ACC: Louisville Cardinals

ACC morning links

March, 25, 2015
Mar 25
9:00
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We at the ACC blog would like to welcome Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer back to the sideline. Beamer, in his 29th season as the Hokies' coach, spent the December bowl game coaching from the press box following throat surgery.

The Daily Press writes Beamer's voice is still working its way back, but he still possessed the same fervor while talking about his team.

Here are a handful of links around the ACC for your morning:

  • A search firm will present a list of candidates for the Pittsburgh athletic director position to the school's search committee in the coming weeks.
  • Clemson linebacker B.J. Goodson feels comfortable filling the shoes of departed leader Stephone Anthony.
  • Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and son Tommy, who coached Clemson, will be part of a new travel show called "Bobby Bowden Goes to War." The documentary brings the Bowdens to Europe to highlight World War II stories.
  • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said he is confident the school will make a strong athletic director hire.
  • With hardly any experience returning at A-back, it feels like the beginning of the Paul Johnson era in Atlanta all over again for the unit.
  • Here are 10 Miami players that could become much bigger factors in 2015.
  • Louisville is splitting first-team reps at quarterback as spring practice gets underway. The Cardinals have a major question mark at quarterback.
  • The defense was a little ahead of the offense at NC State on Tuesday, due in part to numbers.
  • Prized signee C.J. Stalker is looking to adjust quickly for Virginia.

For the first time in four springs, Louisville opens practice without an established face for the program.

In fact, the Cardinals are in transition on both offense and defense – needing to find playmakers to replace DeVante Parker, Lorenzo Mauldin and Gerod Holliman, just to name three. There also is the little issue of settling on a starting quarterback.

[+] EnlargeLouisville
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Keith Kelsey posted 87 tackles and six sacks in 2014.

While that story line is sure to grab plenty of headlines, the holes on defense cannot be ignored, either. Louisville loses its entire secondary plus Mauldin, who had 13 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Beyond the stats are the intangibles he provided as the unquestioned team leader.

Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has shifted some players around in order to find some early spring answers. Keith Brown is moving to outside linebacker, giving the Cards the potential to have Brown, James Burgess and Keith Kelsey on the field at the same time. Burgess and Kelsey are the top two returning tacklers.

“By moving Keith outside, you have a chance to get another playmaker on the field because Keith is really athletic, he can run really well,” Grantham said. “My philosophy has always been rank your players and then how can I get my best 11 on the field? Right now, Keith is in the mix as being one of our best 11, so we have to find a way to get him on the field with Kelsey and Burgess. Moving him to outside backer was the way to do it.”

In the secondary, Georgia transfer Josh Harvey-Clemons is eligible and will take over the strong safety spot James Sample leaves behind. In addition, Grantham said Harvey-Clemons also will play linebacker in nickel situations.

“From there, we’ll try to mix and match and let him do some things to affect the game,” Grantham said. “He is a physical player. He’s long, he’s got some speed to him, so we’re going to try to get him around the ball as much as possible.”

Chucky Williams, Jarrod Barnes and Zykiesis Cannon (moved from cornerback) will compete for the free safety spot, the position Holliman leaves behind. Jermaine Reve will be in the mix once he returns from injury in August.

At cornerback, Georgia transfer Shaq Wiggins is also eligible and a favorite to win a starting job. Trumaine Washington returns after playing as a true freshman last year; Cornelius Sturghill has moved from receiver to corner. Grantham says he is impressed so far with early enrollee Jaire Alexander as well. But of all the positions on defense, cornerback might be the thinnest at this point so developing competition and depth are two big aspects of spring practice.

Finding playmakers are, too, after losing Holliman and his NCAA-leading 14 interceptions. At this time last spring, Holliman was largely an unknown. Coaches didn’t identify his potential in the defensive scheme until they saw him during practice. So this is valuable time for the entire Louisville coaching staff as they retool for Year 2 under Bobby Petrino.

“To me, that’s what spring ball is all about, identifying your playmakers,” Grantham said. “We did the same thing last year. We want to identify our playmakers, we want to define the roles of all our players and put them in positions to let them be successful and to fundamentally be sound.

ACC morning links

March, 24, 2015
Mar 24
9:00
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Much of the conversation in the ACC surrounds Florida State's quarterback situation -- past, present and future. While Sean Maguire impresses coaches and teammates with his performance this spring through the first few practices, his predecessor remains in the news and his potential successor is making headlines.

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the favorite to go No. 1 overall, is leaning toward spending the draft with his family in Alabama rather than travel to Chicago, his father told ESPN.com last week. MMQB.com caught up with Roger Goodell and posted a story Monday in which Goodell said he would respect Winston's desire to watch the draft with those close to him.

"I think that it’s something we respect when a player says, “I’d like to be with my family on that day.” It’s an important day for them also," Goodell to MMQB.com.

Many wondered if the NFL would pressure Winston into attending the draft, but unless something changes, both parties are fine with skipping out on Chicago.

Winston was the No. 1 quarterback nationally in the 2012 recruiting class, and four years later, Florida State is bringing in the top-ranked prep quarterback again. Malik Henry, who recently transferred to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, participated in a regional camp for Nike The Opening. Henry, No. 3 overall in the 2016 class, was named one of the regional camp's MVPs and received an invitation to The Opening, which is held in July in Beaverton, Oregon.

ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer also leads the Elite 11, an elite passing camp for the top high school quarterbacks, and was on hand at the Atlanta regional to evaluate the quarterbacks. He told SB Nation Henry was "as dominant as any kid we had this year."

  • A top Syracuse 2015 signee is still working to academically qualify for the fall. Also, Orange is making a return in the Orange's jersey.
  • Boston College added a commitment from Brandon Barlow (subscription required).
  • Former Miami linebacker Alex Figueroa is lucky to have a second chance, but he is not off to a good start. He posted an expletive-laced video last week in which he burned a Miami flag. Figueroa and former Miami teammate JaWand Blue were permanently dismissed from the university last summer after admitting to police they sexually assaulted an intoxicated Miami student. In November, they avoided jail time by being placed in a pre-trial diversion program, which prosecution sought after the victim did not want to relive the experience in court.
  • Clemson was back on the practice field Monday after nearly two weeks off for the Tigers' spring break.
  • Five priorities for Georgia Tech this spring as practice began Monday (subscription required).
  • Here are a few notes gleaned from Bobby Petrino's news conference to open spring practice, which begins Tuesday.
  • The Pitt defense is working to pick up new coach Pat Narduzzi's schemes and principles. It's going to be a process.

