ACC: Jerome Smith

Syracuse Orange season preview

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Syracuse Orange:

Key returners: QB Terrel Hunt, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, WR Ashton Broyld, LT Sean Hickey, LG Rob Trudo, DT Eric Crume, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Cameron Lynch, CB Brandon Reddish, S Durell Eskridge

Key losses: RB Jerome Smith, C Macky MacPherson, LB Marquis Spruill, DT Jay Bromley, CB Ri'Shard Anderson, S Jeremi Wilkes

Most Important 2014 games: Sept. 27 vs. Notre Dame (in East Rutherford, New Jersey), Oct. 3 vs. Louisville, Nov. 8 vs. Duke, Nov. 22 at Pitt, Nov. 29 at Boston College

Projected win percentage (from ESPN Stats & Information): 51 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 5.5

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/Phil SearsTerrel Hunt passed for 1,638 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He added another 500 yards rushing with seven touchdowns on the ground.
Instant impact newcomer: John Miller best fits this bill, as he is a junior college transfer who saw just limited time last season, his first with the Orange. Now the former Los Angeles Harbor College player looks to build off a spring that saw him emerge as one of the team's most improved players and as a leader on offense. Miller is the front-runner to start at center for Syracuse and should allow others around him to stay in their natural positions.

High point from 2013: Terrel Hunt hit Josh Parris for an 8-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left in the regular-season finale to top rival Boston College 34-31 and earn win No. 6. This was a major boost for Syracuse, which ended up beating Minnesota in the Texas Bowl to finish 7-6 in Year 1 of both the Scott Shafer and the ACC eras. It might have been a watershed moment for Hunt, too, as he enters 2014 looking to take the next step as a leader of this offense.

Low point from 2013: Losing big to heavyweights Florida State and Clemson is one thing. But a 56-0 loss at Georgia Tech, a team that went just 7-6 and enters 2014 with major questions, is pretty much inexcusable. It stands out even more considering the Orange entered the game coming off a win at NC State and won two straight contests right after the Atlanta trip. (It also stands out after Shafer made his thoughts known about Atlanta winters, and after the Twitterverse replied as the Twitterverse is wont to do.)

Best-case scenario for 2014: Hunt evolves as a passer and as a runner, orchestrating an offense that has made it known it would like to push the tempo in 2014. Unlike last year, the Orange enter the season knowing who their No. 1 quarterback is, and that proves beneficial as they race out to an early 3-0 start. The front seven steps up and Syracuse is able to steal a win during a tough three-game stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State, emerging on the other end ready to tackle a final month that concludes with road contests at former Big East foes Pitt and BC. Syracuse improves in Shafer's second season, hitting his goal of at least eight wins, and the future looks bright for a program looking to emerge as a legitimate No. 3 team in a top-heavy Atlantic division behind FSU and Clemson.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Hunt struggles to command the offense with more responsibility, the defense can't seem to make up for the loss of Bromley up front and the Orange get eaten alive by a tough schedule. A trip to Wake Forest provides a reprieve during a five-game stretch that features the aforementioned teams above plus Clemson on the other end. No matter, though, as a physically beaten team staggers into the final month with only NC State as a winnable game. Syracuse wins four games, its worst season since Doug Marrone's inaugural 2009 campaign.

They said it: "I was happy with the way we finished the season. I thought both Terrel [Hunt] and the wide receivers did a nice job finishing up with the victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl, but we need to take it to the next level to get to the next level. We're always going to really work hard to run the football. I believe in running the football, I believe in stopping the run. I think that's where it starts with our philosophy. But in this day and age, you've got to be able to open it up, and we put the onus on our passing game, our wide receivers, to take their game up." -- Shafer, on the passing game becoming more explosive
AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- Syracuse running back Jerome Smith was one of 36 underclassmen to go undrafted last week, a record number that has brought renewed attention to the whole topic of declaring early for the NFL.

But Smith was in a unique situation. He already has graduated and went into the draft knowing full well there was a chance he would not get selected. Once the draft ended Saturday, he signed as a free agent with Atlanta and joined former teammate Marquis Spruill, drafted in the fifth round.

