NCF Nation: EJ Manuel

100-days checklist: ACC

May, 21, 2013
5/21/13
12:00
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As of today, there are 100 days until the start of the college football season.

You bet we’re counting.

If you’re Scot Loeffler, Virginia Tech's new offensive coordinator, 100 days must feel like a nanosecond. The Hokies aren’t the only ones, though, with plenty of work to do before the season begins. Here’s a checklist of five things the ACC and its teams must accomplish before the opening kickoff:

1. Name starting quarterbacks. Syracuse can’t even talk about Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen yet because he’s not on campus and won’t enroll until next month, but the Orange are just one of several teams in the ACC that still have an ongoing quarterback competition. Virginia’s quarterback controversy has seemingly gone on for years, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has yet to officially anoint Jameis Winston as EJ Manuel’s successor. Pitt is also still searching for a dependable leader, along with NC State.

2. Find an offense in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech has become one of the ACC’s brand-name programs, a consistent winner and a representative in the Top 25 and BCS standings. That changed last season when the Hokies bumbled their way through their most disappointing season in 20 years. Coach Frank Beamer made sweeping changes to his offensive staff, but little improvement was seen in the spring game. Loeffler said it wasn’t a true indication of the progress that was made in the other 13 practices, but also conceded there is still a lot of work to be done. With Alabama looming in the season opener, all eyes will be on the ACC in Week 1. When the Hokies are good, the ACC is better.

3. Improve defensively. With the exception of Florida State, which finished the season ranked No. 6 in the country in scoring defense, 2012 wasn’t a banner year for ACC defenses. The conference usually has some of the nation’s best defenses -- including Boston College -- but there was no Luke Kuechly and no identity for the Eagles last fall. Miami beat Duke 52-45. Georgia Tech beat North Carolina 68-50. Clemson beat NC State 62-48. Clemson took a major step forward defensively with its bowl win against LSU, but the defense must become elite in its second season under coordinator Brent Venables if Clemson is going to be a national-title contender.

4. Minimize the turnovers. Virginia Tech was No. 86 in turnover margin last year, and quarterback Logan Thomas threw three picks in the spring game. Boston College was No. 88 in the country in turnover margin, FSU No. 93, NC State No. 99, Maryland No. 104, Virginia No. 110. That’s almost half the league ranked among the worst in the country in turnover margin. The Hokies play Alabama. Virginia plays Oregon. BC plays at USC. FSU is at Florida, and the Seminoles turned it over five times versus the Gators in FSU's 37-26 loss last year. The Gators scored 10 points off turnovers in that game. If the ACC is going to stand a chance, it can’t give away freebies.

5. Stay out of the trainer’s room. Virginia Tech standout corner Antone Exum is still rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in a pickup basketball game. The bulk of Wake Forest’s offensive line was walking wounded all spring, and that group will make or break the Deacons' season. Clemson backup quarterback Chad Kelly and starting tight end Sam Cooper both tore their ACLs this spring. If the ACC is going to beat the best this fall, it needs its best players on the field. For some programs, like Boston College, the depth isn’t there to afford injuries.

Previewing ACC in NFL draft

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
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NFL draft coverage will begin at 8 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN and WatchESPN.com, but here is a one-stop shopping post for all of your last-minute mocks and talk:
  • First, let's take a look at who will be there: Florida State and North Carolina will represent the ACC with Bjoern Werner, Menelik Watson, Xavier Rhodes, EJ Manuel, and UNC's Jonathan Cooper.
  • KC Joyner says Rhodes could be one of the biggest steals of the draft.
  • The experts at Scouts Inc. projected all seven roundsInsider -- and the ACC will have two top-10 picks, depending on your take of the ACC at this particular point in time. If you want to count former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, then "the ACC" will have the No. 8 overall pick, going to former Cuse coach Doug Marrone, now with Buffalo. If you're like me, and not really willing to count Nassib in this group, then former UNC OG Jonathan Cooper is the ACC's top dawg at No. 11 overall. This is Insider content, so it's just a sneak peek, but you're going to have to wait until the second round to see EJ Manuel and the third round for Mike Glennon.
  • Todd McShay posted his Mock 5.1,Insider but he will also have an update this morning with his latest on the first round.
  • On Monday, Mel Kiper Jr. also released his latest, Mock Draft 4.1,Insider but his will also be updated as the draft nears, so check back. Meanwhile, put your own spin on Kiper's draft.
  • Our NFL bloggers also held their mock draft this week.
  • And there will be a live blog from Radio City Music Hall beginning at noon today.
The first round of the NFL draft is just a week away, so it is time to provide you an update with the latest predictions, mock drafts and rankings from ESPN experts.

First, let us start with Mel Kiper Jr., who plays general manager for every single team and predicts the first three rounds of the draft Insider. It is Insider content, but here is a look at where he has placed players from ACC schools. Oh, and be sure to read his ground rules to have a better understanding of his thought process.

First round
Second round
Third round

As Kiper Jr. states, that piece is not a mock draft. It's his preference for each team at that spot. His mock draft features Cooper, Williams and Rhodes. Disagree with his first-round picks? Well you can make your own mock draft Insider. Two thumbs up on that tool.

Kiper also has updated his Big Board Insider, ranking the Top 25 prospects. Only Cooper and Williams make that list.

Meanwhile, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has revealed the Scouts Inc. tier rankings Insider, which list prospects by their ratings. There are seven tiers and 109 players rated, with 17 from ACC schools (counting incoming members Pittsburgh and Syracuse).

