ACC: Syracuse Orange

The ACC is at its spring midpoint. Miami, Boston College and Duke are done. Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Louisville just got started. But for most of the league, the biggest storylines are still playing out.

With that in mind, here's a quick rundown of a few of the biggest issues worth monitoring in the ACC so far this spring:

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson will be counting on QB Deshaun Watson to return from injury and lead the Tigers' offense.

The injured QBs: Any discussion of the conference's top quarterbacks for 2015 promises to include Deshaun Watson and Marquise Williams, yet neither is taking snaps this spring. Watson tore his ACL late in the regular season, so his absence was no surprise. Instead, it's been his quick recovery that's been newsworthy. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says Watson is already at 80 percent and should be ready to run summer drills with the rest of the Tigers' offense. Williams, on the other hand, is dealing with a hip injury, and his absence from spring practice was late-breaking news. Still, the QB situation appears far more established at North Carolina than it was a year ago, with Williams clearly the starter once healthy. Nevertheless, the Tigers and Tar Heels have used the spring to develop their backups, and, given that the reigning national champions needed three starters to get through the season, that might end up being a blessing.

The emerging QBs: There weren't many quarterback battles entering the spring, but the few places where jobs were up for grabs appear to have decisive front-runners. At Florida State, the task of replacing Jameis Winston won't be an easy one, but thus far senior Sean Maguire appears to have separated himself from the pack. Redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino likely will push the competition into the fall, but for now Maguire looks like the favorite. At Boston College, there might be even less drama, with Darius Wade the obvious front-runner. He wrapped up spring practice last weekend with a relatively forgettable performance, but coaches still love his arm and pocket presence, which could bring an added dimension to the Eagles' run-heavy offense. And at Duke, David Cutcliffe gave lip service to an open job, but it appears clear that Thomas Sirk is the heavy favorite. He has just 14 pass attempts to his credit, but he looked like the veteran presence Duke needed this spring, and it's unlikely he'll be unseated atop the depth chart by fall.

FSU's thin linebacking corps: The defense took a big step back for Florida State in 2014, and Charles Kelly's rebuilding job hasn't been made any easier this spring with the departure of four underclassmen for the NFL draft and a litany of injuries -- particularly among the linebackers. Terrance Smith is dealing with turf toe. Reggie Northrup tore his ACL in the Rose Bowl. Matthew Thomas is now out with a shoulder injury. E.J. Levenberry and Kain Daub decided to transfer. That has Kelly plugging in bodies wherever he can find them, and it likely means FSU won't get a real feel for how its defense will look until the fall. That's a big concern for a team that mustered just 17 sacks last season -- ranking 118th nationally.

Notable position swaps: Spring is always a time when we see teams tinker with personnel at some new positions. That's the case at Florida State, where Jalen Ramsey moves from safety to corner, a move that worked well for Lamarcus Joyner two years ago. Running back Ryan Green also moved to corner, giving FSU ample athleticism in the secondary. At NC State, Airius Moore moves from middle linebacker to the weak side, allowing the Wolfpack to showcase their two talented sophomore linebackers, along with Jerod Fernandez. Dane Rogers moved from end to tackle at Clemson in hopes of finding a steady replacement for Grady Jarrett. Dan Crimmins, BC's second-leading returning receiver, could develop into a more dynamic tight end for the Eagles.

More drama at Miami: Brad Kaaya remains an emerging star, but there are ample questions surrounding him at Miami. Stacy Coley remains something of a mystery after an awful 2014 campaign. The options at tight end were inconsistent at best. The revamped offensive line had its share of spring struggles. Tailback Joseph Yearby was suspended for the spring game, and Gus Edwards saw only limited action. Not surprisingly, the spring game ended with a solid defensive performance that included four interceptions.

Hokies' defensive injuries: Virginia Tech promises to have one of the ACC's top defenses in 2015, but it's tough to get much of a read on it this spring. Brandon Facyson, Kendall Fuller, Luther Maddy, Corey Marshall and Ken Ekanem -- all established starters -- are out with injuries. Virginia Tech is using the time to develop depth, but, particularly in the secondary, Bud Foster would love a chance to get things a bit more settled.

Hunt-Days returns for Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets' pass rush was a work-in-progress throughout much of last season, but the development of KeShun Freeman and the return of Jabari Hunt-Days this spring could make it an asset in 2015. Hunt-Days missed all of last season because of academic issues, but he's settling back in nicely this spring and could be a wrecking ball for a Tech defense that's looking to make some major strides.

ACC morning links

March, 25, 2015
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We at the ACC blog would like to welcome Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer back to the sideline. Beamer, in his 29th season as the Hokies' coach, spent the December bowl game coaching from the press box following throat surgery.

The Daily Press writes Beamer's voice is still working its way back, but he still possessed the same fervor while talking about his team.

