The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are seemingly endless. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why North Carolina will win the Coastal

The running game. Last year’s team struggled to run the ball, finishing 11th overall in the conference in rushing with QB Marquise Williams serving as the team’s leading rusher. But dig a little deeper into the numbers and a more optimistic narrative unfolds. In UNC’s first seven games, it averaged 102 yards on the ground, 2.8 yards per carry and scored six rushing touchdowns. In its last six games, that average jumped to 202 yards per game, 5.1 yards per carry and the Heels scored 13 times on the ground. Now Larry Fedora’s crew adds hulking freshman Elijah Hood to a backfield that already includes T.J. Logan, Khris Francis and Romar Morris and promises to be one of the deepest, most diverse units in the league.

Special teams are special. Only Bowling Green (10) had more non-offensive touchdowns last season than UNC (9), and the Tar Heels’ special teams were a big reason why. Ryan Switzer was an All-American, scoring five times on punt returns last year, but Fedora says his sophomore only scratched the surface of his talent. Switzer may get work on kick returns this year, too. And even if teams work to avoid kicking to Switzer this year, he says that's fine by him. It will simply mean UNC will start every drive with solid field position as the opposition boots them short or out of bounds.

The QB competition. While the rest of the league is searching for one quarterback it can count on, North Carolina’s quandary is how to find reps for both of its QBs. Williams led the Tar Heels to a 6-1 finish last year and showed he can command the offense. Mitch Trubisky was a top recruit with a strong arm and impressive mobility. Fedora said he believes he can win with both -- and that means both will likely see some playing time. There may not be another team in the conference with as much depth at the QB spot as Carolina enjoys.

Why North Carolina won’t win the Coastal

The QB competition. Wait, what were we just saying about the advantages of having two QBs? You know the old saying — if you have two quarterbacks, you’ve got none. That may not necessarily apply to UNC’s situation, but regardless which QB is tabbed as the starter, the expectations will be high and any early struggles could quickly lead to a restless fan base and a divided locker room.

The offensive line. Fedora has been blunt in saying the Tar Heels will likely go just as far as their revamped offensive line can carry them. The unit lost two starters to the NFL after last season, and a host of spring injuries meant there was no time for cohesion to be built among the newcomers. Bentley Spain could be a breakout star at left tackle, but for a team with eyes on an ACC title, relying on a true freshman at that position is never an ideal scenario.

They’re just too young. It’s both exciting and unnerving, Fedora admits. He has just six seniors on his team. The offensive line has only three juniors on the entire depth chart. A host of key personnel on both sides of the ball are freshmen and sophomores. Yes, this is Year 3 for Fedora, and he believes last year’s strong finish was a good sign that players are beginning to grasp his philosophy, but with youth come mistakes, and in a crowded Coastal, there may not be room for too many setbacks.
CHICAGO — Fittingly, the Big Ten put its two most talked about coaches back to back during Day 1 of media days.

First came Urban Meyer and then James Franklin, who addressed a number of topics during his first go-round here in the Windy City:
  • Franklin's only concern about this place? Each elevator at the Hilton Chicago is plastered with a different Big Ten logo, and the elevator that went to his floor did not have Penn State's logo. So Franklin, never one to shy away from a headline, relayed an anecdote about how he had to take the stairs to his room, lest he ride an elevator that features another league logo painted on it. No word on how many flights of stairs he took. Or which team was, in fact, on that elevator.
  • In a reflection of just how much turnover there has been at Penn State, Franklin reminded everyone that, having been hired just seven months ago, he is the veteran of the Nittany Lions' public faces, as the school just hired a new athletic director (Sandy Barbour) on Saturday and had hired a new president (Eric Barron) in February.
  • Franklin said his equipment staff has used Notre Dame and Navy as resources for how to prepare for a season-opening trip to Ireland, as Penn State will open overseas against UCF. The Lions will depart from State College for the trip on Tuesday night of game week.
  • Asked about Vanderbilt players' disappointment in the way he left the program for Penn State, Franklin said that he has learned that "there's no good way to leave," and that he hopes he tried to do it the right way. He added that he hopes that over time people will look back and see how much he cared about and invested in the Commodores during his time in Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Franklin let out a brief laugh and smile when asked if Christian Hackenberg is the most talented quarterback in the country. He said the sophomore has a ton of tools, and he admired the way the signal-caller handled everything from his recruitment to expectations to a coaching change.
  • As for his satellite camp at Georgia State, which drew the ire of former SEC comrades, Franklin said he was not sure why it received all of the attention that it did. He said he and his staff get on the internet every day to explore what other people are doing, and to see if it makes sense for Penn State. He wants to do everything within his power within the rules to give the Lions a competitive advantage. "Whatever that may be, whether it's recruiting certain parts of the county, we're going to look into all those things." He again added that he cannot speak to the reaction it has drawn.
CHICAGO -- Urban Meyer wasted little time updating everyone on his quarterback, saying during his opening statement that Braxton Miller is ready to go at full speed and is in the "best shape of his life."

