ACC: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
What more can be said about the job Clemson has done recruiting for the class of 2015?
How about the addition of yet another ESPN 300 prospect? Ray-Ray McCloud III, thought to be a Florida lean, pledged to the Tigers on Monday, further bolstering one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Clemson has 21 commitments -- 12 are from ESPN 300 prospects.
Without a doubt Clemson has emerged as the big story during this recruiting period, gaining an edge on both Florida State and Miami not only in the latest class rankings but on the trail itself. The Tigers have come into Florida and wrested away big-time prospects from the state's Big Three: Florida, Florida State and Miami. Coach Dabo Swinney has gotten four ESPN 300 prospects from the state of Florida to join him in South Carolina. Three have come from the Tampa area.
Two -- McCloud and Deon Cain -- are the type of skill players a program like Florida so desperately needs. Both had Florida on their list of finalists, but both ultimately settled on Clemson. That alone should speak to the job Swinney has done making inroads in the state.
If all the commitments keep their pledges and sign in February, this will go down as the best class in school history.
Now here's a look around the rest of the ACC:
- Duke and Middle Tennessee set a home-and-home series for 2019 and 2020.
- Florida State tight end Nick O'Leary is preparing for a huge sendoff season.
- Who will emerge at A-back for Georgia Tech?
- Louisville coach Bobby Petrino prefers to mentor his own quarterbacks.
- Miami quarterback Jake Heaps says he is aiming for the starting quarterback job.
- Eric Ebron won North Carolina's male athlete of the year award.
- Does the Syracuse offense need a No. 1 receiver?
- The NCAA announced big news for college football.
Let's dig into the mailbag to see what you had to say.
Richard in Raleigh writes: You mentioned Miami had far too many concerns to overlook to be named the preseason Coastal favorites. Can this not also be said for the other 5 teams with a shot of winning the Coastal?
Andrea Adelson: Absolutely. But the Miami Hurricanes have a backbreaking schedule; and headed into the season, I am more confident in the quarterbacks for four of those teams (Duke Blue Devils, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels). As for the Virginia Tech Hokies, as long as their defense plays up to standards, the Hokies will always be in contention.
Ryan in Charlotte writes: Agree with Duke winning the Coastal. Duke's D-Line lost three, but I really don't think there will be a huge drop off in terms of production. Miami has an incompetent coaching staff, otherwise they should win it and [Frank] Beamer for not getting a real offensive coordinator prevents VT from being the favorite. Carolina every year is projected to win it and chokes consistently despite NFL talent. GT is also underrated, [Paul] Johnson has never finished lower than third in his time at GT. Pitt lost their QB and [Aaron] Donald, don't see them as being a dark horse. All of this coming from a die-hard Duke Fan.
Patrick Clark in Durham, North Carolina, writes: I'm quite surprised that you and I seem to be in the minority picking Duke to win the Coastal. Duke returns their top three tacklers, All-ACC WR Jamison Crowder, and are one of only three teams in the conference to return their starting QB in senior Anthony Boone. Throw in one of the easiest schedules in the conference and it seems to me, if you're able to put past history and stigmas aside, that Duke is the obvious choice to represent the Coastal Division and make it back to Charlotte. Are we crazy?
Adelson writes: Crazy like foxes!
Jason Freeman in Cumming, Georgia, writes: I would just like to know the insistence on picking a UNC, Miami, and now Duke! Until Duke did it last year, there has been only TWO schools that have represented the Coastal. And one of them is absolutely NEVER picked, I think you know which one I'm talking about! But what baffles me is, Duke is the favorite this season, but Georgia Tech went to Duke and embarrassed them, one of only two teams that beat them in the regular season! ... Oh and by the way, Georgia Tech beat the only other team to beat Duke in the regular season last year! And I know that Johnson isn't living up to what we thought he would do after the first two seasons. Keeping that in mind, we then were picked at the bottom in the Coastal and way surpassed expectations! But the same teams keep getting these exaggerated picks, and constantly fall under what is expected of them.
Rich in Atlanta writes: Shocking...that the media would pick Miami for the Coastal. Also funny that UNC & VT are ahead of GT. Duke maybe. Year after year, GT has the No. 1 offense in points and yardage for the Coastal (No. 1 in both categories again last year). What everyone is overlooking is that GT had the No. 2 defense in those categories last year only trailing VT. GT's average finishing rank in the Coastal is second since Coach Johnson arrived. D is on the upswing, O will produce as it always does. When has CPJ's O not been No. 1 in Coastal? Never.
Ryan in New York City writes: I'm definitely not one to downplay the Canes' woes of the last several seasons, particularly on defense. But I think most people are being really unfair in their evaluation of [Jake] Heaps. He had a very solid freshmen year at BYU before transferring due to a scheme change. Then he went to play for one of the worst coaches (Charlie Weis) at one of the worst programs (Kansas) where he got no help from his O-Line or receivers. At the very least, he's a mature player who has experienced a lot of different schemes, and will be in an offense with playmakers EVERYWHERE around him. By no means do I expect us to win the division (particularly because of the complete lack of defense), but I expect Heaps to earn the starting nod and surprise some people early in the season.
Phil in New York writes: Duke Johnson. Anthony Chickillo. Stacy Coley. Clive Walford. Phillip Dorsett. Herb Waters. Tyriq McCord. Tracy Howard.Get ready for your Coastal champs - the University of Miami Hurricanes!!!
CaliNative in SF/Miami writes: Miami and Virginia have the hardest conference schedules in the Coastal this year (Virginia's is harder because they play @FSU instead of UL). But my question is do you think if you switch Duke (or even VTech's) and Miami's schedule, do you think Miami becomes the overwhelming favorites? I mean Duke's schedule is set up only to lose to VT, UNC, and Miami. I think Miami (and UNC) are just set up so that they have to sweep the Coastal, or only have one loss, to win it. And honestly, that is the only reason I can see for not having Miami or UNC winning the Coastal.
Adelson writes: The schedule Miami has to play would be difficult for any team. One of the reasons why the Hurricanes want a nine-game league schedule is to even out the slate a little more for everyone. They have to play the Florida State Seminoles every year; their Coastal brethren don't. If Duke played Miami's schedule, then I would not pick the Blue Devils. Schedule is a huge reason why I think Duke has an edge, as I stated in the post. The schedule you play impacts how you finish, no matter how talented you are.
