Florida State Seminoles: Florida State

FSU No. 1 in coaches' poll

July, 31, 2014
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Surprise, surprise -- Florida State is the preseason No. 1 team in the Amway Coaches Poll.

The Seminoles received 56 of the 62 first-place votes as they enter 2014 looking to repeat as national champions.

Clemson and North Carolina were the only other ACC teams to be ranked, coming in at Nos. 16 and 23, respectively. For those keeping track, that means UNC is the only team from the Coastal Division to be ranked in the poll. This comes after Miami was chosen by the media in Greensboro, North Carolina, last week as the preseason Coastal favorite, in the same poll that saw Duke receive the most first-place Coastal votes. It is worth repeating again: This division race is wide open.

Notre Dame, which begins its football affiliation with the ACC this fall, checks in at No. 17 in the coaches' poll.

Miami leads the ACC contingent in the "others receiving votes" category of the coaches' poll, coming in at No. 34 overall. Right behind the Hurricanes? Duke and Louisville, at Nos. 35 and 36, respectively. Virginia Tech comes in at No. 40 while Georgia Tech is No. 48.

Half of the ACC's coaches vote in the poll: Frank Beamer, David Cutcliffe, Larry Fedora, Jimbo Fisher, Al Golden, Paul Johnson and Dabo Swinney. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly votes as well. Shockingly, all eight of those coaches saw their teams receive votes.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 30, 2014
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In the spring, Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said he was looking forward to seeing a new and improved Wayne Williams ready to tackle fall practice.

I'd say these photos are proof of that.

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The picture on the left was taken in January, when Williams enrolled at Syracuse and weighed close to 350 pounds. The picture on the right is what he looks like now. Though Williams did not say how much weight he has dropped, it appears to be a significant amount.

A new and improved Williams indeed.

Why is this important? Williams' development is a huge key for a Syracuse defensive line that has to address major depth issues when practice begins Saturday. Syracuse has to replace tackle Jay Bromley, who led the team with 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last season. Williams was so out of shape in the spring, he could not really contribute in a meaningful way, and the Orange ended up cross-training ends to play inside to help make up for depth concerns.

An in-shape Williams changes the picture dramatically. Syracuse has been waiting on him for years now, a talented prospect who has been frustratingly out of reach. But now that it appears Williams has taken the necessary steps to get himself into playing shape, the Orange defensive front could end up surprising some people.

Now, here is a look at more headlines across the ACC:
 
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Jameis Winston's dad and his coach have said this season won’t be the reigning Heisman Trophy winner’s last at Florida State, but the Seminoles’ star quarterback isn’t willing to go that far.

Winston, a redshirt sophomore and eligible for the 2015 draft, dodged the question when asked at the ACC Kickoff.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Don Juan MooreJameis Winston is focused on the 2014 season, not any decisions he'll face after it.
"Well you know, four years, I can't really focus on that right now. I can't tell you about the past, I can't tell you about the future, but I can tell you about right now,” he said. “Right now it's about us developing as a team, us having another successful season, us getting the young guys regrouped, watching film, getting them doing their thing because I can't predict the future."

Throughout the spring, Fisher cautioned that it was not a foregone conclusion Winston would depart for the NFL following the 2014 season. Winston’s dad, Antonor, told AL.com last month that Winston will play two more seasons of football and remain in school “until he gets that degree.”

A talented baseball player, Winston closed for the Seminoles’ baseball team this past spring. At the ACC Kickoff, Winston was asked if he would prefer to go to the NFL straight out of high school. High school players are eligible for the MLB draft. Winston was the No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2012, although he acknowledges he would not have been prepared for the NFL without spending a few seasons in college.

"With baseball, they have so many leagues that develop them into being that players that they want, the minor leagues. There aren't that many Bryce Harpers in the world that can go at 17 and play in the [minor leagues],” Winston said. “Football, it's a team-oriented sport. This game is so strategic. I respect that we can't leap into the NFL. … We know before you go up there, you have to be truly ready. Baseball is more individual based.”

