NCF Nation: Brandon Facyson

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Previewing the 2014 season for the Virginia Tech Hokies:

Key returners: RB Trey Edmunds (675 yards, 10 TDs), WR Willie Byrn (51 catches, 660 yards), WR Demitri Knowles (641 yards), WR Josh Stanford (640 yards), C David Wang, LB Kyshoen Jarrett (71 tackles, 2 INTs), CB Kendall Fuller (6 INTs, 11 pass break-ups), CB Brandon Facyson (5 INTs), DT Luther Maddy (13.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

Key losses: QB Logan Thomas, OG Andrew Miller, WR D.J. Coles, K Cody Journell, LB Jack Tyler, LB Tyriq Edwards, DL Derrick Hopkins, CB Kyle Fuller, DL James Gayle, DL J.R. Collins,

Most important games: Sept. 6 at Ohio State, Oct. 4 at North Carolina, Oct. 16 at Pitt, Oct. 23 at Miami.

Projected win percentage: .637

Vegas over/under: 8 wins

[+] EnlargeWillie Byrn
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsWide receiver Willie Byrn says the Hokies plan to embark on a championship run in 2014.
Instant impact newcomers: Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer has his eyes on the starting quarterback job, and plenty of Tech fans view him as a potential savior for an offense that languished the past two years. Freshman tailback Marshawn Williams had an encouraging spring and could push Edmunds for carries. Redshirt freshman Seth Dooley figures to help fill the void on the defensive line. Tight end Bucky Hodges, a redshirt freshman, is 6-foot-6 and could be an inviting red zone target.

Biggest question mark: The quarterback position was undoubtedly the biggest question mark entering fall camp, but turning around the offensive struggles for Virginia Tech will be a group effort, regardless of who takes the bulk of the snaps this season. Edmunds and the other running backs need to take pressure off the QB by moving the ball on the ground. The O-line needs to be more physical and help Tech convert more third downs, a huge problem last season. The receivers need to get open and, just as importantly, hang on to the football when it comes their way. If all those other things happen, the wins may come regardless of the quarterback.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Coach Frank Beamer finds his quarterback, the rest of the offense grows up around him, and Virginia Tech finally has an offensive identity. The special teams unit returns to its “Beamer Ball” roots, and the defense looks as good as it did a year ago, even without its departed stars. An early upset of Ohio State earns the Hokies national credibility and a reasonable schedule in conference puts Tech in the hunt for a division title and a shot at the College Football Playoff.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: No QB emerges as an obvious choice to start, and a revolving door opens at the position. Edmunds and the receivers show little improvement from a year ago. The defense misses Tyler and the elder Fuller and can’t mask the offensive struggles any longer. The atmosphere gets tense internally and the Hokies struggle against flawed teams in their own division. The 21-year bowl streak comes to an end.

Number to know: 12.6. That’s Virginia Tech’s yards per completion last season, which, surprisingly enough, was right about the same as what the prolific offense at Clemson managed (12.7). The difference in the two passing games? The Hokies completed just 56 percent of their attempts. Clemson completed 69 percent. Chalk it up to the accuracy issues of Thomas, but the receivers also need to do a better job of avoiding drops in key spots.

They said it: “I’m thinking about, it's ACC championship or bust, and I think our whole team has that sense of urgency.” -- Byrn
The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are seemingly endless. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why Virginia Tech will win the Coastal

Defense. If we were making the case for Virginia Tech every season, then we would start with defense just about every single time. You can always expect a solid defense in Blacksburg. Despite some losses on the defensive line and at linebacker, 2014 is no exception. Virginia Tech should have one of the best secondaries in the country, with Kendall Fuller, Brandon Facyson and Kyshoen Jarrett all returning. And the Hokies should also have one of the best interior linemen in the ACC in Luther Maddy, a preseason All-ACC selection. Dadi Nicolas made huge strides a year ago, and Corey Marshall had a great spring after refocusing on his career. Nobody expects this group to take a step back.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's Trey Edmunds
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsVirginia Tech's Trey Edmunds rushed for 675 yards and 10 touchdowns last season.
Trey Edmunds. Edmunds appeared to be turning a corner toward the end of last season, with solid performances in his final three games before breaking his leg against Virginia. You see why expectations around him have mushroomed headed into 2014. Virginia Tech has lacked consistency in the backfield over the last two years, a big reason why the Hokies have taken a step back. It has been well documented just how stuck this ground game has been, a rarity under Frank Beamer. But Edmunds provides hope for the running game as the unquestioned starter, a player with the ability to power through the line but also break tackles and make explosive plays. Marshawn Williams also drew praise for his play this spring, so his addition should help everybody take a collective step up.

