ACC: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

The preseason All-ACC team was released Wednesday, and naturally quarterback Jameis Winston led the way with the most votes. There were not too many surprises, beginning with Florida State players littered throughout the list of 26 names.

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

 
 
 

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

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

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

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

Even as Duke had four players, the Seminoles still had nine, only further signifying the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference, although the league is undoubtedly improving. That list does not include Ronald Darby or Jalen Ramsey, two players who will almost certainly be on an All-ACC team by the end of the season. It is no surprise Florida State was ranked as having the most talent on its 2014 roster two weeks ago in ESPN.com's future power rankings.
Florida State and Jameis Winston were the runaway favorites Monday to repeat as ACC champion and league player of the year, respectively. Those were the two names atop my ballot as well. As for how I slotted everyone else:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC's lunch links: QB roundup

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
12:00
PM ET
The most honest man at ACC Kickoff was probably Wake Forest's Dave Clawson. And, to his credit, he even managed to find a little humor in the bleak picture painted by his depth chart this year, as the High Point Enterprise wrote.
Asked to comment about where his first Wake Forest team is predicted to finish in the ACC's tough Atlantic Division, Clawson replied, “Were we picked to win it? I didn't see those. Were we unanimous first? The bull's-eye is on us, right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More links:

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

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

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

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

And your non-sports link of the day: If you don't hear from me for a few months, blame the new Simpsons World from FXX, which looks… amazing.
Headed to Greensboro for media day. Make sure you follow the ACC blog team on Twitter: Andrea will be tweeting from @ESPN_ACC, in addition to @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN.

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

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




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

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




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

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




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

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

Eds note: Earlier this week, I profiled Clemson offensive lineman Kalon Davis and his study abroad trip to Kyoto, Japan. Tragically, professor E. Leslie Williams -- who led the trip -- died suddenly last week. Thoughts and prayers are with Davis, Williams and the Clemson family.
Earlier on Thursday, we looked at the success and drawbacks of Clemson’s up-tempo offense, which got us to thinking about the league’s tempo as a whole.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slowest pace
1. Georgia Tech (28.0 seconds)
2. Virginia Tech (27.2 seconds)
3. Boston College (27.1 seconds)
4. Florida State (27.0 seconds)
5. Pittsburgh (26.3 seconds)
It's no secret that the strength of Clemson's team this season figures to be its defensive line. And, of course, there are plenty of numbers to underscore the Tigers' ferociousness up front.
  • The ACC returns 13 players who had at least 10 tackles for loss last season. Five of them play for Clemson.
  • Vic Beasley had 23 TFLs vs. teams from BCS-AQ conferences last season. No other returning ACC player had more than 12.
  • Clemson's defense recorded a tackle in the backfield once every 7.8 plays last season against AQ teams.
  • The Tigers didn't rely on the blitz either. When rushing four or fewer, Clemson recorded a sack every 11.1 passing attempts last season, the second-lowest rate in the league.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still thinking?

Give up?

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

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

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

Um, yeah. The answer to that one would be zero, which should make for a pretty good stat to build a narrative around when Clemson and FSU face off again in September.
It’s Day 3 of media days for the SEC, and while we’ve yet to get any juicy ACC bashing like we did last year, first-year Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason did say something on Monday that warranted a little more discussion.

Mason’s comments, courtesy of Team Speed Kills:
“We don't believe in redshirting at Vanderbilt. What we'll do is we'll take out of that class of 22, we'll probably have 17 guys that will step on the field and play at some point in time this year.”

Mason’s estimates certainly seem a bit generous, given that playing 77 percent of your true freshmen is virtually unheard of around college football. But it’s also possible the Vandy coach is at the forefront of a new way of doing things. Tennessee coach Butch Jones added to the discussion Tuesday, promising at least 10 true freshmen would play significant roles for the Vols this season.

More and more, particularly among the most competitive schools on the recruiting trail, immediate playing time for freshmen is an essential sales pitch. And for top recruits who seem likely to bolt for the NFL with eligibility remaining anyway, the redshirt year only takes away from time spent on the field. At the very least, regular work on special teams for true freshmen gets them game experience and prevents key contributors from being exposed to injury, so why not go that route?

