NCF Nation: Miami Hurricanes

Malik Jefferson's commitment could alter recruiting landscape in Texas, says one Big 12 coach. Plus, where do the Power 5 conferences stack up when it comes to ESPN 300 commitments.

ACC's 2015 Heisman hopefuls

December, 15, 2014
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Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, and while the ACC had plenty of impressive performances in 2014, Jameis Winston was the lone representative from the conference to finish in the top 10 in voting.

That could certainly change in 2015, when the ACC has several emerging stars who could contend for the award. Here’s a quick look at the league’s top challengers for the 2015 Heisman Trophy.

(Note: We’re assuming that Winston and Miami’s Duke Johnson won’t return for 2015, but if either does come back, he would immediately jump to the top of our rankings.)

1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

If he had stayed healthy all season, Watson might have been a contender for the award as a true freshman. Assuming he can stay on the field in 2015, he looks poised to be the biggest playmaker in the conference for an offense in which he will be surrounded by young talent.

2. Miami QB Brad Kaaya

Kaaya had his ups and downs as a true freshman in 2014, but he showed plenty of poise and was arguably the ACC’s top deep-ball threat. Miami’s offense has plenty of skill-position talent, but Kaaya will need the Hurricanes to finish better than 6-6 if he wants a crack at the Heisman.

3. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

There will be plenty of enthusiasm surrounding Cook’s sophomore campaign in 2015, and if Florida State makes another run at the playoff, he would likely be in the Heisman conversation. The problem for Cook is that he will likely be starring on an offense forced to replace its top receiver, top tight end, four starting linemen and Heisman-winning quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJames Conner, Detrick Bonner
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPitt running back James Conner rushed for a school-record 24 touchdowns in 2014.
4. Pittsburgh RB James Conner

Few players in the country carried a heavier share of their team’s offensive load in 2014 than Conner did for Pitt. While he was a bit overshadowed by the Big Ten's top running backs, his 1,675 yards and 24 rushing TDs would have had him in the Heisman Trophy discussion most seasons. He could certainly match or exceed those numbers next year.

5. Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas

In his first year running Paul Johnson’s offense, Thomas was exceptional, but as the Georgia Tech coach was quick to point out, this could be just the tip of the iceberg. With a year of experience and wider latitude in directing the offense in 2015, Thomas could easily emerge as one of the country’s most explosive offensive threats.

6. North Carolina QB Marquise Williams

Williams’ numbers in 2014 were exceptional, but he was largely overshadowed by UNC’s rocky season defensively. If the Tar Heels can finally emerge into a Coastal contender with Williams leading a high-powered offensive attack, he could emerge as one of the nation’s biggest dual threats at quarterback. His numbers this year were already similar to Dak Prescott, so perhaps 2015 will be Williams’ chance to spend the season getting the Heisman hype.

7. Pittsburgh WR Tyler Boyd

It’s tough for wide receivers to push their way into the Heisman campaign, but Boyd’s numbers in 2014 were exceptional. Whether he can turn in a 2015 season similar to what Alabama’s Amari Cooper did this year depends greatly on whether there is a new coaching regime at Pitt and the progress of Panthers QB Chad Voytik. But Boyd’s talent as a receiver and on special teams certainly will be worth monitoring.

8. Miami RB Joseph Yearby

He played second fiddle to Johnson this year, but it’s easy to see why Miami fans are so excited about the future for Yearby. As a true freshman, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 600 yards of total offense. With a starter’s share of the offense next season, Yearby could emerge into an all-purpose star for the Hurricanes.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby, Jalen Ramsey
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsJalen Ramsey (8) will be a leader on a Florida State defense that might have a little more on its shoulders in 2015.
9. Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey

Defensive players aren’t usually in the Heisman conversation, but with so much turnover expected on FSU’s offense in 2015, it will be up to Ramsey and the defense to keep the Seminoles afloat. Ramsey is already one of the nation’s top defensive backs, and in his third year as a starter, he could easily take the next step into the Heisman Trophy conversation with a few big plays at crucial times -- much as Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o did in 2012.

