ACC: Tony Creecy

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Never have red dreadlocks started so much chatter.

Louisville defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin and NC State running back Tony Creecy made a definitive fashion statement at ACC media days, showing up with the bottom of their long dreads dyed red.

[+] EnlargeACC
Andrea Adelson/ESPNNC State RB Tony Creecy (top) and Louisville DE Lorenzo Mauldin have incorporated school colors into their dreadlocks.
As a redhead, I had to find out why.

Simple explanation, really. Both their school colors are red. So they figured, why not? Mauldin has a history of dying his dreads. Before red, he dyed his blond. But after spring practice ended, he wanted to go for something different for his senior year. So he walked into his hair salon and asked, "Can you dye my hair Cardinal red?"

They said yes.

Mauldin has been sporting the look ever since and has no plans to change. The salon now proudly says it can dye anyone's hair "Cardinal red."

Creecy, meanwhile, started growing out his dreads in 2010. He wanted to change up his look and get some red to represent the Wolfpack. Rather than go to a salon, he has a friend dye the tips of his long hair, using her hands to apply the dye while twisting each strand in place. Not much maintenance is required with the dye, either. The color lasts for months.

Their fashion statements were neither planned nor coordinated. Neither one knew the other had red dreads until they showed up for ACC media day festivities Saturday night. The two met during an event for student-athletes and took note of the other's hair. Without knowing it, they became kindred spirits and could not help but stand out during interviews Sunday -- when all 28 players in attendance wore polo shirts and had little opportunity to enhance their look.

The two will meet again Oct. 18, when NC State travels to play Louisville. Given the positions they play, there is a chance they will bump heads many times throughout the course of the game.

Red heads, of course.

Player list for ACC media days

July, 10, 2014
Jul 10
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The 2014 college football season is inching ever so closer, with ACC media days set to take place in less than two weeks.

The league released its list of players who will be attending the July 20-21 event at The Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here they are:

BOSTON COLLEGE
C Andy Gallik, R-Sr.
DB Dominique Williams, R-Sr.

CLEMSON
QB Cole Stoudt, Sr.
DE Vic Beasley, R-Sr.

DUKE
OG Laken Tomlinson, R-Sr.
LB Kelby Brown, R-Sr.

FLORIDA STATE
QB Jameis Winston, R-So.
CB P.J. Williams, Jr.

GEORGIA TECH
OG Shaquille Mason, Sr.
LB Quayshawn Nealy, R-Sr.

LOUISVILLE
WR DeVante Parker, Sr.
DE Lorenzo Mauldin, Sr.

MIAMI
RB Duke Johnson, Jr.
LB Denzel Perryman, Sr.

NORTH CAROLINA
QB Marquise Williams, Jr.
LB Norkeithus Otis, Sr.

NC STATE
RB Tony Creecy, R-Sr.
DE Art Norman, R-Sr.

PITT
WR Tyler Boyd, So.
DB Ray Vinopal, R-Sr.

SYRACUSE
OT Sean Hickey, Sr.
LB Cameron Lynch, Sr.

VIRGINIA
RB Kevin Parks, Sr.
SS Anthony Harris, Sr.

VIRGINIA TECH
WR Willie Byrn, R-Sr.
DT Luther Maddy, DT

WAKE FOREST
FB Jordan Garside, R-Sr.
CB Kevin Johnson, R-Sr.

NC State spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
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Three things we learned in the spring about the North Carolina State Wolfpack:

1. Having a quarterback helps. Last spring, the NC State offense looked dismal and new coach Dave Doeren didn’t know who his quarterback would be. That problem persisted throughout the fall, and the Wolfpack went winless in ACC play. Now that Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is eligible to play, however, there’s a consistency on offense that was missing throughout 2013. More importantly, Doeren knows who his QB is, and Brissett can play the role of leader throughout the offseason.

2. Hines is a playmaker. NC State had a huge class of early enrollees, and while all made strides this spring, it was Bo Hines who stood out. The freshman had a fabulous spring game, catching 10 passes for 132 yards. It wasn’t just a big day in front of fans either. Doeren raved that Hines made at least one play every day throughout spring practice.

3. There’s depth at tailback. Shad Thornton finished sixth in the ACC in rushing last season, but after a strong spring by NC State’s tailbacks, the starting job won’t just be handed to the incumbent. Thornton worked on the second-team offense in the spring game, while Doeren praised Tony Creecy and Matt Dayes, too, and with a QB who can force defenses to respect the passing game, there could be plenty of yards to be had on the ground in 2014 for the Wolfpack.

Three questions for the fall:

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett, Garrett Leatham
Lance King/Getty ImagesFlorida transfer Jacoby Brissett will start at quarterback for the Wolfpack in 2014.
1. Will other young receivers step up? Hines impressed. Veteran Bryan Underwood looks healthy and should be a leader. But what about the rest of Brissett’s weapons in the passing game? The Wolfpack need more consistency out of sophomores Jumichael Ramos and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Hines’ fellow early enrollee Stephen Louis didn’t have a catch in the spring game.

2. Has the pass rush improved? It’s hard to make any grand pronouncements based on the spring game, where QBs weren’t live, but both the first- and second-string defenses racked up five sacks on the day. That’s the good news, but the defensive front remains young and inexperienced, with nowhere to go but up after last year’s D mustered a league-worst 20 sacks.

