ACC: Jamison Crowder

ACC viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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Miami silenced Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium fairly early Thursday night. Will we find more drama in the rest of the Week 9 slate?

Noon

North Carolina at Virginia, ESPN3, #UNCvsUVA: Marquise Williams is coming off consecutive career outings. Virginia is looking to get back on the winning track after losing to reigning Coastal division champion Duke last week. Can its defense make another big stand and make life difficult for the red-hot UNC offense? Or have the Heels found their second-half groove after a poor start, much like they did last year?

3:30 p.m.

Boston College at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #BCvsWAKE: John Wolford is good to go for Wake after leaving last week's 30-7 home loss to Syracuse. He'll face a BC team that gave Clemson all it could handle last week before falling just short. Still, the 4-3 Eagles are on the brink of back-to-back bowl games under Steve Addazio in his first two years, and their rushing game (No. 9 nationally) should be a handful for a Demon Deacons defense that has been stout this season.

Georgia Tech at Pitt, ESPNU, #GTvsPITT: Is it panic time in Atlanta? A 5-0 start has been met with consecutive losses, including a 48-43 defeat last week at North Carolina in which the defense simply could not make a stop late. Pitt hopes it turned the corner last Thursday in its win over Virginia Tech, but it needs more diversity on the offensive side of the ball, which has been too reliant on James Conner and Tyler Boyd. Its defense does not have Aaron Donald and his dominant performance last year against the Yellow Jackets, but it has been playing well so far this season, ranking 14th nationally in scoring average (18.6).

7 p.m.

Syracuse at No. 21 Clemson, ESPNU, #CUSEvsCLEM: Scott Shafer and Dabo Swinney have made up after last year's Tigers rout in the Carrier Dome. Both teams are in their second straight week with their current signal-caller, as freshman AJ Long led the Orange past Wake Forest in their first career start and Cole Stoudt returned as Clemson's starter in its win at BC. Will the Orange's offensive line give Long a chance against the Tigers' stout front? This game ends a brutal stretch for the Orange, who faced Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State before Wake last week.

Assessing the ACC's slow starters

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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Last week we looked at some of the best performances at the midpoint of the season, but there are more than a few stars off to slow starts, too. We dug into the struggles of five to try to figure out what has gone wrong.

Stacy Coley (WR, Miami)

The hype: As a true freshman in 2013, Coley averaged 18 yards-per-catch and finished with 1,461 all-purpose yards, fifth-most in the ACC. With a year of experience under his belt, expectations were high.

The reality: In six games, Coley has 11 receptions for 59 yards. He has yet to catch a single pass of 18 yards or more after averaging that last season.

The explanation: Coley suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 that has hindered him all season. He hasn’t been able to match up with physical cornerbacks, and his routes have suffered as a result. The early season injury also kept him from building a rapport with new quarterback Brad Kaaya, and overall Coley has been targeted just 17 times in the passing game.

The fallout: Coley’s numbers are way down, but Miami’s passing game has remained solid. Kaaya has improved each week and become one of the top deep-ball passers in the nation, even without one of his top deep threats. With Coley struggling, however, Phillip Dorsett has stepped up. His 34.4 yards-per-catch average is the best in the nation.

Jamison Crowder (WR, Duke)

The hype: As a junior in 2013, Crowder led the ACC with 108 catches and topped 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He was a fixture of Duke’s passing game, earning the second most targets of any receiver in the nation. His senior season was to be a culmination of an exceptional career, including a good chance Crowder would set the conference record for receiving yards.

The reality: Crowder’s 40 catches are the second-most in the ACC this season, which is good. But he has yet to find the end zone against an FBS foe, and before a solid eight-catch, 99-yard day against Virginia last week, he had managed just 12 receptions for 90 yards in three games vs. Power 5 competition.

The explanation: The preseason injury to tight end Braxton Deaver, Duke’s second-leading receiver in 2013, meant there would be ample focus on Crowder from opposing defenses this season, so he has found a bit less room to maneuver. He has been a bit more prone to drops -- three so far -- but he is also catching just 47.6 percent of his targets, down from 62 percent a year ago.

The fallout: Duke’s passing game has been inconsistent this season, in part because of Crowder’s diminished numbers, but other receivers have stepped up. Max McCaffrey and Issac Blakeney have 50 catches and six touchdowns between them, better numbers than they tallied all of last season. But a more consistent Crowder would certainly be a big asset to quarterback Anthony Boone and the Duke offense, and last week's game could be a sign of what's to come.

Karlos Williams (RB, Florida State)

The hype: Williams was third on FSU’s depth chart last season, but he still rushed for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns. Moving into the starting role in 2014 behind a senior-laden offensive line, he was considered a darkhorse Heisman threat.

The reality: Last season, 23 of Williams’ 82 rushing attempts vs. FBS teams went for 10 yards or more. This season, just 11 of 73 have. He has rushed for nearly 2.5 yards-per-carry less than a year ago, and he already has more negative runs (12) than he did all of last season (8).

The explanation: Part of the Williams hype was conjecture. He posted big numbers in 2013, but he had just 18 carries in the first halves of games, with the bulk of his production coming in the latter half of blowouts. More problematic for Williams this season, however, has been the struggles of his offensive line. In 2013, he averaged 3.7 yards-per-carry before contact. This year, just 2.0.

The fallout: Florida State’s ground game has taken a major step backward from a year ago. In 2013, the Seminoles averaged 6.3 yards-per-carry on non-quarterback runs vs. FBS opponents (fourth-best in the nation). This season, they are getting just 4.4 (80th). As a result, Jimbo Fisher has been far more reliant on his passing game, calling for throws 55 percent of the time on first and second down, while averaging a yard-and-a-half less.

Ryan Switzer (PR, North Carolina)

The hype: As a true freshman, Switzer tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdowns, earning All-America status for the effort.

The reality: After averaging 21 yards-per-return a year ago, Switzer has just 20 punt-return yards total against FBS teams this season. He hasn’t found the end zone, and he has managed double-digit yardage in the return game just once since the opener vs. Liberty.

