Florida State Seminoles: Andrew Brown

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.

Up next: Defensive line.

Best of the best: Clemson

The Tigers are stacked on the defensive line, returning all four starters plus their top four backups from a season ago. Easy to see why Clemson gets the nod over the Seminoles -- sheer experience alone. Clemson has the best returning lineman in the league -- and one of the best in the nation -- in Vic Beasley, who had 13 sacks and 23 tackles for loss a year ago. His backup, Shaq Lawson, had 10 tackles for loss. That is more than anybody Florida State returns. So not only does Clemson have a group that is active behind the line, it has good depth, too, which should keep everybody fresh and make for one of the best line rotations in the country. If this group can live up to expectations, the Tigers have a chance to be one of the best groups in the entire country.

Next up: Florida State

If there is one constant in the ACC, it is a rock solid, dominant defensive line at Florida State. Five defensive linemen have been drafted over the past two years and another, Mario Edwards Jr., is rated as a top 5 defensive end among all underclassmen. There is no doubt the Seminoles are talented once again, but they do need to rebuild some depth across the entire line and may even rely on more linebackers to help out with the pass rush in 2014. Freshmen also will factor into the mix, as the Seminoles signed seven defensive linemen to help make up for some of the losses. Players such as Edwards, Eddie Goldman and Chris Casher are set to be the standouts on this group, but the Noles will need some unproven players to step up to keep the championship-level quality of the defensive line going.

Possible sleeper: Virginia

The Hoos have to replace two starters, but there is growing expectation for the line to be improved over a year ago. Eli Harold returns at defensive end after racking up 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss a year ago, and has received early consideration as a potential All-ACC candidate. Mike Moore, slated to start at the other end position, was one of the defense's most improved players during the spring. Then, of course, there is incoming true freshman Andrew Brown, one of the top-rated players in the class of 2014 with an opportunity to make an immediate impact at tackle. Brown enrolled early and participated in spring practice. Though he battled through a bit of an injury, he is still in the mix to win a starting job.

Problem for a contender: North Carolina.

The Tar Heels have to rebuild along the front again, after losing starters Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson. Martin leaves behind the gaping hole, after racking up 11.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss, along with 14 hurries a year ago. Even with Martin getting into the backfield, North Carolina ranked last in rushing defense, so there is no doubt this group has to make major improvements up front. Among the ends, only Junior Gnonkonde returns as a consistent contributor, with Jessie Rogers and redshirt freshman Dajaun Drennon in the mix. There is more depth at tackle than at end, though, so North Carolina will no doubt be growing up its ends in a hurry to make up for Martin's departure.

Previous previews:

Analysis of ACC awards polls

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

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

ACC offensive player of the year

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

ACC defensive player of the year

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

ACC offensive rookie of the year

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

ACC defensive rookie of the year

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

ACC coach of the year

Results: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State (40), Dabo Swinney, Clemson (26), Other (22), Larry Fedora, North Carolina (7), Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh (5).
Analysis: The safe bet in the conference is to go with Fisher or Swinney. The two have Clemson and Florida State in a league of their own within the ACC. Both are coming off BCS bowl wins but have holes to fill on their 2014 teams. Swinney needs to overcome the losses of his starting quarterback, running back and star receiver. Fisher loses defensive leaders Jernigan, Joyner and Telvin Smith. I thought Fedora would receive more votes, considering the Heels are one of the favorites to win the division.
AthlonSports was the latest publication to release a preseason All-ACC team, joining Phil Steele from a week ago. We already broke down Steele's teams, but now that we have multiple forecasts to look at, it's worth checking out some trends and differences.

The one similarity that jumps out immediately is that North Carolina's Marquise Williams is Athlon's second-team quarterback, just like he was Steele's. As we said last week, this could very well turn out to be the case, but the fact that Williams remains engaged in a highly competitive quarterback race with Mitch Trubisky speaks to just how much uncertainty there is at the position throughout the ACC.

Duke's Anthony Boone is the third-team quarterback on both teams, while Athlon has Clemson's Cole Stoudt as its fourth-team quarterback. (Steele had Louisville's Will Gardner.)

