NCF Nation: Florida State

The preseason All-ACC team was released Wednesday, and naturally quarterback Jameis Winston led the way with the most votes. There were not too many surprises, beginning with Florida State players littered throughout the list of 26 names.

Here is the 2014 preseason All-ACC team, as voted on by the media at the ACC Kickoff:

 
 
 

Thoughts: While the ACC had the second-most NFL draft picks in May, there is significant talent returning to the conference for the 2014 season. Of the 26 players, 21 were named to one of the three All-ACC teams at the end of last season. That doesn’t include Parker, who will play his first season in the ACC this coming season. Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the leading vote getter (although not a unanimous one), and Beasley, who received the second-most votes, are two of the three returning consensus All-Americans from the 2013 season.

Few conferences would be able to rival that offense with Winston throwing to 1,000-yard receivers Crowder and Greene and a 6-foot-3 target in Parker. O’Leary is one of the best tight ends in the country. There was a seemingly close battle at running back behind Duke Johnson, Williams got the nod over Virginia running back Kevin Parks, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Defensively, that is one talented line. Beasley received the second-most votes for the preseason player of the year, and Edwards was the No. 1 high school recruit in the 2012 class. Maddy and Jarrett are two of the best defensive tackles in the country.

Duke has the second-most players on the team, which speaks to the program David Cutcliffe is building in Durham. The Blue Devils were not picked to win the ACC Coastal despite winning it last season and returning quarterback Anthony Boone. There is a constituency out there that still doesn’t believe Duke is the real deal and is bound for a letdown, but the media believes there is talent throughout the roster; the Blue Devils have a player at receiver, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary. Miami, which was picked to win the division, has two players on the list.

Even as Duke had four players, the Seminoles still had nine, only further signifying the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference, although the league is undoubtedly improving. That list does not include Ronald Darby or Jalen Ramsey, two players who will almost certainly be on an All-ACC team by the end of the season. It is no surprise Florida State was ranked as having the most talent on its 2014 roster two weeks ago in ESPN.com's future power rankings.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There was quite a different feel around the ACC Kickoff this season. More swagger, more puffed out chests, more bravado.

All those years of BCS misery? Almost like they never happened. Losing bowl record last season? Forgotten. How about that losing record against power-five conference teams? Nope, not going to talk about that. Because the ACC is now home to the national champions, and everybody in the ACC did their best to remind us all over two days.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFSU's national title has given a confidence boost to the ACC.
Florida State permeated every single conversation, its national championship win serving as a national championship win for all. Its momentous victory meant fist pumps around the room. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team lost to Florida State in the ACC championship game by 38 points, might have summarized the mood best when he was asked about the Seminoles’ championship.

“Go Noles!” he shouted.

Anybody think Coach K shouted, “Go Heels!” when North Carolina won its national title a few years back?

The dynamic in football is obviously different. There are rivalries, yes, but there also is a brotherhood among these coaches, steeped in their determination to make the ACC shed its “basketball conference” label. They have all shared in the pain over the past 10 years, watching the SEC exert its dominance while the ACC was left to answer questions about why it was always a step behind.

They all promised their day would come, selling the league hard to anybody who would listen. Jimbo Fisher has been one of their loudest defenders, his stock line: “There is really good football in this league!”

People used to roll their eyes. But now, finally, there are believers. Finally, the national conversation has flipped from, "Who can take down the SEC?" to "Who can take down Florida State?"

Without a doubt, the ACC deserves this moment. Winning national championships should come with a shot of confidence and an infusion of new energy. So what if it felt like some of the coaches were reciting a list of carefully scripted, neatly orchestrated talking points? Talking points, by the way, that John Swofford recited in his Commissioner Forum media event, perhaps hoping to set the tone for the Kickoff.

Every league coach should revel in the victory. They should use those talking points on the recruiting trail. Do you want to play against the best? Well, the best is right here, in the ACC.

Now, one championship does not make a league, nor does it change the perception that the ACC is not yet among the top three conferences in the country. There has to be consistency. The SEC did not earn its reputation based on one national championship alone, or one team alone carrying the flag for the conference.

Everybody else in the league needs to step up their level of play. Everybody else in the league needs to start winning its elite nonconference matchups. A national championship, a BCS bowl win, and 11 bowl teams are obviously a terrific start. But it cannot end there.

All this bravado and swagger need to be translated into results on the football field. Confidence needs to be channeled into momentum. Having bragging rights now is great. But the ACC knows it has to find a way to hang onto those bragging rights, so that every year it can beat its chest just a little bit louder.
videoGREENSBORO, N.C. -- The 2014 ACC Kickoff is in the books, and while the preseason hype rarely translates well to the games on the field, there were still a few notable take-aways from the festivities at the Grandover Resort. Here are five things we learned from this year's media days.

