NCF Nation: Will Gardner

Spring reset: ACC quarterback

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17
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This could be the year of the quarterback in the ACC with starters returning at the majority of schools across the league.

But there are some programs that will have a bit of intrigue at the quarterback spot this spring. Here is a quick spring reset at where the signal-callers stand at each ACC school.

The incumbents
The skinny: These six are the unquestioned starters at their respective schools. Even Lambert, marking the first time in five springs Virginia has a set quarterback headed into the spring. Though Matt Johns is sure to get a look, Lambert is expected to start the season if healthy. Same goes for the other five, who appear to have a stronghold on their respective starting jobs.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtThe backup quarterback position is key to watch during Clemson's spring practices as Deshaun Watson sits out to rehab his injured knee.
The injured incumbent
The skinny: With Watson out during spring practice while he rehabs a knee injury, true freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel will get reps with Nick Schuessler as they compete to become the backup to Watson. Schuessler, a former walk-on, was the No. 3 quarterback last season. Bryant and Tucker enrolled early and are in for spring, great news for a program that has faced depth issues at the position since last fall. The backup job is an important one at Clemson, with Watson coming off a major knee injury. Whomever wins the backup job could be pressed into action early.

The returning starters*
The skinny: Why an asterisk? There is a chance some of these players end up losing their starting job if the competition is fierce enough during the spring and into the fall. All three go into the spring as the starter. They each are the most experienced quarterbacks on their respective rosters. But ...

At Syracuse, Hunt is coming off a broken leg and will face competition from AJ Long and Austin Wilson. Long and Wilson both played last season after Hunt went out, giving the coaching staff much more to work with this spring.

At Wake Forest, coach Dave Clawson said Wolford will get the first-team reps but his quarterback will have to win the starting job again after the Deacs signed two highly touted prep quarterbacks -- Kendall Hinton and Kyle Kearns.

At Pitt, Voytik will have to learn a new system and face new competition from Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman. While Voytik is expected to keep his starting job, there are no guarantees here, either.

The new starter
The skinny: Sirk has taken first-team reps so far this spring as he works to replace two-year starter Anthony Boone. Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre have provided competition but coach David Cutcliffe has already declared Sirk the starter.

The open competitions

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire will enter the spring practice session as the backup QB with the most experience at FSU.
Boston College: Darius Wade, Troy Flutie. Wade is the favorite to win the starting job, but Flutie is expected to get a fair shake. This is what coach Steve Addazio had to say about both during his signing day news conference: "Darius Wade has got a great arm and he throws the ball extremely well. Troy Flutie is a great anticipator, which is a unique quality to have as a quarterback. He does a great job anticipating guys coming out of their breaks. He doesn't have to see them open. So both of those guys have unique tools and both are very athletic."

Florida State: Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino. One of the most anticipated competitions in the entire country will take place in Tallahassee, where Jimbo Fisher must replace Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Maguire served as the backup last season, but that does not necessarily make him the favorite to win the job. Cosentino came in last year as an ESPN 300 prospect and redshirted. Fisher said true freshmen De'Andre Johnson and Deondre Francois -- both ESPN 300 players -- will also get a shot. Johnson is already in for spring.

Louisville: Reggie Bonnafon, Tyler Ferguson, Kyle Bolin. With Will Gardner out for spring and no timetable set for his return after another major knee injury, the Cardinals are expected to have a heated open competition in the spring between Bonnafon, Ferguson and Bolin. Bonnafon played as a true freshman last season and showed some promise before getting injured late in the year. Bolin was then forced to play with Bonnafon and Gardner out. Though he led a comeback win over Kentucky, he was not nearly as effective in the bowl game against Georgia. Ferguson transferred from Penn State and sat out last season, and could end up being the wild card in the group.
Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week we’re taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Louisville Cardinals

Position to improve: Offensive line.

Why it was a problem: Though the Cardinals returned players who combined to start over 100 games, there was inconsistency up front as the Cards transitioned to a new offensive style, new blocking schemes and a new position coach. Louisville struggled to protect the quarterback, and its ground game was up-and-down all season long. Without any veterans at center, Louisville started former walk-on Tobijah Hughley, who made gradual improvement as the year went on. Later in the year, veteran offensive tackle Ryan Mack was benched. He has since announced he would transfer to Memphis. Louisville tied for No. 114 in the nation in average sacks allowed per game (3.15) and No. 92 in the nation in rushing offense (142.7 yards per game). Though the group was better to end 2014, it still fell short of expectations.

How it can be fixed: Another year in the system should definitely help, because it is different from the old scheme under former coach Charlie Strong. So will consistency at quarterback, which was a problem all year. Louisville was forced to play three different quarterbacks because of injury. Will Gardner and Reggie Bonnafon were both inexperienced and played radically different styles, which does impact the offensive line. But unfortunately for the Cardinals, they are losing their three best, most experienced players in tackle Jamon Brown (All-ACC second team), and All-ACC honorable mention guards Jake Smith and and John Miller.

Early 2015 outlook: Hughley and offensive tackle Aaron Epps are the only starters back next season. Beyond them, there are not many proven players, at least not yet. Center T.C. Klusman, tackle Kelby Johnson and guards Skylar Lacy and Pedro Sibiea all served in backup roles a season ago. Louisville hit offensive line hard on the recruiting trail, and already has signed junior college transfer Khalil Hunter, who could provide immediate relief.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
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Much of the drama is already gone from the ACC slate, and the SEC rivalry games are still a week away. But there is still plenty to watch for in Week 13.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #VTvsWAKE
The Hokies can wrap up bowl eligibility with a win against Wake Forest, which given the litany of injuries Virginia Tech has suffered this season -- including tailback Marshawn Williams, who tore his ACL last week -- is probably commendable. The Hokies are coming off their second road win of the season against a top-25 foe, so the trip to Winston-Salem against a Demon Deacons team still looking for its first ACC victory shouldn’t be a huge test. Wake hasn’t been able to run the ball on anyone this season, but Virginia Tech’s defense allows 5.64 yards-per-carry on non-sack rushing attempts this season -- 104th nationally.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State will try to produce a rare fast start this week against Boston College.
3:30 p.m.

Boston College at No. 3 Florida State, ABC/ESPN2, #BCvsFSU
A year ago, it was the Eagles who gave FSU its toughest game of the regular season. Now, BC is the ACC’s last chance to send the Seminoles to a conference loss. The matchup isn’t ideal for an FSU defense that has been gashed by the run on a few occasions this season, and after escaping a physical matchup against Miami last week, it will be interesting to see how focused the Seminoles are for this one. But with a season of close calls already in their rearview mirror, Jimbo Fisher no doubt has emphasized the importance of a fast start this week, and for FSU, it needs to start thinking about earning some style points to impress the CFB playoff committee.

