ACC: ACC

Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Position to improve: Secondary

Why it was a problem: North Carolina had issues all over the defense in 2014, but it was particularly vulnerable to the pass. No Power 5 team in the country allowed more yards per attempt (8.5), only Baylor and Fresno State surrendered more plays of 25 yards or more through the air, and only six teams nationally allowed more passing touchdowns (31).

How it can be fixed: The Tar Heels' biggest issue in the secondary may have simply been youth. There was just one senior -- safety Tim Scott -- on the team's two-deep, and the Heels started three sophomores in the defensive backfield. UNC finished 88th in sack rate, too, and the lack of pressure up front certainly didn't help the secondary. The pass rush did show some improvement as the year went along, and emerging stars such as Nazair Jones and Dajaun Drennon should continue to make an impact in 2015. The big change, however, is the man calling the plays. UNC hired former Auburn coach Gene Chizik to take over the defense, and his hard-nosed style promises to translate to a more fundamentally-sound secondary.

Early 2015 outlook: North Carolina should improve defensively in 2015 if for no other reason than it would be virtually impossible to be any worse. Still, it's going to be an uphill battle. Young players are going to need to take big steps forward this offseason, and it remains to be seen how Chizik's personality and style will mesh with the players already on the roster. The Heels have two four-star DBs committed, but adding more youth to the mix isn't necessarily an ideal scenario. Moreover, Larry Fedora's offense moves at lightning speed, and the result of that was that no defense in the country spent more time on the field in 2014 than UNC. That's asking a lot of a group that is young, lacks depth and had fundamental flaws routinely exposed. How much of that can Chizik clean up in 2015? How much might Fedora try to adjust his offensive pace to account for some of those defensive shortcomings? How much can the youngsters grow in one offseason? We may not have those answers for quite a while.

ACC winter meetings set to begin

January, 28, 2015
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ACC winter meetings get underway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, this afternoon. Though there is nothing on the table that needs an immediate vote, athletic directors will be discussing a wide range of topics.

Among them:

Autonomy. Now that Power 5 conferences have the autonomy they wanted, there will be discussion about how any decisions made will impact both the league and member schools and their real-world applications. Cost of attendance is sure to be a topic, as schools try to figure out a way to pay for the added expense at a time when revenues do not meet expenses in many athletic departments. Boston College voted against cost of attendance legislation, though the school will go ahead and pay for the cost increases.

Television. There have been recent reports that the ACC Network is getting closer to reality. Florida State president John Thrasher seemed optimistic in recent comments. So did Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock, who put a potential launch at 2016 or 2017. Television partners will be at the winter meetings, but they have annual face time with league reps. There is no set agenda for in-depth discussions about an ACC Network, but that doesn't mean plans are on the shelf. There has been progress made toward that end, but it would be premature to say the league was nearly ready to make a big announcement. League officials still have no timetable for when a network could come to fruition.

Scheduling. North Carolina and Wake Forest announced a nonconference series earlier this week that has drawn support from inside the ACC. Whether this becomes a trend remains to be seen, but surely athletic directors will have discussions about the pros and cons. However, the unconventional move does not mean the league is going to start rethinking how it handles its schedule. The vote last year to remain at eight league games has essentially put the scheduling questions to rest. Whether ACC schools want to schedule each other outside league play is an institutional decision.

One other topic that could come up is the College Football Playoff. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich served on the playoff committee, and several athletic directors have mentioned they want to get his perspective to perhaps get a better idea of what they should be looking to do with their programs moving forward. There is no set agenda for Radakovich to address the group, but it wouldn't be a surprise if smaller group discussions took place.

ACC morning links

January, 28, 2015
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With national signing day closing in, it is hard not to be impressed with the efforts ACC schools have made across the board.

