ACC: Clive Walford

It’s not exactly that Bucky Hodges has been a well-kept secret this season. He made a crucial touchdown catch in Virginia Tech’s shocking victory over Ohio State in September, then did the same in the final moments to secure bowl eligibility with a Nov. 28 victory over Virginia. But in a league that featured two-thirds of the finalists for the Mackey Award, it’s easy for a tight end to be overlooked a bit.

Look at the numbers, though, and Hodges could certainly make his case to be ranked among the best at his position.

When the regular season ended, Hodges had just two fewer catches than both Clive Walford and Nick O’Leary — the two Mackey finalists. Hodges scored one more touchdown than O’Leary, who won the award, and Hodges' seven touchdowns tied Walford for tops among ACC tight ends.

[+] EnlargeBucky Hodges
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Bucky Hodges made 42 catches at Virginia Tech and scored seven touchdowns, including two in the Hokies' biggest victories of the season.
“Throughout the season, I feel like I stepped up with any tight end in the country,” Hodges said.

Despite the numbers, there were limitations to Hodges’ game. At 6-foot-6 and 242 pounds, Hodges was a massive target in the receiving game, but his blocking skills were limited. He lacked consistency, which isn’t uncommon for a freshman. He was a tremendous mismatch for defenses, particularly in the red zone, but the finer points of playing the position still need refinement.

Hodges understands all this, which is why he’s so excited about his future.

“This was just the beginning,” Hodges said. “I feel like I had a good season, but I can’t do anything but get better. I’m not even close to my ceiling. I’m still raw at the position.”

That’s the feeling throughout Virginia Tech’s offense, really. While Hodges emerged as one of the ACC’s top tight ends, he was hardly alone in experiencing the typical growing pains for Virginia Tech this year. Of the nine Hokies with 50 rushing yards or more, eight were freshmen or sophomores. The team’s top three receivers were all freshmen, including Hodges. And the quarterback, Michael Brewer, was a transfer from Texas Tech who’d just arrived on campus two months before the season began.

Hodges said his rapport with Brewer was instant, which makes some sense, given the big target he provided. Still, it was a relationship that had to evolve on the fly.

“We clicked well,” Hodges said. “But it was first-season stuff, and we’ll get better together. Our chemistry throughout the season definitely got better.”

That’s the mantra throughout Blacksburg, Virginia, these days. Fans are disappointed with another mediocre season, and the late-season loss at Wake Forest was rock-bottom for a program that had enjoyed nearly two decades of immense success.

But then there’s the work Hodges did, along with so many other young offensive players, and it’s a little easier to ignore the present in the face of a product that’s being built one step at a time.

Hodges said he’d watch game film of upcoming opponents throughout the season and see clips of O’Leary and Walford, and he couldn’t help but draw comparisons to his own game. It’s easy to do, which is reason enough to be optimistic for Virginia Tech’s future.

So as the Hokies prepare for Saturday's Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman against Cincinnati, the future is very much at the center of everything that’s happening, and Hodges hopes each practice is another step toward having his name listed among the Mackey Award finalists in 2015.

It’s the message he keeps telling all those disappointed fans, too.

“Just stay tuned,” he said. “Stay tuned for the future.”

ACC morning links: Miami goes young

December, 15, 2014
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It’s not exactly a great time to be a Miami fan right now. The 6-6 finish for a team with loads of talent was disappointing, to say the least. Saturday’s broadcast of “The U Part 2” only underscored how far Miami is from its glory years. Duke Johnson and Denzel Perryman, the heart and soul of the current Canes’ roster, both figure to be gone after the bowl game.

So what’s left to boost the optimism around Coral Gables?

Well, according to the Sun-Sentinel, Al Golden is giving plenty of practice reps to the young players in preparation for Miami’s Duck Commander Independence Bowl date with South Carolina, and that’s probably a good step in the right direction.

There will be plenty of turnover at Miami after the season, and as much as Johnson says he’s still undecided on the NFL, it certainly feels like these practices are the beginning of the Canes turning the page.

"It was very important to us," freshman tailback Joseph Yearby told the Sun-Sentinel. "The veteran guys were sitting back, watching and coaching us so the younger guys could get their feet wet and be prepared for next year."

And for a 6-6 team that wrapped up the year with some serious questions about its motivation, that’s a good attitude to have.

If Johnson does depart, Miami will lose its top rusher, leading receiver (Phillip Dorsett), star tight end (Clive Walford), top tackler (Perryman) and leader in sacks (Thurston Armbrister). But Yearby and Gus Edwards, Jermaine Grace and Braxton Berrios, Stacy Coley and Brad Kaaya all will be back, giving an injection of new blood to a program that is probably much better off looking to the future than the past right now.

A few more links:

All-ACC team's toughest omissions

December, 12, 2014
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ESPN released its All-ACC team today, and though we certainly won’t expect much sympathy, it’s worth mentioning that putting those lists together is no easy task. This year, in particular, there were so many strong performances around the ACC that narrowing down the top guards, linebackers, defensive ends -- even the quarterback -- was an arduous task destined to leave some deserving players off the final list.

But since we don’t want to ignore those near-misses entirely, here is a quick look at some of the toughest decisions we had to make for this year’s All-ACC team.

Quarterback: The bottom line is that there is no better player in the conference than Jameis Winston when he’s on, but unlike last season, he had his share of struggles, too. Meanwhile, Marquise Williams emerged as a tremendous dual threat for UNC, helping to overcome a lot of the Tar Heels’ defensive struggles with some huge performances on offense, and Justin Thomas injected new life into Paul Johnson’s old option offense at Georgia Tech. Both Thomas and Williams were deserving candidates for first team — and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson would have been, too, if he had stayed healthy all season. Overall, it was a stellar year for quarterback play in the ACC.

Offensive guard: The problem with debating the merits of offensive linemen is that there aren’t many stats to use to break a tie, and when it came to our top three choices at guard -- Laken Tomlinson, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson -- there was ample debate. In the end, we went with the first two, but Jackson’s contributions -- particularly with the revolving door at center for FSU this season -- shouldn’t go unnoticed. He might have been the Seminoles’ best offensive lineman.

Tight end: In the end, numbers set Clive Walford apart here. He led all ACC tight ends in yards, touchdowns, first downs, yards-per-catch and receptions per game while working with a true freshman quarterback. Still, it’s hard to ignore Nick O'Leary’s fine season (plus bonus points for taking on a bus and winning). Bucky Hodges, Gerald Christian, David Grinnage and Cam Serigne all had fine seasons as well.

