Florida State's Jimbo Fisher is a national championship-winning coach, but his popularity is just now spiking after bringing an old southern tradition to national light.

NBC's "The Today Show" hosts Kathi Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb are the latest to experiment with salted peanuts in a glass bottle of Coke, referencing Florida State's Fisher as the reason for the seemingly puzzling mixture's popularity (around the 4:30 mark).

At the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Monday, Fisher opened his session with the media with a bit of nostalgia, reminiscing about dumping peanuts in his Coke bottles while growing up in West Virginia. As reporters queried Fisher as to its origin and, frankly, as to why, Fisher was shocked there were some who have never heard of it.

Three separate times during his interview Fisher discussed the southern ... drink? snack? treat? When I asked about it midway through, he responded, "How about that -- people didn't know about putting peanuts in a Coke. You believe that? This generation now. Golly."

If it's an old southern tradition, credit Fisher's ranting for raising its profile north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of Texas.

"It's very salty sweet. I get it," Gifford said after trying it during Friday morning's segment.

Last year, Coca-Cola published an article trying to trace the history of the combination. I won't spoil the theories for you.

And as word spread in Tallahassee, Florida, of Fisher's repartee with the media, local restaurant and bar Madison Social, which sits in the shadow of Doak Campbell Stadium, picked up a bottle of peanuts and some Coke, Diet Coke and orange soda. The orange soda is a wrinkle in all of this -- who would have thought there would be layers -- as former coach Bobby Bowden supposedly drops his peanuts into orange soda bottles.

Madison Social tweeted a picture of the ingredients, and general manager Jason Walker said they were offered free samples to customers Tuesday.

"Some people loved it, some people hated it. It was a good reaction," said Walker, who said it tastes like vanilla Coke to him. "It brought some people in and made them aware of it, and it's becoming a thing around Tallahassee people are starting to do."

If Nick Saban wears the Luigi hat, then maybe we can get Fisher in the Planters Mr. Peanut top hat and monocle.

 
Earlier this week, I asked: Will Miami win the Coastal Division? Over 3,000 votes were cast, and the overwhelming majority say absolutely not.

Let's dig into the mailbag to see what you had to say.

Richard in Raleigh writes: You mentioned Miami had far too many concerns to overlook to be named the preseason Coastal favorites. Can this not also be said for the other 5 teams with a shot of winning the Coastal?

Andrea Adelson: Absolutely. But the Miami Hurricanes have a backbreaking schedule; and headed into the season, I am more confident in the quarterbacks for four of those teams (Duke Blue Devils, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels). As for the Virginia Tech Hokies, as long as their defense plays up to standards, the Hokies will always be in contention.




Ryan in Charlotte writes: Agree with Duke winning the Coastal. Duke's D-Line lost three, but I really don't think there will be a huge drop off in terms of production. Miami has an incompetent coaching staff, otherwise they should win it and [Frank] Beamer for not getting a real offensive coordinator prevents VT from being the favorite. Carolina every year is projected to win it and chokes consistently despite NFL talent. GT is also underrated, [Paul] Johnson has never finished lower than third in his time at GT. Pitt lost their QB and [Aaron] Donald, don't see them as being a dark horse. All of this coming from a die-hard Duke Fan.

Patrick Clark in Durham, North Carolina, writes: I'm quite surprised that you and I seem to be in the minority picking Duke to win the Coastal. Duke returns their top three tacklers, All-ACC WR Jamison Crowder, and are one of only three teams in the conference to return their starting QB in senior Anthony Boone. Throw in one of the easiest schedules in the conference and it seems to me, if you're able to put past history and stigmas aside, that Duke is the obvious choice to represent the Coastal Division and make it back to Charlotte. Are we crazy?

Adelson writes: Crazy like foxes!




Jason Freeman in Cumming, Georgia, writes: I would just like to know the insistence on picking a UNC, Miami, and now Duke! Until Duke did it last year, there has been only TWO schools that have represented the Coastal. And one of them is absolutely NEVER picked, I think you know which one I'm talking about! But what baffles me is, Duke is the favorite this season, but Georgia Tech went to Duke and embarrassed them, one of only two teams that beat them in the regular season! ... Oh and by the way, Georgia Tech beat the only other team to beat Duke in the regular season last year! And I know that Johnson isn't living up to what we thought he would do after the first two seasons. Keeping that in mind, we then were picked at the bottom in the Coastal and way surpassed expectations! But the same teams keep getting these exaggerated picks, and constantly fall under what is expected of them.

Rich in Atlanta writes: Shocking...that the media would pick Miami for the Coastal. Also funny that UNC & VT are ahead of GT. Duke maybe. Year after year, GT has the No. 1 offense in points and yardage for the Coastal (No. 1 in both categories again last year). What everyone is overlooking is that GT had the No. 2 defense in those categories last year only trailing VT. GT's average finishing rank in the Coastal is second since Coach Johnson arrived. D is on the upswing, O will produce as it always does. When has CPJ's O not been No. 1 in Coastal? Never.

Ryan in New York City writes: I'm definitely not one to downplay the Canes' woes of the last several seasons, particularly on defense. But I think most people are being really unfair in their evaluation of [Jake] Heaps. He had a very solid freshmen year at BYU before transferring due to a scheme change. Then he went to play for one of the worst coaches (Charlie Weis) at one of the worst programs (Kansas) where he got no help from his O-Line or receivers. At the very least, he's a mature player who has experienced a lot of different schemes, and will be in an offense with playmakers EVERYWHERE around him. By no means do I expect us to win the division (particularly because of the complete lack of defense), but I expect Heaps to earn the starting nod and surprise some people early in the season.

Phil in New York writes: Duke Johnson. Anthony Chickillo. Stacy Coley. Clive Walford. Phillip Dorsett. Herb Waters. Tyriq McCord. Tracy Howard.Get ready for your Coastal champs - the University of Miami Hurricanes!!!

