ACC: Antone Exum

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
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Pro days are now in the rearview mirror, with a month remaining between now and the NFL draft. With that, let's take a look back at some notable performances from ACC pro days this year.

Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyClemson WR Sammy Watkins in all likelihood will be the first ACC player drafted in May.
Clemson (March 6)
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.

Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).

Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.

Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.

Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.

Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.

North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.

NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.

Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.

Syracuse
Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.

Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.

Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 20, 2014
2/20/14
12:00
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At long last, Bonnaroo is finally bringing Kanye, Elton John, Lionel Richie and Skrillex together in one place. Our long national nightmare is over.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
2/11/14
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The NFL draft combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be held from Feb. 19-25 and will feature workouts, medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews for the 335 invited prospects. The ACC has a total of 46 players who will participate, including at least one player from every school (we included Maryland and not Louisville in this post, because it is from the 2013 season). National champion Florida State led the league with eight players heading to the combine, but UNC was right behind with seven. Don't cry ... you're gonna miss some of these names next year. Good luck to these guys.

Here is the official list of the ACC attendees:

BOSTON COLLEGE (5)
CLEMSON (4)
DUKE (1)
FLORIDA STATE (8)
GEORGIA TECH (2)
MARYLAND (1)
MIAMI (5)
NORTH CAROLINA (7)
NC STATE (1)
PITTSBURGH (3)
SYRACUSE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
VIRGINIA TECH (4)
WAKE FOREST (1)

Hyundai Sun Bowl preview

December, 31, 2013
12/31/13
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No. 17 UCLA (9-3) and Virginia Tech (8-4) meet on Tuesday in the Hyundai Sun Bowl. Here are a few keys:

Who to watch: Start with UCLA’s dynamic duo at linebacker, senior Anthony Barr and freshman Myles Jack. Barr benefited from turning down a chance at the NFL a year ago, developing into one of the nation’s best at his position. Jack needed no such time. He also played running back for the final four games of the year, rushing for four touchdowns as he earned the Pac-12’s offensive and defensive rookie of the year honors. For Virginia Tech, the best chance to move the football comes through the air, but talented quarterback Logan Thomas must avoid interceptions. He threw 13 this season in 12 games.

What to watch: Virginia Tech is shorthanded without its leading rusher, Trey Edmunds, who suffered a broken leg in the season finale, a 16-6 win over Virginia. The Hokies struggled to run the ball with Edmunds, so what happens without him? On defense, top cornerback Kyle Fuller is likely out with a groin injury for Tech. Fellow corner Antone Exum will sit with an ankle injury. Against a pair of freshmen in coverage, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley could have a big day throwing to Shaquelle Evans and Devin Fuller.

Why to watch: It’s two name-brand programs in El Paso, but in what direction are these programs headed? The Bruins, under second-year coach Jim Mora, are trending up regardless of the outcome on Tuesday as they seek a 10-win season for the first time since 2005. The Hokies lost three of their final five games this season after struggling to a 7-6 finish a year ago under 27th-year coach Frank Beamer.

Prediction: UCLA 28, Virginia Tech 14. The Hokies don’t have enough firepower to get into a scoring duel with UCLA, so look for the bowl-savvy Beamer to search for a few nontraditional ways to even this matchup. But expect the Bruins and Hundley to shake free in the second half.

Happy Halloween in the ACC

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Happy Halloween! Or, as I like to call it, Movember Eve.

For the second consecutive year, I have gone with the highly-original costume of wearing a "Hello, My Name Is" sticker, writing in the word "Maybe."

You guys and gals all go/went to ACC schools and are smart, so you can figure out what to, ahem, "Call Me." (I actually got the idea from my aunt, who should start charging for her ideas.)

Anyway, let's turn our attention to the people and schools we cover here in the blog. And to you, the readers. You guys blew up the Twitter feed yesterday with great pumpkin carvings, a majority of which can be found here.

There are plenty of tricks and treats to hand out through the season's first nine weeks, and what better day to do that than today?

Without further ado …

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron, Antonio Crawford
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsDon't sleep on the Tar Heels, as North Carolina could be ready to go on a season-ending winning streak.
Freddy Krueger: One team not to sleep on in this final month? North Carolina. Yes, the Tar Heels' 2-5 record is hardly intimidating, but their schedule was very front-loaded. UNC just routed Boston College, and its remaining games are at NC State, against Virginia, at Pitt, against Old Dominion and against Duke. You don't think they could go 4-1 down the stretch and clinch a bowl bid?

