ACC: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

ACC morning links

February, 27, 2015
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Athlon put together a list of 20 running backs on the rise for 2015, and it’s an ACC-heavy club.

The top 20 includes FSU’s Dalvin Cook, Clemson’s Wayne Gallman, BC’s Jon Hilliman, Virginia’s Taquan Mizzell and Miami’s Joseph Yearby. Georgia Tech’s C.J. Leggett also cracks the “others to watch” list. So that’s six running backs from the conference’s 14 teams, but it’s possible the list could’ve been even longer.

NC State’s combo of Shad Thornton and Matt Dayes was exceptionally good last season. Had their combined stats belonged to just one runner, their 23 touchdowns and 1,934 scrimmage yards would’ve ranked second in the ACC.

North Carolina’s T.J. Logan has been a reflection of his team the past two years -- slow starts followed by strong finishes, but he topped 92 yards in three of his final four games last year, and from Nov. 1 on, 43 percent of his rushes gained at least 5 yards.

Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff had to share the backfield with a trio of other productive runners throughout last season, but he still ran for 12 scores (third in the ACC) and had 22 carries of 10 yards or more, trailing only James Conner of Pittsburgh and Cook among returning ACC runners.

Duke’s Shaun Wilson will likely still share plenty of snaps with Shaq Powell, but no Power 5 back in the nation with at least 75 carries had a higher yards per carry average than the freshman last year.

At Virginia Tech, J.C. Coleman will be No. 1 on the depth chart after a strong finish to the season, but Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams both showed flashes of brilliance as true freshmen last year behind a lackluster offensive line.

And since this was an “on the rise” list, it didn’t even include the ACC’s player of the year in Conner.

In other words, the ACC should have a really strong corps of runners next season, and it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question for the league to end up with a half-dozen 1,000-yard backs or more.

A few more links:
If you're perusing the nonconference schedules for ACC teams in 2015, you've no doubt noticed that Boston College isn't exactly wowing its fan base by signing up for two games against FCS foes. But before you go and point fingers at the Eagles for stacking the decks for two easy wins, BC Interruption goes through the agonizing details of the long, unpleasant journey that led to this slate of games.

Long story short, the ACC's flip-flop on a nine-game schedule two years ago and the ongoing conference reshuffling elsewhere were the biggest dominoes to fall, but when you get into the nitty gritty of it, the saga really underscores just how difficult scheduling has become.

In 2012, Florida State faced a similar problem. West Virginia bailed on a nonconference agreement, and in its place, the Seminoles could do no better than Savannah State -- a game so lopsided, they didn't even finish playing it.

Clemson and Georgia Tech both had multiple FCS foes on their schedules in 2013, and even those late-season rivalries against the SEC probably weren't enough to make matchups against Elon or South Carolina State seem worthwhile. But that's the breaks when the conference changes scheduling tactics at the last minute.

Scheduling has become a brutal business. Teams don't see conference foes often enough in the ACC, SEC and Big Ten. No one wants to lose the revenue of a seventh home game, so slating home-and-homes against anyone becomes tricky. Lower-tier FBS schools know their services as punching bags are in high demand, so they want big bucks in return. Contracts for future games aren't worth much more than the paper they're printed on.

Which brings us to the biggest problem: Scheduling matters a lot in this new playoff era. In fact, scheduling was probably the No. 1 topic of discussion as we all debated who was in and who should be left out. But was it Florida State's fault that Oklahoma State wasn't very good? Should Baylor have been made to suffer for keeping scheduling agreements that were signed long before there was such a thing as a playoff committee? How many people were giving extra credit to Ohio State for losing to Virginia Tech rather than thumping four punching bags like Mississippi State did?

One way around the problems may be to ink more nonconference conference games, as UNC and Wake Forest did, and as the Post & Courier suggests Clemson and South Carolina should also do. But if we're getting to that point, why not just move to that nine-game conference slate that was such a source of frustration two years ago?

What's more realistic in the short term is that the committee -- which includes its share of ADs who should be familiar with these issues -- needs to seriously re-evaluate how much scheduling factors into its rankings.

A few more links:

ACC's most intriguing: Nos. 11-15

February, 25, 2015
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We’re still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC who already are big stories. With that in mind, we’re counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason — from players to coaches to administrators — and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. Here are numbers 11 through 15.

11. Jabari Hunt-Days

Role: Outside linebacker, Georgia Tech

Intrigue: After recording seven tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2013, Hunt Days figured to be the heir apparent to Tech star pass rusher Jeremiah Attaochu in 2014. Instead, he missed the year with academic issues, and as a result, the Yellow Jackets finished 108th in sacks-per-game and allowed more than 5 yards per carry. He’s back in the fold now, but is this an older, wiser Hunt-Days?

Possible impact: Adam Gotsis was Tech’s only established pass rusher last season, but KeShun Freeman learned on the fly, and the rest of the defensive front filled in around them. In spite of the overall success of 2014, however, the defense was still a sieve at times, allowing the fifth-most yards-per-play of any Power 5 team. But add Hunt-Days back to the mix and suddenly Tech’s pass rush looks a lot more intimidating. He insists he has learned some valuable lessons from his time away, and if that’s true, he could team with Gotsis, Freeman and an emerging secondary to transform the Jackets’ D into an asset in 2015.

[+] EnlargeThomas Sirk
Fabian Radulescu/Icon SportswireDuke QB Thomas Sirk rushed for 238 yards and eight touchdowns in a limited role in 2014,
12. Thomas Sirk

Role: Quarterback, Duke

Intrigue: The last time the Blue Devils opened a season with a starting quarterback who had less than 50 pass attempts under his belt was 2006. This season, the entire roster has just 16 passes combined in their careers. Still, Sirk was on the field often last season as a change-of-pace runner in place of Anthony Boone. Now he’s poised to take over the starting job, but there are still plenty of questions about how much of a complete player he can be.

