ACC: Maryland Terrapins

The ACC and Maryland agreed to settle their differences Friday, and now everyone can go on their merry way and start anew.

So which side can claim victory in their fight to separate?

On first glance, you might say Maryland -- which ended up paying $31.4 million to leave for the B1G, far less than the $52 million exit fee initially required.

But clearly, this is a win for both sides. The fact the lawsuits and countersuits are now dead is a victory in itself. Yes, Maryland ended up paying less than $52 million to exit. But it also just paid the largest buyout fee in recent realignment history. Consider Pitt, Syracuse and Louisville paid a combined $26 million to leave the Big East/American and join the ACC.

Rutgers paid $11.5 million to leave the Big East and join the B1G. Colorado, Nebraska, Missouri and Texas A&M got off much easier. So did West Virginia, which paid $20 million to leave the Big East and join the Big 12.

Though it is true the Big East buyout fees were not nearly as steep as those the ACC presidents agreed to, Maryland just paid the highest fee on record -- proof that raising the exit fee to much larger heights ended up benefiting the league as a whole.

Some may argue that the ACC should have held firm at $52 million, to show other schools in the league it would not be so easy to defect if another realignment wave hits. After all, the ACC is not the old Big East. Consequences must be faced, and lines must be drawn to ensure that never happens again.

But the truth is, if a school is determined to leave, it will no matter the buyout cost. Buyout fees are there as a deterrent, yes, but are generally made to be negotiated. Legal entanglements have followed nearly every defection over the past four years, whether the exit fee was small or large.

The most realistic course of action for both sides, then, was to settle their legal fight and move forward. The time is right, with the 2014-15 season set to begin in just a few short weeks.

Maryland got what it wanted in its move to the B1G, with a few extra million in its cash-strapped pockets. The Terps can look forward to a new era without having to look back at a drawn out-legal battle. And it just so happens the B1G is frontloading its deal with Maryland so the school could make as much as $32 million this year. That's probably not a coincidence.

The ACC got what it wanted, the largest payout delivered to a conference, plus an even stronger replacement member in Louisville, sure to enhance the league in just about every sport it plays. A stronger ACC could very well be a much larger deterrent for any school looking to leave somewhere down the road than a $52 million exit fee.

Both sides can now focus on the future. That has to count as a win for everyone.

Recent exit fees paid during conference realignment:
  • Colorado: $6.86 million to leave Big 12 for Pac-12
  • Pitt: $7.5 million to leave Big East for ACC
  • Syracuse: $7.5 million to leave Big East for ACC
  • Nebraska: $9.5 million to leave Big 12 for B1G
  • Louisville: $11 million to leave Big East/American for ACC
  • Rutgers: $11.5 million to leave Big East for B1G
  • Missouri: $12.41 million to leave Big 12 for SEC
  • Texas A&M: $12.41 million to leave Big 12 for SEC
  • West Virginia: $20 million to leave Big East for Big 12
  • Maryland: $31.4 million to leave ACC for B1G
It's no secret that the strength of Clemson's team this season figures to be its defensive line. And, of course, there are plenty of numbers to underscore the Tigers' ferociousness up front.
  • The ACC returns 13 players who had at least 10 tackles for loss last season. Five of them play for Clemson.
  • Vic Beasley had 23 TFLs vs. teams from BCS-AQ conferences last season. No other returning ACC player had more than 12.
  • Clemson's defense recorded a tackle in the backfield once every 7.8 plays last season against AQ teams.
  • The Tigers didn't rely on the blitz either. When rushing four or fewer, Clemson recorded a sack every 11.1 passing attempts last season, the second-lowest rate in the league.

In other words, the Tigers are pretty good up front. But digging into those numbers also uncovered a few other interesting tidbits about ACC defensive fronts. Normally we like to compose a nice narrative around one or two key stats, but for the purposes of this post, we're going a little more free-flowing. Here's a bit of what we found:

• Yes, Clemson was exceptional when it came to defensive fronts in 2013, but so was the rest of the ACC. (Or, perhaps, if you're a pessimist, the O lines around the league were particularly bad.)

Of all teams to play at least eight games vs. AQ conference schools, Clemson had the best rate of TFLs, recording one every 7.8 plays. But, of the top 18 teams in plays-per-TFL last year, seven now play in the ACC. Here's the list:

1. Clemson (7.8)
3. Louisville (8.5)
4. Virginia Tech (8.7)
10. Virginia (9.5)
15. Syracuse (9.8)
17. Florida State (10.1)
18. NC State (10.4)

• Looking at that list, it's worth noting Louisville, Syracuse and Florida State all lost key players from last season's defensive lines to the NFL.

• Speaking of key defensive linemen moving on to the NFL, few teams figure to suffer quite as much from the loss of a key starter this season than Pitt.

How big was Aaron Donald's contribution to the Panthers' defense? He had 21 TFLs against AQ conference teams, which accounted for a whopping 43 percent of the team's total.

Moreover, Pitt relied more on its four-man rush, led by Donald, than any other team in the ACC. A whopping 92 percent of Pitt's sacks in 2013 came with just a four-man rush, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

• The flip side of that coin is Virginia, where the D-line figures to get plenty of credit (and should be even deeper this year), but it was the blitz that really carried the Hoos. Nearly half of all of dropbacks by Virginia's opponents last season were countered with a blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and 71 percent of the Cavaliers' sacks came when rushing five or more defenders.

