ACC: Pittsburgh Panthers

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 mailblog

August, 22, 2014
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Just one Saturday left without football?! My oh my! Let's get to some mail.

Don writes: Your ESPN.com Preseason ACC team has lost all credibility when it failed to feature Tyler Boyd who was arguably the best receiver in the ACC last season as a freshman. While I agree Florida State has the best team on paper in the nation they do not have the top player in every position in the ACC.

Andrea Adelson: No, but they do have the best receiver in Rashad Greene. Boyd had a phenomenal freshman season, don't get me wrong. We all think he is fantastic. But the ACC is completely stacked at receiver headed into the season, and two worthy players were left off -- Boyd and DeVante Parker at Louisville. In the end, we decided on Crowder for a few reasons. His past performance cannot be ignored. Nor can the fact that he continues to be the focal point of the Duke offense. As David Hale points out, Crowder was targeted 174 times last season, and he delivered in every possible way. He is the most indispensable player on that team.


Stephen in Baku, Azerbaijan writes: Yes, there are ACC fans in Azerbaijan. My comment/question is about solving the mystery of the Clustal (cluster/Coastal). As opposed to looking at how they will do against each other, it is better to focus solely on who their two Atlantic foes are as they will likely beat each other up in divisional games. I'll rank the two cross division games per team by easiest to hardest. Duke: (Wake/Syracuse); VT: (BC/Wake); Pitt: (Syracuse/BC); GT: (Clemson/NCSU); UNC: (NCSU/Clemson); Miami: (FSU/Louisville); UVa: (Louisville/FSU) *poor UVa. So I would say a toss-up between Duke and VT for the Coastal in 2014. With recent losses of key personal for Duke, I'll crown VT as the champ and the ACC gets a sold out ACC championship game. What do you think of this logic?

Adelson: Salam, dostum! Your bit of logic is a huge reason why I had Duke as the Coastal champ. Those crossover schedules cannot be ignored. Now, I have been rethinking my choice after the recent Blue Devils injury news and now believe Virginia Tech has the best chance to win the division. Watch out for the Hokies!


Michael Lambert writes: Your piece on Bobby Petrino left out one very important item that helps put Tom Jurich's gamble on the job hopping Petrino in perspective. There is a buyout clause of $10 million dollars he must pay the school if he takes another coaching position within 4 years. The amount gradually lowers beyond that point, but he is paid well and it would make very little sense for him to pay a financial penalty to leave for many years to come. Your article and the associated comments make this relationship out to be one of blind faith and trust. Petrino is pretty much locked in here, but that was what he accepted to get his job back.

Adelson writes: You are absolutely right, Michael. It was an oversight to not include that information. I agree the $10 million is a huge incentive to stay, but there are others who don't ...


Matthew Caldwell in Endicott writes: Andrea, I believe Petrino will build up Louisville again and then bolt again when one of the big boys wants to take a chance on him. He won't turn down a big offer. I'm not buying his transformation.

Ray Marple in Springfield, Mo., writes: So much fluff for a horrible person. Second chance deserved or not -- Lord knows I've needed several -- one must truly go through difficulties in order to 'become a better person.' Living in college football purgatory for two years and 'almost losing his wife and family' aren't enough to arise and get a multi-million dollar job again. The position he put the U of A in and left them, as well as Jessica Dorrell -- NOT MENTIONED IN THE ARTICLE -- will take a lot more than two years to overcome. Perhaps his philanthropic Foundation can help everyone concerned. I hope you took a shower after submitting this article.

Adelson writes: Matthew and Ray are just two of many, many skeptics out there. We will only know in time whether Petrino truly has changed.


James Griffith in Moneta, Virginia, writes: Hi Andrea, Which FCS team is going to win this year against an ACC team? It happens every year. I think the Richmond Spiders will pull the upset of UVa. They almost beat NC State last year except for the last minute field goal. What about Gardner-Webb beating Wake Forest? It is time for the ACC to stop playing FCS teams. They have nothing to win by beating these teams and everything to lose. It does not look good for the entire conference when one team gets beat by a FCS team. I do not think anyone wants to buy tickets to a major beat down of a FCS team. They would be better off playing another conference game or at least someone in the same division. What do you think? Part II: Don't you feel that big schools have nothing to gain and everything to lose by playing FCS teams. Ask Michigan fans about Appalachian State or Virginia Tech about James Madison.