Defensive end: OK, we cheated here. Vic Beasley was the obvious choice, but for the opposite side of the line, the debate between Dadi Nicolas and Mario Edwards Jr. was intense, with viable arguments made for both players. Edwards was a crucial cog on FSU’s defense, one of the most dynamic mixes of size and speed in college football. Nicolas was a force throughout the season and stepped up when interior lineman Luther Maddy went down with an injury. In the end, we followed the playoff selection committee’s precedent and avoided the tough question altogether by making our defense a 3-4 unit instead. Sorry, Dadi and Mario -- but now you know how Baylor and TCU feel.

Linebacker: There probably isn’t a more stacked position in the ACC than linebacker. Denzel Perryman and Stephone Anthony were exceptional. David Helton led the ACC in tackles. Lorenzo Mauldin was the most dynamic pass-rusher on Louisville’s stout defense. They all made the cut, but it meant a host of deserving options were left out, including BC’s Josh Keyes, Virginia’s Max Valles and Henry Coley, Syracuse’s Cameron Lynch and Georgia Tech’s Paul Davis.

ESPN.com's All-ACC team

December, 12, 2014
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Presenting the 2014 ESPN.com All-ACC team:

Offense

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: Whenever FSU was in trouble, Greene was there to save the day. He made big catch after big catch, took big hit after big hit, and ended the season with 93 catches for 1,306 yards, helping him break both FSU's records for receptions and receiving yards.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: The senior caught 35 passes for 735 yards and five touchdowns, the latter two numbers among the top 10 in the ACC. Oh, did we mention he missed the first seven games?

TE Clive Walford, Miami: Was there a more complete tight end in the country? The numbers say there might not be: 44 catches (third nationally), 676 yards (third), 7 TDs (third nationally). Walford did this all with a true freshman QB, too.

OT Cameron Erving, Florida State: Erving repeated as the ACC's blocking trophy winner, moving from left tackle to center in Game No. 10 this season and staying there, further showing his value to a unit that had dealt with interior injuries but came on strong late to help running back Dalvin Cook bloom into one of the country's finest freshmen.

OT T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh: Clemmings ought to get at least a piece of James Conner's player of the year trophy. The converted defensive end was among the nation's most improved players, starting every game for the second season in a row while using his athleticism to ace a position switch he had resisted earlier in his career.

C Andy Gallik, Boston College: BC lost a Heisman finalist at running back and actually improved its rushing totals this season. A dual-threat QB explains part of that, but so, too, does a powerful offensive line, led by Gallik in the middle, who helped pave the way for the league's No. 2 rushing attack.

OG Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech: The only ACC team that rushed for more than BC? The only one that kept its QB unscathed more than Duke? The Yellow Jackets are the answer to both, with Mason captaining an oft-overlooked unit that was absolutely integral to the program's resurgence this season while running its famed triple-option attack.

OG Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The future pro turned in his best season yet, helping a Blue Devils offensive line that anchored a balanced offensive attack and kept QB Anthony Boone upright all season long, as Duke surrendered just 13 sacks, tied for 11th-best nationally.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: The reigning Heisman winner was not as sharp as last season, but he once again put up big numbers (3,559 yards, 24 TDs) while leading FSU to another perfect mark. Winston is 26-0 for his career as a starter. You simply cannot beat that.

RB James Conner, Pitt: The ACC player of the year rewrote the Pitt record books -- no easy feat for a place that boasts names like Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin and LeSean McCoy. Conner rushed for 1,675 yards and 24 TDs, responding to each defense's best shot game after game.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Like Conner, Johnson set himself above his peers at a program that has produced plenty of great running backs. Coming off an injury-shortened 2013 season, the junior ran for 1,520 yards and 13 TDs, becoming Miami's all-time leading rusher and its career leader in all-purpose yards.

Defense

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: The ACC's defensive player of the year has seen his decision to return for his senior season pay off, as Beasley led the ACC in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (18.5) while making Clemson's defense the top-ranked unit nationally.

DT Eddie Goldman, Florida State: Who can forget Goldman forcing a Clemson fumble late to keep FSU's perfect season alive? The junior was in the right place at the right time often, a versatile threat who moved back inside this season after playing end. He dominated the line of scrimmage, and one just needs to look at how FSU fared without Goldman -- giving up 331 rushing yards to Georgia Tech as he went down early -- to see his value.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: Ends might get all the stats and glory, but Jarrett's impact on offenses might have been as big as Beasley's, as he helped form arguably the top defensive line in the country. Jarrett had 6.5 TFLs and 11 QB hurries, freeing up those around him and making running the ball next to impossible down the stretch for opponents.

LB David Helton, Duke: The senior led the ACC in tackles (125) and ranked 11th nationally. Helton helped Duke overcome the preseason loss of linebacker Kelby Brown and led a unit that continued its ascension under coordinator Jim Knowles, finishing fifth in the ACC in scoring average (20.6 ppg), and 20th nationally.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: A step-up in competition for Mauldin and the Cardinals meant even better results, as the hybrid notched a career-best 45 tackles and led the team in tackles for loss (13), while notching 6.5 sacks. Louisville's defense was one of the most surprising units in the country this season in its first year under coordinator Todd Grantham, ranking No. 6 nationally.

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: The leading tackler (73) on the nation's top defense, Anthony impacted games in a number of ways for the Tigers, making 9.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage while forcing two fumbles and picking off one pass.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: The senior led the Hurricanes in virtually ever major category: Tackles (102), TFLs (8.5) and forced fumbles (3) among them. He validated his decision to return after last season, recording yet another 100-tackle season and making his case as perhaps the top linebacker in the ACC.

S Gerod Holliman, Louisville: Fourteen interceptions. Fourteen! What more needs to be said? Holliman broke the ACC record and tied the NCAA mark. He had four multi-pick games, including a three-pick performance at BC. And he did this all after transitioning from corner to safety under Grantham's tutelage.

S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State: The sophomore made big play after big play, giving FSU's D an edge at the star position. He clinched the Miami game with a late pick and had two on the season to go with two forced fumbles, 11 break-ups, 13 passes defended and 9.5 TFLs. He blocked a kick, too.

CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: The last in line of the storied Fuller family to come through Blacksburg, the sophomore showed plenty of the same NFL promise that has guided his older brothers. One of only a handful of Hokies to start every game, Fuller finished second in the ACC in passes defended (15), recorded 4.5 TFLs and recovered one fumble.

CB Garry Peters, Clemson: As overlooked as one can be on a defense loaded with stars, Peters quietly executed his job to a T, picking off one pass, breaking up 11 and defending 12. He forced a fumble and managed eight TFLs as well on a pass defense that ranked No. 3 nationally.

Special teams

K Roberto Aguayo, Florida State: Just another year at the office for Aguayo: 25-of-27 on field-goal attempts, perfect on extra points and a number of crucial kicks, which wasn't always required last year when he first stepped into the national spotlight. Aguayo is a whopping 46-of-49 for his career on field-goal attempts.

