ACC: Virginia Cavaliers

Games are won in the fall. But the foundations for great plays, and great seasons, are often built behind the scenes in the spring and summer months. With spring ball already underway at a few ACC stops, we're taking a look at some of the players who have plenty to prove on the field in the coming weeks and months.

Sean Maguire. The race to replace Jameis Winston will draw no shortage of attention in Tallahassee. And the man currently at the top of the pecking order, at least experience-wise, is Maguire, a redshirt junior. Starting in place of the suspended Winston in FSU's biggest game of the year, at home in September against Clemson, Maguire had an up-and-down performance: 21-of-39 passing for 304 yards with one touchdown and two picks in an overtime win. Still, that's more than anyone else on the roster can show right now, and it's up to Maguire to fend off highly-touted challengers J.J. Cosentino (redshirt freshman) and De'Andre Johnson (freshman).

[+] EnlargeTallahassee, FL - September 20, 2014 - Doak Campbell Stadium: Sean Maguire (10) of the Florida State University Seminoles during a regular season game (Photo by Scott Clarke / ESPN Images)
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesStarting in place of a suspended Jameis Winston, Sean Maguire led the Seminoles to an overtime win against Clemson last season.
Stacy Coley. Remember this guy? Let's refresh your memory: As a freshman in 2013, Coley burst onto the scene for Miami, catching 33 passes for 591 yards and seven touchdowns, while also returning a punt and a kickoff for a score. (And rushing for one more, too.) Then he had a sophomore slump in 2014: Just 23 catches for 184 yards, with no scores. A shoulder injury was partly to blame, but the dropoff was still perplexing. If Coley can regain his rookie form and connect with reigning ACC rookie of the year Brad Kaaya, that could certainly open things up for the Hurricanes' offense moving forward.

Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell. Mizzell has been stellar and versatile through two seasons at Virginia, leading all ACC running backs last season with 39 catches. Still, more is expected of a former ballyhooed recruit than 280 rushing yards, which Mizzell totaled last year. And as Mizzell enters his junior year in a crucial season for the Cavalier program, he needs to make the leap from good to great, especially with Kevin Parks now out of the picture.

Jabari Hunt-Days. Hunt-Days missed the 2014 season because of an academic issue, a big setback for a player who had notched seven stops behind the line of scrimmage as a sophomore in 2013 -- after earning several freshman All-America honors the year before. He's a fifth-year senior now, and the outside linebacker could be the big playmaker who brings Georgia Tech's defense up a level in 2015. (His brother, Synjyn Days, certainly set a nice example in 2014 with a strong senior year for the Yellow Jackets.)

Josh Harvey-Clemons. Spots are open for the taking in Louisville's secondary, and few may be in better position to take advantage than Harvey-Clemons, the former ESPN four-star prospect. The safety was dismissed from Georgia last winter following multiple violations of team rules and reunited with defensive coordinator Todd Grantham with the Cardinals. Despite missing two games in 2013, Harvey-Clemons led the SEC with three fumble recoveries, adding 5.5 tackles for loss and one pick. The talent is obviously there. Now eligible, Harvey-Clemons must perform for the Cards.

Al-Quadin Muhammad. Now a redshirt sophomore at Miami, Muhammad is back with the Hurrricanes after a semester-long university-issued suspension last fall. The former ESPN four-star prospect said he never contemplated transferring, and coaches and teammates have stuck by the lineman. The 6-foot-3, 260-pounder has changed his jersey number from No. 98 to No. 8, and he certainly possesses the physical tools necessary to make an impact up front on the Canes' defense, for whom he tallied a pair of sacks as a true freshman when he last took the field, in 2013.

Everett Golson. Golson struggled down the stretch in 2014 for Notre Dame, with all 22 of his turnovers coming in the final nine regular-season games, leading to Malik Zaire starting the Irish's bowl against LSU. Both quarterbacks played in the win, but Golson -- who had begun his college career with a 16-1 as a starter -- will have no shortage of suitors elsewhere if he chooses to leave Notre Dame. In order to do that, though, he must first graduate, something he has said he is on track to accomplish this spring. If Golson wins the job back soon, does that mean he likely stays? If the starting job remains unclear as he gets his diploma, does he take his chances elsewhere? Stay tuned.
The contrast at quarterback in the ACC between this spring and last spring is pretty easy to quantify.

Last spring: Six teams had quarterbacks with zero career starts.

This spring: Two teams have quarterbacks with zero career starts.

Last spring: ACC teams combined for 76 returning career starts at quarterback.

This spring: ACC teams combined for double that mark, with 155 returning career starts at the position.

Last spring: Four ACC teams returned their starter from the previous season.

This spring: 10 ACC teams return their starting quarterback.

So even with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston gone, it is pretty safe to say the ACC will be leaps better at quarterback in 2015. More experienced players return, though interestingly enough, the two most experienced teams at quarterback a year ago are now the least: Florida State and Duke.

Winston showed exceptional talent can make up for inexperience. So did three first-time starters a year ago, players that blossomed into bona fide stars: Brad Kaaya at Miami, Justin Thomas at Georgia Tech and Deshaun Watson at Clemson.

Add in Marquise Williams at North Carolina (who will miss the spring with a hip injury), and four quarterbacks have the potential not only to be selected preseason All-ACC quarterback, but one could very easily be preseason ACC Offensive Player of the Year.

Kaaya and Williams each threw for 3,000 yards. Kaaya led the ACC in pass efficiency and passing yards per completion; Thomas ranked No. 4 in the ACC in rushing. Watson threw 14 touchdowns to two interceptions and completed 68 percent of his passes in his injury-shortened year (while also being a valuable rusher).

