ACC: Wayne Gallman

This one might not get the national love of UCLA-USC, Ohio State-Michigan or Auburn-Alabama, but there aren’t many rivalries in the country more fun than Clemson vs. South Carolina. The two programs share virtually nothing in common aside from geography, so picking sides isn’t tough. But the war of words between Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney over the years has elevated the proceedings from national afterthought to comedy gold. While the on-field product has been owned by the Gamecocks, the arrival of Deshaun Watson at Clemson and the underperformance by South Carolina this season makes for a far more interesting matchup between the lines, too. ACC reporter David Hale and SEC reporter Alex Scarborough take a look at how the 2014 installment of Clemson vs. South Carolina breaks down.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsClemson's chances of breaking a five-game losing streak to South Carolina might depend on whether or not Deshaun Watson can go at QB.
Key to victory for South Carolina: The Gamecocks offense isn’t terrible with Mike Davis running the football and Pharoh Cooper at receiver. AJ Cann is one of the best linemen in the country, as a matter of fact. But where South Carolina goes wrong is when it turns the football over, particularly in the passing game. In six wins, quarterback Dylan Thompson has three interceptions. In four losses, he has eight picks. There’s simply not enough on the defensive side of the ball for South Carolina to give away free possessions.

Key to victory for Clemson: For the Tigers, this isn’t a complicated formula. The defensive front needs to stuff South Carolina’s ground game -- something Clemson has done effectively all season, save the opener against Georgia. The offense needs to run the ball, something Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye have done a far better job of the past few weeks. And, most importantly, the QB needs to protect the football. If it’s Watson, Clemson fans will feel a bit more comfortable. If it’s Cole Stoudt, then there are legitimate concerns. But regardless, South Carolina’s pass rush has been nonexistent this season, which should help the Tigers play it safe, even if Stoudt is the one pulling the trigger.

X-factor for South Carolina: History is most definitely on the Gamecocks’ side. Spurrier, as he’s quick to remind everyone, has won the last five contests against his in-state rivals. In fact, none have been close as South Carolina has won each by at least two possessions. The players have changed, but Spurrier clearly has something on Swinney. Rest assured that the Head Ball Coach will have a few tricks up his sleeve as he attempts to extend his bragging rights another year.

X-Factor for Clemson: Is it an X-factor if it’s the only thing anyone is talking about? Watson is clearly the difference maker in this game, and whether he takes the field or not (he’s currently day-to-day with a knee injury) likely tells the story of whether the Tigers’ offense can move the ball enough to win. Clemson has certainly found ample ways to lose this game in recent years, but for Tigers fans, Watson represents a changing of the guard. He brings an air of confidence that Clemson has clearly been lacking, but he also brings by far the Tigers’ most potent offensive threat. But perhaps as big a question as whether he’ll even play is whether that knee will afford him the mobility that has been so crucial to his success.

Scarborough’s favorite moment from the rivalry: Sorry, South Carolina, but great games have great finishes, and it’s amazing to think that for as long as these two teams have been playing one another there has been only one game end with a score at the buzzer. That seminal moment belonged to the leg of Clemson kicker Mark Buchholz, whose 35-yard try was true, giving the Tigers a come-from-behind win in Columbia in 2007.

Hale’s favorite moment from the rivalry: It’s probably wrong to say it’s my favorite moment, but the fight between the two teams 10 years ago certainly turned the rivalry from a local one into a national one. Of course, the best moments of this rivalry have always had little to do with what’s happening on the field. In the parlance of Steve Spurrier, “talking season” is always more fun, and perhaps no rivalry in American has had more pointed and amusing jabs than this one (again, largely courtesy of the Ol’ Ball Coach). Is there a second Death Valley besides the one at LSU? Now that’s some expert trolling.

ACC mailblog

November, 14, 2014
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It’s Friday, so let’s dig into the mailbag to see what burning ACC questions you’ve got for us...

Nick in Fort Lauderdale writes: Could an undefeated Florida State actually get left out of the playoffs? … I can see Mississippi State staying in the top four with a loss to Alabama. If the committee will jump Oregon over an undefeated FSU, then why not TCU, and that could push FSU out of the top four altogether.

David Hale: I just don’t buy that talk. Credibility is going to be a concern for the committee in Year 1 for obvious reasons, and leaving out a defending national champ without a loss just seems like it would undermine so much of what the playoff was created to accomplish. I agree with you that a loss might doom FSU’s season, but until that happens, I think the Seminoles are safe. Besides, TCU’s remaining schedule is atrocious, so if the Horned Frogs were going to jump Florida State, it would’ve had to have happened already.


Vinny writes: FSU has always tried to rotate D-linemen, but it seems they aren’t using guys like [Justin] Justin Shanks and [Keith] Keith Bryant as much. Matchup? Scheme? Injuries? Also, do you think Mario Edwards would be more effective from the tackle spot?

David Hale: Scheme has a lot to do with this. When Mark Stoops left for Kentucky, the defensive scheme changed a lot, and the Seminoles have worked so much in nickel packages this year, we’re seeing a lot fewer snaps for the down linemen. Add the fact that you have two stars in Edwards and Eddie Goldman, and the drop-off in talent for those rotations is much more noticeable. With the injuries and inexperience at linebacker, keeping those guys on the field is paramount. Shanks was also banged up early in the year and hasn’t quite recovered that playing time, while Bryant perhaps hasn’t developed quite as quickly as Derrick Nnadi and Desmond Hollin. As for Edwards, he's such a mismatch where he is because of his size-speed combination. I think that's the best spot for him.


Steve in New Jersey writes: Can you tell me what is going wrong with my Hokies? Is it the talent? Bad Coaching? Bad playing? Or all the above?

David Hale: It’s a lot of factors — as it almost always is when a program declines steeply — which makes it harder to isolate one thing that needs to change. I think Virginia Tech has a lot more talent this year than the last few, and I’d credit Frank Beamer for giving so much playing time to young players. You’ve got to take the good with the bad in those scenarios, but in the long run, it will be a big benefit for the Hokies.

Beyond that though, I think there are two big concerns: The first is injuries. Virginia Tech has been devastated by them this year, and the hope should be that the bad luck evens out in 2015. The second is the offensive line, which has been a massive disappointment throughout the last few years. The run-blocking has been really bad, and without a steady run game, the Hokies are going to have a tough time getting back to 10 wins. The recruiting philosophy has shifted a bit and Stacy Searels is a good coach, but that part will take some time.