Jason Voorhees: Miami is the team that just won't die. The Hurricanes had turned the ball over four times in three straight contests before Saturday's game against Wake Forest … and still won all of them. They then found themselves trailing throughout the afternoon against the overmatched Demon Deacons but still managed to escape victorious in the final minute. Miami has a 7-0 record to show for all of its closecalls, though playing like this is simply no way to live.

Cursed: This isn't your 2012 Maryland team, but it is hardly a healthy one, either. Things were going so great this season for the Terrapins after their 4-0 start and No. 25 spot in the AP poll. Then they met Florida State, losing quarterback C.J. Brown to a concussion in the process. Then they lost top receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long for the season. Linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and defensive back Dexter McDougle are also done for the year. Maryland is 1-3 over its last four games, though it put up a nice effort against No. 9 Clemson with Caleb Rowe under center and should still go bowling for the first time in the Randy Edsall era.

Graveyard: Virginia Tech's defensive backfield is where all quarterbacks' throws go to die. The Hokies have picked off a nation-best 17 passes this season, even without Antone Exum for all but this past weekend's contest against Duke, and despite having freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller see extended time. Even in the loss to the Blue Devils, the Hokies managed to come up with four interceptions.

Paranormal activity: A two-hour rain delay in the season opener at Scott Stadium portended what was to come: Virginia's 19-16 win over BYU. The win becomes more of a headscratcher by the week, as the Cavaliers have won just one game since and find themselves at 2-6 and 0-4 in ACC play. The Cougars, meanwhile, are 6-2 and were so dominating in their win over Texas that Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz in the aftermath. Strange times, indeed.

Boo: That is what quarterbacks and offensive linemen must think every single time they see Aaron Donald line up across from them. The Pitt defensive tackle is second in the nation with 1.9 tackles for loss per game (13.5 total), and his 1.1 sacks per game rank fifth nationally (eight total). He also has 26.5 career sacks, the most among active college football players. Donald is one of just two defensive tackles to be named a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation's outstanding defensive player of the year.

And, because we can never have enough fun, let's take a look at what some of the conference's notable characters are dressing up as tonight:
  • Jameis Winston is MC Hammer. Because, after routing Clemson, he did say that Florida State was "too legit to quit." And because this.
  • David Cutcliffe is David Copperfield. And for his most recent trick, Cutcliffe has made Duke bowl-eligible in consecutive seasons! A program first!
  • Jimbo Fisher is Nick Saban. I know I'm not the only one who sees the facial resemblance. And Fisher's Seminoles have looked a lot like Saban's Crimson Tide this year, to understate it.
  • Steve Addazio is Jesse "The Body" Ventura. This is not up for debate.
  • Duke Johnson is Saul Goodman from "Breaking Bad." Looking for a big kickoff return? Need an insurance touchdown to clinch an upset victory over Florida? Trailing Wake Forest two different times in the fourth quarter with a perfect season on the line? Better call Duke, who has pulled all sorts of tricks up his sleeve to bail Miami out and help lift the Hurricanes to a 7-0 start.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
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With only Syracuse on a bye this week, there will be plenty to keep an eye on in the conference. Here’s a look at what to watch in Week 9, in no particular order:

1. Florida State flashback: All eyes will be on the pregame scene in Tallahassee, where former Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden will make his first return to Doak Campbell Stadium since he was ousted following the 2009 season. Bowden will plant the famous spear at midfield, and nearly 400 former players are expected to attend the No. 2-ranked Seminoles’ game against NC State. "There's no nerves," Bowden told ESPN.com’s David Hale. "I'm excited about it, getting to see a lot of people."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Mitchell
Lance King/Getty ImagesBrandon Mitchell has been out since the opener for NC State.
2. Brandon Mitchell's return: While Florida State will be celebrating the return of its legendary coach, the Wolfpack will be celebrating the return of its injured starting quarterback. Mitchell broke his left foot in the season opener and hasn’t played since. He won the job over Pete Thomas this preseason, and his athleticism seemed to fit first-year coach Dave Doeren’s no-huddle offense well. He’ll face one of the toughest defenses in the country, though, on Saturday.

