ACC: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
We at the ACC blog would like to welcome Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer back to the sideline. Beamer, in his 29th season as the Hokies' coach, spent the December bowl game coaching from the press box following throat surgery.
The Daily Press writes Beamer's voice is still working its way back, but he still possessed the same fervor while talking about his team.
Here are a handful of links around the ACC for your morning:
- A search firm will present a list of candidates for the Pittsburgh athletic director position to the school's search committee in the coming weeks.
- Clemson linebacker B.J. Goodson feels comfortable filling the shoes of departed leader Stephone Anthony.
- Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and son Tommy, who coached Clemson, will be part of a new travel show called "Bobby Bowden Goes to War." The documentary brings the Bowdens to Europe to highlight World War II stories.
- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said he is confident the school will make a strong athletic director hire.
- With hardly any experience returning at A-back, it feels like the beginning of the Paul Johnson era in Atlanta all over again for the unit.
- Here are 10 Miami players that could become much bigger factors in 2015.
- Louisville is splitting first-team reps at quarterback as spring practice gets underway. The Cardinals have a major question mark at quarterback.
- The defense was a little ahead of the offense at NC State on Tuesday, due in part to numbers.
- Prized signee C.J. Stalker is looking to adjust quickly for Virginia.
Much of the conversation in the ACC surrounds Florida State's quarterback situation -- past, present and future. While Sean Maguire impresses coaches and teammates with his performance this spring through the first few practices, his predecessor remains in the news and his potential successor is making headlines.
Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the favorite to go No. 1 overall, is leaning toward spending the draft with his family in Alabama rather than travel to Chicago, his father told ESPN.com last week. MMQB.com caught up with Roger Goodell and posted a story Monday in which Goodell said he would respect Winston's desire to watch the draft with those close to him.
"I think that it’s something we respect when a player says, “I’d like to be with my family on that day.” It’s an important day for them also," Goodell to MMQB.com.
Many wondered if the NFL would pressure Winston into attending the draft, but unless something changes, both parties are fine with skipping out on Chicago.
Winston was the No. 1 quarterback nationally in the 2012 recruiting class, and four years later, Florida State is bringing in the top-ranked prep quarterback again. Malik Henry, who recently transferred to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, participated in a regional camp for Nike The Opening. Henry, No. 3 overall in the 2016 class, was named one of the regional camp's MVPs and received an invitation to The Opening, which is held in July in Beaverton, Oregon.
ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer also leads the Elite 11, an elite passing camp for the top high school quarterbacks, and was on hand at the Atlanta regional to evaluate the quarterbacks. He told SB Nation Henry was "as dominant as any kid we had this year."
- A top Syracuse 2015 signee is still working to academically qualify for the fall. Also, Orange is making a return in the Orange's jersey.
- Boston College added a commitment from Brandon Barlow (subscription required).
- Former Miami linebacker Alex Figueroa is lucky to have a second chance, but he is not off to a good start. He posted an expletive-laced video last week in which he burned a Miami flag. Figueroa and former Miami teammate JaWand Blue were permanently dismissed from the university last summer after admitting to police they sexually assaulted an intoxicated Miami student. In November, they avoided jail time by being placed in a pre-trial diversion program, which prosecution sought after the victim did not want to relive the experience in court.
- Clemson was back on the practice field Monday after nearly two weeks off for the Tigers' spring break.
- Five priorities for Georgia Tech this spring as practice began Monday (subscription required).
- Here are a few notes gleaned from Bobby Petrino's news conference to open spring practice, which begins Tuesday.
- The Pitt defense is working to pick up new coach Pat Narduzzi's schemes and principles. It's going to be a process.
Georgia Tech opens spring practice today, and the defending Orange Bowl champions certainly have a lot to be excited about in 2015. With star quarterback Justin Thomas back and a defense that returns seven starters, the Yellow Jackets will likely open the season as favorites in the Coastal once again, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few big questions that need answers this spring.
1. Who will Thomas be throwing to?
Tech's passing game really opened up last season with Thomas at the helm, but his primary targets, DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller, are both gone now. Junior Micheal Summers is the most experienced receiver remaining on the roster, and he caught just seven balls last year. Perhaps the most intriguing name is that of sophomore Ricky Jeune. At 6-foot-3, he's an inviting target, and while his work was largely limited to special teams in 2014, he could be a breakout candidate for 2015.
