ACC's most intriguing Nos. 6-10

February, 26, 2015
Feb 26
2:00
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We’re still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC that are already big stories. With that in mind, we’re counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason — from players to coaches to administrators — and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. First up, numbers 11 through 15.

6. Dalvin Cook

Role: Running back, Florida State

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesDespite spending half the season as a backup, Dalvin Cook finished his true freshman season with 1,008 yards.
Intrigue: There’s no doubting Cook’s talent. Despite playing a supporting role through half the season, he topped 1,000 rushing yards as a true freshman and came up with one big play after another in close games when the Seminoles needed him most. But the final impression of Cook for the 2014 season was an ugly one. He played well in the Rose Bowl, but he fumbled twice in the second half -- both on plays that would’ve been first downs -- and that led to FSU’s undoing. Now he returns hoping to erase those bad memories, and he’ll have to do it as the Noles’ offensive leader now that Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene and four-fifths of the offensive line have moved on.

Possible impact: There’s a long history across the sports landscape of memorably bad plays undermining an entire career, but Cook is too young, too tough and too talented to allow that to happen. The bigger question is whether Cook can find as much running room behind a revamped line without the downfield threat of Winston at quarterback. Defenses will be focused on Cook early in the year, but he’ll still need to find some running lanes while a new quarterback gets comfortable.

7. Frank Beamer

Role: Head coach, Virginia Tech

Intrigue: Beamer is an institution in Blacksburg, but after a third straight disappointing season, there’s a hefty contingent of the fan base wondering if it’s time to make a change. AD Whit Babcock has certainly considered a similar possibility, issuing a joint statement with Beamer after the season promising improvement. Beamer has plenty of young talent to work with, the pressure is on like never before to maximize their talents.

Possible impact: Virginia Tech only lost one game by more than a touchdown last year in spite of all the youth on offense, and that has to be a cause for optimism for the Hokies. If Cam Phillips and Isaiah Ford continue to grow, Michael Brewer takes a step forward, the running game comes together -- if all those things can happen, Virginia Tech has a chance to win the ACC. It’s a lot of “ifs” though, which means there’s a ton riding on Beamer’s ability to bring the team together this offseason.

8. Brad Kaaya

Role: Quarterback, Miami

Intrigue: Kaaya was thrown to the wolves as a true freshman, and he acclimated himself nicely. He led the ACC in yards-per-attempt and passer rating, and he’s certainly aimed at improving in 2015. But while last year was a learning season for him, this year, Kaaya is the focal point of Miami’s offense. Duke Johnson, Clive Walford and Phillip Dorsett are all gone, which means Kaaya will go from student to mentor on offense, despite this being his first spring practice as a college quarterback.

Possible impact: Kaaya’s skill set is tremendous, and he could be the ACC’s best pocket passer in 2015. But he’s got to pick up a lot of slack with so much talent departing around him. He’s already shown a willingness to take on a leadership role, and he’s spoken out about some of the problems Miami faced in the locker room last year. And as much as Miami needs a quarterback to star on the field, it may need some locker room stability even more.

9. Pat Narduzzi

Role: Head coach, Pitt

Intrigue: Narduzzi had been rumored for head-coaching jobs for years after building Michigan State’s defense into a juggernaut, and Pitt looks to have hit a home run by nabbing him after Paul Chryst bolted for Wisconsin. Narduzzi inherits plenty of talent on offense, but Pitt’s problems were on D, and all eyes will be on that side of the ball as he looks to build another winner.

Possible impact: Last year, Pitt scored at least 28 points in each of its final six games, and it still lost four of them. For perspective, only four other Power 5 teams lost more such games all season. In other words, the D is a huge concern for the Panthers, and Narduzzi has his work cut out for him. It needs to start with the pass rush. Pitt finished 105th nationally in sacks last season, while Narduzzi’s Michigan State team finished eighth.

10. Bobby Petrino

Role: Head coach, Louisville

Intrigue: Year 1 of Petrino’s return went relatively well, but the task gets tougher now. He’s got a trio of QBs who could start, but none that’s a definitive call. His defense was dominant last year, but he’s lost a number of Charlie Strong’s holdovers. Gone is superstar receiver DeVante Parker. In are a host of transfers that Petrino has been willing to gamble on after they slipped up in other locations. And through it all, there are still plenty of people simply waiting to see Petrino fail.

