ACC: Syracuse Orange
The bad: North Carolina and Boston College are saddled with two FCS games apiece, a fact that did not go unnoticed Thursday. There is a simple explanation: previously scheduled games fell through and both schools were left scrambling. North Carolina had initially scheduled Ohio State for 2015. The game was moved, then subsequently canceled when the Big Ten voted to play nine conference games. Two more factors were at play: the ACC reversed course on a nine-game league schedule when it agreed to a partnership with Notre Dame. North Carolina wanted to wait on that schedule rotation to see how it would shake out. While having two FCS teams on the schedule is far from ideal, North Carolina does play two power-five teams with Illinois and South Carolina. As for Boston College, New Mexico State recently backed out of a 2015 game against the Eagles because it overscheduled. That left a hole the Boston College had to fill on very short notice. So Howard was added. Nobody is running around throwing a party over the FCS opponents. Sometimes these dilemmas happen. (Remember when Florida State had to replace West Virginia with Savannah State?)
The ugly: Poor Syracuse. Not only do the Orange get LSU in nonconference play, they also have the toughest three-game conference stretch of anybody in the ACC: at Florida State, at Louisville and Clemson on three straight weekends spanning the end of October into November. Nobody else in the Atlantic has to face the division's top three teams consecutively. Miami also faces a tough three-game stretch in October that could make or break Coastal Division hopes: at Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson. Nope, the Canes got no favors when they traded Louisville from the Atlantic for the Tigers. But there might not be anything uglier than the NC State nonconference schedule: Troy, Eastern Kentucky and then road games (yes, road games) against Old Dominion and South Alabama.
The byes: A 13-week scheduling window wreaked some havoc with the way the schedules were created because there was only space for one open week. ACC senior associate commissioner of football operations Michael Strickland had some good insight into how that was handled. Some teams are going to suffer more than others. Boston College has 10 straight games before its open date. Opening with the two FCS games might not serve as any consolation. Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech each have to play nine straight games to open the season; Florida State, Miami, Pitt and Clemson have to play nine straight games to end the season. The bye week is placed at an odd time for Clemson. The Tigers play Louisville on Thursday, Sept. 17 then go 15 days until they play again, Oct. 3 against Notre Dame. That is the longest regular-season layoff in school history.
The different: Friday night is the new weekday favorite in the ACC, with more announced dates than Thursday night, the former go-to spot. David Teel of the Daily Press has a great explainer piece on the topic, but it all comes down to television. The ACC will feature its top four teams from 2014 on either Thursday or Friday night this upcoming season. Strategery is definitely involved there.
The impossible: Once again, Virginia has the toughest schedule in the ACC, facing 10 teams that made bowl games in 2014. The move to overschedule is an interesting one, especially when you look at the nonconference scheduling models that NC State and Duke have followed. Both those programs have the worst nonconference schedules in 2015, choosing an easier route toward bowl eligibility. Last season, for example, Virginia was vastly improved, but still finished 5-7 with a backbreaking nonconference schedule. NC State finished 8-5 with a bowl victory, thanks to a cupcake nonconference schedule. NC State has scheduled up in the future to meet the requirement that ACC teams play at least one Power 5 opponent. But for right now, this schedule is hugely beneficial in the wins column. In the case of Virginia, the Hoos would be pleased if they make it out of their first four games against UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary and Boise State 2-2.
As former Virginia offensive lineman Luke Bowanko tweeted Thursday after the schedule was released:
If @UVa_Football wins out next year, they may have legitimate argument to play in the Super Bowl.— Luke Bowanko (@Lbow70) January 29, 2015
Position to improve: Quarterback
Why it was a problem: Syracuse averaged just 5.8 yards/pass attempt in 2014 (118th nationally), had just six passing touchdowns (only run-heavy Army had fewer), and threw 17 interceptions (sixth most among Power 5 teams), while using three different starting quarterbacks along the way. Against Power 5 foes, Syracuse had four touchdown passes, 17 interceptions and a QBR of just 23.1.