At last check, eight schools are ranked in the ESPN Recruiting Nation Top 40 class rankings. Duke, featured at N0. 39, is poised to sign David Cutcliffe's best class. NC State and Louisville are putting together strong classes, along with usual Top 25 suspects Florida State, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is doing work, too. Though the Deacs are not in the rankings, Clawson is quietly putting together a solid class. ESPN 300 prospect Bowman Archibald spurned Miami despite signing a financial aid agreement with the school in August. As he explained when he switched his commitment last September, his on-campus visit impressed him. He is already enrolled at Wake Forest (though he just had surgery for a broken leg).

Another four-star prospect, quarterback Kyle Kearns out of California, committed over the weekend. Then Tuesday, the Deacs scored another big commitment from running back Rocky Reid, a former Tennessee commit.

All three committed after taking official visits. Perhaps that is not a coincidence.



It also should not go unnoticed that Wake Forest has flipped players once committed to schools like Miami and Tennessee. The Deacs can clearly sell early playing time to a player like Reid, who joins a running back group in search of a standout. There also is no depth behind quarterback John Wolford, so coming to Wake to play quarterback should be appealing -- especially if Clawson's past history is taken into consideration.

Though Wake Forest went 3-9, this is a team that improved throughout the course of the season, that played with heart, energy and passion and never quit. Clawson has gotten the players on his roster to believe. Now he is getting recruits to believe as well.

More around the ACC:
Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we’re taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Position to improve: Defensive line

Why it was a problem: The Yellow Jackets knew entering the season that getting a strong pass rush wouldn’t be easy after losing the bulk of their experience in the front seven. Indeed, Georgia Tech finished 108th nationally in sacks per game, 118th in tackles for loss per game, and no Power 5 team in the nation had fewer opponent plays per game that resulted in a loss or no gain. The big-picture result of that lack of backfield penetration was a defense that yielded 6.3 yards per play in 2014 -- 111th nationally and second-to-last in the ACC.

How it can be fixed: Experience was perhaps the biggest problem for Georgia Tech in 2014. After losing four of its top five pass-rushers from 2013, Tech simply had to give young players an opportunity and hope they could learn on the job. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof largely played a bit less aggressively as a result, which cut down on negative plays created, but also helped to keep too many big plays from happening downfield. That dynamic should begin to shift in 2015 now that KeShun Freeman, Paul Davis and others have more experience under their belts, and Tech figures to get back Jabari Hunt-Days, who missed the season because of academic issues. A solid 2015 recruiting class that includes four defensive linemen should add to the mix as well.

Early 2015 outlook: This isn’t going to be a massive overhaul. The hope for the Yellow Jackets is largely that Hunt-Days can be a force in his return to the field, and the players who saw action last season will be better in 2015. Roof certainly knows how to coach up a defense, and he did a solid job with the limited resources he had in 2014. His playbook should be able to be opened up a bit moving forward. It helps, too, that Tech promises to once again have a potent offensive attack in 2015 that will chew up clock and keep the defense off the field. The Yellow Jackets don’t have to be incredibly deep up front on defense, but they do have to be more productive when they’re on the field. In many respects, there is nowhere to go but up for that unit.

Weekend recruiting wrap: ACC 

January, 27, 2015
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Another weekend in the ACC is in the rearview mirror with N.C. State winning a big inter conference battle, and the Pittsburgh Panthers gaining some January defensive momentum under Pat Narduzzi.

So Wake Forest and North Carolina will face off in 2019 and 2021 in games that won’t count in the ACC standings but will reignite a longtime rivalry, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

As the Journal notes, it’s setting right a wrong done to the two schools due to conference expansion, but it’s also fair to wonder what the longterm ramifications of the deal might be.

Our Andrea Adelson wrote that the two programs deserve credit for taking this relatively unprecedented step to rekindle the rivalry — a step that no doubt will play well with traditionalists eager to see more of those recently deceased rivalries brought back to life.

The move no doubt will also spark some talk about adding a few more nonconference games between ACC teams, with BC Interruption throwing a regular meeting between Boston College and Miami into the discussion.

