ACC: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
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.
At last check, eight schools are ranked in the ESPN Recruiting Nation Top 40 class rankings. Duke, featured at N0. 39, is poised to sign David Cutcliffe's best class. NC State and Louisville are putting together strong classes, along with usual Top 25 suspects Florida State, Clemson, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is doing work, too. Though the Deacs are not in the rankings, Clawson is quietly putting together a solid class. ESPN 300 prospect Bowman Archibald spurned Miami despite signing a financial aid agreement with the school in August. As he explained when he switched his commitment last September, his on-campus visit impressed him. He is already enrolled at Wake Forest (though he just had surgery for a broken leg).
Another four-star prospect, quarterback Kyle Kearns out of California, committed over the weekend. Then Tuesday, the Deacs scored another big commitment from running back Rocky Reid, a former Tennessee commit.
All three committed after taking official visits. Perhaps that is not a coincidence.
It also should not go unnoticed that Wake Forest has flipped players once committed to schools like Miami and Tennessee. The Deacs can clearly sell early playing time to a player like Reid, who joins a running back group in search of a standout. There also is no depth behind quarterback John Wolford, so coming to Wake to play quarterback should be appealing -- especially if Clawson's past history is taken into consideration.
Though Wake Forest went 3-9, this is a team that improved throughout the course of the season, that played with heart, energy and passion and never quit. Clawson has gotten the players on his roster to believe. Now he is getting recruits to believe as well.
More around the ACC:
- Clemson safety Travis Blanks has suffered a setback in his rehab from a knee injury.
- Duke has promoted Matt Guerreri to assistant coach.
- Coveted defensive end Byron Cowart announced via Twitter he won't take an official visit to Florida State this weekend.
- Georgia Tech got a commitment from running back Marcus Marshall, the younger brother of Georgia back Keith Marshall. Family Feud!
- Miami is on fire ... for the 2016 class. Odds all five commitments end up signing with the Canes?
- Pitt picked up a commitment from a receiver out of Texas.
- Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler told Mike Barber of The Richmond Times-Dispatch that he's hasn't spoken to anybody about the Central Michigan head coach opening. Barber also reports the Hokies won't have a Thursday night game in 2015.
As the Journal notes, it’s setting right a wrong done to the two schools due to conference expansion, but it’s also fair to wonder what the longterm ramifications of the deal might be.
Our Andrea Adelson wrote that the two programs deserve credit for taking this relatively unprecedented step to rekindle the rivalry — a step that no doubt will play well with traditionalists eager to see more of those recently deceased rivalries brought back to life.
The move no doubt will also spark some talk about adding a few more nonconference games between ACC teams, with BC Interruption throwing a regular meeting between Boston College and Miami into the discussion.
Elsewhere, Florida State has long coveted a chance to play more routinely in Atlanta, where the Seminoles possess a strong alumni base. NC State and Duke would make a lot of sense, too. In the SEC, where the league has also expanded to 14 teams and added a new rule requiring at least nine games against Power 5 foes, there could be a push for some programs to follow suit, too.
Beyond just those potential geographic rivalries, there’s a potentially significant recruiting impact to seeing cross-divisional foes more routinely, too. Wouldn’t Virginia Tech love to get to play another game in the state of Florida more than once every six years? Or Clemson showing off its offense in South Florida? And certainly Syracuse and BC could stand to steal a few more recruits in Virginia by getting a couple extra games against the Hokies or UVa?
Of course, there are some drawbacks to this, too.
For one, does the UNC-Wake rivalry really spark any more excitement for Tar Heels fans than, say, adding more non-traditional foes to the schedule -- perhaps from the Big Ten or SEC? And for teams like FSU, Clemson and Georgia Tech, who already have a set nonconference rival in the SEC, there’s a hefty financial incentive to keep seven home games each year, which complicates the process significantly.
The bottom line, however, is that conference expansion has played havoc with scheduling just as the College Football Playoff has put teams’ résumés in the spotlight more than ever. Finding some creative ways to fit tradition, finances and résumé-building games together is paramount, and what UNC and Wake have done at least sets a precedent for other programs looking to find some answers to scheduling dilemmas. It’s not an answer to all the problems, but it’s a start.