Al in Florida writes: You love to talk Miami down don't you, AA? I don't blame you, I would still be salty if I was a Gator fan. All Miami needs at QB is someone to get the ball to the playmakers without turning the ball over. We have the playmakers, more so than FSU or Clemson. Plus our O-line isn't too shabby. If (James) Coley can improve the O and if (Mark D'Onofrio's) D is half as good as it was last year, you can buy me a beer in North Carolina come December.
AJ Brown in Plantation, Fla., writes: The one true reason in my mind that Miami is favored to win the Coastal is because you can't ignore the talent that Miami possesses. Firstly, Miami has the best group of receivers RIGHT NOW in the entire ACC. That means that whoever starts at QB for Miami does not have to be STELLAR, but a game manager instead. Last year, the problem Miami had on offense was that Stephen Morris could not make the right reads and could not make the intermediate throws. Often times he was a one-trick pony who could only throw the deep ball. Jake Heaps, for example, may not have the arm or the pretty deep ball, but he can make the intermediate throws that Morris could not. As far as the defense, Miami SHOULD BE a lot better because of addition by subtraction. Miami had starters on the defense last season who had absolutely no business starting, like Tyrone Cornelius, Shayon Green, Jimmy Gaines, Kacy Rodgers and AJ Highsmith. The players replacing them are without a doubt more talented with way more athleticism, like Dallas Crawford, Jermaine Grace, Quan Muhammad, Jamal Carter, Tyriq McCord etc. Bottom line is, I don't think you can compare the talent level between Miami and Duke as Miami has a clear advantage there. I'm not saying Miami WILL win the Coastal, but I think you're drinking too much Blue Devil Kool-Aid because you're looking at Duke's Cinderella year from last season and the fact that they're returning their starting QB.
Adelson writes: I could not resist a parting shot. Duke beat the far more talented Miami head-to-head a year ago.
He hemmed and hawed and considered simply moving on, but after a bit he conceded that the tenor among fans in Atlanta was often, in his opinion, too negative, while people outside of Tech territory seem to be a bit more upbeat on the program.
That got us to thinking: Are things really so bad at Georgia Tech or are fans ignoring the successes the program has enjoyed? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and David Hale dish out both sides of the debate.
Adelson says Georgia Tech deserves more credit: It is easy to see why the chorus against Johnson is growing. Georgia Tech has won nine games just once in the last five years, and there has been roster and coaching staff turnover over the last two.
But perspective is in order here.
First, Georgia Tech has been to a school-record 17 straight bowl games, the third-longest active streak in the country. Only Florida State and Virginia Tech have longer streaks.
Second, the Jackets have gone .500 or better in conference play in 19 consecutive seasons, the longest conference streak in the country. Just two seasons ago, Georgia Tech nearly upset Florida State in the ACC championship game, then took down USC in the Sun Bowl.
So my question then is this; what exactly will make his critics happy?
Georgia Tech is in contention for the ACC championship every single season, and has been a lock to make a bowl for nearly two decades. Obviously, winning another ACC championship and breaking a long losing streak to Georgia are at the top of the list.
But on the other hand, Johnson knows how to win football games. He has posted two losing seasons in 17 total years as a head coach, in his first year at Navy and with the Jackets in 2010. He has won two division titles and made a BCS game during his time at Georgia Tech. In six seasons, he has won 47 games, fourth-best in the league behind Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech.
Realistic expectations are in order here. Georgia Tech has continued to win games with Johnson in charge. The Jackets have also graduated players at a much better clip, earning NCAA Public Recognition Awards in consecutive years for finishing in the top 10 percent among all FBS programs in the Academic Progress Rate.
It is pretty rare for a winning coach at program that is outside the Top 25 (and the SEC for that matter) to be fired for not winning enough. Look at Tom O’Brien, fired after three straight bowl appearances at NC State. Dave Doeren comes in last season and goes 3-9, winless in ACC play. The Wolfpack were picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic this year.
Is that an alternative the Jackets would want?
Hale says the Jackets can do better: As we get into this debate, I’m reminded of the words of former Georgia Tech AD Dave Braine, who said the Yellow Jackets “could win nine or 10 games but they will never do that consistently.” Those words helped end Braine’s tenure, but in the eight years since he departed, they’ve pretty much defined exactly what Georgia Tech has been on the football field.
So the question of whether Georgia Tech is meeting its potential is really two-fold: First, is the occasional 10-win season surrounded by years of six or seven or eight victories really Tech’s cap? And, if so, is Johnson doing enough to meet that expectation?
I’d argue the answer is no on both points.
Yes, Tech has hurdles that other ACC schools may not. Its academic standards are high while it’s forced to compete directly with powerful SEC programs in the area. But Tech is also located in some of the nation’s most fertile recruiting territory, and while not all athletes are eager to spend their college years in the big city, Atlanta offers a big selling point to some. Yes, academics can be an issue -- but that hasn’t stopped Stanford or Notre Dame or, lately, even Duke from hitting that 10-win platform and bringing in more prominent recruits.
But let’s not even focus on landing five-star athletes at Tech. From 2010 through 2013, Johnson scored just six four-star recruits (per ESPN rankings). Those six players have combined to start just 13 games -- all by Vad Lee, who transferred after last season. In fact, three of those six four-star signees are no longer with the program.
It’s tough to even credit Johnson (and his staff) for developing three-star recruits into stars. Tech had three players taken in this year’s draft, which brings the total number of Johnson recruits selected during his tenure to four.
There’s also the sheer number of players who aren’t sticking around. That was already the topic of discussion earlier this week when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that 13 Georgia Tech players have departed since the end of the 2013 season.
A lot of these personnel issues can be hidden by Johnson’s unique offensive strategy, and thus Georgia Tech has sustained some measure of consistency on the field. But while the offense has survived, the defense has been mediocre at best and dismal at its worst. Since 2010, only Duke has allowed more yards-per-play than Georgia Tech.
