ACC: Luther Maddy

In the cold, dark hours after another Virginia Tech home loss, the lots around Lane Stadium sit empty, except for one lonely image: A few guys playing corn hole next to a fire they built to keep warm.

Those are the loyalists, and there are plenty of them in Blacksburg. But there also are many others wondering how much longer the Virginia Tech program can go on like this, mired in mediocrity after so many years filled with so many wins.

Frank Beamer led this program to all those wins, and he has led this program to all its recent losses. His situation presents a complex dynamic that has no easy answers. Athletic director Whit Babcock gave Beamer a contract extension before the season began as a way to give him a little more security and head off constant questions from reporters and recruits wondering about his future.

That has not stopped anybody from debating how much longer Beamer has left. He has given every indication he plans to return in 2015 despite a third straight subpar season.

[+] EnlargeMiami defense
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesThings have been a struggle for Virginia Tech since it won at Ohio State in Week 2, as the Hokies have dropped five of seven games.
Truthfully, nobody inside the program envisioned being 4-5 in November. Not after a win over Ohio State in Week 2. Looking back, that win may have ended up setting Virginia Tech up to fail. The Hokies lost the following week to East Carolina, and only have two wins since Sept. 6.

“We came out on fire that game, but you had a lot of young guys playing for their first time this year and to keep that momentum going, there has to be a mindset type of deal,” senior safety Detrick Bonner said. “You have to have more leadership going on both sides of the ball. You have to hold yourself accountable as a whole group.

“Just going back from that game ... we probably took the rest of the games more lightly, being that we won that game thinking we could finish the rest of the season with wins. It didn’t go that way, but we’re going to definitely try to finish strong these last few games.”

Perhaps the mindset impacted performance, but so did injuries. The Hokies have been hit hard at just about every area on the field, from running back to offensive line, to defensive front and secondary. Those injuries, combined with 18 freshmen listed on the depth chart, have had a detrimental impact. So have turnovers and penalties, generally a sign of undisciplined teams.

“What you've got to be good at is being realistic in what you got on your football team,” Beamer explained on the ACC coaches teleconference this week. “I would have hoped that Ohio State would have thought they were beaten by a good football team, not be such a low mark in their season.

“I like our football team. I like our players. I liked them after we beat Ohio State. I liked them after we had a tough loss. They work hard. They want to be successful. They do what you ask them to do. I'd just like for them to have a little more experience.”

Nine games in, they should. Still, the only game Virginia Tech had no chance to in win the fourth quarter was against Miami last month. The Hokies have dropped three straight, with a trip to No. 21 Duke next.

The last time Virginia Tech lost four games in a row in one season was in 1992. That happens to be the last time the Hokies finished with a losing record. Only Florida State has a longer streak of consecutive winning seasons.

Still, fan interest has been dwindling. Virginia Tech saw its 93-game home sellout streak end to start 2013. Though Virginia Tech announced a sellout against Miami, vast patches of seats remained empty in the upper deck.

The following day on campus, it was as if a football game never happened. But there is not much vitriol for Beamer or the football program, at least not yet. “The feeling on campus is mixed,” said freshman Willie Bruchey. “I’d like to see them do better, but we’re all here to support coach.”

Another student asked, “If we get rid of him, who do we get? Will he be better? If he’s not, we got rid of coach for what?”

Normalizing expectations seems important, but so is maximizing talent. That is why 2015 will be crucial. Of the 28 touchdowns the Hokies have scored this season, 19 are from freshmen. Plus, injured difference makers Luther Maddy, Brandon Facyson, Shai McKenzie and Trey Edmunds will be back.

Recruiting is going relatively well, too. After a tough loss to Boston College on Nov. 1, the Hokies hosted several elite recruits, who spent time playing pool with Beamer in his home.

ESPN Recruiting Nation says Virginia Tech can end up with a Top 25 class if it pulls in some critical commitments, most notably injured defensive end Josh Sweat from Chesapeake, Va. The top two uncommitted recruits from the state of Virginia are both considering the Hokies.

While there are reasons why Virginia Tech has fallen back, the trend cannot continue. Beamer knows that better than anybody.

“Any time you're not successful in this business, it’s hard,” Beamer said. “I try to keep it realistic. I try to evaluate where we should be, and how close are we to being there. Some people think we should win every game. We’d like to win every ball game, but I think you’ve got to be realistic and understand other teams don't stay the same.

“They change from year to year. We don't stay the same. We change from year to year. Play as hard as you can, be as good as you can, and hope you get your share of the wins.”

ACC morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
8:00
AM ET
It appears as if Virginia Tech will lose its second defensive starter to a medical redshirt this season.

Starting defensive tackle Luther Maddy said Monday night on Twitter that he needs a second surgery on his knee and will sit out the rest of the season.
Maddy initially tore the meniscus in his right knee against East Carolina in Week 3, but played 48 snaps with the injury against Georgia Tech. He underwent surgery last month, and the timetable for his return was listed as two-to-four weeks. Though he was listed as probable to play against Pitt, Maddy did not and was not scheduled to play against Miami on Thursday night.

His loss is a big one for the Hokies, who have had to make do without him for the last three games. Nigel Williams replaced him in the lineup, but it's tough to make up for Maddy's experience and skill-set. The four-year starter was a preseason All-ACC team selection after he had 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries a season ago. In four games this season, Maddy had seven hurries.

