ACC: Mario Edwards Jr

ACC helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
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How about a few helmet stickers for a job well done?

Louisville RB Brandon Radcliff: With starting QB Will Gardner out the past two games, the Louisville passing attack has struggled, but Radcliff has more than made up the difference. After rushing for 129 yards and two touchdowns a week ago against Wake Forest, Radcliff followed with 24 carries for 110 yards and two more rushing scores to topple Syracuse, 28-6. In a crowded Cardinals backfield, Radcliff appears to be separating from the pack.

Virginia Tech DE Ken Ekanem: No Luther Maddy? No problem for Virginia Tech’s defensive line. Ekanem sacked Marquise Williams and forced a fumble on North Carolina’s first offensive play, and that was just the start. The sophomore finished with six tackles, including four for a loss, a QB hurry and three of the Hokies’ five sacks in a 34-17 win.

Clemson DE Vic Beasley: OK, credit to QB Deshaun Watson, too. He was stellar yet again, and his numbers through five games look a whole lot like Jameis Winston’s from a year ago. But while Watson had another huge game Saturday, it’s hard to overlook Beasley and the Clemson pass rush. Beasley tied the Clemson record for career sacks, while stripping the football from Jacoby Brissett and rumbling into the end zone for a score. The Beasley-led D held NC State to just 156 yards while notching Clemson’s first shutout in ACC play since 1998.

Florida State defensive linemen Mario Edwards Jr. and Lorenzo Featherston: A week ago, Featherston stepped in to help fill the void while Edwards sat out with concussion symptoms. In a 43-3 win over Wake Forest on Saturday, the two teamed up for 12 tackles — including 5.5 for a loss — a sack and a fumble recovery, while holding the Demon Deacons to 40 yards on the ground.

Virginia RB Kevin Parks: The leading returning rusher in the ACC had yet to notch a 100-yard game in 2014. Until Saturday. Parks set career highs for carries (29) and yards rushing (169) while also scoring a touchdown in a 24-19 win over Pitt, as the Hoos rushed for 225 total yards. Parks is first Virginia player to run for more than 150 yards in a game since Cedric Peerman (173 vs. East Carolina in 2008). Parks averaged 5.8 yards per carry, over 2 yards better than he had been averaging going into the Pitt game.

By the numbers: Week 4 recap

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Plenty of coaches around the ACC are sifting through some ugly numbers this week, but we’ll start with one of the best performances of the weekend.

* Florida State’s Rashad Greene was a hero yet again Saturday night. His 74-yard touchdown grab with 6:04 to play tied the game at 17 and gave the Seminoles a chance to win in overtime.

The big catches are nothing new for Greene. In fact, you could argue that he’s been on the receiving end of the most significant throws in the college career of four different quarterbacks:

2014: Sean Maguire, 74-yard touchdown to tie game versus Clemson

2013: Jameis Winston, 49-yard completion with less than a minute to play to set up a game-winning touchdown in the BCS national championship

2012: EJ Manuel, 39-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left to beat Virginia Tech, keeping FSU’s hopes alive for Jimbo Fisher’s first ACC championship

2011: Clint Trickett, 56-yard touchdown with 9:32 left to tie Oklahoma

The last one occurred in a game FSU eventually lost, but it’s a play many Noles fans recall as the loudest Doak Campbell Stadium has ever been.

Beyond Greene’s contributions historically though, he’s on an immensely hot streak right now. In his last three games against Power 5 teams, he has 29 catches for 485 yards and two touchdowns. Nineteen of those 29 receptions have gone for first downs.

Currently Alabama’s Amari Cooper is the only receiver in the nation with a longer active streak of 100-yard games against Power 5 teams.

* Georgia Tech is 4-0, and a big reason for that success thus far has been quarterback Justin Thomas, who ranks 10th in ESPN’s Total QBR so far this season. The presumption is the Yellow Jackets are finally embracing the passing game, and therefore the offense is more dynamic.

