ACC: Clemson Tigers

Q&A with Clemson DE Shaq Lawson

March, 27, 2015
Mar 27

Vic Beasley is gone, but Clemson doesn't expect to take much of a step back at defensive end. Junior Shaq Lawson will be stepping into a starting role after being a key backup the past two years, accumulating 21.5 tackles for loss in the process. We caught up with Lawson after Clemson's first spring scrimmage this week -- he had three sacks -- to see how his transition into the starting lineup is going and how coordinator Brent Venables is bringing along the rest of the defense.

David Hale: Has it felt different this spring knowing you're going to be a focal point of the defensive front?

Shaq Lawson: Oh, yes. I figured out it was my time during the offseason. It’s my time to lead because I’m a vet now on the defense.

Hale: Were able to learn a lot about this role from playing with Vic for the past two years?

[+] EnlargeShaq Lawson
AP Photo/John RaouxShaq Lawson is ready to be a star player for Clemson after providing big plays as a reserve the last two seasons.

Lawson: I learned a lot from Vic, and it’s paid off really this spring. Speed, my pass rush has gotten better. That’s my whole goal going into this season is to get better as a pass rusher.

Hale: Even with Vic as the starter, you were in for more than one-third of the snaps last season. Do you expect to take a heavier share of the workload as the starter than Vic did last year?

Lawson: Yeah, I expect to play a lot of snaps.

Hale: How important is it to get some of the younger guys ready to fill the role that you played last season, stepping into the rotation on the D line?

Lawson: I feel like those guys are stepping up great. Ebo [Ogundeko] is having a great spring and will help us a lot on the pass rush. That’s one guy that’s definitely going to help us a lot this year.

Hale: The guys who left, they played together for a long time and really knew each other well. How has the chemistry been on the line for you and the new starters?

Lawson: That’s what we’ve been doing this offseason, just building a relationship with each other. We’re hanging out as a D-line, building that core and just hanging around each other and bringing the young guys with us.

Hale: What kind of things have you been doing?

Lawson: Playing video games, talking, chilling with each other. We’re always with each other on the weekends. We eat, go out to dinner. We’re a family. We’re trying to build a family bond on the D-line.

Hale: Last year's defense set a pretty high standard, leading the nation in a number of key categories. Do you guys have similar goals?

Lawson: I’ve said there’s no drop off with us. We’re going to continue to bring it. All of us have played in a lot of big games, made big plays in big games. I don’t feel like there’s a drop off. We’ll live up to it, we just have to continue to work hard and get better. We’ll have that goal again of being the No. 1 defense in the nation.

Hale: With so much turnover in personnel, has Coach Venables changed his approach at all during spring practice?

Lawson: Oh no, no. Coach V is the same. He pushes us, comes to work every day to get us better and give us the stuff to make us better. He’s hungry. He’s a hungry coach. That’s what I like about Coach V. There’s no drop off. He doesn’t care who left. He’s doing the same work with us.

Hale: The defensive backs did a nice job last season, but they obviously benefitted from the success of the guys up front. Do you think their experience this season in the back end of the D can now help the younger guys on the line get acclimated?

Lawson: Yeah, those same DBs -- [Jayron] Kearse and Mackensie [Alexander]. Jadar [Johnson] is stepping up for us. T.J. Green. They played all last year and got great chemistry, and they’re going to help us a lot -- hold their coverage and let us get sacks.

video The Clemson Tigers continue to prove to be one of the top recruiting staffs in the country. After signing the No. 4-ranked class in February, Dabo Swinney and his staff are at it again. With three ESPN Junior 300 prospects already committed, including, No. 12 Tavien Feaster, the Tigers added another huge pledge Thursday in Rahshaun Smith. Smith joins No. 135 Tavares Chase as Tigers commits from IMG Academy.

By the numbers: Clemson's DBs

March, 26, 2015
Mar 26

Last year, the No. 1 passing defense in the country belonged to Clemson.

