Florida State Seminoles: North Carolina State Wolfpack

Headed to Greensboro for media day. Make sure you follow the ACC blog team on Twitter: Andrea will be tweeting from @ESPN_ACC, in addition to @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN.

James in North Carolina writes: Do you think there is another division in college football as wide open as the Coastal? I think Duke, VT, Miami, and North Carolina are all very close talent wise, and any of them could beat each other on any given day. I don't feel that Pitt is on the same level, but with the other teams dishing out losses to each other, they could be right there in the mix. The same could be said for Georgia Tech. In my opinion, the only team that I don't think will compete is UVA, but strange things tend to happen in the ACC.

Andrea Adelson writes: The Coastal is without a doubt the most wide open division in college football. I have seen Duke, Virginia Tech and North Carolina all listed as preseason favorites; Miami won nine games last season; I expect Pitt to be much better; Georgia Tech has a long history of success in the Coastal and cannot be counted out; and Virginia will be much better and much more competitive. I would not be surprised if the entire division ended up with bowl eligibility this season, even the Hoos. I still think Duke and North Carolina are the front-runners, followed closely by Virginia Tech, Pitt, Georgia Tech and Miami. The Hokies have a favorable schedule (BC and Wake from the Atlantic) and I am going to go ahead and guarantee they will be better on offense. Virginia Tech and Pitt might be slightly ahead of Georgia Tech and Miami. The Jackets have a lot of question marks on defense, and so does Miami (along with uncertainty at quarterback). Check back next week to see how we each voted in the ACC preseason poll. I wouldn't be surprised if we all pick a different Coastal champ.




Jon in Atlanta writes: Hey AA, I've been looking at a few projections about the ACC Coastal. I think it's pretty safe to say, that no one is a stand out winner. Some have UNC, some VT and some Duke. I would love for my Jackets to sneak in and win it. However, with a new QB and a few questions on the "D" side, I think that will be a tough stretch. I'm thinking it's going to be another 7 win season for us, what's your thoughts? Can we win more?

Adelson writes: I have not been overly optimistic about Georgia Tech this season. Then I read some interesting notes about the Jackets in the Phil Steele college football preview magazine. Did you know the Jackets have a .500 record or better in ACC play for 19 straight seasons -- the longest streak in the country? That stat alone makes it hard to completely discount Georgia Tech. I think Justin Thomas will be an upgrade over Vad Lee, and the offense will be fine. My biggest concern is the defense, particularly up front. Having said that, the nonconference schedule is easier than it has been over the past two seasons, Miami, Clemson and Duke all play in Atlanta and there are no midweek games on the schedule. This team has the potential to win more than seven games.




UM student in SF, Calif., writes: The past month Miami has been tearing it up on the recruiting trail. I mean the 2016 class is already shaping up to be special. I was wondering how much the fact that the NCAA cloud has passed played into this, and how long you think Golden has to step up and win some real games now. Do you think he gets like a clean slate or something?

Adelson writes: NCAA closure has been absolutely huge for Miami. Players who shied away from the Canes, even in-state, are now really giving Miami a close look. I wrote a little bit about the impact in the Tampa area. Golden is not on the hot seat by any stretch. Everybody in the administration knows what he was saddled with over the past three seasons, especially since he took the job and had no idea there would be a major NCAA investigation that would essentially take up every single season he has had to date. As for winning some real games, let's not forget about last season. Yes, it ended in disappointment, but Miami won nine and also beat Florida. The Gators ended up having a disastrous season, but at the time they played, Florida was viewed as the better team. I thought that was a big win for Golden and the program. Now, I know what you are getting at -- getting back to beating Florida State and playing for an ACC championship. Miami has assembled some talent over the past several years, but I still think the Canes are a few years away from consistent 10-12 win seasons. Having said that, I do think Golden deserves some patience. I know expectations are always sky-high at Miami. He wouldn't want it any other way. But at the same time, he has had more on his hands than any other coach in the league.




Wayne in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Can my Noles learn to stay out of trouble? I know you have to wait for the all facts, but kick (Jesus Wilson) off the team and set an example. I'm tired of seeing this!