Here are a handful of links around the ACC for your morning:

  • A search firm will present a list of candidates for the Pittsburgh athletic director position to the school's search committee in the coming weeks.
  • Clemson linebacker B.J. Goodson feels comfortable filling the shoes of departed leader Stephone Anthony.
  • Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden and son Tommy, who coached Clemson, will be part of a new travel show called "Bobby Bowden Goes to War." The documentary brings the Bowdens to Europe to highlight World War II stories.
  • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said he is confident the school will make a strong athletic director hire.
  • With hardly any experience returning at A-back, it feels like the beginning of the Paul Johnson era in Atlanta all over again for the unit.
  • Here are 10 Miami players that could become much bigger factors in 2015.
  • Louisville is splitting first-team reps at quarterback as spring practice gets underway. The Cardinals have a major question mark at quarterback.
  • The defense was a little ahead of the offense at NC State on Tuesday, due in part to numbers.
  • Prized signee C.J. Stalker is looking to adjust quickly for Virginia.

ACC morning links

March, 24, 2015
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Much of the conversation in the ACC surrounds Florida State's quarterback situation -- past, present and future. While Sean Maguire impresses coaches and teammates with his performance this spring through the first few practices, his predecessor remains in the news and his potential successor is making headlines.

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, the favorite to go No. 1 overall, is leaning toward spending the draft with his family in Alabama rather than travel to Chicago, his father told ESPN.com last week. MMQB.com caught up with Roger Goodell and posted a story Monday in which Goodell said he would respect Winston's desire to watch the draft with those close to him.

"I think that it’s something we respect when a player says, “I’d like to be with my family on that day.” It’s an important day for them also," Goodell to MMQB.com.

Many wondered if the NFL would pressure Winston into attending the draft, but unless something changes, both parties are fine with skipping out on Chicago.

Winston was the No. 1 quarterback nationally in the 2012 recruiting class, and four years later, Florida State is bringing in the top-ranked prep quarterback again. Malik Henry, who recently transferred to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, participated in a regional camp for Nike The Opening. Henry, No. 3 overall in the 2016 class, was named one of the regional camp's MVPs and received an invitation to The Opening, which is held in July in Beaverton, Oregon.

ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer also leads the Elite 11, an elite passing camp for the top high school quarterbacks, and was on hand at the Atlanta regional to evaluate the quarterbacks. He told SB Nation Henry was "as dominant as any kid we had this year."

  • A top Syracuse 2015 signee is still working to academically qualify for the fall. Also, Orange is making a return in the Orange's jersey.
  • Boston College added a commitment from Brandon Barlow (subscription required).
  • Former Miami linebacker Alex Figueroa is lucky to have a second chance, but he is not off to a good start. He posted an expletive-laced video last week in which he burned a Miami flag. Figueroa and former Miami teammate JaWand Blue were permanently dismissed from the university last summer after admitting to police they sexually assaulted an intoxicated Miami student. In November, they avoided jail time by being placed in a pre-trial diversion program, which prosecution sought after the victim did not want to relive the experience in court.
  • Clemson was back on the practice field Monday after nearly two weeks off for the Tigers' spring break.
  • Five priorities for Georgia Tech this spring as practice began Monday (subscription required).
  • Here are a few notes gleaned from Bobby Petrino's news conference to open spring practice, which begins Tuesday.
  • The Pitt defense is working to pick up new coach Pat Narduzzi's schemes and principles. It's going to be a process.

 

ACC morning links

March, 23, 2015
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The race to replace Jameis Winston as Florida State's starting quarterback was always going to be crowded enough. But De'Andre Johnson has no problem adding to the confusion early on.

Johnson has drawn early praise from the Seminoles' coach Jimbo Fisher through the early part of spring practice. The early enrollee made a number of impressive plays during Saturday's scrimmage, according to the Orlando Sentinel's Brendan Sonnone.

From the Sentinel:

“I thought De’Andre Johnson had a really nice day today – does a lot of things very instinctively, man, I think that guy’s gonna be a really good player,” Fisher said after Saturday’s practice. “J.J. and John, they responded well.”

As Sonnone notes, it's always worth reading between the lines, especially when a player is mentioned unprovoked. But Johnson seems to be doing something right so far, and he may force us all to think beyond Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino and John Franklin if he keeps growing throughout the spring and summer.

Here are the rest of your Monday links:

Spare Chuck Bullough the skepticism. He knows Syracuse's 2014 season went nothing like the Orange had planned. Especially in light of a debut ACC campaign that included seven wins and a bowl victory.

A 3-9 record is a 3-9 record. And yet, the fall was dotted with moments of fulfillment, at least from a coaching standpoint.

"Defensively, we didn't quit," the third-year Orange defensive coordinator said. "We had an older veteran group, and to the end, those guys fought. And even the BC game at the end, they were just fighting tooth and nail, even though they knew we weren't going to win, it didn't matter. So that was great.

