ACC: West Virginia Mountaineers

Let’s say you’re a hot, up-and-coming head coach in a Group of 5 league. You have job opportunities in every one of the Power 5 conferences. If you’re picking solely based on title path -- the fastest way to the College Football Playoff -- which conference do you choose?

Here's my ranking of every division in the major conferences, going from the most ideal to join as a new coach to the most difficult. Easiest to hardest. (I’m counting the Big 12 as one 10-team division. It’s a reasonable way to view it since, as with the divisions in the other four leagues, everyone plays everyone.)

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

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.

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

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

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

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

"I think the quarterback position has grown in terms of talent over the last few years," said Heaps, who set several freshman records at BYU in 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.

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

On the other side, in the more daunting Atlantic, a pair of second-year coaches are turning to former Gators 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."

Virginia Tech and West Virginia will open the 2017 season against each other at FedEx Field, the home of the Washington Redskins.

The game will take place Sept. 2, 2017, and will be the Hokies' fourth appearance at FedEx Field since 2004 and West Virginia's third since '12. The Mountaineers also will face BYU there on Sept. 24, 2016.

FedEx Field hasn't been kind to the Hokies in recent years, as they have lost to USC (2004), Boise State ('10), and Cincinnati ('12) there.

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Texas and Texas A&M might not be playing one another anytime soon.

But other schools around the league are interested in the prospects of rekindling rivalries that were destroyed by two rounds of conference realignment.

While the Longhorns and Aggies remain at odds, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told this week he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to get Texas A&M on the Red Raiders’ schedule down the line again. Hocutt said there has been interest from Texas A&M’s side, as well.

“Hopefully that’s a series that at some point in time that could start again,” Hocutt said. “Is that a game that won’t happen again? No. We’ve had discussions about it. Hopefully we can reengage that in the coming years.”

Oklahoma and Nebraska already have an agreement in place to play a home-and-home in 2021-22. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel has reportedly said he thinks his school will play Kansas again someday.

And West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, who has already added Penn State and Virginia Tech to future schedules, told he's hopeful he'll be able to revive the “Backyard Brawl” with Pitt at some point, as well.

“At some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule,” Luck said. “What I’m trying to do with our nonconference games is stay as regional as possible and rekindle some of our historical rivalries. Penn State is back on the schedule. Virginia Tech is back on the schedule. That game meant a lot to southern West Virginians. The Pitt game meant a lot to northern West Virginians. We’ve continued to play Pitt in many of the sports.

“We’ve both gone through transitions, so it’s tough schedule-wise for both of us. But I think at some point we’ll get Pitt back on the schedule. I see [Pitt athletic director] Steve Pederson every now and then at various conventions. And we’ve had some discussions about that. We just haven’t been able to really eyeball the proper time to get it going again.”

ACC ESPN 300 analysis 

October, 29, 2013

The ESPN 300 has been updated, and the shine on some of the ACC's best football classes seemingly got another layer of wax. Florida State and Miami benefit from the conference's biggest risers in the ESPN 300, and Virginia Tech saw a commitment and a heavy lean debut in the ESPN 300.

Here's a look at how the updated ESPN 300 impacts the ACC.

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BALTIMORE, Md. -- Maryland coach Randy Edsall would not go so far on Saturday evening as to call his team’s 37-0 shutout of West Virginia a “signature win.”

Good move.

Save that for any potential upsets down the road of Atlantic Division giants Florida State and Clemson.

Instead, call Saturday’s win over the hapless Mountaineers validation. It was proof that Maryland is a team to be taken seriously this year, and that the program has taken significant strides since winning just six games in the past two years. It was further evidence that this is the best team Edsall has had since he was hired in College Park, and that West Virginia -- a program that has historically been a benchmark for the Terps on a national level -- is now the punching bag. It was validation for Edsall, who entered the game 1-8 against West Virginia and has now led the Terps to their first 4-0 start since 2001, the last time they won the ACC and played in the Orange Bowl.

The win against WVU capped a perfect start to a program in desperate need of one.

