ACC: Dalton Freeman

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is away from his Tigers teammates right now, serving as a counselor at the Elite 11 camp in Beaverton, Ore.

Boyd jumped at the opportunity to help out the next generation of quarterbacks. After all, he was among the Elite 11 group back in 2008. His selection there should come as no surprise. Trent Dilfer, the man in charge of the program, says the counselors are there to "share their life stories, to be examples in the way they engage the kids, with how they compete."

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Joshua S. Kelly/US Presswire"It's all about getting the chemistry in place on my team," Tajh Boyd said, "making sure that we don't have any division out there."
The Heisman Trophy hopeful fits the bill. He has set an example for his teammates back home, as well, as an unquestioned leader. To that end, Boyd has placed a priority on building chemistry this summer, knowing full well his team has an opportunity to achieve something special.

While in Oregon, he told ESPN Recruiting Nation reporter Mitch Sherman, "It’s all about getting the chemistry in place on my team, making sure that we don’t have any division out there. It’s been good. I know the biggest thing with me right now is chemistry with my O-linemen and with my receivers. So any time I get the chance, I’ll take the guys bowling. They break my pockets when we go out to eat, so I stopped that.”

Boyd, never afraid to crack a joke, hits the mark. Chemistry is one of those intangible aspects that is critical to the success of any team. Good chemistry helps teams thrive; bad chemistry, and teams fall apart. Secondly, chemistry between a quarterback and his line, and a quarterback and his receivers is critically important.

Going into this season, Boyd has to develop that chemistry with a new starting center, and a new outside receiver. We all saw last season how Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins were always on the same page. Sammy Watkins enters that role this year. Will their chemistry match the Boyd-Hopkins connection? How will Charone Peake, Adam Humphries and Martavis Bryant develop their chemistry with Boyd?

"Those guys have to step up in their role and take advantage of it," Boyd told Sherman. "It’s exciting. They’re excited about it. Right now, it’s all about putting the work in. What you put in is what you get out of it. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true."

And how will Boyd do with veteran Dalton Freeman gone and sophomore Ryan Norton taking over at center?

Boyd is smart enough to know that he needs the answers to those questions before the season begins.

Clemson Tigers spring wrap

May, 7, 2013
5/07/13
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2012 record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (Atlantic Division co-champs)
Returning starters: offense: 6; defense: 6; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners:

QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins, T Brandon Thomas, WR Charone Peake, WR Martavis Bryant, DE Vic Beasley, DE Corey Crawford, LB Stephone Anthony, S Travis Blanks, LB Spencer Shuey; K Chandler Catanzaro

Key losses:

WR DeAndre Hopkins, RB Andre Ellington, TE Brandon Ford, C Dalton Freeman, WR Jaron Brown, DE Malliciah Goodman, CB Xavier Brewer, CB Rashard Hall, SS Jonathan Meeks, LB Tig Willard, P Spencer Benton

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Ellington (1,081 yards)
Passing: Boyd* (3,896 yards)
Receiving: Hopkins (1,405 yards)
Tackles: Willard (95)
Sacks: Beasley* (8)
Interceptions: Hall (4)

Spring answers

1. Freshman phenom at tight end: Jordan Leggett enrolled in January, and not a moment too soon. Sam Cooper tore his ACL, an injury that opened the door for Leggett, who had a fantastic spring. He had seven catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, and he was impressive in the last two scrimmages. He’s not listed as the starter yet, but he is good enough to get there by the opener against Georgia.

2. Beasley’s a beast. He led the team with eight sacks last year, but really showed consistency in the spring. Twice had interceptions of Boyd where he made athletic plays, and he had 10 sacks in the three scrimmages. Clemson is in need of a big-play guy on defense, and Beasley could be it.

3. Solid behind Boyd. Clemson has found a No. 2 quarterback in Cole Stoudt, who threw for 304 yards in the first half of the Tigers’ spring game. He hardly played in the second half. The depth of the position took a hit when Chad Kelly was injured, but now the backup quarterback question has an answer.

Fall questions

1. Unsettled secondary. The cornerback position is a particular area of concern, but with eight true freshmen joining the team this August, the entire group could look different this summer. It wouldn’t be surprising to see at least four of those rookies earn playing time this fall, especially prized recruit Mackensie Alexander, who was the program’s highest-rated signee since former defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.

2. Center of attention: The Tigers will miss Dalton Freeman, who started 49 straight games at center. Ryan Norton is the new starter, but there’s no replacing the experience Freeman had with making all of the blocking calls and the chemistry he developed with Boyd.