CaliNative in SF/Miami writes: Miami and Virginia have the hardest conference schedules in the Coastal this year (Virginia's is harder because they play @FSU instead of UL). But my question is do you think if you switch Duke (or even VTech's) and Miami's schedule, do you think Miami becomes the overwhelming favorites? I mean Duke's schedule is set up only to lose to VT, UNC, and Miami. I think Miami (and UNC) are just set up so that they have to sweep the Coastal, or only have one loss, to win it. And honestly, that is the only reason I can see for not having Miami or UNC winning the Coastal.

Adelson writes: The schedule Miami has to play would be difficult for any team. One of the reasons why the Hurricanes want a nine-game league schedule is to even out the slate a little more for everyone. They have to play the Florida State Seminoles every year; their Coastal brethren don't. If Duke played Miami's schedule, then I would not pick the Blue Devils. Schedule is a huge reason why I think Duke has an edge, as I stated in the post. The schedule you play impacts how you finish, no matter how talented you are.




Al in Florida writes: You love to talk Miami down don't you, AA? I don't blame you, I would still be salty if I was a Gator fan. All Miami needs at QB is someone to get the ball to the playmakers without turning the ball over. We have the playmakers, more so than FSU or Clemson. Plus our O-line isn't too shabby. If (James) Coley can improve the O and if (Mark D'Onofrio's) D is half as good as it was last year, you can buy me a beer in North Carolina come December.

AJ Brown in Plantation, Fla., writes: The one true reason in my mind that Miami is favored to win the Coastal is because you can't ignore the talent that Miami possesses. Firstly, Miami has the best group of receivers RIGHT NOW in the entire ACC. That means that whoever starts at QB for Miami does not have to be STELLAR, but a game manager instead. Last year, the problem Miami had on offense was that Stephen Morris could not make the right reads and could not make the intermediate throws. Often times he was a one-trick pony who could only throw the deep ball. Jake Heaps, for example, may not have the arm or the pretty deep ball, but he can make the intermediate throws that Morris could not. As far as the defense, Miami SHOULD BE a lot better because of addition by subtraction. Miami had starters on the defense last season who had absolutely no business starting, like Tyrone Cornelius, Shayon Green, Jimmy Gaines, Kacy Rodgers and AJ Highsmith. The players replacing them are without a doubt more talented with way more athleticism, like Dallas Crawford, Jermaine Grace, Quan Muhammad, Jamal Carter, Tyriq McCord etc. Bottom line is, I don't think you can compare the talent level between Miami and Duke as Miami has a clear advantage there. I'm not saying Miami WILL win the Coastal, but I think you're drinking too much Blue Devil Kool-Aid because you're looking at Duke's Cinderella year from last season and the fact that they're returning their starting QB.

Adelson writes: I could not resist a parting shot. Duke beat the far more talented Miami head-to-head a year ago.

Why Miami will win Coastal

July, 25, 2014
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The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are vast. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why Miami will win the Coastal:

1. They have recruited the best. Steve Spurrier says the recruiting rankings are usually right, so, first off, pat on the back RecruitingNation. If it was sarcasm, Steve, keep it to yourself. Miami would like to think so, too, as no program in the Coastal has recruited better than the Hurricanes despite the NCAA sanctions. In four out of the last five cycles, Miami has had the best class among Coastal teams. The only time they didn’t finish first is when Golden was hired two months before signing day in 2011. This most recent class finished in the top 10, and the 2013 class had budding star Stacy Coley and Al-Quadin Muhammad, who could make a national name for himself this fall. The 2012 class finished No. 8 nationally, and as third-year players it is time for them to become the core group that will elevate Miami to a conference championship game.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDuke Johnson rushed for 920 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry through eight games before his 2013 season was cut short by a fractured ankle.
2. Duke Johnson is 100 percent healthy. Miami’s offense is a question mark going into the season. A case can be made for four different quarterbacks to be the starter opening day. One thing Golden won’t need to worry about is the player behind his signal-caller. Johnson said he felt 100 percent last month and will be ready for preseason practice. He is the conference’s best running back and will challenge the 100-yard mark in every game this season. Golden and Johnson agree the junior running back is even better than he was a year ago and won’t come off the field often. When he does, Johnson is doing his best to make sure there is little to no drop in production. He regrets not preparing Miami’s younger running backs last season before his injury, so he has taken Joseph Yearby, the No. 4 running back in the 2014 class nationally, under his wing.

3. There is talent on defense. Canes fans hoped Golden would relieve Mark D’Onofrio as defensive coordinator at the end of last season, but Golden refused to fire his long-time friend. The defense will have to be markedly better for D’Onofrio to return to Miami fans’ good graces, but there are capable players throughout the defense, especially in the back seven. Denzel Perryman is one of the conference’s best linebackers as a tackler and in pass coverage. Cornerback Tracy Howard and Deon Bush are coming into their own in the defensive backfield. And maybe this is the season Anthony Chickillo puts it all together.

Why Miami won’t win the Coastal

1. They don’t have a starting quarterback. The sense around Coral Gables is Ryan Williams needs to return from his April knee surgery as quickly as he can. Golden and Johnson made it clear redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen still has a lot to prove, not only on the field but as a leader. Jake Heaps is eligible to play right away but he’s been the college equivalent of a journeyman, bouncing from program to program. Brad Kaaya was a blue-chip prep quarterback but has not been on campus long. It’s rare for a team to win a conference championship with shaky quarterback play, and, outside of Wake Forest, no team is worse at the position right now than the Canes. If Williams returns after missing only a few games or Olsen can step up during preseason drills and just manage the game, Johnson might be able to carry Miami all the way to Charlotte.

