NCF Nation: ACC
Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:
Spring practice over
What we learned:
- Momentum rolls on. It's hard to believe the Blue Devils are already done with spring ball, but coach David Cutcliffe opted to open practice in February to capitalize on the momentum that was created last season. After the spring game ended Saturday, he praised the way his players handled the practices. There was a great deal of retention and not a lot of re-teaching, so coaches were able to get much more out of their players this spring.
- Max McCaffrey emerges. Jamison Crowder had a spectacular 2013 season, but it was essentially him and then everybody else in the receiver group. That may not be the case this season. McCaffrey earned praise from coaches and teammates for the way he improved during the spring. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said McCaffrey made as many plays as anybody else on the offense this spring.
- Stepping up on the line. The Blue Devils lost three starters on their defensive line -- both ends in Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento. But it appears as if the players behind them are ready to step up and make a seamless transition. Defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson each had two sacks in the spring game. Kyler Brown also made the switch from linebacker to defensive end and had a sack in the spring game as well.
Spring start: March 24
Spring game: April 18
What to watch:
- Justin Thomas takes over. After Vad Lee announced his transfer from Georgia Tech, the quarterback reigns fell to Thomas, who played in 10 games this season. The Jackets had their share of highs and lows under Lee, but what the staff is going to be looking for first and foremost is Thomas’ ability to hold on to the football. Georgia Tech had 24 giveaways and ranked No. 12 in the ACC in turnover margin.
- Defensive line questions. The Jackets lose three starters on the defensive line, including All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu -- who had 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Who will step up and fill that type of production? The most experienced backups returning are sophomores Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble. Also, Travin Henry will get a look at defensive end after playing wide receiver last season.
- Offensive line questions. Georgia Tech also loses three starters on the offensive line -- tackles Ray Beno and Will Jackson and center Jay Finch. The trio combined to start 117 games in their careers, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much less experienced unit in 2014. The good news is All-ACC guard Shaq Mason returns to help anchor the new-look line.
Spring start: Started March 1
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Quarterback derby. Stephen Morris is gone, but the Canes do have at least one experienced quarterback on the roster in Ryan Williams, a Memphis transfer who has served as Morris’ backup the last two seasons. As a true freshman with the Tigers, Williams started 10 games -- all the way back in 2010. Challenging Williams is redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who had a bit of a rocky first year in Miami, along with Gray Crow.
- Defensive improvements. Perhaps more than what happens at quarterback, Miami must see improvements out of its defense this season. Embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job but the status quo cannot persist. Every single area of the defense must be upgraded. Ranking No. 13 in the ACC in total defense just can’t happen again.
- Defensive improvements, Part II. To try and help the secondary, Miami already moved Dallas Crawford over to safety, where the Canes could use the help. But Miami must be stronger on the defensive front. The Canes only had 12 sacks in eight conference games. By comparison, BC led the way with 25 sacks in conference games. This is a big opportunity for guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu to really step up.
Spring start: Started March 5
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- The quarterbacks. Marquise Williams took over as the starter when Bryn Renner was gone for the season and ended up helping the Tar Heels make a bowl game after a 1-5 start. But coach Larry Fedora said the competition is open this spring. Look for Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker to give Williams a major push.
- Defensive line questions. Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are both gone, leaving big holes in the North Carolina front. Martin ended up notching 21.5 tackles for loss to rank No. 3 in the ACC. So who are the next guys up? At end, Junior Gnonkonde and Jessie Rogers are the top two contenders, while Shawn Underwood, Devonte Brown and Justin Thomason will compete for one of the tackle spots.
- Replacing Ebron. Eric Ebron was dynamic at tight end for the Tar Heels last season, leading the team with 62 receptions for 973 yards, while adding three touchdowns. Will the Tar Heels be able to replace that type of production with just one player? Jack Tabb would be next in line among the tight ends, but this is a huge opportunity for the North Carolina receiving group as well. We saw plenty of promise out of young guys like Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer.
Spring start: March 16
Spring game: No spring game. Last day of practice April 13
What to watch:
- The quarterbacks. Chad Voytik played really well in relief of an injured Tom Savage in the bowl game, but coach Paul Chryst said the competition to win the starting job is open headed into the spring. At this point, Voytik and Trey Anderson are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. So you can bet the biggest goal of all is to keep them both healthy.
- Replacing Aaron Donald. One of the biggest surprises in all of college football this past season was the emergence and utter dominance of Donald at defensive tackle. Donald swept every major defensive award after notching 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. Darryl Render is the next man up.
- Complementary receiver. Devin Street is gone, leaving Tyler Boyd as the only standout receiver on the roster. Not only do the Panthers have to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver, they also have to develop some depth. Watch for Manasseh Garner, a former H-back who moved to receiver late last season when Street got hurt. He is more physical than Boyd, and has some extended playing experience.
Spring start: Started March 1
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- The quarterbacks. David Watford is not guaranteed to win his starting job back after last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are also in the mix and reps with the first team will be split. In fact, Lambert got the first-team reps when the Hoos opened spring ball last weekend.
- Andrew Brown. The highly-touted freshman will have every opportunity to win a starting job at defensive tackle, and it all starts in spring ball. The No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN 300 comes in with tons of hype; now can he translate that into on-field success? He, Donte Wilkins and Chris Brathwaite will be competing to start next to David Dean.
- Mr. McGee. Jake McGee was the best player the Hoos had among the group of tight ends and receivers a year ago, leading the team with 43 catches for 395 yards. This spring, McGee has now moved over to receiver so the Hoos can take advantage of his athletic ability. Plus, Virginia is lacking playmakers at the position, so we’ll see how much this move benefits both McGee and the offense.
Spring start: March 27
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Quarterback. Mark Leal heads into the spring with a leg up in the quarterback competition but make no mistake, there is no set starter. He will get competition from freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley in the spring, with freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arriving in summer. This competition will likely drag on into the fall.
