ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies
No. 7 UCLA at Virginia, ESPN, #UCLAvsUVA: In his career as a head coach, Mike London has won all six of his season openers, but this one is the biggest challenge he has ever faced to start a season. The Bruins come in off a 10-win season with a Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Brett Hundley. Perhaps the only edge the Hoos have is the starting time. UCLA makes its first trip to an ACC stadium since 1955 and will kick off at 9 a.m. PT. As London joked during his news conference earlier this week, "I'd like to play 6 o'clock in the morning our time, if possible."
Delaware at Pitt, ESPN3, #DELvsPITT: The Panthers are going for their first win in a season opener since 2011 and have learned not to pencil in wins against FCS opponents. The biggest point of intrigue is how often they plan to use running back James Conner at defensive end. Coach Paul Chryst said Conner will be used only on rushing situations, the way he was in the bowl game. Still, two-way players are always a bit of a novelty, and folks are waiting to see how effective Conner can be at both positions.
Georgia Southern at NC State, ESPN3, #GASOvsNCST: Wolfpack players are well aware of Georgia Southern's stunning win over Florida last season and vow not to let the same happen to them. Though NC State is young, its most experienced unit is on the defensive line -- good news against the triple-option Eagles. There's no doubt coach Dave Doeren believes his program has a chance to start fresh after last year's disappointing 3-9 campaign. This is our first shot to see how quarterback Jacoby Brissett fares managing the NC State offense.
Boston College at UMass, ESPN3, #BCvsUMASS: UMass fans had some fun trolling BC earlier this week, tossing a Minutemen jersey on Doug Flutie's statue outside Alumni Stadium. But BC will actually hit the road in this one, which features the debut of Florida transfer Tyler Murphy at quarterback. The Eagles also will feature a revamped running back and receiving group as they try to make a bowl game for the second straight season.
William & Mary at Virginia Tech, ESPNEWS, #WMvsVT: Quarterback Michael Brewer makes his debut for the Hokies, who are hoping to reclaim their spot atop the Coastal Division this season. Running back and receiver are also two key areas to watch, especially freshmen Isaiah Ford, Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie. Trey Edmunds will play but won't start, as he continues to come back from a broken ankle.
Elon at Duke, ESPN3, #ELONvsDUKE: Duke is aiming for its fourth straight win in a season opener as it looks to continue on its momentum from the past two seasons. This is the first of four straight winnable nonconference games, which could have Duke 4-0 before it heads to Miami on Sept. 27 for a crucial Coastal Division showdown against the Hurricanes.
Liberty at No. 23 North Carolina, ESPN3, #LIBvsUNC: The storylines for the Tar Heels have been away from the field, as four players were suspended for this game following a Yahoo! Sports report that alleged a hazing incident between players. Larry Fedora has not publicly named his starting quarterback, but it probably doesn't matter whether Marquise Williams or Mitch Trubisky starts in this one.
No. 1 Florida State at Oklahoma State, ABC, #FSUvsOKST: The Seminoles begin their Dallas-to-Dallas quest against the Cowboys, who return the fewest starters among all Power Five conferences. We all know Jameis Winston returns, but the storyline to watch in this one is who emerges at receiver next to Rashad Greene. A win would give the Seminoles 17 consecutive victories and match the school record set in 1999-2000.
Miami at Louisville, 8 p.m., ESPN, #MIAvsLOU: Miami has been waiting on its chance at revenge since December, when the Cards embarrassed them in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando. Much has changed for both programs since then: Louisville has a new coach and new offensive and defensive schemes; both teams have a new starting quarterback; Miami welcomes the return of running back Duke Johnson. And let's not forget this is the ACC debut for Louisville, as well. One pretty interesting note: Louisville was 22-1 at home under Petrino during his first stint as coach.
Ethan in New York writes: OK. Let's say that at the end of the regular season, we have two undefeated teams: Alabama and Baylor. Oregon is a one-loss Pac-12 champ. Ohio State is a one-loss BIG champ. Florida State runs the table in the regular season. Virginia Tech beats Ohio State, but loses to, say, North Carolina. However, the Hokies defeat the Seminoles in the ACC championship game. So you have Ohio State (BIG champs) at 12-1 with a loss to VT; VT at 12-1 (ACC champs) with a loss to UNC; Florida State at 12-1 with a loss to VT; Auburn at 12-1 with a loss to Bama; Alabama at 13-0 (SEC champs), Baylor at 12-0 (Big 12 champs) and Oregon at 12-1 (Pac-12 champs) with a loss to, say USC. For fun, let's throw in Michigan State at 11-1 with a loss to Ohio State, Stanford at 11-1 with a loss to Oregon, and Oklahoma at 11-1 with a loss to Baylor. In this scenario, who would YOU (not the selection committee) pick as the four teams in the playoff?
