The NCAA hit Syracuse hard on Friday for a wide-range of NCAA violations dating back to 2001, largely involving the men's basketball program.

But the football program did not go unscathed.

The NCAA ruled football committed two violations. Between 2005-07, a part-time tutor and three football players were involved in academic misconduct. As a result, the program was told to vacate wins from the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons. The school already self-imposed that penalty, taking away 11 victories. In addition, three football players and two basketball players received more than $8,000 between 2004-05 from a booster for volunteering at the local YMCA.

The entire athletic program was charged with failure to monitor and control its programs, and placed on five years' probation. The outcome could have been much worse for football, which does not have to serve a postseason ban, nor lose any scholarships. The football seasons in question represent some of the lowest points in the school's football history, including the start of the Greg Robinson era.

You can read much more about the NCAA investigation here. Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud said in a press release the school is considering an appeal, disputing the allegation that it lacked institutional control.

Syracuse has a right to appeal. But it is hard to ignore just how blatantly the rules were violated on so many different levels, from academic misconduct, violation of its own drug policy, extra benefits and impermissible booster activity. This leads to two additional questions:

1. How safe is athletic director Daryl Gross' job moving forward? Gross has been in charge 10 years, when many of these violations occurred.

2. How does this ruling impact the ongoing NCAA investigation into academic fraud at North Carolina? Folks in Chapel Hill might be feeling a little nervous right about now.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- Gus Edwards stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 230 pounds. Go ahead and ask him how fast he is.

"My fastest time was 4.49," he says.

Tough to find big, bruising backs who can run that fast. Had Edwards competed in the NFL combine this year, that time would have tied him for third among all running backs with Trey Williams at Texas A&M.

[+] EnlargeGus Edwards
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsGus Edwards says both his speed and improved running on the outside will be invaluable assets to the Hurricanes' backfield in 2015.
Williams is 5-7 and 195 pounds.

Florida State back Karlos Williams, with similar size to Edwards, wowed scouts with his 4.48 time. Though the Miami strength staff has not tested players on their 40 times recently, coach Al Golden confirmed that Edwards has some serious speed, clocking in at 20 miles per hour on the GPS technology the team is using this spring to get a gauge on player productivity.

That ranked Edwards second on the team, behind receiver Rashawn Scott.

So the opportunity is there for Edwards to use his rare combination of size and speed to help fill the void in the backfield with Duke Johnson's departure. Edwards is eager to prove he is more than just a third-down bull rushing back and expand his repertoire now that he will take on an expanded role.

"I'm trying to make the outside zone a better part of my game," Edwards said. "Last year, they ran me more inside but I think I've gotten way better with the outside zones. That's what I want to do now. Last year, I felt like that's what I was being told to do come in on third down and get the short yardage, just power through but now that has to be part of my game.

"Coach thinks I'm one of the fastest guys. I think I could surprise defenses, and when I get in the open field, I'm not trying to get hauled down."

Edwards has been running with the first-team so far this spring, but Miami plans on using a running back by committee approach with Johnson gone. Joe Yearby, a much shiftier back, will also get carries, along with Trayone Gray. Incoming freshman Mark Walton, an ESPN 300 standout, will be a player to watch in the fall, as many inside the program believe he can step in and contribute right away.

Miami has not been shy about playing true freshmen at running back. But at least Edwards and Yearby have game experience -- combining for 147 carries and 858 yards behind Johnson a year ago. In addition to running the ball, Miami used Johnson much more in the pass game last season -- he ranked third on the team with 38 catches for 421 yards.

So the running backs have been working more on their routes out of the backfield in practice than they did in the past, so they can pick up where Johnson left off. Edwards had two catches a year ago; Yearby had eight.

"It's something coaches have been telling us, that we have to be a part of the passing game," Edwards said. "I try to catch everything that's thrown at me, and I think I've been doing a good job at that."

Edwards, who went to high school in Staten Island, New York, was a late commitment to Miami in the class of 2013. After initially committing to Syracuse, he changed his mind when Doug Marrone left for the Bills. It came down to Florida State and Miami.

The turning point for the Canes? James Coley coming to Miami from the Noles. Edwards wanted to play for Coley, who impressed him during the recruiting process. What stuck with Edwards was the fact Coley not only visited his parents at home, he took a second trip to the other side of Staten Island to visit with his high school coaches, too.

Maybe it was all meant to be. Edwards' Little League team was patterned after Miami -- the Staten Island Hurricanes, featuring orange and green uniforms.

"All the little kids wanted to be Hurricanes," Edwards said with a laugh.

Now that he is one, Edwards has his chance to make an even bigger name for himself.
It's never too early to break out the Magic 8-Ball and make some predictions for the spring. We'll see how much egg I have on my face when the season starts!

1. Florida State will not have an answer at quarterback. The last time Florida State had a quarterback competition, the spring ended without an announced decision in the race between Jameis Winston, Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker. Even after Trickett announced his decision to transfer, coach Jimbo Fisher maintained Winston and Coker would go into the fall competing for the starting job -- though it was generally assumed Winston would win it. So why should anything be different this spring, with Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino and De'Andre Johnson? Add freshman Deondre Francois into the mix in the summer and there’s little upside in Fisher making an announcement when spring practice ends in April.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire will try to take the reins in Tallahassee as Florida State's starting quarterback.
2. Same story in Louisville. The Cards go into the spring with an open competition between Reggie Bonnafon, Tyler Ferguson and Kyle Bolin. That does not even take into consideration Will Gardner, who is rehabbing his third major knee injury. Bonnafon has the experience edge, but Ferguson just sat out the 2014 season because of NCAA transfer rules. Coach Bobby Petrino may want to give him more than 15 spring practices to truly compete and win the starting job. If Gardner is healthy in the fall, perhaps he gets a chance to rejoin the mix as well after starting seven games last season. There is no slam dunk decision here given the ups and downs we saw from Gardner, Bonnafon and Bolin a year ago and the inexperience Ferguson has headed into 2015.