 

There's that old adage that if a team has two starting quarterbacks, it really has none, but that doesn't seem to apply at Louisville. After all, the Cardinals currently have four.

No, it's not an ideal scenario to enter spring with so many questions at QB, but the way offensive coordinator Garrick McGee sees it, there are no wrong answers here.

"It's wide open," McGee said. "For some people that's a controversy, but for me, it's a really good thing. It shows we have depth, and where a lot of programs are struggling to find one guy, we have multiple guys that can play."

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill Gardner is one of four quarterbacks the Cardinals will lean on throughout the 2015 season.

After Teddy Bridgewater started 35 of the previous 36 games at Louisville, the Cardinals cycled through QBs in search of one healthy, productive option in 2014 — ending up one of just six Power 5 schools to use three different starters at the position. As a result, when spring practice begins on March 24, there will be plenty of options with playing time under their belts, but none who is the clear-cut No. 1.

The spring lineup features sophomore Reggie Bonnafon, who started five games last season, sophomore Kyle Bolin, who started Louisville's bowl game, and junior Tyler Ferguson, a transfer from Penn State who redshirted last season. But even that roster ignores the QB with perhaps the best chance of being under center when the season kicks off in September -- Will Gardner, who started seven games last season and continues to recover from a knee injury.

"It starts with Will," McGee said. "He's doing really good with his rehab. He won't be available in the spring, but he's doing really good, and he's ahead of schedule."

For Gardner, the knee injury is the third of his career, and so questions linger about his ability to get healthy in time and stay healthy for a full season. McGee said Gardner's experience in rehabbing the injury is an asset, but it also demonstrates the thin line Louisville walks with its most established QB.

And it's true, Gardner is Louisville's best option -- if he's healthy. Last year, Gardner won the starting job in fall camp and performed well when on the field -- tossing 12 touchdowns to just three interceptions -- despite the vast majority of his snaps coming without star receiver DeVante Parker.

"We feel like Will really grew throughout the season," McGee said, "and it got to a point where he really got us to the fronts and coverages and really got us into the right plays."

For Bonnafon, things weren't quite so simple.

With just a year of full-time QB work in high school, Bonnafon arrived as more of an athlete than a refined passer, and it showed. Against Power 5 competition, he completed less than half his passing attempts and posted a sack rate of 16.2 percent -- easily the highest of any Power 5 QB with at least 50 passes.

Still, the growing pains were to be expected, and so McGee said the staff has largely ignored some of the early struggles for Bonnafon and is instead focused on the progress he's made this offseason.

"He was really a young player, but he got a lot bigger and stronger this offseason," McGee said. "He's under control now [in the pocket]."

Bonnafon dealt with some injury issues of his own last season, and when he went down early against Kentucky, it was Bolin who stepped in to steal the show.

Injuries in fall camp limited Bolin's early playing time, but when his moment arrived, he was ready. After throwing just seven passes in mop-up duty all season, Bolin completed 21-of-31 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns in a come-from-behind victory over rival Kentucky. A month later, he was Louisville's starter for the bowl game, and while he didn't look nearly as sharp in the loss to Georgia, he did throw for 300 yards for the second straight game.

Then there's the wild card in Ferguson, who transferred from Penn State last season and spent the year learning from the sideline.

In other words, name a QB and McGee has good things to say about him. Add it all up though, and there's still a lot of work to be done.

Despite the wealth of talent and Bobby Petrino's penchant for running up big offensive numbers, Louisville ranked 12th in the ACC in completion percentage, 11th in QBR and 13th in sacks allowed.

Matters are further complicated by the loss of Louisville's top receiving options, too. Parker is projected as a first-round selection in the upcoming NFL draft, and overall, Louisville loses seven of its top nine receivers from a year ago.

"We recruited really well at the position, and we have a lot of guys that are new that are really good players -- size, big kids," McGee said.

That includes UAB transfer Jamari Staples (6-foot-4), Texas A&M transfer Ja'Quay Williams (6-3), and Tennessee transfer Paul Harris (6-3).

Still, experience isn't a plus, and that makes the wealth of QBs with snaps under their belt something of an asset this time of year.

"They know the game plans and the terminology now, so you can focus more on the detail," McGee said. "Now we move forward to talk about situations and defensive structure. That's how our meetings have been during the offseason. They've been really good."

After all, this is the time of year for optimism, and McGee has plenty of it when it comes to his quarterbacks. But the big jobs still await, and soon enough, McGee knows it'll be time to trim those options and find one QB who can get the job done.

ACC morning links

March, 13, 2015
Mar 13
9:57
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Before the ACC tournament starts up, check out what is going on in football across the league.

1. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler gave an extensive interview to Roanoke Times beat reporter Andy Bitter, and discussed how much better he feels about the offense headed into Year 3. Primarily, that has to do with so many returning players -- especially quarterback Michael Brewer. Rather than install his offense and run a quarterback competition, this spring the focus can be on getting the entire offense vastly improved. Loeffler told Bitter: "Year 3 you know exactly what you’ve got. There’s no walking into spring football and walking into training camp trying to figure out who you are, what you want to do. You’ve got an idea of exactly who you are. ... It’s a refreshing feeling in comparison to [Years] 1 and 2." Given all the experienced players returning, pressure will be much higher to produce on offense. Loeffler knows all that. "We should be much, much, much improved." There is plenty more insight in the interview about competition across each position.