The explanation: The dangers of Switzer’s immense success in 2013 were obvious this offseason. Teams simply wouldn’t kick to him because they didn’t want to get burned. Still, he had just 24 return attempts last season, the same number he has had through seven games this season. More likely, Switzer is trying to make something out of nothing a bit too often, and the blockers leading the way haven’t been quite as good.

The fallout: Beyond the lack of special-teams touchdowns, there really hasn’t been much of an impact. In fact, last season UNC’s average starting field position after a punt was its own 28. This season, it’s the 29. Moreover, what Switzer has lacked in special-teams flair, he has made up for on offense. Through seven games last season, he caught 16 balls for 121 yards and one touchdown. This season he has 34 receptions for 429 yards and three scores.

Florida State’s defensive backs

The hype: The Seminoles led the nation in pass defense in 2012 and 2013, and under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt last season, they utterly dominated opposing quarterbacks, allowing just 5.1 yards-per-attempt (best in the country) and picking off 26 passes (also tops in the nation). With rising stars like Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams, Nate Andrews and Jalen Ramsey all returning, the stage was set for another big season.

The reality: Through seven games, FSU’s pass defense ranks 61st nationally. The Seminoles are allowing a far more hospitable 6.8 yards-per-attempt, have allowed 11 touchdowns after surrendering just 14 all season in 2013, and have picked off just seven passes.

The explanation: Personnel has something to do with it. The Seminoles clearly miss Terrence Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner's leadership and playmaking ability. The transition from Pruitt to new coordinator Charles Kelly has earned some of the blame from fans, too. But perhaps the biggest culprit is the lack of pressure up front. FSU’s sack rate has dropped from 7.6 percent of dropbacks a year ago to just 4.5 percent this season.

The fallout: Florida State avoided the worst possible consequence last week when an offensive pass interference call kept its undefeated season alive. Beyond that, teams are completing a higher percentage of third-down throws (54.4 percent, up from 46 percent last year) and converting a higher rate for first downs (37 percent, up from 28 percent), keeping drives alive and keeping Jameis Winston and the offense off the field. More impactful, perhaps, is that FSU scored 197 points off turnovers last season. So far this season, it has scored just 45.

Planning for success: Duke

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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It's not a label most quarterbacks enjoy, and for Anthony Boone, the "game manager" tag is one that probably gets tossed about too easily. He did, after all, go toe-to-toe with Johnny Manziel in last year's bowl game, and he's carried the Blue Devils on his back more than once.

Still, after Duke upended Georgia Tech on Saturday, which gave the Blue Devils their first win in Atlanta in 20 years and scrambled the Coastal Division race, coach David Cutcliffe's critique -- a compliment really -- felt spot-on.

"I thought Anthony managed the game very well," Cutcliffe said.

[+] EnlargeDuke's Anthony Boone
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsDuke's Anthony Boone completed 16 of 26 passes for 131 yards, a touchdown and no picks against Georgia Tech. He also rushed 10 times for 49 yards.
Game manager. That's certainly what Boone seemed to do so well against the Yellow Jackets. He completed 16 of 26 passes for 131 yards, a touchdown and no picks. He added 49 more yards rushing, but it was the work of Josh Snead and Joseph Ajeigbe -- plus Boone's backup, Thomas Sirk, who scored twice -- that paved the road to victory on the ground.

Boone was the maestro, ensuring the perfect notes were played for Duke's offense to topple the previously unbeaten Yellow Jackets, but he wasn't asked to do much of the heavy lifting.

Six games into an uneven season, this is the role Cutcliffe would like Boone to play more often.

Boone's had his good games and his struggles, but what Cutcliffe wants his quarterback to understand is, Duke should be able to win without its quarterback playing the part of hero or goat.

"The theme for us when we're at our best, our offensive front is playing pretty consistent," Cutcliffe said. "When that works and Anthony has gotten in his groove, we're a very versatile offensive team. We can be different from week-to-week and play to different strengths."

That versatility will be crucial in this week's matchup against Virginia -- hardly a game many circled on their calendars at the outset of the season, but one that may now help shape the Coastal.

Virginia's defense has been exceptional this season, with a line that's created havoc for many a quarterback and a secondary that features veteran stars and emerging youngsters. In other words, it's not a matchup that begs Boone to play beyond his means.

"We're very aware Virginia is doing a great job," Cutcliffe said. "I think they're outstanding. They've played great defense all year long."

Still, there's a legitimate question about how good Duke's passing game can be. Just 2.8 percent of the Blue Devils' passing attempts against FBS teams have gone for touchdowns -- a number that ranks 59th out of 65 Power 5 teams and a fraction of the success rate they enjoyed at this point a year ago. Duke's adjusted QBR against FBS foes is just 53.5 -- below even Virginia, whose own QB situation has been a roller coaster. Star receiver Jamison Crowder has just 12 catches for 90 yards and no touchdowns in three matchups against Power 5 opponents.

Those numbers could add up to frustration for Boone and the Duke passing game, and could drive the quarterback to want to do more. That's exactly the danger against Virginia, Cutcliffe said.

The key for Boone is to do exactly what he need to do -- and nothing else.

"The biggest thing is what I've said all along, just trying to do too much, thinking too much, trying to go beyond what a player needs to do," Cutcliffe said of his QB. "He's very knowledgeable and takes great pride in being knowledgeable and that's awesome. But he has to remember to play the game. It was obvious to me that he was knotting himself up, and the deeper we got into the start of the season, the worse it was getting. He was getting away with it at times early with us being a good bit better than most of the teams we were playing. But when you're going to play against the people we have the rest of the way, you're going to have to be a better player. That's the bottom line."

In the loss to Miami, Boone threw 51 times -- a career high. He completed just 43 percent of his throws -- his second-worst rate as a starter. When it was over, Duke's place in the Coastal race looked bleak.

Then two weeks later, Duke looked far more prepared, Boone much better refined, and the Blue Devils climbed back into contention with a long-awaited win. There's a lesson there, Cutcliffe said.

Beating Virginia will take a little bit of everything, and not too much from the QB.

