NCF Nation: Ronald Darby

Were we all deceived?

The answer is yes, according author and writer Michael Weinreb. In a Rolling Stone piece published Monday, he argues that the College Football Playoff selection committee pulled the wool over the collective eyes of America with its vaulting of Ohio State past TCU in the final rankings released Sunday.

He backs Baylor and makes excellent points. But each of the three sides in this discussion are supported by a good argument. Weinreb describes the way in which the committee kept us interested for six weeks, then shuffled the deck at the end, as a “long con.”

That’s where I disagree.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- When Notre Dame's fourth-down touchdown was stricken from the record, it meant a streak continued for No. 2 Florida State. Not the Seminoles' 23-game winning streak, but one that goes all the way back to 2012.

Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby has not allowed a touchdown since Nov. 17, 2012. Maryland receiver Kevin Dorsey beat Darby, then a freshman, for a second-half touchdown. Darby said no receiver has scored on him since, a total of 25 games.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby
Mark LoMoglio/Icon SMIFlorida State cornerback Ronald Darby says he has not given up a touchdown since Nov. 17, 2012.
"I hope he keeps that up," Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said.

His streak looked finished when the Fighting Irish's Corey Robinson caught what looked to be the game-winner two weeks ago, but the officials flagged Notre Dame for offensive pass interference. Darby said it was his responsibility to follow Robinson to the boundary.

The receiver matchup Thursday against No. 25 Louisville will test Darby's streak again. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Darby will at times square up with the Cardinals' DeVante Parker, a 6-3, 211-pound senior and potential first-round pick. Last week, Parker's first of the season after suffering a foot injury in camp, he hauled in nine passes for 132 yards.

Darby said he welcomes the challenge. While his streak is in doubt on game days, it is his preparation throughout the week that, coupled with his all-conference talent, has enabled Darby to keep opponents out of the end zone.

In high school, Darby played primarily running back and was rarely lining up in the defensive backfield. So when he arrived at Florida State, he didn't know how to study opposing offenses. He didn't try as hard as he could have either, he admitted.

This offseason, however, Darby has spent more time breaking down film than ever before. A persistent groin injury kept him sidelined throughout spring practice, which afforded him more time to get comfortable with new defensive coordinator Charles Kelly's play calling and break down offenses.

"I watched more film on teams," Darby said. "I like to look at the formations first, see what they like to do out of them. Once I go through formations, I like to go through routes and the type of receiver and how he comes off the ball when it's a run or pass play."

Once the summer rolled around and Darby was cleared to participate in 7-on-7 sessions and fall camp, it was back to working on his on-field techniques. Many of those intrasquad sessions are No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense, so Darby was often matched against Rashad Greene, the school's career leader in receptions. Last season, he would have to mark Kelvin Benjamin, an imposing 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiver who is one of the early favorites for the NFL's offensive rookie of the year.

"A bigger dude [like Parker], you have to be physical," Darby said. "I used to have to check KB all the time and he was big and fast, so I was used to it."

Although Parker has rarely played this year, Florida State is cognizant of the threat Parker, a preseason All-ACC selection, poses.

"All you have to do is look at the last two years. You know exactly what you're going to get," Fisher said. "The guy is a heck of a player."

While the responsibility won't rest solely on Darby's shoulders, if he can keep his streak alive against Parker, there is a good chance the Seminoles can keep their own streak alive against Louisville.

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Previewing the 2014 season for Florida State Seminoles, the reigning ACC and national champions.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston and the Seminoles will try to repeat as national champions.
Key returners: QB Jameis Winston, RB Karlos Williams, WR Rashad Greene, OT Cameron Erving, OG Josue Matias, OG Tre' Jackson, OT Bobby Hart, DE Mario Edwards, DT Eddie Goldman, LB Terrance Smith, CB Ronald Darby, CB P.J. Williams, DB Jalen Ramsey, S Nate Andrews.

Key losses: RB Devonta Freeman, WR Kelvin Benjamin, WR Kenny Shaw, OC Bryan Stork, DT Timmy Jernigan, LB Telvin Smith, CB Lamarcus Joyner, S Terrence Brooks.

Most important 2014 games: Aug. 30 versus Oklahoma State (neutral site), Sept. 20 versus Clemson, Oct. 18 versus Notre Dame, Oct. 30 at Louisville, Nov. 15 at Miami and Nov. 29 vs. Florida.

Projected win percentage: 93.5 percent.

Over/under Vegas odds: 11.5 wins

Instant impact newcomers: There has been a lot of hype surrounding the freshmen in Florida State camp, and Jimbo Fisher is not doing much to lower expectations. Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, two of the top six receivers in the 2014 recruiting class nationally, could start at some point this season. Defensive tackles Demarcus Christmas, Derrick Nnadi and Arthur Williams are impressing the coaches and offensive linemen, and the Seminoles need depth along the D-Line.

Best NFL prospects: The over/under for how many first-round picks the Seminoles have in the 2015 draft should be set at five. If he remains healthy and declares following his redshirt sophomore season, Winston could be the No. 1 pick. Two of his linemen, Ervin and Jackson, could be first-round selections, too. Defensively, Edwards could move into the top 10, and Darby and Williams are competing to be the No. 1 cornerback taken in next spring’s draft.

