ACC: North Carolina Tar Heels
The bad: North Carolina and Boston College are saddled with two FCS games apiece, a fact that did not go unnoticed Thursday. There is a simple explanation: previously scheduled games fell through and both schools were left scrambling. North Carolina had initially scheduled Ohio State for 2015. The game was moved, then subsequently canceled when the Big Ten voted to play nine conference games. Two more factors were at play: the ACC reversed course on a nine-game league schedule when it agreed to a partnership with Notre Dame. North Carolina wanted to wait on that schedule rotation to see how it would shake out. While having two FCS teams on the schedule is far from ideal, North Carolina does play two power-five teams with Illinois and South Carolina. As for Boston College, New Mexico State recently backed out of a 2015 game against the Eagles because it overscheduled. That left a hole the Boston College had to fill on very short notice. So Howard was added. Nobody is running around throwing a party over the FCS opponents. Sometimes these dilemmas happen. (Remember when Florida State had to replace West Virginia with Savannah State?)
The ugly: Poor Syracuse. Not only do the Orange get LSU in nonconference play, they also have the toughest three-game conference stretch of anybody in the ACC: at Florida State, at Louisville and Clemson on three straight weekends spanning the end of October into November. Nobody else in the Atlantic has to face the division's top three teams consecutively. Miami also faces a tough three-game stretch in October that could make or break Coastal Division hopes: at Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson. Nope, the Canes got no favors when they traded Louisville from the Atlantic for the Tigers. But there might not be anything uglier than the NC State nonconference schedule: Troy, Eastern Kentucky and then road games (yes, road games) against Old Dominion and South Alabama.
The byes: A 13-week scheduling window wreaked some havoc with the way the schedules were created because there was only space for one open week. ACC senior associate commissioner of football operations Michael Strickland had some good insight into how that was handled. Some teams are going to suffer more than others. Boston College has 10 straight games before its open date. Opening with the two FCS games might not serve as any consolation. Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech each have to play nine straight games to open the season; Florida State, Miami, Pitt and Clemson have to play nine straight games to end the season. The bye week is placed at an odd time for Clemson. The Tigers play Louisville on Thursday, Sept. 17 then go 15 days until they play again, Oct. 3 against Notre Dame. That is the longest regular-season layoff in school history.
The different: Friday night is the new weekday favorite in the ACC, with more announced dates than Thursday night, the former go-to spot. David Teel of the Daily Press has a great explainer piece on the topic, but it all comes down to television. The ACC will feature its top four teams from 2014 on either Thursday or Friday night this upcoming season. Strategery is definitely involved there.
The impossible: Once again, Virginia has the toughest schedule in the ACC, facing 10 teams that made bowl games in 2014. The move to overschedule is an interesting one, especially when you look at the nonconference scheduling models that NC State and Duke have followed. Both those programs have the worst nonconference schedules in 2015, choosing an easier route toward bowl eligibility. Last season, for example, Virginia was vastly improved, but still finished 5-7 with a backbreaking nonconference schedule. NC State finished 8-5 with a bowl victory, thanks to a cupcake nonconference schedule. NC State has scheduled up in the future to meet the requirement that ACC teams play at least one Power 5 opponent. But for right now, this schedule is hugely beneficial in the wins column. In the case of Virginia, the Hoos would be pleased if they make it out of their first four games against UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary and Boise State 2-2.
As former Virginia offensive lineman Luke Bowanko tweeted Thursday after the schedule was released:
If @UVa_Football wins out next year, they may have legitimate argument to play in the Super Bowl.— Luke Bowanko (@Lbow70) January 29, 2015
Let's just stick with what Donald has done at the collegiate level before even entertaining his first-year NFL dominance. As a senior, Donald cleaned up on the awards circuit. He was named the winner of the 2013 Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award and Chuck Bednarik Award. He was also a unanimous All-American after securing 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss and forcing four fumbles in his final season.
In only his first season in the NFL, Donald is a defensive rookie of the year candidate. Colleague Nick Wagoner states his case for Donald, noting the his nine sacks, the most by any rookie over the last three years and second most among all defensive tackles in 2014. His 17 tackles for loss are a league record for a rookie defensive lineman, too.
Donald is not the only former ACC player on the list. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, who just finished his final season, is ranked ninth. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and ESPN.com listed him as an athlete, but Athlon had him as a tight end.
As a senior, Beasley led the ACC with 12 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. He also led the country's best defense as Clemson finished No. 1 in yards allowed per game.
Year after year, the ACC puts dozens of players in the NFL even though its recruiting classes don't compete with those of the SEC. It's a tribute to the league's talented coaches.
