ACC: Dabo Swinney

Coaches talk about plowing forward after tough losses. If not, they would drive themselves crazy with all the talk of what could have been.

One slightly better throw here. Another choice on fourth-and-short there. One perfectly snapped ball here. Another secured football there. A different starting quarterback here …

What could have been, Clemson.

Instead, the Tigers lived up to their reputation and failed to secure a winnable game, giving Florida State a 23-17 overtime victory and control of the Atlantic Division. Coach Dabo Swinney called it one of the most difficult losses he has had to stomach, precisely because of all those what-could-have-been moments.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser"We wish we were 3-0 right now, but I don't have any doubt ... we're coaching a much better team today than we were when we started the season, and it's going to pay dividends," Dabo Swinney said.
The game was so tantalizingly close, placed on a tee for the Tigers to steal away. With Jameis Winston on the sideline, Clemson outplayed Florida State for a vast majority of Saturday night. The Tigers looked in control with two minutes left, needing just a field goal to win.

But for the second time this season, the Tigers failed to finish.

So Clemson sits 1-2 with losses to No. 12 Georgia and No. 1 Florida State, outside the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2011, its streak of 50 consecutive poll appearances broken.

Now, the Tigers have to pick up the pieces in September, knowing full well their championship hopes remain as distant as Mars or Pluto. As embarrassing as their home loss to Florida State was last season, this one delivered more pain.

They were on the 1-yard line, and gave away their destiny.

“It’s very heartbreaking,” Swinney reflected on his Sunday teleconference. “We work really hard and when you’re in position to win and we don’t get it done, it’s heartbreaking for all of us, but we’ve played two top-12 teams at their place in our first three games. …

“We wish we were 3-0 right now, but I don’t have any doubt that our experience in these first three weeks, and what I’m seeing with our team, we’re coaching a much better team today than we were when we started the season, and it’s going to pay dividends.”

Clemson probably never anticipated when it agreed to a series with Georgia that the ACC would also schedule its ACC opener against Florida State just a few weeks later. That meant Clemson had to open the season with two of its first three games on the road against Top 12 opponents for the first time since 1966.

The last team to face that challenge from the ACC was North Carolina, back in 2001 (losses to No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Texas).

Yet Clemson had its opportunities to beat both Georgia and Florida State. The Tigers were tied with the Bulldogs at halftime, but fell apart in the second half. Its offense could not move the ball consistently with Cole Stoudt behind center. Perhaps stubbornly, the Clemson coaches only gave freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson one series in the second half while the game remained competitive.

The defense, meanwhile, missed tackles and had a host of mental errors as it failed to contain Todd Gurley. Special-teams breakdowns were everywhere.

The miscues were different Saturday against Florida State but just as frustrating. Clemson led 10-3 at halftime and had multiple chances to win. While the defense was vastly improved over the Georgia game, the offense stalled too much in the red zone. Ammon Lakip missed crucial kicks against Georgia and Florida State, and has now become a liability.

If Clemson had a sure kicker, it may not have tried to force another run with time ticking down in regulation, a play that resulted in a lost fumble and overtime. And maybe the Tigers line up for a field goal rather than fourth-and-short in overtime, a play that was snuffed out in large part because Clemson decided to run out of a shotgun formation.

There we go with "what could have been" again.

Clemson remains one of the most talented teams in the ACC, and should be back in the Top 25 again this season. There are positives to be taken away from the Florida State game. Watson is now the starting quarterback. There is impressive talent at receiver. The defense played its best game of the season, with five sacks, 10 tackles for loss and just 318 total yards allowed (13 rushing).

The Tigers should be favored in their remaining ACC games, and against Georgia State on Nov. 22. If they win all those, they will have a chance at another 10-win season in their regular-season finale at home against South Carolina. The Gamecocks have looked mighty vulnerable this season, a fact that has not gone unnoticed among the Clemson faithful.

But that is looking way too far ahead. The mission now is squarely on North Carolina, and leaving all those "what could have beens" behind.

Clemson's Watson proves a quick study

September, 18, 2014
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His teammates called him “Rook” -- short for “rookie” -- back when Deshaun Watson was starting as a 14-year-old freshman at Gainesville High. The nickname stuck, but it was never an apt moniker.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail/Mark CrammerClemson fans would like to see highly-touted QB Deshaun Watson take the field sooner rather than later.
 His first start was against the defending state champions, but Watson was never flustered. After his first four games, he’d already become a star, and when head coach Bruce Miller called him into his office to talk about handling success, Watson simply shrugged.

“Don’t get a big head,” Miller told him. “I never have,” the 14-year-old shot back.

By the time his high school career was over, Watson had thrown for more than 13,000 yards, run for another 4,400 and produced 218 touchdowns, but during Christmas break last year, just days before his college career would begin at Clemson, Watson called up his quarterback coach and asked to meet him at the field. He wanted to throw for a while.

Watson was the top quarterback recruit in the country last year, a perfect mix of poise, presence, arm strength and athleticism. But if there’s a secret ingredient that sets Watson apart, it's that maturity. The kid has always played beyond his years.

“He watches film like an NFL veteran,” Miller said. “He just knows so much, and he’s so gifted athletically, I’m not sure he couldn’t pick up a set of golf clubs and go play par. He’s just a gifted athlete with a very special personality.”

It’s no wonder then that just two games into his Clemson career, a vocal contingent of Tigers fans are ready to see Watson ascend to the throne as the team’s QB1, and Dabo Swinney is left to deflect the spotlight that inevitably comes with a quarterback controversy.