“It’s big,” said safety A.J. Hendy, who had two fumble recoveries and returned one interception 28 yards for a touchdown. “Only the guys in that locker room thought that we’d be 4-0 at this point. A lot of people doubted us and said we aren’t good enough. I feel like we still have a chip on our shoulder.

[+] EnlargeRandy Edsall
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyRandy Edsall might have his best team since he was hired as Maryland's coach.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve been through a lot. First year, transfers, second year we had a big injury bug at the quarterback position. I feel like through the years we’ve been through so much that it’s only right we start getting some breaks and start winning.”

No. 3 Clemson and No. 8 Florida State have distanced themselves from the rest of the ACC, but Maryland has looked like the Atlantic Division’s third-best team and a program good enough to crack the Top 25. Maryland’s success on Saturday has to be tempered by the very real fact that West Virginia simply isn’t very good -- (“Offensively, we’re as inept as we can possibly be in college football,” said WVU coach Dana Holgorsen.) -- but as far as ACC competition goes, Maryland is good enough to be 6-1 heading into their Oct. 26 home game against Clemson.

“It’s very satisfying,” Edsall said. “We don’t take it lightly, but we know we still have so much ahead we have to accomplish. We can’t just sit here and just think we’ve arrived after four games when we have eight more to go.”

Saturday was a step in the right direction.

Maryland snapped a seven-game losing streak to the Mountaineers and left no doubt it was the better team. West Virginia had as many turnovers (6) as it did first downs. Maryland scored in all three phases of the game. It was Maryland’s largest margin of victory over West Virginia since 1951 and the program’s first shutout since 2008.

“To go out there and get a big win, solidify ourselves, it feels good,” said quarterback C.J. Brown. “We’re very confident as a team. I wouldn’t say cocky. We understand where we’ve been, we’re humble. Where we are right now is completely different from where we were last year.”

The same can be said for West Virginia, which was ranked No. 8 in last year’s 31-21 win. The Mountaineers didn’t even get into the red zone, and completed just 2-of-12 third-down conversions. Everything that went right for Maryland went wrong for West Virginia, even as they traded fumbles.

What Edsall likes best about this team is the fact that it hasn’t reached its peak yet.

“I’m just a firm believer we can be a really good football team,” he said. “There’s things we have to clean up. Again, every game gets a little bit bigger. If we prepare the right way and play hard and take care of the football and do the things that give us a chance, we’re going to continue to be a good football team. But we’re nowhere near where we can be. We still have got a lot of room for improvement. That’s the thing that I like, that these guys are hungry and they want to improve and they’ll do the things we ask to improve.”

If they do, don’t count out the possibility of a signature win.

On an early January day two years ago, West Virginia unleashed an all-out blitz on Clemson in the Orange Bowl, embarrassing the Tigers and the ACC as a whole with a 70-point barrage that still elicits taunts today.

Rather than classify the performance as a farewell from the Big East, people chose to believe West Virginia would be just fine when it began Big 12 play the following September. The Mountaineers had a proud football tradition, filled with recent BCS and Big East championships. They ran an offensive style familiar to the Big 12. They had a head coach with Big 12 ties, too.

What ensued is perhaps a lesson in tempering expectations when making the jump to a more elite league. West Virginia, unprepared to handle the grind of a much more difficult league season, ended up 7-6 -- its worst record since going 3-8 in 2001. It finished in a four-way tie for fifth place, a foreign spot for a program accustomed to dominating its conference.

Now West Virginia may serve as a cautionary tale for the team it faces Saturday: Maryland. If West Virginia, with more recent success than the Terps, struggled in Year 1, what will happen to Maryland in Year 1 in the Big Ten?

What holds true for both West Virginia and Maryland is they have spent the last year celebrating. West Virginia found a viable and strong conference home, avoiding the fate that has befallen old league mates Cincinnati, UConn and USF. Maryland saw a financial windfall in the Big Ten, believing the added dollars can rescue a financially strapped athletic department.

