You gotta be sound in the kicking game.

The watch lists for the Lou Groza Award (best kicker) and Ray Guy (best punter) were released Wednesday, and these same lists will be pared down during the season, with winners announced in December.

Here are players from the ACC and Notre Dame to receive recognition:

Lou Groza Award:

Roberto Aguayo, Florida State: Only the second freshman to win the award, Aguayo is the odds-on favorite to repeat as a sophomore. He set an FBS single-season kicking record with 157 points last season and was 21 of 22 on field goal attempts. He converted all 94 extra points.

Kyle Brindza, Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish’s kicker has a strong leg having made three field goals from at least 50 yards last season. He played a key role in the Irish’s bowl game, connecting on 5-of-6 field goal attempts.

Niklas Sade, NC State: A semifinalist last season, Sade was consistent for the Wolfpack. Twice last season Sade made four field goals in a single game.

John Wallace, Louisville: He nearly tied the Louisville record of 21 field goals in a single season, coming up short by one. Art Carmody, who won the award in 2006, owns the record.

Ray Guy Award:

Wil Baumann, NC State: He’s started 37 games in his career for the Wolfpack and was seventh in the ACC in punting average in 2013.

Riley Dixon, Syracuse: Dixon was awarded a scholarship in January after averaging more than 42 yards per punt last season.

Tommy Hibbard, North Carolina: Hibbard was a second-team All-ACC selection in 2012 and a honorable mention last season. He averaged 43.0 yards on 65 punts, 22 of which were downed in the red zone.

A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech: Hughes was a second-team All-ACC selection last fall after averaging 44.1 yards and downing 24 punts inside the 20.

Will Monday, Duke: Averaged 42.7 yards on 69 punts last season. Monday had punts of 72 and 66 yards in 2013.

ACC lunchtime links

July, 9, 2014
Jul 9
12:15
PM ET
The way athletes begin working out at such a young age and the advances in sports training and nutrition, football players each year seem to be more physically gifted and impressive than ever before.

Some like to call them physical “freaks,” in a positive way. They’re uniquely talented and possess an athleticism that is rare among their peers.

This week, Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com has offered his list of college football’s freaks, and several ACC players made the cut. While the ACC is on the wrong end of a lot of jokes, the conference has produced a large number of NFL draft picks and regularly is behind only the SEC in picks annually. With the talent bases in ACC recruiting hotbeds Florida, Georgia and throughout the South, conference schools have some of the country’s most athletic players in their own backyard.

With the genesis of GPS training, which our David Hale reported on last month, programs such as Florida State are now taking those elite physical athletes and helping them reach the next level. It’s no longer about just lifting weights and running sprints; it is a science.

The ACC names to make Feldman’s list:

Louisville WR DeVante Parker: Potentially the No. 1 receiver among 2015 NFL draft boards, Parker stands 6-foot-3 and Feldman lists a wingspan of 80 inches, which means few cornerbacks can compete with him on jump balls. Parker might not be a national name just yet, but under the tutelage of Bobby Petrino, Parker could put up freakish numbers to go along with that athleticism.

Georgia Tech RB Broderick Snoddy: Snoddy has run the 100-meter dash in 10.28 seconds and is a prep sprint champion. The Yellow Jackets are going to need that speed to translate to the field, and that could happen this fall as Snoddy figures to see more carries and has the potential to break a long run any time he touches the ball with his elite set of wheels. His school bio states he is only “likely” the team’s fastest player, but it’s probably a safe bet to give him that full distinction.

Syracuse OT Sean Hickey: If you need any explanation as to why I will point you in the direction of Andrea’s piece on Hickey’s intense training.

Florida State CBs Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams: It’s funny because on Twitter recently I was asked about who is better between Darby and Williams. I didn’t answer then and I won’t answer now, other than to say those two are projected to be among the first two cornerbacks taken in next year’s draft. The two lock down receivers, and they locked down the freak distinction at cornerback.

Miami CB Artie Burns: He is an elite sprinter and is hoping to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. He holds several prep sprinting records. On the football field, Burns was a solid returner and cornerback as a freshman and was a top 10 cornerback coming out of high school.

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

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Up today: Quarterbacks

Best of the best: Florida State

As if there was any real debate with this position. The Seminoles clearly have the conference’s best, if not the country’s. Jameis Winston hasn't lost a game in his career and is coming off a record-setting season in which he became only the second freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Most expect his numbers to drop as a redshirt sophomore, considering the lack of proven commodities at receiver with Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw pursuing NFL careers, but there is an expectation that Winston should be a better quarterback in 2014 under Jimbo Fisher, who has had several former quarterbacks drafted in the first round. The one area of concern for the Seminoles at the position is if Winston were to miss time because of injury. Sean Maguire looked strong in the spring game working against the backups, but there is not as much depth at the position as there was a season ago. Jacob Coker, who backed Winston up last fall, is competing for the starting job at Alabama, and Clint Trickett left before the 2013 season began and will start for West Virginia this fall. As long as Winston stays healthy, though, this is clearly the best group in the ACC.