Improved QB play. So Virginia Tech has not settled on a starter here, but Beamer and offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler truly believe the offense will be better. That all starts with the quarterback. Logan Thomas took his share of criticism over his final two seasons. Perhaps Virginia Tech relied too heavily on him to make plays happen. When he forced the issue, he made mistakes. Just look at his TD to INT ratio -- 34 to 29 the last two years. While it is true Thomas did not have a lot of help around him, the default position was to have him do everything. That philosophy has to change. With that shift, the expectation is the overall offense will be more productive.

Why Virginia Tech won't win the Coastal

Offensive line. As mentioned above, Virginia Tech has not had any real consistency at running back of late. But it also has not had any consistency along the offensive line, either. The position has not been an area of strength, which has helped contribute to the poor rushing numbers. Even though four starters return with a ton of game experience, there remain questions about this group. Not only are they going on their third offensive line coach in as many years, how do we know this will finally be the year they come together and play well?

Special teams. Once an area of strength, this has become a bugaboo for Beamer in recent years. Virginia Tech kickers missed 11 field goals last season. It's a free-for-all to win the starting kicking job headed into fall practice, with nobody proven in the mix. Not only that, the Hokies gave up three touchdown returns last season (most notably the Alabama game) and had none of their own. So if the Hokies don't step it up in a hurry, special teams could cost them a game or two. Again.

Quarterback. While there is a segment of fans who are happy to see Thomas go, just look at the bowl game after Mark Leal came in to replace him as the nightmare scenario that could unfold at quarterback. Michael Brewer appears to be the guy everybody wants to see start, but he left Texas Tech after failing to secure the starting job. How do we know he truly is the answer? Do any of the guys on the roster have what it takes to lead this team to another Coastal crown? That is the biggest unknown right now.

Happy Halloween in the ACC

October, 31, 2013
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Happy Halloween! Or, as I like to call it, Movember Eve.

For the second consecutive year, I have gone with the highly-original costume of wearing a "Hello, My Name Is" sticker, writing in the word "Maybe."

You guys and gals all go/went to ACC schools and are smart, so you can figure out what to, ahem, "Call Me." (I actually got the idea from my aunt, who should start charging for her ideas.)

Anyway, let's turn our attention to the people and schools we cover here in the blog. And to you, the readers. You guys blew up the Twitter feed yesterday with great pumpkin carvings, a majority of which can be found here.

There are plenty of tricks and treats to hand out through the season's first nine weeks, and what better day to do that than today?

Without further ado …

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron, Antonio Crawford
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsDon't sleep on the Tar Heels, as North Carolina could be ready to go on a season-ending winning streak.
Freddy Krueger: One team not to sleep on in this final month? North Carolina. Yes, the Tar Heels' 2-5 record is hardly intimidating, but their schedule was very front-loaded. UNC just routed Boston College, and its remaining games are at NC State, against Virginia, at Pitt, against Old Dominion and against Duke. You don't think they could go 4-1 down the stretch and clinch a bowl bid?

Jason Voorhees: Miami is the team that just won't die. The Hurricanes had turned the ball over four times in three straight contests before Saturday's game against Wake Forest … and still won all of them. They then found themselves trailing throughout the afternoon against the overmatched Demon Deacons but still managed to escape victorious in the final minute. Miami has a 7-0 record to show for all of its closecalls, though playing like this is simply no way to live.

Cursed: This isn't your 2012 Maryland team, but it is hardly a healthy one, either. Things were going so great this season for the Terrapins after their 4-0 start and No. 25 spot in the AP poll. Then they met Florida State, losing quarterback C.J. Brown to a concussion in the process. Then they lost top receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long for the season. Linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and defensive back Dexter McDougle are also done for the year. Maryland is 1-3 over its last four games, though it put up a nice effort against No. 9 Clemson with Caleb Rowe under center and should still go bowling for the first time in the Randy Edsall era.

