ACC: Matt House

ACC morning links

November, 21, 2014
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Dabo Swinney turned 45 on Thursday. And while he has had obvious success during his run at Clemson, his early body of work might surprise you, especially when compared to other big-name coaches.

The (Charleston) Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner broke down the numbers Thursday, illustrating just how well Swinney has fared before his 45th birthday.

Swinney has a career record of 58-26 during his tenure with the Tigers.

How did Nick Saban fare by the time he turned 45? 20-10-1.

Steve Spurrier? 20-13-1.

Frank Beamer? 19-30-1.

Jimbo Fisher? 5-1.

On and on it goes, a who's who of coaching legends current and past that Swinney is currently out-pacing. It really puts into perspective what he has accomplished since taking over in 2008.

Of course, he still has a ways to go when looking at a pair of his predecessors in Death Valley: Danny Ford had 96 wins before leaving Clemson at the age of 42, while Frank Howard had 72 wins by 45.
One safety grew up a Michigan fan but ended up at Ohio State, the other safety was raised in Ohio but ended up at Michigan. Naturally, Jeremy Cash and Ray Vinopal now lead the defenses of No. 24 Duke and Pitt, respectively.

Each unit will try to make a statement Saturday in the Steel City. After all, they are just less than 14 months removed from a performance that each has been trying to forget.

"It's hard to swallow exactly what happened," Cash said of watching last year's game against the Panthers.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Cash
AP Photo/John BazemoreJeremy Cash has stepped into a leadership role on a young Duke defense.
"There were just a lot of guys not doing what they were supposed to do," Vinopal said, able to laugh a year later with the win in his back pocket.

Pitt won that contest last September, 58-55, a score that would have made each school's basketball program proud. From there, the Panthers went six straight games without surrendering more than 24 points. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, ran the rest of the regular-season table, winning eight straight before falling in the ACC title game.

Much has changed in the last year, both teams insist. Pitt was in just its third game under defensive coordinator Matt House, whose unit ranked 14th nationally in scoring average (18.6) before this past Saturday's 56-28 loss to Georgia Tech. Duke was just four games removed from a 2012 campaign that saw it finish last in the ACC in scoring defense. The Blue Devils improved steadily throughout last season's run, and this year find themselves second in the league and fifth nationally in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) behind fifth-year coordinator Jim Knowles.

"We've had a lot of young people in the secondary, still are fairly young, but we've just really had to try to grow up our defense, and I think the thing we've done best is become systematic, because you see so many different things," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "You see, Pitt themselves, they line up in two tight ends, and two backs, a 270-pound fullback in the game, they can get into three- and four- wide receivers. And we see just about everything you can imagine in college football, and so Jim Knowles and the defensive staff have done a much better job I think over a period of these years, putting us in a systematic approach, where our guys understand what we're trying to do.

This year's unit has taken on the identity of Cash, a redshirt junior from Miami who for whatever reason grew up rooting for the U of M not in his backyard. He instead fell in love with coach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes, enrolling four months before the coach's resignation. He played as a freshman but sought a new landing spot upon the arrival of Urban Meyer, who had not offered the in-state product when he was coaching Florida. Tressel spoke highly of Cutcliffe, who had yet to take Duke to a bowl game at that point. Cash's faith has been rewarded, though, with the 6-1 Blue Devils postseason-bound for the third straight year and looking for more this time around.

Cash is fifth in the ACC in tackles per game (nine) and tops in forced fumbles, with three. His five stops behind the line of scrimmage are tied for the team lead. He was named one of 15 semifinalists Monday for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back. He turned things up another level, he said, upon seeing linebacker and fellow defensive captain Kelby Brown go down in camp with an ACL tear.

"We had a lot of our senior leaders graduate," Cash said, "therefore I felt that I needed to step up in the back end because we did have a lot of youth and inexperience."

