Don writes: Your ESPN.com Preseason ACC team has lost all credibility when it failed to feature Tyler Boyd who was arguably the best receiver in the ACC last season as a freshman. While I agree Florida State has the best team on paper in the nation they do not have the top player in every position in the ACC.
Andrea Adelson: No, but they do have the best receiver in Rashad Greene. Boyd had a phenomenal freshman season, don't get me wrong. We all think he is fantastic. But the ACC is completely stacked at receiver headed into the season, and two worthy players were left off -- Boyd and DeVante Parker at Louisville. In the end, we decided on Crowder for a few reasons. His past performance cannot be ignored. Nor can the fact that he continues to be the focal point of the Duke offense. As David Hale points out, Crowder was targeted 174 times last season, and he delivered in every possible way. He is the most indispensable player on that team.
Stephen in Baku, Azerbaijan writes: Yes, there are ACC fans in Azerbaijan. My comment/question is about solving the mystery of the Clustal (cluster/Coastal). As opposed to looking at how they will do against each other, it is better to focus solely on who their two Atlantic foes are as they will likely beat each other up in divisional games. I'll rank the two cross division games per team by easiest to hardest. Duke: (Wake/Syracuse); VT: (BC/Wake); Pitt: (Syracuse/BC); GT: (Clemson/NCSU); UNC: (NCSU/Clemson); Miami: (FSU/Louisville); UVa: (Louisville/FSU) *poor UVa. So I would say a toss-up between Duke and VT for the Coastal in 2014. With recent losses of key personal for Duke, I'll crown VT as the champ and the ACC gets a sold out ACC championship game. What do you think of this logic?
Adelson: Salam, dostum! Your bit of logic is a huge reason why I had Duke as the Coastal champ. Those crossover schedules cannot be ignored. Now, I have been rethinking my choice after the recent Blue Devils injury news and now believe Virginia Tech has the best chance to win the division. Watch out for the Hokies!
Michael Lambert writes: Your piece on Bobby Petrino left out one very important item that helps put Tom Jurich's gamble on the job hopping Petrino in perspective. There is a buyout clause of $10 million dollars he must pay the school if he takes another coaching position within 4 years. The amount gradually lowers beyond that point, but he is paid well and it would make very little sense for him to pay a financial penalty to leave for many years to come. Your article and the associated comments make this relationship out to be one of blind faith and trust. Petrino is pretty much locked in here, but that was what he accepted to get his job back.
Adelson writes: You are absolutely right, Michael. It was an oversight to not include that information. I agree the $10 million is a huge incentive to stay, but there are others who don't ...
Matthew Caldwell in Endicott writes: Andrea, I believe Petrino will build up Louisville again and then bolt again when one of the big boys wants to take a chance on him. He won't turn down a big offer. I'm not buying his transformation.
Ray Marple in Springfield, Mo., writes: So much fluff for a horrible person. Second chance deserved or not -- Lord knows I've needed several -- one must truly go through difficulties in order to 'become a better person.' Living in college football purgatory for two years and 'almost losing his wife and family' aren't enough to arise and get a multi-million dollar job again. The position he put the U of A in and left them, as well as Jessica Dorrell -- NOT MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE -- will take a lot more than two years to overcome. Perhaps his philanthropic Foundation can help everyone concerned. I hope you took a shower after submitting this article.
Adelson writes: Matthew and Ray are just two of many, many skeptics out there. We will only know in time whether Petrino truly has changed.
James Griffith in Moneta, Virginia, writes: Hi Andrea, Which FCS team is going to win this year against an ACC team? It happens every year. I think the Richmond Spiders will pull the upset of UVa. They almost beat NC State last year except for the last minute field goal. What about Gardner-Webb beating Wake Forest? It is time for the ACC to stop playing FCS teams. They have nothing to win by beating these teams and everything to lose. It does not look good for the entire conference when one team gets beat by a FCS team. I do not think anyone wants to buy tickets to a major beat down of a FCS team. They would be better off playing another conference game or at least someone in the same division. What do you think? Part II: Don't you feel that big schools have nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing FCS teams. Ask Michigan fans about Appalachian State or Virginia Tech about James Madison.
