ACC: North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC morning links

August, 27, 2014
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If the first season is usually when a coach gets the benefit of the doubt, Year 2 is when fans want to see improvement so that by Year 3 the coaching staff's plan is coming to fruition.

The ACC has three second-year coaches, each with differing expectations. Athlon Sports took a look at those coaches and what the 2014 outlook is for each coach's program.

Writer Steven Lassan states Boston College's Steve Addazio exceeded expectations in his inaugural season as BC's coach, and there is little doubt Addazio did a great job getting to a bowl game. Without Andre Williams it will be a challenge to get back to a bowl game, but the first half of the schedule sets up pretty nicely.

A bowl game in 2013 and key returners has Syracuse fans believing Scott Shafer will keep the Orange moving in the right direction. There are only two games on the schedule where the Orange will not be given a great chance to win, so there is an expectation for Syracuse to once again be bowl eligible.

At NC State, Dave Doeren is given a partial pass last season after losing his starting quarterback. While the Wolfpack have a long way to go, Doeren has his quarterback in Jacoby Brissett. There is definitely an expectation the Wolfpack will be better, and they can't be much worse after going winless in the ACC last season. Brissett was a highly regarded quarterback coming out of high school, so there is the potential NC State can surprise some teams this season and pull off an upset or two.

Here's a few more links to help you through the day. Remember, we get FBS football tomorrow!

ACC fearless predictions

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

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

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

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

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

3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.

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

4. Virginia goes bowling.

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

5. Clemson is a running team.

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

6. Young runners make a big impact.

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

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

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

8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.

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

9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.

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

10. The Coastal champ will be ...

Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.

ACC morning links

August, 26, 2014
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ESPN Stats & Information has unveiled its first set of conference power rankings for 2014.

What if I told you the ACC was ranked fifth?

Not surprising in the least.

At this point, it is hard to see the ranking as a huge slap at the league, considering the ACC also was ranked fifth in the final 2013 conference power rankings with a national championship and Orange Bowl win to brag about. The ranking speaks to the state of the entire conference, which we all can agree needs to upgrade its product behind the Noles and Tigers.

The key difference between last season and this season, though, is the College Football Playoff. And conference ranking could come into play when the selection committee begins its evaluations. Because strength of schedule will matter. As our friends at Stats & Info point out in their post:
Among Power Five conferences, the ACC is considered the weakest by both the AP Poll and FPI. That means that if the top four conferences place a team in the playoff, it would leave the ACC on the outside looking in. Yet, there is a lot more that goes into those decisions, including the fact that the ACC has the clear No. 1 team in the country. Florida State received 57 of 60 first place votes in the AP Poll and has by far the best chance (39 percent) to finish the season undefeated according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

However, what if Florida State loses a conference game? Does the relative strength of the ACC come into play?

All fun questions to ponder before the season begins.

Let's take a tour around the rest of the ACC as the games quickly approach:
  • Boston College may use its running backs out of the backfield more than it did a year ago.
  • Clemson has studied tape from its game against Florida State last year for clues on how Jeremy Pruitt will run the Georgia defense.
  • Duke football has come so far, what if it takes a step back?
  • More fun predictions! Stewart Mandel at FoxSports has Florida State in the playoff and Clemson facing Alabama in the Discover Orange Bowl.
  • Louisville running back Michael Dyer remains doubtful for the opener against Miami.
  • Ryan Williams and Jake Heaps talk about Brad Kaaya winning the Miami quarterback job.
  • Joe Giglio has a great read on NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has high expectations for himself headed into the season.
  • Is North Carolina going to be the Coastal champ? One columnist says yes.
  • Apparently, Larry Fedora takes pleasure in tormenting people.
  • Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer compared freshman receiver Isaiah Ford to Antonio Freeman.
  • Could Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel be Wake Forest's best cornerbacks ... ever?
The biggest problem facing the ACC moving forward in the College Football Playoff era is not the teams at the top of the league.

It is everybody else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia Tech, Miami, Clemson and Florida State.

The ACC needs more of that.

