College Football Nation: John Shoop
But when Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith sat down to discuss staff pay, Smith soon realized he needed to do more.
"I think Michigan had stepped up with their coordinators," Smith recalled last week during Big Ten spring meetings in Chicago. "So we were already going to that before Urban Meyer came, but we bumped it up a little more. Any time there's change, you have that opportunity."
Lon Horwedel/Icon SMIMichigan DC Greg Mattison ranks as the highest-paid assistant coach in the Big Ten for the 2013 season.
The Big Ten is part of the change, too, as the league is allocating more money toward football assistants than ever before. The Detroit Free Press has an excellent look at Big Ten assistants' salaries, complete with a database that includes 10 of the 12 current members (Northwestern doesn't submit salaries as a private institution, and Penn State doesn't have to because of state laws).
The Free Press found that eight of the 10 schools are paying more for assistants in 2013 than they did in 2012 (only Indiana and Illinois are not). There are some significant total increases, such as Wisconsin (up $558,000), Nebraska (up $518,500), Purdue ($400,000) and Minnesota ($355,000). Staff pay had been an issue at Wisconsin, which lost six assistant coaches following the 2012 Rose Bowl, and at Purdue, which paid less for its staff during the Danny Hope era than any Big Ten school.
The total trend among the 10 schools is an increase of $1,720,852.24 for 2013.
Ohio State and Michigan remain No. 1 and No. 2 in Big Ten staff salary, as the Buckeyes allocate $3.416 million and the Wolverines allocate $2.805 million. Nebraska and Wisconsin make the biggest moves in the league for 2013, as the Huskers rise from sixth to third and the Badgers rise from seventh to fourth.
Illinois, which replaced five assistants from the 2012 team, including co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales, dropped from third in staff pay ($2.314 million) to eighth ($2.065 million).
The database shows that nearly every Big Ten assistant with "coordinator" in his title -- whether he's the sole coordinator or a co-coordinator -- will earn north of $300,000 for 2013. Only 18 assistants listed will make less than $200,000 in 2013 -- 15 work for Minnesota, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana.
- Although Wisconsin paid former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst good coin, the school has increased its commitment for Gary Andersen's staff, not only with the coordinators but with some coveted position coaches like running backs coach Thomas Hammock ($300,000).
- All of Nebraska's assistants are earning $200,000 or more for 2013, but there's a huge drop-off between Beck and the next highest-paid assistant (defensive coordinator John Papuchis at $310,000).
- Michigan State has a similar drop off between Narduzzi and co-offensive coordinators Dave Warner ($270,000) and Jim Bollman ($260,000). Warner will be the primary offensive play-caller and has been on Mark Dantonio's staff since 2006, while Bollman is a newcomer.
- Although Michigan is paying top dollar for its coordinators, the school gets its assistants for a relative bargain. Receivers coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hecklinski will earn $225,000 in 2013, while the others all will earn $205,000. Ohio State, meanwhile, pays all but one of its assistants $286,000 or more.
- The Big Ten's three lowest-paid assistants all are in their first years: Illinois wide receivers coach Mike Bellamy ($125,000) and Purdue linebackers coach Marcus Freeman and running backs coach Jafar Williams (both at $120,000).
- Although schools like Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa ($325,000) pay their coordinators the exact same amount, others have slight differences in salary. Purdue's Shoop makes $5,000 more than defensive coordinator Greg Hudson. Minnesota defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys ($340,000) makes $5,000 more than offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover. Wonder if that leads to any underlying jealousy?
- Most Big Ten schools have assistant salaries in round numbers, but there are some interesting totals from Indiana, which pays co-offensive coordinators Seth Littrell and Kevin Johns $255,500.04 and new recruiting coordinator/assistant defensive line coach James Patton $173,740.08. Never know when that change can come in handy.
The Big Ten still lacks some of the OMG totals seen in the SEC -- LSU is paying new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron $3.4 million in the next three years -- but the overall trend puts the league more on par with what we're seeing nationally.
It's your move, Dri Archer. Akeem Hunt is waiting.
Hunt, Purdue's senior running back and return man extraordinaire, watched and admired Archer from a distance last season as the Kent State dynamo earned consensus All-America honors as an all-purpose player in 2012. The 5-foot-8 Archer led the nation in kick return average (36.9 ypr), led Kent State in both rushing and receiving yards, set the single-season team touchdowns record (23) and finshed fifth nationally in all-purpose yards (184.1 ypg).
"He's very explosive," Hunt told ESPN.com. "When he gets the ball, he can make one cut and just be out."
