NCF Nation: Ryan Nassib

Previewing ACC in NFL draft

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
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NFL draft coverage will begin at 8 p.m. ET tonight on ESPN and WatchESPN.com, but here is a one-stop shopping post for all of your last-minute mocks and talk:
  • First, let's take a look at who will be there: Florida State and North Carolina will represent the ACC with Bjoern Werner, Menelik Watson, Xavier Rhodes, EJ Manuel, and UNC's Jonathan Cooper.
  • KC Joyner says Rhodes could be one of the biggest steals of the draft.
  • The experts at Scouts Inc. projected all seven roundsInsider -- and the ACC will have two top-10 picks, depending on your take of the ACC at this particular point in time. If you want to count former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, then "the ACC" will have the No. 8 overall pick, going to former Cuse coach Doug Marrone, now with Buffalo. If you're like me, and not really willing to count Nassib in this group, then former UNC OG Jonathan Cooper is the ACC's top dawg at No. 11 overall. This is Insider content, so it's just a sneak peek, but you're going to have to wait until the second round to see EJ Manuel and the third round for Mike Glennon.
  • Todd McShay posted his Mock 5.1,Insider but he will also have an update this morning with his latest on the first round.
  • On Monday, Mel Kiper Jr. also released his latest, Mock Draft 4.1,Insider but his will also be updated as the draft nears, so check back. Meanwhile, put your own spin on Kiper's draft.
  • Our NFL bloggers also held their mock draft this week.
  • And there will be a live blog from Radio City Music Hall beginning at noon today.
Brock VereenAP Photo/Paul BattagliaThanks to a solid 2012 season, Brock Vereen has excelled as a starting safety for the Gophers.
Anyone could see that Minnesota's secondary took a major step in 2012, helping the defense finish 12th nationally in pass yards allowed and 23rd in pass efficiency.

But could anyone identify the most invaluable piece of the Gophers' back four? Probably not.

The natural inclination is to pick one of the cornerbacks, Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire, both of whom earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors (Carter should have been a second-team selection). Safety Derrick Wells put up impressive numbers (74 tackles, two interceptions, 10 pass breakups, one fumble recovered) in his first season as the starter.

But any of those players would be the wrong answer.

"Yeah, we had Troy Stoudermire, yeah, we had Michael Carter, and Michael Carter had a really good year," Gophers defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel told ESPN.com. "But Brock was the most valuable of all our DBs last year. ... Just from a calming influence, from maturity, from a steadiness of play.

"When he wasn't out there, we weren't the same."

Sawvel can't stop raving about Brock Vereen, the Gophers' senior safety who started seven games last season (including each of the final six) and recorded 64 tackles, two interceptions and nine pass breakups. Although Minnesota must replace both Carter and Stoudermire this season, Vereen is back to anchor the secondary and the defense, which loses two starting linebackers and top pass rusher DL Wilhite.

"I need to step up and accept that leadership role," Vereen said. "That comes with confidence. It's definitely been a focus this spring. I've never been a vocal leader, so that aspect is something new, but I've always felt comfortable having guys look up to me.

"I know that I need to talk more, but at the same time, I also know some of the younger guys can learn just by watching me."

Vereen can educate Minnesota's young safeties and cornerbacks because he has played both positions for the Gophers. He spent his first two seasons at cornerback, starting four games in 2010 and all 12 as a sophomore the following year.

The 6-foot, 202-pound Vereen immediately bought in to Sawvel and the coaching staff that arrived with Jerry Kill after the 2010 season. He told Sawvel he wished he had been redshirted in 2010, as he had received little guidance as a true freshman.

"His first thing was, 'I can't wait to be coached. I can't wait to learn what a new staff is going to do,'" Sawvel said.

Vereen had a strong finish to the 2011 campaign, limiting talented receivers like Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis (two catches, 27 yards) and Illinois' A.J. Jenkins (four catches, 30 yards). In hindsight, Sawvel wished he had flipped Vereen from side to side rather than leaving him in one spot because he evolved into Minnesota's top cover corner.

But after the season, the coaches moved Vereen to safety. They had brought in several cornerbacks through recruiting, and Sawvel saw a higher ceiling for vereen at safety.

"He doesn’t have the hips of an elite corner," Sawvel said. "That doesn't mean he couldn’t play it. He could or play it on a short-term basis, but by the same token, he's extremely smart and he's a physical guy. We thought with his skill set, he has a better chance to become an elite safety."