Next up: Duke

There isn’t much returning experience at quarterback in the ACC, but the Blue Devils, the Seminoles’ opponent in the ACC title game last fall, bring back Anthony Boone. A redshirt senior, Boone is the leader of the offense and has responsibilities not only as a passer but also running. Boone threw for 2,260 yards as a junior but threw as many interceptions as he did touchdowns (13). Those numbers are somewhat skewed, as Boone was regularly replaced at the goal line by change-of-pace quarterback Brandon Connette, who rushed for 14 touchdowns in 2013. Connette is no longer with the team, though, so the burden of getting Duke into the end zone will fall squarely on Boone this season. If Duke plans to make a statement that 2013 was not a fluke and the Blue Devils will be an annual contender, Boone will be the one to lead them there.

Sleeper: Virginia

The entire 2013 season was a disaster for the Cavaliers and the Cavaliers felt the pain at quarterback. David Watford failed to retain the job, and coach Mike London hinted at some leadership issues for Watford this spring, too. That opened the door for redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert, who in May was named the starter. London is putting a tremendous amount of trust in Lambert, who was voted a team captain this spring. There is a good amount of talent on Virginia’s roster as London has recruited well, so there are pieces around Lambert that should help ease him into the starting lineup. It won’t be an ideal start for Lambert as the Cavs open with UCLA, Louisville and BYU among their first four games, but Lambert could make a profound statement by playing well through the first third of the season.

Problem for a contender: Miami

Miami is considered Florida State’s toughest competition in the ACC this season, but the Hurricanes’ season has a little problem heading into the fall: They don’t have a starting quarterback. Projected starter Ryan Williams is rehabilitating a torn knee ligament and hopes to be ready for the opener, but it certainly seems unlikely considering the injury was only sustained three months ago. Williams is the only quarterback on the roster that has started a game for Miami. Kevin Olsen figures to be the starter if Williams is not ready. A blue-chip recruit, the redshirt freshman still might not be ready to be a starter in Coral Gables, which is why it was imperative that Miami brought in transfer Jake Heaps this summer. Heaps bounced around in college with stints at BYU and Kansas, but was a highly regarded high school quarterback. Brad Kaaya signed with Miami this February and was an ESPN 300 quarterback. He has an outside chance of starting. No matter who starts, expect a steady dose of running back Duke Johnson in every game and an expectation for the quarterback to do just enough to win. The first quarter of the season is manageable with games at Louisville and against Florida A&M and Arkansas State, but after that, the Hurricanes will need a definitive answer at quarterback.
video
BEAVERTON, Ore. -- The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: The word freak purposely doesn't get thrown around a lot in recruiting circles, because it can quickly become cliché. But after dominating during the SPARQ testing Tuesday, there should be no problem giving that label to five-star defensive end Josh Sweat. Plus, an Alabama commitment made the play of the day with a one-handed catch.

Two more preseason award watch lists were released Tuesday, which means we are still moving toward the college football season at what seems like a snail’s pace.

The Rimington Trophy, presented annually to the nation’s top center, already had a spring watch list but altered the original to include a few more names (because there were not enough already). Also released was the watch list for the John Mackey Award, which is given to the nation’s top tight end.

The lists will be pared down during the season before winners are announced in December.

The watch lists for the Maxwell Award and Bednarik Award were released Monday.

Below are the ACC and Notre Dame players to make the Mackey and Rimington watch lists and a little information on each.

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesFlorida State's Nick O'Leary could be a frontrunner for the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end.
John Mackey Award

Gerald Christian, Louisville: The Florida transfer was one of the Cardinals’ more productive pass catchers last season, and he figures to drastically improve on his 28 receptions from a season ago now that Bobby Petrino is orchestrating the Cards’ offense. (The ACC blog caught up with Christian for a Q&A on Monday.)

Braxton Deaver, Duke: One of the conference’s best tight ends in 2013, Deaver was one of the many bright spots for the Blue Devils’ offense. He caught 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns.

Ben Koyack, Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish have produced several elite tight ends, and the hope is Koyack will be the next in line. He was not utilized much early on in 2013 but will be counted on more this fall with Troy Niklas off to the NFL.

Nick O'Leary, Florida State: One of the country’s best tight ends, O'Leary should be one of Jameis Winston's favorite targets this fall. O'Leary had the opportunity to leave school after last season, and he could be rewarded with a second national championship and a Mackey Award this fall.

Clive Walford, Miami: Much like Notre Dame, the Hurricanes have a fine tradition at tight end, and Walford is coming off a very solid season. He will need to be a security blanket for the Canes’ quarterback, whoever that may be.

Reaction: The ACC is not loaded at tight end, but there are certainly more than a few players who could push for a spot on an All-America team by season’s end. O’Leary is likely the best of the bunch and had an outside opportunity of being a first-round pick if he had entered the NFL draft. If he can stay on the field -- he’s escaped serious injury twice now from motorcycle accidents -- he is poised for a standout senior campaign. Winston lost top targets Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw to the NFL, and O’Leary figures to be Winston’s security blanket on third downs and in the red zone. Keep an eye on Deaver as a player who could continue making the cut as the list is pared down throughout the season.

[+] EnlargeAndy Gallik
Michael Tureski/Icon SMIVeteran Boston College center Andy Gallik is key to the Eagles being able to play their style.
Rimington Trophy

Andy Gallik, Boston College: A three-year starter, Gallik is the glue to a team predicated on playing smash-mouth football under former offensive line coach Steve Addazio. Gallik has started 25 straight games for the Eagles.

Artie Rowell, Pittsburgh: Rowell started all 13 games for the Panthers last season and was recognized for his performance in the bowl game against Bowling Green. James Conner set a Pitt record for rushing yards in a bowl game that night, due largely to Rowell.

