ACC: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

We’re almost through the first week of the season -- we’re still waiting on you, Miami-Louisville -- which means college football is ripe for overreaction. It’s this time of year that is worth reminding everyone to take a step back, take a deep breath and remember it isn’t even September yet.

With that said, there are only 12 games on each team’s schedule, and each school can’t afford to throw a week away. So here are some things the ACC blog thinks we learned through the season’s first few days.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezWill Florida State find another receiving threat to complement Rashad Greene?
1. Florida State’s 2014 team wasn’t built in a laboratory … and isn’t as invincible as some tried to project upon the preseason No. 1. The Seminoles jumped out to an early lead, but the armor began to crack shortly thereafter. The defense looked out of sync at times and had issues stopping the Cowboys’ offense in the second half. Oklahoma State had 364 yards, with nearly all coming over the final three quarters. All preseason, Jimbo Fisher and his players said the pressure of repeating and being No. 1 would not affect this team, but the fifth-year FSU coach admitted to that in his postgame news conference. Offensively, the Seminoles set records in 2013, but with no Kelvin Benjamin or Kenny Shaw, there is no legitimate No. 2 receiving option opposite Rashad Greene.

The good news is this is an early wake-up call for Florida State, and they still escaped with a win. Though they are considered likely two-touchdown favorites for every game this season, this game probably humbled Florida State a little after the public inflated their egos the past eight months.

2. Clemson’s defense is better, except when it’s against the best:
The Tigers’ defense improved drastically the past season, and Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables deserve credit for that. However, the Tigers allowed 38 points in their toughest games a season ago, and once again a quality offense shredded the unit. Georgia hung 45 on Clemson behind nearly 200 rushing yards from Todd Gurley, who might be the ridiculous early Heisman favorite now, thanks to the Tigers. Gurley averaged more than 13 yards per carry, and on top of it he had an easy 100-yard kickoff return score. All offseason the Tigers’ defense was hyped as possibly the conference’s best as it returns stars along the defensive front, the biggest being Vic Beasley. But the front seven wore down in the second half, and now the Tigers are left questioning whether they deserved the preseason attention.

3. It’s probably a good idea to shelve the perception talk for the time being:
ACC commissioner John Swofford and league coaches must have spent the offseason bench pressing the large stack of papers listing the conference’s 2013 accomplishments because they walked into ACC media days with their collective chest puffed out about the ACC playing second fiddle to nobody. Well, Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe and failed to eclipse 100 total yards. Syracuse nearly lost to FCS Villanova, North Carolina and Georgia Tech both trailed FCS schools, and NC State needed a touchdown with a little more than 90 seconds left for the win. Clemson looked good in the first half, but the defensive front seven was shredded by the UGA rush game and couldn’t tackle in the second half. Florida State even looked human, but at least the Seminoles pulled out the win. The rest of the league needed to show some progress, but the cupcake scares were all too familiar for ACC advocates.

4. Give a lot of credit to the Virginia defense: All afternoon the Cavaliers’ defense was brilliant against No. 7 UCLA. Despite continuously being put in bad situations, the defense bailed out Virginia, and the Cavs nearly pulled off the upset. We all knew Virginia had the potential to be really good on defense, but it showed it Saturday by holding UCLA to fewer than five yards per play and creating a couple of turnovers. Starter Greyson Lambert did not last long, but Virginia might have found its quarterback of the future in Matt Johns. Unfortunately for Virginia, there were too many mistakes. UCLA returned three turnovers for touchdowns, and the play calling was questionable late in the game. Mike London’s conservative approach might have cost Virginia the win.

5. Pittsburgh’s James Conner wants to join the Heisman discussion:
In Year 3, Paul Chryst has Pitt looking like Wisconsin, at least in box scores. The Panthers rushed 56 times for 409 yards and seven touchdowns. Pitt threw a total of 14 passes in the 62-0 drubbing. Sure it was against FCS Delaware, but there were no gimme games for Pitt during Chryst’s first two seasons. Youngstown State defeated Pitt in the 2012 opener, and there were many more close calls over the past two seasons. The Panthers were a popular dark horse pick in the Coastal Division, and they did nothing to suggest they don’t belong in the conversation. They are going to ride Conner, who ran for 153 yards and four touchdowns on only 14 carries. The bad news is sophomore receiver Tyler Boyd dislocated a finger and could miss the Friday night game against Boston College.

6. Deshaun Watson is going to push for more playing time: The No. 1 quarterback in the 2014 class did not look like a freshman on his first collegiate drive. He showed great poise on his first throw, which nearly went for a long touchdown. On his next two plays, the Clemson backup threw beautiful passes, with the second going for a touchdown. Stoudt played well in the first half, but the Clemson offense could not get much of anything going in the second half. Watson only attempted four throws, but the Tigers have South Carolina State and then a bye before Florida State. Could we see more of Watson when Clemson travels to Tallahassee?

