ACC: Jameis Winston

ACC's most intriguing Nos. 1-5

February, 27, 2015
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We’re still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC that are already big stories. With that in mind, we’re counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason -- from players to coaches to administrators -- and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. Last up, Nos. 1 through 5.

1. Jimbo Fisher

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Orlando Sentinel via Getty ImagesThe loss of numerous impact players on offense will likely test Florida State's Jimbo Fisher in 2015.
Role: Head coach, Florida State

Intrigue: Fisher won a national title in 2013 and took FSU to the College Football Playoff last year, but now he’ll be presiding over an offense without Jameis Winston. Finding his next quarterback will be job No. 1, and it also figures to be the most discussed storyline of the spring. Winston set a standard that no one is likely to match, but J.J. Cosentino and Sean Maguire will do battle to get a chance to try. Adding more pressure to the decision, Fisher will also need to find four new starters on the O-line and replace the most prolific receiver and tight end in program history.

Possible impact: There’s no such thing as rebuilding in Tallahassee. The expectation is for Florida State to reload. But is that realistic this year? The defense was already a concern, and four underclassmen have left for the NFL draft. Meanwhile, the offense won’t be there to cover up many mistakes this time around, and Fisher’s ability to develop his inexperienced QBs and find the right man for the job will likely be the biggest differentiator between a fourth straight ACC title for Florida State or making that 29-game winning streak a distant memory.

2. Deshaun Watson

Role: Quarterback, Clemson

Intrigue: There are no more questions about how good Watson will be, how well he’ll acclimate himself to the college game or what could be in store for the Tigers once he gets on the field. As a freshman in 2014, he provided resounding answers to those concerns. Now, it’s a matter of whether the future star can simply stay on the field. He suffered three different injuries that cost him time last year, and he’s now rehabbing an ACL tear this offseason. Add to the intrigue, Watson said goodbye to coordinator Chad Morris -- the man who recruited him to Clemson -- after Morris took the head coaching job at SMU.

Possible impact: Last year was a rebuilding season on offense for Clemson, but the Tigers identified a host of young talent, including Artavis Scott, Wayne Gallman and Mike Williams. But Watson was the key ingredient, and when he was on the field, the Tigers were difficult to slow down. The ACL injury ended his season before the bowl game, but he’ll also have nine months to rehab before the 2015 season begins. If he’s at 100 percent or close to it, Clemson could easily have the most dangerous offense in the ACC.

3. Al Golden

Role: Head coach, Miami

Intrigue: It’s been four years at Miami for Golden, and patience is wearing thin among the fan base. The front-level talent on the roster has been solid, but depth and consistency have been hard to come by. Last year’s team fell apart down the stretch, and the Canes are now just 8-11 since starting the 2013 season with seven straight wins. It may well be now or never for Golden to get Miami back into the national conversation.

Possible impact: With Brad Kaaya, Joseph Yearby and a host of talented young offensive players, Miami has weapons. But there’s also a ton of talent walking out the door from last year’s squad that finished 6-7. If all the chips fall into place, Miami has a shot to win its first ACC Coastal title and take the heat off its head coach, but it certainly seems like the Canes might have been better positioned to do that in each of the past two seasons and couldn’t finish the job.

4. Gene Chizik

Role: Defensive coordinator, North Carolina

Intrigue: Just five years removed from coaching a national champion at Auburn, Chizik takes over the ACC’s worst defense with a huge job ahead of him. Last year, North Carolina allowed at least 30 points in nine games and finished last in the ACC in both rushing and pass defense. Chizik has coached up his share of exceptional defenses, however, and if anyone is capable of reshaping what’s been a dismal unit for the Heels, it’s him.

Possible impact: Chizik will completely revamp the scheme, and the spring will be about identifying which players are best equipped for his new defense. If the scheme takes root quickly, UNC has a strong offense and more returning starters than any team in the ACC. It seems like every year, the Heels get some preseason love as a possible Coastal favorite, only to disappoint. But with Chizik in the fold, this could potentially be the year UNC finally pulls it all together.

5. Brent Venables

Role: Defensive coordinator, Clemson

Intrigue: Venables took over Clemson’s D in 2012 and the unit improved every year, culminating with a No. 1 ranking nationally in total defense in 2014. But now the foundation of that rebuilding project are moving on, and Venables will be looking for replacements for departing stars like Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Stephone Anthony.

Possible impact: Venables knew this day would come, of course, and he’s made a habit of getting his backups plenty of snaps. Shaq Lawson, D.J. Reader, Carlos Watkins and others have seen plenty of action, and the secondary already promises to be sensational. If Venables can manage the transition, Clemson has an exceptional chance to be the best team in the ACC in 2015.

ACC morning links

February, 27, 2015
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Athlon put together a list of 20 running backs on the rise for 2015, and it’s an ACC-heavy club.

The top 20 includes FSU’s Dalvin Cook, Clemson’s Wayne Gallman, BC’s Jon Hilliman, Virginia’s Taquan Mizzell and Miami’s Joseph Yearby. Georgia Tech’s C.J. Leggett also cracks the “others to watch” list. So that’s six running backs from the conference’s 14 teams, but it’s possible the list could’ve been even longer.

NC State’s combo of Shad Thornton and Matt Dayes was exceptionally good last season. Had their combined stats belonged to just one runner, their 23 touchdowns and 1,934 scrimmage yards would’ve ranked second in the ACC.

