NCF Nation: Matt Daniels
Offensive skill positions: After last year’s rare class that didn’t include either a quarterback or running back, both positions are needed in this group. Quarterback Thomas Sirk -- the MVP of the 57th annual Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Football Classic last December -- has already enrolled in school while Shaquille Powell -- a PARADE All-American running back from Las Vegas -- has committed to the program. In addition, with David Cutcliffe’s offense, wide receivers and tight ends also are a priority.
Kicker: Will Snyderwine, who earned first team All-America honors as a junior before struggling through a sub-par season in 2011, graduated, but Duke has a commitment from Ohio native Ross Martin, considered the No. 2 placekicking prospect in the country by ESPN.com.
Safety: With the transition to a 4-2-5 alignment that utilizes three safeties, this becomes an annual point of emphasis. The Blue Devils lose All-American Matt Daniels to graduation.
Defensive line: This is the most glaring need in the current class. The Yellow Jackets have to replace senior starters Logan Walls (DT) and Jason Peters (DE), but return Izaan Cross (DE) and solid backups T.J. Barnes (DT), Emmanuel Dieke (DE) and Euclid Cummings (DE). The Jackets are expected to sign about 18 players in this year’s class, and five of them should be defensive linemen.
Wide receiver:This is another glaring need after the departures of Stephen Hill, who decided to leave early for the NFL draft, and Tyler Melton. Darren Waller and Jeff Greene, who both played last season as true freshmen, have lots of potential, but the position still needs depth.
Defensive backs: There’s still a lot of depth with this group, and the return of Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque helps, but the Canes have to replace two starters in the secondary and have six commits in the current class to help do that.
Defensive line: The Canes have to replace Adewale Ojomo, Micanor Regis, Andrew Smith and Olivier Vernon from last year’s two-deep. The defensive end position was a particular focus in this class.
Receiver: This position lost a lot with the departures of Tommy Streeter, LaRon Byrd and Travis Benjamin. Allen Hurns is now the veteran of the group, along with redshirt senior Kendal Thompkins. There are five receivers currently committed in this class.
Quarterback: Beyond Stephen Morris, Miami has a lot of questions at the position and not a lot of experience. True freshmen Gray Crow and Preston Dewey are already on the roster, along with redshirt sophomore Ryan Williams.
Defensive line: This is one of the biggest areas of concern after the departures of Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell.
Receivers: Larry Fedora’s offense will make good use of this group, but he needs to replace standout Dwight Jones.
Linebackers: This group was thin to begin with in 2011, and now the Heels need to replace outgoing senior Zach Brown. Kevin Reddick is now the main man.
Safety: UNC will have to replace two starters in Matt Merletti, Charles Brown and Jonathan Smith, so this position will have to be rebuilt for the future.
Defensive back: This should be the main priority in this class. The Cavaliers will lose four DBs, including two starting safeties in Rodney McCleod and Corey Mosley, and standout cornerback Chase Minnifield. They’ll also miss Dom Joseph, who came in for the nickel packages. Demetrious Nicholson, who started as a true freshman last year, is suddenly the veteran of the group.
Offensive line: The Hoos will have to replace their starting center and left guard. Redshirt freshman center Cody Wallace could get a promotion, and sophomore right guard Luke Bowanko started in the bowl game. They’ve got some big bodies waiting in the wings, but they’ll have some questions to answer here this spring.
Kickers: This position needs to be rebuilt, as the Cavaliers lose Robert Randolph, who finished sixth all time in scoring at UVa, kickoff specialist Chris Hinkebein, and four-year punter Jimmy Howell. The position is wide open heading into the spring.
Running back: This one is a no-brainer, as the Hokies have lost four players here in the past two years. David Wilson and his backup, Josh Oglesby, were the latest to depart, and Tony Gregory just had ACL surgery and is out for the spring. The staff likes Michael Holmes, who redshirted last year, and J.C. Coleman enrolled last week.