ACC Week 1 predictions

August, 28, 2014
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Why Clemson will win: Defense. It wins championships, right? It will win this game for the Tigers, who led the nation in tackles for loss last season and return every single major contributor to the group. An improved front seven means better results slowing down Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the two players Clemson needs to slow down the most. Rather than the shootout we saw a year ago, the defenses will have a much bigger role this season. Right now, Clemson is better than Georgia there, so I'm calling for the upset.
-- Andrea Adelson

Why Georgia will win: Early-season games against nationally recognized teams have not been kind to Georgia coach Mark Richt over the years (see: Clemson, Oklahoma State, Boise State, South Carolina x 2), so the law of averages says he has to win some, right? Well, there's more than just cosmic balancing in the Bulldogs' favor. While the Tigers made huge gains on defense a season ago, they also allowed an average of 38 points per game against Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and South Carolina. We're not quite sure what to expect out of new Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason, but the duo of Gurley and Marshall at running back is unmatched anywhere else in the country. Last season's game might have played out differently had Gurley not strained a quad on a 75-yard touchdown run.
-- Jared Shanker

Why Miami will win: Duke Johnson changes everything for the Canes, as he keeps their offense moving and takes plenty of pressure off Brad Kaaya. Likewise, the loss of DeVante Parker takes plenty of punch out of Louisville's offense. A new coach, a new league and a new quarterback create too much uncertainty around a Cardinals team that has the target on its back after embarrassing Miami last time around. -- Matt Fortuna

Why Louisville will win: It's not that I'm supremely confident in this pick, but the Cardinals have a few things going for them. First, it's a marquee game for the program, its first as a member of the ACC. Secondly, while a lot has changed on defense for Louisville, it was the top-ranked rushing D in the country last season, which should help Todd Grantham's crew deal with the dynamic Duke Johnson. Most important, however, at quarterback Miami is starting a true freshman in his first career game on the road in a frenzied atmosphere. It won't be a gimme, but Louisville will pull off the victory. -- David Hale

Upset pick of the week

Why ULM will win: ULM has three advantages: It beat Wake Forest a year ago and is familiar with some of the returning personnel; the WarHawks bring back 14 starters; and they are playing at home. Wake Forest is starting true freshmen at quarterback and center. It's never easy to go on the road and make your first career start, let alone on national television. Factor in all the youth and inexperience for the Deacs, and you see why ULM has the edge. -- Andrea Adelson

More consensus picks: Syracuse over Villanova; Pittsburgh over Delaware; UCLA over Virginia; Georgia Tech over Wofford; NC State over Georgia Southern; Boston College over UMass; Virginia Tech over William & Mary; Duke over Elon; North Carolina over Liberty; Florida State over Oklahoma State
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson told the two freshmen quarterbacks he signed in February they would have every opportunity to win the starting job.

That was not an empty promise. The Deacs needed to replace their departed senior quarterback, and they had no experienced players on their roster. Why not give the freshmen a shot?

Sometimes they rise to the challenge, like John Wolford. Clawson started hearing reports about Wolford from his upperclassmen before fall practice even began. They told him, “That freshman is really good.”

Once practice began, it became pretty clear he was more than good. Clawson decided early in camp that Wolford would be his starter, beginning tonight at ULM (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU). He is not the only coach who has gone that route.

Three true freshmen quarterbacks have an opportunity to play in Week 1, the most in the ACC since 2010. Brad Kaaya earned the starting job in Miami, while Deshaun Watson is expected to play when Clemson takes on Georgia on Saturday.

According to research gathered by the ACC office, this could be the first time in league history that two true freshmen quarterbacks open the season under center.

Watching a youth movement unfold at the position is not unexpected. The ACC lost nine starting quarterbacks to either graduation, the NFL draft or transfer. Only Jameis Winston, Anthony Boone and Terrel Hunt return as unquestioned starters.

In Wake’s case, the Deacs have turned to true freshmen quarterbacks the last two times they had to make a decision. Tanner Price started nine games for Wake Forest in 2010 and never relinquished his starting job. But he did not open the season as the starter.

Wolford will be the first true freshman quarterback to start a season opener in school history.

“He gives us our best chance to win,” Clawson said. “He is our best quarterback, so I can’t worry about whether he’s a freshman, sophomore, junior, senior. In a perfect world, you always love to have the guy be in the system one or two years before he plays. But we’re going to put the guys out there who give us the best chance to win. And he clearly won the job. He’s playing at a high level. I don’t think those things suddenly disappear once you play a game.”

Both Clawson and Miami coach Al Golden have described their new starting quarterbacks as very even-keeled, an important quality to have considering both players have to make their first career starts on the road.