10. Duke RB Shaun Wilson

Here’s an under-the-radar player to watch as a potential Heisman hopeful in 2015. Wilson wasn’t Duke’s starter this season, but as a true freshman he still led the Blue Devils in rushing (590 yards) and was second in TDs (5) while finishing sixth in the nation in yards per rush (8.0). He could secure the starting job next year on an offense that could be more run-heavy, giving Wilson a chance to rack up huge numbers as one of the league’s most explosive runners.

Others to watch: Boston College RB Jon Hilliman, Louisville RB Brandon Radcliff, NC State QB Jacoby Brissett, Virginia RB Taquan Mizzell

All-ACC team's toughest omissions

December, 12, 2014
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ESPN released its All-ACC team today, and though we certainly won’t expect much sympathy, it’s worth mentioning that putting those lists together is no easy task. This year, in particular, there were so many strong performances around the ACC that narrowing down the top guards, linebackers, defensive ends -- even the quarterback -- was an arduous task destined to leave some deserving players off the final list.

But since we don’t want to ignore those near-misses entirely, here is a quick look at some of the toughest decisions we had to make for this year’s All-ACC team.

Quarterback: The bottom line is that there is no better player in the conference than Jameis Winston when he’s on, but unlike last season, he had his share of struggles, too. Meanwhile, Marquise Williams emerged as a tremendous dual threat for UNC, helping to overcome a lot of the Tar Heels’ defensive struggles with some huge performances on offense, and Justin Thomas injected new life into Paul Johnson’s old option offense at Georgia Tech. Both Thomas and Williams were deserving candidates for first team — and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson would have been, too, if he had stayed healthy all season. Overall, it was a stellar year for quarterback play in the ACC.

Offensive guard: The problem with debating the merits of offensive linemen is that there aren’t many stats to use to break a tie, and when it came to our top three choices at guard -- Laken Tomlinson, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson -- there was ample debate. In the end, we went with the first two, but Jackson’s contributions -- particularly with the revolving door at center for FSU this season -- shouldn’t go unnoticed. He might have been the Seminoles’ best offensive lineman.

Tight end: In the end, numbers set Clive Walford apart here. He led all ACC tight ends in yards, touchdowns, first downs, yards-per-catch and receptions per game while working with a true freshman quarterback. Still, it’s hard to ignore Nick O'Leary’s fine season (plus bonus points for taking on a bus and winning). Bucky Hodges, Gerald Christian, David Grinnage and Cam Serigne all had fine seasons as well.

Defensive end: OK, we cheated here. Vic Beasley was the obvious choice, but for the opposite side of the line, the debate between Dadi Nicolas and Mario Edwards Jr. was intense, with viable arguments made for both players. Edwards was a crucial cog on FSU’s defense, one of the most dynamic mixes of size and speed in college football. Nicolas was a force throughout the season and stepped up when interior lineman Luther Maddy went down with an injury. In the end, we followed the playoff selection committee’s precedent and avoided the tough question altogether by making our defense a 3-4 unit instead. Sorry, Dadi and Mario -- but now you know how Baylor and TCU feel.

Linebacker: There probably isn’t a more stacked position in the ACC than linebacker. Denzel Perryman and Stephone Anthony were exceptional. David Helton led the ACC in tackles. Lorenzo Mauldin was the most dynamic pass-rusher on Louisville’s stout defense. They all made the cut, but it meant a host of deserving options were left out, including BC’s Josh Keyes, Virginia’s Max Valles and Henry Coley, Syracuse’s Cameron Lynch and Georgia Tech’s Paul Davis.

Three reasons why Miami disappointed 

December, 12, 2014
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On the recruiting trail, Miami overcame lingering uncertainty of NCAA sanctions and the loss of some scholarships to sign four top-15 classes over the past five cycles. Yet even with Duke Johnson, one of the nation’s most electric playmakers, Miami finished 6-6 and behind programs like Georgia Tech and Duke in the ACC Coastal Division. While head coach Al Golden deserves credit for navigating the Canes through rough seas, the Canes and their fan base are still hungry for a return to the glory days of The U.