It’s a philosophy I’ve discussed with FSU’s Jimbo Fisher a few times, and while he certainly hasn’t gone to quite the level Mason has suggested, the Seminoles -- who have inked a top-10 recruiting class each year of Fisher’s tenure -- have made a habit out of playing true freshmen. Just last year, Nate Andrews, Jalen Ramsey and Kermit Whitfield all played critical roles in the team’s BCS title, while 13 of 16 non-QB skill players in the class saw some action.

That got us to thinking how the rest of the ACC stacks up when it comes to redshirting freshmen. Here’s how the numbers from the Class of 2013 played out:

 
Of note, we didn’t include any signees who never arrived on campus, and we didn’t include juco players or transfers.

Overall, 107 of the ACC's 258 true freshmen signed in 2013 saw playing time last year -- or 42 percent. That number was a bit higher for ESPN 300 players, of which 23 of 41 (56 percent) saw action. Pitt played the most true freshmen (12), and Miami played the highest percentage of its signing class (67 percent), while Louisville (3 of 16) and Georgia Tech (2 of 13) played the fewest.

That latter category is interesting because Paul Johnson’s recruiting has been criticized regularly at Georgia Tech, and the 2013 class has already had more transfers (three) than players to see the field (two). And, of course, one of those two who saw action was kicker Harrison Butker. Moreover, Charlie Strong may find redshirting is a far tougher sell at Texas than it was at Louisville.

That FSU, Miami, Clemson and UNC inked the most ESPN 300 players and were among the most likely to play true freshmen shouldn't come as a surprise. Part of the formula is getting freshmen who are ready to play, and obviously the more talented the player, the more likely he is to see the field. (It's noteworthy, though, that just two of Clemson's nine ESPN 300 signees avoided a redshirt -- wide receiver Mike Williams started three games and linebacker Ben Boulware was largely used on special teams). But the other part of the argument is that giving true freshmen a chance to play is crucial to landing the best recruits. And in the case of Whitfield and Andrews, both were three-star recruits. So, too, were impact freshmen like Breon Borders, Brisly Estime and James Conner.

There will always be strong candidates for redshirts -- quarterbacks and offensive linemen, in particular -- and for some recruits, the opportunity to watch and learn and develop physically for a year remains a blessing. But there’s also a good chance Mason is on to something, and while it’s doubtful that 75 percent of true freshmen will see the field at most schools, there’s ample motivation for coaches to at least move in that direction.

More links:
  • A boatload of top prospects are going to be visiting Florida State in the next few days, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
  • Clemson’s defense figures to carry the team this season, writes The Post and Courier.
  • North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham says the school is working to "move forward" from the ongoing NCAA investigation surrounding academic fraud, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Virginia Tech tailback Trey Edmunds says he’s ready to go full speed after breaking his tibia against Virginia last season, writes The Roanoke Times.
  • Georgia Tech freshman Clinton Lynch knew what to expect with the Yellow Jackets before he arrived on campus, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • A Louisville-area company wants to promote the Cardinals’ receiving corps with a billboard, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • And your non-sports link of the day: Here’s a list of the best beers of 2014 (so far), courtesy of Paste. What, no Miller High Life?
NFL.com has made its predictions for the ACC’s leaders in the major statistical categories, and it didn’t exactly go out on a limb with any selections. In fact, I’d say NFL.com’s picks are probably the same as mine.

But let’s play devil’s advocate for a bit today and dig a little deeper into the ACC’s talent pool to find some other contenders. So, here are my not-so-obvious choices:

Passing yards

NFL.com choice: Jameis Winston (Florida State)
Not-so-obvious choice: Will Gardner (Louisville)

OK, there’s really only one contender for this, and it’s Winston. But if we’ve got to find an alternative, we’ll go with Bobby Petrino’s new QB. In nine years as a college head coach, Petrino’s QBs have topped 3,000 yards five times (and that includes four different quarterbacks). Louisville also has a strong group of receivers and a veteran line in front of Gardner, so the passing game should be solid. And who knows? Perhaps FSU blows out so many of its opponents again that Winston’s numbers suffer as a result of too many second halves spent on the bench.

Rushing yards

NFL.com choice: Duke Johnson (Miami)
Not-so-obvious choice: Zach Laskey (Georgia Tech)

What separates Johnson beyond talent is that he figures to be a bell cow in the backfield, and that’s something that just doesn’t exist much anymore. Florida State, Syracuse, Clemson, UNC, Pitt — they’re all going to have more of a committee approach that will likely prevent any one back from piling up too many yards. That’s true at Georgia Tech, too, but because the Yellow Jackets run the ball more than anyone else (78 percent of its plays last year), we’ll assume Laskey will get his shot at a title anyway. Of course, despite all those carries, Tech tailbacks have led the ACC in rushing just twice under Paul Johnson (2008 and 2010).