P Will Monday, Duke: Monday averaged 43.4 yards per punt, with 12 of his boots going for 50 or more yards. Eight of his punts were touchbacks, 19 were fair caught and 17 were inside the 20-yard line.

KR DeVon Edwards, Duke: Edwards averaged 25.4 yards per kick return, including a 99-yard touchdown in a high-scoring affair at Pitt, which the Blue Devils ended up winning in OT.

AP Tyler Boyd, Pitt: Boyd was a jack-of-all trades for Pitt, catching 69 passes for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also the ACC's top punt returner, averaging 10.8 yards per return, which ranked 15th nationally.
Miami coach Al Golden is not going anywhere. That question has already been answered time and again.

But there are many other questions looming over a program that underachieved in 2014, one that ended the regular season on a three-game losing streak -- including dispassionate losses to Virginia and Pitt.

The most immediate question that comes to mind: If Miami could not get up for a home finale against Pitt, what will get the Hurricanes motivated to win in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Lousiana, against an average South Carolina team that was among the most disappointing in the country?

Miami athletic director Blake James tried to put a positive spin on the bowl assignment, saying in a conference call with reporters Monday, "I'm confident Al and our guys will be ready to go and go out there and play a great game. There's a lot of things to look at as a real positive and a lot of things for our guys to get excited about, just going against an SEC opponent right away."

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya, Deon Clarke
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsMiami fans see a talent like Brad Kaaya and then losses to Virginia and Pitt, and it does not compute.
While the negativity in Coral Gables will not magically disappear with a Miami win, a loss would not exactly tamp down what has become a smoldering fire among alums and fans that cannot accept a .500 Canes team under any circumstances.

James realizes this, saying multiple times, "We have to get better. 6-6 isn't acceptable at the University of Miami. We need to get better as a program."

How exactly will that happen? James was asked whether coaching changes outside Golden could be in store once the bowl game is over. He said any staff changes would have to come from Golden, not him. James was also asked whether he has lost any confidence in the coaching staff over the last year.

"After the bowl game, I'll reflect back on the entire season and talk with Al about it," James said. "As I've said numerous times, he's our coach. He's going to continue to be our coach. He knows we have to get better, I know we have to get better so I have to talk to him about what I can do to support his efforts to getting better because at the end of the day, that's the expectation for the University of Miami football program."

A win would obviously be a big boost to morale, because 2015 is shaping up to be a critical year for both the Canes and Golden. Miami is losing its best defensive player in Denzel Perryman and potentially its two best offensive threats in Clive Walford and Duke Johnson, who has to decide whether to return or enter the NFL draft.

Quarterback Brad Kaaya showed tremendous grit, determination and growth in his first year as a starter. He presents the biggest reason for optimism. As he noted, "For us, the bowl game is important to getting some momentum for next year. We can get some good bowl practices in and let that carry into next season and guide us to next year."

Miami has an opportunity to build around its first bona fide standout at the quarterback position since Ken Dorsey. What will the Canes do with that chance? Golden is not in danger right now, but another 6-6 season changes that completely.

Golden has been through the ringer at Miami. James and the administration have waited patiently as the NCAA cloud cleared. But that cannot be used as an excuse much longer. Not when Miami so clearly had the talent to be much better than 6-6 this season. That is why so many among the fan base have lost faith in Golden and the coaching staff.

They see the players on the field, and they see the record, and it simply does not compute. They see how Miami took Florida State to the wire, and they see what happened against Virginia and Pitt, and it does not compute.

"I'm disappointed any time we lose. It probably maybe stung a little bit more in those last two because I felt we made such great progress through the Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, North Carolina games and even in that Florida State game," James said. "I felt coming out of there that we'd be able to go out and perform at a high level and I didn't see it from my vantage point in those final two weeks. That's something Al and the guys will be working on. We need to get that fixed and be ready to go in Shreveport."

If not, what already is a long offseason will feel much, much longer.

Biggest disappointment: UNC or Miami

December, 3, 2014
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In a lot of ways, Miami and North Carolina aren't particularly different. Both entered the season with ample talent at the skill positions. Both had questions in the trenches that were largely overlooked by the preseason prognosticators. Both have felt the sting of looming NCAA sanctions that have hindered depth at the program for years. Both wrapped up the year with unflinchingly awful performances to finish the regular season at 6-6.

So really, we're splitting hairs when we discuss which program was more disappointing this season, and to ask their respective fan bases, both are rightfully frustrated. But since it's our job to split hairs, David Hale and Andrea Adelson debate which .500 team disappointed the most in 2014.

Hale says it's North Carolina.

The case for North Carolina as the most disappointing is pretty simple: The Tar Heels stunk all year.

They stunk in the beginning. They rebounded a little, just enough to highlight how talented they really were, even if the production hadn't matched the skill. They had a high point in the penultimate game of the year against Duke, then finished things with a 35-7 defeat to rival NC State in what may well have been the most embarrassing loss of Larry Fedora's tenure -- and this is in a same season in which his squad gave up 70 points to East Carolina.

What happened at Miami is somewhat understandable. The Canes were playing relatively well, lost a gut-wrenching game to Florida State, then folded in the final two contests. At UNC, the scenario is far more perplexing.

It was just a year ago that the Heels opened 1-5 but finished red hot. That strong finish boosted expectations and players unanimously said they were prepped to avoid another lackluster first half. So what happened? A narrow escape against San Diego State was the only thing that kept UNC from starting 1-5 yet again.

Miami at least put a quality product on the field more often than not. UNC's defense spent most of the season not just playing poorly, but historically so. The Heels allowed 450 yards or more eight times this season. Only Texas Tech had more among Power 5 programs. They had five losses by 14 points or more, something no other team with a .500 or better record managed. In other words, UNC wasn't out-talented. It was just outperformed.

The counter is simple, too. As bad as UNC's defense was, the offense was pretty good. But that's an even bigger indicator of just how much talent this year's Heels' team wasted. How could the same offense that torched Duke for 45 (in spite of three turnovers!) manage just seven a week later against the Wolfpack? How could a team that averaged nearly 35 points per game still lose five times by two touchdowns or more? Miami's early troubles revolved around a true freshman QB getting his feet wet. North Carolina's revolved around an unnecessary QB competition that took a month to finally resolve itself. How could a team that beat the top two teams in the Coastal also lose to ECU, NC State and Virginia Tech?

And if that's not enough to convince you that UNC is the bigger disappointment, there's always this trump card from Nov. 1: Miami 47, North Carolina 20.

Adelson says it's Miami.

Forget for a minute that Miami was the preseason choice to win the Coastal Division. Failing to make it to the ACC championship game (again) classifies as a disappointment nearly every year. But the reason Miami is the biggest disappointment this season has nothing to do with failing to meet those expectations.

