Florida State Seminoles: Duke Johnson
- Here are some highlights from Day 1 at media day with the players.
- Is Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt more than a stopgap?
- Duke is still hungry after its record-setting year in 2013.
- Can any ACC team compete with the Seminoles?
- Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston continues to polarize and electrify college football fans. Is Winston on the hook for two more years?
- Louisville had a whirlwind day.
- Miami running back Duke Johnson and linebacker Denzel Perryman are optimistic about this upcoming season.
- North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams wants to change the basketball school label.
- Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd is motivated by his upbringing.
- Syracuse offensive lineman Sean Hickey was close to leaving for the NFL.
- Virginia safety Anthony Harris is even more comfortable with defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta.
- Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer is fitting in well with the Hokies.
It doesn’t matter if you have started only three games in your career and haven’t played a down since November 2012 -- there is a spot for you on the list.
That said, it’s college football and as ridiculous as these often are, I admit I enjoy looking at them. The watch lists for the Maxwell Award, given to the college player of the year, and Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player, were released Monday. As the season progresses, the list will be pared down before a winner is announced in December.
Here is a look at the ACC players to make the cut and some justification for each player being on the list.
WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: As a freshman last fall, Boyd was as good of a receiver as there was in the ACC. As the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver heading into the 2014 season, Boyd could put up monster numbers and follow in the footsteps of Pitt great Larry Fitzgerald.
WR Stacy Coley, Miami: Much like Boyd, Coley had a strong freshman season and is poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. One of the country’s elite recruits in 2013, Coley could make a national name for himself if he can build a connection with Miami’s quarterbacks, which have struggled with inconsistency and injury.
RB James Conner, Pitt: It’s almost unfair Conner was limited to just the Maxwell watch list Monday considering he is a two-way standout for the Panthers. Conner is already a huge fan favorite in the Steel City for his bruising and relentless running style, and he broke Tony Dorsett’s school bowl-game rushing record in December.
WR Jamison Crowder, Duke: Any time you catch more than 100 passes for more than 1,300 yards, you deserve to be on this list.
RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Johnson’s inclusion here is a credit to how dominant he was before the injury against Florida State and how woeful Miami looked after. If he can stay healthy, Johnson has the potential to be an elite back nationally.
WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: As the Cardinals’ leading returning receiver and now in Bobby Petrino’s offense, Parker should light up stat sheets this coming season.
WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Seminoles’ receivers, but none of it includes Greene, who led the Noles in receiving in 2013. With Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in the NFL, Greene will be looked upon to bail out Jameis Winston this fall.
QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: Speaking of Winston, the Maxwell is about the only thing he did not win last season. Another spectacular season and it will be hard to ignore him again.
RB Karlos Williams, Florida State: Similar to Brissett, this is a bit of a projection pick, although Williams has done significantly more than Brissett. Williams was the third-string running back in 2013, but with his five-star talent base coupled with a senior-laden offensive line and Williams could set records in his final season in Tallahassee.
Reaction: While Brissett is obviously a surprise, overall it is hard to argue with much of the list. Williams' inclusion might be pushing it a little bit, although he certainly could be one of the best running backs in the country with his blend of size and speed. It's a positive sign for the ACC that several underclassmen are on the list, including special playmakers Boyd, Coley and Conner, who will all be true sophomores this fall. The biggest question is whether Winston will win the award if he performs the way most expect him to as a redshirt sophomore. AJ McCarron won the award last season over Winston, who was a semifinalist along with Johnny Manziel. Winston's off-the-field issues might have played a role, so it would be interesting to see if the Maxwell Award will continue to take those incidents into account.
LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl win against Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception.
DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: A semifinalist for the award last season, Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields. If he can show a little more consistency, he might win the award in 2014.
DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant impact player for the Blue Devils a season ago following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season.
DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national championship. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Bednarik.
DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best.
DE Eli Harold, Virginia: Last season he finished sixth in the ACC with 15 tackles for loss, an impressive number. He could see his numbers improve drastically with five-star Andrew Brown now at defensive tackle.
DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech.
DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best.
DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the year.
LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but is as talented as they come.
DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, North Carolina: Otis is another player poised to possibly gain national recognition and it begins with his inclusion on this list. He had a very strong junior season with 6.5 sacks.
LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes’ defenses. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall.
CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list.