Receiver: The Hokies will miss Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, and next year’s class has three seniors in Dyrell Roberts, D.J. Coles, and Marcus Davis. The future of the position is young, and the staff is still going after several uncommitted players pretty hard.
Defensive line: This year’s class already includes at least five committed defensive linemen, and the Hokies will be particularly thin at noseguard. They had some players graduate early who didn’t play a lot, but at least provided depth.
Linebacker:The Hokies have four committed, and are still chasing another just to build the depth. The staff missed on some recruits at this position last year and would like to make up for it in this class.
ESPN.com is announcing its all-conference teams, and there was only one change here from the all-conference ACC team that the members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association voted on in late November. Offensively, the biggest toss-up was Wake Forest receiver Chris Givens versus UNC’s Dwight Jones, but Givens did more with fewer catches. Defensively, it was difficult. I can understand why Virginia Tech and Florida State coaches and players felt slighted, but in the end, there were better individual performances elsewhere. Here’s a look at ESPN.com’s All-ACC team:
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd: He certainly didn’t play his best game against Wake Forest, throwing two picks and having about five more that could have been intercepted. He was a major factor, though, in getting the Tigers back into the game. Boyd still leads the ACC in passing average per game and total offense. He has completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 3,017 yards, 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins: He is the ACC’s top receiver and leads the league in receptions per game and receiving yards per game. He is also second in kick return average and leads the league in all-purpose yards with 187.2 per game. He has 68 catches for 1,034 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Virginia Tech running back David Wilson: He has now had seven straight games with 100 rushing yards, and leads the ACC with 136.1 yards per game. He has 116 broken tackles and 821 yards after contact this year -- that’s 226 more than Alabama’s Trent Richardson. He also has 24 plays this year over 20 yards.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Miami linebacker Sean Spence: He has been the anchor of the defense all season and has 83 total tackles (15th nationally), 11.5 tackles for loss (tied for 10th nationally) for 37 yards, three sacks for 23 yards and a forced fumble. No other player at a BCS school has won defensive player of the week honors for their conference three times this season.
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly: He had 18 tackles against NC State last weekend, nine of which came in the final 13 minutes. He also has 10 or more stops in 32 consecutive games. He is one of only four players with 500 or more career tackles since the NCAA began tracking the statistic in 2000.
Duke safety Matt Daniels: Daniels is tied for second nationally in passes defended and tied for third nationally among all defensive backs in tackles per game. Daniels enters this week having made 300 career tackles, including 102 this season, a 10.2tackles per game average which ranks him second among all defenders in the ACC and 15th nationally.
COACH OF THE YEAR:
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney: He has led the Tigers to their second Atlantic Division title in three years and an undefeated 7-0 record at home this year. It was a remarkable, unexpected turnaround for a team that was 6-7 last year and entered this season with an entirely new offensive system, new coordinator and new starting quarterback.
Virginia coach Mike London: Expectations were low for the Hoos in London’s second season, but he already exceeded them by getting the team to bowl eligibility. Now only two wins stand between Virginia and the Coastal Division title.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe: Had the Deacs defeated Clemson on the road last weekend, Grobe would have topped the list. He must still be considered at this point, considering how well Wake Forest played against the Tigers, and what a turnaround this season has been for a team that finished 3-9 a year ago. The next step is bowl eligibility.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd: The No. 9 Tigers can clinch the Atlantic Division on Saturday with a win over Wake Forest, and Boyd is a big reason. Boyd leads the ACC in passing average per game with 297.1 yards and is fourth in passing efficiency (154.8). He has 25 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins: He’s been invaluable this year, and Watkins is only a true freshman. He leads the ACC in all-purpose yards with 186.1 yards per game, leads with seven receptions per game, is second in receiving yards per game, is second in the league in kick return average and is tied for fifth in scoring. There’s no question he’s one of the best players in the country.