3. Wake’s hopes at an upset: The Demon Deacons are on a roll, having won back-to-back Atlantic Division games, and while the Canes lead the series 7-3, all three of Wake’s wins have come at Miami. Wake is looking to snap a six-game losing streak against ranked teams -- and Saturday is the 67th anniversary of the program’s win over No. 4 Tennessee, the highest-ranked team Wake has ever defeated. If the Deacs can continue to get the ball to receiver Michael Campanaro and play stingy defense, they could have a chance. Especially considering …

4. Miami’s ball security: You’ve heard it a million times this week. Miami has turned it over 12 times in the past three weeks. The Hurricanes the only team in the country to have at least four turnovers in three consecutive games this season and the first since East Carolina in 2011. Miami has also had four red-zone turnovers in its past three games. Meanwhile, Wake’s defense forced three turnovers in the Deacs’ victory over Maryland last week. Speaking of the Terps, watch out for …

5. Maryland’s quarterback controversy: It’s C.J. Brown OR Caleb Rowe listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart for Saturday’s game against Clemson, and coach Randy Edsall has played coy about Brown’s status since last week. Edsall said the indecision on his starter is health-related, not performance-related, but wouldn’t specify what’s wrong with Brown. Brown struggled in last week’s loss at Wake Forest, and Edsall said it was because of an injury unrelated to the concussion Brown suffered against Florida State. Stay tuned for which QB will be leading the Terps’ offense against a stingy Clemson D.

6. UNC’s run defense: Miami gashed the Tar Heels for 234 yards on the ground last week -- and that was with their leading rusher, Duke Johnson, sidelined for three quarters and four turnovers from the Canes. Boston College makes its living on the running game, led by senior Andre Williams, who leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally in rushing yards per game (139.7).

7. Clemson’s rebound: Last week’s 51-14 home loss to Florida State was humbling and devastating to the Tigers. It knocked them out of the national championship picture, all but ruined quarterback Tajh Boyd's chances at winning the Heisman Trophy, and put them behind the Seminoles in the ACC race. How will the Tigers respond on the road? They’ve got more talent than the depleted Terps, but emotion could be a factor early.

8. Virginia Tech’s secondary: Veteran cornerback Antone Exum is expected to finally return for Saturday’s home game against Duke, more than eight months after he had offseason surgery to repair his ACL and a bone fracture. Exum was cleared Sept. 30, but he and the staff have played it cautious. Senior CB Kyle Fuller has broken up 10 passes in seven games and ranks fourth in the nation in passes defended (1.71 per game). They will come in handy against quarterback Duke, which is averaging 269 passing yards per game.

9. Replacement receivers: The ACC will be missing three of its top receivers, with Maryland’s Stefon Diggs and Deon Long and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett all out with injuries. Levern Jacobs will step in at the slot position in place of Diggs, and redshirt freshman Amba Etta-Tawo will take over Long’s spot. With Dorsett out at Miami, that likely means an increased role for Malcolm Lewis, who is listed as a backup at two spots, and true freshman Stacy Coley, who is listed as a co-starter at wide receiver, a starting kick returner and co-starter at punt returner.

10. BC WR Alex Amidon: The Eagles can do more than just run the ball, and Amidon needs just 144 receiving yards to become BC’s all-time leading pass receiver. He has three 100-plus yard receiving games this season and a school-record 10 for his 39-game collegiate career.

ACC predictions: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
10/24/13
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The big miss last week was pretty gigantic in retrospect. Neither one of us picked Florida State to beat Clemson. D'oh! We can admit when we are wrong, and we were very wrong. HD also missed on two other picks, going 3-3 for the week, while AA correctly called Georgia Tech and Wake Forest wins to go to 5-1.

AA has a two-game lead on HD, with an overall record of 55-10. There won't be any separation this week. Read on to find out more.

Wake Forest (4-3, 2-2) at No. 7 Miami (6-0, 2-0), noon, ESPNU. #WAKEvsMIA. Miami is not only on distraction alert thanks to the NCAA, it also is on lookahead alert with a potential top-10 showdown against in-state rival Florida State next weekend. Miami simply cannot afford to overlook Wake Forest, which has won two straight. Though Miami leads the series 7-3, all three Wake Forest wins have come in South Florida. One of the bigger matchups to watch features Michael Campanaro against a banged-up Miami secondary. Campanaro has been his usual productive self and also threw a touchdown pass against Maryland last week. Miami gets Duke Johnson back, good news for a team that will be without Phillip Dorsett.

