ACC: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Isaiah Johnson has been playing football for 15 years. He went 13 straight years without getting hurt. When injury struck the Georgia Tech safety at the most inopportune time, the wait was insufferable.

Nineteen months removed from a devastating knee injury, however, Johnson is ready to take the field and re-establish himself as a leader in the Yellow Jackets' defensive backfield. Georgia Tech opened fall camp Thursday, and the countdown to Week 1 and return to meaningful action for Johnson is within a month.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Johnson
Todd Kirkland/Icon SMIGeorgia Tech safety Isaiah Johnson missed all of the 2013 season after knee surgery.
"Oh, I'm past 100 percent," Johnson said with a laugh. "It's been a year-and-a-half — what have I been doing? I'm good. I went through spring practice and it was good. After that first day, it was just back to normal."

Johnson had a difficult time adjusting after tearing both the anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament in his left knee in a bowl practice leading up to the Hyundai Sun Bowl against USC in December 2012. The 21-7 victory over the Trojans marked the first missed game of his career, snapping a 39-game playing streak — which included 26 consecutive starts — in his first three college seasons.

But the most difficult part might have come nine months later, with Georgia Tech's 2013 campaign already underway. Three games into the season, Johnson, who had missed spring practice, came to the conclusion with his coaches that he would be better off sitting out the remainder of the season, lest he risk further damage to a still-recovering knee.

"It was very difficult. I had to get it out of my system," Johnson said of the frustration. "But once I thought about it, [I] realized that this is the best thing for me."

"I've been playing football nonstop every year since I was 7, and 'til this point last year, I hadn't sat out a season, so it was hard for me and my family," the Tyrone, Georgia native later added, "because they had a whole football season [in which] they didn't know what to do, because they're used to watching me play."

Johnson said he stayed active by doing some light scout-team work during the season. He returned to practice this spring and was relieved to feel no hesitation breaking on balls or delivering hits to receivers. He said that the entire ordeal has only validated his love for the game.

"I think that it's been a work in progress for Isaiah," coach Paul Johnson said. "He was actually cleared last year but he just didn't feel right, so he wanted to make sure when he came back that he was completely healthy, and I think he's done that and I'm sure he's excited to play his senior year."

Isaiah Johnson led the team in tackles during his junior campaign, with 87 in 2012. And with safety Jamal Golden also returning after being granted a medical redshirt last season because of a shoulder injury, Georgia Tech will rely on its secondary to anchor the defense in coordinator Ted Roof's second season.

"Turnovers," Isaiah Johnson said when asked about the defense's goals, repeating the word three times for emphasis. "We want to lead the ACC and lead the nation or be in the top five, so turnovers, and being able to finish. We need to finish games."

FSU No. 1 in coaches' poll

July, 31, 2014
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Surprise, surprise -- Florida State is the preseason No. 1 team in the Amway Coaches Poll.

The Seminoles received 56 of the 62 first-place votes as they enter 2014 looking to repeat as national champions.

Clemson and North Carolina were the only other ACC teams to be ranked, coming in at Nos. 16 and 23, respectively. For those keeping track, that means UNC is the only team from the Coastal Division to be ranked in the poll. This comes after Miami was chosen by the media in Greensboro, North Carolina, last week as the preseason Coastal favorite, in the same poll that saw Duke receive the most first-place Coastal votes. It is worth repeating again: This division race is wide open.

Notre Dame, which begins its football affiliation with the ACC this fall, checks in at No. 17 in the coaches' poll.

Miami leads the ACC contingent in the "others receiving votes" category of the coaches' poll, coming in at No. 34 overall. Right behind the Hurricanes? Duke and Louisville, at Nos. 35 and 36, respectively. Virginia Tech comes in at No. 40 while Georgia Tech is No. 48.

Half of the ACC's coaches vote in the poll: Frank Beamer, David Cutcliffe, Larry Fedora, Jimbo Fisher, Al Golden, Paul Johnson and Dabo Swinney. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly votes as well. Shockingly, all eight of those coaches saw their teams receive votes.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 31, 2014
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The season really cannot get here soon enough, can it?

Until then, no news is good news, and North Carolina is the latest to find that out, with multiple reports saying that three scholarship Tar Heels are no longer on the team.