As for what else the third-year Ohio State Buckeyes coach addressed during his time at the podium:
  • As happy as Meyer is with his quarterback, he was disappointed in his offensive line and his secondary coming out of the spring. He fielded three different questions about the O-line during his less-than-15-minute news conference, plus one more about the importance of keeping Miller healthy, and he said Chad Lindsay, Billy Price and Jacoby Boren are all candidates to start at center.
  • Meyer did not hide his feelings on a Big Ten East division that also features traditional heavyweights Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State, saying: "I think it's one of the toughest divisions in college football." He mentioned three tough road games, as the Buckeyes will travel to East Lansing, State College and Minneapolis (in addition to College Park for Maryland's Big Ten home opener.)
  • Meyer is much more pleased with what he has at linebacker, saying "the last two years they weren't what we expect," before conceding that two years ago they weren't that bad. Still, anytime you have to move a fullback to linebacker, he said, you have a problem, especially at a place that has churned out the likes of James Laurinaitis and A.J. Hawk.
  • New Ohio State president Michael Drake took office June 30, and Meyer said he has invited him to meet the team. Meyer said he looks forward to working with Drake, though he added that it really doesn't impact how he does his job, so long as he take care of business.
  • Meyer reiterated that defensive end Tracy Sprinkle is no longer a part of the program following his arrest and charges in the wake of a bar fight earlier this month.
  • Asked about Miller's durability issues, Meyer said has more to do with great players who go above and beyond what their body is telling them to do, saying the same questions came for stars like Tim Tebow, John Simon and Christian Bryant.
  • Asked what Ohio State needs to do live up to the preseason expectations, many of which have them winning the Big Ten, Meyer said chemistry, trust and developing young players are the top priorities.
CHICAGO -- Rutgers fans probably aren't too happy about their team's conference schedule, and you couldn't blame the players, either, if they were a little irked about receiving the 20th-most difficult slate in the nation.

But the Scarlet Knights aren't just welcoming the challenge of facing Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin. They swear they prefer it.

"I wouldn't want it any other way," fullback Michael Burton said Monday afternoon. "I want to play the best of the best, and this conference offers that. That's why it's a blessing."

Of course, that's easy to say at Big Ten media days. What player is going to publicly say he wants the easy path to a bowl game? But defensive lineman Darius Hamilton took it one step further and reinforced the sincerity of the statement.

He was offered a hypothetical: What if RU would finish 5-7 with the hard schedule but would finish 7-5 with the easy schedule? Wouldn't he then prefer the easy path? The 265-pound lineman just shook his head.

"I'll pick the hard anytime," he said. "When your back's against the wall and you're pushed to the limits, that's when you find out what kind of men you have on your team. I'd rather take a hard loss than an easy win any day of the week."

A bowl berth would go a long way toward helping Rutgers gain respect in the Big Ten. But that obviously won't come easily in 2014. Rutgers plays three elite teams on the road -- the Buckeyes, Spartans and Cornhuskers -- and the second-strongest schedule in the B1G is ranked six spots behind the Scarlet Knights' slate.

But that's all just fine with head coach Kyle Flood.

"I think it's great," he said. "[Our players] are competitors. They want to go against the best. And if people are saying this is the best, then good."
Notre Dame begins its football scheduling and bowl arrangement with the ACC this season, and hopes are high the Irish will help the league across the board -- especially when it comes to strength of schedule.

But will the Irish end up helping or hurting? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna debate.

Andrea says: Jury is out on the Irish.

Imagine this scenario playing out: Oct. 18, Doak Campbell Stadium. Notre Dame and Florida State, putting together an instant classic. The Irish have the Seminoles on the ropes, threatening their perch atop the college football rankings.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAdding Notre Dame to the schedule makes Florida State's task of repeating as champs that much more daunting.
These two programs have played their fair share of nail-biters. This one would join the list, after Notre Dame kicks a last-second field goal to take down the defending national champions. The loss ends up ruining Florida State's chances of repeating.