How it can be fixed: This is a mess. Since Ryan Nassib and Doug Marrone departed for the NFL two years ago, Syracuse has thrown just nine touchdowns vs. Power 5 opponents compared with 34 interceptions, while averaging a woeful 5.5 yards-per-attempt. In 2014, the Orange cycled through three different starting QBs and two offensive coordinators, and no combination really seemed to show much consistent promise. Tim Lester, the QB coach-turned-coordinator will be back for 2015, and that could add some stability to the position, but the Orange still must identify a starter. Terrel Hunt ended 2013 with ample promise, but injuries and inconsistency sabotaged his 2014 campaign. Freshman A.J. Long showed flashes of potential during his stint as starter, too, but he also played miserably at times and was sidetracked by injuries as well. The Orange added JuCo QB Zack Mahoney and their top commitment for 2015, Eric Dungey, is also a QB. Finding one that can be a steadying influence on the offense would be a start in the right direction.
Early 2015 outlook: An optimist might point out that there’s really nowhere to go but up at the QB position for Syracuse, but that would miss the point that things could simply remain just as bad as they’ve been the last two years. Maybe Hunt comes back and shows improvement in 2015. He certainly appeared to have the confidence of his coaches and teammates last offseason, but there are still big questions about his accuracy and decision-making. Maybe Long learned a lot from his brief stint as starter and will be a bigger factor in 2015, but it will still be an uphill climb. Syracuse has had a strong defense and solid running game in each of the past two years, but it hasn’t been able to figure things out at quarterback. It’s priority No. 1 for the Orange, but there really don’t appear to be many easy answers.
It’s the second raise for Fisher in the past 13 months, but that’s the nature of coaching at the highest levels of college football these days. On the heels of a 29-game winning streak and berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, Fisher earned a bump in pay to put him in the exclusive club of coaches making $5 million annually.
It’s not as easy to win at Florida State as some other perennial top-10 programs despite the consistent success the school has achieved over the past four decades. Tallahassee is four hours or more from most of Florida’s hubs for high school talent, and Fisher doesn’t enjoy the limitless recruiting budget some schools can offer coaching staffs. Fisher had to overhaul a program to reshape it in his own image, and he did it in just the few years following Bobby Bowden.
Fisher has been criticized as a coach before, and there are already questions as to whether the Florida State program can maintain its status without Jameis Winston. The numbers are in Fisher’s favor, though. He has won three straight ACC titles, a national title and has lost only once since December 2012. Florida State can’t afford to allow another college program swoon Fisher and give the sixth-year coach reason to leave.
Florida State likely isn’t going to find a better coach and recruiter than Fisher, who is wrapping up a top-three class, his fourth in the past five years. While the school has been reluctant to open its checkbook in the past, the administration had to lock up Fisher for the foreseeable future. They did that with the contract extension and the buyout, which starts at $5 million and then decreases in the following years.
Credit the FSU administration, too, for doing what it can to remain competitive with the rest of the college football powerhouses, especially in the SEC. The school opened its pockets to Fisher’s assistants, too, giving Fisher another $750,000 to pay his assistant coaches. A number of Seminoles assistants have left the program over the past three seasons. There was an assistant coaching exodus from Tallahassee following the 2012 season, and Jeremy Pruitt made the high-profile move from Florida State to Georgia before the start of the 2014 season.
If Fisher can win a fourth consecutive ACC championship despite an overhaul on offense and defense heading into 2015, there’s a good chance the school will be announcing another extension around the same time next year.
Here’s a few more links around the ACC:
- Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett reflect on their time at Clemson in separate Q&As. Anthony is here and Jarrett is here.
- Florida State announced its spring game will be Apr. 11.
- Duke Johnson and Ereck Flowers, who both declared early for the NFL draft, will be going to the NFL combine along with six of their senior Miami teammates.
- What type of offensive coordinator will Boston College attempt to hire?
- Here's everything you need to know about Syracuse verbal pledge Eric Dungey.
- NC State should land two of the state's top prospects, which is not something the Wolfpack -- or any North Carolina school -- has done often recently.
- A video feature on how Virginia Tech is tackling the challenge of making safer helmets.
As the Journal notes, it’s setting right a wrong done to the two schools due to conference expansion, but it’s also fair to wonder what the longterm ramifications of the deal might be.
Our Andrea Adelson wrote that the two programs deserve credit for taking this relatively unprecedented step to rekindle the rivalry — a step that no doubt will play well with traditionalists eager to see more of those recently deceased rivalries brought back to life.
The move no doubt will also spark some talk about adding a few more nonconference games between ACC teams, with BC Interruption throwing a regular meeting between Boston College and Miami into the discussion.
