ACC: Denzel Perryman

Preseason All-ACC team

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
9:00
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Presenting the 2014 ESPN.com preseason All-ACC team:

Offense

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke. One of the most dynamic receivers in the ACC, Crowder has had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and gets the nod over Louisville receiver DeVante Parker in a close call. Given Crowder's past production in the offense, he should be in line to break school receiving records this season.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State. Perhaps one of the most underrated receivers in the country, Greene is a virtual lock to catch every pass that comes his way. He is the picture of consistency, and as the top returning target for Jameis Winston, should reach 1,000 yards again.

TE: Nick O'Leary, Florida State. One of the best tight ends in the country, O'Leary had 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He should improve on all those numbers this season.

T: Cameron Erving, Florida State. Erving thought about leaving school early last season for the NFL draft but decided to return, and he now anchors the best offensive line in the country.

T: Sean Hickey, Syracuse. Hickey is going into his third season as a starter and has developed into one of the best tackles in the league. He also may be the strongest player in the ACC, too.

C: Andy Gallik, Boston College. Gallik helped spearhead a Boston College run game last season that averaged 212.5 yards on the ground. As a three-year starter, Gallik has grown into the best center in the league.

G: Tre' Jackson, Florida State. One of the best guards in the country, Jackson also opted to return to school for his senior year. He and Erving are the best players on that line.

G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke. A first-team All-ACC player a year ago, Tomlinson will be relied upon even more to lead an offensive line that has to replace two of its best players. If he has another stellar season, Tomlinson could be one of the first guards taken in next year's draft.

QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State. The returning Heisman Trophy winner had a rough season off-the-field but there is no questioning his credentials on the field. After throwing for more than 4,000 yards a year ago, the expectation is he will be even better this year.

RB: Duke Johnson, Miami. Johnson is one of the best backs in the country, averaging 6.6 yards every time he touches the ball. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, he's a virtual lock to gain 1,000 yards.

RB: Kevin Parks, Virginia. Parks is the only returning 1,000-yard back in the ACC and is hoping for more in 2014. Tough call here between Parks and Karlos Williams, the next two best backs in the league behind Johnson.

Defense

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson. Beasley finished last season with 13 sacks (tops in ACC) and 23 TFL (4th in nation). He’s a preseason All-American and the biggest star on one of the country's top defensive fronts.

DE: Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State. The No. 1 overall recruit in the nation three years ago, Edwards is poised to come into his own in 2014. He was a critical piece of Florida State’s run-stuffing defense a year ago, finishing with 9.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks.

DT: Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech. No returning interior lineman in the ACC had more TFL last year than Maddy’s 13.5, and he was a key for the Hokies' dominant defense. This season, he'll be the centerpiece of a new-look D line.

DT: Grady Jarrett, Clemson. Dabo Swinney calls Jarrett one of the best defenders in the nation, even if he hasn’t gotten much national acclaim. He finished last season with 59 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss, and should be the foundation for a dominant defensive line at Clemson this season.

LB: Denzel Perryman, Miami. Perryman is Miami’s most productive defender, finishing with 108 tackles last season (fifth in the ACC). He’s the lone ACC defender returning for 2014 to have recorded at least 60 tackles in each of the previous three seasons.

LB: Stephone Anthony, Clemson. His 15 TFL last season ranked eighth in the ACC, and no returning linebacker in the conference had more. He added 86 tackles and 4.5 sacks to boot.

CB: Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech. One of the top freshman defenders in the nation last season, Fuller picked off six passes as part of Virginia Tech's exceptional secondary. His 17 passes defended tied for eighth nationally.

CB: P.J. Williams, Florida State. Williams racked up three interceptions and was dominant in coverage for Florida State, which finished with the best pass defense in the nation. He also won defensive MVP honors in the BCS national championship.

S: Anthony Harris, Virginia. Led the nation with eight interceptions last season for Virginia, including picking off at least one pass in five straight games in conference play in October and November.

S: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State. The first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders, Ramsey made the transition to safety midseason and didn’t miss a beat, finishing with 49 tackles and an INT.

S: Jeremy Cash, Duke. Cash finished last season second in the ACC in tackles (121), fifth in interceptions (4) and recorded 9.5 TFL, tops in the conference among defensive backs.

Specialists

K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State. The Lou Groza Award winner in 2013, Aguayo broke the national record for points by a kicker in a season with 157 points. He is virtually automatic every time he steps onto the field, missing just one field goal attempt and zero extra points last season.

P: A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech. A second-team All-ACC selection a year ago, Hughes averaged 44.1 yards per punt. He placed 24 inside the 20, and had 22 punts of 50 yards or longer.

KR: Kermit Whitfield, Florida State. Whitfield led the nation last year in kickoffs, with an average of 36.4 yards per return. His speed makes him extremely difficult to stop, let alone slow down.

PR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina. Teams have probably learned to kick away from Switzer at all times. Last season, he had five returns for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record.

ACC morning links

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
8:00
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Wake Forest received some encouraging news following a scary situation over the weekend, as tight end Zach Gordon is responding to treatment and improving after leaving Sunday's scrimmage on a stretcher and being taken to the hospital.

Team physician Dr. David Martin and head athletic trainer Nick Richey released a statement saying that Gordon's injury is non-life threatening.

From the statement, per the Star News' Brett Friedlander:
“During Sunday’s scrimmage, Zach Gordon sustained a serious, non-life threatening spinal injury,” the statement said. “All of our structural testing thus far has been favorable. He remains hospitalized at Wake Forest Baptist Health. Zach is improving and based on all indications, we expect him to continue to improve. We do not yet have a firm timeline for his return to activity.”

Gordon was expected to play a big role this season for the Demon Deacons after being limited to a special teams role last season, when he played in all 12 games. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder from Carrollton, Georgia, was in line for a starting job. Obviously, football takes a backseat at this moment, as the status of his playing future remains up in the air. But the news from Wake's medical staff certainly comes as a sigh of relief.

