ACC: Boston College Eagles

Boston College exceeded expectations once again in Year 2 under Steve Addazio as the Eagles rode a potent rushing attack and a hard-nosed defense to a bowl performance. There will be a lot of turnover on offense, though, which means there is ample opportunity for a receiver to emerge.

Position to improve: Wide receiver.

Why it was a problem: There were not many receptions among the receivers last season, but that’s not a product of the receiving unit having played poorly. With Tyler Murphy and a stable of talented running backs, Addazio, the former offensive line coach, was intent on utilizing his team’s strength. The Eagles just didn’t throw the ball often. When they did throw, the Eagles weren’t overly explosive in the passing game. Shakim Phillips had an impressive 21.7 yards per catch, but it comes on only 13 receptions. Josh Bordner, who led the team with 27 catches, averaged 12.81 yards per reception, which ranked 19th in the ACC. Bordner and Phillips will not return in 2015, though. The receivers had a letdown in the loss to Clemson, too, as the Eagles dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass.

How it can be fixed: The Eagles are not going to become a team predicated on the downfield pass, so it’s not as if there needs to be an overhaul at the position. It would obviously help open up running lanes and ease the pressure on quarterback Darius Wade if he can find a receiving security blanket and a consistent deep threat. Rising sophomore Sherman Alston already provides a nice spark, although he stands only 5-foot-6. A look at the receivers Addazio has recruited shows there is no set model; he recruits shorter, shiftier receivers and physical, bigger-bodied players. Any are capable of stepping up into a highlighted role.

Early 2015 outlook: Alston is a big catch waiting to happen, and he has already made quite the name for himself by making a handful of special plays. Dan Crimmins finished second on the team with 25 catches, and the 6-5, 237-pound rising senior has the frame to be a go-to option when the Eagles are in need of a first down. Charlie Callinan showed flashes of being a solid receiver in the Clemson loss. Addazio has done a very good job recruiting and putting together a complete team, so there should be reason for optimism.
Boston College made headlines earlier in the week after casting the only vote against legislation to pay for the full cost of attendance.

Athletic director Brad Bates wants to make it clear that the Eagles will adhere to the new legislation, set to be implemented as early as August. But the university has multiple concerns about the issue, forming the basis of its "no" vote.

Among them: adding expenses to athletic departments that already are struggling to generate profits; troublesome scenarios that could lead to eliminating non-revenue sports if the increased expenses become unmanageable; and the disparity between cost of attendance figures across campuses, an issue that could ultimately lead to recruiting advantages.

"We're trying to be true to what our institutional culture is and what we believe should be how we approach intercollegiate athletics," Bates said in a recent phone interview. Bates points to the small number of athletic departments generating a profit. According to a report from the NCAA published in August 2014, that number was 20 on the FBS level.

"The rest of us are all relying on institutional subsidies and a lot of those subsidies come from student fees at many institutions," he said. "So with increased costs of higher education, we keep passing legislation that's increasing our costs. We're putting a lot of pressure on athletic departments to really seriously look into eliminating sports, which ultimately hurts student-athletes rather than helps."

Schools already have begun to eliminate sports, even before this legislation passed. According to Bates, 15 different schools have cut a total of 66 sports since 2010. UAB drew the biggest headlines of all recently, when it chose to eliminate football to save costs.

"If that's not symbolic of the strain of the cost of athletics at an institution, I'm not sure what is," Bates said.

The NCAA report showed expenses are growing at a higher rate than revenues -- despite all the cash television and sponsorship deals have generated. Just as troubling, the five Power 5 conferences had an average loss of $2.3 million. That loss climbed nearly eight times higher -- $17.6 million -- at all other FBS schools.

Now more costs will be added to the bottom line, and those costs will vary from school to school. Full cost of attendance means an additional payment for miscellaneous expenses, including travel back home. At Boston College, the average cost for these expenses is $2,200, bringing the total scholarship figure to roughly $63,000 a year.

We can use another ACC school as an example. Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock announced Thursday that the Hokies' cost of attendance per student-athlete would add roughly $2,500 more to each scholarship, costing the athletic department between $850,000-$900,000 more per year.

Bates said Boston College would be in the same ballpark. But he also noted there is flexibility in how the full cost of attendance is determined.

"It's a very complicated formula, but it allows some leeway in how you interpret it," Bates said. "Some school's gaps are less than $1,000 and some schools are over $6,000. That will be significantly exploited in recruiting."

In order to increase revenues to cover the full cost of attendance, schools will be looking at new and creative ways to bring in more money, whether through corporate sponsors, ticket sales or donor gifts. But issues will remain as long as legislation continues to pass increasing spending, at rates that exceed income.

Everybody can agree full cost of attendance is good, in principle. But in the excitement to get the first big piece of autonomy legislation passed, perhaps there was not as much forethought given into how, exactly, athletic departments would begin to pay for it.

"People made an assumption that this was going to pass easily and they didn't necessarily want to attract attention by voting no, but I also think there was some naivety about the integration of this policy," Bates said. "I'm not sure that everyone fully comprehended the types of issues we're talking about right now."
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.
Because it's never too early to start making bold predictions about the 2015 season, Athlon put together its list of 10 potential breakout players for the upcoming season, and it includes two budding stars in the ACC.

