Florida State Seminoles: Virginia Tech Hokies

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
12:00
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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.
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.
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
Jul 8
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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
Jul 3
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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.
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.
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.

Next up: The running game

Best of the best: Florida State

There's plenty of competition for the top spot, but we're giving the edge to FSU's revamped ground game in spite of the losses of Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. While the Seminoles said goodbye to two of their top runners, they return a senior-laden offensive line that has opened holes to the tune of 5.6 yards-per-carry last season, as well as a dynamic (if inexperienced) group of ball carriers. At the top of the depth chart, Karlos Williams tallied 730 yards and 11 TDs last season in a limited role, and his size/speed combination makes him as tough to bring down as any runner in the country. Behind him, Ryan Green and Mario Pender offer speedy alternatives, while true freshman Dalvin Cook oozes potential and could emerge as FSU's No. 2 option. Jimbo Fisher has made a point of distributing carries in recent years, so expect all four to see plenty of work.

Next up: Miami

It's easy enough to make a case for Georgia Tech (300 rush yards per game last year), Louisville (veteran offensive line and deep backfield) or Pitt (two 700-yard tailbacks returning), but we'll give the slight edge to Miami because there may be no more dynamic or productive runner in the conference than Duke Johnson. True, Johnson is coming off a severe ankle injury that cost him the final five games of 2013, but he's back and feeling good already, and he promises to be the foundation of the Canes' offense. With a healthy Johnson in the backfield last season, Miami averaged 5.4 yards per carry -- which would've been good for 13th nationally and third in the ACC.

Possible sleeper: North Carolina

Against FBS foes last season, North Carolina mustered a mere 148 yards per game on the ground -- good for 11th in the ACC. But that doesn't mean the ground game won't be a strength for the Tar Heels in 2014. In the early going, UNC mustered a meager 2.8 yards-per-carry and six TDs in its first seven games of the year (in which the Heels finished 2-5). After the calendar flipped to November, however, North Carolina's ground game flourished, averaging 5.1 yards-per-carry and scoring 13 times, while helping the Heels to a 5-1 finish. Now, T.J. Logan is back to lead a particularly deep corps of runners, and Marquise Williams is as good a threat to run as any QB in the league. If the offensive line can hold up, North Carolina's ground game should be vastly improved in 2014.

Potential problem: Virginia Tech

The Hokies' backfield was a disaster last season. Set aside the work of now-departed QB Logan Thomas, and the running backs tallied a mere 3.98 yards-per-carry last season and managed just 11 third-down conversions. Against FBS teams, Tech managed just 2.88 yards-per-carry, the ninth-worst mark in the nation. The eight teams that were worse had a combined record of 18-79. Now the Hokies add a first-year starter at quarterback, and the situation looks even more dire.

The Opening presented by Nike Football will take place July 7-10 at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon, with 162 of the nation's top high school football prospects set to compete. With four days of dynamic training, coaching and competition among the best of the best, The Opening is the perfect chance for recruits in the Class of 2015 to make big jumps and shine on the national stage.

Here are five prospects with the most to gain at the prestigious event:

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
12:00
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NFL.com put together a list of the 14 hottest names among coordinators in college football, with two ACC coaches making the cut.

Of course, seeing Bud Foster and Chad Morris on the list is no surprise. They have established themselves as among the most consistently good coordinators in the country. What is perhaps more interesting is who isn’t on the list: Namely, no one from the defending national champion. In fact, ex-Florida State defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt (now at Georgia) does make the cut, but that is as close as the Seminoles got to landing a name on the list.

Given that Jimbo Fisher doesn’t employ an offensive coordinator and is on his third defensive coordinator in as many years, it is probably not a surprise, but as our Travis Haney noted during a recent trip to a Texas coaching clinic, FSU’s Charles Kelly has made a really good early impression since taking over for Pruitt.

Pruitt, quite fairly, received a lot of credit for last year’s championship defense, so now there are concerns about what his loss will mean for Florida State. Those concerns, however, are probably a bit misplaced.

First off, remember the chaos that followed the 2012 season at FSU? Seven assistants left the staff for other jobs, including both coordinators. Mark Stoops had engineered a defense that ranked in the top three nationally in consecutive years and was widely regarded as one of the best assistants in the country. Fisher couldn’t possibly replace all that, right?

Even in the wake of Stoops’ departure, fans clamored for a big name -- Foster, perhaps, or someone with NFL experience -- but he hired an obscure secondary coach from Alabama with just three years of college coaching on his resume. But he knew Pruitt, knew what he was capable of doing, knew the system he wanted to run, and the hire proved a stroke of genius.

So now, it’s a lot easier to believe Fisher knew what he was doing when he promoted Kelly from linebackers coach to DC, and the transition promises to be much smoother this time. Pruitt’s biggest impact on the team last season was the scheme he put in place, but that doesn’t figure to change much under Kelly. The players already know what they are doing, there is no change in vocabulary and virtually no change in the Xs and Os. Moreover, Kelly is as well-liked and respected as any coach on the staff. He will do just fine.