This shouldn't be a huge surprise. The Tigers' defense was tops in the nation in 11 categories, and its 157 passing yards per game and 5.3 yards per attempt averages were just the icing on the cake.

But the common wisdom is, despite returning a hefty dose of young talent in that secondary, it's a unit that's apt to take a step back in 2015. The reason is the loss of stars like Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Stephone Anthony in the front seven.

"They need to be better than what they were," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "That ball may not come out [as fast]. They'll need to be tighter in their coverage, play better awareness and eliminate some mistakes. They need to make marked improvement."

If Venables says it, it's surely true. Then again, the engineer of Clemson's remarkable defense doesn't mind using blunt pessimism as a means of motivation. Venables wants Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse and Co. to get better, regardless of how good they were a year ago.

But there should be no question that this secondary is ready to play a leading role in 2015 after enjoying the spoils of Beasley’s pass rush in 2014. In fact, the numbers suggest that, even if Clemson's front seven hadn't been so dominant last year, the secondary would've been awfully good.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Clemson's D affected the quarterback (via either a sack or a hurry) on 29.6 percent of dropbacks last season, which ranked second in the ACC to Virginia Tech. That type of disruption obviously helps the DBs -- forcing the ball out faster and increasing the probability of an offline throw.

But what about the other 70 percent of the time when the quarterback wasn't under pressure?

The numbers show a pretty consistent performance for the Tigers' DBs regardless of the pass rush, with the ACC's lowest yards per attempt and fewest plays of 20-plus yards.

When the QB remained in the pocket, no team allowed a lower completion percentage than Clemson (53.7 percent) and the Tigers' YPA allowed (5.5) was nearly a yard better than any other ACC defense.

In other words, this was a secondary that held up well in coverage.

"I felt this way last year," Kearse said. "We want to show that we're the most talented on the field every time we step out there. It was great to have those guys up front and do what they did, but we held our own in the back end -- and we're going to do the same this year."

Still, Venables' concerns aren't without merit.

Last year, Clemson brought more than four rushers on just 24.7 percent of passing plays, according to ESPN. That was among the lowest rates in the ACC, a course made possible because Beasley and the rest of the line were so effective without additional help. That strategy might not be as effective this season, and Venables said he's willing to open things up if necessary.

"If four doesn't get there, you bring five," he said. "If five doesn't, you bring six. If you're desperate, bring seven. We're aggressive by nature. We want to be able to get there out of our base, but we're not afraid to bring pressure."

So there might be more times this season when the corners are left out on an island, and after Clemson's first spring scrimmage Wednesday, Venables wasn't entirely enthusiastic with his options there.

But perhaps the biggest worry for Venables isn't the shortcomings of Clemson's DBs when the pressure isn't there, but rather the amazing success when it was.

As good as Clemson performed when opposing QBs had time to throw, the numbers when they were hurried were absolutely off the charts -- an 18.1 percent completions percentage, 2.0 yards per attempt, no touchdowns and just one completion of more than 20 yards.

Clemson had 83 such plays last year. If that number is cut significantly in 2015, even those same solid stats the Tigers managed in non-pressure situations last year would be a serious step back.

So perhaps it's not fair to say that the DBs will suffer if the pass rush isn't as good. The numbers suggest they won't. What's more accurate is that if the pass rush isn't there as often in 2015, the DBs simply need to do more to make up for that lost production.

ACC morning links

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25

We at the ACC blog would like to welcome Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer back to the sideline. Beamer, in his 29th season as the Hokies' coach, spent the December bowl game coaching from the press box following throat surgery.

The Daily Press writes Beamer's voice is still working its way back, but he still possessed the same fervor while talking about his team.

