ACC: Virginia Cavaliers

Top ACC players: Nos. 15-11

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
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As we get set to open fall camps around the ACC, we're counting down the conference's Top 25 players -- five per day all this week.

15. Anthony Harris, Virginia Cavaliers
Safety, senior
His junior stats speak for themselves, leading the nation with eight interceptions. Even more impressive is he picked off an opposing quarterback in five straight games, an even tougher feat considering Virginia spent much of last season on the wrong end of a blowout. The unquestioned leader of the Cavaliers defense, Harris will have to repeat his performance from last season as well as raise his teammates' level of play if Virginia is going to return to bowl eligibility. Harris also will be saddled with grooming Quin Blanding, a five-star freshman.

14. Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh Panthers
Wide receiver, sophomore
With Aaron Donald, Tom Savage and Devin Street all moved on, Boyd is the face of the program. The second-year player is the lone Panthers representative on the team's media guide. He totaled nearly 1,200 receiving yards last season, but don't be surprised if those numbers increase. He is the only proven receiving target, and first-year starter Chad Voytik will need a security blanket. Boyd is one of the most explosive players in the conference, and he could easily lead the ACC in catches and yards this season.

13. Ryan Switzer, North Carolina Tar Heels
Wide receiver/punt returner, sophomore
It speaks volumes about a player's game-breaking ability when he ranks No. 13 on the list following a season with just 32 catches and 341 yards receiving. But Switzer earns the accolades considering how dynamic he is on special teams. He returned 25 punts last season and he took five back for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record. Scoring on 20 percent of your punt returns is an unheard of number. Chad Owens, who shares the record with Switzer, needed 36 returns. Devin Hester scored on less than 10 percent of his returns when he broke the NFL record with four punt return scores in 2007.

12. Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State Seminoles
Defensive lineman, junior
The best indicator on Edwards' junior season will be analyzing the statistics of those around the former No. 1 recruit nationally. The Seminoles' scheme won't consistently put Edwards in a position to rack up sacks or tackles for loss, but he will be the focal point of a defensive line filled with blue-chip prospects. Edwards will be asked to take on double-teams to open up room for his fellow linemen and to allow Florida State's athletic linebackers to run freely toward the football. On the occasions Edwards doesn't command a double-team, it could be a repeat of the national championship game when Edwards, listed at 294 pounds, was running down Auburn's Nick Marshall.

11. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech Hokies
Cornerback, sophomore
A preseason All-ACC selection, Fuller is poised to not just follow in brother Kyle's footsteps but to surpass him. The 2013 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, Fuller has the tools to be the next elite defensive back to come through Blacksburg. He played in every game last season and picked off six passes. Fuller is also a factor in defending the run, totaling 58 tackles. At nearly 200 pounds, Fuller is rarely going to get bullied by opposing receivers.

Top ACC players: Nos. 20-16

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
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As we get set to open fall camps around the ACC, we're counting down the conference's top players -- five per day all this week.

20. Kelby Brown, Duke Blue Devils

Position: Linebacker
Year: Redshirt senior

Brown has been an integral piece to Duke's turnaround, bouncing back from a knee injury to record 114 tackles last season. He is one of three returning 100-tackle players on the Blue Devils' defense in 2014, and he will start for a fourth time in five years. Brown should also provide a boost to the pass rush, having made 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage in 2013.

19. Jalen Ramsey, Florida State Seminoles

Position: Defensive back
Year: Sophomore

Ramsey has already made his mark on what should be another outstanding secondary, as the former five-star recruit earned freshman All-America honors last season as a 14-game starter. He is the first FSU corner to start as a true freshman since Deion Sanders did in 1985. Ramsey thrived again this spring, as he was one of three players to earn the Seminoles' Hinesman Award (spring standout). Ramsey now steps into the role formerly held by Lamarcus Joyner, the anchor of last season's secondary, which led the nation in pass defense.

18. Nick O'Leary, Florida State

Position: Tight end
Year: Senior

O'Leary returns for his senior season as one of Jameis Winston's top targets, as FSU searches for answers at receiver behind Rashad Greene. O'Leary enters 2014 as arguably the nation's top tight end, this after a 2013 campaign that saw him haul in 33 receptions for 577 yards and seven touchdowns. He is back to 100 percent after missing the end of the spring following a motorcycle accident. And, in case you haven't heard, he comes from good lineage: His grandfather is golf legend Jack Nicklaus.

17. Karlos Williams, Florida State

Position: Running back
Year: Senior

Williams entered FSU as a five-star prospect at safety. He moved to running back last year and did not disappoint, finishing second on the team in rushing, with 730 yards. He scored 11 touchdowns and averaged 8.0 yards per carry. He helped turned the momentum of the BCS title game by converting a fake punt in the second quarter. Now Williams is the top man in the backfield for the Seminoles, and the possibilities seem endless for an athlete who finally has a full year of playing the position under his belt.

16. Kevin Parks, Virginia Cavaliers

Position: Running back
Year: Redshirt senior

Parks was one of the more overlooked players in the ACC last season, a byproduct of Virginia's winless conference campaign. Still, the Salisbury, North Carolina, native became the first Cavalier to rush for 1,000 yards since Alvin Pearman in 2004, tallying 1,031 yards and 11 touchdowns. Listed at a generous 5-foot-8, Parks did plenty of speed training this offseason in hopes of making more explosive plays. He will be the leader of a crowded backfield that should help take pressure off new quarterback Greyson Lambert.
Can the two-year slide in the Virginia football program be directly tied to a piece of paper?

Quite possibly.

Let us start back in spring 2012. Quarterback Michael Rocco had just taken UVa to an 8-5 season and bowl appearance. Mike London won ACC Coach of the Year honors. The Cavaliers became the first program to ever win road games at Florida State and Miami.

The trajectory pointed up.

[+] EnlargeGreyson Lambert
Dannie Walls/Icon SMIVirginia will be looking for Greyson Lambert to provide stability at quarterback this fall.
Rocco had made strides in the second half of the 2011 season, throwing only four interceptions in his final six games. Though London said in the spring the quarterback competition was open, it seemed pretty clear Rocco was the best, most solid choice to start. Then came word after spring practice ended that Phillip Sims had transferred to Virginia.

