ACC: North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC mailblog

August, 1, 2014
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Keep your notes coming. Mailbag is always open!

Jon in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writes: I thought you were decent until I read the recent article about whether ND was good for the ACC. In particular, talking about FSU's SOS this year (2014) with the big bad Oklahoma State and "improved" UF team... my goodness, that's a load. Your "improved" UF team is still fielding an awful offensive line, an inept quarterback, no wide receivers, a serviceable running backand a decent defense. Have you looked at the FSU team? I'm pretty sure we're going to steamroll Oklahoma State in Dallas and ND & UF at home. And ND is an awesome addition to the ACC, even if they beat FSU. This is college football and sports in general. If you were scared to lose, don't come to play. I'm sure you were just playing devil's advocate, but I expected more of you, even if you are a UF grad.

Andrea Adelson: When in doubt, blame the Gator. I hope you guys have figured out by now that I call 'em like I see 'em. Regardless of where I attended college, my job is to present different points of view. Florida State has a more challenging schedule this year than last. That doesn't mean I'm against Florida State. It means I think they have much bigger tests this year, tests that will challenge this team in ways it was not challenged a year ago. Oklahoma State is not Nevada; Notre Dame is not Idaho; and Florida will win more than four games this year. Will Florida State be favored in those three big nonconference games? Yes. Does Florida State deserve to start the season ranked No. 1? Yes. But that is not a guarantee the Noles will win all their games again. Part of the fun in the offseason, and in college football in general, is to speculate and hypothesize, to debate topics of interest. I think Notre Dame is a fascinating one from a football perspective. The Irish are a great addition in all other sports. But this quasi-scheduling agreement in football is no sure thing. The Irish could wreak havoc this season. Or they could slump and hurt strength of schedule. Or they could very well be the perfect addition. Nobody knows how it will play out.


Trevor in Miami writes: Just curious as to you being "more confident" in the quarterbacks at Pitt and Georgia Tech than Miami. Care to elaborate?

Adelson: Jake Heaps' addition is big for Miami from a depth and experience standpoint, but will he win the starting job until Ryan Williams returns? Nobody has the answer there. At least Pitt and Georgia Tech go into the season with a solid idea of what they will be getting out of the position. Chad Voytik played a good bowl game and has been in the Pitt system for two years now. I think he is in line for a great season. Justin Thomas played extensively a year ago for the Jackets, and those close to the program believe he is better suited to run the offense than Vad Lee. Tim Byerly provides a nice 1-2 punch there as well. Miami simply has no answers at quarterback right now. Kevin Olsen still has to prove he is the right man for the job (forget the fact he has never taken a snap in a college game). If he's not, Miami turns to a fifth-year senior in his third different program learning a new scheme essentially on the fly. Easy to see why I have concerns about Miami's quarterback.


Wayne in Tallahassee, Florida, writes: Will you remind these "Cane fans" they lost to Duke last year! I'm getting tired of this fan base claiming "Da U Da best." For a school that prides itself on academics, it sure does have a lot of illiterate fans/alumni! I know it may seem like a shot at Duke, but it isn't. Just a friendly reminder you can't say a school is garbage and call your school " the best" when said school beat you!

Adelson: I think you just reminded them yourself!


Jerry Ballard in Richmond, Virginia, writes: I do realize that UVa has not had much to be positive about in recent years... But is it wrong to think they will be a lot more successful, now that we have a legit QB playing this season? Fewer interceptions means better ball control, better field positioning, better time possession for our offense. Do you feel that UVa can turn the tide on our losing ways, now that we have a smart QB?

Adelson: Of the ACC teams that finished with losing records last season, I think Virginia will have the best win total increase this season. There is no doubt this team has been hurt because of its recent quarterback struggles. If Greyson Lambert plays well, Virginia is capable of being a bowl team. Having said that, the schedule is absolutely brutal. With a nonconference schedule like NC State's, Virginia absolutely would make a bowl. Instead, I think the Hoos will have a tough time getting to six.


Jay in Pittsburgh writes: Andrea, isn't No. 93 low for Tyler Boyd in the top 100? Don't you think he's a potential Heisman candidate this year?

Adelson: Yes, it is low. We had Boyd ranked in the top 15 of our ACC player countdown. Part of the issue there is I don't think he has a national name just yet, so perhaps folks outside this region who contributed to the Top 100 rankings undervalued what type of impact he makes in a game. As for the Heisman, I'd call Boyd a big-time dark horse at the outset.


Juan in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writes: With what looks like a mas exodus of scholly players from UNC, whom would you now have as the Coastal favorite?

Adelson: Still got Duke there.


Greg in Washington, D.C., writes: Andrea, that no Wake Forest players (rightfully) made it onto your preseason list of ACC Top 25 players is a testament to the barren cupboard of talent left for Dave Clawson. Are there any incoming (or young and unproven) players we should keep an eye on for a future top-25 list? Or maybe even your end-of-2014 list?