Possible impact: David Cutcliffe raved about Sirk’s athleticism, saying he might be the fasted QB he has coached, which certainly should pair well with an already deep running game for the Blue Devils. But Sirk’s arm is solid, too, so if he can turn his limited game experience into a level of comfort as a full-time starter in 2015, he figures to make Duke’s offense particularly dynamic.

13. Michael Brewer

Role: Quarterback, Virginia Tech

Intrigue: There’s no question the Hokies’ offense struggled last season, but there was still plenty of room for optimism because so many of the key roles were filled by freshmen. Instead, Brewer — on campus for just a month before fall camp opened — took the brunt of the criticism. Some was warranted. He threw interceptions in nine of 13 games, including 11 in his first six contests. Some wasn’t. He improved his decision-making in the second half of the year and engineered impressive comebacks against ECU, Duke and UVA. Now Brewer has a chance to get a full spring and summer under his belt with his young teammates, but he’ll also be pushed by highly regarded freshman Dwayne Lawson.

Possible impact: Brewer doesn’t need to be a superstar for Tech in 2015 — something Lawson could well blossom into down the road — but he does need to play smart and take advantage of big-play opportunities when they arise. Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges should provide the Hokies with an explosive mix of receivers, but if Brewer can’t take advantage, it’s going to be tough for Frank Beamer’s squad to improve dramatically this year, and Tech fans are tired of excuses.

14. Dan Radakovich

Role: Athletics Director, Clemson

Intrigue: Radakovich’s work at Clemson has been impressive, as the school is in the midst of a four-year run of 10-win seasons and breaking ground on a ton of facility expansions. But the real intrigue for Radakovich is in his other gig, as a member of the College Football Playoff selection committee. Last year, FSU was dinged consistently, despite an unbeaten regular season. This year, the ACC might have an even tougher argument to make, and it will need a strong voice on the committee to state its case.

Possible impact: Radakovich has shown he’s willing to think outside the box and get things done, which is exactly the philosophy that’s likely needed to push for the ACC’s relevance on the national stage, and his determination to get Clemson to invest in its program to keep up with the big boys nationally is crucial to changing perceptions of the league. The problem, however, is that if Clemson is the team on the precipice of a playoff invite at year’s end, Radakovich would have to recuse himself from the proceedings.

15. Charles Kelly

Role: Defensive coordinator, Florida State

Intrigue: After having a different coordinator in each of the past three seasons, FSU finally has some stability at the top of its defense. The problem is that many fans aren’t thrilled with that. Kelly oversaw some serious struggles last season for the Seminoles, and he took the blame for a lackluster pass rush and a propensity by the D to give up big plays. Add the fact that four starters departed early for the NFL, and the job of rebuilding the once-mighty FSU D is a big one.

Possible impact: FSU allowed 170 rushing yards per game last year, 73rd nationally. It allowed 51 completions of 20 yards or more, 113th nationally. It had just 17 sacks, 108th nationally. Those are ugly numbers for a team that has thrived on defense previously under Jimbo Fisher. Kelly is not new to the job of building a D, but he’s going to need to develop young players quickly if he wants to make significant strides in 2015.
When Dave Clawson took the head-coaching job at Wake Forest last year, he knew it would be a massive rebuilding project Insider. His roster lacked any experienced talent at the offensive skill positions. His offensive line was woefully undersized. His recruiting base was dominated by bigger schools, spending more money. There was, he believed, a plan to turn Wake into a winner, but it would be a long and treacherous road. When the Demon Deacons finished 1-7 in ACC play in 2014, most chalked it up as a surprisingly successful first step.

When Jimbo Fisher took over for legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 2010, the path to rebuilding a winner wasn’t nearly as tough. The Seminoles had tradition and money and a passionate alumni base, and once Fisher got the right staff in place he made an instant impact on the recruiting trail and won a division title in his first season. Still, by the time he finished the 2012 campaign with FSU’s first ACC championship in seven years, a vocal contingent of the fan base remained dubious that Fisher was the right man for the job. They’d hoped for more, and a 12-2 record was labeled something of a disappointment.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsIs Dave Clawson's job at Wake Forest tougher than Jimbo Fisher's at Florida State? Depends on your perspective.
Pinpointing the toughest coaching job in the ACC is really a matter of semantics. At Wake, resources are thin but expectations are modest. A coach gets time to build. At Florida State, there are ample tools to create a juggernaut, but the fan base doesn’t accept excuses when winning doesn’t come quickly. The difficulty of the job is really in the eye of the beholder.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for debate between those two counterpoints, too.

David Cutcliffe took over a Duke program that had spent the previous 15 years as one of the worst teams in the FBS, but he slowly rebuilt the on-field product, pushed for more investment and led the charge for stadium upgrades and now the Blue Devils have played in three straight bowl games. What was once universally considered one of the toughest jobs in college football now looks like a pretty cushy gig.

At Miami, Al Golden is living the alternate side of that story. The Hurricanes were a powerhouse for two decades, but, after an extended dry spell marred by an NCAA investigation, piecing together a consistent winner at Miami has proved to be an arduous project. The Canes have brought in talent, including potentially three first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft, but Golden has just a .500 record in ACC play to show for it, and the fan base is understandably restless.

Places such as Syracuse and Boston College have rich football traditions, but geography makes recruiting a tougher task. North Carolina and Virginia have resources and more fertile recruiting bases, but they’ve combined for just three ACC titles since 1980, and none in the past 20 years.