Two months later, that piece of paper came into play. The NCAA granted Sims a waiver for immediate eligibility. Now, Rocco not only had to hold off David Watford to keep his starting job, he had to hold off the former ESPN150 prospect, too. Sims was too tantalizing a player to keep on the bench, so London decided both Rocco and Sims would play. The plan worked briefly before completely collapsing. Rocco took a step back, perhaps because he felt he could not truly lead his teammates. Sims, for all his talent and athleticism, was largely ineffective.

Frustrated with his role and the way London managed the quarterbacks, Rocco decided to transfer after the season ended. He clearly had enough, calling it an "unhealthy situation" on his way out the door.

Sims appeared to be the next man up. Except he landed in the doghouse before spring practice ever began and never won the starting job. He flunked out of school, leaving few viable options for the 2013 season.

After another quarterback competition, Watford won the starting job. Virginia won two games, and Watford threw eight touchdowns to 15 interceptions while completing just 57 percent of his passes.

Heading into 2014, Virginia will start yet another quarterback: Greyson Lambert. During ACC Kickoff, London was asked why he believes Lambert will bring consistency to a position that has been a weakness at UVa for years.

"You look around, every team has a quarterback that can distribute the ball, be accurate and make good decisions, it makes the team go,” London said. “Greyson can be that. I think he’s smart enough; he’s got the skill and ability to do that. Now, he’s got to do it on the field. He’s shown it in spring practice."

Now back to that waiver. What if Sims was not granted immediate eligibility and had to sit out a year? Rocco would have been the definitive starter, bringing a known commodity to quarterback. Rocco was not without his flaws, but at least UVa would have had much-needed consistency at the position. Virginia lost three games that season by a touchdown or less. Wins in two of those games (say Wake Forest and Maryland, two non-bowl teams) would have meant bowl eligibility. Sims would have had a year to learn the system, to learn from Rocco, figure out how to balance football and academics and be groomed to take over as the starter.

Instead, Virginia has won six games in two years and still has no true identity at quarterback. Perhaps the search for a solid, unquestioned starter ends in 2014.
The preseason All-ACC team was released Wednesday, and naturally quarterback Jameis Winston led the way with the most votes. There were not too many surprises, beginning with Florida State players littered throughout the list of 26 names.

Here is the 2014 preseason All-ACC team, as voted on by the media at the ACC Kickoff:

 
 
 

Thoughts: While the ACC had the second-most NFL draft picks in May, there is significant talent returning to the conference for the 2014 season. Of the 26 players, 21 were named to one of the three All-ACC teams at the end of last season. That doesn’t include Parker, who will play his first season in the ACC this coming season. Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the leading vote getter (although not a unanimous one), and Beasley, who received the second-most votes, are two of the three returning consensus All-Americans from the 2013 season.

Few conferences would be able to rival that offense with Winston throwing to 1,000-yard receivers Crowder and Greene and a 6-foot-3 target in Parker. O’Leary is one of the best tight ends in the country. There was a seemingly close battle at running back behind Duke Johnson, Williams got the nod over Virginia running back Kevin Parks, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Defensively, that is one talented line. Beasley received the second-most votes for the preseason player of the year, and Edwards was the No. 1 high school recruit in the 2012 class. Maddy and Jarrett are two of the best defensive tackles in the country.

Duke has the second-most players on the team, which speaks to the program David Cutcliffe is building in Durham. The Blue Devils were not picked to win the ACC Coastal despite winning it last season and returning quarterback Anthony Boone. There is a constituency out there that still doesn’t believe Duke is the real deal and is bound for a letdown, but the media believes there is talent throughout the roster; the Blue Devils have a player at receiver, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary. Miami, which was picked to win the division, has two players on the list.

Even as Duke had four players, the Seminoles still had nine, only further signifying the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference, although the league is undoubtedly improving. That list does not include Ronald Darby or Jalen Ramsey, two players who will almost certainly be on an All-ACC team by the end of the season. It is no surprise Florida State was ranked as having the most talent on its 2014 roster two weeks ago in ESPN.com's future power rankings.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
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Georgia Tech has had some major roster turnover this offseason, adding more fuel to the fire surrounding coach Paul Johnson.

On Monday, the school announced backups Anthony Autry, Travin Henry and Darius Commissiong had been kicked off the team for rules violations. Since last season ended, Georgia Tech has lost more non-senior players from its roster than any other team in the ACC.

Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution goes over the complete list of departures:
  • Defensive lineman Justin Akins (left team)
  • Receiver Anthony Autry (dismissed)
  • Offensive lineman Morgan Bailey (transfer)
  • Defensive end Darius Commissiong (dismissed)
  • B-back Travis Custis (transfer, academic issues)
  • Defensive end Jabari Hunt-Days (academically ineligible)
  • Quarterback Ty Griffin (transfer)
  • Defensive end Travin Henry (dismissed)
  • Jimmie Kitchen (expected to transfer after suspension)
  • Quarterback Vad Lee (transfer)
  • Defensive lineman Kevin Robbins (transfer)
  • Offensive tackle Chase Roberts (medical)
  • Defensive lineman Anthony Williams (scholarship not renewed)

That is quite a list, though only Hunt-Days and Lee were starters last season. Still, it is very unusual to see this much roster turnover on a team with a returning head coach. So why have so many players either gotten themselves into trouble or decided to leave? Does this have to do with Johnson or something else?

Johnson did not shed much light into the turnover during the ACC Kickoff, saying there is a consistency to the way he expects the program to run. Some players adhere to standards. Some don't.

Turnover is always expected, but not like this. Johnson has had to defend himself for months now, but that has gone deeper than just the roster changes. There is a growing segment of the Georgia Tech fan base that has become disenchanted with him, his style of play and efforts on the recruiting trail. Johnson criticized all the negativity in Atlanta while he was in Greensboro, N.C., pointing at his overall and conference records while at Tech.

Still, it is alarming to see so many players gone.

The Jackets may not be done losing players, either. Autry's younger brother, Myles, signed with Georgia Tech in February but has been unable to enroll because of NCAA Clearinghouse issues.

Myles Autry, an ESPN 300 player, told the AJC he was indeed reconsidering the Jackets. He was the highest-rated player in the 2014 Georgia Tech class, so losing him would be yet another blow.

