ACC: Dabo Swinney

Steve Spurrier, Dabo SwinneyJoshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsSteve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney are keeping the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry interesting.

Is there any way to get a television show featuring Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney dropping one-liners on each other one after another?

Because right now, they have got the best two-man show going in all of college football. Want to stir the pot a little? Ask Spurrier what he thinks of Clemson. Ask Swinney what he thinks about Spurrier.

Ready ... set ... talk trash!

Who knew Spurrier and Swinney would become such a perfect match?

In an era when most coaches are too buttoned up and PC to speak in anything other than clichés, Spurrier and Swinney have honed their barb-jabbing skills, taking them to new heights every time they deliver a sound bite.

Spurrier, of course, has had years and years of experience dishing out one-liners. But he never had anybody to dish them right back. Phillip Fulmer? He fumed. Bobby Bowden? He shrugged.

Swinney? Completely unafraid to dish right back, putting an entirely different spin on the Clemson-South Carolina rivalry. Spurrier wants to talk championships, so he does. “Hey, these two Capital One Bowls in a row are pretty nice, but that state championship ain’t bad either,” he said after the Capital One Bowl win in January.

Swinney responded in kind after beating Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl."

The "real" Death Valley? Spurrier knows where it is. Baton Rouge, right? "Most of our guys have never been to Death Valley," Spurrier said in 2012. “That is the Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one around?"

Swinney responded in kind, "I can see where he might have a little confusion. Our guys have never been to USC. California's a long way from here. ... Got two Death Valleys and two USCs, but there's only one real one."

Swinney wants to talk philosophically, as in Dabo is from Mars, Steve is from Pluto? Well, wouldn’t you know it -- Spurrier knows a thing or two about planets. Leave it to these two to make college football fans Google “Is Pluto still a planet?”

The repartee works because Swinney and Spurrier know how to make it work. Both are incredibly gifted speakers with the ability to think on their feet rather quickly. Both know how to take a joke. Both coaches have a certain type of gumption, too. After all, Swinney has lost five straight games to Spurrier. But that does not stop him from plugging away. How many other coaches would keep on delivering the blows despite mounting losses to their bitter rival?

One in particular comes to mind. A man who went 5-8-1 against another rival in another era, with zero road wins.

You might find him on Pluto somewhere.
Dabo SwinneyAP Photo/Patrick SemanskyDabo Swinney's three-year run of 10-win seasons may be at end this fall.
It's hard to argue with the success of the Tajh Boyd/Sammy Watkins era at Clemson, with the duo helping the Tigers to three straight 10-win seasons for the first time since 1987 through 1990. But Boyd and Watkins are gone now, along with a lot of other talented contributors from last year's Orange Bowl champions, so the question of whether Clemson can stretch the 10-win streak for four straight seasons is up for debate. So, of course, that's exactly what ACC bloggers Matt Fortuna and David Hale decided to do.


Will Clemson's streak of 10-win seasons continue in 2014?


Discuss (Total votes: 4,841)

Fortuna says 10 wins is the benchmark: At first glance, 2014 does not seem like the ideal year for Clemson to continue its recent three-season run of 10 or more wins. The Tigers lose a record-setting quarterback in Boyd, a 1,000-yard rusher in Roderick McDowell and the No. 4 overall pick from this year's draft in Watkins.

Perhaps more importantly, they face daunting road tasks in the first-quarter of their season, opening at Georgia on Aug. 30 before traveling to ACC rival Florida State on Sept. 20. If Clemson and all of its offensive firepower lost by 37 points at home last year to the Seminoles, what should make anyone think it can fare much better this year in Tallahassee?

As valid as that question is, it might not matter much in the scope of this debate. On top of that, neither will the question of how Clemson is supposed to march into Athens with a first-time starting quarterback and steal a win over the Bulldogs in Week 1.

While there may never be an ideal time to lose so much offensive firepower, especially when you're a team that has had such a strong offensive identity in recent years, the Tigers could do a whole lot worse than what they have returning on defense, which might be enough to carry them to similar heights of recent past.

Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett should help give the Tigers one of the nation's top defensive lines, and if cornerback Mackensie Alexander can emerge the way many expect him to in his first year, the defense should be the best that coordinator Brent Venables has churned out.

Expectations may not be as high as they were entering last season, but that doesn't mean a 10-win season isn't within reach. Vegas seems to suggest it is possible, as Clemson is favored in six of nine games that the Golden Nugget has posted for betting. The Tigers are underdogs for the aforementioned trips to Georgia and FSU, and they are three-point 'dogs against rival South Carolina, which really isn't all that much when you consider both recent history and the offensive production Clemson has to replace.

Still, by that point questions will have been answered, especially at quarterback, whether that be Cole Stoudt or Deshaun Watson. And while expecting an undefeated run between the FSU game and the South Carolina matchup may be asking a bit much, it isn't unreasonable for a team that has made its fans' least favorite verb (hint: it ends with -ing) a thing of the past.

We may learn more this year about Dabo Swinney and his staff than we have in the last three years, and that could prove favorable for the future of the program.

Hale says the streak comes to an end: It's not that Clemson doesn't have ample talent remaining on the roster even after the departures of stars like Boyd, Watkins and Brandon Thomas. But the strengths of this Tigers roster are a lot different than what we've come to expect from Swinney's teams, and that means Clemson is going to need to learn how to win in ways that don't involve its prolific quarterback chucking the ball to one of its electric receivers. And the problem with that plan is, the Tigers aren't going to get much time to develop a personality before its put to the test.

In the first month of the season, Clemson gets Georgia and Florida State on the road and a home date with North Carolina, a trendy pick to win the Coastal Division. It's not unreasonable to think the Tigers' 10-win hopes will be on life support before the calendar flips to October -- with Louisville, Georgia Tech, South Carolina and a bowl opponent still on the docket.

