NCF Nation: Scot Loeffler

Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:


Spring practice over

What we learned:
  • Momentum rolls on. It's hard to believe the Blue Devils are already done with spring ball, but coach David Cutcliffe opted to open practice in February to capitalize on the momentum that was created last season. After the spring game ended Saturday, he praised the way his players handled the practices. There was a great deal of retention and not a lot of re-teaching, so coaches were able to get much more out of their players this spring.
  • Max McCaffrey emerges. Jamison Crowder had a spectacular 2013 season, but it was essentially him and then everybody else in the receiver group. That may not be the case this season. McCaffrey earned praise from coaches and teammates for the way he improved during the spring. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said McCaffrey made as many plays as anybody else on the offense this spring.
  • Stepping up on the line. The Blue Devils lost three starters on their defensive line -- both ends in Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento. But it appears as if the players behind them are ready to step up and make a seamless transition. Defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson each had two sacks in the spring game. Kyler Brown also made the switch from linebacker to defensive end and had a sack in the spring game as well.
Georgia Tech

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:
  • Justin Thomas takes over. After Vad Lee announced his transfer from Georgia Tech, the quarterback reigns fell to Thomas, who played in 10 games this season. The Jackets had their share of highs and lows under Lee, but what the staff is going to be looking for first and foremost is Thomas’ ability to hold on to the football. Georgia Tech had 24 giveaways and ranked No. 12 in the ACC in turnover margin.
  • Defensive line questions. The Jackets lose three starters on the defensive line, including All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu -- who had 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Who will step up and fill that type of production? The most experienced backups returning are sophomores Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble. Also, Travin Henry will get a look at defensive end after playing wide receiver last season.
  • Offensive line questions. Georgia Tech also loses three starters on the offensive line -- tackles Ray Beno and Will Jackson and center Jay Finch. The trio combined to start 117 games in their careers, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much less experienced unit in 2014. The good news is All-ACC guard Shaq Mason returns to help anchor the new-look line.

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Quarterback derby. Stephen Morris is gone, but the Canes do have at least one experienced quarterback on the roster in Ryan Williams, a Memphis transfer who has served as Morris’ backup the last two seasons. As a true freshman with the Tigers, Williams started 10 games -- all the way back in 2010. Challenging Williams is redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who had a bit of a rocky first year in Miami, along with Gray Crow.
  • Defensive improvements. Perhaps more than what happens at quarterback, Miami must see improvements out of its defense this season. Embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job but the status quo cannot persist. Every single area of the defense must be upgraded. Ranking No. 13 in the ACC in total defense just can’t happen again.
  • Defensive improvements, Part II. To try and help the secondary, Miami already moved Dallas Crawford over to safety, where the Canes could use the help. But Miami must be stronger on the defensive front. The Canes only had 12 sacks in eight conference games. By comparison, BC led the way with 25 sacks in conference games. This is a big opportunity for guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu to really step up.
North Carolina

Spring start: Started March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Marquise Williams took over as the starter when Bryn Renner was gone for the season and ended up helping the Tar Heels make a bowl game after a 1-5 start. But coach Larry Fedora said the competition is open this spring. Look for Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker to give Williams a major push.
  • Defensive line questions. Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are both gone, leaving big holes in the North Carolina front. Martin ended up notching 21.5 tackles for loss to rank No. 3 in the ACC. So who are the next guys up? At end, Junior Gnonkonde and Jessie Rogers are the top two contenders, while Shawn Underwood, Devonte Brown and Justin Thomason will compete for one of the tackle spots.
  • Replacing Ebron. Eric Ebron was dynamic at tight end for the Tar Heels last season, leading the team with 62 receptions for 973 yards, while adding three touchdowns. Will the Tar Heels be able to replace that type of production with just one player? Jack Tabb would be next in line among the tight ends, but this is a huge opportunity for the North Carolina receiving group as well. We saw plenty of promise out of young guys like Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer.

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: No spring game. Last day of practice April 13

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Chad Voytik played really well in relief of an injured Tom Savage in the bowl game, but coach Paul Chryst said the competition to win the starting job is open headed into the spring. At this point, Voytik and Trey Anderson are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. So you can bet the biggest goal of all is to keep them both healthy.
  • Replacing Aaron Donald. One of the biggest surprises in all of college football this past season was the emergence and utter dominance of Donald at defensive tackle. Donald swept every major defensive award after notching 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. Darryl Render is the next man up.
  • Complementary receiver. Devin Street is gone, leaving Tyler Boyd as the only standout receiver on the roster. Not only do the Panthers have to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver, they also have to develop some depth. Watch for Manasseh Garner, a former H-back who moved to receiver late last season when Street got hurt. He is more physical than Boyd, and has some extended playing experience.