To hear Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris tell it, there is no debate. Cole Stoudt won the job in the spring, won it again this fall, and the senior who spent three years toiling in Tajh Boyd’s shadow has played well enough to keep the job so far. But that’s all the practical logic. Fans have seen the future and they want more.

Maybe it was Watson's bullet to Charone Peake in the end zone, as pretty a pass as Boyd threw in three years as the most prolific QB in Clemson history. It came on just the third pass of Watson’s career.

Maybe it was the swagger that Watson exuded each time he trotted onto the field in the glorified scrimmage against South Carolina State a week later, leading four touchdown drives in four chances.

Maybe it’s the sales pitch Clemson’s coaches had already delivered so many times in the previous nine months, touting Watson as a can’t-miss talent who would, one day, lead Clemson to the promised land.

“We have a guy [in Stoudt] that won the job clearly, and he’s our guy,” Swinney said. “But we have this other guy in Deshaun that has just, from the time he got here, has gotten better and better. He’s closed the gap. There’s not a lot of drop-off.”

That’s not to say Swinney is ceding ground to the rabble calling for the Watson era at Clemson to begin now.

Away from the prying eyes of the public, Stoudt has shined and Watson has, at times, looked every bit like a rookie.

“His first week-and-a-half of camp, it was really bad,” Swinney said. “But that last week, man, he came on. He did not win the job. But you can't just make a guy a starter on potential. It doesn't work that way. Guys have to earn things.”

[+] EnlargeCole Stoudt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsDespite Watson's progress, coach Dabo Swinney says Cole Stoudt remains his starter.
 Stoudt earned the job. But in these first two games -- a loss at Georgia and a drubbing of an FCS team -- Watson has looked awfully sharp.

Stoudt has one touchdown throw after 60 attempts. Four of Watson’s 13 passes have gone for scores.

On throws of 10 yards or more, Watson is 5-of-8 with two touchdowns. Stoudt is 5-of-17, including an interception.

Stoudt can run a little, but Watson is a weapon with his legs -- a talent he’s yet to fully demonstrate, but a skill that fits Morris’ game plan perfectly.

That’s the other mark in Watson’s column. He’s the new face in the locker room, but Morris’ playbook is old hat. At Gainesville High, Watson ran virtually the same offense.

“He’s been doing [it] since he was 14,” Swinney said. “The learning curve was very small as far as running the zone-read, the snap, the cadence, the timing of the snap, the shifts, the tempo we play at, reading first level, second level, third level. It was second nature to him.”

And so the rumblings get louder and, as Clemson prepares for its showdown against No. 1 Florida State, the program feels like it’s at a crossroads. Stoudt will be the starter, but his performance Saturday may well dictate the direction of the program. If he’s good and Clemson wins, it’s easy for Swinney to remain patient. If he struggles and the Tigers fall, it becomes harder to draw a distinction between Clemson’s present and future. And no matter what, Watson will play Saturday and have another chance to shine on a big stage.

“I wasn’t expecting to get as much playing time as I am right now, to be honest,” Watson said. “I always work to compete and play. You don’t want to sit on the sideline and watch. You want to be out there playing. So any time I have an opportunity I want to take advantage of it.”

He has, and that’s why there’s a debate now. That’s a good thing, Swinney insists. He says there’s “an urgency” at quarterback that hasn’t existed at Clemson in a long time, a battle between a veteran in his waning days with the program and a freshman whose future seems limitless. That’s fun, not controversial.

Watson hasn’t stoked those fires, either. He wants the starting job, but he’s not campaigning for it.

“He’s Cole’s biggest supporter,” Morris said. “They’re a great tandem together.”

How the dynamics of that tandem will work on the field Saturday remains covert information. Morris says there’s a plan in place for Saturday and beyond, but he isn’t sharing, and Watson insists even he doesn’t know how much playing time he’ll see against Florida State.

What’s clear is that Watson intends to take advantage of the opportunities he'll get. He’s proven, Morris said, that no moment is too big for him.

“He’s to the Nth degree of what you want in a quarterback,” Swinney said. “He’s got everything. There’s nothing this man lacks to be a great quarterback, but he’s also the type of person you want as a leader of your program. He’s on his way to quite a career, and it’s going to be fun to watch this young man blossom.”

It’s just a matter of time. Everyone agrees on that. The question is simply whether the time is now.

Clemson has not had much luck against Florida State over the past few years, a high hurdle that coach Dabo Swinney knows he must clear.

He may have gotten a little help in their matchup Saturday night. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will sit out the first half for yelling obscenities on campus, opening the game right up for Clemson to steal.

The week did not exactly start with many people believing the Tigers could pull the upset. They have lost three of their last four games against Florida State -- including an embarrassing 51-14 loss at home last season -- and were a 20-point underdog on Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyDabo Swinney needs a victory over Florida State regardless of which Noles play in which half.
While it is easy to infer that the punishment is a slap at Clemson -- hey, look, we can beat you with our backup quarterback! -- Florida State would have presumably made the same call no matter who was on the schedule this weekend.

It just so happens to be the biggest game of the season for both teams. The winner of this game has gone on to play for the ACC championship the last five seasons, bumping up not only league title stakes but College Football Playoff stakes as well.

While every team wants to get credit for beating its opponent at full strength, Clemson has to take advantage of the opportunity that awaits. That means its supremely hyped defense needs to seize the moment.

All eyes must be on a veteran defensive line that saw its players take 3,079 combined snaps last season. Vic Beasley has had a quiet start to the season. It's time for him to make some noise. The same goes for Grady Jarrett and all the rest. So far, Clemson has 19 tackles for loss on the season -- but only five in the opener against Georgia. The game against the Bulldogs was a mixed bag for the defense. While the Tigers started off well, they fell apart in the second half and allowed Todd Gurley to have a field day.