North Carolina’s T.J. Logan has been a reflection of his team the past two years -- slow starts followed by strong finishes, but he topped 92 yards in three of his final four games last year, and from Nov. 1 on, 43 percent of his rushes gained at least 5 yards.

Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff had to share the backfield with a trio of other productive runners throughout last season, but he still ran for 12 scores (third in the ACC) and had 22 carries of 10 yards or more, trailing only James Conner of Pittsburgh and Cook among returning ACC runners.

Duke’s Shaun Wilson will likely still share plenty of snaps with Shaq Powell, but no Power 5 back in the nation with at least 75 carries had a higher yards per carry average than the freshman last year.

At Virginia Tech, J.C. Coleman will be No. 1 on the depth chart after a strong finish to the season, but Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams both showed flashes of brilliance as true freshmen last year behind a lackluster offensive line.

And since this was an “on the rise” list, it didn’t even include the ACC’s player of the year in Conner.

In other words, the ACC should have a really strong corps of runners next season, and it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question for the league to end up with a half-dozen 1,000-yard backs or more.

A few more links:

ACC's most intriguing Nos. 6-10

February, 26, 2015
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We’re still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC that are already big stories. With that in mind, we’re counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason — from players to coaches to administrators — and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. First up, numbers 6 through 10.

6. Dalvin Cook

Role: Running back, Florida State

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesDespite spending half the season as a backup, Dalvin Cook finished his true freshman season with 1,008 yards.
Intrigue: There’s no doubting Cook’s talent. Despite playing a supporting role through half the season, he topped 1,000 rushing yards as a true freshman and came up with one big play after another in close games when the Seminoles needed him most. But the final impression of Cook for the 2014 season was an ugly one. He played well in the Rose Bowl, but he fumbled twice in the second half -- both on plays that would’ve been first downs -- and that led to FSU’s undoing. Now he returns hoping to erase those bad memories, and he’ll have to do it as the Noles’ offensive leader now that Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene and four-fifths of the offensive line have moved on.

Possible impact: There’s a long history across the sports landscape of memorably bad plays undermining an entire career, but Cook is too young, too tough and too talented to allow that to happen. The bigger question is whether Cook can find as much running room behind a revamped line without the downfield threat of Winston at quarterback. Defenses will be focused on Cook early in the year, but he’ll still need to find some running lanes while a new quarterback gets comfortable.

7. Frank Beamer

Role: Head coach, Virginia Tech

Intrigue: Beamer is an institution in Blacksburg, but after a third straight disappointing season, there’s a hefty contingent of the fan base wondering if it’s time to make a change. AD Whit Babcock has certainly considered a similar possibility, issuing a joint statement with Beamer after the season promising improvement. Beamer has plenty of young talent to work with, the pressure is on like never before to maximize their talents.

Possible impact: Virginia Tech only lost one game by more than a touchdown last year in spite of all the youth on offense, and that has to be a cause for optimism for the Hokies. If Cam Phillips and Isaiah Ford continue to grow, Michael Brewer takes a step forward, the running game comes together -- if all those things can happen, Virginia Tech has a chance to win the ACC. It’s a lot of “ifs” though, which means there’s a ton riding on Beamer’s ability to bring the team together this offseason.

8. Brad Kaaya

Role: Quarterback, Miami

Intrigue: Kaaya was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman, and he acclimated himself nicely. He led the ACC in yards-per-attempt and passer rating, and he’s certainly aimed at improving in 2015. But while last year was a learning season for him, this year, Kaaya is the focal point of Miami’s offense. Duke Johnson, Clive Walford and Phillip Dorsett are all gone, which means Kaaya will go from student to mentor on offense, despite this being his first spring practice as a college quarterback.

Possible impact: Kaaya’s skill set is tremendous, and he could be the ACC’s best pocket passer in 2015. But he’s got to pick up a lot of slack with so much talent departing around him. He’s already shown a willingness to take on a leadership role, and he’s spoken out about some of the problems Miami faced in the locker room last year. And as much as Miami needs a quarterback to star on the field, it may need some locker room stability even more.

9. Pat Narduzzi

Role: Head coach, Pitt

Intrigue: Narduzzi had been rumored for head-coaching jobs for years after building Michigan State’s defense into a juggernaut, and Pitt looks to have hit a home run by nabbing him after Paul Chryst bolted for Wisconsin. Narduzzi inherits plenty of talent on offense, but Pitt’s problems were on D, and all eyes will be on that side of the ball as he looks to build another winner.

Possible impact: Last year, Pitt scored at least 28 points in each of its final six games, and it still lost four of them. For perspective, only four other Power 5 teams lost more such games all season. In other words, the D is a huge concern for the Panthers, and Narduzzi has his work cut out for him. It needs to start with the pass rush. Pitt finished 105th nationally in sacks last season, while Narduzzi’s Michigan State team finished eighth.

10. Bobby Petrino

Role: Head coach, Louisville

Intrigue: Year 1 of Petrino’s return went relatively well, but the task gets tougher now. He’s got a trio of QBs who could start, but none that’s a definitive call. His defense was dominant last year, but he’s lost a number of Charlie Strong’s holdovers. Gone is superstar receiver DeVante Parker. In are a host of transfers that Petrino has been willing to gamble on after they slipped up in other locations. And through it all, there are still plenty of people simply waiting to see Petrino fail.