[+] EnlargeBrock Vereen
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsBrock Vereen is in a football family, parents who travel to his games and a brother who plays for the New England Patriots.
The coaches appear to be on the right track. Vereen sat out last spring with an injury and began the season as a reserve safety, in part because Sawvel knew Vereen was mature enough to handle coming off of the bench.

The turning point came in Week 4 against Syracuse, when Vereen and the defense shut down Ryan Nassib and the Syracuse offense in a 17-10 victory.

"After that game, it was clear," Sawvel said. "It was like, 'Brock's the starter. He needs to be on the field all the time.'"

More like all over the field. Vereen can cover slot receivers, square up running backs in the hole and even play a nickel safety/linebacker hybrid role, like he did against Texas Tech in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, when he led Minnesota with 10 tackles.

"Somebody asked me, 'What is he? Is he a strong safety? Is he a free safety?'" Sawvel said. "He's a field safety. That allows him to cover people a lot. But when we played Michigan State, they're lining up in two-back and he plays a really good game, and there’s several times where we get the ball bounced to him, and it's him and [running back] Le'Veon Bell and he won all of them.

"That's a big luxury to have, that you have a guy who can do that much."

A native of Valencia, Calif., Vereen wanted "something new" for his college experience. His older brother, Shane, had starred for Cal at running back, and Brock drew interest from several Pac-12 schools in recruiting. He ended up picking his farthest suitor, Minnesota.

Although Vereen has family ties in the Midwest -- grandparents in Illinois, cousins in Indiana, an uncle living minutes away from Minnesota's campus -- life in Minneapolis provided a bit of a shock.

"I've never been more homesick than that first winter," Vereen said. "That definitely was something I needed to adjust to. But it's been great."

Vereen's parents, Venita and Henry, spend every fall and winter weekend on the road, attending their sons' games. Typically, one watches Brock with Minnesota and the other watches Shane play for the New England Patriots. If there's enough time between the two games, they'll attend both.

"I don’t know how they do it, home and away," Brock said. "They have their little system worked out, and I just love 'em for it, all of their sacrifices for me."

Brock attends any of Shane's games that he can -- it helps that the Patriots are a perennial playoff team -- and Shane spends his bye weekend at a Gophers game. The two brothers talk daily, often about football, and Brock keeps close tabs on his brother.

"When I was in high school and he was in college, he was at the level I wanted to get to, so I wanted to know everything he did," Brock said. "And it's the same situation now. I've learned not necessarily from him telling, but just from watching him. That goes back to when we were kids. I've always been very observant of him. He's been very successful in everything that he’s done, so I've been trying to do what he did to get to the level he's at."

Sawvel thinks Brock Vereen has NFL potential, although he'll need to "put out more good video" as a senior.

If NFL talent evaluators see what Minnesota's coaches do in Vereen, he could follow his brother's path a year from now.

"He's just very valuable to us," Sawvel said. "He really is."
The first round of the NFL draft is just a week away, so it is time to provide you an update with the latest predictions, mock drafts and rankings from ESPN experts.

First, let us start with Mel Kiper Jr., who plays general manager for every single team and predicts the first three rounds of the draft Insider. It is Insider content, but here is a look at where he has placed players from ACC schools. Oh, and be sure to read his ground rules to have a better understanding of his thought process.

First round
Second round
Third round

As Kiper Jr. states, that piece is not a mock draft. It's his preference for each team at that spot. His mock draft features Cooper, Williams and Rhodes. Disagree with his first-round picks? Well you can make your own mock draft Insider. Two thumbs up on that tool.

Kiper also has updated his Big Board Insider, ranking the Top 25 prospects. Only Cooper and Williams make that list.

Meanwhile, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay has revealed the Scouts Inc. tier rankings Insider, which list prospects by their ratings. There are seven tiers and 109 players rated, with 17 from ACC schools (counting incoming members Pittsburgh and Syracuse).

McShay also has named his All-Satellite team Insider, comprised of the best prospects when playing in space. North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard checks in at No. 5. McShay writes, "He has super-quick feet, good initial burst and outstanding lateral agility. Bernard can stop and start on a dime, strings together multiple moves and is a slippery runner between the tackles."

