ACC: Marquez Valdes-Scantling

Second-year stars: NC State

May, 13, 2014
May 13
9:00
AM ET
The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference — the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

See our previous projections here.

Next up: NC State

Class recap: Dave Doeren’s first signing class didn’t stand out in the rankings — No. 66 by ESPN’s math — but he did get some early contributions, even if it was as much out of necessity as ability. Matt Dayes played in all 12 games and scored four times. Jack Tocho started seven games at corner, finishing with 25 tackles and two picks. Monty Nelson started five games at defensive tackle and was second on the team with 8.5 sacks. Meanwhile, a bevy of freshmen receivers saw action, with mixed results.

Second-year star: WR Jumichael Ramos (6-foot-3, 197 pounds)

[+] EnlargeJumichael Ramos
AP Photo/Karl B DeBlakerJumichael Ramos showed his potential late in the 2013 season with a 109-yard game against Boston College.
Recruiting stock: A three-star prospect out of Georgia, Ramos wasn’t even among NC State’s top signees at receiver (he was No. 191 overall at the position, according to ESPN), but he did bring both size and speed and showed increased development late in his high school career.

2013 in review: The Wolfpack’s offense was a mess throughout 2013, with rotating quarterbacks and offensive styles and, of course, a plethora of erratic receivers. But while several of the other first-year pass-catchers flashed early before disappearing down the stretch (either because of injury or inconsistency), Ramos consistently improved as the year progressed. He caught at least one pass in 10 of 12 games, and he finished the season with 11 receptions and three TDs in his final three contests, including a five-catch, 109-yard performance against Boston College. He finished the season with 24 receptions for 352 yards.

2014 potential: Projecting Ramos to be the breakout receiver among a horde of unproven talent is based largely off his strong finish to last season. The spring game was a showcase for an established veteran (Bryan Underwood) and an early enrollee (Bo Hines), while Ramos and fellow sophomore Marquez Valdes-Scantling played smaller parts. Still, the addition of Jacoby Brissett to stabilize the QB situation is good news for all of NC State’s receivers, and Ramos’ combination of speed and size should make him an inviting target. He’s got some stiff competition — in terms of both quantity and quality — throughout fall camp, but Doeren is looking for weapons in the passing game and Ramos has been the one young receiver who has shown he can be a weapon on game day.

Also watch for: Take your pick from the rest of the group of receivers. Valdes-Scantling needs maturity and consistency, and Johnathan Alston and Bra’Lon Cherry need to stay healthy to continue their development. Alston might have the biggest upside of the group. Keep an eye on Dayes getting a bigger role in the running game this season, while top signee Sean Paul shouldn’t be relegated to just special teams, as he was in 2013.
NC State offensive coordinator Matt Canada and coach Dave Doeren both noticed the same wide receiver this spring: Bo Hines.

Hines, a true freshman from Charlotte, N.C., who enrolled early, was the Pack’s most consistent receiver this spring, bringing a bit of separation to a crowded group filled with youth and inexperience. Nine of the 12 receivers on the spring roster are either freshmen or sophomores. Senior Bryan Underwood was NC State’s second-leading receiver last year, but the Pack has to replace two starters from 2013, and the competition remains wide open heading into the summer.

[+] EnlargeBryan Underwood, Terrence Brooks
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCTSenior Bryan Underwood is NC State's leading returning receiver with 32 catches in 2013.
“Now you look for the guys who are going to come up and make plays consistently and in games,” Canada said. “It’s just a matter of where things go. There’s a lot of guys out there, we just have to sort it out a little bit. We had some of that sort itself out through the spring, but not enough to declare one way or another who’s going to do what, but we’ll move in that direction as we get into camp. We’ll have a better handle on what we’re going to do.”

Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong, is one of the top sophomore candidates, along with Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman, and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Ramos finished third on the team last year with 24 catches for 352 yards and three touchdowns.

“All three of them played and had some catches, but obviously as they step up here now, they have a chance to maybe separate themselves from what they did with a few catches here and there, and becoming a more consistent receiver,” Canada said. “I think that’s where having a quarterback and getting some timing down will certainly allow that to occur.”

