ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Bye-bye, Clint and Jacob. Hello, Jacoby, Jake, Michael and Tyler?

You're forgiven if this entire exercise seems foreign. At least 10 of the ACC's 14 teams, after all, will be starting new faces under center when the ball kicks off next week. And there is a good chance that four of those 10 will have signal-callers who began their college careers elsewhere.

[+] EnlargeJake Heaps
AP Photo/Orlin WagnerNot long after playing in Kansas' spring game in April, Jake Heaps transferred to Miami.
Two former Florida State quarterbacks could square off in Week 1 in Atlanta during an SEC/Big 12 matchup. Two former Florida quarterbacks are set to start in the ACC's Atlantic Division. Then there are a pair of downtrodden Coastal powers, both of which may be starting quarterbacks who did not even arrive on campus until this summer.

"I really don't know," Miami coach Al Golden said of the surplus of ACC quarterback transfers. "We liked where we were in the spring, and clearly Ryan [Williams] went down the week before the spring game. It's really not a function of not being confident in the guys that are on campus. It's more a function of just wanting to get a guy that has been in the game and has the experience."

Golden acknowledged the quarterback market has been busier than usual, particularly in his league. He brought in former BYU and Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps this summer after Williams, the Hurricanes' No. 1 quarterback, suffered a right ACL injury that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. (Williams, naturally, began his career elsewhere, at Memphis.)

Heaps, eligible immediately as a graduate transfer, is battling true freshman Brad Kaaya to start Miami's opener.

"I think the quarterback position has grown in terms of talent over the last few years," said Heaps, who set several freshman records at BYU in in 2010 before losing his job both with the Cougars and later with the Jayhawks. "There’s a lot of great, quality quarterbacks in college football right now and they all want a chance to play. That’s where you’re seeing a lot of these guys transfer. They’re in their situation but they know they can play somewhere else so they make those moves and try and find the best situation for them and in some cases it works out, in others it doesn’t. Just knowing they have that opportunity is first and foremost.

"Sometimes things just don’t work out. Recruiting is the way it is and sometimes a situation isn’t what you think it will be when you get there. It’s been a unique trend in the last little bit, but I think if a guy has an opportunity to go play, he should go explore that."

Likewise, fellow Coastal brethren Virginia Tech turned to the free-agent route following an underwhelming spring from its three quarterbacks, welcoming Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer (and two true freshmen) to the race to replace Logan Thomas and kick-start an offense in need of a jolt after just 15 wins over the past two seasons. In an odd twist, Brewer, who has two seasons left to play after graduating from Texas Tech, was recommended to the Hokies' staff by Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who coached Brewer back at Lake Travis (Texas) High.

Brewer brings with him a nearly 71 percent completion percentage from his limited action with the Red Raiders, including 440 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeEx-Florida quarterback Jacoby Brissett enters this season as NC State's starter.
"Everyone needs success in their life, and if you're in a place where you're behind somebody or whatever you're not going to have it," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said. "To me, my whole thing is everyone needs success, and wherever you can do that, some of the guys that come through there, go somewhere where you can have success."

On the other side, in the more daunting Atlantic, a pair of second-year coaches are turning to former Gators signal-callers to command their offenses.

Boston College coach Steve Addazio goes back with Tyler Murphy, a fellow Connecticut native whom Addazio had initially recruited to Gainesville, Florida, during his time as an assistant there. Jacoby Brissett transferred to NC State shortly after Dave Doeren was hired, sitting out last season and taking enough initiative behind the scenes to earn the starting nod before spring ball this year.

“Last year we brought in Brandon Mitchell (from Arkansas) through the one-year loophole, and then at the end of the year, Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker left to go to (Louisiana-Monroe and UT-Martin)," Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. "While that was going on, Jacoby transferred here from Florida. So I’ve seen about all of it that can go around. It’s just part of what recruiting is now. Guys want to play and people don’t want to wait their turn much anymore."

