NCF Nation: Brandon Washington

ESPN.com is releasing its preseason all-conference teams today. You’ll notice this one has a few differences in it from what was voted on at ACC’s media days. Here are the ACC players who get my vote:

OFFENSE

WR Conner Vernon, Duke

WR Dwight Jones, North Carolina

TE George Bryan, NC State

T Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech

T Andrew Datko, Florida State

G Brandon Washington, Miami

G Omoregi Uzzie, Georgia Tech

C Dalton Freeman, Clemson

QB Danny O’Brien, Maryland

RB Montel Harris, Boston College

RB David Wilson, Virginia Tech

DEFENSE

DE Quinton Coples, North Carolina

DE Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

DT Tydreke Powell, North Carolina

DT Brandon Thompson, Clemson

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

LB Sean Spence, Miami

LB Kenny Tate, Maryland

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech

S Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami

S Eddie Whitley, Virginia Tech

SPECIAL TEAMS

PK Will Snyderwine, Duke

P Shawn Powell, Florida State

SP Greg Reid, Florida State
I know there are many ACC enthusiasts out there who will be saddened to hear that I am not going to rank the offensive linemen by position (centers, guards and tackles). Instead, I’m going to put them all together and just rank the top 10 offensive linemen in the ACC this year.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Washington
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesBrandon Washington started every game last season and was credited with 56 pancake blocks.
1. Brandon Washington, Miami: He was one of three offensive linemen to start all 13 games last year and finished second on the team with 56 pancake blocks. He graded out at 99 percent against Pittsburgh, the highest grade of any starter all season, and 95 percent against Virginia Tech.

2. Andrew Datko, Florida State: He has played his entire career at left tackle, where he has protected the quarterbacks' blind side extremely well. He allowed just one sack in 11 games (all starts) last year, stifling heralded pass-rushers from Oklahoma, Miami, Clemson, Florida and Virginia Tech. He was penalized just three times and had only five missed assignments in 691 snaps. Datko's season average grade of 87 was second on the team only to Rodney Hudson.

3. Blake DeChristopher, Virginia Tech: He’s the veteran on the offensive line, with 37 career starts. He was a second-team All-ACC selection at tackle last fall when he graded out at 83 percent with a team-leading 59 knockdown blocks.

4. Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina: He is the veteran on the line with 22 career starts. He started all 13 games last year and played a team-high 875 snaps. He led the Tar Heels in knockdown blocks for the second straight year with 55. He graded out at 83 percent, tied with James Hurst for the best on the team.

5. Jaymes Brooks, Virginia Tech: He’s entering his third season as starting right guard, and is powerful and explosive. He had a season-high nine knockdowns against Florida State in the ACC championship game, and eight in the opener against Boise State.

6. Dalton Freeman, Clemson: He has started each of the past 22 games at center and finished second on the team with 58 knockdown blocks. He allowed just two sacks and was third on the team with a grade of 80.6 percent. He led the team in knockdown blocks in six games and four of the last seven.

7. James Hurst, North Carolina: He was one of the top freshmen in the country last year, and made an immediate impact with 12 starts at left tackle. He was third on the team with 33 knockdown blocks and tied with Cooper for a team-high grade of 83 percent.

8. Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech: He was a second-team all-conference guard last year and started all 12 games he played in. He’s strong, has good lateral quickness, and has become more fundamentally sound. He should be the leader of the line this year.

9. Zebrie Sanders, Florida State: He started all 14 games last year and was the only Seminole lineman credited with at least one knockdown block in 13 of 14 games. He finished second on the team with 37 knockdown blocks, and had a season average grade of 81 percent, which was the best of his career. He ranks third among all FSU linemen with 37 career starts, including 23 consecutive.

10. Landon Walker, Clemson: He has played in 39 games (35 starts). Last year he had 30 knockdowns, at least one in every game, and had five and a team-high 87 percent grade against Auburn.
Ranking offensive linemen is not easy. But hey, either is being an offensive lineman. Here are your best "big uglies."

1. North Carolina: Three starters and one part-time starter return from last year’s team, and this line could be the biggest and best since Butch Davis was hired. Guard Jonathan Cooper (22 starts), center Cam Holland (20) and tackle James Hurst (12) have combined for 54 career starts. Travis Bond has four starts and is the leading candidate to take over at the other guard position.

2. Miami: The Canes return nine of their top 10 offensive linemen including four starters from last year, and Joel Figueroa was granted a sixth season of eligibility. Even with the coaching change, the Canes should be strong up front. Center Tyler Horn is a veteran, Brandon Washington is a difference-maker, and there’s enough competition that Seantrel Henderson spent most of the spring as a backup.

