ACC: Reggie Bonnafon

ACC morning links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty amazing story.

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

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

Now a quick look around the ACC:

ACC morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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When operating out of an option-based offense, it is no secret converting third downs -- preferably third-and-short -- is of pivotal importance. So the Georgia Tech offense's ability to sustain drives is a priority in every game as long as Paul Johnson is the Yellow Jackets' coach.

Through three weeks, few teams are better than Georgia Tech at converting third-down attempts. Only one team, in fact. The Yellow Jackets rank No. 2 nationally with a 64 percent conversion rate, according to a post from Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Georgia Tech offense, however, has done that against the likes of FCS Wofford, Tulane and recent FBS addition Georgia Southern. The unit will get its first test Saturday against Virginia Tech, which has been terrific at getting off the field; the Hokies are No. 3 nationally, allowing opponents to convert only 23.3 percent of third-down attempts.

If the Yellow Jackets find success moving the chains, they face another test once they near the Virginia Tech goal line. The Hokies are No. 15 nationally in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 66.7 percent of its trips. They are No. 35 in red zone touchdown percentage at 50.

The Tech-Tech showdown has traditionally been a heated game, as five of the last six games have been decided by a single score. The last two meetings have been low scoring, too, so third-down and red zone defense will be of critical importance Saturday.
  • The quarterback situation at Miami might not be any clearer without Kevin Olsen. Freshman Brad Kaaya is starting, but senior Ryan Williams, who tore his ACL in the spring, is nearing a return. Miami coach Al Golden would not commit to sticking with Kaaya once Williams is ready to play.
  • Florida State offensive tackle Cam Erving stymied Clemson's Vic Beasley last season, and that will once again be a one-on-one battle that figures to play an important part in deciding Saturday's winner between the two nationally ranked teams.
  • Clemson coach Dabo Swinney still feels Clemson would beat Florida State five out of 10 times. He initially said that after last season's disaster in Death Valley.
  • Virginia Tech has struggled mightily to run the football the last two weeks, so the Hokies are hoping Trey Edmunds comes back sooner rather than later from a tibia injury.
  • It initially looked bleak for two Duke linemen, but coach David Cutcliffe said Lucas Patrick and Dezmond Johnson avoided serious injuries Saturday. However, the offensive and defensive lines are preparing as if they will not have either this coming weekend.
  • Louisville quarterback Will Gardner was pulled in the loss against Virginia, and Gardner is putting the blame squarely on his own shoulders. And keep Reggie Bonnafon, who replaced Gardner on Saturday, in your thoughts as he deals with the death of his father.
  • After a loss to ECU a season ago, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora would be shocked if his team had the audacity to overlook the Pirates a second straight season. ECU, of course, upset Virginia Tech last weekend.
  • NC State coach Dave Doeren offered coachspeak when asked if the Wolfpack already had its eyes on No. 1 Florida State. He insists Presbyterian has his focus.
  • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer might have talked with Doeren, too. He offered a similar response, although the Orange have former member Maryland before a game against Notre Dame.
  • Boston College coach Steve Addazio had an out-of-character week of practice leading up to Pittsburgh because of a short week. He lightened the intensity. He learned his lesson in advance of the USC game, and it clearly paid off as the Eagles manhandled the then-No. 9 Trojans.
  • Canaan Severin was buried on the depth chart last season, and many of those players ahead of him returned for 2014. However, Severin has started two games already this season.
  • Pitt has not decided who will play center against Iowa.

ACC morning links: Kaaya's big step

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Miami knew there would be bumps in the road for true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, and so it wasn’t entirely surprising when he started off the year looking like, well, a true freshman. But the upside for Kaaya was always obvious, and against Arkansas State on Saturday, all that potential was on display.

As the Miami Herald noted, Kaaya set a Miami record for true freshmen, throwing for 342 yards -- just 9 less than his total from the first two games of the season. After the game, wideout Phillip Dorsett told the Sun Sentinel that Kaaya “grew up a lot.”

Kaaya certainly looked like a veteran against Arkansas State, but as significant as his comfort in the pocket was his ability to make some big throws when given the chance.

Miami fans were more than a bit displeased with the play calling in the first two games, noting that Kaaya wasn’t exactly given much of a chance to make many big throws. On the other hand, his success rate on those throws provided little encouragement.

On Saturday, however, things were much different.

Below are Kaaya’s numbers on throws of 10 yards or more.