Receiving yards

NFL.com choice: DeVante Parker (Louisville)
Not-so-obvious choice: Rashad Greene (Florida State)

OK, so Parker might actually be the not-so-obvious choice here, as Greene, Tyler Boyd and Jamison Crowder all return fresh off 1,000-yard seasons. We’d bet all four top 1,000 again this year, but the edge will go to Greene, who has the best QB throwing to him, but won’t have to compete with Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw for targets this year.

Tackles

NFL.com choice: Steven Daniels (Boston College)
Not-so-obvious choice: Kelby Brown (Duke)

A lot gets made of BC’s run of great tacklers. Every year, the Eagles produce another 100-tackle defender. But do you know which team had the top three tacklers in the ACC last season? That’d be Duke (David Helton, Jeremy Cash and Brown), and all three are back this year. In fact, in the last six seasons, Duke has produced eight players with 100-tackle seasons.

Sacks

NFL.com choice: Vic Beasley (Clemson)
Not-so-obvious choice: Corey Crawford (Clemson)

Beasley has already received so much attention, it would be a mild surprise if he led the league in sacks again just because opposing linemen will make him a focal point all season. In fact, the last time the same player led the ACC in sacks in consecutive years was Florida State's Peter Boulware in 1995 and 1996. So here’s betting that one of Beasley’s teammates reaps the rewards of all the attention he figures to get in 2014.

Interceptions

NFL.com choice: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
Not-so-obvious choice: P.J. Williams (Florida State)

This one is sort of a crapshoot, but Florida State figures to be up big in many games, forcing the opposition to throw, and with a balanced and deep corps of defensive backs, it will be hard for teams to avoid throwing to any one side of the field. So that means Williams should get a few chances, and he’s as talented as any corner in the country, so we’re betting he makes the most of a few of those opportunities.

More links:

ESPN's early ACC projections

July, 15, 2014
Jul 15
10:30
AM ET
ESPN used its Football Power Index to put together preseason projections for each team, and once again Florida State is a heavy favorite.

According to ESPN’s formula, the Seminoles have at least an 87 percent chance of winning each game on their schedule next season, with their toughest battles projected to be at Miami (87 percent chance of an FSU win), vs. Clemson (88 percent), vs. Florida (91 percent) and the neutral site season opener against Oklahoma State (91 percent).

Overall, ESPN has FSU with a 40 percent chance to finish the season undefeated. The next closest team is Oregon, with just a 13 percent chance at an undefeated season. The numbers also suggest it’ll be an FSU vs. North Carolina ACC title game, with Clemson, Virginia Tech and Miami having the next best shots at a conference championship. On the other hand, Wake Forest has just 3.6 projected wins -- the third-fewest among Power 5 teams.

Of course, a lot can change between now and when the games are actually played, but for a quick look into the ACC’s preseason projections, here’s how ESPN’s FPI numbers add up at the moment.

Keep in mind that the conference ranks are based on their odds of winning the ACC, so teams in the Atlantic have lower odds due to tougher competition.

ACC ATLANTIC DIVISION

Boston College

Projected record: 5-7
Strength of schedule: 54
Chance of undefeated season: 0%
Odds of ACC title: 0%
Conference rank: 12

Clemson

Projected record: 9-3
Strength of schedule: 51
Chance of undefeated season: 0.37%
Odds of ACC title: 5.1%
Conference rank: 3

Florida State

Projected record: 12-1
Strength of schedule: 41
Chance of undefeated season: 40.33%
Odds of ACC title: 73%
Conference rank: 1

Louisville

Projected record: 7-5
Strength of schedule: 55
Chance of undefeated season: 0%
Odds of ACC title: 0.3%
Conference rank: 9

NC State

Projected record: 6-6
Strength of schedule: 65
Chance of undefeated season: 0%
Odds of ACC title: 0%
Conference rank: 13

Syracuse

Projected record: 6-6
Strength of schedule: 47
Chance of undefeated season: 0%
Odds of ACC title: 0.1%
Conference rank: 11