1. The College Football Playoff is on everyone's mind.

Florida State Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher led the charge for the ACC in Greensboro, touting the accomplishments of the conference last year, including the Heisman winner, a national title and an Orange Bowl winner, a slew of NFL draft picks and 11 bowl invitations. Fisher and others continued to refer to the ACC as "the No. 1 football conference" in the country.

That, of course, may not sit so well with the SEC, but it was actually a Big 12 coach that landed the first blows after Fisher referred to the conference's lack of a championship game as "ridiculous."

Baylor's Art Briles fired back, saying "Jimbo Fisher needs to worry about the ACC" rather than tell the Big 12 how to conduct business.

Of course, it was clear that the ACC was exactly what Fisher and others were worried about as the politicking to ensure the conference has at least one representative in the first College Football Playoff is already underway. There are five power conferences and just four playoff spots, so someone's going to be left out, and Fisher has no interest in watching the games from home.

2. Jameis Winston isn't shying from the spotlight.

Jameis Winston was the star of the ACC Kickoff, arriving to a horde of media members eagerly awaiting something controversial. Instead, Winston (mostly) said all the right things, talking up his team and the league, offering jokes when possible and, most notably, admitting he had plenty of maturing to do in light of the off-field incidents that have dogged his career thus far.

Winston said he understood the spotlight he would be living in this year, adding that he had to "live up to the hype," and if he didn't, "it would be chaos."

Of course, Winston has made a habit out of sounding good -- and confident -- in front of the cameras, but the spotlight will stick with him well beyond his time in Greensboro.

Oh, and speaking of Winston's future: He notably declined to comment on his father's promises that the Heisman winner would be playing two more seasons at FSU. Instead, Winston said he "couldn't predict the future." In other words, don't cross him off your 2015 mock drafts just yet.

3. No one knows what will happen in the Coastal Division.

It's not that the media has a particularly successful track record of picking winners at ACC Kickoff, but this year's preseason poll was particularly telling about the depth of quality -- or, perhaps, litany of weaknesses -- in the Coastal Division.

The Miami Hurricanes came away as the overall favorite among the voting media, but the team finished with the third-most first-place votes in the division. Duke, last year's winner, had the most first-place votes and was second overall. North Carolina ranked fourth, but had the second-most first-place votes. In all, six of the seven teams in the conference had at least one first-place vote. Only Virginia missed out, which given the utter ridiculousness of it all, probably means the Hoos will be playing the Atlantic winner in Charlotte this December.

4. Miami has quarterback concerns.

There's still optimism Ryan Williams will be back at some point, but there's no certainties on when that might happen -- if it happens at all. That leaves the Hurricanes with a vacancy at the most important position on the field, and it also likely means a void in leadership, too.

"Ryan Williams is still the leader," tailback Duke Johnson said, "Kevin Olsen is just a quarterback."

Coach Al Golden mirrored those comments, saying Olsen -- the freshman -- still had to mature as a player and earn the respect of his teammates. Transfer Jake Heaps is now in the mix, too, but he's going to be learning on the fly.

In the end, the quarterback concerns weren't enough to keep the media from tabbing Miami as the Coastal favorite, and Johnson can at least agree with that.

"They might not have the strongest arm or be the fastest or the most accurate," Johnson said, "but when you have the receivers we do and the offensive line we do, it becomes pretty simple."

5. No one's handing the Atlantic to FSU.

Syracuse Orange coach Scott Shafer said he first understood how good Florida State was during pregame warm-ups last year. He pointed out a few players who were far bigger than anyone on his team, only to learn the FSU behemoths were redshirting.

But even with the knowledge that his Orange are facing an uphill battle, Shafer wasn't admitting defeat before the games are played in 2014.

"The great thing about football is that the ball is oblong and does funny things and on any given Saturday you have an opportunity to steal a game," Shafer said.

Syracuse would need a big upset, but Clemson and Louisville think they've got good chances to win the Atlantic. Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley was particularly vocal about this year's matchup against the Seminoles with Clemson's formidable defensive front leading the way. Dabo Swinney has never backed off his comments that his team wasn't far behind FSU last year, and he's encouraged that a new-look offense, led by quarterback Cole Stoudt, can upset the Seminoles in 2014.

Of course, we're still a long way from that finish line, so for now, it's all just talk.
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GREESNBORO, N.C. -- Florida State coach Jimbo's Fisher patience was tested at the onset of the ACC Kickoff on Monday. It wasn't a question about Jameis Winston or crab legs. It was a question that amounted to peanuts.

Literally.

"How about that -- people didn't know about putting peanuts in a Coke," Fisher ranted. "You believe that? This generation now. Golly."