3. Clemson: First-year offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has four returning starters to work with in Landon Walker, Antoine McClain, Dalton Freeman and David Smith. They also have top reserve Mason Cloy, who has 19 career starts and has played in 38 games. There is plenty of depth for a dependable rotation.

4. Virginia Tech: All four returnees started every game last year, and there is enough depth that the Hokies should be able to rotate the most players up front they ever have. It’s a veteran group led by Blake DeChristopher, Andrew Lanier, Jaymes Brooks and Greg Nosal.

5. Florida State: Despite the losses of Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon, there’s experience up front. This fall, the starting lineup will consist of tackle Andrew Datko, left guard Bryan Stork or David Spurlock, center Jacob Fahrenkrug, right guard Spurlock or Stork, right tackle Zebrie Sanders. Just how good they’ll be remains to be seen as the majority of them were out with injuries this past spring.

6. NC State: The Pack lost Jake Vermiglio and will be without injured left guard Andrew Wallace for about half of the season, but Zach Allen, Camden Wentz and R.J. Mattes are returning starters. There’s also a lot of talent waiting to emerge with young players like Duran Christophe, Rob Crisp, Tyson Chandler, Torian Box and Andy Jomantas.

7. Virginia: Four players return with a combined 64 career starts in Anthony Mihota, Austin Pasztor, Oday Aboushi and Morgan Moses, who started the final seven games of the season as a true freshman. Pasztor is in his fourth season as a starter and has 32 career starts.

8. Boston College: Despite the losses of Anthony Castonzo, Thomas Claiborne and Rich Lapham, the Eagles are almost settled up front, it’s the experience behind the starters that’s reason for concern. The No. 2 offensive line is comprised entirely of redshirt freshmen. Mark Spinney returns at center, the projected starting guards are Nathan Richman and Ian White, who started three games as a freshman, and the tackles are Emmett Cleary and John Wetzel.

9. Maryland: It’s been an injury-prone group the past two seasons and that didn’t change this past spring. Left tackle Justin Gilbert, one of the top linemen on the team, reinjured the same knee he had ACL surgery on and will be out until October. R.J. Dill was also injured this spring, though he played in the spring game, and Justin Lewis was rehabbing from offseason surgery. Pete White also missed practices, so the group needs to solidify the two-deep roster.

10. Georgia Tech: The Jackets return three starters in guard Omoregie Uzzi, guard Will Jackson and tackle Phil Smith. Sophomore Jay Finch played extensively last season and Ray Beno and Nick McRae were key reserves. Redshirt freshmen Catlin Alford and Morgan Bailey could also work their way into the rotation. Uzzi will be the leader of the line, but they were outplayed by the defense this spring.

11. Wake Forest: Four starters are back, but the Deacs will sorely miss the experience and leadership of former center Russell Nenon. Garrick Williams started the final three games of 2010 -- two at guard and one at center, but he struggled with the snaps towards the end of spring and isn’t where the staff needs him to be yet.

12. Duke: The Blue Devils should take another step forward this season under offensive line coach Matt Luke, and they need to -- Duke’s running game was last in the ACC last year and 104th in the country. Brian Moore replaces a three-year starter at center, but given his experience at right guard the past two seasons, it should be a smooth transition. That will leave a hole, though, at the right guard position, where Laken Tomlinson and John Coleman are the top candidates.

Revised top 25 countdown: No. 22

February, 17, 2011
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No. 22. Anthony Allen, RB, Georgia Tech

[+] EnlargeAnthony Allen
Paul Abell/US PresswireGeorgia Tech's Anthony Allen rushed for 1,316 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
2010 numbers: He finished second in the ACC and ranked 18th nationally in rushing with 101.2 yards per game. He had 1,316 yards, seven touchdowns and 5.5 yards per carry.

Previous ranking: No. 23

Making the case for Allen: He was the workhorse for the nation's No. 1 rushing offense. He had five 100-yard rushing games in 2010 and rushed for more than 160 yards in each of the final two games of the regular season. He successfully made the transition from A-back to B-back, and was a tough runner who was difficult for defenders to bring down.
No. 23. Brandon Washington, OG, Miami

[+] EnlargeBrandon Washington
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesMiami's Brandon Washington graded out above 90 percent in all but one of Miami's games.
2010 numbers: He was second on the team with 56 pancake blocks and 11 lumberjack blocks. He graded out above 90 percent in all but one of Miami’s games, including 95 percent against ACC champ Virginia Tech.

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Washington: Washington had a break-out year as Miami's primary right guard, winning ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week twice in 2010. As a sophomore, Washington evolved into a leader on the line, and was one of three linemen who started all 13 games.