A school spokesman confirmed the departures to ESPN.com.

Defensive tackles Shawn Underwood and Greg Webb and linebacker Clint Heaven will not be with the Heels when fall camp kicks off Friday. Offensive guard J.J. Patterson is not a part of the 105-man roster, the spokesman said.

Underwood and Webb are no longer a part of the program due to personal reasons, the spokesman said, while Heaven has transferred to Northern Iowa.

Underwood is the most decorated of the four, having been on the two-deep up front and coming off a 10-tackle junior season.

As Insider Carolina's Greg Barnes notes, 15 UNC scholarship players with eligibility remaining will not return for the 2014 campaign, a number that would be staggering if it wasn't so familiar in the conference already. As Andrea Adelson noted last week, fellow Coastal division foe Georgia Tech has lost 13 non-seniors since last season ended.

Here's to relatively quiet camps this next month.

Elsewhere across the ACC:
The time of year we've all been waiting for has finally arrived.

That's right, we're talkin' about practice.

Georgia Tech takes the field Thursday to kick off practice across the league. Here is a quick look at opening practice dates around the ACC:

Friday
Saturday
Monday, Aug. 4
Tuesday, Aug. 5

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 30, 2014
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In the spring, Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said he was looking forward to seeing a new and improved Wayne Williams ready to tackle fall practice.

I'd say these photos are proof of that.

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The picture on the left was taken in January, when Williams enrolled at Syracuse and weighed close to 350 pounds. The picture on the right is what he looks like now. Though Williams did not say how much weight he has dropped, it appears to be a significant amount.

A new and improved Williams indeed.

Why is this important? Williams' development is a huge key for a Syracuse defensive line that has to address major depth issues when practice begins Saturday. Syracuse has to replace tackle Jay Bromley, who led the team with 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season. Williams was so out of shape in the spring, he could not really contribute in a meaningful way, and the Orange ended up cross-training ends to play inside to help make up for depth concerns.

An in-shape Williams changes the picture dramatically. Syracuse has been waiting on him for years now, a talented prospect who has been frustratingly out of reach. But now that it appears Williams has taken the necessary steps to get himself into playing shape, the Orange defensive front could end up surprising some people.

Now, here is a look at more headlines across the ACC:
 
In every class there are must-get recruits for schools. They can be a top uncommitted prospect or even a pledge who is essential to keep in the fold.

Here are the picks for the teams in the ACC, with the prospect's overall ranking.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 29, 2014
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What more can be said about the job Clemson has done recruiting for the class of 2015?

How about the addition of yet another ESPN 300 prospect? Ray-Ray McCloud III, thought to be a Florida lean, pledged to the Tigers on Monday, further bolstering one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Clemson has 21 commitments -- 12 are from ESPN 300 prospects.

Without a doubt Clemson has emerged as the big story during this recruiting period, gaining an edge on both Florida State and Miami not only in the latest class rankings but on the trail itself. The Tigers have come into Florida and wrested away big-time prospects from the state's Big Three: Florida, Florida State and Miami. Coach Dabo Swinney has gotten four ESPN 300 prospects from the state of Florida to join him in South Carolina. Three have come from the Tampa area.

Two -- McCloud and Deon Cain -- are the type of skill players a program like Florida so desperately needs. Both had Florida on their list of finalists, but both ultimately settled on Clemson. That alone should speak to the job Swinney has done making inroads in the state.

If all the commitments keep their pledges and sign in February, this will go down as the best class in school history.

Now here's a look around the rest of the ACC:
Earlier this week, I asked: Will Miami win the Coastal Division? Over 3,000 votes were cast, and the overwhelming majority say absolutely not.

Let's dig into the mailbag to see what you had to say.

Richard in Raleigh writes: You mentioned Miami had far too many concerns to overlook to be named the preseason Coastal favorites. Can this not also be said for the other 5 teams with a shot of winning the Coastal?

Andrea Adelson: Absolutely. But the Miami Hurricanes have a backbreaking schedule; and headed into the season, I am more confident in the quarterbacks for four of those teams (Duke Blue Devils, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels). As for the Virginia Tech Hokies, as long as their defense plays up to standards, the Hokies will always be in contention.




