ACC: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

ACC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
Aug 26
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The college football season is finally ready to kick off. No doubt all the time we’ve spent studying depth charts and devouring news will be rendered meaningless by September’s end, but that won’t stop us from making a few bold predictions about what’s to come in 2014. If we get half of them right, we’ll call it a success.

1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.

Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
AP Photo/Garry JonesUnder coach Bobby Petrino, Will Gardner has a chance to flourish as Louisville's starting QB.
2. Louisville’s Will Gardner will be the ACC’s second-best quarterback.

It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.

3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.

The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.

4. Virginia goes bowling.

The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.

5. Clemson is a running team.

With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.

6. Young runners make a big impact.

Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.

7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.

If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.

8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.

Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.

9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.

Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.

10. The Coastal champ will be ...

Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.
The biggest problem facing the ACC moving forward in the College Football Playoff era is not the teams at the top of the league.

It is everybody else.

While it is great that Florida State and Clemson have proven capable of being playoff contenders year in and year out, what would give both teams and the entire league a huge boost is the development of a solid, consistent Top 5 teams.

That is what the SEC has right now and why it is viewed as having the toughest strength of schedule in the country. Folks look at the ACC strength of schedule and shrug their shoulders. With a selection committee now parsing through every schedule, every strength and every weakness, the idea that the ACC has a relatively weak strength of schedule is one that could end up hurting playoff contenders.

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe ACC would benefit from a return to power by Frank Beamer's Virginia Tech Hokies and the Miami Hurricanes. The teams meet this season Oct. 23 in Blacksburg, Va.
All you need to do is look at the final ESPN.com conference power rankings for the explanation. Despite a national championship from Florida State and a BCS win from Clemson, the ACC finished No. 5 among the Power 5 conferences. ESPN Stats & Information, which compiled the rankings, noted:
The only reason that the ACC is not ranked higher in the conference rankings, however, is the conference is still lacking depth; the ACC went 3-6 in its non-BCS bowl games, with the six losses by a combined 103 points.

With only four spots in the playoff and five power leagues, somebody is going to get left out. The nightmare scenario, of course, would be for the ACC to be on the outside looking in, with strength of schedule the big reason why.

The only real way to fix that is for the rest of the league to rise up.

We're looking squarely at you, Miami and Virginia Tech.

Back when both teams were added in 2004, the hope was that they would instantly improve the league's football profile. Virginia Tech held up its end as one of the most consistent winners in the ACC over the past 10 years. But this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world, and Virginia Tech has not done much for the ACC lately. The Hokies put together eight straight 10-win seasons and four conference championships between 2004-2011, raising their profile as one of the marquee teams in the ACC.

Yes, they took some hits for their BCS performance over that period, but overall this program raised the bar higher. Virginia Tech had been a virtual lock to hold up the ACC banner. Since 2004, the Hokies finished with a Top 25 ranking eight times, more than any other team in the league. Ten wins are now expected, a big reason why two straight down years have hurt both the program and the league.

The ACC, meanwhile, is still waiting on Miami, which has not won 10 games since joining the ACC. The Canes came close a few times, including last season, but have had myriad issues to deal with on their climb back up to the top. Every season, the common refrain often includes, "Is this the year Miami will be back?" Its football history and tradition means the ACC needs Miami to thrive as a playoff contender, more than Virginia Tech.

After all, a program that has been known as a football power is held to a much different standard.

That is another reason why the ACC needs these four specific teams to be good. They are football schools. Look at how national perception has started to change with Florida State back on top. If Miami can get there, and if Virginia Tech can get there, all of a sudden the ACC has four strong football powers and can compete with any conference.

Another team into the mix would be ideal. It could be Louisville, coming off 23 wins in two years. It could be Georgia Tech, an ACC program with previous national championships. It could be Boston College, with three Top 25 finishes since 2004. It could be North Carolina. Anybody, really. It has been too long since the ACC had five teams ranked. With the league now expanded to 14, five should be the lowest number to hit.

The last time the ACC had five teams ranked was 2005, when Virginia Tech, Miami, Boston College, Clemson and Florida State were all in the Top 25. Note a common theme there?

Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson and Florida State.

The ACC needs more of that.
Mariota-WinstonAP Photo, Getty ImagesOregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are the consensus top two quarterbacks in the country. Winston was better in 2013, but many think 2014 will be Mariota's year.
Reel it in, Florida State fans. They’re only projections.

ESPN.com and FoxSports.com released their preseason All-American teams Thursday, and Marcus Mariota received the quarterback nod above Jameis Winston in both, unleashing the hounds in Tallahassee and the Florida panhandle.

At the end of the day, there can be only one quarterback on the preseason team, and Mariota and Winston have the strongest cases for the nomination, without question. But while Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and had an unprecedented season for a freshman, it is quite conceivable that Mariota will have a better 2014 season, at least statistically. An All-American selection isn’t a qualifier to be the best player in the country, which Winston was voted in ESPN.com’s player rankings. Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings and a 21-game winning streak, yet has only been a first-team All-Pro selection twice.

Last season, Mariota threw 31 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He has only 10 interceptions in his two seasons. He’s totaled 700 yards rushing in both of his seasons, too. In Oregon’s up-tempo offense, if Mariota remains healthy, he could improve on all of those numbers.

The narrative all offseason was how it will be tough for Winston to replicate his 2013 numbers, which consisted of more than 4,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. With two of his top receivers gone, the passing game might not be as efficient, and coach Jimbo Fisher could rely on his rushing attack more in 2014.