His path parallels that of the guy looking to send 4-4 Pitt bowling again despite dropping four of its last five games. Vinopal, a redshirt senior with 38 stops and two picks to his name, anchors a very young and thin secondary under first-year position coach Troy Douglas.

The Youngstown, Ohio native, initially went to Michigan, earning a starting role during Rich Rodriguez's final year as coach. A coaching change there prompted Vinopal to seek a new locale, and though neighboring Pitt offered an uneasy new start -- coach Todd Graham departed after his only season, when Vinopal sat out -- the Paul Chryst regime has offered stability these past three years for a safety who had been heavily involved with Chryst's old Wisconsin team back in the recruiting process.

"It's definitely an unconventional path, and I'm just blessed and fortunate to have gotten pretty much the luck of the draw," Vinopla said. "Sometimes times were a little tough and it didn't seem like I was heading in the direction where I had envisioned or where my goals had been set to go, but luckily I kept working and grinding away and ended up in a good situation."
Pitt welcomed a new defensive backs coach in the spring, and with him a new approach to playing in the back end.

The Panthers want their players to be more aggressive, something that was missing for much of 2013. Pitt had its moments, but its secondary seemed to play off receivers all too frequently. The result? Pitt allowed 7.4 yards per completion, tied for second-worst in the ACC. The Panthers also gave up 20 passing touchdowns, one of five ACC schools to give up 20 or more through the air.

But here is the stat that really stands out: Pitt had eight interceptions, worst in the ACC and tied for No. 98 in the country. The Panthers recorded an interception once in every 48 pass attempts.

So you can see why this was a group in need of a philosophical overhaul. Given the talent and youth returning, this could end up being one of the most improved units across the ACC.

"Even though the room is young in years ... the one thing in that room is every one of those kids has played in a game," defensive coordinator Matt House said in a recent phone interview. "The first time on the field, none of them will be star-struck because they’ve all been on the field before. That’s reassuring for them and reassuring for myself. They’re an aggressive group."

Safety Ray Vinopal leads the way, but he is the only senior in the group. Junior cornerback Lafayette Pitts is the next oldest when it comes to experience, although the Panthers are excited about junior Wisconsin transfer Reggie Mitchell. The rest are sophomores who played as true freshmen or redshirt freshmen.

Pitt is counting on all that game experience to help. Safety Terrish Webb, for example, played in every game last season as a true freshman. Cornerback Titus Howard, competing with Trenton Coles to win a starting job, played in 11 games as a true freshman with two starts.

House said Webb, Mitchell, Coles and Howard all played well in the spring. He also expects a much better season out of Pitts, who struggled at times in 2013.

"I don’t think there’s any doubt," House said. "Lafayette’s been more focused. He wasn’t satisfied with last season and definitely wants to improve on that. He’s done it throughout the winter and spring. He’s working hard."

The young, talented nucleus is there for Pitt to improve its numbers. Bank on a better group in 2014.

ACC spring games recap

April, 14, 2014
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Eight ACC teams wrapped up their spring seasons this past weekend, with games and open practices taking place from Pittsburgh all the way down to Miami. Here's a look at the biggest storylines from all of the action surrounding six of those teams. (Colleague Jared Shanker has plenty of Florida State content over on our Seminoles site, while our David Hale was in the house for the second spring of the Dave Doeren era at NC State.)

CLEMSON
The Tigers entered their spring game down one quarterback after Deshaun Watson injured his collarbone five days earlier, and fellow signal caller Chad Kelly might have simplified the QB battle for the coaching staff down the stretch -- just not in a good way. Kelly got himself benched for the second half after questioning a punting decision on fourth down in the second quarter. Cole Stoudt took advantage of the opening, completing 15 of 23 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns on a day that certainly did not hurt his chances at emerging atop the three-man race come August. Kelly, meanwhile, went 10-for-18 for 118 yards with two interceptions. The defense was credited with 14 sacks, though the quarterbacks weren't live. The White team beat the Orange team, 23-5, in front of a record 33,000.