But that’s not entirely true. Georgia Tech has had the QB drop back to pass on 27 percent of its plays this year, which is just a mild uptick from 2013, when the QB dropped back on 26 percent of its plays.

What’s different is the success Thomas has enjoyed on those dropbacks. Tech is averaging more yards per dropback, been sacked less often and those plays are accounting for a greater percentage of its total offense than it did a year ago with Vad Lee at quarterback.

* While Thomas has been sharp as a passer, DeAndre Smelter is blossoming into a star as a receiver. The former baseball player has three 100-yard games already this season (only Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White have more) and only Cooper, Pitt’s Tyler Boyd and Air Force’s Jalen Robinette have been responsible for a higher percentage of their team’s targets than Smelter (40.3 percent).

* Yes, Boston College’s game Saturday was only against Maine, but here’s a ridiculous stat for you: The Eagles rushed for 413 yards, while only allowing 16 yards on the ground.

More ridiculous: A week earlier, against USC, Boston College ran for 452 yards and allowed just 20.

In the past 10 seasons, there were just eight other examples of a team rushing for more than 400 while allowing 20 or fewer yards on the ground in a game, and BC managed to do it in back-to-back weeks.

* Panic time for some other ground games around the ACC?

Virginia Tech’s rushing game was bad last year and is again in 2014. Overall, the Hokies rank 10th in the ACC in yards-per-carry on non-QB rushes (4.29) and their running backs are averaging just 3.2 yards-per-carry against FBS teams.

North Carolina and Virginia (with 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Parks) are 12th and 13th, respectively, in non-QB yards-per-rush.

Clemson is 11th (4.02), and even with FSU’s best defensive lineman, Mario Edwards Jr., out for much of the game Saturday, the Tigers mustered just 3.2 yards-per-carry. Take away the Clemson QBs, and the ground game had just 47 yards.

Then there’s Louisville. Two weeks ago at Virginia, the Cards’ ground game averaged fewer than 4 yards per rush, and on Saturday against FIU, things were even worse. Set aside Dominique Brown’s 18-yard scamper on the first play of the game, and Louisville had just 34 yards on its final 30 attempts.

* Virginia Tech’s once-stifling defense has really struggled so far this year. Part of it is the game plan Bud Foster has implemented, but the big plays have killed the Hokies. In four games, Tech has coughed up 32 plays of 19 yards or more (once every eight plays). Last year, it allowed just 53 all season.

* Plenty of credit for Georgia Tech’s win should go to Ted Roof’s defense, which rattled Michael Brewer into three turnovers that translated to 17 points. So far this season, the Yellow Jackets have racked up 45 points following turnovers, tops in the ACC.

* And finally, here’s a number that pretty much sums up Clemson’s season so far: In two games against FBS teams, Clemson is averaging 2.37 yards-per-play in the fourth quarter and overtime (fourth-worst nationally) and has picked up just three first downs (worst in the nation).

Preseason All-ACC team

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

Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Specialists

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

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

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

PR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina. Teams have probably learned to kick away from Switzer at all times. Last season, he had five returns for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record.
With the news that Ohio State lost quarterback Braxton Miller for the season, USA Today wondered what the effect might be of a major injury on a few of the other top College Football Playoff candidates, including Florida State.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few more links:

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

This wasn’t after a Clemson, Florida or Miami game. Florida State just finished up its first preseason intrasquad scrimmage.

The only players whose helmets might look similar? “Maybe the offensive linemen,” Edwards said, because those are the unfortunate ones the physically imposing junior defensive end bludgeons on a daily basis.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSack totals don't explain the impact of Mario Edwards Jr. for the Seminoles.
Edwards’ job along the defensive line is often an unenviable one, as his helmet that will require a retouching every week indicates. It’s also a position where Edwards doesn’t get the same recognition as his Florida State predecessors, such as Cornellius Carradine, Brandon Jenkins or Bjoern Werner, who each had the liberty of focusing on rushing the passer from the edge more than Edwards, who is shifted all over the defensive line.