Is it contrarian to select Mariota over the reigning Heisman winner and a quarterback yet to lose a game? Sure, but that does not mean there is not a legitimate argument for Mariota to be an All-American at the end of the season. And if the preseason team is a projection based on 2014 and not a reflection of 2013, Mariota has a sensible case for the quarterback nomination.

Here are a few more ACC links to get your weekend started:

Preseason All-ACC team

August, 21, 2014
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Presenting the 2014 ESPN.com preseason All-ACC team:

Offense

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke. One of the most dynamic receivers in the ACC, Crowder has had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and gets the nod over Louisville receiver DeVante Parker in a close call. Given Crowder's past production in the offense, he should be in line to break school receiving records this season.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State. Perhaps one of the most underrated receivers in the country, Greene is a virtual lock to catch every pass that comes his way. He is the picture of consistency, and as the top returning target for Jameis Winston, should reach 1,000 yards again.

TE: Nick O'Leary, Florida State. One of the best tight ends in the country, O'Leary had 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He should improve on all those numbers this season.

T: Cameron Erving, Florida State. Erving thought about leaving school early last season for the NFL draft but decided to return, and he now anchors the best offensive line in the country.

T: Sean Hickey, Syracuse. Hickey is going into his third season as a starter and has developed into one of the best tackles in the league. He also may be the strongest player in the ACC, too.

C: Andy Gallik, Boston College. Gallik helped spearhead a Boston College run game last season that averaged 212.5 yards on the ground. As a three-year starter, Gallik has grown into the best center in the league.

G: Tre' Jackson, Florida State. One of the best guards in the country, Jackson also opted to return to school for his senior year. He and Erving are the best players on that line.

G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke. A first-team All-ACC player a year ago, Tomlinson will be relied upon even more to lead an offensive line that has to replace two of its best players. If he has another stellar season, Tomlinson could be one of the first guards taken in next year's draft.

QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State. The returning Heisman Trophy winner had a rough season off-the-field but there is no questioning his credentials on the field. After throwing for more than 4,000 yards a year ago, the expectation is he will be even better this year.

RB: Duke Johnson, Miami. Johnson is one of the best backs in the country, averaging 6.6 yards every time he touches the ball. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, he's a virtual lock to gain 1,000 yards.

RB: Kevin Parks, Virginia. Parks is the only returning 1,000-yard back in the ACC and is hoping for more in 2014. Tough call here between Parks and Karlos Williams, the next two best backs in the league behind Johnson.

Defense

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson. Beasley finished last season with 13 sacks (tops in ACC) and 23 TFL (4th in nation). He’s a preseason All-American and the biggest star on one of the country's top defensive fronts.

DE: Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State. The No. 1 overall recruit in the nation three years ago, Edwards is poised to come into his own in 2014. He was a critical piece of Florida State’s run-stuffing defense a year ago, finishing with 9.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks.

DT: Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech. No returning interior lineman in the ACC had more TFL last year than Maddy’s 13.5, and he was a key for the Hokies' dominant defense. This season, he'll be the centerpiece of a new-look D line.

DT: Grady Jarrett, Clemson. Dabo Swinney calls Jarrett one of the best defenders in the nation, even if he hasn’t gotten much national acclaim. He finished last season with 59 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss, and should be the foundation for a dominant defensive line at Clemson this season.

LB: Denzel Perryman, Miami. Perryman is Miami’s most productive defender, finishing with 108 tackles last season (fifth in the ACC). He’s the lone ACC defender returning for 2014 to have recorded at least 60 tackles in each of the previous three seasons.

LB: Stephone Anthony, Clemson. His 15 TFL last season ranked eighth in the ACC, and no returning linebacker in the conference had more. He added 86 tackles and 4.5 sacks to boot.

CB: Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech. One of the top freshman defenders in the nation last season, Fuller picked off six passes as part of Virginia Tech's exceptional secondary. His 17 passes defended tied for eighth nationally.

CB: P.J. Williams, Florida State. Williams racked up three interceptions and was dominant in coverage for Florida State, which finished with the best pass defense in the nation. He also won defensive MVP honors in the BCS national championship.

S: Anthony Harris, Virginia. Led the nation with eight interceptions last season for Virginia, including picking off at least one pass in five straight games in conference play in October and November.

S: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State. The first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders, Ramsey made the transition to safety midseason and didn’t miss a beat, finishing with 49 tackles and an INT.

S: Jeremy Cash, Duke. Cash finished last season second in the ACC in tackles (121), fifth in interceptions (4) and recorded 9.5 TFL, tops in the conference among defensive backs.

Specialists

K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State. The Lou Groza Award winner in 2013, Aguayo broke the national record for points by a kicker in a season with 157 points. He is virtually automatic every time he steps onto the field, missing just one field goal attempt and zero extra points last season.

P: A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech. A second-team All-ACC selection a year ago, Hughes averaged 44.1 yards per punt. He placed 24 inside the 20, and had 22 punts of 50 yards or longer.

KR: Kermit Whitfield, Florida State. Whitfield led the nation last year in kickoffs, with an average of 36.4 yards per return. His speed makes him extremely difficult to stop, let alone slow down.

PR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina. Teams have probably learned to kick away from Switzer at all times. Last season, he had five returns for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record.

ACC morning links

August, 18, 2014
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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher says he’s checking homework.

“We have notepads and pencils and you’re required to take notes,” Fisher said last week. “We’ll check them periodically.”

