ACC: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

2015 ACC schedule breakdown

January, 30, 2015
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Now that we have all had some time to digest the 2015 ACC schedule, let us look at the most noteable takeaways.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDeshaun Watson and Clemson will get a later shot at Florida State in 2015, which is a positive development.
The good: Moving Florida State-Clemson to November. If both teams are as good as they have been in recent years, then their game will again determine the Atlantic Division. And there is nothing better than a high-stakes division contest in November, as opposed to September. There was absolutely no drama in the Atlantic this past season after Florida State beat the Tigers in Week 4; the Noles' spot in the ACC championship game was virtually solidified. As Jared Shanker pointed out, the ACC will have nationally relevant games in all three months of the 2015 regular season. That is absolutely huge.

The bad: North Carolina and Boston College are saddled with two FCS games apiece, a fact that did not go unnoticed Thursday. There is a simple explanation: previously scheduled games fell through and both schools were left scrambling. North Carolina had initially scheduled Ohio State for 2015. The game was moved, then subsequently canceled when the Big Ten voted to play nine conference games. Two more factors were at play: the ACC reversed course on a nine-game league schedule when it agreed to a partnership with Notre Dame. North Carolina wanted to wait on that schedule rotation to see how it would shake out. While having two FCS teams on the schedule is far from ideal, North Carolina does play two power-five teams with Illinois and South Carolina. As for Boston College, New Mexico State recently backed out of a 2015 game against the Eagles because it overscheduled. That left a hole the Boston College had to fill on very short notice. So Howard was added. Nobody is running around throwing a party over the FCS opponents. Sometimes these dilemmas happen. (Remember when Florida State had to replace West Virginia with Savannah State?)

The ugly: Poor Syracuse. Not only do the Orange get LSU in nonconference play, they also have the toughest three-game conference stretch of anybody in the ACC: at Florida State, at Louisville and Clemson on three straight weekends spanning the end of October into November. Nobody else in the Atlantic has to face the division's top three teams consecutively. Miami also faces a tough three-game stretch in October that could make or break Coastal Division hopes: at Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson. Nope, the Canes got no favors when they traded Louisville from the Atlantic for the Tigers. But there might not be anything uglier than the NC State nonconference schedule: Troy, Eastern Kentucky and then road games (yes, road games) against Old Dominion and South Alabama.

The byes: A 13-week scheduling window wreaked some havoc with the way the schedules were created because there was only space for one open week. ACC senior associate commissioner of football operations Michael Strickland had some good insight into how that was handled. Some teams are going to suffer more than others. Boston College has 10 straight games before its open date. Opening with the two FCS games might not serve as any consolation. Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech each have to play nine straight games to open the season; Florida State, Miami, Pitt and Clemson have to play nine straight games to end the season. The bye week is placed at an odd time for Clemson. The Tigers play Louisville on Thursday, Sept. 17 then go 15 days until they play again, Oct. 3 against Notre Dame. That is the longest regular-season layoff in school history.

The different: Friday night is the new weekday favorite in the ACC, with more announced dates than Thursday night, the former go-to spot. David Teel of the Daily Press has a great explainer piece on the topic, but it all comes down to television. The ACC will feature its top four teams from 2014 on either Thursday or Friday night this upcoming season. Strategery is definitely involved there.

The impossible: Once again, Virginia has the toughest schedule in the ACC, facing 10 teams that made bowl games in 2014. The move to overschedule is an interesting one, especially when you look at the nonconference scheduling models that NC State and Duke have followed. Both those programs have the worst nonconference schedules in 2015, choosing an easier route toward bowl eligibility. Last season, for example, Virginia was vastly improved, but still finished 5-7 with a backbreaking nonconference schedule. NC State finished 8-5 with a bowl victory, thanks to a cupcake nonconference schedule. NC State has scheduled up in the future to meet the requirement that ACC teams play at least one Power 5 opponent. But for right now, this schedule is hugely beneficial in the wins column. In the case of Virginia, the Hoos would be pleased if they make it out of their first four games against UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary and Boise State 2-2.

As former Virginia offensive lineman Luke Bowanko tweeted Thursday after the schedule was released:

ACC morning links

January, 30, 2015
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If you were taking one player who came out of the 2010 recruiting class, who would it be? Texas A&M had eventual top-six picks Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews, and either would be fine picks. There is Blake Bortles, who elevated UCF to a new level. There is also C.J. Mosley, who turned out to be the next great Alabama linebacker.

[+] EnlargeDonald
AP Photo/Don WrightAaron Donald didn't miss a beat in his transition from Pitt to the NFL.
Athlon Sports is taking former Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Maybe we're a little biased here at the ACC blog, but we give it our stamp of approval.

