ACC: Boston College Eagles
ESPN.com caught up with Murphy recently to touch on a number of topics.
What has the acclimation process been like at BC?
Were you familiar with any of the players before?
TM: No, I really didn't know anyone really before I got here. I came up with Ian (Silberman), me and Ian helped each other with the process. But I was able to get to know the guys quickly and build relationships really fast, which made everything easy for both of us.
What did you remember about Addazio from recruiting and from Florida?
TM: He's a very passionate guy, I remember that from the recruiting process. He loves what he does, he takes pride in what he does. Not only does he try to make you the best football player that you can, he also tries to develop you as a person and make you the best man off the field as well. That really stuck with me. That's something I really look for when trying to find a new program, and knowing that coach Addazio had that instilled in him, it made my decision very easy.
Did you watch BC at all last season? Were you surprised by the jump they made in Addazio's first year?
TM: I definitely followed the team a little bit last year, especially with coach Addazio being the offensive coordinator my freshman year. You always kind of root for guys that you know, so any time BC was playing I'd definitely tune in and watch. It shows what kind of guy coach Addazio is and the leader he is, and the seniors last year did a great job of turning things around and building a culture. You have to give them credit, and it's something that I really look for when choosing a new school, and it's a great culture, it's something I'm happy to be a part of. And I'm just going to do my best to help this program, help this team and find a way to lead, get us a few "Ws" and take the next step for this program.
Coach Addazio said you are a BC guy and that you fit into the culture there. How so?
TM: When you think of Boston College you think of a high-standard program with lots of great people that really do the best to try and excel and help the community around them. The people academically and athletically are all very nice. They all go out of their way to try to help people and uplift people. When I got here you could also see that with the team. Guys were really a close-knit bunch of guys and they were sacrificing for one another and doing things that that they probably wouldn't do for themselves, but they would push through things because they didn't want to let the guy down next to them. When I saw that and felt that, I was really happy and I felt like I made the right decision.
How would you describe the offense you are running?
TM: Right now we're in heavy sets, we're in spread sets, we're a little bit of everything right now. We're still trying to find our identity. We're trying a bunch of things out to see what we're good at and we're just going to really try and excel once we find out what we are good at. We're just trying to be successful with everything the coaches throw at us and try to execute everything, because the more things we have, the more versatile we can be and the more pressure on the defense. So we're just trying to make things easy for us, and the more things we can do, the better. We're just trying to go out there, execute, fly around, have some fun.
Who are some of the receivers you think will step up this year?
TM: I think all of the receivers are doing a great job. Starting with Charlie Callinan to Dan Crimmins to Drew Barksdale, those guys have really stepped up and are finding roles. And we also have Shakim Phillips with some experience, David Dudeck and Josh Bordner, he's been doing a good job lining up and doing some things outside. So I think our fans should be excited, because these guys can make some plays and they work hard and they do a lot of the little things right to help this offense go. They're going to do some things and surprise some people, and hopefully they'll be able to have great careers while they're here.
How did you and (NC State quarterback) Jacoby Brissett help each other throughout the transfer process?
TM: We both played at Florida and we both didn't play much, so we kind of would try to keep each other up. Sitting on the bench isn't fun, it could be difficult. We tried to build a friendship where we keep each other up, keep each other motivated, and each and every day find a way to go into the office and get better, and so we both decided we needed to move on. We both talked to each other, and when it was his time and he wanted to leave I sat down with him and we both tried to break things down and what his options were and what was the best option. And it was vice versa, he did the same thing with me. So we have a really good relationship. We still talk to this day. We talk, if not every day then maybe every other day, just to check up on each other and see how things are going, because it can be a tough transition. And as friends you always want to see your other friend do well, and we both look forward to competing against each other when we do line up and play this year.
1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.
Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.
It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.
3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.
The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.
4. Virginia goes bowling.
The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.
5. Clemson is a running team.
With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.
6. Young runners make a big impact.
Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.
7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.
If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.
8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.
Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.
9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.
Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.
10. The Coastal champ will be ...
Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech announced Saturday that Michael Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, would get the starting nod.
On Sunday, Miami followed up with the news that true freshman Brad Kaaya will be its starter when it opens the season against Louisville.
There are only five QBs in the ACC who threw more than 100 passes in the league in 2013 returning for this season, and three of them are in the Coastal. But two of those three -- David Watford at UVA and Marquise Williams at UNC -- aren't guaranteed a starting job when the season opens. In fact, Watford is out as Virginia's starter with Greyson Lambert penciled in atop the depth chart, and Tar Heels' coach Larry Fedora said he won't announce a decision between Williams and Mitch Trubisky until North Carolina kicks off its opener.
That could mean as many as six of the ACC's 14 opening day starting QBs would never have taken a snap with their respective teams before, and Clemson's Deshaun Watson, who will play but not start, adds more to that mix.
Of course, all these situations are different, and Kaaya certainly has the advantage of talent surrounding him at Miami. Perhaps no school in the conference has a better RB-WR combo than the Hurricanes Stacy Coley and Duke Johnson.
At Virginia Tech, on the other hand, Brewer will open the season with little experience around him. As The Roanoke Times notes, leading rusher Trey Edmunds is currently fourth on the depth chart at tailback (partially due to injury) and the Hokies' top two receivers, Demitri Knowles and Willie Byrn, aren't in the starting lineup either.
In fact, here's a quick look at Virginia Tech's skill position starters on offense:
QB: Brewer: Transfer, no previous ACC experience
RBs: Junior J.C. Coleman and freshman Marshawn Williams were responsible for a total of 84 carries for 284 yards last season (17 percent of the Hokies' total rushing attempts). Another freshman, Shai McKenzie is behind them.
WRs: Sophomore Joshua Stanford and freshman Isaiah Ford grab the starting nods here, again accounting for just a fraction of last year's passing game (16 percent of total receptions).
TE: Junior Ryan Malleck missed all of last season and has 17 career receptions.
I talked with Frank Beamer last week, and he was wildly enthusiastic about the future, raving about the opportunities at tight end, his freshmen receivers and Williams at tailback.
