ACC: David Sims

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 17, 2014
Jan 17
12:00
PM ET
Can't wait 'til offseason coaching carousel comes to a stop ...

Music City Bowl preview

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
10:00
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Georgia Tech and Ole Miss were founding members of the SEC. Despite being in the same conference for nearly 30 years, the two will meet for only the fourth time ever Monday when they face off in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (3:15 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Here’s a quick preview of the game:

Who to watch: Ole Miss is a team on the rise with all of its star freshmen making noise this season, but Monday’s game will center around junior quarterback Bo Wallace. He has had his share of ups and downs this season, but he’ll look to finish his season on a high note after committing four turnovers in a loss to Mississippi State to close out the regular season. Wallace, who hails from Pulaski, Tenn., will be returning to the state he grew up in. For Georgia Tech, it’s all about the triple option and a pair of senior running backs, David Sims and Robert Godhigh. Sims leads the team with 846 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, while Godhigh is averaging 10.1 yards per carry. The Yellow Jackets’ defense features defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu, one of the nation’s top pass rushers. He recorded a career-high four sacks against Georgia his last time out, and he’s just one sack away from setting the school’s all-time record (32).

What to watch: Each team finished the regular season on a sour note. Ole Miss couldn’t overcome a number of costly turnovers against Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, and Georgia Tech blew a 20-0 lead to rival Georgia at home. Monday’s bowl game will serve as a shot at redemption for both teams. The key matchup will be how the Rebels match up against Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense. The Yellow Jackets average 36.6 points per game and are among the nation’s leaders with 311.7 yards per game on the ground but will face a young, athletic defense in Ole Miss. The Rebels will have had an extra month to prepare for the option attack, but they still have to stay disciplined and play sound football.

Why to watch: Ole Miss kicked off the season in Nashville with a thrilling victory over Vanderbilt. Now that the Rebels are headed back to the Music City, what do they have in store for an encore? If it’s anything like the season opener, it will be worth tuning in. The game could also provide a little insight in the VIZIO BCS National Championship game. It’s one of the few ACC-SEC matchups of the bowl season and could serve as a preview of next Monday’s Auburn-Florida State showdown. Will the SEC notch a win in its first bowl game, or will Georgia Tech spoil the party and make it back-to-back bowl victories?

Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Georgia Tech 24

ACC helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
10/27/13
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In a week of sluggish performances around the ACC, a handful of players stood out, carrying their teams to much-needed wins. Here are the five who made the biggest impact.

Miami running back Duke Johnson: Twice on Saturday the Hurricanes' undefeated season appeared doomed, and twice Johnson responded with a game-saving run. The sophomore finished with 168 yards on 30 carries -- eight more than his previous career high -- and scored twice in the fourth quarter to help Miami sneak past Wake Forest. The Hurricanes took their first lead of the game with 5:36 left on a 51-yard TD drive in which Johnson carried six times for 44 yards. Wake responded with a score of its own, but Johnson clinched the win by carrying seven times for 42 yards, including the 1-yard go-ahead TD.

Duke linebacker David Helton: On a day when the Blue Devils' offense struggled mightily, it was Helton and the defense that came up with one big play after another. Helton finished with a game-high 19 tackles -- he was one of three Duke defenders with double-digit tackles -- and deflected a Logan Thomas pass on Virginia Tech's final drive that was picked off by Kelby Brown. Brown's INT was one of four by the Blue Devils, and he finished the game with 14 tackles.

Florida State receiver Rashad Greene: Jameis Winston was sharp once again, throwing three TD passes in Florida State's win over NC State, but plenty of credit is due to his receiving corps, which was led, once again, by Greene. The junior finished with eight catches for 137 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown grab. It's Greene's fourth 100-yard game of the year. Seven of his eight catches went for Florida State first downs.

Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Roderick McDowell: The Tigers rebounded from last week's devastating loss to Florida State and this week's slow start against Maryland largely because of two of their best offensive weapons. Watkins caught a career-high 14 passes for 163 yards, while McDowell carried the ground game, rushing 30 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns.

Georgia Tech running backs: The Yellow Jackets had three runners top 100 yards in their win over Virginia, led by junior Zach Laskey, who rushed 16 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns. David Sims scored twice as well, and finished with 107 yards on 12 carries, while Robert Godhigh's 65-yard TD run highlighted a five-carry, 111-yard performance. The 394 rushing yards matched a season high for Georgia Tech, while Jemea Thomas (15 tackles) and the defense sealed the game.