In other, seemingly minor injury news from earlier this week, Syracuse took a big hit offensively as top tight end Josh Parris suffered a knee injury that will require surgery Wednesday and places his status in doubt for the beginning of the season, and possibly more. In the meantime, the Orange will be forced to turn to Kendall Moore and Tyler Provo moving forward.

Elsewhere in the ACC ...
On Sunday, esteemed ACC writer Andrea Adelson wrote a piece talking about how Florida isbehind instate rivals Florida State and Miami -- two teams the Gators lost to in 2013.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SportsNation

Who will have a better season in 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 8,581)

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

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

ACC mailblog

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
3:00
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Step into my office ...

Richard in Raleigh writes: I beg you to put this in the mailbag. It involves the preseason predictions for UNC. Let me first state my bias against UNC so it is known. I'm a NC State grad and Miami fan. I hate Carolina, but I still think I'm right on this point. Most people have UNC ranked. Many project them to win the Coastal. Now I have to imagine some of this is based on projection of talent and belief in Larry Fedora and his system, but I have to imagine that a large part of it was based on their change in quarterback and improvement at the end of the year, starting 1-5 and finishing 6-1. It aggravated me as soon as the season ended and this talk started, but today I looked at a few more numbers and am shocked I haven't seen anyone bring it up. The teams UNC beat were a combined 44-44. The teams they lost to were a combined 55-24. They only had two road wins and only one was against an above .500 team (Pitt). The closest thing they have to a quality win are victories against 7-6 Pitt and BC and a bowl win against 9-4 Cincinnati in a stadium two hours from their campus. All of this would seem to suggest to me that rather than UNC improving at the end of the year, they just finally started playing teams they were capable of beating. I think what UNC showed at the end of the season is the same thing they showed at the beginning of the season. They are capable of beating bad teams. They are not capable of beating good teams. And all of that makes them remarkably average. Now you add to that no offensive or defensive line, an incredibly young group of players ... None of that points to improvement to me. Now UNC certainly has the talent on the roster to fix their holes and improve this season. I just see little to suggest that so far. So please tell me how all this is being overlooked.

Andrea Adelson writes: No need to beg, Richard. You make some good points. For the record, I do not have North Carolina winning the Coastal but I do have the Tar Heels No. 2. Why? A few reasons. First, to your concerns about who North Carolina beat last year. I think this team deserves credit for turning around the season after staring in such a massive hole. Were the opponents weaker in the latter part of the season? Yes. But other teams could have folded at 1-5 no matter the opponent. This team found a way to win and that should count for something. I did not use the momentum from last season in my projection, however. I based mine on the talent returning and the schedule this season, not last. North Carolina is extremely talented at the skill positions, and I think the offensive line will solidify itself early in the season. The Tar Heels have four winnable nonconference games, and they get Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home (though there are some toughies at Clemson, Miami and Duke). Plus, there is little to no separation between the teams in the Coastal. So regardless of what happened last season, North Carolina has as good a shot as any to win the division.


Mike D in Hamilton, Ontario, writes: Whenever you guys do write about Miami and their impact players Phillip Dorsett is rarely mentioned. Have people forgotten he was Stacy Coley (the speedy deep threat) before he got hurt? I don't think he gets nearly enough credit. If he's healthy, and Miami can find a serviceable QB, he and Coley will should put up some good numbers.

Adelson writes: I certainly have not forgotten Dorsett. In fact, I think it is a tight race for top receiving group in the ACC between Louisville and Miami. The Dorsett-Coley combination has a chance to be the best in the league. I look forward to watching them both this season.


Josh in Syracuse, N.Y., writes: Miami should definitely be ranked higher in your power rankings. While I understand the uncertainty at the quarterback position factored into their ranking, Miami will be one of the strongest, fastest and most talented teams in the conference even with a MEDIOCRE quarterback. You could say that Stephen Morris was a "mediocre" quarterback last year and they started 7-0, I mean he wasn't a Jameis Winston. Though this year the schedule is tougher, one can honestly argue that Miami has one of if not THE best WR corps in the conference. THE best running back in the conference, even after injury. They are also the deepest they have been on the defensive line in recent years and have one of the best LB's in the nation (Denzel Perryman) with a legitimate shutdown corner in Tracy Howard. Their O-line was pretty decent last year and returns key guys. I feel as though underestimating this team because of uncertainty at QB is a mistake because whoever it is will have a boatload of talent and speed to utilize. I don't think they necessarily need a "superstar" at QB to compete for an ACC championship. They just need someone who's "good enough" to distribute the ball effectively to the many weapons they have on offense. Thanks Andrea!

Adelson writes: The ranking was not only because of quarterback uncertainty. Neither you nor I know for certain this defense will develop the type of physicality and aggressiveness up front to change its fortunes. So Miami is deep up front. Are they bigger? Stronger? Will they push into the backfield? Perryman is terrific. So is Howard. But they need help around them. I applaud the move of Dallas Crawford to safety, an area in major need of an upgrade. But that defensive line still worries me, maybe moreso than quarterback.


Dusty in Hunstville, Ala., writes: Hi Andrea, I love the blog, but I have to ask...Syracuse above Georgia Tech in the power rankings? Did you happen to miss GT winning 56-0 last year? In a game where returning GT players Justin Thomas and Zach Laskey were the top two yardage gainers? And where Syracuse QB's couldn't muster a QBR above 8.8?

Adelson writes: Dusty, we arrived at the first power rankings after taking rankings from our four ACC reporters: myself, David Hale, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker, using a weighted point system to come up with the end result. In my ballot, I had Georgia Tech ahead of Syracuse. I cannot speak for my colleagues, but I think there is some genuine skepticism about the Jackets this season.


