Florida State Seminoles: Dabo Swinney

Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.

FSU No. 1 in coaches' poll

July, 31, 2014
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Surprise, surprise -- Florida State is the preseason No. 1 team in the Amway Coaches Poll.

The Seminoles received 56 of the 62 first-place votes as they enter 2014 looking to repeat as national champions.

Clemson and North Carolina were the only other ACC teams to be ranked, coming in at Nos. 16 and 23, respectively. For those keeping track, that means UNC is the only team from the Coastal Division to be ranked in the poll. This comes after Miami was chosen by the media in Greensboro, North Carolina, last week as the preseason Coastal favorite, in the same poll that saw Duke receive the most first-place Coastal votes. It is worth repeating again: This division race is wide open.

Notre Dame, which begins its football affiliation with the ACC this fall, checks in at No. 17 in the coaches' poll.

Miami leads the ACC contingent in the "others receiving votes" category of the coaches' poll, coming in at No. 34 overall. Right behind the Hurricanes? Duke and Louisville, at Nos. 35 and 36, respectively. Virginia Tech comes in at No. 40 while Georgia Tech is No. 48.

Half of the ACC's coaches vote in the poll: Frank Beamer, David Cutcliffe, Larry Fedora, Jimbo Fisher, Al Golden, Paul Johnson and Dabo Swinney. Notre Dame's Brian Kelly votes as well. Shockingly, all eight of those coaches saw their teams receive votes.

Analysis of ACC awards polls

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

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

ACC offensive player of the year

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

ACC defensive player of the year

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

ACC offensive rookie of the year

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

ACC defensive rookie of the year

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

ACC coach of the year

Results: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State (40), Dabo Swinney, Clemson (26), Other (22), Larry Fedora, North Carolina (7), Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh (5).
Analysis: The safe bet in the conference is to go with Fisher or Swinney. The two have Clemson and Florida State in a league of their own within the ACC. Both are coming off BCS bowl wins but have holes to fill on their 2014 teams. Swinney needs to overcome the losses of his starting quarterback, running back and star receiver. Fisher loses defensive leaders Jernigan, Joyner and Telvin Smith. I thought Fedora would receive more votes, considering the Heels are one of the favorites to win the division.

Poll: ACC coach of the year

June, 13, 2014
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It is never too early to make predictions, and with the season less than three months away, we are seeking your input on who you think will take home some of the ACC's top honors at season's end.

We continue today with coach of the year.

Dabo Swinney, Clemson: So often, this award goes to the coach who does more with less. And while no one would suggest that Clemson does not have a talented roster, the fact is that the Discover Orange Bowl winners lose their top skill players from last year in quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins, among others. Fair or not, outside expectations for Clemson aren't what they were going into 2013. The Tigers also face a brutally tough schedule early on, so if Swinney can have this group competing for the ACC title, he is sure to receive a lot of credit for keeping his program at an elite level.

SportsNation

Who will be the ACC's Coach of the Year?

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    26%
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    39%
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    7%
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    5%
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    23%

Discuss (Total votes: 5,708)

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State: The other side of the "more with less" argument can be seen in coaches like Fisher, who is coming off a national title season but will probably never receive too much credit given the location and prestige of his program. That, of course, is not really fair, but if Fisher didn't win it in either of his last two conference title-winning years, it would probably take nothing less than an undefeated season this year — his second in a row — to truly wow the voters and win this honor in 2014. Just look at Jim Tressel, who won seven Big Ten titles and a national title in his 10 years at Ohio State — but had zero league Coach of the Year awards.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina: If North Carolina can emerge as the Coastal Division champion, Fedora will have a legitimate argument for this honor. For one, he has himself a very big decision to make at the most important position on the field, as Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battle it out for the starting quarterback job. How Fedora handles what could be a delicate situation will undoubtedly have an impact on the kind of season UNC has. And if things work out for the Tar Heels in 2014, that would be a very nice answer to rival Duke's recent success, not to mention an impressive turnaround for Fedora in just his third year in charge.

