ACC: Virginia Cavaliers

ACC Week 1 predictions

August, 28, 2014
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Why Clemson will win: Defense. It wins championships, right? It will win this game for Clemson. The Tigers led the nation in tackles for loss last season and return every single major contributor to the group. An improved front seven means better results slowing down Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the two players Clemson needs to slow down the most. Rather than the shootout we saw a year ago, the defenses will have a much bigger role this season. Right now, Clemson is better than Georgia there, so I'm calling for the upset.
-- Andrea Adelson

Why Georgia will win: Early-season games against nationally recognized teams have not been kind to Georgia's Mark Richt over the years (see: Clemson, Oklahoma State, Boise State, South Carolina x 2), so the law of averages says he has to win some, right? Well, there's more than just cosmic balancing in the Bulldogs' favor. While the Tigers made huge gains on defense a season ago, they allowed an average of 38 points per game against Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and South Carolina in 2013. We're not quite sure what to expect out of new Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason, but the duo of Gurley and Marshall at running back is unmatched anywhere else in the country. Last season's game might have played out differently had Gurley not strained a quad on a 75-yard touchdown run.
-- Jared Shanker

Why Miami will win: Duke Johnson changes everything for the Canes, as he keeps their offense moving and takes plenty of pressure off Brad Kaaya. Likewise, the loss of DeVante Parker takes plenty of punch out of Louisville's offense. A new coach, a new league and a new quarterback create too much uncertainty around a Cardinals team that has the target on its back after embarrassing Miami last time around. -- Matt Fortuna

Why Louisville will win: It's not that I'm supremely confident in this pick, but the Cardinals have a few things going for them. First, it's a marquee game for the program, its first as a member of the ACC. Secondly, while a lot has changed on defense for Louisville, it was the top-ranked rushing D in the country last season, which should help Todd Grantham's crew deal with the dynamic Duke Johnson. Most important, however, at quarterback Miami is starting a true freshman in his first career game on the road in a frenzied atmosphere. It won't be a gimme, but Louisville will pull off the victory. -- David Hale

Upset pick of the week

Why ULM will win: ULM has three advantages: It beat Wake Forest a year ago and is familiar with some of the returning personnel; the WarHawks bring back 14 starters; and they are playing at home. Wake Forest is starting true freshmen at quarterback and center. It's never easy to go on the road and make your first career start, let alone on national television. Factor in all the youth and inexperience for the Deacs, and you see why ULM has the edge. -- Andrea Adelson

More consensus picks: Syracuse over Villanova; Pittsburgh over Delaware; UCLA over Virginia; Georgia Tech over Wofford; NC State over Georgia Southern; Boston College over UMass; Virginia Tech over William & Mary; Duke over Elon; North Carolina over Liberty; Florida State over Oklahoma State

ACC morning links

August, 27, 2014
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If the first season is usually when a coach gets the benefit of the doubt, Year 2 is when fans want to see improvement so that by Year 3 the coaching staff's plan is coming to fruition.

The ACC has three second-year coaches, each with differing expectations. Athlon Sports took a look at those coaches and what the 2014 outlook is for each coach's program.

Writer Steven Lassan states Boston College's Steve Addazio exceeded expectations in his inaugural season as BC's coach, and there is little doubt Addazio did a great job getting to a bowl game. Without Andre Williams it will be a challenge to get back to a bowl game, but the first half of the schedule sets up pretty nicely.

A bowl game in 2013 and key returners has Syracuse fans believing Scott Shafer will keep the Orange moving in the right direction. There are only two games on the schedule where the Orange will not be given a great chance to win, so there is an expectation for Syracuse to once again be bowl eligible.

At NC State, Dave Doeren is given a partial pass last season after losing his starting quarterback. While the Wolfpack have a long way to go, Doeren has his quarterback in Jacoby Brissett. There is definitely an expectation the Wolfpack will be better, and they can't be much worse after going winless in the ACC last season. Brissett was a highly regarded quarterback coming out of high school, so there is the potential NC State can surprise some teams this season and pull off an upset or two.

Here's a few more links to help you through the day. Remember, we get FBS football tomorrow!

ACC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
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The college football season is finally ready to kick off. No doubt all the time we’ve spent studying depth charts and devouring news will be rendered meaningless by September’s end, but that won’t stop us from making a few bold predictions about what’s to come in 2014. If we get half of them right, we’ll call it a success.

1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.

Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
AP Photo/Garry JonesUnder coach Bobby Petrino, Will Gardner has a chance to flourish as Louisville's starting QB.
2. Louisville’s Will Gardner will be the ACC’s second-best quarterback.

It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.

3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.

The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.

4. Virginia goes bowling.

The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.

5. Clemson is a running team.

With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.

6. Young runners make a big impact.

Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.

7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.

If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.

8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.

Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.

9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.

Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.

10. The Coastal champ will be ...

Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.

ACC links: Hokies start from scratch

August, 25, 2014
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Here's how crazy the ACC Coastal Division is: Virginia Tech and Miami have as good a chance as anyone to win the division, and both teams will open the season with starting quarterbacks who weren't on campus during spring practice.

Virginia Tech announced Saturday that Michael Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, would get the starting nod.

On Sunday, Miami followed up with the news that true freshman Brad Kaaya will be its starter when it opens the season against Louisville.