"Our guys were playing at a very high level from an effort and energy standpoint [against Georgia Tech]," Cutcliffe said. "Now we've got to build off this and do a great job of getting better at so many little things we need to do better."
If you listed the ideal opponent for Duke to rebound against this week, Georgia Tech would probably be last on the list.

The Blue Devils have lost 10 straight to the Jackets – their longest active losing streak in the Coastal Division. The last time they won in Atlanta was 20 years ago. Beyond that, they do not seem to have the edge in the one matchup they need to have in their favor: They rank last in the ACC in run defense.

Not to mention, the offense looked out of sorts in a loss to Miami two weeks ago, with uncharacteristic mental breakdowns plaguing it throughout the game. Duke has had an extra week to prepare for Georgia Tech, but who knows whether that will help.

[+] EnlargeJamison Crowder
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesJamison Crowder says the Blue Devils were humbled in their loss at Miami.
In the six meetings against Paul Johnson, Duke has held the Jackets to under 30 points just once. In 2012, Duke also got an extra week to prepare for Georgia Tech but lost 42-24.

It is too early in the season to call any game critical to a team’s division hopes, but this one is important for Duke. An improved Virginia team looms Oct. 18, making this the toughest three-game stretch of the season.

“We have a lot of football left to be played, so our focus is totally on trying to play as well as we can in Atlanta,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “If you get later in the year and the picture becomes clear of what you've got to try to do to get to Charlotte, then you tell your team. But right now, what we've got to do is try to figure out how to win our first ACC game.”

Duke overcame an 0-2 conference record last season – and a loss to Georgia Tech – to make it to the ACC championship game. Given the Coastal, there are no elimination games in October. But in order to win, Duke must show signs of life on offense – especially since the Georgia Tech defense also has struggled stopping the run.

That is what Duke has done best in the early part of the season, except against Miami. Duke had breakdowns all over the field – five false starts, three turnovers, three botched snaps and a whopping 29 incompletions. Cutcliffe says he has never had that many incompletions in a game in his career.

Receiver Jamison Crowder blamed a lack of focus, which is hard to believe considering Duke is not in a position to take any game as a given. Cutcliffe said he saw a focused team that simply lacked execution.

“Sometimes that’s how the game goes,” Crowder said. “I think that game opened up our eyes to where we can see we don’t want to have another game like that. It was a humbling game. We felt pretty good going into the game but didn’t play well so now we’re keying in on the mistakes we made, and the guys are a lot more focused around here.”

While the focus should be entirely on the game this week, Cutcliffe created a bit of a stir with comments he made during his Tuesday news conference. Cutcliffe praised the Jackets for their success on the recruiting trail. But then he mentioned challenges they face convincing “high-end players” with NFL aspirations to play there, given the offensive style they run, leaving some to view his comments as a "backhanded compliment."

Johnson shot back with comments of his own Wednesday, telling the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “How many receivers have they put in the NFL? I can tell you. None. ... He ought to worry about his own problems instead of helping us with ours. We’ve done pretty good against him so far.”

Cutcliffe and Duke hope to change that Saturday.
Ryan Switzer can make guys miss at a prolific clip with his speed, size and shiftiness, a combination that proved difficult to stop in the return game a season ago.

He just kept going, and going and going, all the way to an NCAA-record tying five punts returned for touchdowns. It was easy to take what Switzer did for granted, because he made it all look so effortless.

[+] EnlargeRyan Switzer
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesRyan Switzer has been bottled up on punt returns thus far in 2014 after returning five for scores last season.
Yet Switzer knew it would be nearly impossible to match those results in 2014. It is exceedingly difficult to return one punt for a score. Nearly everything has to go perfectly, from the trajectory of the kick, to the blocking up front, to making the right decision on which running lanes to take.

Excellent returners sometimes get two or three in a season. Five? Only one other player in NCAA history had ever done that.

Switzer entered the season as a marked man. Teams started game planning for him in the return game, either punting to him in the boundary so they can try and pin him, or launching sky kicks with good hang time to allow the coverage to converge on him.

He has had between four and five new faces trying to block for him up front, including several who are playing special teams for the first time. Switzer himself has missed a few opportunities with the ball in his hands because of mistakes he says he has made.

To date, Switzer has not returned a punt for a touchdown and is averaging just 6.4 yards per return -- down from the 20.9 yards he averaged a season ago.

But he is not alone. Return units across the ACC have struggled five weeks into the season, somewhat surprising considering the All-America talent returning.

“Obviously people are excited now when I’m back there, as they should be because we did great things last year,” Switzer said in a phone interview. “It’s eventually going to happen. That’s all I can really say about it because we are getting a lot better at it, and I do think we practice it more than anybody else in the country so it will eventually come.”

So far, the ACC is the only power 5 conference without a punt return for a score. Over the first five weeks of 2013, the league had three -- including two from Jamison Crowder at Duke.

Overall, punt return average is down across the league. Last season, teams averaged 10.1 yards per return. This season, that average is down to 8.7. Crowder, an All-ACC selection as a return specialist a year ago, is averaging nearly 10 yards fewer per return. No ACC player with nine or more punt returns is averaging more than 9.7 yards per kick.

“What you have to realize is every return is not going to be a touchdown,” Crowder said in a phone interview. “Sometimes, you catch yourself forcing the issue a little bit and that throws off your decision making. Sometimes when you do that, you may fumble or muff a punt and that will ultimately hurt the team. So you can’t force the issue.

“You have to be patient and just go out there and play each play and if a return happens to open up and break, then that’s all good, but if a return doesn’t open up and break, I want to be able to make the right decisions so I can put the offense in a good position.”

Kickoff returners who had big performances a year ago also have struggled in the early going. Kermit Whitfield, who led the nation in kickoff return average a year ago, is not even listed among the ACC leaders. He is averaging 16.8 yards fewer per return than 2013.

Coach Jimbo Fisher specifically pointed to missed blocking assignments on kickoff returns last week against NC State, saying, “It’s nothing to do with the returner. You give him a crease and he’ll get out of there.”

Returning punts and kicks takes a true team effort, and it requires great deal of fortitude as well. The good news is the season is still young. Switzer did not return his first punt for a touchdown last year until the Virginia game on Nov. 9. He also has more return yards now than he did a year ago at this time.