Here are a handful of links around the ACC for your morning:

  • A search firm will present a list of candidates for the Pittsburgh athletic director position to the school's search committee in the coming weeks.
  • Clemson linebacker B.J. Goodson feels comfortable filling the shoes of departed leader Stephone Anthony.
  • Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and son Tommy, who coached Clemson, will be part of a new travel show called "Bobby Bowden Goes to War." The documentary brings the Bowdens to Europe to highlight World War II stories.
  • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said he is confident the school will make a strong athletic director hire.
  • With hardly any experience returning at A-back, it feels like the beginning of the Paul Johnson era in Atlanta all over again for the unit.
  • Here are 10 Miami players that could become much bigger factors in 2015.
  • Louisville is splitting first-team reps at quarterback as spring practice gets underway. The Cardinals have a major question mark at quarterback.
  • The defense was a little ahead of the offense at NC State on Tuesday, due in part to numbers.
  • Prized signee C.J. Stalker is looking to adjust quickly for Virginia.

ACC morning links

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24

Much of the conversation in the ACC surrounds Florida State's quarterback situation -- past, present and future. While Sean Maguire impresses coaches and teammates with his performance this spring through the first few practices, his predecessor remains in the news and his potential successor is making headlines.

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the favorite to go No. 1 overall, is leaning toward spending the draft with his family in Alabama rather than travel to Chicago, his father told last week. caught up with Roger Goodell and posted a story Monday in which Goodell said he would respect Winston's desire to watch the draft with those close to him.

"I think that it’s something we respect when a player says, “I’d like to be with my family on that day.” It’s an important day for them also," Goodell to

Many wondered if the NFL would pressure Winston into attending the draft, but unless something changes, both parties are fine with skipping out on Chicago.

Winston was the No. 1 quarterback nationally in the 2012 recruiting class, and four years later, Florida State is bringing in the top-ranked prep quarterback again. Malik Henry, who recently transferred to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, participated in a regional camp for Nike The Opening. Henry, No. 3 overall in the 2016 class, was named one of the regional camp's MVPs and received an invitation to The Opening, which is held in July in Beaverton, Oregon.

ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer also leads the Elite 11, an elite passing camp for the top high school quarterbacks, and was on hand at the Atlanta regional to evaluate the quarterbacks. He told SB Nation Henry was "as dominant as any kid we had this year."

  • A top Syracuse 2015 signee is still working to academically qualify for the fall. Also, Orange is making a return in the Orange's jersey.
  • Boston College added a commitment from Brandon Barlow (subscription required).
  • Former Miami linebacker Alex Figueroa is lucky to have a second chance, but he is not off to a good start. He posted an expletive-laced video last week in which he burned a Miami flag. Figueroa and former Miami teammate JaWand Blue were permanently dismissed from the university last summer after admitting to police they sexually assaulted an intoxicated Miami student. In November, they avoided jail time by being placed in a pre-trial diversion program, which prosecution sought after the victim did not want to relive the experience in court.
  • Clemson was back on the practice field Monday after nearly two weeks off for the Tigers' spring break.
  • Five priorities for Georgia Tech this spring as practice began Monday (subscription required).
  • Here are a few notes gleaned from Bobby Petrino's news conference to open spring practice, which begins Tuesday.
  • The Pitt defense is working to pick up new coach Pat Narduzzi's schemes and principles. It's going to be a process.


ACC morning links

March, 20, 2015
Mar 20

Could an immediate reinforcement be on the way for Florida State's re-tooling offensive line? This weekend may go a long way toward determining that.

Former Notre Dame center Matt Hegarty is visiting Tallahassee on Friday through Sunday, the Orlando Sentinel's Brendan Sonnone reports. Hegarty confirmed his planned FSU visit to

Hegarty started 11 of 13 games last year for the Fighting Irish, at center and at guard. He had told earlier this month that he planned to play football elsewhere upon receiving his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame this May. Hegarty will be immediately eligible to play wherever he ends up.

Hegarty had said that he was asked to switch positions, and Irish coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday that Hegarty would have had the opportunity to be the team's starting left guard. He is presumably looking to play center at his next stop, and that is one of several positions up for grabs on the Seminoles' offensive line, which lost four of five starters from last season.

Ryan Hoefield is currently the projected man in the middle of the Noles' line, though he struggled last season in limited action as a redshirt freshman.

As for who Hegarty or any other center would be snapping the ball to at FSU in 2015, well, that storyline figures to dominate the conversation throughout the spring and likely the summer.