Weeks 1 and 2: 7-of-17 for 187 yards, one TD and four interceptions
Week 3: 3-of-4 for 132 yards, two TDs and no interceptions

The opportunities for deep balls actually declined against Arkansas State, but Kaaya’s accuracy on those throws was much improved. Two of those completions went to Dorsett, who had receptions of 63, 63 and 51. He became just the second ACC receiver in the last decade to have three catches of 50 yards or more in a single game, joining Clemson’s Sammy Watkins (Oct. 25, 2012, against Wake Forest).

Kaaya was sacked three times, and Miami’s shaky offensive line continues to be a concern, but the freshman showed plenty of poise, including going 3-of-4 for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz. And all of this without star receiver Stacy Coley, who missed the game with a shoulder injury.

There will be bigger tests and more bumps in the road ahead for Kaaya, but Saturday was a good reminder of why the Hurricanes liked the kid so much in the first place and a great chance for him to build a little confidence for the future.

A few more links:
  • We're back to blaming the offense at Virginia Tech after the Hokies lost to ECU and dropped out of the polls, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch. To be fair, though, the defense has allowed 11 pass plays of 25-plus yards in three games, the most of any Power 5 team. It allowed just 18 all of last year.
  • We’re three weeks into the season and we’ve already seen two starting QBs pulled when struggling, with Will Gardner the latest to ride the bench. The Louisville Courier-Journal wonders if Reggie Bonnafon should be the starter for the Cardinals.
  • Saturday’s thrashing of Kansas was a good reminder that Duke has a lot more weapons on offense than Jamison Crowder, writes the Raleigh News & Observer. Crowder had just two catches for 14 yards against the Jayhawks, his lowest production since a 2/10 performance in a loss to Georgia Tech in 2012.
  • BC Interruption relives the many things for the Eagles to be excited about after Saturday’s upset of USC.
  • For NC State, there were a lot of numbers from Saturday’s thumping of USF that could be followed with the phrase “first time since” and a date from at least two years ago. Backing the Pack looks at a few, including a stretch for the Wolfpack defense that was particularly encouraging.
  • With Terrel Hunt getting his first extended action of the season, we finally got a look at the up-tempo Orange offense, and the numbers show Syracuse looked comfortable working quickly, writes The Post-Standard.
  • The schedule makes it tough to get too excited at Virginia, with the Hoos set to face down another big challenge in Week 4, writes The Roanoke Times.
  • Georgia Tech’s collapse against Georgia Southern probably speaks less to the team’s talent than its focus, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • Life’s not easy at Wake Forest right now, and a short turnaround before Army comes to town won’t help, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

ACC morning links

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
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Is it time to start worrying about Florida State?

I was having that discussion Sunday afternoon and felt it is still too early to make any meaningful determination on the Seminoles. After all, our Brad Edwards has Florida State still in his predicted playoff field even if the Seminoles did drop to No. 4 in the Football Power Index (FPI).

Everyone agrees Florida State has not been as dominant as most expected, but Oklahoma State, despite the lineup overhaul, is probably better than many gave the Cowboys credit for. It's not as if the Seminoles played poorly in Dallas either, but rather did not win in a convincing manner.

In Week 2, Florida State beat The Citadel 37-12, and the defense struggled at times in the first half. But The Citadel is an FCS opponent and a team that runs the option, and it can be tricky defending those teams with just a week of practice.

ESPN metrics, however, raises questions on the Seminoles' defense. According to ESPN's defensive efficiency, which measures how many points a defense contributes to its team's net scoring margin and adjusts for the strength of opposing offenses, Florida State is ranked 85th among FBS teams. They Seminoles led the country in defensive efficiency last season.

I'm still not ready to judge Florida State based on the season's first two weeks, although it's clear this team has legitimate concerns. Every team does.

What is worth keeping an eye on is Florida State's schedule might be tougher than originally thought. Florida, Louisville and Notre Dame look to be bigger challenges as the three have combined to start the season 5-0 with a convincing win in each game. The FPI originally gave Florida State a 38 percent chance to finish the regular season undefeated, but that number has dropped to 13 percent.

Before the season began, the FPI gave Florida State a 94 percent chance to beat Notre Dame. That percentage has now dropped to 66. Their chances of winning dropped double-digit percentage points against Clemson (13 percentage points), Florida (20) and Louisville (17), too, according to the ESPN Production Analytics Team. The Seminoles' next game is Sept. 20 against Clemson.