As the season wears on, the units should get better, and that should open up more opportunities for the highlight-reel returns we have come to expect.

“It’s only a matter of time,” Switzer said. “You just learn how to be patient and pick the right time to try and make something happen.”
Last week, ESPN surveyed 97 FBS coaches to find out which of their peers was the most underrated. It was little surprise that Duke’s David Cutcliffe topped the list. Take an annual doormat and turn it into a division champ and a coach gets plenty of credit, and Cutcliffe’s success in the one-time quagmire that was Duke football has secured his status as one of the sport’s best. Paradoxically, he’s now properly rated because, for so long, he’d been so underrated.

If only the same could be said for his quarterback.

If Cutcliffe built the winner at Duke, Anthony Boone has been its caretaker. In 16 career starts, Boone has won 14 games. Think about that. He’s 14-2 as a starting QB at Duke, a place where all other quarterbacks in the past decade compiled a record of 23-75.

And yet, when the preseason watch lists emerged last month, in a conference in which Jameis Winston was the only other established quarterback, Boone was largely an afterthought.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDuke's Anthony Boone doesn't have spectacular statistics, but he's proven that he knows how to win at a program that's not known for its success historically.
“I don’t pay attention to that stuff,” Boone said. “If I did, last year they said we’d win five or six games and we won 10. It’s all predictions, but what matters is who produces on Saturdays.”

Boone’s Saturdays have been a mixed bag, by his own admission.

At his best, Boone was outstanding last season, including throwing for 427 yards and three touchdowns in a shootout with Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. At his worst, even Boone understands the victory in the ledger was in spite of his effort, not because of it.

“I care whether my team wins or loses on Saturday, and that may or may not be because of me,” Boone said. “If you look back at Virginia Tech [last season], my defense really helped me. It’s not just the quarterback.”

Against Virginia Tech, Boone completed just seven passes and threw four interceptions, but Duke eked out a 13-10 win. Boone was coming off a collarbone injury that sidelined him for three weeks early in the season. It took a while to get a feel for the offense when he returned, but the midseason nadir — 51 percent completions, seven interceptions, no touchdowns in three games against the Hokies, UNC and Miami — still resulted in three Duke victories.

That stretch seems to define Boone in a way. Why credit the QB when it was his supporting cast that carried the team for so long?

Heck, Boone might not have even been the most appreciated quarterback on his own roster. Brandon Connette played the understudy role to perfection a year ago, subbing in during red-zone chances and proving to be a valuable weapon in high-profile moments. Connette would crash into the end zone for a touchdown and Boone would rush from the sideline to celebrate his backup’s moment of triumph.

“He doesn’t really get the credit he deserves but he doesn’t care about that as long as we’re winning games,” receiver Jamison Crowder said.

But here’s more context: Set aside Boone’s brutal three-game stretch midseason, and his numbers warrant acclaim. He’s completed 64 percent of his throws. He’s averaged 7 yards per pass. He’s thrown 26 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, running for six more scores.

He’s not Winston, but like his ACC counterpart, Boone was a baseball star in high school and plays with an underrated athleticism. He doesn’t have the frame of Peyton or Eli Manning, Cutcliffe’s prized pupils from his earlier days in coaching, but his arm might be every bit as strong. And, of course, he’s smart. That’s the one given at Duke, that a QB has the wits to play, and Boone’s ability to read defenses continues to astound his teammates.

Boone’s good, but few outside his own locker room seem to notice.

“He’s not as tall, but he’s more athletic, he can run, he’s fierce,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s got as strong an arm as anyone we’ve had. And what Anthony does is, he wins. He finds ways to win football games.”

Boone gets another chance to win Saturday in Miami. It’s a typical Duke game, really. The Blue Devils are 4-0, but they’re still unranked in the AP poll. They’re the defending division champs, having beaten the Hurricanes by 18 points just a year ago, yet Miami is favored by a touchdown. Even in a battle of quarterbacks, Miami’s highly recruited true freshman Brad Kaaya seems to be the far more interesting story.

Boone doesn’t care. At Duke, being underrated is half the fun, and Boone is underrated even by Duke’s standards. Boone’s legacy with the Blue Devils is already secure where it matters most, and the rest is just window dressing, anyway.

“Everybody likes to have 1,000 people pat them on the back, but at the end of the day, I have my team and my fan base and my family and friends,” Boone said. “If I don’t get the recognition, that’s fine. I go out to help my team win, whether people think I can or not. I have my team, and that’s all the belief I need.”

ACC morning links: Kaaya's big step

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Miami knew there would be bumps in the road for true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, and so it wasn’t entirely surprising when he started off the year looking like, well, a true freshman. But the upside for Kaaya was always obvious, and against Arkansas State on Saturday, all that potential was on display.

As the Miami Herald noted, Kaaya set a Miami record for true freshmen, throwing for 342 yards -- just 9 less than his total from the first two games of the season. After the game, wideout Phillip Dorsett told the Sun Sentinel that Kaaya “grew up a lot.”

Kaaya certainly looked like a veteran against Arkansas State, but as significant as his comfort in the pocket was his ability to make some big throws when given the chance.

Miami fans were more than a bit displeased with the play calling in the first two games, noting that Kaaya wasn’t exactly given much of a chance to make many big throws. On the other hand, his success rate on those throws provided little encouragement.

On Saturday, however, things were much different.

Below are Kaaya’s numbers on throws of 10 yards or more.

Weeks 1 and 2: 7-of-17 for 187 yards, one TD and four interceptions
Week 3: 3-of-4 for 132 yards, two TDs and no interceptions

The opportunities for deep balls actually declined against Arkansas State, but Kaaya’s accuracy on those throws was much improved. Two of those completions went to Dorsett, who had receptions of 63, 63 and 51. He became just the second ACC receiver in the last decade to have three catches of 50 yards or more in a single game, joining Clemson’s Sammy Watkins (Oct. 25, 2012, against Wake Forest).

Kaaya was sacked three times, and Miami’s shaky offensive line continues to be a concern, but the freshman showed plenty of poise, including going 3-of-4 for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz. And all of this without star receiver Stacy Coley, who missed the game with a shoulder injury.