Syracuse at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #CUSEvsPITT
Pitt has lost three straight despite 1,040 yards of offense from James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The Panthers have actually dropped six of their past seven after a 3-0 start to the season, and now they must win out to have a shot at a bowl game. Four of Pitt’s six losses have been by five points or less, however, and Conner and Boyd remain two of the most potent threats in the ACC. Whether Syracuse’s underrated defense can slow down Pitt’s stars might be paramount, but the Orange will also need to find some offense against a Panthers team that has allowed 147 points in its past three games.

No. 24 Louisville at Notre Dame, NBC
The Cardinals are back in the top 25, but they will go to battle in South Bend without starting quarterback Will Gardner. Reggie Bonnafon will take over at QB coming off his best game as a college player last week when he threw for 69 yards, ran for 76 more and scored three times against Boston College. But the real intrigue might come on the other side of the ball, where Everett Golson leads an Irish offense that leads all Power 5 teams in turnovers against Louisville’s stout defense, led by safety Gerod Holliman and his 13 interceptions.

Georgia State at No. 22 Clemson, ESPN3, #GSUvsCLEM
Since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury last month, Clemson’s offense has more turnovers (11) than touchdowns (7), and that downward spiral hit rock bottom last week when Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. But as bad as Stoudt’s performance was, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers believe he’s still a capable quarterback, and certainly the job gets a lot easier this week. The bigger question now is whether it will be Stoudt’s job in two weeks when Clemson looks to end a five-game losing streak against rival South Carolina.

7 p.m.

Miami at Virginia, ESPN2, #MIAvsUVA
The Hurricanes are coming off a physical and emotional loss to Florida State and looking to rebound. Virginia is still clinging to bowl hopes, and might need to win out to salvage coach Mike London’s job. The key to the game might be how well the Hoos’ defense can slow Duke Johnson and the Miami running game, but as FSU found out last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya is certainly capable of doing some damage. Virginia, on the other hand, has just 59 rushing yards combined in its past two games, and it has scored on the ground just once in its past five.
The last time Florida State and Louisville played, the game was at Louisville and on a Thursday night.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Louisville won that 2002 game, which of course will have no bearing when the No. 2 Seminoles visit the Cardinals this coming Thursday (7:30 ET, ESPN). Louisville (6-2, 4-2 ACC), however, may be the toughest remaining regular-season test for FSU (7-0, 4-0).

Matt Fortuna offers three reasons why Louisville will beat Florida State, while Jared Shanker provides three reasons why the Seminoles will remain unblemished and on track to earn one of the four College Football Playoff bids.

Fortuna’s three reasons Louisville wins:

1. This is an ideal matchup for Louisville’s defense.

[+] EnlargeLouisville
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsLouisville's No. 1-rated run defense meets a Florida State rushing attack ranked 104th in rushing yards per game.
The Cardinals have probably the nation’s top defense. Just look at the numbers: No. 1 in total defense (245.8 ypg), No. 1 in raw and adjusted Total QBR (12.5/14.7), No. 1 against the run (2.31 ypc), No. 1 in first downs (13 pg) and No. 1 in red zone efficiency (30 percent). They are also No. 2 in yards per play (3.91), No. 2 in third-down conversion rate (24 percent), No. 4 in scoring average (14.6) and No. 5 in sacks (28). Lorenzo Mauldin (six sacks) and Sheldon Rankins (five) are among the ACC’s sack leaders. Three other Louisville players have at least three sacks. Gerod Holliman is tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions (eight). This defense is flat-out lethal, and moving the ball against Louisville will be no easy chore for Jameis Winston & Co.

2. The offense is coming together at the right time

No one is going to mistake this unit for Florida State’s, or for vintage Bobby Petrino offenses, for that matter. Still, Will Gardner is back healthy under center. More importantly, he has a quarterback’s best friend back in receiver DeVante Parker, who returned in Louisville’s last outing. All he did was haul in nine catches for 132 yards in his season debut, stretching the field and opening up the offense for a Cardinals unit that was in desperate need of some spice. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound Parker is, simply put, a freak. He will test an FSU secondary that has been -- let’s face it -- not all that it was cracked up to be coming into the season, ranking 62nd nationally against the pass. What’s more, running back Michael Dyer appears to have finally hit his stride when given the opportunity. Dyer broke out for 173 rushing yards and a touchdown last week against NC State. Together, Dyer and Parker make Louisville’s offense much more lethal than its season numbers indicate (30.9 ppg, 370.4 ypg).

3. Home atmosphere

Coaches and players can talk about it being just another game, but those of us outside that bubble don’t have to kid ourselves. This is a Thursday night home game, when the city is rocking. This is a chance to end the nation’s longest-active winning streak (23), and to ruin FSU’s chances at a repeat national championship. This is 12 years after Louisville upset the No. 4 Seminoles at home on a Thursday night. Sure, different players and coaches are on each sideline now, but we’ve seen the air thin around programs the more they hear about unfavorable history. Sure, no one has blocked out the noise while on the field better than the Noles have the past two years, but sooner or later the checks they had written for all of those recent close calls have to be cashed. (You don't break out fancy new uniforms for regular games, either.)

Shanker’s three reasons FSU wins:

1. The FSU offense will get its points

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsThe Florida State offense has put up at least 31 points in each game with Jameis Winston under center.
Louisville has the conference’s best defense and very well might have the best unit in the country. This is probably the best defense the Seminoles will face before the playoff. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals will be able to stop them, though. Winston has never been held to below 30 points, and the Seminoles should make a run at 30 again at Louisville. Although the offense has looked out of sync at times, the passing offense has been able to pick up yards in chunks and make the big plays when needed. The rushing attack can be best described as anemic, but it can push the ball into the end zone near the goal line. If Louisville is going to win, history suggests it will need to score in the 30s.

2. Louisville’s offense likely can’t score in the 30s

At least not without the help of an opportunistic defense that can give the Cards’ offense short fields with which to work. Gardner has been reinserted into the starting lineup, but the sophomore quarterback has taken his lumps this season. He is completing only 57 percent of his passes, and, while he’s thrown 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions, he’s had turnover issues. That’s thanks in large part to an offensive line that can’t protect its quarterback. Both teams are among the best in the country at scoring touchdowns in the red zone, but both are among the best at preventing teams from doing the same.

