ACC: Clemson Tigers

ACC morning links

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clemson Tigers

Position to improve: Running back

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

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

Early 2015 outlook: As with so much of Clemson's 2015 outlook, a lot depends on the health of Watson at quarterback. When he was in the lineup in 2014, the Tigers looked dangerous on offense. When he wasn't, they struggled. He's recovering from a torn ACL this offseason, so his status for 2015 remains a bit unclear. But even if he's not 100 percent, there's reason to think Clemson's ground game should still take a step forward now that Gallman has a year of experience under his belt and the rest of the running backs figure to be healthier. The improved performance down the stretch in 2014 also offers plenty of room for optimism, and if Clemson's production on offense can be as balanced as its play calling was in 2014, the Tigers figure to have one of the ACC's most potent attacks.
It was a banner weekend on the recruiting trail for Dave Doeren and NC State.

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few more links:
  • Florida State’s Tre Jackson won MVP honors for the South team at the Senior Bowl, writes Tomahawk Nation.
  • Miami’s Ladarius Gunter had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, writes the Miami Herald.
  • Pitt offensive lineman Artie Rowell has been a terrific ambassador for the Panthers and the ACC, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
  • One reason Virginia Tech will be a trendy pick in the Coastal next season is the wealth of returning starters, as the Roanoke Times notes.
  • With DeVante Parker NFL bound, Louisville landed a top recruit at receiver over the weekend, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • USA Today takes a look at how former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is handling his first month at SMU.
  • Morris’ arrival at SMU sent one QB commit looking elsewhere, and Kyle Kearns has now landed at Wake Forest, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.
Clemson assistant strength and conditioning coach Adam Smotherman toils in relative obscurity no longer. Serving as designated personal get-back coach for Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables for most of the 2014 season, Smotherman rocketed to fame during the Russell Athletic Bowl against Oklahoma, when his charge got a little unruly.

With the score entirely out of hand en route to Clemson's 40-6 victory, the announcing team and audience realized at about the same time that this was a more compelling matchup than anything on the field. It was exactly the kind of inadvertent show-stealing one might expect from a guy who played his final year of college ball at Vanderbilt under the inimitable Robbie Caldwell, and there's a real art to it: a little bit chess, a little bit horse-training, and a lot of core strength.

Smotherman spoke with Grantland this week about his unusually specific game-day duties, his personal workout regimen, and whether he's ever considered putting Venables on an elastic leash, like a rowdy toddler in a crowded mall:

So how did this become your job in the first place? Was there one particular moment when they said "OK, he's your responsibility"?

Dan Brooks, our defensive tackles coach, has been around forever and he knows just about every official on the field, so they'd come up and talk to him, and I guess they'd told him Coach Venables was kinda getting out on the field and was getting in the way a little bit. [In 2013] he asked me and another guy that was working with us as a football volunteer at the time, Miguel Chavis, to keep an eye on him. And then this year against Georgia, our first game of the year, the official went directly to Coach Swinney and told him, "Hey, your defensive coordinator, we don't mind him being in the paint a little bit, but he's too far out there. You're gonna have to wrangle him in." So Coach Swinney just turned around and saw me and pointed at me and said, "You're gonna hold him back for the rest of the year." And I said, "Yes sir." Every game from then on out I just started mirroring him.

To read Holly Anderson's full post on Grantland, click here.
The end of our countdown has finally arrived. Here are the ACC's top five players of the 2014 season.

To see the full list, click here.

1. James Conner, Pittsburgh
Position: Running back
Year: Sophomore
Tough to go with anybody else at No. 1 after watching Conner bulldoze the competition en route to ACC Offensive Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year honors. And, well, it is not every day that Tony Dorsett's long-standing school records are shattered. Conner led the league in rushing yards (1,765), rushing touchdowns (26), rushing yards per game (135.8) and scoring (156 points). His touchdown and scoring totals broke the Pitt single-season records Dorsett set in 1976. Conner had three 200-yard games and seven 100-yard games, often taking multiple defenders on his back along for a ride. He was downright dominant, and in a year of powerful backs, he deserves the No. 1 spot.

2. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Position: Quarterback
Year: Redshirt sophomore
If there is one player on this list you would take with the game on the line, it would be Winston. But this list is an evaluation of the top performances week in and week out, and Winston was simply not consistent enough to merit the top spot this year. He made too many mistakes, whether he was trying too hard with an inexperienced receiving corps or just making the wrong decisions. But those mistakes do not diminish the fact that Winston remains one of the best (and most dangerous) players in the nation. Winston ended the season with an ACC-leading 3,907 yards passing, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, all down from a year ago. But he did lead Florida State to a third straight ACC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

3. Vic Beasley, Clemson
Position: Defensive end
Year: Senior
Beasley returned to school for his senior season and was even better -- despite facing more double- and triple-teams than at any point in his career. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a finalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi awards after racking up a team-high 21.5 tackles for loss, a team-high 12 sacks, nine quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Nobody in the ACC was better off the edge than Beasley, and he was a nightmare for many teams to block.

