ACC: Florida State Seminoles

Notre Dame begins its football scheduling and bowl arrangement with the ACC this season, and hopes are high the Irish will help the league across the board -- especially when it comes to strength of schedule.

But will the Irish end up helping or hurting? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Matt Fortuna debate.

Andrea says: Jury is out on the Irish.

Imagine this scenario playing out: Oct. 18, Doak Campbell Stadium. Notre Dame and Florida State, putting together an instant classic. The Irish have the Seminoles on the ropes, threatening their perch atop the college football rankings.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsAdding Notre Dame to the schedule makes Florida State's task of repeating as champs that much more daunting.
These two programs have played their fair share of nail-biters. This one would join the list, after Notre Dame kicks a last-second field goal to take down the defending national champions. The loss ends up ruining Florida State's chances of repeating.

Think having Notre Dame as a quasi-partner would go over well in that nightmare scenario?

Not exactly. And while hypotheticals are generally a meaningless exercise, in this case they cannot be ignored. Because we really have no idea what the addition of Notre Dame will do to the ACC this year. The Irish could help, or just as likely, they could hurt the league.

Florida State is but one example, though it is the most important. The Seminoles are playing a much more difficult schedule than a year ago. Not only do they have a neutral-site game against Oklahoma State, they have to play rival Florida, expected to be improved.

Two difficult nonconference games against power-five opponents is challenging enough. Adding Notre Dame into the mix gives Florida State the toughest nonconference slate in the ACC AND the toughest nonconference slate among the other teams expected to be ranked in the preseason Top 5.

Nobody else has to play two power-five opponents and Notre Dame. Alabama, Oregon, Oklahoma and Auburn play one power-five opponent each. Notre Dame is not on their respective schedules.

Notre Dame is expected to be a preseason Top 25 team, so that means the Irish certainly have the capability of pulling an upset. And the placement of that game on the schedule is not exactly ideal. After a bye, Florida State has to travel to Louisville for a Thursday night game, the toughest two-game stretch on the schedule.

Now, it is well within the realm of possibility that a one-loss Florida State would make it into the playoffs, but nobody even knows how the committee is going to start evaluating candidates. Nothing can be accepted as a given.

Then there is the bowl partnership between Notre Dame and the ACC. Say Florida State is out of the playoff and into the Discover Orange Bowl. Say the Irish and Clemson finish with the same record. Well, the Russell Athletic or Capital One Bowls would be well within their rights to take Notre Dame over Clemson. Can't imagine that would go over very well, either.

There’s no doubt the partnership looks good on paper. But there may be a time it backfires.

Matt says: The Irish will be a huge plus.

Notre Dame football's affiliation with the ACC moving forward is far from a one-sided affair. Yes, the Irish do get to expand their schedule after finding a safe (and natural) home for their other sports. And yes, the Irish do gain access to a ton of postseason opportunities that simply did not exist for them when they were entirely independent. But the school and the conference are now friends with benefits, and that means that the ACC receives some perks from this relationship as well.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's partnership with the ACC has already boosted the conference's profile.
For one, Notre Dame is a sudden boost to the league's schedule strength. Getting the Irish once every three years on their slates undoubtedly alleviates some of the stress that conference athletic directors are under to fulfill league requirements each year. And, in years in which ACC schools host Notre Dame, the home team is almost guaranteed to sell out its stadium for that contest, along with gaining the priceless exposure that comes with hosting a prime-time, nationally televised contest. (And when Notre Dame comes to town, sure as you're born, the game will be under the lights. The Irish have not played a road matinee since 2011, at Pitt.) On top of that, the opportunities could be there for one fewer road game, if not exactly an extra home one. Look no further than next year's clash with Boston College, scheduled for Nov. 21, 2015 at Boston's Fenway Park. That is an Irish home game, as the program takes one of its games off-site each year as part of the "Shamrock Series." So it is one fewer road trip for the Eagles next year, and it is possible that others in the ACC could find themselves in similar situations in 2017 and beyond. The Irish "hosted" former league member Maryland in Landover for their 2011 Shamrock Series contest game as well.

Let's not overlook what the semi-addition of Notre Dame has already done for the league's exposure, either. As part of Notre Dame's ACC agreement, the Irish can take an ACC team's place in a non-access bowl if their record is better than, equal to or within one win of the ACC team -- or if the Irish are ranked higher. The Irish would share in the revenues of the non-access bowl. And, well, what do you know? The ACC bowl lineup that starts this year -- the same year that the Irish begin their football partnership with the league -- is deeper and better than before, with the Capital One Bowl and New Era Pinstripe Bowl among the league's new 13 postseason partners. Some coincidence.

Sure, Notre Dame could upset an expected national title contender like Florida State this year and potentially ruin the league's chance at reaching the four-team College Football Playoff, but "potentially" is the key word there. The Seminoles have, after all, opened as 24-point favorites over the Irish, so there really shouldn't be much to worry about. And heck, it's not like Notre Dame hasn't beaten FSU when it supposedly mattered before, only to see the Noles crowned as national champions later. (Lest we forget about the '93 Game of the Century.)

And if the Irish were to win in Tallahassee? Well, chances are they would be having a really good season then. Playoff good. Which would mean one less spot in the ACC bowl lineup for them to take from a team with the same or better record. And, perhaps, give the ACC an even stronger presence in the playoff, which is supposed to reward strength of schedule, meaning a 12-1 FSU team with nonconference wins over Oklahoma State and Florida would, theoretically, still have a very strong case.

A case strengthened by Notre Dame.
The ACC has produced incredible talent over the last decade, with 353 players drafted into the NFL since 2005.

So it should come as no surprise the league is well represented in our countdown of the Top 100 players in college football.

Seventeen ACC players made the list -- 11 from Florida State. There is no question Florida State has one of the most talented teams in the country, perhaps the most talented team.

Ten of those 11 players made our ACC Top 25 player countdown, though the order is slightly different.