• Defensive coordinators often talk about how the secondary can't flourish without a strong defensive front and vice versa, making it something of a chicken-or-egg discussion, but it's notable that of the top ACC defensive fronts (based on plays/TFL) in AQ-conference games, only Virginia Tech had a highly rated secondary. The Hokies ranked No. 2 in the ACC and No. 17 nationally in yards-per-attempt vs. AQ teams last year. The rest of the top 5 ACC lines were far worse: Clemson (38th nationally in YPA), Virginia (86th), Maryland (47th) and Syracuse (63rd).

• Don't go thinking the high amount of blitzes hurt Virginia's pass defense though. The Hoos allowed 1.6 fewer yards per attempt when blitzing than when sending four or fewer pass-rushers last season. In fact, only Virginia and Syracuse (1.4 fewer yards/attempt) were better when rushing more than four defenders last season.

• The flip side of that coin? Not surprisingly, it's Clemson, which allowed 3.2 more yards-per-attempt when blitzing last season than it did when rushing four or fewer defenders. Other big splits in that direction: Duke (2.4), Miami (1.1), UNC (1.1) and NC State (1.0).

• Pitt has the lowest percentage of its TFLs come against AQ opponents (57 percent). Syracuse had the highest (85 percent).

• Florida State's returning TFL leaders for 2014 is not surprisingly Mario Edwards Jr., with 9.5. Care to guess who's No. 2? We'll give you a minute.

Still thinking?

Give up?

That'd be Chris Casher, who had 5. Casher didn't start a game last season, and he's not exactly guaranteed a starting spot this year. Florida State's sack leader in 2013 was cornerback Lamarcus Joyner, who finished with 5.5. The last time the Seminoles' leader in sacks had so few for a season was 2006 (Buster Davis had 5).

• The only team that recorded a TFL less often (on a per-play basis) against AQ-conference teams last season than Miami was Texas A&M. The Hurricanes' leader in TFLs, Shayon Green, won't be back for 2014.

• And, of course, getting back to Clemson for a moment, there was one other stat the folks on Twitter were more than happy to mention when I talked up Beasley's season.

Um, yeah. The answer to that one would be zero, which should make for a pretty good stat to build a narrative around when Clemson and FSU face off again in September.

By the numbers: Going deep

July, 3, 2014
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Earlier this week, we looked at the top offensive lines in the ACC, which led me to tweet about the units that had the best and worst sack rates in the conference.

The best:

Duke (1 sack every 29 dropbacks)
Miami (1 every 24)
Syracuse (1 every 24)
North Carolina (1 every 23)
Virginia (1 every 23)

The worst:

Pitt (1 sack every 10.3 dropbacks)
NC State (1 every 13.2)
Boston College (1 every 13.2)
Virginia Tech (1 every 14.1)
Florida State (1 every 14.4)

For the teams ranking at the top, there may have been a few surprises, but UNC and Virginia both had offensive lines with top-tier NFL talent, and Syracuse and Duke both had mobile quarterbacks capable of avoiding sacks. It is probably worth noting, however, that the Blue Devils' offensive line was remarkably good in pass protection, but also had the ACC's lowest rate of running plays that went for a loss or no gain, too (7 percent).

On the other end of the spectrum, the names are a bit more surprising. Pitt's line was a problem, and Tom Savage didn't move around much in the pocket, so the Panthers' spot at the top makes sense. But didn't Boston College have a solid line protecting a veteran quarterback? Didn't NC State play half the season with mobile Brandon Mitchell taking snaps? Wasn't Logan Thomas one of the hardest quarterbacks in the country to bring down? And, of course, isn't Florida State supposed to have one of the top O-lines in the country to go with a Heisman-winning quarterback?

A few people on Twitter thought they had the answer, though: Deep balls. FSU, Pitt and BC had offenses that encouraged quarterbacks to look downfield, and the unfortunate side effect of such a philosophy is a few more sacks while quarterbacks are hanging on to the ball an extra second or two.

The theory made some sense, but we wanted to see if the numbers backed it up.

Here, courtesy of ESPN Sports & Information, are the ACC offenses that had the highest percentage of pass attempts go 20 yards or more.

As it turns out, only Florida State fits the bill as a team that looked deep often and suffered a few extra sacks as a result. Pitt's and NC State's deep-ball rates were right around the league average (22.3 percent), Virginia Tech was even lower (21.5 percent), and Boston College had the lowest percentage of any team in the conference (15.5 percent).

On the other end, the teams that had low sack rates did seem to throw deep a little less often. Duke, Virginia and Syracuse were all well below the league average for deep balls. But how about Miami and North Carolina? Both looked deep relatively often, and both still managed to limit sacks.

What this all likely means -- which is probably relatively intuitive in the first place -- is that a penchant for the deep ball likely plays some small role in the number of sacks a team allows, but it's hardly the overwhelming factor. A quarterback's decision-making and mobility play a part, the quality of talent on the line and ability of tailbacks and fullbacks to pick up blocks matters. The play calling (see: Georgia Tech) has an effect, too.

In other words, filtering out all the little nuances that define a successful offensive line from a not-so-successful one isn't a simple process, which is just one more reason the big guys up front tend to get far too little credit for the work they do.

ACC mailblog

July, 3, 2014
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One quick dip into the mailbag before we start warming up the grill.

Have a spectacular, and safe, July 4 weekend!