The fifth-year Seminoles coach was referring to his mandate that his players keep their eyes forward and jot down diligent outlines during positional meetings. I asked Fisher’s policy on taking notes after the Wall Street Journal published an article on the philosophy of the Cleveland Browns' Mike Pettine, a first-time head coach.

A former high school coach, Pettine found out from other teachers how actually putting pen to paper improves the odds a student will retain the information and retrieve the lesson when it’s test time. Kevin Clark, the WSJ writer, spoke with a UCLA professor who co-authored a paper on how writing instead of typing is often more useful, this at a time when there might be more laptops than notepads in college classrooms throughout the country.

It’s an interesting concept as it relates to football, which is catching up to the rest of the country in its fascination with technology. Several professional and college teams are using GPS tracking during practice. A handful, Florida State included, have armed players with tablets, and the Seminoles have a tablet in each player’s locker. Advanced metrics, usually reserved for baseball stat heads, are creeping their way onto football coaches’ desks. Drones are even being used to add yet another camera angle of practices.

But, even during football's technological revolution, it goes to show that sometimes simpler is better -- at least when it comes to filing away that the fullback is always option No. 1 on Spider 2 Y Banana.

“They’re taking a test every week, except they have to do it in front of 83,000 instead of a classroom,” Fisher said.

Here are a few more links to check out:
  • FSU is No. 1 in both preseason polls. That is due in large part to QB Jameis Winston, who took on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and then nominated his coach to do the same.
  • Miami was in the bottom half of the ACC blog's preseason power rankings, and much of that has to do with questions at quarterback and the defensive line. However, freshman QB Brad Kaaya is impressing the team with his maturity, and the defensive front is improving through camp.
  • Clemson opens the season at Georgia, but the Tigers will open up their home stadium so their fans can watch the game from inside Death Valley. The Bulldogs might be hurting on defense with a few losses during the offseason, but the Tigers' offense has not consistently impressed the Clemson coaches yet this fall. Chad Morris said quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson made some "really lousy decisions" in the latest scrimmage.
  • Louisville also held a weekend scrimmage, and Cardinals fans should be happy with the offense. The unit's pace and its future quarterback were among the five biggest takeaways.
  • Boston College's scrimmage looked like Christmas morning, which is not a good thing for an offense. Hint: They gift-wrapped turnovers.
  • An Atlantic division outlook from the (Charlottesville, Virginia) Daily Progress.
  • A few notes from Syracuse's Saturday practice.
  • Defense was optional in the Triangle in 2013, but there are defensive playmakers at Duke, NC State and North Carolina.
  • Nobody is quite sure what to expect out of Blacksburg, Virginia, this season: Does Virginia Tech continue to slide or are the Hokies poised for a return to double-digit wins? Frank Beamer believes it is the latter.
  • Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof sees signs that the Yellow Jackets' defense is improving, but that doesn't mean the unit is where it needs to be.
  • The name Kenechi Udeze might ring a bell for some football fans. He was a first-round NFL draft pick not long ago, but cancer cut his career short. He's back involved with the sport he loves, though, as a first-year assistant strength and conditioning coach at Pitt.

ACC mailblog

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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Step into my office ...

Richard in Raleigh writes: I beg you to put this in the mailbag. It involves the preseason predictions for UNC. Let me first state my bias against UNC so it is known. I'm a NC State grad and Miami fan. I hate Carolina, but I still think I'm right on this point. Most people have UNC ranked. Many project them to win the Coastal. Now I have to imagine some of this is based on projection of talent and belief in Larry Fedora and his system, but I have to imagine that a large part of it was based on their change in quarterback and improvement at the end of the year, starting 1-5 and finishing 6-1. It aggravated me as soon as the season ended and this talk started, but today I looked at a few more numbers and am shocked I haven't seen anyone bring it up. The teams UNC beat were a combined 44-44. The teams they lost to were a combined 55-24. They only had two road wins and only one was against an above .500 team (Pitt). The closest thing they have to a quality win are victories against 7-6 Pitt and BC and a bowl win against 9-4 Cincinnati in a stadium two hours from their campus. All of this would seem to suggest to me that rather than UNC improving at the end of the year, they just finally started playing teams they were capable of beating. I think what UNC showed at the end of the season is the same thing they showed at the beginning of the season. They are capable of beating bad teams. They are not capable of beating good teams. And all of that makes them remarkably average. Now you add to that no offensive or defensive line, an incredibly young group of players ... None of that points to improvement to me. Now UNC certainly has the talent on the roster to fix their holes and improve this season. I just see little to suggest that so far. So please tell me how all this is being overlooked.

Andrea Adelson writes: No need to beg, Richard. You make some good points. For the record, I do not have North Carolina winning the Coastal but I do have the Tar Heels No. 2. Why? A few reasons. First, to your concerns about who North Carolina beat last year. I think this team deserves credit for turning around the season after staring in such a massive hole. Were the opponents weaker in the latter part of the season? Yes. But other teams could have folded at 1-5 no matter the opponent. This team found a way to win and that should count for something. I did not use the momentum from last season in my projection, however. I based mine on the talent returning and the schedule this season, not last. North Carolina is extremely talented at the skill positions, and I think the offensive line will solidify itself early in the season. The Tar Heels have four winnable nonconference games, and they get Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home (though there are some toughies at Clemson, Miami and Duke). Plus, there is little to no separation between the teams in the Coastal. So regardless of what happened last season, North Carolina has as good a shot as any to win the division.


Mike D in Hamilton, Ontario, writes: Whenever you guys do write about Miami and their impact players Phillip Dorsett is rarely mentioned. Have people forgotten he was Stacy Coley (the speedy deep threat) before he got hurt? I don't think he gets nearly enough credit. If he's healthy, and Miami can find a serviceable QB, he and Coley will should put up some good numbers.