They share much more in common. Both are geographic outliers in their respective conferences, and lag behind with their facilities and on the recruiting trail. West Virginia has not made any significant upgrades to its football stadium since it opened in 1980, for example.

Maryland, meanwhile, will be the only Big Ten team with no indoor practice facility or plans to build one when it joins on July 1, 2014. It also will have one of the smallest football stadiums in its new division.

There is no understating how much improving facilities means in the hypercompetitive collegiate landscape, as schools across the country race to upgrade, build and expand what they offer current players and potential student-athletes.

“We have to look and say what do we need to do to compete?” West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck said. “Our coaches and our fans have had a chance to go out and watch let’s say a Big 12 baseball game in Austin or football or women’s soccer or whatever it would be. They’ll often come back and tell me, ‘I thought we always had good facilities in Morgantown, but boy I was really impressed with X or Y or Z.’ I think that there are some quality programs in our new conference and we have to set those as the bar for what to achieve.”

Oliver Luck
AP Photo/David SmithWest Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck says changing conferences is a mental and physical challenge.
The increased television dollars both programs are set to receive should help with facilities upgrades and, in turn, recruiting. More television exposure -- in particular Maryland with the Big Ten Network -- may even have a direct tie to football success, as more recruits in different areas see their products.

Both Maryland and West Virginia have focused their efforts in roughly the same region in the past. West Virginia, it seems, must turn some of its focus to Texas. Maryland coach Randy Edsall has said his program plans to recruit into the Midwest. Neither rates at the top of their respective conferences in recruiting class rankings.

Where recruiting plays such a large role is building depth. Luck mentioned depth as the one area where West Virginia had a hard time keeping up through last season, saying it seemed as if the elite Big 12 teams have similar depth to an NFL squad.

Perhaps most unforeseen was getting coaches and players to change their mentality. West Virginia had won nine or more games between 2005-2011 in the Big East. It won or shared six league titles since 2003. It made three BCS appearances -- winning all three. Though the old Big East had some good programs, it did not compare to the Big 12 top to bottom.

“It’s adapting to a tougher, more challenging environment. That’s a mental challenge as well as a physical challenge,” Luck said. “You can’t really bring your B or your C game to a Big 12 conference game, you’ve got to bring your A game because there are good teams. There are no gimmes traditionally on the schedule in any one of these sports. That’s a change in mentality.”

Of the Big East teams that switched conferences before 2013, only Virginia Tech saw immediate and sustained success. Miami and Boston College have not.

Programs moving up in conference struggle at the outset more often than not. Texas A&M adjusted well. But Missouri did not. Nebraska has yet to find its championship footing in the Big Ten. Former BCS teams Utah and TCU have struggled, too. Colorado has gotten worse.

Nearly all of these are recent moves, so it is too early to judge. On the surface, it appears West Virginia had to sacrifice its football success in the short term for the good of its overall athletic program. The same fate could very well befall Maryland.

“I haven’t thought much about how long it’s going to take,” Luck said. “I think very often it can be looked at as an excuse, which I don’t want to provide. We need to go about our business the best way we can, adapt as quickly as we can. We’re delighted to be in the conference.”

Maryland is no doubt delighted, too, but the Terps are in a different situation. West Virginia brought a track record of success to the Big 12, along with a name brand and a rather large fan base. The Terps have struggled with that all in the ACC. The hope is that games against the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State will draw more fans and interest.

The flip side, of course, is if Maryland cannot compete, support may turn into greater apathy.

Fans want to cheer a winner. Both programs have hard work ahead to get to that level consistently.

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 5, 2013
Hey there, gang.
Virginia Tech and West Virginia are set to resume their dormant rivalry.

Fans will just have to wait a little bit.

The schools announced Wednesday they will play on Sept. 18, 2021, in Morgantown, W.Va., and then again Sept. 24, 2022 in Blacksburg, Va.

“I am pleased we are able to resume the rivalry between Virginia Tech and West Virginia and have every belief that this rivalry will flourish and be good for college football,” Virginia Tech athletic director Jim Weaver said in a statement.