Want more? Kiper also has updated his top 5 prospects by position Insider.
The Orange has some big shoes to fill this spring in former quarterback Ryan Nassib, and it might take more than one player to fill them. Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said he is not opposed to playing more than one quarterback this fall.

Syracuse starts practices on Tuesday with a wide-open quarterback competition among Charley Loeb, a pro-style player who was Nassib’s backup in 2012, and dual-threat quarterbacks John Kinder and Terrel Hunt. Shafer, who was the Orange’s defensive coordinator for four seasons before he was promoted to head coach this year, said Kinder used to drive his defense nuts as the quarterback for the scout team offense. Loeb didn’t get many reps as Nassib’s backup, but he is a big, strong, intelligent quarterback, Shafer said.

There’s a chance Syracuse fans might get to see all three this fall.

“If that’s one player, great, if that’s two players, great,” Shafer said. “It’s whatever we have to do. In the perfect world we’d love to be a one-system quarterback as the starter, as compared to two or multiple guys playing it, but at the end of the day, we’ll be a win-system quarterback approach, where that position has to be able to win for us. No different than any other position on the team.

“I think we need to be ready to be creative at the quarterback position,” he said. “We want to try to develop each guy and try to find the guy that can do it all, but at the end of the day we have some talented kids that can line up behind the center and do different things. Whether it be a starting quarterback that’s strong at 70-80 percent of the things you want to do, and then you find another kid that can go in and run wildcat situations and maybe there’s a third kid listed at a different position who can go in and do those things. More than anything the goal is to have a win-system quarterback approach.”

ACC's spring position battles

February, 21, 2013
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There are going to be position battles this spring at every school in the ACC, but some will be in the spotlight more than others. If you’re just tuning in to ACC football, here are some of the biggest competitions in the conference this spring:

OFFENSE

1. Florida State quarterback: This is arguably the most intriguing competition in the entire conference, as the Seminoles have to replace veteran EJ Manuel. Clint Trickett enters the spring at the top of the depth chart, but consider this job open. Sophomore Jacob Coker is the total package, but redshirt freshman Jameis Winston was the nation’s No. 1 quarterback and could be the answer, too.

2. North Carolina running back: The Tar Heels have to find a way to replace leading rusher Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL draft. Not only will his loss be felt in the running game, but probably even moreso in the return game, as Bernard was one of the nation’s top punt returners. UNC returns A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, who combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns last season.

3. Syracuse quarterback: The Orange enter the ACC with a new coach and in need of a new quarterback. Record-setting quarterback Ryan Nassib is gone, leaving behind a wide-open competition. Backup Charley Loeb, junior John Kinder, and dual-threat Terrel Hunt are the top candidates. Ashton Broyld, who moved to running back in 2012, could be in the mix as well.

DEFENSE

1. Florida State defensive ends: The cream of the crop is gone, as Tank Carradine, Bjoern Werner and Brandon Jenkins all have to be replaced. Enter Mario Edwards Jr., who has a leg-up on the competition because he played in 11 games as a true freshman, and started the final two games of the year in place of the injured Carradine. Don’t forget about Giorgio Newberry, though, and Chris Casher, who is now healthy after a knee injury. Casher will start spring ball on the two-deep depth chart. Dan Hicks, who was Jenkins’ backup two years ago, had a knee injury and missed all of last season. He had moved to tight end, but was in the rotation at defensive end earlier in his career and could come back.

2. NC State secondary: This group will have an entirely new look this spring, as three starters have to be replaced, including Earl Wolff, Brandan Bishop and David Amerson, the school’s career interception leader. Cornerback Dontae Johnson returns, along with Juston Burris, who played in the nickel package. There are also several redshirts and younger players who will compete.

3. Virginia Tech cornerback: Virginia Tech’s defensive backfield lost its star last month when cornerback Antone Exum tore his ACL in a pickup basketball game. Several young players will compete for his reps this spring, including Donovan Riley, Donaldven Manning and Davion Tookes. Highly touted cornerback Kendall Fuller will join the team in the summer.

When you start talking spring football every year, you start talking change.

New coaches.

New players.

New starting quarterbacks.

New teams.

Wait, what?

Yes indeed, life is about to change for the soon-to-be supersized ACC, as Pitt and Syracuse begin spring practice this year with an eye toward Year 1 as new league members. While changes come in many forms, there is no denying that this year more than most, the ACC will see radical changes across the board.