AA picks: Miami 35, Wake Forest 17

HD’s pick: Miami 35, Wake Forest 21

Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2) at Virginia (2-5, 0-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #GTvsUVA. The Jackets looked unstoppable last week in a shutout win over Syracuse, while Virginia stopped itself from picking up its first ACC win, blowing a 22-point lead on Duke. The Jackets played nearly flawlessly, with zero penalties and just one turnover and might have turned a corner on offense. They have won three of the past four in the series. Given how low morale must be in Charlottesville, Georgia Tech has the edge.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 30, Virginia 17

HD’s pick: Georgia Tech 38, Virginia 17

Pitt (4-2) at Navy (3-3), 1 p.m., CBS Sports Network. Pitt beat Duke, which beat Navy pretty handily, so therefore Pitt should win this game. Right? Do not be surprised if the Midshipmen put a scare into the Panthers, who had to survive a closer game than anticipated last week against Old Dominion. Isaac Bennett had a career game with 240 yards rushing but all eyes will be on the Pitt defense and how it handles the Navy option. Pitt gets a similar test next week against Georgia Tech.

AA picks: Pitt 30, Navy 23

HD’s pick: Pitt 31, Navy 21

NC State (3-3, 0-3) at No. 2 Florida State (6-0, 4-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #NCSTvsFSU. Given past history, there are those who believe the Noles are on upset alert. Not so fast. The Wolfpack and Noles are vastly different teams today than they were a year ago. First and foremost, Florida State has a game-changer at quarterback who, quite frankly, seems too good to be true. NC State did a nice job getting pressure on Tajh Boyd in their matchup earlier this year, but Jameis Winston does a better job than any quarterback in the country at handling guys in his face. NC State does get Brandon Mitchell back, but the Wolfpack simply do not have the type of offense to stay in this game, averaging 12.3 points in three ACC games.

AA picks: Florida State 45, NC State 13

HD’s pick: Florida State 48, NC State 10

No. 9 Clemson (6-1, 4-1) at Maryland (5-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN. #CLEMvsMD. The Tigers have to be careful not to let the Florida State loss beat them twice. Players seem to realize they are still in good position to get an at-large BCS berth if they can win out. Maryland might have provided tougher competition last month, but right now, the Terps are reeling thanks to their familiar foe -- injuries. Not only are Stefon Diggs and Deon Long out for the season, but quarterback C.J. Brown's status remains up in the air because of an undisclosed injury. The defense also has been hurt because of injuries too, leaving this team too depleted to pull the upset.

AA picks: Clemson 40, Maryland 17

HD’s pick: Clemson 38, Maryland 17

Boston College (3-3, 1-2) at North Carolina (1-5, 0-3), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #BCvsUNC. The Eagles have done a terrific job running the ball, so you know the game plan going in will be to beat the Tar Heels with the power run game. North Carolina ranks No. 102 in the nation in rushing defense, and lost to Miami in part because it could not stop Dallas Crawford in the fourth quarter. You have to wonder how North Carolina picks itself up after such a devastating home defeat to Miami. The Tar Heels had some great moments, especially tight end Eric Ebron, but they have found ways to lose games all season.

AA picks: Boston College 27, North Carolina 24

HD’s pick: Boston College 21, UNC 17

Duke (5-2, 1-2) at No. 14 Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #DUKEvsVT. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer had high praise for the way Duke coach David Cutcliffe has turned around the Blue Devils program, but Duke is still a long way from being in the upper echelon of the ACC. Last season, against a down Virginia Tech team, Duke could not hang on to a 20-0 first-quarter lead and lost. This Virginia Tech team is much better. The best matchup to watch in this one features Duke receiver Jamison Crowder against the supremely talented Virginia Tech secondary. Antone Exum is expected to make his long-awaited return. He faces a big test against Crowder.

AA picks: Virginia Tech 27, Duke 14

HD’s pick: Virginia Tech 34, Duke 21

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
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Looking forward to some football.

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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Will Florida State run the table?

ACC lunchtime links

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
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Is tonight future-league member Louisville's toughest test of the season?
The fact Pitt is playing at Virginia Tech this week is the perfect time for us to debate who is the ACC's best true freshman: Virginia Tech CB Brandon Facyson, or Pitt WR Tyler Boyd? Both have had amazing seasons so far, and it's only early October.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Facyson
AP Photo/John BazemoreVirginia Tech's Brandon Facyson already has four interceptions.
AA says: Facyson has had biggest impact.