Here's a look at other headlines across the ACC:
Florida State and Jameis Winston were the runaway favorites Monday to repeat as ACC champion and league player of the year, respectively. Those were the two names atop my ballot as well. As for how I slotted everyone else:

Atlantic
1) Florida State
2) Clemson
3) Louisville
4) Syracuse
5) Boston College
6) NC State
7) Wake Forest

Coastal
1) Duke
2) Pitt
3) North Carolina
4) Miami
5) Virginia Tech
6) Georgia Tech
7) Virginia

Couple of points: You'll have a hard time convincing me -- and most likely anyone else -- that Clemson and Louisville, as of today, are not the closest to FSU in the Atlantic. The Nos. 4-6 spots left a little wiggle room (sorry, Wake), and I think that Syracuse returns more proven talent from last year than BC and NC State.

On the other side of things, well, I see no reason not to pick Duke right now. The Blue Devils are the defending Coastal champions, return a ton of contributors and are the closest thing to a proven commodity in the wide open division.

After that: Chaos. The division sets up nicely for a team to make another surprise run this year, and Pitt is the one that I think is perhaps best-positioned to take advantage. The schedule sets up nicely for the Panthers, who get Duke at home and sub BC for FSU as an Atlantic opponent. While Chad Voytik is a newcomer under center and the offensive line had its share of obvious issues last season, more consistency up front (and, one can only assume, improved health) should help the offense exploit playmakers in the backfield and at receiver.

I think UNC has as good of a shot as anyone else of winning the division, but the team's youth, particularly on the offensive line, has me hesitant to pick them as the favorite.

Miami being picked as the Coastal frontrunner shocked me, given the way the team finished last season, the complete uncertainty at quarterback and the lack of punch shown on defense last season. A look at the voting suggests the Hurricanes accumulated just enough points as a second- or third-place team to ultimately get the No. 1 nod over Duke (33) and UNC (27), both of whom garnered more first-place votes than Miami (26).

We'll have more on the Coastal possibilities later on in the blog, further illustrating just how wide open this race really is. The fact every team but Virginia received a first-place vote speaks to that.

ACC's lunch links: QB roundup

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
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The most honest man at ACC Kickoff was probably Wake Forest's Dave Clawson. And, to his credit, he even managed to find a little humor in the bleak picture painted by his depth chart this year, as the High Point Enterprise wrote.
Asked to comment about where his first Wake Forest team is predicted to finish in the ACC's tough Atlantic Division, Clawson replied, “Were we picked to win it? I didn't see those. Were we unanimous first? The bull's-eye is on us, right?”

Clawson didn't sugar-coat the team's lack of experience and depth, but he had his most pointed comments regarding the quarterback position, where Tyler Cameron and Kevin Sousa are battling for a job that no one seems eager to win.

“Those two guys who took snaps in the spring, neither did enough, even if we didn't have those [true freshmen] coming in, to take control of the job,” Clawson said.

What was unique from Clawson was his pessimism on the position. What wasn't unique were the questions about the position. Plenty of coaches were asked about their quarterbacks in Greensboro, and for good reason. After talking with each coach and the players in attendance, here's a quick run-down of where each ACC team's QB situation stands.

1. Florida State: Jameis Winston is the returning Heisman winner and his time in Greensboro was, at the very least, a solid first step in FSU's quest to repair its quarterback's image.

2. Duke: Anthony Boone is the only other quarterback in the league with at least 300 attempts last season who is back for 2014, but David Cutcliffe still plans to use two quarterbacks and eagerly talked up Thomas Sirk, who will step into the red zone role manned so well by Brandon Connette last season.

3. Clemson: The biggest worry for Clemson is the potential for a real quarterback controversy (or, at the very least, a lively debate) if Cole Stoudt struggles early. Dabo Swinney offered blanket support for his senior, but the early schedule is difficult, and the immensely talented but completely green Deshaun Watson is waiting in the wings.

4. NC State: Dave Doeren can barely contain his enthusiasm about the addition of Jacoby Brissett, whom the coach described as “everything you recruit in a quarterback.” Doeren did remind reporters, however, that Brissett's on-field experience remains extremely limited.

5. North Carolina: Hey, if Peyton Manning says Marquise Williams is going to be an exceptional passer, who are we to argue? Still, it's not enough to convince Larry Fedora to hand him the starting job just yet, and it sounds more and more like UNC will use two quarterbacks at times.

6. Syracuse: Terrel Hunt has proved he can win and he's taken on a leadership role this offseason, but he still needs to prove he can be a respectable downfield passer. And even Scott Shafer admitted things needed to get better there.

7. Louisville: The depth chart isn't set in stone here either, but Bobby Petrino had plenty of praise for Will Gardner in Greensboro, saying, "He can make all the throws you need to make. He's got the arm strength. He's got a very quick release. ... He's a natural leader that the players have already learned to follow."

8. Pitt: Paul Chryst says Chad Voytik still has a ways to go, but he's pleased with the quarterback's progress and, of course, Voytik will have as dangerous a weapon as any first-year starter in the league in Tyler Boyd.

9. Boston College: The Eagles actually have a relatively experienced and settled QB spot with the arrival of transfer Tyler Murphy, and lineman Andy Gallik said Murphy has grasped the offense and taken on a leadership role. But his problem will be that he doesn't have much in the way of receiving targets or experience in the backfield to help him out.

10. Virginia: Mike London shrugged off the rumors about his job, and one reason he can do that is that he's immensely confident in QB Greyson Lambert, who looks to have cemented his role as the team's starter.

11. Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson smiled at the notion that recently departed QB Vad Lee said the triple-option wasn't for him, noting the situation had become “frustrating” for both sides. With Justin Thomas, however, Johnson said he has the ideal quarterback to run his offense.

12. Virginia Tech: Well, Brenden Motley did get a preseason player of the year vote, even if he's not exactly destined to win the starting job. Frank Beamer said he plans to end the drama soon, even if no one separates himself and “he has to go with a gut decision.”

13. Miami: Ryan Williams would make this a much better scenario, but Al Golden isn't interested in predicting his veteran will be back from a torn ACL any time soon. That leaves Jake Heaps and Kevin Olsen, neither of whom earned a ton of praise in Greensboro.