The movement to compensate college student-athletes in revenue sports is reaching a tipping point with the conference autonomy and the O’Bannon trial, but Winston isn’t interested in profiting off his likeness just yet. Florida State recently made its redesigned jerseys for sale, and Winston’s No. 5 jersey is on the front page of the athletic department’s official online store.

The No. 1 player on Mel Kiper’s 2015 Big Board, Winston said he is fine waiting for his payday.

"One thing about college is we're blessed to get a free education. That's the most important thing college gives you,” Winston said. “… My job as a Florida State Seminole is to be a good student first and an athlete second. So that scholarship we get every year, that's enough money for me. My love is for the game and one day, hopefully, god willing, I will have the opportunity to have football as my job and baseball being my job."
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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In between breaking down pass-rushers and drawing up passing trees, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher wanted to watch some basketball. Last month’s NBA Finals provided little drama, so he loaded Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals onto the screen. The "Flu Game."

This wasn’t a reprieve from preparations for the 2014 season, though. This was a lesson in history, one that will have a profound impact on the Seminoles’ 2014 season, Fisher believes. He didn’t so much wonder how Michael Jordan played through the flu-like symptoms, but why.

Why did Joe Montana play through six concussions? Why did Larry Bird refuse to retire from a back injury so bad that his surgeon was bewildered as to how he played through it?

“We study guys who had attitudes of domination who won for long periods of time -- Joe Montana, John Elway repeated, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson,” Fisher says. “Those guys all had that killer instinct and were guys who wanted to be on top, stayed on top, and one championship wasn't enough.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonJimbo Fisher said that Florida State's biggest obstacle in 2014 may not be an opponent, but complacency.
“A picture’s worth 1,000 words. Your actions speak, your drive, your commitment to excellence. Michael Jordan, you never saw him not play to the max, and that, to me, to the players, sends a message. It’s a constant education to me, to these kids, to get them to think in that type of mold, because it’s human nature to win and relax.”

There are certainly questions on Florida State’s roster, but it is still considered the best in the country. Where the Seminoles could trip up is mentally, an aspect of the game Fisher has worked so hard to strengthen within his program. He’s spent the past year praising the 2013 team for its work ethic and desire to return the Seminoles to the pinnacle of the sport they once dominated.

Now that they’re there, the next task -- admittedly his toughest yet -- is keeping the Seminoles there. So if you happen upon Fisher wandering through the Florida State library, it’s because he is looking for a book on a very specific topic. He’s soliciting suggestions, but perusing the bestsellers list and Oprah’s book club will be fruitless. The coach needs reading material on how to maintain the Seminoles' status as one of college football’s elite programs.

"Can't find many books on it,” Fisher says. “All of them talk about how to get there, not many of them talk about how to stay there.”

He’s turned to friend and confidant Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher during their time at LSU. Saban won the national championship at Alabama in January 2010, but a talented team failed to meet expectations during the 2010 season. Saban found the formula again, however, and the Tide won the title after the 2011 season; they repeated the next year.

As the confetti fell in Pasadena, California, in January when Fisher won his first national championship, the two coaches sat on the "College GameDay" set. They celebrated, they reminisced but, most importantly, they advised.

“He said, ‘Now you got some challenges, now is when the problems start,’ and I understood that,” Fisher recalls of their conversation inside the Rose Bowl. “He’s been through it, and he fixed it after a while, didn’t he? He had that one year and then came back and did it twice.”

But Saban isn’t going to spell it out for Fisher -- even Saban is constantly tinkering to quell complacency. They’re friends, but increasingly they have become rivals. Florida State is the biggest threat to end an Alabama dynasty that has three of the final five BCS crystal balls in a trophy room in Tuscaloosa.

Fisher says he believes he has a Jordan in Tallahassee, Florida: quarterback Jameis Winston, a player who wants to win two more than he wants to win one. The redshirt sophomore won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy before losing a game, which he still has yet to do. Winston says a loss is “definitely not in our vocabulary.”