Adelson writes: I understand your frustration. Certainly, you are not the first college football fan tired of seeing athletes getting into trouble. Will kicking him off the team set an example? This year, Jimbo Fisher kicked Ira Denson off the team after he was charged with petty theft and the illegal use of a credit card. Wilson still got into trouble. Now, I realize the cases are different and it is sometimes hard to compare each offense. Denson allegedly perpetrated a crime against a teammate; Wilson allegedly stole a scooter. Should a coach kick every player off the team who is arrested and charged with a crime? How does a coach prevent athletes from getting arrested? These are all difficult questions each coach must face.

Eds note: Earlier this week, I profiled Clemson offensive lineman Kalon Davis and his study abroad trip to Kyoto, Japan. Tragically, professor E. Leslie Williams -- who led the trip -- died suddenly last week. Thoughts and prayers are with Davis, Williams and the Clemson family.
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.
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.

.

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.

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 23, 2014
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The South Florida Sun-Sentinel talked with Miami tailback Duke Johnson, who said he “feels 100 percent” after a devastating ankle injury suffered against Florida State last season that cost him the final five games of the season.

That’s good news for Miami fans, of course, although Johnson said he’s still toying with future rehab plans to help build strength in the ankle.

It goes without saying that Johnson is an integral part of the Hurricanes’ 2014 hopes, and perhaps no other offensive player in the ACC is as important to his team.

While healthy last season, Johnson accounted for 27 percent of Miami’s total offense and 58 percent of its rushing yards. Only Heisman finalist Andre Williams accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s rushing yards in the ACC.

More importantly, Miami’s ground game fell apart without Johnson. Before the injury, the Hurricanes averaged 5.4 yards per carry and ran the ball 37 times a game. After the injury, they mustered a mere 3.6 yards per rush and ran just 28 times per game. Total offense for Miami dipped nearly 80 yards per game without Johnson, and, of course, the Canes lost four of six games in which Johnson wasn’t healthy and on the field the whole time.

Add all that to a messy quarterback situation this fall, and even Johnson understands what it all means.

“Even if [injured quarterback Ryan Williams] was here, I’d do the same thing and put the pressure on myself, take the pressure off of him,” Johnson said. “Because that’s just what I do.”

More links:

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 19, 2014
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Today should be quite an interesting day in the O'Bannon trial.
Phil Steele looked at the combined experience returning to each FBS team in 2014.

Steele considers five factors and uses a formula to create a grade between 0 and 100. The higher the grade, the more experience a school returns. Steele accounts for senior starters and senior backups, percentage of lettermen returning, percentage of returning offensive yards, percentage of total tackles returning and career starts returning on the offensive line.

[+] EnlargeScott Shafer
AP Photo/Phil SearsCoach Scott Shafer's Syracuse squad returns the most experience in the ACC.
Of the Power Five conferences, the ACC had the lowest average ranking. The league’s 14 teams averaged a ranking of 79.78 and an average score of 56.55. That means there should be a lot of new faces in the ACC, and adding to the potential warning sign is the number of new starting quarterbacks expected in the league. (It worked out fine for Florida State last season, we should add.)

The Big Ten (54.64) had the highest average ranking, followed by the Big 12 (58.7), Pac-12 (62.08) and SEC (70.14).

The reigning national champions come in at No. 39 despite some significant losses on both offense and defense. Helping Florida State’s grade is the starts accumulated by the offensive line, which returns five players with starting experience and 113 career starts overall. Defensively, the Seminoles lose their top three tacklers, but a number of players along the unit lettered a season ago.

Of note: Alabama is ranked No. 107, Auburn No. 8, Ohio State No. 109 and Oregon No. 31. Those are the four teams with the next best odds to win the national championship, according to Bovada.

Syracuse had the highest score (71.41, No. 17) among conference teams, which should be a good sign in Scott Shafer’s second season as coach. Virginia coach Mike London is hoping the experience he returns will help the Cavaliers to a bowl game. London, whose team has the 18th-highest score, is on the hot seat and might not survive another losing season in Charlottesville.

Few are projecting David Cutcliffe to bring Duke back to the ACC championship game, but the Blue Devils' score of 69.75 is 25th-best in the country. Cutcliffe can count on senior leadership, as 12 seniors are expected to start. Only two schools in the top 25 of Steele’s calculations have more senior starters.