Reaction: It was surprising Darby's name was not included on the list despite missing the spring. He could be the first cornerback taken in the NFL draft next year. The ACC is home to some of the country's best defensive backs with Williams, Fuller and Harris. Beasley is certainly one of the favorites coming into the season, but he was shut down by Florida State last season and will need to rebound against the Seminoles to make a push for the Bednarik as a senior. His sack numbers should be impressive once again, and if he can perform on the big stages, it might be the little extra that wins him the award this season. FSU's Edwards could be the best defensive lineman in the ACC and the country if he plays like he did against Auburn all season. What could hurt Edwards is he will not always be in a position to pile up sacks and tackles even when he is dominating opposing offensive linemen.
Previous installments of this series can be found HERE.
Next up: The running game
Best of the best: Florida State
There's plenty of competition for the top spot, but we're giving the edge to FSU's revamped ground game in spite of the losses of Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. While the Seminoles said goodbye to two of their top runners, they return a senior-laden offensive line that has opened holes to the tune of 5.6 yards-per-carry last season, as well as a dynamic (if inexperienced) group of ball carriers. At the top of the depth chart, Karlos Williams tallied 730 yards and 11 TDs last season in a limited role, and his size/speed combination makes him as tough to bring down as any runner in the country. Behind him, Ryan Green and Mario Pender offer speedy alternatives, while true freshman Dalvin Cook oozes potential and could emerge as FSU's No. 2 option. Jimbo Fisher has made a point of distributing carries in recent years, so expect all four to see plenty of work.
Next up: Miami
It's easy enough to make a case for Georgia Tech (300 rush yards per game last year), Louisville (veteran offensive line and deep backfield) or Pitt (two 700-yard tailbacks returning), but we'll give the slight edge to Miami because there may be no more dynamic or productive runner in the conference than Duke Johnson. True, Johnson is coming off a severe ankle injury that cost him the final five games of 2013, but he's back and feeling good already, and he promises to be the foundation of the Canes' offense. With a healthy Johnson in the backfield last season, Miami averaged 5.4 yards per carry -- which would've been good for 13th nationally and third in the ACC.
Possible sleeper: North Carolina
Against FBS foes last season, North Carolina mustered a mere 148 yards per game on the ground -- good for 11th in the ACC. But that doesn't mean the ground game won't be a strength for the Tar Heels in 2014. In the early going, UNC mustered a meager 2.8 yards-per-carry and six TDs in its first seven games of the year (in which the Heels finished 2-5). After the calendar flipped to November, however, North Carolina's ground game flourished, averaging 5.1 yards-per-carry and scoring 13 times, while helping the Heels to a 5-1 finish. Now, T.J. Logan is back to lead a particularly deep corps of runners, and Marquise Williams is as good a threat to run as any QB in the league. If the offensive line can hold up, North Carolina's ground game should be vastly improved in 2014.
Potential problem: Virginia Tech
The Hokies' backfield was a disaster last season. Set aside the work of now-departed QB Logan Thomas, and the running backs tallied a mere 3.98 yards-per-carry last season and managed just 11 third-down conversions. Against FBS teams, Tech managed just 2.88 yards-per-carry, the ninth-worst mark in the nation. The eight teams that were worse had a combined record of 18-79. Now the Hokies add a first-year starter at quarterback, and the situation looks even more dire.
That’s good news for Miami fans, of course, although Johnson said he’s still toying with future rehab plans to help build strength in the ankle.
It goes without saying that Johnson is an integral part of the Hurricanes’ 2014 hopes, and perhaps no other offensive player in the ACC is as important to his team.
While healthy last season, Johnson accounted for 27 percent of Miami’s total offense and 58 percent of its rushing yards. Only Heisman finalist Andre Williams accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s rushing yards in the ACC.
More importantly, Miami’s ground game fell apart without Johnson. Before the injury, the Hurricanes averaged 5.4 yards per carry and ran the ball 37 times a game. After the injury, they mustered a mere 3.6 yards per rush and ran just 28 times per game. Total offense for Miami dipped nearly 80 yards per game without Johnson, and, of course, the Canes lost four of six games in which Johnson wasn’t healthy and on the field the whole time.
Add all that to a messy quarterback situation this fall, and even Johnson understands what it all means.
“Even if [injured quarterback Ryan Williams] was here, I’d do the same thing and put the pressure on myself, take the pressure off of him,” Johnson said. “Because that’s just what I do.”
- Luther Campbell — a.k.a. Uncle Luke — weighs in on recruiting wars and NCAA rules with the Miami New Times.
- Former Clemson DB Darius Robinson got an up-close feature on Al Jazeera America because of his role in the O’Bannon lawsuit agains the NCAA, writes The Post and Courier.
