ACC: Eli Harold

ACC morning links

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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The public and awkward tango Paul Chryst, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh have been dancing -- made all the more uncomfortable after the music stopped playing last week and left them in the middle of the circle -- looks to be over.

Chryst appears set to be named as the Badgers’ next coach, according to Benjamin Worgull of BadgerNation.com.

The Madison, Wisconsin, native and former Badgers player and assistant was the focus of Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez’s search and was identified as the likely successor to Gary Andersen a week ago. However, Wisconsin state law prevents Alvarez from making a hire until Wednesday, which left Chryst and Pittsburgh in limbo for the last few days.

Considering how the situation has played out, Chryst leaving for Wisconsin is best for all parties. His desire was to go to Wisconsin, and, with all of his ties to the university, it’s hard to blame Chryst for wanting to return. Chryst seemed to handle the situation with class, fulfilling his duties as Pitt’s coach as best he could, conducting bowl practices and recruiting visits. Reports suggest Chryst was upfront with administration and his players over the last few days about his interest in the Wisconsin job.

Pitt was in a tough situation, too, knowing it needed a resolution but also aware it would be unwise to unload Chryst financially. There is no concrete figure being reported, but it is likely Chryst has a buyout that will be owed to Pitt now that it’s only a matter of some red tape before becoming Wisconsin coach.

The Panthers were 19-19 under Chryst and underachieved in 2014, but he laid a foundation during his three years. Offensively, the new staff will inherit running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd, who are two of the best players at their position in the country. Both were named to the ESPN.com All-ACC team last week. The offensive line will also return three starters that average 6-foot-5 and 313 pounds.

Colleague Travis Haney offered up a few names that Pitt AD Steve Pedersen could call upon for an interview, and Pedersen has been proactive despite Chryst still not officially being named Wisconsin’s coach. Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Pitt has contacted former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano.

Hopefully, the new Pitt coach can hit the ground running and bring some stability to a program that has had a revolving door at coach since the end of the 2010 season. With the right hire, Pitt can possibly make a run at the Coastal Division crown in 2015 as the schedule is far from daunting. The Panthers avoid Florida State and Clemson, instead getting Syracuse and Virginia (and Louisville) from the Atlantic. Syracuse and Virginia failed to reach bowl eligibility this fall.

Here’s a few more links for your Wednesday.
Wednesday brought good news and bad news to Virginia, as the Cavaliers learned they will lose defensive end Eli Harold to the 2015 NFL draft but bring back linebacker Max Valles for his redshirt junior season.

Both players tweeted their fates Wednesday.


The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Harold recorded a team-best 14.5 tackles for loss this season, notching seven sacks, one interception and one forced fumble.

Valles' return is a bright spot to a Cavaliers defense that is already saying goodbye to seniors Anthony Harris, Henry Coley and Daquan Romero. The 6-5, 240-pound Valles led the Hoos in sacks (nine), adding 12.5 tackles for loss, one interception, four quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.

Virginia finished 5-7 this season.
Quin Blanding heard the talk nearly every day.

He was a five-star recruit. He could have played anywhere. But he wanted to play for a team that didn’t win a game in the ACC a year ago, for coaches whose job security was the source of constant rumors.

"I had people every day asking why I was going to Virginia," Blanding said. "But I knew I couldn’t let them distract me from what I wanted to do."

The pitch against Virginia was easy, but Blanding had gotten the behind-the-scenes tutorial on what the Cavaliers were building on defense, and he was intrigued.

[+] EnlargeQuin Blanding
AP Photo/Steve HelberLed by safety Quin Blanding, Virginia's defense has been stellar during the team's surprising start.
The 6-foot-4 safety from Virginia Beach would make the trip to Charlottesville regularly to talk with the players. He grew close with star safety Anthony Harris, and he learned the ropes. He heard the sales pitch for Mike London’s program -- not from the coaches, but from the players who saw a team on the brink of something special.

The knocks against Virginia were easy to ignore, Blanding said. Being a part of a team -- and in particular, a defense -- that was about to take a big step forward was an opportunity too good to pass up.

"That was exactly the message," Blanding said. "Time would tell, and it was our time now."

Last season, Virginia won just two games and was 0-8 in the ACC. That’s a fact, but it’s not something that gets talked about much.

This season, the Hoos (4-2, 2-0) are the only Coastal Division team without an ACC loss. That’s the only fact Virginia is focused on now.

"We know we didn’t perform well last year as a team, but we believed each year is a new year," Harris said. "We worked hard in the offseason to get better as a team so we could go out on Saturdays and show our record last year doesn’t reflect our level of talent."

That level of talent is impressive. Henry Coley and Eli Harold both rank in the top four in the ACC in sacks. David Dean, Max Valles and Daquan Romero have developed into versatile, disruptive forces. And in the back end, Harris has led a veteran group that has tormented opposing quarterbacks, while Blanding has quickly developed into a star. The true freshman currently leads the ACC in tackles, including racking up 28 in his past two games.

"Right away I could tell [Blanding] was a really bright guy and has a lot of knowledge about the game," Harris said of his fellow safety. "Physically, if you look at him, he’s a guy who could come in and contribute. So the big thing was just how fast he could pick up on the defense. With his football IQ, he’s done a very good job on that, and it’s shown in how he gets to the football and makes a lot of plays for us."

The early success in 2014 has been encouraging, but not a surprise.

Whether it was during Blanding’s recruitment or the long offseason following a frustrating season, Virginia’s players understood that the pieces were in place to create a winner, and they talked often about overcoming those small obstacles that had kept the unit from coalescing.

"Each year we bring in a lot of talented guys," Harris said. "Fitting it all together and making it work, for the last few years we hadn’t been able to do it, but we knew it was there."

In a way, that brutal 2013 was exactly what sold Blanding on the program, and it’s exactly what the veterans of the group needed to turn the corner.