While the offense did not make enough first downs to help keep the defense off the field, defensive coordinator Brent Venables has said he was disappointed with the fourth quarter. Clemson had 13 missed tackles in the final 16 minutes of that game as players got tired and less aggressive. Florida State essentially owned the Clemson defensive front a year ago. Virtually the same groups of players return on both sides. While the Seminoles have not played up to standards on the offensive line, Clemson cannot allow Florida State to be the more physical group again.

Especially with Winston out.

Because a victory with Winston out for a half still counts, especially if Clemson can shut him down in the second half.

Detractors may want to downplay it if the Tigers win in Tallahassee for the first time since 2006. But that should not matter. An asterisk will not go into the record book next to this game (*-Winston played only a half).

A W will. A W that would allow Swinney to leap over one hurdle and allow Clemson to control its ACC destiny.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- We leave you alone for one weekend, ACC, and this is what you do. That has to be what Clemson and Florida State were thinking as they checked box scores Sunday morning after their bye week.

Virginia Tech loses all team and conference momentum with a home loss to East Carolina. Georgia Southern was once again 90 seconds from upsetting an ACC team. Louisville, who many felt was now Florida State's biggest threat to an undefeated season, loses at Virginia. And, off all teams, it was reeling Boston College left to extinguish the flames, and the Eagles salvaged the Saturday with the biggest upset of the season, according to the Football Power Index, with a bulldozing of No. 9 USC, shocking even the staunchest ACC supporters.

So here we are, at the outset of Week 4 and exactly where we thought we would be before the season kicked off: the ACC seemingly comes down to Clemson and Florida State for the third consecutive season. The two will play in prime time Saturday, and the winner controls its destiny in the Atlantic Division and, with the lack of clarity in the Coastal, conference.

It is what we have grown accustom in the ACC as of late as both programs have been on a similar linear ascent to the top of the conference. Only the Tigers and Seminoles have represented the Atlantic in the ACC championship game since 2009, but the Coastal was superior then. Now, the two have won the past three conference titles and that looks to be the case once again in 2014, too.

Except this year, winning the conference has an entirely new significance. A College Football Playoff invitation is on the line now. Technically, the ACC has seven undefeated teams, but Clemson and Florida State are the conference's prized horses capable of carrying the league to the inaugural final four. The other five would likely need an undefeated run, and that's a wager I'm not sure anyone outside of Atlanta, Pittsburgh, central New York or the Triangle is willing to make right now.

"There's no doubt" the Tigers are a rival, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. "...It's a game in which you like to be at Florida State to play in because of the ramifications and the national attention it brings."

Despite No. 22 Clemson entering the game with a loss, the national implications will be near the level it was last season because of the dawn of the playoff era. There's the sense conference titles won't mean what they used to for the elite programs, and Fisher has said as much multiple times, pondering whether fans will deem any playoff-less season as a failure. And for two teams that have each won conference titles and played in multiple BCS games the past few seasons, there is the argument that a conference title might not be enough, especially for Florida State.

If Clemson loses big, it almost certainly ends the Tigers' playoff hopes. A Florida State loss and now the nation's top-ranked program and the conference's best chance at a playoff bid needs to not only play close to perfect football against a tough remaining slate but solicit help from the supernatural to even play in the conference championship.

It might only be September but the ACC's playoff chances potentially hinge on this game between conference heavyweights.

ACC morning links

September, 8, 2014
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Is it time to start worrying about Florida State?

I was having that discussion Sunday afternoon and felt it is still too early to make any meaningful determination on the Seminoles. After all, our Brad Edwards has Florida State still in his predicted playoff field even if the Seminoles did drop to No. 4 in the Football Power Index (FPI).

Everyone agrees Florida State has not been as dominant as most expected, but Oklahoma State, despite the lineup overhaul, is probably better than many gave the Cowboys credit for. It's not as if the Seminoles played poorly in Dallas either, but rather did not win in a convincing manner.

In Week 2, Florida State beat The Citadel 37-12, and the defense struggled at times in the first half. But The Citadel is an FCS opponent and a team that runs the option, and it can be tricky defending those teams with just a week of practice.

ESPN metrics, however, raises questions on the Seminoles' defense. According to ESPN's defensive efficiency, which measures how many points a defense contributes to its team's net scoring margin and adjusts for the strength of opposing offenses, Florida State is ranked 85th among FBS teams. They Seminoles led the country in defensive efficiency last season.

I'm still not ready to judge Florida State based on the season's first two weeks, although it's clear this team has legitimate concerns. Every team does.

What is worth keeping an eye on is Florida State's schedule might be tougher than originally thought. Florida, Louisville and Notre Dame look to be bigger challenges as the three have combined to start the season 5-0 with a convincing win in each game. The FPI originally gave Florida State a 38 percent chance to finish the regular season undefeated, but that number has dropped to 13 percent.

Before the season began, the FPI gave Florida State a 94 percent chance to beat Notre Dame. That percentage has now dropped to 66. Their chances of winning dropped double-digit percentage points against Clemson (13 percentage points), Florida (20) and Louisville (17), too, according to the ESPN Production Analytics Team. The Seminoles' next game is Sept. 20 against Clemson.

Is Florida State as good as advertised this preseason? It's still probably too early to tell. What is clear is the Seminoles' road to a second undefeated season is much tougher, and that could pose the biggest threat.

Here are a few more links to help kick off Week 3:

ACC morning links

September, 4, 2014
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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney dismissed freshman Kyrin Priester from the team for "an attitude that is not acceptable to our standard," a move that came out of the blue following practice Wednesday evening.