It's a risk, certainly, to start so much youth on a team coming off two down years, but Beamer clearly has decided that winning 10 games with mediocre talent isn't any better than winning eight games with developing talent. And the truth is, with Virginia Tech's schedule, there will be plenty of opportunity for the young pups to gain experience without necessarily costing the Hokies any games anyway.
It's a shrewd decision on Beamer's part, and one worthy of praise. Many coaches in his situation would go worry about the present first and foremost, but he's clearly concerned about Virginia Tech's future. That's a strong sentiment as the 2014 campaign gets set to kick off in a wide open Coastal Division.
A few more links for your morning reading:
- Sports Illustrated looks at the teams best positioned to knock Florida State from its ACC throne.
- Cavalier Insider has a terrific profile of Virginia All-ACC safety Anthony Harris, who might be one of the most under-appreciated stars in the conference.
- The State has a nice profile of new Clemson QB Cole Stoudt, too -- though no matter how much Stoudt warrants some attention, it's hard to overlook future star Deshaun Watson waiting in the wings.
- Attendance is a concern, even after a national championship at Florida State, writes the Orlando Sentinel. That's something USA Today tackled last week, and it's hard not to see this issue being front-and-center when it comes to getting students to stay in their seats.
- BC Interruption does some projecting to figure out the depth chart for the Eagles opener against UMass.
- Bobby Petrino says the pressure is all on him as Louisville preps for 2014, writes The Courier-Journal.
- If you're an FSU fan looking to head to Syracuse for the game this year, tickets go on sale Tuesday. And as someone who has lived in both Syracuse and Tallahassee, I cannot recommend this road trip enough. Especially Dinosaur BBQ.
- And your non-sports link of the day: The zen of casting Bill Murray in your movie, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.
For two seasons, Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy worked alongside each other on Florida's practice fields and film room, in the weight room and the meeting rooms, but throughout the entirety of 2011 and 2012 they combined to make just one start. They'd push each other to get better, but more often, they bonded during long conversations about stifled dreams and brighter futures.
For years, there was a nebulous finish line, a point when Murphy and Brissett hoped at least one of them might be a starter. Now, there's a date circled on the calendar for both quarterbacks: Oct. 11, 2014. It's the day Brissett, now the starting QB at NC State, and Murphy, now the starter at Boston College, will go head to head on the field.
After it became clear Brissett's career at Florida had plateaued in 2012, he decided it was time to transfer. He sat down with Murphy and mapped out his options. West Virginia seemed a possibility, but the coaching staff there was eager to compare Brissett with former Moutaineers QB Geno Smith, and Brissett had already spent too much time living in the shadows of other players.
"I was like, 'I'm not the next Geno,'" Brissett said. "I wanted to be Jacoby, and I felt like [NC State] was a place I could do that."
Brissett already knew NC State coach Dave Doeren from his recruitment, which made the transition a bit easier. Still, Brissett would have to sit out a year because of NCAA transfer rules, which meant one more year watching from the sidelines.
At Florida, a season-ending injury to incumbent Jeff Driskel finally gave Murphy his first opportunity to start. He threw the first pass of his four-year career on Sept. 21, 2013 against Tennessee, and he started the next six games for the Gators -- four of them losses. Although Murphy had some solid outings, the losses dogged him. A shoulder injury ended his season in November, and by then it was clear Driskel would be back atop the depth chart when he was healthy.
With one year of eligibility left, Murphy began to think about following Brissett out the door, and, as a New England native, Boston College seemed like an ideal fit.
"He was telling me Boston College was one of the schools he was looking at, and I was like, 'Oh, Boston College is one of the teams we play,'" Brissett said. "So as much as I wanted to tell him to be positive as the season went, I was hoping he'd go to Boston College just so I could play him. But I remember him countless times saying he wanted to stay, he didn't want to transfer."
But what Murphy wanted more than anything was a chance to play, so Brissett offered some advice: Make a decision and don't look back.
"You can't say I'm going to transfer and then say never mind because everybody knows you want to leave," Brissett said. "So just do it and get it over with, know where you want to go. And no matter where you go, if they're taking you right now, you're pretty much going to be the starter. So make sure when you go there, play how you play and you'll be fine. Everything else will take care of itself."
So far, it has.
Murphy didn't have the luxury of preparation at Boston College, but the Eagles' depth chart offered few other options, and he was installed as the team's starter almost from Day 1.
The two QBs still talk nearly every day -- no longer trading stories about what it might be like to start, but instead debating the ways they still needed to get better now that they're No. 1 on their respective depth charts.
And yes, there's still some sour feelings about Florida, about the opportunities that never developed there. It's not anger or frustration, but rather a drive to prove something to the coaches who doubted them.
"You want to show them why you transferred and show them you could play at the highest level," Brissett said. "Whatever they said you couldn't do, you go out there and do it. All it takes is the right person, the right situation and the right coach to say, 'You're my guy.' And I'm pretty sure Murph's thinking the same thing. It's not worrying about Florida, it's worrying about ourselves."
And of course there's still that date looming on the calendar, when Brissett and Murphy are finally reunited. They've talked about that a lot, too.
But just like those long days of practice at Florida, the chatter isn't about competition so much as it is about the future, about what they've worked so hard to achieve.
"It will definitely be kind of weird to go up against somebody you've grinded with and stayed after practice and done drills with and watched film with, and give each other tips to get better," Murphy said. "But I think it'll be exciting and I think it'll be a fun game to play and I think it'll be a great atmosphere."
After all, it's the perfect scenario for both QBs. On every snap from scrimmage, either Murphy or Brissett will be on the field, and that's really all they ever wanted.
"As corny as it sounds, it puts a smile on your face to see one of your good friends doing what you know he wants to do," Brissett said. "We had those countless talks when we were playing with each other -- 'Man I wish I was out there playing.' And now I'm going to get to see first hand, see him play."
You're forgiven if this entire exercise seems foreign. But at least 10 of the ACC's 14 teams will start new faces under center when games kick off next week. And there is a good chance that four of those 10 will have quarterbacks who began their college careers elsewhere.
"I really don't know," Miami coach Al Golden said of the surplus of ACC quarterback transfers. "We liked where we were in the spring, and clearly Ryan [Williams] went down the week before the spring game. It's really not a function of not being confident in the guys that are on campus. It's more a function of just wanting to get a guy that has been in the game and has the experience."