A few more links:
- FSU made it official Monday, hiring former Florida assistant Brad Lawing to coach its defensive ends and outside linebackers, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
- Louisville DC Todd Grantham could be headed to the Oakland Raiders, writes The Courier-Journal.
- Even with Luther Maddy missing the bulk of the season, Virginia Tech’s defensive line came up big in 2014, writes the Roanoke Times.
- Pitt landed a quarterback on the recruiting trail Monday, but it lost one of its former commitments to Penn State, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Georgia Tech is prepping to start doling out stipends to its student-athletes, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Rutgers swiped one of Syracuse’s top remaining recruiting targets, writes Syracuse.com.
It is about time ACC teams got creative with their schedules.
Because it is an absolute crying shame that two of the oldest rivals in the league are forced to go years between games. So, North Carolina and Wake Forest took matters into their own hands Monday, when the two announced they had scheduled a home-and-home NONconference series.
Does it sound bizarre? Yes. But it is no more bizarre than the schools playing just four times since 2004. We are talking about the two schools that played the first college football game in the state of North Carolina in 1888, that have met 105 times -- the third-oldest rivalry in the ACC.
Their annual meetings ended when the ACC expanded to 12 teams and added divisions in 2005. North Carolina was placed in the Coastal; Wake Forest in the Atlantic. They were each given another cross-over rival to play annually: North Carolina gets NC State; Wake Forest gets Duke. The remaining cross-over game rotates, relegating Wake Forest-North Carolina into the nearly irrelevant category.
Expansion to 14 teams in 2013 meant the two would face each other even more infrequently. After their ACC game in 2015, the two are not scheduled to face each other again until in ACC play until 2022. Seven years between meetings is a little much, wouldn't you say?
Now, this is not a problem unique to North Carolina and Wake Forest. NC State and Duke face a similar dilemma, separated by a bus ride but unable to play on an annual basis. Many more appealing league games also happen much too infrequently: Florida State-Georgia Tech; Clemson-Virginia Tech; Florida State-Virginia Tech; Syracuse-Miami just to name four examples that have some historical context.
Folks inside the ACC realize it is not ideal to have entire senior classes go without playing every ACC team. In an attempt to change that, athletic directors tried to move to nine conference games last year, an idea that was approved in 2012 before being changed back thanks to a scheduling partnership with Notre Dame.
But the vote was defeated 8-6. So absent a ninth conference game, ACC athletic directors began seriously exploring the idea of playing each other in “nonconference” games. During spring meetings last year, several athletic directors came out in favor of the idea. Not only would it allow them to play an ACC member more frequently, it also would add another Power 5 opponent to the schedule.
North Carolina and Wake Forest just so happen to be the first Power 5 teams to make good on the concept. Their nonconference games in 2019 and 2021 will not count in the ACC standings.
What is so wrong with that? Rather than go out and spend money on a guarantee game, Wake Forest and North Carolina can play each other in a regional matchup that requires a fleet of buses as opposed to airplane travel to say, Stillwater, Oklahoma.
It satisfies the requirement that they have at least one Power 5 nonconference opponent on the schedule moving forward. And it does not necessarily preclude them from playing multiple Power 5 opponents in a given year. In 2021, North Carolina plays Wake Forest and Notre Dame in nonconference games.
North Carolina and Wake Forest made a bold choice. They opted not to be held hostage by the way the ACC schedule is made. That is their reality, and it is one that is not going to change in the foreseeable future.
In an ideal world, the ACC should drop divisions entirely, that way everybody would have a chance to play at least once in a four-year cycle. Have each team keep its designated rival, and then go through the rest of the teams round robin. Before that can happen, the NCAA must rule whether it will allow conference championship games to be deregulated.
Currently 12 teams and two divisions are required to hold a championship game. The ACC and Big 12 have petitioned the NCAA to change that rule, and expect an answer in the spring. While commissioner John Swofford has repeatedly told reporters not to read anything into the ACC wanting conference championship game rules changed, it would pave the way to eliminate divisions somewhere down the road.
And that would lead to fewer scheduling headaches.
The Wolfpack landed four-star tailback Johnny Frasier (Princeton, N.C.), who had been committed to Florida State and hadn’t even had NC State in his top five before the 2014 season began, as the Raleigh News & Observer notes.