With Winston, Fisher is confident that the “attitude of domination” has been instilled throughout the program, which means there is not as much of that annual concern as to whether his current team has the needed motivation for a national title run. What Fisher still needs to discern is how the 2014 team is different from last season’s. He has an idea, but the pads won’t come on for another two weeks, and two-a-day practices have not worn down this particular squad yet. One of the underrated aspects of being the head coach is identifying the personality and drive of a team, Fisher says, and pushing the wrong buttons at the wrong time can derail a season.

“There’s no formula for it,” Fisher says. “I think it evolves and don’t think you ever have the answer. It’s a constant battle that challenges you all the time. That’s one of the things that makes it so hard to duplicate that success. You’re constantly fighting that battle.”
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There was quite a different feel around the ACC Kickoff this season. More swagger, more puffed out chests, more bravado.

All those years of BCS misery? Almost like they never happened. Losing bowl record last season? Forgotten. How about that losing record against power-five conference teams? Nope, not going to talk about that. Because the ACC is now home to the national champions, and everybody in the ACC did their best to remind us all over two days.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsFSU's national title has given a confidence boost to the ACC.
Florida State permeated every single conversation, its national championship win serving as a national championship win for all. Its momentous victory meant fist pumps around the room. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team lost to Florida State in the ACC championship game by 38 points, might have summarized the mood best when he was asked about the Seminoles’ championship.

“Go Noles!” he shouted.

Anybody think Coach K shouted, “Go Heels!” when North Carolina won its national title a few years back?

The dynamic in football is obviously different. There are rivalries, yes, but there also is a brotherhood among these coaches, steeped in their determination to make the ACC shed its “basketball conference” label. They have all shared in the pain over the past 10 years, watching the SEC exert its dominance while the ACC was left to answer questions about why it was always a step behind.

They all promised their day would come, selling the league hard to anybody who would listen. Jimbo Fisher has been one of their loudest defenders, his stock line: “There is really good football in this league!”

People used to roll their eyes. But now, finally, there are believers. Finally, the national conversation has flipped from, "Who can take down the SEC?" to "Who can take down Florida State?"

Without a doubt, the ACC deserves this moment. Winning national championships should come with a shot of confidence and an infusion of new energy. So what if it felt like some of the coaches were reciting a list of carefully scripted, neatly orchestrated talking points? Talking points, by the way, that John Swofford recited in his Commissioner Forum media event, perhaps hoping to set the tone for the Kickoff.

Every league coach should revel in the victory. They should use those talking points on the recruiting trail. Do you want to play against the best? Well, the best is right here, in the ACC.

Now, one championship does not make a league, nor does it change the perception that the ACC is not yet among the top three conferences in the country. There has to be consistency. The SEC did not earn its reputation based on one national championship alone, or one team alone carrying the flag for the conference.

Everybody else in the league needs to step up their level of play. Everybody else in the league needs to start winning its elite nonconference matchups. A national championship, a BCS bowl win, and 11 bowl teams are obviously a terrific start. But it cannot end there.

All this bravado and swagger need to be translated into results on the football field. Confidence needs to be channeled into momentum. Having bragging rights now is great. But the ACC knows it has to find a way to hang onto those bragging rights, so that every year it can beat its chest just a little bit louder.

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 21, 2014
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Make sure to check out our live coverage of ACC media day starting at 1:30 p.m.! Follow @ESPN_ACC, @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN for all our coverage.
videoGREENSBORO, N.C. -- Jameis Winston says Florida State loves playing the underdog. But when a large faction of fans and media expect the Seminoles to win the inaugural College Football Playoff, the popular us-against-the-world mentality is a tough sell. Even other players attending the first day of the ACC Kickoff were tired of hearing about the conference’s power scale tipping heavily in the direction of Tallahassee.

Perceptions have fluctuated wildly with Florida State over the last year. The school, coaching staff and its star player have been praised and vilified. So while the underdog card expired in early January, there is no shortage of motivation, Florida State says.

