For the final time before real games kick off, let’s dip into the mailbag…
— Muller (@mullerworld_) August 26, 2015
There were a handful of particularly tough calls - quarterback, safety and corner, in particular - but the defensive end spot was nearly impossible to iron out.
The certainty was that Dadi Nicolas would make the cut. He had 18 tackles for loss last year and Virginia Tech's front four is stout. Then it came down to Sheldon Rankins, Shaq Lawson and Ken Ekanem for the second spot. While the is a strong argument for all three, we went with Lawson based partially on what he's already done (21.5 TFL last two years) and partially on what we think he can do (his snap count will go way up in 2015). But if you told me Rankins would be the ACC's best defensive end by year's end, I certainly wouldn't be surprised.
— Todd Handell (@ToddHandell) August 26, 2015
Our Kirk Herbstreit picked Justin Thomas as college football's most exciting player, and I think that's appropriate. A Heisman, however, will be harder to come by. Heisman voters tend to focus on easily measurable stats, and Thomas' impact is a lot tougher to measure. But as we wrote earlier this month, there might not be a player in college football who means more to his team.
— Ramon Capra (@RCap_UM) August 27, 2015
First off, I think it's a bit premature to write Al Golden's epitaph. He's got a solid team this year and a great recruiting class waiting in 2016, so there's still a reasonable chance he can get things turned around.
But the broader question about future coaching hires is an interesting one. If we look at the current preseason top 25 teams, here's where their coaches worked immediately prior to their hiring: Two NFL guys (Saban, Jim Mora), eight assistants, eight head coaches from Group of 5 teams and seven head coaches from other Power 5 programs. If Miami does make a change, it's fair to say they've reached a point similar to Michigan last year - they need a home run. But there aren't many Jim Harbaughs or Nick Sabans out there, and Miami almost certainly doesn't have the resources to lure someone like Chip Kelly back from the pros.
Perhaps Rob Chudzinski fits that profile for Miami, but that seems like a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, the Canes have gone those other routes with their previous two hires, and they've not dramatically changed the results.
@DavidHaleESPN can FSU defense be better than last year? If not is Kelly out then?
— Nathan Johnson (@Merchant_15) August 27, 2015
The folks I've talked to around Florida State seem relatively optimistic that some fresh blood might be a good thing, that perhaps there were too many guys with a championship ring on their finger and NFL riches on the horizon last year. Still, I'd be concerned about the pass rush and depth at linebacker, and Kelly certainly has something to prove. Jimbo Fisher has been an excellent judge of talent thus far, however, and I don't think he'll make a move at coordinator unless things get ugly. Consistency with the young, talented defenders might actually be the key to a much improved unit in 2016.
@DavidHaleESPN how is the WR position (other than Tyler Boyd) looking at Pitt?
— Patrick Broderick (@PSBatHL) August 27, 2015
The praise for Dontez Ford has been high since the spring, and it certainly sounds like freshmen Quadree Henderson and Tre Tipton could see action this season after developing quickly during fall camp. This is all good news for a Pitt team that probably relied too heavily on its two biggest stars last season. But the bottom line, as offensive coordinator Jim Chaney told me earlier this year, is you want to put the ball in the hands of your best playmakers, so I wouldn't be surprised if Tyler Boyd dominates the targets again in 2015. What might be the biggest difference, however, is the younger players stepping up to allow Boyd to be a more versatile asset.
@DavidHaleESPN Based on the analytics you've seen, how big is the loss of Bryon Fields for Duke?
— Chris Bunn (@ChrisBunn21) August 27, 2015
To put it mildly, it's a huge loss. From a scheme standpoint, Duke already had some big questions up front and was going to have to rely on a stout secondary defensively. This punches a big hole in that plan. From a personnel standpoint, however, Byron Fields might have been one of the most underrated corners in the league.
According to Stats LLC, opposing QBs completed just 45 percent of their throws against Fields last year - the sixth-best rate among ACC cornerbacks. The guys ahead of him on that list include Ronald Darby (in the NFL now), Kendall Fuller (an All-American) and Mackensie Alexander and Maurice Canady (both legitimate All-ACC candidates). And of all those corners, none allowed a lower yards-per-target than Fields did last year (5.8).
Duke likes some of its younger talent at the position, but the bottom line is this: Fields allowed 45 percent completions last year. The rest of Duke's DBs allowed 58 percent.
@DavidHaleESPN which team would have the best Hard Knocks type show on the ACC Network?
— Gabe Duverge (@GabeDuverge) August 27, 2015
Terrific question. It's worth noting, of course, that Notre Dame essentially has this already. But if we're talking just ACC schools, there's a worthy debate.
From an intrigue standpoint, Florida State seems the obvious choice. The QB battle, the off-field turmoil, Jimbo Fisher's goal-post lasers - there's a lot to chew on there.
But we know "Hard Knocks" rarely films a Super Bowl contender, and the best episodes are about entertainment (see: Bryan Cox last season). Watching Bobby Petrino crush the souls of his QBs would be a blast. Getting a taste of Pat Narduzzi instilling some fear into his defense would be fun, too.
If we've got to choose just one team, though, give us Steve Addazio's dudes at Boston College. Really, I'd watch Addazio read the phone book, so a behind-the-scenes at fall camp would just be a bonus.