Murphy, who transferred this winter, has one year to add some pizazz to an Eagles offense looking to spread the field more after last year's run-heavy approach. He spoke often with Brissett (two years left at NC State) back when both were still weighing their options when departing Florida.

The familiarity was more than enough to reunite Murphy with Addazio, who said a guy like Murphy probably should have gone to BC in the first place.

"Being a New England guy and growing up around BC, I watched a lot of BC and Matt Ryan and BC in the early 2000s," Murphy said. "So it feels good to be a part of this institution, this program and I'm looking forward to the season."

Like its rival Florida, Florida State could see a pair of its former quarterbacks start against each other next week, as Jacob Coker transferred to Alabama one year after Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia.

Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher was supportive of both, with Trickett being familiar with WVU (his dad used to coach there before moving to FSU) and Coker heading to his home-state program after backing up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Fisher likened the rash of quarterback departures to that of college basketball transfers, since both are possession-dominated athletes.

The graduate-transfer rule, popularized by Russell Wilson three years ago, has only added to that. And, in many ways, it has been a boon for both sides.

"[It] gives some opportunities for guys that are worried about situations like Tyler's," Addazio said, referring to Murphy's injury-shortened 2013. "He's like, 'I've got one shot at this thing. I want to go where I feel like I've got the best opportunity to be the starter.' So you're seeing a lot of this right now. I like this opportunity."

The biggest problem facing the ACC moving forward in the College Football Playoff era is not the teams at the top of the league.

It is everybody else.

While it is great that Florida State and Clemson have proven capable of being playoff contenders year in and year out, what would give both teams and the entire league a huge boost is the development of a solid, consistent Top 5 teams.

That is what the SEC has right now, and why it is viewed as having the toughest strength of schedule in the country. Folks look at the ACC strength of schedule and shrug their shoulders. With a selection committee now parsing through every schedule, every strength and every weakness, the idea that the ACC has a relatively weak strength of schedule is one that could end up hurting playoff contenders.

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe ACC would benefit from a return to power by Frank Beamer's Virginia Tech Hokies and the Miami Hurricanes. The teams meet this season Oct. 23 in Blacksburg, Va.
All you need to do is look at the final ESPN.com conference power rankings for the explanation. Despite a national championship from Florida State and a BCS win from Clemson, the ACC finished No. 5 among the Power 5 conferences. ESPN Stats & Information, which compiles the rankings, noted:
The only reason that the ACC is not ranked higher in the conference rankings, however, is the conference is still lacking depth; the ACC went 3-6 in its non-BCS bowl games, with the six losses by a combined 103 points.

With only four spots in the playoff and five power leagues, somebody is going to get left out. The nightmare scenario, of course, would be for the ACC to be on the outside looking in, with strength of schedule the big reason why.

The only real way to fix that is for the rest of the league to rise up.

We're looking squarely at you, Miami and Virginia Tech.

Back when both teams were added in 2004, the hope was that they would instantly improve the league's football profile. Virginia Tech held up its end as one of the most consistent winners in the ACC over the past 10 years. But this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, and Virginia Tech has not done much for the ACC lately. The Hokies put together eight straight 10-win seasons and four conference championships between 2004-2011, raising their profile as one of the marquee teams in the ACC.

Yes, they took some hits for their BCS performance over that period, but overall this program raised the bar higher. Virginia Tech had been a virtual lock to hold up the ACC banner. Since 2004, the Hokies finished with a Top 25 ranking eight times, more than any other team in the league. Ten wins are now expected, a big reason why two straight down years have hurt both the program and the league.

The ACC, meanwhile, is still waiting on Miami, which has not won 10 games since joining the ACC. The Canes came close a few times, including last season, but have had myriad issues to deal with on their climb back up to the top. Every season, the common refrain often includes, "Is this the year Miami will be back?" Its football history and tradition means the ACC needs Miami to thrive as a playoff contender, more than Virginia Tech.

After all, a program that has been known as a football power is held to a much different standard.