Wake Forest

Projected record: 4-8
Strength of schedule: 60
Chance of undefeated season: 0%
Odds of ACC title: 0%
Conference rank: 14

ACC COASTAL DIVISION

Duke

Projected record: 8-4
Strength of schedule: 66
Chance of undefeated season: 0.01%
Odds of ACC title: 1.8%
Conference rank: 7

Georgia Tech

Projected record: 6-6
Strength of schedule: 43
Chance of undefeated season: 0%
Odds of ACC title: 1%
Conference rank: 8

Miami

Projected record: 8-4
Strength of schedule: 35
Chance of undefeated season: 0%
Odds of ACC title: 3.2%
Conference rank: 5

North Carolina

Projected record: 9-4
Strength of schedule: 39
Chance of undefeated season: 0.23%
Odds of ACC title: 10.1%
Conference rank: 2

Pittsburgh

Projected record: 8-4
Strength of schedule: 62
Chance of undefeated season: 0.01%
Odds of ACC title: 1.9%
Conference rank: 6

Virginia

Projected record: 4-8
Strength of schedule: 13
Chance of undefeated season: 0%
Odds of ACC title: 0.2%
Conference rank: 12

Virginia Tech

Projected record: 8-4
Strength of schedule: 61
Chance of undefeated season: 0.01%
Odds of ACC title: 3.3%
Conference rank: 4
Just a few weeks remain before fall camp opens around the ACC, and there are plenty of big questions still left to be answered. With that in mind, we’re looking at some of the conference’s biggest wild cards -- veterans without a distinguished track record who could make all the difference for their respective teams this season. One caveat: With so much of the conference breaking in a new QB, we ignored that key position for now. We’re also not including any true freshmen, since they all come with their share of intrigue. Instead, these are the Atlantic Division’s biggest wild cards as we get set for 2014.

Boston College: WR Josh Bordner

Steve Addazio is at least trying to be optimistic about Bordner’s future at receiver. The 6-foot-4 senior has some physical tools to create mismatches at the position, but after transitioning from QB this spring, he doesn’t have much in the way of experience. Of course, no one else on BC’s depth chart at receiver does either. Bobby Swigert projects as the top target, but he missed all of last season with an injury, and Harrison Jackson is now out for 2014 after tearing his ACL. At the very least, that makes Bordner intriguing as BC looks for someone to fill the void left by Alex Amidon, who had 155 catches the last two seasons.

Clemson: WR Charone Peake

When they both arrived on campus in 2011, Peake and Sammy Watkins were both considered elite recruits. Three years later, Watkins was the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft, while Peake has 37 career catches in three seasons thanks to injuries and inconsistency. However, if he can return from a torn ACL to help fill the void left by Watkins and Martavis Bryant it would be a huge boon to the Tigers’ passing game.

Florida State: WR Jarred Haggins

In the first three games of 2011, Haggins had 11 receptions. In the nearly three seasons since, he’s managed just eight more. But as FSU’s receiving corps has been diminished by early departures (Kelvin Benjamin) and off-field issues (Greg Dent, Jesus Wilson), Haggins provides a rare bit of experience to go with Rashad Greene and Christian Green in 2014.

Louisville: DT DeAngelo Brown

Louisville has some potentially exceptional pass rushers, but in order for them to succeed in new coordinator Todd Grantham’s 3-4 scheme, the D-line needs to be able to take on blocks and clog up the lanes, and that’s a huge question right now. Louisville has just two projected D-linemen who played in 2013, but Brown, who missed all of last season with an Achilles injury, could be a savior. He’s a behemoth at 320 pounds, and if he can command double teams playing the zero- or one-technique at nose guard, Grantham’s new-look D could make some noise in its first season in the ACC.

NC State: OT Rob Crisp

A back injury limited Crisp in 2012, and a concussion ended his 2013 season early, but an NCAA waiver allowed him to return to NC State for 2014. If Crisp can stay healthy this season he could be an immense help for a Wolfpack offensive line that allowed the fourth-most tackles for a loss of any Power 5 conference team last season.

Syracuse: DE Ron Thompson

The Orange know they can’t replace the production of departed DT Jay Bromley, so they’re hoping to find a combination of players who can help fill the void. That’s meant plenty of mixing and matching on the D-line, but it’s also opened up some more playing time for Thompson as a rush end. He’s a former four-star recruit at tight end, but his athleticism and quickness -- not to mention a year of experience at his new position under his belt -- have Syracuse’s coaches extremely excited about what Thompson might contribute this season.