Elsewhere, Florida State has long coveted a chance to play more routinely in Atlanta, where the Seminoles possess a strong alumni base. NC State and Duke would make a lot of sense, too. In the SEC, where the league has also expanded to 14 teams and added a new rule requiring at least nine games against Power 5 foes, there could be a push for some programs to follow suit, too.

Beyond just those potential geographic rivalries, there’s a potentially significant recruiting impact to seeing cross-divisional foes more routinely, too. Wouldn’t Virginia Tech love to get to play another game in the state of Florida more than once every six years? Or Clemson showing off its offense in South Florida? And certainly Syracuse and BC could stand to steal a few more recruits in Virginia by getting a couple extra games against the Hokies or UVa?

Of course, there are some drawbacks to this, too.

For one, does the UNC-Wake rivalry really spark any more excitement for Tar Heels fans than, say, adding more non-traditional foes to the schedule -- perhaps from the Big Ten or SEC? And for teams like FSU, Clemson and Georgia Tech, who already have a set nonconference rival in the SEC, there’s a hefty financial incentive to keep seven home games each year, which complicates the process significantly.

The bottom line, however, is that conference expansion has played havoc with scheduling just as the College Football Playoff has put teams’ résumés in the spotlight more than ever. Finding some creative ways to fit tradition, finances and résumé-building games together is paramount, and what UNC and Wake have done at least sets a precedent for other programs looking to find some answers to scheduling dilemmas. It’s not an answer to all the problems, but it’s a start.

A few more links:
video
It is about time ACC teams got creative with their schedules.

Because it is an absolute crying shame that two of the oldest rivals in the league are forced to go years between games. So, North Carolina and Wake Forest took matters into their own hands Monday, when the two announced they had scheduled a home-and-home NONconference series.

Does it sound bizarre? Yes. But it is no more bizarre than the schools playing just four times since 2004. We are talking about the two schools that played the first college football game in the state of North Carolina in 1888, that have met 105 times -- the third-oldest rivalry in the ACC.

Their annual meetings ended when the ACC expanded to 12 teams and added divisions in 2005. North Carolina was placed in the Coastal; Wake Forest in the Atlantic. They were each given another cross-over rival to play annually: North Carolina gets NC State; Wake Forest gets Duke. The remaining cross-over game rotates, relegating Wake Forest-North Carolina into the nearly irrelevant category.

Expansion to 14 teams in 2013 meant the two would face each other even more infrequently. After their ACC game in 2015, the two are not scheduled to face each other again until in ACC play until 2022. Seven years between meetings is a little much, wouldn't you say?

Now, this is not a problem unique to North Carolina and Wake Forest. NC State and Duke face a similar dilemma, separated by a bus ride but unable to play on an annual basis. Many more appealing league games also happen much too infrequently: Florida State-Georgia Tech; Clemson-Virginia Tech; Florida State-Virginia Tech; Syracuse-Miami just to name four examples that have some historical context.

Folks inside the ACC realize it is not ideal to have entire senior classes go without playing every ACC team. In an attempt to change that, athletic directors tried to move to nine conference games last year, an idea that was approved in 2012 before being changed back thanks to a scheduling partnership with Notre Dame.

But the vote was defeated 8-6. So absent a ninth conference game, ACC athletic directors began seriously exploring the idea of playing each other in “nonconference” games. During spring meetings last year, several athletic directors came out in favor of the idea. Not only would it allow them to play an ACC member more frequently, it also would add another Power 5 opponent to the schedule.

North Carolina and Wake Forest just so happen to be the first Power 5 teams to make good on the concept. Their nonconference games in 2019 and 2021 will not count in the ACC standings.

What is so wrong with that? Rather than go out and spend money on a guarantee game, Wake Forest and North Carolina can play each other in a regional matchup that requires a fleet of buses as opposed to airplane travel to say, Stillwater, Oklahoma.