Frasier is a big get for Doeren on a number of levels, but the success landing in-state talent may be the biggest takeaway. As Backing the Pack writes, Frasier is the fourth four-star prospect from North Carolina that Doeren has nabbed for this recruiting class, which is a great sign for the future of the program.
For Florida State, the loss was expected, but it means that early enrollee Jacques Patrick is the lone commitment the Seminoles have at running back for 2015, writes the Orlando Sentinel.
On the flip side, three of NC State’s top-five rated commits, according to ESPN, are running backs, and that is already a big position of strength for Doeren’s crew.
In fact, the success of NC State’s ground game in 2014 was one of the most under-the-radar stories of the year. A few tidbits:
- NC State’s 5.98 yards per carry ranked 13th nationally and eighth among Power 5 teams.
- Only four Power 5 teams had a lower rate of runs that went for a loss or no gain.
- Only four Power 5 teams had a better rate of runs going for at least 5 yards, and three of those played in New Years Six bowls.
- No team in the nation had a higher success rate converting third downs on the ground (66.1 percent).
Creating a more dynamic backfield is the next step for the Wolfpack’s ground game, which garnered the bulk of its productivity on consistency between the 20s, but lacked a home-run threat or a great red-zone runner. Frasier can probably help with the former immediately, but as Tom Luginbill notes, he’ll need to develop a bit more lower-body strength before he’s ready to make an impact with the latter.
A few more links:
- Florida State’s Tre Jackson won MVP honors for the South team at the Senior Bowl, writes Tomahawk Nation.
- Miami’s Ladarius Gunter had a strong showing at the Senior Bowl, writes the Miami Herald.
- Pitt offensive lineman Artie Rowell has been a terrific ambassador for the Panthers and the ACC, writes the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- One reason Virginia Tech will be a trendy pick in the Coastal next season is the wealth of returning starters, as the Roanoke Times notes.
- With DeVante Parker NFL bound, Louisville landed a top recruit at receiver over the weekend, writes The Courier-Journal.
- USA Today takes a look at how former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is handling his first month at SMU.
- Morris’ arrival at SMU sent one QB commit looking elsewhere, and Kyle Kearns has now landed at Wake Forest, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.
You could have almost played a game of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego ...
Example: What are Florida State assistants Tim Brewster and Odell Haggins doing in St. Louis? Maybe visiting defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., the No. 2 rated player on the ESPNU 300 from East St. Louis, Missouri.
Quick lunch at Sweetie Pies in St Louis....Spectacular!! pic.twitter.com/DoXG3mJxER— Tim Brewster (@TimBrewster) January 15, 2015
Hey, what's Larry Fedora doing in East Lincoln High in Denver, North Carolina? Maybe getting a jump on the class of 2016 and dual-threat quarterback Chazz Surratt.
UNC Coach Larry Fedora stopped by East Lincoln today! pic.twitter.com/YbcZClCAu4— Brandi Surratt (@brandi_surratt) January 15, 2015
New Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi and his staff were all over the place, from Pennsylvania to Florida. Here is Narduzzi with three-star safety Dane Jackson out of Quaker Valley High in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania.
Coach Narduzzi stopped by the school today!! Ready to get this journey started <È pic.twitter.com/4MPYdeJwtk— Dane Jackson (@Splashy_2) January 15, 2015
Now on to some morning reading:
- ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. posted his first mock draft Thursday, with Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston going No. 1 overall. That is not a huge surprise, considering Winston is the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. What is a surprise is that his off-the-field issues could end up being a huge non-factor after so many believed they would. The biggest surprise among ACC players listed in the first round: Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, who went No. 22 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Johnson has been quietly turning heads over the last two years, and routinely drew praise from ACC coaches on the weekly in-season teleconference as being one of the top cornerbacks in the league.
- Ready for your #goacc moment of the week? Sports Illustrated decided to list the Top 10 worst games of 2014. FOUR ACC games made the list. I am pretty sure you can guess which one finished No. 1.
- Phil Steele calculates Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville were three of the most underrated teams this season. You don't say. Florida State got not one ounce of credit for beating all three. #TalkinBouttheNoles, Steele lists them as one of the most overrated teams in 2014.
- Louisville is set for one of its biggest recruiting weekends in years.
