ACC: Virginia Cavaliers

2015 ACC schedule breakdown

January, 30, 2015
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Now that we have all had some time to digest the 2015 ACC schedule, let us look at the most noteable takeaways.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDeshaun Watson and Clemson will get a later shot at Florida State in 2015, which is a positive development.
The good: Moving Florida State-Clemson to November. If both teams are as good as they have been in recent years, then their game will again determine the Atlantic Division. And there is nothing better than a high-stakes division contest in November, as opposed to September. There was absolutely no drama in the Atlantic this past season after Florida State beat the Tigers in Week 4; the Noles' spot in the ACC championship game was virtually solidified. As Jared Shanker pointed out, the ACC will have nationally relevant games in all three months of the 2015 regular season. That is absolutely huge.

The bad: North Carolina and Boston College are saddled with two FCS games apiece, a fact that did not go unnoticed Thursday. There is a simple explanation: previously scheduled games fell through and both schools were left scrambling. North Carolina had initially scheduled Ohio State for 2015. The game was moved, then subsequently canceled when the Big Ten voted to play nine conference games. Two more factors were at play: the ACC reversed course on a nine-game league schedule when it agreed to a partnership with Notre Dame. North Carolina wanted to wait on that schedule rotation to see how it would shake out. While having two FCS teams on the schedule is far from ideal, North Carolina does play two power-five teams with Illinois and South Carolina. As for Boston College, New Mexico State recently backed out of a 2015 game against the Eagles because it overscheduled. That left a hole the Boston College had to fill on very short notice. So Howard was added. Nobody is running around throwing a party over the FCS opponents. Sometimes these dilemmas happen. (Remember when Florida State had to replace West Virginia with Savannah State?)

The ugly: Poor Syracuse. Not only do the Orange get LSU in nonconference play, they also have the toughest three-game conference stretch of anybody in the ACC: at Florida State, at Louisville and Clemson on three straight weekends spanning the end of October into November. Nobody else in the Atlantic has to face the division's top three teams consecutively. Miami also faces a tough three-game stretch in October that could make or break Coastal Division hopes: at Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson. Nope, the Canes got no favors when they traded Louisville from the Atlantic for the Tigers. But there might not be anything uglier than the NC State nonconference schedule: Troy, Eastern Kentucky and then road games (yes, road games) against Old Dominion and South Alabama.

The byes: A 13-week scheduling window wreaked some havoc with the way the schedules were created because there was only space for one open week. ACC senior associate commissioner of football operations Michael Strickland had some good insight into how that was handled. Some teams are going to suffer more than others. Boston College has 10 straight games before its open date. Opening with the two FCS games might not serve as any consolation. Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech each have to play nine straight games to open the season; Florida State, Miami, Pitt and Clemson have to play nine straight games to end the season. The bye week is placed at an odd time for Clemson. The Tigers play Louisville on Thursday, Sept. 17 then go 15 days until they play again, Oct. 3 against Notre Dame. That is the longest regular-season layoff in school history.

The different: Friday night is the new weekday favorite in the ACC, with more announced dates than Thursday night, the former go-to spot. David Teel of the Daily Press has a great explainer piece on the topic, but it all comes down to television. The ACC will feature its top four teams from 2014 on either Thursday or Friday night this upcoming season. Strategery is definitely involved there.

The impossible: Once again, Virginia has the toughest schedule in the ACC, facing 10 teams that made bowl games in 2014. The move to overschedule is an interesting one, especially when you look at the nonconference scheduling models that NC State and Duke have followed. Both those programs have the worst nonconference schedules in 2015, choosing an easier route toward bowl eligibility. Last season, for example, Virginia was vastly improved, but still finished 5-7 with a backbreaking nonconference schedule. NC State finished 8-5 with a bowl victory, thanks to a cupcake nonconference schedule. NC State has scheduled up in the future to meet the requirement that ACC teams play at least one Power 5 opponent. But for right now, this schedule is hugely beneficial in the wins column. In the case of Virginia, the Hoos would be pleased if they make it out of their first four games against UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary and Boise State 2-2.