2. Can the pass rush improve?
For all of Georgia Tech's success last season, the defense still had its share of problems, with the Yellow Jackets surrendering 6.3 yards per play -- good for 111th nationally. That number should suggest there are plenty of holes to plug, but the improvement needs to start up front, where Tech struggled badly to get pressure last season. Tech was 108th nationally in sacks (1.43 per game) and 118th in tackles for loss (4.36 per game), but the development of KeShun Freeman, the consistency of Adam Gotsis and the return of Jabari Hunt-Days, who missed all of last season because of academic issues, offers some hope that the D-line could become a strength for the Jackets if each can take a step forward and D-coordinator Ted Roof can find some depth behind the starters.
3. Is there still a chip on Georgia Tech's shoulder?
It's no secret Paul Johnson relishes the role of underdog. He's been shrugging off talk of his "high-school offense" for years, but things seemed to come to a head last summer, when talk of his job security was rampant and the Jackets were largely an afterthought in the preseason polls. That set the scene for an us-against-the-world run for Tech in 2014 which ended with a resounding Orange Bowl victory over Mississippi State. Now though, the doubters have quieted and Tech figures to be the odds-on favorite to win the Coastal for a third time in four years, and so it will be incumbent on Johnson to make sure his team isn't resting on its laurels and leaders emerge to replace departed veterans such as Shaq Mason, Synjyn Days, Zach Laskey and Quayshawn Nealy.
Could an immediate reinforcement be on the way for Florida State's re-tooling offensive line? This weekend may go a long way toward determining that.
Former Notre Dame center Matt Hegarty is visiting Tallahassee on Friday through Sunday, the Orlando Sentinel's Brendan Sonnone reports. Hegarty confirmed his planned FSU visit to ESPN.com.
Hegarty started 11 of 13 games last year for the Fighting Irish, at center and at guard. He had told ESPN.com earlier this month that he planned to play football elsewhere upon receiving his undergraduate degree from Notre Dame this May. Hegarty will be immediately eligible to play wherever he ends up.
Hegarty had said that he was asked to switch positions, and Irish coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday that Hegarty would have had the opportunity to be the team's starting left guard. He is presumably looking to play center at his next stop, and that is one of several positions up for grabs on the Seminoles' offensive line, which lost four of five starters from last season.
Ryan Hoefield is currently the projected man in the middle of the Noles' line, though he struggled last season in limited action as a redshirt freshman.
As for who Hegarty or any other center would be snapping the ball to at FSU in 2015, well, that storyline figures to dominate the conversation throughout the spring and likely the summer.
Here are the rest of your Friday links:
- Grantland's Matt Hinton has an interesting article on all of the quarterback movement around the country, starting with former Clemson QB Chad Kelly, who is now at Ole Miss.
- Steve Addazio thinks Tyler Murphy is ready to take on the NFL as "an elite athlete," Mike Petraglia writes on WEEI.com.
- Former Georgia Tech safety Isaiah Johnson is gaining notice after pro day, Ken Suguira writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Malik Rosier stepped up Thursday in Brad Kaaya's absence (illness), Matt Porter writes in the Palm Beach Post.
- UNC's Twitter feed had some fun with a pair of ESPN personalities on #tbt.
- Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly thinks Jameis Winston was the best QB in college football.
- Pitt started slow in its first spring practice with pads, but it ended with emotion, Jerry DiPaola writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
The Big Dance as we know it kicks off Thursday, marking the time of the year when Cinderellas from different regions of the country win us all over, bust our brackets and watch their NCAA tournament dreams become reality.
Naturally, we're turning our attention to the gridiron here, as we take a look at a few ACC players and teams capable of having Cinderella seasons themselves if things break right in 2015. You can even argue that Georgia Tech just had a Cinderella season, going 11-3 and winning the ACC Coastal division and the Capital One Orange Bowl, this after being picked as the preseason No. 5 team in its own division.
Kelby Brown: A sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA does not come easily. But Brown earned one after battling back from three ACL tears (2010, 2012, 2014) in his first five years at Duke. The most recent tear -- the first one to occur in his left knee -- came in August camp, ending a promising campaign before it even began. Brown was a preseason all-ACC selection for last season, this after a 2013 campaign that featured 114 tackles. The linebacker is also a two-time all-academic ACC performer (2011, 2013). His veteran presence and versatility in the heart of the Blue Devils' defense will be valuable in 2015, and who doesn't love a comeback?
Troy Flutie: Find someone who doesn't love Doug Flutie. (OK, outside of Miami.) That's what I thought. The 5-foot-10 former Boston College and NFL quarterback was a fan favorite, and he had a penchant for clutch moments. The 1984 Heisman Trophy winner's nephew, Troy, is now looking to follow in Doug's footsteps. Troy Flutie is a 6-foot, 182-pound redshirt freshman embroiled in a quarterback battle at BC, along with Darius Wade and Elijah Robinson. Wade is the favorite, but as we have seen before with competitions that involve a Flutie, that can often mean little.
