21. Josh Sweat
Role: Defensive end, Florida State
Potential impact: Last season, Florida State had the fourth-worst sack rate of any Power 5 school, mustering just 17 in 14 games. Meanwhile, the run defense has allowed a higher yards-per-carry in each of the past three seasons. Add to that the departure of last year's top two defensive linemen, and there's a gaping need up front without a lot of obvious frontrunners for jobs. If Sweat can rehab the knee and get comfortable in the defense this spring, he could easily challenge for a starting job in fall camp.
22. Stacy Coley
Role: Wide receiver, Miami
Intrigue: When the 2013 season ended, Coley looked like he might be the next big star at Miami. Instead, 2014 was a disaster, and the sophomore finished with just 23 catches for 184 yards and no touchdowns. As Brad Kaaya gets set for his sophomore campaign at QB without veterans Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett to help him out, Coley needs to show he can regain his rookie form and blossom into a weapon once again for Miami.
Potential impact: Injuries and a new QB help explain some of Coley's downfall last season, but his momentous decline in performance remains something of a mystery. Still, there's no ignoring how good he was as a true freshman, and if he can get back to that level of production, Kaaya's development offers a lot of encouragement for just how dangerous the Miami passing attack could be in 2015.
23. Taquan Mizzell
Role: Running back, Virginia
Intrigue: Mizzell arrived at UVA as one of Mike London's most heralded offensive recruits, but after two years on the field, his impact still hasn't been all that significant. He made strides as a sophomore in 2014, but with the departures of Kevin Parks and a host of receivers, Mizzell's all-purpose skill set won't just be a luxury this season. He needs to blossom into a star.
Potential impact: Mizzell was one of just four ACC backs to rack up 250 rushing and 250 receiving yards last season. His 39 receptions were the most in the league by a running back, but his 4.4 yards-per-rush average ranked just 25th among ACC tailbacks. He's clearly a weapon on offense for the Hoos, but Mizzell needs to flash more elusiveness out of the backfield to blossom into a true star.
24. Terrel Hunt
Role: Quarterback, Syracuse
Intrigue: All offseason last year, the talk was that Hunt had developed into a leader, built off his late-season success in 2013 and was ready for a breakout campaign. Then he was tossed from the opener for throwing a punch, struggled through much of the early season, went down with an injury in Week 6 and missed the rest of the season. Without him, however, Syracuse's QB play went from bad to abysmal. So is he still the Orange's best hope or is Scott Shafer better off handing the passing game over to AJ Long or another young QB?
Potential impact: At this point, perhaps we've seen enough of Hunt to get too excited about what he might provide this season, but there's still that glimmer of hope he can put things all together. Coaches still applaud his work ethic, and his athleticism has never been a question. If he can stay healthy and improve his mechanics, he at least offers Syracuse a chance to move the football on offense -- something it wasn't able to do at all once Hunt went down in 2014.
25. Dave Clawson
Role: Head coach, Wake Forest
Intrigue: It's Year 2 for the coach with arguably one of the toughest jobs in college football, and the strides Wake made in 2014 weren't always easy to see. Still, the fact the Demon Deacons played a number of close games was evidence Clawson has his team's attention, and as he gets more and more of his own players in house, there's plenty of curiosity about how far he can take the Deacons in 2015.
Potential impact: Wake isn't going to challenge for a division title, but as the offensive skill positions gain some depth and the line gets stronger, Clawson's vision is beginning to take shape. If the Deacons play with the same tenacity in 2015 that they did last season, they're certainly capable of shaking things up across the ACC and pulling off a handful of upsets.
So as not to overlap with the end-of-the-season ACC awards, these ACC Oscars categories are, for the most part, based on single-game performances. So, while Pittsburgh’s James Conner played the lead role in the league from August to November, it doesn’t guarantee he will go home with any hardware Monday.
Without further ado, let’s open the envelopes.
Coming off one of his worst performances of his career, there was talk of whether Winston would be able to lift the Seminoles past 10-2 Georgia Tech in the ACC title game and into the inaugural College Football Playoff. The week prior, Winston tossed four interceptions against Florida and had an 87.92 rating. He had arguably his best game of the season against the Yellow Jackets, though, in a bounce-back performance. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns in a two-point win. Every toss was on target, and the Seminoles had the right momentum heading into the playoff.