Best-case scenario for 2014: It’s rather simple -- the 2013 scenario plays out a second time in 2014. Florida State has the talent to become the first team to go 15-0 and win the inaugural College Football Playoff. Las Vegas expects the Seminoles to finish the regular season undefeated, and Florida State should be able to dispose of its opponent in the ACC championship game. Florida State 2014 might be competing against Florida State 2013 as one of the greatest teams in school history.

Worst-case scenario: Any season that does not end with Florida State in the College Football Playoff has to be considered a disappointment. The Seminoles could probably survive one regular-season loss and still advance to the playoff, but two losses would almost certainly eliminate them from the conversation. With Winston likely off to the NFL following this season, the Seminoles could take a lengthy step back in 2015 as they reload offensively.

Budding superstar: Ramsey is already regarded as one of the best defensive backs in the country, and he should be squarely in the Thorpe Award conversation this fall. He’s not quite a national name yet, though, and he was not even named to the preseason All-ACC team. Fisher has said repeatedly that as a sophomore Ramsey is the vocal leader of the defense. In a secondary that possibly houses four first-round picks, if not more, Ramsey could go the highest when he’s eligible in 2016.

They said it: “People ask me, ‘When did I know Florida State was the team that they are?’ You never believe it until you get out there on the field, but in warm-ups, I was looking at their kids warming up, and I said, 'Who the heck is that guy? Who is that guy?' I'm looking at them and, oh, they're getting redshirted. And they're a foot taller than our guys and can run, too.” -- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer.

Top ACC players: Nos. 25-21

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As we get set to open fall camps around the ACC, we're counting down the conference's top 25 players -- five per day all this week.

25. Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech Hokies

Position: Defensive tackle
Year: Senior

If Virginia Tech’s defense is to be among the best in the nation once again, Maddy will likely be the centerpiece of the front seven. He was exceptional last season, racking up 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks -- most among returning interior linemen in the conference. He also racked up 55 tackles and 16 quarterback hurries for a Hokies squad that allowed the fewest rushing yards per game in the league. But Tech also lost three senior linemen at season's end.

24. Jeremy Cash, Duke Blue Devils

Position: Safety
Year: RS Junior

The perfect fit in Duke’s 4-2-5 defensive scheme, Cash racked up a whopping 121 tackles and four interceptions last season working as both a safety and linebacker. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, he’s a bit undersized as a true linebacker, but he matches up well against bigger receivers and is still strong enough to help in the run game. He was an All-ACC selection last season and got a nod from the media on this year’s preseason balloting. The Blue Devils’ secondary ranked 11th in the ACC in pass defense last season, but it's a young group that can develop nicely with Cash as a centerpiece in 2014.

23. Ronald Darby, Florida State Seminoles

Position: Cornerback
Year: Junior

Darby has been a standout since he set foot on campus in Tallahassee, Florida, yet he’s always managed to fly a bit beneath the radar with stars like Lamarcus Joyner and Xavier Rhodes alongside him in FSU’s secondary. But if fans have overlooked him, quarterbacks haven’t. Darby was Florida State’s most-feared defensive back last season despite a nagging groin injury that hampered him all year. According to STATS, LLC, no returning ACC defensive back targeted at least 20 times last season allowed a lower completion percentage than Darby.

22. Grady Jarrett, Clemson Tigers

Position: Defensive tackle
Year: Senior

He’s 6-1 and nearly 300 pounds, but coach Dabo Swinney gushes that Jarrett is as physically sculpted a player as he’s come across. In fact, Swinney said if he was starting a team from scratch, he would build around Jarrett. That’s high praise considering the other stout defensive linemen on the Tigers roster. Still, Jarrett is unquestionably one of the conference’s top interior linemen, having racked up 83 tackles (including 11 for a loss) and 14 quarterback pressures last season.

21. Stephone Anthony, Clemson Tigers

Position: Linebacker
Year: Senior

One of the ACC’s top tacklers, Anthony adds another weapon to a ferocious Clemson defensive front. His 15 tackles for loss in 2013 were the most among returning ACC linebackers, and with a deep defensive line in front of him, those numbers could go up in 2014.


Florida State star Jameis Winston, football teammates Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, and the woman who accused Winston of rape are expected to attend a disciplinary hearing for Casher and Darby on Tuesday, an attorney for the accuser confirmed to ESPN.com.

"My client will be present," Baine P. Kerr told ESPN.com in an email. "Winston, Casher, and Darby are listed as witnesses also and we expect they will comply."

Casher and Darby face discipline, including expulsion, for possible violations of the FSU student code of conduct related to the rape accusation against Winson, Fox Sports earlier reported.

In addition, Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, has never answered questions in the case.

To read more, click here.
Florida State finished off a spectacular season with a national championship, and with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Jalen Ramsey and a host of other stars returning for 2014, the expectations for next season are already sky high.

So if FSU is going to repeat as national champs, what are the big stumbling blocks on the road ahead? We take a look at the top five.