Pitt: The Panthers are currently working under their fourth different head coach over the last six springs. And their name is hardly ever thrown around when talking about Coastal contenders, especially now with Georgia Tech returning plenty of players from its 11-win campaign. But first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi brings a defensive mindset to the program, and he has as good of a starting point on offense as anyone else in the league, with James Conner and Tyler Boyd back for their junior years. Who's to say Pitt can't compete for the Coastal crown next year, despite all of the turmoil of recent years?
Broderick Snoddy: Georgia Tech may have gone on an unexpected run to great heights last fall, but one of its best players was not around to join in on all of the fun. The A-back suffered a broken left leg in last November's win over Clemson, this after rushing for 283 yards and three touchdowns on just 28 carries, while adding 100 yards on three catches and averaging 22.4 yards on five kick returns. The jack-of-all-trades had been coming into his own for the Yellow Jackets late last season, but with so much turnover in the backfield entering 2015, Snoddy will have the chance to seize the moment in his fifth and final season, something that would be all the more rewarding after overcoming a nasty injury at one of the most inopportune times.
Virginia Tech: It's no secret that the program has dropped off a bit in recent years, going just 22-17 the past three seasons after eight straight seasons of 10 or more wins. Still, the Hokies were derailed by injuries last year like few others. And almost all of its offensive production came from talented freshmen who will only get better. Can they unseat Georgia Tech from the Coastal throne? It is hard for many to root against Frank Beamer, and a late-career surge would be quite the showing for a coach who has given so much to the game.
Jalen Ramsey is on the move again.
The junior standout at Florida State, who has started all 28 games of his career, is moving to cornerback this season. Ramsey began his career at cornerback and was the first true freshman to start at cornerback since Deion Sanders, but he then moved to free safety and then nickelback as a sophomore.
Regardless of where Ramsey plays, he is going to play a significant role in Florida State's defense again. Ramsey is one of the country's elite athletes -- he finished fourth nationally in the long jump last week -- and he will continue to cover, blitz and even do a little freelancing regardless of where he is on the field.
The question is whether the Seminoles will have the productivity around Ramsey on a defense that could be tasked with carrying much of the load, a contrast to the 2014 season. The offense is being overhauled, and while the defense did lose several key contributors and former five-star prospects, it does return a good deal of experience at every level. Florida State has to improve its pass rush, and the linebacker group will have to overcome depth issues.
As for Ramsey's future, the move back to cornerback would seemingly help his draft stock, whether he enters the NFL draft after this season or 2016. More cornerbacks (nine) have been drafted in the first round the last two years than any other defensive position. Corners are annually among the highest-paid defensive players, too. Joe Haden, Patrick Peterson, Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman have all signed lucrative contracts recently.
Other links around the ACC for your morning (assuming the afternoon and evening will be dedicated to the NCAA Tournament, which begins in earnest Thursday).
- I think the ACC blog could use a selfie stick (and a jet ski).
- Virginia Tech had its pro day, and father was there to once again coach his son.
- Miami received some good news and some bad news on the recruiting trail. Kc McDermott, already a member of the Canes, said he will not accept anything short of a conference championship. Miami has yet to win an ACC title since joining the league.
- Daryl Gross said it was his decision to leave his post as Syracuse athletic director. This NCAA tournament eve (in the traditional sense) will be remembered for a long time in central New York.
- Pitt and Tennessee announced a home-and-home series for 2021 and 2022. The first game will be played at Tennessee.
- An interesting interview with Boston College AD Brad Bates about his thoughts on the evolving collegiate model and BC's dissenting vote to recent legislation.
- Six takeaways from Georgia Tech's pro day includes notes on Shaq Mason and DeAndre Smelter. And Georgia Tech's Chaz Cheeks and Thomas O'Reilly are no longer listed on the roster.
The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets racked up a number of impressive achievements last season. They won 11 games (tied for second-most in school history), won the ACC Coastal division, beat the Georgia Bulldogs for the first time since 2008, notched a win over Clemson, went toe-to-toe with Florida State in the ACC championship game and registered an Orange Bowl victory against a team from the powerful SEC West division (Mississippi State).
Repeating those feats might seem like a very difficult task given that the Yellow Jackets are the only Power 5 team to lose all of its starters at running back, wide receiver and tight end and will have to overcome a schedule that is arguably one of the most difficult in college football. But the reality of the situation is Georgia Tech is very well-situated to repeat as the ACC Coastal division champion and take another shot at winning the conference title they came so close to winning last season.
To read KC Joyner's full article click here.