There will be bigger tests and more bumps in the road ahead for Kaaya, but Saturday was a good reminder of why the Hurricanes liked the kid so much in the first place and a great chance for him to build a little confidence for the future.

A few more links:
  • We're back to blaming the offense at Virginia Tech after the Hokies lost to ECU and dropped out of the polls, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch. To be fair, though, the defense has allowed 11 pass plays of 25-plus yards in three games, the most of any Power 5 team. It allowed just 18 all of last year.
  • We’re three weeks into the season and we’ve already seen two starting QBs pulled when struggling, with Will Gardner the latest to ride the bench. The Louisville Courier-Journal wonders if Reggie Bonnafon should be the starter for the Cardinals.
  • Saturday’s thrashing of Kansas was a good reminder that Duke has a lot more weapons on offense than Jamison Crowder, writes the Raleigh News & Observer. Crowder had just two catches for 14 yards against the Jayhawks, his lowest production since a 2/10 performance in a loss to Georgia Tech in 2012.
  • BC Interruption relives the many things for the Eagles to be excited about after Saturday’s upset of USC.
  • For NC State, there were a lot of numbers from Saturday’s thumping of USF that could be followed with the phrase “first time since” and a date from at least two years ago. Backing the Pack looks at a few, including a stretch for the Wolfpack defense that was particularly encouraging.
  • With Terrel Hunt getting his first extended action of the season, we finally got a look at the up-tempo Orange offense, and the numbers show Syracuse looked comfortable working quickly, writes The Post-Standard.
  • The schedule makes it tough to get too excited at Virginia, with the Hoos set to face down another big challenge in Week 4, writes The Roanoke Times.
  • Georgia Tech’s collapse against Georgia Southern probably speaks less to the team’s talent than its focus, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • Life’s not easy at Wake Forest right now, and a short turnaround before Army comes to town won’t help, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

By the numbers: ACC Week 2 recap

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
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With two games in the books for most of the ACC, we're taking a look at some stats that have stood out thus far.

* There’s plenty of credit to go around for Virginia Tech’s huge win at The Horseshoe on Saturday, but it should start with the defensive front. Ohio State had three drives with a chance to tie the game at 28 in the fourth quarter that included 14 total plays. Two resulted in incompletions, six in sacks and two more in interceptions.

* The Hokies were particularly strong up the middle. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ohio State had 14 designed runs between the tackles that netted the Buckeyes a total of 42 yards, only four of which came before contact. Virginia Tech defenders hit Ohio State’s ball carrier at or behind the line of scrimmage on nine of those 14 runs.

* Of course, plenty of credit also goes to defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who had an exceptional game plan. Knowing that his secondary could operate in man coverage, he brought the blitz on 79 percent of Ohio State’s dropbacks. Those 20 dropbacks resulted in more sacks (7) than completions (6).

* And here’s just how important all that was: From the start of the second quarter on, Ohio State’s starting field position was its own 41-yard line (including 10 drives that started at its own 30 or better). On four of those drives, Ohio State went backward. On three more, the Buckeyes failed to pick up a first down. On only two did they score — and one of those was a drive that began at the Tech 15. In other words, Ohio State spent virtually the entire game with advantageous field position and did nothing with it.

* It’s been tough to get too excited about NC State’s 2-0 start to the season, given that the Wolfpack trailed in the second half against both Georgia Southern and Old Dominion. But while the defense has been concerning (106th nationally, surrendering 6.24 yards-per-play), quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been impressive.

Through two weeks, Brissett’s passer rating (158.25) and touchdown passes (5) lead the ACC, and his completion percentage (71 percent) and yards per attempt (7.9) are second in the conference. In fact, erase a shaky start in the first half of NC State’s opener and here’s what Brissett has done in his last six quarters of action: 39-of-52 (75 percent) for 466 yards (9.0 YPA) with five touchdowns and no picks. NC State has scored on 10 of 14 drives during that stretch.

* It’s not that Cole Stoudt has struggled, but Clemson fans are still getting antsy to see their highly touted freshman get more work. Both Stoudt and Deshaun Watson had some early success against Georgia before struggling, and both put up gaudy numbers against South Carolina State last week. Here are their total numbers from two games:

Stoudt: 38-of-60 (63 percent) for 446 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
Watson: 10-of-13 (77 percent) for 213 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT

Both benefitted from easy competition last week, and both made at least one or two throws that might have been picked off by better opposition. Watson, too, has had the luxury of a small sample size, while Stoudt had to endure the bulk of that awful second half in Athens, Georgia.

But there’s also this: On Stoudt-led drives, the Tigers are averaging 5.1 yards per play and have cashed in for points nine of 21 times. On Watson-led drives, Clemson averages 9.5 yards per play and has scored touchdowns on five of seven drives.

* Watson isn’t the only true freshman getting work at quarterback this year, but he’s certainly performed a bit better than the others.

Miami’s Brad Kaaya has completed 57 percent of his throws, averaged 6.9 yards per attempt, tossed three TDs and four interceptions in two games, while Wake Forest’s John Wolford has completed 70 percent of his throws for 388 yards with two TDs and four interceptions.

Both saw marked improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, but both also played more accommodating opposition, too.

* How good has Pitt’s James Conner been? The sophomore has 366 yards rushing so far, which leads the ACC and is 179 yards more than any other running back in the conference (Duke Johnson is second with 187 yards). That difference between Conner and Johnson accounts for more yards than all but one other ACC running back has mustered thus far (Louisville’s Dominique Brown, 183 yards).

* Johnson has the second most rushing yards in the conference by a tailback, but Conner’s closest competition on the ground is actually Boston College QB Tyler Murphy, who has racked up 210 yards rushing and averaged 7.2 yards per carry so far. In fact, Murphy’s rushing and passing (307 yards) account for 66 percent of all of the Eagles’ offense.