Golden acknowledged the quarterback market has been busier than usual, particularly in his league. He brought in former BYU and Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps this summer after Williams, the Hurricanes' No. 1 quarterback, suffered a right ACL injury that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. (Williams, naturally, began his career elsewhere, at Memphis.)
Heaps, eligible immediately as a graduate transfer, is battling true freshman Brad Kaaya to start Miami's opener.
"I think the quarterback position has grown in terms of talent over the last few years," said Heaps, who set several freshman records at BYU in 2010 before losing his job both with the Cougars and later at Kansas. "There’s a lot of great, quality quarterbacks in college football right now and they all want a chance to play. That’s where you’re seeing a lot of these guys transfer. They’re in their situation but they know they can play somewhere else so they make those moves and try and find the best situation for them and in some cases it works out, in others it doesn’t. Just knowing they have that opportunity is first and foremost.
"Sometimes things just don’t work out. Recruiting is the way it is and sometimes a situation isn’t what you think it will be when you get there. It’s been a unique trend in the last little bit, but I think if a guy has an opportunity to go play, he should go explore that."
Likewise, fellow Coastal member Virginia Tech turned to the free-agent route following an underwhelming spring from its three quarterbacks, welcoming Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer (and two true freshmen) to the race to replace Logan Thomas and kick-start an offense in need of a jolt after just 15 wins in the past two seasons. In an odd twist, Brewer, who has two seasons left to play after graduating from Texas Tech, was recommended to the Hokies' staff by Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who coached Brewer back at Lake Travis (Texas) High.
Brewer brings with him a nearly 71 percent completion percentage from his limited action with the Red Raiders, including 440 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
On the other side, in the more daunting Atlantic, a pair of second-year coaches are turning to former Gators quarterbacks to command their offenses.
Boston College coach Steve Addazio goes back with Tyler Murphy, a fellow Connecticut native whom Addazio had initially recruited to Gainesville, Florida, during his time as an assistant there. Jacoby Brissett transferred to NC State shortly after coach Dave Doeren was hired there, sitting out last season and taking enough initiative behind the scenes to earn the starting nod before spring ball this year.
“Last year we brought in Brandon Mitchell [from Arkansas] through the one-year loophole, and then at the end of the year, Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker left to go to [Louisiana-Monroe and UT-Martin]," Doeren said. "While that was going on, Jacoby transferred here from Florida. So I’ve seen about all of it that can go around. It’s just part of what recruiting is now. Guys want to play and people don’t want to wait their turn much anymore."
Murphy, who transferred in January, has one year to add some pizzazz to an Eagles' offense looking to spread the field more after last season's run-heavy approach. He spoke often with Brissett (who has two years left at NC State) back when both were still weighing their options when departing Florida.
The familiarity was more than enough to reunite Murphy with Addazio, who said a guy like Murphy probably should have gone to BC in the first place.
"Being a New England guy and growing up around BC, I watched a lot of BC and Matt Ryan in the early 2000s," Murphy said. "So it feels good to be a part of this institution, this program and I'm looking forward to the season."
Florida State could see a pair of its former quarterbacks start against each other next week, as Jake Coker transferred to Alabama one year after Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher was supportive of both, with Trickett being familiar with WVU (his dad used to coach there before moving to FSU) and Coker heading to his home-state program after backing up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Fisher likened the rash of quarterback departures to that of college basketball transfers, because both are possession-dominated athletes.
The graduate-transfer rule, popularized by Russell Wilson three years ago, has only added to that. And, in many ways, it has been a boon for both sides.
"[It] gives some opportunities for guys that are worried about situations like Tyler's," Addazio said, referring to Murphy's injury-shortened 2013. "He's like, 'I've got one shot at this thing. I want to go where I feel like I've got the best opportunity to be the starter.' So you're seeing a lot of this right now. I like this opportunity."
ESPN.com and FoxSports.com released their preseason All-American teams Thursday, and Marcus Mariota received the quarterback nod above Jameis Winston in both, unleashing the hounds in Tallahassee and the Florida panhandle.
At the end of the day, there can be only one quarterback on the preseason team, and Mariota and Winston have the strongest cases for the nomination, without question. But while Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and had an unprecedented season for a freshman, it is quite conceivable that Mariota will have a better 2014 season, at least statistically. An All-American selection isn’t a qualifier to be the best player in the country, which Winston was voted in ESPN.com’s player rankings. Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings and a 21-game winning streak, yet has only been a first-team All-Pro selection twice.
Last season, Mariota threw 31 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He has only 10 interceptions in his two seasons. He’s totaled 700 yards rushing in both of his seasons, too. In Oregon’s up-tempo offense, if Mariota remains healthy, he could improve on all of those numbers.
The narrative all offseason was how it will be tough for Winston to replicate his 2013 numbers, which consisted of more than 4,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. With two of his top receivers gone, the passing game might not be as efficient, and coach Jimbo Fisher could rely on his rushing attack more in 2014.
Is it contrarian to select Mariota over the reigning Heisman winner and a quarterback yet to lose a game? Sure, but that does not mean there is not a legitimate argument for Mariota to be an All-American at the end of the season. And if the preseason team is a projection based on 2014 and not a reflection of 2013, Mariota has a sensible case for the quarterback nomination.
Here are a few more ACC links to get your weekend started:
- Did anyone know there was a quarterback competition going on at Pitt? Coach Paul Chryst named redshirt sophomore Chad Voytik his starter Thursday.
- Clemson fans are hoping bad news really does not come in groups of three after losing a potential starter at running back and depth along the offensive line the last few days.
- Miami quarterback Jake Heaps was back at practice Wednesday. There were a lot of raised eyebrows when Heaps missed a scrimmage.
- Boston College held its final scrimmage before the season opener this week.
- Not sure it's the best way to draw in readers, but here are 10 notes on Georgia Tech that do not qualify as "must read."
- Louisville QB Will Gardner took the long road to Louisville, literally, and he's now on the final stretch of the long road to the starting quarterback position.
- NC State coach Dave Doeren is still offering positive vibes about the 2014 season despite a poor start to his Wolfpack tenure.
- Three things we learned during Syracuse's preseason camp.