And then there are the wins and the losses. Yes, Tech has continued to make it to a bowl game each year, and that’s no easy task. Of course, it was easy enough for 11 of the ACC’s 14 teams to do it last season. But since 2010, Georgia Tech is 21-21 against teams from automatic-qualifier conferences. It has lost eight of its last nine bowl games. It has lost 12 of 13 to rival Georgia, including blowing a 20-0 lead in last year’s game.
Johnson is correct when he says that people probably undervalue what Georgia Tech has done, but that’s really part of the problem. He’s not selling recruits on the program, he’s not winning his showcase games and, as he said, he’s not convincing the hometown fans that the future is bright. The Yellow Jackets’ success has made for some interesting bits of trivia, but even Braine would probably admit the program can do better than that.
GREENSBORO, N.C. – If you need to find Quayshawn Nealy this summer, head to the Georgia Tech College of Computing.
Then look for the big football player filing reports and shredding paper.
Nealy had some downtime while taking two classes and working out, so he decided to get a job. That is a bit unusual for athletes, who generally have a tough time finding any free time between all their responsibilities. Nealy is an even more exceptional case.
He has had a job three summers in a row, all while finding a way to get his assignments done and grow into one of the better linebackers in the ACC. Over the past several months, Nealy has worked every day as an office assistant for a few hours. But that is pretty light work compared to what he did the past two years.
After his redshirt freshman season, Nealy decided to get a job for the first time in his life. He worked as a parking attendant at the historic Fox Theatre, collecting money and handing out receipts. When asked whether that job got a thumbs up or thumbs down, Nealy laughed.
“Thumbs up, because I was getting money,” he said.
It is safe to say he enjoyed collecting parking fees and risking paper cuts better than the internship he had last year, working as a telephone operator in a large call center just outside Athens, Georgia. Every day, he and a group of teammates would carpool one hour to the office building, trying to sell HP products to third-party vendors.
Nealy dealt with a barrage of hang ups and a lot of nos. On top of that, he was in enemy territory. Lots and lots of Bulldogs around.
“It was a good experience, but it wasn’t for me,” Nealy said.
Despite the setbacks, Nealy did make a few sales. As a business management major, the experience is one he would never trade.
Neither is the chance to earn some extra spending money, either.
The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are seemingly endless. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.
Why Georgia Tech will win the Coastal
1) The secondary should be improved. Lose three starters, welcome back four. Sound confusing? Well, Georgia Tech does say goodbye to cornerbacks Jemea Thomas and Louis Young, but it returns a pair of players who had missed most or all of last season, as safeties Isaiah Johnson (knee) and Jamal Golden (shoulder) return from injury. Demond Smith had replaced Golden at safety last season and is now at corner, along with D.J. White, who was dominant in the Music City Bowl loss to Ole Miss (career-high 13 tackles, two forced fumbles, interception). This group should anchor the defense, perhaps offsetting some of the potential shortcomings that could await the defensive line this fall.
2) Don't sleep on special teams. Getting Golden back is crucial, as he is a versatile talent who showed he can make plays as both a punt and kick returner, having been the only player in the nation to finish in the top of each category in 2012. That might be easy to forget after some of the exploits of the rest of the ACC's returners in 2013, but Golden could be as good as any of them. Harrison Butker, meanwhile, is a reliable kicker with a strong leg, having converted 53 of 54 extra points as a true freshman last season, along with 10 of 14 field goal tries (including five of 40 or more yards).
3) The schedule is (fairly) favorable. Sure, six home games may be tough for most Power-5 conference schools to swallow in this era, but the Yellow Jackets do get Miami and Duke in Atlanta. More importantly, they get the Hurricanes following a bye week. The same goes for their trip to Athens, Ga., for the regular-season finale at rival Georgia. Georgia Tech's other three nonconference games to open the season are certainly winnable (Wofford, at Tulane, Georgia Southern), so it could help give this group some confidence going into the Sept. 20 conference-opening showdown at Virginia Tech.
Why Georgia Tech won't win the Coastal
1) The offseason turnover will take a toll. As noted Wednesday, Georgia Tech has had no shortage of turnover this offseason, and not in a good way. In addition to the seniors it said goodbye to like every other team, the Yellow Jackets have had 13 different non-senior players depart the program this offseason due to a number of different issues. ESPN 300 athlete Myles Autry, meanwhile, has been unable to enroll at Georgia Tech yet because of NCAA clearinghouse issues.
2) The defensive line has some question marks. Three starters are gone up front, the biggest among them being All-ACC end Jeremiah Attaochu. It will now likely be up to nose tackle Adam Gotsis to anchor the group after he tallied 14.5 tackles for loss last season. With second-year coordinator Ted Roof operating out of the nickel instead of the 4-3, Jabari Hunts-Days was moved up after playing linebacker, but he now finds himself sidelined for the season, as he is academically ineligible.
3) What do we know about the quarterbacks? Here's what we do know: Last year's starer, Vad Lee, is gone, having transferred to James Madison. Speedster Justin Thomas will replace him and seems like an ideal fit for Paul Johnson's triple-option attack, although he still has some work to do. Johnson is very high on reserve signal-caller Tim Byerly, but the possibility of him earning meaningful playing time inevitably begs the question of whether the Yellow Jackets have a controversy or competition on their hands.
First: Is Duke Johnson a viable Heisman candidate? I agree with everything Athlon Sports says about Johnson in its write-up:
From a talent standpoint, Johnson is the only other option in the ACC who can compete with Winston. He has elite-level, breakaway speed and explosiveness. The biggest speed bump in The Duke’s Heisman campaign will be staying healthy. The smallish back has dealt with injuries but if he can stay on the field and post 250 touches, his numbers could be ridiculously good.
Being healthy is obviously important. If he is able to get 250 carries while averaging his career mark of 6.5 yards per carry, Johnson will have at least 1,650 yards. If he can somehow get to 2,000 like Andre Williams did a season ago, then he has a terrific chance of being invited to New York. But there is one more stumbling point from my point of view: uncertainty at quarterback.