3. Nobody can beat Winston

Even though it looks now like Winston could've lost four of his last seven games, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has pulled out the win each time. Until a team actually beats him, it’s not a smart move betting against him. He made all the right plays in the national championship, had a remarkable touchdown run and throw against Oklahoma State, and operated second-half comebacks against NC State and Notre Dame. Colleague David Hale had this remarkable stat on Winston last week: When tied or trailing, Winston is 144-of-199 passing (72 percent) for 1,860 yards (9.3 yards per attempt), 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. The 2013 Florida State team was among the most dominant in college football history, but in 2014 it has often been the Jameis Winston Show. And every new installment always ends the same.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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Week 8, including the biggest game of the season for an ACC team, is in the books. Here's what we learned:

Florida State is still unbeaten: For the third time this season, Florida State trailed at the half, but the Seminoles once again staged a dramatic comeback followed by a nail-biting defensive stand on their opponent's final drive to remain unbeaten and keep their playoff hopes alive. Jameis Winston was the star, as he completed 15-of-16 passes for 181 yards in the second half and lead the 31-27 comeback win, while Rashad Greene and Travis Rudolph both caught TD passes. It's clear Florida State isn't the same team it was a year ago, but the Seminoles' ability to continually fight back and find ways to win might be even more impressive.

[+] EnlargeTravis Rudolph
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsTravis Rudolph and the Seminoles proved their ability to come back from a deficit once again.
The Coastal still goes through Duke: Last week, Georgia Tech looked like the favorite to win the Coastal, and then Duke beat them. Then it was Virginia's turn atop the conference, and once again, the Blue Devils took down the favorite. Duke averaged more than 5 yards per carry against Virginia's stout defensive front, and it didn't turn the ball over in a big 20-13 win in Durham. The end result? The defending Coastal champs are once again the team to beat in the division. The Blue Devils have head-to-head victories over two of the other one-loss teams, and they'll get their chance to take down Pitt, too, after a Week 9 bye.

A healthy Louisville is pretty good: We knew Louisville's defense was good. The offense, on the other hand, was a problem. But Saturday's 30-18 win over NC State was the Cardinals' first game with a full lineup of healthy stars on offense, including QB Will Gardner, running back Michael Dyer and receiver DeVante Parker. The trio injected some life into the proceedings, as Louisville scored 30 points for the first time in a month, and Dyer and Parker combined for 305 yards. Dyer racked up his first 100-yard rushing performance since 2011. It was a nice addition for Louisville but also a reminder of what might've been for the Cardinals, had the offense been this healthy from the start of the season.

Clemson can win ugly: The Tigers' offense has mustered just two touchdowns and averaged just 4 yards per play without star QB Deshaun Watson the past two weeks, but they've still managed to win both games. Chalk it up to a spectacular defense that once again stuffed an opponent's ground game. Boston College entered as the No. 5 rushing offense in the nation, but Clemson racked up 14 tackles for loss and surrendered just 120 yards on the ground in its 17-13 victory and held BC nearly 200 yards below its season average. Cole Stoudt won't be confused for Watson any time soon, but if he can continue to make a handful of plays a game, this defense should be enough to carry Clemson a long way.

Marquise Williams is UNC's QB: It's hard to believe there was a QB debate in Chapel Hill earlier this year. Williams has been unstoppable in his past two games -- which, coincidentally, were the first two games in which Mitch Trubisky wasn't given regular playing time. Williams set a North Carolina record with 38 completions, threw for four TDs and rushed for one more while leading a dramatic 48-43 come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech late in the fourth quarter. In his past two games, Williams has compiled 696 passing yards, 205 rush yards and nine touchdowns.

Pitt's not dead yet: Thursday's 21-16 win over Virginia Tech proved to be a resurrection for Pitt. The Panthers had dropped three in a row as their QB struggled and defenses ganged up to stop star tailback James Conner. Against Virginia Tech, however, Pitt looked much improved. Chad Voytik didn't have to do much with his arm (92 yards), but he racked up 118 yards on the ground, and the win further stifled Tech's hopes for a division title and rekindled Pitt's.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
10/17/14
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Pittsburgh snapped a three-game skid Thursday by beating Virginia Tech. Here's the rest of the ACC action for Week 8.

Noon

Syracuse at Wake Forest, ESPN, #CUSEvsWAKE: AJ Long gets the start for Syracuse after Terrel Hunt and Austin Wilson both went down. The true freshman saw extended action last week against defending national champion Florida State, and he now faces a stingy Wake Forest defense that is coming off a bye. The Demon Deacons also start a true freshman under center, though John Wolford has been the guy for Wake since Day 1. Expect defense to rule the day in this contest.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia at Duke, ESPN3, #UVAvsDUKE: It is the current Coastal Division leaders against the reigning division champions. What gives? The Cavaliers are coming off a bye after looking impressive in wins over Pitt and, earlier this season, Louisville. Can the Hoos' defense deliver once again? The Blue Devils did hand Georgia Tech its first loss of the season last week, but their offense needs to play within themselves.

3:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsWill Gardner is expected to get the nod at quarterback for Louisville, which hosts NC State on Saturday.
NC State at Louisville, ESPN3, #NCSUvsLOU: It's 11 straight ACC losses for the Wolfpack, who are still seeking that first league win under Dave Doeren. A team that looked so good so early this season has struggled immensely on the offensive side of the ball in the past two weeks against Clemson and Boston College. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are looking to erase the sour taste from their mouths after last week's heartbreaker against the Tigers. They will turn back to Will Gardner under center to try to get them back on track. Receiver DeVante Parker, who has yet to play this season, is questionable.

No. 24 Clemson at Boston College, ESPNU, #CLEMvsBC: Alumni Stadium holds a special place in Dabo Swinney's heart, as it was the site of his first career win as Clemson's head coach. The Eagles nearly shocked the Tigers last year back in Death Valley, and they did manage to knock off USC earlier this season, so they cannot be taken lightly. BC's run game has been simply astounding at times, with the Eagles outrushing their opposition 1,513-134 in their four wins. Clemson turns back to Cole Stoudt this week at quarterback after Deshaun Watson suffered a broken finger last week.

7 p.m.

Georgia Tech at North Carolina, ESPNU, #GTvsUNC: The Yellow Jackets lost their first game of the season last week, a delay-filled affair against Duke. But that option attack might still be tough to defend for a UNC defense that cannot seem to get out of its own way. Marquise Williams played a terrific game last week at Notre Dame, giving the Tar Heels a tremendous chance to win. But surrendering 50 points for the third time this season did the Heels no good, and, unless that changes, questions will remain about this team.