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ESPN.com's All-ACC team

December, 12, 2014
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Presenting the 2014 ESPN.com All-ACC team:

Offense

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: Whenever FSU was in trouble, Greene was there to save the day. He made big catch after big catch, took big hit after big hit, and ended the season with 93 catches for 1,306 yards, helping him break both FSU's records for receptions and receiving yards.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: The senior caught 35 passes for 735 yards and five touchdowns, the latter two numbers among the top 10 in the ACC. Oh, did we mention he missed the first seven games?

TE Clive Walford, Miami: Was there a more complete tight end in the country? The numbers say there might not be: 44 catches (third nationally), 676 yards (third), 7 TDs (third nationally). Walford did this all with a true freshman QB, too.

OT Cameron Erving, Florida State: Erving repeated as the ACC's blocking trophy winner, moving from left tackle to center in Game No. 10 this season and staying there, further showing his value to a unit that had dealt with interior injuries but came on strong late to help running back Dalvin Cook bloom into one of the country's finest freshmen.

OT T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh: Clemmings ought to get at least a piece of James Conner's player of the year trophy. The converted defensive end was among the nation's most improved players, starting every game for the second season in a row while using his athleticism to ace a position switch he had resisted earlier in his career.

C Andy Gallik, Boston College: BC lost a Heisman finalist at running back and actually improved its rushing totals this season. A dual-threat QB explains part of that, but so, too, does a powerful offensive line, led by Gallik in the middle, who helped pave the way for the league's No. 2 rushing attack.

OG Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech: The only ACC team that rushed for more than BC? The only one that kept its QB unscathed more than Duke? The Yellow Jackets are the answer to both, with Mason captaining an oft-overlooked unit that was absolutely integral to the program's resurgence this season while running its famed triple-option attack.

OG Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The future pro turned in his best season yet, helping a Blue Devils offensive line that anchored a balanced offensive attack and kept QB Anthony Boone upright all season long, as Duke surrendered just 13 sacks, tied for 11th-best nationally.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: The reigning Heisman winner was not as sharp as last season, but he once again put up big numbers (3,559 yards, 24 TDs) while leading FSU to another perfect mark. Winston is 26-0 for his career as a starter. You simply cannot beat that.

RB James Conner, Pitt: The ACC player of the year rewrote the Pitt record books -- no easy feat for a place that boasts names like Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin and LeSean McCoy. Conner rushed for 1,675 yards and 24 TDs, responding to each defense's best shot game after game.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Like Conner, Johnson set himself above his peers at a program that has produced plenty of great running backs. Coming off an injury-shortened 2013 season, the junior ran for 1,520 yards and 13 TDs, becoming Miami's all-time leading rusher and its career leader in all-purpose yards.

Defense

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: The ACC's defensive player of the year has seen his decision to return for his senior season pay off, as Beasley led the ACC in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (18.5) while making Clemson's defense the top-ranked unit nationally.

DT Eddie Goldman, Florida State: Who can forget Goldman forcing a Clemson fumble late to keep FSU's perfect season alive? The junior was in the right place at the right time often, a versatile threat who moved back inside this season after playing end. He dominated the line of scrimmage, and one just needs to look at how FSU fared without Goldman -- giving up 331 rushing yards to Georgia Tech as he went down early -- to see his value.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: Ends might get all the stats and glory, but Jarrett's impact on offenses might have been as big as Beasley's, as he helped form arguably the top defensive line in the country. Jarrett had 6.5 TFLs and 11 QB hurries, freeing up those around him and making running the ball next to impossible down the stretch for opponents.

LB David Helton, Duke: The senior led the ACC in tackles (125) and ranked 11th nationally. Helton helped Duke overcome the preseason loss of linebacker Kelby Brown and led a unit that continued its ascension under coordinator Jim Knowles, finishing fifth in the ACC in scoring average (20.6 ppg), and 20th nationally.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: A step-up in competition for Mauldin and the Cardinals meant even better results, as the hybrid notched a career-best 45 tackles and led the team in tackles for loss (13), while notching 6.5 sacks. Louisville's defense was one of the most surprising units in the country this season in its first year under coordinator Todd Grantham, ranking No. 6 nationally.

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: The leading tackler (73) on the nation's top defense, Anthony impacted games in a number of ways for the Tigers, making 9.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage while forcing two fumbles and picking off one pass.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: The senior led the Hurricanes in virtually ever major category: Tackles (102), TFLs (8.5) and forced fumbles (3) among them. He validated his decision to return after last season, recording yet another 100-tackle season and making his case as perhaps the top linebacker in the ACC.

