ACC: Ross Cockrell

Duke's bad luck continues

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Just when you thought it was safe to believe Duke could win the Coastal Division again, the football gods have conspired against the Blue Devils.

Duke good in football?

Again?

Unacceptable!

Over the span of a week, Duke has lost starting tight end Braxton Deaver and starting middle linebacker Kelby Brown to torn ACLs. If they were the only two losses, that’d be enough. But going back to the end of last season, Duke has lost four key contributors from its record-breaking 2013 team.

Running back Jela Duncan is academically ineligible; backup quarterback Brandon Connette, who had 27 touchdowns passing and rushing a season ago, has transferred to Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.

So all told, Duke has lost players who had a hand in 34 of the team’s 54 total offensive touchdowns last season, plus its lone All-ACC linebacker in Brown, who had 114 tackles as the heart of the Duke D.

Given the latest setbacks, it is hard to peg Duke as a favorite in the Coastal now. A program like Florida State can lose a few starters and reload. A program like Duke is still working to build adequate depth across the board. The Blue Devils are certainly capable of winning the division, but their task just got significantly harder.

You know what that means: The Coastal Division just got even crazier. You thought that was impossible? Try picking a favorite from this motley crew.
  • Duke not only has holes to plug on offense and defense, it has to replace its two biggest leaders from a year ago in Brown and cornerback Ross Cockrell, who is now playing with the Buffalo Bills.
  • Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech have no starting quarterback.
  • The Tar Heels, Canes, Georgia Tech and Pitt have questions on defense that need to be resolved.

Yet you could make the case for all six teams to win the Coastal. Or maybe even finish in a wacky six-way tie where 40 tiebreakers must be used to determine who gets into the ACC championship game against preseason favorite Florida State.

Every team needs a little bit of luck on the way to a championship. Duke had some luck on its side last season. The Blue Devils had relatively good health and found ways to win -- four of their victories were by a touchdown or less.

Less than three weeks into camp, the Blue Devils do not seem as fortunate. David Cutcliffe has proven he knows how to get the most out of his players. But with the losses to date, does he have the players he needs to keep building on the foundation set last year?

The Coastal may hinge on that.
The dust has settled after the NFL draft, and it was another solid showing by the ACC. Overall, the league had 42 players selected, the second most in ACC history and the second most by any conference this year (trailing only the SEC’s 48).

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Elsa/Getty ImagesFormer Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the first ACC player selected (No. 4 overall) in the NFL draft.
Four of the first 14 players selected in this year’s draft came from the ACC, led by Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (No. 4 overall to the Buffalo Bills) and UNC tight end Eric Ebron (No. 10 to the Detroit Lions). Five ACC players were taken in the first round and 10 more were selected in the second and third rounds.

For the second straight year, Florida State led all ACC schools in players drafted. Seven Seminoles were selected throughout the weekend, starting with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in round 1 by the Carolina Panthers and ending with linebacker Telvin Smith in round 5 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the past two years, Florida State has had 18 players drafted by NFL teams.

Of course, it wasn’t just strength at the top for the ACC. All 14 programs had at least one player selected this year, including five apiece from Clemson and North Carolina and four from Boston College.

New addition Louisville, which officially enters the ACC next month, had four players selected this year, including three (Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Teddy Bridgewater) in the first round.

Three ACC quarterbacks were selected, led by Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (No. 120). Pitt’s Tom Savage (No. 135) and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (No. 213) were also taken.

Duke corner Ross Cockrell was taken with pick No. 109 by the Bills, becoming just the third Blue Devils player drafted since 2001. He was also the highest-selected Duke defensive player since Mike Junkin was taken fifth overall in 1987.

Miami had three players selected over the weekend (Brandon Linder, Pat O'Donnell and Seantrel Henderson), extending its streak of consecutive years with at least one player drafted to 41. Florida State and Virginia extended streaks of their own to 32 years.