There is no arguing Boyd is one of the top all-purpose players in the nation and incredibly fun to watch, too. But Facyson has been better because he has made the biggest impact on his team.

Here is why.

Virginia Tech went into spring practice in a bind. Starting cornerback Antone Exum badly injured his knee in a pickup basketball game in January and was out indefinitely. Facyson enrolled early and participated in spring practice, earning praise almost immediately. There was no doubt he would be in the mix to earn playing time and potentially start the opener against Alabama.

Even still, the youth in the secondary was one of the biggest concerns headed into the game against the Tide. Not many folks around the country knew what the Virginia Tech coaches had in Facyson. When it came time to play, Facyson started in Exum’s spot, becoming the first true freshman to start the season opener at cornerback under Frank Beamer, now entering his 27th year with the Hokies.

So Facyson made history to start. Then he played a terrific game. Alabama had a hard time getting the ball to its receivers in the opener. AJ McCarron finished with 110 yards passing and a QBR of 23.4. Facyson was one reason why.

But the history did not end there. Facyson already has four interceptions, which leads the ACC and is tied for the most in the nation. One more gets him the school freshman record for interceptions in a season. Facyson already has more than Virginia Tech alum and first-round NFL pick DeAngelo Hall had his freshman year.

SportsNation

Which true freshman has been the best this season?

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    31%
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    69%

Discuss (Total votes: 2,865)

To put his impact further into context, the Virginia Tech defense has been one of the best in the country, ranking in the top 5 in total defense. The Hokies rank No. 8 in the nation in pass efficiency defense, allowing quarterbacks to complete 48.5 percent and pass for 161.3 yards per game.

Virginia Tech posted similar numbers a year ago with Exum in the lineup, ranking No. 14 in pass efficiency defense. So essentially, the Hokies have not lost anything with a true freshman starting at cornerback. Exum clearly sees that. The second-team All-ACC selection was given medical clearance to play again last week.

But Exum decided to sit out, to be absolutely sure he is ready to return before retaking his starting spot. Facyson’s performance has given Exum more time to rehab, and that benefits both the Hokies and Exum. When Exum does return, there has been discussion of having Facyson play cornerback and receiver.

He is that talented. So, too, is Boyd, who has also been used in a variety of ways. But even with Boyd, the Pitt offense has not been markedly better than a year ago. The Panthers rank about the same in passing offense and total offense as they did in 2012.

There is no easy answer here. But if we are talking biggest impact on his team, Facyson gets the nod.

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh's Tyler Boyd already had a streak of three 100-yards receiving games.
HD says: There's a new Boyd in town.

Shh, Pitt isn’t ready to admit this yet, but it’s true: The Panthers haven’t seen a rookie wide receiver like this since Larry Fitzgerald.

Tyler Boyd is that good.

The true freshman at Pitt has already made a name for himself as one of the most productive wide receivers in the country. Not since Fitzgerald has Pitt had a rookie receiver who possesses this type of body control and ball skills, who attacks the ball and shows instincts beyond his age.

Virginia Tech could have a few Fitzgerald flashbacks on Saturday when the teams meet in Blacksburg for a game that will have high stakes in the Coastal Division standings. In 2002, Fitzgerald caught three touchdown passes as a true freshman against the Hokies. Boyd did that a few weeks ago against Duke.

The key matchup on Saturday will be Pitt’s talented wide receivers against Virginia Tech’s elite secondary. Both feature two of the nation’s top freshmen, as cornerback Facyson has already made a case for the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Heck, he can play wide receiver, too.

Boyd, though, will have the upperhand in this matchup, and he should have it in the debate for the ACC’s best true freshman in 2013, too.

Check out his awareness in the back of the end zone. His deep threat ability in coverage. The way he can juke a defender, keep his footing, and get into the end zone.

Boyd is eighth in the country in all-purpose yards (175.3), and no other true freshman even comes close. He leads the Panthers in scoring with 30 points on five touchdowns.

He has already had three consecutive 100-yard receiving games, making him one of only two Pitt freshmen to accomplish that feat (Antonio Bryant in 1999 was the other).

Part of what makes him Boyd so effective is that he isn’t the only option. He and Devin Street work in tandem, creating opportunities for each other. Street is averaging 111.2 receiving yards per game to rank second in the ACC and 16th nationally, while Boyd is averaging 106.2 yards to rank third in the ACC and 17th nationally.

Boyd’s production so far not only makes him the ACC’s best freshman it makes him one of the league’s best players, period.