Supporting actor: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman vs. Boston College
Holliman wasn’t a nationally known name among college football fans, which puts him in the supporting actor category. As far as defensive backs, however, Holliman did not play second fiddle to anyone in the ACC. He showed why against the Eagles. He picked off Tyler Murphy on the first play of the game, and he hauled in two more errant Murphy throws in the fourth quarter as the Eagles tried a comeback.
Director: Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables vs. Oklahoma
If there were still any doubters about the Clemson defense before the bowl game, Venables converted them against Oklahoma. The Tigers’ defense was pitching a shutout until late in the fourth quarter, and the unit kept Oklahoma to just 275 yards of total offense in a 40-6 blowout. That performance sparked the Tigers to the No. 1 total defense unit in 2014, and it really was not all that close.
Best picture: The fourth-down play(s) in Notre Dame at Florida State
It looked as if the Seminoles’ playoff hopes were dashed in the final seconds against the Fighting Irish. On a play similar to one the Irish ran in the first half, Everett Golson threw a go-ahead touchdown on fourth down from the FSU 3-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. However, the rare offensive pass interference was called, a decision Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly berated for the next week. Now backed up to the 18-yard line, Golson threw for the end zone but was intercepted. The Irish had a chance to win the game late because earlier on the drive on a fourth-and-18 play, Golson scrambled and found an open receiver, who had to work for the final few yards to get the first down.
Costume design: North Carolina.
I’m a fan of the Carolina blue, so any uniform combination that incorporates that blue hue is going to rule this category. Whether it’s the more traditional UNC uniform or some of the newer looks with the black, the Carolina colors and wardrobe is usually spot on.
After suffering a broken left foot during the preseason, Parker did not haul in his first reception of the season until Oct. 18. He finished that game with nine catches for 132 yards. It turned out that it was one of his worst games of the season as his 14.67 yards per catch average was the lowest of the season. He tallied more than 100 receiving yards five times and caught at least eight passes four times. Against Florida State, he broke the 200-yard mark. In six games, Parker finished with 43 catches for 855 yards and five scores.
Original screenplay: The 2014 Florida State season
This past season for the Seminoles can definitely be considered original. There were not too many seasons like it before and there likely won’t be too many more. It began with the reigning national champions returning some of their most important pieces for a second title run. Shortly after spring practice ended, though, Winston was cited for shoplifting seafood from a grocery store. In the summer, receiver Jesus Wilson was charged with stealing a scooter. Then the season began and the Seminoles had close call after close call. In between was Winston screaming an obscene phrase and being suspended against Clemson, questions whether Winston received money for autographs, the Winston Title IX investigation into an alleged sexual assault and running back Karlos Williams being investigated for a domestic incident. The wins kept piling up, and so did the critics -- about FSU’s play and its handling of off-field issues. The Seminoles still finished undefeated and made the inaugural playoff, but they were blown out in the Rose Bowl.
Visual effects: NC State QB Jacoby Brissett's scrambling touchdown pass vs. Florida State
Looking to expand on their lead over No. 1 FSU at the end of the first quarter, Brissett took a third-down snap and was immediately pressured on a blitz. He spun out of a sack in the pocket and was flushed right. He then gave a stiff arm to a defensive lineman that caused his helmet to pop off, and just as Brissett was about to step out of bounds he fluttered a pass across his body for an 8-yard touchdown to give the Wolfpack a 24-7 lead.
Sound editing: FSU coach Jimbo Fisher after defeating rival Florida 24-19 to finish the regular season undefeated.
Criticized for close wins all season long and sitting behind two one-loss teams in the College Football Playoff rankings, Fisher reminded the selection committee and fans that, ultimately, the goal of football is to win. In his on-field, postgame interview, Fisher said “The object of the game is to win. It’s not figure skating.”
Malik Henry is the top-ranked quarterback in the 2016 class and the No. 3-overall recruit. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound dual-threat player committed to Florida State in November. Here is a look at what makes Henry the top-ranked signal-caller.
When Jimbo Fisher took over for legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 2010, the path to rebuilding a winner wasn’t nearly as tough. The Seminoles had tradition and money and a passionate alumni base, and once Fisher got the right staff in place he made an instant impact on the recruiting trail and won a division title in his first season. Still, by the time he finished the 2012 campaign with FSU’s first ACC championship in seven years, a vocal contingent of the fan base remained dubious that Fisher was the right man for the job. They’d hoped for more, and a 12-2 record was labeled something of a disappointment.