Possible impact: Last year, Petrino took over a team that had lost just three games in the past two years and had ample talent on the roster. He succeeded with that talent. This year, things are different. This isn’t Strong’s team anymore. It’s Petrino’s, and he has a long history of winning, too. Still, he’s gambled on transfers -- and it’s a bet that could pay off big or it could blow up in his face if those players -- Josh Harvey-Clemons, Shaq Wiggins, Devonte Fields and others -- haven’t learned from past mistakes.
video
It’s not easy to start at quarterback as a true freshman. College football is a fast-moving game with a lot of information to process quickly, not to mention the pressure of leading a program in front of up to and over 100,000 fans at times. In the Class of 2016, there are a few prospects who will have an opportunity to come in and compete from Day One.

Here are five who stand out above the rest.

If you're perusing the nonconference schedules for ACC teams in 2015, you've no doubt noticed that Boston College isn't exactly wowing its fan base by signing up for two games against FCS foes. But before you go and point fingers at the Eagles for stacking the decks for two easy wins, BC Interruption goes through the agonizing details of the long, unpleasant journey that led to this slate of games.

Long story short, the ACC's flip-flop on a nine-game schedule two years ago and the ongoing conference reshuffling elsewhere were the biggest dominoes to fall, but when you get into the nitty gritty of it, the saga really underscores just how difficult scheduling has become.

In 2012, Florida State faced a similar problem. West Virginia bailed on a nonconference agreement, and in its place, the Seminoles could do no better than Savannah State -- a game so lopsided, they didn't even finish playing it.

Clemson and Georgia Tech both had multiple FCS foes on their schedules in 2013, and even those late-season rivalries against the SEC probably weren't enough to make matchups against Elon or South Carolina State seem worthwhile. But that's the breaks when the conference changes scheduling tactics at the last minute.

Scheduling has become a brutal business. Teams don't see conference foes often enough in the ACC, SEC and Big Ten. No one wants to lose the revenue of a seventh home game, so slating home-and-homes against anyone becomes tricky. Lower-tier FBS schools know their services as punching bags are in high demand, so they want big bucks in return. Contracts for future games aren't worth much more than the paper they're printed on.

Which brings us to the biggest problem: Scheduling matters a lot in this new playoff era. In fact, scheduling was probably the No. 1 topic of discussion as we all debated who was in and who should be left out. But was it Florida State's fault that Oklahoma State wasn't very good? Should Baylor have been made to suffer for keeping scheduling agreements that were signed long before there was such a thing as a playoff committee? How many people were giving extra credit to Ohio State for losing to Virginia Tech rather than thumping four punching bags like Mississippi State did?

One way around the problems may be to ink more nonconference conference games, as UNC and Wake Forest did, and as the Post & Courier suggests Clemson and South Carolina should also do. But if we're getting to that point, why not just move to that nine-game conference slate that was such a source of frustration two years ago?

What's more realistic in the short term is that the committee -- which includes its share of ADs who should be familiar with these issues -- needs to seriously re-evaluate how much scheduling factors into its rankings.

A few more links:

ACC's most intriguing: Nos. 11-15

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
2:00
PM ET
We’re still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC who already are big stories. With that in mind, we’re counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason — from players to coaches to administrators — and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. Here are numbers 11 through 15.

11. Jabari Hunt-Days

Role: Outside linebacker, Georgia Tech

Intrigue: After recording seven tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2013, Hunt Days figured to be the heir apparent to Tech star pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu in 2014. Instead, he missed the year with academic issues, and as a result, the Yellow Jackets finished 108th in sacks-per-game and allowed more than 5 yards per carry. He’s back in the fold now, but is this an older, wiser Hunt-Days?

Possible impact: Adam Gotsis was Tech’s only established pass rusher last season, but KeShun Freeman learned on the fly, and the rest of the defensive front filled in around them. In spite of the overall success of 2014, however, the defense was still a sieve at times, allowing the fifth-most yards-per-play of any Power 5 team. But add Hunt-Days back to the mix and suddenly Tech’s pass rush looks a lot more intimidating. He insists he has learned some valuable lessons from his time away, and if that’s true, he could team with Gotsis, Freeman and an emerging secondary to transform the Jackets’ D into an asset in 2015.