Deciding on the ACC’s toughest job is really about where the line between expectations and opportunity converge. At places such as Wake and Syracuse, no doubt more legwork is required to simply get to a bowl game. At Florida State and Miami, finding the talent is easy but meeting the lofty expectations that come with it can be a challenge.

It’s fair to say most coaches would prefer the latter problem, of course, and there’s a reason FSU is a destination job while Syracuse is more likely a place to get fired or a steppingstone to a better gig. But sometimes it’s simply about finding the right fit. Cutcliffe has said he hopes never to leave Duke -- a job most coaches would’ve run from screaming a decade ago. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to four straight 10-win seasons, but when he was rumored to be a candidate for the Florida job in December, he didn’t deny he might someday move on from Death Valley for the right opportunity elsewhere. The best jobs are often a matter of perspective, too.

In the end, a great coach finds a way to mine for resources, even in less fertile areas. He wins enough that expectations climb, even in places where winning had been an afterthought for years. At Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer is an institution -- the man responsible for building the program over the course of three decades. That success helped him snag a top-25 recruiting class this year, and it also has the fan base up in arms after three straight subpar seasons.

In other words, it’s not as much about the job as it is about the coach. Clawson hasn’t shied away from the task at hand. Instead, he has embraced the difficulty of winning at Wake Forest. And one year after Fisher was criticized for failing to meet expectations in 2012, he won a national title at Florida State with one of the most dominant teams in recent history.

Every job has its challenges, but the right coach finds a way to meet them regardless.

ACC morning links

February, 20, 2015
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Athlon Sports' David Fox took on the fun task of ranking the ACC's football/men's basketball coaching duos, and it should come as little surprise to see Duke at the top.

David Cutcliffe has turned around the culture of Blue Devil football, leading his team to three straight bowl games and winning multiple national coach of the year awards in 2013. His hardwood counterpart, of course, is arguably the greatest to ever walk the collegiate sidelines, Mike Krzyzewski.

The real debate comes after the top, as Fox has Louisville and Notre Dame at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. While the jury may still be out on Bobby Petrino's redemption tour after Year 1 back with the Cardinals, his success is likely enough to help lift the Cards to the No. 2 spot, considering Hall of Famer Rick Pitino is his counterpart. The Irish have a nice showing as well, as Brian Kelly is easily the school's best football coach since Lou Holtz and Mike Brey has turned the hoops squad into a consistent tournament team, after years of mediocrity before his arrival.

The legitimacy of the rest of the list is really in the eye of the beholder, especially given the cyclical nature of the ACC's football and men's basketball programs. I, for one, can easily see Virginia Tech moving up from No. 6 in the near future if Frank Beamer can turn things around on the gridiron. And Buzz Williams was definitely a home run hire this year for the hoops program.

I'd probably move No. 11 Clemson a few spots up, and No. 8 Syracuse and No. 10 Pitt could certainly see their profiles grow if their relatively new football coaches can make names for themselves to go with Jim Boeheim and Jamie Dixon.

I'd also put stock in 15th-place Wake Forest, which is in Year 1 of both the Dave Clawson and Danny Manning eras. The Demon Deacons have shown early signs in both regimes that they don't plan on going away quietly, regardless of their limitations.

Here are the rest of your Friday links:

Spring reset: ACC quarterback

February, 17, 2015
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This could be the year of the quarterback in the ACC with starters returning at the majority of schools across the league.

But there are some programs that will have a bit of intrigue at the quarterback spot this spring. Here is a quick spring reset at where the signal-callers stand at each ACC school.

The incumbents
The skinny: These six are the unquestioned starters at their respective schools. Even Lambert, marking the first time in five springs Virginia has a set quarterback headed into the spring. Though Matt Johns is sure to get a look, Lambert is expected to start the season if healthy. Same goes for the other five, who appear to have a stronghold on their respective starting jobs.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtThe backup quarterback position is key to watch during Clemson's spring practices as Deshaun Watson sits out to rehab his injured knee.
The injured incumbent
The skinny: With Watson out during spring practice while he rehabs a knee injury, true freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel will get reps with Nick Schuessler as they compete to become the backup to Watson. Schuessler, a former walk-on, was the No. 3 quarterback last season. Bryant and Tucker enrolled early and are in for spring, great news for a program that has faced depth issues at the position since last fall. The backup job is an important one at Clemson, with Watson coming off a major knee injury. Whomever wins the backup job could be pressed into action early.

The returning starters*
The skinny: Why an asterisk? There is a chance some of these players end up losing their starting job if the competition is fierce enough during the spring and into the fall. All three go into the spring as the starter. They each are the most experienced quarterbacks on their respective rosters. But ...

At Syracuse, Hunt is coming off a broken leg and will face competition from AJ Long and Austin Wilson. Long and Wilson both played last season after Hunt went out, giving the coaching staff much more to work with this spring.

At Wake Forest, coach Dave Clawson said Wolford will get the first-team reps but his quarterback will have to win the starting job again after the Deacs signed two highly touted prep quarterbacks -- Kendall Hinton and Kyle Kearns.

At Pitt, Voytik will have to learn a new system and face new competition from Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman. While Voytik is expected to keep his starting job, there are no guarantees here, either.

The new starter
The skinny: Sirk has taken first-team reps so far this spring as he works to replace two-year starter Anthony Boone. Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre have provided competition but coach David Cutcliffe has already declared Sirk the starter.

The open competitions

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire will enter the spring practice session as the backup QB with the most experience at FSU.
Boston College: Darius Wade, Troy Flutie. Wade is the favorite to win the starting job, but Flutie is expected to get a fair shake. This is what coach Steve Addazio had to say about both during his signing day news conference: "Darius Wade has got a great arm and he throws the ball extremely well. Troy Flutie is a great anticipator, which is a unique quality to have as a quarterback. He does a great job anticipating guys coming out of their breaks. He doesn't have to see them open. So both of those guys have unique tools and both are very athletic."

