ACC: Telvin Smith

From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Up today: Linebackers

Best of the best: Clemson

It's easy to see why many believe the Tigers have the best front seven in the ACC. In addition to having the strongest defensive front, they also have the strongest group of linebackers returning to the team. Stephone Anthony had a breakout season a year ago, finishing with 131 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 802 snaps played. He should be a preseason All-ACC selection. Clemson did lose two starters in Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey, but it returns experienced players at the position. Tony Steward and Ben Boulware will anchor the weak side. Both were ranked among the top linebackers out of high school, and if Steward can stay healthy, he is in line for a big year. At the other spot, Clemson has the option of playing a linebacker or nickelback depending on the alignment. T.J. Burrell and Dorian O'Daniel will be in the mix on the strong side.

Next up: Duke

The Blue Devils return the best linebacker duo in the ACC in David Helton and Kelby Brown, who finished as the top two tacklers in the conference last season. The two combined for 247 tackles a year ago and are back to anchor a group looking to improve both against the run and the pass. Their backups return as well, so there are not many depth concerns here. These two are as dependable as they come. Now, having said that, we would be remiss if we failed to mention Florida State. The Seminoles are losing two key players in Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and will be relying more on a five defensive back alignment, so there are some questions at the position. But this team has the talent to again be the best in the ACC once it gains some experience. As it stands now, Terrance Smith is the only linebacker with consistent playing time. Guys like Matthew Thomas and Reggie Northrup could develop into studs before the season's up.

Sleeper: Syracuse

The Orange return two of the more underrated linebackers in the ACC in Dyshawn Davis and Cam Lynch, who will be relied upon to anchor a defense with some serious questions on the defensive line. Though middle linebacker Marquis Spruill is gone, Syracuse coaches were pleased with the role Marqez Hodge played as a true freshman behind Spruill a year ago, so he spent a year in training preparing to take over the starting job. Davis and Lynch will be there to help Hodge along. Keep an eye on Louisville here as well. The Cards return hard hitter James Burgess and have moved Lorenzo Mauldin to outside linebacker/rush end. That should pay dividends.

Problem for a contender: Pitt

The Panthers have not gotten consistent linebacker play for years, so this position remains a question mark. Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas return, but the Panthers have little in the way of depth to help them out. Thomas has the potential to be excellent. He had 72 tackles a year ago, but coaches are now hoping for more. Bam Bradley could also have an impact here, but only six lettermen are back from a year ago. There are also questions elsewhere in the conference. Will anybody step up to help out Denzel Perryman at Miami? And will Virginia Tech be just as good at linebacker without Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards?
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
5/06/14
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
4/04/14
2:30
PM ET
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.
Kelvin Benjamin, Timmy Jernigan and a host of other former Florida State players will work out for NFL coaches and personnel departments, and ESPN will have live coverage of the Seminoles' pro day.

Beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, fans can use this link to access WatchESPN's online stream.

ESPN NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have Benjamin and Jernigan as first-round picks in their latest mock drafts. Kiper and McShay both have Jernigan going No. 16 to Dallas, while Benjamin is projected as a late first-round selection. Kiper has Benjamin going No. 26 to Cleveland and McShay slots Benjamin two spots later to Carolina.

Lamarcus Joyner is on the cusp of being a first-round pick and will make his final push on Tuesday. Terrence Brooks is coming off a stellar combine performance and is talked about as a late second-round selection, and Devonta Freeman and Telvin Smith are possibilities for the third round.

In 2013, a record 11 former Florida State players were drafted.
Florida State has had one of the best defensive fronts in the nation in the last two seasons, but the Seminoles will have a major challenger to that claim when 2014 rolls around.

Division rival Clemson has the potential to have one of the best defensive lines in school history, thanks to returning all of its starters -- including sack master Vic Beasley. So that leads us to this question: Which team will have the best defensive front in the ACC this upcoming season? Andrea Adelson and David Hale let the debate begin.