Virginia Tech also plans on redshirting Brandon Facyson, who started the season at cornerback opposite Kendall Fuller. Facyson has been slow to heal from a stress fracture to his shin and has not played since Week 3.

In one other Virginia Tech injury note, running back Marshawn Williams is expected to play against the Hurricanes after missing last week with a sprained ankle.

Over at Georgia Tech, the Jackets got some tough injury news of their own when coach Paul Johnson said that starting B-back Zach Laskey probably won't play at Pitt on Saturday. Laskey hurt his shoulder late against North Carolina last week and was in a sling Monday. Laskey has been terrific this season, with a team-high 120 carries for 595 yards and five touchdowns.

He gained 70 or more yards in each game this season.

Now let's see what else is making headlines in the ACC:

ACC morning links

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
8:00
AM ET
Virginia Tech heads to Pittsburgh for a big game on Thursday night, and will have to do so without two of its better players.

Defensive tackle Luther Maddy is out for the game, while super freshman running back Marshawn Williams is "very doubtful." Maddy has missed two straight games after having surgery on a torn meniscus, while Williams sprained his ankle in a win at North Carolina on Oct. 4.

The Williams injury may be tougher to overcome, considering the Hokies are getting thin at running back. Trey Edmunds and Shai McKenzie already are out, leaving J.C. Coleman as the probable starter against the Panthers. Joel Caleb and Sam Rogers will be in the rotation as well.

In other ACC injury news, Virginia coach Mike London was not yet ready to announce who would start at quarterback against Duke on Saturday. Greyson Lambert practiced on Sunday so if he is ready to go after an ankle injury, he will start. If he is not quite ready, then Matt Johns will.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino also was mum on his starting quarterback against NC State. Both Reggie Bonnafon and Will Gardner played last week in a loss to Clemson. There also is still not decision on when receiver DeVante Parker will return from a foot injury. He has resumed practicing but was not quite ready to play last week.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said quarterback Justin Thomas was OK after injuring his ankle in a loss to Duke.

Now let's take a quick look at what else is happening in the ACC:

ACC morning links

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
8:00
AM ET
Virginia kicker Ian Frye went through quite a harrowing ordeal during the BYU game last weekend.

When the team started to walk to the locker room at halftime, Frye noticed his mother coming down a set of stairs toward him. She yelled to Frye that his dad, Mark, was having chest pains. Frye went into the locker room briefly before finding his dad, who was seated just outside the door having a hard time breathing. He spoke with his dad and the paramedics, before his parents urged him to go back to his team.

Mark Frye, 58, was transported to a local hospital after suffering a heart attack. Ian Frye was left to play the rest of the game, worrying about his dad. But that did not keep him from nailing a 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

"Just sitting there on the sideline was tough," Frye told local reporters Monday. "But I wanted to be there with my team, support them, and do what I needed to do. I was called out for a 46-yard field goal. That was probably one of my hardest kicks that I've ever had to do, just knowing about my dad and what he was going through and having to perform still for the team. I kicked it for him."

After the game ended, BYU police escorted Frye to the hospital to see his dad, who had undergone successful surgery. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe visited in the hospital and brought Ian a meal. Ian Frye stayed overnight in Utah and returned to Charlottesville on Monday after a lengthy flight delay in Atlanta.

Mark Frye remains in a Provo hospital but is expected to recover. He has taken great pride in Ian's career, never missing a game. The 46-yard field goal Frye nailed was the first kick Mark Frye had ever missed his son attempt.

But he is not completely out of the loop. He was the first one to text Ian on Monday and let him know the ACC named him its Specialist of the Week after making all four field goal attempts in the game.

He is now 10-of-11 on field goal attempts this season.

Pretty amazing story.

In some other Virginia news, quarterback Greyson Lambert had a walking boot on Sunday and will be evaluated throughout the week. Matt Johns and David Watford will get increased reps at quarterback in case Lambert is not ready to go against Kent State this weekend. He is not the only ACC quarterback who is day-to-day.

Louisville quarterback Will Gardner is having his knee examined after he tweaked it against FIU. Coach Bobby Petrino told reporters Monday that it was too early to tell whether Gardner will be able to play against Wake Forest. If he can't, Reggie Bonnafon will be ready to go after missing last week following his father's death.

Now a quick look around the ACC:
Virginia Tech will be without Luther Maddy for the next two to four weeks, the school announced Monday, as the defensive tackle will undergo surgery Tuesday morning to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Maddy suffered the tear two weeks ago against East Carolina but managed to play 48 snaps against Georgia Tech. Nigel Williams will replace him as starter.

Linebacker Dahman McKinnon will undergo a similar surgery Tuesday on his left knee after suffering a meniscus tear during practice last week that forced him out of Saturday's game. He is also expected to miss two to four weeks.

The Hokies announced several other injury items Monday: Freshman offensive lineman Colt Pettit will undergo season-ending left shoulder surgery Tuesday and will be questionable for spring practice. Linebacker Sean Huelskamp will also undergo season-ending surgery Tuesday and will be questionable for spring practice after tearing the ACL in his right knee during a Week 2 win at Ohio State. And defensive back Desmond Frye underwent left shoulder surgery on Sept. 16. He will petition for a medical hardship waiver since he played in only two games this year and has yet to redshirt.
Here's a look at what we learned in the ACC in Week 2.