The two teams have met 51 times but not since 2005. The annual rivalry game when Virginia Tech left the Big East and joined the ACC. West Virginia is no longer in the Big East, either, as it is now a member of the Big 12.

The good news is the Black Diamond Trophy will be on the line when they play again. The Trophy, first awarded in 1997, refers to the region’s history with the coal industry. Virginia Tech currently has possession of the Black Diamond Trophy, and has won six of nine of them overall.
Let’s get this straight: None of these schedules are easy. Lining up against Georgia and South Carolina, though, is a wee bit more difficult than playing La. Tech and Central Michigan. And so we present to you a ranking of the most difficult nonconference schedules in the ACC, starting with the toughest. (Don't worry, you'll get a chance to weigh in later, so check back.)

1. Clemson (vs. Georgia, vs. South Carolina State, vs. The Citadel, at South Carolina):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 71.4 (35-14)
Toughest opponent: South Carolina (11-2)
Weakest opponent: South Carolina State (5-6)
BCS opponents: 2
FCS opponents: 2
2012 bowl teams: 2
Quick take: Having to play two of the top three teams in the SEC East - and one on the road -- buys the Tigers a pass on their two FCS teams.

2. Virginia (vs. BYU, vs. Oregon, vs. VMI, vs. Ball State):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 62 (31-19)
Toughest opponent: Oregon (12-1)
Weakest opponent: VMI (2-9)
BCS opponents: 1
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 3
Quick take: The Cavaliers have the benefit of playing all four games at home, but adding Oregon to the mix earned them the No. 2 spot.

3. Syracuse (vs. Penn State, at Northwestern, vs. Wagner, vs. Tulane):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 58 (29-21)
Toughest opponent: Northwestern (10-3)
Weakest opponent: (Wagner 9-4)
BCS opponents: 2
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 2
Quick take: Two Big Ten opponents make this a legitimately tough schedule, as Northwestern should be one of the best teams in the conference this year.

4. Pittsburgh (vs. New Mexico, vs. Old Dominion, at Navy, vs. Notre Dame):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 67.3 (35-17)
Toughest opponent: Notre Dame (12-1)
Weakest opponent: Old Dominion (11-2)
BCS opponents: 0
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 2
Quick take: The road trip to Navy is actually a bonus because the Panthers travel to Georgia Tech, which is a similar offense, the following week.

5. Virginia Tech (vs. Alabama, vs. Western Carolina, at East Carolina, vs. Marshall):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 54 (27-23)
Toughest opponent: Alabama (13-1)
Weakest opponent: Western Carolina (1-10)
BCS opponents: 1
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 2
Quick take: If it weren’t for the defending national champs, the Hokies would be ranked even lower.

6. Florida State (vs. Nevada, vs. Bethune-Cookman, vs. Idaho, at Florida):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 56 (28-22)
Toughest opponent: Florida (11-2)
Weakest opponent: Bethune-Cookman (9-3)
BCS opponents: 1
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 2
Quick take: The Noles should at least go 3-1 against these opponents, especially with an open date before Nevada, and playing Idaho before travelling to Florida should be a welcome cushion.

7. Georgia Tech (vs. Elon, at BYU, vs. Alabama A&M, vs. Georgia):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 61.2 (30-19)
Toughest opponent: Georgia (12-2)
Weakest opponent: Elon (3-8)
BCS opponents: 1
FCS opponents: 2
2012 bowl teams: 2
Quick take: The road trip to BYU follows a road trip to Miami, but two FCS opponents bumped the Jackets down a notch.

8. North Carolina (at South Carolina, vs. Middle Tennessee, vs. East Carolina, vs. Old Dominion):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 74.5 (38-13)
Toughest opponent: South Carolina (11-2)
Weakest opponent: Old Dominion (11-2)
BCS opponents: 1
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 2
Quick take: Starting off the season with an ESPN-televised Thursday night game at South Carolina is one of the league’s highlights, but the Heels should fare no worse than 3-1.