3. Can Doeren develop depth? Doeren has been quick to point out that 70 percent of NC State’s roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores, which means there’s not a ton of experience down the depth chart. That showed up in the spring game when the No. 2 defense did little to corral Brissett and the second-string offense produced a mere 65 yards. There are reasons for optimism with early enrollee safety Germaine Pratt (an INT in the spring game) and receiver-turned-pass rusher Pharoah McKever, among others, but the staff has its work cut out for it in developing the raw materials into productive players.

One way-too-early prediction: Yes, the Wolfpack were 0-8 in ACC play last season, but there weren’t many blowouts. Doeren’s crew showed plenty of fight despite a litany of problems, and that’s a good sign for what’s to come in 2014. The big change, however, is Brissett, who breathes new life into the offense and provides some real direction for NC State going forward. A conference title probably isn’t in the cards, but a bowl appearance wouldn’t be unrealistic.
NC State is entering its second season under coach Dave Doeren, and those within the program were encouraged by what they saw this spring and have said the program is slowly heading in the right direction. The Pack is stuck in the Atlantic Division with heavyweights FSU, Clemson and now Louisville, and will be a young team this fall. I spoke with offensive coordinator Matt Canada on Monday to get his take on how the offense looked this spring. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

What was your take on the progress Jacoby Brissett made this spring being in a new role?

[+] EnlargeMatt Canada
Photo courtesy of NCSU AthleticsMatt Canada has seen improved continuity and understanding from his offensive players.
Matt Canada: He did a great job learning the system throughout the year [when] he was ineligible to play and made an impact on us as a leader throughout that time and certainly showed a lot about who he was in the past year. Once we got to the spring and he could actually practice, I think his understanding of the offense improved every day. Not that it wasn’t good, but when you’re out there getting the reps, it’s going to improve just based on repetition and experience. He did a nice job leading the group and leading the offense. The kids on offense would all point to him as their leader on offense now. He took care of the ball well for the most part throughout the spring, and I was pleased about that.

What kinds of things does he need to still focus on during summer camp?

MC: Just experience. I think he’ll do a great job this summer learning and understanding the offense better, the timing with the receivers. He was throwing it to the top receivers now, and we’ve got some young kids in as well, so getting the timing down.

How did the running game look this spring?

MC: It’s improved. I think our running backs had a very good spring, as far as the way they worked and the versatility they had. Tony Creecy is a guy who is a great leader for us, had a very good spring and did a lot of things. Matt Dayes was much improved. He played as a freshman last year, but Matt really, his body changed and he has really jumped in with both feet to what we’re doing in the weight room, and his conditioning. He looked like a Division I big-time back, and that was exciting for us to see. Those two guys really I felt had a very good spring. Obviously having a good spring means we’re improving up front. We still have some work to do, but the offensive line is getting better and getting older and more mature and continuing to put that together.

Where do you think the biggest growth has occurred between Year 1 and Year 2 in what you’ve seen from the offense?

MC: The kids know what we’re striving for, what we’re looking for. I think they understand the system better, they understand what we’re trying to do. They’re a year into it, they’re going to be better. We have some different guys coming in and playing with some different skill sets we didn’t have and that helps us some, and I think like anybody else will tell you after a year, they’re more comfortable with the terminology. And we’re excited about Jacoby and what he brings to the table and his experience, talent and leadership -- all those things. It’s certainly a benefit for us.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT/Getty ImagesNC State has a leader at quarterback in transfer Jacoby Brissett.
Is there any particular area you think you’ll be better, whether it’s running the ball, eliminating turnovers or anything like that?

MC: Last year was a challenging year. Every week it was like we had somebody else out. We never really got into a rhythm, from quarterbacks going back and forth to up front. We were playing musical chairs there for a good part of the start of the year. The receivers were the same way. We had some guys making plays and they’d get hurt. Just having everybody through the spring and letting them get better, for the most part we were able to have a pretty healthy spring that allowed us to get some continuity. I think we’re going to be better at all of it. I think we’ll run it better, I think we’ll throw it better. I think we’ll be better at everything. What we’ll focus on and what will be our strength, I’m not ready to say that. We’ll get into the season and see how we develop, but I do think we’ll be better in all aspects.

What are a few things you still really want to accomplish this summer?

MC: We are young at some spots. We’re a very young team, so I think just them studying tape and learning football IQ and understanding the game is very important. And then just overall strength and conditioning, because we are very young. I know coach has talked about extensively a number of freshmen and sophomores we’re going to have playing next year, so while it will be Year 2, we have a young team so both strength and conditioning-wise and football knowledge is something we have to work on every day.

ACC predictions: Week 2

September, 5, 2013
9/05/13
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Not a bad start to the season for the ACC or us bloggers. Heather Dinich and I each went 11-1 with our picks. Hopefully another strong week awaits.

FRIDAY

Wake Forest (1-0) at Boston College (1-0), 8 p.m. ET, ESPN2. The Eagles opened as an early favorite, which is somewhat surprising considering the Deacons have the better team. Both squads had some ups and downs in their openers against FCS competition last week, but from my seat, the Wake defense looked much better than BC's. The Deacs produced six turnovers, including an interception return for a touchdown. That is why I give Wake the advantage in this game.