Austin Barron, Florida State: Barron has starting experience, but he spent most of last season as a reserve to 2013 Rimington winner Bryan Stork. Barron has four experienced starters surrounding him on the offensive line, which should allow him to shine in his first year as the full-time starter.

Jake Smith, Louisville: Smith could end up playing right guard, where he started earlier in his career, but he is coming off a junior season in which he started at center.

Matt Skura, Duke: He played nearly every snap at center for the Blue Devils last season and was the linchpin of an offensive line that allowed just 17 sacks in 14 games.

Nick Martin, Notre Dame: The starter last year until a late-season knee injury cost him the final few games, Martin is poised for a solid senior season. The Irish were second in the country in 2013 in sacks allowed. Martin is the younger brother of Zack Martin, a first-round pick in this year's NFL draft.

Ryan Norton, Clemson: A starter in all 13 games for Clemson a season ago, Norton was the ACC Co-Offensive Lineman of the Week in his first start against Georgia in last year’s opener.

Shane McDermott, Miami: A third-team All-ACC selection in 2013, McDermott has played in all but four games since his redshirt freshman season at Miami.

Reaction: While more than half the centers in FBS are on this list, the ACC representatives all deserve to be on here for the most part. All have starting experience and in several cases have been commanding the offensive line for multiple seasons. Martin was hurt late in the season, but Irish coach Brian Kelly expects him to be ready for the season opener after missing spring practices. Barron has the least amount of starting experience and probably does not make the list if it were a little more exclusive, but he played admirably in Stork’s stead last season and could be recognized in the same manner as Stork by the end of the season.
Defensive back is one of the strongest position groups across the ACC, especially at the top.

We went with Florida State as the best unit during our recent position review analysis, but that was not a unanimous decision.

I believe Virginia Tech has the best group coming back.

SportsNation

Which team has the best secondary in the ACC?

  •  
    59%
  •  
    41%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,656)

Fellow ACC reporters David Hale and Matt Fortuna laughed at me when I suggested we debate the topic. But I soon discovered I am not a lone wolf howling into the wilderness.

Noted college football expert Phil Steele has Virginia Tech ranked No. 1 among all defensive back units, just ahead of Florida State.

There absolutely is a debate to be made here.

I am not discounting the depth and talent Florida State has in its secondary. These two groups are the top two in the entire nation. Who you believe is No. 1 depends on your perspective.

From my vantage point, Virginia Tech gets the edge because it returns the more experienced starting group, one that has all four of its starters back. These guys are no slouches, either. There is a reason Virginia Tech is known as DBU. Since 1997, 21 Virginia Tech defensive backs have been drafted. More are on the way.

Despite losing first-team All-ACC selection Kyle Fuller -- a first-round NFL pick -- Virginia Tech returns two All-ACC selections: his brother, Kendall (second team) and safety Kyshoen Jarrett (third team). Kendall Fuller also was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Florida State loses its veteran leaders Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks, both first-team All-ACC selections. Beyond their production, their leadership was a huge intangible on the national championship team. Nobody else returning to the Florida State secondary earned a spot on the All-ACC coaches team a year ago.

Virginia Tech also returns 15 of the 17 interceptions made by defensive backs last season -- including 11 from Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson.

Florida State led the nation with 26 interceptions a year ago, but returns a smaller share of picks made by defensive backs (13 of 20). Still, the Noles have terrific depth -- seven of the top nine are back -- and a superstar in the making in Jalen Ramsey, taking over the spot Joyner played last season. Nate Andrews returns after his terrific freshman season, leading the team with four interceptions. P.J. Williams had a big-time performance against Auburn in the national championship game. Ronald Darby should have his best season yet.

In explaining his decision to put Virginia Tech No. 1, Steele wrote that the Hokies have finished in the Top 15 of his pass defense ratings nine of the past 10 years. Last year, Virginia Tech was No. 1 in his pass defense rankings. He closes with this: five defensive backs return with a combined 49 starts, 226 tackles, 15 interceptions and 26 pass-breakups.

Both groups have great talent, and the potential to develop an All-American by season's end. (Steele has Fuller and Williams as preseason second-team All-Americans.) Each school has three players on the two preseason All-ACC teams already released. All this ratchets up the anticipation to see both units play and perform. Perhaps a clearer picture will develop by January.

Which team do you think has the best group? Vote in our poll, and drop me a line in the mailbag with your thoughts.

ACC lunchtime links

July, 8, 2014
Jul 8
12:00
PM ET
The NCAA suggested Monday football teams hold no more than two contact practices per week during the season, and while it is an early step, it is certainly a positive one for the sport’s governing body.

While the concussion issue has the NFL under siege, the college game has not garnered the same type of pressures regarding player safety and head injuries. But following a concussion summit earlier this season, the NCAA is taking necessary action to protect its student-athletes.

What really stood out to me about the NCAA's suggestions was creating a return-to-learn plan for student-athletes who suffer a concussion to help ease them back into their classroom work. With the interest and money college football generates, the players’ duties in the classroom are often overlooked, and when a player suffers a concussion, the question is whether he will be healthy for the following weekend’s game.

"It's not only talking about the health and safety of the student-athletes," Dr. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer for the NCAA, told The Associated Press. "It's a concussion guideline where we're saying, 'Look, these kids are students first and we have to make certain that if they have a concussion, there's a good return-to-learn pathway for them.'"