Adelson writes: Actually, the ACC won all its games against FCS competition last season. I am going to predict no FCS upsets again this season. Virginia will be better this season and take care of Richmond. Wake Forest is going to have its share of struggles, but Gardner-Webb is an average FCS team. I still think the Deacs win that one. As for the larger point in general, obviously it makes the conference look bad if one of its teams loses to an opponent from a lower division. Makes the program look bad, too, especially an elite one like Virginia Tech and Michigan (and Florida for that matter!). But the ACC coaches are pretty adamant that they want to continue scheduling these games because they believe they are good for health of college football in general. Most FCS programs are dependent on paydays from FBS schools, so it is supposed to benefit both parties. One school gets the "easy" win the other gets money that allows the program to remain viable. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but those upsets are not a comon occurrence.
You're forgiven if this entire exercise seems foreign. But at least 10 of the ACC's 14 teams will start new faces under center when games kick off next week. And there is a good chance that four of those 10 will have quarterbacks who began their college careers elsewhere.
"I really don't know," Miami coach Al Golden said of the surplus of ACC quarterback transfers. "We liked where we were in the spring, and clearly Ryan [Williams] went down the week before the spring game. It's really not a function of not being confident in the guys that are on campus. It's more a function of just wanting to get a guy that has been in the game and has the experience."
Golden acknowledged the quarterback market has been busier than usual, particularly in his league. He brought in former BYU and Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps this summer after Williams, the Hurricanes' No. 1 quarterback, suffered a right ACL injury that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. (Williams, naturally, began his career elsewhere, at Memphis.)
Heaps, eligible immediately as a graduate transfer, is battling true freshman Brad Kaaya to start Miami's opener.
"I think the quarterback position has grown in terms of talent over the last few years," said Heaps, who set several freshman records at BYU in 2010 before losing his job both with the Cougars and later at Kansas. "There’s a lot of great, quality quarterbacks in college football right now and they all want a chance to play. That’s where you’re seeing a lot of these guys transfer. They’re in their situation but they know they can play somewhere else so they make those moves and try and find the best situation for them and in some cases it works out, in others it doesn’t. Just knowing they have that opportunity is first and foremost.
"Sometimes things just don’t work out. Recruiting is the way it is and sometimes a situation isn’t what you think it will be when you get there. It’s been a unique trend in the last little bit, but I think if a guy has an opportunity to go play, he should go explore that."
Likewise, fellow Coastal member Virginia Tech turned to the free-agent route following an underwhelming spring from its three quarterbacks, welcoming Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer (and two true freshmen) to the race to replace Logan Thomas and kick-start an offense in need of a jolt after just 15 wins in the past two seasons. In an odd twist, Brewer, who has two seasons left to play after graduating from Texas Tech, was recommended to the Hokies' staff by Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who coached Brewer back at Lake Travis (Texas) High.
Brewer brings with him a nearly 71 percent completion percentage from his limited action with the Red Raiders, including 440 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
On the other side, in the more daunting Atlantic, a pair of second-year coaches are turning to former Gators quarterbacks to command their offenses.
Boston College coach Steve Addazio goes back with Tyler Murphy, a fellow Connecticut native whom Addazio had initially recruited to Gainesville, Florida, during his time as an assistant there. Jacoby Brissett transferred to NC State shortly after coach Dave Doeren was hired there, sitting out last season and taking enough initiative behind the scenes to earn the starting nod before spring ball this year.
“Last year we brought in Brandon Mitchell [from Arkansas] through the one-year loophole, and then at the end of the year, Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker left to go to [Louisiana-Monroe and UT-Martin]," Doeren said. "While that was going on, Jacoby transferred here from Florida. So I’ve seen about all of it that can go around. It’s just part of what recruiting is now. Guys want to play and people don’t want to wait their turn much anymore."
Murphy, who transferred in January, has one year to add some pizzazz to an Eagles' offense looking to spread the field more after last season's run-heavy approach. He spoke often with Brissett (who has two years left at NC State) back when both were still weighing their options when departing Florida.
The familiarity was more than enough to reunite Murphy with Addazio, who said a guy like Murphy probably should have gone to BC in the first place.