As former Virginia offensive lineman Luke Bowanko tweeted Thursday after the schedule was released:

Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Virginia Cavaliers

Position to improve: Offensive line

Why it was a problem: Injuries and inexperience plagued the Hoos all season long. It started in the fall, when projected starting tackle Jay Whitmire injured his back, forcing him to miss all of 2014. Without Whitmire, Virginia had a combined 36 career starts entering the season, seventh-fewest among Power 5 schools. The injuries kept piling up: versatile Jackson Matteo was lost for the year against Kent State; tackle Sadiq Olanrewaju missed four games with injury; guard Ryan Doull started the first six games at left guard before missing five of the final six games. The Hoos ended up with five different starting offensive lines and struggled in the run game as a result, ranking No. 13 in the ACC in rushing offense. Backs averaged 3.7 yards per carry, fourth worst in the league. On the bright side, Virginia did well at pass protection despite the juggled lines, allowing just 16 sacks.

How it can be fixed: The hope, of course, is the Hoos stay healthy. The biggest hope of all is for Whitmire to return to form, but there are no guarantees that will happen at this point. But there should be a little more experience with this group in 2015. Six players with at least one start return. Virginia also has a new offensive line coach in Dave Borbely, in his second stint with the Hoos. His experience as run game coordinator in his last two stops should be a positive. The Hoos also have targeted offensive linemen on the recruiting trail, with four commitments so far.

Early 2015 outlook: Olanrewaju, Matteo and Doull are expected back and healthy. Virginia is keeping its fingers crossed on Whitmire. Starting guards Conner Davis and Cody Wallace are gone to graduation, but Burbank, tackles Michael Mooney, Jack English, Eric Smith and Sean Karl are back. Finding starters at guard, and backups, too, is paramount. Burbank, as one of the few seniors in the group, will also be expected to take the next step.
The ACC will have an opportunity to make a big-time statement when the 2015 season kicks off.

That has become par for the course.

In what has become an annual rite of passage, the ACC has four blockbuster meetings against Power 5 opponents set for Week 1:
  • North Carolina vs. South Carolina on Thurs., Sept. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Louisville vs. Auburn on Sat., Sept. 5 in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. On the same day, Virginia travels to face UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
  • Then, perhaps the most anticipated game of the weekend: defending national champion Ohio State travels to play Virginia Tech on Labor Day Night. This marks the Hokies' third appearance on Labor Day Monday; the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

Those were among the big games spotlighted when the ACC released its schedule on Thursday. In all, ACC teams will play more games against teams that are ranked in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early 2015 Top 25 rankings (12) than any of the other Power 5 conferences. ACC teams also are playing a higher percentage of Power 5 teams (38 percent) than any other Power 5 conference.

None of this comes as a surprise, considering how strongly the ACC has scheduled nonconference opponents in recent years. For the ACC to continue to make inroads toward changing national perception, it will have to keep winning the spotlight games. As it stands, the ACC most likely will be the underdog in those four opening -weekend contests. And many people believe the only way an ACC team can make it into the playoff is with an unblemished record.

In addition to those marquee nonconference games, all eyes will be squarely on Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech as prime playoff contenders.

We should know more about their ACC and College Football Playoff fates over a four-week period spanning October and November.

Circle your calendars for:
  • Georgia Tech at Clemson, Oct. 10
  • Florida State at Georgia Tech, Oct. 24
  • Florida State at Clemson, Nov. 7

As for the always important mid-week games, Virginia Tech might not be hosting a Thursday night contest in 2015, but it does have Labor Day against the Buckeyes and a Friday night home game against NC State on Oct. 9. The Hokies also travel to play Georgia Tech on Thurs., Nov. 12.

Florida State and Clemson have mid-week games as well: Louisville will host the Tigers on Thurs., Sept. 17 in a game that should have Atlantic Division implications, while Florida State plays at Boston College the next day. Boise State at Virginia (Sept. 25); Louisville at Wake Forest (Oct. 30); and Miami at Pitt (Nov. 27) round out the Friday night slate. North Carolina at Pitt on Oct. 29 is the only other Thursday night game.
So Wake Forest and North Carolina will face off in 2019 and 2021 in games that won’t count in the ACC standings but will reignite a longtime rivalry, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

As the Journal notes, it’s setting right a wrong done to the two schools due to conference expansion, but it’s also fair to wonder what the longterm ramifications of the deal might be.