Clawson said Wolford is “the same person every day. There’s not a lot of reps where you’re shaking your head saying, ‘What's he thinking about?' He is as ready as any true freshman I've been around.”

Miami faced a different situation than Wake Forest. The Canes had hoped to start senior Ryan Williams, but he tore his ACL in the spring and is not healthy enough to play. Redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen was next in line, but he is serving a suspension. Kaaya beat out senior transfer Jake Heaps during fall practice and will start Monday night against Louisville.

“I think that's probably where we got the most confidence from him, just his overall depth and understanding of what we were trying to get done and his ability to get us in the right play at the line of scrimmage. Without that, it would be hard to name him the starter, but he certainly demonstrated to us all training camp that it wasn't going to be too big for him.”

Clemson, meanwhile, plans on starting senior Cole Stoudt but coach Dabo Swinney says Watson will play. What type of role Watson will have remains to be seen. What Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris plan to do with Watson provides a level of intrigue we are unaccustomed to with this offense.

When Swinney was asked whether he knew when Watson would go into the game, he smiled and said, “When we put him in, that's the perfect time to put him in.”

Stoudt is actually the last true freshman to play quarterback at Clemson, back in 2011. The last Clemson true freshman quarterback to start a game was Nealon Greene in 1994.

Watson may bring intrigue, but he has to wait a few more days to get his shot.

Wolford gets the spotlight tonight.

ACC morning links

August, 28, 2014
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It's a tradition unlike any other. And it may be coming to an end. Or at least a pause.

Defending national champion Florida State Seminoles opens its season Saturday against Oklahoma State. And the Seminoles still have not visited the White House.

What gives?

"The window for a team visit has likely closed altogether," a Florida State spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ's Ben Cohen and Jonathan Clegg report that FSU offered the White House six available dates in April. The Noles then offered six potential dates in May and June. The president was unavailable for any of them. Nothing materialized in the summer.

FSU would be the first non-repeat college football champion to not make the D.C. trip since 1990. USC's 2004 title team did not visit the nation's capital, but the Trojans had made the trip a year earlier.

UConn's title-winning men's and women's basketball teams made their trip in June, two months after winning their national titles. Hmmm ...

Perhaps old Jimbo Fisher friend Nick Saban cut a deal with President Obama to not let any other college football teams in? The two may be close, after all, as Saban has taken three different Alabama teams to the White House since Obama first took office.

An in-season visit for the Noles is not entirely off the table, but a school spokesman told the WSJ that it would be "very, very difficult."

In other ACC news today …

ACC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
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The college football season is finally ready to kick off. No doubt all the time we’ve spent studying depth charts and devouring news will be rendered meaningless by September’s end, but that won’t stop us from making a few bold predictions about what’s to come in 2014. If we get half of them right, we’ll call it a success.

1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.

Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
AP Photo/Garry JonesUnder coach Bobby Petrino, Will Gardner has a chance to flourish as Louisville's starting QB.
2. Louisville’s Will Gardner will be the ACC’s second-best quarterback.

It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.

3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.

The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.

4. Virginia goes bowling.

The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.

5. Clemson is a running team.

With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.

6. Young runners make a big impact.

Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.

7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.

If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.

8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.

Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.

9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.

Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.

10. The Coastal champ will be ...

Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.

ACC morning links

August, 26, 2014
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ESPN Stats & Information has unveiled its first set of conference power rankings for 2014.

What if I told you the ACC was ranked fifth?

Not surprising in the least.

At this point, it is hard to see the ranking as a huge slap at the league, considering the ACC also was ranked fifth in the final 2013 conference power rankings with a national championship and Orange Bowl win to brag about. The ranking speaks to the state of the entire conference, which we all can agree needs to upgrade its product behind the Noles and Tigers.

The key difference between last season and this season, though, is the College Football Playoff. And conference ranking could come into play when the selection committee begins its evaluations. Because strength of schedule will matter. As our friends at Stats & Info point out in their post:
Among Power Five conferences, the ACC is considered the weakest by both the AP Poll and FPI. That means that if the top four conferences place a team in the playoff, it would leave the ACC on the outside looking in. Yet, there is a lot more that goes into those decisions, including the fact that the ACC has the clear No. 1 team in the country. Florida State received 57 of 60 first place votes in the AP Poll and has by far the best chance (39 percent) to finish the season undefeated according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

However, what if Florida State loses a conference game? Does the relative strength of the ACC come into play?

All fun questions to ponder before the season begins.