Elsewhere, Florida State has long coveted a chance to play more routinely in Atlanta, where the Seminoles possess a strong alumni base. NC State and Duke would make a lot of sense, too. In the SEC, where the league has also expanded to 14 teams and added a new rule requiring at least nine games against Power 5 foes, there could be a push for some programs to follow suit, too.
Beyond just those potential geographic rivalries, there’s a potentially significant recruiting impact to seeing cross-divisional foes more routinely, too. Wouldn’t Virginia Tech love to get to play another game in the state of Florida more than once every six years? Or Clemson showing off its offense in South Florida? And certainly Syracuse and BC could stand to steal a few more recruits in Virginia by getting a couple extra games against the Hokies or UVa?
Of course, there are some drawbacks to this, too.
For one, does the UNC-Wake rivalry really spark any more excitement for Tar Heels fans than, say, adding more non-traditional foes to the schedule -- perhaps from the Big Ten or SEC? And for teams like FSU, Clemson and Georgia Tech, who already have a set nonconference rival in the SEC, there’s a hefty financial incentive to keep seven home games each year, which complicates the process significantly.
The bottom line, however, is that conference expansion has played havoc with scheduling just as the College Football Playoff has put teams’ résumés in the spotlight more than ever. Finding some creative ways to fit tradition, finances and résumé-building games together is paramount, and what UNC and Wake have done at least sets a precedent for other programs looking to find some answers to scheduling dilemmas. It’s not an answer to all the problems, but it’s a start.
A few more links:
- FSU made it official Monday, hiring former Florida assistant Brad Lawing to coach its defensive ends and outside linebackers, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
- Louisville DC Todd Grantham could be headed to the Oakland Raiders, writes The Courier-Journal.
- Even with Luther Maddy missing the bulk of the season, Virginia Tech’s defensive line came up big in 2014, writes the Roanoke Times.
- Pitt landed a quarterback on the recruiting trail Monday, but it lost one of its former commitments to Penn State, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Georgia Tech is prepping to start doling out stipends to its student-athletes, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Rutgers swiped one of Syracuse’s top remaining recruiting targets, writes Syracuse.com.
This is no surprise. Offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler has utilized his tight ends at every stop he’s made in his career, and before Ryan Malleck went down with an injury in 2013, the plan had been to make him a key contributor to the Hokies’ game plan -- predicting as many as 60 catches.
From the Times:
That revelation, made last spring, was met with at least some skepticism, but looking at how the Hokies used their tight ends in 2014 -- a banner season in terms of production from the position -- it was very realistic in hindsight.
Buoyed by Bucky Hodges' breakout year and [Ryan] Malleck's steady production, Hokies tight ends became very much a focal point of the offense, more so than they have been in most of Frank Beamer's time in Blacksburg.
Hodges and Malleck (and for one game a hobbled Kalvin Cline) combined for 70 catches, 724 yards and nine touchdowns this past season, dwarfing the offensive production from the tight end position in recent memory.
Among ACC teams, only Miami had more receiving yards by tight ends, and no team had more catches or touchdowns by the position.
That’s an interesting twist moving forward, because Bucky Hodges' emergence gives Virginia Tech one of the best offensive mismatches in the ACC. But there’s one other thing to note here, too. Virginia Tech utilized its tight ends at a higher rate than all but five other Power 5 schools, and it’s not exactly a who’s who of offensive juggernauts.
Here’s the offensive production of the 10 teams that used their tight ends the most:
Overall, the group had a combined record of 63-65 and an average rank of 90th in total offense. Only two of those teams finished in the top 50 in total offense -- Wisconsin and Miami -- and they also had two of the best running backs in the nation. The Hokies, meanwhile, were 92nd nationally in yards per carry.
The point being, having an elite tight end can be a valuable weapon, but it’s probably not ideal to have it be your primary weapon. And getting stronger on the ground and on the offensive line remain necessary improvements if Virginia Tech is going to make a big offensive leap in 2015.
A few more links:
- Mel Kiper Jr. says another year in college would’ve helped former Syracuse DB Durell Eskridge, writes Syracuse.com. Of course, there are plenty of other factors to consider, too — money being the big one. In 2013, I wrote about Eskridge’s troubled upbringing, which included a stint living in a car.
- Former Virginia tight end Jake McGee was granted a sixth year of eligibility at Florida by the NCAA, writes the Daily Progress.
- Tar Heel Blog has a shot of the work being done to repair irrigation systems at Keenan Stadium. It looks like a serious job.