Graveyard: Virginia Tech's defensive backfield is where all quarterbacks' throws go to die. The Hokies have picked off a nation-best 17 passes this season, even without Antone Exum for all but this past weekend's contest against Duke, and despite having freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller see extended time. Even in the loss to the Blue Devils, the Hokies managed to come up with four interceptions.

Paranormal activity: A two-hour rain delay in the season opener at Scott Stadium portended what was to come: Virginia's 19-16 win over BYU. The win becomes more of a headscratcher by the week, as the Cavaliers have won just one game since and find themselves at 2-6 and 0-4 in ACC play. The Cougars, meanwhile, are 6-2 and were so dominating in their win over Texas that Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz in the aftermath. Strange times, indeed.

Boo: That is what quarterbacks and offensive linemen must think every single time they see Aaron Donald line up across from them. The Pitt defensive tackle is second in the nation with 1.9 tackles for loss per game (13.5 total), and his 1.1 sacks per game rank fifth nationally (eight total). He also has 26.5 career sacks, the most among active college football players. Donald is one of just two defensive tackles to be named a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation's outstanding defensive player of the year.

And, because we can never have enough fun, let's take a look at what some of the conference's notable characters are dressing up as tonight:

  • Jameis Winston is MC Hammer. Because, after routing Clemson, he did say that Florida State was "too legit to quit." And because this.
  • David Cutcliffe is David Copperfield. And for his most recent trick, Cutcliffe has made Duke bowl-eligible in consecutive seasons! A program first!
  • Jimbo Fisher is Nick Saban. I know I'm not the only one who sees the facial resemblance. And Fisher's Seminoles have looked a lot like Saban's Crimson Tide this year, to understate it.
  • Steve Addazio is Jesse "The Body" Ventura. This is not up for debate.
  • Duke Johnson is Saul Goodman from "Breaking Bad." Looking for a big kickoff return? Need an insurance touchdown to clinch an upset victory over Florida? Trailing Wake Forest two different times in the fourth quarter with a perfect season on the line? Better call Duke, who has pulled all sorts of tricks up his sleeve to bail Miami out and help lift the Hurricanes to a 7-0 start.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
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After a few weeks of mediocre games, the ACC gets down to business with a top-25 showdown in Tallahassee and a battle of Coastal Division contenders in Miami. Here are some of the top storylines as the ACC gets rolling in Week 6:

Battle of undefeated teams: At this point, Maryland and Florida State are both playing second fiddle to Clemson in the Atlantic Division, but the winner of Saturday's showdown in Tallahassee will firmly establish itself as the Tigers' top rival. FSU remains the heavy favorite, having never lost to Maryland in 11 previous games at Doak Campbell Stadium, but its defense was exposed last week against Boston College, and the Terps have plenty of offensive firepower. Still, the Seminoles are easily the most talented team Maryland has faced during its 4-0 start, and even coach Randy Edsall said it will take a stellar effort to overcome a long track record of struggles against FSU.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsSyracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt has thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions since replacing Drew Allen as the starter.
Coastal Division showdown: In the span of four quarters against Virginia Tech's formidable defense, Georgia Tech went from potential favorite to divisional life support last week. The Yellow Jackets couldn't find an answer to the Hokies' defensive scheme, and they're now faced with a showdown against undefeated Miami in South Florida. A second conference loss -- both to teams ahead of them in the standings -- would likely spell doom for the Jackets' hopes of returning to the ACC championship game. Miami, meanwhile, needs to keep pace with the resurgent Hokies, and Georgia Tech promises a far bigger test than the Hurricanes have gotten in the past two weeks, when they beat Savannah State and USF by a combined 126-28.

The rich get richer: After eight months of rehab on his injured knee, Virginia Tech corner Antone Exum has finally been cleared to play, though a decision on whether he'll take the field this weekend isn't expected until after today's practice. That's not exactly good news for ACC offenses already at a loss for how to solve the Hokies' stingy defense. With Exum out of the lineup, freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller have been phenomenal, combining for six interceptions and 12 passes defended in five games. Exum, meanwhile, was a second-team All-ACC corner last season. With Exum's return imminent, Facyson is getting reps at receiver, but it'll be up to coordinator Bud Foster to deal with the rather pleasant of finding reps for everyone.

