NCF Nation: Preston Lyons

The 2011 ACC All-Bowl team

January, 13, 2012
1/13/12
11:00
AM ET
It's time to wrap up the 2011 season with the top performers from the bowl games. No, they’re not all from Florida State and NC State. Although they could be …

Offense:

QB: Mike Glennon, NC State: He was named the MVP of the Belk Bowl after throwing for 264 yards and three touchdowns to lead NC State past Louisville 31-24.

RB: Preston Lyons, Georgia Tech: The senior fullback started in place of injured David Sims and rushed for 138 yards in the overtime loss to Utah. Before this, Lyons had never rushed for more than 50 yards in a game.

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Dave MartinVirginia Tech running back David Wilson finished the season with 1,709 rushing yards.
RB: David Wilson, Virginia Tech: He broke the school’s single-season rushing record in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Michigan with 82 yards on 24 carries. He finished the season with 1,709 yards. His 11-yard run on his second carry of the third quarter enabled him to surpass Ryan Williams’ mark of 1,655 yards set in 2009.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State: He had five catches for 99 yards and a touchdown in the 18-14 win against Notre Dame and was named the MVP of the Champs Sports Bowl. His 15-yard touchdown catch with just over 13 minutes to play gave the Noles a 15-14 lead.

WR: T.J. Graham, NC State: He finished with seven catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Louisville. He also had three kick returns for 63 yards and one punt return for two yards.

WR: Kris Burd, Virginia: He had six catches, 103 yards, two touchdowns and a broken collarbone. He became only the third player in school history to score two receiving touchdowns in a bowl game.

OT: Zebrie Sanders, Florida State: He was the lone senior on an offensive line that started four freshmen. He posted a career-high grade of 94 percent in his final game at left tackle.

OT: Rob Crisp, NC State: Hey, no other lineman in the ACC had a reception in a bowl game. Granted, his teammates keep ribbing him for rumbling and fumbling, but Crisp played a good game, paving the way for the offense from the right tackle spot.

G: Josue Matias, Florida State: As one of four true freshman starters on the Noles’ line, Matias posted a grade of 82 percent from the left guard position in his first career start.

G: Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech: Even with guard Omoregie Uzzi sitting out with an injury and suspended tackle Phil Smith on a bus back to Atlanta, Tech rolled up 311 rushing yards and 448 total yards against a Utah defense that was ranked among the nation’s best entering the Hyundai Sun Bowl.

C: Dalton Freeman, Clemson: Freeman had an 84 percent grade and four knockdowns in helping Clemson to 443 yards and 33 points against West Virginia.

Defense:

DE: Brandon Jenkins, Florida State: He finished with two tackles (both solo), including one sack for minus-10 yards. His sack in the third quarter took Notre Dame out of field goal range.

DT: Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest: He finished with six tackles, 0.5 sacks, 1.5 tackles for loss and one fumble recovery in the loss to Mississippi State.

[+] EnlargeMarkus Kuhn
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneThe Wolfpack's Markus Kuhn lands on Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater for a sack during the Belk Bowl.
DT: Markus Kuhn, NC State: He finished with three tackles, including 1.5 for a loss of seven yards. He also had one sack for a loss of six yards in the win against Louisville.

DE: J.R. Collins, Virginia Tech: He finished second on the team with seven tackles and had one tackle for loss in the loss to Michigan in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

LB: Nigel Bradham, Florida State: He closed out his career with a team-high nine tackles (eight solo) against Notre Dame, finishing the season with a team-leading 86. He was the first FSU player to lead the team in tackles for three consecutive years since All-American Marvin Jones (1990-92). Bradham also added his third career interception in the win.

LB: Tariq Edwards, Virginia Tech: He finished with a team-high eight tackles, one sack for a loss of seven yards and two tackles for a loss of eight yards in the loss to Michigan.

LB: Audie Cole, NC State: The senior ended his career with a team-high 10 tackles, including a pair of sacks and four tackles for loss.

DB: David Amerson, NC State: He had two interceptions and returned one of them 65 yards for a touchdown in the Belk Bowl win against Louisville. He became the ACC’s leader in interceptions in a single season with 13. It was one shy of the Football Bowl Subdivision record set by Al Worley of Washington in 1968.

DB: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech: He intercepted a pass by Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson in the first quarter. The interception marked his second of the season and the second of his career.