They were too high from the start. The reason this team disappointed so much is how it played, especially to end the season.

Miami has no business being a 6-6 team. Not with a dominant running back in Duke Johnson. Not with a Butkus Award finalist in Denzel Perryman. Not with a Mackey Award finalist in Clive Walford. Not with a rising star in quarterback Brad Kaaya. Miami had seven players recognized on the All-ACC team as first- second- or third-team selections. North Carolina had three. Talk about underperforming.

Especially when we saw exactly what this team was capable against Florida State. Miami played with heart, it played with conviction. It played with passion, it played with a purpose. But those moments proved to be fleeting. Once the Canes lost such an emotionally draining game, they seemed to give up on the season.

They were lifeless against Virginia, and listless against Pittsburgh, two teams Miami should have beaten. But as has become a trademark now, the Canes cannot seem to get themselves motivated for teams that mean little to them.

Getting up for Florida State is no problem. But getting up for Virginia and Pitt? That was a problem. Getting up for Duke last year? That was a problem. Getting up for Louisville in the bowl game last year? That was a problem. These are continuing trends, not just exclusive to this season. North Carolina has been mediocre two years in a row. But what does it say that Miami won nine games a year ago, and just six games with arguably a better team -- and a healthy Johnson for all 12 games?

The only way that makes sense is if you take a closer look at the intangibles that separate good teams from great ones. While it is true Miami coach Al Golden has had to fight the NCAA and depth concerns from the moment he arrived, it also is true his teams often look unprepared to play. That falls on him, and it falls on his staff.

Both have taken heavy criticism for coaching decisions, schemes, alignments and non-adjustments during wins and losses. That obviously is a problem, too. But players need to take accountability as well. It has been 15 years since Miami could roll its helmets onto a field and win, even if it gave half its effort. The Canes are not that team anymore. They have to win the way just about everybody else does: with a fighting mentality, heart, determination, unbending work ethic and an unstoppable drive to win.

Those intangibles were not evident for large portions of the season. So it ended in disappointment, despite all the talent.

ACC morning links

December, 3, 2014
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Florida State won again. And then Florida State dropped again.

After closing out an undefeated regular season, the Seminoles dropped to No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday. In the initial rankings in late October, the Seminoles were slotted at No. 2.

“I’m not surprised by anything anymore,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said after learning the Seminoles dropped to No. 4.

There isn’t much of anything left to harp on with the rankings. The selection committee’s inconsistencies have been well documented. The flaws in the exaggerated Florida State narrative have been exposed.

Yes, the Seminoles have not looked overly impressive, especially the last two weeks when they needed missed fourth-quarter field goals from unranked Boston College and Florida to secure wins. But it wasn’t long ago -- a week to be exact -- that TCU was criticized for narrowly escaping an upset at the hands of Kansas. It would have been the Horned Frogs’ second loss.

Florida State has played five top-15 defenses, which is more than any other contender. The highly-criticized defense is jelling under a first-year coordinator and without the five NFL players lost from 2013. Since the end of September, the Seminoles have jumped 39 spots to No. 27 in scoring defense and 31 spots to No. 47 in total defense. Those rankings are even better when just looking at the month of November.

It is time to digress, though. The regular season is over and Jeff Long gave the impression the Seminoles won’t drop out of the top four as long as they defeat No. 11 Georgia Tech.

Then they will have a chance at another national championship if they win the Rose Bowl or Sugar Bowl. Unless of course the committee decides to re-rank after the semifinals.
The ACC announced its 2014 all-conference selections Monday, with a handful of noteworthy winners and snubs.

Florida State once again led the way with 17 players named, including 10 named first-team All-ACC. Duke had nine players named, Virginia had eight, and Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech had seven.

The most noteworthy first-team selection was FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who has led the Seminoles to a second straight undefeated season, but also leads the league in interceptions. The battle for the top spot at quarterback was particularly close, with UNC's Marquise Williams (second team), Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas (third team), Miami's Brad Kaaya, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and NC State's Jacoby Brissett all having strong seasons, too.

Here's the first-team All-ACC selections:

QB: Jameis Winston (FSU)
WR: Rashad Greene (FSU)
WR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)
WR: Tyler Boyd (Pitt)
RB: Duke Johnson (Miami)
RB: James Conner (Pitt)
C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)
G: Laken Tomlinson (Duke)
G: Tre Jackson (FSU)
T: T.J. Clemmings (Pitt)
T: Cameron Erving (FSU)

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)
DE: Mario Edwards Jr. (FSU)
DT: Eddie Goldman (FSU)
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)
LB: Denzel Perryman (Miami)
LB: David Helton (Duke)
LB: Stephone Anthony (Clemson)
CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
CB: P.J. Williams (FSU)
S: Jalen Ramsey (FSU)
S: Gerod Holliman (Louisville)

K: Roberto Aguayo (FSU)
P: Wil Baumann (NC State)
Ret: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

To see the full roster, click here.

Among the biggest snubs in the ACC:

Miami tight end Clive Walford is a Mackey Award finalist and has more yards, touchdowns and first downs and caught a higher percentage of his targets than fellow Mackey Finalist, Nick O'Leary. Still, O'Leary was named to the first team.

Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker was a third-team selection thanks to missing the first seven games of the season, but he ranks seventh in the league in yards in spite of just playing five games.

NC State's Shadrach Thornton is third among running backs in yards (811) but was not named to any of the All-ACC teams.

BC's Josh Keyes has 11 tackles for loss — good for 12th in the conference — but was not one of the 10 linebackers named to All-ACC teams.

Wake Forest's Marquel Lee ranks 10th in the league with 12 TFLs and ninth in tackles with 101 but did not even earn an honorable mention.

Georgia Tech's Shaq Mason has anchored one of the best offensive lines in the country, helping pave the way for the nation's No. 4 rushing offense, but he was not a first-team selection.

By the numbers: Week 14 recap

December, 1, 2014
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We’ve reached the end of the regular season, which means we’re blowing out the last installment of our stats recaps.

Georgia Tech’s big win

Georgia Tech’s win against Georgia was the fourth time this season an ACC team knocked off a non-conference top-10 opponent (Virginia Tech against Ohio State, Boston College against USC and FSU against Notre Dame were the others). The other four Power 5 leagues had just two wins against non-conference top-10 foes combined this season (both by the Pac-12).

Georgia Tech forced two crucial turnovers in the red zone against Georgia, and also had an interception to seal the game in overtime. That has been par for the course for the Yellow Jackets, who rank 10th nationally in turnover margin (+11), 12th in takeaways (27), fourth in points off turnovers (123), and second in red-zone takeaways (7).