- Corn Elder and D'Mauri Jones are no longer a part of the Miami basketball team, and are focusing on football only.
- Is Syracuse receiver Brisley Estime on his way back to being 100 percent?
- What can we expect to see out of Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer in 2015?
They are important. Just ask Baylor.
Of course, nonconference schedules tend to look one way before the season starts and then another when the season ends. Florida State had two Power-5 schools on the docket plus Notre Dame in 2014, but nobody regarded its schedule as particularly tough because those three teams fizzled.
With that in mind, let's take a quick peek at the top three potential playoff contenders in 2015 and what we think could end up being good nonconference slates. Included are 2014 records in parentheses.
Georgia Tech: Alcorn State*, Tulane (3-9), at Notre Dame (8-5), Georgia (10-3)
Clemson: Wofford*, Appalachian State (7-5), Notre Dame (8-5), at South Carolina (7-6)
Great news here, considering we expect both teams to start the season as preseason Top 25 teams. If voters are truly paying attention, both will start in the top 15. It is always beneficial to have a well-respected SEC opponent on the schedule, as these two do every year with their in-state rival. Both must face Notre Dame. Let's just say this as nicely as possible: The ACC needs Notre Dame to be better this year. Badly.
Nothing to write home about
Florida State: Texas State (7-5), USF (4-8), Chattanooga*, at Florida (7-5)
You thought Florida State was lampooned for its nonconference schedule in 2014? That one looks like a gantlet featuring Oregon, Ohio State and Alabama compared to this one. If the Seminoles go unbeaten, they should still be in position to make the playoff, but they will come under serious scrutiny for their schedule, even if Florida is better. If they struggle against any of these teams and look suspect vs. ACC competition the way they did this year, well, that might be enough for committee members to consider picking another qualified team.
Now let's take a look at some potential darkhorse playoff contenders
Virginia Tech: Ohio State (14-1), Furman*, at Purdue (3-9), at East Carolina (8-5)
Louisville: vs. Auburn (8-5), Houston (8-5), Samford*, at Kentucky (5-7)
We are going out on a very, very long limb here with Virginia Tech included as a potential playoff contender. But expectations in Blacksburg are growing, so ours will, too. In actuality, both teams' playoff fortunes will be decided in their respective openers. Louisville faces Auburn in Atlanta on Sept. 5, while the Hokies take on the defending national champion Buckeyes at home on Labor Day night. If they come away with upsets for the second straight year, their playoff chances would go soaring -- but only if they win the remainder of their games. If they lose, hard to see either making it with one loss. Also in their favor: Both schedules features two Power-5 teams plus solid teams from the American.
Duke: at Tulane (3-9), NC Central*, Northwestern (5-7), at Army (4-8)
At least the Blue Devils have one Power-5 school on the schedule, though it happens to be one of just three Big Ten teams that failed to make a bowl game in 2014. Perhaps the Wildcats will be better in 2015. In either case, Duke will face an uphill climb given the blase schedule. Add in the ACC Coastal slate and no Top 25 teams from the Atlantic, and the schedule will be viewed as weak. Again.
Now let's take a look at everybody else. Who knows, maybe one of these teams will emerge as the surprise of 2015.
Best of the rest
Virginia: at UCLA (10-3), William & Mary*, Notre Dame (8-5), Boise State (12-2)
Once again, the Hoos have the toughest schedule in the ACC, the only team to face two nonconference opponents with 10 or more wins in 2014. Really tough to hand a team in desperate need of momentum backbreaking schedules year after year after year. The way to handle it? Schedule the way Florida State or NC State did, at least for one year to build some confidence and a few more wins. Don't get me wrong. Playing good teams is important. I love it when teams upgrade their schedules. But at what expense? You have to be at the right place in your program to do it.
Ol' college try
Pitt: Youngstown State*, at Akron (5-7), at Iowa (7-6), Notre Dame (8-5)
Miami: Bethune-Cookman*, at FAU (3-9), Nebraska (9-4), at Cincinnati (9-4)
Boston College: Northern Illinois (11-3), New Mexico St (2-10), Notre Dame (8-5), Maine*
Decent schedules here for all three teams, featuring at least one Power-5 opponent. Northern Illinois and Cincinnati are two of the better Group of 5 teams so these schedules do remain challenging.