[+] EnlargeThomas Sirk
Fabian Radulescu/Icon SportswireDuke QB Thomas Sirk rushed for 238 yards and eight touchdowns in a limited role in 2014,
12. Thomas Sirk

Role: Quarterback, Duke

Intrigue: The last time the Blue Devils opened a season with a starting quarterback who had less than 50 pass attempts under his belt was 2006. This season, the entire roster has just 16 passes combined in their careers. Still, Sirk was on the field often last season as a change-of-pace runner in place of Anthony Boone. Now he’s poised to take over the starting job, but there are still plenty of questions about how much of a complete player he can be.

Possible impact: David Cutcliffe raved about Sirk’s athleticism, saying he might be the fasted QB he has coached, which certainly should pair well with an already deep running game for the Blue Devils. But Sirk’s arm is solid, too, so if he can turn his limited game experience into a level of comfort as a full-time starter in 2015, he figures to make Duke’s offense particularly dynamic.

13. Michael Brewer

Role: Quarterback, Virginia Tech

Intrigue: There’s no question the Hokies’ offense struggled last season, but there was still plenty of room for optimism because so many of the key roles were filled by freshmen. Instead, Brewer — on campus for just a month before fall camp opened — took the brunt of the criticism. Some was warranted. He threw interceptions in nine of 13 games, including 11 in his first six contests. Some wasn’t. He improved his decision-making in the second half of the year and engineered impressive comebacks against ECU, Duke and UVA. Now Brewer has a chance to get a full spring and summer under his belt with his young teammates, but he’ll also be pushed by highly regarded freshman Dwayne Lawson.

Possible impact: Brewer doesn’t need to be a superstar for Tech in 2015 — something Lawson could well blossom into down the road — but he does need to play smart and take advantage of big-play opportunities when they arise. Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges should provide the Hokies with an explosive mix of receivers, but if Brewer can’t take advantage, it’s going to be tough for Frank Beamer’s squad to improve dramatically this year, and Tech fans are tired of excuses.

14. Dan Radakovich

Role: Athletics Director, Clemson

Intrigue: Radakovich’s work at Clemson has been impressive, as the school is in the midst of a four-year run of 10-win seasons and breaking ground on a ton of facility expansions. But the real intrigue for Radakovich is in his other gig, as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Last year, FSU was dinged consistently, despite an unbeaten regular season. This year, the ACC might have an even tougher argument to make, and it will need a strong voice on the committee to state its case.

Possible impact: Radakovich has shown he’s willing to think outside the box and get things done, which is exactly the philosophy that’s likely needed to push for the ACC’s relevance on the national stage, and his determination to get Clemson to invest in its program to keep up with the big boys nationally is crucial to changing perceptions of the league. The problem, however, is that if Clemson is the team on the precipice of a playoff invite at year’s end, Radakovich would have to recuse himself from the proceedings.

15. Charles Kelly

Role: Defensive coordinator, Florida State

Intrigue: After having a different coordinator in each of the past three seasons, FSU finally has some stability at the top of its defense. The problem is that many fans aren’t thrilled with that. Kelly oversaw some serious struggles last season for the Seminoles, and he took the blame for a lackluster pass rush and a propensity by the D to give up big plays. Add the fact that four starters departed early for the NFL, and the job of rebuilding the once-mighty FSU D is a big one.

Possible impact: FSU allowed 170 rushing yards per game last year, 73rd nationally. It allowed 51 completions of 20 yards or more, 113th nationally. It had just 17 sacks, 108th nationally. Those are ugly numbers for a team that has thrived on defense previously under Jimbo Fisher. Kelly is not new to the job of building a D, but he’s going to need to develop young players quickly if he wants to make significant strides in 2015.

Ranking the ACC head-coaching jobs

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
11:48
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This week ESPN Insider Travis Haney has been ranking all 65 Power 5 coaching jobs. The list wraps up today with the top 24, which includes three ACC jobs. After reading where the coaches stand, here's the ACC blog's take on the matter.

1. Florida State
With its history, national profile and recruiting radius, there isn’t a better job in the conference. However, while Florida State has ranked among college football’s elite programs for much of the last three decades, it’s not always the easiest place to win. It needs a coach who can draw prospects to Tallahassee, and Jimbo Fisher has the program rolling.

2. Clemson
Coach Dabo Swinney has turned the Tigers from perennial underachievers into annual ACC title contenders. There is a commitment to excellence at Clemson, and the Tigers have one of the most iconic stadiums in college football. South Carolina is not littered with prospects, but Clemson is close to Charlotte and Atlanta.