Dave in VT Land writes: So, it looks like the alphabetical listing of the Coastal Division teams is turning out to be the most accurate prediction! Who'd have thought?

David Hale: Akron is applying for Coastal Division membership as we speak… (And the Zips already have a win over Pitt!)


Jon in Atlanta writes: I cannot say enough on how surprised I am to see Georgia Tech with seven wins. Early in the season, I would have laughed if 7-8 wins this season was even mentioned. With a really good recruiting class coming in, how good do you see GT getting down the road?

David Hale: I’m not sure any team in the country has exceeded my expectations as much as Georgia Tech this season. There were just so many areas of concern entering the season, and to Paul Johnson’s credit, he’s found ways of plugging all of those holes. The D isn’t good, and that remains a big concern, but the offensive philosophy makes up for that in a lot of ways, and Justin Thomas has really added that missing element to the option. The other big knock on Johnson in recent years has been recruiting, and as you said, even that is starting to change. It’s really tough for longtime coaches to turn the tide when a program starts going south (see: Virginia Tech) but Johnson has done a splendid job of it this year.


David Hale: I’ll be surprised if Clemson isn’t the overwhelming favorite in the Atlantic to open next season because Watson is back with a very talented young offense around him. Mike Williams and Artavis Scott have been exceptional this year despite the revolving door at QB, and Wayne Gallman is finally beginning to make some progress for the running game. Yes, a lot of talent will be leaving on the defensive side of the ball, but Mackensie Alexander, Shaq Lawson and Jayson Kearse will be back to ease the transition. Meanwhile, Florida State figures to see a mass exodus of talent after this season, including the entirety of the offensive line, along with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene and likely Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman.

The bottom line though is that Watson is a star in the making. He’s a perfect fit for Chad Morris’ offense, and he’ll have a good bit of talent around him, so there is plenty of cause for excitement if you’re a Clemson fan. The one big concern though: Can the Tigers keep their two coordinators?

ACC morning links

October, 30, 2014
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The game plan for Clemson’s offense with Cole Stoudt has been conservative to say the least.

As The Post & Courier writes, Stoudt isn’t looking downfield often. Of his 35 attempts last week against Syracuse, 21 were thrown to targets behind the line of scrimmage. Ten were thrown downfield at least 15 yards, and he completed just two. And that’s a big reason for the lack of real productivity for the Tigers.

As we noted in our weekly By the Numbers post, of the 93 quarterbacks with at least 150 pass attempts vs. FBS competition, Stoudt ranks 92nd in yards-per-completion at just 9.0.

Add to the lack of a downfield threat the fact that Clemson’s running game has been stagnant — just 3.5 yards-per-rush on non-sack plays, the worst among Power 5 teams save Wake Forest — and you’ve got a real problem.

The end result is that Clemson is averaging just 4.73 yards-per-play in the month of October, which ranks 105th nationally. Who would’ve thought we’d ever be saying that about a Chad Morris offense?

The good news is that Deshaun Watson continues to make progress from his broken finger, and while it’s unlikely he’s back for Wake Forest in a week’s time, the Georgia Tech game on Nov. 15 seems like a legitimate possibility. Meanwhile, Wayne Gallman ran for 101 yards on 28 carries last week against Syracuse, which marked the first 100-yard game by a Clemson tailback this season.

A few more links for your Thursday reading pleasure:

The Orlando Sentinel takes a look at what makes Louisville’s defense so dominant.

DeVante Parker should be an interesting challenge for Florida State’s secondary, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.

Karlos Williams will play against Louisville, according to Jimbo Fisher, but he’s the subject of a university inquiry, as Yahoo notes.

Tonight will be a major recruiting night for Louisville as it hosts the defending champs, writes The Courier-Journal.

Anthony Harris hasn’t racked up the interceptions for Virginia as he did a year ago, but he’s still playing at a high level, writes the Daily Progress.

Miami will be missing a key contributor on the offensive line against North Carolina, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

If AJ Long is going to turn things around from last week’s struggles vs. Clemson, NC State looks like the right defense to do it against, writes Syracuse.com.

Duke isn't getting distracted by its Top 25 ranking, writes the Associated Press.

In spite of Virginia Tech's struggles, Steve Addazio knows Lane Stadium is no easy place to win, writes BC Interruption.

ACC morning links: A loss for Clemson

October, 20, 2014
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The last thing Clemson needed was more bad news on offense, but that's exactly what was in store Sunday.

The Tigers' leading rusher, freshman Adam Choice, is done for the season with a knee injury, as the Charleston Post & Courier writes.

Choice suffered a torn ACL in Saturday's 17-13 win against Boston College, adding more grim news to a running game that has struggled to find any footing this season. Through seven games, Choice was Clemson's leading rusher with 218 yards and also averaged a team-best 4.4 yards per carry.

Choice actually would have redshirted this season, but he was thrust into the tailback mix when Zac Brooks went down with a season-ending injury in fall camp. Choice's injury leaves the trio of Wayne Gallman, C.J. Davidson and D.J. Howard to pick up the slack in the Tigers' backfield.

In fairness, the bulk of Choice's production this year came against South Carolina State. Against FBS foes, he's carried 38 times for 144 yards -- an average of 3.8 per carry -- good for 38th among ACC tailbacks.

Still, his replacements don't offer much alternative. Howard, Davidson and Gallman have averaged a woeful 3.6 yards-per-carry against FBS foes and just seven of their 113 rushes (6 percent) went for 10 yards or more. Add the fact the Tigers will be without dual-threat QB Deshaun Watson for at least another few weeks, and the offensive struggles of the past two games don't seem like they'll diminish any time soon.

A few more links:

Jameis Winston is a near lock to enter the NFL draft, according to CBS Sports. Well, yeah. Of course. The whole “will he or won't he” discussion has been silly for a while, and when I spoke with Winston's father, Antonor, in August, he said the talk about returning was entirely dependent on Jameis' draft status. And that was before all the new off-field chaos.

Matthew Thomas, who had been suspended for the first half of the season, added some much-needed athleticism to Florida State's defense, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

Georgia Tech's defense was a complete disaster against North Carolina, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Virginia Tech is shaking up its offensive line after another ugly offensive performance against Pitt, writes the Roanoke Times.

More from the Roanoke Times: Matt Johns should've run more often against Duke, according to Virginia coach Mike London.

Marquise Williams has been tremendous over the past two games, including leading a comeback win for North Carolina on Saturday, writes the Charlotte Observer.