[+] EnlargeJulian Whigham
AP Photo/Julio CortezAfter a subpar showing last season, Julian Whigham is ready to play a leading role on the Orange defense.

"So now, as we talk as a defensive staff, this is going to be the most challenging because we lost all those guys. It's just going to be challenging."

No kidding.

As Bullough gathered his players in the winter, he asked that anyone who started every game last fall to raise his hand.

Just one hand went up. Ron Thompson's. And the pass-rushing end had been playing out of position, at tackle.

So Bullough has had his work cut out for him this spring. A unit that was a stellar 26th nationally in total defense last season is essentially starting from scratch. As noted, Syracuse's season was a massive letdown with its defense playing so well. And while much of that misery could be attributed to a rash of injuries and chemistry issues on the other side of the ball -- problems that went out the door as the calendar turned -- the defense knows it must carry the lessons left behind by the seniors in order to help right the ship this fall.

"Our first meeting, Coach Bullough just let us know right off the bat that we had a bunch of new guys coming in and that we need to remember what the seniors did last year to keep fighting all game long," cornerback Julian Whigham said. "I think the young guys really took after a lot of the guys that left. They've been in the system for a year now, for two years."

The cornerbacks are, in many ways, the anchors of the defense, with experienced seniors Whigham and Wayne Morgan back. Whigham knows his group will have to shoulder more of a load, but he is also looking for some personal redemption after a subpar showing last season that featured just one pick and two pass break-ups.

"I was just trying to do too much last year," he said. "I had a little bit of success my sophomore year, and I was just really trying to take it to the next level last year and I was just doing too much. Going out of my way, trying to make things happen and then it went exactly how I didn't want it to go. So it started to build up and it ate my confidence at the end of the season.

"So this year just back to basics, focusing on what I can do to get better every day, and making sure I become more consistent in my technique and my keys from that standpoint so I can be a great player."

Asked if a frightening lung contusion suffered at Florida State in 2013 stuck with him through 2014, Whigham conceded that the further away he gets from the injury, the better, adding that it may have affected him subconsciously.

Regardless, Whigham knows he must turn the page in 2015, as more will be asked of him in his final year. The same goes for a number of returning players with varying degrees of experience.

"There's guys with starts," Bullough said. "Zaire Franklin started. Donnie Simmons, John Raymon, they played some, but they weren't 'the guy.' It's different when you become 'the guy.'"

With just three starters returning from a defense that gave the Orange several chances at major upsets -- forcing five turnovers against Notre Dame and four at Clemson certainly stand out -- the opportunities are out there for underclassmen to prove themselves worthy of being "the guy" at their positions.

Even if those guys aren't on the field yet as the Orange complete these final two weeks of practice before their April 4 spring game.

"We'll probably have to play a lot more freshmen than you'd like to," Bullough said. "Obviously at the defensive line and the safety positions we lost a ton of players there, but we've really been proactive with those guys that are coming in, keeping in touch with them, and every week checking in what their weights are, what their bench is, what's it like. Really been proactive in that, knowing that these guys are going to have to come in and play.

"The flipside of that is, if we do have to play a lot, in two or three years now you'll have a seasoned group of guys that have really played a lot."

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The fallout from NCAA sanctions has already begun at Syracuse, as Daryl Gross has resigned from his post as athletic director and taken another job with the school, just 12 days after the NCAA released its penalties.

You can read more here about Wednesday's events, which include men's basketball coach Jim Boeheim's decision to step down in three years.

Gross' new job with Syracuse will be vice president and special assistant to the chancellor. Gross will also be an adjunct professor in the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics.

[+] EnlargeDaryl Gross
Rich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsDaryl Gross, hired in 2005, has resigned from his post as Syracuse's athletic director and taken another job with the school.

From the football side of things, Gross was involved in a number of dramatic changes for the program, both good and bad. He fired head coach Paul Pasqualoni shortly after his arrival as AD in December 2004, oversaw the launch of the program's new practice facility and, most notably, saw the school transition from the Big East to the ACC, where it began play in the 2013-14 academic year.

Gross also hired three different head football coaches, to varying degrees of success: Greg Robinson, Doug Marrone and current coach Scott Shafer.

A small committee chaired by trustee and board athletic committee member Steve Ballentine will assist the school in its search for Gross' full-time replacement. Until then, Peter Sala will serve as interim AD, this after serving as associate AD for facilities and the managing director of the Carrier Dome.

Syracuse is not the lone ACC school searching for a full-time AD, as Pitt finds itself in the same predicament after firing Steve Pederson this past December. Randy Juhl remains Pitt's interim AD, and he is the head of an internal search committee as well.

Coincidentally, both schools left the Big East together for the ACC, announcing their intentions back in the fall of 2011.

If Syracuse is in a rush to make a quick hire, it can probably look at what Pitt has been able to accomplish in the past three-plus months without a full-time AD.