Ryan in Charlotte writes: Agree with Duke winning the Coastal. Duke's D-Line lost three, but I really don't think there will be a huge drop off in terms of production. Miami has an incompetent coaching staff, otherwise they should win it and [Frank] Beamer for not getting a real offensive coordinator prevents VT from being the favorite. Carolina every year is projected to win it and chokes consistently despite NFL talent. GT is also underrated, [Paul] Johnson has never finished lower than third in his time at GT. Pitt lost their QB and [Aaron] Donald, don't see them as being a dark horse. All of this coming from a die-hard Duke Fan.

Patrick Clark in Durham, North Carolina, writes: I'm quite surprised that you and I seem to be in the minority picking Duke to win the Coastal. Duke returns their top three tacklers, All-ACC WR Jamison Crowder, and are one of only three teams in the conference to return their starting QB in senior Anthony Boone. Throw in one of the easiest schedules in the conference and it seems to me, if you're able to put past history and stigmas aside, that Duke is the obvious choice to represent the Coastal Division and make it back to Charlotte. Are we crazy?

Adelson writes: Crazy like foxes!




Jason Freeman in Cumming, Georgia, writes: I would just like to know the insistence on picking a UNC, Miami, and now Duke! Until Duke did it last year, there has been only TWO schools that have represented the Coastal. And one of them is absolutely NEVER picked, I think you know which one I'm talking about! But what baffles me is, Duke is the favorite this season, but Georgia Tech went to Duke and embarrassed them, one of only two teams that beat them in the regular season! ... Oh and by the way, Georgia Tech beat the only other team to beat Duke in the regular season last year! And I know that Johnson isn't living up to what we thought he would do after the first two seasons. Keeping that in mind, we then were picked at the bottom in the Coastal and way surpassed expectations! But the same teams keep getting these exaggerated picks, and constantly fall under what is expected of them.

Rich in Atlanta writes: Shocking...that the media would pick Miami for the Coastal. Also funny that UNC & VT are ahead of GT. Duke maybe. Year after year, GT has the No. 1 offense in points and yardage for the Coastal (No. 1 in both categories again last year). What everyone is overlooking is that GT had the No. 2 defense in those categories last year only trailing VT. GT's average finishing rank in the Coastal is second since Coach Johnson arrived. D is on the upswing, O will produce as it always does. When has CPJ's O not been No. 1 in Coastal? Never.

Ryan in New York City writes: I'm definitely not one to downplay the Canes' woes of the last several seasons, particularly on defense. But I think most people are being really unfair in their evaluation of [Jake] Heaps. He had a very solid freshmen year at BYU before transferring due to a scheme change. Then he went to play for one of the worst coaches (Charlie Weis) at one of the worst programs (Kansas) where he got no help from his O-Line or receivers. At the very least, he's a mature player who has experienced a lot of different schemes, and will be in an offense with playmakers EVERYWHERE around him. By no means do I expect us to win the division (particularly because of the complete lack of defense), but I expect Heaps to earn the starting nod and surprise some people early in the season.

Phil in New York writes: Duke Johnson. Anthony Chickillo. Stacy Coley. Clive Walford. Phillip Dorsett. Herb Waters. Tyriq McCord. Tracy Howard.Get ready for your Coastal champs - the University of Miami Hurricanes!!!

CaliNative in SF/Miami writes: Miami and Virginia have the hardest conference schedules in the Coastal this year (Virginia's is harder because they play @FSU instead of UL). But my question is do you think if you switch Duke (or even VTech's) and Miami's schedule, do you think Miami becomes the overwhelming favorites? I mean Duke's schedule is set up only to lose to VT, UNC, and Miami. I think Miami (and UNC) are just set up so that they have to sweep the Coastal, or only have one loss, to win it. And honestly, that is the only reason I can see for not having Miami or UNC winning the Coastal.

Adelson writes: The schedule Miami has to play would be difficult for any team. One of the reasons why the Hurricanes want a nine-game league schedule is to even out the slate a little more for everyone. They have to play the Florida State Seminoles every year; their Coastal brethren don't. If Duke played Miami's schedule, then I would not pick the Blue Devils. Schedule is a huge reason why I think Duke has an edge, as I stated in the post. The schedule you play impacts how you finish, no matter how talented you are.




