AARON BEARD, AP Sports Writer
Off-the-field scandals at Florida State and North Carolina didn’t seem to hurt the schools’ recruiting efforts.
The Seminoles have spent the past year making headlines about legal troubles of several players, most notably Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston. Ugly questions have hovered even longer over North Carolina over a long-running academic fraud scandal.
And yet, Florida State unveiled the top class in the Atlantic Coast Conference on national signing day Wednesday, while the Tar Heels put together a top-30 class.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and school officials were criticized for failing to discipline top athletes for off-field behavior. Winston was accused of sexual assault in December 2012 but was never charged.
The Department of Education is investigating how FSU handles possible Title IX violations in the wake of the Winston case, namely in how it responds to sexual violence complaints.
But Fisher said the program’s handling of some of those issues turned out to be a positive in recruiting.
“Parents respected that we didn’t cave to pressure and we didn’t cave to media and we didn’t cave to public opinion,” Fisher said. “You can’t worry about what other people try to bully you into doing.”
Meanwhile at UNC, the school has been dealing with an academic fraud case that an independent investigator reported spanned more 18 years and involved more than 3,100 students — roughly half being athletes. The NCAA reopened its investigation into academic misconduct last summer.
Coach Larry Fedora said other schools constantly used it against UNC in recruiting.
“There was never a situation where we were trying to hide what was going on,” Fedora said. “… In each of those cases, it was continually brought up to them so we always had to go back and re-address it.”
Louisville turned into the school of second chances on signing day. Coach Bobby Petrino, who returned to the university after falling from grace at Arkansas and a one-year stop at Western Kentucky, signed outside linebacker Devonte’ Fields.
Fields was the Big 12 Conference’s 2012 Defensive Player of the Year as a TCU freshman, but was dismissed before last season after his ex-girlfriend accused him of assaulting her and threatening her with a gun. He was arrested on a misdemeanor assault warrant in July and posted a $3,500 bond.
Said Petrino: “We felt comfortable that, No. 1, there was absolutely no gun there, and that it’s a misdemeanor charge.”
Here are things to know about national signing day in the ACC:
BEST CLASS: Florida State ranked third nationally by Rivals and No. 11 by Scout. Still, the Seminoles missed on making this haul even better, including losing defensive back Iman Marshall to USC. Clemson had the league’s second-best recruiting class, peaking at No. 4 nationally according to Rivals.
IMPACT PLAYER: Devonte’ Fields certainly has the chance to make a big impact at Louisville if he can stay out of trouble. He spent a season at Trinity Valley Community College ranked by Scout as the nation’s No. 2 junior college player.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Defensive tackle Christian Wilkins enters a good situation at Clemson. The five-star prospect, ranked as the nation’s No. 4 player at his position by Rivals, joins a Tigers team that lost six members from its front seven, including star Vic Beasley. That sets up the 6-foot-5, 305-pound recruit from Connecticut’s Suffield Academy with the opportunity to find a role quickly.
SOLID SHOWING: North Carolina’s list of problems — from a miserable defensive season to the NCAA investigation — didn’t stop the Tar Heels from putting together a solid class. The 19-player class ranked 24th nationally according to Scout and 28th according to Rivals.
TOUGH DAY: A coaching change didn’t help Pittsburgh, which ranked last in the ACC at No. 72 nationally according to Rivals and near the bottom among league teams at No. 63 on Scout. New coach Pat Narduzzi had fewer than six weeks to put together a 15-player class after Paul Chryst left to take over at Wisconsin.
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