ACC: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

The contrast at quarterback in the ACC between this spring and last spring is pretty easy to quantify.

Last spring: Six teams had quarterbacks with zero career starts.

This spring: Two teams have quarterbacks with zero career starts.

Last spring: ACC teams combined for 76 returning career starts at quarterback.

This spring: ACC teams combined for double that mark, with 155 returning career starts at the position.

Last spring: Four ACC teams returned their starter from the previous season.

This spring: 10 ACC teams return their starting quarterback.

So even with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston gone, it is pretty safe to say the ACC will be leaps better at quarterback in 2015. More experienced players return, though interestingly enough, the two most experienced teams at quarterback a year ago are now the least: Florida State and Duke.

Winston showed exceptional talent can make up for inexperience. So did three first-time starters a year ago, players that blossomed into bona fide stars: Brad Kaaya at Miami, Justin Thomas at Georgia Tech and Deshaun Watson at Clemson.

Add in Marquise Williams at North Carolina (who will miss the spring with a hip injury), and four quarterbacks have the potential not only to be selected preseason All-ACC quarterback, but one could very easily be preseason ACC Offensive Player of the Year.

Kaaya and Williams each threw for 3,000 yards. Kaaya led the ACC in pass efficiency and passing yards per completion; Thomas ranked No. 4 in the ACC in rushing. Watson threw 14 touchdowns to two interceptions and completed 68 percent of his passes in his injury-shortened year (while also being a valuable rusher).

In Williams’ case, he had to survive a heated quarterback competition last spring that went into the season, when coach Larry Fedora decided to play him and Mitch Trubisky. But once Williams became the full-time starter after the first month of the season, his play blossomed. As our David Hale pointed out, only five Power 5 quarterbacks had more total touchdowns (20) than Williams from game 7 until the season ended. Though Trubisky will get the first-team reps this spring, Williams is expected to return as the starter when he is healthy come fall camp.

Even beyond the top tier, a quarterback such as Chad Voytik will have a chance to improve under new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

“He’s probably one of the most impressive guys in our morning runs,” coach Pat Narduzzi said of Voytik. “People talk about Tyler Boyd and James Conner. That’s maybe one of the forgotten guys. Chad Voytik is a heck of a football player. He’s a competitor.”

And at Virginia, the Hoos are going into the spring without a quarterback controversy for the first time in five years. Greyson Lambert returns as the starter, with Matt Johns right behind him.

“This is the first time in a long time you have two guys who have played, and they played pretty good opponents, kept us in some close games and they both have stats,” London said. “If you look at the rest of the league, we probably have the most experienced 1-2 quarterback duo coming back, and that has to be a positive for us.”

London is close. Louisville and Syracuse have three players with at least one career start, thanks to injuries at the position a year ago. But unlike Syracuse, which will go with healthy Terrel Hunt as its starter, Louisville has declared an open quarterback competition.

Will Gardner (seven starts) will miss the spring, leaving Reggie Bonnafon (five starts), Kyle Bolin (one start) and Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson to get the majority of the reps.

Two more teams will have open competitions this spring: Florida State (Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino, De'Andre Johnson) and Boston College (Darius Wade, Troy Flutie). The Seminoles have at least had stability at the position under Jimbo Fisher, who is on the verge of producing his third straight first-round pick at quarterback.

BC, meanwhile, will start its third quarterback in three seasons under Steve Addazio.

“No matter what you do, your quarterback doesn’t have any experience, and that’s our job. We have to find the guy that’s going to be the best leader for this football team,” Addazio said. “For me to tell you I know that’s going to happen at a high, high level next year? I can’t say that because that position is tough. But that’s our job. To get the next guy in line and to get the most out of that guy. Whoever that guy is, we’re going to make the most mature that we can make him in the shortest amount of time.”

Unlike last year, that is a problem only a few teams have to deal with this spring.
Spring football is off and running at several ACC schools, with many more set to kick things off in the coming days and weeks. There is no shortage of storylines throughout the league, but here are the questions that stand out above all else:

1. Does the ACC have an embarrassment of quarterback riches? It's not every day a league can withstand losing a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to the pros (more on FSU later), but the ACC has a ton of talent coming back under center in 2015. Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, NC State, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest all return players who started at quarterback in 2014. Thomas Sirk is the frontrunner at Duke, and he saw extended time last year as a change-of-pace quarterback, too. Then there's Clemson and North Carolina, whose talented signal-callers from last fall will miss this spring, giving others a chance to prove themselves and build depth. Which brings us to …

2. What about the No. 2 quarterbacks? Deshaun Watson may be way ahead of schedule in his recovery from ACL surgery, as Dabo Swinney said Friday, and we all know what the sophomore is capable of when he is healthy. But this spring will see others get a chance at Clemson, as last year's No. 3 signal-caller, Nick Schuessler, leads a trio of quarterbacks that includes early enrollees Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel. At North Carolina, meanwhile, the Tar Heels will have to go through spring drills without starter Marquise Williams, who is sidelined with a hip injury. That means Mitch Trubisky, who split time with Williams in the early part of the 2014 season, will run the first team this spring.

3. How does FSU replace Jameis? More quarterback talk, you say? Why of course! Florida State lost just one game in two years with Jameis Winston as its starter, so replacing him is no easy task. Sean Maguire is back after an uneven performance in his lone start last year, but he will have to battle it out with redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino, a former ESPN four-star prospect, and early enrollee De'Andre Johnson, another four-star prospect.

