We’ve talked plenty about the myriad of quarterback battles going on around the ACC, but the conference actually returns five QBs who accounted for 2,000 yards of offense or more last season.

We wrote about the big-name receivers headed for the NFL draft, but the ACC also has three wideouts returning who accounted for 1,000 receiving yards in 2013, too.

But how about the tailbacks? How many 1,000-yard rushers from 2013 will be back again this season?

Believe it or not, the lone representative on that list is Virginia’s Kevin Parks, who racked up 1,031 yards on the ground for a team that didn’t win a single conference game.

The depth chart among returning running backs in the conference doesn’t get much better beyond Parks, either. Duke Johnson is probably the ACC’s best returning running back. He racked up 920 yards in eight games before getting hurt. Beyond that, only Louisville’s Dominique Brown, who played in the AAC last year, returns with at least 800 yards on the ground from 2013.

So, if there aren’t a ton of top tailbacks returning for 2014, which teams are poised for the most success on the ground this year?



If we break down the numbers by tailbacks only, Pittsburgh is the clear front runner. No ACC team’s returning running backs accounted for a higher percentage of its 2013 carries (76 percent) than Pitt’s, and thanks to the negative rushing totals courtesy of sacks, James Conner (799 yards), Isaac Bennett (776 yards) and Co. actually accounted for 106 percent of the Panthers’ rushing yards from 2013. (A neat trick that comes courtesy of Tom Savage's 76 carries for minus-208 yards.)

With Parks back for 2014 along with highly touted sophomore Taquan Mizzell, UVA’s returning backs account for 74 percent of last season's rushes, along with 91 percent of its yards. Of course, without star lineman Morgan Moses, those yards might be a bit tougher to come by this season.

Virginia Tech, NC State and Louisville all return running backs responsible for at least 50 percent of last season's ground gains, too (with Miami falling just short after swapping Dallas Crawford to the secondary).

The bottom of the list might be even more intriguing. Wake Forest’s stable of running backs is a mess, but that’s been well documented. The rest of the bottom six, however, include BC (which lost a Heisman finalist) and the top four offenses in the league from 2013 (Florida State, Clemson, Duke and Georgia Tech).

In other words, the best offenses lost big-time runners, and the shakiest (aside from Wake) have talent returning. So, does that mean there’s reason for some serious shakeups in the ACC’s offensive standings?

Not necessarily.

Yes, the ground game is essential for most teams to succeed. Of the 10 teams that played in BCS bowl games last season, seven returned a tailback who rushed for at least 500 yards in 2012.

But the ground game isn’t defined entirely by the men toting the rock. FSU returns four starters on a veteran offensive line, along with a Heisman-winning quarterback. That should provide some room for its relatively green stable of running backs to roam.

And, of course, just because there’s talent departing doesn’t mean there isn’t more waiting in the wings. Florida State’s returning running backs (Karlos Williams and Ryan Green) averaged 7 yards per carry in reserve roles last season. Georgia Tech’s averaged 5.9, and Duke’s averaged 5.8 (QB Brandon Connette’s departure is the biggest blow to the Blue Devils’ ground attack). Even Clemson has cause to be excited about its rushing game in 2014 with the development of C.J. Davidson and Zac Brooks and the debut of uber-talented redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman.

The veteran presence in the backfield for Pitt, Virginia and NC State should offer some hope to teams in need of some offensive optimism, but it’s also a likely scenario that FSU, Clemson, and others will supply a few names to the ACC’s rushing leaderboard in 2014, too.

ACC's lunch links

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
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I write the ACC lunch links one week out of every month, and still I was somehow left off Time’s list of its 100 most influential people. Something is seriously wrong with their criteria.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 23, 2014
Apr 23
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Your time-waster of the day: An oral history of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.”

ACC's lunch links

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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Because you know you want to see Larry Fedora rapping Drake lyrics
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State had the luxury a season ago of playing not only with future NFL draft picks all over its defense, but with senior leaders at each level.

Plenty of talent remains as the Seminoles look ahead to defending their national championship. But there is a major void in senior leadership. While the offense is full of seniors, the defense is not. There are no seniors projected to start on defense in 2014. Only two are projected for the two-deep. So who will step up to fill the hole usually filled by the most veteran players on the team?

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
Jim Rogash/Getty ImagesFlorida State junior cornerback P.J. Williams had three interceptions in 2013.
"I quit putting an emphasis on seniors," coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I think seniors at times are overrated and at times underrated. I know that sounds crazy, but it depends. Jameis [Winston] took our team over as a freshman. In the older days, seniors mattered maybe more because you didn’t play the young guys. But at the same time I don’t want to take away from senior leadership because how many times you’ve been out there matters. That offensive line and all those seniors, don’t think that doesn’t make me sleep well. I think it just depends on teach teams’ personality and the dynamic of each team."

