Florida State Seminoles: Kelby Brown

Do you need a sign college football is close but still just a little too far away? The first preseason award watch lists were released Monday, a list of more than 70 players that could be the best in the country by season’s end.

It doesn’t matter if you have started only three games in your career and haven’t played a down since November 2012 -- there is a spot for you on the list.

That said, it’s college football and as ridiculous as these often are, I admit I enjoy looking at them. The watch lists for the Maxwell Award, given to the college player of the year, and Bednarik Award, given to the top defensive player, were released Monday. As the season progresses, the list will be pared down before a winner is announced in December.

Here is a look at the ACC players to make the cut and some justification for each player being on the list.

Maxwell Award

WR Tyler Boyd, Pittsburgh: As a freshman last fall, Boyd was as good of a receiver as there was in the ACC. As the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver heading into the 2014 season, Boyd could put up monster numbers and follow in the footsteps of Pitt great Larry Fitzgerald.

[+] EnlargeJames Connor
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner set a Pitt record with 229 yards in the Panthers' bowl win over Bowling Green.
QB Jacoby Brissett, NC State: This is not a knock on Brissett, but his inclusion is certainly puzzling considering he sat out all of 2013 after transferring from Florida, where he saw limited time as a starter and backup. However, the Wolfpack staff is high on Brissett leading the program’s turnaround, and Brissett was a blue-chip high school recruit.

WR Stacy Coley, Miami: Much like Boyd, Coley had a strong freshman season and is poised for a breakout sophomore campaign. One of the country’s elite recruits in 2013, Coley could make a national name for himself if he can build a connection with Miami’s quarterbacks, which have struggled with inconsistency and injury.

RB James Conner, Pitt: It’s almost unfair Conner was limited to just the Maxwell watch list Monday considering he is a two-way standout for the Panthers. Conner is already a huge fan favorite in the Steel City for his bruising and relentless running style, and he broke Tony Dorsett’s school bowl-game rushing record in December.

WR Jamison Crowder, Duke: Any time you catch more than 100 passes for more than 1,300 yards, you deserve to be on this list.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Johnson’s inclusion here is a credit to how dominant he was before the injury against Florida State and how woeful Miami looked after. If he can stay healthy, Johnson has the potential to be an elite back nationally.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: As the Cardinals’ leading returning receiver and now in Bobby Petrino’s offense, Parker should light up stat sheets this coming season.

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Seminoles’ receivers, but none of it includes Greene, who led the Noles in receiving in 2013. With Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in the NFL, Greene will be looked upon to bail out Jameis Winston this fall.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: Speaking of Winston, the Maxwell is about the only thing he did not win last season. Another spectacular season and it will be hard to ignore him again.

RB Karlos Williams, Florida State: Similar to Brissett, this is a bit of a projection pick, although Williams has done significantly more than Brissett. Williams was the third-string running back in 2013, but with his five-star talent base coupled with a senior-laden offensive line and Williams could set records in his final season in Tallahassee.

Reaction: While Brissett is obviously a surprise, overall it is hard to argue with much of the list. Williams' inclusion might be pushing it a little bit, although he certainly could be one of the best running backs in the country with his blend of size and speed. It's a positive sign for the ACC that several underclassmen are on the list, including special playmakers Boyd, Coley and Conner, who will all be true sophomores this fall. The biggest question is whether Winston will win the award if he performs the way most expect him to as a redshirt sophomore. AJ McCarron won the award last season over Winston, who was a semifinalist along with Johnny Manziel. Winston's off-the-field issues might have played a role, so it would be interesting to see if the Maxwell Award will continue to take those incidents into account.



Bednarik Award

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Anthony was brilliant in the Orange Bowl win against Ohio State with 11 tackles and an interception.

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: A semifinalist for the award last season, Beasley is a disruptive force in opponents’ backfields. If he can show a little more consistency, he might win the award in 2014.

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley is among the favorites to repeat as a finalist for this season's Bednarik Award.
LB Kelby Brown, Duke: The Blue Devils under David Cutcliffe are most known for offense, but Brown is a stout defender and one of the conference’s best. He will make a run at 100 tackles for a second straight season this fall.

DB Jeremy Cash, Duke: Cash was an instant impact player for the Blue Devils a season ago following a transfer from Ohio State. With another year in the system, Cash is poised for a huge season.