"Being a New England guy and growing up around BC, I watched a lot of BC and Matt Ryan in the early 2000s," Murphy said. "So it feels good to be a part of this institution, this program and I'm looking forward to the season."
Florida State could see a pair of its former quarterbacks start against each other next week, as Jake Coker transferred to Alabama one year after Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher was supportive of both, with Trickett being familiar with WVU (his dad used to coach there before moving to FSU) and Coker heading to his home-state program after backing up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Fisher likened the rash of quarterback departures to that of college basketball transfers, because both are possession-dominated athletes.
The graduate-transfer rule, popularized by Russell Wilson three years ago, has only added to that. And, in many ways, it has been a boon for both sides.
"[It] gives some opportunities for guys that are worried about situations like Tyler's," Addazio said, referring to Murphy's injury-shortened 2013. "He's like, 'I've got one shot at this thing. I want to go where I feel like I've got the best opportunity to be the starter.' So you're seeing a lot of this right now. I like this opportunity."
It is everybody else.
While it is great that Florida State and Clemson have proven capable of being playoff contenders year in and year out, what would give both teams and the entire league a huge boost is the development of a solid, consistent Top 5 teams.
That is what the SEC has right now and why it is viewed as having the toughest strength of schedule in the country. Folks look at the ACC strength of schedule and shrug their shoulders. With a selection committee now parsing through every schedule, every strength and every weakness, the idea that the ACC has a relatively weak strength of schedule is one that could end up hurting playoff contenders.
The only reason that the ACC is not ranked higher in the conference rankings, however, is the conference is still lacking depth; the ACC went 3-6 in its non-BCS bowl games, with the six losses by a combined 103 points.
With only four spots in the playoff and five power leagues, somebody is going to get left out. The nightmare scenario, of course, would be for the ACC to be on the outside looking in, with strength of schedule the big reason why.
The only real way to fix that is for the rest of the league to rise up.
We're looking squarely at you, Miami and Virginia Tech.
Back when both teams were added in 2004, the hope was that they would instantly improve the league's football profile. Virginia Tech held up its end as one of the most consistent winners in the ACC over the past 10 years. But this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, and Virginia Tech has not done much for the ACC lately. The Hokies put together eight straight 10-win seasons and four conference championships between 2004-2011, raising their profile as one of the marquee teams in the ACC.
Yes, they took some hits for their BCS performance over that period, but overall this program raised the bar higher. Virginia Tech had been a virtual lock to hold up the ACC banner. Since 2004, the Hokies finished with a Top 25 ranking eight times, more than any other team in the league. Ten wins are now expected, a big reason why two straight down years have hurt both the program and the league.
The ACC, meanwhile, is still waiting on Miami, which has not won 10 games since joining the ACC. The Canes came close a few times, including last season, but have had myriad issues to deal with on their climb back up to the top. Every season, the common refrain often includes, "Is this the year Miami will be back?" Its football history and tradition means the ACC needs Miami to thrive as a playoff contender, more than Virginia Tech.
After all, a program that has been known as a football power is held to a much different standard.
That is another reason why the ACC needs these four specific teams to be good. They are football schools. Look at how national perception has started to change with Florida State back on top. If Miami can get there, and if Virginia Tech can get there, all of a sudden the ACC has four strong football powers and can compete with any conference.
Another team into the mix would be ideal. It could be Louisville, coming off 23 wins in two years. It could be Georgia Tech, an ACC program with previous national championships. It could be Boston College, with three Top 25 finishes since 2004. It could be North Carolina. Anybody, really. It has been too long since the ACC had five teams ranked. With the league now expanded to 14, five should be the lowest number to hit.
The last time the ACC had five teams ranked was 2005, when Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Clemson and Florida State were all in the Top 25. Note a common theme there?
Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson and Florida State.
The ACC needs more of that.
ESPN.com and FoxSports.com released their preseason All-American teams Thursday, and Marcus Mariota received the quarterback nod above Jameis Winston in both, unleashing the hounds in Tallahassee and the Florida panhandle.