Andrea Adelson: This scenario needs a tweak, because Michigan State and Oregon play in Week 2. So let's just say Oregon's loss is to the Spartans instead of USC to make this slightly more accurate. My final decision ... my head hurts. In all seriousness, it is really tough to even make a guess because there are so many other factors at play. How do these teams actually look? Were the losses blowouts or close? How did the rest of the schedule shape up? Is it better or worse than it looked in the preseason? Those should all come into play when starting to compare one-loss teams against another. Having said that, I would give conference champions the first look. In this case, Alabama and Baylor are unbeaten and conference champs, they get in. Oregon gets in because it's a conference champion and lost to a high-quality team early in the season. Virginia Tech would look appealing in this scenario, too, with wins over No. 1 Florida State and ranked Ohio State, plus Miami and an ACC championship. The bottom line is strength of schedule is going to be quite different at the end of the season than it is today, and there are too many unknowns to start guessing which one-loss team would make it in. Can't wait to see how it all plays out.
Adelson writes: I looked back at the rushing attempts and passing attempts on Petrino-coached teams at Louisville, Arkansas and Western Kentucky. In his first four seasons at Louisville, Petrino's teams ran the ball slightly more than they passed it. In four seasons at Arkansas, they passed the ball slightly more than they ran it. Last season, Western Kentucky ran the ball slightly more. You are correct that whether the run or pass was favored, the split hovered around 55-45. In 2004, 60 percent of the Louisville offense went to rushing attempts. That's the highest it ever went. Last year at Western Kentucky, rushing attempts accounted for 53 percent of the offensive plays. As you point out, the reason people think Petrino chucks it all over the field is because his offenses are more effective at throwing the ball regardless of the split between run and pass. In those nine seasons, the passing offense ranked higher than the rushing offense six times in the NCAA stats. Louisville has depth in the backfield and should be good on the offensive line, so make sure to keep an eye on the Cardinals' running game Monday night.
Adelson: Generally, the polls make little sense. SEC teams get the benefit of the doubt always. Good thing, then, that polls are virtually meaningless in the new College Football Playoff era. I am most interested in see how the selection committee ranks its Top 25. The first set will be unveiled Oct. 28.
Adelson: As athletic director Whit Babcock told me, time will tell. But as I mentioned last week, this Hokies team is looking like a better choice to win the Coastal with each passing day. We will see whether that is an accurate assessment soon enough.
Adelson: I actually agree with most of what David wrote. I think voters will find a reason not to give Jameis Winston the Heisman unless he is far and away the best candidate in the country. I do not envision that being the case with some of the talented players back for this season. Virginia Tech has grown on me; Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy are good additions for their respective teams. I don't think Stacy Coley will catch passes from three different quarterbacks, and I'm not ready to call UVa a bowl team -- though I think the Hoos will get to five wins. Not sure on six.
A few quick caveats:
- If the Orange Bowl selects a Big Ten team this year, a spot would open up in the Capital One Bowl for the ACC. We're not banking on that just yet.
- Either the TaxSlayer Bowl or Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl gets an ACC team, but not both. For the purposes of our preseason projections, we're slotting a team into the TaxSlayer Bowl, but that could change down the road.
- For bowl selection purposes, Notre Dame is treated as an ACC team, meaning the Fighting Irish will grab one of the conference's tie-ins unless it is invited to the College Football Playoff.
- The Birmingham Bowl serves as a backup for the ACC should enough teams become eligible. We're not projecting that yet either.
- After the playoff committee makes its selections and the Orange Bowl makes its pick, the Russell Athletic gets the next choice of teams. After that, the next group of four work together to decide on selections with geography and a fan base's likelihood to travel to the game playing a role. We attempted to account for that below.
With all that said, here's our best guess at what awaits the ACC in December and January.