Though senior leadership is lost from the defense, experience remains. Seven starters return, including five juniors who started in the BCS national title game against Auburn. Starting linebacker Terrance Smith is a fourth-year junior. So is safety Tyler Hunter, who is expected to return after missing most of last season with a neck injury.

But perhaps the biggest leadership shoes to fill belong to departed safety Lamarcus Joyner, the heart and soul of the defense and one of the most vocal leaders on the team. Jalen Ramsey, who will play the same position Joyner did last season, seems uniquely qualified to step right in.

Not only does he return after playing in all 14 games last year as a freshman, he has the same characteristics that made Joyner stand out as a vocal leader. Ramsey is confident in his abilities, but not arrogant. He is not shy about being honest. Like Joyner -- who started leading the Seminoles well before he started his senior season -- Ramsey is not afraid of the added responsibility. His candor has already won his teammates over. Fisher says Ramsey has been "off the chain" with his leadership during the spring.

"I think I should hold myself to step up in that area. I feel I can push other people," Ramsey said.

So does cornerback P.J. Williams, another player who has stepped up in the leadership department. Being named Defensive MVP of the national championship game has not only boosted his own confidence, but given him more authority to speak up, especially with Joyner gone.

"It’s a big role to try and step up and do because Lamarcus was a great player," Williams said. "He led by example to everybody and everybody looked up to him. Now, I'm just trying to compete at a high level, talk to my players and make sure we’re on the right page. We want to win another national championship so we know we have to work hard."

Florida State hopes a lack of senior leadership on defense turns out to be no problem. It's like Fisher tells his team all the time:

"Is there an age limit on leadership?" Fisher said. "Is there an age limit on good players? How old do you have to be to be a good player? Why can’t you be a good player now? That’s what we’re finding out."
Jimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston celebrate Florida State's BCS Championship win
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesA great night for the Seminoles on the field proved costly for Florida State's bank account.

Florida State won its third national championship in Pasadena, Calif., in January, but the appearance in the final BCS title game also cost the university nearly a half-million dollars.

Florida State reported expenses of $2,820,613 -- nearly half of which came from transportation costs -- which exceeded the revenue generated from its BCS appearance by a total of $481,213.

The loss does not come as a surprise for FSU. Athletics director Stan Wilcox said in February that playing on the West coast increased travel expenses and hindered ticket sales, making it nearly impossible to turn a profit on the endeavor. Wilcox said that the losses were more than covered by the share of BCS revenue paid out by the conference along with projected increased future revenue that comes from winning a national title.

"We're not losing money in the long run, because as a conference, we're making a lot more money and those dollars are filtered down to the institutions," Wilcox said. "The issue has to do with the amount of expense allotted to go participate and what your expenses end up being."

According to Florida State's balance sheet, the athletics department spent $1,372,805 to transport 699 people to Pasadena for the game, including 237 members of the team and staff and 416 band members.


(Read full post)


Louisville already has proven over and over why it will fit right in to the ACC when it officially joins the league later this year. But for good measure, here is reason No. 502 why the Cardinals were the perfect choice to replace Maryland:

Spring game attendance.

Louisville drew 27,500 fans to its spring game (on a Friday night) two weeks ago, one year after drawing 33,000 fans. For those keeping track at home, only 17 schools that reported spring game attendance to date even reached 20,000 spectators. Based on attendance figures that have been reported, Louisville ranks in the top 15 in the country and third in the ACC behind established powers Florida State and Clemson.

They are the only three ACC schools that had more than 20,000 fans at their spring games so far, tied for second with the Big Ten. The SEC leads the way with eight to date.

While we are not putting a large amount of stock in attendance numbers associated with fairly meaningless scrimmages, the support is tangible proof that interest in the program goes beyond basketball. Louisville has made a huge effort to boost its football product, and rising spring game figures show there is excitement in not only what already has been accomplished but what also lies ahead. Charlie Strong helped rebuild the brand, and now Bobby Petrino takes over for his second stint with high expectations surrounding the program.

It cannot be understated just how much the ACC needs Louisville to generate football interest. Football essentially pushed Louisville ahead of UConn in the race to join the league two years ago. The ACC would have been just as good a basketball conference with either Louisville or UConn, the last two men's basketball champions. But it is not even close with football (it should be noted UConn's spring football attendance was 6,500).

Wake Forest and Virginia Tech close out ACC spring practices this weekend with their spring games. The Hokies usually rank No. 3 in the ACC in attendance during the season and should draw a solid crowd this weekend. Among the other ACC schools that reported attendance numbers, Miami was the only one to draw more than 10,000 to its spring game (announced crowd of 12,160).

Boston College, NC State, North Carolina and Virginia did not announce spring game attendance numbers. Pitt did not hold a spring game.