There are only five QBs in the ACC who threw more than 100 passes in the league in 2013 returning for this season, and three of them are in the Coastal. But two of those three -- David Watford at UVA and Marquise Williams at UNC -- aren't guaranteed a starting job when the season opens. In fact, Watford is out as Virginia's starter with Greyson Lambert penciled in atop the depth chart, and Tar Heels' coach Larry Fedora said he won't announce a decision between Williams and Mitch Trubisky until North Carolina kicks off its opener.

That could mean as many as six of the ACC's 14 opening day starting QBs would never have taken a snap with their respective teams before, and Clemson's Deshaun Watson, who will play but not start, adds more to that mix.

Of course, all these situations are different, and Kaaya certainly has the advantage of talent surrounding him at Miami. Perhaps no school in the conference has a better RB-WR combo than the Hurricanes Stacy Coley and Duke Johnson.

At Virginia Tech, on the other hand, Brewer will open the season with little experience around him. As The Roanoke Times notes, leading rusher Trey Edmunds is currently fourth on the depth chart at tailback (partially due to injury) and the Hokies' top two receivers, Demitri Knowles and Willie Byrn, aren't in the starting lineup either.

In fact, here's a quick look at Virginia Tech's skill position starters on offense:

QB: Brewer: Transfer, no previous ACC experience

RBs: Junior J.C. Coleman and freshman Marshawn Williams were responsible for a total of 84 carries for 284 yards last season (17 percent of the Hokies' total rushing attempts). Another freshman, Shai McKenzie is behind them.

WRs: Sophomore Joshua Stanford and freshman Isaiah Ford grab the starting nods here, again accounting for just a fraction of last year's passing game (16 percent of total receptions).

TE: Junior Ryan Malleck missed all of last season and has 17 career receptions.

I talked with Frank Beamer last week, and he was wildly enthusiastic about the future, raving about the opportunities at tight end, his freshmen receivers and Williams at tailback.

It's a risk, certainly, to start so much youth on a team coming off two down years, but Beamer clearly has decided that winning 10 games with mediocre talent isn't any better than winning eight games with developing talent. And the truth is, with Virginia Tech's schedule, there will be plenty of opportunity for the young pups to gain experience without necessarily costing the Hokies any games anyway.

It's a shrewd decision on Beamer's part, and one worthy of praise. Many coaches in his situation would go worry about the present first and foremost, but he's clearly concerned about Virginia Tech's future. That's a strong sentiment as the 2014 campaign gets set to kick off in a wide open Coastal Division.

A few more links for your morning reading:

ACC mailblog

August, 22, 2014
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Just one Saturday left without football?! My oh my! Let's get to some mail.

Don writes: Your ESPN.com Preseason ACC team has lost all credibility when it failed to feature Tyler Boyd who was arguably the best receiver in the ACC last season as a freshman. While I agree Florida State has the best team on paper in the nation they do not have the top player in every position in the ACC.

Andrea Adelson: No, but they do have the best receiver in Rashad Greene. Boyd had a phenomenal freshman season, don't get me wrong. We all think he is fantastic. But the ACC is completely stacked at receiver headed into the season, and two worthy players were left off -- Boyd and DeVante Parker at Louisville. In the end, we decided on Crowder for a few reasons. His past performance cannot be ignored. Nor can the fact that he continues to be the focal point of the Duke offense. As David Hale points out, Crowder was targeted 174 times last season, and he delivered in every possible way. He is the most indispensable player on that team.


Stephen in Baku, Azerbaijan writes: Yes, there are ACC fans in Azerbaijan. My comment/question is about solving the mystery of the Clustal (cluster/Coastal). As opposed to looking at how they will do against each other, it is better to focus solely on who their two Atlantic foes are as they will likely beat each other up in divisional games. I'll rank the two cross division games per team by easiest to hardest. Duke: (Wake/Syracuse); VT: (BC/Wake); Pitt: (Syracuse/BC); GT: (Clemson/NCSU); UNC: (NCSU/Clemson); Miami: (FSU/Louisville); UVa: (Louisville/FSU) *poor UVa. So I would say a toss-up between Duke and VT for the Coastal in 2014. With recent losses of key personal for Duke, I'll crown VT as the champ and the ACC gets a sold out ACC championship game. What do you think of this logic?

Adelson: Salam, dostum! Your bit of logic is a huge reason why I had Duke as the Coastal champ. Those crossover schedules cannot be ignored. Now, I have been rethinking my choice after the recent Blue Devils injury news and now believe Virginia Tech has the best chance to win the division. Watch out for the Hokies!


Michael Lambert writes: Your piece on Bobby Petrino left out one very important item that helps put Tom Jurich's gamble on the job hopping Petrino in perspective. There is a buyout clause of $10 million dollars he must pay the school if he takes another coaching position within 4 years. The amount gradually lowers beyond that point, but he is paid well and it would make very little sense for him to pay a financial penalty to leave for many years to come. Your article and the associated comments make this relationship out to be one of blind faith and trust. Petrino is pretty much locked in here, but that was what he accepted to get his job back.

Adelson writes: You are absolutely right, Michael. It was an oversight to not include that information. I agree the $10 million is a huge incentive to stay, but there are others who don't ...


Matthew Caldwell in Endicott writes: Andrea, I believe Petrino will build up Louisville again and then bolt again when one of the big boys wants to take a chance on him. He won't turn down a big offer. I'm not buying his transformation.