AA picks: Wake Forest 20, Boston College 17

HD picks: Wake Forest 24, Boston College 20

SATURDAY

No. 12 Florida (1-0) at Miami (1-0), noon, ESPN. The Hurricanes have an excellent opportunity to make a statement against their former archrivals in the final scheduled regular-season meeting between the programs. Miami has the best offensive player on the field in Duke Johnson, but he will be playing against a formidable defense -- perhaps the best he will see all season. I do not think Miami can physically match up on the offensive and defensive lines and will get worn down as the game goes on. Florida might not have as many explosive players on offense, but its defense will rise to the occasion.

AA picks: Florida 23, Miami 17

HD picks: Florida 31, Miami 24

Middle Tennessee (1-0) at North Carolina (0-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. The Tar Heels had a disappointing performance in a loss to South Carolina, especially from their defense. UNC's defensive front got no pressure on the quarterback and could not stop the run. The secondary got beat on several long passes downfield. Middle Tennessee upset Georgia Tech last season, but I don't see a similar outcome in this one. North Carolina will get a much better game out of Bryn Renner and its defense.

AA picks: North Carolina 44, Middle Tennessee 20

HD picks: North Carolina 42, Middle Tennessee 21

South Carolina State (0-1) at No. 4 Clemson (1-0), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. The Tigers have to guard against the letdown factor after such an emotional win over Georgia last week. They now have their highest ranking since 1988, and the nation will be expecting a blowout against an FCS team. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris wants the offense to play faster, so that is one key to watch.

AA picks: Clemson 63, South Carolina State 7

HD picks: Clemson 55, South Carolina State 0

Western Carolina (0-1) at Virginia Tech (0-1), 1:30 p.m., ESPN3. The Hokies have all sorts of issues to work out on offense and special teams. Coach Frank Beamer promises changes to correct the mistakes that allowed Alabama to score twice on kick returns last week. Receivers have got to do more to help out Logan Thomas. One injury note: Virginia Tech hopes to have running back J.C. Coleman available. This is a team the Hokies should dominate. Now, they have to do it.

AA picks: Virginia Tech 41, Western Carolina 3

HD picks: Virginia Tech 35, Western Carolina 3

No. 2 Oregon (1-0) at Virginia (1-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC. Oregon makes its first trip to ACC country on Saturday, becoming just the third top-three nonconference team to play in Charlottesville. The UVa defense looked strong in its Week 1 win over BYU, but the Ducks present quite a different challenge given the pace and production they get out of their offense. Oregon rolled up 772 yards last week in a win over Nicholls State. Gulp. Simply put, the Hoos just do not have the personnel on offense and defense to keep up.

AA picks: Oregon 45, Virginia 17

HD picks: Oregon 45, Virginia 17

Old Dominion (0-1) at Maryland (1-0), 4 p.m., ESPNews. The Terps hope to build off an impressive performance in Week 1. C.J. Brown was terrific in his return to the field, and we all saw what this offense is capable of with Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Taking a peek ahead, the schedule sets up for Maryland to go 4-0 in nonconference play.

AA picks: Maryland 48, Old Dominion 10

HD picks: Maryland 42, Old Dominion 7

Duke (1-0) at Memphis (0-0), 4:30 p.m., ESPN3. This is not going to be a walk-over for the Blue Devils. Memphis is a much improved team than it was several seasons ago. And much improved over the team Duke beat at the start of last season. The Tigers have a new quarterback but return a majority of their starters, including two standouts on the defensive line in Johnnie Farms and Martin Ifedi. This will be a good early road test for the Blue Devils.

AA picks: Duke 35, Memphis 20

HD picks: Duke 38, Memphis 24

Syracuse (0-1) at No. 19 Northwestern (1-0), 6 p.m., Big Ten Network. The Orange dropped a heartbreaker to Northwestern to open last season. Now they hit the road to face them again after a disappointing loss to Penn State. Syracuse has some problems to fix on offense, and it needs a better effort out of quarterback Drew Allen in this game. The Orange also have to do a better job of establishing the run if they are going to have any chance to win.

AA picks: Northwestern 28, Syracuse 21

HD picks: Northwestern 35, Syracuse 17

Richmond (1-0) at NC State (1-0), 6 p.m. ESPN3. The Spiders are one of the best teams in FCS and have notched wins over Duke in the past, so this is not a team that should be taken lightly -- especially after the FCS upsets in Week 1. Quarterback Pete Thomas gets his shot to start, but keep an eye on the running back rotation now that Shadrach Thornton returns to the lineup. Freshman Matt Dayes had a big game last week against Louisiana Tech, so coach Dave Doeren says he will use a three-man rotation with Tony Creecy, Thornton and Dayes.