3. The Miami defensive line will be better. The Hurricanes have had no significant pass rush since Al Golden arrived in Miami, but that will change this year. Miami has made big strides toward upgrading its tackle and end positions, and coaches feel good about the depth they have been able to develop because they were able to redshirt players last year for the first time under Golden. Miami is noticeably much bigger up front, which cannot be understated. Coaches are high on guys like Michael Wyche, Ufomba Kamalu, Trent Harris and Chad Thomas. Quan Muhammad is back at rush end and has had a good camp. The expectation is for this group to bump up the sack totals compared to the past several years.

4. Watch for Andrew Brown. The highly touted defensive tackle enrolled early last year at Virginia, but injuries cut his spring and freshman season short. Now, coach Mike London says Brown is in better shape and ready to take on a starting role. If he can make an impact the way Quin Blanding did last year, the Virginia defense should be in good shape.

5. The Clemson defense will remain elite. Despite losing the bulk of their defense, the Tigers should remain one of the best groups in the ACC and a top-10 defense nationally for a few reasons. First, the new players stepping into starting roles have game experience. Guys like Shaq Lawson, D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins have played in big games before. Linebacker Ben Boulware has terrific upside. And the secondary is on track to be one of the strongest groups in the league behind potential All-American Mackensie Alexander.

6. Don’t be surprised if Marshawn Williams redshirts. The Virginia Tech running back was having an outstanding freshman season before a torn ACL sidelined him in mid-November. He is out for spring, and his status for the start of fall practice remains up in the air. Each player recovers differently from ACL injuries, so there’s no telling how Williams will come back. But if J.C. Coleman, Trey Edmunds and Joel Caleb can handle the back duties adequately, there’s no sense rushing Williams back.

7. Florida State will win 10 games, but it will be a “down” year. It’s all about perspective. The Seminoles will keep their streak of 10-win seasons going despite breaking in new starters at virtually every position. The schedule is forgiving enough for another double-digit victory total, though. But they won’t be in the national championship conversation. Whether that should be considered a “down” year is up to your interpretation. Wait for 2016 to arrive. Florida State should be back in the hunt then.

8. Georgia Tech will make history in July. For the first time, Georgia Tech will be picked as the preseason Coastal Division champions. The Jackets return enough talent and were impressive enough in 2014 to make believers out of the usually skeptical voters. Since the ACC split into divisions in 2005, Georgia Tech has finished atop the Coastal five times but has never been picked to win. That changes in 2015.

9. No ACC team in the playoff. I’m probably not going out on a limb with this one, but this would mark the first time in three years the league won’t have a chance to compete for a national championship. Florida State will be young, with a new starting quarterback, four new offensive linemen and new starters at tight end, receiver, defensive end, defensive tackle and in the secondary. Clemson and Georgia Tech play tough schedules and have questions of their own to answer. Louisville also is rebuilding on defense and has uncertainty at quarterback, receiver and offensive line.

10. Dabo Swinney joins Twitter! Can Swinney really let Steve Spurrier get the best of him on Twitter? Now that the HBC is all aboard, time for the Clemson head man to join up too. If their verbal jabs are any indication, the potential of their back-and-forth tweets is nothing short of epic.
Virginia Tech is off to a solid start in the 2016 class, reeling in quality quarterback Logan Byrd, three talented defensive backs, including cornerback Troy Pride Jr., and now a first ESPN Jr. 300 prospect in running back and safety Reggie Floyd.

Significance of impact: Keeping the best at home is something that has been a challenge for both the Hokies and rival Virginia Cavaliers in recent years. Though Floyd's verbal might not resonate nationally, it’s a key in-state win for Virginia Tech in the fight to keep the top prospects home.

ACC morning links

March, 6, 2015
Mar 6
9:00
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Vic Beasley is fashioning himself into a top 10 pick.

Off a thoroughly impressive performance at the NFL combine, Beasley turned heads once again at Clemson's Pro Day on Thursday. Though he did not run or lift, Beasley showed the record 72 team reps that he can also play linebacker, too. Beasley did not look out of place doing linebacker drills with two more established Tigers -- Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward.

Though he starred at defensive end at Clemson, Beasley projects as an outside linebacker on the next level because of his size and pass rush ability.

Beasley told reporters afterward, "I came out here with the right mind set and I wanted to show these teams that I can play in space and drop back as a linebacker," Beasley said.

There was an all-star group in attendance to watch Beasley and his former teammates. New England coach Bill Belichick, Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly and Buffalo coach Rex Ryan were all there. All 32 NFL teams were represented.

In his latest mock draft, Insider ESPN expert Mel Kiper Jr. has Beasley going No. 8 overall to the Atlanta Falcons. Kiper writes:
Beasley isn't just an athletic freak because he's been a one-man production line at Clemson, with 44.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. He can flat out create disruption and get to the quarterback, and that's exactly what Atlanta needs.

Beasley is one of nine ACC players Kiper has in the first round:

1. Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay
8. Beasley, Atlanta
14. DeVante Parker, Miami
19. Ereck Flowers, Cleveland
21. Eli Harold, Cincinnati
23. Eddie Goldman, Detroit
27. Kevin Johnson, Dallas
28. Cameron Erving, Denver
29. T.J. Clemmings, Indianapolis

Elsewhere around the ACC:
While Big Ten and other NCAA officials discuss rules limiting eligibility for first-year players in football and men’s basketball, ACC football coaches are nearly unanimous in wanting to move in the opposite direction.