3. Louisville
While they haven't always been viewed as one of the better jobs, the Cardinals have turned themselves into a quality program. Five different coaches have put together at least one season with just a single loss, and Bobby Petrino and Charlie Strong combined to elevate the program into title contenders. Athletic director Tom Jurich offers the required support for a football program in a basketball state, too.

4. Miami
The Hurricanes have fallen on hard times the last decade, but it is still Miami. There are certain financial hurdles, but the history and fertile recruiting area still make the Canes an attractive job. Miami might not be able to make A-plus hires, but it should be able to attract top up-and-coming coaches.

5. Virginia Tech
The Hokies have been on a linear incline since Frank Beamer took over, although the last few seasons have been disappointing. Whenever Beamer leaves Blacksburg, though, VaTech should be able to make a solid hire. It’s a little tougher to recruit, but there is a ton of support for the program as Lane Stadium provides one of the most intimidating atmospheres.

6. North Carolina
The Tar Heels are the proverbial sleeping giant, yet Carolina has never been able to break through. Maybe it just needs the right coach -- and Larry Fedora could still be that coach -- or maybe it is just too tough to win at a place where football will always be a distant second.

7. Georgia Tech
There is a branch of Yellow Jackets fans who expect Georgia Tech to compete for an ACC title annually, but the reality is it can be a tough place to win and recruit. However, Tech resides in the Coastal Division, which is ripe for the taking for whichever program can separate from the pack.

8. Virginia
Like UNC, Virginia is a program that has the resources to be better than it has been historically. The state is not stocked with talent, but the Virginia Beach area has produced some of the country’s greatest talents. The campus is among the nicest, too. There are donors to be tapped into if the program can string together a couple of winning seasons.

9. NC State
The talent is growing in the state, and Charlotte, which has seen drastic population increases recently, has been open for one team to come in and clean up in recruiting for quite some time. A brand new indoor facility is set to open in the spring.

10. Pittsburgh
It hurts that the Panthers do not have an on-campus stadium, and the empty, bright yellow seats can be unattractive for prospects. There is significant talent in western Pennsylvania and Ohio, which Pitt can tap into. Pitt does have a rich history, and the right coach should be able to turn the Panthers into an annual ACC contender. It could take some time, though.

11. Duke
David Cutcliffe was the perfect hire at Duke as he was able to create a buzz around the program and finally use the school’s academics to his advantage. Cutcliffe has turned Duke into a winner, but is it sustainable? Will the next coach be able to duplicate or build upon what Cutcliffe started? It didn’t happen when Steve Spurrier left after 1989.

12. Boston College
New England and the Northeast are not football havens, so there are challenges in building a roster. It takes a coach willing to embrace what the university has to offer and use it in his favor. Steve Addazio has done that, but how will future coaches fare?

13. Syracuse
The weather can be brutal, and there is not much nearby football talent. Sustainability is a huge question mark at Syracuse, and it is hard to imagine a successful coach remaining in central New York for the long haul.

14. Wake Forest
Whoever is coach of the Demon Deacons has his work cut out for him every season. Jim Grobe showed you can surprise people and put together a few winning seasons, but after going 20-7 in 2006 and 2007 combined, he went 31-43 over his final six years. Of the 28 coaches Wake has had since 1908, only three finished with winning records, and none since D.C. “Peahead” Walker left after 1950.

ACC morning links

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
9:00
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Miami going 6-7 with all of its talent was not only head-scratching to its fans and those who follow the team regularly, it was head scratching to scouts in Indianapolis at the combine last week.

Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com was there to get a gauge on what exactly went wrong. He spoke to Miami players at the combine, and none of them pointed the finger at coach Al Golden. Still, one unnamed scout echoed the thoughts of many when he told Feldman:
"They had more front-line talent than half the teams in the SEC. They didn't have as much talent as Florida State, but they were still pretty loaded. How does that team not win at least nine games in that league?"

Various theories have been floated. After investing everything they had in the game against Florida State -- only to come up short in the fourth quarter -- Miami never recovered and lost its final four games. Golden admitted he needed to do a better job of getting his team to refocus after such a tough loss. But last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya also implied there were schisms in the Miami locker room that contributed to the disappointing season.

What is interesting in the comments made to Feldman from the former Miami players is they all use the same excuse various players have used for years: That players often are not in position to make plays for one reason or another. Former receiver Phillip Dorsett said, "We'd go watch film the next day and there'd be certain guys out of place, and if the guy was in place, that play would've been made. Stuff like that."

Needless to say, Miami remains one of the most interesting teams to watch in the ACC this spring and into the fall.