1. Rebuilding the defensive line.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsWith Timmy Jernigan heading to the NFL, Florida State will have a big hole to fill in the middle of its line.
With Timmy Jernigan leaving early for the NFL draft -- he’s widely considered a top-15 pick — Florida State will have a huge hole in the middle of the line. But the Seminoles also need to find someone to rush off the edge, as Christian Jones did throughout the season and develop some depth after waving goodbye to Demonte McAllister and Dan Hicks. Nile Lawrence-Stample, Matthew Thomas and others could fill those voids, but it will be incumbent on emerging stars Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman to step up their games, too.

2. Developing new receivers.

It wasn’t a huge surprise, but it was nevertheless a relief when Greene decided to return for his senior season. Florida State’s receiving corps was exceptional in 2013, but it wasn’t deep. Kenny Shaw is moving on, and Kelvin Benjamin could follow. That leaves Greene as FSU’s only established, consistent receiver. Isaiah Jones, Jesus Wilson and Kermit Whitfield all got a taste of playing time in 2013, but they’ll need to do a lot more next season.

3. Finding new leaders on defense.

This might be the toughest task for Florida State. Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Jones and Jernigan weren’t simply the defensive standouts on the field, they were the heart and soul of the unit in the locker room. There’s still plenty of talent remaining on the unit, but no one who has had to step up and galvanize a locker room or push the younger players to work harder. Finding leaders on that side of the ball — Edwards, Goldman, Terrance Smith and Ronald Darby, perhaps — will be crucial to maintaining the unit’s immense production in 2014.

4. Managing the schedule.

If the knock on Florida State this season was that it wasn’t tested until the title game, the concern for 2014 might be that there are simply too many big tests. The Seminoles open in Dallas against Oklahoma State, but also have Clemson, Louisville, Notre Dame, Miami and Florida before the season is out. If this title was a victory for the ACC’s legitimacy on a national stage, the 2014 slate for Florida State only underscores how much tougher winning the league will be going forward.

5. Handling the hype.

It’s one thing to win when no one is expecting it. Winning when everyone has you pegged as No. 1 is a whole other challenge. Florida State will enjoy its national championship now, but in 2014, everyone will be gunning for the Seminoles, and the media scrutiny will be immense. Can Winston go a full offseason as a Heisman winner and national champion and not waver from his commitment to getting better? Can the coaching staff maintain that same level of dedication from a group that already has a title on its résumé? There’s a reason so few teams repeat as champions. It’s really hard to do.
Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Today's matchup is between Auburn’s wide receivers and Florida State’s defensive backs.

Auburn’s wide receivers: If there was ever a game for Auburn to stick to the run, this would be it. Quarterback Nick Marshall has struggled at times through the air and the Tigers are in for their most challenging test yet against a Florida State secondary that leads the nation in interceptions (25).

Expect a heavy dose of Marshall and Tre Mason running the read-option together like they’ve done all season.

Florida State still has to be wary of Auburn’s big-play ability. It starts with Sammie Coates who has emerged as a go-to wide receiver for the Tigers. He’s one of the fastest players in the SEC, if not the nation, and he leads the team with 38 catches for 841 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s second nationally in yards per catch (22.1) and all seven of his scores have come from more than 35 yards. It was his 39-yard touchdown grab in the final minute against Alabama that put Auburn in position to win that game.

The problem for the Tigers is that nobody has emerged opposite Coates. Freshman Marcus Davis had his moments early in the season, making key catches in critical situations. Ricardo Louis, who hauled in the 73-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat Georgia, might be the most dangerous athlete on the team. But neither has been consistent.

When Auburn plays Florida State, it’s going to need a play in the passing game from somebody other than Coates. Whether it’s Davis, Louis or even tight end C.J. Uzomah, who’s healthy again, somebody is going to have to step up and make a play when their number is called. Nothing will come easy, though, against a talented Seminoles’ secondary.

Florida State’s secondary: Only five teams threw less often this season than Auburn, which runs the ball on 72 percent of its plays. When the Tigers do throw, however, they’ve mustered some big plays -- averaging 14 yards per completion.

The recipe for Auburn is pretty simple -- run, run, run, then go deep. It’s a plan that may run into some trouble against Florida State, however. The Seminoles’ secondary is the nation’s best for the second straight season. Lamarcus Joyner leads a deep and talented group that leads the nation in fewest yards per attempt (4.9), most interceptions (25) and lowest QBR allowed (18.1). Opponents have completed just 6 of 36 passes thrown 20 yards or more against them this year, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Coates and Louis both have good size to win some battles downfield, but Florida State can match that physicality with P.J. Williams (6-0, 190) and Ronald Darby (5-11, 190), who have both been exceptional this year. Darby has allowed just seven completions this year and allows the fifth-lowest completion percentage among AQ-conference defensive backs in the nation.

Marshall can keep some plays alive with his legs, giving his receivers a chance to get open downfield, but Florida State hasn’t been burned often this year. Sammy Watkins, Allen Hurns and Devin Street all found some success this season, which should provide a bit of optimism for Coates, but no QB has managed better than 7 yards per attempt against FSU’s secondary all year. In its last eight games, Florida State’s secondary is allowing just 4.5 yards per attempt with 6 TDs and 19 INTs.