Freshman Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix. Doeren said Underwood finished the spring strong. He is the fastest receiver on the roster, but he still needs to be more consistent. Underwood had 32 catches last year for 382 yards and a touchdown.

“He was really coming on last year when he hurt his collarbone and so missed a lot of practice and development there, and he needs to have a good summer physically to put himself in the right place,” Doeren said. “You'd like him to play the way he can and the way he was early in the year last year.

“And then Marquez Valdes and Jumichael Ramos are guys that were two true freshmen that played a lot for us a year ago that need to play better, I guess, than I thought they would in the spring. I thought Valdes had a really good finish, started a little slow, and Ramos was the opposite. So just need to get a consistent performance. A lot of times when a guy plays as a true freshman he gets a big head, and that's the one thing those guys can't do. There's good players coming in, and we've got a couple other freshmen that will be here that we'll add to the depth and competition. But those two guys need to have tremendous summers for us.”

NC State spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
7:00
AM ET
Three things we learned in the spring about the North Carolina State Wolfpack:

1. Having a quarterback helps. Last spring, the NC State offense looked dismal and new coach Dave Doeren didn’t know who his quarterback would be. That problem persisted throughout the fall, and the Wolfpack went winless in ACC play. Now that Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is eligible to play, however, there’s a consistency on offense that was missing throughout 2013. More importantly, Doeren knows who his QB is, and Brissett can play the role of leader throughout the offseason.

2. Hines is a playmaker. NC State had a huge class of early enrollees, and while all made strides this spring, it was Bo Hines who stood out. The freshman had a fabulous spring game, catching 10 passes for 132 yards. It wasn’t just a big day in front of fans either. Doeren raved that Hines made at least one play every day throughout spring practice.

3. There’s depth at tailback. Shad Thornton finished sixth in the ACC in rushing last season, but after a strong spring by NC State’s tailbacks, the starting job won’t just be handed to the incumbent. Thornton worked on the second-team offense in the spring game, while Doeren praised Tony Creecy and Matt Dayes, too, and with a QB who can force defenses to respect the passing game, there could be plenty of yards to be had on the ground in 2014 for the Wolfpack.

Three questions for the fall:

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett, Garrett Leatham
Lance King/Getty ImagesFlorida transfer Jacoby Brissett will start at quarterback for the Wolfpack in 2014.
1. Will other young receivers step up? Hines impressed. Veteran Bryan Underwood looks healthy and should be a leader. But what about the rest of Brissett’s weapons in the passing game? The Wolfpack need more consistency out of sophomores Jumichael Ramos and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Hines’ fellow early enrollee Stephen Louis didn’t have a catch in the spring game.

2. Has the pass rush improved? It’s hard to make any grand pronouncements based on the spring game, where QBs weren’t live, but both the first- and second-string defenses racked up five sacks on the day. That’s the good news, but the defensive front remains young and inexperienced, with nowhere to go but up after last year’s D mustered a league-worst 20 sacks.

3. Can Doeren develop depth? Doeren has been quick to point out that 70 percent of NC State’s roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores, which means there’s not a ton of experience down the depth chart. That showed up in the spring game when the No. 2 defense did little to corral Brissett and the second-string offense produced a mere 65 yards. There are reasons for optimism with early enrollee safety Germaine Pratt (an INT in the spring game) and receiver-turned-pass rusher Pharoah McKever, among others, but the staff has its work cut out for it in developing the raw materials into productive players.

One way-too-early prediction: Yes, the Wolfpack were 0-8 in ACC play last season, but there weren’t many blowouts. Doeren’s crew showed plenty of fight despite a litany of problems, and that’s a good sign for what’s to come in 2014. The big change, however, is Brissett, who breathes new life into the offense and provides some real direction for NC State going forward. A conference title probably isn’t in the cards, but a bowl appearance wouldn’t be unrealistic.
RALEIGH, N.C. — It didn’t start as anything formal, just a few hungry players after NC State’s regular Saturday walk-through. The quarterbacks and receivers would show up in the morning, run through drills and practice routes, then head to breakfast.

