Florida State Seminoles: Aaron Donald

Reviewing the ACC pro days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.
Aaron Donald of Pitt and Timmy Jernigan of Florida State were the two best defensive tackles in the ACC last season. But there has been some disagreement about who will make a better NFL prospect.

For months, Jernigan was rated higher than Donald on draft boards. But in his latest mock draft Insider, ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. has Donald going ahead of Jernigan for the first time. Kiper slots Donald at No. 14 to the Bears, while he predicts Jernigan will land at No. 16 to the Cowboys. In his previous mock draft, Kiper did not list Donald Insider at all.

So that leads to Monday's topic: Who will get drafted first: Donald or Jernigan? ACC reporters Andrea Adelson and Heather Dinich weigh in.

[+] EnlargeDonald
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesPitt DT Aaron Donald has done plenty to raise his draft stock since season's end.
Adelson says: Dominating Donald

So Kiper and the other draft experts are finally clueing in to what the rest of us have known for quite some time: Donald is the most dominant inside player available in the draft. Therefore, he must go ahead of Jernigan come May.

That all sounds simple enough, but nothing has come simply or easily for Donald. Overlooked for a majority of his career, Donald finally grabbed headlines with his thoroughly impressive senior season, winning every single major defensive player of the year award in college football. And yet, he was routinely knocked in early draft evaluations for his size.

While it is true Donald does not meet the ideal size requirements for a defensive tackle, it also is true that Donald does not play like most defensive tackles. His size (6-1, 285 pounds), has rarely been a big part of his game. He relies on his quick hands and overall speed to allow him to get past many linemen at the point of attack. Donald clocked a jaw-dropping 4.68 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine.

He might not weigh 300 pounds, but he is strong and powerful. He had 35 reps on the bench press at the combine, ranking second among all defensive linemen. His propensity for lifting began at age 12, when his father showed him what to do in the family weight room.

Beyond the physical tools, Donald has got a few intangibles that make scouts notice. Donald never ever quits on a play. His work ethic, and time dedicated to watching tape, also make him stand out.

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Donald is no dummy. He has heard the knocks about his size since he went largely unrecruited out of high school. Pitt was the only BCS school to offer him a scholarship. So to put the questions about his size to rest, he decided to work harder than everyone, get stronger than everyone, and focus on the unique skill-set that would allow him to dominate at his position.

Even still, those tired old questions followed him after a monstrous senior season at Pitt. But they have been made moot again after standout performances at the Senior Bowl, NFL combine and Pitt Pro Day. Donald has proven himself over and over and over again. Skeptics have turned into believers every step of the way.

So when May rolls around, it should not surprise anyone to see Donald go ahead of Jernigan.

Dinich says: Game-changing Jernigan

If Kiper’s prediction is right, the Dallas Cowboys can’t go wrong in drafting Jernigan.

If, of course, the Bears don’t draft him first.

Mike Mayock, an analyst for the NFL Network, said the Chicago Bears should “sprint to the podium” if Jernigan is still available for the 14th pick. Right now, that’s where Kiper has Pitt’s Aaron Donald headed.

[+] EnlargeTimmy Jernigan
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTimmy Jernigan was at his best in the Seminoles' biggest games.
It’s like choosing between five-star resorts. Both players are first-class, but while Donald racked up the individual awards and was the best player on an unheralded team, Jernigan separated himself from a cast of stars on the nation’s best team.

“Timmy was one of the leaders on our defense and a big part of our success these past three seasons,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “He was one of the most dominant defensive linemen I’ve been around in all my years coaching.”

Jernigan’s stat line is impressive -- career highs for tackles (63), TFL (11.0) and sacks (4.5) in 14 starts. But it doesn’t completely capture the impact he had as the anchor up front. He wasn’t always the one making the game-changing play, but odds are he had a hand in influencing it.

Jernigan had nine tackles in the BCS national championship win over Auburn – in spite of flu-like symptoms - and a career-high 10 tackles in the ACC title game against Duke. While his NFL auditions haven’t increased his draft stock as much as Donald’s, Jernigan is still talented enough to be the ACC’s highest-drafted defensive tackle.