Al in Florida writes: You love to talk Miami down don't you, AA? I don't blame you, I would still be salty if I was a Gator fan. All Miami needs at QB is someone to get the ball to the playmakers without turning the ball over. We have the playmakers, more so than FSU or Clemson. Plus our O-line isn't too shabby. If (James) Coley can improve the O and if (Mark D'Onofrio's) D is half as good as it was last year, you can buy me a beer in North Carolina come December.

AJ Brown in Plantation, Fla., writes: The one true reason in my mind that Miami is favored to win the Coastal is because you can't ignore the talent that Miami possesses. Firstly, Miami has the best group of receivers RIGHT NOW in the entire ACC. That means that whoever starts at QB for Miami does not have to be STELLAR, but a game manager instead. Last year, the problem Miami had on offense was that Stephen Morris could not make the right reads and could not make the intermediate throws. Often times he was a one-trick pony who could only throw the deep ball. Jake Heaps, for example, may not have the arm or the pretty deep ball, but he can make the intermediate throws that Morris could not. As far as the defense, Miami SHOULD BE a lot better because of addition by subtraction. Miami had starters on the defense last season who had absolutely no business starting, like Tyrone Cornelius, Shayon Green, Jimmy Gaines, Kacy Rodgers and AJ Highsmith. The players replacing them are without a doubt more talented with way more athleticism, like Dallas Crawford, Jermaine Grace, Quan Muhammad, Jamal Carter, Tyriq McCord etc. Bottom line is, I don't think you can compare the talent level between Miami and Duke as Miami has a clear advantage there. I'm not saying Miami WILL win the Coastal, but I think you're drinking too much Blue Devil Kool-Aid because you're looking at Duke's Cinderella year from last season and the fact that they're returning their starting QB.

Adelson writes: I could not resist a parting shot. Duke beat the far more talented Miami head-to-head a year ago.

Take 2: Too negative at Georgia Tech?

July, 25, 2014
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As ACC Kickoff wound to a close on Monday, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson relaxed in a chair surrounded by just a handful of reporters that had largely run out of topics to discuss. Finally, Johnson was asked what he would change about his job, if he could change just one thing.

He hemmed and hawed and considered simply moving on, but after a bit he conceded that the tenor among fans in Atlanta was often, in his opinion, too negative, while people outside of Tech territory seem to be a bit more upbeat on the program.

That got us to thinking: Are things really so bad at Georgia Tech or are fans ignoring the successes the program has enjoyed? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and David Hale dish out both sides of the debate.

Adelson says Georgia Tech deserves more credit: It is easy to see why the chorus against Johnson is growing. Georgia Tech has won nine games just once in the last five years, and there has been roster and coaching staff turnover over the last two.

But perspective is in order here.

First, Georgia Tech has been to a school-record 17 straight bowl games, the third-longest active streak in the country. Only Florida State and Virginia Tech have longer streaks.

Second, the Jackets have gone .500 or better in conference play in 19 consecutive seasons, the longest conference streak in the country. Just two seasons ago, Georgia Tech nearly upset Florida State in the ACC championship game, then took down USC in the Sun Bowl.

So my question then is this; what exactly will make his critics happy?

Georgia Tech is in contention for the ACC championship every single season, and has been a lock to make a bowl for nearly two decades. Obviously, winning another ACC championship and breaking a long losing streak to Georgia are at the top of the list.

But on the other hand, Johnson knows how to win football games. He has posted two losing seasons in 17 total years as a head coach, in his first year at Navy and with the Jackets in 2010. He has won two division titles and made a BCS game during his time at Georgia Tech. In six seasons, he has won 47 games, fourth-best in the league behind Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech.

SportsNation

Is Georgia Tech meeting reasonable expectations from fans?

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Discuss (Total votes: 1,639)

If the standard is to win games, be competitive in the ACC and get to bowls, Johnson has hit that mark every single year. If the standard is to make yearly BCS games, well Johnson has failed -- along with every other coach in America.