Greg in Annapolis, Md., writes: So I went through all those "best seasons" ever that were listed in all the blogs. How is Peter Boulware's 20 sack season, an NCAA record at the time, in 1996 not on the ACC list? Not only was it left off the list, but it should have been No. 1 for the best defensive season ever in the ACC. I love Deion Sanders and he was exciting, but 20 sacks in only 12 games, for a team that played for the national championship that year? This definitely blows away all the other guys on the ACC defensive list as well.

Adelson writes: Thanks, Greg. Shoutout to Peter Boulware for an outstanding season. Just to clarify: We did not rank the best individual defensive performances in ACC history. We merely listed the best single-season performance in school history for all 14 ACC schools. Jameis Winston took that honor for Florida State. Chris Low ranked the 10 best defensive seasons of all-time.

Miami Hurricanes season preview

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
10:30
AM ET


» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Miami Hurricanes:

Key returners: RB Duke Johnson, WR Stacy Coley, TE Clive Walford, LB Denzel Perryman, DE Anthony Chickillo

Key losses: QB Stephen Morris, WR Allen Hurns, P Pat O'Donnell, DE Shayon Green

Most important 2014 games: at Louisville, Sept. 1; at Nebraska, Sept. 20; at Virginia Tech, Oct. 23; Florida State, Nov. 15.

Projected win percentage: 62

Over/under Vegas odds: 7 1/2

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIThe Hurricanes are holding out hope that running back Duke Johnson can stay healthy in 2014.
Instant impact newcomer: QB Jake Heaps or QB Brad Kaaya. With starter Ryan Williams out indefinitely while rehabbing a torn ACL and Kevin Olsen reportedly suspended for the opener, Heaps and Kaaya have emerged as the top two quarterbacks in the race to win the staring job. Heaps, a fifth-year transfer, has game experience that seemingly gives him an advantage over Kaaya, who has yet to play in a collegiate game. But Kaaya has impressed from the moment he set foot on campus, and coach Al Golden said Monday the race to start was "tight."

Best-case scenario for 2014: Miami avenges its embarrassing bowl loss to Louisville in the opener, then upsets Nebraska a few weeks later in Lincoln, setting the stage for a triumphant season. Confidence grows, and Miami goes into Blacksburg, Virginia, on a Thursday night in October and pulls the upset. Duke Johnson runs for over 1,500 yards, and Heaps does a terrific job holding down the fort until Williams returns. Miami finally hits double-digit wins and makes its first appearance in the ACC championship game.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The messy quarterback situation derails the Miami offense, as teams stack the box to contain Johnson. The defensive line is unable to get push up front or pressure on the quarterback. Despite improvements in the secondary, the defense as a whole makes only modest gains. A tough schedule featuring 10 bowl teams takes its toll and Miami barely reaches bowl eligibility.

Best NFL prospects: Perryman and Johnson. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Perryman listed as the No. 2 senior outside linebacker prospect Insider, and Johnson listed among his top five underclassmen at running back Insider. Perryman could have left school early for the draft but elected to return to improve his stock. He will be playing middle linebacker this year, so he should make even more plays than he did a season ago. The biggest key for Johnson this season is staying healthy. He has yet to play an entire season as the unquestioned starter. If he does that this year, he should be a virtual lock for 1,000 yards; then Miami fans will have to worry about losing him to the NFL.

They said it: "There's a standard of excellence at the University of Miami, and you're held to that standard, which we've all accepted by going to the University of Miami. The one thing I think that's different about this team is that they believe in who they are, so they certainly respect the past, but they want to represent who they are and their identity as a football team. There's been nothing about the 2014 team that even resembles the 2013 team. They wanted to be their own team, have their own leadership and really move forward. So I'm excited about these guys saying, 'OK, let's go out and make our own identity’ as opposed to relying on something that happened quite a while ago." -- coach Al Golden

ACC mailblog

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
4:00
PM ET
We open the mailbag with a reply from Jon in Fort Lauderdale, who created quite the firestorm with his comments last week!

Jon writes: Hahah you're awesome!! Thanks for putting the question online. I reeeally didn't think that would make it. Thanks for being objective, but you know every Nole on here thinks otherwise. I just think whether ND does good, great or awful, it's a plus for the ACC. Last year the ACC was the bottom-feeders and now we have the defending champs, a good Clemson bowl win and a historic program like ND associated with the conference. I will certainly tone down the condescension on my next email and appreciate you using my comment. Keep up the good work even if fans like myself give you some razzing. I look forward to enjoying the column the upcoming season, thanks!!

Andrea Adelson writes: We can agree on one thing, Jon. I am pretty awesome. And if the mailbag is any indication, a lot of you Noles fans agree! Thanks for all the wonderful notes this week, Richard in St. Augustine, Florida, Roy in Lakeview, Arkansas, Scott in Satellite Beach, Florida, Bill in Destin, Florida and Scott in Charleston, South Carolina. I've had my Sally Field moment for the day.


Adam in Miami Beach, Florida, writes: Did you really post a comment calling University of Miami fans and alumni dumb and illiterate? I thought as a reporter you would not be so biased against a fan base. Please remind the FSU fans that The University of Miami ranks well above FSU (and Florida for that matter) in academic rankings and athletic APR.

Adelson writes: OK, I've had my Sally Field moment for ... a moment. The mailbag is a forum for readers to express their own opinions. These do not reflect my own. If they did, well, then we would not have much of a mailbag. So one fan base trash-talked another fan base -- doesn't that all come with the territory? We have had trash talk in this space before, and I am sure we will have more as the season goes on. You will find far, far worse elsewhere.


Chris in Pittsburgh writes: How do you see the development of first-year starter Chad Voytik going this season for Pitt? This is his first year under center, but it's his third in Paul Chryst's system, and Coach Chryst has a pretty good track record with QBs.

Adelson writes: One of the reasons I believe Pitt is a contender in the Coastal is because of Voytik. We got our first glimpse of what he could do in the offense in the bowl game, and I was impressed. Not only does he have a firm grasp of the offense, and not only is Chryst known as a QB whisperer, Voytik had some pretty talented players surrounding him. The running game and offensive line should be better, and Tyler Boyd already is a returning 1,000-yard receiver. I believe when the season ends, Voytik will be among the top half of QBs in the ACC.