In Williams’ case, he had to survive a heated quarterback competition last spring that went into the season, when coach Larry Fedora decided to play him and Mitch Trubisky. But once Williams became the full-time starter after the first month of the season, his play blossomed. As our David Hale pointed out, only five Power 5 quarterbacks had more total touchdowns (20) than Williams from game 7 until the season ended. Though Trubisky will get the first-team reps this spring, Williams is expected to return as the starter when he is healthy come fall camp.

Even beyond the top tier, a quarterback such as Chad Voytik will have a chance to improve under new offensive coordinator Jim Chaney.

“He’s probably one of the most impressive guys in our morning runs,” coach Pat Narduzzi said of Voytik. “People talk about Tyler Boyd and James Conner. That’s maybe one of the forgotten guys. Chad Voytik is a heck of a football player. He’s a competitor.”

And at Virginia, the Hoos are going into the spring without a quarterback controversy for the first time in five years. Greyson Lambert returns as the starter, with Matt Johns right behind him.

“This is the first time in a long time you have two guys who have played, and they played pretty good opponents, kept us in some close games and they both have stats,” London said. “If you look at the rest of the league, we probably have the most experienced 1-2 quarterback duo coming back, and that has to be a positive for us.”

London is close. Louisville and Syracuse have three players with at least one career start, thanks to injuries at the position a year ago. But unlike Syracuse, which will go with healthy Terrel Hunt as its starter, Louisville has declared an open quarterback competition.

Will Gardner (seven starts) will miss the spring, leaving Reggie Bonnafon (five starts), Kyle Bolin (one start) and Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson to get the majority of the reps.

Two more teams will have open competitions this spring: Florida State (Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino, De'Andre Johnson) and Boston College (Darius Wade, Troy Flutie). The Seminoles have at least had stability at the position under Jimbo Fisher, who is on the verge of producing his third straight first-round pick at quarterback.

BC, meanwhile, will start its third quarterback in three seasons under Steve Addazio.

“No matter what you do, your quarterback doesn’t have any experience, and that’s our job. We have to find the guy that’s going to be the best leader for this football team,” Addazio said. “For me to tell you I know that’s going to happen at a high, high level next year? I can’t say that because that position is tough. But that’s our job. To get the next guy in line and to get the most out of that guy. Whoever that guy is, we’re going to make the most mature that we can make him in the shortest amount of time.”

Unlike last year, that is a problem only a few teams have to deal with this spring.
Spring football is off and running at several ACC schools, with many more set to kick things off in the coming days and weeks. There is no shortage of storylines throughout the league, but here are the questions that stand out above all else:

1. Does the ACC have an embarrassment of quarterback riches? It's not every day a league can withstand losing a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback to the pros (more on FSU later), but the ACC has a ton of talent coming back under center in 2015. Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, NC State, Pitt, Syracuse, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest all return players who started at quarterback in 2014. Thomas Sirk is the frontrunner at Duke, and he saw extended time last year as a change-of-pace quarterback, too. Then there's Clemson and North Carolina, whose talented signal-callers from last fall will miss this spring, giving others a chance to prove themselves and build depth. Which brings us to …

2. What about the No. 2 quarterbacks? Deshaun Watson may be way ahead of schedule in his recovery from ACL surgery, as Dabo Swinney said Friday, and we all know what the sophomore is capable of when he is healthy. But this spring will see others get a chance at Clemson, as last year's No. 3 signal-caller, Nick Schuessler, leads a trio of quarterbacks that includes early enrollees Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel. At North Carolina, meanwhile, the Tar Heels will have to go through spring drills without starter Marquise Williams, who is sidelined with a hip injury. That means Mitch Trubisky, who split time with Williams in the early part of the 2014 season, will run the first team this spring.

3. How does FSU replace Jameis? More quarterback talk, you say? Why of course! Florida State lost just one game in two years with Jameis Winston as its starter, so replacing him is no easy task. Sean Maguire is back after an uneven performance in his lone start last year, but he will have to battle it out with redshirt freshman J.J. Cosentino, a former ESPN four-star prospect, and early enrollee De'Andre Johnson, another four-star prospect.

[+] EnlargePat Narduzzi
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPat Narduzzi spent the past eight seasons as Michigan State's defensive coordinator.
4. What does Narduzzi bring to Pitt? There is just one new head coach in the ACC this time around. And, once again, he resides in the Steel City. Pat Narduzzi is the fourth different head coach to open a spring in Pittsburgh since 2010, but he walks into a pretty good situation. The Panthers boast junior studs in James Conner and Tyler Boyd on offense, and Narduzzi's defensive roots should prove valuable to a Panthers unit that struggled down the stretch last season.

5. How will BC's offensive makeover look? Few coaches have had as much early success at new stops as Steve Addazio has had at Boston College, taking a two-win team from 2012 to consecutive 7-6 seasons. In 2013, he rode Heisman finalist running back Andre Williams to a strong finish. In 2014, he relied on dual-threat transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy. This season Addazio promoted receivers coach Todd Fitch to offensive coordinator after Ryan Day left for the Philadelphia Eagles, and he is looking for a more balanced attack. This could be more challenging considering he'll be without a senior signal-caller for the first time.

6. Will early enrollees make an impact? We already mentioned Johnson at FSU, but five-star safety Derwin James could have an easier path to the field, given the Seminoles' openings in the secondary. So, too, could five-star receiver George Campbell. Similar circumstances at North Carolina could allow four-star linebacker Andre Smith to start early, especially on a Tar Heels defense that had a staff makeover and is in need of a massive turnaround from 2014.

7. Can Clemson's defense again be dominant? The Tigers boasted the nation's No. 1 defense last season, but they said goodbye to plenty of talent. Coordinator Brent Venables will have his work cut for him, but bringing back Shaq Lawson, D.J. Reader, Ben Boulware, Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse is certainly a good starting point for a team that appears to be the early league frontrunner in 2015.