DL Mario Edwards, Florida State: The former No. 1 recruit nationally was dominant in the national championship. Edwards is now the leader of the defensive line and has just as good a chance as any to win the Bednarik.

DB Anthony Harris, Virginia: An All-ACC selection as a junior, Harris will be looked upon to lead the turnaround for the Cavs on defense. It is a talented unit, and Harris, a team captain this fall, might be the best.

DE Eli Harold, Virginia: Last season he finished sixth in the ACC with 15 tackles for loss, an impressive number. He could see his numbers improve drastically with five-star Andrew Brown now at defensive tackle.

DB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: An impact performer as a freshman and a second-team All-ACC selection, Fuller is set to be the next great defensive back at Virginia Tech.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: With Beasley constantly seeing double teams, this opens up the door for Jarrett to be an interior force for the Tigers’ defensive line, which is arguably the country’s best.

DT Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech: He helped make a name for himself against Alabama at the beginning of the season, and his strong play continued throughout the year.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: It will be interesting to see how he fares without defensive guru Charlie Strong, but is as talented as they come.

DE/LB Norkeithus Otis, North Carolina: Otis is another player poised to possibly gain national recognition and it begins with his inclusion on this list. He had a very strong junior season with 6.5 sacks.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: One of the few bright spots on Miami’s defense last season, Perryman is the unquestioned leader of the Hurricanes’ defenses. He could put up a huge number of tackles this fall.

CB P.J. Williams, Florida State: Williams was one of FSU’s best players this spring, and he might be the country’s best cornerback. His stiffest competition could come from the opposite side of the field in teammate Ronald Darby, who surprisingly did not make the list.

Reaction: It was surprising Darby's name was not included on the list despite missing the spring. He could be the first cornerback taken in the NFL draft next year. The ACC is home to some of the country's best defensive backs with Williams, Fuller and Harris. Beasley is certainly one of the favorites coming into the season, but he was shut down by Florida State last season and will need to rebound against the Seminoles to make a push for the Bednarik as a senior. His sack numbers should be impressive once again, and if he can perform on the big stages, it might be the little extra that wins him the award this season. FSU's Edwards could be the best defensive lineman in the ACC and the country if he plays like he did against Auburn all season. What could hurt Edwards is he will not always be in a position to pile up sacks and tackles even when he is dominating opposing offensive linemen.
From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found here.

Up today: Linebackers

Best of the best: Clemson

It's easy to see why many believe the Tigers have the best front seven in the ACC. In addition to having the strongest defensive front, they also have the strongest group of linebackers returning to the team. Stephone Anthony had a breakout season a year ago, finishing with 131 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks in 802 snaps played. He should be a preseason All-ACC selection. Clemson did lose two starters in Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey, but it returns experienced players at the position. Tony Steward and Ben Boulware will anchor the weak side. Both were ranked among the top linebackers out of high school, and if Steward can stay healthy, he is in line for a big year. At the other spot, Clemson has the option of playing a linebacker or nickelback depending on the alignment. T.J. Burrell and Dorian O'Daniel will be in the mix on the strong side.

Next up: Duke

The Blue Devils return the best linebacker duo in the ACC in David Helton and Kelby Brown, who finished as the top two tacklers in the conference last season. The two combined for 247 tackles a year ago and are back to anchor a group looking to improve both against the run and the pass. Their backups return as well, so there are not many depth concerns here. These two are as dependable as they come. Now, having said that, we would be remiss if we failed to mention Florida State. The Seminoles are losing two key players in Christian Jones and Telvin Smith and will be relying more on a five defensive back alignment, so there are some questions at the position. But this team has the talent to again be the best in the ACC once it gains some experience. As it stands now, Terrance Smith is the only linebacker with consistent playing time. Guys like Matthew Thomas and Reggie Northrup could develop into studs before the season's up.

Sleeper: Syracuse

The Orange return two of the more underrated linebackers in the ACC in Dyshawn Davis and Cam Lynch, who will be relied upon to anchor a defense with some serious questions on the defensive line. Though middle linebacker Marquis Spruill is gone, Syracuse coaches were pleased with the role Marqez Hodge played as a true freshman behind Spruill a year ago, so he spent a year in training preparing to take over the starting job. Davis and Lynch will be there to help Hodge along. Keep an eye on Louisville here as well. The Cards return hard hitter James Burgess and have moved Lorenzo Mauldin to outside linebacker/rush end. That should pay dividends.