Here is a complete look at where each ACC team fell and what its score was:

17. Syracuse (71.41)
18. Virginia (70.98)
25. Duke (69.75)
39. Florida State (66.06)
77. Louisville (57.92)
79. North Carolina (57.69)
80. Miami (57.03)
92. Virginia Tech (55.37)
105. Pittsburgh (51.45)
106. Georgia Tech (50.39)
113. Clemson (48.99)
114. NC State (48.73)
125. Wake Forest (43.40)
127. Boston College (42.54)

Analysis of ACC awards polls

June, 17, 2014
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In a series last week, the ACC blog broke down some of the early preseason candidates for several of the conference’s top postseason awards. Colleague Matt Fortuna gave a short brief on each of the candidates, listed a few honorable mentions and a SportsNation poll asked readers to vote on which candidate, if any, would win.

We asked for your prediction on who would be the conference offensive and defensive players of the year, offensive and defensive rookies of the year and coach of the year. With just about a week for fans to vote, here are the results from the polls.

ACC offensive player of the year

Results: QB Jameis Winston, Florida State (52 percent), RB Duke Johnson, Miami (19), Other (14), WR DeVante Parker, Louisville (12), WR Jamison Crowder, Duke (3).
Analysis: Winston is the overwhelming favorite in the poll, and his 33-percentage point lead over second-place Johnson is the widest gap among the five SportsNation polls. That is hardly a surprise, considering the Heisman winner returns and has yet to lose a game as a starter in his college career. Johnson is a reasonable second option, as the Miami running back will play a pivotal role for the Canes as they break in a new quarterback. If Miami can achieve double-digit wins this season, Johnson will be tough to beat.
Write-in votes: Gauging from the comments section, it seems as if readers had Seminoles running back Karlos Williams in mind when voting “other” for the most part. A third-string running back last season, the former five-star recruit will start as a senior in 2014. Many FSU fans are expecting Williams to easily surpass 1,000 yards.

ACC defensive player of the year

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsThere are big expectations for Florida State's Mario Edwards, the No. 1 recruit in the 2012 class.
Results: DE Mario Edwards, Florida State (35), DE Vic Beasley, Clemson (34), Other (15), LB Denzel Perryman, Miami (13), S Anthony Harris, Virginia (3).
Analysis: Edwards narrowly edged Beasley, who could have been a first-round pick in last month’s NFL draft. Edwards, a junior and former No. 1 high school recruit, could be the first defensive lineman taken in next year’s draft. However, Edwards’ statistics could keep him from winning defensive player of the year. While he certainly could be the most dominant league defensive player, he likely won’t have the same sack numbers as Beasley, who had 13 a season ago, or 2013 winner Aaron Donald, who registered 11 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss as an interior lineman.
Write-in votes: Once again, the FSU voices were heard in the comment section, offering their thoughts on why sophomore defensive back Jalen Ramsey is the favorite on the Seminoles’ defense. Ramsey is going to fill the void in the backfield left by the departed Lamarcus Joyner, a Thorpe Award finalist in 2013.

ACC offensive rookie of the year

Results: Other (31), QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson (26), QB Kevin Olsen, Miami (24), RB Elijah Hood, North Carolina (16), QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina (3).
Analysis: This is definitely a difficult one to predict as there is an inherent unpredictability in the award, much more than any other postseason trophy. Other is probably the safe choice and I tend to agree with the readers. Olsen is a good pick if he is the Canes’ starter for the entire season. Watson, who was injured during spring camp, was the top quarterback in the 2014 recruiting class nationally. North Carolina could not afford to miss on Hood, who enrolled early and figures to be featured extensively in the UNC offense.
Write-in votes: With so many departures on the Clemson offense, one reader suggests redshirt freshman running back Wayne Gallman will win the award. He was a four-star recruit in the 2013 class.