- Front seven. The Hokies are losing five terrific players up front, including ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, and linebacker Jack Tyler, who racked up 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. There is no doubt a major priority this spring is finding their replacements and building depth along the line and at linebacker. Who will step up as the leader of this group with Tyler gone?
- Skill players. This has been an ongoing theme over the last two seasons and will continue to be a theme until the Hokies have consistently good players at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is excited about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, and his entire tight end group for that matter. A healthy Malleck and improvement from Kalvin Cline means the Hokies could simultaneously improve their run and pass game.
Spring start: March 12
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Big shoes to fill: Steve Addazio helped BC make huge strides in 2013, but the task of keeping the momentum going gets much harder without star running back and Heisman finalist Andre Williams, who rushed for an NCAA-best 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns. Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis will attempt to fill the vacancy this spring, and both have potential. Willis averaged nearly 6 yards per carry as Williams’ primary backup last year. The real intrigue might wait until fall, however, when four freshmen running backs arrive on campus.
- Murphy makes the move: It’s an open competition at quarterback after Chase Rettig’s departure, but there’s no question the most intriguing player in the race is Florida transfer Tyler Murphy. The fifth-year senior worked with Addazio at Florida, and he’ll open the spring competing with redshirt freshman James Walsh and early enrollee Darius Wade. That’s a deep enough bench that BC didn’t worry about moving Josh Bordner, last year’s backup, to tight end. With both of last year’s starting tackles gone, too, Murphy’s experience could be even more important in determining the outcome of the QB battle.
- Restocking the LBs: Even at its low points in recent years, Boston College managed to churn out plenty of talented linebackers, but the position gets a massive overhaul this year. First-team All-ACC star Kevin Pierre-Louis (108 tackles in 2013) is gone, as is Steele Divitto (112 tackles). That leaves junior Steven Daniels (88 tackles, 5 sacks) as the lone returning starter. Josh Keyes adds some experience, but it’ll be a group in transition this spring.
Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Replacing Boyd: The talk of Clemson’s spring camp will no doubt surround the quarterbacks, as senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and early enrollee Deshaun Watson vie for the job. Stoudt’s experience makes him the early favorite, but it’s Watson, a dual-threat QB with immense talent, who could steal the show. Coach Dabo Swinney has already lauded Watson as perhaps the most talented quarterback Clemson has signed, so all eyes will be on the freshman to see if he can back up all that hype with a strong spring.
- Skill-position shuffling: If the QB battle is the headliner, there are plenty of significant sideshows on offense this spring. Clemson waved goodbye to receivers Sammy Watkins (1,464 yards, 12 TDs) and Martavis Bryant (828 yards, 7 TDs) and tailback Roderick McDowell (1,025 yards, 5 TDs). That means a massive overhaul on offense, where there’s no clear-cut bell cow at running back (Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard return as potential options) and the receiving corps will be looking for some new top targets.
- Dominance up front: On offense for Clemson, there’s plenty of concern for what the Tigers lost. On defense, however, the excitement is all about what they’re bringing back. Clemson’s defensive line, in particular, could be one of the nation’s best. When All-American Vic Beasley announced his return for his senior season, the Tigers knew they could have something special. Add sophomore lineman Shaq Lawson and senior Stephone Anthony at linebacker and Clemson has all the makings of a dominant pass rush.
Spring start: March 19
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- The running backs: After leading FSU in rushing three straight years, Devonta Freeman is gone. So, too, is James Wilder Jr. But the Seminoles enter spring with a quartet of intriguing options to replace their departed stars, led by Karlos Williams (730 yards, 11 TDs in 2013) and Dalvin Cook (No. 21 on the 2013 ESPN300). Mario Pender, who missed last year with academic issues, also figures to be in the mix.
- The defensive front: There are a wealth of question marks here, both in terms of personnel and scheme. With Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, there are plenty of jobs up for grabs. The development of Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman and Terrance Smith will be key, but with Charles Kelly taking over the defense, it’s also still a bit unclear how much the scheme will deviate from what Jeremy Pruitt ran with so much success in 2013.
- Jameis Winston’s swing: A year ago, the big question was who would win the QB battle. Now, Winston’s got a Heisman Trophy and will be a favorite to win it again in 2014. So the intrigue surrounding the FSU star QB is more on the baseball field, where once again, he’ll be splitting time this spring. Perhaps the bigger question is how the rest of the QB depth chart shakes out, with Sean Maguire the elder statesman and John Franklin III looking to make his move.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 11
What to watch:
- Bobby’s back: After a seven-year hiatus that included an abrupt departure from the Atlanta Falcons and a damaging scandal at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino is back in charge at Louisville insisting he’s a changed man. Fans will be watching closely to see if he has changed his stripes away from the field, but also whether he can rekindle the same offensive fireworks he delivered in his first stint with the Cardinals.
- Replacing Bridgewater: It’s an open QB battle, and for Petrino, it’s among the first chances he’ll have to see the players vying to replace departed star Teddy Bridgewater in action. Sophomore Will Gardner is perhaps the favorite, but he has just 12 career pass attempts. Redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin is close behind, while Reggie Bonnafon is set to arrive in the fall.
- New look on D: Louisville finished the 2013 season ranked second nationally in scoring defense, trailing only national champion Florida State. But this spring, things will look a bit different for the Cardinals, as Todd Grantham takes over as the new defensive coordinator after being lured from Georgia. Grantham figures to bring a 3-4 scheme to Louisville, which will certainly shake things up a bit. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin missing the spring with a shoulder injury only clouds the situation further.
Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12
What to watch:
- Brissett takes the reins: The sting of last year’s winless ACC season was barely in the rearview mirror before coach Dave Doeren named Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett his new starting quarterback. Brissett spent last year on the sideline, but apparently Doeren saw enough during practice to comfortably wave goodbye to Pete Thomas, who announced his transfer. There will be ample spotlight on Brissett this spring as he tries to revive the underperforming NC State passing game.
- The new faces: If 2013 was about cleaning house, this spring begins the far more difficult project of rebuilding. For NC State, that means plenty of new faces, including a whopping seven early enrollees headlined by safety Germain Pratt. While there are ample holes for Doeren to fill in Year 2, these incoming freshmen could certainly push for starting jobs and bring an influx of depth that the Wolfpack sorely missed last year.
- Shoring up the lines: NC State’s 2014 signing class included 11 offensive and defensive linemen, and that’s just the start of the overhaul at the line of scrimmage. Last season, the Wolfpack allowed the second most sacks in the ACC (35) on offense while its defensive front recorded the fewest sacks in the conference (20). That’s a formula for disaster, and Doeren understands NC State must get much better in the trenches. Brissett’s arrival at QB could help, but the bottom line is NC State needs to see improvement on both sides of the line, and it needs to start this spring.
Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19
What to watch:
- Hunt’s next step: 2013 was a roller coaster season for Terrel Hunt. He lost the QB battle in fall camp, stepped in as starter after two weeks and was dominant, struggled badly through the midsection of the season, then closed strong with back-to-back come-from-behind wins. Now that he has experience, it will be interesting this spring to see how much he’s progressed. The talent is there, and spring practice should give Hunt a chance to refine it a bit more.
- The defensive front: Syracuse finished its first ACC season ranked fourth in rushing defense and third in sacks despite myriad personnel issues entering the year, but more questions remain as the Orange look toward 2014. With star lineman Jay Bromley and veteran linebacker Marquis Spruill gone, the Orange are looking to fill sizable holes. Robert Welsh figures to be the anchor of the Syracuse pass rush, and the Orange could benefit from the return of Donnie Simmons, who missed 2013 with a knee injury.
- Secondary concerns: Syracuse got a chance to learn what life was like without top cover corner Keon Lyn after the senior fractured his kneecap late last year, but while Brandon Reddish did an admirable job as his replacement, a whole new set of questions crops up in the secondary this spring. Syracuse figures to have openings at both corner and safety, and while Julian Whigham, Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir offer options, there’s a lot to be decided on the practice field this spring.
Spring start: March 25
Spring game: April 26
What to watch:
- Clawson’s early impact: It’s been 14 years since Wake Forest opened a spring camp with someone other than Jim Grobe calling the shots, so there’s no question this will be an intriguing few weeks in Winston-Salem. Dave Clawson takes over after leading Bowling Green to a MAC championship, and he inherits a major rebuilding job. First up for the coach will likely be creating an offensive identity -- something Grobe couldn’t do in 2013.
- Identifying some offense: If 2013 was an offensive slog for Wake Forest, 2014 threatens to be much, much worse. As bad as things got at times last year, the Deacons at least had veterans to rely on. This season, Wake’s leading passer (Tanner Price), rusher (Josh Harris), receiver (Michael Campanaro) and top tight end (Spencer Bishop) are all gone. On the plus side, plenty of younger players saw action in 2013. The job this spring is to figure out who can take a big step forward entering the 2014 campaign.
- The defensive scheme: Wake appears to be moving away from the 3-4 that was a hallmark of recent seasons, as new coordinator Mike Elko tries to maximize the talent remaining on the roster. Without veteran lineman Nikita Whitlock, Wake’s defensive front will have a far different look in 2014, and this spring will largely be about Elko identifying playmakers and tweaking his system to fit their skill sets.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- They entered in packs, tentatively exploring the upscale bar just a block from Doak Campbell Stadium in search of a Florida State legend.
There were parents with their children, rowdy fraternity brothers with beers in hand, and bubbly coeds laughing amongst themselves, all trying not to seem too eager. Slowly, they'd shuffle over, camera phones or Florida State souvenirs in hand, and make their request.
A father asked the legend to take a picture with his young daughter, then dropped any pretense of dignity and requested another photo of his own. An attractive waitress begged for a follow on Twitter.
Two women snapped pictures and then asked the legend to autograph their T-shirts, which were already emblazoned with his likeness. As he'd done countless times in the past few months, he graciously agreed, scribbling the words "Red Lightning" across the cotton with practiced ease.
"They all come in and say, ‘Hey, it's Red Lightning,'" Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat said. "They don't know my real name."
This was a charity event for coach Jimbo Fisher’s foundation less than a month after Florida State won the 2013 BCS National Championship and Grizzle-Malgrat, the Seminoles' equipment manager, became a superstar. He offered to donate any proceeds gleaned from his overnight success to the cause, and on this night he was guest bartending while organizers auctioned off Red Lightning prizes, including a chance to challenge him to a footrace.
Grizzle-Malgrat is 21, just six months into his tenure at Florida State after transferring from Tallahassee Community College, and his overnight fame courtesy of a YouTube video has afforded him a unique brand of celebrity. He's part Internet meme, part sports icon, part social construct -- an average guy living every football fan's dream. But mostly, Grizzle-Malgrat is a blue-collar student doing his best to navigate celebrity life with the same earnest enthusiasm that earned him that fame in the first place.
"A mattress?" he inquires. "Like what you lay on?"
Still, bartenders are eager to relay their knowledge as he mixes up concoctions for the growing crowd, including a special "Red Lightning" shot. The original mixture was a bit tame, and by night's end, Grizzle-Malgrat refined the recipe to one more appealing to his fans.
He takes photos with FSU basketball coach Leonard Hamilton, who was eager for an introduction. He's cornered by a trio of men wanting to buy him a drink in exchange for advice on life. After he's pulled away, the men agree: "It's like we're following Jesus."