Ray Marple in Springfield, Mo., writes: So much fluff for a horrible person. Second chance deserved or not -- Lord knows I've needed several -- one must truly go through difficulties in order to 'become a better person.' Living in college football purgatory for two years and 'almost losing his wife and family' aren't enough to arise and get a multi-million dollar job again. The position he put the U of A in and left them, as well as Jessica Dorrell -- NOT MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE -- will take a lot more than two years to overcome. Perhaps his philanthropic Foundation can help everyone concerned. I hope you took a shower after submitting this article.

Adelson writes: Matthew and Ray are just two of many, many skeptics out there. We will only know in time whether Petrino truly has changed.


James Griffith in Moneta, Virginia, writes: Hi Andrea, Which FCS team is going to win this year against an ACC team? It happens every year. I think the Richmond Spiders will pull the upset of UVa. They almost beat NC State last year except for the last minute field goal. What about Gardner-Webb beating Wake Forest? It is time for the ACC to stop playing FCS teams. They have nothing to win by beating these teams and everything to lose. It does not look good for the entire conference when one team gets beat by a FCS team. I do not think anyone wants to buy tickets to a major beat down of a FCS team. They would be better off playing another conference game or at least someone in the same division. What do you think? Part II: Don't you feel that big schools have nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing FCS teams. Ask Michigan fans about Appalachian State or Virginia Tech about James Madison.

Adelson writes: Actually, the ACC won all its games against FCS competition last season. I am going to predict no FCS upsets again this season. Virginia will be better this season and take care of Richmond. Wake Forest is going to have its share of struggles, but Gardner-Webb is an average FCS team. I still think the Deacs win that one. As for the larger point in general, obviously it makes the conference look bad if one of its teams loses to an opponent from a lower division. Makes the program look bad, too, especially an elite one like Virginia Tech and Michigan (and Florida for that matter!). But the ACC coaches are pretty adamant that they want to continue scheduling these games because they believe they are good for health of college football in general. Most FCS programs are dependent on paydays from FBS schools, so it is supposed to benefit both parties. One school gets the "easy" win the other gets money that allows the program to remain viable. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but those upsets are not a comon occurrence.

By the numbers: Tight end talent

August, 21, 2014
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Much has been written about Florida State’s new-look receiving corps this offseason, including:
So, with all that talk about receivers, it’s not surprising that perhaps the Seminoles’ biggest mismatch in the passing game has dipped a bit beneath the radar.

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Jeanine Leech/Icon SMINick O'Leary might go down as the best tight end in Florida State history.
That, of course, would be tight end Nick O'Leary, who projects to depart after this season as the best at his position in school history, notes Tomahawk Nation.

O’Leary could be crucial for Florida State this season as the Seminoles look for a red-zone target to replace the departed Kelvin Benjamin and a reliable receiver to take some pressure off the sure-handed Rashad Greene.

Based on last year’s statistics, O’Leary should be an obvious answer in both cases.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, O’Leary was targeted 10 times in the red zone last season, trailing only Greene (14) and Benjamin (13).

O’Leary also caught 8 of 9 passes thrown to him on third down, easily the highest percentage among FSU’s receivers last season.

And then there’s this: Among all ACC teams, no tight ends had a higher percentage of targets caught than Florida State (79.5 percent) and none averaged more yards per target (13.1) or reception (16.5) than the Seminoles. FSU also tied with Clemson and Boston College for the most touchdown receptions by a tight end last year with seven.

That’s serious production for a unit that also figures to have a healthy No. 2 option in Kevin Haplea this year, too, and it’s made O’Leary a clear All-American candidate.

O’Leary was targeted just 42 times last year, however, and that number figures to increase quite a bit in 2014. Would a 50-catch, 10-TD season be out of the question? That might actually be a starting point for predictions.

But Florida State isn’t the only ACC team with some tight-end talking points. Here are a few more ACC tight-end tidbits, courtesy ESPN Stats & Info.

  • Earlier this week, we wrote about Virginia Tech’s emerging weapons at the position. Coordinator Scott Loeffler has made a habit of using his tight ends in every other offense he’s been a part of, but when starter Ryan Malleck went down last year in fall camp, it put a crimp in the Hokies’ plans. Expect much bigger things in 2014.
  • Pitt is hoping to use its tight ends more, too, as The Post-Gazette noted earlier this week. That would mark a significant change of direction for the Panthers. Just 9.7 percent of their passing yards last year went to tight ends — the fourth-lowest percentage in the league.
  • The three most targeted tight ends in the ACC last year won’t be around in 2014. UNC’s Eric Ebron is off to the NFL, Virginia’s Jake McGee transferred to Florida, and Duke’s Braxton Deaver is out for the season after an ACL injury earlier this week.
  • How big might the Deaver injury be for Duke? One notch below O’Leary’s big numbers for Florida State was Deaver. Duke’s tight ends accounted for the league’s second-best completion percentage (78.5 percent) and yards-per-target (9.9). David Reeves likely steps in as the starter, but the guy to watch out for in Duke’s passing game, according to QB Anthony Boone, will be redshirt senior Issac Blakeney (6-6, 225), whom Boone described as “Kelvin Benjamin-esque.”
  • The loss of McGee might be a mixed bag for Virginia. No team in the conference targeted its tight ends more (120 times) and none received less production from those targets (4.7 yards per target). Overall Virginia’s tight ends caught just 52.5 percent of their targets, with McGee hauling in just 53.1 percent of his targets.
  • Miami’s Clive Walford could be a crucial player for the Hurricanes’ offense in 2014. With a new QB taking the reins, Walford makes for a fun target. No ACC tight end had a higher percentage of his yards come after the catch last year than he did (61.5 percent). The downside? Walford also had more drops than any other ACC tight end (six).