It satisfies the requirement that they have at least one Power 5 nonconference opponent on the schedule moving forward. And it does not necessarily preclude them from playing multiple Power 5 opponents in a given year. In 2021, North Carolina plays Wake Forest and Notre Dame in nonconference games.

North Carolina and Wake Forest made a bold choice. They opted not to be held hostage by the way the ACC schedule is made. That is their reality, and it is one that is not going to change in the foreseeable future.

In an ideal world, the ACC should drop divisions entirely, that way everybody would have a chance to play at least once in a four-year cycle. Have each team keep its designated rival, and then go through the rest of the teams round robin. Before that can happen, the NCAA must rule whether it will allow conference championship games to be deregulated.

Currently 12 teams and two divisions are required to hold a championship game. The ACC and Big 12 have petitioned the NCAA to change that rule, and expect an answer in the spring. While commissioner John Swofford has repeatedly told reporters not to read anything into the ACC wanting conference championship game rules changed, it would pave the way to eliminate divisions somewhere down the road.

And that would lead to fewer scheduling headaches.
Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Clemson Tigers

Position to improve: Running back

Why it was a problem: Clemson was a balanced offense in 2014, rushing an average of 39.3 times per game -- trailing only Georgia Tech, Boston College and Pitt in the ACC. The problem, however, was the success on those plays was limited. The Tigers averaged just 4.1 yards per carry on non-sack rushing attempts, which was the sixth-worst mark among Power 5 teams. The five teams that were worse finished a combined 19-42 for the season.

How it can be fixed: Clemson already started to see gains on the ground in the latter weeks of the 2014 season. Redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman stepped into the starting role and produced far better results, topping 100 yards in three of his last six games. Still, Clemson averaged just 4.5 yards per carry as a team during that stretch and converted less than 40 percent of its third-down attempts on the ground. Getting healthier should help those numbers though. Adam Choice, Tyshon Dye and Zac Brooks all missed significant time in 2014. Having a healthy Deshaun Watson at QB should make a difference, too. Cole Stoudt struggled to stretch the field with his arm, allowing opposing defenses to stack the box against the run. Watson, on the other hand, was one of the most dynamic downfield threats in the country. When defenses are forced to respect Watson's arm -- not to mention his scrambling ability -- there should be far more opportunities for the Tigers to move the ball on the ground.

Early 2015 outlook: As with so much of Clemson's 2015 outlook, a lot depends on the health of Watson at quarterback. When he was in the lineup in 2014, the Tigers looked dangerous on offense. When he wasn't, they struggled. He's recovering from a torn ACL this offseason, so his status for 2015 remains a bit unclear. But even if he's not 100 percent, there's reason to think Clemson's ground game should still take a step forward now that Gallman has a year of experience under his belt and the rest of the running backs figure to be healthier. The improved performance down the stretch in 2014 also offers plenty of room for optimism, and if Clemson's production on offense can be as balanced as its play calling was in 2014, the Tigers figure to have one of the ACC's most potent attacks.
What if the ACC penned a letter to Notre Dame now that their first year as football scheduling/bowl partners is complete? How would it read? My tongue-in-cheek attempt at imagining such a letter ...

Dear Notre Dame,

We have a complicated relationship, don’t we? Maybe convoluted is the better word. In any case, we love having you around. We really do.

But here’s the thing. When we agreed to our football partnership, we kinda, sorta hoped that 8-5 seasons were oh, you know, a thing of the past. Because this scheduling partnership works best for us when you’re really good, and can help improve our teams’ strength of schedule.

Starting off 2014 unbeaten and ranked was awesome! But almost beating Florida State? :( Then falling in the tank after that loss and dropping four of the next five? Including a game to a bad Northwestern team? :(

Needless to say, we were greatly disappointed. Instead of being praised for playing a tough nonconference schedule, Florida State was knocked for barely beating a good-not-great Notre Dame team that fell off the rails.