Is Florida State as good as advertised this preseason? It's still probably too early to tell. What is clear is the Seminoles' road to a second undefeated season is much tougher, and that could pose the biggest threat.

Here are a few more links to help kick off Week 3:
Here's a look at what we learned in the ACC in Week 2.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are universal challenges every first-year coach must face, whether he is a veteran or a newbie: getting to know new players, implementing schemes, setting a foundation, making sure there is buy-in across the locker room.

Then there is the challenge facing Bobby Petrino at Louisville. As he embarks on his second stint with the Cardinals, he has to go through all these getting-to-know you moments while also:

Replacing potentially the No. 1 quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft.

[+] EnlargePetrino
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIn his first season back at Louisville, coach Bobby Petrino has several questions on both sides of the ball.
Replacing his leading tackler.

Replacing his leading sack producer.

Replacing his all-conference tandem at safety.

But wait, there’s more.

Petrino also must get his players prepared for a much more grueling schedule, in a much more grueling conference home. Gone are the days when Temple, UConn and USF clogged the league schedule. The Cards open at home against Miami without much let-up to follow, as they join Florida State and Clemson in the much tougher ACC Atlantic Division.

Of all these tasks, one stands out as the most difficult.

“The biggest challenge for us is to replace a guy like Teddy Bridgewater, one of the premier players in the country,” Petrino said in a recent phone interview. “We have to go out in spring and compete and find out who it’s going to be. We have a couple guys who have the talent, just real inexperience.”

Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin are at the top of the list when spring practice opens next week. Gardner spent last season backing up Bridgewater. He played in five games, and has attempted 12 career passes. Bolin, a redshirt freshman, has never played in a college game. Incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon, a four-star recruit, joins the mix this summer.

Petrino is known as an offensive guru, but growing pains at the position are expected. Bridgewater, who guided the Cardinals to 23 wins over the past two seasons, had plenty of them when he took over as a starter during his freshman season in 2011. But he blossomed each successive year.

He was the unquestioned leader of this offense last season and an absolute extension of then offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. Bridgewater had the ability to change plays at the line based on what he saw in the defense. He rarely made the wrong call. That type of functionality in an offense takes years to develop.

On defense, Louisville loses Preston Brown (leading tackler), Marcus Smith (leader in sacks), safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor (another potential first-rounder), and three other starters. The Cards were one of the most underrated defenses in 2013, ranking No. 1 in the nation in total defense and rushing defense and No. 2 in scoring defense.

The biggest challenge for us is to replace a guy like Teddy Bridgewater, one of the premier players in the country.

New Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino on his team's transition to the ACC.
Finding replacements for Hakeem Smith and Pryor ranks among the biggest challenges on this side of the ball. One player to watch here is Gerod Holliman, a former ESPN 300 recruit who was rated as the No. 3 safety in the class of 2011. He was Louisville's highest-rated player in that class, which also included Bridgewater, Pryor and terrific returning receivers DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers.

“We do have some big and talented guys there [at safety], but they’re inexperienced,” Petrino said. “They’re going to have to be students of the game, because the most impressive things with the safeties we lost were how intelligent they were and how they ran the defense.”

One more challenge is building depth, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. Generally when teams transition to better conferences, they are at a deficit in both categories. The good news is Louisville returns four starters on the offensive line. In fact, the top three players returning with the most career starts are on the offensive line -- Jake Smith (38), John Miller (34) and Jamon Brown (27).

The defensive line, however, returns only Lorenzo Mauldin among its starters.

“Depth is huge, particularly up front to be able to rotate your defensive linemen in to stay fresh, and be ready to rush the passer in the second half when the game is on the line,” Petrino said. “One of the advantages we have coming in is we are going to be a fast team.

“We’re very athletic in the secondary and at wide receiver so when you look at the game, it’s a lot about speed and athleticism at the skill positions and the speed of your defensive front, the physicalness of your offensive front. We have starters coming back on the offensive line that are really good players, but have depth issues there that we have to solve.”

The speed and athleticism are hugely important, especially when you look at the speed and athleticism of Florida State and Clemson. Plus, Petrino and new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham have coached in the SEC, the model for speed and athleticism. Their experiences there will allow them to help their players understand what to expect.

“When you play in a major conference, you have to understand each week is a new week,” Grantham said. “Anyone on your schedule can beat you. Enjoy your win on Saturday, but come Sunday go back to work. You’ve got to maintain that consistency.”