Though it took Priester a year to arrive at Clemson, the Tigers had high hopes for him when he enrolled in January. The plan was for Priester, Artavis Scott and Demarre Kitt to play as true freshmen. Priester did get into the Georgia game last week, playing on special teams. But in his comments to reporters, Swinney said Priester had "no respect for authority. He's a good kid, just lost his way."

Priester tweeted out:



The move does not necessarily impact the receiver group in the short-term. Priester had fallen to third on the depth chart behind Charone Peake and Germone Hopper. Scott and Kitt were already ahead of him. (Kitt finished second on the team in receiving against Georgia with 41 yards on two receptions). But there's little doubt Clemson is losing a talented player in the long term, especially since receiver is an area the Tigers loaded up on last February to help replenish their ranks.

Priester is now the third scholarship player since April to leave the Tigers. Quarterback Chad Kelly was dismissed after the spring game; offensive lineman Shaq Anthony decided to transfer before the season began.

Let's take a whirl around the rest of the ACC:

Opportunity missed for Clemson, ACC

September, 1, 2014
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Dabo SwinneyAP Photo/David GoldmanDabo Swinney and Clemson will try to move on after a Week 1 loss to Georgia.
Before Todd Gurley ran roughshod over his defense, and before Jeremy Pruitt thwarted his offense yet again -- long before Saturday’s stumble at Georgia even kicked off, in fact, Dabo Swinney was preaching the message that one game wouldn’t define Clemson’s season. And of course, that’s true. In fact, Saturday’s 45-21 loss between the hedges won’t even define Clemson’s September, with No. 1 Florida State still looming in a few weeks.

“Every goal that we have is still in front of us,” Swinney said after the game. “We’re 0-1, and we have a long way to go. The season starts tomorrow. That’s the mentality that we have.”

But of course, the season started Saturday, and it started with a loss, no matter how Swinney wants to frame it.

Swinney is an optimist. It’s his nature. It’s how he shrugged off a thumping by Florida State last season by explaining that the lopsided score wasn’t indicative of the true talent difference between the two teams. It’s how he made peace with yet another loss to South Carolina last season, selling the notion that Clemson was the better team, undone by just a few too many turnovers.

And so Swinney was back to work Sunday, 11 games still left on the schedule and a litany of “what if” moments already in his rearview mirror.

If Clemson could’ve just tackled better, Gurley might not have run for 198 yards and three touchdowns, utterly embarrassing the Tigers’ defense for the second straight season.

“Todd Gurley was the best player on the field, and it wasn’t close,” Swinney said. “He’s a special player.”

It was Gurley who returned a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown to even the score at 21, and if Clemson could’ve brought him down before he reached the end zone, things might’ve been different.

All offseason, Swinney lamented the kicking game as his biggest concern, even with the losses of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, and of course, Ammon Lakip missed his lone field goal try that could’ve sent the Tigers to halftime with a lead. If only there hadn’t been so many dropped passes, so many mental errors in that first half, maybe that missed kick wouldn’t have loomed so large, anyway.

Clemson’s average starting field position in the second half was its own 17, and Swinney said the offense became too conservative while pinned deep in its own territory. If only that field position had been better, perhaps there wouldn’t be lingering questions today about Cole Stoudt and an offense that looked sharp early but disappeared late, mustering a woeful 15 yards and just one first down in the second half.

It’s Week 1, after all, and the “what ifs” are as meaningful a statistic as anything. But no matter what happens in the next 11 games, Week 1 did matter for Clemson and for the conference.

Yes, Gurley is a special player, but Clemson will face more of them, starting with Jameis Winston on Sept. 20. That the Tigers knew just what to expect from Gurley and still were incapable of slowing him down isn’t an aberration.

Yes, a few plays swung the game, but that’s how it goes against great teams -- and indeed, Georgia may be a great team. In fact, the Bulldogs will move forward with eyes on the College Football Playoff, and even if Clemson manages to upend Florida State later this month, it may find itself on the outside looking in thanks to those few bad plays between the hedges.

Yes, the field position was a problem. Adversity strikes in every game, but a team is measured not by the size of the obstacle but by its response. Clemson had none. For the second straight year, a Pruitt-coached defense appeared to have all the answers for the Tigers' up-tempo scheme.

Swinney said he’s learned more about his team from those rocky 60 minutes than he might've expected to learn in four weeks of a normal season, but there are still so many questions.

The offense had its moments, but Clemson had nine three-and-outs, and 12 of its 15 drives lasted six plays or fewer. That vaunted defensive line recorded just a single sack, while Georgia ran for 328 yards -- the most the Tigers’ defense has surrendered to a non-option team since Swinney took over as coach. Whether Stoudt’s line -- 16-of-29 for 144 yards and an INT -- was indicative of poor performance or too many drops by his receivers is of little consequence. Clemson needs to improve in both areas. Deshaun Watson looked impressive on one drive, perplexed on another, and the impact the freshman will make this week remains frustratingly unclear.

And then, of course, there’s the biggest question: What does it all mean for the ACC?

Fair or not, Clemson bore the weight of this new system, in which each team is evaluated within the context of its conference. A win over Georgia would've meant credibility for the endlessly discredited ACC. The loss removes perhaps the biggest safety net the conference might've had on what promises to be a razor-thin line it must walk for the next three months.

Florida State looked flawed against an unranked Oklahoma State team. NC State, Syracuse, Georgia Tech and North Carolina all struggled, to some degree, against FCS-level competition. And Clemson lost by 24 points to Georgia in a game that probably was far closer than the score indicated. The problem, however, is that no one knows whether the playoff selection committee will remember how close the Tigers came when it’s time to make a decision on who’s in and who’s out.