After A.J. Long led Syracuse to a much-needed win over Wake Forest, is Terrel Hunt still the starting QB when he's healthy? It's an interesting question, writes Syracuse.com.

Duke Johnson has been a crucial mentor in the development of fellow Miami tailback Joseph Yearby, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

If Clemson has been busy cooking up a few new wrinkles for Florida State during the bye week, the trigger men on offense certainly aren't tipping their hand.

Chad Morris loves Deshaun Watson, but he downplayed the freshman's role in Saturday's game plan.

QB Cole Stoudt wants to look deep a bit more often against Florida State, but of course, he'll take what he's given.

The Seminoles haven't exactly looked as dominant on defense as they did a season ago, but don't go asking the Tigers if they've found a weakness to exploit.

"It's all in the strategy and game plan," Stoudt said. "We could have the same thing [as earlier games]. We could have something different. We'll mix it up."

In other words, don't bother asking. You'll find out Saturday.

But just because Clemson isn't touting any matchup advantages this week doesn't mean it hasn't been studying hard for what promises to be its biggest test of the season.

There's some juicy tape to watch on both sides of this matchup, Morris said, and that's a good thing.

Clemson's offensive hibernation in the second half against Georgia was an eye opener, and the fireworks the freshmen set off a week later against South Carolina State provided some much-needed reps for some inexperienced offensive talent.

On the flip side, Oklahoma State helped magnify some of the weak links on Florida State's defense, and while Morris certainly isn't suggesting the Seminoles aren't still loaded with talent, he said one of the big takeaways of the early season has been how much FSU misses some of last year's key contributors.

"The guys they lost were big-time players," Morris said. "To find the right combination -- they're a lot like we are offensively -- it takes some time to find the guys to play that role. The dynamics for them have changed because of the playmakers they've lost. That's what you see out of the first two games with those guys."

[+] EnlargeCole Stoudt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsThere are plenty of unanswered questions for QB Cole Stoudt and Clemson's offense as the Tigers enter their Week 4 game at Florida State.
That's what makes this matchup so intriguing. FSU is trying to adjust to life without Telvin Smith and Christian Jones and Timmy Jernigan up front. Clemson is wondering just how sharp its offense can be with Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd gone and Stoudt and a cast of unknowns taking their place.

The first two games of the season set a template. This week's matchup should answer some major questions for both teams.

"Even if you're a veteran, you haven't gotten into the groove of playing and first games are like Forrest Gumps. They're a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get," Jimbo Fisher said of his young defenders in new roles. "At time we were in good shape and at time we became hesitant. Those are things we can't let happen, you have to go and play those guys and that's what we did last week and we'll continue to do this week."

The same is true on Clemson's offense, where Morris spent much of Week 2 giving his young talent a long look. Watson saw increased action and looked sharp. Freshman receiver Artavis Scott emerged with six catches for 164 yards and a TD. Adam Choice and Wayne Gallman -- both freshmen -- led the ground game.

The strong running of the young backs is particularly encouraging as Clemson looks to establish a ground game against a battered Florida State front.

"Those guys are good," Clemson defensive lineman D.J. Reader said. "They work hard in practice, and there's a bunch of guys back there that run hard. They find the holes."

But, of course, big numbers against South Carolina State won't mean much against Florida State.

"They've got to continue to grow, absolutely," Morris said. "We knew they would be great players for us, but it's bringing them along at the right time."

For Florida State, the bye week has provided some answers. Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman returned to practice this week and should be good to go against Clemson. Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe could be back, too, which would be a huge boost to the Seminoles' defensive front.

At Clemson, Morris thinks he has a better handle on his players, too, even if he's not sharing much of that information yet.

Will Watson play more? Will FSU's young linemen take a step forward? Will the Tigers' ground game be a focal point?

That's the fun of a mid-September matchup, really. No one really knows much of anything yet.

"We'll have to see when we get to game day what works best," Stoudt said. "Sometimes you go into games thinking one thing and then something else works better. We'll have to see when we get out there."

ACC helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
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The opposition for the ACC wasn't all that tough outside of the night's marquee event, but that didn't mean there weren't some stellar performances. Of course, we reserved two of our spots for Virginia Tech, which pulled off the conference's biggest win of the season so far, 35-21 over Ohio State.

Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer: He had three turnovers, and that nearly cost the Hokies, but few players in the nation showed more poise Saturday than Brewer, making just his second start for Tech. The Texas Tech transfer completed 23-of-36 for 199 yards, two touchdowns and two picks, but he converted myriad third downs, hung in on a number of tough runs and, after coughing up a fumble that set up the tying score in the fourth quarter, led a gutty six-play, 65-yard drive to regain the lead.

The Hokies' defense: Brewer gets tons of credit, but it was Bud Foster's D that carried the day. The line was dominant, pushing around Ohio State's young offensive line and utterly dismantling QB J.T. Barrett. From the time the Buckeyes tied the game at 21 to when Tech iced it, Ohio State ran 14 plays. Six ended in sacks, two in turnovers. The defense controlled the game throughout, led by lineman Dadi Nicolas, who had three tackles for loss and two sacks.

Pitt running back James Conner: The Panthers got off to a strong start in ACC play, toppling Boston College 30-20 behind a huge game from Conner. The sophomore tailback carried 36 times for 214 yards and a touchdown, and in his last three games dating back to last year's bowl win, Conner has racked up a whopping 596 yards and six touchdowns.

Georgia Tech defense: Once again, the Yellow Jackets were far from crisp against lesser competition, but Tech's defense ensured Tulane's upset bid never came to fruition. The Yellow Jackets intercepted three passes during their 38-21 win, and Georgia Tech found the end zone following each one, including Quayshawn Nealy's 10-yard INT return for a touchdown.

North Carolina QB Marquise Williams: It wasn't an entirely stellar performance, and the Tar Heels' offense remained stuck in neutral for much of the night, but Williams' 91-yard touchdown pass to Mack Hollins early in the fourth quarter gave UNC new life and sparked the rally ending in a 31-27 win over San Diego State. For the game, Williams was 20-of-29 for 255 yards and two TDs and also led the Heels in rushing with 63 more yards on the ground.