Athlon does list Pitt's Tyler Boyd as a first-team receiver, along with Florida State's Rashad Greene. Boyd was a second-teamer on Steele's list, which featured Greene, Duke's Jamison Crowder and Louisville's DeVante Parker as first-teamers.

Athlon, however, listed just two receivers per team, and 26 total players per team (11 offense/11 defense/four special teams). Steele listed 28 total players per team (12/12/4).

Boston College's Andy Gallik gets the nod as Athlon's first-team center over Louisville's Jake Smith, who was a first-teamer on Steele's list. FSU's Bobby Hart gets the nod as one of Athlon's first-team tackles over Syracuse's Sean Hickey, who made Steele's first team.

Defensively, the biggest (and only real) difference comes at one of the safety spots, where Athlon has FSU's Jalen Ramsey as a first-teamer and Steele has him as a third-teamer. Duke safety Jeremy Cash made Steele's first team, as did teammate Kelby Brown at linebacker, where Steele had four players per team. (Athlon had three per team. Both Cash and Brown were second-teamers.)

Punter is the only difference on the first-team special teams squad, with Athlon picking Virginia Tech's A.J. Hughes and Steele taking UNC's Tommy Hibbard. Hibbard was on Athlon's second team, while Hughes was on Steele's third team.

Also of note: No Andrew Brown on Athlon's list. The five-star Virginia freshman was on Steele's fourth team at defensive tackle.
It is never too early to make predictions, and with the season less than three months away, we are seeking your input on who you think will win some of the ACC's top honors at season's end.

We continue today with defensive rookie of the year.

CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson. The No. 2 cornerback and No. 4 player overall in the Class of 2013, Alexander was forced to redshirt last season after suffering a groin injury in fall camp. The five-star prospect might have been good enough to start from Day 1, but he should get that chance this fall on a defense that might be as good as any in the league. A veteran line up front should only create more opportunities for Alexander to make a name for himself early.

SportsNation

Who will be the ACC's Defensive Rookie of the Year?

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    36%
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    6%
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    5%
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    33%
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    20%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,164)

DT Andrew Brown, Virginia. The five-star Chesapeake native was the jewel of Mike London's strong 2014 recruiting class, Brown enrolled this spring and, despite missing most of spring practice because of turf toe, has already picked up preseason All-ACC fourth-team honors from Phil Steele. That goes to show just how high expectations are for the the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Brown, who was named Gatorade's national player of the year, becoming only the third non-quarterback/non-running back to win the 29-year-old award.

S Quin Blanding, Virginia. Blanding was another highly-touted recruit London was able to land in this past cycle, as the Virginia Beach native was a five-star prospect and ESPN's No. 10 overall player from the Class of 2014. Blanding did just about everything in high school, including punting at times. Unlike Brown, Blanding did not enroll early, but he'll have a chance to prove his value early in fall camp.

DT Keith Bryant, Florida State. Another redshirt freshman, Bryant came to Tallahassee as a four-star prospect out of Atlantic Community High in Delray Beach, Florida. ESPN's No. 14 defensive tackle was a member of the scout team last season, but the 6-foot-2, 308-pounder could contend for meaningful playing time this season on a roster that remains loaded with talent.

Others: Florida State linebacker Matthew Thomas technically could contend for this award, given the medical redshirt he received after undergoing shoulder surgery after four games last season. Four-star defensive end Chad Thomas is Miami's highest-rated defensive recruit, and four-star end Kentavius Street could provide an immediate boost to NC State after the Wolfpack's 3-9 campaign last season.
If you're a big college football fan (and if you're reading this, it is safe to assume that you are), then you probably get excited every summer for the release of Phil Steele's preseason magazine. Luckily for all of us, Steele released his preseason All-ACC teams on Wednesday, giving us an early look at who he thinks will stand out in the league in 2014.

There are, of course, the usual suspects on the first team -- Jameis Winston, Duke Johnson, Vic Beasley, et al. But the interesting wrinkles usually come further down the list. In this case, the second team presents plenty of surprises and room for debate, along with a looming uncertainty about the conference as it enters 2014.