College Football Playoff: Florida State Seminoles
Orange Bowl (Miami): Clemson Tigers
Russell Athletic Bowl (Orlando, Florida): Virginia Tech
TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Florida): Miami
Belk Bowl (Charlotte, North Carolina): North Carolina
Hyundai Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas): Louisville
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx, New York): Notre Dame
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman (Annapolis, Maryland): Pitt
Duck Commander Independence Bowl (Shreveport, Louisiana): Duke
Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit): Syracuse
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: Georgia Tech
-- Andrea Adelson
Why Georgia will win: Early-season games against nationally recognized teams have not been kind to Georgia coach Mark Richt over the years (see: Clemson, Oklahoma State, Boise State, South Carolina x 2), so the law of averages says he has to win some, right? Well, there's more than just cosmic balancing in the Bulldogs' favor. While the Tigers made huge gains on defense a season ago, they also allowed an average of 38 points per game against Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and South Carolina. We're not quite sure what to expect out of new Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason, but the duo of Gurley and Marshall at running back is unmatched anywhere else in the country. Last season's game might have played out differently had Gurley not strained a quad on a 75-yard touchdown run.
-- Jared Shanker
Why Miami will win: Duke Johnson changes everything for the Canes, as he keeps their offense moving and takes plenty of pressure off Brad Kaaya. Likewise, the loss of DeVante Parker takes plenty of punch out of Louisville's offense. A new coach, a new league and a new quarterback create too much uncertainty around a Cardinals team that has the target on its back after embarrassing Miami last time around. -- Matt Fortuna
Why Louisville will win: It's not that I'm supremely confident in this pick, but the Cardinals have a few things going for them. First, it's a marquee game for the program, its first as a member of the ACC. Secondly, while a lot has changed on defense for Louisville, it was the top-ranked rushing D in the country last season, which should help Todd Grantham's crew deal with the dynamic Duke Johnson. Most important, however, at quarterback Miami is starting a true freshman in his first career game on the road in a frenzied atmosphere. It won't be a gimme, but Louisville will pull off the victory. -- David Hale
Upset pick of the weekWhy ULM will win: ULM has three advantages: It beat Wake Forest a year ago and is familiar with some of the returning personnel; the WarHawks bring back 14 starters; and they are playing at home. Wake Forest is starting true freshmen at quarterback and center. It's never easy to go on the road and make your first career start, let alone on national television. Factor in all the youth and inexperience for the Deacs, and you see why ULM has the edge. -- Andrea Adelson
More consensus picks: Syracuse over Villanova; Pittsburgh over Delaware; UCLA over Virginia; Georgia Tech over Wofford; NC State over Georgia Southern; Boston College over UMass; Virginia Tech over William & Mary; Duke over Elon; North Carolina over Liberty; Florida State over Oklahoma State
Defending national champion Florida State Seminoles opens its season Saturday against Oklahoma State. And the Seminoles still have not visited the White House.
"The window for a team visit has likely closed altogether," a Florida State spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.
The WSJ's Ben Cohen and Jonathan Clegg report that FSU offered the White House six available dates in April. The Noles then offered six potential dates in May and June. The president was unavailable for any of them. Nothing materialized in the summer.
FSU would be the first non-repeat college football champion to not make the D.C. trip since 1990. USC's 2004 title team did not visit the nation's capital, but the Trojans had made the trip a year earlier.
UConn's title-winning men's and women's basketball teams made their trip in June, two months after winning their national titles. Hmmm ...
Perhaps old Jimbo Fisher friend Nick Saban cut a deal with President Obama to not let any other college football teams in? The two may be close, after all, as Saban has taken three different Alabama teams to the White House since Obama first took office.
An in-season visit for the Noles is not entirely off the table, but a school spokesman told the WSJ that it would be "very, very difficult."
In other ACC news today …
- SI.com's Martin Rickman looks at the end of Clemsoning.
- There's a bit of "Blind Side" in the story of Duke guard Laken Tomlinson, Laura Keeley writes in the Raleigh News & Observer.
- A Georgia Tech-Tennessee Chick-fil-A Kickoff game is near completion for 2017, Ken Sugiura writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee says Louisville is in a good place as it nears the opener, Jeff Greer writes in the (Louisville) Courier-Journal.
- Syracuse.com's Nate Mink previews the Orange's game against Pitt with the Post-Gazette's Sam Werner.
- The (Newport News) Daily Press' David Teel says Frank Beamer's extension quiets talk about his potential exit.