Clemson, Miami, Louisville, Duke and Pitt also have players represented in the Top 100.

ACC lunch links: Bulk on the O-line

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
12:00
PM ET
It was an ugly year for Pitt’s offensive line in 2013 by virtually any measure.

No line in the ACC allowed more sacks than the 43 coughed up by the Panthers.

The 3.62 yards per rush for Pitt’s ground game ranked 12th in the conference, despite two 700-yard rushers on the roster.

Against AQ-conference teams, the Panthers mustered just 2.35 yards per carry -- a league worst.

But there is plenty of optimism that things will be better for Pitt in 2014, and one of the reasons for that optimism is that Pitt will be bigger.

Per the Pittsburgh Tribune:
When training camp opens next Sunday, Pitt's offensive linemen will stand, on average, taller than 6-foot-5 and weigh 311.4 pounds. That's not unlike how it was in 2011 when former coach Todd Graham's line stood at 6-5 and 313 pounds. But it's a half-inch taller and more than 16 pounds heavier than in Dave Wannstedt's final season in 2010.

Obviously there’s a lot more than goes into a successful O line than simply height and weight, and as the Tribune notes in its story, Paul Chryst will pick his starters based on ability, not size. But bulking up in the trenches is generally a sign of good things to come.

Take, for example, what Jimbo Fisher built at Florida State. As the Tallahassee Democrat noted this week, expectations are immensely high for FSU’s senior-laden offensive line, which features four returning starters.

But take a look at 2011. FSU’s O line returned plenty of starters then, too, but the group was simply awful. Injuries played a part, sure, but what Fisher learned early on was that the Seminoles simply didn’t have the bodies up front for his offense to run as efficiently as he wanted.

For the 2011 opener, FSU’s line averaged about 308 pounds. The interior of the line (a young Bryan Stork, David Spurlock and Jacob Fahrenkrug) averaged about 302 pounds. The expected line for the opener in 2014 checks in averaging 315 pounds with the interior group (Austin Barron, Tre' JacksonJosue Matias) in the neighborhood of 316.

The results for Florida State:

2011: 3.34 yards-per-carry (9th in ACC), 40 sacks
2012: 5.62 yards-per-carry (1st), 26 sacks
2013: 5.63 yards-per-carry (1st), 33 sacks

There’s no question there has been a significant upgrade in talent -- Barron, Jackson and Matias were part of the freshman-heavy line that started 2011’s bowl game -- but there was a clear upgrade in size, too.

And make no mistake, there is talent on Pitt’s O line. Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson were both four-star recruits. Matt Rotheram is an All-ACC caliber player. There’s depth with the likes of Jaryd Jones-Smith.

But there’s also size for Pitt’s line, which now -- from a physical standpoint anyway -- measures up favorably against the best of the ACC.

Left tackle: Pitt (Bisnowaty, 6-6/305); FSU (Cam Erving, 6-6/308)
Left guard: Pitt (Johnson, 6-5/300); FSU (Matias, 6-6/325)
Center: Pitt (Artie Rowell, 6-2/315); FSU (Barron, 6-3/293)
Right guard: Pitt (Rotheram, 6-6/335); FSU (Jackson, 6-4/330)
Right tackle: Pitt (T.J. Clemmings, 6-6/315); FSU (Bobby Hart, 6-4/320)
Average: Pitt (6-5/314); FSU (6-4.5/315)

On to more links …
Florida State's Jimbo Fisher is a national championship-winning coach, but his popularity is just now spiking after bringing an old southern tradition to national light.

NBC's "The Today Show" hosts Kathi Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb are the latest to experiment with salted peanuts in a glass bottle of Coke, referencing Florida State's Fisher as the reason for the seemingly puzzling mixture's popularity (around the 4:30 mark).

At the ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Monday, Fisher opened his session with the media with a bit of nostalgia, reminiscing about dumping peanuts in his Coke bottles while growing up in West Virginia. As reporters queried Fisher as to its origin and, frankly, as to why, Fisher was shocked there were some who have never heard of it.

Three separate times during his interview Fisher discussed the southern ... drink? snack? treat? When I asked about it midway through, he responded, "How about that -- people didn't know about putting peanuts in a Coke. You believe that? This generation now. Golly."

If it's an old southern tradition, credit Fisher's ranting for raising its profile north of the Mason-Dixon line and west of Texas.

"It's very salty sweet. I get it," Gifford said after trying it during Friday morning's segment.

Last year, Coca-Cola published an article trying to trace the history of the combination. I won't spoil the theories for you.

And as word spread in Tallahassee, Florida, of Fisher's repartee with the media, local restaurant and bar Madison Social, which sits in the shadow of Doak Campbell Stadium, picked up a bottle of peanuts and some Coke, Diet Coke and orange soda. The orange soda is a wrinkle in all of this -- who would have thought there would be layers -- as former coach Bobby Bowden supposedly drops his peanuts into orange soda bottles.

Madison Social tweeted a picture of the ingredients, and general manager Jason Walker said they were offered free samples to customers Tuesday.

"Some people loved it, some people hated it. It was a good reaction," said Walker, who said it tastes like vanilla Coke to him. "It brought some people in and made them aware of it, and it's becoming a thing around Tallahassee people are starting to do."

If Nick Saban wears the Luigi hat, then maybe we can get Fisher in the Planters Mr. Peanut top hat and monocle.

 
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Jameis Winston's dad and his coach have said this season won’t be the reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s last at Florida State, but the Seminoles’ star quarterback isn’t willing to go that far.

Winston, a redshirt sophomore and eligible for the 2015 draft, dodged the question when asked at the ACC Kickoff.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJameis Winston is focused on the 2014 season, not any decisions he'll face after it.
"Well you know, four years, I can't really focus on that right now. I can't tell you about the past, I can't tell you about the future, but I can tell you about right now,” he said. “Right now it's about us developing as a team, us having another successful season, us getting the young guys regrouped, watching film, getting them doing their thing because I can't predict the future."