Ostendorf: Edge Florida State

Hale: Edge Florida State

FSU's Darby dominates without hype

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Ronald Darby might be a household name if his name was mentioned a bit more often.

The sophomore cornerback is rarely discussed during games. Florida State’s secondary has been dominant all season, but Darby’s work tends to fly beneath the radar. Darby doesn’t show up too often in the box score, either. His 12 tackles are tied for 24th on the team.

The anonymity isn’t a knock on Darby’s talent, though. The problem is, opposing quarterbacks are terrified to test him.

“Sometimes,” Darby said, “I get a little bored.”

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins, Ronald Darby
AP Photo/Richard ShiroSophomore CB Ronald Darby is so good in coverage that opponents rarely test him.
Darby has started eight games this season and has been on the field for the vast majority of Florida State’s defensive snaps, but only a handful of balls have come his way.

According to Stats LLC, Darby has been targeted just 22 times this season -- 29 times fewer than Florida State’s other starting corner, P.J. Williams. It’s a casual workload that illustrates the ample respect he receives around the ACC.

“They watch the film,” Lamarcus Joyner said when asked why teams shy away from testing Darby. “You see his size, you see his speed, his strength. He has everything you look for in a cornerback.”

Darby’s natural talent was obvious from his first days in Tallahassee last year. He wowed teammates immediately, and while he didn’t start a game as a true freshman, he was on the field regularly, recording eight pass breakups and 22 tackles en route to freshman All-America honors. He was named the ACC’s freshman defensive player of the year.

But all the momentum from his sterling debut season came to a grinding halt this spring when a groin injury required surgery and kept him on the sidelines well into the start of fall camp. Even once the injury was healed, the effects lingered. Darby’s blazing speed was diminished a tad, and in the early going, he was reluctant to test it.

Even now, nearly a full year after the surgery, Darby says he isn’t quite right.

“I’m still not 100 percent yet,” Darby said. “I’m still trying to get back. ... I got a lot better from the offseason until now. I run a lot better, cut a lot better.”

The improved fundamentals have more than made up for the marginal dip in pure speed.

Of those 22 passes thrown Darby’s way, two were picked off and just seven resulted in completions. According to Stats LLC, that’s the fifth-lowest completion rate allowed by any defensive back from an AQ conference. Of the four players ahead of him, three were first-team all-conference. Darby didn’t even get an honorable mention.

“He’s been locking it down,” safety Terrence Brooks said. “That’s all he can do.”

And if that effort hasn’t been enough to garner much national attention thus far, that could change on Jan. 6, when Florida State takes on Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship. The Tigers don’t throw often, but they’ve got one of the country’s top big-play threats in receiver Sammie Coates.

In fact, Coates and the Auburn offense might be a perfect test for Darby. The Tigers run and run and run, and just when a cornerback appears to be getting a bit bored with the heavy dose of the ground game, the deep ball takes them by surprise. But Florida State just so happens to employ a cornerback who’s used to battling the boredom and pouncing on those rare chances to make a play.

“That’s why I just practice hard really,” Darby said. “So we can be perfect on game day.”

And perfection on the biggest stage might finally earn Darby some of the attention he has deserved all season. Add in a few more weeks for Darby to strengthen that groin injury and rebuild his speed, and Jameis Winston -- Darby’s roommate and practice-field nemesis -- has a good idea of what might be in store.

“I honestly think Darby could be the best cornerback in the country,” Winston said.

FSU's young defenders making noise

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Jalen RamseyAP Photo/Keith SrakocicFreshman cornerback Jalen Ramsey jumped right in to a starting spot, beating out veterans Nick Waisome and Ronald Darby in the process.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Throughout the 68-yard dash, Telvin Smith never looked back. Seconds earlier, he'd stepped in front of a pass from Bethune-Cookman quarterback Quentin Williams, and a path cleared ahead of him as he charged to the end zone.

It was only after Smith crossed the goal line that he realized he wasn't alone. Two steps behind him was fellow linebacker Matthew Thomas, who'd kept pace with Smith step for step throughout the return.

"I turned around and he's standing right next to me," Smith said. "That's what the coaches and myself love about him."

That was hardly the only highlight of the game for Thomas, who dropped Bethune's quarterback in the backfield twice in a span of five plays in the third quarter. In a game in which Jimbo Fisher criticized his defense for ceding too much ground to an overmatched opponent, Thomas stood out.

That's been a theme of the early season for Florida State's defense. It's a unit in transition, having lost a bevy of veterans to the NFL draft and its coordinator to Kentucky. Changes have come at nearly every turn, and the youngest Seminoles are taking advantage.

"They're stepping up," Smith said. "The best man is going to play, and right now, they're proving themselves to be the best man. The young guys are coming. They're on our toes."

It's not just Thomas making an impact.

Jalen Ramsey become the first FSU cornerback to start as a true freshman since Deion Sanders, then delivered the Seminoles' first interception of the season against Pittsburgh. He's sixth on the team so far with 12 tackles, including one sack.