- Wake Forest has a chance to show its progress tonight, Dan Collins writes in the Winston-Salem Journal.
The ACC has three second-year coaches, each with differing expectations. Athlon Sports took a look at those coaches and what the 2014 outlook is for each coach's program.
Writer Steven Lassan states Boston College's Steve Addazio exceeded expectations in his inaugural season as BC's coach, and there is little doubt Addazio did a great job getting to a bowl game. Without Andre Williams it will be a challenge to get back to a bowl game, but the first half of the schedule sets up pretty nicely.
A bowl game in 2013 and key returners has Syracuse fans believing Scott Shafer will keep the Orange moving in the right direction. There are only two games on the schedule where the Orange will not be given a great chance to win, so there is an expectation for Syracuse to once again be bowl eligible.
At NC State, Dave Doeren is given a partial pass last season after losing his starting quarterback. While the Wolfpack have a long way to go, Doeren has his quarterback in Jacoby Brissett. There is definitely an expectation the Wolfpack will be better, and they can't be much worse after going winless in the ACC last season. Brissett was a highly regarded quarterback coming out of high school, so there is the potential NC State can surprise some teams this season and pull off an upset or two.
Here's a few more links to help you through the day. Remember, we get FBS football tomorrow!
- West Virginia and former Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett says Nick Saban's daughter was his first kiss. (He was 6 years old.) I'm guessing Saban will have a conversation with his defensive line before the opener against the Mountaineers.
- Scandal once again is hitting North Carolina, as allegations of hazing arose Tuesday. The Tar Heels are no strangers to off-the-field issues, and this is another black eye for the university athletic department.
- An eye-opening feature on the plight of Devaughn Darling's family as they wait for the remaining $1.8 million from a settlement in the Florida State football player's 2001 death.
- FSU running back Dalvin Cook could see significant playing time as a reserve this season.
- Miami's quarterback situation will be one to watch all season as true freshman Brad Kaaya, named the starter earlier this week, still has seniors Jake Heaps and Ryan Williams pushing for the role. Williams tore his ACL in April and is hoping to return at some point during the season.
- Many of Duke quarterback Anthony Boone's interceptions came when he put too much pressure on himself to make a play.
- Recovering from injury, Virginia Tech running back Marshawn Williams was initially hesitant, but he moved past that rather quickly.
- Could Georgia be more of a threat passing than rushing for Clemson?
- Last season, Pitt relied on freshmen stars Tyler Boyd and James Conner. The 2014 recruiting class will be counted on to make freshmen contributions, too.
- Expectations have been raised for Louisville's receivers now that DeVante Parker will miss significant time.
- Attendance is an issue across college football stadiums, but the decrease in Virginia's numbers is significant.
1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.
Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.
It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.
3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.
The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.
4. Virginia goes bowling.
The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.
5. Clemson is a running team.
With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.
6. Young runners make a big impact.
Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.
7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.
If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.
8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.
Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.
9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.
Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.
10. The Coastal champ will be ...
Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.
What if I told you the ACC was ranked fifth?
Not surprising in the least.
At this point, it is hard to see the ranking as a huge slap at the league, considering the ACC also was ranked fifth in the final 2013 conference power rankings with a national championship and Orange Bowl win to brag about. The ranking speaks to the state of the entire conference, which we all can agree needs to upgrade its product behind the Noles and Tigers.
The key difference between last season and this season, though, is the College Football Playoff. And conference ranking could come into play when the selection committee begins its evaluations. Because strength of schedule will matter. As our friends at Stats & Info point out in their post:
Among Power Five conferences, the ACC is considered the weakest by both the AP Poll and FPI. That means that if the top four conferences place a team in the playoff, it would leave the ACC on the outside looking in. Yet, there is a lot more that goes into those decisions, including the fact that the ACC has the clear No. 1 team in the country. Florida State received 57 of 60 first place votes in the AP Poll and has by far the best chance (39 percent) to finish the season undefeated according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
However, what if Florida State loses a conference game? Does the relative strength of the ACC come into play?
All fun questions to ponder before the season begins.
Let's take a tour around the rest of the ACC as the games quickly approach:
- Boston College may use its running backs out of the backfield more than it did a year ago.
- Clemson has studied tape from its game against Florida State last year for clues on how Jeremy Pruitt will run the Georgia defense.
- Duke football has come so far, what if it takes a step back?