Our Andrea Adelson wrote that the two programs deserve credit for taking this relatively unprecedented step to rekindle the rivalry — a step that no doubt will play well with traditionalists eager to see more of those recently deceased rivalries brought back to life.

The move no doubt will also spark some talk about adding a few more nonconference games between ACC teams, with BC Interruption throwing a regular meeting between Boston College and Miami into the discussion.

Elsewhere, Florida State has long coveted a chance to play more routinely in Atlanta, where the Seminoles possess a strong alumni base. NC State and Duke would make a lot of sense, too. In the SEC, where the league has also expanded to 14 teams and added a new rule requiring at least nine games against Power 5 foes, there could be a push for some programs to follow suit, too.

Beyond just those potential geographic rivalries, there’s a potentially significant recruiting impact to seeing cross-divisional foes more routinely, too. Wouldn’t Virginia Tech love to get to play another game in the state of Florida more than once every six years? Or Clemson showing off its offense in South Florida? And certainly Syracuse and BC could stand to steal a few more recruits in Virginia by getting a couple extra games against the Hokies or UVa?

Of course, there are some drawbacks to this, too.

For one, does the UNC-Wake rivalry really spark any more excitement for Tar Heels fans than, say, adding more non-traditional foes to the schedule -- perhaps from the Big Ten or SEC? And for teams like FSU, Clemson and Georgia Tech, who already have a set nonconference rival in the SEC, there’s a hefty financial incentive to keep seven home games each year, which complicates the process significantly.

The bottom line, however, is that conference expansion has played havoc with scheduling just as the College Football Playoff has put teams’ résumés in the spotlight more than ever. Finding some creative ways to fit tradition, finances and résumé-building games together is paramount, and what UNC and Wake have done at least sets a precedent for other programs looking to find some answers to scheduling dilemmas. It’s not an answer to all the problems, but it’s a start.

A few more links:
The Roanoke Times takes a look at how Virginia Tech utilized its tight ends in 2014 and sees a lot of promise at the position.

This is no surprise. Offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler has utilized his tight ends at every stop he’s made in his career, and before Ryan Malleck went down with an injury in 2013, the plan had been to make him a key contributor to the Hokies’ game plan -- predicting as many as 60 catches.

From the Times:
That revelation, made last spring, was met with at least some skepticism, but looking at how the Hokies used their tight ends in 2014 -- a banner season in terms of production from the position -- it was very realistic in hindsight.

Buoyed by Bucky Hodges' breakout year and [Ryan] Malleck's steady production, Hokies tight ends became very much a focal point of the offense, more so than they have been in most of Frank Beamer's time in Blacksburg.

Hodges and Malleck (and for one game a hobbled Kalvin Cline) combined for 70 catches, 724 yards and nine touchdowns this past season, dwarfing the offensive production from the tight end position in recent memory.

Among ACC teams, only Miami had more receiving yards by tight ends, and no team had more catches or touchdowns by the position.

That’s an interesting twist moving forward, because Bucky Hodges' emergence gives Virginia Tech one of the best offensive mismatches in the ACC. But there’s one other thing to note here, too. Virginia Tech utilized its tight ends at a higher rate than all but five other Power 5 schools, and it’s not exactly a who’s who of offensive juggernauts.

Here’s the offensive production of the 10 teams that used their tight ends the most:



Overall, the group had a combined record of 63-65 and an average rank of 90th in total offense. Only two of those teams finished in the top 50 in total offense -- Wisconsin and Miami -- and they also had two of the best running backs in the nation. The Hokies, meanwhile, were 92nd nationally in yards per carry.

The point being, having an elite tight end can be a valuable weapon, but it’s probably not ideal to have it be your primary weapon. And getting stronger on the ground and on the offensive line remain necessary improvements if Virginia Tech is going to make a big offensive leap in 2015.

A few more links:
Because it's never too early to start making bold predictions about the 2015 season, Athlon put together its list of 10 potential breakout players for the upcoming season, and it includes two budding stars in the ACC.

