ACC: Ryan NOrton

Two more preseason award watch lists were released Tuesday, which means we are still moving toward the college football season at what seems like a snail’s pace.

The Rimington Trophy, presented annually to the nation’s top center, already had a spring watch list but altered the original to include a few more names (because there were not enough already). Also released was the watch list for the John Mackey Award, which is given to the nation’s top tight end.

The lists will be pared down during the season before winners are announced in December.

The watch lists for the Maxwell Award and Bednarik Award were released Monday.

Below are the ACC and Notre Dame players to make the Mackey and Rimington watch lists and a little information on each.

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFlorida State's Nick O'Leary could be a frontrunner for the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end.
John Mackey Award

Gerald Christian, Louisville: The Florida transfer was one of the Cardinals’ more productive pass catchers last season, and he figures to drastically improve on his 28 receptions from a season ago now that Bobby Petrino is orchestrating the Cards’ offense. (The ACC blog caught up with Christian for a Q&A on Monday.)

Braxton Deaver, Duke: One of the conference’s best tight ends in 2013, Deaver was one of the many bright spots for the Blue Devils’ offense. He caught 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns.

Ben Koyack, Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have produced several elite tight ends, and the hope is Koyack will be the next in line. He was not utilized much early on in 2013 but will be counted on more this fall with Troy Niklas off to the NFL.

Nick O'Leary, Florida State: One of the country’s best tight ends, O'Leary should be one of Jameis Winston's favorite targets this fall. O'Leary had the opportunity to leave school after last season, and he could be rewarded with a second national championship and a Mackey Award this fall.

Clive Walford, Miami: Much like Notre Dame, the Hurricanes have a fine tradition at tight end, and Walford is coming off a very solid season. He will need to be a security blanket for the Canes’ quarterback, whoever that may be.

Reaction: The ACC is not loaded at tight end, but there are certainly more than a few players who could push for a spot on an All-America team by season’s end. O’Leary is likely the best of the bunch and had an outside opportunity of being a first-round pick if he had entered the NFL draft. If he can stay on the field -- he’s escaped serious injury twice now from motorcycle accidents -- he is poised for a standout senior campaign. Winston lost top targets Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw to the NFL, and O’Leary figures to be Winston’s security blanket on third downs and in the red zone. Keep an eye on Deaver as a player who could continue making the cut as the list is pared down throughout the season.

[+] EnlargeAndy Gallik
Michael Tureski/Icon SMIVeteran Boston College center Andy Gallik is key to the Eagles being able to play their style.
Rimington Trophy

Andy Gallik, Boston College: A three-year starter, Gallik is the glue to a team predicated on playing smash-mouth football under former offensive line coach Steve Addazio. Gallik has started 25 straight games for the Eagles.

Artie Rowell, Pittsburgh: Rowell started all 13 games for the Panthers last season and was recognized for his performance in the bowl game against Bowling Green. James Conner set a Pitt record for rushing yards in a bowl game that night, due largely to Rowell.

Austin Barron, Florida State: Barron has starting experience, but he spent most of last season as a reserve to 2013 Rimington winner Bryan Stork. Barron has four experienced starters surrounding him on the offensive line, which should allow him to shine in his first year as the full-time starter.

Jake Smith, Louisville: Smith could end up playing right guard, where he started earlier in his career, but he is coming off a junior season in which he started at center.

Matt Skura, Duke: He played nearly every snap at center for the Blue Devils last season and was the linchpin of an offensive line that allowed just 17 sacks in 14 games.

Nick Martin, Notre Dame: The starter last year until a late-season knee injury cost him the final few games, Martin is poised for a solid senior season. The Irish were second in the country in 2013 in sacks allowed. Martin is the younger brother of Zack Martin, a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft.

Ryan Norton, Clemson: A starter in all 13 games for Clemson a season ago, Norton was the ACC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week in his first start against Georgia in last year’s opener.

Shane McDermott, Miami: A third-team All-ACC selection in 2013, McDermott has played in all but four games since his redshirt freshman season at Miami.

