ACC: Kevin Olsen

Miami/Florida 1983Getty ImagesThirty-one years ago quarterback Bernie Kosar led Miami to its first national championship.

If you want a simple explanation for why Miami has struggled to win another championship, look at the quarterback.

The moniker "Quarterback U" no longer fits.

Since Ken Dorsey left in 2002 -- the last time Miami played for a national title -- the Canes have missed on nearly every single prospect they have recruited at the position. There may be myriad reasons why -- coaching changes, coordinator switches, problems with the supporting cast -- but the bottom line remains:

Miami has not been effective at the most high-profile position on the field, the position that helped build the program's reputation and championship pedigree.

Even this season, questions remain -- a big reason why it is so hard to predict how the Canes will fare. They have the talent to win the Coastal, but enough questions to pause. Now that we know true freshman Brad Kaaya has been tabbed as the starter, can he begin to restore what has been a long-standing tradition?

"As I told him, he's our quarterback," coach Al Golden said Sunday when he announced Kaaya won the job. "He's not our true freshman quarterback. He's the University of Miami quarterback."

Before we go forward, we should take a look back. Miami grew its reputation as QBU after producing NFL standouts and Heisman winners over a 13-year period, from Jim Kelly to Bernie Kosar, Vinny Testaverde, Steve Walsh, Craig Erickson and Gino Torretta. They combined to win four national championships. All were drafted. Four were taken in the first round; two No. 1 overall.

The name QBU more than applied. And looking back now, it seems incredible that one successive quarterback after another would deliver without one bit of drop off, even in the face of several coaching changes.

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Steve Dykes/USA TODAY SportsMiami is hoping Brad Kaaya can solve the school's recent troubles at quarterback.
Not only that, many of these quarterbacks had to spend years as backups, waiting for their opportunity to start. Given the way quarterbacks change schools today, waiting three years for an opportunity to start the way Torretta and Testaverde did is practically unheard of.

That patience was clearly rewarded. Each won the Heisman and played for a national title.

After Torretta left, Miami went through a long drought between elite quarterbacks. Dorsey changed that, winning a national championship and playing for another. But it was only temporary.

Dorsey, then, is the only elite quarterback Miami has produced since 1992. That is tough to truly digest considering the history. But perhaps the present is more indicative of where Miami stands, as it becomes more difficult to not only peg recruits but keep them in the program long enough to be developed.

Perhaps what happened at Miami in that golden period will never be replicated, and it is unfair to even compare eras. On the other hand, when you call yourself QBU, it is unavoidable to scrutinize what has happened at the position.

It is not for a lack of trying. Miami still brings in top quarterback recruits virtually every single season, selling the QBU legacy and tradition. But once they arrive on campus, their potential is rarely met.

Since 2000, Miami has signed 10 quarterbacks rated as All-Americans, four-star or five-star prospects. Three transferred; one opted to play baseball; another quit because of a back injury. Two others, Kyle Wright and Jacory Harris, ended up starting multiple seasons at Miami but did not achieve the success expected when they arrived on campus.

Two more -- Kevin Olsen and Kaaya -- are on the current roster.

So what has prevented these players from flourishing? Several factors have come into play. First, the skill players surrounding them have not been as good as they were in the past. Between 1983-1993, Miami had 16 receivers or running backs selected in the NFL draft. Thirteen of them went in the first three rounds.

Now compare that to recent times. Between 2004-14, Miami had just eight receivers or running backs drafted; only four in the first three rounds (and none of them first-round picks).

Coaching instability has played a role, too.

Take Wright, perhaps the biggest disappointment in the group. The Gatorade High School Player of the Year signed in 2003 under Larry Coker. Wright enrolled early and took over as the starter in 2005. But he played for three offensive coordinators and two head coaches. Ultimately, he was benched in favor of another four-star prospect, Kirby Freeman, after Coker was fired.

Freeman did not last long as the starter, and transferred to Baylor.

Harris played for two different head coaches and he never lived up to the hype, either. At times throughout his career, he seemed to regress, a direct reflection on the coaching staff.

Then, there are those players who simply cannot stay out of trouble. Robert Marve, another four-star prospect, started one season at Miami but it was not exactly a pleasant one. He served multiple suspensions and ended up transferring to Purdue.

Olsen, an ESPN 300 player in 2013, was supposed to go into this season as the starter. But he is serving a suspension, the second one in his brief Miami career.

Miami fans have now pinned their hopes on Kaaya as the next great Miami quarterback. He comes with the pedigree and has impressed Miami coaches from the moment he arrived on campus.

But as has been proven, high school ratings do not automatically translate into success at Miami.

Not recently, anyway.

ACC morning links

August, 19, 2014
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It is nearly time to begin preparing for Week 1 matchups. Does it surprise anybody that there are still unanswered questions at quarterback for three Coastal Division contenders?

Miami held a scrimmage Monday night in which true freshman Brad Kaaya continued to impress, throwing two touchdown passes. Transfer Jake Heaps, competing for the starting job, sat out the scrimmage to rest his arm. Coach Al Golden has repeatedly said he would name his starter following both scrimmages. Kevin Olsen is suspended for at least the opener; Kaaya played in both scrimmages; Heaps in just one. Do we read anything into where this leads headed into the opener against Louisville?

Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, coach Larry Fedora said he will not publicly announce his starter before kickoff against Liberty on Aug. 30. Returning starter Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky have been in a dogged competition. The Tar Heels will begin game prep Wednesday.