The same can be said of Hunt, who averaged eight yards per rush, 15.7 yards per reception and 22.2 yards per kick return, including a 100-yard scoring return against Ohio State, for the Boilers in 2012. Hunt recorded four scoring plays of 50 yards or longer last fall.
When Darrell Hazell, who coached Archer at Kent State last season, took the same post at Purdue, the drumbeat soon began for a showdown between two of the Midwest's fastest college football players.
"[Purdue's coaches] always say they would like to see us race," Hunt said.
As for Hunt?
"I would do it," he said, smiling. "I'd race him."
Perhaps Hunt-Archer I becomes a reality sometime this summer, but until then, Hunt will continue working toward the role Archer had for Kent State in 2012 -- a speed threat, but so much more. Hunt set out this spring to show Hazell and the new staff that he could be an every-down back after playing behind Akeem Shavers last season, and Shavers and Ralph Bolden in 2011.
He undoubtedly strengthened his case during the 15 spring practices, taking the lion's share of the reps with the first-team offense. Purdue had only three running backs in the fold this spring, but Hunt separated himself and capped the session with 134 rush yards and a touchdown on 19 carries in the spring game.
"I have a lot of confidence in him," Hazell said after the scrimmage. "I think he’s a marquee guy in this league because he does have some balance. He has some inline quickness and he has some top-end speed to take it the distance. And he is showing some toughness. ... The key for him is to get stronger in the offseason and continue to learn the game.
"But where he is right now, I think he's going to be pretty special if he keeps working at it."
Hunt is working hard to mold himself into a complete Big Ten running back. He added five pounds during the winter and checks in at 190, not massive by any chance but a bit sturdier than he was as a junior.
"I feel like I can run through tackles now," he said. "[The coaches] get onto me about that every day, that if I'm going to be that No. 1 guy, I can't get broken down by just one person. I have to be broken down by a group of people. ... I feel like I can run between the tackles now instead of just doing sweeps. I feel like I can run power and zone much better."
There’s no doubt Hunt will continue to play a big role for Purdue on special teams, an area Hazell stressed throughout his first spring in West Lafayette. But Hunt has bigger goals for his senior season. Running back David Yancey enrolled early at Purdue and went through spring ball, and three more backs -- Keith Byars II, Keyante Green and Dalyn Dawkins -- arrive this summer. It’s clear, though, that Hunt is the man to beat.
Hunt tried to go full speed on every drill this spring, particularly in pass-blocking, a potential area of concern because of his size. After full days of football, he spent 20 minutes every night studying and reviewing the playbook.
“In his ideal world,” Hazell said, “he’d like to carry it 25 times a game.”
New offensive coordinator John Shoop will have the backs line up in the slot and even out wide in addition to the backfield. The primary goal, Hunt says, is to “get us in open space to make plays."
"Akeem is a super fast guy," Shoop told ESPN.com. "He shows electricity."
Few Big Ten players are as dangerous in space as Hunt, who has been clocked at 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash and aims to eclipse that time this summer. Hunt comes from a family of runners: his parents, siblings and grandmother all competed in track at the middle school and high school levels. His mother, Sophia Lewis, ran track at Southwestern Christian College in Texas.
Akeem competed in the 100- and 200-meter dash for Newton High School in Covington, Ga., and also did the long jump and triple jump. He grew up playing baseball and only started football after moving to Covington.
Hunt knew he'd have enough speed to succeed at the college level, but developing game speed proved to be a challenge.
"Game speed is very different from just being fast," he said. "You have to know the plays. Instead of thinking, you just have to react and play."
Hunt is soft-spoken and polite -- he begins many answers with "Yes, sir" or "No, sir" -- but he's honest and confident about his speed.
"Can anyone catch me in the open field? No, I don’t think so," he said with a smile.
Hunt, by his own admission, is Purdue's fastest player. Wide receivers Raheem Mostert and B.J. Knauf come close, and cornerbacks Ricardo Allen and Frankie Williams like challenging him.
"He's so competitive, it makes no sense," Hunt said of Allen. "Frankie Williams is competitive, too. Me and Frankie, we raced last year, and it wasn't fair to him."
Hunt needs a challenge. Dri Archer, we're waiting.
"Basically, it all starts with your quarterback, and then you do what your quarterback is best at," Shoop told ESPN.com. "We're trying to figure out who that is going to be."
Indeed, Purdue has one of the most interesting quarterback battles in the Big Ten this spring, as Shoop and first-year head coach Darrell Hazell have to choose from four candidates. Only one, Rob Henry, has any game experience, and he spent most of last year playing positions other than quarterback. The other three -- Austin Appleby, Bilal Marshall and Danny Etling -- are all freshmen; Appleby and Marshall redshirted a year ago, while Ettling enrolled in January.
Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY SportsRob Henry, the only Boilermakers quarterback with any collegiate experience, played sparingly last season, making just 38 pass attempts.
"It's a very even, wide-open race, and the best guy is going to emerge," Appleby said. "We're all competing our tails off right now."
The situation presents a challenge, but Shoop -- who was out of football last year after previously leading the offense at North Carolina from 2007-2011 -- is excited about the possibilities. Each quarterback brings a little something different to the table.
Henry is athletic enough that he's played receiver and tailback at times, while Marshall is also a speedster, if a little thin. Shoop says Etling is unusually poised for a true freshman, while the 6-foot-5 Appleby has the look of a prototypical pocket passer.
"I think I have the ability to make every throw on the field," Appleby said. "And I would say my best attribute would be my brain. My preparation, being cerebral, understanding what's going on and getting my guys lined up. I'm not the fastest guy, but I make up for it with my decision-making and efficiency."
Those are traits that Shoop is looking for in all four of his quarterbacks. He has continually stressed accuracy since coming to West Lafayette.
"Our quarterback has got to be smart and unbelievably accurate," Shoop said. "If he lives the completion-driven life, then I think we've got a shot. He has to have a knack for throwing completions."
That attitude has filtered down into the contenders.
"We have the expectation in our quarterback group that the ball should never hit the ground," Appleby said.
Both Shoop's offense at North Carolina and Hazell's attack at Kent State last season were known for strong rushing games. Shoop said Purdue fans can expect a physical team that will be able to run the ball and set up the play-action passes. He likes what he's seen from Akeem Hunt, who has sprinter's speed and is a guy who "if you give it to him in space, he can turn something little into something big." He thinks redshirt freshman Robert Gregory can complement Hunt as a power back. There is also plenty of competition at receiver.
But the pieces won't really click together until Purdue settles on its starting quarterback. Shoop said he'd like to have a starter in mind by the end of spring but won't lock himself into any timetable.
"I believe this with all my heart: players make decisions on who's going to play," he said.
That decision should define what the Boilers' offense looks like in 2013.
The new Boiler boss checked in with ESPN.com earlier this week.
What have been some of the big themes of your offseason, and what would you like to see when the guys get out there in practice?
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsNew Purdue coach Darrell Hazell has emphasized being a smart football team, ball security and toughness early on.
How has the toughness element been so far? It seems like it was a big part of the winter program.
DH: I thought the first couple days, their eyes were wide open. But I think they're starting to settle in a little bit and understand what we're demanding out of them and why it is so tough on them right now. Because they're going to be in a lot of close football games, and you can't allow that to ever leave you.
I know you guys are wearing the "5%" T-shirts in workouts. What's the story behind those?
DH: That was the goal and the emphasis for the 6 a.m. workouts. Five percent better in the last rep, five percent better than the last day, five percent tougher. My coaches are willing to demand five more percent than what they were giving the previous rep. It's all about improvement, and that's probably the biggest point to try and get across. If we're getting five percent better on each rep, on each day, we're going to continually get better.
What are the big keys for the players to understand what you want to do schematically this spring?
DH: There's definitely a learning curve. You're talking about different languages, and you're talking about different schemes. It's going to take them a couple, three weeks to really understand exactly. A lot of times, they'll know where to line up, but what is your actual assignment when you line up there? Those things are sometimes taken for granted, but those things are very important.
Offensively, what are some of the things you and Coach [John] Shoop want to stress this spring, especially with the quarterback?
DH: We're trying to figure out who our guy is going to be. A couple criteria, one obviously is you've got to take care of the football. Two, are you confident enough to stand in there and make those hard throws in those tough situations, and three, can you get us into the right play? Don't have us run a bad football play. Can you get us into the right situations that helps the team get a couple yards?
According to reports, Purdue has hired John Shoop as its new offensive coordinator.
FootballScoop.com first reported Shoop's hiring, and the Big Ten Network also is reporting it. Purdue hasn't officially confirmed the addition of Shoop to Darrell Hazell's staff.
OK, John Shoop. That John Shoop? Yes, that John Shoop. (Chill goes down spine). Breathe, Adam, breathe ...
I'm going to give Shoop a chance to show he won't do to Purdue's offense what he did to the Bears' offense from 1999-2003. Every new Big Ten assistant deserves somewhat of a clean slate from the Big Ten blog.
Sorry, just had a flashback of a bubble screen for minus-3 yards. Focus, Adam.