"Sometimes it takes a team to really go through something before you can really find out how everybody fits into the puzzle, how to work through certain things," Harris said. "Trying to get over the hump, it’s just one or two plays that’s the difference. Some of the adversity we’ve faced the last few years, we really learned from and we’ve really been able to grow."

On Saturday, Virginia travels to Duke in a game that could put the Cavaliers squarely in the driver’s seat in the Coastal. That is a possibility that sounded absurd to so many outside the program two months ago, but for those who had seen blueprint being drawn, it’s exactly where they expected to be.

"We feel like there are a lot of guys who have matured and grown a lot, and we’re speaking up and setting high expectations for the team," Harris said. "We feel like if we’re all bought in and have the same goal, we’ll be able to get it done."

ACC midseason overview

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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It's the midpoint for the ACC, and in a lot of ways, things aren't too much different from a year ago.

Florida State is the league's lone hope for the playoff, and while the Seminoles are riding high at 6-0, plenty of questions remain both on and off the field, starting with this week's showdown against No. 5 Notre Dame.

In the Coastal, things are as wild as ever. Virginia leads the way, but each time a new favorite has emerged, it has faltered a week later.

There have been some big wins -- Virginia Tech over Ohio State, Boston College over USC -- and some major disappointments (we're looking at you, Pitt and North Carolina). Established stars like Duke Johnson and Jameis Winston have looked good, if not Heisman quality, while new arrivals like Jacoby Brissett and Deshaun Watson have turned in some of the season's finest performances.

But if there's much to be said about the ACC's first half in 2014, it's that it will serve as a worthy prologue for most teams only if the latter half of the season develops as planned. So much of what we thought we knew went out the window quickly, and so much of the story of the season is yet to be written. Florida State's playoff hopes remain, but so, too, do some significant hurdles. Clemson's season unraveled with September losses to two top-10 teams, but perhaps Watson can lead the Tigers to a long-awaited win over South Carolina at year's end. Virginia Tech has been up and down, but Frank Beamer has so much young talent developing that the Hokies can be excited about the future. Mike London has gone from the hot seat to potential division favorite if his team can hang on to its early momentum.

In other words, the silver linings haven't always been easy to find this season in the ACC, but, as so often seems to be the case in this league, there's hope that the rest of this year's storylines will be better.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Rob Kinnan/USA Today SportsRashad Greene has amassed almost 700 receiving yards halfway through the season.
Offensive MVP: Florida State receiver Rashad Greene. It's been a rockier start to the season than the defending champions might've hoped, but the one consistent piece throughout the first six games of the year has been Greene. He has 130 more receiving yards than anyone else in the conference. He set the school record for receptions against Syracuse, bringing his career total to 215. He's topped 100 yards in four of his five games against FBS foes despite being the only consistent threat in the Seminoles' passing game. And most importantly, his performances against Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State were the biggest difference between an FSU team that's scuffling at 3-3 or headed toward the playoff at 6-0.

Defensive MVP: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman. There are plenty of quality candidates for the honor, many of them on Holliman's own defense, but he gets the nod based on the sheer ridiculousness of his seven picks through seven games. A year ago, only one player in the nation had more than seven interceptions for the entire season, but Holliman has continued to rack up the takeaways as his defensive front punishes opposing quarterbacks. Overall, Louisville's defense has been on the field for 93 drives against FBS foes. Fifteen resulted in points. Sixteen resulted in turnovers, including seven that ended up in the hands of Louisville's sophomore safety.

Biggest surprise: Virginia's strong start. When the preseason prognosticators got together, the only Coastal Division team that didn't earn a first-place vote was Virginia. Midway through the season, however, it's the Cavaliers atop the Coastal. Chalk it up to a terrific defense, led by Henry Coley (6 sacks), Eli Harold (5.5 sacks) and freshman Quin Blanding (ACC-leading 61 tackles). Meanwhile, London's crew has navigated a quarterback carousel to find an offense that's developing each week. A team that was once the consensus cellar dweller is the lone Coastal player without a loss in conference play.

Biggest disappointment: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 2-4, but they've trailed in every game they've played this season. They were torched by ECU in one of the most atrocious defensive performances in recent memory, then were lit up for six touchdown passes by a true freshman making his first career start a week later. A game performance against Notre Dame last week at least offers some optimism that a turnaround similar to 2013 is possible, but it's been another rough start for UNC.

Newcomer of the year: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. The freshman opened the season as Cole Stoudt's backup but won the starting job after a stellar performance against Florida State. He looked poised and precise and ran Chad Morris' offense with ease through the next few games, leading the nation in QBR in the process. But a broken finger suffered against Louisville has doomed Watson to the sidelines for at least the next three to four weeks, meaning a few other newcomers -- Blanding, Miami's Brad Kaaya, Virginia Tech's Isaiah Ford and NC State's Jacoby Brissett (a transfer) -- still have a chance to take this award by year's end.

Best coach: FSU's Jimbo Fisher. He probably doesn't get the credit he deserves because he clearly has the league's most talented team, but through all the trials and tribulations of the past year, Fisher has directed the Seminoles to 22 straight wins. He's kept an even keel for a team replacing a host of departed NFL talent, he's overseen a win against Clemson with his backup quarterback, and he's kept the wolves at bay despite nearly constant controversy.

