NCF Nation: Denzel Perryman

We’re counting down the ACC’s top players of the 2014 season, with a look today at Nos. 11 through 15.

To read the rest of the list, click here.

11. Clive Walford, Miami

Position: Tight end

Year: Senior

Walford emerged as a go-to receiver for freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, becoming one of the most reliable targets on the team. That speaks volumes to his growth because Miami has no shortage of players at the skill positions. Walford ended up leading the team with 44 receptions -- one of just nine tight ends in the country to lead his team in that category. His 676 yards and seven touchdowns ranked second on the team.

12. Nick O'Leary, Florida State

Position: Tight end

Year: Senior

O'Leary won the John Mackey Award as the best tight end in the nation, but we have him ranked just behind Walford. The truth is, you can split hairs on who was better this season. A case can be made for both. O'Leary set career highs with 48 receptions for 618 yards to finish second on his team in both categories, while adding six touchdown catches. As David Hale pointed out in December, Walford had the stats edge in receptions per game, receiving yards, touchdowns and yards per catch, all while playing with a true freshman quarterback. None of that is to diminish what O'Leary did. It is a great year when two tight ends are worthy of such a high ranking.

13. Eddie Goldman, Florida State

Position: Defensive tackle

Year: Junior

Goldman was the glue that held the Florida State defensive front together through injuries and some depth issues, racking up 35 tackles, including eight for loss and a team-high four sacks. But his impact goes beyond the stat sheet. Goldman held down the inside in the same way Tim Jernigan did the year before. In his biggest game against Clemson, Goldman forced a crucial fumble late in the fourth quarter and also had a sack and made a fourth-down stop in overtime to help the Seminoles win.

14. Denzel Perryman, Miami

Position: Linebacker

Year: Senior

If Miami needed a play to be made on defense, Perryman was its man. Perryman led the team with 110 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss and was named one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in the nation. There were many who questioned the Canes' overall defense, but nobody questioned Perryman, his talent and the impact he made on that unit. He ended his career on the school's top-10 list for tackles.

15. Stephone Anthony, Clemson

Position: Linebacker

Year: Senior

Like Perryman, Anthony started to come into his own in 2013 and made an even bigger impact in 2014. Anthony had a team-high 90 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 11 quarterback pressures, one interception, four pass breakups and two caused fumbles en route to a spot on the media and coaches All-ACC first team. Clemson earned a lot of attention for its play up front. Anthony deserves credit for that because he was a big key to the group's overall success.

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.

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.
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.

Conner, Beasley win ACC POY honors

December, 3, 2014
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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)
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.
Miami is not a program that can happily live in a vacuum. Not when its history is so intricately tied to its present.

Big wins are expected. So are championships. And that is why there is more pressure on Miami coach Al Golden than there is on Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher headed into their showdown on Saturday. That might not make much sense on the surface because Fisher needs to win out to get Florida State into the College Football Playoff.

But Fisher has succeeded where Golden has not. Fisher has his signature victories on his résumé.

[+] EnlargeMiami
AP Photo/Alex MenendezAl Golden is 0-3 against rival Florida State heading into their matchup on Saturday night.
Golden is still looking for one. He is 0-3 against the rival Seminoles. Including games against the Noles, Golden is 3-7 against teams ranked in the Top 25 at the time Miami played them. His two biggest wins ended up turning into duds -- No. 17 Ohio State in 2011 and No. 12 Florida in 2013. Both those teams ended up with losing records.

“For everybody, to win this game would be big,” linebacker Denzel Perryman said. “The past four years, we've been coming up short, so to have that win would be big for us and the coaches and the program, To have that W is always great momentum.”

When the senior class signed with Miami, there was no way to envision being winless against the Seminoles.

“Of course not, you come to Miami to beat Florida State,” offensive lineman Shane McDermott said. “It’s been four years, and we haven’t beaten them. it’s been a rough road in that sense, but we have a great shot coming up this Saturday. It’s my senior year, so we’d really like to get that win.”

Given the way both Florida State and Miami have played of late, the oddsmakers have made the Noles slim favorites, bolstering expectations for a close game and potential Hurricanes win. If Miami gets blown out, you can bet the Golden critics will be out again, the way they were after Miami lost to Georgia Tech to drop to 3-3.

