NCF Nation: Phillip Sims

Let's face it: Not too many preseason Heisman lists in recent years featured Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III or Cam Newton. And while there are plenty of returning stars among this year's Heisman hopefuls, it's always safe to bet on at least one or two unfamiliar faces ending up in New York in December.

Who could rise out of nowhere this year? Let's take a look at some candidates in the ACC.

Jameis Winston, Florida State QB: There is an awful lot of hype for a guy who has yet to take a college football snap. Then again, Winston was the No. 1 quarterback recruit from the Class of 2012, eclipses 100 mph on the baseball diamond as a Seminoles reliever, throws footballs over fraternity houses and starred in FSU's spring game. The redshirt freshman steps into an ideal situation, surrounded by experienced guys on an offense that is coming off an Orange Bowl win. And, well, he absolutely owned FSU's media day Sunday.

Taquan Mizzell, Virginia RB: The Cavaliers struggled running the ball last season, finishing 96th nationally in rushing yards per game (128.5). They have also said goodbye to Clifton Richardson, Perry Jones and Phillip Sims. Enter "Smoke" -- or, as coach Mike London has called him since a victorious 1-on-1 hoops game, "Mist." ESPN's No. 9 running back prospect from the Class of 2013 notched 1,231 yards and 39 total touchdowns last season at Bayside (Va.) High, and he figures to make his presence felt early at Virginia.

Anthony Boone, Duke QB: Yes, Boone is a redshirt junior. But he was behind school record-setter Sean Renfree the past two seasons, as he watched Renfree take Duke to a bowl game last year while receiving spot duty here and there. He relived an injured Renfree and rushed for a go-ahead, fourth-quarter touchdown in a win at Wake Forest, then started a week later in a rout of Virginia. For his career, Boone has completed 53.4 percent of his passes in 22 games for 839 yards with six touchdowns and three picks. He also adds another dimension on the ground, having rushed for 211 yards and six more scores. Boone now has the starting job to himself, and teammates have said there is little indication that they are playing with a first-year starter.
David Watford has won the Virginia starting quarterback job and will make his first career start against BYU in the season opener, coach Mike London announced Monday.

Watford had been the favorite to win the job after the Cavs lost both starters from a year ago -- Michael Rocco decided to transfer to Richmond and Phillip Sims was dismissed from the program following spring practice. Though Watford has not taken a snap in a game since 2011, he is the most experienced quarterback on the roster. Greyson Lambert, the player Watford beat out, is a redshirt freshman.

Watford played in 10 games as a true freshman in 2011, but redshirted last year as London decided to go with both Rocco and Sims at quarterback. Virginia has not had much stability at quarterback over the past several seasons, but London wants to change that heading into 2013. He said at ACC media days he wants to pick a starter and go with him as opposed to constantly rotating.

London pointed to a few factors that allowed Watford to emerge as his starter. The biggest factors in the decision were Watford's overall development and game experience. Watford also is mobile, another important factor.

But it seems as if Watford has some intangibles that London also is looking for out of his starting quarterback. London said Watford has the respect of his teammates. "He can be the face of the program," London said.

Watford has an opportunity to become just that in the first two games. After BYU, the Cavs get to take on Oregon in Week 2. There won't be any easing into the starting job.
1. Football players are notorious for not donating money to their alma maters. Supposedly, they believe that they gave enough of themselves in blood and sweat when they played, forgetting that they received an education and a step up the ladder in return. So kudos to Oklahoma, who announced recently that former Sooner All-Americans Adrian Peterson and Sam Bradford donated $500,000 apiece to the new $75 million Headington Hall. The donations say a lot about them -- and about their experience at OU.

2. As usual, Duke head coach and quarterback guru David Cutcliffe taught me something, but it wasn’t what I expected to hear. The rise of young quarterbacks in today’s game, Cutcliffe told me on the ESPNU College Football Podcast, is in part because the up-tempo spread offense is less taxing intellectually than traditional pro sets. The emphasis is on speed of decision, not complexity. It’s hand off or keep, hand off or throw, and do it now.

3. The only thing consistent about Virginia quarterbacks Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims last year was the tension that hovered around the offense all season. It showed. The Cavaliers scored 17 points or fewer in six games, won one of them, and finished 4-8. Rocco (graduation) and Sims (academics) are gone. Head coach Mike London told me on the podcast Monday that whoever wins the job -- sophomore David Watford and redshirt freshman Grayson Lambert are the favorites -- will be The Guy. Job-sharing is over.