Not only will the league grow to 14 teams, three new coaching staffs are taking charge (Boston College, NC State, Syracuse); nine teams have either a new offensive or defensive coordinator; and 13 teams have at least one new assistant on staff. You know it is an offseason of change when two of the two most stable programs in the league -- Florida State and Virginia Tech -- have undergone staff overhauls.

Jimbo Fisher lost assistants for the first time under his watch, having to replace six in all, including a yet-to-be-hired offensive coordinator and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. Perhaps the most galling loss of all came at the hands of longtime rival Miami, which hired away James Coley to serve as offensive coordinator.

As if that wasn't enough, Florida State must also begin the process of replacing departed stars EJ Manuel, Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes and Tank Carradine this spring.

The Noles, however, are in a better spot than the Hokies, coming off their worst season in two decades.

After offensive ineptitude hampered his team for a majority of the season, Frank Beamer changed out his offensive coaching staff, hiring Scot Loeffler as offensive coordinator in place of Bryan Stinespring. This all adds to the prevailing theme in Blacksburg this spring: How will Loeffler get the most out of quarterback Logan Thomas?

Virginia also has made major staff changes. Coach Mike London made the boldest moves in the league this offseason following a 4-8 season, hiring former Colorado State coach Steve Fairchild as offensive coordinator, former NC State coach Tom O'Brien as associate head coach/tight ends, and Jon Tenuta as defensive coordinator. Fairchild, O'Brien and Tenuta bring 115 years of coaching experience to the staff, so you have to believe the pressure is on to turn things around immediately.

Pressure is there for the new faces in the league, too. Boston College coach Steve Addazio has to find a way to turn around a 2-10 team in a hurry. NC State coach Dave Doeren has to know that 7-5 seasons with upsets over Florida State are not good enough in Raleigh, so he's got to find a way to improve with only 11 starters returning. And Syracuse coach Scott Shafer has to find a way to build upon the momentum Syracuse created in its final Big East season, in a division with Florida State and Clemson.

Doeren and Shafer have to meet their goals with a new starting quarterback. Each lost excellent leaders in Mike Glennon and Ryan Nassib, both expected to be drafted in April. Both competitions are wide-open going into the spring, as are the competitions at Florida State, Pittsburgh, Duke and Virginia.

Of these schools, there is perhaps most excitement at Pitt over a new starter, now that the Panthers have said goodbye to the streaky and often-maddening Tino Sunseri. Former Rutgers quarterback Tom Savage and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik figure to be the top two candidates.

But even a school such as Clemson has to deal with change. Yes, the Tigers do return their All-American quarterback Tajh Boyd, coach Dabo Swinney and both coordinators -- holding onto hot commodity Chad Morris for one more season. But they also lose leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who declared himself eligible for the NFL draft. And just as important, they have to replace center Dalton Freeman, who made 49 starts in his Tigers career.

So you see, change is everywhere, both big and small. Spring is our first introduction to a new-look ACC come the fall.
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.

Best Big East moments of 2012

January, 14, 2013
1/14/13
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The calendar reads 2013, but it is time to take a quick look back at the best moments of the 2012 season.

Best moment, period: Louisville 33, Florida 23, Allstate Sugar Bowl. OK this game was technically played in 2013, but it still counts as the best moment the Big East had. Louisville may be headed out the door, but the Big East should own this moment, considering the constant beating it has taken over the past two seasons. Louisville is proof that the Big East can survive without its big-name programs. Remember, Louisville was only added to the Big East after the first raid took Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College. Since joining in 2005, the Cardinals have gone to two BCS games and have an up-and-coming football program. It stings that they are leaving, but the program has taken off under the Big East umbrella.

Best Big East game: Louisville 34, Cincinnati 31, overtime. I thought this was the most thrilling game of the season, and had folks talking Big East football on a Friday night in October. Cincinnati had 10-point leads in the first and second half before the Cardinals came back twice under Teddy Bridgewater. After Bridgewater threw the go-ahead 64-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker with 1:56 to go, Cincinnati did not cave. Munchie Legaux answered with a 26-yard, game-tying touchdown pass of his own to Damon Julian with 1:03 to go to send the game into overtime. One of the moments everybody will remember is the "Butch Jones shrug," after botching the ice-the-kicker timeout. Jones called timeout just before Louisville kicker John Wallace attempted a 30-yard field goal in overtime. The snap was high and the kick sailed wide. Wallace nailed the try that counted, and the Cardinals escaped with the win.

