Florida State Seminoles: Virginia Cavaliers

ESPN 300: Top ACC targets 

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:45
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With Wednesday’s release of the 2015 ESPN 300, here’s a look at five top ACC targets in the 2015 class.


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ACC's lunchtime links

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
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Boston strong.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 14, 2014
Apr 14
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Bo Pelini is the cat's meow.
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The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Florida State already has one of the best 2015 classes in the nation, but after a key prospect says he's ready to commit, it's about to get even better. South Carolina quarterback prospect Kelly Bryant continues to be a hot target with recruiters this spring, but Bryant says only five schools are on the top of his list.


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ACC spring games preview

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
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Seven ACC teams will play their spring games this weekend, and eight will officially close spring practices in the coming days, as Pitt has opted to have a more fan-friendly event instead of an actual spring game on Sunday before closing practice on Tuesday.

For all of these teams -- including Florida State -- the quarterbacks will be among the most-watched players on the field. In Tallahassee, fans will get a chance to see the Heisman Trophy winner, returning starter Jameis Winston. At every other school, there is an ongoing storyline and competition with the quarterbacks. We’re giving you one additional thing to keep an eye on that might not be so obvious.

Check it out, and enjoy the games this weekend!

CLEMSON

When: 4 p.m. on Saturday (ESPNU) and on WatchESPN

Where: Death Valley

One thing to watch: The true freshman wide receivers. Artavis Scott, Demarre Kitt and Kyrin Priester were all highly touted recruits who enrolled early to help Clemson try to replace Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant (a combined 2,292 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in 2013).

FLORIDA STATE

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN) and on WatchESPN

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium

One thing to watch: The wide receivers. They haven’t exactly earned high praise from coach Jimbo Fisher, who called the receivers out last week for not getting open and making catches. Rashad Greene is the most experienced option as the Noles try to replace Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but the staff also needs to see more from players like Bobo Wilson and Kermit Whitfield.

LOUISVILLE

When: 7:30 p.m. on Friday

Where: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

One thing to watch: The safeties. Louisville lost Hakeem Smith, who started 51 straight games, and projected first-round draft pick Calvin Pryor. Jermaine Reve, Gerod Holliman and Chucky Williams are the leading candidates for those spots, but Reve is out for the spring with an injury. Reve and Holliman are the only players with game experience.

MIAMI

When: 6 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Sun Life Stadium

One thing to watch: Defense, defense, defense. It’s been an area of concern, but the defense showed signs of progress this spring. The Canes return eight starters and 16 players from the two-deep depth chart. Denzel Perryman is now playing middle linebacker, and Dallas Crawford moved to safety to give that position a boost. Those within the program have said repeatedly that the defense has made strides since last season, and overall it was a good spring for the defense. We’ll see if they can punctuate it in the spring game.

NORTH CAROLINA

When: 3 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN3)

Where: Kenan Stadium

One thing to watch: True freshman running back Elijah Hood. The four-star recruit was rated the nation's No. 9 running back in the Class of 2014 by ESPN.com and No. 80 overall in the ESPN 300. The early enrollee has had such a good spring that he could see some immediate playing time, even though the Tar Heels are deep at the position.

NC STATE

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Carter-Finley Stadium

One thing to watch: More young wide receivers. NC State has to replace Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith, both starters from last year. The talent pool to choose from includes a host of sophomores and freshmen, including two early enrollees. The leading sophomore candidates are: Jumichael Ramos, who finished the last three games of 2013 strong; Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who led the team in receiving at one point last year as a true freshman; and Bra'lon Cherry, who suffered a season-ending injury against Duke. Freshmen Bo Hines and Stephen Louis enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Gavin Locklear is also in the mix.