- Duke QB Anthony Boone says the silver lining in Braxton Deaver's season-ending injury is that Boone spent time throwing to his other tight ends during the early portion of camp.
WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke. One of the most dynamic receivers in the ACC, Crowder has had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and gets the nod over Louisville receiver DeVante Parker in a close call. Given Crowder's past production in the offense, he should be in line to break school receiving records this season.
WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State. Perhaps one of the most underrated receivers in the country, Greene is a virtual lock to catch every pass that comes his way. He is the picture of consistency, and as the top returning target for Jameis Winston, should reach 1,000 yards again.
TE: Nick O'Leary, Florida State. One of the best tight ends in the country, O'Leary had 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He should improve on all those numbers this season.
T: Cameron Erving, Florida State. Erving thought about leaving school early last season for the NFL draft but decided to return, and he now anchors the best offensive line in the country.
T: Sean Hickey, Syracuse. Hickey is going into his third season as a starter and has developed into one of the best tackles in the league. He also may be the strongest player in the ACC, too.
C: Andy Gallik, Boston College. Gallik helped spearhead a Boston College run game last season that averaged 212.5 yards on the ground. As a three-year starter, Gallik has grown into the best center in the league.
G: Tre' Jackson, Florida State. One of the best guards in the country, Jackson also opted to return to school for his senior year. He and Erving are the best players on that line.
G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke. A first-team All-ACC player a year ago, Tomlinson will be relied upon even more to lead an offensive line that has to replace two of its best players. If he has another stellar season, Tomlinson could be one of the first guards taken in next year's draft.
QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State. The returning Heisman Trophy winner had a rough season off-the-field but there is no questioning his credentials on the field. After throwing for more than 4,000 yards a year ago, the expectation is he will be even better this year.
RB: Duke Johnson, Miami. Johnson is one of the best backs in the country, averaging 6.6 yards every time he touches the ball. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, he's a virtual lock to gain 1,000 yards.
RB: Kevin Parks, Virginia. Parks is the only returning 1,000-yard back in the ACC and is hoping for more in 2014. Tough call here between Parks and Karlos Williams, the next two best backs in the league behind Johnson.
DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson. Beasley finished last season with 13 sacks (tops in ACC) and 23 TFL (4th in nation). He’s a preseason All-American and the biggest star on one of the country's top defensive fronts.
DE: Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State. The No. 1 overall recruit in the nation three years ago, Edwards is poised to come into his own in 2014. He was a critical piece of Florida State’s run-stuffing defense a year ago, finishing with 9.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks.
DT: Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech. No returning interior lineman in the ACC had more TFL last year than Maddy’s 13.5, and he was a key for the Hokies' dominant defense. This season, he'll be the centerpiece of a new-look D line.
DT: Grady Jarrett, Clemson. Dabo Swinney calls Jarrett one of the best defenders in the nation, even if he hasn’t gotten much national acclaim. He finished last season with 59 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss, and should be the foundation for a dominant defensive line at Clemson this season.
LB: Denzel Perryman, Miami. Perryman is Miami’s most productive defender, finishing with 108 tackles last season (fifth in the ACC). He’s the lone ACC defender returning for 2014 to have recorded at least 60 tackles in each of the previous three seasons.
LB: Stephone Anthony, Clemson. His 15 TFL last season ranked eighth in the ACC, and no returning linebacker in the conference had more. He added 86 tackles and 4.5 sacks to boot.
CB: Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech. One of the top freshman defenders in the nation last season, Fuller picked off six passes as part of Virginia Tech's exceptional secondary. His 17 passes defended tied for eighth nationally.
CB: P.J. Williams, Florida State. Williams racked up three interceptions and was dominant in coverage for Florida State, which finished with the best pass defense in the nation. He also won defensive MVP honors in the BCS national championship.
S: Anthony Harris, Virginia. Led the nation with eight interceptions last season for Virginia, including picking off at least one pass in five straight games in conference play in October and November.
S: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State. The first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders, Ramsey made the transition to safety midseason and didn’t miss a beat, finishing with 49 tackles and an INT.
S: Jeremy Cash, Duke. Cash finished last season second in the ACC in tackles (121), fifth in interceptions (4) and recorded 9.5 TFL, tops in the conference among defensive backs.
K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State. The Lou Groza Award winner in 2013, Aguayo broke the national record for points by a kicker in a season with 157 points. He is virtually automatic every time he steps onto the field, missing just one field goal attempt and zero extra points last season.
P: A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech. A second-team All-ACC selection a year ago, Hughes averaged 44.1 yards per punt. He placed 24 inside the 20, and had 22 punts of 50 yards or longer.
KR: Kermit Whitfield, Florida State. Whitfield led the nation last year in kickoffs, with an average of 36.4 yards per return. His speed makes him extremely difficult to stop, let alone slow down.
PR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina. Teams have probably learned to kick away from Switzer at all times. Last season, he had five returns for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record.
Substitute Maguire for Winston and the Noles still win the ACC championship, but without Winston they only average 33.9 points per game and win 9.4 games on average.
The Orlando Sentinel digs a bit deeper, looking at what the ramifications of a Winston injury might be for the Seminoles.
I didn’t crunch any serious numbers, as USA Today did, or dig too deep into the roster the way the Sentinel did, but if I was putting together a list of the ACC’s most irreplaceable players, it’d probably look something like this:
1. Winston — for obvious reasons, as discussed above.
2. Duke Johnson — We saw what happened last year when he went down. Miami was 7-0 with him healthy, 2-4 when he wasn’t on the field the whole game. Not to mention the Hurricanes' rushing average was cut in half.
3. Jamison Crowder - The guy was targeted 174 times last year (40 more than Sammy Watkins) and that was before Duke lost Braxton Deaver and Brandon Connette.
4. Eli Harold - The guy averaged 24 more snaps per game than All-American Vic Beasley did, and Virginia’s defense is predicated on penetrating the line of scrimmage.
5. Jacoby Brissett — OK, NC State might not do much this year even with Brissett, but what’s the option if he goes down? The Pack’s hopes for 2014 are riding almost entirely on his shoulders, and unlike last year, there’s actually some reason for optimism.