Of the ACC underclassmen who declared for this year’s draft, four went undrafted. FSU running back James Wilder Jr. inked a free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, Syracuse running back Jerome Smith signed with the Atlanta Falcons and NC State defensive lineman Carlos Gray signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Among other notable undrafted free agents in the league, former Miami quarterback Stephen Morris signed with Jacksonville, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner inked a deal with Denver, FSU receiver Kenny Shaw signed with Cleveland, Tar Heels offensive lineman James Hurst signed with the Ravens and former BC quarterback Chase Rettig signed with Green Bay.

ACC lunchtime links

May, 6, 2014
May 6
12:00
PM ET
Who wouldn't want this sick picture of Jerry Glanville just chillin' on a motorcycle?

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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Pro days are now in the rearview mirror, with a month remaining between now and the NFL draft. With that, let's take a look back at some notable performances from ACC pro days this year.

Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyClemson WR Sammy Watkins in all likelihood will be the first ACC player drafted in May.
Clemson (March 6)
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.

Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).

Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.

Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.

Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.

Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.

North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.

NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.

Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.

Syracuse
Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.

Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.

Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.

ACC's lunch links

February, 13, 2014
Feb 13
12:00
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Hope all our friends in the South are safe today.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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The NFL draft combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be held from Feb. 19-25 and will feature workouts, medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews for the 335 invited prospects. The ACC has a total of 46 players who will participate, including at least one player from every school (we included Maryland and not Louisville in this post, because it is from the 2013 season). National champion Florida State led the league with eight players heading to the combine, but UNC was right behind with seven. Don't cry ... you're gonna miss some of these names next year. Good luck to these guys.

Here is the official list of the ACC attendees:

BOSTON COLLEGE (5)
CLEMSON (4)
DUKE (1)
FLORIDA STATE (8)
GEORGIA TECH (2)
MARYLAND (1)
MIAMI (5)
NORTH CAROLINA (7)
NC STATE (1)
PITTSBURGH (3)
SYRACUSE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
VIRGINIA TECH (4)
WAKE FOREST (1)

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
12:00
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Seeing Super Bowl media day not at the stadium was an odd sight, no?

Five things: Florida State vs. Duke

December, 7, 2013
12/07/13
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It’s certainly not the matchup most fans expected way back in August, but Florida State and Duke will face off Saturday night in the ACC championship game. At stake for Duke is history, its first trip to a BCS bowl game and its first conference title since 1961. For Florida State, however, there’s even more on the line. With a win, the Seminoles are all but guaranteed a shot to play for a national championship. The pundits heavily favor Florida State, but there’s still plenty to watch for when the Seminoles and Blue Devils kick off in Charlotte.

1. Big game or business as usual? For Florida State, ACC championship game weekend is old hat. The Seminoles were here just last year, after all, and this marks their third trip in Jimbo Fisher’s four years as coach. Fisher even began tweaking the team’s travel schedule earlier this season to prep for the distractions this weekend would bring. For Duke, however, its division title comes as a mammoth surprise, and none of these players had played in a game of this magnitude. Experience is clearly on Florida State’s side, but Duke has managed to live up to big moments all season, and while players might be new to a conference championship game, David Cutcliffe is not. He’ll have the Blue Devils prepared.

2. History as a guide: The numbers are ugly for the Blue Devils: In 18 previous meetings with Florida State, they’ve gone 0-18, lost by an average of 34 points, and never finished a game within two scores of a win. Yes, Duke already has had a history-making season, so perhaps a little more history is in the works. But if that’s the case, Florida State will need to buy into the conventional wisdom and come out slow, while Duke will need to forget everything that has come before.

3. Winston vs. Duke’s DBs: Jameis Winston looks poised to win a Heisman Trophy, and he has been spectacular all season. He’ll be a focus for Duke, but the Blue Devils’ secondary has shown a propensity for big plays. After allowing 10 pass touchdowns in its first two ACC games of the year, Duke’s secondary has allowed only six more in its next six games, while racking up 12 interceptions. Ross Cockrell and DeVon Edwards have led the charge, but they’ve not faced a challenge as immense as Winston. Florida State has four receivers ranked in the ACC’s top 11 in yards per catch, and Winston loves going for the big play.