Problem for a contender: Pitt

The Panthers have not gotten consistent linebacker play for years, so this position remains a question mark. Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas return, but the Panthers have little in the way of depth to help them out. Thomas has the potential to be excellent. He had 72 tackles a year ago, but coaches are now hoping for more. Bam Bradley could also have an impact here, but only six lettermen are back from a year ago. There are also questions elsewhere in the conference. Will anybody step up to help out Denzel Perryman at Miami? And will Virginia Tech be just as good at linebacker without Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards?

ACC's lunchtime links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More links:
  • Charges could be dropped against one of the key figures in the UNC academic fraud scandal, according to the Charlotte Observer.
  • Miami picked up a commitment from a QB for 2016, writes the Sun-Sentinel.
  • Syracuse is shelling out big bucks to play Central Michigan in 2015, reports The Post-Standard. With new scheduling guidelines and the College Football Playoff in place, this is going to become the norm for signing games against mid-level opponents.
  • Former Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe is battling Parkinson’s Disease, but he is back in college football as a special assistant at LSU, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • Tomahawk Nation goes searching for Florida State’s flaws. Not to spoil the ending, but there aren’t many.
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.
Last weekend’s NFL draft in which 42 ACC players were selected was a reminder of how much talent was departing the conference. But just as Sammy Watkins, Aaron Donald and Kyle Fuller say goodbye, the focus turns to the players who’ll step into the spotlight in 2014.

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.)

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsMiami tailback Duke Johnson rushed for 920 yards in 2013, despite missing five games due to injury.
PASSING YARDS
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.

RUSHING YARDS
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.

RECEIVING YARDS
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)

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley has 21 sacks in his career.
Of note: Duke’s front four took a big hit with the loss of three senior starters, but the back seven should be one of the most experienced and productive in the conference. Of the 25 ACC players with at least 50 solo tackles last season, 12 return this season.

INTERCEPTIONS
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.

SACKS
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.
Florida State is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as ACC champions in 2014. But that doesn't mean the rest of the league is going to step aside for the Seminoles.

So which team has the best chance to unseat them from their throne? Let's look at some of the top contenders:

SportsNation

Who has the best chance to unseat Florida State as ACC champion in 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 6,309)

Clemson: Skeptical fans will ask how the Tigers will take down Florida State considering: 1. They have lost to the Noles the last two years; 2. They play in Tallahassee in 2014; 3. They do not have Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Roderick McDowell, just to name four. Well, the truth is Clemson is not going anywhere anytime soon. Florida State had a lot of questions last season about replacing 11 NFL draft picks -- including its starting quarterback. But thanks to recruiting, the Seminoles were even better. Now, this is not to say Clemson will be even better in 2014 than it was a year ago, but it is to say the Tigers are not going to go back to winning seven games. They have kept pace with Florida State on the recruiting trail, have outstanding candidates to step in at quarterback, should be better at running back and will have one of the strongest defensive lines in the ACC. Boyd and Watkins might be gone, but Clemson is here to stay.

Duke: The Blue Devils, you say? Well, yes, they are a big-time dark horse, especially because the gap between the two programs was exposed for the world to see in the ACC championship game last December. Still, Duke will be one of the favorites to repeat as Coastal champions for several reasons. First, the Blue Devils return eight starters on offense, including All-ACC receiver Jamison Crowder, starting quarterback Anthony Boone and backup Brandon Connette. Second, they have some excellent players back on defense, including linebacker Kelby Brown and safeties Jeremy Cash and DeVon Edwards. Third, their schedule should make them favorites as they avoid playing Florida State, Clemson, Louisville and Notre Dame. Given the progress that has been made, this team could easily win 10 games again.

Louisville: The Cards are a bit of a wild card for a host of reasons. Not only do they have to replace potential No. 1 draft pick Teddy Bridgewater, their front seven has to be rebuilt and they have a new coach and new schemes to get used to in a short period of time. The schedule is much more challenging in 2014, too, with games against Florida State, Clemson, Notre Dame and Miami. The program is a step behind Florida State and Clemson, but Bobby Petrino sure knows how to coach. He won 10 or more games in the SEC West. Twice. Their chances are remote, but they should still be one of the top-tier ACC teams this year.