Best game: Florida State 23, Clemson 17. Winston was suspended, and that would've been enough drama on its own to make this the game of the year so far. But there was so much more. Watson's emergence in a hostile environment was exciting. The resilience of Sean Maguire, Winston's backup, in spite of early struggles was impressive. His touchdown pass to Greene to tie the game late was dramatic. Eddie Goldman's forced fumble to keep Clemson out of the end zone in the final minutes was miraculous. And, of course, Florida State's win in overtime kept the ACC alive for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Best games of the second half: Notre Dame at Florida State this week will be the pinnacle of the ACC's remaining slate, and it likely defines the season for both top-five teams. But beyond that matchup, a few more intriguing battles remain, including the Seminoles' trip to Louisville (Oct. 30), Duke and Virginia Tech in a potential division-defining battle on Nov. 15, and, of course, the annual state championship between Clemson and South Carolina to close out the regular season.
With the news that Ohio State lost quarterback Braxton Miller for the season, USA Today wondered what the effect might be of a major injury on a few of the other top College Football Playoff candidates, including Florida State.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsEven with second-stringer Sean Maguire at quarterback, Florida State would be an ACC favorite. But maybe not a national favorite.
According to the story, a switch from Jameis Winston to Sean Maguire at QB would mean roughly 10 fewer points per game and two fewer wins for FSU.
Substitute Maguire for Winston and the Noles still win the ACC championship, but without Winston they only average 33.9 points per game and win 9.4 games on average.

The Orlando Sentinel digs a bit deeper, looking at what the ramifications of a Winston injury might be for the Seminoles.

I didn’t crunch any serious numbers, as USA Today did, or dig too deep into the roster the way the Sentinel did, but if I was putting together a list of the ACC’s most irreplaceable players, it’d probably look something like this:

1. Winston — for obvious reasons, as discussed above.

2. Duke Johnson — We saw what happened last year when he went down. Miami was 7-0 with him healthy, 2-4 when he wasn’t on the field the whole game. Not to mention the Hurricanes' rushing average was cut in half.

3. Jamison Crowder - The guy was targeted 174 times last year (40 more than Sammy Watkins) and that was before Duke lost Braxton Deaver and Brandon Connette.

4. Eli Harold - The guy averaged 24 more snaps per game than All-American Vic Beasley did, and Virginia’s defense is predicated on penetrating the line of scrimmage.

5. Jacoby Brissett — OK, NC State might not do much this year even with Brissett, but what’s the option if he goes down? The Pack’s hopes for 2014 are riding almost entirely on his shoulders, and unlike last year, there’s actually some reason for optimism.

Beyond that top five, Mario Edwards Jr., Luther Maddy, Norkeithus Otis and Tyler Boyd come to mind, too.

Of course, there’s surely a few more players left off the list that warrant discussion. So, who’d we miss?

A few more links:

  • The (Syracuse) Post-Standard has Virginia’s Mike London as the ACC’s only coach on the hot seat this season. One reason London is on the hot seat: a lack of production in spite of talent. Virginia is 18-31 under London. Only eight other teams have performed worse during the past four years, and of that group, only Cal has signed more four-star and five-star recruits than the 19 signed by London, according to ESPN’s rankings. (Of note: Kentucky has signed 16, but 14 have come in the last two years since Mark Stoops was hired as head coach. The other six programs with worse records than Virginia during that stretch have signed just 30 four-star or five-star recruits.)
  • The Wall Street Journal took a look at how each Power 5 conference coach has done against top-25 opposition in his career. The Louisville Courier-Journal followed up with a deeper look at Bobby Petrino’s credentials as well as a look at the individual ACC coaches.
  • There are still plenty of starting jobs up for grabs on the Virginia Tech offensive depth chart, as The Roanoke Times points out.
  • For years, Jim Grobe avoided playing true freshmen at Wake Forest. In the first season under Dave Clawson, it appears as many as nine will get a chance to play in this year’s opener, the Winston-Salem Journal writes.
  • And on related notes, earlier this week Matt Fortuna wrote a bit about Clawson’s journey to Wake Forest, and Jared Shanker looked at the programs most apt to play true freshmen.
  • Duke certainly projects to have a speedy secondary, which has earned the unit a unique nickname, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Steven Daniels is in line to be the next great middle linebacker at Boston College, writes the Boston Herald.
  • And lastly, if you don’t hear from me for the next 10 days, it’s because FXX is marathoning every “The Simpsons” episode ever, starting today. Here’s the full schedule if you’re portioning out your time to the most important episodes (“Marge vs. the Monorail is tomorrow at 9 p.m.) and here’s your requisite Simpsons gif to showcase my feelings about the event.

Virginia Cavaliers season preview

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Virginia Cavaliers:

Key returners: RB Kevin Parks, RB Taquan Mizzell, S Anthony Harris, DE Eli Harold, LB Henry Coley

Key losses: TE Jake McGee, OT Morgan Moses, DE Jake Snyder, DT Brent Urban

Most important 2014 games: UCLA, Aug. 30; Miami, Nov. 22; at Virginia Tech, Nov. 28

Projected win percentage: 37 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 3

[+] EnlargeKevin Parks
AP Photo/Andrew ShurtleffRunning back Kevin Parks is among the few proven performers Virginia returns on offense.
Instant impact newcomers: Defensive tackle Andrew Brown and safety Quin Blanding. There is little doubt that the two highest-rated players in the 2014 signing class will play for the Cavs this season. Brown has had a little setback in dealing with a turf toe injury that has bothered him since the spring. But when he is healthy, he will be a contributor on a defensive line that needs depth at tackle. Blanding has been working with the first-team defense since spring practice opened. By all accounts, he is as good as advertised.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Greyson Lambert brings consistency to the quarterback position, allowing the offense to flourish. The defense improves on the gains it made from a season ago, and the Hoos cut down on penalties and turnovers. Parks turns in another 1,000-yard season, and playmaker receivers emerge to help Virginia pull several upsets, end a long losing streak to rival Virginia Tech, make a bowl and become the surprise team in the ACC.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Quarterback remains an issue behind Lambert, and the offensive line fails to gain any cohesion. Without any stability up front or behind Lambert, Virginia continues to struggle to move the ball and score points. Defensively, Virginia continues to give up too many big plays. One of the toughest schedules in the ACC does the Cavaliers no favors, and they sink to their third straight losing season.