Possible impact: Last year, Petrino took over a team that had lost just three games in the past two years and had ample talent on the roster. He succeeded with that talent. This year, things are different. This isn’t Strong’s team anymore. It’s Petrino’s, and he has a long history of winning, too. Still, he’s gambled on transfers -- and it’s a bet that could pay off big or it could blow up in his face if those players -- Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaq Wiggins, Devonte Fields and others -- haven’t learned from past mistakes.
If you're perusing the nonconference schedules for ACC teams in 2015, you've no doubt noticed that Boston College isn't exactly wowing its fan base by signing up for two games against FCS foes. But before you go and point fingers at the Eagles for stacking the decks for two easy wins, BC Interruption goes through the agonizing details of the long, unpleasant journey that led to this slate of games.

Long story short, the ACC's flip-flop on a nine-game schedule two years ago and the ongoing conference reshuffling elsewhere were the biggest dominoes to fall, but when you get into the nitty gritty of it, the saga really underscores just how difficult scheduling has become.

In 2012, Florida State faced a similar problem. West Virginia bailed on a nonconference agreement, and in its place, the Seminoles could do no better than Savannah State -- a game so lopsided, they didn't even finish playing it.

Clemson and Georgia Tech both had multiple FCS foes on their schedules in 2013, and even those late-season rivalries against the SEC probably weren't enough to make matchups against Elon or South Carolina State seem worthwhile. But that's the breaks when the conference changes scheduling tactics at the last minute.

Scheduling has become a brutal business. Teams don't see conference foes often enough in the ACC, SEC and Big Ten. No one wants to lose the revenue of a seventh home game, so slating home-and-homes against anyone becomes tricky. Lower-tier FBS schools know their services as punching bags are in high demand, so they want big bucks in return. Contracts for future games aren't worth much more than the paper they're printed on.

Which brings us to the biggest problem: Scheduling matters a lot in this new playoff era. In fact, scheduling was probably the No. 1 topic of discussion as we all debated who was in and who should be left out. But was it Florida State's fault that Oklahoma State wasn't very good? Should Baylor have been made to suffer for keeping scheduling agreements that were signed long before there was such a thing as a playoff committee? How many people were giving extra credit to Ohio State for losing to Virginia Tech rather than thumping four punching bags like Mississippi State did?

One way around the problems may be to ink more nonconference conference games, as UNC and Wake Forest did, and as the Post & Courier suggests Clemson and South Carolina should also do. But if we're getting to that point, why not just move to that nine-game conference slate that was such a source of frustration two years ago?

What's more realistic in the short term is that the committee -- which includes its share of ADs who should be familiar with these issues -- needs to seriously re-evaluate how much scheduling factors into its rankings.

A few more links:

ACC morning links

February, 25, 2015
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Miami going 6-7 with all of its talent was not only head-scratching to its fans and those who follow the team regularly, it was head scratching to scouts in Indianapolis at the combine last week.

Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com was there to get a gauge on what exactly went wrong. He spoke to Miami players at the combine, and none of them pointed the finger at coach Al Golden. Still, one unnamed scout echoed the thoughts of many when he told Feldman:
"They had more front-line talent than half the teams in the SEC. They didn't have as much talent as Florida State, but they were still pretty loaded. How does that team not win at least nine games in that league?"

Various theories have been floated. After investing everything they had in the game against Florida State -- only to come up short in the fourth quarter -- Miami never recovered and lost its final four games. Golden admitted he needed to do a better job of getting his team to refocus after such a tough loss. But last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya also implied there were schisms in the Miami locker room that contributed to the disappointing season.

What is interesting in the comments made to Feldman from the former Miami players is they all use the same excuse various players have used for years: That players often are not in position to make plays for one reason or another. Former receiver Phillip Dorsett said, "We'd go watch film the next day and there'd be certain guys out of place, and if the guy was in place, that play would've been made. Stuff like that."

Needless to say, Miami remains one of the most interesting teams to watch in the ACC this spring and into the fall.

Elsewhere around the ACC:

The 2015 ACC Oscars

February, 23, 2015
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Congratulations to “Birdman” and all of the winners from Sunday night’s Oscars, and thank you for the intriguing undercard leading up to this afternoon. That is when we release the highly anticipated ACC Oscars, which pays homage to the greatest films and on-field thespians from the 2014 football season.

So as not to overlap with the end-of-the-season ACC awards, these ACC Oscars categories are, for the most part, based on single-game performances. So, while Pittsburgh’s James Conner played the lead role in the league from August to November, it doesn’t guarantee he will go home with any hardware Monday.

Without further ado, let’s open the envelopes.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston saved his best game of the season for the ACC title game, throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
Actor: Florida State QB Jameis Winston vs. Georgia Tech
Coming off one of his worst performances of his career, there was talk of whether Winston would be able to lift the Seminoles past 10-2 Georgia Tech in the ACC title game and into the inaugural College Football Playoff. The week prior, Winston tossed four interceptions against Florida and had an 87.92 rating. He had arguably his best game of the season against the Yellow Jackets, though, in a bounce-back performance. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns in a two-point win. Every toss was on target, and the Seminoles had the right momentum heading into the playoff.

Supporting actor: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman vs. Boston College
Holliman wasn’t a nationally known name among college football fans, which puts him in the supporting actor category. As far as defensive backs, however, Holliman did not play second fiddle to anyone in the ACC. He showed why against the Eagles. He picked off Tyler Murphy on the first play of the game, and he hauled in two more errant Murphy throws in the fourth quarter as the Eagles tried a comeback.