During the season and spring practice, there are already enough hurdles keeping student-athletes from performing at 100 percent in the classroom, and a head injury could set student-athletes back days -- if not months. While the two contact practices a week will garner the most headlines to come from the NCAA's suggestions, the return-to-learn process will be one of the most beneficial potential changes for the well-being of student-athletes.

It is important to note these are NCAA suggestions rather than mandates.

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

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Next up: The secondary

Best of the best: Florida State

Where do we begin? FSU's defensive backs may be the best in the nation. Start with safety Jalen Ramsey, who started as a true freshman last season, earned freshman All-America honors and should step right into the role all-everything DB Lamarcus Joyner filled last season. Both Ramsey and corner P.J. Williams shined this spring, and they were recognized as such by sharing the team's Hinesman Award (spring standout), along with Jameis Winston. Ronald Darby has the potential to become a shutdown corner, Tyler Hunter has made a strong comeback from neck surgery that forced him out of the final 11 games of last season and Nate Andrews is looking to build off a standout rookie campaign that saw him lead the Seminoles in interceptions, with four.

Next up: Virginia Tech

If FSU's secondary is the best in the nation, Virginia Tech's probably isn't far behind. The Hokies return all four starters from a unit that ranked No. 8 nationally in passing defense last season. Corners Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson were thrust into immediate meaningful action in 2013 because of injuries and neither disappointed, tallying a combined 11 interceptions. Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner added two picks apiece, with Jarrett serving as the team's leading returning tackler this fall as well (71 in 2013). Injuries limited several key pieces of the secondary this spring, but if it's any consolation, that could prove valuable long-term for the next-in-line at DBU. It's how Fuller and Facyson were able to thrive so early, after all.

Possible sleeper: Duke

The departure of Ross Cockrell will be tough to fill, but the Blue Devils have a ton of talented and experience playmakers returning. And there could be more opportunities coming their way, thanks to the fact that they have a very green defensive line. Safety Jeremy Cash had four of the secondary's 16 interceptions last year (the team had 18 total), but his biggest impact may be up front, where he tallied 9.5 tackles for loss and forced two fumbles, in addition to tallying 121 tackles in 2013. Corner DeVon Edwards came on strong down the stretch and finished with three picks, and safety Deondre Singleton added one pick and two forced fumbles as well. Corner Breon Borders, meanwhile, holds the distinction of picking off the Heisman winner Winston twice last season as a freshman, and he is looking to build off a four-interception rookie campaign.

Problem for a contender: Louisville

It's all on the corners now. Replacing safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor is a huge task for Todd Grantham in his first season as Louisville's defensive coordinator, and he at least benefits from a pair of returning starters at corner in Terrell Floyd and Charles Gaines. Still, there could be a pair of redshirt freshmen starting at safety (Charles Williams and Richard Benjamin), though Gerod Holliman and Michael Johnson might figure into the mix.
We learned a little bit about expectations for the college football season three weeks ago when The Golden Nugget opened betting lines on 200 games in 2014. Now we can take another look at individual expectations thanks to Bovada releasing division, league and national title odds.

In what should come as no surprise at all, Florida State is the favorite to win both the ACC title and the national title. The Seminoles are 2/5 odds to win the league crown for the third season in a row, while they are 11/2 to repeat as national champions.

The team with the second-best odds to win it all probably isn't that big of a surprise, either (Alabama at 6/1). But the No. 2 favorite to win the ACC title in 2014 will certainly open some eyes, as Miami checks in at 11/2. The Hurricanes have obvious question marks both under center and on defense, and their schedule doesn't exactly do them any huge favors.

The fact that Virginia Tech is the No. 3 favorite to win the ACC, behind the Hurricanes at 10/1, likely goes a long way in showing just how much easier the path is to the ACC title game in the Coastal Division, whose winner would then only have to manage a one-game upset to win the league. Clemson, considered to be arguably the second-best team in the league entering 2014, is tied with North Carolina as No. 4 favorite, at 12/1.

The Tar Heels, whose summer hype has been noted in this space before, are actually ahead of the Hokies as Coastal favorites, with 7/4 odds to Virginia Tech's 6/1. Miami remains the favorite, with 3/2 odds to win the division.

Reigning Coastal champion Duke is tied with Georgia Tech with 15/2 odds, while Pittsburgh, one of the many potential darkhorses in the division this fall, is tied for last with Virginia, at 25/1.

As for national title odds, you'll have to look far down the list to find another contender after FSU, as Clemson comes in with the 23rd-best odds at 66/1, three spots ahead of Miami, which is at 75/1. Bovada released national title odds for 51 teams in all, with nine ACC teams making the cut. Boston College, Georgia Tech and Pitt all have 500/1 odds to win it all.

League newcomer Louisville, for what it's worth, has 9/1 odds to win the Atlantic Division, 15/1 odds to win the ACC and 150/1 odds to win the national title. Partial member Notre Dame has 40/1 odds to win the national title.

CFB Future Power Rankings

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
3:16
PM ET

CFB Future Power Ranks10 future stars | Chat wrap | 2013 FPR

It's Insider's second go-round projecting college football's next three years in our Future Power Rankings.

What did we learn from our first edition? For one, teams can make a substantive move in just a year's time. Just look at Auburn, which jumped from 23rd to fifth after a run to the championship game. USC, now with coaching stability, made the biggest leap (25th to sixth). Oklahoma, UCLA, FSU and Baylor were among other risers, and you'll soon read why.