Adelson: He is not young, but cornerback Kevin Johnson is somebody to keep an eye on for the final Top 25. Not many people know who he is, but he is in the next tier of ACC cornerbacks behind the elite players at Florida State and Virginia Tech.

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 1, 2014
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As many schools open fall camp this weekend, talking season will die down.
And if you've been following along during this seemingly eternal offseason, you know that this year's chatter among coaches in particular has been extra salty.

Colleague Chris Low examined the dynamic in a column Thursday, looking at some of the jabs between coaches during July. The Wall Street Journal takes a different spin on things, looking at which coaches from each conference are the biggest chatterboxes.

The result, at least in the ACC, is a bit surprising.

Syracuse's Scott Shafer comes away with the title, having said 2,075 words on a transcript the WSJ analyzed. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer was the least talkative, at 1,153 words.

The Beamer bit is not all that shocking. But the fact that Jimbo Fisher or Dabo Swinney is not at the top certainly raised an eyebrow. Math is math and it is difficult to argue, so we'll reason that Fisher's fast-talking ways make it seem like he says a lot more than he actually does. And, well, who can forget some of Dabo's jabs last month?

As the old adage goes, sometimes it's about quality, not quantity, especially during talking season.

As for the rest of your ACC links ...

FSU No. 1 in coaches' poll

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC's lunchtime links

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

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

A school spokesman confirmed the departures to ESPN.com.

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

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

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

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

Here's to relatively quiet camps this next month.

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

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

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

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

ACC's lunchtime links

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

I'd say these photos are proof of that.

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

A new and improved Williams indeed.

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

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

Now, here is a look at more headlines across the ACC:
 
There’s a lot to like about this year’s North Carolina roster, Larry Fedora admits. There are far more options now than there had been in his first two years in Chapel Hill, and when pressed for positions of strength at last week’s ACC Kickoff, the UNC coach reeled off a long list that included the tailbacks, the secondary, the receivers and even quarterback, where the Tar Heels are embroiled in a full-fledged competition for the starting job.

But for a team with eyes on a division title, there was one area that was noticeably absent from Fedora’s accounting of talent: the line of scrimmage.

On this point, Fedora is of two minds. On the offensive side of the ball, he readily admits that line is his biggest concern. Experience is limited, injuries were rampant, and question marks exist in key areas. The progress the O-line makes in camp, Fedora said, will have a massive impact on the Tar Heels’ season.

[+] EnlargeNorkeithus Otis
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesNorkeithus Otis is a key man up front for a revamped Tar Heels defensive line.
But what about the other side of the ball? The losses on the defensive front were massive, too. Defensive end Kareem Martin (21.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks) is gone. Pass rusher Darius Lipford (6 TFL, 2.5 sacks) followed. Among the returning defenders, only Norkeithus Otis had as many as two sacks last season.

And while the offensive line endured its share of struggles in 2013, the defensive line might have been North Carolina’s biggest weakness.

The Heels finished 2013 last in the ACC in rushing defense, surrendering 182.4 yards per game on the ground. UNC’s defense was 10th in the league in yards per carry, 11th in tackles for loss, and it allowed more than 200 yards per game on the ground in its six losses.

The defensive front was an area of concern in 2013 that lost its biggest star, and yet Fedora still thinks there’s cause for optimism.

“Across the entire front, we probably don’t have that name guy that everybody’s talking about, but I think that’s great motivation for those kids,” Fedora said. “I would say we have some numbers right now, some guys that can play, quite a few guys we feel comfortable with in the rotation.”

That list starts with Otis, who returns at UNC’s bandit position as the team’s most fearsome pass rusher. Behind Otis, Fedora believes Shakeel Rashad is ready to blossom into a productive performer. On the line, a trio of seniors — Ethan Farmer, Shawn Underwood and Devonte Brown -- bring veteran stability, while redshirt freshmen Dajaun Drennon, Nazair Jones and Greg Webb are poised to make an immediate impact.

In other words, the sheer quantity of options is enough to offer hope for improvement.

“We have a lot of guys ready to step up,” Otis said. “We have a lot of guys getting bigger, getting better.”

Otis said he’s been pleased with the work his teammates have put in over the offseason, and he envisions a group far more prepared for the rigors of the season than it was a year ago.

If that’s the case, it could mean avoiding another catastrophic opening act for the Heels’ defense, which actually improved dramatically as the season progressed in 2013.

Last September was a nightmare. UNC allowed a whopping 234 yards per game on the ground in the season’s opening month, allowing nine rushing touchdowns in four games. But in the season’s final nine games, that average dipped to a more respectable 159 yards per game rushing, and the opposition found the end zone on the ground just 10 more times.