Recruiting rewind

January, 28, 2011
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There’s only one way to truly grade recruits -- look at their performances on the field after they sign. Some, like Clemson offensive lineman Chris Hairston, exceed their ranking expectations. Others, like Duke kicker Will Snyderwine, make names for themselves as walk-ons. And some, like Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, lend merit to the ranking system.

Using ESPN.com’s recruiting database, I took a look back at my 2010 all-conference team to see how each player fared in his respective recruiting class. Some players have flourished at other positions. Only five of the players were ranked among the ESPNU 150, and five were either unranked or joined the team as a walk-on.

Here’s a look back at the recruiting rankings for the ACC’s top players in 2010:

OFFENSE

QB: Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech:No. 16 player in ESPNU 150, No. 3 overall quarterback in the 2007 class

RB: Montel Harris, Boston College: No. 143 running back in the 2008 class

RB: Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech: No. 73 running back in Louisville’s class of 2007

WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami: No. 61 wide receiver in 2007 class

WR Torrey Smith, Maryland: No. 54 wide receiver in 2007 class

TE George Bryan, NC State: No. 16 tight end, class of 2007

C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech: Joined the team as a walk-on in 2006

OL Rodney Hudson, Florida State: No. 16 offensive guard in the 2007 class

OL Anthony Castonzo, Boston College: Not ranked in the 2007 class

OL Chris Hairston, Clemson: Not ranked in the class of 2006

OL Brandon Washington, Miami: No. 11 offensive guard in 2008 class

DEFENSE

DL Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson:No. 1 overall player in ESPNU 150 Class of 2008, No. 1 overall defensive end

DL Brandon Jenkins, Florida State: No. 18 defensive end in the 2009 class

DL Quinton Coples, North Carolina: No. 34 defensive end, class of 2008

DL Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson: No. 36 defensive tackle in the 2007 class

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College: No. 19 outside linebacker

LB Nate Irving, NC State: Not ranked, class of 2006

LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland: No. 18 inside linebacker class of 2006

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech: No. 22 cornerback in 2009 class

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia: No. 69 cornerback, class of 2007

S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson: No. 105 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2006, No. 12 safety

S Kenny Tate, Maryland: No. 134 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2008, No. 19 wide receiver

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Bosher, Miami: No. 4 kicker in 2006 class

K: Will Snyderwine, Duke: Joined the team as a walk-on in 2007 after an open tryout

PR: Tony Logan, Maryland: No. 21 quarterback in 2007 class

KR: David Wilson, Virginia Tech: No. 40 in ESPNU 150 Class of 2009, No. 5 running back

ESPN.com 2010 All-ACC team

December, 8, 2010
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This is usually one of the most difficult posts of the season, but for some reason, this year there seemed to be more separation between the good players and the great ones in the ACC.

Honestly, the biggest internal debate was over the kicker, a battle between Virginia Tech’s Chris Hazley and Duke’s Will Snyderwine. The coaches voted Snyderwine an All-America selection, and that was hard to ignore, as was the fact that he is the master of the onside kick, and hit four that Duke retained. Duke isn’t the most athletic team, but because of Snyderwine’s ability to put the ball in a 3-yard square, the Blue Devils were right there with everyone else in kickoff coverage (No. 3 behind division champs Florida State and Virginia Tech). The frustrating part of compiling this team is that there is always a deserving player left off -- always. There’s no question, though, that everyone on this year’s ESPN.com All-ACC team deserves it.

Here’s a look at your ESPN.com all-conference team for 2010:

OFFENSE

QB: Tyrod Taylor, Virginia Tech

RB: Montel Harris, Boston College

RB: Anthony Allen, Georgia Tech

WR Leonard Hankerson, Miami

WR Torrey Smith, Maryland

TE George Bryan, NC State

C Sean Bedford, Georgia Tech

OL Rodney Hudson, Florida State

OL Anthony Castonzo, Boston College

OL Chris Hairston, Clemson

OL Brandon Washington, Miami

DEFENSE

DL Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson

DL Brandon Jenkins, Florida State

DL Quinton Coples, North Carolina

DL Jarvis Jenkins, Clemson

LB Luke Kuechly, Boston College

LB Nate Irving, NC State

LB Alex Wujciak, Maryland

CB Jayron Hosley, Virginia Tech

CB Chase Minnifield, Virginia

S DeAndre McDaniel, Clemson

S Kenny Tate, Maryland

SPECIALISTS

P: Matt Bosher, Miami

K: Will Snyderwine, Duke

PR: Tony Logan, Maryland

KR: David Wilson, Virginia Tech

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Virginia Tech hasn't even started spring practices yet (Wednesday is the Hokies' first) and Miami has already wrapped things up. What's next in Coral Gables? The Canes will get back in the weight room for six more weeks, but coach Randy Shannon said the staff won't push them too hard physically. They'll meet for 45 minutes twice a week to help the players retain everything they learned from their new coordinators. The staff will now use the mornings to watch practice tape and the afternoons to watch recruiting tape.