As colleague Jared Shanker wrote earlier this month, the Panthers' situation did not stop them from landing their top head-coaching target for football after Paul Chryst left for Wisconsin.

Additionally, Pitt announced Wednesday a future home-and-home agreement in football with Tennessee: The Panthers will travel to Knoxville on Sept. 11, 2021, before hosting the Volunteers on Sept. 10, 2022.

From Florida State and Clemson to Miami and Boston College, offensive lines will be a big talking point for many ACC offenses this spring. But in Blacksburg, Virginia, Frank Beamer’s crew is actually feeling a bit optimistic.

As the Roanoke Times writes in its preview of the position, this marks the first time in the past four years that Virginia Tech has had the same O-line coach -- and recruiting, development and scheme philosophies -- which once again has the line firmly in the spotlight.

From the Times:

This group has been treading water for a few years, trying to dig out of a numbers deficiency and talent gap that's been been apparent whenever the Hokies played against even decent defensive lines.

It’s no secret that Virginia Tech hasn’t met expectations for the past three years, and while there have been plenty of areas that needed improvement, it’s hard to argue that the offensive line hasn’t been the most overwhelming problem.

For example, here are some crucial line-related numbers for Virginia Tech since 2012:

  • 42nd among 65 Power 5 teams in sack rate (6.4 percent)
  • tied for 62nd in yards per carry (4.27, not counting sacks)
  • 60th in touchdowns per rush (3.3 percent)
  • 60th in percentage of rushes going for a loss or no gain (21.5 percent)
  • 54th in yards per play on first down (5.32)
  • 60th in third- and fourth-and-short conversions (54.5 percent)

Those are all pretty atrocious results, which might explain why a line that figures to look quite a bit different in 2015 is also one that has a lot more enthusiasm surrounding it.

Stacy Searels has a track record of success building lines. Wyatt Teller was a revelation in the second half of 2014. Depth, for the first time in years, is an asset. And, of course, this year might also represent the best cast of skill-position players surrounding the line in years.

In other words, while FSU is hoping Wilson Bell can emerge as a star and Miami is excited to have Kc McDermott back in the fold, there may not be any ACC team with more focus on the offensive line this spring. And if that unit really does take a big step forward, there’s reason to think that Virginia Tech can, at long last, return to that 10-win plateau that had once been the norm.

A few more links:

Boston College fans who'd been eagerly anticipating the team's annual spring game are probably a bit disappointed with news that the team has nixed the exhibition in favor of an open scrimmage. Most fans, on the other hand, probably aren't sure what the difference is regardless.

For the second time in three years, the Eagles have opted against holding a traditional spring game, a decision coach Steve Addazio explained as a necessity to get his team ready:

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesCoach Steve Addazio prefers his team hold an open scrimmage instead of just the annual spring game.

"These adjustments are meant to best serve our team," Addazio said in a statement released by the school. "We understand that our fans have received this information on short notice, but we know that ultimately they are dedicated to support us as we strive to win as many games as possible this coming season."

While the move comes a bit late in the spring for BC, the Eagles are hardly the only team making changes to their spring calendar.

Duke, of course, has started a trend of early spring practices, and this year the Blue Devils didn't hold a spring game at all due to stadium renovations.

Repairs to Kenan Stadium meant North Carolina had two separate spring "events" -- including one in Charlotte, North Carolina -- rather than a traditional spring game.

Last year, it was Pittsburgh cutting the spring game from its schedule as former coach Paul Chryst suggested more practice time benefited a young team.

In the big picture, it's easy to wonder why any of it matters in the first place.

Yes, there are some fans who enjoy the game — which is usually a chance to get an early look at the team for free. And some schools pack out the stadium for these spring exhibitions, too. But the vast majority of programs could probably add up the costs and benefits and come to the same conclusion Addazio has this year: There's just not much reward for the investment.

On the plus side, spring games are good recruiting tools, as Syracuse.com notes in its story about the hefty number of recruits planning to be on campus for the Orange's spring game this season. And more and more, these exhibitions are broadcast -- either online or on TV -- to give schools even more of a wide net for recruiting.

But for the players already on the field, the spring game isn't much help. Because it's played under game-like conditions, there's limited opportunity for coaches to work on nuanced issues. Because the crowd is in the stands, coaches typically water down the playbook and stick to vanilla schemes. And because of injury concerns, plenty of stars never take the field in the first place -- limiting depth and setting up the game as a showcase for walk-ons as much as next year's key players.

With practice time limited by NCAA rules and coaches forced to limit hands-on contact with players once spring practice ends, Addazio's plan to maximize his opportunities to get his team better makes a lot more sense from a practical standpoint. And for the fans, the rare spring-game highlight probably doesn't make up for the often monotonous conditions that drain any drama from the exhibition.