They said it: "The identity is one of unity. You can talk about, well, how does that happen? Last year, we had four seniors. This year, we have 22. There's a maturation process that takes place when you have teams that are looking for leaders, that are looking for an identity. … The expectations of performing are paramount for us." -- coach Mike London.

Biggest question mark: How much time do we have? Outside of Parks, the entire offense remains a question mark. The offensive line has not been solidified yet; Lambert remains a wild card; and there is no go-to player among the receivers with McGee gone. Virginia is in desperate need of a big-play threat in the receiver group and a quarterback who can limit the mistakes. We still don’t know whether both will come to fruition for this team in 2014.

Beyond top 25: ACC's breakout candidates

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
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Last week, ESPN.com ranked its top 100 players in college football, and here on the ACC blog, we counted down the top 25 in the conference. Of course, these lists are fun for the preseason, but once the games get going, what we all believed was true in August has a way of looking pretty silly by December. In fact, of our 2013 preseason top 25, just 12 also made our end-of-season top 25.

In other words, there were no doubt a few ACC players whose names were left on the cutting room floor in our countdown, but who may well be among the league’s elite this season. Here’s an admittedly imprecise look at a few to keep an eye on.

JUST MISSED

If we’d been making a top 30 or 40 list instead of 25, these guys definitely would’ve made the cut. As it stands, they'll likely see their names on our end-of-year list.

WR Stacy Coley (Miami): Don’t be surprised if the Canes’ sophomore receiver ranks in the top five of our end-of-season list. No returning ACC player averaged more yards per touch last year (min. 50 touches) than Coley (21.8). He’ll need some help from an unproven quarterback, but Coley has the talent to be an All-American if things break right for him this season.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville): Already a star with 9.5 sacks and 12 TFL last season, Mauldin is poised to explode as he moves from defensive end to outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s new 3-4 system. At Grantham’s previous stop at Georgia, he helped Justin Houston and Jarvis Jones parlay similar moves into super stardom.

DE Eli Harold (UVA): Virginia’s defensive line may not get much national publicity, but it’s jam-packed with talent, headed up by Harold, who racked up 8.5 sacks and 15 TFL last season. Both of those totals rank second among returning ACC players behind Clemson All-American Vic Beasley.

GETTING HEALTHY

Injuries set them back, but these players are poised for big comebacks in 2014.

S Isaiah Johnson (GT): A burgeoning star on Georgia Tech’s defense, a knee injury cost Johnson all of 2013. He’s “past 100 percent” now though and expects to make a huge impact after a long wait to get back onto the field.

S Tyler Hunter (FSU): Last summer, Hunter was the unquestioned leader of FSU’s revamped defense, but a scary neck injury ended his season in Week 3. What might’ve been a career-ending injury turned out to be just a setback, and now Hunter will be the veteran voice in an immensely talented secondary that has led the nation in passing defense the past two years.

DT Mehdi Abdesmad (BC): As a junior last season, the 6-foot-7 Abdesmad looked poised for a breakthrough, recording sacks against USC and Florida State before a knee injury ended his season. If he can return to form quickly, he's in position to replace the 8.5 sacks BC lost with the departure of Kasim Edebali from its D-line.

WR Charone Peake (Clemson): When they arrived on campus as freshmen, Peake and Sammy Watkins were both considered can't-miss prospects. Now Watkins is impressing in Buffalo Bills camp and Peake is still looking for his breakthrough season. Despite an injury-ravaged 2013, he's being counted on as the top option for Cole Stoudt in 2014.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATES

These players have already made some noise in the past but could make the jump to the league’s elite in 2014.

S Durrell Eskridge (Syracuse): Eskridge blossomed into a key contributor on Syracuse’s defense last year, recording 6.5 tackles per game (14th among returning ACC players) and four interceptions, but as the Orange look to replace key starters inside, Eskridge’s impact in 2014 only figures to expand.

QB Jacoby Brissett (NC State): Dave Doeren believes Brissett, a transfer from Florida who spent last season waiting in the wings, is a perfect fit for his offense, and the veteran has the confidence and trust of his teammates -- something NC State sorely missed at the position last year. Our preseason top 25 lists just one quarterback (Jameis Winston), so a few others have to state their case, too. Brissett should be chief among them, but fellow transfers Tyler Murphy (BC) and Michael Brewer (Virginia Tech) could certainly be in the mix, too.

OT Matt Rotheram (Pitt): Pitt's O-line was a disaster last year, but adding a more mobile quarterback in the backfield and a year of experience to the unit should help. Rotheram was the one bright spot through much of 2013, and he's now poised to get a hefty share of the credit should the revamped line take the next step in 2014.

UNPROVEN TALENT

They haven't seen the field (much) yet, but they’re in line for significant roles this season and could make the most of the opportunity.

LB Matthew Thomas (FSU): The Seminoles return plenty of talent from their national-championship run, but the linebacking crew is definitely an area with a few question marks. It’s a talented, but unproven group, but Thomas tasted action early last season before going down with an injury, and he showed he can make an instant impact -- perhaps in an edge-rusher role similar to what Christian Jones did for FSU's D last season.

RB Wayne Gallman (Clemson): It’s hard to project how the carries will be distributed in a crowded Clemson backfield, but two things are clear: The Tigers want to run the ball more in 2014, and Gallman has the potential to be a star. Coaches and teammates raved about his improvement in the spring, and Gallman will get every shot to win a job as a centerpiece of the new-look Clemson offense in fall camp.

OT Bentley Spain (UNC): Larry Fedora admits he doesn’t know quite what to make of Spain yet after the early enrollee missed a hefty chunk of the spring with an injury. Still, Spain is in line for the starting left tackle job at UNC, and with talent at quarterback and tailback behind him, it could be a quick start to his career.

DEEP SLEEPERS

The names aren’t familiar outside their own fan bases, but don’t be surprised if they’re making some noise by year’s end.