Shannon said both coordinators, Mark Whipple and John Lovett, brought a lot of excitement, enthusiasm and confidence with them, and the staff is on the same page. They kept some of the same terminology. The two areas they'd like to see more improvement in summer camp are building the depth on the offensive line and at linebacker. Colin McCarthy will be back in the fall, but Shannon is looking for four or five linebackers that are interchangeable.

As expected, there were a few bumps in the road, but overall the players picked things up quickly.

"Are we better than we were last spring? Definitely," Shannon said. "Are we better than we were at the end of the season last year? Definitely."

Here were a few highlights from spring ball at Miami:

• Taylor Cook finished the spring with a bit of an edge over Cannon Smith at backup quarterback.

• C.J. Holton's move from safety to linebacker should give him a better chance to get on the field and was a step in helping the depth. Sean Spence and Arthur Brown played well this spring and Shannon said Jordan Futch came around the last two weeks.

• Brandon Washington became an offensive lineman the staff can depend on. They've got seven guys they're comfortable with up front, but Shannon said he is still looking for the eighth guy. That could be Ben Jones, Jermaine Johnson or Tyler Horn.

• Tight end Richard Gordon did a great job while all of the other scholarship tight ends were out with injuries. Shannon said the staff put a lot of pressure on him, and he got a lot of reps. "He should be in great shape," Shannon said. "He responded. When those guys come back, there will be a great competition to see which guy is going to step to the forefront and be that guy."

• Shannon said the media is making too much of Miami's lack of interceptions last year (they had four, the fewest of all 119 FBS schools). Shannon said their priority is to stop the run first, which they got better at this spring as a result of depth and maturity. He also said the Canes had about eight to 10 interceptions minimum this spring. He was particularly impressed with the "unbelievable" transition Sam Shields made from wide receiver to the secondary and considers him a starter who can "step in and play right away."

• The players who made a big impression on Shannon this spring were: Shields, Brown, Washington, Mike James, and Olivier Vernon. He said Vaughn Telemaque and Kendal Thompkins "put their stamp on where they want to be." Also, running back Damien Berry did a "tremendous job."

"Those guys have really taken that next step," Shannon said. "That's the biggest improvement, when you see guys who didn't play last year, see if they can really take that next step and be a guy we can say wow, he's going to be a guy we can depend on. That group of guys has really taken that next step of doing what we want them to do."

Dec. 20, 4:30 p.m., (ESPN2)

South Florida take by Big East blogger Brian Bennett: South Florida will travel only about 30 miles from campus to play in the inaugural magicjack St. Petersburg Bowl. The Bulls certainly thought they were going to go a lot farther this year, especially after starting the season 5-0 and rising to No. 10 in the rankings.

But they lost five of their last seven games and had to beat Connecticut in their home finale just to guarantee a bowl bid. Injuries played a big part in South Florida's demise, and the team should be much healthier for the Dec. 20 game. The defense played up to its potential the last two weeks, holding UConn and West Virginia to 13 points each. The Bulls have the speed to handle Memphis' spread offense, but their own spread needs to turn up its performance.

The Bulls averaged just 12.5 points in its last four contests, and quarterback Matt Grothe threw 11 interceptions in his final five games.

Memphis and South Florida are former Conference USA rivals who have two common opponents this season. The Bulls beat Central Florida by seven in overtime and lost by four at Louisville, while the Tigers lost to Central Florida and Louisville by seven points each.


Memphis take by Non-BCS blogger Graham Watson: Memphis has probably faced the most adversity of any bowl team this season.

The Tigers lost three quarterbacks in late October and used their third string quarterback, Brett Toney, to keep them in the hunt for a bowl. The Tigers achieved bowl eligibility with a 45-6 win over Tulane in the final game of the regular season.

Starting quarterback Arkelon Hall, who broke his thumb on Oct. 18, has played the past two games and looked a little more comfortable against Tulane than he did in a loss to UCF, though he's still not producing the same numbers that he did before the injury.

The bulk of the offense has been left to the running game, and Curtis Steele, Brandon Washington, and Brandon Ross have shouldered the rushing load. Memphis ranks No. 18 in the country in rushing (205.5 yards per game), and in the four games since Hall's injury, it has rushed for an average of 273 yards per game, including a 379-yard effort against Tulane. The running game has accounted for 62.5 percent of the Tigers' total offense during the past four games.

Unfortunately for the Tigers, South Florida is the ninth-best rushing defense in the country, allowing teams just 97.7 yards per game. It's also one of the best total defenses in the country, allowing just 291.75 yards per game.

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