A group of fans flew a banner over Sun Life Stadium the following week during the Cincinnati game, reading “Fire Al Golden.” Prominent alumni started questioning the direction of the program. But all those critics have grown silent during the Canes’ three-game winning streak.

Golden has had plenty of people come to his defense, too, from former receiver Michael Irvin to former running back Mike James. Athletic director Blake James remains firmly behind him as well.

“Coach Golden’s done a tremendous job,” McDermott said. “He stayed here throughout all our NCAA storm, and he handled every single thing with class, and he’s really showed love for our university. There’s been a lot of yapping going on around the program, but he just ignores it. That’s one great quality he has. Every single day, he goes to practice, and he wants to make us the best possible team he can. We’re starting to become that.”

Golden has hung signs up around the football facilities that say, “Ignore the Noise.” Despite disappointing results against Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech, Miami has the No. 11-ranked defense in the country (312 ypg) and is on pace to have its best rushing performance since the 2001 national championship team.

On the flip side, Miami has lost three of its four toughest games this season. Of its six wins, only one is over a power-five team with a winning record -- No. 21 Duke.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Golden said. “Obviously, you open the season with an inexperienced quarterback at two very difficult places to play at Louisville and Nebraska. So I think we learned a lot from that. Certainly, our quarterback has learned a lot. He’s done a better job protecting the ball, and he's grown throughout the season. It’s a great challenge coming up.”

Golden and Davis do have one more thing in common. As McDermott alluded to, both coaches had to deal with NCAA sanctions at the start of their tenures. Davis eventually beat Florida State after five straight losses, and set the program up for its fifth national championship.

But 15 years later, there seems to be more impatience from many Miami supporters, desperate to get back to national prominence the way Florida State has over the past three years. Golden and his players are desperate to win, too. They try to “ignore the noise” but they are not completely blind and deaf.

They know the perception. They know they have to win this game.

“Of course, you get angry, but you turn that into fuel and say, ‘You know what? We’re going to prove everyone wrong here,'" McDermott said.

Their opportunity to prove it comes on Saturday.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
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Here are the players who stood out above the rest during a wild Week 5 in the ACC:

NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett: How can you overlook Brissett's efforts in NC State's 56-41 loss to top-ranked Florida State? The Florida transfer completed 32 of 38 passes for 359 yards with three touchdowns, while rushing for 38 yards as well. It was a loss, yes, and it will be tough to get up for every game the way you do when the No. 1 team in the country comes to your backyard, but Brissett gives NC State a completely new look offensively, and the program has to be excited about the rest of the season going forward.

Wake Forest defensive end Tylor Harris: When you set a national record, you likely end up with a helmet sticker. The junior did just that for the Demon Deacons in a tough 20-10 loss at Louisville. Harris set a new FBS record by recovering three fumbles in a game. No FBS players has totaled three fumble recoveries since it became an official stat in 1992. Harris now has four on the year, one shy of the school single-season record of five. He had a strip-sack and fumble recovery in the end zone for a score in the third quarter to give Wake the 10-7 lead at the time. This defense will give the Deacs opportunities to stick around in some games in which they are overmatched this year. Hats off to Harris.

Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman: The Hurricanes looked like a completely different team than the one that was run over by Duke late last season, topping the Blue Devils, 22-10. Perryman was a big part of that, forcing a fumble, picking of one pass and breaking up another. His interception with 1:55 left all but clinched the win for Miami, handing Duke its first loss and shaking up the entire Coastal Division race once more.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson: How about this for a first career start: 27-of-36 passing for 435 yards, six touchdowns, one interception, in addition to 28 yards rushing. The Tigers bounced back appropriately from last week's heartbreaker at Florida State and beat North Carolina, 50-35. With a true freshman quarterback already this good, it's easy to get excited about the future for the Tigers, both short- and long-term.

Florida State running back Karlos Williams: If FSU has plans on repeating as national champions, it is going to need some production out of its backfield. And the Seminoles finally got that Saturday in their 56-41 come-from-behind win at NC State. Williams carried the ball 21 times for 126 yards and scored three touchdowns. He added three catches for 29 yards. As our David Hale noted, before overtime of the Clemson game last week, Williams had tallied just 152 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries. This was a huge development during an otherwise concerning afternoon for the Noles.