Antone Exum won't play vs. UNC

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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Virginia Tech cornerback Antone Exum has put his comeback attempt on hold.

Exum won't play Saturday against North Carolina despite being medically cleared to return to the field from a torn ACL, sustained in January in a pickup basketball game. He returned to full contact practice this week but still needs time to get into game shape, he said in a statement released Friday. There is no timetable for when he will play in a game.

[+] EnlargeAntone Exum
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesAntone Exum, out since suffering a knee injury last January, has put his comeback attempt on hold.
"This is something that I thought about and discussed thoroughly with my support team and we came to the conclusion that it's not in my best interest right now to return," Exum said the statement. "There are some fine tuning areas of my game that allow me to excel at a high level on the field that need to be worked on. It's a decision we made for my present situation and for my future, and most importantly for the best interest of this team. There are no setbacks, there is no pain or any of that. This is just to put my best foot forward. To assure that when I step back on the field I can play at an extremely high level. I'm not putting dates on anything right now. I'm just focusing on progressing each day and winning the small battles necessary for the victory of the war. I have the support of my parents and coaches and we are all in agreement with the plan to get me back on the field performing at a high level of play."

Without Exum, Virginia Tech has relied on Brandon Facyson, who has emerged as one of the best true freshmen in the nation. Facyson is tied for the national lead with four interceptions on the season. Earlier in the week, coach Frank Beamer said Facyson would start cross training at receiver in preparation for Exum's return, in order to maximize both players' talent. It appears that plan is now on hold as well.

ACC Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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Here a handful of statistical nuggets, with a tip of the cap, as always, to ESPN Stats & Info and sports information departments across the conference.

MARYLAND: Maryland leads the FBS in defensive expected points on passing plays (+69.5), and is one of two teams to allow just one passing touchdown. Defensive EPA is a measure of the expected points that a defense contributes to its net points in a game as a result of controlling field position, forcing turnovers and stopping its opponents.

FLORIDA STATE: Quarterback Jameis Winston has posted a Total QBR of 92.0, fourth highest among FBS quarterbacks. He has had at least two pass touchdowns in all four games and leads the ACC with 12. Winston has the fourth-best completion percentage (73.6 percent) and third-most yards per attempt (11.5) in the FBS. Last season, EJ Manuel had a Total QBR of 70.0, 26th among qualified quarterbacks.

VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers defense has posted back-to-back weeks of limiting opponents to less than 200 yards of offense for the first time since 1972. Virginia held VMI to 79 yards and Pitt to 199. When Virginia last accomplished this 41 years ago, it held Vanderbilt to 188 yards and VMI to 122. The Cavaliers area leading the nation in forcing three-and-outs, at 8.5 per game. Their third-down defense ranks No. 5 nationally, holding opponents to a .239 success rate.

NORTH CAROLINA: Quarterback Bryn Renner is one of six scholarship Tar Heels from Virginia, hailing from West Springfield. His father, Bill, was a Hokies punter from 1979-82 before playing for the Green Bay Packers. This will mark Renner's 30th career start. He leads the ACC and is 24th nationally in passing yards (279.3 ypg). His seven touchdown passes this year have given him 61 for his career, and he is seven away from Darian Durant's school record of 68.

VIRGINIA TECH: The Hokies picked off two passes in last week's upset win at Georgia Tech, giving them 11 for the season, the most in the nation. They had 13 all of last season. Since the start of the 200 season, however, they have tallied 251 interceptions, which are 20 more than any other FBS team during that time span. Not surprisingly, Virginia Tech's pass defense is tops in the ACC, surrendering just 138.2 yards per game through the air. Things may only get better for the Hokies if cornerback Antone Exum plays after being cleared to practice this week following his offseason knee injury.

BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles may just be the most disciplined team in the country under new head coach Steve Addazio. They have been penalized just eight times through four games, good for the nation's top mark (2.0 ppg). BC also leads the nation in fewest penalty yards per game (22.25).

NC STATE: The Wolfpack defense has been strong in the fourth quarter this season, giving up an average of 35.8 rushing yards, 38.5 passing yards and 74.3 yards of total offense over 60 total minutes of fourth-quarter action in 2013. NC State has forced five punts and five turnovers in 14 fourth-quarter possessions.

WAKE FOREST: Coach Jim Grobe is 31-10 for his career in games against fellow North Carolina schools, but he is just 6-6 against NC State, which has the best record against him among schools in-state. Grobe is three wins away from becoming the winningest coach in Demon Deacon history, as his 75 are two behind "Peahead" Walker.