In a poll of ACC football coaches, 12 of the 13 who responded said they favored or would consider expanding eligibility to allow players to play five years — eliminating the redshirt completely — and every coach expressed significant reservations about potentially redshirting all freshmen.

The debate has become a talking point after the Big Ten opened discussions on the subject of improving academics for freshmen by taking them off the field to focus more on the classroom, but every coach polled said they’d seen no firm correlation between grades and playing time, and many suggested redshirting freshmen can actually have a detrimental effect on their overall college experience.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDavid Cutcliffe coaches at a school known for stellar academics, and he doesn't see a need to restrict freshman eligibility.
“My case study is watching young people, and the people who do redshirt that had been stars really struggle with their identity and happiness,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who has 33 years of experience coaching in the SEC and ACC.

Indeed, most coaches suggest the athletes with the greatest deficiencies in the classroom are also the ones who would be hurt the most by taking away their on-field experience, while the ones with the best time-management skills away from coaches are typically flourishing academically already.

“The kids that are mature and make good decisions, a redshirt year can be good for them,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “But the at-risk student is better off if he’s playing right away and engaged with the team all the time.”

While the specifics of freshman eligibility have not yet been a topic discussed among ACC coaches formally, Doeren said he was hopeful those conversations would begin soon, so that the concerns shared by the coaches can be addressed.

ACC commissioner John Swofford appeared open to restricted eligibility when asked by the Louisville Courier-Journal last month, though he conceded the logistics would be challenging.

“It's not a new topic,” Swofford told the paper. “It's been talked about in our league, as well as others, periodically. I'm old enough to have played in that system, and it was a good one. I think it's very educationally sound, and I think we should think about and consider anything that's educationally sound. Whether we get back to that, I don't know. I don't know if it fits the times in today's world. We haven't taken any votes in our league in regard to it in recent years.”

While the ACC does not specifically track league-wide academic performance of freshmen compared with older student-athletes, the conference does have the highest academic rating overall among Power 5 leagues, according to U.S. News and World Report, and 11 of the 14 institutions had an APR better than the FBS average. It's noteworthy, too, that of the 65 members of the league's academic All-ACC team, 12 were true freshmen.

On the NCAA level, eligibility restrictions for the most at-risk athletes are already set to go into effect beginning in 2016. Students who fail to meet core course requirements, GPA and ACT or SAT scores will be forced to redshirt or grayshirt their first year.

Extending eligibility restrictions to all freshmen would be a knee-jerk reaction, however, Cutcliffe said.

“I don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish other than getting better grades out of it, and that’s just not going to happen,” he said.

What it clearly would accomplish, however, is a huge strain on the remaining rosters for all teams.

Until 1972, freshmen were ineligible for competition. But at that time there were no scholarship limits in place, and programs could easily field a team without the newcomers. Moreover, seasons were shorter, with the majority of programs playing just 11 games until the early 2000s. This past season, Oregon and Ohio State played 15 games — one shy of an NFL season — and if freshmen hadn’t been eligible to play, they might have been limited to a roster of just 60 scholarship athletes.

“That’s basically an NFL roster, but we don’t get to pick up anybody off waivers, have free agency, make trades,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “I’m not sure how that would work, and I don’t think they have any intention of giving us more scholarships.”

[+] EnlargeLarry Fedora
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonNorth Carolina's Larry Fedora and other coaches would certainly want to ease the 85-scholarship limit if freshmen weren't eligible.
Instead, coaches pointed to two distinct areas that could address academic concerns without eliminating eligibility.

First, schools need to do a better job of developing programs to ensure a smoother transition for incoming freshmen to the rigors of college life. As Doeren suggested, time management and study skills differentiate students who succeed from the ones who fall behind, and instilling those in freshmen upon arrival in the summer is crucial.

Virginia’s Mike London said he shared some of the Big Ten’s concerns regarding academic performance and would be open to further discussion of potential solutions, but he said those answers should start with an in-house focus on supporting students in the classroom.

“We all know the biggest transition is from high school to college,” London said. “It’s important to me that the structures you have in place — academic advising, mentoring, tutoring — that’s as critical as anything else, and if you’re successful there, you allow the student-athletes — particularly the freshmen — to come in and have success.”

Moreover, Fedora said he’d like to see schools raise their admissions standards for athletes to weed out those who would be most likely to struggle with academics.

“Raise your standards,” Fedora said. “Don’t just let anybody in. If they’re not academically ready, then don’t let them in.”

All but one coach polled suggested five years of eligibility on the field would allow coaches more wiggle room in developing their freshmen.

“I would make everybody eligible, and then your team will be a lot healthier,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “There would never be a situation where a kid would feel like he’s letting his teammates down. The communication would improve. Health and safety would improve, and I bet our graduation rates and the number of student-athletes leaving with postgraduate degrees would increase sharply, too.”

It’s a plan that was reiterated again and again by ACC coaches concerned with player safety, academics and, of course, winning.

The bottom line among all coaches, however, is that more discussion of these issues is required, and that input from the coaches dealing with student-athletes on a daily basis should be weighed as strongly as any broad statistics being used to tout academic struggles for freshmen.

“A lot of things we do, we change before they’re truly broken,” Cutcliffe said. “I hope they listen to reason. I’d hate to see [eligibility restrictions] happen.”
Replacing an All-American is never an easy task, but at Clemson, there is no real panic about life after Vic Beasley.

Not with Shaq Lawson ready to step right into the starting job at defensive end.

Lawson learned behind Beasley the last two seasons, and thrived in his role. He is far from an inexperienced youngster -- Lawson has played a combined 632 snaps in two years, making the most of his opportunities.