McShay also has named his All-Satellite team Insider, comprised of the best prospects when playing in space. North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard checks in at No. 5. McShay writes, "He has super-quick feet, good initial burst and outstanding lateral agility. Bernard can stop and start on a dime, strings together multiple moves and is a slippery runner between the tackles."

Want more? Kiper also has updated his top 5 prospects by position Insider.
With half of the conference playing spring games this weekend, here’s a look at what to watch if you’re keeping an eye on the ACC as spring ball comes to a close:

CLEMSON

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • Quarterbacks of the future. You know Tajh Boyd is good. Expect Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly to take most of the snaps. Boyd played just four snaps in the last scrimmage. Let's see his backups.
  • The tight ends. Clemson tight ends Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford have been the first team All-ACC tight ends the past two years. Clemson tight ends have 118 receptions and 21 touchdowns the past two years, perhaps the most underrated area in Chad Morris’ offense. So who moves in there this year? Sam Cooper is the most experienced, but freshman Jordan Leggett has been impressive this spring.
  • How much better is the defense? All eyes will be on Brent Venables' group to see how much progress it has made this spring. If the D gets better, it could be a special season in Death Valley.
FLORIDA STATE

When: 2 p.m. Saturday, (ESPN3)

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. It's been one of the hottest topics this spring in the ACC and arguably the biggest position battle in the conference. Check out Clint Trickett, Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston as they all battle to replace starter EJ Manuel.
  • The defensive line. The competition is on to replace Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine. Mario Edwards Jr. is ready to jump in, along with Giorgio Newberry.
  • Don't forget the kicker. It's big at FSU. The Noles have to replace Dustin Hopkins, the ACC's all-time leading scorer and the NCAA's all-time kick scorer. It's your chance to see Roberto Aguayo, who was one of the nation's top kickers coming out of high school.
MARYLAND

When: 7 p.m. on Friday in Byrd Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The running backs. Both Brandon Ross and Albert Reid have had strong springs and will be competing for playing time come the fall.
  • The receivers. This group should be a strong point for the team this year, as Stefon Diggs, Deon Long and Nigel King are a talented trio.
  • New faces on defense. The Terps have to replace six starters on defense, including some of their best leaders in Joe Vellano and A.J. Francis.
DUKE

When: 4 p.m. ET on Saturday (ESPN3) in Wallace Wade Stadium

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Booooooone. Anthony Boone takes over at quarterback, and there have been rave reviews about him from within the program all spring. He's got a strong arm and is mobile.
  • New faces at safety. Some big names are gone, as Duke has to replace graduates Jordon Byas and Walt Canty, and Brandon Braxton, who moved back to receiver. Jeremy Cash, eligible now after transferring from Ohio State and sitting out last fall, headlines the group that includes sophomore Dwayne Norman (60 tackles in 2012 as true freshman) and redshirt freshman Corbin McCarthy.
  • Front and center: There is one hole to fill on the offensive line and Matt Skura takes over at center for Brian Moore.
MIAMI

When: 3 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium (ESPN3)

Gates open: 12:30 p.m.

Parking/admission: Free

What to watch:
  • Defensive improvement. Is there any? The Canes were one of the worst in the country last year, but they return every starter up front.
  • The No. 2 QB. Who is it? Gray Crow started the last scrimmage as the backup to Stephen Morris and completed 8 of 13 passes for 73 yards, with a touchdown and interception. Ryan Williams, who entered the spring as the expected No. 2, completed only six of his 12 passes with a touchdown and an interception. The coaches will be watching these guys closely on Saturday, so should you.
  • Running back Dallas Crawford. You know Duke Johnson. It's time to get to know this guy. Those within the program have said Crawford has had a great spring and could be a rising star this fall. He scored two touchdowns in a scrimmage in Naples earlier this month.
NORTH CAROLINA

When: 3 p.m. ET on Saturday at Kenan Stadium (ESPN3)

Admission: Free

Parking: $5/vehicle

What to watch:
  • Gio's replacement(s). A.J. Blue and Romar Morris have been working to ease the loss of leading rusher Giovani Bernard. Can they be as effective as he was, how much progress have they made and who will replace Bernard in the return game?
  • The O-line. Former guard Jonathan Cooper should be a first-round draft pick later this month, and it won't matter how good Blue and Morris are if they can't find anyone to help block for them. A total of three starters have to be replaced on the offensive line.
  • Replacing big names on D. Cooper and Bernard aren't the only big names that will be missing. The defense is going to miss tackle Sylvester Williams, who could be another first-round draft pick, and linebacker Kevin Reddick (85 tackles, 8.5 for loss). How does the D look without them?
PITTSBURGH

When: 7 p.m. ET on Friday at Bethel Park High School (ESPN3)

Gates open: 5:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Fifth-year senior Tom Savage has taken most of the reps with the first team, and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik appears to be the backup, but coach Paul Chryst has yet to name a starter.
  • The running backs. Earlier this month, it was announced that Rushel Shell has decided to transfer. Since then, the bulk of the carries have gone to junior Isaac Bennett, sophomore Malcolm Crockett and senior Desmond Brown. How they fare will go a long way in determining how Pitt fares in its first season in the ACC.
  • The offensive line. It's been problematic for the Panthers in each of the past two seasons, and Pitt now has to break in two new starters in Gabe Roberts and Adam Bisnowaty.
ESPN Insider Todd McShay recently released his latest mock draftInsider, and once again, it is looking like a strong first round for the ACC. If McShay is right, and seven former ACC players are chosen in the first round, it would be the most the conference has had drafted in the first round since 2008:

2008: 7
2009: 5
2010: 4
2011: 3
2012: 3 (No. 9 Luke Kuechly, BC; No. 16 Quinton Coples, UNC; No. 32 David Wilson, VT)

McShay's piece is Insider content, and he has analysis on each player, but here is a sneak peek at who he has going and when:
As far as ACC quarterbacks go, McShay says wait until Round 2. The only ACC players listed in his second-round mock draft are former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel and former NC State quarterback Mike Glennon.
You look at the Florida State roster, and you look at the Florida State coaching staff, and the automatic assumption is this could be a rebuilding year for the Noles.