14. Wake Forest: It's going to be a long year for Clawson, but at least he's got a sense of humor about it.

More links:

Dabo Swinney is confident Clemson will have a chance to win the Atlantic, writes The State.

Swinney has no intention of taking religion out of his football program, writes Sports on Earth.

There are no hard feelings between Swinney and Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, writes The Post-Standard.

Florida State's offensive line will be what sets the Seminoles apart in the ACC, writes Tomahawk Nation.

And your non-sports link of the day: If you don't hear from me for a few months, blame the new Simpsons World from FXX, which looks… amazing.
videoGREENSBORO, N.C. -- The 2014 ACC Kickoff is in the books, and while the preseason hype rarely translates well to the games on the field, there were still a few notable take-aways from the festivities at the Grandover Resort. Here are five things we learned from this year's media days.

1. The College Football Playoff is on everyone's mind.

Florida State Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher led the charge for the ACC in Greensboro, touting the accomplishments of the conference last year, including the Heisman winner, a national title and an Orange Bowl winner, a slew of NFL draft picks and 11 bowl invitations. Fisher and others continued to refer to the ACC as "the No. 1 football conference" in the country.

That, of course, may not sit so well with the SEC, but it was actually a Big 12 coach that landed the first blows after Fisher referred to the conference's lack of a championship game as "ridiculous."

Baylor's Art Briles fired back, saying "Jimbo Fisher needs to worry about the ACC" rather than tell the Big 12 how to conduct business.

Of course, it was clear that the ACC was exactly what Fisher and others were worried about as the politicking to ensure the conference has at least one representative in the first College Football Playoff is already underway. There are five power conferences and just four playoff spots, so someone's going to be left out, and Fisher has no interest in watching the games from home.

2. Jameis Winston isn't shying from the spotlight.

Jameis Winston was the star of the ACC Kickoff, arriving to a horde of media members eagerly awaiting something controversial. Instead, Winston (mostly) said all the right things, talking up his team and the league, offering jokes when possible and, most notably, admitting he had plenty of maturing to do in light of the off-field incidents that have dogged his career thus far.

Winston said he understood the spotlight he would be living in this year, adding that he had to "live up to the hype," and if he didn't, "it would be chaos."

Of course, Winston has made a habit out of sounding good -- and confident -- in front of the cameras, but the spotlight will stick with him well beyond his time in Greensboro.

Oh, and speaking of Winston's future: He notably declined to comment on his father's promises that the Heisman winner would be playing two more seasons at FSU. Instead, Winston said he "couldn't predict the future." In other words, don't cross him off your 2015 mock drafts just yet.

3. No one knows what will happen in the Coastal Division.

It's not that the media has a particularly successful track record of picking winners at ACC Kickoff, but this year's preseason poll was particularly telling about the depth of quality -- or, perhaps, litany of weaknesses -- in the Coastal Division.

The Miami Hurricanes came away as the overall favorite among the voting media, but the team finished with the third-most first-place votes in the division. Duke, last year's winner, had the most first-place votes and was second overall. North Carolina ranked fourth, but had the second-most first-place votes. In all, six of the seven teams in the conference had at least one first-place vote. Only Virginia missed out, which given the utter ridiculousness of it all, probably means the Hoos will be playing the Atlantic winner in Charlotte this December.

4. Miami has quarterback concerns.

There's still optimism Ryan Williams will be back at some point, but there's no certainties on when that might happen -- if it happens at all. That leaves the Hurricanes with a vacancy at the most important position on the field, and it also likely means a void in leadership, too.

"Ryan Williams is still the leader," tailback Duke Johnson said, "Kevin Olsen is just a quarterback."

Coach Al Golden mirrored those comments, saying Olsen -- the freshman -- still had to mature as a player and earn the respect of his teammates. Transfer Jake Heaps is now in the mix, too, but he's going to be learning on the fly.

In the end, the quarterback concerns weren't enough to keep the media from tabbing Miami as the Coastal favorite, and Johnson can at least agree with that.

"They might not have the strongest arm or be the fastest or the most accurate," Johnson said, "but when you have the receivers we do and the offensive line we do, it becomes pretty simple."

5. No one's handing the Atlantic to FSU.

Syracuse Orange coach Scott Shafer said he first understood how good Florida State was during pregame warm-ups last year. He pointed out a few players who were far bigger than anyone on his team, only to learn the FSU behemoths were redshirting.

But even with the knowledge that his Orange are facing an uphill battle, Shafer wasn't admitting defeat before the games are played in 2014.

"The great thing about football is that the ball is oblong and does funny things and on any given Saturday you have an opportunity to steal a game," Shafer said.

Syracuse would need a big upset, but Clemson and Louisville think they've got good chances to win the Atlantic. Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley was particularly vocal about this year's matchup against the Seminoles with Clemson's formidable defensive front leading the way. Dabo Swinney has never backed off his comments that his team wasn't far behind FSU last year, and he's encouraged that a new-look offense, led by quarterback Cole Stoudt, can upset the Seminoles in 2014.

Of course, we're still a long way from that finish line, so for now, it's all just talk.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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Make sure to check out our live coverage of ACC media day starting at 1:30 p.m.! Follow @ESPN_ACC, @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN for all our coverage.
Headed to Greensboro for media day. Make sure you follow the ACC blog team on Twitter: Andrea will be tweeting from @ESPN_ACC, in addition to @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN.

James in North Carolina writes: Do you think there is another division in college football as wide open as the Coastal? I think Duke, VT, Miami, and North Carolina are all very close talent wise, and any of them could beat each other on any given day. I don't feel that Pitt is on the same level, but with the other teams dishing out losses to each other, they could be right there in the mix. The same could be said for Georgia Tech. In my opinion, the only team that I don't think will compete is UVA, but strange things tend to happen in the ACC.