LB Marquel Lee (Wake): New Deacons coach Dave Clawson has his work cut out for him trying to find talent to fill out the depth chart, but he may have discovered an early gem in Lee. The sophomore was the star of Wake's spring game, and with so much turnover up front for the Deacons, Lee will get plenty of chances to make plays once the season begins.

CB DreQuan Hoskey (UVA): Here’s an interesting tidbit, courtesy of STATS LLC: No defender in the ACC was picked on more last season than Hoskey, who was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 81 times in 12 games. There were mixed results, of course, but it's worth noting that he wasn't burned for a TD on any of those plays. Next most targets without surrendering a touchdown among ACC defensive backs? Lamarcus Joyner with 37. He's part of a very crowded secondary, but Hoskey will get his chances to make an impact in 2014.

RB Shaquille Powell (Duke): He's overlooked because Duke returns its leading rusher from 2013 (Josh Snead) but teammates have raved about Powell's progress, and it's worth noting that while Snead is back, the Blue Devils still must replace 51 percent of last year’s rushing attempts after losing Brandon Connette, Juwan Thompson and Jela Duncan.
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.
Virginia only returns two starters to its defensive line. So why are the Hoos a sleeper choice at that position?

Returning defensive end Eli Harold is a big reason. But perhaps even bigger? Depth. As in much, much more of it.

[+] EnlargeEli Harold
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIDefensive end Eli Harold says the Cavaliers will benefit in 2014 from added depth along the line.
"Our defensive line is loaded," Harold said in an interview with ESPN.com Tuesday. "We’ve got about eight or nine guys who can go in there and play right away."

Contrast that to last season, when depth was in short supply. Harold was in on 806 plays, second-most on defense and practically unheard of for a defensive lineman. He did not recall coming out of the game in the opener against BYU, taking 93 snaps. As a comparison, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley took 560 snaps and played one more game. Better depth at Clemson means fewer snaps, and fewer snaps means much fresher players on the line -- an absolute must to be effective.

Harold, who ended last season with 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss a year ago, says the Hoos have the best depth they have had in years. Couple that with the new aggressive approach implemented last season, and expectations for the group have grown.

"I’m glad we have depth this year, to allow our athletes to get out in space, rush the passer and also stop the run," Harold said.

David Dean also returns as a starter at tackle. But Harold praised Mike Moore, slated to start at end, and then listed others like Donte Wilkins and Chris Braithwaite, back after sitting out last season. Then, of course, there is highly touted freshman tackle Andrew Brown, who will be expected to have an immediate impact.

"Andrew Brown’s definitely going to help us out this year whether he starts or not," Harold said. "He’s going to play up to 20 plays a game I think. He’s a big, strong guy. He’s one of the strongest guys on the team already. He’s fast, he’s physical, he also has finesse. A guy like that brings a lot to the table. He deserves that highly touted rank he has. We’re expecting a lot out of him, but like I told him, just don’t put too much on yourself. You’re just now learning, so don’t be so hard on yourself."

Harold himself is up to 245 pounds, and says the new strength and conditioning staff has done a great job transforming the players on the roster. He says there is much more leadership too, more players with passion and competitiveness, eager to get the program back to a bowl game. As for individual goals, Harold has set the bar high -- he wants 15 sacks.

A few breathers would be nice, too.
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.

Up next: Defensive line.

Best of the best: Clemson

The Tigers are stacked on the defensive line, returning all four starters plus their top four backups from a season ago. Easy to see why Clemson gets the nod over the Seminoles -- sheer experience alone. Clemson has the best returning lineman in the league -- and one of the best in the nation -- in Vic Beasley, who had 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss a year ago. His backup, Shaq Lawson, had 10 tackles for loss. That is more than anybody Florida State returns. So not only does Clemson have a group that is active behind the line, it has good depth, too, which should keep everybody fresh and make for one of the best line rotations in the country. If this group can live up to expectations, the Tigers have a chance to be one of the best groups in the entire country.

Next up: Florida State

If there is one constant in the ACC, it is a rock solid, dominant defensive line at Florida State. Five defensive linemen have been drafted over the past two years and another, Mario Edwards Jr., is rated as a top 5 defensive end among all underclassmen. There is no doubt the Seminoles are talented once again, but they do need to rebuild some depth across the entire line and may even rely on more linebackers to help out with the pass rush in 2014. Freshmen also will factor into the mix, as the Seminoles signed seven defensive linemen to help make up for some of the losses. Players such as Edwards, Eddie Goldman and Chris Casher are set to be the standouts on this group, but the Noles will need some unproven players to step up to keep the championship-level quality of the defensive line going.

Possible sleeper: Virginia

The Hoos have to replace two starters, but there is growing expectation for the line to be improved over a year ago. Eli Harold returns at defensive end after racking up 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss a year ago, and has received early consideration as a potential All-ACC candidate. Mike Moore, slated to start at the other end position, was one of the defense's most improved players during the spring. Then, of course, there is incoming true freshman Andrew Brown, one of the top-rated players in the class of 2014 with an opportunity to make an immediate impact at tackle. Brown enrolled early and participated in spring practice. Though he battled through a bit of an injury, he is still in the mix to win a starting job.

Problem for a contender: North Carolina.

The Tar Heels have to rebuild along the front again, after losing starters Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson. Martin leaves behind the gaping hole, after racking up 11.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss, along with 14 hurries a year ago. Even with Martin getting into the backfield, North Carolina ranked last in rushing defense, so there is no doubt this group has to make major improvements up front. Among the ends, only Junior Gnonkonde returns as a consistent contributor, with Jessie Rogers and redshirt freshman Dajaun Drennon in the mix. There is more depth at tackle than at end, though, so North Carolina will no doubt be growing up its ends in a hurry to make up for Martin's departure.

Previous previews:

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 24, 2014
Jun 24
12:00
PM ET
It’s that time of year when the preseason lists start appearing, and Athlon is out with its preseason All-America teams (four of them!), which include a healthy dose of the ACC.