Think having Notre Dame as a quasi-partner would go over well in that nightmare scenario?

Not exactly. And while hypotheticals are generally a meaningless exercise, in this case they cannot be ignored. Because we really have no idea what the addition of Notre Dame will do to the ACC this year. The Irish could help, or just as likely, they could hurt the league.

Florida State is but one example, though it is the most important. The Seminoles are playing a much more difficult schedule than a year ago. Not only do they have a neutral-site game against Oklahoma State, they have to play rival Florida, expected to be improved.

Two difficult nonconference games against power-five opponents is challenging enough. Adding Notre Dame into the mix gives Florida State the toughest nonconference slate in the ACC AND the toughest nonconference slate among the other teams expected to be ranked in the preseason Top 5.

Nobody else has to play two power-five opponents and Notre Dame. Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma and Auburn play one power-five opponent each. Notre Dame is not on their respective schedules.

Notre Dame is expected to be a preseason Top 25 team, so that means the Irish certainly have the capability of pulling an upset. And the placement of that game on the schedule is not exactly ideal. After a bye, Florida State has to travel to Louisville for a Thursday night game, the toughest two-game stretch on the schedule.

Now, it is well within the realm of possibility that a one-loss Florida State would make it into the playoffs, but nobody even knows how the committee is going to start evaluating candidates. Nothing can be accepted as a given.

Then there is the bowl partnership between Notre Dame and the ACC. Say Florida State is out of the playoff and into the Discover Orange Bowl. Say the Irish and Clemson finish with the same record. Well, the Russell Athletic or Capital One Bowls would be well within their rights to take Notre Dame over Clemson. Can't imagine that would go over very well, either.

There’s no doubt the partnership looks good on paper. But there may be a time it backfires.

Matt says: The Irish will be a huge plus.

Notre Dame football's affiliation with the ACC moving forward is far from a one-sided affair. Yes, the Irish do get to expand their schedule after finding a safe (and natural) home for their other sports. And yes, the Irish do gain access to a ton of postseason opportunities that simply did not exist for them when they were entirely independent. But the school and the conference are now friends with benefits, and that means that the ACC receives some perks from this relationship as well.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's partnership with the ACC has already boosted the conference's profile.
For one, Notre Dame is a sudden boost to the league's schedule strength. Getting the Irish once every three years on their slates undoubtedly alleviates some of the stress that conference athletic directors are under to fulfill league requirements each year. And, in years in which ACC schools host Notre Dame, the home team is almost guaranteed to sell out its stadium for that contest, along with gaining the priceless exposure that comes with hosting a prime-time, nationally televised contest. (And when Notre Dame comes to town, sure as you're born, the game will be under the lights. The Irish have not played a road matinee since 2011, at Pitt.) On top of that, the opportunities could be there for one fewer road game, if not exactly an extra home one. Look no further than next year's clash with Boston College, scheduled for Nov. 21, 2015 at Boston's Fenway Park. That is an Irish home game, as the program takes one of its games off-site each year as part of the "Shamrock Series." So it is one fewer road trip for the Eagles next year, and it is possible that others in the ACC could find themselves in similar situations in 2017 and beyond. The Irish "hosted" former league member Maryland in Landover for their 2011 Shamrock Series contest game as well.

Let's not overlook what the semi-addition of Notre Dame has already done for the league's exposure, either. As part of Notre Dame's ACC agreement, the Irish can take an ACC team's place in a non-access bowl if their record is better than, equal to or within one win of the ACC team -- or if the Irish are ranked higher. The Irish would share in the revenues of the non-access bowl. And, well, what do you know? The ACC bowl lineup that starts this year -- the same year that the Irish begin their football partnership with the league -- is deeper and better than before, with the Capital One Bowl and New Era Pinstripe Bowl among the league's new 13 postseason partners. Some coincidence.

Sure, Notre Dame could upset an expected national title contender like Florida State this year and potentially ruin the league's chance at reaching the four-team College Football Playoff, but "potentially" is the key word there. The Seminoles have, after all, opened as 24-point favorites over the Irish, so there really shouldn't be much to worry about. And heck, it's not like Notre Dame hasn't beaten FSU when it supposedly mattered before, only to see the Noles crowned as national champions later. (Lest we forget about the '93 Game of the Century.)