Jimbo Fisher does not see it that way. Not one bit. As spring practice opens today, Fisher needs to find new starters at some key positions, including quarterback, defensive end and linebacker. But he sees players who have had valuable playing experience ready to step right into starting roles, not wet-behind-the-ears freshmen in over their heads.

To him, there is no dropoff between the talent on his 2012 ACC winning team, and the talent on his 2013 team.

[+] EnlargeClint Trickett
Mitch Stringer/USA TODAY SportsThere will be a competition for FSU"s starting quarterback, but Clint Trickett has more game experience than the others.
"I ask people this: Lawrence Dawsey is arguably one of the best receivers in Florida State history," Fisher said during his pre-spring news conference earlier this week. "How many years did he start here? He started one year. How about Odell (Haggins)? He was a linebacker that got moved. Nowadays he’d be, 'Oh, he wasn’t what we said he was, you moved him.'

"Just because you don’t start a game doesn’t mean you’re not starter material. Do you understand what I’m saying? We’re establishing ourselves as a program again and guys still played as much ball as anybody else."

Fisher gave a host of examples. Every starter on the defensive line is gone -- ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine, and tackles Anthony McCloud and Everett Dawkins. But the players expected to move into the starting lineup played extensively last season. Mario Edwards Jr. and Giorgio Newberry will start with the first-team at end; Timmy Jernigan, perhaps the best interior lineman last year, moves up to start at one tackle spot.

Vince Williams and Nick Moody are gone at linebacker. Into the middle steps Telvin Smith, who has extensive game experience and should have no problems moving up.

Then of course, there is the quarterback spot, a position that folks across the ACC will be paying attention to as the competition begins. Clint Trickett starts out No. 1 on the depth chart, and here again is where playing time has helped him. Trickett has played in 16 games with two starts behind EJ Manuel the last two seasons.

The other three players competing for the starting job -- Jacob Coker, Sean Maguire and Jameis Winston -- have either limited or no game experience. That does not take them out of the mix by any stretch. Fisher already said the position is wide open, and he has no timetable to make a decision. But having game experience is certainly not going to hurt him as the Noles try to find their leader on offense.

"From a talent standpoint, I think we’re still a very talented football team and we have guys with a lot of experience still playing," Fisher said. "We look at returning starters sometimes, it’s a very misleading factor about depth of a team and how much guys have played behind them. I’m excited about these young guys. Even though they’re new starters, they've still played like starters."

As for the coaching changes, six new assistants will be on the field this spring, including new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. But Fisher downplayed those changes as well, saying nothing would change about philosophy or with the schemes the Noles run.

"We're going to do things the Florida State way, the way we've been doing," Fisher said.

That means plugging new guys into the starting lineup and believing there will be few hiccups along the way.
Here is one trend to keep an eye on this spring in the ACC.

The potential rise of dual-threat quarterbacks.

Last season, four teams had true dual-threat signal-callers starting -- EJ Manuel at Florida State, Tajh Boyd at Clemson, Logan Thomas at Virginia Tech, and Tevin Washington at Georgia Tech. Depending on how some of the open quarterback competitions go, the ACC could see as many as nine dual-threat starters at the position.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesDual-threat quarterbacks like Clemson's Tajh Boyd are becoming the norm in the ACC.
We already know that Duke is trying to install some option principles with Anthony Boone taking over for pro-style Sean Renfree. Wake Forest has said it wants starter Tanner Price to run more out of designed plays. NC State coach Dave Doeren has succeeded the past two years at Northern Illinois with a dual-threat quarterback. Syracuse and Virginia also have dual-threat quarterbacks competing for the starting job.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe explained his decision to shift philosophy in an interview earlier this month with fellow blogger Heather Dinich.

Cutcliffe said of Boone, "He is the new era of quarterback. Anthony is going to change our run game a good bit. He can prolong plays better. Just watch football, I don’t care what level -- it’s not just the zone read. Ben Roethlisberger is not that kind of guy, but he prolongs plays really well for the Steelers through the years. That’s how a lot of big plays occur. That wasn’t Sean’s strength. It is Anthony’s. Anthony is always dangerous back there. I think that adds a little bit of life to your offense."

Here is a look at the type of quarterback each team has across the ACC.

Boston College: Pro-style with Chase Rettig. The Eagles are sure to feature a running quarterback in the future as coach Steve Addazio prefers dual threats to run his spread offense.

Clemson: Dual threat. Boyd is one of the best in the nation.

Duke: Dual threat with Boone. Changed from pro-style.

Florida State: Dual-threat Jameis Winston will compete for the starting job against pro-style QBs Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker.

Georgia Tech: Triple-option, with Vad Lee taking over.