Tim Griffith in Christianburg, Va., writes: I don't twitter, but regarding #thingsTimHowardcould save... Hokies version. He could have tipped away Matt Ryan's last minute pass back on a cold, rainy night in 2007 leading to a Hokie victory (and probably a No. 2 finish in the BCS that year just ahead of, gulp, LSU. 48-9 ring a bell?) He could have tipped away the last minute pass completion from Boise State at the beginning of the 2010 season. That probably negates the awful JMU loss the next week as well, and the Hokies run the table, again, missing a BCS MNC chance.You mentioned the last second Michigan loss. Not sure he could have done much more than Bud Foster and his gang did in that one. Ah, to have Tim Howard for just the opportune moments..............a guy can dream, can't he?

Andrea Adelson: Could he have willed Ernest Wilford to catch the 2-point conversion against Miami in 2001? Dreamers always welcome here!

 




Tim in Louisville writes: So, Louisville is officially in the ACC. Which school do you think the Cards will develop the most tense rivalry with over the next few years? It seems a long shot but I'm really hoping for it to be Miami. We need a new trophy game to replace the battle for the Keg of Nails. A Schnellenberger Pipe trophy would be a more than suitable replacement.

Adelson: I am all in favor of a pipe trophy, but it will be hard to develop that rivalry with Miami, considering the teams will be playing once every blue moon. Louisville's Coastal crossover opponent is Virginia. The Hoos do not exactly have rivalry written all over them. In the Atlantic division, there are some former Big East teams. Do Syracuse or Pitt do anything for you? Florida State and Clemson already have much more established rivalries but if the Cards can be competitive against both, I think Louisville fans would view them as their biggest rivals. That would not be the case in reverse, though.

 




Barry Rose in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Okay, I realize I'm from Tallahassee and the Seminoles are my team, but, seriously, Clemson with the best Defensive Line! Did you watch the Clemson vs. FSU games this past year? The only time (Vic) Beasley got off the line was when Cameron (Erving) wasn't blocking him. I've watched the game a couple of times and it is amazing what Beasley didn't do. Boston College's defensive line played us better than Clemson. I also realize that we had a really good offensive line last year and it should be somewhat better this year and for Clemson to win the ACC they have to beat FSU. I don't think it will happen this coming year, either.

Adelson: I have heard this argument used against the Clemson defensive line repeatedly. But the position preview is not a breakdown of specific matchups won or lost last season. It is a projection of the potential the position group itself has headed into 2014. Clemson has the most starters back, and the best collection of depth back in the league off an extremely productive group in 2013. It also has the best defensive player in the league back in Beasley, regardless of how you viewed his performance against Florida State -- a game that got away from everybody on the Tigers' sideline within the first 10 minutes of the game. Again, this is all based on potential. The first big test comes before Florida State -- in the opener against Georgia. Clemson will need its defensive line to be dominant to have a shot to win.

 




Jonathan Peak in Pike Road, Ala., writes: Maryland is a member of the exclusive Association of American Universities. Louisville is a third tier academic institution. But who cares about academics, right? Oh, Maryland also has 47 National Championships. And we have people like Kevin Plank (founder of Under Armour), Sergey Brin (founder of Google), Jim Henson, and a lengthy list of notable sports journalists with careers more prominent than yours will ever be who actually went to Maryland. Jennifer Lawrence didn't even attend Louisville. You should be writing for the National Inquirer.

Adelson: Looks like one Terps fan can't take a joke! Lighten up, Jonathan! You guys are in a waaaaaaaay better conference now, amIright?

 




Luke Fletcher in Byron, Ga., writes: Well Georgia Tech's Ryan Bramford (in charge of scheduling) obviously would never be hired at Notre Dame, as the athletic department not only wants to keep the BCS scheduling model of playing a FCS and G5 in the same season, we played two FCS opponents in the same season in 2008 and 2013!!!!!!!! ... No one is saying to schedule Bama yearly, but there are enough P5s to replace one of the FCS/G5 games! ... I guess I need to write to the ACC office about how 9 game schedules makes more sense for the league since Mr. Bamford thinks scheduling FCS teams is the same draw as scheduling an SEC team!

Adelson writes: I appreciate your frustration, Luke, but let me clarify a few things here that will hopefully make some sense to you. Bramford takes his cues from the athletic director, who ultimately decides on the vision for nonconference scheduling. As for the multiple FCS teams on the schedule last season, Georgia Tech was put in a tough spot. When the league decided to move to nine conference games a few years ago, ACC teams started dropping nonconference games to make room. Then when the Notre Dame scheduling agreement forced the ACC to move back to an 8-game schedule, it was too late to find an FBS team to put back on the schedule. Clemson, by the way, also was forced to play two FCS teams last year. That is not a scheduling practice Georgia Tech wants to continue moving forward. Because Georgia is already locked into the schedule, Georgia Tech has opted for a more conservative nonconference scheduling approach. The Jackets are not the only school that plays FCS on an annual basis. Florida State, Miami and Clemson do -- just to name three. They also are not the only ones to play teams outside the power-5 conferences. Look at Miami's schedule this year. You will see one FCS, one tough power-five (Nebraska) and two outside the power five (Arkansas State, Cincinnati). Georgia Tech has future games set up against Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, so that should at least ease some concerns. Notre Dame also is on the schedule every three years. In those years, you won't see Georgia Tech scheduling more difficult opponents because it already will have the Irish and the Bulldogs. There has to be a balance in nonconference scheduling. Just how you achieve it is one of the tougher jobs an athletic director has to do.
Randy EdsallTony Quinn/Icon SMIThere's no easy winning formula for Randy Edsall and Maryland as they transition to the Big Ten.

