ACC mailblog

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
Are you ready for some more football?

Ethan in New York writes: OK. Let's say that at the end of the regular season, we have two undefeated teams: Alabama and Baylor. Oregon is a one-loss Pac-12 champ. Ohio State is a one-loss BIG champ. Florida State runs the table in the regular season. Virginia Tech beats Ohio State, but loses to, say, North Carolina. However, the Hokies defeat the Seminoles in the ACC championship game. So you have Ohio State (BIG champs) at 12-1 with a loss to VT; VT at 12-1 (ACC champs) with a loss to UNC; Florida State at 12-1 with a loss to VT; Auburn at 12-1 with a loss to Bama; Alabama at 13-0 (SEC champs), Baylor at 12-0 (Big 12 champs) and Oregon at 12-1 (Pac-12 champs) with a loss to, say USC. For fun, let's throw in Michigan State at 11-1 with a loss to Ohio State, Stanford at 11-1 with a loss to Oregon, and Oklahoma at 11-1 with a loss to Baylor. In this scenario, who would YOU (not the selection committee) pick as the four teams in the playoff?

Andrea Adelson: This scenario needs a tweak, because Michigan State and Oregon play in Week 2. So let's just say Oregon's loss is to the Spartans instead of USC to make this slightly more accurate. My final decision ... my head hurts. In all seriousness, it is really tough to even make a guess because there are so many other factors at play. How do these teams actually look? Were the losses blowouts or close? How did the rest of the schedule shape up? Is it better or worse than it looked in the preseason? Those should all come into play when starting to compare one-loss teams against another. Having said that, I would give conference champions the first look. In this case, Alabama and Baylor are unbeaten and conference champs, they get in. Oregon gets in because it's a conference champion and lost to a high-quality team early in the season. Virginia Tech would look appealing in this scenario, too, with wins over No. 1 Florida State and ranked Ohio State, plus Miami and an ACC championship. The bottom line is strength of schedule is going to be quite different at the end of the season than it is today, and there are too many unknowns to start guessing which one-loss team would make it in. Can't wait to see how it all plays out.

Ken in Savannah, Georgia, writes: Andrea, could you please help in dispelling the myth that Bobby Petrino's offense throws the ball 75 percent of the time? I think people, even so-called experts, believe this because they score on a lot of those plays. The best description I have ever heard of the coaches' offense is "Power Spread." In his best years at Louisville, I believe the run-pass split never got past 55 percent. The coach relies on big backs (power) to wear down opposing linebackers, then uses his receivers and tight ends in multiple packages (spread) to take advantage of the gaps in defenses.

Adelson writes: I looked back at the rushing attempts and passing attempts on Petrino-coached teams at Louisville, Arkansas and Western Kentucky. In his first four seasons at Louisville, Petrino's teams ran the ball slightly more than they passed it. In four seasons at Arkansas, they passed the ball slightly more than they ran it. Last season, Western Kentucky ran the ball slightly more. You are correct that whether the run or pass was favored, the split hovered around 55-45. In 2004, 60 percent of the Louisville offense went to rushing attempts. That's the highest it ever went. Last year at Western Kentucky, rushing attempts accounted for 53 percent of the offensive plays. As you point out, the reason people think Petrino chucks it all over the field is because his offenses are more effective at throwing the ball regardless of the split between run and pass. In those nine seasons, the passing offense ranked higher than the rushing offense six times in the NCAA stats. Louisville has depth in the backfield and should be good on the offensive line, so make sure to keep an eye on the Cardinals' running game Monday night.

Cody in Gainesville, Florida, writes: When will the ACC get the credit it deserves in the polls? Texas A&M had to come back from way down to barely beat Duke in the bowl game, then lost their QB, top WR, and others to the draft and are still ranked higher than a Duke team that returns most of their best players. Does this make sense to you?

Adelson: Generally, the polls make little sense. SEC teams get the benefit of the doubt always. Good thing, then, that polls are virtually meaningless in the new College Football Playoff era. I am most interested in see how the selection committee ranks its Top 25. The first set will be unveiled Oct. 28.

Tim Griffith in Blacksburg, Virginia, writes: This new contract won't quell the talk about Frank Beamer. On that I agree. But this season will.

Adelson: As athletic director Whit Babcock told me, time will tell. But as I mentioned last week, this Hokies team is looking like a better choice to win the Coastal with each passing day. We will see whether that is an accurate assessment soon enough.