On the other side, we were high a year ago on Florida and Michigan. Oops. The Gators' injury-plagued 4-8 season dropped them from No. 4 to No. 14, while the Wolverines, who lost five of their last six games, fell from fifth to 20th. We know Will Muschamp's job is in danger, but is that an omen for Brady Hoke's future in Ann Arbor?

Alabama is again our No. 1 team, but with two losses to end the season, its lead shrank. Is that a subtle signal that the Tide might have peaked under Nick Saban?

We'll examine those topics and more in the Future Power Rankings.

Here's how we compiled it: Our panel -- myself, Brad Edwards, Brock Huard, Tom Luginbill and Mark Schlabach -- provided 1-10 ratings in five different categories that we found to be comprehensive in determining current positioning, as well as a projection for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.

Here are the top 25 college football teams over the next three years:


  • 1
Alabama Crimson Tide
SEC FPR RANK: 1

The bar graphs reflect the average points given by the voters for each category. Category averages are weighted by importance to generate overall score.

Coaching: Saban did not receive a perfect 10, as he did a year ago. Maybe the one panelist who gave him a nine dinged him for how he managed the final second of the Iron Bowl.

But seriously, Saban is still well ahead of No. 2 Urban Meyer (9.2) and No. 3 Bill Snyder (9.0). (Have to appreciate that Snyder gets that kind of love, even if K-State didn't break the Top 25.)

Edwards thinks 2014 is a big year for Saban because it will show whether he can adapt his defense to better handle tempo offenses. Look at how Saban's defenses mightily struggled last year against not only Texas A&M, but also Auburn and Oklahoma.

"You put them all together and you realize, 'You know what, Alabama might have an issue with this,'" Edwards said. "I happen to believe Saban and [defensive coordinator] Kirby Smart have done enough to deserve the benefit of the doubt. Let's see what they can come up with this year before I decide the dynasty is over. Saban is now recruiting to find those types of players [to defend tempo offenses]."

As for the best coach in the state?

"I want to see Gus Malzahn beat Nick Saban one more time before I say he's a better coach," Edwards said, "which is a conclusion a lot of people are already making."

Current talent: There are more positional questions than in the past few years, especially the offensive line and cornerback spots. Rival coaches are even rumbling about it. "I don't know about them," one SEC coordinator said. But do not be fooled for an instant into thinking the Tide have suddenly become as barren as a bachelor's refrigerator in terms of talent.

Bama still has the top running back group in the country with T.J. Yeldon, Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry, who was a bright spot in the otherwise drab Sugar Bowl performance. The time could be now for LB Reuben Foster and FS Landon Collins to shine on defense. MLB Trey DePriest will be the defense's rock.

And what about QB Jake Coker? His old coach at FSU, Jimbo Fisher, believes Coker is capable, which is why Coker nearly beat out last year's Heisman Trophy winner to start at FSU.

Recruiting: This is why Alabama earned association with the word "dynasty" -- it started winning almost every major recruiting battle, and the program became the closest thing there is on the planet to the NFL's minor league system. It has not dipped, and there's no reason to believe it will as long as Saban is around; he will not let it slide.

Title path:  It's going to happen, and it could happen this year: The SEC is going to knock itself out of the playoff. The strength of the top half of the league could turn out to be a bad thing in some seasons.

The Tide are regularly part of a kickoff game of some kind, playing the likes of Clemson, Virginia Tech or West Virginia, but the nonconference slate is typically manageable. The conference schedule always works for and against the SEC. For the Tide, Auburn is the new-slash-old menace.

The rating suggests that it isn't the ideal road to the playoff, but it should not be preventive for a power program such as Alabama.

Program power: Like the coaching category, Bama still received four 10s and a nine. The takeaway: It's hard to remain perfect.

"We all know that every dynasty comes to an end, but when you look back on every dynasty, you know where the turning point was," Edwards said. Will we say it was the Iron Bowl and Sugar Bowl, perhaps? "I think what you have is a lot of people trying to be the first one to predict the end of the dynasty," Edwards said. "They want to be the ones to say they didn't miss it. I think they're jumping the gun a little bit."

Which is why Alabama is still No. 1. But one program is making up ground in a hurry ...


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Do you need a sign college football is close but still just a little too far away? The first preseason award watch lists were released Monday, a list of more than 70 players that could be the best in the country by season’s end.

It doesn’t matter if you have started only three games in your career and haven’t played a down since November 2012 -- there is a spot for you on the list.

That said, it’s college football and as ridiculous as these often are, I admit I enjoy looking at them. The watch lists for the Maxwell Award, given to the college player of the year, and Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player, were released Monday. As the season progresses, the list will be pared down before a winner is announced in December.

Here is a look at the ACC players to make the cut and some justification for each player being on the list.

Maxwell Award

WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: As a freshman last fall, Boyd was as good of a receiver as there was in the ACC. As the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver heading into the 2014 season, Boyd could put up monster numbers and follow in the footsteps of Pitt great Larry Fitzgerald.

[+] EnlargeJames Connor
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner set a Pitt record with 229 yards in the Panthers' bowl win over Bowling Green.
QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State: This is not a knock on Brissett, but his inclusion is certainly puzzling considering he sat out all of 2013 after transferring from Florida, where he saw limited time as a starter and backup. However, the Wolfpack staff is high on Brissett leading the program’s turnaround, and Brissett was a blue-chip high school recruit.