With Stephen Morris behind center and Johnson at running back, Miami always had the threat to run or pass. The passing threat has been taken away without a sure-fire quarterback. More teams will load the box. Williams found a way to overcome that at BC last year, but the Eagles decided early on they wanted to be physical and play smash-mouth football. Miami does not play that style of football. So along with staying healthy, Johnson has to find a way to keep breaking off explosive runs with more defenses keying on him.
Second: Can the Hurricanes help make Miami a football town again? I completely understand what Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote is trying to say here. I grew up in South Florida in the 1980s and early 1990s, when football was king. But even when the Hurricanes were winning national championships, they only sold out their biggest games. Losing LeBron James will in no way start guaranteeing more seats filled at Sun Life Stadium.
Oh sure, football will be talked about more, but everybody knows Miami fans only come out for winning teams. In the case of the Canes, they need to win and play in big games.
Now let's take a look at other headlines across the ACC:
- Commissioner John Swofford has been an advocate for player safety because tragedy struck close to home.
- Florida State has some really, really fast players.
- Myles Autry could decide quickly whether he still wants to attend Georgia Tech.
- Is it really a big deal that Kentucky coach Mark Stoops doesn't want to attend a lunch promoting the matchup against Louisville?
- North Carolina has been in the news for all the wrong reasons, but this news should be applauded.
- Two Syracuse players recount their recent mission trip to Haiti.
Here is the 2014 preseason All-ACC team, as voted on by the media at the ACC Kickoff:
Thoughts: While the ACC had the second-most NFL draft picks in May, there is significant talent returning to the conference for the 2014 season. Of the 26 players, 21 were named to one of the three All-ACC teams at the end of last season. That doesn’t include Parker, who will play his first season in the ACC this coming season. Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the leading vote getter (although not a unanimous one), and Beasley, who received the second-most votes, are two of the three returning consensus All-Americans from the 2013 season.
Few conferences would be able to rival that offense with Winston throwing to 1,000-yard receivers Crowder and Greene and a 6-foot-3 target in Parker. O’Leary is one of the best tight ends in the country. There was a seemingly close battle at running back behind Duke Johnson, Williams got the nod over Virginia running back Kevin Parks, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.
Defensively, that is one talented line. Beasley received the second-most votes for the preseason player of the year, and Edwards was the No. 1 high school recruit in the 2012 class. Maddy and Jarrett are two of the best defensive tackles in the country.
Duke has the second-most players on the team, which speaks to the program David Cutcliffe is building in Durham. The Blue Devils were not picked to win the ACC Coastal despite winning it last season and returning quarterback Anthony Boone. There is a constituency out there that still doesn’t believe Duke is the real deal and is bound for a letdown, but the media believes there is talent throughout the roster; the Blue Devils have a player at receiver, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary. Miami, which was picked to win the division, has two players on the list.
Even as Duke had four players, the Seminoles still had nine, only further signifying the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference, although the league is undoubtedly improving. That list does not include Ronald Darby or Jalen Ramsey, two players who will almost certainly be on an All-ACC team by the end of the season. It is no surprise Florida State was ranked as having the most talent on its 2014 roster two weeks ago in ESPN.com's future power rankings.
On Monday, the school announced backups Anthony Autry, Travin Henry and Darius Commissiong had been kicked off the team for rules violations. Since last season ended, Georgia Tech has lost more non-senior players from its roster than any other team in the ACC.
Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution goes over the complete list of departures:
- Defensive lineman Justin Akins (left team)
- Receiver Anthony Autry (dismissed)
- Offensive lineman Morgan Bailey (transfer)
- Defensive end Darius Commissiong (dismissed)
- B-back Travis Custis (transfer, academic issues)
- Defensive end Jabari Hunt-Days (academically ineligible)
- Quarterback Ty Griffin (transfer)
- Defensive end Travin Henry (dismissed)
- Jimmie Kitchen (expected to transfer after suspension)
- Quarterback Vad Lee (transfer)
- Defensive lineman Kevin Robbins (transfer)
- Offensive tackle Chase Roberts (medical)
- Defensive lineman Anthony Williams (scholarship not renewed)
That is quite a list, though only Hunt-Days and Lee were starters last season. Still, it is very unusual to see this much roster turnover on a team with a returning head coach. So why have so many players either gotten themselves into trouble or decided to leave? Does this have to do with Johnson or something else?
Johnson did not shed much light into the turnover during the ACC Kickoff, saying there is a consistency to the way he expects the program to run. Some players adhere to standards. Some don't.
Turnover is always expected, but not like this. Johnson has had to defend himself for months now, but that has gone deeper than just the roster changes. There is a growing segment of the Georgia Tech fan base that has become disenchanted with him, his style of play and efforts on the recruiting trail. Johnson criticized all the negativity in Atlanta while he was in Greensboro, N.C., pointing at his overall and conference records while at Tech.
Still, it is alarming to see so many players gone.
The Jackets may not be done losing players, either. Autry's younger brother, Myles, signed with Georgia Tech in February but has been unable to enroll because of NCAA Clearinghouse issues.
Myles Autry, an ESPN 300 player, told the AJC he was indeed reconsidering the Jackets. He was the highest-rated player in the 2014 Georgia Tech class, so losing him would be yet another blow.
Here's a look at other headlines across the ACC:
- Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley has drawn comparisons to Jadeveon Clowney.
- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher explains what really went on with those famous crab legs.
- Best headline of the day: "Jimbo Fisher is Nick Saban on three cans of Red Bull."
- Louisville basketball player Montrezl Harrell has something to say to Bobby Petrino.
- Miami picked up a commitment for the class of 2016.
- Remember this name: Elijah Hood.
- Virginia quarterback David Watford appears to be back in Mike London's good graces.
1) Florida State
5) Boston College
6) NC State
7) Wake Forest
3) North Carolina
5) Virginia Tech
6) Georgia Tech
Couple of points: You'll have a hard time convincing me -- and most likely anyone else -- that Clemson and Louisville, as of today, are not the closest to FSU in the Atlantic. The Nos. 4-6 spots left a little wiggle room (sorry, Wake), and I think that Syracuse returns more proven talent from last year than BC and NC State.
On the other side of things, well, I see no reason not to pick Duke right now. The Blue Devils are the defending Coastal champions, return a ton of contributors and are the closest thing to a proven commodity in the wide open division.