All while dealing with a major set of challenges.
Setting up spring in the ACC Atlantic.

Boston College

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Big shoes to fill: Steve Addazio helped BC make huge strides in 2013, but the task of keeping the momentum going gets much harder without star running back and Heisman finalist Andre Williams, who rushed for an NCAA-best 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns. Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis will attempt to fill the vacancy this spring, and both have potential. Willis averaged nearly 6 yards per carry as Williams’ primary backup last year. The real intrigue might wait until fall, however, when four freshmen running backs arrive on campus.
  • Murphy makes the move: It’s an open competition at quarterback after Chase Rettig’s departure, but there’s no question the most intriguing player in the race is Florida transfer Tyler Murphy. The fifth-year senior worked with Addazio at Florida, and he’ll open the spring competing with redshirt freshman James Walsh and early enrollee Darius Wade. That’s a deep enough bench that BC didn’t worry about moving Josh Bordner, last year’s backup, to tight end. With both of last year’s starting tackles gone, too, Murphy’s experience could be even more important in determining the outcome of the QB battle.
  • Restocking the LBs: Even at its low points in recent years, Boston College managed to churn out plenty of talented linebackers, but the position gets a massive overhaul this year. First-team All-ACC star Kevin Pierre-Louis (108 tackles in 2013) is gone, as is Steele Divitto (112 tackles). That leaves junior Steven Daniels (88 tackles, 5 sacks) as the lone returning starter. Josh Keyes adds some experience, but it’ll be a group in transition this spring.
Clemson

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Replacing Boyd: The talk of Clemson’s spring camp will no doubt surround the quarterbacks, as senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and early enrollee Deshaun Watson vie for the job. Stoudt’s experience makes him the early favorite, but it’s Watson, a dual-threat QB with immense talent, who could steal the show. Coach Dabo Swinney has already lauded Watson as perhaps the most talented quarterback Clemson has signed, so all eyes will be on the freshman to see if he can back up all that hype with a strong spring.
  • Skill-position shuffling: If the QB battle is the headliner, there are plenty of significant sideshows on offense this spring. Clemson waved goodbye to receivers Sammy Watkins (1,464 yards, 12 TDs) and Martavis Bryant (828 yards, 7 TDs) and tailback Roderick McDowell (1,025 yards, 5 TDs). That means a massive overhaul on offense, where there’s no clear-cut bell cow at running back (Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard return as potential options) and the receiving corps will be looking for some new top targets.
  • Dominance up front: On offense for Clemson, there’s plenty of concern for what the Tigers lost. On defense, however, the excitement is all about what they’re bringing back. Clemson’s defensive line, in particular, could be one of the nation’s best. When All-American Vic Beasley announced his return for his senior season, the Tigers knew they could have something special. Add sophomore lineman Shaq Lawson and senior Stephone Anthony at linebacker and Clemson has all the makings of a dominant pass rush.
Florida State

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The running backs: After leading FSU in rushing three straight years, Devonta Freeman is gone. So, too, is James Wilder Jr. But the Seminoles enter spring with a quartet of intriguing options to replace their departed stars, led by Karlos Williams (730 yards, 11 TDs in 2013) and Dalvin Cook (No. 21 on the 2013 ESPN300). Mario Pender, who missed last year with academic issues, also figures to be in the mix.
  • The defensive front: There are a wealth of question marks here, both in terms of personnel and scheme. With Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, there are plenty of jobs up for grabs. The development of Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman and Terrance Smith will be key, but with Charles Kelly taking over the defense, it’s also still a bit unclear how much the scheme will deviate from what Jeremy Pruitt ran with so much success in 2013.
  • Jameis Winston’s swing: A year ago, the big question was who would win the QB battle. Now, Winston’s got a Heisman Trophy and will be a favorite to win it again in 2014. So the intrigue surrounding the FSU star QB is more on the baseball field, where once again, he’ll be splitting time this spring. Perhaps the bigger question is how the rest of the QB depth chart shakes out, with Sean Maguire the elder statesman and John Franklin III looking to make his move.
Louisville