Andrea Adelson writes: The Coastal is without a doubt the most wide open division in college football. I have seen Duke, Virginia Tech and North Carolina all listed as preseason favorites; Miami won nine games last season; I expect Pitt to be much better; Georgia Tech has a long history of success in the Coastal and cannot be counted out; and Virginia will be much better and much more competitive. I would not be surprised if the entire division ended up with bowl eligibility this season, even the Hoos. I still think Duke and North Carolina are the front-runners, followed closely by Virginia Tech, Pitt, Georgia Tech and Miami. The Hokies have a favorable schedule (BC and Wake from the Atlantic) and I am going to go ahead and guarantee they will be better on offense. Virginia Tech and Pitt might be slightly ahead of Georgia Tech and Miami. The Jackets have a lot of question marks on defense, and so does Miami (along with uncertainty at quarterback). Check back next week to see how we each voted in the ACC preseason poll. I wouldn't be surprised if we all pick a different Coastal champ.




Jon in Atlanta writes: Hey AA, I've been looking at a few projections about the ACC Coastal. I think it's pretty safe to say, that no one is a stand out winner. Some have UNC, some VT and some Duke. I would love for my Jackets to sneak in and win it. However, with a new QB and a few questions on the "D" side, I think that will be a tough stretch. I'm thinking it's going to be another 7 win season for us, what's your thoughts? Can we win more?

Adelson writes: I have not been overly optimistic about Georgia Tech this season. Then I read some interesting notes about the Jackets in the Phil Steele college football preview magazine. Did you know the Jackets have a .500 record or better in ACC play for 19 straight seasons -- the longest streak in the country? That stat alone makes it hard to completely discount Georgia Tech. I think Justin Thomas will be an upgrade over Vad Lee, and the offense will be fine. My biggest concern is the defense, particularly up front. Having said that, the nonconference schedule is easier than it has been over the past two seasons, Miami, Clemson and Duke all play in Atlanta and there are no midweek games on the schedule. This team has the potential to win more than seven games.




UM student in SF, Calif., writes: The past month Miami has been tearing it up on the recruiting trail. I mean the 2016 class is already shaping up to be special. I was wondering how much the fact that the NCAA cloud has passed played into this, and how long you think Golden has to step up and win some real games now. Do you think he gets like a clean slate or something?

Adelson writes: NCAA closure has been absolutely huge for Miami. Players who shied away from the Canes, even in-state, are now really giving Miami a close look. I wrote a little bit about the impact in the Tampa area. Golden is not on the hot seat by any stretch. Everybody in the administration knows what he was saddled with over the past three seasons, especially since he took the job and had no idea there would be a major NCAA investigation that would essentially take up every single season he has had to date. As for winning some real games, let's not forget about last season. Yes, it ended in disappointment, but Miami won nine and also beat Florida. The Gators ended up having a disastrous season, but at the time they played, Florida was viewed as the better team. I thought that was a big win for Golden and the program. Now, I know what you are getting at -- getting back to beating Florida State and playing for an ACC championship. Miami has assembled some talent over the past several years, but I still think the Canes are a few years away from consistent 10-12 win seasons. Having said that, I do think Golden deserves some patience. I know expectations are always sky-high at Miami. He wouldn't want it any other way. But at the same time, he has had more on his hands than any other coach in the league.




Wayne in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Can my Noles learn to stay out of trouble? I know you have to wait for the all facts, but kick (Jesus Wilson) off the team and set an example. I'm tired of seeing this!

Adelson writes: I understand your frustration. Certainly, you are not the first college football fan tired of seeing athletes getting into trouble. Will kicking him off the team set an example? This year, Jimbo Fisher kicked Ira Denson off the team after he was charged with petty theft and the illegal use of a credit card. Wilson still got into trouble. Now, I realize the cases are different and it is sometimes hard to compare each offense. Denson allegedly perpetrated a crime against a teammate; Wilson allegedly stole a scooter. Should a coach kick every player off the team who is arrested and charged with a crime? How does a coach prevent athletes from getting arrested? These are all difficult questions each coach must face.

Eds note: Earlier this week, I profiled Clemson offensive lineman Kalon Davis and his study abroad trip to Kyoto, Japan. Tragically, professor E. Leslie Williams -- who led the trip -- died suddenly last week. Thoughts and prayers are with Davis, Williams and the Clemson family.
Big names among the assistant ranks tend not to stay assistants for too long, but Clemson’s Chad Morris says he’s right where he wants to be and isn’t looking for a head-coaching gig long-term, writes the Augusta Chronicle.

Of course, if a certain job in College Station, Texas, were to open up -- as our Travis Haney wrote about this week -- it certainly would seem like a good fit for Morris, who is a Texas A&M graduate. But Morris also earned $1.3 million last season, which makes it a bit easier to stay comfortable in a coordinator role, and though he is smart enough to know when the right situation comes around, I think he is also sincere when he says he is not looking to leave.

And Morris isn’t the only ACC assistant would could be a hot commodity at some point in the next couple years. A few other names to watch for bigger jobs:

Bud Foster, Virginia Tech: The offense has been down over the past few years for the Hokies, but Foster's defense has been as good as ever. Foster has turned down lucrative offers elsewhere in the past, so he is clearly not looking to leave, but he will nevertheless remain on the radar for a lot of other programs looking to bring in a proven commodity.

Jay Graham, Florida State: He is young, has NFL experience and SEC ties, and he is a recruiting whiz. He also presided over the first 1,000-yard back at Florida State in 16 years last season. Graham is going to be a hot name very soon.

Chip West, Virginia: How does a team that finishes 2-10 and has a head coach constantly mired in hot-seat rumors still land a solid recruiting class, including five ESPN300 members? Chalk it up to West, one of the best recruiters in the nation.

Scottie Montgomery, Duke: He will get his first crack at a coordinator job this year as he takes over for Kurt Roper, who left for Florida. Montgomery has NFL experience as a wideouts coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he is a terrific recruiter. If Duke’s offense continues to shine, he is going to get a lot of credit -- and a lot of long looks from other programs.

Brent Venables, Clemson: Morris gets all the buzz because offense is fun and the Tigers’ defense has played second fiddle for years. But look, everyone remembers that Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia to conclude the 2011 season, and what Venables has done for the Tigers’ defense since then -- 29.3 ppg in 2011, 24.8 in 2012, 22.2 in 2013 -- has been impressive, and this year’s unit could be his best yet. More importantly, the Clemson defense is finally climbing out of the shadow of its prolific offense.