3. Spotlight on Sammy: Watkins is moving to Hopkins’ old position, and all eyes will be watching to see if he looks like the same player who caught the nation’s attention as a true freshman in 2011. So far, so good. Watkins had 156 receiving yards in the spring game and looked like old Sammy.

ACC pro days watch

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
5:00
PM ET
This month is filled with pro days across the ACC, and we're here to keep you updated with how the auditions have been going for those schools that provide releases. So far, Pittsburgh, Miami, Clemson and Syracuse have all held their pro days. Here's a look at some of their highlights:

CLEMSON
MIAMI
  • Twelve Miami seniors auditioned for 30 NFL scouts.
  • S Vaughn Telemaque recorded the highest vertical jump at 36 inches.
  • DL Darius Smith was the lone participant to break the 30-rep plateau, recording 33 reps of 225 pounds.
  • Both RB Mike James and DB Brandon McGee took their official NFL combine 40 times. WR Kendal Thompkins had the best 40 time at pro day with 4.37.
  • LB Ramon Buchanan had the best broad jump at 10 feet, 8 inches.
PITT
  • Twelve seniors worked out in front of scouts from 17 NFL teams, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
  • The highlight, according to the paper, was Ray Graham's improvement in the 40. Graham ran a disappointing time of 4.8 seconds at the NFL combine, but improved to a range of 4.58 to 4.62.
SYRACUSE
  • Fifteen former players participated in pro day in front of 29 NFL scouts.
  • "Deon Goggins today really lit it up," said SU assistant athletics director for athletic performance Will Hicks in the release. "I mean, he verticaled 37.5 [inches]. He ran in the high 4.7s, so he put himself on the map today. But he also did that in the all-star game [2013 NFLPA Collegiate Game], he played in. He had a caused fumble, a sack, a tackle for loss, but what he did today was show his speed."

Here is the remaining pro day schedule for the rest of the ACC:

TODAY
  • Maryland
THURSDAY
  • Georgia Tech
March 18
  • Wake Forest
March 19
  • Florida State
  • Virginia
March 20
  • NC State
  • Virginia Tech
  • Boston College
March 25
  • Duke
March 26
  • North Carolina

Clemson has returned to the national picture thanks to back-to-back 10-win seasons, a plucky coach, a headstrong quarterback and some pretty eye-popping records (both good and bad).

Indeed, the Tigers have accomplished feats over the last several seasons that have not been touched for 20-plus years. Yet there is one big goal out there, reached just once in the 117-year history of Clemson football.

Ask coach Dabo Swinney about where he has the Tigers headed, and inevitably he circles back to 1981, the lone national championship season in Clemson history. The one time the program has been ranked No. 1 in a season.

You know what Swinney wants? He wants that. And he is not going to tip-toe around the subject, either. Swinney is a tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy, so it should come as no surprise that he has embraced the heightened expectations surrounding this program headed into the 2013 season.

And his players have embraced the heightened expectations surrounding this program, too.

Swinney says, "We’ve done some great things. But our goal is to compete for the national championship. We want to be in the mix for the BCS bowl every year. We want to finish in the top 10 multiple times. That’s what we’re trying to do and I think the guys understand the margin for error is very small when you’re trying to be one of those great elite teams."

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsTajh Boyd returns for his senior season and aims to take a shot at the national title.
The small group of 10 seniors certainly understand, with quarterback Tajh Boyd leading the way. Boyd returned to Clemson for his final season because he understands what is at stake, not only for him, but for his team as well.

The Tigers have a shot at starting the season ranked in the preseason Top 10 for the first time since 2008, and only the third time since 1991. Boyd, of course, is a huge reason why, as he led a Clemson offense that set 101 different records during the course of 2012. His performance against LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl was one of his best, as he showed grit, determination and an unceasing will to win in leading the Tigers' jaw-dropping fourth-quarter comeback win.

That victory has only increased expectations headed into this season, not only from outsiders but from insiders, too. Boyd said what he saw during the first spring practice last week only encourages him to believe 2013 could be something special.

"We have a lot of capabilities as a program," Boyd said. "So I’m very excited, very encouraged about what the team is going to look like this year and we just have to keep building off it."

There is plenty to build off, as Clemson has posted 10 or more wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1987-90 era. Mark consecutive top 25 finishes for the first time since that era as well, along with an ACC title in 2011 for the first time in 20 years. All wonderful steps, but Clemson has yet to take that final one.