Virginia Tech running back David Wilson: He’s on track for a record-setting season and leads the ACC in rushing yards per game with 131.8, and has seven touchdowns. He has surpassed the 100-yard rushing mark eight times in nine games this season. His 1,185 yards are the most of any running back in the FBS.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR:
Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly: He ranks sixth on the NCAA’s FBS career list for tackles with 491. (The NCAA’s list only dates back to 2000.) Kuechly has an NCAA-leading streak of 31 straight games with 10 or more tackles. He also has 8.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. He leads the nation with 150 tackles and 16.67 per game.
Miami linebacker Sean Spence: He is the ACC’s active career leader in tackles for loss with 44, and ranks 15th nationally in tackles with 10.38 per game. He also has three sacks and leads the ACC in tackles for loss per game with 1.5.
Duke safety Matt Daniels: He ranks tied for second in the nation in passes defended (15) and passes broken up (13). He is tied for second nationally in tackles among defensive backs with 93, and leads all ACC defensive backs in tackles. He had one of his best games against a nationally ranked Virginia Tech team, with 13 tackles, two interceptions and two pass breakups.
COACH OF THE YEAR:
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney: The Tigers are 8-1, the ACC’s highest-ranked team in the BCS standings at No. 9, and can clinch the Atlantic Division on Saturday with a home win over Wake Forest. It’s a surprise turnaround after last year’s 6-7 finish.
Virginia coach Mike London: The Hoos are bowl eligible for the first time since 2007, and can win the Coastal Division by winning the final three games of the regular season. There’s no question this team has overachieved in London’s second season.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe: The Deacs were 3-9 a year ago, and now they’re playing Clemson for the lead in the Atlantic Division standings. One more win, and Wake Forest will be bowl eligible.
1. BC’s offensive line against Florida State’s defensive line. This could be the game-defining matchup, as the Eagles have been playing better up front in recent weeks and their running game has flourished as a byproduct, but Florida State’s defensive line has been flat-out dominant. The Noles are No. 3 in the country in sacks, and No. 8 in tackles for loss. Bjoern Werner (7.5) and Brandon Jenkins (6.5) lead the Seminoles in tackles for loss.
3. Quarterbacks in College Park. The saga continues, as Maryland coach Randy Edsall said on Wednesday’s ACC teleconference that both Danny O'Brien and C.J. Brown continue to compete and the Terps could “get in a situation where we play both of them, play one.” Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco, meanwhile, said this week he has benefited from the diminished role of true freshman David Watford, who was sharing the reps. Rocco took all but one snap in last weekend’s win at Miami.
4. Maryland’s run defense. The Terps enter this game with the nation’s No. 118 rushing defense, and Virginia’s ability to run the ball has been crucial to its success in this series. Virginia is 22-8 against Maryland since 1937 when gaining at least 150 rushing yards. UVa has rushed for at least 150 yards in seven of eight games in 2011. In last year’s loss, the Hoos ran for just 92.
5. NC State’s pass defense against UNC quarterback Bryn Renner. Renner is the ACC’s most efficient passer, but he will face a secondary that boasts the nation’s leader in interceptions in David Amerson, who has eight. Brandan Bishop has four. Renner has thrown nine interceptions this year to 19 touchdowns.
6. UNC tailback Giovani Bernard. He needs just 35 more yards to become the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Jonathan Linton in 1997. Bernard has 965 yards this year and leads all freshman runners in the country with 107.2 yards per game. He leads the ACC with 12 touchdowns. NC State’s rushing defense has been holding opponents to 160.1 yards per game.
7. Duke’s defense in the second half. The Blue Devils have allowed one second-half touchdown — a fourth-quarter score by Wake Forest — in their past two games, and held Virginia Tech scoreless last weekend for the entire second half. Safety Matt Daniels has defended 16 passes, second in both the ACC and the FBS.
8. Turnovers at Miami. The Hurricanes forced seven turnovers in last year’s victory over Duke, and the Blue Devils are coming off a loss to Virginia Tech in which they had four turnovers. Quarterback Sean Renfree has thrown four interceptions in the past two games, including three against the Hokies. Since the loss to Kansas State, Miami quarterback Jacory Harris has thrown 11 touchdowns to just one interception.