Slowly, the weekly ritual evolved into an ideal bonding experience for a group that desperately needed to build a rapport on the fast track.

“We had a lot of extra time to go out and get some chemistry,” quarterback Jacoby Brissett said. “Any time we had an opportunity to sit and talk about the things we were learning — we got the time to get to know each other better away from the field, and that’s helped our chemistry on the field.”

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Getty ImagesNC State has a leader at quarterback in transfer Jacoby Brissett.
Whether pancakes and waffles actually make a difference in NC State’s passing game in 2014 remains to be seen, but as the Wolfpack wrapped up spring practice Saturday, it certainly appeared that Brissett, the new starting quarterback, and his young receivers were a well-oiled machine.

Brissett and the first-team offense rolled up 34 points, and the junior quarterback, who transferred from Florida last year, completed throws of 36, 60 and 72 yards. He was particularly effective on third down, converting 13 of 18 tries, often shuffling in the pocket to create more time and find receivers downfield.

Early enrollee Bo Hines led all receivers, grabbing 10 passes for 132 yards, including a nifty 40-yard run after a catch on Brissett’s 60-yard completion. His star is clearly on the rise, coach Dave Doeren said, and after just a few months on campus — and a dozen or so breakfasts with Brissett — he looks right at home.

“Bo Hines is a reliable player,” Doeren said. “He’s the same guy every day — in the right place, catches the ball well with people around him, made some one-handed catches and has the ability to catch it and run. … We’ve had 15 practices and I don’t think we’ve had one where he didn’t make a play.”

Sophomores Jumichael Ramos and Marquez Valdes-Scantling had four catches each. Bryan Underwood, the lone veteran of the ensemble, caught three passes for 112 yards and two scores.

“[Brissett] is giving us a chance,” Underwood said. “It’s a good start, leaving spring with how we did today.”

It’s worth noting, of course, that the offensive fireworks came against an overmatched second-team defense that featured few veterans, and the road back from last year’s struggles — NC State finished 11th in the ACC in yards per attempt and had more interceptions than TD throws — will be a long one. Doeren was also quick to point out Brissett’s struggles running the ball — he was sacked five times behind a line missing three starters — and his one interception. But just as last year’s struggles in the spring game portended a woeful regular season, the hope is that this year’s success will be equally prophetic.

Whether this year’s results are also a sign of things to come likely depends largely on how much more Brissett and his receivers continue to bond during the summer. But Doeren is encouraged by where things stand, and a year after NC State dealt with a massive quarterback dilemma, it soothes a lot of nerves to simply know Brissett is in charge, and there's a ringleader for the remainder of the offseason.

“I can focus my attention on certain things, and it’s his job to stay hungry, keep the chip on his shoulder and know he has to do his job the right way,” Doeren said. “I don’t have to worry about who it is, but he still has to handle his end of the responsibility. He will, and he knows that.”

ACC spring games preview

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
2:00
PM ET
Seven ACC teams will play their spring games this weekend, and eight will officially close spring practices in the coming days, as Pitt has opted to have a more fan-friendly event instead of an actual spring game on Sunday before closing practice on Tuesday.

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

Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!

CLEMSON

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

Where: Death Valley

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

FLORIDA STATE

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

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium

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

LOUISVILLE

When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday

Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

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

MIAMI

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

Where: Sun Life Stadium

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

NORTH CAROLINA

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

Where: Kenan Stadium

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

NC STATE

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium

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

VIRGINIA

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Scott Stadium

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

PITT (No spring game)

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

Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex

One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.
RALEIGH, N.C. -- In most places, it would speak volumes that Kalen McCain and Germaine Pratt, both just a few weeks into their college careers, were running with the second-team defense Saturday during NC State’s first scrimmage of the spring.