- The Post & Courier looks at the draft prospects for Clemson’s stars on defense.
- The Post-Gazette chats Pitt football, with as many questions about the script logo as the new coaching staff.
- The Courier-Journal runs down a number of key changes and updates on Louisville’s 2015 roster.
- Darren Waller had a great Capital One Orange Bowl, looked good in the Shrine Game and is now prepping for the combine, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
The first is Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, which should be something of a no-brainer, given that the junior racked up 21.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons despite serving as the backup to Vic Beasley. Only seven other players in the ACC have totaled 10 or more TFL in each of the last two seasons, and of that group, only Lawson will be back for 2015.
“A guy like Shaq Lawson, he could've been starting his first two years, but he sat behind Vic Beasley and you can't complain about that,” defensive back Robert Smith said. “But he could've just as easily been starting the same way.”
Lawson is an obvious starter this year, but the Post & Courier projects out the rest of Clemson's starters, too.
The second of Athlon's breakout candidates is Travis Rudolph, the FSU wide receiver who stepped up as a strong No. 2 option after Rashad Greene as a true freshman this season, including six catches for 96 yards and a score in the Rose Bowl.
Rudolph definitely progressed as the year went along -- he had just one catch in FSU's first four games -- but he's going to have a tougher task in 2015. Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary are gone, meaning all eyes will clearly be on Rudolph to step into the No. 1 role in the passing game. Jameis Winston is gone, too, and the question about the next FSU QB is a big one. Still, Rudolph showed how much talent he has this season, and he's on record as being eager to follow in Greene's footsteps.
Looking around the rest of the ACC, a few other names to watch as potential breakout candidates:
Andrew Brown, Virginia: Injuries limited his freshman performance, but the Hoos will have a new-look defensive line in 2015, and Brown, the former five-star recruit, will be a big part of their plans.
Shaun Wilson, Duke: The ACC already got a small taste of what Wilson can do, as he rushed for 598 yards as a freshman in 2014. His 7.7 yards-per-carry average was the best by any Power 5 running back with at least 75 carries, but his numbers in conference -- 46 carries, 186 yards, 1 TD -- weren't quite as impressive. He'll have a bigger role in 2015.
Josh Jones, NC State: The redshirt freshman started the final five games of the year at strong safety for the Wolfpack, and that happened to coincide with a 4-1 finish to the season in which NC State allowed just 4.68 yards per play -- the seventh-best rate for any Power 5 team from Nov. 1 to the end of the season.
Joseph Yearby, Miami: The freshman had more than 600 yards from scrimmage backing up Duke Johnson in 2014. Now Johnson is gone, but rising star QB Brad Kaaya remains, and Miami's offense hopes to not miss a beat. It could be a huge year for Yearby, who played his high school ball alongside FSU's Dalvin Cook.
A few other links:
- Pitt appears to have hired a former Purdue assistant to coach its wide receivers, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Not a bad gig when you get to work with Tyler Boyd.
- Syracuse.com looks at what an early signing period might mean for the Orange.
- A renewal of the Georgia Tech-Auburn rivalry could be in the works, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- I imagine Florida State fans will not be fond of BC Interruption's final installment of The Book's national rankings for 2014 (or their Way too Early top 20 for 2015).
- NC State added to a strong recruiting class this week, notes Backing the Pack.
- Florida State's commitment list includes a ton of highly-regarded recruits, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
- Louisville offensive lineman John Miller earned strong reviews during his postseason work, writes the Courier Journal.
Full cost-of-attendance was first on the docket, and it easily passed. But it was not a unanimous vote. One school voted against adding the stipend: Boston College.
Rather than go with the flock, the university decided to take a stand, worried that the increased financial burdens to athletic departments everywhere could mean devastating consequences for non-revenue sports. In a statement released Saturday night, the university said:
Boston College is concerned with continuing to pass legislation that increases expenses when the vast majority of schools are already institutionally subsidized. The consequence of such legislation could ultimately hurt student-athletes if/when programs are cut.
This legislation further segregates student-athletes from the general student population by increasing aid without need-based consideration. Legislation already exists for student-athletes in need through pell grants and the student-assistance fund.
We have concerns that the Federal Financial aid formula is sufficiently ambiguous that adjustments for recruiting advantage will take place.