That is another reason why the ACC needs these four specific teams to be good. They are football schools. Look at how national perception has started to change with Florida State back on top. If Miami can get there, and if Virginia Tech can get there, all of a sudden the ACC has four strong football powers and can compete with any conference.

Another team into the mix would be ideal. It could be Louisville, coming off 23 wins in two years. It could be Georgia Tech, an ACC program with previous national championships. It could be Boston College, with three Top 25 finishes since 2004. It could be North Carolina. Anybody, really. It has been too long since the ACC had five teams ranked. With the league now expanded to 14, five should be the lowest number to hit.

The last time the ACC had five teams ranked was 2005, when Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Clemson and Florida State were all in the Top 25. Note a common them there?

Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson and Florida State.

The ACC needs more of that.

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.

Tight ends key for Hokies' passing game

August, 20, 2014
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Bucky Hodges doesn't want to give away any secrets, but it's hard to have much of a poker face at the moment.

As Virginia Tech looks to turn a listless passing attack into a more dynamic offense, the 6-foot-6 Hodges has all the makings of an ideal secret weapon, but he's doing his best to stay mum on the subject. He remains vague on how often he'll be split out wide or how he might be utilized in the red zone.

But that sly grin tells the story.

"I'm learning a lot of places [on the field], I'll say that," Hodges finally admitted. "It's really exciting to me."

It's exciting for the Hokies' offense, too, which lacked options last season as the running game stumbled and the passing attack underperformed. Frank Beamer thinks the tight end position perfectly underscores what could be different in 2014.

When Beamer hired offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler last year, part of the plan was to get the tight ends more involved in the game plan. At Loeffler's previous stops, the position had been a fixture in the passing game. At Florida in 2009, Temple in 2011 and Auburn in 2012, a tight end either led the team in receiving or finished second each year.

But before the 2013 season could even kick off, starting tight end Ryan Malleck went down with a rotator cuff injury and was lost for the year, and so, too, were Loeffler's big plans for the position.

True freshman Kalvin Cline, a former basketball player with little football experience, was Virginia Tech's only real option at the position, and the numbers by year's end were hardly overwhelming. The Hokies were 10th in the ACC in percentage of pass attempts to its tight ends.

"Last year we had one guy with a year of high school football to now three guys you feel you can split them out," Beamer said. "They're tough enough to get in there and block but you can split them out and get matched up on a lesser athlete."

That's another reason for Hodges' grin.

Basketball was his first love, and he thrived in the sport throughout high school. He's found playing tight end involves a similar skill set -- going after the ball at the height of its arc, playing physical but also making guys miss -- but there is one distinct difference.

"In basketball, you've got somebody big on you," Hodges said. "Now you get moved out and got a little guy on you, you've got some mismatches."

And mismatches are what the Hokies are looking for as they try to jump start a passing offense that finished 85th in completion percentage and ranked 101st in QB rating in the red zone a season ago.

Beamer is thrilled with the early performance of his freshmen receivers, and he thinks sophomore Joshua Stanford has made nice strides, too. The running backs remain a work in progress, however, and the QB battle has yet to produce a clear winner.

All of that leads back to the tight ends and that plan Loeffler had from the outset with Virginia Tech. In a year in which the Hokies are trying to establish their offensive identity, the tight ends offer an option they simply didn't have during last year's struggles.

And that, too, is enough to get Hodges excited about what might be in store.

"I feel like we're a lot more dynamic," he said. "We've got some receivers coming back and now we have tight ends. We've got a lot of playmakers."
video
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Virginia Tech Hokies:

Key returners: RB Trey Edmunds (675 yards, 10 TDs), WR Willie Byrn (51 catches, 660 yards), WR Demitri Knowles (641 yards), WR Josh Stanford (640 yards), C David Wang, LB Kyshoen Jarrett (71 tackles, 2 INTs), CB Kendall Fuller (6 INTs, 11 pass break-ups), CB Brandon Facyson (5 INTs), DT Luther Maddy (13.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

Key losses: QB Logan Thomas, OG Andrew Miller, WR D.J. Coles, K Cody Journell, LB Jack Tyler, LB Tyriq Edwards, DL Derrick Hopkins, CB Kyle Fuller, DL James Gayle, DL J.R. Collins,

Most important games: Sept. 6 at Ohio State, Oct. 4 at North Carolina, Oct. 16 at Pitt, Oct. 23 at Miami.