8. Will Louisville keep it going defensively? The Cardinals' defense was one of the bigger surprise of 2014, Bobby Petrino's first year back with the program. But all of those playmakers came from the past regime, and Petrino will be counting on transfers with troubled pasts to pitch in this year: former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, former Georgia corner Shaq Wiggins and former TCU linebacker Devonte Fields.

9. Can Miami take advantage of the talent at its disposal? Brad Kaaya, Joseph Yearby, Gus Edwards and Stacy Coley give the Hurricanes a great starting point this spring. But Miami likely has to figure out its retooling offensive line in order to take advantage of its weapons. Questions on how this team went 6-7 last year continue to mount, and now will be as good of a time as any for the Canes to get things going and change the conversation.

10. Will Notre Dame get a quarterback answer? The Irish's inaugural year of quasi-ACC membership helped bring us arguably the game of the year, at Florida State. This year the Irish, who return 19 starters, will face six ACC teams, including contests against potential division frontrunners Clemson and Georgia Tech. But who is directing the offense under center will likely be determined this spring, as Everett Golson and Malik Zaire will battle it out after splitting reps in Notre Dame's bowl win over LSU. There is also always the chance that Golson, who said he graduates this spring, could transfer and play his fifth season elsewhere this fall.

ACC morning links

February, 27, 2015
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Athlon put together a list of 20 running backs on the rise for 2015, and it’s an ACC-heavy club.

The top 20 includes FSU’s Dalvin Cook, Clemson’s Wayne Gallman, BC’s Jon Hilliman, Virginia’s Taquan Mizzell and Miami’s Joseph Yearby. Georgia Tech’s C.J. Leggett also cracks the “others to watch” list. So that’s six running backs from the conference’s 14 teams, but it’s possible the list could’ve been even longer.

NC State’s combo of Shad Thornton and Matt Dayes was exceptionally good last season. Had their combined stats belonged to just one runner, their 23 touchdowns and 1,934 scrimmage yards would’ve ranked second in the ACC.

North Carolina’s T.J. Logan has been a reflection of his team the past two years -- slow starts followed by strong finishes, but he topped 92 yards in three of his final four games last year, and from Nov. 1 on, 43 percent of his rushes gained at least 5 yards.

Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff had to share the backfield with a trio of other productive runners throughout last season, but he still ran for 12 scores (third in the ACC) and had 22 carries of 10 yards or more, trailing only James Conner of Pittsburgh and Cook among returning ACC runners.

Duke’s Shaun Wilson will likely still share plenty of snaps with Shaq Powell, but no Power 5 back in the nation with at least 75 carries had a higher yards per carry average than the freshman last year.

At Virginia Tech, J.C. Coleman will be No. 1 on the depth chart after a strong finish to the season, but Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams both showed flashes of brilliance as true freshmen last year behind a lackluster offensive line.

And since this was an “on the rise” list, it didn’t even include the ACC’s player of the year in Conner.

In other words, the ACC should have a really strong corps of runners next season, and it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question for the league to end up with a half-dozen 1,000-yard backs or more.

A few more links:
What does it say about the ACC that the Power 5 coach rankings of the worst jobs included five schools from the conference?

It says coaching in the ACC does not exactly qualify as a cakewalk, given the challenges schools such as Boston College, Syracuse, Duke and Wake Forest face on a daily basis.

Rather than describing them as the "worst" jobs, we can acknowledge that these four programs present tough jobs for any head coach. They are all private, all relatively small with small stadiums and all in catch-up mode with their facilities. Perhaps the rankings speak more to the jobs Steve Addazio and David Cutcliffe have done, winning at places deemed so difficult. Scott Shafer took his Orange to a bowl game in 2013 too.

Their placement in the bottom tier was not completely surprising, though Duke at No. 58 overall seemed low. The biggest surprise was Virginia ranked among the worst jobs in the Power 5 conferences, at No. 51.

You are going to have a hard time convincing me Oregon State, Minnesota and Illinois are better jobs. Same goes for Kentucky and several others ranked a little higher.

On paper, Virginia has many advantages. There are ways to recruit top talent from the area, which produces ESPN 300 players year in and year out. The campus and academics are huge selling points, the facilities are good, and Virginia has a strong track record of placing guys into the NFL. Plus, the Cavaliers are in the easier division in the ACC, which means winning the conference is a little less challenging than it is for Atlantic Division teams.

Despite those advantages, Virginia hasn't thrived as a football program in recent times, with zero ACC championship game appearances and zero 10-win seasons since 1989. While in-state rival Virginia Tech has flourished, Virginia has been an underachiever. Due to that, the job has been downgraded in the rankings.

There is some logic to that evaluation. Winning should make a job more desirable. Would Baylor or TCU have been a Top-30 job 20 years ago? Would Miami have been a lower-tier, Top-25 job 20 years ago?

But winning cannot be the only factor taken into consideration. Virginia is brimming with potential, which makes the job appealing in many ways. It's certainly more appealing than No. 51 out of 65 Power 5 programs.
This spring provides a Take 2 of sorts for Virginia defensive tackle Andrew Brown.

Now that the exceptionally gifted lineman is completely healthy, coach Mike London is expecting much more. Especially since the defense needs to find playmakers with five key starters gone -- including Eli Harold, Henry Coley and Max Valles, who combined for 24 of the team's 34 sacks.

"Andrew Brown looks good right now," London said in a recent phone interview. "It's time for him. All the things that were talked about when when came in -- now he's healthy. He's 290, squatting over 500. We feel good about where we are right now."

[+] EnlargeAndrew Brown
AP Photo/Steve HelberVirginia DT Andrew Brown battled toe and shoulder injuries in his first season at Virginia, but he's ready to go for spring.
Brown came into Virginia last year with as much hype as safety Quin Blanding. They were two highly touted ESPN 300 recruits with incredible upside. But Brown was never 100 percent healthy. He enrolled in school early but hurt his toe during spring practice and was forced to the sideline. The turf toe lingered throughout the season and then Brown injured his shoulder.