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. David Watford is not guaranteed to win his starting job back after last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are also in the mix and reps with the first team will be split. In fact, Lambert got the first-team reps when the Hoos opened spring ball last weekend.
  • Andrew Brown. The highly-touted freshman will have every opportunity to win a starting job at defensive tackle, and it all starts in spring ball. The No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN 300 comes in with tons of hype; now can he translate that into on-field success? He, Donte Wilkins and Chris Brathwaite will be competing to start next to David Dean.
  • Mr. McGee. Jake McGee was the best player the Hoos had among the group of tight ends and receivers a year ago, leading the team with 43 catches for 395 yards. This spring, McGee has now moved over to receiver so the Hoos can take advantage of his athletic ability. Plus, Virginia is lacking playmakers at the position, so we’ll see how much this move benefits both McGee and the offense.
Virginia Tech

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Quarterback. Mark Leal heads into the spring with a leg up in the quarterback competition but make no mistake, there is no set starter. He will get competition from freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley in the spring, with freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arriving in summer. This competition will likely drag on into the fall.
  • Front seven. The Hokies are losing five terrific players up front, including ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, and linebacker Jack Tyler, who racked up 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. There is no doubt a major priority this spring is finding their replacements and building depth along the line and at linebacker. Who will step up as the leader of this group with Tyler gone?
  • Skill players. This has been an ongoing theme over the last two seasons and will continue to be a theme until the Hokies have consistently good players at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is excited about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, and his entire tight end group for that matter. A healthy Malleck and improvement from Kalvin Cline means the Hokies could simultaneously improve their run and pass game.

Diagnosing the ACC

September, 18, 2013
The ACC has to be thrilled with the first three weeks of the season: three top-25 teams, including two in the top 10, a 2-2 record against the SEC in early nonconference games and six unbeatens so far.

What could be ailing this conference? Take a closer look at the numbers, and you will find that offense is generally down across the league.

What’s ailing the ACC

Remember, the ACC set all sorts of single-season offensive records in 2012 -- scoring 40 or more points in a game (42 times), topping 500 yards of total offense in a game (38) and 100-yard receiving days (69), as well. And the league had its highest-scoring game in history between Georgia Tech and North Carolina (a 68-50 Yellow Jackets victory).

But so far, nine teams are below their total offense average from a year ago. That includes high-flying Clemson, which ranks "only" No. 35 in total offense so far. Miami (No. 91 overall) and North Carolina (No. 71 overall), expected to be two of the better offenses in the league, also have had problems with consistency. Virginia Tech, Boston College and Wake Forest -- three of the worst teams in total offense a year ago -- are all statistically worse.

Having said that, part of the reason the numbers are lower from some of these schools is the opponents they have played. Miami, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech all played SEC competition within the first two weeks of the season. Virginia played BYU and Oregon. Eight teams also have had byes within the first three weeks, so the body of work is not nearly as large. But it is still an interesting trend to note.

What’s the cure

Another reason for some of these struggles has been mediocre quarterback play. But there are a few factors to consider.

Of the nine teams whose offensive production has dipped, five have either new head coaches or new offensive coordinators (Syracuse, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Boston College). In Miami, for example, Stephen Morris' completion percentage has dropped to 52 percent. Others, such as Virginia, Duke and Syracuse, have new starting quarterbacks.

Other programs have had to deal with personnel changes around them. North Carolina went into the season with a revamped offensive line and questions at running back following Giovani Bernard's departure to the NFL. Clemson has had to replace DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington.

As these players and coaches get more comfortable with one another, then some of these offenses should look better as the season goes on. Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, for example, says he felt more in sync with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler in a victory over East Carolina last week. That was his best game of the young season.

It's very early in the season to start drawing definitive conclusions, but there's no question there's room for improvement everywhere.

Most to prove in the ACC

August, 28, 2013
Heading into the season, everyone has something to prove -- some more than others, of course. Here’s a look at which coaches, players and position groups have the most to prove in the ACC heading into Week 1:

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsQB Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech offense will face a stiff test from Alabama in Week 1.
1. Virginia Tech’s offense. Hands down, no other group in the conference is facing more doubt, especially going up against Alabama’s defense in the season opener. The Hokies were No. 81 in the country in scoring offense last year at 25.08 points per game. Quarterback Logan Thomas returns and has made strides under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, but questions remain with a young supporting cast.

2. Clemson’s secondary. This is one group that has remained a concern for coach Dabo Swinney through the summer, and rightfully so, especially with Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray coming to town on Saturday. Only Duke (29) and Maryland (24) gave up more passing touchdowns in the league last season than Clemson (23).

3. Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. The Canes’ defense was one of the worst in the country in 2012, ranking No. 116 in total defense and No. 82 in scoring defense. And ranking No. 113 in the country in sacks was well below Miami’s standards. With all four starters returning on the defensive line and such high hopes for the Canes this fall, the pressure to show major improvement is on.