That’s progress, Otis believes, and even with some new faces in key roles, it’s a trend he believes the unit is ready to build from.

“I’ve seen a major difference,” Otis said. “I’ve seen the guys working harder, watching film, teaching the younger guys, trying to get better each and every day.”
In every class there are must-get recruits for schools. They can be a top uncommitted prospect or even a pledge who is essential to keep in the fold.

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

Top ACC players: Nos. 15-11

July, 30, 2014
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As we get set to open fall camps around the ACC, we're counting down the conference's Top 25 players -- five per day all this week.

15. Anthony Harris, Virginia Cavaliers
Safety, senior
His junior stats speak for themselves, leading the nation with eight interceptions. Even more impressive is he picked off an opposing quarterback in five straight games, an even tougher feat considering Virginia spent much of last season on the wrong end of a blowout. The unquestioned leader of the Cavaliers defense, Harris will have to repeat his performance from last season as well as raise his teammates' level of play if Virginia is going to return to bowl eligibility. Harris also will be saddled with grooming Quin Blanding, a five-star freshman.

14. Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh Panthers
Wide receiver, sophomore
With Aaron Donald, Tom Savage and Devin Street all moved on, Boyd is the face of the program. The second-year player is the lone Panthers representative on the team's media guide. He totaled nearly 1,200 receiving yards last season, but don't be surprised if those numbers increase. He is the only proven receiving target, and first-year starter Chad Voytik will need a security blanket. Boyd is one of the most explosive players in the conference, and he could easily lead the ACC in catches and yards this season.

13. Ryan Switzer, North Carolina Tar Heels
Wide receiver/punt returner, sophomore
It speaks volumes about a player's game-breaking ability when he ranks No. 13 on the list following a season with just 32 catches and 341 yards receiving. But Switzer earns the accolades considering how dynamic he is on special teams. He returned 25 punts last season and he took five back for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record. Scoring on 20 percent of your punt returns is an unheard of number. Chad Owens, who shares the record with Switzer, needed 36 returns. Devin Hester scored on less than 10 percent of his returns when he broke the NFL record with four punt return scores in 2007.

12. Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State Seminoles
Defensive lineman, junior
The best indicator on Edwards' junior season will be analyzing the statistics of those around the former No. 1 recruit nationally. The Seminoles' scheme won't consistently put Edwards in a position to rack up sacks or tackles for loss, but he will be the focal point of a defensive line filled with blue-chip prospects. Edwards will be asked to take on double-teams to open up room for his fellow linemen and to allow Florida State's athletic linebackers to run freely toward the football. On the occasions Edwards doesn't command a double-team, it could be a repeat of the national championship game when Edwards, listed at 294 pounds, was running down Auburn's Nick Marshall.

11. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech Hokies
Cornerback, sophomore
A preseason All-ACC selection, Fuller is poised to not just follow in brother Kyle's footsteps but to surpass him. The 2013 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, Fuller has the tools to be the next elite defensive back to come through Blacksburg. He played in every game last season and picked off six passes. Fuller is also a factor in defending the run, totaling 58 tackles. At nearly 200 pounds, Fuller is rarely going to get bullied by opposing receivers.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 29, 2014
Jul 29
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video

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why North Carolina will win the Coastal

The running game. Last year’s team struggled to run the ball, finishing 11th overall in the conference in rushing with QB Marquise Williams serving as the team’s leading rusher. But dig a little deeper into the numbers and a more optimistic narrative unfolds. In UNC’s first seven games, it averaged 102 yards on the ground, 2.8 yards per carry and scored six rushing touchdowns. In its last six games, that average jumped to 202 yards per game, 5.1 yards per carry and the Heels scored 13 times on the ground. Now Larry Fedora’s crew adds hulking freshman Elijah Hood to a backfield that already includes T.J. Logan, Khris Francis and Romar Morris and promises to be one of the deepest, most diverse units in the league.

Special teams are special. Only Bowling Green (10) had more non-offensive touchdowns last season than UNC (9), and the Tar Heels’ special teams were a big reason why. Ryan Switzer was an All-American, scoring five times on punt returns last year, but Fedora says his sophomore only scratched the surface of his talent. Switzer may get work on kick returns this year, too. And even if teams work to avoid kicking to Switzer this year, he says that's fine by him. It will simply mean UNC will start every drive with solid field position as the opposition boots them short or out of bounds.

The QB competition. While the rest of the league is searching for one quarterback it can count on, North Carolina’s quandary is how to find reps for both of its QBs. Williams led the Tar Heels to a 6-1 finish last year and showed he can command the offense. Mitch Trubisky was a top recruit with a strong arm and impressive mobility. Fedora said he believes he can win with both -- and that means both will likely see some playing time. There may not be another team in the conference with as much depth at the QB spot as Carolina enjoys.