He couldn't believe a reporter from the North (hint: me) never put salted peanuts in a bottle -- has to be glass -- of Coke, and had never even heard of it. But when your program is on the cusp of a college football dynasty, especially after an ugly slide from dominance, you can have the look of a coach without any worries, and he said as much Monday. Throughout his nearly 90-minute media session, Fisher was charismatic and engaging, usually the hallmark of Florida State's quarterback, which is a testament to how he views not only his 2014 team but the state of his program.

Fisher was most impassioned when talking about the latest renovation at Florida State, which has been the most cosmetic of his Seminoles tenure. He spent the first four years internally tearing down and rebuilding a program that sat at the pinnacle of college football for two decades. When preseason camp opens in two weeks, it will do so with a complete makeover of the football facilities, allowing Fisher to surpass rival SEC schools in the ongoing arms races.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJimbo Fisher has the complete makeover of the football facilities that he has desired.
"I always ask folks, when you walk into an organization, you go into a business, the minute you walk in you make a first impression: Is this place committed to excellence, is it a championship organization?" Fisher said, hands bouncing off the table.

It was a pointed message, particularly aimed 550 miles away at Tallahassee. Fisher thanked the university administration and athletic department for the new toys, but he alluded to some early resistance, normal for a demanding coach and budget-mindful athletic department. They were changes he wanted earlier that a national championship finally afforded him. It's not limited to just superficial alterations like new locker rooms and statues with light-up jerseys, but changes that are hard to initially quantify that the old staff didn't endorse.

It was a change in culture, a trending phrase in football-crazed outposts throughout the country. Throughout the world really. Fisher spoke glowingly of the German national soccer team, which won the World Cup a little more than a week ago. The governing soccer body in Germany felt Brazil's facilities were insufficient and adverse to creating a winning environment, so the German soccer association built its own hotel and training grounds in Brazil, thousands of miles from its base in Europe.

It's doubtful Florida State football settlements will pop up in Miami and Chapel Hill and Blacksburg, but Fisher expects the Tallahassee colony to at least rival the ones in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and Austin.

"Our players weren't growing in those first three years, our university was, and our culture -- from administration and all the things we had to do around those kids, academic support, player development, mental conditioning -- that's the culture that had to change for us to be a champion," Fisher elaborated. "When you demand so much from that kid and you don't put that into your own organization, how do you expect that kid to be a championship if you're not?

"... I'm not a spoiled kid. If I want it, it's because it's going to make our organization better. Every decision we make is about winning and developing our players. ... Our school and administration are doing a great job, and I'll continually push. I still got a bucket list."

There was a list of priorities from Fisher when he took the head coaching job in 2010, and maybe what speaks loudest about the state of Florida State football is that the surface-level changes are among the last to come. The behind-the-scenes work has been going on the past four seasons, and it culminated in a national title.

Midway through his media session, Fisher was asked whether Florida State is poised for a run similar to the one predecessor Bobby Bowden orchestrated from 1987 to 2000, when the Seminoles finished in the top five every season. It might be an unrealistic goal in this era -- Fisher doesn't rule out the jump to the NFL, either -- but Florida State is in the best position to unseat Alabama and Fisher mentor Nick Saban. Monday, the Seminoles were picked to win the ACC and Winston was named the preseason Player of the Year. Florida State is the odds-on favorite to win the College Football Playoff. Only Alabama is recruiting better.

"Why can't you? I don't know if it's feasible," Fisher said regarding a run similar to Bowden's. "Let's go play ball and find out."
videoGREENSBORO, N.C. -- Jameis Winston says Florida State loves playing the underdog. But when a large faction of fans and media expect the Seminoles to win the inaugural College Football Playoff, the popular us-against-the-world mentality is a tough sell. Even other players attending the first day of the ACC Kickoff were tired of hearing about the conference’s power scale tipping heavily in the direction of Tallahassee.

Perceptions have fluctuated wildly with Florida State over the last year. The school, coaching staff and its star player have been praised and vilified. So while the underdog card expired in early January, there is no shortage of motivation, Florida State says.

“We know the whys of why we play. We go out there every Saturday or Thursday for a man [Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher] that's facing something devastating in his life every single day with his son,” Winston said, referring to Ethan Fisher’s battle with Fanconi anemia. “We know where we come from. We know the whys and why we fight every day, why we have our brothers who support us. We know why we do this. Complacency, being comfortable, it's not right.”

The ACC target was on the Seminoles’ back in 2013 following an ACC title the year prior. In 2014, those targeting Florida State hail from all ends of the country. The rest of college football is trying to catch the Seminoles, who many feel will finish the regular season undefeated and might not be tested until the playoffs.

Winston and cornerback P.J. Williams agreed that Florida State embraces the moments and games where the spotlight shines brightest and their opponent has made it a season goal to knock Florida State from its perch. And not every player at the ACC Kickoff was shy about sharing that sentiment.