More links:

Athlon has a look at recruiting in the Tidewater, Virginia area, and how the region has become a key battleground for programs like Florida State and Virginia.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a piece on how colleges are bringing in outside help to sell tickets.

The Daily Progress is looking at Virginia’s opponents and wonders if this is the golden age of Duke football.

A new play-calling system should help Terrel Hunt run Syracuse’s up-tempo offense, according to Syracuse.com. We wrote plenty about up-tempo offenses yesterday, if you missed it.

Georgia Tech’s special teams should be a strength, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Courier-Journal wonders why Bobby Petrino isn’t having more success on the recruiting trail at Louisville.
Earlier on Thursday, we looked at the success and drawbacks of Clemson’s up-tempo offense, which got us to thinking about the league’s tempo as a whole.

Chad Morris came to Clemson, bringing the up-tempo style with him, in 2011. Since that time, the Tigers have averaged a 22-percent increase in plays per game and a 42-percent increase in scoring. Not surprisingly, both of those numbers are the best among ACC teams.

But it’s not just Clemson that’s moving faster on offense. In the three years since Morris’ arrival in Death Valley (beginning in 2011), the ACC as a whole has seen a 7-percent increase in offensive plays per game (and, accordingly, a 7-percent decrease in the time of possession per play) compared with the immediately preceding three-year stretch. In fact, all 14 teams that played in the ACC in 2013 have seen at least a marginal improvement in offensive tempo during the last three seasons.

Here are the teams with the biggest jumps in tempo, measured by time of possession per play:

1. Clemson (up 20.1 percent)
2. North Carolina (up 14.4 percent)
3. Syracuse (up 14.4 percent)
4. Pittsburgh (up 10 percent)

It may not come as much of a surprise then that the teams to see the biggest leaps in scoring from the 2008-10 time span vs. 2011-13 look pretty familiar.

1. Clemson (up 43 percent)
2. North Carolina (up 32 percent)
3. Florida State (up 28 percent)
4. Syracuse (up 25 percent)

It’s common sense, really: more plays translates pretty directly to more scoring chances, and more scoring chances translates to more points. Add better talent to that mix (as has certainly been the case at both Clemson and Syracuse) and the results get even better.

Of course, as we noted in the earlier post on Clemson, there’s a tradeoff on the defensive side when the offense is moving so quickly. Here are the teams that have seen the biggest increases in points surrendered during those same time frames.

1. Boston College (42.3 percent)
2. Clemson (35 percent)
3. North Carolina (22 percent)
4. Pittsburgh (17.9 percent)

Obviously there are other factors at play here beyond just tempo, but there clearly is some correlation between how fast an offense moves and how much pressure that then puts on a defense. For the most part, teams like Clemson are happy to make that tradeoff because the offensive exploits more than outweigh the potential drawbacks defensively. The result has been a 32-8 record in three years with Morris guiding the offense for the Tigers. Similarly, Syracuse has improved dramatically and is hoping to run even faster on offense this year, while North Carolina and Pitt have each garnered some buzz as potential Coastal Division favorites.

The elephant in the room when it comes to discussing tempo in the ACC, however, remains Florida State. After all, no team has been more dominant than the Seminoles, who’ve seen offensive productivity skyrocket in the last three years, while it’s tempo has remained virtually unchanged. And that’s really a good reminder that tempo can help, but there’s more than one way to put up points.

Lastly, here’s a quick look at the fastest- and slowest-paced teams in the ACC from 2011-2013, based on time of possession per play. (Note: League average during that span was one play every 25.4 seconds)

Fastest pace
1. Clemson (21.4 seconds)
2. North Carolina (24.0 seconds)
3. Syracuse (24.1 seconds)
4. NC State (24.4 seconds)
5. Duke (24.8 seconds)

Slowest pace
1. Georgia Tech (28.0 seconds)
2. Virginia Tech (27.2 seconds)
3. Boston College (27.1 seconds)
4. Florida State (27.0 seconds)
5. Pittsburgh (26.3 seconds)
Tajh Boyd is gone. Sammy Watkins is gone. Martavis Bryant is gone. But if you think that means Clemson's up-tempo offense will also disappear, you'd be wrong, says Dabo Swinney.

From The State:
Watkins left school a season early and was picked No. 4 by the Buffalo Bills while Boyd was taken in the sixth round by the New York Jets this past May -- opening up two high-profile spots on last year's eighth-ranked Tigers.

For those returning, the message is clear, says offensive coordinator Chad Morris: “To prove that we weren't a two-man show.”

Tempo is a buzzword around college football, of course, and few places have done it better than Clemson.

Morris, Boyd and Watkins all came aboard in 2011. In the three years previous, Clemson averaged 65 plays per game and one play every 26.7 seconds of possession time. In the three years Morris, Boyd and Watkins were together, the Tigers averaged 79 plays per game (a 22 percent increase) and one play every 21.4 seconds of possession time (a 20 percent improvement).

But just how much of an impact has the up-tempo offense had for the Tigers?

On the offensive side, that 20 percent increase in plays has translated to a 42 percent increase in points per game. Obviously some of that is attributable to better talent -- Boyd and Watkins were historically good players at Clemson -- but a lot has to do with simply having more chances to score, too.

The flip side of that, however, is on defense. Again, talent plays a role here, but in the three years before Morris, Boyd and Watkins arrived, Clemson allowed an average of 19 points per game. In the three years since, the Tigers have coughed up 26 points per game -- a 35 percent increase that, obviously, offsets a big chunk of the offensive improvement. That up-tempo offense has meant that Clemson, despite losing just eight of its 40 games in the past three years, has spent roughly four more minutes of action on defense than on offense per game during that stretch.

All of this brings us to 2014, when the offense is in transition without its superstars, and the defense is expected to be the backbone of the team. If that's to be the case, is keeping that same offensive tempo really the best way to go?

At the end of the day, Morris is going to coach the way he always has, and Cole Stoudt is a veteran who knows the system well enough to execute the offense with some precision. But Clemson's strengths will be the D-line and a deep corps of runners, and it's probably fair to wonder if Morris just may tweak things a little more than he's letting on.

More links:

Morris says freshman QB Deshaun Watson will see the field in Clemson's opener against Georgia, according to TigerNet.com.