The first is Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, which should be something of a no-brainer, given that the junior racked up 21.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons despite serving as the backup to Vic Beasley. Only seven other players in the ACC have totaled 10 or more TFL in each of the last two seasons, and of that group, only Lawson will be back for 2015.

“A guy like Shaq Lawson, he could've been starting his first two years, but he sat behind Vic Beasley and you can't complain about that,” defensive back Robert Smith said. “But he could've just as easily been starting the same way.”

Lawson is an obvious starter this year, but the Post & Courier projects out the rest of Clemson's starters, too.

The second of Athlon's breakout candidates is Travis Rudolph, the FSU wide receiver who stepped up as a strong No. 2 option after Rashad Greene as a true freshman this season, including six catches for 96 yards and a score in the Rose Bowl.

Rudolph definitely progressed as the year went along -- he had just one catch in FSU's first four games -- but he's going to have a tougher task in 2015. Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary are gone, meaning all eyes will clearly be on Rudolph to step into the No. 1 role in the passing game. Jameis Winston is gone, too, and the question about the next FSU QB is a big one. Still, Rudolph showed how much talent he has this season, and he's on record as being eager to follow in Greene's footsteps.

Looking around the rest of the ACC, a few other names to watch as potential breakout candidates:

Andrew Brown, Virginia: Injuries limited his freshman performance, but the Hoos will have a new-look defensive line in 2015, and Brown, the former five-star recruit, will be a big part of their plans.

Shaun Wilson, Duke: The ACC already got a small taste of what Wilson can do, as he rushed for 598 yards as a freshman in 2014. His 7.7 yards-per-carry average was the best by any Power 5 running back with at least 75 carries, but his numbers in conference -- 46 carries, 186 yards, 1 TD -- weren't quite as impressive. He'll have a bigger role in 2015.

Josh Jones, NC State: The redshirt freshman started the final five games of the year at strong safety for the Wolfpack, and that happened to coincide with a 4-1 finish to the season in which NC State allowed just 4.68 yards per play -- the seventh-best rate for any Power 5 team from Nov. 1 to the end of the season.

Joseph Yearby, Miami: The freshman had more than 600 yards from scrimmage backing up Duke Johnson in 2014. Now Johnson is gone, but rising star QB Brad Kaaya remains, and Miami's offense hopes to not miss a beat. It could be a huge year for Yearby, who played his high school ball alongside FSU's Dalvin Cook.

A few other links:
Now that the season is over, it is time to rank the top 25 players in the ACC based on 2014 performance. Needless to say, we had tough choices to make -- so tough, in fact, that we could not break a tie between two exceptional offensive guards. So there are in fact 26 players on our top-25 list, and we are just fine with that decision.

What went into the ranking? In addition to performance this season, we also took into account each of the players' value to their team, value at their respective position and game-changing ability. With that, here is a look at players Nos. 21-25 (plus No. 26).

21. Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State

Position: defensive end

Year: junior

Edwards was dominant at times but also lacked the consistency many were hoping to see out of him in his second year as a starter. Weight continued to be a problem. When he was on, he was effective, racking up 44 tackles -- 11 for loss -- and three sacks this season. But against Oregon, he was essentially a nonfactor. Cherry on top for being one of the best quotes in the ACC this season, though!

22. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech

Position: cornerback

Year: sophomore

Fuller was the best cornerback in the ACC -- and he won that designation despite playing the entire season with a broken wrist. Coming off a successful freshman campaign, Fuller finished tied for first in the ACC with 17 passes defended (15 breakups, two interceptions), while earning All-ACC honors and second-team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Foundation and Football Writers Association of America.

T-23. Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech AND Laken Tomlinson, Duke

Position: offensive guards

Year: seniors

The ACC had All-American play at offensive guard this season -- Tre Jackson at Florida State also deserves mention -- so we are making an exception here and going with a tie between two of them because they are both equally deserving of recognition. Mason helped pave the way for a Georgia Tech rushing offense that led the nation with 342.1 yards per carry, the best average in the Paul Johnson era. Meanwhile, Tomlinson was a consensus All-American and first-team All-ACC selection after helping Duke average 180-plus rushing yards and 210-plus passing yards for the first time in school history.

25. Jeremy Cash, Duke

Position: safety

Year: junior

Cash was an impressive force in the defensive backfield once again for the Blue Devils, racking up more than 100 tackles for a second straight season. In fact, Cash was the only defensive back in the nation to record 100-plus tackles, 10 or more tackles for loss and five or more sacks. He also forced four fumbles on the season, tied for the second most in the ACC. With the news that Cash is returning for his senior season, expect his name to be on this list again come 2015.

26. Tyler Murphy, Boston College

Position: quarterback

Year: senior

Murphy was the engine that made the BC offense go, and he set a host of records in the process. His 1,184 yards on the ground set a new ACC and school record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and he ranked second among all quarterbacks in yards rushing. Murphy accounted for 56 percent of the Eagles' total offense in 2014 and had five 100-yard games. The highlight, of course, was his MVP performance in a 37-31 upset win over USC in September, in which Murphy ran for 191 yards and a score, averaging 14.7 yards per carry.