Indeed, this is one of the many unanswered questions that remain now that autonomy is here: How will many cash-strapped athletic departments begin to pay for all the bells and whistles only the few can afford, simply because they want to keep pace? Everybody can agree that cost of attendance is a worthy cause, but nobody really has any idea what the financial consequences will be down the road.
A student-athlete at Boston College receives a roughly $250,000 education in four years' time, higher than most schools this legislation will impact. As colleague Mitch Sherman points out:
Boston is an expensive place to attend school, equating to a stipend for student-athletes at BC that will exceed the still-undetermined average. Without a football program awash in money, Boston College must dig deep to keep pace with its rivals -- or consider other ways to save money, perhaps including the elimination of non-revenue sports.
Now there exists a potential consequence to autonomy that fails to mesh with the mission of the NCAA. And if it's a problem at Boston College, which gets a piece of the ACC pie, imagine the trouble brewing at smaller colleges.
It was a big recruiting weekend across college football. Here are a few updates in the ACC:
- Four-star defensive back Mark Fields II says he enjoyed his visit to Clemson. Next stop: Texas.
- Georgia Tech picked up a commitment from cornerback Dorian Walker and also flipped safety David Curry from UVa.
- Good inside look at what makes Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher such a good recruiter.
- Fisher is stockpiling another top-rated class.
- Syracuse commit Keivonnis Davis is being recruited by former Orange assistant George McDonald, now at NC State.
In other ACC news:
- Duke lost its defensive line coach, while Virginia Tech lost its receivers coach.
- Several ACC players stood out at the East-West Shrine Game, including former Miami defensive end Anthony Chickillo, Louisville running back Dominique Brown and offensive lineman John Miller and NC State kicker Niklas Sade.
- Senior Bowl practices get underway this week, and Shaq Mason and T.J. Clemmings are two players to watch. Meanwhile, Tre' Jackson appears to be the only Florida State player who will participate in the Senior Bowl after Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Cameron Erving and Josue Matias all dropped out.
- Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette takes a look at the legacy former athletic director Steve Pederson leaves behind.
You could have almost played a game of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego ...
Example: What are Florida State assistants Tim Brewster and Odell Haggins doing in St. Louis? Maybe visiting defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., the No. 2 rated player on the ESPNU 300 from East St. Louis, Missouri.
Quick lunch at Sweetie Pies in St Louis....Spectacular!! pic.twitter.com/DoXG3mJxER— Tim Brewster (@TimBrewster) January 15, 2015
Hey, what's Larry Fedora doing in East Lincoln High in Denver, North Carolina? Maybe getting a jump on the class of 2016 and dual-threat quarterback Chazz Surratt.
UNC Coach Larry Fedora stopped by East Lincoln today! pic.twitter.com/YbcZClCAu4— Brandi Surratt (@brandi_surratt) January 15, 2015
New Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff were all over the place, from Pennsylvania to Florida. Here is Narduzzi with three-star safety Dane Jackson out of Quaker Valley High in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania.
Coach Narduzzi stopped by the school today!! Ready to get this journey started <È pic.twitter.com/4MPYdeJwtk— Dane Jackson (@Splashy_2) January 15, 2015
Now on to some morning reading:
- ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. posted his first mock draft Thursday, with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston going No. 1 overall. That is not a huge surprise, considering Winston is the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. What is a surprise is that his off-the-field issues could end up being a huge non-factor after so many believed they would. The biggest surprise among ACC players listed in the first round: Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, who went No. 22 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Johnson has been quietly turning heads over the last two years, and routinely drew praise from ACC coaches on the weekly in-season teleconference as being one of the top cornerbacks in the league.
- Ready for your #goacc moment of the week? Sports Illustrated decided to list the Top 10 worst games of 2014. FOUR ACC games made the list. I am pretty sure you can guess which one finished No. 1.
- Phil Steele calculates Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville were three of the most underrated teams this season. You don't say. Florida State got not one ounce of credit for beating all three. #TalkinBouttheNoles, Steele lists them as one of the most overrated teams in 2014.
- Louisville is set for one of its biggest recruiting weekends in years.
- Corn Elder and D'Mauri Jones are no longer a part of the Miami basketball team, and are focusing on football only.
- Is Syracuse receiver Brisley Estime on his way back to being 100 percent?
- What can we expect to see out of Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer in 2015?
They are important. Just ask Baylor.
Of course, nonconference schedules tend to look one way before the season starts and then another when the season ends. Florida State had two Power-5 schools on the docket plus Notre Dame in 2014, but nobody regarded its schedule as particularly tough because those three teams fizzled.