"We'll make a decision before the 30th," Fedora said. "I mean, you guys won't know it. But we will make a decision before the 30th. We'll start as we get into the game-planning, we'll have a plan what we're going to do and how we're going to implement it and those guys will be aware of it.

"It won't be like we walk out there on the 30th and I flip a coin and throw one of them out there."

Finally, the race to start at Virginia Tech is down to Michael Brewer and Mark Leal. Brenden Motley, who left the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, has been dealing with back issues throughout fall camp and has fallen out of the competition. Brewer and Leal split first-team reps during a weekend scrimmage, but a decision remains up in the air.

Now here is quick look at other headlines across the ACC:
Miami has not named a starting quarterback, but coach Al Golden has whittled it to a final two.

Senior transfer Jake Heaps and true freshman Brad Kaaya are tied atop the first depth chart of preseason practice. A news release from Miami states it will be either Heaps or Kaaya whoe leads Miami for its Sept. 1 season opener against Louisville.

"I'm not worried about that. I'm focusing on me," Heaps said Thursday morning. "What Coach decides, that's out of my hands."

The quarterback position became an open competition when projected starter Ryan Williams suffered an ACL tear in April. While Williams is practicing in 7-on-7 drills, the plan is for the senior to return during the season.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen was considered to be one of the favorites to replace Williams, but Olsen is reportedly suspended from the season opener.

Both Heaps and Kaaya have been on campus for only a few months.

Heaps signed with Miami on June 15 as a transfer from Kansas. He started nine games for the Jayhawks, throwing for 1,414 yards and eight touchdowns. He began his career at BYU, where he set several freshman passing records, but he transferred after the 2011 season.

Kaaya, a California native, was highly regarded coming out of high school, ranked by RecruitingNation as the fifth-best pocket passer in the country and No. 112 overall in the ESPN 300. The 6-foot-4, 209-pound signal-caller remained committed to the Hurricanes despite late offers from UCLA and USC.

"The first two weeks, what I see from Brad is his maturity," running back Duke Johnson said Thursday morning. "You wouldn't think that Brad is a freshman quarterback, the way he talks, the way he handles the offense, the way he handles the plays, checks. He's able to read defenses. He doesn't do it as well as an older guy like Jake [Heaps], but he does it exceptionally well for a freshman."

Golden is scheduled to meet with reporters Thursday evening after the Hurricanes' second practice of the day.

Miami Hurricanes season preview

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

Previewing the 2014 season for the Miami Hurricanes:

Key returners: RB Duke Johnson, WR Stacy Coley, TE Clive Walford, LB Denzel Perryman, DE Anthony Chickillo

Key losses: QB Stephen Morris, WR Allen Hurns, P Pat O'Donnell, DE Shayon Green

Most important 2014 games: at Louisville, Sept. 1; at Nebraska, Sept. 20; at Virginia Tech, Oct. 23; Florida State, Nov. 15.

Projected win percentage: 62

Over/under Vegas odds: 7 1/2

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIThe Hurricanes are holding out hope that running back Duke Johnson can stay healthy in 2014.
Instant impact newcomer: QB Jake Heaps or QB Brad Kaaya. With starter Ryan Williams out indefinitely while rehabbing a torn ACL and Kevin Olsen reportedly suspended for the opener, Heaps and Kaaya have emerged as the top two quarterbacks in the race to win the staring job. Heaps, a fifth-year transfer, has game experience that seemingly gives him an advantage over Kaaya, who has yet to play in a collegiate game. But Kaaya has impressed from the moment he set foot on campus, and coach Al Golden said Monday the race to start was "tight."

Best-case scenario for 2014: Miami avenges its embarrassing bowl loss to Louisville in the opener, then upsets Nebraska a few weeks later in Lincoln, setting the stage for a triumphant season. Confidence grows, and Miami goes into Blacksburg, Virginia, on a Thursday night in October and pulls the upset. Duke Johnson runs for over 1,500 yards, and Heaps does a terrific job holding down the fort until Williams returns. Miami finally hits double-digit wins and makes its first appearance in the ACC championship game.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The messy quarterback situation derails the Miami offense, as teams stack the box to contain Johnson. The defensive line is unable to get push up front or pressure on the quarterback. Despite improvements in the secondary, the defense as a whole makes only modest gains. A tough schedule featuring 10 bowl teams takes its toll and Miami barely reaches bowl eligibility.

Best NFL prospects: Perryman and Johnson. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Perryman listed as the No. 2 senior outside linebacker prospect Insider, and Johnson listed among his top five underclassmen at running back Insider. Perryman could have left school early for the draft but elected to return to improve his stock. He will be playing middle linebacker this year, so he should make even more plays than he did a season ago. The biggest key for Johnson this season is staying healthy. He has yet to play an entire season as the unquestioned starter. If he does that this year, he should be a virtual lock for 1,000 yards; then Miami fans will have to worry about losing him to the NFL.

They said it: "There's a standard of excellence at the University of Miami, and you're held to that standard, which we've all accepted by going to the University of Miami. The one thing I think that's different about this team is that they believe in who they are, so they certainly respect the past, but they want to represent who they are and their identity as a football team. There's been nothing about the 2014 team that even resembles the 2013 team. They wanted to be their own team, have their own leadership and really move forward. So I'm excited about these guys saying, 'OK, let's go out and make our own identity’ as opposed to relying on something that happened quite a while ago." -- coach Al Golden

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 6, 2014
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Kevin Olsen may or may not be suspended, still. Miami has not confirmed the report, and neither has the man himself. But the most telling sign of the Hurricanes' current quarterback situation came Tuesday, when Jake Heaps ran with the first team during the first day of fall practice.