The tough early road means quarterback Stoudt will need to hit the ground running, and while the senior is certainly capable of doing that, it's hard to envision him matching Boyd's superb numbers from last year's Georgia game or out-dueling Jameis Winston a few weeks later. And if Stoudt struggles early, the calls from concerned fans for the freshman phenom Watson will grow louder and louder. Quarterback controversies and 10-win seasons tend not to go hand-in-hand.

What's more, even if Stoudt is sharp from the outset, he's not going to go to battle with the same weapons Boyd enjoyed the last few years. Watkins, Martavis Bryant and DeAndre Hopkins have all departed early for the NFL draft in the past two years, plundering the depth chart at receiver. The running game has ample depth, but again, no proven commodities like Andre Ellington and McDowell have been in seasons past.

In fact, Clemson is one of just four ACC teams to lose its leading rusher, receiver and passer from last year. The other three — Georgia Tech, Boston College and Wake Forest — aren't exactly getting a lot of 10-win buzz.

Of course, all of that ignores the potential for dominance on the other side of the ball, where the Tigers have a front seven that promises to be as good as any team in the nation. But between Winston and Todd Gurley, Bobby Petrino and Steve Spurrier, there are a few talented offenses just waiting to test Beasley & Co., too.

The truth is, 10 wins or not, this will be a year of transition for Clemson, and in the long run, the Tigers will probably be a more well-rounded, complete team because of it. But when two SEC heavyweights, a team with 23 wins the last two years and the defending national champion are all on the schedule, it's probably prudent to expect a few too many growing pains along the way for the streak to continue.

ACC mailblog

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20

Ramon in San Francisco, Calif., writes: Just saw the Position U rankings, and I really can't believe Miami isn't even in the top 3 for HBU. Clinton Portis (9,923 NFL yards), Frank Gore (9,967), Willis McGahee (8,474) alone are enough to put Miami ahead of everyone else. Then you add in James Jackson (third round), (Najeh) Davenport (fourth round), (Lamar) Miller (fourth), and (Mike) James (sixth). And that's not even adding Edgerrin James, Miami's greatest running back ever because he was drafted fourth overall in 99, OR Duke Johnson. Let's see if Miami gets snubbed from AT LEAST top 3 for DBU and LBU also. If there is a Safety U and it's not Miami, please don't even post it to the blog.

Andrea Adelson: I admit, on first glance I figured for sure Miami would be on the Position U running back list based on Portis, Gore and McGahee alone. But the folks who put together the rankings (I was not in that group) used a formula to come up with a points system. NFL yards did not factor into the formula at all. Points were awarded for specific collegiate awards won, consensus All-American status, all-conference selections and where players were drafted. They only went back to 2000, which is why Edgerrin James is not included. There is no denying Miami has had a tremendous group of running backs, but given the criteria laid out, the Hurricanes finished outside the Top 10 with 56 points. Miami ranked No. 4 on the linebacker list and No. 4 on the defensive backs list. Keep in mind, Miami had immense talent at these three positions in the early to mid-2000s, but fell off when the wins began to dip. Miami has had only three first-round picks at these three positions since 2007.

Harry Harrison in Mililani Mauka, Hawaii, writes: Enjoyed your article on Clemson being the No. 2 recruiting class. But my view is FFR HELPED Clemson and was not a negative, as you imply. Two reasons: 1. Most recruits have family support of some kind. Sitting their with mom, dad & grandma, what pitch you think works best? Send your son to the school known for thieves and alleged rapists or here where we, within the law, help your son mature to a man. 2. The "Chick-fil-A" syndrome: Attack faith and people of faith quietly fight back and join in defending others under attack.

Adelson: Harry, thanks for your perspective on the topic. Your point of view makes a lot of sense to me. While the merits of the complaint were being debated, I often wondered whether recruits even cared about the accusations made against Dabo Swinney. There are many players who have said they chose Clemson because Swinney is a man of faith. I am sure that remains the case.

Neale Monte in Plantation, Fla., writes: Read your article about QB (Jake) Heaps transferring from KU to UM. I know you said he sat out one year after transferring from BYU to KU. So, because he sat out one year, he doesn't have to sit out again with this transfer? So you are saying the NCAA only prescribes sitting out one year after first transfer and then no sitting out if there are additional transfers? Did UM recruit him? How does that work? I'm reading the article and thinking every time he doesn't get his way, he transfers! Is he any good, in your opinion?

Adelson writes: Heaps graduated from Kansas, so he is eligible to play immediately at Miami as a graduate transfer student. The rules are different when you transfer early in your career without a degree. Tom Savage, for example, transferred to Arizona and sat out a year, then transferred to Pitt and sat out another year because he had not yet graduated. Is Heaps any good? He has struggled everywhere he has been. Back in 2011, BYU tailored its offense for Heaps to lead him, and he still got benched in favor of a player with far less athletic skills than he possesses.

Andy in Cincinnati writes: As much as I hate Duke, I enjoyed your piece on Derek Jones. But what I am writing about is all this coverage on Jake Heaps. You're telling me that a guy who was marginal at BYU, a team with a *less than strong schedule,* and who couldn't even hold hold on to a starting job at terrible, terrible Kansas, has the "potential" to do well at Miami? A school that will be playing Florida State, Nebraska, Carolina and Virginia Tech and has talent to boot. Why are we even talking about him? He's already had two chances -- why is Miami giving him another? No one's high school resume is good enough to justify that.

Adelson writes: Thanks for the praise, Andy. I am glad you enjoyed the Jones story. As for Heaps, I believe I said he had potential out of high school. I thought what I wrote was fairly to the point. Miami signed him because they are desperate for experienced quarterbacks on the roster while Ryan Williams continues to rehab his torn ACL. Kevin Olsen was not even close to Williams during spring ball, so I think there is some trepidation about handing over the keys to the quarterback spot until Williams gets back. An experienced player such as Heaps can at least help with his game experience, even if that means pushing Olsen more in practice. Plus, quarterbacks with strong arms always get an opportunity to prove themselves over and over. Look at the NFL draft process every year. Quarterbacks who have strong arms, whether they have proven themselves in college or not, generally get the benefit of the doubt.