Adelson writes: I certainly have not forgotten Dorsett. In fact, I think it is a tight race for top receiving group in the ACC between Louisville and Miami. The Dorsett-Coley combination has a chance to be the best in the league. I look forward to watching them both this season.


Josh in Syracuse, N.Y., writes: Miami should definitely be ranked higher in your power rankings. While I understand the uncertainty at the quarterback position factored into their ranking, Miami will be one of the strongest, fastest and most talented teams in the conference even with a MEDIOCRE quarterback. You could say that Stephen Morris was a "mediocre" quarterback last year and they started 7-0, I mean he wasn't a Jameis Winston. Though this year the schedule is tougher, one can honestly argue that Miami has one of if not THE best WR corps in the conference. THE best running back in the conference, even after injury. They are also the deepest they have been on the defensive line in recent years and have one of the best LB's in the nation (Denzel Perryman) with a legitimate shutdown corner in Tracy Howard. Their O-line was pretty decent last year and returns key guys. I feel as though underestimating this team because of uncertainty at QB is a mistake because whoever it is will have a boatload of talent and speed to utilize. I don't think they necessarily need a "superstar" at QB to compete for an ACC championship. They just need someone who's "good enough" to distribute the ball effectively to the many weapons they have on offense. Thanks Andrea!

Adelson writes: The ranking was not only because of quarterback uncertainty. Neither you nor I know for certain this defense will develop the type of physicality and aggressiveness up front to change its fortunes. So Miami is deep up front. Are they bigger? Stronger? Will they push into the backfield? Perryman is terrific. So is Howard. But they need help around them. I applaud the move of Dallas Crawford to safety, an area in major need of an upgrade. But that defensive line still worries me, maybe moreso than quarterback.


Dusty in Hunstville, Ala., writes: Hi Andrea, I love the blog, but I have to ask...Syracuse above Georgia Tech in the power rankings? Did you happen to miss GT winning 56-0 last year? In a game where returning GT players Justin Thomas and Zach Laskey were the top two yardage gainers? And where Syracuse QB's couldn't muster a QBR above 8.8?

Adelson writes: Dusty, we arrived at the first power rankings after taking rankings from our four ACC reporters: myself, David Hale, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker, using a weighted point system to come up with the end result. In my ballot, I had Georgia Tech ahead of Syracuse. I cannot speak for my colleagues, but I think there is some genuine skepticism about the Jackets this season.


Greg in Annapolis, Md., writes: So I went through all those "best seasons" ever that were listed in all the blogs. How is Peter Boulware's 20 sack season, an NCAA record at the time, in 1996 not on the ACC list? Not only was it left off the list, but it should have been No. 1 for the best defensive season ever in the ACC. I love Deion Sanders and he was exciting, but 20 sacks in only 12 games, for a team that played for the national championship that year? This definitely blows away all the other guys on the ACC defensive list as well.

Adelson writes: Thanks, Greg. Shoutout to Peter Boulware for an outstanding season. Just to clarify: We did not rank the best individual defensive performances in ACC history. We merely listed the best single-season performance in school history for all 14 ACC schools. Jameis Winston took that honor for Florida State. Chris Low ranked the 10 best defensive seasons of all-time.

ACC morning links

August, 13, 2014
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It is that time of year again, when Syracuse makes its annual pilgrimage to a military base 90 miles north of campus for part of fall practice.

The idea first began with former coach Doug Marrone three years ago and has continued on under current coach Scott Shafer, who said Tuesday the partnership between Syracuse and Fort Drum continues to strengthen. Players seem to get as much out of the stay as the soldiers on base.

During their first day together Tuesday, Syracuse strength and conditioning coach Will Hicks led a workout with Fort Drum soldiers. Players will participate in various military-themed challenges, and the coaching staff will meet with military leaders to go over team building ideas.

It is rare for college teams to take practice on the road, even rarer for teams to partner with the military for a portion of camp. But Syracuse has benefited greatly from the partnership. Not only are players outside their normal environment, they are learning from men and women who can help them keep football in perspective. Players share cramped quarters in barracks, and have no other choice but to get to know one another a little better.

Indeed, players over the last two seasons have credited these trips with growing camaraderie and team chemistry. It is hard to argue with the results. Syracuse has been to a bowl game each of the last two seasons.

But will the Orange make another? The college football crew over at CBSSports.com weighed in with their ACC predictions. We can all agree that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the favorite to win offensive player of the year and Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley is the favorite to win defensive player of the year (though Luther Maddy did get some love for defensive honors). But there are a wide range of choices for newcomer of the year, coach of the year, and overrated/underrated teams. Miami showed up as both overrated and underrated, a clear indication that nobody truly knows for certain what to expect out of these Canes.

Virginia was the universal choice to finish last. But The Washington Post details the growing relationship between senior safety Anthony Harris and true freshman Quin Blanding, one of the more intriguing subplots in Charlottesville this fall. Harris has the potential to be an All-American; Blanding was one of the top-rated recruits in the country and expected to become an impact player right away. Virginia has quite a bit of talent on that defense, so if Blanding and fellow freshman Andrew Brown can contribute the way Harris has, watch out.

A few other links to get you going today:

ACC recruits who fill biggest needs 

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
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RecruitingNation takes a look at the 2015 recruits who most fill the needs of each of the ACC schools.