"Everybody is his friend," Candi Fisher said. "He's just got so much personality."
But Grizzle-Malgrat understands how preposterous the situation is.
In August, he'd reached out to Florida State equipment operations manager Darin Kerns, hoping for a quiet job behind the scenes with his favorite college football team. He drove 650 miles from his hometown of Key West, Fla., on the first day of fall camp, then spent the rest of the next six hours trudging across the practice fields, collecting helmets and laundering uniforms. It was a dream job.
"This is all I ever wanted to do, and it so happened to be Florida State, my favorite football team," Grizzle-Malgrat said. "I couldn't ask for it to be any better."
His enthusiasm was obvious from the outset. Within a month, Grizzle-Malgrat's work ethic earned him a scholarship. He'd stop by the locker room as early as 6 a.m. to lend a hand, even on off days. Some nights, he'd remain at work past midnight. At practice, he began working with the quarterbacks, clicking with eventual Heisman winner Jameis Winston. On game days, Grizzle-Malgrat was a whirlwind of energy, sprinting down the sidelines following a big run, celebrating with players after a score, even jawing with the opposition when tempers flared.
It wasn't just the equipment staff that appreciated Grizzle-Malgrat's passion, however. With his shaggy red beard and bright, curly hair, he's easy enough to spot from the stands, which is how photographer and FSU fan Jake Brashears first took notice. Brashears dug up TV clips of Seminoles highlights that featured Red Lightning in the background, assembled the video and posted it to YouTube after FSU's win over Florida. It became an instant phenomenon.
By the time Florida State arrived in Charlotte for the ACC championship game a week later, Red Lightning was a household name.
For Grizzle-Malgrat, the next few weeks were a blur. In Charlotte, he met longtime broadcaster Brent Musburger, and the two struck up a friendship. At clubs, eager women swarmed him, posing for photos with their arms wrapped around him. When stopped at traffic lights, drivers honked and yelled his name. His fellow equipment managers basked in the shared spotlight, and suddenly players were joking that Red Lightning had become the most famous member of the Seminoles entourage.
"They love him," Kerns said. "Jameis came back from the Heisman and was like, ‘They were asking about you, Red Lightning.'"
Back home in Key West, Grizzle-Malgrat's sudden fame wasn't quite as much of a surprise. He's always been an avid sports fan, and he's always been passionate about his work. The YouTube video simply captured what his hometown had seen for years.
"It's him," his mother, Kim, said. "He was full on. He got most school spirit. He's constantly full throttle."
Still, his family is amused by the celebrity in their midst. At church during a trip home for the holidays, Grizzle-Malgrat was mobbed with photo requests. Kim keeps a picture from the Internet of Winston and her son captioned, "One of these men is a living legend. The other is Jameis Winston."
At Kim's Kuban, a sandwich shop she owns, a Pepsi distributor provided a banner for the national championship game that read: "Home of Red Lightning."
The video still gets clicks and numerous spinoffs have followed. At the bar, women still shout for Red Lightning, and he still poses for numerous pictures. But Grizzle-Malgrat knew from the outset that fame was fleeting, so he's embraced its inevitable end point.
Before he leaves for spring break -- a trip back home to Key West -- Grizzle-Malgrat plans to shave the scraggly beard he's been growing since August and tame the frazzled curls that became his trademark. After that, he expects, the Red Lightning phenomenon will likely fade into Internet obscurity.
"It's kind of a good thing," he said. "I'll stay out of the spotlight then."
But even after the beard disappears, the legend of Red Lightning will remain embedded into the story of Florida State's national championship run.
And when the 2014 season kicks off this fall, Grizzle-Malgrat will be back, too, sprinting down the sideline, a ball tucked under his arm, doing what comes naturally.
"I never thought just me doing my job would be something out of the ordinary for other people," he said. "Now over a million people have seen me hustle, seen the passion I have toward everything, especially sports. I guess that's what made it big."
None of them has ever started a game.
“This is probably the most slim it’s been since I’ve been here,” said Leal, a fifth-year senior. “We’ve always had at least five or six guys, but right now it’s only three.”
As spring practices begin throughout the conference, the ACC kicks off its 2014 season with a complete overhaul at the quarterback position. It was only a year ago that Florida State’s Jameis Winston was an unproven rookie who had yet to start a game. Now, the 20-year-old reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the veteran of the league, as nine of the 14 schools will have a first-year starting quarterback, and the competition is open at 11 programs. Florida State, Duke and NC State are the only programs that have definitively named starters, and even NC State doesn’t know what to expect out of first-year starter and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.
Brissett, though, knows what’s expected.
“Go make sure it was earned,” he said, “not given.”
Count on that to be a trend in the conference this spring.
Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are all starting from scratch, without any starting experience at the quarterback position. Some of the league’s most recognizable names have to be replaced, including Tajh Boyd, Logan Thomas and Teddy Bridgewater. Coaches at North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia have deemed their competitions open, in spite of experienced starters returning.
“I looked at that and was kind of surprised,” said Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, the frontrunner to take over the job after Vad Lee’s decision to transfer. “It should even the playing field out a little bit, but at the same time, we all have to go through our parts.”
Not to mention spring and summer auditions.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it’s likely the competition between Chad Kelly, Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson will extend beyond this spring -- and possibly into the season.
“Going in, Cole starts out as No. 1 simply because of where we finished the season -- basically by default, if you will,” Swinney said. “He’s the senior. It’s basically his to lose going in, but it’s incredibly close. You’re talking about -- in my opinion -- three guys who are going to play in the NFL. I believe with all my heart that Cole Stoudt is going to play in the NFL. And the same thing with Chad Kelly, and the same thing with Deshaun Watson, if they stay healthy. So you’ve got three NFL players competing to be the guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people say, well, if you don’t have one quarterback then you have none. But that’s not the case here.”