Sam Werner at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had a very interesting piece on the eve of Pat Narduzzi's first practice as Pitt's head coach. Werner dives into Narduzzi's Youngstown, Ohio, upbringing and his fiery emotions -- which isn't meant as a negative -- on the sideline.
Early on, Werner brings up an interesting point on how Narduzzi's sideline excitability will affect his ability as a head coach and whether Narduzzi will need to rein it in. That passion is what helped him climb the ladder from assistant at Rhode Island to architect of one of college football's stingiest defenses at budding power Michigan State.
"[B]eing a head coach requires an even more delicate balance. At one instant, Narduzzi must be calm and thoughtful to make rational decisions. At the next, he has to spark his players with the same sort of motivation he has used throughout his entire career," Werner writes.
Narduzzi told Werner he will have to "change a little bit probably" but that he has no intentions of losing his enthusiasm.
At the college level, head coaches are required to double as CEO and face of the program. That has proven to be a tough and unexpected requirement that some talented assistant coaches struggled with in the past. No one would ever question Narduzzi's coaching chops -- he was considered a home-run hire for Pitt -- but it will certainly be worth watching if and how his sideline demeanor changes as Pitt's head coach.
- Five questions heading into the spring season for Pittsburgh, and the first has to do with Narduzzi and the defense.
- This is a nice feature from Corey Clark on the longevity Florida State football and basketball play-by-play voice Gene Deckerhoff. The first time I spoke with Deckerhoff, a few questions turned into a 30-minute conversation. The last time I spoke with him, he was explaining how his interest in The Grammys was reignited because of his affection for the latest pop music. He's a big fan of Meghan Trainor's single "All About That Bass."
- Here is an in-depth timeline of events from the NCAA's case on Syracuse.
- Former Georgia Tech back Zach Laskey performed well at the school's pro day.
- It won't be answered this spring, but it will be worth watching who emerges from Virginia Tech's group of young, talented (and injury-riddled) running backs.
- Facility changes are coming to Clemson, and Dabo Swinney is starting to see his dreams put into action.
1. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler gave an extensive interview to Roanoke Times beat reporter Andy Bitter, and discussed how much better he feels about the offense headed into Year 3. Primarily, that has to do with so many returning players -- especially quarterback Michael Brewer. Rather than install his offense and run a quarterback competition, this spring the focus can be on getting the entire offense vastly improved. Loeffler told Bitter: "Year 3 you know exactly what you’ve got. There’s no walking into spring football and walking into training camp trying to figure out who you are, what you want to do. You’ve got an idea of exactly who you are. ... It’s a refreshing feeling in comparison to [Years] 1 and 2." Given all the experienced players returning, pressure will be much higher to produce on offense. Loeffler knows all that. "We should be much, much, much improved." There is plenty more insight in the interview about competition across each position.
2. Florida State opens practice next week, and one of the big areas to watch will be on the offensive and defensive lines, which suffered heavy attrition. The Seminoles lose four starters from the offensive line and two from the defensive line -- two groups that did not really live up to expectations a season ago. But there is some good news. Florida State returns Rod Johnson to anchor the offensive line, and he has the potential to have an All-ACC season as a sophomore. The defensive line is where Florida State must make significant improvement, even with Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman gone. There was nothing to brag about for that unit last season as it struggled to contain the run and get a pass rush going. There are some players with experience here, including Nile Lawrence-Stample, Derrick Mitchell and Chris Casher.
3. Georgia Tech holds its Pro Day today. Here are Synjyn Days and Shaq Mason getting measured. You can watch on ESPN3.
Here are a few more links:
- Clemson quarterback Nick Schuessler has impressed in the early part of spring.
- New Jersey's Anthony Brown is Syracuse's top quarterback target in 2016.
- Meet Lorenzo Mauldin, Kentucky Colonel.
- ICYMI: Virginia signee Juan Thornhill made SportsCenter for his ridiculous dunks.
- Bonus video, just because: This Dean Smith painting is remarkable.
Ten starters return, making the group heavy on experience. Five rank among the Top 25 players at any position this spring, making the group deeper than a year ago.
Put Deshaun Watson, Justin Thomas, Brad Kaaya, Marquise Williams and Jacoby Brissett up against the top five quarterbacks in any other Power 5 league, and the ACC looks better than just about everybody.
No surprise, especially when you consider recent history. The ACC seems to go in three-year cycles when it comes to its quarterback breadth and depth. In 2012, the ACC had one 4,000-yard passer and six 3,000-yard passers, including Tajh Boyd, EJ Manuel and Mike Glennon. All three players ended up getting drafted -- Manuel went in the first round.
Rewind three years before that, and the ACC had standouts Christian Ponder, Russell Wilson, Kyle Parker, Tyrod Taylor and Josh Nesbitt.