ACC rivalry heat meters

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
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Rivalries are an intrinsic part of college football, but not every rivalry is created equal. And every rivalry goes through cycles as each team has its own ups and downs. The Alabama-Auburn could be reaching new heights, but only after Auburn won six straight and then Alabama won four of five.

The ACC has its own share of intense rivalries, some peaking, others fading. Here is a look at some of the conference’s best rivalries and how each is faring.

Florida State vs. Miami

The facts: Miami leads the series 31-27, although Jimbo Fisher has dominated the Hurricanes during his head coaching tenure. The fifth-year Seminoles coach is 4-0 and has doubled up Miami in points over those four games.

The meter: Room temperature

For the better part of two decades this iconic rivalry was as hot as the Florida sun, but simultaneous struggles by both programs cooled what could have been considered the country’s best rivalry at one point. With Florida State back as an annual national title contender and Miami still yet to make an ACC title game, the two fan bases see this rivalry in a different light at the moment. FSU fans expect to beat Miami right now; Canes fans hope to derail the Seminoles’ title hopes. It looked as if the rivalry was making a comeback last season when both teams entered the game undefeated, but Florida State rolled Miami. If The U can ever return to the ranks of college football’s elite and with both programs now in the ACC, this could once again be a rivalry that dictates the national landscape. And with FSU in the Atlantic and Miami in the Coastal division, there could be repeat matches in the ACC championship game, with the winner moving on to the College Football Playoff.

Clemson vs. Florida State

The facts: Florida State leads the series 19-8, and the Seminoles are coming off a 51-14 trouncing of the Tigers in Death Valley.

The meter: Boiling

And it could boil over soon, possibly when the two reconvene Sept. 20 in Tallahassee, Florida. The Tigers were undefeated and a national title contender last October when they were embarrassed on their home field. The offseason is naturally a period for temperatures to settle, but Jameis Winston fanned the flames in March by tweeting a picture of Clemson’s stadium with the caption “our house.” During ACC media days, Tigers defensive end Vic Beasley said he felt disrespected that most believed Florida State would run through the ACC. Beasley, who finished second to Winston in the ACC preseason Player of the Year vote, told ESPN.com recently he believes the Tigers’ defense is good enough to hand Winston his first career loss.

Duke vs. North Carolina

The facts: Nothing says college football like two schools disagreeing on the all-time series record with the disputed game dating back to … wait for it … 1889. UNC claims a 59-37-4 record and Duke feels it trails only 38-58-4.

The meter: Heating up, NBA Jam style.

The Tar Heels won 21 of 22 games from 1990-2011, although two of those wins would later be vacated. But you get the point: This was as one-sided of a rivalry as you could possibly get. Up until 2012, the only noteworthy factoid of this game was the 1889 game where both teams claimed a win, accusing the other of ducking out of the game. David Cutcliffe’s vision of Duke becoming the East Coast’s version of Stanford is coming together, though, and the Blue Devils have been one of the better ACC teams over the past two seasons. In 2014, the prime time Thursday game on Nov. 20 could decide the ACC Coastal Division.

Dabo vs. Ol’ Ball Coach

The facts: Clemson leads the series 65-42-4, but Steve Spurrier holds a 4-1 edge over Dabo Swinney. The irony is Swinney’s win came as interim coach in 2008, and it might have helped him land the Clemson gig.

The meter: Like bacon grease in a hot skillet.

The repartee between these two is the best part of this rivalry, helping elevate it to a national level. Swinney made it known the Tigers are the only school from the Palmetto State to make it to a BCS game, and Spurrier was quick to point out South Carolina beat Clemson in both of those seasons. In July when Swinney said Spurrier was from Pluto, Spurrier quipped that Pluto was no longer considered a planet. The banter has raised the rivalry’s profile outside the state of South Carolina, and considering both programs figure to be annual College Football Playoff contenders, the country isn’t going get to tired of listening to these two for quite some time.

Miami vs. Virginia Tech

The facts: The Hurricanes lead the all-time series, although both have been middle-of-the pack programs the past few seasons.

The meter: Cooling

It was thought these two would annually compete for Coastal titles, but their most intense battles occurred during the Big East’s heyday. The Hokies are 13-11 over the past two seasons, and Miami is still climbing back to national relevancy. There is certainly potential for this rivalry to earn its place back among the national landscape, but there are no definitive signs that both of these programs are making their way back toward the top 10 of the rankings.

Florida vs. Florida State

The facts: Florida leads 34-22-2, but 16 of those 19 wins came before the 1977 season. The series has been much tighter since then.

The meter: Inherently high, but stagnant

Much like the Florida State-Miami rivalry, this annual November contest was one of the most anticipated games each college season. What helped put this rivalry on another level was the dynamics of the coaches, Bobby Bowden and Spurrier. The rivalry has been lacking since Spurrier left the Gators following the 2001 season, though. Urban Meyer pummeled Bowden for five seasons before Fisher turned the tide back in the Seminoles’ favor. In 2012, both teams were 10-1, but that was a flash-in-the-pan season for the Gators, who are 30-21 since 2010. If Florida can bounce back under Will Muschamp, this once again could be one of the premier college rivalries. Both programs are recruiting extremely well.


Virginia vs. Virginia Tech

The facts: Virginia Tech owns a 53-37-5 record against their chief in-state rival.

The meter: Falling, falling, falling.

Never a game that consistently affected the national landscape, this was still a big game within the borders of Virginia, which is underrated when it comes to producing elite high school recruits. A few seasons ago it seemed as if Mike London had turned around Virginia to the point where the Cavaliers would annually compete with the Hokies for conference titles, but UVa is coming off a 2-10 season. It’s not as if Virginia Tech has reeled off the wins as of late, either. The series has had better days.