A few more links to kick off the weekend, which is the last visit weekend before signing day:
- BYU will now count as a Power 5 opponent for ACC schools.
- Somewhat ACC football related: A strength coach for Clemson's baseball team will become an assistant strength coach with the Denver Broncos. It could be a good thing for Denver, whose Super Bowl window is closing. In his first year working with the Clemson baseball team, the Tigers made it to the College World Series.
- One Clemson outlet expects the Tigers to finish 11-1 and possibly play in the College Football Playoff.
- North Carolina State punter Wil Baumann will compete at the NFL combine.
- Boston College replaced New Mexico State with FCS Howard on its 2015 schedule. The Eagles were in a tough spot after New Mexico State withdrew from the game. The second FCS opponent will have an impact on the Eagles' bowl chances, too.
- Three immediate takeaways from the release of Georgia Tech's schedule.
- More interesting comments from North Carolina rising junior Ryan Switzer, who has been outspoken in the wake of a disappointing 2014 season.
That has become par for the course.
In what has become an annual rite of passage, the ACC has four blockbuster meetings against Power 5 opponents set for Week 1:
- North Carolina vs. South Carolina on Thurs., Sept. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina
- Louisville vs. Auburn on Sat., Sept. 5 in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. On the same day, Virginia travels to face UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
- Then, perhaps the most anticipated game of the weekend: defending national champion Ohio State travels to play Virginia Tech on Labor Day Night. This marks the Hokies' third appearance on Labor Day Monday; the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.
Those were among the big games spotlighted when the ACC released its schedule on Thursday. In all, ACC teams will play more games against teams that are ranked in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early 2015 Top 25 rankings (12) than any of the other Power 5 conferences. ACC teams also are playing a higher percentage of Power 5 teams (38 percent) than any other Power 5 conference.
None of this comes as a surprise, considering how strongly the ACC has scheduled nonconference opponents in recent years. For the ACC to continue to make inroads toward changing national perception, it will have to keep winning the spotlight games. As it stands, the ACC most likely will be the underdog in those four opening -weekend contests. And many people believe the only way an ACC team can make it into the playoff is with an unblemished record.
In addition to those marquee nonconference games, all eyes will be squarely on Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech as prime playoff contenders.
We should know more about their ACC and College Football Playoff fates over a four-week period spanning October and November.
Circle your calendars for:
- Georgia Tech at Clemson, Oct. 10
- Florida State at Georgia Tech, Oct. 24
- Florida State at Clemson, Nov. 7
As for the always important mid-week games, Virginia Tech might not be hosting a Thursday night contest in 2015, but it does have Labor Day against the Buckeyes and a Friday night home game against NC State on Oct. 9. The Hokies also travel to play Georgia Tech on Thurs., Nov. 12.
Florida State and Clemson have mid-week games as well: Louisville will host the Tigers on Thurs., Sept. 17 in a game that should have Atlantic Division implications, while Florida State plays at Boston College the next day. Boise State at Virginia (Sept. 25); Louisville at Wake Forest (Oct. 30); and Miami at Pitt (Nov. 27) round out the Friday night slate. North Carolina at Pitt on Oct. 29 is the only other Thursday night game.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Position to improve: Secondary
Why it was a problem: North Carolina had issues all over the defense in 2014, but it was particularly vulnerable to the pass. No Power 5 team in the country allowed more yards per attempt (8.5), only Baylor and Fresno State surrendered more plays of 25 yards or more through the air, and only six teams nationally allowed more passing touchdowns (31).
How it can be fixed: The Tar Heels' biggest issue in the secondary may have simply been youth. There was just one senior -- safety Tim Scott -- on the team's two-deep, and the Heels started three sophomores in the defensive backfield. UNC finished 88th in sack rate, too, and the lack of pressure up front certainly didn't help the secondary. The pass rush did show some improvement as the year went along, and emerging stars such as Nazair Jones and Dajaun Drennon should continue to make an impact in 2015. The big change, however, is the man calling the plays. UNC hired former Auburn coach Gene Chizik to take over the defense, and his hard-nosed style promises to translate to a more fundamentally-sound secondary.