9. Miami (vs. Florida Atlantic, vs. Florida, vs. Savannah State, at South Florida):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 37.5 (18-30)
Toughest opponent: Florida (11-2)
Weakest opponent: Florida Atlantic (3-9)
BCS opponents: 2
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 1
Quick take: Hardly the gauntlet the Canes have faced in recent years, and never having to leave the state is a big plus.

10. Boston College (vs. Villanova, at USC, Army, at New Mexico State):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 36.7 (18-31)
Toughest opponent: USC (7-6)
Weakest opponent: New Mexico State (1-11)
BCS opponents: 1
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 1
Quick take: Why on earth do the Eagles have to travel across the country twice?

11. Maryland (vs. FIU, vs. Old Dominion, at Connecticut, vs. West Virginia):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 52 (26-24)
Toughest opponent: West Virginia (7-6)
Weakest opponent: Old Dominion (11-2)
BCS opponents: 2
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 1
Quick take: The Terps should trade schedules with Syracuse so they can get a head start on Big Ten competition and Cuse can face familiar foes.

12. Wake Forest: (vs. Presbyterian, vs. Louisiana-Monroe, at Army, at Vanderbilt):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 42.8 (21-28)
Toughest opponent: Vanderbilt (9-4)
Weakest opponent: Presbyterian (2-9)
BCS opponents: 1
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 1
Quick take: Vanderbilt is a much better program under James Franklin, but this is a very manageable schedule.

13. NC State (vs. Louisiana Tech, vs. Richmond, vs. Central Michigan, vs. East Carolina):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 65.3 (32-17)
Toughest opponent: ECU
Weakest opponent: Richmond (8-3)
BCS opponents: 0
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 2
Quick take: First-year coach Dave Doeren has it easy: 4-0 or bust.

14. Duke (vs. NC Central, at Memphis, vs. Troy, vs. Navy):

Opponents’ 2012 combined winning percentage: 47.9 (23-25)
Toughest opponent: Navy (8-5)
Weakest opponent: NC Central (6-5)
BCS opponents: 0
FCS opponents: 1
2012 bowl teams: 1
Quick take: This schedule is conducive to the Blue Devils getting back to a bowl game.

Friday mailblog

January, 25, 2013
Here we go ...

Conor in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Oops... it looks as though Fisher's vague plans for the future of the OC position in regards to play calling has come back to haunt him in the form of a departure from one of the most important recruiters/assistants the Noles had, James Coley. With signing day approaching, do you see this vacancy hindering a strong finish by FSU in recruiting. Also, please give us Seminole fans some hope... do you see a new play caller being hired/named in the near future?

HD: I refuse to try and figure out the minds of teenagers, so I don't know how it will affect their decisions this year. You would think the fact that FSU has lost six assistants would factor into some decisions, but you never know. Jimbo Fisher is still a heckuva closer, but in the future, I think it will definitely have an impact -- unless, of course, Jimbo finds an assistant who can recruit as well, and Billy Napier was certainly a good hire in that regards. The issue of the play calling is critical, and there's little doubt that it will factor into the hire. Who out there would be willing to do all of the other grunt work required by a coordinator, and yet relinquish the power of calling plays? Sometimes it works. It works for Paul Johnson. It wasn't working for Jimbo Fisher.

Jason in Miami, Fla., writes: Coley is a GREAT hire, no doubt. Would have to argue that Cristobal is the bigger hire though. He basically bridged the gap between Golden and Coley.

HD: You might be right. I'd be willing to go with that, but the reason I said Coley was bigger was because Al Golden got him from his rival's staff. That's HUGE. Miami found a way to help itself while giving FSU a kick in the shins. In Jimbo Fisher's words, that's a "double whammy."