Under the Dome: Syracuse kicks off ACC play for the first time, but the welcoming committee isn't likely to be particularly accommodating. Clemson heads to the Carrier Dome fresh off a throttling of Wake Forest and figures to present the Orange with a far bigger challenge than they've faced during their two-game winning streak against Wagner and Tulane. Still, Syracuse is far more optimistic about the season now that new starting QB Terrel Hunt has the offense rolling, and the Orange are expecting a nearly packed house.

Heisman watch in the ACC: Tajh Boyd has been an early favorite since the season started, and he burnished his credentials nicely last week against Wake Forest, completing 17 of 24 passes for 311 yards and three TDs, while rushing for a fourth. The upstart in the race is Winston, who led another ferocious offensive outburst for Florida State by completing 17 of 27 passes for 330 yards and four TDs. Both QBs get another shot to add to their increasingly impressive totals this week as the crowded field vying for the Heisman jockeys for the spotlight.

QB injuries: In Pittsburgh, Tom Savage faced a battery of concussion tests after being knocked around against Virginia. At Miami, the Hurricanes host Georgia Tech with starting quarterback Stephen Morris still nursing an ankle injury that he aggravated against USF. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas is coming off his best game of the season, but he has been hampered with an abdominal injury for weeks. If any of those injuries prove more serious than initial reports, the always-fluid Coastal Division race could be in for another shakeup.

North Carolina's effort: After a stunning 55-31 loss to East Carolina last week, UNC tailback A.J. Blue publicly questioned whether his team had overlooked a supposedly subpar opponent. The same result isn't likely this week, as the Tar Heels travel to Virginia Tech hoping to salvage their season. A win could reinvigorate North Carolina's hopes in the division, but a loss would send the Heels to 1-4 with another tough game against Miami to follow. It's only Week 5, but North Carolina appears to already be in a must-win situation.

Virginia's slumbering offense: After a 14-3 loss to Pittsburgh, coach Mike London and QB David Watford both lamented Virginia's sluggish offensive performance. London promised changes on the O-line, Watford insisted on extra work with his receivers and the entirety of the unit really has nowhere to go but up this week against Ball State. Virginia ranks 13th in the ACC in scoring offense and passing offense, and its minus-4 turnover margin ranks 110th nationally. Meanwhile, Ball State QB Keith Wenning has thrown for more than 300 yards in every game so far, meaning the Cavaliers are likely going to need some offensive fireworks of their own to keep pace.

Return of Mitchell: If all goes according to plan, this week's game against Wake Forest will be NC State's last without starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who broke a bone in his foot in the opener. Pete Thomas has done a solid enough job in Mitchell's absence, but there's a clear gap in playmaking ability. Thomas' 80-yard TD throw to Bryan Underwood in last week's win was his first passing touchdown of the season (to go with five INTs), but the Wolfpack are 3-1 with him as the starter.

Boston College bounce-back: Now that the Defense Department has given Army the OK to travel for the game, it's safe for Boston College to start planning for a rebound performance after last week's loss to Florida State. In spite of the outcome from a week ago, BC should have plenty of confidence. The Eagles offense scored 34 points, its high in an ACC game since 2009, and ran the ball successfully against what was thought to be a stout FSU defense. A loss is still a loss, but the impressive offensive performance was yet another sign that BC has taken some big steps forward under first-year coach Steve Addazio.

Ranking the ACC's impact freshmen

September, 25, 2013
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Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is a throwback, and he's never been eager to play his freshmen too early. In his career at the helm of the Demon Deacons, just 22 true freshmen have seen action. And yet, in 2013, Grobe has already played 11 more.

It's a sign of the times that true freshmen are making an instant impact, and that's been particularly true in the ACC. And while virtually every program has seen some results from its Class of 2013 already, these five classes have produced the most through four weeks.