- More fun predictions! Stewart Mandel at FoxSports has Florida State in the playoff and Clemson facing Alabama in the Discover Orange Bowl.
- Louisville running back Michael Dyer remains doubtful for the opener against Miami.
- Ryan Williams and Jake Heaps talk about Brad Kaaya winning the Miami quarterback job.
- Joe Giglio has a great read on NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has high expectations for himself headed into the season.
- Is North Carolina going to be the Coastal champ? One columnist says yes.
- Apparently, Larry Fedora takes pleasure in tormenting people.
- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer compared freshman receiver Isaiah Ford to Antonio Freeman.
- Could Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel be Wake Forest's best cornerbacks ... ever?
Virginia Tech announced Saturday that Michael Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, would get the starting nod.
On Sunday, Miami followed up with the news that true freshman Brad Kaaya will be its starter when it opens the season against Louisville.
There are only five QBs in the ACC who threw more than 100 passes in the league in 2013 returning for this season, and three of them are in the Coastal. But two of those three -- David Watford at UVA and Marquise Williams at UNC -- aren't guaranteed a starting job when the season opens. In fact, Watford is out as Virginia's starter with Greyson Lambert penciled in atop the depth chart, and Tar Heels' coach Larry Fedora said he won't announce a decision between Williams and Mitch Trubisky until North Carolina kicks off its opener.
That could mean as many as six of the ACC's 14 opening day starting QBs would never have taken a snap with their respective teams before, and Clemson's Deshaun Watson, who will play but not start, adds more to that mix.
Of course, all these situations are different, and Kaaya certainly has the advantage of talent surrounding him at Miami. Perhaps no school in the conference has a better RB-WR combo than the Hurricanes Stacy Coley and Duke Johnson.
At Virginia Tech, on the other hand, Brewer will open the season with little experience around him. As The Roanoke Times notes, leading rusher Trey Edmunds is currently fourth on the depth chart at tailback (partially due to injury) and the Hokies' top two receivers, Demitri Knowles and Willie Byrn, aren't in the starting lineup either.
In fact, here's a quick look at Virginia Tech's skill position starters on offense:
QB: Brewer: Transfer, no previous ACC experience
RBs: Junior J.C. Coleman and freshman Marshawn Williams were responsible for a total of 84 carries for 284 yards last season (17 percent of the Hokies' total rushing attempts). Another freshman, Shai McKenzie is behind them.
WRs: Sophomore Joshua Stanford and freshman Isaiah Ford grab the starting nods here, again accounting for just a fraction of last year's passing game (16 percent of total receptions).
TE: Junior Ryan Malleck missed all of last season and has 17 career receptions.
I talked with Frank Beamer last week, and he was wildly enthusiastic about the future, raving about the opportunities at tight end, his freshmen receivers and Williams at tailback.
It's a risk, certainly, to start so much youth on a team coming off two down years, but Beamer clearly has decided that winning 10 games with mediocre talent isn't any better than winning eight games with developing talent. And the truth is, with Virginia Tech's schedule, there will be plenty of opportunity for the young pups to gain experience without necessarily costing the Hokies any games anyway.
It's a shrewd decision on Beamer's part, and one worthy of praise. Many coaches in his situation would go worry about the present first and foremost, but he's clearly concerned about Virginia Tech's future. That's a strong sentiment as the 2014 campaign gets set to kick off in a wide open Coastal Division.
A few more links for your morning reading:
- Sports Illustrated looks at the teams best positioned to knock Florida State from its ACC throne.
- Cavalier Insider has a terrific profile of Virginia All-ACC safety Anthony Harris, who might be one of the most under-appreciated stars in the conference.
- The State has a nice profile of new Clemson QB Cole Stoudt, too -- though no matter how much Stoudt warrants some attention, it's hard to overlook future star Deshaun Watson waiting in the wings.
- Attendance is a concern, even after a national championship at Florida State, writes the Orlando Sentinel. That's something USA Today tackled last week, and it's hard not to see this issue being front-and-center when it comes to getting students to stay in their seats.
- BC Interruption does some projecting to figure out the depth chart for the Eagles opener against UMass.
- Bobby Petrino says the pressure is all on him as Louisville preps for 2014, writes The Courier-Journal.
- If you're an FSU fan looking to head to Syracuse for the game this year, tickets go on sale Tuesday. And as someone who has lived in both Syracuse and Tallahassee, I cannot recommend this road trip enough. Especially Dinosaur BBQ.