And if the Irish were to win in Tallahassee? Well, chances are they would be having a really good season then. Playoff good. Which would mean one less spot in the ACC bowl lineup for them to take from a team with the same or better record. And, perhaps, give the ACC an even stronger presence in the playoff, which is supposed to reward strength of schedule, meaning a 12-1 FSU team with nonconference wins over Oklahoma State and Florida would, theoretically, still have a very strong case.

A case strengthened by Notre Dame.
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CHICAGO -- The plan called for a smooth transition. It lasted for only a single workout.

Braxton Miller was supposed to ease his way back into throwing the football as he progressed through his rehabilitation from offseason shoulder surgery, picking up a tennis ball first before moving back up to throw a football again. But that blueprint didn't last long for the Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback, who once again put his ability to accelerate things on the field on display by zipping through his recovery schedule and zipping around passes with his rebuilt arm.

"Yeah, I threw a tennis ball for one day," Miller told ESPN.com on Monday. "One day, and then they were like, 'Wow, you're throwing pretty good. You can move up to a football.'

"I was just like, 'Yeah, I'm ready to go.' My body is ready to go."

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller says he's feeling better than ever after offseason shoulder surgery.
That's welcome news for a team with national-title aspirations that revolve around the star senior's athleticism and ability to test teams with more than just his legs. With Miller dealing with some soreness at the end of last season and then damaging his shoulder further in the Discover Orange Bowl, the Buckeyes clearly weren't the same explosive team while he was operating at something less than 100 percent.

The first plan for recovery didn't even involve going under the knife, but that was eventually scrapped as well when the shoulder wasn't showing enough progress after about a month of rehab heading into spring practice. The Buckeyes ultimately made the decision in February to have the procedure done, forcing him to miss all of camp and taking the ball out of his hands until May.

But it's back there now and has been for about two months, and Miller seemingly hasn't missed a beat since then as he looks to continue his trend of improving as a passer every season.

"I feel like it's stronger," Miller said. "Man, everything that was damaged in there has been cleaned out. So even if I didn't have that injury, I feel like everything from before that injury has been cleaned out. I barely had any rust when I came back. With my footwork and everything like that, I had been focused on that throughout the spring. That's all I was doing, going back to work on my footwork, breaking down the defenses, and I watched a lot of film to make sure everything's good.

"Everything is in place. I'm at the end of my recovery, feeling pretty good and ready for camp. I'm ready to go for real."

A tennis ball obviously wasn't close enough to the real thing for Miller. Soon he'll get to add some pads to go with the football he's already throwing.
CHICAGO -- Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert nodded. He knew the stat.

The Boilermakers averaged just 14.9 points per game last season. Only four teams in the FBS fared worse. But Mostert just smiled Monday when asked about the offense's ceiling this season.

"Thirty-something points a game," Mostert said during Big Ten media days. "We feel really confident that we're going to score a bunch of points on opponents."

Easy follow-up question: Are you crazy?

"No, I'm not crazy at all," Mostert said with a laugh. "Just confident."

Despite a disastrous 2013 season, confidence was the theme of the day for the Boilermakers, as player after player talked about how Purdue was moving forward this season. Defensive end Ryan Russell even made mention of Big Ten title hopes, while linebacker Sean Robinson praised the freshmen along with sophomore quarterback Danny Etling.

That swagger came as a bit of a surprise considering Purdue's lone win last season came against FCS opponent Indiana State. The Boilermakers haven't beaten an FBS squad since Nov. 24, 2012, against Indiana. But players insisted those struggles are in the past.

"Last year, we didn't know what we were doing on offense. We didn't understand what was going on," Mostert said. "Now that we have that year and we've settled on what plays work, that's really going to help us in the long run -- understanding what we have to do and what our jobs have to do for us to score a lot of points."

The offense was admittedly young and inexperienced last season. Etling and his top target, DeAngelo Yancey, were true freshmen. And it didn't help that coach Darrell Hazell was trying to turn around a program in Year 1. But this season Purdue is hoping to take a step forward -- and Mostert isn't shy about aiming a little high.

"The confidence level is through the roof -- we're looking forward to scoring a lot of points," Mostert said. "We didn't have that last year."
CHICAGO -- Pat Fitzgerald wants to be your friend again, Nebraska fans.

Fitzgerald, the Northwestern coach, said Monday at Big Ten media days that he made a "bad joke" this month in describing Nebraska as a "pretty boring state" while speaking to boosters at a Chicago golf outing.