In fact, Lawson is one of just two players in school history to have at least 10 or more tackles for loss as a freshman and sophomore. Clemson Hall of Famer Anthony Simmons, who made the 50th Anniversary All-ACC team 2002, is the other.

[+] EnlargeShaq Lawson
AP Photo/John RaouxShaq Lawson has his sights set on reaching double-digit sacks in 2015.
Excellent company indeed. But what is remarkable about Lawson is he did it as a backup.

“I learned a lot from Vic since I got here,” Lawson said in a recent phone interview after practice. “He taught me how to be fast and aggressive. At this level, you need to be fast. He continued to push me every day, so that got me better.”

Lawson, a four-star prospect out of high school, had to spend one year at Hargrave Military Academy before arriving at Clemson in 2013. Being away from the Tigers that one year helped prepare him to have the patience to wait for his chance to start.

“I’ve been patient for a long time,” Lawson said. “When I got here, I was just being patient because I knew I was behind an All-American and I knew my time was coming. My time is here, so I’m going to make the most of my opportunity this year.”

Lawson wants to hit double-digit tackles for loss again this year, but the bigger challenge is ramping up his sacks. Beasley was incredibly gifted at getting off the line quickly, using his speed and athleticism to get past linemen and to the quarterback.

The last two years, Beasley totaled 25 sacks. Lawson wants to get to double-digit sacks himself in 2015. So far, his career-high is four sacks, set during his freshman year. To that end, Lawson has worked hard this offseason to get rid of his body fat and become leaner.

He changed his diet and dropped five pounds, down to 270. Lawson says he feels much faster and not as heavy as he did in the past. His get-off at the line has been a big area where he has felt a difference.

“That’s going to help me a lot so I can finish my rush and finish the sacks,” Lawson said. “That’s my main focus, just getting my body lean and be more of a pass-rusher because I can play the run.”

Lawson must also take a bigger leadership role, now that he is one of the veterans on the defense. Clemson lost all its starters on the defensive line, but the Tigers return many players like Lawson with valuable game experience.

Still, guys like Beasley and Grady Jarrett provided terrific leadership for the entire defense over the last several seasons, leaving a vacuum to fill.

“Shaq is going to be one of our leaders on defense,” coach Dabo Swinney told reporters this week. “Will he be the next Vic Beasley? He has really been productive his first two years. He and [offensive tackle] Isaiah Battle have really been competing and making both players better.”

The biggest goal for Lawson is not his own personal stats, but making sure the Clemson defense remains the elite unit it has become.

“We don’t have any drop-off in the D-line,” Lawson said. “We’ve got great linebackers: Ben Boulware played great for us last year in big games and B.J. Goodson's always been great. In the secondary, we’ve got everybody back. We feel like we’re getting better every day and we’re going to try to be the No. 1 defense again this year.”
video
Junior days are underway, and the spring evaluation period is quickly approaching. While a number of programs are off to a fast start and in need of keeping impressive commitments in the fold, there also are programs in need of creating momentum and battling archrivals on the trail this spring and headed into the summer.

Here is a look at 10 programs that need a big spring, for various reasons (listed alphabetically):

Florida
The Gators saved the 2015 class in the days leading up to national signing day creating some momentum heading into the spring and summer. The time to capitalize is now for Jim McElwain and staff, and Florida simply must continue to gain steam with archrival Florida State swinging a big recruiting stick in state, and Miami on a run headed into the spring evaluation period. Florida currently has three verbals, all outside the ESPN Junior 300.


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ACC morning links

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
9:00
AM ET
You do not have to look too hard to find the standard spring preview fare now that practices have begun across the country.

USA Today is the latest with its prospectus, covering the usual ground. But one particular item stood out. Scroll to the bottom and there are five impact newcomers listed. One is tight end Jerome Washington, a junior college transfer who played club football for Gattaca last year.

Miami coaches have been pleased what they have seen out of Washington so far in camp, but he is not the only tight end who has drawn praise. The Canes believe they are deep enough and talented enough at tight end to make up for the loss of Clive Walford, who finished second on the team with 676 yards receiving and seven touchdowns a year ago and is one of the highest-rated tight ends available for the NFL draft.

"Clive left us in a really good position because everybody in that room saw how much he grew as a player and a person," coach Al Golden told ESPN.com recently. "I'm really excited about that group."

Veteran Stan Dobard leads the group, but Golden also mentioned Chris Herndon, Jake O'Donnell, David Njoku and Washington. There is no doubt Miami has a group of big guys who are athletic. Dobard was a four-star recruit out of high school; Njoku competes in the high jump for the track team and just placed sixth at the ACC Indoor Track and Field championships. Washington, the No. 1 rated junior college tight end, certainly looks the part. At 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds, he has impressed his coaches in the early going.

"His ceiling is through the roof," tight ends coach Larry Scott told reporters in South Florida earlier this week. "He's already 260-plus pounds and you go 'Wow.' You get him out here and work with him and see him stride, see him do movements that big guys typically have a hard time doing or have to over years develop. He does it naturally. You look at yourself and shake your head and go, 'We've got a special one here.'"

But Scott cautioned that Washington is still a freshman and has much learning to do. Whether or not he can make an impact this season remains to be seen. But Miami will be asking its tight ends to step up with Walford gone. So a big opportunity awaits.