Last week, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was asked about Edwards and whether he should be in line for more than the 3.5 sacks he tallied as a sophomore in 2013. Once the reporter mentioned the word “sacks,” it set Fisher off and he challenged the logic of the query.

“Sacks don’t equate to greatness. You better watch that film. That guy’s a heck of a football player. You watch when the draft comes around,” said Fisher, pointing to Edwards' role on the country's top-scoring defense. “He’s as athletic and dominant as any defensive tackle we’ve ever had.”

The question set in motion a 10-minute coach's clinic session from Fisher, who broke down all of the responsibilities Edwards has, and there were many.

Edwards said he probably missed a few sacks last season because he didn’t understand the entire playbook, and it is easy to see why. As a first-year starter, Edwards was shifted from end to tackle and asked to line up in gaps, heads up with a lineman or shaded to a shoulder. The difference could be a matter of a few inches, but it completely alters the landscape of a defensive scheme. First-year defensive coordinator Charles Kelly said this season Edwards might edge rush one play then drop into coverage on the next because he’s “very powerful but at the same time he’s athletic.”

Fisher likes to call upon the time he witnessed Edwards do a standing back flip … in full pads. If that’s not impressive enough, consider the 20-year-old stands 6-foot-3 and tips the scales at a Twinkie shy of 300 pounds. And while the weight was a concern early in his career, Edwards dedicated himself this offseason, reshaping his body and turning much of the weight into muscle to prepare for the increased attention he’ll see with Timmy Jernigan off to the NFL.

“Talking with Timmy and talking to other guys, I realized it’s back on me now. I’m an upperclassman and we have to carry the tradition,” Edwards said. “I took my workouts serious. I lifted, ran, tried to watch what I ate.”

That has opposing offensive coordinators on heightened alert, especially after observing Edwards chase down speedy Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall in the national championship game. While many offenses are switching to uptempo speeds predicated on spreading the defense out, the philosophy of running the football between the tackles remains largely unchanged. However, the scheme forces defenses to eliminate players from the box and substitute a lineman or linebacker for a smaller defensive back.

The rise of the spread formation has made linemen with Edwards’ athletic ability all the more vital.

“The front guys that are big and agile are so much more critical now than they’ve ever been because the game is spread so they’re getting isolated more,” Fisher said. “… He’s as strong and naturally powerful as anyone I’ve been around.”

Top ACC players: Nos. 15-11

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
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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.

15. Anthony Harris, Virginia Cavaliers
Safety, senior
His junior stats speak for themselves, leading the nation with eight interceptions. Even more impressive is he picked off an opposing quarterback in five straight games, an even tougher feat considering Virginia spent much of last season on the wrong end of a blowout. The unquestioned leader of the Cavaliers defense, Harris will have to repeat his performance from last season as well as raise his teammates' level of play if Virginia is going to return to bowl eligibility. Harris also will be saddled with grooming Quin Blanding, a five-star freshman.

14. Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh Panthers
Wide receiver, sophomore
With Aaron Donald, Tom Savage and Devin Street all moved on, Boyd is the face of the program. The second-year player is the lone Panthers representative on the team's media guide. He totaled nearly 1,200 receiving yards last season, but don't be surprised if those numbers increase. He is the only proven receiving target, and first-year starter Chad Voytik will need a security blanket. Boyd is one of the most explosive players in the conference, and he could easily lead the ACC in catches and yards this season.

13. Ryan Switzer, North Carolina Tar Heels
Wide receiver/punt returner, sophomore
It speaks volumes about a player's game-breaking ability when he ranks No. 13 on the list following a season with just 32 catches and 341 yards receiving. But Switzer earns the accolades considering how dynamic he is on special teams. He returned 25 punts last season and he took five back for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record. Scoring on 20 percent of your punt returns is an unheard of number. Chad Owens, who shares the record with Switzer, needed 36 returns. Devin Hester scored on less than 10 percent of his returns when he broke the NFL record with four punt return scores in 2007.

12. Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State Seminoles
Defensive lineman, junior
The best indicator on Edwards' junior season will be analyzing the statistics of those around the former No. 1 recruit nationally. The Seminoles' scheme won't consistently put Edwards in a position to rack up sacks or tackles for loss, but he will be the focal point of a defensive line filled with blue-chip prospects. Edwards will be asked to take on double-teams to open up room for his fellow linemen and to allow Florida State's athletic linebackers to run freely toward the football. On the occasions Edwards doesn't command a double-team, it could be a repeat of the national championship game when Edwards, listed at 294 pounds, was running down Auburn's Nick Marshall.

11. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech Hokies
Cornerback, sophomore
A preseason All-ACC selection, Fuller is poised to not just follow in brother Kyle's footsteps but to surpass him. The 2013 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, Fuller has the tools to be the next elite defensive back to come through Blacksburg. He played in every game last season and picked off six passes. Fuller is also a factor in defending the run, totaling 58 tackles. At nearly 200 pounds, Fuller is rarely going to get bullied by opposing receivers.
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.
It's no secret that the strength of Clemson's team this season figures to be its defensive line. And, of course, there are plenty of numbers to underscore the Tigers' ferociousness up front.
  • The ACC returns 13 players who had at least 10 tackles for loss last season. Five of them play for Clemson.
  • Vic Beasley had 23 TFLs vs. teams from BCS-AQ conferences last season. No other returning ACC player had more than 12.
  • Clemson's defense recorded a tackle in the backfield once every 7.8 plays last season against AQ teams.
  • The Tigers didn't rely on the blitz either. When rushing four or fewer, Clemson recorded a sack every 11.1 passing attempts last season, the second-lowest rate in the league.

In other words, the Tigers are pretty good up front. But digging into those numbers also uncovered a few other interesting tidbits about ACC defensive fronts. Normally we like to compose a nice narrative around one or two key stats, but for the purposes of this post, we're going a little more free-flowing. Here's a bit of what we found:

• Yes, Clemson was exceptional when it came to defensive fronts in 2013, but so was the rest of the ACC. (Or, perhaps, if you're a pessimist, the O lines around the league were particularly bad.)

Of all teams to play at least eight games vs. AQ conference schools, Clemson had the best rate of TFLs, recording one every 7.8 plays. But, of the top 18 teams in plays-per-TFL last year, seven now play in the ACC. Here's the list:

1. Clemson (7.8)
3. Louisville (8.5)
4. Virginia Tech (8.7)
10. Virginia (9.5)
15. Syracuse (9.8)
17. Florida State (10.1)
18. NC State (10.4)

• Looking at that list, it's worth noting Louisville, Syracuse and Florida State all lost key players from last season's defensive lines to the NFL.

• Speaking of key defensive linemen moving on to the NFL, few teams figure to suffer quite as much from the loss of a key starter this season than Pitt.

How big was Aaron Donald's contribution to the Panthers' defense? He had 21 TFLs against AQ conference teams, which accounted for a whopping 43 percent of the team's total.

Moreover, Pitt relied more on its four-man rush, led by Donald, than any other team in the ACC. A whopping 92 percent of Pitt's sacks in 2013 came with just a four-man rush, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

• The flip side of that coin is Virginia, where the D-line figures to get plenty of credit (and should be even deeper this year), but it was the blitz that really carried the Hoos. Nearly half of all of dropbacks by Virginia's opponents last season were countered with a blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and 71 percent of the Cavaliers' sacks came when rushing five or more defenders.

• Defensive coordinators often talk about how the secondary can't flourish without a strong defensive front and vice versa, making it something of a chicken-or-egg discussion, but it's notable that of the top ACC defensive fronts (based on plays/TFL) in AQ-conference games, only Virginia Tech had a highly rated secondary. The Hokies ranked No. 2 in the ACC and No. 17 nationally in yards-per-attempt vs. AQ teams last year. The rest of the top 5 ACC lines were far worse: Clemson (38th nationally in YPA), Virginia (86th), Maryland (47th) and Syracuse (63rd).