The first is Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson, which should be something of a no-brainer, given that the junior racked up 21.5 tackles for loss in the past two seasons despite serving as the backup to Vic Beasley. Only seven other players in the ACC have totaled 10 or more TFL in each of the last two seasons, and of that group, only Lawson will be back for 2015.

“A guy like Shaq Lawson, he could've been starting his first two years, but he sat behind Vic Beasley and you can't complain about that,” defensive back Robert Smith said. “But he could've just as easily been starting the same way.”

Lawson is an obvious starter this year, but the Post & Courier projects out the rest of Clemson's starters, too.

The second of Athlon's breakout candidates is Travis Rudolph, the FSU wide receiver who stepped up as a strong No. 2 option after Rashad Greene as a true freshman this season, including six catches for 96 yards and a score in the Rose Bowl.

Rudolph definitely progressed as the year went along -- he had just one catch in FSU's first four games -- but he's going to have a tougher task in 2015. Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary are gone, meaning all eyes will clearly be on Rudolph to step into the No. 1 role in the passing game. Jameis Winston is gone, too, and the question about the next FSU QB is a big one. Still, Rudolph showed how much talent he has this season, and he's on record as being eager to follow in Greene's footsteps.

Looking around the rest of the ACC, a few other names to watch as potential breakout candidates:

Andrew Brown, Virginia: Injuries limited his freshman performance, but the Hoos will have a new-look defensive line in 2015, and Brown, the former five-star recruit, will be a big part of their plans.

Shaun Wilson, Duke: The ACC already got a small taste of what Wilson can do, as he rushed for 598 yards as a freshman in 2014. His 7.7 yards-per-carry average was the best by any Power 5 running back with at least 75 carries, but his numbers in conference -- 46 carries, 186 yards, 1 TD -- weren't quite as impressive. He'll have a bigger role in 2015.

Josh Jones, NC State: The redshirt freshman started the final five games of the year at strong safety for the Wolfpack, and that happened to coincide with a 4-1 finish to the season in which NC State allowed just 4.68 yards per play -- the seventh-best rate for any Power 5 team from Nov. 1 to the end of the season.

Joseph Yearby, Miami: The freshman had more than 600 yards from scrimmage backing up Duke Johnson in 2014. Now Johnson is gone, but rising star QB Brad Kaaya remains, and Miami's offense hopes to not miss a beat. It could be a huge year for Yearby, who played his high school ball alongside FSU's Dalvin Cook.

A few other links:
Now that the first year in the College Football Playoff is over, we know exactly what to make of nonconference schedules and their role during evaluations.

They are important. Just ask Baylor.

Of course, nonconference schedules tend to look one way before the season starts and then another when the season ends. Florida State had two Power-5 schools on the docket plus Notre Dame in 2014, but nobody regarded its schedule as particularly tough because those three teams fizzled.

With that in mind, let's take a quick peek at the top three potential playoff contenders in 2015 and what we think could end up being good nonconference slates. Included are 2014 records in parentheses.

Best shape

Georgia Tech: Alcorn State*, Tulane (3-9), at Notre Dame (8-5), Georgia (10-3)
Clemson: Wofford*, Appalachian State (7-5), Notre Dame (8-5), at South Carolina (7-6)

Great news here, considering we expect both teams to start the season as preseason Top 25 teams. If voters are truly paying attention, both will start in the top 15. It is always beneficial to have a well-respected SEC opponent on the schedule, as these two do every year with their in-state rival. Both must face Notre Dame. Let's just say this as nicely as possible: The ACC needs Notre Dame to be better this year. Badly.

Nothing to write home about

Florida State: Texas State (7-5), USF (4-8), Chattanooga*, at Florida (7-5)

You thought Florida State was lampooned for its nonconference schedule in 2014? That one looks like a gantlet featuring Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama compared to this one. If the Seminoles go unbeaten, they should still be in position to make the playoff, but they will come under serious scrutiny for their schedule, even if Florida is better. If they struggle against any of these teams and look suspect vs. ACC competition the way they did this year, well, that might be enough for committee members to consider picking another qualified team.