He did end up playing in six games -- including the final four. But he was unable to make the same impact as Blanding, who went on to become ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and a Freshman All-American.

Now, Brown has an opportunity to shine. London said Brown is penciled in with the starters for the start of spring practice, set to begin next month.

"When you’re a big guy and have the whole turf toe issue, pressing that 300 pounds, cutting and planting -- you need that when you’re playing up front," London said. "Then he had the shoulder issue. I know it was frustrating for him, but the kid has been super throughout.

"He's excited about being healthy and we’re going to expect big things from him. He’s got to learn the game as he goes on, but he’s got a lot of talent and ability."

Despite losing five starters -- Daquan Romero and All-American safety Anthony Harris also are gone -- London is encouraged with the group he returns on defense. He points to experience along the defensive front with Mike Moore, David Dean and Donte Wilkins returning along with Brown. He points to the secondary as well. Despite losing Harris, the Hoos return Blanding, Maurice Canady, Tim Harris and Demetrious Nicholson, granted a medical hardship waiver.

At linebacker, London believes Micah Kiser and Zach Bradshaw have what it takes to step into starting roles. What provides some confidence is the notion that many of the veterans are going into Year 3 in Jon Tenuta's defensive scheme. Plus, London believes some of the staff shifts he made this offseason will put players in better position to succeed. Tenuta will now work with safeties, while Mike Archer moves to linebackers.

"It’s the whole maturation process, on the field, in the weight room, in the community -- then the proverbial aha moment occurs," London said. "A few guys like that now are going to be counted on to be the starters and significant contributors. It’s not about the scheme or the system, now it’s about taking all the different situations that occur when you become a smarter player, taking all those things and putting it together on the field."

ACC's most intriguing Nos. 16-20

February, 24, 2015
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We’re still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC that are already big stories. With that in mind, we’re counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason -- from players to coaches to administrators -- and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. Next up, numbers 16 through 20.

16. Devonte Fields

Role: Defensive end, Louisville

[+] EnlargeDevonte Fields
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsLouisville hopes that troubled former Big 12 freshman of the year Devonte Fields can provide a pass-rushing spark.
Intrigue: There’s little doubt about Fields’ talent. He recorded 10 sacks in 2012 and was named the Big 12’s defensive freshman of the year. But an arrest on domestic assault charges led to a dismissal from the school, and he spent last season playing for Trinity Valley Junior College. Fields certainly isn’t the first troubled transfer Louisville has taken a chance on, but he might be the most high profile at this point.

Potential impact: Bobby Petrino has asked for plenty of second chances in his own life, so it’s no surprise that he’s been willing to give some to his players, too. Time will tell whether Fields has learned from his past mistakes, but if he can stay out of trouble, he could be an instant impact playmaker as an outside rusher, filling in for the departed Lorenzo Mauldin.

17. Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott

Role: Co-offensive coordinators, Clemson

Intrigue: So much of Clemson’s success the past four years was defined by offensive coordinator Chad Morris, including the arrival of phenom QB Deshaun Watson last season. Watson and Morris had a close relationship, and the young QB knew Morris’ system inside and out. Now Morris is at SMU, and Dabo Swinney chose replacements from in house. Elliott will be calling plays this season, and just how much he plans to tweak the offense from what Morris ran so successfully will be one of the biggest stories to watch in the ACC.

Potential impact: The magic formula for Clemson isn’t much of a mystery: Get Watson healthy, let him make plays. But there’s so much young talent on the Tigers’ offense that Scott and Elliott have to be drooling at the possibilities. While they’ve learned the ropes working under Morris, there’s still a good chance they’ll want to put their own stamp on the offense. Swinney took a bit of a risk replacing one of the highest-paid coordinators in the country with more cost-effective alternatives, but with Watson, Artavis Scott, Mike Williams, Wayne Gallman and others at their disposal, Elliott and Scott are playing with a stacked deck.

18. Kelby Brown

Role: Linebacker, Duke

Intrigue: One of the ACC’s top defenders in 2013, Brown blew out his knee in fall camp last season and missed the entire season. He’s still rehabbing the injury and has been limited in spring practice, but with Duke losing a ton of experience in its front seven, Brown’s recovery might be more crucial than anything that happens on the practice field.

Potential impact: Brown finished 2013 with 114 tackles, including 11 for a loss, and two interceptions to help set the tone for Duke’s D. With a full, healthy season in 2015, he could easily match or exceed those numbers, particularly with fellow linebacker David Helton moving on. Duke’s run defense was the second-worst in the league last season with Brown sidelined, but a return to action could help fill some glaring holes.

19. Steve Addazio

Role: Head coach, Boston College

Intrigue: Addazio has been a magician since arriving in Chestnut Hill. In his first season, he turned the 2-10 Eagles into a bowl team. In his second, he replaced a Heisman finalist tailback, starting QB, his top receiver, pass rusher and tackler and still won seven games. Now, it’s time to revamp once again, with QB Tyler Murphy, LB Josh Keyes and a number of other veterans leaving.

Potential impact: Addazio’s best asset is that he’s been willing to adapt to the players he has. Two years ago, his power run game was his bread and butter. Last year, the option got the job done. So what’s his next trick for 2015? In a division that has seen plenty of talent depart from the top contenders, Addazio has already shown he’s adept at finding solutions.

20. Andrew Brown

Role: Defensive tackle, Virginia

Intrigue: A year ago, UVA signed two five-star defenders. One, Quin Blanding, quickly developed into one of the ACC’s top defenders. The other, Brown, struggled to gain much footing. Now with a year of experience under his belt, the 305-pound defensive lineman has a chance to show he’s made up for lost time by stepping into a much bigger role in 2015.