Florida State: Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino. One of the most anticipated competitions in the entire country will take place in Tallahassee, where Jimbo Fisher must replace Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Maguire served as the backup last season, but that does not necessarily make him the favorite to win the job. Cosentino came in last year as an ESPN 300 prospect and redshirted. Fisher said true freshmen De'Andre Johnson and Deondre Francois -- both ESPN 300 players -- will also get a shot. Johnson is already in for spring.

Louisville: Reggie Bonnafon, Tyler Ferguson, Kyle Bolin. With Will Gardner out for spring and no timetable set for his return after another major knee injury, the Cardinals are expected to have a heated open competition in the spring between Bonnafon, Ferguson and Bolin. Bonnafon played as a true freshman last season and showed some promise before getting injured late in the year. Bolin was then forced to play with Bonnafon and Gardner out. Though he led a comeback win over Kentucky, he was not nearly as effective in the bowl game against Georgia. Ferguson transferred from Penn State and sat out last season, and could end up being the wild card in the group.

ACC morning links

February, 16, 2015
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A pair of ACC staffs underwent a reshuffling this weekend, as Boston College and Virginia divvied up duties with spring practices approaching.

BC promoted Todd Fitch to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, and hired Brian White to replace Fitch as its receivers coach. White spent the last six years at Florida, most recently coaching running backs.

UVa, meanwhile, announced that associate head coach for defense/defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta will coach safeties, while Mike Archer will move from safeties to linebackers and be promoted to associate head coach. Volunteer assistant Brian Wetzel was named a graduate assistant as well.

“In making my evaluations of the program since the end of last season and discussing this with the coaching staff, we all felt these moves would benefit our defense, particularly with the makeup of the returning players,” Cavaliers coach Mike London said in a release. “It also benefits our program by placing Jon and Mike with position groups they have spent the majority of their careers coaching.”

The Hoos had previously hired Chris Beatty (running backs) and Dave Borbely (offensive line). Larry Lewis moved from running backs to tight ends and will continue coordinating special teams.

At BC, Fitch succeeds Ryan Day, who left for the Philadelphia Eagles. White, a Massachusetts native, had coached with Steve Addazio and Justin Frye for two years with the Gators.

"I am very excited to promote Todd as our quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator," Addazio said in a release. "Trust and continuity are two very important factors that went into my decision. It is my belief that our program needs to continue to grow and develop within the same system, continue to improve the areas of strength and to attack the areas that need improvement. I have always had great involvement in the offense and will continue to do so. Therefore, it is extremely important for me to be on the same page as the rest of the offensive coaches. With Todd's leadership and tremendous experience as an offensive coordinator in three different coaching stops, I am confident that he will help us continue to develop and bring us to new heights."

Here are the rest of your Monday links:

ACC morning links

February, 13, 2015
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Because most teams won’t start spring practice for a few more weeks, we’re in the season of list-making, and Bleacher Report has an interesting rundown of its top weapons in college football.

The list includes 25 players, with just three coming from the ACC: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas and Florida State RB Dalvin Cook.

It’s tough to argue with those selections. If we’re making a list of ACC player of the year candidates, those would certainly be among the favorites. Having said that, there are plenty of other big-time playmakers around the league.

Obviously Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Tyler Boyd warrant mentioning, while Miami’s Brad Kaaya, UNC’s Ryan Switzer and Clemson’s Artavis Scott and Mike Williams all are emerging stars.

But looking a bit deeper, here are a few more names who figure to be legitimate weapons around the ACC in 2015…

QB: North Carolina’s Marquise Williams was terrific last season, and he’s poised to be even better this year with a more established O-line and some talented receivers to work with. After Mitch Trubisky was shuffled to the bench full-time starting in October, Williams racked up 25 touchdowns. Only five Power 5 QBs had more, and four of them finished in the top 10 in Heisman balloting.

RB: NC State’s Matt Dayes didn’t get a full workload last season, and that might not change dramatically in 2015, but when it comes to all-around weapons, he’s one of the ACC’s best. Dayes was the only player in college football last season to tally at least 300 yards rushing, receiving, and on returns while scoring at least 10 touchdowns. In the last decade, just 14 others have done that, and the list includes some big names such as Reggie Bush, DeMarco Murray, C.J. Spiller, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Maurice Jones-Drew and Jeremy Maclin.

WR: Florida State’s Travis Rudolph averaged 15 yards per catch last season, the sixth-best total among returning ACC receivers, as a true freshman. He improved dramatically as the year went along, catching 11 passes for 136 yards in the ACC Championship Game and Rose Bowl.

TE: Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges is as big a mismatch on offense as any team will have this season. The Hokies used him as a traditional tight end, split him out wide and lined him up in the Wildcat routinely last year. He was among the ACC’s top red-zone targets, and only Wake’s Cam Serigne had more catches among returning Power 5 tight ends.

And while Bleacher Report’s list included just one full-time defensive player, FSU’s Jalen Ramsey, Duke's Jeremy Cash, Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander, Virginia’s Quin Blanding, Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins all warrant discussion, too.

A few more links:
The ACC bucked the odds this offseason, with just one program changing head coaches -- and that one came because Paul Chryst landed a better gig at Wisconsin. In other words, none of the league's 14 coaches were axed, which is really an accomplishment.