Shoop coordinated some decent offenses at North Carolina toward the end of his tenure as Tar Heels' offensive coordinator (2007-2010). Players like quarterback T.J. Yates and wide receiver Hakeem Nicks developed nicely under his watch in Chapel Hill. He remains in demand, interviewing for NFL coaching positions in recent weeks. And Shoop certainly boasts enough experience for this job.
He takes over a Purdue offense that loses its top two quarterbacks from 2012 (Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush), its top running back in Akeem Shavers, a valuable receiver in Antavian Edison and several starting linemen. Quarterback will be Shoop's primary focus as he figures out who will lead the Boilers in 2013.
Will there be some Bears jokes made? Yes. Will there be some jokes about Shoop and Jim Bollman being on the same offensive staff? Plenty. Hazell has made some, well, interesting hires so far at Purdue. But maybe it works out in the end and Boiler fans are crankin' up Salt-N-Pepa by the end of the season.
Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington: His 176 rushing yards in the 31-17 upset of Clemson was a school record for a quarterback. He had a 46-yard run in the second quarter and then topped that with a 56-yard run in the third quarter. He was the game’s leading rusher, averaged 6.5 yards per carry and scored one touchdown.
BC running back Rolandan Finch: He ran for 243 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles’ 28-17 road victory over Maryland. It was the first time the sophomore had cracked the 100-yard mark, and he had totaled 266 yards in the six previous games. Finch had 152 rushing yards at halftime and finished with a career-high 39 carries. He also had a team-best two catches for seven yards.
FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops: This was a tough call, because EJ Manuel played such an outstanding game, but NC State went nowhere against the Noles, including the end zone, in a 34-0 loss. Florida State’s defensive line pressured quarterback Mike Glennon all game and won the battle up front, and the Noles held NC State to 36 rushing yards, 7 of 16 third-down conversions and forced three turnovers.
UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop. The Tar Heels had a season-high 562 yards of total offense in the 49-24 win over Wake Forest, the most points the program has scored in seven years, according to the Associated Press. It was also the most points UNC has scored in an ACC game in a decade. Wake Forest had five turnovers, and UNC’s offense converted four of those into touchdowns. Quarterback Bryn Renner threw for a career-high 338 yards and three touchdowns, Giovani Bernard scored three touchdowns and had his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season and receiver Dwight Jones had six catches for 138 yards.
Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco. He threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns in the 28-21 win over Miami and helped Virginia snap a seven-game losing streak in ACC road games. He has now passed for over 200 yards three times this season, and his 78-yard touchdown pass to Perry Jones in the fourth quarter was the longest completion and touchdown pass of his career.
Everett Withers, defensive coordinator: He has 24 seasons of coaching experience at both the collegiate and NFL levels. North Carolina's defense has been in the spotlight under Withers, and what he cobbled together in spite of the NCAA investigations was impressive.
John Shoop, offensive coordinator:He has two decades of coaching experience in both the NCAA and NFL, and has been a coordinator for both. Carolina's offense improved under Shoop, but he's a quirky character who has been given his fair share of heat at times from UNC fans.
Sam Pittman, offensive line coach:The title of associate head coach was added earlier this month, but Pittman has spent the past four seasons coaching the Tar Heels' offensive line. School spokesman Kevin Best said there's not necessarily a correlation between Pittman's recent promotion and the timing of the coaching change.
Bud Foster, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator:Give the man a chance, willya?
Randy Shannon, former Miami coach:He knows the ACC, he's a good recruiter, and the timing would work well if an interim were hired this year because Shannon isn't coaching this season. Shannon was reportedly interested in the Maryland job and wants to return to coaching.
Name your Bowden: Terry or Tommy, both have plenty of coaching experience to offer.
Renner was one of four quarterbacks to play, along with Braden Hanson, A.J. Blue and freshman Marquise Williams. While Renner's ability to flourish in games is one of the Tar Heel's biggest questions heading into the fall, UNC's receivers are proven.
Dwight Jones had five catches for 56 yards and and Erik Highsmith had four for 67 yards, with most of that yardage coming on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Renner.
"I was a lot more nervous today because I was running with the ones and it was the first time Coach (John) Shoop was in the (press) box," Renner said, according to the team's practice report. "I thought I did alright, but I know I've got a lot more to learn. I worked the ball to Dwight a lot today and he made me look good. He has the potential to be one of the best receivers in the country."
Ryan Houston started at tailback and had just two carries for 22 yards. Hunter Furr and junior walk-on Matt Kolojejchick each had seven carries.
Defensively, Quinton Coples made a team-high six tackles and was credited with one sack. Safety Josh Hunter had four tackles and one interception.