Potential impact: Injuries hampered Brown early and he never really got going as a true freshman, but there’s still plenty of optimism about his potential impact at UVA. The Cavaliers are losing a trio of talented linebackers, along with star defensive end Eli Harold, which makes Brown’s development on the line crucial to maintaining the strong pass rush and run-stuffing capability they showed a year ago. He arrived with the size and the talent to make it happen. If he's also learned from his year waiting in the wings, he could easily emerge as the ACC's next big star on D.

ACC morning links

February, 24, 2015
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First, the better of the good news: Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer is doing well. The dean of FBS coaches -- no head coach has been at his current program longer than Beamer (29th season) -- is recovering from throat surgery but is progressing fine, Beamer's son, Shane, said.

"He’s working on getting that speech back to normal," Shane told BeamerBall.com. "We had a couple of guys who, let’s say, upset the head coach a bit, and I can tell you his voice sounded more than okay when he was in there getting his point across to those guys. He’s on the right track. Is his voice back to where he wants it? No. But he’s a lot farther along than where he was. The doctors have said he’d be back to normal by the spring practices and so far it looks like they’re right."

The other good news is the offensive backfield is recovering from the bevy of injuries it suffered in 2014. Rising sophomores Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams suffered ACL injuries during the season, and Trey Edmunds battled injuries throughout 2014, too.

It's no secret 2015 could be a make-or-break year for Beamer, and another disappointing season could lead to a coaching change. Beamer probably deserves the benefit of the doubt based on his career record and the fact the team was devastated by injuries a season ago. Offensively, Beamer would like to rely on a running back group that is not short on talent. And quarterback Michael Brewer is a much better player when the pressure does not rest solely on his shoulders and has shown he can be a capable quarterback with the backing of a solid rush attack.

So as the Hokies get ready for spring practice in about a month, there is positive news on several fronts.

Here are a few more links for your Tuesday:

ACC's most intriguing: Nos. 21-25

February, 23, 2015
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We're still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC that are already big stories. With that in mind, we're counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason -- from players to coaches to administrators -- and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. First up, numbers 21 through 25.

21. Josh Sweat

Role: Defensive end, Florida State

[+] EnlargeJosh Sweat
Tom Hauck for Student SportsJosh Sweat, FSU's top recruit from the 2015 class, could see some playing time as a starter on the defensive line this fall.
Intrigue: Jimbo Fisher brought in another impressive haul of recruits for 2015, including three of the top 11 in the ESPN 300. While many freshmen could make an instant impact for FSU this season, Sweat might be the most interesting because he's at a position where the Seminoles have a glaring need following the departures of Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman from the defensive line. Sweat enrolled early, but he's also still recovering from a serious knee injury suffered last September.

Potential impact: Last season, Florida State had the fourth-worst sack rate of any Power 5 school, mustering just 17 in 14 games. Meanwhile, the run defense has allowed a higher yards-per-carry in each of the past three seasons. Add to that the departure of last year's top two defensive linemen, and there's a gaping need up front without a lot of obvious frontrunners for jobs. If Sweat can rehab the knee and get comfortable in the defense this spring, he could easily challenge for a starting job in fall camp.

22. Stacy Coley

Role: Wide receiver, Miami

Intrigue: When the 2013 season ended, Coley looked like he might be the next big star at Miami. Instead, 2014 was a disaster, and the sophomore finished with just 23 catches for 184 yards and no touchdowns. As Brad Kaaya gets set for his sophomore campaign at QB without veterans Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett to help him out, Coley needs to show he can regain his rookie form and blossom into a weapon once again for Miami.

Potential impact: Injuries and a new QB help explain some of Coley's downfall last season, but his momentous decline in performance remains something of a mystery. Still, there's no ignoring how good he was as a true freshman, and if he can get back to that level of production, Kaaya's development offers a lot of encouragement for just how dangerous the Miami passing attack could be in 2015.

23. Taquan Mizzell

Role: Running back, Virginia

Intrigue: Mizzell arrived at UVA as one of Mike London's most heralded offensive recruits, but after two years on the field, his impact still hasn't been all that significant. He made strides as a sophomore in 2014, but with the departures of Kevin Parks and a host of receivers, Mizzell's all-purpose skill set won't just be a luxury this season. He needs to blossom into a star.

Potential impact: Mizzell was one of just four ACC backs to rack up 250 rushing and 250 receiving yards last season. His 39 receptions were the most in the league by a running back, but his 4.4 yards-per-rush average ranked just 25th among ACC tailbacks. He's clearly a weapon on offense for the Hoos, but Mizzell needs to flash more elusiveness out of the backfield to blossom into a true star.

24. Terrel Hunt

Role: Quarterback, Syracuse

Intrigue: All offseason last year, the talk was that Hunt had developed into a leader, built off his late-season success in 2013 and was ready for a breakout campaign. Then he was tossed from the opener for throwing a punch, struggled through much of the early season, went down with an injury in Week 6 and missed the rest of the season. Without him, however, Syracuse's QB play went from bad to abysmal. So is he still the Orange's best hope or is Scott Shafer better off handing the passing game over to AJ Long or another young QB?

Potential impact: At this point, perhaps we've seen enough of Hunt to get too excited about what he might provide this season, but there's still that glimmer of hope he can put things all together. Coaches still applaud his work ethic, and his athleticism has never been a question. If he can stay healthy and improve his mechanics, he at least offers Syracuse a chance to move the football on offense -- something it wasn't able to do at all once Hunt went down in 2014.

25. Dave Clawson

Role: Head coach, Wake Forest

Intrigue: It's Year 2 for the coach with arguably one of the toughest jobs in college football, and the strides Wake made in 2014 weren't always easy to see. Still, the fact the Demon Deacons played a number of close games was evidence Clawson has his team's attention, and as he gets more and more of his own players in house, there's plenty of curiosity about how far he can take the Deacons in 2015.