Maryland: Pro-style, C.J. Brown.

Miami: Pro-style, Stephen Morris.

North Carolina: Pro-style Bryn Renner.

NC State: Dual-threat Manny Stocker competing against pro-style Pete Thomas. Dual-threat Jacoby Brissett also transferred from Florida but has to sit out a year.

Pittsburgh: The only school with an open competition featuring two pro-style quarterbacks: Tom Savage and Chad Voytik.

Syracuse: Pro-style Charley Loeb is competing with dual-threat quarterbacks John Kinder and Terrel Hunt.

Virginia: Pro-style Phillip Sims is competing with dual-threat David Watford and pro-style Greyson Lambert this spring.

Virginia Tech: Dual-threat with Thomas.

Wake Forest: Working toward making Price more dual threat.

ACC at the combine

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
11:12
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The poking, prodding, interviews and drills have wrapped up at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Now let's take a quick look at who stood out from the ACC during the all-important event.

  • The defensive backs were the last group to go, wrapping up Tuesday. And there were some pretty good performances. Miami cornerback Brandon McGee posted one of the fastest 40 times at the combine, running a 4.40 to rank him No. 13 among all participants. He also was a top performer in the bench press and 20-yard shuttle run. Those numbers will not do anything but help his draft stock.
  • [+] EnlargeDavid Amerson
    AP Photo/Dave MartinNC State cornerback David Amerson showed off his speed at the NFL combine, clocking a 4.44 in the 40-yard dash.
  • NC State cornerback David Amerson was out to prove himself at the combine after an up-and-down 2012 season. He definitely opened eyes with his performance, which NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock described as "excellent." Amerson ran a 4.44 in the 40 and was also a top performer in the vertical jump.
  • Those two guys were not the only fast defensive backs at the combine. Of the players with the top 15 times at the position, six have ACC ties. Rod Sweeting of Georgia Tech (4.42), Shamarko Thomas of Syracuse (4.42), Xavier Rhodes of Florida State (4.43) and Earl Wolff of NC State (4.44) were among the fastest.
  • Speaking of Rhodes, his vertical leap was incredibly impressive, at 40.5 inches to tie for first among all defensive backs and rank No. 3 overall. He also was a top performer in the broad jump, and certainly helped himself with his day. So did Thomas, one of the most underrated players in college football last year. Though Thomas made some headlines after he fell at the end of his 40, he had a huge day. He also leaped 40.5 inches and was a top performer in the 20-yard shuttle and broad jump.
  • The ACC had several top performers in the bench press as well. Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohanon tied for No. 4 overall with 36 reps and was also a top performer in the vertical jump and 60-yard shuttle. Also in the top 15 overall for bench: North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper (35), NC State guard Zach Allen (32) and Virginia Tech offensive tackle Vinston Painter (32). Speaking of Cooper, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said the lineman "had one of the more impressive workouts."
  • Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel had a nice combine himself, though he was inconsistent with his throws. Manuel was a top performer in the broad jump, ranking No. 3 among all quarterbacks after jumping 9 feet, 10 inches. He also was a top performer in the 40 (4.65), vertical jump (34), 3-cone drill (7.08) and 20-yard shuttle (4.21) to rank among the top 5 in each category.
  • The folks at Scouts Inc. had this to say about Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins, a top performer at his position in the bench press and vertical jump (36): "His 4.57 in the 40 is about what we expected. His game is more about being physical, though, and Hopkins showed good ball skills. He is was one of the most natural pass-catchers on the field, with good focus in the gauntlet drill and the ability to extend fully for balls." He's got a second-round grade.
  • Virginia Tech receiver Marcus Davis put up some good numbers as well, topping his position with a vertical jump of 39.5 inches, while also posting good numbers in the 40 (4.56) and bench press (19 reps). It's never been about physical talent for Davis, so the numbers aren't much of a surprise. He has to put it all together on the field.
  • Now for running back: North Carolina's Giovani Bernard was a top performer in various categories. He ran a 4.53 in the 40; and was a top performer in the 20-yard shuttle and 60-yard shuttle. Miami running back Mike James also put up some good numbers.

ACC's spring position battles

February, 21, 2013
2/21/13
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There are going to be position battles this spring at every school in the ACC, but some will be in the spotlight more than others. If you’re just tuning in to ACC football, here are some of the biggest competitions in the conference this spring:

OFFENSE

1. Florida State quarterback: This is arguably the most intriguing competition in the entire conference, as the Seminoles have to replace veteran EJ Manuel. Clint Trickett enters the spring at the top of the depth chart, but consider this job open. Sophomore Jacob Coker is the total package, but redshirt freshman Jameis Winston was the nation’s No. 1 quarterback and could be the answer, too.

2. North Carolina running back: The Tar Heels have to find a way to replace leading rusher Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL draft. Not only will his loss be felt in the running game, but probably even moreso in the return game, as Bernard was one of the nation’s top punt returners. UNC returns A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, who combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

3. Syracuse quarterback: The Orange enter the ACC with a new coach and in need of a new quarterback. Record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib is gone, leaving behind a wide-open competition. Backup Charley Loeb, junior John Kinder, and dual-threat Terrel Hunt are the top candidates. Ashton Broyld, who moved to running back in 2012, could be in the mix as well.