This season provides the best opportunity to do so in years, as seven starters return on offense. This includes Boyd and Sammy Watkins, a more mature, grown-up receiver ready to take on a leadership role. The Tigers have some key players to replace on offense, including All-ACC running back Andre Ellington and All-ACC center Dalton Freeman, who started 49 games in his career.

But the biggest questions about this team surround the defense. Again. The Tigers were better last season under first-year coordinator Brent Venables, but they were not exactly at the top of the ACC class. Despite the improvements, Clemson ranked No. 7 in the ACC in total defense. And you can still hear the bad jokes about the Orange Bowl debacle against West Virginia.

Now the Tigers have to replace five starters, including the majority of their secondary. They also have to replace defensive end Malliciah Goodman. Only two of their top six tacklers return.

Two more potential roadblocks. First: the nonconference schedule is tough. Clemson has to open the regular season against Georgia -- also trying to get back to No. 1 -- and close it against in-state rival South Carolina. There are plenty who will say the Tigers should focus on being No. 1 in their own state before setting their sights on being No. 1 in the country.

Indeed, Clemson has not beaten South Carolina since 2008. Last season, in the game in Death Valley, the Tigers simply had no answer for Jadeveon Clowney. Nobody needs to tell Boyd that Mr. Clowney is back.

One more potential roadblock: the Tigers themselves. Clemson has had a history of falling flat in big games, or when expectations become supersized. How will this team handle the pressure as the season grows closer?

"They know how to win but more important they know how to prepare to win," Swinney said. "That’s the process they understand because of what they’ve been through for the last couple years. This is a group that wants to be great. Our job as coaches is to help them get there and correct them and discipline them and encourage them and teach them. That’s what we do, and it goes to your leadership on your team. There can’t be any satisfaction. I don’t think anybody here is satisfied with what we’ve accomplished."

Boyd echoes those sentiments, saying, "We want to be the No. 1 team."

How do the Tigers get there?

"We just have to continue to build, trying to focus on one game at a time," Boyd said. "Of course we believe we have the opportunity to put ourselves in that situation but it can’t happen if we don’t win the first game. We have to take it from the beginning to the end and continue to focus on every aspect of the game. We just have to continue to work."
Drumroll please ...

No. 1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

2012 stats: He ranked No. 5 in the country in passing efficiency at 165.59, No. 10 in passing yards with 3,896, and No. 14 in passing yards per game at 299.69. He threw for an ACC-record 36 touchdowns with 13 interceptions, and was responsible for a total of 46 touchdowns, also an ACC record. He finished seventh in the country in total offense (339.23).

Previous ranking: No. 6

Making the case for Boyd: Just ask the ACC coaches, who voted Boyd as the ACC’s overall and offensive Player of the Year for 2012. Boyd was the leader of Clemson’s record-setting offense, and he showed significant improvement from 2011, including his decision-making and his ability to run. He delivered an ACC single-game record on Nov. 17 when he accounted for eight touchdowns against NC State. Boyd orchestrated an offense that set school records in scoring, with 41 points per game, and in total offense, averaging 512.7 yards. Clemson ranked ninth nationally in total offense and sixth in the nation in scoring. His decision to return instead of leave early for the NFL gave the program -- and the ACC -- a true Heisman contender for 2013.

The countdown
No. 3. Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

2012 stats: He started all 12 games, and in has final career game, Cooper had a team-best 10 knockdowns and graded out at 93 percent against Maryland. He played every snap against NC State and graded out at 90 percent with a team-high 18 knockdown blocks. He had no missed assignments in the win over East Carolina, and he twice earned ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors.

Previous ranking: No. 7

Making the case for Cooper: The 1,000+ yards of UNC running back Giovani Bernard, the No. 4 player on this list, makes the case for Cooper, who was his lead blocker. Cooper finished his career as one of the most decorated offensive linemen in school history. The consensus All-American will have his jersey honored in Kenan Stadium. He was UNC’s first Outland Trophy finalist, a first-team all-ACC selection, and he won the ACC Jacobs Blocking Trophy. Not only is Cooper one of the nation’s best linemen, he is also humble and a good student. Cooper was also a 2013 ACC Postgraduate Honorary Scholarship recipient.

The countdown
No. 5. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

2012 stats: He started all 13 games and finished with 82 catches for 1,405 yards and an ACC-record 18 touchdowns.