Midseason report: Georgia Tech

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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The Yellow Jackets started the season looking like one of the best teams in the ACC, sure to be the next team to crack the Associated Press Top 25. First-year starting quarterback Vad Lee was earning high praise, the defense looked much improved under first-year coordinator Ted Roof and the passing game had started to emerge as an effective part of the offense with dependable receivers. Many were expecting two undefeated teams to square off in Miami on Oct. 5. With victories over Elon, Duke and North Carolina, Georgia Tech looked like a true contender in the Coastal Division.

And then the Jackets turned it over three times and lost at home to a Virginia Tech team that won with just 55 yards rushing.

The 17-10 home loss to the Hokies changed the picture, and started a three-game skid for Georgia Tech. Much had been made about Georgia Tech’s tough schedule heading into the season – a four-game stretch of Coastal Division opponents that began on Sept. 14 at Duke. The Jackets got halfway through it before collapsing against Virginia Tech and Miami. Now, instead of playing for a trip to Charlotte for the ACC championship, the Jackets are in a must-win situation if they want to become bow-eligible. After last week’s 38-20 loss at BYU, Georgia Tech needs to win four of its last six games, and Clemson and Georgia are still on the schedule. As the competition has gotten better, Georgia Tech’s weaknesses have been exposed.

Offensive MVP: RB David Sims He’s averaging 58.8 yards per game and has seven touchdowns – six rushing and one receiving. He’s averaging 4.9 yards per carry.

Defensive MVP: (tie) CB Jemea Thomas -- He is the second-leading tackler on the team (30), leads the team in pass break-ups (5) and has a fumble recovery. When Thomas began covering UNC’s tight ends in the second half, Carolina did not score again.

DE Jeremiah Attaochu - Often double-teamed, Attaochu is Tech’s best pass-rusher. He has 3.5 tackles for loss and leads the team with two sacks. He ranks sixth on Tech’s all-time career sacks list.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
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It was hardly the most exciting slate of games in Week 4, but the ACC provided plenty of big-time performances. Virginia had two tailbacks -- Kevin Parks and walk-on Daniel Hamm -- combine for 271 yards and four TDs. Nikita Whitlock tallied 14 tackles, including three for a loss, in Wake Forest's win over Army. Terrel Hunt continued to impress, accounting for five touchdowns in his first career start for Syracuse. And yet, none of them quite made the cut for helmet stickers this week.

Clemson DE Vic Beasley: The history of NC State pulling the upset over ranked teams was well documented in the lead-up to the game, and the Wolfpack might have done it again if it hadn't been for Beasley's dominant work on defense. The Clemson defensive end racked up five tackles, three sacks, broke up two passes and -- three plays after NC State had a potential go-ahead score called back -- forced a fumble from QB Pete Thomas that turned the tide of the game. Beasley now has five sacks on the season -- just three shy of his 2012 total.

Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage: Handing out just one helmet sticker to a member of the Pitt offense after Saturday's 58-55 win is a tough task, but it's impossible to argue with Savage's final numbers. The senior QB completed 22-of-33 passes for 424 yards and six touchdowns, tying an ACC record. The six-TD performance hadn't been done by an ACC quarterback since 1999. He had plenty of help though. Tailback James Conner ran for 173 yards, receiver Devin Street caught six passes for 166 and freshman sensation Tyler Boyd had eight catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns.

Maryland's defense: Defensive back A.J. Hendy was the star, recovering two fumbles and returning an interception for a touchdown in the 37-0 win, but there's plenty of credit to go around on the Terps' D. Maryland pitched a shutout against West Virginia -- the first time the Mountaineers had been held scoreless since 2001 -- while creating six turnovers. West Virginia had just 175 yards of offense, including a mere 62 from the passing game. Seven different Terrapins recorded a tackle in the backfield, three different players forced fumbles, and Maryland assured it will be undefeated for its Oct. 5 showdown with Florida State.