Now let's take a look at some potential darkhorse playoff contenders

Good shape

Virginia Tech: Ohio State (14-1), Furman*, at Purdue (3-9), at East Carolina (8-5)
Louisville: vs. Auburn (8-5), Houston (8-5), Samford*, at Kentucky (5-7)

We are going out on a very, very long limb here with Virginia Tech included as a potential playoff contender. But expectations in Blacksburg are growing, so ours will, too. In actuality, both teams' playoff fortunes will be decided in their respective openers. Louisville faces Auburn in Atlanta on Sept. 5, while the Hokies take on the defending national champion Buckeyes at home on Labor Day night. If they come away with upsets for the second straight year, their playoff chances would go soaring -- but only if they win the remainder of their games. If they lose, hard to see either making it with one loss. Also in their favor: Both schedules features two Power-5 teams plus solid teams from the American.

Help!

Duke: at Tulane (3-9), NC Central*, Northwestern (5-7), at Army (4-8)

At least the Blue Devils have one Power-5 school on the schedule, though it happens to be one of just three Big Ten teams that failed to make a bowl game in 2014. Perhaps the Wildcats will be better in 2015. In either case, Duke will face an uphill climb given the blase schedule. Add in the ACC Coastal slate and no Top 25 teams from the Atlantic, and the schedule will be viewed as weak. Again.

Now let's take a look at everybody else. Who knows, maybe one of these teams will emerge as the surprise of 2015.

Best of the rest

Virginia: at UCLA (10-3), William & Mary*, Notre Dame (8-5), Boise State (12-2)

Once again, the Hoos have the toughest schedule in the ACC, the only team to face two nonconference opponents with 10 or more wins in 2014. Really tough to hand a team in desperate need of momentum backbreaking schedules year after year after year. The way to handle it? Schedule the way Florida State or NC State did, at least for one year to build some confidence and a few more wins. Don't get me wrong. Playing good teams is important. I love it when teams upgrade their schedules. But at what expense? You have to be at the right place in your program to do it.

Ol' college try

Pitt: Youngstown State*, at Akron (5-7), at Iowa (7-6), Notre Dame (8-5)
Miami: Bethune-Cookman*, at FAU (3-9), Nebraska (9-4), at Cincinnati (9-4)
Boston College: Northern Illinois (11-3), New Mexico St (2-10), Notre Dame (8-5), Maine*

Decent schedules here for all three teams, featuring at least one Power-5 opponent. Northern Illinois and Cincinnati are two of the better Group of 5 teams so these schedules do remain challenging.

You take the good, you take the bad ...

Syracuse: Rhode Island*, Central Michigan (7-6), LSU (8-5), at USF (4-8)
Wake Forest: Elon*, at Army (4-8), Indiana (4-8), at Notre Dame (8-5)
North Carolina: vs. South Carolina (7-6), North Carolina A&T*, Illinois (6-7), Delaware*

One Power-5 for each and then a whole lotta nothin.' If North Carolina can get its act together and potentially make a run, it will be interesting to see how the committee handles a team with two FCS opponents.

Thanks for playing

NC State: Troy (3-9), at Old Dominion (6-6), at South Alabama (6-7), Eastern Kentucky*

The Wolfpack are the only team without a Power-5 school on the schedule. The ACC rule that mandates at least one Power-5 nonconference team on the docket starts in 2017. Schedule upgrades are coming soon in the way of Notre Dame (2016, 2017), West Virginia (2018, 2019) and Mississippi State (2020, 2021). But for now, if NC State does not go 4-0 against this slate something is seriously wrong.

*= FCS

ACC morning links

January, 15, 2015
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Florida State said goodbye to one more underclassman Wednesday, as defensive lineman Eddie Goldman announced that he is entering the NFL draft.

Goldman is the fifth Seminoles player to declare early for the pros, joining quarterback Jameis Winston, cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby, and defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. The junior Goldman really burst onto the national scene this year, especially in the Sept. 20 win over Clemson. He finished the season with 35 tackles, eight tackles for loss and four sacks, which led the team.

"Eddie was a tremendous leader, student-athlete and, most importantly, a tremendous person for FSU," coach Jimbo Fisher said in a release. "I can't thank him enough for his contributions over the last three years on the field and for his leadership by example. I expect Eddie to have a tremendous professional career and I'm very excited for him and his family."