S Gerod Holliman, Louisville: Fourteen interceptions. Fourteen! What more needs to be said? Holliman broke the ACC record and tied the NCAA mark. He had four multi-pick games, including a three-pick performance at BC. And he did this all after transitioning from corner to safety under Grantham's tutelage.

S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State: The sophomore made big play after big play, giving FSU's D an edge at the star position. He clinched the Miami game with a late pick and had two on the season to go with two forced fumbles, 11 break-ups, 13 passes defended and 9.5 TFLs. He blocked a kick, too.

CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: The last in line of the storied Fuller family to come through Blacksburg, the sophomore showed plenty of the same NFL promise that has guided his older brothers. One of only a handful of Hokies to start every game, Fuller finished second in the ACC in passes defended (15), recorded 4.5 TFLs and recovered one fumble.

CB Garry Peters, Clemson: As overlooked as one can be on a defense loaded with stars, Peters quietly executed his job to a T, picking off one pass, breaking up 11 and defending 12. He forced a fumble and managed eight TFLs as well on a pass defense that ranked No. 3 nationally.

Special teams

K Roberto Aguayo, Florida State: Just another year at the office for Aguayo: 25-of-27 on field-goal attempts, perfect on extra points and a number of crucial kicks, which wasn't always required last year when he first stepped into the national spotlight. Aguayo is a whopping 46-of-49 for his career on field-goal attempts.

P Will Monday, Duke: Monday averaged 43.4 yards per punt, with 12 of his boots going for 50 or more yards. Eight of his punts were touchbacks, 19 were fair caught and 17 were inside the 20-yard line.

KR DeVon Edwards, Duke: Edwards averaged 25.4 yards per kick return, including a 99-yard touchdown in a high-scoring affair at Pitt, which the Blue Devils ended up winning in OT.

AP Tyler Boyd, Pitt: Boyd was a jack-of-all trades for Pitt, catching 69 passes for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also the ACC's top punt returner, averaging 10.8 yards per return, which ranked 15th nationally.
It wasn’t quite Operation Coastal Chaos this season in the ACC, but the division did house four teams that finished the regular season 6-6. Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech all finished at .500, and all four wildly underachieved.

For the ACC to cause a permanent shift in the league’s national perception, all of those teams need to take a step forward and break free from a sustained stretch of mediocrity. However, no program can alter the ACC’s image quicker than five-time national champion Miami, which is why it’s pivotal for the Hurricanes to close 2014 strong against South Carolina in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl and build momentum for 2015.

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesMiami freshman QB Brad Kaaya showed improvement throughout the regular season, finishing with 25 TDs.
The conference had visions of Miami annually representing the Coastal Division in ACC championship games and on national stages when the Canes entered the league a decade ago. When Miami agreed to join the ACC in 2003, the program was coming off consecutive appearances in national title games and the New York Times wrote the expanded ACC would be a “college football powerhouse.”

For much of the past decade, it’s been a house of straw.

Fourth-year coach Al Golden also needs some positive vibes heading into the offseason following a late-season collapse that saw the Canes drop their final three games -- the last two in a fashion so ugly it was fair to question Miami’s coaching and motivation. A winning record and 7-6 looks a lot better than 6-7 with a four-game losing streak. A win won’t quiet the unrest among the fan base, but it will keep Golden’s warm seat from intensifying. Canes athletic director Blake James reiterated Golden is his coach, but another 6-6 season and sub-.500 conference record next year, which would be his third in five years, could have Miami searching for another coach in hopes of duplicating its early 2000s success.

Miami is best suited among those four teams to make the jump to the 10-win plateau, too. It begins with true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, the conference’s top rookie and one of the league’s best signal-callers already. He threw for just shy of 3,000 yards and tossed 25 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions.

The Canes are sufficiently stocked on offense around him, even if star tailback Duke Johnson bolts for the NFL. Freshman Joe Yearby ran for 489 yards with a an average of 6.1 yards per rush, and the offensive line will have four full- or part-time starters return in 2015.