Analysis of ACC awards polls

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
In a series last week, the ACC blog broke down some of the early preseason candidates for several of the conference’s top postseason awards. Colleague Matt Fortuna gave a short brief on each of the candidates, listed a few honorable mentions and a SportsNation poll asked readers to vote on which candidate, if any, would win.

We asked for your prediction on who would be the conference offensive and defensive players of the year, offensive and defensive rookies of the year and coach of the year. With just about a week for fans to vote, here are the results from the polls.

ACC offensive player of the year

Results: QB Jameis Winston, Florida State (52 percent), RB Duke Johnson, Miami (19), Other (14), WR DeVante Parker, Louisville (12), WR Jamison Crowder, Duke (3).
Analysis: Winston is the overwhelming favorite in the poll, and his 33-percentage point lead over second-place Johnson is the widest gap among the five SportsNation polls. That is hardly a surprise, considering the Heisman winner returns and has yet to lose a game as a starter in his college career. Johnson is a reasonable second option, as the Miami running back will play a pivotal role for the Canes as they break in a new quarterback. If Miami can achieve double-digit wins this season, Johnson will be tough to beat.
Write-in votes: Gauging from the comments section, it seems as if readers had Seminoles running back Karlos Williams in mind when voting “other” for the most part. A third-string running back last season, the former five-star recruit will start as a senior in 2014. Many FSU fans are expecting Williams to easily surpass 1,000 yards.

ACC defensive player of the year

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThere are big expectations for Florida State's Mario Edwards, the No. 1 recruit in the 2012 class.
Results: DE Mario Edwards, Florida State (35), DE Vic Beasley, Clemson (34), Other (15), LB Denzel Perryman, Miami (13), S Anthony Harris, Virginia (3).
Analysis: Edwards narrowly edged Beasley, who could have been a first-round pick in last month’s NFL draft. Edwards, a junior and former No. 1 high school recruit, could be the first defensive lineman taken in next year’s draft. However, Edwards’ statistics could keep him from winning defensive player of the year. While he certainly could be the most dominant league defensive player, he likely won’t have the same sack numbers as Beasley, who had 13 a season ago, or 2013 winner Aaron Donald, who registered 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss as an interior lineman.
Write-in votes: Once again, the FSU voices were heard in the comment section, offering their thoughts on why sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramsey is the favorite on the Seminoles’ defense. Ramsey is going to fill the void in the backfield left by the departed Lamarcus Joyner, a Thorpe Award finalist in 2013.

ACC offensive rookie of the year

Results: Other (31), QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson (26), QB Kevin Olsen, Miami (24), RB Elijah Hood, North Carolina (16), QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina (3).
Analysis: This is definitely a difficult one to predict as there is an inherent unpredictability in the award, much more than any other postseason trophy. Other is probably the safe choice and I tend to agree with the readers. Olsen is a good pick if he is the Canes’ starter for the entire season. Watson, who was injured during spring camp, was the top quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class nationally. North Carolina could not afford to miss on Hood, who enrolled early and figures to be featured extensively in the UNC offense.
Write-in votes: With so many departures on the Clemson offense, one reader suggests redshirt freshman running back Wayne Gallman will win the award. He was a four-star recruit in the 2013 class.

ACC defensive rookie of the year

Results: CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson (36), DT Keith Bryant (33), Other (20), DT Andrew Brown (6), S Quin Blanding, Virginia (5).
Analysis: Alexander is a smart pick for rookie of the year on defense considering the reputation he had coming to Clemson before the 2013 season. The No. 4 player nationally in the 2013 recruiting class, Alexander redshirted as a freshman. He should get extensive playing time this upcoming season, though, and he has arguably the best defensive line in the ACC in front of him, which could force rushed and errant throws in his direction that are prime for interceptions. With the loss of Timmy Jernigan at defensive tackle for FSU, the Noles certainly will need someone at the position to step up. It remains to be seen if Bryant will be that person, and a strong summer would definitely help his cause as the Noles open up preseason camp in a little more than a month. Both Blanding and Brown are sleepers, especially if the Cavaliers can reach bowl eligibility.
Write-in votes: One commenter agrees with Fortuna that Florida State redshirt freshman linebacker Matthew Thomas could win this award. Thomas was spectacular in spring drills and could be a starter for the Noles this season.

ACC coach of the year

Results: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State (40), Dabo Swinney, Clemson (26), Other (22), Larry Fedora, North Carolina (7), Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh (5).
Analysis: The safe bet in the conference is to go with Fisher or Swinney. The two have Clemson and Florida State in a league of their own within the ACC. Both are coming off BCS bowl wins but have holes to fill on their 2014 teams. Swinney needs to overcome the losses of his starting quarterback, running back and star receiver. Fisher loses defensive leaders Jernigan, Joyner and Telvin Smith. I thought Fedora would receive more votes, considering the Heels are one of the favorites to win the division.
Clemson has grabbed headlines during the offseason for the recruiting class it has started putting together, serving notice that coach Dabo Swinney has his program have no plans on going anywhere.

The Tigers are now up to No. 2 Insider in the latest ESPN class rankings, up two spots from their previous ranking earlier this month. Alabama is ranked No. 1, while ACC nemesis Florida State is at No. 7. Clemson currently has a league-high 19 commitments, including 12 from players with four- or five-star rankings. The ESPN scouts write:
The Tigers continue to be hot on the recruiting trail, recently adding athlete Deon Cain and DE Clelin Ferrell, bringing the Tigers' current total of ESPN 300 commits to nine. The lengthy and athletic Cain, gives the Tigers offense a big play weapon, and Ferrell is another nice pickup that helps them address a need along the DL.
[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDabo Swinney has Clemson pointing toward a banner recruiting class.
It is impossible to get too excited about recruiting rankings in June, as there are still nearly eight months to go before national signing day. Rankings also are completely subjective, and it is impossible to know whether they were right until years down the road. But they do show the type of work Swinney and his staff have done now that they have a consistent 10-win, top-15 program.