Beyond that top five, Mario Edwards Jr., Luther Maddy, Norkeithus Otis and Tyler Boyd come to mind, too.
Of course, there’s surely a few more players left off the list that warrant discussion. So, who’d we miss?
A few more links:
- The (Syracuse) Post-Standard has Virginia’s Mike London as the ACC’s only coach on the hot seat this season. One reason London is on the hot seat: a lack of production in spite of talent. Virginia is 18-31 under London. Only eight other teams have performed worse during the past four years, and of that group, only Cal has signed more four-star and five-star recruits than the 19 signed by London, according to ESPN’s rankings. (Of note: Kentucky has signed 16, but 14 have come in the last two years since Mark Stoops was hired as head coach. The other six programs with worse records than Virginia during that stretch have signed just 30 four-star or five-star recruits.)
- The Wall Street Journal took a look at how each Power 5 conference coach has done against top-25 opposition in his career. The Louisville Courier-Journal followed up with a deeper look at Bobby Petrino’s credentials as well as a look at the individual ACC coaches.
- There are still plenty of starting jobs up for grabs on the Virginia Tech offensive depth chart, as The Roanoke Times points out.
- For years, Jim Grobe avoided playing true freshmen at Wake Forest. In the first season under Dave Clawson, it appears as many as nine will get a chance to play in this year’s opener, the Winston-Salem Journal writes.
- And on related notes, earlier this week Matt Fortuna wrote a bit about Clawson’s journey to Wake Forest, and Jared Shanker looked at the programs most apt to play true freshmen.
- Duke certainly projects to have a speedy secondary, which has earned the unit a unique nickname, writes the Charlotte Observer.
- Steven Daniels is in line to be the next great middle linebacker at Boston College, writes the Boston Herald.
- And lastly, if you don’t hear from me for the next 10 days, it’s because FXX is marathoning every “The Simpsons” episode ever, starting today. Here’s the full schedule if you’re portioning out your time to the most important episodes (“Marge vs. the Monorail is tomorrow at 9 p.m.) and here’s your requisite Simpsons gif to showcase my feelings about the event.
“We have notepads and pencils and you’re required to take notes,” Fisher said last week. “We’ll check them periodically.”
The fifth-year Seminoles coach was referring to his mandate that his players keep their eyes forward and jot down diligent outlines during positional meetings. I asked Fisher’s policy on taking notes after the Wall Street Journal published an article on the philosophy of the Cleveland Browns' Mike Pettine, a first-time head coach.
A former high school coach, Pettine found out from other teachers how actually putting pen to paper improves the odds a student will retain the information and retrieve the lesson when it’s test time. Kevin Clark, the WSJ writer, spoke with a UCLA professor who co-authored a paper on how writing instead of typing is often more useful, this at a time when there might be more laptops than notepads in college classrooms throughout the country.
It’s an interesting concept as it relates to football, which is catching up to the rest of the country in its fascination with technology. Several professional and college teams are using GPS tracking during practice. A handful, Florida State included, have armed players with tablets, and the Seminoles have a tablet in each player’s locker. Advanced metrics, usually reserved for baseball stat heads, are creeping their way onto football coaches’ desks. Drones are even being used to add yet another camera angle of practices.
But, even during football's technological revolution, it goes to show that sometimes simpler is better -- at least when it comes to filing away that the fullback is always option No. 1 on Spider 2 Y Banana.
“They’re taking a test every week, except they have to do it in front of 83,000 instead of a classroom,” Fisher said.
Here are a few more links to check out:
- FSU is No. 1 in both preseason polls. That is due in large part to QB Jameis Winston, who took on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and then nominated his coach to do the same.
- Miami was in the bottom half of the ACC blog's preseason power rankings, and much of that has to do with questions at quarterback and the defensive line. However, freshman QB Brad Kaaya is impressing the team with his maturity, and the defensive front is improving through camp.
- Clemson opens the season at Georgia, but the Tigers will open up their home stadium so their fans can watch the game from inside Death Valley. The Bulldogs might be hurting on defense with a few losses during the offseason, but the Tigers' offense has not consistently impressed the Clemson coaches yet this fall. Chad Morris said quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson made some "really lousy decisions" in the latest scrimmage.
- Louisville also held a weekend scrimmage, and Cardinals fans should be happy with the offense. The unit's pace and its future quarterback were among the five biggest takeaways.
- Boston College's scrimmage looked like Christmas morning, which is not a good thing for an offense. Hint: They gift-wrapped turnovers.
- An Atlantic division outlook from the (Charlottesville, Virginia) Daily Progress.
- A few notes from Syracuse's Saturday practice.
- Defense was optional in the Triangle in 2013, but there are defensive playmakers at Duke, NC State and North Carolina.
- Nobody is quite sure what to expect out of Blacksburg, Virginia, this season: Does Virginia Tech continue to slide or are the Hokies poised for a return to double-digit wins? Frank Beamer believes it is the latter.
- Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof sees signs that the Yellow Jackets' defense is improving, but that doesn't mean the unit is where it needs to be.
- The name Kenechi Udeze might ring a bell for some football fans. He was a first-round NFL draft pick not long ago, but cancer cut his career short. He's back involved with the sport he loves, though, as a first-year assistant strength and conditioning coach at Pitt.
That would be the Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota and not the reigning Heisman winner, Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston.
It's not that picking Mariota is such a silly idea. He's exceptional, and he's a candidate to unseat Winston as the Heisman winner.
But lots of folks seem to be a good bit higher on Mariota now than Winston, and it's tough to follow that logic beyond the fact that Winston's off-field troubles make people want to look elsewhere. (Though, Chantel Jennings and Jared Shanker did their part to debate the battle rationally.)
Yes, Mariota was exceptional to start last season before sliding a bit in November due to an injury that severely limited his mobility. But how much did that really matter?
Pre-injury, here's how their numbers stacked up.
Mariota: 64 completion percentage, 10.1 yards per attempt, 2,562 total yards, 29 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Winston: 70 completion percentage, 11.8 yards per attempt, 2,608 total yards, 27 touchdowns, 6 interceptions
The big mark in Mariota's corner is the zero in the interceptions department, but he had fumbled four times (two were lost). Mariota also played in a more stat-friendly offense (that averaged seven more plays per game) and had yet to play his most difficult opposition of the season. Winston had already dominated two top-10 opponents in Clemson and Miami.