Demarcus Walker got a start in the opener, too, and he's seen consistent work on the defensive line ever since. Chris Casher, a redshirt freshman, racked up 10 tackles -- including two for a loss -- against Bethune-Cookman and was named FSU's defensive player of the week. Second-year players P.J. Williams and Mario Edwards Jr. are now established starters, and a handful of other youngsters are getting regular reps on defense, too.

Fisher was so pleased with the work of his young defensive backs that he felt comfortable flipping veteran Karlos Williams from safety to tailback. Casher, Thomas and sophomore Eddie Goldman have helped pick up the slack for FSU's pass rush after its top three defensive ends all left for the NFL. Overall, nearly half of Florida State's tackles this season have come from defenders with zero previous starting experience.

"The platform is even because new [defensive coordinator], new philosophy, and you have to learn it," cornerback Lamarcus Joyner said. "Experience on the football field, those young guys haven't had it, but with their talent level and where they're coming in, it's good to see them playing and be able to play fast."

Of course, it's easy enough to chalk up the early success for the freshmen and sophomores to the lack of quality competition on the field, but Fisher said this isn't a passing fad. Florida State's schedule gets markedly tougher in October, and rather than shuffling the young defenders to the sidelines for the big games, he wants to ensure they're ready to play when it counts.

"Ability is never the issue," Fisher said. "It's about technique and assignments and getting playing time to be able to relax on the field and do what you do, taking it from the practice field to the game field. You see that more and more, you feel more comfortable. We're going to keep developing all those guys."

Ramsey already appears to have a starting job locked up moving forward, beating out junior Nick Waisome, who started all 14 games last season, and Ronald Darby, a freshman All-American in 2012. Fisher raved about Ramsey's combination of speed and physicality, but said it's the freshman's football acumen that has set him apart.

Thomas is a bit more of a work in progress. He's flashed potential, but he's spent much of his first few months on campus simply soaking in all he can about how to do his job.

"He's observing a lot of stuff," Smith said. "He's taking it in, and he's going to erupt when he gets the chance."

Fisher sees it coming, too.

Since arriving on campus in June, Thomas has already packed on nearly 25 pounds to his frame, but it hasn't slowed him down.

"He's gotten faster," Fisher gushed.

Walker and Casher are following a similar path, too, though they've had longer to learn the ropes.

Casher has been sidelined for the better part of the past two years -- first because of an eligibility issue his senior year in high school, then because of a knee injury that cost him nearly all of 2012. Walker arrived this spring to get a jump start on his college career, but an issue with the NCAA Clearinghouse meant he didn't practice with the team at all.

The down time might have been a blessing, however, as both were eager to learn.

"They came in with their eyes open and their notepad ready, listening to the older guys," Smith said.

That's been a trademark of the Class of 2013 in particular. When Joyner arrived in 2010, Florida State was in the midst of a culture change in the locker room that took a while to take hold. The latest batch of freshmen, however, look right at home from Day 1.

"Those guys are coming in here with the same talent level that guys took two to three years to develop," Joyner said.

That's exactly what Fisher wants to see. He doesn't promise playing time to his recruits, he said, but he offers opportunity. This latest crop of Seminoles was prepared when that opportunity arrived.

"When you get here, you get an opportunity, and if you're the best player, you're going to play," Fisher said. "A play don't care who makes it, and there isn't an age limit on being a good player."

What to watch in the ACC: Week 1

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The moment is finally here. The season kicks off tonight, as two ACC teams take the gridiron and mark the return of college football. Here is what to keep an eye on this entire weekend as all 14 teams get back in action.

1. Battle in the trenches in Columbia, S.C. North Carolina will have three new starters on its offensive line Thursday night against No. 6 South Carolina, including two redshirt freshmen. And the Tar Heels will be going up against preseason Heisman contender Jadeveon Clowney and the Gamecocks' lethal defensive line. Don't overlook fellow end Chaz Sutton, either.

2. Conference debuts. Pitt and Syracuse play their first games as ACC schools after exiting the former Big East, which the Orange won a four-way share of in 2012. Both schools have the chance to make big opening statements, as the Panthers host defending conference champion Florida State on Labor Day and Syracuse faces a Penn State squad looking to build off Bill O'Brien's successful first year with the program.

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesBoston College's Steve Addazio is one of the conference's new coaches this season.
3. Trio of first-year coaches. New BC coach Steve Addazio hosts Villanova, a familiar opponent from his Temple days. Dave Doeren and NC State host Louisiana Tech, which breaks in a new coach of its own in Skip Holtz after Sonny Dykes left for Cal following a 9-3 season. And Syracuse coach Scott Shafer debuts against Penn State in East Rutherford, N.J.

4. QB choices in Jersey and Raleigh. Two of those new coaches also will be unveiling their starting quarterback choices for the first time, as Shafer sends out either Terrel Hunt or Drew Allen and Doeren picks Pete Thomas or Brandon Mitchell. The Orange will be facing a Penn State team that carries the same surprise in its quarterback race between Christian Hackenberg and Tyler Ferguson.