Since 2005, the ACC has had 13 quarterbacks drafted, including three in the first round. Winston is poised to become the fourth.
Why this has gone in three-year cycles is more coincidental than anything. The stage has been set for a quarterback revival this year because the ACC was extremely young at quarterback last year: Ten schools were forced to replace starters.
It is rare to see so much turnover at the most high-profile position on the field at so many schools at once. Even in the year that preceded 2012, only half the schools in the league had to replace their starting quarterbacks.
So there were many opportunities. Now add in another unique situation: Mostly underclassmen filled the open positions. Of the 10 first-year starters, only three were juniors or seniors. All happened to be transfers -- Tyler Murphy at Boston College, Brissett and Michael Brewer at Virginia Tech.
Several schools were forced to turn to true freshmen. Two succeeded immediately: Kaaya -- the ACC rookie of the year -- and Watson, who showed flashes of brilliance when he was healthy enough to play.
In all, five true freshmen ended up starting at least one game in the ACC -- more than any other Power 5 conference. Though Kaaya and Watson are the only two definitive starters returning, Reggie Bonnafon at Louisville and John Wolford at Wake Forest will have an opportunity to earn starting jobs back. The other, AJ Long at Syracuse, plans to redshirt now that starter Terrel Hunt is healthy.
To put the freshman numbers into further context, last year also was the first time in league history two true freshmen started on opening day -- Kaaya and Wolford ended up starting every single game for their respective teams last season.
So the growing pains from 2014 have led to what should be a big moment for the ACC in 2015. All five top-tier quarterbacks -- Watson, Kaaya, Thomas, Brissett and Williams -- already have way-too-early Heisman odds posted.
Others have an opportunity for big years as well. Pitt coaches are excited about the potential for Chad Voytik; the same goes for Duke coaches and Thomas Sirk. Florida State has been able to develop quarterbacks at will under coach Jimbo Fisher, so whoever earns the starting job there will have an opportunity to join in the top-notch quarterback club. Bobby Petrino has not been a wall flower at developing his quarterbacks, either.
When it comes down to it, Boston College is the only school that has no quarterbacks with any career starts.
So experience is nearly everywhere. So are good players.
All that is setting up to lead to a quarterback bonanza in 2015.
A look back at strong quarterback play across the ACC:
1. Florida State will not have an answer at quarterback. The last time Florida State had a quarterback competition, the spring ended without an announced decision in the race between Jameis Winston, Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker. Even after Trickett announced his decision to transfer, coach Jimbo Fisher maintained Winston and Coker would go into the fall competing for the starting job -- though it was generally assumed Winston would win it. So why should anything be different this spring, with Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino and De'Andre Johnson? Add freshman Deondre Francois into the mix in the summer and there’s little upside in Fisher making an announcement when spring practice ends in April.
3. The Miami defensive line will be better. The Hurricanes have had no significant pass rush since Al Golden arrived in Miami, but that will change this year. Miami has made big strides toward upgrading its tackle and end positions, and coaches feel good about the depth they have been able to develop because they were able to redshirt players last year for the first time under Golden. Miami is noticeably much bigger up front, which cannot be understated. Coaches are high on guys like Michael Wyche, Ufomba Kamalu, Trent Harris and Chad Thomas. Quan Muhammad is back at rush end and has had a good camp. The expectation is for this group to bump up the sack totals compared to the past several years.
4. Watch for Andrew Brown. The highly touted defensive tackle enrolled early last year at Virginia, but injuries cut his spring and freshman season short. Now, coach Mike London says Brown is in better shape and ready to take on a starting role. If he can make an impact the way Quin Blanding did last year, the Virginia defense should be in good shape.
5. The Clemson defense will remain elite. Despite losing the bulk of their defense, the Tigers should remain one of the best groups in the ACC and a top-10 defense nationally for a few reasons. First, the new players stepping into starting roles have game experience. Guys like Shaq Lawson, D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins have played in big games before. Linebacker Ben Boulware has terrific upside. And the secondary is on track to be one of the strongest groups in the league behind potential All-American Mackensie Alexander.
6. Don’t be surprised if Marshawn Williams redshirts. The Virginia Tech running back was having an outstanding freshman season before a torn ACL sidelined him in mid-November. He is out for spring, and his status for the start of fall practice remains up in the air. Each player recovers differently from ACL injuries, so there’s no telling how Williams will come back. But if J.C. Coleman, Trey Edmunds and Joel Caleb can handle the back duties adequately, there’s no sense rushing Williams back.