It could be the case elsewhere, though.
Virginia Tech (Michael Brewer), Boston College (Tyler Murphy), Miami (Ryan Williams) and NC State (Brissett) are all hoping that transfers can give the position an immediate boost, but former Texas Tech quarterback Brewer won’t join the Hokies until this summer. While none of them has started a game at their current schools, all but Brewer have started at least three games at their previous programs.
Williams started 10 games while he was at Memphis, and he’s the leading candidate to replace Stephen Morris, but “it is wide open,” according to offensive coordinator James Coley. And Williams knows it.
"You have to earn it, you have to earn everything,” Williams told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don't want anything given to me. If it's given to me, I didn't work hard enough.”
Brissett started three games at Florida, and Murphy started six games for the Gators after starter Jeff Driskel was lost for the season. Murphy went 2-4 with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions before missing the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury.
Nothing is guaranteed in Chestnut Hill this spring, either, as the Eagles also have Darius Wade, a true freshman who enrolled early, and James Walsh, who will be a redshirt freshman.
All eyes will be on Louisville’s quarterback competition, as the Cardinals enter their first season in the ACC without Bridgewater, who left early to enter the NFL draft. Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin will be the top two candidates this spring, and they’ll be joined by incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon this summer.
“It’s wide open,” first-year coach Bobby Petrino said. “We’ll go through spring and see who comes out 1-2-3 and then obviously we’ll give Reggie an opportunity in the fall to compete with those guys.”
With the addition of Louisville, the ACC enters this season perceived by many to be the strongest it has ever been.
Now it just needs to find a few quarterbacks to help prove it.
Collectively, the Tigers are actually more experienced.
With 19 scholarship seniors on the roster, this is the most veteran team Swinney has had to work with in the past five seasons in Death Valley. In 2012, Clemson only had 11 scholarship seniors, and just 10 last season.
That is important, considering several of them will be given opportunities to play immediately.
At the receiver position, where Clemson has to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant, Clemson has three early enrollees who will participate this spring: Demarre Kitt, Kyrin Priester and Artavis Scott. True freshman receiver Trevion Thompson will join the team this summer. True freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson also enrolled early, and he will be competing this spring with quarterbacks Chad Kelly and Cole Stoudt. At running back, Swinney said he is particularly excited about Wayne Gallman, a redshirt freshman who came “so close to playing last year.” Overall, Swinney said he thinks the running back position will be the deepest it’s been in years.
In fact, Swinney’s biggest concerns are the ones nobody is talking about: replacing Chandler Catanzaro at kicker and finding some answers at offensive tackle.
“We’ve certainly got questions, just like any team out there has questions, but that’s why people buy tickets,” Swinney said. “I think our defense has a chance to be outstanding -- the best we’ve been in a while. I’m really proud of the improvement we made defensively this year, but I think we can take that thing to a much higher level with our personnel, with our depth, with our experience next year defensively. Offensively, I expect us to be really good. I mean really good. I don’t see any reason why not. Yeah, we’ve got to figure things out and get them all in the right spot, but I don’t have any doubt we’re going to be explosive and fun to watch.”
Instead, Crawford is on the other side of the ball. In the short term, there is not much depth at running back this spring. In the long term, however, this could be the best move for the Canes. Johnson is expected back in the fall and will be the workhorse back this team so desperately relies on when he is healthy. Crawford is as tough as they come, but there was a drop off in production once Johnson was sidelined with his ankle injury. Gus Edwards and Walter Tucker will get the bulk of the reps this spring, and if Yearby is as good as advertised, Miami will have at least four quality backs in rotation without Crawford.
Miami has a much more pressing need in the secondary, and especially at safety, one of the biggest weaknesses on the defense in 2013. Crawford played defensive back and running back in high school, and spent his freshman year on defense. In fact, he was named Miami's Defensive Scout Team Player of the Year. So Crawford does have familiarity with the position, and he was on board with the change, telling reporters in Miami he would do whatever was best for the team.
Coach Al Golden believes that is on defense. During offseason evaluations, he and the coaching staff kept coming back to Crawford as one of the top 22 players on the roster. They want to get him on the field. So Golden asked Crawford to make the change.
"No matter how many times we cut it, we're always saying he's one of the best 22," Golden told reporters in Miami this past weekend. "We know we can put him back to running back in five practices or six practices, but he's physical, he's always been great on special teams, he's smart, he's tough, and it's something he wanted to do."
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is not one of them.
Considering the backlash against the proposed rule, ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads said it will get “extra scrutiny” from the rules committee. Rhoads has spoken with every coach in the conference about it, and while he wouldn’t give an exact breakdown of where the coaches stand on it -- other to say some were in favor, some weren’t -- Rhoads did say “the majority” of ACC coaches don’t think there’s sufficient research to validate the change.
The ACC reflects the national sentiment.
“Not speaking for the rules committee, but speaking from an officiating perspective, I think there’s concern amongst a number of coaches that there wasn’t sufficient data gathered to support whether this was or wasn’t needed,” Rhoads said. “That’s where we are now in the comment period, coaches saying where is the data that this is a player safety issue? There’s not a compelling argument that’s the case here, so I think it’s going to get extra scrutiny over this comment period before it ever becomes final.”
If passed, the proposal would prohibit teams from snapping the ball until at least 10 seconds run off the 40-second play clock, which would allow defenses time to substitute. The exceptions would be in the final two minutes of each half or if the play clock began at 25 seconds.
“Oh, so now all of a sudden we don’t care about them in two minutes?” Swinney deadpanned.
Under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, Clemson typically snaps the ball somewhere between the 23 and 30-second mark, but the Tigers often snap it within 30 seconds. Swinney said they change their tempo a lot, and if their offensive linemen can handle it, why can’t the defense?