5. ... Speaking of new starting QBs. Virginia's David Watford will make his first career start against BYU, Duke's Anthony Boone takes over the job from Sean Renfree against NC Central, and Florida State and Pitt will both start new signal-callers when they square off on Labor Day, with Jameis Winston running the Seminoles' offense and Tom Savage handling duties for the Panthers.

6. Pitt's running backs. Ray Graham is gone. Rushel Shell transferred to West Virginia. And Isaac Bennett and James Conner have dealt with injuries in camp. Coach Paul Chryst isn't sure how things will shake out Monday, but we likely will see Rachid Ibrahim and Malcolm Crockett get at least some action given the backfield situation.

7. FSU's defensive backs. Are too many bodies a good thing? Nick Waisome and Terrence Brooks started all 14 games last season for the nation's No. 1 pass defense. The crowd also includes preseason All-American Lamarcus Joyner, reigning ACC defensive rookie of the year Ronald Darby, former five-star prospect Karlos Williams and several other strong athletes. New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has his work cut out for him, although probably not as much as new Pitt quarterback Tom Savage does.

8. Virginia Tech's backfield. Coach Frank Beamer wasn't kidding when he said the Hokies went from having too many running backs to not enough. Michael Holmes was kicked off the team in July, Joel Caleb was suspended this month for the opener against Alabama, Tony Gregory suffered a career-ending ACL tear and J.C. Coleman's status for Saturday is up in the air because of two ankle sprains. Redshirt freshmen Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus are the Hokies' next options after Coleman.

9. "Smoke." Taquan Mizzell has earned that nickname despite having never taken the college field. ESPN's No. 9 running back prospect from the class of 2013 has drawn plenty of buzz in Virginia's camp, and he will get a stiff first test against BYU's defense.

10. ACC vs. SEC. What, you really thought we'd forget this one? Three ACC teams face off against squads from the big, bad SEC, perhaps none with as steep a challenge as Virginia Tech's against Alabama. UNC kicks things off Thursday at South Carolina, and No. 8 Clemson hosts No. 5 Georgia on Saturday night in the headliner of Week 1. The ACC went 1-1 against the SEC in last year's weekend openers, with NC State falling to Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff the night before Clemson topped Auburn in the Georgia Dome.
The ACC coaches have unveiled their inaugural All-ACC football team and award winners, and it looks nearly identical to the media winners announced last week.

Both the coaches and media are in agreement on the players of the year: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd as player of the year and offensive player of the year; Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner as defensive player of the year; and Miami running back Duke Johnson as rookie of the year and Offensive Rookie of the Year; Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby as defensive rookie of the year; and Duke coach David Cutcliffe as coach of the year.

Boyd won player of the year and offensive player of the year more comfortably on the coaches' ballots, getting four more votes than North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard. In media voting, Boyd beat out Bernard by one point.

Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own players. First-team selections earned two points; second-team selections got one.

Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina each had five players chosen to the first team, though the Tar Heels actually had six first-team picks as Bernard was named to the first-team offense as a running back, while also earning first-team specialist accolades. All of Clemson’s first-team honorees were on offense, while four of FSU’s five were on defense.

The coaches' All-ACC first-team differed from the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association team only at three positions: choosing Duke receiver Conner Vernon over Boston College’s Alex Amidon; North Carolina offensive tackle James Hurst over Clemson’s Brandon Thomas; and Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler instead of Virginia’s Steve Greer. Amidon, Thomas and Greer were all second-team picks.

In all, there were four unanimous first-team selections in Boyd, Bernard, Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins and Florida State defensive end Cornellius Carradine on defense.

Here are the complete teams.
The term "replacement player" in football conjures up images of bumbling and stumbling guys that are poor imitations of the real thing.

[+] EnlargeCornellius 'Tank' Carradine
Phil Sears/AP PhotoDE Cornellius "Tank" Carradine is adjusting to the Seminoles' starting lineup quite well.
But at Florida State, replacement players for two standouts -- defensive end Brandon Jenkins, lost to injury, and cornerback/kick returner Greg Reid, dismissed from the team -- have more than proven their worth. Through the first three games of the season, the Noles have used three players to plug those holes -- defensive end Tank Carradine, cornerback Nick Waisome and punt returner Rashad Greene -- and gotten fantastic results.

Nobody is quite saying Brandon Jenkins who? Or Greg Reid who? But these three players have made what appears to be a seamless transition into their starting roles. Of course, the biggest test comes Saturday when No. 4 Florida State hosts No. 10 Clemson. Carradine and Waisome have never started a game against an offense filled with this many playmakers.

But at least they have notched the first starts of their careers going into this one, something that Carradine says has been hugely important for him. Carradine played behind Bjoern Werner last season but going into 2012, coach Jimbo Fisher labeled Werner, Jenkins and Carradine his 1A, 1B and 1C defensive ends, respectively. When Jenkins was lost for the season with a foot injury sustained in the season opener, it was time for Carradine to move into the starting lineup.

Not exactly the easiest transition, but Carradine says he is now fully acclimated to his new role.