Previous ranking: NR

Making the case for Hopkins: Teammates Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington stole the show in the previous ranking, and Hopkins was bumped from the list in favor of Wake Forest receiver Michael Campanaro. Not only did Hopkins play his way into the top five with a breakout season in 2012, Hopkins also earned his spot among the nation’s best receivers last season. He was better than Watkins, and few defenses could find an answer for him. Hopkins had at least one receiving touchdown in each of the last 10 games, the longest streak in ACC and school history. He finished the season ranked first in school history in receiving touchdowns, first in receiving yards, and first in receiving yards per game (108.1). He had 24 plays over 20 yards, and became the only Tiger in school history with multiple 100-yard receiving performances in bowl games. He has 32 receptions for 403 yards and three touchdowns in three career bowl games. His decision to leave early for the NFL draft was a significant hit to Clemson’s passing game.

The countdown
BOSTON COLLEGE

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. The transition: Introductions will be necessary as first-year coach Steve Addazio takes over. The good news is that offensive coordinator Ryan Day is a familiar face as he was the receivers coach under Frank Spaziani. He should work well with quarterback Chase Rettig.
  2. The front seven. There used to be a time when BC’s defense was one of the best in the country. It wasn’t last year. The Eagles were No. 111 in the country in rushing defense and No. 120 in sacks and tackles for loss. First-year coordinator Don Brown has some work to do.
  3. The running backs. They were an inconsistent group last year as BC ranked No. 115 in the country in rushing offense at 90.92 yards per game. All of the key contributors return, including leading rusher Andre Williams, but the group has to do a better job of taking pressure off of Rettig.
CLEMSON

Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. Defensive progress: This is the second spring under coordinator Brent Venables, and the defense is the missing piece to the program becoming a contender on the national level. The defensive backs will have the most to prove as three starters have to be replaced.
  2. The new playmakers: Clemson lost two big names on offense in receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who left early for the NFL, and running back Andre Ellington. There is plenty of talent remaining in the wings, but it has to step out of the shadows this spring.
  3. Front and center: The Tigers return four starters to the offensive line, but have to replace their anchor in veteran center Dalton Freeman. While quarterback Tajh Boyd returns, the communication with the new center will be critical for calls and snaps.
FLORIDA STATE

Spring start: Mar. 20

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:
  1. The QB battle: It's a three-way race to replace EJ Manuel, and while Clint Trickett will enter spring practice as the nominal No. 1, there's no clear favorite to win the job. Sophomore Jacob Coker has perhaps the best mix of arm strength, athleticism and experience, but redshirt freshman Jameis Winston was the country's top QB recruit two years ago and could blossom into a superstar.
  2. The new coaches. There will be a much different feel on the practice fields at FSU this spring with six new assistant coaches running the show. Four of the assistants have previous coordinator experience, making it a veteran group, and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brings an Alabama pedigree to a unit that was already among the best in the nation.
  3. The new faces. A year ago, there weren't a ton of jobs open in the spring thanks to a hefty dose of veterans. Things are different this time around, meaning youngsters like WR Kelvin Benjamin, DE Mario Edwards Jr. and CB Ronald Darby will get their opportunities to solidify key roles on this year's team.
MARYLAND

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  1. Quarterbacks. The Terps’ unprecedented run of injuries at the position was one of the ACC’s biggest storylines last year. C.J. Brown, the projected starter, will be limited and won’t play in the spring game, but he can throw and participate in some drills. Ricardo Young, who sat out all year after transferring, will be the top healthy quarterback on the roster this spring and take the majority of the snaps. He played for offensive coordinator Mike Locksley at New Mexico and is familiar with the system. Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe aren’t nearly as ready or healthy as Brown is. Dustin Dailey, who also sat out last year because of NCAA transfer rules, is healthy and available.
  2. Early enrollees: Three recruits enrolled early, including two junior college transfers who can help immediately. Maryland fans should be eager to see how junior college transfer Deon Long, a receiver, adds to the offense. Silvano Altamirano, another junior college transfer, will compete immediately for playing time at offensive guard.
  3. Defensive competition: Maryland has some big names to replace in defensive linemen Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis, and middle linebacker Demetrius Hartsfield, all of whom were mainstays on the defense. Cole Farrand will be the veteran linebacker now, and Darius Kilgo is the only returning starter on the defensive line.
NC STATE

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. The quarterback competition. The Mike Glennon era is over, and Manny Stocker and Pete Thomas are the top options to replace him. Thomas, a former transfer from Colorado State, was a two-year starter there and threw for 4,269 yards and 18 touchdowns. Stocker, a sophomore, has yet to take a collegiate snap.
  2. The staff transition. First-year coach Dave Doeren is taking over and he has hired an almost entirely new staff. How the players adjust to the change in terminology, schemes and personalities will be critical to the transition.
  3. A revamped secondary: NC State will have to replace three starters, including Earl Wolff, Brandan Bishop and David Amerson, the school’s career interception leader. Cornerback Dontae Johnson returns, along with Juston Burris, who played in the nickel package. There are also several redshirts and younger players who will compete.
SYRACUSE