At the end of the day, there can be only one quarterback on the preseason team, and Mariota and Winston have the strongest cases for the nomination, without question. But while Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and had an unprecedented season for a freshman, it is quite conceivable that Mariota will have a better 2014 season, at least statistically. An All-American selection isn’t a qualifier to be the best player in the country, which Winston was voted in ESPN.com’s player rankings. Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings and a 21-game winning streak, yet has only been a first-team All-Pro selection twice.
Last season, Mariota threw 31 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He has only 10 interceptions in his two seasons. He’s totaled 700 yards rushing in both of his seasons, too. In Oregon’s up-tempo offense, if Mariota remains healthy, he could improve on all of those numbers.
The narrative all offseason was how it will be tough for Winston to replicate his 2013 numbers, which consisted of more than 4,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. With two of his top receivers gone, the passing game might not be as efficient, and coach Jimbo Fisher could rely on his rushing attack more in 2014.
Is it contrarian to select Mariota over the reigning Heisman winner and a quarterback yet to lose a game? Sure, but that does not mean there is not a legitimate argument for Mariota to be an All-American at the end of the season. And if the preseason team is a projection based on 2014 and not a reflection of 2013, Mariota has a sensible case for the quarterback nomination.
Here are a few more ACC links to get your weekend started:
- Did anyone know there was a quarterback competition going on at Pitt? Coach Paul Chryst named redshirt sophomore Chad Voytik his starter Thursday.
- Clemson fans are hoping bad news really does not come in groups of three after losing a potential starter at running back and depth along the offensive line the last few days.
- Miami quarterback Jake Heaps was back at practice Wednesday. There were a lot of raised eyebrows when Heaps missed a scrimmage.
- Boston College held its final scrimmage before the season opener this week.
- Not sure it's the best way to draw in readers, but here are 10 notes on Georgia Tech that do not qualify as "must read."
- Louisville QB Will Gardner took the long road to Louisville, literally, and he's now on the final stretch of the long road to the starting quarterback position.
- NC State coach Dave Doeren is still offering positive vibes about the 2014 season despite a poor start to his Wolfpack tenure.
- Three things we learned during Syracuse's preseason camp.
- Duke QB Anthony Boone says the silver lining in Braxton Deaver's season-ending injury is that Boone spent time throwing to his other tight ends during the early portion of camp.
- The loss of a physical freak who is now tearing it up for Carolina
- The arrest of a key sophomore
- The departure of another sophomore for academic reasons
- The return of an injured senior and redemption of another
- The likelihood that three true freshmen will get playing time
So, with all that talk about receivers, it’s not surprising that perhaps the Seminoles’ biggest mismatch in the passing game has dipped a bit beneath the radar.
O’Leary could be crucial for Florida State this season as the Seminoles look for a red-zone target to replace the departed Kelvin Benjamin and a reliable receiver to take some pressure off the sure-handed Rashad Greene.
Based on last year’s statistics, O’Leary should be an obvious answer in both cases.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, O’Leary was targeted 10 times in the red zone last season, trailing only Greene (14) and Benjamin (13).
O’Leary also caught 8 of 9 passes thrown to him on third down, easily the highest percentage among FSU’s receivers last season.
And then there’s this: Among all ACC teams, no tight ends had a higher percentage of targets caught than Florida State (79.5 percent) and none averaged more yards per target (13.1) or reception (16.5) than the Seminoles. FSU also tied with Clemson and Boston College for the most touchdown receptions by a tight end last year with seven.
That’s serious production for a unit that also figures to have a healthy No. 2 option in Kevin Haplea this year, too, and it’s made O’Leary a clear All-American candidate.
O’Leary was targeted just 42 times last year, however, and that number figures to increase quite a bit in 2014. Would a 50-catch, 10-TD season be out of the question? That might actually be a starting point for predictions.
But Florida State isn’t the only ACC team with some tight-end talking points. Here are a few more ACC tight-end tidbits, courtesy ESPN Stats & Info.
- Earlier this week, we wrote about Virginia Tech’s emerging weapons at the position. Coordinator Scott Loeffler has made a habit of using his tight ends in every other offense he’s been a part of, but when starter Ryan Malleck went down last year in fall camp, it put a crimp in the Hokies’ plans. Expect much bigger things in 2014.
- Pitt is hoping to use its tight ends more, too, as The Post-Gazette noted earlier this week. That would mark a significant change of direction for the Panthers. Just 9.7 percent of their passing yards last year went to tight ends — the fourth-lowest percentage in the league.