• Don't go thinking the high amount of blitzes hurt Virginia's pass defense though. The Hoos allowed 1.6 fewer yards per attempt when blitzing than when sending four or fewer pass-rushers last season. In fact, only Virginia and Syracuse (1.4 fewer yards/attempt) were better when rushing more than four defenders last season.

• The flip side of that coin? Not surprisingly, it's Clemson, which allowed 3.2 more yards-per-attempt when blitzing last season than it did when rushing four or fewer defenders. Other big splits in that direction: Duke (2.4), Miami (1.1), UNC (1.1) and NC State (1.0).

• Pitt has the lowest percentage of its TFLs come against AQ opponents (57 percent). Syracuse had the highest (85 percent).

• Florida State's returning TFL leaders for 2014 is not surprisingly Mario Edwards Jr., with 9.5. Care to guess who's No. 2? We'll give you a minute.

Still thinking?

Give up?

That'd be Chris Casher, who had 5. Casher didn't start a game last season, and he's not exactly guaranteed a starting spot this year. Florida State's sack leader in 2013 was cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, who finished with 5.5. The last time the Seminoles' leader in sacks had so few for a season was 2006 (Buster Davis had 5).

• The only team that recorded a TFL less often (on a per-play basis) against AQ-conference teams last season than Miami was Texas A&M. The Hurricanes' leader in TFLs, Shayon Green, won't be back for 2014.

• And, of course, getting back to Clemson for a moment, there was one other stat the folks on Twitter were more than happy to mention when I talked up Beasley's season.

Um, yeah. The answer to that one would be zero, which should make for a pretty good stat to build a narrative around when Clemson and FSU face off again in September.
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.

Up next: Defensive line.

Best of the best: Clemson

The Tigers are stacked on the defensive line, returning all four starters plus their top four backups from a season ago. Easy to see why Clemson gets the nod over the Seminoles -- sheer experience alone. Clemson has the best returning lineman in the league -- and one of the best in the nation -- in Vic Beasley, who had 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss a year ago. His backup, Shaq Lawson, had 10 tackles for loss. That is more than anybody Florida State returns. So not only does Clemson have a group that is active behind the line, it has good depth, too, which should keep everybody fresh and make for one of the best line rotations in the country. If this group can live up to expectations, the Tigers have a chance to be one of the best groups in the entire country.

Next up: Florida State

If there is one constant in the ACC, it is a rock solid, dominant defensive line at Florida State. Five defensive linemen have been drafted over the past two years and another, Mario Edwards Jr., is rated as a top 5 defensive end among all underclassmen. There is no doubt the Seminoles are talented once again, but they do need to rebuild some depth across the entire line and may even rely on more linebackers to help out with the pass rush in 2014. Freshmen also will factor into the mix, as the Seminoles signed seven defensive linemen to help make up for some of the losses. Players such as Edwards, Eddie Goldman and Chris Casher are set to be the standouts on this group, but the Noles will need some unproven players to step up to keep the championship-level quality of the defensive line going.

Possible sleeper: Virginia

The Hoos have to replace two starters, but there is growing expectation for the line to be improved over a year ago. Eli Harold returns at defensive end after racking up 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss a year ago, and has received early consideration as a potential All-ACC candidate. Mike Moore, slated to start at the other end position, was one of the defense's most improved players during the spring. Then, of course, there is incoming true freshman Andrew Brown, one of the top-rated players in the class of 2014 with an opportunity to make an immediate impact at tackle. Brown enrolled early and participated in spring practice. Though he battled through a bit of an injury, he is still in the mix to win a starting job.

Problem for a contender: North Carolina.

The Tar Heels have to rebuild along the front again, after losing starters Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson. Martin leaves behind the gaping hole, after racking up 11.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss, along with 14 hurries a year ago. Even with Martin getting into the backfield, North Carolina ranked last in rushing defense, so there is no doubt this group has to make major improvements up front. Among the ends, only Junior Gnonkonde returns as a consistent contributor, with Jessie Rogers and redshirt freshman Dajaun Drennon in the mix. There is more depth at tackle than at end, though, so North Carolina will no doubt be growing up its ends in a hurry to make up for Martin's departure.