Miami: While it is true the in-state rivals are lagging behind the Seminoles, the Hurricanes have made some major strides on the recruiting trail and have talent all over the roster. If Duke Johnson had not gotten hurt last season, perhaps Miami would have stayed in the game. The Canes have a receiving group that can challenge the Florida State secondary. A healthy Johnson is a game-changer. And they meet in Miami this year in mid-November. Still, there are questions at quarterback and on defense that make Miami a long shot to unseat the Seminoles.

Other: Is it North Carolina? Virginia Tech? Anybody else? Now it's time for you to weigh in with our handy dandy poll.
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

ESPN.com's All-ACC team

December, 16, 2013
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Florida State’s undefeated season is reflected in the Seminoles’ 10 all-conference selections by ESPN.com. Quarterback Jameis Winston was the highlight of the group, along with Boston College running back Andre Williams, who was also a Heisman candidate this year. This list differs just slightly from the choices of the coaches and writers, with the toughest decisions coming on defense.

Offense
Defense
Special Teams

ACC weekend rewind: Week 15

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That wraps it up. The regular season is over, and the bowl lineup is set. Let's see how we ended up here as we take one last look back at the week that was in our weekend rewind.

The good: What's not to love about this past weekend if you're from the ACC? The conference set an NCAA record by placing 11 teams in bowl games. That's topped, of course, by No. 1 Florida State, which is bound for the VIZIO BCS National Championship, where it will face No. 2 Auburn. The ACC broke its NCAA record of 10 teams in bowls, which was set in 2008. (The league also placed seven of its nine teams in bowls in 2002, which was then the NCAA's highest bowl participation percentage ever, at .778.)

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneKelvin Benjamin and No. 1 Florida State head an impressive group of 11 ACC bowl teams.
The bad: It is tough to be really harsh on Duke considering just how many firsts the program accomplished this season. That said, the Blue Devils did themselves few favors to make it a game Saturday in a 45-7 loss to Florida State. Ross Martin missed a 48-yard field goal on Duke's third possession that would have broken a scoreless tie. Anthony Boone threw two interceptions. Kelby Brown dropped a potential interception. Duke did come up with two on the night, but could not manage any points from them. Redshirt senior right tackle Perry Simmons left the game with a torn ACL and a torn MCL in his left knee. The two-time All-ACC selection had started 50 consecutive games.

The records: Jameis Winston broke FBS records for both passing yards and passing touchdowns by a freshman, as the Heisman Trophy front-runner was 19-of-32 for 330 yards with three touchdowns (and two interceptions) to finish with 3,820 passing yards and 38 passing touchdowns in the regular season. Duke receiver Jamison Crowder set a program single-season record in receiving yards Saturday and finished with 1,197. Florida State kicker Roberto Aguayo's 45-yard second-quarter field goal helped him set an ACC record with 142 points.

The added bonus: The ACC title game had just kicked off when our Joe Schad reported that Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher had agreed to a five-year, $21 million contract extension with the program. Athletic director Stan Wilcox confirmed after the game that a deal had been reached, with details still being finalized. Just another bit of great news for the Seminoles on a night with no shortage of it.

Bowl subplots to watch: Boston College's Andre Williams (329) and Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey (322) lead the nation in carries and will square off in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl. … Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson will get a shot at his in-state program, Pitt, in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. … Miami can see its hometown product, Teddy Bridgewater, up close and personal in what could be the Louisville quarterback's final game, the Russell Athletic Bowl. (The teams face each other next year, too, when the Cardinals join the ACC.) … Let's not overlook the obvious historical note when Ohio State and Clemson meet in the Discover Orange Bowl, either, as the programs will meet for the first time since the 1978 Gator Bowl, which ended up being Woody Hayes' final game after the coach punched Tigers linebacker Charlie Bauman.


When Duke went on the road in late October and shocked then- No. 14 Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils did so without converting a single third down. Quarterback Anthony Boone threw zero touchdown passes -- and four interceptions. And yet Duke rolled out of Blacksburg having snapped a 42-year losing streak against ranked teams on the road.

The difference? Duke was finally able to win a game with defense and special teams.