1. Virginia Tech is for real. Virginia Tech defensive tackle Luther Maddy guaranteed the Hokies would beat Ohio State during ACC Kickoff back in July. Not many people took him seriously until Saturday night. Virginia Tech went into Columbus and took down the No. 8 Buckeyes 35-21 behind an aggressive, attacking defense and an offense that has finally found its footing behind Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer. When Braxton Miller got hurt, many thought this game would be more winnable for the Hokies, but not many predicted the upset. Coach Frank Beamer has been telling reporters since the fall he liked the makeup of this team. It was easy to see why during the game. Brewer brings poise and moxie to the quarterback spot, and young players such as Marshawn Williams, Shai McKenzie and Deon Newsome add a dimension to the offense that has been missing the past several years. Couple that with an always-stellar defense -- Virginia Tech finished with seven sacks and three interceptions -- and the Hokies have the makings of a darkhorse playoff contender. There. I said it.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's Dadi Nicolas
AP Photo/Paul VernonDadi Nicolas sacks Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett during Virginia Tech's 35-21 win.
2. #goACC. Those who follow the ACC on Twitter know the #goacc hashtag has been a way to poke fun at the league when something goes horribly wrong. But on Saturday night, all was perfect in ACC land. While the Big Ten fell flat on its face, the ACC skipped along to a happier tune and went 11-0 in nonconference play. That set an ACC record for the most nonconference games ever won on a single day and a single weekend. The ACC had previously won eight nonconference games in a single day on Sept. 12, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2013. The league won 10 nonconference games in a weekend on Sept. 2 to 6, 2010.

Several crises were averted -- Georgia Tech, NC State, Duke and North Carolina all had to come from behind to beat their non-Power Five opponents. Virginia Tech grabbed the biggest win, of course, and there’s no diminishing its significance for the program. The Hokies earned a reputation for failing to win the big game because of their BCS failures. But Beamer can hold his head high. Virginia Tech posted its first win in 35 tries away from home against top-8 teams.

3. Watch out for Pitt. It was easy to dismiss the Panthers’ 62-0 win over Delaware in Week 1. But it’s not so easy to dismiss the Panthers now, after a 30-20 win over Boston College on Friday night that was not as close as the final score indicates. Once again, James Conner bulldozed through the opposing defense and racked up 214 yards on a career-high 36 carries. He accounted for more than half of Pitt’s offensive yards. The offensive line continued to block well, and Tyler Boyd had 108 all-purpose yards of his own. The Pitt defense also held firm, especially up front, and limited BC to 276 total yards. Up next is FIU, so the Panthers’ train should keep on rolling.

4. Earth to North Carolina. The Tar Heels seem to start every preseason with high expectations, only to crash and burn. This year might not be so different. For the second week in a row, No. 21 North Carolina struggled to put away an opponent from a non-Power Five conference. Last week, it used a second-half blitz to beat Liberty. But on Saturday, the Tar Heels nearly lost. Tim Scott saved the day when he secured an interception with mere seconds remaining in the game and gave North Carolina the 31-27 win over San Diego State. The Aztecs had more first downs, total yards and dominated time of possession. But they also turned the ball over three times, including a pick-six that Brian Walker returned for a touchdown. In two games, North Carolina has given up 855 total yards and has looked totally out of sync on offense and defense. The schedule only gets tougher from here. Following a bye, they play at East Carolina, at Clemson, Virginia Tech and at Notre Dame.

5. Lots of young faces. We saw plenty of young faces play well across the league in Week 2. In addition to the aforementioned players at Virginia Tech, freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon went 8-of-11 for 112 yards and a score, and freshman running back L.J. Scott had 126 yards and a touchdown for Louisville. Clemson freshman receiver Artavis Scott set the school’s single-game record for receiving yards by a freshman with 164 yards, while Tigers freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson went 8-of-9 for 154 yards and three touchdowns, and Tigers running back Adam Choice had 72 yards and a touchdown. Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford went 30-of-38 for 291 yards with two touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook led the Seminoles with 13 carries for 67 yards and a score, while Miami running back Joe Yearby had 14 carries for 95 yards. Plenty to look forward to from all these players into the future.
In July, Virginia Tech defensive tackle Luther Maddy guaranteed the Hokies would go to Ohio State and win.

Some might have chuckled at his bold prediction at the time. But all of a sudden the matchup between the teams Saturday looks quite winnable for the Hokies.

With Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller out, and new faces at running back, receiver and on the offensive line, Virginia Tech has an opportunity to put a stamp on this game with its defense.

To his credit, Maddy was not backing down this week, saying, “I’m really confident in our team. We’re a good, capable team this year and I think we can go up there and definitely pull out a W. If we play our best football, we can definitely get that win.”

What makes him so confident against the No. 8 Buckeyes, in Columbus, where Virginia Tech will be playing in front of 100,000 people?

“We’ve had two mediocre years so what me and the seniors did this year, is we made everybody aware of that -- that’s not the norm,” Maddy said. “Everybody’s buying into that. We need to get back to 10 wins, get back to winning the ACC, get back to winning those championships. Everybody is buying in and working hard. In the offseason, spring and summer, I could see changes in their attitude and practice habits. They want to win.”