Matthew in Alexandria, Virginia, writes: Let me preface this question -- I'm an alumnus, fan, and donor of Virginia Tech athletics (and big fan of Hokies football). With all of the new quarterbacks that need to prove themselves in the Coastal Division (Virginia Tech's included, and even Duke and North Carolina QBs have something to prove), I feel like this could be a year when an average offense and a tough-as-nails defense could win the ACC's Coastal Division. Virginia Tech's offense doesn't have to be great (although that would be nice). For example, it just has to be good enough (top 60-ish). Your thoughts?

Adelson: Could not agree more, Matthew. I think that is a big reason why there are many who believe Virginia Tech will win the Coastal despite a recent dip. Virginia Tech has followed this formula to win the Coastal in the past. We are not going to see offensive flash, but if the Hokies can first and foremost run the football, they will absolutely have a shot at this division. The schedule is in their favor, too. If Virginia Tech makes modest improvement offensively and is once again dominant on D, this team can win 10 games.


Drew in McLean, Virginia, writes: Hi, Andrea. On paper, FSU has a tougher schedule than last year. If they happen to roll Oklahoma State, ND, UF (assuming they are relatively good), will those teams all of a sudden become "overrated" like Clemson last year to discount their victories, or will they actually get a little respect for taking out quality opponents now that they've won a title?

Adelson writes: Clemson still finished ranked in the Top 10 with a win over Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl. Not sure how many people called the Tigers overrated then. I should hope wins in those three games prove how strong Florida State is, as opposed to cutting down the worthiness of the opponent.


BT in Miami writes: I think Denzel Perryman is slightly overrated in the ACC top 25, and Stacy Coley is supremely underrated. Coley had seven receiving TDs as a freshman, and he dropped two bunnies (nerves) in the end zone in his first game, which would have given him nine. He was Miami's best WR from his first day on campus. His other accolades are well known. The rankings would appear more genuine if you guys projected a bit, instead of giving some guys credit for above-average longevity (Nick O'Leary). Clearly FSU is loaded and deserves credit, but being the best tight end at FSU, historically speaking, doesn't say much. Tyler Boyd, Jamison Crowder, Coley > Rashad Greene.

Alex in Cusetown writes: How were Sean Hickey or Durell Eskridge not on your preseason top 25 players list?

Adelson: Coley just missed the cut. We have high hopes for him this season. People like to bag on Greene, but he is as reliable, consistent and good as they come. Last season, he had more touchdown catches than the three players you mentioned above, and a higher yards-per-catch average than Boyd and Crowder, too. As for the two Syracuse players, it is always tough for an offensive lineman to crack the Top 25. Hickey should be a first-team All-ACC selection, but he's not quite on the same level as Cameron Erving or Tre' Jackson, the only two offensive linemen to make the list. Eskridge is coming off a terrific season, but he's behind Jeremy Cash and Anthony Harris at safety and several other defensive backs at this point.

Top ACC players: Nos. 10-6

July, 31, 2014
Jul 31
9:00
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As we get set to open fall camps around the ACC, we're counting down the conference's Top 25 players -- five per day all this week.

10. Tre' Jackson, Florida State Seminoles

Position: Offensive guard
Year: Senior

The interior linemen for Florida State have never gotten quite as much credit as the guys on the edge, but both Jackson and fellow guard Josue Matias have developed into top NFL prospects and elite blockers. At 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, Jackson is the biggest member of a senior-laden line for FSU, and in his two years as a starter, the Seminoles have rushed for an average of 5.6 yards per carry.

9. DeVante Parker, Louisville Cardinals

Position: Wide receiver
Year: Senior

Only five receivers in the nation recorded double-digit touchdown totals in both 2012 and 2013. Of that group, just one will be back for 2014, and that’s Parker. Louisville is the newest addition to the ACC, but the conference’s cornerbacks better get to know Parker quickly. For his career, Parker has racked up 113 catches and nearly 2,000 yards, but with offensive guru Bobby Petrino taking over as head coach this year, Parker is poised for his biggest season yet.

8. P.J. Williams, Florida State

Position: Cornerback
Year: Junior

A preseason first-team All-ACC selection, Williams is finally starting to get the credit he so richly deserved for handling so much of the dirty work on Florida State’s dominant secondary in 2013. Williams was often tasked with shadowing the opponent’s top receiver, and he was targeted more than any other defensive back on the Seminoles’ roster, but he held his own and clearly made strides as the season progressed. The result was 35 tackles, three interceptions and defensive MVP honors in the BCS national championship game.

7. Cameron Erving, Florida State

Position: Offensive tackle
Year: RS Senior

When Erving first made the switch from a back-up defensive tackle to the starting left tackle in the spring of 2012, coaches immediately gushed about his natural ability on the offensive side of the ball. And it was true, he was a quick fit on a developing line that made huge strides in his first year. But now Erving has refined those natural skills and, as coach Jimbo Fisher raved, he’s a far more nuanced lineman and leader, and he’ll be the cornerstone of a senior-laden line in 2014 that promises to be among the best in the nation.

6. Denzel Perryman, Miami Hurricanes

Position: Linebacker
Year: Senior

A first-team All-ACC selection, Perryman is the heart and soul of Miami’s defense. Perryman racked up 108 tackles last season, including double-digit tackles in six different games, highlighted by a 13-tackle performance in an upset win over Florida. Perryman’s speed and athleticism in the middle should make him one of the ACC’s most feared defenders again in 2014 and opens options for the Hurricanes to break in some young talent around him.