SportsNation

Which team will have the best defensive line in the ACC in 2014?

  •  
    33%
  •  
    58%
  •  
    9%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,741)

Andrea says Clemson

The moment Beasley decided to return to Clemson was the moment the Tigers became the favorite to field the best defensive line in the ACC next season.

Now, this is not to slight Florida State, which has dominated up front over the last two seasons. But the Seminoles have key players to replace again. Clemson, on the other hand, returns every starter on the defensive line, plus its top four backups. All told, eight linemen return who played at least 292 snaps a year ago.

Those top eight combined for 65 tackles for loss -- more than half the single-season school-record 122 tackles for loss Clemson had in 2013. They also combined for 26 of the team’s 38 sacks.

Beasley, of course, leads the returning group after making 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss a season ago, one of the top performances of any defensive end in the country. Had he decided to leave for the NFL, Clemson would have still had plenty of talent returning.

But with him, the Tigers could potentially have the deepest, most talented group of defensive linemen at the school since the 1981 national championship team featured future NFL players Jeff Bryant, William Perry, Andy Headen and Dan Benish in the starting lineup.

Clemson could potentially go 10 deep along the defensive line, especially when you consider the return of Carlos Watkins, expected to be healthy after missing most of last season following a car accident. That means the Tigers have the ability to rotate frequently and keep players fresh, perhaps more than they did last season.

Fresh players mean fresh legs, and fresh legs mean getting into the backfield at a much better clip. Last season, Beasley, starting tackle Grady Jarrett (11), starting end Corey Crawford (10.5) and backup end Shaq Lawson each finished with 10 or more tackles for loss. Now think about some of the best defensive fronts in college football. Florida State has zero defensive linemen returning with double-digit tackles for loss. Alabama? Zero. LSU? Zero. Stanford? Zero. Virginia Tech? One. Michigan State? One. Ohio State? Two.

Clemson leads them all.

Such an experienced group, with the ability to get into the backfield and get after the quarterback, should only get better with another year under Brent Venables, who is entering his third season as defensive coordinator. As Beasley told colleague Heather Dinich after he announced his decision to return, “I feel like we can be the best in the country.”

And, yes, that means the defense could emerge as the strength of this team.

David says Florida State

The track record for Florida State’s defensive front speaks for itself. During the past three seasons, only Alabama has had more success defending the run than Florida State, which has allowed just 2.8 yards per carry since the start of the 2011 season. Those Seminoles teams sent eight players from the front seven to the NFL -- and that number figures to increase by at least four this year -- yet the unit has seen little decline in production. With new personnel, a new scheme and new coaches last season, FSU’s first-team defense didn’t allow a rushing touchdown until the national championship game.

Of course, that’s all in the past, and 2014 comes with some significant questions for Florida State.

Throughout the three-year run of success for the FSU front seven, Christian Jones, Telvin Smith and Timmy Jernigan have been anchors. All are gone now, and that means some significant vacancies on the defensive front, both in terms of on-field talent and off-field leadership. It means there will be questions surrounding the unit for the next few months, but it doesn’t mean the Seminoles don’t have answers.

Of the projected two-deep in the front seven, FSU projects to feature as many as 12 former ESPN 300 recruits. The talent is exceptional.

Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman were both top-10 recruits in 2012, and both have two years of experience under their belts. Edwards, in particular, took big steps forward throughout 2013, turning in perhaps his best game against Auburn’s up-tempo ground attack in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

The linebacker group lacks significant experience, but Terrance Smith is a physical clone of Telvin Smith, and he performed admirably after stepping into a starting role last season. Matthew Thomas and Ukeme Eligwe are both former elite recruits who project nicely in the hybrid role Jones handled so successfully in 2013.

Kain Daub, Demarcus Christmas and Derrick Nnadi lead a stellar 2014 recruiting class that could make an instant impact.