Here are the rest of your Friday links:

The state of Florida is generally loaded with playmakers at wide receiver. In fact, over the last five years, the state has produced at least eight ESPN 300 prospects in every class. This year’s group of wide receivers just might top them all. An astounding 15 wideouts from the Sunshine State are listed in the ESPN Junior 300. It’s the deepest wide receiver class to come out of Florida in recent memory.

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From Florida State and Clemson to Miami and Boston College, offensive lines will be a big talking point for many ACC offenses this spring. But in Blacksburg, Virginia, Frank Beamer’s crew is actually feeling a bit optimistic.

As the Roanoke Times writes in its preview of the position, this marks the first time in the past four years that Virginia Tech has had the same O-line coach -- and recruiting, development and scheme philosophies -- which once again has the line firmly in the spotlight.

From the Times:

This group has been treading water for a few years, trying to dig out of a numbers deficiency and talent gap that's been been apparent whenever the Hokies played against even decent defensive lines.

It’s no secret that Virginia Tech hasn’t met expectations for the past three years, and while there have been plenty of areas that needed improvement, it’s hard to argue that the offensive line hasn’t been the most overwhelming problem.

For example, here are some crucial line-related numbers for Virginia Tech since 2012:

  • 42nd among 65 Power 5 teams in sack rate (6.4 percent)
  • tied for 62nd in yards per carry (4.27, not counting sacks)
  • 60th in touchdowns per rush (3.3 percent)
  • 60th in percentage of rushes going for a loss or no gain (21.5 percent)
  • 54th in yards per play on first down (5.32)
  • 60th in third- and fourth-and-short conversions (54.5 percent)

Those are all pretty atrocious results, which might explain why a line that figures to look quite a bit different in 2015 is also one that has a lot more enthusiasm surrounding it.

Stacy Searels has a track record of success building lines. Wyatt Teller was a revelation in the second half of 2014. Depth, for the first time in years, is an asset. And, of course, this year might also represent the best cast of skill-position players surrounding the line in years.

In other words, while FSU is hoping Wilson Bell can emerge as a star and Miami is excited to have Kc McDermott back in the fold, there may not be any ACC team with more focus on the offensive line this spring. And if that unit really does take a big step forward, there’s reason to think that Virginia Tech can, at long last, return to that 10-win plateau that had once been the norm.

A few more links:

Boston College fans who'd been eagerly anticipating the team's annual spring game are probably a bit disappointed with news that the team has nixed the exhibition in favor of an open scrimmage. Most fans, on the other hand, probably aren't sure what the difference is regardless.

For the second time in three years, the Eagles have opted against holding a traditional spring game, a decision coach Steve Addazio explained as a necessity to get his team ready:

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesCoach Steve Addazio prefers his team hold an open scrimmage instead of just the annual spring game.

"These adjustments are meant to best serve our team," Addazio said in a statement released by the school. "We understand that our fans have received this information on short notice, but we know that ultimately they are dedicated to support us as we strive to win as many games as possible this coming season."

While the move comes a bit late in the spring for BC, the Eagles are hardly the only team making changes to their spring calendar.

Duke, of course, has started a trend of early spring practices, and this year the Blue Devils didn't hold a spring game at all due to stadium renovations.

Repairs to Kenan Stadium meant North Carolina had two separate spring "events" -- including one in Charlotte, North Carolina -- rather than a traditional spring game.

Last year, it was Pittsburgh cutting the spring game from its schedule as former coach Paul Chryst suggested more practice time benefited a young team.

In the big picture, it's easy to wonder why any of it matters in the first place.

Yes, there are some fans who enjoy the game — which is usually a chance to get an early look at the team for free. And some schools pack out the stadium for these spring exhibitions, too. But the vast majority of programs could probably add up the costs and benefits and come to the same conclusion Addazio has this year: There's just not much reward for the investment.