There's Good T.J., and there's Turnover T.J.
Last week, UNC quarterback T.J. Yates turned it over four times in the loss to Virginia Tech. Today, he started out by completing all eight of his passes for 116 yards and a touchdown, and his seven-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Elzy gave the Tar Heels a 7-0 lead over rival NC State.
This is exactly how the Heels needed to start -- strong. The linebackers have been disrupting the passing game, Yates and Elzy have been moving the chains, and offensive coordinator John Shoop is in a groove.
Reid Compton/Icon SMIFSU quarterback Christian Ponder needs to bounce tonight against NC State.
NC State’s run defense. It will be one of the biggest keys to the game, as FSU enters Raleigh with the No. 19 rushing offense in the nation at 211.71 yards per game. NC State is holding opponents to 148.13.
The replacements in BC. BC defensive end Alex Albright’s season ended last week with a broken fibula. It’s Max Holloway’s job now, and safety Wes Davis is definitely out after sustaining a neck injury against Maryland. Okechukwu Okoroha is expected to start in his place. Cornerback DeLeon Gause did not practice on Wednesday but is still listed as day-to-day.
Bowl eligibility. Maryland, NC State and Miami are all chasing their sixth win of the season this week. So far, only Virginia Tech and Florida State are bowl-eligible in the ACC. It’s of particular importance to the Terps and Wolfpack, who were both home for the holidays last year.
Clemson’s turnover-free streak. The Tigers have gone three straight games without turning the ball over -- a first in school history. The Clemson offense has run 196 consecutive plays without a turnover, a streak that dates to the last play of the Miami (FL) game on October 2. Overall, Clemson has four games this year when it has not committed a turnover. BC’s defense has had 18 takeaways this year.
Nation’s top tacklers in Chestnut Hill. Saturday’s game between BC and Clemson will feature two of the nation’s top tacklers in BC linebacker Luke Kuechly and Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. Kuechly leads the nation in tackles per game with 13.9 and is three shy of 100 tackles for the season. Bowers leads the nation in sacks and tackles for loss, and he is on a record-setting pace with 10 sacks in seven games so far this season. Boston College is one of the worst teams in the country in sacks allowed with 2.86 per game. Bowers needs three more to set the record for most sacks in a season in school history by a defensive lineman.
Wake Forest running back Josh Harris. In his first career start against Virginia Tech, Harris rushed 20 times for 241 yards and two touchdowns. Harris’ 241 yards rushing were the most ever allowed by Virginia Tech, surpassing the 239 by Temple’s Paul Palmer in 1986. Harris became the first Deacon since 2005 to rush for over 200 yards in a game. Maryland has the No. 4 rushing defense in the ACC, holding opponents to 143.6 yards per game. The Terps have held each of their last three opponents (Duke, Clemson, and BC) under 100 yards on the ground. It’s the first time the defense has done that since 2004.
Maryland’s secondary. Two players who are having great seasons are flying under the radar in College Park, Md. Against Boston College, safety Antwine Perez had a career-best two interceptions and recovered a fumble. Perez is second on the team in pass breakups (six) and tied for third in the league in interceptions (0.43 pg). Kenny Tate is the leading tackler in the ACC among defensive backs (8.0 per game). He is also atop the league chart with four forced fumbles, the most by a Terp since Milton Harris also had four in 2005.
Shoop vs. Shoop. UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop will face his older brother, William & Mary defensive coordinator Bob Shoop. It is believed to be one of only three matchups in college football this season pitting brothers against each other, according to UNC’s sports information department. (The other two involve Oklahoma). Both Shoops are in their fourth seasons at their respective schools. Carolina is averaging 365 yards per game and the Tribe is allowing just 318 yards. May the best Shoop win.
Pass defenses in Charlottesville. The ACC’s top two pass defenses will be featured in the Miami-Virginia game. Miami leads the ACC with 149.1 passing yards per game allowed, and Virginia follows at 165.4. The Canes have 14 interceptions, Virginia five.
Four programs –- Clemson Tigers (27,000), North Carolina Tar Heels (29,500), Florida State Seminoles (51,300) and Virginia Tech Hokies (41,000) –- each set attendance records at their respective spring games this year. The Miami Hurricanes had a sellout crowd of 10,000 at Traz Powell Stadium, which is about normal because of the smaller venue, and the North Carolina State Wolfpack had 25,372.
There are reasons to be excited about ACC football this year, but here are my top five:
1. BCS contenders. Virginia Tech has already been deemed a top-10 preseason team. Georgia Tech is coming off an Orange Bowl appearance. Miami came close to a BCS bid last year. All three teams finished 2009 among the top 15 in the BCS standings. Florida State could represent in the Orange Bowl with an ACC title, but so could more than half the league.