Richard in Raleigh, North Carolina, writes: Would love to hear your reaction to your colleague's fearless predictions article. I think he might check in at a 20-percent success rate at the of the season, but they were certainly bold.

Adelson: I actually agree with most of what David wrote. I think voters will find a reason not to give Jameis Winston the Heisman unless he is far and away the best candidate in the country. I do not envision that being the case with some of the talented players back for this season. Virginia Tech has grown on me; Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy are good additions for their respective teams. I don't think Stacy Coley will catch passes from three different quarterbacks, and I'm not ready to call UVa a bowl team -- though I think the Hoos will get to five wins. Not sure on six.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney joked this week that he still wakes up seeing images of Georgia’s Todd Gurley sprinting down the sideline on a 75-yard touchdown run early in last year’s matchup between the Tigers and Bulldogs. It’s a tough image to forget.

Yes, Swinney’s team escaped with a 38-35 win, but Gurley and the Georgia ground game looked dominant. Gurley carried just 12 times but racked up 154 yards and two scores. Overall, the Bulldogs ran for 222 yards in the game and scored five times on the ground. That vaunted Clemson defensive front had few answers.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesRunning back Todd Gurley and Georgia's ground game torched Clemson last season.
Now, as the Tigers get set for their return trip to Athens, Georgia, that image of Gurley bursting through the line of scrimmage and outrunning an overwhelmed secondary to the end zone remains front and center.

"It’s like tackling a tree trunk," said Clemson safety Robert Smith.

Finding a way to corral that tree trunk will be Clemson’s top defensive priority Saturday, and it will need to be a team effort.

The strength of Clemson’s defense is its front seven, particularly along the line, and that showed, even during Gurley’s stellar performance a year ago.

Here is a breakdown of Georgia’s rushing performance in last year’s game:


When the Tigers stacked the box and Georgia kept runs between the tackles, a few big plays developed but the Bulldogs’ overall success rate was way down. When Gurley and his cohorts bounced runs outside -- as he did on that 75-yard touchdown sprint -- things got ugly.

The interior of Clemson’s defense remains strong with Grady Jarrett, Josh Watson and Stephone Anthony up the middle, but personnel changes in the secondary and a one-game suspension for defensive end Corey Crawford raise questions about the Tigers’ ability to seal the edges.

That has put an emphasis on fundamentals, defensive coordinator Brent Venables said.

"We didn’t tackle great [last year], gave up too many explosive plays," Venables said. "I know our guys can hold up physically, but your secondary is going to have to tackle well in run support."

Of course, that is easier said than done against a runner like Gurley, whose combination of speed and power makes him tough to catch, let alone bring down.

"Just his combination of size, strength and speed," Jarrett said, "it’s second to none."

Venables likely has a few tricks up his sleeve for this year’s matchup. When Vic Beasley was pressed this week on how much he might work as a stand-up rusher or outside linebacker, he simply grinned.

The line has gotten stronger, too. Clemson’s front seven will feature six senior starters. It’s a unit that led the nation in tackles for loss a year ago.

The other advantage for Clemson this time around is that the Tigers know what’s coming. That can be a double-edged sword, Smith said, but his defense remains confident.

"You can’t let what he did last year affect you this year, but you know what he can do," Smith said. "He’s a tremendous running back. We saw up close and personal. We don’t forget. But we also can’t let that hinder what we’re going to do this season."

There's Shaq Mason and Shaq Lawson. Shaquille Powell and Shaq Wiggins. There's even Shakeel Rashad.

Here a Shaq, there a Shaq, everywhere a Shaq Shaq.

Indeed, there has been a proliferation of Shaqs across the ACC and college football over the last few seasons thanks to Shaquille O'Neal.

What does basketball have to do with football? In this case, when O'Neal emerged as an NBA All-Star, his name started to become popular, too. In 1994, Shaquille was the 234th most popular name in the United States, according to the Social Security names database. Shaquille retained its popularity enough to earn a ranking in 1995 and 1996, too.

Mason was born in 1993, when O'Neal would have been going into his second year in the league with the Orlando Magic. The Georgia Tech guard confirms he was indeed named after Shaq Diesel.

"Every time I met a new person, they were always like, 'Were you named after Shaquille O’Neal?' Mason said. "But growing up, I was the only person around me named Shaquille. I didn’t know any others until I got older."

Mason is the only Shaq in the ACC named to the preseason All-ACC team, but he is not the only standout at his position named Shaq across the country. Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson is a preseason All-American candidate; South Carolina's Shaq Roland is one of the better receivers in the SEC.