Utah coach Kyle Whittingham knew exactly what to expect -- and where to focus -- when his Utes moved from the Mountain West in 2011 to the Pac-12: Recruit better prospects. Upgrade the facilities. Break down new opponents.

But that didn't make the transition any easier.

The Utes made a big splash that first season and finished 8-5, before dropping to 5-7 in the two seasons thereafter. Whittingham knew a drop-off like that was possible -- a move into one of the Power Five carries with it certain risks -- but that doesn't mean any challenges caught the 54-year-old head coach off guard.

"No real surprises," Whittingham told ESPN.com. "Nothing blind-sided us from a football perspective. It was exactly as anticipated. ... The bottom line is it's just a process transitioning. We're not making excuses -- people don't care; we have to win -- but it takes time to ramp up."

With three programs set to officially join a new power conference Tuesday -- Louisville to the ACC; Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten -- that process will play out once again. New members know they'll have to adjust, improve and upgrade before taking a step forward in their new conferences. But that doesn't make the task any easier.

Since 2000, a dozen other football programs have transitioned into one of the Power Five conferences. And, in their first seasons, only three teams improved upon their previous year's record -- with just two watching their win total increase by more than one. For most teams, the acclimation has been gradual.

"There are no shortcuts," Whittingham added. "But I don't think there's anything that's undiscovered or a secret. It's pretty simple and pretty plain."

In one interview after another, five coaches told ESPN.com the same three keys for transitioning successfully: improve recruiting, upgrade facilities and figure out those new teams. That really shouldn't come as a shock, as those tips are useful for any team in any circumstance. But when it comes to transitioning, several coaches said, those priorities are magnified.

All of a sudden, during that conference transition, Utah's great facilities in the Mountain West didn't quite pass muster with USC's 110,000-square-foot sports facility or Oregon's $68 million football building. So it unveiled its own new facility last fall. In 2004, Virginia Tech's old Big East recruiting footprint wasn't enough to dominate long-term in the ACC. So the staff immediately sought out prospects in Georgia and the Carolinas. And, in 2005, Boston College's staff was forced to scout nine new opponents on a schedule that ballooned from No. 74 in terms of strength to No. 22. So, even during "off time," some coaches stared at their laptop screens morning to night.

Each team needed to improve in that area immediately or risk falling behind their conference foes. Transitioning is a constant arms race, after all, a game where teams that tread water end up sinking. There's no such thing as being stationary in college football, especially during such a transition. Especially during that first season.

"It's definitely more of a burden that first season, for sure. No doubt," said former Boston College assistant Jerry Petercuskie, who helped oversee the Eagles' transition to the ACC and currently coaches at FCS Elon. "But there's no magic in it. It's just getting your players to play and adapting to the enemy."

Truthfully, several coaches said, there's not much they can do to quicken that Year 1 transition. Payoffs in recruiting and facility upgrades aren't immediate; the main short-term advances come from locking yourself in the film room and studying up on new opponents.

In other words, the recipe for such immediate success isn't a big secret either. Of the three teams that did improve their record that first season, they all returned solid teams that boasted solid quarterbacks. Texas A&M had Heisman winner Johnny Manziel (7-6 record to 11-2), Virginia Tech started first-team All-ACC QB Bryan Randall (8-5 to 10-3), and Pitt had NFL draft pick Tom Savage under center (6-7 to 7-6).

So, until that increased recruiting focus starts to yield changes on the field, most coaches during the transition spend a considerably higher amount of time figuring out opposing schemes, opponents and situations.

"When you're away from the office, every coach is looking at the opponent. You need to figure out that new enemy," Petercuskie said. "[Coaches] are a paranoid group of people. We don't want to go out on a Saturday afternoon in front of a national TV audience and get embarrassed. So we're going to do whatever we have to do."

Added Tom Bradley, who coached at Penn State during its move to the Big Ten and is currently the senior associate head coach at WVU: "I would say it took a couple of years for us to really get a beat on teams -- to understand the fans and feel comfortable with the climate you're entering. What do they like to do in certain situations? Not knowing that definitely made it harder."

No one can say for sure exactly how Louisville, Rutgers and Maryland will fare in their new conferences: Virginia Tech assistant Charley Wiles believes the Terrapins are already a bowl-caliber team; Temple assistant Ed Foley thinks Rutgers will wind up in the middle of the pack. But everyone knows what these teams have to do to succeed.

They can't win in Year 1 without a solid group of returners. They have to upgrade their facilities to stay competitive. And above all -- Whittingham said this was 80 percent of the transition – they need to recruit well. Do all that, and the wins will roll in faster than the fans' question marks.

Transitioning successfully is as simple -- and as difficult -- as that.
The biggest news to come from last week’s ACC league meetings was a decision on future conference scheduling. With expansion, there was a push to move to a nine-game conference slate, along with the potential to switch up the conference title game format. For now, however, things are going to stay more or less the same.

What has changed in terms of scheduling is a rule that will require all teams to play at least one nonconference game against a team from a Power 5 conference (Pac-12, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC). While that won’t affect the four ACC teams with annual rivalry games against the SEC (FSU, Clemson, Louisville and Georgia Tech), it will force some others to up the ante on future scheduling.