Georgia Tech running backs: North Carolina jumped out to a 13-0 lead early, but the Georgia Tech offense roared back with 324 rushing yards, 199 of which were delivered by Robert Godhigh and David Sims. Godhigh racked up a career-best 100 yards on just nine carries -- five of which went for first downs. Sims, meanwhile, tacked on 99 yards and two scores. The senior B-back scored on a 1-yard run for the Yellow Jackets' first touchdown, then rumbled in from 6 yards out to put the finishing touches on a 28-20 come-from-behind win that established Georgia Tech as a top contender in the Coastal Division.

Duke WR Jamison Crowder: Perhaps it's breaking an unwritten rule by giving a helmet sticker to a player whose team lost, but it's hard to fault Crowder for the outcome. The junior did all he could to keep Duke in the game, recording 279 all-purpose yards and scoring three touchdowns -- one rushing, one receiving and one on a punt return. He became the first Duke player to record a rushing, receiving and special-teams TD in a single game since 1999.

Another bizarre day in the ACC

September, 21, 2013
9/21/13
11:46
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Duke coach David Cutcliffe greeted reporters at his postgame news conference with quite an opening line.

"That was a bizarre game."

More like a bizarre Saturday in the crazy Coastal.

[+] EnlargeTom Savage
AP Photo/Gerry BroomePitt quarterback Tom Savage threw for six touchdowns and 424 yards in the win over Duke.
You thought North Carolina and Georgia Tech would repeat their high-scoring, record-setting game from last year? Nope. Duke and Pitt did their best to recreate that game in Durham, combining for 113 points and 1,130 yards of total offense in the Panthers' 58-55 victory.

What of Georgia Tech and North Carolina, you ask? Both defenses showed up today, but the North Carolina offense went missing after the second quarter as the Jackets reeled off the final 21 points to win 28-20 and jump to 3-0 on the season.

Then there was Virginia Tech. You want bizarre? A defense that held No. 1 Alabama to 212 yards of total offense gave up 21 points and 205 total yards in the FIRST HALF to Marshall before pitching a shutout the rest of the way in a 29-21 triple-overtime win.

Nothing ever seems to come easy in the ACC. Still, there were plenty of head-scratching moments for fans who have come to expect the unexpected.

They just so happened to play out in three early games going on at once, wearing out television remotes and Internet watchers toggling back and forth.

Let’s start with Pitt, Duke and this little nugget: Each quarterback -- Duke backup Brandon Connette and Pitt fifth-year senior/transfer Tom Savage -- had six touchdowns. Neither is known for his scoring proclivity. Pitt, in fact, went into the season with major questions on offense.

Savage had not taken a snap in three years, had questionable depth at running back and only one true playmaker in Devin Street. The defense, returning nine starters and a preseason awards candidate in Aaron Donald, was thought to be the strength.

But that is not how it is has played out for the Panthers this year. Against Duke, Savage made like Pitt great Dan Marino, tying an ACC record with a career-high six touchdown passes -- the first ACC QB to throw that many TDs in one game since 1999. Savage, mind you, had three touchdown passes to four interceptions and a mediocre Total QBR going into the game.

His performance may not have been the most impressive of the afternoon.

Freshman standout Tyler Boyd had 156 yards receiving and three touchdowns, while Street had a career-high 166 yards and two touchdowns. The two have formed the best receiving tandem in the ACC to date. Running back James Conner had a career day, too, with 173 yards and a touchdown.

And yet, Pitt very nearly blew the game. After taking a 58-41 lead with 8:30 to go, Duke reeled off two touchdowns to close the gap to 58-55. But the Blue Devils could not recover the onside kick and were out of timeouts, and Pitt closed out the win. Jamison Crowder had a career-high 279 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort for Duke; Connette had four passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns, but he also threw a crucial pick-six that was one of the only defensive highlights for either team on the afternoon.

Both coaches had a hard time explaining what they saw unfold. Cutcliffe said, “I can’t really tell you too many more particulars until I study this game. There are so many bizarre parts to it.”

Plenty of bizarre parts to the North Carolina-Georgia Tech game, too. The Tar Heels moved the ball up and down on Georgia Tech with ease in the early going, reaching 20 points at the 9:18 mark of the second quarter. But they could not get any consistency on offense after that, and had the ball for only 7:39 in the entire second half. QB Bryn Renner had only five second-half completions.

There were several critical calls made by the officials that impacted the result, too. David Sims’ first touchdown run was reviewed after he appeared to lose the ball as he crossed the goal line. The call was upheld because the ball appeared to come out after he crossed the plane.