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. Staff changes: First-year coach Scott Shafer, who replaced Doug Marrone, has been with the program for four years, so it’s not a drastic change for the players, but it is Shafer’s first as a head coach. He has a chance to put his stamp on the program as it enters the first season in the ACC.
  2. Quarterback competition: The Orange have to replace record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib, and it’s a wide-open competition. Backup Charley Loeb, junior John Kinder, and dual-threat Terrel Hunt are the top candidates, but Ashton Broyld, who moved to running back in 2012, could be in the mix as well.
  3. Replacing SS Shamarko Thomas: The Orange have to replace their leading tackler and top defender, as Thomas had 84 tackles last year. He was a game-changer who also had two interceptions and three forced fumbles. He was a first-team All-Big East selection.
WAKE FOREST

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:
  1. The health of the O-line: Wake was hit hard by injuries last year, and keeping this group healthy this offseason will be critical. The Deacs only lost one senior -- center Garrick Williams, but last year injuries forced the staff to play a significant number of redshirt freshmen, which it doesn’t like to do. Whit Barnes, for example, started 11 games at left guard. He was supposed to be a backup center.
  2. Camp’s complement: The Deacs have to find a complement to star receiver Michael Campanaro. He’s the go-to guy, but quarterback Tanner Price needs a few more reliable targets to emerge this spring. Sherman Ragland, Matt James, Brandon Terry and Airyn Willis are all options.
  3. Improving inside: The Deacs’ inside linebackers need a boost after losing Riley Haynes and Scott Betros. Redshirt junior Mike Olson will be a starter, but Wake needs to find another starter there and develop some dependable backups.

When you start talking spring football every year, you start talking change.

New coaches.

New players.

New starting quarterbacks.

New teams.

Wait, what?

Yes indeed, life is about to change for the soon-to-be supersized ACC, as Pitt and Syracuse begin spring practice this year with an eye toward Year 1 as new league members. While changes come in many forms, there is no denying that this year more than most, the ACC will see radical changes across the board.

Not only will the league grow to 14 teams, three new coaching staffs are taking charge (Boston College, NC State, Syracuse); nine teams have either a new offensive or defensive coordinator; and 13 teams have at least one new assistant on staff. You know it is an offseason of change when two of the two most stable programs in the league -- Florida State and Virginia Tech -- have undergone staff overhauls.

Jimbo Fisher lost assistants for the first time under his watch, having to replace six in all, including a yet-to-be-hired offensive coordinator and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Perhaps the most galling loss of all came at the hands of longtime rival Miami, which hired away James Coley to serve as offensive coordinator.

As if that wasn't enough, Florida State must also begin the process of replacing departed stars EJ Manuel, Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes and Tank Carradine this spring.

The Noles, however, are in a better spot than the Hokies, coming off their worst season in two decades.

After offensive ineptitude hampered his team for a majority of the season, Frank Beamer changed out his offensive coaching staff, hiring Scot Loeffler as offensive coordinator in place of Bryan Stinespring. This all adds to the prevailing theme in Blacksburg this spring: How will Loeffler get the most out of quarterback Logan Thomas?

Virginia also has made major staff changes. Coach Mike London made the boldest moves in the league this offseason following a 4-8 season, hiring former Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild as offensive coordinator, former NC State coach Tom O'Brien as associate head coach/tight ends, and Jon Tenuta as defensive coordinator. Fairchild, O'Brien and Tenuta bring 115 years of coaching experience to the staff, so you have to believe the pressure is on to turn things around immediately.

Pressure is there for the new faces in the league, too. Boston College coach Steve Addazio has to find a way to turn around a 2-10 team in a hurry. NC State coach Dave Doeren has to know that 7-5 seasons with upsets over Florida State are not good enough in Raleigh, so he's got to find a way to improve with only 11 starters returning. And Syracuse coach Scott Shafer has to find a way to build upon the momentum Syracuse created in its final Big East season, in a division with Florida State and Clemson.

Doeren and Shafer have to meet their goals with a new starting quarterback. Each lost excellent leaders in Mike Glennon and Ryan Nassib, both expected to be drafted in April. Both competitions are wide-open going into the spring, as are the competitions at Florida State, Pittsburgh, Duke and Virginia.