In its past five games, Georgia Tech has 17 takeaways. Only Louisiana Tech has more during that span in the nation (18). And considering Georgia Tech averages the highest time of possession per drive (3:02), not only do all those takeaways lead to points, but it also accounts for average of 11 extra minutes of possession time per game. Not coincidentally, the Jackets’ time-of-possession edge during the past five weeks is an average of 12 minutes, 12 seconds.

Lucky No. 14 for Holliman

Louisville’s Gerod Holliman snagged his 14th interception of the season to clinch Saturday’s win against Kentucky. The interception also clinched the FBS record for Holliman, who tied the mark set by Washington’s Al Worley in 1968. If Holliman can snag one more pick during Louisville’s bowl game, he would match the highest total by any player in NCAA history, regardless of division.

Holliman’s 14 interceptions are astounding. No other ACC defender has more than four. Ole Miss' Senquez Golson is the closest nationally with nine, but only three other players in the country have even half Holliman's total. In fact, there are only 12 players from Power 5 teams in the nation who have more total passes defended than Holliman has interceptions.

The term "ball hawk" gets thrown around pretty loosely, but Holliman’s exploits in 2014 certainly warrant the moniker.

ACC's top tight ends

The ACC will have two-thirds of the Mackey Award finalists for the nation’s top tight ends, and we saw their impact in Week 14.

Clive Walford had four catches for 49 yards in the early going for Miami, but he went down with an injury with the score 21-13. Miami came up empty on four of its final six drives without him, and Brad Kaaya completed just 12-of-32 passes the rest of the way.

Nick O'Leary was Jameis Winston's top target in the red zone against Florida, catching four passes for 52 yards and two scores.

Though Walford and O’Leary are two of the nation’s three best tight ends, they are not exactly head and shoulders above the rest of the ACC.

Bucky Hodges helped lead Virginia Tech to an 11th straight win against Virginia on Friday. David Grinnage had a TD against UNC on Saturday, and Wake Forest’s Cam Serigne had six catches and a TD against Duke.

In fact, there are only seven Power 5 tight ends with at least 500 receiving yards this season, and the ACC is responsible for four.

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Overall, the ACC has six tight ends with more than 300 receiving yards, nine with at least 20 catches, and eight with at least three touchdowns.

Cook comes of age

Dalvin Cook was the hero for Florida State yet again Saturday, rushing for a career-high 144 yards on 24 carries against Florida.

Since Cook emerged in Week 7, only four players in the ACC have accounted for more yards from scrimmage, and they are all pretty good: Duke Johnson, James Conner, DeVante Parker and Tyler Boyd.

But parse the numbers a little more, and it’s easy to see why Cook has been such a huge factor for the Seminoles. In the second halves of games since Week 7, no ACC player has more scrimmage yards than Cook (468), and he ranks eighth nationally in second-half yardage during that span.

Wolford steps up

It was a rough freshman season for Wake Forest's John Wolford, who was thrown to the fire early and then endured the highest sack rate of any quarterback in the nation. But if there is reason for optimism in Winston-Salem, it is because of how Wolford finished the season.

After tossing 13 interceptions in his first eight games, Wolford had just one in his final four games. In his first seven ACC contests, he completed 55 percent of his throws, averaged 4.9 yards per attempt and had three TD passes with seven interceptions. Against Duke on Saturday, he completed 67 percent of his passes, threw for 251 yards and had a career-high three touchdown passes without an interception.

Pitt’s dynamic duo

The regular season ended with Pitt’s Conner (1,675 yards) and Boyd (1,149 yards) as one of just four sets of Power 5 conference teammates to top 1,000 yards. The others were USC’s Nelson Agholor (1,223) and Javorius Allen (1,337), Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong (1,062) and D.J. Foster (1,002), and Michigan State’s Tony Lippett (1,124) and Jeremy Langford (1,360).

If you add a tailback’s rushing and a wideout’s receiving yards together, only Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and Alex Erickson (2,911) and Colorado State’s Dee Hart and Rashard Higgins (2,894) had more yards than Conner and Boyd (2,824).

Extra points
  • In the past two seasons, Miami is a combined 13-3 with an average scoring margin of +17 in games before playing Florida State. The Hurricanes are a combined 2-7 with a scoring margin of -10 from the FSU game on.
  • Entering this season, Florida State had at least four tackles for loss in 56 straight games. Saturday’s win against Florida marked the third time this season FSU has finished with three. In nine of the Seminoles’ 12 games this season, they recorded zero or one sack. They had produced only 15 such games in the first four years of Jimbo Fisher’s tenure.
  • Only five Power 5 conference teams held every opponent this season to less than 450 yards of offense. Two of them are in the ACC: Boston College and Virginia.
  • Here is the complete list of quarterbacks with at least 2,000 passing yards, 300 rushing yards, 20 passing TDs and no more than five interceptions this season: Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett. In fact, in the past five years, only eight Power 5 conference quarterbacks have matched those numbers.
  • J.C. Coleman racked up 118 yards on 18 carries in Virginia Tech’s win against Virginia. He has now topped 95 yards in all three games since Marshawn Williams went down with an injury. The last Hokies tailback to do that was David Wilson, who did it in seven straight in 2011.
  • Parker had his fourth 100-yard receiving day of the season against Kentucky. Only 10 players in the country have had more against Power 5 opponents, which is made even more impressive given that Parker has only played in five games total. Despite missing the first seven games of the season, Parker still ranks seventh in the ACC in receiving.
  • Miami’s Phillip Dorsett finished off the regular season as the nation’s leader in yards-per-catch, averaging 26.65. Colorado State’s Higgins (19), a Biletnikoff Finalist, is the only receiver in the country with more grabs of 30-plus yards than Dorsett (12).
  • Clemson’s Artavis Scott set a school record for freshmen with 185 receiving yards against South Carolina. Scott now has 851 yards this season, which is second to only Illinois' Mike Dudek among Power 5 true freshmen.
  • Clemson finished the regular season averaging 10.2 tackles-for-loss per game, tops in the country and the difference between the Tigers and No. 2 Virginia Tech (1.47 TFL per game) is the same as the difference between No. 2 and No. 19. In fact, Clemson's numbers are historically good. Since 2008, only two other teams even averaged 9 TFLs per game -- and one of those was last season's Clemson team.
  • With 11 tackles on Saturday, FSU's Reggie Northrup now has 101 for the year. He's the first Seminoles defender to top 100 tackles in a season since Buster Davis in 2006.

ACC morning links

November, 26, 2014
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Deshaun Watson's status remains up in the air midweek as Clemson readies for its regular-season finale against rival South Carolina.

"He did practice yesterday in a green jersey," coach Dabo Swinney said, according to the (Charleston) Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner. "Monday practice is a short practice. We're only out there about an hour. Today we'll find out a lot more. We'll put him in a normal jersey, and he'll practice at normal tempo with the rest of the guys and we'll see where he is.