Let's just stick with what Donald has done at the collegiate level before even entertaining his first-year NFL dominance. As a senior, Donald cleaned up on the awards circuit. He was named the winner of the 2013 Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Lombardi Award and Chuck Bednarik Award. He was also a unanimous All-American after securing 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss and forcing four fumbles in his final season.

In only his first season in the NFL, Donald is a defensive rookie of the year candidate. Colleague Nick Wagoner states his case for Donald, noting the his nine sacks, the most by any rookie over the last three years and second most among all defensive tackles in 2014. His 17 tackles for loss are a league record for a rookie defensive lineman, too.

Donald is not the only former ACC player on the list. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley, who just finished his final season, is ranked ninth. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and ESPN.com listed him as an athlete, but Athlon had him as a tight end.

As a senior, Beasley led the ACC with 12 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss. He also led the country's best defense as Clemson finished No. 1 in yards allowed per game.

Year after year, the ACC puts dozens of players in the NFL even though its recruiting classes don't compete with those of the SEC. It's a tribute to the league's talented coaches.

A few more links to kick off the weekend, which is the last visit weekend before signing day:
Jimbo Fisher, Paul JohnsonUSA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher, left, and Paul Johnson are expected to have their teams in ACC title contention in 2015.
Those tired of Clemson and Florida State deciding the ACC Atlantic Division -- and a potential College Football Playoff berth in this new era -- in September and October, received a welcome surprise Thursday morning.

The Tigers and Seminoles will play Nov. 7, and the winner very well could have the inside track to represent the ACC in the playoffs.

That is, of course, if either team can get through an October date with Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets, who dismantled Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, might just be the ACC’s best team in 2015 and favorite to make the playoff. Georgia Tech travels to Clemson on Oct. 10, then hosts Florida State on Oct. 24.

If Clemson, Florida State, and Georgia Tech all live up to preseason billings, the ACC has positioned itself to be in the national conversation from September to November, which ends with feature games against SEC teams. By mid-October last season, Florida State was the only ACC school in contention. By comparison, the SEC West had three of the top four teams in the playoff and dominated playoff talk for several weeks.

For a conference that has regularly been called the worst among the Power 5, it’s important for the ACC to have showcase games throughout the season, and especially in the later months. Florida State at Clemson will do that on Nov. 7, completing the Clemson-FSU-Georgia Tech round robin that should decide the conference if preseason predictions hold up. They are marquee games that will capture the attention of the selection committee, and the winners will likely be adding late-season quality wins to boost their résumés.

Of course, those games will mean little if those teams cannot make it through the rest of the league schedule relatively unscathed. Louisville is regarded as the fourth-best team in the league heading into 2015, but as an Atlantic team it will have its opportunity to emerge as a playoff contender. The Cardinals travel to Florida State a month after hosting Clemson on Sept. 17, and then the schedule sets up nice for a 6-0 finish. If the Cardinals can go 2-1 in the games against Auburn (Sept. 5 in Atlanta), Clemson, and Florida State, they will be in position to make a playoff run. That’s a big if, as the Cardinals must still settle on a quarterback and overhaul the defense. They might have been better off with those games being played late in the season, although Auburn and Florida State will be breaking in new quarterbacks, too.

Louisville hosts Clemson on Thursday, Sept. 17, and that midweek prime-time showdown could be a jumping off point for a Louisville playoff run.

A day after that midweek showcase game, Florida State has to survive a Friday road trip to Boston College, which narrowly missed an upset of the Seminoles in 2014 (although, who didn’t almost beat FSU in 2014?) and bludgeoned a top-10 USC team.

Then on the following day, Sept. 19, Georgia Tech travels to Notre Dame, which could be poised to make another playoff run with a number of players returning.

When it was announced Notre Dame would be kinda-sorta-half joining the ACC, one of the worries was whether the Fighting Irish would eliminate the league members in the playoff picture. It almost happened last season when the Irish were an offensive pass interference call away from knocking off undefeated Florida State. Well, it could happen this season as the Irish play host to Georgia Tech, then head south to play Clemson two weeks later.

Of course, if Georgia Tech and/or Clemson beat Notre Dame and the Irish go on to have a successful season navigating a decently tough schedule, it will check off another box with the committee for the Yellow Jackets and Tigers.

In this new era, ultimately, that is what it’s all about: getting to the playoffs. This ACC schedule should keep that conversation alive deep into the season.
The ACC will have an opportunity to make a big-time statement when the 2015 season kicks off.

That has become par for the course.

In what has become an annual rite of passage, the ACC has four blockbuster meetings against Power 5 opponents set for Week 1:
  • North Carolina vs. South Carolina on Thurs., Sept. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Louisville vs. Auburn on Sat., Sept. 5 in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. On the same day, Virginia travels to face UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
  • Then, perhaps the most anticipated game of the weekend: defending national champion Ohio State travels to play Virginia Tech on Labor Day Night. This marks the Hokies' third appearance on Labor Day Monday; the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

Those were among the big games spotlighted when the ACC released its schedule on Thursday. In all, ACC teams will play more games against teams that are ranked in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early 2015 Top 25 rankings (12) than any of the other Power 5 conferences. ACC teams also are playing a higher percentage of Power 5 teams (38 percent) than any other Power 5 conference.