Elsewhere around the ACC:
  • A few Syracuse news items of interest. Defensive tackle Ryan Sloan has decided to leave the program after several incidents over the last few years made him realize Syracuse was not the right place for him. The Orange are really hurting for depth at the defensive tackle spot this spring. Marcus Coleman is also gone, thanks to foot injuries that cut his career short. Meanwhile, backup quarterback AJ Long told a local television station he expects to redshirt the 2015 season. Long was supposed to redshirt last year, but was forced to play when starting quarterback Terrel Hunt got hurt. Now that Hunt is healthy, it makes sense for the staff to try and get Long a redshirt year back.
  • Florida State picked up a commitment from a junior college linebacker for the class of 2016.
  • Louisville picked up a commitment from a 380-pound defensive tackle nicknamed "Big Snack."
  • NC State wants to continue to build on its recent success.
  • Virginia Tech running back Shai McKenzie has been suspended indefinitely after he was charged with two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
  • Wake Forest is going to be without the two cornerbacks expected to take over starting roles all spring.
  • This is not football related, but it is a must-read for anybody who uses the Internet. Bravo, Curt Schilling. Bravo.
  • We'll leave you with this quick video showing Clemson unveiling its latest tombstone, a tradition that pays tribute to each road win against a ranked opponent. Oklahoma was the latest "victim."
Perhaps no ACC team has as much intrigue this spring as North Carolina, which brought in Gene Chizik to revamp the defense and will go to battle without starting QB Marquise Williams, who is out for the spring with a hip injury. To get a feel for where the Heels are at, we talked with coach Larry Fedora about some of the biggest spring storylines.

David Hale: Last year, you talked a lot about how young your team was. Now those guys have a year of experience under their belts, can you tell a major difference?
Larry Fedora: It's interesting because as we talked about through our [morning] workouts, the guys who were struggling were always the newcomers who just entered school and the freshmen who hadn't been through the offseason workouts. The other guys are veterans. I see those guys have experience, they're comfortable, they're not feeling their way. They understand the expectation level and the amount of energy and work we're asking for them.

[+] EnlargeLarry Fedora
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeCoach Larry Fedora, who guided the Tar Heels to a 6-7 overall record last season, enters spring practices with a new coordinator and more experienced players.
Hale: Obviously bringing Chizik in changes a lot on defense. Have you seen a palpable sense of excitement from the D with him on board?
Fedora: In our whole team -- not just the defense. The entire team is excited about it, and the new guys on that defensive side of the ball -- they're just really, really excited about the new blood and basically starting from scratch with that.

Hale: How big of a transition from the previous system to Chizik's do you expect?
Fedora: I don't think there'll be a whole lot of carryover. It'll be quite a bit of newness for them, and that's one of the things they're excited about. Everybody has a clean slate and everybody gets to build their resume on a daily basis, from the time they step on campus.

Hale: Given the up-tempo style you run on offense, were you looking for a guy who could tailor a defense around that?
Fedora: For me, it was about finding the best defensive coordinator there is. A guy who could come in and I could turn it over and not be worried about what's going on on that side of the ball. Gene is obviously a proven defensive coordinator, who has had success everywhere he's been. That was an easy decision for me. The tempo and the amount of plays we run were not a factor for me.

Hale: How did the hire come about?
Fedora: After the season was over, I started looking into people. Gene was a guy I'd always had on my list, and I think a lot of people, it surprised them because Gene was working in TV at the time. But he's a guy I knew eventually would want to get back in, and I was hoping we were the right time and place for him. And we were.

Hale: What do you see as the biggest challenges for Chizik this spring?
Fedora: One of the things is we had two hybrid positions. Our bandits were a defensive end/linebacker that could rush and drop into coverage. We have to make a decision with those guys whether they're going to linebacker or D-end, and some of them are kind of 'tweeners, because that's what we were recruiting for. Same thing with our ram position. Those guys were safeties/linebackers. We have to find out where they're going to fit best also. There'll be some issues recruiting-wise we have to do to correct those things and recruit toward the philosophy where we're going now.

Hale: You probably want to make some quick decisions there to get guys into the weight room to prep for those new roles, right?
Fedora: Right. Some guys we've already talked about we need to add some weight, some need to drop some weight. But at the same time, Gene has to find where's the best fit for those guys. Where are they going to help us the most? Then we have to mold the defense and the system around what these guys can do because, no matter what, this is who's playing for us, and we've got to get the most out of them.

Hale: Last year, you didn't want to name Williams as your starting QB in the spring, but he turned in arguably the best statistical season of any ACC QB when the season began. How has your opinion of him changed?
Fedora: Marquise is our starting quarterback. That doesn't mean -- we still want competition. But he comes back as a starter in that position. We're still going to have somebody try to push him, but I think Marquise played very well last year, and we need to get him where he's completely healthy and playing at a high level consistently throughout the entire season.

Hale: You got some criticism for playing backup Mitch Trubisky a lot early in the season. Looking back, was that the right decision?
Fedora: I would not have changed the way we did that. It still benefited both players and benefited our team. If you go all the way into the Virginia game, it was a fourth-down call and on third down, Marquise's helmet got knocked off. Mitch came in and threw a touchdown pass on fourth down. If he hadn't had those reps, who knows? You always want your guys prepared. I think the way we did it last year was really good -- for Marquise, for Mitch and for our football team.

Hale: How much has Mitch improved?
Fedora: I think Mitch progressed throughout the entire year. He got better as we went and is doing a good job right now. He knows he's a play away.

Hale: The other big issue for you last season was on the offensive line, where you were especially young. Could that become an area of strength this season?
Fedora: We struggled. I don't mean to put everything on the offensive line, but being young, there were some games we were able to run the ball more effectively, and some we weren't, and a lot of that had to do with the youth up front. When you're trying to develop that many young kids, it's tough. When you're in the trenches, it's hard to play when you're really young. As far as the way those guys developed all year, I'm excited going into the spring. They all have experience. They're still developing, but they're not going to be wide-eyed. They're going to know what to do and I think you'll see them start to really excel up front.
The conference returns a number of experienced and talented quarterbacks, but for two of the ACC's top teams, there is an open competition at the position. Those competitions will define the spring for Florida State and Louisville and could define all of 2015. Those position battles highlight the conference's most intense competitions this spring.