"It really is a day-to-day thing, and I'm not trying to have some conspiracy or anything like that. We just don't know. It may be a decision that's game time. I don't know. But he is getting better each day. He had a new brace on yesterday that he seemed pretty comfortable with. So we'll see how he does today with some good, competitive work, good-on-good and stuff like that where the speed of the game is going to be a little better today."

Watson had suffered a sprained LCL and a bone bruise in his left knee early in the Tigers' 28-6 loss Nov. 15 at Georgia Tech.

Asked if Watson could start Saturday at anything less than 100 percent, Swinney said: "Well, I think, again, as long as he can do the things that we need him to do to win the game, he's our starter. I mean, he's proven that, but he's got to be able to do those things. We can't change our offense.

"He's got to be able to play and execute. He's got to be able to escape. He has to be able to run our system. Those are things that he has to demonstrate throughout the week of practice."

Elsewhere, the status of another ACC star, James Conner, also remains unclear, though it appears he was not a full participant in Tuesday's practice.


Here are the rest of your ACC links:
Growing up in California, Brad Kaaya's best introduction to the Florida State-Miami rivalry came through video games, where the “wide right” play was a staple, he said.

He watched a handful of the FSU-Miami tilts on TV, but Kaaya also came of age long after the rivalry had peaked. In fact, it’s been a decade since Kaaya’s Hurricanes have won at home against Florida State, and while he didn’t grow up around the rivalry, he understands what that monkey on Miami’s back means.

“For me, it’s like UCLA and USC,” said Kaaya, who grew up outside Los Angeles. “There’s guys on both teams who played together in high school.”

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsAs he's matured this season, Brad Kaaya hasn't been afraid to let it loose in the passing game.
For the Florida natives, this game is personal, and so the pressure is now on Kaaya to go to bat for his teammates to defend home turf in his adopted home state.

“There’ll probably be a lot of trash talk before the game, and I’m sure guys are texting each other right now,” Kaaya said. “I don’t know anybody on the other team so I can’t do that, but I’ve definitely got to help my Florida brothers out.”

When the season began with a 31-13 loss at Louisville, it certainly seemed like the formula for Miami’s success would be the other way around. For Kaaya, a true freshman who arrived at Miami this summer, it was a step into the big leagues that few make easily. But he was surrounded by talent at the offensive skill positions, and the hope was that his teammates could do enough to make Kaaya’s life a little easier.

That’s happened, of course, as Duke Johnson has blossomed into a fringe Heisman candidate and Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford have been vital weapons in the passing game. But the real key to Miami’s midseason improvement has been Kaaya, who hardly plays like a true freshman anymore.

Kaaya leads the ACC in yards-per-attempt (9.0), touchdown passes (20) and passer rating (157.6). In his last five games, he’s thrown 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Kaaya has as many completions of 20-plus yards against FBS teams as Baylor star Bryce Petty (34).

Kaaya has grown up, and it’s showing on the field.

“It feels completely different,” Kaaya said. “I’ve learned a lot of things you can’t really learn without actually being in a game. In practice you can learn how to throw to windows or learn route timing, but there’s just that certain aspect of actually being in the game that there’s nothing like it when the bullets are actually flying.”

It’s not that they’ve all been easy lessons, and Kaaya has made his share of mistakes this season, too. But he’s taken steps each week, and he’s shown consistent improvement.

That’s been particularly true on Kaaya’s deep throws. His lofty yards-per-attempt average illustrates the success, but what’s been more striking is how much that’s evolved from the opening week.

In Kaaya’s first two games, he threw just six passes for 20 yards or more. Two were intercepted. Since then, however, he’s gone deep 24 times, connected for touchdowns on six of those throws, and hasn’t thrown another INT.

Chalk it up in part to Kaaya’s rapidly developed maturity, but the other ingredient has been Miami’s superb run game. In that same span, the Hurricanes have rushed for an average of 6.7 yards per carry -- the second-best rate for any Power 5 conference team.

“We’ve gotten into better scenarios,” Kaaya said. “We’ve set them up a lot better instead of just taking shots. We’re setting up the whole offense. Duke is running good. ... That’s really setting up a lot of good play-action passing, a lot of good trick plays, and a lot of good vertical passing concepts.”

All that progress figures to get its biggest test of the season Saturday, however. Florida State offers an athletic secondary and an aggressive approach, and the Seminoles will be out to test just how quickly Kaaya has grown on the job.

“They are athletes that can match any offense,” Kaaya said of FSU’s defense. “They have athletes all across the board. They’re really good at playing man coverage. They roll safeties down and blitz off the edge, and they also love to bring the cornerback blitzes as well. They’re gutsy with a lot of their calls because they flat-out know how to execute.”

It’s games like this that separate the freshmen from the veterans, but Kaaya knows there’s even more on the line than that.

This is a game that defines the season, the game that means everything to the guys who’ll have to hear the smack talk from former high school teammates for the rest of the year.

In games like this, there’s no time to grow up on the job. It’s just about executing.

“There’s no game like this on our schedule,” Kaaya said. “This Florida State game tops all the other games. Everyone says this is a whole other animal.”
To give Miami true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya the best possible chance to succeed, he needed the absolute best his teammates and coaches had to give in his debut against Louisville.

Unfortunately for Kaaya, it seems everybody around him let him down.

The offensive line was overmatched and played poorly, contributing to Duke Johnson's ineffectiveness. Kaaya looked like a jittery freshman. But perhaps most troubling of all, the coaching staff put together too conservative a plan and seemed ill prepared to adjust at what Louisville was throwing at them.

[+] EnlargeMiami's Brad Kaaya
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesMiami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya completed 17 of 29 passes for 174 with one touchdown and two interceptions.
Combine them all together, and you have an offense that looks as dysfunctional as Miami did in a 31-13 loss.

Coach Al Golden admitted Tuesday there is a fine line between throwing open the entire playbook on the road in a hostile environment and making sure to call enough plays to get a new quarterback comfortable. But he admitted that perhaps more could have been done to help Kaaya out.

"That's a fair criticism. We probably could have or should have opened it up a little more for him, just based on where he is as a player and his mind," Golden said.

Kaaya made his share of mistakes in his debut, but so did those around him. He threw two interceptions. But worse, Miami had two trips inside the Louisville 10 yard-line and came away with just a field goal. The first time, Kaaya noted an opportunity to catch Louisville offside. So he rushed a bubble screen to Stacy Coley, unintentionally throwing a lateral. Louisville recovered.

That one was on Kaaya.

The second time, Miami put together a long drive that started at its own 5 with some big plays from Johnson and Phillip Dorsett. Down to the 12-yard line, Miami advanced to the 5 and needed 3 yards to get a first down. Miami called a third straight running play and settled for the field goal.