2. Heisman hopefuls. Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams and FSU quarterback Christian Ponder are the first two names that come to mind. Don’t forget, though, that Jacory Harris’ name entered the conversation last September after the Canes’ hot start, and fans can (and will) argue the legitimacy of Josh Nesbitt as a contender.
3. Beefed up schedules. Based on opponents’ overall records from 2009, ACC teams will face the most difficult schedules in the nation this fall. ACC opponents compiled a winning percentage of .604, making the ACC the only league where its opponents won at least 60 percent of their games. And they’re not all creampuffs. Ohio State, Pitt, Alabama, LSU, Boise State, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia and BYU are all on the list.
4. Championship changes. Bring on Charlotte! Last year’s matchup between Clemson and Georgia Tech was a step in the right direction. It was one of the best games of the conference season. Now that the game will be moved to what the folks in Greensboro refer to as the “geographical footprint” of the ACC, the overall atmosphere and attendance is expected to improve.
5. Coaching. There are subplots at almost every school, whether it’s a new coordinator, new head coach, or current coach starting to feel some heat. Will this be Ralph Friedgen’s last year? Not if he has anything to say about it. What can Dabo Swinney do without C.J. Spiller? How quickly can first-year defensive coordinator Mark Stoops improve FSU’s floundering defense? What can John Shoop do to catch the UNC offense up to the Tar Heels’ stellar D? How will Al Groh fit in at Georgia Tech with his 3-4 scheme? Can Mike London work a miracle and get Virginia to a bowl in his first year? The list goes on.
1. Virginia Tech – The Hokies’ spot at the top is based on their historical ability to reload on defense, but they can fall quickly if significant progress isn’t made this spring and summer in replacing six starters. In an unusual twist, the offense is in a position to keep this team in contention early.
2. Florida State – Things are different under coach Jimbo Fisher, but this ranking is based on the assumption that the defense will be different -- and improved -- under first-year coordinator Mark Stoops. The Noles will have a championship-caliber offense led by quarterback Christian Ponder, who will be playing behind a standout veteran offensive line.
3. North Carolina – This defense is scary good. It should be one of the best in the country. But visions of last year’s offense should still be dancing in John Shoop’s head. The Tar Heels aren’t far from where they need to be, though, and this defense can take them places, even with an average offense. All T.J. Yates has to do is manage the offense without turning it over, but the players around him need to improve, too.
4. Miami – If Miami is going to take the next step under coach Randy Shannon, it has to protect quarterback Jacory Harris better and improve the running game. That will be difficult after losing three starters on the offensive line and having very little returning experience at tight end. The Canes will also be under the direction of new defensive line and running backs coaches, and have one of the most difficult schedules in the conference -- again.
5. Boston College – The Eagles were in contention for the Atlantic Division until November last year, and they can do the same again if they work out some trouble spots at quarterback and build the depth at running back. The linebacker corps can be one of the best in the ACC.
6. Georgia Tech – There are too many questions to give the defending ACC champs too much credit just yet. Having lost their leading rusher, receiver and top two defenders, the Jackets have some work to do. They also have to adjust to a new defensive scheme under first-year coordinator Al Groh. Odds are the offense makes a seamless transition with Anthony Allen at B-back.
7. Clemson – Some of the most accomplished players in school history have graduated, leaving this season a true test for coach Dabo Swinney. The recruiting has gone well under his direction, and there is still plenty of talent left on the roster, but the Tigers could be without quarterback Kyle Parker if he chooses baseball, and they will have to find a way to replace the production of C.J. Spiller.
8. NC State – The young secondary will still be an issue, and the Pack will be without their starting quarterback, Russell Wilson, all spring because of his baseball obligations. The defense should improve with the return of Nate Irving, but it’s still unclear how much he’ll be able to do this spring.
9. Maryland – There’s only one way for this 2-10 team to go, and that’s up. The pressure should be on in College Park to get back to a bowl game, but the Terps have questions up front on both sides of the ball, and there should be a quarterback competition this spring.
10. Wake Forest – The Deacs are in the lower half for one big reason -- they have to replace the winningest quarterback in school history, and right now, that job is wide open.
11. Duke – The big question holding Duke back right now is the graduation of quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and the fact his backup, Sean Renfree, will miss this spring with a torn ACL. The Blue Devils also have questions on the defensive line and need to improve their running game.