[+] EnlargePat Narduzzi
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPat Narduzzi spent the past eight seasons as Michigan State's defensive coordinator.
4. What does Narduzzi bring to Pitt? There is just one new head coach in the ACC this time around. And, once again, he resides in the Steel City. Pat Narduzzi is the fourth different head coach to open a spring in Pittsburgh since 2010, but he walks into a pretty good situation. The Panthers boast junior studs in James Conner and Tyler Boyd on offense, and Narduzzi's defensive roots should prove valuable to a Panthers unit that struggled down the stretch last season.

5. How will BC's offensive makeover look? Few coaches have had as much early success at new stops as Steve Addazio has had at Boston College, taking a two-win team from 2012 to consecutive 7-6 seasons. In 2013, he rode Heisman finalist running back Andre Williams to a strong finish. In 2014, he relied on dual-threat transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy. This season Addazio promoted receivers coach Todd Fitch to offensive coordinator after Ryan Day left for the Philadelphia Eagles, and he is looking for a more balanced attack. This could be more challenging considering he'll be without a senior signal-caller for the first time.

6. Will early enrollees make an impact? We already mentioned Johnson at FSU, but five-star safety Derwin James could have an easier path to the field, given the Seminoles' openings in the secondary. So, too, could five-star receiver George Campbell. Similar circumstances at North Carolina could allow four-star linebacker Andre Smith to start early, especially on a Tar Heels defense that had a staff makeover and is in need of a massive turnaround from 2014.

7. Can Clemson's defense again be dominant? The Tigers boasted the nation's No. 1 defense last season, but they said goodbye to plenty of talent. Coordinator Brent Venables will have his work cut for him, but bringing back Shaq Lawson, D.J. Reader, Ben Boulware, Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse is certainly a good starting point for a team that appears to be the early league frontrunner in 2015.

8. Will Louisville keep it going defensively? The Cardinals' defense was one of the bigger surprise of 2014, Bobby Petrino's first year back with the program. But all of those playmakers came from the past regime, and Petrino will be counting on transfers with troubled pasts to pitch in this year: former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, former Georgia corner Shaq Wiggins and former TCU linebacker Devonte Fields.

9. Can Miami take advantage of the talent at its disposal? Brad Kaaya, Joseph Yearby, Gus Edwards and Stacy Coley give the Hurricanes a great starting point this spring. But Miami likely has to figure out its retooling offensive line in order to take advantage of its weapons. Questions on how this team went 6-7 last year continue to mount, and now will be as good of a time as any for the Canes to get things going and change the conversation.

10. Will Notre Dame get a quarterback answer? The Irish's inaugural year of quasi-ACC membership helped bring us arguably the game of the year, at Florida State. This year the Irish, who return 19 starters, will face six ACC teams, including contests against potential division frontrunners Clemson and Georgia Tech. But who is directing the offense under center will likely be determined this spring, as Everett Golson and Malik Zaire will battle it out after splitting reps in Notre Dame's bowl win over LSU. There is also always the chance that Golson, who said he graduates this spring, could transfer and play his fifth season elsewhere this fall.
What does it say about the ACC that the Power 5 coach rankings of the worst jobs included five schools from the conference?

It says coaching in the ACC does not exactly qualify as a cakewalk, given the challenges schools such as Boston College, Syracuse, Duke and Wake Forest face on a daily basis.

Rather than describing them as the "worst" jobs, we can acknowledge that these four programs present tough jobs for any head coach. They are all private, all relatively small with small stadiums and all in catch-up mode with their facilities. Perhaps the rankings speak more to the jobs Steve Addazio and David Cutcliffe have done, winning at places deemed so difficult. Scott Shafer took his Orange to a bowl game in 2013 too.

Their placement in the bottom tier was not completely surprising, though Duke at No. 58 overall seemed low. The biggest surprise was Virginia ranked among the worst jobs in the Power 5 conferences, at No. 51.

You are going to have a hard time convincing me Oregon State, Minnesota and Illinois are better jobs. Same goes for Kentucky and several others ranked a little higher.

On paper, Virginia has many advantages. There are ways to recruit top talent from the area, which produces ESPN 300 players year in and year out. The campus and academics are huge selling points, the facilities are good, and Virginia has a strong track record of placing guys into the NFL. Plus, the Cavaliers are in the easier division in the ACC, which means winning the conference is a little less challenging than it is for Atlantic Division teams.

Despite those advantages, Virginia hasn't thrived as a football program in recent times, with zero ACC championship game appearances and zero 10-win seasons since 1989. While in-state rival Virginia Tech has flourished, Virginia has been an underachiever. Due to that, the job has been downgraded in the rankings.

There is some logic to that evaluation. Winning should make a job more desirable. Would Baylor or TCU have been a Top-30 job 20 years ago? Would Miami have been a lower-tier, Top-25 job 20 years ago?

But winning cannot be the only factor taken into consideration. Virginia is brimming with potential, which makes the job appealing in many ways. It's certainly more appealing than No. 51 out of 65 Power 5 programs.

Best of the combine: ACC

February, 24, 2015
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Now that the NFL combine has wrapped up, let us take a quick look at how prospects from across the ACC fared.