But that doesn’t mean there is no room for worries for Florida State’s defense. It’s just that losing Pruitt probably shouldn’t be the primary concern. The biggest void is the leadership lost with the departures of Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks, Timmy Jernigan and Telvin Smith. That was a rare breed of leaders that had been through the battles and suffered the losses that taught tough lessons -- lessons they continually reminded their younger teammates about during last season’s championship run. Finding voices on defense that carry as much weight in the locker room this year won’t be easy.

“I think it’s feeling comfortable taking on the roles of the guys who have left, that you feel comfortable stepping up and taking that responsibility,” Fisher told me this month. “All of them play hard, but what you have to have is guys stepping up and taking on the leadership. There’s a responsibility of how you have to conduct yourself as a teammate to affect the other guys on the team. That’s where teams grow, and summer and fall camp is so important.”

Fisher reeled off a bunch of names on the offensive side of the ball who will fill that role -- Rashad Greene, Cameron Erving, Karlos Williams, Tre Jackson, Josue Matias and, of course, Jameis Winston -- but the candidates on defense weren’t quite so established.

Fisher said sophomore Jalen Ramsey has been perhaps the most vocal leader throughout the spring and early summer, and fellow defensive backs P.J. Williams and Tyler Hunter have shouldered some of the leadership burden, too. The rest of the unit, though, is still developing.

“Last year’s team wasn’t on a journey. They were on a mission,” Fisher said. “They understood what they really wanted. The trial-and-error they had, they learned from their mistakes over time.”

Terrance Smith learned under Telvin Smith last season, but he’s not nearly as vocal as his predecessor. Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman “are growing into the role,” Fisher said, but they haven’t proven they are as good at galvanizing a group around them as Jernigan did last year.

FSU has ample talent on defense, and it should again have an exceptional coordinator calling the shots, but it’s just really difficult to replace the battle scars and lessons learned that Joyner, Brooks, Smith and Co. used to such great effect in 2013.

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ACC's lunchtime links

June, 26, 2014
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Sports on Earth put together a list of its 10 players under the most pressure as 2014 gets set to kick off, and the lone ACC representative is Virginia Tech’s Trey Edmunds. On the sophomore tailback:
“With [Logan] Thomas' mobility gone, the onus on the running backs is even greater to jumpstart an aimless offense that has coincided with a 15-11 record the last two years.”

Indeed, Virginia Tech needs some serious help on offense in virtually every phase, but finding some traction on the ground would be a huge first step.

Last year, Thomas, the quarterback, was responsible for 33 percent of Virginia Tech’s carries, 22 percent of its rushing yards (including lost yardage on sacks) and 45 percent of its third- and fourth-down conversions on the ground. The tailbacks, meanwhile, averaged just 3.98 yards per carry, second-worst in the ACC (ahead of only Wake Forest) and well behind the next worst team (NC State). For perspective, conference champ Florida State got a whopping 6.43 yards per carry from its running backs -- nearly 2.5 yards more every time a running back carried the football.

Edmunds, of course, is the face of the group after leading the way for Virginia Tech with 675 yards on the ground before getting hurt against Virginia, but his 4.07 yards-per-carry average ranked 31st among ACC players last year.

It’s tough to pin all the pressure on Edmunds, though. Other tailbacks need to step up, too. Virginia Tech needs to find a quarterback capable of keeping defenses honest. Receivers need to be more reliable to keep the Hokies out of unmanageable down-and-distance situations. Coordinator Scot Loeffler needs to be more creative with his scheme. And if anything, the real pressure here falls on Frank Beamer, who is on his second coordinator and has cycled through myriad running backs and still hasn’t found a definitive answer to Tech’s offensive woes.

Though Edmunds is the lone ACC rep on Sports On Earth’s list, it’s also worth noting the conference should shine a little extra light on their No. 1 choice, Jeff Driskel. Not only will the Florida quarterback’s season be defined by how the Gators’ offense performs, but two other quarterbacks who were stuck behind him on the depth chart -- Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy -- now have starting jobs in the ACC and could certainly upstage their former teammate.

More links, starting with a bunch of Jameis Winston news:
  • If Winston’s legend began when he chucked a football over a fraternity house, FSU’s newest quarterback, J.J. Cosentino, is well on his way to carving out his own mythology, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.
  • Tomahawk Nation ran the numbers on what it would mean for Winston to stick around at FSU through 2015, and it’s tough to make the case that he should.
  • And in Winston’s hometown of Hueytown, Ala., July 5 will officially be “Jameis Winston Day,” writes Yahoo.
  • Louisville has sold out its luxury boxes for its inaugural season in the ACC, so if you’re planning to attend a game, you’ll be stuck with the commoners.
  • With Jay Bromley gone, Syracuse is reshuffling its defensive line in hopes of finding some stability, writes Syracuse.com.
  • Backing the Pack did the research and came up with a rough estimate of the number of alumni each ACC school has playing in the NFL now. Not surprisingly, the results pretty accurately reflect the typical ACC recruiting rankings, too.

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 24, 2014
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It’s that time of year when the preseason lists start appearing, and Athlon is out with its preseason All-America teams (four of them!), which include a healthy dose of the ACC.