By the numbers: Tight end talent

August, 21, 2014
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Much has been written about Florida State’s new-look receiving corps this offseason, including:
So, with all that talk about receivers, it’s not surprising that perhaps the Seminoles’ biggest mismatch in the passing game has dipped a bit beneath the radar.

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
Jeanine Leech/Icon SMINick O'Leary might go down as the best tight end in Florida State history.
That, of course, would be tight end Nick O'Leary, who projects to depart after this season as the best at his position in school history, notes Tomahawk Nation.

O’Leary could be crucial for Florida State this season as the Seminoles look for a red-zone target to replace the departed Kelvin Benjamin and a reliable receiver to take some pressure off the sure-handed Rashad Greene.

Based on last year’s statistics, O’Leary should be an obvious answer in both cases.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, O’Leary was targeted 10 times in the red zone last season, trailing only Greene (14) and Benjamin (13).

O’Leary also caught 8 of 9 passes thrown to him on third down, easily the highest percentage among FSU’s receivers last season.

And then there’s this: Among all ACC teams, no tight ends had a higher percentage of targets caught than Florida State (79.5 percent) and none averaged more yards per target (13.1) or reception (16.5) than the Seminoles. FSU also tied with Clemson and Boston College for the most touchdown receptions by a tight end last year with seven.

That’s serious production for a unit that also figures to have a healthy No. 2 option in Kevin Haplea this year, too, and it’s made O’Leary a clear All-American candidate.

O’Leary was targeted just 42 times last year, however, and that number figures to increase quite a bit in 2014. Would a 50-catch, 10-TD season be out of the question? That might actually be a starting point for predictions.

But Florida State isn’t the only ACC team with some tight-end talking points. Here are a few more ACC tight-end tidbits, courtesy ESPN Stats & Info.

  • Earlier this week, we wrote about Virginia Tech’s emerging weapons at the position. Coordinator Scott Loeffler has made a habit of using his tight ends in every other offense he’s been a part of, but when starter Ryan Malleck went down last year in fall camp, it put a crimp in the Hokies’ plans. Expect much bigger things in 2014.
  • Pitt is hoping to use its tight ends more, too, as The Post-Gazette noted earlier this week. That would mark a significant change of direction for the Panthers. Just 9.7 percent of their passing yards last year went to tight ends — the fourth-lowest percentage in the league.
  • The three most targeted tight ends in the ACC last year won’t be around in 2014. UNC’s Eric Ebron is off to the NFL, Virginia’s Jake McGee transferred to Florida, and Duke’s Braxton Deaver is out for the season after an ACL injury earlier this week.
  • How big might the Deaver injury be for Duke? One notch below O’Leary’s big numbers for Florida State was Deaver. Duke’s tight ends accounted for the league’s second-best completion percentage (78.5 percent) and yards-per-target (9.9). David Reeves likely steps in as the starter, but the guy to watch out for in Duke’s passing game, according to QB Anthony Boone, will be redshirt senior Issac Blakeney (6-6, 225), whom Boone described as “Kelvin Benjamin-esque.”
  • The loss of McGee might be a mixed bag for Virginia. No team in the conference targeted its tight ends more (120 times) and none received less production from those targets (4.7 yards per target). Overall Virginia’s tight ends caught just 52.5 percent of their targets, with McGee hauling in just 53.1 percent of his targets.
  • Miami’s Clive Walford could be a crucial player for the Hurricanes’ offense in 2014. With a new QB taking the reins, Walford makes for a fun target. No ACC tight end had a higher percentage of his yards come after the catch last year than he did (61.5 percent). The downside? Walford also had more drops than any other ACC tight end (six).
With the news that Ohio State lost quarterback Braxton Miller for the season, USA Today wondered what the effect might be of a major injury on a few of the other top College Football Playoff candidates, including Florida State.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsEven with second-stringer Sean Maguire at quarterback, Florida State would be an ACC favorite. But maybe not a national favorite.
According to the story, a switch from Jameis Winston to Sean Maguire at QB would mean roughly 10 fewer points per game and two fewer wins for FSU.
Substitute Maguire for Winston and the Noles still win the ACC championship, but without Winston they only average 33.9 points per game and win 9.4 games on average.