4. Crowder vs. FSU pass defense: Asked earlier this week about the danger presented by Duke’s Jamison Crowder, the ACC’s leading receiver, FSU safety Terrence Brooks smiled. The Seminoles’ secondary isn’t afraid of anyone, he said, and it will take more than one weapon to beat them. It might sound a bit overconfident, but Brooks has the numbers to back up his boasts. Florida State ranks No. 1 in the nation in pass defense, and its 23 interceptions are tops in the country.

5. Ground gains: Florida State’s backfield rotation is running wild, averaging 9 yards per rush with nine touchdowns in its last three games. Devonta Freeman is now just 148 yards shy of rushing for 1,000 yards, and he has been stellar in two previous games against Duke. Meanwhile, the Blue Devils will want to establish the run, too, but might face a tough obstacle in doing so. Florida State’s first-team defense hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown all season, and on first down, the Seminoles are allowing just 3.2 yards per carry -- the sixth-best rate in the country.


When Duke went on the road in late October and shocked then- No. 14 Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils did so without converting a single third down. Quarterback Anthony Boone threw zero touchdown passes -- and four interceptions. And yet Duke rolled out of Blacksburg having snapped a 42-year losing streak against ranked teams on the road.

The difference? Duke was finally able to win a game with defense and special teams.

[+] EnlargeKelby Brown
Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMIKelby Brown and Duke's defense will face their biggest challenge on Saturday against Florida State.
“To win a defensive game 13-10 is just such a boost of confidence on defense,” said linebacker Kelby Brown. “It was really encouraging. That’s when we showed people this defense is for real. This team is for real.”

If Duke is going to have a shot at upending No. 1 Florida State on Saturday in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, it will need to be sharp in every phase of the game. It will have to rely most heavily upon what has become an opportunistic defense, and a special teams unit that has the ability to score and create good field position.

Duke has scored four times on kick returns (two punt return touchdowns and two kickoff return touchdowns), and freshman safety DeVon Edwards leads the nation in kickoff return average (32.7).The defense has caused turnovers in 11 of 12 games (including three in the red zone), and enters the ACC title game with 16 interceptions, nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. Duke is tied for fifth in the ACC with 21 takeaways and the 16 interceptions are the most in the David Cutcliffe era.

“A lot of guys have stepped up into new roles, and our D-line is really experienced now,” Brown said. “They’re doing a great job up front of allowing the linebackers to fly around and make tackles. That’s something, just old-school, 4-3 style defense, the way Boston College has always run it, a great D-line that holds up the line and that’s been huge for us. And I think we’re the most athletic we’ve ever been in the secondary. Even though we have some young guys back there, they have speed and they can tackle. It’s all kind of clicked from the front line all the way to the back.”

Duke, a heavy underdog, knows it has no margin for error. The Blue Devils have never beaten Florida State in 18 tries, and the Noles have won every game this season by at least 14 points. In 2012, Duke’s defense was steamrolled by FSU in a 48-7 loss, and many are predicting a similar result. Of all the times these two programs have faced each other, though, only one other time has Duke been ranked -- in 1994, when it was No. 16.

The numbers prove, though, that Duke’s defense is the best it’s been in over a decade.

Duke is allowing just 23.0 points per game, which would rank as the program’s best mark since the 1994 season (22.45 points per game). Duke has 22 sacks this season, and linebackers David Helton and Kelby Brown and safety Jeremy Cash are the top three tacklers in the ACC.


We have a very good offense who can put up points on anybody. We've just got to make sure that we limit people, and the best way to limit people is by making them drive the length of the field on you and not giving up the 50 and 60 yard passes.


-- Ross Cockrell, on how Duke's defense can find success against Florida State

Duke’s fourth-quarter defense has also been outstanding. It's allowing an average of just 9.1 points in the second half compared to 13.9 in the first half. Duke has surrendered only 3.1 points and outscored opponents 113-37 in the fourth quarter.