Football Scoop looks at the tenure of each FBS head coach, and it’s noteworthy that 15 of the 128 schools have hired new coaches in the last three months, and 82 of them have hired a new head coach in the last three years. Just 36 coaches in the country will be entering Year 6 at the same school in 2015, and six of them are in the ACC.

Here’s the conference breakdown on FBS coaches who have survived beyond five years:

ACC: 6
SEC: 6
Big 12: 6
Conference USA: 5
Big 10: 3
Independent: 3
American: 2
Sun Belt: 2
Pac 12: 1
MAC: 1
Mountain West: 1

(*Coaches whose teams have switched leagues since being hired are listed in their current conference)

The Roanoke Times puts the tenure of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer in graph form, and it’s pretty jarring.

Beamer was hired to coach the Hokies in 1986. The next longest-tenured coaches were hired 12 years later. Twelve! And he’s one of just three coaches that were hired in the 20th century.

Of course, Beamer’s job security is a growing concern in Blacksburg, but he’s not the only ACC coach with pressure building.

The Times’ graph reveals something pretty interesting: Current coaching tenures peak at three years, with a relatively stark drop-off after that and a huge drop-off after Year 5.

It used to be that five-year plans were the norm for coaches. It gave them a year to take stock of a program and four years to get recruits through the ringer. But these days, three years is more of the status quo, with the pressure being ratcheted up big time in Year 4. Year 5 is essentially do-or-die.

And that brings us to our ACC hot seats.

Chryst would’ve been entering his fourth season, and while he brought some talent into Pitt, he didn’t exactly reinvigorate the program. He may have been wise to get while the getting was good.

Larry Fedora is in Year 4 at North Carolina, and his tenure has been a mixed bag. He’s gotten the Heels off to a brutal start in each of the last two years, and his 2014 defense was abysmal. He brought in Gene Chizik to fix those problems this year, but another 6-6 regular season for UNC — even with the NCAA investigation ongoing — could be a big problem.

At Miami, Al Golden is in Year 5, and he’s trending in the wrong direction. Yes, Miami has weathered the NCAA storm, but after a 20-11 start to his career, Miami is just 8-11 in its last 19 games, and fans are growing frustrated.

In other words, patience is thinner than it’s ever been in college football, and while the ACC has largely bucked that trend with Beamer, Dabo Swinney, Paul Johnson, Mike London, Jimbo Fisher and David Cutcliffe — all on the job more than five years now — no one is immune to the changing landscape.

A few more links:
  • Football Scoop also has a story on coaches looking to do away with signing day altogether, with Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson helping to lead the charge.
  • Bleacher Report has a story on the emergence of “free agency” in college football, with former FSU QB Jacob Coker highlighted. ESPN’s Andrea Adelson looked at a few transfers poised to make an impact in the ACC this coming season.
  • Former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is Mel Kiper’s No. 1 overall pick in his latest mock draft, with seven other ACC players going in the first round — including three from Miami.
  • Rick Trickett has his work cut out for him in rebuilding Florida State’s O line this year, but the Tallahassee Democrat writes that he’s already built the relationships to make it happen.
  • David Cutcliffe is searching for playmakers on both sides of the line of scrimmage, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Matt Colburn calls his chance to play at Wake Forest “a blessing” after being spurned by Louisville, writes The State.
  • Boston College is stealing a bit from our favorite sports doc series for its online recruiting, writes BC Interruption.
  • Syracuse.com discusses whether it’s smart to install Terrel Hunt, once again, as the Orange’s starting quarterback. As we noted in our quarterback column this week though, it’s not as though any of his back ups offered much reason for change in 2014.
  • Georgia Tech got its first commitment for 2016, as From the Rumble Seat notes.
  • Former Maryland head coach and ACC coach of the year, Ralph Friedgen, has stepped down as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator, writes USA Today.

 

ACC's second-half stars

February, 11, 2015
Feb 11
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This week, we looked at the second-half performances for the ACC’s quarterbacks. Now, we’ll dig into a few of the other top performances from returning players around the league.

Running backs

James Conner, Pittsburgh: No surprise that the ACC’s player of the year was really good down the stretch, but it’s worth noting that by Game 6, Conner’s performance was starting to lag because of the a heavy early workload. But after a bye, he came back strong, averaging 6.3 yards per rush (up from 5.6 in the first half) and scoring 17 times on the ground.

Dalvin Cook, Florida State: It was in FSU’s sixth game of the year against Syracuse that Cook finally got a long look, getting 23 carries and rushing for 122 yards, and though he still shared time with Karlos Williams after that, he quickly emerged as one of the nation’s best young runners. In the second half of the season, Cook averaged 6.2 yards per rush and had 27 carries of 10 yards or more (seventh among Power 5 backs), totaling 925 yards from scrimmage -- just 16 shy of Conner’s tally.

Wayne Gallman, Clemson: The Tigers’ ground game was abysmal in first half of the season. Set aside the big day against FCS South Carolina State, and Clemson ranked 102nd nationally in rushing per game (116) and 115th in yards per carry (2.8). But things improved down the stretch, even without star quarterback Deshaun Watson, thanks largely to Gallman. His 610 rushing yards in the second half of the season ranked fifth in the ACC, and his 18.3 rushes per game ranked third behind only Conner and Duke Johnson. On 128 second-half carries, Gallman didn’t fumble once.

Of note: Just 5.4 percent of Shaquille Powell's rushes in the second half went for a loss or no gain, the second-lowest rate in the league. Virginia Tech's J.C. Coleman ended the season with four straight games of 95 yards rushing or better. North Carolina’s T.J. Logan carried 86 times in the second half, and 44.2 percent went for at least 5 yards. Only Pitt’s Conner and Chris James had a better rate among ACC running backs.