The Orlando Sentinel digs a bit deeper, looking at what the ramifications of a Winston injury might be for the Seminoles.

I didn’t crunch any serious numbers, as USA Today did, or dig too deep into the roster the way the Sentinel did, but if I was putting together a list of the ACC’s most irreplaceable players, it’d probably look something like this:

1. Winston — for obvious reasons, as discussed above.

2. Duke Johnson — We saw what happened last year when he went down. Miami was 7-0 with him healthy, 2-4 when he wasn’t on the field the whole game. Not to mention the Hurricanes' rushing average was cut in half.

3. Jamison Crowder - The guy was targeted 174 times last year (40 more than Sammy Watkins) and that was before Duke lost Braxton Deaver and Brandon Connette.

4. Eli Harold - The guy averaged 24 more snaps per game than All-American Vic Beasley did, and Virginia’s defense is predicated on penetrating the line of scrimmage.

5. Jacoby Brissett — OK, NC State might not do much this year even with Brissett, but what’s the option if he goes down? The Pack’s hopes for 2014 are riding almost entirely on his shoulders, and unlike last year, there’s actually some reason for optimism.

Beyond that top five, Mario Edwards Jr., Luther Maddy, Norkeithus Otis and Tyler Boyd come to mind, too.

Of course, there’s surely a few more players left off the list that warrant discussion. So, who’d we miss?

A few more links:

  • The (Syracuse) Post-Standard has Virginia’s Mike London as the ACC’s only coach on the hot seat this season. One reason London is on the hot seat: a lack of production in spite of talent. Virginia is 18-31 under London. Only eight other teams have performed worse during the past four years, and of that group, only Cal has signed more four-star and five-star recruits than the 19 signed by London, according to ESPN’s rankings. (Of note: Kentucky has signed 16, but 14 have come in the last two years since Mark Stoops was hired as head coach. The other six programs with worse records than Virginia during that stretch have signed just 30 four-star or five-star recruits.)
  • The Wall Street Journal took a look at how each Power 5 conference coach has done against top-25 opposition in his career. The Louisville Courier-Journal followed up with a deeper look at Bobby Petrino’s credentials as well as a look at the individual ACC coaches.
  • There are still plenty of starting jobs up for grabs on the Virginia Tech offensive depth chart, as The Roanoke Times points out.
  • For years, Jim Grobe avoided playing true freshmen at Wake Forest. In the first season under Dave Clawson, it appears as many as nine will get a chance to play in this year’s opener, the Winston-Salem Journal writes.
  • And on related notes, earlier this week Matt Fortuna wrote a bit about Clawson’s journey to Wake Forest, and Jared Shanker looked at the programs most apt to play true freshmen.
  • Duke certainly projects to have a speedy secondary, which has earned the unit a unique nickname, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Steven Daniels is in line to be the next great middle linebacker at Boston College, writes the Boston Herald.
  • And lastly, if you don’t hear from me for the next 10 days, it’s because FXX is marathoning every “The Simpsons” episode ever, starting today. Here’s the full schedule if you’re portioning out your time to the most important episodes (“Marge vs. the Monorail is tomorrow at 9 p.m.) and here’s your requisite Simpsons gif to showcase my feelings about the event.

ACC morning links

August, 20, 2014
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Wake Forest received some encouraging news following a scary situation over the weekend, as tight end Zach Gordon is responding to treatment and improving after leaving Sunday's scrimmage on a stretcher and being taken to the hospital.

Team physician Dr. David Martin and head athletic trainer Nick Richey released a statement saying that Gordon's injury is non-life threatening.

From the statement, per the Star News' Brett Friedlander:
“During Sunday’s scrimmage, Zach Gordon sustained a serious, non-life threatening spinal injury,” the statement said. “All of our structural testing thus far has been favorable. He remains hospitalized at Wake Forest Baptist Health. Zach is improving and based on all indications, we expect him to continue to improve. We do not yet have a firm timeline for his return to activity.”