The Virginia Tech defense does have some matchups that swing in its favor. With Miller out, J.T. Barrett will not be as big a threat to run the ball. Barrett does run, but not nearly as much as Miller. Last week in a win over Navy, Barrett had nine carries. Miller had fewer than 10 carries only twice last season, including the game against San Diego State in which he got hurt.

A diminished running threat obviously takes some pressure off the defense. Maddy also believes the quicker, more athletic defensive line has an opportunity to win some matchups in the trenches, despite being smaller than the Buckeyes’ linemen.

Carlos Hyde is gone at running back, leaving an unproven group to take over. Tight end Jeff Heuerman returns, and so does big-play receiver Devin Smith. Otherwise, the Buckeyes are fairly inexperienced at receiver, too. Virginia Tech has one of the strongest secondaries in the country, so that should be an advantage for the Hokies as well.

The bigger concern is the Virginia Tech offensive line. The Hokies looked improved in a win over William & Mary last week but also showed inconsistencies, especially down on the goal line. Freshman Shai McKenzie was the breakout player with 106 yards rushing as the Hokies had 222 yards on the ground.

But we all know this will be a far bigger test. Ohio State defensive linemen Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett are two of the best they will face this season, and the Buckeyes have the edge up front -- at least on paper.

“The first game went as well as you could ever hope,” coach Frank Beamer said. “The problem is when you line up against Ohio State, it's a totally different situation than the guys they've got up front. It's going to be a challenge to be able to do the things we were able to do last week. We want to try to do them, but it's going to be a heck of a challenge for us.”

The Ohio State defense had its share of issues toward the end of last season, giving up 115 points over the final three games. So it’s not as if the Buckeyes are invincible. If Virginia Tech can set up the run and play up to its capabilities on defense and special teams, the game becomes very winnable.

And it’s an opportunity to make a statement, too.

“Winning this big out-of-conference game would definitely be big for our program and also for the ACC, just to prove that we’re capable of beating those big schools in other conferences,” Maddy said. “It would make a big, big statement. It would make our fans a lot happier and it would open a lot of peoples’ eyes around the nation.”
With the news that Ohio State lost quarterback Braxton Miller for the season, USA Today wondered what the effect might be of a major injury on a few of the other top College Football Playoff candidates, including Florida State.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsEven with second-stringer Sean Maguire at quarterback, Florida State would be an ACC favorite. But maybe not a national favorite.
According to the story, a switch from Jameis Winston to Sean Maguire at QB would mean roughly 10 fewer points per game and two fewer wins for FSU.
Substitute Maguire for Winston and the Noles still win the ACC championship, but without Winston they only average 33.9 points per game and win 9.4 games on average.

The Orlando Sentinel digs a bit deeper, looking at what the ramifications of a Winston injury might be for the Seminoles.

I didn’t crunch any serious numbers, as USA Today did, or dig too deep into the roster the way the Sentinel did, but if I was putting together a list of the ACC’s most irreplaceable players, it’d probably look something like this:

1. Winston — for obvious reasons, as discussed above.

2. Duke Johnson — We saw what happened last year when he went down. Miami was 7-0 with him healthy, 2-4 when he wasn’t on the field the whole game. Not to mention the Hurricanes' rushing average was cut in half.

3. Jamison Crowder - The guy was targeted 174 times last year (40 more than Sammy Watkins) and that was before Duke lost Braxton Deaver and Brandon Connette.

4. Eli Harold - The guy averaged 24 more snaps per game than All-American Vic Beasley did, and Virginia’s defense is predicated on penetrating the line of scrimmage.

5. Jacoby Brissett — OK, NC State might not do much this year even with Brissett, but what’s the option if he goes down? The Pack’s hopes for 2014 are riding almost entirely on his shoulders, and unlike last year, there’s actually some reason for optimism.

Beyond that top five, Mario Edwards Jr., Luther Maddy, Norkeithus Otis and Tyler Boyd come to mind, too.

Of course, there’s surely a few more players left off the list that warrant discussion. So, who’d we miss?

A few more links:

  • The (Syracuse) Post-Standard has Virginia’s Mike London as the ACC’s only coach on the hot seat this season. One reason London is on the hot seat: a lack of production in spite of talent. Virginia is 18-31 under London. Only eight other teams have performed worse during the past four years, and of that group, only Cal has signed more four-star and five-star recruits than the 19 signed by London, according to ESPN’s rankings. (Of note: Kentucky has signed 16, but 14 have come in the last two years since Mark Stoops was hired as head coach. The other six programs with worse records than Virginia during that stretch have signed just 30 four-star or five-star recruits.)
  • The Wall Street Journal took a look at how each Power 5 conference coach has done against top-25 opposition in his career. The Louisville Courier-Journal followed up with a deeper look at Bobby Petrino’s credentials as well as a look at the individual ACC coaches.
  • There are still plenty of starting jobs up for grabs on the Virginia Tech offensive depth chart, as The Roanoke Times points out.
  • For years, Jim Grobe avoided playing true freshmen at Wake Forest. In the first season under Dave Clawson, it appears as many as nine will get a chance to play in this year’s opener, the Winston-Salem Journal writes.
  • And on related notes, earlier this week Matt Fortuna wrote a bit about Clawson’s journey to Wake Forest, and Jared Shanker looked at the programs most apt to play true freshmen.
  • Duke certainly projects to have a speedy secondary, which has earned the unit a unique nickname, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Steven Daniels is in line to be the next great middle linebacker at Boston College, writes the Boston Herald.
  • And lastly, if you don’t hear from me for the next 10 days, it’s because FXX is marathoning every “The Simpsons” episode ever, starting today. Here’s the full schedule if you’re portioning out your time to the most important episodes (“Marge vs. the Monorail is tomorrow at 9 p.m.) and here’s your requisite Simpsons gif to showcase my feelings about the event.