That’s not to say Florida State is prepared to move forward without Jernigan’s presence up front or Telvin Smith’s leadership in the middle of the field without missing a beat. There will be hiccups as the new group gets its feet wet and Edwards and Goldman learn to be leaders. But similar concerns existed a year ago when Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine bolted for the NFL, and after some early missteps, Florida State again proved to be one of the fiercest defensive fronts in the country.

And, of course, the Seminoles have another weapon in this debate, too. No position group succeeds in a vacuum, and FSU’s front seven gets a major boost from a secondary that projects to again be the best in the nation. If the Seminoles’ defensive backs continue to make teams one-dimensional and continue to provide time for the pass rush to get to the quarterback, the odds of FSU’s front seven making a smooth transition into 2014 get even better.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
2/11/14
4:00
PM ET
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)
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- In the speech he delivered to some 30,000 Florida State fans at the team’s championship celebration at Doak Campbell Stadium last weekend, Jimbo Fisher touched on two primary themes.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher says the benefits of winning a national title is only beginning for Florida State on the recruiting trail.
First, he was grateful. He thanked the fans and the players and the coaches, but most importantly, the senior class. Those were the kids who believed in a recruiting pitch four years ago that was little more than grandiose promises designed to overshadow a 7-6 record and a rookie coaching staff. It was a tough sell, but Lamarcus Joyner, Telvin Smith, Kenny Shaw and others bought in anyway.

Beyond that, however, Fisher talked about the promise of the future. Four years after Joyner and Smith and Shaw inked their names to a letter of intent at Florida State, the Seminoles now have a national championship trophy, and Fisher has a recruiting pitch that can both underscore the present and showcase a far more vivid plan for the future.

“We want to build a program,” Fisher said. “We’re not worried about a team; we’re building a program. And I think we can be very good again.”

Fisher did an exceptional job selling Florida State to recruits even when there wasn’t much to sell. His 2010 class was ranked sixth by ESPN. In 2011, FSU was tops, and in 2012, the Seminoles ranked second. Last year’s class was ranked No. 9, but immediately produced a trio of impact players on a national championship team.

Now, with that trophy providing an easy sales tool, Florida State heads into national signing day with the No. 3 class in the country and a chance to snag a few more big names before it’s over.

The wins aren’t the only catalyst for such strong classes. When Fisher took over in 2010, the Seminoles had a dearth of NFL talent, but last year, a record 11 Seminoles were drafted. As many as a dozen more could be selected this year. That has allowed recruits to see a clear path to the NFL, but it also has opened up opportunities for immediate playing time.

Last year, 14 of FSU’s 21 signees saw action, with three getting starting nods throughout the season. There figures to be even more room for new recruits this season.

With Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin departing, FSU’s receiving corps lacks much experience, but Florida State remains in on four receivers in the ESPN 300, including Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla.) and Travis Rudolph (West Palm Beach, Fla./Cardinal Newman).

The same is true on the offensive line, where all five projected 2014 starters are set to graduate at year’s end. The line has been one of the few areas FSU has struggled to land top recruits in past seasons, but the Seminoles already have commitments from six linemen heading into signing day.

But even in areas with ample competition, FSU is making headway. Fisher has commitments from two ESPN 300 quarterbacks, despite having the Heisman winner at the position already. He has been able to land that talent with a far different sales pitch today than the one he offered five years ago.

Florida State is no longer a place where recruits can come to rebuild a once-mighty program. It’s a place where the program can build recruits into stars.

“It’s way different,” Shaw said. “This year, it’s like, if you don’t want to be a part of this organization, it’s either you don’t want to compete or you don’t want to be a champion. We’ve set the bar to the limit.”

Of course, with the 2014 class waiting only for its finishing touches, Fisher isn’t easing up on his sales pitch.

The benefits of a national championship on the recruiting trail, he said, are only beginning.