Olsen was there, as were true freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier. Kaaya looked strong, per the Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter. Original starter Ryan Williams was also at practice, albeit in a very limited capacity, tossing some light throws.

Whether Williams -- who tore his ACL in spring practice and had surgery on April 9 -- can return to full strength at some point this season remains to be seen. Head coach Al Golden has said he plans to cut his current four-man crop of potential starting quarterbacks to two following the Canes' second scrimmage, and right now Heaps looks like a safe bet to make it at least that far.

The former BYU and Kansas quarterback said and did all of the right things, too, per Porter, especially as it relates to potential awkwardness amid a five-man group vying for playing time:
“It’s a great question,” Heaps said. “It definitely could be. It’s definitely an interesting dynamic that is going on right now. But it’s gone extremely well and that’s a testament to the group of guys that are in that room, that quarterback group – all great guys, all guys that understand the situation and just are focused on getting better individually.”

Elsewhere in the ACC ...

ACC lunchtime links

August, 5, 2014
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By the end of today, every ACC team will have opened preseason camp. Sound the air horns: The 2014 college football season has arrived!

Here a few links around the ACC on how practices are going so far and what are the big storylines in camp this summer.

ACC lunchtime links

August, 4, 2014
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So who exactly will be starting for Miami when the season opens at Louisville on Sept. 1?

That remains a mystery.

Multiple organizations have reported that quarterback Kevin Olsen has been suspended for one game because of a failed drug test, but Miami coach Al Golden refused to comment on Olsen's status during a radio appearance on Monday in Miami. Golden told Joe Rose of WQAM he would "refrain from commenting on any of that as it relates to any suspension."

If Olsen is indeed out for the opener, the Hurricanes would be down to their third option at quarterback. Ryan Williams, the projected starter, is still rehabbing a torn ACL. Olsen was expected to take the quarterback reins with Williams out. Now, Miami might have to rely on transfer Jake Heaps, who has been on campus only for a handful of weeks and is still working to learn the playbook.

Golden repeated on his radio appearance that four quarterbacks remained in the mix to start -- Olsen, Heaps and freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier. That group will be narrowed to two following the first scrimmage. When asked specifically about Heaps, Golden said:

"He's in a different place in his life. He's about a 30-game starter in collgee, he's 23 years old, he's basically devoting his life to this. Basically for the last eight weeks he's been studying and since June 28, he's been here throwing and working out with the guys and practicing in our system. We're very pleased with where he is right now and as I said also we're very pleased at the devlepment that Kevin has shown over the summer. Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier come in and they're competing their tails off, so it's going to be an interesting battle here as we kick off tomorrow."

Interesting is putting it mildly. Olsen has not exactly been a model citizen since he arrived on campus as one of the top-rated prospects Miami signed in the class of 2013. He has gotten into trouble with the law; and he already served a suspension for the bowl game last season for a team rules violation. In retrospect, Duke Johnson's comments about Olsen's lack of leadership at the ACC Kickoff last month seem foreboding.

At this point, Miami has to be extremely grateful it landed Heaps. He has had some hiccups along the way, but he has a background quite similar to Williams -- both are former starters, both transferred to Miami looking for a fresh start, and both are older and married, giving them a level of maturity Olsen does not seem to have, at least not yet.

Now here's a look at other headlines across the ACC:

ACC mailblog

August, 1, 2014
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Keep your notes coming. Mailbag is always open!

Jon in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writes: I thought you were decent until I read the recent article about whether ND was good for the ACC. In particular, talking about FSU's SOS this year (2014) with the big bad Oklahoma State and "improved" UF team... my goodness, that's a load. Your "improved" UF team is still fielding an awful offensive line, an inept quarterback, no wide receivers, a serviceable running backand a decent defense. Have you looked at the FSU team? I'm pretty sure we're going to steamroll Oklahoma State in Dallas and ND & UF at home. And ND is an awesome addition to the ACC, even if they beat FSU. This is college football and sports in general. If you were scared to lose, don't come to play. I'm sure you were just playing devil's advocate, but I expected more of you, even if you are a UF grad.

Andrea Adelson: When in doubt, blame the Gator. I hope you guys have figured out by now that I call 'em like I see 'em. Regardless of where I attended college, my job is to present different points of view. Florida State has a more challenging schedule this year than last. That doesn't mean I'm against Florida State. It means I think they have much bigger tests this year, tests that will challenge this team in ways it was not challenged a year ago. Oklahoma State is not Nevada; Notre Dame is not Idaho; and Florida will win more than four games this year. Will Florida State be favored in those three big nonconference games? Yes. Does Florida State deserve to start the season ranked No. 1? Yes. But that is not a guarantee the Noles will win all their games again. Part of the fun in the offseason, and in college football in general, is to speculate and hypothesize, to debate topics of interest. I think Notre Dame is a fascinating one from a football perspective. The Irish are a great addition in all other sports. But this quasi-scheduling agreement in football is no sure thing. The Irish could wreak havoc this season. Or they could slump and hurt strength of schedule. Or they could very well be the perfect addition. Nobody knows how it will play out.


Trevor in Miami writes: Just curious as to you being "more confident" in the quarterbacks at Pitt and Georgia Tech than Miami. Care to elaborate?