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ACC's lunchtime links

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
12:00
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NFL.com put together a list of the 14 hottest names among coordinators in college football, with two ACC coaches making the cut.

Of course, seeing Bud Foster and Chad Morris on the list is no surprise. They have established themselves as among the most consistently good coordinators in the country. What is perhaps more interesting is who isn’t on the list: Namely, no one from the defending national champion. In fact, ex-Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt (now at Georgia) does make the cut, but that is as close as the Seminoles got to landing a name on the list.

Given that Jimbo Fisher doesn’t employ an offensive coordinator and is on his third defensive coordinator in as many years, it is probably not a surprise, but as our Travis Haney noted during a recent trip to a Texas coaching clinic, FSU’s Charles Kelly has made a really good early impression since taking over for Pruitt.

Pruitt, quite fairly, received a lot of credit for last year’s championship defense, so now there are concerns about what his loss will mean for Florida State. Those concerns, however, are probably a bit misplaced.

First off, remember the chaos that followed the 2012 season at FSU? Seven assistants left the staff for other jobs, including both coordinators. Mark Stoops had engineered a defense that ranked in the top three nationally in consecutive years and was widely regarded as one of the best assistants in the country. Fisher couldn’t possibly replace all that, right?

Even in the wake of Stoops’ departure, fans clamored for a big name -- Foster, perhaps, or someone with NFL experience -- but he hired an obscure secondary coach from Alabama with just three years of college coaching on his resume. But he knew Pruitt, knew what he was capable of doing, knew the system he wanted to run, and the hire proved a stroke of genius.

So now, it’s a lot easier to believe Fisher knew what he was doing when he promoted Kelly from linebackers coach to DC, and the transition promises to be much smoother this time. Pruitt’s biggest impact on the team last season was the scheme he put in place, but that doesn’t figure to change much under Kelly. The players already know what they are doing, there is no change in vocabulary and virtually no change in the Xs and Os. Moreover, Kelly is as well-liked and respected as any coach on the staff. He will do just fine.

But that doesn’t mean there is no room for worries for Florida State’s defense. It’s just that losing Pruitt probably shouldn’t be the primary concern. The biggest void is the leadership lost with the departures of Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Timmy Jernigan and Telvin Smith. That was a rare breed of leaders that had been through the battles and suffered the losses that taught tough lessons -- lessons they continually reminded their younger teammates about during last season’s championship run. Finding voices on defense that carry as much weight in the locker room this year won’t be easy.

“I think it’s feeling comfortable taking on the roles of the guys who have left, that you feel comfortable stepping up and taking that responsibility,” Fisher told me this month. “All of them play hard, but what you have to have is guys stepping up and taking on the leadership. There’s a responsibility of how you have to conduct yourself as a teammate to affect the other guys on the team. That’s where teams grow, and summer and fall camp is so important.”

Fisher reeled off a bunch of names on the offensive side of the ball who will fill that role -- Rashad Greene, Cameron Erving, Karlos Williams, Tre Jackson, Josue Matias and, of course, Jameis Winston -- but the candidates on defense weren’t quite so established.

Fisher said sophomore Jalen Ramsey has been perhaps the most vocal leader throughout the spring and early summer, and fellow defensive backs P.J. Williams and Tyler Hunter have shouldered some of the leadership burden, too. The rest of the unit, though, is still developing.

“Last year’s team wasn’t on a journey. They were on a mission,” Fisher said. “They understood what they really wanted. The trial-and-error they had, they learned from their mistakes over time.”

Terrance Smith learned under Telvin Smith last season, but he’s not nearly as vocal as his predecessor. Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman “are growing into the role,” Fisher said, but they haven’t proven they are as good at galvanizing a group around them as Jernigan did last year.