Gordon was expected to play a big role this season for the Demon Deacons after being limited to a special teams role last season, when he played in all 12 games. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder from Carrollton, Georgia, was in line for a starting job. Obviously, football takes a backseat at this moment, as the status of his playing future remains up in the air. But the news from Wake's medical staff certainly comes as a sigh of relief.

In other, seemingly minor injury news from earlier this week, Syracuse took a big hit offensively as top tight end Josh Parris suffered a knee injury that will require surgery Wednesday and places his status in doubt for the beginning of the season, and possibly more. In the meantime, the Orange will be forced to turn to Kendall Moore and Tyler Provo moving forward.

Elsewhere in the ACC ...

ACC morning links

August, 19, 2014
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It is nearly time to begin preparing for Week 1 matchups. Does it surprise anybody that there are still unanswered questions at quarterback for three Coastal Division contenders?

Miami held a scrimmage Monday night in which true freshman Brad Kaaya continued to impress, throwing two touchdown passes. Transfer Jake Heaps, competing for the starting job, sat out the scrimmage to rest his arm. Coach Al Golden has repeatedly said he would name his starter following both scrimmages. Kevin Olsen is suspended for at least the opener; Kaaya played in both scrimmages; Heaps in just one. Do we read anything into where this leads headed into the opener against Louisville?

Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, coach Larry Fedora said he will not publicly announce his starter before kickoff against Liberty on Aug. 30. Returning starter Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky have been in a dogged competition. The Tar Heels will begin game prep Wednesday.

"We'll make a decision before the 30th," Fedora said. "I mean, you guys won't know it. But we will make a decision before the 30th. We'll start as we get into the game-planning, we'll have a plan what we're going to do and how we're going to implement it and those guys will be aware of it.

"It won't be like we walk out there on the 30th and I flip a coin and throw one of them out there."

Finally, the race to start at Virginia Tech is down to Michael Brewer and Mark Leal. Brenden Motley, who left the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, has been dealing with back issues throughout fall camp and has fallen out of the competition. Brewer and Leal split first-team reps during a weekend scrimmage, but a decision remains up in the air.

Now here is quick look at other headlines across the ACC:

ACC morning links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC mailblog

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

Adelson writes: Thanks, Greg. Shoutout to Peter Boulware for an outstanding season. Just to clarify: We did not rank the best individual defensive performances in ACC history. We merely listed the best single-season performance in school history for all 14 ACC schools. Jameis Winston took that honor for Florida State. Chris Low ranked the 10 best defensive seasons of all-time.
Over on his Insider blog, our pal Travis Haney found some concerns Insider with a few of ESPN's preseason Top 25 teams, including one contender from the ACC. Haney isn't convinced North Carolina is ready to turn the corner, and while there are plenty of reasons for concern — the O line, the D line, the youth — he's got a different bone to pick with the Tar Heels.

From Haney:
But the main reason to doubt the Tar Heels being a top-25 team?

"One word: discipline," a coach in the league told me this week. "Too many personal fouls and unsportsmanlike calls."

UNC was 112th in the FBS in penalties per game (7.4) a year ago. That sounds like a product of what coach Larry Fedora calls a "young" team. And it explains why I like Duke more as a top-25 choice, even if the talent balance tips in UNC's favor.

Penalties are a particular annoyance for coaches, and that's often because they view flags and discipline as mutually exclusive — just as this ACC coach did with Haney.

But, of course, there's nuance that comes with penalties, and racking up a bunch of flags over the course of a season doesn't necessarily mean a team lacks discipline.

First off, let's examine the basic stat: Penalties per game. Add up the flags, divide them by games, voila. The problem, however, is that "a game" is not necessarily an equivalent measure among teams. Texas Tech played 13 games and ran 1,135 plays last year. Miami played 13 games and ran 315 fewer plays.

Those same differences can occur on defense, too. Missouri faced 350 more snaps on defense last yfear than its SEC counterpart, Florida.