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesIn FSU's season opener, Jalen Ramsey became the Noles' first true freshman cornerback to start a game since Deion Sanders in 1986.
1. Pittsburgh: According to ESPN's rankings, Pitt had the 41st-ranked recruiting class last season, but few programs have gotten more production from their freshmen right off the bat than the Panthers. Pitt has played 12 true freshmen already this season, including two of the nation's best. Tailback James Conner ranks second in the ACC in rushing, and receiver Tyler Boyd has been electric, ranking fifth in the nation in all-purpose yards. Including receiver Scott Orndoff and kicker Chris Blewitt, freshmen have accounted for 70 percent of Pittsburgh's scoring this season.

2. Virginia Tech: The Hokies opened the season with two freshman defensive backs aiming to shut down the two-time defending champions. It was a major question mark, but Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller answered emphatically. Facyson has three interceptions and four passes defended so far, while Fuller has racked up 12 tackles, seven defended passes, six pass breakups and an interception. With the two freshmen starting all four games, Virginia Tech's passing defense ranks sixth in the nation.

3. NC State: Without starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, the Wolfpack have had to find offense wherever they can, and two true freshmen have answered the call. Tailback Matt Dayes has racked up 143 yards on 37 carries so far, scoring three touchdowns. Meanwhile, receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling ranks in the top 15 in the ACC in receiving yards, yards per reception and yards per game.

4. Florida State: Jalen Ramsey became the first Florida State cornerback to earn a starting assignment as a true freshman since Deion Sanders in the opener, and he didn't disappoint, picking off Pitt QB Tom Savage for the Seminoles' first takeaway of the season. Ramsey ranks sixth on the team with 12 tackles, and he's recorded one of FSU's six sacks. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker earned a start, too, and Matthew Thomas has two tackles for loss. In all, 13 freshmen have seen the field for FSU.

5. Miami: The Hurricanes have yet to see significant contributions from a number of members of their 15th-ranked recruiting class, but the early results from Gus Edwards, Alex Figueroa and Stacy Coley have offered a glimpse of what's to come. Edwards has carried just 18 times, but he's scored on three of those runs, and his 7.3 yards-per-carry average ranks fourth in the ACC. Coley has just five catches, but one went for a touchdown, and Figueroa has eight tackles and a sack for a particularly tough Miami linebacking corps.

Tyler Boyd leads ACC youth movement

September, 25, 2013
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True freshman receiver Tyler Boyd had one clear objective when he arrived at Pitt.

He wanted to make a statement.

Boyd had no intentions of redshirting. Not at all. So he went about practice to make one play after another, to impress his coaches enough to not only earn some reps in games -- but also to win a starting job.

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News&Observer/Getty ImagesPitt receiver Tyler Boyd is one of many true freshmen who are making an impact in the ACC this season.
So far, Boyd has been one of the most impressive all-around players in the entire country, ranking No. 1 among all freshmen with an average of 195 all-purpose yards per game. But he is not unique to Pitt or to the ACC. There has been a youth movement across the league this season, featuring true freshmen starters at nearly every position on the field.

Five ACC teams have played double-digit true freshmen, tied with the SEC for the most in the nation. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe have played more true freshmen than at any point in their respective tenures. Of the 14 teams in the ACC, only four have not started a true freshman.

Pitt stands above the rest when it comes to true freshmen contributions, as Boyd is not the only one who has put up impressive numbers. Running back James Conner ranks No. 2 in the ACC in rushing yards per game (108.7). The Panthers also feature true freshman kicker Chris Blewitt, the first time in 11 years they have started a first-year player at the position.

Overall, true freshmen have accounted for 70 percent of Pitt’s scoring output so far.

“I just knew I had a real strong opportunity to come in here and make a huge impact, especially since it’s my hometown,” Boyd said in a recent phone interview. “I wanted to have everybody on board; my family, all my friends -- I wanted to make sure everybody was around to watch me do what I had to do.”

Virginia Tech is not far behind Pitt when it comes to immediate contributions from true freshmen. Ten have played, and five have started already this season. Four have started every game -- left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin, cornerback Brandon Facyson, whip Kendall Fuller and kickoff specialist Mitchell Ludwig.