First, here are the top overall performances, regardless of position, in the seven drills players are asked to complete:

40-yard dash
3. Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami, 4.33
7. Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State, 4.38

Bench press
1. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami, 37
t3. Vic Beasley, LB, Clemson, 35
t3. Sean Hickey, OL, Syracuse, 35
9. Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State, 32
t13. Cameron Erving, OL, Florida State, 30

Vertical jump
t7. Darby, 41.5
11. Beasley, 41

Broad jump
4. P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State, 11
t8. Beasley, 10-10

3-cone drill
6. Dorsett, 6.7
13. Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest, 6.79

20-yard shuttle
2. Johnson, 3.89
10. Garry Peters, CB, Clemson, 4.00
12. Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson 4.03

60-yard shuttle
t4. Peters, 11.10

Other notes:
  • Florida State running back Karlos Williams posted a 40-time of 4.48, ranking No. 2 among all running backs. Other top times among backs from the ACC: Duke Johnson ran a 4.54 and Michael Dyer ran a 4.58. After an impressive showing, count Williams as a "sleeper" running back prospect. His Speed Score was the best in the group.
  • Beasley and Anthony had impressive performances in Indianapolis. Not only did Beasley show out on the bench press and vertical jump, he ran the top 40-time among linebackers, clocking a 4.53. Anthony was third at the position, in 4.56, giving the Tigers two of the top three fastest linebacker prospects. In all, Beasley had the top performances at linebacker in the 40, bench press, 3-cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle, making him an instant riser.
  • Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby had a great weekend, and now buzz is starting to build about his potential as a Top 40 prospect.
  • Meanwhile, quarterback Jameis Winston did not blow anybody away with his 40 time, but he was not expected to. ESPN's John Clayton believes Winston "appears to be a lock" to go No. 1 overall to Tampa Bay. Todd McShay writes that Winston impressed during his interviews, but didn't make any guarantees about where the quarterback will end up.
  • Louisville cornerback Charles Gaines had a great 40-time as well, at 4.44, and made it onto this SI.com list as a riser after his combine performance.

ACC's most intriguing: Nos. 21-25

February, 23, 2015
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We're still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC that are already big stories. With that in mind, we're counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason -- from players to coaches to administrators -- and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. First up, numbers 21 through 25.

21. Josh Sweat

Role: Defensive end, Florida State

[+] EnlargeJosh Sweat
Tom Hauck for Student SportsJosh Sweat, FSU's top recruit from the 2015 class, could see some playing time as a starter on the defensive line this fall.
Intrigue: Jimbo Fisher brought in another impressive haul of recruits for 2015, including three of the top 11 in the ESPN 300. While many freshmen could make an instant impact for FSU this season, Sweat might be the most interesting because he's at a position where the Seminoles have a glaring need following the departures of Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman from the defensive line. Sweat enrolled early, but he's also still recovering from a serious knee injury suffered last September.

Potential impact: Last season, Florida State had the fourth-worst sack rate of any Power 5 school, mustering just 17 in 14 games. Meanwhile, the run defense has allowed a higher yards-per-carry in each of the past three seasons. Add to that the departure of last year's top two defensive linemen, and there's a gaping need up front without a lot of obvious frontrunners for jobs. If Sweat can rehab the knee and get comfortable in the defense this spring, he could easily challenge for a starting job in fall camp.

22. Stacy Coley

Role: Wide receiver, Miami

Intrigue: When the 2013 season ended, Coley looked like he might be the next big star at Miami. Instead, 2014 was a disaster, and the sophomore finished with just 23 catches for 184 yards and no touchdowns. As Brad Kaaya gets set for his sophomore campaign at QB without veterans Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett to help him out, Coley needs to show he can regain his rookie form and blossom into a weapon once again for Miami.

Potential impact: Injuries and a new QB help explain some of Coley's downfall last season, but his momentous decline in performance remains something of a mystery. Still, there's no ignoring how good he was as a true freshman, and if he can get back to that level of production, Kaaya's development offers a lot of encouragement for just how dangerous the Miami passing attack could be in 2015.

23. Taquan Mizzell

Role: Running back, Virginia

Intrigue: Mizzell arrived at UVA as one of Mike London's most heralded offensive recruits, but after two years on the field, his impact still hasn't been all that significant. He made strides as a sophomore in 2014, but with the departures of Kevin Parks and a host of receivers, Mizzell's all-purpose skill set won't just be a luxury this season. He needs to blossom into a star.

Potential impact: Mizzell was one of just four ACC backs to rack up 250 rushing and 250 receiving yards last season. His 39 receptions were the most in the league by a running back, but his 4.4 yards-per-rush average ranked just 25th among ACC tailbacks. He's clearly a weapon on offense for the Hoos, but Mizzell needs to flash more elusiveness out of the backfield to blossom into a true star.

24. Terrel Hunt

Role: Quarterback, Syracuse

Intrigue: All offseason last year, the talk was that Hunt had developed into a leader, built off his late-season success in 2013 and was ready for a breakout campaign. Then he was tossed from the opener for throwing a punch, struggled through much of the early season, went down with an injury in Week 6 and missed the rest of the season. Without him, however, Syracuse's QB play went from bad to abysmal. So is he still the Orange's best hope or is Scott Shafer better off handing the passing game over to AJ Long or another young QB?