After that: Chaos. The division sets up nicely for a team to make another surprise run this year, and Pitt is the one that I think is perhaps best-positioned to take advantage. The schedule sets up nicely for the Panthers, who get Duke at home and sub BC for FSU as an Atlantic opponent. While Chad Voytik is a newcomer under center and the offensive line had its share of obvious issues last season, more consistency up front (and, one can only assume, improved health) should help the offense exploit playmakers in the backfield and at receiver.
I think UNC has as good of a shot as anyone else of winning the division, but the team's youth, particularly on the offensive line, has me hesitant to pick them as the favorite.
Miami being picked as the Coastal frontrunner shocked me, given the way the team finished last season, the complete uncertainty at quarterback and the lack of punch shown on defense last season. A look at the voting suggests the Hurricanes accumulated just enough points as a second- or third-place team to ultimately get the No. 1 nod over Duke (33) and UNC (27), both of whom garnered more first-place votes than Miami (26).
We'll have more on the Coastal possibilities later on in the blog, further illustrating just how wide open this race really is. The fact every team but Virginia received a first-place vote speaks to that.
Asked to comment about where his first Wake Forest team is predicted to finish in the ACC's tough Atlantic Division, Clawson replied, “Were we picked to win it? I didn't see those. Were we unanimous first? The bull's-eye is on us, right?”
Clawson didn't sugar-coat the team's lack of experience and depth, but he had his most pointed comments regarding the quarterback position, where Tyler Cameron and Kevin Sousa are battling for a job that no one seems eager to win.
“Those two guys who took snaps in the spring, neither did enough, even if we didn't have those [true freshmen] coming in, to take control of the job,” Clawson said.
What was unique from Clawson was his pessimism on the position. What wasn't unique were the questions about the position. Plenty of coaches were asked about their quarterbacks in Greensboro, and for good reason. After talking with each coach and the players in attendance, here's a quick run-down of where each ACC team's QB situation stands.
1. Florida State: Jameis Winston is the returning Heisman winner and his time in Greensboro was, at the very least, a solid first step in FSU's quest to repair its quarterback's image.
2. Duke: Anthony Boone is the only other quarterback in the league with at least 300 attempts last season who is back for 2014, but David Cutcliffe still plans to use two quarterbacks and eagerly talked up Thomas Sirk, who will step into the red zone role manned so well by Brandon Connette last season.
3. Clemson: The biggest worry for Clemson is the potential for a real quarterback controversy (or, at the very least, a lively debate) if Cole Stoudt struggles early. Dabo Swinney offered blanket support for his senior, but the early schedule is difficult, and the immensely talented but completely green Deshaun Watson is waiting in the wings.
4. NC State: Dave Doeren can barely contain his enthusiasm about the addition of Jacoby Brissett, whom the coach described as “everything you recruit in a quarterback.” Doeren did remind reporters, however, that Brissett's on-field experience remains extremely limited.
5. North Carolina: Hey, if Peyton Manning says Marquise Williams is going to be an exceptional passer, who are we to argue? Still, it's not enough to convince Larry Fedora to hand him the starting job just yet, and it sounds more and more like UNC will use two quarterbacks at times.
6. Syracuse: Terrel Hunt has proved he can win and he's taken on a leadership role this offseason, but he still needs to prove he can be a respectable downfield passer. And even Scott Shafer admitted things needed to get better there.
7. Louisville: The depth chart isn't set in stone here either, but Bobby Petrino had plenty of praise for Will Gardner in Greensboro, saying, "He can make all the throws you need to make. He's got the arm strength. He's got a very quick release. ... He's a natural leader that the players have already learned to follow."
8. Pitt: Paul Chryst says Chad Voytik still has a ways to go, but he's pleased with the quarterback's progress and, of course, Voytik will have as dangerous a weapon as any first-year starter in the league in Tyler Boyd.
9. Boston College: The Eagles actually have a relatively experienced and settled QB spot with the arrival of transfer Tyler Murphy, and lineman Andy Gallik said Murphy has grasped the offense and taken on a leadership role. But his problem will be that he doesn't have much in the way of receiving targets or experience in the backfield to help him out.
10. Virginia: Mike London shrugged off the rumors about his job, and one reason he can do that is that he's immensely confident in QB Greyson Lambert, who looks to have cemented his role as the team's starter.
11. Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson smiled at the notion that recently departed QB Vad Lee said the triple-option wasn't for him, noting the situation had become “frustrating” for both sides. With Justin Thomas, however, Johnson said he has the ideal quarterback to run his offense.
12. Virginia Tech: Well, Brenden Motley did get a preseason player of the year vote, even if he's not exactly destined to win the starting job. Frank Beamer said he plans to end the drama soon, even if no one separates himself and “he has to go with a gut decision.”
13. Miami: Ryan Williams would make this a much better scenario, but Al Golden isn't interested in predicting his veteran will be back from a torn ACL any time soon. That leaves Jake Heaps and Kevin Olsen, neither of whom earned a ton of praise in Greensboro.
14. Wake Forest: It's going to be a long year for Clawson, but at least he's got a sense of humor about it.
Dabo Swinney is confident Clemson will have a chance to win the Atlantic, writes The State.
Swinney has no intention of taking religion out of his football program, writes Sports on Earth.
There are no hard feelings between Swinney and Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, writes The Post-Standard.
Florida State's offensive line will be what sets the Seminoles apart in the ACC, writes Tomahawk Nation.
And your non-sports link of the day: If you don't hear from me for a few months, blame the new Simpsons World from FXX, which looks… amazing.
James in North Carolina writes: Do you think there is another division in college football as wide open as the Coastal? I think Duke, VT, Miami, and North Carolina are all very close talent wise, and any of them could beat each other on any given day. I don't feel that Pitt is on the same level, but with the other teams dishing out losses to each other, they could be right there in the mix. The same could be said for Georgia Tech. In my opinion, the only team that I don't think will compete is UVA, but strange things tend to happen in the ACC.