[+] EnlargeTyler Matakevich
Cal Sport Media/APTemple's defense got a boost after freshman LB Tyler Matakevich cracked the starting lineup.
Best performance by a freshman: Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple. Matakevich was an unheard-of prospect when the season began, but that all changed at the end of 2012. Matakevich won Big East Freshman of the Year honors after he completely dominated when he got his opportunity in the starting lineup. He ended up with double-digit tackles in seven of the eight games he started.

Best performance by a sophomore: Bridgewater. There is no doubt Bridgewater was the best player in the Big East this season, as he ended up throwing for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 68.5 percent of his passes. His emergence gives the Big East a legitimate Heisman contender in 2013.

Best performance by a junior: Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers. Ryan had another outstanding season as one of the premier shutdown cornerbacks in the country, finishing as an All-Big East first-team selection. He was second on the team with 94 tackles and was the only player in the nation with at least 90 tackles, four interceptions and 18 passes defended.

Best performance by a senior: Khaseem Greene, LB, Rutgers. There were plenty of outstanding senior performances this season, but Greene was the best of them, repeating as Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Greene ended the season with 136 tackles, six sacks and six forced fumbles.

Best comeback performance: Syracuse. When the Orange started the year 2-4, how many of you predicted Doug Marrone would become the next coach of the Buffalo Bills? Syracuse ended the season as one of the league's hottest teams with wins in six of its last seven games. Last year was the exact reverse -- Syracuse started 5-2 and could not win another game. Interesting how that all worked out, isn't it?

Best "firsts": Syracuse and Pitt both hit offensive firsts this season. Syracuse had a 3,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard receiver and 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in school history. Ryan Nassib finished with 3,749 yards passing; Jerome Smith had 1,171 yards rushing; and Alec Lemon had 1,070 yards receiving. Meanwhile, the Panthers had a 3,000-yard passer and 1,000-yard rusher in the same season for the first time in school history. Tino Sunseri finished the season with 3,288 yards, while Ray Graham had 1,042.

Best record: Big East 4-1 vs. SEC. Now this is truly something the Big East can brag about. The lone blemish belongs to Pitt, which lost to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl. While it may be true that three of those four wins came against teams with losing records, you can't deny how important it was for Louisville to beat Kentucky and Florida; for Syracuse to go on the road and beat Missouri in November to clinch bowl eligibility; and for Rutgers to go on the road and beat an Arkansas team that was ranked in the preseason. Before the year began, many opined about the tough games for the Orange and Scarlet Knights on the road, particularly since they were late additions to the schedule. Neither opponent may have been as good as advertised in the preseason, but there's still no denying the enormity of the wins.
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.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl keys

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
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Let's take a look at three keys for victory for West Virginia in today's New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

1. Limit the long ball. West Virginia has given up 63 completions longer than 20 yards this season, more than any team since Nevada all the way back in 2008. Syracuse's Ryan Nassib is a future NFL player who can sling it and had a huge senior season with 3,619 yards, 24 touchdowns and nine picks. West Virginia is going to give up yards, but it's got to make Syracuse earn them, and the easiest way to do that is to prevent the big ball over the top. Keith Patterson has taken over defensive play-calling duties from Joe DeForest. Will we see a noticeable difference? WVU's bowl hopes likely depend on it.

2. Give Geno Smith some help. There's lots that goes into this, but for me, it comes down to the offensive line. Center Joe Madsen is the unit's best player, but he's academically ineligible. Smith, the nation's leader with 40 touchdown passes, needs time to to make plays. You can provide that time by blocking well, but it gets a whole lot easier when you run the ball well. WVU has been inconsistent in that area, but if it runs the ball well against Syracuse, keeping up in a high-scoring game without turnovers becomes a very reasonable proposition.

3. Keep it simple, y'all. Feed Tavon the rock. No need to get complex. West Virginia has about a million ways to do it, but the more Tavon Austin touches the ball, the better. Ask Oklahoma, which gave up 344 rushing yards and 572 all-purpose yards in a crazy night for the star. Austin is still getting some touches at running back, but WVU has got to work to get him the ball. If he gets fewer than 15 touches, West Virginia is not winning this game.