Adelson writes: Actually, the ACC won all its games against FCS competition last season. I am going to predict no FCS upsets again this season. Virginia will be better this season and take care of Richmond. Wake Forest is going to have its share of struggles, but Gardner-Webb is an average FCS team. I still think the Deacs win that one. As for the larger point in general, obviously it makes the conference look bad if one of its teams loses to an opponent from a lower division. Makes the program look bad, too, especially an elite one like Virginia Tech and Michigan (and Florida for that matter!). But the ACC coaches are pretty adamant that they want to continue scheduling these games because they believe they are good for health of college football in general. Most FCS programs are dependent on paydays from FBS schools, so it is supposed to benefit both parties. One school gets the "easy" win the other gets money that allows the program to remain viable. Sometimes it doesn't work out, but those upsets are not a comon occurrence.
Mariota-WinstonAP Photo, Getty ImagesOregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are the consensus top two quarterbacks in the country. Winston was better in 2013, but many think 2014 will be Mariota's year.
Reel it in, Florida State fans. They’re only projections.

ESPN.com and FoxSports.com released their preseason All-American teams Thursday, and Marcus Mariota received the quarterback nod above Jameis Winston in both, unleashing the hounds in Tallahassee and the Florida panhandle.

At the end of the day, there can be only one quarterback on the preseason team, and Mariota and Winston have the strongest cases for the nomination, without question. But while Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and had an unprecedented season for a freshman, it is quite conceivable that Mariota will have a better 2014 season, at least statistically. An All-American selection isn’t a qualifier to be the best player in the country, which Winston was voted in ESPN.com’s player rankings. Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings and a 21-game winning streak, yet has only been a first-team All-Pro selection twice.

Last season, Mariota threw 31 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He has only 10 interceptions in his two seasons. He’s totaled 700 yards rushing in both of his seasons, too. In Oregon’s up-tempo offense, if Mariota remains healthy, he could improve on all of those numbers.

The narrative all offseason was how it will be tough for Winston to replicate his 2013 numbers, which consisted of more than 4,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. With two of his top receivers gone, the passing game might not be as efficient, and coach Jimbo Fisher could rely on his rushing attack more in 2014.

Is it contrarian to select Mariota over the reigning Heisman winner and a quarterback yet to lose a game? Sure, but that does not mean there is not a legitimate argument for Mariota to be an All-American at the end of the season. And if the preseason team is a projection based on 2014 and not a reflection of 2013, Mariota has a sensible case for the quarterback nomination.

Here are a few more ACC links to get your weekend started:

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:
Paul ChrystCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPaul Chryst's commitment to his players has helped make Pitt an attractive option for transfers.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Paul Chryst was canvassing Heinz Field before last year's Notre Dame game when he made a beeline for David Robinson, whose son played for the Irish. Chryst re-introduced himself to the NBA legend, who was at Navy when Chryst's brother, Rick, worked for the Midshipmen's media relations staff. Robinson laughed during the conversation, and he could not help but relay it to Rick minutes after.

"He goes, 'David, Paul Chryst. I'm Ricky's brother,'" Rick recalled. "David goes, 'I thought you were the head coach.'"

Perhaps no story better encapsulates Chryst's understated approach as the public face of a storied program. The son of a Div. III coach, he has been in coaching his whole life, with his only "real" job coming as a teenager when he helped his two brothers on their paper routes. He has had 12 different gigs as a college and pro assistant at 10 different stops, including three separate stints as a player and coach at Wisconsin, where he ended up playing for three different head coaches as a result of the death of Dave McClain.

His background is familiar to a Pitt program that he has brought some stability to now in Year 3, as the Panthers remove further away from the unceremonious exits of Todd Graham and Mike Haywood. And it might also explain the ease with which Chryst has handled one of the team's biggest building blocks: transfers.

It's not that Chryst has welcomed in others at an alarming rate; it's just the success he's had doing so. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson thriving after joining the Badgers from NC State is one thing. Turning a nearly-broken Tom Savage last year into an attractive NFL quarterback — while relying this year on three different starters who began their careers elsewhere — is quite another.