“We know the whys of why we play. We go out there every Saturday or Thursday for a man [Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher] that's facing something devastating in his life every single day with his son,” Winston said, referring to Ethan Fisher’s battle with Fanconi anemia. “We know where we come from. We know the whys and why we fight every day, why we have our brothers who support us. We know why we do this. Complacency, being comfortable, it's not right.”

The ACC target was on the Seminoles’ back in 2013 following an ACC title the year prior. In 2014, those targeting Florida State hail from all ends of the country. The rest of college football is trying to catch the Seminoles, who many feel will finish the regular season undefeated and might not be tested until the playoffs.

Winston and cornerback P.J. Williams agreed that Florida State embraces the moments and games where the spotlight shines brightest and their opponent has made it a season goal to knock Florida State from its perch. And not every player at the ACC Kickoff was shy about sharing that sentiment.

“Of course. They’re the No. 1 team in the nation,” Duke offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson. “That’s every football players’ dream: to go against the best and beat the best. I’m selfish. I want to play them [in the ACC championship] again.”

Williams isn’t denying that the Seminoles are aware of the massive preseason hype and likely No. 1 ranking when the polls are released. He said, however, it’s a non-issue for a team with questions regarding the loss of leadership throughout the ranks.

“I hear about the preseason polls. They say we’ll be No. 1 but it doesn’t affect us at all,” Williams said. “We’re going to go to the weight room and work just as hard and not think about that.

“We got a winning mentality, and losing is not what we think about.”
Big names among the assistant ranks tend not to stay assistants for too long, but Clemson’s Chad Morris says he’s right where he wants to be and isn’t looking for a head-coaching gig long-term, writes the Augusta Chronicle.

Of course, if a certain job in College Station, Texas, were to open up -- as our Travis Haney wrote about this week -- it certainly would seem like a good fit for Morris, who is a Texas A&M graduate. But Morris also earned $1.3 million last season, which makes it a bit easier to stay comfortable in a coordinator role, and though he is smart enough to know when the right situation comes around, I think he is also sincere when he says he is not looking to leave.

And Morris isn’t the only ACC assistant would could be a hot commodity at some point in the next couple years. A few other names to watch for bigger jobs:

Bud Foster, Virginia Tech: The offense has been down over the past few years for the Hokies, but Foster's defense has been as good as ever. Foster has turned down lucrative offers elsewhere in the past, so he is clearly not looking to leave, but he will nevertheless remain on the radar for a lot of other programs looking to bring in a proven commodity.

Jay Graham, Florida State: He is young, has NFL experience and SEC ties, and he is a recruiting whiz. He also presided over the first 1,000-yard back at Florida State in 16 years last season. Graham is going to be a hot name very soon.

Chip West, Virginia: How does a team that finishes 2-10 and has a head coach constantly mired in hot-seat rumors still land a solid recruiting class, including five ESPN300 members? Chalk it up to West, one of the best recruiters in the nation.

Scottie Montgomery, Duke: He will get his first crack at a coordinator job this year as he takes over for Kurt Roper, who left for Florida. Montgomery has NFL experience as a wideouts coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and he is a terrific recruiter. If Duke’s offense continues to shine, he is going to get a lot of credit -- and a lot of long looks from other programs.

Brent Venables, Clemson: Morris gets all the buzz because offense is fun and the Tigers’ defense has played second fiddle for years. But look, everyone remembers that Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia to conclude the 2011 season, and what Venables has done for the Tigers’ defense since then -- 29.3 ppg in 2011, 24.8 in 2012, 22.2 in 2013 -- has been impressive, and this year’s unit could be his best yet. More importantly, the Clemson defense is finally climbing out of the shadow of its prolific offense.

More links:

Athlon has a look at recruiting in the Tidewater, Virginia area, and how the region has become a key battleground for programs like Florida State and Virginia.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a piece on how colleges are bringing in outside help to sell tickets.

The Daily Progress is looking at Virginia’s opponents and wonders if this is the golden age of Duke football.