- The three most targeted tight ends in the ACC last year won’t be around in 2014. UNC’s Eric Ebron is off to the NFL, Virginia’s Jake McGee transferred to Florida, and Duke’s Braxton Deaver is out for the season after an ACL injury earlier this week.
- How big might the Deaver injury be for Duke? One notch below O’Leary’s big numbers for Florida State was Deaver. Duke’s tight ends accounted for the league’s second-best completion percentage (78.5 percent) and yards-per-target (9.9). David Reeves likely steps in as the starter, but the guy to watch out for in Duke’s passing game, according to QB Anthony Boone, will be redshirt senior Issac Blakeney (6-6, 225), whom Boone described as “Kelvin Benjamin-esque.”
- The loss of McGee might be a mixed bag for Virginia. No team in the conference targeted its tight ends more (120 times) and none received less production from those targets (4.7 yards per target). Overall Virginia’s tight ends caught just 52.5 percent of their targets, with McGee hauling in just 53.1 percent of his targets.
- Miami’s Clive Walford could be a crucial player for the Hurricanes’ offense in 2014. With a new QB taking the reins, Walford makes for a fun target. No ACC tight end had a higher percentage of his yards come after the catch last year than he did (61.5 percent). The downside? Walford also had more drops than any other ACC tight end (six).
That’s what I asked the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame to do. Describe their team in one word.
Some coaches were one-word wonders, but a few insisted they needed two words. That’s fine because the descriptions shed some insight into how coaches view their team and/or what they want the public perception of their team to be.
In all, the 65 coaches used 44 different descriptions.
Well, here’s to taking it one “word” at a time. My word: Enjoy.
ACC (including Notre Dame)
Boston College’s Steve Addazio: Young
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney: Experienced
Duke’s David Cutcliffe: Veteran
Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher: Habits
Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson: Young
Louisville’s Bobby Petrino: Unknown
Miami’s Al Golden: Renewed
NC State’s Dave Doeren: Redemption
North Carolina’s Larry Fedora: Ravenous
Pitt’s Paul Chryst: Young
Syracuse’s Scott Shafer: Hard-nosed
Virginia’s Mike London: Experienced
Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer: Developing
Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson: New
Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly: Athletic
Excuse Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher and Heisman quarterback Jameis Winston if they’re a little more direct and a little less politically correct when discussing Florida State’s front five.
“Well, our offensive line is the best offensive line in the country, and I repeat that Florida State's offensive line is the best offensive line in the country,” Winston said.
A day after Winston’s comments, Fisher was asked what his best non-quarterback position group was, and without hesitation, he said his offensive line. Is it the best offensive line group in the country, the reporter asked?
“I don’t know the knowledge of everybody else, but I’d put that group up against anybody,” Fisher said.
With five seniors, a combined 113 career starts among them and potentially three first-round picks along the unit, at the very least, it is one of the two or three best lines in the country.
With the influx of spread and up-tempo offenses, linemen, never a position that lends itself to the media spotlight or jersey sales, have given way to scat backs and speed receivers. Coaches are recruiting speed more than ever before, but Florida State’s staff is well aware a 2014 championship run rests on the legs of the offensive line.
In the twilight of the Bobby Bowden era and outset of Fisher’s tenure, the offensive line consistently was a point of aggravation for fans and coaches. From 2006-2010, the Seminoles had one offensive linemen drafted; they had two in 2005.
The current Florida State offensive linemen aren’t going to engage in any conversation about their greatness, not as long Rick Trickett, his booming voice now buttressed by the echoing indoor practice facility, is coaching the position.
“He’s never going to let us be the best offensive line in the country. I think that’s a good thing, though. He keeps all of us level,” Jackson said. We do stuff great, but having a coach that can pick up what you did -- like if you make a great block but take a bad step -- having a coach like that makes you so much better.”
Erving and Jackson, the Seminoles’ two best offensive linemen, were initially defensive tackles. Erving enrolled at Florida State as a member of the defensive line, and Jackson was committed to Georgia Tech to play defense before a January flip to Florida State.