[+] EnlargeJerome Smith
Liz Condo/USA TODAY SportsWith his degree already in his hands, Syraucse RB Jerome Smith just wanted a chance to prove himself to an NFL team. He now has it after signing with the Atlanta Falcons as an undrafted free agent.
"He got his degree from SU, and he just wanted to go out there and give it his best shot and let the cards fall where they may," Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. "He said, 'Coach Shaf, all I care about is getting into camp and then proving myself.' That’s what he’s looking forward to. He and Marquis will be together so that will be nice having those two have each other to lean on throughout the process. It’s hard when you go to a pro camp and you’re alone so that will help both Jerome and Marquis."

Shafer said he and Smith talked at length about the decision to leave school, but he never tried to talk Smith into returning.

"I don’t believe in doing that unless a kid has not graduated," Shafer said. "I always tell the parents during the recruiting process, I say I can’t promise you your son’s going to be a great player here. I can’t promise you that he’s going to get to the NFL, but I can promise you he’s going to get his degree from one of the best institutions in the country. From my point of view, it’s about getting your education first and foremost and understanding how that’s going to be life-changing more so than chasing the dream."

A record 98 underclassmen declared for the 2014 draft. But as always, context is important to each and every choice these players made. That especially applies to Smith, a 6-foot, 226-pound bruiser whose specialty is the power run game.

He now has his shot at the NFL. But best of all, he has his degree.
The NFL draft concluded with 42 ACC players selected last weekend, and a slew more ended up signing free-agent deals in the days afterward.

Here’s a quick rundown of where the ACC’s undrafted free agents landed.

BOSTON COLLEGE
QB Chase Rettig, Green Bay Packers
OLB Kasim Edebali, New Orleans Saints
LB Steele Divitto, New York Jets
OT Ian White, San Diego Chargers
OT Matt Patchan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DB Albert Louis-Jean, Chicago Bears

CLEMSON
K Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona Cardinals
G Tyler Shatley, Jacksonville Jaguars
LB Spencer Shuey, Jacksonville Jaguars
CB Darius Robinson, Buffalo Bills

DUKE
RB Juwan Thompson, Denver Broncos
DE Kenny Anunike, Denver Broncos

FLORIDA STATE
LB Christian Jones, Chicago Bears
RB James Wilder Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
WR Kenny Shaw, Cleveland Browns
FB Chad Abram, Detroit Lions
DT Demonte McAllister, Seattle Seahawks
DT Jacobbi McDaniel, Cleveland Browns

GEORGIA TECH
DT Euclid Cummings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
CB Lou Young, Denver Broncos
DE Emmanuel Dieke, New York Giants

LOUISVILLE
DT Roy Philon, Pittsburgh Steelers
S Hakeem Smith, Tennessee Titans
DT Brandon Dunn, Chicago Bears
WR Damian Copeland, Jacksonville Jaguars

MIAMI
WR Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
QB Stephen Morris, Jacksonville Jaguars
TE Asante Cleveland, San Francisco 49ers
DT Justin Renfrow, Arizona Cardinals
FB Maurice Hagens, Atlanta Falcons
S A.J. Highsmith, San Francisco 49ers
OG Jared Wheeler, Carolina Panthers
LB Jimmy Gaines, Buffalo Bills

NORTH CAROLINA
OT James Hurst, Baltimore Ravens
QB Bryn Renner, Denver Broncos

NC STATE
DE Carlos Gray, Green Bay Packers
TE Asa Watson, New England Patriots
DL Deylan Buntyn, New England Patriots

PITTSBURGH
P Matt Yoklic, Atlanta Falcons

SYRACUSE
CB Keon Lyn, Indianapolis Colts
CB Ri’Shard Anderson, Tennessee Titans
RB Jerome Smith, Atlanta Falcons

VIRGINIA
DE Jake Snyder, Minnesota Vikings

VIRGINIA TECH
DT Derrick Hopkins, Baltimore Ravens
LB Tariq Edwards, Miami Dolphins
WR D.J. Coles, Oakland Raiders
G Andrew Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DE James Gayle, Tennessee Titans

WAKE FOREST
DT Nikita Whitlock, Cincinnati Bengals
LB Justin Jackson, Detroit Lions
LB Zach Thompson, New York Jets
The dust has settled after the NFL draft, and it was another solid showing by the ACC. Overall, the league had 42 players selected, the second most in ACC history and the second most by any conference this year (trailing only the SEC’s 48).