ACC defensive rookie of the year

Results: CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson (36), DT Keith Bryant (33), Other (20), DT Andrew Brown (6), S Quin Blanding, Virginia (5).
Analysis: Alexander is a smart pick for rookie of the year on defense considering the reputation he had coming to Clemson before the 2013 season. The No. 4 player nationally in the 2013 recruiting class, Alexander redshirted as a freshman. He should get extensive playing time this upcoming season, though, and he has arguably the best defensive line in the ACC in front of him, which could force rushed and errant throws in his direction that are prime for interceptions. With the loss of Timmy Jernigan at defensive tackle for FSU, the Noles certainly will need someone at the position to step up. It remains to be seen if Bryant will be that person, and a strong summer would definitely help his cause as the Noles open up preseason camp in a little more than a month. Both Blanding and Brown are sleepers, especially if the Cavaliers can reach bowl eligibility.
Write-in votes: One commenter agrees with Fortuna that Florida State redshirt freshman linebacker Matthew Thomas could win this award. Thomas was spectacular in spring drills and could be a starter for the Noles this season.

ACC coach of the year

Results: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State (40), Dabo Swinney, Clemson (26), Other (22), Larry Fedora, North Carolina (7), Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh (5).
Analysis: The safe bet in the conference is to go with Fisher or Swinney. The two have Clemson and Florida State in a league of their own within the ACC. Both are coming off BCS bowl wins but have holes to fill on their 2014 teams. Swinney needs to overcome the losses of his starting quarterback, running back and star receiver. Fisher loses defensive leaders Jernigan, Joyner and Telvin Smith. I thought Fedora would receive more votes, considering the Heels are one of the favorites to win the division.
Late last week, the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas released its opening point spreads for 200 games in the upcoming season, and it was hardly a surprise that the casino’s oddsmakers have Florida State pegged as a favorite in all eight regular-season games in which they have set a line.

What did catch a few people by surprise is just how dominant Vegas expects the Seminoles, who have a few holes to fill on defense and at the offensive skill positions, to be in 2014. Florida State is initially favored by double digits in each game. Contests against The Citadel, Wake Forest, Boston College and Virginia were not released.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsLas Vegas is expecting a second dominant season from Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles.
Vegas expects Florida State to blow out division rival Clemson again, favoring the Seminoles by 17 points over the Tigers on Sept. 20. Considering how last season’s game in Death Valley went, a 17-point loss in Tallahassee might not seem all that bad for a Clemson team that's rebuilding its offense.

Florida State was also a 17-point favorite against Oklahoma State in a neutral-site game, at Louisville and against rival Florida. They opened as a 24-point favorite against Notre Dame. The Seminoles are a 14.5-point favorite at Miami, which is looking for revenge after being trounced 41-14 last season.

Elsewhere in the ACC, Clemson is a nine-point road underdog to Georgia in a rematch of last season’s opener. Following the September game against Florida State, the Tigers are favored in each listed game until hosting South Carolina, which is a three-point road favorite. Vegas expects a close game between the Tigers and visiting North Carolina, listing Clemson as a four-point favorite in that Sept. 27 game.

Louisville is welcomed to the ACC with a Labor Day primetime game against Miami, and Vegas is calling that one a pick ’em.

The Golden Nugget is not confident that Virginia Tech will have a bounce-back season. Ohio State is an 18-point favorite for the Hokies’ Week 2 trip to Columbus, Ohio, and surprisingly, the Tar Heels are a double-digit home favorite against the Hokies. Virginia Tech is only a one-point favorite at home against Miami.

Speaking of the Hurricanes, Vegas expects a close one when they travel to Nebraska. Miami is a three-point underdog in their Sept. 20 game. Miami is a one-point favorite against North Carolina, which could be a division-defining game to begin November.

Other notable spreads:

  • North Carolina is a three-point road favorite over Duke and 20-point favorite over NC State.
  • Georgia Tech isn’t projected to break its losing streak to in-state rival Georgia. The Yellow Jackets are initially set as a 14-point underdog.
  • NC State is at least a 20-point underdog in the three games with a spread.
  • Syracuse is a 5.5-point underdog to Notre Dame at the Meadowlands.
  • Virginia has two interesting nonconference games and is a heavy underdog in both. UCLA is a 21.5-point road favorite and BYU, a team Virginia beat last season, is a 17-point home favorite.

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 16, 2014
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U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!

Notes from South Carolina camp 

June, 16, 2014
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COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The South Carolina Gamecocks hosted their annual prospect camp on Friday. With the three consecutive 11-win seasons and top-10 finishes, as well as producing a number of high NFL draft choices led by 2014 No. 1 overall selection Jadeveon Clowney, the level of talent at the camps continues to rise.