Projected win percentage: .637

Vegas over/under: 8 wins

[+] EnlargeWillie Byrn
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Willie Byrn says the Hokies plan to embark on a championship run in 2014.
Instant impact newcomers: Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer has his eyes on the starting quarterback job, and plenty of Tech fans view him as a potential savior for an offense that languished the past two years. Freshman tailback Marshawn Williams had an encouraging spring and could push Edmunds for carries. Redshirt freshman Seth Dooley figures to help fill the void on the defensive line. Tight end Bucky Hodges, a redshirt freshman, is 6-foot-6 and could be an inviting red zone target.

Biggest question mark: The quarterback position was undoubtedly the biggest question mark entering fall camp, but turning around the offensive struggles for Virginia Tech will be a group effort, regardless of who takes the bulk of the snaps this season. Edmunds and the other running backs need to take pressure off the QB by moving the ball on the ground. The O-line needs to be more physical and help Tech convert more third downs, a huge problem last season. The receivers need to get open and, just as importantly, hang on to the football when it comes their way. If all those other things happen, the wins may come regardless of the quarterback.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Coach Frank Beamer finds his quarterback, the rest of the offense grows up around him, and Virginia Tech finally has an offensive identity. The special teams unit returns to its “Beamer Ball” roots, and the defense looks as good as it did a year ago, even without its departed stars. An early upset of Ohio State earns the Hokies national credibility and a reasonable schedule in conference puts Tech in the hunt for a division title and a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: No QB emerges as an obvious choice to start, and a revolving door opens at the position. Edmunds and the receivers show little improvement from a year ago. The defense misses Tyler and the elder Fuller and can’t mask the offensive struggles any longer. The atmosphere gets tense internally and the Hokies struggle against flawed teams in their own division. The 21-year bowl streak comes to an end.

Number to know: 12.6. That’s Virginia Tech’s yards per completion last season, which, surprisingly enough, was right about the same as what the prolific offense at Clemson managed (12.7). The difference in the two passing games? The Hokies completed just 56 percent of their attempts. Clemson completed 69 percent. Chalk it up to the accuracy issues of Thomas, but the receivers also need to do a better job of avoiding drops in key spots.

They said it: “I’m thinking about, it's ACC championship or bust, and I think our whole team has that sense of urgency.” -- Byrn

ACC morning links

August, 19, 2014
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It is nearly time to begin preparing for Week 1 matchups. Does it surprise anybody that there are still unanswered questions at quarterback for three Coastal Division contenders?

Miami held a scrimmage Monday night in which true freshman Brad Kaaya continued to impress, throwing two touchdown passes. Transfer Jake Heaps, competing for the starting job, sat out the scrimmage to rest his arm. Coach Al Golden has repeatedly said he would name his starter following both scrimmages. Kevin Olsen is suspended for at least the opener; Kaaya played in both scrimmages; Heaps in just one. Do we read anything into where this leads headed into the opener against Louisville?

Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, coach Larry Fedora said he will not publicly announce his starter before kickoff against Liberty on Aug. 30. Returning starter Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky have been in a dogged competition. The Tar Heels will begin game prep Wednesday.

"We'll make a decision before the 30th," Fedora said. "I mean, you guys won't know it. But we will make a decision before the 30th. We'll start as we get into the game-planning, we'll have a plan what we're going to do and how we're going to implement it and those guys will be aware of it.

"It won't be like we walk out there on the 30th and I flip a coin and throw one of them out there."