More quarterback drama for UVa

May, 31, 2013
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First Michael Rocco decided to transfer.

Now Phillip Sims is ineligible.

So, here is where things stand for the Cavs: A program that has struggled to find consistency at quarterback enters 2013 without either player who made a start a year ago.

[+] EnlargePhillip Sims
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsPhillip Sims is the latest Virginia quarterback to leave the program.
Perhaps most telling? Neither move came as a terrible shock. Both players were frustrated with their roles last year, when coach Mike London played musical quarterbacks -- first starting Rocco, then Sims, then having them both split time. Rocco high-tailed it out after the season ended. On his way out, he had some choice words for London, telling Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times, "It's an unhealthy environment for any quarterback at UVa. It was hard on all the quarterbacks, not just me."

With Rocco gone, Sims became the favorite to win the starting job. But he opened the spring No. 3 on the depth chart, and let his frustrations be known in cryptic statements to several local reporters. When he was asked if he was starting to feel more like himself on the field, Sims replied, "It really looks like it's headed in the opposite direction, but I'm here to play football, man" -- then refused to elaborate.

Sims did not grab a hold of the starting job in the spring. When the post-spring depth chart was released, Sims, David Watford and Greyson Lambert remained in competition. As much as he wanted to see Sims succeed, London did not hold back in a harshly worded statement Friday, calling Sims out for failing to adhere to basic guidelines.

"The thing we tell the young men who come to the University of Virginia to receive a world-class education and play for our football program is pretty simple,” London said. “Go to class. Show class and treat people with dignity and respect. Those directions are pretty easy to follow and they will lead you on a path of success.

“When an individual strays from those directions, it is very disappointing to me. Phillip Sims did not make the commitment he needed to succeed here."

Disappointing is probably putting it mildly. Sims was one of the most high profile recruits in the nation in 2010, ranked the No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country. He could have gone anywhere. London wanted him to stay close to home.

Sims chose Alabama.

After redshirting, Sims entered into a quarterback competition with AJ McCarron in 2011. Though Sims played as a redshirt freshman, he clearly would not become the starter for the Tide, and opted to transfer to Virginia.

The move was seen as a big victory for the Cavs, as they secured a high-profile talent from the most high-profile school in the nation. He was granted a waiver for immediate eligibility. But his arrival did not exactly calm the waters, as the Cavs struggled to a 4-8 mark.

So the Cavs go into the spring now with Watford and Lambert as their top two quarterbacks. Watford has not played since 2011 after redshirting last year; Lambert is a redshirt freshman. So is Matt Johns, sure to get more reps this fall.

Sims, for all his incredible potential, goes down as yet another example of a gifted player who cannot seem to figure out how to best utilize his natural talent.

Two stops at BCS programs for Sims, and nothing to show for it. Based on the statement from London, it is reasonable to conclude Sims could not get out of his own way.
The first Saturday of April kicks off spring football scrimmages around the country.

Baylor will unveil its new quarterback, while Georgia and Nebraska might need name tags on defense with so many new starters.

Most spring games are nothing more than glorified controlled scrimmages, and Florida's figures to be even less exciting because of injuries.

Here's a closer look at a few of Saturday's spring games:

Baylor Bears: Baylor fans will get their first chance to see if the Bears' transition to a new quarterback will go as smoothly as the last one.

Junior Bryce Petty is the heir apparent to replace Nick Florence, who threw for 4,309 yards with 33 touchdowns last season after replacing Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III.

Petty, who was headed to Tennessee until coach Phillip Fulmer was fired, completed seven of 10 passes for 97 yards with one touchdown in six games last season.

The Bears also bring back eight defensive starters, after allowing 37.2 points per game last season.

Florida Gators: Because of myriad injuries along the offensive line, the Gators won't have a traditional spring game on Saturday at The Swamp. Florida coach Will Muschamp said the Gators will still have some team scrimmage work, but they'll also compete in individual coverage, pass rush and blocking drills.

"I can't ask these guys to line up and go 80 straight plays," Muschamp said. "Actually, it's going to be more beneficial for us to get the individual work, instead of just putting the ball down and scrimmaging."