WR Stacy Coley, Miami: Much like Boyd, Coley had a strong freshman season and is poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. One of the country’s elite recruits in 2013, Coley could make a national name for himself if he can build a connection with Miami’s quarterbacks, which have struggled with inconsistency and injury.

RB James Conner, Pitt: It’s almost unfair Conner was limited to just the Maxwell watch list Monday considering he is a two-way standout for the Panthers. Conner is already a huge fan favorite in the Steel City for his bruising and relentless running style, and he broke Tony Dorsett’s school bowl-game rushing record in December.

WR Jamison Crowder, Duke: Any time you catch more than 100 passes for more than 1,300 yards, you deserve to be on this list.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Johnson’s inclusion here is a credit to how dominant he was before the injury against Florida State and how woeful Miami looked after. If he can stay healthy, Johnson has the potential to be an elite back nationally.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: As the Cardinals’ leading returning receiver and now in Bobby Petrino’s offense, Parker should light up stat sheets this coming season.

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Seminoles’ receivers, but none of it includes Greene, who led the Noles in receiving in 2013. With Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in the NFL, Greene will be looked upon to bail out Jameis Winston this fall.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: Speaking of Winston, the Maxwell is about the only thing he did not win last season. Another spectacular season and it will be hard to ignore him again.

RB Karlos Williams, Florida State: Similar to Brissett, this is a bit of a projection pick, although Williams has done significantly more than Brissett. Williams was the third-string running back in 2013, but with his five-star talent base coupled with a senior-laden offensive line and Williams could set records in his final season in Tallahassee.

Reaction: While Brissett is obviously a surprise, overall it is hard to argue with much of the list. Williams' inclusion might be pushing it a little bit, although he certainly could be one of the best running backs in the country with his blend of size and speed. It's a positive sign for the ACC that several underclassmen are on the list, including special playmakers Boyd, Coley and Conner, who will all be true sophomores this fall. The biggest question is whether Winston will win the award if he performs the way most expect him to as a redshirt sophomore. AJ McCarron won the award last season over Winston, who was a semifinalist along with Johnny Manziel. Winston's off-the-field issues might have played a role, so it would be interesting to see if the Maxwell Award will continue to take those incidents into account.



Bednarik Award

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl win against Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: A semifinalist for the award last season, Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields. If he can show a little more consistency, he might win the award in 2014.

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley is among the favorites to repeat as a finalist for this season's Bednarik Award.
LB Kelby Brown, Duke: The Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe are most known for offense, but Brown is a stout defender and one of the conference’s best. He will make a run at 100 tackles for a second straight season this fall.

DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant impact player for the Blue Devils a season ago following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season.

DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national championship. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Bednarik.

DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best.

DE Eli Harold, Virginia: Last season he finished sixth in the ACC with 15 tackles for loss, an impressive number. He could see his numbers improve drastically with five-star Andrew Brown now at defensive tackle.

DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the year.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but is as talented as they come.

DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, North Carolina: Otis is another player poised to possibly gain national recognition and it begins with his inclusion on this list. He had a very strong junior season with 6.5 sacks.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes’ defenses. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall.

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list.

Reaction: It was surprising Darby's name was not included on the list despite missing the spring. He could be the first cornerback taken in the NFL draft next year. The ACC is home to some of the country's best defensive backs with Williams, Fuller and Harris. Beasley is certainly one of the favorites coming into the season, but he was shut down by Florida State last season and will need to rebound against the Seminoles to make a push for the Bednarik as a senior. His sack numbers should be impressive once again, and if he can perform on the big stages, it might be the little extra that wins him the award this season. FSU's Edwards could be the best defensive lineman in the ACC and the country if he plays like he did against Auburn all season. What could hurt Edwards is he will not always be in a position to pile up sacks and tackles even when he is dominating opposing offensive linemen.

ACC lunchtime links

July, 7, 2014
Jul 7
12:00
PM ET
I hope everybody had a good Fourth of July weekend, but now it is time to get back to football.

This link was from a little more than a week ago, but I think it is still worth debating. NFL.com writer Chase Goodbread ranked the top 10 college football teams from the 1990s, but the kicker is the team had to finish undefeated, although it was not required they won a national championship.

When all 10 teams in the ranking are undefeated, every single one of those teams has a claim to the No. 1 spot, making the list purely subjective. However, it is still fun to dissect and debate.

For the ACC blog’s purposes, we’re looking at Florida State’s 1999 team that went 12-0 and defeated Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl en route to Bobby Bowden’s second national championship. NFL.com ranks that Seminoles squad, led by Heisman winner Chris Weinke, second on the list. If it is any consolation to Seminoles fans, the 1995 Nebraska team was ranked No. 1, and the Huskers thrashed Florida 62-24 in the Fiesta Bowl that season.

So, the first question is whether Florida State deserved to be No. 1 or even fall a little bit? Weinke was as pure a passer as there was during the decade and spent a few seasons in the NFL. Peter Warrick was a great receiver and went No. 4 overall in the NFL draft, and the following season Jamal Reynolds was a top-10 pick. Let’s not forget kicker Sebastian Janikowski was also a first-round selection … but it was the Raiders who took him.

Let’s add another layer here, though. Is that 1999 team even the best Florida State team of the decade? The 1993 team certainly has a legitimate claim to being the program’s best of the 1990s. That team was also led by a Heisman winner, but they suffered a loss to Notre Dame late in the season. Quarterback Charlie Ward was able to get the Seminoles to regroup and win the national championship.