Paul Chryst, Pitt: Chryst is also in his third year. And he also coaches a team considered to be a darkhorse Coastal Division title contender. (Hey, at this point, who isn't?) The schedule breaks right for the Panthers to have a chance at a strong season. And if that happens — in just their second year in the ACC, after losing key players like Aaron Donald, Tom Savage and Devin Street — you can bet Chryst will receive a ton of credit.

Others: No David Cutcliffe, you say? Well, he did win this award the past two seasons, so the chances of him pulling off a three-peat have to be very slim. (It's never been done before in the ACC.) If Louisville can contend for a league title during its first year in the ACC, Bobby Petrino will receive plenty of votes. Of course, teams that come out of nowhere tend to be pretty popular with voters, so NC State's Dave Doeren and Virginia's Mike London could be in play if either of their squads make huge turnarounds after winless league campaigns in 2013.
We have come to Week 4 in our Ultimate ACC Road Trip, where each week we pretend we have all the power to decide where we're going to watch some football.

This is a no-brainer choice.

Week 4 schedule

Saturday, Sept. 20
  • Maine at Boston College
  • Tulane at Duke
  • Clemson at Florida State
  • Louisville at Florida International
  • Miami at Nebraska
  • North Carolina at East Carolina
  • Presbyterian at NC State
  • Iowa at Pitt
  • Maryland at Syracuse
  • Virginia at BYU
  • Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
  • Army at Wake Forest
Our pick: Clemson at Florida State

Why you should come along: Pretty simple, really. The winner of this game has gone on to play in five straight ACC championship games. Odds are this season will be no different, with Florida State and Clemson going into the season as the top teams in the Atlantic Division once again. Florida State has won two straight in the series and three of the last four and would seem to have the upper hand going into this one, with Jameis Winston and several playmakers back on both offense and defense. Clemson, meanwhile, has to replace its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a year ago.

But the Tigers have the potential to be extremely tough on defense, especially with their front seven. Last year, Clemson was completely outclassed in every phase of the game. The Tigers never really had a chance to be in the game, not with all the turnovers to start. And that was at home, with a veteran quarterback behind center. If the offense can hold on to the ball and make a few plays, the defense will be in much better position to affect the outcome of the game in Tallahassee.

There is little doubt Dabo Swinney has elevated the Clemson program. But Florida State, along with South Carolina, has become a must-win game. The coach has delivered two wins over Florida State since 2008 and one against South Carolina in the same time period, making him 3-9 against his team's two biggest rivals. Nobody wants to hear that this might be a rebuilding year for Clemson. When you put together three straight 10-win seasons, you don't rebuild. You reload. But are they reloaded enough to catch Florida State?

We find out in September.

Road trips
Thanks to everyone for all the great feedback on the ACC coach rankings. Now it's your turn to weigh in. Go!

Jon in Atlanta writes: Hey AA, I agree mostly on your list. However, I rank coaches based on their ability to coach. I think (David) Cutcliffe is No. 1. Why? Because he took basically 2-3 star players and competed with teams full of 4-5 star players. That in my mind, is what coaching is. Getting your players to play above their level. Also, I would rank Paul Johnson higher. We have a great graduation success percentage. In a college, key word college, coach that is what you want.

Brent in Charlotte writes: Really do not understand your criteria about ranking the coaches in the ACC. What I don't understand is how Jimbo (Fisher) gets credit for what he has done lately (which is due to having a great roster of talent) but others like (Dabo) Swinney don't. Prior to last year, you were questioning how good of a coach Jimbo really was since he had all that talent and hadn't gotten "over the hump". Because in your next argument, you talk about (Frank) Beamer's body of work and Cutcliffe's one good season (and throw out his five bad seasons). I think Cutcliffe is a great coach as well but No. 2 in the ACC after one good season in a weak division? Your rankings are all over the map and do not make any sense as to what you are comparing them against. If it's body of work, then it's clearly Beamer. If it's turnarounds, then it's Cutcliffe and (Al) Golden. And arguably Golden since he won at TEMPLE of all places. If it's who is doing the best now, it's Fisher and then Swinney.