Because of injuries, Florida is down to only six scholarship offensive linemen available for the spring. Four returning linemen are hurt and one is suspended; five more freshmen linemen will join the team this summer.

Among the walking wounded: starting guard Jon Halapio (shoulder), right tackle Chaz Green (ankle), guard Ian Silberman (shoulder), and guard Max Garcia (back). Guard Jessamen Dunker has been suspended since Jan. 16 after he was arrested for stealing a motor scooter.

Georgia Bulldogs: Quarterback Aaron Murray and tailbacks Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall are back, but much of the focus in Saturday's G-Day spring game at Sanford Stadium will be on UGA's defense.

The Bulldogs have to replace star linebackers Jarvis Jones and Alex Ogletree, as well as nose tackle John Jenkins and free safety Bacarri Rambo. In all, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has to identify seven new starters on defense.

Freshman Tray Matthews, a mid-year enrollee, has raised a lot of eyebrows during spring practice and might emerge as a starting free safety this fall. Sophomore Josh Harvey-Clemons, another big hitter, appears set as the starting strong safety. Senior end Garrison Smith and sophomore linebacker Jordan Jenkins have emerged as two of the most consistent pass-rushers.

UGA fans won't see receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who will miss the spring game because of torn cartilage in his knee. He's expected to be ready for the start of preseason camp.

Nebraska Cornhuskers: Like Georgia, the Cornhuskers are undergoing a complete facelift on defense, after ranking 58th nationally in scoring defense (27.5 points per game) and 90th in run defense (192.5 yards per game). Nebraska lost end Cameron Meredith, tackle Baker Steinkuhler, linebacker Will Compton, along with five other starters on defense. The Cornhuskers will unveil their new-look defense in Saturday's spring game at Memorial Stadium.

A lot of eyes will be on freshman tackle Vincent Valentine, who might be the Cornhuskers' most physically imposing lineman since Ndamukong Suh. At 6 feet 3, 325 pounds, the Cornhuskers really need Valentine to contribute this coming season. Fans are also excited to see end Greg McMullen, and JUCO end Randy Gregory is expected to help when he gets on campus this summer.

Thomas Brown, Michael Rose and Jared Afalava are freshmen to watch at linebacker.

Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini is expected to play it safe with quarterback Taylor Martinez, who will probably only see a couple of series. I-back Ameer Abdullah, linebacker David Santos and cornerback Daniel Davie have already been ruled out.

Virginia Cavaliers: Virginia fans will get an up-close look at the Cavaliers' revamped coaching staff in Saturday's Orange-Blue spring game. After the Cavaliers went 4-8 for the second time in coach Mike London's three-year tenure, he hired four new assistants.

Longtime defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta spent the spring installing an aggressive, blitz-heavy scheme, and former Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild was hired to take over the offense. Former NC State coach Tom O'Brien was hired to coach tight ends and serve as associate head coach for offense, and former Idaho State coach Larry Lewis is the new special teams coordinator/running backs coach.

On the field, sophomore David Watford is battling Greyson Lambert and Phillip Sims for the starting quarterback job. Sims, an Alabama transfer who started four games for the Cavaliers last season, went into the spring at No. 3 on the depth chart.

Competition is on for UVa QBs

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Virginia released its depth chart today and -- surprise -- quarterback Phillip Sims is listed third behind David Watford and Greyson Lambert.

[+] EnlargePhillip Sims
AP Photo/Steve HelberDespite starting four games for the Cavaliers last season, Phillip Sims is still having to compete for the role of UVa's starting quarterback.
That lineup carries about as much weight as a snowflake right now.

Why? Because first-year offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild, and first-year assistant Tom O’Brien, the associate head coach for the offense -- not to mention coach Mike London -- have yet to see any of these quarterbacks throw the ball in the new system. Sims, a former transfer from Alabama, was a fan favorite last year, but there is nothing concrete about the spring depth chart. It’s a blank slate for each of them, as practices begin today in Charlottesville.

“The great thing about the fresh start is for all of those guys concerned because now there are fresh eyes on the whole quarterback situation,” London said. “… With this new scheme and system, and the accountability we’re placing on the players, there are basically three fresh eyes between Larry Lewis, Fairchild and O’Brien. I would say even the fourth one would be Jon Tenuta, since he’ll be going against these guys, to evaluate those quarterbacks on who could best run the system, who can best make the decisions that are necessary.”