Back in ACC country, Shaquille Powell will start at running back for Duke on Saturday against Elon. Lawson is the primary backup to Vic Beasley at Clemson; Wiggins has to sit out this season after transferring to Louisville from Georgia. Though his name is spelled differently, let's count Rashad in here, too. Especially since one of his nicknames is "Shakinabox."

Maybe we can spell that "Shaqinabox" just for this exercise.

Naming babies after athletes is nothing new. The name Jordan also started rising in popularity when Michael Jordan became basketball king. So did the name Peyton, after Peyton Manning emerged at Tennessee and then as a perennial NFL All-Pro.

Makes you wonder whether we will see a new generation of Jameises in 18 years.

The evolution of Florida State’s helmets

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
Florida State HelmetsESPN
Since the start of Florida State's football program 67 years ago, the Seminoles have sported more than 20 styles of helmets, among the most in the NCAA. They've included leather headgear, hand-me-downs from the University of Tampa and a black "warrior" one-off. The tomahawk has appeared on most of them, but the golden, spear-clad design, created by former head coach Bobby Bowden, still endures-it's going into its 38th straight season.

Check out every iteration from 1949 to today here.
Henry Coley and his Virginia teammates have never lost a season opener. But their past four opening games have not presented the challenge they face Saturday.

Virginia must find a way to upset No. 7 UCLA. To do that, the Hoos must find a way to slow down preseason Heisman candidate Brett Hundley.

The good news is the defense faced a similar offensive scheme and mobile quarterback last season when they played Marcus Mariota and Oregon. The bad news is they were rolled 59-10, and Mariota had 323 yards of total offense and three scores.

[+] EnlargeHenry Coley
AP Photo/Steve HelberVirginia linebacker Henry Coley, 44, is excited to face UCLA and quarterback Brett Hundley.
Perhaps there are lessons taken away from that matchup that can be applied to this one to help change the outcome. Coley said he began watching tape on Hundley in the spring, and re-watched the Oregon game tape to find ways Virginia can play better.

"Hundley, he’s a helluva athlete," Coley said in a recent phone interview. "He’s a big guy, physical kid and he can run like a deer. We’ve faced guys like that before, like the Mariotas of the world. We have to make sure we’re defensively sound when it comes to defending him.

"That means making sure you stay in your gaps ... at any moment he could read it, being the athletic guy he is, and just take off. We can’t allow that to happen."

Mariota did that last year, running for a 71-yard touchdown on the opening drive of the game.

"There were a lot of mental errors we made in that game, also," Coley said. "We’re light years ahead of where we were last year when we were facing these types of teams. We just have to be comfortable in the schemes, be comfortable with what the coaches are telling you. You can’t have wandering eyes when you’re playing against an offense like this. On any given play, they’re running three plays in one. They could run, pass or throw a bubble screen. You just take care of your assignments and get after it."

As the middle linebacker, Coley will take on added responsibility in trying to defend Hundley, who had nearly 4,000 yards of offense a season ago. Not only will Coley have to make the calls for the defense, he also will have to be the one to keep an eye on where Hundley goes.

Coley has grown as a player since the Oregon game last year, so the hope is he will play a huge role in the matchup.

"You can try to simulate, you can try to get guys to be him in practice, you can try all types of things and watch film, but when you actually play a player of his caliber, you just have to be very alert and aware of your rush lanes, coverages, just so many things you have to pay attention to because he is such a dynamic player," coach Mike London said.

The defense believes it has grown, too. Now that players are in the second year under Jon Tenuta, Coley says everybody has a much better comfort level. Coaches, too. They know what their players can do, so they also spent the offseason tailoring the defensive calls to the personnel they have.

"We know what we want to get accomplished," Coley said. "I’m very excited and enthusiastic about what our defense has to bring for the season."

First on the agenda would be another season-opening win.

Grady Jarrett overlooked no more

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
Grady Jarrett's looks are deceiving. He’s a squat 6-foot-1 and, on most days, he’s pushing 300 pounds so that when pads and a helmet supplement his physique, he looks about as wide as he is tall, the type of interior lineman opposing rushers need a road map to find their way around.

But it’s an optical illusion. Strip away the pads and the jersey and there is a chiseled warrior underneath, an athlete in the strictest sense.

"I saw him the other day with his shirt off, and he’s ripped," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.