Just because Marquise Williams is headed to ACC media days doesn't mean he's UNC's starting QB, writes the Charlotte Observer.

FSU legend Derrick Brooks was back on campus this week while his son attended Jimbo Fisher's football camp, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.

There's been plenty of preseason love for defenders at Virginia Tech and Virginia, writes The Roanoke Times.

The Macon Telegraph previews Miami's 2014 season with CaneSports.com's Gary Ferman (Warning: audio, not print).

BC Interruption runs the numbers to see which teams have done the best job of meeting media expectations in recent years — though I think it's more a critique of the media's predictions.

Non-ACC link of the day: AL.com has a profile of the most inquisitive reporter at SEC media days.

Non-sports link of the day: Philly knows how to make great art.
It's no secret that the strength of Clemson's team this season figures to be its defensive line. And, of course, there are plenty of numbers to underscore the Tigers' ferociousness up front.
  • The ACC returns 13 players who had at least 10 tackles for loss last season. Five of them play for Clemson.
  • Vic Beasley had 23 TFLs vs. teams from BCS-AQ conferences last season. No other returning ACC player had more than 12.
  • Clemson's defense recorded a tackle in the backfield once every 7.8 plays last season against AQ teams.
  • The Tigers didn't rely on the blitz either. When rushing four or fewer, Clemson recorded a sack every 11.1 passing attempts last season, the second-lowest rate in the league.

In other words, the Tigers are pretty good up front. But digging into those numbers also uncovered a few other interesting tidbits about ACC defensive fronts. Normally we like to compose a nice narrative around one or two key stats, but for the purposes of this post, we're going a little more free-flowing. Here's a bit of what we found:

• Yes, Clemson was exceptional when it came to defensive fronts in 2013, but so was the rest of the ACC. (Or, perhaps, if you're a pessimist, the O lines around the league were particularly bad.)

Of all teams to play at least eight games vs. AQ conference schools, Clemson had the best rate of TFLs, recording one every 7.8 plays. But, of the top 18 teams in plays-per-TFL last year, seven now play in the ACC. Here's the list:

1. Clemson (7.8)
3. Louisville (8.5)
4. Virginia Tech (8.7)
10. Virginia (9.5)
15. Syracuse (9.8)
17. Florida State (10.1)
18. NC State (10.4)

• Looking at that list, it's worth noting Louisville, Syracuse and Florida State all lost key players from last season's defensive lines to the NFL.

• Speaking of key defensive linemen moving on to the NFL, few teams figure to suffer quite as much from the loss of a key starter this season than Pitt.

How big was Aaron Donald's contribution to the Panthers' defense? He had 21 TFLs against AQ conference teams, which accounted for a whopping 43 percent of the team's total.

Moreover, Pitt relied more on its four-man rush, led by Donald, than any other team in the ACC. A whopping 92 percent of Pitt's sacks in 2013 came with just a four-man rush, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

• The flip side of that coin is Virginia, where the D-line figures to get plenty of credit (and should be even deeper this year), but it was the blitz that really carried the Hoos. Nearly half of all of dropbacks by Virginia's opponents last season were countered with a blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and 71 percent of the Cavaliers' sacks came when rushing five or more defenders.

• Defensive coordinators often talk about how the secondary can't flourish without a strong defensive front and vice versa, making it something of a chicken-or-egg discussion, but it's notable that of the top ACC defensive fronts (based on plays/TFL) in AQ-conference games, only Virginia Tech had a highly rated secondary. The Hokies ranked No. 2 in the ACC and No. 17 nationally in yards-per-attempt vs. AQ teams last year. The rest of the top 5 ACC lines were far worse: Clemson (38th nationally in YPA), Virginia (86th), Maryland (47th) and Syracuse (63rd).

• Don't go thinking the high amount of blitzes hurt Virginia's pass defense though. The Hoos allowed 1.6 fewer yards per attempt when blitzing than when sending four or fewer pass-rushers last season. In fact, only Virginia and Syracuse (1.4 fewer yards/attempt) were better when rushing more than four defenders last season.

• The flip side of that coin? Not surprisingly, it's Clemson, which allowed 3.2 more yards-per-attempt when blitzing last season than it did when rushing four or fewer defenders. Other big splits in that direction: Duke (2.4), Miami (1.1), UNC (1.1) and NC State (1.0).

• Pitt has the lowest percentage of its TFLs come against AQ opponents (57 percent). Syracuse had the highest (85 percent).

• Florida State's returning TFL leaders for 2014 is not surprisingly Mario Edwards Jr., with 9.5. Care to guess who's No. 2? We'll give you a minute.

Still thinking?

Give up?

That'd be Chris Casher, who had 5. Casher didn't start a game last season, and he's not exactly guaranteed a starting spot this year. Florida State's sack leader in 2013 was cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, who finished with 5.5. The last time the Seminoles' leader in sacks had so few for a season was 2006 (Buster Davis had 5).

• The only team that recorded a TFL less often (on a per-play basis) against AQ-conference teams last season than Miami was Texas A&M. The Hurricanes' leader in TFLs, Shayon Green, won't be back for 2014.

• And, of course, getting back to Clemson for a moment, there was one other stat the folks on Twitter were more than happy to mention when I talked up Beasley's season.

Um, yeah. The answer to that one would be zero, which should make for a pretty good stat to build a narrative around when Clemson and FSU face off again in September.
The stock of Greyson Lambert made a rapid rise this spring, as the redshirt sophomore was voted by teammates as one of four captains, named to the squad's 13-man leadership council and declared starter following a three-way quarterback battle.

Now it is Lambert's turn to help turn around a Cavaliers program that has been plagued by quarterback issues throughout the Mike London era, one year after the signal-caller appeared in seven games during a 2-10 campaign.

ESPN.com caught up with Lambert recently to talk about his expectations for 2014.

You were named captain and to the leadership council this past spring. What allowed you to seize this opportunity?