Wake Forest: RB Orville Reynolds

Someone has to make some plays on offense for Wake Forest, right? There’s virtually no experience at any of the skill positions, and Reynolds’ move from receiver to tailback was made more out of desperation than anything else. But first-year coach Dave Clawson found success moving a receiver (Travis Greene) to running back last year at Bowling Green. Reynolds likely won’t match Greene’s 1,594 yards, but if he can even approach half that total, it would be the most by a Wake tailback since 2011.

Player list for ACC media days

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
2:24
PM ET
The 2014 college football season is inching ever so closer, with ACC media days set to take place in less than two weeks.

The league released its list of players who will be attending the July 20-21 event at The Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here they are:

BOSTON COLLEGE
C Andy Gallik, R-Sr.
DB Dominique Williams, R-Sr.

CLEMSON
QB Cole Stoudt, Sr.
DE Vic Beasley, R-Sr.

DUKE
OG Laken Tomlinson, R-Sr.
LB Kelby Brown, R-Sr.

FLORIDA STATE
QB Jameis Winston, R-So.
CB P.J. Williams, Jr.

GEORGIA TECH
OG Shaquille Mason, Sr.
LB Quayshawn Nealy, R-Sr.

LOUISVILLE
WR DeVante Parker, Sr.
DE Lorenzo Mauldin, Sr.

MIAMI
RB Duke Johnson, Jr.
LB Denzel Perryman, Sr.

NORTH CAROLINA
QB Marquise Williams, Jr.
LB Norkeithus Otis, Sr.

NC STATE
RB Tony Creecy, R-Sr.
DE Art Norman, R-Sr.

PITT
WR Tyler Boyd, So.
DB Ray Vinopal, R-Sr.

SYRACUSE
OT Sean Hickey, Sr.
LB Cameron Lynch, Sr.

VIRGINIA
RB Kevin Parks, Sr.
SS Anthony Harris, Sr.

VIRGINIA TECH
WR Willie Byrn, R-Sr.
DT Luther Maddy, DT

WAKE FOREST
FB Jordan Garside, R-Sr.
CB Kevin Johnson, R-Sr.
We learned a little bit about expectations for the college football season three weeks ago when The Golden Nugget opened betting lines on 200 games in 2014. Now we can take another look at individual expectations thanks to Bovada releasing division, league and national title odds.

In what should come as no surprise at all, Florida State is the favorite to win both the ACC title and the national title. The Seminoles are 2/5 odds to win the league crown for the third season in a row, while they are 11/2 to repeat as national champions.

The team with the second-best odds to win it all probably isn't that big of a surprise, either (Alabama at 6/1). But the No. 2 favorite to win the ACC title in 2014 will certainly open some eyes, as Miami checks in at 11/2. The Hurricanes have obvious question marks both under center and on defense, and their schedule doesn't exactly do them any huge favors.

The fact that Virginia Tech is the No. 3 favorite to win the ACC, behind the Hurricanes at 10/1, likely goes a long way in showing just how much easier the path is to the ACC title game in the Coastal Division, whose winner would then only have to manage a one-game upset to win the league. Clemson, considered to be arguably the second-best team in the league entering 2014, is tied with North Carolina as No. 4 favorite, at 12/1.

The Tar Heels, whose summer hype has been noted in this space before, are actually ahead of the Hokies as Coastal favorites, with 7/4 odds to Virginia Tech's 6/1. Miami remains the favorite, with 3/2 odds to win the division.

Reigning Coastal champion Duke is tied with Georgia Tech with 15/2 odds, while Pittsburgh, one of the many potential darkhorses in the division this fall, is tied for last with Virginia, at 25/1.

As for national title odds, you'll have to look far down the list to find another contender after FSU, as Clemson comes in with the 23rd-best odds at 66/1, three spots ahead of Miami, which is at 75/1. Bovada released national title odds for 51 teams in all, with nine ACC teams making the cut. Boston College, Georgia Tech and Pitt all have 500/1 odds to win it all.

League newcomer Louisville, for what it's worth, has 9/1 odds to win the Atlantic Division, 15/1 odds to win the ACC and 150/1 odds to win the national title. Partial member Notre Dame has 40/1 odds to win the national title.