* It’s not surprising that Jamison Crowder is again among the ACC’s leading receivers. His 14 catches is tied for second in the conference behind FSU’s Rashad Greene. But what’s encouraging for Duke is that the Blue Devils seem to have identified a true second option in 6-foot-6 senior Issac Blakeney. Before the season started, QB Anthony Boone described Blakeney as “Kelvin Benjamin-like” and so far, that’s looked accurate. Blakeney’s three receiving touchdowns matches Pitt’s Tyler Boyd for the most by an ACC receiver.

* Blakeney has hauled in 82 percent of his targets this season, which ranks third among receivers with at least 10 targets in the ACC. Ahead of him? NC State true freshman Bo Hines (93 percent) and UNC sophomore Ryan Switzer (82.4 percent).

* Last season, Virginia Tech targeted its tight ends just 41 times (with 26 receptions). Through two games this year, Ryan Malleck and Bucky Hodges have already been targeted a whopping 22 times (17 catches) and the Hokies’ tight ends are on pace for 143 targets this season. So, Frank Beamer wasn’t kidding when he said the lack of tight end options last season limited what the Hokies wanted to do offensively.

* Michael Brewer hasn’t been lauded for his arm, but no ACC QB has more completions on throws of 10 yards or more than he does (17).

* He got benched in Week 1, but oddly enough, Virginia’s Greyson Lambert leads the ACC and is second in the nation in completion percentage (76.3 percent). Of course, 29 of his 38 attempts (and 24 of his 29 completions) have come on throws that traveled 5 yards or less. Lambert’s percentage of attempts that traveled 5 yards or less is by far the highest in the ACC (Brissett is next at 65 percent), while no one in the conference has a lower percentage of short passes than Clemson’s Watson (23.1 percent).

ACC viewer's guide: Week 2

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
8:00
AM ET
This won’t be the most inspiring slate of games this season has to offer, but the ACC at least showed in Week 1 that it knows how to make matchups against FCS teams exciting. Here’s a look at your Saturday schedule.

12:30 p.m.

South Carolina State at Clemson, Raycom, #SCSTvsCLEM: The Tigers look to rebound after a punishing loss to Georgia in Week 1. While Clemson looked sharp at times in the first half against the Bulldogs, the second half was a disaster. Getting the ground game going will be Step 1. Clemson averaged just 2 yards per carry in its opener. But the focus from fans will likely be on the quarterbacks, as freshman Deshaun Watson could push for more playing time against an FCS opponent. With No. 1 Florida State up next for Clemson, this is the last chance to iron out the issues that plagued the offense during its final 30 minutes in the opener.

3:30 p.m.

Richmond at Virginia, ESPN3, #RICHvsUVA: Mike London has waited all week to announce his starting quarterback, with Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns both expected to play. Johns performed admirably in relief of Lambert last week against UCLA, and the Virginia defense nearly allowed the Hoos to pull off the upset. Adding some intrigue to the proceedings this week, Richmond features two more former UVA QBs in transfers Michael Rocco and Michael Strauss.

4 p.m.

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Kevin Liles/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech put an a rare show through the air against Wofford, with QB Justin Thomas throwing for 282 yards and 2 TDs.
Georgia Tech at Tulane, ESPNews, #GTvsTULN: Has Paul Johnson gone mad? In last week’s opener, Georgia Tech threw for 282 yards and ran for just 226 -- the first time the Yellow Jackets had more passing offense than rushing in a win since 2009 and the largest differential in favor of the air attack of Johnson’s tenure at Tech. Whether that’s a trend that continues this week against Tulane remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting that it was the arm of QB Justin Thomas that helped Tech pull away after struggling early against FCS foe Wofford last week.

6 p.m.

Old Dominion at NC State, ESPN3, #ODUvsNCSU: The Wolfpack needed some late-game drama to escape Georgia Southern with a win in their opener, and while the early struggles weren’t necessarily encouraging, Dave Doeren hopes Jacoby Brissett’s impressive second half -- 18-of-23 for 213 yards, three TDs and no interceptions -- was a better indicator of what’s to come for the Wolfpack’s offense. In its opener, Old Dominion allowed 407 yards of passing offense to Hampton.

6:30 p.m.

Gardner-Webb at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #WEBBvsWAKE: The Dave Clawson era got off to a rocky start as the Demon Deacons couldn’t muster any offense against Louisiana-Monroe in their opener. Wake’s total of 94 yards of offense was the second worst in the nation in Week 1, as was its rushing total of minus-3 yards. Clawson hopes to find some answers against FCS Gardner-Webb, but the Deacons clearly have a long way to go.

7 p.m.

Murray State at Louisville, ESPN3, #MURRvsLOU: Coming off an impressive win over Miami in its first ACC contest, Louisville will need to avoid a letdown this week against Murray State. No. 2 rusher Michael Dyer is likely to miss his second straight game, but starter Dominique Brown proved in Week 1 he could provide the offensive foundation, carrying the ball 33 times -- three more than any other tailback in the nation.

Florida A&M at Miami, ESPN3, #FAMUvsMIA: Brad Kaaya's debut wasn’t one Miami fans will want to remember, but he should have an easier time of it this week against FCS foe Florida A&M. It may also be a chance for backup Jake Heaps to get in some reps, too. But regardless of the QB, the Hurricanes’ offensive line needs to show some improvement if Miami is really going to be a contender in the ACC Coastal.

Duke at Troy, ESPN3, #DUKEvsTROY: The Blue Devils didn’t have much trouble in their opener against Elon, but a road trip to coach David Cutcliffe’s home state of Alabama should prove a bit tougher. Jamison Crowder picked up right where he left off in 2013, hauling in 93 yards and two scores, but the bigger reason for optimism is that Issac Blakeney caught two more scores and could emerge as a reliable No. 2 option in the passing game. With linebacker C.J. France out with a leg injury, Duke’s battered defense could be tested, but Troy’s offense showed little flash in mustering just 4 yards per play (112th nationally) against UAB in Week 1.

7:30 p.m.

The Citadel at Florida State, ESPN3, #CITvsFSU: This certainly wouldn’t have been circled on No. 1 FSU’s schedule as a big game, but the opportunity for the younger players -- particularly on the defensive line and receiving corps -- to get some game action suddenly looks crucial after the Seminoles' turbulent Week 1 performance against Oklahoma State. Getting Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson (who is returning from a one-game suspension) and others involved in the passing game will be a major priority.