Preseason All-ACC team

August, 21, 2014
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Presenting the 2014 ESPN.com preseason All-ACC team:

Offense

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke. One of the most dynamic receivers in the ACC, Crowder has had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and gets the nod over Louisville receiver DeVante Parker in a close call. Given Crowder's past production in the offense, he should be in line to break school receiving records this season.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State. Perhaps one of the most underrated receivers in the country, Greene is a virtual lock to catch every pass that comes his way. He is the picture of consistency, and as the top returning target for Jameis Winston, should reach 1,000 yards again.

TE: Nick O'Leary, Florida State. One of the best tight ends in the country, O'Leary had 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He should improve on all those numbers this season.

T: Cameron Erving, Florida State. Erving thought about leaving school early last season for the NFL draft but decided to return, and he now anchors the best offensive line in the country.

T: Sean Hickey, Syracuse. Hickey is going into his third season as a starter and has developed into one of the best tackles in the league. He also may be the strongest player in the ACC, too.

C: Andy Gallik, Boston College. Gallik helped spearhead a Boston College run game last season that averaged 212.5 yards on the ground. As a three-year starter, Gallik has grown into the best center in the league.

G: Tre' Jackson, Florida State. One of the best guards in the country, Jackson also opted to return to school for his senior year. He and Erving are the best players on that line.

G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke. A first-team All-ACC player a year ago, Tomlinson will be relied upon even more to lead an offensive line that has to replace two of its best players. If he has another stellar season, Tomlinson could be one of the first guards taken in next year's draft.

QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State. The returning Heisman Trophy winner had a rough season off-the-field but there is no questioning his credentials on the field. After throwing for more than 4,000 yards a year ago, the expectation is he will be even better this year.

RB: Duke Johnson, Miami. Johnson is one of the best backs in the country, averaging 6.6 yards every time he touches the ball. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, he's a virtual lock to gain 1,000 yards.

RB: Kevin Parks, Virginia. Parks is the only returning 1,000-yard back in the ACC and is hoping for more in 2014. Tough call here between Parks and Karlos Williams, the next two best backs in the league behind Johnson.

Defense

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson. Beasley finished last season with 13 sacks (tops in ACC) and 23 TFL (4th in nation). He’s a preseason All-American and the biggest star on one of the country's top defensive fronts.

DE: Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State. The No. 1 overall recruit in the nation three years ago, Edwards is poised to come into his own in 2014. He was a critical piece of Florida State’s run-stuffing defense a year ago, finishing with 9.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks.

DT: Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech. No returning interior lineman in the ACC had more TFL last year than Maddy’s 13.5, and he was a key for the Hokies' dominant defense. This season, he'll be the centerpiece of a new-look D line.

DT: Grady Jarrett, Clemson. Dabo Swinney calls Jarrett one of the best defenders in the nation, even if he hasn’t gotten much national acclaim. He finished last season with 59 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss, and should be the foundation for a dominant defensive line at Clemson this season.

LB: Denzel Perryman, Miami. Perryman is Miami’s most productive defender, finishing with 108 tackles last season (fifth in the ACC). He’s the lone ACC defender returning for 2014 to have recorded at least 60 tackles in each of the previous three seasons.

LB: Stephone Anthony, Clemson. His 15 TFL last season ranked eighth in the ACC, and no returning linebacker in the conference had more. He added 86 tackles and 4.5 sacks to boot.

CB: Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech. One of the top freshman defenders in the nation last season, Fuller picked off six passes as part of Virginia Tech's exceptional secondary. His 17 passes defended tied for eighth nationally.

CB: P.J. Williams, Florida State. Williams racked up three interceptions and was dominant in coverage for Florida State, which finished with the best pass defense in the nation. He also won defensive MVP honors in the BCS national championship.

S: Anthony Harris, Virginia. Led the nation with eight interceptions last season for Virginia, including picking off at least one pass in five straight games in conference play in October and November.

S: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State. The first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders, Ramsey made the transition to safety midseason and didn’t miss a beat, finishing with 49 tackles and an INT.