By the numbers: Going deep

July, 3, 2014
Jul 3
4:00
PM ET
Earlier this week, we looked at the top offensive lines in the ACC, which led me to tweet about the units that had the best and worst sack rates in the conference.

The best:

Duke (1 sack every 29 dropbacks)
Miami (1 every 24)
Syracuse (1 every 24)
North Carolina (1 every 23)
Virginia (1 every 23)

The worst:

Pitt (1 sack every 10.3 dropbacks)
NC State (1 every 13.2)
Boston College (1 every 13.2)
Virginia Tech (1 every 14.1)
Florida State (1 every 14.4)

For the teams ranking at the top, there may have been a few surprises, but UNC and Virginia both had offensive lines with top-tier NFL talent, and Syracuse and Duke both had mobile quarterbacks capable of avoiding sacks. It is probably worth noting, however, that the Blue Devils' offensive line was remarkably good in pass protection, but also had the ACC's lowest rate of running plays that went for a loss or no gain, too (7 percent).

On the other end of the spectrum, the names are a bit more surprising. Pitt's line was a problem, and Tom Savage didn't move around much in the pocket, so the Panthers' spot at the top makes sense. But didn't Boston College have a solid line protecting a veteran quarterback? Didn't NC State play half the season with mobile Brandon Mitchell taking snaps? Wasn't Logan Thomas one of the hardest quarterbacks in the country to bring down? And, of course, isn't Florida State supposed to have one of the top O-lines in the country to go with a Heisman-winning quarterback?

A few people on Twitter thought they had the answer, though: Deep balls. FSU, Pitt and BC had offenses that encouraged quarterbacks to look downfield, and the unfortunate side effect of such a philosophy is a few more sacks while quarterbacks are hanging on to the ball an extra second or two.

The theory made some sense, but we wanted to see if the numbers backed it up.

Here, courtesy of ESPN Sports & Information, are the ACC offenses that had the highest percentage of pass attempts go 20 yards or more.

As it turns out, only Florida State fits the bill as a team that looked deep often and suffered a few extra sacks as a result. Pitt's and NC State's deep-ball rates were right around the league average (22.3 percent), Virginia Tech was even lower (21.5 percent), and Boston College had the lowest percentage of any team in the conference (15.5 percent).

On the other end, the teams that had low sack rates did seem to throw deep a little less often. Duke, Virginia and Syracuse were all well below the league average for deep balls. But how about Miami and North Carolina? Both looked deep relatively often, and both still managed to limit sacks.

What this all likely means -- which is probably relatively intuitive in the first place -- is that a penchant for the deep ball likely plays some small role in the number of sacks a team allows, but it's hardly the overwhelming factor. A quarterback's decision-making and mobility play a part, the quality of talent on the line and ability of tailbacks and fullbacks to pick up blocks matters. The play calling (see: Georgia Tech) has an effect, too.

In other words, filtering out all the little nuances that define a successful offensive line from a not-so-successful one isn't a simple process, which is just one more reason the big guys up front tend to get far too little credit for the work they do.
Count Wake Forest as the latest ACC school to build an indoor practice facility.

The school announced its plans Tuesday, with construction slated to begin in August. The $21 million facility will feature a 120-yard artificial turf field with roll-up doors that will open onto the existing football practice fields. The facility is expected to be finished by the end of 2015.

[+] EnlargeWake Forest practice facility rendering
Wake Forest UniversityWake Forest will build a new indoor practice facility, slated to be ready by the end of 2015.
First-year coach Dave Clawson has to be a very happy man with the news.

Wake Forest, eager to restore the success its football program had in the early years under Jim Grobe, has now officially joined the college football arms race.

Former Wake Forest football player Bob McCreary, whom the facility will be named after, donated $7.5 million for the project.

"The groundbreaking announcement is great news for Wake Forest football,” Clawson said in a statement. “It is a significant investment and shows the high commitment level that the University has to our program. The McCreary Indoor Center will be a game changer for our current student-athletes and future Deacons. It will give our players the ability to improve and work on their skills the entire year. The facility will also give us a great boost in our recruiting efforts to attract the best possible student-athletes to Wake Forest University. We appreciate the efforts of everyone involved who made this project possible.”

Wake Forest is just the latest ACC team to go forward with an indoor facility. Syracuse hopes to finish its new indoor facility in December, while Virginia Tech hopes its new indoor facility will be done by August 2015.