So let's get a better idea of just how likely a team is to be flagged on a play by adding up all the snaps that occur during the course of a season (offense, defense and special teams) and divide that by its total flags.

What we find is that even for the "least disciplined" teams, flags occur only about 5 percent of the time — or one out of every 20 snaps. That's really not much, which should be our first sign that perhaps the impact of flags is a bit overrated.

But let's stick with the theory a bit longer. Turns out, even if we view penalties as a percentage of total snaps, the Tar Heels don't look too hot. They're ranked 109th out of 125 teams.

Before we bury the Heels' though, let's look at which teams finished with a higher rate of flags. There were some bad ones (USF, Florida, Memphis, Kansas) and there were some good ones (Louisville, UCLA, LSU). In other words, there's not a ton of commonality except, perhaps, this: A lot of those up-tempo offensive teams also had a particularly high rate of penalties. Baylor (123rd), UCLA (120th), Syracuse (119th), Oregon (118th), Washington (115th), Texas Tech (104th) and BYU (102nd) are all tempo offenses and all had a high percentage of flags.

And that makes some sense. When you move fast, you're apt to make mistakes. Obviously most of those coaches are more than happy to make that trade-off, however, even if they'll still moan and gripe about discipline.

The reason they'll make that trade-off is because the tempo helps the offense, and if the offense is going good, the penalties really don't matter. In fact, here's how much they don't matter in terms of comparisons of the 10 most penalized (by percentage of total plays) Power Five conference teams last year and the 10 least penalized.



The yards-per-play stat is perhaps a bit misleading since that's strictly looking at offense, and flags can occur on D or special teams, too. But think of it this way: If you get a flag at any point, that costs yards. So to offset flags, you need to gain yards. And if we even account for lost penalty yardage, the most-flagged group still averages 5.20 yards per play, while the least-flagged group averaged 5.13.

(Though, it's worth noting regarding Haney's direct comparison of Duke and UNC -- the Heels had the 10th highest rate of flags among Power Five teams and averaged 4.99 yards per play after subtracting lost penalty yards, while Duke had the 11th lowest rate and averaged 5.31 yards per play, less penalty yardage.)

Now, we're not the first folks to do this exercise, certainly. And even most coaches know a certain number of penalties come with the territory when your team is playing fast and tough. It's what good teams do.

It's just that they're still apt to complain about the flags because that's what coaches do, too.

"As a team, we will do much better this year," Larry Fedora said. "That is a major point of emphasis for our football team. We're going to play smart. We say smart, fast and physical, but the smart part comes first."

North Carolina Tar Heels season preview

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the season for the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Key returners: QB Marquise Williams (1,765 passing yards, 536 rushing yards, 16 TDs), RB T.J. Logan (533 rushing yards, 4 TDs), WR Quinshad Davis (48 catches, 730 yards, 10 TDs), WR/PR Ryan Switzer (872 all-purpose yards, 8 TDs), LB Jeff Schoettmer (85 tackles), LB Norkeithus Otis (13 TFL, 7.5 sacks), LB Travis Hughes (76 tackles), S Dominique Green (3 INTs)

Key losses: TE Eric Ebron (62 catches, 973 yards), RB A.J. Blue (298 yards), LT James Hurst, C Russell Bodine, DB Tre Boston (94 tackles, 5 INTs), DE Kareem Martin (21.5 TFLs, 11.5 sacks), DB Jabari Price (80 tackles, 9 pass breakups)

Most important games: Sept. 27 at Clemson, Oct. 4 vs. Virginia Tech, Oct. 11 at Notre Dame, Nov. 1 at Miami, Nov. 20 at Duke

Projected win percentage: .703

Vegas over/under: 8.5 wins

[+] EnlargeMarquise Williams
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesMarquise Williams completed 58.1 percent of his passes last season.
Instant impact newcomers: Running back Elijah Hood is 220 pounds of brute force who figures to be a major asset in UNC’s ground game from the outset. True freshman Bentley Spain is in the mix for the starting job at left tackle, though spring injuries limited him in the early going. Redshirt freshman Dajaun Drennon could see significant playing time on a badly depleted defensive line. And of course, there’s the issue of quarterback, where redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky is still hoping to unseat Williams as the starter.