Here is some news and notes from the camp:

Poll: ACC coach of the year

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
2:00
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It is never too early to make predictions, and with the season less than three months away, we are seeking your input on who you think will take home some of the ACC's top honors at season's end.

We continue today with coach of the year.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson: So often, this award goes to the coach who does more with less. And while no one would suggest that Clemson does not have a talented roster, the fact is that the Discover Orange Bowl winners lose their top skill players from last year in quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, among others. Fair or not, outside expectations for Clemson aren't what they were going into 2013. The Tigers also face a brutally tough schedule early on, so if Swinney can have this group competing for the ACC title, he is sure to receive a lot of credit for keeping his program at an elite level.

SportsNation

Who will be the ACC's Coach of the Year?

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    26%
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    39%
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    7%
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    5%
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    23%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,708)

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: The other side of the "more with less" argument can be seen in coaches like Fisher, who is coming off a national title season but will probably never receive too much credit given the location and prestige of his program. That, of course, is not really fair, but if Fisher didn't win it in either of his last two conference title-winning years, it would probably take nothing less than an undefeated season this year — his second in a row — to truly wow the voters and win this honor in 2014. Just look at Jim Tressel, who won seven Big Ten titles and a national title in his 10 years at Ohio State — but had zero league Coach of the Year awards.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina: If North Carolina can emerge as the Coastal Division champion, Fedora will have a legitimate argument for this honor. For one, he has himself a very big decision to make at the most important position on the field, as Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battle it out for the starting quarterback job. How Fedora handles what could be a delicate situation will undoubtedly have an impact on the kind of season UNC has. And if things work out for the Tar Heels in 2014, that would be a very nice answer to rival Duke's recent success, not to mention an impressive turnaround for Fedora in just his third year in charge.

Paul Chryst, Pitt: Chryst is also in his third year. And he also coaches a team considered to be a darkhorse Coastal Division title contender. (Hey, at this point, who isn't?) The schedule breaks right for the Panthers to have a chance at a strong season. And if that happens — in just their second year in the ACC, after losing key players like Aaron Donald, Tom Savage and Devin Street — you can bet Chryst will receive a ton of credit.

Others: No David Cutcliffe, you say? Well, he did win this award the past two seasons, so the chances of him pulling off a three-peat have to be very slim. (It's never been done before in the ACC.) If Louisville can contend for a league title during its first year in the ACC, Bobby Petrino will receive plenty of votes. Of course, teams that come out of nowhere tend to be pretty popular with voters, so NC State's Dave Doeren and Virginia's Mike London could be in play if either of their squads make huge turnarounds after winless league campaigns in 2013.
Last week, I asked for your ideas about scrapping divisions and protecting two rivalry games. You came up with some clever responses.

Lee in Atlanta writes: Andrea, I saw your response to my Clemson buddy Creswell's question. As a Tech fan, we don't want Louisville (and I'm not sure who would want them) as a rival. And as a Falcons fan, I don't want Petrino in my city. Thus, I would like to submit some adjusted rivalry assignments:

Boston College: Syracuse, Miami

Clemson: Florida State, Georgia Tech

Duke: Wake Forest, North Carolina

Florida State: Miami, Clemson

Georgia Tech: Clemson, Virginia Tech

Louisville: Pittsburgh, Virginia

Miami: Florida State, Boston College

North Carolina: Duke, NC State

NC State: North Carolina, Wake Forest

Pittsburgh: Syracuse, Louisville

Syracuse: Boston College, Pittsburgh

Virginia: Virginia Tech, Louisville

Virginia Tech: Georgia Tech, Virginia

Wake Forest: Duke, NC State

What do you think?

Andrea Adelson says: I also got a note from Will Goodman in the mailbag about switching one of Virginia Tech's rivals to Georgia Tech over Miami. The reason I kept Miami-Virginia Tech was because of the rivalry the two had in the Big East. Those two teams have played 31 times, compared to 11 Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech games.




Mark Emmert's Brain in Miami writes: If the ACC doesn't eliminate divisions (makes most sense), realigning the divisions while playing five division games (two permanent), and three nondivision games (one permanent) is the best. Pretty sure this keeps ALL rivalries, teams play every three years, And it makes up for the stupid looking "A" in the new ACC logo.