On the plus side, spring games are good recruiting tools, as notes in its story about the hefty number of recruits planning to be on campus for the Orange's spring game this season. And more and more, these exhibitions are broadcast -- either online or on TV -- to give schools even more of a wide net for recruiting.

But for the players already on the field, the spring game isn't much help. Because it's played under game-like conditions, there's limited opportunity for coaches to work on nuanced issues. Because the crowd is in the stands, coaches typically water down the playbook and stick to vanilla schemes. And because of injury concerns, plenty of stars never take the field in the first place -- limiting depth and setting up the game as a showcase for walk-ons as much as next year's key players.

With practice time limited by NCAA rules and coaches forced to limit hands-on contact with players once spring practice ends, Addazio's plan to maximize his opportunities to get his team better makes a lot more sense from a practical standpoint. And for the fans, the rare spring-game highlight probably doesn't make up for the often monotonous conditions that drain any drama from the exhibition.

Certainly there could be tweaks made to improve the spring games — whether it be playing other teams or adding some celebrity entertainment value — but really, these are relics that seem unnecessary at best and wastes of time and money at worst. So don't be too surprised if Addazio's plan becomes the norm at more than a few schools moving forward.

A few more links:

Two ACC head coaches had to make offensive coordinator hires this offseason after their assistants left for new jobs.

Both ended up looking on their own staffs.

Dabo Swinney and Steve Addazio opted to promote from within in order to maintain continuity for their coaching staffs and players. Receivers coach Jeff Scott and running backs coach Tony Elliott will share coordinator duties at Clemson, replacing Chad Morris; Addazio moved receivers coach Todd Fitch to coordinator after Ryan Day left for the Eagles.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
Alex Menendez/Getty ImagesDabo Swinney on co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott: "These guys are both rock stars in this business."

(Syracuse could also be included -- Tim Lester was kept on as offensive coordinator after being tabbed to fill the spot midway through last season).

The moves are interesting because they bucked what has been a growing trend among Power 5 conferences: throwing wads of cash at high-profile coordinators. Swinney has done that himself. Morris earned $1.3 million in his final year as Clemson offensive coordinator; Brent Venables is one of the highest paid defensive coordinators in the country as well at $1.35 million a year.

Given where the Clemson program stands right now, Swinney did not feel the need to find another high-profile coordinator. When he hired Morris in 2011, he needed somebody to get the offense headed in the right direction.

Though the Tigers are coming off their fourth straight double-digit win season, the biggest thing his offense needs is continuity -- especially with a young quarterback in Deshaun Watson ready to have a breakout year.

Scott and Elliott worked and learned under Morris. Their ascension was put into place years ago. That’s why it only took one day for Swinney to officially announce his decision last December.

"I’ve got two guys that are going to work great together. Both have the command of the offense and certainly leadership ability to lead the team," Swinney said. "I always think if you can promote from within when feasible, that’s the kind of culture I want to have. There was no thought at all. It was just a matter of when the time was going to be. These guys are both rock stars in this business.

"It gives us great chemistry and great continuity for years to come offensively."

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesSteve Addazio on promoting Todd Fitch to offensive coordinator: "He's just a great guy, a great coach and we're all close."

BC is not necessarily in the business of doling out million dollar salaries to assistants, but Addazio also mentioned chemistry when he discussed why he decided to promote Fitch. "The chemistry level on the staff is as good as I’ve ever been around," Addazio said. "He’s just a great guy, a great coach and we’re all close. I wanted to make sure I had great chemistry on the staff."

His situation was different than the one Swinney faced, because Day left with just a few weeks to go before Signing Day. Plus, Addazio is heavily involved in the offensive meeting rooms and game-planning, so it was easier for him to put somebody in the coordinator spot who understands his scheme. Day worked with Addazio previously at Temple, so the two had a long working relationship.

Though the offensive scheme is not the same one that Fitch ran in previous stints as offensive coordinator at UConn, East Carolina, and USF, working with Addazio the past two years has him completely on the same page.