Receivers and tight ends

Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: His 833 receiving yards in the latter half of the season ranked eighth nationally, and his 48 catches ranked 12th. As Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik got more seasoning, Boyd was the benefactor, hauling in 112 yards or more in five of his last six games. He was one of just seven receivers to rack up five 100-yard games in the season’s second half. More impressive is that Boyd did it without a legitimate No. 2 option. He accounted for a whopping 48 percent of Pitt’s receptions and 58 percent of its receiving yards in the second half, both easily the highest rates in the country.

Artavis Scott, Clemson: Would you believe a true freshman playing with a struggling quarterback had as many receptions in the second half of the season as Boyd? That’s true of Scott, who caught 48 balls from Game 7 on, trailing only Rashad Greene and Jamison Crowder in the ACC, and his five receiving touchdowns trailed only Miami’s Phillip Dorsett. The biggest reason for Scott’s success? He had 642 yards after the catch, according to ESPN Stats & Info, which nearly doubled any other ACC receiver.

Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech: No ACC player was targeted more often in the red zone from Week 8 on than Hodges (10), and his five catches and three touchdowns both ranked second in the conference during that span. He caught 28 balls from Week 8 through the end of the season, the second-most by any Power 5 tight end, trailing only Mackey semifinalist Jimmay Mundine.

Of note: Clemson’s Mike Williams hauled in 29 first downs in the second half of the season, trailing only Boyd among ACC receivers, and 16 of his 17 catches on third or fourth down went for conversions. Wake Forest tight end Cam Serigne had six catches and four touchdowns in the red zone, both tops in the ACC. Virginia’s Canaan Severin had nine catches of 20 yards or more, more than any other ACC receiver aside from Boyd.

Defenders

Sheldon Rankins, Louisville: The Cardinals dodged a bullet when Rankins announced he would return for his senior season in 2015. In the second half of last season, he racked up six sacks -- tops in the ACC and 12th among all Power 5 defenders. He also forced a fumble and picked off a pass.

Josh Jones, NC State: The redshirt freshman started the final five games of the season at strong safety, and not coincidentally, the Wolfpack’s defense improved dramatically, cutting its opponents’ completion percentage from 60 to 49, YPA from 7.0 to 5.9 and creating nine takeaways in five games after racking up just 11 in its first eight. Jones was at the forefront, picking off three passes in those last five games -- the third-most in the nation.

DeVon Edwards, Duke: After a boom-or-bust freshman campaign in 2013, Edwards was productive from the outset in 2014, but his second half was particularly impressive. He racked up an ACC-best 81 tackles during the second half of the season, including double-digit totals in six of Duke’s last seven games, and though his interception total dipped, he did chip in with five tackles for loss down the stretch.

Of note: Virginia Tech’s Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem combined for 18 TFL and 9.5 sacks during the final six games. Wake Forest linebacker Marquel Lee racked up 51 tackles, including 6.5 for a loss and three sacks, during Wake’s final six games. Georgia Tech’s D.J. White had six pass breakups and three interceptions in the latter half of the season, the most total passes defended among ACC defensive backs.
Duke linebacker David Helton was named the winner of the 2014 Jim Tatum Award as the ACC’s top scholar-athlete Wednesday, and the senior was one of 65 players named to the conference’s All-ACC Academic football team.

Helton, who was also an Academic All-American, was joined by Duke teammates Laken Tomlinson and Jeremy Cash, who were both named to All-America teams for their on-field performance as well. Overall, Duke had 13 players earn All-ACC Academic honors, more than any other team in the league. Syracuse had nine, Pitt had eight and Wake Forest had six players.

To be eligible for the ACC’s All-ACC Academic team, a player must have earned a 3.0 GPA or better in the previous academic semester and maintained a 3.0 average over the course their academic career. Overall 128 players were nominated, with 65 winners announced Wednesday. The ACC has selected an All-ACC Academic Football team every year since 1954.

Among the notables on the team were Boston College QB Tyler Murphy, who was one of 12 players to have also earned their undergraduate degree. Clemson receiver Artavis Scott was a Freshman All-American and also earned All-ACC Academic honors. He was joined by fellow freshmen Deshaun Watson, Bo Hines, Shaun Wilson and Travis Rudolph.

Fifteen members of this year’s All-ACC Academic team were repeat winners, including Duke’s DeVon Edwards and Josh Snead, NC State’s Jack Tocho, Pitt’s Ray Vinopal, Wake’s Ryan Janvion and Clemson’s Daniel Rodriguez.

You can view the full roster of All-ACC Academic winners here.
It is never too early for predictions. I mean, we all love having egg on our faces by season's end!

Colleague Mark Schlabach presented his revamped Way-Too-Early Top 25 for 2015 earlier this week. Now, Brad Edwards gets his turn. Edwards decided to take a crack at predicting all the teams that would make the New Year's Six bowl games, with quite a few surprises.

Michigan makes the Rose Bowl. Tennessee makes the Sugar Bowl.

Egads!

But wait, there's more.

Florida State, which has made the Orange Bowl, BCS national championship game and College Football Playoff in the last three years did not make the cut.

Neither did Clemson, expected to be the highest-ranked ACC team when the preseason polls come out in August.

Only one ACC school made Edwards' list: Georgia Tech, in a Peach Bowl matchup against the team everybody loves to hate, Boise State.

Now, seeing the Jackets included is not nearly as big a surprise as Michigan or Tennessee. Georgia Tech had a terrific season in 2014, returns Justin Thomas and will be ranked in the Top 25. This team should be the favorite to get back to the ACC championship game in 2015. Edwards' explanation makes complete sense:
Yes, I have only one ACC representative, and it's not Florida State or Clemson. Those teams both lost half of their starters from last season, and both are inexperienced on the offensive line. They've recruited well enough to prove me wrong, but I'm going with Georgia Tech to win the league. I like the experience on defense, and the returning talent on offense is where it needs to be for a team like this -- at QB and on the O-line.