Adelson: Jake Heaps' addition is big for Miami from a depth and experience standpoint, but will he win the starting job until Ryan Williams returns? Nobody has the answer there. At least Pitt and Georgia Tech go into the season with a solid idea of what they will be getting out of the position. Chad Voytik played a good bowl game and has been in the Pitt system for two years now. I think he is in line for a great season. Justin Thomas played extensively a year ago for the Jackets, and those close to the program believe he is better suited to run the offense than Vad Lee. Tim Byerly provides a nice 1-2 punch there as well. Miami simply has no answers at quarterback right now. Kevin Olsen still has to prove he is the right man for the job (forget the fact he has never taken a snap in a college game). If he's not, Miami turns to a fifth-year senior in his third different program learning a new scheme essentially on the fly. Easy to see why I have concerns about Miami's quarterback.


Wayne in Tallahassee, Florida, writes: Will you remind these "Cane fans" they lost to Duke last year! I'm getting tired of this fan base claiming "Da U Da best." For a school that prides itself on academics, it sure does have a lot of illiterate fans/alumni! I know it may seem like a shot at Duke, but it isn't. Just a friendly reminder you can't say a school is garbage and call your school " the best" when said school beat you!

Adelson: I think you just reminded them yourself!


Jerry Ballard in Richmond, Virginia, writes: I do realize that UVa has not had much to be positive about in recent years... But is it wrong to think they will be a lot more successful, now that we have a legit QB playing this season? Fewer interceptions means better ball control, better field positioning, better time possession for our offense. Do you feel that UVa can turn the tide on our losing ways, now that we have a smart QB?

Adelson: Of the ACC teams that finished with losing records last season, I think Virginia will have the best win total increase this season. There is no doubt this team has been hurt because of its recent quarterback struggles. If Greyson Lambert plays well, Virginia is capable of being a bowl team. Having said that, the schedule is absolutely brutal. With a nonconference schedule like NC State's, Virginia absolutely would make a bowl. Instead, I think the Hoos will have a tough time getting to six.


Jay in Pittsburgh writes: Andrea, isn't No. 93 low for Tyler Boyd in the top 100? Don't you think he's a potential Heisman candidate this year?

Adelson: Yes, it is low. We had Boyd ranked in the top 15 of our ACC player countdown. Part of the issue there is I don't think he has a national name just yet, so perhaps folks outside this region who contributed to the Top 100 rankings undervalued what type of impact he makes in a game. As for the Heisman, I'd call Boyd a big-time dark horse at the outset.


Juan in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writes: With what looks like a mas exodus of scholly players from UNC, whom would you now have as the Coastal favorite?

Adelson: Still got Duke there.


Greg in Washington, D.C., writes: Andrea, that no Wake Forest players (rightfully) made it onto your preseason list of ACC Top 25 players is a testament to the barren cupboard of talent left for Dave Clawson. Are there any incoming (or young and unproven) players we should keep an eye on for a future top-25 list? Or maybe even your end-of-2014 list?

Adelson: He is not young, but cornerback Kevin Johnson is somebody to keep an eye on for the final Top 25. Not many people know who he is, but he is in the next tier of ACC cornerbacks behind the elite players at Florida State and Virginia Tech.
The Florida State Seminoles have a 40 percent chance of finishing the 2014 regular season undefeated, according to ESPN Stats & Information's Football Power Index. Florida State's toughest game this season statistically will be one in which the opponent has a 13.2 percent chance to win. That team is the Miami Hurricanes.

Miami? Are we in the 1990s?

Florida State still has an 87 percent probability of beating Miami on the road Nov. 15, and with such a high probability in Florida State's statistically toughest game, naturally there are several other games within a few percentage points. So, does Miami really present the toughest matchup this season?

Since Jimbo Fisher took over as coach, Miami has provided little resistance. His teams are 4-0 against rival Miami and have doubled up the Hurricanes in total points, 142-70. History won't dictate the game, but it illustrates the gap between the two programs whose annual rivalry game had national title implications seemingly every season for the better part of two decades.

Nowhere is the gap more noticeable than at quarterback. Florida State has Jameis Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Miami doesn't know who will start the opener as it's unlikely Ryan Williams, who tore an ACL in April, will be able to play. The hope is Williams will return at some point this season, but it has only been four months since the surgery.

Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen could be in line to see the most playing time in Williams' stead, but he still has yet to fully command the respect of his teammates and head coach.

"Kevin is really made a lot of improvement this summer on being a good teammate, but, for him to be the quarterback of the team, he needs to ascend to a leadership position," Miami coach Al Golden said last week. "He's matured … and he's being a good teammate. Now he needs to go and be a good leader like Ryan Williams is. You can't be a quarterback without being a leader."

What the Hurricanes do have is the conference's top running back in Duke Johnson, and he is Miami's best chance at the upset. If Johnson can find some running room early and the Hurricanes offer him a steady diet of touches, it could provide the winning formula.

A 100-yard game from Johnson would benefit the Hurricanes two-fold: The offense would move the ball with limited risk of a mistake from the quarterback, and it keeps Florida State's offense off the field. Miami played well defensively in Tallahassee last season through two quarters, but ultimately the unit spent too much time on the field; Florida State held the ball for more than 38 minutes. The defense collapsed over the final five games.

But while this rivalry awoke last year from a nearly decade-long hiatus from national relevancy, it seems there are games on Florida State's schedule that are equally tough.

Clemson is considered the next toughest game on the schedule (88 percent win probability), and the Seminoles host the Tigers on Sept. 20. There are not many recognizable faces on the Clemson offense, but the defense is among the best in the country. Critics will point to last season when that defense allowed 51 points to the Seminoles, and with good reason, but the unit should be better with Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and now five-star Mackenzie Alexander in the secondary. Florida State might not be as potent on offense in 2013 either without Kelvin Benjamin, Devonta Freeman and Kenny Shaw.