Fisher has recruited so well in recent years that the cupboard will be far from bare for the Noles in 2015. And it wasn't all bad news for the program in this young offseason, as linebacker Terrance Smith and kicker Roberto Aguayo both announced their intentions to return next season. But as our Andrea Adelson notes, FSU has now had 13 players turn pro in the last three years. With so many key pieces once again departing from a group that helped contribute to a 29-game winning streak, three ACC titles, one national title and a College Football Playoff berth, this really does seem like the end of an era in Tallahassee. Fortunately for the Noles, the talent is there to start a new run.

Here are the rest of your ACC Thursday links:

Final 2014 ACC Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
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» More Final 2014 Power Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

2015 Too-Early ACC Power Rankings

January, 13, 2015
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» More 2015 Too-Early Rankings: Top 25 | ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

The 2014 season just ended, but we're already looking ahead to next season. Here are our way-too-early 2015 ACC power rankings:

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So the news everyone assumed was inevitable is now a done deal: Jameis Winston is headed to the NFL.

Of course much has been made of Winston’s off-field issues, but his on-field performance in the past two years has been exceptional.

Since the start of 2013, Winston has thrown for 65 touchdowns (the next closest in the ACC is 36), passed for 7,964 yards (next closest is 4,960) and completed 124 passes of 20 yards or more (no one else has half as many). His adjusted QBR of 82.0 is easily the best over that span among ACC QBs.

Todd McShay says Winston is a better NFL prospect than fellow Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, though really, the decision on which one goes first likely comes down to whether teams favor a pocket passer or a more mobile QB.

The question for Florida State, of course, is where the Seminoles go from here for a QB.

Tomahawk Nation gives some thought to a potential transfer by Ohio State star Braxton Miller, but as our Jared Shanker writes, there are not many simple answers.

Sean Maguire played well enough to beat Clemson in his lone start, and while he wasn’t exactly sharp, that performance only looks better given how good the Tigers’ D turned out to be. Jimbo Fisher has also spoken incredibly highly of J.J. Cosentino, and Florida State has obviously won before with a redshirt freshman leading the offense.

But what’s clear is that, whoever lands the job, it will be a big changing of the guard in the ACC. This year, the league opened the season with Winston and everyone else when it came to QBs. With Marquise Williams, Justin Thomas, Deshaun Watson, Brad Kaaya and Jacoby Brissett back in 2015, the ACC could well be the richest QB league in the country next year — and FSU’s place in the pecking order remains to be seen.

A few more links:

ACC morning links

January, 7, 2015
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The news hardly comes as a shock, but the premature departures began for Florida State on Tuesday. Juniors Mario Edwards Jr. and P.J. Williams each declared for the draft while Seminoles fans wait on the remaining third-year players with NFL aspirations. (Settle, settle. Here's your Jameis Winston update from our David Hale.)

Florida State’s starting lineup will see an overhaul on both sides of the ball now that the defensive stars have begun announcing their decisions to forgo their senior seasons. There is a good chance defensive tackle Eddie Goldman and cornerback Ronald Darby both could announce their intentions to leave school early in the coming days.

Maybe only Alabama has recruited better than Florida State the past four years, so there is no shortage of talent on the roster. There are four- and five-star recruits littered throughout the roster, and the No. 2 defensive end and No. 1 safety in the 2015 class are already on campus. The 2014 class was filled with blue-chip defensive linemen, too.

The Seminoles lost five players from the 2013 defense that are now contributing on NFL Sundays, but there was the thought the remaining talent on the roster would more than make up for the losses. That obviously did not happen as the unit fell to the middle of the pack.

Florida State has found itself in the same territory of the Alabamas and LSUs -- early departures and continual roster turnover becoming the norm. The Seminoles are in that top tier after having 18 players drafted the past two springs.

There is some pressure on the FSU defensive staff to reload rather than rebuild. It’s college football, which means starting 11s are always a revolving door, and the problem is multiplied when the type of talent on the defense is of the three-years-and-done variety.

But it’s a good problem to have.