Potential impact: At this point, perhaps we've seen enough of Hunt to get too excited about what he might provide this season, but there's still that glimmer of hope he can put things all together. Coaches still applaud his work ethic, and his athleticism has never been a question. If he can stay healthy and improve his mechanics, he at least offers Syracuse a chance to move the football on offense -- something it wasn't able to do at all once Hunt went down in 2014.

25. Dave Clawson

Role: Head coach, Wake Forest

Intrigue: It's Year 2 for the coach with arguably one of the toughest jobs in college football, and the strides Wake made in 2014 weren't always easy to see. Still, the fact the Demon Deacons played a number of close games was evidence Clawson has his team's attention, and as he gets more and more of his own players in house, there's plenty of curiosity about how far he can take the Deacons in 2015.

Potential impact: Wake isn't going to challenge for a division title, but as the offensive skill positions gain some depth and the line gets stronger, Clawson's vision is beginning to take shape. If the Deacons play with the same tenacity in 2015 that they did last season, they're certainly capable of shaking things up across the ACC and pulling off a handful of upsets.
When Dave Clawson took the head-coaching job at Wake Forest last year, he knew it would be a massive rebuilding project Insider. His roster lacked any experienced talent at the offensive skill positions. His offensive line was woefully undersized. His recruiting base was dominated by bigger schools, spending more money. There was, he believed, a plan to turn Wake into a winner, but it would be a long and treacherous road. When the Demon Deacons finished 1-7 in ACC play in 2014, most chalked it up as a surprisingly successful first step.

When Jimbo Fisher took over for legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 2010, the path to rebuilding a winner wasn’t nearly as tough. The Seminoles had tradition and money and a passionate alumni base, and once Fisher got the right staff in place he made an instant impact on the recruiting trail and won a division title in his first season. Still, by the time he finished the 2012 campaign with FSU’s first ACC championship in seven years, a vocal contingent of the fan base remained dubious that Fisher was the right man for the job. They’d hoped for more, and a 12-2 record was labeled something of a disappointment.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsIs Dave Clawson's job at Wake Forest tougher than Jimbo Fisher's at Florida State? Depends on your perspective.
Pinpointing the toughest coaching job in the ACC is really a matter of semantics. At Wake, resources are thin but expectations are modest. A coach gets time to build. At Florida State, there are ample tools to create a juggernaut, but the fan base doesn’t accept excuses when winning doesn’t come quickly. The difficulty of the job is really in the eye of the beholder.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for debate between those two counterpoints, too.

David Cutcliffe took over a Duke program that had spent the previous 15 years as one of the worst teams in the FBS, but he slowly rebuilt the on-field product, pushed for more investment and led the charge for stadium upgrades and now the Blue Devils have played in three straight bowl games. What was once universally considered one of the toughest jobs in college football now looks like a pretty cushy gig.

At Miami, Al Golden is living the alternate side of that story. The Hurricanes were a powerhouse for two decades, but, after an extended dry spell marred by an NCAA investigation, piecing together a consistent winner at Miami has proved to be an arduous project. The Canes have brought in talent, including potentially three first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft, but Golden has just a .500 record in ACC play to show for it, and the fan base is understandably restless.

Places such as Syracuse and Boston College have rich football traditions, but geography makes recruiting a tougher task. North Carolina and Virginia have resources and more fertile recruiting bases, but they’ve combined for just three ACC titles since 1980, and none in the past 20 years.

Deciding on the ACC’s toughest job is really about where the line between expectations and opportunity converge. At places such as Wake and Syracuse, no doubt more legwork is required to simply get to a bowl game. At Florida State and Miami, finding the talent is easy but meeting the lofty expectations that come with it can be a challenge.

It’s fair to say most coaches would prefer the latter problem, of course, and there’s a reason FSU is a destination job while Syracuse is more likely a place to get fired or a steppingstone to a better gig. But sometimes it’s simply about finding the right fit. Cutcliffe has said he hopes never to leave Duke -- a job most coaches would’ve run from screaming a decade ago. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to four straight 10-win seasons, but when he was rumored to be a candidate for the Florida job in December, he didn’t deny he might someday move on from Death Valley for the right opportunity elsewhere. The best jobs are often a matter of perspective, too.

In the end, a great coach finds a way to mine for resources, even in less fertile areas. He wins enough that expectations climb, even in places where winning had been an afterthought for years. At Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer is an institution -- the man responsible for building the program over the course of three decades. That success helped him snag a top-25 recruiting class this year, and it also has the fan base up in arms after three straight subpar seasons.

In other words, it’s not as much about the job as it is about the coach. Clawson hasn’t shied away from the task at hand. Instead, he has embraced the difficulty of winning at Wake Forest. And one year after Fisher was criticized for failing to meet expectations in 2012, he won a national title at Florida State with one of the most dominant teams in recent history.

Every job has its challenges, but the right coach finds a way to meet them regardless.

ACC morning links

February, 23, 2015
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Over the last five NFL drafts, the ACC has the second-most picks (169), second only to the SEC. Based on the showings of several players from the ACC at the NFL combine over the weekend, the conference has a chance at a half-dozen first-round picks in 2015, if not more.

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was the most anticipated combine participant from the ACC since, well, last year. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner opened his news conference with reporters admitting he made mistakes at FSU, but he reportedly impressed several teams during his interviews -- with both his answers to questions about his past and his football intellect in whiteboard sessions. It's hardly a surprise Winston excelled, as he has lost a public speaking engagement about as often as he lost games.