2. The defensive line is still shaky. The hope is Chickillo will live up to the expectations that followed him when he arrived at Miami, but he’s been inconsistent in his career. Muhammad has the promise and look of a great lineman, but he’ll still take his lumps early in his sophomore season. Golden looked to the junior college ranks for help and signed Calvin Heurtelou, but determining the impact of a juco prospect in their first year is a guessing game. If the defensive line does not improve, chances are it won’t matter how talented the back seven of the defense is. Bush and Howard cannot cover all day, and Perryman will be far less effective when the running back is charging at him with a 300-pound lineman lead blocking.

3. The schedule could be an issue. The hope is Williams returns by the Nebraska game Sept. 20, but if he does not it could put Miami in an early hole. The Canes open up the season at Louisville in a Monday night game, and it is the Cardinals’ first game as an ACC team. Expect a wild atmosphere in what could be a Week 1 loss for Miami. The week after the nonconference Nebraska game, Miami plays host to Duke, the reigning Coastal champions. If Williams does not play in that game, will Miami be able to score enough points to hang with Duke? If he does, will he have shaken off the rust in time? It could be a double-edged sword. Miami also has to play at Virginia Tech in prime time on a Thursday, and let’s not forget the annual rivalry game against Florida State. The Seminoles are going to be the preseason No. 1 team in all likelihood.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Steve Addazio is looking for the quarterback who is going to return Boston College to the consistent nine- and 10-win seasons of a decade ago. Of course he will have all the physical tools and on-field IQ, but Addazio wants intangibles. He wants a quarterback who has "it" -- something as hard to define as it is cliché.

Simply put, Addazio says, he is looking for Tim Tebow.

“When I saw Tim Tebow, I watched him play in high school and will never forget it. To me your quarterback has to have the ‘it factor,’ and I’ve never seen a guy with the ‘it factor’ more in my life,” Addazio said. “It was oozing off his uniform. I saw him put his whole team on his back and win. He was going to lead and win championships.”

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
AP Photo/Mary SchwalmBoston College coach Steve Addazio was on the staff at Florida when the Gators landed quarterback Tim Tebow.
“… I talk to our [Boston College] staff all the time about this. We got to be right about this. One of those young guys needs to be a guy that can win a championship for you. If you don’t do that, you struggle.”

The Eagles’ coaching staff has brought in five quarterbacks since Addazio was named coach following the 2012 season. Four quarterbacks have signed out of high school and Tyler Murphy transferred to Boston College from Florida, where Addazio coached from 2005-10.

Legendary Boston College quarterback Doug Flutie certainly qualifies as a player with intangibles rarely seen in college football, and Addazio is hoping it’s genetic. Troy Flutie, the nephew of Doug, is a freshman with the Eagles.

“I think he does,” Addazio said when asked if Troy has the intangibles he covets. “Obviously we didn’t take him because of his size (6-foot, 178 pounds), but he’s a gym rat and I think he’s got a lot of that it in him. That’s why we took him.”

Addazio admits it is an inexact science and it’s the type of decision that can lift a program to new heights or get a staff fired. A common gripe among coaches is they don’t get to spend enough time with recruits to get a strong enough read on a player’s character. Putting a program in the hands of such an unknown is frightening and Addazio said determining whether a quarterback can lead a team to a title is the “$60 million question.”

It can be a divisive debate among staff, and Addazio witnessed that in 2005 as Florida was recruiting Tebow. Addazio was the offensive line coach on Urban Meyer’s staff, which also included Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen as the offensive coordinator. But it was defensive coach Greg Mattison that went to bat for Tebow when the staff considered passing on him. Even in high school coaches questioned whether Tebow was a better quarterback or linebacker. Addazio said Tebow was a tough sell to the entire staff.

“Thanks to Greg Mattison we got Tebow,” Addazio said, “because Greg stood on the table and pounded the table, like you guys are nuts we got to take Tebow.

“Nuts right? A lot of people got a lot of jobs because of that.”
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Jameis Winston's dad and his coach have said this season won’t be the reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s last at Florida State, but the Seminoles’ star quarterback isn’t willing to go that far.

Winston, a redshirt sophomore and eligible for the 2015 draft, dodged the question when asked at the ACC Kickoff.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJameis Winston is focused on the 2014 season, not any decisions he'll face after it.
"Well you know, four years, I can't really focus on that right now. I can't tell you about the past, I can't tell you about the future, but I can tell you about right now,” he said. “Right now it's about us developing as a team, us having another successful season, us getting the young guys regrouped, watching film, getting them doing their thing because I can't predict the future."

Throughout the spring, Fisher cautioned that it was not a foregone conclusion Winston would depart for the NFL following the 2014 season. Winston’s dad, Antonor, told AL.com last month that Winston will play two more seasons of football and remain in school “until he gets that degree.”

A talented baseball player, Winston closed for the Seminoles’ baseball team this past spring. At the ACC Kickoff, Winston was asked if he would prefer to go to the NFL straight out of high school. High school players are eligible for the MLB draft. Winston was the No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2012, although he acknowledges he would not have been prepared for the NFL without spending a few seasons in college.

"With baseball, they have so many leagues that develop them into being that players that they want, the minor leagues. There aren't that many Bryce Harpers in the world that can go at 17 and play in the [minor leagues],” Winston said. “Football, it's a team-oriented sport. This game is so strategic. I respect that we can't leap into the NFL. … We know before you go up there, you have to be truly ready. Baseball is more individual based.”

The movement to compensate college student-athletes in revenue sports is reaching a tipping point with the conference autonomy and the O’Bannon trial, but Winston isn’t interested in profiting off his likeness just yet. Florida State recently made its redesigned jerseys for sale, and Winston’s No. 5 jersey is on the front page of the athletic department’s official online store.

The No. 1 player on Mel Kiper’s 2015 Big Board, Winston said he is fine waiting for his payday.

"One thing about college is we're blessed to get a free education. That's the most important thing college gives you,” Winston said. “… My job as a Florida State Seminole is to be a good student first and an athlete second. So that scholarship we get every year, that's enough money for me. My love is for the game and one day, hopefully, god willing, I will have the opportunity to have football as my job and baseball being my job."