9. Wake Forest’s defensive line against Notre Dame’s offensive line. The Demon Deacons will have a definite size disadvantage, and the Irish went the whole month of October without allowing a sack. Notre Dame’s offense line averages 305.6 pounds; Wake Forest’s defensive front averages 247.5 pounds. Wake will have to put some pressure on Irish quarterback Tommy Rees to help disrupt a passing game targeted at one of the nation’s top receivers in Michael Floyd.
10. Wake Forest defensive back Merrill Noel. He leads the FBS in passes defended with 16, an average of 2.0 per game. The freshman only has one interception, but he’s been a major contributor to Wake’s defense and could play a crucial role in helping slow down Floyd, who is ninth nationally with 7.9 receptions per game.
1. Ray-Ray Armstrong, Miami: He was a second-team all-conference selection last year, despite starting only four games. He was third on the team with 79 tackles, including 4.5 for loss, and had three interceptions, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery.
2. Eddie Whitely, Virginia Tech: He had 80 tackles and two interceptions last year at free safety. He also broke up six passes and forced two fumbles. He’s a smart player who can line up anywhere in the secondary.
3. Earl Wolff, NC State: He led the team in tackles last year with 95, including 4.5 TFLs and two sacks. He had one interception, two pass breakups, two fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles.
4. Nick Moody, Florida State: In his first year starting at free safety, Moody ranked third on the team with 79 tackles, including four tackles for loss and 0.5 sacks. He finished the season with one interception, two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and a forced fumble.
5. Vaughn Telemaque, Miami: He was one of seven Canes to start all 13 games last year and finished fourth on the team with 59 tackles. He tied for the team lead in interceptions with three.
6. Matt Daniels, Duke: He is Duke’s leading returning tackler with 93 hits. He ranked sixth in the ACC in tackles last year and fourth in career tackles in the ACC among returnees with 198. He forced a team-high three fumbles last year and has six over the past two seasons. He had seven pass breakups last year.
7. Rodney McLeod, Virginia: He has been a two-year starter at strong safety and enters his final season with 133 career tackles. Last year he had 54 tackles and two interceptions.
8. Rashard Hall, Clemson: In two years he has had eight interceptions and five bass breakups in 27 games. He has nine career takeaways. He had 62 tackles and two interceptions last year.
9. Jim Noel, Boston College: He was second on the team with four interceptions and had 36 tackles (27 solo). He earned his first start at Florida State and made a career-high 10 tackles with a pass breakup and two interceptions, one of which he returned 43 yards for a touchdown.
10. Cyhl Quarles, Wake Forest: He finished second on the team with 71 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and he also had one interception and one fumble recovery.
2. Florida State: The Seminoles return both starters in Nick Moody and Terrance Parks. Moody had 79 tackles last season and Parks had 44 and six deflections. The group was strengthened with the addition of Lamarcus Joyner, who moved from cornerback and proved this spring he’s capable of being a safety.
3. NC State: The Wolfpack has two of the best in Earl Wolff, the team’s leading tackler last season with 95, and Brandan Bishop, who had 56 tackles and a team-high four interceptions. Dontae Johnson (22 tackles), also returns.
4. Virginia Tech: Eddie Whitley is the lone returning starter, but he should be one of the best in the ACC. Antone Exum, who was the No. 2 free safety last season, moved to rover this spring. He played in every game last season and had five starts when Tech went to its nickel defense.
5. Virginia: The Cavaliers return veteran starters in Rodney McLeod and Corey Mosley, who have combined for 41 career starts. Mosley had 52 tackles and two interceptions last season, and McLeod had 54 tackles and four pass breakups. Safety Dom Joseph (34 tackles) also returns.
6. Duke: The Blue Devils return both starters in Matt Daniels and Lee Butler. Daniels, a senior, has started 25 career games and is one of the top returning tacklers in the ACC. Butler had 58 tackles and nine passes defended last season.