ACC's lunch links

April, 21, 2014
Apr 21
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Between this low ranking for lumberjacks and this story about shaving, it was a bad week for beards.

ACC Friday mailblog

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Hope everyone has a Happy Easter ...

JD in State College, Pa., writes: Where do you think Pitt sophomores James Conner and Tyler Boyd rank among ACC running back/wide receiver combos?

HD: I'm looking at every team in the league and it's tough to find one that compares. Some of them have half the equation, such as Jamison Crowder at Duke. But when you consider that Clemson has to replace its leading rusher and top two receivers from a year ago, FSU lost Kelvin Benjamin, James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman ... Pitt has to be near the top -- if not No. 1 -- and last season was only the beginning for them. Based on potential, though, they could be surpassed by Miami's combo of Duke Johnson and Stacy Coley, especially with Johnson healthy again. And don't forget that FSU reloads. Karlos Williams and Rashad Greene could state their case. Here's a sleeper for you: UNC's T.J. Logan and Quinshad Davis. Logan drew rave reviews from the coaching staff this spring.


Tim in Blacksburg writes: HD, did you say no hope for Virginia Tech on offense!? The QB spot is up in the air, and in transition -- no doubt. Michael Brewer should have a say in that spot when he arrives. Beyond that however, your analysis of the offense is lacking, to say the least. The OL should be much improved this year. Have you seen Augie Conte and Wyatt Teller... Alston Smith... and it's the most experienced group we've seen in a number of years. Our top tight end, who missed all of last year -- returns, as does Kalvin Cline and newcomer to the position Bucky Hodges. BTW, have you seen Bucky Hodges? Bucky has a chance to be a HUGE playmaker for VT. The run game needs a big-time boost in production. That may be by committee again this year between [Trey] Edmunds, [J.C.] Coleman and newcomer Marshawn Williams, who has been turning heads and nearly breaking them so far this spring.

HD: No hope? I'd never say no hope. Hapless maybe, but not hopeless. Here's the scoop on VT's offense this spring: The Hokies are better everywhere on offense this spring. Every position is deeper and better. Except quarterback. It's still a huge question, and one that won't be answered until this summer when the entire roster is practicing. There's plenty of talent on that roster, but until they find an answer at quarterback, I'm not picking them to win the Coastal Division.


Josh in Palm Bay, Fla., writes: The other day, you were talking about Clemson as the best defense in the ACC. I was shocked that you would take such a stand for them! You saw they got flat-out destroyed in many games last year despite how good they played in their previous bowl vs LSU, I believe? FSU lost a few players, true, but in some cases, their replacements might be better (not [Timmy] Jernigan's). The new DC last year didn't stop us with a whole new system; a new DC this year with the same system won't either. Sorry ACC, Dabo, HD, AD... gonna still be a fantastic D at FSU, still gonna be better than Clemson, and still gonna be doubters, I guess!

HD: Yep, I'm pretty sure I said that one, though technically I think I said it could be the best D in the ACC, even better than Florida State's. Look, I know everyone is not used to Clemson's defense being a strength, just like you're not used to Duke being a contender in the Coastal Division race, but stay with me here. FSU's defensive line has been depleted in the past two years by the NFL draft, whereas Clemson's defensive line finally has a veteran look. I'm not going to make too much out of the turnover at the coordinator position because there's still continuity there for the Seminoles, but Clemson enters this fall with fewer questions on defense.


Jeremy Lambert in South Hill, Va., writes: Virginia's basketball success in recent years has clearly demonstrated the school's athletics potential across the board. Its resources to attract talent and fan support are on display for all to see in the basketball program. Having said that, UVa's football woes are extremely frustrating to watch. Its failures are excruciating. It is difficult for me to point to a specific factor, but it is hard to think that a lot of the Hoos' football woes could not be solved by having a good quarterback. Matt Schaub -- 10 years ago -- was the last good quarterback Virginia had. What is it about Virginia's program that a good quarterback is not compelled to commit to playing there? Or should Virginia's expectations be lower than I think?

HD: I don't think the overall expectations should be lower -- but maybe the expectations about routinely bringing in an elite quarterback should be. Granted, much of Virginia's woes can be traced to inconsistency, indecisiveness and underwhelming performances from that position. But look across the ACC, not to mention college football, and how often does a Matt Ryan come along? Philip Rivers? There are more of the likes of Logan Thomas, Chase Rettig and Tanner Price. You're right that UVa football is capable of more than what we've seen, especially with the increased commitment to facilities, recruiting and staff salaries. It should be a regular bowl-bound team, and every now and then make some noise in the Coastal Division race, but is it going to be the next Clemson? Probably not.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
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Wishing everybody a great holiday weekend!
video

In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.
Karlos Williams and Jimbo Fisher Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher notes the confidence boost last year's championship provides.
As Florida State was beginning to gear up for its just-ended spring practices, head coach Jimbo Fisher chatted about the challenges of being the defending national champions, a position that both he as a coach and the program itself has been in before, but not together.