Clemson's freshmen: Forget the competition (Clemson 73, South Carolina State 7). The goal for the Tigers was to get the kids some work, and they certainly looked sharp. Freshman QB Deshaun Watson led the Tigers to touchdowns on each of his four drives, completing 8-of-9 passes for 154 yards and three TDs. Freshmen tailbacks Wayne Gallman, Adam Choice and Kurt Fleming combined for 31 rushes, 200 yards and a TD. And freshman receiver Artavis Scott topped them all, catching six balls for 164 yards and two scores. The test, of course, gets much tougher in Clemson's next game against No. 1 Florida State.

ACC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
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The college football season is finally ready to kick off. No doubt all the time we’ve spent studying depth charts and devouring news will be rendered meaningless by September’s end, but that won’t stop us from making a few bold predictions about what’s to come in 2014. If we get half of them right, we’ll call it a success.

1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.

Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
AP Photo/Garry JonesUnder coach Bobby Petrino, Will Gardner has a chance to flourish as Louisville's starting QB.
2. Louisville’s Will Gardner will be the ACC’s second-best quarterback.

It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.

3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.

The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.

4. Virginia goes bowling.

The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.

5. Clemson is a running team.

With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.

6. Young runners make a big impact.

Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.

7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.

If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.

8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.

Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.

9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.

Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.

10. The Coastal champ will be ...

Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.
The focus has largely been on the new quarterback and returning defenders at Clemson so far, but what has Dabo Swinney most excited for 2014 might be the backfield.

A year ago, the plan was for the Tigers to employ a handful of runners in key roles, but after injuries ravaged the depth chart, Rod McDowell became the default option in nearly every situation, and while he did an admirable job, Clemson still ranked 73rd in yards per carry. Carries by running backs accounted for just 32 percent of Clemson’s offensive plays last season -- 10 percentage points less than division counterpart Florida State.

But as the Tigers get set for their opener against Georgia, the plan for a more dynamic running game appears set for 2014, and Swinney couldn’t be more pleased with the weapons at his disposal.

[+] EnlargeWayne Gallman
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark CrammerRedshirt freshman RB Wayne Gallman is turning heads in Clemson's camp.
“I think we’ve got a really deep group and a bunch of guys that deserve to play,” Swinney said. “The competition and diversity we have there is going to help us be very strong at that position.”

Redshirt senior D.J. Howard (5-foot-11, 205) is the nominal starter at this point, but he has been injury prone in his career and could quickly be upstaged by younger runners with more upside. Still, Howard is perhaps Clemson’s best pass blocker, and his knowledge of the system means he’ll have a secure role if he stays healthy.

Zac Brooks, who projected as the best receiver out of the backfield, injured his foot and is out for the season, but there are other weapons down the depth chart. C.J. Davidson (5-10, 200) suffered a knee injury last season that limited his production, but Swinney said he might be the “most explosive” of Clemson’s veteran runners.

“He’s just a powerful change-of-direction type of guy,” Swinney said.

But the real emerging star might be redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman.

As the injuries piled up last season, one of the toughest decisions the coaching staff had to make was whether to keep Gallman (6-1, 205) sidelined. In the end, Swinney erred on the side of caution, keeping the redshirt on Gallman in order to get him ready for 2014. Now, Clemson is ready to enjoy the rewards of that patience.

Coaches and teammates have raved about Gallman’s progress throughout this offseason, and Swinney said he can’t remember being around a running back who practices with as much energy.

“We’re having to slow him down because he just plays so fast and violent,” Swinney said. “Things just get hit when he’s out there.”

Swinney said Gallman is learning to corral that energy and doing a better job of playing within Clemson’s system, but the coaching staff is eager to unleash its secret weapon on the rest of the ACC this fall.

“He’s going to be an exciting player to watch,” Swinney said.

Swinney said coaches are still deciding the future of the Tigers’ two true freshmen -- Adam Choice and C.J. Fuller, both 5-9 and 215 pounds -- but he loves the physicality both bring, and there’s a chance at least one will see work this season.

Of course, the focus on the tailbacks also comes from the loss of last year’s quarterback, Tajh Boyd, who racked up 154 carries -- just 35 fewer than McDowell. With less mobile senior Cole Stoudt prepared to take over the offense, the conventional wisdom suggests the tailbacks will need to pick up the slack.

Swinney said that might not be the case, however.

“We’re going to run our quarterback,” Swinney said. “That’s the nature of what we do. We feel like it gives us an advantage when the quarterback is part of the run game, and that part won’t change. Cole is definitely undervalued as a runner, and I think he’s going to be way better than people think.”

True freshman QB Deshaun Watson will be a big part of the offensive blueprint, too. Swinney has already said that Watson will play -- though not start -- this season, and it would make sense to let the freshman get his feet wet as a runner and red-zone threat early in the year.

“He’s gifted when it comes to running the ball,” Swinney said, “so you’ll see that.”

Still, for all the talk of running with the quarterback, this will be a slightly different look for the Tigers this fall, and that could be a good thing. With so much shuffling of personnel elsewhere on the offense, a dynamic backfield could be just what Clemson needs to push through a grueling early season schedule.

Of course, before that plan comes into focus, Swinney said, his tailbacks need to prove they're ready to carry the load.

“Hopefully we’ve got a couple of these backs that kind of demand through their performance that we call [plays] a little bit different,” he said. “But that’s up to them to prove that.”
Who’s the most explosive player in the ACC right now?

Odds are a few names quickly come to mind, but before the debate can really begin, we probably need to decide on some parameters. After all, what exactly does it mean to be “explosive?" We could be talking about simply the fastest players in the conference, but even that gets tricky. Do we go by burst off the line, top-end speed, elusiveness on the run? Besides, what’s speed without a little football skill to go with it?

And, of course, explosiveness comes in all forms. Lamarcus Joyner and Vic Beasley and Aaron Donald certainly provided their share of big-play explosiveness on defense last year, but the impact of a big hit or a drive-stalling sack is a little tougher to measure. So, for the purposes of this discussion, we’re limiting the applicants to offensive and special-teams players.

To be clear though, one thing “explosive” doesn’t mean, for the sake of this discussion, is “best.” We’re strictly talking explosiveness, electricity and athleticism here — not just the guys who put up the best totals and not the QBs tasked with throwing from the pocket. They’re quite likely to land on any “best of” list (which we already did last week), but that’s not what we’re looking for here.

One way of determining explosiveness would obviously be the number of big plays made, so let’s start there. Five returning ACC players were responsible for at least four plays of 50 yards or more last season. Here’s the list:

Jamison Crowder (Duke), 7
Ryan Switzer (UNC), 6
Stacy Coley (Miami), 5
Tyler Boyd (Pitt), 4
Kermit Whitfield (FSU), 4

That list might already serve as a good top five for the ACC, but let’s dig a little more because big plays of 50 yards or more certainly are more apt to occur in the return game, and the above list reflects that.

