NCF Nation: Kyle Bolin

Spring reset: ACC quarterback

February, 17, 2015
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This could be the year of the quarterback in the ACC with starters returning at the majority of schools across the league.

But there are some programs that will have a bit of intrigue at the quarterback spot this spring. Here is a quick spring reset at where the signal-callers stand at each ACC school.

The incumbents
The skinny: These six are the unquestioned starters at their respective schools. Even Lambert, marking the first time in five springs Virginia has a set quarterback headed into the spring. Though Matt Johns is sure to get a look, Lambert is expected to start the season if healthy. Same goes for the other five, who appear to have a stronghold on their respective starting jobs.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtThe backup quarterback position is key to watch during Clemson's spring practices as Deshaun Watson sits out to rehab his injured knee.
The injured incumbent
The skinny: With Watson out during spring practice while he rehabs a knee injury, true freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel will get reps with Nick Schuessler as they compete to become the backup to Watson. Schuessler, a former walk-on, was the No. 3 quarterback last season. Bryant and Tucker enrolled early and are in for spring, great news for a program that has faced depth issues at the position since last fall. The backup job is an important one at Clemson, with Watson coming off a major knee injury. Whomever wins the backup job could be pressed into action early.

The returning starters*
The skinny: Why an asterisk? There is a chance some of these players end up losing their starting job if the competition is fierce enough during the spring and into the fall. All three go into the spring as the starter. They each are the most experienced quarterbacks on their respective rosters. But ...

At Syracuse, Hunt is coming off a broken leg and will face competition from AJ Long and Austin Wilson. Long and Wilson both played last season after Hunt went out, giving the coaching staff much more to work with this spring.

At Wake Forest, coach Dave Clawson said Wolford will get the first-team reps but his quarterback will have to win the starting job again after the Deacs signed two highly touted prep quarterbacks -- Kendall Hinton and Kyle Kearns.

At Pitt, Voytik will have to learn a new system and face new competition from Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman. While Voytik is expected to keep his starting job, there are no guarantees here, either.

The new starter
The skinny: Sirk has taken first-team reps so far this spring as he works to replace two-year starter Anthony Boone. Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre have provided competition but coach David Cutcliffe has already declared Sirk the starter.

The open competitions

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire will enter the spring practice session as the backup QB with the most experience at FSU.
Boston College: Darius Wade, Troy Flutie. Wade is the favorite to win the starting job, but Flutie is expected to get a fair shake. This is what coach Steve Addazio had to say about both during his signing day news conference: "Darius Wade has got a great arm and he throws the ball extremely well. Troy Flutie is a great anticipator, which is a unique quality to have as a quarterback. He does a great job anticipating guys coming out of their breaks. He doesn't have to see them open. So both of those guys have unique tools and both are very athletic."

Florida State: Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino. One of the most anticipated competitions in the entire country will take place in Tallahassee, where Jimbo Fisher must replace Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Maguire served as the backup last season, but that does not necessarily make him the favorite to win the job. Cosentino came in last year as an ESPN 300 prospect and redshirted. Fisher said true freshmen De'Andre Johnson and Deondre Francois -- both ESPN 300 players -- will also get a shot. Johnson is already in for spring.

Louisville: Reggie Bonnafon, Tyler Ferguson, Kyle Bolin. With Will Gardner out for spring and no timetable set for his return after another major knee injury, the Cardinals are expected to have a heated open competition in the spring between Bonnafon, Ferguson and Bolin. Bonnafon played as a true freshman last season and showed some promise before getting injured late in the year. Bolin was then forced to play with Bonnafon and Gardner out. Though he led a comeback win over Kentucky, he was not nearly as effective in the bowl game against Georgia. Ferguson transferred from Penn State and sat out last season, and could end up being the wild card in the group.


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The season began with Georgia’s hopes pinned to star tailback Todd Gurley. It ended with a huge game by his understudy, freshman Nick Chubb. Georgia’s ground game pounded Louisville, and the defense forced three turnovers in a 37-14 win Tuesday in the Belk Bowl.

How the game was won: Louisville stacked the box early in hopes of slowing down Chubb and Georgia's ground game, but really, the Cardinals had no answers. Chubb ran for 20 yards on his first carry, and the deluge continued from there. For the game, Georgia had eight plays of 19 yards or more, including runs of 20, 30, 31 and 82 yards by Chubb. Louisville might have kept the game close, but three turnovers and a handful of ugly throws that prevented big plays downfield from Kyle Bolin and Reggie Bonnafon killed the Cardinals’ momentum again and again. When Sony Michel rumbled into the end zone to put Georgia up 27-7 midway through the third quarter, the outcome was all but assured.