"Being here previously and learning the verbiage and how Coach wants things done, certainly I’m more comfortable than if he’d hired me off the street from another school," Fitch said. "It’s made the transition much simpler. It still is different -- some of the things I called or did are different. When you start calling plays, you’ve got to get your mind trained when you’re trying to get them out fast, but it’s been good.

"The players and I have been around each other for two years. We have a great staff, and those are the biggest transitions you have when you take a job."

This is actually the second time Fitch has been promoted from within for an offensive coordinator job. Skip Holtz hired him at UConn in 1994 as quarterbacks coach, then promoted him to offensive coordinator in 1996, a job he held for three seasons.

"Any head coach, not just Steve, when you hire an offensive or defensive coordinator -- especially on your side of the ball -- do you want to blow the thing up and start all over again with the way you call things and verbiage?" Fitch said. "So it makes it easier on everybody if you’re able to do what’s been done. Everybody has their own wrinkles, maybe some new runs or new passes, but as long as the players know how to communicate, everything is easier."

ACC morning links

March, 16, 2015
Mar 16

Sam Werner at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had a very interesting piece on the eve of Pat Narduzzi's first practice as Pitt's head coach. Werner dives into Narduzzi's Youngstown, Ohio, upbringing and his fiery emotions -- which isn't meant as a negative -- on the sideline.

Early on, Werner brings up an interesting point on how Narduzzi's sideline excitability will affect his ability as a head coach and whether Narduzzi will need to rein it in. That passion is what helped him climb the ladder from assistant at Rhode Island to architect of one of college football's stingiest defenses at budding power Michigan State.

"[B]eing a head coach requires an even more delicate balance. At one instant, Narduzzi must be calm and thoughtful to make rational decisions. At the next, he has to spark his players with the same sort of motivation he has used throughout his entire career," Werner writes.

Narduzzi told Werner he will have to "change a little bit probably" but that he has no intentions of losing his enthusiasm.

At the college level, head coaches are required to double as CEO and face of the program. That has proven to be a tough and unexpected requirement that some talented assistant coaches struggled with in the past. No one would ever question Narduzzi's coaching chops -- he was considered a home-run hire for Pitt -- but it will certainly be worth watching if and how his sideline demeanor changes as Pitt's head coach.

  • Five questions heading into the spring season for Pittsburgh, and the first has to do with Narduzzi and the defense.
  • This is a nice feature from Corey Clark on the longevity Florida State football and basketball play-by-play voice Gene Deckerhoff. The first time I spoke with Deckerhoff, a few questions turned into a 30-minute conversation. The last time I spoke with him, he was explaining how his interest in The Grammys was reignited because of his affection for the latest pop music. He's a big fan of Meghan Trainor's single "All About That Bass."
  • Here is an in-depth timeline of events from the NCAA's case on Syracuse.
  • Former Georgia Tech back Zach Laskey performed well at the school's pro day.
  • It won't be answered this spring, but it will be worth watching who emerges from Virginia Tech's group of young, talented (and injury-riddled) running backs.
  • Facility changes are coming to Clemson, and Dabo Swinney is starting to see his dreams put into action.

ACC morning links

March, 13, 2015
Mar 13
Before the ACC tournament starts up, check out what is going on in football across the league.

1. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler gave an extensive interview to Roanoke Times beat reporter Andy Bitter, and discussed how much better he feels about the offense headed into Year 3. Primarily, that has to do with so many returning players -- especially quarterback Michael Brewer. Rather than install his offense and run a quarterback competition, this spring the focus can be on getting the entire offense vastly improved. Loeffler told Bitter: "Year 3 you know exactly what you’ve got. There’s no walking into spring football and walking into training camp trying to figure out who you are, what you want to do. You’ve got an idea of exactly who you are. ... It’s a refreshing feeling in comparison to [Years] 1 and 2." Given all the experienced players returning, pressure will be much higher to produce on offense. Loeffler knows all that. "We should be much, much, much improved." There is plenty more insight in the interview about competition across each position.