“A lot of these relationships were built before the championship was won,” Fisher said. “It definitely helped cement where we’re going, where the program is going. But you’ll see this even more in the future.”
Some are can't-miss prospects, such as Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback was ESPN's No. 1 QB in the Class of 2012, won the Heisman Trophy in his first season as the Seminoles' starter and added a national championship to cap his redshirt freshman year.

Others are not so easy to find.

Andre Williams, who finished three spots behind Winston in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting, was a two-star prospect in the Class of 2010. All the Boston College running back did this past fall was tally the fifth-highest rushing total in FBS history (2,177 yards).

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Andre Williams
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesAndre Williams and Jameis Winston came from opposite ends of the recruiting spectrum.
With national signing day coming Wednesday, we figured this is a good time to revisit where our All-ACC players stood when they signed with their schools. The results, as usual, offer some surprises.

Just one ESPN.com All-ACC player from this past season entered college as a five-star prospect. Williams was one of two two-star prospects. There were 11 four-star prospects and eight three-star prospects. Two players, both of whom are from the high school Class of 2009, don't have star ratings, as ESPN didn't start using star ratings until 2010. Kickers and punters have no ratings, rankings or grades.

(All rankings and information are from ESPN's Recruiting Nation.)

Offense

  • QB Jameis Winston, Florida State via Hueytown (Ala.) High: Four stars, No. 14 overall prospect, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 84
  • RB: Andre Williams, Boston College via Allentown (Pa.) Parkland High: Two stars, No. 152 RB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 73
  • RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State via Miami Central High: Four stars, No. 15 RB, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson via South Fort Myers (Fla.) High: Four stars, No. 39 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 82
  • WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State via Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas High: Four stars, No. 125 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke via Monroe (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 65 WR, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
  • TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina via Greensboro (N.C.) Smith High: Four stars, No. 8 TE, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • T: Cameron Erving, Florida State via Colquitt County (Ga.) High: Three stars, No. 83 DT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 76
  • T: Brandon Thomas, Clemson via Dorman (S.C.) High: No. 60 OG, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76*
  • G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke via Chicago Lane Tech High: Three stars, No. 65 OG, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 75
  • G: Tre’ Jackson, Florida State via Wayne County (Ga.) High: Three stars, No. 50 DT, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
  • C: Bryan Stork, Florida State via Vero Beach (Fla.) High: No. 45 TE, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76*
Defense

  • DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson via Adairsville (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 19 ATH, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 80
  • DE: Kareem Martin, North Carolina via Roanoke Rapids (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 59 DE, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 80
  • DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt via Pittsburgh Penn Hills High: Four stars, No. 22 DT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • DT: Timmy Jernigan, Florida State via Lake City (Fla.) Columbia High: Four stars, No. 17 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 84
  • LB: Telvin Smith, Florida State via Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes High: Four stars, No. 107 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 81
  • LB: Kelby Brown, Duke via Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High: Three stars, No. 88 OLB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 75
  • LB: Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College via Stamford (Conn.) The King & Low Heywood Thomas School: Four stars, No. 20 OLB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • CB: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State via Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas High: Five stars, No. 6 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 87
  • CB: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech via Baltimore Mount St. Joseph High: Three stars, No. 43 CB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 77
  • S: Terrence Brooks, Florida State via Dunnellon (Fla.) High: Three stars, No. 21 CB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 70
  • S: Anthony Harris, Virginia via Cheesterfield (Va.) Lloyd C. Bird High: Two stars, No. 203 ATH, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 72
Special Teams

  • K: Nate Freese, Boston College via Strongsville (Ohio) High: Class of 2009
  • P: Pat O’Donnell, Miami via Palm Beach (Fla.) Central High: Class of 2009
  • SP: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina via Charleston (W.Va.) George Washington High: Four stars, No. 59 WR, Class of 2013. Scout grade: 80
No. 13: Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State

Previous ranking: Not ranked

Making the case for Smith: Seven starters and three assistant coaches from Florida State’s 2012 defense left after the Seminoles wrapped up an ACC title and an Orange Bowl victory last year, but the rapid transition did little to disrupt the unit’s success. Smith was a major reason why.