A new play-calling system should help Terrel Hunt run Syracuse’s up-tempo offense, according to Syracuse.com. We wrote plenty about up-tempo offenses yesterday, if you missed it.

Georgia Tech’s special teams should be a strength, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Courier-Journal wonders why Bobby Petrino isn’t having more success on the recruiting trail at Louisville.

ACC lunchtime links

July, 8, 2014
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The NCAA suggested Monday football teams hold no more than two contact practices per week during the season, and while it is an early step, it is certainly a positive one for the sport’s governing body.

While the concussion issue has the NFL under siege, the college game has not garnered the same type of pressures regarding player safety and head injuries. But following a concussion summit earlier this season, the NCAA is taking necessary action to protect its student-athletes.

What really stood out to me about the NCAA's suggestions was creating a return-to-learn plan for student-athletes who suffer a concussion to help ease them back into their classroom work. With the interest and money college football generates, the players’ duties in the classroom are often overlooked, and when a player suffers a concussion, the question is whether he will be healthy for the following weekend’s game.

"It's not only talking about the health and safety of the student-athletes," Dr. Brian Hainline, chief medical officer for the NCAA, told The Associated Press. "It's a concussion guideline where we're saying, 'Look, these kids are students first and we have to make certain that if they have a concussion, there's a good return-to-learn pathway for them.'"

During the season and spring practice, there are already enough hurdles keeping student-athletes from performing at 100 percent in the classroom, and a head injury could set student-athletes back days -- if not months. While the two contact practices a week will garner the most headlines to come from the NCAA's suggestions, the return-to-learn process will be one of the most beneficial potential changes for the well-being of student-athletes.

It is important to note these are NCAA suggestions rather than mandates.

Here a few other ACC-related links to get you through the afternoon.
Do you need a sign college football is close but still just a little too far away? The first preseason award watch lists were released Monday, a list of more than 70 players that could be the best in the country by season’s end.

It doesn’t matter if you have started only three games in your career and haven’t played a down since November 2012 -- there is a spot for you on the list.

That said, it’s college football and as ridiculous as these often are, I admit I enjoy looking at them. The watch lists for the Maxwell Award, given to the college player of the year, and Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player, were released Monday. As the season progresses, the list will be pared down before a winner is announced in December.

Here is a look at the ACC players to make the cut and some justification for each player being on the list.

Maxwell Award

WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: As a freshman last fall, Boyd was as good of a receiver as there was in the ACC. As the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver heading into the 2014 season, Boyd could put up monster numbers and follow in the footsteps of Pitt great Larry Fitzgerald.

[+] EnlargeJames Connor
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner set a Pitt record with 229 yards in the Panthers' bowl win over Bowling Green.
QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State: This is not a knock on Brissett, but his inclusion is certainly puzzling considering he sat out all of 2013 after transferring from Florida, where he saw limited time as a starter and backup. However, the Wolfpack staff is high on Brissett leading the program’s turnaround, and Brissett was a blue-chip high school recruit.

WR Stacy Coley, Miami: Much like Boyd, Coley had a strong freshman season and is poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. One of the country’s elite recruits in 2013, Coley could make a national name for himself if he can build a connection with Miami’s quarterbacks, which have struggled with inconsistency and injury.

RB James Conner, Pitt: It’s almost unfair Conner was limited to just the Maxwell watch list Monday considering he is a two-way standout for the Panthers. Conner is already a huge fan favorite in the Steel City for his bruising and relentless running style, and he broke Tony Dorsett’s school bowl-game rushing record in December.

WR Jamison Crowder, Duke: Any time you catch more than 100 passes for more than 1,300 yards, you deserve to be on this list.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Johnson’s inclusion here is a credit to how dominant he was before the injury against Florida State and how woeful Miami looked after. If he can stay healthy, Johnson has the potential to be an elite back nationally.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: As the Cardinals’ leading returning receiver and now in Bobby Petrino’s offense, Parker should light up stat sheets this coming season.