4. Florida State’s staff: Despite the loss of 11 players to the NFL draft, Florida State still abounds with talent, but there are six new assistants on staff tasked with developing it. All of these hires will eventually be a reflection on coach Jimbo Fisher. The Noles will start 2013 with a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, new running backs coach, new quarterbacks coach, new tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, new defensive ends coach and a new linebackers coach.

5. UNC’s offensive line: Two redshirt freshmen will be in the lineup when the Tar Heels open on Thursday night against South Carolina, which will have arguably the best defensive line in the SEC. While James Hurst has received plenty of preseason hype, he’s going to need some help, especially with so much inexperience around him. How UNC fares without Jonathan Cooper will help determine how it will do without Giovani Bernard, too.

6. Wake Forest running back Josh Harris: He has been plagued by injuries his whole career, and his durability has become a question both inside the program and out. Harris also struggled academically but received a waiver from the NCAA so he is eligible to play. The Deacs could use a big season from Harris to get their running game going.

7. Pitt’s running backs: It went downhill when Rushel Shell decided to transfer. Now, the lead candidate to replace him, Isaac Bennett, has spent most of the summer with an injured knee. Pitt is missing its top two rushers from last fall -- and now the next two in line are question marks heading into the season. The situation is in limbo as the Panthers get set to make their ACC debut against Florida State on Monday, as freshman James Conner was also injured. Malcolm Crockett, who had 12 carries last year, could be the solution.

8. Duke’s defense: This has been the Blue Devils’ Achilles' heel, and it has to improve if Duke is to make back-to-back bowl appearances. It’s a veteran group, and last year was the second season in the 4-2-5 scheme. Still, Duke ranked No. 107 in the country in scoring defense in 2012, No. 105 in total defense and No. 101 in rushing defense. The only way to go is up.

9. Virginia coach Mike London: One year after being named the ACC’s Coach of the Year and taking the team to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, London led the Cavaliers to a 4-8 finish last fall. London made sweeping changes to his staff, including the hires of new coordinators. There have been some critics who have questioned whether the program is still heading in the right direction, but those within the program insist it is. Now is the time to prove it.

10. Maryland coach Randy Edsall: He’s won a total of six games in the past two seasons, and this fall, he has healthy quarterbacks to work with and more playmakers on offense, including one of the best in the country in receiver Stefon Diggs. Maryland also has a favorable schedule -- much more forgiving than the one it'll face next season as members of the Big Ten. There’s no reason Maryland fans shouldn't expect at least six wins.

Vote: ACC's sleeper pick

June, 27, 2013
Sleeper picks have been a hot topic in the blog this week, as Andrea Adelson and I debated the issue Wednesday, and KC Joyner recently released his pick for the ACC Insider. Surprise: none of us can seem to agree. Joyner says Canes. Andrea likes the Hokies. Me? I’m sticking with the Deacs.

Your vote counts, too.

Florida State and Clemson are again the favorites to win the ACC this year, but you know how this league goes -- anything can happen, and it usually does. So who’s got the best chance to dethrone them? Your sleeper pick, of course.

We’ve narrowed it down to five choices for you, including ours (sorry, UNC, we think you're too close to contender to be categorized as a sleeper):


Which team is your ACC sleeper pick this fall?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,751)

1. Miami: Nobody returns more starters in the ACC than the Canes, with 19. Andrea and I agree that we don’t count the Canes in the “true sleeper” category. They’ve got a veteran quarterback in Stephen Morris and the league’s 2012 ACC Rookie of the Year in Duke Johnson. Every starter returns on both the offensive and defensive lines. If Miami isn’t a contender for the ACC title this year, the Canes have underachieved.

2. Virginia Tech: Expectations have been tempered outside the program after what was the worst season in the past 20 years, but those within it are encouraged by the progress the offense made this spring. First-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said that the spring game wasn’t a true indication of how the rest of the spring went (much better), but that the performance gave his players an even greater sense of urgency this summer.

3. Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons have a veteran quarterback returning in Tanner Price, but the offensive line remains the team’s biggest concern. The Deacs are expected to run the ball more this year, and will turn Price loose, but they’ll also be depending heavily upon their defense, which returns nine starters.

4. Pitt: Coach Paul Chryst has started to change the culture, and expectations within the program have been raised. Don’t forget that the Panthers beat the Hokies last year and took Notre Dame to triple overtime before losing. Searching for that kind of effort on a consistent basis will be the priority this fall, as Pitt lost four games by a total of 21 points last year. The Panthers need to find a dependable quarterback, but return nine starters on defense.

5. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets aren’t getting a lot of ink this preseason, but they’re right in the muddled mix with everyone else in the Coastal Division. The defense should be better under first-year coordinator Ted Roof, they’ve got one of the best linebackers in the conference in Jeremiah Attaochu, and the offense is in good hands -- Paul Johnson’s. You know they're going to run the ball effectively. Vad Lee could be an upgrade at quarterback, but wide receiver is a concern.
Duke and Miami have the most returning experience on the offensive line in the ACC this year, according to the conference. The Blue Devils return four starters in tackles Perry Simmons and Tacoby Cofield, and guards Laken Tomlinson and Dave Harding, who have combined for a total of 100 starts.

Miami returns all five starters from last year’s team: tackles Seantrel Henderson and Malcolm Bunche, guards Jon Feliciano and Brandon Linder, and center Shane McDermott. They have combined for 97 starts. (Um, yeah, Duke Johnson is set for another great year).

Here's a look at what the rest of the league has returning up front, according to the ACC:

Ouch, Virginia Tech. The Hokies are trying to rejuvenate their offense under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, and they've got to do it with one of the least experienced offensive lines in the conference. There are plenty of veteran linemen in the Coastal Division, but few in Blacksburg.

The league's top veteran is actually at Duke, where Simmons is a three-year starter at tackle and leads all returning offensive linemen with 36 career starts.

Here's a look at the returning offensive linemen in the ACC with the most career starts:

1. Perry Simmons, Duke, Sr., Tackle: 36
2. James Hurst, North Carolina, Sr., Tackle: 35
3. Brandon Linder, G, Sr., Miami: 31
3. Morgan Moses, Virginia, Sr., Tackle: 31
5. Brian Stork, Florida State, Sr., Center: 28
6. Dave Harding, Duke, Sr., Guard: 26
7. Macky MacPherson, Syracuse, Sr., Center: 25
7. Luke Bowanko, Virginia, Sr., Center: 25
9. Laken Tomlinson, Duke, Jr., Guard: 24
9. Ray Beno, Georgia Tech, Sr., Center: 24
11. Ian White, Boston College, Sr., Guard: 23
12. Jon Feliciano, Miami, Jr., Guard: 22
Phil Steele made some bold moves.

He ranked the Hokies ahead of Clemson in his 2013 Top 40 Countdown, with Virginia Tech at No. 12 and Clemson at No. 15.

Oh, and he has Florida State as the No. 3 team in the nation.

No. 3 team in the nation?! FSU might not even be the best team in the ACC.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsHokies QB Logan Thomas should benefit from what is expected to be a solid offensive line in 2013.
Kudos to Steele for going against the grain and giving strong reasons to help justify his rankings, but with all due respect, Florida State and Virginia Tech haven't done diddly to earn those numbers. Instead, both of those teams currently have one projected starter facing felony charges, they both fell below expectations last year, and they also had two of the biggest staff overhauls in the conference this offseason.

Steele clearly has a lot of faith in Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, but he has to have even more faith in the Hokies' offensive line and new coordinator, Scot Loeffler.

I'm not sure even Virginia Tech fans have that much confidence right now -- especially after such an abysmal showing in the spring game.

Based on what we saw this spring, Virginia Tech doesn't even look like the best team in the Coastal Division -- Miami does. There are reasons to believe, though, in Blacksburg. Bud Foster's defense could be the best in the ACC this fall, the schedule is conducive to a season of redemption, and those within the program are determined not to repeat last year's mistakes. Virginia Tech should start out no worse than 3-1, with its lone loss to defending national champ Alabama.

But can the Hokies win at Georgia Tech on a Thursday night? Can they beat UNC? Pitt? Win at Miami? There are no gimmes. Virginia Tech -- with the exception of one practice and the spring game -- had a terrific spring and made many strides the public did not see. The Hokies will be better, but they still have young receivers and plenty of questions offensively.

Florida State should again be a contender in the Atlantic Division, and it wouldn't surprise me in the least to see the Noles in the ACC title game again -- they should be playing for a title every year with the way Jimbo Fisher is recruiting.

But Clemson is in Year 2 under defensive coordinator Brent Venables, while FSU is breaking in a new coordinator, Jeremy Pruitt. Florida State has a new quarterback in Jameis Winston (though he hasn't been officially named the starter yet), whose legend is far longer than his playing time, while Clemson has a Heisman candidate in Tajh Boyd. Clemson also has one of the country's rising star assistants in offensive coordinator Chad Morris, while Florida State doesn't even have an offensive coordinator.

Florida State, though, beat Clemson last year and is good enough to do it again. Virginia Tech definitely has more to prove than the Noles, but until the ACC finds a team that can win big consistently, it doesn't have a top 5 team.

100-days checklist: ACC

May, 21, 2013
As of today, there are 100 days until the start of the college football season.