[+] EnlargeKelby Brown
Andy Mead/YCJ/Icon SMIKelby Brown and Duke's defense will face their biggest challenge on Saturday against Florida State.
“To win a defensive game 13-10 is just such a boost of confidence on defense,” said linebacker Kelby Brown. “It was really encouraging. That’s when we showed people this defense is for real. This team is for real.”

If Duke is going to have a shot at upending No. 1 Florida State on Saturday in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, it will need to be sharp in every phase of the game. It will have to rely most heavily upon what has become an opportunistic defense, and a special teams unit that has the ability to score and create good field position.

Duke has scored four times on kick returns (two punt return touchdowns and two kickoff return touchdowns), and freshman safety DeVon Edwards leads the nation in kickoff return average (32.7).The defense has caused turnovers in 11 of 12 games (including three in the red zone), and enters the ACC title game with 16 interceptions, nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. Duke is tied for fifth in the ACC with 21 takeaways and the 16 interceptions are the most in the David Cutcliffe era.

“A lot of guys have stepped up into new roles, and our D-line is really experienced now,” Brown said. “They’re doing a great job up front of allowing the linebackers to fly around and make tackles. That’s something, just old-school, 4-3 style defense, the way Boston College has always run it, a great D-line that holds up the line and that’s been huge for us. And I think we’re the most athletic we’ve ever been in the secondary. Even though we have some young guys back there, they have speed and they can tackle. It’s all kind of clicked from the front line all the way to the back.”

Duke, a heavy underdog, knows it has no margin for error. The Blue Devils have never beaten Florida State in 18 tries, and the Noles have won every game this season by at least 14 points. In 2012, Duke’s defense was steamrolled by FSU in a 48-7 loss, and many are predicting a similar result. Of all the times these two programs have faced each other, though, only one other time has Duke been ranked -- in 1994, when it was No. 16.

The numbers prove, though, that Duke’s defense is the best it’s been in over a decade.

Duke is allowing just 23.0 points per game, which would rank as the program’s best mark since the 1994 season (22.45 points per game). Duke has 22 sacks this season, and linebackers David Helton and Kelby Brown and safety Jeremy Cash are the top three tacklers in the ACC.


We have a very good offense who can put up points on anybody. We've just got to make sure that we limit people, and the best way to limit people is by making them drive the length of the field on you and not giving up the 50 and 60 yard passes.


-- Ross Cockrell, on how Duke's defense can find success against Florida State

Duke’s fourth-quarter defense has also been outstanding. It's allowing an average of just 9.1 points in the second half compared to 13.9 in the first half. Duke has surrendered only 3.1 points and outscored opponents 113-37 in the fourth quarter.

“Well, we run better on defense,” Cutcliffe said. “First thing you've got to be able to do is get to them to get them on the ground. You can't get them on the ground if you can't run. We run better. We'd better run better in this one because these guys have I think more weapons than anybody in the country.”

Starting with Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

“We don't have anybody that can line up and match up physically with Benjamin,” Cutcliffe said. “He's just a monster and with great skills.”

Against Florida’s stingy defense last week, Benjamin single-handedly outgained the Gators’ offensive output (212 yards to 193). He scored three touchdowns, and had nine receptions. Last season against Duke, Benjamin had three catches for 77 yards.

“Yeah, we've done a great job, I think, defensively,” said Ross Cockrell, one of the top defenders in the ACC. “But one of the things that we took away from last year was that you can't give up a lot of big plays, especially in the passing game, the deep passes that we gave up. We can't give up those kinds of plays and expect to win ballgames. We know we have a very good team. We have a very good offense who can put up points on anybody. We've just got to make sure that we limit people, and the best way to limit people is by making them drive the length of the field on you and not giving up the 50 and 60 yard passes.”

Duke’s defense and special teams have been good enough to win the Coastal Division, but they will have to be great to win it all on Saturday.

AA put some distance between herself and HD with the picks last week. HD admits she choked with the vaunted predictions trophy on the line, going 4-5 in Week 14. AA kept chugging, going 7-2 to open up a four-game lead on HD in the overall standings. AA stands at 85-23 as we head into the postseason. Seems like a pretty insurmountable lead at this point.

No headway to be made this week, either -- not when the easy choice to win the ACC championship game is Florida State. Here is how we both see the game playing out.