1. Florida State starting quarterback
When Jameis Winston committed to the Seminoles, it was assumed the No. 1 high school quarterback would transition into the starting role after a redshirt year once EJ Manuel departed. There is not an obvious answer for who will follow Winston, however. Sean Maguire filled in admirably against Clemson under tough circumstances and against the top defense in 2014, but he still has much to prove. J.J. Cosentino was an ESPN 300 recruit and certainly has the build (6-foot-4, 234 pounds), but he redshirted as a freshman. De'Andre Johnson enrolled in January and could be a dark horse, but fellow freshman Deondre Francois, who will arrive in the summer, has the higher prep pedigree. John Franklin III could get some looks in the spring, but he spent most of last season at receiver.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill Gardner passed for 1,669 yards with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions in eight games for Louisville last season, but missed five games overall, including the final three.
2. Louisville starting quarterback
You might have better odds hitting the superfecta at Churchill Downs two months from now than accurately pegging who the Cardinals will start in the season opener. Will Gardner, who took the majority of snaps in 2014, is recovering from a torn ACL. Reggie Bonnafon collected a handful of starts as a true freshman, but he could not wrestle the starting gig from Gardner long term. Kyle Bolin showed promise against Kentucky in the regular-season finale but struggled in the bowl game against Georgia. Tyler Ferguson has followed Bobby Petrino around recently, so the transfer should have the offense down. Making it tougher on the three spring participants is the lack of experienced receivers. That will be another interesting position battle.

3. Georgia Tech's running backs
The Yellow Jackets are losing seven of their top nine leading rushers at running back, so aside from Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech's crowded backfield will have several new faces. Broderick Snoddy is the most experienced but is recovering from a devastating leg injury suffered in November. Snoddy has lightning speed and is a home-run threat with the ball in his hands. Dennis Andrews had only 16 carries in 2014, but he averaged 6.6 yards per carry. The name to watch is C.J. Leggett, who redshirted as a freshman last season but was highly rated coming out of high school.

4. Boston College's starting offensive line
Former offensive line coach Steve Addazio had the luxury of coaching five seniors along the line at certain points in 2014. The obvious flip side is that now he has to completely retool the offensive line, and the spring is the ideal time to start working on that chemistry. Guard Harris Williams returns from injury, but there are a number of question marks around him. Dave Bowen could be a solid bet to start at one of the tackle spots. Senior Frank Taylor could step in at center. Aside from Williams, though, nothing looks to be set in stone.

5. Clemson backup quarterback.
The Tigers probably have the conference's best quarterback, but Deshaun Watson has struggled to stay healthy since enrolling at Clemson. He suffered three significant injuries his first season, the last a torn ACL that will cost him spring practice. A year ago, the Tigers still had Cole Stoudt, who had started a handful of games. If Watson is not ready for the opener or has to miss any time in 2015, the Tigers' season could be in jeopardy. Nick Schuessler is a redshirt junior but a former walk-on who has thrown only 10 career passes. Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel are true freshmen who enrolled in January.

6. Miami running back
Duke Johnson, whose career will be celebrated at Miami for quite some time, is off to the NFL. Miami has a strong stable of running backs it can rely on to replace Johnson, but it remains to be seen who will get the majority of the carries. Joseph Yearby was one of the country's top running backs in the 2014 class and ran for more than 500 yards as a freshman. However, Gus Edwards could leave the spring with the starting gig. Edwards is a bigger back but is capable of running away from defenders. Mark Walton is enrolling in the coming months, and he was one of the top high school players in Florida last fall.

ACC morning links

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
9:00
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AthlonSports released its ACC spring preview this week, and writer Steven Lassan is not overlooking Florida State just yet.

In his pre-spring power rankings, Lassan has the Seminoles atop the Atlantic Division, listing the quarterback battle as the obvious top offseason priority. Despite winning the last three ACC titles, FSU has seemed to take a bit of a backseat this offseason to Clemson, the perceived early frontrunner in the division and the league.

Look no further than this space, where the four of us all picked the Tigers to win the Atlantic in our way-too early ACC predictions for 2015. We also -- well, three of us -- picked Georgia Tech to win the Coastal, and Lassan thinks no differently in his early spring power rankings though, as he points out, the Yellow Jackets do need to replace plenty of key figures at the skill position spots after last year's production.

One other interesting early slotting by Lassan? He has Duke at No. 6 in the Coastal, this after second- and first-place finishes in 2014 and 2013, respectively. There is certainly be plenty of turnover on both sides of the ball for the Blue Devils, so it will be interesting to see what David Cutcliffe does in his eighth year in Durham.

Here are the rest of your Wednesday links:
Naples High has enjoyed tremendous success under head coach Bill Kramer. With two state titles and numerous deep playoff runs, the Southwest Florida 6A power has become a must stop for college coaches having produced a number of national recruited prospects over the past decade.

In the 2016 class, there are a trio of prospects who rank among the best in the area, state and country.

Fils-aime hot on the trail despite injury in 2014

Headed into the 2014 season, ESPNJr300 running back Carlin Fils-aime was a name known to college coaches, and had a handful of offers. After injuring his ankle in Game 4 caused him to miss the rest of the season, the quick and powerful back was unsure what would come of his recruitment.

That question was answered in February with offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Auburn, and Florida.

"After I got injured, I didn’t really expect to get any more offers," Said Fils-aime. "When those schools offered me I was pretty shocked because of my injury."

The Gators are one of several schools the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder plans to visit in the coming weeks.

"For now, we are trying to go up to Florida during spring break, but if not will get up there in the summer. We also want to visit Georgia, North Carolina, N.C. State if we can this summer. I’ll probably fly up to Ohio State, too. I was just at Miami, and had a great time. I was impressed with how they rotated their backs in practice, and the basketball game against North Carolina was fun."