Let's take a tour around the rest of the ACC as the games quickly approach:
  • Boston College may use its running backs out of the backfield more than it did a year ago.
  • Clemson has studied tape from its game against Florida State last year for clues on how Jeremy Pruitt will run the Georgia defense.
  • Duke football has come so far, what if it takes a step back?
  • More fun predictions! Stewart Mandel at FoxSports has Florida State in the playoff and Clemson facing Alabama in the Discover Orange Bowl.
  • Louisville running back Michael Dyer remains doubtful for the opener against Miami.
  • Ryan Williams and Jake Heaps talk about Brad Kaaya winning the Miami quarterback job.
  • Joe Giglio has a great read on NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has high expectations for himself headed into the season.
  • Is North Carolina going to be the Coastal champ? One columnist says yes.
  • Apparently, Larry Fedora takes pleasure in tormenting people.
  • Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer compared freshman receiver Isaiah Ford to Antonio Freeman.
  • Could Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel be Wake Forest's best cornerbacks ... ever?

Wake Forest season preview

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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC 

Previewing the 2014 season for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons:

Key returners: WR Tyree Harris, LB Brandon Chubb, SS Ryan Janvion, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Merrill Noel, P Alexander Kinal, K Chad Hedlund

Key losses: QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, WR Michael Campanaro, DT Nikita Whitlock, LB Mike Olson

Instant impact newcomer: First-year coach Dave Clawson hopes the biggest impact comes from freshman John Wolford, who was recently named the Demon Deacons’ starting quarterback. Wolford had a solid offer sheet coming out of high school, as Mississippi State and Penn State both recruited the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Jacksonville, Florida, native. Clawson ideally won’t have to ask too much of his quarterback, but he will need to find a viable running back to ease the pressure off Wolford.

[+] EnlargeKevin Johnson
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonWake Forest will rely on its veteran players this season, including senior cornerback Kevin Johnson.
Most important 2014 games: Aug. 28 at Louisiana-Monroe, Nov. 15 at NC State, Nov. 29 at Duke

Projected win percentage: 30 percent

Over/under Vegas odds:

Best-case scenario for 2014: Clawson knows he has a serious rebuilding project at Wake Forest, and he will not be judged on how the Demon Deacons fare in his inaugural season. There is an opportunity for a few early wins before conference play begins, though. The opener against Louisiana-Monroe won’t be easy, as the Warhawks have been a solid Sun Belt team of late. But Wake Forest also plays Gardner-Webb and Army in the nonconference. If Wake can get to three wins and Wolford shows promise, this will be a good first season for Clawson.

Worst-case scenario: No one would be shocked if the Demon Deacons did not pick up a single win, which would mean they had an ugly loss to Gardner-Webb. Even if Wake Forest goes winless, Clawson is playing for the future. If Wolford doesn’t progress throughout the season, that could be the biggest setback to Wake’s future.

They said it: “We will try and redshirt players, but if a freshman gives us the best chance to win, we’re going to play him. It’s not fair to the juniors and the seniors in the program to make a decision based on what’s best five years from now. He gives us the best chance to win, so we will now prepare him as our starting quarterback.” -- Clawson
With the news that Ohio State lost quarterback Braxton Miller for the season, USA Today wondered what the effect might be of a major injury on a few of the other top College Football Playoff candidates, including Florida State.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsEven with second-stringer Sean Maguire at quarterback, Florida State would be an ACC favorite. But maybe not a national favorite.
According to the story, a switch from Jameis Winston to Sean Maguire at QB would mean roughly 10 fewer points per game and two fewer wins for FSU.
Substitute Maguire for Winston and the Noles still win the ACC championship, but without Winston they only average 33.9 points per game and win 9.4 games on average.

The Orlando Sentinel digs a bit deeper, looking at what the ramifications of a Winston injury might be for the Seminoles.

I didn’t crunch any serious numbers, as USA Today did, or dig too deep into the roster the way the Sentinel did, but if I was putting together a list of the ACC’s most irreplaceable players, it’d probably look something like this:

1. Winston — for obvious reasons, as discussed above.

2. Duke Johnson — We saw what happened last year when he went down. Miami was 7-0 with him healthy, 2-4 when he wasn’t on the field the whole game. Not to mention the Hurricanes' rushing average was cut in half.

3. Jamison Crowder - The guy was targeted 174 times last year (40 more than Sammy Watkins) and that was before Duke lost Braxton Deaver and Brandon Connette.

4. Eli Harold - The guy averaged 24 more snaps per game than All-American Vic Beasley did, and Virginia’s defense is predicated on penetrating the line of scrimmage.

5. Jacoby Brissett — OK, NC State might not do much this year even with Brissett, but what’s the option if he goes down? The Pack’s hopes for 2014 are riding almost entirely on his shoulders, and unlike last year, there’s actually some reason for optimism.

Beyond that top five, Mario Edwards Jr., Luther Maddy, Norkeithus Otis and Tyler Boyd come to mind, too.