You bet we’re counting.

If you’re Scot Loeffler, Virginia Tech's new offensive coordinator, 100 days must feel like a nanosecond. The Hokies aren’t the only ones, though, with plenty of work to do before the season begins. Here’s a checklist of five things the ACC and its teams must accomplish before the opening kickoff:

1. Name starting quarterbacks. Syracuse can’t even talk about Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen yet because he’s not on campus and won’t enroll until next month, but the Orange are just one of several teams in the ACC that still have an ongoing quarterback competition. Virginia’s quarterback controversy has seemingly gone on for years, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has yet to officially anoint Jameis Winston as EJ Manuel’s successor. Pitt is also still searching for a dependable leader, along with NC State.

2. Find an offense in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech has become one of the ACC’s brand-name programs, a consistent winner and a representative in the Top 25 and BCS standings. That changed last season when the Hokies bumbled their way through their most disappointing season in 20 years. Coach Frank Beamer made sweeping changes to his offensive staff, but little improvement was seen in the spring game. Loeffler said it wasn’t a true indication of the progress that was made in the other 13 practices, but also conceded there is still a lot of work to be done. With Alabama looming in the season opener, all eyes will be on the ACC in Week 1. When the Hokies are good, the ACC is better.

3. Improve defensively. With the exception of Florida State, which finished the season ranked No. 6 in the country in scoring defense, 2012 wasn’t a banner year for ACC defenses. The conference usually has some of the nation’s best defenses -- including Boston College -- but there was no Luke Kuechly and no identity for the Eagles last fall. Miami beat Duke 52-45. Georgia Tech beat North Carolina 68-50. Clemson beat NC State 62-48. Clemson took a major step forward defensively with its bowl win against LSU, but the defense must become elite in its second season under coordinator Brent Venables if Clemson is going to be a national-title contender.

4. Minimize the turnovers. Virginia Tech was No. 86 in turnover margin last year, and quarterback Logan Thomas threw three picks in the spring game. Boston College was No. 88 in the country in turnover margin, FSU No. 93, NC State No. 99, Maryland No. 104, Virginia No. 110. That’s almost half the league ranked among the worst in the country in turnover margin. The Hokies play Alabama. Virginia plays Oregon. BC plays at USC. FSU is at Florida, and the Seminoles turned it over five times versus the Gators in FSU's 37-26 loss last year. The Gators scored 10 points off turnovers in that game. If the ACC is going to stand a chance, it can’t give away freebies.

5. Stay out of the trainer’s room. Virginia Tech standout corner Antone Exum is still rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in a pickup basketball game. The bulk of Wake Forest’s offensive line was walking wounded all spring, and that group will make or break the Deacons' season. Clemson backup quarterback Chad Kelly and starting tight end Sam Cooper both tore their ACLs this spring. If the ACC is going to beat the best this fall, it needs its best players on the field. For some programs, like Boston College, the depth isn’t there to afford injuries.
Virginia Tech senior Logan Thomas is a different quarterback than the one Hokies fans grew frustrated with in 2012.

Take a closer look:

“We’ve totally reconstructed his drops, his weight transfer, we’ve reconstructed basically timing his upper body and his lower half,” first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler told “That’s why he wasn’t accurate -- his upper body and lower body were not coordinated at all. His lower body would spin out to the left, and his body would be going to the target. You’ve gotta get everything moving. It’s like playing golf or baseball or anything else. The upper half and lower half have to be coordinated. That’s where he’s made hands down the biggest improvement, is his accuracy has really, really improved.”

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photos/Chris BernacchiVirginia Tech QB Logan Thomas has focused on improving his mechanics this spring.
Seeing, though, is believing.

Virginia Tech and ACC fans who watched or heard of Thomas’ three-pick performance in the Hokies’ spring game are going to need a little bit more convincing, but those within the program insist they saw a transformation this spring. Continuing that progress will be vital this summer, as Virginia Tech is looking to rebound from its worst season in 20 years and starts off against defending national champ Alabama on Aug. 31 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

In the spring game, Thomas didn’t look that much different than a year ago, when he threw 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions en route to a pedestrian 7-6 finish. That wasn’t an accurate reflection, though, of the progress Thomas made this spring, Loeffler said.

“What’s really sad -- and [defensive coordinator] Bud [Foster] said it best -- that kid had probably the best spring he’s ever had and we came out in the spring game, and we had a couple of picks, a couple of which were his fault, the other one was just a poor route by the wideout,” Loeffler said. “So the scrutiny begins, but to be quite honest, I’m glad it happened. It sets an edge, it sets a tone, it sets an urgency to improve.”

Loeffler has had success getting quarterbacks to minimize turnovers before (“You can do it,” he says.)