The ACC has eight players on the first-team All-America squad, tied with the Pac-12 for most by any conference. In all, the ACC had 27 selections (26 players, as Duke’s Jamison Crowder was named as both a receiver and punt returner). Florida State, not surprisingly, led the way with a whopping 12 players named on the four lists, including Jameis Winston, Nick O'Leary, Tre Jackson, Cameron Erving, Jalen Ramsey and Roberto Aguayo as first-teamers.

Of course, these preseason lists are always a little subjective and a lot different from how the end-of-the-season results shake out. (Example: Just seven of last year’s Athlon preseason picks were also first-team selections at year’s end.)

With that in mind, here are a few ACC names that didn’t show up on any of Athlon’s four preseason All-America teams that could well be first-teamers by the time 2014 draws to a close.

CB Ronald Darby (FSU): The forgotten man in Florida State’s incredibly talented secondary, Darby nursed a nagging groin injury, but still was as good a shut-down cornerback as there was in the conference a year ago. He has flown under the radar nationally, but he has the talent to be a star if QBs decided to test him just a bit more often this season.

DT Grady Jarrett (Clemson): The 2014 season promises to be a pick-your-poison scenario for teams hoping to slow down Clemson’s immensely talented pass rush. Vic Beasley gets most of the hype (for good reason), but he is also going to get a lot of the attention from offensive linemen. That opens the door for Jarrett (10.5 tackles for loss last season), along with a host of others to make some noise, too.

LB Steven Daniels (Boston College): It is a bit surprising that Miami’s Denzel Perryman is the only ACC linebacker to make Athlon’s cut since there is clearly a lot of talent at the position, including Clemson’s Stephone Anthony, Duke’s Kelby Brown and David Helton and Syracuse’s Dyshawn Davis. But we all know the history of linebackers at Boston College, and Daniels could be next in line. He still has room to improve, but his 88 tackles last season are the seventh-most by a returning player in the ACC, and that number figures to grow in 2014.

RB Dominique Brown (Louisville): He had 825 yards and eight touchdowns last season in a more buttoned-down offensive system with a highly touted QB on the field. Now the Cardinals turn to a novice at quarterback and an offensive guru at head coach, which could promise big production out of the backfield for Brown. Or, perhaps we will all be talking about Michael Dyer here by season's end.

DE Eli Harold (Virginia): As bad as the Hoos have been, it makes sense that they are not getting much preseason love, but Mike London is quietly assembling a heck of a defensive line at UVA, and Harold might be the best of the bunch. His 15 tackles for loss last season trail only Beasley among returning ACC defenders.

That is my list. Who else do you think could make a push for All-America honors by season's end?

More links:
  • Charges could be dropped against one of the key figures in the UNC academic fraud scandal, according to the Charlotte Observer.
  • Miami picked up a commitment from a QB for 2016, writes the Sun-Sentinel.
  • Syracuse is shelling out big bucks to play Central Michigan in 2015, reports The Post-Standard. With new scheduling guidelines and the College Football Playoff in place, this is going to become the norm for signing games against mid-level opponents.
  • Former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe is battling Parkinson’s Disease, but he is back in college football as a special assistant at LSU, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • Tomahawk Nation goes searching for Florida State’s flaws. Not to spoil the ending, but there aren’t many.
Athlon Sports became the latest publication to put out its preseason All-America team Monday, and not surprisingly there is major ACC representation across the board.

Perhaps most notably, Athlon has Jameis Winston as its first-team quarterback. Why is this notable? College football guru Phil Steele has Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota as his first-team All-America quarterback, ahead of Winston. Steele also has Mariota as his top Heisman candidate headed into the season, with Winston at No. 2. It certainly will be interesting to see how the competition between them plays out, especially since they are widely considered the top two quarterbacks in the country.

As for the other players featured on both All-America teams, Athlon and Steele only differ on a few ACC first-team players aside from Winston. Athlon has Florida State safety Jalen Ramsey on its first team, while Steele does not; Steele has Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman on his first team, while Athlon has him on its fourth team. Steele also listed Florida State's Kermit Whitfield as his first-team kick returner, while Athlon had him on the third team.

Looking at both teams, there is no denying there is major talent at Florida State once again. And there is no denying the ACC has the top special-teams players in the country. Athlon features Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo and North Carolina punt returner Ryan Switzer on its first team, while also giving nods to Whitfield, Duke's DeVon Edwards (fourth-team kick returner) and Jamison Crowder (second-team punt returner) and Virginia Tech's A.J. Hughes (fourth-team punter).

In all, the ACC has eight players on the Athlon first team, tied with the Pac-12 for the most in the country. Overall, 27 ACC players are listed on the Athlon All-America first-, second-, third- and fourth-teams -- more than any other league.

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.”

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FSU Coach Explains Why Winston Went Unpunished
ESPN Florida State reporter Jared Shanker breaks down head coach Jimbo Fisher's explanation that Jameis Winston's suspension from the baseball team for a shoplifting incident in April was sufficient punishment.
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