ACC: Shaq Wiggins

 

There's Shaq Mason and Shaq Lawson. Shaquille Powell and Shaq Wiggins. There's even Shakeel Rashad.

Here a Shaq, there a Shaq, everywhere a Shaq Shaq.

Indeed, there has been a proliferation of Shaqs across the ACC and college football over the last few seasons thanks to Shaquille O'Neal.

What does basketball have to do with football? In this case, when O'Neal emerged as an NBA All-Star, his name started to become popular, too. In 1994, Shaquille was the 234th most popular name in the United States, according to the Social Security names database. Shaquille retained its popularity enough to earn a ranking in 1995 and 1996, too.

Mason was born in 1993, when O'Neal would have been going into his second year in the league with the Orlando Magic. The Georgia Tech guard confirms he was indeed named after Shaq Diesel.

"Every time I met a new person, they were always like, 'Were you named after Shaquille O’Neal?' Mason said. "But growing up, I was the only person around me named Shaquille. I didn’t know any others until I got older."

Mason is the only Shaq in the ACC named to the preseason All-ACC team, but he is not the only standout at his position named Shaq across the country. Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson is a preseason All-American candidate; South Carolina's Shaq Roland is one of the better receivers in the SEC.

Back in ACC country, Shaquille Powell will start at running back for Duke on Saturday against Elon. Lawson is the primary backup to Vic Beasley at Clemson; Wiggins has to sit out this season after transferring to Louisville from Georgia. Though his name is spelled differently, let's count Rashad in here, too. Especially since one of his nicknames is "Shakinabox."

Maybe we can spell that "Shaqinabox" just for this exercise.

Naming babies after athletes is nothing new. The name Jordan also started rising in popularity when Michael Jordan became basketball king. So did the name Peyton, after Peyton Manning emerged at Tennessee and then as a perennial NFL All-Pro.

Makes you wonder whether we will see a new generation of Jameises in 18 years.
Louisville coach Bobby Petrino and his staff have the SEC pedigree. Now they are filling the roster with much of the same.

The Cardinals could potentially add a fourth SEC transfer to the mix. Safety Tray Matthews was dismissed from Georgia on Tuesday, then tweeted he would transfer to either Auburn or Louisville. If he chooses the Cards, he would join three former SEC players -- his old Georgia teammates Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons, and former Texas A&M receiver JaQuay Williams.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
AP Photo/John BazemoreTray Matthews, shown celebrating after an interception last September, tweeted that he's considering a transfer to Louisville after he was dismissed from the Bulldogs.
None of these moves comes as a huge surprise. All three Georgia players played for current Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. The decision to hire Grantham away from the Bulldogs clearly has paid off in more ways than one. His presence has helped bring Wiggins and Harvey-Clemons to the Louisville defensive backfield, an area with a major lack of depth.

Should Matthews enter the fold, Louisville would be in line to start nearly the same defensive backfield in 2015 that Georgia featured when all three players were healthy this past season.

That would be absolutely huge for a Louisville team making the transition into the ACC. Petrino has made foolish mistakes in his past, but he is not a fool when it comes to understanding what it takes to win -- especially on his side of the division.

Atlantic Division front-runners Florida State and Clemson are the only two ACC schools consistently recruiting at an SEC level on a consistent basis. To compete with them, Louisville must do the same. Accepting these transfers is one way to start closing the talent gap that currently exists between the programs. Williams, Wiggins, Harvey-Clemons and Matthews were all four-star recruits out of high school. The three Georgia players were ranked in the ESPN 300 and were dubbed the Bulldogs' defensive backfield of the future.

To understand how much catching up Louisville has to do, consider this: During the last five years, Louisville signed a combined 24 four-star players. Seven were ranked in the ESPN 300. Those are great numbers for the old Big East/American. But in the same span, Florida State signed 70 four-star and five-star players, and 55 were ranked in the ESPN 300. Clemson signed 55 four-star or five-star players, and 34 were ranked on the ESPN 300. It's easy to see why these two schools have separated from the rest.

As successful as Louisville was in its final years in the Big East/American, playing in a tougher conference means you need better players. Looking for transfers -- even transfers with baggage -- is one way to do that.

There are some risks involved. Harvey-Clemons and Matthews were both dismissed from Georgia. Though no specific details were given about Matthews' departure, Harvey-Clemons served multiple suspensions for team rules violations, including the 2013 Capital One Bowl.

Petrino was criticized during his first go-around with Louisville for bringing in players with discipline problems. Athletic director Tom Jurich told one reporter in 2008 that the Cardinals dismissed 21 players after Petrino left for the Atlanta Falcons because of disciplinary issues.

So the track record is not sterling. But Petrino and Jurich have both vowed things would be different in the program this time. Given where Louisville stands as it heads into the ACC, Petrino has to be willing to take a few risks. At the same time, he also has to show he means business with the players who have been in trouble in the past. Second chances are one thing, but there needs to be a level of discipline in the program that was not there the first time Petrino was in charge.

None of the incoming players are eligible until 2015, when Petrino will have a much better idea of where his team stands in the ACC. If he can maximize their potential and keep them out of trouble, Louisville will be well on its way.