Finally, the race to start at Virginia Tech is down to Michael Brewer and Mark Leal. Brenden Motley, who left the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, has been dealing with back issues throughout fall camp and has fallen out of the competition. Brewer and Leal split first-team reps during a weekend scrimmage, but a decision remains up in the air.

Now here is quick look at other headlines across the ACC:

ACC morning links

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher says he’s checking homework.

“We have notepads and pencils and you’re required to take notes,” Fisher said last week. “We’ll check them periodically.”

The fifth-year Seminoles coach was referring to his mandate that his players keep their eyes forward and jot down diligent outlines during positional meetings. I asked Fisher’s policy on taking notes after the Wall Street Journal published an article on the philosophy of the Cleveland Browns' Mike Pettine, a first-time head coach.

A former high school coach, Pettine found out from other teachers how actually putting pen to paper improves the odds a student will retain the information and retrieve the lesson when it’s test time. Kevin Clark, the WSJ writer, spoke with a UCLA professor who co-authored a paper on how writing instead of typing is often more useful, this at a time when there might be more laptops than notepads in college classrooms throughout the country.

It’s an interesting concept as it relates to football, which is catching up to the rest of the country in its fascination with technology. Several professional and college teams are using GPS tracking during practice. A handful, Florida State included, have armed players with tablets, and the Seminoles have a tablet in each player’s locker. Advanced metrics, usually reserved for baseball stat heads, are creeping their way onto football coaches’ desks. Drones are even being used to add yet another camera angle of practices.

But, even during football's technological revolution, it goes to show that sometimes simpler is better -- at least when it comes to filing away that the fullback is always option No. 1 on Spider 2 Y Banana.

“They’re taking a test every week, except they have to do it in front of 83,000 instead of a classroom,” Fisher said.

Here are a few more links to check out:
  • FSU is No. 1 in both preseason polls. That is due in large part to QB Jameis Winston, who took on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and then nominated his coach to do the same.
  • Miami was in the bottom half of the ACC blog's preseason power rankings, and much of that has to do with questions at quarterback and the defensive line. However, freshman QB Brad Kaaya is impressing the team with his maturity, and the defensive front is improving through camp.
  • Clemson opens the season at Georgia, but the Tigers will open up their home stadium so their fans can watch the game from inside Death Valley. The Bulldogs might be hurting on defense with a few losses during the offseason, but the Tigers' offense has not consistently impressed the Clemson coaches yet this fall. Chad Morris said quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson made some "really lousy decisions" in the latest scrimmage.
  • Louisville also held a weekend scrimmage, and Cardinals fans should be happy with the offense. The unit's pace and its future quarterback were among the five biggest takeaways.
  • Boston College's scrimmage looked like Christmas morning, which is not a good thing for an offense. Hint: They gift-wrapped turnovers.
  • An Atlantic division outlook from the (Charlottesville, Virginia) Daily Progress.
  • A few notes from Syracuse's Saturday practice.
  • Defense was optional in the Triangle in 2013, but there are defensive playmakers at Duke, NC State and North Carolina.
  • Nobody is quite sure what to expect out of Blacksburg, Virginia, this season: Does Virginia Tech continue to slide or are the Hokies poised for a return to double-digit wins? Frank Beamer believes it is the latter.
  • Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof sees signs that the Yellow Jackets' defense is improving, but that doesn't mean the unit is where it needs to be.
  • The name Kenechi Udeze might ring a bell for some football fans. He was a first-round NFL draft pick not long ago, but cancer cut his career short. He's back involved with the sport he loves, though, as a first-year assistant strength and conditioning coach at Pitt.

Beamer sees opportunities ahead

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
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The fan base has grown restless, the results have been disappointing, the roster is young and Frank Beamer has never been happier.

These are dark times by Virginia Tech's lofty standards. The program spent the past two seasons mired in mediocrity, an offensive quagmire making even the wins tough to watch, but entering his 28th year in Blacksburg, Virginia, and nearing his 68th birthday, Beamer doesn't see a program in the final stages of a doomed dynasty.