You take the good, you take the bad ...
Syracuse: Rhode Island*, Central Michigan (7-6), LSU (8-5), at USF (4-8)
Wake Forest: Elon*, at Army (4-8), Indiana (4-8), at Notre Dame (8-5)
North Carolina: vs. South Carolina (7-6), North Carolina A&T*, Illinois (6-7), Delaware*
One Power-5 for each and then a whole lotta nothin.' If North Carolina can get its act together and potentially make a run, it will be interesting to see how the committee handles a team with two FCS opponents.
Thanks for playing
NC State: Troy (3-9), at Old Dominion (6-6), at South Alabama (6-7), Eastern Kentucky*
The Wolfpack are the only team without a Power-5 school on the schedule. The ACC rule that mandates at least one Power-5 nonconference team on the docket starts in 2017. Schedule upgrades are coming soon in the way of Notre Dame (2016, 2017), West Virginia (2018, 2019) and Mississippi State (2020, 2021). But for now, if NC State does not go 4-0 against this slate something is seriously wrong.
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.
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.
Clawson had coached at all levels of football, but what he found at Wake Forest was some of the worst results of strength tests he’d seen, and before he’d ever run a practice with the Demon Deacons, he knew there would be problems offensively.
“Our strength numbers were not anywhere close to what a Division I football team should be, let alone an ACC team,” Clawson said. “Those are things that take time. You’re not going to go from bad strength levels to good strength levels in six months.”
The numbers did get better as the 2014 season went along, and so did Wake Forest’s overall performance. But the hole Clawson had to dig his program out of was a deep one, and the results on the field underscored just how far the Deacons had to go.
The first is 48 --the number of sacks the Deacons allowed this season, most in the nation. Freshman QB John Wolford was on the receiving end of 45 of those sacks (again, tops in the nation). It was virtually impossible to sustain drives when Wolford was so often a sitting duck.
The second is 2.47, or the average yards per carry on non-sack runs for Wake’s offense. It was by far the worst rate in the nation, with no other Power 5 team within a yard of Wake’s woeful tally.
Thirty-five percent of Wake Forest’s runs went for a loss, and no other team in the country was within 30 TFLs of the Deacons’ season total of 127.
In other words, the line of scrimmage was a disaster.
“We were overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage all year long,” Clawson said, “and we combined that with using six freshmen at the skill positions.”
That Wake Forest would be physically overmatched all season offensively was no surprise. But what was encouraging for Clawson in Year 1 was that the Deacons never played like they expected to be overwhelmed.
The line struggled, but Clawson saw the unit continue to work.
Those freshmen made mistakes, but Clawson saw several of them develop into capable football players.
Wolford took a beating, but Clawson saw a quarterback who remained poised in the pocket and improved as the year went along.
“He got better, and if anything, he showed he had courage and guts and was willing to step into the pocket,” Clawson said. “He took a lot of hits and had a lot of sacks and he continued to play hard. He didn’t play like a quarterback that got hit a lot. You didn’t see him throw off his back foot or react to a phantom rush.”
There are more numbers that showed Wake’s limitations -- that until the season finale, every point the Deacons scored was by a player who’d never scored before this season or that in that final game of the year, Clawson dressed just 48 scholarship players. But those are excuses, and Clawson said no one inside Wake’s locker room was interested in that.
“You never finish the year 3-9 and say it was a good year,” Clawson said. “Our standards are higher and our expectations are higher, but if this is the effort and intensity we play with, as we get stronger and recruit talent, that’s a great foundation.”
And that foundation did develop throughout the year.
Wake won just three games, but it was on the wrong end of a blowout just three times, too -- a relatively amazing stat considering the dearth of talent on the roster.
“We probably stayed in games against teams that were a lot more talented than us because we did play hard,” Clawson said.
The team continued to fight, even late in the season. A 6-3 win over Virginia Tech in the penultimate game of the year represented a high point defensively for the Deacons. A 41-21 loss to Duke in the finale was perhaps Wake’s best offensive performance.
It’s a reason to be encouraged, and that alone is progress at Wake Forest.
Clawson expects a young team again next year -- maybe younger than 2014 -- and those strength numbers still have a ways to go. The defense that kept Wake in a lot of games will lose two quality cornerbacks, and the schedule for 2015 won’t get much easier.