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Elsa/Getty ImagesFormer Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the first ACC player selected (No. 4 overall) in the NFL draft.
Four of the first 14 players selected in this year’s draft came from the ACC, led by Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (No. 4 overall to the Buffalo Bills) and UNC tight end Eric Ebron (No. 10 to the Detroit Lions). Five ACC players were taken in the first round and 10 more were selected in the second and third rounds.

For the second straight year, Florida State led all ACC schools in players drafted. Seven Seminoles were selected throughout the weekend, starting with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in round 1 by the Carolina Panthers and ending with linebacker Telvin Smith in round 5 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the past two years, Florida State has had 18 players drafted by NFL teams.

Of course, it wasn’t just strength at the top for the ACC. All 14 programs had at least one player selected this year, including five apiece from Clemson and North Carolina and four from Boston College.

New addition Louisville, which officially enters the ACC next month, had four players selected this year, including three (Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Teddy Bridgewater) in the first round.

Three ACC quarterbacks were selected, led by Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (No. 120). Pitt’s Tom Savage (No. 135) and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (No. 213) were also taken.

Duke corner Ross Cockrell was taken with pick No. 109 by the Bills, becoming just the third Blue Devils player drafted since 2001. He was also the highest-selected Duke defensive player since Mike Junkin was taken fifth overall in 1987.

Miami had three players selected over the weekend (Brandon Linder, Pat O'Donnell and Seantrel Henderson), extending its streak of consecutive years with at least one player drafted to 41. Florida State and Virginia extended streaks of their own to 32 years.

Of the ACC underclassmen who declared for this year’s draft, four went undrafted. FSU running back James Wilder Jr. inked a free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, Syracuse running back Jerome Smith signed with the Atlanta Falcons and NC State defensive lineman Carlos Gray signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Among other notable undrafted free agents in the league, former Miami quarterback Stephen Morris signed with Jacksonville, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner inked a deal with Denver, FSU receiver Kenny Shaw signed with Cleveland, Tar Heels offensive lineman James Hurst signed with the Ravens and former BC quarterback Chase Rettig signed with Green Bay.

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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Pro days are now in the rearview mirror, with a month remaining between now and the NFL draft. With that, let's take a look back at some notable performances from ACC pro days this year.

Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyClemson WR Sammy Watkins in all likelihood will be the first ACC player drafted in May.
Clemson (March 6)
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.

Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).

Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.

Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.

Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.

Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.

North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.

NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.

Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.

Syracuse
Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.

Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.

Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
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My oldest son will be four next month. Only 10 more years until he can commit!

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
12:00
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Your time-waster of the day: An oral history of the movie “Reality Bites.”

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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The NFL draft combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be held from Feb. 19-25 and will feature workouts, medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews for the 335 invited prospects. The ACC has a total of 46 players who will participate, including at least one player from every school (we included Maryland and not Louisville in this post, because it is from the 2013 season). National champion Florida State led the league with eight players heading to the combine, but UNC was right behind with seven. Don't cry ... you're gonna miss some of these names next year. Good luck to these guys.

Here is the official list of the ACC attendees:

BOSTON COLLEGE (5)
CLEMSON (4)
DUKE (1)
FLORIDA STATE (8)
GEORGIA TECH (2)
MARYLAND (1)
MIAMI (5)
NORTH CAROLINA (7)
NC STATE (1)
PITTSBURGH (3)
SYRACUSE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
VIRGINIA TECH (4)
WAKE FOREST (1)

The ACC has lost 10 players who have decided to forgo their final seasons of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. It’s not a mass exodus, but their departures definitely leave some holes. Florida State is losing some talent, but Clemson arguably has the biggest shoes to fill, as the Tigers are losing their top two receivers from 2013, including All-American Sammy Watkins. With spring football around the corner, there will be plenty of competition throughout the league, but based on what we know now, here is the best guess at who the replacements will be for each of the ACC’s early entrees:

Leaving: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Jones
AP Photo/Phil SearsIsaiah Jones (right) caught only two passes as a freshman, but Kelvin Benjamin's departure means he'll have to play a bigger role.
The replacement: Isaiah Jones. He is 6-foot-4, but he lacks Benjamin's physical strength (he weighs about 35 pounds less). Christian Green also could be an answer after playing sparingly the past two seasons. He's 6-foot-2 and known for his speed. He had 26 catches for 450 yards as a freshman in 2011 but has just 16 catches for 190 yards in the two seasons since. As far as a true red zone target and receiver who can win the jump balls, tight end Nick O'Leary will likely get the bulk of the throws that went to Benjamin in 2013.