2. Florida State opens practice next week, and one of the big areas to watch will be on the offensive and defensive lines, which suffered heavy attrition. The Seminoles lose four starters from the offensive line and two from the defensive line -- two groups that did not really live up to expectations a season ago. But there is some good news. Florida State returns Rod Johnson to anchor the offensive line, and he has the potential to have an All-ACC season as a sophomore. The defensive line is where Florida State must make significant improvement, even with Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman gone. There was nothing to brag about for that unit last season as it struggled to contain the run and get a pass rush going. There are some players with experience here, including Nile Lawrence-Stample, Derrick Mitchell and Chris Casher.

3. Georgia Tech holds its Pro Day today. Here are Synjyn Days and Shaq Mason getting measured. You can watch on ESPN3.

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Here are a few more links:
Jameis Winston is set to become the No. 1 overall draft pick, but the quarterback group he leaves behind in the ACC does not lack star quality.

Ten starters return, making the group heavy on experience. Five rank among the Top 25 players at any position this spring, making the group deeper than a year ago.

Put Deshaun Watson, Justin Thomas, Brad Kaaya, Marquise Williams and Jacoby Brissett up against the top five quarterbacks in any other Power 5 league, and the ACC looks better than just about everybody.

[+] EnlargeKaaya
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesBrad Kaaya is one of many underclassmen slated to start at quarterback in the ACC.
So it is easy to see why 2015 is setting up nicely to be the Year of the Quarterback in the ACC.

No surprise, especially when you consider recent history. The ACC seems to go in three-year cycles when it comes to its quarterback breadth and depth. In 2012, the ACC had one 4,000-yard passer and six 3,000-yard passers, including Tajh Boyd, EJ Manuel and Mike Glennon. All three players ended up getting drafted -- Manuel went in the first round.

Rewind three years before that, and the ACC had standouts Christian Ponder, Russell Wilson, Kyle Parker, Tyrod Taylor and Josh Nesbitt.

Since 2005, the ACC has had 13 quarterbacks drafted, including three in the first round. Winston is poised to become the fourth.

Why this has gone in three-year cycles is more coincidental than anything. The stage has been set for a quarterback revival this year because the ACC was extremely young at quarterback last year: Ten schools were forced to replace starters.

It is rare to see so much turnover at the most high-profile position on the field at so many schools at once. Even in the year that preceded 2012, only half the schools in the league had to replace their starting quarterbacks.

So there were many opportunities. Now add in another unique situation: Mostly underclassmen filled the open positions. Of the 10 first-year starters, only three were juniors or seniors. All happened to be transfers -- Tyler Murphy at Boston College, Brissett and Michael Brewer at Virginia Tech.

Several schools were forced to turn to true freshmen. Two succeeded immediately: Kaaya -- the ACC rookie of the year -- and Watson, who showed flashes of brilliance when he was healthy enough to play.

In all, five true freshmen ended up starting at least one game in the ACC -- more than any other Power 5 conference. Though Kaaya and Watson are the only two definitive starters returning, Reggie Bonnafon at Louisville and John Wolford at Wake Forest will have an opportunity to earn starting jobs back. The other, AJ Long at Syracuse, plans to redshirt now that starter Terrel Hunt is healthy.

To put the freshman numbers into further context, last year also was the first time in league history two true freshmen started on opening day -- Kaaya and Wolford ended up starting every single game for their respective teams last season.

So the growing pains from 2014 have led to what should be a big moment for the ACC in 2015. All five top-tier quarterbacks -- Watson, Kaaya, Thomas, Brissett and Williams -- already have way-too-early Heisman odds posted.

Others have an opportunity for big years as well. Pitt coaches are excited about the potential for Chad Voytik; the same goes for Duke coaches and Thomas Sirk. Florida State has been able to develop quarterbacks at will under coach Jimbo Fisher, so whoever earns the starting job there will have an opportunity to join in the top-notch quarterback club. Bobby Petrino has not been a wall flower at developing his quarterbacks, either.

When it comes down to it, Boston College is the only school that has no quarterbacks with any career starts.

So experience is nearly everywhere. So are good players.

All that is setting up to lead to a quarterback bonanza in 2015.

A look back at strong quarterback play across the ACC:

ACC morning links

March, 11, 2015
Mar 11
10:10
AM ET
Here are a few interesting tidbits to get your morning started.

1. Though Jameis Winston no longer plays for Florida State, there remains an incredible amount of interest around him. I found this item from Peter King quite interesting. Winston took it upon himself to set up a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, to tell his own story and figure out what awaits him in the NFL. Goodell agreed to meet with him, and they spent time together last Thursday in the NFL offices in New York. Winston also met with several other league officials while he was there. One league official told King: "He went out of his way to make a good impression, and to show that he understood what was going to be expected of him in the NFL." No matter what you think about him, Winston made a great decision to be proactive.

2. Athlon Sports has ranked the pre-spring top 15 players in the ACC. Hard to argue with No. 1 choice James Conner, the reigning ACC Player of the Year. What should have Pitt fans standing up to take note is seeing receiver Tyler Boyd ranked at No. 4. Pitt joins Florida State as the only schools with two players ranked in the top 5. While the ranking is not surprising, it shows the type of potential the Pitt offense has headed into the year. Pitt has to get used to a new staff and scheme, but with the 1,000-yard rushing and receiving duo returning, the Panthers cannot be counted out in the Coastal. Where have I heard that one before ...

3. Louisville is holding its pro day Wednesday. A year after his own pro day sent his stock dropping, at least former Cards quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has a sense of humor about it all:


Now on to some more links:

ACC morning links

March, 9, 2015
Mar 9
10:05
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The ACC tournament is right around the corner, but there is always time to catch up on a little spring football.

Miami, NC State, North Carolina, and Wake Forest are all taking a pause from practice while they go on spring break, so here are a few notes worth mentioning:

1. Florida State trustees have approved a bond sale to pay for an $80 million project to update Doak Campbell Stadium. No surprise there, considering the upgrades the Seminoles have made to their facilities in recent years. Not only have they built a new indoor practice facility, they completely remodeled the entire football facility, from coaches offices to the locker room. The proposed upgrades to Doak Campbell Stadium include renovating suites, adding a new premium outdoor seating section, and repainting. Construction is scheduled to begin in June, and finished in time for the start of the 2016 season.