Preseason All-ACC team

August, 21, 2014
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Presenting the 2014 ESPN.com preseason All-ACC team:

Offense

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke. One of the most dynamic receivers in the ACC, Crowder has had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and gets the nod over Louisville receiver DeVante Parker in a close call. Given Crowder's past production in the offense, he should be in line to break school receiving records this season.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State. Perhaps one of the most underrated receivers in the country, Greene is a virtual lock to catch every pass that comes his way. He is the picture of consistency, and as the top returning target for Jameis Winston, should reach 1,000 yards again.

TE: Nick O'Leary, Florida State. One of the best tight ends in the country, O'Leary had 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He should improve on all those numbers this season.

T: Cameron Erving, Florida State. Erving thought about leaving school early last season for the NFL draft but decided to return, and he now anchors the best offensive line in the country.

T: Sean Hickey, Syracuse. Hickey is going into his third season as a starter and has developed into one of the best tackles in the league. He also may be the strongest player in the ACC, too.

C: Andy Gallik, Boston College. Gallik helped spearhead a Boston College run game last season that averaged 212.5 yards on the ground. As a three-year starter, Gallik has grown into the best center in the league.

G: Tre' Jackson, Florida State. One of the best guards in the country, Jackson also opted to return to school for his senior year. He and Erving are the best players on that line.

G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke. A first-team All-ACC player a year ago, Tomlinson will be relied upon even more to lead an offensive line that has to replace two of its best players. If he has another stellar season, Tomlinson could be one of the first guards taken in next year's draft.

QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State. The returning Heisman Trophy winner had a rough season off-the-field but there is no questioning his credentials on the field. After throwing for more than 4,000 yards a year ago, the expectation is he will be even better this year.

RB: Duke Johnson, Miami. Johnson is one of the best backs in the country, averaging 6.6 yards every time he touches the ball. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, he's a virtual lock to gain 1,000 yards.

RB: Kevin Parks, Virginia. Parks is the only returning 1,000-yard back in the ACC and is hoping for more in 2014. Tough call here between Parks and Karlos Williams, the next two best backs in the league behind Johnson.

Defense

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson. Beasley finished last season with 13 sacks (tops in ACC) and 23 TFL (4th in nation). He’s a preseason All-American and the biggest star on one of the country's top defensive fronts.

DE: Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State. The No. 1 overall recruit in the nation three years ago, Edwards is poised to come into his own in 2014. He was a critical piece of Florida State’s run-stuffing defense a year ago, finishing with 9.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks.

DT: Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech. No returning interior lineman in the ACC had more TFL last year than Maddy’s 13.5, and he was a key for the Hokies' dominant defense. This season, he'll be the centerpiece of a new-look D line.

DT: Grady Jarrett, Clemson. Dabo Swinney calls Jarrett one of the best defenders in the nation, even if he hasn’t gotten much national acclaim. He finished last season with 59 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss, and should be the foundation for a dominant defensive line at Clemson this season.

LB: Denzel Perryman, Miami. Perryman is Miami’s most productive defender, finishing with 108 tackles last season (fifth in the ACC). He’s the lone ACC defender returning for 2014 to have recorded at least 60 tackles in each of the previous three seasons.

LB: Stephone Anthony, Clemson. His 15 TFL last season ranked eighth in the ACC, and no returning linebacker in the conference had more. He added 86 tackles and 4.5 sacks to boot.

CB: Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech. One of the top freshman defenders in the nation last season, Fuller picked off six passes as part of Virginia Tech's exceptional secondary. His 17 passes defended tied for eighth nationally.

CB: P.J. Williams, Florida State. Williams racked up three interceptions and was dominant in coverage for Florida State, which finished with the best pass defense in the nation. He also won defensive MVP honors in the BCS national championship.

S: Anthony Harris, Virginia. Led the nation with eight interceptions last season for Virginia, including picking off at least one pass in five straight games in conference play in October and November.

S: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State. The first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders, Ramsey made the transition to safety midseason and didn’t miss a beat, finishing with 49 tackles and an INT.

S: Jeremy Cash, Duke. Cash finished last season second in the ACC in tackles (121), fifth in interceptions (4) and recorded 9.5 TFL, tops in the conference among defensive backs.

Specialists

K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State. The Lou Groza Award winner in 2013, Aguayo broke the national record for points by a kicker in a season with 157 points. He is virtually automatic every time he steps onto the field, missing just one field goal attempt and zero extra points last season.

P: A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech. A second-team All-ACC selection a year ago, Hughes averaged 44.1 yards per punt. He placed 24 inside the 20, and had 22 punts of 50 yards or longer.

KR: Kermit Whitfield, Florida State. Whitfield led the nation last year in kickoffs, with an average of 36.4 yards per return. His speed makes him extremely difficult to stop, let alone slow down.

PR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina. Teams have probably learned to kick away from Switzer at all times. Last season, he had five returns for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record.
With the news that Ohio State lost quarterback Braxton Miller for the season, USA Today wondered what the effect might be of a major injury on a few of the other top College Football Playoff candidates, including Florida State.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsEven with second-stringer Sean Maguire at quarterback, Florida State would be an ACC favorite. But maybe not a national favorite.
According to the story, a switch from Jameis Winston to Sean Maguire at QB would mean roughly 10 fewer points per game and two fewer wins for FSU.
Substitute Maguire for Winston and the Noles still win the ACC championship, but without Winston they only average 33.9 points per game and win 9.4 games on average.