“Of course. They’re the No. 1 team in the nation,” Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson. “That’s every football players’ dream: to go against the best and beat the best. I’m selfish. I want to play them [in the ACC championship] again.”

Williams isn’t denying that the Seminoles are aware of the massive preseason hype and likely No. 1 ranking when the polls are released. He said, however, it’s a non-issue for a team with questions regarding the loss of leadership throughout the ranks.

“I hear about the preseason polls. They say we’ll be No. 1 but it doesn’t affect us at all,” Williams said. “We’re going to go to the weight room and work just as hard and not think about that.

“We got a winning mentality, and losing is not what we think about.”
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GREENSBORO, North Carolina -- Reporters began staking out seats in front of the placard that read "Jameis Winston" more than an hour before the Heisman-winning quarterback was scheduled to speak. When Winston finally arrived, it was with his typical bluster, as he implored the gawkers to offer a round of applause that his Florida State Seminoles had finally wrestled college football's national championship from the clutches of the big, bad SEC.

It was an appropriate entrance, really. After all, it's the SEC that had set the standard for preseason media frenzies, first with Tim Tebow and, at the past year's SEC media days, with Johnny Manziel. But now it was Winston's star power that garnered all the attention.

Winston sat at a small table with his teammate, P.J. Williams, perched quietly at the opposite end. The crowd surrounding Winston grew so massive that reporters were standing on chairs just to get a peek, while the other ACC representatives discussed minutia with spartan audiences. But if Winston stole the spotlight, no one seemed upset by the spectacle.

"He's a great player, a great athlete and a great person to be around," BC defensive back Dominique Williams said. "He's a funny kid. Guys like us, we're just going about our business, and if people want to talk to us, they'll talk to us."

In fact, there were plenty of players just as eager to meet the ACC's biggest name live and in person.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston reminded those at the ACC's preseason kickoff that he and the Seminoles stopped the SEC's string of national titles this past season.
During the day's photo session, Winston smiled and snapped a selfie with Clemson's Cole Stoudt. He cracked jokes with players from Boston College and Wake Forest. When he wrapped up his session with print media, he danced in front of the North Carolina contingent.

"That guy's crazy," laughed Tar Heels' linebacker Norkeithus Otis.

His partner at the dais wasn't surprised. UNC quarterback Marquise Williams first met Winston at a camp five years ago, then he roomed with the Heisman winner at this past week's Manning Passing Academy. Winston's playful demeanor in the face of so much media scrutiny came as no surprise for Williams.

"I've known that knucklehead," Williams said. "I'm impressed with him. He's not like you think, not cocky. He's humble. He's a real down-to-earth guy. You can tell he won the Heisman, so something had to change, but everybody gets better as they get older. They get more knowledge."

That was a theme for Winston throughout. He didn't offer much in the way of contrition for the off-field incidents that have made him fodder for jokes and a headliner on celebrity gossip sites, but Winston did repeatedly talk about maturing in the spotlight and learning from his mistakes.

"You always have to have a smile on your face," Winston said. "Leadership is not only on the field -- it's off the field too. I know I have guys looking up to me, and I know I have a lot of support from my teammates as well."

The smile endeared Winston to the crowd Sunday, but the lingering concerns about last year's sexual assault investigation and this spring's police citation for stealing crab legs from a local grocery store tinged nearly every question Winston received. That too earned the attention of his colleagues around the room.

"He's a kid that made mistakes -- some bigger than others -- but he's doing a good job of handling himself," Miami tailback Duke Johnson said. "He got asked questions that were uncomfortable for him, but he handled himself well."

It was less than a year ago that Winston vaulted into the national spotlight, and he insists that despite all the chaos of a high-profile investigation, a Heisman win and a BCS title, he hasn't changed much. That certainly seemed to be the case Sunday, as he maintained the same air of playfulness and confidence that endeared him to so many Florida State fans from the outset of his career.

But Winston said he also knows Sunday won't be the last time he faces the cameras and answers some uncomfortable questions. Now that he's wrestled a championship from the SEC, he's going to be at the center of college football's universe -- for better and worse.

"I understand my leadership responsibilities for a team that won a national championship and a Heisman trophy," Winston said. "We still have a little fun here and there, and we've still got our mind set on winning another national championship. That's the most important thing."
video Jameis Winston stole the show at Florida State’s media day a year ago as the charismatic freshman quarterback and instant media darling. He is the show Sunday in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the ACC media days begin with Winston talking to reporters first.

It will be the first time Winston will meet with the media since the end of spring practice April 12, but there’s been no shortage of headlines featuring Winston’s name, as he was cited for shoplifting seafood and did not testify at the school disciplinary hearings for teammates Chris Casher and Ronald Darby.