Director: Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables vs. Oklahoma
If there were still any doubters about the Clemson defense before the bowl game, Venables converted them against Oklahoma. The Tigers’ defense was pitching a shutout until late in the fourth quarter, and the unit kept Oklahoma to just 275 yards of total offense in a 40-6 blowout. That performance sparked the Tigers to the No. 1 total defense unit in 2014, and it really was not all that close.

Best picture: The fourth-down play(s) in Notre Dame at Florida State
It looked as if the Seminoles’ playoff hopes were dashed in the final seconds against the Fighting Irish. On a play similar to one the Irish ran in the first half, Everett Golson threw a go-ahead touchdown on fourth down from the FSU 3-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. However, the rare offensive pass interference was called, a decision Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly berated for the next week. Now backed up to the 18-yard line, Golson threw for the end zone but was intercepted. The Irish had a chance to win the game late because earlier on the drive on a fourth-and-18 play, Golson scrambled and found an open receiver, who had to work for the final few yards to get the first down.

Costume design: North Carolina.
I’m a fan of the Carolina blue, so any uniform combination that incorporates that blue hue is going to rule this category. Whether it’s the more traditional UNC uniform or some of the newer looks with the black, the Carolina colors and wardrobe is usually spot on.

[+] EnlargeDeVante Parker
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsDeVante Parker amassed 43 catches and 855 receiving yards in just six games.
Short film: Louisville WR DeVante Parker
After suffering a broken left foot during the preseason, Parker did not haul in his first reception of the season until Oct. 18. He finished that game with nine catches for 132 yards. It turned out that it was one of his worst games of the season as his 14.67 yards per catch average was the lowest of the season. He tallied more than 100 receiving yards five times and caught at least eight passes four times. Against Florida State, he broke the 200-yard mark. In six games, Parker finished with 43 catches for 855 yards and five scores.

Original screenplay: The 2014 Florida State season
This past season for the Seminoles can definitely be considered original. There were not too many seasons like it before and there likely won’t be too many more. It began with the reigning national champions returning some of their most important pieces for a second title run. Shortly after spring practice ended, though, Winston was cited for shoplifting seafood from a grocery store. In the summer, receiver Jesus Wilson was charged with stealing a scooter. Then the season began and the Seminoles had close call after close call. In between was Winston screaming an obscene phrase and being suspended against Clemson, questions whether Winston received money for autographs, the Winston Title IX investigation into an alleged sexual assault and running back Karlos Williams being investigated for a domestic incident. The wins kept piling up, and so did the critics -- about FSU’s play and its handling of off-field issues. The Seminoles still finished undefeated and made the inaugural playoff, but they were blown out in the Rose Bowl.

Visual effects: NC State QB Jacoby Brissett's scrambling touchdown pass vs. Florida State
Looking to expand on their lead over No. 1 FSU at the end of the first quarter, Brissett took a third-down snap and was immediately pressured on a blitz. He spun out of a sack in the pocket and was flushed right. He then gave a stiff arm to a defensive lineman that caused his helmet to pop off, and just as Brissett was about to step out of bounds he fluttered a pass across his body for an 8-yard touchdown to give the Wolfpack a 24-7 lead.

video
Sound editing: FSU coach Jimbo Fisher after defeating rival Florida 24-19 to finish the regular season undefeated.
Criticized for close wins all season long and sitting behind two one-loss teams in the College Football Playoff rankings, Fisher reminded the selection committee and fans that, ultimately, the goal of football is to win. In his on-field, postgame interview, Fisher said “The object of the game is to win. It’s not figure skating.”

ACC morning links

February, 23, 2015
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Over the last five NFL drafts, the ACC has the second-most picks (169), second only to the SEC. Based on the showings of several players from the ACC at the NFL combine over the weekend, the conference has a chance at a half-dozen first-round picks in 2015, if not more.

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was the most anticipated combine participant from the ACC since, well, last year. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner opened his news conference with reporters admitting he made mistakes at FSU, but he reportedly impressed several teams during his interviews -- with both his answers to questions about his past and his football intellect in whiteboard sessions. It's hardly a surprise Winston excelled, as he has lost a public speaking engagement about as often as he lost games.

Winston was spectacular as a passer Insider and left no doubt his skill set translates well to the NFL.

While Winston stole the headlines, there were several other former ACC stars who improved their draft stocks as well. Former Clemson defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley was the big winner Sunday, putting together one of the best performances for a linebacker. There has been talk that Beasley is a fringe NFL defensive end and fringe NFL linebacker. Beasley added weight and measured at 246 pounds, but he did it while keeping his athleticism and speed. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds 35 times, which were tops among both defensive linemen and linebackers. According to Clemson's athletic department, no linebacker has done that since NFL.com began listing combine results in 2006.

Former Virginia defensive end Eli Harold, like Beasley, is looked at as a hybrid, too. He posted a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash. Mario Edwards Jr., formerly of Florida State, showed he could also play two positions: defensive end and defensive tackle.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pound DeVante Parker, formerly of Louisville, made a case to be the top receiver taken with a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash.

Once again, Apr. 30 could be a solid showing for the ACC.

Here are a few more links for your Monday.

ACC morning links

February, 19, 2015
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Mel Kiper Jr. released his latest Big Board on Wednesday, Insider and while Florida State's Jameis Winston saw his status at the No. 1 spot eclipsed by USC's Leonard Williams, the board sure does reflect well on the available talent from ACC schools this year.