There's a case for Mariota, certainly, but it's not as if he was head and shoulders better even before the injury. And, the funny thing is, he wasn't that much worse even afterward.
Post-injury numbers for both QBs:
Mariota: 63 completion percentage, 8.6 yards per attempt, 1,466 total yards, 11 touchdowns, 4 interceptions
Winston: 63 completion percentage, 9.0 yards per attempt, 1,621 total yards, 17 touchdowns, 4 interceptions
Winston's totals came with one extra game, too, so aside from the picks, they were pretty close. The only difference is, Mariota was hurt, Winston had off-field troubles, and Florida State won a national title while Oregon lost twice.
So what will change in that equation this season?
Maybe Mariota stays healthy and Oregon runs the table. That seems less likely though, given the tougher slate the Ducks face in the Pac-12 and the more hits Mariota figures to take compared with Winston. And Winston, at least for the time being, has a healthy left tackle.
Either way though, it should be a fun battle to watch. They're both in prime position for a Heisman, for a run to the College Football Playoff and, perhaps, for a shot to be the first player taken in the 2015 NFL draft.
Oh, and on that subject, I wrote a bit about Winston's approach to 2014 earlier in the week, and that story involved a lot of interviews with friends and family. One thing his father, Antonor, made clear: The talk about staying for two more seasons at FSU was hardly a guarantee.
"What I said was, that was our original plan was to get his degree," Antonor Winston said. "That was our original plan. I didn't know when they offered a scholarship, he's guaranteed to go to the NFL. If they'd told me that, I'd have said he's going to the NFL.
"I will never look at it in that way because whatever the situation is at the end of the season, that's the situation we're going to take. You really don't know what path you're going to be taken. But we know we want that degree no matter what."
In other words, if Winston is in line to go in the first five to 10 picks of the draft, the decision will be easy.
One other Winston tidbit: Yes, he's lost Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but his high school coach, Matt Stephens, said he fully expects Winston to adapt by checking down to underneath receivers, using his speed in the slot and his running backs out of the backfield far more often. He also said that Winston wanted to prove he was a legitimate pocket passer last season, but not to be surprised if he runs a lot more often this season.
That may actually help Winston's numbers a bit. That decline in completion percentage down the stretch was, in part, a result of looking deep a bit too often.
OK, a few more links before getting ready for the weekend:
- Duke has a plan in place to replace injured linebacker Kelby Brown, writes the Charlotte Observer.
- Florida State looks like its found an answer to fill a linebacking void, too, writes the Orlando Sentinel.
- Louisville could be looking at a stadium expansion, writes The Courier-Journal.
- Special teams are getting special attention at Wake Forest, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.
- If you're a Boston College fan stoked for a trip to Columbus … well, make yourself comfortable. It'll be a while. The proposed series with Ohio State was pushed back to 2023-24, as BC Interruption notes. Just think what the world will be like by then: iPhone 15 will be on the market, North West will have his own reality show and clothing line, the College Football Playoff will include 32 teams. The possibilities are endless.
Enjoy the weekend, folks. After this one, just one Saturday left without college football.
Fisher talked at length about how he studies a player to determine a his physical ceiling and what kind of bone structure and body type recruits possess. Fisher said it is not the deciding factor when he recruits a prospect, but it is without a doubt a factor. He likened it to basketball, where coaches often are more in love with a player's wingspan or vertical jump than his ability to shoot the basketball from 15 to 18 feet.
A protege of Nick Saban, Fisher likes physically stout players along the defensive line. Some of his defensive ends tip the scales at 300 pounds but still move as if they were 25 pounds lighter. He and Saban had them at LSU a decade ago, and Fisher has one at Florida State in Mario Edwards Jr., who was able to chase down Auburn's Nick Marshall on an option play.
Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel took a look at how Fisher has recruited during his tenure and the size of the players he has brought in.The class that signed in February averages 6-foot-3.5 and weighs 249 pounds. To put that into perspective, Bobby Bowden's final class at Florida State was two inches shorter and 26 pounds lighter.
While this 2014 class could be a bit of an outlier due to the sheer numbers of linemen Fisher signed, the statistics still offer an insight into how Fisher recruits. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly also said Sunday that he knows Fisher is looking for a certain body type depending on the position, so Kelly needs to take that into account when he's visiting high schools.
Here's a few more links to get your Tuesday started.
- Clemson's staff has some tough decisions to make before it can carve out a starting defense.
- Pittsburgh running back Isaac Bennett is still protecting his surgically repaired shoulder as the Panthers enter their second week of practice.
- Sad news for Duke linebacker Kelby Brown, who went down with a knee injury Tuesday. He's already rehabbed two torn ACLs in his career.
- Syracuse has three freshman cornerbacks looking to break into the starting lineup this season.
- Wake Forest is going with freshman John Wolford as its starting quarterback.
- North Carolina needs a player to step up on the defensive line. NC State needs players to emerge at several positions.
- Louisville held a practice closed to the media, but Lorenzo Mauldin offered up details as to what went down.
- Kendall Fuller is looking to uphold the tradition of the Fuller last name in Blacksburg.
- A preview of Boston College's game this season against Virginia.
- Al Golden insists the quarterback race at Miami is tighter than ever.
First thing's first: Starting today, links will be the first post each week day to get you started with everything you need to know across the ACC. So say good bye to lunchtime links and hello to morning links.
What's sizzling this Monday morning?
We're talkin' about scrimmages, media days and fan days that provided a few bits of headlines and newsworthy notes over the weekend.
First up: Florida State held its media day Sunday, and, well, there was a bit of unnecessary drama. The Seminoles asked fans, via Twitter, to submit questions to Jameis Winston using the hashtag #AskJameis. Predictably, the questions devolved in a matter of minutes. Search the hashtag, and you will find maybe five usable queries. The rest were on the order of crab legs, butter preferences for said crab legs and Winston's other legal entanglements.
As my fellow SNL fans are asking right about now, "Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?"