DEFENSE

1. Florida State defensive ends: The cream of the crop is gone, as Tank Carradine, Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins all have to be replaced. Enter Mario Edwards Jr., who has a leg-up on the competition because he played in 11 games as a true freshman, and started the final two games of the year in place of the injured Carradine. Don’t forget about Giorgio Newberry, though, and Chris Casher, who is now healthy after a knee injury. Casher will start spring ball on the two-deep depth chart. Dan Hicks, who was Jenkins’ backup two years ago, had a knee injury and missed all of last season. He had moved to tight end, but was in the rotation at defensive end earlier in his career and could come back.

2. NC State secondary: This group will have an entirely new look this spring, as three starters have to be replaced, including Earl Wolff, Brandan Bishop and David Amerson, the school’s career interception leader. Cornerback Dontae Johnson returns, along with Juston Burris, who played in the nickel package. There are also several redshirts and younger players who will compete.

3. Virginia Tech cornerback: Virginia Tech’s defensive backfield lost its star last month when cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. Several young players will compete for his reps this spring, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller will join the team in the summer.

EJ Manuel stars in Senior Bowl

January, 28, 2013
1/28/13
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What a great finish for former Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel's collegiate career.

Less than a month after helping lead his team to a Discover Orange Bowl win against Northern Illinois, Manuel was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Senior Bowl. Manuel passed for a touchdown and rushed for another on the South's first two drives in a 21-16 victory over the North on Saturday. He completed 7-of-10 passes for 76 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He also had four carries for 10 yards and a touchdown.

Former Miami running back Mike James, a late addition to the roster, also made an impact in the game, scoring a touchdown on a five-yard run with 2:41 left in the game. He also had three catches for 11 yards, and six carries for 10 yards. Former Duke receiver Conner Vernon led the South team with four receptions, and finished with 36 yards.

Defensively, former FSU linebacker Vince Williams had a big day, picking up where he left off in the Senior Bowl practices Insider. Williams was second on the South team with six tackles (four solo). Teammate Everett Dawkins had four tackles and was credited with .5 sack.

A few other stats of note:
  • Former Wake Forest fullback Tommy Bohanon had two catches for six yards.
  • For the North team, former NC State quarterback Mike Glennon completed 8-of-16 passes for 82 yards.
  • Former FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins had his lone field goal, a 52-yard attempt in the second quarter, blocked.
  • Hopkins' four kickoffs averaged 63.2 yards and he had two touchbacks.
  • Former UNC defensive tackle Sylvester Williams had two tackles.
  • Former UNC linebacker Kevin Reddick had two tackles.
The ACC’s crop of 2013 quarterbacks will be an interesting blend of old and new. Veterans Logan Thomas and Tajh Boyd both decided to return for their senior seasons instead of leaving early for the NFL draft, but several big names -- like EJ Manuel and Mike Glennon -- will be missing. Here’s a quick rundown of the position heading into the 2013 season:

IN GREAT SHAPE

CLEMSON: Boyd returns. The record-setter should be a Heisman candidate, considering he led the ACC in passing efficiency, was second in passing average/game, and threw for 36 touchdowns with just 13 interceptions.

MIAMI: Stephen Morris returns. Morris should be one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, and he might have the best offensive line in the conference to work with. Last season, Morris started all 12 games and threw for a career-best 3,345 yards and 21 touchdowns, completing 58.2 percent of passes. He set the school single-season total offense record with 3,415 yards.

NORTH CAROLINA: Bryn Renner returns. He was No. 3 in the ACC last season in passing average per game (279.7), and he was No. 3 in passing efficiency. He finished with 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

VIRGINIA TECH: Thomas returns. This was a huge boost to the Hokies’ offense. Thomas has started the past 27 games for the Hokies, passing for 6,096 yards and 37 touchdowns, and running for 1,015 yards and 20 scores.

WAKE FOREST: Tanner Price returns. He threw for 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions last season, and he’ll be helped by the fact that standout receiver Michael Campanaro returns. Price completed 55.6 percent of his passes for 2,300 yards.

IN GOOD SHAPE

VIRGINIA: Phillip Sims returns, but Michael Rocco transferred. Sims is the most likely starter, but how much playing time will David Watford see? While sharing time with Rocco last season, Sims finished with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 1,263 yards.

MARYLAND: C.J. Brown, who tore his ACL before the start of the 2012 season, is the most likely starter. This position can only get better for Maryland in 2013, as the Terps were down to their fifth-string quarterback last season. He started five games in 2011, but this would be his first full season as starter.

BOSTON COLLEGE: Senior Chase Rettig returns. He started all 12 games last season, completed 54.2 percent of his passes, threw for 3,065 yards, 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The reason BC isn’t in the “great shape” category is because Rettig will have his 103rd offensive coordinator. The good news is that Ryan Day is a former BC offensive assistant, so it’s not like they just met.

DUKE: Veteran Sean Renfree has to be replaced. Anthony Boone isn't a rookie, but this will be his first season as a full-time starter. Boone has had the strongest arm of any of the quarterbacks on the roster, including Renfree. Boone played in 11 games in 2012, completed 51.6 percent of his passes (49 of 95) for 531 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for 82 yards and two touchdowns.

COMPETITION IS ON

FLORIDA STATE: Manuel must be replaced. Clint Trickett is the leading candidate heading into the spring, and he has the edge in experience, but he will compete with Jacob Coker and Jameis Winston. Trickett started two games in 2011, filling in for the injured Manuel, but this past season he only threw the ball 34 times. Coker played in four games and threw it five times.