Winston was spectacular as a passer Insider and left no doubt his skill set translates well to the NFL.

While Winston stole the headlines, there were several other former ACC stars who improved their draft stocks as well. Former Clemson defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley was the big winner Sunday, putting together one of the best performances for a linebacker. There has been talk that Beasley is a fringe NFL defensive end and fringe NFL linebacker. Beasley added weight and measured at 246 pounds, but he did it while keeping his athleticism and speed. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds 35 times, which were tops among both defensive linemen and linebackers. According to Clemson's athletic department, no linebacker has done that since NFL.com began listing combine results in 2006.

Former Virginia defensive end Eli Harold, like Beasley, is looked at as a hybrid, too. He posted a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash. Mario Edwards Jr., formerly of Florida State, showed he could also play two positions: defensive end and defensive tackle.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pound DeVante Parker, formerly of Louisville, made a case to be the top receiver taken with a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash.

Once again, Apr. 30 could be a solid showing for the ACC.

Here are a few more links for your Monday.

ACC morning links

February, 18, 2015
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This may be the offseason, but nobody is off in college football.

As proof, schools have taken to social media to show us exactly what their players are up to.

Clemson posted a video on its Instagram account showing a 5:30 a.m. workout.

#ALLIN #Clemson

A video posted by Clemson Football (@clemsonfb) on



At North Carolina, Blue Dawn is back -- the catchy phrase given to early conditioning workouts under Larry Fedora.



Wake Forest and Syracuse had their players up before dark, too. Syracuse even tagged its tweets #6AM.



Meanwhile, Pitt offensive line coach John Peterson reminded everybody via Twitter that players were set to begin their mat drills early Wednesday morning.

Of course, a few teams already have opened spring practice. Miami became the latest Tuesday. Though the practice was closed, quarterback Brad Kaaya told The Miami Herald in an interview last week that his main goal is to make sure he is leading a united team. There are now signs in the Miami locker room that read, "Cliques Kill."

Though nobody inside Miami has gone into much detail about team chemistry last season, dealing with a fractured locker room may help explain some of the issues the Hurricanes encountered toward the end of the season. It is not too difficult to read between the lines in the Kaaya comments to understand the team was splintered. This quote says it all: “You can’t have guys being outliers and kind of keeping to themselves or saying things under their breath. ... I feel like at times last year it was an offense and defense playing against our opponent, as opposed to the Miami Hurricanes playing against them."

Miami, it seems, has more than X's and O's to figure out.

Elsewhere across the ACC:

Spring reset: ACC quarterback

February, 17, 2015
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This could be the year of the quarterback in the ACC with starters returning at the majority of schools across the league.

But there are some programs that will have a bit of intrigue at the quarterback spot this spring. Here is a quick spring reset at where the signal-callers stand at each ACC school.

The incumbents
The skinny: These six are the unquestioned starters at their respective schools. Even Lambert, marking the first time in five springs Virginia has a set quarterback headed into the spring. Though Matt Johns is sure to get a look, Lambert is expected to start the season if healthy. Same goes for the other five, who appear to have a stronghold on their respective starting jobs.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtThe backup quarterback position is key to watch during Clemson's spring practices as Deshaun Watson sits out to rehab his injured knee.
The injured incumbent
The skinny: With Watson out during spring practice while he rehabs a knee injury, true freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel will get reps with Nick Schuessler as they compete to become the backup to Watson. Schuessler, a former walk-on, was the No. 3 quarterback last season. Bryant and Tucker enrolled early and are in for spring, great news for a program that has faced depth issues at the position since last fall. The backup job is an important one at Clemson, with Watson coming off a major knee injury. Whomever wins the backup job could be pressed into action early.

The returning starters*
The skinny: Why an asterisk? There is a chance some of these players end up losing their starting job if the competition is fierce enough during the spring and into the fall. All three go into the spring as the starter. They each are the most experienced quarterbacks on their respective rosters. But ...

At Syracuse, Hunt is coming off a broken leg and will face competition from AJ Long and Austin Wilson. Long and Wilson both played last season after Hunt went out, giving the coaching staff much more to work with this spring.

At Wake Forest, coach Dave Clawson said Wolford will get the first-team reps but his quarterback will have to win the starting job again after the Deacs signed two highly touted prep quarterbacks -- Kendall Hinton and Kyle Kearns.

At Pitt, Voytik will have to learn a new system and face new competition from Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman. While Voytik is expected to keep his starting job, there are no guarantees here, either.

The new starter
The skinny: Sirk has taken first-team reps so far this spring as he works to replace two-year starter Anthony Boone. Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre have provided competition but coach David Cutcliffe has already declared Sirk the starter.

The open competitions

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire will enter the spring practice session as the backup QB with the most experience at FSU.
Boston College: Darius Wade, Troy Flutie. Wade is the favorite to win the starting job, but Flutie is expected to get a fair shake. This is what coach Steve Addazio had to say about both during his signing day news conference: "Darius Wade has got a great arm and he throws the ball extremely well. Troy Flutie is a great anticipator, which is a unique quality to have as a quarterback. He does a great job anticipating guys coming out of their breaks. He doesn't have to see them open. So both of those guys have unique tools and both are very athletic."