It is the first time Beamer has started a true freshman at left tackle and a true freshman at cornerback. Facyson already has three interceptions, tied for the ACC lead. Four games into the season, he also has tied the school record for interceptions by a freshman, set by DeAngelo Hall in 2001.

“It's been a great experience so far,” Facyson said in a recent phone interview. “Me and Kendall, we both had aspirations of coming in here and getting to work right away and helping the team out as much as we could. That's what we want to do is become a reliable source for the team. Even being true freshmen coming in, we didn't want the team to not believe in us so we had to come in here and really have our minds focused, and so far we've done that.”

Both the Pitt and Virginia Tech freshmen did not get eased into their college careers. The Panthers opened against No. 8 Florida State, while the Hokies opened against No. 1 Alabama. But the true freshmen were not intimidated.

Boyd had 151 all-purpose yards; the Hokies essentially shut down Alabama and top receiver Amari Cooper, holding him to four catches for 38 yards.

“I was a little bit nervous and cautious about everything,” Boyd said. “I didn’t want to mess up but my coaches and my teammates kept telling me to go out there and be calm, just relax, just stay comfortable with everything. Once I got the ball in my hand, I wanted to help my team.”

Facyson and Fuller have been able to help each other as true freshmen playing together on defense. The two are roommates, so they sometimes spend their down time in the dorm quizzing each other on formations and responsibilities.

“It’s honestly a good feeling just to have someone back there in my situation as well because you’re on the same level with them and only they truly understand the pressure,” Facyson said. “So we try to calm each other down, we try to hype each other up when it’s needed. We just want to have fun. We want to help our team out and just play for each other.”

Florida State (13), NC State (11) and Wake Forest (11) also have played double-digit freshmen. Like Pitt, NC State has gotten major contributions from true freshmen on offense. True freshmen lead the Wolfpack in both rushing (Matt Dayes, 37 carries for 143 yards) and receiving (Marquez Valdes-Scantling, 14 receptions for 201 yards).

As for Wake, the true freshmen numbers are simply astounding. Before this year, the highest number of true freshman to ever play in a season under Grobe was three. Center Cory Helms is the lone true freshman starter -- the first true freshman to start his first collegiate game since defensive tackle Marvin Mitchell in 1987.

All around, freshmen are contributing. Now that we have seen so many talented youngsters so early in their careers, the question is: How good will they become in a few years’ time?

ACC helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 15, 2013
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Here are your top five performers for Week 3 in the ACC:

Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee: Not only did he throw the ball, he beat Duke with his arm. Lee threw four touchdown passes -- the most in a game in the Paul Johnson era, and the most by a Jackets quarterback since Reggie Ball threw four against NC State in 2006. He also ran for another touchdown in the 38-14 win over Duke, was 8-of-16 for 125 yards and added 76 yards rushing. Georgia Tech rolled up 344 yards rushing and 469 total yards.

Virginia Tech CB Brandon Facyson: The true freshman has grown quickly into a star, as he picked off a pair of passes and made two tackles in the Hokies’ 15-10 win at East Carolina. The Hokies’ D was again the highlight, as Virginia Tech held ECU to just 158 yards passing and 204 yards of total offense. Facyson already has three interceptions this year, matching the most interceptions in a season by a Tech freshman since DeAngelo Hall had three interceptions in 12 games as a freshman in 2001. Coach Frank Beamer told reporters after the game that Facyson is “a baller.”

Pitt freshmen: The future is now at Pitt, where three freshmen made headlines in the Panthers’ 49-27 win over New Mexico on Saturday. Freshman James Conner had 119 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries. Freshman Tyler Boyd continued to impress with six catches for 134 yards, including with a 51-yarder early in the game and a 34-yard touchdown reception as time ran out in the first half. He also had two carries for 39 yards with a 33-yard touchdown run. Freshman tight end Scott Orndoff joined the party with a 4-yard touchdown.

Florida State’s running backs: Sure, it was another outstanding day for quarterback Jameis Winston in the 62-7 romp over Nevada, but let’s spread the love a little. Devonta Freeman ran nine times for 109 yards and a touchdown. James Wilder Jr. added 45 yards and a score. And the highlight? Former safety Karlos Williams, who moved to offense after the season opener against Pitt, ran eight times for 110 yards and a score. His 65-yard run early in the third quarter gave the Noles a comfortable 31-7 lead. FSU finished with 377 rushing yards -- just their third 300-plus yard rushing day since 2007.