Why Miami will win Coastal

July, 25, 2014
Jul 25
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The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are vast. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why Miami will win the Coastal:

1. They have recruited the best. Steve Spurrier says the recruiting rankings are usually right, so, first off, pat on the back RecruitingNation. If it was sarcasm, Steve, keep it to yourself. Miami would like to think so, too, as no program in the Coastal has recruited better than the Hurricanes despite the NCAA sanctions. In four out of the last five cycles, Miami has had the best class among Coastal teams. The only time they didn’t finish first is when Golden was hired two months before signing day in 2011. This most recent class finished in the top 10, and the 2013 class had budding star Stacy Coley and Al-Quadin Muhammad, who could make a national name for himself this fall. The 2012 class finished No. 8 nationally, and as third-year players it is time for them to become the core group that will elevate Miami to a conference championship game.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDuke Johnson rushed for 920 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry through eight games before his 2013 season was cut short by a fractured ankle.
2. Duke Johnson is 100 percent healthy. Miami’s offense is a question mark going into the season. A case can be made for four different quarterbacks to be the starter opening day. One thing Golden won’t need to worry about is the player behind his signal-caller. Johnson said he felt 100 percent last month and will be ready for preseason practice. He is the conference’s best running back and will challenge the 100-yard mark in every game this season. Golden and Johnson agree the junior running back is even better than he was a year ago and won’t come off the field often. When he does, Johnson is doing his best to make sure there is little to no drop in production. He regrets not preparing Miami’s younger running backs last season before his injury, so he has taken Joseph Yearby, the No. 4 running back in the 2014 class nationally, under his wing.

3. There is talent on defense. Canes fans hoped Golden would relieve Mark D’Onofrio as defensive coordinator at the end of last season, but Golden refused to fire his long-time friend. The defense will have to be markedly better for D’Onofrio to return to Miami fans’ good graces, but there are capable players throughout the defense, especially in the back seven. Denzel Perryman is one of the conference’s best linebackers as a tackler and in pass coverage. Cornerback Tracy Howard and Deon Bush are coming into their own in the defensive backfield. And maybe this is the season Anthony Chickillo puts it all together.

Why Miami won’t win the Coastal

1. They don’t have a starting quarterback. The sense around Coral Gables is Ryan Williams needs to return from his April knee surgery as quickly as he can. Golden and Johnson made it clear redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen still has a lot to prove, not only on the field but as a leader. Jake Heaps is eligible to play right away but he’s been the college equivalent of a journeyman, bouncing from program to program. Brad Kaaya was a blue-chip prep quarterback but has not been on campus long. It’s rare for a team to win a conference championship with shaky quarterback play, and, outside of Wake Forest, no team is worse at the position right now than the Canes. If Williams returns after missing only a few games or Olsen can step up during preseason drills and just manage the game, Johnson might be able to carry Miami all the way to Charlotte.

2. The defensive line is still shaky. The hope is Chickillo will live up to the expectations that followed him when he arrived at Miami, but he’s been inconsistent in his career. Muhammad has the promise and look of a great lineman, but he’ll still take his lumps early in his sophomore season. Golden looked to the junior college ranks for help and signed Calvin Heurtelou, but determining the impact of a juco prospect in their first year is a guessing game. If the defensive line does not improve, chances are it won’t matter how talented the back seven of the defense is. Bush and Howard cannot cover all day, and Perryman will be far less effective when the running back is charging at him with a 300-pound lineman lead blocking.

3. The schedule could be an issue. The hope is Williams returns by the Nebraska game Sept. 20, but if he does not it could put Miami in an early hole. The Canes open up the season at Louisville in a Monday night game, and it is the Cardinals’ first game as an ACC team. Expect a wild atmosphere in what could be a Week 1 loss for Miami. The week after the nonconference Nebraska game, Miami plays host to Duke, the reigning Coastal champions. If Williams does not play in that game, will Miami be able to score enough points to hang with Duke? If he does, will he have shaken off the rust in time? It could be a double-edged sword. Miami also has to play at Virginia Tech in prime time on a Thursday, and let’s not forget the annual rivalry game against Florida State. The Seminoles are going to be the preseason No. 1 team in all likelihood.

By the numbers: Dominant DBs

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
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Let’s begin with a little either-or exercise.

Below are the basic stats for two defensive backs — tackles, tackles for loss, interceptions and passes defended. If forced to choose Player A or Player B for your team, which one would you want?

Player A: 121 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 INTs, 8 PD
Player B: 49 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD

Look over the numbers for a minute or 10, but really, it should’t take that long. It’s pretty clear that by any of our regularly deployed metrics, Player A is a clear frontrunner, right?

But here’s where it gets a little tricky. Player A is Duke safety Jeremy Cash, and those gaudy numbers from 2013 earned him a spot on the media’s preseason All-ACC team.

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State's Jalen Ramsey isn't on the preseason All-ACC team. Was it an oversight?
The funny thing, however, is after that happened, a whole host of fans and media erupted in confusion because of the clear oversight that Player B, who happens to be Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, was left off the squad.

So how is it that in the eyes of many experts, Cash seems not just the wrong choice compared to Ramsey, but a ludicrous one?

I’ll admit, I was one of the many offering confusion that Ramsey could miss out on first-team All-ACC status, and my basic rationale was two-fold. On one hand, Ramsey passes the eye test. He looks like a great player, was a five-star recruit and coaches and scouts gushed about his quick grasp of Florida State's defense. He was a true freshman last season and started every game, playing both safety and corner. Secondly, Duke’s defense, which did post some gaudy stats when it comes to tackles and takeaways, was also pretty darned bad. Florida State's secondary allowed 90 fewer yards per game and 11 fewer passing touchdowns than Duke. So shouldn’t the Seminoles’ defensive backs earn the rewards?

It’s an argument that makes sense, too, which only goes to underscore how limited our typical metrics for evaluating defensive backs are.

Cash has more tackles, more interceptions, more passes defended. Ramsey was a key figure in a secondary that was perhaps the best in the country. But maybe Cash benefited from opposing QBs attacking him more often because they weren’t concerned he’d beat them. Or maybe Ramsey benefited from having so many elite players around him. For every argument, there’s a perfectly reasonable counterargument.