[+] EnlargeACC logo
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesThe ACC has not performed well in regular-season, nonconference games against Power 5 teams since 2009. The combined record of the 11 current ACC members who have been a part of the conference since then is 22-51.
(Note: For a more detailed look at scheduling of Power 5 nonconference foes in the next few years, BC Interruption has a detailed list.)

Rather than look ahead, however, we decided to take a look back at how the ACC has fared against Power 5 competition in recent years.

As colleague Andrea Adelson pointed out, the 2013 nonconference slate in the ACC was one of the toughest in the nation, and the 2014 schedule projects to be similarly daunting.
“The ACC played one of the most challenging nonconference schedules in the country a season ago, featuring games against Georgia, USC, Florida, Northwestern, Penn State, Alabama, South Carolina, BYU and Oregon.

This year, Oklahoma State, Georgia, Ohio State, Nebraska, UCLA, USC and Iowa are on the nonconference schedule, in addition to the standard SEC rivalry games for Florida State, Clemson, Georgia Tech and Louisville.”

But while the ACC played a fair number of tough nonconference games, it didn’t exactly perform particularly well in them.

In fact, going back five years to the 2009 season, the numbers are pretty bleak.

The 11 current ACC members who have been a part of the conference since 2009 have played a total of 73 regular-season, nonconference games against Power 5 teams. Their combined record is a dismal 22-51 (.301).

Here’s how bad it actually is:

• Three of those 22 wins actually came against Pitt, Syracuse and Louisville when those programs were not part of the ACC.

• Seven more wins came against Vandy, Kansas, Rutgers and Indiana — hardly traditional powers despite their conference affiliations.

• No ACC team has a winning record in nonconference, regular-season games against Power 5 teams during that span. The team that has performed the best during that stretch is North Carolina, which is 3-3.

• The most impressive nonconference, regular-season wins over Power 5 teams for the ACC in the last five years amounts to a short list: Clemson over Georgia (2013), Miami over Florida (2013), Clemson over Auburn (2011), FSU over Florida (2010), Miami over Oklahoma (2009) and Virginia Tech over Nebraska (2009).

The failures against Power 5 teams are league-wide, but the spread is a bit one-sided. Since 2009, there are a few teams that have distinctly avoiding playing nonconference, regular-season games against Power 5 teams. The full list is in a chart on the right.

What’s worse, four of those six games played by NC State and Virginia Tech came in 2009, meaning those two programs have each played just one regular-season, nonconference game against a Power 5 team in the last four years. (Virginia Tech played Alabama last season, while NC State played Tennessee in 2012.)

Of course, conference games are also played against Power 5 foes, and the ACC has won its share of bowl games against teams from major conferences as well. With that in mind, here are the league’s standings since 2009 based on all games against teams currently in a Power 5 conference (plus Notre Dame).



It’s probably no surprise that Florida State, Clemson and Virginia Tech -- the league’s power teams -- have performed the best.

Georgia Tech’s solid 31-24 record might be a nice feather in Paul Johnson’s cap, if not for the five straight losses to UGA.

Miami and North Carolina have played .500 football in big games the last five years, which puts them in the middle of the pack but, of course, is far below the expectations for two programs with the resources to perform much better.

The league’s newcomers -- Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville -- have won a few significant games, but the ACC obviously has higher hopes for all three schools moving forward.

(Note: Losing Maryland certainly isn't hurting the ACC with respect to these numbers. The Terps were a dismal 13-33 (.282) against all Power 5 teams in the last five years and just 1-5 in regular-season, nonconference games against Power 5 foes.)

Overall, however, the win-loss records don’t exactly tell the story of the ACC as a rising power in the national landscape. In fact, the new scheduling strategy is effectively a carbon copy of the one installed by the SEC, but the difference between the performance of the two leagues in those games is actually quite stark.

In the last five years, the 12 continuous SEC programs are 41-24 (.631) in nonconference, regular-season games against Power 5 opponents, winning at more than double the rate of the ACC. While the ACC doesn’t have a single team that has won more than half of its games against Power 5, nonconference teams in the regular season, the SEC has three teams (Alabama, LSU and South Carolina) that are undefeated in such games.

The knock on the SEC, of course, is that its programs have widely shied away from top-notch competition outside the league. While ACC teams have played, on average, 6.6 regular-season, nonconference games against Power 5 foes in the last five years, the SEC has averaged just 5.4.

But that doesn’t really mean much in the grand scheme of things. Scheduling big-name opponents wasn’t really the problem in the first place. Winning more of those games is the big hurdle the conference needs to clear.
The NCAA released its annual Academic Progress Rates (APR) across Division I on Wednesday, with overall scores increasing, including in football.

The 2012-13 average APR was 976, a two-point increase from a year ago. The two-point increase held true for football individually as well, rising from 949 to 951.

Last week, Boston College, Clemson, Duke and Georgia Tech were recognized as NCAA Public Recognition Award winners for their football programs’ APR, which ranked in the top 10 percent nationally.

Eleven of the 14 programs that competed in the ACC in 2012-13 exceeded the national football average of 951. Duke, Virginia Tech, Syracuse, Florida State, NC State, Maryland and UNC all saw an increase in APR from last year’s numbers.

Here’s a rundown of each ACC program’s 2012-13 multiyear APR score:

Duke, 992
Georgia Tech, 983
Clemson, 983
Boston College, 981
Virginia Tech, 977
Miami, 972
Wake Forest, 970
Syracuse, 965
Pittsburgh, 961
Florida State, 958
Virginia, 956
Maryland, 950
NC State, 950
North Carolina, 938

Louisville, which officially replaces Maryland as an ACC member next month, had an APR of 947.