Reaction: While more than half the centers in FBS are on this list, the ACC representatives all deserve to be on here for the most part. All have starting experience and in several cases have been commanding the offensive line for multiple seasons. Martin was hurt late in the season, but Irish coach Brian Kelly expects him to be ready for the season opener after missing spring practices. Barron has the least amount of starting experience and probably does not make the list if it were a little more exclusive, but he played admirably in Stork’s stead last season and could be recognized in the same manner as Stork by the end of the season.

ACC teleconference notebook

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
The ACC coaches participated in a teleconference Wednesday to wrap up spring practices, as Virginia Tech and Wake Forest will close out spring in the ACC this weekend with their respective spring games. Here are a few quick highlights from the call:

Eight is enough

As the ACC prepares to debate an eight- or nine-game league schedule at its spring meetings next month in Amelia Island, Fla., the coaches “lean heavily toward eight” conference games, according to Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who is chair of the ACC coaches committee.

“I think it’s going to be debated, I will say that,” Cutcliffe said. “I wouldn’t be being truthful if I didn’t tell you the coaches lean heavily towards eight. That’s where we are. … From a coaching standpoint, we’re real happy with eight games. I think there’s a lot of discussions we’re going to have with the ADs that could be interesting.”

The athletic directors, though, have the final vote, and the last time this topic was debated, the coaches were overruled in favor of nine games.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy, Danielle Hunter
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsTyler Murphy's experience in the SEC was a selling point for Boston College coach Steve Addazio.
Boston College names starting QB

Florida graduate transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy has officially earned the starting job at Boston College, coach Steve Addazio said. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering Murphy’s history with Addazio and the fact that he was the only quarterback on the roster who has ever started a college game. Murphy started six games last year for the Gators in place of injured starter Jeff Driskel.

Addazio praised Murphy’s pocket presence this spring, said he throws the ball well and is dynamic with his feet.

“You’re talking about a guy who’s been in the heat of the battle,” Addazio said. “He’s a veteran, experienced guy, who’s been a starter in the SEC. My familiarity with him, I recruited him, I coached him, I knew him well. He’s pretty comfortable in terms of our program, our weight room, the way we practice, our terminology. It’s not a foreign animal to him. He had a great spring.”

Syracuse kicker suspended

Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said kicker Ryan Norton was suspended for the spring game because of a violation of team rules. Norton should rejoin the team in the summer, and Shafer praised his player for "taking ownership." Shafer declined to say what caused the suspension.

"It's between Ryan and I, but he'll be back with us shortly and we look forward to that," Shafer said.

Norton served a one-game suspension last season after he was arrested and charged with resisting arrest and underage drinking.

Virginia quarterback still unknown

Virginia coach Mike London said he’ll release a post-spring depth chart by the end of next week, and he’s currently in the process of having exit interviews with every player. He said he still has two quarterbacks to interview before he names his starter. David Watford has been competing with Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns this spring for the top job.

“They’ll know it before anyone else knows it,” London said. “I think that’s the right way to do it.”

ACC lunchtime links

November, 13, 2013
Not a bad Tuesday night of hoops, huh?

Syracuse PK Ryan Norton suspended

October, 31, 2013
After he was arrested last week and charged with resisting arrest and underage drinking, Syracuse kicker Ryan Norton has been suspended for the Wake Forest game on Saturday, leaving place-kicking duties to two punters.

Coach Scott Shafer told local reporters on Thursday that Riley Dixon and Jonathan Fisher will handle the kicking. Neither has attempted a field goal in college.

For more on the story, click here.

Clemson season preview

August, 22, 2013
Today we check in with Clemson, the preseason choice to win the ACC.

Clemson Tigers

Coach: Dabo Swinney (40-21 overall, 40-21 at Clemson)

2012 record: 11-2 (7-1 ACC)

Key losses: RB Andre Ellington, C Dalton Freeman, WR DeAndre Hopkins, DE Malliciah Goodman, LB Jonathan Willard

Key returnees: QB Tajh Boyd, WR Sammy Watkins, DE Vic Beasley, LB Spencer Shuey

Newcomer to watch: Ryan Norton. The sophomore center takes over for Freeman, who started 49 games in his career and is one of the best offensive linemen in school history. Also keep an eye on freshman LB Ben Boulware, who has turned heads this fall and will be counted on as a game-changer on special teams.