VIRGINIA

When: 1 p.m. on Saturday

Where: Scott Stadium

One thing to watch: Improved wide receivers. This is a group coach Mike London has praised this spring, for both its height and athleticism, as the staff has moved toward a longer, leaner look. London recently singled out Miles Gooch, Keeon Johnson and Kyle Dockins -- all listed at 6-foot-3 -- as players who have excelled this spring. Unfortunately, fans won’t be able to see starter Jake McGee, the Hoos’ star tight end who moved to receiver this spring, as he’ll be sidelined with a hamstring injury.

PITT (No spring game)

When: From 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Pitt will host its “Pitt Football Field Pass”

Where: The UPMC Sports Performance Complex

One thing to watch: Instead of a game, Pitt will hold a public event that will include a kids’ clinic, an offensive strategy session with coordinator Joe Rudolph, a defensive strategy session with coordinator Matt House, a recruiting session with coordinator Dann Kabala and a strength and conditioning session with assistant coach Ross Kolodziej.

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
2:30
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Pro days are now in the rearview mirror, with a month remaining between now and the NFL draft. With that, let's take a look back at some notable performances from ACC pro days this year.

Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyClemson WR Sammy Watkins in all likelihood will be the first ACC player drafted in May.
Clemson (March 6)
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.

Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).

Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.

Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.

Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.

Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.

North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.

NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.

Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.

Syracuse
Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.

Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.

Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:00
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Lots of injuries, not a lot of quarterbacks ...

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
12:00
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The ACC is a football conference!
The theme throughout this spring across the ACC has been turnover and uncertainty at quarterback.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesWith Anthony Boone (and Brandon Connette), Duke has plenty of experience at the QB position in 2014.
But what about those schools that return a good amount of starting experience? Duke returns more career starts than any team in the ACC, just ahead of Florida State. Quarterbacks Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette have combined to start 16 games for the Blue Devils, while Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has 14 starts for the Noles.

That should give both teams and edge when it comes to defending their respective division crowns. How much of an edge? Depends on the viewpoint. Relying on returning quarterback data alone to predict how a team will do often fails to look at the big picture.

Go back to last season. Duke and Florida State went into 2013 having to replace veterans at quarterback — EJ Manuel had 31 career starts for the Noles, while Sean Renfree had 35 career starts for the Blue Devils. Questions about experience at quarterback followed both teams into the season. Indeed, Clemson was picked to finish ahead of Florida State thanks in large part to returning starter Tajh Boyd, going into his third season behind center.

Those questions, however, were quickly answered as both Duke and Florida State went on to play for the ACC championship. Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina -- all picked to finish ahead of Duke -- returned multi-year starters at quarterback but that was not enough to win the division. Boyd did not help Clemson win an ACC title, but the Tigers did make a BCS game and won 11 contests. Tanner Price, one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the ACC last season, could not help Wake Forest get back to a bowl game.

Still, returning a starting quarterback is almost always preferable. Not every redshirt freshman is going to win the Heisman the way Winston did in Year 1 as a starter. Boone, who had his share of ups and downs early last season as he transitioned to a starting role, has now been on both sides.

“You’re obviously going to have some growing pains with quarterbacks who haven’t played many snaps, young quarterbacks going into their first year as a starter,” Boone said recently. “I just feel like that’s something we’re capable of avoiding, that’s something that should be to our advantage, having the knowledge of different teams in our league, just knowing tendencies of what team plays what kind of defense, just having that knowledge going into next year. I feel like it’s good to if you have one, but we have two who have been there. It’s a good feeling. It lets our offensive coordinator be at ease because we have the ability to fix a lot of play calls that have been called, if something happens. I feel that knowledge is a huge winning edge for us, compared to guys who may not know the system as well.”

Returning career starts at quarterback:

Duke: 16
Florida State: 14
Virginia: 12
Syracuse 10
Miami: 10*
Boston College: 6*
North Carolina: 5
NC State: 3*
Clemson: 0
Georgia Tech: 0
Louisville: 0
Pittsburgh: 0
Virginia Tech: 0
Wake Forest: 0

*-QBs at these schools made their starts while playing for other programs.


Change in W-L record for teams that returned starting quarterbacks in 2013.