S: Jeremy Cash, Duke. Cash finished last season second in the ACC in tackles (121), fifth in interceptions (4) and recorded 9.5 TFL, tops in the conference among defensive backs.

Specialists

K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State. The Lou Groza Award winner in 2013, Aguayo broke the national record for points by a kicker in a season with 157 points. He is virtually automatic every time he steps onto the field, missing just one field goal attempt and zero extra points last season.

P: A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech. A second-team All-ACC selection a year ago, Hughes averaged 44.1 yards per punt. He placed 24 inside the 20, and had 22 punts of 50 yards or longer.

KR: Kermit Whitfield, Florida State. Whitfield led the nation last year in kickoffs, with an average of 36.4 yards per return. His speed makes him extremely difficult to stop, let alone slow down.

PR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina. Teams have probably learned to kick away from Switzer at all times. Last season, he had five returns for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record.

Miami Hurricanes season preview

August, 12, 2014
8/12/14
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Miami Hurricanes:

Key returners: RB Duke Johnson, WR Stacy Coley, TE Clive Walford, LB Denzel Perryman, DE Anthony Chickillo

Key losses: QB Stephen Morris, WR Allen Hurns, P Pat O'Donnell, DE Shayon Green

Most important 2014 games: at Louisville, Sept. 1; at Nebraska, Sept. 20; at Virginia Tech, Oct. 23; Florida State, Nov. 15.

Projected win percentage: 62

Over/under Vegas odds: 7 1/2

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Richard C. Lewis/Icon SMIThe Hurricanes are holding out hope that running back Duke Johnson can stay healthy in 2014.
Instant impact newcomer: QB Jake Heaps or QB Brad Kaaya. With starter Ryan Williams out indefinitely while rehabbing a torn ACL and Kevin Olsen reportedly suspended for the opener, Heaps and Kaaya have emerged as the top two quarterbacks in the race to win the staring job. Heaps, a fifth-year transfer, has game experience that seemingly gives him an advantage over Kaaya, who has yet to play in a collegiate game. But Kaaya has impressed from the moment he set foot on campus, and coach Al Golden said Monday the race to start was "tight."

Best-case scenario for 2014: Miami avenges its embarrassing bowl loss to Louisville in the opener, then upsets Nebraska a few weeks later in Lincoln, setting the stage for a triumphant season. Confidence grows, and Miami goes into Blacksburg, Virginia, on a Thursday night in October and pulls the upset. Duke Johnson runs for over 1,500 yards, and Heaps does a terrific job holding down the fort until Williams returns. Miami finally hits double-digit wins and makes its first appearance in the ACC championship game.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The messy quarterback situation derails the Miami offense, as teams stack the box to contain Johnson. The defensive line is unable to get push up front or pressure on the quarterback. Despite improvements in the secondary, the defense as a whole makes only modest gains. A tough schedule featuring 10 bowl teams takes its toll and Miami barely reaches bowl eligibility.

Best NFL prospects: Perryman and Johnson. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Perryman listed as the No. 2 senior outside linebacker prospect Insider, and Johnson listed among his top five underclassmen at running back Insider. Perryman could have left school early for the draft but elected to return to improve his stock. He will be playing middle linebacker this year, so he should make even more plays than he did a season ago. The biggest key for Johnson this season is staying healthy. He has yet to play an entire season as the unquestioned starter. If he does that this year, he should be a virtual lock for 1,000 yards; then Miami fans will have to worry about losing him to the NFL.

They said it: "There's a standard of excellence at the University of Miami, and you're held to that standard, which we've all accepted by going to the University of Miami. The one thing I think that's different about this team is that they believe in who they are, so they certainly respect the past, but they want to represent who they are and their identity as a football team. There's been nothing about the 2014 team that even resembles the 2013 team. They wanted to be their own team, have their own leadership and really move forward. So I'm excited about these guys saying, 'OK, let's go out and make our own identity’ as opposed to relying on something that happened quite a while ago." -- coach Al Golden

Top ACC players: Nos. 10-6

July, 31, 2014
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As we get set to open fall camps around the ACC, we're counting down the conference's Top 25 players -- five per day all this week.