Here are a few more links from around the ACC:
Virginia linebacker Max Valles announced Tuesday that he will enter the NFL draft, the second Virginia underclassman to leave school early.

Valles joins defensive end Eli Harold on the way to the pros. Interestingly, Valles said on his Twitter account last month that he would return to school in 2015. He did not give a reason why he changed his mind. Players have until Jan. 15 to withdraw their names while still maintaining NCAA eligibility.



Valles is not listed among Mel Kiper Jr.'s top linebacker prospects Insider. Harold is listed as the No. 8 outside linebacker.

In a statement, coach Mike London seemed to disagree with Valles' decision.

"Based on the improvement and development he showed the past two years, I felt Max Valles was a player who could really benefit from playing another year of college football, London said. "I believe he was on the verge of blossoming into a dominant player. He took a lot of time during the semester break to think this decision through and he feels it is the right thing to do at this time. I hate to see him go, but I want to wish him the best on his choice to declare for the NFL draft.

Losing Valles and Harold is a definite hit to a Virginia defense that made big improvements this past season. The two combined for 16 of the team's 34 sacks and had 27 tackles for loss. In addition, Virginia must also replace senior linebackers Henry Coley and Daquan Romero, and senior safety Anthony Harris from its defense. The Hoos did get a measure of good defensive news Monday, though, when cornerback Demetrious Nicholson was granted a sixth year of eligibility.

The ACC has had 10 underclassmen declare for the NFL draft, with potentially more on the way. Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams also announced Tuesday he would turn pro. Several more Seminoles have yet to announce their decisions. Quarterback Jameis Winston will announce his after the national championship game.

The 2015 NFL draft will be held April 30-May 2 in Chicago.

ACC morning links

January, 6, 2015
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Underclassmen have increasingly declared for the NFL draft over recent years, and there appears to be no sign that the trend is letting up.

Louisville safety James Sample became the third player in the Cards' defensive backfield to announce he is leaving school early for the draft, posting his intentions Monday on his Instagram account. The move came as a bit of a surprise, especially when you consider he has only been in Louisville for four months after transferring in from junior college -- and he is not listed among Mel Kiper Jr.'s top 10 safeties.



Already, safety Gerod Holliman announced he would be turning pro. Cornerback Charles Gaines also has reportedly decided to follow the same path. Holliman seems to be in the best position, after tying an NCAA record with 14 interceptions and becoming a consensus All-American; Gaines had 11 passes defended this past year.

With these three players leaving early, Louisville must replace five of its top six defensive backs, as Terell Floyd and Andrew Johnson just finished their senior seasons. Louisville had 26 interceptions in 2014, tied for No. 1 in the nation. The Cards will lose players responsible for 21 of those picks.

But as Jeff Greer points out in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Louisville could be in good shape without them next season. Georgia transfers Josh Harvey-Clemmons and Shaq Wiggins are ready to make an impact after sitting out this past season because of NCAA transfer rules. Jermaine Reve returns as well, along with a host of young talent.

As I mentioned above, the three Louisville underclassmen are just the latest from the ACC to declare for the draft. Players have until Jan. 15 to do so. Here is a look at who has said they will turn pro:
There could be more underclassman news in the days to come. Florida State's bevy of highly-rated draft prospects have yet to announce their draft intentions. Among those to keep an eye on: kicker Roberto Aguayo, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., cornerbacks P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby and -- last but not least -- quarterback Jameis Winston.

Here are a few other headlines across the ACC:
The most aggressive offense in the ACC in 2014 was Clemson, which might not have been a surprise in 2012 or 2013, but in a year in which there were so many personnel issues for the Tigers’ offense, it’s a bit shocking.

Clemson threw deep (20-plus yards) on 7.46 percent of its total plays, well above the league average of 5.93 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And that was probably not the best idea either, because while Clemson went deep more often than anyone else, the Tigers also averaged the second-fewest yards-per-attempt on those throws (trailing only Syracuse) and nearly 10 yards per attempt less than what Tajh Boyd mustered last year for Clemson. That’s not exactly a recipe for offensive success.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtDeshaun Watson completed nearly 50 percent of his deep balls in 2014 with seven touchdowns and just one interception.
But, of course, personnel had a lot to do with that, and it only goes to show how much a healthy Deshaun Watson affects Clemson’s overall offensive success, because those aggregate numbers hardly tell the whole story.