- Georgia Tech’s marketing strategy was singled out — and not in a good way — during the O’Bannon trial last week, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- It was a rough week on the recruiting trail at NC State, with Dave Doeren missing out on a handful of key targets, writes Backing the Pack.
- SB Nation has an interesting look at the new kings of college football by tracking the 15 teams that have won at least 100 games since 2003. Two ACC teams make the cut — but it’s noteworthy that they appear headed in opposite directions at the moment.
- If you missed this last week, Sports Illustrated digs into the math (and geography) of why the Big Ten was so eager to poach Maryland from the ACC.
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
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.
Everyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention to college football in the past year already knew this was true to some degree, but Mel Kiper Jr.'s latest rankings by position this week has made it increasingly obvious.
Kiper broke each position into two groups — graduating seniors, and underclassmen who could leave school after this fall. Jameis Winston led the underclassman quarterback group, though he has plenty of fine-tuning to do between now and next spring, as our Jeffri Chadiha notes in an interesting piece looking ahead to some potential top quarterback picks in the 2015 draft.
Two of Winston's underclassman teammates also check in favorably, with Mario Edwards listed at "5A" among defensive ends and Eddie Goldman listed at No. 3 among defensive tackles. The opening blurb describing Goldman is telling, with Kiper writing: "Another in the endless line of talent rolling through Tallahassee lately … "
Karlos Williams, meanwhile, is Kiper's No. 2 senior running back.
Other ACC players have impressed Kiper as well, with Clemson's Grady Jarrett checking in as the No. 4 senior defensive tackle and Miami's Duke Johnson listed as the "No. 5A" underclassman running back. But if the last name mentioned in the underclassmen quarterback category is any indication — that would be former FSU (and current Alabama) quarterback Jacob Coker, who has zero career college starts — that line of talent rolling through Tallahassee lately really is on another level.
We'll start today with offensive player of the year.
Jameis Winston, R-So., Florida State: The reigning winner of this award has to enter 2014 as the favorite to do it again. The quarterback for the defending national champions and the likely preseason No. 1 team, Winston is coming off a redshirt freshman season in which he threw for 4,057 yards with 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, winning the Heisman Trophy.
RB Duke Johnson, Jr., Miami: In just more than seven games last season, Johnson ran for 920 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. The dynamic back was the engine that made the Hurricanes' offense go, something that became all the more evident after he suffered a broken right ankle in a loss at Florida State. With Johnson, Miami was 7-1 and averaged better than 36 points per game. Without him, the Hurricanes were 2-3 and averaged less than 30 points per game. As long as he's healthy, Johnson should be right in the thick of this race throughout 2014.
WR Jamison Crowder, Sr., Duke: Perhaps no player means more to his team than Crowder does to the Blue Devils. He was targeted on 37 percent of Duke's passes last season, catching 108 balls for 1,360 yards and eight touchdowns, as he helped lead the way to a Coastal Division title. With quarterback Anthony Boone back throwing him passes again, Crowder stands to have a strong senior season for a Duke team that shouldn't be sneaking up on anyone anymore.
WR DeVante Parker, Sr., Louisville: The biggest question marks surrounding Parker's candidacy are obvious ones: How will he fare without first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater throwing him the ball? How will he perform for new coach Bobby Petrino and staff? How will he adjust to stiffer competition in the ACC? If Parker's 55-catch, 885-yard, 12-touchdown season from 2013 is any indication, the answers will probably be positive ones for the Cardinals senior, whom the program is already touting as it enters the ACC era.
Others: Pitt's Tyler Boyd made a splash as a rookie last season and will only get better. Rashad Greene is set to get more targets after losing two of his fellow FSU receivers. And, of course, Winston won this award last season in his first year playing, meaning that there could be a new face in the ACC who makes an immediate splash. Be sure to share your thoughts.
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.
Week 12 schedule
Saturday, Nov. 15
- Florida State at Miami
- Clemson at Georgia Tech
- Virginia Tech at Duke
- Wake Forest at NC State
- Pitt at North Carolina
Why you should come along: Sure, a bit of the luster has worn off this rivalry in recent years, but last November's top-10 matchup between the Seminoles and Hurricanes -- both undefeated at the time -- was a perfect reminder of what this game can be when both teams are playing well. The teams traded punches on the scoreboard early, then traded a few more late in the game when shoving matches broke out between the longtime rivals. Jameis Winston had another strong performance for the Seminoles, while Duke Johnson provided the Hurricanes with a lifeline until he went down with an injury that ended his season. "College GameDay" was on campus, and the matchup ended with controversy as a Miami radio broadcaster put out a bounty on Florida State players. In other words, it was just like old times.