8 p.m.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State, ABC, #NDvsFSU: Everett Golson is 16-1 as a starter. Jameis Winston is 19-0. "College GameDay" is on hand for this game with huge College Football Playoff implications. Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher are both in their fifth season with the Fighting Irish and Seminoles, respectively, and [at least] one might have the chance to be in the national title mix for the second time in three seasons. Notre Dame lost in the title game in 2012; FSU won it all in 2013. Chaos has subsided with the Irish, who finally know the fate of the five players who were suspended back in August as part of an internal academic probe. FSU, meanwhile, has dealt with the circus that is Winston seemingly all season long, with the heat amped up this week amid news of a potential disciplinary hearing and an autograph controversy.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
9/27/14
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Plenty of ACC teams wrap up their nonconference slate on Saturday, but there are several important league games, too, in addition to Notre Dame's foray into semi-ACC play. Here's what's on deck. Be sure to follow along on Twitter using the hashtags below.

12:30 p.m.

Colorado State at Boston College, ESPN3, #CSUvsBC: A 4-1 start would be huge for the Eagles, with the heart of ACC play fast approaching. They are the nation's No. 2 rushing team, tallying 1,345 yards, a by-product of Florida transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy, who has tallied at least 99 rushing yards in each game so far. The defense hasn't been too shabby, either, surrendering less than 20 points per game despite plenty of new faces. Garrett Grayson and the Rams can throw the ball, but they'll need more to go their way if they want to escape Alumni Stadium with an upset.

Western Michigan at Virginia Tech, ESPN3, #WMUvsVT: Which Michael Brewer will the Hokies get? The transfer signal-caller was a tremendous ball distributor in Virginia Tech's Week 2 upset win at Ohio State, but last week he had three costly turnovers in letting a home tilt slip away against Georgia Tech for the Hokies' second straight home loss. Coach Frank Beamer liked what he saw out of his quarterback otherwise, and the Broncos should provide an opportunity for Brewer and the rest of the Hokies to shake out of their rut and gain some momentum heading into the rest of league play.

1:30 p.m.

Akron at Pitt, ESPN3: Can Pitt bounce back from a tough home loss to Iowa? The Panthers probably let one get away, but the Zips are not to be slept on, as the 1-2 squad has had no shortage of early-season tests itself so far, losing to Penn State and Marshall. This is a homecoming of sorts for Akron coach Terry Bowden, a Morgantown, West Virginia, native who went to Pittsburgh regularly. The Panthers need this win more, though, as they look to get back on track before their first Coastal game next week at Virginia.

3:30 p.m.

Wake Forest at Louisville, ESPNU, #WAKEvsLOU: This here is a battle of the ACC's two first-year head coaches, Dave Clawson and Bobby Petrino. It's also a rematch of the 2007 Orange Bowl, which Petrino was a part of with the Cardinals. Both teams will be starting true freshmen under center, with John Wolford showing plenty of growth in his fourth start last week against Army and Reggie Bonnafon returning to Louisville after the tragic loss of his father, and after starter Will Gardner suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of action against the Demon Deacons.

[+] EnlargeNiklas Sade
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesNC State shocked FSU on the Seminoles' last visit to Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2012.

No. 1 Florida State at NC State, ABC/ESPN2, #FSUvsNCSU: We know all about how Carter-Finley Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Seminoles lately, as the Wolfpack have won three of their past four home contests against FSU. A win would be a very tall order for the still-growing Pack, who are in their second year under Dave Doeren. But this could be a great measuring-stick game for them after a 4-0 start against subpar competition. NC State has already topped its win total from last season, and Jacoby Brissett has been magnificent under center. The Noles, by the way, will trot out a certain Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback after surviving a one-game suspension without him.

Kent State at Virginia, ESPN3: First things first: How about those sharp throwback unis the Cavaliers will be wearing? As for who will be under center wearing them when things kick off, well, that appears less clear, as Greyson Lambert recovers from an ankle injury he suffered in last week's loss at BYU. The Hoos know the offense is in capable hands with Matt Johns regardless, and their defense will look to revert to its early-season form after stumbling in Provo, Utah.

7 p.m.

North Carolina at Clemson, ESPNU, #UNCvsCLEM: The Tigers might be getting the perfect medicine following a heartbreaking overtime defeat at Florida State. They have a talented and growing offense, led by Deshaun Watson, who will be making his first career start. And they are facing a UNC team that laid a major egg defensively last week against East Carolina, surrendering 70 points and nearly 800 yards of total offense. The Tar Heels have given little indication through three games they are ready for the challenge that awaits them in Death Valley, but that's why they play the games, right?

7:30 p.m.

Duke at Miami, ESPN2, #DUKEvsMIA: We should learn much more about both of these teams when they face off at Sun Life Stadium. The Blue Devils are 4-0 but were hardly challenged during nonconference play, while Miami struggled against the two good teams it faced. It will be interesting to see what kind of response the Hurricanes defense shows after Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah gashed it for 229 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday. Perhaps more importantly, Duke dominated the Canes' D to the tune of 358 rushing yards last year, running away in the fourth quarter. If Miami has any hopes of competing for the Coastal crown this year, it has to show more this time around at home.

8 p.m.

No. 8 Notre Dame at Syracuse, ABC, #NDvsCUSE: The Irish unofficially kick off their ACC football alliance by taking on old Big East (hoops) foe Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It is the first "road" game for the 3-0 Irish, though they will likely have most of the home crowd on their side. One thing to watch out for is how Notre Dame's offensive line performs, as it used the bye week to shake up a so-so unit and will now take the field featuring four players in different spots than before. Can the Orange's aggressive defense take advantage of this? Ball protection is key for Syracuse if it wishes to pull the upset, as Terrel Hunt and the offense are capable of putting points on the board when they stay out of their own way.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
9/21/14
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That's a wrap on Week 4 in the ACC. Who stood out the most? Glad you asked ...

Duke safety Jeremy Cash: There were a handful of players to choose from on a Blue Devils defense that turned in an excellent performance in Saturday's 47-13 win over Tulane, but Cash gets the nod here. The redshirt junior tied for the team-high with 11 tackles, 1.5 for loss, and had the first of four Duke interceptions on the day, and the fifth of his career. Duke is 4-0 for the first time since 1994, when it started 7-0, and it has looked sharp on both sides of the ball as it readies for conference play next week at Miami.

Pitt running back James Conner: At this point we'll call it a ho-hum day for the bruising sophomore back: 29 carries, 155 yards and two touchdowns. (He had one catch for 9 yards as well.) Those early-season Heisman prospects likely go out the door with a 24-20 loss to Iowa, given Pitt's underwhelming schedule, but a fifth straight 150-yard rushing outing is nothing to overlook. Conner is at 699 yards and nine touchdowns on the season, a school-record to start a season, crushing Tony Dorsett's 564 yards through four games during his 1973 freshman season.

Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene: There may not be a player in the country who is more important to his team than Greene. The senior delivered again Saturday night in FSU's 23-17 overtime win over Clemson. He had nine catches for 135 yards and a touchdown, in addition to a 28-yard punt return. He came up huge on a night the Seminoles needed him to, proving to be a huge help to first-time starter Sean Maguire.

Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy: Stop the presses: Murphy failed to rush for 100 yards. He did net 99, though, along with two rushing touchdowns, including a 71-yarder in the first quarter. And he completed 11 of 18 throws for 130 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Murphy has proven to be an invaluable addition to the Eagles, as he stretches the field and makes them so much less predictable. BC rushed for 413 yards in its 40-10 win over Maine, eclipsing the 400-yard rushing mark for the second straight game and eclipsing the 300-yard mark for the third time in four games. The Eagles' 549 yards of total offense marked the third time they eclipsed that mark this year as well. So much of that comes back to the man under center.

Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas: Thomas' numbers will not jump off the page as a passer: He completed 7 of 18 throws for 125 yards and a touchdown during the Yellow Jackets' 27-24 win over Virginia Tech. His rushing numbers were much better: 22 carries for 165 yards and another touchdown. But Thomas made plays when it mattered most, leading yet another game-winning drive and helping the Yellow Jackets snap a four-game losing streak against Virginia Tech. Thomas bounced back from a rough start throwing (he lost a fumble as well) and completed 4 of his final 7 passes, relying heavily down the stretch on DeAndre Smelter (5 catches, 101 yards, TD), who himself deserves plenty of recognition in this space now. For all of its troubles, Georgia Tech is now 4-0 and in great position in the Coastal race, having fended off the Hokies on the road. (Special recognition in this game also goes to Virginia Tech linebacker Chase Thomas, who had the insane line of 17 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries.)

ACC viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
9/20/14
8:00
AM ET
The best day of the week is finally here. Is the best league game of the year here as well? Probably. Here's a primer on all of the action throughout the day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter with all of the hashtags below.

Noon

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, ESPN, #GTvsVT: The Yellow Jackets have gotten to 3-0 in the most wayward of fashions. The Hokies are coming off a home loss to East Carolina, one week after upsetting a top-10 Ohio State team on the road. Could their trouble be on defense? Brandon Facyson has been playing hurt all season, sure, but Virginia Tech has surrendered 22 plays of 20 yards or more this season, fourth-most in the nation and half its total from last season (44). The big-play threat might not exactly be there with Georgia Tech, but as Jared Shanker noted this week, the visitors do bring with them a knack for converting third downs. Virginia Tech has won the past four games in this matchup.

Iowa at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #IOWAvsPITT: Third-year Panthers coach Paul Chryst hosts a familiar foe this weekend, as he faced the Hawkeyes six times while he was offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, going 3-3. Pitt is looking for its first 4-0 start since 2000, and it will likely turn to the nation's leading rusher, James Conner, to try to get there, despite Iowa's stingy run defense (No. 7 nationally). Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, by the way, will experience a homecoming of sorts, as he went to Upper St. Clair High in Pittsburgh.

12:30 p.m.

Maryland at Syracuse, 12:30, ESPN3, #MDvsCUSE: The Terrapins are in their first year away from the "basketball" conference that is the ACC, as coach Randy Edsall said this summer, and the Big Ten newcomers will look to avenge last year's 20-3 home loss to the Orange, which came without receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Syracuse, meanwhile, looked like a new team in last week's 40-3 win at Central Michigan, as it came off a bye and had quarterback Terrel Hunt back running the show on offense. Syracuse is looking to get to 3-0 for the first time since 1991, which would provide a big boost to a team that will embark on a difficult three-week stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State.

Tulane at Duke, ESPN3, #TULNvsDUKE: Has there been a more overlooked team than Duke recently? All the Blue Devils have done is take care of business, coming off a 10-win, division-title season and starting 3-0 this season in methodical fashion (albeit against bad competition). In any event, the unranked Blue Devils close their nonconference slate against American Athletic Conference newcomer Tulane, which is no stranger to the ACC this season, having lost to Georgia Tech two weeks ago. Here's one interesting stat surrounding Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: The Blue Devils have lost yardage on just three percent of Boone's snaps, the lowest percentage of any Power Five quarterback with at least 150 plays.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesTyler Murphy and Boston College hope to avoid a letdown after their upset of USC when they face FCS Maine on Saturday.
1 p.m.

Maine at Boston College, ESPN3, #MEvsBC: It's all about avoiding a letdown this week in Chestnut Hill, where the Eagles produced one of the young season's greatest upsets last weekend against USC. The Black Bears should hardly pose a huge challenge to BC, which, with Tyler Murphy under center, has been able to stretch the field much more than last season, even if the run game is still its bread and butter. Murphy leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards this season with 401, 40 more yards than he has tallied passing the ball (361).

3:30 p.m.

Louisville at FIU, Fox Sports 1: The Cardinals are looking to rebound from their first defeat of the second Bobby Petrino era, while the Golden Panthers welcome their second straight ACC foe to Miami. FIU gave Pitt a handful last week before the Panthers pulled away, but Louisville will probably not be so kind coming off the loss at Virginia. Louisville beat FIU 72-0 a year ago, and while there are plenty of new faces, quarterback Will Gardner will try to bounce back after getting pulled a week ago. His offensive line will look to get its act together as well.

Virginia at No. 21 BYU, ESPN, #UVAvsBYU: Speaking of the Cavaliers, they should serve as one of the toughest tests the Cougars face all season, as the home team has the best chance of anyone in the nation at running the regular-season table (21.7 percent, per ESPN's FPI). We'll see just how good this Virginia defense really is after strong showings through the first three weeks, as BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and his home field will be a handful to handle. Virginia beat BYU last year in the season opener, one of just two games it won all season.

Army at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #ARMYvsWAKE: The Demon Deacons' defense has actually been pretty good through three games despite a 1-2 record. And while the offense showed signs of life late in last week's loss at Utah State, it cannot afford to give away points, and it would help to develop some form of a ground game. The Black Knights were shut out last week at Stanford. They also boast, at this point, the nation's slowest offense at 31.1 seconds per play, according to data from ESPN Stats & Info.

North Carolina at East Carolina, ESPNU, #UNCvsECU: The Pirates came awfully close to beating a South Carolina team that is probably better than we initially gave it credit for, and they went into Blacksburg, Virginia, last week and took down the Hokies. Now they get the Tar Heels in a rematch of last year's 55-31 ECU rout in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have looked underwhelming through two games, and they will be without starting guard Landon Turner. But their offense is still capable of putting plenty of points on the board, and this is a team that certainly has not forgotten about the way it was embarrassed by the Pirates last season. A shootout between Marquise Williams and Shane Carden could be on the horizon. And given UNC's upcoming slate -- at Clemson, Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame -- it better hope it can keep up this time around before league play starts. One thing to keep in mind: With Brian Walker's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown two weeks ago at San Diego State, UNC now has 10 non-offensive touchdowns since last season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That is tied with North Texas for the second-best mark in the nation during that span, trailing only Florida State's 11.