GEORGIA TECH: Tevin Washington must be replaced. Vad Lee is the front-runner heading into the spring, but Justin Thomas will give him plenty of competition. Lee didn’t start any games in 2012, but he got plenty of meaningful snaps and ran for 544 yards and nine touchdowns, and threw for 596 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.

NC STATE: Glennon must be replaced. This position is a huge question mark for the Pack, especially considering the program has gone through a staff change, with Dave Doeren taking over. Manny Stocker and Pete Thomas are the front-runners heading into spring ball. Stocker threw the ball just twice in 2012 as a true freshman, and Thomas has two years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2012 season per NCAA rules because he transferred from Colorado State.

PITT: Panthers fans rejoined when the final seconds ticked off the clock in the BBVA Compass Bowl because they won't have to watch Tino Sunseri play another down. Sunseri did start for three seasons, but this program is looking for a major upgrade at the position. Competition in the spring should focus on transfer Tom Savage, a former Freshman All-American, and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik, a four-star recruit from the class of 2012.

SYRACUSE: The Orange have to replace record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib, who just had the best single-season passing year in school history. They thought they had an incoming stud in Zach Allen, but the Texas recruit de-committed after coach Doug Marrone left for Buffalo, and Allen pledged to TCU. That leaves the job wide open in the spring between backup Charley Loeb, junior John Kinder, and dual-threat Terrel Hunt. Ashton Broyld, who moved to running back in 2012, could be in the mix as well.

Five bold predictions for 2013

January, 15, 2013
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I have all the answers, but you knew that already. It’s why you’re here.

Here they are -- your five bold predictions for 2013.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsTajh Boyd and Clemson ended 2012 with a win over SEC foe LSU. Can the Tigers open 2013 by beating another SEC power?
1. Clemson will win the ACC title; Miami will win the Coastal Division. The Tigers return the ACC’s best quarterback in Tajh Boyd, four starters on the offensive line, and the defense should be much better in the second season under coordinator Brent Venables. Miami might have the best offensive line in the ACC, and it will have one of the best quarterbacks in Stephen Morris. The Canes have to improve dramatically on defense, though, in order for this to come to fruition.

2. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd will be a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. While he didn’t make it to New York this past season, he was certainly good enough. Boyd’s performance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win against LSU should make him a legitimate contender heading into 2013. It’s not going to be easy because Clemson opens with Georgia, closes with South Carolina and plays FSU in between. But if the Tigers can go undefeated or finish with only one loss, Boyd should be in New York.

3. Jameis Winston will be Florida State’s new starting quarterback. The competition is on, and Clint Trickett enters the spring as the leading candidate to replace starter EJ Manuel. Trickett will be pushed, though, by Jacob Coker and Winston. Winston, who was regarded by many as the nation’s top quarterback prospect in 2012, also was a standout baseball player. He gets the nod from ESPN.com as the Noles’ starter in 2013.

4. Virginia Tech will have the best defense in the ACC. Move over, Noles, it’s the Hokies’ time to shine again. Virginia Tech returns nine starters to a defense that improved significantly in the second half of the season. While the Noles have to replace three of their top defensive ends in Brandon Jenkins, Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner, Virginia Tech returns James Gayle at end, and standout corner Antone Exum. Bud Foster’s group “is back.”

5. Wake Forest will go bowling, Duke will not. Tanner Price returns, Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon do not. That’s not to say that the Blue Devils don’t have enough pieces in place to continue the momentum from 2012, but they’ve got big shoes to fill. Meanwhile, Wake Forest returns standout receiver Michael Campanaro, who should be one of the best in the ACC if he stays healthy.

ACC's best moments of 2012

January, 14, 2013
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It was a rough year for the ACC, but in retrospect, there were too many highlights to narrow it down to 10. From Blair Holliday’s return, to the ACC’s impressive performances during bowl season, to individual performances and games, the conference had plenty of memorable moments in 2012.

The following is a list of 10 moments and memories that best captured the 2012 ACC season, according to ESPN.com. ACC fans are bound to have more, and we’d love to hear them. What did we miss? Feel free to drop us a note in the mailbag, and we’ll highlight the best nominations in a separate mailblog. Until then, here are your top 10 moments from 2012, starting with the best:

1. Chandler Catanzaro's game-winning field goal versus LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl: It was the ACC’s biggest win of the season, and the highest-ranked team Clemson has beaten in a bowl game since the 2004 (2003 season) Chick-fil-A Bowl, when the Tigers defeated sixth-ranked Tennessee 27-14. Catanzaro’s 37-yard field goal as time expired gave No. 14 Clemson a wild 25-24 win against No. 8 LSU, and it was the highest-ranked SEC team an ACC team has beaten in the past nine years.

2. Duke becomes bowl eligible for the first time since 1994: Sean Renfree's 5-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder on fourth down with 13 seconds left lifted Duke past North Carolina 33-30 and made the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Renfree converted three third-and-longs during the game-winning, 87-yard drive.

[+] EnlargeGiovani Bernard
Bob Donnan/US PresswireGiovani Bernard's 74-yard game-winning punt return to lift UNC past rival NCSU was a play to remember.
3. Giovani Bernard versus NC State: Bernard returned a punt 74 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left, helping North Carolina stun rival NC State 43-35 to end a five-year losing streak in the series. That day, Bernard also ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and had eight catches for 95 yards.

4. Karlos Williams' tip and interception in the ACC title game: In what turned out to be the final game for FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, FSU's D came up big against Georgia Tech, and no play was bigger than Williams'. The game wasn't decided until Williams intercepted Tevin Washington with less than a minute remaining. It was FSU's first ACC title since 2005.