The APR is designed to provide an accurate measure of a team’s academic success by tracking the progress of each student, including eligibility, retention and graduation.
The court battle between the ACC and Maryland got a push toward a settlement this week when a mediator was appointed to oversee discussions, the Washington Post reported.

Both sides filed lawsuits against one another after Maryland announced in 2012 it was leaving the ACC for the Big Ten. The Terps officially join their new league this July. At issue is payment of a $52 million exit fee.

For more, click here.

ACC spring dates

February, 26, 2014
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Goodbye, February -- and good riddance. March means spring football, and Miami and Virginia both begin on Saturday -- the same day Duke ends with its annual spring game. It's finally time to see what the 2014 rosters actually look like throughout the ACC.

Here's a quick rundown of the start dates and spring games for each school:

BOSTON COLLEGE

Spring start: March 12
Spring game: April 12

CLEMSON

Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12

DUKE

Spring start: February 7
Spring game: March 1

FLORIDA STATE

Spring start: March 19
Spring game: April 12

GEORGIA TECH

Spring start: March 24
Spring game: April 18

LOUISVILLE

Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 11

MIAMI

Spring start: March 1
Spring game: April 12

NORTH CAROLINA

Spring start: March 5
Spring game: April 12

NC STATE

Spring start: March 4
Spring game: April 12

PITTSBURGH

Spring start: March 16
Spring game: N/A

SYRACUSE

Spring start: March 18
Spring game: April 19

VIRIGNIA

Spring start: March 1
Spring game: April 12

VIRGINIA TECH

Spring start: March 27
Spring game: April 26

WAKE FOREST

Spring start: March 25
Spring game: April 26

Team-by-team attendance numbers

February, 18, 2014
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Average attendance in the ACC as a whole remained steady in 2013, but there are definite issues administrators across the sport are working on to try and get more fans in the stands.

For now, here is a quick look at team-by-team attendance numbers for the 2013 season, with the percent change from 2012.

Clemson 82,048, up less than 1 percent
  • Notes: The Tigers set a new single-season school attendance record thanks to home games against Georgia and Florida State. Memorial Stadium was filled to 101 percent capacity.
Florida State 75,421, down less than 1 percent
  • Notes: Despite a lackluster home schedule, the Seminoles drew slightly fewer than the 75,601 they averaged in 2012 (when Clemson and Florida played in Tallahassee). Doak Campbell Stadium was filled to 92 percent capacity.
Virginia Tech 63,999, down 2 percent
  • Notes: The Hokies had their 93-game home sellout streak snapped against Western Carolina, ending the third-longest active sellout streak in the country. There was no marquee home game this year. Lane Stadium was filled to 97 percent capacity.
Miami 53,837, up 11 percent
  • Notes: The Hurricanes got a big bump this past season thanks to their nonconference showdown against Florida, which drew 76,968. Sun Life Stadium was filled to 71 percent capacity.
NC State 53,178, down 1.7 percent
  • Notes: The Wolfpack struggled on the field in 2013, so their numbers dipped slightly. Carter-Finley Stadium was filled to 92 percent capacity.
North Carolina 51,500, up 2 percent
  • Notes: A Thursday night game against Miami drew 56,000 fans, while the regular-season finale against Duke drew 62,000. Kenan Stadium was filled to 82 percent capacity.
Pitt 49, 741, up 16.6 percent
  • Notes: The Panthers had a blockbuster home schedule with games against Florida State (on Labor Day night), Notre Dame and Miami. Compare that to 2012, when the Panthers played two FCS teams, Louisville, Temple, Rutgers and Virginia Tech. Heinz Field was filled to 76 percent capacity.
Georgia Tech 49,077, up 10 percent
  • Notes: The Jackets benefited from a Thursday night home game against Virginia Tech and the regular-season finale at home against Georgia. Bobby Dodd Stadium was filled to 89 percent capacity.
Virginia 46,279, down less than 1 percent
  • Notes: Though the Hoos have struggled to win, attendance didn't drop that dramatically thanks to a home schedule that featured Oregon, Clemson and Virginia Tech. Scott Stadium was filled to 75 percent capacity.
Maryland 41,278, up 9 percent
  • Notes: This attendance figure counts the game against West Virginia played at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, which drew 55,677.
Syracuse 38,277, up less than 1 percent
  • Notes: The Orange hosted Clemson and Boston College but have struggled to fill the Carrier Dome for years now. The Carrier Dome, among the 10 smallest in the power five conferences, was filled to 78 percent capacity.
Boston College 33,006, down 11 percent
  • Notes: Even though the Eagles were vastly improved this past season, they did not have Notre Dame on the home schedule, and that has to be one of the biggest reasons for the attendance drop.
Wake Forest 28,414, down less than 1 percent

  • Notes: The Deacs, with the smallest stadium among the power five conferences, did fill their stadium to 89 percent capacity thanks to home games against NC State and Florida State.

Duke 26,062, down 7.5 percent

  • Notes: The Blue Devils had a historic season, but they did not have North Carolina or Clemson on the home slate this season. Wallace Wade Stadium, the third-smallest in the power five conferences, was filled to 77 percent capacity.