It surprised some to see Florida State was bringing Winston to media days considering the intense scrutiny he’s faced over the last nine months. There won't be the same ability for Florida State to control the questions thrown Winston’s way at media days in front of a national group of reporters, many of whom have written columns in the last year criticizing Winston and Florida State’s handling of his off-field incidents.

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Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesAll eyes will be on Jameis Winston as ACC media days kick off on Sunday.
How will Winston respond when peppered with questions about crab legs or his rumored no-show at the hearings for Casher and Darby? (Winston’s lawyer, Tim Jansen, told ESPN.com in May that Winston was not required to attend.) Auburn came under fire last week for leaving quarterback Nick Marshall at home following a marijuana citation, electing to allow Marshall to avoid the prodding questions from SEC media. Critics wanted to see maturity out of Marshall in front of reporters, and they will be looking for the same from Winston.

Every sentence and every gesture Winston makes will be analyzed Sunday. And unlike this time last year, Winston has earned the spotlight with his dazzling play on the field and puzzling decisions off it.

While Winston is the story of media days this week, here a few other players certain to draw significant attention:

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: The Hurricanes’ workhorse last season suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Florida State. With a questionable quarterback situation, Miami’s offense might only go as far as Johnson takes it.

WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: If not for Winston, Boyd might have been the ACC’s top rookie in 2013. An explosive playmaker, Boyd will be relied upon heavily this season with Devin Street off to the NFL. Boyd is one of the better quotes, too.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: The Tigers are looking to dethrone the Seminoles in the Atlantic Division, and their chances might rest on the Clemson defense, which could be among the nation’s best.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: Parker is poised for huge numbers in Bobby Petrino’s offense. If Petrino can upset the balance of power in the ACC at all this season, Parker will be a major reason.
Do you need a sign college football is close but still just a little too far away? The first preseason award watch lists were released Monday, a list of more than 70 players that could be the best in the country by season’s end.

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

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

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

Maxwell Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Bednarik Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brian Vickers is ready to ride the No. 55 in the Coke Zero 400 Sunday at Daytona International Speedway with a special garnet-and-gold-themed car.

Plans were unveiled in April for Vickers to drive the car, celebrating the BCS national champions. Now, here it is, ready to roll onto the track.

Vickers is no stranger to driving sports-themed cars. Last year at a race in Kentucky, he had a special paint scheme to honor the Louisville men's basketball national championship team. Lead sponsor Aaron's and Michael Waltrip Racing also have honored Alabama and Auburn national champion teams with special paint schemes during races at Talladega Superspeedway four times since 2009.

 
A little over a year ago, Florida State went into spring practice with four quarterbacks competing to win the starting job.

Fast forward to today, and three of those players are in line to be starters -- further proof that Jimbo Fisher knows how to pick and develop his quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher and Jameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston could be the fourth quarterback under the guidance of Jimbo Fisher to be picked in the first round of the NFL draft.
While Jameis Winston emerged as the star of the group, it is pretty clear now that Fisher was not exaggerating when he said he had four very talented guys competing to win the starting job in April 2013. Jacob Coker and Clint Trickett may not have done enough to beat out Winston, but that should reflect more on the rare skill-set Winston possesses and less on Coker and Trickett themselves.

Especially when you consider what has happened over the past 16 months.

Trickett transferred out of Florida State following spring practice and landed at West Virginia, starting seven games last season. Dana Holgorsen announced Tuesday that Trickett is his starter heading into the season.

And who do the Mountaineers play to open 2014? None other than Alabama, where Jacob Coker recently transferred and is immediately eligible to play. Though Coker has yet to participate in a practice at Alabama, many believe he has the inside track to win the starting job.

During a news conference previewing the BCS National Championship, Florida State co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders reflected on the competition both in the spring and fall.

"People look back on it and they don't believe us, but it was a very, very competitive situation," Sanders said. "Coker is a good football player and did a tremendous job through spring practice and through fall camp. It was one of those things we thought we were going to make a decision and then it gets put off a day, put off a day and I remember sitting in there in the staff meeting and kinda going around the table and hearing all the opinions. I promise you, it was not a unanimous thing. Sometimes you make a decision and you go with it, and it's hard to say we made the wrong one at this point but if we had chosen Coker we wouldn't be sitting here and feeling like we made the wrong decision there, too."

Fisher had a similar situation when he was offensive coordinator at LSU. Back in 1999 and 2000, Josh Booty, Craig Nall and Rohan Davey all were on the roster and battling for the starting job. All three eventually were drafted.

So when you include his seven years at LSU, Fisher has had eight quarterbacks drafted -- three in the first round. Winston is sure to be next in line whenever he decides to enter the NFL draft.

When that time comes, it is nearly guaranteed the Seminoles will have a player talented enough to step right in and start.

Who knows? There could even be two or three players talented enough to start.