8 p.m.

San Diego State at North Carolina, ESPNEWS, #SDSUvsUNC: Larry Fedora says San Diego State’s chaotic defensive scheme should be an exceptional test for his young offensive line, which may be the Tar Heels’ weakest position group. Marquise Williams has solidified his spot as UNC’s starting quarterback, however, and the strong second half for the Heels in Week 1 offers some optimism that the preseason hype was warranted.

Virginia Tech at Ohio State, ESPN, #VTvsOSU: With conferences battling for marquee wins in the new era of the College Football Playoff, this game could be huge for both the Hokies and the ACC. Virginia Tech is eager to prove it’s ready to contend on a national stage again, and few stages are bigger than Columbus, Ohio. “Virginia Tech hasn’t been where we’d want to be in the past couple years, and this is a chance on a big stage to regain some confidence in people and put our name back up on the map,” QB Michael Brewer said. It’s also a chance for the ACC to garner a big win over a powerhouse program in the conference it’s chasing in ESPN’s FPI rankings.

ACC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
10:00
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The college football season is finally ready to kick off. No doubt all the time we’ve spent studying depth charts and devouring news will be rendered meaningless by September’s end, but that won’t stop us from making a few bold predictions about what’s to come in 2014. If we get half of them right, we’ll call it a success.

1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.

Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
AP Photo/Garry JonesUnder coach Bobby Petrino, Will Gardner has a chance to flourish as Louisville's starting QB.
2. Louisville’s Will Gardner will be the ACC’s second-best quarterback.

It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.

3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.

The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.

4. Virginia goes bowling.

The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.

5. Clemson is a running team.

With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.

6. Young runners make a big impact.

Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.

7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.

If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.

8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.

Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.

9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.

Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.

10. The Coastal champ will be ...

Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.

ACC mailblog

August, 22, 2014
Aug 22
3:00
PM ET
Just one Saturday left without football?! My oh my! Let's get to some mail.

Don writes: Your ESPN.com Preseason ACC team has lost all credibility when it failed to feature Tyler Boyd who was arguably the best receiver in the ACC last season as a freshman. While I agree Florida State has the best team on paper in the nation they do not have the top player in every position in the ACC.

Andrea Adelson: No, but they do have the best receiver in Rashad Greene. Boyd had a phenomenal freshman season, don't get me wrong. We all think he is fantastic. But the ACC is completely stacked at receiver headed into the season, and two worthy players were left off -- Boyd and DeVante Parker at Louisville. In the end, we decided on Crowder for a few reasons. His past performance cannot be ignored. Nor can the fact that he continues to be the focal point of the Duke offense. As David Hale points out, Crowder was targeted 174 times last season, and he delivered in every possible way. He is the most indispensable player on that team.


Stephen in Baku, Azerbaijan writes: Yes, there are ACC fans in Azerbaijan. My comment/question is about solving the mystery of the Clustal (cluster/Coastal). As opposed to looking at how they will do against each other, it is better to focus solely on who their two Atlantic foes are as they will likely beat each other up in divisional games. I'll rank the two cross division games per team by easiest to hardest. Duke: (Wake/Syracuse); VT: (BC/Wake); Pitt: (Syracuse/BC); GT: (Clemson/NCSU); UNC: (NCSU/Clemson); Miami: (FSU/Louisville); UVa: (Louisville/FSU) *poor UVa. So I would say a toss-up between Duke and VT for the Coastal in 2014. With recent losses of key personal for Duke, I'll crown VT as the champ and the ACC gets a sold out ACC championship game. What do you think of this logic?

Adelson: Salam, dostum! Your bit of logic is a huge reason why I had Duke as the Coastal champ. Those crossover schedules cannot be ignored. Now, I have been rethinking my choice after the recent Blue Devils injury news and now believe Virginia Tech has the best chance to win the division. Watch out for the Hokies!


Michael Lambert writes: Your piece on Bobby Petrino left out one very important item that helps put Tom Jurich's gamble on the job hopping Petrino in perspective. There is a buyout clause of $10 million dollars he must pay the school if he takes another coaching position within 4 years. The amount gradually lowers beyond that point, but he is paid well and it would make very little sense for him to pay a financial penalty to leave for many years to come. Your article and the associated comments make this relationship out to be one of blind faith and trust. Petrino is pretty much locked in here, but that was what he accepted to get his job back.

Adelson writes: You are absolutely right, Michael. It was an oversight to not include that information. I agree the $10 million is a huge incentive to stay, but there are others who don't ...


Matthew Caldwell in Endicott writes: Andrea, I believe Petrino will build up Louisville again and then bolt again when one of the big boys wants to take a chance on him. He won't turn down a big offer. I'm not buying his transformation.

Ray Marple in Springfield, Mo., writes: So much fluff for a horrible person. Second chance deserved or not -- Lord knows I've needed several -- one must truly go through difficulties in order to 'become a better person.' Living in college football purgatory for two years and 'almost losing his wife and family' aren't enough to arise and get a multi-million dollar job again. The position he put the U of A in and left them, as well as Jessica Dorrell -- NOT MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE -- will take a lot more than two years to overcome. Perhaps his philanthropic Foundation can help everyone concerned. I hope you took a shower after submitting this article.

Adelson writes: Matthew and Ray are just two of many, many skeptics out there. We will only know in time whether Petrino truly has changed.


James Griffith in Moneta, Virginia, writes: Hi Andrea, Which FCS team is going to win this year against an ACC team? It happens every year. I think the Richmond Spiders will pull the upset of UVa. They almost beat NC State last year except for the last minute field goal. What about Gardner-Webb beating Wake Forest? It is time for the ACC to stop playing FCS teams. They have nothing to win by beating these teams and everything to lose. It does not look good for the entire conference when one team gets beat by a FCS team. I do not think anyone wants to buy tickets to a major beat down of a FCS team. They would be better off playing another conference game or at least someone in the same division. What do you think? Part II: Don't you feel that big schools have nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing FCS teams. Ask Michigan fans about Appalachian State or Virginia Tech about James Madison.