A lot can happen in the next 11 games, and Swinney is right to focus on what’s ahead. But the path to the playoff grew more narrow with Saturday’s loss, and for all the data Swinney accumulated and for all the film there is to study, there’s really only one thing that’s certain.

“All we know about our football team right now,” Swinney said, “is we’re not going to win them all.”

Grady Jarrett overlooked no more

August, 29, 2014
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Grady Jarrett's looks are deceiving. He’s a squat 6-foot-1 and, on most days, he’s pushing 300 pounds so that when pads and a helmet supplement his physique, he looks about as wide as he is tall, the type of interior lineman opposing rushers need a road map to find their way around.

But it’s an optical illusion. Strip away the pads and the jersey and there is a chiseled warrior underneath, an athlete in the strictest sense.

"I saw him the other day with his shirt off, and he’s ripped," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

[+] EnlargeGrady Jarrett
AP Photo/ Richard ShiroAccording to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, the determination showed by Grady Jarrett, left, has made an impression on the entire team.
Indeed, Jarrett, the senior defensive tackle for the No. 16 Tigers, is meticulous about his body. He watches what he eats. He trains methodically. He monitors his sleep schedule. He is, as Swinney concluded, "completely committed."

Yet, it’s Jarrett’s body that has been the evidence critics have used against him again and again, starting with the team he is set to face in Clemson’s season opener Saturday, Georgia. Jarrett, who grew up in Conyers, Ga., wanted to play college football at Georgia, but the Bulldogs simply weren’t interested.

"You always know about Georgia growing up," Jarrett said. "You see the 'G' everywhere. But they didn’t really want me like that."

It was easy to dismiss Jarrett as too short, too slow, too ordinary, and when he was coming out of high school, there were plenty of schools that fell for that illusion.

ESPN ranked Jarrett as the No. 80 defensive tackle in the nation. He was the 22nd-ranked player in Clemson’s 2011 signing class, which included receiver Sammy Watkins and linebacker Stephone Anthony and four other defensive linemen. Mississippi State was the only other Power Five school to show much interest, never mind the 198 tackles, 63 for loss, and 27.5 sacks he accrued in his final two seasons at Rockdale County High School.

"The perception of me from a lot of people coming up through recruiting wasn’t really good at all," Jarrett said. "And it’s something I used to take personally."

But Clemson didn’t buy into the illusion. Swinney watched the film, saw how Jarrett used that undersized physique to create leverage against opposing linemen. He saw the pedigree, that Jarrett was the son of former NFL linebacker Jessie Tuggle, that he was a protege of Ray Lewis, a man Jarrett refers to as an uncle. He saw the drive of a player everyone else said was too small carrying a massive chip on his shoulder.

For Swinney, Jarrett was a hidden gem.

Of course, back then, Clemson needed all the help it could get on defense. In Jarrett’s freshman season he played just 61 snaps. The Tigers’ defense was a disaster, culminating with an embarrassing 70-33 thumping at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. But the Tigers’ D and Jarrett were both works in progress, and Swinney knew the finished product would be special.

As a sophomore, Jarrett worked his way into the starting lineup. He recorded 10 quarterback pressures, 8.5 TFLs and helped the Tigers’ defense move from 85th in the nation in TFLs to 30th. A year later, he was even better, making 83 tackles, including 11 behind the line of scrimmage, for a defense that led the nation in TFLs.

Jarrett wrestled in high school, and he used those skills against his opposition. He turned his undersized frame to an advantage, a short guy in a game where getting low is optimal.

"He’s probably one of the lower athletes I’ve gone against," said Clemson center Ryan Norton. "He’s very athletic, and his pad level is unbelievable."

Slowly but surely, the perceptions of Jarrett began to change, and those teams that dismissed him so easily were forced to take notice.

"People see what I can do now," Jarrett said. "I feel like it was up to me to change that perception. I believe I have, and now I’m trying to capitalize off it."

Even after two strong seasons, however, Jarrett toils largely in the shadows. In a conference loaded with top defensive tackles last season, Jarrett wasn’t considered on the same level as Aaron Donald or Timmy Jernigan. Even in his own locker room, Anthony and Vic Beasley get the bulk of the defensive hype.

But the people who know him, who know the program -- they understand.

"If I was going to start a program right now, I’d pick Grady Jarrett first and build everything else around that guy," Swinney said. "He’s that impactful. His worth ethic, his drive, his ability to hold other people accountable and lift others up, and that chip he has on his shoulder -- he’s special."

To hear his coach and teammates talk, Jarrett is the best player in the country no one seems to know about, and that is a label he’s happy to embrace.

Jarrett isn’t flashy. He doesn’t want to be. Instead, he is focused on every minor detail, determined to get it all right. On a team that boasts nearly two dozen seniors, on a defensive front that includes eight seniors in the two-deep, that work ethic has made Jarrett the unquestioned leader.

"When he says something, everybody’s attention is drawn to Grady," said Beasley, an All-American who led the ACC in sacks last season. "He’s a very vocal leader, and he just does it by example also. He’s good in the classroom and on the field. He keeps us going. He’s that main guy on the defense that gets us hyped and keeps us going."

It’s a role Jarrett has embraced this season. In truth, he’s not quite sure how it came about. He simply showed up, did his work, spoke out when he needed to and listened when the others talked. It came naturally, but it feels good to finally get the respect he's deserved.

"If your peers look to you for guidance, that’s the ultimate respect," Jarrett said. "Being able to go to Vic or Stephone and they take to it, that’s really humbling for me."