If there is one program yet to offer that could be a game-changer in the physical back's recruitment, it would be Stanford.

"I’m a big Stanford fan. I have always liked them because they have a great law program, and if football doesn’t work out for me, I want to go into law. That is one of the schools that I do love."

Naples High head coach Bill Kramer has had some really good backs through the years, including former Ohio State star Carlos Hyde. In Fils-aime, Kramer has a talented athlete who brings a lunch-pail mentality.

"I love his competitive DNA," Said Kramer. "He works in the classroom, and is already qualified. He’s a guy that you can count on, and it matters to him every day. Our defensive players say hitting him is like hitting a light pole. He’s can make plays in really small spaces, understands leverage, and is really explosive."

Byrd one of the nation's best

The Miami Hurricanes' 2016 class is the best in the nation in the early going. One of the 10 ESPNJr 300 verbals is former Florida pledge Tyler Byrd. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound versatile prospect is blessed with rare talent according to Kramer.

"I think he’s a Top 50 wide receiver and Top 10 corner. He’s really strong physically, he’s almost 6-feet even, you are not going to outleap him, and if he gets his hands on you, you are negated. He’ll do something about every day that is just spectacular."

Though Byrd is solid with his commitment to the Hurricanes due to the love that Al Golden and staff showed throughout the entire process, programs such as Florida, Georgia, Michigan, and others remain under consideration. On Monday, Byrd said he planned to make all five of his official visits.

Riley the best on defense at Naples High

While Fils-aime and Byrd are names known both regionally and nationally on the recruiting radar, Naples High is home to one of the top sleepers in the Sunshine State in safety Chris Riley.

According to Kramer, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound talented all-around athlete is the team's best defensive player, which is saying something considering Byrd is on that same unit.

"Our best defensive player, and that’s saying something because we have some really good players. He was Southwest Florida Defensive Player of the Year for good reason. He has tremendous length, he’s physical, knows all of his run fits, and is a great tackler. We can’t count how many one-on-one tackles he’s made in space against really good players. He can also cover man, is terrific in zone, and understands how it all works and fits together."

Riley is receiving interest from North Carolina, Boston College, and a growing list of others.

"I’ve heard from North Carolina, Boston College, Purdue, Georgia Tech, Harvard and Yale," Said Riley. "North Carolina and Boston College are two I really want [offers]."

Riley had 103 tackles and two interceptions as a junior, taking home area Defensive Player of the Year honors, as well as being an all-area punter. Riley’s father, Chris Riley, played quarterback at Connecticut.

Defensive tackle Colton Strickland and kicker Jerry Nunez are also expected to receive offers in the 2016 class.
DURHAM, N.C. -- Thomas Sirk is tall and lanky and baby-faced, and when he answers questions about his spring performance and his role as the heir apparent to Duke’s starting quarterback job, he’s adept at breaking down his strengths and weaknesses with the kind of nervous charisma reserved for a job interview. Self-awareness is a crucial ingredient for improvement, he says.

Sirk’s personality neatly summarizes the quarterback situation at Duke this spring. For the first time since David Cutcliffe arrived as head coach in 2008, there is no clear-cut, experienced passer waiting in the wings, but in the locker room, that is of little concern. Instead, there is a sense of excitement about what’s to come -- a taste of the unknown for the first time in years at that position, but also a sense that the ceiling for Sirk and the rest of his quarterback competitors is incredibly high.

[+] EnlargeThomas Sirk
Fabian Radulescu/Icon SportswireThomas Sirk tops Duke's spring QB depth chart, but Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre are also competing to replace departed starter Anthony Boone.
"It’s somewhat like when we came in here and winning wasn’t in anybody’s vocabulary," said Cutcliffe, who has led Duke to three straight bowl games after the program had a 17-year postseason hiatus. "It’s going to be fun. The skill set is fun for us, because it allows us to look at a few things we’d like to do differently because of the athleticism of these guys."

Cutcliffe inherited a veteran quarterback upon arrival and has worked to groom a successor each season since. Not since 2006 has Duke opened a season with a starting quarterback who had fewer than 50 career pass attempts. This year, the depth chart includes players with a combined 16 throws in their careers.

That has complicated the locker-room dynamic a bit, as Sirk, Parker Boehme, and Nico Pierre jockey for position on the depth chart in hopes of replacing Anthony Boone, who had been one of Duke’s unquestioned leaders on offense. On the field, things are actually running pretty smoothly.

"I feel mentally and physically prepared for that role," Sirk said of his spot atop the spring depth chart. "Stepping into some big-game situations last year definitely prepared me. And the way that we practice is so much like a game that if you can just transfer it over to the field, you’ll play at a high level."

Sirk did get his share of snaps last season. He scored eight rushing touchdowns as the change-of-pace and red-zone quarterback behind Boone. That was crucial in getting his feet wet in a pressure-packed situation, Cutcliffe said, but the limited role undersold just how dynamic the redshirt junior might be this season.

"Thomas’ skill set -- all of it is good," Cutcliffe said. "He’s strong-armed, accurate, he’s got great size, and he has outstanding speed. He’ll be the fastest starting quarterback I’ve ever coached. From a character, intelligence, reliability, accountability sense, they’re through the roof."

If that makes it sound like the competition for the starting job is already over, Boehme would emphatically disagree.

The redshirt sophomore got a taste of action last season but threw just two passes, and he has spent the spring mostly working with the No. 2 offense. Still, he’s not conceding the starting job to his more experienced teammate.

"It’s good competition at every position, but especially the quarterback position," Boehme said. "It’s been clear it’s an open spot."