Leaving: North Carolina C Russell Bodine

The replacement: Lucas Crowley. As a freshman, Crowley made his collegiate debut against rival NC State. He played 11 snaps and graded out at 90 percent. An encouraging sign for UNC fans should be Crowley’s performance against Pitt, where he played a respectable game opposite All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He played 66 snaps at center in that game and had five knockdowns.

Leaving: Clemson DB Bashaud Breeland

The replacement: Garry Peters. He was one of Clemson’s rising stars at cornerback in 2012, but an injury last season set him back. He still played in 10 games and enters this fall with 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, 12 pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 33 games (five starts) in his career.

Leaving: Clemson WR Martavis Bryant

The replacement: Mike Williams. The true freshman played in all 13 games and started three, finishing 2013 with 20 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. His first career start came against Wake Forest, and Williams had a 14-yard touchdown. As a prep, he was rated the No. 3 player in South Carolina by ESPN.com. Williams has a lot of potential, and the Tigers will need him to reach it quickly.

Leaving: North Carolina TE Eric Ebron

The replacement: Jack Tabb. He played in 10 games at tight end and on special teams, and he also saw some time at linebacker. He finished with six catches for 116 yards and 10 tackles. UNC also signed two tight ends in the 2014 class, including one, Brandon Fritts, who enrolled in January. The other, Avery Edwards, is regarded as the top TE in North Carolina.

Leaving: Florida State RB Devonta Freeman

The replacement: Ryan Green. He played in all 12 games (no starts), and finished with 163 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries. He showed some explosiveness in his limited playing time, as six of his carries went for 10 yards or more. His blocking and ability to take advantage of open holes still need to improve.

Leaving: Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan

The replacement: Nile Lawrence-Stample. He played in 13 games and started six alongside Jernigan at defensive tackle. He finished the season with 15 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He also had two quarterback hurries. He made his first career start against Pitt and had a season-high three tackles against both Boston College and Maryland. He had one tackle in the national championship game.

Leaving: Syracuse RB Jerome Smith

The replacement: Prince-Tyson Gulley. He was granted a fifth season of eligibility and as of now is expected to play this fall. Gulley qualified for a medical hardship waiver because he broke his collarbone in 2011 and played just four games. He was third on the team in rushing in 2013 and finished with 456 yards and four touchdowns on 83 carries. He also had 15 catches and one receiving touchdown.

Leaving: Clemson WR Sammy Watkins

The replacement: Charone Peake. Watkins was one of a kind, and his record-setting production nearly impossible to duplicate, but Peake is the next man up. He was the Tigers’ second-leading receiver before he tore his ACL during a simple non-contact drill in practice on Sept. 10. Prior to the injury, Peake had eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, second only to Watkins in both receptions and yards. In 2012, Peake had 25 receptions for 172 yards and two scores.

Leaving: Florida State RB James Wilder Jr.

The replacement: Karlos Williams. He moved from safety to tailback in Week 2 and finished his first season at the position with 91 carries for 730 yards. His 8.02 yards-per-carry average was sixth in the nation. His 11 rushing touchdowns tied for seventh in the ACC. No running back from an automatic-qualifier conference school scored more routinely than Williams, who scored once every 8.3 carries.
The deadline to declare for the NFL draft has passed so let us take a look at the ACC players who have decided to turn pro:
Mel Kiper Jr. has several of these underclassmen going in the first round in his first edition of the 2014 NFL mock draft:
  • No. 5 Sammy Watkins to Oakland
  • No. 14 Timmy Jernigan to Chicago
  • No. 16 Eric Ebron to Baltimore
  • No. 22 Kelvin Benjamin to Philadelphia

Kiper took into account draft needs for each team when making his selections. To that end, he has Ebron rated higher on his Big Board, which ranks the Top 25 best players available in the draft. Kiper lists Ebron No. 7 there, and has called him "A QB's best friend." Bryn Renner would know.

Jernigan also is rated higher on the Big Board at No. 12 overall.

The NFL draft evaluation process has only just begun so all these mock drafts and big boards will change between now and the draft, which is in May. One constant, at this point, is Watkins as the top-rated ACC player headed into the draft. Barring unforeseen circumstances, his place at the top is not expected to change.