LOUISVILLE
It's often too easy to draw general conclusions and overreact to what we all see during a team's main public display at the end of each spring. That is probably the case when looking at the Cardinals' Friday night fireworks. Redshirt sophomore Will Gardner threw for 542 yards and four touchdowns, leading the offense to 951 total yards and 11 touchdowns. Most of it came against the second-team defense, which underscored the feeling exiting 2013: The secondary is in need of some depth, especially after losing Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor. Is Bobby Petrino's first offense that good? Is his secondary that bad? Probably somewhere in between, though roughly 27,500 were entertained.

MIAMI
The defense was the main storyline ever since the end of the 2013 season, though Ryan Williams' ACL tear last week brought a new concern to the forefront. Still, the Hurricanes had to be pleased with how Mark D'Onofrio's unit performed on Saturday, with safeties Jamal Carter and Dallas Crawford leading the way with five tackles apiece. The defense won the game, 61-60, thanks to an unconventional scoring system. And, more importantly, it held Miami's new quarterbacks in check, with Kevin Olsen going just 7-of-21 for 65 yards and a pick and Gray Crow going 9-of-20 for 63 yards and a pick. Juwon Young and Tracy Howard came up with the interceptions.

NORTH CAROLINA
Quarterbacks took center stage in Chapel Hill as well, with neither incumbent Marquise Williams nor challenger Mitch Trubisky offering much in way of clarity. Williams completed 22 of 32 passes for 135 yards and an interception. Trubisky went 20-for-32 for 183 yards and an interception. Larry Fedora liked the decision-making from both of his signal callers on Saturday and knows he has two capable signal-callers, but he isn't offering any public hints about who his guy will likely be come this fall. The Blue team, by the way, beat the White team, 38-17.

VIRGINIA
The defense (Blue) dominated the injury-depleted offense (White), coming up with four interceptions and nine total sacks (albeit two-hand touch sacks). Greyson Lambert looked like the best of the Cavaliers' quarterbacks, completing 18 of 31 passes for 220 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. Incumbent David Watford went just 4-of-14 for 31 yards with two picks, while Matt Johns completed 6 of his 19 throws for 43 yards. Lambert and the Virginia coaching staff attributed the redshirt sophomore's improved play to a clear head, as he has taken pressure off himself this time around and looks like the front-runner, as he was voted one of four captains by teammates, along with Anthony Harris, Henry Coley and Kevin Parks. He was also one of 13 players -- and the only quarterback -- named to the leadership council.

PITT
The Panthers drew plenty of attention early for announcing that they would not hold a traditional spring game. Still, their "Field Pass" event on Sunday at its South Side headquarters drew more than 3,000 who came and listened to presentations from defensive coordinator Matt House, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph, strength and conditioning coach Ross Kolodziej and recruiting coordinator Dann Kabala. A big theme around Pitt this spring has been the program's youth, but that storyline moved closer and closer toward its depth, which has been tested lately with injuries to running backs James Conner (sprained left knee) and Isaac Bennett (sprained left shoulder), who will have surgery but is expected to return in time for fall camp. Pitt held its 14th spring practice before Sunday's fan event and will conclude its spring season Tuesday.

ACC spring games preview

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

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

Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!

CLEMSON

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

Where: Death Valley

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

FLORIDA STATE

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

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium

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

LOUISVILLE

When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday

Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

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

MIAMI

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

Where: Sun Life Stadium

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

NORTH CAROLINA

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

Where: Kenan Stadium

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

NC STATE

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium

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

VIRGINIA

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Scott Stadium

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

PITT (No spring game)

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

Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex

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

ACC's lunchtime links

September, 26, 2013
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Chat with AA later today at 4 p.m. ET. Send in those questions now!

Pitt has a chance to bounce back

September, 10, 2013
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Pitt has had more than a week to sit on a blowout loss to Florida State in the opener.

But the bye came at a good time for the Panthers. They did not have to prepare for a game on a short week, and they got extra time to begin correcting glaring mistakes made against the Seminoles.