Pregame: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

December, 29, 2012
12/29/12
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West Virginia (7-5, 4-5 Big 12) versus Syracuse (7-5, 5-2 Big East):

WHO TO WATCH: Stedman Bailey. Hard to pick just one of the West Virginia trio on offense that has shattered just about every school record. Geno Smith and Tavon Austin are just as worthy of selection. So are Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon for Syracuse. But I went with Bailey for a variety of reasons. First, he had an incredible season, leading the nation with 23 touchdown receptions. Second, this is his last game after declaring early for the NFL draft, a perfect opportunity to showcase his talents for everybody to see. And third, he was just about the only West Virginia player to have any success against Syracuse last season, with seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.

WHAT TO WATCH: Geno Smith versus Syracuse's front. This is the biggest matchup to watch in the game, and it is not even really that close. Syracuse beat West Virginia the past two years in large part because its defensive front found a way to harass Smith. In those two victories, Syracuse combined to sack Smith nine times and force him into five interceptions. Chandler Jones was particularly impressive in both of those games. He is gone, and you can bet Syracuse will be turning its focus to Brandon Sharpe as a rush end in this game. Now, by all measures, Smith was a more complete quarterback this season than the past two years, as he threw a whopping 40 touchdown passes. But five of his six interceptions came in losses, so the game plan for Syracuse should remain the same as the previous two years -- make Smith as uncomfortable as possible.

WHY WATCH: This game is being billed as potentially having plenty of offensive fireworks, as both teams average more than 470 yards per game. Plus, they are longtime Big East rivals. Before 2012, Syracuse and West Virginia had met annually since 1955 and played for the Ben Schwartzwalder Trophy when it was established in 1993. Although the trophy is not going to be on the line in this game, West Virginia will try to beat the Orange for the first time since 2009. One more thing to keep an eye on -- the weather. Snow is expected in New York on Saturday, so that could radically alter game plans and force both teams to rely more on their ground games. Jerome Smith and Andrew Buie (or even Shawne Alston) could end up with big days.

PREDICTION: Syracuse 45, West Virginia 44.

Big East mailblog

December, 21, 2012
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Let's take a glance into the mailbag before we celebrate the holiday.

Chris Snow in Portland, Ind., writes: Would it be smart if the Big East continues down the path of where they are going, which is obscurity, that USF do what BYU did? Leave the conference and schedule games with all the big boys and try to impress conferences that way. I would sacrifice two or three seasons of conference play, put a schedule like Notre Dame has together, and hope that a big-five conference takes notice and adds me. What say you?

Andrea Adelson: I say -- how are you going to make money off a television deal? I hear a lot of folks wondering about whether their school should go independent. I've heard it from Boise State fans as well. BYU is a national school with its own television network, and it was able to secure its own TV deal with ESPN. USF? Boise State? The chances that they can negotiate TV deals of their own is exceptionally remote. So USF has to stick it out in the Big East and then see where conference realignment takes it.




Doug in Middletown, Conn., writes: Hi Andrea, what are your thoughts on UConn and the Big Ten? Why was Rutgers more attractive to the Big Ten then UConn?

Adelson: Bottom line: television market. The Big Ten targeted markets with large populations and large bases of Big Ten alumni. Rutgers (New York) and Maryland (Baltimore/Washington D.C.) fit the bill more than Connecticut.




Scott in Annapolis, Md., writes: With Tavon Austin, Stedman Bailey, and Geno Smith playing in their last game together, I look for the Mountaineers to go out big on this one. I know WVU's defense stinks (especially the cornerbacks), but if WVU's offense is firing on all cylinders, Cuse doesn't stand a chance. Just ask Clemson. Orange juice anyone?? WVU 55, Cuse 24.

Adelson: You just said West Virginia's defense stinks. So how exactly are these stinky cornerbacks (your words!) going to stop Alec Lemon, Marcus Sales and Ryan Nassib? Syracuse has a way better defense than Clemson -- you should be well aware of that. I will make my pick next week, but I have a hard time believing Syracuse only scores 24 points. Just won't happen.




John in Louisville writes: AA, I am confused how the Catholic schools saying they are leaving has any effect on the football teams, other than money in TV revenue. Everyone is saying that the BE could lose its BCS bid next year and I was hoping you could explain that talk to me.