None of this comes as a surprise, considering how strongly the ACC has scheduled nonconference opponents in recent years. For the ACC to continue to make inroads toward changing national perception, it will have to keep winning the spotlight games. As it stands, the ACC most likely will be the underdog in those four opening -weekend contests. And many people believe the only way an ACC team can make it into the playoff is with an unblemished record.

In addition to those marquee nonconference games, all eyes will be squarely on Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech as prime playoff contenders.

We should know more about their ACC and College Football Playoff fates over a four-week period spanning October and November.

Circle your calendars for:
  • Georgia Tech at Clemson, Oct. 10
  • Florida State at Georgia Tech, Oct. 24
  • Florida State at Clemson, Nov. 7

As for the always important mid-week games, Virginia Tech might not be hosting a Thursday night contest in 2015, but it does have Labor Day against the Buckeyes and a Friday night home game against NC State on Oct. 9. The Hokies also travel to play Georgia Tech on Thurs., Nov. 12.

Florida State and Clemson have mid-week games as well: Louisville will host the Tigers on Thurs., Sept. 17 in a game that should have Atlantic Division implications, while Florida State plays at Boston College the next day. Boise State at Virginia (Sept. 25); Louisville at Wake Forest (Oct. 30); and Miami at Pitt (Nov. 27) round out the Friday night slate. North Carolina at Pitt on Oct. 29 is the only other Thursday night game.

ACC morning links

January, 28, 2015
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With national signing day closing in, it is hard not to be impressed with the efforts ACC schools have made across the board.

At last check, eight schools are ranked in the ESPN Recruiting Nation Top 40 class rankings. Duke, featured at N0. 39, is poised to sign David Cutcliffe's best class. NC State and Louisville are putting together strong classes, along with usual Top 25 suspects Florida State, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is doing work, too. Though the Deacs are not in the rankings, Clawson is quietly putting together a solid class. ESPN 300 prospect Bowman Archibald spurned Miami despite signing a financial aid agreement with the school in August. As he explained when he switched his commitment last September, his on-campus visit impressed him. He is already enrolled at Wake Forest (though he just had surgery for a broken leg).

Another four-star prospect, quarterback Kyle Kearns out of California, committed over the weekend. Then Tuesday, the Deacs scored another big commitment from running back Rocky Reid, a former Tennessee commit.

All three committed after taking official visits. Perhaps that is not a coincidence.



It also should not go unnoticed that Wake Forest has flipped players once committed to schools like Miami and Tennessee. The Deacs can clearly sell early playing time to a player like Reid, who joins a running back group in search of a standout. There also is no depth behind quarterback John Wolford, so coming to Wake to play quarterback should be appealing -- especially if Clawson's past history is taken into consideration.

Though Wake Forest went 3-9, this is a team that improved throughout the course of the season, that played with heart, energy and passion and never quit. Clawson has gotten the players on his roster to believe. Now he is getting recruits to believe as well.

More around the ACC:
Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we’re taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Position to improve: Defensive line

Why it was a problem: The Yellow Jackets knew entering the season that getting a strong pass rush wouldn’t be easy after losing the bulk of their experience in the front seven. Indeed, Georgia Tech finished 108th nationally in sacks per game, 118th in tackles for loss per game, and no Power 5 team in the nation had fewer opponent plays per game that resulted in a loss or no gain. The big-picture result of that lack of backfield penetration was a defense that yielded 6.3 yards per play in 2014 -- 111th nationally and second-to-last in the ACC.

How it can be fixed: Experience was perhaps the biggest problem for Georgia Tech in 2014. After losing four of its top five pass-rushers from 2013, Tech simply had to give young players an opportunity and hope they could learn on the job. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof largely played a bit less aggressively as a result, which cut down on negative plays created, but also helped to keep too many big plays from happening downfield. That dynamic should begin to shift in 2015 now that KeShun Freeman, Paul Davis and others have more experience under their belts, and Tech figures to get back Jabari Hunt-Days, who missed the season because of academic issues. A solid 2015 recruiting class that includes four defensive linemen should add to the mix as well.