Perhaps more impressively, Swinney has earned pledges from one recruit after another after despite finding himself on the defensive in April over his religion. The Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a complaint with Clemson, accusing Swinney of "unconstitutional behavior" at the public university. Swinney denied the accusations, but he was used as a case-study in a much larger debate that erupted about what place religion has in sports, especially at a public university. Did the firestorm even matter to recruits?

Apparently not. Clearly that publicity has done little to persuade top recruits to look elsewhere. Eight players committed after mid-April, when the first story about the complaint broke. That includes Cain and Ferrell, two of the four highest-rated players in the class.

There is still more work to be done. The Tigers are pursuing ESPN 300 players Tim Settle (No. 10), George Campbell (No. 11), Shy Tuttle (No. 22) and Jalen Dalton (No. 90), along with several others. Tuttle, a defensive tackle from Lexington, N.C., has ties to the program and fills an area of need. But along with trying to get a few more commitments, Clemson has to hang on to the ones it already has until February rolls around.

If they do, Clemson has a chance to ink one of the best classes in school history.

ACC mailblog

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
Friday the 13th!

Bruce in Amarillo, Texas, writes: I am scared for Virginia's season. We have a bad schedule. We open vs. UCLA. Has the AD gone nuts! UCLA will win the Pac-12 South and we have gone through QBs like glasses of water. Can Mike London save his job? I am not optimistic.

Andrea Adelson writes: Bruce, not many are optimistic about this season for the Hoos. I think they will be better than last year, but I have a hard time finding six wins on this schedule. Having Florida State as its crossover opponent from the Atlantic is an absolute killer, given the nonconference schedule. I predict going 2-2 in nonconference play and winning between two and three conference games. If Virginia can get to five wins and looks competitive for most of the season, I think London can keep his job given a) the extremely challenging schedule; and b) the young talent he has signed in the last few years. Five wins after that dreadful season should be considered progress, especially because there will be plenty left to build on into 2015.


Bruce in Lexington, South Carolina, writes: Riddle me this, Andrea: How can Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia all lose key personnel on offense and defense, including the quarterback for all three schools, yet all the pundits have Clemson barely in the Top 25 and South Carolina and Georgia in the top 10? Do you get an automatic boost just because you play in the SEC? I know the media loves Georgia no matter what, and they are definitely drinking the Spurrier Kool-Aid, so tell me, what gives?

Adelson: You answered yourself. I truly believe consistently successful SEC programs get an automatic boost based on conference perception. How many years in a row now has Georgia underachieved? Makes no difference to voters. Part of the reason, at least in Georgia's case, is the belief that all the success on the recruiting trail translates automatically into great teams year in and year out. As for Clemson, I think voters are still getting used to seeing the Tigers as a perennial 10-win team, and have yet to give Dabo Swinney full credit for his recruiting successes. Still, it's hard to argue this is a program that should be ahead of South Carolina right now. The Tigers have got to end that streak.


Kenneth Miller in Georgia writes: I'm getting the feeling that ESPN is not giving Georgia Tech a chance to win the ACC Coastal. But when you look at the ACC schedule, I'm seeing one potential loss between Virginia Tech or Clemson, so who do you think will win the Coastal, and also do you think the victor of the Coastal will have a chance to beat the Atlantic winner (cough, cough, FSU) because two years ago, FSU was projected to destroy Georgia Tech but the Yellow Jackets were one drive away from a meeting with Oklahoma or Northern Illinois.

Adelson writes: I tend to believe Georgia Tech will finish in the bottom half of the Coastal this season. There are far too many questions at key positions and some major depth concerns on the defensive line for me to pencil them in as a Coastal contender right now. I think the division will come down to North Carolina and Duke, and I do not see the Coastal champion beating Florida State in the ACC title game.


Roger in Atlanta writes: Andrea, can you give insight on Virginia Tech's QB situation? I can't seem to find anyone saying much about the competition there. From what I've read in the past, Frank Beamer gave Mark Leal the nod at the end of last season, but that was before Michael Brewer was going to be transferring in and before the two incoming freshmen were ever there.What used to be a thin position has now become problematically thick, in my opinion. I guess my questions are: Which QB do you think gives the Hokies the best chance to win, and will Beamer/Scot Loeffler make that decision?

Adelson: There has not been much news on the Virginia Tech quarterback front. Brewer just arrived on campus and has not even taken a snap in practice. Leal was overtaken in the spring by Brenden Motley, but that does not really mean much of anything because the job remains open. Beamer is going to give all three of these players, along with the incoming freshmen, the opportunity to win the starting job once fall rolls around. I know a lot of people believe Brewer is going to ultimately win out. The logic there says Brewer would not have transferred in if Leal was the hands-down No. 1 quarterback. But there are plenty of unknowns about Brewer as well. I think it is too early to say right now who gives the Hokies the best chance to win because I've never seen Brewer in the Virginia Tech offense. But there is no doubt in my mind Beamer and Loeffler will play the guy who can get the job done.

Poll: ACC coach of the year

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
It is never too early to make predictions, and with the season less than three months away, we are seeking your input on who you think will take home some of the ACC's top honors at season's end.

We continue today with coach of the year.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson: So often, this award goes to the coach who does more with less. And while no one would suggest that Clemson does not have a talented roster, the fact is that the Discover Orange Bowl winners lose their top skill players from last year in quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, among others. Fair or not, outside expectations for Clemson aren't what they were going into 2013. The Tigers also face a brutally tough schedule early on, so if Swinney can have this group competing for the ACC title, he is sure to receive a lot of credit for keeping his program at an elite level.