[+] EnlargeGrady Jarrett
AP Photo/ Richard ShiroAccording to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, the determination showed by Grady Jarrett, left, has made an impression on the entire team.
Indeed, Jarrett, the senior defensive tackle for the No. 16 Tigers, is meticulous about his body. He watches what he eats. He trains methodically. He monitors his sleep schedule. He is, as Swinney concluded, "completely committed."

Yet, it’s Jarrett’s body that has been the evidence critics have used against him again and again, starting with the team he is set to face in Clemson’s season opener Saturday, Georgia. Jarrett, who grew up in Conyers, Ga., wanted to play college football at Georgia, but the Bulldogs simply weren’t interested.

"You always know about Georgia growing up," Jarrett said. "You see the 'G' everywhere. But they didn’t really want me like that."

It was easy to dismiss Jarrett as too short, too slow, too ordinary, and when he was coming out of high school, there were plenty of schools that fell for that illusion.

ESPN ranked Jarrett as the No. 80 defensive tackle in the nation. He was the 22nd-ranked player in Clemson’s 2011 signing class, which included receiver Sammy Watkins and linebacker Stephone Anthony and four other defensive linemen. Mississippi State was the only other Power Five school to show much interest, never mind the 198 tackles, 63 for loss, and 27.5 sacks he accrued in his final two seasons at Rockdale County High School.

"The perception of me from a lot of people coming up through recruiting wasn’t really good at all," Jarrett said. "And it’s something I used to take personally."

But Clemson didn’t buy into the illusion. Swinney watched the film, saw how Jarrett used that undersized physique to create leverage against opposing linemen. He saw the pedigree, that Jarrett was the son of former NFL linebacker Jessie Tuggle, that he was a protege of Ray Lewis, a man Jarrett refers to as an uncle. He saw the drive of a player everyone else said was too small carrying a massive chip on his shoulder.

For Swinney, Jarrett was a hidden gem.

Of course, back then, Clemson needed all the help it could get on defense. In Jarrett’s freshman season he played just 61 snaps. The Tigers’ defense was a disaster, culminating with an embarrassing 70-33 thumping at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. But the Tigers’ D and Jarrett were both works in progress, and Swinney knew the finished product would be special.

As a sophomore, Jarrett worked his way into the starting lineup. He recorded 10 quarterback pressures, 8.5 TFLs and helped the Tigers’ defense move from 85th in the nation in TFLs to 30th. A year later, he was even better, making 83 tackles, including 11 behind the line of scrimmage, for a defense that led the nation in TFLs.

Jarrett wrestled in high school, and he used those skills against his opposition. He turned his undersized frame to an advantage, a short guy in a game where getting low is optimal.

"He’s probably one of the lower athletes I’ve gone against," said Clemson center Ryan Norton. "He’s very athletic, and his pad level is unbelievable."

Slowly but surely, the perceptions of Jarrett began to change, and those teams that dismissed him so easily were forced to take notice.

"People see what I can do now," Jarrett said. "I feel like it was up to me to change that perception. I believe I have, and now I’m trying to capitalize off it."

Even after two strong seasons, however, Jarrett toils largely in the shadows. In a conference loaded with top defensive tackles last season, Jarrett wasn’t considered on the same level as Aaron Donald or Timmy Jernigan. Even in his own locker room, Anthony and Vic Beasley get the bulk of the defensive hype.

But the people who know him, who know the program -- they understand.

"If I was going to start a program right now, I’d pick Grady Jarrett first and build everything else around that guy," Swinney said. "He’s that impactful. His worth ethic, his drive, his ability to hold other people accountable and lift others up, and that chip he has on his shoulder -- he’s special."

To hear his coach and teammates talk, Jarrett is the best player in the country no one seems to know about, and that is a label he’s happy to embrace.

Jarrett isn’t flashy. He doesn’t want to be. Instead, he is focused on every minor detail, determined to get it all right. On a team that boasts nearly two dozen seniors, on a defensive front that includes eight seniors in the two-deep, that work ethic has made Jarrett the unquestioned leader.

"When he says something, everybody’s attention is drawn to Grady," said Beasley, an All-American who led the ACC in sacks last season. "He’s a very vocal leader, and he just does it by example also. He’s good in the classroom and on the field. He keeps us going. He’s that main guy on the defense that gets us hyped and keeps us going."

It’s a role Jarrett has embraced this season. In truth, he’s not quite sure how it came about. He simply showed up, did his work, spoke out when he needed to and listened when the others talked. It came naturally, but it feels good to finally get the respect he's deserved.