So let’s look at the receivers, too. A big play in the receiving game probably needs to be defined a bit more liberally, so let’s lower the bar to 20 yards. Obviously some of the responsibility for a 20-yard catch goes to the QB, but it’s also a sign of a receiver’s ability to separate from DBs and get upfield. Of course, some teams also passed a good bit more than others, and a few offenses (Clemson, FSU, Pitt) were blessed with multiple talented receivers, so we’ll divide the number of 20-yard plays by the total touches from scrimmage for our receivers to come up with a more accurate representation of who creates big plays the highest percentage of the time.

Among returning ACC receivers, six recorded 20-yard plays on at least 20 percent of their touches. Here’s that list:

Coley, 37.1%
Quinshad Davis (UNC), 26.0%
Joshua Stanford (VT), 25.0%
Braxton Deaver (Duke), 23.9%
DeVante Parker (Lville), 23.6%
Demitri Knowles (VT), 20.4%

We can do the same exercise for runners, but again, we should probably lower our “big-play” standard a bit more. Running backs and quarterbacks gaining 10 yards on a rush probably suffices, and that metric provides us with five players who managed big plays at least 17 percent of the time (a good break point given that the list gets a lot longer if we lower it to a more round number like 15 percent or 10 percent).

Karlos Williams (FSU), 27.5%
Duke Johnson (Miami), 19.3%
Terrel Hunt (Syr), 18.7%
Myles Willis (BC), 18.3%
James Conner (Pitt), 17.1%

But beyond just the big plays, there’s some value to consistency, too, right? The occasional highlight-reel big-play threat isn’t really as valuable as the player who is routinely biting off sizable chunks of yards. If we also look at returning players who averaged at least 10 yards per all-purpose play last season (min. 50 touches), we get one last list of eight players.

Coley, 21.8 yards per play
Knowles, 16.1
Boyd, 15.1
Rashad Greene (FSU), 14.8
Darius Jennings (UVA), 13.3
Switzer, 13.2
Crowder, 13.0
Willis, 11.7

Add it all up and we get a list of 17 ACC players who made the cut by at least one of these metrics, and odds are, we’re still probably leaving a couple “explosive” players out. And while we don’t expect to firmly settle this debate, 17 is probably too unwieldy a number to stick with, so let’s trim it down a bit.

A few names show up multiple times, so let’s keep them around for now: Coley, Knowles, Boyd, Switzer, Crowder and Willis.

A few other numbers really stand out: Williams and Johnson were head-and-shoulders above the other tailbacks, and both have been electric return men in their careers, too. Hunt, by virtue of being the only QB listed probably deserves a nod. And lastly, Whitfield didn’t have many touches last year (just 25), but 11 of them went for 30 yards or more — an astonishing 44 percent. (Of returning ACC players with at least 25 touches, the next closest was Coley, at 23 percent).

That leaves us with a top-10 list that probably works pretty well. How you might order that list is obviously a far tougher call, but for the sake of debate, here’s how mine would look.

1. Coley
2. Whitfield
3. Switzer
4. Johnson
5. Boyd
6. Crowder
7. Williams
8. Knowles
9. Willis
10. Hunt

Yes, Greene or Parker or Davis could easily make the list, too. And if you wanted to put Crowder or Williams atop the list, I could see the logic. And by year's end, we wouldn't be surprised if, with a bit more experience, Taquan Mizzell or Travis Rudolph or Wayne Gallman crack the list, too. For now, this is the list we’re sticking with. But we’re all for some debate in the comments section, too.

Beyond top 25: ACC's breakout candidates

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
4:00
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Last week, ESPN.com ranked its top 100 players in college football, and here on the ACC blog, we counted down the top 25 in the conference. Of course, these lists are fun for the preseason, but once the games get going, what we all believed was true in August has a way of looking pretty silly by December. In fact, of our 2013 preseason top 25, just 12 also made our end-of-season top 25.

In other words, there were no doubt a few ACC players whose names were left on the cutting room floor in our countdown, but who may well be among the league’s elite this season. Here’s an admittedly imprecise look at a few to keep an eye on.

JUST MISSED

If we’d been making a top 30 or 40 list instead of 25, these guys definitely would’ve made the cut. As it stands, they'll likely see their names on our end-of-year list.

WR Stacy Coley (Miami): Don’t be surprised if the Canes’ sophomore receiver ranks in the top five of our end-of-season list. No returning ACC player averaged more yards per touch last year (min. 50 touches) than Coley (21.8). He’ll need some help from an unproven quarterback, but Coley has the talent to be an All-American if things break right for him this season.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville): Already a star with 9.5 sacks and 12 TFL last season, Mauldin is poised to explode as he moves from defensive end to outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s new 3-4 system. At Grantham’s previous stop at Georgia, he helped Justin Houston and Jarvis Jones parlay similar moves into super stardom.

DE Eli Harold (UVA): Virginia’s defensive line may not get much national publicity, but it’s jam-packed with talent, headed up by Harold, who racked up 8.5 sacks and 15 TFL last season. Both of those totals rank second among returning ACC players behind Clemson All-American Vic Beasley.

GETTING HEALTHY

Injuries set them back, but these players are poised for big comebacks in 2014.

S Isaiah Johnson (GT): A burgeoning star on Georgia Tech’s defense, a knee injury cost Johnson all of 2013. He’s “past 100 percent” now though and expects to make a huge impact after a long wait to get back onto the field.

S Tyler Hunter (FSU): Last summer, Hunter was the unquestioned leader of FSU’s revamped defense, but a scary neck injury ended his season in Week 3. What might’ve been a career-ending injury turned out to be just a setback, and now Hunter will be the veteran voice in an immensely talented secondary that has led the nation in passing defense the past two years.

DT Mehdi Abdesmad (BC): As a junior last season, the 6-foot-7 Abdesmad looked poised for a breakthrough, recording sacks against USC and Florida State before a knee injury ended his season. If he can return to form quickly, he's in position to replace the 8.5 sacks BC lost with the departure of Kasim Edebali from its D-line.