Who will be the ACC's Coach of the Year?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,708)

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: The other side of the "more with less" argument can be seen in coaches like Fisher, who is coming off a national title season but will probably never receive too much credit given the location and prestige of his program. That, of course, is not really fair, but if Fisher didn't win it in either of his last two conference title-winning years, it would probably take nothing less than an undefeated season this year — his second in a row — to truly wow the voters and win this honor in 2014. Just look at Jim Tressel, who won seven Big Ten titles and a national title in his 10 years at Ohio State — but had zero league Coach of the Year awards.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina: If North Carolina can emerge as the Coastal Division champion, Fedora will have a legitimate argument for this honor. For one, he has himself a very big decision to make at the most important position on the field, as Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battle it out for the starting quarterback job. How Fedora handles what could be a delicate situation will undoubtedly have an impact on the kind of season UNC has. And if things work out for the Tar Heels in 2014, that would be a very nice answer to rival Duke's recent success, not to mention an impressive turnaround for Fedora in just his third year in charge.

Paul Chryst, Pitt: Chryst is also in his third year. And he also coaches a team considered to be a darkhorse Coastal Division title contender. (Hey, at this point, who isn't?) The schedule breaks right for the Panthers to have a chance at a strong season. And if that happens — in just their second year in the ACC, after losing key players like Aaron Donald, Tom Savage and Devin Street — you can bet Chryst will receive a ton of credit.

Others: No David Cutcliffe, you say? Well, he did win this award the past two seasons, so the chances of him pulling off a three-peat have to be very slim. (It's never been done before in the ACC.) If Louisville can contend for a league title during its first year in the ACC, Bobby Petrino will receive plenty of votes. Of course, teams that come out of nowhere tend to be pretty popular with voters, so NC State's Dave Doeren and Virginia's Mike London could be in play if either of their squads make huge turnarounds after winless league campaigns in 2013.
It’s the end of the line, and as always, the ACC wraps up with some big nonconference rivalry games, meaning 2014’s regular season should go out with a bang.

Week 14 schedule

Friday, Nov. 28
  • Virginia at Virginia Tech
Saturday, Nov. 29
  • Florida at Florida State
  • Georgia Tech at Georgia
  • Syracuse at Boston College
  • Wake Forest at Duke
  • NC State at North Carolina
  • Pitt at Miami
  • South Carolina at Clemson
  • Kentucky at Louisville
Our pick: South Carolina at Clemson

Why you should come along: OK, so this one might be a toss-up. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy a game day in Athens, Ga. -- even if Georgia Tech hasn’t beaten the Bulldogs since 2008? UVA and Virginia Tech might be a lopsided rivalry of late, too, but that doesn’t mean the intensity won’t be on display in Blacksburg. NC State and UNC add more in-state ferocity to the schedule, Pitt and Miami has plenty of history, Kentucky and Louisville add a whole new rivalry to the ACC this year, and, of course, Florida and Florida State is among the most anticipated rivalry games every year.

But for the last installment of our road trip, the destination has to be Clemson, where the Tigers look to finally end a five-game losing streak to the Gamecocks.

How big is this year’s game for Dabo Swinney and Clemson? Since last season ended, there’s been a clock in the Tigers’ weight room counting down to its 2014 date with its in-state rival, and the barbs between Swinney, Steve Spurrier and fans throughout the state have been flying fast and furious.

While it’s been tough for Swinney (and Clemson fans) to dodge those jabs, it’s also a reflection on the ACC. While FSU and Louisville can certainly state the ACC’s case against the big, bad SEC, neither Florida nor Kentucky is poised to be national contenders. South Carolina, on the other hand, represents a major prize for the ACC if Clemson can finally find a way to get the monkey off its back.

In the last two seasons, Clemson has lost just four games -- two to Florida State, the two-time defending ACC champs, and two to South Carolina. Swinney knows that no matter how many games his Tigers win, it’s those two games that will define his season in 2014. So forget any other numbers -- this game will have plenty on the line for Clemson, for Swinney and for the ACC.
D.J. HowardAP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtD.J. Howard, who rushed for 213 yards and two touchdowns last season, is atop Clemson's depth chart at running back.

There has been one near certainty on the Clemson offense under coach Dabo Swinney.

A running back will hit 1,000 yards.

It has happened in three straight seasons, and four of the five years Swinney has been in charge. So will it happen again in 2014, with what could be a running-back-by-committee approach?

"We certainly expect to," Swinney said during the ACC spring meetings. "Last year, Hot Rod (McDowell) became the guy, the year before it was (Andre) Ellington. We might be a little more diversified this year, but we’ll see how it all plays out. I know our overall production at the position is going to increase. Whether it’s one guy or a combination of guys that’s yet to be determined."

When Swinney released his summer depth chart last week, D.J. Howard was listed as the starter. But three more backs also are listed behind him -- Zac Brooks, C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman. A fifth, Tyshon Dye, is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, but Swinney expects Dye to return at some point in the season, giving the Tigers five quality running backs that could all play. Not to mention three four-star running backs coming to Clemson for the fall.

"This is probably the best situation we’ve been in at running back in a long time," Swinney said. "That’s probably the area offensively we’re most excited about as coaches. We’ve got very good depth there. We’ve got a competitive, talented group that is going to pay good dividends for us this year."

Clemson and Baylor are only schools with 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher each of the last three season. But both Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris believe they will get more production out of their running backs in 2014. They expected the same headed into last season, when Morris wanted his team to average 200 yards on the ground.

The Tigers did not quite get there for a few reasons. Swinney said a lot of times, run calls turned into pass calls, where they could reliably lean on Tajh Boyd. The Tigers also had to deal with a few injuries that limited their depth.

With Boyd gone and Cole Stoudt in as the starter at quarterback, more of the run calls will fall to the running backs. Backup quarterback Deshaun Watson can run as well and could be used in certain designed packages, but there is little doubt the Clemson coaches want to rely on their talented group of backs, starting in the opener against Georgia. Last season against the Bulldogs, Clemson racked up 197 yards on the ground -- its third-highest total against FBS competition on the season.