Fisher had to mold athletes into offensive linemen early in his tenure, but now the Seminoles are recruiting the position better than at any point during Fisher’s five years. In the 2014 class, Fisher signed four nationally-ranked linemen. In his first four classes, Fisher signed three.
Junior-college additions Kareem Are and Chad Mavety provide immediate depth, and Fisher has continually praised Are, who is pushing for playing time. The offensive line class, which totals eight players including greyshirt Ethan Frith, on average stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 306 pounds. Jackson said they’re the biggest group of freshmen since he joined the Seminoles in 2011.
“We're gaining more depth … [and] they have to go through that learning curve, but you know the talent is there and the ability [is] there, and the bodies are there,” Fisher said. “I'm very pleased with the depth we're building in that department.”
After announcing that he'd be listing his five official visits, Marshall tweeted six schools, as Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Texas all made the list. The five-star prospect offered a little clarity, saying he is town between Oklahoma and Texas, then asked the fan bases of those two schools to help him decide which to see for his fifth visit.
WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke. One of the most dynamic receivers in the ACC, Crowder has had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and gets the nod over Louisville receiver DeVante Parker in a close call. Given Crowder's past production in the offense, he should be in line to break school receiving records this season.
WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State. Perhaps one of the most underrated receivers in the country, Greene is a virtual lock to catch every pass that comes his way. He is the picture of consistency, and as the top returning target for Jameis Winston, should reach 1,000 yards again.
TE: Nick O'Leary, Florida State. One of the best tight ends in the country, O'Leary had 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He should improve on all those numbers this season.
T: Cameron Erving, Florida State. Erving thought about leaving school early last season for the NFL draft but decided to return, and he now anchors the best offensive line in the country.
T: Sean Hickey, Syracuse. Hickey is going into his third season as a starter and has developed into one of the best tackles in the league. He also may be the strongest player in the ACC, too.
C: Andy Gallik, Boston College. Gallik helped spearhead a Boston College run game last season that averaged 212.5 yards on the ground. As a three-year starter, Gallik has grown into the best center in the league.
G: Tre' Jackson, Florida State. One of the best guards in the country, Jackson also opted to return to school for his senior year. He and Erving are the best players on that line.
G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke. A first-team All-ACC player a year ago, Tomlinson will be relied upon even more to lead an offensive line that has to replace two of its best players. If he has another stellar season, Tomlinson could be one of the first guards taken in next year's draft.
QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State. The returning Heisman Trophy winner had a rough season off-the-field but there is no questioning his credentials on the field. After throwing for more than 4,000 yards a year ago, the expectation is he will be even better this year.
RB: Duke Johnson, Miami. Johnson is one of the best backs in the country, averaging 6.6 yards every time he touches the ball. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, he's a virtual lock to gain 1,000 yards.
RB: Kevin Parks, Virginia. Parks is the only returning 1,000-yard back in the ACC and is hoping for more in 2014. Tough call here between Parks and Karlos Williams, the next two best backs in the league behind Johnson.
DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson. Beasley finished last season with 13 sacks (tops in ACC) and 23 TFL (4th in nation). He’s a preseason All-American and the biggest star on one of the country's top defensive fronts.
DE: Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State. The No. 1 overall recruit in the nation three years ago, Edwards is poised to come into his own in 2014. He was a critical piece of Florida State’s run-stuffing defense a year ago, finishing with 9.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks.
DT: Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech. No returning interior lineman in the ACC had more TFL last year than Maddy’s 13.5, and he was a key for the Hokies' dominant defense. This season, he'll be the centerpiece of a new-look D line.
DT: Grady Jarrett, Clemson. Dabo Swinney calls Jarrett one of the best defenders in the nation, even if he hasn’t gotten much national acclaim. He finished last season with 59 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss, and should be the foundation for a dominant defensive line at Clemson this season.
LB: Denzel Perryman, Miami. Perryman is Miami’s most productive defender, finishing with 108 tackles last season (fifth in the ACC). He’s the lone ACC defender returning for 2014 to have recorded at least 60 tackles in each of the previous three seasons.
LB: Stephone Anthony, Clemson. His 15 TFL last season ranked eighth in the ACC, and no returning linebacker in the conference had more. He added 86 tackles and 4.5 sacks to boot.