"We're the national champions and we should remember that, but also that last year was last year," Fisher said in March, previewing comments he would make to Ivan Maisel prior to last week's Garnet and Gold Game. "It's a line you have to walk, but hey, I'd rather be walking it than not!"

The Seminoles aren't the only program who spent spring and will go on spending summer and fall trying to find that balance between seizing the momentum of 2013 success while also instilling a sense of, "but don't get too comfortable, boys, we still have work to do."

So, how does a coach achieve that balance?

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Scottie Montgomery returned to Duke last year from an NFL world where quarterbacks were never, ever hit in practice.

So when his quarterbacks started begging him to go live this spring, his first reaction was, ‘No way!’ He was in protection mode, the way he was as a Steelers assistant. But veterans Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette persisted, and he slowly relented -- only a few times, and with clear instructions to the defense.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Jimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Phil SearsFlorida State coach Jimbo Fisher had Jameis Winston go live last spring when he was dueling Jacob Coker for the starting job.
“My initial feel is, ‘Don't ever let anybody get touched, so I have to fight myself at times, because I want to protect these guys and these guys want to compete for jobs,” said Montgomery, the offensive coordinator.

His is a dilemma that many coaches across the league have faced this spring. Do you allow your quarterbacks to get hit in practice to help simulate game situations and foster competition, knowing you have increased their injury risk? Or do you never even broach the subject because the priority should always be to protect the quarterback?

Four ACC teams allowed their quarterbacks to go live at some point during spring practice, more than any other power-five league. Clemson did it for the first time under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, believing he would see more out of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Early enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson ended up getting hurt and missing the spring game.

Florida State allowed its younger quarterbacks to go live this spring. Coach Jimbo Fisher said he did the same last year, when Jameis Winston was a redshirt freshman competing to win the starting job.

“They’ve got to be able to feel things around them and react,” Fisher said. “They get in a false security blanket sometimes.”

Does that cause him extra worry?

“It’s no different than when we run the running backs, and I get nervous in the scrimmages when the backs are running and get tackled,” Fisher said. “Our guys know if they’ve got a kill shot, not to. There’s a certain limit of how we practice with each other. You know those shots that everyone wants to have? We won’t take those on each other even if we’re in a live scrimmage because it’s not productive to the organization. Tough to me is when you’re eyeball to eyeball, not when a guy’s exposed and you can do that.”

The coaches are not the only ones who wrestle with the idea. NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was not live this spring. But when he was competing for the starting job at Florida with Jeff Driskel back in 2012, both were allowed to go live early on in fall practice. The first day they were allowed to take hits, Driskel hurt his shoulder.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail/Mark CrammerClemson freshman Deshaun Watson was injured in practice and missed the spring game.
“There's a right time and wrong time for quarterbacks to be live,” Brissett said. “We haven't done live practices, but in the fall sometimes we will have a live scrimmage on a Saturday. It helps out with the game speed reps.”

For a running quarterback such as Brissett, that helps. Same for the Duke quarterbacks. Georgia Tech has its quarterbacks live during practice for that reason.

Some coaches believe going live helps separate the competition. But Clemson was the only school with an open quarterback competition to allow its quarterbacks to go live during scrimmage situations. North Carolina, for example, has Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battling to win the starting job, but offensive coordinator Seth Littrell does not believe it is necessary to allow quarterbacks to get hit. “I’ve never done it,” he said.

Virginia Tech also is in the middle of an intense competition, but quarterbacks have been off limits so far this spring. Veteran Mark Leal would have no problem if the coaches changed their minds.

“Honestly, I'd like to be live,” he said. “I think the rest of the quarterbacks would, too, because it gives more of a game feel. If you're not live, sometimes the whistle gets blown early when you don't think you should have been sacked or the play gets messed up because when there's a rush around you, the first thing the coaches want to do is blow the whistle, rather than you continue to play or go through your reads and progressions and finish the play.”

Depth concerns often dictate what coaches do. Pitt only had two scholarship quarterbacks this spring, so there was no way they were going live. Virginia Tech only has three quarterbacks on the roster this spring.

Still, all the protections most coaches take are not enough to keep their quarterbacks injury-free. Miami quarterbacks were off limits this spring, but Ryan Williams tore his ACL during a scrimmage.

It was a noncontact injury.

ACC's lunch links

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
12:00
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Well, this rule ought to make games more interesting.
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Craig Haubert breaks down the Seminoles' efforts to translate on-field momentum to success in recruiting.

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Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.Tags: Trenton Thompson, Kerryon Johnson, Jeffery Holland, Martez Ivey, Torrance Gibson, Cece Jefferson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Gerry Hamilton
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