Early 2015 outlook: This isn’t going to be a massive overhaul. The hope for the Yellow Jackets is largely that Hunt-Days can be a force in his return to the field, and the players who saw action last season will be better in 2015. Roof certainly knows how to coach up a defense, and he did a solid job with the limited resources he had in 2014. His playbook should be able to be opened up a bit moving forward. It helps, too, that Tech promises to once again have a potent offensive attack in 2015 that will chew up clock and keep the defense off the field. The Yellow Jackets don’t have to be incredibly deep up front on defense, but they do have to be more productive when they’re on the field. In many respects, there is nowhere to go but up for that unit.
So Wake Forest and North Carolina will face off in 2019 and 2021 in games that won’t count in the ACC standings but will reignite a longtime rivalry, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

As the Journal notes, it’s setting right a wrong done to the two schools due to conference expansion, but it’s also fair to wonder what the longterm ramifications of the deal might be.

Our Andrea Adelson wrote that the two programs deserve credit for taking this relatively unprecedented step to rekindle the rivalry — a step that no doubt will play well with traditionalists eager to see more of those recently deceased rivalries brought back to life.

The move no doubt will also spark some talk about adding a few more nonconference games between ACC teams, with BC Interruption throwing a regular meeting between Boston College and Miami into the discussion.

Elsewhere, Florida State has long coveted a chance to play more routinely in Atlanta, where the Seminoles possess a strong alumni base. NC State and Duke would make a lot of sense, too. In the SEC, where the league has also expanded to 14 teams and added a new rule requiring at least nine games against Power 5 foes, there could be a push for some programs to follow suit, too.

Beyond just those potential geographic rivalries, there’s a potentially significant recruiting impact to seeing cross-divisional foes more routinely, too. Wouldn’t Virginia Tech love to get to play another game in the state of Florida more than once every six years? Or Clemson showing off its offense in South Florida? And certainly Syracuse and BC could stand to steal a few more recruits in Virginia by getting a couple extra games against the Hokies or UVa?

Of course, there are some drawbacks to this, too.

For one, does the UNC-Wake rivalry really spark any more excitement for Tar Heels fans than, say, adding more non-traditional foes to the schedule -- perhaps from the Big Ten or SEC? And for teams like FSU, Clemson and Georgia Tech, who already have a set nonconference rival in the SEC, there’s a hefty financial incentive to keep seven home games each year, which complicates the process significantly.

The bottom line, however, is that conference expansion has played havoc with scheduling just as the College Football Playoff has put teams’ résumés in the spotlight more than ever. Finding some creative ways to fit tradition, finances and résumé-building games together is paramount, and what UNC and Wake have done at least sets a precedent for other programs looking to find some answers to scheduling dilemmas. It’s not an answer to all the problems, but it’s a start.

A few more links:
We’re winding down our list of the ACC’s top 25 players from 2014. To view the previous entries, click here. Now, on to Nos. 6 through 10.

6. Rashad Greene, Florida State

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

There’s never been any question about Greene’s talent, but in 2014 he firmly established himself as one of the great leaders in FSU history. Surrounded by an inexperienced group of receivers, Greene stepped up to become one of the most consistent targets in the nation and caught 99 passes for 1,365 yards -- with numerous game-changing plays along the way. His 74-yard touchdown against Clemson preserved FSU’s win streak, and he finished with double-digit receptions in three games and topped 100 yards receiving eight times. Greene wrapped up his career as FSU’s leading receiver in each of his four seasons.

7. Grady Jarrett, Clemson

Position: Defensive tackle

Year: Senior

Jarrett was the vocal leader of Clemson’s dynamic defensive front, and few tackles in the country made a bigger impact on a week-to-week basis than he did. His 45 tackles paced all Clemson defensive linemen, and his 10 tackles for loss were the most by an ACC interior lineman. Jarrett was a key cog in the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing defense, and he helped solidify the middle for a unit that racked up 254 tackles for loss over the past two seasons.

8. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech

Position: Quarterback

Year: Sophomore

Entering the season, fans were beginning to wonder if Paul Johnson’s option offense had run its course at Georgia Tech. Then Thomas was added to the fray, and everything changed. The sophomore proved a perfect fit for Johnson’s scheme and threw for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns while becoming just the second Tech QB in the past decade to top 1,000 yards on the ground. Thomas is one of just 13 Power 5 QBs in the past decade to top both benchmarks in a single season. Thomas helped Georgia Tech become the nation’s most prolific rushing offense and led the Yellow Jackets to an 11-3 season, a Coastal Division title and a win in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

9. DeVante Parker, Louisville

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

How do you make a case for a player who missed the first seven games of the year to rank in the top 10? With Parker, it’s actually pretty easy. A foot injury during fall camp sidelined Parker early, but the Cardinals’ receiver debuted Oct. 18 against NC State with nine catches for 132 yards, and he never slowed down. In his six games this season, he topped 120 yards five times, including a 214-yard performance against Florida State. Despite missing half the season, Parker finished seventh in the ACC in receiving yards, and among Power 5 receivers with at least 40 catches, none averaged more yards per reception than Parker, at 19.9.