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 25, 2014
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'Tis the season to compile lists, fa-la-la ...

You get the point. In the absence of practice reports and games, we need something to do in the summer until football actually begins. So we make lists. Lots of lists. This one is a pretty fun, light read: Top revenge games for 2014. Because who doesn't love exacting revenge?

One ACC game makes the list. And it's a bit surprising.

Duke-Virginia Tech.

I suppose the Hokies do want to exact a measure of revenge on the Blue Devils, whose shocking win in Blacksburg last season helped propel them to the Coastal Division title. It was Virginia Tech's first loss to Duke since 1981. They meet again Nov. 16 in Durham, North Carolina, and just about everybody believes there will be ACC championship game implications at stake when they play.

Still, the Duke-Virginia Tech matchup does not exactly scream revenge the way most of the others on the list do. After all, this game has actually meant something just once. The shock factor clearly put this game on a different level.

Now, here are some choices for top revenge games in the ACC:

Boston College-Syracuse: BC coach Steve Addazio said last season's last-second loss to Syracuse was one of the toughest of his career. Syracuse scored with 6 seconds left to win 34-31. The Eagles surely want payback.

North Carolina-East Carolina: The Tar Heels came completely unraveled in a shocking 55-31 loss to the Pirates last season. It was East Carolina's first win in Chapel Hill since 1975.

Miami-Louisville: The Hurricanes are still smarting from their embarrassing performance in a 36-9 loss to the Cardinals in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Revenge could be served up in Week 1.

Let's take a look at other headlines across the ACC:

Take 2: Too negative at Georgia Tech?

July, 25, 2014
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As ACC Kickoff wound to a close on Monday, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson relaxed in a chair surrounded by just a handful of reporters that had largely run out of topics to discuss. Finally, Johnson was asked what he would change about his job, if he could change just one thing.

He hemmed and hawed and considered simply moving on, but after a bit he conceded that the tenor among fans in Atlanta was often, in his opinion, too negative, while people outside of Tech territory seem to be a bit more upbeat on the program.

That got us to thinking: Are things really so bad at Georgia Tech or are fans ignoring the successes the program has enjoyed? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and David Hale dish out both sides of the debate.

Adelson says Georgia Tech deserves more credit: It is easy to see why the chorus against Johnson is growing. Georgia Tech has won nine games just once in the last five years, and there has been roster and coaching staff turnover over the last two.

But perspective is in order here.

First, Georgia Tech has been to a school-record 17 straight bowl games, the third-longest active streak in the country. Only Florida State and Virginia Tech have longer streaks.

Second, the Jackets have gone .500 or better in conference play in 19 consecutive seasons, the longest conference streak in the country. Just two seasons ago, Georgia Tech nearly upset Florida State in the ACC championship game, then took down USC in the Sun Bowl.

So my question then is this; what exactly will make his critics happy?

Georgia Tech is in contention for the ACC championship every single season, and has been a lock to make a bowl for nearly two decades. Obviously, winning another ACC championship and breaking a long losing streak to Georgia are at the top of the list.

But on the other hand, Johnson knows how to win football games. He has posted two losing seasons in 17 total years as a head coach, in his first year at Navy and with the Jackets in 2010. He has won two division titles and made a BCS game during his time at Georgia Tech. In six seasons, he has won 47 games, fourth-best in the league behind Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech.

SportsNation

Is Georgia Tech meeting reasonable expectations from fans?

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    26%
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    57%

Discuss (Total votes: 968)

If the standard is to win games, be competitive in the ACC and get to bowls, Johnson has hit that mark every single year. If the standard is to make yearly BCS games, well Johnson has failed -- along with every other coach in America.

Realistic expectations are in order here. Georgia Tech has continued to win games with Johnson in charge. The Jackets have also graduated players at a much better clip, earning NCAA Public Recognition Awards in consecutive years for finishing in the top 10 percent among all FBS programs in the Academic Progress Rate.

It is pretty rare for a winning coach at program that is outside the Top 25 (and the SEC for that matter) to be fired for not winning enough. Look at Tom O’Brien, fired after three straight bowl appearances at NC State. Dave Doeren comes in last season and goes 3-9, winless in ACC play. The Wolfpack were picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic this year.

Is that an alternative the Jackets would want?

Hale says the Jackets can do better: As we get into this debate, I’m reminded of the words of former Georgia Tech AD Dave Braine, who said the Yellow Jackets “could win nine or 10 games but they will never do that consistently.” Those words helped end Braine’s tenure, but in the eight years since he departed, they’ve pretty much defined exactly what Georgia Tech has been on the football field.

So the question of whether Georgia Tech is meeting its potential is really two-fold: First, is the occasional 10-win season surrounded by years of six or seven or eight victories really Tech’s cap? And, if so, is Johnson doing enough to meet that expectation?

I’d argue the answer is no on both points.

Yes, Tech has hurdles that other ACC schools may not. Its academic standards are high while it’s forced to compete directly with powerful SEC programs in the area. But Tech is also located in some of the nation’s most fertile recruiting territory, and while not all athletes are eager to spend their college years in the big city, Atlanta offers a big selling point to some. Yes, academics can be an issue -- but that hasn’t stopped Stanford or Notre Dame or, lately, even Duke from hitting that 10-win platform and bringing in more prominent recruits.

But let’s not even focus on landing five-star athletes at Tech. From 2010 through 2013, Johnson scored just six four-star recruits (per ESPN rankings). Those six players have combined to start just 13 games -- all by Vad Lee, who transferred after last season. In fact, three of those six four-star signees are no longer with the program.

It’s tough to even credit Johnson (and his staff) for developing three-star recruits into stars. Tech had three players taken in this year’s draft, which brings the total number of Johnson recruits selected during his tenure to four.