Of these schools, there is perhaps most excitement at Pitt over a new starter, now that the Panthers have said goodbye to the streaky and often-maddening Tino Sunseri. Former Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik figure to be the top two candidates.

But even a school such as Clemson has to deal with change. Yes, the Tigers do return their All-American quarterback Tajh Boyd, coach Dabo Swinney and both coordinators -- holding onto hot commodity Chad Morris for one more season. But they also lose leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who declared himself eligible for the NFL draft. And just as important, they have to replace center Dalton Freeman, who made 49 starts in his Tigers career.

So you see, change is everywhere, both big and small. Spring is our first introduction to a new-look ACC come the fall.

2012 postseason top 25 players: No. 7

February, 15, 2013
2/15/13
10:30
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No. 7. Sylvester Williams, DT, UNC

2012 stats: He finished with 42 tackles (21 solo), including 13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, and had six quarterback hurries.

Previous ranking: NR

Making the case for Williams: Williams, a first-team all-ACC selection by both the coaches and the media, was one of the ACC’s best stories of perseverance. He enrolled at Carolina in January 2011, after two seasons at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College. Following high school, Williams thought his playing days were over. He got a job at Modine Manufacturing Company making radiator parts for large trucks before enrolling at Coffeyville. While at UNC, he established himself as one of the country’s best interior linemen and graduated in December. He was ranked among the top 50 players in the country in tackles for losses. He played through an ankle sprain midway through the season and still ended the year on a positive note. He had two tackles and a tackle for loss against Maryland in the season finale. A week earlier, in a nationally-televised Thursday night game at Virginia, Williams had a career-high eight stops, two tackles for losses and a 10-yard sack.

The countdown
No. 8 Dalton Freeman, C, Clemson

2012 stats: Freeman was selected a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and became the first Clemson center to be selected to the All-ACC first team in consecutive seasons. Freeman also was a finalist for the Rimington Award, giving annually to the top center in football.

Previous ranking: No. 17

Making the case: Freeman has been a mainstay along the offensive line, and the truth is, if he did not pick up the new offense Chad Morris installed several years ago in the same way as Tajh Boyd, the Tigers may not have seen the same results. But Freeman was able to transition to the hurry-up spread with ease, making it look as if he had been playing it his whole career. In fact, Freeman credits Morris for much of his success.

"It all started with Coach Morris coming in here last year," Freeman said. "The scheme we’re running now really fits me a lot better than our old scheme did, kind of an outside zone, movement type stretch scheme more so than a downhill power-type team. I got a chance to showcase my athleticism. As soon as Coach Morris walked in, I started picking his brain trying to figure out what we were going to do. The more I learned, the more excited I got. I just knew we had great potential with the chemistry we had."

When 2012 ended, Freeman finished up his career with 49 starts, tying the school record for starts set by Landon Walker, a tackle who played from 2008-2011. He also set the school record for total snaps played, with an eye-popping 3,361. Freeman ended up with 959 alone this year, including two games with over 100 snaps.

The countdown

Day 1 Senior Bowl notes

January, 22, 2013
1/22/13
3:30
PM ET
Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc. is at Senior Bowl practices, scouting it out as the nation's best seniors prepare for their final audition for the NFL. There are plenty of ACC representatives on the Senior Bowl rosters, and some of them have already made an impression. According to Weidl's latest practice report from Mobile, Ala., a pair of former UNC players stood out.

Weidl wrote that Sylvester Williams was the best player from Day 1:

"Of anyone on the field, the guy who had the best practice was North Carolina's Sylvester Williams. He has strong, powerful hands and had a tackle for a loss in nine-on-seven. His combination of quickness and power -- with his hands and his feet -- is really disruptive."


At linebacker, Weidl wrote that UNC's Kevin Reddick had a good day:

"Reddick is an enforcer in the run game, good in tight quarters and can blitz."

Regarding the quarterbacks, Weidl wrote that NC State's Mike Glennon "is the easiest thrower of the football."

On Glennon: He has a big stature, strong arm. The ball comes out easy for him. He had a little trouble with his accuracy. He was a little high on both of his throws in the seam route, one of which was intercepted in team period. And he still holds the ball too long.

Here's a look at the ACC representatives on updated versions of the Senior Bowl rosters, with their current heights and weights:

NORTH
  • Mike Glennon, QB, NC State (6-6, 220)
  • Kevin Reddick, LB, North Carolina (6-1, 246)
  • Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina (6-2, 313)
SOUTH

Stay tuned this week for more Senior Bowl updates.