CLEMSON: The Tigers are one of three FBS teams that have not thrown an interception yet. New Mexico and Oregon are the others. Of those three, Clemson has by far the most pass attempts (154). Oregon has 116, New Mexico has 54. Clemson has committed just two turnovers overall this season, tied for the fewest in FBS with Louisville and Oregon. Clemson also has 28 offensive touchdowns on plays of 25 yards or more since the start of last season, most in the ACC and tied for fourth-most in the FBS. The Tigers will be making their first trip to New York since Nov. 8, 1952, when they played Fordham to a 12-12 tie. Their only other game in the Empire State was an Oct. 2, 1937 loss to Army, 21-6.

SYRACUSE: The Orange are looking for their first win against an AP top-three team since 1984, when Dick MacPherson’s team knocked off Tom Osborne’s No. 1 Nebraska. Syracuse is 0-8 against AP top-three teams since then. Quarterback Terrel Hunt hasn’t exactly been tested yet, but he’s performed well in his limited action so far. Hunt has a 98.9 Total QBR on the year, but most of his participation came in two games: against Tulane and FCS school Wagner.

GEORGIA TECH: The Yellow Jackets will be playing their fourth conference game of the season, while Miami has yet to play its first ACC game. Georgia Tech is one of four schools in the FBS that has already played three or more conference games. The others: Pitt (2-1 ACC), Florida Atlantic (0-3 CUSA) and Air Force (0-4 MWC). To put it in perspective, there are 39 FBS teams that have yet to play a conference game this season (Note: This excludes schools transitioning to FBS).

MIAMI: Quarterback Stephen Morris has an 82.4 Total QBR in the first half and an ACC-low 10.3 Total QBR in the second half this season. The Hurricanes are 4-0 for the first time since 2004, when they started out 6-0 and climbed to No. 3 in the AP poll. They are also one of four schools to rank in the top 10 in the FBS in both scoring offense (ninth) and scoring defense (seventh).

What to watch in the ACC: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
10:15
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After a few weeks of mediocre games, the ACC gets down to business with a top-25 showdown in Tallahassee and a battle of Coastal Division contenders in Miami. Here are some of the top storylines as the ACC gets rolling in Week 6:

Battle of undefeated teams: At this point, Maryland and Florida State are both playing second fiddle to Clemson in the Atlantic Division, but the winner of Saturday's showdown in Tallahassee will firmly establish itself as the Tigers' top rival. FSU remains the heavy favorite, having never lost to Maryland in 11 previous games at Doak Campbell Stadium, but its defense was exposed last week against Boston College, and the Terps have plenty of offensive firepower. Still, the Seminoles are easily the most talented team Maryland has faced during its 4-0 start, and even coach Randy Edsall said it will take a stellar effort to overcome a long track record of struggles against FSU.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsSyracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt has thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions since replacing Drew Allen as the starter.
Coastal Division showdown: In the span of four quarters against Virginia Tech's formidable defense, Georgia Tech went from potential favorite to divisional life support last week. The Yellow Jackets couldn't find an answer to the Hokies' defensive scheme, and they're now faced with a showdown against undefeated Miami in South Florida. A second conference loss -- both to teams ahead of them in the standings -- would likely spell doom for the Jackets' hopes of returning to the ACC championship game. Miami, meanwhile, needs to keep pace with the resurgent Hokies, and Georgia Tech promises a far bigger test than the Hurricanes have gotten in the past two weeks, when they beat Savannah State and USF by a combined 126-28.

The rich get richer: After eight months of rehab on his injured knee, Virginia Tech corner Antone Exum has finally been cleared to play, though a decision on whether he'll take the field this weekend isn't expected until after today's practice. That's not exactly good news for ACC offenses already at a loss for how to solve the Hokies' stingy defense. With Exum out of the lineup, freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller have been phenomenal, combining for six interceptions and 12 passes defended in five games. Exum, meanwhile, was a second-team All-ACC corner last season. With Exum's return imminent, Facyson is getting reps at receiver, but it'll be up to coordinator Bud Foster to deal with the rather pleasant of finding reps for everyone.