DB: Merrill Noel, Wake Forest: He had a team-leading seven tackles and one interception for 18 yards in the 23-17 loss to Mississippi State.

DB: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State: With Notre Dame inside the 5-yard line, Joyner intercepted his team-best fourth pass of the season. His 77-yard kickoff return after Notre Dame went up 14-0 was the longest kickoff return by a Seminole this year. It was also the third-longest in FSU bowl and Champs Sports Bowl history.

Special teams:

P: Shawn Powell, Florida State: He punted 8 times for 378 yards and a 47.2-yard average. He had three punts of more than 50 yards and landed two inside the 20-yard line. His performance sealed his title as the nation’s leader in punting.

P/K: Justin Myer, Virginia Tech: Myer entered the game 0-for-2 on the season but made field goals in the Allstate Sugar Bowl of 37, 43, 36 and 25 yards, recording a field goal in every quarter and tying Georgia’s Billy Bennett (2003) for the BCS bowl record. The four field goals tied for second-most in Sugar Bowl history. Myer missed on his fifth try, a 37-yard attempt in overtime. The field goals were the first in Myer's collegiate career. The Hokies made six field goals of 30 or more yards all season entering the game.

A/P: Sammy Watkins, Clemson: Despite the loss, Watkins broke two school records in the Discover Orange Bowl and finished with 205 all-purpose yards, giving him 2,282 for the season -- second-most in ACC history. He had seven kick returns for 143 yards, and he had five catches for 66 yards and a touchdown.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 1

September, 1, 2011
9/01/11
10:15
AM ET
There’s always something worth watching in the ACC, but Week 1 is usually one of the most interesting Saturdays of the season because of the anticipation that has been building since the end of the Orange Bowl. Here are 10 things to keep an eye on this week in no particular order as the ACC starts the season:

1. Debut of three new head coaches. Maryland coach Randy Edsall and Miami coach Al Golden will kick off their first seasons against each other on Labor Day, while North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers takes on James Madison. Golden and Withers have both had trying off-field incidents to deal with, as NCAA investigations at both schools have added extra challenges.

[+] EnlargeAl Golden
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesNew coach Al Golden is ready to shift Miami's focus onto the field.
2. Rookie starting quarterbacks. Five first-year starters will be introduced this weekend in Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas, NC State’s Mike Glennon, North Carolina’s Bryn Renner and Virginia’s Michael Rocco. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel is entering his first season as a full-time starter, along with Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington. There are bound to be a few plays they’d like to have back this weekend, but there should also be some signs of a promising future at the position.

3. Miami’s replacements. With eight players sidelined because of the NCAA investigation, Miami’s backups have been promoted to critical roles. Players like Andrew Smith, Marcus Robinson and Jordan Futch will have to elevate their games quickly.

4. Georgia Tech’s B-backs. This could be the first season under coach Paul Johnson that the Jackets don’t produce a 1,000-yard rusher in their run-based offense, only because the B-backs work more by committee. David Sims will start against Johnson’s alma mater, Western Carolina, but Charles Perkins and Preston Lyons could both get some carries.

5. Florida State’s offensive line. This group has had injury problems all offseason, and if there’s one question about the Seminoles this year, the offensive line is it. How this group looks intact remains to be seen.

6. New schemes. Clemson’s offense made sweeping changes under first-year coordinator Chad Morris, and Boston College will have some wrinkles under first-year coordinator Kevin Rogers. Maryland should also unveil a new look under first-year coordinator Gary Crowton.

7. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. If he starts against Troy as expected, Watkins would be just the 14th Clemson first-year freshman to start the season opener since freshman eligibility returned to college football in 1972. Watkins would be the first wide receiver to start the opening game as a true freshman since Roscoe Crosby started the opener of the 2001 season against Central Florida.

8. Wake Forest placekicker Jimmy Newman. He’s on a serious streak. Newman has made 12 straight field goals, currently the longest streak in school history. He has also made all 65 PAT attempts in his career, the second-longest streak of extra points in school history behind Sam Swank with 121.

9. The Roccos. Michael Rocco will be making his debut as Virginia’s starting quarterback the same day his father, Danny, takes on NC State as the head coach at Liberty. Rocco enters the season with 25 career passing attempts, and his father is entering his sixth season at Liberty with a 40-16 record.