The Orlando Sentinel digs a bit deeper, looking at what the ramifications of a Winston injury might be for the Seminoles.

I didn’t crunch any serious numbers, as USA Today did, or dig too deep into the roster the way the Sentinel did, but if I was putting together a list of the ACC’s most irreplaceable players, it’d probably look something like this:

1. Winston — for obvious reasons, as discussed above.

2. Duke Johnson — We saw what happened last year when he went down. Miami was 7-0 with him healthy, 2-4 when he wasn’t on the field the whole game. Not to mention the Hurricanes' rushing average was cut in half.

3. Jamison Crowder - The guy was targeted 174 times last year (40 more than Sammy Watkins) and that was before Duke lost Braxton Deaver and Brandon Connette.

4. Eli Harold - The guy averaged 24 more snaps per game than All-American Vic Beasley did, and Virginia’s defense is predicated on penetrating the line of scrimmage.

5. Jacoby Brissett — OK, NC State might not do much this year even with Brissett, but what’s the option if he goes down? The Pack’s hopes for 2014 are riding almost entirely on his shoulders, and unlike last year, there’s actually some reason for optimism.

Beyond that top five, Mario Edwards Jr., Luther Maddy, Norkeithus Otis and Tyler Boyd come to mind, too.

Of course, there’s surely a few more players left off the list that warrant discussion. So, who’d we miss?

A few more links:

  • The (Syracuse) Post-Standard has Virginia’s Mike London as the ACC’s only coach on the hot seat this season. One reason London is on the hot seat: a lack of production in spite of talent. Virginia is 18-31 under London. Only eight other teams have performed worse during the past four years, and of that group, only Cal has signed more four-star and five-star recruits than the 19 signed by London, according to ESPN’s rankings. (Of note: Kentucky has signed 16, but 14 have come in the last two years since Mark Stoops was hired as head coach. The other six programs with worse records than Virginia during that stretch have signed just 30 four-star or five-star recruits.)
  • The Wall Street Journal took a look at how each Power 5 conference coach has done against top-25 opposition in his career. The Louisville Courier-Journal followed up with a deeper look at Bobby Petrino’s credentials as well as a look at the individual ACC coaches.
  • There are still plenty of starting jobs up for grabs on the Virginia Tech offensive depth chart, as The Roanoke Times points out.
  • For years, Jim Grobe avoided playing true freshmen at Wake Forest. In the first season under Dave Clawson, it appears as many as nine will get a chance to play in this year’s opener, the Winston-Salem Journal writes.
  • And on related notes, earlier this week Matt Fortuna wrote a bit about Clawson’s journey to Wake Forest, and Jared Shanker looked at the programs most apt to play true freshmen.
  • Duke certainly projects to have a speedy secondary, which has earned the unit a unique nickname, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Steven Daniels is in line to be the next great middle linebacker at Boston College, writes the Boston Herald.
  • And lastly, if you don’t hear from me for the next 10 days, it’s because FXX is marathoning every “The Simpsons” episode ever, starting today. Here’s the full schedule if you’re portioning out your time to the most important episodes (“Marge vs. the Monorail is tomorrow at 9 p.m.) and here’s your requisite Simpsons gif to showcase my feelings about the event.

Virginia Cavaliers season preview

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
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video » More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Virginia Cavaliers:

Key returners: RB Kevin Parks, RB Taquan Mizzell, S Anthony Harris, DE Eli Harold, LB Henry Coley

Key losses: TE Jake McGee, OT Morgan Moses, DE Jake Snyder, DT Brent Urban

Most important 2014 games: UCLA, Aug. 30; Miami, Nov. 22; at Virginia Tech, Nov. 28

Projected win percentage: 37 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 3

[+] EnlargeKevin Parks
AP Photo/Andrew ShurtleffRunning back Kevin Parks is among the few proven performers Virginia returns on offense.
Instant impact newcomers: Defensive tackle Andrew Brown and safety Quin Blanding. There is little doubt that the two highest-rated players in the 2014 signing class will play for the Cavs this season. Brown has had a little setback in dealing with a turf toe injury that has bothered him since the spring. But when he is healthy, he will be a contributor on a defensive line that needs depth at tackle. Blanding has been working with the first-team defense since spring practice opened. By all accounts, he is as good as advertised.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Greyson Lambert brings consistency to the quarterback position, allowing the offense to flourish. The defense improves on the gains it made from a season ago, and the Hoos cut down on penalties and turnovers. Parks turns in another 1,000-yard season, and playmaker receivers emerge to help Virginia pull several upsets, end a long losing streak to rival Virginia Tech, make a bowl and become the surprise team in the ACC.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Quarterback remains an issue behind Lambert, and the offensive line fails to gain any cohesion. Without any stability up front or behind Lambert, Virginia continues to struggle to move the ball and score points. Defensively, Virginia continues to give up too many big plays. One of the toughest schedules in the ACC does the Cavaliers no favors, and they sink to their third straight losing season.

They said it: "The identity is one of unity. You can talk about, well, how does that happen? Last year, we had four seniors. This year, we have 22. There's a maturation process that takes place when you have teams that are looking for leaders, that are looking for an identity. … The expectations of performing are paramount for us." -- coach Mike London.