Under the Dome: Syracuse kicks off ACC play for the first time, but the welcoming committee isn't likely to be particularly accommodating. Clemson heads to the Carrier Dome fresh off a throttling of Wake Forest and figures to present the Orange with a far bigger challenge than they've faced during their two-game winning streak against Wagner and Tulane. Still, Syracuse is far more optimistic about the season now that new starting QB Terrel Hunt has the offense rolling, and the Orange are expecting a nearly packed house.

Heisman watch in the ACC: Tajh Boyd has been an early favorite since the season started, and he burnished his credentials nicely last week against Wake Forest, completing 17 of 24 passes for 311 yards and three TDs, while rushing for a fourth. The upstart in the race is Winston, who led another ferocious offensive outburst for Florida State by completing 17 of 27 passes for 330 yards and four TDs. Both QBs get another shot to add to their increasingly impressive totals this week as the crowded field vying for the Heisman jockeys for the spotlight.

QB injuries: In Pittsburgh, Tom Savage faced a battery of concussion tests after being knocked around against Virginia. At Miami, the Hurricanes host Georgia Tech with starting quarterback Stephen Morris still nursing an ankle injury that he aggravated against USF. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas is coming off his best game of the season, but he has been hampered with an abdominal injury for weeks. If any of those injuries prove more serious than initial reports, the always-fluid Coastal Division race could be in for another shakeup.

North Carolina's effort: After a stunning 55-31 loss to East Carolina last week, UNC tailback A.J. Blue publicly questioned whether his team had overlooked a supposedly subpar opponent. The same result isn't likely this week, as the Tar Heels travel to Virginia Tech hoping to salvage their season. A win could reinvigorate North Carolina's hopes in the division, but a loss would send the Heels to 1-4 with another tough game against Miami to follow. It's only Week 5, but North Carolina appears to already be in a must-win situation.

Virginia's slumbering offense: After a 14-3 loss to Pittsburgh, coach Mike London and QB David Watford both lamented Virginia's sluggish offensive performance. London promised changes on the O-line, Watford insisted on extra work with his receivers and the entirety of the unit really has nowhere to go but up this week against Ball State. Virginia ranks 13th in the ACC in scoring offense and passing offense, and its minus-4 turnover margin ranks 110th nationally. Meanwhile, Ball State QB Keith Wenning has thrown for more than 300 yards in every game so far, meaning the Cavaliers are likely going to need some offensive fireworks of their own to keep pace.

Return of Mitchell: If all goes according to plan, this week's game against Wake Forest will be NC State's last without starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who broke a bone in his foot in the opener. Pete Thomas has done a solid enough job in Mitchell's absence, but there's a clear gap in playmaking ability. Thomas' 80-yard TD throw to Bryan Underwood in last week's win was his first passing touchdown of the season (to go with five INTs), but the Wolfpack are 3-1 with him as the starter.

Boston College bounce-back: Now that the Defense Department has given Army the OK to travel for the game, it's safe for Boston College to start planning for a rebound performance after last week's loss to Florida State. In spite of the outcome from a week ago, BC should have plenty of confidence. The Eagles offense scored 34 points, its high in an ACC game since 2009, and ran the ball successfully against what was thought to be a stout FSU defense. A loss is still a loss, but the impressive offensive performance was yet another sign that BC has taken some big steps forward under first-year coach Steve Addazio.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said the staff is still unsure whether or not cornerback Antone Exum will play on Saturday against North Carolina, but that the decision should be made following Thursday’s practice.

It was announced on Tuesday that Exum has been cleared to practice again following an eight-month rehab on his torn right ACL. Tuesday was Exum’s first practice since he injured his knee playing in a pick-up game of basketball last January.

“We don’t know,” Beamer said of Exum’s status for Saturday. “I thought he moved well yesterday. Today is another big work day for us. After Thursday’s practice, we’ll determine by talking with him and with the coaching staff where he is exactly and so forth. [Brandon] Facyson has done such a good job for us that certainly having him there is a big, big positive. We’re fortunate to get Exum back, and we’ve added some depth to our secondary, and another good player to go with some guys who are really playing well.”

Should Exum return to the starting lineup, Virginia Tech will be forced to find a spot for Facyson, who has been one of the top rookies in the country. Facyson is tied for first in the ACC with seven passes defended and leads the league with four interceptions. Beamer said Facyson is starting to get reps at wide receiver this week -- a role that will increase this season.

“We’ve talked about it before,” Beamer said. “We talked about it over the summer. When this came up that Exum could possibly come back, the main thing is you want to get your best players on the field. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

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