There’s also the sheer number of players who aren’t sticking around. That was already the topic of discussion earlier this week when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that 13 Georgia Tech players have departed since the end of the 2013 season.

A lot of these personnel issues can be hidden by Johnson’s unique offensive strategy, and thus Georgia Tech has sustained some measure of consistency on the field. But while the offense has survived, the defense has been mediocre at best and dismal at its worst. Since 2010, only Duke has allowed more yards-per-play than Georgia Tech.

And then there are the wins and the losses. Yes, Tech has continued to make it to a bowl game each year, and that’s no easy task. Of course, it was easy enough for 11 of the ACC’s 14 teams to do it last season. But since 2010, Georgia Tech is 21-21 against teams from automatic-qualifier conferences. It has lost eight of its last nine bowl games. It has lost 12 of 13 to rival Georgia, including blowing a 20-0 lead in last year’s game.

Johnson is correct when he says that people probably undervalue what Georgia Tech has done, but that’s really part of the problem. He’s not selling recruits on the program, he’s not winning his showcase games and, as he said, he’s not convincing the hometown fans that the future is bright. The Yellow Jackets’ success has made for some interesting bits of trivia, but even Braine would probably admit the program can do better than that.
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – If you need to find Quayshawn Nealy this summer, head to the Georgia Tech College of Computing.

Then look for the big football player filing reports and shredding paper.

Nealy had some downtime while taking two classes and working out, so he decided to get a job. That is a bit unusual for athletes, who generally have a tough time finding any free time between all their responsibilities. Nealy is an even more exceptional case.

He has had a job three summers in a row, all while finding a way to get his assignments done and grow into one of the better linebackers in the ACC. Over the past several months, Nealy has worked every day as an office assistant for a few hours. But that is pretty light work compared to what he did the past two years.

After his redshirt freshman season, Nealy decided to get a job for the first time in his life. He worked as a parking attendant at the historic Fox Theatre, collecting money and handing out receipts. When asked whether that job got a thumbs up or thumbs down, Nealy laughed.

“Thumbs up, because I was getting money,” he said.

It is safe to say he enjoyed collecting parking fees and risking paper cuts better than the internship he had last year, working as a telephone operator in a large call center just outside Athens, Georgia. Every day, he and a group of teammates would carpool one hour to the office building, trying to sell HP products to third-party vendors.

Nealy dealt with a barrage of hang ups and a lot of nos. On top of that, he was in enemy territory. Lots and lots of Bulldogs around.

“It was a good experience, but it wasn’t for me,” Nealy said.

Despite the setbacks, Nealy did make a few sales. As a business management major, the experience is one he would never trade.

Neither is the chance to earn some extra spending money, either.

By the numbers: Dominant DBs

July, 24, 2014
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Let’s begin with a little either-or exercise.

Below are the basic stats for two defensive backs — tackles, tackles for loss, interceptions and passes defended. If forced to choose Player A or Player B for your team, which one would you want?

Player A: 121 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 INTs, 8 PD
Player B: 49 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD

Look over the numbers for a minute or 10, but really, it should’t take that long. It’s pretty clear that by any of our regularly deployed metrics, Player A is a clear frontrunner, right?

But here’s where it gets a little tricky. Player A is Duke safety Jeremy Cash, and those gaudy numbers from 2013 earned him a spot on the media’s preseason All-ACC team.

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State's Jalen Ramsey isn't on the preseason All-ACC team. Was it an oversight?
The funny thing, however, is after that happened, a whole host of fans and media erupted in confusion because of the clear oversight that Player B, who happens to be Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, was left off the squad.

So how is it that in the eyes of many experts, Cash seems not just the wrong choice compared to Ramsey, but a ludicrous one?

I’ll admit, I was one of the many offering confusion that Ramsey could miss out on first-team All-ACC status, and my basic rationale was two-fold. On one hand, Ramsey passes the eye test. He looks like a great player, was a five-star recruit and coaches and scouts gushed about his quick grasp of Florida State's defense. He was a true freshman last season and started every game, playing both safety and corner. Secondly, Duke’s defense, which did post some gaudy stats when it comes to tackles and takeaways, was also pretty darned bad. Florida State's secondary allowed 90 fewer yards per game and 11 fewer passing touchdowns than Duke. So shouldn’t the Seminoles’ defensive backs earn the rewards?

It’s an argument that makes sense, too, which only goes to underscore how limited our typical metrics for evaluating defensive backs are.

Cash has more tackles, more interceptions, more passes defended. Ramsey was a key figure in a secondary that was perhaps the best in the country. But maybe Cash benefited from opposing QBs attacking him more often because they weren’t concerned he’d beat them. Or maybe Ramsey benefited from having so many elite players around him. For every argument, there’s a perfectly reasonable counterargument.

Of course, we also don’t have to live with just those basic metrics, either. We wanted to dig a little deeper.

Stats LLC uses a stat called “burn rate” to track defensive backs. It looks at the number of times they were targeted and how many of those passes were completed. This should be a far better way of isolating a single DB, right?

So, using those numbers, how does our theory about Cash being a more ripe target for opposing QBs hold up? Actually, not too well. According to Stats LLC, Cash was targeted 41 times last season, 32nd-most in the ACC. Ramsey was targeted a tick less — 35 times, 47th-most in the ACC. So yes, it does speak highly of Ramsey that a true freshman was targeted, on average, just 2.5 times per game, but the numbers also don’t entirely serve the simple narrative that Cash’s counting stats (tackles, INTs, etc.) benefited from more opportunities.

But if Cash wasn’t targeted significantly more often, surely he didn’t snuff out those targets quite as well as Ramsey. Again, the numbers don’t make the case quite so clear.