AA picks: NC State 38, Richmond 13

HD picks: NC State 41, Richmond 10

NC State season preview

August, 13, 2013
8/13/13
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Today, we're looking at NC State, which changed coaches in spite of a third straight bowl appearance last year and is now entering a season of transition.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

Coach: Dave Doeren (first year at NC State, 23-4 overall)

2012 record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)

Key losses: QB Mike Glennon, LG R.J. Mattes, WR Tobais Palmer, LB Rickey Dowdy, S Earl Wolff, CB David Amerson

Key returnees: WR Bryan Underwood, WR Quintin Payton, RB Tony Creecy, DT T.Y. McGill, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop, CB Dontae Johnson

Newcomer to watch: QB Pete Thomas. The redshirt junior sat out all of last season after transferring from Colorado State, but he may be the answer to NC State's gaping need at quarterback this year. A two-year starter before transferring, he threw for 18 touchdowns and completed better than 63 percent of his passes to establish his credentials, then outplayed Manny Stocker this spring to gain an edge on the starting job with the Wolfpack.

Biggest games in 2013: vs. Clemson, Sept. 19; at Florida State, Oct. 26; vs. North Carolina, Nov. 2

[+] EnlargeDave Doeren
Andrew Weber/USA Today SportsCan Dave Doeren lead NC State to a fourth straight bowl game despite losing numerous key members from the 2012 squad?
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: It would be easy enough to look at Miami's dismantling of NC State's secondary to the tune of an ACC record 566 passing yards and assume there was nowhere to go but up. But the truth is, in spite of its notable missteps last season, there was a ton of talent in the defensive backfield, and much of it has moved on for 2013. Gone are longtime stalwarts Amerson, Wolff and Brandan Bishop, meaning a massive overhaul is in store. Johnson is the lone returning regular from last season, and Hakim Jones and Jarvis Byrd will need to step up into bigger roles.

Forecast: The Wolfpack won 24 games in the past three seasons, but it wasn't enough to save Tom O'Brien's job. He was fired before a bowl loss to Vanderbilt, and Doeren, the former Northern Illinois coach, was brought in to right the ship. It's a tall order for the new coach.

It's a year of transition across the board for NC State. Not only has Doeren revamped the coaching staff, but the Wolfpack will be looking for a new starting quarterback after sending Glennon to the NFL. They also must replace four offensive linemen and overhaul a significant portion of the defense. That's a lot of transition, but there is room for optimism.

NC State returns ample talent at the skill positions on offense, including its two top rushers from last season in Creecy and Shadrach Thornton, who combined for nearly 1,200 yards rushing in 2012. Doeren has a strong track record of running the football with success, and after finishing 111th nationally in that department last season, there's plenty of room for improvement.

The secondary is a concern defensively, but NC State does return some serious talent on the line of scrimmage -- including all four starters from a year ago. McGill is a rising star, and Cato-Bishop and Art Norman should disrupt plenty of opposing quarterbacks. Whether it's enough to overcome the questionable defensive backfield, however, remains to be seen.

Of course, the swing vote on the season is likely to be Thomas. NC State's schedule is manageable and there are plenty of weapons on offense if Doeren can find a quarterback capable of exploiting them. It's a new era at NC State, but a fourth straight bowl game isn't out of the question.
You want to find a good quarterback in the ACC? Plenty of places to look.

A solid receiver? Plenty of places to look.

A game-changing running back? Well, let's just say this is not a position of strength for the ACC headed into 2013.

Both 1,000-yard rushers from a year ago are gone. So are five of the top 10 rushers in the league. Now factor in recent developments from the offseason:

  • Virginia Tech back Michael Holmes was kicked out of school following his arrest after the spring game.
  • Pitt Rushel Shell decided to transfer, to hated rival West Virginia no less.
  • Maryland back Wes Brown has been suspended for the season after an offseason arrest.
  • Wake Forest leading rusher Josh Harris is not with the team while the Deacs wait for an answer from the NCAA on his eligibility.
  • NC State running back Shadrach Thornton was suspended one game after being charged with misdemeanor assault on a female following a June 6 arrest.
[+] EnlargeRushel Shell
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports Running back Rushel Shell left Pitt for rival West Virginia.
Holmes and Brown were expected to be significant contributors this year; Shell and Harris were expected to start; Thornton led the Wolfpack in rushing last year.

So let us take stock of who remains. Essentially, the ACC has one big-time headliner in Duke Johnson at Miami, and several teams with talent and depth.

Take Florida State. The Noles have a great duo in James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Syracuse has a 1,000-yard rusher returning in Jerome Smith, plus more depth than nearly everyone in the league. Duke has its top six rushers back from a year ago.

Still, the league overall has improving to do in this important category. In 2012, the ACC had the fewest 1,000-yard rushers of the five biggest conferences. It also only had two teams ranked in the Top 30 in rushing offense (Georgia Tech and Florida State), tied with the SEC for fewest among the top five conferences.

But here is the big distinction between the two. The SEC only had one team ranked in the bottom 30 in rushing offense last season: Arkansas. The ACC had a whopping six -- Virginia, Duke, NC State, Maryland, Wake Forest, Boston College -- the most among the power five.

Will fortunes improve this season? Let us take a look at one key statistic that could have some bearing. I broke down how many returning carries there are per team headed into 2013.