Throughout the spring, Fisher cautioned that it was not a foregone conclusion Winston would depart for the NFL following the 2014 season. Winston’s dad, Antonor, told AL.com last month that Winston will play two more seasons of football and remain in school “until he gets that degree.”

A talented baseball player, Winston closed for the Seminoles’ baseball team this past spring. At the ACC Kickoff, Winston was asked if he would prefer to go to the NFL straight out of high school. High school players are eligible for the MLB draft. Winston was the No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2012, although he acknowledges he would not have been prepared for the NFL without spending a few seasons in college.

"With baseball, they have so many leagues that develop them into being that players that they want, the minor leagues. There aren't that many Bryce Harpers in the world that can go at 17 and play in the [minor leagues],” Winston said. “Football, it's a team-oriented sport. This game is so strategic. I respect that we can't leap into the NFL. … We know before you go up there, you have to be truly ready. Baseball is more individual based.”

The movement to compensate college student-athletes in revenue sports is reaching a tipping point with the conference autonomy and the O’Bannon trial, but Winston isn’t interested in profiting off his likeness just yet. Florida State recently made its redesigned jerseys for sale, and Winston’s No. 5 jersey is on the front page of the athletic department’s official online store.

The No. 1 player on Mel Kiper’s 2015 Big Board, Winston said he is fine waiting for his payday.

"One thing about college is we're blessed to get a free education. That's the most important thing college gives you,” Winston said. “… My job as a Florida State Seminole is to be a good student first and an athlete second. So that scholarship we get every year, that's enough money for me. My love is for the game and one day, hopefully, god willing, I will have the opportunity to have football as my job and baseball being my job."

By the numbers: Dominant DBs

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
4:00
PM ET
Let’s begin with a little either-or exercise.

Below are the basic stats for two defensive backs — tackles, tackles for loss, interceptions and passes defended. If forced to choose Player A or Player B for your team, which one would you want?

Player A: 121 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 4 INTs, 8 PD
Player B: 49 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 1 INT, 2 PD

Look over the numbers for a minute or 10, but really, it should’t take that long. It’s pretty clear that by any of our regularly deployed metrics, Player A is a clear frontrunner, right?

But here’s where it gets a little tricky. Player A is Duke safety Jeremy Cash, and those gaudy numbers from 2013 earned him a spot on the media’s preseason All-ACC team.

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State's Jalen Ramsey isn't on the preseason All-ACC team. Was it an oversight?
The funny thing, however, is after that happened, a whole host of fans and media erupted in confusion because of the clear oversight that Player B, who happens to be Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, was left off the squad.

So how is it that in the eyes of many experts, Cash seems not just the wrong choice compared to Ramsey, but a ludicrous one?

I’ll admit, I was one of the many offering confusion that Ramsey could miss out on first-team All-ACC status, and my basic rationale was two-fold. On one hand, Ramsey passes the eye test. He looks like a great player, was a five-star recruit and coaches and scouts gushed about his quick grasp of Florida State's defense. He was a true freshman last season and started every game, playing both safety and corner. Secondly, Duke’s defense, which did post some gaudy stats when it comes to tackles and takeaways, was also pretty darned bad. Florida State's secondary allowed 90 fewer yards per game and 11 fewer passing touchdowns than Duke. So shouldn’t the Seminoles’ defensive backs earn the rewards?

It’s an argument that makes sense, too, which only goes to underscore how limited our typical metrics for evaluating defensive backs are.

Cash has more tackles, more interceptions, more passes defended. Ramsey was a key figure in a secondary that was perhaps the best in the country. But maybe Cash benefited from opposing QBs attacking him more often because they weren’t concerned he’d beat them. Or maybe Ramsey benefited from having so many elite players around him. For every argument, there’s a perfectly reasonable counterargument.

Of course, we also don’t have to live with just those basic metrics, either. We wanted to dig a little deeper.

Stats LLC uses a stat called “burn rate” to track defensive backs. It looks at the number of times they were targeted and how many of those passes were completed. This should be a far better way of isolating a single DB, right?

So, using those numbers, how does our theory about Cash being a more ripe target for opposing QBs hold up? Actually, not too well. According to Stats LLC, Cash was targeted 41 times last season, 32nd-most in the ACC. Ramsey was targeted a tick less — 35 times, 47th-most in the ACC. So yes, it does speak highly of Ramsey that a true freshman was targeted, on average, just 2.5 times per game, but the numbers also don’t entirely serve the simple narrative that Cash’s counting stats (tackles, INTs, etc.) benefited from more opportunities.

But if Cash wasn’t targeted significantly more often, surely he didn’t snuff out those targets quite as well as Ramsey. Again, the numbers don’t make the case quite so clear.

Cash’s burn rate (43.9 percent) ranked 22nd in the ACC and was better than Ramsey’s (45.7 percent, 27th in ACC). Cash picked off four passes, the 10th-best rate in the ACC, to Ramsey’s one. Cash defended 19.5 percent of passes, good for 25th in the conference and better than Ramsey’s rate of 5.7 percent (good for 85th). The one area where Ramsey stood out was that, when he was burned, it was rarely for a lot of yards. His 9.7 yards per completion ranked eighth-best in the ACC and his 4.4 yards per attempt was seventh. And, after all, limiting the big plays is the primary job of a safety. Cash allowed 15.2 yards per completion (53rd in ACC) and 6.7 yards per attempt (32nd).

Those last two numbers probably sum the argument up the best. When Cash was good, he was exceptionally good. He made a lot of tackles because his teammates didn’t. He made big plays when he had the chance, but he gave up quite a few, too. Ramsey wasn’t nearly as flashy and clearly had better teammates around him (Terrence Brooks, FSU’s other starting safety last season, had the lowest yards-per-completion rate in the ACC) and wasn’t tested in the running game nearly as often. He didn’t post dynamic numbers because he didn’t have to.

So where has all this gotten us?

I’d argue that the numbers prove Cash certainly wasn’t a bad choice for first-team All-ACC honors. His play in 2013 and the assumption he’ll be better in 2014 more than qualifies him for the honor.

But I’d also argue that Ramsey’s vote total (just 13 votes, nine at safety and four at corner, where FSU had him listed on the ballot) was far shy of any of the winners and appallingly low considering his talent.

But hey, a little friendly debate is really the best part of these preseason lists because, regardless of what the numbers say today, odds are they’ll all look a lot different by season’s end.

And since we tracked down the numbers, here’s a quick look at the best burn rates, defended pass rates, and YPC, per Stats LLC, among returning ACC defenders (min. 25 targets).

BURN RATE
1. Ronald Darby (Florida State), 33.3%
2. Maurice Canady (Virginia), 36.2%
3. Breon Borders (Duke), 37.5%
4. Ant Harris (Virginia), 37.8%
5. Justin Simmons (BC), 38.1%

PASS DEFENDED RATE
1. Borders (Duke), 37.5%
2. Harris (Virginia), 31.1%
3. Brandon Facyson (Virginia Tech), 27.7%
4. Hakim Jones (NC State), 27.0%
5. Ray Vinopal (Pitt), 25.7%

YARDS PER COMPLETION
1. Quayshawn Nealy (Georgia Tech), 9.3
2. Cameron Lynch (Syracuse), 9.6
T3. Denzel Perryman (Miami), 9.7
T3. Ramsey (Florida State), 9.7*
5. Brandon Chubb (Wake Forest), 9.8

*Note: Ramsey is the best among returning defensive backs. Nealy, Lynch and Perryman are linebackers. The next best returning DBs were Boston College's Justin Simmons (10.3), Duke’s Bryon Fields (11.7) and Miami’s Deon Bush (11.8).
video

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In between breaking down pass-rushers and drawing up passing trees, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher wanted to watch some basketball. Last month’s NBA Finals provided little drama, so he loaded Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals onto the screen. The "Flu Game."

This wasn’t a reprieve from preparations for the 2014 season, though. This was a lesson in history, one that will have a profound impact on the Seminoles’ 2014 season, Fisher believes. He didn’t so much wonder how Michael Jordan played through the flu-like symptoms, but why.

Why did Joe Montana play through six concussions? Why did Larry Bird refuse to retire from a back injury so bad that his surgeon was bewildered as to how he played through it?

“We study guys who had attitudes of domination who won for long periods of time -- Joe Montana, John Elway repeated, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson,” Fisher says. “Those guys all had that killer instinct and were guys who wanted to be on top, stayed on top, and one championship wasn't enough.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJimbo Fisher said that Florida State's biggest obstacle in 2014 may not be an opponent, but complacency.
“A picture’s worth 1,000 words. Your actions speak, your drive, your commitment to excellence. Michael Jordan, you never saw him not play to the max, and that, to me, to the players, sends a message. It’s a constant education to me, to these kids, to get them to think in that type of mold, because it’s human nature to win and relax.”

There are certainly questions on Florida State’s roster, but it is still considered the best in the country. Where the Seminoles could trip up is mentally, an aspect of the game Fisher has worked so hard to strengthen within his program. He’s spent the past year praising the 2013 team for its work ethic and desire to return the Seminoles to the pinnacle of the sport they once dominated.

Now that they’re there, the next task -- admittedly his toughest yet -- is keeping the Seminoles there. So if you happen upon Fisher wandering through the Florida State library, it’s because he is looking for a book on a very specific topic. He’s soliciting suggestions, but perusing the bestsellers list and Oprah’s book club will be fruitless. The coach needs reading material on how to maintain the Seminoles' status as one of college football’s elite programs.

"Can't find many books on it,” Fisher says. “All of them talk about how to get there, not many of them talk about how to stay there.”

He’s turned to friend and confidant Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher during their time at LSU. Saban won the national championship at Alabama in January 2010, but a talented team failed to meet expectations during the 2010 season. Saban found the formula again, however, and the Tide won the title after the 2011 season; they repeated the next year.

As the confetti fell in Pasadena, California, in January when Fisher won his first national championship, the two coaches sat on the "College GameDay" set. They celebrated, they reminisced but, most importantly, they advised.

“He said, ‘Now you got some challenges, now is when the problems start,’ and I understood that,” Fisher recalls of their conversation inside the Rose Bowl. “He’s been through it, and he fixed it after a while, didn’t he? He had that one year and then came back and did it twice.”

But Saban isn’t going to spell it out for Fisher -- even Saban is constantly tinkering to quell complacency. They’re friends, but increasingly they have become rivals. Florida State is the biggest threat to end an Alabama dynasty that has three of the final five BCS crystal balls in a trophy room in Tuscaloosa.

Fisher says he believes he has a Jordan in Tallahassee, Florida: quarterback Jameis Winston, a player who wants to win two more than he wants to win one. The redshirt sophomore won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy before losing a game, which he still has yet to do. Winston says a loss is “definitely not in our vocabulary.”

With Winston, Fisher is confident that the “attitude of domination” has been instilled throughout the program, which means there is not as much of that annual concern as to whether his current team has the needed motivation for a national title run. What Fisher still needs to discern is how the 2014 team is different from last season’s. He has an idea, but the pads won’t come on for another two weeks, and two-a-day practices have not worn down this particular squad yet. One of the underrated aspects of being the head coach is identifying the personality and drive of a team, Fisher says, and pushing the wrong buttons at the wrong time can derail a season.

“There’s no formula for it,” Fisher says. “I think it evolves and don’t think you ever have the answer. It’s a constant battle that challenges you all the time. That’s one of the things that makes it so hard to duplicate that success. You’re constantly fighting that battle.”

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
12:00
PM ET
Two Miami topics up for discussion this fine lunch hour.

First: Is Duke Johnson a viable Heisman candidate? I agree with everything Athlon Sports says about Johnson in its write-up:
From a talent standpoint, Johnson is the only other option in the ACC who can compete with Winston. He has elite-level, breakaway speed and explosiveness. The biggest speed bump in The Duke’s Heisman campaign will be staying healthy. The smallish back has dealt with injuries but if he can stay on the field and post 250 touches, his numbers could be ridiculously good.

Being healthy is obviously important. If he is able to get 250 carries while averaging his career mark of 6.5 yards per carry, Johnson will have at least 1,650 yards. If he can somehow get to 2,000 like Andre Williams did a season ago, then he has a terrific chance of being invited to New York. But there is one more stumbling point from my point of view: uncertainty at quarterback.

With Stephen Morris behind center and Johnson at running back, Miami always had the threat to run or pass. The passing threat has been taken away without a sure-fire quarterback. More teams will load the box. Williams found a way to overcome that at BC last year, but the Eagles decided early on they wanted to be physical and play smash-mouth football. Miami does not play that style of football. So along with staying healthy, Johnson has to find a way to keep breaking off explosive runs with more defenses keying on him.

Second: Can the Hurricanes help make Miami a football town again? I completely understand what Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote is trying to say here. I grew up in South Florida in the 1980s and early 1990s, when football was king. But even when the Hurricanes were winning national championships, they only sold out their biggest games. Losing LeBron James will in no way start guaranteeing more seats filled at Sun Life Stadium.

Oh sure, football will be talked about more, but everybody knows Miami fans only come out for winning teams. In the case of the Canes, they need to win and play in big games.

Now let's take a look at other headlines across the ACC:
The preseason All-ACC team was released Wednesday, and naturally quarterback Jameis Winston led the way with the most votes. There were not too many surprises, beginning with Florida State players littered throughout the list of 26 names.

Here is the 2014 preseason All-ACC team, as voted on by the media at the ACC Kickoff:

 
 
 

Thoughts: While the ACC had the second-most NFL draft picks in May, there is significant talent returning to the conference for the 2014 season. Of the 26 players, 21 were named to one of the three All-ACC teams at the end of last season. That doesn’t include Parker, who will play his first season in the ACC this coming season. Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and the leading vote getter (although not a unanimous one), and Beasley, who received the second-most votes, are two of the three returning consensus All-Americans from the 2013 season.

Few conferences would be able to rival that offense with Winston throwing to 1,000-yard receivers Crowder and Greene and a 6-foot-3 target in Parker. O’Leary is one of the best tight ends in the country. There was a seemingly close battle at running back behind Duke Johnson, Williams got the nod over Virginia running back Kevin Parks, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season.

Defensively, that is one talented line. Beasley received the second-most votes for the preseason player of the year, and Edwards was the No. 1 high school recruit in the 2012 class. Maddy and Jarrett are two of the best defensive tackles in the country.

Duke has the second-most players on the team, which speaks to the program David Cutcliffe is building in Durham. The Blue Devils were not picked to win the ACC Coastal despite winning it last season and returning quarterback Anthony Boone. There is a constituency out there that still doesn’t believe Duke is the real deal and is bound for a letdown, but the media believes there is talent throughout the roster; the Blue Devils have a player at receiver, offensive line, linebacker and the secondary. Miami, which was picked to win the division, has two players on the list.

Even as Duke had four players, the Seminoles still had nine, only further signifying the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference, although the league is undoubtedly improving. That list does not include Ronald Darby or Jalen Ramsey, two players who will almost certainly be on an All-ACC team by the end of the season. It is no surprise Florida State was ranked as having the most talent on its 2014 roster two weeks ago in ESPN.com's future power rankings.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 23, 2014
Jul 23
12:00
PM ET
Georgia Tech has had some major roster turnover this offseason, adding more fuel to the fire surrounding coach Paul Johnson.

On Monday, the school announced backups Anthony Autry, Travin Henry and Darius Commissiong had been kicked off the team for rules violations. Since last season ended, Georgia Tech has lost more non-senior players from its roster than any other team in the ACC.

Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution goes over the complete list of departures:
  • Defensive lineman Justin Akins (left team)
  • Receiver Anthony Autry (dismissed)
  • Offensive lineman Morgan Bailey (transfer)
  • Defensive end Darius Commissiong (dismissed)
  • B-back Travis Custis (transfer, academic issues)
  • Defensive end Jabari Hunt-Days (academically ineligible)
  • Quarterback Ty Griffin (transfer)
  • Defensive end Travin Henry (dismissed)
  • Jimmie Kitchen (expected to transfer after suspension)
  • Quarterback Vad Lee (transfer)
  • Defensive lineman Kevin Robbins (transfer)
  • Offensive tackle Chase Roberts (medical)
  • Defensive lineman Anthony Williams (scholarship not renewed)

That is quite a list, though only Hunt-Days and Lee were starters last season. Still, it is very unusual to see this much roster turnover on a team with a returning head coach. So why have so many players either gotten themselves into trouble or decided to leave? Does this have to do with Johnson or something else?

Johnson did not shed much light into the turnover during the ACC Kickoff, saying there is a consistency to the way he expects the program to run. Some players adhere to standards. Some don't.

Turnover is always expected, but not like this. Johnson has had to defend himself for months now, but that has gone deeper than just the roster changes. There is a growing segment of the Georgia Tech fan base that has become disenchanted with him, his style of play and efforts on the recruiting trail. Johnson criticized all the negativity in Atlanta while he was in Greensboro, N.C., pointing at his overall and conference records while at Tech.

Still, it is alarming to see so many players gone.

The Jackets may not be done losing players, either. Autry's younger brother, Myles, signed with Georgia Tech in February but has been unable to enroll because of NCAA Clearinghouse issues.

Myles Autry, an ESPN 300 player, told the AJC he was indeed reconsidering the Jackets. He was the highest-rated player in the 2014 Georgia Tech class, so losing him would be yet another blow.

Here's a look at other headlines across the ACC:
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There was quite a different feel around the ACC Kickoff this season. More swagger, more puffed out chests, more bravado.

All those years of BCS misery? Almost like they never happened. Losing bowl record last season? Forgotten. How about that losing record against power-five conference teams? Nope, not going to talk about that. Because the ACC is now home to the national champions, and everybody in the ACC did their best to remind us all over two days.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFSU's national title has given a confidence boost to the ACC.
Florida State permeated every single conversation, its national championship win serving as a national championship win for all. Its momentous victory meant fist pumps around the room. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team lost to Florida State in the ACC championship game by 38 points, might have summarized the mood best when he was asked about the Seminoles’ championship.

“Go Noles!” he shouted.

Anybody think Coach K shouted, “Go Heels!” when North Carolina won its national title a few years back?

The dynamic in football is obviously different. There are rivalries, yes, but there also is a brotherhood among these coaches, steeped in their determination to make the ACC shed its “basketball conference” label. They have all shared in the pain over the past 10 years, watching the SEC exert its dominance while the ACC was left to answer questions about why it was always a step behind.

They all promised their day would come, selling the league hard to anybody who would listen. Jimbo Fisher has been one of their loudest defenders, his stock line: “There is really good football in this league!”

People used to roll their eyes. But now, finally, there are believers. Finally, the national conversation has flipped from, "Who can take down the SEC?" to "Who can take down Florida State?"

Without a doubt, the ACC deserves this moment. Winning national championships should come with a shot of confidence and an infusion of new energy. So what if it felt like some of the coaches were reciting a list of carefully scripted, neatly orchestrated talking points? Talking points, by the way, that John Swofford recited in his Commissioner Forum media event, perhaps hoping to set the tone for the Kickoff.

Every league coach should revel in the victory. They should use those talking points on the recruiting trail. Do you want to play against the best? Well, the best is right here, in the ACC.

Now, one championship does not make a league, nor does it change the perception that the ACC is not yet among the top three conferences in the country. There has to be consistency. The SEC did not earn its reputation based on one national championship alone, or one team alone carrying the flag for the conference.

Everybody else in the league needs to step up their level of play. Everybody else in the league needs to start winning its elite nonconference matchups. A national championship, a BCS bowl win, and 11 bowl teams are obviously a terrific start. But it cannot end there.

All this bravado and swagger need to be translated into results on the football field. Confidence needs to be channeled into momentum. Having bragging rights now is great. But the ACC knows it has to find a way to hang onto those bragging rights, so that every year it can beat its chest just a little bit louder.
Florida State and Jameis Winston were the runaway favorites Monday to repeat as ACC champion and league player of the year, respectively. Those were the two names atop my ballot as well. As for how I slotted everyone else:

Atlantic
1) Florida State
2) Clemson
3) Louisville
4) Syracuse
5) Boston College
6) NC State
7) Wake Forest

Coastal
1) Duke
2) Pitt
3) North Carolina
4) Miami
5) Virginia Tech
6) Georgia Tech
7) Virginia

Couple of points: You'll have a hard time convincing me -- and most likely anyone else -- that Clemson and Louisville, as of today, are not the closest to FSU in the Atlantic. The Nos. 4-6 spots left a little wiggle room (sorry, Wake), and I think that Syracuse returns more proven talent from last year than BC and NC State.

On the other side of things, well, I see no reason not to pick Duke right now. The Blue Devils are the defending Coastal champions, return a ton of contributors and are the closest thing to a proven commodity in the wide open division.

After that: Chaos. The division sets up nicely for a team to make another surprise run this year, and Pitt is the one that I think is perhaps best-positioned to take advantage. The schedule sets up nicely for the Panthers, who get Duke at home and sub BC for FSU as an Atlantic opponent. While Chad Voytik is a newcomer under center and the offensive line had its share of obvious issues last season, more consistency up front (and, one can only assume, improved health) should help the offense exploit playmakers in the backfield and at receiver.

I think UNC has as good of a shot as anyone else of winning the division, but the team's youth, particularly on the offensive line, has me hesitant to pick them as the favorite.

Miami being picked as the Coastal frontrunner shocked me, given the way the team finished last season, the complete uncertainty at quarterback and the lack of punch shown on defense last season. A look at the voting suggests the Hurricanes accumulated just enough points as a second- or third-place team to ultimately get the No. 1 nod over Duke (33) and UNC (27), both of whom garnered more first-place votes than Miami (26).

We'll have more on the Coastal possibilities later on in the blog, further illustrating just how wide open this race really is. The fact every team but Virginia received a first-place vote speaks to that.

ACC's lunch links: QB roundup

July, 22, 2014
Jul 22
12:00
PM ET
The most honest man at ACC Kickoff was probably Wake Forest's Dave Clawson. And, to his credit, he even managed to find a little humor in the bleak picture painted by his depth chart this year, as the High Point Enterprise wrote.
Asked to comment about where his first Wake Forest team is predicted to finish in the ACC's tough Atlantic Division, Clawson replied, “Were we picked to win it? I didn't see those. Were we unanimous first? The bull's-eye is on us, right?”

Clawson didn't sugar-coat the team's lack of experience and depth, but he had his most pointed comments regarding the quarterback position, where Tyler Cameron and Kevin Sousa are battling for a job that no one seems eager to win.

“Those two guys who took snaps in the spring, neither did enough, even if we didn't have those [true freshmen] coming in, to take control of the job,” Clawson said.

What was unique from Clawson was his pessimism on the position. What wasn't unique were the questions about the position. Plenty of coaches were asked about their quarterbacks in Greensboro, and for good reason. After talking with each coach and the players in attendance, here's a quick run-down of where each ACC team's QB situation stands.

1. Florida State: Jameis Winston is the returning Heisman winner and his time in Greensboro was, at the very least, a solid first step in FSU's quest to repair its quarterback's image.

2. Duke: Anthony Boone is the only other quarterback in the league with at least 300 attempts last season who is back for 2014, but David Cutcliffe still plans to use two quarterbacks and eagerly talked up Thomas Sirk, who will step into the red zone role manned so well by Brandon Connette last season.

3. Clemson: The biggest worry for Clemson is the potential for a real quarterback controversy (or, at the very least, a lively debate) if Cole Stoudt struggles early. Dabo Swinney offered blanket support for his senior, but the early schedule is difficult, and the immensely talented but completely green Deshaun Watson is waiting in the wings.

4. NC State: Dave Doeren can barely contain his enthusiasm about the addition of Jacoby Brissett, whom the coach described as “everything you recruit in a quarterback.” Doeren did remind reporters, however, that Brissett's on-field experience remains extremely limited.

5. North Carolina: Hey, if Peyton Manning says Marquise Williams is going to be an exceptional passer, who are we to argue? Still, it's not enough to convince Larry Fedora to hand him the starting job just yet, and it sounds more and more like UNC will use two quarterbacks at times.

6. Syracuse: Terrel Hunt has proved he can win and he's taken on a leadership role this offseason, but he still needs to prove he can be a respectable downfield passer. And even Scott Shafer admitted things needed to get better there.

7. Louisville: The depth chart isn't set in stone here either, but Bobby Petrino had plenty of praise for Will Gardner in Greensboro, saying, "He can make all the throws you need to make. He's got the arm strength. He's got a very quick release. ... He's a natural leader that the players have already learned to follow."

8. Pitt: Paul Chryst says Chad Voytik still has a ways to go, but he's pleased with the quarterback's progress and, of course, Voytik will have as dangerous a weapon as any first-year starter in the league in Tyler Boyd.

9. Boston College: The Eagles actually have a relatively experienced and settled QB spot with the arrival of transfer Tyler Murphy, and lineman Andy Gallik said Murphy has grasped the offense and taken on a leadership role. But his problem will be that he doesn't have much in the way of receiving targets or experience in the backfield to help him out.

10. Virginia: Mike London shrugged off the rumors about his job, and one reason he can do that is that he's immensely confident in QB Greyson Lambert, who looks to have cemented his role as the team's starter.

11. Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson smiled at the notion that recently departed QB Vad Lee said the triple-option wasn't for him, noting the situation had become “frustrating” for both sides. With Justin Thomas, however, Johnson said he has the ideal quarterback to run his offense.

12. Virginia Tech: Well, Brenden Motley did get a preseason player of the year vote, even if he's not exactly destined to win the starting job. Frank Beamer said he plans to end the drama soon, even if no one separates himself and “he has to go with a gut decision.”

13. Miami: Ryan Williams would make this a much better scenario, but Al Golden isn't interested in predicting his veteran will be back from a torn ACL any time soon. That leaves Jake Heaps and Kevin Olsen, neither of whom earned a ton of praise in Greensboro.

14. Wake Forest: It's going to be a long year for Clawson, but at least he's got a sense of humor about it.

More links:

Dabo Swinney is confident Clemson will have a chance to win the Atlantic, writes The State.

Swinney has no intention of taking religion out of his football program, writes Sports on Earth.

There are no hard feelings between Swinney and Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, writes The Post-Standard.

Florida State's offensive line will be what sets the Seminoles apart in the ACC, writes Tomahawk Nation.

And your non-sports link of the day: If you don't hear from me for a few months, blame the new Simpsons World from FXX, which looks… amazing.
videoGREENSBORO, N.C. -- The 2014 ACC Kickoff is in the books, and while the preseason hype rarely translates well to the games on the field, there were still a few notable take-aways from the festivities at the Grandover Resort. Here are five things we learned from this year's media days.

1. The College Football Playoff is on everyone's mind.

Florida State Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher led the charge for the ACC in Greensboro, touting the accomplishments of the conference last year, including the Heisman winner, a national title and an Orange Bowl winner, a slew of NFL draft picks and 11 bowl invitations. Fisher and others continued to refer to the ACC as "the No. 1 football conference" in the country.

That, of course, may not sit so well with the SEC, but it was actually a Big 12 coach that landed the first blows after Fisher referred to the conference's lack of a championship game as "ridiculous."

Baylor's Art Briles fired back, saying "Jimbo Fisher needs to worry about the ACC" rather than tell the Big 12 how to conduct business.

Of course, it was clear that the ACC was exactly what Fisher and others were worried about as the politicking to ensure the conference has at least one representative in the first College Football Playoff is already underway. There are five power conferences and just four playoff spots, so someone's going to be left out, and Fisher has no interest in watching the games from home.

2. Jameis Winston isn't shying from the spotlight.

Jameis Winston was the star of the ACC Kickoff, arriving to a horde of media members eagerly awaiting something controversial. Instead, Winston (mostly) said all the right things, talking up his team and the league, offering jokes when possible and, most notably, admitting he had plenty of maturing to do in light of the off-field incidents that have dogged his career thus far.

Winston said he understood the spotlight he would be living in this year, adding that he had to "live up to the hype," and if he didn't, "it would be chaos."

Of course, Winston has made a habit out of sounding good -- and confident -- in front of the cameras, but the spotlight will stick with him well beyond his time in Greensboro.

Oh, and speaking of Winston's future: He notably declined to comment on his father's promises that the Heisman winner would be playing two more seasons at FSU. Instead, Winston said he "couldn't predict the future." In other words, don't cross him off your 2015 mock drafts just yet.

3. No one knows what will happen in the Coastal Division.

It's not that the media has a particularly successful track record of picking winners at ACC Kickoff, but this year's preseason poll was particularly telling about the depth of quality -- or, perhaps, litany of weaknesses -- in the Coastal Division.

The Miami Hurricanes came away as the overall favorite among the voting media, but the team finished with the third-most first-place votes in the division. Duke, last year's winner, had the most first-place votes and was second overall. North Carolina ranked fourth, but had the second-most first-place votes. In all, six of the seven teams in the conference had at least one first-place vote. Only Virginia missed out, which given the utter ridiculousness of it all, probably means the Hoos will be playing the Atlantic winner in Charlotte this December.

4. Miami has quarterback concerns.

There's still optimism Ryan Williams will be back at some point, but there's no certainties on when that might happen -- if it happens at all. That leaves the Hurricanes with a vacancy at the most important position on the field, and it also likely means a void in leadership, too.

"Ryan Williams is still the leader," tailback Duke Johnson said, "Kevin Olsen is just a quarterback."

Coach Al Golden mirrored those comments, saying Olsen -- the freshman -- still had to mature as a player and earn the respect of his teammates. Transfer Jake Heaps is now in the mix, too, but he's going to be learning on the fly.

In the end, the quarterback concerns weren't enough to keep the media from tabbing Miami as the Coastal favorite, and Johnson can at least agree with that.

"They might not have the strongest arm or be the fastest or the most accurate," Johnson said, "but when you have the receivers we do and the offensive line we do, it becomes pretty simple."

5. No one's handing the Atlantic to FSU.

Syracuse Orange coach Scott Shafer said he first understood how good Florida State was during pregame warm-ups last year. He pointed out a few players who were far bigger than anyone on his team, only to learn the FSU behemoths were redshirting.

But even with the knowledge that his Orange are facing an uphill battle, Shafer wasn't admitting defeat before the games are played in 2014.

"The great thing about football is that the ball is oblong and does funny things and on any given Saturday you have an opportunity to steal a game," Shafer said.

Syracuse would need a big upset, but Clemson and Louisville think they've got good chances to win the Atlantic. Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley was particularly vocal about this year's matchup against the Seminoles with Clemson's formidable defensive front leading the way. Dabo Swinney has never backed off his comments that his team wasn't far behind FSU last year, and he's encouraged that a new-look offense, led by quarterback Cole Stoudt, can upset the Seminoles in 2014.

Of course, we're still a long way from that finish line, so for now, it's all just talk.
video
GREESNBORO, N.C. -- Florida State coach Jimbo's Fisher patience was tested at the onset of the ACC Kickoff on Monday. It wasn't a question about Jameis Winston or crab legs. It was a question that amounted to peanuts.

Literally.

"How about that -- people didn't know about putting peanuts in a Coke," Fisher ranted. "You believe that? This generation now. Golly."

He couldn't believe a reporter from the North (hint: me) never put salted peanuts in a bottle -- has to be glass -- of Coke, and had never even heard of it. But when your program is on the cusp of a college football dynasty, especially after an ugly slide from dominance, you can have the look of a coach without any worries, and he said as much Monday. Throughout his nearly 90-minute media session, Fisher was charismatic and engaging, usually the hallmark of Florida State's quarterback, which is a testament to how he views not only his 2014 team but the state of his program.

Fisher was most impassioned when talking about the latest renovation at Florida State, which has been the most cosmetic of his Seminoles tenure. He spent the first four years internally tearing down and rebuilding a program that sat at the pinnacle of college football for two decades. When preseason camp opens in two weeks, it will do so with a complete makeover of the football facilities, allowing Fisher to surpass rival SEC schools in the ongoing arms races.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJimbo Fisher has the complete makeover of the football facilities that he has desired.
"I always ask folks, when you walk into an organization, you go into a business, the minute you walk in you make a first impression: Is this place committed to excellence, is it a championship organization?" Fisher said, hands bouncing off the table.

It was a pointed message, particularly aimed 550 miles away at Tallahassee. Fisher thanked the university administration and athletic department for the new toys, but he alluded to some early resistance, normal for a demanding coach and budget-mindful athletic department. They were changes he wanted earlier that a national championship finally afforded him. It's not limited to just superficial alterations like new locker rooms and statues with light-up jerseys, but changes that are hard to initially quantify that the old staff didn't endorse.

It was a change in culture, a trending phrase in football-crazed outposts throughout the country. Throughout the world really. Fisher spoke glowingly of the German national soccer team, which won the World Cup a little more than a week ago. The governing soccer body in Germany felt Brazil's facilities were insufficient and adverse to creating a winning environment, so the German soccer association built its own hotel and training grounds in Brazil, thousands of miles from its base in Europe.

It's doubtful Florida State football settlements will pop up in Miami and Chapel Hill and Blacksburg, but Fisher expects the Tallahassee colony to at least rival the ones in Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and Austin.

"Our players weren't growing in those first three years, our university was, and our culture -- from administration and all the things we had to do around those kids, academic support, player development, mental conditioning -- that's the culture that had to change for us to be a champion," Fisher elaborated. "When you demand so much from that kid and you don't put that into your own organization, how do you expect that kid to be a championship if you're not?

"... I'm not a spoiled kid. If I want it, it's because it's going to make our organization better. Every decision we make is about winning and developing our players. ... Our school and administration are doing a great job, and I'll continually push. I still got a bucket list."

There was a list of priorities from Fisher when he took the head coaching job in 2010, and maybe what speaks loudest about the state of Florida State football is that the surface-level changes are among the last to come. The behind-the-scenes work has been going on the past four seasons, and it culminated in a national title.

Midway through his media session, Fisher was asked whether Florida State is poised for a run similar to the one predecessor Bobby Bowden orchestrated from 1987 to 2000, when the Seminoles finished in the top five every season. It might be an unrealistic goal in this era -- Fisher doesn't rule out the jump to the NFL, either -- but Florida State is in the best position to unseat Alabama and Fisher mentor Nick Saban. Monday, the Seminoles were picked to win the ACC and Winston was named the preseason Player of the Year. Florida State is the odds-on favorite to win the College Football Playoff. Only Alabama is recruiting better.

"Why can't you? I don't know if it's feasible," Fisher said regarding a run similar to Bowden's. "Let's go play ball and find out."

SPONSORED HEADLINES