10. Tre' Jackson, Florida State Seminoles

Position: Offensive guard
Year: Senior

The interior linemen for Florida State have never gotten quite as much credit as the guys on the edge, but both Jackson and fellow guard Josue Matias have developed into top NFL prospects and elite blockers. At 6-foot-4, 330 pounds, Jackson is the biggest member of a senior-laden line for FSU, and in his two years as a starter, the Seminoles have rushed for an average of 5.6 yards per carry.

9. DeVante Parker, Louisville Cardinals

Position: Wide receiver
Year: Senior

Only five receivers in the nation recorded double-digit touchdown totals in both 2012 and 2013. Of that group, just one will be back for 2014, and that’s Parker. Louisville is the newest addition to the ACC, but the conference’s cornerbacks better get to know Parker quickly. For his career, Parker has racked up 113 catches and nearly 2,000 yards, but with offensive guru Bobby Petrino taking over as head coach this year, Parker is poised for his biggest season yet.

8. P.J. Williams, Florida State

Position: Cornerback
Year: Junior

A preseason first-team All-ACC selection, Williams is finally starting to get the credit he so richly deserved for handling so much of the dirty work on Florida State’s dominant secondary in 2013. Williams was often tasked with shadowing the opponent’s top receiver, and he was targeted more than any other defensive back on the Seminoles’ roster, but he held his own and clearly made strides as the season progressed. The result was 35 tackles, three interceptions and defensive MVP honors in the BCS national championship game.

7. Cameron Erving, Florida State

Position: Offensive tackle
Year: RS Senior

When Erving first made the switch from a back-up defensive tackle to the starting left tackle in the spring of 2012, coaches immediately gushed about his natural ability on the offensive side of the ball. And it was true, he was a quick fit on a developing line that made huge strides in his first year. But now Erving has refined those natural skills and, as coach Jimbo Fisher raved, he’s a far more nuanced lineman and leader, and he’ll be the cornerstone of a senior-laden line in 2014 that promises to be among the best in the nation.

6. Denzel Perryman, Miami Hurricanes

Position: Linebacker
Year: Senior

A first-team All-ACC selection, Perryman is the heart and soul of Miami’s defense. Perryman racked up 108 tackles last season, including double-digit tackles in six different games, highlighted by a 13-tackle performance in an upset win over Florida. Perryman’s speed and athleticism in the middle should make him one of the ACC’s most feared defenders again in 2014 and opens options for the Hurricanes to break in some young talent around him.
The preseason All-ACC team was released Wednesday, and naturally quarterback Jameis Winston led the way with the most votes. There were not too many surprises, beginning with Florida State players littered throughout the list of 26 names.

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

 
 
 

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

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

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

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

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

Player list for ACC media days

July, 10, 2014
7/10/14
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The 2014 college football season is inching ever so closer, with ACC media days set to take place in less than two weeks.

The league released its list of players who will be attending the July 20-21 event at The Grandover Resort in Greensboro, North Carolina. Here they are:

BOSTON COLLEGE
C Andy Gallik, R-Sr.
DB Dominique Williams, R-Sr.

CLEMSON
QB Cole Stoudt, Sr.
DE Vic Beasley, R-Sr.

DUKE
OG Laken Tomlinson, R-Sr.
LB Kelby Brown, R-Sr.

FLORIDA STATE
QB Jameis Winston, R-So.
CB P.J. Williams, Jr.

GEORGIA TECH
OG Shaquille Mason, Sr.
LB Quayshawn Nealy, R-Sr.

LOUISVILLE
WR DeVante Parker, Sr.
DE Lorenzo Mauldin, Sr.

MIAMI
RB Duke Johnson, Jr.
LB Denzel Perryman, Sr.

NORTH CAROLINA
QB Marquise Williams, Jr.
LB Norkeithus Otis, Sr.

NC STATE
RB Tony Creecy, R-Sr.
DE Art Norman, R-Sr.

PITT
WR Tyler Boyd, So.
DB Ray Vinopal, R-Sr.

SYRACUSE
OT Sean Hickey, Sr.
LB Cameron Lynch, Sr.

VIRGINIA
RB Kevin Parks, Sr.
SS Anthony Harris, Sr.