As Jarrett gets set to kick off his senior season against Georgia’s explosive ground game Saturday, he insists he is not out for revenge, not hoping to prove a point to another team that rejected him. He has all the love he needs now.

But there is that tinge of bitterness, that knowledge that this is his last chance to remind the school down the road from his boyhood home that it missed out on something special.

"There’s always a little extra incentive," he finally relented.

But there’s more ahead, plenty of other last chances to make his mark before his college career ends and a fresh round of evaluations by scouts and coaches and critics begins. There is so much more he wants to accomplish.

There is a sense of desperation to this season, Jarrett said, and that is something his coach doesn’t mind hearing.

Still, Swinney was never one of the critics, never fooled by the illusion. The chip on Jarrett’s shoulder drives him, so Swinney won’t knock it off. Still, he knows this isn’t the end for Jarrett. It’s the beginning.

"He’ll play for a while on the next level," Swinney said. “I know he’s not sexy looking. He’s not 6-3. But he’ll outplay all of them guys."
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson told the two freshmen quarterbacks he signed in February they would have every opportunity to win the starting job.

That was not an empty promise. The Deacs needed to replace their departed senior quarterback, and they had no experienced players on their roster. Why not give the freshmen a shot?

Sometimes they rise to the challenge, like John Wolford. Clawson started hearing reports about Wolford from his upperclassmen before fall practice even began. They told him, “That freshman is really good.”

Once practice began, it became pretty clear he was more than good. Clawson decided early in camp that Wolford would be his starter, beginning tonight at ULM (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU). He is not the only coach who has gone that route.

Three true freshmen quarterbacks have an opportunity to play in Week 1, the most in the ACC since 2010. Brad Kaaya earned the starting job in Miami, while Deshaun Watson is expected to play when Clemson takes on Georgia on Saturday.

According to research gathered by the ACC office, this could be the first time in league history that two true freshmen quarterbacks open the season under center.

Watching a youth movement unfold at the position is not unexpected. The ACC lost nine starting quarterbacks to either graduation, the NFL draft or transfer. Only Jameis Winston, Anthony Boone and Terrel Hunt return as unquestioned starters.

In Wake’s case, the Deacs have turned to true freshmen quarterbacks the last two times they had to make a decision. Tanner Price started nine games for Wake Forest in 2010 and never relinquished his starting job. But he did not open the season as the starter.

Wolford will be the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener in school history.

“He gives us our best chance to win,” Clawson said. “He is our best quarterback, so I can’t worry about whether he’s a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. In a perfect world, you always love to have the guy be in the system one or two years before he plays. But we’re going to put the guys out there who give us the best chance to win. And he clearly won the job. He’s playing at a high level. I don’t think those things suddenly disappear once you play a game.”

Both Clawson and Miami coach Al Golden have described their new starting quarterbacks as very even-keeled, an important quality to have considering both players have to make their first career starts on the road.

Clawson said Wolford is “the same person every day. There’s not a lot of reps where you’re shaking your head saying, ‘What's he thinking about?' He is as ready as any true freshman I've been around.”

Miami faced a different situation than Wake Forest. The Canes had hoped to start senior Ryan Williams, but he tore his ACL in the spring and is not healthy enough to play. Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen was next in line, but he is serving a suspension. Kaaya beat out senior transfer Jake Heaps during fall practice and will start Monday night against Louisville.

“I think that's probably where we got the most confidence from him, just his overall depth and understanding of what we were trying to get done and his ability to get us in the right play at the line of scrimmage. Without that, it would be hard to name him the starter, but he certainly demonstrated to us all training camp that it wasn't going to be too big for him.”

Clemson, meanwhile, plans on starting senior Cole Stoudt but coach Dabo Swinney says Watson will play. What type of role Watson will have remains to be seen. What Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris plan to do with Watson provides a level of intrigue we are unaccustomed to with this offense.

When Swinney was asked whether he knew when Watson would go into the game, he smiled and said, “When we put him in, that's the perfect time to put him in.”

Stoudt is actually the last true freshman to play quarterback at Clemson, back in 2011. The last Clemson true freshman quarterback to start a game was Nealon Greene in 1994.

Watson may bring intrigue, but he has to wait a few more days to get his shot.

Wolford gets the spotlight tonight.
On first glance, the announcement that backup offensive tackle Shaq Anthony has decided to transfer from Clemson may not seem like much.

But when you combine it with the news that running back Zac Brooks is lost for the season, the Clemson run game has now taken on added questions headed into the season.

The Tigers already had to replace starting All-ACC tackle Brandon Thomas, starting guard Tyler Shatley and 1,000-yard back Roderick McDowell. While Anthony was previously suspended for the opener against Georgia, there are no certainties with the offensive line nor the run game in Week 1.

Especially since Clemson struggled to produce consistency in that area last season. Especially since Clemson will need an effective run game to help take pressure off new starting quarterback Cole Stoudt and a new-look group of receivers against what should be an aggressive Georgia defense with familiar foe Jeremy Pruitt taking charge.

Brooks is the bigger blow in the short-term, because he would have contributed heavily against Georgia. Plus, he was the top returning rusher from a year ago and one of the veterans in the group with experience in big games.

But at least Clemson has the luxury of having depth at the position, a group coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris have talked up since the spring. Conceivably, the Tigers should still be able to play four to five backs once they settle on a rotation and still be just as good as they would have been with Brooks in the mix.

That, of course, is dependent on the offensive line, too.

So in the long term, the Anthony loss could loom much larger. Clemson has little in the way of depth at tackle with Anthony gone. The Tigers will now be relying on Joe Gore, pretty raw at the position with just 124 snaps over the past two seasons, and Isaiah Battle -- who has been banged up during camp. Anthony was listed as the backup to both players.