DUKE

  • Top returners: Jela Duncan, Josh Snead
  • Percent carries returning: 87 percent
  • What it means: Duke has perhaps the best opportunity of any team in the league to boost its rushing numbers this year, with its top six rushers back, a more mobile quarterback in Anthony Boone and four starters returning on the offensive line.
SYRACUSE

  • Top returners: Jerome Smith, Prince-Tyson Gulley
  • Percent carries returning: 82 percent
  • What it means: Syracuse has had a 1,000-yard rusher in five straight seasons, and has pretty terrific depth going into the season. It is a pretty safe bet the Orange will make it six straight 1,000-yard rushers.
BOSTON COLLEGE

  • Top returners: Andre Williams, Dave Dudeck
  • Percent carries returning: 75 percent
  • What it means: Though the Eagles don’t have much in the way of depth, they do have experienced players returning in Williams and Dudeck. Given the way Steve Addazio likes to run the football, expect to see the Eagles much better than No. 115 in the nation in rushing.
VIRGINIA TECH

  • Top returners: Logan Thomas, J.C. Coleman
  • Percent returning carries: 70 percent
  • What it means: Even though this was a weak spot for the Hokies, they do return their top rushers even with Holmes gone. Thomas led the team in carries and rushing last season. Virginia Tech wants to change that this year.
GEORGIA TECH

  • Top returners: Zach Laskey, David Sims
  • Percent returning carries: 68 percent
  • What it means: Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith take nearly all the missing carries (176), meaning the Jackets have plenty of experienced players and depth to fill all their running back spots. Shouldn’t be a drop-off here.
NC STATE

  • Top returners: Shadrach Thornton, Tony Creecy
  • Percent carries returning: 63 percent
  • What it means: Once he returns from suspension, Thornton will carry the load with Creecy, the way they did last season. Given the emphasis Dave Doeren puts on the run in his offense -- Northern Illinois ranked No. 12 in rushing offense last season -- the Wolfpack should not be in the bottom 30 again.
CLEMSON

  • Top returners: Tajh Boyd, Rod McDowell
  • Percent returning carries: 62 percent
  • What it means: Interesting stat here, considering the Tigers lose 1,000-yard rusher Andre Ellington. He is one of the biggest losses this team has to replace on offense. Having Boyd run as much as he does certainly helps these numbers, but there’s no question Clemson has to find a way to replace Ellington’s production.
MIAMI

  • Top returners: Duke Johnson, Eduardo Clements
  • Percent returning carries: 59 percent
  • What it means: Miami loses Mike James, but that just means Johnson moves into a starting role and will get more carries. If he continues the work he did last season, Johnson should be the leading rusher in the ACC this season.
WAKE FOREST

  • Top returner: Deandre Martin
  • Percent returning carries: 57 percent
  • What it means: Wake Forest is still waiting to see whether Harris will be eligible this season. There are serious concerns about this position right now, as coach Jim Grobe has said he still hasn’t seen anybody step up and prove they can be an every-down back.
NORTH CAROLINA

  • Top returners: A.J. Blue, Romar Morris
  • Percent returning carries: 56 percent
  • What it means: The prevailing storyline in Chapel Hill has centered around replacing Giovani Bernard, the other 1,000-yard rusher in the ACC last season. Blue and Morris combined for 151 carries a year ago, so there might not be as big a drop-off in total production as some might anticipate. Each averaged more than 5 yards per carry.
MARYLAND

  • Top returners: Brandon Ross, Albert Reid
  • Percent returning carries: 48 percent
  • What it means: The Terps lost significant carries from Brown (90) and Justus Pickett (69). I also did not count Shawn Petty’s 58 carries, because he went back to defense. Overall, Maryland feels good about Ross and Reid being able to carry the load, but questions still remain about whether this group can be consistent.
FLORIDA STATE

  • Top returners: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman
  • Percent Returning carries:45 percent
  • What it means: This one is the most misleading among all ACC teams, because the Noles do return two terrific talents and expect contributions from a third in Mario Pender. Those lost carries are from Lonnie Pryor and EJ Manuel, along with Chris Thompson (who was out for the second half of the season anyway). Florida State should continue to be an excellent running team.
VIRGINIA

  • Top returners: Kevin Parks, Khalek Shepherd
  • Percent carries returning: 44 percent
  • What it means: UVa lost carries from Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims, but the Hoos believe they will be better running the ball this season -- especially if Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell is as good as advertised. He could be a breakout star.
PITT

  • Top returners: Isaac Bennett, Malcolm Crockett
  • Percent returning carries: 9 percent
  • What it means: I thought this number would be low with Shell and Ray Graham gone. But this is actually worse than anticipated. Pitt has little in the way of experienced players or depth at running back, and we are talking about a team that relies heavily on the run.
NC State running back Shadrach Thornton has been suspended for the season opener against Louisiana Tech after he was arrested and charged with misdemeanor assault on a female in June.

Coach Dave Doeren announced the suspension following practice Wednesday night. Thornton has a scheduled court date for Aug. 22. According to the police report, Thornton grabbed his girlfriend by the arm and pushed her against the wall at an on-campus library during a fight.

"The week of the event we talked a lot,” Doeren told local reporters. “He won’t play in the first game. That was decided a long time ago, regardless of the outcome of the court date.”

Thornton led the team in rushing last season. Tony Creecy will get the bulk of the carries when the season opens Aug. 31 against the Bulldogs.