As we wind down the 2014 schedule in mid-November, it might be a lot to ask for this year's showdown to be another top-10 matchup of undefeated teams, but it should still be plenty of fun.
Jimbo Fisher has yet to lose to Miami during his four-year tenure, and the defending national champs certainly aren’t interested in ending that streak. Miami, on the other hand, made some major strides toward regaining its national prominence last season, but Al Golden & Co. know they’ll need to knock off the Seminoles before they can make a strong case to be taken seriously as a playoff contender.
But the beauty of this game is that none of the outside circumstances really matter that much once the action kicks off. Even if FSU stumbles in one of its early showdowns against Clemson, Notre Dame or Louisville, or even if Miami regresses from last season's success, the bottom line is that it will be two longtime rivals, two teams that flat-out dislike one another, battling it out as if a national title is on the line. And who knows -- maybe for the second consecutive year, it will be.
Besides, who's going to argue with a mid-November weekend in South Beach?
With that in mind, here’s a quick look at the top returning players in the ACC this upcoming season, based on their stats from 2013. (Last year’s ACC ranking in parentheses.)
1. Jameis Winston, FSU - 4,057 (1st)
2. Anthony Boone, Duke - 2,260 (6th)
3. David Watford, Virginia - 2,202 (9th)
Of note: The turnover at the quarterback position has already gotten its share of press, but it’s almost impossible to overstate how green the QBs across the ACC will be in 2014. Of the 23 players who passed for at least 250 yards in 2013, only seven will be back in 2014. Watford, the third-leading returning QB, isn’t projected to start at Virginia, and Marquise Williams, who ranks fourth among returners, is locked in a battle for the starting job at North Carolina, too. Next up among definitive starters is Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt, who finished 14th in the league in passing last season.
1. Kevin Parks, Virginia - 1,031 (2nd)
2. Duke Johnson, Miami - 920 (5th)
3. James Conner, Pitt - 799 (8th)
4. Isaac Bennett, Pitt - 797 (9th)
5. Shad Thornton, NC State - 768 (11th)
Of note: Louisville’s Dominique Brown would actually rank third on this list after racking up 825 rushing yards last season, good for fourth in the AAC. Including Brown, the ACC returns 11 running backs this year who accounted for at least 500 yards on the ground in 2013, though Miami’s Dallas Crawford (558 yards) is currently working with the Hurricanes’ secondary. Parks returns after a 1,000-yard season. The last running backs to return following a 1,000-yard effort in the ACC were Gio Bernard and Andre Ellington in 2012. Both topped 1,000 again in their follow-up campaigns.
1. Jamison Crowder, Duke - 1,360 (2nd)
2. Tyler Boyd, Pitt - 1,174 (3rd)
3. Rashad Greene, FSU - 1,128 (5th)
4. Quinshad Davis, UNC - 730 (13th)
5. Willie Byrn, Virginia Tech - 660 (14th)
Of note: Louisville’s DeVante Parker would rank fourth on this list. He had 885 yards last season, good for seventh in the AAC. Crowder is in position to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season and is 1,153 yards shy of breaking former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record. The Hokies have three of the top seven returning receivers in terms of yards.
TACKLES PER GAME
1. David Helton, Duke - 9.5 (1st)
2. Jeremy Cash, Duke - 8.6 (3rd)
3. Denzel Perryman, Miami - 8.3 (5th)
4. Kelby Brown, Duke - 8.1 (7th)
5. Ryan Janvion, Wake Forest - 7.9 (8th)
1. Ant Harris, Virginia - 8 (1st)
2. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech - 6 (2nd)
3. Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech - 5 (3rd)
Of note: Eleven ACC players had at least four interceptions last season, and a whopping nine of them return in 2014, including sophomores Facyson and Fuller at Virginia Tech. Add to that list two more returners from Louisville in Charles Gaines (5 picks) and Terell Floyd (4 picks), and the young QBs in the ACC in 2014 are going to have a lot to worry about.
1. Vic Beasley, Clemson - 13 (1st)
2. Eli Harold, Virginia - 8.5 (9th)
2. Norkeithus Otis, UNC - 8.5 (9th)
4. Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech - 6.5 (12th)
5. Adam Gostis, Georgia Tech - 5.5 (16th)
Of note: Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin (9.5 sacks) would be second on this list. And here’s a number that should have a lot of Clemson fans excited: Of the 32 players who finished with at least 10 tackles for loss last season, just 13 will be back in the ACC in 2014. Of those 13 returners, five play for the Tigers.