The best could have been even another FSU team, as Bowden led the Noles to double-digit wins every year, and the Seminoles had five seasons during the decade with just a single loss.

And let’s add one more layer and ask if it is even the greatest FSU team ever? The 2013 team can certainly lay claim to that distinction when you consider the undefeated record, the single-season records, Jameis Winston winning the Heisman and the number of draft picks the Seminoles had. By mid-January, the 2014 Florida State team could be in the discussion, too.

What say you?

Here are a few more links to get you through the work day:
When a football coaching staff signs one of the top few recruits at any position, it's cause for celebration. Therefore, grabbing two of the top three prospects at that position might warrant an Animal House-style party.

Between 2006, when ESPN began assembling recruit rankings, and 2013, individual programs managed to sign at least two of the top three players at a position 16 times. In many cases, one -- and sometimes both -- of those players became instant stars as true freshmen. Think Taylor Mays and Joe McKnight at USC, De'Anthony Thomas at Oregon, Laremy Tunsil at Ole Miss and Sean Spence at Miami.

This was a relatively unique occurrence up until 2014, when it happened five times -- with four of the five instances occurring in the SEC: twice at Alabama, which signed the top two players at both center (No. 1 Josh Casher and No. 2 J.C. Hassenauer) and outside linebacker (No. 1 Christian Miller and No. 2 Rashaan Evans), plus at LSU (with No. 1 and 3 wide receivers Malachi Dupre and Trey Quinn) and Florida (with No. 2 and 3 defensive tackles Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley).

Clemson was the other school to accomplish the feat in 2014, signing No. 2 and 3 receiving tight ends Milan Richard and Cannon Smith.

In some of these cases -- particularly at LSU, which lost the vast majority of its receiving production from 2013 -- expectations are high that the star signees can immediately become valuable contributors as true freshmen. The Tigers have multiple alternatives at receiver, including Travin Dural and John Diarse, but Dupre and Quinn might rank among the leading contenders for playing time.

Judging by the long list of Freshman All-America and freshman all-conference honors won by those who previously signed as part of such a dynamic duo, perhaps it's not such a long shot that at least one of the newcomers will make a similar instant impact.

2006

Safety | USC
No. 2 Taylor Mays, No. 3 Antwine Perez

Mays appeared in all 13 games -- starting the last 12 at free safety after Josh Pinkard suffered a season-ending injury in the opener -- in 2006 and led the Trojans with three interceptions. Mays was fifth on the team with 62 tackles and tied for second with six passes defended, ending the season as Pac-10 Co-Freshman of the Year and as a member of multiple Freshman All-America teams. Perez played in seven games and recorded three tackles.

2007

Center | Auburn
No. 1 Ryan Pugh, No. 3 Chaz Ramsey

Pugh started six of Auburn's final nine games at left tackle and appeared in eight games overall. He also backed up Jason Bosley at center and earned Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team honors after the season. Like Pugh, Ramsey appeared for the first time in Week 4 and went on to start nine of the Tigers' last 10 games at right guard. He also made the Coaches' All-SEC Freshman team.

Running back | USC
No. 1 Joe McKnight, No. 2 Marc Tyler

McKnight played in all 13 games in 2007, ranked third on the team with 540 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns. He also caught 23 passes for 203 yards and a touchdown and served as the Trojans' primary punt returner, with his 8.4 yards per return helping him earn a All-Pac-10 honorable mention nod. Tyler redshirted in 2007 while recuperating from a high school leg injury.

2008

Inside linebacker | Ohio State
No. 1 Etienne Sabino, No. 2 Andrew Sweat

Sabino played in all 13 games and notched six tackles. He notched the only touchdown in the Buckeyes' 16-3 win against Purdue by returning a blocked punt 20 yards for a score. Sweat appeared in the last nine games and recorded five tackles, also contributing mostly on special teams.

Outside linebacker | Miami
No. 1 Arthur Brown, No. 2 Sean Spence, No. 3 Ramon Buchanan

Not only did Miami sign ESPN's top three outside linebacker prospects in 2008, it also signed No. 5 Jordan Futch. That's an outstanding haul for one year. At any rate, Spence emerged as the key member of this group from the get-go, ranking third on the team with 65 tackles and leading the Hurricanes with 9.5 tackles for a loss in 2008. He was ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and made multiple Freshman All-America teams. Brown (who later transferred to Kansas State) played in 11 games as a freshman, notching four tackles and shifting from outside to inside linebacker. Buchanan had six tackles in nine games, playing mostly on special teams and also contributing at safety and linebacker.

Offensive tackle | Ohio State
No. 2 Michael Brewster, No. 3 J.B. Shugarts

Brewster played in 12 of the Buckeyes' 13 games in 2008 and started the last 10 at center, earning Freshman All-America honors in the process. Shugarts appeared in seven games at offensive tackle and missed six other games with a shoulder surgery that required offseason surgery.

Safety | Florida
No. 1 Will Hill, No. 2 Dee Finley

Hill played in 13 games and ranked sixth on the team with 48 tackles. He also picked off two passes and notched 1.5 sacks. He made the SEC All-Freshman team and led the Gators with 22 tackles on special teams. Finley did not qualify academically and spent the 2008 season at Milford Academy prep school. He eventually enrolled at Florida and shifted from safety to linebacker, but transferred away from Gainesville in 2011.