ACC morning links

January, 19, 2015
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There was no big mystery about what would happen when the first autonomous legislation passed at the NCAA convention over the weekend.

Full cost-of-attendance was first on the docket, and it easily passed. But it was not a unanimous vote. One school voted against adding the stipend: Boston College.

Rather than go with the flock, the university decided to take a stand, worried that the increased financial burdens to athletic departments everywhere could mean devastating consequences for non-revenue sports. In a statement released Saturday night, the university said:
Boston College is concerned with continuing to pass legislation that increases expenses when the vast majority of schools are already institutionally subsidized. The consequence of such legislation could ultimately hurt student-athletes if/when programs are cut.

This legislation further segregates student-athletes from the general student population by increasing aid without need-based consideration. Legislation already exists for student-athletes in need through pell grants and the student-assistance fund.

We have concerns that the Federal Financial aid formula is sufficiently ambiguous that adjustments for recruiting advantage will take place.

Indeed, this is one of the many unanswered questions that remain now that autonomy is here: How will many cash-strapped athletic departments begin to pay for all the bells and whistles only the few can afford, simply because they want to keep pace? Everybody can agree that cost of attendance is a worthy cause, but nobody really has any idea what the financial consequences will be down the road.

A student-athlete at Boston College receives a roughly $250,000 education in four years' time, higher than most schools this legislation will impact. As colleague Mitch Sherman points out:
Boston is an expensive place to attend school, equating to a stipend for student-athletes at BC that will exceed the still-undetermined average. Without a football program awash in money, Boston College must dig deep to keep pace with its rivals -- or consider other ways to save money, perhaps including the elimination of non-revenue sports.

Now there exists a potential consequence to autonomy that fails to mesh with the mission of the NCAA. And if it's a problem at Boston College, which gets a piece of the ACC pie, imagine the trouble brewing at smaller colleges.

It was a big recruiting weekend across college football. Here are a few updates in the ACC:
In other ACC news:
  • Duke lost its defensive line coach, while Virginia Tech lost its receivers coach.
  • Several ACC players stood out at the East-West Shrine Game, including former Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo, Louisville running back Dominique Brown and offensive lineman John Miller and NC State kicker Niklas Sade.
  • Senior Bowl practices get underway this week, and Shaq Mason and T.J. Clemmings are two players to watch. Meanwhile, Tre' Jackson appears to be the only Florida State player who will participate in the Senior Bowl after Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Cameron Erving and Josue Matias all dropped out.
  • Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette takes a look at the legacy former athletic director Steve Pederson leaves behind.

Story of the season: Boston College

January, 16, 2015
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Alumni Stadium trembled.

Nine Trojans in the box, Tyler Murphy faked a handoff, ran left and made one cut before he sprinted through then-No. 9 USC’s defensive line, untouched, and sped toward the end zone and the upset.

The 66-yard TD run was the play of the Eagles’ season, one executed brilliantly by the player whose runaway success (couldn’t resist) was easily the story of the team’s season.

Boston College 37, No. 9 USC 31. The red bandanna-toting fans rushed the field, fitting on a day Murphy ran for a career-high 191 yards and the Eagles piled up 452.

After escaping the happy scrum, head coach Steve Addazio presented a game ball to the parents of Welles Crowther, a BC alum turned hero in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Then he presented one to Murphy.

BC was supposed to take a step back in 2014, losing its quarterback (Chase Rettig), its leading receiver (Alex Amidon), its leading sack artist (Kasim Edebali) and, oh yeah, its Heisman finalist and Doak Walker Award winner (Andre Williams) after Addazio’s first season in 2013.

But with Florida-transfer Murphy in the fold, Addazio and offensive coordinator Ryan Day recalibrated the offense on the fly and the result was another dominant rushing attack (No. 15 nationally, at 254.69 yards per game, after finishing No. 20 in 2013, at 212.46) ... just one that got it done a different way.

In 2013, Williams powered his way to a 2,000-yard season and a spot on the New York Giants’ roster.

In 2014, Day put the ball in Murphy’s hands, asked the quarterback to create, and the Wethersfield, Connecticut, native did -- breaking the ACC single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (ending with 1,179), and setting new single-season and career quarterback rushing records at BC in the process.

He had five 100-yard rushing games, more than the rest of the roster combined (three by Jonathan Hilliman and one by Marcus Outlow). He had 11 rushing touchdowns, second only to Hilliman’s 13. And he added another 1,623 yards and 13 TDs passing.

Oh, and according to athletic director Brad Bates, Murphy also loaded up on coursework during the spring, summer and fall to take his master’s degree with him after just one year.

"I hadn’t been around a lot of fifth-year transfers," Bates admitted. "But that’s the first time I’ve seen that happen."

Murphy did a few things no one at Boston College has seen a quarterback do.

"I’ve been fortunate to be here for all the great QBs," associate athletic director Barry Gallup said, ticking off the list from Doug Flutie to Matt Hasselbeck to Matt Ryan. "Tyler, he’s just unbelievable. If we allowed him to be a captain, he probably would’ve been elected a captain."