Cash’s burn rate (43.9 percent) ranked 22nd in the ACC and was better than Ramsey’s (45.7 percent, 27th in ACC). Cash picked off four passes, the 10th-best rate in the ACC, to Ramsey’s one. Cash defended 19.5 percent of passes, good for 25th in the conference and better than Ramsey’s rate of 5.7 percent (good for 85th). The one area where Ramsey stood out was that, when he was burned, it was rarely for a lot of yards. His 9.7 yards per completion ranked eighth-best in the ACC and his 4.4 yards per attempt was seventh. And, after all, limiting the big plays is the primary job of a safety. Cash allowed 15.2 yards per completion (53rd in ACC) and 6.7 yards per attempt (32nd).

Those last two numbers probably sum the argument up the best. When Cash was good, he was exceptionally good. He made a lot of tackles because his teammates didn’t. He made big plays when he had the chance, but he gave up quite a few, too. Ramsey wasn’t nearly as flashy and clearly had better teammates around him (Terrence Brooks, FSU’s other starting safety last season, had the lowest yards-per-completion rate in the ACC) and wasn’t tested in the running game nearly as often. He didn’t post dynamic numbers because he didn’t have to.

So where has all this gotten us?

I’d argue that the numbers prove Cash certainly wasn’t a bad choice for first-team All-ACC honors. His play in 2013 and the assumption he’ll be better in 2014 more than qualifies him for the honor.

But I’d also argue that Ramsey’s vote total (just 13 votes, nine at safety and four at corner, where FSU had him listed on the ballot) was far shy of any of the winners and appallingly low considering his talent.

But hey, a little friendly debate is really the best part of these preseason lists because, regardless of what the numbers say today, odds are they’ll all look a lot different by season’s end.

And since we tracked down the numbers, here’s a quick look at the best burn rates, defended pass rates, and YPC, per Stats LLC, among returning ACC defenders (min. 25 targets).

BURN RATE
1. Ronald Darby (Florida State), 33.3%
2. Maurice Canady (Virginia), 36.2%
3. Breon Borders (Duke), 37.5%
4. Ant Harris (Virginia), 37.8%
5. Justin Simmons (BC), 38.1%

PASS DEFENDED RATE
1. Borders (Duke), 37.5%
2. Harris (Virginia), 31.1%
3. Brandon Facyson (Virginia Tech), 27.7%
4. Hakim Jones (NC State), 27.0%
5. Ray Vinopal (Pitt), 25.7%

YARDS PER COMPLETION
1. Quayshawn Nealy (Georgia Tech), 9.3
2. Cameron Lynch (Syracuse), 9.6
T3. Denzel Perryman (Miami), 9.7
T3. Ramsey (Florida State), 9.7*
5. Brandon Chubb (Wake Forest), 9.8

*Note: Ramsey is the best among returning defensive backs. Nealy, Lynch and Perryman are linebackers. The next best returning DBs were Boston College's Justin Simmons (10.3), Duke’s Bryon Fields (11.7) and Miami’s Deon Bush (11.8).

The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are seemingly endless. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why Georgia Tech will win the Coastal

[+] EnlargeMathers
AP PhotoCornerback D.J. White returns after having a breakout game in the Music City Bowl.

1) The secondary should be improved. Lose three starters, welcome back four. Sound confusing? Well, Georgia Tech does say goodbye to cornerbacks Jemea Thomas and Louis Young, but it returns a pair of players who had missed most or all of last season, as safeties Isaiah Johnson (knee) and Jamal Golden (shoulder) return from injury. Demond Smith had replaced Golden at safety last season and is now at corner, along with D.J. White, who was dominant in the Music City Bowl loss to Ole Miss (career-high 13 tackles, two forced fumbles, interception). This group should anchor the defense, perhaps offsetting some of the potential shortcomings that could await the defensive line this fall.

2) Don't sleep on special teams. Getting Golden back is crucial, as he is a versatile talent who showed he can make plays as both a punt and kick returner, having been the only player in the nation to finish in the top of each category in 2012. That might be easy to forget after some of the exploits of the rest of the ACC's returners in 2013, but Golden could be as good as any of them. Harrison Butker, meanwhile, is a reliable kicker with a strong leg, having converted 53 of 54 extra points as a true freshman last season, along with 10 of 14 field goal tries (including five of 40 or more yards).

3) The schedule is (fairly) favorable. Sure, six home games may be tough for most Power-5 conference schools to swallow in this era, but the Yellow Jackets do get Miami and Duke in Atlanta. More importantly, they get the Hurricanes following a bye week. The same goes for their trip to Athens, Ga., for the regular-season finale at rival Georgia. Georgia Tech's other three nonconference games to open the season are certainly winnable (Wofford, at Tulane, Georgia Southern), so it could help give this group some confidence going into the Sept. 20 conference-opening showdown at Virginia Tech.

Why Georgia Tech won't win the Coastal

1) The offseason turnover will take a toll. As noted Wednesday, Georgia Tech has had no shortage of turnover this offseason, and not in a good way. In addition to the seniors it said goodbye to like every other team, the Yellow Jackets have had 13 different non-senior players depart the program this offseason due to a number of different issues. ESPN 300 athlete Myles Autry, meanwhile, has been unable to enroll at Georgia Tech yet because of NCAA clearinghouse issues.

2) The defensive line has some question marks. Three starters are gone up front, the biggest among them being All-ACC end Jeremiah Attaochu. It will now likely be up to nose tackle Adam Gotsis to anchor the group after he tallied 14.5 tackles for loss last season. With second-year coordinator Ted Roof operating out of the nickel instead of the 4-3, Jabari Hunts-Days was moved up after playing linebacker, but he now finds himself sidelined for the season, as he is academically ineligible.

3) What do we know about the quarterbacks? Here's what we do know: Last year's starer, Vad Lee, is gone, having transferred to James Madison. Speedster Justin Thomas will replace him and seems like an ideal fit for Paul Johnson's triple-option attack, although he still has some work to do. Johnson is very high on reserve signal-caller Tim Byerly, but the possibility of him earning meaningful playing time inevitably begs the question of whether the Yellow Jackets have a controversy or competition on their hands.