Here is a look at where quarterbacks Fisher coached were drafted:

at LSU

  • Josh Booty, sixth round, 2001
  • Rohan Davey, fourth round, 2002
  • Craig Nall, fifth round, 2002
  • Matt Mauck, seventh round, 2004
  • JaMarcus Russell, first overall, 2007
  • Matt Flynn, seventh round, 2008
at Florida State

  • Christian Ponder, first round, 2011
  • EJ Manuel, first round, 2013
Duke has become one of the favorites to repeat as Coastal Division champions for several reasons.

Here is one of the biggest: Duke is the only team in the ACC to return its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a year ago. The Blue Devils return their top two leading tacklers, too.

[+] EnlargeJamison Crowder
Ellen Ozier/USA TODAY SportsDuke returns 72 percent of its offense, including leading receiver Jamison Crowder.
In all, Duke returns 72 percent of its offense. Only Virginia returns more in the ACC, though the Hoos are changing quarterbacks and only produced two wins with virtually the same players a season ago. Plus, their offense took a hit in the offseason when leading receiver Jake McGee decided to transfer.

What should give Duke an edge is the veteran experience and leadership it will have with returning quarterback Anthony Boone, receiver Jamison Crowder and rusher Josh Snead -- all seniors. Crowder is the headliner of the group, after catching an ACC-record 108 passes a year ago for 1,360 yards. He needs just 1,153 yards to set the school and ACC career receiving yards record.

Snead will once again split carries in the backfield -- the way Duke has done in recent history -- though some depth does have to be developed at the position. Boone will share some of the load at quarterback as well, but there will be much more placed on his shoulders with the departure of Brandon Connette.

That is where the Blue Devils lose the largest percentage of their offense -- 25 percent out of the 28 percent that is gone. Losing Connette means losing 14 of the team's 28 rushing touchdowns from a year ago, along with 1,212 passing yards and perhaps the most reliable backup quarterback in America. Thomas Sirk is expected to contribute, but it is too early to say what exactly his role will be once the season begins.

Still, Duke is the only team in the league with its offensive nucleus intact, an offense that -- by the way -- ranked No. 3 in the ACC. Florida State nearly does with Jameis Winston and Rashad Greene back. Though the Seminoles lose leading rusher Devonta Freeman, they believe Karlos Williams will be able to step right in and fill those shoes. Several other teams return two among their top passers, rushers or receivers: Pitt (RB James Conner, WR Tyler Boyd), Syracuse (QB Terrel Hunt, WR Ashton Broyld), Virginia Tech (RB Trey Edmunds, WR Willie Byrn) and Louisville (RB Dominique Brown, WR DeVante Parker).

Of these teams, only Syracuse returns 70 percent or more of its offense. Still not quite as much as Duke.

FSU up for challenging opener

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
10:30
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It is a question that is debated before every season starts: If a team had its choice, would it open against a weak opponent or a strong one?

Hands down, coaches and players want the big-time opponents to bring it on.

That is a big reason why Florida State players are looking forward to opening the season against Oklahoma State in Arlington, Texas, on Aug. 30. The Seminoles have played their fair share of spotlight openers, but the most recent ones have come against conference opponents -- including last year's Labor Day matchup against Pitt.

This season marks the first time since 2002 that Florida State will open against a nonconference team from a power-five league. That year, No. 4 Florida State beat Iowa State 38-31 in Kansas City, Missouri, in a nailbiter, relying on a goal-line stand on the final play to win.

Oklahoma State will be extremely young, having lost 32 lettermen from a team that went 10-3 a year ago. The Cowboys rank last on Phil Steele's returning experience list for 2014.

But nonetheless, this is a big-time matchup on the road -- closer to Stillwater, Oklahoma, than Tallahassee, Florida. Oklahoma State has won nine or more games in five of the last six seasons and will present a big-time challenge to the Florida State secondary.

The Cowboys are not shy about throwing the ball and will feature yet another talented group of receivers with the ability to stretch the field.

"We are looking forward to it," Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams said. "We always want to play the best competition and beat the best competition so they know we’re the best. I’m looking forward to being able to make plays and guard some good receivers and being able to defend some passes. I can’t wait."

The matchup between the Oklahoma State receivers and Florida State defensive backs will no doubt be the biggest one to watch. The Seminoles have to replace starters Lamarcus Joyner and Terrence Brooks, who anchored the secondary a year ago.

Oklahoma State has to replace three starting receivers who combined for 146 catches and nearly 2,000 yards. But both groups believe they are positioned well headed into the season. Florida State should have one of the best secondaries in the country and expects Jalen Ramsey to have a breakout year at the spot Joyner played.

Oklahoma State returns starter Jhajuan Seales, along with Marcell Ateman, Brandon Sheperd, David Glidden, Blake Webb and Austin Hays. Webb and Hays started in 2012, but injuries knocked them out for most of last year.

