ACC: Mehdi Abdesmad

Beyond top 25: ACC's breakout candidates

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
4:00
PM ET
Last week, ESPN.com ranked its top 100 players in college football, and here on the ACC blog, we counted down the top 25 in the conference. Of course, these lists are fun for the preseason, but once the games get going, what we all believed was true in August has a way of looking pretty silly by December. In fact, of our 2013 preseason top 25, just 12 also made our end-of-season top 25.

In other words, there were no doubt a few ACC players whose names were left on the cutting room floor in our countdown, but who may well be among the league’s elite this season. Here’s an admittedly imprecise look at a few to keep an eye on.

JUST MISSED

If we’d been making a top 30 or 40 list instead of 25, these guys definitely would’ve made the cut. As it stands, they'll likely see their names on our end-of-year list.

WR Stacy Coley (Miami): Don’t be surprised if the Canes’ sophomore receiver ranks in the top five of our end-of-season list. No returning ACC player averaged more yards per touch last year (min. 50 touches) than Coley (21.8). He’ll need some help from an unproven quarterback, but Coley has the talent to be an All-American if things break right for him this season.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville): Already a star with 9.5 sacks and 12 TFL last season, Mauldin is poised to explode as he moves from defensive end to outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s new 3-4 system. At Grantham’s previous stop at Georgia, he helped Justin Houston and Jarvis Jones parlay similar moves into super stardom.

DE Eli Harold (UVA): Virginia’s defensive line may not get much national publicity, but it’s jam-packed with talent, headed up by Harold, who racked up 8.5 sacks and 15 TFL last season. Both of those totals rank second among returning ACC players behind Clemson All-American Vic Beasley.

GETTING HEALTHY

Injuries set them back, but these players are poised for big comebacks in 2014.

S Isaiah Johnson (GT): A burgeoning star on Georgia Tech’s defense, a knee injury cost Johnson all of 2013. He’s “past 100 percent” now though and expects to make a huge impact after a long wait to get back onto the field.

S Tyler Hunter (FSU): Last summer, Hunter was the unquestioned leader of FSU’s revamped defense, but a scary neck injury ended his season in Week 3. What might’ve been a career-ending injury turned out to be just a setback, and now Hunter will be the veteran voice in an immensely talented secondary that has led the nation in passing defense the past two years.

DT Mehdi Abdesmad (BC): As a junior last season, the 6-foot-7 Abdesmad looked poised for a breakthrough, recording sacks against USC and Florida State before a knee injury ended his season. If he can return to form quickly, he's in position to replace the 8.5 sacks BC lost with the departure of Kasim Edebali from its D-line.

WR Charone Peake (Clemson): When they arrived on campus as freshmen, Peake and Sammy Watkins were both considered can't-miss prospects. Now Watkins is impressing in Buffalo Bills camp and Peake is still looking for his breakthrough season. Despite an injury-ravaged 2013, he's being counted on as the top option for Cole Stoudt in 2014.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATES

These players have already made some noise in the past but could make the jump to the league’s elite in 2014.

S Durrell Eskridge (Syracuse): Eskridge blossomed into a key contributor on Syracuse’s defense last year, recording 6.5 tackles per game (14th among returning ACC players) and four interceptions, but as the Orange look to replace key starters inside, Eskridge’s impact in 2014 only figures to expand.

QB Jacoby Brissett (NC State): Dave Doeren believes Brissett, a transfer from Florida who spent last season waiting in the wings, is a perfect fit for his offense, and the veteran has the confidence and trust of his teammates -- something NC State sorely missed at the position last year. Our preseason top 25 lists just one quarterback (Jameis Winston), so a few others have to state their case, too. Brissett should be chief among them, but fellow transfers Tyler Murphy (BC) and Michael Brewer (Virginia Tech) could certainly be in the mix, too.

OT Matt Rotheram (Pitt): Pitt's O-line was a disaster last year, but adding a more mobile quarterback in the backfield and a year of experience to the unit should help. Rotheram was the one bright spot through much of 2013, and he's now poised to get a hefty share of the credit should the revamped line take the next step in 2014.