As you might expect, the comments provoked a variety of responses from fans of the Huskers, including some not fit for print.

"I've learned a lot of hashtags on Twitter," Fitzgerald said.

The coach apologized and said he would "own" the mistake, but that he meant no harm by it. Fitzgerald said he was trying to compliment Nebraska fans on how well they travel. The visitors overtook a large portion of Ryan Field in 2012 as the Huskers came from behind to beat the Wildcats 29-28.

Nebraska visits Northwestern on Oct. 18.

"Our fans need to step up," Fitzgerald said.

Last year in Lincoln, Nebraska beat Northwestern 27-24 on a Hail Mary pass from Ron Kellogg III to Jordan Westerkamp as time expired. Asked Monday about how long it took to get over that finish, Fitzgerald quipped: "I have no idea what you're talking about."

The coach said he has spent just two days in the state of Nebraska -- not nearly enough time to form an opinion, though he said his players and staff were treated warmly on trips in 2011 and 2013. Northwestern upset Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in the Huskers' first year of Big Ten play.

Nebraska fans heartily congratulated the Wildcats after their 2011 win, according to Fitzgerald. They did the same last season, said the coach, drawing a laugh.

"It's just a great fan base," Fitzgerald said.

Big Ten Media Day Live

July, 28, 2014
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The Big Ten's coaches and top players are gathering in Chicago and so are several of ESPN.com’s reporters. Keep this page open throughout the day as we bring you all of the latest from the league’s media day event.
 

Video: Petrino on return to Louisville

July, 28, 2014
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video
Bobby Petrino talks about his return to the Louisville Cardinals after eight years and the challenges of replacing quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Gas up the family station wagon and hit the Holiday Road. The Ultimate Road Trip is back! Over the next couple of weeks we're going to look at each week during the 2014 season and pick the can't-miss game (and maybe for Thursday/Friday games, we'll work in two).

Start planning accordingly. The Ultimate Pac-12 Road Trip continues.

Welcome to Week 9.

Friday, Oct. 24
  • Oregon at California
Saturday, Oct. 25
  • Arizona at Washington State
  • Arizona State at Washington
  • USC at Utah
  • UCLA at Colorado
  • Oregon State at Stanford
  • Byes: None
My choice: Arizona at Washington State

Why: It’s Pullman in late October, the jewel of Eastern Washington. Duh, why wouldn’t you want to be there?

We’ve seen some pretty good defensive battles so far during the first eight weeks of the road trip. But now it’s time to let loose and watch a little offense. And what better matchup than seeing two of the most innovative offensive minds in the country squaring off.

This will be the second time these two coaches have met -- and Round 1 went to Mike Leach and Co. with a surprisingly low scoring 24-17 win last year in Tucson. Connor Halliday threw for 319 yards and a pair of scores as the Cougs erased a 14-10 halftime deficit and made chumps out of the Pac-12 blog.

What’s going to happen this time around? Both squads boast a thrilling cast of wide receivers. But the quarterback edge, at least for now, goes to Halliday and the Cougars for the simple reason that we still don’t know who Arizona’s quarterback is going to be. Of course, by Week 9, Rich Rodriguez’s guy might be putting up monster numbers, given the talent he’ll be throwing to and the style of offense. But for now, we just don’t know.

And if there were ever a pair of coaches who were simpatico in their thinking -- especially in their responses to proposed “slow down” measures -- it’s Leach and Rodriguez.

Arizona State at Washington is intriguing, because it was, by far, the Huskies’ worst game of the season last year. Oregon State and Stanford were tight the last time the two met on the Farm. And there’s nothing wrong with doing a Bay Area two-fer by hitting Oregon-Cal the night before at the new Levi Stadium. That in itself is a compelling draw.

But for actual game value, this one might turn out to be the most thrilling, high scoring game of the week with plenty of fireworks. Or the Pac-12 blog could look like chumps again when the Utes shock the Trojans at Rice-Eccles. We're big enough to admit when we've been wrong before.
The College Football Playoff selection committee has the unenviable task of choosing the four best teams in the country -- a difficult job, but not inconceivable.

Choosing the best 100 players in the country?

Impossible.

Yet here we are with a No. 1 just for you.