Last year, Jernigan produced his best numbers in spite of being constantly doubleteamed, and the attention he drew opened up opportunities for Florida State’s linebackers and blitzing corners. His versatility is one of his best attributes, but his strength is stopping the run.

He has the ability to shed offensive linemen and was a big reason FSU’s run defense ranked No. 18 in the country. His technique will only improve, and he already has the strength and size to clog the middle.

“I can play a 3-technique, and when it’s a pass situation and you want to go to a three-man front, you can put me on the nose guard right on the zero,” he said at the NFL Combine, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I can get pressure from the middle. I feel like that’s where my game changes from everyone else.”

The Bears should jump on the chance to let him prove it.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 4, 2014
Mar 4
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Little Dance time!

Players on the rise after combine

February, 27, 2014
Feb 27
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ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay put together a list of their top risers and top fallers after the NFL combine wrapped up earlier this week. Three of the four players mentioned as defensive risers come from the ACC:
ACC fans understand how terrific these players were throughout their careers so it is no surprise they each did well in Indianapolis. But what sticks out the most is the way Donald continually has to prove himself. Not only was Donald a consensus All-American this past season, he won every single major defensive award in the country. And yet, Donald has to continue to fight skeptics because he is considered small to play in the interior in the NFL.

That could all change now that NFL scouts are getting a full appreciation for what Donald can do. ESPN Insider Bill Polian said Donald was one of the most impressive players at the combine. Kiper and McShay write:
Donald has hit the trifecta: great regular season, great Senior Bowl week, great NFL combine. He ran 4.68 and bench-pressed 225 pounds 35 times, and did so at 285 pounds. He could be a mid-first-round pick.

Interestingly enough, his performance may even vault him ahead of more highly-regarded Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, pegged as a first-rounder since he declared himself eligible for the draft. Jernigan has continually had to answer questions about his stamina during the draft process, and then turned in a so-so performance in Indianapolis. Kiper and McShay list him as one of three defensive fallers, writing:
Jernigan didn't have a single area in which he really distinguished himself in terms of the drills, which may lead to some questions about his upside after a fantastic season. I still think he's a first-round prospect, but a guy like Donald could jump him.

Both players have been disruptive forces during their careers, but the combine has been known to send stocks soaring or tumbling. Having said that, the draft is not until May. Both have their pro days to look forward to, and scouts will continue to break down film and ask questions. Many more mock drafts will be released in the days, weeks and months to come.

I still believe Jernigan will be a first-round pick, but it seems there are more believers in Donald today than there were a month ago. What took so long?

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
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There is no offseason ...

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
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Your time-waster of the day: An oral history of the movie “Reality Bites.”

Making history in the ACC

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
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As we turn the page to 2014, it's worth taking a look back at what a truly historic season 2013 was for the ACC. The conference reached several unprecedented milestones that will make 2013 one of the league's more memorable seasons. Just in case you need a little bragging material heading into spring ball ...
  • The ACC became the first conference to have 11 teams with winning records since 1932, when the old Southern Conference was a 24-team league.
  • It was the first time in the league’s 61-year history that three ACC teams ended the regular season with at least 10 wins (Florida State, Duke and Clemson).
  • Duke won 10 games for the first time in school history. The Blue Devils' previous high for victories was nine, originally set in 1933 and matched in 1936, 1938 and 1941.
  • Florida State finished 14-0 for the first time in school history, besting the previous mark of 12-0 set by the 1999 national champions.
  • The ACC became the first conference in history to have a player win the Heisman Trophy (Jameis Winston, FSU), the Doak Walker Award (Andre Williams, BC), the Outland Trophy (Aaron Donald, Pitt), the Nagurski Trophy (Donald), the Lombardi Award (Donald) and the Bednarik Award (Donald) in the same season.
  • Winston became the youngest player in history to win the Heisman Trophy. He was also the first freshman to win the award and lead his team to the national championship in the same season.
  • With FSU’s win over No. 2 Auburn and Clemson’s win over then-No. 7 Ohio State, the ACC led all conferences with three wins over top-10 teams in 2013. The ACC was the only conference with multiple wins over top-10 nonconference teams.