Biggest games in 2013: Georgia, Aug. 31; Florida State, Oct. 19; at South Carolina, Nov. 30.

[+] EnlargeRoderick McDowell
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsClemson will be counting on Roderick McDowell to produce as the likely starting running back.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The secondary remains a concern heading into the season, thanks to nagging injuries that have hampered some veterans and curtailed some potential impact freshmen. Garry Peters and Darius Robinson have missed time, along with freshmen Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Adrian Baker. The Tigers were hoping to count on Alexander and Kearse but will now wait and see how quickly they can recover from their respective injuries.

Forecast: Clemson starts the season ranked No. 8, the highest of any ACC team. The biggest reason why is the return of QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins on one of the most potent offenses in the nation. They are two of the best players in the ACC -- the two best if you ask some. But if Clemson is going to win another ACC championship, it is going to need to find answers at two spots -- running back and on defense.

All-ACC running back Andre Ellington is gone. Clemson is opting to go with a running back by committee approach this season, with Roderick McDowell listed as the starter. A senior, McDowell has waited his entire career for this opportunity, and he is ready. But Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard will also be in the mix and will be counted on heavily. If this trio, along with perhaps one of the incoming freshmen, can replicate Ellington's production, the Tigers should thrive.

As for the defense, everybody is expecting a big jump in Year 2 under coordinator Brent Venables. The front seven should be better, especially with five starters returning. Vic Beasley enters the starting lineup at defensive end after leading the team with eight sacks last year. He says he is ready to be an every-down player, and he has been impressive since the spring. The opener against Georgia provides a huge first test because the Bulldogs bring a powerful run game. The big question, as mentioned above, is the secondary. Young players will be relied upon, without question. The ACC has become a more high-tempo league, so Clemson needs this group to solidify in a hurry.

The ACC schedule plays to Clemson's advantage; the Tigers get Atlantic Division nemesis Florida State at home. They get Georgia Tech at home, too (on a Thursday night). Virginia Tech is off the schedule; Syracuse is on. But first is the big one at home against Georgia. A win would solidify national championship hopes.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is away from his Tigers teammates right now, serving as a counselor at the Elite 11 camp in Beaverton, Ore.

Boyd jumped at the opportunity to help out the next generation of quarterbacks. After all, he was among the Elite 11 group back in 2008. His selection there should come as no surprise. Trent Dilfer, the man in charge of the program, says the counselors are there to "share their life stories, to be examples in the way they engage the kids, with how they compete."

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Joshua S. Kelly/US Presswire"It's all about getting the chemistry in place on my team," Tajh Boyd said, "making sure that we don't have any division out there."
The Heisman Trophy hopeful fits the bill. He has set an example for his teammates back home, as well, as an unquestioned leader. To that end, Boyd has placed a priority on building chemistry this summer, knowing full well his team has an opportunity to achieve something special.

While in Oregon, he told ESPN Recruiting Nation reporter Mitch Sherman, "It’s all about getting the chemistry in place on my team, making sure that we don’t have any division out there. It’s been good. I know the biggest thing with me right now is chemistry with my O-linemen and with my receivers. So any time I get the chance, I’ll take the guys bowling. They break my pockets when we go out to eat, so I stopped that.”

Boyd, never afraid to crack a joke, hits the mark. Chemistry is one of those intangible aspects that is critical to the success of any team. Good chemistry helps teams thrive; bad chemistry, and teams fall apart. Secondly, chemistry between a quarterback and his line, and a quarterback and his receivers is critically important.

Going into this season, Boyd has to develop that chemistry with a new starting center, and a new outside receiver. We all saw last season how Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins were always on the same page. Sammy Watkins enters that role this year. Will their chemistry match the Boyd-Hopkins connection? How will Charone Peake, Adam Humphries and Martavis Bryant develop their chemistry with Boyd?