Game ball goes to: Chubb. Who else? The freshman tailback stepped in for Gurley earlier this year, and Georgia’s ground game didn’t miss a beat. With offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gone and starting QB Hutson Mason hurt, it was no surprise Chubb stepped up once again; he set a Georgia bowl game record for rushing yards. Chubb finished with 33 carries for 266 yards and two touchdowns. He demoralized Louisville’s defense again and again and totaled the second most rushing yards in a game by a Georgia back. For the game, UGA racked up 299 yards on the ground -- the most by any team against the Cardinals in more than six years.

What it means: For Georgia, it’s an optimistic conclusion to a season filled with some bitter disappointments. The late loss to South Carolina, the thumping at the hands of Florida and the stinging defeat to Georgia Tech -- not to mention the controversy surrounding Gurley -- still are likely to be the overwhelming memories of a season that started with high expectations. But the Belk Bowl performances by Chubb and Jeremy Pruitt’s defense offered a more palatable finish and some hope for next year. There’s still much for the Bulldogs to figure out -- from the vacant offensive coordinator job to the vacant QB position (Mason's a senior) -- but there is plenty of talent already in place on this roster. For Louisville, Year 1 under Bobby Petrino had its high points, but as DeVante Parker, Gerod Holliman and other stars depart, the real work is just beginning.

Best play: Chubb had plenty of them but perhaps none bigger than his 31-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter that put Georgia in control of the game 17-7. The Bulldogs didn't looked back from there.

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Viewer's Guide: Belk Bowl

December, 30, 2014
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It’s not often that the coordinators steal the show in a matchup between two big-time programs, but the assistant coaches have been the biggest stories of the Belk Bowl. Of course, they’re not the only names to watch in Tuesday's ACC-SEC showdown between Louisville and Georgia.

Grantham vs. UGA: A year ago, Todd Grantham was the defensive coordinator at Georgia, and Bulldogs fans didn’t shed many tears when he departed for Louisville. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are thrilled with the move as they have emerged as one of the top defensive teams in the nation. There will be ample familiarity, as Grantham was responsible for recruiting virtually every player on Georgia’s defense and the Bulldogs’ offense is certainly used to seeing a Grantham-led defense at work too. Grantham has downplayed the relationships, but several Georgia players have stayed in close contact with him this year and several who were dismissed by Mark Richt found their way to Louisville.

No Bobo for Bulldogs: While Grantham is the biggest story among the coordinators, the departure of Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who left to take over at Colorado State, might be the more intriguing storyline. Bobo had spent nearly his entire career at UGA, first as a player then an assistant, and he had been calling plays for Richt since 2006. John Lilly, another longtime Richt assistant, will be calling plays Tuesday, but the future of the Georgia offense certainly is in flux. The Belk Bowl will be an interesting peek into what that future might look like.

The head coaches have issues too: If his assistants are the big story, Richt’s role as head coach remains the longest-running story at Georgia. It’s hard to criticize a guy who so consistently wins games, but has he won enough of the big ones? This has been the debate in Athens for years, and after another disappointing season at Georgia, which featured the Todd Gurley saga, a dismal loss to Florida and a shocking defeat to Georgia Tech, the heat is once again on Richt, who could sure use a victory to calm the fires. On the flip side, Bobby Petrino was booted from the SEC after an off-field debacle at Arkansas, and he will get a chance to rack up his third win in four tries against an SEC foe since that departure.

Chubb vs. Louisville D: There’s no denying the talent of Georgia tailback Nick Chubb, who proved to be a force of nature this season in relief of Gurley. The true freshman rushed for 1,281 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging nearly 7 yards per carry this season. Chubb has topped 100 yards and scored a touchdown in seven straight games, but the test against Louisville is a big one. The Cardinals ranked second in the nation in rushing defense this season, allowing less than 3 yards per carry and just nine touchdowns all year.