That one is on the coaches.

"I was of the mind-set we were going to get a first down in four downs," Golden said. "I was not counting on a 2-yard loss on third down. Even if we just block it correctly and get back to the line of scrimmage, I'm probably going for it there. It didn't turn out that way because we missed an assignment."

The offensive line was an issue throughout the course of the game. One ineligible man downfield penalty negated a big play from Johnson late in the game. Lorenzo Mauldin and Deiontrez Mount seemed to set up shop in the Canes backfield. Kaaya was only sacked twice, but he was hit countless others.

"We clearly did not protect him well enough," Golden said.

Louisville followed a similar blueprint in the bowl game meeting between them last year, despite a new scheme and staff change. The Cards were physical and aggressive, and got after the quarterback. Yet Miami did not seem ready for what the Cards would do. When it became clear that this Louisville defense was playing much quicker, especially off the edge, Miami never adjusted.

Kaaya was not perfect, but he showed why he was an elite prospect out of high school. Some of his throws were perfect, especially the 31-yard pass to Clive Walford that set up his touchdown. You saw the glimmers that gave Golden the confidence to go with a true freshman over fifth-year senior Jake Heaps. Kaaya finished 17-of-29 for 174 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Not great, but not awful either.

"There's always things to get better at," Kaaya told reporters after the game. "I did some good things and I did some bad things, but I just feel like there's always a place to improve."

There is room to grow for everyone on the team. But for Kaaya to reach his true potential, he is going to need his coaches to get him there. They need to step up their game, too.
Miami and Virginia Tech now have their answers at starting quarterback, though they went different routes in making their decisions.

Both brought in transfers in the offseason to compete for the starting job. But only the Hokies went the transfer route, as they announced that Michael Brewer would take over for Logan Thomas when the season opens Saturday.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewer
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsMichael Brewer brings a measure of experience to the starting quarterback job for the Hokies.
Miami went the more unconventional route, announcing Sunday that true freshman Brad Kaaya had won the starting job over fifth-year senior Jake Heaps.

Ultimately, those decisions will have a major impact on each team's Coastal Division hopes.

The choice Miami made was slightly more surprising for a few reasons. First, Heaps has valuable game experience, having started at two stops before arriving at Miami in the summer. Second, Miami opens the season on the road at Louisville. Many thought Al Golden would tab Heaps based on these two facts alone.

But Kaaya has intrigued Miami from the moment he committed in 2013. The Canes were the first team to extend him a scholarship offer, and he stuck with them despite the distance (he is from California) and several in-state schools putting on the hard sell. Offensive coordinator James Coley told local reporters after practice Sunday that three months ago he never would have envisioned starting a true freshman on the road to open the season.

Then again, Coley also said Kaaya is "not your regular freshman."

Kaaya has drawn nothing but raves since arriving on campus, and he has drawn particular attention for his unflappable demeanor. Miami has been desperate for a standout at the position for 12 years and counting. His predecessor, Stephen Morris, was solid but never rose to the elite level that people have come to expect from anybody playing the position at Miami. Now Kaaya gets to put that pressure on his shoulders.

Brewer at least has more game experience than Kaaya, having played as a backup at Texas Tech the past two seasons. When he made his decision to transfer to Virginia Tech, many expected him to win the starting job. Mark Leal, who served as the backup to Thomas the past several seasons, struggled in the bowl game and during the spring, opening the door for Brewer.

Where Kaaya has an edge over Brewer, then, is in the talent around him. Miami has the best running back in the ACC in Duke Johnson, one of the deepest and most talented receiver groups in the league, solid tight ends and a good offensive line. Virginia Tech is expected to be better at running back, receiver and tight end as well as on the offensive line, but Miami is better at all four spots headed into the season.

Perhaps that gives Golden and Coley more confidence lining up a true freshman on the road. He has a supporting cast to truly support him. Ultimately, though, both programs and both head coaches will be judged on the quarterback decisions they made this weekend. The Coastal could depend on it.

By the numbers: Tight end talent

August, 21, 2014
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Much has been written about Florida State’s new-look receiving corps this offseason, including:
So, with all that talk about receivers, it’s not surprising that perhaps the Seminoles’ biggest mismatch in the passing game has dipped a bit beneath the radar.

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Jeanine Leech/Icon SMINick O'Leary might go down as the best tight end in Florida State history.
That, of course, would be tight end Nick O'Leary, who projects to depart after this season as the best at his position in school history, notes Tomahawk Nation.

O’Leary could be crucial for Florida State this season as the Seminoles look for a red-zone target to replace the departed Kelvin Benjamin and a reliable receiver to take some pressure off the sure-handed Rashad Greene.

Based on last year’s statistics, O’Leary should be an obvious answer in both cases.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, O’Leary was targeted 10 times in the red zone last season, trailing only Greene (14) and Benjamin (13).

O’Leary also caught 8 of 9 passes thrown to him on third down, easily the highest percentage among FSU’s receivers last season.

And then there’s this: Among all ACC teams, no tight ends had a higher percentage of targets caught than Florida State (79.5 percent) and none averaged more yards per target (13.1) or reception (16.5) than the Seminoles. FSU also tied with Clemson and Boston College for the most touchdown receptions by a tight end last year with seven.

That’s serious production for a unit that also figures to have a healthy No. 2 option in Kevin Haplea this year, too, and it’s made O’Leary a clear All-American candidate.

O’Leary was targeted just 42 times last year, however, and that number figures to increase quite a bit in 2014. Would a 50-catch, 10-TD season be out of the question? That might actually be a starting point for predictions.

But Florida State isn’t the only ACC team with some tight-end talking points. Here are a few more ACC tight-end tidbits, courtesy ESPN Stats & Info.