Biggest question mark: How much time do we have? Outside of Parks, the entire offense remains a question mark. The offensive line has not been solidified yet; Lambert remains a wild card; and there is no go-to player among the receivers with McGee gone. Virginia is in desperate need of a big-play threat in the receiver group and a quarterback who can limit the mistakes. We still don’t know whether both will come to fruition for this team in 2014.
Nonconference scheduling is an inexact and unpredictable science, fraught with peril every single season. The hope is always to find the right balance between backbreaking and easy.

But sometimes, hopes are dashed. Sometimes, the perfect scheduling storm derails the best intentions. For an example, we look at what Virginia has to deal with this season.

The Hoos have not shied away from playing challenging games. But a confluence of events has left them reeling and coach Mike London with one of the toughest schedules in the ACC. It comes at the worst imaginable time for Virginia, too.

[+] EnlargeMike London
AP Photo/Steve HelberComing off a 2-10 season, Virginia didn't do Mike London any favors with its 2014 schedule.
After consecutive losing seasons, the last thing this program needs is a schedule featuring 10 bowl teams. Getting to six wins against this slate should be considered a rousing success.

So how did Virginia get here? Let us watch the dominoes fall.

Virginia set a home-and-home series with UCLA in February 2009, after both teams finished with losing records the previous season. Administrators always roll the dice with games set years into the future. You never know what type of team you will end up facing. In this case, it happens to be the No. 7 team in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll with a Heisman hopeful at quarterback.

Then in August 2012, Virginia canceled a series against UTSA for the 2013 and 2014 seasons when the ACC decided to move to a nine-game conference schedule. Two months later, the ACC reversed course and decided to stay with an eight-game league slate thanks to a scheduling agreement with Notre Dame.

Virginia needed to add another nonconference game to make up for the one it dropped against UTSA. So a few months later, it scheduled BYU for 2013 and 2014. Essentially, the Hoos traded UTSA for BYU. Ouch.

Finally, in June 2013, the ACC announced its new 12-year rotating crossover schedule as a 14-member league. Virginia drew a trip to Florida State in 2014, plus Louisville as its new permanent crossover rival in place of Maryland. Double ouch.

London has been diplomatic when asked about the schedule this year, saying, “It’s one that is challenging, but nonetheless the band is playing and tickets are sold. We played in a lot of them, big opening games, USC and BYU, Penn State, so the challenges are there. We can talk and talk and talk, but it’s not a perfect world and I’m not in charge of it. The schedule we have is the one we’re ready to play.”

Virginia has taken an aggressive approach with its future nonconference schedules, too, setting series with Boise State and Stanford. Virginia travels to UCLA next year and also has return games against Oregon and Penn State, plus two more games set against BYU.

Tough nonconference slates are good, especially in the College Football Playoff era. But they can also hurt a program trying to regain its footing. While it is true Virginia did not have complete control over how its schedule played out for 2014, it is undeniable that this is a bad time for the Hoos to be facing so many challenges.

ACC morning links

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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It is that time of year again, when Syracuse makes its annual pilgrimage to a military base 90 miles north of campus for part of fall practice.

The idea first began with former coach Doug Marrone three years ago and has continued on under current coach Scott Shafer, who said Tuesday the partnership between Syracuse and Fort Drum continues to strengthen. Players seem to get as much out of the stay as the soldiers on base.

During their first day together Tuesday, Syracuse strength and conditioning coach Will Hicks led a workout with Fort Drum soldiers. Players will participate in various military-themed challenges, and the coaching staff will meet with military leaders to go over team building ideas.

It is rare for college teams to take practice on the road, even rarer for teams to partner with the military for a portion of camp. But Syracuse has benefited greatly from the partnership. Not only are players outside their normal environment, they are learning from men and women who can help them keep football in perspective. Players share cramped quarters in barracks, and have no other choice but to get to know one another a little better.

Indeed, players over the last two seasons have credited these trips with growing camaraderie and team chemistry. It is hard to argue with the results. Syracuse has been to a bowl game each of the last two seasons.

But will the Orange make another? The college football crew over at CBSSports.com weighed in with their ACC predictions. We can all agree that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the favorite to win offensive player of the year and Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley is the favorite to win defensive player of the year (though Luther Maddy did get some love for defensive honors). But there are a wide range of choices for newcomer of the year, coach of the year, and overrated/underrated teams. Miami showed up as both overrated and underrated, a clear indication that nobody truly knows for certain what to expect out of these Canes.

Virginia was the universal choice to finish last. But The Washington Post details the growing relationship between senior safety Anthony Harris and true freshman Quin Blanding, one of the more intriguing subplots in Charlottesville this fall. Harris has the potential to be an All-American; Blanding was one of the top-rated recruits in the country and expected to become an impact player right away. Virginia has quite a bit of talent on that defense, so if Blanding and fellow freshman Andrew Brown can contribute the way Harris has, watch out.

A few other links to get you going today:

ACC recruits who fill biggest needs 

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
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RecruitingNation takes a look at the 2015 recruits who most fill the needs of each of the ACC schools.

ACC rivalry heat meters

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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Rivalries are an intrinsic part of college football, but not every rivalry is created equal. And every rivalry goes through cycles as each team has its own ups and downs. The Alabama-Auburn could be reaching new heights, but only after Auburn won six straight and then Alabama won four of five.

The ACC has its own share of intense rivalries, some peaking, others fading. Here is a look at some of the conference’s best rivalries and how each is faring.