AA picks: Exactly zero media prognosticators had Florida State playing Duke in the ACC championship game when the season began. Of the 120 ballots tabulated, only 15 declared the Seminoles their preseason choice to win the ACC. That handful of voters will turn out to be right after Saturday comes to a close. Florida State is too talented and too deep to have much of a problem with the Blue Devils. Duke has been such a terrific story to watch unfold throughout the course of the season, and the Blue Devils do have some rising stars in Jamison Crowder, Kelby Brown, DeVon Edwards and Jeremy Cash. They deserve an inordinate amount of credit for turning around a moribund program. But they still have a ways to go to match the upper echelon not just in the ACC, but in the nation. Florida State lost 11 NFL draft picks off last season's team; Duke has had eight players drafted in the last 20 years. So you see the talent disparity. Duke has never beaten Florida State and has lost by an average margin of 34.5 points per game. The Blue Devils are a much better team than they were the last time these teams played last season. But the problem for Duke? Florida State is a much better team, too. Florida State 48, Duke 10.

HD picks: The magic ends here, where good meets great. Duke will play better than many expect, as it has an opportunistic defense and the ACC’s coach of the year, but it won’t be enough to overcome the matchup problems the Noles’ elite talent will create. This won’t be as ugly as it was last year during the regular season, but it won’t be pretty, either. Duke has recruited talent and speed, but not enough to match the likes of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin or quarterback Jameis Winston. Florida State will win the turnover battle, and Duke’s defense will give up too may big plays and struggle to get FSU off the field on third down. FSU has given up more than 17 points just once this season (to Boston College). Duke’s preparation, discipline and determination will get it to 20, but it will only be good enough for a moral victory. Florida State 45, Duke 20.

Florida State headlines All-ACC team

December, 2, 2013
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Florida State led all schools with seven players on the All-ACC first team, including quarterback Jameis Winston, running back Devonta Freeman and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner.

In all, the Seminoles had 17 players chosen to the first, second and third teams as voted on by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association and announced Monday. Eleven players were selected from Coastal Division champion Duke, including four on the first team.

Boston College back Andre Williams, who leads the nation and set an ACC single-season record with 2,102 yards rushing, was the only unanimous selection to the All-ACC team. Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins received 63 votes, while Winston received 61. Duke receiver Jamison Crowder, who leads the ACC in receptions with 88 and has returned two punts for touchdowns this season, was the only player selected at multiple positions. Crowder was voted to the first team at receiver made the second team as a specialist.

First team

Offense

QB – Jameis Winston, Florida State

RB – Andre Williams, Boston College

RB – Devonta Freeman, Florida State

WR – Sammy Watkins, Clemson

WR - Jamison Crowder, Duke

WR – Rashad Greene, Florida State

TE - Eric Ebron, North Carolina

T- Cameron Erving, Florida State

T- James Hurst, North Carolina

G- Tre’ Jackson, Florida State

G-Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech

C- Bryan Stork, Florida State

Defense

DE - Vic Beasley, Clemson

DE - Kareem Martin, North Carolina

DT - Aaron Donald, Pitt

DT – Nikita Whitlock, Wake Forest

LB - Kelby Brown, Duke

LB – Denzel Perryman, Miami

LB – Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College

CB – Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State

CB – Ross Cockrell, Duke

S – Anthony Harris, Virginia

S – Jeremy Cash, Duke

Special Teams

PK - Nate Freese, Boston College

P - Pat O’Donnell, Miami

SP - Ryan Switzer, North Carolina

ACC helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
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In a week of sluggish performances around the ACC, a handful of players stood out, carrying their teams to much-needed wins. Here are the five who made the biggest impact.

Miami running back Duke Johnson: Twice on Saturday the Hurricanes' undefeated season appeared doomed, and twice Johnson responded with a game-saving run. The sophomore finished with 168 yards on 30 carries -- eight more than his previous career high -- and scored twice in the fourth quarter to help Miami sneak past Wake Forest. The Hurricanes took their first lead of the game with 5:36 left on a 51-yard TD drive in which Johnson carried six times for 44 yards. Wake responded with a score of its own, but Johnson clinched the win by carrying seven times for 42 yards, including the 1-yard go-ahead TD.