"If your peers look to you for guidance, that’s the ultimate respect," Jarrett said. "Being able to go to Vic or Stephone and they take to it, that’s really humbling for me."

As Jarrett gets set to kick off his senior season against Georgia’s explosive ground game Saturday, he insists he is not out for revenge, not hoping to prove a point to another team that rejected him. He has all the love he needs now.

But there is that tinge of bitterness, that knowledge that this is his last chance to remind the school down the road from his boyhood home that it missed out on something special.

"There’s always a little extra incentive," he finally relented.

But there’s more ahead, plenty of other last chances to make his mark before his college career ends and a fresh round of evaluations by scouts and coaches and critics begins. There is so much more he wants to accomplish.

There is a sense of desperation to this season, Jarrett said, and that is something his coach doesn’t mind hearing.

Still, Swinney was never one of the critics, never fooled by the illusion. The chip on Jarrett’s shoulder drives him, so Swinney won’t knock it off. Still, he knows this isn’t the end for Jarrett. It’s the beginning.

"He’ll play for a while on the next level," Swinney said. “I know he’s not sexy looking. He’s not 6-3. But he’ll outplay all of them guys."

ACC morning links

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
Louisiana-Monroe might have been the ones wearing camouflage uniforms, but Wake Forest's offense was the one that was hard to find.

The Demon Deacons tallied 94 yards of total offense. They notched five first downs. They surrendered seven sacks.

All of it added up to a 17-10 loss that puts further emphasis on just how much of an uphill climb the Deacs have ahead of them in Year 1 of the Dave Clawson era.

Wake actually jumped to a 10-0 lead, kick-started by a punt block that Kevin Johnson recovered in the end zone. Its defense was stout most of the night, holding ULM to 352 total yards and forcing a turnover.

Pete Thomas -- formerly of NC State and Colorado State -- had a 9-yard touchdown run with 3:37 that proved to be the difference-maker for the Warhawks.

Wake gets Gardner-Webb at home next Saturday night, as sure of a chance as any for its offensive line to find its footing and give true freshman John Wolford a chance to make some some progress. Still, it could be a long year in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Thursday did little to alleviate many of the concerns facing the Deacs this offseason.

As for the rest of the ACC ...

Louisiana Monroe 17, Wake Forest 10

August, 29, 2014
Aug 29
Louisiana Monroe's Pete Thomas scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 9-yard run with 3:37 to play in the fourth quarter, giving the host Warhawks a 17-10 victory over Wake Forest. Wake Forest was held to minus-3 rushing yards and finished with just 94 yards of total offense.

ACC bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
If predicting the order of finish in each division is tough duty this time of year, figuring out the bowl scenarios is an even crazier endeavor. Still, we'll take a crack at it each week of the season, beginning with our preseason projections.

A few quick caveats:
  • If the Orange Bowl selects a Big Ten team this year, a spot would open up in the Capital One Bowl for the ACC. We're not banking on that just yet.
  • Either the TaxSlayer Bowl or Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl gets an ACC team, but not both. For the purposes of our preseason projections, we're slotting a team into the TaxSlayer Bowl, but that could change down the road.
  • For bowl selection purposes, Notre Dame is treated as an ACC team, meaning the Fighting Irish will grab one of the conference's tie-ins unless it is invited to the College Football Playoff.
  • The Birmingham Bowl serves as a backup for the ACC should enough teams become eligible. We're not projecting that yet either.
  • After the playoff committee makes its selections and the Orange Bowl makes its pick, the Russell Athletic gets the next choice of teams. After that, the next group of four work together to decide on selections with geography and a fan base's likelihood to travel to the game playing a role. We attempted to account for that below.

With all that said, here's our best guess at what awaits the ACC in December and January.

College Football Playoff: Florida State Seminoles
Orange Bowl (Miami): Clemson Tigers
Russell Athletic Bowl (Orlando, Florida): Virginia Tech
TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Florida): Miami
Belk Bowl (Charlotte, North Carolina): North Carolina
Hyundai Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas): Louisville
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx, New York): Notre Dame
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman (Annapolis, Maryland): Pitt
Duck Commander Independence Bowl (Shreveport, Louisiana): Duke
Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit): Syracuse
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: Georgia Tech

Chat wrap: CFB Opening Day Live

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
After nearly eight long months, college football is back in our lives. To celebrate tonight's opening slate of games, 12 of our writers chatted it up with you the fans for three hours.

Here's how it went...

It’s impossible to debate the 2014 season for Syracuse without the discussion eventually boiling down to this: Terrel Hunt is the ultimate wild card.