Potential impact: Wake isn't going to challenge for a division title, but as the offensive skill positions gain some depth and the line gets stronger, Clawson's vision is beginning to take shape. If the Deacons play with the same tenacity in 2015 that they did last season, they're certainly capable of shaking things up across the ACC and pulling off a handful of upsets.
When Dave Clawson took the head-coaching job at Wake Forest last year, he knew it would be a massive rebuilding project Insider. His roster lacked any experienced talent at the offensive skill positions. His offensive line was woefully undersized. His recruiting base was dominated by bigger schools, spending more money. There was, he believed, a plan to turn Wake into a winner, but it would be a long and treacherous road. When the Demon Deacons finished 1-7 in ACC play in 2014, most chalked it up as a surprisingly successful first step.

When Jimbo Fisher took over for legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 2010, the path to rebuilding a winner wasn’t nearly as tough. The Seminoles had tradition and money and a passionate alumni base, and once Fisher got the right staff in place he made an instant impact on the recruiting trail and won a division title in his first season. Still, by the time he finished the 2012 campaign with FSU’s first ACC championship in seven years, a vocal contingent of the fan base remained dubious that Fisher was the right man for the job. They’d hoped for more, and a 12-2 record was labeled something of a disappointment.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsIs Dave Clawson's job at Wake Forest tougher than Jimbo Fisher's at Florida State? Depends on your perspective.
Pinpointing the toughest coaching job in the ACC is really a matter of semantics. At Wake, resources are thin but expectations are modest. A coach gets time to build. At Florida State, there are ample tools to create a juggernaut, but the fan base doesn’t accept excuses when winning doesn’t come quickly. The difficulty of the job is really in the eye of the beholder.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for debate between those two counterpoints, too.

David Cutcliffe took over a Duke program that had spent the previous 15 years as one of the worst teams in the FBS, but he slowly rebuilt the on-field product, pushed for more investment and led the charge for stadium upgrades and now the Blue Devils have played in three straight bowl games. What was once universally considered one of the toughest jobs in college football now looks like a pretty cushy gig.

At Miami, Al Golden is living the alternate side of that story. The Hurricanes were a powerhouse for two decades, but, after an extended dry spell marred by an NCAA investigation, piecing together a consistent winner at Miami has proved to be an arduous project. The Canes have brought in talent, including potentially three first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft, but Golden has just a .500 record in ACC play to show for it, and the fan base is understandably restless.

Places such as Syracuse and Boston College have rich football traditions, but geography makes recruiting a tougher task. North Carolina and Virginia have resources and more fertile recruiting bases, but they’ve combined for just three ACC titles since 1980, and none in the past 20 years.

Deciding on the ACC’s toughest job is really about where the line between expectations and opportunity converge. At places such as Wake and Syracuse, no doubt more legwork is required to simply get to a bowl game. At Florida State and Miami, finding the talent is easy but meeting the lofty expectations that come with it can be a challenge.

It’s fair to say most coaches would prefer the latter problem, of course, and there’s a reason FSU is a destination job while Syracuse is more likely a place to get fired or a steppingstone to a better gig. But sometimes it’s simply about finding the right fit. Cutcliffe has said he hopes never to leave Duke -- a job most coaches would’ve run from screaming a decade ago. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to four straight 10-win seasons, but when he was rumored to be a candidate for the Florida job in December, he didn’t deny he might someday move on from Death Valley for the right opportunity elsewhere. The best jobs are often a matter of perspective, too.

In the end, a great coach finds a way to mine for resources, even in less fertile areas. He wins enough that expectations climb, even in places where winning had been an afterthought for years. At Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer is an institution -- the man responsible for building the program over the course of three decades. That success helped him snag a top-25 recruiting class this year, and it also has the fan base up in arms after three straight subpar seasons.

In other words, it’s not as much about the job as it is about the coach. Clawson hasn’t shied away from the task at hand. Instead, he has embraced the difficulty of winning at Wake Forest. And one year after Fisher was criticized for failing to meet expectations in 2012, he won a national title at Florida State with one of the most dominant teams in recent history.

Every job has its challenges, but the right coach finds a way to meet them regardless.

ACC morning links

February, 23, 2015
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Over the last five NFL drafts, the ACC has the second-most picks (169), second only to the SEC. Based on the showings of several players from the ACC at the NFL combine over the weekend, the conference has a chance at a half-dozen first-round picks in 2015, if not more.

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was the most anticipated combine participant from the ACC since, well, last year. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner opened his news conference with reporters admitting he made mistakes at FSU, but he reportedly impressed several teams during his interviews -- with both his answers to questions about his past and his football intellect in whiteboard sessions. It's hardly a surprise Winston excelled, as he has lost a public speaking engagement about as often as he lost games.

Winston was spectacular as a passer Insider and left no doubt his skill set translates well to the NFL.

While Winston stole the headlines, there were several other former ACC stars who improved their draft stocks as well. Former Clemson defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley was the big winner Sunday, putting together one of the best performances for a linebacker. There has been talk that Beasley is a fringe NFL defensive end and fringe NFL linebacker. Beasley added weight and measured at 246 pounds, but he did it while keeping his athleticism and speed. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds 35 times, which were tops among both defensive linemen and linebackers. According to Clemson's athletic department, no linebacker has done that since NFL.com began listing combine results in 2006.

Former Virginia defensive end Eli Harold, like Beasley, is looked at as a hybrid, too. He posted a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash. Mario Edwards Jr., formerly of Florida State, showed he could also play two positions: defensive end and defensive tackle.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pound DeVante Parker, formerly of Louisville, made a case to be the top receiver taken with a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash.

Once again, Apr. 30 could be a solid showing for the ACC.