4. Duke Johnson, Miami
Position: Running back
Year: Junior
Johnson had the best season of his career because he was able to stay healthy and play all 13 games, finishing second behind Conner in the ACC in rushing with 1,652 yards. But Johnson led the league in all-purpose yards with 2,073, emerging as a much bigger pass-catching threat out of the backfield. When the season ended, he stood above all the other Miami greats on the career rushing and all-purpose yards lists. But maybe most impressive of all, he averaged 7.4 yards every time he touched the ball.

5. Gerod Holliman, Louisville
Position: Safety
Year: Redshirt sophomore
There were plenty of questions about the Louisville secondary heading into the season, following the loss of Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor, two of the best players on the 2013 defense. But Holliman stepped right into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme, using his athleticism to make plays all over the field. When it was over, Holliman had tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football.
The talent across the ACC was plainly evident this past season, so it comes as no surprise that multiple players have made a major impression this week during Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another season, another Top-25 finish.

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

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

The question, then, is why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How does any of this put Mississippi State ahead?

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

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

So essentially, Clemson is trailed by misperceptions about its own program and its own conference. Is becoming a playoff contender the only way to start changing the narrative? Because clearly, winning does not seem to be doing the job.
We’re winding down our list of the ACC’s top 25 players from 2014. To view the previous entries, click here. Now, on to Nos. 6 through 10.

6. Rashad Greene, Florida State

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

There’s never been any question about Greene’s talent, but in 2014 he firmly established himself as one of the great leaders in FSU history. Surrounded by an inexperienced group of receivers, Greene stepped up to become one of the most consistent targets in the nation and caught 99 passes for 1,365 yards -- with numerous game-changing plays along the way. His 74-yard touchdown against Clemson preserved FSU’s win streak, and he finished with double-digit receptions in three games and topped 100 yards receiving eight times. Greene wrapped up his career as FSU’s leading receiver in each of his four seasons.

7. Grady Jarrett, Clemson

Position: Defensive tackle

Year: Senior

Jarrett was the vocal leader of Clemson’s dynamic defensive front, and few tackles in the country made a bigger impact on a week-to-week basis than he did. His 45 tackles paced all Clemson defensive linemen, and his 10 tackles for loss were the most by an ACC interior lineman. Jarrett was a key cog in the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing defense, and he helped solidify the middle for a unit that racked up 254 tackles for loss over the past two seasons.

8. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech

Position: Quarterback

Year: Sophomore

Entering the season, fans were beginning to wonder if Paul Johnson’s option offense had run its course at Georgia Tech. Then Thomas was added to the fray, and everything changed. The sophomore proved a perfect fit for Johnson’s scheme and threw for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns while becoming just the second Tech QB in the past decade to top 1,000 yards on the ground. Thomas is one of just 13 Power 5 QBs in the past decade to top both benchmarks in a single season. Thomas helped Georgia Tech become the nation’s most prolific rushing offense and led the Yellow Jackets to an 11-3 season, a Coastal Division title and a win in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

9. DeVante Parker, Louisville

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

How do you make a case for a player who missed the first seven games of the year to rank in the top 10? With Parker, it’s actually pretty easy. A foot injury during fall camp sidelined Parker early, but the Cardinals’ receiver debuted Oct. 18 against NC State with nine catches for 132 yards, and he never slowed down. In his six games this season, he topped 120 yards five times, including a 214-yard performance against Florida State. Despite missing half the season, Parker finished seventh in the ACC in receiving yards, and among Power 5 receivers with at least 40 catches, none averaged more yards per reception than Parker, at 19.9.

10. Jamison Crowder, Duke

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

Crowder finished with 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season, after turning in his fourth 100-yard game of the year in Duke’s bowl game against Arizona State. One of the ACC’s most consistent receiving threats in each of the past three seasons, Crowder was an all-purpose star who finished third in the ACC in receiving yards, second in receptions, first in punt-return yardage and sixth in all-purpose yards. Also, he was the only ACC player with multiple special-teams touchdowns this season.
The Roanoke Times takes a look at how Virginia Tech utilized its tight ends in 2014 and sees a lot of promise at the position.