Early 2015 outlook: North Carolina should improve defensively in 2015 if for no other reason than it would be virtually impossible to be any worse. Still, it's going to be an uphill battle. Young players are going to need to take big steps forward this offseason, and it remains to be seen how Chizik's personality and style will mesh with the players already on the roster. The Heels have two four-star DBs committed, but adding more youth to the mix isn't necessarily an ideal scenario. Moreover, Larry Fedora's offense moves at lightning speed, and the result of that was that no defense in the country spent more time on the field in 2014 than UNC. That's asking a lot of a group that is young, lacks depth and had fundamental flaws routinely exposed. How much of that can Chizik clean up in 2015? How much might Fedora try to adjust his offensive pace to account for some of those defensive shortcomings? How much can the youngsters grow in one offseason? We may not have those answers for quite a while.
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:
- Clemson safety Travis Blanks has suffered a setback in his rehab from a knee injury.
- Duke has promoted Matt Guerreri to assistant coach.
- Coveted defensive end Byron Cowart announced via Twitter he won't take an official visit to Florida State this weekend.
- Georgia Tech got a commitment from running back Marcus Marshall, the younger brother of Georgia back Keith Marshall. Family Feud!
- Miami is on fire ... for the 2016 class. Odds all five commitments end up signing with the Canes?
- Pitt picked up a commitment from a receiver out of Texas.
- Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler told Mike Barber of The Richmond Times-Dispatch that he's hasn't spoken to anybody about the Central Michigan head coach opening. Barber also reports the Hokies won't have a Thursday night game in 2015.
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:
- FSU made it official Monday, hiring former Florida assistant Brad Lawing to coach its defensive ends and outside linebackers, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
- Louisville DC Todd Grantham could be headed to the Oakland Raiders, writes The Courier-Journal.
- Even with Luther Maddy missing the bulk of the season, Virginia Tech’s defensive line came up big in 2014, writes the Roanoke Times.
- Pitt landed a quarterback on the recruiting trail Monday, but it lost one of its former commitments to Penn State, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Georgia Tech is prepping to start doling out stipends to its student-athletes, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Rutgers swiped one of Syracuse’s top remaining recruiting targets, writes Syracuse.com.
It is about time ACC teams got creative with their schedules.
Because it is an absolute crying shame that two of the oldest rivals in the league are forced to go years between games. So, North Carolina and Wake Forest took matters into their own hands Monday, when the two announced they had scheduled a home-and-home NONconference series.
Does it sound bizarre? Yes. But it is no more bizarre than the schools playing just four times since 2004. We are talking about the two schools that played the first college football game in the state of North Carolina in 1888, that have met 105 times -- the third-oldest rivalry in the ACC.
Their annual meetings ended when the ACC expanded to 12 teams and added divisions in 2005. North Carolina was placed in the Coastal; Wake Forest in the Atlantic. They were each given another cross-over rival to play annually: North Carolina gets NC State; Wake Forest gets Duke. The remaining cross-over game rotates, relegating Wake Forest-North Carolina into the nearly irrelevant category.
Expansion to 14 teams in 2013 meant the two would face each other even more infrequently. After their ACC game in 2015, the two are not scheduled to face each other again until in ACC play until 2022. Seven years between meetings is a little much, wouldn't you say?
Now, this is not a problem unique to North Carolina and Wake Forest. NC State and Duke face a similar dilemma, separated by a bus ride but unable to play on an annual basis. Many more appealing league games also happen much too infrequently: Florida State-Georgia Tech; Clemson-Virginia Tech; Florida State-Virginia Tech; Syracuse-Miami just to name four examples that have some historical context.
Folks inside the ACC realize it is not ideal to have entire senior classes go without playing every ACC team. In an attempt to change that, athletic directors tried to move to nine conference games last year, an idea that was approved in 2012 before being changed back thanks to a scheduling partnership with Notre Dame.
But the vote was defeated 8-6. So absent a ninth conference game, ACC athletic directors began seriously exploring the idea of playing each other in “nonconference” games. During spring meetings last year, several athletic directors came out in favor of the idea. Not only would it allow them to play an ACC member more frequently, it also would add another Power 5 opponent to the schedule.
North Carolina and Wake Forest just so happen to be the first Power 5 teams to make good on the concept. Their nonconference games in 2019 and 2021 will not count in the ACC standings.
What is so wrong with that? Rather than go out and spend money on a guarantee game, Wake Forest and North Carolina can play each other in a regional matchup that requires a fleet of buses as opposed to airplane travel to say, Stillwater, Oklahoma.
It satisfies the requirement that they have at least one Power 5 nonconference opponent on the schedule moving forward. And it does not necessarily preclude them from playing multiple Power 5 opponents in a given year. In 2021, North Carolina plays Wake Forest and Notre Dame in nonconference games.
North Carolina and Wake Forest made a bold choice. They opted not to be held hostage by the way the ACC schedule is made. That is their reality, and it is one that is not going to change in the foreseeable future.