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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The NFL draft combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be held from Feb. 19-25 and will feature workouts, medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews for the 335 invited prospects. The ACC has a total of 46 players who will participate, including at least one player from every school (we included Maryland and not Louisville in this post, because it is from the 2013 season). National champion Florida State led the league with eight players heading to the combine, but UNC was right behind with seven. Don't cry ... you're gonna miss some of these names next year. Good luck to these guys.

Here is the official list of the ACC attendees:

BOSTON COLLEGE (5)
CLEMSON (4)
DUKE (1)
FLORIDA STATE (8)
GEORGIA TECH (2)
MARYLAND (1)
MIAMI (5)
NORTH CAROLINA (7)
NC STATE (1)
PITTSBURGH (3)
SYRACUSE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
VIRGINIA TECH (4)
WAKE FOREST (1)
Some are can't-miss prospects, such as Jameis Winston. The Florida State quarterback was ESPN's No. 1 QB in the Class of 2012, won the Heisman Trophy in his first season as the Seminoles' starter and added a national championship to cap his redshirt freshman year.

Others are not so easy to find.

Andre Williams, who finished three spots behind Winston in the 2013 Heisman Trophy voting, was a two-star prospect in the Class of 2010. All the Boston College running back did this past fall was tally the fifth-highest rushing total in FBS history (2,177 yards).

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Andre Williams
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesAndre Williams and Jameis Winston came from opposite ends of the recruiting spectrum.
With national signing day coming Wednesday, we figured this is a good time to revisit where our All-ACC players stood when they signed with their schools. The results, as usual, offer some surprises.

Just one ESPN.com All-ACC player from this past season entered college as a five-star prospect. Williams was one of two two-star prospects. There were 11 four-star prospects and eight three-star prospects. Two players, both of whom are from the high school Class of 2009, don't have star ratings, as ESPN didn't start using star ratings until 2010. Kickers and punters have no ratings, rankings or grades.

(All rankings and information are from ESPN's Recruiting Nation.)

Offense

  • QB Jameis Winston, Florida State via Hueytown (Ala.) High: Four stars, No. 14 overall prospect, Class of 2012. Scout grade: 84
  • RB: Andre Williams, Boston College via Allentown (Pa.) Parkland High: Two stars, No. 152 RB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 73
  • RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State via Miami Central High: Four stars, No. 15 RB, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson via South Fort Myers (Fla.) High: Four stars, No. 39 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 82
  • WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State via Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas High: Four stars, No. 125 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke via Monroe (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 65 WR, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
  • TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina via Greensboro (N.C.) Smith High: Four stars, No. 8 TE, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 80
  • T: Cameron Erving, Florida State via Colquitt County (Ga.) High: Three stars, No. 83 DT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 76
  • T: Brandon Thomas, Clemson via Dorman (S.C.) High: No. 60 OG, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76*
  • G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke via Chicago Lane Tech High: Three stars, No. 65 OG, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 75
  • G: Tre’ Jackson, Florida State via Wayne County (Ga.) High: Three stars, No. 50 DT, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 78
  • C: Bryan Stork, Florida State via Vero Beach (Fla.) High: No. 45 TE, Class of 2009. Scout grade: 76*
Defense

  • DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson via Adairsville (Ga.) High: Four stars, No. 19 ATH, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 80
  • DE: Kareem Martin, North Carolina via Roanoke Rapids (N.C.) High: Three stars, No. 59 DE, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 80
  • DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt via Pittsburgh Penn Hills High: Four stars, No. 22 DT, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • DT: Timmy Jernigan, Florida State via Lake City (Fla.) Columbia High: Four stars, No. 17 overall prospect, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 84
  • LB: Telvin Smith, Florida State via Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes High: Four stars, No. 107 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 81
  • LB: Kelby Brown, Duke via Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High: Three stars, No. 88 OLB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 75
  • LB: Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College via Stamford (Conn.) The King & Low Heywood Thomas School: Four stars, No. 20 OLB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 79
  • CB: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State via Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Saint Thomas Aquinas High: Five stars, No. 6 overall prospect, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 87
  • CB: Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech via Baltimore Mount St. Joseph High: Three stars, No. 43 CB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 77
  • S: Terrence Brooks, Florida State via Dunnellon (Fla.) High: Three stars, No. 21 CB, Class of 2010. Scout grade: 70
  • S: Anthony Harris, Virginia via Cheesterfield (Va.) Lloyd C. Bird High: Two stars, No. 203 ATH, Class of 2011. Scout grade: 72
Special Teams

  • K: Nate Freese, Boston College via Strongsville (Ohio) High: Class of 2009
  • P: Pat O’Donnell, Miami via Palm Beach (Fla.) Central High: Class of 2009
  • SP: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina via Charleston (W.Va.) George Washington High: Four stars, No. 59 WR, Class of 2013. Scout grade: 80

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
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Enjoy Super Sunday, gang.

ACC's lunch links

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
12:00
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Can't play much better than Duke did Monday.
The ACC's three quarterbacks struggled to get their North squad on the board Saturday, throwing three total interceptions in a 20-10 loss in the Senior Bowl.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
AP Photo/Chris O'MearaMiami QB Stephen Morris completed 10 of 18 passes for 89 yards and two picks at the Senior Bowl.
Clemson's Tajh Boyd, Miami's Stephen Morris and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas combined to go 21 of 39 for 137 yards with no touchdowns. Thomas, who impressed all week down in Mobile, Ala., with his arm strength, threw just five passes, completing four. He was sacked five times for a total loss of 39 yards.

"I don't think I had much time to do anything with it," Thomas said, according to the Associated Press.

The other two quarterbacks managed to stay on their feet but accounted for the trio of turnovers.

Morris completed 10 of 18 passes for 89 yards with two picks. Boyd went 7 of 16 for 31 yards with one interception, adding two rushes for eight yards.

“Just talking to the linemen, they said these guys are kind of quick coming off the ball," Boyd said, according to the AP. "You've got to go out there and try to help those guys out."

One notable bright spot offensively for the ACC was the play of Michael Campanaro, who caught two passes for 11 yards for the North and returned three punts for 24 yards. The former Wake Forest receiver saw his first game action since Nov. 2, when he suffered a broken collarbone in a loss at Syracuse.

The ACC's biggest victory came two days earlier, when on Thursday night Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald added one more line to his résumé, as he was named most outstanding player for the week of practice.

"Donald is a very explosive defensive tackle," Mike Smith, Atlanta Falcons and North team coach, said in a statement. "I've been very impressed with him. He's short in stature by NFL standards and doesn't maybe have all the measurables, but he's one of the more explosive guys we have on the North squad. He's done a very nice job both in the running and the pass game."

Below are ACC player statistics from Saturday. Scouts Inc. lauds a number of ACC players from the week of practice in its superlative post here.


QUARTERBACKS
Stephen Morris, Miami: 10 of 18, 89 yards, 0 TDs, 2 INTs, 0 sacks
Tajh Boyd, Clemson: 7 of 16, 31 yards, 0 TDs, INT, 0 sacks, 2 rush, 8 yards
Logan Thomas, Virginia Tech: 4 of 5, 17 yards, 5 sacks (39 yards)

WIDE RECEIVERS
Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest: 2 catches, 11 yards, 3 punt returns for 24 yards

DEFENSE
Christian Jones, LB, Florida State: 6 tackles
Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State: 5 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss
Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina: 4 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss
Dontae Johnson, DB, NC State: 2 tackles, 0.5 tackles for loss, 1 breakup
Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State: 2 tackles
Jeremiah Attaochu, LB, Georgia Tech: 1 tackle
Jemea Thomas, S, Georgia Tech: 1 tackle

ACC players in the Senior Bowl

January, 21, 2014
Jan 21
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Senior Bowl practices are underway this week, and wouldn't you know it -- scouts have their eyes on the quarterbacks.