Sure, a ton will change between now and the moment when Roger Goodell announces the first pick of 2015, but McShay’s projections underscore just how loaded the defending national champs will be this season.
Of the 32 players McShay has currently projected as first-round selections in 2015, six are playing for Florida State.
No surprise that Heisman winner Jameis Winston is the first quarterback off the board, projected as the No. 5 overall selection by the New York Jets.
Following Winston are teammates Mario Edwards Jr., P.J. Williams, Rashad Greene, Cameron Erving and Tre' Jackson. Winston, Edwards and Williams are all underclassmen, and Winston has previously stated he intends to return for 2015.
If all six Florida State players did end up in the first round, it would match the six first-round selections Miami produced in 2004.
Beyond the six Seminoles, only Clemson’s Vic Beasley turns up on McShay’s first-round projections among other ACC stars.
Of course, there could be other hot commodities in the conference, including Miami running back Duke Johnson, Louisville receiver DeVante Parker, Clemson defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and potentially more Seminoles in Eddie Goldman, Ronald Darby, Karlos Williams and Josue Matias.
The ACC had a very respectable five first-round selections -- second to only, and stop me if you’ve heard this before, the SEC -- and the ACC routinely has among the most draft picks compared to its power conference peers.
Here are the early top five names within the conference that have a chance to be an early selection next spring. Wednesday, draft analyst Todd McShay will release his first 2015 mock draft.
*Denotes an underclassmen.
- Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson. Beasley was one of the more intriguing names within the conference as the season ended and players began declaring for the NFL draft. He was among the country’s best defensive players last season but was not nearly as dominant in the second half of the season. However, the talented lineman still led the ACC in sacks and, over the course of a full season, there might not have been a more productive player on the defensive line in the country. Beasley received a second-round grade before deciding to return to school, so if he can build upon his junior season then he should be able to find a place among the first 32 picks.
- Mario Edwards Jr.*, DE, Florida State. Formerly the No. 1 recruit in the country, Edwards quietly put together a very strong sophomore season and was dominant against Auburn at times. Edwards has the frame to play defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, and with more teams playing with only three down linemen, Edwards’ value should see a rise as draft day nears. Edwards learned from Florida State greats along the defensive line, and Edwards could be the best. A strong junior season should push Edwards into the first round and possibly into the top half.
- Duke Johnson*, RB, Miami. The junior was the key to Miami’s offensive success through the first half of the season, but unfortunately his season ended early from a fractured ankle. If he performs like he did early during his sophomore season, Johnson would have to seriously consider forgoing his senior season given his injury history and the toll running backs take. Johnson could be a first-round talent, but the position is being de-emphasized in NFL drafts and for the second straight year there was not a running back taken in the first round. Depending on how Johnson plays this coming season, he might leave an NFL team with no choice but to spend a first-round selection on him.
- P.J. Williams*, CB, Florida State. The MVP of the VIZIO National Championship, Williams could be the first cornerback taken in next year’s draft (but he’ll get stiff competition from teammate Ronald Darby). Standing at 6-foot and nearly 200 pounds, Williams has the ideal size for a cornerback in an increasingly pass-happy NFL. Williams was often an overlooked part of the defense during the 2013 season, but this spring showed Williams is poised to take his game to a new level and could be the best player on that side of the ball. At this juncture, he is in all likelihood a first-round pick in next year’s draft. This spot could easily belong to Darby, but Williams looked fantastic during spring drills. Darby missed the spring with injuries.
- Jameis Winston*, QB, Florida State. While some are already speculating Winston’s draft stock is plummeting, at this point he is still a high first-round pick and the potential No. 1 selection overall. Much like Jadeveon Clowney was hyped as the eventual No. 1 pick for more than a year, Winston began getting the same treatment midway through the 2013 season. Also like Clowney, that means Winston will be nitpicked for the next 12 months, none more so than during the four months between the end of the season until the draft. It would not necessarily be a shock to see Winston eventually fall to the second half of the first round, but as of now he is one of the early favorites for the No. 1 pick.
Stephone Anthony, Clemson; Jamison Crowder, Duke; Cam Erving, Florida State; Ronald Darby, Florida State; Braxton Deaver, Duke; Eddie Goldman, Florida State; Rashad Greene, Florida State; Anthony Harris, Virginia; Sean Hickey, Syracuse; Tre' Jackson, Florida State; Grady Jarrett, Clemson; Kyshoen Jarrett, Virginia Tech; Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech; Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech; Josue Matias, Florida State; Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville; DeVante Parker, Louisville; Kevin Parks, Virginia; Denzel Perryman, Miami; Laken Tomlinson, Duke; Karlos Williams, Florida State.