North Carolina's Marquise Williams is the second-team quarterback, with Steele presumably seeing Williams building off his strong performance down the stretch last season with the Tar Heels. Williams might very well be that good, and he’ll likely need to be if UNC wants to make a Duke-like leap this year and win the Coastal Division. But Williams also exited the spring in a battle with Mitch Trubisky for his starting job, and there is no clear ending to that race in the immediate future.

Speaking of Duke, Anthony Boone is the third-team quarterback. Louisville's Will Gardner is the fourth-team QB, which might also sound like a stretch, but again underscores just how little experience returns at the quarterback position throughout the league this year.

The placing of Pitt's Tyler Boyd on the second-team might be eye-opening at first, but it is hard to argue against the first-team receivers: Florida State's Rashad Greene, Duke's Jamison Crowder and Louisville's DeVante Parker. That is a position with no shortage of star power in the league.

Elsewhere, Seminoles safety Jalen Ramsey is on the third team following an impressive freshman season with the national champions. His quick adjustment to the college game after arriving to Tallahassee as ESPN's No. 14 overall player in the nation suggests that he could find himself on the first team when all is said and done this season.

Also of note is Virginia prized five-star freshman defensive tackle Andrew Brown debuting on the fourth team.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 3, 2014
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Lots of injuries, not a lot of quarterbacks ...

ACC's lunch links

March, 10, 2014
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The madness is almost ready to begin.

Manziel or Winston? Prospects weigh in

December, 29, 2013
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- There are many topics of conversation among prospects playing in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Game. One of them centers around the past two Heisman Trophy winners.

On Saturday, upon checking in for the prestigious game, a number of prospects weighed in on a hot topic involving Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Florida State's Jameis Winston.

If they had to choose between the two, who would the players take as their college quarterback? Here are their responses:

[+] EnlargeMarlon Humphrey
Courtesy of IntersportNo. 9 overall prospect Marlon Humphrey likes how Johnny Manziel makes others around him better.
Five-star cornerback Marlon Humphrey (Hoover, Al./Hoover High): Ah man, I think I’m going to have to go with Johnny Manziel. I just feel like he kind of made a team out of nothing. Jameis Winston is a great quarterback too, but he doesn’t have the scrambling skills that Manziel has. This year, you could tell that his teams defense wasn’t that good, the players around him weren’t as good, but he kept making his team better. He’s has the fight in him I would want on my team.

Florida commit and No. 20-ranked Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central High): I would say Jameis Winston. He’s really a pure quarterback, and I think he sets up things more for a running back than Johnny Manziel does.

Auburn running back commit Racean Thomas (Oxford, Al./Oxford High): I would probably pick Jameis Winston. The reason behind that is because he is more of a leader for a young quarterback, and I think he can make his team a more mature team. I really think he would be a great quarterback to play with.

Florida wide receiver commit and No. 28 Ermon Lane (Homestead, Fla./Homestead Senior High): Whew, I don’t know. I think Jameis Winston. I look at how both of them played as a freshman, and I like how Jameis Winston leads his team. He is also more pro-ready than Manziel.

Texas defensive end commit and No. 78-overall Derick Roberson (San Antonio, Texas/William J. Brennan High): I guess I would say Johnny Manziel. I like how he plays with his swagger and confidence the most, so I would probably say him.

Notre Dame commit and No. 76-ranked Tyler Luatua (la Mirada, Calif./La Mirada High): I would take Manziel just because of the way he plays. If he doesn’t have a wide receiver open, he can make plays himself. He can get the ball to his players if and when he wants to, but can also do it on his own when he needs to.

No. 38 overall John Smith (Long Beach, Calif./Long Beach Polytechnic High School): That’s a hard one. As of right now, I would go with Jameis Winston. Overall, he’s a great player. I think Winston has an awesome football IQ. Johnny had his year too, but I think Winston is just a great player. Outstanding.