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Seminoles’ receivers, but none of it includes Greene, who led the Noles in receiving in 2013. With Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in the NFL, Greene will be looked upon to bail out Jameis Winston this fall.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: Speaking of Winston, the Maxwell is about the only thing he did not win last season. Another spectacular season and it will be hard to ignore him again.

RB Karlos Williams, Florida State: Similar to Brissett, this is a bit of a projection pick, although Williams has done significantly more than Brissett. Williams was the third-string running back in 2013, but with his five-star talent base coupled with a senior-laden offensive line and Williams could set records in his final season in Tallahassee.

Reaction: While Brissett is obviously a surprise, overall it is hard to argue with much of the list. Williams' inclusion might be pushing it a little bit, although he certainly could be one of the best running backs in the country with his blend of size and speed. It's a positive sign for the ACC that several underclassmen are on the list, including special playmakers Boyd, Coley and Conner, who will all be true sophomores this fall. The biggest question is whether Winston will win the award if he performs the way most expect him to as a redshirt sophomore. AJ McCarron won the award last season over Winston, who was a semifinalist along with Johnny Manziel. Winston's off-the-field issues might have played a role, so it would be interesting to see if the Maxwell Award will continue to take those incidents into account.



Bednarik Award

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl win against Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: A semifinalist for the award last season, Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields. If he can show a little more consistency, he might win the award in 2014.

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley is among the favorites to repeat as a finalist for this season's Bednarik Award.
LB Kelby Brown, Duke: The Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe are most known for offense, but Brown is a stout defender and one of the conference’s best. He will make a run at 100 tackles for a second straight season this fall.

DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant impact player for the Blue Devils a season ago following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season.

DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national championship. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Bednarik.

DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best.

DE Eli Harold, Virginia: Last season he finished sixth in the ACC with 15 tackles for loss, an impressive number. He could see his numbers improve drastically with five-star Andrew Brown now at defensive tackle.

DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the year.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but is as talented as they come.

DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, North Carolina: Otis is another player poised to possibly gain national recognition and it begins with his inclusion on this list. He had a very strong junior season with 6.5 sacks.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes’ defenses. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall.

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list.

Reaction: It was surprising Darby's name was not included on the list despite missing the spring. He could be the first cornerback taken in the NFL draft next year. The ACC is home to some of the country's best defensive backs with Williams, Fuller and Harris. Beasley is certainly one of the favorites coming into the season, but he was shut down by Florida State last season and will need to rebound against the Seminoles to make a push for the Bednarik as a senior. His sack numbers should be impressive once again, and if he can perform on the big stages, it might be the little extra that wins him the award this season. FSU's Edwards could be the best defensive lineman in the ACC and the country if he plays like he did against Auburn all season. What could hurt Edwards is he will not always be in a position to pile up sacks and tackles even when he is dominating opposing offensive linemen.

By the numbers: Going deep

July, 3, 2014
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Earlier this week, we looked at the top offensive lines in the ACC, which led me to tweet about the units that had the best and worst sack rates in the conference.

The best:

Duke (1 sack every 29 dropbacks)
Miami (1 every 24)
Syracuse (1 every 24)
North Carolina (1 every 23)
Virginia (1 every 23)

The worst:

Pitt (1 sack every 10.3 dropbacks)
NC State (1 every 13.2)
Boston College (1 every 13.2)
Virginia Tech (1 every 14.1)
Florida State (1 every 14.4)

For the teams ranking at the top, there may have been a few surprises, but UNC and Virginia both had offensive lines with top-tier NFL talent, and Syracuse and Duke both had mobile quarterbacks capable of avoiding sacks. It is probably worth noting, however, that the Blue Devils' offensive line was remarkably good in pass protection, but also had the ACC's lowest rate of running plays that went for a loss or no gain, too (7 percent).