NC State vs. North Carolina

The facts: The Tar Heels are 65-32-6 against the Wolfpack, although both programs have undergone coaching changes over the past few years.

The meter: Holding steady

Granted, it’s holding steady at a very low level, but there is the opportunity for this rivalry to gain a little more relevancy in the coming seasons. Many feel the Tar Heels are the Coastal favorite in Larry Fedora’s third season, and NC State second-year coach Dave Doeren expects the Wolfpack to be much better in 2014 with transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett. For now, though, this game plays second and third fiddle to the rest of the rivalry’s involving ACC schools. Check back next year, guys.

Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

The facts: The Bulldogs own a 64-39-5 record against the Yellow Jackets, although Georgia's media guide claims only 37 losses to its in-state rival. Georgia Tech can't dispute that the Bulldogs have owned this series since 2001.

The meter: Surprisingly warm and susceptible to volatile jumps

It's odd to think a series would be subjected to jumps when Georgia has lost only once over the past 13 seasons, but the rivalry has produced some fun games to watch, most recently a double-overtime thriller last November. Only twice since 1997 have both teams been unranked, and during that same span both teams have been ranked seven times. Georgia has routinely been rated higher, but what really rankles Tech fans is that the Bulldogs won both times Tech had the higher ranking entering the game. If you throw out the 2012 game when Georgia won 42-10, since 2004 the game has been decided by an average of seven points.

Florida State vs. Louisville

The facts: Florida State owns a 12-2 record against Louisville, but the teams have not played since 2002. The Cardinals just joined the ACC for this coming season.

The meter: Low but poised for a significant rise

This does not register as a rivalry yet, but it could certainly become one of the more intense games over the course of the next few seasons as Bobby Petrino builds Louisville in his own image. The Cardinals were a BCS-caliber team under Charlie Strong, but Petrino could go through some growing pains. But once he gets his offense in place, this could be a game that determines the ACC Atlantic. Florida State is poised to be one of the ACC's best teams as long as Fisher is the coach, and Petrino's track record suggests he should get Louisville to that level soon enough. Not to mention they're two of the best offensive minds, and who wouldn't want to see these two teams light it up? You can guarantee there won't be any Papa John's pies on the scoreboard when these two play.

ACC morning links

August, 11, 2014
Aug 11
8:00
AM ET
Good morning!

First thing's first: Starting today, links will be the first post each week day to get you started with everything you need to know across the ACC. So say good bye to lunchtime links and hello to morning links.

What's sizzling this Monday morning?

We're talkin' about scrimmages, media days and fan days that provided a few bits of headlines and newsworthy notes over the weekend.

First up: Florida State held its media day Sunday, and, well, there was a bit of unnecessary drama. The Seminoles asked fans, via Twitter, to submit questions to Jameis Winston using the hashtag #AskJameis. Predictably, the questions devolved in a matter of minutes. Search the hashtag, and you will find maybe five usable queries. The rest were on the order of crab legs, butter preferences for said crab legs and Winston's other legal entanglements.

As my fellow SNL fans are asking right about now, "Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?"

Meanwhile, Clemson held its first scrimmage of the fall Saturday with some drama of its own. The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, reported that quarterback Cole Stoudt sustained a minor leg injury when a defensive lineman rolled up on his leg. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said afterward he was unaware of an injury. The intrigue! Clemson returns to practice this morning so perhaps there will be more clarity. In any event, Dabo Swinney said both Stoudt and Deshaun Watson performed well in the scrimmage, which was closed to the media.

While on the subject of quarterbacks, watch out for Wake Forest true freshman John Wolford, now in the mix with Kevin Sousa and Tyler Cameron for the starting quarterback job. In the Deacs' scrimmage Sunday, Wolford scored on a 12-yard run and went 7-of-14 for 122 yards with an interception. Cameron, meanwhile, only threw for 52 yards, going 6-of-13.

In Atlanta, coach Paul Johnson limited quarterback Justin Thomas to one series and held out Zach Laskey from the weekend scrimmage for precautionary reasons.

And in one of the bigger injuries so far during fall practice, NC State coach Dave Doeren announced at media day that starting linebacker M.J. Salahuddin is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Salahuddin needs surgery and could end up taking a redshirt. It's a tough break for NC State, lacking in experienced depth at just about every position on the field. The Wolfpack simply cannot afford to lose veteran players like Salahuddin.

Now here's a quick look at other headlines:

Georgia Tech season preview

August, 8, 2014
Aug 8
10:30
AM ET
video » More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who are looking to return to the ACC championship game.

Key returners: QB Justin Thomas, RB Zach Laskey, WR DeAndre Smelter, WR Darren Waller, OG Shaq Mason, OL Trey Braun, LB Quayshawn Nealy, LB Paul Davis, S Isaiah Johnson, S Jamal Golden, CB D.J. White.

Key losses: QB Vad Lee, RB David Sims, RB Robert Godhigh, OT Will Jackson, C Jay Finch, OT Ray Beno, DE Jeremy Attaochu, DE Jabari Hunt-Days, S Jemea Thomas.

Most important 2014 games: Sept. 20 at Virginia Tech, Oct. 4 vs. Miami, Oct. 11 vs. Duke, Nov. 15 vs. Clemson and Nov. 29 at Georgia.

Projected win percentage: 53.4 percent.