In an ideal world, the ACC should drop divisions entirely, that way everybody would have a chance to play at least once in a four-year cycle. Have each team keep its designated rival, and then go through the rest of the teams round robin. Before that can happen, the NCAA must rule whether it will allow conference championship games to be deregulated.
Currently 12 teams and two divisions are required to hold a championship game. The ACC and Big 12 have petitioned the NCAA to change that rule, and expect an answer in the spring. While commissioner John Swofford has repeatedly told reporters not to read anything into the ACC wanting conference championship game rules changed, it would pave the way to eliminate divisions somewhere down the road.
And that would lead to fewer scheduling headaches.
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.
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:
- Mel Kiper Jr. says another year in college would’ve helped former Syracuse DB Durell Eskridge, writes Syracuse.com. Of course, there are plenty of other factors to consider, too — money being the big one. In 2013, I wrote about Eskridge’s troubled upbringing, which included a stint living in a car.
- Former Virginia tight end Jake McGee was granted a sixth year of eligibility at Florida by the NCAA, writes the Daily Progress.
- Tar Heel Blog has a shot of the work being done to repair irrigation systems at Keenan Stadium. It looks like a serious job.
- The Post & Courier looks at the draft prospects for Clemson’s stars on defense.
- The Post-Gazette chats Pitt football, with as many questions about the script logo as the new coaching staff.
- The Courier-Journal runs down a number of key changes and updates on Louisville’s 2015 roster.
- Darren Waller had a great Capital One Orange Bowl, looked good in the Shrine Game and is now prepping for the combine, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Hale: Fedora made the right choice
Let’s recap North Carolina’s defensive production since Larry Fedora took over as head coach: The Tar Heels have allowed 30 points per game (dead last in the ACC), 431 yards per game (dead last), 190 rushing yards per game (dead last), 42 percent third-down conversions (13th) and 7.4 yards per pass attempt (13th).
In other words, there is nowhere to go but up.
The Chizik hire makes sense for UNC on so many levels. First is the basic Xs and Os. Chizik has a long history of putting together impressive defenses, from his days as Auburn’s coordinator to his time at Texas, and then as a championship-winning head coach. He’s fiery and talented, and he’s got the credentials to get the attention of his team immediately. That’s crucial for a unit that looked utterly dysfunctional far too often in 2014.
Secondly, there’s the recruiting trail. Yes, recruiting stars proved controversial for Chizik at Auburn, but there was always more smoke than fire there. And the point is, he got the job done. The bottom line at North Carolina the past few years is that Fedora simply hasn’t brought in enough defensive talent, and the recruiting pitch for 2015 -- particularly with the NCAA investigation hovering like a black cloud -- needed a major injection of enthusiasm if the Tar Heels wanted to close strong.
Lastly, there’s the simple fact that Chizik is a big-time hire at a program that for a long time has shied away from making a splash in the coaching ranks. The one big name UNC has brought aboard in recent years was Butch Davis, and that obviously came with its own NCAA issues, but the Chizik hire shows that in spite of any potential controversy, the Heels aren’t backing down from bringing in a winner. It’s a show of confidence and a commitment to winning, and for a program languishing in mediocrity, that’s critical.
Yes, there are reasons to be a bit concerned about how this all ends, but those concerns pale in comparison to how bad things have already been at North Carolina. More importantly, the powers that be in Chapel Hill are keenly aware of the NCAA spotlight the program is living in, and it stands to reason they would have done their homework on Chizik before rolling the dice yet again. In that respect, this is a hire that only re-enforces the message that North Carolina isn’t going to let the NCAA’s investigation define the program, and instead wants to make it clear that it intends to compete for an ACC title regardless of any lingering off-field concerns. It’s a message that should appeal to recruits and players -- even if it manages to raise a few eyebrows in the NCAA offices, too.
Adelson: Surely there was another qualified coach available.
We can all agree Fedora had to do something to fix his defense. Those ugly defensive stats are not misleading in any way. The Tar Heels are as bad as the numbers say.
We can also agree Chizik knows his way around a defense, having coached elite units at Texas and Auburn while developing some fine NFL talents.
Will he fix what ails North Carolina? My guess is yes.
But surely, there is another top-notch defensive coach out there who could do the same. Because a scandal-plagued program like North Carolina needs all the squeaky-clean coaches it can find right now.
And Chizik does not come without some dirt. It is important to note that Chizik has never been charged with any wrongdoing. But he was not singled-out in one little isolated incident, either. Chizik has been accused of plenty in multiple reports by multiple publications: from paying players, to recruiting improprieties, to fixing grades.