WR Charone Peake (Clemson): When they arrived on campus as freshmen, Peake and Sammy Watkins were both considered can't-miss prospects. Now Watkins is impressing in Buffalo Bills camp and Peake is still looking for his breakthrough season. Despite an injury-ravaged 2013, he's being counted on as the top option for Cole Stoudt in 2014.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATES

These players have already made some noise in the past but could make the jump to the league’s elite in 2014.

S Durrell Eskridge (Syracuse): Eskridge blossomed into a key contributor on Syracuse’s defense last year, recording 6.5 tackles per game (14th among returning ACC players) and four interceptions, but as the Orange look to replace key starters inside, Eskridge’s impact in 2014 only figures to expand.

QB Jacoby Brissett (NC State): Dave Doeren believes Brissett, a transfer from Florida who spent last season waiting in the wings, is a perfect fit for his offense, and the veteran has the confidence and trust of his teammates -- something NC State sorely missed at the position last year. Our preseason top 25 lists just one quarterback (Jameis Winston), so a few others have to state their case, too. Brissett should be chief among them, but fellow transfers Tyler Murphy (BC) and Michael Brewer (Virginia Tech) could certainly be in the mix, too.

OT Matt Rotheram (Pitt): Pitt's O-line was a disaster last year, but adding a more mobile quarterback in the backfield and a year of experience to the unit should help. Rotheram was the one bright spot through much of 2013, and he's now poised to get a hefty share of the credit should the revamped line take the next step in 2014.

UNPROVEN TALENT

They haven't seen the field (much) yet, but they’re in line for significant roles this season and could make the most of the opportunity.

LB Matthew Thomas (FSU): The Seminoles return plenty of talent from their national-championship run, but the linebacking crew is definitely an area with a few question marks. It’s a talented, but unproven group, but Thomas tasted action early last season before going down with an injury, and he showed he can make an instant impact -- perhaps in an edge-rusher role similar to what Christian Jones did for FSU's D last season.

RB Wayne Gallman (Clemson): It’s hard to project how the carries will be distributed in a crowded Clemson backfield, but two things are clear: The Tigers want to run the ball more in 2014, and Gallman has the potential to be a star. Coaches and teammates raved about his improvement in the spring, and Gallman will get every shot to win a job as a centerpiece of the new-look Clemson offense in fall camp.

OT Bentley Spain (UNC): Larry Fedora admits he doesn’t know quite what to make of Spain yet after the early enrollee missed a hefty chunk of the spring with an injury. Still, Spain is in line for the starting left tackle job at UNC, and with talent at quarterback and tailback behind him, it could be a quick start to his career.

DEEP SLEEPERS

The names aren’t familiar outside their own fan bases, but don’t be surprised if they’re making some noise by year’s end.

LB Marquel Lee (Wake): New Deacons coach Dave Clawson has his work cut out for him trying to find talent to fill out the depth chart, but he may have discovered an early gem in Lee. The sophomore was the star of Wake's spring game, and with so much turnover up front for the Deacons, Lee will get plenty of chances to make plays once the season begins.

CB DreQuan Hoskey (UVA): Here’s an interesting tidbit, courtesy of STATS LLC: No defender in the ACC was picked on more last season than Hoskey, who was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 81 times in 12 games. There were mixed results, of course, but it's worth noting that he wasn't burned for a TD on any of those plays. Next most targets without surrendering a touchdown among ACC defensive backs? Lamarcus Joyner with 37. He's part of a very crowded secondary, but Hoskey will get his chances to make an impact in 2014.

RB Shaquille Powell (Duke): He's overlooked because Duke returns its leading rusher from 2013 (Josh Snead) but teammates have raved about Powell's progress, and it's worth noting that while Snead is back, the Blue Devils still must replace 51 percent of last year’s rushing attempts after losing Brandon Connette, Juwan Thompson and Jela Duncan.
During Florida State's national championship-winning season, its leader in takeaways (Nate Andrews), yards per carry (Karlos Williams) and yards per touch (Kermit Whitfield) combined to start just one game. In the current landscape of college football, talent at the top is crucial but depth is often what separates the best teams. With that in mind, we counted down the ACC’s best backups -- players who weren’t starters last season and aren't currently penciled in atop the depth chart, but who could make a major impact in 2014. While we ranked our top five, there are plenty of other contenders. This is a quick look at those who just missed the cut.

[+] EnlargeRyan Green
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRyan Green's experience should give him a leg up in the battle to be Karlos Williams' backup.
Ryan Green (RB, Florida State): Really, any of Florida State’s backup running backs could be here. Green has terrific speed and is the lone runner down the depth chart with game experience, but Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender figure to see plenty of action this season and could also produce big numbers the way this year's starter, Karlos Williams, did as the No. 3 tailback in 2013.

Wayne Gallman (RB, Clemson): Like FSU, Clemson boasts a deep backfield that could feature significant contributions from a number of runners. Still, it’s Gallman, the redshirt freshman, who seems to get the biggest raves from coaches. He could certainly find himself in a starting role before too long.

Tyriq McCord (DE, Miami): Primarily working on third downs last season, McCord showed plenty of promise, racking up four sacks, three forced fumbles and two INTs, despite not starting a game. One of those forced fumbles came against Florida, perhaps Miami’s biggest win last season.

Thomas Sirk (QB, Duke): The backup quarterback at Duke was a vital position last year when Brandon Connette finished third in the ACC in rushing touchdowns. The equally athletic Sirk seems equipped to handle that role in 2014.

Shaquille Powell (RB, Duke): Josh Snead returns as the team’s leading rusher, but in an offense with plenty of explosive talent, Powell, who averaged 5.5 yards per rush as the No. 3 back last season, figures to carve out a niche and has really impressed teammates this offseason.

Ron Thompson (DE, Syracuse): The converted tight end has the potential to be a beast on the defensive line, he just doesn’t quite have a full-time job yet at Syracuse. In limited action last season, however, he had two sacks and 20 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss.

Quarterbacks: There aren’t many teams that have completely settled quarterback situations, which means that odds are, one or more of the current backups will end up making a big difference down the road in 2014. Mitch Trubisky at UNC, Kevin Sousa at Wake Forest, Tim Byerly at Georgia Tech and, of course, Deshaun Watson at Clemson all have potential to be impact players before the year is out.

No doubt there will be plenty of other back-ups to emerge as significant playmakers this year. So, who else should we have considered? Who might take a big step forward in 2014?
Earlier this week, Andrea Adelson wrote about the potential for Duke’s offense to be exceptional again this season because the Blue Devils are the lone ACC team that returns their leading passer, rusher and receiver. No doubt, that’s good for offensive rapport, and certainly Duke deserves to be considered among the favorites in the Coastal.