Neil in Leland, N.C., writes: Beamer, (Bobby) Petrino AND Cutcliffe ahead of Dabo? Are you serious? Cutcliffe is 16-11 the last two years with bad bowl losses to Texas A&M and Cincinnati. Beamer has been owned by Clemson the last two times out, losing by 61-13. Petrino inherits a Louisville team WITHOUT (Teddy) Bridgewater and several others, and has yet to coach a single game in the ACC. Dabo is 22-4 the last two years, two top 10 finishes, and bowl victories over two top 10 teams. Me thinks you might have something against Clemson or Coach Swinney. It's the only thing I can think of.

Chris Butterick in Nashville, Tenn., writes: Like your list and agree on Cutliffe and Beamer but would think with the quality of player Swinney has recruited, he could have done a better "coaching" job. He is entertainment but just not as good as he is rated -- would put him eighth or ninth and also move Petrino down with Swinney. Honestly, it is about his character or lack thereof, but what has he really done lately? Also might flop Golden and (Larry) Fedora. Thanks for the rankings.

Stevie in Simpsonville, S.C., writes: Seriously? Just when I thought you knew what you were talking about? Swinney below Beamer (who he beat) as well as Cutcliffe (admirable, don't get me wrong) but in a division that has artificially been pumped up as "competitive"? I say do away with the divisions, rotate the games fairly, and let the best teams represent a rising ACC. Yes, rising! That and how about a rule against UNC for these classes I wish I could have taken back in college.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Ellen Ozier/USA TODAY SportsDavid Cutcliffe is 31-44 in six seasons as Duke coach.
Dana Dill in Cincinnati writes: You can't punish Swinney simply because he recruits well. Recruiting is part of coaching in college football. Swinney has turned the whole culture around at Clemson, not just the football program and it continues to thrive four years into his reign. He is a couple big wins away from a national championship and if Cutcliffe was competing in the same division as Clemson/FSU he wouldn't be playing for the ACC championship.

Will Graham in Liverpool, N.Y., writes: Scott Shafer should of been higher because winning a bowl game and finishing third in your division of the ACC conference where nobody expected them to do either must warrant something.

Yungdungbeetle87 in Chamapaign, Ill., writes: I like the job that Shafer is doing at the Cuse. I realize his body of work as a HC isn't very extensive and that surely is part of the reason why his coach ranking falls near the bottom of the ACC. On the other hand, he has done a lot with comparatively little, recruiting seems to be trending upwards, and the program looks to heading in the right direction despite being in the stronger division. I think that he, among the coaches in the ACC, has a really good chance to move up on that list within the next couple of seasons. I think he could be the biggest mover on this list next year. Thanks for reading (I've never done one of these before).

Robert VT in Blacksburg, Va., writes: Hi Andrea, thanks for your input. However, I do not feel that Bobby Petrino should be ranked in the top 6 for ACC coaches, when he hasn't coached a league game yet. Nothing against Petrino, and I'm happy to see Louisville enter our league on July 1. Granted Petrino has demonstrated in the past his high football acumen, but I think he may be cast a little too high right now. We'll see!

John P in St. Louis, Mo. ,writes: As you mentioned in your article, I believe there is a fairly large qualifier to this ranking. Are you ranking the coaches as they sit today, or as a body of work throughout their entire career? Those two lists would have quite a few differences for me, with Beamer being Exhibit A. For a coaching career, it's hard not to throw him at No. 1 with what he has accomplished, but in May 2014 would I pick him first out of this list to be my coach? Not even close. With that said, I'll assume the rankings are as if I'm picking a coach to run my team tomorrow: 1. Fisher 2. Cutcliffe 3. Swinney 4. Petrino 5. Fedora 6. Beamer 7. Golden 8. Chryst 9. Johnson 10. Doeren 11. Clawson 12. Addazio 13. Shafer 14. London. Go Cards!