Dylan Sumner-Gardner: Jameis Winston, man. I feel comfortable with Jameis Winston as my quarterback because he’s smart and accurate. Johnny is accurate too, but Johnny is Johnny. How he runs around, people may get nervous. I would just feel more comfortable with Jameis as my quarterback.

No. 22 overall Laurence Jones (Monroe, La./Neville High): That’s a hard one right there. Let me think ... maybe Johnny Manziel because I don’t think I’ve ever seen a white boy get down like that. It would have to be Johnny Manziel.

Penn State wide receiver commit Chris Godwin (Middletown, De./Middletown High): I think Jameis Winston. I think overall he’s a better passer. I want a quarterback back there that can get me the ball on a consistent basis, but Johnny Manziel is a great player, too. I’m actually a big fan of both of them.

Five-star and Virginia defensive tackle commit Andrew Brown (Chesapeake, VA
Oscar Frommel Smith High)
: Dang, that’s a good question, man. I would go with Jameis Winston. His leadership qualities, coming in as a freshman and doing the things he is doing is definitely uncommon. It just foreshadows what he is going to do in the future, too. He’s already established a great foundation for himself, and I would definitely take him in the future.

Maryland commit Will Ulmer (Washington, D.C./Saint John’s High): I’m going with Johnny Manziel. I think he’s more dynamic, and more of a game-changer. Jameis Winston is a great quarterback too, but you have to think about all the dudes he has around him at FSU -- all the great receivers and good running backs. I would go with Manziel because if you put him on the Florida State team, or a stacked team like that, it would be a scary sight.

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 26, 2013
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Come chat with AA today at 4 p.m. ET!

ACC recruiting storylines: Dec. 19 

December, 19, 2013
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The holiday season is fast approaching, and with it, so too is national signing day.

ACC programs are scrambling to firm up their commitment lists and add to them as well. Here are a few top storylines for the conference:

Under Armour game storylines: ACC 

December, 5, 2013
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The rosters are set, plane tickets purchased and coaching staffs assembled. The 2014 Under Armour All-America Game is less than a month away.

Deshaun Watson
Courtesy of IntersportDeshaun Watson could be the starter from Day 1 at Clemson.
With nearly all of the country’s elite prospects all together, there are bountiful storylines leading up to and during the Jan. 2 game in St. Petersburg, Fla. Here are five for ACC fans:

1. Will Deshaun Watson follow the footsteps of Jameis Winston and Christian Hackenberg? Both Winston and Hackenberg were the No. 1 quarterbacks in their respective classes and played in the Under Armour Game. Both then went on to have great freshman seasons (Winston after a redshirt year) and have their teams in position to make waves on a national level the next few seasons. Watson (Gainesville, Ga./Gainesville) is the No. 1 quarterback for 2014 and will enter a similar situation to Hackenberg’s. Clemson will have an opening at quarterback in 2014, and Watson will enroll at Clemson following the game. He will have to beat out 2012 Under Armour All-American Chad Kelly, but there is a legitimate chance Watson could be the starter from Day 1 for the Tigers. He is that good.


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ACC's lunchtime links

November, 20, 2013
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Happy Wednesday.

Weekend recruiting wrap: ACC 

November, 18, 2013
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Miami was active with recruiting for its offensive line this weekend, while Florida State hosted one of its top targets on an official. Also, Duke and Virginia Tech each landed recruits for their 2015 class, and Maryland rebounded in a big way.

Biggest offer: If there is one thing Wisconsin does consistently well, it's produce offensive linemen. With that in mind, the Miami Hurricanes have offered one of the Badgers' commitments, George Panos (Hartland, Wis./Arrowhead). At 6-foot-5, 312 pounds, Panos isn't necessarily a prototypical guard for most programs, but his big size would give any offensive line some extra beef. Panos has been committed to the Badgers since April, but has also taken an official visit to NC State. Other schools that have offered him include Arkansas, Florida State, NC State, Nebraska and Pittsburgh.


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Questions for signing day: ACC 

November, 12, 2013
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It is a chicken or the egg argument. Has the SEC ruled college football for much of the last decade because the conference annually places five or more teams among the top 10 of the recruiting rankings? Or is the SEC’s recruiting dominance a result of seven straight national championships?