Maryland cornerback Dexter McDougle: McDougle finished with a personal-best two interceptions, including one he returned 49 yards for a touchdown to essentially seal the Terps' 32-21 win over UConn in Randy Edsall's homecoming. It was Maryland's first pick-six since November 2011. McDougle also led the team with seven solo tackles. Maryland now has six total interceptions on the season, two more than all of 2012. But there was some bad news, as McDougle left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent shoulder injury.
When Virginia Tech opens the season against Alabama, the Hokies will be facing a Heisman contender in quarterback AJ McCarron and a preseason All-American in receiver Amari Cooper.

With true freshmen playing in the secondary.

Not exactly an ideal scenario, but one the Hokies have a few weeks left for which to prepare. First came news that starter Antone Exum is not fully recovered from a knee injury he sustained in January. Now, Donaldven Manning has decided to transfer, leaving the Hokies with true freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller to man the cornerback spot opposite Kyle Fuller.

To their credit, both Facyson and Fuller have drawn high praise from their coaches since they arrived on campus and would have most likely played in the opener, anyway. Facyson was a spring star after enrolling early; Kendall Fuller was the highest-rated player the Hokies signed in February.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster told reporters in Blacksburg, Va., during media day this weekend: "Really, I think we’ve got two outstanding prospects with Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller. I’ve really been pleased with Kendall’s just football IQ, his body positioning. Just a very instinctive, solid technique-wise, beside the fact he has tremendous ability."

But playing as a backup is completely different from relying on freshmen to take the majority of the snaps at that cornerback spot. Especially when you consider how solid Kyle Fuller is on the other side. Kyle Fuller -- Kendall's older brother -- has been starting since he was a true freshman, so you have to believe Alabama will go after the two young cornerbacks.

Foster says there are ways the Hokies can scheme their plans to help Kendall Fuller and Facyson out. But it could be a long night for the Hokies' youngsters.
Virginia Tech starting cornerback Antone Exum will not be available for the season opener against Alabama as he continues to rehab his injured right knee.

Athletic trainer Mike Goforth told reporters in Blacksburg, Va., on Monday night that Exum went for a follow-up appointment with Dr. James Andrews in Florida and was not given clearance to play. Andrews, known as one of the top orthopedic surgeons in the country, performed Exum's knee surgery.

Exum will have another follow-up exam in one-and-a-half to two months, meaning he could miss all of September as well. The second-team All-ACC selection a year ago tore his ACL, lateral and medial meniscus, and fractured a bone in his knee during a pickup basketball game in January.

Both Exum and coach Frank Beamer had held out hope that Exum could be healthy enough to play against the Tide on Aug. 31 in Atlanta. But rehab from this injury generally takes eight-to-12 months.

"It's just one of those things that takes time," Beamer said. "It just needs to be right for him and for us."

With Exum out, Virginia Tech will have to rely on some young players against one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Sophomore Donaldven Manning and true freshman Brandon Facyson are listed as co-starters at cornerback on the preseason depth chart with Exum out.

Manning has played in eight games; Facyson enrolled early and turned heads during spring practice. Virginia Tech also plans on using true freshman Kendall Fuller at nickelback.
Few if any coaches will tell you point-blank this time of year which first-year players are likely to see the field and get a chance to contribute immediately, but there were a few hints across the ACC this spring. For some players, like Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the spotlight was unavoidable. For others, like Miami freshman linebacker Alex Figueroa, their success was more under the radar. Based on what we learned this spring, here are five first-year players worth watching this fall in the ACC in no particular order:

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston's intelligence might be as impressive as his physical tools, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Clemson TE Jordan Leggett: He enrolled in January and wasted no time impressing the coaching staff. When Sam Cooper tore his ACL, the door opened for Leggett, who had seven catches for 97 yards and a touchdown in the spring game, and he played well in the last two scrimmages. He’s not listed as the starter yet, but he is good enough to earn the job by the opener against Georgia.