In 2002, former Michigan quarterback John Navarre watched his interception total drop from 13 to seven in his first season working with Loeffler. Navarre went on to become Michigan’s first All-Big Ten first-team quarterback since 1997. Thomas, who began 2012 as a projected first-round NFL draft pick, quickly saw his draft stock drop last year and decided to return for his senior season to improve. The hire of Loeffler factored into his decision.

Loeffler, a former Michigan quarterback, also worked with Tim Tebow and Chad Henne.

“I’ve had some great players, really really great quarterbacks, and he’s as talented as all of them,” Loeffler said. “If he continues to improve fundamentally and really concentrates on making plays when plays present themselves, and putting plays on the shelf and saving them for another day when opportunities don’t present themselves he’ll be fine. He’s got a good head on his shoulders, he’s got the functional intelligence. We just need to keep getting better.”

And Virginia Tech fans need to see it, starting Aug. 31.
Virginia Tech did not exactly have an impressive performance on offense in its spring game last weekend, a big disappointment considering the staff changes that were made to address the problems the team had last season.

So the natural question is this: Should the offensive display be cause for concern?

Heather Dinich and Andrea Adelson weigh in.

HD says: Remain calm.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsHokies QB Logan Thomas should benefit from what is expected to be a solid offensive line in 2013.
Last April, an ACC quarterback threw a pair of interceptions in his team’s double-overtime spring game loss. They were ugly, those picks.

Remember? Of course you don’t. Because last fall, that same quarterback was named the ACC’s Player of the Year.

Thank you, Tajh Boyd, for reminding us how irrelevant spring game stats are.

At first glance, Virginia Tech fans might have had to reach for the nearest Defibrilator after watching the offense in the Hokies’ spring game. The Achilles Heel of 2012 still looked wounded under new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. Quarterback Logan Thomas threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns, against a White team comprised mainly of backups, a group that was spotted 13 points just to even the score a bit. David Teel of the Daily Press called it “putrid.”

I call it April.

With Alabama scheduled for Aug. 31, there is simply no way Virginia Tech’s spring game was any indication of what the offense will look like in the season opener. Loeffler hasn’t even installed the entire playbook, and the staff certainly isn’t going to reveal anything from it now. Virginia Tech ran two running plays. It ran less than 10 passing plays. The backup quarterback in at the end of the game certainly wasn't in there trying to make the biggest comeback in ACC spring game history. Don't forget there is also a priority to stay healthy in these games, not have guys put their ACLs on the line for a first down. Granted, the players need to be able to execute the vanilla calls as well, but this is the time to get the kinks out -- not Aug. 31.

Maybe, just maybe, Virginia Tech’s defense -- which returns nine starters and is coached by one of the top coordinators in the country -- is pretty darn good. Maybe Thomas and the offense still have a ton of work to do.

Odds are it’s a combination of both, and that’s to be expected this time of year, especially with a new coordinator, new offensive line coach and new receivers coach, not to mention another inexperienced offensive line. It’s not time for Virginia Tech fans to panic.

This was a forgettable spring game for the Hokies and their fans -- just like the one Boyd had last season, remember?

Didn’t think so.

AA says: Sound alarm bells!


How worried should Virginia Tech fans be about their new offense?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,891)

Virginia Tech had two major priorities on offense this spring:

1. Fix the run game.

2. Help Thomas get back on the right track.

Now, I generally take spring games for what they are -- open practices that feature little in the way of Earth-shattering plays or revealing information. But I have to make an exception for what happened in Blacksburg this past weekend.

What fans saw should be cause for alarm. Not panic, per se, because the football season still is four months away. But definitely cause for alarm.

Why? One simple reason. Not one shred of improvement in either area, and that is with a new offensive coordinator. We can add in a few disclaimers: guys are still learning the offense and getting used to some of their new coaches; the defense is going to be as good as expected; the offensive line is banged up.

But those disclaimers sound like excuses.

No matter what type of offense you are running, gaining 23 TOTAL yards on the ground is unacceptable.

No matter what type of offense you are running, watching Thomas throw three interceptions -- including two returned for touchdowns -- is unacceptable.

I do not need to remind anyone the offense struggled last season in the same two areas that failed in the spring game. Thomas turned the ball over way too much last year -- 16 interceptions to 18 touchdowns -- and completed only a little over half his passes. Though he was selected as one of the most valuable performers of the spring, his performance in the game is what will sit with fans through this long offseason.

As for the running game, no one running back emerged with any consistency to become the featured back last year. Michael Holmes led all rushers with 24 yards in the spring game, but he was arrested hours later and subsequently suspended indefinitely. Even without this unfortunate turn of events, nobody had distinguished himself enough to take the mantle of “the guy” in the backfield.