Of the three, Georgia Tech returns the most starters. The Jackets have 13 back, while Florida State and Clemson each have 11. All three teams will have their opportunity to win the ACC as they all play each other during the regular season. Given the way Georgia Tech played this past season, it would not be a surprise to see the Jackets as the last team standing in the ACC.

But getting only one team into the New Year's Six bowls, while also missing a spot in the College Football Playoff, would not exactly be considered progress for the league.

Elsewhere around the ACC:
The problem with using aggregate stats to evaluate performance is that they don’t take into account growth or regression over the course of the season. With that in mind, we wanted to evaluate the ACC’s quarterbacks based solely on the second half of 2014 to see which ones performed best, which ones made the biggest improvements, and which teams likely have their work cut out for them in spring practice. Only teams with returning quarterbacks were included.

Top performances

Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech: No quarterback in the league posted a better second-half Adjusted QBR than Thomas’ 83.8, which ranked seventh nationally from Game 7 through year’s end. Thomas tossed 11 touchdowns compared with just three interceptions, averaged a league-best 9.95 yards per attempt, and added another 497 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

Marquise Williams, North Carolina: Williams spent the first month of the season sharing reps with Mitch Trubisky, but once he secured the job full-time, few quarterbacks in the country were better. From Game 7 on, only five Power 5 quarterbacks accounted for more total touchdowns (20), and three of them earned Heisman votes. Williams’ 299 yards of total offense per game over that stretch outpaced even Jameis Winston in the ACC.

Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh: Perhaps the most under-the-radar improvement of the second half last season was Voytik. Of all ACC quarterbacks with at least 75 second-half attempts, Voytik ranked second in passer efficiency (154.3), third in completion percentage (63.9), yards-per-attempt (14.0), completions of 10 yards or more (56.5 percent), and Adjusted QBR (79.6). He also added another 372 yards on non-sack rushes.

Work to do

Brad Kaaya, Miami: The only ACC quarterback to toss more touchdowns in the second half of the season than Kaaya (13) was Winston, but the Miami freshman also threw 10 fewer interceptions than the defending Heisman Trophy winner. Kaaya’s 8.3 yards per attempt ranked third among ACC quarterbacks, and his 4.3-to-1 TD:INT ratio was tops in the league and sixth among all Power 5 quarterbacks nationally. The problem for Kaaya, however, was he completed just 55.4 percent of his throws, which ranked 47th among Power 5 quarterbacks with at least 75 second-half attempts.

Jacoby Brissett, NC State: The first half of the season included some impressive numbers for Brissett, who accounted for 14 touchdowns and just five turnovers in the first six games. In the second half, that production dipped to 12 TDs and seven turnovers over the final seven games, which led to his per-game offensive output dropping from 261 yards to 224. But that also coincided with a tougher schedule and a more balanced attack from the Wolfpack’s ground game, and Brissett’s Adjusted QBR only fell slightly.

Mixed bags

Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech: The early part of Brewer’s season was marred by turnovers, and he cut down on those dramatically in the second half. In his first six games, he had 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In the second half, he threw nine TDs with just four interceptions. The flip side, however, was that Brewer’s production dipped, too. His completion percentage dropped from 62 to 57, his yards-per-attempt dipped from 6.4 to 5.8, and his passing yards per game fell from 235 to 183. The biggest reason? His sack rate more than doubled from 4.3 percent to 9.1.

John Wolford, Wake Forest: When you’re throwing a true freshman into a starting role with a historically bad offensive line and ground game to support him, you’re probably just hoping he doesn’t get killed. But not only did Wolford manage to start every game for Wake Forest last season, he actually made some dramatic improvements in the second half. In spite of a more difficult second-half slate, he tossed the same number of touchdowns (6), dramatically cut his turnovers from 13 to four, and more than doubled his Adjusted QBR from 22.4 to 46.4. That’s incredibly encouraging for 2015.

Signs of trouble

Greyson Lambert, Virginia: Banged up and splitting time in the first half of the season, Lambert was largely ineffective. He did manage to start five of Virginia’s final six games, and though that helped distance him from Matt Johns on the depth chart and nearly doubled his passing attempts, he also saw his Adjusted QBR dip, his completion percentage fall by nearly 10 percentage points, and Johns still posted better deep-ball numbers across the board.

Syracuse: The Orange had no consistency at quarterback all season, with three different players getting a start, and though that means there will be more experience on the roster in 2015, it’s not necessarily encouraging. A.J. Long, Austin Wilson, and Mitch Kimble combined to average just 4.92 yards per attempt in the second half of the season, the fourth-worst rate in the nation, while tossing just two touchdowns compared with 10 interceptions. Terrel Hunt wasn’t much better when he was healthy, but there was little reason to think he shouldn’t still be Syracuse’s best option when spring practice opens.

Incomplete grades

Deshaun Watson, Clemson: It’s hard to say what Watson might have been if he’d been healthy in the second half of the season, but instead the freshman attempted just 25 passes. It’s worth noting though that on those 25 attempts, he tossed two touchdowns, posted an Adjusted QBR of 94.0, and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt -- numbers that stood in stark contrast to the limited production of his replacement, Cole Stoudt. Obviously, the key for 2015 for Watson is simply staying healthy.