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

Previewing the 2014 season for the Virginia Tech Hokies:

Key returners: RB Trey Edmunds (675 yards, 10 TDs), WR Willie Byrn (51 catches, 660 yards), WR Demitri Knowles (641 yards), WR Josh Stanford (640 yards), C David Wang, LB Kyshoen Jarrett (71 tackles, 2 INTs), CB Kendall Fuller (6 INTs, 11 pass break-ups), CB Brandon Facyson (5 INTs), DT Luther Maddy (13.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

Key losses: QB Logan Thomas, OG Andrew Miller, WR D.J. Coles, K Cody Journell, LB Jack Tyler, LB Tyriq Edwards, DL Derrick Hopkins, CB Kyle Fuller, DL James Gayle, DL J.R. Collins,

Most important games: Sept. 6 at Ohio State, Oct. 4 at North Carolina, Oct. 16 at Pitt, Oct. 23 at Miami.

Projected win percentage: .637

Vegas over/under: 8 wins

[+] EnlargeWillie Byrn
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Willie Byrn says the Hokies plan to embark on a championship run in 2014.
Instant impact newcomers: Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer has his eyes on the starting quarterback job, and plenty of Tech fans view him as a potential savior for an offense that languished the past two years. Freshman tailback Marshawn Williams had an encouraging spring and could push Edmunds for carries. Redshirt freshman Seth Dooley figures to help fill the void on the defensive line. Tight end Bucky Hodges, a redshirt freshman, is 6-foot-6 and could be an inviting red zone target.

Biggest question mark: The quarterback position was undoubtedly the biggest question mark entering fall camp, but turning around the offensive struggles for Virginia Tech will be a group effort, regardless of who takes the bulk of the snaps this season. Edmunds and the other running backs need to take pressure off the QB by moving the ball on the ground. The O-line needs to be more physical and help Tech convert more third downs, a huge problem last season. The receivers need to get open and, just as importantly, hang on to the football when it comes their way. If all those other things happen, the wins may come regardless of the quarterback.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Coach Frank Beamer finds his quarterback, the rest of the offense grows up around him, and Virginia Tech finally has an offensive identity. The special teams unit returns to its “Beamer Ball” roots, and the defense looks as good as it did a year ago, even without its departed stars. An early upset of Ohio State earns the Hokies national credibility and a reasonable schedule in conference puts Tech in the hunt for a division title and a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: No QB emerges as an obvious choice to start, and a revolving door opens at the position. Edmunds and the receivers show little improvement from a year ago. The defense misses Tyler and the elder Fuller and can’t mask the offensive struggles any longer. The atmosphere gets tense internally and the Hokies struggle against flawed teams in their own division. The 21-year bowl streak comes to an end.

Number to know: 12.6. That’s Virginia Tech’s yards per completion last season, which, surprisingly enough, was right about the same as what the prolific offense at Clemson managed (12.7). The difference in the two passing games? The Hokies completed just 56 percent of their attempts. Clemson completed 69 percent. Chalk it up to the accuracy issues of Thomas, but the receivers also need to do a better job of avoiding drops in key spots.

They said it: “I’m thinking about, it's ACC championship or bust, and I think our whole team has that sense of urgency.” -- Byrn
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 seemingly endless. 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 Virginia Tech will win the Coastal

Defense. If we were making the case for Virginia Tech every season, then we would start with defense just about every single time. You can always expect a solid defense in Blacksburg. Despite some losses on the defensive line and at linebacker, 2014 is no exception. Virginia Tech should have one of the best secondaries in the country, with Kendall Fuller, Brandon Facyson and Kyshoen Jarrett all returning. And the Hokies should also have one of the best interior linemen in the ACC in Luther Maddy, a preseason All-ACC selection. Dadi Nicolas made huge strides a year ago, and Corey Marshall had a great spring after refocusing on his career. Nobody expects this group to take a step back.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's Trey Edmunds
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsVirginia Tech's Trey Edmunds rushed for 675 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Trey Edmunds. Edmunds appeared to be turning a corner toward the end of last season, with solid performances in his final three games before breaking his leg against Virginia. You see why expectations around him have mushroomed headed into 2014. Virginia Tech has lacked consistency in the backfield over the last two years, a big reason why the Hokies have taken a step back. It has been well documented just how stuck this ground game has been, a rarity under Frank Beamer. But Edmunds provides hope for the running game as the unquestioned starter, a player with the ability to power through the line but also break tackles and make explosive plays. Marshawn Williams also drew praise for his play this spring, so his addition should help everybody take a collective step up.