Florida State vs. Miami

The facts: Miami leads the series 31-27, although Jimbo Fisher has dominated the Hurricanes during his head coaching tenure. The fifth-year Seminoles coach is 4-0 and has doubled up Miami in points over those four games.

The meter: Room temperature

For the better part of two decades this iconic rivalry was as hot as the Florida sun, but simultaneous struggles by both programs cooled what could have been considered the country’s best rivalry at one point. With Florida State back as an annual national title contender and Miami still yet to make an ACC title game, the two fan bases see this rivalry in a different light at the moment. FSU fans expect to beat Miami right now; Canes fans hope to derail the Seminoles’ title hopes. It looked as if the rivalry was making a comeback last season when both teams entered the game undefeated, but Florida State rolled Miami. If The U can ever return to the ranks of college football’s elite and with both programs now in the ACC, this could once again be a rivalry that dictates the national landscape. And with FSU in the Atlantic and Miami in the Coastal division, there could be repeat matches in the ACC championship game, with the winner moving on to the College Football Playoff.

Clemson vs. Florida State

The facts: Florida State leads the series 19-8, and the Seminoles are coming off a 51-14 trouncing of the Tigers in Death Valley.

The meter: Boiling

And it could boil over soon, possibly when the two reconvene Sept. 20 in Tallahassee, Florida. The Tigers were undefeated and a national title contender last October when they were embarrassed on their home field. The offseason is naturally a period for temperatures to settle, but Jameis Winston fanned the flames in March by tweeting a picture of Clemson’s stadium with the caption “our house.” During ACC media days, Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley said he felt disrespected that most believed Florida State would run through the ACC. Beasley, who finished second to Winston in the ACC preseason Player of the Year vote, told ESPN.com recently he believes the Tigers’ defense is good enough to hand Winston his first career loss.

Duke vs. North Carolina

The facts: Nothing says college football like two schools disagreeing on the all-time series record with the disputed game dating back to … wait for it … 1889. UNC claims a 59-37-4 record and Duke feels it trails only 38-58-4.

The meter: Heating up, NBA Jam style.

The Tar Heels won 21 of 22 games from 1990-2011, although two of those wins would later be vacated. But you get the point: This was as one-sided of a rivalry as you could possibly get. Up until 2012, the only noteworthy factoid of this game was the 1889 game where both teams claimed a win, accusing the other of ducking out of the game. David Cutcliffe’s vision of Duke becoming the East Coast’s version of Stanford is coming together, though, and the Blue Devils have been one of the better ACC teams over the past two seasons. In 2014, the prime time Thursday game on Nov. 20 could decide the ACC Coastal Division.

Dabo vs. Ol’ Ball Coach

The facts: Clemson leads the series 65-42-4, but Steve Spurrier holds a 4-1 edge over Dabo Swinney. The irony is Swinney’s win came as interim coach in 2008, and it might have helped him land the Clemson gig.

The meter: Like bacon grease in a hot skillet.

The repartee between these two is the best part of this rivalry, helping elevate it to a national level. Swinney made it known the Tigers are the only school from the Palmetto State to make it to a BCS game, and Spurrier was quick to point out South Carolina beat Clemson in both of those seasons. In July when Swinney said Spurrier was from Pluto, Spurrier quipped that Pluto was no longer considered a planet. The banter has raised the rivalry’s profile outside the state of South Carolina, and considering both programs figure to be annual College Football Playoff contenders, the country isn’t going get to tired of listening to these two for quite some time.

Miami vs. Virginia Tech

The facts: The Hurricanes lead the all-time series, although both have been middle-of-the pack programs the past few seasons.

The meter: Cooling

It was thought these two would annually compete for Coastal titles, but their most intense battles occurred during the Big East’s heyday. The Hokies are 13-11 over the past two seasons, and Miami is still climbing back to national relevancy. There is certainly potential for this rivalry to earn its place back among the national landscape, but there are no definitive signs that both of these programs are making their way back toward the top 10 of the rankings.

Florida vs. Florida State

The facts: Florida leads 34-22-2, but 16 of those 19 wins came before the 1977 season. The series has been much tighter since then.

The meter: Inherently high, but stagnant

Much like the Florida State-Miami rivalry, this annual November contest was one of the most anticipated games each college season. What helped put this rivalry on another level was the dynamics of the coaches, Bobby Bowden and Spurrier. The rivalry has been lacking since Spurrier left the Gators following the 2001 season, though. Urban Meyer pummeled Bowden for five seasons before Fisher turned the tide back in the Seminoles’ favor. In 2012, both teams were 10-1, but that was a flash-in-the-pan season for the Gators, who are 30-21 since 2010. If Florida can bounce back under Will Muschamp, this once again could be one of the premier college rivalries. Both programs are recruiting extremely well.


Virginia vs. Virginia Tech

The facts: Virginia Tech owns a 53-37-5 record against their chief in-state rival.

The meter: Falling, falling, falling.

Never a game that consistently affected the national landscape, this was still a big game within the borders of Virginia, which is underrated when it comes to producing elite high school recruits. A few seasons ago it seemed as if Mike London had turned around Virginia to the point where the Cavaliers would annually compete with the Hokies for conference titles, but UVa is coming off a 2-10 season. It’s not as if Virginia Tech has reeled off the wins as of late, either. The series has had better days.