Addazio ultimately decided Murphy wouldn’t be eligible for the captain vote, and said the graduate transfer could be an ex officio leader as the team’s quarterback. Murphy never complained, won his teammates’ trust anyway, and became the leader Addazio thought he would.

By the end of the season, which ended in heartbreaking fashion in OT against Penn State in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, just about everyone around the Eagles was wishing aloud for more time with Murphy.

But that’s the other part of the story of BC’s season: It was always going to be just one year.

Now BC will have to prepare for another transition, with rising sophomore Darius Wade seemingly the heir apparent at quarterback. And Murphy will prepare for his pro day, hoping plays like the one he made to seal the win against USC -- the one that shook Alumni Stadium to its foundations -- impressed enough NFL scouts to get him a shot at the next level.

Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.

ACC all-bowl team

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It wasn’t the finest bowl season for the ACC, which won just four games, but there were still some strong performances. Here’s our 2014-15 all-bowl team for the ACC.

OFFENSE

QB: Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech)

Thomas thoroughly dominated the Mississippi State defense in the Orange Bowl, accounting for 246 yards of offense and four touchdowns. Credit. though, to Clemson’s Cole Stoudt, who was pressed into action with Deshaun Watson out with injury and threw for 319 yards with four total touchdowns, too.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsSynjyn Days scored three of Georgia Tech's seven touchdowns against Mississippi State.
RB: Synjyn Days (Georgia Tech)

His 171 yards on the ground led all ACC runners during bowl season to cap off an extraordinary second half of the year for Days. He scored three times on the ground versus Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs never stood a chance against Georgia Tech’s dominant rushing attack.

RB: J.C. Coleman (Virginia Tech)

The running game was a problem all year for Virginia Tech, but once the Hokies were down to their fourth option at tailback, things got figured out. Coleman finished up a strong final four games with his best performance of the year, carrying 25 times for 157 yards and a touchdown in Tech’s win over Cincinnati.

WR: DeVante Parker (Louisville)

Louisville’s quarterback play was dreadful against Georgia in the Belk Bowl, and it cost the Cardinals a chance to win. But Parker, as usual, was excellent. He had eight catches, six of which went for first downs, and he led all ACC receivers with 120 yards. He also had one of the most impressive touchdown grabs of the season called back because he stepped out of bounds before the catch.

WR: Mike Williams (Clemson)

There’s plenty of competition for the second receiver spot, with six players chiming in with between 96 and 114 yards through the air during bowl season, but we’ll give Williams the slight nod. He had nine catches (tied for most in the ACC) for 112 yards and a touchdown, and six of his catches went for first downs.

TE: Jack Tabb (North Carolina)

It wasn’t a sterling season for tight ends in the bowl games despite so many fine performances during the regular season. Still, Tabb hauled in five catches for 51 yards and a score, which easily set the pace at the position.

OL: T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh)

Pitt’s defense couldn’t hold a big lead in its bowl game against Houston, but no blame goes to the offensive line, which was strong. Pitt ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns and allowed just one sack on 37 attempts, with Clemmings grading out once again as the Panthers’ top blocker.

OL: Shaq Mason (Georgia Tech)

Georgia Tech ran for 52 more yards than any other team during bowl season. Credit goes to the entire offense for the strong performance, but there’s no question Mason has been the on- and off-field leader of the offensive line all season.

OL: Joe Thuney (NC State)

NC State’s 3.82 yards-per-carry average wasn’t great, but the ground-and-pound approach against UCF did the trick. The Wolfpack scored twice on the ground and had eight runs of 10 yards or more, with Thuney grading out as their top performer.

OL: Tre Jackson (Florida State)

It’s easy to dismiss Florida State’s Rose Bowl performance, but the offensive line had nothing to do with the five turnovers the offense coughed up. In fact, Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams were cruising through a stellar outing thanks to the blocking of Jackson and his linemates before the bottom fell out.

C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)

The Eagles’ problems with PATs haunted them again in bowl season, but the ground game that paced the offense all season was once again terrific. BC ran for 285 yards and two scores against a Penn State defense that had been among the best in the nation against the run. Ample credit to the whole group, but Gallik has been a star all season.

DEFENSE

DE: Tyriq McCord (Miami)

McCord had five tackles, including one sack, in the loss to South Carolina, and while his secondary couldn’t cover Pharoh Cooper, the Hurricanes’ front did manage to keep the Gamecocks’ powerful ground game in check, holding Mike Davis to just 55 yards.

[+] EnlargeGrady Jarrett
AP Photo/John RaouxGrady Jarrett's performance in the Russell Athletic Bowl helped Clemson limit the Sooners to just six points.
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)

Perhaps the ACC’s best defensive player during bowl season, Jarrett was a beast in thwarting Oklahoma’s high-octane offense. Jarrett had 3.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry and a forced fumble as Clemson dominated the Sooners’ through the first 3½ quarters of action.

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)

Beasley’s early sack against Trevor Knight was a harbinger of a long day to come for the Oklahoma quarterback, who mustered just 2.8 yards per attempt in the game. Beasley was at the heart of the pass rush, tallying five tackles, including three for a loss.