VIRGINIA TECH
WR Willie Byrn, R-Sr.
DT Luther Maddy, DT

WAKE FOREST
FB Jordan Garside, R-Sr.
CB Kevin Johnson, R-Sr.
Do you need a sign college football is close but still just a little too far away? The first preseason award watch lists were released Monday, a list of more than 70 players that could be the best in the country by season’s end.

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

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

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

Maxwell Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Bednarik Award

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unbeaten Miami is all grown up

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
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Phillip Dorsett is 20 years old, but in Miami years, that makes him a grizzled veteran.

He speaks authoritatively when he says, “I’ve seen this team do a complete 360.”

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
AP Photo/J Pat CarterAl Golden says his Miami team is more focused this season.
So has the college football world. Miami is no longer the bumbling team filled with youngsters learning on the job, unable to hold a lead or compete against tough competition. Miami is all grown up and playing that way.

For proof, let us look at four losses from last season:

North Carolina: Miami lost a tough game at home that it had every opportunity to win. Ryan Williams came into the game after Stephen Morris got hurt, and ultimately could not convert on fourth-and-6 from the UNC 26.

Notre Dame: Miami trailed 13-3 at halftime before getting smacked in the second half and losing 41-3.

Florida State: The Hurricanes led 10-0 early, then trailed 16-13 at the end of the third quarter. But Florida State reeled off 17 straight points in the fourth quarter to win.

Virginia: Miami led 38-28 in the fourth quarter, but Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jake McGee with 6 seconds remaining to give the Hoos the 41-40 win.

Now let us look at the two most significant wins so far this season for Miami.

Florida: The Hurricanes not only stood toe-to-toe with a top-12 team, they won thanks to their defense. In three of the losses cited above, Miami played below average on defense -- especially in the Virginia game. Miami had no business losing that one.

Georgia Tech: Miami trailed for the first time all season, down 10 points in the second quarter. Yet Miami did not fold, and found a way to make the necessary plays to win.

One parallel stands out in particular between the Tech and Notre Dame games. Against Notre Dame, Miami opened the game by airing it out. Dorsett dropped two potential touchdowns. The Hurricanes, it seemed, deflated when they could not convert those big plays. Against Georgia Tech, Dorsett fumbled a punt in the fourth quarter. The Jackets recovered and scored a touchdown, but missed the extra point.

Still, momentum seemed to belong to Georgia Tech. Miami, however, did not dwell on the mistake. The Hurricanes scored three straight touchdowns to put the game out of reach. As Morris said after the game, “I think last year would have been different.”

These examples prove last year was different. But those tribulations ultimately taught Miami how to win. So has improved leadership. Miami has more seniors to rely on this year, and its freshmen and sophomores are taking on bigger, more vocal roles, too.

“We have a lot of young guys that are mature and they rally around the older guys,” said redshirt sophomore running back Dallas Crawford. “It really feels like we have no young guys. Even the freshmen, it seems like they’ve been around for years.”

Junior linebacker Denzel Perryman points to improved communication. “Overall, it’s not just one person speaking up. It’s everyone at every position,” he said. “I’ll say something, Jimmy [Gaines] will say something, another linebacker will say something.”

One more factor cannot be discounted. Miami players have had to deal with an NCAA investigation and skip bowl games two straight seasons because of self-imposed postseason bans. That adversity has served to bring everybody closer.

“We’re more focused,” coach Al Golden said. “We just have guys who have been through a lot. It’s a close group. They’re not daunted by anything. If you look at what they’ve been through, it pales in comparison. They get down a little bit and say, ‘All right, let’s go.’ I’m really proud of the leadership we have.”

This season, everybody knows what is at stake. Every single player came to Miami for a reason -- to re-establish the Hurricanes’ tradition. Opening 5-0 is a good start. But that is all it is. Though 5-0 is uncharted territory for the players, Golden has beat home the “one game at a time” mantra.

Opening 5-0 means nothing if the winning stops. Golden knows there are key areas where the Hurricanes have to improve during this bye week -- turnovers and penalties have to be the top two priorities. Miami has turned the ball over eight times and committed 14 penalties in its last two games. Those mistakes cannot be overlooked. Not if Miami wants to win a championship.

Indeed, the Miami maturity we have seen thus far will take on even greater importance as the season wears on.

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