Florida is the next toughest matchup statistically for the Seminoles (91 percent), but there are a lot of uncertainties surrounding the Gators. The injury bug bit Florida hard last season, and it showed on the field, especially at quarterback. Jeff Driskel has been on the hot seat much of his career in Gainesville, but he was clearly missed in 2013. If the Gators' offense can simply be efficient and avoid turnovers, similar to 2012, Florida's defense might be able to keep the Seminoles' offense at bay.

Those two games might not be as tough statistically as the Miami game now, but that could drastically change once the season begins.

Why Miami will win Coastal

July, 25, 2014
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The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are vast. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why Miami will win the Coastal:

1. They have recruited the best. Steve Spurrier says the recruiting rankings are usually right, so, first off, pat on the back RecruitingNation. If it was sarcasm, Steve, keep it to yourself. Miami would like to think so, too, as no program in the Coastal has recruited better than the Hurricanes despite the NCAA sanctions. In four out of the last five cycles, Miami has had the best class among Coastal teams. The only time they didn’t finish first is when Golden was hired two months before signing day in 2011. This most recent class finished in the top 10, and the 2013 class had budding star Stacy Coley and Al-Quadin Muhammad, who could make a national name for himself this fall. The 2012 class finished No. 8 nationally, and as third-year players it is time for them to become the core group that will elevate Miami to a conference championship game.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDuke Johnson rushed for 920 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry through eight games before his 2013 season was cut short by a fractured ankle.
2. Duke Johnson is 100 percent healthy. Miami’s offense is a question mark going into the season. A case can be made for four different quarterbacks to be the starter opening day. One thing Golden won’t need to worry about is the player behind his signal-caller. Johnson said he felt 100 percent last month and will be ready for preseason practice. He is the conference’s best running back and will challenge the 100-yard mark in every game this season. Golden and Johnson agree the junior running back is even better than he was a year ago and won’t come off the field often. When he does, Johnson is doing his best to make sure there is little to no drop in production. He regrets not preparing Miami’s younger running backs last season before his injury, so he has taken Joseph Yearby, the No. 4 running back in the 2014 class nationally, under his wing.

3. There is talent on defense. Canes fans hoped Golden would relieve Mark D’Onofrio as defensive coordinator at the end of last season, but Golden refused to fire his long-time friend. The defense will have to be markedly better for D’Onofrio to return to Miami fans’ good graces, but there are capable players throughout the defense, especially in the back seven. Denzel Perryman is one of the conference’s best linebackers as a tackler and in pass coverage. Cornerback Tracy Howard and Deon Bush are coming into their own in the defensive backfield. And maybe this is the season Anthony Chickillo puts it all together.

Why Miami won’t win the Coastal

1. They don’t have a starting quarterback. The sense around Coral Gables is Ryan Williams needs to return from his April knee surgery as quickly as he can. Golden and Johnson made it clear redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen still has a lot to prove, not only on the field but as a leader. Jake Heaps is eligible to play right away but he’s been the college equivalent of a journeyman, bouncing from program to program. Brad Kaaya was a blue-chip prep quarterback but has not been on campus long. It’s rare for a team to win a conference championship with shaky quarterback play, and, outside of Wake Forest, no team is worse at the position right now than the Canes. If Williams returns after missing only a few games or Olsen can step up during preseason drills and just manage the game, Johnson might be able to carry Miami all the way to Charlotte.

2. The defensive line is still shaky. The hope is Chickillo will live up to the expectations that followed him when he arrived at Miami, but he’s been inconsistent in his career. Muhammad has the promise and look of a great lineman, but he’ll still take his lumps early in his sophomore season. Golden looked to the junior college ranks for help and signed Calvin Heurtelou, but determining the impact of a juco prospect in their first year is a guessing game. If the defensive line does not improve, chances are it won’t matter how talented the back seven of the defense is. Bush and Howard cannot cover all day, and Perryman will be far less effective when the running back is charging at him with a 300-pound lineman lead blocking.

3. The schedule could be an issue. The hope is Williams returns by the Nebraska game Sept. 20, but if he does not it could put Miami in an early hole. The Canes open up the season at Louisville in a Monday night game, and it is the Cardinals’ first game as an ACC team. Expect a wild atmosphere in what could be a Week 1 loss for Miami. The week after the nonconference Nebraska game, Miami plays host to Duke, the reigning Coastal champions. If Williams does not play in that game, will Miami be able to score enough points to hang with Duke? If he does, will he have shaken off the rust in time? It could be a double-edged sword. Miami also has to play at Virginia Tech in prime time on a Thursday, and let’s not forget the annual rivalry game against Florida State. The Seminoles are going to be the preseason No. 1 team in all likelihood.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- We can all agree just about every team in the cluttered Coastal Division has a chance to win it.

Yet, it was still a surprise to see Miami selected as the media’s preseason choice to play in its first ACC championship game. Sure, the Canes have a shot just like the other five teams that earned first-place votes, but it is hard to see how they have the best shot to make it to Charlotte.

Duke is my choice to finish first. Here is why I believe the Blue Devils have more of an edge than Miami headed into the season.

1. Quarterback. Duke is one of three teams in the league to return its starting quarterback. Senior Anthony Boone showed tremendous growth through 2013, and has used his fourth-quarter performance in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl as an opportunity to grow and learn, too. Coach David Cutcliffe says Boone has taken on much more leadership, responsibility and accountability. He should, especially with Brandon Connette out of the mix.