10. Jamison Crowder, Duke

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

Crowder finished with 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season, after turning in his fourth 100-yard game of the year in Duke’s bowl game against Arizona State. One of the ACC’s most consistent receiving threats in each of the past three seasons, Crowder was an all-purpose star who finished third in the ACC in receiving yards, second in receptions, first in punt-return yardage and sixth in all-purpose yards. Also, he was the only ACC player with multiple special-teams touchdowns this season.
The Roanoke Times takes a look at how Virginia Tech utilized its tight ends in 2014 and sees a lot of promise at the position.

This is no surprise. Offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler has utilized his tight ends at every stop he’s made in his career, and before Ryan Malleck went down with an injury in 2013, the plan had been to make him a key contributor to the Hokies’ game plan -- predicting as many as 60 catches.

From the Times:
That revelation, made last spring, was met with at least some skepticism, but looking at how the Hokies used their tight ends in 2014 -- a banner season in terms of production from the position -- it was very realistic in hindsight.

Buoyed by Bucky Hodges' breakout year and [Ryan] Malleck's steady production, Hokies tight ends became very much a focal point of the offense, more so than they have been in most of Frank Beamer's time in Blacksburg.

Hodges and Malleck (and for one game a hobbled Kalvin Cline) combined for 70 catches, 724 yards and nine touchdowns this past season, dwarfing the offensive production from the tight end position in recent memory.

Among ACC teams, only Miami had more receiving yards by tight ends, and no team had more catches or touchdowns by the position.

That’s an interesting twist moving forward, because Bucky Hodges' emergence gives Virginia Tech one of the best offensive mismatches in the ACC. But there’s one other thing to note here, too. Virginia Tech utilized its tight ends at a higher rate than all but five other Power 5 schools, and it’s not exactly a who’s who of offensive juggernauts.

Here’s the offensive production of the 10 teams that used their tight ends the most:



Overall, the group had a combined record of 63-65 and an average rank of 90th in total offense. Only two of those teams finished in the top 50 in total offense -- Wisconsin and Miami -- and they also had two of the best running backs in the nation. The Hokies, meanwhile, were 92nd nationally in yards per carry.

The point being, having an elite tight end can be a valuable weapon, but it’s probably not ideal to have it be your primary weapon. And getting stronger on the ground and on the offensive line remain necessary improvements if Virginia Tech is going to make a big offensive leap in 2015.

A few more links:

Story of the season: Georgia Tech

January, 21, 2015
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The story of Georgia Tech's season can essentially be boiled down to the story of its head coach's career, a guy who has made a habit of proving others wrong by trusting his system and getting the proper pieces in place to buy into his brand of football.

For years now, the heat had been turning up on Paul Johnson, on his triple-option offense, on the Yellow Jackets' ability to compete for ACC championships.

Georgia Tech entered 2014 having lost more than a dozen non-seniors to a number of different factors. The Jackets had dropped five straight to in-state rival Georgia. They were picked to finish fifth in the ACC's Coastal Division in the league's preseason media poll.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsSynjyn Days and the Yellow Jackets got the program pointed up in 2014.
Then they went out and won the division, beat the Bulldogs in Athens and routed Mississippi State of the once-vaunted SEC West to win the Capital One Orange Bowl and cap one of the more surprising 11-3 seasons in recent memory.

And yes, Johnson was handsomely compensated for this resurgence, winning ACC coach of the year honors and earning a four-year contract extension from athletic director Mike Bobinski.

Johnson and his Jackets stayed the course across 2014, despite all of the heat facing them as the season approached. In a preseason ESPN.com poll, 55 percent of fans said something needed to change around the program — and the voters were given three options.

The only thing that changed was the result of this season, one Georgia Tech accomplished by doing it Johnson's way. He was well-aware of the talk around his program, saying this offseason that the tone in the Atlanta area was too negative.

A close call early in the season against Georgia Southern did little to initially quell that talk, but week after week, it became apparent that Georgia Tech was onto something special. A 5-0 start here. Another five-game winning streak there. All the while, its quarterback — an unsung underclassman entering the season — continued to blossom.

Justin Thomas was thrust into the starter's role this summer on a whim, following the surprising departure of Vad Lee, who transferred to James Madison. Lee would have been the lone ESPN 150 recruit on the roster — and yes, even the recruiting came under fire this year, intentionally or not, in the form of an off-hand comment from David Cutcliffe about the triple-option that made for an entertaining back and forth leading up to Georgia Tech's matchup with Duke.

Thomas ended up at Georgia Tech after home-state power Alabama wanted him as a defensive back. At quarterback, the redshirt sophomore grew into his role, earning team captain recognition in the season's first month and making a national statement in the finale with a number of nifty moves that confounded Mississippi State defenders. Thomas proved to be the best quarterback of the seven-year Johnson era at Georgia Tech, finishing the season with 1,719 passing yards, 1,086 rushing yards, 26 total touchdowns and just six interceptions.