Adelson: I am as confused as you are, to be honest. Before these hoops schools broke away, I was told repeatedly the Big East would remain an automatic qualifying conference in 2013. So I am not sure why that changes when NON-FOOTBALL-PLAYING schools leave. Perhaps there is a fear the entire Big East will fall apart. My bet is nothing happens to the automatic bid for next year. Now, if football schools begin to depart en masse, that could change.




Chris Columbo in New York writes: One of the big issues Cincinnati has is lack of fan support. Not being able to sell out a small and unique on-campus stadium such as Nippert when they are doing so well is a sign of weakness on many levels. I actually think they are making a mistake by expanding the facility. The money could be put to much better use by expanding their endowment and getting a higher quality of kids to attend the school. More prestigious school equals more fans as people want to be associated with winning on and off the field. I am originally from East Lansing (Michigan State) and went to school at Wisconsin. We would regularly have 70,000 people at games even when both teams were losing. Actually in Wisconsin's case, they were selling out games when they had 1-10 seasons. The reason was people wanted to be associated with the schools. For Cincinnati to have the kind of success it wants to have, the games have to be a kind of see-and-be-seen type of event. Nippert is like Wrigley Field. No one cares if the Cubs win but people go to the games for all the other social reasons.

Adelson: You bring up an excellent point. Cincinnati athletic director Whit Babcock was asked during his press conference earlier this week about the school's inability to sell out games. Rather than criticize fans, he essentially said the success was all relatively new for the program and he believes Cincinnati will get to a point where it can sell out games. The expansion, however, has more to do with making itself more attractive to another conference should an opportunity arise in realignment. Cincinnati has one of the smallest stadiums of any program currently in an AQ conference. Only Wake Forest and Duke have smaller capacities. Putting in more suites and club boxes brings added revenue streams and can help Cincinnati financially. So selling out games at this point is icing on the cake. The goal is to bump up capacity while bringing in more cash with suites, boxes and naming-rights opportunities.


Big East power rankings

November, 19, 2012
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Who is hot, and who is not in the Big East headed into Week 13?

1. Rutgers (9-1, 5-0). After the defensive performance we saw in a 10-3 win over Cincinnati on Saturday, I feel confident enough in saying I think the Scarlet Knights are now the favorites to win the Big East. I still think Louisville has a very strong team, but its defense must make major improvements quickly. I am still having flashbacks from that performance against Syracuse.

2. Louisville (9-1, 4-1). Getting a bye week after a loss has its pros and cons. Louisville got extra time to work on its mistakes, but it also had to sit on what was a pretty tough loss. And that is the lasting image folks have of this team as the final two weeks of the season approach. Teddy Bridgewater has been dynamic, but he won't be able to win the Big East title on his own.

3. Cincinnati (7-3, 3-2). I thought the Bearcats had an extremely disappointing performance against Rutgers. I expected way more out of that team, playing at home. The Bearcats had their opportunities time and again but were simply outplayed by a better team. Although another Big East title seems remote at this point, the Bearcats can still win 10 games for the fifth time in six seasons.

4. Syracuse (6-5, 4-2). I know there are plenty of "what-if" questions that haunt Orange fans, but just forget about them and enjoy getting back to a bowl game. Ryan Nassib and Alec Lemon have been remarkable of late, and their performance at the end of the Missouri game was simply clutch.

5. Temple (4-6, 2-4). Seriously, throw teams 5-7 in a hat and your order is as good as mine. The Owls have been bad in Big East play of late but set school and Big East records in a win over Army on Saturday. They have wins over two of the three teams down below, so they get the nod in this space.

6. UConn (4-6, 1-4). The Huskies were off this week and are still getting the benefit of their last game out -- a win over Pitt.

7. Pitt (4-6, 1-4). The Panthers also were off, and getting hurt from their last game out -- a bad loss to UConn.

8. USF (3-7, 1-4). The Bulls have not been this bad since joining the Big East. Though they have had mixed results against their in-state rivals, at least they played respectably well. Not Saturday against Miami. The 40-9 loss was the worst under coach Skip Holtz.
What did we learn in the Big East in Week 12? Glad you asked.

1. Stability? What? Just when you thought it was safe to dream (and/or incorrectly speculate) about stability in college football … wham! Realignment became a hot topic once again on another college football Saturday. Sources told ESPN that Maryland is in talks with the Big Ten about jumping from the ACC. If that happens, Rutgers is expected to follow. And where would the ACC look to fill its opening? You can guess. Nothing official has been announced. But if something does happen, Rutgers would be the ninth Big East school to leave the conference since 2004. Stay tuned. This should be an interesting week.