Those were nerve-wracking final weeks for us, as we watched one person after another rip on the state of your program, and, in turn, the state of our signature program. We had to sweat out Florida State making the first College Football Playoff because its close wins over “average” teams were not viewed as all that impressive.

Then, there was the bowl selection process. At 8-5 there was no hope for a playoff spot or a spot in a New Year’s Six game. So as part of our agreement, you get to be in our bowl rotation. With you in the mix, we upgraded our bowl lineup. So thanks!

But … here comes the word complicated again. Notre Dame in the Tier I bowl mix meant NC State was bumped down to Tier II and went to the Bitcoin Bowl. And we had to scramble to find a bowl home for Pitt.

All headaches that may have been avoided with a better season. Now, we are not suggesting you should have beaten Florida State. Ha! Heavens, no! We still need OUR teams to be playoff contenders. But what we are saying is 10-win seasons, 11-win seasons, those are optimal. We know you agree! More wins benefit you; they benefit us. (So long as they’re not against our playoff contenders!)

This was only Year 1 of our arrangement, so trial and error is expected. We did get our marquee team into the playoff; and you ended up beating LSU in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, so everything worked out.

But a few more wins can’t help but make us both look much better.

Thanks in advance for the consideration,

The ACC
It was a banner weekend on the recruiting trail for Dave Doeren and NC State.

The Wolfpack landed four-star tailback Johnny Frasier (Princeton, N.C.), who had been committed to Florida State and hadn’t even had NC State in his top five before the 2014 season began, as the Raleigh News & Observer notes.

Frasier is a big get for Doeren on a number of levels, but the success landing in-state talent may be the biggest takeaway. As Backing the Pack writes, Frasier is the fourth four-star prospect from North Carolina that Doeren has nabbed for this recruiting class, which is a great sign for the future of the program.

For Florida State, the loss was expected, but it means that early enrollee Jacques Patrick is the lone commitment the Seminoles have at running back for 2015, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

On the flip side, three of NC State’s top-five rated commits, according to ESPN, are running backs, and that is already a big position of strength for Doeren’s crew.

In fact, the success of NC State’s ground game in 2014 was one of the most under-the-radar stories of the year. A few tidbits:
  • NC State’s 5.98 yards per carry ranked 13th nationally and eighth among Power 5 teams.
  • Only four Power 5 teams had a lower rate of runs that went for a loss or no gain.
  • Only four Power 5 teams had a better rate of runs going for at least 5 yards, and three of those played in New Years Six bowls.
  • No team in the nation had a higher success rate converting third downs on the ground (66.1 percent).

Creating a more dynamic backfield is the next step for the Wolfpack’s ground game, which garnered the bulk of its productivity on consistency between the 20s, but lacked a home-run threat or a great red-zone runner. Frasier can probably help with the former immediately, but as Tom Luginbill notes, he’ll need to develop a bit more lower-body strength before he’s ready to make an impact with the latter.

A few more links:
  • Florida State’s Tre Jackson won MVP honors for the South team at the Senior Bowl, writes Tomahawk Nation.
  • Miami’s Ladarius Gunter had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, writes the Miami Herald.
  • Pitt offensive lineman Artie Rowell has been a terrific ambassador for the Panthers and the ACC, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  • One reason Virginia Tech will be a trendy pick in the Coastal next season is the wealth of returning starters, as the Roanoke Times notes.
  • With DeVante Parker NFL bound, Louisville landed a top recruit at receiver over the weekend, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • USA Today takes a look at how former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is handling his first month at SMU.
  • Morris’ arrival at SMU sent one QB commit looking elsewhere, and Kyle Kearns has now landed at Wake Forest, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

Best of the visits: ACC

January, 25, 2015
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ACC programs made the most of the opportunities at hand this weekend on the recruiting trail. The big winner was NC State scoring a pair of commitments, but a number of programs had key visitors -- with the themes of the weekend being keeping current commitments in the fold and trying to close with need-filling commitments.