Here are the rules: Picks are in reverse order of last year’s standings. All players currently on an ACC roster are eligible to be selected (but no departing seniors or incoming freshmen). We prioritized team needs for the immediate future, but we also weighed the longterm possibilities of each player.
On to the draft…
The pick: QB Jameis Winston (FSU)
Sure, Virginia hopes it has its QB of the future in newly anointed starter Greyson Lambert, but how do you pass up a chance to add the Heisman Trophy winner to your offense? The Hoos have some young talent to put around Winston, and he’d make Virginia an instant contender. Just keep him out of the seafood section at the local Kroger.
2. NC State
The pick: WR Tyler Boyd (Pitt)
With new QB Jacoby Brissett ready to take over an offense that finally has some direction, the key for Dave Doeren will be ensuring there are some weapons in the passing game for Brissett to utilize. While NC State has plenty of young receivers hoping to make a name for themselves in 2014, Boyd is already established as one of the ACC’s best after 1,174 yards as a true freshman.
3. Wake Forest
The pick: RB Duke Johnson (Miami)
Things were so bad in the Wake Forest backfield when new coach Dave Clawson took over that he had to covert a receiver and a safety to tailback just to be able to practice. The rest of the offense could use some help, too, but Johnson is capable of making plays without a ton of talent around him. He could be a bell cow for the Deacons while they build the rest of the unit around him.
The pick: DE Vic Beasley (Clemson)
Pitt has plenty of firepower on offense (at least until we assumed Boyd would be swiped away by NC State), but it needs to find someone who can disrupt the other team’s QB now that Aaron Donald is headed to the NFL. Beasley led the league in sacks last year, and while he’d need to make some adjustments to fit Pitt’s scheme, he’s more than capable of making it work.
5. Boston College
The pick: DB Jalen Ramsey (FSU)
The Eagles finished dead last in the ACC in passing defense last season (268 yards allowed per game) but Ramsey would be an instant fix for a number of BC’s ills. He’s big enough to match up with physical receivers and versatile enough to play at either safety or corner.
The pick: DT Luther Maddy (Virginia Tech)
The biggest hole for Syracuse to fill this season is the one left by departing defensive tackle Jay Bromley. Maddy would bring experience and size to fill the void, not to mention 55 tackles (including 13.5 for a loss) from last season.
7. North Carolina
The pick: LT Cameron Erving (FSU)
With the loss of star tackle James Hurst and true freshman Bentley Spain likely to be pushed into the starting lineup, UNC was in rough shape on the line this spring. Erving could solve that problem quickly, and he’s established himself as perhaps the top returning O-lineman in the league.
8. Georgia Tech
The pick: DB Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
A Fuller brother playing for someone other than the Hokies? That wouldn’t be right. But there’s no question Georgia Tech could use some help in the secondary. The Yellow Jackets finished 12th in the ACC in pass defense a year ago, allowing opponents to complete nearly 63 percent of their throws, and then lost top DB Jemea Thomas to boot. Fuller had six picks as a true freshman last year and should only get better with age.
The pick: QB Jacoby Brissett (NC State)
OK, so we just gave Brissett another weapon in the passing game for the Wolfpack earlier in the draft, and now we’re shipping him off to Miami? It’s probably best not to overthink this little exercise. In any case, Miami’s QB situation is a mess after Ryan Williams went down with an injury, and believe it or not, Brissett -- a South Florida native -- is probably the most polished option available in the ACC after Winston.
10. Virginia Tech
The pick: RB Karlos Williams (FSU)
The numbers for Tech’s running game were brutal last season, finishing 13th in the conference in rushing and converting a dismal 37 percent of its third-and-short attempts on the ground. Sure, some line help would improve the situation, but adding a big-bodied runner like Williams (8 yards per carry, 11 TDs last season) would add some instant credibility to the Hokies’ ground attack.
Duke wants to build off last year’s success, and it has a few playmakers on offense and in the secondary to make that happen. But the Blue Devils lost some talent in the trenches, including both starting defensive ends. Mauldin racked up 9.5 sacks last year for the Cardinals and is poised for an even bigger senior season.