ACC's 2012 All-Bowl team

January, 10, 2013
1/10/13
11:00
AM ET
The ACC went 4-2 this bowl season, its first winning record since 2005. There were plenty of top performers to highlight, but these are the players who were most deserving of the ACC’s 2012 All-Bowl team:

Offense first team

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Tajh Boyd had a record-setting game in Clemson's victory against LSU.
QB -- Tajh Boyd, Clemson: He had 368 yards of total offense against LSU on 79 total offensive plays. He set a Clemson record for plays in a game by a quarterback.

RB -- Lonnie Pryor, Florida State: He had a career-long 60 yard touchdown in the first half of the Orange Bowl, which was the second-longest touchdown run in FSU bowl history. In his final game as a Seminole, he also had a 37-yard run in the fourth quarter for his second touchdown in the game.

RB -- David Sims, Georgia Tech: He rushed for a game-high and career-best 99 yards on 17 carries, and caught a touchdown pass in the 21-7 win against USC.

WR -- DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson: He finished the game with 13 receptions for 191 yards and finished the season with 82 receptions for 1405 yards. Hopkins tied his own Clemson record for receptions in a game with 13. He also had 13 in the opener against Auburn.

WR -- Conner Vernon, Duke: He caught 10 passes for 119 yards and one touchdown against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. He helped Duke to 34 points against a Bearcats defense that entered the game ranked 12th nationally, allowing just 17.2 points per game.

TE -- Brandon Ford, Clemson: His nine receptions against LSU tied the overall Clemson single-game record for receptions by a tight end. He finished with 69 receiving yards, including one reception for 20 yards.

T -- Cameron Erving, Florida State: It was the sixth game this season with over 500 yards of total offense for the Seminoles. All three touchdown runs came between center and left tackle, and quarterback EJ Manuel had all day to throw.

T -- Perry Simmons, Duke: He led an offensive line performance that yielded zero sacks and allowed quarterback Sean Renfree to establish Belk Bowl records for pass completions (37), pass attempts (49) and passing yardage (358). Simmons also aided a running game that gained 200 net yards on 39 attempts as running back Josh Snead picked up a career-high 107 yards on just 17 attempts.

G -- Josue Matias, Florida State: The Noles racked up 243 rushing yards, 23 first downs and 534 yards of total offense. He was part of an offensive line that didn’t allow Manuel to be sacked once by Northern Illinois. Two of Pryor’s runs came between Erving and Matias.

G -- Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech: He helped pave the way for 294 rushing yards in the win against USC, and 369 total yards. He made his 39th career start, the second-most on the team.

C -- Dalton Freeman, Clemson: The Tigers had 100 plays and 32 first downs, and his blocking was a major factor.

Defense first team

DE -- Malliciah Goodman, Clemson: He set a bowl record with three sacks as Clemson held LSU to 219 yards of total offense.

DE -- Bjoern Werner, Florida State: In his last game with the Noles, the dominating end knocked down his eighth pass of the season, which is the second-most in the FBS by a defensive lineman. He finished with two tackles.

DT -- Derrick Hopkins, Virginia Tech: He had four tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and a sack. The sack was on Rutgers' first play of overtime, forcing them into long yardage which led to a long (and missed) field goal.

DT -- Grady Jarrett, Clemson: He had four tackles, including two tackles for loss, and one was a sack. He was a big reason Clemson held LSU to just 99 yards rushing.

LB -- Christian Jones, Florida State: Jones tied for the team lead with 10 tackles in the 31-10 Discover Orange Bowl win against Northern Illinois.

LB -- Vince Williams, Florida State: He tied Jones for the team lead with 10 tackles, and finished with one tackle for loss and a sack.

LB -- Bruce Taylor, Virginia Tech: He led the Hokies with 11 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and had a pass breakup. Virginia Tech’s defense held Rutgers to 196 yards and three offensive points, none in the last three quarters.

CB -- Rod Sweeting, Georgia Tech: Even though his statistics were modest -- three tackles, two pass breakups and an interception returned for 21 yards -- Sweeting was voted the game’s MVP. He fared well in a tough assignment, matching up with Biletnikoff Trophy winner Marqise Lee.

CB -- Antone Exum, Virginia Tech: The Russell Athletic Bowl’s MVP led a stifling pass defense that allowed just 129 yards. He made the play of the game with an interception of Gary Nova to set up the game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech’s defense allowed just 196 yards total, and just 17 completions from Nova on 40 attempts.