Florida State: Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino. One of the most anticipated competitions in the entire country will take place in Tallahassee, where Jimbo Fisher must replace Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Maguire served as the backup last season, but that does not necessarily make him the favorite to win the job. Cosentino came in last year as an ESPN 300 prospect and redshirted. Fisher said true freshmen De'Andre Johnson and Deondre Francois -- both ESPN 300 players -- will also get a shot. Johnson is already in for spring.

Louisville: Reggie Bonnafon, Tyler Ferguson, Kyle Bolin. With Will Gardner out for spring and no timetable set for his return after another major knee injury, the Cardinals are expected to have a heated open competition in the spring between Bonnafon, Ferguson and Bolin. Bonnafon played as a true freshman last season and showed some promise before getting injured late in the year. Bolin was then forced to play with Bonnafon and Gardner out. Though he led a comeback win over Kentucky, he was not nearly as effective in the bowl game against Georgia. Ferguson transferred from Penn State and sat out last season, and could end up being the wild card in the group.

ACC morning links

February, 17, 2015
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The NFL combine officially begins Tuesday, with over 300 NFL hopefuls set to be poked, prodded, questioned, timed and tested.

As has been the case in recent years, more prospects are invited than will get drafted, but everybody has a shot at either helping -- or potentially hurting -- themselves. This year, the ACC has 57 players represented -- including 12 from Florida State and 11 from Louisville. Those numbers do not come as much of a surprise.

This one does: Duke, which has had four players drafted since 2000, has four players at the combine -- Anthony Boone, Jamison Crowder, Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield. Crowder turned heads at the Senior Bowl, and he discussed his NFL potential in an insightful diary entry he wrote for USA Today.

Meanwhile, Mike Huguenin of NFL.com lists DeVante Parker and Phillip Dorsett as receivers to watch during the combine. Dorsett, who has the potential to clock the fastest 40 time at the combine, has risen up draft boards along with teammates Denzel Perryman and Ereck Flowers. In all, eight Miami players will be at the combine -- proof the talent is still there in Coral Gables.

One more player to watch is Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, rated the No. 2 cornerback available by ESPN's Kevin Weidl, ahead of P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Weidl says Johnson, "has the most natural man coverage skills in this year's class."

But of course, the biggest story headed into Indianapolis is Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who has become the popular name atop mock drafts across various publications. Mike Mayock of NFL Network says he expects Winston to go first overall to Tampa Bay despite off-the-field concerns. Of course, we are only at the beginning of the draft process, and small things end up getting blown out of proportion. Winston will be scrutinized until draft day and beyond.

As if anybody needed proof, check what happened this past weekend. Winston became the subject of Twitter speculation when a photo of him was posted that made him look overweight. Turns out that the photo was a month old and showed Winston with a black band tied tightly across his waist. No matter what he looks like, his quarterback coach, George Whitfield, said Winston has not yet decided whether to throw at the combine.

Stay tuned.

Elsewhere across the ACC:

ACC morning links

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
9:00
AM ET
Because most teams won’t start spring practice for a few more weeks, we’re in the season of list-making, and Bleacher Report has an interesting rundown of its top weapons in college football.

The list includes 25 players, with just three coming from the ACC: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas and Florida State RB Dalvin Cook.

It’s tough to argue with those selections. If we’re making a list of ACC player of the year candidates, those would certainly be among the favorites. Having said that, there are plenty of other big-time playmakers around the league.

Obviously Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Tyler Boyd warrant mentioning, while Miami’s Brad Kaaya, UNC’s Ryan Switzer and Clemson’s Artavis Scott and Mike Williams all are emerging stars.

But looking a bit deeper, here are a few more names who figure to be legitimate weapons around the ACC in 2015…

QB: North Carolina’s Marquise Williams was terrific last season, and he’s poised to be even better this year with a more established O-line and some talented receivers to work with. After Mitch Trubisky was shuffled to the bench full-time starting in October, Williams racked up 25 touchdowns. Only five Power 5 QBs had more, and four of them finished in the top 10 in Heisman balloting.

RB: NC State’s Matt Dayes didn’t get a full workload last season, and that might not change dramatically in 2015, but when it comes to all-around weapons, he’s one of the ACC’s best. Dayes was the only player in college football last season to tally at least 300 yards rushing, receiving, and on returns while scoring at least 10 touchdowns. In the last decade, just 14 others have done that, and the list includes some big names such as Reggie Bush, DeMarco Murray, C.J. Spiller, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Maurice Jones-Drew and Jeremy Maclin.

WR: Florida State’s Travis Rudolph averaged 15 yards per catch last season, the sixth-best total among returning ACC receivers, as a true freshman. He improved dramatically as the year went along, catching 11 passes for 136 yards in the ACC Championship Game and Rose Bowl.

TE: Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges is as big a mismatch on offense as any team will have this season. The Hokies used him as a traditional tight end, split him out wide and lined him up in the Wildcat routinely last year. He was among the ACC’s top red-zone targets, and only Wake’s Cam Serigne had more catches among returning Power 5 tight ends.

And while Bleacher Report’s list included just one full-time defensive player, FSU’s Jalen Ramsey, Duke's Jeremy Cash, Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander, Virginia’s Quin Blanding, Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins all warrant discussion, too.

A few more links:
The ACC bucked the odds this offseason, with just one program changing head coaches -- and that one came because Paul Chryst landed a better gig at Wisconsin. In other words, none of the league's 14 coaches were axed, which is really an accomplishment.