Improved QB play. So Virginia Tech has not settled on a starter here, but Beamer and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler truly believe the offense will be better. That all starts with the quarterback. Logan Thomas took his share of criticism over his final two seasons. Perhaps Virginia Tech relied too heavily on him to make plays happen. When he forced the issue, he made mistakes. Just look at his TD to INT ratio -- 34 to 29 the last two years. While it is true Thomas did not have a lot of help around him, the default position was to have him do everything. That philosophy has to change. With that shift, the expectation is the overall offense will be more productive.

Why Virginia Tech won't win the Coastal

Offensive line. As mentioned above, Virginia Tech has not had any real consistency at running back of late. But it also has not had any consistency along the offensive line, either. The position has not been an area of strength, which has helped contribute to the poor rushing numbers. Even though four starters return with a ton of game experience, there remain questions about this group. Not only are they going on their third offensive line coach in as many years, how do we know this will finally be the year they come together and play well?

Special teams. Once an area of strength, this has become a bugaboo for Beamer in recent years. Virginia Tech kickers missed 11 field goals last season. It's a free-for-all to win the starting kicking job headed into fall practice, with nobody proven in the mix. Not only that, the Hokies gave up three touchdown returns last season (most notably the Alabama game) and had none of their own. So if the Hokies don't step it up in a hurry, special teams could cost them a game or two. Again.

Quarterback. While there is a segment of fans who are happy to see Thomas go, just look at the bowl game after Mark Leal came in to replace him as the nightmare scenario that could unfold at quarterback. Michael Brewer appears to be the guy everybody wants to see start, but he left Texas Tech after failing to secure the starting job. How do we know he truly is the answer? Do any of the guys on the roster have what it takes to lead this team to another Coastal crown? That is the biggest unknown right now.

Top ACC players: Nos. 25-21

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
9:00
AM ET
As we get set to open fall camps around the ACC, we're counting down the conference's top 25 players -- five per day all this week.

25. Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech Hokies

Position: Defensive tackle
Year: Senior

If Virginia Tech’s defense is to be among the best in the nation once again, Maddy will likely be the centerpiece of the front seven. He was exceptional last season, racking up 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks -- most among returning interior linemen in the conference. He also racked up 55 tackles and 16 quarterback hurries for a Hokies squad that allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in the league. But Tech also lost three senior linemen at season's end.

24. Jeremy Cash, Duke Blue Devils

Position: Safety
Year: RS Junior

The perfect fit in Duke’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme, Cash racked up a whopping 121 tackles and four interceptions last season working as both a safety and linebacker. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, he’s a bit undersized as a true linebacker, but he matches up well against bigger receivers and is still strong enough to help in the run game. He was an All-ACC selection last season and got a nod from the media on this year’s preseason balloting. The Blue Devils’ secondary ranked 11th in the ACC in pass defense last season, but it's a young group that can develop nicely with Cash as a centerpiece in 2014.

23. Ronald Darby, Florida State Seminoles

Position: Cornerback
Year: Junior

Darby has been a standout since he set foot on campus in Tallahassee, Florida, yet he’s always managed to fly a bit beneath the radar with stars like Lamarcus Joyner and Xavier Rhodes alongside him in FSU’s secondary. But if fans have overlooked him, quarterbacks haven’t. Darby was Florida State’s most-feared defensive back last season despite a nagging groin injury that hampered him all year. According to STATS, LLC, no returning ACC defensive back targeted at least 20 times last season allowed a lower completion percentage than Darby.

22. Grady Jarrett, Clemson Tigers

Position: Defensive tackle
Year: Senior

He’s 6-1 and nearly 300 pounds, but coach Dabo Swinney gushes that Jarrett is as physically sculpted a player as he’s come across. In fact, Swinney said if he was starting a team from scratch, he would build around Jarrett. That’s high praise considering the other stout defensive linemen on the Tigers roster. Still, Jarrett is unquestionably one of the conference’s top interior linemen, having racked up 83 tackles (including 11 for a loss) and 14 quarterback pressures last season.

21. Stephone Anthony, Clemson Tigers

Position: Linebacker
Year: Senior

One of the ACC’s top tacklers, Anthony adds another weapon to a ferocious Clemson defensive front. His 15 tackles for loss in 2013 were the most among returning ACC linebackers, and with a deep defensive line in front of him, those numbers could go up in 2014.
The preseason All-ACC team was released Wednesday, and naturally quarterback Jameis Winston led the way with the most votes. There were not too many surprises, beginning with Florida State players littered throughout the list of 26 names.

Here is the 2014 preseason All-ACC team, as voted on by the media at the ACC Kickoff:

 
 
 

Thoughts: While the ACC had the second-most NFL draft picks in May, there is significant talent returning to the conference for the 2014 season. Of the 26 players, 21 were named to one of the three All-ACC teams at the end of last season. That doesn’t include Parker, who will play his first season in the ACC this coming season. Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the leading vote getter (although not a unanimous one), and Beasley, who received the second-most votes, are two of the three returning consensus All-Americans from the 2013 season.