7. Florida State will win 10 games, but it will be a “down” year. It’s all about perspective. The Seminoles will keep their streak of 10-win seasons going despite breaking in new starters at virtually every position. The schedule is forgiving enough for another double-digit victory total, though. But they won’t be in the national championship conversation. Whether that should be considered a “down” year is up to your interpretation. Wait for 2016 to arrive. Florida State should be back in the hunt then.
8. Georgia Tech will make history in July. For the first time, Georgia Tech will be picked as the preseason Coastal Division champions. The Jackets return enough talent and were impressive enough in 2014 to make believers out of the usually skeptical voters. Since the ACC split into divisions in 2005, Georgia Tech has finished atop the Coastal five times but has never been picked to win. That changes in 2015.
9. No ACC team in the playoff. I’m probably not going out on a limb with this one, but this would mark the first time in three years the league won’t have a chance to compete for a national championship. Florida State will be young, with a new starting quarterback, four new offensive linemen and new starters at tight end, receiver, defensive end, defensive tackle and in the secondary. Clemson and Georgia Tech play tough schedules and have questions of their own to answer. Louisville also is rebuilding on defense and has uncertainty at quarterback, receiver and offensive line.
10. Dabo Swinney joins Twitter! Can Swinney really let Steve Spurrier get the best of him on Twitter? Now that the HBC is all aboard, time for the Clemson head man to join up too. If their verbal jabs are any indication, the potential of their back-and-forth tweets is nothing short of epic.
In a poll of ACC football coaches, 12 of the 13 who responded said they favored or would consider expanding eligibility to allow players to play five years — eliminating the redshirt completely — and every coach expressed significant reservations about potentially redshirting all freshmen.
The debate has become a talking point after the Big Ten opened discussions on the subject of improving academics for freshmen by taking them off the field to focus more on the classroom, but every coach polled said they’d seen no firm correlation between grades and playing time, and many suggested redshirting freshmen can actually have a detrimental effect on their overall college experience.
Indeed, most coaches suggest the athletes with the greatest deficiencies in the classroom are also the ones who would be hurt the most by taking away their on-field experience, while the ones with the best time-management skills away from coaches are typically flourishing academically already.
“The kids that are mature and make good decisions, a redshirt year can be good for them,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “But the at-risk student is better off if he’s playing right away and engaged with the team all the time.”
While the specifics of freshman eligibility have not yet been a topic discussed among ACC coaches formally, Doeren said he was hopeful those conversations would begin soon, so that the concerns shared by the coaches can be addressed.
ACC commissioner John Swofford appeared open to restricted eligibility when asked by the Louisville Courier-Journal last month, though he conceded the logistics would be challenging.
“It's not a new topic,” Swofford told the paper. “It's been talked about in our league, as well as others, periodically. I'm old enough to have played in that system, and it was a good one. I think it's very educationally sound, and I think we should think about and consider anything that's educationally sound. Whether we get back to that, I don't know. I don't know if it fits the times in today's world. We haven't taken any votes in our league in regard to it in recent years.”
While the ACC does not specifically track league-wide academic performance of freshmen compared with older student-athletes, the conference does have the highest academic rating overall among Power 5 leagues, according to U.S. News and World Report, and 11 of the 14 institutions had an APR better than the FBS average. It's noteworthy, too, that of the 65 members of the league's academic All-ACC team, 12 were true freshmen.
On the NCAA level, eligibility restrictions for the most at-risk athletes are already set to go into effect beginning in 2016. Students who fail to meet core course requirements, GPA and ACT or SAT scores will be forced to redshirt or grayshirt their first year.
Extending eligibility restrictions to all freshmen would be a knee-jerk reaction, however, Cutcliffe said.
“I don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish other than getting better grades out of it, and that’s just not going to happen,” he said.
What it clearly would accomplish, however, is a huge strain on the remaining rosters for all teams.
Until 1972, freshmen were ineligible for competition. But at that time there were no scholarship limits in place, and programs could easily field a team without the newcomers. Moreover, seasons were shorter, with the majority of programs playing just 11 games until the early 2000s. This past season, Oregon and Ohio State played 15 games — one shy of an NFL season — and if freshmen hadn’t been eligible to play, they might have been limited to a roster of just 60 scholarship athletes.
“That’s basically an NFL roster, but we don’t get to pick up anybody off waivers, have free agency, make trades,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “I’m not sure how that would work, and I don’t think they have any intention of giving us more scholarships.”
First, schools need to do a better job of developing programs to ensure a smoother transition for incoming freshmen to the rigors of college life. As Doeren suggested, time management and study skills differentiate students who succeed from the ones who fall behind, and instilling those in freshmen upon arrival in the summer is crucial.