Chryst insists he hasn't drawn up a secret formula for properly integrating newcomers, saying that simply doing enough homework raises the odds of them turning into success stories.

"If you're bringing someone in, we are truly spending time — even when Russell came in — spending time getting to know them," said Chryst, who was the Badgers' offensive coordinator for Wilson's lone year in Madison. "Spend time talking to people that know them, people that don't necessarily have a vested interest in them, and finding out who they are. Knowing if you have a need. Do they fit a need?"

This year's Pitt starters are expected to include a former Michigan safety (Ray Vinopal), a former Ohio State end (David Durham) and a former Wisconsin receiver (Manasseh Garner).

Vinopal had transferred before the 2011 season, sitting out during Graham's lone year at Pitt. A product of Youngstown, Ohio, powerhouse Cardinal Mooney, Vinopal found a sense of familiarity with Chryst when the coach initially addressed his new players.

"When I first met him, it was like he was saying everything that I did in high school, just on a grander stage," Vinopal said. "And that's when I knew — I had success in the past with it, and I know that Pitt's going to have success with it, in the future and this year."

Chad Voytik saw enough of the same in Chryst in a short amount of time to resist bolting for greener pastures after the coach he committed to, Graham, left for Arizona State. The quarterback even went as far as to help patch the rest of Pitt's 2012 class back together, sold on Chryst's refreshing blueprint to rebuild the program from the inside-out.

Chryst cited the wayward career of Voytik's predecessor, Savage, as an example of why he feels the need to make things right when players enter a new program. Savage sat out two straight seasons before 2013, having been at Rutgers and Arizona before departing the Wildcats due to a coaching change.

"I think you owe that to the player, too," Chryst said of his due diligence. "I know what happened to Tommy when he had to transfer again. That's not right. And so I think you maybe have to be a little more sure that it is a good fit for them and for us, because they don't have another opportunity. That's it."

Rick said his brother took a cue in his approach from their late father, George, who coached Wisconsin-Platteville for 14 years and, like Paul, reveled in camp two-a-days and other fundamental aspects of the profession. Rick said that mentality served the brothers well as they worked their ways up in the sports world. (Rick is a former Mid-American Conference commissioner, while their other brother, Geep, is the 49ers' quarterbacks coach.)

"Whatever we were doing or wherever my dad was, that seemed like it was the biggest thing at the time," Rick said. "The Platteville Pioneers were playing Whitewater, and what could be bigger than that?"

When Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson had trouble one day reaching Chryst out at the Rose Bowl shortly after hiring him, Chryst called back the next morning apologizing, saying that Wilson had pulled him aside for a film session that went late into the night.

"You never have to apologize to me for that," Pederson said. "And I said that's exactly what you want. [He's] just totally committed to his players."

Vinopal echoed that sentiment, saying his ability to approach Chryst is night and day from that of past coaches. Chryst likes to think his open-door policy is more than just a saying, and the success rate of others walking through those doors to Pitt speaks to that.

"I think you're a better coach if you know your players better," he said. "And I don't think by any stretch that I've arrived or any of our coaches have arrived. I think we still need to do a better job of getting to know our players, and them getting to know us. And to me that's part of the fun of it, and there's nothing wrong with enjoying it."

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.

Pittsburgh Panthers season preview

August, 15, 2014
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video » More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Pittsburgh Panthers:

Key returners: QB Chad Voytik, RB James Conner, RB Isaac Bennett, WR Tyler Boyd, TE J.P. Holtz, LT Adam Bisnowaty, C Artie Rowell, RG Matt Rotheram, RT T.J. Clemmings, DE David Durham, LB Anthony Gonzalez, LB Todd Thomas, CB Lafayette Pitts, S Ray Vinopal

Key losses: QB Tom Savage, WR Devin Street, DT Aaron Donald, LB Shane Gordon, CB K'Waun Williams, S Jason Hendricks

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd looks to build on a freshman All-America season.
Most important 2014 games: Sept. 20 versus Iowa, Oct. 16 versus Virginia Tech, Nov. 1 versus Duke, Nov. 15 at North Carolina, Nov. 29 at Miami

Projected win percentage (from Stats & Info): 63.5 percent.