10. Revamped secondaries. Georgia Tech and North Carolina have both undergone significant transition in the secondary, and Boston College has also had some turnover. The Yellow Jackets had to replace all four starters in the secondary, and the Tar Heels have to replace three starters. At BC, senior safety Dominick LeGrande decided to transfer, and projected starter Okechukwu Okoroha was dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons.
Last week we looked at how the quarterbacks stacked up in the ACC. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the running backs. Again, the position rankings by team put heavy weight on the depth of the position -– hence the team ranking, not individual. Just because Virginia Tech has one of the best running backs in the ACC doesn’t mean that collectively, as a group, Virginia Tech is the best team in the league at the position. Florida State? Loaded. Wake Forest? Not. These are based on the best combination of talent, experience and depth.

Here’s a look at how each team ranks in the position:

[+] EnlargeChris Thompson
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIChris Thompson averaged 6.4 yards per carry for the Seminoles last season.
1. Florida State: Chris Thompson, Ty Jones and Jermaine Thomas combined for 1,862 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, and 17 touchdowns last year. Thompson had 1,000 yards combined from both rushing and receiving last year, and Thomas enters his senior season with 1,084 career yards -- the second most of any active ACC runner, behind only Montel Harris (3,600).

2. Boston College: Montel Harris could break a 33-year-old ACC rushing record this fall, and his backup, Andre Williams, is a bigger back who has proven more than capable of shouldering the load himself. Together they’re one of the best one-two combos in the league.

3. Miami: The transfer of Storm Johnson hurt, but Lamar Miller should be one of the best in the ACC, and Mike James was ahead of Johnson on the depth chart. The Canes also have Darion Hall, Maurice Hagens and incoming freshman Kevin Grooms.

4. Clemson: Andre Ellington will be the leader of the pack, but true freshman Mike Bellamy could also make an immediate impact, and the group runs deep with Roderick McDowell, D.J. Howard and Demont Buice.

5. Virginia Tech: Had Ryan Williams and Darren Evans returned, this would have been one of the premier groups of running backs in the country. Instead, it will be the David Wilson show (and Josh Oglesby). Not that the Hokies will have any problem with that.

6. Maryland: Davin Meggett and D.J. Adams are a talented duo, but depth should be a concern. Meggett posted a team-high 720 rushing yards in 2010, while Adams had a freshman school-record 11 rushing touchdowns.

7. NC State: The Wolfpack are in a much better position at running back than they were a year ago, when nobody with starting experience returned. Mustafa Greene, James Washington and Brandon Barnes should make NC State’s running game a bigger factor this fall.

8. Georgia Tech: Coach Paul Johnson isn’t concerned about his B-back position because it’s one of the deepest on the team. There isn’t one superstar like in recent years, but Richard Watson, Charles Perkins and Preston Lyons will work together to keep the Jackets one of the top rushing teams in the country.

9. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have to replace three tailbacks who accounted for 96 percent of their rushing last year. Ryan Houston is back for his sixth season of eligibility, but he is the only one who has seen significant playing time. Giovani Bernard, Hunter Furr and Travis Riley help the depth.

10. Wake Forest: Josh Harris could crack the 1,000-yard mark if he stays healthy, and Brandon Pendergrass is a capable backup. There are three true freshmen at the position, and it’s one area coach Jim Grobe can’t afford any injuries.

11. Virginia: Perry Jones and Kevin Parks are talented, but the Cavaliers will miss the production of Keith Payne, who accounted for 14 of the team’s 17 rushing touchdowns. Jones started all but one game last year, but only scored one touchdown.

12. Duke: The Blue Devils’ running game is starting to show progress, but last year it still ranked 104th in the country. Depth isn’t a problem, as Desmond Scott, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson should help make it a more productive group this year.

Stay tuned for the top 10 ACC running backs for 2011 ...
For the first time under coach Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech is in search of its next 1,000-yard rusher.

And with the spring game looming on Saturday, the Jackets are still looking.

In what is easily the most wide-open competition of the spring in Atlanta, redshirt freshman Charles Perkins, former quarterback David Sims, redshirt senior Preston Lyons and redshirt junior Richard Watson are all trying to prove they can be the every-down back. All four players have a legitimate shot and that competition will likely extend into August. In past seasons under Johnson, the biggest question at B-back was who was going to be the backup to Jonathan Dwyer and Anthony Allen.