With that in mind, let's take a quick peek at the top three potential playoff contenders in 2015 and what we think could end up being good nonconference slates. Included are 2014 records in parentheses.
Georgia Tech: Alcorn State*, Tulane (3-9), at Notre Dame (8-5), Georgia (10-3)
Clemson: Wofford*, Appalachian State (7-5), Notre Dame (8-5), at South Carolina (7-6)
Great news here, considering we expect both teams to start the season as preseason Top 25 teams. If voters are truly paying attention, both will start in the top 15. It is always beneficial to have a well-respected SEC opponent on the schedule, as these two do every year with their in-state rival. Both must face Notre Dame. Let's just say this as nicely as possible: The ACC needs Notre Dame to be better this year. Badly.
Nothing to write home about
Florida State: Texas State (7-5), USF (4-8), Chattanooga*, at Florida (7-5)
You thought Florida State was lampooned for its nonconference schedule in 2014? That one looks like a gantlet featuring Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama compared to this one. If the Seminoles go unbeaten, they should still be in position to make the playoff, but they will come under serious scrutiny for their schedule, even if Florida is better. If they struggle against any of these teams and look suspect vs. ACC competition the way they did this year, well, that might be enough for committee members to consider picking another qualified team.
Now let's take a look at some potential darkhorse playoff contenders
Virginia Tech: Ohio State (14-1), Furman*, at Purdue (3-9), at East Carolina (8-5)
Louisville: vs. Auburn (8-5), Houston (8-5), Samford*, at Kentucky (5-7)
We are going out on a very, very long limb here with Virginia Tech included as a potential playoff contender. But expectations in Blacksburg are growing, so ours will, too. In actuality, both teams' playoff fortunes will be decided in their respective openers. Louisville faces Auburn in Atlanta on Sept. 5, while the Hokies take on the defending national champion Buckeyes at home on Labor Day night. If they come away with upsets for the second straight year, their playoff chances would go soaring -- but only if they win the remainder of their games. If they lose, hard to see either making it with one loss. Also in their favor: Both schedules features two Power-5 teams plus solid teams from the American.
Duke: at Tulane (3-9), NC Central*, Northwestern (5-7), at Army (4-8)
At least the Blue Devils have one Power-5 school on the schedule, though it happens to be one of just three Big Ten teams that failed to make a bowl game in 2014. Perhaps the Wildcats will be better in 2015. In either case, Duke will face an uphill climb given the blase schedule. Add in the ACC Coastal slate and no Top 25 teams from the Atlantic, and the schedule will be viewed as weak. Again.
Now let's take a look at everybody else. Who knows, maybe one of these teams will emerge as the surprise of 2015.
Best of the rest
Virginia: at UCLA (10-3), William & Mary*, Notre Dame (8-5), Boise State (12-2)
Once again, the Hoos have the toughest schedule in the ACC, the only team to face two nonconference opponents with 10 or more wins in 2014. Really tough to hand a team in desperate need of momentum backbreaking schedules year after year after year. The way to handle it? Schedule the way Florida State or NC State did, at least for one year to build some confidence and a few more wins. Don't get me wrong. Playing good teams is important. I love it when teams upgrade their schedules. But at what expense? You have to be at the right place in your program to do it.
Ol' college try
Pitt: Youngstown State*, at Akron (5-7), at Iowa (7-6), Notre Dame (8-5)
Miami: Bethune-Cookman*, at FAU (3-9), Nebraska (9-4), at Cincinnati (9-4)
Boston College: Northern Illinois (11-3), New Mexico St (2-10), Notre Dame (8-5), Maine*
Decent schedules here for all three teams, featuring at least one Power-5 opponent. Northern Illinois and Cincinnati are two of the better Group of 5 teams so these schedules do remain challenging.
You take the good, you take the bad ...
Syracuse: Rhode Island*, Central Michigan (7-6), LSU (8-5), at USF (4-8)
Wake Forest: Elon*, at Army (4-8), Indiana (4-8), at Notre Dame (8-5)
North Carolina: vs. South Carolina (7-6), North Carolina A&T*, Illinois (6-7), Delaware*
One Power-5 for each and then a whole lotta nothin.' If North Carolina can get its act together and potentially make a run, it will be interesting to see how the committee handles a team with two FCS opponents.