Doug Levy in Radford, Va., writes: I get Fisher being up there based on winning a National Championship, but if you look at the body of his work, it may not merit the top spot. Cutcliffe ahead of Beamer just because he took Duke to the ACC championship game? Once? Yeah, it's Duke, but come on ... Name one coach on the list who has changed the way college football is played? There is only one: Frank Beamer. His approach to special teams play changed the game. His body of work is better than most in the nation, not just the ACC. Has he had a few down years? Yup, but who hasn't. Alabama, Texas, etc. have all had their slumps. Beamer is best.
Just in case you’ve just woken up from a coma or finally had your power restored after living in the dark for the past week, the 2014 NFL Draft begins tonight, and Round 1 promises its share of ACC highlights.

In Todd McShay’s latest mock draft Insider, six of the first 32 picks are from current ACC schools, which would be one shy of the conference’s tally from a year ago. But while last year’s draft had just one ACC player go in the first 15 picks (UNC’s Jonathan Cooper), there’s ample reason to think quite a few -- from safe bets Sammy Watkins and Aaron Donald to bigger wild cards such as Teddy Bridgewater and Morgan Moses -- could be early selections this year.

With all that in mind, we figured we’d take a look at how the current ACC members have faired in the draft in recent years.

Looking strictly at which schools have produced elite NFL prospects, the names at the top of the list aren’t overly surprising.



In the last 10 years, no ACC school has churned out more first-round selections than Florida State and Miami. Of course, there are a few noteworthy numbers in that mix, too. Since 2009, Miami hasn’t produced a single first-round pick, and again this year, the Hurricanes don’t have a single name listed in Mel Kiper’s top 100 prospects. (The ACC has 22 players in Kiper’s top 100.)

That stands in stark contrast with the first half of the 2000s, when Miami was a factory for first-rounders, including a whopping 24 from 2001 through 2007.

Meanwhile, the team that ranks third on both of those lists is Boston College, which is unique in that such a large portion of its total draftees were first-rounders. In the last 10 years, 40 percent of all BC players drafted went in the first round. No other ACC school has a ratio half that large.

In fact, when we look beyond the first round, we see that it’s still Florida State and Miami that produce the most draft prospects, while the smaller schools tend to fall toward the bottom.



Florida State had a dip in production in the immediate aftermath of the Bobby Bowden era, but with 11 players taken last year alone, it’s clear Jimbo Fisher has the Seminoles churning out NFL talent at a rate similar to their heyday. In fact, FSU is poised to send as many as a dozen more into this year’s draft, which would put its two-year tally for 2013 and 2014 at 23. Only Miami (24) had more players selected in the previous five drafts combined among ACC teams.

UNC ranks third among ACC teams with 16 players drafted in the last three years, which is, in part, the Butch Davis recruiting effect lingering. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney certainly deserves some credit at Clemson. From 2004-2008, the Tigers sent 15 players to the NFL. From 2009 through 2013, they sent 23 -- and figure to add at least another four to that total this weekend.

At the bottom of the list, we get more ammunition for critics of Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have had just two players selected in the last three drafts, and one (Anthony Allen) was a transfer not recruited by Johnson. Of course, Jeremiah Attaouchu should add to Johnson’s list of NFL talent this year.

Pitt has had just five players taken in the last three drafts -- none in the last two -- but Donald and Tom Savage assure some early intrigue for the Panthers in 2014, while Virginia (just three players in the last three years) should add to its total with Moses and Brent Urban.

Then, of course, there’s the ACC’s newest addition in Louisville. The Cardinals virtually evaporated from NFL draft boards in the immediate aftermath of Bobby Petrino’s departure, with just four players who were either recruited by or spent the bulk of their careers under Charlie Strong selected. That will change this year with Bridgewater and Calvin Pryor both projected to be taken early. Still, it’s a good reassurance for Louisville fans to remember than Petrino’s heyday of producing NFL talent that he either recruited or coached was pretty bountiful. From 2005 through 2008, Louisville had 19 players drafted.

Of course, all these numbers will be reshuffled in just a few hours, which should make for a long weekend on the couch. Enjoy!

Ranking the ACC coaches

May, 6, 2014
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After Florida State won the national championship, some began to debate where Jimbo Fisher stood among all coaches nationally.

Had he reached an elite level with that title?