The ACC, though, could be the David to the SEC on the field and in recruiting. In the 2014 cycle, two ACC schools have top-five classes. Will that remain the same come signing day?

We look at that question and nine others as we examine the most pressing ACC recruiting questions leading up to signing day.

1. Will FSU and Miami remain in the top five of the class rankings?
Both classes are close to completion, so it could be tough for the Noles and Canes to finish in the top five of the rankings. Alabama is at No. 1 and could end up running away with another recruiting title. The rest of the SEC will charge hard come signing day, too. Tennessee should be a safe bet to finish in the top five, and programs such as Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss and more could break into the exclusive group come February. Tennessee recently jumped both schools, pushing Florida State to No. 3 and Miami to No. 4.

2. Can Miami surpass Florida State for the ACC’s top class?
If both were to fall out of the top five, there is still some pride in finishing with the top class in the conference. The Noles are ahead of the Canes at the moment, and it will be tough for the Canes to jump FSU. It looks as if Miami has two spots left and should finish with Johnnie Dixon and Anthony Moten. But the Noles could sign more than 30, and some of the country’s truly elite prospects have Florida State among their finalists. It looks doubtful that Miami -- or any ACC team -- will catch and pass Jimbo Fisher’s class.

[+] EnlargeLorenzo Featherston
Courtesy of IntersportESPN 300 DE Lorenzo Featherston is a Clemson lean whose pledge would help the Tigers close strong.
3. Will Clemson finish in the top 10?
Sitting at No. 12 in the rankings, the Tigers have a good chance to finish in the top 10 and even an outside chance to crack the top seven. Defensive end Lorenzo Featherston (Greensboro, N.C./Page) is No. 27 in the ESPN 300 and a Clemson lean. It would be a surprise to see him land anywhere but with the Tigers. Cornerback D.J. Smith (Marietta, Ga./Walton), No. 88 in the ESPN 300, also looks to be leaning Clemson’s way, and the same could be said for defensive end Andrew Williams (McDonough, Ga./Eagles Christian Landing), No. 168 in the rankings. The prize of the defensive class would be five-star inside linebacker Raekwon McMillan, however. He is slated to visit officially later this month, and the No. 12 player and top linebacker in 2014 has the Tigers among his top three.

4. Can Pitt close out with three of its four Western Pennsylvania targets?
For Pitt’s class to be considered a success, Paul Chryst needs to do just that. The Panthers are struggling some with Pittsburgh-area prospects in 2014, but the same happened in 2013 before Pitt landed Dorian Johnson and Tyler Boyd. In February, the Panthers hope to land Dravon Henry (Aliquippa, Pa./Aliquippa), Alex Bookser (Pittsburgh/Mt. Lebanon), Montae Nicholson (Monroeville, Pa./Gateway) and Shai McKenzie (Washington, Pa./Washington); Henry, Bookser and Nicholson are all in the ESPN 300 and have Pitt among their finalists. Henry is a Pitt legacy. Bookser looks to be focused on Ohio State and Pitt; Nicholson will decide in December and is projected to Pitt.

5. Will Duke sign an ESPN 300 prospect?
The Blue Devils have never signed an ESPN 150 or ESPN 300 prospect since the rankings began almost a decade ago. That was going to change in 2014 with quarterback Nicodem Pierre (Miami/Coral Reef), but the dual-threat dropped from the ESPN 300 in October. However, Trevon Lee (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./Cardinal Gibbons) could be leaning Duke’s way with the Blue Devils on a roll this season. With a guaranteed winning regular season -- their first in nearly two decades -- Lee is thinking hard about Duke. Academics are big for the 241st-ranked player, so a decision could come down to Duke and Vanderbilt.


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Best ACC recruiters 

October, 15, 2013
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video
Editor's note: For a look at the national recruiter power rankings based only on Class of 2014 success, click here.

The best head coaches are often called the closer when it comes to sealing the deal with recruits. Whether on a visit or a trip to a prospect’s home, the head coach is called upon to secure the signature.

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