The pick: WR Rashad Greene (FSU)
Clemson thinks it has answers at QB and running back, but receiver is still a work in progress. Greene is a refined veteran with big-play ability who could immediately pick up where Sammy Watkins left off. And even better for Clemson, it means its defense wouldn’t have to face Greene when it takes on Florida State.
The pick: DT Grady Jarrett (Clemson)
The Cardinals lost top sack master Marcus Smith, both starting inside linemen, and are in the process of transitioning to a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Todd Grantham. So how about bringing in a big man in the middle who can get disrupt the backfield and stuff the run? Jarrett would fit the bill nicely after racking up 59 tackles, including 11 for a loss, last season.
14. Florida State
The pick: WR Quinshad Davis (UNC)
We’ve officially raided the Seminoles to a horrific extent, but let’s assume they’re going to battle with their roster intact. If there’s a major void without a real answer at this point, it’s FSU’s need for a tall, physical receiver who can go up for the jump balls Kelvin Benjamin snagged so often last year. Davis could be their guy after hauling in 10 touchdowns on 48 receptions last year. No returning ACC receiver caught more.
We wrote about the big-name receivers headed for the NFL draft, but the ACC also has three wideouts returning who accounted for 1,000 receiving yards in 2013, too.
But how about the tailbacks? How many 1,000-yard rushers from 2013 will be back again this season?
Believe it or not, the lone representative on that list is Virginia’s Kevin Parks, who racked up 1,031 yards on the ground for a team that didn’t win a single conference game.
The depth chart among returning running backs in the conference doesn’t get much better beyond Parks, either. Duke Johnson is probably the ACC’s best returning running back. He racked up 920 yards in eight games before getting hurt. Beyond that, only Louisville’s Dominique Brown, who played in the AAC last year, returns with at least 800 yards on the ground from 2013.
So, if there aren’t a ton of top tailbacks returning for 2014, which teams are poised for the most success on the ground this year?
I think the issue is, if we collectively agree that we're going to schedule up, we don't have to come up with a hard rule we have to go to nine games or everybody has to schedule one game against an SEC school. It's just a matter of getting everybody to agree to that.” -- FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox
If we break down the numbers by tailbacks only, Pittsburgh is the clear front runner. No ACC team’s returning running backs accounted for a higher percentage of its 2013 carries (76 percent) than Pitt’s, and thanks to the negative rushing totals courtesy of sacks, James Conner (799 yards), Isaac Bennett (776 yards) and Co. actually accounted for 106 percent of the Panthers’ rushing yards from 2013. (A neat trick that comes courtesy of Tom Savage's 76 carries for minus-208 yards.)
With Parks back for 2014 along with highly touted sophomore Taquan Mizzell, UVA’s returning backs account for 74 percent of last season's rushes, along with 91 percent of its yards. Of course, without star lineman Morgan Moses, those yards might be a bit tougher to come by this season.
Virginia Tech, NC State and Louisville all return running backs responsible for at least 50 percent of last season's ground gains, too (with Miami falling just short after swapping Dallas Crawford to the secondary).
The bottom of the list might be even more intriguing. Wake Forest’s stable of running backs is a mess, but that’s been well documented. The rest of the bottom six, however, include BC (which lost a Heisman finalist) and the top four offenses in the league from 2013 (Florida State, Clemson, Duke and Georgia Tech).
In other words, the best offenses lost big-time runners, and the shakiest (aside from Wake) have talent returning. So, does that mean there’s reason for some serious shakeups in the ACC’s offensive standings?
Yes, the ground game is essential for most teams to succeed. Of the 10 teams that played in BCS bowl games last season, seven returned a tailback who rushed for at least 500 yards in 2012.
But the ground game isn’t defined entirely by the men toting the rock. FSU returns four starters on a veteran offensive line, along with a Heisman-winning quarterback. That should provide some room for its relatively green stable of running backs to roam.
And, of course, just because there’s talent departing doesn’t mean there isn’t more waiting in the wings. Florida State’s returning running backs (Karlos Williams and Ryan Green) averaged 7 yards per carry in reserve roles last season. Georgia Tech’s averaged 5.9, and Duke’s averaged 5.8 (QB Brandon Connette’s departure is the biggest blow to the Blue Devils’ ground attack). Even Clemson has cause to be excited about its rushing game in 2014 with the development of C.J. Davidson and Zac Brooks and the debut of uber-talented redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman.