The defense could take its lumps, but the unit improved dramatically this season and, while the team did not look like a top defense at times, still managed to finish the season ranked 14th nationally in total defense.

A break in scheduling also should benefit Miami in a crucial season. Nebraska makes its return trip with a new coach, Louisville drops off the schedule and Clemson, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech all travel to Miami.

“Look at Mississippi State last year,” said junior defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou, pointing to the Bulldogs’ 7-6 record in 2013. “We got a chance to come in and win seven games. With the young talent we can easily turn things around.”

This bowl season, no 6-6 team needs a stronger finish than Miami for the sake of the program, its coach and its conference.
Miami coach Al Golden is not going anywhere. That question has already been answered time and again.

But there are many other questions looming over a program that underachieved in 2014, one that ended the regular season on a three-game losing streak -- including dispassionate losses to Virginia and Pitt.

The most immediate question that comes to mind: If Miami could not get up for a home finale against Pitt, what will get the Hurricanes motivated to win in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Lousiana, against an average South Carolina team that was among the most disappointing in the country?

Miami athletic director Blake James tried to put a positive spin on the bowl assignment, saying in a conference call with reporters Monday, "I'm confident Al and our guys will be ready to go and go out there and play a great game. There's a lot of things to look at as a real positive and a lot of things for our guys to get excited about, just going against an SEC opponent right away."

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya, Deon Clarke
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsMiami fans see a talent like Brad Kaaya and then losses to Virginia and Pitt, and it does not compute.
While the negativity in Coral Gables will not magically disappear with a Miami win, a loss would not exactly tamp down what has become a smoldering fire among alums and fans that cannot accept a .500 Canes team under any circumstances.

James realizes this, saying multiple times, "We have to get better. 6-6 isn't acceptable at the University of Miami. We need to get better as a program."

How exactly will that happen? James was asked whether coaching changes outside Golden could be in store once the bowl game is over. He said any staff changes would have to come from Golden, not him. James was also asked whether he has lost any confidence in the coaching staff over the last year.

"After the bowl game, I'll reflect back on the entire season and talk with Al about it," James said. "As I've said numerous times, he's our coach. He's going to continue to be our coach. He knows we have to get better, I know we have to get better so I have to talk to him about what I can do to support his efforts to getting better because at the end of the day, that's the expectation for the University of Miami football program."

A win would obviously be a big boost to morale, because 2015 is shaping up to be a critical year for both the Canes and Golden. Miami is losing its best defensive player in Denzel Perryman and potentially its two best offensive threats in Clive Walford and Duke Johnson, who has to decide whether to return or enter the NFL draft.

Quarterback Brad Kaaya showed tremendous grit, determination and growth in his first year as a starter. He presents the biggest reason for optimism. As he noted, "For us, the bowl game is important to getting some momentum for next year. We can get some good bowl practices in and let that carry into next season and guide us to next year."

Miami has an opportunity to build around its first bona fide standout at the quarterback position since Ken Dorsey. What will the Canes do with that chance? Golden is not in danger right now, but another 6-6 season changes that completely.

Golden has been through the ringer at Miami. James and the administration have waited patiently as the NCAA cloud cleared. But that cannot be used as an excuse much longer. Not when Miami so clearly had the talent to be much better than 6-6 this season. That is why so many among the fan base have lost faith in Golden and the coaching staff.

They see the players on the field, and they see the record, and it simply does not compute. They see how Miami took Florida State to the wire, and they see what happened against Virginia and Pitt, and it does not compute.

"I'm disappointed any time we lose. It probably maybe stung a little bit more in those last two because I felt we made such great progress through the Cincinnati, Virginia Tech, North Carolina games and even in that Florida State game," James said. "I felt coming out of there that we'd be able to go out and perform at a high level and I didn't see it from my vantage point in those final two weeks. That's something Al and the guys will be working on. We need to get that fixed and be ready to go in Shreveport."