On another play, officials signaled that Vad Lee fumbled and North Carolina recovered. But it was overturned on review when it appeared Lee regained possession before his knee hit the ground. North Carolina had a costly penalty of its own, trailing 20-14, as a holding call negated an 82-yard touchdown pass from Renner to Ryan Switzer.

The North Carolina defense actually held its own, and did better than most anticipated. It was the offense -- the strength of this team -- that failed to do its part.

The offense failed in many ways for Virginia Tech, too. You might end up seeing that same line typed into blog posts for the remainder of the season. What was unexpected was the way Marshall kept the Virginia Tech defense on its heels for the first half.

The Herd used their fast pace to keep Virginia Tech off balance. Kyle Fuller, the most experienced cornerback in the secondary, gave up several big plays. The front had a hard time getting after quarterback Rakeem Cato. But it tightened up in the second half to keep Virginia Tech in the game.

Still, the Hokies were in serious danger of losing all the way up to the end. They tied the game with three minutes to go off a tipped pass in the end zone on fourth-and-goal. Then, in -- what else? -- bizarre fashion, neither team scored in the first two overtimes. Virginia Tech, playing without suspended starting kicker Cody Journell, could not buy a field goal in a driving rain.

Logan Thomas finally got the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion -- Virginia Tech's first lead since the first quarter -- and the Hokies exhaled.

“Usually the flags are against us, the bounces are against us,” Thomas told reporters after the game. “But when you keep fighting, keep bringing the effort every single time, luck doesn’t just appear for no reason.”

But for some reason in the ACC, bizarreness always seems to appear.

ACC lunchtime links

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
12:00
PM ET
Join me today at 4 p.m. ET for a little pregame chat. Send in questions now!

Georgia Tech season preview

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
10:30
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Today, we're looking at Georgia Tech, which hopes to ride a strong second half -- and surprising appearance in the 2012 ACC championship game -- to bigger things this season.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsLed by coach Paul Johnson and quarterback Vad Lee, Georgia Tech has championship aspirations.
Coach: Paul Johnson (149-65 overall, 40-26 at Georgia Tech)

2012 record: 7-7 (5-3 in ACC)

Key losses: QB Tevin Washington, RB Orwin Smith, WR Jeff Greene, RG Omoregie Uzzi, CB Rod Sweeting, DT T.J. Barnes

Key returnees: RB David Sims, QB Vad Lee, OG Will Jackson, DE Jeremiah Attaochu, CB Jemea Thomas, LB Brandon Watts

Newcomer to watch: Receiver DeAndre Smelter. Three years ago, Smelter was among the elite baseball prospects in the country, with a 95 mph fastball and raves from scouts. But a series of arm injuries derailed his career on the diamond, and now the 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior is giving football a whirl. He's impressed during fall camp, and his size makes him an obvious mismatch at receiver -- an area where Georgia Tech needed help.

Biggest games in 2013: Sept. 26 vs. Virginia Tech, Oct. 5 at Miami, Nov. 14 at Clemson, Nov. 30 vs. Georgia

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: The defensive line was hardly a strength for Georgia Tech last season, but there is some hope for improvement in 2013. Start with Attaochu's move from outside linebacker to defensive end this spring. He projects as one of the top pass rushers in the league. Tech managed just 28 sacks in 14 games last season, and ranked 70th nationally in yards allowed per rush. If the linemen can improve on those numbers this season, there's ample defensive talent behind them.

Forecast: Two-thirds of Georgia Tech's vaunted triple-option backfield departed, and Washington and Smith took more than 1,300 yards and 25 touchdowns with them, but there is actually a feeling that this year's group might be more dangerous.

Lee is a star in the making. He's an excellent fit in Johnson's offense, and he got enough work last season that the bigger role won't be a shock to the system. At A-back, the depth of talent is impressive, too. Start with Robert Godhigh, who rushed for 429 yards and four scores in 2012, and now projects to take over as a starter. Tony Zenon, Synjyn Days and B.J. Bostic can help, too, while Sims looks to blossom at the B-back position.

If the offense can develop as Johnson hopes, the defense should be stout. A bevy of senior starters return, and Attaochu and Thomas have legitimate NFL potential. As a unit, the defense struggled badly at times last season, but after former coordinator Al Groh was fired midseason, there were signs of marked improvement.