Watford played as a true freshman in 2011 but redshirted last year. Sims started four games last year in place of Michael Rocco, who has since transferred. Sims finished with nine touchdowns and four interceptions, having completed 56.2 percent of his passes for 1,263 yards. Lambert and Matt Johns are both redshirt freshmen.

“Phillip has an advantage of having played this season, David has the advantage of having played and watched what has gone on, and Grayson and Matt Johns are just soaking everything up,” London said. “Now the challenge will be who can best pick up the system and who can do the things that are required for our offense to be successful. I think the evaluation of that is more critical than the who right now. Who can handle what Steven and the offensive coaches are going to be asking of the quarterbacks?”

The bigger question is if London can find one quarterback who can do it instead of two. Rotating signal callers has become an unpopular trend in Charlottesville, but in London’s defense, a true star has yet to emerge. Virginia’s quarterback competition has been an ongoing storyline during London’s tenure as head coach, and the saga will continue this spring -- starting with today’s depth chart.

“I think Phillip is a competitor,” London said. “He wants to compete. I know he has a strong arm, and he likes to throw the ball deep. He likes to throw those deep, intermediate routes. Like every player, particularly a quarterback, it’s a timing game and you have to work on your timing -- when to throw, when to pull it down. Different things like that. I think that if you think about it, having come from Alabama, and coming to us, and now with Steve Fairchild, it will be basically his third system in the last three years that he’s played. Being able to adapt to that is going to be critical, as it will be for David, who sat and watched a system. With Phillip and everyone else, the learning curve is going to be important with these 15 short practices we have in the spring.”
Here is one trend to keep an eye on this spring in the ACC.

The potential rise of dual-threat quarterbacks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miami: Pro-style, Stephen Morris.

North Carolina: Pro-style Bryn Renner.

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

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

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

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

Virginia Tech: Dual-threat with Thomas.

Wake Forest: Working toward making Price more dual threat.
DUKE

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Boone is up. Duke loses three-year starter Sean Renfree, who threw for 3,113 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. Anthony Boone is the next man up, and has plenty of game experience. But coming in for spot duty is vastly different from taking over the starting quarterback job. He has to get a jump on becoming the leader of this offense in the spring.

2. Receiver spots open. The Blue Devils lose the most prolific receiver in ACC history in Conner Vernon, plus the versatile and athletic Desmond Scott. Jamison Crowder is back, but Duke is going to need to find two more starters and several more to step up and help with depth.

3. Handling success. This is the first time since 1994 that Duke goes into a spring with 15 bowl practices already under its belt and a taste of success. That should presumably give the Blue Devils an advantage. But it is much harder maintaining, as many coach will tell you. How does this new success impact the mind-set in spring practice?

GEORGIA TECH

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

1. Ted Roof takes over. What is the Georgia Tech defense going to look like with Ted Roof in charge? He has not really given out specifics about the type of scheme he wants to use as his base, so it will be interesting to see how he fits his personnel to what he likes to do best. The Jackets do return eight starters to a unit that improved in the second half of the season.

2. Vad Lee time. We saw glimpse of what Lee could do as he began to share quarterback duties with Tevin Washington last season. Now, the show is all his, so we get to see how he develops as a full-time starter.

3. So long, Orwin. The Jackets lose one of their most dynamic playmakers in Orwin Smith, who finished his career ranked among Georgia Tech’s all-time leaders in kickoff returns (76), kickoff return yards (1,624) and career all-purpose yards (4,278). Georgia Tech has to find somebody to replace that productivity.

MIAMI

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. D in Defense? The No. 1 spring priority has got to be improving a defense that was one of the worst in the nation in every NCAA statistical category (No. 112 rushing defense, No. 102 passing defense, No. 116 total defense, No. 82 scoring defense). If Miami is going to be a favorite to win the Coastal, it needs better play out of this group.

2. New OC. James Coley takes over as offensive coordinator, replacing Jedd Fisch. Coley served as offensive coordinator at Florida State before arriving at Miami, but did not call the plays. So he has much more responsibility here, and is charged with taking Stephen Morris from great to next-level great.

3. D-Line improvement. If Miami is going to be better on defense, it has to start up front, where the Hurricanes were extremely young and mostly ineffective for 2012. The Hurricanes had to deal with their share of injuries, but they also were not great at stopping the run or putting pressure on the passer -- with only 13 sacks all year. That is the lowest total since at least 2005, the first year NCAA stats began listing team sack totals.