Can the two-year slide in the Virginia football program be directly tied to a piece of paper?

Quite possibly.

Let us start back in spring 2012. Quarterback Michael Rocco had just taken UVa to an 8-5 season and bowl appearance. Mike London won ACC Coach of the Year honors. The Cavaliers became the first program to ever win road games at Florida State and Miami.

The trajectory pointed up.

[+] EnlargeGreyson Lambert
Dannie Walls/Icon SMIVirginia will be looking for Greyson Lambert to provide stability at quarterback this fall.
Rocco had made strides in the second half of the 2011 season, throwing only four interceptions in his final six games. Though London said in the spring the quarterback competition was open, it seemed pretty clear Rocco was the best, most solid choice to start. Then came word after spring practice ended that Phillip Sims had transferred to Virginia.

Two months later, that piece of paper came into play. The NCAA granted Sims a waiver for immediate eligibility. Now, Rocco not only had to hold off David Watford to keep his starting job, he had to hold off the former ESPN150 prospect, too. Sims was too tantalizing a player to keep on the bench, so London decided both Rocco and Sims would play. The plan worked briefly before completely collapsing. Rocco took a step back, perhaps because he felt he could not truly lead his teammates. Sims, for all his talent and athleticism, was largely ineffective.

Frustrated with his role and the way London managed the quarterbacks, Rocco decided to transfer after the season ended. He clearly had enough, calling it an "unhealthy situation" on his way out the door.

Sims appeared to be the next man up. Except he landed in the doghouse before spring practice ever began and never won the starting job. He flunked out of school, leaving few viable options for the 2013 season.

After another quarterback competition, Watford won the starting job. Virginia won two games, and Watford threw eight touchdowns to 15 interceptions while completing just 57 percent of his passes.

Heading into 2014, Virginia will start yet another quarterback: Greyson Lambert. During ACC Kickoff, London was asked why he believes Lambert will bring consistency to a position that has been a weakness at UVa for years.

"You look around, every team has a quarterback that can distribute the ball, be accurate and make good decisions, it makes the team go,” London said. “Greyson can be that. I think he’s smart enough; he’s got the skill and ability to do that. Now, he’s got to do it on the field. He’s shown it in spring practice."

Now back to that waiver. What if Sims was not granted immediate eligibility and had to sit out a year? Rocco would have been the definitive starter, bringing a known commodity to quarterback. Rocco was not without his flaws, but at least UVa would have had much-needed consistency at the position. Virginia lost three games that season by a touchdown or less. Wins in two of those games (say Wake Forest and Maryland, two non-bowl teams) would have meant bowl eligibility. Sims would have had a year to learn the system, to learn from Rocco, figure out how to balance football and academics and be groomed to take over as the starter.

Instead, Virginia has won six games in two years and still has no true identity at quarterback. Perhaps the search for a solid, unquestioned starter ends in 2014.
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In between breaking down pass-rushers and drawing up passing trees, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher wanted to watch some basketball. Last month’s NBA Finals provided little drama, so he loaded Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals onto the screen. The "Flu Game."

This wasn’t a reprieve from preparations for the 2014 season, though. This was a lesson in history, one that will have a profound impact on the Seminoles’ 2014 season, Fisher believes. He didn’t so much wonder how Michael Jordan played through the flu-like symptoms, but why.

Why did Joe Montana play through six concussions? Why did Larry Bird refuse to retire from a back injury so bad that his surgeon was bewildered as to how he played through it?

“We study guys who had attitudes of domination who won for long periods of time -- Joe Montana, John Elway repeated, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson,” Fisher says. “Those guys all had that killer instinct and were guys who wanted to be on top, stayed on top, and one championship wasn't enough.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJimbo Fisher said that Florida State's biggest obstacle in 2014 may not be an opponent, but complacency.
“A picture’s worth 1,000 words. Your actions speak, your drive, your commitment to excellence. Michael Jordan, you never saw him not play to the max, and that, to me, to the players, sends a message. It’s a constant education to me, to these kids, to get them to think in that type of mold, because it’s human nature to win and relax.”

There are certainly questions on Florida State’s roster, but it is still considered the best in the country. Where the Seminoles could trip up is mentally, an aspect of the game Fisher has worked so hard to strengthen within his program. He’s spent the past year praising the 2013 team for its work ethic and desire to return the Seminoles to the pinnacle of the sport they once dominated.

Now that they’re there, the next task -- admittedly his toughest yet -- is keeping the Seminoles there. So if you happen upon Fisher wandering through the Florida State library, it’s because he is looking for a book on a very specific topic. He’s soliciting suggestions, but perusing the bestsellers list and Oprah’s book club will be fruitless. The coach needs reading material on how to maintain the Seminoles' status as one of college football’s elite programs.

"Can't find many books on it,” Fisher says. “All of them talk about how to get there, not many of them talk about how to stay there.”

He’s turned to friend and confidant Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher during their time at LSU. Saban won the national championship at Alabama in January 2010, but a talented team failed to meet expectations during the 2010 season. Saban found the formula again, however, and the Tide won the title after the 2011 season; they repeated the next year.

As the confetti fell in Pasadena, California, in January when Fisher won his first national championship, the two coaches sat on the "College GameDay" set. They celebrated, they reminisced but, most importantly, they advised.

“He said, ‘Now you got some challenges, now is when the problems start,’ and I understood that,” Fisher recalls of their conversation inside the Rose Bowl. “He’s been through it, and he fixed it after a while, didn’t he? He had that one year and then came back and did it twice.”

But Saban isn’t going to spell it out for Fisher -- even Saban is constantly tinkering to quell complacency. They’re friends, but increasingly they have become rivals. Florida State is the biggest threat to end an Alabama dynasty that has three of the final five BCS crystal balls in a trophy room in Tuscaloosa.