On the other end of the spectrum, the names are a bit more surprising. Pitt's line was a problem, and Tom Savage didn't move around much in the pocket, so the Panthers' spot at the top makes sense. But didn't Boston College have a solid line protecting a veteran quarterback? Didn't NC State play half the season with mobile Brandon Mitchell taking snaps? Wasn't Logan Thomas one of the hardest quarterbacks in the country to bring down? And, of course, isn't Florida State supposed to have one of the top O-lines in the country to go with a Heisman-winning quarterback?

A few people on Twitter thought they had the answer, though: Deep balls. FSU, Pitt and BC had offenses that encouraged quarterbacks to look downfield, and the unfortunate side effect of such a philosophy is a few more sacks while quarterbacks are hanging on to the ball an extra second or two.

The theory made some sense, but we wanted to see if the numbers backed it up.

Here, courtesy of ESPN Sports & Information, are the ACC offenses that had the highest percentage of pass attempts go 20 yards or more.

As it turns out, only Florida State fits the bill as a team that looked deep often and suffered a few extra sacks as a result. Pitt's and NC State's deep-ball rates were right around the league average (22.3 percent), Virginia Tech was even lower (21.5 percent), and Boston College had the lowest percentage of any team in the conference (15.5 percent).

On the other end, the teams that had low sack rates did seem to throw deep a little less often. Duke, Virginia and Syracuse were all well below the league average for deep balls. But how about Miami and North Carolina? Both looked deep relatively often, and both still managed to limit sacks.

What this all likely means -- which is probably relatively intuitive in the first place -- is that a penchant for the deep ball likely plays some small role in the number of sacks a team allows, but it's hardly the overwhelming factor. A quarterback's decision-making and mobility play a part, the quality of talent on the line and ability of tailbacks and fullbacks to pick up blocks matters. The play calling (see: Georgia Tech) has an effect, too.

In other words, filtering out all the little nuances that define a successful offensive line from a not-so-successful one isn't a simple process, which is just one more reason the big guys up front tend to get far too little credit for the work they do.
Florida State fans, start your engines.

Brian Vickers is ready to ride the No. 55 in the Coke Zero 400 Sunday at Daytona International Speedway with a special garnet-and-gold-themed car.

Plans were unveiled in April for Vickers to drive the car, celebrating the BCS national champions. Now, here it is, ready to roll onto the track.

Vickers is no stranger to driving sports-themed cars. Last year at a race in Kentucky, he had a special paint scheme to honor the Louisville men's basketball national championship team. Lead sponsor Aaron's and Michael Waltrip Racing also have honored Alabama and Auburn national champion teams with special paint schemes during races at Talladega Superspeedway four times since 2009.

 

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 3, 2014
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This may be a college football blog, but we got caught up in World Cup fever like everybody else, marveling at what Tim Howard did for the United States in a loss to Belgium.

We also laughed at many memes under the heading #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave and had some fun in a post Wednesday. Now, as promised, the best tweet sent to us, asking: What could Howard save in the ACC?

Drum roll, please ...

 
Now, around the ACC we go ...
From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Up today: Linebackers

Best of the best: Clemson

It's easy to see why many believe the Tigers have the best front seven in the ACC. In addition to having the strongest defensive front, they also have the strongest group of linebackers returning to the team. Stephone Anthony had a breakout season a year ago, finishing with 131 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 802 snaps played. He should be a preseason All-ACC selection. Clemson did lose two starters in Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey, but it returns experienced players at the position. Tony Steward and Ben Boulware will anchor the weak side. Both were ranked among the top linebackers out of high school, and if Steward can stay healthy, he is in line for a big year. At the other spot, Clemson has the option of playing a linebacker or nickelback depending on the alignment. T.J. Burrell and Dorian O'Daniel will be in the mix on the strong side.

Next up: Duke

The Blue Devils return the best linebacker duo in the ACC in David Helton and Kelby Brown, who finished as the top two tacklers in the conference last season. The two combined for 247 tackles a year ago and are back to anchor a group looking to improve both against the run and the pass. Their backups return as well, so there are not many depth concerns here. These two are as dependable as they come. Now, having said that, we would be remiss if we failed to mention Florida State. The Seminoles are losing two key players in Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and will be relying more on a five defensive back alignment, so there are some questions at the position. But this team has the talent to again be the best in the ACC once it gains some experience. As it stands now, Terrance Smith is the only linebacker with consistent playing time. Guys like Matthew Thomas and Reggie Northrup could develop into studs before the season's up.