Of course, we also don’t have to live with just those basic metrics, either. We wanted to dig a little deeper.

Stats LLC uses a stat called “burn rate” to track defensive backs. It looks at the number of times they were targeted and how many of those passes were completed. This should be a far better way of isolating a single DB, right?

So, using those numbers, how does our theory about Cash being a more ripe target for opposing QBs hold up? Actually, not too well. According to Stats LLC, Cash was targeted 41 times last season, 32nd-most in the ACC. Ramsey was targeted a tick less — 35 times, 47th-most in the ACC. So yes, it does speak highly of Ramsey that a true freshman was targeted, on average, just 2.5 times per game, but the numbers also don’t entirely serve the simple narrative that Cash’s counting stats (tackles, INTs, etc.) benefited from more opportunities.

But if Cash wasn’t targeted significantly more often, surely he didn’t snuff out those targets quite as well as Ramsey. Again, the numbers don’t make the case quite so clear.

Cash’s burn rate (43.9 percent) ranked 22nd in the ACC and was better than Ramsey’s (45.7 percent, 27th in ACC). Cash picked off four passes, the 10th-best rate in the ACC, to Ramsey’s one. Cash defended 19.5 percent of passes, good for 25th in the conference and better than Ramsey’s rate of 5.7 percent (good for 85th). The one area where Ramsey stood out was that, when he was burned, it was rarely for a lot of yards. His 9.7 yards per completion ranked eighth-best in the ACC and his 4.4 yards per attempt was seventh. And, after all, limiting the big plays is the primary job of a safety. Cash allowed 15.2 yards per completion (53rd in ACC) and 6.7 yards per attempt (32nd).

Those last two numbers probably sum the argument up the best. When Cash was good, he was exceptionally good. He made a lot of tackles because his teammates didn’t. He made big plays when he had the chance, but he gave up quite a few, too. Ramsey wasn’t nearly as flashy and clearly had better teammates around him (Terrence Brooks, FSU’s other starting safety last season, had the lowest yards-per-completion rate in the ACC) and wasn’t tested in the running game nearly as often. He didn’t post dynamic numbers because he didn’t have to.

So where has all this gotten us?

I’d argue that the numbers prove Cash certainly wasn’t a bad choice for first-team All-ACC honors. His play in 2013 and the assumption he’ll be better in 2014 more than qualifies him for the honor.

But I’d also argue that Ramsey’s vote total (just 13 votes, nine at safety and four at corner, where FSU had him listed on the ballot) was far shy of any of the winners and appallingly low considering his talent.

But hey, a little friendly debate is really the best part of these preseason lists because, regardless of what the numbers say today, odds are they’ll all look a lot different by season’s end.

And since we tracked down the numbers, here’s a quick look at the best burn rates, defended pass rates, and YPC, per Stats LLC, among returning ACC defenders (min. 25 targets).

BURN RATE
1. Ronald Darby (Florida State), 33.3%
2. Maurice Canady (Virginia), 36.2%
3. Breon Borders (Duke), 37.5%
4. Ant Harris (Virginia), 37.8%
5. Justin Simmons (BC), 38.1%

PASS DEFENDED RATE
1. Borders (Duke), 37.5%
2. Harris (Virginia), 31.1%
3. Brandon Facyson (Virginia Tech), 27.7%
4. Hakim Jones (NC State), 27.0%
5. Ray Vinopal (Pitt), 25.7%

YARDS PER COMPLETION
1. Quayshawn Nealy (Georgia Tech), 9.3
2. Cameron Lynch (Syracuse), 9.6
T3. Denzel Perryman (Miami), 9.7
T3. Ramsey (Florida State), 9.7*
5. Brandon Chubb (Wake Forest), 9.8

*Note: Ramsey is the best among returning defensive backs. Nealy, Lynch and Perryman are linebackers. The next best returning DBs were Boston College's Justin Simmons (10.3), Duke’s Bryon Fields (11.7) and Miami’s Deon Bush (11.8).
The preseason All-ACC team was released Wednesday, and naturally quarterback Jameis Winston led the way with the most votes. There were not too many surprises, beginning with Florida State players littered throughout the list of 26 names.

Here is the 2014 preseason All-ACC team, as voted on by the media at the ACC Kickoff:

 
 
 

Thoughts: While the ACC had the second-most NFL draft picks in May, there is significant talent returning to the conference for the 2014 season. Of the 26 players, 21 were named to one of the three All-ACC teams at the end of last season. That doesn’t include Parker, who will play his first season in the ACC this coming season. Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the leading vote getter (although not a unanimous one), and Beasley, who received the second-most votes, are two of the three returning consensus All-Americans from the 2013 season.

Few conferences would be able to rival that offense with Winston throwing to 1,000-yard receivers Crowder and Greene and a 6-foot-3 target in Parker. O’Leary is one of the best tight ends in the country. There was a seemingly close battle at running back behind Duke Johnson, Williams got the nod over Virginia running back Kevin Parks, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Defensively, that is one talented line. Beasley received the second-most votes for the preseason player of the year, and Edwards was the No. 1 high school recruit in the 2012 class. Maddy and Jarrett are two of the best defensive tackles in the country.

Duke has the second-most players on the team, which speaks to the program David Cutcliffe is building in Durham. The Blue Devils were not picked to win the ACC Coastal despite winning it last season and returning quarterback Anthony Boone. There is a constituency out there that still doesn’t believe Duke is the real deal and is bound for a letdown, but the media believes there is talent throughout the roster; the Blue Devils have a player at receiver, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary. Miami, which was picked to win the division, has two players on the list.

Even as Duke had four players, the Seminoles still had nine, only further signifying the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference, although the league is undoubtedly improving. That list does not include Ronald Darby or Jalen Ramsey, two players who will almost certainly be on an All-ACC team by the end of the season. It is no surprise Florida State was ranked as having the most talent on its 2014 roster two weeks ago in ESPN.com's future power rankings.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
12:00
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Make sure to check out our live coverage of ACC media day starting at 1:30 p.m.! Follow @ESPN_ACC, @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN for all our coverage.
Two more watch lists were released Thursday, and the ACC is well-represented. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is awarded to the nation’s top defensive player by the Charlotte Touchdown Club. The Outland Trophy is given to the nation’s top interior lineman, offensive or defensive.