S -- Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State: He finished third on the team with six tackles, including one tackle for loss. The Northern Illinois receivers were no match for the FSU secondary and were rendered ineffective.

S -- Rashard Hall, Clemson: He led the team with nine tackles, including eight solo, in the win against LSU.

Specialists

PK -- Chandler Catanzaro, Clemson: He kicked the 37-yard game-winning field goal as time expired to give Clemson and the ACC a monumental 25-24 win against LSU. It was the fourth walk-off field goal in Clemson history, and Catanzaro has two of the four.

P -- A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech: He tied the record under coach Frank Beamer for punts in a game with 11. He finished with an average of 42.2 with four punts inside the 20-yard line, and a long of 57.

SP -- Tobais Palmer, NC State: He returned a second-quarter kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown in the loss to Vandy, and became the first Pack player since Greg Golden in 2001 to return a kickoff for a score in a bowl game. He finished with 173 kickoff return yards, setting a new NC State season record with 1,130 KOR yards. Palmer and T.J. Graham (1,028 in 2008) are the only two Wolfpack players to go over 1,000 yards in kickoff returns in a single season. Palmer also went over 100 yards receiving for the third time in 2012, as he finished with eight catches for 111 yards.
Last year, Clemson contributed to the ACC’s ongoing BCS bowl woes with one of the most embarrassing performances in the history of the Discover Orange Bowl.

The Chick-fil-A Bowl is not a BCS bowl game, but this year’s matchup between No. 14 Clemson and No. 8 LSU has the feel of one and will present the ACC with a similar opportunity to make a national statement. This will be the highest-ranked team Clemson has faced in a bowl game since the 2003 season, when the Tigers upset No. 6 Tennessee in the Peach Bowl.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswireAndre Ellington and Clemson can give the ACC a lift by knocking off SEC power LSU.
This season, Clemson has a chance not only to redeem itself and help fans forget last year’s loss to West Virginia, but also to give the ACC a much-needed boost after one of the worst regular seasons in league history. The ACC hasn’t had a winning record against the SEC since 2003, and it hasn’t had a winning bowl record since 2005.

Clemson has a chance to help right the ship, but those within the program are far more concerned about their own program than they are carrying the banner for the entire conference

“We’re just trying to win an 11th game,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “We have a chance to finish in the top 10. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not trying to do anything other than do something special at Clemson and be the best we can be. To win 11 games at Clemson, that’s only happened a handful of times in the history of our program so that’s really all we’re focused on. All the rest of that stuff is pretty irrelevant to be honest with you.”

Center Dalton Freeman agreed.

“We have a lot of respect for LSU because they’re a consistent team and that’s what we’re trying to become, is consistent,” he said. “The past couple of years, we’ve showcased that but to take our program to the next level and to be in the national spotlight, such as LSU the way they’ve done it year in and year out, we have to win games like this.”

Clemson squandered a similar opportunity in its regular-season finale, a fourth straight loss to rival South Carolina. The ACC enters the Chick-fil-A Bowl with a 1-5 record against its SEC opponents this year with a win over Auburn and losses to Florida, Georgia, Vanderbilt, Tennessee and South Carolina.

LSU will present similar challenges to Clemson, especially up front. Clemson allowed the Gamecocks 4.5 sacks, and LSU’s defense is averaging 2.5 per game. Despite the loss to South Carolina, Clemson is still in the midst of a successful run under Swinney.

Clemson recorded its 10th victory of the year, including its seventh in a row, in a 62-48 win over NC State on November 17. It is the first time since the 1987-90 era that Clemson has had consecutive 10-win seasons. Last year, Clemson was 10-4 and won the ACC championship.

A win over LSU would prove Clemson is ready to take the next step and contend for the national title, but it would also be a major win for the struggling ACC.

“It’s a big challenge,” running back Andre Ellington said. “We’re ready for it. It’s just a great opportunity to take our program to the next level, that’s what we’re shooting for here at Clemson.”

AP announces 2012 All-America team

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
3:30
PM ET
ESPN.com on Monday unveiled its 2012 All-America team, which featured UNC offensive guard Jonathan Cooper, and FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins. Today the Associated Press announced its All-America team. Cooper was honored once again, and he was the only player from the ACC to make the first team for SI.com, but Tulane kicker Cairo Santos edged out Hopkins at kicker by both SI.com and the AP. Defensively, FSU defensive end Bjoern Werner was also named to the Associated Press first team. Clemson center Dalton Freeman was named to the second-team, along with Hopkins.

You have to scroll all the way down to the AP's third team to find UNC running back Giovani Bernard, and Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

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