Realistic expectations are in order here. Georgia Tech has continued to win games with Johnson in charge. The Jackets have also graduated players at a much better clip, earning NCAA Public Recognition Awards in consecutive years for finishing in the top 10 percent among all FBS programs in the Academic Progress Rate.

It is pretty rare for a winning coach at program that is outside the Top 25 (and the SEC for that matter) to be fired for not winning enough. Look at Tom O’Brien, fired after three straight bowl appearances at NC State. Dave Doeren comes in last season and goes 3-9, winless in ACC play. The Wolfpack were picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic this year.

Is that an alternative the Jackets would want?

Hale says the Jackets can do better: As we get into this debate, I’m reminded of the words of former Georgia Tech AD Dave Braine, who said the Yellow Jackets “could win nine or 10 games but they will never do that consistently.” Those words helped end Braine’s tenure, but in the eight years since he departed, they’ve pretty much defined exactly what Georgia Tech has been on the football field.

So the question of whether Georgia Tech is meeting its potential is really two-fold: First, is the occasional 10-win season surrounded by years of six or seven or eight victories really Tech’s cap? And, if so, is Johnson doing enough to meet that expectation?

I’d argue the answer is no on both points.

Yes, Tech has hurdles that other ACC schools may not. Its academic standards are high while it’s forced to compete directly with powerful SEC programs in the area. But Tech is also located in some of the nation’s most fertile recruiting territory, and while not all athletes are eager to spend their college years in the big city, Atlanta offers a big selling point to some. Yes, academics can be an issue -- but that hasn’t stopped Stanford or Notre Dame or, lately, even Duke from hitting that 10-win platform and bringing in more prominent recruits.

But let’s not even focus on landing five-star athletes at Tech. From 2010 through 2013, Johnson scored just six four-star recruits (per ESPN rankings). Those six players have combined to start just 13 games -- all by Vad Lee, who transferred after last season. In fact, three of those six four-star signees are no longer with the program.

It’s tough to even credit Johnson (and his staff) for developing three-star recruits into stars. Tech had three players taken in this year’s draft, which brings the total number of Johnson recruits selected during his tenure to four.

There’s also the sheer number of players who aren’t sticking around. That was already the topic of discussion earlier this week when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted that 13 Georgia Tech players have departed since the end of the 2013 season.

A lot of these personnel issues can be hidden by Johnson’s unique offensive strategy, and thus Georgia Tech has sustained some measure of consistency on the field. But while the offense has survived, the defense has been mediocre at best and dismal at its worst. Since 2010, only Duke has allowed more yards-per-play than Georgia Tech.

And then there are the wins and the losses. Yes, Tech has continued to make it to a bowl game each year, and that’s no easy task. Of course, it was easy enough for 11 of the ACC’s 14 teams to do it last season. But since 2010, Georgia Tech is 21-21 against teams from automatic-qualifier conferences. It has lost eight of its last nine bowl games. It has lost 12 of 13 to rival Georgia, including blowing a 20-0 lead in last year’s game.

Johnson is correct when he says that people probably undervalue what Georgia Tech has done, but that’s really part of the problem. He’s not selling recruits on the program, he’s not winning his showcase games and, as he said, he’s not convincing the hometown fans that the future is bright. The Yellow Jackets’ success has made for some interesting bits of trivia, but even Braine would probably admit the program can do better than that.
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GREENSBORO, N.C. – If you need to find Quayshawn Nealy this summer, head to the Georgia Tech College of Computing.

Then look for the big football player filing reports and shredding paper.

Nealy had some downtime while taking two classes and working out, so he decided to get a job. That is a bit unusual for athletes, who generally have a tough time finding any free time between all their responsibilities. Nealy is an even more exceptional case.

He has had a job three summers in a row, all while finding a way to get his assignments done and grow into one of the better linebackers in the ACC. Over the past several months, Nealy has worked every day as an office assistant for a few hours. But that is pretty light work compared to what he did the past two years.

After his redshirt freshman season, Nealy decided to get a job for the first time in his life. He worked as a parking attendant at the historic Fox Theatre, collecting money and handing out receipts. When asked whether that job got a thumbs up or thumbs down, Nealy laughed.

“Thumbs up, because I was getting money,” he said.