2. Florida State opens practice next week, and one of the big areas to watch will be on the offensive and defensive lines, which suffered heavy attrition. The Seminoles lose four starters from the offensive line and two from the defensive line -- two groups that did not really live up to expectations a season ago. But there is some good news. Florida State returns Rod Johnson to anchor the offensive line, and he has the potential to have an All-ACC season as a sophomore. The defensive line is where Florida State must make significant improvement, even with Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman gone. There was nothing to brag about for that unit last season as it struggled to contain the run and get a pass rush going. There are some players with experience here, including Nile Lawrence-Stample, Derrick Mitchell and Chris Casher.

3. Georgia Tech holds its Pro Day today. Here are Synjyn Days and Shaq Mason getting measured. You can watch on ESPN3.


Here are a few more links:
Jameis Winston is set to become the No. 1 overall draft pick, but the quarterback group he leaves behind in the ACC does not lack star quality.

Ten starters return, making the group heavy on experience. Five rank among the Top 25 players at any position this spring, making the group deeper than a year ago.

Put Deshaun Watson, Justin Thomas, Brad Kaaya, Marquise Williams and Jacoby Brissett up against the top five quarterbacks in any other Power 5 league, and the ACC looks better than just about everybody.

[+] EnlargeKaaya
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesBrad Kaaya is one of many underclassmen slated to start at quarterback in the ACC.
So it is easy to see why 2015 is setting up nicely to be the Year of the Quarterback in the ACC.

No surprise, especially when you consider recent history. The ACC seems to go in three-year cycles when it comes to its quarterback breadth and depth. In 2012, the ACC had one 4,000-yard passer and six 3,000-yard passers, including Tajh Boyd, EJ Manuel and Mike Glennon. All three players ended up getting drafted -- Manuel went in the first round.

Rewind three years before that, and the ACC had standouts Christian Ponder, Russell Wilson, Kyle Parker, Tyrod Taylor and Josh Nesbitt.

Since 2005, the ACC has had 13 quarterbacks drafted, including three in the first round. Winston is poised to become the fourth.

Why this has gone in three-year cycles is more coincidental than anything. The stage has been set for a quarterback revival this year because the ACC was extremely young at quarterback last year: Ten schools were forced to replace starters.

It is rare to see so much turnover at the most high-profile position on the field at so many schools at once. Even in the year that preceded 2012, only half the schools in the league had to replace their starting quarterbacks.

So there were many opportunities. Now add in another unique situation: Mostly underclassmen filled the open positions. Of the 10 first-year starters, only three were juniors or seniors. All happened to be transfers -- Tyler Murphy at Boston College, Brissett and Michael Brewer at Virginia Tech.

Several schools were forced to turn to true freshmen. Two succeeded immediately: Kaaya -- the ACC rookie of the year -- and Watson, who showed flashes of brilliance when he was healthy enough to play.

In all, five true freshmen ended up starting at least one game in the ACC -- more than any other Power 5 conference. Though Kaaya and Watson are the only two definitive starters returning, Reggie Bonnafon at Louisville and John Wolford at Wake Forest will have an opportunity to earn starting jobs back. The other, AJ Long at Syracuse, plans to redshirt now that starter Terrel Hunt is healthy.

To put the freshman numbers into further context, last year also was the first time in league history two true freshmen started on opening day -- Kaaya and Wolford ended up starting every single game for their respective teams last season.

So the growing pains from 2014 have led to what should be a big moment for the ACC in 2015. All five top-tier quarterbacks -- Watson, Kaaya, Thomas, Brissett and Williams -- already have way-too-early Heisman odds posted.

Others have an opportunity for big years as well. Pitt coaches are excited about the potential for Chad Voytik; the same goes for Duke coaches and Thomas Sirk. Florida State has been able to develop quarterbacks at will under coach Jimbo Fisher, so whoever earns the starting job there will have an opportunity to join in the top-notch quarterback club. Bobby Petrino has not been a wall flower at developing his quarterbacks, either.

When it comes down to it, Boston College is the only school that has no quarterbacks with any career starts.

So experience is nearly everywhere. So are good players.