2. Terrence Alls and T.J. Douglas have been suspended indefinitely from the Duke football team until they "uphold the academic, athletic and community standards required of a member of the Blue Devil," coach David Cutcliffe said in a statement. Alls came on strong this spring at receiver, a position where Duke really needs several players to step up. Cutcliffe had named Alls one of the two most improved offensive players this spring.

3. At least six running backs are in the mix for playing time at Clemson this fall, leaving some to wonder whether this is the best depth the Tigers have had at the position since James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Jamie Harper, and Andre Ellington back in 2008. Clemson struggled to run the ball last season for a host of reasons: injuries to the running backs and offensive line, along with quarterback Deshaun Watson, who was a big part of the running game when healthy. It was the first time in four years Clemson did not finish with a 1,000-yard rusher. But with returning players Wayne Gallman, Zac Brooks, Adam Choice, C.J. Davidson, and Tyshon Dye, hopes are high the running game can get back on its feet. If Watson is 100 percent healthy, he will add another dimension as well.

A few more links for you:
It's never too early to break out the Magic 8-Ball and make some predictions for the spring. We'll see how much egg I have on my face when the season starts!

1. Florida State will not have an answer at quarterback. The last time Florida State had a quarterback competition, the spring ended without an announced decision in the race between Jameis Winston, Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker. Even after Trickett announced his decision to transfer, coach Jimbo Fisher maintained Winston and Coker would go into the fall competing for the starting job -- though it was generally assumed Winston would win it. So why should anything be different this spring, with Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino and De'Andre Johnson? Add freshman Deondre Francois into the mix in the summer and there’s little upside in Fisher making an announcement when spring practice ends in April.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire will try to take the reins in Tallahassee as Florida State's starting quarterback.
2. Same story in Louisville. The Cards go into the spring with an open competition between Reggie Bonnafon, Tyler Ferguson and Kyle Bolin. That does not even take into consideration Will Gardner, who is rehabbing his third major knee injury. Bonnafon has the experience edge, but Ferguson just sat out the 2014 season because of NCAA transfer rules. Coach Bobby Petrino may want to give him more than 15 spring practices to truly compete and win the starting job. If Gardner is healthy in the fall, perhaps he gets a chance to rejoin the mix as well after starting seven games last season. There is no slam dunk decision here given the ups and downs we saw from Gardner, Bonnafon and Bolin a year ago and the inexperience Ferguson has headed into 2015.

3. The Miami defensive line will be better. The Hurricanes have had no significant pass rush since Al Golden arrived in Miami, but that will change this year. Miami has made big strides toward upgrading its tackle and end positions, and coaches feel good about the depth they have been able to develop because they were able to redshirt players last year for the first time under Golden. Miami is noticeably much bigger up front, which cannot be understated. Coaches are high on guys like Michael Wyche, Ufomba Kamalu, Trent Harris and Chad Thomas. Quan Muhammad is back at rush end and has had a good camp. The expectation is for this group to bump up the sack totals compared to the past several years.

4. Watch for Andrew Brown. The highly touted defensive tackle enrolled early last year at Virginia, but injuries cut his spring and freshman season short. Now, coach Mike London says Brown is in better shape and ready to take on a starting role. If he can make an impact the way Quin Blanding did last year, the Virginia defense should be in good shape.

5. The Clemson defense will remain elite. Despite losing the bulk of their defense, the Tigers should remain one of the best groups in the ACC and a top-10 defense nationally for a few reasons. First, the new players stepping into starting roles have game experience. Guys like Shaq Lawson, D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins have played in big games before. Linebacker Ben Boulware has terrific upside. And the secondary is on track to be one of the strongest groups in the league behind potential All-American Mackensie Alexander.

6. Don’t be surprised if Marshawn Williams redshirts. The Virginia Tech running back was having an outstanding freshman season before a torn ACL sidelined him in mid-November. He is out for spring, and his status for the start of fall practice remains up in the air. Each player recovers differently from ACL injuries, so there’s no telling how Williams will come back. But if J.C. Coleman, Trey Edmunds and Joel Caleb can handle the back duties adequately, there’s no sense rushing Williams back.

7. Florida State will win 10 games, but it will be a “down” year. It’s all about perspective. The Seminoles will keep their streak of 10-win seasons going despite breaking in new starters at virtually every position. The schedule is forgiving enough for another double-digit victory total, though. But they won’t be in the national championship conversation. Whether that should be considered a “down” year is up to your interpretation. Wait for 2016 to arrive. Florida State should be back in the hunt then.

8. Georgia Tech will make history in July. For the first time, Georgia Tech will be picked as the preseason Coastal Division champions. The Jackets return enough talent and were impressive enough in 2014 to make believers out of the usually skeptical voters. Since the ACC split into divisions in 2005, Georgia Tech has finished atop the Coastal five times but has never been picked to win. That changes in 2015.

9. No ACC team in the playoff. I’m probably not going out on a limb with this one, but this would mark the first time in three years the league won’t have a chance to compete for a national championship. Florida State will be young, with a new starting quarterback, four new offensive linemen and new starters at tight end, receiver, defensive end, defensive tackle and in the secondary. Clemson and Georgia Tech play tough schedules and have questions of their own to answer. Louisville also is rebuilding on defense and has uncertainty at quarterback, receiver and offensive line.

10. Dabo Swinney joins Twitter! Can Swinney really let Steve Spurrier get the best of him on Twitter? Now that the HBC is all aboard, time for the Clemson head man to join up too. If their verbal jabs are any indication, the potential of their back-and-forth tweets is nothing short of epic.
While Big Ten and other NCAA officials discuss rules limiting eligibility for first-year players in football and men’s basketball, ACC football coaches are nearly unanimous in wanting to move in the opposite direction.

In a poll of ACC football coaches, 12 of the 13 who responded said they favored or would consider expanding eligibility to allow players to play five years — eliminating the redshirt completely — and every coach expressed significant reservations about potentially redshirting all freshmen.