Of course, there’s surely a few more players left off the list that warrant discussion. So, who’d we miss?

A few more links:

  • The (Syracuse) Post-Standard has Virginia’s Mike London as the ACC’s only coach on the hot seat this season. One reason London is on the hot seat: a lack of production in spite of talent. Virginia is 18-31 under London. Only eight other teams have performed worse during the past four years, and of that group, only Cal has signed more four-star and five-star recruits than the 19 signed by London, according to ESPN’s rankings. (Of note: Kentucky has signed 16, but 14 have come in the last two years since Mark Stoops was hired as head coach. The other six programs with worse records than Virginia during that stretch have signed just 30 four-star or five-star recruits.)
  • The Wall Street Journal took a look at how each Power 5 conference coach has done against top-25 opposition in his career. The Louisville Courier-Journal followed up with a deeper look at Bobby Petrino’s credentials as well as a look at the individual ACC coaches.
  • There are still plenty of starting jobs up for grabs on the Virginia Tech offensive depth chart, as The Roanoke Times points out.
  • For years, Jim Grobe avoided playing true freshmen at Wake Forest. In the first season under Dave Clawson, it appears as many as nine will get a chance to play in this year’s opener, the Winston-Salem Journal writes.
  • And on related notes, earlier this week Matt Fortuna wrote a bit about Clawson’s journey to Wake Forest, and Jared Shanker looked at the programs most apt to play true freshmen.
  • Duke certainly projects to have a speedy secondary, which has earned the unit a unique nickname, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Steven Daniels is in line to be the next great middle linebacker at Boston College, writes the Boston Herald.
  • And lastly, if you don’t hear from me for the next 10 days, it’s because FXX is marathoning every “The Simpsons” episode ever, starting today. Here’s the full schedule if you’re portioning out your time to the most important episodes (“Marge vs. the Monorail is tomorrow at 9 p.m.) and here’s your requisite Simpsons gif to showcase my feelings about the event.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Dave Clawson needed just a few weeks to earn his next promotion, at 26 years old. His responsibilities were growing, his pay was increasing and, with a master's degree in hand, he was on the fast track to success, just like the rest of his college buddies.

"I was waiting tables in Columbus, Ohio, at the Cooker Bar and Grill," Clawson said. "I was four-table rated, by the way. That was a big moment, now, because when you go from three tables to four tables your tips increase by a third."

Clawson's roommate from his undergraduate days was a manager at the restaurant and offered his old friend a place to crash and a path to cash while he bided his time after he lost his job at Buffalo, where he was coaching defensive backs, quarterbacks and running backs.

Clawson had degrees from Williams College and Albany, he had friends working on Wall Street, and he had his whole life ahead of him.

If there were a time to push the restart button, this was it.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDave Clawson was hired by Wake Forest away from Bowling Green, where he was 32-31 over five seasons.
"I would take as many shifts as I could for the two weeks, and then go try to go to clinics or go visit other schools or try to interview for jobs," Clawson said. "And the only job I ended up getting was Lehigh University, $3,000 a year to be their running backs coach.”

Twenty-one years later, his decision has paid off nicely. Clawson is undertaking his biggest reclamation project yet at Wake Forest, where he’s replacing longtime coach Jim Grobe. It is the latest program Clawson aims to rebuild, after lifting Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green to heights not seen in recent memory.

The 47-year-old Clawson has, in many ways, come full circle. The product of a private, academic-minded Division III program is now in charge of the football team at the smallest Power Five school.

"There's not too many problems or too many things that can happen in a football program that I haven't experienced first-hand," he said.




Clawson thanked donors and private planes for helping him salvage Wake Forest's recruiting class this year. He has lengthy experience with the former, having landed his first head-coaching job at Fordham in 1999. At 31 years old, Clawson was the nation's youngest Division I head coach. Tasked with reviving a program short on success since the Vince Lombardi days, he was, in some ways, in a CEO role.

"I was very lucky at Fordham that I made mistakes and I was able to do that in an environment that wasn't so public and with some people that understood that I was young and I was going to be aggressive," Clawson said.

His career highlight up until that point was coordinating Villanova's offense during Brian Westbrook's historic 1,000/1,000 season in 1998. Responsibilities at previous stops included equipment, laundry and field-painting.

Upon graduating from Williams in 1989, the former defensive back became a graduate assistant at Albany, coaching quarterbacks and running backs while living with six other coaches. He also worked as a dishwasher, bounced at a local bar and taught physical education to elementary school students.

Clawson's coach at Williams, Dick Farley, wanted to apologize to Clawson's parents at graduation. Most of the other graduates were bound for law school or medical school, but Clawson set out on his own path.

"That's one of the attractions about him," Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman said. "I described him as being very intentional, and probably that was the first indication of it."