“And how about the offensive guys?” he said. “Most of the time, when you look at defenses, they rotate their defensive line the whole game. We do it, most teams do it. Those offensive linemen play just about every snap. So we’re going to sit here and cry for guys who are playing 30 snaps when you’ve got guys on the other side playing 70? Give me a break. It’s an agenda, that’s what it is. If we’re going to talk about player safety, then when they’re going to blitz seven and we’ve only got six, is that extra guy going to hold his hand up before he comes so we know where he’s coming from and that kind of stuff? The whole thing is ridiculous.”
Rhoads pointed out that there’s already an “absolute mandate” for officials to stop the game and send a player out if he thinks the player is injured or fatigued. At the FBS level, Rhoads said teams are averaging close to 180 plays per game, the highest it’s ever been. A few years ago, he said teams were averaging 130-140 plays.
“There’s no way you see a fatigued guy, a guy down on one knee,” Rhoads said. “Whether he asks for that injury timeout or not, that’s part of our management of the game -- detect anything to do with player safety, stop the game, let the trainers look at him.”
The NCAA's 11-member playing rules oversight panel will vote on the proposal on March 6. No coaches are on the panel, but by now, the committee should know where the majority of coaches stand on it.
Why does Jameis Winston have to choose?
Football or baseball. Baseball or football. Everyone seems to want to know which is his favorite. Everyone seems to have an opinion as to what Winston’s future should be (the NFL, of course), where his greatest potential lies (between the hash marks, right?), and where he’ll make the most money (first-round draft pick, anyone?).
At just 20 years old -- an age where dreams should far exceed limitations -- Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winner should be encouraged to chase after his pinstriped AND Pro Bowl dreams. Watch this video. Look at how his eyes literally light up as he talks about playing the Yankees.
“I want to do it all,” he said, adding that he’d even catch if they asked him to. “I’ll do anything in that game.”
As it turned out, Winston didn’t do much against the Yankees -- he went 0-for-2 -- but it didn’t matter, because he was as thrilled as any kid would be just to have the privilege of swinging the bat on the same field as one of the worlds’ most storied franchises.
If he never does it again, it wouldn’t be a surprise, but nobody should get in his way of trying.
Every time Winston took the field this past fall, he exceeded expectations -- including bookend performances in the season opener and the national title game. Against Pitt last year, in his debut as a starter, he dazzled us with a jaw-dropping 25-of-27 passes completed for 356 yards and four touchdowns. On the road. In the national title game against Auburn, down by four with 79 seconds left, Winston put together the game-winning drive and capped it with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left.
You couldn’t dream up that ending.
The same might be said for his professional career.
“I can’t make no decision right now,” he told "SportsCenter."
He shouldn’t have to, either.
You can check out all the final results here. Rather than fill a post with endless numbers and 40-yard dash times, we thought it would be fun to give you a glimpse of the combine experience through the players' eyes. Here is a look at selected tweets from ACC players during their time in Indianapolis.
Enjoyed my time in Indy felt a lot of things went well and got some great feedback, gotta keep on climbing and improving thanks for the love— Tajh Boyd (@TajhB10) February 24, 2014
I can't even explain this feeling right now. My feet hurt but I'm glowing right now. So proud of the RB's man. God is good all the time— Andre Williams (@drewill44) February 24, 2014
Blessed with the opportunity to be here http://t.co/xOi87VLoAr— IG:Heartbreak_uno4 (@Heartbreak_mea) February 22, 2014
I would say that was a good day. 4.42 40 yard dash, 38 inch vertical jump and 9 feet 11 inches broad jump ;)— Terrence Brooks (@_Showtime31) February 25, 2014
The game moved to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte in 2010. In four years in Charlotte, the game has averaged nearly 70,000 fans, including two sellouts.
"Charlotte has been an outstanding partner and continues to facilitate the growth and success of the game and our many ancillary events that make this weekend a true celebration of ACC football," Swofford said.
The actual dates of the six championship games in the agreement are:
Dec. 6, 2014
Dec. 5, 2015
Dec. 3, 2016
Dec. 2, 2017
Dec. 1, 2018
Dec. 7, 2019
“November will be a different month for me,” Radakovich said. “I’m really beginning to make some plans here as to how we’re going to make that happen, because we’ll meet Monday afternoons and Tuesday afternoons, so Monday will be a washout of a day and Tuesday for the most part, too, due to travel. My staff, occasionally, we might have to meet on a Saturday before a game just to get some business done.
“I’ve been blessed here with a really good staff of people, and that was one of the reasons why I was happy to take on the responsibility, because there’s a good group here that has done it for a long time. We have some new eyes to help make us better, but the organization is good, so that allows me to move forward with this challenge.”
The entire committee still has plenty of challenges to tackle before the season begins. At a meeting last month in Dallas, the group had preliminary discussions about a recusal policy, but there was no resolution. The committee has also discussed the possibility of having some sort of a practice session before the members have to choose the top four teams of the 2014 season. The next selection committee meeting is scheduled for April, and it will meet again in August before the season begins.
“I’m sure that somewhere down the road there will be some exercises that will include pulling together a real bracket,” Radakovich said. “It’s been really good to watch the group together, to be a part of the group, because it is truly 13 people looking for the same answer, and that is pulling the best four teams together for the semifinals and placing some really great matchups in the other games to keep college football at the forefront of people’s minds at that time of the year and create some great games and good memories for the coaching staffs and student-athletes.”
In Part 2, Wilcox talks about revenue distribution in the ACC, the future of the league's championship game, and the potential of pay-for-play for student-athletes.
Q. Florida State has always viewed itself as the preeminent football program in the conference, and its recent success has certainly helped the ACC, both in terms of perception and financially. That leads a lot of FSU fans to wonder why the revenue sharing in conference is split evenly. What's the upside to that distribution model for Florida State?