Certainly there could be tweaks made to improve the spring games — whether it be playing other teams or adding some celebrity entertainment value — but really, these are relics that seem unnecessary at best and wastes of time and money at worst. So don't be too surprised if Addazio's plan becomes the norm at more than a few schools moving forward.

A few more links:

Two ACC head coaches had to make offensive coordinator hires this offseason after their assistants left for new jobs.

Both ended up looking on their own staffs.

Dabo Swinney and Steve Addazio opted to promote from within in order to maintain continuity for their coaching staffs and players. Receivers coach Jeff Scott and running backs coach Tony Elliott will share coordinator duties at Clemson, replacing Chad Morris; Addazio moved receivers coach Todd Fitch to coordinator after Ryan Day left for the Eagles.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
Alex Menendez/Getty ImagesDabo Swinney on co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott: "These guys are both rock stars in this business."

(Syracuse could also be included -- Tim Lester was kept on as offensive coordinator after being tabbed to fill the spot midway through last season).

The moves are interesting because they bucked what has been a growing trend among Power 5 conferences: throwing wads of cash at high-profile coordinators. Swinney has done that himself. Morris earned $1.3 million in his final year as Clemson offensive coordinator; Brent Venables is one of the highest paid defensive coordinators in the country as well at $1.35 million a year.

Given where the Clemson program stands right now, Swinney did not feel the need to find another high-profile coordinator. When he hired Morris in 2011, he needed somebody to get the offense headed in the right direction.

Though the Tigers are coming off their fourth straight double-digit win season, the biggest thing his offense needs is continuity -- especially with a young quarterback in Deshaun Watson ready to have a breakout year.

Scott and Elliott worked and learned under Morris. Their ascension was put into place years ago. That’s why it only took one day for Swinney to officially announce his decision last December.

"I’ve got two guys that are going to work great together. Both have the command of the offense and certainly leadership ability to lead the team," Swinney said. "I always think if you can promote from within when feasible, that’s the kind of culture I want to have. There was no thought at all. It was just a matter of when the time was going to be. These guys are both rock stars in this business.

"It gives us great chemistry and great continuity for years to come offensively."

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesSteve Addazio on promoting Todd Fitch to offensive coordinator: "He's just a great guy, a great coach and we're all close."

BC is not necessarily in the business of doling out million dollar salaries to assistants, but Addazio also mentioned chemistry when he discussed why he decided to promote Fitch. "The chemistry level on the staff is as good as I’ve ever been around," Addazio said. "He’s just a great guy, a great coach and we’re all close. I wanted to make sure I had great chemistry on the staff."

His situation was different than the one Swinney faced, because Day left with just a few weeks to go before Signing Day. Plus, Addazio is heavily involved in the offensive meeting rooms and game-planning, so it was easier for him to put somebody in the coordinator spot who understands his scheme. Day worked with Addazio previously at Temple, so the two had a long working relationship.

Though the offensive scheme is not the same one that Fitch ran in previous stints as offensive coordinator at UConn, East Carolina, and USF, working with Addazio the past two years has him completely on the same page.

"Being here previously and learning the verbiage and how Coach wants things done, certainly I’m more comfortable than if he’d hired me off the street from another school," Fitch said. "It’s made the transition much simpler. It still is different -- some of the things I called or did are different. When you start calling plays, you’ve got to get your mind trained when you’re trying to get them out fast, but it’s been good.

"The players and I have been around each other for two years. We have a great staff, and those are the biggest transitions you have when you take a job."

This is actually the second time Fitch has been promoted from within for an offensive coordinator job. Skip Holtz hired him at UConn in 1994 as quarterbacks coach, then promoted him to offensive coordinator in 1996, a job he held for three seasons.

"Any head coach, not just Steve, when you hire an offensive or defensive coordinator -- especially on your side of the ball -- do you want to blow the thing up and start all over again with the way you call things and verbiage?" Fitch said. "So it makes it easier on everybody if you’re able to do what’s been done. Everybody has their own wrinkles, maybe some new runs or new passes, but as long as the players know how to communicate, everything is easier."

ACC morning links

March, 16, 2015
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Sam Werner at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had a very interesting piece on the eve of Pat Narduzzi's first practice as Pitt's head coach. Werner dives into Narduzzi's Youngstown, Ohio, upbringing and his fiery emotions -- which isn't meant as a negative -- on the sideline.

Early on, Werner brings up an interesting point on how Narduzzi's sideline excitability will affect his ability as a head coach and whether Narduzzi will need to rein it in. That passion is what helped him climb the ladder from assistant at Rhode Island to architect of one of college football's stingiest defenses at budding power Michigan State.

"[B]eing a head coach requires an even more delicate balance. At one instant, Narduzzi must be calm and thoughtful to make rational decisions. At the next, he has to spark his players with the same sort of motivation he has used throughout his entire career," Werner writes.