When Clawson took over Richmond in 2004, Wake Forest was among the programs he modeled his after.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Clay OwenClawson's only Power Five experience was as Phillip Fulmer's, right, offensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2008.
"At Richmond we were the smallest and arguably the most academic of all the schools in that conference," he said. "We didn't play Florida State and Clemson, but at the time Delaware and James Madison and programs like that were powers, so we had to figure out a way."

The prevailing theme of Clawson's career has been his adaptation to his personnel. At Richmond, he focused his recruiting efforts in the South, selling meaty, cerebral linemen on a ground-and-pound path to glory.

At Fordham, he sold New York, recruiting inner-city Catholic school players to run a flashier, pro-style offense, while helping the program nearly double its budget over five years.

"What he did at Fordham was just incredible," said Hank Small, who hired Clawson at Lehigh. "At that point you could really tell he could do a lot of different things."

Clawson started 3-19 in his first two years at Fordham before finishing 26-10 the last three, winning the Patriot League in 2002. He parlayed a 3-8 debut season at Richmond into a 26-12 finish with two league titles, laying the foundation for a team that won the FCS crown in 2008. By then, Clawson was Tennessee's offensive coordinator, with the possibility of perhaps succeeding Phillip Fulmer.

A 5-7 2008 season and Fulmer's firing proved otherwise.

"I thought he was going to get enough of a buyout where he could go play golf or vacation or live a normal life," Farley cracked. "He said he thought he was young and that he continued to want to coach and he didn't want to sit out and take the easy money and do something else."

Instead, Clawson landed at Bowling Green. In a contrast from his past, Clawson implemented a defense-first approach, improving a two-win team in 2010 by at least two games every year. The Falcons had the MAC's top defense last year, went 10-3 and routed unbeaten Northern Illinois to win the conference.




The reality of the Demon Deacons' situation is that they lose a four-year starting quarterback (Tanner Price), the top pass-catcher in school history (Michael Campanaro) and the runner-up in league defensive player of the year voting (Nikita Whitlock). With them, Wake won four games last year.

Wake Forest was picked last in the Atlantic Division, and while the cupboard seems bare, Clawson sees a sliver of light ahead.

"It's not like this isn't a place that's never won, that we've had success, and some of it is recent," he said, referring to a 2006 ACC title.
[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesClawson is taking over a Wake Forest program that was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division.

Recruiting, retaining and developing are keys. Wake Forest cannot afford to miss on players because its nearly $63,000 a year price tag for its nearly 5,000 students makes counting on walk-ons difficult.

"He has obviously been successful wherever he's been, and all of us knew that going in," fullback Jordan Garside said, "so we kind of trusted him and the system that he's trying to instill."

The truth is he’s coached every position group except for defensive linemen and linebackers in his career. Teaching so many areas at so many places helps him hold people accountable, he said, and he cannot help but get involved.

Take, for instance, his restaurant background, which shows while out eating with his wife and two kids. Great service equals great tips, bad service equals bad tips, and he knows every excuse in the book.

"Sometimes the kitchen gets backed up and there's nothing they can do about it and you shouldn't penalize them," Clawson said. "But if they're in the corner texting and not coming back, you know they're blowing you off."

The former four-table-rated server can afford to dine a little fancier now, starting his fourth head-coaching job. But his appetite to succeed remains as big as ever.

ACC morning links

August, 20, 2014
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Wake Forest received some encouraging news following a scary situation over the weekend, as tight end Zach Gordon is responding to treatment and improving after leaving Sunday's scrimmage on a stretcher and being taken to the hospital.

Team physician Dr. David Martin and head athletic trainer Nick Richey released a statement saying that Gordon's injury is non-life threatening.

From the statement, per the Star News' Brett Friedlander:
“During Sunday’s scrimmage, Zach Gordon sustained a serious, non-life threatening spinal injury,” the statement said. “All of our structural testing thus far has been favorable. He remains hospitalized at Wake Forest Baptist Health. Zach is improving and based on all indications, we expect him to continue to improve. We do not yet have a firm timeline for his return to activity.”

Gordon was expected to play a big role this season for the Demon Deacons after being limited to a special teams role last season, when he played in all 12 games. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder from Carrollton, Georgia, was in line for a starting job. Obviously, football takes a backseat at this moment, as the status of his playing future remains up in the air. But the news from Wake's medical staff certainly comes as a sigh of relief.

In other, seemingly minor injury news from earlier this week, Syracuse took a big hit offensively as top tight end Josh Parris suffered a knee injury that will require surgery Wednesday and places his status in doubt for the beginning of the season, and possibly more. In the meantime, the Orange will be forced to turn to Kendall Moore and Tyler Provo moving forward.

Elsewhere in the ACC ...