Meanwhile, Clemson held its first scrimmage of the fall Saturday with some drama of its own. The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, reported that quarterback Cole Stoudt sustained a minor leg injury when a defensive lineman rolled up on his leg. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said afterward he was unaware of an injury. The intrigue! Clemson returns to practice this morning so perhaps there will be more clarity. In any event, Dabo Swinney said both Stoudt and Deshaun Watson performed well in the scrimmage, which was closed to the media.
While on the subject of quarterbacks, watch out for Wake Forest true freshman John Wolford, now in the mix with Kevin Sousa and Tyler Cameron for the starting quarterback job. In the Deacs' scrimmage Sunday, Wolford scored on a 12-yard run and went 7-of-14 for 122 yards with an interception. Cameron, meanwhile, only threw for 52 yards, going 6-of-13.
In Atlanta, coach Paul Johnson limited quarterback Justin Thomas to one series and held out Zach Laskey from the weekend scrimmage for precautionary reasons.
And in one of the bigger injuries so far during fall practice, NC State coach Dave Doeren announced at media day that starting linebacker M.J. Salahuddin is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Salahuddin needs surgery and could end up taking a redshirt. It's a tough break for NC State, lacking in experienced depth at just about every position on the field. The Wolfpack simply cannot afford to lose veteran players like Salahuddin.
Now here's a quick look at other headlines:
- Boston College also held a scrimmage this weekend, and the running backs struggled in goal-line situations.
- Duke tight end Braxton Deaver is back at practice.
- Louisville quarterback Will Gardner says he's earned his teammates' trust.
- Miami coaches are using grades to select the team's starting quarterback.
- Aaron Donald is still impacting the Pitt program.
- Syracuse.com offers up six observations from the Orange's weekend Fan Fest scrimmage.
- Virginia has had its eye on UCLA for months.
- Here's a quick look at freshmen who have the best shot at playing for Virginia Tech this season.
Odds are a few names quickly come to mind, but before the debate can really begin, we probably need to decide on some parameters. After all, what exactly does it mean to be “explosive?" We could be talking about simply the fastest players in the conference, but even that gets tricky. Do we go by burst off the line, top-end speed, elusiveness on the run? Besides, what’s speed without a little football skill to go with it?
And, of course, explosiveness comes in all forms. Lamarcus Joyner and Vic Beasley and Aaron Donald certainly provided their share of big-play explosiveness on defense last year, but the impact of a big hit or a drive-stalling sack is a little tougher to measure. So, for the purposes of this discussion, we’re limiting the applicants to offensive and special-teams players.
To be clear though, one thing “explosive” doesn’t mean, for the sake of this discussion, is “best.” We’re strictly talking explosiveness, electricity and athleticism here — not just the guys who put up the best totals and not the QBs tasked with throwing from the pocket. They’re quite likely to land on any “best of” list (which we already did last week), but that’s not what we’re looking for here.
One way of determining explosiveness would obviously be the number of big plays made, so let’s start there. Five returning ACC players were responsible for at least four plays of 50 yards or more last season. Here’s the list:
Jamison Crowder (Duke), 7
Ryan Switzer (UNC), 6
Stacy Coley (Miami), 5
Tyler Boyd (Pitt), 4
Kermit Whitfield (FSU), 4
That list might already serve as a good top five for the ACC, but let’s dig a little more because big plays of 50 yards or more certainly are more apt to occur in the return game, and the above list reflects that.
So let’s look at the receivers, too. A big play in the receiving game probably needs to be defined a bit more liberally, so let’s lower the bar to 20 yards. Obviously some of the responsibility for a 20-yard catch goes to the QB, but it’s also a sign of a receiver’s ability to separate from DBs and get upfield. Of course, some teams also passed a good bit more than others, and a few offenses (Clemson, FSU, Pitt) were blessed with multiple talented receivers, so we’ll divide the number of 20-yard plays by the total touches from scrimmage for our receivers to come up with a more accurate representation of who creates big plays the highest percentage of the time.
Among returning ACC receivers, six recorded 20-yard plays on at least 20 percent of their touches. Here’s that list:
Quinshad Davis (UNC), 26.0%
Joshua Stanford (VT), 25.0%
Braxton Deaver (Duke), 23.9%
DeVante Parker (Lville), 23.6%
Demitri Knowles (VT), 20.4%
We can do the same exercise for runners, but again, we should probably lower our “big-play” standard a bit more. Running backs and quarterbacks gaining 10 yards on a rush probably suffices, and that metric provides us with five players who managed big plays at least 17 percent of the time (a good break point given that the list gets a lot longer if we lower it to a more round number like 15 percent or 10 percent).
Karlos Williams (FSU), 27.5%
Duke Johnson (Miami), 19.3%
Terrel Hunt (Syr), 18.7%
Myles Willis (BC), 18.3%
James Conner (Pitt), 17.1%
But beyond just the big plays, there’s some value to consistency, too, right? The occasional highlight-reel big-play threat isn’t really as valuable as the player who is routinely biting off sizable chunks of yards. If we also look at returning players who averaged at least 10 yards per all-purpose play last season (min. 50 touches), we get one last list of eight players.
Coley, 21.8 yards per play
Rashad Greene (FSU), 14.8
Darius Jennings (UVA), 13.3
Add it all up and we get a list of 17 ACC players who made the cut by at least one of these metrics, and odds are, we’re still probably leaving a couple “explosive” players out. And while we don’t expect to firmly settle this debate, 17 is probably too unwieldy a number to stick with, so let’s trim it down a bit.
A few names show up multiple times, so let’s keep them around for now: Coley, Knowles, Boyd, Switzer, Crowder and Willis.
A few other numbers really stand out: Williams and Johnson were head-and-shoulders above the other tailbacks, and both have been electric return men in their careers, too. Hunt, by virtue of being the only QB listed probably deserves a nod. And lastly, Whitfield didn’t have many touches last year (just 25), but 11 of them went for 30 yards or more — an astonishing 44 percent. (Of returning ACC players with at least 25 touches, the next closest was Coley, at 23 percent).
That leaves us with a top-10 list that probably works pretty well. How you might order that list is obviously a far tougher call, but for the sake of debate, here’s how mine would look.