Few conferences would be able to rival that offense with Winston throwing to 1,000-yard receivers Crowder and Greene and a 6-foot-3 target in Parker. O’Leary is one of the best tight ends in the country. There was a seemingly close battle at running back behind Duke Johnson, Williams got the nod over Virginia running back Kevin Parks, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Defensively, that is one talented line. Beasley received the second-most votes for the preseason player of the year, and Edwards was the No. 1 high school recruit in the 2012 class. Maddy and Jarrett are two of the best defensive tackles in the country.

Duke has the second-most players on the team, which speaks to the program David Cutcliffe is building in Durham. The Blue Devils were not picked to win the ACC Coastal despite winning it last season and returning quarterback Anthony Boone. There is a constituency out there that still doesn’t believe Duke is the real deal and is bound for a letdown, but the media believes there is talent throughout the roster; the Blue Devils have a player at receiver, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary. Miami, which was picked to win the division, has two players on the list.

Even as Duke had four players, the Seminoles still had nine, only further signifying the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference, although the league is undoubtedly improving. That list does not include Ronald Darby or Jalen Ramsey, two players who will almost certainly be on an All-ACC team by the end of the season. It is no surprise Florida State was ranked as having the most talent on its 2014 roster two weeks ago in ESPN.com's future power rankings.
Two more watch lists were released Thursday, and the ACC is well-represented. The Bronko Nagurski Trophy is awarded to the nation’s top defensive player by the Charlotte Touchdown Club. The Outland Trophy is given to the nation’s top interior lineman, offensive or defensive.

Here are the ACC and Notre Dame players to make the watch lists:

Bronko Nagurski Trophy

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception. Anthony is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields and registered 13 sacks as a junior. He led the ACC in sacks in 2013. Beasley also is on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Kelby Brown, Duke: The Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe are most known for offense, but Brown is a stout defender and one of the conference’s best. He will make a run at 100 tackles for a second consecutive season this fall. Brown is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant-impact player for the Blue Devils in 2013 following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season. Cash is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national title game. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Nagurski. Edwards is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech. Fuller is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best. Harris is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double-teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best. Jarrett is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the season. Maddy is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but he is as talented as they come. Mauldin is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes defense. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall. Perryman is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

CB KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame: He has started every game in his career and was a FWAA Freshman All-American in 2012. He starred in the Irish’s bowl game with an interception and three pass breakups. Russell is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame: Poised to be one of the best linebackers of recent history for the Irish, Smith started all 13 games as a freshman. He had the third-most tackles for a Notre Dame freshman in school history in 2013. Smith is also on the Bednarik Award watch list.

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list. Williams also is on the Bednarik Award watch list.

Outland Trophy

DL Sheldon Day, Notre Dame: An impact player since his freshman season, Day was second among Notre Dame defensive linemen in tackles last season.

OT Cameron Erving, Florida State: A potential first-round draft pick, Erving elected to stay in school for another run at a national championship. As Jameis Winston’s blindside protector, few linemen nationally hold as much responsibility.

OT Sean Hickey, Syracuse: A workout warrior and one of the strongest players in college football, Hickey is the linchpin to the Orange offensive line.

OG Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech: A two-time ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week, Mason has started 26 of the last 28 games for the Yellow Jackets.

OG Josue Matias, Florida State: Another potential first-round candidate along Florida State’s offensive line, Matias is athletic enough to play offensive tackle, too. He experimented at left tackle this spring.

OC Jake Smith, Louisville: Smith could end up playing right guard, where he started earlier in his career, but he is coming off a junior season in which he started at center. Smith is also on the Rimington watch list.

OG Laken Tomlinson, Duke: A key along the offensive line for the Blue Devils, Tomlinson likely will be a preseason All-ACC team selection. He was a first-team All-ACC coaches selection in 2013 as the Blue Devils’ best lineman.

Clemson’s Grady Jarrett and Virginia Tech’s Luther Maddy were represented on both lists.

Player list for ACC media days

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
2:24
PM ET
The 2014 college football season is inching ever so closer, with ACC media days set to take place in less than two weeks.

The league released its list of players who will be attending the July 20-21 event at The Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here they are:

BOSTON COLLEGE
C Andy Gallik, R-Sr.
DB Dominique Williams, R-Sr.

CLEMSON
QB Cole Stoudt, Sr.
DE Vic Beasley, R-Sr.

DUKE
OG Laken Tomlinson, R-Sr.
LB Kelby Brown, R-Sr.

FLORIDA STATE
QB Jameis Winston, R-So.
CB P.J. Williams, Jr.

GEORGIA TECH
OG Shaquille Mason, Sr.
LB Quayshawn Nealy, R-Sr.

LOUISVILLE
WR DeVante Parker, Sr.
DE Lorenzo Mauldin, Sr.

MIAMI
RB Duke Johnson, Jr.
LB Denzel Perryman, Sr.

NORTH CAROLINA
QB Marquise Williams, Jr.
LB Norkeithus Otis, Sr.

NC STATE
RB Tony Creecy, R-Sr.
DE Art Norman, R-Sr.

PITT
WR Tyler Boyd, So.
DB Ray Vinopal, R-Sr.

SYRACUSE
OT Sean Hickey, Sr.
LB Cameron Lynch, Sr.

VIRGINIA
RB Kevin Parks, Sr.
SS Anthony Harris, Sr.