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

1. Bye bye, Gio. Life begins without All-ACC running back Giovani Bernard, who left school early for the NFL draft. The cupboard is not completely bare, though, as A.J. Blue and Romar Morris both return. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

2. Replacing Williams, Reddick. North Carolina returns nine starters on defense. That is the good news. The bad news is the Tar Heels lose their two best players in linebacker Kevin Reddick and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, two first-team All-ACC selections. We'll see if Ethan Farmer at tackle and P.J. Clyburn at linebacker emerge to win the starting jobs.

3. Replacing Coop. The Tar Heels have a major hole to fill on their offensive line as they say goodbye to unanimous All-America guard Jonathan Cooper, a stalwart who made 47 career starts. Cooper was the unheralded leader of the offense, so filling his spot is a major priority this spring.

PITTSBURGH

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

1. QB situation. Tino Sunseri is gone, leaving Arizona transfer Tom Savage, redshirt freshman Chad Voytik and junior Trey Anderson to compete for the starting job. Inconsistent quarterback play has been a major issue for the Panthers, so upgrading this position is an absolute must.

2. Adjusting to DC. Pitt is going into the season with its fourth new coordinator in as many years, as Dave Huxtable left for NC State after only one year on the job. Secondary coach Matt House was promoted to coordinator, so at least there will be some familiarity. But he has to get to work on improving this unit's consistency.

3. Offensive line improvements. Is this the year we finally see a vastly improved Pitt offensive line? The Panthers have to replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson, two key positions to watch during spring practice.

VIRGINIA

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

1. New coaches. How will the three most high-profile hires Mike London made mesh with the staff and returning players? How will the offense deal with a new scheme under Steve Fairchild? How will the defense deal with a new scheme under Jon Tenuta? How big will Tom O'Brien's role be with the offense? Inquiring minds want to know.

2. QB competition. Fairchild has already said he will open up the quarterback job to a "very spirited competition" this spring. The two front-runners figure to be Phillip Sims and David Watford, who both have game experience. But there will be no shortage of quarterbacks in Charlottesville this year, so there are no guarantees that either of them will win the job.

3. Replacing Greer. The Hoos have some big shoes to fill in the middle of their defense with the departure of linebacker Steve Greer, who ended his career with 376 tackles -- ranking No. 6 in school history. Kwontie Moore, one of nine true freshmen to play in 2012, backed up Greer last season. Will he win the starting job?

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

1. Logan Thomas. All eyes will be on Thomas as he heads into his senior season, especially with new offensive coordinator in Scot Loeffler in charge. How will the two work together, and what will Loeffler do to get Thomas to cut down on his mistakes and capitalize on the immense potential he has?

2. Rushing attack. Item No. 2 on the agenda for Loeffler is to figure out a way to jump start the Virginia Tech rushing game, which struggled in 2012. The offensive line was inconsistent, and so were the running backs. The Hokies could never really settle on a starter or a clear rotation in the backfield, either. Somebody has to emerge as THE guy.

3. Filling in for Exum. Virginia Tech took a serious hit to its defensive backfield last month when emerging cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. The Hokies will look to several young players to try and fill his void, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Fans will have to wait on highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller, who joins in the summer.

Q&A with UVa OC Steve Fairchild

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Two weeks ago, Virginia announced the hire of Steve Fairchild as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Last year, Fairchild was the senior offensive assistant for the San Diego Chargers after spending four seasons as the head coach at Colorado State. He inherits an offense that was No. 93 in the country in scoring last year at 22.75 points per game. I caught up with Fairchild recently to help introduce him to UVa and ACC fans.

Here are the highlights of our conversation:

What are you looking forward to about this job? Why was it the right fit for you?

[+] EnlargeSteve Fairchild
Troy Babbitt/USA TODAY SportsSteve Fairchild, who was Colorado State's head coach in 2011, will take over as the Virginia Cavaliers' offensive coordinator this season.
Steve Fairchild: I spent most of my career coaching quarterbacks and as an offensive coordinator, so I was looking to do that again. I was also very impressed with this university and the ACC, so it piqued my interest. As the process started to unfold, getting to know Mike London was probably the thing that sold me most on it. It just seemed like the right fit.