Narduzzi told Werner he will have to "change a little bit probably" but that he has no intentions of losing his enthusiasm.

At the college level, head coaches are required to double as CEO and face of the program. That has proven to be a tough and unexpected requirement that some talented assistant coaches struggled with in the past. No one would ever question Narduzzi's coaching chops -- he was considered a home-run hire for Pitt -- but it will certainly be worth watching if and how his sideline demeanor changes as Pitt's head coach.

  • Five questions heading into the spring season for Pittsburgh, and the first has to do with Narduzzi and the defense.
  • This is a nice feature from Corey Clark on the longevity Florida State football and basketball play-by-play voice Gene Deckerhoff. The first time I spoke with Deckerhoff, a few questions turned into a 30-minute conversation. The last time I spoke with him, he was explaining how his interest in The Grammys was reignited because of his affection for the latest pop music. He's a big fan of Meghan Trainor's single "All About That Bass."
  • Here is an in-depth timeline of events from the NCAA's case on Syracuse.
  • Former Georgia Tech back Zach Laskey performed well at the school's pro day.
  • It won't be answered this spring, but it will be worth watching who emerges from Virginia Tech's group of young, talented (and injury-riddled) running backs.
  • Facility changes are coming to Clemson, and Dabo Swinney is starting to see his dreams put into action.

ACC morning links

March, 13, 2015
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Before the ACC tournament starts up, check out what is going on in football across the league.

1. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler gave an extensive interview to Roanoke Times beat reporter Andy Bitter, and discussed how much better he feels about the offense headed into Year 3. Primarily, that has to do with so many returning players -- especially quarterback Michael Brewer. Rather than install his offense and run a quarterback competition, this spring the focus can be on getting the entire offense vastly improved. Loeffler told Bitter: "Year 3 you know exactly what you’ve got. There’s no walking into spring football and walking into training camp trying to figure out who you are, what you want to do. You’ve got an idea of exactly who you are. ... It’s a refreshing feeling in comparison to [Years] 1 and 2." Given all the experienced players returning, pressure will be much higher to produce on offense. Loeffler knows all that. "We should be much, much, much improved." There is plenty more insight in the interview about competition across each position.

2. Florida State opens practice next week, and one of the big areas to watch will be on the offensive and defensive lines, which suffered heavy attrition. The Seminoles lose four starters from the offensive line and two from the defensive line -- two groups that did not really live up to expectations a season ago. But there is some good news. Florida State returns Rod Johnson to anchor the offensive line, and he has the potential to have an All-ACC season as a sophomore. The defensive line is where Florida State must make significant improvement, even with Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman gone. There was nothing to brag about for that unit last season as it struggled to contain the run and get a pass rush going. There are some players with experience here, including Nile Lawrence-Stample, Derrick Mitchell and Chris Casher.

3. Georgia Tech holds its Pro Day today. Here are Synjyn Days and Shaq Mason getting measured. You can watch on ESPN3.

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Here are a few more links:

ACC morning links

March, 11, 2015
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Here are a few interesting tidbits to get your morning started.

1. Though Jameis Winston no longer plays for Florida State, there remains an incredible amount of interest around him. I found this item from Peter King quite interesting. Winston took it upon himself to set up a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, to tell his own story and figure out what awaits him in the NFL. Goodell agreed to meet with him, and they spent time together last Thursday in the NFL offices in New York. Winston also met with several other league officials while he was there. One league official told King: "He went out of his way to make a good impression, and to show that he understood what was going to be expected of him in the NFL." No matter what you think about him, Winston made a great decision to be proactive.

2. Athlon Sports has ranked the pre-spring top 15 players in the ACC. Hard to argue with No. 1 choice James Conner, the reigning ACC Player of the Year. What should have Pitt fans standing up to take note is seeing receiver Tyler Boyd ranked at No. 4. Pitt joins Florida State as the only schools with two players ranked in the top 5. While the ranking is not surprising, it shows the type of potential the Pitt offense has headed into the year. Pitt has to get used to a new staff and scheme, but with the 1,000-yard rushing and receiving duo returning, the Panthers cannot be counted out in the Coastal. Where have I heard that one before ...

3. Louisville is holding its pro day Wednesday. A year after his own pro day sent his stock dropping, at least former Cards quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has a sense of humor about it all:


Now on to some more links:
The NCAA hit Syracuse hard on Friday for a wide-range of NCAA violations dating back to 2001, largely involving the men's basketball program.

But the football program did not go unscathed.

The NCAA ruled football committed two violations. Between 2005-07, a part-time tutor and three football players were involved in academic misconduct. As a result, the program was told to vacate wins from the 2004, 2005 and 2006 seasons. The school already self-imposed that penalty, taking away 11 victories. In addition, three football players and two basketball players received more than $8,000 between 2004-05 from a booster for volunteering at the local YMCA.