UNC RB Khris Francis: Another early enrollee, Francis opened some eyes with a stellar performance in the spring game. With the early departure of standout Giovani Bernard to the NFL, the Tar Heels are in need of a running back to step up. While A.J. Blue and Romar Morris are the leading candidates to do that, Francis showed some big-time potential this spring. He had a game-high 101 yards on 20 carries in the spring game.

Miami LB Alex Figueroa: Figueroa also enrolled in January, and Miami’s coaches have praised his progress -- evidenced by his spot at the top of the post-spring depth chart at outside linebacker. The son of two U.S. Marines, Figueroa has been lauded by those within the program for his tireless work ethic. According to hurricanesports.com, coach Al Golden said that Figueroa earned the No. 1 Sam linebacker spot in the spring because he outworked everyone during Miami's UTough program.

Florida State QB Jameis Winston: The hype has grown larger than the 6-foot-4, 218-pound two-sport phenom, but he hasn’t even officially been named the starter. Following the transfer of former quarterback Clint Trickett, though, and an outstanding performance in the spring game, many FSU fans have already anointed Winston the starter, even if coach Jimbo Fisher hasn’t. At the very least, Winston’s 12-for-15, 205-yard passing performance in the spring game made him the clear front-runner.

(tie) Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson and tackle Jonathan McLaughlin: They were both early enrollees and played well enough this spring to work their way into the two-deep. McLaughlin played his way to first-team left tackle, ahead of junior Mark Shuman, and Facyson spent time with the second-team defense behind starter Kyle Fuller.
Virginia Tech freshman cornerback Brandon Facyson enrolled in school early hoping to get a jump on the competition.

After 15 spring practices, Facyson has made quite an impression and is a virtual lock to play in 2013 -- perhaps even start until Antone Exum gets healthy.

"Brandon Facyson was probably one of the pleasant surprises," defensive coordinator Bud Foster said in a phone interview Wednesday. "He might be our best corner. We had him behind Kyle Fuller in the spring but if we were to play tomorrow or this next week, we might be getting him ready to be our field corner."

[+] EnlargeBud Foster
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIVirginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster has more depth at cornerback after freshman Brandon Facyson emerged this spring.
That speaks volumes for the type of player Facyson has the potential to be. Many times, freshmen who come in as early enrollees take time to develop and get adjusted to their new surroundings. But Facyson has been quite the quick study.

"He’s really got a good demeanor about him, a lot of poise about him, and he’s very coachable," Foster said. "This will be a big summer for him, to get bigger, faster and stronger. I knew what kind of prospect he was, but I was really pleased with how quickly he picked things up and learned our defense and his position.

"To me, he seems to be a very mature young man. He seems to be one that’s ahead of his time a little bit. That will contribute to his ability to play a little earlier. Coach [Torrian] Gray coached him hard a couple times to challenge him and he responded. Some young guys sometimes will stick their head back in a shell but he’s a guy who bulled his neck and kept going like a bulldog. That showed something about him, that he’s got a little fight in him. And you’ve got to have thick skin to play corner.

"I think Coach Gray was trying to challenge him and find that out. Is he ready for prime time or is he going to be a guy who takes a little time? If he gets beat or things don’t go his way, how is he going to respond? I think we saw him respond favorably."

Foster was very pleased with the development of his defensive backs this spring, an area where the Hokies need to improve their depth. Foster also singled out Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes as players who came on this spring. Highly heralded Kendall Fuller also arrives in the fall as well.

As for Exum, the starting cornerback seems to be ahead in his recovery from a major knee injury he sustained while playing pick-up basketball in January. Though Foster didn't have an update on the timetable, Exum told reporters in Blacksburg last week that he wants to be ready for the season opener against Alabama on Aug. 31.

"He feels very good, he’s planning on being here for the opening of camp," Foster said. "I don’t know when they’re going to give him his release, but if there’s anybody who can do it, he can do it. He’s got tremendous physical attributes as far as his strength and the muscles surrounding the joint. If the ligaments and all those things heal up, I know the muscles will be strong enough. We’ll just have to see. He’s a guy that’s very conscientious as far as his work ethic and doing the right things. If there’s anybody who can do it because he’s going to will himself, it would be Antone."

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