"That's really what we want right there; we can start off our season showcasing our talents and abilities, showing the nation that this secondary isn’t going to step down to anyone, this defense isn’t going to step down to anyone against a great offense who’s going to push us and pass the ball around," Ramsey said. "We’re going to have fun doing that."

J.W. Walsh appears to be the favorite to start at quarterback for Oklahoma State, but the race is open headed into fall practice. Walsh lost his starting job last year but did well in the spring, although coach Mike Gundy has declined to definitively declare a starter.

But there also is some excitement beyond the opportunity to play a good team. There is something special about going to a neutral site as well. Especially for defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who went to high school in Texas.

"I have a lot of people coming out to watch that game to support me," Edwards said. "I look at it like I’m going home and I have to show out for the people at home."
video Jameis Winston’s camp is going to keep beating the drum until people start believing: Winston is playing two more football seasons at Florida State.

Winston’s father, Antonor, told AL.com in an article published Wednesday that his Heisman-winning son will play through 2015 and earn his degree before declaring for the NFL draft as a redshirt junior.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston has another season to play before really facing a decision about his future.
"We want Jameis to succeed with one more year in baseball and two more years in football," Antonor said. "We've never strayed from our plan that he is going to be in college until he gets that degree."

Antonor is the latest to express that opinion, joining his son and Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher. Credit the Winstons for having this plan and wanting his son to obtain his degree before turning pro. It is the smart thing to say publicly, too, but it is June and a lot will change in six months.

If Winston can build upon the 2013 campaign in which he led Florida State to an undefeated season and a national championship, he will almost certainly project to be a first-round pick, if not the No. 1 overall selection. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. rates Winston as the No. 1 player on his too-early 2015 Big Board, and many analysts believe he would have been the top pick in this year’s draft.

It will be hard to turn down that kind of money, and a player’s draft potential has not always improved by sticking around for an extra season.

Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley are two from the past decade who did not declare early for the NFL draft and lost significant money when they did. Sam Bradford, also a Heisman Trophy winner, went No. 1 overall but played in only three games in his final college season due to injury.

But really, it’s just too early to definitely say what Winston will do following this season. There are a lot of variables, and it's impossible to predict what will happen by the end of the season for Winston or his father to make any public declarations.

Fisher certainly will not want Winston’s future to be a distraction, with Florida State likely to be preseason No. 1 and attempting to repeat as national champions. Again, Winston and those around him deserve credit for putting an emphasis on earning his degree and continuing his baseball career as long as possible. When asked, the safe move for all involved is to repeat that Winston will return and is focused on the season, even if most expect their tune to change a few months from now.
Florida coach Will Muschamp made big headlines during Day 1 of the SEC meetings when he said he would rather not play FCS opponents anymore.

Alabama coach Nick Saban agreed, sparking renewed debate about the place of FCS games in major college football, especially when strength of schedule will mean more in the playoff era.

But during the ACC spring meetings last month, there was no such debate. The ACC remains firm in its desire to play FCS opponents. There are a few reasons why. First, scheduling nonconference games has become more challenging than ever. Sometimes, an FCS team is needed to fill out the schedule. Second, there are many FCS teams in the South that are in close geographic proximity to ACC teams, and they always benefit greatly when they are scheduled to play.

These are not the most appealing games. Sometimes, upsets happen, which is probably why Muschamp does not want to go the FCS route anymore. But from the ACC perspective, the FCS games are not going anywhere anytime soon.

All 14 ACC teams have FCS teams on the schedule for 2014. Seven are in the same state as their ACC opponent. Nearly all the rest are located in bordering states. Miami, for one, plays Florida A&M this season and also has played in-state Bethune-Cookman in the past.

"Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman are great games for us," Miami athletic director Blake James said during the ACC meetings. "Those are schools within the state, there’s a real benefit for them to be able to come down and have games in Miami where they have alumni. It’s a benefit for us. As of right now I would see us still scheduling Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman and those types of schools. Those are the ones we have historically played and those are relationships we’d like to be able to continue."

Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich, who also serves on the College Football Playoff committee, was asked how teams with FCS opponents on the schedule would be judged when it came time to make decisions. The Tigers, for example, have South Carolina State on the schedule this season and for 2016 and a game with Wofford set for 2015.

"You’re going to have to look at what FCS teams you play, if any, because there are some FCS teams that are more difficult to play than the lower-ranked Division I teams," Radakovich said. "It comes into the totality of the schedule."

Until further notice, the totality of the ACC schedule will include an FCS opponent.
The biggest news to come from last week’s ACC league meetings was a decision on future conference scheduling. With expansion, there was a push to move to a nine-game conference slate, along with the potential to switch up the conference title game format. For now, however, things are going to stay more or less the same.