But the good news is that Clawson didn’t have to look that hard to find building blocks this year. The final project may still be a ways off, but this was a team that clearly knows the finish line exists. That’s encouraging.
“The one thing you always want your team to do was play hard, and people who watched us play knew we gave great effort,” Clawson said. “Now we’ve got to develop players and upgrade the talent level.”
But since we don’t want to ignore those near-misses entirely, here is a quick look at some of the toughest decisions we had to make for this year’s All-ACC team.
Quarterback: The bottom line is that there is no better player in the conference than Jameis Winston when he’s on, but unlike last season, he had his share of struggles, too. Meanwhile, Marquise Williams emerged as a tremendous dual threat for UNC, helping to overcome a lot of the Tar Heels’ defensive struggles with some huge performances on offense, and Justin Thomas injected new life into Paul Johnson’s old option offense at Georgia Tech. Both Thomas and Williams were deserving candidates for first team — and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson would have been, too, if he had stayed healthy all season. Overall, it was a stellar year for quarterback play in the ACC.
Offensive guard: The problem with debating the merits of offensive linemen is that there aren’t many stats to use to break a tie, and when it came to our top three choices at guard -- Laken Tomlinson, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson -- there was ample debate. In the end, we went with the first two, but Jackson’s contributions -- particularly with the revolving door at center for FSU this season -- shouldn’t go unnoticed. He might have been the Seminoles’ best offensive lineman.
Tight end: In the end, numbers set Clive Walford apart here. He led all ACC tight ends in yards, touchdowns, first downs, yards-per-catch and receptions per game while working with a true freshman quarterback. Still, it’s hard to ignore Nick O'Leary’s fine season (plus bonus points for taking on a bus and winning). Bucky Hodges, Gerald Christian, David Grinnage and Cam Serigne all had fine seasons as well.
Defensive end: OK, we cheated here. Vic Beasley was the obvious choice, but for the opposite side of the line, the debate between Dadi Nicolas and Mario Edwards Jr. was intense, with viable arguments made for both players. Edwards was a crucial cog on FSU’s defense, one of the most dynamic mixes of size and speed in college football. Nicolas was a force throughout the season and stepped up when interior lineman Luther Maddy went down with an injury. In the end, we followed the playoff selection committee’s precedent and avoided the tough question altogether by making our defense a 3-4 unit instead. Sorry, Dadi and Mario -- but now you know how Baylor and TCU feel.
Linebacker: There probably isn’t a more stacked position in the ACC than linebacker. Denzel Perryman and Stephone Anthony were exceptional. David Helton led the ACC in tackles. Lorenzo Mauldin was the most dynamic pass-rusher on Louisville’s stout defense. They all made the cut, but it meant a host of deserving options were left out, including BC’s Josh Keyes, Virginia’s Max Valles and Henry Coley, Syracuse’s Cameron Lynch and Georgia Tech’s Paul Davis.
Likewise, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley one again took home defensive player of the year honors, while Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was named both overall and offensive rookie of the year. Virginia safety Quin Blanding was again named defensive rookie of the year.
Coach of the year? That would be Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson, who received 10 of the 14 votes from his peers.
Defending national champion Florida State led the way in all-league teams, tallying 18 players across the three teams.
The team with the second-most? Virginia, surprisingly enough, as the Cavaliers landed nine players on the all-league teams despite finishing with a 5-7 record.
WR: Rashad Greene (FSU)
WR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)
WR: Tyler Boyd (Pitt)
TE: Nick O’Leary (FSU)
T: Cameron Erving (FSU)
T: T.J. Clemmings (Pitt)
G: Laken Tomlinson (Duke)
G: Tre' Jackson (FSU)
C: Shane McDermott (Miami)
QB: Jameis Winston (FSU)
RB: James Conner (Pitt)
RB: Duke Johnson (Miami)
K: Roberto Aguayo (FSU)
SP: Jamison Crowder (Duke)
DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)
DE: Mario Edwards Jr. (FSU)
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)
DT: Eddie Goldman (FSU)
LB: Denzel Perryman (Miami)
LB: Stephone Anthony (Clemson)
LB: Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville)
CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
CB: Garry Peters (Clemson)
S: Gerod Holliman (Louisville)
S: Jalen Ramsey (FSU)
P: Wil Baumann (NC State)
To see the full roster, click here.