“Well, we run better on defense,” Cutcliffe said. “First thing you've got to be able to do is get to them to get them on the ground. You can't get them on the ground if you can't run. We run better. We'd better run better in this one because these guys have I think more weapons than anybody in the country.”

Starting with Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

“We don't have anybody that can line up and match up physically with Benjamin,” Cutcliffe said. “He's just a monster and with great skills.”

Against Florida’s stingy defense last week, Benjamin single-handedly outgained the Gators’ offensive output (212 yards to 193). He scored three touchdowns, and had nine receptions. Last season against Duke, Benjamin had three catches for 77 yards.

“Yeah, we've done a great job, I think, defensively,” said Ross Cockrell, one of the top defenders in the ACC. “But one of the things that we took away from last year was that you can't give up a lot of big plays, especially in the passing game, the deep passes that we gave up. We can't give up those kinds of plays and expect to win ballgames. We know we have a very good team. We have a very good offense who can put up points on anybody. We've just got to make sure that we limit people, and the best way to limit people is by making them drive the length of the field on you and not giving up the 50 and 60 yard passes.”

Duke’s defense and special teams have been good enough to win the Coastal Division, but they will have to be great to win it all on Saturday.

Duke embraces its big moment

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
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DukeESPN Stats & InfoIt seems almost everything Duke has done this season has been the first in forever -- or ever.
After the improbable happened, they retreated to the visitors’ locker room with one familiar possession and one completely new.

A celebration was in order.

So they jumped up and down. All of them, even coach David Cutcliffe. They sang. They danced. They screamed.

Then their new ACC Coastal Division Trophy started getting passed around like a second helping of pumpkin pie, each guy more eager than the next for a taste. Cornerback Ross Cockrell feared it would break because so many hands reached for it all at once.

[+] EnlargeDuke football
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeDuke retained the Victory Bell by beating North Carolina and earned the right to celebrate.
Players started taking out cameras, snapping pictures. Others sat on the Victory Bell, back for another stint on the Duke campus after a second consecutive victory over nemesis North Carolina.

“We had those two big trophies that mean so much to us,” defensive end Kenny Anunike recalled in a phone interview. “We didn’t want to leave. We would have slept in that locker room if we had to.”

In a locker room. In enemy territory in Chapel Hill, N.C. If that does not capture the unique moment in time Duke football occupies right now, not much else does. The Blue Devils own their state, own their bitter rivals and own the headlines over their more famous basketball counterparts.

Enthusiasm on campus is so high, strangers walk up to Anunike on campus and shout, “Great job, Kenny! You guys are doing awesome, we appreciate what you’re doing!” Enthusiasm among football alums is so high, Anunike has been flooded with texts from former players, all wearing Duke football gear. Players from the “Dark Ages,” as Anunike says, all too eager to claim their piece of the history only this 2013 group can claim.

So much had to go right for No. 20 Duke to get to this moment, three days away from facing No. 1 Florida State in the ACC championship game. Two critical turning points paved the way. Rewind to September, after Duke dropped to 0-2 in ACC play following back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Pitt.

A players’ only meeting was called. The seniors spoke up.

“We all stood up and talked to the younger players and let them know these two losses did not define our season,” Anunike said. “That there’s a lot of football left to be played. We had to play harder and faster than any team we were going to face in the near future.”

They each reiterated the mantra that had become commonplace around the practice field, the weight room and the meeting rooms: Finish. Two nonconference wins followed. Then more adversity hit on the road at Virginia. Duke trailed 22-0 to the worst team in the ACC.

Finish.

The Blue Devils rallied to win, then beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., the following weekend to end a 12-game losing streak in the series. That was when Anunike realized this team may be in the middle of a history-making season. More wins followed, pressure building as the stakes grew larger each week.

Yet Duke – a team that had not been in contention for an ACC title in 24 years – never flustered and never faltered.

Finish.

“I didn't know how we were going to handle the success, either,” offensive guard Dave Harding said. “But this team has shown a maturity and a workmanlike attitude in our success, and what really has given us that edge is the fact that we have great leadership at every position on the field. We have guys who know what got us to this point and that’s a whole lot of hard work.