The veteran presence in the backfield for Pitt, Virginia and NC State should offer some hope to teams in need of some offensive optimism, but it’s also a likely scenario that FSU, Clemson, and others will supply a few names to the ACC’s rushing leaderboard in 2014, too.
theschnauzers writes: Re: the Miami offense with (Kevin) Olsen and Duke (Johnson). I wouldn't underestimate Kevin Olsen in this situation, which I think both you and Heather are doing in your recent articles and blog entries. There are those of us who felt that if all other things were equal it was likely Kevin might have been the starter before season's end; what is clear is that unlike Morris and Harris, Kevin does read the defense and the plays, and based on all reports about the two closed scrimmages, he has done as well as Ryan Williams did before the injury in the second scrimmage, and Golden has used the words "exceptional" and "excellent" to Kevin's performance in the second half of that scrimmage. Guess we'll know more after the "spring game" Saturday, but I am among those U alumni who have confidence Kevin will step up and get the job done.
Andrea Adelson: Here is my point of view on Olsen. He is a terrific talent, and we could very well be underestimating him. But during my visit down to Coral Gables three weeks ago, I was not given any indication that the competition between Olsen and Williams was particularly close. Williams was clearly going to start, and Olsen still had a lot of learning to do to even really push Williams. The fact there was no "real" competition before Williams got hurt speaks more to where Olsen stands, in my opinion. Yes, Miami started giving Olsen more reps with the first team and he handled them nicely. But there is no denying that Williams had an edge both in terms of maturity and game experience. That could be a factor for Miami this year.
Ted in Lexington, Ky., writes: I think Wake Forest pulled off a steal in getting Dave Clawson. He turned around three programs, but this year I am scared because (1) Wake is so young; (2) our nonconference schedule is rough, especially Sept. 13 at Utah State. They knocked off Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. If Wake Forest wins six, Dave Clawson should be the ACC Coach of the Year.
Adelson writes: I also like this hire. I think most impressive is the fact he won at smaller schools that have a similar type of profile as Wake Forest, the smallest school in the ACC. That should absolutely give Deacs fans hope for the future. But I agree 2014 might not be the year Wake goes back to a bowl game. Not only are the players young, they are learning entirely new schemes and have depth issues at several positions. Utah State will be a very tough game, but so will going on the road to play ULM, which beat the Deacs a year ago. If Clawson can scratch out six wins, he should be mentioned for national coach of the year given what he has to work with this year.
Kevin Portale in Louisville writes: I just read your article on the Cards. I really enjoyed it. It was short and to the point. Since Louisville is new to the ACC, how well do you think their chances are to be in the top three of the conference?
Adelson writes: Thanks, Kevin. At this point, I think there is a gap between Louisville and Florida State/Clemson but no real gap between the Cards and everybody else in the league. Despite the changes, this is a team that should still have an opportunity to win every game it plays. After talking to players, watching practice and spending time with the staff, I still think Louisville finishes third in the Atlantic. But given the difficulty of the schedule and some of the personnel losses the Cardinals have to overcome, I am not sure this team ends the season ranked in the Top 25.
Alex in Syracuse writes: Why do you think Pitt will be so good and expect nothing from Syracuse? If Aaron Donald doesn't block an extra point, if (Paul) Chryst doesn't barely get a timeout in, Syracuse would have had eight wins last year and Pitt does not even make a bowl game. Syracuse was a pretty good program only a little over a decade ago and then went through a down period. They're coming back up now, why doesn't anyone care or see this happening?
Adelson writes: I think you are making an assumption here that because I think Pitt has a chance to win the Coastal, I expect nothing out of Syracuse. One does not really correlate with the other. Pitt is in a much more winnable division and has an easier nonconference schedule than the Orange, which is why my expectations might be slightly higher. I thought Syracuse did a nice job toward the end of last season but it's hard to overlook how the Orange got blown out by the top two teams in the division. I do think they should be a bowl team this year given what they return on offense, but they are not quite ready to compete for a division title.
Tim in Christiansburg, Va., writes: re: ACC dream games. I understand all the love for FSU. I can see UT/Duke and the Petrino bowls. Clemson/Oregon would be exhausting to watch. But think outside the box a little. What sets college football apart is what happens off the field as much as on the field sometimes. The pageantry and hoopla that surrounds college football is what makes it so unique. That being said, what about VT/Texas A&M? These are the only two public schools with regular students that maintain on campus cadet corps that feed directly into the military. VT always marches out the cadets prior to the game for the national anthem. They are an important part of every home game, as they should be. Some military alum flies a billion dollar plane overhead. Skipper roars. Now multiply that by two. Plus the game would be pretty good, too. The first two were.
Adelson writes: Add it on the list!
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