Elsewhere around the ACC:

Best of the combine: ACC

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
4:00
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Now that the NFL combine has wrapped up, let us take a quick look at how prospects from across the ACC fared.

First, here are the top overall performances, regardless of position, in the seven drills players are asked to complete:

40-yard dash
3. Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami, 4.33
7. Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State, 4.38

Bench press
1. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami, 37
t3. Vic Beasley, LB, Clemson, 35
t3. Sean Hickey, OL, Syracuse, 35
9. Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State, 32
t13. Cameron Erving, OL, Florida State, 30

Vertical jump
t7. Darby, 41.5
11. Beasley, 41

Broad jump
4. P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State, 11
t8. Beasley, 10-10

3-cone drill
6. Dorsett, 6.7
13. Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest, 6.79

20-yard shuttle
2. Johnson, 3.89
10. Garry Peters, CB, Clemson, 4.00
12. Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson 4.03

60-yard shuttle
t4. Peters, 11.10

Other notes:
  • Florida State running back Karlos Williams posted a 40-time of 4.48, ranking No. 2 among all running backs. Other top times among backs from the ACC: Duke Johnson ran a 4.54 and Michael Dyer ran a 4.58. After an impressive showing, count Williams as a "sleeper" running back prospect. His Speed Score was the best in the group.
  • Beasley and Anthony had impressive performances in Indianapolis. Not only did Beasley show out on the bench press and vertical jump, he ran the top 40-time among linebackers, clocking a 4.53. Anthony was third at the position, in 4.56, giving the Tigers two of the top three fastest linebacker prospects. In all, Beasley had the top performances at linebacker in the 40, bench press, 3-cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle, making him an instant riser.
  • Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby had a great weekend, and now buzz is starting to build about his potential as a Top 40 prospect.
  • Meanwhile, quarterback Jameis Winston did not blow anybody away with his 40 time, but he was not expected to. ESPN's John Clayton believes Winston "appears to be a lock" to go No. 1 overall to Tampa Bay. Todd McShay writes that Winston impressed during his interviews, but didn't make any guarantees about where the quarterback will end up.
  • Louisville cornerback Charles Gaines had a great 40-time as well, at 4.44, and made it onto this SI.com list as a riser after his combine performance.

ACC morning links

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
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First, the better of the good news: Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer is doing well. The dean of FBS coaches -- no head coach has been at his current program longer than Beamer (29th season) -- is recovering from throat surgery but is progressing fine, Beamer's son, Shane, said.

"He’s working on getting that speech back to normal," Shane told BeamerBall.com. "We had a couple of guys who, let’s say, upset the head coach a bit, and I can tell you his voice sounded more than okay when he was in there getting his point across to those guys. He’s on the right track. Is his voice back to where he wants it? No. But he’s a lot farther along than where he was. The doctors have said he’d be back to normal by the spring practices and so far it looks like they’re right."

The other good news is the offensive backfield is recovering from the bevy of injuries it suffered in 2014. Rising sophomores Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams suffered ACL injuries during the season, and Trey Edmunds battled injuries throughout 2014, too.

It's no secret 2015 could be a make-or-break year for Beamer, and another disappointing season could lead to a coaching change. Beamer probably deserves the benefit of the doubt based on his career record and the fact the team was devastated by injuries a season ago. Offensively, Beamer would like to rely on a running back group that is not short on talent. And quarterback Michael Brewer is a much better player when the pressure does not rest solely on his shoulders and has shown he can be a capable quarterback with the backing of a solid rush attack.

So as the Hokies get ready for spring practice in about a month, there is positive news on several fronts.

Here are a few more links for your Tuesday:

On The Trail Show: Saivion Smith commitment

February, 24, 2015
Feb 24
8:30
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Top-ranked athlete Saivion Smith, the No. 19 overall player in the ESPN Junior 300, joined RecruitingNation to announce his decision.

ACC's most intriguing: Nos. 21-25

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
2:00
PM ET
We're still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC that are already big stories. With that in mind, we're counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason -- from players to coaches to administrators -- and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. First up, numbers 21 through 25.

21. Josh Sweat

Role: Defensive end, Florida State

[+] EnlargeJosh Sweat
Tom Hauck for Student SportsJosh Sweat, FSU's top recruit from the 2015 class, could see some playing time as a starter on the defensive line this fall.
Intrigue: Jimbo Fisher brought in another impressive haul of recruits for 2015, including three of the top 11 in the ESPN 300. While many freshmen could make an instant impact for FSU this season, Sweat might be the most interesting because he's at a position where the Seminoles have a glaring need following the departures of Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman from the defensive line. Sweat enrolled early, but he's also still recovering from a serious knee injury suffered last September.