That means Stephen Morris, Logan Thomas and Tajh Boyd are firmly in the spotlight this week among featured ACC players participating in the college all-star game, a critical first step in evaluations for the NFL draft in May. Scouts Inc. lists Thomas as the highest rated quarterback among the three and broke down what each has to accomplish this week.

For Thomas: The need to "thrive with an even playing field."

For Morris: More consistency with footwork and ball placement as a passer.

For Boyd: "Show improvement throughout the week with pro-style progressions and anticipation as a pocket passer."

Scouts Inc. also lists Miami offensive tackle Seantrel Henderson and Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses as having the most to prove.

Here is a look at all the ACC players participating in the Senior Bowl, with the game set for Saturday. Boston College running back Andre Williams was invited but pulled out so he can continue to rehab his injured shoulder.

ACC's best of 2013

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
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The ACC spoiled us with great stories in 2013, from Boston College running back Andre Williams’ run at the Heisman, to Duke’s magical season and ending with Florida State’s national title. There were plenty of great games and individual performances, but a few stood out above the rest. Here’s a quick look back at the best of the 2013 season in the ACC:

Best coach: David Cutcliffe, Duke. Cutcliffe, the AFCA’s National Coach of the Year, led the Blue Devils to a 10-4 record, including the ACC Coastal Division title and an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, where Duke and Texas A&M played in the most-watched non-BCS game of the bowl season. He guided Duke to final national rankings in the BCS standings (24th), USA Today/Coaches poll (22nd) and Associated Press poll (23rd). Duke’s 10 wins are the most in school history.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY SportsHeisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston led Florida State to a 14-0 record and a national title.
Best player, offense: Jameis Winston, Florida State. In his first season as a starter, Winston won the Heisman Trophy and led Florida State to its first national title since 1999. He finished his season with 4,077 passing yards and 40 touchdowns, becoming the first freshman in FBS history to reach both marks. It is the second-highest single-season passing yardage total in school history, trailing only Chris Weinke (4,167 yards, 2000).

Best player, defense: Aaron Donald, Pitt. He became the Panthers’ first unanimous All-American since wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in 2003, and the program’s first defensive player to earn unanimous status since legendary defensive end Hugh Green in 1980. Donald led the nation in tackles for loss (2.2 per game), while ranking 10th in forced fumbles (0.33 per game) and 13th in sacks (0.83 per game). Of his 54 total tackles, nearly half have been behind the line of scrimmage (26.5).

Best moment: Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left, leading Florida State to a 34-31 win over No. 2 Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.

Best quote: "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after the 40-35 win over Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, stirring the pot with rival South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

Best play: Florida State’s fake punt: It changed the national championship entirely. Trailing by 18 points, Florida State faced a third-and-4 when receiver Rashad Greene dropped a pass from Winston and the punt unit came onto the field. The Noles caught Auburn snoozing. Karlos Williams took a pitch and ran it for the first down, sustaining a touchdown drive and giving FSU new life.

"We lost momentum in the game, it was 21-3," coach Jimbo Fisher said after the game. "I knew with five minutes to go if they got it back and scored, the game could be over right there before half. I knew we had the ball coming out the second half and we're here to win this thing. We weren't here just to show up and play well. And I thought that's what we had to do to gain the momentum of the game back, and it worked and we got it, went down, got the drive and then got back in the ballgame, and hopefully that's what changed the momentum of the game and got our confidence back.”

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesOhio State couldn't stop Clemson wideout Sammy Watkins in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Best individual performance: Sammy Watkins in the Orange Bowl. He set a school and Orange Bowl record with 227 yards receiving -- tops among all players during bowl season. Ohio State's defensive backs had no answer for him. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Watkins gained 202 yards after the catch, eclipsing his previous career high of 137 yards after catch against Auburn in 2011.

Best game: The VIZIO BCS National Championship. Florida State’s rally from 18 points was the largest in BCS National Championship history, as the Noles battled back from a 21-3 deficit with 5:01 left in the second quarter). The game wasn’t over until FSU scored the game winner with 13 seconds left.