UNPROVEN TALENT

They haven't seen the field (much) yet, but they’re in line for significant roles this season and could make the most of the opportunity.

LB Matthew Thomas (FSU): The Seminoles return plenty of talent from their national-championship run, but the linebacking crew is definitely an area with a few question marks. It’s a talented, but unproven group, but Thomas tasted action early last season before going down with an injury, and he showed he can make an instant impact -- perhaps in an edge-rusher role similar to what Christian Jones did for FSU's D last season.

RB Wayne Gallman (Clemson): It’s hard to project how the carries will be distributed in a crowded Clemson backfield, but two things are clear: The Tigers want to run the ball more in 2014, and Gallman has the potential to be a star. Coaches and teammates raved about his improvement in the spring, and Gallman will get every shot to win a job as a centerpiece of the new-look Clemson offense in fall camp.

OT Bentley Spain (UNC): Larry Fedora admits he doesn’t know quite what to make of Spain yet after the early enrollee missed a hefty chunk of the spring with an injury. Still, Spain is in line for the starting left tackle job at UNC, and with talent at quarterback and tailback behind him, it could be a quick start to his career.

DEEP SLEEPERS

The names aren’t familiar outside their own fan bases, but don’t be surprised if they’re making some noise by year’s end.

LB Marquel Lee (Wake): New Deacons coach Dave Clawson has his work cut out for him trying to find talent to fill out the depth chart, but he may have discovered an early gem in Lee. The sophomore was the star of Wake's spring game, and with so much turnover up front for the Deacons, Lee will get plenty of chances to make plays once the season begins.

CB DreQuan Hoskey (UVA): Here’s an interesting tidbit, courtesy of STATS LLC: No defender in the ACC was picked on more last season than Hoskey, who was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 81 times in 12 games. There were mixed results, of course, but it's worth noting that he wasn't burned for a TD on any of those plays. Next most targets without surrendering a touchdown among ACC defensive backs? Lamarcus Joyner with 37. He's part of a very crowded secondary, but Hoskey will get his chances to make an impact in 2014.

RB Shaquille Powell (Duke): He's overlooked because Duke returns its leading rusher from 2013 (Josh Snead) but teammates have raved about Powell's progress, and it's worth noting that while Snead is back, the Blue Devils still must replace 51 percent of last year’s rushing attempts after losing Brandon Connette, Juwan Thompson and Jela Duncan.


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

Previewing the 2014 season for the Boston College Eagles:

Key returners: RB Myles Willis, WR Josh Bordner, LG Bobby Vardaro, C Andy Gallik, RG Harris Williams, DT Mehdi Abdesmad, LB Steven Daniels, LB Josh Keyes, CB Manuel Asprilla, CB Bryce Jones, S Dominique Williams

Key losses: QB Chase Rettig, RB Andre Williams, WR Alex Amidon, LT Matt Patchan, RT Ian White, DE Kasim Edebali, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB Steele Divitto, K/P Nate Freese

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 5 vs. Pitt, Sept. 13 vs. USC, Nov. 1 at Virginia Tech, Nov. 22 at Florida State, Nov. 29 vs. Syracuse

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsSecond-year Boston College coach Steve Addazio is looking to build on a seven-win season in 2013.
Projected win percentage: 37.9 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 5 wins

Instant impact newcomer: Florida transfer Tyler Murphy is the front-runner to start at quarterback, having been recruited to Gainesville back when Eagles coach Steve Addazio was an assistant there. Murphy started six games last year for the Gators, completing 60.5 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and five interceptions, adding 61 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns.

High point from 2013: Pick any Andre Williams highlight and you'll find it easy to understand how the previously unsung running back bullied his way to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Williams rushed for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns, finishing fourth in the Heisman voting. His 166 yards and two touchdowns in a Nov. 2 upset of Virginia Tech sparked a four-game winning streak for BC, helping the Eagles get to a bowl in Year 1 under Addazio.