Virginia Tech made a change at coordinator to specifically fix these issues. Perhaps there is a talent problem, and not a scheme problem or coordinator problem. Or perhaps we are reading way too much into a meaningless spring game.

We will find out whether the performance last week portends things to come soon enough -- against the No. 1 team in the nation to open the season.
Florida State was not the only program to introduce new assistants during the offseason. Though the Seminoles led the way with the most changes for a program with a returning head coach, 13 of the 14 league schools had staff changes. Only Maryland returns all its assistants from a year ago.

There were some pretty big hires for some of those positions. With that in mind, whom do you think was the best assistant coaching hire in the ACC? I have narrowed the list down to five.


Who is the best assistant coach hired in the ACC this offseason?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,537)

James Coley, offensive coordinator, Miami. This has to qualify as one of the assistant coaching coups in all of college football, as Miami coach Al Golden worked at warp speed to replace Jedd Fisch, stealing away one of the best recruiters in the South Florida area from arch rival Florida State. Coley has had the coordinator title with the Seminoles, but it was in name only as Jimbo Fisher still called the plays. This is a huge chance for him not only to help Miami on the field and in recruiting, but to show Florida State what it's missing.

Scot Loeffler, offensive coordinator, Virginia Tech. Loeffler did not exactly have a great season last year at Auburn, but nobody on that staff did. He was hired, in part, because of his past work in developing quarterbacks at previous stops. And we all know Logan Thomas has got to take the next step this season if the Hokies are going to get back atop the ACC. The results of the spring game weren't exactly ideal, but coaches have said Thomas has definitely made strides this spring.

Tom O'Brien, associate head coach/tight ends coach, Virginia. Coach Mike London made the decision to completely revamp his coaching staff this past offseason, and one coach he knew he wanted to hire immediately was O'Brien, recently fired at NC State. London previously worked under O'Brien; O'Brien spent 15 years working at UVa under former coach George Welsh. Adding a coach with as much experience and knowledge as O'Brien should definitely help a team looking for a turnaround in 2013.

Jeremy Pruitt, defensive coordinator, Florida State. This is what Florida State assistant Sal Sunseri had to say about Pruitt, with whom he worked last season at Alabama. "When I got to University of Alabama, I sat in the press box with that young man through that whole year and we won a national championship, and he was as good as anybody I’ve been in the press box. He knows what’s going on out there. He knew how to make adjustments." Pretty high praise from a veteran who has worked both in the NFL and college football.

Ted Roof, defensive coordinator, Georgia Tech. Roof has wandered around a bit of late but he now returns to his alma mater intent on improving a defense that showed gains in the second half of last season. Last season at Penn State, his defense ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring defense (19.1 ppg), first in sacks (34), first in red-zone defense and third in turnover margin. Before that, he won a national championship at Auburn, which his defense held high-scoring Oregon to 19 points -- 28 below the Ducks' average.

My vote goes to Coley. What say you?
Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas is back. After considering the possibility of leaving early for the NFL draft, Thomas said he was swayed to return in part by the hire of offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, and also by the humbling realization that he has room for improvement. Last year was a rough season in Blacksburg, Va., for everyone, but Thomas -- by nature of his position -- took the brunt of the criticism for the offensive struggles. Some of it was warranted, as Thomas threw for 2,976 yards, 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions, but many of the problems stemmed from the inexperience surrounding him. He became the first quarterback since Bobby Owens in 1965 to lead the Hokies in rushing, running for 524 yards and nine scores. He also broke his own school record for total offense with 3,500 yards.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsHoping to put last season's 16 interceptions behind him, Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas says he's ready to start anew in 2013.
I caught up with Thomas recently to get his take on spring ball and his decision to return. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

How much different will the offense look this year?

Logan Thomas: I think it will be a little different just because we’ll be able to change it up a little bit. Obviously it will be the first time teams in the league have seen us play this way. It will still have a lot of the same dimensions, but we can do things differently.

What do you like about that? I would imagine it has plusses and minuses to changing things your last year.

LT: Yeah, obviously the minuses are having to learn a new playbook, but that can happen at any point in time, and it’s going to help me. It’s going to be a little bit of NFL verbage and NFL ways of doing things. Obviously there are a lot of positives in teaching me the same way that he (Loeffler) coached in the NFL. He’s going to teach me the way he taught those guys. I think that will be a big help, not only this year but in the long run.

Did you sit down and talk to him before you made your decision?

LT: We had a chat. They hadn’t made a decision on him, and I hadn’t made my decision yet, either. We talked and I felt like it was good for me to be able to come back and work with him.

What went wrong last year?

LT: The leadership. We didn’t have any one person or any group of people step up. That leader will drive a team as far as they want to go. I take some of the blame for that, and I think some of the other guys who are here take the blame for that. We’re not going to let that happen for a second year in a row. Another thing is we got complacent with all of the winning that had gone on in the program, that it was just going to happen. Obviously we know it’s not going to happen. We have to be better.