5. The ACC posting its first winning bowl record since 2005: With marquee wins over LSU and USC and a victory in the Discover Orange Bowl, the ACC finally came out on the right end of bowl season, and will enter 2013 will some much-needed positive momentum. The Noles took another step toward national relevance with a 31-10 win against No. 15 Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl -- their first BCS bowl win since they beat Virginia Tech in 2000.

6. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel’s performance versus Clemson: It was Manuel’s one true Heisman moment of the season, as he completed 27 of 35 passes for a career-high 380 yards while rushing for another 102 to become the first Seminoles quarterback since Charlie Ward in 1992 to pass for more than 300 yards and run for more than 100 in a game.

7. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd accounts for eight touchdowns: The ACC Player of the Year set school and ACC records when he scored five passing and three rushing touchdowns in a 62-48 win over NC State. The Tigers gained 754 yards and ran 102 plays, the most in school history. Boyd was responsible for every Clemson touchdown. Boyd was 30-for-44 for 426 yards and ran for 105 yards -- the combined 531 yards set another school record.

8. Johnson leads Canes to Coastal title: In the regular-season finale against Duke, Miami freshman Duke Johnson rushed for season highs of 176 yards and three touchdowns. He scored on runs of 18, 6 and 65 yards. He finished his freshman year with 947 yards rushing, easily surpassing Clinton Portis' 13-year-old school freshman rushing record of 838 yards.

9. NC State’s game-winning TD in its upset of No. 3-ranked FSU. This isn’t a “best moment” for FSU fans, but it was by far one of the most memorable plays in the ACC and a highlight for the Wolfpack. Quarterback Mike Glennon found Bryan Underwood for a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 16 seconds left, helping the Wolfpack beat the Seminoles 17-16 on Oct. 6.

10. Duke receiver Conner Vernon rewrites the record books: In a 42-17 win against Virginia, Vernon surpassed Clemson's Aaron Kelly as the ACC's all-time leader in career receptions when he made a catch for minus-2 yards in the first quarter. In the 42-24 loss to Georgia Tech, Vernon became the ACC's all-time leader in yards receiving, passing former Florida State star Peter Warrick's record of 3,517 yards.

TOP 3 OFF-FIELD MOMENTS

[+] EnlargeBlair Holliday
Courtesy of Duke Sports InformationBlair Holliday (No. 8) walks with his Duke teammates in his return to the field following a terrible jet ski accident that sidelined the wide receiver.
So as not to trivialize these moments by tossing them in with touchdowns, here are three more memories you won't want to forget:

1. Blair Holliday joins his Duke captains for the coin toss against NC Central: It was a miraculous recovery, and the most inspirational story in the conference. Holliday, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a jet ski accident on July 4 that left him in critical condition, led the team on the Devil Walk in what was an emotional comeback for the entire team.

2. Clemson receiver Daniel Rodriguez leads the Tigers on Military Appreciation Day: The Army veteran led the team down the hill carrying the American flag prior to the Virginia Tech game on Military Appreciation Day at Clemson on Oct. 20.

3. The ACC adds Louisville: The ACC's presidents and chancellors voted to add Louisville to replace Maryland, a move that looked better and better as the Cardinals' football season ended with a win against Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. ACC officials conceded the move was an athletics-first, academics-second decision, but it was one the conference should eventually benefit from.
Brace yourselves.

This is not the ACC power rankings you are used to. It is bigger. Let’s hope it’s not badder. The first version of the 2013 ACC power rankings reflects the addition of Pittsburgh Panthers and Syracuse Orange. There are 14 teams here (and Boston College is still last). Welcome to the league, Pitt and Cuse.

There are still plenty of questions for several teams that have players still undecided about their NFL careers, but this is your first take on a ranking likely to change many times between now and the opening kickoff. Lots can happen (and does) during signing day, spring ball and summer camp, but here is how Andrea Adelson and I think the ACC will shape up this fall based on what we know now:

1. Clemson -- With quarterback Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris working together again, the Tigers would have the best coordinator/quarterback combo returning in the ACC. The defense should take another step forward in the second season under coordinator Brent Venables, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over LSU was a monumental springboard for the program heading into the offseason.

2. Florida State -- The Seminoles will be going through a transition, as coach Jimbo Fisher has to replace at least five assistants on his staff, as well as starting quarterback EJ Manuel. With several players, including defensive end Bjoern Werner, leaving early for the NFL draft, the Noles will have to reload.

3. Miami -- The Hurricanes hoped their self-imposed bowl ban was a preemptive strike against NCAA sanctions. With quarterback Stephen Morris returning, along with ACC Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson and what could be one of the best offensive lines in the ACC, expectations should be much higher for the Canes in Year 3 under Al Golden.

4. Georgia Tech -- The Yellow Jackets will have some momentum and confidence to build on after their bowl win over USC, but more importantly, they’ve got an experienced, talented roster to work with. Georgia Tech will have eight starters back on a defense that made measurable progress in the second half of the season.

5. UNC -- Coach Larry Fedora is going to have to work some magic in trying to replace leading rusher/returner Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL, and his lead blocker, Jonathan Cooper. Quarterback Bryn Renner will be a senior, though, and the Tar Heels have other talented running backs waiting in the wings.

