ACC: Keeon Johnson

Second-year stars: Virginia

May, 16, 2014
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The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference — the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

See our previous projections here.

[+] EnlargeTaquan Mizzell, Nick Miles
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsRunning back Taquan Mizzell is a breakthrough candidate for Virginia.
Class recap: Virginia coach Mike London brought in the nation's No. 34 recruiting class in 2013, the sixth-best among ACC schools. The highlight of that class was four-star running back Taquan Mizzell of Virginia Beach. The 22-man haul also featured four other four-star prospects, in addition to three-star receiver Keeon Johnson, who made his presence felt last season by catching 20 passes for 282 yards and a touchdown in eight games. The Cavaliers played 12 true freshmen in 2013.

Second-year star: Mizzell (5-foot-10, 190 pounds)

Recruiting stock: Mizzell was the only member of Virginia's class who was in the ESPN 300. He was the nation's No. 9 running back and No. 75 overall prospect, and he starred in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, returning a kickoff 72 yards to set up the winning score for the East team. Nicknamed "Smoke," Mizzell rushed for more than 3,500 yards during his high school career and accounted for more than 2,000 all-purpose yards during his senior season.

2013 in review: Mizzell played in 10 of 12 games, rushing 45 times for 184 yards and a touchdown. He caught 29 passes for 164 yards and another score. He also tallied 347 yards on 21 kickoff returns. Mizzell missed two games with a lower extremity injury.

2014 potential: Potential is the perfect word to use when talking about Mizzell. He embraced comparisons to Miami's star tailback, Duke Johnson. Things didn't go so smoothly for Mizzell early on, but he is optimistic that he can take off in 2014, especially now that he is healthy. He ran track this spring, and the football staff raved about his attitude. Can he become one of the best running backs in the ACC? Life could be a little bit more difficult without tackle Morgan Moses, whom the Washington Redskins drafted in the third round last week. And with the Cavaliers returning their top-two rushers from last season in Kevin Parks (1,031 yards) and Khalek Shepherd (304 yards), the big numbers might not be as easy to come by. But Mizzell has taken all of the right steps going into his second season, and is, by all accounts, well on his way to reaching his potential.

Also watch for: You cannot overlook Johnson, who had a reception in all eight games he played in last season and had the most receiving yards by a Virginia true freshman in 14 years. Three-star receiver Andre Levrone could also see some opportunities after redshirting last year, as he impressed on the scout team. Also keep an eye on three-star, 6-foot-6 offensive lineman Eric Tetlow, who appeared in five games in 2013 and emerged this spring as Virginia's front-runner to start at center.

ACC spring games preview

April, 10, 2014
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Seven ACC teams will play their spring games this weekend, and eight will officially close spring practices in the coming days, as Pitt has opted to have a more fan-friendly event instead of an actual spring game on Sunday before closing practice on Tuesday.

For all of these teams -- including Florida State -- the quarterbacks will be among the most-watched players on the field. In Tallahassee, fans will get a chance to see the Heisman Trophy winner, returning starter Jameis Winston. At every other school, there is an ongoing storyline and competition with the quarterbacks. We’re giving you one additional thing to keep an eye on that might not be so obvious.

Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!

CLEMSON

When: 4 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU) and on WatchESPN

Where: Death Valley

One thing to watch: The true freshman wide receivers. Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester were all highly touted recruits who enrolled early to help Clemson try to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (a combined 2,292 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013).

FLORIDA STATE

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and on WatchESPN

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium

One thing to watch: The wide receivers. They haven’t exactly earned high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher, who called the receivers out last week for not getting open and making catches. Rashad Greene is the most experienced option as the Noles try to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but the staff also needs to see more from players like Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.

LOUISVILLE

When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday

Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

One thing to watch: The safeties. Louisville lost Hakeem Smith, who started 51 straight games, and projected first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor. Jermaine Reve, Gerod Holliman and Chucky Williams are the leading candidates for those spots, but Reve is out for the spring with an injury. Reve and Holliman are the only players with game experience.

MIAMI

When: 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Sun Life Stadium

One thing to watch: Defense, defense, defense. It’s been an area of concern, but the defense showed signs of progress this spring. The Canes return eight starters and 16 players from the two-deep depth chart. Denzel Perryman is now playing middle linebacker, and Dallas Crawford moved to safety to give that position a boost. Those within the program have said repeatedly that the defense has made strides since last season, and overall it was a good spring for the defense. We’ll see if they can punctuate it in the spring game.

NORTH CAROLINA

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Kenan Stadium

One thing to watch: True freshman running back Elijah Hood. The four-star recruit was rated the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2014 by ESPN.com and No. 80 overall in the ESPN 300. The early enrollee has had such a good spring that he could see some immediate playing time, even though the Tar Heels are deep at the position.