The Tigers hope for more of the same this season, on a weekly basis. But it might not translate into a 1,000-yard back. Back in 2010, the only season the Tigers did not produce a 1,000-yard rusher, Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington had similar rushing totals and combined for 1,446 yards.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney put out his summer depth chart Tuesday without many huge surprises, but there are some interesting tidbits to note:
  • Let's start with some of the offensive positions with the biggest question marks. With Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant gone, Clemson now has Mike Williams and Charone Peake penciled in as starters, alongside veteran Adam Humphries. Early enrollee freshmen Demarre Kitt, Artavis Scott and Kyrin Priester are all listed on the two-deep.
  • At running back, D.J. Howard is listed as the starter, but expect Zac Brooks, C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman all to get extended playing time this season. The Tigers could feature much more of a running back-by-committee approach.
  • Right tackle is the only offensive position without a clear-cut starter listed. Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony are competing for that starting job.
  • As expected, Cole Stoudt is listed as the starting quarterback. Freshman Deshaun Watson is the backup.
  • On defense, it's no surprise to see two young players atop the cornerback spot. Redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander had a terrific spring. He is listed as a starter, along with Cordrea Tankersley. Seniors Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins are listed as the backups. Alexander is the only freshman starter on offense or defense.
  • The biggest holes to fill are at linebacker, where Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey are gone. Tony Steward is listed ahead of Ben Boulware for the weakside spot Shuey played, while T.J. Burrell, Travis Blanks, Korrin Wiggins and Dorian O'Daniel are listed at strongside/nickel back.
  • Tavaris Barnes is pushing Corey Crawford for a starting defensive end spot. They are listed with "or" next to their names. The tackle spot opposite Grady Jarrett also remains unsettled, with a three-way competition ongoing among Josh Watson, DeShawn Williams and D.J. Reader. No matter who enters the starting lineup, defensive line is the most experienced position on the entire team. All nine players on the two-deep are lettermen who have played at least 200 snaps in their careers, playing in a combined 266 games with 91 starts.
We have come to Week 4 in our Ultimate ACC Road Trip, where each week we pretend we have all the power to decide where we're going to watch some football.

This is a no-brainer choice.

Week 4 schedule

Saturday, Sept. 20
  • Maine at Boston College
  • Tulane at Duke
  • Clemson at Florida State
  • Louisville at Florida International
  • Miami at Nebraska
  • North Carolina at East Carolina
  • Presbyterian at NC State
  • Iowa at Pitt
  • Maryland at Syracuse
  • Virginia at BYU
  • Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
  • Army at Wake Forest
Our pick: Clemson at Florida State

Why you should come along: Pretty simple, really. The winner of this game has gone on to play in five straight ACC championship games. Odds are this season will be no different, with Florida State and Clemson going into the season as the top teams in the Atlantic Division once again. Florida State has won two straight in the series and three of the last four and would seem to have the upper hand going into this one, with Jameis Winston and several playmakers back on both offense and defense. Clemson, meanwhile, has to replace its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a year ago.

But the Tigers have the potential to be extremely tough on defense, especially with their front seven. Last year, Clemson was completely outclassed in every phase of the game. The Tigers never really had a chance to be in the game, not with all the turnovers to start. And that was at home, with a veteran quarterback behind center. If the offense can hold on to the ball and make a few plays, the defense will be in much better position to affect the outcome of the game in Tallahassee.

There is little doubt Dabo Swinney has elevated the Clemson program. But Florida State, along with South Carolina, has become a must-win game. The coach has delivered two wins over Florida State since 2008 and one against South Carolina in the same time period, making him 3-9 against his team's two biggest rivals. Nobody wants to hear that this might be a rebuilding year for Clemson. When you put together three straight 10-win seasons, you don't rebuild. You reload. But are they reloaded enough to catch Florida State?

We find out in September.

Road trips

Clemson adds QB depth

May, 15, 2014
May 15
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- When Clemson opened spring practice, the Tigers had a big-time dilemma at quarterback. When it ended, they had a big-time dilemma with depth.

Following the dismissal of Chad Kelly, the Tigers needed another quarterback to add into the mix. They found one in Stanford transfer David Olson, a graduate student who is immediately eligible this upcoming season. Cole Stoudt remains the starter, but Olson gives Clemson a fourth scholarship quarterback on the roster and a veteran on the sideline and in meeting rooms.

"He just gives us another quality guy at the position," Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. "We were going to go into the season with only three guys on scholarship, so it just gives us a fourth guy and not only a fourth guy but a guy who has great experience. He’s been coached for four years at Stanford, backed up [Andrew] Luck a couple years, was a backup last year. He’s been in all the game plan meetings so he’s a very mature guy that will bring good knowledge and good expertise into our quarterback room and just give us another very capable player if we needed it."

The signing does not change the plan for true freshman Deshaun Watson, who enrolled in January and participated in spring practice until he hurt his collarbone. Watson will be ready for fall practice.

"Oh yeah he’s definitely going to play," Swinney said. "No doubt. He was great this spring. He made tremendous strides. He showed that he was every bit as good as we thought he was, just as good as advertised."
Thanks to everyone for all the great feedback on the ACC coach rankings. Now it's your turn to weigh in. Go!

Jon in Atlanta writes: Hey AA, I agree mostly on your list. However, I rank coaches based on their ability to coach. I think (David) Cutcliffe is No. 1. Why? Because he took basically 2-3 star players and competed with teams full of 4-5 star players. That in my mind, is what coaching is. Getting your players to play above their level. Also, I would rank Paul Johnson higher. We have a great graduation success percentage. In a college, key word college, coach that is what you want.

Brent in Charlotte writes: Really do not understand your criteria about ranking the coaches in the ACC. What I don't understand is how Jimbo (Fisher) gets credit for what he has done lately (which is due to having a great roster of talent) but others like (Dabo) Swinney don't. Prior to last year, you were questioning how good of a coach Jimbo really was since he had all that talent and hadn't gotten "over the hump". Because in your next argument, you talk about (Frank) Beamer's body of work and Cutcliffe's one good season (and throw out his five bad seasons). I think Cutcliffe is a great coach as well but No. 2 in the ACC after one good season in a weak division? Your rankings are all over the map and do not make any sense as to what you are comparing them against. If it's body of work, then it's clearly Beamer. If it's turnarounds, then it's Cutcliffe and (Al) Golden. And arguably Golden since he won at TEMPLE of all places. If it's who is doing the best now, it's Fisher and then Swinney.