Potential impact: Last season, Florida State had the fourth-worst sack rate of any Power 5 school, mustering just 17 in 14 games. Meanwhile, the run defense has allowed a higher yards-per-carry in each of the past three seasons. Add to that the departure of last year's top two defensive linemen, and there's a gaping need up front without a lot of obvious frontrunners for jobs. If Sweat can rehab the knee and get comfortable in the defense this spring, he could easily challenge for a starting job in fall camp.

22. Stacy Coley

Role: Wide receiver, Miami

Intrigue: When the 2013 season ended, Coley looked like he might be the next big star at Miami. Instead, 2014 was a disaster, and the sophomore finished with just 23 catches for 184 yards and no touchdowns. As Brad Kaaya gets set for his sophomore campaign at QB without veterans Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett to help him out, Coley needs to show he can regain his rookie form and blossom into a weapon once again for Miami.

Potential impact: Injuries and a new QB help explain some of Coley's downfall last season, but his momentous decline in performance remains something of a mystery. Still, there's no ignoring how good he was as a true freshman, and if he can get back to that level of production, Kaaya's development offers a lot of encouragement for just how dangerous the Miami passing attack could be in 2015.

23. Taquan Mizzell

Role: Running back, Virginia

Intrigue: Mizzell arrived at UVA as one of Mike London's most heralded offensive recruits, but after two years on the field, his impact still hasn't been all that significant. He made strides as a sophomore in 2014, but with the departures of Kevin Parks and a host of receivers, Mizzell's all-purpose skill set won't just be a luxury this season. He needs to blossom into a star.

Potential impact: Mizzell was one of just four ACC backs to rack up 250 rushing and 250 receiving yards last season. His 39 receptions were the most in the league by a running back, but his 4.4 yards-per-rush average ranked just 25th among ACC tailbacks. He's clearly a weapon on offense for the Hoos, but Mizzell needs to flash more elusiveness out of the backfield to blossom into a true star.

24. Terrel Hunt

Role: Quarterback, Syracuse

Intrigue: All offseason last year, the talk was that Hunt had developed into a leader, built off his late-season success in 2013 and was ready for a breakout campaign. Then he was tossed from the opener for throwing a punch, struggled through much of the early season, went down with an injury in Week 6 and missed the rest of the season. Without him, however, Syracuse's QB play went from bad to abysmal. So is he still the Orange's best hope or is Scott Shafer better off handing the passing game over to AJ Long or another young QB?

Potential impact: At this point, perhaps we've seen enough of Hunt to get too excited about what he might provide this season, but there's still that glimmer of hope he can put things all together. Coaches still applaud his work ethic, and his athleticism has never been a question. If he can stay healthy and improve his mechanics, he at least offers Syracuse a chance to move the football on offense -- something it wasn't able to do at all once Hunt went down in 2014.

25. Dave Clawson

Role: Head coach, Wake Forest

Intrigue: It's Year 2 for the coach with arguably one of the toughest jobs in college football, and the strides Wake made in 2014 weren't always easy to see. Still, the fact the Demon Deacons played a number of close games was evidence Clawson has his team's attention, and as he gets more and more of his own players in house, there's plenty of curiosity about how far he can take the Deacons in 2015.

Potential impact: Wake isn't going to challenge for a division title, but as the offensive skill positions gain some depth and the line gets stronger, Clawson's vision is beginning to take shape. If the Deacons play with the same tenacity in 2015 that they did last season, they're certainly capable of shaking things up across the ACC and pulling off a handful of upsets.

The 2015 ACC Oscars

February, 23, 2015
Feb 23
1:00
PM ET
Congratulations to “Birdman” and all of the winners from Sunday night’s Oscars, and thank you for the intriguing undercard leading up to this afternoon. That is when we release the highly anticipated ACC Oscars, which pays homage to the greatest films and on-field thespians from the 2014 football season.

So as not to overlap with the end-of-the-season ACC awards, these ACC Oscars categories are, for the most part, based on single-game performances. So, while Pittsburgh’s James Conner played the lead role in the league from August to November, it doesn’t guarantee he will go home with any hardware Monday.