After two years splitting reps at middle linebacker, the job was all Smith’s in 2013, and he didn’t disappoint. Florida State was the nation’s top-ranked scoring defense and third in total defense, and Smith was the unit’s unquestioned leader -- on and off the field.

For the season, Smith led FSU in tackles (90) and was second in tackles for loss (9.5). He finished with a career-high three interceptions and defended seven passes (third best on the team) while playing a crucial role in stopping the run up the middle. He scored two touchdowns on defense, had multiple tackles for loss against Pitt, Boston College and Duke, and he recorded double-digit tackles three times, including a game-high 15 (11 solo) in the BCS national championship win over Auburn. The success earned him second-team All-ACC honors.

The countdown

How ACC players fared in Senior Bowl

January, 27, 2014
1/27/14
9:00
AM ET
The ACC's three quarterbacks struggled to get their North squad on the board Saturday, throwing three total interceptions in a 20-10 loss in the Senior Bowl.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaMiami QB Stephen Morris completed 10 of 18 passes for 89 yards and two picks at the Senior Bowl.
Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Miami's Stephen Morris and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas combined to go 21 of 39 for 137 yards with no touchdowns. Thomas, who impressed all week down in Mobile, Ala., with his arm strength, threw just five passes, completing four. He was sacked five times for a total loss of 39 yards.

"I don't think I had much time to do anything with it," Thomas said, according to the Associated Press.

The other two quarterbacks managed to stay on their feet but accounted for the trio of turnovers.

Morris completed 10 of 18 passes for 89 yards with two picks. Boyd went 7 of 16 for 31 yards with one interception, adding two rushes for eight yards.

“Just talking to the linemen, they said these guys are kind of quick coming off the ball," Boyd said, according to the AP. "You've got to go out there and try to help those guys out."

One notable bright spot offensively for the ACC was the play of Michael Campanaro, who caught two passes for 11 yards for the North and returned three punts for 24 yards. The former Wake Forest receiver saw his first game action since Nov. 2, when he suffered a broken collarbone in a loss at Syracuse.

The ACC's biggest victory came two days earlier, when on Thursday night Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald added one more line to his résumé, as he was named most outstanding player for the week of practice.

"Donald is a very explosive defensive tackle," Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons and North team coach, said in a statement. "I've been very impressed with him. He's short in stature by NFL standards and doesn't maybe have all the measurables, but he's one of the more explosive guys we have on the North squad. He's done a very nice job both in the running and the pass game."

Below are ACC player statistics from Saturday. Scouts Inc. lauds a number of ACC players from the week of practice in its superlative post here.


QUARTERBACKS
Stephen Morris, Miami: 10 of 18, 89 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 0 sacks
Tajh Boyd, Clemson: 7 of 16, 31 yards, 0 TDs, INT, 0 sacks, 2 rush, 8 yards
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech: 4 of 5, 17 yards, 5 sacks (39 yards)

WIDE RECEIVERS
Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest: 2 catches, 11 yards, 3 punt returns for 24 yards

DEFENSE
Christian Jones, LB, Florida State: 6 tackles
Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State: 5 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss
Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina: 4 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss
Dontae Johnson, DB, NC State: 2 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 breakup
Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State: 2 tackles
Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech: 1 tackle
Jemea Thomas, S, Georgia Tech: 1 tackle

ACC players in the Senior Bowl

January, 21, 2014
1/21/14
10:30
AM ET
Senior Bowl practices are underway this week, and wouldn't you know it -- scouts have their eyes on the quarterbacks.

That means Stephen Morris, Logan Thomas and Tajh Boyd are firmly in the spotlight this week among featured ACC players participating in the college all-star game, a critical first step in evaluations for the NFL draft in May. Scouts Inc. lists Thomas as the highest rated quarterback among the three and broke down what each has to accomplish this week.