Andrea Adelson writes: The Coastal is without a doubt the most wide open division in college football. I have seen Duke, Virginia Tech and North Carolina all listed as preseason favorites; Miami won nine games last season; I expect Pitt to be much better; Georgia Tech has a long history of success in the Coastal and cannot be counted out; and Virginia will be much better and much more competitive. I would not be surprised if the entire division ended up with bowl eligibility this season, even the Hoos. I still think Duke and North Carolina are the front-runners, followed closely by Virginia Tech, Pitt, Georgia Tech and Miami. The Hokies have a favorable schedule (BC and Wake from the Atlantic) and I am going to go ahead and guarantee they will be better on offense. Virginia Tech and Pitt might be slightly ahead of Georgia Tech and Miami. The Jackets have a lot of question marks on defense, and so does Miami (along with uncertainty at quarterback). Check back next week to see how we each voted in the ACC preseason poll. I wouldn't be surprised if we all pick a different Coastal champ.
Jon in Atlanta writes: Hey AA, I've been looking at a few projections about the ACC Coastal. I think it's pretty safe to say, that no one is a stand out winner. Some have UNC, some VT and some Duke. I would love for my Jackets to sneak in and win it. However, with a new QB and a few questions on the "D" side, I think that will be a tough stretch. I'm thinking it's going to be another 7 win season for us, what's your thoughts? Can we win more?
Adelson writes: I have not been overly optimistic about Georgia Tech this season. Then I read some interesting notes about the Jackets in the Phil Steele college football preview magazine. Did you know the Jackets have a .500 record or better in ACC play for 19 straight seasons -- the longest streak in the country? That stat alone makes it hard to completely discount Georgia Tech. I think Justin Thomas will be an upgrade over Vad Lee, and the offense will be fine. My biggest concern is the defense, particularly up front. Having said that, the nonconference schedule is easier than it has been over the past two seasons, Miami, Clemson and Duke all play in Atlanta and there are no midweek games on the schedule. This team has the potential to win more than seven games.
UM student in SF, Calif., writes: The past month Miami has been tearing it up on the recruiting trail. I mean the 2016 class is already shaping up to be special. I was wondering how much the fact that the NCAA cloud has passed played into this, and how long you think Golden has to step up and win some real games now. Do you think he gets like a clean slate or something?
Adelson writes: NCAA closure has been absolutely huge for Miami. Players who shied away from the Canes, even in-state, are now really giving Miami a close look. I wrote a little bit about the impact in the Tampa area. Golden is not on the hot seat by any stretch. Everybody in the administration knows what he was saddled with over the past three seasons, especially since he took the job and had no idea there would be a major NCAA investigation that would essentially take up every single season he has had to date. As for winning some real games, let's not forget about last season. Yes, it ended in disappointment, but Miami won nine and also beat Florida. The Gators ended up having a disastrous season, but at the time they played, Florida was viewed as the better team. I thought that was a big win for Golden and the program. Now, I know what you are getting at -- getting back to beating Florida State and playing for an ACC championship. Miami has assembled some talent over the past several years, but I still think the Canes are a few years away from consistent 10-12 win seasons. Having said that, I do think Golden deserves some patience. I know expectations are always sky-high at Miami. He wouldn't want it any other way. But at the same time, he has had more on his hands than any other coach in the league.
Wayne in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Can my Noles learn to stay out of trouble? I know you have to wait for the all facts, but kick (Jesus Wilson) off the team and set an example. I'm tired of seeing this!
Adelson writes: I understand your frustration. Certainly, you are not the first college football fan tired of seeing athletes getting into trouble. Will kicking him off the team set an example? This year, Jimbo Fisher kicked Ira Denson off the team after he was charged with petty theft and the illegal use of a credit card. Wilson still got into trouble. Now, I realize the cases are different and it is sometimes hard to compare each offense. Denson allegedly perpetrated a crime against a teammate; Wilson allegedly stole a scooter. Should a coach kick every player off the team who is arrested and charged with a crime? How does a coach prevent athletes from getting arrested? These are all difficult questions each coach must face.
Eds note: Earlier this week, I profiled Clemson offensive lineman Kalon Davis and his study abroad trip to Kyoto, Japan. Tragically, professor E. Leslie Williams -- who led the trip -- died suddenly last week. Thoughts and prayers are with Davis, Williams and the Clemson family.
Of course, if a certain job in College Station, Texas, were to open up -- as our Travis Haney wrote about this week -- it certainly would seem like a good fit for Morris, who is a Texas A&M graduate. But Morris also earned $1.3 million last season, which makes it a bit easier to stay comfortable in a coordinator role, and though he is smart enough to know when the right situation comes around, I think he is also sincere when he says he is not looking to leave.
And Morris isn’t the only ACC assistant would could be a hot commodity at some point in the next couple years. A few other names to watch for bigger jobs:
Bud Foster, Virginia Tech: The offense has been down over the past few years for the Hokies, but Foster's defense has been as good as ever. Foster has turned down lucrative offers elsewhere in the past, so he is clearly not looking to leave, but he will nevertheless remain on the radar for a lot of other programs looking to bring in a proven commodity.
Jay Graham, Florida State: He is young, has NFL experience and SEC ties, and he is a recruiting whiz. He also presided over the first 1,000-yard back at Florida State in 16 years last season. Graham is going to be a hot name very soon.
Chip West, Virginia: How does a team that finishes 2-10 and has a head coach constantly mired in hot-seat rumors still land a solid recruiting class, including five ESPN300 members? Chalk it up to West, one of the best recruiters in the nation.
Scottie Montgomery, Duke: He will get his first crack at a coordinator job this year as he takes over for Kurt Roper, who left for Florida. Montgomery has NFL experience as a wideouts coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he is a terrific recruiter. If Duke’s offense continues to shine, he is going to get a lot of credit -- and a lot of long looks from other programs.
Brent Venables, Clemson: Morris gets all the buzz because offense is fun and the Tigers’ defense has played second fiddle for years. But look, everyone remembers that Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia to conclude the 2011 season, and what Venables has done for the Tigers’ defense since then -- 29.3 ppg in 2011, 24.8 in 2012, 22.2 in 2013 -- has been impressive, and this year’s unit could be his best yet. More importantly, the Clemson defense is finally climbing out of the shadow of its prolific offense.