Gore has been one of the bright spots this fall, and would have most likely started against Georgia with Anthony suspended. But now there is no margin for error moving forward. The hope is that Gore steps into the right tackle spot without any issues. But if either Gore or Battle gets hurt, the Tigers could be in trouble. Kalon Davis, projected to start at guard, has also played some tackle during the fall so he would be one potential option as a backup at the position.

It all adds a bit more intrigue to what happens with Clemson this season.
The focus has largely been on the new quarterback and returning defenders at Clemson so far, but what has Dabo Swinney most excited for 2014 might be the backfield.

A year ago, the plan was for the Tigers to employ a handful of runners in key roles, but after injuries ravaged the depth chart, Rod McDowell became the default option in nearly every situation, and while he did an admirable job, Clemson still ranked 73rd in yards per carry. Carries by running backs accounted for just 32 percent of Clemson’s offensive plays last season -- 10 percentage points less than division counterpart Florida State.

But as the Tigers get set for their opener against Georgia, the plan for a more dynamic running game appears set for 2014, and Swinney couldn’t be more pleased with the weapons at his disposal.

[+] EnlargeWayne Gallman
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark CrammerRedshirt freshman RB Wayne Gallman is turning heads in Clemson's camp.
“I think we’ve got a really deep group and a bunch of guys that deserve to play,” Swinney said. “The competition and diversity we have there is going to help us be very strong at that position.”

Redshirt senior D.J. Howard (5-foot-11, 205) is the nominal starter at this point, but he has been injury prone in his career and could quickly be upstaged by younger runners with more upside. Still, Howard is perhaps Clemson’s best pass blocker, and his knowledge of the system means he’ll have a secure role if he stays healthy.

Zac Brooks, who projected as the best receiver out of the backfield, injured his foot and is out for the season, but there are other weapons down the depth chart. C.J. Davidson (5-10, 200) suffered a knee injury last season that limited his production, but Swinney said he might be the “most explosive” of Clemson’s veteran runners.

“He’s just a powerful change-of-direction type of guy,” Swinney said.

But the real emerging star might be redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman.

As the injuries piled up last season, one of the toughest decisions the coaching staff had to make was whether to keep Gallman (6-1, 205) sidelined. In the end, Swinney erred on the side of caution, keeping the redshirt on Gallman in order to get him ready for 2014. Now, Clemson is ready to enjoy the rewards of that patience.

Coaches and teammates have raved about Gallman’s progress throughout this offseason, and Swinney said he can’t remember being around a running back who practices with as much energy.

“We’re having to slow him down because he just plays so fast and violent,” Swinney said. “Things just get hit when he’s out there.”

Swinney said Gallman is learning to corral that energy and doing a better job of playing within Clemson’s system, but the coaching staff is eager to unleash its secret weapon on the rest of the ACC this fall.

“He’s going to be an exciting player to watch,” Swinney said.

Swinney said coaches are still deciding the future of the Tigers’ two true freshmen -- Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller, both 5-9 and 215 pounds -- but he loves the physicality both bring, and there’s a chance at least one will see work this season.

Of course, the focus on the tailbacks also comes from the loss of last year’s quarterback, Tajh Boyd, who racked up 154 carries -- just 35 fewer than McDowell. With less mobile senior Cole Stoudt prepared to take over the offense, the conventional wisdom suggests the tailbacks will need to pick up the slack.

Swinney said that might not be the case, however.

“We’re going to run our quarterback,” Swinney said. “That’s the nature of what we do. We feel like it gives us an advantage when the quarterback is part of the run game, and that part won’t change. Cole is definitely undervalued as a runner, and I think he’s going to be way better than people think.”

True freshman QB Deshaun Watson will be a big part of the offensive blueprint, too. Swinney has already said that Watson will play -- though not start -- this season, and it would make sense to let the freshman get his feet wet as a runner and red-zone threat early in the year.

“He’s gifted when it comes to running the ball,” Swinney said, “so you’ll see that.”

Still, for all the talk of running with the quarterback, this will be a slightly different look for the Tigers this fall, and that could be a good thing. With so much shuffling of personnel elsewhere on the offense, a dynamic backfield could be just what Clemson needs to push through a grueling early season schedule.

Of course, before that plan comes into focus, Swinney said, his tailbacks need to prove they're ready to carry the load.

“Hopefully we’ve got a couple of these backs that kind of demand through their performance that we call [plays] a little bit different,” he said. “But that’s up to them to prove that.”
Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.
Two years ago, the Clemson defense was mocked, and Vic Beasley was quiet. He had work to do, playing time to earn.

A year ago, the defense was ignored, and Beasley was quiet. He had a job to win, a reputation to build.

Now, the Tigers' defense is the centerpiece, the foundation for a new-look Clemson team built around a dominant pass rush led by a consensus All-American who's let his play do all the talking. And once again, Beasley is laying low.

"That's just who he is," said head coach Dabo Swinney, "and I don't think he changes his stripes."

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesVic Beasley led the ACC in sacks last season with 13 and ranked fourth in the nation in tackles for loss with 23.
There's been a fundamental shift in the perceptions surrounding Clemson this year, as the offense looks to reload after the departures of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, and the defense is poised to dominate just two seasons after an epic Orange Bowl disaster that had defined the unit's image ever since.

But if perceptions have changed, Beasley's approach hasn't. He's quiet, contemplative, focused -- still out to prove something no matter how full the bandwagon has become.