"Those guys have to step up in their role and take advantage of it," Boyd told Sherman. "It’s exciting. They’re excited about it. Right now, it’s all about putting the work in. What you put in is what you get out of it. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true."

And how will Boyd do with veteran Dalton Freeman gone and sophomore Ryan Norton taking over at center?

Boyd is smart enough to know that he needs the answers to those questions before the season begins.
Heading into this season, the offensive lines at both Florida State and Clemson were two of the biggest question marks in the ACC. The Tigers had to replace three starters up front, and the Seminoles were coming off a Champs Sports Bowl win against Notre Dame in which four true freshmen were in the starting lineup.

You’d never know it by looking at the stats so far this season, as deceptive as some could be.

As No. 10 Clemson and No. 4 Florida State prepare to face each other in Tallahassee on Saturday, both offensive lines have shown significant improvement through the first three games of the season. Florida State is No. 2 in the country in scoring offense, racking up its stats against two FCS opponents and an overmatched Wake Forest team. Clemson is No. 23 in the country in scoring offense, with its most impressive win coming against Auburn. Both Clemson and Florida State are allowing fewer than two sacks per game.

[+] EnlargeGifford Timothy
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesGifford Timothy and Clemson's offensive line could hold the key to victory against Florida State.
Both groups, though, still have something to prove -- particularly at Clemson. The Tigers’ offensive line will arguably get its biggest test of the season Saturday when it faces Florida State’s defensive line. The Noles are tied for No. 10 in the country with 3.67 sacks per game. How Clemson fares up front could be the key to the entire game.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge, no doubt about it,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “But we’re going to find out Saturday night one way or another.”

Clemson’s starting lineup against Auburn was Dalton Freeman, David Beasley, Gifford Timothy, Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley. Timothy was injured on the last offensive play of the game and missed the Ball State game. That opened the door for redshirt freshman Shaq Anthony to start and also play the first half against Furman.

Beasley was injured against Ball State, allowing Kalon Davis to play most of that game and all of the Furman game. Shatley was injured against Furman and missed the second half. Redshirt freshman Ryan Norton played the second half of that game.

Swinney said his offensive line was “pretty average” in last week’s 41-7 win against Furman.

“Nothing great,” he said, “just OK.”

“They are a question mark; they’re still a question mark,” Swinney said. “I don’t think that’s changed. … We’re a long ways away from being a great offensive line right now.”

The good news for Clemson fans is that the starting lineup used against Auburn should be healthy and ready to play at Florida State. And the backups have now had some significant experience. Entering the FSU game, Clemson has eight different offensive linemen who have played at least 98 snaps.

Florida State’s improved pass protection has been measurable. So far, the line has allowed three sacks in 194 snaps and 84 pass attempts. All three sacks, though, came against the best competition they’ve played -- a Wake Forest team that was missing one of its top defensive linemen in injured nose guard Nikita Whitlock.

It’s still a foreshadowing of improvement since last season, when the Noles allowed 41 sacks in 820 offensive snaps, which amounts to one every 20 plays. Only eight teams in the nation yielded more sacks than FSU in 2011.

There’s no question that FSU is also running the ball better. In 2011, the Seminoles produced just 112.2 rushing yards per game -- their lowest average since 2006 -- and managed 1,458 yards on the ground. Through three games the Noles are averaging 279 rushing yards.

The numbers are skewed because they’ve been racked up against unheralded FCS competition in Murray State and Savannah State, but FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said he likes what he has seen so far.

“I think they’re very good players,” Fisher said. “They’re all very talented. It took a little bit of time to learn, and that’s a position that’s very hard to adapt to, and we loved them because of their size and athleticism. I think that’s where you’ve got to control both lines of scrimmage -- that’s where it’s got to start.

“I’ve been very pleased with them, but I don’t think we are close to where we can be,” Fisher said. “I think each challenge is bigger and bigger each week.”

This one, of course, might be the biggest of the season.