Of course, even if Boehme isn’t the starter, he’ll see action.

Last season, Sirk had 61 touches as the backup. The year before, Brandon Connette played in every game, accounting for 27 touchdowns. In 2012, Boone was a regular on the field while backing up Sean Renfree. Cutcliffe wants his No. 2 quarterback to get plenty of work, and that won’t change this season, he said.

With that in mind, this spring has been something of a trial-by-fire -- if not to identify the clear-cut No. 1, then certainly to ensure two quarterbacks are ready for what lies ahead.

Not only did Duke lose Boone, but two crucial members of the offensive line are gone, too. So Cutcliffe has turned his pass rush loose, looking to confuse and frustrate his new faces on offense. So far, it’s been a fun battle.

"Our defense has thrown a lot at us this spring," Sirk said. "I think we’ve done a good job of keeping up, keeping track of their blitzes, handling their pressures and responding how we need to."

After each play, Sirk, Boehme and Pierre saunter back toward their coaches and face the interrogation. What was the coverage? Where did the blitz come from? Who was your hot read?

"He stays on us, throwing the ball and making the right reads," Sirk said of Cutcliffe. "He does a great job making sure we get the ball out of our hands quick, and afterward, he wants us to come back and tell him what the coverage has been."

As spring winds down in Durham, Cutcliffe has been pleased with how many of these tests his young quarterbacks have passed.

This isn’t the old days at Duke, when a rare talent walks out the door and the cupboards are left bare. Cutcliffe sees a world of possibility in Sirk and Boeheme, and though the questions will linger at the position until they have both seen enough work on game day to allay any doubts, Cutcliffe isn’t the least bit concerned.
Games are won in the fall. But the foundations for great plays, and great seasons, are often built behind the scenes in the spring and summer months. With spring ball already underway at a few ACC stops, we're taking a look at some of the players who have plenty to prove on the field in the coming weeks and months.

Sean Maguire. The race to replace Jameis Winston will draw no shortage of attention in Tallahassee. And the man currently at the top of the pecking order, at least experience-wise, is Maguire, a redshirt junior. Starting in place of the suspended Winston in FSU's biggest game of the year, at home in September against Clemson, Maguire had an up-and-down performance: 21-of-39 passing for 304 yards with one touchdown and two picks in an overtime win. Still, that's more than anyone else on the roster can show right now, and it's up to Maguire to fend off highly-touted challengers J.J. Cosentino (redshirt freshman) and De'Andre Johnson (freshman).

[+] EnlargeTallahassee, FL - September 20, 2014 - Doak Campbell Stadium: Sean Maguire (10) of the Florida State University Seminoles during a regular season game (Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesStarting in place of a suspended Jameis Winston, Sean Maguire led the Seminoles to an overtime win against Clemson last season.
Stacy Coley. Remember this guy? Let's refresh your memory: As a freshman in 2013, Coley burst onto the scene for Miami, catching 33 passes for 591 yards and seven touchdowns, while also returning a punt and a kickoff for a score. (And rushing for one more, too.) Then he had a sophomore slump in 2014: Just 23 catches for 184 yards, with no scores. A shoulder injury was partly to blame, but the dropoff was still perplexing. If Coley can regain his rookie form and connect with reigning ACC rookie of the year Brad Kaaya, that could certainly open things up for the Hurricanes' offense moving forward.

Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell. Mizzell has been stellar and versatile through two seasons at Virginia, leading all ACC running backs last season with 39 catches. Still, more is expected of a former ballyhooed recruit than 280 rushing yards, which Mizzell totaled last year. And as Mizzell enters his junior year in a crucial season for the Cavalier program, he needs to make the leap from good to great, especially with Kevin Parks now out of the picture.

Jabari Hunt-Days. Hunt-Days missed the 2014 season because of an academic issue, a big setback for a player who had notched seven stops behind the line of scrimmage as a sophomore in 2013 -- after earning several freshman All-America honors the year before. He's a fifth-year senior now, and the defensive lineman could be the big playmaker who brings Georgia Tech's defense up a level in 2015. (His brother, Synjyn Days, certainly set a nice example in 2014 with a strong senior year for the Yellow Jackets.)

Josh Harvey-Clemons. Spots are open for the taking in Louisville's secondary, and few may be in better position to take advantage than Harvey-Clemons, the former ESPN four-star prospect. The safety was dismissed from Georgia last winter following multiple violations of team rules and reunited with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham with the Cardinals. Despite missing two games in 2013, Harvey-Clemons led the SEC with three fumble recoveries, adding 5.5 tackles for loss and one pick. The talent is obviously there. Now eligible, Harvey-Clemons must perform for the Cards.

Al-Quadin Muhammad. Now a redshirt sophomore at Miami, Muhammad is back with the Hurrricanes after a semester-long university-issued suspension last fall. The former ESPN four-star prospect said he never contemplated transferring, and coaches and teammates have stuck by the lineman. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder has changed his jersey number from No. 98 to No. 8, and he certainly possesses the physical tools necessary to make an impact up front on the Canes' defense, for whom he tallied a pair of sacks as a true freshman when he last took the field, in 2013.

Everett Golson. Golson struggled down the stretch in 2014 for Notre Dame, with all 22 of his turnovers coming in the final nine regular-season games, leading to Malik Zaire starting the Irish's bowl against LSU. Both quarterbacks played in the win, but Golson -- who had begun his college career with a 16-1 as a starter -- will have no shortage of suitors elsewhere if he chooses to leave Notre Dame. In order to do that, though, he must first graduate, something he has said he is on track to accomplish this spring. If Golson wins the job back soon, does that mean he likely stays? If the starting job remains unclear as he gets his diploma, does he take his chances elsewhere? Stay tuned.

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