Essentially, his entire tenure at Auburn was filled with one allegation after another. Assistant Trooper Taylor was taken off the recruiting trail several times for self-reported NCAA secondary rules violations in 2009 and 2010.
The NCAA changed its recruiting rules after Auburn caused a fuss with "Tiger Prowl," in which assistants cruised around in stretched Hummers and showed up en masse at high schools across the state during spring evaluation periods.
The NCAA also investigated the recruitment of quarterback Cam Newton, and looked into the allegations made about paying players and fixing grades. Nothing was ever substantiated, and Chizik has denied every accusation.
So if all these allegations are false, then Chizik has had his good name besmirched and the outcry in some quarters is completely unjustified. Supporters might say, "Chizik has done nothing wrong, so why even bring up false allegations?"
There is a big reason. North Carolina remains under NCAA investigation. It has been nailed for players accepting improper benefits, and it has been nailed for academic fraud. The Tar Heels are bringing in a coach who dealt with NCAA scuttlebutt for more than three years at his previous school. It looks bad, and there is no way around that -- no matter how well North Carolina vetted Chizik.
There might have been a safer hire out there, with the coaching acumen to transform a terrible defense into a respectable one. Instead, Fedora made a risky hire, one that will leave some to question why the Tar Heels would go down this road.
Chizik has made his name as a top defensive coach; North Carolina was unwatchable on defense last season, ranking among the worst groups in America. Defense has held North Carolina back the last two seasons, and Larry Fedora was not stubborn enough to keep allowing a broken system to keep running.
He had to make a change, so he went out and hired the biggest name available.
But despite Chizik's résumé as a top defensive coach, the move wasn't met without some criticism. It is interesting, to say the least, that the Tar Heels opted to hire a coach who was accused of NCAA violations during his tenure at Auburn. Though nothing was ever substantiated, North Carolina has got to be careful about the company it keeps, considering the athletic department is once again under NCAA investigation for alleged academic fraud in its African and Afro-American Studies classes.
Fedora addressed the NCAA question unprompted in an interview with Andrew Carter of the News & Observer, telling the newspaper the school was confident the allegations were false after investigating.
“Just like everybody, we vetted him completely and are very comfortable with where we’re at,” Fedora said told the newspaper. “I mean, there were some unsubstantiated allegations out there about him and what’s happened in the past.”
Chizik was fired after a 3-9 season in 2012. In April 2013, he was accused of paying players and changing grades in a report on Roopstigo.com, run by former New York Times and Sports Illustrated journalist Selena Roberts. Chizik vehemently denied the charges then, and did so again in a statement released through his attorney to the News & Observer:
“During my time as Auburn’s head coach, I never authorized, instructed or directed anyone to change any player’s grade or provide any type of illegal payment to any student-athlete,” Chizik said.
During his stint as Auburn coach, the NCAA also investigated the recruitment of quarterback Cam Newton, but that was tied to allegations that the player's father tried to shop him to Mississippi State. Still, an NCAA cloud hung over Auburn midway through its 2010 championship season and into the 2011 season as Chizik was forced to answer questions about Newton. In 2012, Yahoo! Sports reported the NCAA was investigating allegations of recruiting improprieties between Auburn representatives and third parties.
So it is not as if Chizik has a squeaky clean image. Though he was never charged with committing NCAA violations, Chizik does come with some baggage. Not exactly ideal for a scandal-plagued program still suffering the consequences for NCAA rules violations.
Elsewhere around the ACC:
- The NFL announced the official list of early entrants to the NFL draft. Florida State led the way with five players.
- Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo tops The Sporting News' list of top 20 impact players returning to school.
- Georgia Tech has offered a grayshirt to in-state product Brad Stewart.
- Former Louisville player Patrick Grant will have his lawsuit against the university go to trial Tuesday. Grant has accused former coach Charlie Strong of breaking a promise to keep him on scholarship after he was beaten so badly by two teammates he nearly lost an eye and had to quit the team. Strong is expected to testify in the trial.
- Miami players and coaches are growing weary of all the negativity surrounding the program.
- Pitt offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings will draw a crowd at the Senior Bowl this week.
- Solid take from Andy Bitter in the Roanoke Times: Aaron Morehead's departure from Virginia Tech shows Frank Beamer has made some good hires over the last few years.
- The Orlando Sentinel lists its early list for 2015 Heisman candidates. Is Dalvin Cook the top choice from the ACC?