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:
  • Bobby’s back: After a seven-year hiatus that included an abrupt departure from the Atlanta Falcons and a damaging scandal at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino is back in charge at Louisville insisting he’s a changed man. Fans will be watching closely to see if he has changed his stripes away from the field, but also whether he can rekindle the same offensive fireworks he delivered in his first stint with the Cardinals.
  • Replacing Bridgewater: It’s an open QB battle, and for Petrino, it’s among the first chances he’ll have to see the players vying to replace departed star Teddy Bridgewater in action. Sophomore Will Gardner is perhaps the favorite, but he has just 12 career pass attempts. Redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin is close behind, while Reggie Bonnafon is set to arrive in the fall.
  • New look on D: Louisville finished the 2013 season ranked second nationally in scoring defense, trailing only national champion Florida State. But this spring, things will look a bit different for the Cardinals, as Todd Grantham takes over as the new defensive coordinator after being lured from Georgia. Grantham figures to bring a 3-4 scheme to Louisville, which will certainly shake things up a bit. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin missing the spring with a shoulder injury only clouds the situation further.
NC State

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Brissett takes the reins: The sting of last year’s winless ACC season was barely in the rearview mirror before coach Dave Doeren named Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett his new starting quarterback. Brissett spent last year on the sideline, but apparently Doeren saw enough during practice to comfortably wave goodbye to Pete Thomas, who announced his transfer. There will be ample spotlight on Brissett this spring as he tries to revive the underperforming NC State passing game.
  • The new faces: If 2013 was about cleaning house, this spring begins the far more difficult project of rebuilding. For NC State, that means plenty of new faces, including a whopping seven early enrollees headlined by safety Germain Pratt. While there are ample holes for Doeren to fill in Year 2, these incoming freshmen could certainly push for starting jobs and bring an influx of depth that the Wolfpack sorely missed last year.
  • Shoring up the lines: NC State’s 2014 signing class included 11 offensive and defensive linemen, and that’s just the start of the overhaul at the line of scrimmage. Last season, the Wolfpack allowed the second most sacks in the ACC (35) on offense while its defensive front recorded the fewest sacks in the conference (20). That’s a formula for disaster, and Doeren understands NC State must get much better in the trenches. Brissett’s arrival at QB could help, but the bottom line is NC State needs to see improvement on both sides of the line, and it needs to start this spring.
Syracuse

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Hunt’s next step: 2013 was a roller coaster season for Terrel Hunt. He lost the QB battle in fall camp, stepped in as starter after two weeks and was dominant, struggled badly through the midsection of the season, then closed strong with back-to-back come-from-behind wins. Now that he has experience, it will be interesting this spring to see how much he’s progressed. The talent is there, and spring practice should give Hunt a chance to refine it a bit more.
  • The defensive front: Syracuse finished its first ACC season ranked fourth in rushing defense and third in sacks despite myriad personnel issues entering the year, but more questions remain as the Orange look toward 2014. With star lineman Jay Bromley and veteran linebacker Marquis Spruill gone, the Orange are looking to fill sizable holes. Robert Welsh figures to be the anchor of the Syracuse pass rush, and the Orange could benefit from the return of Donnie Simmons, who missed 2013 with a knee injury.
  • Secondary concerns: Syracuse got a chance to learn what life was like without top cover corner Keon Lyn after the senior fractured his kneecap late last year, but while Brandon Reddish did an admirable job as his replacement, a whole new set of questions crops up in the secondary this spring. Syracuse figures to have openings at both corner and safety, and while Julian Whigham, Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir offer options, there’s a lot to be decided on the practice field this spring.
Wake Forest

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Clawson’s early impact: It’s been 14 years since Wake Forest opened a spring camp with someone other than Jim Grobe calling the shots, so there’s no question this will be an intriguing few weeks in Winston-Salem. Dave Clawson takes over after leading Bowling Green to a MAC championship, and he inherits a major rebuilding job. First up for the coach will likely be creating an offensive identity -- something Grobe couldn’t do in 2013.
  • Identifying some offense: If 2013 was an offensive slog for Wake Forest, 2014 threatens to be much, much worse. As bad as things got at times last year, the Deacons at least had veterans to rely on. This season, Wake’s leading passer (Tanner Price), rusher (Josh Harris), receiver (Michael Campanaro) and top tight end (Spencer Bishop) are all gone. On the plus side, plenty of younger players saw action in 2013. The job this spring is to figure out who can take a big step forward entering the 2014 campaign.
  • The defensive scheme: Wake appears to be moving away from the 3-4 that was a hallmark of recent seasons, as new coordinator Mike Elko tries to maximize the talent remaining on the roster. Without veteran lineman Nikita Whitlock, Wake’s defensive front will have a far different look in 2014, and this spring will largely be about Elko identifying playmakers and tweaking his system to fit their skill sets.
Virginia Tech quarterback Mark Leal looked around his position meeting room this winter and realized just how empty it was. True freshman Andrew Ford, who enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Brenden Motley were his only company.