The debate has become a talking point after the Big Ten opened discussions on the subject of improving academics for freshmen by taking them off the field to focus more on the classroom, but every coach polled said they’d seen no firm correlation between grades and playing time, and many suggested redshirting freshmen can actually have a detrimental effect on their overall college experience.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDavid Cutcliffe coaches at a school known for stellar academics, and he doesn't see a need to restrict freshman eligibility.
“My case study is watching young people, and the people who do redshirt that had been stars really struggle with their identity and happiness,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who has 33 years of experience coaching in the SEC and ACC.

Indeed, most coaches suggest the athletes with the greatest deficiencies in the classroom are also the ones who would be hurt the most by taking away their on-field experience, while the ones with the best time-management skills away from coaches are typically flourishing academically already.

“The kids that are mature and make good decisions, a redshirt year can be good for them,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “But the at-risk student is better off if he’s playing right away and engaged with the team all the time.”

While the specifics of freshman eligibility have not yet been a topic discussed among ACC coaches formally, Doeren said he was hopeful those conversations would begin soon, so that the concerns shared by the coaches can be addressed.

ACC commissioner John Swofford appeared open to restricted eligibility when asked by the Louisville Courier-Journal last month, though he conceded the logistics would be challenging.

“It's not a new topic,” Swofford told the paper. “It's been talked about in our league, as well as others, periodically. I'm old enough to have played in that system, and it was a good one. I think it's very educationally sound, and I think we should think about and consider anything that's educationally sound. Whether we get back to that, I don't know. I don't know if it fits the times in today's world. We haven't taken any votes in our league in regard to it in recent years.”

While the ACC does not specifically track league-wide academic performance of freshmen compared with older student-athletes, the conference does have the highest academic rating overall among Power 5 leagues, according to U.S. News and World Report, and 11 of the 14 institutions had an APR better than the FBS average. It's noteworthy, too, that of the 65 members of the league's academic All-ACC team, 12 were true freshmen.

On the NCAA level, eligibility restrictions for the most at-risk athletes are already set to go into effect beginning in 2016. Students who fail to meet core course requirements, GPA and ACT or SAT scores will be forced to redshirt or grayshirt their first year.

Extending eligibility restrictions to all freshmen would be a knee-jerk reaction, however, Cutcliffe said.

“I don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish other than getting better grades out of it, and that’s just not going to happen,” he said.

What it clearly would accomplish, however, is a huge strain on the remaining rosters for all teams.

Until 1972, freshmen were ineligible for competition. But at that time there were no scholarship limits in place, and programs could easily field a team without the newcomers. Moreover, seasons were shorter, with the majority of programs playing just 11 games until the early 2000s. This past season, Oregon and Ohio State played 15 games — one shy of an NFL season — and if freshmen hadn’t been eligible to play, they might have been limited to a roster of just 60 scholarship athletes.

“That’s basically an NFL roster, but we don’t get to pick up anybody off waivers, have free agency, make trades,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “I’m not sure how that would work, and I don’t think they have any intention of giving us more scholarships.”

[+] EnlargeLarry Fedora
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonNorth Carolina's Larry Fedora and other coaches would certainly want to ease the 85-scholarship limit if freshmen weren't eligible.
Instead, coaches pointed to two distinct areas that could address academic concerns without eliminating eligibility.

First, schools need to do a better job of developing programs to ensure a smoother transition for incoming freshmen to the rigors of college life. As Doeren suggested, time management and study skills differentiate students who succeed from the ones who fall behind, and instilling those in freshmen upon arrival in the summer is crucial.

Virginia’s Mike London said he shared some of the Big Ten’s concerns regarding academic performance and would be open to further discussion of potential solutions, but he said those answers should start with an in-house focus on supporting students in the classroom.

“We all know the biggest transition is from high school to college,” London said. “It’s important to me that the structures you have in place — academic advising, mentoring, tutoring — that’s as critical as anything else, and if you’re successful there, you allow the student-athletes — particularly the freshmen — to come in and have success.”

Moreover, Fedora said he’d like to see schools raise their admissions standards for athletes to weed out those who would be most likely to struggle with academics.

“Raise your standards,” Fedora said. “Don’t just let anybody in. If they’re not academically ready, then don’t let them in.”

All but one coach polled suggested five years of eligibility on the field would allow coaches more wiggle room in developing their freshmen.

“I would make everybody eligible, and then your team will be a lot healthier,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “There would never be a situation where a kid would feel like he’s letting his teammates down. The communication would improve. Health and safety would improve, and I bet our graduation rates and the number of student-athletes leaving with postgraduate degrees would increase sharply, too.”

It’s a plan that was reiterated again and again by ACC coaches concerned with player safety, academics and, of course, winning.

The bottom line among all coaches, however, is that more discussion of these issues is required, and that input from the coaches dealing with student-athletes on a daily basis should be weighed as strongly as any broad statistics being used to tout academic struggles for freshmen.

“A lot of things we do, we change before they’re truly broken,” Cutcliffe said. “I hope they listen to reason. I’d hate to see [eligibility restrictions] happen.”

ACC morning links

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
9:00
AM ET
You do not have to look too hard to find the standard spring preview fare now that practices have begun across the country.

USA Today is the latest with its prospectus, covering the usual ground. But one particular item stood out. Scroll to the bottom and there are five impact newcomers listed. One is tight end Jerome Washington, a junior college transfer who played club football for Gattaca last year.

Miami coaches have been pleased what they have seen out of Washington so far in camp, but he is not the only tight end who has drawn praise. The Canes believe they are deep enough and talented enough at tight end to make up for the loss of Clive Walford, who finished second on the team with 676 yards receiving and seven touchdowns a year ago and is one of the highest-rated tight ends available for the NFL draft.

"Clive left us in a really good position because everybody in that room saw how much he grew as a player and a person," coach Al Golden told ESPN.com recently. "I'm really excited about that group."

Veteran Stan Dobard leads the group, but Golden also mentioned Chris Herndon, Jake O'Donnell, David Njoku and Washington. There is no doubt Miami has a group of big guys who are athletic. Dobard was a four-star recruit out of high school; Njoku competes in the high jump for the track team and just placed sixth at the ACC Indoor Track and Field championships. Washington, the No. 1 rated junior college tight end, certainly looks the part. At 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds, he has impressed his coaches in the early going.