This summer, 32 writers and editors from ESPN.com narrowed down a field of 460 players representing every conference to create #CFBrank -- a list of the top 100 players based upon their expected contributions for this season. It was a dizzying assignment, one with no right answer or formula. There is no simple way to compare kickers and quarterbacks, or linebackers and linemen -- yet that’s exactly what we did. Each player was ranked using a scale of 0 to 10 with 10 being the most valuable to his team.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston would have been a 10 last season. It's a no-brainer: Heisman Trophy winner. National title. Undefeated.

A lot of talent from his supporting cast is gone this season. Still a perfect 10?

What about Auburn center Reese Dismukes? A Rimington Trophy finalist who helped his team to the national title game. Do you rank him a nine? Eight?

The exercise is subjective: Which positions do you value more? The linemen who are the lead blockers or Todd Gurley, a Heisman hopeful who's had 12 career 100-yard-rushing games? Do you give more credit to the quarterbacks or the defensive ends who smother them? Incoming freshmen like LSU running back Leonard Fournette, and Michigan cornerback Jabrill Peppers -- the top two players, respectively, in the 2014 recruiting class -- were also considered. Neither of them has done diddly squat at the collegiate level, but both are oozing potential and are worthy of at least a ... five? Six?

(Don’t forget that the last defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy was a Michigan cornerback, too.)

Go ahead, argue among yourselves. Think you can do it better? You’ll be arguing with yourself.

Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is an All-American cornerback whose three interceptions last season all came in the end zone. He plays for a national title contender. Is he more valuable than Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller? Michigan State Spartans defensive end Shilique Calhoun?

Don’t look for Oklahoma transfer receiver Dorial Green-Beckham -- Bob Stoops can’t find him yet, either. Because the former Missouri star's eligibility is still uncertain, he wasn't included in the voting. These 100 spots were reserved for the players who have all but guaranteed playing time. They’re for game-changers at every position -- or players we think will be.

Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. So are the top 100 players in the country. Here are the first two parts -- 100-91 and 90-81 -- of #CFBrank. We will unveil the rankings in descending order every day this week.

Top Big 12 players: Nos. 25-21

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With the 2014 season just a month away, we’re going to spend this week ranking the Top 25 players in the Big 12.

All three Big 12 reporters weighed in on this list, with the slant focused on a projection of who we think the 25 best players will be this season.

Unlike past years, we’ll be releasing these in groups of five, not individually.

Before getting started, we need to address the two “asterisk” players: TCU defensive end Devonte Fields and Oklahoma wideout Dorial Green-Beckham. Even though they’re Top-25-caliber players, we opted to leave Fields and Green-Beckham off this list because their statuses for this season currently remain unclear (Fields is “separated” from TCU pending an assault charge; Green-Beckham is still waiting to see if he’ll get an eligibility waiver).

Now, without further delay, the first five names in the countdown ...

25. Tyreek Hill, RB, Oklahoma State: Hill is the only player to make this list having never played a down in the FBS. But the preseason pick to win Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, who doubled as a track star in the spring, has as much big-play potential as any offensive skill player in the league. Considering Mike Gundy is planning to give him 20-plus touches a game, Hill could be in for a huge year as the Tavon Austin-like weapon in the Oklahoma State attack.

24. Jake Waters, QB, Kansas State: From the North Dakota State loss in the opener to the Michigan victory in the bowl, Waters developed into a completely different quarterback over the course of the 2013 season. In fact, while leading K-State to wins in six of its final seven games, Waters actually produced a higher Adjusted QBR in the same stretch than the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, Bryce Petty. With a year of experience behind him -- and Daniel Sams no longer around to take away snaps -- Waters should open this season with the same confidence he finished the past.

23. Jakeem Grant, WR, Texas Tech: Despite being the third receiving option in an offense that rotated true freshman quarterbacks last year, Grant still finished sixth in the league in receiving yards per game. Now he’s the No. 1 option. And he’ll be catching passes from a rapidly improving passer in Davis Webb. Grant is electric with the ball in his hands. Unfortunately for opposing defenses, he should have the ball plenty this season.

22. E.J. Bibbs, TE, Iowa State: Coach Paul Rhoads believes Bibbs can be an All-American tight end, and all the tools are there for the 6-foot-3, 261-pounder to be just that. There’s no better pass-catching tight end in the league, and with wideouts Quenton Bundrage and Allen Lazard flanking him, Bibbs should have more chances this season for big pass plays down the seam.

21. Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia: The West Virginia coaching staff has spent this summer repairing the confidence of top wideout Mario Alford. That’s because Worley completely destroyed it while blanketing him in the spring. The Mountaineers haven’t enjoyed a first-class lock-down corner since Adam “Pacman” Jones a decade ago. But Worley, who has emerged as the leader of the defense despite being just a second-year player, has the skill and attitude to be just that.

Coming Tuesday: Nos. 20-16 ...

Top ACC players: Nos. 25-21

July, 28, 2014
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As we get set to open fall camps around the ACC, we're counting down the conference's top 25 players -- five per day all this week.

25. Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech Hokies

Position: Defensive tackle
Year: Senior

If Virginia Tech’s defense is to be among the best in the nation once again, Maddy will likely be the centerpiece of the front seven. He was exceptional last season, racking up 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks -- most among returning interior linemen in the conference. He also racked up 55 tackles and 16 quarterback hurries for a Hokies squad that allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in the league. But Tech also lost three senior linemen at season's end.

24. Jeremy Cash, Duke Blue Devils

Position: Safety
Year: RS Junior

The perfect fit in Duke’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme, Cash racked up a whopping 121 tackles and four interceptions last season working as both a safety and linebacker. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, he’s a bit undersized as a true linebacker, but he matches up well against bigger receivers and is still strong enough to help in the run game. He was an All-ACC selection last season and got a nod from the media on this year’s preseason balloting. The Blue Devils’ secondary ranked 11th in the ACC in pass defense last season, but it's a young group that can develop nicely with Cash as a centerpiece in 2014.

23. Ronald Darby, Florida State Seminoles

Position: Cornerback
Year: Junior

Darby has been a standout since he set foot on campus in Tallahassee, Florida, yet he’s always managed to fly a bit beneath the radar with stars like Lamarcus Joyner and Xavier Rhodes alongside him in FSU’s secondary. But if fans have overlooked him, quarterbacks haven’t. Darby was Florida State’s most-feared defensive back last season despite a nagging groin injury that hampered him all year. According to STATS, LLC, no returning ACC defensive back targeted at least 20 times last season allowed a lower completion percentage than Darby.

22. Grady Jarrett, Clemson Tigers

Position: Defensive tackle
Year: Senior

He’s 6-1 and nearly 300 pounds, but coach Dabo Swinney gushes that Jarrett is as physically sculpted a player as he’s come across. In fact, Swinney said if he was starting a team from scratch, he would build around Jarrett. That’s high praise considering the other stout defensive linemen on the Tigers roster. Still, Jarrett is unquestionably one of the conference’s top interior linemen, having racked up 83 tackles (including 11 for a loss) and 14 quarterback pressures last season.

21. Stephone Anthony, Clemson Tigers

Position: Linebacker
Year: Senior

One of the ACC’s top tacklers, Anthony adds another weapon to a ferocious Clemson defensive front. His 15 tackles for loss in 2013 were the most among returning ACC linebackers, and with a deep defensive line in front of him, those numbers could go up in 2014.
ESPN writers and analysts put together a ranking of the top 100 football players nationwide. The #CFBrank reflects how certain players are seen on a national level as writers who cover every conference participated in the vote. But, at the Pac-12 blog, we decided to break it down further and rank our top 25 Pac-12 players. The #4pac put together this list and will be counting down our top 25 guys this week. But make sure you pay close attention -- we know that how players are viewed nationally aren't quite how they're viewed in the conference, so our top 25 doesn't necessarily follow the same pecking order as the 20 conference players who ended up on the nation's top 100 list.

Now, on to the list. Drum roll, please.

No. 25: Stanford DE Henry Anderson

2013 Stats: 19 tackles, 4 tackles for a loss, 3 sacks

Why he’s ranked here: For as much as we keep talking about how this season is "The Year of the Pac-12 Quarterbacks," it also could prove to be the year for pass-rushers to really prove themselves, and Anderson is in that spot. Players such as Anderson will have ample opportunity to get to first- and second-round NFL draft picks every single weekend, which will undoubtedly help their own draft stock. He has flown under the radar a bit throughout his career, but we think he's on track for a huge senior season. He finished with three sacks in 2013, but with pass-rushers such as Trent Murphy (23.5 TFL, 15 sacks) gone, the Cardinal will be looking for someone else to step up in the scheme. That will likely be Anderson.