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
AP Photo/John BazemorePaul Johnson has a decision to make when it comes to his starter at B-back.
“It’s good competition every year,” said Watson. “The guys who were here before were a little more experienced, obviously, but the competition is always pretty wide open. It’s always competitive.”

All four combined for 31 carries in 2010.

Lyons, who transferred to Georgia Tech from Colgate, joined the program as a walk-on and was awarded a scholarship last August. He has played in 21 games. He’s strong, a good blocker and excels in short-yardage situations. He has also showed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Lyons was one of the biggest surprises of 2009 when he climbed to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Dwyer.

Watson has been in the shadows of Dwyer and Allen as a reserve and special-teams player each of the past two seasons. He played in all 13 games last year, but only had 10 carries for 32 yards.

Sims, who was recruited as a quarterback, said he wasn’t disappointed in the move. He played in five games last year and had seven carries for 58 yards and one touchdown.

“Me and Coach are on the same page,” he said. “Anything I can do to play, get on the field, I was willing to make that move.”

Sims said he’s had to become more physical because he knows he’s going to have to hit or be hit on every play.

“The positive is playing quarterback I know where I’m going,” he said. “The hard part has been learning how to get there, whether it be blocking or running my track, running with pad level and everything like that, but for the most part it’s been pretty good.”

Perkins is a redshirt freshman who has learned both the B-back and A-back positions.

“Everybody brings their own good qualities,” Watson said. “If I were a coach I think I would have difficulty trying to separate who does what better and where everybody should go. That’s not our job, we just come out and play.”

None of them know yet, though, who will play more.
The window in coach Paul Johnson's office overlooks Grant Field at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Because of the ongoing construction on the practice field, the Yellow Jackets have spent the offseason doing their individual workouts in the stadium -- in full view of their head coach.

This offseason, Johnson liked the view more than usual.

“I think that the whole attitude is better," he said. "A lot of the little things, from breakfast checks to class checks, extra lifting, extra workouts that they are putting in on their own. I can see out my window and there are always people out there working.”

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Nelson Chenault/US PresswirePaul Johnson says the more modest expectations for his team can be "a good thing."
The players didn't have much choice if they have any hopes of improving upon last year's 6-7 season. Georgia Tech's season was derailed the second former quarterback Joshua Nesbitt broke his forearm against Virginia Tech, but the Jackets' troubles ran deeper than that last year. The offense couldn't hold onto the ball, the special-teams units were filled with blunders, and the defense under first-year coordinator Al Groh?

It was just like everything else, Johnson said, "just kind of so-so. We weren't really good at anything."

With only 11 starters returning, competition will be the theme this spring. Georgia Tech returns just 37.9 percent of its points from a year ago (128 of 338). The Jackets are in search of their next 1,000-yard rusher at B-back, and still in need of a go-to receiver. The good news is that the top two receivers return, the A-back position is deep, and all three starters return on the defensive line. There are also a few position changes to watch, including Daniel Drummond's move from B-back to linebacker, sophomore J.C. Lanier moving from defensive line to offensive line, and quarterback David Sims switching to B-Back.

One of the more intriguing position battles will be at B-back, where Preston Lyons, Richard Watson and Sims are all competing for the majority of the reps. Redshirt freshman Charles Perkins practiced last year with both the B-backs and A-backs. Johnson said he's not worried about the position, but knows everyone will be watching the quarterback battle, where it's Tevin Washington's job to lose.

“He is the starter coming in, and I think that he has earned that," Johnson said. "It is very similar to a lot of the positions, the depth chart is always fluid. He has been taking snaps. This is why I try not to get too hyped up on the freshmen. We are excited about a group of them, but until they do it on the field consistently, I don’t know that you hype them all that much. Synjyn [Days] has a lot of ability, but he has to beat Tevin out. It’s Tevins’ job.”

Johnson said the players worked a lot on team building and chemistry in the offseason -- "probably more so than we have in the past" --and as a result, the work ethic has been better. Johnson said it's still too early to tell how much better this year's team will be.

"We'll have a better idea coming out of spring," Johnson said. "I like our athleticism. I think we're going to be all right. I think it's going to be good to be kind of -- nobody has very high expectations for us, and I think that's a good thing. It's kind of the way we were the first year I was here."

In 2008, Johnson's first season, the Yellow Jackets finished 9-4 and tied for the Coastal Division lead, despite critics who said his spread option offense wouldn't work at the BCS level. He has since won an ACC title and has proved it can.

The next challenge is to do it again.

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