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Five things: Georgia-Clemson

August, 30, 2013
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No. 5 Georgia and No. 8 Clemson will end a 10-year hiatus in their historic rivalry Saturday when the Bulldogs visit Death Valley n in one of the most intriguing matchups of opening weekend.

Let’s examine five key elements involved in a game that could impact this season’s BCS championship chase:

Big-play offenses: Las Vegas is predicting two of the nation’s most-prolific offenses to combine for around 70 points on Saturday night. And research provided by ESPN Stats and Information gives us plenty of reasons to see why many analysts expect a high-scoring game between the Bulldogs and Tigers.

Beyond simple scoring and total offense stats, they both ranked among the nation’s top big-play offenses a season ago. Georgia ranked first nationally or tied for first in touchdowns of at least 20 yards (31), 30 yards (22) and 50 yards (12) and led the nation with an average of 7.09 yards per play.

Clemson, meanwhile, led the nation in completions of 25 yards or more (51) and touchdown passes that covered at least 25 yards (20). Clemson’s Tajh Boyd had 11.2 percent of his passes go for completions of at least 25 yards, which was the highest of any quarterback in the country who attempted at least 150 passes.

Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray led the nation in yards per pass attempt (10.1) and percentage of attempts to gain 20 yards or more (16.1).

Both quarterbacks improved their accuracy on passes of 20-plus yards last season, with Murray completing 46 percent of such throws (an increase of 17.3 percent) and Boyd hitting on 51 percent (an increase of 14 percent).

Will Watkins step up?: With Georgia breaking in a largely rebuilt secondary, this game would seem like a prime opportunity for Clemson’s 2011 All-American receiver Sammy Watkins to exploit the Bulldogs’ youth.

Watkins talked a big game about beating Georgia during the offseason, but will he reclaim his spot as the Tigers’ top receiving target after losing that title last fall to DeAndre Hopkins. Watkins was third nationally in all-purpose yards (2,288) in 2011, but totaled fewer than half as many a year later (1,073). His touchdowns-per-touch ratio dropped from 1-in-9.6 to 1-in-17.8, as well.

Clemson quarterbacks targeted Watkins 44 fewer times (from 123 in 2011 to 79 last year) and his catch (82 to 57), receiving yardage (1,219 to 708) and touchdown (12 to three) totals all dropped severely.

Hopkins led the nation with 11 touchdown catches of 25-plus yards last season, so the Tigers desperately need Watkins to live up to the standard he set in 2011 and replace some of the departed star’s production. Watkins is more than capable, posting 11 TD catches of 25-plus yards in his first two seasons as a Tiger.

Pound the run?: An interesting subplot to Saturday’s game is how Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will attack Clemson’s defense. The Tigers also have some concerns in the secondary -- this on the heels of surrendering 7.32 yards per pass attempt a season ago. But conventional wisdom seems to dictate that Georgia uses its powerful running game -- paced by All-SEC pick Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall -- to extend drives and provide time for its defense to rest between series against Clemson’s up-tempo offense.

Both players averaged better than 6 yards per carry last season, due in large part to their capabilities as home-run threats. They combined for 12 runs of 25-plus yards, eight of which went for touchdowns. Gurley alone had 27 carries that went at least 15 yards, which tied for fifth in the FBS.

Clemson ranked 57th nationally against the run last season, surrendering 155.92 yards per game on the ground in Brent Venables’ first season as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator. The Tigers were 71st against the pass at 240.3 ypg.

Murray on the big stage: Fair or unfair, Saturday’s game -- and the upcoming matchups with South Carolina and LSU in September -- will serve as another referendum on Murray’s status as a big-game performer.

[+] EnlargeTray Matthews
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsDespite big-name offensive talent, Georgia-Clemson could come down to young defenders like Tray Matthews.
Georgia’s quarterback caught plenty of guff over shortcomings against ranked opponents well into last season. He’s 3-11 in his UGA career against teams that ended the season ranked in the AP Top 25 with 23 touchdowns versus 16 touchdowns against those teams. He’s 25-2 with 72 touchdowns and 16 interceptions against teams that finished unranked.

The positive sign for Murray is that he has won two of his last three games against opponents that finished the season as a ranked team: Florida and Nebraska last season. Following an atrocious first half against Florida last season, Murray has tossed seven touchdowns against three interceptions in 10 quarters against ranked opponents, including the SEC championship game loss to Alabama.

Fresh-faced defenses: Let’s have some fun with numbers concerning Georgia and Clemson’s defensive depth charts.

After losing 12 key players from last season’s defense, Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham appears set to trot out a large group of newbies. Of the 22 players listed on the Bulldogs’ defensive two-deep in this week’s game notes, 16 of them have never started a college game. Heck, nine of them, including seven true freshmen, have never PLAYED in a college game.

But a number of them -- including outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, defensive lineman John Taylor, safety Tray Matthews and cornerbacks Brendan Langley and Shaq Wiggins -- could play big roles on Saturday.

Meanwhile, Clemson has some experience issues of its own. Ten of the 22 players on the defensive two-deep have never started and three of them are freshmen. They’re expected to be without injured freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who at No. 4 in the 2013 ESPN 150 was Clemson’s highest-rated signee in its most recent recruiting class.

It’s easily conceivable that Saturday’s outcome could be determined by which team’s young defensive personnel acquits itself more effectively in its first game in leading roles.

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