Though the game did not go the way anybody in Pittsburgh would have wanted, there is some reason for optimism as the Panthers begin to move forward against New Mexico on Saturday.

That's right, I said optimism -- despite a 41-13 loss that made a certain freshman quarterback even more famous. Here are three reasons why:

1. Dynamic duo forming. Freshman Tyler Boyd impressed in his debut for the Panthers, leading the team in rushing while also finishing second in receiving for a game-high 151 all-purpose yards. Reliable senior Devin Street added a career-high 141 receiving yards on six catches, showing the trash-talking Florida State D he is more than just a productive receiver. The key here is that Pitt needed to develop a second reliable receiver to team with Street. Boyd drew raves in fall camp, and that earned him a spot a as a starting receiver. In fact, Boyd is the only true freshman starting receiver in the ACC. We have seen some pretty excellent true freshmen at the position over the last several years in this league. Boyd and Street could end up being one of the more productive receiver duos in the league.

2. No more Florida States. The Panthers will not face a team as deep or as talented as Florida State the remainder of the season in ACC play. The other Atlantic Division team on the schedule is Syracuse, the only league squad off to an 0-2 start. The Panthers' own division, meanwhile, is completely wide open. No. 15 Miami leads the group, but the Hurricanes have concerns to address, particularly their third-down offense. North Carolina has defensive issues; Virginia Tech and Virginia have offensive issues; Duke is down its starting quarterback; and we have only seen Georgia Tech beat up on Elon so far. It's not a stretch to believe Pitt should have a shot to win in every one of these games.

3. Upcoming schedule. The front end of the schedule is more manageable than the back end. The game against New Mexico starts a stretch of six winnable games for the Panthers (The others: at Duke, Virginia, at Virginia Tech, Old Dominion at Navy). None of these games are a gimme for the opponent. Virginia Tech appears to be the best in the group, but the Panthers have owned the series of late, winning four straight. That includes their stunning upset win a year ago. Florida State beat Pitt soundly, but the loss was a good learning tool for the Panthers. They got freshmen extensive playing time. Tom Savage took his first hits since 2010. Defensive coordinator Matt House called his first game.

These are all reasons for optimism in the short term. So is this: Chryst said after the loss "everyone, players and coaches, took ownership. Everyone owned that game. If you do that, then you have a chance to move forward and get better. We’ve got a great group of guys. They want to be coached, and we want to coach them."

We'll see how that translates on the field in the coming weeks.
To get an idea of how Pitt and Syracuse could do in Year 1 in the ACC, forget the quarterback uncertainty gripping both schools and instead focus on defense.

Here's why.

If Pitt and Syracuse had played in the ACC last season, both schools would have ranked in the top half of the league in the four major defensive statistical categories -- total defense, rushing defense, passing defense, and scoring defense. Pitt would have been No. 2 in three of those categories (total D, passing D, scoring D).

While it is tough to compare the numbers across the leagues -- ACC defenses faced more prolific offenses than Big East defenses -- the numbers do carry some weight. Neither team is a lightweight on that side of the ball. Far from it. The former Big East has built a reputation for turning out some pretty solid defenses, and pretty solid defensive players. In the 2013 NFL draft, for example, 11 of the 19 players selected from the Big East played on defense. In 2012, both first-round picks from the Big East were defensive players.

Let's move on to this season, where the bigger challenge awaits. Pitt returns nine players from a defense that ranked in the Top 20 in the nation last season in total defense and passing defense. Though defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable is gone, coach Paul Chryst promoted Matt House to take over, allowing for consistency and continuity. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has appeared on four watch lists already (Bednarik, Outland, Nagurski, Lombardi). Lafayette Pitts and K'Waun Williams are a great tandem at cornerback.