LB: Rodman Noel (NC State)

Led NC State’s defense with eight tackles, including two for a loss, and helped hold UCF to just 2.9 yards per carry on the ground and disrupting the Knights’ passing game throughout. UCF quarterback Justin Holman completed just 43 percent of his throws.

LB: Ben Boulware (Clemson)

Boulware had five tackles and a fumble recovery in the win over Oklahoma, but it was his 47-yard interception return for a touchdown to give Clemson a 17-0 lead late in the first quarter that made the biggest impact.

LB: P.J. Davis (Georgia Tech)

Davis led all players in the Orange Bowl with 11 tackles, and while Mississippi State’s offense did manage to move the ball to the tune of 605 yards, the game was never particularly close because Davis helped prevent big plays -- just three of 20 yards or more through the first three quarters -- and held Dak Prescott to just 4-of-10 passing on third down.

LB: Deon Clark (Virginia Tech)

Clark led all Virginia Tech defenders with 11 total tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble, as the Hokies thwarted Cincinnati’s high-flying offense in the Military Bowl.

S: DeVon Edwards (Duke)

The Blue Devils’ defense was hardly great against Arizona State, but Edwards did lead the pack with 14 tackles, including one for a loss, a forced fumble and a sack.

S: Chris Milton (Georgia Tech)

Milton’s eight tackles and support against the run were crucial for Georgia Tech’s defense against Mississippi State, but his interception on Prescott’s second throw of the game set the tone for a dominant Yellow Jackets win.

CB: Jack Tocho (NC State)

While NC State’s defensive front tormented the UCF passing game, the defensive backs did their part, too. Tocho had three tackles and two pass breakups, while UCF’s passing game mustered just 4.85 yards per attempt through the first three quarters as the Wolfpack built a 31-13 lead.

CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)

Fuller had four tackles, broke up a pass and had and an interception against Cincinnati, as quarterback Gunner Kiel, one of the nation’s most dangerous passers, completed just 14 of 26 throws.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Bradley Pinion (Clemson)

Pinion’s net punting average against Oklahoma was 43.4 yards -- just one-tenth of a yard shy of tops in the conference. He had two punts downed inside the 10, and none of his five boots were returned.

K: Joey Slye (Virginia Tech)

Slye connected on all four field goal attempts, including two outside of 40 yards, and was 3-of-3 on PATs in Virginia Tech’s win over Cincinnati.

KR/PR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

Crowder has been a star on special teams for much of his career, and he ended it on a high note by returning a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against Arizona State -- his second of the season. He accounted for 66 percent of all the punt returns in the ACC in 2014.
Now that the first year in the College Football Playoff is over, we know exactly what to make of nonconference schedules and their role during evaluations.

They are important. Just ask Baylor.

Of course, nonconference schedules tend to look one way before the season starts and then another when the season ends. Florida State had two Power-5 schools on the docket plus Notre Dame in 2014, but nobody regarded its schedule as particularly tough because those three teams fizzled.

With that in mind, let's take a quick peek at the top three potential playoff contenders in 2015 and what we think could end up being good nonconference slates. Included are 2014 records in parentheses.

Best shape

Georgia Tech: Alcorn State*, Tulane (3-9), at Notre Dame (8-5), Georgia (10-3)
Clemson: Wofford*, Appalachian State (7-5), Notre Dame (8-5), at South Carolina (7-6)

Great news here, considering we expect both teams to start the season as preseason Top 25 teams. If voters are truly paying attention, both will start in the top 15. It is always beneficial to have a well-respected SEC opponent on the schedule, as these two do every year with their in-state rival. Both must face Notre Dame. Let's just say this as nicely as possible: The ACC needs Notre Dame to be better this year. Badly.

Nothing to write home about

Florida State: Texas State (7-5), USF (4-8), Chattanooga*, at Florida (7-5)

You thought Florida State was lampooned for its nonconference schedule in 2014? That one looks like a gantlet featuring Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama compared to this one. If the Seminoles go unbeaten, they should still be in position to make the playoff, but they will come under serious scrutiny for their schedule, even if Florida is better. If they struggle against any of these teams and look suspect vs. ACC competition the way they did this year, well, that might be enough for committee members to consider picking another qualified team.

Now let's take a look at some potential darkhorse playoff contenders

Good shape

Virginia Tech: Ohio State (14-1), Furman*, at Purdue (3-9), at East Carolina (8-5)
Louisville: vs. Auburn (8-5), Houston (8-5), Samford*, at Kentucky (5-7)

We are going out on a very, very long limb here with Virginia Tech included as a potential playoff contender. But expectations in Blacksburg are growing, so ours will, too. In actuality, both teams' playoff fortunes will be decided in their respective openers. Louisville faces Auburn in Atlanta on Sept. 5, while the Hokies take on the defending national champion Buckeyes at home on Labor Day night. If they come away with upsets for the second straight year, their playoff chances would go soaring -- but only if they win the remainder of their games. If they lose, hard to see either making it with one loss. Also in their favor: Both schedules features two Power-5 teams plus solid teams from the American.

Help!