Boston College: +5
Miami: +2
Louisville: +1
Virginia Tech: +1
North Carolina: -1
Clemson: No change
Wake Forest: -1


Change in W-L record for teams that started first-time quarterbacks in 2013.

Duke: +4
Florida State: +2
Pitt: +1
Georgia Tech: No change
Syracuse: -1
Virginia: -2
NC State: -4
Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich grew up in Alliquipa, Pa., with a blue-collar background from the Western part of the state -- what he described as an area heavy with labor unions. He wonders how student-athletes who unionize are going to pay their union dues.

Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, meanwhile, lives in one of 24 states with right-to-work laws, which limits public employees from unionizing -- and would make it far more difficult for the football team to unionize, too.

[+] EnlargeTom Jurich
Timothy D. Easley/AP PhotoLouisville AD Tom Jurich thinks that if athletes are going to be paid, it must be all athletes.
Suddenly, these two distinctly different perspectives are relevant to college athletics.

On Wednesday, the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that Northwestern football players qualify as employees of the university and can unionize. It’s a monumental decision that can change the face of college athletics, and one that opens a Pandora’s Box of questions, problems and possibilities. For now, the ruling is confined to private schools -- five of which reside in the ACC (Boston College, Duke, Miami, Syracuse and Wake Forest). While the immediate impact is of a narrow scope, the long-term effects of the ruling could give players the right to collectively bargain with schools in the same way professional athletes bargain for benefits.

Prior to Wednesday’s decision, ESPN.com interviewed every athletic director in the ACC about various national issues facing college athletics, including the possibility of player unionization and what it could mean not only to the sport of football, but to the entire structure of the NCAA. All but two of them spoke on the record about the topic of unionization.

All of them raised poignant questions that nobody seems to have an answer for right now -- including if schools would have to set salary guidelines that differ for a first-team quarterback and a third-team quarterback, and how Title IX factors into the decision. Many of them agreed that the student-athletes need more of a voice in college athletics, but this isn’t the way to go about getting it. None of them pretended to be experts on the topic, and like many observers throughout the country, are simply trying to grasp the breadth of the possible implications.

If you start to tinker with the student-university relationship and make [athletes] employees, it will have a huge impact across the entire university, not just the small percentage of those who participate in sports.

-- North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham
This week’s decision, though, is likely to prompt an even closer look at the issue.

North Carolina athletic director Bubba Cunningham pointed out the effect it could have on the entire university -- not just athletic programs.

“It will change the face of the university,” Cunningham said. “Student-athletes aren’t the only ones who are receiving scholarships and performing work on the campus. You’ve got graduate assistants doing research; you have all kinds of student involvement in different capacities at the university. If you start to tinker with the student-university relationship and make those people employees, it will have a huge impact across the entire university, not just the small percentage of those who participate in sports.”

Georgia Tech athletic director Mike Bobinski called player unionization “an incredibly scary thing,” but added that he understands why it’s come to this.

“We kind of backed ourselves into this corner by wanting to control every waking moment and have our kids here year-round, and have access to them all the time,” he said. “That sounds great, and coaches love control and I get that. I know why they feel that way and I appreciate that, but the other side is now this feeling that we own these young people, and their every thought and decision is something that has to be run through us, and I don’t care for that. Some of the backlash we’re seeing now is a result of that frustration that’s built up over that sense of lack of control of your own destiny. It’s a pretty human reaction, so I don’t begrudge people, and all that’s going on right now, I get why it’s happening.”

Louisville AD Tom Jurich applauded the athletes for standing up for themselves, but questioned the logistics.

“It’s not just going to be football players,” he said. “I’m a firm believer: If you’re going to pay athletes, you’re going to pay all the athletes. If you’re going to unionize, you unionize all the athletes. To me, there’s no difference between field hockey and football. Until that’s answered, I don’t even pay attention to it.”

Florida State AD Stan Wilcox said student-athletes should be negotiating for educational benefits, like an undergraduate degree plus a graduate degree, or time to make up credit hours to receive a degree. He cautioned what becoming an employee of the university could entail.