NC STATE

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium

One thing to watch: More young wide receivers. NC State has to replace Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, both starters from last year. The talent pool to choose from includes a host of sophomores and freshmen, including two early enrollees. The leading sophomore candidates are: Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman; and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix.

VIRGINIA

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Scott Stadium

One thing to watch: Improved wide receivers. This is a group coach Mike London has praised this spring, for both its height and athleticism, as the staff has moved toward a longer, leaner look. London recently singled out Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins -- all listed at 6-foot-3 -- as players who have excelled this spring. Unfortunately, fans won’t be able to see starter Jake McGee, the Hoos’ star tight end who moved to receiver this spring, as he’ll be sidelined with a hamstring injury.

PITT (No spring game)

When: From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Pitt will host its “Pitt Football Field Pass”

Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex

One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
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The ACC is a football conference!

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
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Enjoy the weekend, gang.

ACC Saturday setup: Week 13

November, 23, 2013
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Here’s one final look at what’s on tap today in the ACC:


Game: Duke (8-2) at Wake Forest (4-6)

What’s at stake: The Coastal Division title is on the line for Duke, which can win it outright with two more wins, against Wake Forest and North Carolina. A win would guarantee Duke at least a share of the division title, while a loss by the Blue Devils would send them into a tie with Georgia Tech, and also possibly Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A win would also give Duke a ninth win for the first time since 1971. Wake Forest, meanwhile, has to win out just to become bowl eligible.

Statistically speaking: All four of Duke’s running backs -- Jela Duncan, Shaquille Powell, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson -- average at least five yards per rushing attempt this season. A total of 43.8 percent of Duke’s offense has come from its ground game this year.

Quotable: “This isn't a flash in the pan. We're going to be good next year if our team has the kind of work ethic that this team has.” -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe


Game: Virginia (2-8) at Miami (7-3)

What’s at stake: Miami still has a slim chance at playing in the ACC title game. It needs to win its final two games and hope Duke loses, for starts, so there is no margin for error against the Hoos. Virginia is looking to snap a seven-game winning streak and finish on a strong note.

Statistically speaking: UVa true freshman Keeon Johnson made his collegiate debut in the Cavaliers’ fifth game of the season after originally being slated to redshirt. He has 17 catches for 226 yards (13.3 yards per catch) and one touchdown. He’s on pace to have the best true freshman receiving season for a UVa wide receiver since Billy McMullen had 28 catches for 483 yards (17.2 yards per catch) and six touchdowns in 1999.

Quotable: “A lot of players on this team have been successful against Miami. It's one of those things you have to create that mindset, that balance of, we got two games left, and we want to play to the best of our ability to send these seniors out.” -- Uva coach Mike London

Game: Old Dominion (8-3) at North Carolina (5-5)

What’s at stake: North Carolina would become bowl eligible with a win, completing one of the best turnarounds in college football this year. The Tar Heels started out 1-5, but enter this game on a four-game winning streak.

Statistically speaking: UNC freshman Ryan Switzer has the single-season school record with three punt return touchdowns. The ACC single-season record is four by Maryland’s Steve Suter in 2002. The ACC career mark is six, also held by Suter. Three of Switzer’s last five punt returns have gone for touchdowns.

Quotable: “The kids kept believing. They kept working extremely hard. They had great attitudes. And that's one thing that I can say about these guys: Their attitude after a game or going into a game has been the same each and every week. That has been very consistent, which is what we're looking for.” -- North Carolina coach Larry Fedora

Game: The Citadel (5-6) at (7, 8, 6) Clemson (9-1)

What’s at stake: A BCS bowl. Pride. Senior Day. There shouldn’t even be a whiff of an upset in Death Valley, and this should be an easy week before ending the regular season against rival South Carolina. Clemson has to keep winning, though, to help ensure a shot at a BCS bowl. If Clemson can defeat The Citadel, it will give the Tigers 31 wins over the last three years, the most in a three-year period in school history.

Statistically speaking: Saturday will be the final home game for Clemson’s 19 seniors. Only 10 of the 19 are scholarship players. The class has a 36-14 record over the last four years, the sixth-most wins for a class in Clemson history. That includes 24 wins over ACC teams, the most in school history in a four-year period.

Quotable: “He has I think been the best receiver in the country. I don't think there's any doubt about it in my mind.” – Dabo Swinney on WR Sammy Watkins


Game: East Carolina (8-2) at NC State (3-7)

What’s at stake: Pride. Recruiting. There’s plenty of history between ECU and NC State, as the Pirates are located in Greenville, N.C. The two teams met every season from 1970-1987, but since then have played just nine times. This one is important because of the state of both programs within the state -- ECU is trending up and NC State? Well, the Pack have lost six straight and are winless in league play. This is a chance for first-year coach Dave Doeren to reassert the program’s place within the state, and to avoid what could be an embarrassing home loss.