This is no surprise. Offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler has utilized his tight ends at every stop he’s made in his career, and before Ryan Malleck went down with an injury in 2013, the plan had been to make him a key contributor to the Hokies’ game plan -- predicting as many as 60 catches.

From the Times:
That revelation, made last spring, was met with at least some skepticism, but looking at how the Hokies used their tight ends in 2014 -- a banner season in terms of production from the position -- it was very realistic in hindsight.

Buoyed by Bucky Hodges' breakout year and [Ryan] Malleck's steady production, Hokies tight ends became very much a focal point of the offense, more so than they have been in most of Frank Beamer's time in Blacksburg.

Hodges and Malleck (and for one game a hobbled Kalvin Cline) combined for 70 catches, 724 yards and nine touchdowns this past season, dwarfing the offensive production from the tight end position in recent memory.

Among ACC teams, only Miami had more receiving yards by tight ends, and no team had more catches or touchdowns by the position.

That’s an interesting twist moving forward, because Bucky Hodges' emergence gives Virginia Tech one of the best offensive mismatches in the ACC. But there’s one other thing to note here, too. Virginia Tech utilized its tight ends at a higher rate than all but five other Power 5 schools, and it’s not exactly a who’s who of offensive juggernauts.

Here’s the offensive production of the 10 teams that used their tight ends the most:



Overall, the group had a combined record of 63-65 and an average rank of 90th in total offense. Only two of those teams finished in the top 50 in total offense -- Wisconsin and Miami -- and they also had two of the best running backs in the nation. The Hokies, meanwhile, were 92nd nationally in yards per carry.

The point being, having an elite tight end can be a valuable weapon, but it’s probably not ideal to have it be your primary weapon. And getting stronger on the ground and on the offensive line remain necessary improvements if Virginia Tech is going to make a big offensive leap in 2015.

A few more links:
We’re counting down the ACC’s top players of the 2014 season, with a look today at Nos. 11 through 15.

To read the rest of the list, click here.

11. Clive Walford, Miami

Position: Tight end

Year: Senior

Walford emerged as a go-to receiver for freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, becoming one of the most reliable targets on the team. That speaks volumes to his growth because Miami has no shortage of players at the skill positions. Walford ended up leading the team with 44 receptions -- one of just nine tight ends in the country to lead his team in that category. His 676 yards and seven touchdowns ranked second on the team.

12. Nick O'Leary, Florida State

Position: Tight end

Year: Senior

O'Leary won the John Mackey Award as the best tight end in the nation, but we have him ranked just behind Walford. The truth is, you can split hairs on who was better this season. A case can be made for both. O'Leary set career highs with 48 receptions for 618 yards to finish second on his team in both categories, while adding six touchdown catches. As David Hale pointed out in December, Walford had the stats edge in receptions per game, receiving yards, touchdowns and yards per catch, all while playing with a true freshman quarterback. None of that is to diminish what O'Leary did. It is a great year when two tight ends are worthy of such a high ranking.

13. Eddie Goldman, Florida State

Position: Defensive tackle

Year: Junior

Goldman was the glue that held the Florida State defensive front together through injuries and some depth issues, racking up 35 tackles, including eight for loss and a team-high four sacks. But his impact goes beyond the stat sheet. Goldman held down the inside in the same way Tim Jernigan did the year before. In his biggest game against Clemson, Goldman forced a crucial fumble late in the fourth quarter and also had a sack and made a fourth-down stop in overtime to help the Seminoles win.

14. Denzel Perryman, Miami

Position: Linebacker

Year: Senior

If Miami needed a play to be made on defense, Perryman was its man. Perryman led the team with 110 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss and was named one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in the nation. There were many who questioned the Canes' overall defense, but nobody questioned Perryman, his talent and the impact he made on that unit. He ended his career on the school's top-10 list for tackles.

15. Stephone Anthony, Clemson

Position: Linebacker

Year: Senior

Like Perryman, Anthony started to come into his own in 2013 and made an even bigger impact in 2014. Anthony had a team-high 90 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 11 quarterback pressures, one interception, four pass breakups and two caused fumbles en route to a spot on the media and coaches All-ACC first team. Clemson earned a lot of attention for its play up front. Anthony deserves credit for that because he was a big key to the group's overall success.
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:

Clemson's Jeff Scott has recruiting DNA

January, 20, 2015
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Jeff Scott learned at a very early age that recruiting is important, and he still vividly remembers the pirate costume that helped him discover the valuable lesson.