Football Scoop looks at the tenure of each FBS head coach, and it’s noteworthy that 15 of the 128 schools have hired new coaches in the last three months, and 82 of them have hired a new head coach in the last three years. Just 36 coaches in the country will be entering Year 6 at the same school in 2015, and six of them are in the ACC.

Here’s the conference breakdown on FBS coaches who have survived beyond five years:

ACC: 6
SEC: 6
Big 12: 6
Conference USA: 5
Big 10: 3
Independent: 3
American: 2
Sun Belt: 2
Pac 12: 1
MAC: 1
Mountain West: 1

(*Coaches whose teams have switched leagues since being hired are listed in their current conference)

The Roanoke Times puts the tenure of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer in graph form, and it’s pretty jarring.

Beamer was hired to coach the Hokies in 1986. The next longest-tenured coaches were hired 12 years later. Twelve! And he’s one of just three coaches that were hired in the 20th century.

Of course, Beamer’s job security is a growing concern in Blacksburg, but he’s not the only ACC coach with pressure building.

The Times’ graph reveals something pretty interesting: Current coaching tenures peak at three years, with a relatively stark drop-off after that and a huge drop-off after Year 5.

It used to be that five-year plans were the norm for coaches. It gave them a year to take stock of a program and four years to get recruits through the ringer. But these days, three years is more of the status quo, with the pressure being ratcheted up big time in Year 4. Year 5 is essentially do-or-die.

And that brings us to our ACC hot seats.

Chryst would’ve been entering his fourth season, and while he brought some talent into Pitt, he didn’t exactly reinvigorate the program. He may have been wise to get while the getting was good.

Larry Fedora is in Year 4 at North Carolina, and his tenure has been a mixed bag. He’s gotten the Heels off to a brutal start in each of the last two years, and his 2014 defense was abysmal. He brought in Gene Chizik to fix those problems this year, but another 6-6 regular season for UNC — even with the NCAA investigation ongoing — could be a big problem.

At Miami, Al Golden is in Year 5, and he’s trending in the wrong direction. Yes, Miami has weathered the NCAA storm, but after a 20-11 start to his career, Miami is just 8-11 in its last 19 games, and fans are growing frustrated.

In other words, patience is thinner than it’s ever been in college football, and while the ACC has largely bucked that trend with Beamer, Dabo Swinney, Paul Johnson, Mike London, Jimbo Fisher and David Cutcliffe — all on the job more than five years now — no one is immune to the changing landscape.

A few more links:
  • Football Scoop also has a story on coaches looking to do away with signing day altogether, with Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson helping to lead the charge.
  • Bleacher Report has a story on the emergence of “free agency” in college football, with former FSU QB Jacob Coker highlighted. ESPN’s Andrea Adelson looked at a few transfers poised to make an impact in the ACC this coming season.
  • Former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is Mel Kiper’s No. 1 overall pick in his latest mock draft, with seven other ACC players going in the first round — including three from Miami.
  • Rick Trickett has his work cut out for him in rebuilding Florida State’s O line this year, but the Tallahassee Democrat writes that he’s already built the relationships to make it happen.
  • David Cutcliffe is searching for playmakers on both sides of the line of scrimmage, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Matt Colburn calls his chance to play at Wake Forest “a blessing” after being spurned by Louisville, writes The State.
  • Boston College is stealing a bit from our favorite sports doc series for its online recruiting, writes BC Interruption.
  • Syracuse.com discusses whether it’s smart to install Terrel Hunt, once again, as the Orange’s starting quarterback. As we noted in our quarterback column this week though, it’s not as though any of his back ups offered much reason for change in 2014.
  • Georgia Tech got its first commitment for 2016, as From the Rumble Seat notes.
  • Former Maryland head coach and ACC coach of the year, Ralph Friedgen, has stepped down as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator, writes USA Today.

 

ACC's second-half stars

February, 11, 2015
Feb 11
3:00
PM ET
This week, we looked at the second-half performances for the ACC’s quarterbacks. Now, we’ll dig into a few of the other top performances from returning players around the league.

Running backs

James Conner, Pittsburgh: No surprise that the ACC’s player of the year was really good down the stretch, but it’s worth noting that by Game 6, Conner’s performance was starting to lag because of the a heavy early workload. But after a bye, he came back strong, averaging 6.3 yards per rush (up from 5.6 in the first half) and scoring 17 times on the ground.

Dalvin Cook, Florida State: It was in FSU’s sixth game of the year against Syracuse that Cook finally got a long look, getting 23 carries and rushing for 122 yards, and though he still shared time with Karlos Williams after that, he quickly emerged as one of the nation’s best young runners. In the second half of the season, Cook averaged 6.2 yards per rush and had 27 carries of 10 yards or more (seventh among Power 5 backs), totaling 925 yards from scrimmage -- just 16 shy of Conner’s tally.

Wayne Gallman, Clemson: The Tigers’ ground game was abysmal in first half of the season. Set aside the big day against FCS South Carolina State, and Clemson ranked 102nd nationally in rushing per game (116) and 115th in yards per carry (2.8). But things improved down the stretch, even without star quarterback Deshaun Watson, thanks largely to Gallman. His 610 rushing yards in the second half of the season ranked fifth in the ACC, and his 18.3 rushes per game ranked third behind only Conner and Duke Johnson. On 128 second-half carries, Gallman didn’t fumble once.