“I don’t think student-athletes really want to go down that road,” he said. “You become an at-will employee that can be hired and fired at any time. Your argument is that it gets you benefits, but you kind of have that now. If you become an employee, every employee has to pay X amount of dollars into a health care program. I don’t know if they’ve thought the whole thing through, as to what it really means to be an employee of the university.”

After Wednesday’s decision, everyone involved in college athletics will be thinking it through now.

ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and David Hale contributed to this report.

ACC's lunch links

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
12:00
PM ET
My NCAA picks were dreadful, but I think I'm still doing well in my Seinfeld bracket challenge. Go Soup Nazi!
 

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
12:00
PM ET
Stanford this fall (again). Harvard this spring (again). Brains and brawn.
You guys aren’t even giving Georgia Tech a fighting chance against Georgia.

Did any Miami fans even vote in this poll?!

And there was zero faith in the Hoos against the Hokies. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

Over the past week, we’ve taken a look at some of the ACC’s most intriguing -- and recently lopsided -- series, projecting whether or not those streaks will be snapped in 2014. For the most part, you agreed with our votes. Here’s a look back at the five rivalries we focused on, and whether or not the fans thought those streaks would end:

WHO WINS in 2014??

Virginia vs. Virginia Tech:

Our vote: Virginia Tech
Your vote: Virginia Tech

Florida State vs. Miami:

Our vote: Florida State
Your vote: Florida State

Georgia Tech vs. Georgia:

Our vote: Georgia
Your vote: Georgia

Duke vs. North Carolina:

Our vote: Duke
Your vote: North Carolina

Clemson vs. South Carolina:

Our vote: Clemson loses
Your vote: Clemson loses

Based on these predictions, 2014 is not the year the tables are turned in the ACC, and that’s not a good thing for Clemson and Georgia Tech. It’s also an indictment of the gap that remains between Florida State and rival Miami. The Canes still have much to prove and the on-field results have to catch up with the recruiting. Once again, Duke is perceived as the underdog, in spite of winning the Coastal Division title last year, and having home-field advantage against the Tar Heels this fall. That should be a terrific game, though, and Andrea Adelson and I will probably change our minds a few hundred times on who will win before we have to make the official prediction during the season.

This is the script ACC fans have grown accustomed to, and clearly many aren’t convinced it’s going to change this fall. It’s up to Virginia, Miami, Georgia Tech, Duke and Clemson to prove otherwise.

ACC mailblog for Friday

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
4:00
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The mailbag has returned. Make sure to keep those questions coming so we have enough to fill up this space each week!

Paul in Roanoke, Va., writes: As a lifelong UVA fan, of course I would love to see Mike London turn things around this fall and get the program back to respectability. However, many fellow Wahoo fans seem to think he will not make it past 2014 and have already begun to speculate on who AD Craig Littlepage will target for the next head coach. With Al Golden turning down the Penn State job, his potential return to Charlottesville has become a dream scenario for many fans, and I honestly don't think it seems that far-fetched. His suit-and-tie personality fits in well with UVA, and he had a great deal of success coaching Ahmad Brooks, Chris Canty, and others under Al Groh before taking the Temple job. Given UVA's top-notch facilities, great academics, solid fan base and location near the Hampton Roads recruiting hotbed, it seems to be a desirable location for someone who already has a history of winning there. And an intra-conference coaching move isn't unprecedented given that Tom O'Brien did it when he moved from BC to NC State. Do you think there is any chance at all that Golden could be lured away by the Wahoos, or do you think he will call Coral Gables home for the foreseeable future?