6 p.m.

Presbyterian at NC State, ESPN3, #PREvsNCSU: The Wolfpack's laughable nonconference slate concludes, and a win here would make them 4-0 after a disappointing 3-9 mark last season. Still, it should do wonders for a young team looking to go bowling in Dave Doeren's second year at the helm, especially if it can replicate its dominant performance from last week at USF. Like its rival in Chapel Hill, NC State needs to do itself a favor, with back-to-back games against FSU and Clemson awaiting in the next two weeks to open conference play. As David Hale notes, quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been invaluable so far for the Pack, leading the ACC in touchdowns and yards and second only to Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas in passer rating.

8 p.m.

Miami at No. 24 Nebraska, ESPN2, #MIAvsNEB: Andrea Adelson and Mitch Sherman did a wonderful job recapping some of the great matchups between these old rivals. What might be the difference at Memorial Stadium, however, is the ground game. Duke Johnson has rushed for at least 90 yards in each of his past five games dating back to last season, while Ameer Abdullah has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 12 of his past 14 games and has tallied more than 100 yards from scrimmage in 16 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation. The ACC is 6-3 against the Cornhuskers in the past nine meetings, though the Hurricanes are just 1-6 in their past seven games against AP-ranked teams, with an average point margin of minus-22.4.

8 p.m.

No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State, ABC, #CLEMvsFSU: Here's the matchup we've all been waiting for, but it won't include Jameis Winston. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will sit out the entire game, the school announced late Friday, after reportedly making profane remarks in public. It will be Sean Maguire's turn to run the show. Maguire has not started a game since Nov. 12, 2011, his senior year at Seton Hall Prep (New Jersey). Coach Jimbo Fisher is 3-1 against Clemson since arriving in Tallahassee, but the lower-ranked team has won two of the past three meetings. The Tigers, meanwhile, are 0-4 all time against AP No. 1 teams, with the last such game coming in the 1999 "Bowden Bowl I" against FSU, a 17-14 Seminoles win. Coming into this contest, ESPN's FPI ranks Clemson 19th, FSU 2nd, and it gives the Seminoles a 77 percent chance to win.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- When Louisville Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino walked into his postgame news conference after a triumphant 31-13 season opener against the Miami Hurricanes, the first question he got was not about his new quarterback or workhorse running back.

Nope. The defense wrote the signature on this victory.

So Petrino was asked about his defense first, and then his defense a little bit more, and each time he heaped more praise on a group that faced a series of questions heading into the game Monday night.

With a new scheme, a new coordinator and seven new starters, the Cards did not stand a chance to match their group from last year, did they?

They did.

Louisville absolutely dominated Miami in a rematch of their bowl game from last postseason, and it was a near carbon copy of the results from that December contest. Louisville's defense was a new, reinvented version of itself under first-year coordinator Todd Grantham. The Cardinals looked faster, but they were still physically dominant, pushing around a veteran Miami offensive line while holding running back Duke Johnson down and flummoxing freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya.

In its last two meetings with Louisville, Miami has scored a combined 22 points, gained a total of 418 yards, and converted just 1-of-24 third-down opportunities.

With a stifling defense, Louisville took the burden off new starting quarterback Will Gardner and placed its offense in the hands of running back Dominique Brown, who had an eye-popping 33 carries for 143 yards and a score. The two units worked in concert with each other, but the defense stood tallest considering all the uncertainty going in.

"Our defensive staff had a great plan going in and really worked hard at it," Petrino said. "That's the thing that I really noticed, how fast our defense played. We tackled well and we got a lot of guys to the ball."

Having a healthy Johnson gave the Canes hope they would reverse their dismal performance from last postseason. But he was essentially a nonfactor, despite rushing for 90 yards on 20 carries. Take away his long run of 24 yards and he averaged just 3.5 yards per carry -- well off his career average of 6.6 yards.

The key, simply, was to cut off the edge.

"When he did get to the edge, we had some problems in the middle of the defense, but a couple of the guys were saying that we're quicker now, so now we're able to keep up with backs like that, so basically keeping him contained from the outside was a big deal," Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin said.

The quickness was evident. Having four fast linebackers on the field was a big reason why. Not only was Mauldin doing his best to get into the backfield from his new outside linebacker position, but Deiontrez Mount was making his presence felt with a sack and two tackles for loss. So was linebacker Keith Kelsey, who had a fumble recovery and five tackles.

Then there was safety James Sample, the former Washington Huskies player who transferred from junior college and got the start. Louisville lost plenty of experience and production from safeties Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor, so filling that spot was the biggest concern heading into the season.

But Sample played better than anybody anticipated, leading the team with eight tackles and a crucial interception in the third quarter with Louisville up 21-13. The Cards scored a field goal on the next possession to put the game out of reach.

For Mauldin, the only recognizable player left on the defense from 2013, the result had to be particularly satisfying. No defense of his would start taking a step back, regardless of new faces and new scheme.

"As the leader of the defense, you just look at what you've got and you say, 'This is what we've got. This is what we're going to make of it, get the guys that are young, get the guys who are new to go along with the defense,'" Mauldin said. "You can't think negative about anything when it comes to a team, because if you think negative the team feeds off you. What I'm doing is picking the guys up, letting them know that if they miss a play, you've got it the next play. Forget about [that] play and move on. Just positive energy."

Louisville could not have planned a better start to ACC play. And the Cards will only get better from here. The schedule sets up for a 6-0 start headed into the showdown against Clemson, with Syracuse the only bowl team on Louisville's schedule over the next five games.

But looking ahead is for another day. Let the defense have this one.

ACC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
8/26/14
10:00
AM ET
The college football season is finally ready to kick off. No doubt all the time we’ve spent studying depth charts and devouring news will be rendered meaningless by September’s end, but that won’t stop us from making a few bold predictions about what’s to come in 2014. If we get half of them right, we’ll call it a success.

1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.

Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
AP Photo/Garry JonesUnder coach Bobby Petrino, Will Gardner has a chance to flourish as Louisville's starting QB.
2. Louisville’s Will Gardner will be the ACC’s second-best quarterback.

It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.

3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.

The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.

4. Virginia goes bowling.

The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.

5. Clemson is a running team.

With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.

6. Young runners make a big impact.

Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.

7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.

If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.

8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.

Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.

9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.

Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.