Coastal (two in-division rivals; one out-division rival)

Miami (BC, Clemson; FSU)

Clemson (NC State, Miami; Georgia Tech)

North Carolona (Duke, NC State; Virginia)

NC State (UNC; Clemson; Wake Forest)

Syracuse (BC; Duke; Pitt)

Duke (North Carolina; Cuse; Louisville)

Boston College (Syracuse; Miami; Virginia Tech)

[+] EnlargeJohn Swofford
Jason Szenes/Getty ImagesWhat other changes will take place in the ACC under commissioner John Swofford?
Atlantic

Florida State (Virginia, Louisville; Miami)

Virginia Tech (Virginia, Georgia Tech; Boston College)

Georgia Tech (Virginia Tech, Pitt; Clemson)

Louisville (FSU, Wake Forest; Duke)

Virginia (Virginia Tech, FSU; North Carolina)

Pitt (Wake Forest, Georgia Tech; Syracuse)

Wake Forest (Pitt, Louisville, NC State)

John in Tallahassee mostly agrees, writing: I liked the mailbag discussing scrapping the divisions. I, like many others, believe that it is the only logical approach with more than 12 teams. My only problem was the two responses you gave discussed having two rivalries. This is wrong. It should be three rivals that stay the same each year and five rotating games. There are 13 teams each school must play (obviously not counting itself). Therefore a 3-5 split makes more sense than a 2-6. In four years each school plays a home-away with the other 10 non-rival schools. Thanks.

So does Michael in Atlanta: While I don't see the appeal of a Georgia Tech-Louisville rivalry, my main complaint with your proposed "permanent" rivals is the number. In a 14-team conference, there are 13 other teams. That means each school can have three permanent rivals, play five more teams one year and the other five the next. So take whatever most popular suggestions you get for each school and add that as a third permanent team. (For Georgia Tech, I would add either Virginia Tech based on recent history, or Florida State for closeness' sake.)

Adelson writes: I can get behind three permanent rivals. The problem with the Brain's idea is there is no traction at all to realigning divisions. So you have to work with either the current setup or no divisions at all.




Marcus Ward in Fort Bragg, N.C., writes: Andrea, I have this great plan to solve all the conference, scheduling, playing and championship dilemmas. I think the ACC should recruit two more schools, then make four divisions: North, South, East and West. Put 4 teams in each division. Have the teams play the other three, and two from each of the other divisions. They can have permanent rivalries and get a better rotation and be able to play every team within a couple of years instead of a couple of decades. The four teams that win their division play each other in a playoff format, just like they will be implementing for the national championship. And the winners play each other in Charlotte for the ACC crown. They would have to play nine conference games but they still have three games left -- 1 for SEC, 1 for ND, and 1 for FCS, so it could work and still would be good for the game. I know this is a long way off, but it's worth thinking about and I left a lot of details out from my thoughts. But I have a rough draft that it could look like with the teams we already have. Hope you like, and have a nice day.

East: Clemson, North Carolina, Virginia, Boston College

North: Virginia Tech, Pitt, Syracuse, Duke

South: Florida State, Miami, NC State

West: Louisville, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech

Possible newcomers: Notre Dame, BYU, West Virginia, Army, Navy, USF, UCF

Adelson writes: Given the landscape, there is no real value in moving to a 16-team conference at this point in time. Remember, 16 teams mean revenue has to be divided 16 ways, which means the two newcomers have to add millions upon millions in value to make the move worth it. We're still in the infancy of 14-team leagues, so let's see how that shakes out first before moving to super-conference models.




Aaron in Los Angeles writes: I was thinking a lot about what the yearly ACC/SEC matchups would be if each team had a permanent foe. Obviously keeping the ones that already occur intact. Florida State-Florida. Georgia Tech-Georgia. Clemson-South Carolina. Wake Forest-Vandy. Louisville-Kentucky. BC-Missouri. NC State-Mississippi State. Syracuse-Arkansas. Duke-Ole Miss. Miami-LSU or Tennessee. North Carolina-LSU or Texas A&M. Pitt-Alabama. Virginia-Auburn. VT-Tennessee or Texas A&M.