Here are the ACC and Notre Dame players to make the watch lists:

Bronko Nagurski Trophy

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception. Anthony is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields and registered 13 sacks as a junior. He led the ACC in sacks in 2013. Beasley also is on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Kelby Brown, Duke: The Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe are most known for offense, but Brown is a stout defender and one of the conference’s best. He will make a run at 100 tackles for a second consecutive season this fall. Brown is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant-impact player for the Blue Devils in 2013 following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season. Cash is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national title game. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Nagurski. Edwards is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech. Fuller is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best. Harris is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double-teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best. Jarrett is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the season. Maddy is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but he is as talented as they come. Mauldin is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes defense. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall. Perryman is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

CB KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame: He has started every game in his career and was a FWAA Freshman All-American in 2012. He starred in the Irish’s bowl game with an interception and three pass breakups. Russell is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame: Poised to be one of the best linebackers of recent history for the Irish, Smith started all 13 games as a freshman. He had the third-most tackles for a Notre Dame freshman in school history in 2013. Smith is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list. Williams also is on the Bednarik Award watch list.

Outland Trophy

DL Sheldon Day, Notre Dame: An impact player since his freshman season, Day was second among Notre Dame defensive linemen in tackles last season.

OT Cameron Erving, Florida State: A potential first-round draft pick, Erving elected to stay in school for another run at a national championship. As Jameis Winston’s blindside protector, few linemen nationally hold as much responsibility.

OT Sean Hickey, Syracuse: A workout warrior and one of the strongest players in college football, Hickey is the linchpin to the Orange offensive line.

OG Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech: A two-time ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week, Mason has started 26 of the last 28 games for the Yellow Jackets.

OG Josue Matias, Florida State: Another potential first-round candidate along Florida State’s offensive line, Matias is athletic enough to play offensive tackle, too. He experimented at left tackle this spring.

OC Jake Smith, Louisville: Smith could end up playing right guard, where he started earlier in his career, but he is coming off a junior season in which he started at center. Smith is also on the Rimington watch list.

OG Laken Tomlinson, Duke: A key along the offensive line for the Blue Devils, Tomlinson likely will be a preseason All-ACC team selection. He was a first-team All-ACC coaches selection in 2013 as the Blue Devils’ best lineman.

Clemson’s Grady Jarrett and Virginia Tech’s Luther Maddy were represented on both lists.

Player list for ACC media days

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
2:24
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The 2014 college football season is inching ever so closer, with ACC media days set to take place in less than two weeks.

The league released its list of players who will be attending the July 20-21 event at The Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here they are:

BOSTON COLLEGE
C Andy Gallik, R-Sr.
DB Dominique Williams, R-Sr.

CLEMSON
QB Cole Stoudt, Sr.
DE Vic Beasley, R-Sr.

DUKE
OG Laken Tomlinson, R-Sr.
LB Kelby Brown, R-Sr.

FLORIDA STATE
QB Jameis Winston, R-So.
CB P.J. Williams, Jr.

GEORGIA TECH
OG Shaquille Mason, Sr.
LB Quayshawn Nealy, R-Sr.

LOUISVILLE
WR DeVante Parker, Sr.
DE Lorenzo Mauldin, Sr.

MIAMI
RB Duke Johnson, Jr.
LB Denzel Perryman, Sr.

NORTH CAROLINA
QB Marquise Williams, Jr.
LB Norkeithus Otis, Sr.

NC STATE
RB Tony Creecy, R-Sr.
DE Art Norman, R-Sr.

PITT
WR Tyler Boyd, So.
DB Ray Vinopal, R-Sr.

SYRACUSE
OT Sean Hickey, Sr.
LB Cameron Lynch, Sr.

VIRGINIA
RB Kevin Parks, Sr.
SS Anthony Harris, Sr.

VIRGINIA TECH
WR Willie Byrn, R-Sr.
DT Luther Maddy, DT

WAKE FOREST
FB Jordan Garside, R-Sr.
CB Kevin Johnson, R-Sr.
Do you need a sign college football is close but still just a little too far away? The first preseason award watch lists were released Monday, a list of more than 70 players that could be the best in the country by season’s end.

It doesn’t matter if you have started only three games in your career and haven’t played a down since November 2012 -- there is a spot for you on the list.

That said, it’s college football and as ridiculous as these often are, I admit I enjoy looking at them. The watch lists for the Maxwell Award, given to the college player of the year, and Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player, were released Monday. As the season progresses, the list will be pared down before a winner is announced in December.

Here is a look at the ACC players to make the cut and some justification for each player being on the list.

Maxwell Award

WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: As a freshman last fall, Boyd was as good of a receiver as there was in the ACC. As the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver heading into the 2014 season, Boyd could put up monster numbers and follow in the footsteps of Pitt great Larry Fitzgerald.

[+] EnlargeJames Connor
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner set a Pitt record with 229 yards in the Panthers' bowl win over Bowling Green.
QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State: This is not a knock on Brissett, but his inclusion is certainly puzzling considering he sat out all of 2013 after transferring from Florida, where he saw limited time as a starter and backup. However, the Wolfpack staff is high on Brissett leading the program’s turnaround, and Brissett was a blue-chip high school recruit.

WR Stacy Coley, Miami: Much like Boyd, Coley had a strong freshman season and is poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. One of the country’s elite recruits in 2013, Coley could make a national name for himself if he can build a connection with Miami’s quarterbacks, which have struggled with inconsistency and injury.