Without further ado, let’s open the envelopes.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston saved his best game of the season for the ACC title game, throwing for 309 yards and three touchdowns.
Actor: Florida State QB Jameis Winston vs. Georgia Tech
Coming off one of his worst performances of his career, there was talk of whether Winston would be able to lift the Seminoles past 10-2 Georgia Tech in the ACC title game and into the inaugural College Football Playoff. The week prior, Winston tossed four interceptions against Florida and had an 87.92 rating. He had arguably his best game of the season against the Yellow Jackets, though, in a bounce-back performance. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns in a two-point win. Every toss was on target, and the Seminoles had the right momentum heading into the playoff.

Supporting actor: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman vs. Boston College
Holliman wasn’t a nationally known name among college football fans, which puts him in the supporting actor category. As far as defensive backs, however, Holliman did not play second fiddle to anyone in the ACC. He showed why against the Eagles. He picked off Tyler Murphy on the first play of the game, and he hauled in two more errant Murphy throws in the fourth quarter as the Eagles tried a comeback.

Director: Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables vs. Oklahoma
If there were still any doubters about the Clemson defense before the bowl game, Venables converted them against Oklahoma. The Tigers’ defense was pitching a shutout until late in the fourth quarter, and the unit kept Oklahoma to just 275 yards of total offense in a 40-6 blowout. That performance sparked the Tigers to the No. 1 total defense unit in 2014, and it really was not all that close.

Best picture: The fourth-down play(s) in Notre Dame at Florida State
It looked as if the Seminoles’ playoff hopes were dashed in the final seconds against the Fighting Irish. On a play similar to one the Irish ran in the first half, Everett Golson threw a go-ahead touchdown on fourth down from the FSU 3-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. However, the rare offensive pass interference was called, a decision Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly berated for the next week. Now backed up to the 18-yard line, Golson threw for the end zone but was intercepted. The Irish had a chance to win the game late because earlier on the drive on a fourth-and-18 play, Golson scrambled and found an open receiver, who had to work for the final few yards to get the first down.

Costume design: North Carolina.
I’m a fan of the Carolina blue, so any uniform combination that incorporates that blue hue is going to rule this category. Whether it’s the more traditional UNC uniform or some of the newer looks with the black, the Carolina colors and wardrobe is usually spot on.

[+] EnlargeDeVante Parker
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsDeVante Parker amassed 43 catches and 855 receiving yards in just six games.
Short film: Louisville WR DeVante Parker
After suffering a broken left foot during the preseason, Parker did not haul in his first reception of the season until Oct. 18. He finished that game with nine catches for 132 yards. It turned out that it was one of his worst games of the season as his 14.67 yards per catch average was the lowest of the season. He tallied more than 100 receiving yards five times and caught at least eight passes four times. Against Florida State, he broke the 200-yard mark. In six games, Parker finished with 43 catches for 855 yards and five scores.

Original screenplay: The 2014 Florida State season
This past season for the Seminoles can definitely be considered original. There were not too many seasons like it before and there likely won’t be too many more. It began with the reigning national champions returning some of their most important pieces for a second title run. Shortly after spring practice ended, though, Winston was cited for shoplifting seafood from a grocery store. In the summer, receiver Jesus Wilson was charged with stealing a scooter. Then the season began and the Seminoles had close call after close call. In between was Winston screaming an obscene phrase and being suspended against Clemson, questions whether Winston received money for autographs, the Winston Title IX investigation into an alleged sexual assault and running back Karlos Williams being investigated for a domestic incident. The wins kept piling up, and so did the critics -- about FSU’s play and its handling of off-field issues. The Seminoles still finished undefeated and made the inaugural playoff, but they were blown out in the Rose Bowl.

Visual effects: NC State QB Jacoby Brissett's scrambling touchdown pass vs. Florida State
Looking to expand on their lead over No. 1 FSU at the end of the first quarter, Brissett took a third-down snap and was immediately pressured on a blitz. He spun out of a sack in the pocket and was flushed right. He then gave a stiff arm to a defensive lineman that caused his helmet to pop off, and just as Brissett was about to step out of bounds he fluttered a pass across his body for an 8-yard touchdown to give the Wolfpack a 24-7 lead.