QB: Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech)
Thomas thoroughly dominated the Mississippi State defense in the Orange Bowl, accounting for 246 yards of offense and four touchdowns. Credit. though, to Clemson’s Cole Stoudt, who was pressed into action with Deshaun Watson out with injury and threw for 319 yards with four total touchdowns, too.
His 171 yards on the ground led all ACC runners during bowl season to cap off an extraordinary second half of the year for Days. He scored three times on the ground versus Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs never stood a chance against Georgia Tech’s dominant rushing attack.
RB: J.C. Coleman (Virginia Tech)
The running game was a problem all year for Virginia Tech, but once the Hokies were down to their fourth option at tailback, things got figured out. Coleman finished up a strong final four games with his best performance of the year, carrying 25 times for 157 yards and a touchdown in Tech’s win over Cincinnati.
WR: DeVante Parker (Louisville)
Louisville’s quarterback play was dreadful against Georgia in the Belk Bowl, and it cost the Cardinals a chance to win. But Parker, as usual, was excellent. He had eight catches, six of which went for first downs, and he led all ACC receivers with 120 yards. He also had one of the most impressive touchdown grabs of the season called back because he stepped out of bounds before the catch.
WR: Mike Williams (Clemson)
There’s plenty of competition for the second receiver spot, with six players chiming in with between 96 and 114 yards through the air during bowl season, but we’ll give Williams the slight nod. He had nine catches (tied for most in the ACC) for 112 yards and a touchdown, and six of his catches went for first downs.
TE: Jack Tabb (North Carolina)
It wasn’t a sterling season for tight ends in the bowl games despite so many fine performances during the regular season. Still, Tabb hauled in five catches for 51 yards and a score, which easily set the pace at the position.
OL: T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh)
Pitt’s defense couldn’t hold a big lead in its bowl game against Houston, but no blame goes to the offensive line, which was strong. Pitt ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns and allowed just one sack on 37 attempts, with Clemmings grading out once again as the Panthers’ top blocker.
OL: Shaq Mason (Georgia Tech)
Georgia Tech ran for 52 more yards than any other team during bowl season. Credit goes to the entire offense for the strong performance, but there’s no question Mason has been the on- and off-field leader of the offensive line all season.
OL: Joe Thuney (NC State)
NC State’s 3.82 yards-per-carry average wasn’t great, but the ground-and-pound approach against UCF did the trick. The Wolfpack scored twice on the ground and had eight runs of 10 yards or more, with Thuney grading out as their top performer.
OL: Tre Jackson (Florida State)
It’s easy to dismiss Florida State’s Rose Bowl performance, but the offensive line had nothing to do with the five turnovers the offense coughed up. In fact, Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams were cruising through a stellar outing thanks to the blocking of Jackson and his linemates before the bottom fell out.
C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)
The Eagles’ problems with PATs haunted them again in bowl season, but the ground game that paced the offense all season was once again terrific. BC ran for 285 yards and two scores against a Penn State defense that had been among the best in the nation against the run. Ample credit to the whole group, but Gallik has been a star all season.
DE: Tyriq McCord (Miami)
McCord had five tackles, including one sack, in the loss to South Carolina, and while his secondary couldn’t cover Pharoh Cooper, the Hurricanes’ front did manage to keep the Gamecocks’ powerful ground game in check, holding Mike Davis to just 55 yards.
Perhaps the ACC’s best defensive player during bowl season, Jarrett was a beast in thwarting Oklahoma’s high-octane offense. Jarrett had 3.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry and a forced fumble as Clemson dominated the Sooners’ through the first 3½ quarters of action.
DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)
Beasley’s early sack against Trevor Knight was a harbinger of a long day to come for the Oklahoma quarterback, who mustered just 2.8 yards per attempt in the game. Beasley was at the heart of the pass rush, tallying five tackles, including three for a loss.
LB: Rodman Noel (NC State)
Led NC State’s defense with eight tackles, including two for a loss, and helped hold UCF to just 2.9 yards per carry on the ground and disrupting the Knights’ passing game throughout. UCF quarterback Justin Holman completed just 43 percent of his throws.
LB: Ben Boulware (Clemson)
Boulware had five tackles and a fumble recovery in the win over Oklahoma, but it was his 47-yard interception return for a touchdown to give Clemson a 17-0 lead late in the first quarter that made the biggest impact.
LB: P.J. Davis (Georgia Tech)
Davis led all players in the Orange Bowl with 11 tackles, and while Mississippi State’s offense did manage to move the ball to the tune of 605 yards, the game was never particularly close because Davis helped prevent big plays -- just three of 20 yards or more through the first three quarters -- and held Dak Prescott to just 4-of-10 passing on third down.