[+] EnlargeShaquille Mason
Lee Coleman/Icon SMIStar offensive lineman Shaquille Mason will likely have the attention of NFL scouts this season.
Over/under Vegas odds: 6.5 wins

Instant impact newcomers: He’s not quite a newcomer, but Johnson does return to Georgia Tech in 2014. He missed the entire 2013 season, but as a junior in 2012, he led the team with 87 tackles. He returned the one interception he grabbed as a junior for a touchdown, too. Golden also is a very good safety who missed a significant amount of time last season. He, too, is healthy. In the 2014 recruiting class, four-star Stepheny Durham is a big-time talent, but the Yellow Jackets have a good amount of talent in the secondary. It’s possible Durham could see the field much more by the end of the season. There is room at running back, though, which means four-star CJ Leggett could get a few dozen carries.

Best NFL prospects: Mason, the talented offensive lineman, is probably the Yellow Jackets' top NFL prospect. Mason is one of the best linemen in the conference and, with a strong final season, could be a second-round pick, possibly even pushing into the second half of the first round.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Georgia Tech has become a stagnant program over the past few seasons, which is a disappointing trend, considering Paul Johnson won 19 games and played in an Orange Bowl his first two seasons in Atlanta. Expectations might be at their lowest since Johnson took over the program in 2008, but the Coastal Division in the ACC is wide open. Georgia Tech isn't capable of going undefeated in the ACC, but there is certainly a chance the Yellow Jackets will win the division. A bid to play in Charlotte, North Carolina, for the ACC championship would be the best-case scenario.

Worst-case scenario: Georgia Tech should start 3-0, which could provide some good vibes in Atlanta through the early portion of the season. But the tide could quickly turn against Johnson by the end of October. The Yellow Jackets play Virginia Tech, Miami, Duke and North Carolina in a row, a stretch that could define the 2014 season. The Yellow Jackets end the season against Clemson and at Georgia, and if those both end with Georgia Tech getting blown out, Johnson will be squarely on the hot seat.

ACC's lunch links

August, 7, 2014
Aug 7
12:00
PM ET
Who knew one of the biggest completions of Virginia Tech's offseason could come from Clemson?

Turns out that Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris is responsible for the Hokies landing quarterback Michael Brewer from Texas Tech. Brewer had played for Morris back at Lake Travis (Texas) High, and Morris had called Virginia Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer after the assistants crossed paths at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.

From the Newport News Daily Press' Norm Wood:

"When he called me, his name was getting mentioned for different jobs and things like that," said Beamer, who admitted Morris never might have called him regarding Brewer if Clemson and Virginia Tech were scheduled to play anytime in the near future, but no such game is on the horizon. "There's a lot of things that roll through your head when he calls you, 'Is he asking for coaches? I don't know. Who knows what he's calling for?' The last thing I thought he was calling for was about Michael."


Brewer, of course, ended up arriving in Blacksburg this past May, and he is right in the middle of the Hokies' six-man race to succeed Logan Thomas under center. Head coach Frank Beamer did little back at the ACC Kickoff to quell the notion that this could be Brewer's job to lose, and if the former Red Raider turns out to win the starting job, the player and his program will have Clemson to thank.

Elsewhere in the ACC ...

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 6, 2014
Aug 6
12:00
PM ET
Kevin Olsen may or may not be suspended, still. Miami has not confirmed the report, and neither has the man himself. But the most telling sign of the Hurricanes' current quarterback situation came Tuesday, when Jake Heaps ran with the first team during the first day of fall practice.

Olsen was there, as were true freshmen Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier. Kaaya looked strong, per the Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter. Original starter Ryan Williams was also at practice, albeit in a very limited capacity, tossing some light throws.

Whether Williams -- who tore his ACL in spring practice and had surgery on April 9 -- can return to full strength at some point this season remains to be seen. Head coach Al Golden has said he plans to cut his current four-man crop of potential starting quarterbacks to two following the Canes' second scrimmage, and right now Heaps looks like a safe bet to make it at least that far.

The former BYU and Kansas quarterback said and did all of the right things, too, per Porter, especially as it relates to potential awkwardness amid a five-man group vying for playing time:
“It’s a great question,” Heaps said. “It definitely could be. It’s definitely an interesting dynamic that is going on right now. But it’s gone extremely well and that’s a testament to the group of guys that are in that room, that quarterback group – all great guys, all guys that understand the situation and just are focused on getting better individually.”

Elsewhere in the ACC ...

ACC lunchtime links

August, 5, 2014
Aug 5
12:00
PM ET
By the end of today, every ACC team will have opened preseason camp. Sound the air horns: The 2014 college football season has arrived!

Here a few links around the ACC on how practices are going so far and what are the big storylines in camp this summer.

Beyond top 25: ACC's breakout candidates

August, 4, 2014
Aug 4
4:00
PM ET
Last week, ESPN.com ranked its top 100 players in college football, and here on the ACC blog, we counted down the top 25 in the conference. Of course, these lists are fun for the preseason, but once the games get going, what we all believed was true in August has a way of looking pretty silly by December. In fact, of our 2013 preseason top 25, just 12 also made our end-of-season top 25.

In other words, there were no doubt a few ACC players whose names were left on the cutting room floor in our countdown, but who may well be among the league’s elite this season. Here’s an admittedly imprecise look at a few to keep an eye on.

JUST MISSED

If we’d been making a top 30 or 40 list instead of 25, these guys definitely would’ve made the cut. As it stands, they'll likely see their names on our end-of-year list.