Andrea Adelson writes: Paul, I appreciate the question, but I cannot speculate about two men still employed as head coaches. I completely understand your concerns about Mike London, given what has happened the past few seasons. And I completely understand the coaching connection between the school and Golden, who has done a solid job at both Temple and Miami. I have no idea what the future holds for either coach. Golden has drawn interest from Wisconsin and Penn State (his alma mater) the last two seasons and stayed with the Canes. Does that mean he is in Coral Gables for the long term? Only time will tell. As for London, he absolutely has to get the ship righted as quickly as possible. He signed a terrific class in February, so I want to see what he does with these incoming players and a second year with his coordinators in place.


Tony Milano in Marco Island, Fla., writes: Andrea, I have not read anything about the defense at Boston College. Can you tell me how it is doing?

Adelson writes: BC has only had three practices so far, Tony, so you have not missed out on many big updates. In talking to coach Steve Addazio before practice began, I know he was really pumped about Josh Keyes at linebacker, and the return of just about everybody in the secondary. That remains a huge area that has to improve headed into next season. BC ranked last in pass defense and wore down as the season went on. This will be a much more veteran group in 2014, and Addazio believes that will translate to better results on the field.


Ethan in N.Y., writes: While the Hokies haven't exactly been spectacular these past two seasons, they have still been major contenders in the Coastal Division. In 2012, they were 55 seconds away from beating No. 10 FSU and were still a contender in November. In 2013, they were one North Carolina victory away from playing in Charlotte. Whether this pays tribute to the Hokies or shows how bad the Coastal has been the past two seasons, I don't know. This just tells you to never count out the Hokies. I pick them behind UNC to finish second in the Coastal in 2014, but they could easily win it, or be fifth. Where do you see them finishing in the murky pool of chaos that is the ACC Coastal Division?

Adelson writes: Great question, Ethan. The Coastal has been muddled the past two seasons, and I do not think 2014 is going to be much of an exception. I could legitimately make the case for six teams to win the division this fall. While I believe North Carolina and Duke are the top two at this point, if Virginia Tech can solve its offensive issues, the Hokies absolutely will be in the mix. I also think Pitt could have a great shot as a darkhorse, given some of the players it returns to the team. The Panthers have more talent at the skill positions than the Hokies do headed into the spring. Miami, with a healthy Duke Johnson, cannot be counted out. And Georgia Tech always hangs around the Coastal race. I am happy I don't have to slot my teams in 1-7 until July!


Gil Torres in Mobile, Ala., writes: With Bobby Petrino going to Louisville, how long do you think it will take him to compete for the ACC championship and possibly competing with SEC? Thanks in advance for your answer.

Adelson writes: Gil, given how much of a head start Clemson and Florida State have on him, it is going to take at least a few years for the Cards to compete for an ACC championship. I think they will win their fair share of games, but they need some excellent cycles on the recruiting side to begin building the consistent talent and depth we have seen from their two biggest Atlantic foes.


John in Arlington, Va., writes: Hi Andrea, Big fan of the blog and read it just about every day. I was just wondering why we keep getting updates about Jameis Winston's baseball career? I understand he's the most well-known player in the ACC, and it's the slow time of the year for a college football blog, but this is just that, a college football blog. If I wanted information on how well he's doing in baseball, I would follow college baseball. Just saw a link to "Winston's easy ninth inning", which fueled this rant. Other than that, keep up the good work and thanks for all you do.

Adelson writes: Thanks for reading, John. I think what Winston is doing with baseball is completely relevant and totally fascinating. Players as skilled as Winston have been told for years they had to pick one sport over another. This is the rare exception when he is not only allowed to do both, but excels at both. I understand how all the Winston mania may be getting a little bit old for some people. But his status as the Heisman Trophy winner on the No. 1 team in America makes his baseball career worth following. Especially if it ends up impacting what happens on the football field.

(*Target totals courtesy ESPN Stats & Info.)

Much has been made about the enormous turnover at quarterback in the ACC, where nine of the league’s 14 teams will feature a different starter in Week 1 of 2014 than at the conclusion of 2013.

The new arms throwing the football will be a major storyline for the spring, but the players on the other end of those passes will be much different this year, too. Eight of the top 12 receivers in the ACC last season are moving on, including likely first-round NFL draft picks Sammy Watkins, Eric Ebron and Kelvin Benjamin.