LB: Deon Clark (Virginia Tech)
Clark led all Virginia Tech defenders with 11 total tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble, as the Hokies thwarted Cincinnati’s high-flying offense in the Military Bowl.
S: DeVon Edwards (Duke)
The Blue Devils’ defense was hardly great against Arizona State, but Edwards did lead the pack with 14 tackles, including one for a loss, a forced fumble and a sack.
S: Chris Milton (Georgia Tech)
Milton’s eight tackles and support against the run were crucial for Georgia Tech’s defense against Mississippi State, but his interception on Prescott’s second throw of the game set the tone for a dominant Yellow Jackets win.
CB: Jack Tocho (NC State)
While NC State’s defensive front tormented the UCF passing game, the defensive backs did their part, too. Tocho had three tackles and two pass breakups, while UCF’s passing game mustered just 4.85 yards per attempt through the first three quarters as the Wolfpack built a 31-13 lead.
CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
Fuller had four tackles, broke up a pass and had and an interception against Cincinnati, as quarterback Gunner Kiel, one of the nation’s most dangerous passers, completed just 14 of 26 throws.
P: Bradley Pinion (Clemson)
Pinion’s net punting average against Oklahoma was 43.4 yards -- just one-tenth of a yard shy of tops in the conference. He had two punts downed inside the 10, and none of his five boots were returned.
K: Joey Slye (Virginia Tech)
Slye connected on all four field goal attempts, including two outside of 40 yards, and was 3-of-3 on PATs in Virginia Tech’s win over Cincinnati.
KR/PR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)
Crowder has been a star on special teams for much of his career, and he ended it on a high note by returning a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against Arizona State -- his second of the season. He accounted for 66 percent of all the punt returns in the ACC in 2014.
You could have almost played a game of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego ...
Example: What are Florida State assistants Tim Brewster and Odell Haggins doing in St. Louis? Maybe visiting defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., the No. 2 rated player on the ESPNU 300 from East St. Louis, Missouri.
Quick lunch at Sweetie Pies in St Louis....Spectacular!! pic.twitter.com/DoXG3mJxER— Tim Brewster (@TimBrewster) January 15, 2015
Hey, what's Larry Fedora doing in East Lincoln High in Denver, North Carolina? Maybe getting a jump on the class of 2016 and dual-threat quarterback Chazz Surratt.
UNC Coach Larry Fedora stopped by East Lincoln today! pic.twitter.com/YbcZClCAu4— Brandi Surratt (@brandi_surratt) January 15, 2015
New Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff were all over the place, from Pennsylvania to Florida. Here is Narduzzi with three-star safety Dane Jackson out of Quaker Valley High in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania.
Coach Narduzzi stopped by the school today!! Ready to get this journey started <È pic.twitter.com/4MPYdeJwtk— Dane Jackson (@Splashy_2) January 15, 2015
Now on to some morning reading:
- ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. posted his first mock draft Thursday, with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston going No. 1 overall. That is not a huge surprise, considering Winston is the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. What is a surprise is that his off-the-field issues could end up being a huge non-factor after so many believed they would. The biggest surprise among ACC players listed in the first round: Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, who went No. 22 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Johnson has been quietly turning heads over the last two years, and routinely drew praise from ACC coaches on the weekly in-season teleconference as being one of the top cornerbacks in the league.
- Ready for your #goacc moment of the week? Sports Illustrated decided to list the Top 10 worst games of 2014. FOUR ACC games made the list. I am pretty sure you can guess which one finished No. 1.
- Phil Steele calculates Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville were three of the most underrated teams this season. You don't say. Florida State got not one ounce of credit for beating all three. #TalkinBouttheNoles, Steele lists them as one of the most overrated teams in 2014.
- Louisville is set for one of its biggest recruiting weekends in years.
- Corn Elder and D'Mauri Jones are no longer a part of the Miami basketball team, and are focusing on football only.
- Is Syracuse receiver Brisley Estime on his way back to being 100 percent?
- What can we expect to see out of Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer in 2015?
They are important. Just ask Baylor.
Of course, nonconference schedules tend to look one way before the season starts and then another when the season ends. Florida State had two Power-5 schools on the docket plus Notre Dame in 2014, but nobody regarded its schedule as particularly tough because those three teams fizzled.
With that in mind, let's take a quick peek at the top three potential playoff contenders in 2015 and what we think could end up being good nonconference slates. Included are 2014 records in parentheses.