  • Earlier this week, we wrote about Virginia Tech’s emerging weapons at the position. Coordinator Scott Loeffler has made a habit of using his tight ends in every other offense he’s been a part of, but when starter Ryan Malleck went down last year in fall camp, it put a crimp in the Hokies’ plans. Expect much bigger things in 2014.
  • Pitt is hoping to use its tight ends more, too, as The Post-Gazette noted earlier this week. That would mark a significant change of direction for the Panthers. Just 9.7 percent of their passing yards last year went to tight ends — the fourth-lowest percentage in the league.
  • The three most targeted tight ends in the ACC last year won’t be around in 2014. UNC’s Eric Ebron is off to the NFL, Virginia’s Jake McGee transferred to Florida, and Duke’s Braxton Deaver is out for the season after an ACL injury earlier this week.
  • How big might the Deaver injury be for Duke? One notch below O’Leary’s big numbers for Florida State was Deaver. Duke’s tight ends accounted for the league’s second-best completion percentage (78.5 percent) and yards-per-target (9.9). David Reeves likely steps in as the starter, but the guy to watch out for in Duke’s passing game, according to QB Anthony Boone, will be redshirt senior Issac Blakeney (6-6, 225), whom Boone described as “Kelvin Benjamin-esque.”
  • The loss of McGee might be a mixed bag for Virginia. No team in the conference targeted its tight ends more (120 times) and none received less production from those targets (4.7 yards per target). Overall Virginia’s tight ends caught just 52.5 percent of their targets, with McGee hauling in just 53.1 percent of his targets.
  • Miami’s Clive Walford could be a crucial player for the Hurricanes’ offense in 2014. With a new QB taking the reins, Walford makes for a fun target. No ACC tight end had a higher percentage of his yards come after the catch last year than he did (61.5 percent). The downside? Walford also had more drops than any other ACC tight end (six).
On Sunday, esteemed ACC writer Andrea Adelson wrote a piece talking about how Florida isbehind instate rivals Florida State and Miami -- two teams the Gators lost to in 2013.

While I agree that Florida is behind these two at the moment, Andrea and I had a bit of an argument when it comes to the 2014 season. Even though Florida went an embarrassing 4-8 last year, I think that with an improved offense under new coordinator Kurt Roper and what yet again should be a fierce defense, the Gators will have a better record than Miami, which went 9-4 last fall.

Andrea disagrees, saying Florida's offensive questions and schedule will be too much, while the Canes have a more manageable schedule and a more proven offense.

We decided to take our argument to the public and debate both sides for you all to see:

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel is back from his 2013 season-ending injury, and he's looking more comfortable in the new Florida offense.
Edward Aschoff: I have to admit, Andrea, your piece on Sunday about the three power schools in the state of Florida was spot on. I agree with everything you wrote, but then came Monday, when our conversation left us in disagreement. You think Miami, which went 9-4 and beat Florida last year, will finish this season with a better record than Florida. I have to disagree. Last year was a disaster of epic proportions in Gainesville, but the Gators lost 15 players to season-ending injuries, including starters such as Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones, Dominique Easley and Chaz Green. Florida won't have the same injury problems this fall, and expect a lot more from this offense with Roper (you know him pretty well) running the spread. I talked to Driskel and his receivers about the offense and they are way more comfortable with Roper's system, and they've been gassing a pretty good defense with the uptempo. The receivers are incredibly confident in the new system, and it's clear this is the offense Driskel was born to run. Florida does play Alabama and LSU from the Western Division, but LSU, South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri and Florida State are all games the Gators will play in the state of Florida. Call me crazy, but I think that if this offense figures things out and the defense plays to its potential, Florida has a chance to win nine games in the regular season. Miami? How about eight?

AA: Edward, take the Gator head off and breathe deeply. Nine wins against that schedule? I agree Florida will be better, but it is hard to find more than seven wins given the opponents and all the unknowns on offense. And that is not just coming from me. A few months ago, a Gator fan walked up to me at a speaking engagement here at the Orlando Touchdown Club and said, "I will be so happy if we go 7-5!" How expectations have shifted in state. While it is true I have some doubts about Miami, too, I have two words to counter your argument: Duke Johnson. Miami has him; Florida does not. Maaaaaybe if the Gators had a dynamic skill player, I'd believe you. But they don't. Miami was 7-0 before Johnson got hurt last year -- including a win over the Gators -- and 2-4 without him. Need I go on?

[+] EnlargeJohnson
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsFlorida doesn't have a proven skill player on a par with Miami's Duke Johnson.
EA: Gator head? Real original. Remember two names: Kelvin Taylor and Demarcus Robinson. Both sophomores have a chance to be special for the Gators. Taylor is leaner, quicker, faster and stronger. The coaches have raved about his improvements since spring practice began, and he should have no problem being the lead back from the start this year. He isn't as explosive as his father -- All-American Florida back Fred Taylor -- but he's shiftier and will be a real weapon in Roper's offense. As for Robinson, he barely did anything last year, but has finally found his focus. He's a big-play threat in this offense, and the coaches trust in him a lot more right now. He has really come into his own during practice this fall. The folks in Gainesville see him as that playmaker at receiver they have desperately needed. Driskel shouldn't have a problem using them. Speaking of quarterbacks, you suiting up to throw the ball for the Canes?

AA: Miami does have a hole at quarterback, a hole I have pointed out repeatedly (and much to the chagrin of Miami fans). But I don't mean to sound like a broken record here. Talented skill players have this way of making their quarterback look good. Driskel has struggled, in part, because he has had no help. Miami will provide its starter with a plethora of help, from potential 1,000-yard receiver Stacy Coley, to deep threat Phillip Dorsett to tight end Clive Walford. Just to name three. Aside from Johnson, Miami is deep and talented at running back, too, and its offensive line has been solid. I am not going to win any arguments between the Miami D vs the Florida D. Gators have the edge there going away. But a talented (and high-scoring) offense can easily cover up for an average D. Miami has one of the tougher schedules in the ACC with difficult crossover games, just like the Gators. In the Canes' case, it's Florida State and Louisville. They've also got a tough nonconference game at Nebraska. When I look at the schedule, I think Miami has 10 winnable games. Doesn't mean they are going to win all of them, but it means they have a better shot at getting there than Florida.

SportsNation

Who will have a better season in 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 8,581)

EA: I told you to watch out for Robinson and Taylor, but Florida has a few more options at both receiver and running back. I expect veterans Quinton Dunbar and even Andre Debose to make noise in this offense, but really keep an eye on sophomore Ahmad Fulwood. He can stretch the field and is a big boy over the middle. We know about Matt Jones and Mack Brown at running back, but freshman Brandon Powell could be really special. He missed spring but has been blowing up in fall practice. He can do a little bit of everything out of the backfield. Florida will be more competitive using a lot more space in Roper's offense. As for the schedule, it isn't easy. Florida plays six teams ranked in the AP top 25, including No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Alabama on the road. But I'll continue to stress that three of those games are at home and Georgia is in Jacksonville, Florida. An improved offense that can actually take some pressure off the defense can get three wins out of that slate.

AA: Maybe I should tint my glasses rose to match yours. Seriously, though, this debate serves as a reminder that these rivals need to play more often (that is a different debate for a different time). This needs to be settled on the field! The race to chase Florida State is tough to handicap. I don't think Miami is quite back to returning to its past glory, but I do think the Canes have the capability of building on their success from a year ago. Quarterback might look messy now, but coaches have been raving about the maturity and ability true freshman Brad Kaaya brings to the table. The defense looks better so far in preseason camp, and Denzel Perryman could have an All-American type season. If Miami is solid at quarterback and makes improvements on defense, this team will be better than Florida. Again.

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