"His ceiling is through the roof," tight ends coach Larry Scott told reporters in South Florida earlier this week. "He's already 260-plus pounds and you go 'Wow.' You get him out here and work with him and see him stride, see him do movements that big guys typically have a hard time doing or have to over years develop. He does it naturally. You look at yourself and shake your head and go, 'We've got a special one here.'"

But Scott cautioned that Washington is still a freshman and has much learning to do. Whether or not he can make an impact this season remains to be seen. But Miami will be asking its tight ends to step up with Walford gone. So a big opportunity awaits.

Elsewhere around the ACC:
  • A few Syracuse news items of interest. Defensive tackle Ryan Sloan has decided to leave the program after several incidents over the last few years made him realize Syracuse was not the right place for him. The Orange are really hurting for depth at the defensive tackle spot this spring. Marcus Coleman is also gone, thanks to foot injuries that cut his career short. Meanwhile, backup quarterback AJ Long told a local television station he expects to redshirt the 2015 season. Long was supposed to redshirt last year, but was forced to play when starting quarterback Terrel Hunt got hurt. Now that Hunt is healthy, it makes sense for the staff to try and get Long a redshirt year back.
  • Florida State picked up a commitment from a junior college linebacker for the class of 2016.
  • Louisville picked up a commitment from a 380-pound defensive tackle nicknamed "Big Snack."
  • NC State wants to continue to build on its recent success.
  • Virginia Tech running back Shai McKenzie has been suspended indefinitely after he was charged with two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
  • Wake Forest is going to be without the two cornerbacks expected to take over starting roles all spring.
  • This is not football related, but it is a must-read for anybody who uses the Internet. Bravo, Curt Schilling. Bravo.
  • We'll leave you with this quick video showing Clemson unveiling its latest tombstone, a tradition that pays tribute to each road win against a ranked opponent. Oklahoma was the latest "victim."
The conference returns a number of experienced and talented quarterbacks, but for two of the ACC's top teams, there is an open competition at the position. Those competitions will define the spring for Florida State and Louisville and could define all of 2015. Those position battles highlight the conference's most intense competitions this spring.

1. Florida State starting quarterback
When Jameis Winston committed to the Seminoles, it was assumed the No. 1 high school quarterback would transition into the starting role after a redshirt year once EJ Manuel departed. There is not an obvious answer for who will follow Winston, however. Sean Maguire filled in admirably against Clemson under tough circumstances and against the top defense in 2014, but he still has much to prove. J.J. Cosentino was an ESPN 300 recruit and certainly has the build (6-foot-4, 234 pounds), but he redshirted as a freshman. De'Andre Johnson enrolled in January and could be a dark horse, but fellow freshman Deondre Francois, who will arrive in the summer, has the higher prep pedigree. John Franklin III could get some looks in the spring, but he spent most of last season at receiver.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesWill Gardner passed for 1,669 yards with 12 touchdowns and just three interceptions in eight games for Louisville last season, but missed five games overall, including the final three.
2. Louisville starting quarterback
You might have better odds hitting the superfecta at Churchill Downs two months from now than accurately pegging who the Cardinals will start in the season opener. Will Gardner, who took the majority of snaps in 2014, is recovering from a torn ACL. Reggie Bonnafon collected a handful of starts as a true freshman, but he could not wrestle the starting gig from Gardner long term. Kyle Bolin showed promise against Kentucky in the regular-season finale but struggled in the bowl game against Georgia. Tyler Ferguson has followed Bobby Petrino around recently, so the transfer should have the offense down. Making it tougher on the three spring participants is the lack of experienced receivers. That will be another interesting position battle.

3. Georgia Tech's running backs
The Yellow Jackets are losing seven of their top nine leading rushers at running back, so aside from Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech's crowded backfield will have several new faces. Broderick Snoddy is the most experienced but is recovering from a devastating leg injury suffered in November. Snoddy has lightning speed and is a home-run threat with the ball in his hands. Dennis Andrews had only 16 carries in 2014, but he averaged 6.6 yards per carry. The name to watch is C.J. Leggett, who redshirted as a freshman last season but was highly rated coming out of high school.

4. Boston College's starting offensive line
Former offensive line coach Steve Addazio had the luxury of coaching five seniors along the line at certain points in 2014. The obvious flip side is that now he has to completely retool the offensive line, and the spring is the ideal time to start working on that chemistry. Guard Harris Williams returns from injury, but there are a number of question marks around him. Dave Bowen could be a solid bet to start at one of the tackle spots. Senior Frank Taylor could step in at center. Aside from Williams, though, nothing looks to be set in stone.

5. Clemson backup quarterback.
The Tigers probably have the conference's best quarterback, but Deshaun Watson has struggled to stay healthy since enrolling at Clemson. He suffered three significant injuries his first season, the last a torn ACL that will cost him spring practice. A year ago, the Tigers still had Cole Stoudt, who had started a handful of games. If Watson is not ready for the opener or has to miss any time in 2015, the Tigers' season could be in jeopardy. Nick Schuessler is a redshirt junior but a former walk-on who has thrown only 10 career passes. Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel are true freshmen who enrolled in January.

6. Miami running back
Duke Johnson, whose career will be celebrated at Miami for quite some time, is off to the NFL. Miami has a strong stable of running backs it can rely on to replace Johnson, but it remains to be seen who will get the majority of the carries. Joseph Yearby was one of the country's top running backs in the 2014 class and ran for more than 500 yards as a freshman. However, Gus Edwards could leave the spring with the starting gig. Edwards is a bigger back but is capable of running away from defenders. Mark Walton is enrolling in the coming months, and he was one of the top high school players in Florida last fall.
Games are won in the fall. But the foundations for great plays, and great seasons, are often built behind the scenes in the spring and summer months. With spring ball already underway at a few ACC stops, we're taking a look at some of the players who have plenty to prove on the field in the coming weeks and months.