12. Virginia – Progress isn’t only measured in wins and losses, and first-year coach Mike London will make progress, but until he is able to put together a few of his own recruiting classes, Cavs fans will need some patience. First, though, they need a quarterback.
North Carolina kicker Casey Barth literally got swept up in the moment.
Upon kicking his team’s 21-yard game-winning field goal for a stunning 20-17 victory over Virginia Tech last Thursday night in hostile Lane Stadium, Barth was hoisted into the air by center Lowell Dyer and consumed by celebration.
On Friday, after having had some time to digest the magnitude of the win, Barth summed it up succinctly:
“I think it saved our season,” he said.
|Scott Halleran/Getty Images|
|Casey Barth was carried off the field following Thursday’s win over Virginia Tech.|
It very well might have.
After opening the season with three straight conference losses and feeling the pressure to stop a downward spiral, North Carolina (5-3, 1-3 ACC) did the seemingly impossible and marched into one of the nation’s most difficult places to win on a Thursday night and stunned the Hokies. Now the Tar Heels have increased their chances of finishing the season with a bowl game and a respectable record in Butch Davis’ third season.
“I think the guys needed the win -- skip the records and all that -- just on a personal level,” said safety Deunta Williams. “We put in so much hard work during the offseason, and for it not to manifest during the season, it was tough for guys to understand that. For us to go down there against a ranked opponent, a very good team, and just us against the world and no help from anyone at all but us, we come out with the win, it was more of a confidence builder, self-esteem builder, all of that good stuff. We really needed that.”
And Davis, Barth said, had a lot to do with giving the team the confidence it needed to actually pull it off.
“He has the stats, that last year we beat a lot of good, ranked teams, and obviously we have the athletes to do it,” Barth said. “He told us we definitely have the ability to beat them, we just have to put our best effort out there.”
They did, in all three phases of the game -- for all four quarters -- and that was the difference. Offensive coordinator John Shoop won the chess match against Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster, and the return of several healthy players helped him do it. Williams said UNC’s defense, which was humbled two weeks ago in the second half of a nationally televised loss to Florida State, was playing for pride as much as anything else.
The plan, Williams said, is to keep it up, but it doesn’t get any easier, as UNC will host its rival, Duke, on Saturday in another key Coastal Division game. The Blue Devils have won their past three conference games, including two on the road, and control their own destiny heading into Chapel Hill.
North Carolina, though, knocked off a team that just weeks ago was still in the running for the national title. And the Tar Heels did it in Lane Stadium, where the Hokies entered the game with a 9-2 record on Thursday nights.
“It wasn’t just a fluke or anything like that, especially playing against Virginia Tech,” Williams said. “It would be different if you were playing against someone who was less talented, but overall I think it was a good team and -- it’s not the first time we’ve done that, but it was the first complete game that we’ve played in all three stages, besides the ECU game, that we all came together and won as a team.”
And when that happens, it’s easy to get carried away.
“It was awesome,” Barth said. “I’ve never really experienced anything like that. It was one of the best moments of my life.”
We’re now in the final month of the regular season (can't believe it), and separation has officially occurred with Georgia Tech all alone at the top. Florida State and North Carolina both moved up, but for the most part, there was little change in this week’s rankings:
1. Georgia Tech (8-1, 5-1; LW: No. 1): The Yellow Jackets moved up to No. 10 in this week’s BCS standings, and are now the ACC’s lone representative in the top 15. They got a scare from Vanderbilt in the first half, though, and it looked as if the defense had reverted back to its midseason form. Paul Johnson's offense looks unstoppable heading into Saturday's home game against Wake Forest.
2. Miami (6-2, 3-2; LW: No. 3): It took until the final minute, but Jacory Harris and the Hurricanes pulled it off in Winston-Salem with a come-from-behind win and regrouped after the loss to Clemson. The Canes can still have a 10- or 11-win season and will be favored in each of their remaining games, but they've got to get some players healthy on defense and cut down on the mistakes.
3. Virginia Tech (5-3, 3-2; LW: No. 2): The Hokies won the award for most surprising loss of the week -- maybe the season -- as they fell at home to a North Carolina team that was looking for its first conference win. The Hokies’ defense, which has been inconsistent all season, couldn’t shut down one of the nation’s worst offenses, but UNC offensive coordinator John Shoop called a great game and had the Tar Heels prepared.
4. Clemson (5-3, 3-2; LW: No. 4): The Tigers followed the script and beat up on unheralded Coastal Carolina, but lost one of their best pass-rushers in the process in Da’Quan Bowers, who sprained his MCL and PCL. Clemson has home-field advantage this week in a key Atlantic Division game against Florida State. The Atlantic Division is Clemson's to lose.