Low point from 2013: A two-game slide to finish the season at 7-6 diminished some of the glow that had come from such a surprising run during BC's four-game winning streak earlier. The Eagles lost Williams in the regular-season finale at rival Syracuse, and lost the game 34-31 on a touchdown pass with six seconds left. Then Arizona routed BC 42-19 in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Murphy proves to be an efficient dual-threat quarterback, adding a dynamic to BC's offense that wasn't there last year. Willis leads a running back committee that, running behind a veteran line, is able to collectively make up for much of the production that went out the door when Williams left. A strong secondary offsets a mostly untested defensive front, and BC continues its ascent under Addazio, winning eight games and pulling several more upsets along the way.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The offense struggles to find its identity without the machine-like Williams pushing it forward. Murphy and a green receiving corps have trouble meshing, the defense lacks punch up front and the Eagles fall back to a three- or four-win season, which is what many thought would happen last season.

They said it: "Really, the interest level now is about winning those games. It's really not about being close; that's not really what we're striving for here. Year 1 was about winning the opener, it was about getting bowl eligible. Now I think as the program moves on in Year 2, you want to get to Charlotte, and that's the next goal on the program's docket right now, is to get to Charlotte." -- Addazio, on BC's respectable 48-34 loss last season to eventual national champion Florida State

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
12:00
PM ET
Another Miami AD is out.

Weekend rewind: Scrimmage reports

August, 20, 2012
8/20/12
10:00
AM ET
Not every school in the ACC gives scrimmage reports, but for those that do, we will gladly post the highlights. Here's a look back at what happened in the ACC this weekend, according to each school's report:

Boston College

Offensive highlights: Junior receiver Alex Amidon had seven catches for 84 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown reception, in the situational scrimmage Sunday. The scrimmage featured six end-of-half/fourth-quarter situations with limited time on the clock and a limited number of timeouts. Chase Rettig went 18-of-32 for 168 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Defensive highlights: Justin Simmons had two interceptions off second-team quarterback Josh Bordner. Manuel Asprilla intercepted Rettig at the goal line, and linebacker Nick Clancy intercepted a Rettig pass that was deflected by Mehdi Abdesmad a few plays later.

Special teams: Gerald Levano punted four times and averaged nearly 48 yards per punt. His first punt landed at the 2-yard line, while his second attempt went 60 yards. Kicker Nate Freese made his only field goal attempt, from 40 yards, and is now 6-for-6 on field goal attempts in the preseason.

Quotable: “We got a lot of nice young guys on this football team, and if they come through and play well, good things can happen, and Justin [Simmons] is one of them,” coach Frank Spaziani said. “He’s as advertised. We did our homework and everything that you do on kids. He’s a good prospect.”

Clemson

Offensive highlights: Tajh Boyd threw for 218 yards and three touchdowns Saturday, while Martavis Bryant had four catches for 97 yards and had two touchdowns. Boyd was 13-of-22 for 218 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Backup Cole Stoudt went 4-of-9 for 61 yards and led a touchdown drive on his first possession. Andre Ellington had an 8-yard touchdown run, while Roderick McDowell led all running backs for a second straight scrimmage with 65 yards on four carries.

Defensive highlights: Coach Dabo Swinney praised the defensive line, where Josh Watson, Grady Jarrett and DeShawn Williams made plays. Xavier Brewer made a brilliant breakup of a long pass and added five tackles. Jonathan Meeks added an interception. Tony Steward made a big play with a 25-yard interception return.

Special teams: Williams had a blocked a field goal. Backup kicker Spence Benton made a 53-yard kick that could have been good from 63 yards.

Quotable: “We have two weeks to get dialed in,” Swinney said. “We are going to turn the page on Monday after our last two-a-day (practices) and start getting ready for Auburn. We will have our guys penciled in on where they need to be.”

Duke

Offensive highlights: Quarterback Brandon Connette caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Sean Renfree and ran for another in a 95-snap, controlled scrimmage Friday night at Wallace Wade Stadium. Renfree went 14-of-21 for 116 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Freshman Shaquille Powell had eight carries for 30 yards, while Jela Duncan had 28 yards on nine attempts. Garrett Patterson, who moved from defensive back to receiver this week during practice, had five receptions for 80 yards.

Defensive highlights: Cornerbacks Lee Butler and Tony Foster each had interceptions while linebacker Deion Williams recovered one fumble. Freshman defensive end Michael Mann had one sack and one forced fumble.