Virginia’s Mike London said he shared some of the Big Ten’s concerns regarding academic performance and would be open to further discussion of potential solutions, but he said those answers should start with an in-house focus on supporting students in the classroom.
“We all know the biggest transition is from high school to college,” London said. “It’s important to me that the structures you have in place — academic advising, mentoring, tutoring — that’s as critical as anything else, and if you’re successful there, you allow the student-athletes — particularly the freshmen — to come in and have success.”
Moreover, Fedora said he’d like to see schools raise their admissions standards for athletes to weed out those who would be most likely to struggle with academics.
“Raise your standards,” Fedora said. “Don’t just let anybody in. If they’re not academically ready, then don’t let them in.”
All but one coach polled suggested five years of eligibility on the field would allow coaches more wiggle room in developing their freshmen.
“I would make everybody eligible, and then your team will be a lot healthier,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “There would never be a situation where a kid would feel like he’s letting his teammates down. The communication would improve. Health and safety would improve, and I bet our graduation rates and the number of student-athletes leaving with postgraduate degrees would increase sharply, too.”
It’s a plan that was reiterated again and again by ACC coaches concerned with player safety, academics and, of course, winning.
The bottom line among all coaches, however, is that more discussion of these issues is required, and that input from the coaches dealing with student-athletes on a daily basis should be weighed as strongly as any broad statistics being used to tout academic struggles for freshmen.
“A lot of things we do, we change before they’re truly broken,” Cutcliffe said. “I hope they listen to reason. I’d hate to see [eligibility restrictions] happen.”
1. Florida State starting quarterback
When Jameis Winston committed to the Seminoles, it was assumed the No. 1 high school quarterback would transition into the starting role after a redshirt year once EJ Manuel departed. There is not an obvious answer for who will follow Winston, however. Sean Maguire filled in admirably against Clemson under tough circumstances and against the top defense in 2014, but he still has much to prove. J.J. Cosentino was an ESPN 300 recruit and certainly has the build (6-foot-4, 234 pounds), but he redshirted as a freshman. De'Andre Johnson enrolled in January and could be a dark horse, but fellow freshman Deondre Francois, who will arrive in the summer, has the higher prep pedigree. John Franklin III could get some looks in the spring, but he spent most of last season at receiver.
You might have better odds hitting the superfecta at Churchill Downs two months from now than accurately pegging who the Cardinals will start in the season opener. Will Gardner, who took the majority of snaps in 2014, is recovering from a torn ACL. Reggie Bonnafon collected a handful of starts as a true freshman, but he could not wrestle the starting gig from Gardner long term. Kyle Bolin showed promise against Kentucky in the regular-season finale but struggled in the bowl game against Georgia. Tyler Ferguson has followed Bobby Petrino around recently, so the transfer should have the offense down. Making it tougher on the three spring participants is the lack of experienced receivers. That will be another interesting position battle.
3. Georgia Tech's running backs
The Yellow Jackets are losing seven of their top nine leading rushers at running back, so aside from Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech's crowded backfield will have several new faces. Broderick Snoddy is the most experienced but is recovering from a devastating leg injury suffered in November. Snoddy has lightning speed and is a home-run threat with the ball in his hands. Dennis Andrews had only 16 carries in 2014, but he averaged 6.6 yards per carry. The name to watch is C.J. Leggett, who redshirted as a freshman last season but was highly rated coming out of high school.
4. Boston College's starting offensive line
Former offensive line coach Steve Addazio had the luxury of coaching five seniors along the line at certain points in 2014. The obvious flip side is that now he has to completely retool the offensive line, and the spring is the ideal time to start working on that chemistry. Guard Harris Williams returns from injury, but there are a number of question marks around him. Dave Bowen could be a solid bet to start at one of the tackle spots. Senior Frank Taylor could step in at center. Aside from Williams, though, nothing looks to be set in stone.
5. Clemson backup quarterback.
The Tigers probably have the conference's best quarterback, but Deshaun Watson has struggled to stay healthy since enrolling at Clemson. He suffered three significant injuries his first season, the last a torn ACL that will cost him spring practice. A year ago, the Tigers still had Cole Stoudt, who had started a handful of games. If Watson is not ready for the opener or has to miss any time in 2015, the Tigers' season could be in jeopardy. Nick Schuessler is a redshirt junior but a former walk-on who has thrown only 10 career passes. Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel are true freshmen who enrolled in January.
6. Miami running back
Duke Johnson, whose career will be celebrated at Miami for quite some time, is off to the NFL. Miami has a strong stable of running backs it can rely on to replace Johnson, but it remains to be seen who will get the majority of the carries. Joseph Yearby was one of the country's top running backs in the 2014 class and ran for more than 500 yards as a freshman. However, Gus Edwards could leave the spring with the starting gig. Edwards is a bigger back but is capable of running away from defenders. Mark Walton is enrolling in the coming months, and he was one of the top high school players in Florida last fall.