Alan Squires in Raleigh, N.C., writes: Hey Heather i was just wondering why Carolina is not getting a little more respect going into next season, i understand that Gio is gone but they have a 4 star running back coming in next year in TJ Logan along with the 2 running backs they had last year coming back, you picked Miami to win the coastal next year and Carolina beat Miami last year, i was just wondering your thoughts on that.Thanks

HD:Yes, you're right, UNC has lots of talent returning, but Miami has more, especially up front on the offensive line. To me the Heels have a lot to prove because of how much they lose on offense and in the return game. It's not just Giovani Bernard, it's his lead blocker -- Outland finalist Jonathan Cooper -- and a total of three starters on the offensive line. And Bernard's impact in the return game was huge. The offensive line will return tackle James Hurst (three-year starter) and center Russell Bodine, but the other three spots will need to be filled. Guard Landon Turner started the last four games after Brennan Williams got hurt. At running back, UNC returns senior A.J. Blue (433 yards, 9 touchdowns) and sophomore Romar Morris (386 yards, 2 touchdowns). They have recruited well at that position, but those guys are unproven.

Trenton Tovar in Nashville, Tenn., writes: Dear Heather,I'm sure you're going to get a lot of emails condemning the NCAA over the Miami investigation, so I want to play devil's advocate and take the NCAA's side. Given the lack of subpoena power, it sounds like the NCAA just got fed up and decided to shell out money to someone in the know to actually tell them the truth. Is that really so bad?

HD: Yes!

Matthew in Atlanta, Ga., writes: Heather, why is it that all of the sudden, due to one bad season in 20 years, VT falls off the map? All I read or hear about is FSU, Clemson and Miami being the top teams in the ACC. How is that? FSU and Miami have a string of bad years but each year I had to hear FSU and Miami are back!! VT has ONE bad year and it's like they never existed. Come on, are we that desperate to prop these schools up that we forget our history? Why not give credit where credit is due?

HD: Because Virginia Tech doesn't deserve much credit right now? That offense was painful -- painful -- to watch this year. It was the program's worst season in 20 years. Virginia Tech was barely bowl eligible. Frank Beamer has gotten plenty of credit for his success there. Florida State and Miami had better seasons this year. That's just how it goes, but I expect Virginia Tech to be the most improved team in the ACC in 2013.

Scott in Beckley, W. Va., writes: Hi HD, opinion question, do you think with Maryland leaving the ACC that WVU would have got an invitation to join had they been available?

HD: It's an interesting question. One of my first reactions after the ACC announced it would add Louisville was, "well, then, why didn't they just add West Virginia in the first place?" It's a moot point now, but I think the answer would be yes, it would have gone after WVU had it been available because the decision to add Louisville was a concession on the ACC's part that a strong athletic program -- in this case -- was more important than the previous academic standard.

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 2, 2012
If you think Coastal Division fans are trying to make sense of their teams, imagine how the coaches feel ...

WVU far from flawless in win over Terps

September, 22, 2012

West Virginia's offense looked unchallenged in its first two outings, racking up 69 points against Marshall in its season opener and making 42 look easy against James Madison a week ago.

Saturday? The Mountaineers didn't respond well to their first challenge of the season. The offense was held scoreless in the third quarter and was forced to punt seven times in its 31-21 win over Maryland.

The biggest reason for the struggles? It's easy to point at running back Shawne Alston's absence, but even if that's the case, West Virginia's depth at the position looks at least questionable. Alston reportedly sat with a thigh injury.

Dustin Garrison returned from an ACL injury, shedding a possible redshirt. Andrew Buie got the start in place of Alston. The duo combined for just 31 yards on 15 carries and looked underwhelming for all 60 minutes.

The explosiveness wasn't there, and the whole offense suffered because of it. The Mountaineers' lack of a running game didn't garner an ounce of respect from Maryland's defense and as a result, Geno Smith was hasseled all day. Alston's blocking prowess in the backfield was even more needed, and its absence even more apparent with Smith taking a bigger beating than he had all season. On more than one occasion, the Mountaineers' Heisman frontrunner got up and walked gingerly after taking a shot. An early injury to Ryan Clarke was another shot to WVU's backs' ability to block in the backfield.

Smith finished 30-of-43 for 338 yards and three touchdowns, going without an interception for yet another game. He joins Texas' David Ash as the Big 12's only QBs without a pick after four weeks.