Special teams highlights: Freshman kicker Ross Martin made field goals of 43 and 48 yards and converted his only extra-point attempt.

Georgia Tech

Offensive highlights: Broderick Snoddy had a 70-yard touchdown run on the second series, while quarterback Vad Lee threw two touchdowns to A-back B.J. Bostic. Lee later added a touchdown run as he continues to work at quarterback and A-back. Synjyn Days and freshman Justin Thomas also took snaps at quarterback, and each led scoring drives.

Defensive highlights: Nick Menocal had an interception he nearly returned for a touchdown. Jimmie Kitchen recovered a fumble, while defensive lineman Anthony Williams had two sacks.

Special teams highlights: Justin Moore had a 29-yard field goal, while David Scully made a 31-yard field goal and all five of his extra-point attempts. There was no punting on Saturday.

Quotable: “The guys are ready to play someone else,” quarterback Tevin Washington said. “We’ve been hitting each other for two weeks and all summer doing drills against each other. Guys are just ready to go and get some new faces in front of us.”

Maryland

Freshman Stefon Diggs continued to impress, as he had three first-half touchdowns -- a 68-yard punt return, a 98-yard kickoff return and an 11-yard reception. Quarterback Perry Hills ran the first-team offense and led Maryland to scores on three of his five drives.

On the opening drive, Hills took the Terps on an 18-play, 76-yard touchdown drive, He went 5-of-6 for 27 yards on the drive and also rushed for 36 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run.

"I thought Perry [Hills] had a good day," coach Randy Edsall said. "I thought he did some good things. Of course there's going to be plenty of things that he could learn from, and get better, but I think that we didn't have any issues with delay of game, really didn't have any false starts. When you talk about the mechanics and the operation of the offense I thought he handled it really well."

Miami

The Hurricanes' scrimmage Saturday was cut short in the middle of the second quarter because of lightning in the area. Among the highlights in the abbreviated scrimmage: Mike James and Duke Johnson each had touchdown runs, and Kelvin Cain recorded a sack in the end zone for a safety.

Virginia Tech

Offensive highlights: Logan Thomas went 8-of-15 for 112 yards and a score, while backup Mark Leal went 6-of-16 for 111 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. Kevin Asante led all receivers with four catches for 79 yards, while Corey Fuller caught three passes for 68 yards. The Hokies also rushed for 174 yards. J.C. Coleman played with a broken hand and had 54 yards -- 52 coming on one run -- and Trey Edmunds added 45. Tony Gregory rushed for 36 yards, including a 26-yard touchdown run. Projected starter Michael Holmes had three carries for 21 yards.

Defensive highlights: The projected first-team defense allowed a little more than 120 yards in four series (24 plays) and gave up just two field goals. Walk-on Zach Snell had six tackles, while Ronny Vandyke had five. Desmond Frye and Antone Exum each recorded four. The defense had five total sacks and Bruce Taylor had an interception.

Special teams highlights: Cody Journell made two field goals and missed one, while Brooks Abbott made one and had a 37-yarder blocked by Kyle Fuller.

Quotable: “I thought it was one of the more productive offensive first scrimmages we’ve had around here,” coach Frank Beamer said. “I think we did some good things, and I think we’ll see some things we can improve. Overall, I think the effort was good. I always say this, but it’s hard to come out pleased because if the offense makes plays, you’re worried about your defense. If the defense makes plays, you’re worried about your offense. Overall, I thought it was a good first scrimmage.”