Louisville: Like Syracuse, Louisville cycled through three different starting quarterbacks last season, with Will Gardner, Reggie Bonnafon and Kyle Bolin all seeing action in the second half of the season. Each had highlights and each made mistakes, but the aggregate performance was actually pretty good. Despite the inconsistency at the position and the third most sacks in the conference during the latter half of the year, the Cardinals were at or better than the league average across the board, and they combined to toss 36 completions of 20 yards or more -- tops among all ACC teams. Gardner and Bolin each posted Adjusted QBRs of 72 and combined for eight touchdowns and just four picks. Bonnafon was more of a work-in-progress, with a dreadful sack rate of 22 percent -- by far the worst in the country during that span. And all three quarterbacks will have to go to battle in 2015 without receiver DeVante Parker, who was probably the biggest reason for the second-half success in 2014.
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It’s been seven years since a team other than Florida State or Clemson won the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and after the Seminoles and Tigers each signed a top-five recruiting class this year, the balance of power doesn’t appear poised to shift any time soon.

That might be a problem for the ACC overall. With FSU and Clemson jockeying for command of a conference that has struggled to keep up appearances compared with the neighboring SEC, consolidating power at the top while the rest of the league picks up the scraps might not be the best way to convince the public -- or future playoff committees -- that there is more to the ACC than its top two teams.

But what if a great rivalry at the top also means a boon for the teams farther down the ladder? Consider it trickle-down economics for the college football set.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, Jimbo Fisher
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson coach Dabo Swinney, left, and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher lead elite programs that are forcing the rest of the ACC to keep pace.
The last time the ACC signed two top-five classes was in 2008, back when the playoff was a pipe dream, conference realignment was but a whisper, and Deshaun Watson was in the seventh grade. Miami and Clemson put together the nation’s two best signing classes, but neither program saw immediate dividends. An NCAA investigation unmoored any hope the Hurricanes could return to national prominence, and Clemson parted ways with its head coach just eight months after he signed the country’s No. 2 class.

At the same time, the balance of power was shifting in the SEC. Alabama had hired Nick Saban the year before, and by the end of 2008, the Crimson Tide were back in the national spotlight. Auburn, meanwhile, finished 5-7, and the gauntlet was thrown.

Over the next few years, the longtime rivals traded blows -- on the recruiting trail, on the fund-raising circuit, and on the field. The SEC was already the nation’s preeminent conference, but investment in maintaining that success grew exponentially. Alabama and Auburn paced the growth, but if Georgia and Tennessee and LSU and Florida wanted to keep pace, they had to go all-in, too. Cut-throat coaching changes, major renovations in facilities, bloody recruiting battles, huge pay raises for assistant coaches -- these became the norm. It was an arms race, and the two teams at the top set the pace.

The same groundwork isn’t there for the ACC just yet, but what Florida State and Clemson are doing could set a similar precedent. Just look at what’s happened in the past few months.

NC State had its best signing day in years.

Virginia Tech signed a solid class in spite of hot-seat rumors for head coach Frank Beamer. That group joins an already outstanding group of rising freshmen in Blacksburg.

Duke signed its best class under David Cutcliffe, too, while renovations to the stadium are ongoing.

North Carolina is still fending off its own NCAA black cloud, but to fix its disastrous defense, it brought in the same coach who engineered Auburn’s national title in 2010.

Overall last week, the ACC had six teams finish in the top 30 in ESPN’s recruiting rankings (the most by any conference other than the SEC), had 12 in the top 50, and saw Louisville, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest all jump at least 13 spots from the previous year’s rankings.

Meanwhile, FSU and Clemson keep chugging along, raising the bar again and again. The Seminoles will send more players to the NFL combine this year than any other program in the nation. Clemson just announced a $75 million investment in upgrading its athletics facilities. These two programs push the goal line a little further down the field, and everyone else is forced to keep pace.

That is not to suggest the ACC is poised to change perceptions on the national level just yet. The league signed 47 members of the ESPN 300 this year, which would sound pretty nice if the SEC hadn’t nabbed 116. Those six ACC programs that finished among the top 30 signing classes still represent just half of the SEC’s tally. North Carolina and Miami still must escape NCAA purgatory and build consistent winners, Virginia Tech must capitalize on its young talent to salvage Beamer’s job, and the young coaches at NC State and Wake Forest need to prove they can develop the talent they’re bringing in.

But there is a standard being set at the top, with Florida State and Clemson upping the ante in recruiting, player development and financial investment in their programs, and that’s good for everyone. It’s not Auburn-Alabama yet, and it probably never will be, but it’s a spotlight on a conference that has long coveted a bigger stage, and it’s a pace-setter for the second tier of the league that now needs to run a bit faster just to keep up.

Teams trending up post-signing day 

February, 9, 2015
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Who needs the NFL, Los Angeles? With the way USC and UCLA are going, the city is just fine when it comes to football.

The Trojans and Bruins lead our look at programs trending up following the end of the season, the coaching carousel and signing day.


1. USC
The Trojans just signed their first full recruiting class since 2011, when they were hit by NCAA penalties. Finishing behind only Alabama and Florida State in ESPN RecruitingNation's rankings, it wasn’t just a matter of quantity for USC. Among the 16 ESPN 300 prospects signed, it added the country’s No. 1 cornerback, running back and inside linebacker. The Trojans are stockpiling at this point.

Beyond recruiting, quarterback Cody Kessler -- the country’s most underrated passer -- is back. So are sophomore stars-in-the-making cornerback Adoree' Jackson and wide receiver JuJu Smith.

Pac-12 coaches always believed the Trojans had as much talent as anyone in the country, not just the league. With the numbers bouncing back, now they have the depth to counter any rash of injuries.

Given all that, and the Holiday Bowl win against Nebraska, this is why a number of people -- myself, included -- see USC as a playoff-type team in 2015. The talent is there. Can Steve Sarkisian coach the Trojans to that level?

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