As for Syracuse, coach Scott Shafer comes from the defensive side of the ball. His ability to get results out of that defense was one of the big reasons he was promoted to head coach. His game plans last year against Louisville and West Virginia -- two of the best offenses Syracuse faced all year -- were outstanding. The Orange do have a bigger rebuilding job than the Panthers, and are much thinner up front. They return six starters. Two -- linebackers Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis -- have 59 starts between them.

How these two teams end up doing is a guess at this point. But if they continue to play solidly on defense, the have a great chance of surprising a lot of people.

Video: Pitt DC Matt House

April, 16, 2013
4/16/13
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Heather Dinich talks to Pitt defensive coordinator Matt House after the Panthers' spring game.
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Matt House

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
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Are you ready for some football? What? Still six months to go? Sigh ...
DUKE

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Boone is up. Duke loses three-year starter Sean Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Anthony Boone is the next man up, and has plenty of game experience. But coming in for spot duty is vastly different from taking over the starting quarterback job. He has to get a jump on becoming the leader of this offense in the spring.

2. Receiver spots open. The Blue Devils lose the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Conner Vernon, plus the versatile and athletic Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is back, but Duke is going to need to find two more starters and several more to step up and help with depth.

3. Handling success. This is the first time since 1994 that Duke goes into a spring with 15 bowl practices already under its belt and a taste of success. That should presumably give the Blue Devils an advantage. But it is much harder maintaining, as many coach will tell you. How does this new success impact the mind-set in spring practice?

GEORGIA TECH

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

1. Ted Roof takes over. What is the Georgia Tech defense going to look like with Ted Roof in charge? He has not really given out specifics about the type of scheme he wants to use as his base, so it will be interesting to see how he fits his personnel to what he likes to do best. The Jackets do return eight starters to a unit that improved in the second half of the season.

2. Vad Lee time. We saw glimpse of what Lee could do as he began to share quarterback duties with Tevin Washington last season. Now, the show is all his, so we get to see how he develops as a full-time starter.

3. So long, Orwin. The Jackets lose one of their most dynamic playmakers in Orwin Smith, who finished his career ranked among Georgia Tech’s all-time leaders in kickoff returns (76), kickoff return yards (1,624) and career all-purpose yards (4,278). Georgia Tech has to find somebody to replace that productivity.

MIAMI

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. D in Defense? The No. 1 spring priority has got to be improving a defense that was one of the worst in the nation in every NCAA statistical category (No. 112 rushing defense, No. 102 passing defense, No. 116 total defense, No. 82 scoring defense). If Miami is going to be a favorite to win the Coastal, it needs better play out of this group.

2. New OC. James Coley takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Jedd Fisch. Coley served as offensive coordinator at Florida State before arriving at Miami, but did not call the plays. So he has much more responsibility here, and is charged with taking Stephen Morris from great to next-level great.

3. D-Line improvement. If Miami is going to be better on defense, it has to start up front, where the Hurricanes were extremely young and mostly ineffective for 2012. The Hurricanes had to deal with their share of injuries, but they also were not great at stopping the run or putting pressure on the passer -- with only 13 sacks all year. That is the lowest total since at least 2005, the first year NCAA stats began listing team sack totals.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Bye bye, Gio. Life begins without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard, who left school early for the NFL draft. The cupboard is not completely bare, though, as A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both return. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

2. Replacing Williams, Reddick. North Carolina returns nine starters on defense. That is the good news. The bad news is the Tar Heels lose their two best players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, two first-team All-ACC selections. We'll see if Ethan Farmer at tackle and P.J. Clyburn at linebacker emerge to win the starting jobs.

3. Replacing Coop. The Tar Heels have a major hole to fill on their offensive line as they say goodbye to unanimous All-America guard Jonathan Cooper, a stalwart who made 47 career starts. Cooper was the unheralded leader of the offense, so filling his spot is a major priority this spring.

PITTSBURGH

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. QB situation. Tino Sunseri is gone, leaving Arizona transfer Tom Savage, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson to compete for the starting job. Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Panthers, so upgrading this position is an absolute must.