How tough was it for you, personally? You took a lot of heat, some of it fairly, some of it unfairly.

LT: It’s not tough. Most of the time I personally let things go. Obviously people are going to say a lot of things. They don’t know what they’re talking about at all times. Obviously there’s no way of dodging it here. You just have to put it to the side and use it for when you need it. It didn’t really get under my skin too bad. It’s just going to help drive me for this year, and be the best player I can possibly be, and this team be the best team we can be.

Stay tuned for Part II of this interview.

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

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

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

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


Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:

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

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

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


Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

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

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

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


Spring start: March 6

Spring game: April 13

What to watch:

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

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

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


Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:

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

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

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


Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 6

What to watch:

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

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

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


Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 20

What to watch:

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

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

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

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.

3-point stance: Pac-12 North shuffling

January, 22, 2013
1. What looked to be an advantage -- Stanford in the Pac-12 North -- isn’t so simple. In the past week, Oregon lost head coach Chip Kelly to the Philadelphia Eagles. A few days later, Indianapolis hired Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton (seems he knows the Colts’ starting quarterback). Oregon promoted Mark Helfrich to head coach and (as early as Tuesday) Scott Frost to offensive coordinator, so upheaval will be as little as possible. It’s Cardinal head coach David Shaw’s move.

2. Scot Loeffler coached quarterbacks at Michigan for the last six years of Lloyd Carr’s tenure (2002-07). In the five seasons since, he has worked at the Detroit Lions, Florida, Temple and Auburn. Now Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has hired Loeffler as coordinator to shake up the Hokies’ offense. No wonder Loeffler took the job -- Beamer has the longest tenure (26 seasons) of any coach in FBS football.

3. Interesting decision by the NFL to allow the Senior Bowl to invite fourth-year juniors who have their degrees to play in the game (this year’s invitees: offensive tackles D.J. Fluker of Alabama and Justin Pugh of Syracuse). The NFL has never allowed the Senior Bowl to invite any non-seniors so as not to roil the waters with the colleges. But this is a smart, common-sense solution that will help the game, help the NFL scouts and help the players. I can’t imagine that a lot of players will qualify for this exception.
For all the endless flak Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas took throughout the 2012 season, his decision Tuesday to stay for his senior season is good news for the Hokies.

No, really.

The naysayers may roll their eyes, but it is important to remember that Thomas enters his senior season as the established leader of the Virginia Tech offense, a veteran player with enough self-awareness to realize that his performance in 2012 was simply not good enough. Not for himself, and not for the Hokies.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsHokies QB Logan Thomas should benefit from what is expected to be a solid offensive line in 2013.
His production was down, his completion percentage was ugly (51 percent) and his interception total (16) was too high. None of this can be argued. But somewhere in there, Thomas is still the player who had a breakthrough 2011 season, who led Virginia Tech to an at-large BCS berth, who has enough measurables to have him rated No. 1 on Mel Kiper's list of junior quarterback prospects.

Does he look like a linebacker playing quarterback at times? Yes. Are some of his throws ugly at times? Yes. Did he leave himself open for criticism with his performance in 2012? Yes.

But we cannot look at his 2012 season in a vacuum. The offensive line struggled. The running backs struggled. The receivers struggled. Thomas was not alone. Any good offense works in concert. And Virginia Tech looked about as good as a ragtag elementary school performance only a parent could love.

As the quarterback, Thomas gets the bulk of the credit when all works well and the bulk of the heat when all falls apart. He has seen both sides. But help appears to be on the way in the form of a new offensive coordinator.

As Heather Dinich reported, citing a source, the Hokies have hired former Auburn offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler to take over for Bryan Stinespring. While Loeffler has not exactly turned out inspiring offenses of late -- Auburn was one of the worst in college football in 2012 -- he is most known for his work with and development of quarterbacks.

Virginia Tech has not officially announced any staff changes yet. But given Loeffler's track record with signal-callers in his past, the hope and expectation is for Thomas to live up to his great potential and improve not on 2012 -- but on where he left off after the 2011 season, when he completed nearly 60 percent of his passes and threw six fewer interceptions.

"I need to be a lot more consistent," Thomas said on ESPN's "College Football Live." "I had a lot of throws get away from me this year. I have to take care of the little things, and hopefully that will make me become a better quarterback."

No, Thomas needs to take care of the little things and the big things, and he must elevate the teammates he has around him -- something he failed to do in 2012. That is what makes an elite quarterback and an elite leader. That is what Virginia Tech believes it has in Thomas. That is why his coaches high-fived when they heard he would be returning.

The Hokies are far better off with Thomas despite his shortcomings. He has another chance to show why.