None of them has ever started a game.

“This is probably the most slim it’s been since I’ve been here,” said Leal, a fifth-year senior. “We’ve always had at least five or six guys, but right now it’s only three.”

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett, Garrett Leatham
Lance King/Getty ImagesJacoby Brissett (12) is one of several transfers who could move into starting roles in the ACC in 2014.
Sounds like the entire ACC, where six schools have absolutely zero quarterbacks returning with any starting experience, and four schools brought in transfers to help.

As spring practices begin throughout the conference, the ACC kicks off its 2014 season with a complete overhaul at the quarterback position. It was only a year ago that Florida State’s Jameis Winston was an unproven rookie who had yet to start a game. Now, the 20-year-old reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the veteran of the league, as nine of the 14 schools will have a first-year starting quarterback, and the competition is open at 11 programs. Florida State, Duke and NC State are the only programs that have definitively named starters, and even NC State doesn’t know what to expect out of first-year starter and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett, though, knows what’s expected.

“Go make sure it was earned,” he said, “not given.”

Count on that to be a trend in the conference this spring.

Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are all starting from scratch, without any starting experience at the quarterback position. Some of the league’s most recognizable names have to be replaced, including Tajh Boyd, Logan Thomas and Teddy Bridgewater. Coaches at North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia have deemed their competitions open, in spite of experienced starters returning.

“I looked at that and was kind of surprised,” said Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, the frontrunner to take over the job after Vad Lee’s decision to transfer. “It should even the playing field out a little bit, but at the same time, we all have to go through our parts.”

Not to mention spring and summer auditions.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it’s likely the competition between Chad Kelly, Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson will extend beyond this spring -- and possibly into the season.

“Going in, Cole starts out as No. 1 simply because of where we finished the season -- basically by default, if you will,” Swinney said. “He’s the senior. It’s basically his to lose going in, but it’s incredibly close. You’re talking about -- in my opinion -- three guys who are going to play in the NFL. I believe with all my heart that Cole Stoudt is going to play in the NFL. And the same thing with Chad Kelly, and the same thing with Deshaun Watson, if they stay healthy. So you’ve got three NFL players competing to be the guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people say, well, if you don’t have one quarterback then you have none. But that’s not the case here.”

It could be the case elsewhere, though.

Virginia Tech (Michael Brewer), Boston College (Tyler Murphy), Miami (Ryan Williams) and NC State (Brissett) are all hoping that transfers can give the position an immediate boost, but former Texas Tech quarterback Brewer won’t join the Hokies until this summer. While none of them has started a game at their current schools, all but Brewer have started at least three games at their previous programs.

Williams started 10 games while he was at Memphis, and he’s the leading candidate to replace Stephen Morris, but “it is wide open,” according to offensive coordinator James Coley. And Williams knows it.

"You have to earn it, you have to earn everything,” Williams told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don't want anything given to me. If it's given to me, I didn't work hard enough.”

Brissett started three games at Florida, and Murphy started six games for the Gators after starter Jeff Driskel was lost for the season. Murphy went 2-4 with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions before missing the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury.

Nothing is guaranteed in Chestnut Hill this spring, either, as the Eagles also have Darius Wade, a true freshman who enrolled early, and James Walsh, who will be a redshirt freshman.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
David Manning/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals are about to embark on life without Teddy Bridgewater.
“They’re all real green,” offensive coordinator Ryan Day said of the Eagles’ quarterbacks. “It’s obviously an open competition. I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing them throw and run the offense. We’ll see. All three of these guys are mobile, they can run. They’re dual threats. We’re going to use that as a weapon for us. We’re not going to totally change what we do, but we’ll add that component to it.”

All eyes will be on Louisville’s quarterback competition, as the Cardinals enter their first season in the ACC without Bridgewater, who left early to enter the NFL draft. Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin will be the top two candidates this spring, and they’ll be joined by incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon this summer.

“It’s wide open,” first-year coach Bobby Petrino said. “We’ll go through spring and see who comes out 1-2-3 and then obviously we’ll give Reggie an opportunity in the fall to compete with those guys.”

With the addition of Louisville, the ACC enters this season perceived by many to be the strongest it has ever been.

Now it just needs to find a few quarterbacks to help prove it.

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