Parker vs. Georgia’s secondary: The best player on the field might be Louisville’s DeVante Parker. The star receiver missed the first seven games of the season but still finished the year eighth in the ACC in receiving yards (735) and second in yards per catch (21.0). Georgia led the SEC in passing defense (158.4 yards per game), though, and Louisville’s quarterback situation is far from secure as Reggie Bonnafon recovers from a knee injury. Kyle Bolin is waiting in the wings.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
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Well, as rivalry weeks go, this is about as good as it gets for the ACC. And with that in mind, there’s plenty of competition for the helmet stickers.

Virginia Tech DL Dadi Nicolas: The Hokies needed a win to continue a decade-long streak of wins over rival Virginia, but more importantly, to get bowl eligible. Michael Brewer, Bucky Hodges and the offense did just enough to get the win in the end, but it was the defense that set the stage, and Nicolas was the star. He racked up nine tackles, including two for a loss, a sack and five QB hurries in the game, and Nicolas helped stifle the UVA running game to the tune of just 38 yards allowed.

Clemson QB Deshaun Watson and WR Artavis Scott: Watson’s passing numbers certainly looked a lot better Saturday thanks to his roommate. Scott took three short throws and raced downfield for big gains, finishing with seven catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Watson played on a torn ACL, as Dabo Swinney admitted after the game, but still accounted for four touchdowns. And most importantly, for the first time since 2008, Clemson toppled its in-state rival.

Georgia Tech RB Zach Laskey: The senior had never beaten Georgia, but he did his part to ensure it happened Saturday. Laskey ran 26 times for 140 yards with three touchdowns, including a 2-yarder that proved to be the difference in overtime. Of course, a big hat tip still goes to kicker Harrison Butker, whose 53-yard field goal as time expired sent the game to OT, and to D.J. White, who picked off Hutson Mason to seal the win.

Louisville WR DeVante Parker: Down both of its top two QBs, Louisville didn’t need to worry. Parker makes everyone look good. Kyle Bolin came on in relief of Reggie Bonnafon and connected with Parker three times for scores. Overall, Parker caught six passes for 180 yards to help the Cardinals knock off Kentucky. But a special helmet sticker also goes to Gerod Holliman, who sealed the game with an INT -- his 14th of the season, tying the NCAA record.

NC State QB Jacoby Brissett: Perhaps the biggest surprise of the day was the Wolfpack thumping North Carolina, and Brissett was the star. He completed just nine passes for 66 yards, but threw three touchdowns and added another on the ground, while rushing for 167 yards in the win. Teammate Shadrach Thornton chipped in with another 161 yards and a TD, too.

Florida State RB Dalvin Cook: The storyline is getting awfully familiar. FSU falls behind early. Jameis Winston coughs up some costly turnovers. And then the freshman tailback saves the day late. It was more of the same against Florida as Winston slumped through four INTs, but Cook was spectacular. He rushed 24 times for 144 yards and caught two passes for 28 yards. Overall, Cook had eight plays of 10 yards or more in the win.

Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd: The Panthers needed a win in Miami to get bowl eligible, and Boyd did all he could to ensure it happened. He caught five passes for 72 yards and scored on an all-out dive for the end zone. He also added 190 yards in the return game to set Pitt up with terrific field position throughout the game. The end result? Two 6-6 teams headed in completely opposite directions.

There are universal challenges every first-year coach must face, whether he is a veteran or a newbie: getting to know new players, implementing schemes, setting a foundation, making sure there is buy-in across the locker room.

Then there is the challenge facing Bobby Petrino at Louisville. As he embarks on his second stint with the Cardinals, he has to go through all these getting-to-know you moments while also:

Replacing potentially the No. 1 quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft.

[+] EnlargePetrino
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIn his first season back at Louisville, coach Bobby Petrino has several questions on both sides of the ball.
Replacing his leading tackler.

Replacing his leading sack producer.

Replacing his all-conference tandem at safety.

But wait, there’s more.

Petrino also must get his players prepared for a much more grueling schedule, in a much more grueling conference home. Gone are the days when Temple, UConn and USF clogged the league schedule. The Cards open at home against Miami without much let-up to follow, as they join Florida State and Clemson in the much tougher ACC Atlantic Division.

Of all these tasks, one stands out as the most difficult.

“The biggest challenge for us is to replace a guy like Teddy Bridgewater, one of the premier players in the country,” Petrino said in a recent phone interview. “We have to go out in spring and compete and find out who it’s going to be. We have a couple guys who have the talent, just real inexperience.”

Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin are at the top of the list when spring practice opens next week. Gardner spent last season backing up Bridgewater. He played in five games, and has attempted 12 career passes. Bolin, a redshirt freshman, has never played in a college game. Incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon, a four-star recruit, joins the mix this summer.

Petrino is known as an offensive guru, but growing pains at the position are expected. Bridgewater, who guided the Cardinals to 23 wins over the past two seasons, had plenty of them when he took over as a starter during his freshman season in 2011. But he blossomed each successive year.

He was the unquestioned leader of this offense last season and an absolute extension of then offensive coordinator Shawn Watson. Bridgewater had the ability to change plays at the line based on what he saw in the defense. He rarely made the wrong call. That type of functionality in an offense takes years to develop.

On defense, Louisville loses Preston Brown (leading tackler), Marcus Smith (leader in sacks), safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor (another potential first-rounder), and three other starters. The Cards were one of the most underrated defenses in 2013, ranking No. 1 in the nation in total defense and rushing defense and No. 2 in scoring defense.

The biggest challenge for us is to replace a guy like Teddy Bridgewater, one of the premier players in the country.

New Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino on his team's transition to the ACC.
Finding replacements for Hakeem Smith and Pryor ranks among the biggest challenges on this side of the ball. One player to watch here is Gerod Holliman, a former ESPN 300 recruit who was rated as the No. 3 safety in the class of 2011. He was Louisville's highest-rated player in that class, which also included Bridgewater, Pryor and terrific returning receivers DeVante Parker and Eli Rogers.

“We do have some big and talented guys there [at safety], but they’re inexperienced,” Petrino said. “They’re going to have to be students of the game, because the most impressive things with the safeties we lost were how intelligent they were and how they ran the defense.”

One more challenge is building depth, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines. Generally when teams transition to better conferences, they are at a deficit in both categories. The good news is Louisville returns four starters on the offensive line. In fact, the top three players returning with the most career starts are on the offensive line -- Jake Smith (38), John Miller (34) and Jamon Brown (27).

The defensive line, however, returns only Lorenzo Mauldin among its starters.

“Depth is huge, particularly up front to be able to rotate your defensive linemen in to stay fresh, and be ready to rush the passer in the second half when the game is on the line,” Petrino said. “One of the advantages we have coming in is we are going to be a fast team.

“We’re very athletic in the secondary and at wide receiver so when you look at the game, it’s a lot about speed and athleticism at the skill positions and the speed of your defensive front, the physicalness of your offensive front. We have starters coming back on the offensive line that are really good players, but have depth issues there that we have to solve.”

The speed and athleticism are hugely important, especially when you look at the speed and athleticism of Florida State and Clemson. Plus, Petrino and new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham have coached in the SEC, the model for speed and athleticism. Their experiences there will allow them to help their players understand what to expect.

“When you play in a major conference, you have to understand each week is a new week,” Grantham said. “Anyone on your schedule can beat you. Enjoy your win on Saturday, but come Sunday go back to work. You’ve got to maintain that consistency.”

All while dealing with a major set of challenges.
Virginia Tech quarterback Mark Leal looked around his position meeting room this winter and realized just how empty it was. True freshman Andrew Ford, who enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Brenden Motley were his only company.

None of them has ever started a game.

“This is probably the most slim it’s been since I’ve been here,” said Leal, a fifth-year senior. “We’ve always had at least five or six guys, but right now it’s only three.”

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett, Garrett Leatham
Lance King/Getty ImagesJacoby Brissett (12) is one of several transfers who could move into starting roles in the ACC in 2014.
Sounds like the entire ACC, where six schools have absolutely zero quarterbacks returning with any starting experience, and four schools brought in transfers to help.

As spring practices begin throughout the conference, the ACC kicks off its 2014 season with a complete overhaul at the quarterback position. It was only a year ago that Florida State’s Jameis Winston was an unproven rookie who had yet to start a game. Now, the 20-year-old reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the veteran of the league, as nine of the 14 schools will have a first-year starting quarterback, and the competition is open at 11 programs. Florida State, Duke and NC State are the only programs that have definitively named starters, and even NC State doesn’t know what to expect out of first-year starter and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett, though, knows what’s expected.

“Go make sure it was earned,” he said, “not given.”

Count on that to be a trend in the conference this spring.

Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are all starting from scratch, without any starting experience at the quarterback position. Some of the league’s most recognizable names have to be replaced, including Tajh Boyd, Logan Thomas and Teddy Bridgewater. Coaches at North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia have deemed their competitions open, in spite of experienced starters returning.

“I looked at that and was kind of surprised,” said Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, the frontrunner to take over the job after Vad Lee’s decision to transfer. “It should even the playing field out a little bit, but at the same time, we all have to go through our parts.”

Not to mention spring and summer auditions.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it’s likely the competition between Chad Kelly, Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson will extend beyond this spring -- and possibly into the season.

“Going in, Cole starts out as No. 1 simply because of where we finished the season -- basically by default, if you will,” Swinney said. “He’s the senior. It’s basically his to lose going in, but it’s incredibly close. You’re talking about -- in my opinion -- three guys who are going to play in the NFL. I believe with all my heart that Cole Stoudt is going to play in the NFL. And the same thing with Chad Kelly, and the same thing with Deshaun Watson, if they stay healthy. So you’ve got three NFL players competing to be the guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people say, well, if you don’t have one quarterback then you have none. But that’s not the case here.”

It could be the case elsewhere, though.

Virginia Tech (Michael Brewer), Boston College (Tyler Murphy), Miami (Ryan Williams) and NC State (Brissett) are all hoping that transfers can give the position an immediate boost, but former Texas Tech quarterback Brewer won’t join the Hokies until this summer. While none of them has started a game at their current schools, all but Brewer have started at least three games at their previous programs.

Williams started 10 games while he was at Memphis, and he’s the leading candidate to replace Stephen Morris, but “it is wide open,” according to offensive coordinator James Coley. And Williams knows it.

"You have to earn it, you have to earn everything,” Williams told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don't want anything given to me. If it's given to me, I didn't work hard enough.”

Brissett started three games at Florida, and Murphy started six games for the Gators after starter Jeff Driskel was lost for the season. Murphy went 2-4 with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions before missing the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury.

Nothing is guaranteed in Chestnut Hill this spring, either, as the Eagles also have Darius Wade, a true freshman who enrolled early, and James Walsh, who will be a redshirt freshman.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
David Manning/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals are about to embark on life without Teddy Bridgewater.
“They’re all real green,” offensive coordinator Ryan Day said of the Eagles’ quarterbacks. “It’s obviously an open competition. I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing them throw and run the offense. We’ll see. All three of these guys are mobile, they can run. They’re dual threats. We’re going to use that as a weapon for us. We’re not going to totally change what we do, but we’ll add that component to it.”

All eyes will be on Louisville’s quarterback competition, as the Cardinals enter their first season in the ACC without Bridgewater, who left early to enter the NFL draft. Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin will be the top two candidates this spring, and they’ll be joined by incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon this summer.

“It’s wide open,” first-year coach Bobby Petrino said. “We’ll go through spring and see who comes out 1-2-3 and then obviously we’ll give Reggie an opportunity in the fall to compete with those guys.”

With the addition of Louisville, the ACC enters this season perceived by many to be the strongest it has ever been.

Now it just needs to find a few quarterbacks to help prove it.
Louisville went into national signing day hoping to add a few more prospects to its class.

But the Cardinals were turned down twice -- ESPN 150 linebacker Jermaine Grace chose Miami; and three-star linebacker Lamar Robbins stuck with his pledge to USF. Louisville ended up signing 17 players -- including five four-star prospects, more than any other Big East team.

Still, it had to be tough being a Louisville fan and watching what was happening at Kentucky, where coach Mark Stoops was putting together a top-40 class. You can bet the in-state recruiting battles between coach Charlie Strong and Stoops will amplify moving forward, especially with Louisville moving into a better conference.

But Cards fans do have bragging rights in one major area -- they got the top player in the state, ESPN 150 receiver James Quick. The No. 79 overall player in the nation is the highest-rated player ever to sign at Louisville, ranking No. 3 in receiving yards (4,437) and touchdowns (57) all time in the state of Kentucky.

Among the other highlights:
  • Receiver Richard Benjamin, an ESPN 300 product out of Tampa.
  • Two quarterbacks -- Kyle Bolin and Brett Nelson -- giving the Cardinals depth at that position after playing with two quarterbacks in 2012.
  • Five defensive backs, filling an area of need.
  • And eight players from the state of Florida, continuing a Strong-hold. Four of the five four-star prospects are from Florida.

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