If not, what already is a long offseason will feel much, much longer.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2014
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ACC bowl projections: Week 15

December, 6, 2014
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We’ll know the answers for certain in just a few more hours, but for now, here’s our best guess as to where each ACC team lands for bowl season.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech
Russell Athletic Bowl: Louisville
Citrus Bowl: Clemson
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Notre Dame
Belk Bowl: NC State
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Boston College
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Duke
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Virginia Tech
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh
BITCOIN Bowl: North Carolina
The ACC honored Miami running back Duke Johnson and Duke linebacker David Helton on Thursday for what they both accomplished on and off the field this season.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsMiami's Duke Johnson has won the ACC's 2014 Brian Piccolo Award, given annually to the league's "most courageous" football player.
 Johnson, a junior, received the ACC’s 2014 Brian Piccolo Award, which is given annually to the conference’s “most courageous” football player. Miami’s backfield star returned from a serious leg injury suffered in 2013 to rush for 1,520 yards and 10 touchdowns, and he is a semifinalist for the Doak Walker and Walter Camp Player of the Year awards.

At a school nationally-known for its assembly line of elite running backs, Johnson became Miami’s career leader in rushing yards this season with a remaining year of eligibility.

“To come back from this type of injury is in and of itself a great accomplishment,” Miami head coach Al Golden said in the ACC’s release. “To come back bigger, faster, stronger and better is truly remarkable. We could not be more proud of Duke Johnson. The sacrifice and determination he exhibited during his nine-month rehabilitation exemplifies why he is considered one of the game’s elite running backs and truly deserving of this award.”

Helton was honored with the conference’s Jim Tatum Award, which is presented to the top senior student-athlete among ACC football players.

On the field, Helton was tasked with replacing Duke defensive star Kelby Brown, who suffered a season-ending injury in preseason camp. Helton responded by leading the ACC with 10.4 tackles per game and giving the Blue Devils a chance at consecutive 10-win seasons.

As a student, Helton, a psychology major, owns a 3.64 cumuluative GPA and is a finalist for the Nation Football Foundation Campbell Trophy, which is given to the nation’s top scholar-athlete. He is a three-time All-ACC Football Academic Team member.

Helton is the third consecutive Duke player to win the Jim Tatum Award. He was preceded by Sean Renfree (2012) and Perry Simmons (2013).
Pitt running back James Conner was honored as ACC Player of the Year on Wednesday, while Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley won Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Conner, also awarded ACC Offensive Player of the Year, edged Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston for overall honors in a vote among 55 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. The sophomore back ranks No. 4 in the nation with 1,675 yards rushing. His 24 rushing touchdowns set an ACC single-season record and a Pitt school record, breaking the old mark of 22 set by Tony Dorsett in 1976.

"We are tremendously proud of James and all that he achieved this season," Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. "In addition to his production on the field, James has been an excellent teammate and leader. I know our entire program takes pride in James receiving this prestigious honor.”

Beasley edged Louisville safety Gerod Holliman for defensive honors. The senior end leads the ACC in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (18.5), remaining a dominating force despite facing double- and triple-teams this season. He holds the Clemson school record and leads all active FBS players with 32 career sacks, and is a finalist for the Bednarik Award and Lombardi Trophy.

“He came back for his senior year to graduate, and to have a great season and improve as an all-around player,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement. "He has done that -- he is a complete player. He is a big reason we currently rank No. 1 in the nation in total defense and many other areas. He is the best defensive player in the ACC, and I really feel he is the best defensive player in the nation."

ACC Player of the Year (votes in parentheses)
1. James Conner, RB, Pitt (16)
2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (13)
3. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson (8)
4. Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville (6)
5. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (5)
t6. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State (2)
t6. Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech (2)
t6. Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina (2)
9. Quayshawn Nealy, LB, Georgia Tech (1)

ACC Offensive Player of the Year
1. Conner (23)
2. Winston (16)
3. Johnson (7)
4. Greene (4)
5. Thomas (3)
6. Williams (2)

ACC Defensive Player of the Year
1. Beasley (24)
2. Holliman (20)
3. Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami (7)
t4. David Helton, LB, Duke (2)
t4. Nealy (2)

Top 2015 juco classes 

December, 3, 2014
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video
National signing day is quickly approaching, but first up is the mid-year junior college signing period. The opportunity for junior college prospects to sign with FBS schools starts Dec. 17, and many prospects have already made commitments. With the release of the ESPN Junior College 50, let’s take a look at five programs (in alphabetical order) having success in the junior college ranks.