Of course, there’s plenty of room for debate between those two counterpoints, too.
David Cutcliffe took over a Duke program that had spent the previous 15 years as one of the worst teams in the FBS, but he slowly rebuilt the on-field product, pushed for more investment and led the charge for stadium upgrades and now the Blue Devils have played in three straight bowl games. What was once universally considered one of the toughest jobs in college football now looks like a pretty cushy gig.
At Miami, Al Golden is living the alternate side of that story. The Hurricanes were a powerhouse for two decades, but, after an extended dry spell marred by an NCAA investigation, piecing together a consistent winner at Miami has proved to be an arduous project. The Canes have brought in talent, including potentially three first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft, but Golden has just a .500 record in ACC play to show for it, and the fan base is understandably restless.
Places such as Syracuse and Boston College have rich football traditions, but geography makes recruiting a tougher task. North Carolina and Virginia have resources and more fertile recruiting bases, but they’ve combined for just three ACC titles since 1980, and none in the past 20 years.
Deciding on the ACC’s toughest job is really about where the line between expectations and opportunity converge. At places such as Wake and Syracuse, no doubt more legwork is required to simply get to a bowl game. At Florida State and Miami, finding the talent is easy but meeting the lofty expectations that come with it can be a challenge.
It’s fair to say most coaches would prefer the latter problem, of course, and there’s a reason FSU is a destination job while Syracuse is more likely a place to get fired or a steppingstone to a better gig. But sometimes it’s simply about finding the right fit. Cutcliffe has said he hopes never to leave Duke -- a job most coaches would’ve run from screaming a decade ago. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to four straight 10-win seasons, but when he was rumored to be a candidate for the Florida job in December, he didn’t deny he might someday move on from Death Valley for the right opportunity elsewhere. The best jobs are often a matter of perspective, too.
In the end, a great coach finds a way to mine for resources, even in less fertile areas. He wins enough that expectations climb, even in places where winning had been an afterthought for years. At Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer is an institution -- the man responsible for building the program over the course of three decades. That success helped him snag a top-25 recruiting class this year, and it also has the fan base up in arms after three straight subpar seasons.
In other words, it’s not as much about the job as it is about the coach. Clawson hasn’t shied away from the task at hand. Instead, he has embraced the difficulty of winning at Wake Forest. And one year after Fisher was criticized for failing to meet expectations in 2012, he won a national title at Florida State with one of the most dominant teams in recent history.
Every job has its challenges, but the right coach finds a way to meet them regardless.
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Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, who each promised to do the full workout at this year's NFL scouting combine, kept their word Saturday as both quarterbacks went through the paces at Lucas Oil Stadium.
In what will be a constant exercise in comparison shopping until the NFL draft April 30, the best quarterback prospects in this year's class proved they were well prepared for the big stage.
Throwing in the orchestrated drills of the combine to an unfamiliar group of wide receivers, with all dealing with the adrenaline of the moment, often can be a difficult thing for all involved.
But both Winston and Mariota each showed an easy throwing motion and deep-ball accuracy, and competed well in the drills.
Winston's work was given particular attention since concerns arose over some weakness in his throwing shoulder during the extensive medical exam players receive at the combine. In addition to the usual assessment by every team's medical staff that all players at the combine receive, Winston was also sent for an MRI on his shoulder.
Some scouts wondered Friday night whether Winston would still throw, given a player who had his throwing shoulder examined as extensively as he did would likely experience some soreness. But the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner threw as scheduled.
Winston said Friday that he was not concerned about the attention being paid to his shoulder.
"I had an MRI, just like everyone else," the former Florida State star said. "I've been playing football for, since I was 4 years old, and my shoulder has been fine."
Of the top quarterback prospects, only Colorado State's Garrett Grayson
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has undergone specific testing to determine why he is showing weakness in his throwing shoulder that was discovered during the NFL combine medical exams, according to team and league sources.
Sources said Winston underwent electromyography to study a weakness in his shoulder that often can be caused by a nerve problem and can be treated through therapy, if necessary.
No other specifics were provided by the sources. Winston spoke to the media Friday afternoon and said his shoulder is healthy and he plans to throw Saturday.
"I got the same shoulder I done had the last two years at Florida State," Winston said when asked whether he was experiencing any discomfort.