Georgia Tech: Alcorn State*, Tulane (3-9), at Notre Dame (8-5), Georgia (10-3)
Clemson: Wofford*, Appalachian State (7-5), Notre Dame (8-5), at South Carolina (7-6)
Great news here, considering we expect both teams to start the season as preseason Top 25 teams. If voters are truly paying attention, both will start in the top 15. It is always beneficial to have a well-respected SEC opponent on the schedule, as these two do every year with their in-state rival. Both must face Notre Dame. Let's just say this as nicely as possible: The ACC needs Notre Dame to be better this year. Badly.
Nothing to write home about
Florida State: Texas State (7-5), USF (4-8), Chattanooga*, at Florida (7-5)
You thought Florida State was lampooned for its nonconference schedule in 2014? That one looks like a gantlet featuring Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama compared to this one. If the Seminoles go unbeaten, they should still be in position to make the playoff, but they will come under serious scrutiny for their schedule, even if Florida is better. If they struggle against any of these teams and look suspect vs. ACC competition the way they did this year, well, that might be enough for committee members to consider picking another qualified team.
Now let's take a look at some potential darkhorse playoff contenders
Virginia Tech: Ohio State (14-1), Furman*, at Purdue (3-9), at East Carolina (8-5)
Louisville: vs. Auburn (8-5), Houston (8-5), Samford*, at Kentucky (5-7)
We are going out on a very, very long limb here with Virginia Tech included as a potential playoff contender. But expectations in Blacksburg are growing, so ours will, too. In actuality, both teams' playoff fortunes will be decided in their respective openers. Louisville faces Auburn in Atlanta on Sept. 5, while the Hokies take on the defending national champion Buckeyes at home on Labor Day night. If they come away with upsets for the second straight year, their playoff chances would go soaring -- but only if they win the remainder of their games. If they lose, hard to see either making it with one loss. Also in their favor: Both schedules features two Power-5 teams plus solid teams from the American.
Duke: at Tulane (3-9), NC Central*, Northwestern (5-7), at Army (4-8)
At least the Blue Devils have one Power-5 school on the schedule, though it happens to be one of just three Big Ten teams that failed to make a bowl game in 2014. Perhaps the Wildcats will be better in 2015. In either case, Duke will face an uphill climb given the blase schedule. Add in the ACC Coastal slate and no Top 25 teams from the Atlantic, and the schedule will be viewed as weak. Again.
Now let's take a look at everybody else. Who knows, maybe one of these teams will emerge as the surprise of 2015.
Best of the rest
Virginia: at UCLA (10-3), William & Mary*, Notre Dame (8-5), Boise State (12-2)
Once again, the Hoos have the toughest schedule in the ACC, the only team to face two nonconference opponents with 10 or more wins in 2014. Really tough to hand a team in desperate need of momentum backbreaking schedules year after year after year. The way to handle it? Schedule the way Florida State or NC State did, at least for one year to build some confidence and a few more wins. Don't get me wrong. Playing good teams is important. I love it when teams upgrade their schedules. But at what expense? You have to be at the right place in your program to do it.
Ol' college try
Pitt: Youngstown State*, at Akron (5-7), at Iowa (7-6), Notre Dame (8-5)
Miami: Bethune-Cookman*, at FAU (3-9), Nebraska (9-4), at Cincinnati (9-4)
Boston College: Northern Illinois (11-3), New Mexico St (2-10), Notre Dame (8-5), Maine*
Decent schedules here for all three teams, featuring at least one Power-5 opponent. Northern Illinois and Cincinnati are two of the better Group of 5 teams so these schedules do remain challenging.
You take the good, you take the bad ...
Syracuse: Rhode Island*, Central Michigan (7-6), LSU (8-5), at USF (4-8)
Wake Forest: Elon*, at Army (4-8), Indiana (4-8), at Notre Dame (8-5)
North Carolina: vs. South Carolina (7-6), North Carolina A&T*, Illinois (6-7), Delaware*
One Power-5 for each and then a whole lotta nothin.' If North Carolina can get its act together and potentially make a run, it will be interesting to see how the committee handles a team with two FCS opponents.
Thanks for playing
NC State: Troy (3-9), at Old Dominion (6-6), at South Alabama (6-7), Eastern Kentucky*
The Wolfpack are the only team without a Power-5 school on the schedule. The ACC rule that mandates at least one Power-5 nonconference team on the docket starts in 2017. Schedule upgrades are coming soon in the way of Notre Dame (2016, 2017), West Virginia (2018, 2019) and Mississippi State (2020, 2021). But for now, if NC State does not go 4-0 against this slate something is seriously wrong.