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Miami, meanwhile, has no answers at quarterback -- not until Ryan Williams returns from a torn ACL. Kevin Olsen or Jake Heaps will have to pilot the Canes until then and there are major question marks around both. You don't need to read much into these comments from Johnson to wonder: Has Olsen matured? Can Heaps live up to the hype that trailed him out of high school? And even when Williams does return, he is no sure thing. He’s only taken a handful of snaps in mop-up duty at Miami and just two against Top 25 competition (garbage time in a blowout to Kansas State). Duke Johnson is one of the best players in the country, but Miami needs an effective quarterback to help him out. We don’t know yet whether he does.

2. Schedule. Miami plays one of the toughest schedules in the ACC. The Hurricanes get both Florida State and Louisville out of the Atlantic, and then have to play at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night. No other bona fide Coastal contender has to face that trifecta. Miami will definitively be without Williams for the opener at Louisville, a team that destroyed the Canes in the Russell Athletic Bowl in December. Louisville has a radically different look, but the Cards already are favored to win. Duke, meanwhile, avoids Florida State, Clemson Tigers and Louisville, playing Syracuse Orange and Wake Forest from the Atlantic. In addition, the Blue Devils get Virginia Tech and North Carolina at home. It seems pretty clear Duke has the schedule advantage.

3. Defense. The truth is, neither defense was stellar last season. Miami and Duke ranked toward the bottom in the ACC in just about every major defensive category. But no coordinator is under fire more than Mark D'Onofrio at Miami. There is a level of play people have come to expect from the Miami defense, and nobody has seen it in years. Al Golden has talked up his group headed into this season, but acknowledges the defensive line needs to transform itself into a dominating group. For Miami to make the jump to a championship, it needs a vastly improved group. I’m just not sure the Canes will field a dominating defense this year.

Certainly, Miami has the talent to make it to the title game. The Canes had early momentum last year before they fell back, mostly because Johnson was hurt. A healthy Johnson gives Miami an opportunity to win all its games. But remember, even when Johnson was healthy last season Miami was living on the edge, needing fourth-quarter comebacks against Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, North Carolina and Wake Forest.

The bottom line is this: There are far too many questions to overlook to believe in Miami as the preseason Coastal favorites.

Agree? Disagree? Vote in our poll and drop me a line in the mailbag with your thoughts. Best comments go up Friday.

ACC's lunch links: QB roundup

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
12:00
PM ET
The most honest man at ACC Kickoff was probably Wake Forest's Dave Clawson. And, to his credit, he even managed to find a little humor in the bleak picture painted by his depth chart this year, as the High Point Enterprise wrote.
Asked to comment about where his first Wake Forest team is predicted to finish in the ACC's tough Atlantic Division, Clawson replied, “Were we picked to win it? I didn't see those. Were we unanimous first? The bull's-eye is on us, right?”

Clawson didn't sugar-coat the team's lack of experience and depth, but he had his most pointed comments regarding the quarterback position, where Tyler Cameron and Kevin Sousa are battling for a job that no one seems eager to win.

“Those two guys who took snaps in the spring, neither did enough, even if we didn't have those [true freshmen] coming in, to take control of the job,” Clawson said.

What was unique from Clawson was his pessimism on the position. What wasn't unique were the questions about the position. Plenty of coaches were asked about their quarterbacks in Greensboro, and for good reason. After talking with each coach and the players in attendance, here's a quick run-down of where each ACC team's QB situation stands.

1. Florida State: Jameis Winston is the returning Heisman winner and his time in Greensboro was, at the very least, a solid first step in FSU's quest to repair its quarterback's image.

2. Duke: Anthony Boone is the only other quarterback in the league with at least 300 attempts last season who is back for 2014, but David Cutcliffe still plans to use two quarterbacks and eagerly talked up Thomas Sirk, who will step into the red zone role manned so well by Brandon Connette last season.

3. Clemson: The biggest worry for Clemson is the potential for a real quarterback controversy (or, at the very least, a lively debate) if Cole Stoudt struggles early. Dabo Swinney offered blanket support for his senior, but the early schedule is difficult, and the immensely talented but completely green Deshaun Watson is waiting in the wings.

4. NC State: Dave Doeren can barely contain his enthusiasm about the addition of Jacoby Brissett, whom the coach described as “everything you recruit in a quarterback.” Doeren did remind reporters, however, that Brissett's on-field experience remains extremely limited.

5. North Carolina: Hey, if Peyton Manning says Marquise Williams is going to be an exceptional passer, who are we to argue? Still, it's not enough to convince Larry Fedora to hand him the starting job just yet, and it sounds more and more like UNC will use two quarterbacks at times.

6. Syracuse: Terrel Hunt has proved he can win and he's taken on a leadership role this offseason, but he still needs to prove he can be a respectable downfield passer. And even Scott Shafer admitted things needed to get better there.

7. Louisville: The depth chart isn't set in stone here either, but Bobby Petrino had plenty of praise for Will Gardner in Greensboro, saying, "He can make all the throws you need to make. He's got the arm strength. He's got a very quick release. ... He's a natural leader that the players have already learned to follow."

8. Pitt: Paul Chryst says Chad Voytik still has a ways to go, but he's pleased with the quarterback's progress and, of course, Voytik will have as dangerous a weapon as any first-year starter in the league in Tyler Boyd.

9. Boston College: The Eagles actually have a relatively experienced and settled QB spot with the arrival of transfer Tyler Murphy, and lineman Andy Gallik said Murphy has grasped the offense and taken on a leadership role. But his problem will be that he doesn't have much in the way of receiving targets or experience in the backfield to help him out.