Athlon has a look at recruiting in the Tidewater, Virginia area, and how the region has become a key battleground for programs like Florida State and Virginia.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a piece on how colleges are bringing in outside help to sell tickets.
The Daily Progress is looking at Virginia’s opponents and wonders if this is the golden age of Duke football.
A new play-calling system should help Terrel Hunt run Syracuse’s up-tempo offense, according to Syracuse.com. We wrote plenty about up-tempo offenses yesterday, if you missed it.
Georgia Tech’s special teams should be a strength, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The Courier-Journal wonders why Bobby Petrino isn’t having more success on the recruiting trail at Louisville.
Chad Morris came to Clemson, bringing the up-tempo style with him, in 2011. Since that time, the Tigers have averaged a 22-percent increase in plays per game and a 42-percent increase in scoring. Not surprisingly, both of those numbers are the best among ACC teams.
But it’s not just Clemson that’s moving faster on offense. In the three years since Morris’ arrival in Death Valley (beginning in 2011), the ACC as a whole has seen a 7-percent increase in offensive plays per game (and, accordingly, a 7-percent decrease in the time of possession per play) compared with the immediately preceding three-year stretch. In fact, all 14 teams that played in the ACC in 2013 have seen at least a marginal improvement in offensive tempo during the last three seasons.
Here are the teams with the biggest jumps in tempo, measured by time of possession per play:
1. Clemson (up 20.1 percent)
2. North Carolina (up 14.4 percent)
3. Syracuse (up 14.4 percent)
4. Pittsburgh (up 10 percent)
It may not come as much of a surprise then that the teams to see the biggest leaps in scoring from the 2008-10 time span vs. 2011-13 look pretty familiar.
1. Clemson (up 43 percent)
2. North Carolina (up 32 percent)
3. Florida State (up 28 percent)
4. Syracuse (up 25 percent)
It’s common sense, really: more plays translates pretty directly to more scoring chances, and more scoring chances translates to more points. Add better talent to that mix (as has certainly been the case at both Clemson and Syracuse) and the results get even better.
Of course, as we noted in the earlier post on Clemson, there’s a tradeoff on the defensive side when the offense is moving so quickly. Here are the teams that have seen the biggest increases in points surrendered during those same time frames.
1. Boston College (42.3 percent)
2. Clemson (35 percent)
3. North Carolina (22 percent)
4. Pittsburgh (17.9 percent)
Obviously there are other factors at play here beyond just tempo, but there clearly is some correlation between how fast an offense moves and how much pressure that then puts on a defense. For the most part, teams like Clemson are happy to make that tradeoff because the offensive exploits more than outweigh the potential drawbacks defensively. The result has been a 32-8 record in three years with Morris guiding the offense for the Tigers. Similarly, Syracuse has improved dramatically and is hoping to run even faster on offense this year, while North Carolina and Pitt have each garnered some buzz as potential Coastal Division favorites.
The elephant in the room when it comes to discussing tempo in the ACC, however, remains Florida State. After all, no team has been more dominant than the Seminoles, who’ve seen offensive productivity skyrocket in the last three years, while it’s tempo has remained virtually unchanged. And that’s really a good reminder that tempo can help, but there’s more than one way to put up points.
Lastly, here’s a quick look at the fastest- and slowest-paced teams in the ACC from 2011-2013, based on time of possession per play. (Note: League average during that span was one play every 25.4 seconds)
1. Clemson (21.4 seconds)
2. North Carolina (24.0 seconds)
3. Syracuse (24.1 seconds)
4. NC State (24.4 seconds)
5. Duke (24.8 seconds)
1. Georgia Tech (28.0 seconds)
2. Virginia Tech (27.2 seconds)
3. Boston College (27.1 seconds)
4. Florida State (27.0 seconds)
5. Pittsburgh (26.3 seconds)
- The ACC returns 13 players who had at least 10 tackles for loss last season. Five of them play for Clemson.
- Vic Beasley had 23 TFLs vs. teams from BCS-AQ conferences last season. No other returning ACC player had more than 12.
- Clemson's defense recorded a tackle in the backfield once every 7.8 plays last season against AQ teams.
- The Tigers didn't rely on the blitz either. When rushing four or fewer, Clemson recorded a sack every 11.1 passing attempts last season, the second-lowest rate in the league.
In other words, the Tigers are pretty good up front. But digging into those numbers also uncovered a few other interesting tidbits about ACC defensive fronts. Normally we like to compose a nice narrative around one or two key stats, but for the purposes of this post, we're going a little more free-flowing. Here's a bit of what we found:
• Yes, Clemson was exceptional when it came to defensive fronts in 2013, but so was the rest of the ACC. (Or, perhaps, if you're a pessimist, the O lines around the league were particularly bad.)
Of all teams to play at least eight games vs. AQ conference schools, Clemson had the best rate of TFLs, recording one every 7.8 plays. But, of the top 18 teams in plays-per-TFL last year, seven now play in the ACC. Here's the list:
1. Clemson (7.8)
3. Louisville (8.5)
4. Virginia Tech (8.7)
10. Virginia (9.5)
15. Syracuse (9.8)
17. Florida State (10.1)
18. NC State (10.4)
• Looking at that list, it's worth noting Louisville, Syracuse and Florida State all lost key players from last season's defensive lines to the NFL.
• Speaking of key defensive linemen moving on to the NFL, few teams figure to suffer quite as much from the loss of a key starter this season than Pitt.
How big was Aaron Donald's contribution to the Panthers' defense? He had 21 TFLs against AQ conference teams, which accounted for a whopping 43 percent of the team's total.
Moreover, Pitt relied more on its four-man rush, led by Donald, than any other team in the ACC. A whopping 92 percent of Pitt's sacks in 2013 came with just a four-man rush, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
• The flip side of that coin is Virginia, where the D-line figures to get plenty of credit (and should be even deeper this year), but it was the blitz that really carried the Hoos. Nearly half of all of dropbacks by Virginia's opponents last season were countered with a blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and 71 percent of the Cavaliers' sacks came when rushing five or more defenders.