One more item of interest. Louisville joins the league in 2014, so that should help the overall ACC attendance numbers. Last season, the Cardinals averaged 52,914 fans, and Papa John's Cardinal Stadium was filled to 95 percent capacity.

ACC mailblog

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
4:00
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Now that our weekly chats are on hiatus, feel free to send me a line in the mailbag!

Robert VT in Blacksburg, Va., writes: AA, again thanks for yours and HD's professional reporting. You ladies do a great job, no question about it! Thanks for switching Maryland over to the Big Ten and bringing in LOUISVILLE. I'm ready! I sure hate seeing Maryland leave the ACC, but I think the ACC got a much better overall sports program with LOUISVILLE. I have a bunch of Maryland friends who are really unhappy about the move to the Big Ten and feel the move was shoved down their throats, with a back-room deal in the middle of the night. They just feel their President (Wallace) Loh (from Big Ten) did not allow enough input from the school and ACC to be fair, after 60 years of ACC membership. It reminded some of them of the Baltimore Colts moving out in the middle of the night to Indy on 3 Mayflower moving vans. Ha! Have a great day.

Andrea Adelson writes: Thank you, Robert. We appreciate the loyal readership! I agree the ACC got the better end of this deal. While the Big Ten has not had a glowing national reputation over the last few years, it is difficult to see how the Terrapins will move in to that conference and have their football program thrive from the outset, especially playing in a division with Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State. And let's not forget Penn State, which has hired former Maryland coach-in-waiting James Franklin. He just put together an outstanding recruiting class, sanctions and all. Now the Atlantic is tough, don't get me wrong, but the Big Ten East looks much tougher, at least on paper. There might be more money on the other side of the rainbow, but more money cannot buy you 10-win seasons or conference championships. Just ask West Virginia.


David Goldberg in Houston writes: Hi, much is being made of Rob Moore leaving for the Buffalo Bills. People forget that George McDonald lasted at Arkansas exactly 4 weeks (December 2012-January 2013) before becoming the offensive coordinator at Syracuse. I realize the timing is a little different in terms of recruiting. Nevertheless, it's just one illustration of how coaches jump from job to job ... and that's life in the business.

Adelson writes: You are right, David. Look no further than new North Carolina assistant Keith Heckendorf, who just returned to the Tar Heels after spending one month at Arkansas State. Pitt also recently lost receivers coach Bobby Engram, too. I think the biggest issue, as you mentioned, was the timing. Did Moore and coach Scott Shafer know about the move and tell incoming recruits about it before signing day? Did they have an obligation to do so? It is absolutely true that recruits should choose programs over coaches because there is so much turnover. But at the same time, there must have been a sense from these recruits that they would play for Moore once they arrived on campus, even if it was for just a short period of time.


Jeff in Boston writes: Looks like Jimbo (Fisher) might be right! Jameis (Winston) confirmed that he will be focusing on baseball instead of the 2015 draft! :)

Adelson writes: Well, sure, did any of us expect him to declare for the 2015 draft now? I think we would all be wiser to focus on 2014 before we even think about who is staying and who is leaving for 2015.


KC in Michigan writes: After reading Tim in Blacksburg's suggestion on rivalry weekend, I decided to submit my own idea. Why not realign the divisions to protect all rivalries? Atlantic: Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, North Carolina State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Wake Forest. Coastal: Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech. That would make all but three rivalry games divisional. Those three games could be protected crossovers. They are Boston College-Syracuse; Clemson-North Carolina State; North Carolina-Virginia. Eliminate all other protected crossover games.

Adelson: I have been a proponent of divisional realignment since I started covering the ACC not only to balance out the divisions but to also help protect a majority of these rivalry games. Because when it comes down to it, one of the biggest issues moving forward with the eight-game league format is teams such as Duke and NC State going a billion years between playing each other. We have seen too many rivalry games get lost in the shuffle during conference realignment, and I think it would be smart to protect as many as possible. But one idea that has grown on me is getting rid of the divisions entirely. There are no divisions in basketball. If the NCAA grants the ACC the autonomy to govern its championship game the way it wants, and athletic directors are in favor of having the top two teams in the league play in the title game, then why do you need divisions at all?


Mark in Orlando, Fla., writes: No mention of Duke Johnson in your ACC top 25 players? Almost 1,000 yards and he missed a third of the season? No Stacey Coley? A freshman who scored on pass plays, a kick return and a punt return? The only player in the nation to do so? Both of those guys will be NFL first-rounders, yet your only mention of a Miami player is a third- or fourth-round linebacker who got a bunch of tackles because his D-line was porous? Do you actually watch any games or just read year-end stat sheets?

Adelson writes: I wondered how long it would take to get a note like this one. First, as you point out, Johnson missed a large chunk of the season. So we eliminated him from consideration, much in the same way we eliminated Stefon Diggs from consideration. Johnson and Diggs are two of the most dynamic players in the league, but they got hurt. And the 2013 final player countdown takes into account performance throughout the entire 2013 season. To that point, we do not count NFL projections in the countdown, either. Denzel Perryman was a first-team All-ACC selection by both the media and the coaches. I think the coaches watch the games. As for Coley, receiver was an incredibly deep position in the league this year. We had six receivers make the countdown -- and that does not include Michael Campanaro from Wake Forest, also left out because of injury. Coley was great, and will more than likely be in the 2014 top 25 preseason player countdown, but his overall numbers do not compare to the guys who made the list. It is tough to rank somebody with only 33 total receptions for 591 yards in the top 25. You mentioned his all-purpose production. Tyler Boyd and Jamison Crowder were better, and they were bigger contributors on offense. It is interesting that you are upset about Coley being left off, but not 1,000-yard receiver Allen Hurns. I thought for sure Miami fans would be screaming at us for that one.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
4:00
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The NFL draft combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be held from Feb. 19-25 and will feature workouts, medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews for the 335 invited prospects. The ACC has a total of 46 players who will participate, including at least one player from every school (we included Maryland and not Louisville in this post, because it is from the 2013 season). National champion Florida State led the league with eight players heading to the combine, but UNC was right behind with seven. Don't cry ... you're gonna miss some of these names next year. Good luck to these guys.