The ACC has eight players on the first-team All-America squad, tied with the Pac-12 for most by any conference. In all, the ACC had 27 selections (26 players, as Duke’s Jamison Crowder was named as both a receiver and punt returner). Florida State, not surprisingly, led the way with a whopping 12 players named on the four lists, including Jameis Winston, Nick O'Leary, Tre Jackson, Cameron Erving, Jalen Ramsey and Roberto Aguayo as first-teamers.

Of course, these preseason lists are always a little subjective and a lot different from how the end-of-the-season results shake out. (Example: Just seven of last year’s Athlon preseason picks were also first-team selections at year’s end.)

With that in mind, here are a few ACC names that didn’t show up on any of Athlon’s four preseason All-America teams that could well be first-teamers by the time 2014 draws to a close.

CB Ronald Darby (FSU): The forgotten man in Florida State’s incredibly talented secondary, Darby nursed a nagging groin injury, but still was as good a shut-down cornerback as there was in the conference a year ago. He has flown under the radar nationally, but he has the talent to be a star if QBs decided to test him just a bit more often this season.

DT Grady Jarrett (Clemson): The 2014 season promises to be a pick-your-poison scenario for teams hoping to slow down Clemson’s immensely talented pass rush. Vic Beasley gets most of the hype (for good reason), but he is also going to get a lot of the attention from offensive linemen. That opens the door for Jarrett (10.5 tackles for loss last season), along with a host of others to make some noise, too.

LB Steven Daniels (Boston College): It is a bit surprising that Miami’s Denzel Perryman is the only ACC linebacker to make Athlon’s cut since there is clearly a lot of talent at the position, including Clemson’s Stephone Anthony, Duke’s Kelby Brown and David Helton and Syracuse’s Dyshawn Davis. But we all know the history of linebackers at Boston College, and Daniels could be next in line. He still has room to improve, but his 88 tackles last season are the seventh-most by a returning player in the ACC, and that number figures to grow in 2014.

RB Dominique Brown (Louisville): He had 825 yards and eight touchdowns last season in a more buttoned-down offensive system with a highly touted QB on the field. Now the Cardinals turn to a novice at quarterback and an offensive guru at head coach, which could promise big production out of the backfield for Brown. Or, perhaps we will all be talking about Michael Dyer here by season's end.

DE Eli Harold (Virginia): As bad as the Hoos have been, it makes sense that they are not getting much preseason love, but Mike London is quietly assembling a heck of a defensive line at UVA, and Harold might be the best of the bunch. His 15 tackles for loss last season trail only Beasley among returning ACC defenders.

That is my list. Who else do you think could make a push for All-America honors by season's end?

More links:
  • Charges could be dropped against one of the key figures in the UNC academic fraud scandal, according to the Charlotte Observer.
  • Miami picked up a commitment from a QB for 2016, writes the Sun-Sentinel.
  • Syracuse is shelling out big bucks to play Central Michigan in 2015, reports The Post-Standard. With new scheduling guidelines and the College Football Playoff in place, this is going to become the norm for signing games against mid-level opponents.
  • Former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe is battling Parkinson’s Disease, but he is back in college football as a special assistant at LSU, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • Tomahawk Nation goes searching for Florida State’s flaws. Not to spoil the ending, but there aren’t many.
Last weekend’s NFL draft in which 42 ACC players were selected was a reminder of how much talent was departing the conference. But just as Sammy Watkins, Aaron Donald and Kyle Fuller say goodbye, the focus turns to the players who’ll step into the spotlight in 2014.

With that in mind, here’s a quick look at the top returning players in the ACC this upcoming season, based on their stats from 2013. (Last year’s ACC ranking in parentheses.)

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsMiami tailback Duke Johnson rushed for 920 yards in 2013, despite missing five games due to injury.
PASSING YARDS
1. Jameis Winston, FSU - 4,057 (1st)
2. Anthony Boone, Duke - 2,260 (6th)
3. David Watford, Virginia - 2,202 (9th)

Of note: The turnover at the quarterback position has already gotten its share of press, but it’s almost impossible to overstate how green the QBs across the ACC will be in 2014. Of the 23 players who passed for at least 250 yards in 2013, only seven will be back in 2014. Watford, the third-leading returning QB, isn’t projected to start at Virginia, and Marquise Williams, who ranks fourth among returners, is locked in a battle for the starting job at North Carolina, too. Next up among definitive starters is Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt, who finished 14th in the league in passing last season.

RUSHING YARDS
1. Kevin Parks, Virginia - 1,031 (2nd)
2. Duke Johnson, Miami - 920 (5th)
3. James Conner, Pitt - 799 (8th)
4. Isaac Bennett, Pitt - 797 (9th)
5. Shad Thornton, NC State - 768 (11th)

Of note: Louisville’s Dominique Brown would actually rank third on this list after racking up 825 rushing yards last season, good for fourth in the AAC. Including Brown, the ACC returns 11 running backs this year who accounted for at least 500 yards on the ground in 2013, though Miami’s Dallas Crawford (558 yards) is currently working with the Hurricanes’ secondary. Parks returns after a 1,000-yard season. The last running backs to return following a 1,000-yard effort in the ACC were Gio Bernard and Andre Ellington in 2012. Both topped 1,000 again in their follow-up campaigns.

RECEIVING YARDS
1. Jamison Crowder, Duke - 1,360 (2nd)
2. Tyler Boyd, Pitt - 1,174 (3rd)
3. Rashad Greene, FSU - 1,128 (5th)
4. Quinshad Davis, UNC - 730 (13th)
5. Willie Byrn, Virginia Tech - 660 (14th)

Of note: Louisville’s DeVante Parker would rank fourth on this list. He had 885 yards last season, good for seventh in the AAC. Crowder is in position to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season and is 1,153 yards shy of breaking former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record. The Hokies have three of the top seven returning receivers in terms of yards.