Sean Maguire. The race to replace Jameis Winston will draw no shortage of attention in Tallahassee. And the man currently at the top of the pecking order, at least experience-wise, is Maguire, a redshirt junior. Starting in place of the suspended Winston in FSU's biggest game of the year, at home in September against Clemson, Maguire had an up-and-down performance: 21-of-39 passing for 304 yards with one touchdown and two picks in an overtime win. Still, that's more than anyone else on the roster can show right now, and it's up to Maguire to fend off highly-touted challengers J.J. Cosentino (redshirt freshman) and De'Andre Johnson (freshman).

[+] EnlargeTallahassee, FL - September 20, 2014 - Doak Campbell Stadium: Sean Maguire (10) of the Florida State University Seminoles during a regular season game (Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesStarting in place of a suspended Jameis Winston, Sean Maguire led the Seminoles to an overtime win against Clemson last season.
Stacy Coley. Remember this guy? Let's refresh your memory: As a freshman in 2013, Coley burst onto the scene for Miami, catching 33 passes for 591 yards and seven touchdowns, while also returning a punt and a kickoff for a score. (And rushing for one more, too.) Then he had a sophomore slump in 2014: Just 23 catches for 184 yards, with no scores. A shoulder injury was partly to blame, but the dropoff was still perplexing. If Coley can regain his rookie form and connect with reigning ACC rookie of the year Brad Kaaya, that could certainly open things up for the Hurricanes' offense moving forward.

Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell. Mizzell has been stellar and versatile through two seasons at Virginia, leading all ACC running backs last season with 39 catches. Still, more is expected of a former ballyhooed recruit than 280 rushing yards, which Mizzell totaled last year. And as Mizzell enters his junior year in a crucial season for the Cavalier program, he needs to make the leap from good to great, especially with Kevin Parks now out of the picture.

Jabari Hunt-Days. Hunt-Days missed the 2014 season because of an academic issue, a big setback for a player who had notched seven stops behind the line of scrimmage as a sophomore in 2013 -- after earning several freshman All-America honors the year before. He's a fifth-year senior now, and the defensive lineman could be the big playmaker who brings Georgia Tech's defense up a level in 2015. (His brother, Synjyn Days, certainly set a nice example in 2014 with a strong senior year for the Yellow Jackets.)

Josh Harvey-Clemons. Spots are open for the taking in Louisville's secondary, and few may be in better position to take advantage than Harvey-Clemons, the former ESPN four-star prospect. The safety was dismissed from Georgia last winter following multiple violations of team rules and reunited with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham with the Cardinals. Despite missing two games in 2013, Harvey-Clemons led the SEC with three fumble recoveries, adding 5.5 tackles for loss and one pick. The talent is obviously there. Now eligible, Harvey-Clemons must perform for the Cards.

Al-Quadin Muhammad. Now a redshirt sophomore at Miami, Muhammad is back with the Hurrricanes after a semester-long university-issued suspension last fall. The former ESPN four-star prospect said he never contemplated transferring, and coaches and teammates have stuck by the lineman. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder has changed his jersey number from No. 98 to No. 8, and he certainly possesses the physical tools necessary to make an impact up front on the Canes' defense, for whom he tallied a pair of sacks as a true freshman when he last took the field, in 2013.

Everett Golson. Golson struggled down the stretch in 2014 for Notre Dame, with all 22 of his turnovers coming in the final nine regular-season games, leading to Malik Zaire starting the Irish's bowl against LSU. Both quarterbacks played in the win, but Golson -- who had begun his college career with a 16-1 as a starter -- will have no shortage of suitors elsewhere if he chooses to leave Notre Dame. In order to do that, though, he must first graduate, something he has said he is on track to accomplish this spring. If Golson wins the job back soon, does that mean he likely stays? If the starting job remains unclear as he gets his diploma, does he take his chances elsewhere? Stay tuned.
The contrast at quarterback in the ACC between this spring and last spring is pretty easy to quantify.

Last spring: Six teams had quarterbacks with zero career starts.

This spring: Two teams have quarterbacks with zero career starts.

Last spring: ACC teams combined for 76 returning career starts at quarterback.

This spring: ACC teams combined for double that mark, with 155 returning career starts at the position.

Last spring: Four ACC teams returned their starter from the previous season.

This spring: 10 ACC teams return their starting quarterback.

So even with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston gone, it is pretty safe to say the ACC will be leaps better at quarterback in 2015. More experienced players return, though interestingly enough, the two most experienced teams at quarterback a year ago are now the least: Florida State and Duke.

Winston showed exceptional talent can make up for inexperience. So did three first-time starters a year ago, players that blossomed into bona fide stars: Brad Kaaya at Miami, Justin Thomas at Georgia Tech and Deshaun Watson at Clemson.

Add in Marquise Williams at North Carolina (who will miss the spring with a hip injury), and four quarterbacks have the potential not only to be selected preseason All-ACC quarterback, but one could very easily be preseason ACC Offensive Player of the Year.

Kaaya and Williams each threw for 3,000 yards. Kaaya led the ACC in pass efficiency and passing yards per completion; Thomas ranked No. 4 in the ACC in rushing. Watson threw 14 touchdowns to two interceptions and completed 68 percent of his passes in his injury-shortened year (while also being a valuable rusher).

In Williams’ case, he had to survive a heated quarterback competition last spring that went into the season, when coach Larry Fedora decided to play him and Mitch Trubisky. But once Williams became the full-time starter after the first month of the season, his play blossomed. As our David Hale pointed out, only five Power 5 quarterbacks had more total touchdowns (20) than Williams from game 7 until the season ended. Though Trubisky will get the first-team reps this spring, Williams is expected to return as the starter when he is healthy come fall camp.

Even beyond the top tier, a quarterback such as Chad Voytik will have a chance to improve under new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

“He’s probably one of the most impressive guys in our morning runs,” coach Pat Narduzzi said of Voytik. “People talk about Tyler Boyd and James Conner. That’s maybe one of the forgotten guys. Chad Voytik is a heck of a football player. He’s a competitor.”

And at Virginia, the Hoos are going into the spring without a quarterback controversy for the first time in five years. Greyson Lambert returns as the starter, with Matt Johns right behind him.