- And your non-sports link of the day: The zen of casting Bill Murray in your movie, courtesy of Entertainment Weekly.
Both brought in transfers in the offseason to compete for the starting job. But only the Hokies went the transfer route, as they announced that Michael Brewer would take over for Logan Thomas when the season opens Saturday.
Ultimately, those decisions will have a major impact on each team's Coastal Division hopes.
The choice Miami made was slightly more surprising for a few reasons. First, Heaps has valuable game experience, having started at two stops before arriving at Miami in the summer. Second, Miami opens the season on the road at Louisville. Many thought Al Golden would tab Heaps based on these two facts alone.
But Kaaya has intrigued Miami from the moment he committed in 2013. The Canes were the first team to extend him a scholarship offer, and he stuck with them despite the distance (he is from California) and several in-state schools putting on the hard sell. Offensive coordinator James Coley told local reporters after practice Sunday that three months ago he never would have envisioned starting a true freshman on the road to open the season.
Then again, Coley also said Kaaya is "not your regular freshman."
Kaaya has drawn nothing but raves since arriving on campus, and he has drawn particular attention for his unflappable demeanor. Miami has been desperate for a standout at the position for 12 years and counting. His predecessor, Stephen Morris, was solid but never rose to the elite level that people have come to expect from anybody playing the position at Miami. Now Kaaya gets to put that pressure on his shoulders.
Brewer at least has more game experience than Kaaya, having played as a backup at Texas Tech the past two seasons. When he made his decision to transfer to Virginia Tech, many expected him to win the starting job. Mark Leal, who served as the backup to Thomas the past several seasons, struggled in the bowl game and during the spring, opening the door for Brewer.
Where Kaaya has an edge over Brewer, then, is in the talent around him. Miami has the best running back in the ACC in Duke Johnson, one of the deepest and most talented receiver groups in the league, solid tight ends and a good offensive line. Virginia Tech is expected to be better at running back, receiver and tight end as well as on the offensive line, but Miami is better at all four spots headed into the season.
Perhaps that gives Golden and Coley more confidence lining up a true freshman on the road. He has a supporting cast to truly support him. Ultimately, though, both programs and both head coaches will be judged on the quarterback decisions they made this weekend. The Coastal could depend on it.
Don writes: Your ESPN.com Preseason ACC team has lost all credibility when it failed to feature Tyler Boyd who was arguably the best receiver in the ACC last season as a freshman. While I agree Florida State has the best team on paper in the nation they do not have the top player in every position in the ACC.
Andrea Adelson: No, but they do have the best receiver in Rashad Greene. Boyd had a phenomenal freshman season, don't get me wrong. We all think he is fantastic. But the ACC is completely stacked at receiver headed into the season, and two worthy players were left off -- Boyd and DeVante Parker at Louisville. In the end, we decided on Crowder for a few reasons. His past performance cannot be ignored. Nor can the fact that he continues to be the focal point of the Duke offense. As David Hale points out, Crowder was targeted 174 times last season, and he delivered in every possible way. He is the most indispensable player on that team.
Stephen in Baku, Azerbaijan writes: Yes, there are ACC fans in Azerbaijan. My comment/question is about solving the mystery of the Clustal (cluster/Coastal). As opposed to looking at how they will do against each other, it is better to focus solely on who their two Atlantic foes are as they will likely beat each other up in divisional games. I'll rank the two cross division games per team by easiest to hardest. Duke: (Wake/Syracuse); VT: (BC/Wake); Pitt: (Syracuse/BC); GT: (Clemson/NCSU); UNC: (NCSU/Clemson); Miami: (FSU/Louisville); UVa: (Louisville/FSU) *poor UVa. So I would say a toss-up between Duke and VT for the Coastal in 2014. With recent losses of key personal for Duke, I'll crown VT as the champ and the ACC gets a sold out ACC championship game. What do you think of this logic?
Adelson: Salam, dostum! Your bit of logic is a huge reason why I had Duke as the Coastal champ. Those crossover schedules cannot be ignored. Now, I have been rethinking my choice after the recent Blue Devils injury news and now believe Virginia Tech has the best chance to win the division. Watch out for the Hokies!