For Thomas: The need to "thrive with an even playing field."

For Morris: More consistency with footwork and ball placement as a passer.

For Boyd: "Show improvement throughout the week with pro-style progressions and anticipation as a pocket passer."

Scouts Inc. also lists Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson and Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses as having the most to prove.

Here is a look at all the ACC players participating in the Senior Bowl, with the game set for Saturday. Boston College running back Andre Williams was invited but pulled out so he can continue to rehab his injured shoulder.
Florida State's performance in its 34-31 win over Auburn gave the Seminoles their first national title since 1999 -- and also landed four players on ESPN.com's All-Bowl team.

The ACC delivered when it mattered most this year -- in its two BCS bowls. Duke also had some outstanding performances in spite of its loss to Texas A&M. The ACC fared particularly well at the wide receiver and return positions. Here's a look at some of the ACC's top performers on the All-Bowl team:
David Hale and Matt Fortuna handled the ACC's All-Bowl team for ESPN.com, and there were a few differences. Colleague Ivan Maisel and I also recognized a few unsung heroes from bowl season in this video. Congrats to all of ACC's top performers this year.
Florida State finished off a spectacular season with a national championship, and with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Jalen Ramsey and a host of other stars returning for 2014, the expectations for next season are already sky high.

So if FSU is going to repeat as national champs, what are the big stumbling blocks on the road ahead? We take a look at the top five.

1. Rebuilding the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsWith Timmy Jernigan heading to the NFL, Florida State will have a big hole to fill in the middle of its line.
With Timmy Jernigan leaving early for the NFL draft -- he’s widely considered a top-15 pick — Florida State will have a huge hole in the middle of the line. But the Seminoles also need to find someone to rush off the edge, as Christian Jones did throughout the season and develop some depth after waving goodbye to Demonte McAllister and Dan Hicks. Nile Lawrence-Stample, Matthew Thomas and others could fill those voids, but it will be incumbent on emerging stars Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman to step up their games, too.

2. Developing new receivers.

It wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was nevertheless a relief when Greene decided to return for his senior season. Florida State’s receiving corps was exceptional in 2013, but it wasn’t deep. Kenny Shaw is moving on, and Kelvin Benjamin could follow. That leaves Greene as FSU’s only established, consistent receiver. Isaiah Jones, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield all got a taste of playing time in 2013, but they’ll need to do a lot more next season.

3. Finding new leaders on defense.

This might be the toughest task for Florida State. Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Jones and Jernigan weren’t simply the defensive standouts on the field, they were the heart and soul of the unit in the locker room. There’s still plenty of talent remaining on the unit, but no one who has had to step up and galvanize a locker room or push the younger players to work harder. Finding leaders on that side of the ball — Edwards, Goldman, Terrance Smith and Ronald Darby, perhaps — will be crucial to maintaining the unit’s immense production in 2014.

4. Managing the schedule.

If the knock on Florida State this season was that it wasn’t tested until the title game, the concern for 2014 might be that there are simply too many big tests. The Seminoles open in Dallas against Oklahoma State, but also have Clemson, Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida before the season is out. If this title was a victory for the ACC’s legitimacy on a national stage, the 2014 slate for Florida State only underscores how much tougher winning the league will be going forward.

5. Handling the hype.

It’s one thing to win when no one is expecting it. Winning when everyone has you pegged as No. 1 is a whole other challenge. Florida State will enjoy its national championship now, but in 2014, everyone will be gunning for the Seminoles, and the media scrutiny will be immense. Can Winston go a full offseason as a Heisman winner and national champion and not waver from his commitment to getting better? Can the coaching staff maintain that same level of dedication from a group that already has a title on its résumé? There’s a reason so few teams repeat as champions. It’s really hard to do.


NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher gave his staff three days off for Christmas break.