“Coach Cutcliffe is so adamant about doing things the right way, even though it's not the cool thing to do nor the easy thing to do. This team has learned how to do that. Since we know how to do it when it's tough, we know how to do it when things are going well, too.”

The next challenge requires quite the balancing act – savoring all the success while maintaining their focus to prepare for the best team they have faced all season. Duke is well aware it is a prohibitive underdog. But that is not unusual.

Duke is in this game to win it. And if the Blue Devils do not win it, they plan on making a return trip to try again. Cutcliffe has reminded reporters several times this season his program is not a flash in the pan. When football supersedes basketball in December, you know the culture has changed.

“I know we’re definitely here to stay and we’re going to continue this dream season and next year they’re going to repeat it,” Anunike said.

Anunike said something similar one year ago, after Duke made its first bowl game since 1994. He promised Duke would go bowling again this year.

Nobody believed him. Duke was selected to finish last in the Coastal in the ACC preseason poll in July. Maybe it is about time everybody started listening.

FSU's Benjamin a matchup nightmare

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s sort of a running joke among the Florida State defensive backs. It’s a confident group -- ranked No. 1 in the nation two years running -- so no one admits when they’re overmatched, but they know covering Kelvin Benjamin is a tough job, and so they can’t help but laugh when someone else tries to do it.

Lamarcus Joyner, all 5-foot-8 of him, has battled Benjamin for jump balls in practice, but how many corners can combat a 6-foot-5 frame?

[+] EnlargeBenjamin
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKelvin Benjamin's 12 touchdowns leads Florida State's receiving corps.
P.J. Williams is tall enough to at least pose a threat on those plays, but then, he has to account for Benjamin’s surprising burst of speed, too. How may 6-5 receivers get used on end-arounds, after all?

Terrence Brooks plays with a unique blend of speed and physicality, but mixing it up with Benjamin isn’t exactly fun. A receiver with size and quickness that still likes to hit, to block downfield -- how many players in the country do that?

“It’s like it’s easy for him,” Brooks said. “I don’t think they make him anymore in the factories.”

This is how it’s been since Benjamin arrived at Florida State in 2011, a physical freak of nature who performed such astonishing feats of athleticism and strength on the practice field that the accounts from teammates were often met with skepticism from those who hadn’t seen it firsthand. But making it look easy was actually what made life hard for Benjamin.

His first year was a waste. He was overweight, unprepared and redshirted.

The 2012 season represented a big step forward, but still a disappointment. His focus wandered, and his production waned. He caught 30 balls, but he had just 52 receiving yards in the final five games of the season.

This season, however, Benjamin is blossoming into the player his teammates always knew he could be -- a monster few defensive backs are capable of taming.

“Anybody can make mistakes and have a season like [2012] and throw excuses out there,” Benjamin said. “I felt like the season just improved me as a player.”

Benjamin’s improvements began in the weight room. He shed some excess pounds and got into the best shape of his life. He hit the film room, studying the playbook with renewed vigor, knowing a new quarterback was taking the reins of the offense, and he’d have a fresh start and a bigger role. He talked with Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw, the veterans of the receiving corps, about finally showing the rest of the world what had so often been confined to the practice field.

“He’s a lot more focused mentally than anything,” Greene said. “He’s always had the ability, the skill, the talent. But the way he’s been locked in and just been all in for the team -- he can tell you, he’s really focused compared to what he was last year. And it’s showing all around.”

It’s helped, too, that Benjamin’s role has increased dramatically.

A year ago, the receiving corps was deep -- a solid mix of veterans and younger players all eager for their share of throws. For Benjamin, however, there simply weren’t enough footballs to go around. He’d be on the sideline for long stretches, then his head wasn’t in the game when he took the field.

But this offseason, Florida State lost three seniors for the season before fall camp concluded, and that’s meant a tight rotation on game days and plenty of throws for Greene, Shaw and Benjamin, who are now all within reach of 1,000 yards.