At Pac-12 media days last week, Stanford coach David Shaw said that he thinks defensive coordinators "will have their hands full all year accounting for the combination of these schemes and [how] they're intricate and difficult and different." But Shaw's defensive coordinator, Lance Anderson, will have a much easier time of it with his 6-foot-6, 295 pound pass-rusher up front. Yes, Stanford will have to face UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State and USC, but Brett Hundley, Marcus Mariota, Sean Mannion and Cody Kessler will have to face Anderson.

No. 24: Utah WR Dres Anderson

2013 Stats: 53 catches, 1,002 receiving yards, 7 receiving touchdowns, 8 carries, 30 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown

Why he’s ranked here: Last year, Anderson became just the seventh Ute to ever have a 1,000-yard receiving season. This year, he'll likely put up much bigger numbers. Assuming quarterback Travis Wilson -- who was medically cleared recently -- is truly back and ready to go, Anderson is going to be a guy who will be able to stretch defenses and test players in one-on-one situations. He's the son of former NFL receiver Willie "Flipper" Anderson (who was on the Los Angeles Rams when Utah coach Kyle Whittingham's father was a coach for the Rams as well, so Whittingham has known about the Anderson pedigree even before Dres was born).

Anderson is the conference's returning leading receiver (at 87.7 yards/game). Last year, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks, Colorado's Paul Richardson and Oregon's Josh Huff all impressed and gained national recognition. Could this be the year for Anderson to do so? Wilson is a returning starter, though not one that's usually mentioned in the top group of the Pac-12 QBs, but a great receiver can make his signal-caller very, very good. We have a feeling that Anderson could be a player that raises that level for Wilson.

No. 23: USC S Su'a Cravens

2013 Stats: 52 tackles, 1.5 tackles for a loss, 4 interceptions, 1 pass break up, 5 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery

Why he’s ranked here: Cravens earned a starting spot in the USC secondary as a freshman last season after enrolling early. He's one of just two sophomores to make this list (we're guessing you know who the other one is). Cravens recorded four interceptions in 2013 and finished eighth on the team in total tackles, and even with that kind of a year he has admitted that he allowed the crowds to get to him and that he was nervous at times. That's not surprising for a freshman, but if last year was Cravens being affected by fans and stadiums, what could a 2014 version look like in which he's older, more mature and not affected by the bright lights? That's what puts him at No. 23 on this list. He was already named to watch lists for the Jim Thorpe Award, the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Bednarik Award. He's on track to having an excellent career at USC, but his next step will be having a stellar, consistent sophomore season. And we have a feeling he's on his way to that.

No. 22: Oregon RB Byron Marshall

2013 Stats: 168 carries, 1,038 rushing yards, 14 touchdowns, 13 catches, 155 receiving yards

Why he’s ranked here: Marshall was the Ducks' leading rusher in 2013 and is back and looking at an even bigger season in 2014. With Marcus Mariota back, defenses are going to have to be cautious up front because of the mobile threat he provides. Even if defenses are able to stop Mariota's feet, they're still going to need to worry about Marshall and his feet. In fact, defenses are going to have to worry about the whole gamut of Duck rushers. Mariota averaged 7.4 yards per carry last year while Marshall and running back Thomas Tyner (who is putting up a fight for the starting spot in Eugene) both averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Past those two, offensive coordinator Scott Frost is still high on several other players in the running backs' meeting room. But if Marshall can build on his experience, he could be the lead back for the Ducks in what could be a very, very big season for them.

No. 21: Arizona WR Austin Hill

2013 Stats: DNP ... 2012 stats: 81 catches, 1,364 yards, 11 touchdowns

Why he’s ranked here: In 2012, Hill was a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist after putting up 11 touchdowns and 1,364 yards -- good enough for second-best in the Pac-12 -- as a sophomore. But he sat out last season as he rehabbed a torn ACL and had to spend the year on the couch, watching the Wildcats lose five games, including three by a touchdown or less. "Missing a season after coming off a good season, it was really rough," Hill told the Pac-12 Networks at Pac-12 media days. "But, I made it through." And now that he's on the other side, and after an impressive spring season, he's looking to have a huge impact on Arizona football in 2014. One thing that could keep him from that is the fact that Arizona is once again in a quarterback quandary and Hill doesn't know exactly who the ball will be coming from. At Pac-12 media days he said he was working to build chemistry with every QB that comes through, but that he's hoping one begins to really separate himself as the season inches closer, so that he can work to just get on the same page with that guy. If he is able to find that relationship, there's a good chance we see a bigger, better version of the 2012 Austin Hill.

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