In fact, it's that latter half of 2012 that offers the most hope. Georgia Tech rallied down the stretch to win three of its last four regular-season games, played Florida State close in the ACC title game, and won its first bowl game in seven years. That's the building block for 2013, but Johnson also has perhaps his most talented roster since taking over at Tech in 2008.
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.
The watch list for the 2013 Doak Walker Award, presented to the top running back in the nation, was announced Thursday.

Here are the nominees from the ACC:
Notice anyone missing? I notice two players missing -- Florida State running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. Each ran for over 600 yards last season and are expected to be the top running back duo in the ACC. It is not unusual for a school to have multiple nominees, by the way. Louisville, Arkansas, Wisconsin, TCU, Georgia, Kent State, Arizona State, Baylor and BYU each have two running backs on the watch list.

The PwC SMU Athletic Forum Board of Directors will selected semifinalists for the award Nov. 14. The winner will be announced in December during The Home Depot College Football Awards show on ESPN.
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.
What’s the good word? Just ask Georgia Tech B-Back David Sims.

“I think we can win the ACC this year,” he told ESPN.com in a recent interview. “Outright, without any sanctions or mess-ups from any other team. I feel we can win the ACC outright this year, and I also think we can actually beat Georgia this year.”

It’s confidence, not arrogance, and it’s about time.

For the past three seasons, Georgia Tech has been a pushover. In 2010, the Jackets finished 6-7, losing five of their final six games. In 2011, Georgia Tech’s eight-win season didn’t entirely capture the struggles that included five losses in the final seven games. And last season, when former defensive coordinator Al Groh was fired mid-season, the Jackets got smacked at home by Middle Tennessee, and were pounded by Georgia, 42-10.

This season, they’ve got 15 starters returning, a new defensive coordinator, and most importantly, some moxie and some leadership. Sims said the growth the team went through last fall will pay dividends this season.

“The year before, when we finished with a losing record, that team, it didn’t have that fight,” Sims said. “Last year we started off pretty rough and we kept fighting. We had a lot of young guys, first-time starters just now getting to play. That confidence is something we can build on. I think we built on that this spring. If we can translate that into this upcoming year, we can do some pretty amazing things this year.”
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets


2012 record: 7-7


2012 conference record: 5-3, Coastal


Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

QB Vad Lee, BB David Sims, DE Jeremiah Attaochu, LB Quayshawn Nealy

Key losses

QB Tevin Washington, AB Orwin Smith, CB Rod Sweeting, DE Izaan Cross

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)


Rushing: Zach Laskey* (697 yards, 1 TD)


Passing: Washington (75-of-133 for 1,222 yards, 8 TDs, 4 INTs)


Receiving: Smith (288 yards, 1 TD)


Tackles: Isaiah Johnson* (87)


Sacks: Attaochu* (10)


Interceptions: Jemea Thomas* (4)

Spring answers

1. Attaochu at end. The Jackets had linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu play defensive end toward the end of last season. He was so effective, they moved him to the spot permanently to take advantage of his ability to rush off the end in the new 4-3 scheme Ted Roof brought with him. Attaochu had 10 sacks last year. He has a chance to be even more productive this season.

2. Quarterbacks coming along. Johnson wanted to spend the spring getting both Lee and Justin Thomas an adequate amount of reps, and he did that, saying he feels comfortable with either player behind center. Lee has the edge to start, but do not count out Thomas. “They both athletically are as good as we’ve had here,” Johnson said.

3. Defense adjusts. One of the biggest spring storylines focused on how the defense would adjust with Roof in charge and a scheme change. By all accounts, players have embraced the changes and are buying into the system. The front seven has an opportunity to be really good this year, given some of the talent returning.

Fall questions

1. Backs rotation. The Jackets seem to have a plethora of players to play the A-back and B-back positions. But who will emerge to become a playmaker at A-back to replace Smith? Who will emerge to provide consistency and playmaking ability at both spots?

2. Receiver. This is one area where the Jackets are thin, and it didn’t help matters that several players got hurt during the spring. Darren Waller is a player Johnson believes can be a difference maker. But Johnson also is going to need young guys like Anthony Autry, Micheal Summers and Travin Henry to step up.