“A receiver wants to touch the ball as many times as you touch it in practice, and my first season, I wasn’t doing that,” Benjamin said. “I let that get to me, wanting the ball more and the rotation. This year, we stay on the field until we finish the game. It’s just staying in there and having that feeling that consistently you’re in the game and you’re warm and can go out there and do it.”

In last week’s win over Florida, Benjamin was constantly in quarterback Jameis Winston’s sights. He had a career-high nine catches for 212 yards and three touchdowns. It was the first time a Florida State receiver topped the 200-yard mark in 11 years. It was the eighth-best single-game total in school history, and Winston had predicted it earlier in the week.

"I said, 'KB, you are an unstoppable force. If you go out there and do what you're supposed to do, no one can cover you,'" Winston recalled after the win.

None of it comes as a surprise, of course. Just look at Benjamin, and it’s always been obvious he would become a star. There simply aren’t other receivers who do what he can do.

Duke corner Ross Cockrell said the key is to challenge Benjamin at the line of scrimmage, play physical with him. But really, Cockrell is grasping at straws. Benjamin has five inches and 50 pounds on the Duke corner.

“We'll be working all week on that answer,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of defending Benjamin. “We don't have anybody that can line up and match up physically with him. He's just a monster and with great skills.”

Benjamin has always been a monster, but after three years, Jimbo Fisher has finally convinced him to prepare as if he were a mere mortal. Now those skills are well refined, and Benjamin presents a matchup as perplexing for defenders as any in college football.

And that’s when Florida State’s own defensive backs can break character and admit, covering the monster can’t be done. They know. They’ve tried.

“Seeing him go against other guys,” Brooks said, “we sit there and laugh about it.”

Florida State headlines All-ACC team

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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Florida State led all schools with seven players on the All-ACC first team, including quarterback Jameis Winston, running back Devonta Freeman and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner.

In all, the Seminoles had 17 players chosen to the first, second and third teams as voted on by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association and announced Monday. Eleven players were selected from Coastal Division champion Duke, including four on the first team.

Boston College back Andre Williams, who leads the nation and set an ACC single-season record with 2,102 yards rushing, was the only unanimous selection to the All-ACC team. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins received 63 votes, while Winston received 61. Duke receiver Jamison Crowder, who leads the ACC in receptions with 88 and has returned two punts for touchdowns this season, was the only player selected at multiple positions. Crowder was voted to the first team at receiver made the second team as a specialist.

First team

Offense

QB – Jameis Winston, Florida State

RB – Andre Williams, Boston College

RB – Devonta Freeman, Florida State

WR – Sammy Watkins, Clemson

WR - Jamison Crowder, Duke

WR – Rashad Greene, Florida State

TE - Eric Ebron, North Carolina

T- Cameron Erving, Florida State

T- James Hurst, North Carolina

G- Tre’ Jackson, Florida State

G-Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech

C- Bryan Stork, Florida State

Defense

DE - Vic Beasley, Clemson

DE - Kareem Martin, North Carolina

DT - Aaron Donald, Pitt

DT – Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest

LB - Kelby Brown, Duke

LB – Denzel Perryman, Miami

LB – Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College

CB – Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

CB – Ross Cockrell, Duke

S – Anthony Harris, Virginia

S – Jeremy Cash, Duke

Special Teams

PK - Nate Freese, Boston College

P - Pat O’Donnell, Miami

SP - Ryan Switzer, North Carolina
No. 1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

Previous ranking: No. 1

Making the case for Boyd: The fact that he is at the top of the list two years in a row shows that Boyd is indeed the face of the ACC and its best hope at a Heisman Trophy. There’s no question Boyd is a contender -- he was in the conversation last season. The question now is whether or not his team will be good enough to help him actually win it. Individually, Boyd has already proven to be good enough. In 2012, he was named the ACC’s Player of the Year and the league’s Offensive Player of the Year by both the coaches and the media.