“This is the first time in a long time you have two guys who have played, and they played pretty good opponents, kept us in some close games and they both have stats,” London said. “If you look at the rest of the league, we probably have the most experienced 1-2 quarterback duo coming back, and that has to be a positive for us.”

London is close. Louisville and Syracuse have three players with at least one career start, thanks to injuries at the position a year ago. But unlike Syracuse, which will go with healthy Terrel Hunt as its starter, Louisville has declared an open quarterback competition.

Will Gardner (seven starts) will miss the spring, leaving Reggie Bonnafon (five starts), Kyle Bolin (one start) and Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson to get the majority of the reps.

Two more teams will have open competitions this spring: Florida State (Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino, De'Andre Johnson) and Boston College (Darius Wade, Troy Flutie). The Seminoles have at least had stability at the position under Jimbo Fisher, who is on the verge of producing his third straight first-round pick at quarterback.

BC, meanwhile, will start its third quarterback in three seasons under Steve Addazio.

“No matter what you do, your quarterback doesn’t have any experience, and that’s our job. We have to find the guy that’s going to be the best leader for this football team,” Addazio said. “For me to tell you I know that’s going to happen at a high, high level next year? I can’t say that because that position is tough. But that’s our job. To get the next guy in line and to get the most out of that guy. Whoever that guy is, we’re going to make the most mature that we can make him in the shortest amount of time.”

Unlike last year, that is a problem only a few teams have to deal with this spring.
Spring football is off and running at several ACC schools, with many more set to kick things off in the coming days and weeks. There is no shortage of storylines throughout the league, but here are the questions that stand out above all else:

1. Does the ACC have an embarrassment of quarterback riches? It's not every day a league can withstand losing a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to the pros (more on FSU later), but the ACC has a ton of talent coming back under center in 2015. Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, NC State, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest all return players who started at quarterback in 2014. Thomas Sirk is the frontrunner at Duke, and he saw extended time last year as a change-of-pace quarterback, too. Then there's Clemson and North Carolina, whose talented signal-callers from last fall will miss this spring, giving others a chance to prove themselves and build depth. Which brings us to …

2. What about the No. 2 quarterbacks? Deshaun Watson may be way ahead of schedule in his recovery from ACL surgery, as Dabo Swinney said Friday, and we all know what the sophomore is capable of when he is healthy. But this spring will see others get a chance at Clemson, as last year's No. 3 signal-caller, Nick Schuessler, leads a trio of quarterbacks that includes early enrollees Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel. At North Carolina, meanwhile, the Tar Heels will have to go through spring drills without starter Marquise Williams, who is sidelined with a hip injury. That means Mitch Trubisky, who split time with Williams in the early part of the 2014 season, will run the first team this spring.

3. How does FSU replace Jameis? More quarterback talk, you say? Why of course! Florida State lost just one game in two years with Jameis Winston as its starter, so replacing him is no easy task. Sean Maguire is back after an uneven performance in his lone start last year, but he will have to battle it out with redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino, a former ESPN four-star prospect, and early enrollee De'Andre Johnson, another four-star prospect.

[+] EnlargePat Narduzzi
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPat Narduzzi spent the past eight seasons as Michigan State's defensive coordinator.
4. What does Narduzzi bring to Pitt? There is just one new head coach in the ACC this time around. And, once again, he resides in the Steel City. Pat Narduzzi is the fourth different head coach to open a spring in Pittsburgh since 2010, but he walks into a pretty good situation. The Panthers boast junior studs in James Conner and Tyler Boyd on offense, and Narduzzi's defensive roots should prove valuable to a Panthers unit that struggled down the stretch last season.

5. How will BC's offensive makeover look? Few coaches have had as much early success at new stops as Steve Addazio has had at Boston College, taking a two-win team from 2012 to consecutive 7-6 seasons. In 2013, he rode Heisman finalist running back Andre Williams to a strong finish. In 2014, he relied on dual-threat transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy. This season Addazio promoted receivers coach Todd Fitch to offensive coordinator after Ryan Day left for the Philadelphia Eagles, and he is looking for a more balanced attack. This could be more challenging considering he'll be without a senior signal-caller for the first time.

6. Will early enrollees make an impact? We already mentioned Johnson at FSU, but five-star safety Derwin James could have an easier path to the field, given the Seminoles' openings in the secondary. So, too, could five-star receiver George Campbell. Similar circumstances at North Carolina could allow four-star linebacker Andre Smith to start early, especially on a Tar Heels defense that had a staff makeover and is in need of a massive turnaround from 2014.

7. Can Clemson's defense again be dominant? The Tigers boasted the nation's No. 1 defense last season, but they said goodbye to plenty of talent. Coordinator Brent Venables will have his work cut for him, but bringing back Shaq Lawson, D.J. Reader, Ben Boulware, Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse is certainly a good starting point for a team that appears to be the early league frontrunner in 2015.

8. Will Louisville keep it going defensively? The Cardinals' defense was one of the bigger surprise of 2014, Bobby Petrino's first year back with the program. But all of those playmakers came from the past regime, and Petrino will be counting on transfers with troubled pasts to pitch in this year: former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, former Georgia corner Shaq Wiggins and former TCU linebacker Devonte Fields.

9. Can Miami take advantage of the talent at its disposal? Brad Kaaya, Joseph Yearby, Gus Edwards and Stacy Coley give the Hurricanes a great starting point this spring. But Miami likely has to figure out its retooling offensive line in order to take advantage of its weapons. Questions on how this team went 6-7 last year continue to mount, and now will be as good of a time as any for the Canes to get things going and change the conversation.

10. Will Notre Dame get a quarterback answer? The Irish's inaugural year of quasi-ACC membership helped bring us arguably the game of the year, at Florida State. This year the Irish, who return 19 starters, will face six ACC teams, including contests against potential division frontrunners Clemson and Georgia Tech. But who is directing the offense under center will likely be determined this spring, as Everett Golson and Malik Zaire will battle it out after splitting reps in Notre Dame's bowl win over LSU. There is also always the chance that Golson, who said he graduates this spring, could transfer and play his fifth season elsewhere this fall.

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