He sees opportunity.

"I'm hyped up about the future -- really," Beamer said. "It's never been a better job for me than right now."

This isn't Beamer ignoring the facts. For nearly three decades, he's insulated Virginia Tech from the harsh realities of an increasingly hostile college football landscape, but he's seen what happens in those bastions of consistency that suddenly stop yielding acceptable results.

In his own conference, Beamer watched as Bobby Bowden was pushed out at Florida State. Just eight months ago, Jim Grobe -- a man who effectively built Wake Forest football from the ground up -- departed with the program at its nadir. Beamer is all too aware that legends aren't immune to the whims of a desperate fan base, and he said he cares about the criticism now levied against him by his own fans. But he's certain this isn't the end.

"I'm very honest, and I'm big on being a positive influence," Beamer said. "I want to continue to coach here for a few more years, and I think I'll know when things are not as positive as they need to be."

Click here to read David Hale's full story.

ACC morning links

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
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The Roanoke Times reports that Michael Brewer is now considered a co-starter with Mark Leal at Virginia Tech.

Frank Beamer says Brenden Motley is due to return to practice following a back injury next week, but with the Hokies scrimmaging Saturday, all indications point to a two-man race with the winner likely being decided this weekend. Beamer says he wants a decision made sooner than later so the team has time to build a rapport with the new starter.

I talked with Beamer on Wednesday, and he spoke highly of Brewer’s ability to grasp the system in a hurry and command the huddle.

“His personality, who he is, it lends himself to that,” Beamer said. “He’s a take-charge guy, likes being in control. It lends itself to him coming in and feeling at ease with the position he’s in.”

Beamer praised Brewer’s accuracy, too, but he said the key for either QB will be more consistency from the receivers when it comes to route running and drops. And on the subject of the receivers, Beamer absolutely raved about freshmen Cameron Phillips and Isaiah Ford.

“Those are two guys that are going to really help our group,” Beamer said. “They’re two athletic guys.”

A few more links:
  • Dabo Swinney was none too happy with his team after its scrimmage Wednesday, telling reporters, “I thought we hit the wall.” Probably not worth reading too much into the outburst. Good coaches always pick at least one practice to publicly call out their team, and as we hit the midpoint of August, it was probably time for Swinney to give Clemson a minor wake-up call.
  • Sports Illustrated has its preseason All-America teams out, with 14 ACC players making first- or second-team status. Only the SEC (16) had more. A few ACC names not on the list that we wouldn’t be surprised to see at year’s end? Clemson’s Grady Jarrett, FSU’s Karlos Williams and Ronald Darby and Miami’s Duke Johnson.
  • Speaking of Johnson, he looked 100 percent as Miami scrimmaged for the first time, writes the Miami Herald. The QB race, however, remains as murky as ever, with Jake Heaps and freshman Brad Kaaya doing battle Wednesday.
  • With Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, Terrance Smith is taking command of the Florida State linebacking crew, writes the Tallahassee Democrat. Smith has 69 career tackles. Reggie Northrup has 55. The rest of the linebacking corps combined has just 71.
  • NC State QB Garrett Leatham wasn’t even one of the top 20 walk-ons to make it into fall camp a year ago. Now, writes the Charlotte Observer, he’s got a scholarship and the No. 2 spot on the Wolfpack’s depth chart. Good for Leatham, of course, but it does suggest just how critical a healthy Jacoby Brissett will be for NC State in 2014.
  • Duke checks in at No. 24 on USA Today’s college football countdown. Their “dream season” scenario for Duke is an 11-1 campaign with the lone loss coming to Virginia Tech. Of course, the Blue Devils beat the Hokies in Blacksburg last year while mustering 198 yards of offense and failing to convert a third down. So, it’s all relative.
  • Breaking news of your impending transfer via Instagram is apparently a thing now, as freshman receiver Corey Cooper announced he was leaving the Orange, writes Syracuse.com. Can recruiting via Tinder be too far off?