2. Adjusting to DC. Pitt is going into the season with its fourth new coordinator in as many years, as Dave Huxtable left for NC State after only one year on the job. Secondary coach Matt House was promoted to coordinator, so at least there will be some familiarity. But he has to get to work on improving this unit's consistency.

3. Offensive line improvements. Is this the year we finally see a vastly improved Pitt offensive line? The Panthers have to replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson, two key positions to watch during spring practice.

VIRGINIA

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. New coaches. How will the three most high-profile hires Mike London made mesh with the staff and returning players? How will the offense deal with a new scheme under Steve Fairchild? How will the defense deal with a new scheme under Jon Tenuta? How big will Tom O'Brien's role be with the offense? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. QB competition. Fairchild has already said he will open up the quarterback job to a "very spirited competition" this spring. The two front-runners figure to be Phillip Sims and David Watford, who both have game experience. But there will be no shortage of quarterbacks in Charlottesville this year, so there are no guarantees that either of them will win the job.

3. Replacing Greer. The Hoos have some big shoes to fill in the middle of their defense with the departure of linebacker Steve Greer, who ended his career with 376 tackles -- ranking No. 6 in school history. Kwontie Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play in 2012, backed up Greer last season. Will he win the starting job?

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Logan Thomas. All eyes will be on Thomas as he heads into his senior season, especially with new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler in charge. How will the two work together, and what will Loeffler do to get Thomas to cut down on his mistakes and capitalize on the immense potential he has?

2. Rushing attack. Item No. 2 on the agenda for Loeffler is to figure out a way to jump start the Virginia Tech rushing game, which struggled in 2012. The offensive line was inconsistent, and so were the running backs. The Hokies could never really settle on a starter or a clear rotation in the backfield, either. Somebody has to emerge as THE guy.

3. Filling in for Exum. Virginia Tech took a serious hit to its defensive backfield last month when emerging cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. The Hokies will look to several young players to try and fill his void, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Fans will have to wait on highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller, who joins in the summer.

Pitt announces hires

February, 18, 2013
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Pittsburgh coach Paul Chryst has promoted Matt House to defensive coordinator and hired John Palermo as defensive ends and linebackers coach, the school announced on Monday. Former Pitt defensive back Hank Poteat (1996-99), who spent a decade as a player in the NFL, will join the staff as a graduate assistant and work with the cornerbacks.

From the release:
House oversaw a secondary last year that helped Pitt boast the nation’s No. 17 defense in fewest yards allowed (330.54 yards/game). The Panthers also owned lofty NCAA rankings in pass defense (20th, 194.15 yards/game), pass efficiency defense (21st, 113.12 rating) and interceptions (26th, 15 total).

Individually, free safety Jason Hendricks was named All-Big East after leading the league and ranking sixth nationally in interceptions (0.46 per game). Hendricks’ six INTs were the most by a Pitt player since 2000. House’s starting cornerback tandem of K’Waun Williams (four interceptions) and Lafayette Pitts (one INT and a team-high nine pass breakups) emerged as one of the Big East’s best in 2012.

All three of those defensive backs -- and nine total defensive starters -- are back for the Panthers’ inaugural season in the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013.

House, who will narrow his positional focus to the safeties this season, joined Chryst’s staff last year after working with the NFL’s St. Louis Rams (2009-11) and Carolina Panthers (2008). He previously held collegiate coaching posts at Michigan State, North Carolina, Gardner-Webb and Buffalo.

“I was very impressed by Matt’s work last year in the secondary,” Chryst said. “He has been a great fit for our program as a coach, recruiter and teacher of the game. His experiences and work ethic have more than prepared him for this opportunity to be a coordinator.”

Palermo is widely regarded as one of the finest defensive assistants in college football. He is a 38-year coaching veteran whose stops include 15 years at the University of Wisconsin, two seasons with the Washington Redskins and this past season with the University of Tennessee.

You can find the full release here.

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