The entire athletic program was charged with failure to monitor and control its programs, and placed on five years' probation. The outcome could have been much worse for football, which does not have to serve a postseason ban, nor lose any scholarships. The football seasons in question represent some of the lowest points in the school's football history, including the start of the Greg Robinson era.

You can read much more about the NCAA investigation here. Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud said in a press release the school is considering an appeal, disputing the allegation that it lacked institutional control.

Syracuse has a right to appeal. But it is hard to ignore just how blatantly the rules were violated on so many different levels, from academic misconduct, violation of its own drug policy, extra benefits and impermissible booster activity. This leads to two additional questions:

1. How safe is athletic director Daryl Gross' job moving forward? Gross has been in charge 10 years, when many of these violations occurred.

2. How does this ruling impact the ongoing NCAA investigation into academic fraud at North Carolina? Folks in Chapel Hill might be feeling a little nervous right about now.
While Big Ten and other NCAA officials discuss rules limiting eligibility for first-year players in football and men’s basketball, ACC football coaches are nearly unanimous in wanting to move in the opposite direction.

In a poll of ACC football coaches, 12 of the 13 who responded said they favored or would consider expanding eligibility to allow players to play five years — eliminating the redshirt completely — and every coach expressed significant reservations about potentially redshirting all freshmen.

The debate has become a talking point after the Big Ten opened discussions on the subject of improving academics for freshmen by taking them off the field to focus more on the classroom, but every coach polled said they’d seen no firm correlation between grades and playing time, and many suggested redshirting freshmen can actually have a detrimental effect on their overall college experience.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesDavid Cutcliffe coaches at a school known for stellar academics, and he doesn't see a need to restrict freshman eligibility.
“My case study is watching young people, and the people who do redshirt that had been stars really struggle with their identity and happiness,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who has 33 years of experience coaching in the SEC and ACC.

Indeed, most coaches suggest the athletes with the greatest deficiencies in the classroom are also the ones who would be hurt the most by taking away their on-field experience, while the ones with the best time-management skills away from coaches are typically flourishing academically already.

“The kids that are mature and make good decisions, a redshirt year can be good for them,” NC State coach Dave Doeren said. “But the at-risk student is better off if he’s playing right away and engaged with the team all the time.”

While the specifics of freshman eligibility have not yet been a topic discussed among ACC coaches formally, Doeren said he was hopeful those conversations would begin soon, so that the concerns shared by the coaches can be addressed.

ACC commissioner John Swofford appeared open to restricted eligibility when asked by the Louisville Courier-Journal last month, though he conceded the logistics would be challenging.

“It's not a new topic,” Swofford told the paper. “It's been talked about in our league, as well as others, periodically. I'm old enough to have played in that system, and it was a good one. I think it's very educationally sound, and I think we should think about and consider anything that's educationally sound. Whether we get back to that, I don't know. I don't know if it fits the times in today's world. We haven't taken any votes in our league in regard to it in recent years.”

While the ACC does not specifically track league-wide academic performance of freshmen compared with older student-athletes, the conference does have the highest academic rating overall among Power 5 leagues, according to U.S. News and World Report, and 11 of the 14 institutions had an APR better than the FBS average. It's noteworthy, too, that of the 65 members of the league's academic All-ACC team, 12 were true freshmen.

On the NCAA level, eligibility restrictions for the most at-risk athletes are already set to go into effect beginning in 2016. Students who fail to meet core course requirements, GPA and ACT or SAT scores will be forced to redshirt or grayshirt their first year.

Extending eligibility restrictions to all freshmen would be a knee-jerk reaction, however, Cutcliffe said.

“I don’t know what they’re trying to accomplish other than getting better grades out of it, and that’s just not going to happen,” he said.

What it clearly would accomplish, however, is a huge strain on the remaining rosters for all teams.

Until 1972, freshmen were ineligible for competition. But at that time there were no scholarship limits in place, and programs could easily field a team without the newcomers. Moreover, seasons were shorter, with the majority of programs playing just 11 games until the early 2000s. This past season, Oregon and Ohio State played 15 games — one shy of an NFL season — and if freshmen hadn’t been eligible to play, they might have been limited to a roster of just 60 scholarship athletes.

“That’s basically an NFL roster, but we don’t get to pick up anybody off waivers, have free agency, make trades,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “I’m not sure how that would work, and I don’t think they have any intention of giving us more scholarships.”

[+] EnlargeLarry Fedora
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonNorth Carolina's Larry Fedora and other coaches would certainly want to ease the 85-scholarship limit if freshmen weren't eligible.
Instead, coaches pointed to two distinct areas that could address academic concerns without eliminating eligibility.

First, schools need to do a better job of developing programs to ensure a smoother transition for incoming freshmen to the rigors of college life. As Doeren suggested, time management and study skills differentiate students who succeed from the ones who fall behind, and instilling those in freshmen upon arrival in the summer is crucial.