Duke: at Tulane (3-9), NC Central*, Northwestern (5-7), at Army (4-8)

At least the Blue Devils have one Power-5 school on the schedule, though it happens to be one of just three Big Ten teams that failed to make a bowl game in 2014. Perhaps the Wildcats will be better in 2015. In either case, Duke will face an uphill climb given the blase schedule. Add in the ACC Coastal slate and no Top 25 teams from the Atlantic, and the schedule will be viewed as weak. Again.

Now let's take a look at everybody else. Who knows, maybe one of these teams will emerge as the surprise of 2015.

Best of the rest

Virginia: at UCLA (10-3), William & Mary*, Notre Dame (8-5), Boise State (12-2)

Once again, the Hoos have the toughest schedule in the ACC, the only team to face two nonconference opponents with 10 or more wins in 2014. Really tough to hand a team in desperate need of momentum backbreaking schedules year after year after year. The way to handle it? Schedule the way Florida State or NC State did, at least for one year to build some confidence and a few more wins. Don't get me wrong. Playing good teams is important. I love it when teams upgrade their schedules. But at what expense? You have to be at the right place in your program to do it.

Ol' college try

Pitt: Youngstown State*, at Akron (5-7), at Iowa (7-6), Notre Dame (8-5)
Miami: Bethune-Cookman*, at FAU (3-9), Nebraska (9-4), at Cincinnati (9-4)
Boston College: Northern Illinois (11-3), New Mexico St (2-10), Notre Dame (8-5), Maine*

Decent schedules here for all three teams, featuring at least one Power-5 opponent. Northern Illinois and Cincinnati are two of the better Group of 5 teams so these schedules do remain challenging.

You take the good, you take the bad ...

Syracuse: Rhode Island*, Central Michigan (7-6), LSU (8-5), at USF (4-8)
Wake Forest: Elon*, at Army (4-8), Indiana (4-8), at Notre Dame (8-5)
North Carolina: vs. South Carolina (7-6), North Carolina A&T*, Illinois (6-7), Delaware*

One Power-5 for each and then a whole lotta nothin.' If North Carolina can get its act together and potentially make a run, it will be interesting to see how the committee handles a team with two FCS opponents.

Thanks for playing

NC State: Troy (3-9), at Old Dominion (6-6), at South Alabama (6-7), Eastern Kentucky*

The Wolfpack are the only team without a Power-5 school on the schedule. The ACC rule that mandates at least one Power-5 nonconference team on the docket starts in 2017. Schedule upgrades are coming soon in the way of Notre Dame (2016, 2017), West Virginia (2018, 2019) and Mississippi State (2020, 2021). But for now, if NC State does not go 4-0 against this slate something is seriously wrong.

*= FCS

ACC morning links

January, 14, 2015
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Virginia Tech announced some changes Tuesday to a pair of its future Big Ten series, while adding another home-and-home from that league to its schedule as well.

The Hokies will play Rutgers in 2023 and 2024. They will play at Rutgers on Sept. 16, 2023 and host the Scarlet Knights on Sept. 21, 2024.

Virginia Tech also moved its home-and-home with Penn State to 2020 and 2025, along with moving its home-and-home with Wisconsin to 2024 and 2025.

The Hokies will host the Nittany Lions on Sept. 12, 2020 and play at Penn State on Sept. 6, 2025. They will play at Wisconsin on Sept. 14, 2024 before hosting the Badgers on Sept. 13, 2025.

The addition of Virginia Tech's Nov. 2, 2019 trip to Notre Dame forced the move of both the Penn State and Wisconsin series, as the Hokies would have had just five home games in 2019.

"Our goal is to have at least six home games every year," Virginia Tech athletic director Whit Babcock said in a release. "So we needed to do some rearranging to make this happen, and both athletics departments at Wisconsin and Penn State were gracious enough to work with us."

The Hokies' games with Penn State were originally scheduled for Sept. 17, 2022 (in Blacksburg) and Sept. 16, 2023 (State College). Their games with Wisconsin were originally scheduled for Sept. 14, 2019 (in Madison) and Sept. 12, 2020 (in Blacksburg).

We now pause to applaud Virginia Tech here for its aggressive nonconference scheduling. In addition to these Big Ten games, the Hokies also have dates lined up with Ohio State (next season) and Michigan (2020-21). They play Tennessee in 2016 at Bristol Motor Speedway and West Virginia in 2017 in Landover, Maryland, and again in 2021-22.

They also play Purdue (2015, 2023) and East Carolina (2015-2020).

"I am very pleased with our future scheduling," Babcock said in the release. "Jim Weaver, Coach [Frank] Beamer and John Ballein were ahead of their time on advance scheduling and strength of schedule, which is so important in the new playoff structure. It's nice to be the recipient of their proactive efforts and our fans and players will ultimately be the beneficiaries. We want to be the best and play the best. We want to bring marquee games to Lane Stadium. This schedule sets up very nicely for us over the next decade. We may make some slight tweaks, but, in general, we are set for the next 10 years."

Here are the rest of your ACC Wednesday links:

2015 Too-Early ACC Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
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» More 2015 Too-Early Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

The 2014 season just ended, but we're already looking ahead to next season. Here are our way-too-early 2015 ACC power rankings:

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ACC morning links

January, 13, 2015
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The ACC did not win a national championship this season, but the league finished with four teams ranked in the final AP poll -- including three in the top 15.