It often did not seem to matter who was near him running the ball, as the Jackets overcame stretches without Zach Laskey and Charles Perkins to remain dominant in the run game, with Synjyn Days in particular stepping to the forefront in his senior year. Georgia Tech finished second nationally in rushing yards (342.1 ypg). All the while the defense continued to create opportunities for the offense, tying for 17th nationally in turnovers forced, with 29.

Georgia Tech's final four games came against teams that were ranked in the College Football Playoff selection committee's top 20 at the time of their matchups. The Jackets finished 3-1, with the lone defeat a two-point loss to defending national champion Florida State in the ACC title game.

Whereas that could have slowed down the talk about Johnson's redemption, he instead got his team ready for a team that spent the earlier part of the season ranked No. 1 -- heavily favored Mississippi State. The result? A 49-34 domination that washed away tired narratives about the program.

Georgia Tech finished ranked No. 8 in the final AP poll and No. 7 in the final coaches' poll. All of a sudden next season cannot come soon enough in Atlanta.
Because it's never too early to start making bold predictions about the 2015 season, Athlon put together its list of 10 potential breakout players for the upcoming season, and it includes two budding stars in the ACC.

The first is Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, which should be something of a no-brainer, given that the junior racked up 21.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons despite serving as the backup to Vic Beasley. Only seven other players in the ACC have totaled 10 or more TFL in each of the last two seasons, and of that group, only Lawson will be back for 2015.

“A guy like Shaq Lawson, he could've been starting his first two years, but he sat behind Vic Beasley and you can't complain about that,” defensive back Robert Smith said. “But he could've just as easily been starting the same way.”

Lawson is an obvious starter this year, but the Post & Courier projects out the rest of Clemson's starters, too.

The second of Athlon's breakout candidates is Travis Rudolph, the FSU wide receiver who stepped up as a strong No. 2 option after Rashad Greene as a true freshman this season, including six catches for 96 yards and a score in the Rose Bowl.

Rudolph definitely progressed as the year went along -- he had just one catch in FSU's first four games -- but he's going to have a tougher task in 2015. Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary are gone, meaning all eyes will clearly be on Rudolph to step into the No. 1 role in the passing game. Jameis Winston is gone, too, and the question about the next FSU QB is a big one. Still, Rudolph showed how much talent he has this season, and he's on record as being eager to follow in Greene's footsteps.

Looking around the rest of the ACC, a few other names to watch as potential breakout candidates:

Andrew Brown, Virginia: Injuries limited his freshman performance, but the Hoos will have a new-look defensive line in 2015, and Brown, the former five-star recruit, will be a big part of their plans.

Shaun Wilson, Duke: The ACC already got a small taste of what Wilson can do, as he rushed for 598 yards as a freshman in 2014. His 7.7 yards-per-carry average was the best by any Power 5 running back with at least 75 carries, but his numbers in conference -- 46 carries, 186 yards, 1 TD -- weren't quite as impressive. He'll have a bigger role in 2015.

Josh Jones, NC State: The redshirt freshman started the final five games of the year at strong safety for the Wolfpack, and that happened to coincide with a 4-1 finish to the season in which NC State allowed just 4.68 yards per play -- the seventh-best rate for any Power 5 team from Nov. 1 to the end of the season.

Joseph Yearby, Miami: The freshman had more than 600 yards from scrimmage backing up Duke Johnson in 2014. Now Johnson is gone, but rising star QB Brad Kaaya remains, and Miami's offense hopes to not miss a beat. It could be a huge year for Yearby, who played his high school ball alongside FSU's Dalvin Cook.

A few other links:

Final Top 25: Who missed the cut

January, 20, 2015
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Our ACC Top 25 player countdown for the 2014 season has begun. As somebody who has helped put these lists together for three years now, this may have been the toughest ranking to do. The proof is there -- we had a tie in the rankings from 21-25 -- and were forced to leave off several deserving candidates.

So who just missed the cut? Consider these the honorable mentions in the ACC postseason Top 25.

Tre' Jackson, OG, Florida State. This was probably a tougher omission than P.J. Williams because Jackson was among the best guards in the entire country. The ACC has three All-Americans at this position. We chose the two who were on better offensive lines.

P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State. His omission might raise some eyebrows, but the truth is he was not the best player in his own secondary -- a group that did not live up to lofty preseason expectations. Williams finished with just one interception and 11 passes defended.

Mike Williams, WR, Clemson. Williams finished with 1,030 yards receiving and six touchdowns, averaging 18.1 yards per catch (fourth-best in the ACC). The other three 1,000-yard receivers made the Top 25. He should have a spot in the 2015 preseason Top 25. Same goes for teammate Artavis Scott, who ended with 965 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.

Roberto Aguayo, PK, Florida State. Even though Aguayo did not win the Lou Groza Award, he still is the most valuable kicker in the entire nation, having scored 136 points this season to rank No. 2 in the ACC. But he did miss three kicks this year so that kept him off the Top 25.

Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami. Kaaya blossomed as the season went on and is sure to have a spot on this list when the 2015 preseason Top 25 makes its debut in the summer. Kaaya finished first in the ACC in pass efficiency (145.9), passing yards per completion (14.5) and second in passing yards (3,198).

DeVon Edwards, DB/AP, Duke: Edwards provided tremendous value to the Duke defense and on special teams, finishing second on the team with 133 tackles, tied for second with 4.5 sacks, while leading the team with 10 passes defended. He also ranked fourth in the ACC in kickoff return average and returned one for a score.

Synjyn Days, BB, Georgia Tech. When Days got his opportunity midway through the season, he took full advantage. He ended up with 924 yards rushing and nine touchdowns -- 835 yards and eight of those touchdowns came in the final seven games of the season.

Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson. Watson showed flashes of brilliance when he was on the field. But the problem was he wasn't on the field nearly enough to make the Top 25. He's almost a lock to be a top-5 preseason pick in 2015.

ACC morning links

January, 20, 2015
Jan 20
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Gene Chizik is now officially onboard as North Carolina defensive coordinator. On paper, the move makes sense.

Chizik has made his name as a top defensive coach; North Carolina was unwatchable on defense last season, ranking among the worst groups in America. Defense has held North Carolina back the last two seasons, and Larry Fedora was not stubborn enough to keep allowing a broken system to keep running.

He had to make a change, so he went out and hired the biggest name available.

But despite Chizik's résumé as a top defensive coach, the move wasn't met without some criticism. It is interesting, to say the least, that the Tar Heels opted to hire a coach who was accused of NCAA violations during his tenure at Auburn. Though nothing was ever substantiated, North Carolina has got to be careful about the company it keeps, considering the athletic department is once again under NCAA investigation for alleged academic fraud in its African and Afro-American Studies classes.

Fedora addressed the NCAA question unprompted in an interview with Andrew Carter of the News & Observer, telling the newspaper the school was confident the allegations were false after investigating.

“Just like everybody, we vetted him completely and are very comfortable with where we’re at,” Fedora said told the newspaper. “I mean, there were some unsubstantiated allegations out there about him and what’s happened in the past.”

Chizik was fired after a 3-9 season in 2012. In April 2013, he was accused of paying players and changing grades in a report on Roopstigo.com, run by former New York Times and Sports Illustrated journalist Selena Roberts. Chizik vehemently denied the charges then, and did so again in a statement released through his attorney to the News & Observer:

“During my time as Auburn’s head coach, I never authorized, instructed or directed anyone to change any player’s grade or provide any type of illegal payment to any student-athlete,” Chizik said.

During his stint as Auburn coach, the NCAA also investigated the recruitment of quarterback Cam Newton, but that was tied to allegations that the player's father tried to shop him to Mississippi State. Still, an NCAA cloud hung over Auburn midway through its 2010 championship season and into the 2011 season as Chizik was forced to answer questions about Newton. In 2012, Yahoo! Sports reported the NCAA was investigating allegations of recruiting improprieties between Auburn representatives and third parties.

So it is not as if Chizik has a squeaky clean image. Though he was never charged with committing NCAA violations, Chizik does come with some baggage. Not exactly ideal for a scandal-plagued program still suffering the consequences for NCAA rules violations.

Elsewhere around the ACC:
  • The NFL announced the official list of early entrants to the NFL draft. Florida State led the way with five players.
  • Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo tops The Sporting News' list of top 20 impact players returning to school.
  • Georgia Tech has offered a grayshirt to in-state product Brad Stewart.
  • Former Louisville player Patrick Grant will have his lawsuit against the university go to trial Tuesday. Grant has accused former coach Charlie Strong of breaking a promise to keep him on scholarship after he was beaten so badly by two teammates he nearly lost an eye and had to quit the team. Strong is expected to testify in the trial.
  • Miami players and coaches are growing weary of all the negativity surrounding the program.
  • Pitt offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings will draw a crowd at the Senior Bowl this week.
  • Solid take from Andy Bitter in the Roanoke Times: Aaron Morehead's departure from Virginia Tech shows Frank Beamer has made some good hires over the last few years.
  • The Orlando Sentinel lists its early list for 2015 Heisman candidates. Is Dalvin Cook the top choice from the ACC?
Now that the season is over, it is time to rank the top 25 players in the ACC based on 2014 performance. Needless to say, we had tough choices to make -- so tough, in fact, that we could not break a tie between two exceptional offensive guards. So there are in fact 26 players on our top-25 list, and we are just fine with that decision.

What went into the ranking? In addition to performance this season, we also took into account each of the players' value to their team, value at their respective position and game-changing ability. With that, here is a look at players Nos. 21-25 (plus No. 26).

21. Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State

Position: defensive end

Year: junior

Edwards was dominant at times but also lacked the consistency many were hoping to see out of him in his second year as a starter. Weight continued to be a problem. When he was on, he was effective, racking up 44 tackles -- 11 for loss -- and three sacks this season. But against Oregon, he was essentially a nonfactor. Cherry on top for being one of the best quotes in the ACC this season, though!

22. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech

Position: cornerback

Year: sophomore

Fuller was the best cornerback in the ACC -- and he won that designation despite playing the entire season with a broken wrist. Coming off a successful freshman campaign, Fuller finished tied for first in the ACC with 17 passes defended (15 breakups, two interceptions), while earning All-ACC honors and second-team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Foundation and Football Writers Association of America.

T-23. Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech AND Laken Tomlinson, Duke

Position: offensive guards

Year: seniors

The ACC had All-American play at offensive guard this season -- Tre Jackson at Florida State also deserves mention -- so we are making an exception here and going with a tie between two of them because they are both equally deserving of recognition. Mason helped pave the way for a Georgia Tech rushing offense that led the nation with 342.1 yards per carry, the best average in the Paul Johnson era. Meanwhile, Tomlinson was a consensus All-American and first-team All-ACC selection after helping Duke average 180-plus rushing yards and 210-plus passing yards for the first time in school history.

25. Jeremy Cash, Duke

Position: safety

Year: junior

Cash was an impressive force in the defensive backfield once again for the Blue Devils, racking up more than 100 tackles for a second straight season. In fact, Cash was the only defensive back in the nation to record 100-plus tackles, 10 or more tackles for loss and five or more sacks. He also forced four fumbles on the season, tied for the second most in the ACC. With the news that Cash is returning for his senior season, expect his name to be on this list again come 2015.

26. Tyler Murphy, Boston College

Position: quarterback

Year: senior

Murphy was the engine that made the BC offense go, and he set a host of records in the process. His 1,184 yards on the ground set a new ACC and school record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and he ranked second among all quarterbacks in yards rushing. Murphy accounted for 56 percent of the Eagles' total offense in 2014 and had five 100-yard games. The highlight, of course, was his MVP performance in a 37-31 upset win over USC in September, in which Murphy ran for 191 yards and a score, averaging 14.7 yards per carry.

ACC morning links

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
9:00
AM ET
There was no big mystery about what would happen when the first autonomous legislation passed at the NCAA convention over the weekend.

Full cost-of-attendance was first on the docket, and it easily passed. But it was not a unanimous vote. One school voted against adding the stipend: Boston College.

Rather than go with the flock, the university decided to take a stand, worried that the increased financial burdens to athletic departments everywhere could mean devastating consequences for non-revenue sports. In a statement released Saturday night, the university said:
Boston College is concerned with continuing to pass legislation that increases expenses when the vast majority of schools are already institutionally subsidized. The consequence of such legislation could ultimately hurt student-athletes if/when programs are cut.

This legislation further segregates student-athletes from the general student population by increasing aid without need-based consideration. Legislation already exists for student-athletes in need through pell grants and the student-assistance fund.

We have concerns that the Federal Financial aid formula is sufficiently ambiguous that adjustments for recruiting advantage will take place.

Indeed, this is one of the many unanswered questions that remain now that autonomy is here: How will many cash-strapped athletic departments begin to pay for all the bells and whistles only the few can afford, simply because they want to keep pace? Everybody can agree that cost of attendance is a worthy cause, but nobody really has any idea what the financial consequences will be down the road.

A student-athlete at Boston College receives a roughly $250,000 education in four years' time, higher than most schools this legislation will impact. As colleague Mitch Sherman points out:
Boston is an expensive place to attend school, equating to a stipend for student-athletes at BC that will exceed the still-undetermined average. Without a football program awash in money, Boston College must dig deep to keep pace with its rivals -- or consider other ways to save money, perhaps including the elimination of non-revenue sports.

Now there exists a potential consequence to autonomy that fails to mesh with the mission of the NCAA. And if it's a problem at Boston College, which gets a piece of the ACC pie, imagine the trouble brewing at smaller colleges.

It was a big recruiting weekend across college football. Here are a few updates in the ACC:
In other ACC news:
  • Duke lost its defensive line coach, while Virginia Tech lost its receivers coach.
  • Several ACC players stood out at the East-West Shrine Game, including former Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo, Louisville running back Dominique Brown and offensive lineman John Miller and NC State kicker Niklas Sade.
  • Senior Bowl practices get underway this week, and Shaq Mason and T.J. Clemmings are two players to watch. Meanwhile, Tre' Jackson appears to be the only Florida State player who will participate in the Senior Bowl after Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Cameron Erving and Josue Matias all dropped out.
  • Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette takes a look at the legacy former athletic director Steve Pederson leaves behind.

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