Indeed, both freshmen safeties have impressed teammates so far. McCain is instinctive, according to senior Jarvis Byrd, looking like a ball hawk in coverage. In that scrimmage, McCain picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown, but at just 175 pounds, he needs to add some bulk. Pratt, on the other hand, is a charging bull in the secondary. At 6-foot-3, nearly 200 pounds, he plays like a linebacker -- a throwback to his high school days when he spent significant time in the box, playing the run -- and still needs refinement in coverage. But when he hits, he hits hard.

[+] EnlargeGermain Pratt
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comJust months ago, Germaine Pratt was a three-star prospect. Now he's pushing for a big role in NC State's secondary.
It’s a promising start for both players, but for the Wolfpack, their spot on the depth chart is a matter of necessity.

“They’re running with the twos because they have to,” safety Hakim Jones said. “We only have four safeties.”

This is the landscape in Raleigh for the nine early enrollees at NC State -- seven scholarship freshmen, along with long snapper Robert Brunstetter and preferred walk-on Ty Linton, a former North Carolina commitment who has played professional baseball for the past four years. There is opportunity at every turn, the result of a disproportionately young roster, but it is also a trial by fire.

“You go through this whole recruiting process and it seems like it should take a long time, but then you get here and it’s fast,” said Bo Hines, one of two freshman wide receivers enrolled for the spring. “Everything is moving.”

By coach Dave Doeren’s math, 71 percent of NC State’s roster this year will be freshmen or sophomores. Many saw action last year as the Wolfpack struggled to fill out a depth chart amid myriad injuries en route to a disastrous 3-9 season in which they didn’t win a game in conference play. The new arrivals, meanwhile, are getting a healthy dose of snaps on the practice field with an eye toward playing time this fall.

It’s a challenge, Doeren admits, but it’s also an investment in the viability of a crucial freshmen class this fall.

“[Many of] those guys are playing with the ones at times out there,” Doeren said. “Just imagine the learning curve for them in August when the other freshmen are coming in. It helps a lot.”

And this spring isn’t simply a chance for the freshmen to dip their toes in the pool and test the waters of life in the ACC. It’s a blank slate, with a chance for them to etch their names into permanent jobs when the Wolfpack open the 2014 season.

“Since Day 1, since we went into the first meeting, [Doeren] said nobody had a guaranteed spot,” Pratt said. “I’m pushing hard to earn my spot.”

Perhaps as important, Doeren said, is the veterans are now pushing harder to keep their spots.

With such a thin roster a year ago, Doeren had little choice but to hand playing time over to unproven players. The results were mixed. Some blossomed, like receiver Jumichael Ramos, who caught 11 passes and scored three times in the final three games of his freshman campaign last year. Some struggled, including a defensive line that featured a trio of freshmen and sophomores who earned regular playing time, but finished 103rd nationally in run defense. Others, like receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (12 catches for 174 yards in his first two games, 10 catches for 107 the rest of the way) did a little of both.

[Many of] those guys are playing with the ones at times out there. Just imagine the learning curve for them in August when the other freshmen are coming in. It helps a lot.

-- NC State coach Dave Doeren on early enrollees
All of that was to be expected, Doeren said. What concerned the second-year coach was that, after winning playing time by default in 2013, complacency could set in this season. The nine new faces this spring can go a long way toward alleviating those concerns.

“The freshmen are coming to me, asking how to run a route and what the concepts are or just asking how we felt when we came in as freshmen and what we did to play,” Ramos said. “I do feel older. I don’t feel like a freshman anymore.”

Still, Doeren is aware of the reality. Most of the time, it’s 18-year old freshmen asking 19-year old veterans for advice, and that’s not an ideal recipe for success. That makes NC State’s real veterans -- the handful of juniors and seniors like Byrd and Jones -- an immensely valuable asset this spring.

It’s a role they’ve been happy to take on, receiver Bryan Underwood said. Last year, he was a mentor for Ramos and Valdes-Scantling. Now, he’s finding more room under his wing for the new arrivals.

Jones busies himself each night hosting his new protégés in the secondary, too. Pratt and McCain are fixtures in his room, the playbook spread open throughout the evening.

“We came to them with open arms and just -- welcome to the team,” Jones said.