Of note: Just 5.4 percent of Shaquille Powell's rushes in the second half went for a loss or no gain, the second-lowest rate in the league. Virginia Tech's J.C. Coleman ended the season with four straight games of 95 yards rushing or better. North Carolina’s T.J. Logan carried 86 times in the second half, and 44.2 percent went for at least 5 yards. Only Pitt’s Conner and Chris James had a better rate among ACC running backs.

Receivers and tight ends

Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: His 833 receiving yards in the latter half of the season ranked eighth nationally, and his 48 catches ranked 12th. As Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik got more seasoning, Boyd was the benefactor, hauling in 112 yards or more in five of his last six games. He was one of just seven receivers to rack up five 100-yard games in the season’s second half. More impressive is that Boyd did it without a legitimate No. 2 option. He accounted for a whopping 48 percent of Pitt’s receptions and 58 percent of its receiving yards in the second half, both easily the highest rates in the country.

Artavis Scott, Clemson: Would you believe a true freshman playing with a struggling quarterback had as many receptions in the second half of the season as Boyd? That’s true of Scott, who caught 48 balls from Game 7 on, trailing only Rashad Greene and Jamison Crowder in the ACC, and his five receiving touchdowns trailed only Miami’s Phillip Dorsett. The biggest reason for Scott’s success? He had 642 yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Info, which nearly doubled any other ACC receiver.

Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech: No ACC player was targeted more often in the red zone from Week 8 on than Hodges (10), and his five catches and three touchdowns both ranked second in the conference during that span. He caught 28 balls from Week 8 through the end of the season, the second-most by any Power 5 tight end, trailing only Mackey semifinalist Jimmay Mundine.

Of note: Clemson’s Mike Williams hauled in 29 first downs in the second half of the season, trailing only Boyd among ACC receivers, and 16 of his 17 catches on third or fourth down went for conversions. Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne had six catches and four touchdowns in the red zone, both tops in the ACC. Virginia’s Canaan Severin had nine catches of 20 yards or more, more than any other ACC receiver aside from Boyd.

Defenders

Sheldon Rankins, Louisville: The Cardinals dodged a bullet when Rankins announced he would return for his senior season in 2015. In the second half of last season, he racked up six sacks -- tops in the ACC and 12th among all Power 5 defenders. He also forced a fumble and picked off a pass.

Josh Jones, NC State: The redshirt freshman started the final five games of the season at strong safety, and not coincidentally, the Wolfpack’s defense improved dramatically, cutting its opponents’ completion percentage from 60 to 49, YPA from 7.0 to 5.9 and creating nine takeaways in five games after racking up just 11 in its first eight. Jones was at the forefront, picking off three passes in those last five games -- the third-most in the nation.

DeVon Edwards, Duke: After a boom-or-bust freshman campaign in 2013, Edwards was productive from the outset in 2014, but his second half was particularly impressive. He racked up an ACC-best 81 tackles during the second half of the season, including double-digit totals in six of Duke’s last seven games, and though his interception total dipped, he did chip in with five tackles for loss down the stretch.

Of note: Virginia Tech’s Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem combined for 18 TFL and 9.5 sacks during the final six games. Wake Forest linebacker Marquel Lee racked up 51 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss and three sacks, during Wake’s final six games. Georgia Tech’s D.J. White had six pass breakups and three interceptions in the latter half of the season, the most total passes defended among ACC defensive backs.
Duke linebacker David Helton was named the winner of the 2014 Jim Tatum Award as the ACC’s top scholar-athlete Wednesday, and the senior was one of 65 players named to the conference’s All-ACC Academic football team.

Helton, who was also an Academic All-American, was joined by Duke teammates Laken Tomlinson and Jeremy Cash, who were both named to All-America teams for their on-field performance as well. Overall, Duke had 13 players earn All-ACC Academic honors, more than any other team in the league. Syracuse had nine, Pitt had eight and Wake Forest had six players.

To be eligible for the ACC’s All-ACC Academic team, a player must have earned a 3.0 GPA or better in the previous academic semester and maintained a 3.0 average over the course their academic career. Overall 128 players were nominated, with 65 winners announced Wednesday. The ACC has selected an All-ACC Academic Football team every year since 1954.

Among the notables on the team were Boston College QB Tyler Murphy, who was one of 12 players to have also earned their undergraduate degree. Clemson receiver Artavis Scott was a Freshman All-American and also earned All-ACC Academic honors. He was joined by fellow freshmen Deshaun Watson, Bo Hines, Shaun Wilson and Travis Rudolph.

Fifteen members of this year’s All-ACC Academic team were repeat winners, including Duke’s DeVon Edwards and Josh Snead, NC State’s Jack Tocho, Pitt’s Ray Vinopal, Wake’s Ryan Janvion and Clemson’s Daniel Rodriguez.

You can view the full roster of All-ACC Academic winners here.
Three-star running back Matt Colburn has landed at Wake Forest, a week after Louisville asked him to delay his enrollment, drawing national headlines.

Colburn made the announcement at his South Carolina high school on Wednesday, and Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson tweeted out the news after the school received his letter of intent.

Colburn drew widespread attention after Tony Grantham told him on Feb. 2 that there was no scholarship available for him in 2015. Instead, he was asked to grayshirt, delaying his enrollment until 2016.

To read Andrea Adelson's full report click here.

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