7. Boston College: The Eagles return juniors Jim Noel, who had four interceptions in eight starts, and Okechukwu Okoroha, who started the final six games last fall. Noel, Okoroha, and Dominick LeGrande combined for 90 tackles last season.
8. Wake Forest: Both starters return in Daniel Mack and Cyhl Quarles. Mack had 45 tackles and two interceptions last season. Duran Lowe (30 tackles) could unseat Quarles, who is Wake’s leading returning tackler with 71 hits. Redshirt freshman Desmond Cooper is also competing for playing time.
9. Clemson: Rashard Hall has 19 career starts and made 62 tackles and two interceptions last season. Safety Jonathan Meeks (28 tackles, one start) also returns, along with Carlton Lewis.
10. Maryland: Just as Kenny Tate’s move to linebacker bumped the Terps up in the ranking in that category, his departure from safety drops them a few notches as they now don’t have any returning starters there. They do, however, have experience. Eric Franklin played in 11 games, with 23 tackles and three interceptions (tied for second on the team). Matt Robinson played in all 13 games and posted 29 tackles and forced a pair of fumbles. The Terps have plenty of depth with Austin Walker, Titus Till, Anthony Green and Desmond Haynes.
11. North Carolina: Matt Merletti had five starts and Jonathan Smith, who lettered in 2008 and 2009 but missed all of last season, are the projected starters. They will be pushed by junior Gene Robinson (four starts, 30 tackles, one interception) for playing time.
12. Georgia Tech: The Jackets had to replace both of their safeties in Mario Edwards and Jerrard Tarrant. Safety Fred Holton (11 tackles) and Isaiah Johnson (46 tackles, one interception) are the two most likely front-runners to start this fall.
Duke, the first ACC team to start spring practices, had its first spring scrimmage on Saturday, and the offense was the highlight. While it should be noted that five projected defensive starters were out with injuries, this is the kind of offensive progress Duke needs to see this spring, particularly in the running game. Defensively, it was a chance for some younger players to get some significant snaps.
OFFENSIVE HIGHLIGHTS: Quarterback Sean Renfree, who could be the lone returning full-time starting quarterback in the Coastal Division, accounted for three touchdowns and running back Patrick Kurunwune had 154 yards on eight carries. Renfree completed 7 of 13 passes for 129 yards with touchdowns of 18 yards to tight end Cooper Helfet and 55 yards to wideout Brandon Braxton. Renfree also rushed for a 3-yard touchdown. Kurunwune took off on runs of 27, 37 and 75 yards en route to averaging an impressive 19.3 yards per attempt. Fellow running backs Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson added 50 and 41 yards on the ground, respectively.
Thompson (62 yards) and wideout Conner Vernon (42 yards) led all receivers with three catches each while tight end Braxton Deaver finished with two catches for 63 yards.
DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHTS: Safety Jordon Byas led the defense with two pass breakups, one caused fumble and one fumble recovery. Defensive tackle Jamal Bruce chipped in a tackle for loss while linebacker C.J. France and defensive end Nick Sink combined on one quarterback sack. Duke is missing three injured players this spring -- linebacker Kelby Brown, safety Lee Butler and defensive end Kenny Anunike -- and noseguard Charlie Hatcher and safety Matt Daniels didn't dress for the scrimmage because of minor injuries.
QUOTABLE: “I thought we ran the ball really well today,” Renfree said, according to the team's scrimmage report. “I think it has to do with being multiple, and mostly it has to do with the performance of our offensive line. They did a great job. We’ve got a lot of good running backs and if you get holes for them, they’re dangerous. That was lot of fun to see.”
Unfortunately, our country has a pecking order when it comes to diseases, and kidney cancer is low on the depth chart.
More than 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with kidney cancer each year, but because it's a small amount relative to other diseases, the illness is considered rare and lacks the support for research and new treatments. But a group of football players are trying to change things.