That’s exactly what Doeren was hoping for, but it’s hardly the end of his concerns.

Pratt and Hines and the rest of the new arrivals are still wide-eyed and overmatched more often than not. It’s a learning experience, and for now at least, most of the lessons will be tough ones.

But that’s the other advantage of this big class of early enrollees for NC State. Even after the toughest workouts, the miserable have plenty of company.

“Having those guys around,” Hines said, “we’re all going through the same thing.”

ACC predictions: Week 7

October, 10, 2013
10/10/13
9:00
AM ET
Kudos to Heather for correctly picking Ball State to upset Virginia last week. Neither one of us thought Wake Forest would beat NC State, but the Deacs proved us wrong. So did Florida State and Clemson. What were we thinking picking such close games?

Heather won the week, going 6-1, while Andrea went 5-2. AA still has a one-game lead over HD in the overall standings. Now on to the picks!


Pitt (3-1, 2-1) at No. 24 Virginia Tech (5-1 2-0), noon, ESPNU. #PITTvsVT. We have talked all week about Pitt's four-game winning streak in the series, dating back to their days as Big East rivals. But that streak is going to come to an end in Blacksburg. The matchup between the standout Pitt receivers and the terrific Virginia Tech secondary is one to watch, but here is where the Hokies have the major advantage -- up front. The Pitt offensive line is coming off its worst performance of the season and now has to face one of the best defensive fronts in the ACC. Virginia Tech has 19 sacks on the season and leads the league in rushing defense.

AA's pick: Virginia Tech 28, Pitt 17

HD’s pick: Virginia Tech 21, Pitt 17


Navy (3-1) at Duke (3-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #NAVYvsDUKE. The Blue Devils have a few advantage going into this game. They already have faced a similar-style team in Georgia Tech, and they got an extra week to prepare. Unfortunately for them, they did end up losing to the Jackets, a team that has since dropped two straight. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds is playing extremely well for the Midshipmen right now, and their defense is holding opponents to 17.8 points per game. Whether quarterback Anthony Boone returns or not, AA is calling for the upset.

AA's pick: Navy 35, Duke 34

HD’s pick: Given the extra week and the game against Georgia Tech earlier, there’s no excuse for the Blue Devils not to be prepared for this one. They’re averaging 38 points at home and should be able to expose weaknesses in Navy’s run defense. This is the kind of game the program needs to win to get to the postseason on a routine basis. Duke 31, Navy 28


Virginia (2-3, 0-1) at Maryland (4-1, 0-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #UVAvsMD. We will get an update on Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown later today, when the Terps are required to release their injury report. Coach Randy Edsall has been mum all week on whether Brown (concussion) would play. Whether he does or not, Edsall is going to have to get his team to forget about what happened in a 63-0 drubbing at Florida State. Reports have said that the Maryland offensive line tipped its plays based on its stances. The good news for the Terps is they are facing a reeling Virginia team that has lost three straight to FBS teams. In four games against FBS opponents, the Hoos are averaging 14.8 points.

AA's pick: Maryland 21, Virginia 17

HD’s pick: Maryland 24, Virginia 10


Syracuse (2-3, 0-1) at NC State (3-2, 0-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CUSEvsNCST. Both teams come into the game off disheartening losses, but probably more so for NC State. The Wolfpack were expected to beat Wake Forest, but managed their lowest scoring and yardage output of the season. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell could return, but even if he sits out another week, getting running back Matt Dayes and receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling back will help. NC State has a Top 20 rushing defense, and that will be a huge key to slowing down the Orange, who racked up over 300 yards on the ground last week against Clemson.

AA's pick: NC State 28, Syracuse 24

HD’s pick: NC State 31, Syracuse 21

Boston College (3-2, 1-1) at No. 3 Clemson (5-0, 3-0), ABC/ESPN2. #BCvsCLEM. We can't say enough about the job coach Steve Addazio and his staff have done in transforming one of the worst-run offenses in the nation a year ago into a group that has produced the country's leading rusher in yards per game in Andre Williams (153.6). If there was one area where the Tigers struggled last week in a blowout win over Syracuse, it was stopping the run. We don't anticipate the same mistakes this week. Boston College is better, but not good enough to beat Clemson.