The ACC leads all leagues with seven players on the board, one more than the Pac-12. The SEC and the Big Ten each have five players listed, while the Big 12 has just two.

Winston is still the No. 1 quarterback listed, coming in at No. 2 overall. It's worth remembering that Kiper's board consists of just 25 players, and that the rankings are based purely on the players' evaluations, and do no reflect the teams drafting in those spots (or their needs).

Joining Winston in the top-10 is Louisville receiver DeVante Parker. Winston has just one teammate on the board in defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, but FSU's two players do tie Miami for the most among ACC schools. (And neither of those Hurricanes players is named Duke Johnson.)

Three other schools placed two players apiece on the board as well: Alabama, Oregon and Washington.

The ACC actually shares the record for most first-round selections in a single draft, landing 12 players in 2006. (The SEC also had a dozen players selected in Round 1 in 2013.) And while matching that will be a tall order come this May, the league does appear to be putting on a favorable showing so far in what is just the start of pre-draft evaluations and all of the craziness that comes with them.

Here are the rest of your Thursday links:

ACC morning links

February, 17, 2015
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The NFL combine officially begins Tuesday, with over 300 NFL hopefuls set to be poked, prodded, questioned, timed and tested.

As has been the case in recent years, more prospects are invited than will get drafted, but everybody has a shot at either helping -- or potentially hurting -- themselves. This year, the ACC has 57 players represented -- including 12 from Florida State and 11 from Louisville. Those numbers do not come as much of a surprise.

This one does: Duke, which has had four players drafted since 2000, has four players at the combine -- Anthony Boone, Jamison Crowder, Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield. Crowder turned heads at the Senior Bowl, and he discussed his NFL potential in an insightful diary entry he wrote for USA Today.

Meanwhile, Mike Huguenin of NFL.com lists DeVante Parker and Phillip Dorsett as receivers to watch during the combine. Dorsett, who has the potential to clock the fastest 40 time at the combine, has risen up draft boards along with teammates Denzel Perryman and Ereck Flowers. In all, eight Miami players will be at the combine -- proof the talent is still there in Coral Gables.

One more player to watch is Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, rated the No. 2 cornerback available by ESPN's Kevin Weidl, ahead of P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Weidl says Johnson, "has the most natural man coverage skills in this year's class."

But of course, the biggest story headed into Indianapolis is Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who has become the popular name atop mock drafts across various publications. Mike Mayock of NFL Network says he expects Winston to go first overall to Tampa Bay despite off-the-field concerns. Of course, we are only at the beginning of the draft process, and small things end up getting blown out of proportion. Winston will be scrutinized until draft day and beyond.

As if anybody needed proof, check what happened this past weekend. Winston became the subject of Twitter speculation when a photo of him was posted that made him look overweight. Turns out that the photo was a month old and showed Winston with a black band tied tightly across his waist. No matter what he looks like, his quarterback coach, George Whitfield, said Winston has not yet decided whether to throw at the combine.

Stay tuned.

Elsewhere across the ACC:

ACC morning links

February, 16, 2015
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A pair of ACC staffs underwent a reshuffling this weekend, as Boston College and Virginia divvied up duties with spring practices approaching.

BC promoted Todd Fitch to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and hired Brian White to replace Fitch as its receivers coach. White spent the last six years at Florida, most recently coaching running backs.

UVa, meanwhile, announced that associate head coach for defense/defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta will coach safeties, while Mike Archer will move from safeties to linebackers and be promoted to associate head coach. Volunteer assistant Brian Wetzel was named a graduate assistant as well.

“In making my evaluations of the program since the end of last season and discussing this with the coaching staff, we all felt these moves would benefit our defense, particularly with the makeup of the returning players,” Cavaliers coach Mike London said in a release. “It also benefits our program by placing Jon and Mike with position groups they have spent the majority of their careers coaching.”

The Hoos had previously hired Chris Beatty (running backs) and Dave Borbely (offensive line). Larry Lewis moved from running backs to tight ends and will continue coordinating special teams.

At BC, Fitch succeeds Ryan Day, who left for the Philadelphia Eagles. White, a Massachusetts native, had coached with Steve Addazio and Justin Frye for two years with the Gators.

"I am very excited to promote Todd as our quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator," Addazio said in a release. "Trust and continuity are two very important factors that went into my decision. It is my belief that our program needs to continue to grow and develop within the same system, continue to improve the areas of strength and to attack the areas that need improvement. I have always had great involvement in the offense and will continue to do so. Therefore, it is extremely important for me to be on the same page as the rest of the offensive coaches. With Todd's leadership and tremendous experience as an offensive coordinator in three different coaching stops, I am confident that he will help us continue to develop and bring us to new heights."

Here are the rest of your Monday links:
The ACC bucked the odds this offseason, with just one program changing head coaches -- and that one came because Paul Chryst landed a better gig at Wisconsin. In other words, none of the league's 14 coaches were axed, which is really an accomplishment.

Football Scoop looks at the tenure of each FBS head coach, and it’s noteworthy that 15 of the 128 schools have hired new coaches in the last three months, and 82 of them have hired a new head coach in the last three years. Just 36 coaches in the country will be entering Year 6 at the same school in 2015, and six of them are in the ACC.