TACKLES PER GAME
1. David Helton, Duke - 9.5 (1st)
2. Jeremy Cash, Duke - 8.6 (3rd)
3. Denzel Perryman, Miami - 8.3 (5th)
4. Kelby Brown, Duke - 8.1 (7th)
5. Ryan Janvion, Wake Forest - 7.9 (8th)

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley has 21 sacks in his career.
Of note: Duke’s front four took a big hit with the loss of three senior starters, but the back seven should be one of the most experienced and productive in the conference. Of the 25 ACC players with at least 50 solo tackles last season, 12 return this season.

INTERCEPTIONS
1. Ant Harris, Virginia - 8 (1st)
2. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech - 6 (2nd)
3. Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech - 5 (3rd)

Of note: Eleven ACC players had at least four interceptions last season, and a whopping nine of them return in 2014, including sophomores Facyson and Fuller at Virginia Tech. Add to that list two more returners from Louisville in Charles Gaines (5 picks) and Terell Floyd (4 picks), and the young QBs in the ACC in 2014 are going to have a lot to worry about.

SACKS
1. Vic Beasley, Clemson - 13 (1st)
2. Eli Harold, Virginia - 8.5 (9th)
2. Norkeithus Otis, UNC - 8.5 (9th)
4. Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech - 6.5 (12th)
5. Adam Gostis, Georgia Tech - 5.5 (16th)

Of note: Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin (9.5 sacks) would be second on this list. And here’s a number that should have a lot of Clemson fans excited: Of the 32 players who finished with at least 10 tackles for loss last season, just 13 will be back in the ACC in 2014. Of those 13 returners, five play for the Tigers.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
10:15
AM ET
The Week 5 slate has a handful of conference showdowns on tap, but the weekend figures to have its share of mismatches, too. Here are a few storylines to watch as the ACC closes out the season's first month:

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee and the Yellow Jackets face a tough Virginia Tech defense on Thursday.
Vad Lee's big test: It's been a sterling start for the Georgia Tech QB, but the test gets much tougher this week. Lee has thrown seven touchdowns and rushed for three more through three games, and Georgia Tech's offense looks primed for a big season. But Virginia Tech's defense ranks among the nation's best thus far. The Hokies lead the ACC in rushing defense (96.5 yards per game) and have allowed just two passing plays of 25 yards or more through four weeks -- the two areas the Yellow Jackets have thrived. Georgia Tech took a big step toward establishing itself as a contender last week, but if Lee can find a way to break Virginia Tech's defensive stranglehold this week, the Yellow Jackets just might be the new favorite in the Coastal Division.

As Logan Thomas goes ...: The Hokies' offense has been brutal through four games, with Thomas shouldering the bulk of the criticism -- for good reason. He's completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes with just four TDs to go with six interceptions. But when Thomas is sharp, there's hope. On Tech's three scoring drives vs. Marshall last week, he was 10-of-13 for 106 yards. The rest of the game, he was just 8-of-10 for 75 yards. One key may be running Thomas more often. He had 23 rushing attempts against Marshall -- nearly double his total from the first three games combined.

Supporting the cause: As big as Georgia Tech's win over North Carolina last week was in the standings, it was the message Lee and others wore on wristbands designed to draw attention toward a push to reform NCAA regulations on player compensation and other issues. Coach Paul Johnson said this week that there should have been a team vote before any players took such a public stand, so it will be interesting to see if Tech's protesters take a step back or if more players -- both on the Yellow Jackets and around the nation -- step up to make a stand.

North Carolina's struggles: The Tar Heels figured to be at the top of the ACC's second tier this season, but they've hardly looked the part so far. UNC never really challenged South Carolina in a marquee nonconference opener, and the Heels blew a lead against Georgia Tech last week that puts them in an early hole in the division. Bryn Renner and the offense haven't been nearly as potent as the talent on the roster suggests, and the defense has struggled to stop the run all year. North Carolina tries to rebound against East Carolina this week, but the Pirates took Virginia Tech to the brink just two weeks ago and won't be a pushover.

More highlights from Crowder: In last week's loss, junior Jamison Crowder ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown and returned a punt for a score -- the first time that feat had been accomplished at Duke since 1999. The Blue Devils' defense appears to be in complete disarray, but Crowder has injected enough life into the offense and special teams that Duke has at least remained competitive -- including last week's ferocious comeback attempt against Pitt. For the year, Crowder ranks among the ACC leaders in receptions (30), receiving yards (381), touchdowns (4) and all-purpose yards (668).

Keeping the faith at NC State: The Wolfpack nearly pulled the upset last week against Clemson, but concerns remain at quarterback, where Pete Thomas has yet to throw a TD pass this year. Still, NC State has kept itself afloat with a 2-1 start, and Brandon Mitchell could be back in a few weeks. The Wolfpack don't figure to be tested much against Central Michigan, and with a manageable schedule leading up to an Oct. 26 showdown against Florida State, Thomas simply needs to steady the ship and avoid catastrophe to keep NC State in the mix in the ACC.

Battle of the ground games: In the past 35 games, just four players have managed to exceed 100 yards on the ground against Florida State's defense. One of them is Boston College's Andre Williams, who is off to a strong start in 2013. He'll be the key to any potential BC upset, but the Seminoles have plenty of weapons in their backfield, too. Devonta Freeman has run for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games and ranks fourth in the nation in yards per carry. Offensive newcomer Karlos Williams has racked up 193 yards and three scores on just 17 carries so far. Overall, FSU ranks third in the country averaging 7.2 yards per rush so far this season.

Clemson building momentum: The general consensus after last week's near miss against NC State is that Clemson got lucky to escape with a win. A close call on what appeared to be a long touchdown for the Wolfpack was followed by a key turnover, swinging the momentum in a 26-14 Tigers win, but Tajh Boyd wasn't at his best and Clemson showed some vulnerability. The task against struggling Wake Forest this week will be to regain that air of invincibility, getting Boyd's Heisman campaign back on track and establishing that the Tigers are still the team to beat in the ACC.