AA's pick: Clemson 40, Boston College 13

HD’s pick: Clemson 42, Boston College 17


Georgia Tech (3-2) at BYU (3-2), 7 p.m., ESPNU. #GTvsBYU. The Jackets have lost two straight after starting 3-0 and now have to travel to play BYU, a team that embarrassed them last year in Atlanta 41-17. Georgia Tech did not score an offensive touchdown in that game. So far this season, Vad Lee has not done much since his terrific performance against Duke. Of the six turnovers the Jackets have had in their last two losses, Lee is responsible for five of them (three interceptions, two fumbles). Tough to see improvement this week against one of the better defenses this team will face all year. It's the third straight week Georgia Tech will play a defense ranked in the Top 25 in the nation in total D.

AA's pick: BYU 28, Georgia Tech 17

HD’s pick: BYU 35, Georgia Tech 28

Ranking the ACC's impact freshmen

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
10:30
AM ET


Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is a throwback, and he's never been eager to play his freshmen too early. In his career at the helm of the Demon Deacons, just 22 true freshmen have seen action. And yet, in 2013, Grobe has already played 11 more.

It's a sign of the times that true freshmen are making an instant impact, and that's been particularly true in the ACC. And while virtually every program has seen some results from its Class of 2013 already, these five classes have produced the most through four weeks.

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesIn FSU's season opener, Jalen Ramsey became the Noles' first true freshman cornerback to start a game since Deion Sanders in 1986.
1. Pittsburgh: According to ESPN's rankings, Pitt had the 41st-ranked recruiting class last season, but few programs have gotten more production from their freshmen right off the bat than the Panthers. Pitt has played 12 true freshmen already this season, including two of the nation's best. Tailback James Conner ranks second in the ACC in rushing, and receiver Tyler Boyd has been electric, ranking fifth in the nation in all-purpose yards. Including receiver Scott Orndoff and kicker Chris Blewitt, freshmen have accounted for 70 percent of Pittsburgh's scoring this season.

2. Virginia Tech: The Hokies opened the season with two freshman defensive backs aiming to shut down the two-time defending champions. It was a major question mark, but Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller answered emphatically. Facyson has three interceptions and four passes defended so far, while Fuller has racked up 12 tackles, seven defended passes, six pass breakups and an interception. With the two freshmen starting all four games, Virginia Tech's passing defense ranks sixth in the nation.

3. NC State: Without starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, the Wolfpack have had to find offense wherever they can, and two true freshmen have answered the call. Tailback Matt Dayes has racked up 143 yards on 37 carries so far, scoring three touchdowns. Meanwhile, receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling ranks in the top 15 in the ACC in receiving yards, yards per reception and yards per game.

4. Florida State: Jalen Ramsey became the first Florida State cornerback to earn a starting assignment as a true freshman since Deion Sanders in the opener, and he didn't disappoint, picking off Pitt QB Tom Savage for the Seminoles' first takeaway of the season. Ramsey ranks sixth on the team with 12 tackles, and he's recorded one of FSU's six sacks. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker earned a start, too, and Matthew Thomas has two tackles for loss. In all, 13 freshmen have seen the field for FSU.

5. Miami: The Hurricanes have yet to see significant contributions from a number of members of their 15th-ranked recruiting class, but the early results from Gus Edwards, Alex Figueroa and Stacy Coley have offered a glimpse of what's to come. Edwards has carried just 18 times, but he's scored on three of those runs, and his 7.3 yards-per-carry average ranks fourth in the ACC. Coley has just five catches, but one went for a touchdown, and Figueroa has eight tackles and a sack for a particularly tough Miami linebacking corps.

Tyler Boyd leads ACC youth movement

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
9:00
AM ET
True freshman receiver Tyler Boyd had one clear objective when he arrived at Pitt.

He wanted to make a statement.