Among the biggest differences between the coaches' and media's voting: Boston College center Andy Gallik was relegated to the second team this time around, with Miami's Shane McDermott taking the top spot on the coaches' team. McDermott received only honorable mention status from the media last week. Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin was also a first-team newcomer, replacing Duke's David Helton, who made the media's first-team and who took home some pretty impressive hardware of his own Tuesday night in New York. Clemson cornerback Garry Peters was also a first-team addition, leaping the media's selection of FSU's P.J. Williams.
Louisville receiver DeVante Parker made the coaches' second-team after playing in just five games. Parker had made the media's third-team. The coaches flipped the media's second- and third-team quarterbacks, putting Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas on the second-team and North Carolina's Marquise Williams on the third-team.
The coaches' third-team ended up containing five linebackers, as four tied in the voting, as well as two cornerbacks and two punters.
To see the media's All-ACC picks from last week, click here.
QB: Brad Kaaya (Miami)
RB: Shadrach Thornton (NC State)
RB: Wayne Gallman (Clemson)
WR: Jarrod West (Syracuse)
WR: Bo Hines (NC State)
WR: (tie) Cam Phillips and Isaiah Ford (VT)
TE: Cam Serigne (Wake)
OL: Ian Silberman (BC)
OL: Eric Smith (UVA)
OL: Brian Chamberlain (GT)
OL: Kalon Davis (Clemson)
C: Quinton Schooley (NC State)
Kaaya led the ACC in touchdowns, yards-per-attempt and passer rating. He had his flaws, but that's a great season to go unnoticed. Thornton was actually the league's third-leading rusher among tailbacks. West somehow finished ninth in catches and 10th in receiving in the ACC despite an atrocious situation at QB for Syracuse. Hines was a go-to receiver from Day 1 as a true freshman at NC State and was among the nation's most reliable pass-catchers. The two freshmen at Virginia Tech, Cam Phillips and Isaiah Ford, will make plenty of All-ACC lists before their careers are done. Serigne's emergence was one of the very few bright spots on offense for Wake Forest. Silberman, a Florida transfer, set the stage for fellow former Gator Tyler Murphy to set the ACC record for rushing yards by a QB. Schooley was perhaps NC State's top lineman on a group that got significantly better as the year went along and helped the Wolfpack to finish second in the ACC in yards-per-rush. Smith gets a nod, but Virginia's line was largely a group effort, and until injuries began piling up in November, few lines had protected its QB better.
DE: KeShun Freeman (GT)
DE: Corey Crawford (Clemson)
DT: David Dean (UVA)
LB: Josh Keyes (BC)
LB: Marquel Lee (Wake)
LB: Dyshawn Davis (Syracuse)
LB: P.J. Davis (GT)
S: James Sample (Louisville)
S: Robert Smith (Clemson)
CB: Mackensie Alexander (Clemson)
CB: Kevin Johnson (Wake)
All you need to know about Crawford's impact is that when he was out against Georgia, the Tigers allowed 328 rushing yards and five touchdowns. In the next 11 games with him, they allowed 844 yards and five touchdowns. Freeman stepped up for Georgia Tech as a freshman to provide some much-needed pass rush. Keyes was one of the most versatile linebackers in the league, helping BC's defense rank fourth nationally against the run. Lee finished in the top 10 in the ACC in both tackles and tackles for loss on an under-appreciated Wake defense. Davis, like the rest of the Syracuse D, was largely ignored but finished the year with six TFL, seven QB hurries and three forced fumbles. Smith was the veteran voice in a young Clemson secondary, and his influence helped Alexander blossom into one of the league's best corners. While the defensive front got so much of the credit, Clemson's secondary also finished fourth nationally in pass defense.
K: Ammon Lakip (Clemson)
P: Riley Dixon (Syracuse)
Ret: Myles Willis (BC)
Lakip missed three of his first four kicks against FBS teams, and Clemson lost both games. But he showed ample resilience in connecting on 15 of his next 16. Willis led the ACC in kick return yardage and was responsible for one of the league's five return TDs. And Dixon, of course, was a Heisman candidate after a game-saving Week 1 TD pass, and we're just not ready to give up that dream.