Tell me just a little bit about your offensive philosophy. What can ACC fans expect from you?

SF: We’d like to try to install a pro-style offense here. Obviously as we get to know our players better as we go through spring football, we’ll adapt to whatever we’re doing, to what our players do best, and obviously to try to identify our playmakers. But we’d like to start with a pro-style offense, be balanced, have a physical mentality running the football, try to create some big plays and spread the field with the passing game.

I know you were with the San Diego Chargers, but you also have collegiate experience. Without trying to put you on the spot, is there one you prefer more, colleges or the pros?

SF: There’s plusses and minuses for both. I’ve gone back and forth a little bit. This was more about the job description and the people. I’ve worked with Larry Lewis, who’s on the staff here now. I’ve known Tom O’Brien for a while. And then getting to know Mike London. I feel very good about the people, very good about the job description. It felt like the right fit.

You’re a Colorado State grad, too, right?

SF: My wife and I both.

How familiar are you with recruiting around the ACC area?

SF: I’ve recruited, I just haven’t been in the ACC, so I’m sure I’ll be brought up to task on that. I’ve recruited out this way, in terms of area, so I don’t think it will be a big adjustment.

Virginia’s quarterbacks have been a big storyline there for I feel like as long as I’ve been covering the ACC. How familiar are you with Phillip Sims and David Watford, and what’s that situation look like going into the spring, or is it too early to even ask you about that?

SF: It’s probably a little early to ask. I’ve looked at a little tape. I didn’t want to look at too much and get any preconceived ideas, but we’ll open up the quarterback job to a very spirited competition here as we go into spring football. We’ve got four guys on the roster that we all think have a chance, so we’ll see where it goes.

You talked a bit about your offensive philosophy. How much do you have to change? How big of an adjustment is this going to be for Virginia this offseason?

SF: I don’t know because I’m not totally familiar with what when on here last year in terms of scheme and terminology. I’ve got a basis for where we’re going to start, and that’s what we’re doing this next month, is create our system with Tom O’Brien and all of the other coaches on offense. There are a lot of talented guys there. We’ll see. It will be an adjustment, no doubt, because it’s different than what they’ve done, but hopefully not too big of a learning curve.

Do you have any goals for this spring as far as what percentage of the playbook you want to install?

SF: No, I don’t have any idea on how much we’ll get installed. We’ll make a determination each day if we can go forward and how much. I just like to establish in the spring the way we practice, the way we go about the game, protect the football, the tempo we play at. Usually the first two or three practices are establishing those things.
The ACC’s crop of 2013 quarterbacks will be an interesting blend of old and new. Veterans Logan Thomas and Tajh Boyd both decided to return for their senior seasons instead of leaving early for the NFL draft, but several big names -- like EJ Manuel and Mike Glennon -- will be missing. Here’s a quick rundown of the position heading into the 2013 season:

IN GREAT SHAPE

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

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

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

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

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

IN GOOD SHAPE

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

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

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

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

COMPETITION IS ON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Virginia coach Mike London fired four of his assistants, including defensive coordinator Jim Reid -- a man London likes very much. Quarterback Michael Rocco decided to transfer (can you blame him?), and now Rocco has blasted London for his use of a two-quarterback system (just like many ACC fans have all season long):
"It's an unhealthy environment for any quarterback at UVa," Rocco told Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times. "It was hard on all the quarterbacks, not just me."

Ouch.

London's decision to fire Reid was as puzzling as his use of the quarterbacks this year, which leads me to believe it wasn't entirely his decision. If this was an administrative move forced upon London, it was the wrong one, and London is going to take some heat for it. Reid was tasked with coaching a group that had to replace seven starters and was very young. Virginia was No. 31 in the country in scoring defense and showed progress every week. Don't forget the offense in that two-quarterback mess was turning it over every other play and putting the defense back on the field again.

Arguably the biggest disappointment for Virginia was its inability to run the ball, not the defense. Virginia was supposed to have two of the ACC's top offensive tackles in Morgan Moses and Oday Aboushi. With Kevin Parks and Perry Jones in the backfield, along with talent up front, there's no reason Virginia should have ranked No. 96 in the country in rushing offense. That certainly doesn't fall on Reid.