Here are a few more links for your Monday.

ACC morning links

February, 18, 2015
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This may be the offseason, but nobody is off in college football.

As proof, schools have taken to social media to show us exactly what their players are up to.

Clemson posted a video on its Instagram account showing a 5:30 a.m. workout.

#ALLIN #Clemson

A video posted by Clemson Football (@clemsonfb) on



At North Carolina, Blue Dawn is back -- the catchy phrase given to early conditioning workouts under Larry Fedora.



Wake Forest and Syracuse had their players up before dark, too. Syracuse even tagged its tweets #6AM.



Meanwhile, Pitt offensive line coach John Peterson reminded everybody via Twitter that players were set to begin their mat drills early Wednesday morning.

Of course, a few teams already have opened spring practice. Miami became the latest Tuesday. Though the practice was closed, quarterback Brad Kaaya told The Miami Herald in an interview last week that his main goal is to make sure he is leading a united team. There are now signs in the Miami locker room that read, "Cliques Kill."

Though nobody inside Miami has gone into much detail about team chemistry last season, dealing with a fractured locker room may help explain some of the issues the Hurricanes encountered toward the end of the season. It is not too difficult to read between the lines in the Kaaya comments to understand the team was splintered. This quote says it all: “You can’t have guys being outliers and kind of keeping to themselves or saying things under their breath. ... I feel like at times last year it was an offense and defense playing against our opponent, as opposed to the Miami Hurricanes playing against them."

Miami, it seems, has more than X's and O's to figure out.

Elsewhere across the ACC:

Spring reset: ACC quarterback

February, 17, 2015
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This could be the year of the quarterback in the ACC with starters returning at the majority of schools across the league.

But there are some programs that will have a bit of intrigue at the quarterback spot this spring. Here is a quick spring reset at where the signal-callers stand at each ACC school.

The incumbents
The skinny: These six are the unquestioned starters at their respective schools. Even Lambert, marking the first time in five springs Virginia has a set quarterback headed into the spring. Though Matt Johns is sure to get a look, Lambert is expected to start the season if healthy. Same goes for the other five, who appear to have a stronghold on their respective starting jobs.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtThe backup quarterback position is key to watch during Clemson's spring practices as Deshaun Watson sits out to rehab his injured knee.
The injured incumbent
The skinny: With Watson out during spring practice while he rehabs a knee injury, true freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel will get reps with Nick Schuessler as they compete to become the backup to Watson. Schuessler, a former walk-on, was the No. 3 quarterback last season. Bryant and Tucker enrolled early and are in for spring, great news for a program that has faced depth issues at the position since last fall. The backup job is an important one at Clemson, with Watson coming off a major knee injury. Whomever wins the backup job could be pressed into action early.

The returning starters*
The skinny: Why an asterisk? There is a chance some of these players end up losing their starting job if the competition is fierce enough during the spring and into the fall. All three go into the spring as the starter. They each are the most experienced quarterbacks on their respective rosters. But ...

At Syracuse, Hunt is coming off a broken leg and will face competition from AJ Long and Austin Wilson. Long and Wilson both played last season after Hunt went out, giving the coaching staff much more to work with this spring.

At Wake Forest, coach Dave Clawson said Wolford will get the first-team reps but his quarterback will have to win the starting job again after the Deacs signed two highly touted prep quarterbacks -- Kendall Hinton and Kyle Kearns.

At Pitt, Voytik will have to learn a new system and face new competition from Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman. While Voytik is expected to keep his starting job, there are no guarantees here, either.

The new starter
The skinny: Sirk has taken first-team reps so far this spring as he works to replace two-year starter Anthony Boone. Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre have provided competition but coach David Cutcliffe has already declared Sirk the starter.

The open competitions

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire will enter the spring practice session as the backup QB with the most experience at FSU.
Boston College: Darius Wade, Troy Flutie. Wade is the favorite to win the starting job, but Flutie is expected to get a fair shake. This is what coach Steve Addazio had to say about both during his signing day news conference: "Darius Wade has got a great arm and he throws the ball extremely well. Troy Flutie is a great anticipator, which is a unique quality to have as a quarterback. He does a great job anticipating guys coming out of their breaks. He doesn't have to see them open. So both of those guys have unique tools and both are very athletic."

Florida State: Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino. One of the most anticipated competitions in the entire country will take place in Tallahassee, where Jimbo Fisher must replace Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Maguire served as the backup last season, but that does not necessarily make him the favorite to win the job. Cosentino came in last year as an ESPN 300 prospect and redshirted. Fisher said true freshmen De'Andre Johnson and Deondre Francois -- both ESPN 300 players -- will also get a shot. Johnson is already in for spring.

Louisville: Reggie Bonnafon, Tyler Ferguson, Kyle Bolin. With Will Gardner out for spring and no timetable set for his return after another major knee injury, the Cardinals are expected to have a heated open competition in the spring between Bonnafon, Ferguson and Bolin. Bonnafon played as a true freshman last season and showed some promise before getting injured late in the year. Bolin was then forced to play with Bonnafon and Gardner out. Though he led a comeback win over Kentucky, he was not nearly as effective in the bowl game against Georgia. Ferguson transferred from Penn State and sat out last season, and could end up being the wild card in the group.

ACC morning links

February, 13, 2015
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Because most teams won’t start spring practice for a few more weeks, we’re in the season of list-making, and Bleacher Report has an interesting rundown of its top weapons in college football.

The list includes 25 players, with just three coming from the ACC: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas and Florida State RB Dalvin Cook.

It’s tough to argue with those selections. If we’re making a list of ACC player of the year candidates, those would certainly be among the favorites. Having said that, there are plenty of other big-time playmakers around the league.

Obviously Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Tyler Boyd warrant mentioning, while Miami’s Brad Kaaya, UNC’s Ryan Switzer and Clemson’s Artavis Scott and Mike Williams all are emerging stars.