In two other ACC news items:
  • Virginia Tech running back Joel Caleb has been suspended for the season opener against Alabama for a violation of team rules. Caleb, a redshirt freshman, switched from receiver to running back this fall after Michael Holmes was dismissed from school.
  • Pitt linebacker Todd Thomas has left the program, coach Paul Chryst confirmed. Thomas, who started seven games last year, made his decision after he he was bumped to the second team as camp opened earlier this week. Coaches hoped that would motivate him. But instead, Thomas informed Chryst he wanted out.
The ACC’s top two rushers from a year ago -- UNC’s Giovani Bernard and Clemson’s Andre Ellington, were the only players in the conference to reach the 1,000-yard mark in 2012, and both of them have to be replaced this season.

The ACC does, however, welcome a 1,000-yard rusher to the league. Meet Jerome Smith from Syracuse, who ran for 1,171 yards and technically is the ACC’s leading returning rusher. Will he be the ACC’s top running back in 2013?

Check out the league’s top candidates to reach the 1,000-yard mark this fall and cast your votes for which one will be the best. Florida State is deep at running back with James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman, and Georgia Tech also has plenty of options, but with a by-committee approach, it’s difficult to produce a 1,000-yard rusher.

SportsNation

Who will be the best running back in 2013?

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    14%
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    69%
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    7%
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    3%
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    7%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,548)

Cast your votes for who you think will be the best this year:

1. Jerome Smith, Syracuse: He averaged 90.08 yards per game, 5.16 yards a carry and topped the 100-yard mark five times last fall, including four straight games against Connecticut, South Florida, Cincinnati and Louisville. Smith leads a deep, talented group of running backs that also includes Prince-Tyson Gulley, who started three games last year and was named the MVP of the Pinstripe Bowl after he racked up a career-high 213 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries against West Virginia.

Spring quote: “We have a lot of playmakers at every position on the offense,” Smith said. “As you saw last year, we’re a fast team. We like to get on the ball and go fast. As Coach [Scott] Shafer said, you go to the bathroom, you might miss something big from our offense this year.”

2. Duke Johnson, Miami: The ACC’s Rookie of the Year had 947 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns, and a 6.81 per-play average as a true freshman. His entire offensive line returns. Johnson also set a school single-season record with 892 kick return yards and two touchdowns. He finished with 2,060 all-purpose yards, the second most in program history.

Spring quote: “As a kid, I always wanted to come here and do great things and be a Miami Hurricane,” Johnson said. “Now that I’m doing it, and doing it to the best of my ability, it makes it even more special.”

3. Shadrach Thornton, NC State: He was a pleasant surprise for the Pack, as Thornton led the Wolfpack with 694 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman -- and he only started four games and missed the first three of the year. He rushed for over 100 yards in four games -- something no Pack back had done since T.A. McClendon in 2002.

Spring quote: “Yeah, he had a very good freshman year,” NC State offensive coordinator Matt Canada said. “And Tony Creecy is a great kid, a very durable, solid guy who had a very, very good spring. Those two guys certainly carried most of the load this spring.”

4. Andre Williams, Boston College: He had 584 yards last year, but there are high expectations for him to carry the running game this fall under first-year coach Steve Addazio. BC is thin at the position, so his health and durability will be critical.

Spring quote: “I thought Andre had one of the best springs of anybody,” Addazio said. “The kid is a wonderful guy. I mean, he's bright and he's a terrific person. But I tell you what, he's powerful, he's fast, he's a physical back, and I think the complement of that style of back with the development of our offensive line and the ability to throw the ball with Chase Rettig is a nice little combination."

5. A.J. Blue, North Carolina: He is the heir apparent to Bernard, who left early for the NFL draft. The senior had 433 yards last year, but could share time with Romar Morris and true freshman Khris Francis, who had a great spring game.

Spring quote: “A.J. Blue has emerged as a team leader, not just on the offensive side of the ball, but the entire team,” coach Larry Fedora said. “A.J. is about 215, 220 pounds, a guy that is going to finish off all his runs. He's going to be the bruiser type of runner, do a nice job of being physical, does a great job in pass protection and can catch the ball well. A.J. is a guy that's really come on for us.”

Others considered: James Wilder Jr., Devonta Freeman, David Sims, Josh Harris, Kevin Parks.
On Wednesday we started an interview with first-year NC State offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Here is the second part of our interview:

How is the running game looking? Who’s coming back?

Matt Canada: We’ve got Shad, [Shadrach Thornton] Shad’s coming back.

Right, he was a nice surprise last year.

MC: Yeah, he had a very good freshman year. And Tony Creecy is a great kid, a very durable, solid guy who had a very, very good spring. Those two guys certainly carried most of the load this spring. And we’ve got some guys coming in here in the fall, so there will be some freshmen at the skill positions who might be able to have an impact a little faster than the linemen, those types of spots. You never know.

[+] EnlargeRob Crisp
David Scearce /Icon SMIAfter losing four offensive linemen from last season, NC State will be relying on Rob Crisp for leadership.
And how do you look up front?

MC: That’s the key to everything. Rob Crisp, he’s a guy who played a lot of football. He’s a guy coming back, and we’re certainly counting on him to be a leader in every way, starting with his play and the way he leads that group. I think he understands that. When you lose four linemen, there’s a lot of leadership that left the room. You work through that and understand that. The other guys have played, Tyson Chandler has played, [Duran] Christophe, everyone is still competing. Competition is a great thing, and we’re going to continue to have it every day until the opener.