But what about the other side of that coin?

[+] EnlargeCole Stoudt
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsCan players such as quarterback Cole Stoudt keep the Clemson offense humming?
Last week, Andrea wrote that four teams had to replace their leading passer, rusher and receiver from 2013: Clemson (Tajh Boyd, Roderick McDowell, Sammy Watkins), Wake Forest (Tanner Price, Josh Harris, Michael Campanaro), Boston College (Chase Rettig, Andre Williams, Alex Amidon) and Georgia Tech (Vad Lee, David Sims, Robert Godhigh).

This week, we wanted to know if that was a sign of impending doom, so we looked for some historical precedent. Oddly, this kind of thing doesn’t seem to happen all that often.

In the last five years combined, there have been just six examples of ACC teams losing their leading passer, rusher and receiver in the same year. And really, that’s stretching the definition a bit. NC State actually returned its leading rusher in 2011, but Mustafa Greene missed the year with an injury. We counted 2011 Louisville, too, though the Cardinals weren’t in the ACC at the time. So really, the combined total for massive offensive attrition in the previous five seasons is matched by this year’s group alone.

Aside from the relative rarity, however, the outcome is what promised to be intriguing. If a team is losing an established QB, running back and wideout, surely its offense will take a nosedive, right?

Actually, the numbers don’t entirely support that logic. Here’s how the previous six fared.



In total, the six previous teams to undergo a complete offensive makeover saw effectively no change in scoring, total offense or yards per play. What they did see, however, was an increase in wins. In four of six cases, the teams upped their win total. One stayed the same. The sixth, 2011 NC State, slipped by just one game.

Of course, there’s more to the story than just the aggregate numbers. Four of the six teams did see a decline in offensive production. The two that showed rather significant gains were 2009 Clemson and 2012 Miami. In the case of the former, that can partially be attributed to the change from Tommy Bowden to Dabo Swinney as the head coach. In the latter, the new arrivals (Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett) were probably all improvements over their predecessors.

In other words, such vast turnover isn't likely to result in better numbers unless there's more to the story, but it certainly doesn't have to mean a sharp decline on the bottom line either.

So how do the four ACC offensive renovation projects this year compare?

At Georgia Tech, the replacements have some experience already, and Paul Johnson’s system tends to be immune to turnover in personnel. (Closest comparison: 2013 Pittsburgh.)

At Wake Forest, Dave Clawson has his work cut out for him with little to no depth anywhere on the offensive side of the ball. But really, the Demon Deacons were among the worst offenses in football last year, so there’s probably nowhere to go but up. (Closest comparison: 2011 Virginia.)

For Boston College, replacing the production of Williams and the veteran presence of Rettig and Amidon will be tough. Steve Addazio probably won’t have a Heisman finalist again in 2014, but Tyler Murphy could be an adequate stopgap at QB while the young runners develop in the backfield. (Closest comparison: 2011 NC State.)

But, of course, the most intriguing question is at Clemson, where the Tigers not only lose the trifecta of Boyd, McDowell and Watkins, but also No. 2 receiver Martavis Bryant and All-ACC lineman Brandon Thomas. The Tigers return a mere 26.9 percent of last year’s total offensive yards, ninth fewest in the nation (and sixth-fewest among Power 5 teams). Really, there simply isn't an honest comparison.

So what will become of Clemson in 2014? Repeating the magic of 2009, when the renovation led to an ACC title, is the goal, and from Deshaun Watson to Wayne Gallman to Charone Peake, there’s still some hype-worthy offensive talent on the roster. And, of course, Swinney can point to that defense as cause for optimism. And if the recent history of offensive renovation projects is a guide, that’s just as good a recipe for wins as any.

Analysis of ACC awards polls

June, 17, 2014
Jun 17
4:00
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In a series last week, the ACC blog broke down some of the early preseason candidates for several of the conference’s top postseason awards. Colleague Matt Fortuna gave a short brief on each of the candidates, listed a few honorable mentions and a SportsNation poll asked readers to vote on which candidate, if any, would win.

We asked for your prediction on who would be the conference offensive and defensive players of the year, offensive and defensive rookies of the year and coach of the year. With just about a week for fans to vote, here are the results from the polls.

ACC offensive player of the year

Results: QB Jameis Winston, Florida State (52 percent), RB Duke Johnson, Miami (19), Other (14), WR DeVante Parker, Louisville (12), WR Jamison Crowder, Duke (3).
Analysis: Winston is the overwhelming favorite in the poll, and his 33-percentage point lead over second-place Johnson is the widest gap among the five SportsNation polls. That is hardly a surprise, considering the Heisman winner returns and has yet to lose a game as a starter in his college career. Johnson is a reasonable second option, as the Miami running back will play a pivotal role for the Canes as they break in a new quarterback. If Miami can achieve double-digit wins this season, Johnson will be tough to beat.
Write-in votes: Gauging from the comments section, it seems as if readers had Seminoles running back Karlos Williams in mind when voting “other” for the most part. A third-string running back last season, the former five-star recruit will start as a senior in 2014. Many FSU fans are expecting Williams to easily surpass 1,000 yards.

ACC defensive player of the year

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThere are big expectations for Florida State's Mario Edwards, the No. 1 recruit in the 2012 class.
Results: DE Mario Edwards, Florida State (35), DE Vic Beasley, Clemson (34), Other (15), LB Denzel Perryman, Miami (13), S Anthony Harris, Virginia (3).
Analysis: Edwards narrowly edged Beasley, who could have been a first-round pick in last month’s NFL draft. Edwards, a junior and former No. 1 high school recruit, could be the first defensive lineman taken in next year’s draft. However, Edwards’ statistics could keep him from winning defensive player of the year. While he certainly could be the most dominant league defensive player, he likely won’t have the same sack numbers as Beasley, who had 13 a season ago, or 2013 winner Aaron Donald, who registered 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss as an interior lineman.
Write-in votes: Once again, the FSU voices were heard in the comment section, offering their thoughts on why sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramsey is the favorite on the Seminoles’ defense. Ramsey is going to fill the void in the backfield left by the departed Lamarcus Joyner, a Thorpe Award finalist in 2013.