RB James Conner, Pitt: It’s almost unfair Conner was limited to just the Maxwell watch list Monday considering he is a two-way standout for the Panthers. Conner is already a huge fan favorite in the Steel City for his bruising and relentless running style, and he broke Tony Dorsett’s school bowl-game rushing record in December.

WR Jamison Crowder, Duke: Any time you catch more than 100 passes for more than 1,300 yards, you deserve to be on this list.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Johnson’s inclusion here is a credit to how dominant he was before the injury against Florida State and how woeful Miami looked after. If he can stay healthy, Johnson has the potential to be an elite back nationally.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: As the Cardinals’ leading returning receiver and now in Bobby Petrino’s offense, Parker should light up stat sheets this coming season.

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Seminoles’ receivers, but none of it includes Greene, who led the Noles in receiving in 2013. With Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in the NFL, Greene will be looked upon to bail out Jameis Winston this fall.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: Speaking of Winston, the Maxwell is about the only thing he did not win last season. Another spectacular season and it will be hard to ignore him again.

RB Karlos Williams, Florida State: Similar to Brissett, this is a bit of a projection pick, although Williams has done significantly more than Brissett. Williams was the third-string running back in 2013, but with his five-star talent base coupled with a senior-laden offensive line and Williams could set records in his final season in Tallahassee.

Reaction: While Brissett is obviously a surprise, overall it is hard to argue with much of the list. Williams' inclusion might be pushing it a little bit, although he certainly could be one of the best running backs in the country with his blend of size and speed. It's a positive sign for the ACC that several underclassmen are on the list, including special playmakers Boyd, Coley and Conner, who will all be true sophomores this fall. The biggest question is whether Winston will win the award if he performs the way most expect him to as a redshirt sophomore. AJ McCarron won the award last season over Winston, who was a semifinalist along with Johnny Manziel. Winston's off-the-field issues might have played a role, so it would be interesting to see if the Maxwell Award will continue to take those incidents into account.



Bednarik Award

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl win against Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: A semifinalist for the award last season, Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields. If he can show a little more consistency, he might win the award in 2014.

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley is among the favorites to repeat as a finalist for this season's Bednarik Award.
LB Kelby Brown, Duke: The Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe are most known for offense, but Brown is a stout defender and one of the conference’s best. He will make a run at 100 tackles for a second straight season this fall.

DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant impact player for the Blue Devils a season ago following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season.

DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national championship. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Bednarik.

DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best.

DE Eli Harold, Virginia: Last season he finished sixth in the ACC with 15 tackles for loss, an impressive number. He could see his numbers improve drastically with five-star Andrew Brown now at defensive tackle.

DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the year.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but is as talented as they come.

DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, North Carolina: Otis is another player poised to possibly gain national recognition and it begins with his inclusion on this list. He had a very strong junior season with 6.5 sacks.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes’ defenses. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall.

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list.

Reaction: It was surprising Darby's name was not included on the list despite missing the spring. He could be the first cornerback taken in the NFL draft next year. The ACC is home to some of the country's best defensive backs with Williams, Fuller and Harris. Beasley is certainly one of the favorites coming into the season, but he was shut down by Florida State last season and will need to rebound against the Seminoles to make a push for the Bednarik as a senior. His sack numbers should be impressive once again, and if he can perform on the big stages, it might be the little extra that wins him the award this season. FSU's Edwards could be the best defensive lineman in the ACC and the country if he plays like he did against Auburn all season. What could hurt Edwards is he will not always be in a position to pile up sacks and tackles even when he is dominating opposing offensive linemen.
From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Up today: Linebackers

Best of the best: Clemson

It's easy to see why many believe the Tigers have the best front seven in the ACC. In addition to having the strongest defensive front, they also have the strongest group of linebackers returning to the team. Stephone Anthony had a breakout season a year ago, finishing with 131 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 802 snaps played. He should be a preseason All-ACC selection. Clemson did lose two starters in Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey, but it returns experienced players at the position. Tony Steward and Ben Boulware will anchor the weak side. Both were ranked among the top linebackers out of high school, and if Steward can stay healthy, he is in line for a big year. At the other spot, Clemson has the option of playing a linebacker or nickelback depending on the alignment. T.J. Burrell and Dorian O'Daniel will be in the mix on the strong side.

Next up: Duke

The Blue Devils return the best linebacker duo in the ACC in David Helton and Kelby Brown, who finished as the top two tacklers in the conference last season. The two combined for 247 tackles a year ago and are back to anchor a group looking to improve both against the run and the pass. Their backups return as well, so there are not many depth concerns here. These two are as dependable as they come. Now, having said that, we would be remiss if we failed to mention Florida State. The Seminoles are losing two key players in Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and will be relying more on a five defensive back alignment, so there are some questions at the position. But this team has the talent to again be the best in the ACC once it gains some experience. As it stands now, Terrance Smith is the only linebacker with consistent playing time. Guys like Matthew Thomas and Reggie Northrup could develop into studs before the season's up.

Sleeper: Syracuse

The Orange return two of the more underrated linebackers in the ACC in Dyshawn Davis and Cam Lynch, who will be relied upon to anchor a defense with some serious questions on the defensive line. Though middle linebacker Marquis Spruill is gone, Syracuse coaches were pleased with the role Marqez Hodge played as a true freshman behind Spruill a year ago, so he spent a year in training preparing to take over the starting job. Davis and Lynch will be there to help Hodge along. Keep an eye on Louisville here as well. The Cards return hard hitter James Burgess and have moved Lorenzo Mauldin to outside linebacker/rush end. That should pay dividends.

Problem for a contender: Pitt

The Panthers have not gotten consistent linebacker play for years, so this position remains a question mark. Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas return, but the Panthers have little in the way of depth to help them out. Thomas has the potential to be excellent. He had 72 tackles a year ago, but coaches are now hoping for more. Bam Bradley could also have an impact here, but only six lettermen are back from a year ago. There are also questions elsewhere in the conference. Will anybody step up to help out Denzel Perryman at Miami? And will Virginia Tech be just as good at linebacker without Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards?

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