ACC's biggest battles: Nos. 9 & 10

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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The 2014 college football season starts in 15 days. We're getting you ready by counting down the ACC's 10 biggest battles of the fall. We start today with Nos. 10 and 9.

No. 10

The matchup: Virginia Tech at Ohio State

Date/Location: Sept. 6, Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio (8 ET, ESPN)

Last meeting: The two programs have never played each other before.

Why it matters: This is one of several high-profile Power Five matchups for the ACC, which is looking to further improve its national image after putting an end to the SEC's seven-year national title streak last season. The Hokies are feeling a bit of pressure after posting just 15 wins over the last two seasons, and this trip to the Horsehoe will provide them with a great opportunity to knock off a preseason national title contender, as the Buckeyes debuted at No. 6 in the preseason coaches poll. Ohio State remains the biggest name program nationally for the Big Ten, and with Clemson beating the Bucks in last season's Orange Bowl, a Virginia Tech win in Week 2 would give the ACC two wins against Ohio State during a three-game span. That could pay huge dividends for the ACC, not to mention Virginia Tech's Coastal division hopes.

No. 9

The matchup: Miami at Nebraska

Date/Location: Sept. 20, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb. (8 ET, ABC/ESPN/ESPN2)

Last meeting: The two storied programs have met 10 times, splitting five games apiece. Their most recent meeting was for the 2001 BCS national championship on Jan. 3, 2002, at the Rose Bowl. Behind Ken Dorsey and Andre Johnson, the Hurricanes beat the Cornhuskers, 37-14, to win their fifth national title.

Why it matters: Forget the history between the two teams, as both have struggled in recent years to get back to their glory days. This game, like the Hokies-Buckeyes tilt before it, could prove to be huge for the images of both conferences. When it comes to College Football Playoff talk, the Big Ten, in the eyes of many, consists of Ohio State, Michigan State, and then everyone else. The same can be said for the ACC, which is top-heavy with Florida State and Clemson. A win for either No. 22 Nebraska or Miami could provide a big boost for the rest of the season, which could really bolster either conference's depth. And that could, ultimately, be a decisive point should a Big Ten and an ACC team be jockeying against each other for a playoff spot at the end of the season. The Big Ten's West division, like the ACC's Coastal, is wide open as well, so a signature win by either side will have it feeling good once it hits the heart of league play.

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 morning links

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was in his element Sunday during his media day news conference. He was no longer answering questions about Jameis Winston or crab legs. Fisher was talking X's and O's, talking Football 101.

Fisher talked at length about how he studies a player to determine a his physical ceiling and what kind of bone structure and body type recruits possess. Fisher said it is not the deciding factor when he recruits a prospect, but it is without a doubt a factor. He likened it to basketball, where coaches often are more in love with a player's wingspan or vertical jump than his ability to shoot the basketball from 15 to 18 feet.

A protege of Nick Saban, Fisher likes physically stout players along the defensive line. Some of his defensive ends tip the scales at 300 pounds but still move as if they were 25 pounds lighter. He and Saban had them at LSU a decade ago, and Fisher has one at Florida State in Mario Edwards Jr., who was able to chase down Auburn's Nick Marshall on an option play.

Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel took a look at how Fisher has recruited during his tenure and the size of the players he has brought in.The class that signed in February averages 6-foot-3.5 and weighs 249 pounds. To put that into perspective, Bobby Bowden's final class at Florida State was two inches shorter and 26 pounds lighter.

While this 2014 class could be a bit of an outlier due to the sheer numbers of linemen Fisher signed, the statistics still offer an insight into how Fisher recruits. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly also said Sunday that he knows Fisher is looking for a certain body type depending on the position, so Kelly needs to take that into account when he's visiting high schools.

Here's a few more links to get your Tuesday started.

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