Boyd’s leadership alone has been invaluable to the team, as the Tigers continue their hunt for another ACC title and run at the national championship. Boyd has established himself as one of the best in school history, as he ranks first at Clemson in passing touchdowns, first in passing efficiency and first in touchdowns he’s responsible for. Over his career, which includes a 21-6 record as the starter, Boyd has completed 62.5 percent of his passes and has thrown for 8,053 yards and 73 touchdowns against 28 interceptions. He put up remarkable numbers last season with an ACC-record 36 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He also had 514 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns and was responsible for an ACC-record 46 touchdowns. He has helped transform the perception of Clemson from pretender to contender, and he came back for his senior season to do it again.

The countdown
No. 3. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

Previous ranking: No. 11

Making the case for Johnson: He had what was arguably the greatest freshman season in school history. Still need more? Johnson, who was named the ACC’s overall and offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, was one of the ACC’s most electric kick returners, and he set the school single-season record with 892 kick return yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a freshman-record 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 2,060 all-purpose yards were the second-most in program history.

Johnson played in all 12 games last year and made five starts. He also had six games with 200-plus all-purpose yards and four 100-yard rushing games. He was named the ACC’s Rookie of the Week a league-best five-times. It’s possible Johnson could be even better this fall, as all five starters return on the offensive line, and the Canes have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Stephen Morris.

The countdown

 

Duke season preview

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
10:30
AM ET
Today we’re looking at the Blue Devils as they try to get back to the postseason for the second straight year under coach David Cutcliffe:

Duke Blue Devils

Coach: David Cutcliffe (65-69 overall; 21-40 at Duke)

2012 record: 6-7

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Boone, who threw for 531 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, will lead the Blue Devils' offense in 2013 as the starting quarterback.
Key losses: QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, S Jordan Byas, S Walt Canty

Key returnees: WR Jamison Crowder, RB Juwan Thompson, DE Kenny Anunike, CB Ross Cockrell

Newcomer to watch: S Jeremy Cash. The redshirt sophomore is expected to start this fall after transferring from Ohio State, where he spent two semesters. Cash left, along with former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, and he wound up choosing to transfer to Duke over Miami and South Florida.

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 26 at Virginia Tech, Nov. 23 at Wake Forest, Nov. 30 at North Carolina

Biggest questions mark heading into 2013: The secondary. The group underwent a complete makeover this offseason, as Ross Cockrell was the only returning starter in the group. And even he missed the second half of spring with an injury. Cash, Dwayne Norman and Corbin McCarthy are the new faces that could earn spots in the starting lineup, but don’t be surprised if true freshmen Evrett Edwards and Quay Mann play as well. McCarthy, Cash and Norman were penciled in as the starters in the preseason depth chart.

Forecast: Regardless of how many starters Duke returns, or how many playmakers the team has this year, Duke is better simply because the players understand what it takes to get to a bowl game. Last year was a major milestone for the program, as Duke became bowl eligible for the first time since 1994, and the team continues to reap the intangible rewards of that six-win season. Of course, confidence will only go so far against the likes of Virginia Tech and Miami.

Much of Duke’s success this year hinges on three things: the progress of first-year starting quarterback Anthony Boone, how effectively Duke can run the ball, and how much the defense can improve. Boone has received rave reviews from those within the program, as he has a stronger arm than his predecessor, Sean Renfree, and is more mobile. He’s able to keep plays alive with his feet, and will give defenses a different challenge. With more option principles in the offense, it should be more unpredictable. They’ve got to get more out of their ground game, which ranked No. 98 in the country last year. Duke has its top four rushers back from last season, so the expectation is improvement. Defensively, Duke had one of the statistically worst groups in the country, ranking No. 105 in total defense, No. 107 in scoring defense, and No. 101 in rushing defense. This offseason, the staff went back to the drawing board and tried to simplify the scheme. The goal is to do less thinking and more attacking, and there is confidence within the program they’ll be able to do that -- particularly up front. It also can’t be overlooked that Duke doesn’t have to play FSU and Clemson this fall, two opponents that outscored Duke 104-27 in back-to-back losses. A favorable nonconference schedule should help Duke get back to the postseason again.

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