As Clemson climbed the board during ESPN's marathon coverage of Signing Day, analysis of the job by Coach Dabo Swinney always seemed to include a qualifier.
Bruce Feldman addressed it Thursday for ESPN.com, writing that it was not surprising Clemson assembled a nationally recognized class. Recruiting hasn't seemed to be an issue.
Since 2006, Clemson has never been outside the ESPN rankings, reaching No. 2 in 2008.
Even the 2009 class of 12, Swinney's first after serving half the previous season as interim coach, ranked No. 19.
"For as much as we talked Wednesday about the talent Clemson is bringing in," Feldman wrote, "doesn't Clemson always do well and still end up 7-5?.
"The jury's still out on Swinney, and the expectations keep growing."
If Swinney was listening as he tracked the nationally televised announcements by Tony Steward and Stephone Anthony, he wouldn't say. His contention was that Clemson was more effective recruiting when Danny Ford was at the wheel, speaking specifically to 1986-89.
"We might have had some moments, but when Clemson was at its best they were recruiting great every year," Swinney said. "Maybe a guy here, a guy there, but consistently meeting your needs and getting great players, I don't think that we've consistently done that.
"Hopefully that's something we can change as we move forward and obviously get the results we want on the field."
Suspicion that this could be a pivotal year for Swinney could be reinforced by the possibility that at least a dozen players from this class could be pressed into service immediately, several in critical positions from the opening kickoff.
Only four of last year's class of 24, ranked No. 19 by ESPN, shed their redshirts. Swinney won't be as prudent with this group because of the immediate need at wide receiver, running back, linebacker and backup quarterback.
"I would say we would have a significant number of these freshmen lining up for us in the fall," Swinney said.
Swinney said he wouldn't be surprised to see tight end Eric MacLain and a couple defensive linemen push for playing time. And with one returning scholarship quarterback, either Tony McNeal or Cole Stoudt will emerge as Tajh Boyd's backup.
"We got speed and athleticism and depth at receiver, an area we were hurting at this year," Swinney said.
Running back Mike Bellamy, compared favorably to C.J. Spiller, could be the best running back on the team the day he arrives and should be an ample complement to Andre Ellington, who missed nearly half of the 2010 season after injuring a foot.
"I think Bellamy's going to play. I think that's a pretty safe bet," Swinney said. "Here's a guy that's explosive. We lost that last year with C.J. graduating and Ellington getting hurt.
"We got a big old dose of that with this class."
When his older receivers failed to deliver last fall, Swinney turned to freshman Nuke Hopkins yet held back state high school sprint champion Joe Craig, the deep threat Clemson lacked all season.
Add Charone Peake, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, the top prospect from last year's class after a season of prep school, and Boyd should have plenty of weapons in Chad Morris' no-huddle, spread-and-go-deep scheme.
"I wouldn't say any of them are raw," Swinney said of the freshmen, including Peake's high school teammate Adam Humphries. "They've all been well-coached. I think all of them will be ready to compete the day they get here.
"It's hard for me to think that Charone, Sammy and Martavis aren't playing."
Selecting the backup quarterback and accelerating his education this spring are nearly as critical as getting Boyd ready to play. Stoudt could have more upside. "A lot's going to depend on what happens this spring," Swinney said.
Junior Dwayne Allen, redshirt freshmen Vic Beasley and Sam Cooper and MacLain may be more tight ends than Morris needs. There have been suggestions that Beasley might be more suited on defense, where perhaps there's more room to have an impact if MacLain arrives ready to play.
Clemson doesn't have the next Gaines Adams, Ricky Sapp or Da'Quan Bowers, the game-changing bandit end, though in Kevin Steele's defensive scheme the pass rush might come from any place on the field.
"We need some depth in the defensive line, especially with Da'Quan Bowers leaving," Swinney said. "We've got a huge need at end."
Corey Crawford enrolled in January after a season at Hargrave Military, and Tavaris Barnes from last year's class might get a look.
Two of Steele's primary issues this spring will be finding a replacement for Jarvis Jenkins, a disruptive force at tackle, and introducing his new linebackers to the game.
Linebackers Tony Steward, Stephone Anthony and Lateek Townsend were among the blue-chippers in the class, though Swinney cautioned not to overlook B.J. Goodson of tiny Lamar, a stocky, tough kid who runs well.
Even if they're force-fed Steele's system, "I'd be shocked if those linebackers aren't on the field," Swinney said.