Earlier this summer, Dyshawn Davis told us that the Orange would go only as far as Hunt could take them.

Earlier this week, coach Scott Shafer said he was sleeping better at night, knowing the offense was in good hands with Hunt.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipSyracuse QB Terrel Hunt is looking to benefit from improved throwing mechanics this season.
The stats from last season, however, might warrant a few more sleepless nights.

As a runner in 2013, Hunt was pretty good, and his legs clearly helped Syracuse win enough football games to finish its inaugural ACC season with a winning record.

As a passer, however, Hunt was pretty bad.

Throw out his first two starts against Wagner and Tulane — two clearly overmatched opponents that the Orange pounded by a combined score of 106-17 — and it’s hard to see how Syracuse could be overly enthusiastic going into 2014. In 10 games against teams from AQ conferences, Hunt completed 58 percent of his throws, averaged 5.1 yards per attempt and tossed just three TDs to go with eight interceptions.

How bad are those numbers?

Among the 269 QBs in the last five years who attempted at least 200 passes against AQ teams, here’s where Hunt ranks:

  • His 5.1 yards per attempt is the third worst
  • His 8.8 yards per completions is the second worst
  • His rate of 1 TD pass every 78 attempts is the second worst
  • His passer rating of 98.3 is the sixth worst

So, why is Syracuse so optimistic that Hunt can develop into a legitimate passing threat in 2014?

“His elbow is way up,” quarterbacks coach Tim Lester said. “[Last year], he had a tendency to be a little bit below 90 degrees, he’d have a sore elbow and he wouldn’t get his hand on top of the ball. The ball would end up sailing on him, and he wasn’t able to throw the deep ball very well, and that also caused him to over-stride a little bit. It was really all one thing. Keep your elbow up and your hand on top of the ball, and you’ll have control over anything you want to do. And he did it. He could see it on film. I think he understands it now. He believes it. He can feel it. It hasn’t been an issue this year.”

Lester said he tried to work on some of the mechanical flaws in Hunt’s delivery last year, but the quarterback had been thrown into the fire, taking over the starting job in Week 4, and messing with technique is tough in season.

When the season ended, however, Lester and Hunt went to work.

Hunt’s coaches rave about his work ethic and willingness to make adjustments. His athleticism is impressive enough that he’s capable of making plays with his legs, which should open up more passing opportunities, and he’s smart enough to understand how to read a defense and go through his progressions.

In fact, if there was one encouraging sign amid all the ugly stats last year, it was that Hunt always knew why he’d made a mistake.

“There were deep balls he took shots at, it was the right time to take a shot, and he just wasn’t able to put it where he wanted to,” Lester said. “Late in the year, he’d come off the field and tell me exactly what was going on, he was seeing it all, and that’s a good sign for the future.”

Still, it’s fair to wonder if Syracuse’s optimism is misplaced. After all, how many quarterbacks who posted numbers as bad as Hunt’s managed to turn things around?

If we look from 2008 through last season at every QB who attempted at least 200 passes versus AQ competition, completed fewer than 60 percent of those attempts, averaged less than 6 yards per attempt and threw more INTs than TDs, we get 16 names.

Oddly, five of those seasons came last year, including Hunt and another QB in the ACC — David Watford at Virginia. Three more were seniors, so we can’t collect any data on how they performed the following year. So that leaves us with eight QBs who posted numbers similar to Hunt’s and had an opportunity to come back the next season in hopes of improving.

Here’s the list:

So, how’d they do the year after those dismal seasons?

The ugly

Craft lost his starting job in 2009 and attempted just 107 passes, with largely the same results (56.1 percent completions, 6.7 YPA, 2 TD, 3 INT).

The same was true for Smith, who threw 96 passes and was just as bad as a senior (57.3, 5.7, 3 TD, 6 INT).

McEntee attempted just 25 passes his senior season after being passed on the depth chart by sophomore Chandler Whitmer.

Fouch threw just one pass the rest of his career.

And, it’s worth noting, that Watford lost his job at Virginia, too.

The bad comparisons

Scheelhaase was a junior when he had his ugly year in 2012. He was on a terrible team, and his numbers suffered. But he’d started as both a freshman and sophomore and posted solid stats, so when his numbers jumped to 66.7 percent completions, 7.6 YPA and a 21-to-13 TD:INT ratio last year, it was more a return to his career norms than a sudden leap in ability.