Neil in Leland, N.C., writes: Beamer, (Bobby) Petrino AND Cutcliffe ahead of Dabo? Are you serious? Cutcliffe is 16-11 the last two years with bad bowl losses to Texas A&M and Cincinnati. Beamer has been owned by Clemson the last two times out, losing by 61-13. Petrino inherits a Louisville team WITHOUT (Teddy) Bridgewater and several others, and has yet to coach a single game in the ACC. Dabo is 22-4 the last two years, two top 10 finishes, and bowl victories over two top 10 teams. Me thinks you might have something against Clemson or Coach Swinney. It's the only thing I can think of.

Chris Butterick in Nashville, Tenn., writes: Like your list and agree on Cutliffe and Beamer but would think with the quality of player Swinney has recruited, he could have done a better "coaching" job. He is entertainment but just not as good as he is rated -- would put him eighth or ninth and also move Petrino down with Swinney. Honestly, it is about his character or lack thereof, but what has he really done lately? Also might flop Golden and (Larry) Fedora. Thanks for the rankings.

Stevie in Simpsonville, S.C., writes: Seriously? Just when I thought you knew what you were talking about? Swinney below Beamer (who he beat) as well as Cutcliffe (admirable, don't get me wrong) but in a division that has artificially been pumped up as "competitive"? I say do away with the divisions, rotate the games fairly, and let the best teams represent a rising ACC. Yes, rising! That and how about a rule against UNC for these classes I wish I could have taken back in college.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Ellen Ozier/USA TODAY SportsDavid Cutcliffe is 31-44 in six seasons as Duke coach.
Dana Dill in Cincinnati writes: You can't punish Swinney simply because he recruits well. Recruiting is part of coaching in college football. Swinney has turned the whole culture around at Clemson, not just the football program and it continues to thrive four years into his reign. He is a couple big wins away from a national championship and if Cutcliffe was competing in the same division as Clemson/FSU he wouldn't be playing for the ACC championship.

Will Graham in Liverpool, N.Y., writes: Scott Shafer should of been higher because winning a bowl game and finishing third in your division of the ACC conference where nobody expected them to do either must warrant something.

Yungdungbeetle87 in Chamapaign, Ill., writes: I like the job that Shafer is doing at the Cuse. I realize his body of work as a HC isn't very extensive and that surely is part of the reason why his coach ranking falls near the bottom of the ACC. On the other hand, he has done a lot with comparatively little, recruiting seems to be trending upwards, and the program looks to heading in the right direction despite being in the stronger division. I think that he, among the coaches in the ACC, has a really good chance to move up on that list within the next couple of seasons. I think he could be the biggest mover on this list next year. Thanks for reading (I've never done one of these before).

Robert VT in Blacksburg, Va., writes: Hi Andrea, thanks for your input. However, I do not feel that Bobby Petrino should be ranked in the top 6 for ACC coaches, when he hasn't coached a league game yet. Nothing against Petrino, and I'm happy to see Louisville enter our league on July 1. Granted Petrino has demonstrated in the past his high football acumen, but I think he may be cast a little too high right now. We'll see!

John P in St. Louis, Mo. ,writes: As you mentioned in your article, I believe there is a fairly large qualifier to this ranking. Are you ranking the coaches as they sit today, or as a body of work throughout their entire career? Those two lists would have quite a few differences for me, with Beamer being Exhibit A. For a coaching career, it's hard not to throw him at No. 1 with what he has accomplished, but in May 2014 would I pick him first out of this list to be my coach? Not even close. With that said, I'll assume the rankings are as if I'm picking a coach to run my team tomorrow: 1. Fisher 2. Cutcliffe 3. Swinney 4. Petrino 5. Fedora 6. Beamer 7. Golden 8. Chryst 9. Johnson 10. Doeren 11. Clawson 12. Addazio 13. Shafer 14. London. Go Cards!

Doug Levy in Radford, Va., writes: I get Fisher being up there based on winning a National Championship, but if you look at the body of his work, it may not merit the top spot. Cutcliffe ahead of Beamer just because he took Duke to the ACC championship game? Once? Yeah, it's Duke, but come on ... Name one coach on the list who has changed the way college football is played? There is only one: Frank Beamer. His approach to special teams play changed the game. His body of work is better than most in the nation, not just the ACC. Has he had a few down years? Yup, but who hasn't. Alabama, Texas, etc. have all had their slumps. Beamer is best.
Just in case you’ve just woken up from a coma or finally had your power restored after living in the dark for the past week, the 2014 NFL Draft begins tonight, and Round 1 promises its share of ACC highlights.

In Todd McShay’s latest mock draft Insider, six of the first 32 picks are from current ACC schools, which would be one shy of the conference’s tally from a year ago. But while last year’s draft had just one ACC player go in the first 15 picks (UNC’s Jonathan Cooper), there’s ample reason to think quite a few -- from safe bets Sammy Watkins and Aaron Donald to bigger wild cards such as Teddy Bridgewater and Morgan Moses -- could be early selections this year.

With all that in mind, we figured we’d take a look at how the current ACC members have faired in the draft in recent years.

Looking strictly at which schools have produced elite NFL prospects, the names at the top of the list aren’t overly surprising.

In the last 10 years, no ACC school has churned out more first-round selections than Florida State and Miami. Of course, there are a few noteworthy numbers in that mix, too. Since 2009, Miami hasn’t produced a single first-round pick, and again this year, the Hurricanes don’t have a single name listed in Mel Kiper’s top 100 prospects. (The ACC has 22 players in Kiper’s top 100.)

That stands in stark contrast with the first half of the 2000s, when Miami was a factory for first-rounders, including a whopping 24 from 2001 through 2007.