In his pre-spring power rankings, Lassan has the Seminoles atop the Atlantic Division, listing the quarterback battle as the obvious top offseason priority. Despite winning the last three ACC titles, FSU has seemed to take a bit of a backseat this offseason to Clemson, the perceived early frontrunner in the division and the league.
Look no further than this space, where the four of us all picked the Tigers to win the Atlantic in our way-too early ACC predictions for 2015. We also -- well, three of us -- picked Georgia Tech to win the Coastal, and Lassan thinks no differently in his early spring power rankings though, as he points out, the Yellow Jackets do need to replace plenty of key figures at the skill position spots after last year's production.
One other interesting early slotting by Lassan? He has Duke at No. 6 in the Coastal, this after second- and first-place finishes in 2014 and 2013, respectively. There is certainly be plenty of turnover on both sides of the ball for the Blue Devils, so it will be interesting to see what David Cutcliffe does in his eighth year in Durham.
Here are the rest of your Wednesday links:
- Jameis Winston met Tuesday with the Bucs, our Adam Schefter writes.
- Deshaun Watson expects to be ready in the fall, Brad Senkiw writes on OrangeandWhite.com.
- Jamison Crowder writes in his USA Today draft diary that he is pleased with his combine performance but seeks a better 40 time at his pro day.
- Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof has received a raise and an extension, Ken Sugiura writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Miami is getting up to speed with GPS tracking this spring, Matt Porter writes in the Palm Beach Post.
Sean Maguire. The race to replace Jameis Winston will draw no shortage of attention in Tallahassee. And the man currently at the top of the pecking order, at least experience-wise, is Maguire, a redshirt junior. Starting in place of the suspended Winston in FSU's biggest game of the year, at home in September against Clemson, Maguire had an up-and-down performance: 21-of-39 passing for 304 yards with one touchdown and two picks in an overtime win. Still, that's more than anyone else on the roster can show right now, and it's up to Maguire to fend off highly-touted challengers J.J. Cosentino (redshirt freshman) and De'Andre Johnson (freshman).
Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell. Mizzell has been stellar and versatile through two seasons at Virginia, leading all ACC running backs last season with 39 catches. Still, more is expected of a former ballyhooed recruit than 280 rushing yards, which Mizzell totaled last year. And as Mizzell enters his junior year in a crucial season for the Cavalier program, he needs to make the leap from good to great, especially with Kevin Parks now out of the picture.
Jabari Hunt-Days. Hunt-Days missed the 2014 season because of an academic issue, a big setback for a player who had notched seven stops behind the line of scrimmage as a sophomore in 2013 -- after earning several freshman All-America honors the year before. He's a fifth-year senior now, and the defensive lineman could be the big playmaker who brings Georgia Tech's defense up a level in 2015. (His brother, Synjyn Days, certainly set a nice example in 2014 with a strong senior year for the Yellow Jackets.)
Josh Harvey-Clemons. Spots are open for the taking in Louisville's secondary, and few may be in better position to take advantage than Harvey-Clemons, the former ESPN four-star prospect. The safety was dismissed from Georgia last winter following multiple violations of team rules and reunited with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham with the Cardinals. Despite missing two games in 2013, Harvey-Clemons led the SEC with three fumble recoveries, adding 5.5 tackles for loss and one pick. The talent is obviously there. Now eligible, Harvey-Clemons must perform for the Cards.
Al-Quadin Muhammad. Now a redshirt sophomore at Miami, Muhammad is back with the Hurrricanes after a semester-long university-issued suspension last fall. The former ESPN four-star prospect said he never contemplated transferring, and coaches and teammates have stuck by the lineman. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder has changed his jersey number from No. 98 to No. 8, and he certainly possesses the physical tools necessary to make an impact up front on the Canes' defense, for whom he tallied a pair of sacks as a true freshman when he last took the field, in 2013.
Everett Golson. Golson struggled down the stretch in 2014 for Notre Dame, with all 22 of his turnovers coming in the final nine regular-season games, leading to Malik Zaire starting the Irish's bowl against LSU. Both quarterbacks played in the win, but Golson -- who had begun his college career with a 16-1 as a starter -- will have no shortage of suitors elsewhere if he chooses to leave Notre Dame. In order to do that, though, he must first graduate, something he has said he is on track to accomplish this spring. If Golson wins the job back soon, does that mean he likely stays? If the starting job remains unclear as he gets his diploma, does he take his chances elsewhere? Stay tuned.