• Defensive coordinators often talk about how the secondary can't flourish without a strong defensive front and vice versa, making it something of a chicken-or-egg discussion, but it's notable that of the top ACC defensive fronts (based on plays/TFL) in AQ-conference games, only Virginia Tech had a highly rated secondary. The Hokies ranked No. 2 in the ACC and No. 17 nationally in yards-per-attempt vs. AQ teams last year. The rest of the top 5 ACC lines were far worse: Clemson (38th nationally in YPA), Virginia (86th), Maryland (47th) and Syracuse (63rd).
• Don't go thinking the high amount of blitzes hurt Virginia's pass defense though. The Hoos allowed 1.6 fewer yards per attempt when blitzing than when sending four or fewer pass-rushers last season. In fact, only Virginia and Syracuse (1.4 fewer yards/attempt) were better when rushing more than four defenders last season.
• The flip side of that coin? Not surprisingly, it's Clemson, which allowed 3.2 more yards-per-attempt when blitzing last season than it did when rushing four or fewer defenders. Other big splits in that direction: Duke (2.4), Miami (1.1), UNC (1.1) and NC State (1.0).
• Pitt has the lowest percentage of its TFLs come against AQ opponents (57 percent). Syracuse had the highest (85 percent).
• Florida State's returning TFL leaders for 2014 is not surprisingly Mario Edwards Jr., with 9.5. Care to guess who's No. 2? We'll give you a minute.
That'd be Chris Casher, who had 5. Casher didn't start a game last season, and he's not exactly guaranteed a starting spot this year. Florida State's sack leader in 2013 was cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, who finished with 5.5. The last time the Seminoles' leader in sacks had so few for a season was 2006 (Buster Davis had 5).
• The only team that recorded a TFL less often (on a per-play basis) against AQ-conference teams last season than Miami was Texas A&M. The Hurricanes' leader in TFLs, Shayon Green, won't be back for 2014.
• And, of course, getting back to Clemson for a moment, there was one other stat the folks on Twitter were more than happy to mention when I talked up Beasley's season.
Um, yeah. The answer to that one would be zero, which should make for a pretty good stat to build a narrative around when Clemson and FSU face off again in September.
@DavidHaleESPN How many vs. FSU?— Hunter (@HunterFSU06) July 14, 2014
Mason’s comments, courtesy of Team Speed Kills:
“We don't believe in redshirting at Vanderbilt. What we'll do is we'll take out of that class of 22, we'll probably have 17 guys that will step on the field and play at some point in time this year.”
Mason’s estimates certainly seem a bit generous, given that playing 77 percent of your true freshmen is virtually unheard of around college football. But it’s also possible the Vandy coach is at the forefront of a new way of doing things. Tennessee coach Butch Jones added to the discussion Tuesday, promising at least 10 true freshmen would play significant roles for the Vols this season.
More and more, particularly among the most competitive schools on the recruiting trail, immediate playing time for freshmen is an essential sales pitch. And for top recruits who seem likely to bolt for the NFL with eligibility remaining anyway, the redshirt year only takes away from time spent on the field. At the very least, regular work on special teams for true freshmen gets them game experience and prevents key contributors from being exposed to injury, so why not go that route?
It’s a philosophy I’ve discussed with FSU’s Jimbo Fisher a few times, and while he certainly hasn’t gone to quite the level Mason has suggested, the Seminoles -- who have inked a top-10 recruiting class each year of Fisher’s tenure -- have made a habit out of playing true freshmen. Just last year, Nate Andrews, Jalen Ramsey and Kermit Whitfield all played critical roles in the team’s BCS title, while 13 of 16 non-QB skill players in the class saw some action.
That got us to thinking how the rest of the ACC stacks up when it comes to redshirting freshmen. Here’s how the numbers from the Class of 2013 played out:
Of note, we didn’t include any signees who never arrived on campus, and we didn’t include juco players or transfers.
Overall, 107 of the ACC's 258 true freshmen signed in 2013 saw playing time last year -- or 42 percent. That number was a bit higher for ESPN 300 players, of which 23 of 41 (56 percent) saw action. Pitt played the most true freshmen (12), and Miami played the highest percentage of its signing class (67 percent), while Louisville (3 of 16) and Georgia Tech (2 of 13) played the fewest.
That latter category is interesting because Paul Johnson’s recruiting has been criticized regularly at Georgia Tech, and the 2013 class has already had more transfers (three) than players to see the field (two). And, of course, one of those two who saw action was kicker Harrison Butker. Moreover, Charlie Strong may find redshirting is a far tougher sell at Texas than it was at Louisville.
That FSU, Miami, Clemson and UNC inked the most ESPN 300 players and were among the most likely to play true freshmen shouldn't come as a surprise. Part of the formula is getting freshmen who are ready to play, and obviously the more talented the player, the more likely he is to see the field. (It's noteworthy, though, that just two of Clemson's nine ESPN 300 signees avoided a redshirt -- wide receiver Mike Williams started three games and linebacker Ben Boulware was largely used on special teams). But the other part of the argument is that giving true freshmen a chance to play is crucial to landing the best recruits. And in the case of Whitfield and Andrews, both were three-star recruits. So, too, were impact freshmen like Breon Borders, Brisly Estime and James Conner.
There will always be strong candidates for redshirts -- quarterbacks and offensive linemen, in particular -- and for some recruits, the opportunity to watch and learn and develop physically for a year remains a blessing. But there’s also a good chance Mason is on to something, and while it’s doubtful that 75 percent of true freshmen will see the field at most schools, there’s ample motivation for coaches to at least move in that direction.
- A boatload of top prospects are going to be visiting Florida State in the next few days, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
- Clemson’s defense figures to carry the team this season, writes The Post and Courier.
- North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham says the school is working to "move forward" from the ongoing NCAA investigation surrounding academic fraud, writes the Charlotte Observer.
- Virginia Tech tailback Trey Edmunds says he’s ready to go full speed after breaking his tibia against Virginia last season, writes The Roanoke Times.
- Georgia Tech freshman Clinton Lynch knew what to expect with the Yellow Jackets before he arrived on campus, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- A Louisville-area company wants to promote the Cardinals’ receiving corps with a billboard, writes The Courier-Journal.
- And your non-sports link of the day: Here’s a list of the best beers of 2014 (so far), courtesy of Paste. What, no Miller High Life?