Friday afternoon, Penn State will hold the sixth annual Lift For Life event, a weightlifting competition for players designed to raise funds and, perhaps more important, awareness for kidney cancer. Ninety-six Nittany Lions players will participate, with teams of four competing in 11 events ranging from the traditional (leg curls, bench press) to the bizarre (tire flipping). Fans will be able to support their favorite players, who will sign autographs after the competition. Proceeds will go to the Kidney Cancer Association.
So if you're in the vicinity of Holuba Hall -- Penn State's indoor practice facility -- around 2 p.m. today, try to get there. It's worth it.
Former Penn State wide receiver Scott Shirley started the Lift For Life event in 2003, the year after his father, Don, was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Don passed away from the disease in October 2005.
After Don's diagnosis, the Shirley family went from hospital to hospital, seeking some degree of hope. All they got was heartache.
A trip to Johns Hopkins proved to be the final straw.
"It was like going to visit the Wizard of Oz," Shirley said. "If anybody had the answer, Hopkins would. And the doctor came in and said the reality is there's nothing we can do. At that point, we were kind of at the end of road."
Shirley called the Kidney Cancer Association on his way back to State College and learned that because the disease was rare, it lacked the financial backing to push for new treatments. There was only one FDA-approved treatment, and it had just a 10 percent survival rate beyond five years.
Walking into his apartment, Shirley told his roommate and teammate, Damone Jones, the discouraging news.
"I said it's unfortunate 30,000 Americans a year get this disease and they're all told that nothing can be done because there's not enough of them," Shirley said. "Then Damone shrugged his shoulders and said, 'We're Penn State football. If I wipe my [butt] sideways, it's on the front page of the paper.
"Why not take advantage of that?'"
Their teammates, three of whom had fathers fighting the disease, immediately got on board. They decided that a weightlifting competition, open to fans and media members, would be the best way to generate attention. The first event was small, but it has since grown.
So has awareness and progress with the disease. Three new treatments have been approved in the last five years. One of the drugs, Sutent, is being used by Ohio State quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels as he fights kidney cancer.
Daniels and his son, Matt, a walk-on fullback for the Buckeyes, first contacted Shirley two years ago. Matt is organizing an Ohio State chapter of Uplifting Athletes, a nonprofit organization that helps college football players organize to raise awareness about rare diseases.
"It makes sense someone should be there to help diseases that don't have a voice," Matt Daniels said. "This has been his idea since the beginning, even from when he was playing. I really have a lot of respect for him."
Seeing Joe Daniels make progress against kidney cancer has hit home for Shirley, who quit his job as an engineer in August to become the full-time executive director of Uplifting Athletes.
"Unfortunately, my dad didn't live long enough to benefit from those treatments," Shirley said. "Having become good friends with the Daniels family, that's really when it comes full circle for me. ... It's never really been about [Don Shirley] or for him. It happened because of his situation and what I learned and what the team learned about rare diseases. And it's really grown because of the opportunity to impact so many people."
While organizing Lift For Life as players, Shirley and Jones realized they were gaining real-world event-planning experience not usually afforded to football players. The same possibility hooked Penn State sophomore wide receiver Brett Brackett, who serves as president of the Penn State chapter of Uplifting Athletes.
Uplifting Athletes also has a chapter at Colgate, which will hold a Lift For Life event July 25, and hopes to form chapters at Ohio State and Maryland.
"We don't have time during the year for internships," said Brackett, a business major. "Every part of the organization, besides the financial committee, is run by a Penn State football player. It's pretty unique."
Because of the structure, it's not hard to get teammates to pitch in.
"We try to do a lot of outreach things," said Daniels, who is planning a benefit for Uplifting Athletes in Columbus later this month. "When it's a player-initiated thing, players have more pride in that."
There will be plenty of pride in Holuba Hall Friday. After all, competition is competition.
Brackett's scouting report says look out for Team Maryland, which includes Derrick Williams, Navorro Bowman, A.J. Wallace and Aaron Maybin. Another contender is Team The Real Deihl, featuring Brackett and Mark Rubin, both of whom were on last year's winning team.
"A couple teams are pretty stacked," Brackett said.