Biggest question mark: The line of scrimmage. Larry Fedora says the offensive line may well dictate just how good UNC is as a team, and with the losses of two key players from last year’s group and a host of spring injuries, there are still plenty of questions left to be answered in that area. But if the O-line is a major question mark, the D-line isn’t much more settled. The losses of Kareem Martin (11.5 sacks) and Tim Jackson leave a major void, and some of the talent expected to help fill the gaps -- Shawn Underwood, Greg Webb -- was ruled ineligible before the start of fall camp.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Fedora finds his quarterback, the O-line jells quickly, the rushing defense improves dramatically from a year ago and UNC finally finds some consistency overall. The schedule won’t be an easy one, but if the Heels can get off to a quicker start this year than last, they remain a strong contender for the Coastal Division.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The luxury of having two good QBs devolves into a full-fledged quarterback controversy that never is resolved. The O-line looks shaky and the youth on defense becomes a major problem. Four of UNC’s toughest games are on the road, which is potentially problematic for a young team, which could mean last year’s strong finish fades to a distant memory by mid-October in 2014.

Number to know: 9. That’s the number of touchdowns scored last season by North Carolina’s defense and special teams -- tied with national champion Florida State for the most by any team from a Power Five conference. Overall, defense and special teams accounted for 16.4 percent of UNC’s touchdowns last year, the most by a Power Five conference team. Switzer led the way for the Tar Heels with five punt-return scores.

ACC recruits who fill biggest needs 

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

ACC morning links

August, 12, 2014
Aug 12
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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was in his element Sunday during his media day news conference. He was no longer answering questions about Jameis Winston or crab legs. Fisher was talking X's and O's, talking Football 101.

Fisher talked at length about how he studies a player to determine a his physical ceiling and what kind of bone structure and body type recruits possess. Fisher said it is not the deciding factor when he recruits a prospect, but it is without a doubt a factor. He likened it to basketball, where coaches often are more in love with a player's wingspan or vertical jump than his ability to shoot the basketball from 15 to 18 feet.

A protege of Nick Saban, Fisher likes physically stout players along the defensive line. Some of his defensive ends tip the scales at 300 pounds but still move as if they were 25 pounds lighter. He and Saban had them at LSU a decade ago, and Fisher has one at Florida State in Mario Edwards Jr., who was able to chase down Auburn's Nick Marshall on an option play.

Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel took a look at how Fisher has recruited during his tenure and the size of the players he has brought in.The class that signed in February averages 6-foot-3.5 and weighs 249 pounds. To put that into perspective, Bobby Bowden's final class at Florida State was two inches shorter and 26 pounds lighter.

While this 2014 class could be a bit of an outlier due to the sheer numbers of linemen Fisher signed, the statistics still offer an insight into how Fisher recruits. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly also said Sunday that he knows Fisher is looking for a certain body type depending on the position, so Kelly needs to take that into account when he's visiting high schools.

Here's a few more links to get your Tuesday started.

ACC rivalry heat meters

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

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

Florida State vs. Miami

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

The meter: Room temperature

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

Clemson vs. Florida State

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

The meter: Boiling

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

Duke vs. North Carolina

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

The meter: Heating up, NBA Jam style.

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

Dabo vs. Ol’ Ball Coach

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

The meter: Like bacon grease in a hot skillet.

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

Miami vs. Virginia Tech

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

The meter: Cooling

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

Florida vs. Florida State

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

The meter: Inherently high, but stagnant

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


Virginia vs. Virginia Tech

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

The meter: Falling, falling, falling.

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

NC State vs. North Carolina

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

The meter: Holding steady

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

Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

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

The meter: Surprisingly warm and susceptible to volatile jumps

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

Florida State vs. Louisville

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

The meter: Low but poised for a significant rise

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

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