Watson completed nearly 50 percent of his deep balls in 2014 with seven touchdowns and just one interception. He averaged 15.9 yards per attempt, which would’ve been tops in the ACC if he’d been the only quarterback throwing for the Tigers in 2014. But he wasn’t.

Cole Stoudt and Nick Schuessler completed just 15 percent of their deep balls this season with one TD, two interceptions and a woeful 5.2 yards-per-attempt average. To put that in perspective, if they’d been the only quarterbacks throwing for Clemson this year, the Tigers would’ve been dead last in the league in YPA by nearly four full yards.

That’s just one of the interesting facts we find when we dig into the ACC’s deep-ball numbers for 2014.

A few more, with deep-ball stats courtesy ESPN Stats & Info:

  • No team was worse on the deep ball in the ACC than Syracuse. This is no surprise. The Orange completed just 27.8 percent of its deep balls (worst in the ACC), averaged 9.2 yards per attempt (again, worst), had just two touchdowns (13th) and five interceptions (t-12th). That’s down a bit from last year, but the Orange have struggled on those throws ever since Ryan Nassib left.
  • Perhaps the most improved team on the deep ball this year was Virginia. Last season, the Hoos were just 7-of-50 on throws of 20 yards or more. This year, they more than doubled their deep-ball yards, completion percentage and TD throws.
  • North Carolina had one of the ACC’s most potent offenses, but it wasn’t because of the deep ball. This is one of the reasons Larry Fedora was so high on Mitch Trubisky, but the numbers didn’t back up that confidence. Overall, UNC’s completion percentage of 28 percent on deep balls was third-worst in the league and its 9.93 YPA was fourth worst, but Marquise Williams was far better than his counterpart. Williams wasn’t great (28 percent completions, 12.2 YPA) but Trubisky really struggled (3-of-15 for 100 yards with a pick).
  • Only Wake Forest went deep less often than Pittsburgh (4.28 percent of total plays), which seems a bit odd considering that the Panthers could’ve used play-action well (given the strong running game) and they actually had the highest completion percentage of any ACC team on throws of 20-plus yards (44.4 percent).
  • Florida State was far less successful on the deep ball this year than last, with its completion percentage down (48.8 in 2013 to 35.7 in 2014) and TDs way off (16 last year, nine this). But FSU also threw five fewer interceptions on deep throws this year, and when it did get a completion, it’s YPC was actually improved (40 YPA this year, 32 YPA last year).
  • No team was better on the deep ball than Miami in 2014. Brad Kaaya proved to be an excellent downfield thrower, matched with a good running game and speed at receiver. For the year, Miami completed 41.3 percent of its deep balls (second in ACC), averaged 14.6 yards per attempt (first) and had nine touchdowns on those throws (tied for first). It’s worth noting though that just 12 percent of Miami’s passes in 2014 were 20 yards or more, the third fewest in the league.
  • No team gained a higher percentage of its total offense in 2014 via the deep ball than Louisville (15.9 percent), which is interesting given that DeVante Parker missed seven games and Bobby Petrino cycled through three different quarterbacks. Overall, Louisville’s deep-ball numbers were virtually the same as 2013, in spite of losing its star receiver for more than half the year and a first-round draft pick at quarterback. That’s a real credit to the work Petrino did this season.
  • Not surprisingly, Georgia Tech and Boston College had the highest percentage of their pass attempts be deep balls. Next up though? NC State (17 percent).
  • Virginia Tech wasn’t great on the deep ball (10.5 YPA, four TDs, four INTs), but it was a necessary part of the Hokies’ offense. For the year, 74.1 percent of Tech’s plays of 20-plus yards came on throws of 20-plus yards -- meaning if the Hokies didn’t look deep, they rarely had a shot at a big play. The league average on that stat was 45.6 percent, meaning the rest of the ACC got more than half of its big plays from plays that weren’t deep balls. Virtually all of Virginia Tech’s big-play threat relied on the arm of Michael Brewer. That speaks volumes about the Hokies’ season.

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