London, just one year removed from being named the ACC's Coach of the Year, has a bit of a mess to clean up in Charlottesville, starting with hiring a defensive coordinator. Look for the Hoos to go in a different direction regarding style and philosophy, otherwise it really wouldn't make any sense. And Phillip Sims better be every bit as good as many seem to think he is. Otherwise, we'll have Sims and David Watford repeating the Sims and Rocco storyline, and there will only be one scapegoat left.
It has been quite an eventful day at Virginia.

Coach Mike London announced that quarterback Michael Rocco has been granted his transfer request, and that he has fired four members of his coaching staff. Associate head coach/defensive coordinator Jim Reid, defensive line coach/recruiting coordinator Jeff Hanson, running backs coach Mike Faragalli and tight ends coach Shawn Moore are all out in the wake of a disappointing 4-8 season and last-place finish in the Coastal Division.

London also announced safeties coach Anthony Poindexter will no longer be the Cavaliers’ special-teams coordinator but will remain on staff.

The news on Rocco does not come as a huge shock, considering the way London rotated him and Phillip Sims this season. Rocco entered the year as the starter, then lost his job to Sims, then shared duties with him in the final games of the season. He ended 2012 with 1,917 yards, 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

His 2,671 passing yards in 2011 ranks as the fourth best single-season total in Virginia history. He leaves the Cavalier program ranked eighth on the all-time passing list with 4,731 yards. Sims, who transferred in from Alabama this season, should now enter spring ball as the starter for the Hoos.

"After meeting with Michael and discussing his future with our program and his personal goals and interests, I understand his desire to complete his college football career elsewhere," London said in a statement. "Michael has been an outstanding member of our program on the field, in the classroom and in the community. I appreciate the competitive nature, work ethic and leadership he brought to our program and I wish him the best in his future endeavors."

As for the staff changes, all four coaches have been members of London’s staff since he took over the UVa program in December 2009. Hanson and Faragalli were also members of London’s staff at Richmond during the 2008 and 2009 seasons. We had seen marked improvement from the young UVa defense in the second half of the season, but that wasn't enough to save Reid's job.

"After conducting a complete evaluation of the program and discussing my thoughts with administration, there are a number of areas we need to improve on and it starts with me as the head coach," London said in a statement. "The decision to release these four coaches is very difficult, but one I feel is necessary in order to meet the goals we have set for the Virginia football program. I have coached with some of these men for many years, won a national championship with some, and I truly appreciate their dedication and commitment, and more importantly, their friendships. I wish them all the best."

The total buyout for the four assistant coaches is $1.36 million, though that number could decrease with future employment.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 12

November, 19, 2012
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Here’s a look back at the highlights (and lowlights) of Week 12:

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesBeating LSU and finishing the season with 11 wins would be feats worth celebrating for Tajh Boyd and Clemson.
The good: Quarterbacks. Mike Glennon threw for 493 yards and five touchdowns -- and lost. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd accounted for eight touchdowns, Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington had four, Miami’s Stephen Morris threw for 413 yards, Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas threw for two touchdowns and ran for another to keep the Hokies’ bowl hopes alive, and North Carolina’s Bryn Renner threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter against Virginia. It was a good weekend overall for the league’s quarterbacks. Well, most of them ...

The bad: Wake Forest’s offense. There wasn’t any. The Deacs didn’t reach the end zone once in the 38-0 loss at Notre Dame, and were held to only 55 yards rushing and nine first downs, and 4-of-15 third-down conversions.

The baffling: Virginia’s two-quarterback rotation. Phillip Sims was hot, and Michael Rocco was cold -- literally. He had to be, coming off the bench and throwing a dreadful pick, followed by a fumble in the Cavaliers’ 37-13 loss to UNC. Pick one, any one.

The news: While the games were being played Saturday, news broke that Maryland is interested in joining the Big Ten. The University System of Maryland's Board of Regents will meet Monday morning to vote whether to accept an invitation to join the Big Ten Conference, a source told ESPN.

The eligible: Both Georgia Tech and Miami became bowl eligible this weekend with wins over Duke and South Florida, respectively.

The relieved: Virginia Tech. The Hokies barely escaped Chestnut Hill with their bowl hopes alive. Virginia Tech must now beat UVa in the season finale to reach six wins.

The champs: Florida State clinched the Atlantic Division and guaranteed itself a spot in the Dec. 1 ACC championship game with a 41-14 win at Maryland.