ACC morning links

August, 19, 2014
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It is nearly time to begin preparing for Week 1 matchups. Does it surprise anybody that there are still unanswered questions at quarterback for three Coastal Division contenders?

Miami held a scrimmage Monday night in which true freshman Brad Kaaya continued to impress, throwing two touchdown passes. Transfer Jake Heaps, competing for the starting job, sat out the scrimmage to rest his arm. Coach Al Golden has repeatedly said he would name his starter following both scrimmages. Kevin Olsen is suspended for at least the opener; Kaaya played in both scrimmages; Heaps in just one. Do we read anything into where this leads headed into the opener against Louisville?

Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, coach Larry Fedora said he will not publicly announce his starter before kickoff against Liberty on Aug. 30. Returning starter Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky have been in a dogged competition. The Tar Heels will begin game prep Wednesday.

"We'll make a decision before the 30th," Fedora said. "I mean, you guys won't know it. But we will make a decision before the 30th. We'll start as we get into the game-planning, we'll have a plan what we're going to do and how we're going to implement it and those guys will be aware of it.

"It won't be like we walk out there on the 30th and I flip a coin and throw one of them out there."

Finally, the race to start at Virginia Tech is down to Michael Brewer and Mark Leal. Brenden Motley, who left the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, has been dealing with back issues throughout fall camp and has fallen out of the competition. Brewer and Leal split first-team reps during a weekend scrimmage, but a decision remains up in the air.

Now here is quick look at other headlines across the ACC:
Because the world needs one more preseason All-America team, and because there has to be a reason to talk about this one differently than the last, USA Today has its out, and the most noteworthy item is the guy atop its quarterback depth chart.

That would be the Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota and not the reigning Heisman winner, Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston.

It's not that picking Mariota is such a silly idea. He's exceptional, and he's a candidate to unseat Winston as the Heisman winner.

But lots of folks seem to be a good bit higher on Mariota now than Winston, and it's tough to follow that logic beyond the fact that Winston's off-field troubles make people want to look elsewhere. (Though, Chantel Jennings and Jared Shanker did their part to debate the battle rationally.)

Yes, Mariota was exceptional to start last season before sliding a bit in November due to an injury that severely limited his mobility. But how much did that really matter?

Pre-injury, here's how their numbers stacked up.

Mariota: 64 completion percentage, 10.1 yards per attempt, 2,562 total yards, 29 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Winston: 70 completion percentage, 11.8 yards per attempt, 2,608 total yards, 27 touchdowns, 6 interceptions

The big mark in Mariota's corner is the zero in the interceptions department, but he had fumbled four times (two were lost). Mariota also played in a more stat-friendly offense (that averaged seven more plays per game) and had yet to play his most difficult opposition of the season. Winston had already dominated two top-10 opponents in Clemson and Miami.

There's a case for Mariota, certainly, but it's not as if he was head and shoulders better even before the injury. And, the funny thing is, he wasn't that much worse even afterward.

Post-injury numbers for both QBs:

Mariota: 63 completion percentage, 8.6 yards per attempt, 1,466 total yards, 11 touchdowns, 4 interceptions
Winston: 63 completion percentage, 9.0 yards per attempt, 1,621 total yards, 17 touchdowns, 4 interceptions

Winston's totals came with one extra game, too, so aside from the picks, they were pretty close. The only difference is, Mariota was hurt, Winston had off-field troubles, and Florida State won a national title while Oregon lost twice.

So what will change in that equation this season?

Maybe Mariota stays healthy and Oregon runs the table. That seems less likely though, given the tougher slate the Ducks face in the Pac-12 and the more hits Mariota figures to take compared with Winston. And Winston, at least for the time being, has a healthy left tackle.

Either way though, it should be a fun battle to watch. They're both in prime position for a Heisman, for a run to the College Football Playoff and, perhaps, for a shot to be the first player taken in the 2015 NFL draft.

Oh, and on that subject, I wrote a bit about Winston's approach to 2014 earlier in the week, and that story involved a lot of interviews with friends and family. One thing his father, Antonor, made clear: The talk about staying for two more seasons at FSU was hardly a guarantee.

"What I said was, that was our original plan was to get his degree," Antonor Winston said. "That was our original plan. I didn't know when they offered a scholarship, he's guaranteed to go to the NFL. If they'd told me that, I'd have said he's going to the NFL.

"I will never look at it in that way because whatever the situation is at the end of the season, that's the situation we're going to take. You really don't know what path you're going to be taken. But we know we want that degree no matter what."

In other words, if Winston is in line to go in the first five to 10 picks of the draft, the decision will be easy.

One other Winston tidbit: Yes, he's lost Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but his high school coach, Matt Stephens, said he fully expects Winston to adapt by checking down to underneath receivers, using his speed in the slot and his running backs out of the backfield far more often. He also said that Winston wanted to prove he was a legitimate pocket passer last season, but not to be surprised if he runs a lot more often this season.