As the son of one of the best recruiters in the past 25 years, Clemson's co-offensive coordinator and outgoing recruiting coordinator saw firsthand the impact an ace recruiter like Tim Brewster, Mario Cristobal, Jerry Montgomery, Ed Orgeron can have on a prospect's life and on a program. For Scott, being a great recruiter was something he strived to be even when he was in elementary school.

Scott's father, Brad, was an assistant under Bobby Bowden during the prosperous years at Florida State, and the Seminoles had the No. 1 class in the nation on multiple occasions during his time as the recruiting coordinator. Brad Scott's name was like gold in high schools throughout Florida and southeast Georgia, and as a kid Jeff Scott would accompany his father on the road.

"Every Friday during the season, my dad would come and pick me up early from school," Jeff Scott said. "I would get to ride to Jacksonville with him and go karootin. I always tell all my teachers and classmates, 'I'm going karootin with my daddy today.'

"One time we were going to recruit a top player. His team was the Pirates, so my dad stopped by a gift store and bought me a Halloween costume that was a pirate. So I went out on the sideline and wore this pirate costume. I knew from a very early age, recruiting was very important and that I wanted to be a college football coach."

To read Jeremy Crabtree's full story, click here.

Story of the season: Clemson

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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It’s funny, but Clemson’s season really began the same day most people assumed it had ended.

In the locker room following the Tigers’ 23-17 overtime loss to Florida State on Sept. 20 was a morbid scene. Clemson had controlled the game throughout and was driving deep in FSU territory with a chance to take the lead in the final minutes of the fourth quarter before a C.J. Davidson fumble changed everything.

[+] EnlargeRobert Smith
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRobert Smith and the Tigers finished the 2014 season strong, winning nine of their final 10 games.
 Instead of a defining win, the Tigers watched as Karlos Williams rumbled into the end zone in overtime, and suddenly, less than a month into the season, they were 1-2, their season on life support and their ACC title chances effectively gone.

“We basically handed that game to them,” defensive back Robert Smith said. “That locker room was the most pain I’d ever seen. I saw freshmen crying and fifth-year seniors crying. Nobody had an answer. We were looking around like we didn’t understand.”

That should have been the end. In its first year without Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, Clemson could’ve played out the string, gone to a bowl and regrouped for 2015. But that didn’t happen. Instead of the devastating loss in Tallahassee torpedoing the year, it galvanized the team. The Tigers won nine of their next 10 games, finished with the nation’s best defense, found their offensive stars of the future and ended the year with a dominant performance in the Russell Athletic Bowl to secure their fourth straight 10-win season.

The story of 2014 for Clemson wasn’t about a march toward success, but rather a slow, deliberate slog for one win after another. And that, guard Reid Webster said, made the season all that much more rewarding.

“During the season you don’t realize it as much, you want to be clicking on all cylinders,” Webster said. “When that’s not happening, it can be tough to keep the morale up. But you get to look back on what we’ve done, what we’ve accomplished, and it’s just incredible.”

Nothing came easily for Clemson in 2014. The season opened with plenty of doubters as the team worked to rebuild an offense that had lost its three-year starter at QB, its leading rusher and its top two receivers. A close game for three quarters in the opener against Georgia ended under an avalanche of Bulldogs’ rushing scores in the fourth quarter, damaging the confidence of a veteran defense. The FSU game tested the team’s will, and multiple injuries to their emerging star quarterback continued to deflate the Tigers’ game plan as the season wore on.

There were impressive wins, like the 41-0 thumping of NC State, and there were ugly ones, like the 23-17 squeaker against Louisville a week later, when the offense failed to find the end zone even once. Style points didn’t matter. This season was about winning by any means necessary.

“If the offense turned it over, of if they scored on us, we knew it couldn’t get much worse than [Florida State],” Smith said. “It was just confidence. Everything we went through early in the season resulted in why we had the season we had.”

Success came easier for the defense. This was a group that had grown up together and now featured one of the most dominant pass rushes in the nation to go with an underrated secondary that utterly frustrated opposing passing attacks.

The Georgia game had been a tough test, as Clemson played without defensive end Corey Crawford, and the Bulldogs’ ground game eventually overwhelmed the Tigers’ front. Clemson surrendered 328 yards and five touchdowns on the ground in that game, but once Crawford returned to the lineup, things changed. Clemson allowed just six more rushing touchdowns all season, no team in the nation allowed fewer rushing yards, and opposing QBs completed just 48.2 percent of their throws, the third-best mark in the country.

“At ACC media days, Vic Beasley looked right at the camera and said we’d be the No. 1 defense in the nation,” Smith said. “After that Georgia game, people said, ‘yeah, right.’ But next thing you know, we were No. 3, No. 2, and it just worked out. It was a real blessing to be a part of that.”