Here’s the conference breakdown on FBS coaches who have survived beyond five years:

ACC: 6
SEC: 6
Big 12: 6
Conference USA: 5
Big 10: 3
Independent: 3
American: 2
Sun Belt: 2
Pac 12: 1
MAC: 1
Mountain West: 1

(*Coaches whose teams have switched leagues since being hired are listed in their current conference)

The Roanoke Times puts the tenure of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer in graph form, and it’s pretty jarring.

Beamer was hired to coach the Hokies in 1986. The next longest-tenured coaches were hired 12 years later. Twelve! And he’s one of just three coaches that were hired in the 20th century.

Of course, Beamer’s job security is a growing concern in Blacksburg, but he’s not the only ACC coach with pressure building.

The Times’ graph reveals something pretty interesting: Current coaching tenures peak at three years, with a relatively stark drop-off after that and a huge drop-off after Year 5.

It used to be that five-year plans were the norm for coaches. It gave them a year to take stock of a program and four years to get recruits through the ringer. But these days, three years is more of the status quo, with the pressure being ratcheted up big time in Year 4. Year 5 is essentially do-or-die.

And that brings us to our ACC hot seats.

Chryst would’ve been entering his fourth season, and while he brought some talent into Pitt, he didn’t exactly reinvigorate the program. He may have been wise to get while the getting was good.

Larry Fedora is in Year 4 at North Carolina, and his tenure has been a mixed bag. He’s gotten the Heels off to a brutal start in each of the last two years, and his 2014 defense was abysmal. He brought in Gene Chizik to fix those problems this year, but another 6-6 regular season for UNC — even with the NCAA investigation ongoing — could be a big problem.

At Miami, Al Golden is in Year 5, and he’s trending in the wrong direction. Yes, Miami has weathered the NCAA storm, but after a 20-11 start to his career, Miami is just 8-11 in its last 19 games, and fans are growing frustrated.

In other words, patience is thinner than it’s ever been in college football, and while the ACC has largely bucked that trend with Beamer, Dabo Swinney, Paul Johnson, Mike London, Jimbo Fisher and David Cutcliffe — all on the job more than five years now — no one is immune to the changing landscape.

A few more links:
  • Football Scoop also has a story on coaches looking to do away with signing day altogether, with Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson helping to lead the charge.
  • Bleacher Report has a story on the emergence of “free agency” in college football, with former FSU QB Jacob Coker highlighted. ESPN’s Andrea Adelson looked at a few transfers poised to make an impact in the ACC this coming season.
  • Former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is Mel Kiper’s No. 1 overall pick in his latest mock draft, with seven other ACC players going in the first round — including three from Miami.
  • Rick Trickett has his work cut out for him in rebuilding Florida State’s O line this year, but the Tallahassee Democrat writes that he’s already built the relationships to make it happen.
  • David Cutcliffe is searching for playmakers on both sides of the line of scrimmage, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Matt Colburn calls his chance to play at Wake Forest “a blessing” after being spurned by Louisville, writes The State.
  • Boston College is stealing a bit from our favorite sports doc series for its online recruiting, writes BC Interruption.
  • Syracuse.com discusses whether it’s smart to install Terrel Hunt, once again, as the Orange’s starting quarterback. As we noted in our quarterback column this week though, it’s not as though any of his back ups offered much reason for change in 2014.
  • Georgia Tech got its first commitment for 2016, as From the Rumble Seat notes.
  • Former Maryland head coach and ACC coach of the year, Ralph Friedgen, has stepped down as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator, writes USA Today.

 
It obviously takes talented players to put together a 29-game winning streak.

How talented? Florida State could be in rarefied air once the draft is completed in early May. With a nation-leading five early entrants in the draft, Florida State is on course to have at least 11 players selected.

If that happens, Florida State will have 29 players drafted over the last three years, more than any other team since the draft was cut down to seven rounds in 1994. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last school that had at least 29 players drafted over a three-year period was Texas, with 31 taken from 1982-84.

Only two programs have had 28 players taken since 2002: Miami (2002-04) and USC (2008-10).

Those Miami teams are widely regarded as among the best all-time at producing NFL talent. Of those 28 drafted, 15 went in the first round. Florida State will not come close to that first-round number, having had four first-round picks in 2013 and 2014 with a handful projected for 2015.

But there is an interesting debate to be had between this recent Florida State stretch that produced a national championship, 29 straight wins and potentially more overall picks, and the Miami stretch that produced a national championship, 34 straight wins and more first-round picks.

Is the 2001 Miami championship team head-and-shoulders above the 2013 Florida State championship team? That question is worth discussion.

What is not up for debate is where this Florida State group stands compared to its other talented teams. This three-year stretch blows any other in school history away. Until now, its most drafted three-year group was 22 from 1993-95.

It goes without saying that coach Jimbo Fisher has done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail. Not only is he signing top-flight classes, he is taken the highly skilled players in those groups and developing them into professional talents at rapid-fire rates. Fisher can boast that better than just about anyone.

Here is a look at the recent three-year stretches Florida State, Miami and USC have put together in the NFL draft:

MIAMI, 2002-04

2002 draftees: 11
First round: Five -- Bryant McKinnie, Jeremy Shockey, Phillip Buchanon, Ed Reed, Mike Rumph

2003 draftees: Eight
First round: Four -- Andre Johnson, Jerome McDougle, Willis McGahee, William Joseph

2004 draftees: Nine
First round: Six -- Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, Vernon Carey, Vince Wilfork

USC, 2008-10

2008 draftees: 10
First round: Four -- Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, Sam Baker, Lawrence Jackson

2009 draftees: 11
First round: Three -- Mark Sanchez, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews

2010 draftees: Seven
First round: None

FLORIDA STATE, 2013-15

2013 draftees: 11
First round: Three -- EJ Manuel, Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes

2014 draftees: Seven
First round: One -- Kelvin Benjamin.