FSU defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt spent it watching football with his dad -- Auburn football, of course. Pruitt took game tape of the Tigers home with him, and he and his father, Dale, tried to figure out a way to stop the Tigers in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

Given Pruitt’s history with Alabama, and how similar FSU’s defense is to Alabama’s, watching the Iron Bowl was a good start.

"There’s probably nobody else out there that could say, 'OK, all right, they’ve made this call. That is exactly some calls that we have. This is how they’re going to block it. This is what you’re going to get,'" Pruitt said.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Pruitt
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreFirst-year defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has helped turn the FSU defense into one of the best in the country.
For Pruitt and Fisher, the SEC ties run deep, as Pruitt spent the past three seasons as the secondary coach at Alabama, and Fisher was a former offensive coordinator at LSU. Pruitt was first hired at Alabama as Nick Saban’s director of player personnel. Both of them have shared philosophies that stemmed from their time with Saban, and it’s that chemistry and connection that has helped Florida State’s defense make a seamless transition in the first season under Pruitt. While Fisher has earned the reputation as an offensive mind, he had a clear vision of what he wanted the defense to look like after former coordinator Mark Stoops left to become the head coach at Kentucky.

"This is Jimbo's philosophy and what we're trying to get done," Pruitt said. "He brought me in, and there's a reason, because of the background, and he was familiar with the background. He laid the foundation. He said, this is the players we've got. This is what I want to do. This is how I want to get it done."

In just one season, Pruitt delivered.

Florida State enters Monday’s game with one of the best defenses in the country. The Noles lead the nation in scoring defense (10.7), passing yards allowed (152), pass efficiency defense (90.90), and interceptions (25). All with a first-year coordinator, and a defensive line that had to replace all of its starters from a year ago -- in a new, more complicated scheme, with some players in new positions. From the outside looking in, it was one of the most impressive coaching jobs in the country this season.

"I thought he did a good job," said Miami offensive coordinator James Coley, who went against Stoops’ defense every day in practice last year as FSU’s former offensive coordinator, and was defeated this year by Pruitt’s defense. "He brings a lot of energy to whatever he does. I think those guys are playing for him. They’re feeding off of him. It’s hard to come in there and come into a certain side of the ball where you’ve got a kid like Lamarcus Joyner and now say, 'Hey, you’ve got to listen to me and you’ve got to trust me.' I think he did a great job of earning their trust, and letting them play. Some people get caught up with all these fancy schemes, and if you watch them play, they’re just playing football. That’s why they’re as good as they are on that side of the ball. Those guys are really comfortable in doing what they do."

It didn’t take long.

"He got my attention when he first came back in January just with the kind of heart he has," said Joyner, who moved from safety to cornerback in Pruitt’s scheme. "He's a genuine heart person. He said something to me that I'll never forget in my life. He said, 'You don't get what you want, you get what you earn.' I never heard that said before. He got my attention from Day 1, and to just see the way he loves football, the way he loves coaching and developing young men, it's no better feeling. You know, you have no choice but to draw to him. He's a natural leader, and we respect that."

They also respected where he came from -- Alabama.

"They’ve been winning championships over there, so obviously they have a standard over there that’s working for them," said FSU DB Terrence Brooks. "And I knew he was going to bring a dominating defense over here, also."

He had plenty of talent to work with.

FSU has allowed just five rushing touchdowns in 13 games this season, tied with Iowa for fewest in the nation. FSU’s pass defense has been one of the best in the country, holding opponents to just 9.5 yards per completion -- the lowest in the country. The Seminoles have had 96 negative yardage games, not counting forced turnovers, and the Noles have forced 75 three-and-outs.

"To say how Coach Pruitt came in and put his own stamp on it, it was easy," FSU linebacker Telvin Smith said. “We believed in when he came in, we just listened to him, let him coach us. We didn't worry about the coaches that were here before him even though we've got much respect and love for them, Coach Stoops and Coach [Greg] Hudson. We came in, we believed in what he did and we just believed in the process, and look where he got us."

The same place the program once was before -- at the top.

SPONSORED HEADLINES