NC State

The Wolfpack didn’t just have a good weekend, they had a great weekend by placing the icing on top of a top 40 recruiting class. NC State was already ranked No. 40 in the class rankings and is poised to make a small jump with the commitment of No. 80 Johnny Frasier, who flipped from Florida State.


The flip of Frasier was expected for some time, but now that it’s official it means NC State head coach Dave Doeren and staff have added serious speed and playmaking in Frasier and No. 155 Nyheim Hines, who have both run 10.6 100-meter times in the past. The duo is also a good mix, with Frasier being a 225-pound back and Hines a versatile player who could see spot duty at running back, line up in the slot and be a major factor in the return game.

NC State also filled a remaining need at defensive end with the flip of Emanuel Olenga from East Carolina. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder announced his decision on Twitter.

Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons added a second quarterback to the 2015 class on Saturday in the form of four-star Kyle Kearns. The former SMU verbal took to Twitter to announce his commitment to Dave Clawson and Wake Forest.


The commitment of Kearns means the Demon Deacons have a very impressive quarterback class. Not only is the four-star pocket passer in the fold, but so is Kendall Hinton, who has already enrolled. The future of Wake Forest's quarterback position now has options and competition in Kearns, Hinton and sophomore-to-be John Wolford.

Another top target on hand this weekend for Wake Forest was former Tennessee running back commitment Rocky Reid. Reid has been active on Twitter all weekend during his official visit.


Reid visited Louisville last weekend prior to making the short trip to Wake Forest this weekend. He has an official visit scheduled to West Virginia Jan. 30.

Clemson

Meanwhile, at Clemson, the Tigers were hosting the top two offensive playmakers in their class in Deon Cain and Ray-Ray McCloud III. The ESPN 300 prospects both tweeted out pictures that drew many a retweet from Clemson fans. Cain and McCloud posted this picture in Clemson jerseys along with All-ACC third-team receiver and sophomore-to-be Artavis Scott.


McCloud also tweeted a picture Saturday with Cain and Clemson president Jim Clements.


Keeping Cain and McCloud has been priority No. 1 for the Clemson staff. While both have remained solid, programs from around the country haven’t stopped recruiting the Tampa-area duo, and that is especially true with programs in the Sunshine State.

Miami

The Hurricanes had a second key visit weekend in a row. Headlining the group was four-star commitment Lawrence Cager and uncommitted senior riser defensive tackle Kevin Scott out of California. Scott took to Twitter throughout his visit to provide pictures and updates.


Scott has visited Purdue and Miami and is a possibility to visit Ole Miss Jan. 30. He also has an offer from USC, where he unofficially visited last week.

ACC's top recruiting visits 

January, 23, 2015
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It’s coming down to the wire. There are just two official visit weekends remaining for the Class of 2015 with national signing day Feb. 4. This weekend in the ACC will be key for several programs, with NC State trying to lock up a top-40 class.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Frasier.
Gerry Hamilton/ESPNESPN 300 running back Johnny Frasier is committed to Florida State but is visiting NC State this weekend.
NC State

It doesn’t get much bigger for the Wolfpack than this weekend. While there are likely only two official visitors, one would provide a huge perception win, ESPN 300 running back Johnny Frasier. Frasier, ranked No. 80, has been considered a “soft commit” to Florida State for months, and this weekend the in-state prospect will make his official visit to Raleigh, N.C., with a high probability of a flip before national signing day. For the Wolfpack, adding Frasier and Nyheim Hines’ speed and playmaking ability would make the 2015 class a success when combined with several other need-filling verbals. A second prospect who is a possibility to visit is East Carolina defensive end commit Emmanuel Olenga, who also has Nebraska knocking at his door.

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The talent across the ACC was plainly evident this past season, so it comes as no surprise that multiple players have made a major impression this week during Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama.