NC State also has started construction on an indoor facility, with completion targeted for March 2015. Virginia, Clemson and Florida State all opened new indoor practice facilities within the last few years.

That essentially leaves Miami as the only school in the ACC without a place to practice indoors. Boston College does not have a permanent indoor facility. Instead, it uses a practice bubble when temperatures start dipping.
Earlier this week, Andrea Adelson wrote about the potential for Duke’s offense to be exceptional again this season because the Blue Devils are the lone ACC team that returns their leading passer, rusher and receiver. No doubt, that’s good for offensive rapport, and certainly Duke deserves to be considered among the favorites in the Coastal.

But what about the other side of that coin?

[+] EnlargeCole Stoudt
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsCan players such as quarterback Cole Stoudt keep the Clemson offense humming?
Last week, Andrea wrote that four teams had to replace their leading passer, rusher and receiver from 2013: Clemson (Tajh Boyd, Roderick McDowell, Sammy Watkins), Wake Forest (Tanner Price, Josh Harris, Michael Campanaro), Boston College (Chase Rettig, Andre Williams, Alex Amidon) and Georgia Tech (Vad Lee, David Sims, Robert Godhigh).

This week, we wanted to know if that was a sign of impending doom, so we looked for some historical precedent. Oddly, this kind of thing doesn’t seem to happen all that often.

In the last five years combined, there have been just six examples of ACC teams losing their leading passer, rusher and receiver in the same year. And really, that’s stretching the definition a bit. NC State actually returned its leading rusher in 2011, but Mustafa Greene missed the year with an injury. We counted 2011 Louisville, too, though the Cardinals weren’t in the ACC at the time. So really, the combined total for massive offensive attrition in the previous five seasons is matched by this year’s group alone.

Aside from the relative rarity, however, the outcome is what promised to be intriguing. If a team is losing an established QB, running back and wideout, surely its offense will take a nosedive, right?

Actually, the numbers don’t entirely support that logic. Here’s how the previous six fared.



In total, the six previous teams to undergo a complete offensive makeover saw effectively no change in scoring, total offense or yards per play. What they did see, however, was an increase in wins. In four of six cases, the teams upped their win total. One stayed the same. The sixth, 2011 NC State, slipped by just one game.

Of course, there’s more to the story than just the aggregate numbers. Four of the six teams did see a decline in offensive production. The two that showed rather significant gains were 2009 Clemson and 2012 Miami. In the case of the former, that can partially be attributed to the change from Tommy Bowden to Dabo Swinney as the head coach. In the latter, the new arrivals (Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett) were probably all improvements over their predecessors.

In other words, such vast turnover isn't likely to result in better numbers unless there's more to the story, but it certainly doesn't have to mean a sharp decline on the bottom line either.

So how do the four ACC offensive renovation projects this year compare?

At Georgia Tech, the replacements have some experience already, and Paul Johnson’s system tends to be immune to turnover in personnel. (Closest comparison: 2013 Pittsburgh.)

At Wake Forest, Dave Clawson has his work cut out for him with little to no depth anywhere on the offensive side of the ball. But really, the Demon Deacons were among the worst offenses in football last year, so there’s probably nowhere to go but up. (Closest comparison: 2011 Virginia.)

For Boston College, replacing the production of Williams and the veteran presence of Rettig and Amidon will be tough. Steve Addazio probably won’t have a Heisman finalist again in 2014, but Tyler Murphy could be an adequate stopgap at QB while the young runners develop in the backfield. (Closest comparison: 2011 NC State.)

But, of course, the most intriguing question is at Clemson, where the Tigers not only lose the trifecta of Boyd, McDowell and Watkins, but also No. 2 receiver Martavis Bryant and All-ACC lineman Brandon Thomas. The Tigers return a mere 26.9 percent of last year’s total offensive yards, ninth fewest in the nation (and sixth-fewest among Power 5 teams). Really, there simply isn't an honest comparison.

So what will become of Clemson in 2014? Repeating the magic of 2009, when the renovation led to an ACC title, is the goal, and from Deshaun Watson to Wayne Gallman to Charone Peake, there’s still some hype-worthy offensive talent on the roster. And, of course, Swinney can point to that defense as cause for optimism. And if the recent history of offensive renovation projects is a guide, that’s just as good a recipe for wins as any.

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