"Being a starter and coming off the bench is totally different," Carradine said in a phone interview this week. "When you're a starter, the team expects more out of you and you come across plays you wouldn’t come across if you weren't a starter. You come across certain situations by having more playing time. It’s much better starting because you get to see the first snaps of the ball, what keys this person is going to take, and feeling of this person you are up against right off the bat."

Carradine was one of the ACC players of the week following his performance against Wake Forest, in which he had a career-high 2 1/2 sacks. He and Werner are the top two sack leaders in the ACC -- Werner has 6.5 total sacks, Carradine has 3.5. Carradine also ranks No. 3 in the league in tackles for loss, with 4.5. And he also leads the FSU defense with 12 total tackles.

His play has even drawn an "I told you so," from Werner, who has repeatedly said the Noles would be fine without Jenkins.

"I’m feeling very comfortable," Carradine said. "I think it was a shock to me at first because I wasn’t expecting it, but I feel comfortable now that I’m out there playing, having a chance to start a game and be out there, I have the feeling of being a starter. Playing last year a lot, it also helped me prepare as well."

Waisome mostly played on special teams as a true freshman in 2011, and ended the year with one tackle. But he got his opportunity to start after Reid was kicked off the team this summer. Waisome won a summer competition with true freshman Ronald Darby and has done a nice job in the secondary.

With only three career starts under his belt, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Waisome now faces the biggest challenge of his young career, in trying to defend Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and all the other talented Clemson receivers.

What has he learned in his three starts that will help him going into this game?

"Probably just staying with the play, finishing the play all the way to the end," Waisome said. "When you get to the end of the route, when you figure out the receiver is done with the route, you can ease off a little bit sometimes. I feel like you have to stay on them because sometimes those quarterbacks scramble out -- with Tajh Boyd being such a great quarterback, we've got to stay on our receivers and play the play out."

As for Greene, he took over punt return duties from Reid and is leading the ACC with a 19.6-yard punt return average and two punt returns for touchdowns. Marcus Murphy of Missouri is the only other player in the nation with two punt returns for touchdowns so far in the season.

Fisher was quick to point out that he is really pleased with the way his team has responded, and believes they are much more confident this year than they were going into their game against Clemson a year ago.

"I think I've got some young guys that have really developed, some older guys that have really changed who they are and what they've done and really grown, like you want guys to grow and mature as they do in college," Fisher said.

We'll know more about them after Saturday.
If Florida State is going to live up to its preseason hype this year, it is going to have to do it now without its top two defensive players from a year ago.

The Seminoles are going to be without preseason All-America defensive end Brandon Jenkins for the rest of the season, a difficult enough proposition on its own. But couple that with the loss of cornerback/returner Greg Reid -- kicked off the team this summer -- and the Noles are sitting with a major talent deficit.

What helps is that Florida State has depth at defensive end, and young players with potential in the secondary. Senior Cornellius Carradine will step into the starting job for Jenkins. He has experience, and he played well against Murray State on Saturday after Jenkins got hurt, making nine tackles. The Noles also have redshirt freshman Giorgio Newberry and senior Toshmon Stevens and could consider pulling the redshirt from highly touted Mario Edwards Jr., the No. 1 player on the ESPN 150 for the class of 2012.

But no matter the depth, it is going to hurt when you lose a player who has had 22.5 sacks and made 28 starts since 2010 -- a player many believed to be the most outstanding defensive end in the entire nation. Yes, Bjoern Werner mans the other side of the line, and he had four sacks in Week 1. But where Florida State had the best defensive end duo in the nation at this time last week, there are now more questions than answers.

Couple that with some inexperience in the secondary with Reid gone. Sophomore Nick Waisome made his first start Saturday; true freshman Ronald Darby is behind him. When it comes to crunch time, how will FSU fare with only seven of its returning starters from a year ago, instead of nine?

The truth is there is not much to glean from the first two weeks of the season against FCS opponents. Savannah State, which just lost to Oklahoma State 84-0, awaits Saturday. We should know much more when ACC play opens against Wake Forest on Sept. 15. An even bigger test awaits the following week against Clemson.

Florida State may end up moving on without missing a beat. Or these two key losses could have a major impact. We just have to stay tuned.

True freshmen to watch in ACC

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
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Now that we are closing in on the start of the season, we have a much better idea of how many true freshmen could make an impact in the ACC this season based on preseason practice time and early depth charts.

Maryland could end up playing the most, and having players who make the biggest impact. You have quarterback Perry Hills starting in place of the injured C.J. Brown. Highly touted athlete Stefon Diggs has had an outstanding preseason camp. Don't forget about running backs Albert Reid and Wes Brown, who also have looked really good.

Here are a few young players to keep an eye on at each school.