5. Boston College (6-3, 3-2; LW: No. 5): The Eagles are bowl eligible and have the bye week to enjoy it and rest up before heading to Virginia. BC fans should be rooting for Florida State this weekend, as Clemson stands in the Eagles’ way of a third straight trip to the ACC title game.
6. Duke (5-3, 3-1; LW: No. 6): The Blue Devils have won three straight conference games for the first time since 1994, they’ve won two conference road games for the first time since 1999, and they’re two wins away from bowl eligibility. They’ve got a tough task this weekend against a confident UNC team that is getting better each day, but the Blue Devils are the ones who control their own destiny in the Coastal Division.
7. Florida State (4-4, 2-3; LW: No. 9): For the second straight week, FSU quarterback Christian Ponder led his team to a win, but this time, he did it with bruised ribs and got a lot of help from receiver Bert Reed and running back Jermaine Thomas. He’ll need more help from his defense, though, on Saturday against Clemson.
8. North Carolina (5-3, 1-3; LW: No. 12): The Tar Heels appeared to have turned the corner offensively against Virginia Tech, and their defense proved it is as good as advertised. The question now is whether they can keep it up against Duke. Like the Blue Devils, UNC needs two more wins to become bowl eligible.
9. Wake Forest (4-5, 2-3; LW: No. 8): The Demon Deacons lost a heartbreaker and let a 17-point lead slip away at home to Miami. Now their starting quarterback, Riley Skinner, is questionable for Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech with a mild concussion. The Deacs will need Skinner healthy for any chance at an upset. I predict he plays.
10. Virginia (3-5, 2-2; LW: No. 7): For the second straight season, the Cavaliers were humbled by Duke, but this loss might have been worse because it happened in Scott Stadium and Coastal Division standings were a factor. Now, Virginia has to rebound with a road trip against Miami, and it appears any chance at a comeback season is now in the rear-view mirror for Al Groh.
11. Maryland (2-6, 1-3; LW: No. 10): The Terps had a bye week, and will travel to NC State on Saturday to face a Wolfpack team capable of scoring lots of points. Maryland needs to win out to get to a bowl game and coach Ralph Friedgen hasn’t given up on that goal, but it’s time to start planning for the future and getting some younger players significant experience.
12. NC State (3-5, 0-4; LW: No. 11): As mentioned above, points aren’t the problem in Raleigh. NC State’s defense is allowing almost 30 points per game, and couldn’t make the necessary stops against Florida State in Saturday’s shootout.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates has rebuilt his game from the ground up -- literally.
It started with a small tweak in his footwork -- a wider base that has given him more power. Then, after a non-displaced fracture to his left ankle last year kept Yates out of five games, he had to relearn some fundamental footwork.
|Grant Halverson/Getty Images|
|T.J. Yates is really pushing himself to reach the next level, according to coach Butch Davis.|
It's the first year Yates, who missed the 2008 spring recovering from a torn labrum, has gone through a spring practice injury-free with Butch Davis' staff, and those within the program say he's as healthy and as knowledgeable about the system as he has been since the new staff arrived.
"No doubt," said John Shoop, the Tar Heels' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. "He's got a thorough understanding of what we're trying to do offensively. But the things that really show up that others might not notice are just the way he's worked the pocket in practice. He's become a lot more comfortable with his posture in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield and finding a safe spot to keep the play alive.
"I think he's gotten better at what some people call intangibles, but I think you really coach and drill those things as well. Some of the little things he's gotten a lot better at, and I think it's going to serve us well, because we sure need it."
Yates, of Marietta, Ga., wasn't a highly recruited quarterback -- he caught the attention of UNC coaches while they were in Georgia to watch a player on the opposing team -- but he could be one of the most accurate passers in the ACC in 2009. Yates had been leading the ACC and ranked 12th nationally in passing efficiency before he injured his ankle.
"Coming back from the injury was definitely a challenge," said Yates, who was injured on a sack against Virginia Tech. "With my footwork and my ankle, I had to start all over. It was kind of difficult at first. When I got hurt, I thought I was playing some of the best football I've played since I've been here. It was very disappointing for me, but coming back at the end of the season definitely helped me grow as a quarterback, and playing in a big game like that -- it was my first bowl game ever."
And for 58 minutes of it, he played well enough to win. With under two minutes remaining, though, Yates threw his only interception of the game and it contributed to a 31-30 West Virginia win in one of the ACC's most exciting bowl games of the season.
Despite the interception, Yates has come a long way since he first arrived in Chapel Hill, and he attributed much of his progress to Shoop.