Tavon Austin was the day's biggest highlight-maker, catching 12 passes for 173 yards and three scores, finishing as the school's all-time leader in receptions.

The passing game is what everyone thought it was, even with a quiet day from Stedman Bailey, who caught just seven passes for 61 yards.

Still, the running game has looked good so far this season. With Alston down, it didn't. That may get fixed.

A bigger concern? The defense gave up 302 passing yards and three touchdown passes to true freshman quarterback Perry Hills. He averaged more than 10 yards an attempt, and freshman phenom Stefon Diggs showed off his speed with 113 yards on just three catches. Two went for touchdowns, including a 56-yarder on which Diggs embarrassed the WVU defense with cutbacks.

Through three games, the defense has been unimpressive for the Mountaineers, who will face their first real tests in the next two weeks. Baylor comes to town for what should be a hyped Big 12 opener next week, followed by a trip to Texas to face the Big 12's best defense.

We know what the passing game can do when the running game is there for balance. WVU's efficiency was unmatched by anyone in the Big 12 for its first two games. But when the Mountaineers are a one-dimensional team, can its offense still be productive enough to make up for a questionable defense?

Alston's likely return gives West Virginia a chance to maintain its balance, but without that balance, the first loss of the season for West Virginia could be coming fast.

Is Maryland-WVU still a rivalry game?

September, 20, 2012
Maryland has played West Virginia more than any other nonconference opponent -- 48 meetings dating all the way back to 1919.

But the No. 8 Mountaineers have won six straight in the series and are heavy favorites going into their game this weekend in Morgantown, W. Va., leading some to wonder whether this is still a rivalry game at all.

“I see it as a rivalry," Maryland coach Randy Edsall said. "It’s a game that you’re playing pretty much every year. The states are bordering each other; we compete against them quite a bit in recruiting. It’s a game that has been played a number of times, but we have to do our part to get back on the winning side.”

[+] EnlargeRandy Edsall
G Fiume/Maryland Terrapins/Getty ImagesCoach Randy Edsall and Maryland are searching for ways to make the WVU rivalry competitive.
These teams met every season between 1980 and 2007. There were two years off before the series resumed in 2010, and they are scheduled to meet every year until at least 2017. But there is no certainty that this game can continue beyond that with the ACC moving to a nine-game league schedule and the future addition of Notre Dame once every three years.

Conference realignment has seen a steady decline in these types of rivalry games. West Virginia-Virginia Tech used to be a huge game, but the last time those teams played was in 2005.

Still, the significance of this game is not lost on Edsall, particularly since he is so familiar with West Virginia. He played the Mountaineers as a quarterback at Syracuse, then faced this team every year he was head coach at UConn.

"I can still remember going to old Mountaineer Field when it was right in the middle of campus when I was a quarterback at Syracuse," Edsall said. "We’d go and they pelted us with oranges, and we walked on the field pre-game and they had dogs out there catching Frisbees and tobacco-spitting contests. You know when you go play West Virginia you better strap it up, because it’s going to be a physical, 60-minute game. Especially when you go there, you know that their fans are going to be against you. I’ve always enjoyed playing against West Virginia teams from when Don Nehlen was a coach and Rich (Rodriguez) and now Dana (Holgorsen). I think it’s always good to be able to play good teams, and West Virginia is a very good team.”

What to watch in the ACC: Week 4

September, 20, 2012
Time to take a look at what to watch in the ACC in Week 4. I think you probably already have a good idea of what is in store.

1. Top-10 clash. By now, you probably already know the matchup between No. 10 Clemson and No. 4 Florida State is only the ninth meeting featuring two ACC teams ranked in the top 10. So yes, it is a big game, one of the biggest games in league history, even. I have been asked this question several times during the week: What is the best possible outcome for the ACC? Clearly one team has to win and one has to lose. But in the best-case scenario, this game is competitive, thrilling and pretty clean, and goes down to the wire. To me, that validates having two teams ranked in the top 10 and keeps the loser somewhere in the top-15 range.