10. The Coastal champ will be ...

Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.
Miami and Louisville already are quite familiar with each other, but that familiarity will probably mean nothing heading into their opener on Labor Day.

Already, their matchup has quite a different feel than it did just one week ago after two major news stories broke this past weekend. Louisville receiver DeVante Parker will have surgery on his foot and is out six to eight weeks; Miami, meanwhile, named true freshman Brad Kaaya its starting quarterback.

That begs the question -- how will both offenses be impacted?

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesLouisville and Miami meet in the season opener, a rematch of the Russell Athletic Bowl, and Hurricanes tailback Duke Johnson will be among the many new faces who didn't play in the December game.
We already knew both units would look far different than the groups we saw the last time they played, a 36-9 Louisville romp in the Russell Athletic Bowl in December. Louisville lost star quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who torched the Canes for 447 yards passing. Miami gained a healthy Duke Johnson, who missed the bowl game with an ankle injury.

Johnson brings a new dynamic to the matchup at running back. But so does new Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, who runs a completely different offense than the one Miami could not stop last season. Parker was set to be the focal point of that offense, a 6-foot-3, 211-pound freak of an athlete with the capability of having a 1,500-yard season.

Without him, Louisville does have other options. The Cards are fortunate to have one of the deeper receiver groups in the ACC. Eli Rogers, Kai De La Cruz, and Michaelee Harris all return. Tennessee transfer Matt Milton and sophomore James Quick are players to watch. So is tight end Gerald Christian, expected to have a bigger role in the offense.

But with a new starting quarterback in Will Gardner, there is little doubt Parker would have been a security blanket of sorts and the immediate go-to player among the receivers. The other players are solid, but Parker is the one with first-round NFL draft potential thanks to his size and speed (he runs a 4.34 in the 40-yard dash).

Miami gets the benefit of having a stronger Johnson back on the field. His impact on this team is undeniable. With him, Miami was ranked No. 7 in the nation last year. Without him, the Canes dropped four of their final six games. In the Russell Athletic Bowl, Johnson stood on the sideline and watched Miami running backs muster 73 total yards on the ground.

It is obviously huge that he is back. But with a true freshman under center, one has to assume the Cards' defense will be geared toward stopping Johnson and making Kaaya beat them. Kaaya has the skill players around him to help, but the pressure will rest squarely on him to make the right reads and the right decisions in the face of all the pressure.

How will he handle that? Maybe even bigger -- how will he handle the spotlight, making his first start on the road in front of a nationally televised audience? Miami coaches have praised Kaaya for his unflappable demeanor, and say they have run him through pressure situations in practice.

But no practice simulation can prepare a freshman for the bright lights that await, especially as the Miami quarterback. Though Louisville lost some of its best players on defense and will be employing a new scheme, the Cards do return Lorenzo Mauldin (9.5 sacks), linebacker James Burgess (72 tackles) and top cover corner Charles Gaines to make life difficult for Kaaya.

It is plain to see the differences are everywhere. Kaaya and Parker just add to that theme, making this matchup perhaps the most difficult to predict heading into Week 1.
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Louisville Cardinals:

Key returners: WR DeVante Parker, WR Eli Rogers, RB Dominique Brown, LB Lorenzo Mauldin, CB Charles Gaines

[+] EnlargeDeVante Parker
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsDeVante Parker is a big-time NFL prospect and is expected to have a monster season in Bobby Petrino's offense.
Key losses: QB Teddy Bridgewater, DE Marcus Smith, LB Preston Brown, S Calvin Pryor, S Hakeem Smith

Most important 2014 games: versus Miami, Sept. 1; at Clemson, Oct. 11; versus Florida State, Oct. 30; at Notre Dame, Nov. 22.

Projected win percentage: 56 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 8 wins

Instant impact newcomer: QB Will Gardner. Taking over for Bridgewater is no easy task, but new coach Bobby Petrino believes Gardner is up for the challenge. Gardner has prototypical size for a quarterback (6-foot-5, 226 pounds) with the arm strength to boot. Plus he'll be coached by an offensive mastermind in Petrino, whose specialty is developing quarterbacks. Even though Gardner is unproven, anticipation is high that Gardner can become an elite quarterback in this system -- starting this year.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Gardner develops at warp-like speed and the defense immediately thrives in the new 3-4 scheme, finding players to step in and fill major holes along the line and in the secondary. Louisville pulls the surprise card as a new member of the ACC and posts a winning record against the four toughest teams on the schedule (Miami, Clemson, Florida State and Notre Dame) to hit the double-digit win total for a third straight season.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Gardner fails to develop as anticipated and the offense sputters along, unable to take advantage of the talent it has at the skill positions. The defense cannot find adequate replacements for Marcus Smith, Preston Brown, Hakeem Smith or Pryor and struggles against a much tougher schedule. Louisville cannot quite manage the difficulties the ACC presents and ends up barely above .500.

Best NFL prospect: Parker. ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Parker listed as the No. 3 senior receiver in the nation. Parker has the size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), power, speed (4.3-second 40-yard dash) and productivity to become a first-round draft pick. A monster season is expected in the Petrino offense, a big reason he made the preseason All-ACC team.

Biggest question mark: Safety. Because the Cardinals have little in the way of proven players or depth at the position, they already moved starting cornerback Terrell Floyd to one safety spot. The hope is that Gerod Holliman finally reaches the potential he showed in high school and starts alongside Floyd. Junior college transfer James Sample and a slew of redshirt freshmen are in the mix as well, but none of them have played a down for the Cards just yet.

They said it: "Our expectations are going to be high. I've always believed that you set expectations high. We have a group of young men that we're coaching that know how to prepare, that have played in big games and know how to win. We expect to compete for a championship. That's what we want to get done." -- Petrino


Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn't want to do it.

When he met with former quarterback Chad Kelly on the Monday following Clemson's spring game, Swinney said his original plan was to suspend Kelly -- not dismiss him from the team entirely -- but the meeting "just didn’t go well."

"There’s just certain things you can’t tolerate, and that’s just the bottom line," Swinney said. "It wasn’t a good meeting. It was a simple decision that was made. He moved on and we moved on."

So did more than half the ACC this spring, to a new era of quarterbacks.

Cole Stoudt’s tenure began swiftly at Clemson, ending what was one of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in the ACC and capping a spring that was filled with quarterback news throughout the conference.

[+] EnlargeKevin Olsen
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKevin Olsen became Miami's first-string quarterback when Ryan Williams tore his ACL.
At Miami, quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL, leaving Kevin Olsen the undisputed starter heading into summer camp.

At Duke, Brandon Connette announced his decision to transfer to the West Coast, leaving Anthony Boone in an unfamiliar role of being the lone leader.