Winston's planned media session Thursday was postponed for medical testing at a nearby hospital, according to a source.
"I had an MRI [on Thursday], just like everyone else," Winston said. "I've been playing football for, since I was 4 years old, and my shoulder has been fine."
It is not unusual for players to have medical concerns re-examined with expansive testing at the combine. Winston not only has played quarterback at Florida State but also was a vital member of the Seminoles' baseball team, primarily as a relief pitcher, and that may have contributed to the extra attention to Winston's shoulder.
"I'm a quarterback, this is actually the first time I've ever just had an offseason just to work on being a quarterback, I've been playing baseball, I was a pitcher, that might be why the shoulder thing, but this is my first time having an offseason," Winston said. "And I love it."
DT Daylon Mack (Texas A&M): Last year it was DE Myles Garrett who made a splash for the Aggies, and Mack is expected to do the same in 2015. While Texas A&M returns some quality young defensive tackles, none has Mack's combination of explosive power and quickness plus the ability to be a disruptive force in the backfield.
S Derwin James (FSU):
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David Cutcliffe has turned around the culture of Blue Devil football, leading his team to three straight bowl games and winning multiple national coach of the year awards in 2013. His hardwood counterpart, of course, is arguably the greatest to ever walk the collegiate sidelines, Mike Krzyzewski.
The real debate comes after the top, as Fox has Louisville and Notre Dame at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. While the jury may still be out on Bobby Petrino's redemption tour after Year 1 back with the Cardinals, his success is likely enough to help lift the Cards to the No. 2 spot, considering Hall of Famer Rick Pitino is his counterpart. The Irish have a nice showing as well, as Brian Kelly is easily the school's best football coach since Lou Holtz and Mike Brey has turned the hoops squad into a consistent tournament team, after years of mediocrity before his arrival.
The legitimacy of the rest of the list is really in the eye of the beholder, especially given the cyclical nature of the ACC's football and men's basketball programs. I, for one, can easily see Virginia Tech moving up from No. 6 in the near future if Frank Beamer can turn things around on the gridiron. And Buzz Williams was definitely a home run hire this year for the hoops program.
I'd probably move No. 11 Clemson a few spots up, and No. 8 Syracuse and No. 10 Pitt could certainly see their profiles grow if their relatively new football coaches can make names for themselves to go with Jim Boeheim and Jamie Dixon.
I'd also put stock in 15th-place Wake Forest, which is in Year 1 of both the Dave Clawson and Danny Manning eras. The Demon Deacons have shown early signs in both regimes that they don't plan on going away quietly, regardless of their limitations.
Here are the rest of your Friday links:
- UNC will meet Georgia in the 2016 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic.
- Congratulations to Duke's David Helton, Georgia Tech's Matt Connors, Louisville's Grant Donovan, Miami's Nantambu-Akil Fentress, and Syracuse's Cameron Lynch and Sam Rodgers on their ACC postgraduate scholarships.
- There's much more to Laken Tomlinson than football, Ben Swanson writes on DenverBroncos.com.
- FSU's Cam Erving shined in the bench press at the combine, Brendan Sonnone writes in the Orlando Sentinel.
- Duke Johnson compared himself to LeSean McCoy and said NFL teams shouldn't overlook him, Andrew Abramson writes in the Palm Beach Post.
The junior class at IMG Academy features a whopping eight prospects in the ESPN Junior 300, headlined by No. 2 Shavar Manuel and No. 3 and Florida State quarterback commit Malik Henry, along with No. 19 Saivion Smith and Florida State commit Isaac Nauta. Add in cornerback Khalil Ladler, outside linebacker Rahshaun Smith, No. 128 and Clemson wide receiver verbal Tavares Chase and Ohio State pledge Tyler Gerald and the quickly growing football program is officially among the nation's elite.
On Monday, RecruitingNation spent a few hours on campus to get the latest.
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2. As DraftWorld descends on Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, there's something that Florida State all-everything wide receiver Rashad Greene said at the Rose Bowl that has stuck with me. "I'm not the biggest guy (6-0, 175), but at the end of the day, size is not what matters," Greene said. "... Right now that seems like what the NFL is more interested in is the look part, having the big guys. You know, I feel like they have their reasons. The NFL is definitely a red zone game, and you need big bodies like that. But I have my strong points that can be very dangerous."