Among those drawing the most praise: Duke teammates Jamison Crowder and Laken Tomlinson, Pitt offensive lineman T.J. Clemmings, Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony and all four Miami players represented: tight end Clive Walford, receiver Phillip Dorsett, linebacker Denzel Perryman and cornerback Ladarius Gunter. Phil Savage, executive director of the Senior Bowl, tweeted out practice award winners for the week Friday morning. Tomlinson, Anthony and Dorsett were honored.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay wrote this week that Dorsett's stock is on the rise, and he helped himself more than any other prospect during the week. His track speed has wowed scouts across the board. As McShay writes:
What stands out with Dorsett is that he has under-control speed. Some guys are burners in a straight line but can't gear down or get in and out of breaks under control enough to catch the ball. That isn't the case with Dorsett, who possesses every quality you want in a deep speed threat.

During the East-West Shrine game last week, former Miami defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo also turned heads. In all, five Miami players have made headlines in the last week for their play, leaving many once again to wonder how the Canes went 6-7 with so much talent. Add in running back Duke Johnson and offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, and the potential exists for at least seven players off this team to get drafted.

Dorsett told ESPN.com Miami Dolphins reporter James Walker, “A lot of things didn’t go our way last year. I can say that,” Dorsett said. “A lot of things went the wrong way. We just got to get guys to really buy in. It’s not on the coaches, it’s on the players. Coaches coach and players got to go out there and play. That’s all I can really say about it.”

Earlier in the week, NFL Network expert Mike Mayock said Tomlinson and Crowder were the players of the day. The Chicago Sun-Times had a good profile detailing the friendship between Tomlinson and high school teammate Louis Trinca-Pasat, both at the Senior Bowl.

Two more who also have had a good week: Al.com notes Lorenzo Mauldin of Louisville made an impression, and Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett has made some plays despite his size being scrutinized.

Charles Davis of NFL Network said of Stephone Anthony, "He's a big-time player. Not many people around the country know enough about him."

Elsewhere around the ACC:
  • Boston College offensive coordinator Ryan Day has been hired as the Philadelphia Eagles' quarterbacks coach.
  • Florida State has reportedly hired former Florida assistant Brad Lawing to replace departed defensive line coach Sal Sunseri, who is off to the Raiders.
  • Louisville will host six players on official visits this weekend.
  • Two former North Carolina student-athletes, including football player Devon Ramsey, have sued the university and NCAA over the long-running academic fraud scandal that involved the athletic department.
  • NC State coach Dave Doeren discusses the progress his program has made since he arrived.
  • Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi picked up his third commitment in two days.
  • Virginia Tech unveiled its plans to cover cost of attendance with the Pylons of Promise.
Another season, another 10 wins for Clemson.

Another season, another big victory against a Power 5 opponent in a bowl game.

Another season, another Top-25 finish.

Seems about time to give Clemson its proper due. But there remains a disconnect between what people think about Clemson and what the facts show. How else to explain this rather interesting note:

The 2014 season marked the fourth straight year and fifth time in the six full seasons Dabo Swinney has been head coach that the Tigers had a higher final AP ranking than their preseason ranking.

The question, then, is why?

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesClemson again won 10 games, even with QB Deshaun Watson missing much of the season.
Perhaps it is because outsiders want to cling to the antiquated term used to describe the program when it loses games, often in head-scratching fashion. But people, we are not living in the past. Clemson has not lost to an unranked team since 2011.

Look at the actual results: Clemson’s only losses in 2014 were to teams that finished in the final top 10 of the AP and coaches polls (Florida State, Georgia and Georgia Tech). Go back the past three seasons, and Clemson’s only losses were to teams that finished in the final top 10 (Florida State and South Carolina in 2012 and 2013). It just so happens Clemson, Florida State and South Carolina have all been really good all at once. Failing to beat both consistently seems to be a harsh way of judging a team.

Here are a few more illuminating notes, for good measure.