Thanks for playing
NC State: Troy (3-9), at Old Dominion (6-6), at South Alabama (6-7), Eastern Kentucky*
The Wolfpack are the only team without a Power-5 school on the schedule. The ACC rule that mandates at least one Power-5 nonconference team on the docket starts in 2017. Schedule upgrades are coming soon in the way of Notre Dame (2016, 2017), West Virginia (2018, 2019) and Mississippi State (2020, 2021). But for now, if NC State does not go 4-0 against this slate something is seriously wrong.
On Thursday, Mario Edwards Jr. made it official that he’s leaving for the NFL draft, and reports suggest Ronald Darby will be following him out the door. P.J. Williams announced his intention to enter the draft earlier in the week, and it’s certainly possible that Eddie Goldman could leave as well.
Meanwhile, E.J. Levenberry has decided to transfer, Desmond Hollin has exhausted his eligibility, and Ukeme Eligwe was dismissed from FSU in November.
As we noted earlier this week, the defense had its problems in 2014 when it came to handling adversity, but there’s no question there was a big step back this season on the defensive side of the ball.
Plenty of fans want to blame Charles Kelly, the third different coordinator in as many seasons for Florida State, but the bigger problem is simply a loss of talent. In the last two seasons, FSU has had 11 different defensive players drafted. That number will increase by at least four this year, and the departures of NFL-caliber players is huge. Bjoern Werner, Telvin Smith, Lamarcus Joyner, Xavier Rhodes, Timmy Jernigan -- those guys aren’t easily replaced, and certainly the same can be said for Edwards, Williams and Goldman.
So while FSU’s search for a QB will garner the headlines, the process of rebuilding that defense this offseason will likely be what determines whether the Seminoles are legitimate playoff contenders again in 2015.
A few more links:
- David Cutcliffe thinks Duke deserves a spot in the final Top 25, writes the Charlotte Observer. There were 26 Power 5 teams that won nine games or more, and with Duke losing three of its last four while never being ranked better than 22nd, it’s going to be an uphill battle.
- BC Interruption takes a look at the biggest surprises of the 2014 season for the Eagles, including the quick rebuild on the offensive line.
- Randy Shannon refuses to look back at his tenure at Miami, writes the Miami Herald.
- I spent a year at Syracuse for grad school, and Konrad’s Sports Bar was a vacant building for the most of it. Its namesake, however, turned in an impressive feat, swimming nine miles after falling off a fishing boat, writes Syracuse.com.
- Pittsburgh is expected to hire FIU assistant Josh Conklin as its new defensive coordinator, writes the Post-Gazette. Conklin took the 94th-ranked FIU D in 2013 to 36th in 2014.
- Georgia Tech is recruiting the brother of Georgia running back Keith Marshall, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Of course much has been made of Winston’s off-field issues, but his on-field performance in the past two years has been exceptional.
Since the start of 2013, Winston has thrown for 65 touchdowns (the next closest in the ACC is 36), passed for 7,964 yards (next closest is 4,960) and completed 124 passes of 20 yards or more (no one else has half as many). His adjusted QBR of 82.0 is easily the best over that span among ACC QBs.
Todd McShay says Winston is a better NFL prospect than fellow Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, though really, the decision on which one goes first likely comes down to whether teams favor a pocket passer or a more mobile QB.
The question for Florida State, of course, is where the Seminoles go from here for a QB.
Tomahawk Nation gives some thought to a potential transfer by Ohio State star Braxton Miller, but as our Jared Shanker writes, there are not many simple answers.
Sean Maguire played well enough to beat Clemson in his lone start, and while he wasn’t exactly sharp, that performance only looks better given how good the Tigers’ D turned out to be. Jimbo Fisher has also spoken incredibly highly of J.J. Cosentino, and Florida State has obviously won before with a redshirt freshman leading the offense.
But what’s clear is that, whoever lands the job, it will be a big changing of the guard in the ACC. This year, the league opened the season with Winston and everyone else when it came to QBs. With Marquise Williams, Justin Thomas, Deshaun Watson, Brad Kaaya and Jacoby Brissett back in 2015, the ACC could well be the richest QB league in the country next year — and FSU’s place in the pecking order remains to be seen.
A few more links:
- Former Virginia quarterback David Watford is transferring to Hampton, writes the Daily Progress.
- NC State added eight early enrollees, but it lost another top receiver as Marquez Valdes-Scantling has decided to leave the program, writes the Charlotte Observer. This comes on the heels of Bo Hines' decision to transfer after the bowl win over UCF.