All that is setting up to lead to a quarterback bonanza in 2015.

A look back at strong quarterback play across the ACC:

There are no guarantees that he will start. There are too many running backs competing for carries right now.

But every day, Wayne Gallman looks at all the rushing records in the running backs' meeting room and thinks big. Really big.

He now has the confidence to do so.

When last season began, Gallman had a limited role as he continued to learn the offense. Expectations were high, given all his talent. But Gallman was slow to get started, stuck in gear without much of a push to get going.

Then the second half of the season unfolded. Gallman ran for 610 yards in the final seven games of the season. His three 100-yard games came in the final six, including 191 yards in a victory over rival South Carolina. In the final six games, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry.

[+] EnlargeWayne Gallman
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonClemson's Wayne Gallman rushed for a team-best 769 yards and four touchdowns in 2014.
“I just feel like I got a lot more comfortable with the whole system, and really just trusted myself and what I can do to help the offense and just having fun and having a positive mindset,” Gallman said.

How did he make the switch?

“At the beginning of the year, it was hard trying to deal with a lot,” Gallman said. “Everybody was expecting me to just come in, help out and do all these things. It didn’t work out that way. It came in practice, having to learn how to control my speed, just talking to Coach [Dabo] Swinney how to control myself running the ball. Then I just let it out at the end of the season.”

Gallman ended up leading the team with 769 yards rushing. But for the Tigers, that was a step back in production. Clemson had problems getting a consistent ground game going, ranking No. 9 in the ACC. Clemson averaged 146.5 yards rushing per game, its lowest average since 2010.

The hope is that all changes this year, given the depth Clemson now has in the backfield. In addition to Gallman, Clemson returns Zac Brooks, C.J. Davidson, Adam Choice and Tyshon Dye. Redshirt freshman C.J. Fuller also has turned heads so far this spring.

That is why coaches cannot make any guarantees with the starting position. Co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott told reporters earlier this week that it was way too early to make any determinations because they want to see the competition play out.

Gallman knows all that.

“I have to compete, and I know my position is always up for grabs,” Gallman said. “I’ve got to win my position every day we come out for practice.”

Still, the way he finished last season has given him a completely different outlook during practice this spring. He also has a renewed comfort level knowing Elliott – his position coach since he arrived – is now the coordinator.

“I want to sound humble, but I’m actually very confident in myself because I’m getting glimpses of what I know I can do, and I’m trying to get better every day in practice,” he said.

Can he be a 1,000-yard rusher?

“Yes, ma’am. No doubt,” he said. “The goal is always to be the best in whatever you do, so in the running back room for all the running backs in there, I know our standard is to be the best.”

ACC morning links

March, 11, 2015
Mar 11
Here are a few interesting tidbits to get your morning started.

1. Though Jameis Winston no longer plays for Florida State, there remains an incredible amount of interest around him. I found this item from Peter King quite interesting. Winston took it upon himself to set up a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, to tell his own story and figure out what awaits him in the NFL. Goodell agreed to meet with him, and they spent time together last Thursday in the NFL offices in New York. Winston also met with several other league officials while he was there. One league official told King: "He went out of his way to make a good impression, and to show that he understood what was going to be expected of him in the NFL." No matter what you think about him, Winston made a great decision to be proactive.

2. Athlon Sports has ranked the pre-spring top 15 players in the ACC. Hard to argue with No. 1 choice James Conner, the reigning ACC Player of the Year. What should have Pitt fans standing up to take note is seeing receiver Tyler Boyd ranked at No. 4. Pitt joins Florida State as the only schools with two players ranked in the top 5. While the ranking is not surprising, it shows the type of potential the Pitt offense has headed into the year. Pitt has to get used to a new staff and scheme, but with the 1,000-yard rushing and receiving duo returning, the Panthers cannot be counted out in the Coastal. Where have I heard that one before ...

3. Louisville is holding its pro day Wednesday. A year after his own pro day sent his stock dropping, at least former Cards quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has a sense of humor about it all:

Now on to some more links: