ACC: Florida State Seminoles

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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."

Video: ACC media days wrap up

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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videoAndrea Adelson and Jared Shanker wrap up ACC media days, discussing Florida State Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher's comments on the Big 12, Bobby Petrino and the Miami Hurricanes as preseason Coastal favorites.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 21, 2014
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Make sure to check out our live coverage of ACC media day starting at 1:30 p.m.! Follow @ESPN_ACC, @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN for all our coverage.

ACC media days live (1:30 p.m. ET)

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
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The Jameis Winston circus came to Greensboro, North Carolina, on Sunday, but Monday is the coaches’ turn to take the hot seat. Keep it here for the best from all 14 ACC head coaches.

 

ACC media days: Day 2 preview

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
9:00
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David Hale and Matt Fortuna preview Day 2 of ACC media days, when the coaches take the stage. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher figures to be front and center.
videoGREENSBORO, N.C. -- Jameis Winston says Florida State loves playing the underdog. But when a large faction of fans and media expect the Seminoles to win the inaugural College Football Playoff, the popular us-against-the-world mentality is a tough sell. Even other players attending the first day of the ACC Kickoff were tired of hearing about the conference’s power scale tipping heavily in the direction of Tallahassee.

Perceptions have fluctuated wildly with Florida State over the last year. The school, coaching staff and its star player have been praised and vilified. So while the underdog card expired in early January, there is no shortage of motivation, Florida State says.

“We know the whys of why we play. We go out there every Saturday or Thursday for a man [Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher] that's facing something devastating in his life every single day with his son,” Winston said, referring to Ethan Fisher’s battle with Fanconi anemia. “We know where we come from. We know the whys and why we fight every day, why we have our brothers who support us. We know why we do this. Complacency, being comfortable, it's not right.”

The ACC target was on the Seminoles’ back in 2013 following an ACC title the year prior. In 2014, those targeting Florida State hail from all ends of the country. The rest of college football is trying to catch the Seminoles, who many feel will finish the regular season undefeated and might not be tested until the playoffs.

Winston and cornerback P.J. Williams agreed that Florida State embraces the moments and games where the spotlight shines brightest and their opponent has made it a season goal to knock Florida State from its perch. And not every player at the ACC Kickoff was shy about sharing that sentiment.

“Of course. They’re the No. 1 team in the nation,” Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson. “That’s every football players’ dream: to go against the best and beat the best. I’m selfish. I want to play them [in the ACC championship] again.”

Williams isn’t denying that the Seminoles are aware of the massive preseason hype and likely No. 1 ranking when the polls are released. He said, however, it’s a non-issue for a team with questions regarding the loss of leadership throughout the ranks.

“I hear about the preseason polls. They say we’ll be No. 1 but it doesn’t affect us at all,” Williams said. “We’re going to go to the weight room and work just as hard and not think about that.

“We got a winning mentality, and losing is not what we think about.”
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GREENSBORO, North Carolina -- Reporters began staking out seats in front of the placard that read "Jameis Winston" more than an hour before the Heisman-winning quarterback was scheduled to speak. When Winston finally arrived, it was with his typical bluster, as he implored the gawkers to offer a round of applause that his Florida State Seminoles had finally wrestled college football's national championship from the clutches of the big, bad SEC.

It was an appropriate entrance, really. After all, it's the SEC that had set the standard for preseason media frenzies, first with Tim Tebow and, at the past year's SEC media days, with Johnny Manziel. But now it was Winston's star power that garnered all the attention.

Winston sat at a small table with his teammate, P.J. Williams, perched quietly at the opposite end. The crowd surrounding Winston grew so massive that reporters were standing on chairs just to get a peek, while the other ACC representatives discussed minutia with spartan audiences. But if Winston stole the spotlight, no one seemed upset by the spectacle.

"He's a great player, a great athlete and a great person to be around," BC defensive back Dominique Williams said. "He's a funny kid. Guys like us, we're just going about our business, and if people want to talk to us, they'll talk to us."

In fact, there were plenty of players just as eager to meet the ACC's biggest name live and in person.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston reminded those at the ACC's preseason kickoff that he and the Seminoles stopped the SEC's string of national titles this past season.
During the day's photo session, Winston smiled and snapped a selfie with Clemson's Cole Stoudt. He cracked jokes with players from Boston College and Wake Forest. When he wrapped up his session with print media, he danced in front of the North Carolina contingent.

"That guy's crazy," laughed Tar Heels' linebacker Norkeithus Otis.

His partner at the dais wasn't surprised. UNC quarterback Marquise Williams first met Winston at a camp five years ago, then he roomed with the Heisman winner at this past week's Manning Passing Academy. Winston's playful demeanor in the face of so much media scrutiny came as no surprise for Williams.

"I've known that knucklehead," Williams said. "I'm impressed with him. He's not like you think, not cocky. He's humble. He's a real down-to-earth guy. You can tell he won the Heisman, so something had to change, but everybody gets better as they get older. They get more knowledge."

That was a theme for Winston throughout. He didn't offer much in the way of contrition for the off-field incidents that have made him fodder for jokes and a headliner on celebrity gossip sites, but Winston did repeatedly talk about maturing in the spotlight and learning from his mistakes.

"You always have to have a smile on your face," Winston said. "Leadership is not only on the field -- it's off the field too. I know I have guys looking up to me, and I know I have a lot of support from my teammates as well."

The smile endeared Winston to the crowd Sunday, but the lingering concerns about last year's sexual assault investigation and this spring's police citation for stealing crab legs from a local grocery store tinged nearly every question Winston received. That too earned the attention of his colleagues around the room.

"He's a kid that made mistakes -- some bigger than others -- but he's doing a good job of handling himself," Miami tailback Duke Johnson said. "He got asked questions that were uncomfortable for him, but he handled himself well."

It was less than a year ago that Winston vaulted into the national spotlight, and he insists that despite all the chaos of a high-profile investigation, a Heisman win and a BCS title, he hasn't changed much. That certainly seemed to be the case Sunday, as he maintained the same air of playfulness and confidence that endeared him to so many Florida State fans from the outset of his career.

But Winston said he also knows Sunday won't be the last time he faces the cameras and answers some uncomfortable questions. Now that he's wrestled a championship from the SEC, he's going to be at the center of college football's universe -- for better and worse.

"I understand my leadership responsibilities for a team that won a national championship and a Heisman trophy," Winston said. "We still have a little fun here and there, and we've still got our mind set on winning another national championship. That's the most important thing."

ACC media days live

July, 20, 2014
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The ACC media days kick off Sunday in Greensboro, North Carolina, as the conference goes into the season boasting a defending national champion for the first time since 2000. Keep this page open throughout the day's proceedings as we bring you all the latest from our array of reporters, who will cover all 14 teams at the event.

 
video Jameis Winston stole the show at Florida State’s media day a year ago as the charismatic freshman quarterback and instant media darling. He is the show Sunday in Greensboro, North Carolina, where the ACC media days begin with Winston talking to reporters first.

It will be the first time Winston will meet with the media since the end of spring practice April 12, but there’s been no shortage of headlines featuring Winston’s name, as he was cited for shoplifting seafood and did not testify at the school disciplinary hearings for teammates Chris Casher and Ronald Darby.

It surprised some to see Florida State was bringing Winston to media days considering the intense scrutiny he’s faced over the last nine months. There won't be the same ability for Florida State to control the questions thrown Winston’s way at media days in front of a national group of reporters, many of whom have written columns in the last year criticizing Winston and Florida State’s handling of his off-field incidents.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesAll eyes will be on Jameis Winston as ACC media days kick off on Sunday.
How will Winston respond when peppered with questions about crab legs or his rumored no-show at the hearings for Casher and Darby? (Winston’s lawyer, Tim Jansen, told ESPN.com in May that Winston was not required to attend.) Auburn came under fire last week for leaving quarterback Nick Marshall at home following a marijuana citation, electing to allow Marshall to avoid the prodding questions from SEC media. Critics wanted to see maturity out of Marshall in front of reporters, and they will be looking for the same from Winston.

Every sentence and every gesture Winston makes will be analyzed Sunday. And unlike this time last year, Winston has earned the spotlight with his dazzling play on the field and puzzling decisions off it.

While Winston is the story of media days this week, here a few other players certain to draw significant attention:

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: The Hurricanes’ workhorse last season suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Florida State. With a questionable quarterback situation, Miami’s offense might only go as far as Johnson takes it.

WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: If not for Winston, Boyd might have been the ACC’s top rookie in 2013. An explosive playmaker, Boyd will be relied upon heavily this season with Devin Street off to the NFL. Boyd is one of the better quotes, too.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: The Tigers are looking to dethrone the Seminoles in the Atlantic Division, and their chances might rest on the Clemson defense, which could be among the nation’s best.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: Parker is poised for huge numbers in Bobby Petrino’s offense. If Petrino can upset the balance of power in the ACC at all this season, Parker will be a major reason.
Headed to Greensboro for media day. Make sure you follow the ACC blog team on Twitter: Andrea will be tweeting from @ESPN_ACC, in addition to @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN.

James in North Carolina writes: Do you think there is another division in college football as wide open as the Coastal? I think Duke, VT, Miami, and North Carolina are all very close talent wise, and any of them could beat each other on any given day. I don't feel that Pitt is on the same level, but with the other teams dishing out losses to each other, they could be right there in the mix. The same could be said for Georgia Tech. In my opinion, the only team that I don't think will compete is UVA, but strange things tend to happen in the ACC.

Andrea Adelson writes: The Coastal is without a doubt the most wide open division in college football. I have seen Duke, Virginia Tech and North Carolina all listed as preseason favorites; Miami won nine games last season; I expect Pitt to be much better; Georgia Tech has a long history of success in the Coastal and cannot be counted out; and Virginia will be much better and much more competitive. I would not be surprised if the entire division ended up with bowl eligibility this season, even the Hoos. I still think Duke and North Carolina are the front-runners, followed closely by Virginia Tech, Pitt, Georgia Tech and Miami. The Hokies have a favorable schedule (BC and Wake from the Atlantic) and I am going to go ahead and guarantee they will be better on offense. Virginia Tech and Pitt might be slightly ahead of Georgia Tech and Miami. The Jackets have a lot of question marks on defense, and so does Miami (along with uncertainty at quarterback). Check back next week to see how we each voted in the ACC preseason poll. I wouldn't be surprised if we all pick a different Coastal champ.




Jon in Atlanta writes: Hey AA, I've been looking at a few projections about the ACC Coastal. I think it's pretty safe to say, that no one is a stand out winner. Some have UNC, some VT and some Duke. I would love for my Jackets to sneak in and win it. However, with a new QB and a few questions on the "D" side, I think that will be a tough stretch. I'm thinking it's going to be another 7 win season for us, what's your thoughts? Can we win more?

Adelson writes: I have not been overly optimistic about Georgia Tech this season. Then I read some interesting notes about the Jackets in the Phil Steele college football preview magazine. Did you know the Jackets have a .500 record or better in ACC play for 19 straight seasons -- the longest streak in the country? That stat alone makes it hard to completely discount Georgia Tech. I think Justin Thomas will be an upgrade over Vad Lee, and the offense will be fine. My biggest concern is the defense, particularly up front. Having said that, the nonconference schedule is easier than it has been over the past two seasons, Miami, Clemson and Duke all play in Atlanta and there are no midweek games on the schedule. This team has the potential to win more than seven games.




UM student in SF, Calif., writes: The past month Miami has been tearing it up on the recruiting trail. I mean the 2016 class is already shaping up to be special. I was wondering how much the fact that the NCAA cloud has passed played into this, and how long you think Golden has to step up and win some real games now. Do you think he gets like a clean slate or something?

Adelson writes: NCAA closure has been absolutely huge for Miami. Players who shied away from the Canes, even in-state, are now really giving Miami a close look. I wrote a little bit about the impact in the Tampa area. Golden is not on the hot seat by any stretch. Everybody in the administration knows what he was saddled with over the past three seasons, especially since he took the job and had no idea there would be a major NCAA investigation that would essentially take up every single season he has had to date. As for winning some real games, let's not forget about last season. Yes, it ended in disappointment, but Miami won nine and also beat Florida. The Gators ended up having a disastrous season, but at the time they played, Florida was viewed as the better team. I thought that was a big win for Golden and the program. Now, I know what you are getting at -- getting back to beating Florida State and playing for an ACC championship. Miami has assembled some talent over the past several years, but I still think the Canes are a few years away from consistent 10-12 win seasons. Having said that, I do think Golden deserves some patience. I know expectations are always sky-high at Miami. He wouldn't want it any other way. But at the same time, he has had more on his hands than any other coach in the league.




Wayne in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Can my Noles learn to stay out of trouble? I know you have to wait for the all facts, but kick (Jesus Wilson) off the team and set an example. I'm tired of seeing this!

Adelson writes: I understand your frustration. Certainly, you are not the first college football fan tired of seeing athletes getting into trouble. Will kicking him off the team set an example? This year, Jimbo Fisher kicked Ira Denson off the team after he was charged with petty theft and the illegal use of a credit card. Wilson still got into trouble. Now, I realize the cases are different and it is sometimes hard to compare each offense. Denson allegedly perpetrated a crime against a teammate; Wilson allegedly stole a scooter. Should a coach kick every player off the team who is arrested and charged with a crime? How does a coach prevent athletes from getting arrested? These are all difficult questions each coach must face.

Eds note: Earlier this week, I profiled Clemson offensive lineman Kalon Davis and his study abroad trip to Kyoto, Japan. Tragically, professor E. Leslie Williams -- who led the trip -- died suddenly last week. Thoughts and prayers are with Davis, Williams and the Clemson family.
Big names among the assistant ranks tend not to stay assistants for too long, but Clemson’s Chad Morris says he’s right where he wants to be and isn’t looking for a head-coaching gig long-term, writes the Augusta Chronicle.

Of course, if a certain job in College Station, Texas, were to open up -- as our Travis Haney wrote about this week -- it certainly would seem like a good fit for Morris, who is a Texas A&M graduate. But Morris also earned $1.3 million last season, which makes it a bit easier to stay comfortable in a coordinator role, and though he is smart enough to know when the right situation comes around, I think he is also sincere when he says he is not looking to leave.

And Morris isn’t the only ACC assistant would could be a hot commodity at some point in the next couple years. A few other names to watch for bigger jobs:

Bud Foster, Virginia Tech: The offense has been down over the past few years for the Hokies, but Foster's defense has been as good as ever. Foster has turned down lucrative offers elsewhere in the past, so he is clearly not looking to leave, but he will nevertheless remain on the radar for a lot of other programs looking to bring in a proven commodity.

Jay Graham, Florida State: He is young, has NFL experience and SEC ties, and he is a recruiting whiz. He also presided over the first 1,000-yard back at Florida State in 16 years last season. Graham is going to be a hot name very soon.

Chip West, Virginia: How does a team that finishes 2-10 and has a head coach constantly mired in hot-seat rumors still land a solid recruiting class, including five ESPN300 members? Chalk it up to West, one of the best recruiters in the nation.

Scottie Montgomery, Duke: He will get his first crack at a coordinator job this year as he takes over for Kurt Roper, who left for Florida. Montgomery has NFL experience as a wideouts coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he is a terrific recruiter. If Duke’s offense continues to shine, he is going to get a lot of credit -- and a lot of long looks from other programs.

Brent Venables, Clemson: Morris gets all the buzz because offense is fun and the Tigers’ defense has played second fiddle for years. But look, everyone remembers that Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia to conclude the 2011 season, and what Venables has done for the Tigers’ defense since then -- 29.3 ppg in 2011, 24.8 in 2012, 22.2 in 2013 -- has been impressive, and this year’s unit could be his best yet. More importantly, the Clemson defense is finally climbing out of the shadow of its prolific offense.

More links:

Athlon has a look at recruiting in the Tidewater, Virginia area, and how the region has become a key battleground for programs like Florida State and Virginia.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a piece on how colleges are bringing in outside help to sell tickets.

The Daily Progress is looking at Virginia’s opponents and wonders if this is the golden age of Duke football.

A new play-calling system should help Terrel Hunt run Syracuse’s up-tempo offense, according to Syracuse.com. We wrote plenty about up-tempo offenses yesterday, if you missed it.

Georgia Tech’s special teams should be a strength, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Courier-Journal wonders why Bobby Petrino isn’t having more success on the recruiting trail at Louisville.
During Florida State's national championship-winning season, its leader in takeaways (Nate Andrews), yards per carry (Karlos Williams) and yards per touch (Kermit Whitfield) combined to start just one game. In the current landscape of college football, talent at the top is crucial but depth is often what separates the best teams. With that in mind, we counted down the ACC’s best backups -- players who weren’t starters last season and aren't currently penciled in atop the depth chart, but who could make a major impact in 2014. While we ranked our top five, there are plenty of other contenders. This is a quick look at those who just missed the cut.

[+] EnlargeRyan Green
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRyan Green's experience should give him a leg up in the battle to be Karlos Williams' backup.
Ryan Green (RB, Florida State): Really, any of Florida State’s backup running backs could be here. Green has terrific speed and is the lone runner down the depth chart with game experience, but Dalvin Cook and Mario Pender figure to see plenty of action this season and could also produce big numbers the way this year's starter, Karlos Williams, did as the No. 3 tailback in 2013.

Wayne Gallman (RB, Clemson): Like FSU, Clemson boasts a deep backfield that could feature significant contributions from a number of runners. Still, it’s Gallman, the redshirt freshman, who seems to get the biggest raves from coaches. He could certainly find himself in a starting role before too long.

Tyriq McCord (DE, Miami): Primarily working on third downs last season, McCord showed plenty of promise, racking up four sacks, three forced fumbles and two INTs, despite not starting a game. One of those forced fumbles came against Florida, perhaps Miami’s biggest win last season.

Thomas Sirk (QB, Duke): The backup quarterback at Duke was a vital position last year when Brandon Connette finished third in the ACC in rushing touchdowns. The equally athletic Sirk seems equipped to handle that role in 2014.

Shaquille Powell (RB, Duke): Josh Snead returns as the team’s leading rusher, but in an offense with plenty of explosive talent, Powell, who averaged 5.5 yards per rush as the No. 3 back last season, figures to carve out a niche and has really impressed teammates this offseason.

Ron Thompson (DE, Syracuse): The converted tight end has the potential to be a beast on the defensive line, he just doesn’t quite have a full-time job yet at Syracuse. In limited action last season, however, he had two sacks and 20 tackles, including 4.5 for a loss.

Quarterbacks: There aren’t many teams that have completely settled quarterback situations, which means that odds are, one or more of the current backups will end up making a big difference down the road in 2014. Mitch Trubisky at UNC, Kevin Sousa at Wake Forest, Tim Byerly at Georgia Tech and, of course, Deshaun Watson at Clemson all have potential to be impact players before the year is out.

No doubt there will be plenty of other back-ups to emerge as significant playmakers this year. So, who else should we have considered? Who might take a big step forward in 2014?
Earlier on Thursday, we looked at the success and drawbacks of Clemson’s up-tempo offense, which got us to thinking about the league’s tempo as a whole.

Chad Morris came to Clemson, bringing the up-tempo style with him, in 2011. Since that time, the Tigers have averaged a 22-percent increase in plays per game and a 42-percent increase in scoring. Not surprisingly, both of those numbers are the best among ACC teams.

But it’s not just Clemson that’s moving faster on offense. In the three years since Morris’ arrival in Death Valley (beginning in 2011), the ACC as a whole has seen a 7-percent increase in offensive plays per game (and, accordingly, a 7-percent decrease in the time of possession per play) compared with the immediately preceding three-year stretch. In fact, all 14 teams that played in the ACC in 2013 have seen at least a marginal improvement in offensive tempo during the last three seasons.

Here are the teams with the biggest jumps in tempo, measured by time of possession per play:

1. Clemson (up 20.1 percent)
2. North Carolina (up 14.4 percent)
3. Syracuse (up 14.4 percent)
4. Pittsburgh (up 10 percent)

It may not come as much of a surprise then that the teams to see the biggest leaps in scoring from the 2008-10 time span vs. 2011-13 look pretty familiar.

1. Clemson (up 43 percent)
2. North Carolina (up 32 percent)
3. Florida State (up 28 percent)
4. Syracuse (up 25 percent)

It’s common sense, really: more plays translates pretty directly to more scoring chances, and more scoring chances translates to more points. Add better talent to that mix (as has certainly been the case at both Clemson and Syracuse) and the results get even better.

Of course, as we noted in the earlier post on Clemson, there’s a tradeoff on the defensive side when the offense is moving so quickly. Here are the teams that have seen the biggest increases in points surrendered during those same time frames.

1. Boston College (42.3 percent)
2. Clemson (35 percent)
3. North Carolina (22 percent)
4. Pittsburgh (17.9 percent)

Obviously there are other factors at play here beyond just tempo, but there clearly is some correlation between how fast an offense moves and how much pressure that then puts on a defense. For the most part, teams like Clemson are happy to make that tradeoff because the offensive exploits more than outweigh the potential drawbacks defensively. The result has been a 32-8 record in three years with Morris guiding the offense for the Tigers. Similarly, Syracuse has improved dramatically and is hoping to run even faster on offense this year, while North Carolina and Pitt have each garnered some buzz as potential Coastal Division favorites.

The elephant in the room when it comes to discussing tempo in the ACC, however, remains Florida State. After all, no team has been more dominant than the Seminoles, who’ve seen offensive productivity skyrocket in the last three years, while it’s tempo has remained virtually unchanged. And that’s really a good reminder that tempo can help, but there’s more than one way to put up points.

Lastly, here’s a quick look at the fastest- and slowest-paced teams in the ACC from 2011-2013, based on time of possession per play. (Note: League average during that span was one play every 25.4 seconds)

Fastest pace
1. Clemson (21.4 seconds)
2. North Carolina (24.0 seconds)
3. Syracuse (24.1 seconds)
4. NC State (24.4 seconds)
5. Duke (24.8 seconds)

Slowest pace
1. Georgia Tech (28.0 seconds)
2. Virginia Tech (27.2 seconds)
3. Boston College (27.1 seconds)
4. Florida State (27.0 seconds)
5. Pittsburgh (26.3 seconds)
Tajh Boyd is gone. Sammy Watkins is gone. Martavis Bryant is gone. But if you think that means Clemson's up-tempo offense will also disappear, you'd be wrong, says Dabo Swinney.

From The State:
Watkins left school a season early and was picked No. 4 by the Buffalo Bills while Boyd was taken in the sixth round by the New York Jets this past May -- opening up two high-profile spots on last year's eighth-ranked Tigers.

For those returning, the message is clear, says offensive coordinator Chad Morris: “To prove that we weren't a two-man show.”

Tempo is a buzzword around college football, of course, and few places have done it better than Clemson.

Morris, Boyd and Watkins all came aboard in 2011. In the three years previous, Clemson averaged 65 plays per game and one play every 26.7 seconds of possession time. In the three years Morris, Boyd and Watkins were together, the Tigers averaged 79 plays per game (a 22 percent increase) and one play every 21.4 seconds of possession time (a 20 percent improvement).

But just how much of an impact has the up-tempo offense had for the Tigers?

On the offensive side, that 20 percent increase in plays has translated to a 42 percent increase in points per game. Obviously some of that is attributable to better talent -- Boyd and Watkins were historically good players at Clemson -- but a lot has to do with simply having more chances to score, too.

The flip side of that, however, is on defense. Again, talent plays a role here, but in the three years before Morris, Boyd and Watkins arrived, Clemson allowed an average of 19 points per game. In the three years since, the Tigers have coughed up 26 points per game -- a 35 percent increase that, obviously, offsets a big chunk of the offensive improvement. That up-tempo offense has meant that Clemson, despite losing just eight of its 40 games in the past three years, has spent roughly four more minutes of action on defense than on offense per game during that stretch.

All of this brings us to 2014, when the offense is in transition without its superstars, and the defense is expected to be the backbone of the team. If that's to be the case, is keeping that same offensive tempo really the best way to go?

At the end of the day, Morris is going to coach the way he always has, and Cole Stoudt is a veteran who knows the system well enough to execute the offense with some precision. But Clemson's strengths will be the D-line and a deep corps of runners, and it's probably fair to wonder if Morris just may tweak things a little more than he's letting on.

More links:

Morris says freshman QB Deshaun Watson will see the field in Clemson's opener against Georgia, according to TigerNet.com.

Just because Marquise Williams is headed to ACC media days doesn't mean he's UNC's starting QB, writes the Charlotte Observer.

FSU legend Derrick Brooks was back on campus this week while his son attended Jimbo Fisher's football camp, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.

There's been plenty of preseason love for defenders at Virginia Tech and Virginia, writes The Roanoke Times.

The Macon Telegraph previews Miami's 2014 season with CaneSports.com's Gary Ferman (Warning: audio, not print).

BC Interruption runs the numbers to see which teams have done the best job of meeting media expectations in recent years — though I think it's more a critique of the media's predictions.

Non-ACC link of the day: AL.com has a profile of the most inquisitive reporter at SEC media days.

Non-sports link of the day: Philly knows how to make great art.
It's no secret that the strength of Clemson's team this season figures to be its defensive line. And, of course, there are plenty of numbers to underscore the Tigers' ferociousness up front.
  • The ACC returns 13 players who had at least 10 tackles for loss last season. Five of them play for Clemson.
  • Vic Beasley had 23 TFLs vs. teams from BCS-AQ conferences last season. No other returning ACC player had more than 12.
  • Clemson's defense recorded a tackle in the backfield once every 7.8 plays last season against AQ teams.
  • The Tigers didn't rely on the blitz either. When rushing four or fewer, Clemson recorded a sack every 11.1 passing attempts last season, the second-lowest rate in the league.

In other words, the Tigers are pretty good up front. But digging into those numbers also uncovered a few other interesting tidbits about ACC defensive fronts. Normally we like to compose a nice narrative around one or two key stats, but for the purposes of this post, we're going a little more free-flowing. Here's a bit of what we found:

• Yes, Clemson was exceptional when it came to defensive fronts in 2013, but so was the rest of the ACC. (Or, perhaps, if you're a pessimist, the O lines around the league were particularly bad.)

Of all teams to play at least eight games vs. AQ conference schools, Clemson had the best rate of TFLs, recording one every 7.8 plays. But, of the top 18 teams in plays-per-TFL last year, seven now play in the ACC. Here's the list:

1. Clemson (7.8)
3. Louisville (8.5)
4. Virginia Tech (8.7)
10. Virginia (9.5)
15. Syracuse (9.8)
17. Florida State (10.1)
18. NC State (10.4)

• Looking at that list, it's worth noting Louisville, Syracuse and Florida State all lost key players from last season's defensive lines to the NFL.

• Speaking of key defensive linemen moving on to the NFL, few teams figure to suffer quite as much from the loss of a key starter this season than Pitt.

How big was Aaron Donald's contribution to the Panthers' defense? He had 21 TFLs against AQ conference teams, which accounted for a whopping 43 percent of the team's total.

Moreover, Pitt relied more on its four-man rush, led by Donald, than any other team in the ACC. A whopping 92 percent of Pitt's sacks in 2013 came with just a four-man rush, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

• The flip side of that coin is Virginia, where the D-line figures to get plenty of credit (and should be even deeper this year), but it was the blitz that really carried the Hoos. Nearly half of all of dropbacks by Virginia's opponents last season were countered with a blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and 71 percent of the Cavaliers' sacks came when rushing five or more defenders.

• Defensive coordinators often talk about how the secondary can't flourish without a strong defensive front and vice versa, making it something of a chicken-or-egg discussion, but it's notable that of the top ACC defensive fronts (based on plays/TFL) in AQ-conference games, only Virginia Tech had a highly rated secondary. The Hokies ranked No. 2 in the ACC and No. 17 nationally in yards-per-attempt vs. AQ teams last year. The rest of the top 5 ACC lines were far worse: Clemson (38th nationally in YPA), Virginia (86th), Maryland (47th) and Syracuse (63rd).

• Don't go thinking the high amount of blitzes hurt Virginia's pass defense though. The Hoos allowed 1.6 fewer yards per attempt when blitzing than when sending four or fewer pass-rushers last season. In fact, only Virginia and Syracuse (1.4 fewer yards/attempt) were better when rushing more than four defenders last season.

• The flip side of that coin? Not surprisingly, it's Clemson, which allowed 3.2 more yards-per-attempt when blitzing last season than it did when rushing four or fewer defenders. Other big splits in that direction: Duke (2.4), Miami (1.1), UNC (1.1) and NC State (1.0).

• Pitt has the lowest percentage of its TFLs come against AQ opponents (57 percent). Syracuse had the highest (85 percent).

• Florida State's returning TFL leaders for 2014 is not surprisingly Mario Edwards Jr., with 9.5. Care to guess who's No. 2? We'll give you a minute.

Still thinking?

Give up?

That'd be Chris Casher, who had 5. Casher didn't start a game last season, and he's not exactly guaranteed a starting spot this year. Florida State's sack leader in 2013 was cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, who finished with 5.5. The last time the Seminoles' leader in sacks had so few for a season was 2006 (Buster Davis had 5).

• The only team that recorded a TFL less often (on a per-play basis) against AQ-conference teams last season than Miami was Texas A&M. The Hurricanes' leader in TFLs, Shayon Green, won't be back for 2014.

• And, of course, getting back to Clemson for a moment, there was one other stat the folks on Twitter were more than happy to mention when I talked up Beasley's season.

Um, yeah. The answer to that one would be zero, which should make for a pretty good stat to build a narrative around when Clemson and FSU face off again in September.

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