Eventually things can shift and a school that got more of a share eventually gets less of a share, and what that does to your program on a year-to-year basis, trying to budget, it throws your budget off. You might be expecting to get a bigger share because you’re thinking your team is going to be better and things don’t work out. If you know exactly what you’re making every year at minimum, and that amount could go up, it makes it easier.
It all depends what side of the fence you’re on, but for conference stability, the way we currently operate -- which is the same way the SEC operates, revenue sharing across the board evenly -- it helps with conference stability.
Q. In 2012, Florida State lost money by playing in the ACC title game. The ticket allotment was lowered this year so that wouldn't happen again, but financially, is there a concern about the cost-benefit balance following what was such a successful season on the field?
A. We were able to make sure we don’t lose money in the end. This year, I don’t know the final numbers, but we’re definitely not going to lose money. What you’re probably getting to is the [national] championship, and that’s a different animal.
Again, 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. The issue has to do with the amount of expense allotted to go participate and what your expenses end up being. In that case, because -- if the championship game was at the Orange Bowl, not an issue, but when it’s on the opposite coast, and you have to charter flights for your band, for your team, for the VIPs of the university, that’s where your expenses can outpace the actual allocation dollars that you’re given.
So this year, we didn’t lose very much but when you compare that to what we’re going to get from revenue sharing, it’s really a no-brainer. We’re going to make out well this year.
Q. Avoiding financial losses in the ACC championship game is one thing, but actually filling the seats and making money is another. There have been some suggestions that the league might adjust its format, including switching to a single division to improve the championship game matchups. What is Florida State's take on those ideas?
A. There is discussion about potentially changing the NCAA rule that says in order to have a championship game you have to have two divisions. The issue we grapple with has to do with new schools coming into the conference, then you factor in Notre Dame [which will play five ACC games per year]. The issue is trying to get schools to play everybody at least once over a certain time period. When you have the two divisions, it becomes a little more difficult. If you’re a new school, you want to play everybody in the conference and figure out who’s going to be the new rival school. When you’re in divisions, it’s a little more difficult.
I understand the argument. But until the legislation is changed, we can’t really do anything. And with the change in restructuring of the NCAA and giving a little more autonomy the BCS conferences, it may occur sooner than later that that legislation is changed. Then we can look at not having divisions.
Q. Would it be possible to simply reshuffle the divisions to create some better matchups, for instance getting Florida State to play Georgia Tech more often?
A. There are some schools that want to. But I think at this point that we’re exploring and talking about all different options until we can come up with one that really makes sense for the entire league and that the majority of the league feels really comfortable with.
Q. Athletes at Northwestern are considering unionization. Is that a situation you've monitored? And what could be the long-term ramifications of unionization for players?
A. It’s something that’s always been on my radar, the whole pay-for-play issue. My position has always been that I don’t think student-athletes should be paid more money financially, but that they should be paid maybe more from an academic perspective. However we determine the value of the education in terms of credit hours, years of scholarship — that’s what should be negotiated here, and not money.
The money aspect of it gets too sticky. They’re trying to unionize. In order to unionize, you have to be considered an employee of the university. I don’t think student-athletes really want to go down that road. You become an at-will employee that can be hired and fired at any time. Your argument is that it gets you benefits, but you kind of have that now. If you become an employee, every employee has to pay X amount of dollars into a health care program. I don’t know if they’ve thought the whole thing through as to what it really means to be an employee of the university.
But I always felt that they should be negotiating about the education side of it. Not to say the health care and all of that isn’t an issue, but the best thing you can have is the ability to really compete in the classroom. If that means to have less hours during the season in which you’re participating and you still have those hours maybe after your eligibility is up, you still have time to make up those credit hours so you can get your degree. Or you negotiate for undergraduate degree plus a graduate degree. Something that’s more educationally based, to me, is what student-athletes should be trying to get more of if they think there’s an imbalance.
A. We have not had any specific conversations about that here yet, but I guess it’s probably becoming an issue that we need to maybe look at those types of things. We haven’t had anybody come out, but my hope is that all of our coaches, student-athletes and employees are tolerant of anybody who is a good person, whatever their lifestyle is. We’re not forming prejudices against anybody. But as far as doing a formal discussion about that particular issue, we haven’t. We actually do that through our student-athlete welfare and development department that has speakers come in just to talk to student-athletes, talk to staff about Title IX issues, diversity and inclusion issues, all of those are things that we talk about through seminars where we bring in experts from outside. But there’s a big focus on this particular issue because of the two instances that have occurred, but most institutions you go to — we do have those types of seminars where you have specialists come in and talk about inclusion and diversity.
Q. You discussed your work on a five-year strategic plan for Florida State, but what are some of the near-term goals you think fans can expect to see in the coming years?
A. Well we want to continue to be very successful, and I think we will. I think we’re poised to be where we were back in the early 1990s. I’d love to see Mike Martin win a college baseball championship. He’s been there so many times, come so close. He’s so deserving of it. I’d really like to see that happen for him.
As we look at other avenues and ways of generating additional dollars here, I think the sport that we can look at to help would be basketball. I’d like to see that we’re going to continue to improve there and get better facilities so we can have more fans engaged and create the type of atmosphere at our basketball games that are similar to other ACC major programs in basketball. If I can create another Cameron [Indoor Stadium at Duke], that’s the big wish list. But I’d like to see a better atmosphere at our basketball games.
I’d like to see championships on the playing field and our student-athletes graduating and being successful in the classroom. If I can help to get us to accomplish just those two things, those are the two major things I’d obviously love to see.
Here's Part 1 of our two-part conversation.
David Hale: You accepted this job in August, and it's been a whirlwind since then. What have the first six months in Tallahassee been like for you?
Hale: You were brought in with a mandate not just to embrace the history at Florida State, but to grow the brand. With a BCS title in hand, how do you build off the success of 2013?
Wilcox: Any time you win a national championship, it’s a great opportunity to reach out to as many supporters and benefactors as possible to help you continue to grow. In order to stay in front of the curve, we have to look at our facilities. We have a number of facilities that need some upgrading. In our football stadium, we’re in the process of creating club level seating there. We have to look at the fan experience. How do we create better connectivity within the stadium? We’ve got to look at our concourse area and how to make that more fan-friendly. We just took over the Civic Center, and there’s a number of things there we need to do for basketball.
We’re in the process of creating a five-year strategic plan, and part of that plan includes a master facilities plan where we look at all our facilities and each of our venues and determine what are our wants and needs and try to figure out timelines.
In order for us to continue to be successful, we have to attract the best athletes we possibly can, and student-athletes these days are savvy consumers and they want to see where they’re going to be playing the next four or five years. Every day, you see another university that’s building or doing a campaign to raise money to upgrade a football facility, a basketball facility. We can’t just sit back and think that after we’ve built what we’ve built, it’s all done and finished.
Hale: One of the big knocks on FSU last season was its strength of schedule. That's come even more to the forefront as college football's playoff system begins in 2014, and it's a topic the ACC is debating, too. What's the discussions regarding conference scheduling, and where does Florida State stand in the debate?
Wilcox: We’re still in conversations with that, but what I would say is that as a league, we’re trying to do what’s best to position the league so that we can get teams into the playoff. If you can get more than one -- like this year, we got more than one team in the BCS -- that’s even better. There are conferences that have already decided how they think they’re going to do that. They’re going to nine games. We’re contemplating and discussing what’s going to be the best way, just like the SEC is doing. Each league is considering how best to position the conference from a scheduling perspective without compromising the regular season and the rivalries that have been established. You also want to make sure you have the right inventory you can sell to networks and sell to create channels. And from the ACC perspective, nothing has been decided yet.
From [Florida State’s] perspective, we’re at the point now that we would like to continue to be able to have as many quality home games as we can, potentially take one of those games on the road -- this year, we’re going to Dallas, and we’re looking at Orlando and other cities.* Some of that can be jeopardized depending how the conference ends up. If we had our druthers, we’d like to just keep everything the way they are right now. But I can’t say that’s what’s going to happen.
[*Ed. note: FSU confirms it is in preliminary talks for a neutral-site game in Orlando in 2016 and Atlanta in 2018.]
Hale: Jimbo Fisher has said that it's imperative, financially, to have seven home games, but with an annual nonconference date with Florida and a potential nine-game ACC schedule, that's going to be tough to manage. How do those rivalry games play into the debate?
Wilcox: Whatever we do in the ACC, we have to work around some of those rivalries [vs. the SEC]. Those aren’t going to change, and there’s enough votes in that room to not change those rivalries. We’re not concerned about that.
The concern can be more around the issue of we want to play Clemson every year. We want to play Miami every year. If we go to nine games, will they be able to continue to do that? Also in the room, Miami and Clemson want the same. It’ll be difficult. This is why you see that we haven’t -- it’s a stalemate.
My perspective -- and this is what I push -- I’d like to stay the same, and I’d like to see -- and this is my opinion, and it may not be where we come out -- but it’s just a matter of scheduling up. We already play Florida every year, playing an SEC school. We’re playing Oklahoma State [in 2014]. I think the issue is, if we collectively agree that we’re going to schedule up, we don’t have to come up with a hard rule we have to go to nine games, or everybody has to schedule one game against an SEC school. It’s just a matter of getting everybody to agree to that. If we’re concerned about strength of schedule, then everybody’s got to really schedule so that you have a strong schedule.
Hale: The SEC is widely viewed as the elite conference in college football, but the ACC has the national champion and the Orange Bowl champion. Is it possible for the perception of the ACC to be on par or better than that of the SEC within the next few years?
Wilcox: I would say we’re already perceived that way, and we want to continue to be as competitive. I do think our football has gotten stronger. If you look at Duke, who was really off the grid for a while, [it is] all of a sudden in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, playing in the ACC championship. That tells you how ACC schools are putting resources into football across the board. It’s no longer just viewed as a basketball conference. It’s a football conference that has to be reckoned with.
People want to look at the SEC and call it the flagship conference in football, and I’m not denying that. But what I am saying is that we’re just as good, and we’ve proved that this year, and we’re hopefully going to continue to prove that. We’re going to do our part here at Florida State, and I know that other ACC schools are right there with us.
Here’s a completely unscientific ranking of the five best student sections in the ACC, based on a combination of attendance, fun and good old-fashioned decibel level:
2. Virginia Tech: From the pregame “Enter Sandman” entrance to the end of the fourth quarter, the students stay loyal all the way. They’re the ones who have made Thursday nights in Blacksburg special. They’re the loudest for the “Let’s go! Hokies!” cheer, and one of the biggest reasons Virginia Tech has had such an overwhelming home-field advantage.
3. Florida State: From Tallahassee to Pasadena, these guys know how to represent. Love it or hate it, the “war chant” is one of the most recognizable college football traditions, and nobody can belt it out better than the FSU students. Their tomahawk chop is unmistakable, along with their pride and passion in FSU football.
4. Georgia Tech: They’re at their best on a Thursday night, and they’re no doubt the heart and soul of Bobby Dodd Stadium. They’re always there for the entrance of the Ramblin’ Wreck, and decked out in their white and gold. Oh, and they’re pretty smart, too, those engineers. They’ve got a catchy fight song, and they’re always ready to answer, “What’s the good word?”
5. NC State: Carter-Finley can surprise you with its energy if you’ve never been there before, and the “sign of the wolf” is a must-learn if you’re going to sit with the students. (Even President Barack Obama learned how to do this while on campus in 2008.) NC State students have a lot of Pack pride, and they show it on Saturdays.