10. Virginia: Mike London shrugged off the rumors about his job, and one reason he can do that is that he's immensely confident in QB Greyson Lambert, who looks to have cemented his role as the team's starter.

11. Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson smiled at the notion that recently departed QB Vad Lee said the triple-option wasn't for him, noting the situation had become “frustrating” for both sides. With Justin Thomas, however, Johnson said he has the ideal quarterback to run his offense.

12. Virginia Tech: Well, Brenden Motley did get a preseason player of the year vote, even if he's not exactly destined to win the starting job. Frank Beamer said he plans to end the drama soon, even if no one separates himself and “he has to go with a gut decision.”

13. Miami: Ryan Williams would make this a much better scenario, but Al Golden isn't interested in predicting his veteran will be back from a torn ACL any time soon. That leaves Jake Heaps and Kevin Olsen, neither of whom earned a ton of praise in Greensboro.

14. Wake Forest: It's going to be a long year for Clawson, but at least he's got a sense of humor about it.

More links:

Dabo Swinney is confident Clemson will have a chance to win the Atlantic, writes The State.

Swinney has no intention of taking religion out of his football program, writes Sports on Earth.

There are no hard feelings between Swinney and Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, writes The Post-Standard.

Florida State's offensive line will be what sets the Seminoles apart in the ACC, writes Tomahawk Nation.

And your non-sports link of the day: If you don't hear from me for a few months, blame the new Simpsons World from FXX, which looks… amazing.
videoGREENSBORO, N.C. -- The 2014 ACC Kickoff is in the books, and while the preseason hype rarely translates well to the games on the field, there were still a few notable take-aways from the festivities at the Grandover Resort. Here are five things we learned from this year's media days.

1. The College Football Playoff is on everyone's mind.

Florida State Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher led the charge for the ACC in Greensboro, touting the accomplishments of the conference last year, including the Heisman winner, a national title and an Orange Bowl winner, a slew of NFL draft picks and 11 bowl invitations. Fisher and others continued to refer to the ACC as "the No. 1 football conference" in the country.

That, of course, may not sit so well with the SEC, but it was actually a Big 12 coach that landed the first blows after Fisher referred to the conference's lack of a championship game as "ridiculous."

Baylor's Art Briles fired back, saying "Jimbo Fisher needs to worry about the ACC" rather than tell the Big 12 how to conduct business.

Of course, it was clear that the ACC was exactly what Fisher and others were worried about as the politicking to ensure the conference has at least one representative in the first College Football Playoff is already underway. There are five power conferences and just four playoff spots, so someone's going to be left out, and Fisher has no interest in watching the games from home.

2. Jameis Winston isn't shying from the spotlight.

Jameis Winston was the star of the ACC Kickoff, arriving to a horde of media members eagerly awaiting something controversial. Instead, Winston (mostly) said all the right things, talking up his team and the league, offering jokes when possible and, most notably, admitting he had plenty of maturing to do in light of the off-field incidents that have dogged his career thus far.

Winston said he understood the spotlight he would be living in this year, adding that he had to "live up to the hype," and if he didn't, "it would be chaos."

Of course, Winston has made a habit out of sounding good -- and confident -- in front of the cameras, but the spotlight will stick with him well beyond his time in Greensboro.

Oh, and speaking of Winston's future: He notably declined to comment on his father's promises that the Heisman winner would be playing two more seasons at FSU. Instead, Winston said he "couldn't predict the future." In other words, don't cross him off your 2015 mock drafts just yet.

3. No one knows what will happen in the Coastal Division.

It's not that the media has a particularly successful track record of picking winners at ACC Kickoff, but this year's preseason poll was particularly telling about the depth of quality -- or, perhaps, litany of weaknesses -- in the Coastal Division.

The Miami Hurricanes came away as the overall favorite among the voting media, but the team finished with the third-most first-place votes in the division. Duke, last year's winner, had the most first-place votes and was second overall. North Carolina ranked fourth, but had the second-most first-place votes. In all, six of the seven teams in the conference had at least one first-place vote. Only Virginia missed out, which given the utter ridiculousness of it all, probably means the Hoos will be playing the Atlantic winner in Charlotte this December.

4. Miami has quarterback concerns.

There's still optimism Ryan Williams will be back at some point, but there's no certainties on when that might happen -- if it happens at all. That leaves the Hurricanes with a vacancy at the most important position on the field, and it also likely means a void in leadership, too.

"Ryan Williams is still the leader," tailback Duke Johnson said, "Kevin Olsen is just a quarterback."

Coach Al Golden mirrored those comments, saying Olsen -- the freshman -- still had to mature as a player and earn the respect of his teammates. Transfer Jake Heaps is now in the mix, too, but he's going to be learning on the fly.

In the end, the quarterback concerns weren't enough to keep the media from tabbing Miami as the Coastal favorite, and Johnson can at least agree with that.

"They might not have the strongest arm or be the fastest or the most accurate," Johnson said, "but when you have the receivers we do and the offensive line we do, it becomes pretty simple."

5. No one's handing the Atlantic to FSU.

Syracuse Orange coach Scott Shafer said he first understood how good Florida State was during pregame warm-ups last year. He pointed out a few players who were far bigger than anyone on his team, only to learn the FSU behemoths were redshirting.

But even with the knowledge that his Orange are facing an uphill battle, Shafer wasn't admitting defeat before the games are played in 2014.

"The great thing about football is that the ball is oblong and does funny things and on any given Saturday you have an opportunity to steal a game," Shafer said.