6. Pitt -- The moment every Pitt fan has been waiting for -- Tino Sunseri will no longer be the starting quarterback in 2013. Does that mean the position gets an automatic upgrade? Promising running back Rushel Shell returns, and Pitt's defense should be much better, but questions remain on the offensive line.

7. Virginia Tech -- The school has yet to announce any staff changes, quarterback Logan Thomas has yet to announce whether or not he is returning for his senior season, and the Hokies open the schedule against national champion Alabama. Doesn’t look good.

8. Syracuse -- Major questions surround the Orange now that coach Doug Marrone has left for the Buffalo Bills. This is a team that already had to replace starting quarterback Ryan Nassib, all-Big East tackle Justin Pugh, record-setting receiver Alec Lemon and leading tackler Shamarko Thomas. But Syracuse does have 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning, along with linebackers Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis. Many questions must be answered before 2013 begins.

9. Maryland -- It can only get better, right? Maryland was down to its fifth-string quarterback last year, linebacker Shawn Petty. Starter C.J. Brown should be ready to return to the starting lineup this summer and healed from a torn ACL. The defense has some big shoes to fill, but the Terps should have enough experience to be bowl bound in their final season in the ACC.

10. Wake Forest -- The Deacs were thrown off track last season by injuries and suspensions and should be a better team this year. Quarterback Tanner Price returns for his senior season, along with receiver Michael Campanaro, who should be one of the best in the ACC if he can stay healthy.

11. Duke -- The Blue Devils have to replace quarterback Sean Renfree and his top target, ACC record-setting receiver, Conner Vernon. Duke went to its first bowl game since 1994, but the program still has something to prove after losing its last five games of the season. The Coastal Division should collectively be stronger this year.

12. Virginia -- Phillip Sims will take over at quarterback after the transfer of Michael Rocco, but how much time will David Watford see under center? The hires of Tom O’Brien and Jon Tenuta were smart moves, but the staff will have to find a way to extract more out of many of the same players who struggled last year.

13. NC State -- Quarterback Mike Glennon is out, and first-year coach Dave Doeren is in. The Wolfpack will have an entirely different look this fall, and some bumps in the road should be expected as the program begins a new era under Doeren.

14. Boston College -- The Eagles have lots of work to do under first-year coach Steve Addazio. It all starts with recruiting, but the staff is also going to have to find a way to improve the running game and get the defense back to its stingy ways.

Instant analysis: FSU 31, NIU 10

January, 2, 2013
1/02/13
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It wasn't exactly the easy win so many predicted, but Florida State's size and speed advantage helped the Seminoles outlast upstart Northern Illinois 31-10 to win their first Orange Bowl since 1996.

Record-setting NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch found no room to work, and Florida State's dominant defense showed few flaws in its first game without departed coordinator Mark Stoops, while EJ Manuel accounted for 321 yards of offense and two touchdowns to lead the Seminoles.

It was over when: Xavier Rhodes forced a fumble from Da'Ron Brown on a second-down run with 11:15 left to play in the game. Northern Illinois had just converted a fourth-and-1 and was driving in hopes of cutting FSU's lead to seven, but the fumble was the dagger that ended any hopes of an upset. The play was reviewed, but officials ruled the ball was coming out of Brown's grip before his knee hit the ground, and the Seminoles quickly capitalized on the turnover with a Lonnie Pryor touchdown.

Game ball goes to: Pryor. The senior fullback has toiled in the shadows for four years at Florida State, earning immense respect within the locker room but relatively little fanfare outside it. Tuesday's game was different. While the rest of the FSU running game struggled, Pryor was brilliant. He opened the scoring with a 60-yard touchdown run -- the longest of his career -- and put the icing on the cake with his 37-yard touchdown after NIU's fourth-quarter fumble.

Turning point: There were plenty, but NIU's two turnovers were killer. The fumble by Brown was the last straw, but a third-quarter interception by Terrence Brooks squelched another promising Huskies drive. Brooks picked off Lynch at the FSU 13-yard line to protect a slim seven-point lead.

Stat of the game: Lynch entered the game as one of the most dynamic offensive players in college football, but he found out yards are far tougher to come by against Florida State. Coming into the game, Lynch had racked up 1,771 rushing yards -- fourth most in the nation -- and was averaging 6.5 yards per carry. But Christian Jones, Telvin Smith, Vince Williams and the FSU linebacking corps was exceptional, hitting him repeatedly and giving him nowhere to run. Lynch had bragged earlier in the week that NIU planned to wear FSU down late, but the opposite was true, and the junior quarterback finished with just 44 yards rushing on 23 carries, while completing just 36 percent of his throws.

Unsung hero: It's tough to call Manuel an unsung hero, but in a season in which he's earned just as much criticism as praise -- and maybe more -- he wrapped up a five-year career at Florida State with a solid performance. Manuel completed 27 of 39 passes for 296 yards through the air and added another 26 rushing with a touchdown. He missed a few passes -- something his critics will be happy to note -- but he connected on far more. When the FSU offense needed him, he made the throws he had to make. Manuel never lived up to his immense promise at FSU, but he was surely a very good quarterback, and he ends his career as an Orange Bowl champion and winner of four straight bowl games.

What it means: Northern Illinois shrugged off the legions of doubters and proved an unexpectedly competitive opponent, but in the end, Lynch and the Huskies simply didn't have enough to make a late charge. For Florida State, it was yet another inconsistent performance in a season that has been filled with them. But it was also the school's first BCS win in 12 years, and it marked just the second time in program history that FSU has won 12 games in a season.

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