Adelson writes: Actually, the ACC won all its games against FCS competition last season. I am going to predict no FCS upsets again this season. Virginia will be better this season and take care of Richmond. Wake Forest is going to have its share of struggles, but Gardner-Webb is an average FCS team. I still think the Deacs win that one. As for the larger point in general, obviously it makes the conference look bad if one of its teams loses to an opponent from a lower division. Makes the program look bad, too, especially an elite one like Virginia Tech and Michigan (and Florida for that matter!). But the ACC coaches are pretty adamant that they want to continue scheduling these games because they believe they are good for health of college football in general. Most FCS programs are dependent on paydays from FBS schools, so it is supposed to benefit both parties. One school gets the "easy" win the other gets money that allows the program to remain viable. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but those upsets are not a comon occurrence.

Jamison Crowder aims to finish with bang

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
12:00
PM ET
Jamison Crowder is 5-foot-9, and though he has accumulated all types of impressive numbers in his career, it is that stat that seems to define him the most.

He is small. He gets it. Look around the league at bigger receivers, and he expects to fly beneath the radar. In fact, Crowder kind of likes it. He sneaks up on people, no matter how much they should have seen him coming.

"It’s nothing new to me," Crowder said. "All my life, at every level, I’ve always had to prove myself. Then people saw I could really play."

[+] EnlargeJamison Crowder
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeDuke's Jamison Crowder had 1,360 receiving yards last season, second only to Clemson standout Sammy Watkins in the ACC.
Perhaps no player is more emblematic of the team he plays for than Crowder. He has made enormous strides in the past three years, but he wants more. Respect has been hard to earn, and the doubters continue to shrug off his success. He is not the biggest or flashiest receiver in the country, but he works harder and worries more about the details than almost anyone else. He is Duke in a nutshell.

Crowder has a resume worthy of being an All-American, but the name on the front of the jersey means he will always be a bit overlooked.

"It comes down to, we’re Duke," quarterback Anthony Boone said. "We had a great year, but people still tend to not believe what we’re really accomplishing over here. Which is fine. We don’t worry about that too much. But it’s one of those things where he’s a great player and the more publicity and exposure we get as a team, the more people will see how talented Jamison Crowder really is."

The doubters actually make life a little easier for Crowder. The criticism fuels him, the nitpicking forces him to focus on the little things, and the lack of respect -- well, he’s got a way of earning that pretty quickly. Last year, no one in the ACC racked up more plays of 50 yards or more than Crowder’s seven.

"It’s dangerous," said Duke cornerback Bryon Fields. "Jamison is slept on. That’s why you see him getting those 80-yard touchdowns, because guys don’t respect his speed, and before they know it, he’s by them."

If people wanted to understand how good he was, the evidence of Crowder’s prowess is everywhere.

In the past two seasons, only six other wideouts in the country have tallied more receiving yards. Crowder is the only receiver from a Power 5 conference team that has a shot at a third straight 1,000-yard season.

Crowder racked up 1,360 yards receiving last season, second only to Clemson’s Sammy Watkins -- the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft -- in the ACC. If he were to repeat those numbers again in 2014, Crowder would shatter the conference’s career mark for receiving yards, a record currently held by his former teammate Connor Vernon.

Crowder has scored 19 times in the past two seasons. No returning ACC player has scored more. He has topped 1,200 all-purpose yards in two straight seasons, a feat matched only by Miami star Duke Johnson.

Yet, Crowder knows he needs to do more if he wants to be recognized among the best players in the country.

"I want to be a perfectionist," he said. "I think I run pretty good routes, but when I see videos of NFL players and how detailed their routes are, how the timing is, that’s something I really worked on in the summer so that if I do get a chance at the next level, I’ll go in looking like a pro."

After a dominant season in 2013 as a junior, Crowder said the notion of bolting for the NFL never crossed his mind. He didn’t submit paperwork to the NFL advisory committee and he never spoke about a decision with coach David Cutcliffe. It was simply assumed he would be back because he -- and Duke -- had more work to do.

But the NFL is on Crowder’s mind. For all the stats he has accumulated in the past two seasons, there is still that matter of his height that will dog him with scouts at the next level. The only way he can fight back is by continuing to produce.

"My status as far as the league, there’s still a lot unsure because of my size," Crowder said. "You hear a lot of people telling you, 'oh you’re going to make it,' but those same people aren’t the ones making the decisions on whether I’m playing on Sundays. The only thing I can work on is me, and I’m staying hungry and continuing to work."

If Crowder repeats his 2013 campaign this season, there will be little room left for doubt. Perhaps no player in the ACC is as crucial to his team’s success as Crowder, and after two straight seasons of success, it’s going to be tough to sneak up on anyone this time around.

Last season, Duke quarterbacks targeted Crowder 174 times -- 30 more than the next closest receiver in the ACC (Watkins) and second only to Fresno State’s Devante Adams nationally. If Crowder was the centerpiece of the Blue Devils' offense a year ago, his role might actually grow this season.

Quarterback Brandon Connette transferred this spring and tailback Jela Duncan, the team’s leader in carries, is out because of academic concerns, putting a major dent in Duke’s ground game. Tight end Braxton Deaver, last season's No. 2 receiver, will miss the season with a knee injury. Add it all up, and Crowder accounts for 40 percent of the team’s returning yards from scrimmage from a year ago.

Crowder will demand attention in 2014, but Boone isn’t worried.

"He knows how to get open," the quarterback said. "He has that mentality where he doesn’t think anybody can cover him."

So far, nobody has, which comes as no surprise to the people around Crowder. He has had to work harder to gain respect, and that fits perfectly with how he approaches the game.

But the job gets bigger as his Duke career draws to a close, and that, too, fits perfectly with how Crowder likes to prepare. There will always be doubters, always be bigger challenges. That is half the fun.

"I’m always confident in my game and I feel like I’m blessed with my ability to go play on any level," Crowder said. "But there are things I want to get better at, and I want to work on those things so people can see I’m a big-time player and one of the best receivers in the country."

Preseason All-ACC team

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specialists

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

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

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

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

ACC mailblog

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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