CB: Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech. One of the top freshman defenders in the nation last season, Fuller picked off six passes as part of Virginia Tech's exceptional secondary. His 17 passes defended tied for eighth nationally.
CB: P.J. Williams, Florida State. Williams racked up three interceptions and was dominant in coverage for Florida State, which finished with the best pass defense in the nation. He also won defensive MVP honors in the BCS national championship.
S: Anthony Harris, Virginia. Led the nation with eight interceptions last season for Virginia, including picking off at least one pass in five straight games in conference play in October and November.
S: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State. The first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders, Ramsey made the transition to safety midseason and didn’t miss a beat, finishing with 49 tackles and an INT.
S: Jeremy Cash, Duke. Cash finished last season second in the ACC in tackles (121), fifth in interceptions (4) and recorded 9.5 TFL, tops in the conference among defensive backs.
K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State. The Lou Groza Award winner in 2013, Aguayo broke the national record for points by a kicker in a season with 157 points. He is virtually automatic every time he steps onto the field, missing just one field goal attempt and zero extra points last season.
P: A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech. A second-team All-ACC selection a year ago, Hughes averaged 44.1 yards per punt. He placed 24 inside the 20, and had 22 punts of 50 yards or longer.
KR: Kermit Whitfield, Florida State. Whitfield led the nation last year in kickoffs, with an average of 36.4 yards per return. His speed makes him extremely difficult to stop, let alone slow down.
PR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina. Teams have probably learned to kick away from Switzer at all times. Last season, he had five returns for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record.
Substitute Maguire for Winston and the Noles still win the ACC championship, but without Winston they only average 33.9 points per game and win 9.4 games on average.
The Orlando Sentinel digs a bit deeper, looking at what the ramifications of a Winston injury might be for the Seminoles.
I didn’t crunch any serious numbers, as USA Today did, or dig too deep into the roster the way the Sentinel did, but if I was putting together a list of the ACC’s most irreplaceable players, it’d probably look something like this:
1. Winston — for obvious reasons, as discussed above.
2. Duke Johnson — We saw what happened last year when he went down. Miami was 7-0 with him healthy, 2-4 when he wasn’t on the field the whole game. Not to mention the Hurricanes' rushing average was cut in half.
3. Jamison Crowder - The guy was targeted 174 times last year (40 more than Sammy Watkins) and that was before Duke lost Braxton Deaver and Brandon Connette.
4. Eli Harold - The guy averaged 24 more snaps per game than All-American Vic Beasley did, and Virginia’s defense is predicated on penetrating the line of scrimmage.
5. Jacoby Brissett — OK, NC State might not do much this year even with Brissett, but what’s the option if he goes down? The Pack’s hopes for 2014 are riding almost entirely on his shoulders, and unlike last year, there’s actually some reason for optimism.
Beyond that top five, Mario Edwards Jr., Luther Maddy, Norkeithus Otis and Tyler Boyd come to mind, too.
Of course, there’s surely a few more players left off the list that warrant discussion. So, who’d we miss?
A few more links:
- The (Syracuse) Post-Standard has Virginia’s Mike London as the ACC’s only coach on the hot seat this season. One reason London is on the hot seat: a lack of production in spite of talent. Virginia is 18-31 under London. Only eight other teams have performed worse during the past four years, and of that group, only Cal has signed more four-star and five-star recruits than the 19 signed by London, according to ESPN’s rankings. (Of note: Kentucky has signed 16, but 14 have come in the last two years since Mark Stoops was hired as head coach. The other six programs with worse records than Virginia during that stretch have signed just 30 four-star or five-star recruits.)
- The Wall Street Journal took a look at how each Power 5 conference coach has done against top-25 opposition in his career. The Louisville Courier-Journal followed up with a deeper look at Bobby Petrino’s credentials as well as a look at the individual ACC coaches.
- There are still plenty of starting jobs up for grabs on the Virginia Tech offensive depth chart, as The Roanoke Times points out.
- For years, Jim Grobe avoided playing true freshmen at Wake Forest. In the first season under Dave Clawson, it appears as many as nine will get a chance to play in this year’s opener, the Winston-Salem Journal writes.