But looking a bit deeper, here are a few more names who figure to be legitimate weapons around the ACC in 2015…

QB: North Carolina’s Marquise Williams was terrific last season, and he’s poised to be even better this year with a more established O-line and some talented receivers to work with. After Mitch Trubisky was shuffled to the bench full-time starting in October, Williams racked up 25 touchdowns. Only five Power 5 QBs had more, and four of them finished in the top 10 in Heisman balloting.

RB: NC State’s Matt Dayes didn’t get a full workload last season, and that might not change dramatically in 2015, but when it comes to all-around weapons, he’s one of the ACC’s best. Dayes was the only player in college football last season to tally at least 300 yards rushing, receiving, and on returns while scoring at least 10 touchdowns. In the last decade, just 14 others have done that, and the list includes some big names such as Reggie Bush, DeMarco Murray, C.J. Spiller, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Maurice Jones-Drew and Jeremy Maclin.

WR: Florida State’s Travis Rudolph averaged 15 yards per catch last season, the sixth-best total among returning ACC receivers, as a true freshman. He improved dramatically as the year went along, catching 11 passes for 136 yards in the ACC Championship Game and Rose Bowl.

TE: Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges is as big a mismatch on offense as any team will have this season. The Hokies used him as a traditional tight end, split him out wide and lined him up in the Wildcat routinely last year. He was among the ACC’s top red-zone targets, and only Wake’s Cam Serigne had more catches among returning Power 5 tight ends.

And while Bleacher Report’s list included just one full-time defensive player, FSU’s Jalen Ramsey, Duke's Jeremy Cash, Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander, Virginia’s Quin Blanding, Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins all warrant discussion, too.

A few more links:
The ACC bucked the odds this offseason, with just one program changing head coaches -- and that one came because Paul Chryst landed a better gig at Wisconsin. In other words, none of the league's 14 coaches were axed, which is really an accomplishment.

Football Scoop looks at the tenure of each FBS head coach, and it’s noteworthy that 15 of the 128 schools have hired new coaches in the last three months, and 82 of them have hired a new head coach in the last three years. Just 36 coaches in the country will be entering Year 6 at the same school in 2015, and six of them are in the ACC.

Here’s the conference breakdown on FBS coaches who have survived beyond five years:

ACC: 6
SEC: 6
Big 12: 6
Conference USA: 5
Big 10: 3
Independent: 3
American: 2
Sun Belt: 2
Pac 12: 1
MAC: 1
Mountain West: 1

(*Coaches whose teams have switched leagues since being hired are listed in their current conference)

The Roanoke Times puts the tenure of Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer in graph form, and it’s pretty jarring.

Beamer was hired to coach the Hokies in 1986. The next longest-tenured coaches were hired 12 years later. Twelve! And he’s one of just three coaches that were hired in the 20th century.

Of course, Beamer’s job security is a growing concern in Blacksburg, but he’s not the only ACC coach with pressure building.

The Times’ graph reveals something pretty interesting: Current coaching tenures peak at three years, with a relatively stark drop-off after that and a huge drop-off after Year 5.

It used to be that five-year plans were the norm for coaches. It gave them a year to take stock of a program and four years to get recruits through the ringer. But these days, three years is more of the status quo, with the pressure being ratcheted up big time in Year 4. Year 5 is essentially do-or-die.

And that brings us to our ACC hot seats.

Chryst would’ve been entering his fourth season, and while he brought some talent into Pitt, he didn’t exactly reinvigorate the program. He may have been wise to get while the getting was good.

Larry Fedora is in Year 4 at North Carolina, and his tenure has been a mixed bag. He’s gotten the Heels off to a brutal start in each of the last two years, and his 2014 defense was abysmal. He brought in Gene Chizik to fix those problems this year, but another 6-6 regular season for UNC — even with the NCAA investigation ongoing — could be a big problem.

At Miami, Al Golden is in Year 5, and he’s trending in the wrong direction. Yes, Miami has weathered the NCAA storm, but after a 20-11 start to his career, Miami is just 8-11 in its last 19 games, and fans are growing frustrated.

In other words, patience is thinner than it’s ever been in college football, and while the ACC has largely bucked that trend with Beamer, Dabo Swinney, Paul Johnson, Mike London, Jimbo Fisher and David Cutcliffe — all on the job more than five years now — no one is immune to the changing landscape.

A few more links:
  • Football Scoop also has a story on coaches looking to do away with signing day altogether, with Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson helping to lead the charge.
  • Bleacher Report has a story on the emergence of “free agency” in college football, with former FSU QB Jacob Coker highlighted. ESPN’s Andrea Adelson looked at a few transfers poised to make an impact in the ACC this coming season.
  • Former FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is Mel Kiper’s No. 1 overall pick in his latest mock draft, with seven other ACC players going in the first round — including three from Miami.
  • Rick Trickett has his work cut out for him in rebuilding Florida State’s O line this year, but the Tallahassee Democrat writes that he’s already built the relationships to make it happen.
  • David Cutcliffe is searching for playmakers on both sides of the line of scrimmage, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Matt Colburn calls his chance to play at Wake Forest “a blessing” after being spurned by Louisville, writes The State.
  • Boston College is stealing a bit from our favorite sports doc series for its online recruiting, writes BC Interruption.
  • Syracuse.com discusses whether it’s smart to install Terrel Hunt, once again, as the Orange’s starting quarterback. As we noted in our quarterback column this week though, it’s not as though any of his back ups offered much reason for change in 2014.
  • Georgia Tech got its first commitment for 2016, as From the Rumble Seat notes.
  • Former Maryland head coach and ACC coach of the year, Ralph Friedgen, has stepped down as Rutgers’ offensive coordinator, writes USA Today.

 

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