FSU has ample talent on defense, and it should again have an exceptional coordinator calling the shots, but it’s just really difficult to replace the battle scars and lessons learned that Joyner, Brooks, Smith and Co. used to such great effect in 2013.

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FSU up for challenging opener

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
10:30
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It is a question that is debated before every season starts: If a team had its choice, would it open against a weak opponent or a strong one?

Hands down, coaches and players want the big-time opponents to bring it on.

That is a big reason why Florida State players are looking forward to opening the season against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, on Aug. 30. The Seminoles have played their fair share of spotlight openers, but the most recent ones have come against conference opponents -- including last year's Labor Day matchup against Pitt.

This season marks the first time since 2002 that Florida State will open against a nonconference team from a power-five league. That year, No. 4 Florida State beat Iowa State 38-31 in Kansas City, Missouri, in a nailbiter, relying on a goal-line stand on the final play to win.

Oklahoma State will be extremely young, having lost 32 lettermen from a team that went 10-3 a year ago. The Cowboys rank last on Phil Steele's returning experience list for 2014.

But nonetheless, this is a big-time matchup on the road -- closer to Stillwater, Oklahoma, than Tallahassee, Florida. Oklahoma State has won nine or more games in five of the last six seasons and will present a big-time challenge to the Florida State secondary.

The Cowboys are not shy about throwing the ball and will feature yet another talented group of receivers with the ability to stretch the field.

"We are looking forward to it," Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams said. "We always want to play the best competition and beat the best competition so they know we’re the best. I’m looking forward to being able to make plays and guard some good receivers and being able to defend some passes. I can’t wait."

The matchup between the Oklahoma State receivers and Florida State defensive backs will no doubt be the biggest one to watch. The Seminoles have to replace starters Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks, who anchored the secondary a year ago.

Oklahoma State has to replace three starting receivers who combined for 146 catches and nearly 2,000 yards. But both groups believe they are positioned well headed into the season. Florida State should have one of the best secondaries in the country and expects Jalen Ramsey to have a breakout year at the spot Joyner played.

Oklahoma State returns starter Jhajuan Seales, along with Marcell Ateman, Brandon Sheperd, David Glidden, Blake Webb and Austin Hays. Webb and Hays started in 2012, but injuries knocked them out for most of last year.

"That's really what we want right there; we can start off our season showcasing our talents and abilities, showing the nation that this secondary isn’t going to step down to anyone, this defense isn’t going to step down to anyone against a great offense who’s going to push us and pass the ball around," Ramsey said. "We’re going to have fun doing that."

J.W. Walsh appears to be the favorite to start at quarterback for Oklahoma State, but the race is open headed into fall practice. Walsh lost his starting job last year but did well in the spring, although coach Mike Gundy has declined to definitively declare a starter.

But there also is some excitement beyond the opportunity to play a good team. There is something special about going to a neutral site as well. Especially for defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who went to high school in Texas.

"I have a lot of people coming out to watch that game to support me," Edwards said. "I look at it like I’m going home and I have to show out for the people at home."

Video: ACC defensive line analysis

May, 22, 2014
May 22
9:00
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Andrea Adelson takes a look at the ACC at defensive line, a position with only a few recognizable returning starters.
The 2014 NFL draft might have just wrapped up four days ago, and college football’s regular season may still be 3 months away, but Todd McShay still managed to churn out a preliminary look at what next year’s draft might look like.

Sure, a ton will change between now and the moment when Roger Goodell announces the first pick of 2015, but McShay’s projections underscore just how loaded the defending national champs will be this season.

Of the 32 players McShay has currently projected as first-round selections in 2015, six are playing for Florida State.

No surprise that Heisman winner Jameis Winston is the first quarterback off the board, projected as the No. 5 overall selection by the New York Jets.

Following Winston are teammates Mario Edwards Jr., P.J. Williams, Rashad Greene, Cameron Erving and Tre' Jackson. Winston, Edwards and Williams are all underclassmen, and Winston has previously stated he intends to return for 2015.