NC State vs. North Carolina

The facts: The Tar Heels are 65-32-6 against the Wolfpack, although both programs have undergone coaching changes over the past few years.

The meter: Holding steady

Granted, it’s holding steady at a very low level, but there is the opportunity for this rivalry to gain a little more relevancy in the coming seasons. Many feel the Tar Heels are the Coastal favorite in Larry Fedora’s third season, and NC State second-year coach Dave Doeren expects the Wolfpack to be much better in 2014 with transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett. For now, though, this game plays second and third fiddle to the rest of the rivalry’s involving ACC schools. Check back next year, guys.

Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

The facts: The Bulldogs own a 64-39-5 record against the Yellow Jackets, although Georgia's media guide claims only 37 losses to its in-state rival. Georgia Tech can't dispute that the Bulldogs have owned this series since 2001.

The meter: Surprisingly warm and susceptible to volatile jumps

It's odd to think a series would be subjected to jumps when Georgia has lost only once over the past 13 seasons, but the rivalry has produced some fun games to watch, most recently a double-overtime thriller last November. Only twice since 1997 have both teams been unranked, and during that same span both teams have been ranked seven times. Georgia has routinely been rated higher, but what really rankles Tech fans is that the Bulldogs won both times Tech had the higher ranking entering the game. If you throw out the 2012 game when Georgia won 42-10, since 2004 the game has been decided by an average of seven points.

Florida State vs. Louisville

The facts: Florida State owns a 12-2 record against Louisville, but the teams have not played since 2002. The Cardinals just joined the ACC for this coming season.

The meter: Low but poised for a significant rise

This does not register as a rivalry yet, but it could certainly become one of the more intense games over the course of the next few seasons as Bobby Petrino builds Louisville in his own image. The Cardinals were a BCS-caliber team under Charlie Strong, but Petrino could go through some growing pains. But once he gets his offense in place, this could be a game that determines the ACC Atlantic. Florida State is poised to be one of the ACC's best teams as long as Fisher is the coach, and Petrino's track record suggests he should get Louisville to that level soon enough. Not to mention they're two of the best offensive minds, and who wouldn't want to see these two teams light it up? You can guarantee there won't be any Papa John's pies on the scoreboard when these two play.

ACC morning links

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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Good morning!

First thing's first: Starting today, links will be the first post each week day to get you started with everything you need to know across the ACC. So say good bye to lunchtime links and hello to morning links.

What's sizzling this Monday morning?

We're talkin' about scrimmages, media days and fan days that provided a few bits of headlines and newsworthy notes over the weekend.

First up: Florida State held its media day Sunday, and, well, there was a bit of unnecessary drama. The Seminoles asked fans, via Twitter, to submit questions to Jameis Winston using the hashtag #AskJameis. Predictably, the questions devolved in a matter of minutes. Search the hashtag, and you will find maybe five usable queries. The rest were on the order of crab legs, butter preferences for said crab legs and Winston's other legal entanglements.

As my fellow SNL fans are asking right about now, "Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?"

Meanwhile, Clemson held its first scrimmage of the fall Saturday with some drama of its own. The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, reported that quarterback Cole Stoudt sustained a minor leg injury when a defensive lineman rolled up on his leg. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said afterward he was unaware of an injury. The intrigue! Clemson returns to practice this morning so perhaps there will be more clarity. In any event, Dabo Swinney said both Stoudt and Deshaun Watson performed well in the scrimmage, which was closed to the media.

While on the subject of quarterbacks, watch out for Wake Forest true freshman John Wolford, now in the mix with Kevin Sousa and Tyler Cameron for the starting quarterback job. In the Deacs' scrimmage Sunday, Wolford scored on a 12-yard run and went 7-of-14 for 122 yards with an interception. Cameron, meanwhile, only threw for 52 yards, going 6-of-13.

In Atlanta, coach Paul Johnson limited quarterback Justin Thomas to one series and held out Zach Laskey from the weekend scrimmage for precautionary reasons.

And in one of the bigger injuries so far during fall practice, NC State coach Dave Doeren announced at media day that starting linebacker M.J. Salahuddin is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Salahuddin needs surgery and could end up taking a redshirt. It's a tough break for NC State, lacking in experienced depth at just about every position on the field. The Wolfpack simply cannot afford to lose veteran players like Salahuddin.

Now here's a quick look at other headlines:

ACC lunchtime links

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
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Receivers are a dime a dozen according to a football adage, but that saying dates back to before the proliferation of pass-happy offenses. In 2014, it's often not enough for a team to have just one quality receiver. Cornerbacks are bigger and stronger than they used to be, and defensive schemes are becoming more complex, allowing defenses to take away a team's best receiving threat.

That is why it's key for a program to have a deep receiving corps, and it is why several ACC teams are spending the early portions of camp trying to establish a starting lineup at receiver.

Florida State lost Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, and could be forced to rely on a freshman to step into a starting role beginning with the season opener. Miami has a talented duo in Phillip Dorsett and Stacy Coley, but the Canes' offensive staff needs his receivers to be consistent catching the football. Pittsburgh lost it's all-time leader in receptions and might need a freshman to draw coverage away from sophomore star Tyler Boyd. Virginia's receivers have not reached the standard level of play the coaching staff expects. And Clemson is replacing arguably the country's best receiver and the guy who used to throw him the ball. It is going to take some time for the new Tigers quarterback and receivers to get on the same page after such limited playing time the past few years.

The first handful of links Friday focus on the receivers in the ACC.

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