That may actually help Winston's numbers a bit. That decline in completion percentage down the stretch was, in part, a result of looking deep a bit too often.

OK, a few more links before getting ready for the weekend:
  • Duke has a plan in place to replace injured linebacker Kelby Brown, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Florida State looks like its found an answer to fill a linebacking void, too, writes the Orlando Sentinel.
  • Louisville could be looking at a stadium expansion, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • Special teams are getting special attention at Wake Forest, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.
  • If you're a Boston College fan stoked for a trip to Columbus … well, make yourself comfortable. It'll be a while. The proposed series with Ohio State was pushed back to 2023-24, as BC Interruption notes. Just think what the world will be like by then: iPhone 15 will be on the market, North West will have his own reality show and clothing line, the College Football Playoff will include 32 teams. The possibilities are endless.

Enjoy the weekend, folks. After this one, just one Saturday left without college football.

ACC recruits who fill biggest needs 

August, 12, 2014
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RecruitingNation takes a look at the 2015 recruits who most fill the needs of each of the ACC schools.

ACC morning links

August, 12, 2014
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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was in his element Sunday during his media day news conference. He was no longer answering questions about Jameis Winston or crab legs. Fisher was talking X's and O's, talking Football 101.

Fisher talked at length about how he studies a player to determine a his physical ceiling and what kind of bone structure and body type recruits possess. Fisher said it is not the deciding factor when he recruits a prospect, but it is without a doubt a factor. He likened it to basketball, where coaches often are more in love with a player's wingspan or vertical jump than his ability to shoot the basketball from 15 to 18 feet.

A protege of Nick Saban, Fisher likes physically stout players along the defensive line. Some of his defensive ends tip the scales at 300 pounds but still move as if they were 25 pounds lighter. He and Saban had them at LSU a decade ago, and Fisher has one at Florida State in Mario Edwards Jr., who was able to chase down Auburn's Nick Marshall on an option play.

Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel took a look at how Fisher has recruited during his tenure and the size of the players he has brought in.The class that signed in February averages 6-foot-3.5 and weighs 249 pounds. To put that into perspective, Bobby Bowden's final class at Florida State was two inches shorter and 26 pounds lighter.

While this 2014 class could be a bit of an outlier due to the sheer numbers of linemen Fisher signed, the statistics still offer an insight into how Fisher recruits. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly also said Sunday that he knows Fisher is looking for a certain body type depending on the position, so Kelly needs to take that into account when he's visiting high schools.

Here's a few more links to get your Tuesday started.

ACC morning links

August, 11, 2014
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Good morning!

First thing's first: Starting today, links will be the first post each week day to get you started with everything you need to know across the ACC. So say good bye to lunchtime links and hello to morning links.

What's sizzling this Monday morning?

We're talkin' about scrimmages, media days and fan days that provided a few bits of headlines and newsworthy notes over the weekend.

First up: Florida State held its media day Sunday, and, well, there was a bit of unnecessary drama. The Seminoles asked fans, via Twitter, to submit questions to Jameis Winston using the hashtag #AskJameis. Predictably, the questions devolved in a matter of minutes. Search the hashtag, and you will find maybe five usable queries. The rest were on the order of crab legs, butter preferences for said crab legs and Winston's other legal entanglements.

As my fellow SNL fans are asking right about now, "Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?"

Meanwhile, Clemson held its first scrimmage of the fall Saturday with some drama of its own. The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, reported that quarterback Cole Stoudt sustained a minor leg injury when a defensive lineman rolled up on his leg. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said afterward he was unaware of an injury. The intrigue! Clemson returns to practice this morning so perhaps there will be more clarity. In any event, Dabo Swinney said both Stoudt and Deshaun Watson performed well in the scrimmage, which was closed to the media.

While on the subject of quarterbacks, watch out for Wake Forest true freshman John Wolford, now in the mix with Kevin Sousa and Tyler Cameron for the starting quarterback job. In the Deacs' scrimmage Sunday, Wolford scored on a 12-yard run and went 7-of-14 for 122 yards with an interception. Cameron, meanwhile, only threw for 52 yards, going 6-of-13.

In Atlanta, coach Paul Johnson limited quarterback Justin Thomas to one series and held out Zach Laskey from the weekend scrimmage for precautionary reasons.

And in one of the bigger injuries so far during fall practice, NC State coach Dave Doeren announced at media day that starting linebacker M.J. Salahuddin is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Salahuddin needs surgery and could end up taking a redshirt. It's a tough break for NC State, lacking in experienced depth at just about every position on the field. The Wolfpack simply cannot afford to lose veteran players like Salahuddin.

Now here's a quick look at other headlines:

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