Boston College named Florida transfer Tyler Murphy its starter, Syracuse reaffirmed Terrel Hunt as its starter, Justin Thomas is the main man at Georgia Tech, Will Gardner took the lead at Louisville and Chad Voytik became the obvious choice at Pitt.

What began as a position up for grabs in the ACC is largely no longer a mystery, as many schools determined their starting quarterback this spring, or at least had separation occur -- if not by performance, then by default. While most of the quarterbacks throughout the league are still unproven (six schools don’t have any starting experience returning to the position, and four schools brought in transfers to help), many enter summer camp at least sure of where they stand on the depth chart.

"I had my meeting with the coaches before all that happened, and I felt comfortable with where I was," said Stoudt, who will make his first career start in the season opener at Georgia. "They said I was going to be the guy and everything. I know there were some things that happened, but I'm happy with the situation, and I'm happy I'm the guy going into fall camp, so it's exciting."

Nine of the 14 schools in the ACC will introduce a first-year starting quarterback this fall. Of the 11 teams that entered spring with quarterback competitions, eight found answers -- or at least had an obvious front-runner emerge.

At Miami, Williams had distanced himself from Olsen through his decision-making and accuracy, but the torn ACL meant an instant promotion for Olsen. Still, coach Al Golden said his confidence in the position remains high.

"I think we're not going to change what we do," Golden said. "We need to do a really good job of establishing the running game, keeping it simple, doing what we do best. Getting into more third-and-manageables. We were in way too many third-and-longs last year to possess the ball and convert. Clearly the two young men we have here on campus right now can do it. The two coming in will also have an opportunity to compete."

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsVirginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is still looking for a starting quarterback to emerge.
The only three schools that didn’t come close to naming a starter this spring were Virginia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest. It's not a stretch to say that the Hokies' hopes of returning to the ACC title game hinge on having a dependable quarterback emerge, and as one of the premier programs in the Coastal Division, it will continue to be one of the most-watched storylines of the summer. Those within the program have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and true freshman Chris Durkin. The staff has made it perfectly clear they won’t name a starter until those two are added to the competition this summer.

"The big question really is the quarterback," coach Frank Beamer said. "I think Mark Leal, Brenden Motley and Andrew Ford all have had their moments. Some of it's good; some of it's not as good as you like. I think Michael Brewer coming in, Chris Durkin coming in, will enter into the competition there. We'll see how that ends up. But that's certainly the critical question for our football team right now."

The critical question for the rest of the conference becomes how these new starters will perform when it counts. Now that most of them have earned their starting jobs, there's pressure to keep them.

"I've said that if we were to play tomorrow, [Will Gardner] would run out there as our starter," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "… There will certainly be competition for it in the fall. He’ll have a chance to go out each day and prove that he's either the better quarterback, or someone passes him by."

More often than not, the ACC's new quarterbacks were able to prove it this spring.


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It is hard to miss the giant poster of Teddy Bridgewater hanging in the lobby of the Louisville football complex, celebrating the Cardinals’ momentous win over Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl two years ago.

Bridgewater's rise was concurrent to the football program’s latest ascent to national prominence, but the truth is he was the most notable player on a defensive-minded football team led by a defensive-minded coach who stressed a physical, ball-control style of football that did not always showcase its talented quarterback.

[+] EnlargeBobby Petrino
AP Photo/Garry JonesBobby Petrino is stepping up the tempo in practice in his second stint at Louisville.
Nobody will ever say the same about offensive guru Bobby Petrino, who has single-handedly made everything different this spring in his second stint as Louisville's head coach. His philosophy is different. Practices are different. Schemes are different. Strength and conditioning is different. Even conference affiliation is soon to be different.

Petrino says he is different, too, eight years after he left the Cardinals for the NFL. A well-publicized scandal at Arkansas three years ago -- a scandal many thought could end up ruining him -- forced him to get his priorities in order.

He now has his second chance to do right after Tom Jurich gave him a lifeline in January following Charlie Strong’s departure for Texas. Petrino's reputation, however, remains in limbo, putting more pressure on his football acumen. When asked to note how he and the program differ from when he was hired the first time in 2003, Petrino says, “I don’t look at the differences a whole lot. I’m having a great time.”

While Petrino the man needs to be different, Louisville is banking on the same Petrino who initially took Louisville to the heights Strong recently matched. To do that, Petrino is coaching the way he has always coached. Practices are now run at a much faster tempo than under Strong. Petrino is constantly in his players' faces, yelling at them to get it right. All that was quite an adjustment initially. “Hustle!” and “Go faster!” are two key phrases that have returned to the Louisville lexicon.

“At first, everybody was looking around like, ‘What’s going on?’ but for the most part, everybody’s taken it in stride,” said defensive end Sheldon Rankins. “We have gone along with everything he’s saying, and been pretty positive about it because at the end of the day, we’re all a team. We’re all here together and we have to make it work.”

The changes have been especially dramatic on offense, and most especially with the quarterbacks. Bridgewater might have been the centerpiece in Louisville the last three years, but he is gone, and that leaves quite a conundrum. Petrino places much heavier demands on quarterbacks; they have more checks to make, more complicated schemes to learn and different timing routes to perfect with their receivers, all while practicing at a breakneck pace.

No passer on the current roster has started a college game. Will Gardner, who was the backup last year, has taken the lead in the quarterback competition, but the offense has much to improve on before it functions the way Petrino wants it to function. One practice last week lasted 2 hours, and several practice periods were repeated until the players got everything right.

“They think they’re going fast right now, but we’re not even close to where we need to be,” Petrino said. “My dad gave me a bad time about it. He said, ‘That was the longest practice I’ve ever seen of yours,’ and I said, ‘It’s because we’re not going fast enough to get the reps in.’ We have a set amount of reps we have to get done, but we can’t go quick enough.”

Petrino They think they're going fast right now, but we're not even close to where we need to be.

-- Louisville coach Bobby Petrino
Part of the issue is players not being in the type of condition they need to be in to go at optimum speed. Petrino says players did make strides in winter workouts, but they need a full offseason program to meet the demands that are now required.

Up-tempo offense means the defense has to practice faster, too. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who is installing a new base 3-4 scheme that will feature players used in multiple ways, says, "The tempo thing is very good for both sides of the ball because it makes you think fast, react fast and get ready to play,” adding that the pace of practice also helps create mental toughness.

Not much has happened in the way of rebellion, either. The transition from one staff to another has been as smooth as can be expected, especially given the radical differences between style and scheme. This spring, being different never felt so good.

“Everybody’s excited,” Gardner says. “Everybody knows the history of all these coaches and how successful their teams have been, so everybody’s looking forward to what this year brings.”

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