Michael Lambert writes: Your piece on Bobby Petrino left out one very important item that helps put Tom Jurich's gamble on the job hopping Petrino in perspective. There is a buyout clause of $10 million dollars he must pay the school if he takes another coaching position within 4 years. The amount gradually lowers beyond that point, but he is paid well and it would make very little sense for him to pay a financial penalty to leave for many years to come. Your article and the associated comments make this relationship out to be one of blind faith and trust. Petrino is pretty much locked in here, but that was what he accepted to get his job back.
Adelson writes: You are absolutely right, Michael. It was an oversight to not include that information. I agree the $10 million is a huge incentive to stay, but there are others who don't ...
Matthew Caldwell in Endicott writes: Andrea, I believe Petrino will build up Louisville again and then bolt again when one of the big boys wants to take a chance on him. He won't turn down a big offer. I'm not buying his transformation.
Ray Marple in Springfield, Mo., writes: So much fluff for a horrible person. Second chance deserved or not -- Lord knows I've needed several -- one must truly go through difficulties in order to 'become a better person.' Living in college football purgatory for two years and 'almost losing his wife and family' aren't enough to arise and get a multi-million dollar job again. The position he put the U of A in and left them, as well as Jessica Dorrell -- NOT MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE -- will take a lot more than two years to overcome. Perhaps his philanthropic Foundation can help everyone concerned. I hope you took a shower after submitting this article.
Adelson writes: Matthew and Ray are just two of many, many skeptics out there. We will only know in time whether Petrino truly has changed.
James Griffith in Moneta, Virginia, writes: Hi Andrea, Which FCS team is going to win this year against an ACC team? It happens every year. I think the Richmond Spiders will pull the upset of UVa. They almost beat NC State last year except for the last minute field goal. What about Gardner-Webb beating Wake Forest? It is time for the ACC to stop playing FCS teams. They have nothing to win by beating these teams and everything to lose. It does not look good for the entire conference when one team gets beat by a FCS team. I do not think anyone wants to buy tickets to a major beat down of a FCS team. They would be better off playing another conference game or at least someone in the same division. What do you think? Part II: Don't you feel that big schools have nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing FCS teams. Ask Michigan fans about Appalachian State or Virginia Tech about James Madison.
Adelson writes: Actually, the ACC won all its games against FCS competition last season. I am going to predict no FCS upsets again this season. Virginia will be better this season and take care of Richmond. Wake Forest is going to have its share of struggles, but Gardner-Webb is an average FCS team. I still think the Deacs win that one. As for the larger point in general, obviously it makes the conference look bad if one of its teams loses to an opponent from a lower division. Makes the program look bad, too, especially an elite one like Virginia Tech and Michigan (and Florida for that matter!). But the ACC coaches are pretty adamant that they want to continue scheduling these games because they believe they are good for health of college football in general. Most FCS programs are dependent on paydays from FBS schools, so it is supposed to benefit both parties. One school gets the "easy" win the other gets money that allows the program to remain viable. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but those upsets are not a comon occurrence.
You're forgiven if this entire exercise seems foreign. But at least 10 of the ACC's 14 teams will start new faces under center when games kick off next week. And there is a good chance that four of those 10 will have quarterbacks who began their college careers elsewhere.
"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 2010 before losing his job both with the Cougars and later at Kansas. "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 member 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 in 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.
On the other side, in the more daunting Atlantic, a pair of second-year coaches are turning to former Gators quarterbacks 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 coach Dave Doeren was hired there, 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]," 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 in January, has one year to add some pizzazz to an Eagles' offense looking to spread the field more after last season's run-heavy approach. He spoke often with Brissett (who has 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 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."
Florida State could see a pair of its former quarterbacks start against each other next week, as Jake 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, because 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."
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.
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 theme there?
Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson and Florida State.
The ACC needs more of that.
- The loss of a physical freak who is now tearing it up for Carolina
- The arrest of a key sophomore
- The departure of another sophomore for academic reasons
- The return of an injured senior and redemption of another
- The likelihood that three true freshmen will get playing time
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Final 7 UCLA 28 Virginia 20 Final Delaware 0 Pittsburgh 62 Final Wofford 19 Georgia Tech 38 Final Georgia Southern 23 North Carolina State 24 Final Boston College 30 Massachusetts 7 Final William & Mary 9 Virginia Tech 34 Final 16 Clemson 21 12 Georgia 45 Final Elon 13 Duke 52 Final Liberty 29 23 North Carolina 56 Final 1 Florida State 37 Oklahoma State 31