Duke linebacker David Helton: On a day when the Blue Devils' offense struggled mightily, it was Helton and the defense that came up with one big play after another. Helton finished with a game-high 19 tackles -- he was one of three Duke defenders with double-digit tackles -- and deflected a Logan Thomas pass on Virginia Tech's final drive that was picked off by Kelby Brown. Brown's INT was one of four by the Blue Devils, and he finished the game with 14 tackles.

Florida State receiver Rashad Greene: Jameis Winston was sharp once again, throwing three TD passes in Florida State's win over NC State, but plenty of credit is due to his receiving corps, which was led, once again, by Greene. The junior finished with eight catches for 137 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown grab. It's Greene's fourth 100-yard game of the year. Seven of his eight catches went for Florida State first downs.

Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Roderick McDowell: The Tigers rebounded from last week's devastating loss to Florida State and this week's slow start against Maryland largely because of two of their best offensive weapons. Watkins caught a career-high 14 passes for 163 yards, while McDowell carried the ground game, rushing 30 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns.

Georgia Tech running backs: The Yellow Jackets had three runners top 100 yards in their win over Virginia, led by junior Zach Laskey, who rushed 16 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns. David Sims scored twice as well, and finished with 107 yards on 12 carries, while Robert Godhigh's 65-yard TD run highlighted a five-carry, 111-yard performance. The 394 rushing yards matched a season high for Georgia Tech, while Jemea Thomas (15 tackles) and the defense sealed the game.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
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Garry PetersStreeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThanks to a solid defensive effort Thursday from the likes of Garry Peters, No. 3 Clemson was able to remain undefeated despite not playing its "A" game.
What did we learn in the ACC in Week 4? Glad you asked.

1. Clemson is not perfect: The way Clemson won on Thursday night at NC State will not win the Tigers any beauty contests. They were sluggish on offense for most of the game, and nobody could quite figure out why afterward. Was it the long layoff between games against FBS teams? Was it more a product of NC State harassing Tajh Boyd? Were they playing too tight and not relaxed? Clemson finally got a few drives going in the second half (thanks to a call that may or may not have been botched) but the offense still needs some work. The defense, meanwhile, has made huge strides. Coaches thought this front seven could be good, and it was strong against the Wolfpack. But what stood out most of all was the way Clemson was able to overcome its mediocre play and win. That might not have happened two years ago.

2. Georgia Tech is in good shape: Say this for the Yellow Jackets, they came into the season relatively under the radar but have played themselves into the Coastal conversation after a 2-0 start in division play. It is the second time under Paul Johnson that Georgia Tech has started Coastal play 2-0 (it also happened in 2011), but just the third time in the past 15 years it has won its first two league games. Georgia Tech has now won six straight regular-season ACC games dating back to last season, tied for the second-longest league winning streak in school history. Without question, this is the toughest stretch of the season for the Jackets, and if they can keep this up, they will be in the driver’s seat to get back to the ACC title game. Next up is a Virginia Tech team that needed three overtimes to beat Marshall on short rest Thursday in Atlanta. Given the way the Hokies looked on Saturday, there is a decent chance Georgia Tech and Miami will be undefeated when the two teams play in Miami on Oct. 5. But it’s too early to look ahead. To beat Virginia Tech, the Jackets are going to need a lot more consistency on offense than they got in their win over North Carolina.

3. Virginia Tech D is not perfect: The Hokies went into the game with the No. 2 ranked defense in the entire nation, but they did not play that way in the first half against Marshall, giving up 21 points and 205 yards while staring at a deficit. Virginia Tech had a much harder time slowing down the hurry-up offense Marshall runs. I called this group the “hands down best defense” in the ACC but that title appears to be up for grabs right now. Virginia Tech did regain its composure in the second half and allowed just 156 yards the rest of the way, with two interceptions and a fumble recovery. But this was the most uneven performance out of this group this year. You have to wonder how much the struggles of the offense are going to start taking its toll on the defense.