Fisher says he believes he has a Jordan in Tallahassee, Florida: quarterback Jameis Winston, a player who wants to win two more than he wants to win one. The redshirt sophomore won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy before losing a game, which he still has yet to do. Winston says a loss is “definitely not in our vocabulary.”

With Winston, Fisher is confident that the “attitude of domination” has been instilled throughout the program, which means there is not as much of that annual concern as to whether his current team has the needed motivation for a national title run. What Fisher still needs to discern is how the 2014 team is different from last season’s. He has an idea, but the pads won’t come on for another two weeks, and two-a-day practices have not worn down this particular squad yet. One of the underrated aspects of being the head coach is identifying the personality and drive of a team, Fisher says, and pushing the wrong buttons at the wrong time can derail a season.

“There’s no formula for it,” Fisher says. “I think it evolves and don’t think you ever have the answer. It’s a constant battle that challenges you all the time. That’s one of the things that makes it so hard to duplicate that success. You’re constantly fighting that battle.”

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
12:00
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Two Miami topics up for discussion this fine lunch hour.

First: Is Duke Johnson a viable Heisman candidate? I agree with everything Athlon Sports says about Johnson in its write-up:
From a talent standpoint, Johnson is the only other option in the ACC who can compete with Winston. He has elite-level, breakaway speed and explosiveness. The biggest speed bump in The Duke’s Heisman campaign will be staying healthy. The smallish back has dealt with injuries but if he can stay on the field and post 250 touches, his numbers could be ridiculously good.

Being healthy is obviously important. If he is able to get 250 carries while averaging his career mark of 6.5 yards per carry, Johnson will have at least 1,650 yards. If he can somehow get to 2,000 like Andre Williams did a season ago, then he has a terrific chance of being invited to New York. But there is one more stumbling point from my point of view: uncertainty at quarterback.

With Stephen Morris behind center and Johnson at running back, Miami always had the threat to run or pass. The passing threat has been taken away without a sure-fire quarterback. More teams will load the box. Williams found a way to overcome that at BC last year, but the Eagles decided early on they wanted to be physical and play smash-mouth football. Miami does not play that style of football. So along with staying healthy, Johnson has to find a way to keep breaking off explosive runs with more defenses keying on him.

Second: Can the Hurricanes help make Miami a football town again? I completely understand what Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote is trying to say here. I grew up in South Florida in the 1980s and early 1990s, when football was king. But even when the Hurricanes were winning national championships, they only sold out their biggest games. Losing LeBron James will in no way start guaranteeing more seats filled at Sun Life Stadium.

Oh sure, football will be talked about more, but everybody knows Miami fans only come out for winning teams. In the case of the Canes, they need to win and play in big games.

Now let's take a look at other headlines across the ACC:

Video: Duke LB Kelby Brown

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
10:30
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video
ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna talks to Duke Blue Devils linebacker Kelby Brown about trying to improve on last season, how the defense can get better and how far the program has come.
On the offensive side of the ball, this offseason has been all about tempo for the Syracuse Orange.

Last season, the Orange ran one play every 24.8 seconds of possession time (just a tick faster than the league’s midpoint) and averaged just 74 plays per game (11th in the ACC). The results weren’t awful, coach Scott Shafer said, but they could’ve been better, and so Syracuse is focused on finding ways to speed things up at the line of scrimmage. (Note: We wrote extensively about ACC offensive tempo last week.)

Offensive lineman Sean Hickey talked up the new procedures at ACC Kickoff this week, noting simplified verbiage for the line and a new process to get plays in from the sideline that will allow quarterback Terrel Hunt to focus on reading the opposing defense rather than relaying the play call to his teammates.

And to be sure, Hunt’s ability to thrive in a fast-paced offense will define how successful Syracuse’s tempo gameplan turns out to be.

When it comes to tempo, Hunt’s first season as starter figured to be a mixed bag. Going fast can put a defense on its heels -- but only if the offense knows what it’s doing. For Hunt, 2013 offered some good signs -- but moving faster didn’t seem to help his passing much.

Here are Hunt’s numbers in games against AQ-conference teams when Syracuse moved faster than its season-average tempo of one play every 25.3 seconds and when it didn’t.



Two of Syracuse’s top tempo games last season were against Wagner and Tulane, and those were Hunt’s best performances. But neither team offered much competition. Against AQ-conference adversaries, the numbers between up-tempo and a more methodical approach didn’t matter much. In either case, his decision-making was questionable and his downfield passing was virtually non-existent.

Of course, 2013 was about testing the waters for Hunt, Shafer and Syracuse offensive coordinator George McDonald -- all in their first year on the job. Now, the hope is that the process is more refined, and experience will benefit everyone. That’s certainly what Shafer saw this spring from his quarterback.

“I was impressed with Terrel’s ability to throw to open spots rather than to open men and anticipate making those throws quicker, an area that we challenged him to make improvement,” Shafer said.

Of the 19 quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts vs. AQ-conference teams last year, only Virginia’s David Watford averaged fewer yards-per-attempt than Hunt. Watford has since been passed on the depth chart by Greyson Lambert. Of that same group, the only QB to throw for fewer TDs than Hunt’s three was the man he passed on the depth chart in Week 3, Drew Allen.

In other words, there’s nowhere to go but up for Hunt in 2014, and there’s at least reason for optimism as Shafer looks at what he has to work with.

Hunt has talent, and he's clearly taken on a leadership role this spring. Simplifying his pre-snap decision-making process might be just what he needed to buy extra time to read the defense, with the added benefit of moving faster at the same time. Shafer praised an improved group of wideouts, too, and the Orange offensive line will be one of the more experienced groups in the conference.

Better QB play, depth at receiver and experience on the line are key ingredients in moving the offense with speed and precision, and Shafer believes the coaching staff has the rest of the recipe figured out, too.

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