"Last year, we had a big chip on our shoulder. The year before, we had a chip on our shoulder," Beasley said. "We're looking to do the same thing this year."

All Beasley did last season was lead the conference in sacks (13), finish fourth in the nation in tackles for loss (23) and help Clemson's defense become the country's most disruptive by a wide margin, recording a total of 123 tackles behind the line of scrimmage -- 12 more than any other school.

So, yes, the haters have largely disappeared, but Beasley is still out to prove something, to leave a legacy that can't be diminished by even the most ardent critic.

"I feel like there's no reason we shouldn't be the top defense in the country," Beasley said. "I feel like I could [be a Heisman contender], but my goal for this year is to win a national championship."

It's some bawdy talk from a guy who doesn't do much talking at all, but whether Beasley wants to embrace this bold new era or not, the truth is, the spotlight is on him now.

"He's tried to be more of a vocal leader," Swinney said. "Vic leads by example, but when he does say something, people are going to listen."

The luxury for Beasley -- both on and off the field -- is that he's not alone, Swinney said.

Sure, it's Beasley getting the bulk of the All-America hype after he chose to return for his senior season, but the Tigers' defense is loaded with seniors, and the likes of Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett don't mind doing the bulk of the talking.

In fact, that's the real difference this year, Swinney said. It's not so much that the highest-profile stars are on the opposite side of the ball, but rather that it doesn't always have to be the stars doing all the talking.

"We had a couple very strong personalities and flashy guys [last year]," Swinney said. "But this is more of a business-as-usual, blue-collar bunch of guys that respect each other."

They'll help supplement Beasley on the field, too, and that's good because the All-American defensive end figures to get plenty of respect -- and attention -- from opposing linemen this year.

And that means Beasley doesn't need to do much talking. He just needs to do what he's always done. He needs to show up, do his job, and leave his mark.

"He's a handful, that's for sure, but he opens other things up for the those other guys," Swinney said. "All he's got to do is go play and do his job."

ACC morning links

August, 14, 2014
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The Roanoke Times reports that Michael Brewer is now considered a co-starter with Mark Leal at Virginia Tech.

Frank Beamer says Brenden Motley is due to return to practice following a back injury next week, but with the Hokies scrimmaging Saturday, all indications point to a two-man race with the winner likely being decided this weekend. Beamer says he wants a decision made sooner than later so the team has time to build a rapport with the new starter.

I talked with Beamer on Wednesday, and he spoke highly of Brewer’s ability to grasp the system in a hurry and command the huddle.

“His personality, who he is, it lends himself to that,” Beamer said. “He’s a take-charge guy, likes being in control. It lends itself to him coming in and feeling at ease with the position he’s in.”

Beamer praised Brewer’s accuracy, too, but he said the key for either QB will be more consistency from the receivers when it comes to route running and drops. And on the subject of the receivers, Beamer absolutely raved about freshmen Cameron Phillips and Isaiah Ford.

“Those are two guys that are going to really help our group,” Beamer said. “They’re two athletic guys.”

A few more links:
  • Dabo Swinney was none too happy with his team after its scrimmage Wednesday, telling reporters, “I thought we hit the wall.” Probably not worth reading too much into the outburst. Good coaches always pick at least one practice to publicly call out their team, and as we hit the midpoint of August, it was probably time for Swinney to give Clemson a minor wake-up call.
  • Sports Illustrated has its preseason All-America teams out, with 14 ACC players making first- or second-team status. Only the SEC (16) had more. A few ACC names not on the list that we wouldn’t be surprised to see at year’s end? Clemson’s Grady Jarrett, FSU’s Karlos Williams and Ronald Darby and Miami’s Duke Johnson.
  • Speaking of Johnson, he looked 100 percent as Miami scrimmaged for the first time, writes the Miami Herald. The QB race, however, remains as murky as ever, with Jake Heaps and freshman Brad Kaaya doing battle Wednesday.
  • With Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, Terrance Smith is taking command of the Florida State linebacking crew, writes the Tallahassee Democrat. Smith has 69 career tackles. Reggie Northrup has 55. The rest of the linebacking corps combined has just 71.
  • NC State QB Garrett Leatham wasn’t even one of the top 20 walk-ons to make it into fall camp a year ago. Now, writes the Charlotte Observer, he’s got a scholarship and the No. 2 spot on the Wolfpack’s depth chart. Good for Leatham, of course, but it does suggest just how critical a healthy Jacoby Brissett will be for NC State in 2014.
  • Duke checks in at No. 24 on USA Today’s college football countdown. Their “dream season” scenario for Duke is an 11-1 campaign with the lone loss coming to Virginia Tech. Of course, the Blue Devils beat the Hokies in Blacksburg last year while mustering 198 yards of offense and failing to convert a third down. So, it’s all relative.
  • Breaking news of your impending transfer via Instagram is apparently a thing now, as freshman receiver Corey Cooper announced he was leaving the Orange, writes Syracuse.com. Can recruiting via Tinder be too far off?

Swinney plays pool ... sort of

August, 12, 2014
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Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is generally game for anything.

Want to get in a game of trash talk? You got it.

How about a game of pool? Sure.

How about a game of pool where you pretend to be the pool table?

Wait, what?

Swinney and the Tigers football team got a visit from world champion billiards player Loree Jon Jones on Tuesday. Jones, a Clemson fan who owns a retail billiards business in Greenville, S.C., decided to do one of her cool pool tricks right off Swinney's face as the team gathered around to watch. Swinney lays across the pool table, with a ball over his mouth. Jones takes her pool cue, gently taps the ball and what do you know? The ball lands in the corner pocket.

A jubliant Swinney rejoices. Mark that one off the bucket list.

 

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