It’s the same story for Yates, who was far from great as a freshman and sophomore, but showed signs of promise, starting games both seasons. As a senior, he put together his best season, completing 66.4 percent of his passes against AQ schools, including 16 TDs and just eight picks.

The mixed bag

Gilbert’s story is already pretty well known. After his tough sophomore season in 2010, he played in just two games for Texas in 2011. In 2012, he transferred to SMU and showed some mild improvement, tossing 15 TDs to go with 15 INTs, but still completed just 53 percent of his passes and averaged a lousy 5.8 yards per attempt.

But as a senior in 2013, he put it all together, upping his completion percentage to 66.5, his YPA to 7.0 and tossing 21 touchdowns to just seven INTs. Of course, the level of competition for SMU probably won’t match exactly what Hunt will see in the ACC this year.

The happy ending

The crown jewel of the list is Ponder, and he might be Hunt’s best comparison.

Like Hunt, Ponder was thrown into the fire as a sophomore at Florida State. Like Hunt, he was praised for being an incredibly smart QB with exceptional leadership skills and good athleticism. Like Hunt, his problems came more from being raw rather than untalented.

When Ponder returned for his junior season, he looked like a different player. His completion percentage against AQ teams jumped from 54.8 to 68.4. His YPA jumped from 5.8 to 8.2. As a sophomore, he threw 8 TDs and 13 picks against AQ competition. A year later, he reversed those numbers — 12 touchdowns, 7 interceptions. By the time he was a senior in 2010, Ponder was a legitimate prospect, and he ended up being selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Is that the future for Hunt?

Obviously that’s a lofty standard, but perhaps it’s not unattainable. The quest begins this week against Villanova, but Syracuse’s coaches and Hunt’s teammates already believe they know the ending.
Larry Fedora finds a certain amusement in toying with the media, as evidenced by his quip earlier this week that he hasn't named a starting quarterback simply because it annoys his interrogators.

So perhaps it was that same devilish sentiment that led Fedora to offer reporters at last month’s ACC Kickoff a chance to line up against his new running back for a few tackling drills. Or maybe it was simply that the power of Elijah Hood needs to be experienced to be believed.

Either way, his point was clear: Being on the wrong side of a blow from the UNC freshman is not a pleasant experience.

[+] EnlargeElijah Hood
AP Photo/The Herald-Sun, Christine T. NguyenElijah Hood, right, will bring a physical presence to the Tar Heels' rushing attack.
“Hood is like a bull in a china closet,” Fedora said. “He’s 225 pounds, he’s got great speed and he likes to run into things. When he breaks through, he’s not looking to avoid contact. He’s looking for something to run into — our team, their team, it doesn’t matter. He just wants something to hit.”

As North Carolina gets set to open the 2014 season, Hood is currently listed as one of three backups to starter T.J. Logan, but that’s hardly an indication that the freshman will lack opportunities to deliver punishment on the field.

The Tar Heels’ backfield is diverse, with Logan playing the part of Hood’s polar opposite, a shifty, 185-pound speedster. Logan is the Ferrari. Hood is the bulldozer.

“He’s bringing the power to our backfield,” Logan said. “When DBs come up to make tackles, they’re going to have to adjust to Elijah.”

That can be a difficult adjustment, with bruisers like Andre Williams (6-0, 227) running wild last year, and a host of big backs gearing up for big seasons this year, including Florida State’s Karlos Williams (6-1, 225), Louisville’s Dominique Brown (6-2, 233), Miami’s Gus Edwards (6-1, 221), Syracuse’s Adonis Ameen-Moore (5-11, 246), and Pitt’s James Conner (6-2, 250), who also plans to play a bit at defensive end.

Even among the new faces in the conference, Hood isn’t alone in his role as battering ram. Virginia Tech has freshmen Marshawn Williams (5-11, 229) and Shai McKenzie (5-11, 221), while Louisville backs up Brown with another big back in L.J. Scott (6-1, 228).

But Hood may be the first of the true freshmen to garner a major role this season, and his presence could be a huge benefit for the Tar Heels. Fedora raved about how quickly the freshman picked up blocking schemes and blitz pickups -- “faster than any freshman I’ve had,” he said -- and Hood’s role as a between-the-tackles runner is a significant asset.

Last year, UNC had the lowest rushing average in the ACC on third-and-short runs and the fourth-lowest third-and-short conversion rate. The Heels scored on just 13 of 31 rushing attempts from inside the 5-yard line, according to ESPN Stats & Information. They also lost their biggest back from 2013 in A.J. Blue.