The perfect 10s: Both Florida State and Clemson earned 10-win regular seasons for the first time in a long time. The Noles did it for the first time since 2003, and Clemson did it for the first time since 1981.

The ugly: NC State’s defense. The Pack allowed Clemson to rack up 754 total yards, 34 first downs and 62 points.

The record: NC State receiver Tobais Palmer set an ACC record with 496 all-purpose yards. He had 277 yards on kickoff returns and caught seven passes for 219 yards and three touchdowns.

The record II: Boyd’s eight touchdowns were a school and ACC record.

The record III: Clemson’s 102 plays were the most in school history.

The ridiculous: How many offensive records have been set this year.

The quote: "I think we came up two yards short for the all-time school record tonight, so we have some improving to do.” -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney of his team’s 754 yards, according to The Associated Press.

Virginia hopes to keep momentum

November, 15, 2012
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Just about everybody buried Virginia after the Hoos went into their bye week on a six-game losing streak.

Too many turnovers. Too many penalties. Too much inconsistency.

But a strange thing happened at the bottom of the heap. Virginia started winning. The same team that had trouble scoring points and holding onto the football has combined for 78 points and omore than 900 yards of offense in the past two weeks, with just two turnovers. The two-game points spree is the most Virginia has scored in consecutive games against FBS opponents in seven years.

[+] EnlargeMichael Rocco
Paul Frederiksen/US PresswireQuarterback Michael Rocco has helped lead a late-season resurgence by Virginia.
In the three weeks prior to its bye, Virginia had scored a combined 37 points with seven turnovers.

The wins have not come against the dregs of the league, either. NC State and Miami had winning records going into their games, but Virginia (4-6, 2-4) found ways to win both. Now comes another test against another winning team -- Coastal Division rival North Carolina (6-4, 3-3) tonight at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN.

“A lot of people wrote us off," said Virginia quarterback Michael Rocco, a huge reason why Virginia has seemingly turned its season around. "A six-game losing streak doesn’t look promising, but we really had a confidence among our guys and a maturity to just keep pressing on. Coach (Mike) London emphasized it in our meetings and everything we do, just that we’re a couple plays away -- a couple less turnovers away, a couple forced turnovers away, a couple of big plays away from winning the close games we lost.

"We just buckled down and had a maturity not to give up, keep pressing on. That’s what we’ve done the past couple of weeks, and that’s what we’ll continue to do to hopefully win out.”

London unveiled a two-quarterback system against NC State, playing both Rocco and Phillip Sims. Generally speaking, teams that play two quarterbacks often have no answers at quarterback. But Virginia is 2-0 with both playing, though Rocco really emerged in the win against Miami last week. He threw four touchdown passes, including the game-winner with six seconds remaining.

Still, London has no plans to do anything differently against the Tar Heels -- who are coming into the game without the momentum Virginia has. North Carolina gave up 68 points last week in a loss to Georgia Tech and has now had a short work week to fix its mistakes and get ready for another game.

But perhaps the short week benefits North Carolina.

"You have a bad taste in your mouth, you only have a few days and hopefully you get that bad taste out of your mouth so you don't have to wait all the way until Saturday," UNC coach Larry Fedora said. "I think our guys have handled the short week well in practices, the way they have done it, gone about it; their maturity, the way we have wanted to have energy out there, but also be able to take something off of them. But I guess the real proof is going to be how we play Thursday night."

The obvious player storyline involves North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard, who ranks No. 3 in the nation in all-purpose yards. Virginia had major problems trying to stop Miami all-purpose runner Duke Johnson last week. Johnson had 368 all-purpose yards against the Hoos, fourth most in ACC history and best all-time for a freshman. Johnson ranks No. 9 in the nation in all-purpose yards.

Since 1940, the winning team in this series has had the most yards rushing 55 of 69 times, with one game featuring the same yardage for both.

If Virginia can find a way to slow Bernard down, the Hoos will have a great shot to keep their bowl hopes alive -- just weeks after a 2-6 start to the season had many wondering just what had happened to this team.

"I know every team in America could say that they’ve worked hard, and they want to for their seniors, but this group of seniors has really been special to us," Rocco said the prospects of going bowling. "They helped us turn the program around last year and did a great job at that, and now we’ve kind of overcome adversity and continue to work. We’re taking it one game at a time, but getting to that bowl game would be awesome for our seniors."


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