- And on related notes, earlier this week Matt Fortuna wrote a bit about Clawson’s journey to Wake Forest, and Jared Shanker looked at the programs most apt to play true freshmen.
- Duke certainly projects to have a speedy secondary, which has earned the unit a unique nickname, writes the Charlotte Observer.
- Steven Daniels is in line to be the next great middle linebacker at Boston College, writes the Boston Herald.
- And lastly, if you don’t hear from me for the next 10 days, it’s because FXX is marathoning every “The Simpsons” episode ever, starting today. Here’s the full schedule if you’re portioning out your time to the most important episodes (“Marge vs. the Monorail is tomorrow at 9 p.m.) and here’s your requisite Simpsons gif to showcase my feelings about the event.
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“We’ll have to put [a depth chart] up and say who’s first team, second team, third team or in that rotation because we have to start making scout teams,” Fisher said. “We have to start making decisions.”
Rarely this camp was Fisher visibly displeased with his team’s effort and performance, unlike during the spring. While it certainly does not guarantee an undefeated season, it should offer some comfort the Nick Saban disciple has not nitpicked much over the course of the last two weeks as the Seminoles prepare to defend a national championship.
For the future-conscious Florida State fans, the No. 2 receiver has been one of the biggest question marks since Kelvin Benjamin declared for the NFL draft with two years of eligibility remaining. Fisher said senior Christian Green would likely be the starter opposite senior All-American candidate Rashad Greene, but he made it clear he sees viable options in the underclassmen. Sophomore Levonte Whitfield and Jesus Wilson are the most likely slot options, although Wilson is working to get back in the staff’s good graces after stealing a scooter. Freshmen Ja'Vonn Harrison, Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph were all ESPN 300 recruits and could play extensively with sophomore Isaiah Jones academically ineligible. Senior Jarred Haggins is also healthy after missing 2013.
Returning Heisman winner Jameis Winston impressed during a Tuesday scrimmage. Fisher previously said Winston has looked average in camp at times, but the positive review Tuesday might indicate the redshirt sophomore is close to building the necessary rapport with the inexperienced targets. The first scrimmage, the offense was relegated to underneath passes to the tight ends and running backs, but Fisher said the downfield attack was on display on Tuesday.
“I feel very comfortable with eight guys in that rotation right now, I really do,” Fisher said. “I'd feel very comfortable if they had to go in the football game. The last three or four days, we've really thrown and caught the football extremely well. … Guys were really understanding routes and how to set holes and get open."
It has been debated how the defensive front seven would fare without Timmy Jernigan, Christian Jones or Telvin Smith, but when asked where the team made the most progress during camp, Fisher said the linebackers and the defensive line depth. With new leaders and a first-year defensive coordinator, the unit will still need to build a cohesion that often can only be produced in games. However, concerns should be assuaged to a degree considering Fisher is upbeat about the defense.
Florida State has used the hashtag #DallasToDallas as it opens the season in AT&T Stadium, home to the Dallas Cowboys, and hopes to end it there. They have to begin with the Oklahoma State Cowboys, though, and while official game prep begins Thursday, Fisher said he already has begun scouting Mike Gundy’s squad.
No Power Five school returns fewer starters than Oklahoma State, but Fisher said there’s still enough on film from 2013 to build a preliminary scouting report based on coordinator tendencies and backups.
“You have notes that you’ve taken on them, so when you pull them back out you have a starting point,” Fisher said. “And you put things in in camp and you say, ‘That’s going to be good these first three or four games so we better add these two or three things to what we’re doing.’”
INJURY NOTES: The left side of the offensive line was a little banged up toward the end of camp, but Fisher said he is not worried about the unit, which consists of five seniors, missing any time against Oklahoma State. … Running back Ryan Green is still sidelined, but freshman running back Dalvin Cook rid himself of the blue non-contact jersey Tuesday. Cook received high praise after the scrimmage. Cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby are being held for precautionary reasons, but Fisher is not worried about them missing the opener. … Sophomore linebacker and former five-star Matthew Thomas continues to rehab from an ankle injury suffered last week.
Paul Finebaum: Sophomore Slump for Jameis Winston?
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