VIRGINIA TECH
WR Willie Byrn, R-Sr.
DT Luther Maddy, DT

WAKE FOREST
FB Jordan Garside, R-Sr.
CB Kevin Johnson, R-Sr.
Do you need a sign college football is close but still just a little too far away? The first preseason award watch lists were released Monday, a list of more than 70 players that could be the best in the country by season’s end.

It doesn’t matter if you have started only three games in your career and haven’t played a down since November 2012 -- there is a spot for you on the list.

That said, it’s college football and as ridiculous as these often are, I admit I enjoy looking at them. The watch lists for the Maxwell Award, given to the college player of the year, and Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player, were released Monday. As the season progresses, the list will be pared down before a winner is announced in December.

Here is a look at the ACC players to make the cut and some justification for each player being on the list.

Maxwell Award

WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: As a freshman last fall, Boyd was as good of a receiver as there was in the ACC. As the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver heading into the 2014 season, Boyd could put up monster numbers and follow in the footsteps of Pitt great Larry Fitzgerald.

[+] EnlargeJames Connor
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner set a Pitt record with 229 yards in the Panthers' bowl win over Bowling Green.
QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State: This is not a knock on Brissett, but his inclusion is certainly puzzling considering he sat out all of 2013 after transferring from Florida, where he saw limited time as a starter and backup. However, the Wolfpack staff is high on Brissett leading the program’s turnaround, and Brissett was a blue-chip high school recruit.

WR Stacy Coley, Miami: Much like Boyd, Coley had a strong freshman season and is poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. One of the country’s elite recruits in 2013, Coley could make a national name for himself if he can build a connection with Miami’s quarterbacks, which have struggled with inconsistency and injury.

RB James Conner, Pitt: It’s almost unfair Conner was limited to just the Maxwell watch list Monday considering he is a two-way standout for the Panthers. Conner is already a huge fan favorite in the Steel City for his bruising and relentless running style, and he broke Tony Dorsett’s school bowl-game rushing record in December.

WR Jamison Crowder, Duke: Any time you catch more than 100 passes for more than 1,300 yards, you deserve to be on this list.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Johnson’s inclusion here is a credit to how dominant he was before the injury against Florida State and how woeful Miami looked after. If he can stay healthy, Johnson has the potential to be an elite back nationally.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: As the Cardinals’ leading returning receiver and now in Bobby Petrino’s offense, Parker should light up stat sheets this coming season.

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Seminoles’ receivers, but none of it includes Greene, who led the Noles in receiving in 2013. With Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in the NFL, Greene will be looked upon to bail out Jameis Winston this fall.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: Speaking of Winston, the Maxwell is about the only thing he did not win last season. Another spectacular season and it will be hard to ignore him again.

RB Karlos Williams, Florida State: Similar to Brissett, this is a bit of a projection pick, although Williams has done significantly more than Brissett. Williams was the third-string running back in 2013, but with his five-star talent base coupled with a senior-laden offensive line and Williams could set records in his final season in Tallahassee.

Reaction: While Brissett is obviously a surprise, overall it is hard to argue with much of the list. Williams' inclusion might be pushing it a little bit, although he certainly could be one of the best running backs in the country with his blend of size and speed. It's a positive sign for the ACC that several underclassmen are on the list, including special playmakers Boyd, Coley and Conner, who will all be true sophomores this fall. The biggest question is whether Winston will win the award if he performs the way most expect him to as a redshirt sophomore. AJ McCarron won the award last season over Winston, who was a semifinalist along with Johnny Manziel. Winston's off-the-field issues might have played a role, so it would be interesting to see if the Maxwell Award will continue to take those incidents into account.



Bednarik Award

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl win against Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: A semifinalist for the award last season, Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields. If he can show a little more consistency, he might win the award in 2014.

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley is among the favorites to repeat as a finalist for this season's Bednarik Award.
LB Kelby Brown, Duke: The Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe are most known for offense, but Brown is a stout defender and one of the conference’s best. He will make a run at 100 tackles for a second straight season this fall.

DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant impact player for the Blue Devils a season ago following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season.

DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national championship. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Bednarik.

DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best.

DE Eli Harold, Virginia: Last season he finished sixth in the ACC with 15 tackles for loss, an impressive number. He could see his numbers improve drastically with five-star Andrew Brown now at defensive tackle.

DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the year.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but is as talented as they come.

DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, North Carolina: Otis is another player poised to possibly gain national recognition and it begins with his inclusion on this list. He had a very strong junior season with 6.5 sacks.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes’ defenses. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall.

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list.

Reaction: It was surprising Darby's name was not included on the list despite missing the spring. He could be the first cornerback taken in the NFL draft next year. The ACC is home to some of the country's best defensive backs with Williams, Fuller and Harris. Beasley is certainly one of the favorites coming into the season, but he was shut down by Florida State last season and will need to rebound against the Seminoles to make a push for the Bednarik as a senior. His sack numbers should be impressive once again, and if he can perform on the big stages, it might be the little extra that wins him the award this season. FSU's Edwards could be the best defensive lineman in the ACC and the country if he plays like he did against Auburn all season. What could hurt Edwards is he will not always be in a position to pile up sacks and tackles even when he is dominating opposing offensive linemen.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ACC SCOREBOARD

Friday, 11/28
Saturday, 11/29