2015 draftees: TBD
Most likely to be drafted: Jameis Winston, Eddie Goldman, P.J. Williams, Mario Edwards Jr., Ronald Darby, Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Karlos Williams, Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Tre' Jackson
The end of our countdown has finally arrived. Here are the ACC's top five players of the 2014 season.

To see the full list, click here.

1. James Conner, Pittsburgh
Position: Running back
Year: Sophomore
Tough to go with anybody else at No. 1 after watching Conner bulldoze the competition en route to ACC Offensive Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year honors. And, well, it is not every day that Tony Dorsett's long-standing school records are shattered. Conner led the league in rushing yards (1,765), rushing touchdowns (26), rushing yards per game (135.8) and scoring (156 points). His touchdown and scoring totals broke the Pitt single-season records Dorsett set in 1976. Conner had three 200-yard games and seven 100-yard games, often taking multiple defenders on his back along for a ride. He was downright dominant, and in a year of powerful backs, he deserves the No. 1 spot.

2. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Position: Quarterback
Year: Redshirt sophomore
If there is one player on this list you would take with the game on the line, it would be Winston. But this list is an evaluation of the top performances week in and week out, and Winston was simply not consistent enough to merit the top spot this year. He made too many mistakes, whether he was trying too hard with an inexperienced receiving corps or just making the wrong decisions. But those mistakes do not diminish the fact that Winston remains one of the best (and most dangerous) players in the nation. Winston ended the season with an ACC-leading 3,907 yards passing, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, all down from a year ago. But he did lead Florida State to a third straight ACC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

3. Vic Beasley, Clemson
Position: Defensive end
Year: Senior
Beasley returned to school for his senior season and was even better -- despite facing more double- and triple-teams than at any point in his career. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a finalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi awards after racking up a team-high 21.5 tackles for loss, a team-high 12 sacks, nine quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Nobody in the ACC was better off the edge than Beasley, and he was a nightmare for many teams to block.

4. Duke Johnson, Miami
Position: Running back
Year: Junior
Johnson had the best season of his career because he was able to stay healthy and play all 13 games, finishing second behind Conner in the ACC in rushing with 1,652 yards. But Johnson led the league in all-purpose yards with 2,073, emerging as a much bigger pass-catching threat out of the backfield. When the season ended, he stood above all the other Miami greats on the career rushing and all-purpose yards lists. But maybe most impressive of all, he averaged 7.4 yards every time he touched the ball.

5. Gerod Holliman, Louisville
Position: Safety
Year: Redshirt sophomore
There were plenty of questions about the Louisville secondary heading into the season, following the loss of Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor, two of the best players on the 2013 defense. But Holliman stepped right into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme, using his athleticism to make plays all over the field. When it was over, Holliman had tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football.
The top three teams in the ACC in 2014 in yards per rush were Georgia Tech (6.06 yards/carry), Pitt (5.32) and Miami (5.26), and given that those three teams had Synjyn Days, James Conner and Duke Johnson, that's no surprise.

But here's an interesting side note to that information: None of those three teams had firmly established passing attacks, but they also just so happened to account for three of the top four spots in yards per pass attempt. Tech led the way (9.27), followed by Miami (8.31), FSU (8.23) and Pitt (7.85).

The explanation is pretty simple. Defenses load up to stop the run, and that leaves man coverage downfield for big-play opportunities. The end result of a strong running game tends to be a lot more chances to connect on the deep ball.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesNC State averaged just 3.5 yards after the catch this year, which ranked ninth among ACC teams. That stat doesn't help out QB Jacoby Brissett's numbers.
Then there's the team that finished fourth in yards/carry: NC State.

First off, it might be a bit of a surprise that the Wolfpack were so successful on the ground. Their offense was rarely heralded as a top rushing attack, but they averaged 5.23 yards per carry and had the league's best third-down conversion rate on the ground. If we take sacks out of the equation (something the NCAA should be doing anyway), NC State actually averaged nearly 6 yards per rush in 2015, trailing only Georgia Tech among ACC teams.

It stands to reason then that with that strong ground game, the Wolfpack were also a huge big play threat through the air, too, right? Not exactly.

NC State ranked eighth in yards per attempt (6.96), seventh in yards per completion (11.8) and eighth in percentage of completions gaining 10 yards or more. If we apply sacks to the passing game, the Wolfpack finished ninth in the ACC in yards per pass play.

So, why the disparity for NC State, particularly given the overall solid play of QB Jacoby Brissett? And given that the Wolfpack lost two of its top receivers -- Bo Hines and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to transfers, might things get worse in 2015?

The first explanation is that Brissett just isn't much of a downfield thrower, and the numbers do bear this out. Here are his completions percentages by distance, courtesy ESPN Stats & Information:

Behind the line: 88.5 percent
0-5 yards: 61.5 percent
6-14 yards: 59.1 percent
15+ yards: 37.7 percent

Worse yet, in conference play that completion rate on deep balls dropped to just 28 percent, with a woeful 7.9 yards per pass rate on throws of 15-plus yards.