Just in general, what was the most challenging thing for you guys this spring?

MC: I don’t know. Putting in a new offense is fun, it’s exciting. Spring is the best time of year to do those things. You go out, you just ball. Changing the tempo, we’ve done it a couple times now -- once at Northern and once here now. Those are things you see and have to work through, those things have been good.

How has Pete [Thomas] done in the no-huddle?

MC: Very good. He’s a smart quarterback, understands it, and has done a good job.

What’s your main priority to get done this summer?

MC: We’ll just continue to evaluate the spring film, look at what we did well, decide exactly where we’re going to head, and how we’re going to attack the season with the players we have. We’ve got 15 days of film.

You mentioned Asa Watson, what kinds of things can he do in this offense? How does he fit in?

MC: He can do it all. He blocks well, he can catch the football. I think he’s a very versatile player, so I’m excited about him and watching him develop. … He’ll be full strength in camp. He’s a leader. He’s a very good person, a great kid, and a guy we’re looking to to lead us.

ACC spring game recaps

April, 22, 2013
4/22/13
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Spring practice is officially over across the ACC. Here is a look at the five spring games held this past weekend. Boston College cancelled its game following the tragic attacks at the marathon.

GEORGIA TECH

B-back Matt Connors capped a good spring with a team-high 84 yards on 12 carries to lead the Gold team to a 22-10 win over the White on Friday night.

After the game, coach Paul Johnson said Connors, "plays hard. Matt has a good attitude and I think he'll help us. We had a productive spring. There are always things you'd like to do better. I think we got a good start for fall.

As for the quarterbacks, Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly each scored a rushing touchdown for the Gold team. Thomas went 3-of-7 for 38 yards. Vad Lee led the White team with 62 yards rushing on nine carries and went 4-of-13 for 34 yards and a touchdown.

Defensively, Quayshawn Nealy returned a fumble 34 yards for a touchdown for the Gold team.

NC STATE

Fans got to see the new no-huddle spread offense coach Dave Doeren has installed, though there were plenty of bumps in the road during the annual spring game Saturday.

Quarterback Pete Thomas took reps with the first-team and went 15-of-26 for 168 yards without a touchdown pass as the Red beat the White 20-10. Tony Creecy led the way for the Red team with 75 yards on 20 carries, while Rashard Smith had eight catches for 84 yards.

Manny Stocker, working with the second-team, went 11-of-20 for 96 yards with an interception in the end zone. The teams combined for five fumbles in the game, and had 10 total punts in the first half.

Doeren said afterward, "We are ahead defensively and that’s not a bad thing," Doeren said. "I would rather be ahead on the defensive side than the offense. I think we’ll catch up."

The spring game raised more than $20,000 for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.

SYRACUSE

Terrel Hunt emerged from the spring game as the Orange's top quarterback following an outstanding performance, going 19-of-29 for 209 yards a two touchdown passes to lead the Orange to a 27-10 win over the Blue on Saturday.

Hunt took all the snaps for the Orange team, and coach Scott Shafer said afterward that the junior now has a small lead over Charley Loeb and John Kinder. How that all plays out when Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen arrives remains to be seen, but there is no question Hunt has made the most of his opportunity this spring.

"Just a little bit (of a gap) though," Shafer said afteward. "We have all summer to figure this thing out and see all the new faces that are coming in to wear the blue and orange. I look forward to the competition continuing forward."

Kinder and Loeb combined to go 11-of-20 for 55 yards but they played against the first-team defense and under big-time pressure.

VIRGINIA TECH

There were not many bright spots for the new Hokies' offense, as quarterback Logan Thomas and the running backs struggled Saturday in the spring game.

Thomas threw three interceptions -- two that were returned for touchdowns -- as his Orange team lost to the White 27-9. In all, Thomas went 16-of-29 for 214 yards as the group worked under new coordinator Scot Loeffler. For the game, the running backs tallied 23 total yards on 41 carries. Those are probably not the results fans wanted to see.

“I think even good golfers have bad shots sometimes, but it’s how you react to those shots, what you do after those shots,” coach Frank Beamer said afterward. “In my opinion, Logan will always be right back every play.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that the defense was the story of the scrimmage as that group returns just about every one of its starters and should be one of the best groups in the league.

WAKE FOREST

The Deacs held a 70-minute scrimmage rather than a game Saturday, and the defense dominated as Chad Hedlund scored the only points on a 39-yard field goal.

Hunter Williams, Ryan Janvion, Merrill Noel and A.J. Marshall each intercepted a pass. Wake Forest's 32 rushing plays netted minus-5 total yards.

"The defense was awesome today," coach Jim Grobe said. "I thought they played great. We really dumbed the defense down, we didn't blitz and we didn't play a lot of different coverages. It's amazing how good they played when they know what to do and didn't have a lot of thinking going on. That ought to be a lesson for our coaches."

Though the offense struggled, the coaches did not have that group do too much. As Nikita Whitlock said afterward, "They didn’t show anything. This was the easiest practice we had all spring. I think they only ran like five plays. Honestly, it was power here, throw here, screen here. They were really vanilla, which was good. We’ll pull it out this season to win some games."
NC State announced its leadership council for 2013 on Friday, a group of 20 players voted on by the team that represents each position on the field.