2. Big East title should be settled in New Jersey. Rutgers had quite the impressive defensive performance in a 10-3 win over Cincinnati, all but assuring us of a de facto Big East championship game in Piscataway on Thursday, Nov. 29. This is precisely why the Big East made the schedule this way. No. 22 Rutgers remains the only unbeaten team in Big East play at 5-0. Even if the Scarlet Knights lose at Pitt next week, they would still have a winner-take-BCS matchup on their hands against Louisville -- provided the Cardinals come off their bye and beat UConn. Even if both Rutgers and Louisville go into the regular-season finale with matching 5-1 league marks, the winner goes to the BCS.

[+] EnlargeTemple's Montel Harris
AP Photo/Mike GrollTemple's Montel Harris rushed for 351 yards and seven touchdowns on 36 carries in a win over Army.
3. Stats leaders. It was a banner day in the stats column for two Big East players. First, Temple running back Montel Harris set Big East records with 351 yards rushing and seven rushing touchdowns in a 63-32 win over Army. He had the highest rushing total of any player in Week 12, despite missing practice all week with a minor knee injury. Temple also tied or set eight different school records, including rushing yards (534) and touchdowns in a game (nine). Later in the evening, Syracuse's Alec Lemon posted the highest receiving total of anybody in Week 12, when he set a career-high with 244 yards receiving in a 31-27 win over Missouri. Lemon caught the 17-yard game-winning touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the game. His receiving total ranks No. 3 in Big East history. Quarterback Ryan Nassib also had his sixth 300-yard passing day and set the school career passing record with 8,845 yards.

4. Big East > SEC? Made you look! The Big East may not have half its teams ranked in the top 10 of the BCS standings, but it does own a 3-0 record against the SEC this season, after Syracuse pulled the upset on the Missouri Tigers. The Orange joined Louisville (over Kentucky) and Rutgers (over Arkansas) with wins over the top conference in the land, making the Big East a perfect 3-0 against the SEC this season. The last time the Big East went unbeaten versus the SEC was back in 2006, when Louisville beat Kentucky and West Virginia beat Mississippi State. While it is true none of these SEC teams have winning records, it is also true that only Louisville was expected to win its game this year. When you are a league like the Big East, you take any opportunity to beat a team from the SEC, no matter who they are. Both Rutgers and Syracuse booked their SEC road games late, and many thought that could be trouble. But both pulled them out. And now Syracuse is going bowling again.

5. USF may not win another game this year. That is my blunt assessment off a really bad 40-9 loss to Miami. Look, I realize that the Bulls ended up really getting hurt when Bobby Eveld went down with a shoulder injury -- only a quarter after burning his redshirt. But here is the thing. Matt Floyd was the backup behind B.J. Daniels all season. He played in several games this year. And Miami has one of the worst defenses in the nation. And yet, USF could not score a single touchdown on this team for the second straight year. Skip Holtz did his team no favors with poor clock management at the end of the first half, and his decision to settle for field goals in the fourth quarter. Injuries have piled up everywhere on offense, and it showed Saturday. Remaining on the schedule: at Cincinnati; Pitt.

Big East helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 18, 2012
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Here's who stood out the most during Week 12 of the Big East

Montel Harris, RB, Temple: Uh, wow. Harris set school and conference records in rushing for 351 yards and seven touchdowns. Not much else to say but "wow," once more. (And to think he didn't even practice this week because of a knee injury.)

Savon Huggins, RB, Rutgers: With Jawan Jamison limited by an ankle injury, Huggins slid into the No. 1 role and filled the shoes more than capably, carrying the ball 41 times for 179 yards. Seriously, what other No. 2 running back could handle that kind of workload? It matches Jamison's 41-carry effort from earlier this season, at USF.

Alec Lemon, WR, Syracuse: Lemon caught 12 passes for a career-high 244 yards, including the game-winner with 20 seconds left. He had four catches for 81 yards on the Orange's final drive. Lemon's 244 yards topped all receivers in Week 12, and it marked the third-highest single-game total in Big East history.

Ryan Nassib, QB, Syracuse: Nassib led the Orange to another last-second road win. He completed 26 of 40 passes for 385 yards with two touchdowns and one pick, and he has lifted Syracuse to four wins in its last five games, bowl-eligible once again.

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