Best regular-season game: Clemson 38, Georgia 35. At the time, this game packed a punch, not only because of the on-field thriller, but also because of what it meant for the league. The ACC finally had the upper hand against the SEC on the big stage in a season opener, and it set the stage for Clemson’s run at the national title. Not only was it a win for the ACC, but the seesaw game lived up to all of the preseason hype and was an instant classic.

Best ACC game: Duke vs. UNC. Cutcliffe was hoisted onto his players’ shoulders and carried off the field in celebration of the Blue Devils’ first Coastal Division title. It was a 27-25 win against their in-state rivals -- on the road -- and was highlighted by DeVon Edwards’ game-sealing interception with 13 seconds left.

Best awards: The ACC won more national individual awards than the other BCS conferences combined. The ACC is the first conference in history to sweep the Heisman, Doak Walker, Davey O’Brien, Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards in the same season.

Best stat: The ACC had three victories over nonconference opponents ranked in the AP top 10, as many as the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC combined.

ACC all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
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Bowl season was kind to the ACC in a few games (Florida State and Clemson won BCS games), not-so-kind in a few others (Miami, Virginia Tech, we're looking at you) and at least one was a little of both (can we get Texas A&M and Duke every year?). But now that it's all over, we're honoring the best individual performances in the ACC with our all-bowl team.

OFFENSE

QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson: The big stage hadn't been kind to Boyd through most of 2013, but on the first day of 2014, he was exceptional. Boyd accounted for 505 yards and six touchdowns in a Discover Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, giving the ACC two BCS bowl game victors.

RB: James Conner, Pittsburgh: The freshman tailback carried 26 times against Bowling Green, blowing past Tony Dorsett for the Pitt bowl game record with 229 yards on the ground. For good measure, Conner chipped in on the defensive line for a few snaps, too.

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State: It wasn't the most spectacular performance of bowl season -- Freeman wasn't even the best running back on the field in the BCS title game -- but his hard running early kept FSU from falling too far behind, and his final tally -- 11 carries for 73 yards and a TD -- helped Freeman become the first FSU running back since Warrick Dunn to top 1,000 yards on the season.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesOhio State wasn't able to catch Sammy Watkins, as the Clemson WR set multiple Orange Bowl receiving records.
WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson: Watkins made his last game in a Clemson uniform one to remember, catching an Orange Bowl record 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns despite battling an injury for half the game.

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke: Ho-hum, another 12 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown for Crowder, who turned in one last stellar performance to cap an exceptional season for the Blue Devils.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State: The Seminoles' dramatic comeback against Auburn in the BCS championship game wouldn't have been possible without Greene's big day. He was the only FSU receiver with positive yardage in the first half of the game, and his 49-yard reception -- he dodged two tacklers and picked up most of that yardage after the catch -- was the key play on FSU's dramatic last-minute, game-winning drive.

TE: Braxton Deaver, Duke: The junior had six catches for 116 yards, including three grabs that went for 25 yards or more and five that went for first downs.

OL: Dorian Johnson, Pitt: The Panthers simply overwhelmed Bowling Green's defensive front in the Little Caesars Bowl, racking up 487 yards of offense, including 255 on the ground. (Ed. note: We mistakenly included Matt Rotherham here in an initial post. Johnson slid from tackle to guard for the game, replacing Rotherham, and the Pitt line didn't miss a beat. We apologize for the error.)

OL: Jon Heck, North Carolina: Cincinnati entered the Belk Bowl second in the AAC in sacks with 35, but the Bearcats couldn't get to UNC QB Marquise Williams, as the Tar Heels' offense racked up 39 points -- the second-most Cincinnati gave up all season.

OL: Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The Blue Devils racked up 661 yards of total offense and 29 first downs against Texas A&M, with the offensive line -- led by Tomlinson -- paving the way for a 300-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher.