They are:
Since coach Dave Doeren became head coach, he has had meetings every two weeks to discuss the importance of leadership.

“In each meeting, we have discussed the ‘Wolfpack Commandments,’ which are the qualities and characteristics that I want our team to display," Doeren said in a statement. "In spring practice and in our offseason conditioning program, the team was able to identify which players best display these qualities.”

The “Wolfpack Commandments” are: accountability, hard work, family, faith, detail, loyalty, pride, discipline, urgency, focus, perseverance and “the three P’s” -- preparation, practice, playing to win.

One name that stood out to me: Brissett, who transferred in from Florida and must sit out this season because of NCAA rules. Brissett has only been in Raleigh since January, so he clearly has made a mark on his teammates and coaches with all the hard work he has done in a short period of time, all while knowing he cannot play this season.
NC State coach Dave Doeren will not have all his freshmen on campus until this summer, but he already expects several incoming receivers and running backs to play in 2013.

Depth concerns and a shift in offensively philosophy mean Doeren needs more bodies at each position.

Start at receiver. There is experience and talent at the top of the depth chart. Though NC State loses all-purpose man Tobais Palmer, it also returns Quintin Payton (tops in receiving yards with 798); Bryan Underwood (10 touchdowns, 620 yards), and Rashard Smith (315 yards, five touchdowns).

Behind them, there are major questions. So you understand why the Wolfpack signed six receivers in February. One of them, Bra'lon Cherry, is already enrolled and will benefit from spring practice. Johnathan Alston, who arrives in the summer, was the second-highest rated prospect in the entire NC State class.

"We’ll have some young receivers playing, there’s no doubt," Doeren said in a recent phone interview.

Then at running back, there is little in the way of depth behind Shadrach Thornton and Tony Creecy, the team's top two rushers a year ago. NC State signed three running backs, and they all arrive in the summer as well -- Josh Mercer, Dakwa Nichols and Matt Dayes.

"Thornton and Creecy are both good, tough runners and they’re both skilled receivers out of the backfield. They’ll be great in this offense," Doeren said. "The bigger concern is the lack of people behind them. We signed three in this class, and all three will be in camp getting reps. I wouldn’t be surprised to see two of the three play, just because of what we do. There will be times when there’s two or sometimes three tailbacks in the game. We need all those guys to be ready."

ACC's lunchtime links

November, 8, 2012
11/08/12
12:00
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HD has Florida State-Virginia Tech covered tonight in Blacksburg. Do the Hokies have a shot?
Though NC State and Miami have identical 3-1 record headed into their game on Saturday, how much do we know about either team?

NC State comes into the contest after decisively beating South Alabama and The Citadel, two teams the Wolfpack should have rolled. Have they found a running game now with Shadrach Thornton? Is Mike Glennon going to play more consistently now that big-time FBS games are back on the schedule? Is the offensive line better? The front seven?

Miami comes into the game after its crazy overtime comeback win over Georgia Tech. Are the Hurricanes the team we saw storm out to a 19-0 lead? Or the one that fell behind 36-19? Or the one that stormed back to win?

"I hate to go backward; we have to go forward now," Miami coach Al Golden said at his weekly news conference. "I hope we learned something, but I hope we learned a lot from the Kansas State experience, too. Given the same situation, the way we went about trying to get back in that game, we went about it as individuals. This approach here was forget about the scoreboard, put your blinders on, and execute one play at a time. Have the confidence and the trust, and live with the results. Hopefully we gained confidence from that, but I don't want to keep living like this. It's not fun. We're in condition, we’re growing mentally tougher, there's some unity in our reservoir that we can rely on, and the guys stayed together and did a good job.”

NC State has won two straight in this series, but the teams have not played since 2008, so there is some major unfamiliarity on both sides. Al Golden was not the head coach at Miami the last time these two teams played; Tom O'Brien was in his second year with the Wolfpack.

Still, this is a hugely important game for both teams. Miami is already 2-0 in ACC play. NC State has yet to play a conference game. O'Brien said this week he is a fan of playing his four nonconference games to open the season and believes he did get some questions about his team answered in the last two weeks.

"We played well on defense in both games," he said during his weekly news conference. "We’ve made strides offensively, even with the injuries. Maybe we found something in Shadrach.”

Thornton got the starting nod last week because of injuries to Tony Creecy and James Washington, and another suspension for Mustafa Greene. Creecy will be available against the Hurricanes, but Thornton should see time as well after rushing for 145 yards and two touchdowns against The Citadel.

“He really didn’t miss anything," O'Brien said. "He was headed the right direction, ran the right routes, and did what he was supposed to do. So we hope that after his first experience he will be better this week and more prepared to do things. This defense we will face against Miami will pressure us a lot more than the defense did last Saturday. He’s not afraid to block somebody and that’s good because he will have to pick up somebody in the pass protection this week."

Miami has its own running back coming off an impressive performance, as Mike James scored four touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime. He and Duke Johnson are going to be a formidable duo to stop. Receiver Phillip Dorsett and quarterback Stephen Morris had big days against the Jackets as well.

But this game Saturday should give us more answers about both teams.

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