WR Stacy Coley (Miami): Don’t be surprised if the Canes’ sophomore receiver ranks in the top five of our end-of-season list. No returning ACC player averaged more yards per touch last year (min. 50 touches) than Coley (21.8). He’ll need some help from an unproven quarterback, but Coley has the talent to be an All-American if things break right for him this season.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville): Already a star with 9.5 sacks and 12 TFL last season, Mauldin is poised to explode as he moves from defensive end to outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s new 3-4 system. At Grantham’s previous stop at Georgia, he helped Justin Houston and Jarvis Jones parlay similar moves into super stardom.

DE Eli Harold (UVA): Virginia’s defensive line may not get much national publicity, but it’s jam-packed with talent, headed up by Harold, who racked up 8.5 sacks and 15 TFL last season. Both of those totals rank second among returning ACC players behind Clemson All-American Vic Beasley.

GETTING HEALTHY

Injuries set them back, but these players are poised for big comebacks in 2014.

S Isaiah Johnson (GT): A burgeoning star on Georgia Tech’s defense, a knee injury cost Johnson all of 2013. He’s “past 100 percent” now though and expects to make a huge impact after a long wait to get back onto the field.

S Tyler Hunter (FSU): Last summer, Hunter was the unquestioned leader of FSU’s revamped defense, but a scary neck injury ended his season in Week 3. What might’ve been a career-ending injury turned out to be just a setback, and now Hunter will be the veteran voice in an immensely talented secondary that has led the nation in passing defense the past two years.

DT Mehdi Abdesmad (BC): As a junior last season, the 6-foot-7 Abdesmad looked poised for a breakthrough, recording sacks against USC and Florida State before a knee injury ended his season. If he can return to form quickly, he's in position to replace the 8.5 sacks BC lost with the departure of Kasim Edebali from its D-line.

WR Charone Peake (Clemson): When they arrived on campus as freshmen, Peake and Sammy Watkins were both considered can't-miss prospects. Now Watkins is impressing in Buffalo Bills camp and Peake is still looking for his breakthrough season. Despite an injury-ravaged 2013, he's being counted on as the top option for Cole Stoudt in 2014.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATES

These players have already made some noise in the past but could make the jump to the league’s elite in 2014.

S Durrell Eskridge (Syracuse): Eskridge blossomed into a key contributor on Syracuse’s defense last year, recording 6.5 tackles per game (14th among returning ACC players) and four interceptions, but as the Orange look to replace key starters inside, Eskridge’s impact in 2014 only figures to expand.

QB Jacoby Brissett (NC State): Dave Doeren believes Brissett, a transfer from Florida who spent last season waiting in the wings, is a perfect fit for his offense, and the veteran has the confidence and trust of his teammates -- something NC State sorely missed at the position last year. Our preseason top 25 lists just one quarterback (Jameis Winston), so a few others have to state their case, too. Brissett should be chief among them, but fellow transfers Tyler Murphy (BC) and Michael Brewer (Virginia Tech) could certainly be in the mix, too.

OT Matt Rotheram (Pitt): Pitt's O-line was a disaster last year, but adding a more mobile quarterback in the backfield and a year of experience to the unit should help. Rotheram was the one bright spot through much of 2013, and he's now poised to get a hefty share of the credit should the revamped line take the next step in 2014.

UNPROVEN TALENT

They haven't seen the field (much) yet, but they’re in line for significant roles this season and could make the most of the opportunity.

LB Matthew Thomas (FSU): The Seminoles return plenty of talent from their national-championship run, but the linebacking crew is definitely an area with a few question marks. It’s a talented, but unproven group, but Thomas tasted action early last season before going down with an injury, and he showed he can make an instant impact -- perhaps in an edge-rusher role similar to what Christian Jones did for FSU's D last season.

RB Wayne Gallman (Clemson): It’s hard to project how the carries will be distributed in a crowded Clemson backfield, but two things are clear: The Tigers want to run the ball more in 2014, and Gallman has the potential to be a star. Coaches and teammates raved about his improvement in the spring, and Gallman will get every shot to win a job as a centerpiece of the new-look Clemson offense in fall camp.

OT Bentley Spain (UNC): Larry Fedora admits he doesn’t know quite what to make of Spain yet after the early enrollee missed a hefty chunk of the spring with an injury. Still, Spain is in line for the starting left tackle job at UNC, and with talent at quarterback and tailback behind him, it could be a quick start to his career.

DEEP SLEEPERS

The names aren’t familiar outside their own fan bases, but don’t be surprised if they’re making some noise by year’s end.

LB Marquel Lee (Wake): New Deacons coach Dave Clawson has his work cut out for him trying to find talent to fill out the depth chart, but he may have discovered an early gem in Lee. The sophomore was the star of Wake's spring game, and with so much turnover up front for the Deacons, Lee will get plenty of chances to make plays once the season begins.

CB DreQuan Hoskey (UVA): Here’s an interesting tidbit, courtesy of STATS LLC: No defender in the ACC was picked on more last season than Hoskey, who was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 81 times in 12 games. There were mixed results, of course, but it's worth noting that he wasn't burned for a TD on any of those plays. Next most targets without surrendering a touchdown among ACC defensive backs? Lamarcus Joyner with 37. He's part of a very crowded secondary, but Hoskey will get his chances to make an impact in 2014.

RB Shaquille Powell (Duke): He's overlooked because Duke returns its leading rusher from 2013 (Josh Snead) but teammates have raved about Powell's progress, and it's worth noting that while Snead is back, the Blue Devils still must replace 51 percent of last year’s rushing attempts after losing Brandon Connette, Juwan Thompson and Jela Duncan.

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