3. The schools that begin spring practice in February have different reasons for doing so. Several start early, take two or three weeks off, and finish with two weeks in April. At Stanford, it has to do with the quarter system. At USC, it's to provide rest to a roster depleted by NCAA scholarship reductions. Curtis Johnson, the head coach at Tulane, provided a couple of more reasons as the Green Wave began practice Wednesday: the earlier the start, the more time for players to focus on end-of-the-semester academics. It also leaves more time for the injured to heal and the healthy to get stronger.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- IMG Academy will undoubtedly have one of the most talented football teams in the country in 2015, including defensive end Shavar Manuel. The nation's No. 2-ranked prospect in the 2016 ESPN Junior 300 has more than 40 scholarship offers to date, including the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Miami (Fla.).
On Monday, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound former Tampa Blake High star provided RecruitingNation with the latest on his recruitment.
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Perhaps it is in the ACC.
Four league teams have opted to open spring football practice this month, more than any other Power 5 conference. That number is double what it was a year ago, when Duke and Boston College opted to start in February.
Miami and Syracuse decided to join them this year. The Hurricanes opened Tuesday while Syracuse made the most dramatic change, moving its first spring practice up three weeks. The Orange open Sunday thanks in large part to their newly completed indoor facility.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe shifted to an early February spring practice start date last year, hoping to capitalize on momentum from its bowl performance. It worked out so well for his team that he has no plans to go back.
Boston College starts Feb. 25 with one practice, then resumes in March after spring break, the same schedule coach Steve Addazio used last year. Addazio wanted to practice a few more days in February this year, but could not alter the schedule after he had to make several coaching hires this month.
Still, the one-day February practice is beneficial because it builds in more time spent working on the team.
“The reason I love it is because I want to have as much time post-spring until the start of the season so if you get an injury, you can get a guy back,” Addazio said. “My whole thing is I want to get spring ball in, I want to see where our team is and really figure out what we’re all about.”
Then there are the recruiting considerations, also a big factor in the earlier start dates.
“Our biggest recruiting time is then,” Addazio said. “We get our recruits to come through during practice, and I love it, they get here and we spend a lot of time with them, that’s where we build our bonds. That’s the early bite that we get, and that’s critical to our recruiting. The earlier our spring practice is, the faster we get a bite into our players.”
Earlier spring practices also allow teams to figure out what positions they need to target on the recruiting trail earlier.
“In years past, we were trying to evaluate our spring practice and our depth chart and recruit at the same time,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. “Now, we’re going to be able to say, ‘Let’s take the first week after spring ball, reevaluate everything we did during the spring, what was good, what wasn’t as good as we needed it to be and then close that chapter and jump full steam ahead into the recruiting process,’ which will help us be a little bit more on targets with who we need to go after. That is another area that’s going to be helpful in our process.”
More teams might follow suit in the near future. Second-year Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson also moved spring practice up three weeks to March 3 now that he is firmly in place with the Demon Deacons and not scrambling around in the first few months of the job.
Clawson said he would consider moving practice into late February next year once the new indoor practice facility is completed.
“When we had our spring game last year the third week in April, our coaches weren’t on the road until early May, and so other coaches in our division who had earlier spring football were out recruiting two weeks before we were, and in a day and age in which kids are committing earlier and earlier and changing their mind later and later, it was a recruiting disadvantage for us to not get out,” Clawson said. “We’d be out evaluating a kid and another school had been there twice before we even saw him.”
For staffs without much coaching turnover, the advantages are there. Makes spring football take on a slightly different meaning.
Spring start dates across the ACC
Duke, Miami already started
Feb. 22: Syracuse
Feb. 25: Boston College
March 1: North Carolina, NC State
March 2: Clemson
March 3: Wake Forest
March 15: Pittsburgh
March 17: Virginia
March 23: Georgia Tech
March 24: Virginia Tech, Louisville
TBA: Florida State
Recapping Florida Opening Regionals
TBD South Carolina North Carolina TBD Duke Tulane TBD Alcorn State Georgia Tech TBD Elon Wake Forest
TBD Maine Boston College TBD Wofford Clemson TBD Texas State Florida St TBD Bethune-Cookman Miami (FL) TBD Troy North Carolina State TBD Youngstown State Pittsburgh TBD Rhode Island Syracuse TBD Virginia UCLA TBD Louisville Auburn