3. Getting healthy. This team was banged up during the spring, missing several starters on the offensive line, at receiver and at linebacker as well. They should all be back in time for fall practice, but all the guys who missed time are going to have to get up to speed quickly to begin preparations for the season.
The rest of the ACC wraps up practice this weekend. Here is a look at what to watch at each spring game.

BOSTON COLLEGE

When: Cancelled.

UPDATE: Boston College decided to cancel its spring game, set for Saturday, because of the tragic events that unfolded in the area this week. Though there is no game, these are still three keys for the Eagles as they move into the offseason.
  • Chase Rettig. Rettig has been through one coordinator too many during his career with the Eagles, and now he has to learn a new system that is not exactly the pro-style brand more suited to him. Coach Steve Addazio has said he will not force Rettig out of his comfort zone this year, but how Rettig handles yet another change is definitely something to watch.
  • The run game. Addazio has placed a heavy emphasis on the run game this spring. Does he have the talent and depth to improve the dreadful numbers from a year ago? With Rolandan Finch gone, senior Andre Williams has been the guy left to shoulder the load this spring. He says, "Bring it on."
  • More aggressive D? This will be a good chance to see how Don Brown has gone about revamping the defense. We have all heard how he wants to be more aggressive this year. Let's see it.
GEORGIA TECH

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m. (Note: There is a threat of rain so a decision on whether the game will be played as scheduled will be made later today. As of this morning, the game is still on.) NC STATE

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m., ESPN3
  • The quarterbacks. Starting to sound like a theme, right? Coach Dave Doeren has said he will not name a starter after spring practice. Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker are still learning the new system, and Doeren says, "They're getting better. I told somebody the other day: I just don't think it's fair to make a decision on a guy that doesn't know your offense yet. I think we've got to give those kids a chance to play football without thinking. We're not there yet."
  • The secondary. This group will have three new starters when fall rolls around, and much less game experience. Juston Burris is listed as the starter at the cornerback spot David Amerson leaves behind, while Hakim Jones and Jarvis Byrd are set to take the open safety spots.
  • The defensive ends. There is still open competition at both defensive end spots, according to the depth chart the team released ahead of the spring game. Art Norman and Forrest West are battling for one spot, while Mike Rose and Darryl Cato-Bishop are competing for the other.
SYRACUSE

When: Saturday, noon.
  • Terrel Hunt vs. Charley Loeb. Hunt has reportedly gotten more of the first-team reps as the spring has gone on, but this is a good chance for both quarterbacks to make an impression on their coaches -- especially with Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen headed to Syracuse in the summer.
  • Defensive line. There is no question Syracuse has to work on building depth here because of several losses the group has taken. One player to watch is Iowa transfer John Raymon, who has worked at both tackle and end this spring.
  • Quinta Funderburk. Funderburk sat out last season after transferring in from Arkansas. He has made a few highlight catches during the spring scrimmages to catch some attention, and with Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales gone, Funderburk has an opportunity to become a go-to receiver on this team.
VIRGINIA TECH

When: Saturday, 3 p.m., ESPN3
  • Logan Thomas and the offense. So, how does Thomas look under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler? His rebound from a mediocre 2013 is going to be huge for the Hokies this season.
  • The running backs. Nobody has really stepped up to take the starting job, although Trey Edmunds has had a good spring, including 86 yards and two touchdowns in the last scrimmage. JC Coleman, also vying for the job, is not expected to play because of a leg injury.
  • Brandon Facyson. It's no secret the Hokies need some help in the secondary, and every single report out of Blacksburg points to the freshman cornerback as being the next star on defense.
WAKE FOREST

When: Saturday, 1 p.m., ACC Digital Network
  • The receivers. One of the big goals this spring has been to find another receiver to complement Michael Campanaro. Orville Reynolds, who moved from running back, has so far turned some heads with his performance, so keep an eye on him.
  • New faces. Two players who have drawn raves on defense this spring are defensive linemen Desmond Floyd and Johnny Garcia. In fact, coach Jim Grobe believes his defensive line has been a bright spot this spring because the group has been able to develop some depth.
  • Competition. This will actually be a scrimmage, not a game, because the Deacs simply do not have enough offensive linemen to split the team in two. At last check, Wake had seven healthy offensive linemen after Cody Preble injured his ankle in the last scrimmage.

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