[+] EnlargeGreyson Lambert
Dannie Walls/Icon SMIVirginia quarterback Greyson Lambert is building chemistry with his teammates this summer.
Greyson Lambert: That's a good question. I guess with me personally being more comfortable with the system and already having been under it for a year, I just kind of said to myself that I have nothing really against me but myself. And so, if I just kind of put forth the effort to ... prepare every day like I did last year, but just kind of play more with a confidence that I might not have necessarily had last year. ... You're just kind of going out there and playing football, getting back to the basics. Mentally, just preparing myself to say, 'Hey, you've prepared all you can prepare, now just go out and have fun in practice.' And that kind of helps me when it comes to playing quarterback for us.

How validating was it to have the starter label put on you going into camp?

Lambert: Right now that is all it is; it's just a label. It's awesome. It's why I came here. It's why everybody comes and tries to play college, it's why everybody goes to a university to play college football, is to be named the starter and play and help contribute and play with guys that you love and see every day on the football team. That was definitely awesome and it's definitely an honor to be named that, but like you said, right now that is all it is.

What did you take away from your time last season?

Lambert: When it comes to last year, all of the time that I got in the games was very valuable to me. I probably learned just as much on the field between the white lines as I did on the practice field, just because I treated practice — because I didn't necessarily get a lot of time during the game — so I treated practice every week as my game. So every day I was competing against myself to try to better the numbers that I put up in practice the day before. So I was just trying to raise my own ceiling that much higher, and so when it comes to on the field, with every game, that experience helped me just understand not only the speed of the game, but just the ins and outs of what you're going to have to do in a game to really be successful. And so putting that together with what I learned in practice and treating every day in practice like a game, that preparation and the execution that I was trying to do on the field kind of came together in certain spots last year, and so, I guess, trying to build off of that is what I'm going to be doing and what I have been doing this offseason and going into next year.

Where do you think you're better now? Where do you think you still need to get better to have the kind of success on the field you want to have this year?

GL: Well, I think I'm better physically. I've added weight and muscle and that sort of thing that comes with every player every offseason. Mentally I've gotten definitely better, and that came with a lot of that experience that I got last year and also being in the position [coming out of] spring and going over things this summer with Coach and kind of putting together some of the first 7-on-7 stuff that we've been doing this summer, and that's helped me understand even more of the dos and don'ts of certain plays and certain situations and that kind of thing. ... No matter if you're Peyton [Manning] or Tom [Brady]; they're always in the film room, they're always talking with their coaches and trying to learn that much more because this game is always evolving and always changing. So trying to understand all of the defensive tendencies and what they're trying to do in these situations. All teams are different, so it's just kind of fun to see the differences of the defense and all the different teams that we'll be facing this year, trying to understand those.

What has the offseason work been like with the receiving corps?

GL: We have a pretty busy schedule. So on Mondays we're throwing and going through the routes. And then on Tuesdays and Thursdays we're doing the 7-on-7 stuff with the defense, on top of, we all have a meeting, the offense does, at 5 o'clock — before we go out and do team and 7-on-7 that night — with the coaches. And that time has really helped us to all be on the same page, because it's one of the ... few times the offense meets and goes over a certain play on all parts. So instead of breaking up and the offensive line going over the protection and their blocking scheme, we're all in there together. So the receivers, the running backs, the quarterbacks, we all understand their point of view on that play. And same thing with all the other positions; we're able to understand everyone's task at hand, and that kind of helps us to just understand to play better as a whole. And that time has been spent really well in those meetings to a point where we're jelling more on offense. So that time with the coaches and then the time we've had on the field has been all player-led stuff because the coaches aren't allowed to be with us with a football this summer. The player-led things have kind of fed off those meetings and we've gone out and executed pretty well.

Losing Jake McGee is obviously a big blow. How do you see that production being made up?

GL: It's definitely a big blow when you lose somebody that has his talent. I guess you could say that this spring we were able to put some things together with some other people, mainly because Jake was injured for part of the spring, and we had other guys still in that role and produce day-in and day-out. So it's kind of that next-man-up mentality. But the big inside receivers were Kyle Dockins and Canaan Severin, those were bigger guys on the inside, along with Zach Swanson, they've had a great spring and summer as the starting tight end. He kind of guess jumped up and filled that void at that position and filled that role I guess. He's shown that he's got some playmaking ability that, I guess, everybody saw in Jake but didn't necessarily see from Zach, so he's excited about his opportunity there. But yeah, the bigger guys on the inside, Canaan and Kyle, filled that role all spring when they were in there. So with this group of receivers and tight ends, we've got some guys that can definitely fill that role.

Going back a bit here, but I read about "Spaghetti Thursdays" in high school, which sounded awesome. Can you take me back to what those were like?

GL: My senior year of high school, I wanted to kind of ... get the guys together — and it was mainly my receivers and some running backs — but get some guys together and spend those Thursday nights. My mom wanted to cook pasta with the carbs and all that stuff. She wanted to make spaghetti, she'd make cupcakes and all that kind of stuff. But we just wanted to get together and watch some film of the opposing team, and I really wanted to go over the defense with the receivers. It's kind of like we're doing with these meetings with the coaches, to allow for us understand things better. If you watch those old NFL films, there was one point that Peyton made that he said he and Marvin Harrison could look at each other and kind of understand what they were thinking by seeing the defensive coverage and seeing how the cornerback was spread up, and that's I guess kind of the things that I was trying to be able to do with those guys in high school. And it really helped us become tougher. By the end of the year we were understanding each other more on the field, playing with each other better. So after that film session, then we'd play Xbox and have a little "NCAA Football" tournament or play pingpong and all that kind of stuff, and it ended up being a really fun night. But yeah, it was just trying to build that camaraderie between guys to help us out a little bit.

Any plans for something similar at Virginia?

GL: Yeah, yeah. With it being the last month before camp, I live with Zach Swanson and Miles Gooch. Zach has a grill, and so we're going to try to get the team over and grill out. My house isn't necessarily the biggest, [we'll see if] we're able to do it somewhere else, but I'd like to try to get the whole team at least together once to ... build that community that might not have been here the past couple of years. That's another thing that this team has kind of really taken on, is being that one team and not — there are no separate entities in this team. There's just one team with one heartbeat right now. And honestly if you came around and kind of spent a day with us, I don't think you would've thought that we had the type of season that we had last year, with the mentality that we've kind of embodied this offseason. It's pretty special. So I'm looking forward to the season.

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