Why North Carolina won’t win the Coastal

The QB competition. Wait, what were we just saying about the advantages of having two QBs? You know the old saying — if you have two quarterbacks, you’ve got none. That may not necessarily apply to UNC’s situation, but regardless which QB is tabbed as the starter, the expectations will be high and any early struggles could quickly lead to a restless fan base and a divided locker room.

The offensive line. Fedora has been blunt in saying the Tar Heels will likely go just as far as their revamped offensive line can carry them. The unit lost two starters to the NFL after last season, and a host of spring injuries meant there was no time for cohesion to be built among the newcomers. Bentley Spain could be a breakout star at left tackle, but for a team with eyes on an ACC title, relying on a true freshman at that position is never an ideal scenario.

They’re just too young. It’s both exciting and unnerving, Fedora admits. He has just six seniors on his team. The offensive line has only three juniors on the entire depth chart. A host of key personnel on both sides of the ball are freshmen and sophomores. Yes, this is Year 3 for Fedora, and he believes last year’s strong finish was a good sign that players are beginning to grasp his philosophy, but with youth come mistakes, and in a crowded Coastal, there may not be room for too many setbacks.

ACC lunch links: Bulk on the O-line

July, 28, 2014
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It was an ugly year for Pitt’s offensive line in 2013 by virtually any measure.

No line in the ACC allowed more sacks than the 43 coughed up by the Panthers.

The 3.62 yards per rush for Pitt’s ground game ranked 12th in the conference, despite two 700-yard rushers on the roster.

Against AQ-conference teams, the Panthers mustered just 2.35 yards per carry -- a league worst.

But there is plenty of optimism that things will be better for Pitt in 2014, and one of the reasons for that optimism is that Pitt will be bigger.

Per the Pittsburgh Tribune:
When training camp opens next Sunday, Pitt's offensive linemen will stand, on average, taller than 6-foot-5 and weigh 311.4 pounds. That's not unlike how it was in 2011 when former coach Todd Graham's line stood at 6-5 and 313 pounds. But it's a half-inch taller and more than 16 pounds heavier than in Dave Wannstedt's final season in 2010.

Obviously there’s a lot more than goes into a successful O line than simply height and weight, and as the Tribune notes in its story, Paul Chryst will pick his starters based on ability, not size. But bulking up in the trenches is generally a sign of good things to come.

Take, for example, what Jimbo Fisher built at Florida State. As the Tallahassee Democrat noted this week, expectations are immensely high for FSU’s senior-laden offensive line, which features four returning starters.

But take a look at 2011. FSU’s O line returned plenty of starters then, too, but the group was simply awful. Injuries played a part, sure, but what Fisher learned early on was that the Seminoles simply didn’t have the bodies up front for his offense to run as efficiently as he wanted.

For the 2011 opener, FSU’s line averaged about 308 pounds. The interior of the line (a young Bryan Stork, David Spurlock and Jacob Fahrenkrug) averaged about 302 pounds. The expected line for the opener in 2014 checks in averaging 315 pounds with the interior group (Austin Barron, Tre' JacksonJosue Matias) in the neighborhood of 316.

The results for Florida State:

2011: 3.34 yards-per-carry (9th in ACC), 40 sacks
2012: 5.62 yards-per-carry (1st), 26 sacks
2013: 5.63 yards-per-carry (1st), 33 sacks

There’s no question there has been a significant upgrade in talent -- Barron, Jackson and Matias were part of the freshman-heavy line that started 2011’s bowl game -- but there was a clear upgrade in size, too.

And make no mistake, there is talent on Pitt’s O line. Adam Bisnowaty and Dorian Johnson were both four-star recruits. Matt Rotheram is an All-ACC caliber player. There’s depth with the likes of Jaryd Jones-Smith.

But there’s also size for Pitt’s line, which now -- from a physical standpoint anyway -- measures up favorably against the best of the ACC.

Left tackle: Pitt (Bisnowaty, 6-6/305); FSU (Cam Erving, 6-6/308)
Left guard: Pitt (Johnson, 6-5/300); FSU (Matias, 6-6/325)
Center: Pitt (Artie Rowell, 6-2/315); FSU (Barron, 6-3/293)
Right guard: Pitt (Rotheram, 6-6/335); FSU (Jackson, 6-4/330)
Right tackle: Pitt (T.J. Clemmings, 6-6/315); FSU (Bobby Hart, 6-4/320)
Average: Pitt (6-5/314); FSU (6-4.5/315)

On to more links …
Earlier this week, I asked: Will Miami win the Coastal Division? Over 3,000 votes were cast, and the overwhelming majority say absolutely not.

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

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

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




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

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

Adelson writes: Crazy like foxes!




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

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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 24, 2014
Jul 24
12:00
PM ET
Two Miami topics up for discussion this fine lunch hour.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
 
 

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

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

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

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

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

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