2. Offense vs. defense. This is your classic matchup of terrific offense against terrific defense. So which unit gets the edge? We find out Saturday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Florida State is one of two teams that has yet to allow a touchdown this season (TCU is the other) and has forced 22 three-and-outs in 42 opponent drives. Clemson, meanwhile, is averaging 39.7 points per game this season. The Tigers have 17 plays that gained 25 yards or more this season, tied for the most in the nation.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswireAndre Ellington and Clemson can give the ACC a lift by knocking off SEC power LSU.
3. Andre Ellington vs. FSU run D. One of the matchups that has not been given too much attention this week is between Clemson running back Andre Ellington and the Florida State run defense. While much of the media focus has been on Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, Ellington is an absolute player to watch. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ellington has gained more yards after contact (199) than Florida State has allowed in total rushing yards (101) this season. As for the FSU defense, the Noles have forced their opponents into no gain or negative yardage on 40 of 85 rushes (47.1 percent), the highest percentage in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Ellington has failed to gain yards on just four of his 53 rushes this season (7.5 percent) and has been hit in the backfield on just seven runs.

4. Bounce-back week. Now on to some of the other matchups. This could be called "bounce-back week in the ACC" for a few of the other teams in the league: Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Virginia -- teams that all lost last week. I left out Maryland because the Terps play No. 8 West Virginia and face the biggest challenge of all these teams. Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina all are expected to win. Virginia? The Hoos are a double-digit underdog at No. 17 TCU.

5. Logan Thomas. Speaking of Virginia Tech, which Logan Thomas will we see Saturday against Bowling Green? Thomas played poorly against Pitt last week, throwing three interceptions. The mistakes were absolute killers, as Pitt used the turnovers to pull the upset. One of the big problems for Thomas and the Hokies has been an inability to run the ball. That, combined with ineffective quarterback play, has left this team stagnant on offense. We'll see what the Hokies try to do to jump-start both Thomas and the run game this weekend.

6. Can Georgia Tech beat Miami? The Hurricanes have won three straight in the series, but all signs are pointing to Georgia Tech this season. Last week against Virginia, the Jackets scored seven rushing touchdowns -- tied for the most under coach Paul Johnson. This is a pretty confident group on offense going into the game. The bigger question for Tech is how to slow down Miami freshman sensation Duke Johnson, who scored three different ways against Bethune-Cookman. Tech has not faced anybody nearly as good as Johnson in its first three games this season, and the Jackets have had problems slowing down some of the speed and athleticism Miami has presented in the past.

7. Does Maryland have a chance? There is always a chance in any game, but the Terps are going to have their work cut out for them. I got to watch Geno Smith play last year when West Virginia was in the Big East, and the only time I saw him flustered was when he faced heavy pressure. Maryland does have a good defense that can apply pressure, but there are two problems: 1. Smith is better this season and 2. He gets rid of the ball so fast. Maryland's only chance in this game is with a studly defensive performance, but I just don't think the Terps have the players to slow down Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.

8. Does Virginia have a chance? Late news Wednesday night -- TCU will be without running back Waymon James for the rest of the season. The Horned Frogs have depth concerns at that position, but the bigger problem for Virginia will be slowing down Casey Pachall and the passing game. Virginia is so green in the secondary, the advantage might go in TCU's favor.

9. Will the real North Carolina please stand up? Are the Tar Heels the team that trailed Louisville 36-7 at halftime last week or the one that outscored the Cardinals 27-3 in the second half and nearly won? Coach Larry Fedora sure would love to find out against East Carolina on Saturday. This is a game that should have plenty of juice in-state. East Carolina sold out its ticket allotment for the game.

10. Could be a good day for the state of North Carolina. Wake Forest plays Army, NC State plays the Citadel and Duke plays Memphis in games almost everybody expects to go the ACC's way. The hope for these teams is that there is no look-ahead factor with conference games set for next week: Duke travels to play Wake, and NC State will be at Miami.