While the poll does not exactly provide much consolation, the league can at least point to continued progress -- even if it does not feel like much given the late-season results. The ACC has finished with two teams ranked in the top 10 three straight seasons -- this time around, it was Florida State at No. 5 and Georgia Tech at No. 8, while Clemson won 10 games and finished No. 15 (a little low in my opinion). First-year member Louisville also finished ranked, at No. 24.

That sure beats the last Top 25 poll in which the ACC was irrelevant -- back in 2011, the highest finishing team was Virginia Tech, at No. 21.

So, baby steps.

Of course, the way Ohio State dismantled Oregon in the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T Monday night probably had a few Seminoles fans wondering, "what could have been." Ohio State turned the ball over four times and won by a jaw-dropping 22 points. Florida State turned the ball over five times in its loss to Oregon in the College Football Playoff semifinals in the Rose Bowl, and lost by 39. Two key differences stood out.

Oregon took advantage of all the Florida State mistakes to the tune of 35 points. But against the Buckeyes, the Ducks only scored 10 points off four turnovers. The biggest reason was a much more physical Ohio State defense, which controlled the line of scrimmage and frustrated Marcus Mariota all night. Ohio State, meanwhile, had its way running behind Cardale Jones and Ezekiel Elliott.

Those two were tremendous. Florida State had its opportunities to run on the Ducks, too, so no surprise the holes were there. The reason Ohio State won the game the way it did was how its defense played. Simply put, the Seminoles do not have a defense nearly as good as the Buckeyes, particularly in the front seven. Ohio State dominated at the line AND tackled incredibly well; Florida State did not. Hence, the blowout loss.

But hey, at least the ACC got a team into the first College Football Playoff. And there is one more ribbon in that ACC cap ...



Rematch anyone?

Now on to some morning reading:
  • Speaking of 2015, who is ready for some way-too-early Top 25 rankings? Mark Schlabach at ESPN.com has TCU No. 1, while Fox Sports and USA Today have Ohio State at the top. Nobody has an ACC team in the top four.
  • Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables now makes $1.35 million a year, and all Tigers assistants earned raises.
  • Dalvin Cook's grandmother helped guide Florida State freshman receiver Da'Vante Phillips.
  • Pitt chancellor Patrick Gallagher gives insight into the Pat Narduzzi hire, why he fired athletic director Steve Pederson, and what he is looking for in a new AD.
  • Paul Myerberg at USA Today handed out grades to every college football team. Florida State and Georgia Tech earned As, while Duke earned an A-minus, Clemson, NC State and Louisville earned B-pluses and Boston College earned a B.
Florida State has won three straight ACC championships, but the Seminoles are not a lock to be the preseason favorites to win the league again in 2015.

This could be the season to catch the Seminoles -- especially with Georgia Tech and Clemson returning top-25 teams.

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsJustin Thomas and the Yellow Jackets will aim to defend the nation's top-ranked rushing offense next season.
Everybody knows what Florida State has done over the past three years to re-establish itself as a national program. The Seminoles will remain a national program in 2015, but they may not be as dominant as they have been, given all the players they must replace.

You thought having to replace 11 NFL players off the 2012 team was bad? At least the Seminoles had Jameis Winston coming in at quarterback, and returning standouts such as Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary and Lamarcus Joyner on defense.

Now, the Seminoles have to replace perhaps the best player in program history (Winston), the best receiver in program history (Greene) and the best tight end in program history (O'Leary). Not to mention four starting offensive linemen and at least two All-ACC defenders who have declared early, with up to two more on the way.

When it is all said and done, Florida State could end up getting at least another 11 players drafted. That would bring its three-year total to 29 drafted players -- more than the 26 players Miami had drafted off its heralded teams from 2001-03.

Not even a coach that has recruited as well as Jimbo Fisher has can easily reload after losing so many veterans that laid the foundation for multiple ACC titles, a national championship and a 29-game winning streak.

What could make the difference is quarterback. That remains a big uncertainty in Tallahassee. But Georgia Tech and Clemson return two of the best quarterbacks in the ACC -- both sure to earn preseason votes for ACC Player of the Year.

Justin Thomas had a breakthrough season for the Yellow Jackets, the catalyst for an 11-win season and what should be a top-10 final ranking. He has two more seasons in Atlanta. While it is true the Jackets lose terrific players in Zach Laskey, Synjyn Days, Shaq Mason and DeAndre Smelter, the biggest key to efficiency and productivity in the Georgia Tech offense is its quarterback.

Thomas was terrific in his first year as a starter, becoming just the second quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in school history. He ranks No. 4 in the nation in QBR, a measure of how good a quarterback is on a play-by-play level. From a team perspective, Georgia Tech ranks No. 1 in the nation in rushing offense and third-down conversions, No. 3 in time of possession and No. 7 in first downs -- all testaments to how well the triple-option worked this season with Thomas behind center.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtDeshaun Watson and the Tigers finished second in the Atlantic Division in 2014, and will likely be a preseason favorite to take over No. 1 in 2015.
At Clemson, we all saw the potential Deshaun Watson has -- provided he can stay healthy for an entire season. With Artavis Scott, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman and a host of other young offensive players returning, this offense has the potential to be as good -- if not better -- than the crew Tajh Boyd led a few years ago. The Tigers could end up being the top preseason choice in the Atlantic.