- Craig Biggio is a part of baseball’s latest Hall of Fame class, but as the New York Post notes, he almost ended up playing football at Boston College. (h/t to BC Interruption for the story link.)
- Syracuse’s indoor practice facility has a name, writes Syracuse.com.
- The Roanoke Times takes a look back at Virginia Tech’s win over Ohio State now that the Buckeyes are on the verge of a national championship.
Louisville safety James Sample became the third player in the Cards' defensive backfield to announce he is leaving school early for the draft, posting his intentions Monday on his Instagram account. The move came as a bit of a surprise, especially when you consider he has only been in Louisville for four months after transferring in from junior college -- and he is not listed among Mel Kiper Jr.'s top 10 safeties.
Already, safety Gerod Holliman announced he would be turning pro. Cornerback Charles Gaines also has reportedly decided to follow the same path. Holliman seems to be in the best position, after tying an NCAA record with 14 interceptions and becoming a consensus All-American; Gaines had 11 passes defended this past year.
With these three players leaving early, Louisville must replace five of its top six defensive backs, as Terell Floyd and Andrew Johnson just finished their senior seasons. Louisville had 26 interceptions in 2014, tied for No. 1 in the nation. The Cards will lose players responsible for 21 of those picks.
But as Jeff Greer points out in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Louisville could be in good shape without them next season. Georgia transfers Josh Harvey-Clemmons and Shaq Wiggins are ready to make an impact after sitting out this past season because of NCAA transfer rules. Jermaine Reve returns as well, along with a host of young talent.
As I mentioned above, the three Louisville underclassmen are just the latest from the ACC to declare for the draft. Players have until Jan. 15 to do so. Here is a look at who has said they will turn pro:
- Durell Eskridge, S, Syracuse
- Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami
- Charles Gaines, CB, Louisville
- Eli Harold, DE, Virginia
- Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville
- Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
- Bradley Pinion, P, Clemson
- James Sample, S, Louisville
There could be more underclassman news in the days to come. Florida State's bevy of highly-rated draft prospects have yet to announce their draft intentions. Among those to keep an eye on: kicker Roberto Aguayo, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby and -- last but not least -- quarterback Jameis Winston.
Here are a few other headlines across the ACC:
- Clemson is not slowing down on the recruiting trail, pulling in a commitment from ESPN 300 defensive tackle Christian Wilkins.
- Louisville's Tom Jurich is the second-highest paid athletic director in the country.
- It appears as if Al-Quadin Muhammad is back with Miami.
- Pitt offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph is reportedly close to joining Paul Chryst's staff at Wisconsin.
- North Carolina receiver T.J. Thorpe announced he will transfer to Virginia.
- Former Syracuse quarterback Mitch Kimble says he will transfer to Eastern Illinois.
- Virginia got good news Monday, as cornerback Demetrious Nicholson was granted a medical hardship waiver and will be allowed to play in 2015.
- Virginia Tech's assistants got a pay raise.
Addazio's name has been floated around plenty during silly season, but Eagles fans can at least rest a little bit easier knowing that his rebuilding plan is still on schedule. But clarity throughout ACC regimes remains difficult to find after Wednesday.
Pittsburgh still needs a new athletic director, in addition to a new head coach, and it is unclear which will come first, or the effect one will have on the other. As colleague Andrea Adelson wrote this week, you cannot blame the Panthers for third-year coach Paul Chryst leaving for his dream job, as he went home to Wisconsin. But it is clear now more than ever that the program needs some stability, something Chryst was able to bring to the program after so much turnover.
The Panthers have plenty of young weapons on offense and are in a much better position now than they were when Chryst took over, but the cumulative effect of a fourth coaching search -- and an AD search -- since 2010 cannot be overstated.
Here are the rest of your ACC links:
- Clemson is calling on a famous alum for recruiting purposes.
- FootballScoop has named Clemson's Brent Venables its defensive coordinator of the year.
- Duke guard Laken Tomlinson has now made six All-America teams.
- Here are Florida State's uniforms for the Rose Bowl.
- The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Ken Sugiura has notes from Georgia Tech's bowl practices.
- Louisville linebacker James Burgess has announced he will return next season.
- Former North Carolina defensive coordinator Vic Koenning is Troy's new DC.
- Syracuse will open spring practice early in its new practice facility, Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.