Boyd had no intentions of redshirting. Not at all. So he went about practice to make one play after another, to impress his coaches enough to not only earn some reps in games -- but also to win a starting job.

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News&Observer/Getty ImagesPitt receiver Tyler Boyd is one of many true freshmen who are making an impact in the ACC this season.
So far, Boyd has been one of the most impressive all-around players in the entire country, ranking No. 1 among all freshmen with an average of 195 all-purpose yards per game. But he is not unique to Pitt or to the ACC. There has been a youth movement across the league this season, featuring true freshmen starters at nearly every position on the field.

Five ACC teams have played double-digit true freshmen, tied with the SEC for the most in the nation. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe have played more true freshmen than at any point in their respective tenures. Of the 14 teams in the ACC, only four have not started a true freshman.

Pitt stands above the rest when it comes to true freshmen contributions, as Boyd is not the only one who has put up impressive numbers. Running back James Conner ranks No. 2 in the ACC in rushing yards per game (108.7). The Panthers also feature true freshman kicker Chris Blewitt, the first time in 11 years they have started a first-year player at the position.

Overall, true freshmen have accounted for 70 percent of Pitt’s scoring output so far.

“I just knew I had a real strong opportunity to come in here and make a huge impact, especially since it’s my hometown,” Boyd said in a recent phone interview. “I wanted to have everybody on board; my family, all my friends -- I wanted to make sure everybody was around to watch me do what I had to do.”

Virginia Tech is not far behind Pitt when it comes to immediate contributions from true freshmen. Ten have played, and five have started already this season. Four have started every game -- left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin, cornerback Brandon Facyson, whip Kendall Fuller and kickoff specialist Mitchell Ludwig.

It is the first time Beamer has started a true freshman at left tackle and a true freshman at cornerback. Facyson already has three interceptions, tied for the ACC lead. Four games into the season, he also has tied the school record for interceptions by a freshman, set by DeAngelo Hall in 2001.

“It's been a great experience so far,” Facyson said in a recent phone interview. “Me and Kendall, we both had aspirations of coming in here and getting to work right away and helping the team out as much as we could. That's what we want to do is become a reliable source for the team. Even being true freshmen coming in, we didn't want the team to not believe in us so we had to come in here and really have our minds focused, and so far we've done that.”

Both the Pitt and Virginia Tech freshmen did not get eased into their college careers. The Panthers opened against No. 8 Florida State, while the Hokies opened against No. 1 Alabama. But the true freshmen were not intimidated.

Boyd had 151 all-purpose yards; the Hokies essentially shut down Alabama and top receiver Amari Cooper, holding him to four catches for 38 yards.

“I was a little bit nervous and cautious about everything,” Boyd said. “I didn’t want to mess up but my coaches and my teammates kept telling me to go out there and be calm, just relax, just stay comfortable with everything. Once I got the ball in my hand, I wanted to help my team.”

Facyson and Fuller have been able to help each other as true freshmen playing together on defense. The two are roommates, so they sometimes spend their down time in the dorm quizzing each other on formations and responsibilities.

“It’s honestly a good feeling just to have someone back there in my situation as well because you’re on the same level with them and only they truly understand the pressure,” Facyson said. “So we try to calm each other down, we try to hype each other up when it’s needed. We just want to have fun. We want to help our team out and just play for each other.”

Florida State (13), NC State (11) and Wake Forest (11) also have played double-digit freshmen. Like Pitt, NC State has gotten major contributions from true freshmen on offense. True freshmen lead the Wolfpack in both rushing (Matt Dayes, 37 carries for 143 yards) and receiving (Marquez Valdes-Scantling, 14 receptions for 201 yards).

As for Wake, the true freshmen numbers are simply astounding. Before this year, the highest number of true freshman to ever play in a season under Grobe was three. Center Cory Helms is the lone true freshman starter -- the first true freshman to start his first collegiate game since defensive tackle Marvin Mitchell in 1987.

All around, freshmen are contributing. Now that we have seen so many talented youngsters so early in their careers, the question is: How good will they become in a few years’ time?

SPONSORED HEADLINES