As the team looks to establish its ground game this season, Hood’s presence presents options.

“He’s special,” Fedora said. “What’s his role going to be? It’s hard to say that. He’s going to play in the first game and his production will determine how much he plays in the next game.”

That’s the game plan for each of North Carolina’s four primary backs, Fedora said. There’s a plan in place for touches and substitutions, but none of it is etched in stone. If Logan or Romar Morris or Khris Francis looks particularly sharp, they’ll keep getting the ball. And if it’s Hood that steals the bulk of the carries, that’s fine too.

“I have confidence in him from what I’ve seen, but there’s still some unknown,” Fedora said. “But I’m excited to see him out there.”
North Carolina defensive tackle Ethan Farmer has been cleared to play by the NCAA after having his eligibility issue resolved, the school announced Thursday.

Farmer, who started 13 games last season, is the only returning starting defensive lineman on the team. This is especially big news, considering fellow linemen Shawn Underwood and Greg Webb are no longer part of the program.

During the ACC coaches' call Wednesday, coach Larry Fedora described just how important Farmer is to the line when asked what the Tar Heels would do without him.

"There's the most experienced guy that we've had in the interior defensive line, going into his senior year. It will just make an opportunity for some younger guys to
step up and grow up even quicker."

While the Tar Heels got good news on that front, they still will be without four suspended defensive players Saturday against Liberty. Starting cornerbacks Desmond Lawrence and Brian Walker, redshirt freshman Donnie Miles and true freshman M.J. Stewart are all out.

Kickoff Live: Week 1

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28

To watch Kickoff Live on you mobile device click here.
Mark Schlabach, Heather Dinich and Ted Miller join host Chantel Jennings to preview Week 1 of the college football season that will for the first time end in a four-team playoff.

ACC Week 1 predictions

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
Why Clemson will win: Defense. It wins championships, right? It will win this game for the Tigers, who led the nation in tackles for loss last season and return every single major contributor to the group. An improved front seven means better results slowing down Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the two players Clemson needs to slow down the most. Rather than the shootout we saw a year ago, the defenses will have a much bigger role this season. Right now, Clemson is better than Georgia there, so I'm calling for the upset.
-- Andrea Adelson

Why Georgia will win: Early-season games against nationally recognized teams have not been kind to Georgia coach Mark Richt over the years (see: Clemson, Oklahoma State, Boise State, South Carolina x 2), so the law of averages says he has to win some, right? Well, there's more than just cosmic balancing in the Bulldogs' favor. While the Tigers made huge gains on defense a season ago, they also allowed an average of 38 points per game against Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and South Carolina. We're not quite sure what to expect out of new Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason, but the duo of Gurley and Marshall at running back is unmatched anywhere else in the country. Last season's game might have played out differently had Gurley not strained a quad on a 75-yard touchdown run.
-- Jared Shanker

Why Miami will win: Duke Johnson changes everything for the Canes, as he keeps their offense moving and takes plenty of pressure off Brad Kaaya. Likewise, the loss of DeVante Parker takes plenty of punch out of Louisville's offense. A new coach, a new league and a new quarterback create too much uncertainty around a Cardinals team that has the target on its back after embarrassing Miami last time around. -- Matt Fortuna

Why Louisville will win: It's not that I'm supremely confident in this pick, but the Cardinals have a few things going for them. First, it's a marquee game for the program, its first as a member of the ACC. Secondly, while a lot has changed on defense for Louisville, it was the top-ranked rushing D in the country last season, which should help Todd Grantham's crew deal with the dynamic Duke Johnson. Most important, however, at quarterback Miami is starting a true freshman in his first career game on the road in a frenzied atmosphere. It won't be a gimme, but Louisville will pull off the victory. -- David Hale

Upset pick of the week

Why ULM will win: ULM has three advantages: It beat Wake Forest a year ago and is familiar with some of the returning personnel; the WarHawks bring back 14 starters; and they are playing at home. Wake Forest is starting true freshmen at quarterback and center. It's never easy to go on the road and make your first career start, let alone on national television. Factor in all the youth and inexperience for the Deacs, and you see why ULM has the edge. -- Andrea Adelson

More consensus picks: Syracuse over Villanova; Pittsburgh over Delaware; UCLA over Virginia; Georgia Tech over Wofford; NC State over Georgia Southern; Boston College over UMass; Virginia Tech over William & Mary; Duke over Elon; North Carolina over Liberty; Florida State over Oklahoma State