4. The ACC could have another Top 25 team: When the polls are released later today, the big question is whether Georgia Tech or Maryland (maybe both?) will be ranked for the first time this season. The ACC has five unbeaten teams to this point, a great accomplishment for a league that has struggled to change its national reputation. Maryland (4-0) completely embarrassed West Virginia in all facets, winning 37-0 while holding the Mountaineers to six first downs and 175 yards of total offense. Maryland has not beaten anybody with a winning record yet (Week 1 opponent FIU just lost 72-0 to Louisville), so its undefeated start is not wildly unexpected. Still, it is quite an achievement for a program that has won six total games over the past two seasons.

5. Pittsburgh and Duke could use some defensive help: Both teams went into the season with high expectations for their respective groups. Pitt had a veteran group returning; Duke believed it had made strides from a unit that crumbled in the second half of 2012. Neither one showed much progress in a 58-55 Pitt win. The early results we saw from the Duke defense have been put into perspective now that the Blue Devils have played better teams in Georgia Tech and Pitt. The Blue Devils had a hard time getting off blocks Saturday, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe said. To make matters worse, linebacker Kelby Brown got hurt. Pitt is a team that clearly misses defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable. That was made more apparent after watching his game plan to slow down Boyd and Clemson in his new job as NC State defensive coordinator. Pitt has given up 123 points in three games. If it can get a defense to pair with what looks like a solid offense, watch out.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 1

August, 30, 2012
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With all 12 teams playing in Week 1, including two conference games, there will be plenty to watch in the ACC, from Friday through Labor Day. Here are 10 things to keep an eye on, in no particular order:

1. NC State’s secondary vs. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. The Pack will be without starting cornerback C.J. Wilson, who has an “eligibility issue,” according to coach Tom O’Brien, but All-American David Amerson returns to help the Pack against Bray. Despite missing five games last season with a fractured thumb, Bray threw for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns.

2. Clemson in the trenches. Much of the focus leading up to the Auburn game has been on how Clemson will survive without suspended leading receiver Sammy Watkins, but more important is how Clemson will fare up front, on both the offensive and defensive lines. Depth on the offensive line remains a concern, and overall, Clemson had to replace six starters up front from last season.

3. True freshmen in College Park and Chestnut Hill. Maryland and Miami both will be depending heavily on true freshmen in their season openers. The Terps will have true freshman Perry Hills starting at quarterback, are likely to use two freshman running backs and will use receiver Stefon Diggs in several roles. Miami has more than a dozen freshmen in its two-deep.

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas, Jeremiah Attaochu
AP Photo/John BazemoreGeorgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu gets another chance to bring down Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas this weekend.
4. Special teams in Blacksburg. Georgia Tech’s group was abysmal last season, but the Jackets hired special-teams coach Dave Walkosky, the first special-teams coach Paul Johnson has hired during his tenure in Atlanta. The Hokies are trying to get Beamerball back, but questions in the kicking game persisted through summer camp.

5. Jeremiah Attaochu vs. Logan Thomas, Part 2. In this game last season, Attaochu was about to complete a third-down sack of Thomas but couldn’t bring the lumberjack down. Attaochu let his frustration and adrenaline get the better of him, and took a swing at Thomas, drawing a personal foul. The two have been friendly since, but getting pressure on Thomas will be key in this game.

6. Florida State’s offensive line. If there is one reason not to snooze on the Murray State game, this is it. The Seminoles showed a lot of progress up front this offseason, but they must continue it if FSU is going to live up to the expectations this season.

7. ACC vs. SEC. The ACC hasn't had a winning record against the SEC since it went 5-4 in 2003. The ACC could help itself change that this weekend with a 2-0 start against the SEC with victories by NC State and Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff.

8. North Carolina’s tempo. We finally get to see the “Fed Spread” in Chapel Hill, as UNC will unveil its new up-tempo spread offense under first-year coach Larry Fedora. How many more plays will the Tar Heels be able to run, and how well will they execute them? Bottom line: How fast can this team score? Time of possession could be deceiving.

9. Duke’s backups. The Blue Devils will be missing about a dozen injured scholarship players against Florida International, including receiver Blair Holliday, tight end Braxton Deaver, defensive tackle Jamal Bruce, safety Jordon Byas and linebacker Kelby Brown.

10. Virginia’s revamped secondary. UVa has no seniors in its secondary after having three senior starters last season. Only three other schools (Florida State, LSU and North Texas) have a senior-less secondary. More specifically, there are no upper-classmen at the cornerback position. Sophomore Demetrious Nicholson is now the elder statesman of the group.

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