Yes, Greene or Parker or Davis could easily make the list, too. And if you wanted to put Crowder or Williams atop the list, I could see the logic. And by year's end, we wouldn't be surprised if, with a bit more experience, Taquan Mizzell or Travis Rudolph or Wayne Gallman crack the list, too. For now, this is the list we’re sticking with. But we’re all for some debate in the comments section, too.
In other words, there were no doubt a few ACC players whose names were left on the cutting room floor in our countdown, but who may well be among the league’s elite this season. Here’s an admittedly imprecise look at a few to keep an eye on.
If we’d been making a top 30 or 40 list instead of 25, these guys definitely would’ve made the cut. As it stands, they'll likely see their names on our end-of-year list.
WR Stacy Coley (Miami): Don’t be surprised if the Canes’ sophomore receiver ranks in the top five of our end-of-season list. No returning ACC player averaged more yards per touch last year (min. 50 touches) than Coley (21.8). He’ll need some help from an unproven quarterback, but Coley has the talent to be an All-American if things break right for him this season.
LB Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville): Already a star with 9.5 sacks and 12 TFL last season, Mauldin is poised to explode as he moves from defensive end to outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s new 3-4 system. At Grantham’s previous stop at Georgia, he helped Justin Houston and Jarvis Jones parlay similar moves into super stardom.
DE Eli Harold (UVA): Virginia’s defensive line may not get much national publicity, but it’s jam-packed with talent, headed up by Harold, who racked up 8.5 sacks and 15 TFL last season. Both of those totals rank second among returning ACC players behind Clemson All-American Vic Beasley.
Injuries set them back, but these players are poised for big comebacks in 2014.
S Isaiah Johnson (GT): A burgeoning star on Georgia Tech’s defense, a knee injury cost Johnson all of 2013. He’s “past 100 percent” now though and expects to make a huge impact after a long wait to get back onto the field.
S Tyler Hunter (FSU): Last summer, Hunter was the unquestioned leader of FSU’s revamped defense, but a scary neck injury ended his season in Week 3. What might’ve been a career-ending injury turned out to be just a setback, and now Hunter will be the veteran voice in an immensely talented secondary that has led the nation in passing defense the past two years.
DT Mehdi Abdesmad (BC): As a junior last season, the 6-foot-7 Abdesmad looked poised for a breakthrough, recording sacks against USC and Florida State before a knee injury ended his season. If he can return to form quickly, he's in position to replace the 8.5 sacks BC lost with the departure of Kasim Edebali from its D-line.
WR Charone Peake (Clemson): When they arrived on campus as freshmen, Peake and Sammy Watkins were both considered can't-miss prospects. Now Watkins is impressing in Buffalo Bills camp and Peake is still looking for his breakthrough season. Despite an injury-ravaged 2013, he's being counted on as the top option for Cole Stoudt in 2014.
These players have already made some noise in the past but could make the jump to the league’s elite in 2014.
S Durrell Eskridge (Syracuse): Eskridge blossomed into a key contributor on Syracuse’s defense last year, recording 6.5 tackles per game (14th among returning ACC players) and four interceptions, but as the Orange look to replace key starters inside, Eskridge’s impact in 2014 only figures to expand.
QB Jacoby Brissett (NC State): Dave Doeren believes Brissett, a transfer from Florida who spent last season waiting in the wings, is a perfect fit for his offense, and the veteran has the confidence and trust of his teammates -- something NC State sorely missed at the position last year. Our preseason top 25 lists just one quarterback (Jameis Winston), so a few others have to state their case, too. Brissett should be chief among them, but fellow transfers Tyler Murphy (BC) and Michael Brewer (Virginia Tech) could certainly be in the mix, too.
OT Matt Rotheram (Pitt): Pitt's O-line was a disaster last year, but adding a more mobile quarterback in the backfield and a year of experience to the unit should help. Rotheram was the one bright spot through much of 2013, and he's now poised to get a hefty share of the credit should the revamped line take the next step in 2014.
They haven't seen the field (much) yet, but they’re in line for significant roles this season and could make the most of the opportunity.
LB Matthew Thomas (FSU): The Seminoles return plenty of talent from their national-championship run, but the linebacking crew is definitely an area with a few question marks. It’s a talented, but unproven group, but Thomas tasted action early last season before going down with an injury, and he showed he can make an instant impact -- perhaps in an edge-rusher role similar to what Christian Jones did for FSU's D last season.
RB Wayne Gallman (Clemson): It’s hard to project how the carries will be distributed in a crowded Clemson backfield, but two things are clear: The Tigers want to run the ball more in 2014, and Gallman has the potential to be a star. Coaches and teammates raved about his improvement in the spring, and Gallman will get every shot to win a job as a centerpiece of the new-look Clemson offense in fall camp.
OT Bentley Spain (UNC): Larry Fedora admits he doesn’t know quite what to make of Spain yet after the early enrollee missed a hefty chunk of the spring with an injury. Still, Spain is in line for the starting left tackle job at UNC, and with talent at quarterback and tailback behind him, it could be a quick start to his career.
The names aren’t familiar outside their own fan bases, but don’t be surprised if they’re making some noise by year’s end.
LB Marquel Lee (Wake): New Deacons coach Dave Clawson has his work cut out for him trying to find talent to fill out the depth chart, but he may have discovered an early gem in Lee. The sophomore was the star of Wake's spring game, and with so much turnover up front for the Deacons, Lee will get plenty of chances to make plays once the season begins.
CB DreQuan Hoskey (UVA): Here’s an interesting tidbit, courtesy of STATS LLC: No defender in the ACC was picked on more last season than Hoskey, who was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 81 times in 12 games. There were mixed results, of course, but it's worth noting that he wasn't burned for a TD on any of those plays. Next most targets without surrendering a touchdown among ACC defensive backs? Lamarcus Joyner with 37. He's part of a very crowded secondary, but Hoskey will get his chances to make an impact in 2014.
RB Shaquille Powell (Duke): He's overlooked because Duke returns its leading rusher from 2013 (Josh Snead) but teammates have raved about Powell's progress, and it's worth noting that while Snead is back, the Blue Devils still must replace 51 percent of last year’s rushing attempts after losing Brandon Connette, Juwan Thompson and Jela Duncan.