Virginia’s Mike London said he shared some of the Big Ten’s concerns regarding academic performance and would be open to further discussion of potential solutions, but he said those answers should start with an in-house focus on supporting students in the classroom.

“We all know the biggest transition is from high school to college,” London said. “It’s important to me that the structures you have in place — academic advising, mentoring, tutoring — that’s as critical as anything else, and if you’re successful there, you allow the student-athletes — particularly the freshmen — to come in and have success.”

Moreover, Fedora said he’d like to see schools raise their admissions standards for athletes to weed out those who would be most likely to struggle with academics.

“Raise your standards,” Fedora said. “Don’t just let anybody in. If they’re not academically ready, then don’t let them in.”

All but one coach polled suggested five years of eligibility on the field would allow coaches more wiggle room in developing their freshmen.

“I would make everybody eligible, and then your team will be a lot healthier,” Miami coach Al Golden said. “There would never be a situation where a kid would feel like he’s letting his teammates down. The communication would improve. Health and safety would improve, and I bet our graduation rates and the number of student-athletes leaving with postgraduate degrees would increase sharply, too.”

It’s a plan that was reiterated again and again by ACC coaches concerned with player safety, academics and, of course, winning.

The bottom line among all coaches, however, is that more discussion of these issues is required, and that input from the coaches dealing with student-athletes on a daily basis should be weighed as strongly as any broad statistics being used to tout academic struggles for freshmen.

“A lot of things we do, we change before they’re truly broken,” Cutcliffe said. “I hope they listen to reason. I’d hate to see [eligibility restrictions] happen.”

ACC morning links

March, 5, 2015
Mar 5
9:00
AM ET
You do not have to look too hard to find the standard spring preview fare now that practices have begun across the country.

USA Today is the latest with its prospectus, covering the usual ground. But one particular item stood out. Scroll to the bottom and there are five impact newcomers listed. One is tight end Jerome Washington, a junior college transfer who played club football for Gattaca last year.

Miami coaches have been pleased what they have seen out of Washington so far in camp, but he is not the only tight end who has drawn praise. The Canes believe they are deep enough and talented enough at tight end to make up for the loss of Clive Walford, who finished second on the team with 676 yards receiving and seven touchdowns a year ago and is one of the highest-rated tight ends available for the NFL draft.

"Clive left us in a really good position because everybody in that room saw how much he grew as a player and a person," coach Al Golden told ESPN.com recently. "I'm really excited about that group."

Veteran Stan Dobard leads the group, but Golden also mentioned Chris Herndon, Jake O'Donnell, David Njoku and Washington. There is no doubt Miami has a group of big guys who are athletic. Dobard was a four-star recruit out of high school; Njoku competes in the high jump for the track team and just placed sixth at the ACC Indoor Track and Field championships. Washington, the No. 1 rated junior college tight end, certainly looks the part. At 6-foot-5 and 262 pounds, he has impressed his coaches in the early going.

"His ceiling is through the roof," tight ends coach Larry Scott told reporters in South Florida earlier this week. "He's already 260-plus pounds and you go 'Wow.' You get him out here and work with him and see him stride, see him do movements that big guys typically have a hard time doing or have to over years develop. He does it naturally. You look at yourself and shake your head and go, 'We've got a special one here.'"

But Scott cautioned that Washington is still a freshman and has much learning to do. Whether or not he can make an impact this season remains to be seen. But Miami will be asking its tight ends to step up with Walford gone. So a big opportunity awaits.

Elsewhere around the ACC:
  • A few Syracuse news items of interest. Defensive tackle Ryan Sloan has decided to leave the program after several incidents over the last few years made him realize Syracuse was not the right place for him. The Orange are really hurting for depth at the defensive tackle spot this spring. Marcus Coleman is also gone, thanks to foot injuries that cut his career short. Meanwhile, backup quarterback AJ Long told a local television station he expects to redshirt the 2015 season. Long was supposed to redshirt last year, but was forced to play when starting quarterback Terrel Hunt got hurt. Now that Hunt is healthy, it makes sense for the staff to try and get Long a redshirt year back.
  • Florida State picked up a commitment from a junior college linebacker for the class of 2016.
  • Louisville picked up a commitment from a 380-pound defensive tackle nicknamed "Big Snack."
  • NC State wants to continue to build on its recent success.
  • Virginia Tech running back Shai McKenzie has been suspended indefinitely after he was charged with two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
  • Wake Forest is going to be without the two cornerbacks expected to take over starting roles all spring.
  • This is not football related, but it is a must-read for anybody who uses the Internet. Bravo, Curt Schilling. Bravo.
  • We'll leave you with this quick video showing Clemson unveiling its latest tombstone, a tradition that pays tribute to each road win against a ranked opponent. Oklahoma was the latest "victim."

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