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh's Tyler Boyd could be one of the ACC's top wideouts in 2014.
Combine the high turnover at quarterback with the loss of so many top receivers, and it’s fair to say the passing games in the ACC will look much different in 2014. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some impressive returning talent. Nine receivers who were targeted at least 70 times last season return.

The obvious standout is Jamison Crowder, who was targeted a whopping 174 times in 2013. Nationally, only Fresno State’s Davante Adams (180 targets) was thrown to more often, according to ESPN Stats & Info. It’s also worth noting that Fresno State had 203 more passing attempts than Duke did. Crowder was on the receiving end of 37 percent of Duke’s passing attempts last season, compared with just 27 percent for Adams. Among ACC receivers, only Boston College’s Alex Amidon accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s throws (41 percent). Given his contributions on special teams, too, there's a case to be made that, aside from Jameis Winston, no player in the ACC means more to his team than Crowder.

It’s worth noting, too, that Duke is one of the five ACC teams with the quarterback position already settled, with Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette both returning for 2014, giving the Blue Devils easily the most tested quarterback-receiver combo in the conference.

Beyond Duke’s established QB/WR combo, Florida State is in good hands with senior Rashad Greene returning for his senior season. In 2013, he was on the receiving end of 27 percent of Winston’s throws, and with Benjamin and Kenny Shaw both gone, Greene’s role figures to only get bigger in 2014.

SportsNation

Who will be the ACC's best receiver in 2014?

  •  
    63%
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    11%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    10%
  •  
    6%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,023)

Believe it or not, the third-most tested combo in the conference is at Virginia, where QB David Watford returns along with receiver Darius Jennings, who was targeted 78 times last year. Of course, the Virginia passing game was far from effective for much of the season -- and Jennings only hauled in 49 percent of his targets with a paltry 4.3 yards/target average -- but the rapport Watford and Jennings were able to build throughout 2013 offers some hope for the Cavaliers’ offense.

In terms of pure explosiveness, North Carolina could have an interesting combination with Marquise Williams back at quarterback and emerging talent Quinshad Davis at receiver. Davis hauled in an impressive 67 percent of his targets and gained an average of 10.1 yards per target last season, including 10 touchdowns. Of course, he’ll need to prove he’s as effective without Ebron hogging so much of the attention from opposing defenses this year.

Similarly, the ACC will get its introduction to Louisville standout DeVante Parker in 2014. While Parker won't have the luxury of Teddy Bridgewater throwing to him, his numbers last season were immensely impressive. He averaged nearly 11 yards each time he was thrown to, and he hauled in two-thirds of his targets.

While Crowder and Greene represent the cream of the crop for receivers with returning quarterbacks, the player with perhaps the most upside of the group is Tyler Boyd. Pitt might be in search of a new starting quarterback to replace Tom Savage, but few first-year starters will have a weapon as reliable and explosive in the passing game as Pitt has in Boyd. As a true freshman in 2013, Boyd finished third in the conference in targets (behind only Crowder and Watkins), hauled in nearly 70 percent of his targets (tops among returning receivers with at least 70 targets) and his 10 catches of 25 yards or more is second only to Crowder among returning receivers in the conference.

But perhaps the most intriguing names on this list are the trio from Virginia Tech. The Hokies account for one-third of all the ACC’s returning receivers with at least 70 targets, meaning that while Frank Beamer works to find his new quarterback, he’ll have a veteran group of receivers to target. Of course, experience only matters if there’s talent to back it up and that’s the big question in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech ranked 63rd nationally in passing offense last season, 68th in yards per attempt and 89th in QB rating. While Demitri Knowles, Willie Byrn and Joshua Stanford were all among the ACC’s most targeted receivers, they also hauled in just 56 percent of the balls thrown their way and averaged just 7.9 yards per target. They’ll need to be far more reliable in 2014 with a new QB throwing to them.

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