But it's tough to put all that blame on Brissett. He was working with an inexperienced group of receivers, and that certainly didn't help matters. According to ESPN Stats & Info, NC State had seven drops on deep balls, the most in the ACC and the fourth-most of any Power 5 program. Three of those came from Valdes-Scantling alone. If we counted those drops as catches, Brissett's completion rate on deep throws actually jumps to a far more respectable 45.4 percent, which would've ranked fourth in the ACC.

Moreover, even on completed passes, Brissett's receivers didn't do a lot to help him out. NC State averaged just 3.5 yards after the catch this year, which ranked ninth among ACC teams.

Again, losing Valdes-Scantling doesn't seem like a major setback. While he was among Brissett's most used deep targets, he struggled overall, catching just 40.7 percent of his passes, averaging just 4.8 yards per reception and adding just 1.9 yards after catch per reception. Bryan Underwood, who also departs, was the only regularly employed receiver with worse numbers.

The loss of Hines, on the other hand, is a serious blow. His 71.4 percent completion rate was the best by an NC State wideout in 2014, his 9.8 yards per target led the team, and his 4.9 YAC per reception was also tops among wideouts. (Numbers courtesy ESPN Stats & Info.)

If there was a tradeoff in Brissett's low completion rate on deep balls, however, it's that there was little risk involved in the shots he did take, however, and the rewards tended to be big. Brissett threw 10 touchdown passes on deep balls in 2015, which tied with Jameis Winston for the ACC lead, and he had just one interception on those throws, which was the fewest by any ACC QB with at least 50 attempts. In fact, the only other Power 5 QB in the nation with at least 10 touchdowns and no more than one INT on deep balls was Baylor's Bryce Petty. So that's pretty darned impressive.

Based on that info then, the question might be whether NC State's risk-reward balance is shifted too far in the direction of safety, and whether the offense might actually benefit from Brissett trying to thread the needle on a few more throws downfield.

Regardless, given the attrition at wide receiver, it's unlikely Dave Doeren is going to want to alter that formula too much, but it's probably also worth noting that in the bowl game against UCF, when Brissett was just 15-of-26 passing overall, he was a perfect 3-of-3 for 115 yards and a touchdown on deep balls.

NC State returns the bulk of that successful ground game in 2015, so it stands to reason that the big-play threat in the passing game should remain. With a year of playing time in the Wolfpack's offense under his belt, perhaps Brissett will want to roll the dice a bit more next season, and while the losses at wideout depleted the numbers, the unit as a whole probably had nowhere to go but up anyway.

In other words, NC State's offense remains a work in progress, but 2014 established a foundation and illustrated where there are still some big gains to be made. That should be encouraging for the Wolfpack moving forward.
We’re counting down the ACC’s top players of the 2014 season, with a look today at Nos. 16 through 20.

To see the rest of the list, click here.

16. Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville

Position: Linebacker

Year: Senior

When Todd Grantham switched up Louisville’s defensive scheme in his first season as defensive coordinator, many predicted Mauldin would thrive in his new role as an outside linebacker and pass-rush specialist, and the senior didn’t disappoint. His 6.5 sacks were good for ninth in the ACC, and his 13 tackles for loss ranked seventh as the Cardinals’ defense ranked near the top of the national rankings for the bulk of the season. A nagging hamstring injury slowed Mauldin a bit down the stretch, but before the injury Louisville had allowed the third-fewest touchdowns per drive of any defense in the country.

17. Tyler Boyd, Pitt

Position: Wide receiver

Year: Sophomore

No receiver in the nation was as vital to his team as Boyd, who accounted for 52.2 percent of Pitt’s receiving yards this season. Boyd finished second in the ACC in receiving (1,261 yards), third in catches (78) and second in receiving touchdowns (8), while chipping in with 1,928 all-purpose yards, good for second in the conference. Boyd finished the season with six 100-yard receiving games, including topping the century mark in five of Pitt’s final six.

18. Jalen Ramsey, FSU

Position: Defensive back

Year: Sophomore

One of the most dynamic defensive backs in the country, Ramsey was the linchpin for Florida State’s defense in 2014. Ramsey finished the year with 80 tackles -- ninth in the ACC among defensive backs -- and two interceptions, but it was his versatility and leadership that set him apart. Ramsey was a crucial piece to FSU’s scheme, starring in coverage, where he racked up 12 pass breakups, and supporting against the run, tallying 9.5 tackles for loss. He was the only player in the nation who had at least 12 pass breakups and nine tackles for loss.

19. Cameron Erving, FSU

Position: Offensive line

Year: RS Senior

Erving entered the season as perhaps the most heralded offensive lineman in the ACC, the veteran left tackle on a senior-laden line for Florida State. But while much was expected of the Seminoles' line, the production was missing early in the year as FSU cycled through centers and the ground game failed to coalesce. Midway through the season, however, Erving made the switch from tackle to center, and everything clicked. Dalvin Cook and the running game found their footing, and Erving looked right at home in the middle of the line. For the year, FSU’s line helped cut Jameis Winston’s sack rate nearly in half, and Erving went on to win the ACC’s top blocker award for the second straight season.

20. Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech

Position: Defensive end

Year: RS junior

The Hokies’ defense lost five seniors from its 2013 defensive front, then star tackle Luther Maddy went down just four games into 2014, but the unit remained one of the most effective in the country thanks in large part to the work of Nicolas. His 8.5 sacks ranked third in the ACC and his 18 tackles for loss ranked second, and Nicolas single-handedly took over several games for Virginia Tech when the Hokies needed him most -- including racking up two sacks against both Ohio State and Duke.

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