It is safe to say he enjoyed collecting parking fees and risking paper cuts better than the internship he had last year, working as a telephone operator in a large call center just outside Athens, Georgia. Every day, he and a group of teammates would carpool one hour to the office building, trying to sell HP products to third-party vendors.

Nealy dealt with a barrage of hang ups and a lot of nos. On top of that, he was in enemy territory. Lots and lots of Bulldogs around.

“It was a good experience, but it wasn’t for me,” Nealy said.

Despite the setbacks, Nealy did make a few sales. As a business management major, the experience is one he would never trade.

Neither is the chance to earn some extra spending money, either.

The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are seemingly endless. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.

Why Georgia Tech will win the Coastal

[+] EnlargeMathers
AP PhotoCornerback D.J. White returns after having a breakout game in the Music City Bowl.

1) The secondary should be improved. Lose three starters, welcome back four. Sound confusing? Well, Georgia Tech does say goodbye to cornerbacks Jemea Thomas and Louis Young, but it returns a pair of players who had missed most or all of last season, as safeties Isaiah Johnson (knee) and Jamal Golden (shoulder) return from injury. Demond Smith had replaced Golden at safety last season and is now at corner, along with D.J. White, who was dominant in the Music City Bowl loss to Ole Miss (career-high 13 tackles, two forced fumbles, interception). This group should anchor the defense, perhaps offsetting some of the potential shortcomings that could await the defensive line this fall.

2) Don't sleep on special teams. Getting Golden back is crucial, as he is a versatile talent who showed he can make plays as both a punt and kick returner, having been the only player in the nation to finish in the top of each category in 2012. That might be easy to forget after some of the exploits of the rest of the ACC's returners in 2013, but Golden could be as good as any of them. Harrison Butker, meanwhile, is a reliable kicker with a strong leg, having converted 53 of 54 extra points as a true freshman last season, along with 10 of 14 field goal tries (including five of 40 or more yards).

3) The schedule is (fairly) favorable. Sure, six home games may be tough for most Power-5 conference schools to swallow in this era, but the Yellow Jackets do get Miami and Duke in Atlanta. More importantly, they get the Hurricanes following a bye week. The same goes for their trip to Athens, Ga., for the regular-season finale at rival Georgia. Georgia Tech's other three nonconference games to open the season are certainly winnable (Wofford, at Tulane, Georgia Southern), so it could help give this group some confidence going into the Sept. 20 conference-opening showdown at Virginia Tech.

Why Georgia Tech won't win the Coastal

1) The offseason turnover will take a toll. As noted Wednesday, Georgia Tech has had no shortage of turnover this offseason, and not in a good way. In addition to the seniors it said goodbye to like every other team, the Yellow Jackets have had 13 different non-senior players depart the program this offseason due to a number of different issues. ESPN 300 athlete Myles Autry, meanwhile, has been unable to enroll at Georgia Tech yet because of NCAA clearinghouse issues.

2) The defensive line has some question marks. Three starters are gone up front, the biggest among them being All-ACC end Jeremiah Attaochu. It will now likely be up to nose tackle Adam Gotsis to anchor the group after he tallied 14.5 tackles for loss last season. With second-year coordinator Ted Roof operating out of the nickel instead of the 4-3, Jabari Hunts-Days was moved up after playing linebacker, but he now finds himself sidelined for the season, as he is academically ineligible.

3) What do we know about the quarterbacks? Here's what we do know: Last year's starer, Vad Lee, is gone, having transferred to James Madison. Speedster Justin Thomas will replace him and seems like an ideal fit for Paul Johnson's triple-option attack, although he still has some work to do. Johnson is very high on reserve signal-caller Tim Byerly, but the possibility of him earning meaningful playing time inevitably begs the question of whether the Yellow Jackets have a controversy or competition on their hands.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 24, 2014
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Two Miami topics up for discussion this fine lunch hour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 

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

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

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

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

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

ACC's lunchtime links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's a look at other headlines across the ACC:
Florida State and Jameis Winston were the runaway favorites Monday to repeat as ACC champion and league player of the year, respectively. Those were the two names atop my ballot as well. As for how I slotted everyone else:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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