Summer summary: Boston College

August, 22, 2011
8/22/11
2:00
PM ET
The summer is almost over. Next week is game week, when the teams will shift their focus to their Week 1 opponents, if they haven't already. The goal of this series is to quickly catch you up on what has happened at each ACC school during summer camp, a quick-hit recap of the main storylines and most notable injuries. We'll go in alphabetical order, starting with Boston College:
  • There has been significant change on offense. There is an excitement around first-year offensive coordinator Kevin Rogers, and for the first time in three years, the Eagles know who their starting quarterback will be for the season opener -- Chase Rettig. In the first two scrimmages, the offense dominated the defense, and that doesn't happen at BC. In the two years prior to this year, BC's offense had never scored a touchdown in a scrimmage. Linebacker Luke Kuechly made it a point heading into the third scrimmage to make sure his teammates knew that scrimmage would be about the D, but the main storyline out of Chestnut Hill this month has been the offense.
  • Running back Montel Harris underwent another arthroscopic knee surgery last week, and will miss three to four weeks, and then his backup, Andre Williams, sprained his ankle in Sunday's scrimmage. Still, the staff is confident in the depth and talent at the position, and Williams was walking around today and looked fine, according to a school spokesman, who added that Williams said it wasn't too swollen.
  • The depth on the offensive line remains a question. There have been a few nagging injuries, but John Wetzel has taken over for Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, and the staff has been pleased with his progress. Mark Spinney has been working with the first team at left guard, and redshirt freshman Andy Gallik has been taking most of the first-team reps at center.
  • Defensively, the Eagles are still looking for who will emerge as their starter at strongside linebacker, and Steele Divitto appears to be the frontrunner, but Nick Clancy had a good scrimmage.
  • True freshman defensive end Mehdi Abdesmad has played well enough that he likely will see some meaningful snaps this fall.
  • One lingering concern is the No. 2 quarterback position. If Rettig is injured, Josh Bordner is the likely backup, but he has been slowed by some back problems.

Boston College spring wrap

May, 5, 2011
5/05/11
11:30
AM ET
2010 overall record: 7-6

2010 conference record: 4-4

Returning starters

Offense: 7, defense: 7, punter/kicker: 2

Top returners

LB Luke Kuechly, P Ryan Quigley, CB Donnie Fletcher, QB Chase Rettig, TB Montel Harris, WR Bobby Swigert, WR Ifeanyi Momah, TE Chris Pantale, DE Max Holloway, DT Kaleb Ramsey

Key losses

LT Anthony Castonzo, LB Mark Herzlich, DT Damik Scafe, RG Thomas Claiborne, RT Rich Lapham, CB DeLeon Gause

2010 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Harris* (1,243 yards)

Passing: Rettig* (1,238 yds)

Receiving: Swigert* (504 yds)

Tackles: Kuechly* (183)

Sacks: Holloway* (4)

Interceptions: Fletcher* (5)

Spring answers

1. Starting offensive line has been rebuilt. Mark Spinney returns at center, the projected starting guards are Nathan Richman and Ian White, who started three games as a freshman, and the tackles are Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel. It’s a veteran group of starters, which is important considering the losses of three starters, including Castonzo, who had a league-high 54 starts and is a likely first-round draft pick.

2. The offensive depth and experience has improved. The Eagles return their leading rusher, passer and receiver from a year ago. They enter the fall set at every starting position on offense, and 10 of the 13 receivers who caught a pass last year return. Coach Frank Spaziani said everyone got better this spring, including Rettig, who was forced to play as a true freshman last year.

3. Two spring enrollees could contribute immediately. Four-star cornerback Al Louis-Jean really turned some heads this spring as a backup to Fletcher, and was ranked the No. 9 cornerback in the nation in his recruiting class by ESPN Recruiting. True freshman Mehdi Abdesmad also had a good spring and could see playing time at defensive end behind Holloway.

Fall questions

1. How much better is Rettig in the new system? There’s no doubt that Rettig will be better in his second season as a starter, but how will the sophomore adjust to the new scheme under first-year coordinator Kevin Rogers? Spaziani has said that the offense won’t look dramatically different, but there is new terminology involved and there will be some wrinkles.

2. Will the Eagles develop depth up front? The No. 2 offensive line is comprised entirely of redshirt freshmen: i.e. no experience. The defensive line will be young, and so will its backups. This summer will be critical for getting the linemen more reps and finding rotations the staff is comfortable with.

3. What is this team’s offensive identity? This spring wasn’t a good indicator of what BC’s offense will look like, as star tailback Montel Harris was held out of the scrimmages for precautionary reasons, and his backup, Andre Williams, was nursing a shoulder injury. The Eagles also hope to get receiver Colin Larmond Jr. back this summer from a knee injury he sustained before last season, and BC will be under the direction of a new offensive coordinator.

SPONSORED HEADLINES