Season wrap: Syracuse

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
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An 0-2 record against Big Ten opponents was not the kind of start Syracuse wanted in Year 1 of the ACC and the Scott Shafer eras, especially with Northwestern routing the Orange from start to finish in Week 2. Still, a quarterback switch from Drew Allen to Terrel Hunt proved effective, helping the Orange play .500 ball in the ACC despite the step up in competition, as they finished 7-6 overall and 4-4 in conference play. Though Hunt struggled early on in league play, his reliable running game helped Syracuse to impressive road wins at NC State and at Maryland. Ultimately, Hunt came through in the final seconds against Boston College to make the Orange bowl eligible before delivering a strong performance in a Texas Bowl win over Minnesota. The future looks bright in Central New York.

Offensive MVP: RB Jerome Smith. The junior ultimately could not duplicate his 1,000-yard campaign from 2012, but considering the better defenses in the ACC, and the greater onus on him this fall, what he did in 2013 was probably more impressive. Smith declared for the NFL draft after rushing for 914 yards and 12 touchdowns on 200 carries, while adding eight catches for 74 yards and a touchdown.

Defensive MVP: DT Jay Bromley. The three-year starter put forth his best effort yet, finishing fifth in the ACC in sacks (10), 12th in tackles for loss (14.5) and tied for fourth in forced fumbles (three). Bromley added three quarterback hurries and finished with 42 total tackles on the season, earning third-team all-conference honors from both the media and the coaches for his performance.

Best moment: An argument can certainly be made for the Nov. 30 last-second win over resurgent BC to clinch bowl eligibility, but we'll go with the 21-17 Texas Bowl win over favored Minnesota, as it served as something of a coming-out party for Hunt, the game's MVP, going into next season. The signal-caller completed 19 of 29 passes for 188 yards and rushed for 74 yards and two scores on 15 carries, including a 12-yard rush with 1:14 left to clinch the win.

Worst moment: Blowout losses to Clemson and Florida State -- ranked No. 3 and No. 2 at the time each played Syracuse, respectively -- certainly stand out. But the Orange were hardly the only teams to get crushed by those two ACC powers. The Sept. 7 rout at Northwestern deserves some consideration, too, but ultimately an Oct. 19 trip gone wrong to Georgia Tech takes the cake, with the Yellow Jackets winning a 56-0 decision against a team that spoke of preparing for the triple-option since the spring. Syracuse ended up surrendering 394 rushing yards, finding itself down and virtually out by halftime when trailing 28-0. The Atlanta visit was one to forget for the Orange.

ACC underclassmen watch

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
11:00
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The deadline to declare for the NFL draft is one week from today. Let us take a quick look at who has already announced their intentions, and who is still mulling over their decision.

Turning pro

Also, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad that Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. will enter for the draft. Of these players who have already declared, only Watkins and Ebron are listed on the latest Mel Kiper Big Board. Watkins and Ebron are near locks to go early in the draft. But the prospects are less certain for the others who have already declared.

Still waiting on

Jernigan, Benjamin and Beasley are all listed on the Kiper Big Board. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Tuesday at his post-championship news conference he expects only a few players to leave early for the draft.

Also of note, Virginia Tech safety Kyshoen Jarrett announced on Twitter that he will return to school for his senior season.

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
12:00
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Not bad, Week 17. Not bad at all.
video
It was a little too much like last season: Minnesota leading late in the Texas Bowl. Plenty of hope. Critical breakdowns. And an eventual loss. The only difference this year was the opponent -- Syracuse.

The Gophers led 17-14 with just more than two minutes remaining in the game, after having clawed back from a 14-3 fourth-quarter deficit. But a 70-yard punt return from Brisly Estime set the Orange up for a touchdown and a four-point lead with just more than a minute remaining.

Minnesota wasn’t able to respond, and like its previous 20 games under Jerry Kill when the Gophers trailed at halftime, Minnesota lost. Syracuse walked away with the win, 21-17.

It was over when: Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner’s Hail Mary fell incomplete out of bounds at the 1-yard line. It was just the second game this season that the redshirt freshman had attempted at least 20 passes, and his final two heaves toward the end zone both looked as though they might be good. But on the final play, Syracuse dropped most of its defense deep, ready for the prayer of a pass, and Minnesota just didn’t have enough luck left to pull off the win.