Over/under Vegas odds: 7.5 wins.

Instant impact newcomers: Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley are a pair of freshman cornerbacks who will likely be counted on heavily to provide some needed depth at the position, as Titus Howard's season-long suspension leaves Pitt with just two returners with any experience at the position (Pitts and Trenton Coles). Both Maddox (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) and Motley (5-foot-9, 165 pounds) arrived this summer as ESPN three-star prospects, and the learning curve will likely be accelerated as the Panthers search for more bodies in coverage.

High point from 2013: A 28-21 win over Notre Dame on Nov. 9 buried the Fighting Irish's remaining BCS bowl hopes and, at least partially, erased some of the sting from Pitt's consecutive three-point losses to them in 2011 and 2012. It's more useful, however, to look back at the 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over MAC champion Bowling Green, as youngsters Voytik, Conner and Boyd all stepped up in a big way, something each hopes is a sign of things to come for 2014.

Low point from 2013: A 24-21 loss at Navy on Oct. 26 marked the first of a two-game slide (Pitt lost at Georgia Tech a week later), threatening to keep the Panthers out of postseason play before they pulled off the upset the following month over the Irish. Still, Pitt dropped three contests in a four-game stretch surrounding the loss to the Midshipmen, with its only win during that stretch coming against Old Dominion.

Best-case scenario for 2014: Voytik builds off his late-game experience from the Pizza Bowl and gives Pitt a dynamic threat under center, the experienced-but-shaky offensive line jells, Boyd continues his ascent and the defense makes big strides. Pitt takes advantage of a rather friendly schedule, makes a run at 10 wins and emerges as the champion of a Coastal division that is simply begging someone to step up.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: The offensive line continues to struggle, leaving Voytik vulnerable and the offense out of flux. The front seven fails to make up for the loss of Donald, allowing opponents time to test a green secondary. The Panthers win four games, taking a step back after consecutive bowl seasons in Paul Chryst's first two years. The youth on this team, however, is probably still enough to keep the future promising.

They said it: "I feel fortunate to be at Pittsburgh. You talk about a school with unbelievable football tradition and a city that absolutely -- it's a great sports town but a heck of a football city. High school football is big on Fridays. Obviously the Steelers are big on Sunday. We want to be a team that reflects the city and reflects the university and the tradition of a great university. I want the ex-players to be proud of Pitt and Pitt football, and I know they certainly are proud of it. But that's where we want to go, and that's what I mean, we're not where we want to be. But I sure appreciate and enjoy going through and facing that challenge with this group of guys, and for every challenge there's an opportunity." -- Chryst, on how he defines Pitt football

ACC morning links

August, 13, 2014
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It is that time of year again, when Syracuse makes its annual pilgrimage to a military base 90 miles north of campus for part of fall practice.

The idea first began with former coach Doug Marrone three years ago and has continued on under current coach Scott Shafer, who said Tuesday the partnership between Syracuse and Fort Drum continues to strengthen. Players seem to get as much out of the stay as the soldiers on base.

During their first day together Tuesday, Syracuse strength and conditioning coach Will Hicks led a workout with Fort Drum soldiers. Players will participate in various military-themed challenges, and the coaching staff will meet with military leaders to go over team building ideas.

It is rare for college teams to take practice on the road, even rarer for teams to partner with the military for a portion of camp. But Syracuse has benefited greatly from the partnership. Not only are players outside their normal environment, they are learning from men and women who can help them keep football in perspective. Players share cramped quarters in barracks, and have no other choice but to get to know one another a little better.

Indeed, players over the last two seasons have credited these trips with growing camaraderie and team chemistry. It is hard to argue with the results. Syracuse has been to a bowl game each of the last two seasons.

But will the Orange make another? The college football crew over at CBSSports.com weighed in with their ACC predictions. We can all agree that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the favorite to win offensive player of the year and Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley is the favorite to win defensive player of the year (though Luther Maddy did get some love for defensive honors). But there are a wide range of choices for newcomer of the year, coach of the year, and overrated/underrated teams. Miami showed up as both overrated and underrated, a clear indication that nobody truly knows for certain what to expect out of these Canes.