What has changed in terms of scheduling is a rule that will require all teams to play at least one nonconference game against a team from a Power 5 conference (Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC). While that won’t affect the four ACC teams with annual rivalry games against the SEC (FSU, Clemson, Louisville and Georgia Tech), it will force some others to up the ante on future scheduling.

[+] EnlargeACC logo
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesThe ACC has not performed well in regular-season, nonconference games against Power 5 teams since 2009. The combined record of the 11 current ACC members who have been a part of the conference since then is 22-51.
(Note: For a more detailed look at scheduling of Power 5 nonconference foes in the next few years, BC Interruption has a detailed list.)

Rather than look ahead, however, we decided to take a look back at how the ACC has fared against Power 5 competition in recent years.

As colleague Andrea Adelson pointed out, the 2013 nonconference slate in the ACC was one of the toughest in the nation, and the 2014 schedule projects to be similarly daunting.
“The ACC played one of the most challenging nonconference schedules in the country a season ago, featuring games against Georgia, USC, Florida, Northwestern, Penn State, Alabama, South Carolina, BYU and Oregon.

This year, Oklahoma State, Georgia, Ohio State, Nebraska, UCLA, USC and Iowa are on the nonconference schedule, in addition to the standard SEC rivalry games for Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Louisville.”

But while the ACC played a fair number of tough nonconference games, it didn’t exactly perform particularly well in them.

In fact, going back five years to the 2009 season, the numbers are pretty bleak.

The 11 current ACC members who have been a part of the conference since 2009 have played a total of 73 regular-season, nonconference games against Power 5 teams. Their combined record is a dismal 22-51 (.301).

Here’s how bad it actually is:

• Three of those 22 wins actually came against Pitt, Syracuse and Louisville when those programs were not part of the ACC.

• Seven more wins came against Vandy, Kansas, Rutgers and Indiana — hardly traditional powers despite their conference affiliations.

• No ACC team has a winning record in nonconference, regular-season games against Power 5 teams during that span. The team that has performed the best during that stretch is North Carolina, which is 3-3.

• The most impressive nonconference, regular-season wins over Power 5 teams for the ACC in the last five years amounts to a short list: Clemson over Georgia (2013), Miami over Florida (2013), Clemson over Auburn (2011), FSU over Florida (2010), Miami over Oklahoma (2009) and Virginia Tech over Nebraska (2009).

The failures against Power 5 teams are league-wide, but the spread is a bit one-sided. Since 2009, there are a few teams that have distinctly avoiding playing nonconference, regular-season games against Power 5 teams. The full list is in a chart on the right.

What’s worse, four of those six games played by NC State and Virginia Tech came in 2009, meaning those two programs have each played just one regular-season, nonconference game against a Power 5 team in the last four years. (Virginia Tech played Alabama last season, while NC State played Tennessee in 2012.)

Of course, conference games are also played against Power 5 foes, and the ACC has won its share of bowl games against teams from major conferences as well. With that in mind, here are the league’s standings since 2009 based on all games against teams currently in a Power 5 conference (plus Notre Dame).



It’s probably no surprise that Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech -- the league’s power teams -- have performed the best.

Georgia Tech’s solid 31-24 record might be a nice feather in Paul Johnson’s cap, if not for the five straight losses to UGA.

Miami and North Carolina have played .500 football in big games the last five years, which puts them in the middle of the pack but, of course, is far below the expectations for two programs with the resources to perform much better.

The league’s newcomers -- Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville -- have won a few significant games, but the ACC obviously has higher hopes for all three schools moving forward.

(Note: Losing Maryland certainly isn't hurting the ACC with respect to these numbers. The Terps were a dismal 13-33 (.282) against all Power 5 teams in the last five years and just 1-5 in regular-season, nonconference games against Power 5 foes.)

Overall, however, the win-loss records don’t exactly tell the story of the ACC as a rising power in the national landscape. In fact, the new scheduling strategy is effectively a carbon copy of the one installed by the SEC, but the difference between the performance of the two leagues in those games is actually quite stark.

In the last five years, the 12 continuous SEC programs are 41-24 (.631) in nonconference, regular-season games against Power 5 opponents, winning at more than double the rate of the ACC. While the ACC doesn’t have a single team that has won more than half of its games against Power 5, nonconference teams in the regular season, the SEC has three teams (Alabama, LSU and South Carolina) that are undefeated in such games.

The knock on the SEC, of course, is that its programs have widely shied away from top-notch competition outside the league. While ACC teams have played, on average, 6.6 regular-season, nonconference games against Power 5 foes in the last five years, the SEC has averaged just 5.4.

But that doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things. Scheduling big-name opponents wasn’t really the problem in the first place. Winning more of those games is the big hurdle the conference needs to clear.

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