Maye, who is expected to be their quarterback of the future.
These two players, along with 15 other commits, have given UNC the No. 3 class in the county.
How has UNC managed to be so proficient in recruiting this year? As weird as it may sound, North Carolina may actually be benefitting from the current pandemic, or at least being harmed less. Due to the restrictions on travel, the Tar Heels have been focusing most of their recruiting in the southeast, and specifically the state of North Carolina.
This is where UNC has dominated.
None of the other major universities in the state (Duke, NC State, and Wake Forest) have even come close to matching North Carolina’s success on the recruiting trail at home.
This success against other schools in the area helps UNC in the ACC as well, which is evident as they are only behind Clemson in ACC recruiting.
Additionally, the return of Mack Brown has brought with it upgraded facilities. The Kenan Football Center, as well as the locker room and weight room, have been improved to match some of the best in the nation. This almost certainly helped persuade some recruits to choose North Carolina.
However, the 2021 recruiting cycle is nowhere near finished. Hundreds of recruits, many of them four- and five-star talents, have not chosen a team. Some have not even given a shortlist of where they are headed. Because of this, it is perfectly normal to see teams that are normally in the top tier of recruiting in abnormally low positions.
For example, Alabama is 12th after finishing the 2020 cycle ranked No. 2. In perhaps the most significant example, Georgia is ranked 19th after finishing 2020 ranked No. 1.
When all is said and done, it is unlikely that this will be where these teams end up. Georgia and Alabama are in locations saturated by talent and they are far too powerful for top recruits to not even consider them as a viable option. It seems unlikely that North Carolina will be able to keep up with these football giants, as well as other strong recruiters such as Texas and Florida.
Additionally, just because recruits have picked up a hat with their school of choice’s logo on it does not mean they will be playing for that school when the season starts. Players have a lot of time to decommit, and a lot of them will, for reasons such as playing time, another school’s upgraded facilities, or even just to stay close to home. If travel restrictions were to be eased and some of North Carolina’s targets visited other schools, they might lose out on some prized players.
Only time will tell, and while it seems improbable that UNC will finish with the No. 3 class, they still have a good chance to stay in the top-10. Perhaps 2021 will be a sign of great things to come for the Tar Heels’ football program.