Here is the official list of the ACC attendees:

BOSTON COLLEGE (5)
CLEMSON (4)
DUKE (1)
FLORIDA STATE (8)
GEORGIA TECH (2)
MARYLAND (1)
MIAMI (5)
NORTH CAROLINA (7)
NC STATE (1)
PITTSBURGH (3)
SYRACUSE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
VIRGINIA TECH (4)
WAKE FOREST (1)

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
12:00
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It's moving day for Maryland. From now on, catch all the Terps coverage over on the Big Ten blog. Louisville moves into this space Thursday.
So just what should we expect from Maryland as the Terrapins enter the Big Ten? To get some answers, I turned to our in-house expert, Heather Dinich. She covered the program for the Baltimore Sun before joining ESPN.com's ACC blog. And Heather still lives in Maryland.

As we take the Terps off Heather's hands, she was kind enough to answer a few of our pressing questions about the Big Ten newbie-to-be:

Heather, how competitive should Big Ten fans expect to the Terrapins to be when they enter the Big Ten?

[+] EnlargeRandy Edsall
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyRandy Edsall and the Terps will face a brutal schedule in their first foray into the Big Ten.
HD: Think Hoosiers. Somewhere around not quite as good as Penn State and not as bad as Purdue. And nowhere near the likes of Ohio State. Average at best. The schedule is brutal, with Ohio State and back-to-back road trips to Wisconsin and Penn State, plus a trip to Michigan. The travel and stadiums alone are going to be a culture shock for the Terps. It’s a good thing Rutgers joined the Big Ten so the Terps have somebody they can match up against. (Though former Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen is going to be a wee bit motivated for that one as the Scarlet Knights’ new OC.) I think it’s going to be a long season for Randy Edsall, and it’s going to be a dose of reality for athletic director Kevin Anderson. Then again, ADs are paid to see the big picture and follow the money. I have football tunnel vision and it looks like a huge train coming at the Terps through this one.

How solid is Randy Edsall's standing as head coach, especially now that he'll have to compete against Friedgen and former Maryland coach-in-waiting James Franklin (the new head coach at Penn State)?

HD: I think it’s tenuous at best. Look, considering all of the injuries they’ve had, Edsall gets a bit of a pass. Two seasons ago his quarterback position was completely decimated by injuries, to the point where he had a backup linebacker throwing the ball. Last season he lost his top two receivers to injuries, including Stefon Diggs, one of the most exciting playmakers in the country. But he lost the bowl game to Marshall last year -- in Annapolis. That’s unacceptable if you’re the top team in the state. The Terps lost five of their last seven games. They lost to Wake Forest and Syracuse, you think they’re gonna beat Wisconsin and Penn State? On the road? Maryland is going to be haunted by its past, with those games against Franklin and Friedgen, and losses against those two programs will further fuel the fire for Edsall’s critics. Playing the first season in the Big Ten could buy him some time, but it shouldn’t buy him much.

As you mentioned, injuries have been a big problem for the Terps lately. How good can they be if everyone stays healthy?

HD: Even at full strength, I still don’t think they can match up with the best of the Big Ten, but Maryland should look like a better team than what fans saw in 2013. They should be expected to beat Indiana, Iowa and Rutgers and be able to steal one or two they’re “not supposed to win.” The question is if they can handle winning on the road in a new conference. This could actually be a pretty decent team with Diggs and WR Deon Long healthy for the season, and a veteran quarterback in C.J. Brown. Overall, they lose only four starters, and last year was a very young team. The whole defensive line returns and the entire defense should be an experienced group. They should pick up at least two more wins in the nonconference schedule, but they’ve got to win at Syracuse, a team they lost to last year. So while it might be a better team overall, it might not necessarily be reflected in the win column. Still, if everyone stays healthy, fans should expect a bowl game.

Have Maryland fans come around to the idea of leaving the ACC, or does it still seem weird to think of Maryland in the Big Ten?

HD: Weird. Very weird. I live in Maryland and can’t get used to it, and a lot of fans, of course, are focused on the impact it has on the hoops season. Many fans are indifferent, and even more are still trying to understand it.

Finally, what are some must-see attractions/traditions for visiting Big Ten fans who come to College Park?

HD: I cannot tell a lie: Gameday traffic will be created by Ohio State fans. I recommend checking out Cole Field House, which is right behind Byrd Stadium, for some historic hoops scenery, and Comcast Center, for the modern version. On the field, the statue of Testudo is said to bring some good luck, and of course, the pride this state takes in its flag is, well, dizzying. As for places to eat and consume adult beverages downtown, sources say R.J. Bentley’s and the Cornerstone Grill & Loft are the local institutions.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
12:00
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Bravo, Michael Sam. Bravo.

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