Meanwhile, the team that ranks third on both of those lists is Boston College, which is unique in that such a large portion of its total draftees were first-rounders. In the last 10 years, 40 percent of all BC players drafted went in the first round. No other ACC school has a ratio half that large.

In fact, when we look beyond the first round, we see that it’s still Florida State and Miami that produce the most draft prospects, while the smaller schools tend to fall toward the bottom.

Florida State had a dip in production in the immediate aftermath of the Bobby Bowden era, but with 11 players taken last year alone, it’s clear Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles churning out NFL talent at a rate similar to their heyday. In fact, FSU is poised to send as many as a dozen more into this year’s draft, which would put its two-year tally for 2013 and 2014 at 23. Only Miami (24) had more players selected in the previous five drafts combined among ACC teams.

UNC ranks third among ACC teams with 16 players drafted in the last three years, which is, in part, the Butch Davis recruiting effect lingering. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney certainly deserves some credit at Clemson. From 2004-2008, the Tigers sent 15 players to the NFL. From 2009 through 2013, they sent 23 -- and figure to add at least another four to that total this weekend.

At the bottom of the list, we get more ammunition for critics of Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have had just two players selected in the last three drafts, and one (Anthony Allen) was a transfer not recruited by Johnson. Of course, Jeremiah Attaouchu should add to Johnson’s list of NFL talent this year.

Pitt has had just five players taken in the last three drafts -- none in the last two -- but Donald and Tom Savage assure some early intrigue for the Panthers in 2014, while Virginia (just three players in the last three years) should add to its total with Moses and Brent Urban.

Then, of course, there’s the ACC’s newest addition in Louisville. The Cardinals virtually evaporated from NFL draft boards in the immediate aftermath of Bobby Petrino’s departure, with just four players who were either recruited by or spent the bulk of their careers under Charlie Strong selected. That will change this year with Bridgewater and Calvin Pryor both projected to be taken early. Still, it’s a good reassurance for Louisville fans to remember than Petrino’s heyday of producing NFL talent that he either recruited or coached was pretty bountiful. From 2005 through 2008, Louisville had 19 players drafted.

Of course, all these numbers will be reshuffled in just a few hours, which should make for a long weekend on the couch. Enjoy!

Ranking the ACC coaches

May, 6, 2014
May 6
After Florida State won the national championship, some began to debate where Jimbo Fisher stood among all coaches nationally.

Had he reached an elite level with that title?

The Sporting News has attempted to answer that question in its coaches rankings, released last week. Fisher ranks No. 10 among all head coaches on the list, the highest among all ACC coaches. But that still seems too low for a coach who has two ACC titles, an Orange Bowl victory, a national championship, a Heisman Trophy winner on his roster and a school-record 11 draft picks in 2013 alone. Especially when you consider how much work had to be done to get the Seminoles back into the national conversation.

[+] EnlargeBobby Bowden
AP Photo/Steve CannonA national championship has raised Jimbo Fisher's profile after coaching under Florida State legend Bobby Bowden.
While it is true that Florida State lost games it simply should not have under Fisher, what happened last season should carry more weight. It did for Gus Malzahn, who surprisingly checks in only three spots behind Fisher on the list.

At the very least, Fisher deserves to be ranked ahead of Chris Petersen, David Shaw and Brian Kelly. You could have a great debate on whether Fisher should be ranked ahead of Les Miles or Mark Dantonio, too. Very few teams rival the talent and depth Fisher has assembled over the last few seasons. If the Seminoles contend for another national championship, I expect Fisher to be ranked much higher when the 2015 version comes out next year.

As for the rest of the ACC, here is how the rankings shake out, with overall national ranking:

  • No. 10 Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
  • No. 16 Dabo Swinney, Clemson
  • No. 18 David Cutcliffe, Duke
  • No. 21 Bobby Petrino, Louisville
  • No. 30 Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
  • No. 31 Larry Fedora, North Carolina
  • No. 32 Al Golden, Miami
  • No. 53 Paul Johnson Georgia Tech
  • No. 60 Paul Chryst, Pitt
  • No. 65 David Clawson, Wake Forest
  • No. 66 Steve Addazio, Boston College
  • No. 68 Dave Doeren, NC State
  • No. 83 Scott Shafer, Syracuse
  • No. 102 Mike London, Virginia

I would make a few tweaks to this list. Swinney has done a great job at Clemson, but I would move Cutcliffe ahead for a few reasons. Nobody ever expected the Blue Devils to compete for an ACC title, but that is exactly what happened last year. Cutcliffe has taken this team to back-to-back bowl games, an ACC championship game and has won consecutive coach of the year honors while having to recruit to a tough academic school. Duke is not bringing in the kind of quality classes Clemson is; Cutcliffe is simply doing more with less.

I also would move Beamer up, but the question is where? Ahead of both Swinney and Petrino? Ahead of Petrino only? Should the last few years take away from all his accomplishments? I understand the Sporting News rankings are a snapshot of how coaches fare year to year, but Beamer should get credit for his long body of work. Beamer has won seven conference titles and made six BCS appearances, including one national championship game. Petrino has a great offensive mind and Swinney has put Clemson back into the Top 25 every year, but neither has come close to Beamer's career accomplishments.

I would also move Chryst down. Doeren did have a disappointing first year at NC State, but he also led Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance. Chryst is 13-13 overall as a head coach, though he had a rough deal handed to him to fix the Pitt mess he inherited. I feel pretty confident in the top 5. The rest? Flip 'em up, down and all around and you could make arguments to move just about everybody. Taking into account recent success (weighted slightly more), body of work and results at a power-5 job (weighted slightly more), the AA rankings would look something like this:

1. Fisher
2. Cutcliffe
3. Beamer
4. Swinney
5. Petrino
6. Golden
7. Fedora
8. Johnson
9. Addazio
10. Doeren
11. Chryst
12. Clawson
13. Shafer
14. London

Send me your thoughts into the mailbag, and I will publish your responses this Friday. Let the debate begin!