Syracuse would need a big upset, but Clemson and Louisville think they've got good chances to win the Atlantic. Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley was particularly vocal about this year's matchup against the Seminoles with Clemson's formidable defensive front leading the way. Dabo Swinney has never backed off his comments that his team wasn't far behind FSU last year, and he's encouraged that a new-look offense, led by quarterback Cole Stoudt, can upset the Seminoles in 2014.

Of course, we're still a long way from that finish line, so for now, it's all just talk.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The Miami Hurricanes will enter fall camp with four potential starting quarterbacks and will have two by the end of its first scrimmage. But Ryan Williams won't be among them.

Coach Al Golden said that Williams will be out for the beginning of camp following spring knee surgery, while Kevin Olsen, Jake Heaps, Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier battle for the chance to be the Hurricanes' No. 1 signal caller.

Golden was hesitant to put a timetable on Williams' potential return -- the expected starter suffered a non-contact ACL injury to his right knee April 4 during Miami's second spring scrimmage.

"I don't know. I've been staying away from that," Golden, asked when Williams may be back, said during Day 2 of ACC media days. "I think it's really important for us to conduct like he's not going to be with us in the short-term. So we've done that, and it's important that as a team, we rally behind whoever the quarterback is and whoever comes out of this race early on.

"I'm not the doctor. All I can tell you is that he's having a great recovery, his rehab is going excellent and when the doctor's clear him, we'll move forward."

Quarterback uncertainty is one of several questions surrounding a Miami team that dropped four of its final six games of the 2013 season. Still, media members in attendance at the Grandover Resort & Conference Center voted the Hurricanes as the preseason Coastal Division favorite, although Duke and North Carolina both received more first-place division votes.

Entering his fourth year in charge of the Hurricanes, Golden did not read much into the predictions.

"With all respect to you guys, I don't really get into all that," Golden said. "I'm trying to teach the team the opposite. And we've got to teach this team to ignore the noise, just stay focused on the process and just turn this season into one-game missions, 12 one-game missions. Block everything else out, and I mean that with all respect.

"We're not really talking about Coastal championships and all that. We're talking about taking care of our business today, becoming the best player and unit we can be today, and that's going to move us forward."
From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Up today: Quarterbacks

Best of the best: Florida State

As if there was any real debate with this position. The Seminoles clearly have the conference’s best, if not the country’s. Jameis Winston hasn't lost a game in his career and is coming off a record-setting season in which he became only the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Most expect his numbers to drop as a redshirt sophomore, considering the lack of proven commodities at receiver with Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw pursuing NFL careers, but there is an expectation that Winston should be a better quarterback in 2014 under Jimbo Fisher, who has had several former quarterbacks drafted in the first round. The one area of concern for the Seminoles at the position is if Winston were to miss time because of injury. Sean Maguire looked strong in the spring game working against the backups, but there is not as much depth at the position as there was a season ago. Jacob Coker, who backed Winston up last fall, is competing for the starting job at Alabama, and Clint Trickett left before the 2013 season began and will start for West Virginia this fall. As long as Winston stays healthy, though, this is clearly the best group in the ACC.

Next up: Duke

There isn’t much returning experience at quarterback in the ACC, but the Blue Devils, the Seminoles’ opponent in the ACC title game last fall, bring back Anthony Boone. A redshirt senior, Boone is the leader of the offense and has responsibilities not only as a passer but also running. Boone threw for 2,260 yards as a junior but threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns (13). Those numbers are somewhat skewed, as Boone was regularly replaced at the goal line by change-of-pace quarterback Brandon Connette, who rushed for 14 touchdowns in 2013. Connette is no longer with the team, though, so the burden of getting Duke into the end zone will fall squarely on Boone this season. If Duke plans to make a statement that 2013 was not a fluke and the Blue Devils will be an annual contender, Boone will be the one to lead them there.

Sleeper: Virginia

The entire 2013 season was a disaster for the Cavaliers and the Cavaliers felt the pain at quarterback. David Watford failed to retain the job, and coach Mike London hinted at some leadership issues for Watford this spring, too. That opened the door for redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert, who in May was named the starter. London is putting a tremendous amount of trust in Lambert, who was voted a team captain this spring. There is a good amount of talent on Virginia’s roster as London has recruited well, so there are pieces around Lambert that should help ease him into the starting lineup. It won’t be an ideal start for Lambert as the Cavs open with UCLA, Louisville and BYU among their first four games, but Lambert could make a profound statement by playing well through the first third of the season.

Problem for a contender: Miami

Miami is considered Florida State’s toughest competition in the ACC this season, but the Hurricanes’ season has a little problem heading into the fall: They don’t have a starting quarterback. Projected starter Ryan Williams is rehabilitating a torn knee ligament and hopes to be ready for the opener, but it certainly seems unlikely considering the injury was only sustained three months ago. Williams is the only quarterback on the roster that has started a game for Miami. Kevin Olsen figures to be the starter if Williams is not ready. A blue-chip recruit, the redshirt freshman still might not be ready to be a starter in Coral Gables, which is why it was imperative that Miami brought in transfer Jake Heaps this summer. Heaps bounced around in college with stints at BYU and Kansas, but was a highly regarded high school quarterback. Brad Kaaya signed with Miami this February and was an ESPN 300 quarterback. He has an outside chance of starting. No matter who starts, expect a steady dose of running back Duke Johnson in every game and an expectation for the quarterback to do just enough to win. The first quarter of the season is manageable with games at Louisville and against Florida A&M and Arkansas State, but after that, the Hurricanes will need a definitive answer at quarterback.

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