Game ball goes to: Syracuse QB Terrel Hunt. The sophomore put together one of his most impressive games this season, accounting for 262 yards (188 passing, 74 rushing) and two of the Orange’s three touchdowns. The Minnesota defense just couldn’t really find much of an answer to his dual-threat capabilities, and he looked like an even better version of the QB who led Syracuse impressively through November.

Stat of the game: 13 consecutive scoreless quarters or 195 minutes -- the streak of the Gophers being held out of the end zone. But against Syracuse early in the fourth quarter, Minnesota ended that drought, as Leidner first found Maxx Williams for a 20-yard TD and then connected with Drew Wolitarsky for a 55-yard score.

Back-and-forth affair: Syracuse's 7-3 halftime lead seemed solid. But when it took a two-score lead in the third quarter against a Minnesota offense that hadn't shown any signs of life, it seemed as though the game might as well be over. But the Gophers came back kicking only to eventually be kicked once more. It was a game worth watching until the end, because that's when most of the action really was worth watching.

What Syracuse learned: This offense could really develop in the next few seasons in the ACC. With two more years in this offense, Hunt could become quite the player. His arm and feet looked reliable, and with his athleticism, he seems like he isn’t close to his ceiling. On top of that, Syracuse’s top three receivers -- Estime, Ashton Broyld and Jarrod West -- will all return next year.

What Minnesota learned: The QB competition is (and should be) open at Minnesota. Philip Nelson has had the advantage with the more reliable arm, but Leidner stepped in and threw Minnesota’s first passing touchdowns in months. Both played against Syracuse, but the offense looked the best with Leidner, and that's what Kill chose to go with when the game was on the line.

Best moment of the game: Kill returning to the sideline for Minnesota. He came down during halftime and decided to stay for the second half. He hadn’t coached from the sideline since September and since he had taken a leave from coaching to focus on his health. But it was nice to see Kill enjoying himself on the sideline again.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Texas Bowl, click here.

Texas Bowl preview

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
10:00
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Syracuse might have taken care of business against Minnesota in the Rodeo Bowl, but the two will meet on the football field on Friday in the Texas Bowl at 6 p.m. ET (ESPN).

Here’s a quick preview:

Who to watch: Quarterbacks. Syracuse and Minnesota had two common opponents this season: Northwestern and Penn State. This game will be played largely in the trenches, but it could come down to which team’s quarterback makes fewer mistakes downfield. Syracuse opened the season with the Wildcats and Nittany Lions, but QB Drew Allen threw just one touchdown to six interceptions in those two games. After that, the Orange staff began playing sophomore Terrel Hunt. Hunt has since completed 146 of 240 passes for 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Minnesota’s Philip Nelson, on the other hand, threw three touchdowns and no interceptions in games against PSU and NU. So while running backs like Syracuse’s Jerome Smith (840 yards, 11 TDs) and Minnesota’s David Cobb (1,111 yards, 7 TDs) might be the ones providing highlight-reel plays, it could be Hunt and Nelson who make the biggest difference.

What to watch: These teams met last season and Minnesota walked away with a 17-10 victory. The 2012 game, however, was mainly based in the air -- the teams combined for 459 passing yards. But in 2013, expect this game to be played a bit more in the trenches. The Orange average 194 yards rushing per game, and 22 of its 35 touchdowns this season have come on the ground. But the Gophers run defense has taken major strides this season. It gives up 154 yards per game, but held teams such as Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin to below their season rushing averages. On the other side of the ball, Syracuse’s run defense ranks No. 26 in the country and has forced 23 turnovers this season, but the Gophers have scored 23 of their 33 touchdowns on the ground and Cobb averages 5.1 yards per carry. It should be interesting to see what the Gophers can do up front and whether their improved offensive line can create holes for Cobb against Syracuse.

Why to watch: Even with the Gophers on the brink of an unfortunate season and coach Jerry Kill dealing with health problems that forced him to take a leave from coaching and then took him from the sideline to the coaches’ box, Minnesota somehow managed to turn its season around. The Gophers won four of their last six games, but a bowl win would be the ending to the season that they’re really looking for. And Syracuse would love nothing more than to spoil that, coming off a regular season finale in which it clinched bowl eligibility. It should be a good old-fashioned hit-you-in-the-mouth kind of game.

Prediction: Minnesota 28, Syracuse 20

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