On the whole, the Atlantic Division should be tougher than it has been over the past few seasons. Louisville showed it is a team that has the potential to make some noise in the ACC in Year 1; NC State is vastly improved, and the last ACC team to hand the Seminoles a loss. Boston College has played the Seminoles close the past two seasons, nearly pulling the upset in Tallahassee a few months ago.

Of those three, the Cards and Wolfpack also return their starting QBs.

The ACC schedule will also be more challenging. The Seminoles swap Virginia for Georgia Tech from the Coastal, and the game is in Atlanta. So is their annual Atlantic showdown with Clemson. Already, those two games are setting up to be pivotal in the 2015 ACC race.

There is no doubt Florida State has plenty of talent in the pipeline. But whether the Seminoles will be able to put it all together for 2015 and play like a dominant force remains a question mark, leaving the door open for another team to raise the championship trophy.

ACC morning links

January, 9, 2015
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The loss of Jameis Winston is obviously a big deal for Florida State fans, and no doubt the search for a new QB will be the biggest talking point through the offseason. But on defense, the losses might actually make more of an impact.

On Thursday, Mario Edwards Jr. made it official that he’s leaving for the NFL draft, and reports suggest Ronald Darby will be following him out the door. P.J. Williams announced his intention to enter the draft earlier in the week, and it’s certainly possible that Eddie Goldman could leave as well.

Meanwhile, E.J. Levenberry has decided to transfer, Desmond Hollin has exhausted his eligibility, and Ukeme Eligwe was dismissed from FSU in November.

As we noted earlier this week, the defense had its problems in 2014 when it came to handling adversity, but there’s no question there was a big step back this season on the defensive side of the ball.



Plenty of fans want to blame Charles Kelly, the third different coordinator in as many seasons for Florida State, but the bigger problem is simply a loss of talent. In the last two seasons, FSU has had 11 different defensive players drafted. That number will increase by at least four this year, and the departures of NFL-caliber players is huge. Bjoern Werner, Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Xavier Rhodes, Timmy Jernigan -- those guys aren’t easily replaced, and certainly the same can be said for Edwards, Williams and Goldman.

So while FSU’s search for a QB will garner the headlines, the process of rebuilding that defense this offseason will likely be what determines whether the Seminoles are legitimate playoff contenders again in 2015.

A few more links:
  • David Cutcliffe thinks Duke deserves a spot in the final Top 25, writes the Charlotte Observer. There were 26 Power 5 teams that won nine games or more, and with Duke losing three of its last four while never being ranked better than 22nd, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
  • BC Interruption takes a look at the biggest surprises of the 2014 season for the Eagles, including the quick rebuild on the offensive line.
  • Randy Shannon refuses to look back at his tenure at Miami, writes the Miami Herald.
  • I spent a year at Syracuse for grad school, and Konrad’s Sports Bar was a vacant building for the most of it. Its namesake, however, turned in an impressive feat, swimming nine miles after falling off a fishing boat, writes Syracuse.com.
  • Pittsburgh is expected to hire FIU assistant Josh Conklin as its new defensive coordinator, writes the Post-Gazette. Conklin took the 94th-ranked FIU D in 2013 to 36th in 2014.
  • Georgia Tech is recruiting the brother of Georgia running back Keith Marshall, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
So the news everyone assumed was inevitable is now a done deal: Jameis Winston is headed to the NFL.

Of course much has been made of Winston’s off-field issues, but his on-field performance in the past two years has been exceptional.

Since the start of 2013, Winston has thrown for 65 touchdowns (the next closest in the ACC is 36), passed for 7,964 yards (next closest is 4,960) and completed 124 passes of 20 yards or more (no one else has half as many). His adjusted QBR of 82.0 is easily the best over that span among ACC QBs.

Todd McShay says Winston is a better NFL prospect than fellow Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, though really, the decision on which one goes first likely comes down to whether teams favor a pocket passer or a more mobile QB.

The question for Florida State, of course, is where the Seminoles go from here for a QB.

Tomahawk Nation gives some thought to a potential transfer by Ohio State star Braxton Miller, but as our Jared Shanker writes, there are not many simple answers.

Sean Maguire played well enough to beat Clemson in his lone start, and while he wasn’t exactly sharp, that performance only looks better given how good the Tigers’ D turned out to be. Jimbo Fisher has also spoken incredibly highly of J.J. Cosentino, and Florida State has obviously won before with a redshirt freshman leading the offense.

But what’s clear is that, whoever lands the job, it will be a big changing of the guard in the ACC. This year, the league opened the season with Winston and everyone else when it came to QBs. With Marquise Williams, Justin Thomas, Deshaun Watson, Brad Kaaya and Jacoby Brissett back in 2015, the ACC could well be the richest QB league in the country next year — and FSU’s place in the pecking order remains to be seen.

A few more links:

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