Virginia was the universal choice to finish last. But The Washington Post details the growing relationship between senior safety Anthony Harris and true freshman Quin Blanding, one of the more intriguing subplots in Charlottesville this fall. Harris has the potential to be an All-American; Blanding was one of the top-rated recruits in the country and expected to become an impact player right away. Virginia has quite a bit of talent on that defense, so if Blanding and fellow freshman Andrew Brown can contribute the way Harris has, watch out.

A few other links to get you going today:

ACC recruits who fill biggest needs 

August, 12, 2014
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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
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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.
In the ACC, we didn’t have to wait until season’s end to get a taste of just how tough the job of the new College Football Playoff selection committee might be. We put our heads together to compile the conference’s preseason power rankings, and though we had a consensus on the top three spots, No. 4 was complete chaos.

Like the selection committee members, we each come armed with our own criteria for the No. 4 spot, so we figured it would be a worthy exercise to see just how the votes shook out.

Matt Fortuna picked Pitt: In a season in which the Coastal Division is wide open, things are set up to break nicely for a Pitt squad entering its second season of ACC play.

The Panthers finally have some program stability, as head coach Paul Chryst enters Year 3 with his fingerprints all over the program. They have a quarterback in Chad Voytik who showed plenty of promise in lifting the team to a Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win in December. They have strong running backs and a very experienced offensive line, which one has to figure will only be much better than it was a year ago. There is also, of course, sensational receiver Tyler Boyd.

The defense does have some question marks, particularly in the thin secondary, but the schedule sets up nicely for a possible run to Charlotte, N.C., as Pitt gets Virginia Tech and Duke at home and gets Boston College instead of Florida State as its rotating Atlantic opponent.

Andrea Adelson picked Louisville: The Cards are one of three teams in the ACC coming off consecutive double-digit win seasons. The other two have the first two spots in our power rankings. Though it is true Louisville might have racked up those wins in a weaker conference, there is no denying the talent that remains on this team as it transitions into a tougher league.

Louisville has one of the best receiver groups in the ACC, depth at running back (including former BCS national championship game MVP Michael Dyer), a veteran offensive line, a sack master in Lorenzo Mauldin, hard-hitting linebackers in Keith Brown and James Burgess, and a lockdown cornerback in Charles Gaines. Plus, new head coach Bobby Petrino has coached winners at all his previous stops, and took Louisville to a BCS game in his first stint with the Cards.

This team has the pieces in place to compete right away in the ACC.

Jared Shanker picked Virginia Tech: The Hokies won almost as many games in 2010 and 2011 (11 each year) as they did in 2012 and 2013 combined (13), but I'm still giving the benefit of the doubt to Beamer Ball: great special teams and great defense.

The special teams have been average over the past few seasons, but it's clear the recipe has worked in Blacksburg: eight consecutive seasons with double-digit wins from 2004-2011. The quarterback situation is once again shaky, but running back Trey Edmunds could be one of the ACC's top rushers by season's end. There is also a lot of pressure on Frank Beamer to win in 2014 because of the average seasons of late coupled with mediocre returns on the recruiting trail, but I think the heat will be a positive for Beamer and the Hokies. Rarely has Beamer's name been associated a list of coaches on the hot seat, so it could help light a spark within the program.

David Hale picked North Carolina: OK, I didn’t actually have the Tar Heels at No. 4 on my ballot (I went with Louisville) but that is the funny thing about how the voting went. There was a wide variety of input on the fourth spot, but North Carolina was No. 5 across the board. And perhaps that, more than anything, is the argument for why the Heels are the most deserving of the bunch.

Sure, North Carolina has some flaws. The offensive line has questions, the defensive line lacks depth and as coach Larry Fedora is quick to mention, this is a particularly young team. But compare the Heels to Pitt or Louisville or Virginia Tech (or Miami, for that matter) and there isn’t anyone with significantly fewer questions than UNC. What Fedora’s crew does have going for it, however, is last season's strong finish (6-1 down the stretch), talent and depth in several key areas, and playmakers aplenty.

In other words, we can all disagree about who might be a little better than North Carolina, but no one seems to be arguing that the Heels won’t be good. In the chaos that is the Coastal, that’s saying something.

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