If all six Florida State players did end up in the first round, it would match the six first-round selections Miami produced in 2004.

Beyond the six Seminoles, only Clemson’s Vic Beasley turns up on McShay’s first-round projections among other ACC stars.

Of course, there could be other hot commodities in the conference, including Miami running back Duke Johnson, Louisville receiver DeVante Parker, Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and potentially more Seminoles in Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, Karlos Williams and Josue Matias.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- No position on the Florida State roster has taken as many losses as the defensive line over the past two seasons.

Four linemen were drafted a year ago. Another, tackle Timmy Jernigan, is projected to become the second straight Florida State defensive lineman to be drafted in the first round. The last time Florida State had at least five defensive linemen selected in consecutive drafts was 1998-99.

At many programs, losing so many players would be a major cause for concern and, as you'd expect, the defensive line has drawn some of the biggest questions this spring and last. FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, however, looks at the situation differently.

Rather than lament potential depth issues, Fisher looks at the pure talent he has available for this upcoming season -- and the versatility they provide. Though only three scholarship defensive ends were available during the spring, two of them were consensus top-10 players at their position out of high school -- Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher.

[+] EnlargeEddie Goldman
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State coaches are expecting junior Eddie Goldman to flourish as Timmy Jernigan's replacement at defensive tackle.
Both began learning every position along the line in order to take advantage of their athleticism. Edwards moved around some last season, but expects to do much more of that in 2014, not only to help with depth but to also give Florida State key matchup advantages.

“It’s kind of fun,” Edwards said. “The offense can’t pinpoint where I will be -- right or left side, inside or out. I feel I can go and play any one of the positions the coaches put me in at and be a factor.”

For Edwards, the process of not only becoming a master at his own position, but also learning several others, has meant more time studying the playbook and game tape. That has allowed the former No. 1 high school player in the country to feel even more comfortable with the defense.

The road has not necessarily been smooth for him. He was out of shape as a freshman, and last spring he had to learn an entirely new defensive scheme while following a strict diet and weight program. Edwards ended up starting, but he did not feel comfortable until midway through the season. That is when the results started to show.

Now that more of the pressure is on him to perform, Edwards says he is ready to dominate.

“I’d like to think this is a big year for me,” Edwards said. “I watched film of last year but not only was I looking at the good things I did, I looked at how many plays I left out there, just because I wasn’t aligned right, I wasn’t doing my job, I may have forgotten what I was supposed to do. I felt like I left tons of plays out there I could have made. This year, it’s reacting more than thinking.”

To help at end, Florida State might end up using linebackers Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe, whom Fisher called “dynamic rushers.” He did something similar with Christian Jones a year ago, and Jones thrived in that role.

Tackle Eddie Goldman, slated to replace Jernigan inside, was a five-star defensive tackle out of high school. Fisher said Goldman will end up being one of the team’s spring award winners because he has made such drastic improvement. Though not as powerful as Jernigan, Goldman is more athletic and a more natural pass rusher.

“Him and Mario -- it’s hard to handle them one-on-one,” Fisher said. “Eddie, his upside is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous how good he can be.”

Will he meet that potential this year?

“The way he’s playing right now? No doubt,” Fisher said.

Fisher also will play some of his true freshmen, the way he has done with guys such as Edwards, Jernigan and Casher. The Seminoles loaded up on the defensive line to make up for the heavy losses they have taken recently. Four of the seven players Florida State signed were rated four-star prospects out of high school. Two incoming ends -- Lorenzo Featherston and Rick Leonard -- are both 6-foot-7. They will not be tied exclusively to end, either.

“We like that hybrid guy, the versatility,” Fisher said. “You can go 3-4, 4-3, and create a matchup where they get locked on a back, where a back has to block them, that kind of stuff.”

Florida State took advantage of the versatility it had last season to great success. Despite more personnel losses, Fisher expects more of the same in 2014.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
12:00
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Stanford this fall (again). Harvard this spring (again). Brains and brawn.

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