Sleeper: Syracuse

The Orange return two of the more underrated linebackers in the ACC in Dyshawn Davis and Cam Lynch, who will be relied upon to anchor a defense with some serious questions on the defensive line. Though middle linebacker Marquis Spruill is gone, Syracuse coaches were pleased with the role Marqez Hodge played as a true freshman behind Spruill a year ago, so he spent a year in training preparing to take over the starting job. Davis and Lynch will be there to help Hodge along. Keep an eye on Louisville here as well. The Cards return hard hitter James Burgess and have moved Lorenzo Mauldin to outside linebacker/rush end. That should pay dividends.

Problem for a contender: Pitt

The Panthers have not gotten consistent linebacker play for years, so this position remains a question mark. Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas return, but the Panthers have little in the way of depth to help them out. Thomas has the potential to be excellent. He had 72 tackles a year ago, but coaches are now hoping for more. Bam Bradley could also have an impact here, but only six lettermen are back from a year ago. There are also questions elsewhere in the conference. Will anybody step up to help out Denzel Perryman at Miami? And will Virginia Tech be just as good at linebacker without Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards?
Tim Howard is the man of the day, following his incredible performance in a loss to Belgium in the World Cup. His eye-popping 16 saves ranged from the routine to the stellar to the jaw-dropping, prompting a host of memes with the tag:

#ThingsTimHowardCouldSave

You knew there would be a #goACC moment in the group.

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If only Howard was playing for NC State that day. Surely, he could have made a shoestring tackle to keep Giovani Bernard from beating the Wolfpack with a last-second punt return for a score back in 2012 -- one of the wildest and most entertaining games in the ACC that season.

That got us to thinking. What else could Tim Howard save in the ACC?

No doubt Howard would have shut down Johnny Manziel in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl back in December. You remember that ridiculous play when Manziel juked and jived, jumped over a Duke defender, ran backward and then threw a touchdown pass during a wild second-half comeback to beat the Blue Devils? Yeah, never would have happened with Timmy making the save.

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You know who else Howard would have shut down? Jadeveon Clowney. His long arms and quick hands would have kept Clowney away from Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd not once, not twice, but three times.

The current Clemson losing streak to its bitter rivals? #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave

While we are on the topic of long losing streaks to bitter rivals, let us go back to the Georgia Tech-Georgia game last year. Howard could have easily stopped Todd Gurley enough times to save the Georgia Tech win.

He is not the only running back Howard could have stopped. Let's go back to 2002 ... Miami-Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl in the national championship game. Maybe Howard stops the ref from throwing the controversial pass-interference flag at the end of the first overtime. Or maybe Howard stops Maurice Clarett from scoring the game-winning touchdown in the second overtime. Wait, there is no maybe. Howard would have made one of those stops.

Todd GurleyTodd Kirkland/Icon SMITodd Gurley had 122 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia Tech, including a 25-yard TD run that gave UGA the lead in overtime.

Howard has mad hops, too. Did you see the save he made when he jumped to the top of the crossbar? You need to be able to jump like that to block field goals. He could have easily blocked Michigan's game-winning field goal against Virginia Tech in overtime of the 2012 Allstate Sugar Bowl. Then there is the UCF-Louisville game from last season. Howard could have batted down the game-winning touchdown pass Blake Bortles threw, preserving an unbeaten season for the Cards.

We could go on ... Howard would have saved Florida State from losing to USF in 2009 ... he would have slide-tackled vandals to keep them from taking a chunk off Howard's Rock last year ... but we don't want to have all the fun.

Give us your contributions to #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave via Twitter @ESPN_ACC. Best meme ends up in links Thursday.

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