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Sound editing: FSU coach Jimbo Fisher after defeating rival Florida 24-19 to finish the regular season undefeated.
Criticized for close wins all season long and sitting behind two one-loss teams in the College Football Playoff rankings, Fisher reminded the selection committee and fans that, ultimately, the goal of football is to win. In his on-field, postgame interview, Fisher said “The object of the game is to win. It’s not figure skating.”
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Malik Henry is the top-ranked quarterback in the 2016 class and the No. 3-overall recruit. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound dual-threat player committed to Florida State in November. Here is a look at what makes Henry the top-ranked signal-caller.


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When Dave Clawson took the head-coaching job at Wake Forest last year, he knew it would be a massive rebuilding project Insider. His roster lacked any experienced talent at the offensive skill positions. His offensive line was woefully undersized. His recruiting base was dominated by bigger schools, spending more money. There was, he believed, a plan to turn Wake into a winner, but it would be a long and treacherous road. When the Demon Deacons finished 1-7 in ACC play in 2014, most chalked it up as a surprisingly successful first step.

When Jimbo Fisher took over for legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 2010, the path to rebuilding a winner wasn’t nearly as tough. The Seminoles had tradition and money and a passionate alumni base, and once Fisher got the right staff in place he made an instant impact on the recruiting trail and won a division title in his first season. Still, by the time he finished the 2012 campaign with FSU’s first ACC championship in seven years, a vocal contingent of the fan base remained dubious that Fisher was the right man for the job. They’d hoped for more, and a 12-2 record was labeled something of a disappointment.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsIs Dave Clawson's job at Wake Forest tougher than Jimbo Fisher's at Florida State? Depends on your perspective.
Pinpointing the toughest coaching job in the ACC is really a matter of semantics. At Wake, resources are thin but expectations are modest. A coach gets time to build. At Florida State, there are ample tools to create a juggernaut, but the fan base doesn’t accept excuses when winning doesn’t come quickly. The difficulty of the job is really in the eye of the beholder.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for debate between those two counterpoints, too.

David Cutcliffe took over a Duke program that had spent the previous 15 years as one of the worst teams in the FBS, but he slowly rebuilt the on-field product, pushed for more investment and led the charge for stadium upgrades and now the Blue Devils have played in three straight bowl games. What was once universally considered one of the toughest jobs in college football now looks like a pretty cushy gig.

At Miami, Al Golden is living the alternate side of that story. The Hurricanes were a powerhouse for two decades, but, after an extended dry spell marred by an NCAA investigation, piecing together a consistent winner at Miami has proved to be an arduous project. The Canes have brought in talent, including potentially three first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft, but Golden has just a .500 record in ACC play to show for it, and the fan base is understandably restless.

Places such as Syracuse and Boston College have rich football traditions, but geography makes recruiting a tougher task. North Carolina and Virginia have resources and more fertile recruiting bases, but they’ve combined for just three ACC titles since 1980, and none in the past 20 years.

Deciding on the ACC’s toughest job is really about where the line between expectations and opportunity converge. At places such as Wake and Syracuse, no doubt more legwork is required to simply get to a bowl game. At Florida State and Miami, finding the talent is easy but meeting the lofty expectations that come with it can be a challenge.

It’s fair to say most coaches would prefer the latter problem, of course, and there’s a reason FSU is a destination job while Syracuse is more likely a place to get fired or a steppingstone to a better gig. But sometimes it’s simply about finding the right fit. Cutcliffe has said he hopes never to leave Duke -- a job most coaches would’ve run from screaming a decade ago. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to four straight 10-win seasons, but when he was rumored to be a candidate for the Florida job in December, he didn’t deny he might someday move on from Death Valley for the right opportunity elsewhere. The best jobs are often a matter of perspective, too.

In the end, a great coach finds a way to mine for resources, even in less fertile areas. He wins enough that expectations climb, even in places where winning had been an afterthought for years. At Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer is an institution -- the man responsible for building the program over the course of three decades. That success helped him snag a top-25 recruiting class this year, and it also has the fan base up in arms after three straight subpar seasons.

In other words, it’s not as much about the job as it is about the coach. Clawson hasn’t shied away from the task at hand. Instead, he has embraced the difficulty of winning at Wake Forest. And one year after Fisher was criticized for failing to meet expectations in 2012, he won a national title at Florida State with one of the most dominant teams in recent history.

Every job has its challenges, but the right coach finds a way to meet them regardless.
Quarterbacks are committing earlier and earlier in the recruiting process. With 15 of the 27 signal-callers in the ESPN Junior 300 already having given verbal pledges, there is increased pressure to get a top quarterback in the fold early. Five programs are ahead of the curve headed into the spring evaluation period.


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