Stephen Morris' health: The Miami quarterback left last week's blowout win over Savannah State early with a bone bruise in his right ankle, but he insists the injury isn't serious. He said he expects to be in the lineup when Miami takes on winless South Florida this week, and it could be a good chance for him to jump-start his season. While the Hurricanes are off to a 3-0 start, Morris is completing just 53 percent of his throws and has just four touchdowns to go with two INTs. USF's D hasn't been tested much through the air so far, but the unit figures to provide a bigger challenge than woeful Savannah State.

Pitt's O vs. Virginia's D: Aside from the blowout loss to Oregon -- a fate shared by many of the Ducks' opponents in recent years -- the Virginia defense has been solid, led by playmakers such as Eli Harold and Anthony Harris. But Virginia figures to be tested this week with an offense that might have playmakers to rival even Oregon's gaudy numbers. Pitt QB Tom Savage threw six touchdowns against Duke last week, while Devin Street, Tyler Boyd and James Conner all rank among the ACC's offensive leaders so far this season.

Q&A with Virginia DB Anthony Harris

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
2:00
PM ET
Clemson scored the marquee nonconference win of Week 1 for the ACC, but it was Virginia that may have pulled the biggest surprise. The Cavaliers staged an impressive fourth-quarter comeback, led by safety Anthony Harris' late interception against BYU. New coordinator Jon Tenuta had his defense playing exceptionally well, but the test gets much bigger in Week 2 when Oregon travels to Charlottesville. We chatted with Harris about what's in store this weekend.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Harris
Rafael Suanes/USA TODAY SportsAfter a big win over BYU, Anthony Harris' Cavaliers will get a big test from Oregon's explosive offense on Saturday.
Last week was a big win for you guys, spearheaded by the defense. Has there been a lot of excitement about the performance this week?

Anthony Harris: Yeah, we're very excited. We would've liked to have held them a little more in a few categories, but we think we played well at some times and came up big for our offense. [And we] were able to get the ball back when we needed to and stop them on a couple key third-down plays.

Q. What has Jon Tenuta brought to the unit that has made such an instant impact?

A. Coach Tenuta is a great guy. With him, it's always just go, go, go. Play fast. You want to dictate to the offense how the tempo of the game may go, what you do up front as far as different pressures and movements. He expects nothing but the best out of you. He talks about effort a lot, talks about penetration and stuff like that. He brought this whole mental aspect of we're going to play hard, play fast and know your assignment.

Q. You had a huge game against BYU, winning Walter Camp defensive-player-of-the-week honors, but a lot of your teammates had impressive performances, too. How good do you think this defense can be?

A. Yeah, this past Saturday we had a lot of guys step up for us. Maurice Canady in the nickel did a great job playing some man and some zone coverage. [He] had a bunch of tackles (a team-high 13). The defensive line as a whole did a great job. A lot of different guys showed up around the ball, putting pressure on the quarterback. Eli Harold did a good job for us. And we think Saturday was just a glimpse of how good we really can be. We've got to iron out a few kinks, a few wrinkles, but we're just looking to move forward onto this week and continue to get better.

Q. Oregon's up-tempo style is going to be a huge challenge. Last week, they ran 71 plays in less than 20 minutes of possession time. Is there a way to slow that down?

A. You've got to make sure you take care of assignments. Be in position and make the play when you're in position to make the play. You can't allow them to get in that tempo when they get big gains and have a big play. And in order to counter-act that, you have to try to stop them by taking away [what] they're looking for, try to get them in third-and-long, second-and-long, and that limits their play selection. And it takes them a little longer to get to the ball to make sure they get the play they want.

Q. The win over BYU was big for you, but would stopping that Oregon offense establish Virginia's D as one of the top units in the ACC?

A. This is a big game for us. With Oregon coming in, they're a nationally-known team. We feel we have some good players on this team [who] can play at some of the highest levels. We're just going to work hard and continue to do what we do. [We will] focus in on them and what they do on offense and defense, and go out there and lay it all on the line.

ACC lunchtime links

September, 4, 2013
9/04/13
12:00
PM ET
Julie, hey, guess what day it is ... Hump day!

Here's a great story from the Miami Herald on Hurricanes' running back Duke Johnson, who is driven by promises he made to his mother.

Everyone fell in love with Jameis Winston in Florida State's opener, but Tomahawk Nation points out that there is ample reason for concern about the Seminoles' defense.

If there's a silver lining to Pitt's loss to Florida State, it's that the Panthers identified a few serious playmakers -- namely freshman Tyler Boyd, writes the Tribune-Review.

After a horrendous opening-week performance, Virginia Tech's receiving corps has a lot of work to do to win back the trust of QB Logan Thomas.

Virginia sophomores Eli Harold and Maurice Canady have grown into big roles on Jon Tenuta's defense, writes the Daily Progress.

Wake Forest's defense is expecting a serious test when it opens ACC play against Boston College, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

Look for Andre Williams to carry a hefty load for Boston College this weekend, writes the Boston Herald.

C.J. Brown reveled in his comeback from an ACL injury, but he's ready to turn the page and focus on Old Dominion, according to the Washington Post.

The Tar Heel Blog wonders if it's fair to suspend UNC offensive lineman Kiaro Holts for his seemingly cheap shot on Jadeveon Clowney in the opener.

The loss to Penn State doesn't necessarily tell us a lot about what Syracuse has in store for Northwestern, writes the Troy Nunes blog.

This week's game against South Carolina State figures to be an easy one for Clemson, which opened as a whopping 52-point favorite, writes the Charleston Post & Courier.

Paul Johnson is nothing if not a quintessential football coach. He managed to find plenty to work on after Georgia Tech's historic 70-0 win over Elon, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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