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDeshaun Watson started to show flashes of what he can become in the Florida State game.
The offense, however, was much more of a roller coaster.

The silver lining to come from that Florida State game was Deshaun Watson. The freshman opened the year as the backup to Cole Stoudt at quarterback, but against the Seminoles, he quickly proved he was an ideal fit in the Tigers’ offense, completing 68 percent of his throws for 266 yards and running for one score. A week later, Watson was the starter, and his debut was one for the record books. Against North Carolina, he completed 75 percent of his passes, threw for 435 yards and tossed six touchdowns in a 50-35 win, and suddenly it looked like the Tigers’ offensive attack would march through the rest of its ACC schedule.

Two weeks later, that changed.

Watson went down with a broken hand against Louisville, and Stoudt’s return to the lineup stifled the offense. A goal-line stand in the waning seconds helped Clemson emerge with a win, but over the course of a month with Watson playing sparingly, the Tigers scored just seven touchdowns on 71 offensive drives.

Watson returned for the South Carolina game, and Clemson emerged with its first win over its in-state rival in six years. Afterward, Dabo Swinney announced the freshman had played on a partially torn ACL, and that put Stoudt back in charge for the bowl game. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris bolted for the head-coaching job at SMU soon after, and by the time Clemson took the field against Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl, there were once again ample reasons to doubt the Tigers. And once again, the Tigers responded with an emphatic win, dominating on both sides of the ball in a fond sendoff for the winningest senior class in school history.

“It was definitely difficult, definitely not a smooth road,” Webster said. “But the way we finished the season as a testimony to how we overcame that adversity. The Oklahoma game, beating South Carolina for the first time in years — it was a testimony to how much heart this team had and how much we wanted to win.”

Watson’s emergence and the stellar play of freshmen like Artavis Scott, Wayne Gallman and Mackensie Alexander now have Clemson firmly established as an ACC favorite in 2015, and it would be easy enough to define this past season as the year in which the Tigers put all the pieces in place for a big run next year. But that would be missing the point.

This Clemson team was special in its own right, and if the way it won wasn’t always pretty, that’s all the better.

“A lot of people said this was a rebuilding year, but we were reloading,” Smith said. “We kept that mindset, even when we were down. It was adversity, something we weren’t used to, but we had to put our minds to it and dig deep, and we finished the season strong.”

Final Top 25: Who missed the cut

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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Our ACC Top 25 player countdown for the 2014 season has begun. As somebody who has helped put these lists together for three years now, this may have been the toughest ranking to do. The proof is there -- we had a tie in the rankings from 21-25 -- and were forced to leave off several deserving candidates.

So who just missed the cut? Consider these the honorable mentions in the ACC postseason Top 25.

Tre' Jackson, OG, Florida State. This was probably a tougher omission than P.J. Williams because Jackson was among the best guards in the entire country. The ACC has three All-Americans at this position. We chose the two who were on better offensive lines.

P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State. His omission might raise some eyebrows, but the truth is he was not the best player in his own secondary -- a group that did not live up to lofty preseason expectations. Williams finished with just one interception and 11 passes defended.

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson. Williams finished with 1,030 yards receiving and six touchdowns, averaging 18.1 yards per catch (fourth-best in the ACC). The other three 1,000-yard receivers made the Top 25. He should have a spot in the 2015 preseason Top 25. Same goes for teammate Artavis Scott, who ended with 965 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.

Roberto Aguayo, PK, Florida State. Even though Aguayo did not win the Lou Groza Award, he still is the most valuable kicker in the entire nation, having scored 136 points this season to rank No. 2 in the ACC. But he did miss three kicks this year so that kept him off the Top 25.

Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami. Kaaya blossomed as the season went on and is sure to have a spot on this list when the 2015 preseason Top 25 makes its debut in the summer. Kaaya finished first in the ACC in pass efficiency (145.9), passing yards per completion (14.5) and second in passing yards (3,198).

DeVon Edwards, DB/AP, Duke: Edwards provided tremendous value to the Duke defense and on special teams, finishing second on the team with 133 tackles, tied for second with 4.5 sacks, while leading the team with 10 passes defended. He also ranked fourth in the ACC in kickoff return average and returned one for a score.

Synjyn Days, BB, Georgia Tech. When Days got his opportunity midway through the season, he took full advantage. He ended up with 924 yards rushing and nine touchdowns -- 835 yards and eight of those touchdowns came in the final seven games of the season.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. Watson showed flashes of brilliance when he was on the field. But the problem was he wasn't on the field nearly enough to make the Top 25. He's almost a lock to be a top-5 preseason pick in 2015.

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