Adelson writes: Somebody had to draw the short Bama straw. Hmm ... does someone in Los Angeles have a beef with Pitt? Maybe you are a West Virginia fan at heart. :)

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 6, 2014
Jun 6
12:00
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Not a good look for UNC.
Phil Steele released his preseason All-ACC teams earlier this week, and it might have been noteworthy to some that the player he listed as his second-team quarterback — North Carolina’s Marquise Williams — isn’t currently assured of even keeping his starting job. That, of course, speaks to the quality of Williams’ competition (Mitch Trubisky has a little talent, too), but mostly to the lack of any established experience at the position around the ACC.

Of the ACC’s 14 teams, only Florida State and Virginia return quarterbacks who appeared in every one of their games last season — and Virginia's David Watford isn’t currently listed as the team’s starter this year.

None of this is a new story, of course, and we’ve already touched on what impact the turnover at quarterback might have this season around the league. Looking at last year’s records, the teams that returned quarterbacks saw an aggregate increase of nine wins, while teams with turnover at the position broke even.

Those victory totals only tell us so much, though. Florida State only increased its victory total by two with a new quarterback, but those were two pretty important wins. UNC’s victory total dipped by one game, but its returning quarterback wasn’t the one on the field when the Tar Heels were playing their best.

So we dug a little deeper into the numbers to see what impact, if any, a change at quarterback might have on the offense.

Looking just at 2013, there were five ACC teams that had the same starting quarterback in at least 75 percent of its games as it did the preceding year. Seven had changes at the position. The results were about what you might expect.



Overall, teams replacing a quarterback had a 1 percent dip in total offense and a 4 percent dip in yards per attempt, while the teams with returning experience improved in both areas.

It’s probably worth noting, too, that both Florida State and Maryland represent outliers in this discussion. Florida State had a new QB, but Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy. He’s a unique talent. Maryland, meanwhile, was using a linebacker at quarterback by the end of 2012, so change was inherently a good thing for the Terps. If we take those two teams out of the equation, the numbers change a bit: Teams undergoing change at QB had a 6 percent dip in total offense and a 9 percent decline in yards per attempt.

So, that settles it, right? Change at quarterback means a decline in offensive production, which is bad news for the ACC in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesFlorida State had a new quarterback last season, and the Seminoles certainly didn't take a step back with Jameis Winston.
Not exactly.

In 2012, the vast majority of the ACC (9 of 12 teams) returned their starting QBs from 2011, and while those teams did have a slight increase in offensive production (1.75 percent, compared to a 4 percent decline for the three teams with turnover), the actual passing performances told a different story. The nine teams returning QBs actually had a 3 percent dip in yards per attempt, while the teams with turnover (Maryland, Miami,Virginia) had a 6 percent increase.

Look at the numbers in 2011 for teams returning QBs, and the outcome is even more counter-intuitive. Five teams returned quarterbacks and had a 2.25 percent increase in yards per attempt and essentially broke even in total offense. The teams with turnover at QB, however, increased total offense by more than 3 percent and had a whopping 9.5 percent increase in yards per attempt from 2010.

In other words, in 2011 and 2012, change at quarterback didn’t make much of a difference. In fact, during the last three years collectively, teams that made a change at QB saw no discernible change in total offense and enjoyed a 2 percent increase in yards per attempt (better than the 0.67 percent increase for teams returning QBs).

So why did last year’s numbers paint such a scary picture?

The answer is probably that the returning quarterbacks in the league actually played a far smaller role in their respective offenses. Overall, the five teams returning QBs from 2012 had a whopping 15 percent decline in passing attempts per game, with Boston College being a prime example. Chase Rettig returned as QB, but BC’s attempts per game dipped from 39 in 2012 to 20 in 2013, while its yards per attempt jumped from 6.5 in 2012 to 7.5 last season.

In other words, the veteran quarterbacks probably had a little more help surrounding them (such as Andre Williams), while the young QBs were left to figure a lot out on their own (such as Pete Thomas).

As we look to 2014, there will no doubt be major question marks at QB for a lot of teams, but for many, there’s nowhere to go but up. And based on the numbers, there’s no reason a first-time starter can’t engineer those recoveries.

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