  • Clemson joined Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Oregon as the only schools to finish in the top 15 for the third straight year.
  • Clemson joined Alabama, Florida State and Oregon as the only schools to finish in the top 25 for the fourth straight year.
  • Clemson, Alabama, Northern Illinois and Oregon are the only schools to post four straight 10-win seasons.
  • Clemson’s 42 wins over the past four seasons are a school record for a four-year period.

But Clemson is in a similar spot to the ACC as a whole: narratives die hard. Because they often win out as a lazy fallback. Let’s use the final 2014 AP poll as a case study. Eight Power 5 teams finished with three losses. Clemson was ranked last in the group, at No. 15.

Georgia Tech and Georgia won head-to-head meetings, so there is no quibbling with their rank. But let’s look at two other SEC schools ranked ahead -- Mississippi State and Missouri. Mississippi State ended the season with losses in three of its final four games. Its best wins -- against Texas A&M, Auburn, and LSU -- all lost their luster after a horrible bowl showing from the SEC West.

Yet the Bulldogs finished No. 11, getting penalized far less than a team from the ACC would if it ended in a similar manner. If Florida State lost three of its final four, you think the Seminoles would finish the season at No. 11? No.

Clemson and Mississippi State each beat one team ranked in the final AP Top 25. All three losses for both teams were to ranked opponents. But Clemson finished the season on a three-game winning streak; Clemson had the No. 1 defense in America; and Clemson managed to win 10 games without quarterback Deshaun Watson as its full-time starter for most of the season.

How does any of this put Mississippi State ahead?

Now on to Missouri, a team with a much worse loss on its resume (Indiana). Its best win was probably against Minnesota in its bowl game. It finished the season with zero wins against teams ranked in the final Top 25. Yet, Missouri was one spot ahead of Clemson in the AP ranking, and a peculiar four spots ahead in the coaches’ poll.

We could also look at Wisconsin’s resume. The Badgers also had one win against a final Top 25 team, but a much worse loss (Northwestern) and was blown out in the Big Ten title game. Ohio State might have won the national championship, but 59-0 is hard to ignore.

So essentially, Clemson is trailed by misperceptions about its own program and its own conference. Is becoming a playoff contender the only way to start changing the narrative? Because clearly, winning does not seem to be doing the job.
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There are less than two weeks until national signing day, and five-star defensive end Byron Cowart is closing on his college decision. The No. 1-ranked player in the ESPN 300 had a top three of Auburn, Florida, and Florida State just last week, and now the 6-foot-3, 258-pound defensive end has dwindled his choices to two.

"I would have to say, just to be honest, Auburn and Florida are my top two schools," Cowart said. "I have to keep it professional -- I have to. Who knows, you see coaches and they go into the league, and when it’s time for you to get drafted you don’t want to have a bad name.

"A lot of guys say things that they back away from, and yeah I probably said 'yeah I like this school and I might end up coming here' but that’s probably how I was feeling at the time, but a lot of things happen and I just want people to know that I’m man enough to say 'thank you for recruiting me, but I might not go to your school.' But right now, truly, it will come down to Auburn and Florida. That’s just being honest."

That is somewhat of a surprise considering FSU coaches visited Cowart at his school on Wednesday afternoon and Cowart was scheduled to take his last visit to Florida State next weekend.

"The visit was good. It was different," Cowart said. "I haven’t had the heat put to me like that before. It’s crunch time, so they want me to come up for this last visit, but it’s like I already know what they can bring to the table, I already know what I can I get from Florida State the school. It’s just crazy, I just want to relax and get away, think and get my thoughts together, and that’s why I was like 'I don’t know if I’m going to do my last visit -- I don’t know if I’m going to go anywhere on my last visit.'

"I don’t want to make a mistake. Like my mom said, when you are rushing and you’re moving too fast sometimes you can make a mistake and go somewhere that you never even thought you would go. So I want to be in the right mind and be focused, and to know that this is the school I want to go to."


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