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ACC bowl projections: Week 14

December, 2, 2014
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The final week of the regular season meant bowl bids were locked up by Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, giving the ACC 11 bowl-eligible teams (or 12, counting Notre Dame). That makes for a crowded field.

A quick refresher on how this will work.

Tier 1: The Orange Bowl takes the top-ranked nonplayoff team from the ACC. If a Big Ten team plays in the Orange Bowl, too, then the Citrus Bowl gets the next pick. If not, the Russell Athletic Bowl selects the third ACC team, and the Citrus Bowl will not include an ACC team at all.

Tier 2: The Belk Bowl, Sun Bowl and Pinstripe Bowl, along with either the Gator Bowl or Music City Bowl, will divide up the next group of four ACC teams.

Tier 3: The Military Bowl, Independence Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl and Bitcoin Bowl will then select in that order. The Birmingham Bowl was the ACC's conditional bowl, but it has already filled its primary obligations to other leagues.

Notre Dame will take one of the ACC's bowl bids.

That means 12 teams are available for 10 guaranteed slots with two leftover. Almost certainly, however, the ACC will send two teams to New Year's Six games (Florida State and Georgia Tech), which takes care of one extra slot. The Citrus Bowl contingent would take care of the other, but if that does not come to fruition, the league would be free to negotiate with any bowl that has an open slot and does not have an alternate agreement already in place with another league. Last year, the ACC had two teams unaccounted for by its bowl tie-ins and both found homes, so the league is not concerned a team will be left out this time around.

So, with all that said, here's how we project it shakes out.

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech
Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville
Belk Bowl: Duke
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Notre Dame
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Virginia Tech
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: North Carolina
Quick Lane Bowl: NC State
BITCOIN Bowl: Miami
Open slot: Pittsburgh
The ACC announced its 2014 all-conference selections Monday, with a handful of noteworthy winners and snubs.

Florida State once again led the way with 17 players named, including 10 named first-team All-ACC. Duke had nine players named, Virginia had eight, and Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech had seven.

The most noteworthy first-team selection was FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who has led the Seminoles to a second straight undefeated season, but also leads the league in interceptions. The battle for the top spot at quarterback was particularly close, with UNC's Marquise Williams (second team), Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas (third team), Miami's Brad Kaaya, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and NC State's Jacoby Brissett all having strong seasons, too.

Here's the first-team All-ACC selections:

QB: Jameis Winston (FSU)
WR: Rashad Greene (FSU)
WR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)
WR: Tyler Boyd (Pitt)
RB: Duke Johnson (Miami)
RB: James Conner (Pitt)
C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)
G: Laken Tomlinson (Duke)
G: Tre Jackson (FSU)
T: T.J. Clemmings (Pitt)
T: Cameron Erving (FSU)

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)
DE: Mario Edwards Jr. (FSU)
DT: Eddie Goldman (FSU)
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)
LB: Denzel Perryman (Miami)
LB: David Helton (Duke)
LB: Stephone Anthony (Clemson)
CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
CB: P.J. Williams (FSU)
S: Jalen Ramsey (FSU)
S: Gerod Holliman (Louisville)

K: Roberto Aguayo (FSU)
P: Wil Baumann (NC State)
Ret: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

To see the full roster, click here.

Among the biggest snubs in the ACC:

Miami tight end Clive Walford is a Mackey Award finalist and has more yards, touchdowns and first downs and caught a higher percentage of his targets than fellow Mackey Finalist, Nick O'Leary. Still, O'Leary was named to the first team.

Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker was a third-team selection thanks to missing the first seven games of the season, but he ranks seventh in the league in yards in spite of just playing five games.

NC State's Shadrach Thornton is third among running backs in yards (811) but was not named to any of the All-ACC teams.

BC's Josh Keyes has 11 tackles for loss — good for 12th in the conference — but was not one of the 10 linebackers named to All-ACC teams.

Wake Forest's Marquel Lee ranks 10th in the league with 12 TFLs and ninth in tackles with 101 but did not even earn an honorable mention.

Georgia Tech's Shaq Mason has anchored one of the best offensive lines in the country, helping pave the way for the nation's No. 4 rushing offense, but he was not a first-team selection.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
2:00
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