ACC offensive rookie of the year

Results: Other (31), QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson (26), QB Kevin Olsen, Miami (24), RB Elijah Hood, North Carolina (16), QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina (3).
Analysis: This is definitely a difficult one to predict as there is an inherent unpredictability in the award, much more than any other postseason trophy. Other is probably the safe choice and I tend to agree with the readers. Olsen is a good pick if he is the Canes’ starter for the entire season. Watson, who was injured during spring camp, was the top quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class nationally. North Carolina could not afford to miss on Hood, who enrolled early and figures to be featured extensively in the UNC offense.
Write-in votes: With so many departures on the Clemson offense, one reader suggests redshirt freshman running back Wayne Gallman will win the award. He was a four-star recruit in the 2013 class.

ACC defensive rookie of the year

Results: CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson (36), DT Keith Bryant (33), Other (20), DT Andrew Brown (6), S Quin Blanding, Virginia (5).
Analysis: Alexander is a smart pick for rookie of the year on defense considering the reputation he had coming to Clemson before the 2013 season. The No. 4 player nationally in the 2013 recruiting class, Alexander redshirted as a freshman. He should get extensive playing time this upcoming season, though, and he has arguably the best defensive line in the ACC in front of him, which could force rushed and errant throws in his direction that are prime for interceptions. With the loss of Timmy Jernigan at defensive tackle for FSU, the Noles certainly will need someone at the position to step up. It remains to be seen if Bryant will be that person, and a strong summer would definitely help his cause as the Noles open up preseason camp in a little more than a month. Both Blanding and Brown are sleepers, especially if the Cavaliers can reach bowl eligibility.
Write-in votes: One commenter agrees with Fortuna that Florida State redshirt freshman linebacker Matthew Thomas could win this award. Thomas was spectacular in spring drills and could be a starter for the Noles this season.

ACC coach of the year

Results: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State (40), Dabo Swinney, Clemson (26), Other (22), Larry Fedora, North Carolina (7), Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh (5).
Analysis: The safe bet in the conference is to go with Fisher or Swinney. The two have Clemson and Florida State in a league of their own within the ACC. Both are coming off BCS bowl wins but have holes to fill on their 2014 teams. Swinney needs to overcome the losses of his starting quarterback, running back and star receiver. Fisher loses defensive leaders Jernigan, Joyner and Telvin Smith. I thought Fedora would receive more votes, considering the Heels are one of the favorites to win the division.
D.J. HowardAP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtD.J. Howard, who rushed for 213 yards and two touchdowns last season, is atop Clemson's depth chart at running back.

There has been one near certainty on the Clemson offense under coach Dabo Swinney.

A running back will hit 1,000 yards.

It has happened in three straight seasons, and four of the five years Swinney has been in charge. So will it happen again in 2014, with what could be a running-back-by-committee approach?

"We certainly expect to," Swinney said during the ACC spring meetings. "Last year, Hot Rod (McDowell) became the guy, the year before it was (Andre) Ellington. We might be a little more diversified this year, but we’ll see how it all plays out. I know our overall production at the position is going to increase. Whether it’s one guy or a combination of guys that’s yet to be determined."

When Swinney released his summer depth chart last week, D.J. Howard was listed as the starter. But three more backs also are listed behind him -- Zac Brooks, C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman. A fifth, Tyshon Dye, is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, but Swinney expects Dye to return at some point in the season, giving the Tigers five quality running backs that could all play. Not to mention three four-star running backs coming to Clemson for the fall.

"This is probably the best situation we’ve been in at running back in a long time," Swinney said. "That’s probably the area offensively we’re most excited about as coaches. We’ve got very good depth there. We’ve got a competitive, talented group that is going to pay good dividends for us this year."

Clemson and Baylor are only schools with 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher each of the last three season. But both Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris believe they will get more production out of their running backs in 2014. They expected the same headed into last season, when Morris wanted his team to average 200 yards on the ground.

The Tigers did not quite get there for a few reasons. Swinney said a lot of times, run calls turned into pass calls, where they could reliably lean on Tajh Boyd. The Tigers also had to deal with a few injuries that limited their depth.

With Boyd gone and Cole Stoudt in as the starter at quarterback, more of the run calls will fall to the running backs. Backup quarterback Deshaun Watson can run as well and could be used in certain designed packages, but there is little doubt the Clemson coaches want to rely on their talented group of backs, starting in the opener against Georgia. Last season against the Bulldogs, Clemson racked up 197 yards on the ground -- its third-highest total against FBS competition on the season.

The Tigers hope for more of the same this season, on a weekly basis. But it might not translate into a 1,000-yard back. Back in 2010, the only season the Tigers did not produce a 1,000-yard rusher, Jamie Harper and Andre Ellington had similar rushing totals and combined for 1,446 yards.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney put out his summer depth chart Tuesday without many huge surprises, but there are some interesting tidbits to note:
  • Let's start with some of the offensive positions with the biggest question marks. With Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant gone, Clemson now has Mike Williams and Charone Peake penciled in as starters, alongside veteran Adam Humphries. Early enrollee freshmen Demarre Kitt, Artavis Scott and Kyrin Priester are all listed on the two-deep.
  • At running back, D.J. Howard is listed as the starter, but expect Zac Brooks, C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman all to get extended playing time this season. The Tigers could feature much more of a running back-by-committee approach.
  • Right tackle is the only offensive position without a clear-cut starter listed. Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony are competing for that starting job.
  • As expected, Cole Stoudt is listed as the starting quarterback. Freshman Deshaun Watson is the backup.
  • On defense, it's no surprise to see two young players atop the cornerback spot. Redshirt freshman Mackensie Alexander had a terrific spring. He is listed as a starter, along with Cordrea Tankersley. Seniors Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins are listed as the backups. Alexander is the only freshman starter on offense or defense.
  • The biggest holes to fill are at linebacker, where Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey are gone. Tony Steward is listed ahead of Ben Boulware for the weakside spot Shuey played, while T.J. Burrell, Travis Blanks, Korrin Wiggins and Dorian O'Daniel are listed at strongside/nickel back.
  • Tavaris Barnes is pushing Corey Crawford for a starting defensive end spot. They are listed with "or" next to their names. The tackle spot opposite Grady Jarrett also remains unsettled, with a three-way competition ongoing among Josh Watson, DeShawn Williams and D.J. Reader. No matter who enters the starting lineup, defensive line is the most experienced position on the entire team. All nine players on the two-deep are lettermen who have played at least 200 snaps in their careers, playing in a combined 266 games with 91 starts.

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