2009

Safety | South Carolina
No. 2 Stephon Gilmore, No. 3 DeVonte Holloman

Early enrollee Gilmore started all 13 games at cornerback, ranking fifth on the team with 56 tackles. He tied for the team lead with nine passes defended and ranked second with eight pass breakups, adding six tackles for a loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. The Freshman All-SEC and Freshman All-America honoree also averaged 10.1 yards per return as a punt return man. Another early enrollee, Hollomon also played in every game, notching 30 tackles, an interception (which he returned 54 yards against rival Clemson) and a tackle for a loss.

2010

Athlete | Florida
No. 1 Ronald Powell, No. 2 Matt Elam

Powell played in 13 games at strongside linebacker and recorded 25 tackles, three tackles for a loss and a sack en route to winning Freshman All-SEC honors. Elam also played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams and at defensive back, and notched 22 tackles, two tackles for a loss and a sack.

Defensive tackle | Florida
No. 1 Dominique Easley, No. 3 Sharrif Floyd

Easley recorded four tackles in six games. Floyd played in all 13 games, earning Coaches' Freshman All-SEC honors by making 23 tackles and 6.5 tackles for a loss.

Wide receiver | Texas
No. 2 Mike Davis, No. 3 Darius White

Davis ranked second on the team with 478 receiving yards and 47 receptions (a record for a Texas freshman). He became one of only three receivers in Longhorns history to post multiple 100-yard games as a freshman. White appeared in 10 games in 2010, but caught just one pass for 5 yards and eventually transferred to Missouri after two seasons, citing a need for a fresh start.

2011

Athlete | Oregon
No. 1 De'Anthony Thomas, No. 2 Devon Blackmon

The speedy Thomas earned Pac-12 Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year honors and was named an All-Pac-12 kick returner and a Freshman All-American. He was the only player in the nation to post at least 400 yards rushing, receiving and kick returning in 2011, ranking as the Ducks' second-leading receiver (595 yards on 46 catches) and third-leading rusher (608 yards and seven touchdowns). His 983 kickoff return yards ranked second in school history. Blackmon redshirted in 2011 and appeared in two games in 2012 before announcing his plan to transfer. He played at Riverside City College before signing with BYU as a juco transfer in 2014.

2012

Defensive end | Florida State
No. 1 Mario Edwards, No. 3 Chris Casher

Edwards became the only freshman to start all season for a loaded FSU defense when he replaced the injured Tank Carradine in the ACC Championship Game. He also started in the Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois. In all, Edwards finished the season with 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. Casher played in two early games before suffering a season-ending injury and taking a redshirt in 2012.

2013

Offensive guard | Michigan
No. 2 David Dawson, No. 3 Patrick Kugler

Dawson and Kugler both redshirted in 2013. Dawson practiced during the spring at left guard and left tackle, while Kugler is among the candidates to start at center this fall.

Offensive tackle | Ole Miss
No. 1 Laremy Tunsil, No. 3 Austin Golson

Tunsil immediately became one of the better offensive tackles in the SEC, earning second-team All-SEC and Freshman All-America honors in 2013. He played in 12 games and started nine at left tackle, making him one of only two true full-time freshman starters at the position in the FBS. Tunsil allowed just one sack all season. Golson played in 12 games, mostly at guard, before missing the Rebels' bowl game because of shoulder surgery. He transferred to Auburn this summer, citing a family illness as the reason he wanted to move closer to his Alabama home.

Safety | USC
No. 1 Su'a Cravens, No. 3 Leon McQuay III

A 2013 early enrollee, Cravens started 13 games at strong safety, ranked eighth on the team with 52 tackles and tied for second with four interceptions. He made multiple Freshman All-America teams and earned an All-Pac-12 honorable mention nod after the season. McQuay played in all 14 games, picked off one pass and recorded 19 tackles.
[+] EnlargeJameis Winston Day
David M. Hale/ESPN Jameis Winston posed with his family as he was honored with his own day in his Alabama hometown.

BESSEMER, Ala. -- For the better part of two hours Saturday, Florida State star quarterback Jameis Winston sat on a dais with his younger brother perched on his lap, listening politely as politicians and local dignitaries sung his praises.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner had gotten a police escort to the stadium where he'd starred in high school, and he had security stationed nearby, even if a hefty percentage of the 250 or so spectators were extended family.

When it was finally Winston's turn to speak at the ceremony honoring him in his hometown of Hueytown, Alabama, he pulled the microphone from the podium and preached to the assembled masses.

"You might be a little bit bored," Winston said to the crowd, "but let's just cheer for no reason."

Winston got plenty of cheers throughout the ceremony, the final leg of his "Jameis Winston Day" tour through Hueytown and Bessemer, Alabama, which included stops at a local children's hospital and a reception at the chamber of commerce.


(Read full post)


LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. -- Nineteen of the nation's top quarterbacks landed in northwest Oregon on Saturday afternoon, a day before the annual Elite 11 quarterback competition begins. While eyes will be focused on several storylines during the event -- including having the top six dual-threat quarterbacks in the country on hand -- attention on Saturday turned to the few uncommitted quarterbacks in attendance, including Sam Darnold, Torrance Gibson and Deondre Francois.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

GSP Technology In Use At FSU
The College Football Live crew discusses Florida State's use of GSP tracking to measure player exertion.Tags: College Football, Florida State Seminoles
VIDEO PLAYLIST video