OL: Tre' Jackson, Florida State: Yes, the Seminoles' line allowed four sacks in the game, but Jackson and Co. also helped FSU run for more yards per carry (4.8) than the vaunted Auburn ground game and provided Jameis Winston with plenty of time to throw on a dramatic game-winning drive in the final minute.

C: Macky MacPherson, Syracuse: The Orange rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:14 left, to knock off Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. The physically dominant performance on the line was a fitting conclusion to MacPherson's Syracuse career.

DEFENSE

DE: Mario Edwards Jr., FSU: Edwards had one sack and three tackles for loss among his six total tackles for a Seminoles front that turned it up a notch in the second half, allowing the offense to catch up and ultimately escape with the win.

DT: Andre Monroe, Maryland: The Terrapins' finale as an ACC member ended on a sour note with a 31-20 loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. Monroe tied for a game-high with 10 total tackles, three of which went for a loss, one of which was a sack. Monroe added a quarterback hurry as well.

DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt: With one more game to go in a historic season, Donald did not disappoint. The senior closed out his career with two tackles for loss, including one sack, to go with a pass break-up in the Panthers' 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over Bowling Green. Donald's sack came on second down of the Falcons' final drive, all but sealing the win.

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson: Beasley was part of a Tigers front that made life extremely difficult for Braxton Miller and the rest of the Ohio State backfield. Beasley recorded four tackles for loss and a sack among his five total tackles, and in the end Clemson's defense proved to be the difference in a shootout win.

LB: Norkeithus Otis, UNC: The Tar Heels capped their strong second half with a bang, routing Cincinnati 39-17 in the Belk Bowl to make them 6-1 over their last seven games. Otis tallied seven total tackles -- two for loss and one sack among them -- to go with two quarterback hurries.

LB: Jack Tyler, Virginia Tech: UCLA proved to be too much for the Hokies in a 42-12 win in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, but Tyler played well, totaling seven tackles, including half of a sack, to go with one pass break-up and one quarterback hurry.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception was the big break Florida State needed to create in its come-from-behind victory over Auburn in the BCS title game.
LB: Cameron Lynch, Syracuse: The Orange finished a successful first season in the ACC by topping Minnesota 21-17 in the Texas Bowl. Lynch, a junior, tied for a team-high with eight stops, with most of his big plays coming behind the line of scrimmage. He had two tackles for loss, one sack and a forced fumble to help Syracuse go 7-4 after an 0-2 start in coach Scott Shafer's first year.

DB: P.J. Williams, FSU: The defensive MVP from the Vizio BCS National Championship came up huge when it mattered most, picking off Auburn's Nick Marshall early in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown that cut the Tigers' lead to one. Williams finished with seven total tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss.

DB: Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech: Thomas ended his college career with a bang, totaling a game-high 15 tackles. Three of those stops were behind the line of scrimmage, including one sack.

DB: D.J. White, GT: The Yellow Jackets get two more years of White, a future that looked all the brighter in the 25-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. White finished with 13 total tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and three pass break-ups.

DB: Bryce Jones, Boston College: The Eagles' turnaround campaign under Steve Addazio ended on a down note, falling to Arizona 42-19 in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, but Jones was a bright spot, with the sophomore notching a team-high 12 tackles, including one for loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Chris Blewitt, Pitt: Blewitt went 3-for-4 for the Panthers in Detroit, connecting from 25, 28 and, most important, 39 yards with the game-winning kick with 1:17 left in Pitt's 30-27 win.

P: Tommy Hibbard, UNC: Hibbard was phenomenal for the Tar Heels, punting four times for an average of 44.2 yards per boot. He pinned Cincinnati inside its own 20 three different times, and he had a long of 59 yards in the win.

KR: Levonte Whitfield, FSU: At the time, Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown seemed as if it would go down as one of the greatest returns in BCS championship game history. The touchdown gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with 4:31 to play -- but the lead would change twice more before it was over. Whitfield finished the game with 172 return yards.

PR: Ryan Switzer, UNC: The Tar Heels had a huge day on special teams in a Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati, with Switzer -- an All-American -- leading the way, returning his fifth punt of the season for a touchdown.

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