Boston College: Justin Simmons, DB. Defensive back is an area where Boston College needs help, especially after the loss of Al Louis-Jean, who's out six to eight weeks with a foot injury. Simmons already has made his presence felt. In a scrimmage last weekend, he had two interceptions. Also watch for defensive back Bryce Jones and linebacker Steven Daniels.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
John Albright / Icon SMI The versatile Travis Blanks may line up at a number of positions on defense for the Tigers.
Clemson: Travis Blanks, DB. One of the top defensive backs in the country out of high school, Blanks enrolled early and had an impressive spring showing. He has followed that up with a great preseason, and will line up in a variety of positions -- nickelback, cornerback and some linebacker as well. On offense, watch for Germone Hopper, who has had some pretty explosive plays this fall.

Duke: Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell, RBs; Ross Martin, PK. Duncan and Powell have turned heads during the preseason, and coach David Cutcliffe said he would feel comfortable using both players in the opener against FIU. Martin is sure to get plenty of game experience as the starting kicker this year. Others to watch: receiver Max McCaffrey, tight end Erich Schneider and safety Dwayne Norman, who had an interception return for a touchdown in one scrimmage.

Florida State: Ronald Darby, CB. Do not be surprised if Darby ends up starting in the spot vacated by Greg Reid. Darby and Nick Waisome are competing for the starting job. Coaches like both players, but there is something special about Darby. Said coach Jimbo Fisher: Darby is "going to be a very, very good one." Also watch for defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and tight end Christo Kourtzidis.

Georgia Tech: Anthony Autry and Micheal Summers, WR. Georgia Tech only has four other scholarship wide receivers, so that increases the chances for Autry and Summers to play this season. Autry seems to have a slight edge over Summers. Others to watch: defensive back D.J. White.

Maryland: In addition to Hills, Diggs, Brown and Reid, several others could make an impact this year. Punter Brad Craddock is competing for the starting position with redshirt freshman Nathan Renfro; and cornerback Sean Davis could be starting on opening day because he has done well, and there are some injuries on defense.

Miami: Ereck Flowers, OL. Flowers is listed as a starter right now at right tackle, helped in part because of Seantrel Henderson's absence. Offensive line coach Art Kehoe has been extremely impressed. Others to watch: defensive back Tracy Howard and running back Duke Johnson. Howard is listed on the two-deep behind Ladarius Gunter but has drawn raves so far and so has Johnson, who should also return kickoffs this year. Deon Bush is in the mix for a starting safety spot.

North Carolina: Quinshad Davis, WR. Davis missed some early practice time because of a medical issue but has returned in the last week and has a big chance to make some noise. The Tar Heels are lacking depth at this position, and the way Larry Fedora likes to spread the ball around, he will take as many good receivers as he can.

NC State: Charlie Hegedus, WR. Receiver is a position of need for the Wolfpack, and Hegedus has seen more reps during fall camp with the injury to Bryan Underwood. One player NC State hopes you do not see this year is backup quarterback Manny Stocker, a true freshman behind veteran Mike Glennon.

Virginia: Maurice Canady, CB. Coaches are extremely high on Canady, who is in the mix to earn a starting spot in a secondary that has to be rebuilt this year. He has been working with the first team recently. Others to watch: Michael Moore at outside linebacker, and Eli Harold at defensive end.

Virginia Tech: J.C. Coleman, RB; Donaldven Manning, DB. Both players enrolled in January and are virtual locks to play this season. Coleman has separated himself from another true freshman, Trey Edmunds, despite a hand injury. He has had an outstanding fall camp. Manning has had to deal with a hamstring injury, but his early enrollment works in his favor.

Wake Forest: The Deacs rarely play true freshmen. But if there is one player who has a shot this year, it is defensive end Tylor Harris, who has stood out this fall for his pass-rushing ability -- something Wake Forest needs help improving this year.

Nearly three weeks after national signing day and nearly four hours after 600 elementary school kids missed class for an announcement that didn't come, Notre Dame got its man.

Five-star athlete Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral), the last unsigned member of the ESPNU 150 (No. 8 overall), committed to the Irish on Tuesday over North Carolina, Arizona and Arkansas.

Neal is the lone five-star prospect to commit to the Irish, who now come in at No. 9 in ESPNU's 2012 recruiting class rankings. Five other ESPNU 150 players are a part of the class.
At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Neal played receiver in the Under Armour All-America Game, though he was picked for the event as a defensive back. As a senior, the two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year scored 30 touchdowns on offense, added three on special teams and starred in the secondary with 12 pass breakups. He finished as the No. 8 overall prospect nationally.

Neal is recruit No. 17 for Notre Dame, which had dealt with the de-commitments of four-star cornerback Ronald Darby (Oxon Hill, Md./Potomac), three-star offensive tackle Taylor Decker (Vandalia, Ohio/Butler) and four-star wide receiver Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) in the month leading up to signing day. Greenberry, who flipped to Houston on signing day, was the most surprising of the defections, putting a damper on the Feb. 1 signing day for the Irish.

Twenty days later, they're singing a different tune in South Bend, Ind.

While his future position in the blue and gold remains unclear, Neal has the potential to make an immediate impact for the Irish in the return game, where Notre Dame averaged just 0.3 yards per punt return during the 2011 regular season.

Perhaps more importantly, Neal helps Notre Dame close the 2012 recruiting season on a strong note following a disappointing end to the 2011 football season and the ensuing de-commitments leading up to signing day.

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