Statistically speaking: Freshman wide receiver Jumichael Ramos has 18 catches this season, and eight of them have been to convert a third or fourth down. Only one time when Ramos was targeted on a third or fourth down play did the rookie fail to convert and that was a third and 15 against Syracuse when he gained 11 yards.

Quotable: “I know what they're saying at that school. Those things have been talked about here. We feel like we have a lot to prove, probably more than them to be honest with you. It's a game that means a lot for a lot of reasons.” – NC State coach Dave Doeren

Game: Pitt (5-5) at Syracuse (5-5)

What’s at stake: Bowl eligibility and bragging rights. These former Big East teams will play for the first time as ACC opponents, and one of them will finish bowl eligible. The loser of the game will have one more chance to reach the six-win mark in the regular-season finale. This is also a chance for Pitt to redeem itself from last year’s 14-13 loss to the Orange.

Statistically speaking: S Ray Vinopal has created four turnovers in his last two games, including a forced fumble and recovery to set up a Panthers’ touchdown against North Carolina.

Quotable: “With the push towards the big mega-conferences, to some degree, I'm saddened that some of the rivalries are not played anymore. We don't play West Virginia anymore. That was a great game. So I'm glad that we are able to do two things, first and foremost, this week playing a Pitt team that we've been playing for the last 55 years; I think it's great for the fans in both towns and for the fans in the northeast that have watched these games for so many years,” -- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer

Game: Alabama A&M (4-7) at Georgia Tech (6-4)

What’s at stake: It’s the first meeting between the schools, and the first time Georgia Tech will play a team from the SWAC, and the first time coach Paul Johnson will coach against a team from that conference. As far as the ACC race goes, Georgia Tech has to wait and see how it plays out, as the Jackets have wrapped up their ACC play at 5-3. They’re in sole possession of second place in the division this week. The only thing at stake here for Georgia Tech really is avoiding an embarrassing loss and using an unheralded opponent to tune up for the regular-season finale against Georgia.

Statistically speaking: Georgia Tech’s defense has not allowed a rushing play longer than 34 yards. The Yellow Jackets are one of just 10 FBS teams that have not allowed any rushing plays of 40 yards or longer. In Georgia Tech’s six wins this season, the defense has allowed just 11.5 points per game.

Quotable: “We could have -- had we played better Thursday night and found a way to beat a good Clemson team; we knew going into that game we had a chance. If we won that game, I felt like we had a chance to win the division without the tiebreaker or outright. There's still that chance. I think the Coastal is pretty well balanced and I don't know that there's one team that's head and shoulders better than the rest. You just step back and let the guys play out and see what happens.” -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson

Game: Boston College (6-4) at Maryland (6-4)

What’s at stake: Maryland is trying to break a two-game losing streak to the Eagles, and with two more wins, the Terps could finish the ACC season at .500 -- a huge improvement from the past two seasons under Randy Edsall. It would also be a strong finish for Maryland in what will be the program’s final year in the ACC before moving to the Big Ten. Both teams are already bowl eligible, so this game is about continuing the positive momentum, and positioning themselves for one of the better bowls.

Statistically speaking: BC is fifth in the country and second in the ACC in red zone offense, having scored on 21 of 22 chances. BC has scored 13 touchdowns (six rushing and seven passing ) and has kicked eight field goals to account for their 18 scores from inside the red zone.

Quotable: “I think Andre is an outstanding football player. The answer to that is yes. The definition is being a dominant football player, leading rusher in America. High, high character. A great human being. A real student-athlete. Certainly extremely valuable to our football team. I would say he fits all that criteria.” -- BC coach Steve Addazio on whether RB Andre Williams is a Heisman contender

Game: Idaho (1-9) at (2, 2, 2) Florida State (10-0)

What’s at stake: The national championship. It doesn’t change for Florida State, which must win out to maintain its No. 2 spot in the BCS standings.

Statistically speaking: The Seminoles have outscored their opponents 170-21 before halftime during their last five games -- a stretch that featured two top 10 opponents (No. 3 Clemson and No. 7 Miami). During the five-game span, FSU has nearly tripled its opponent’s yardage in the first half -- averaging 301 yards before halftime and allowing just 110 yards to opponents. With Florida State resting most of its starters for the better portion of the second half in these games, opponents have gained nearly 50 percent more yards after halftime (156.8).

Quotable: “We have played good football, but there are still things we need to clean up and we know that. We have not played our best football yet in my opinion.” -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher

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