The Sporting News has attempted to answer that question in its coaches rankings, released last week. Fisher ranks No. 10 among all head coaches on the list, the highest among all ACC coaches. But that still seems too low for a coach who has two ACC titles, an Orange Bowl victory, a national championship, a Heisman Trophy winner on his roster and a school-record 11 draft picks in 2013 alone. Especially when you consider how much work had to be done to get the Seminoles back into the national conversation.

[+] EnlargeBobby Bowden
AP Photo/Steve CannonA national championship has raised Jimbo Fisher's profile after coaching under Florida State legend Bobby Bowden.
While it is true that Florida State lost games it simply should not have under Fisher, what happened last season should carry more weight. It did for Gus Malzahn, who surprisingly checks in only three spots behind Fisher on the list.

At the very least, Fisher deserves to be ranked ahead of Chris Petersen, David Shaw and Brian Kelly. You could have a great debate on whether Fisher should be ranked ahead of Les Miles or Mark Dantonio, too. Very few teams rival the talent and depth Fisher has assembled over the last few seasons. If the Seminoles contend for another national championship, I expect Fisher to be ranked much higher when the 2015 version comes out next year.

As for the rest of the ACC, here is how the rankings shake out, with overall national ranking:

  • No. 10 Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
  • No. 16 Dabo Swinney, Clemson
  • No. 18 David Cutcliffe, Duke
  • No. 21 Bobby Petrino, Louisville
  • No. 30 Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech
  • No. 31 Larry Fedora, North Carolina
  • No. 32 Al Golden, Miami
  • No. 53 Paul Johnson Georgia Tech
  • No. 60 Paul Chryst, Pitt
  • No. 65 David Clawson, Wake Forest
  • No. 66 Steve Addazio, Boston College
  • No. 68 Dave Doeren, NC State
  • No. 83 Scott Shafer, Syracuse
  • No. 102 Mike London, Virginia

I would make a few tweaks to this list. Swinney has done a great job at Clemson, but I would move Cutcliffe ahead for a few reasons. Nobody ever expected the Blue Devils to compete for an ACC title, but that is exactly what happened last year. Cutcliffe has taken this team to back-to-back bowl games, an ACC championship game and has won consecutive coach of the year honors while having to recruit to a tough academic school. Duke is not bringing in the kind of quality classes Clemson is; Cutcliffe is simply doing more with less.

I also would move Beamer up, but the question is where? Ahead of both Swinney and Petrino? Ahead of Petrino only? Should the last few years take away from all his accomplishments? I understand the Sporting News rankings are a snapshot of how coaches fare year to year, but Beamer should get credit for his long body of work. Beamer has won seven conference titles and made six BCS appearances, including one national championship game. Petrino has a great offensive mind and Swinney has put Clemson back into the Top 25 every year, but neither has come close to Beamer's career accomplishments.

I would also move Chryst down. Doeren did have a disappointing first year at NC State, but he also led Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance. Chryst is 13-13 overall as a head coach, though he had a rough deal handed to him to fix the Pitt mess he inherited. I feel pretty confident in the top 5. The rest? Flip 'em up, down and all around and you could make arguments to move just about everybody. Taking into account recent success (weighted slightly more), body of work and results at a power-5 job (weighted slightly more), the AA rankings would look something like this:

1. Fisher
2. Cutcliffe
3. Beamer
4. Swinney
5. Petrino
6. Golden
7. Fedora
8. Johnson
9. Addazio
10. Doeren
11. Chryst
12. Clawson
13. Shafer
14. London

Send me your thoughts into the mailbag, and I will publish your responses this Friday. Let the debate begin!


Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn't want to do it.

When he met with former quarterback Chad Kelly on the Monday following Clemson's spring game, Swinney said his original plan was to suspend Kelly -- not dismiss him from the team entirely -- but the meeting "just didn’t go well."

"There’s just certain things you can’t tolerate, and that’s just the bottom line," Swinney said. "It wasn’t a good meeting. It was a simple decision that was made. He moved on and we moved on."

So did more than half the ACC this spring, to a new era of quarterbacks.

Cole Stoudt’s tenure began swiftly at Clemson, ending what was one of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in the ACC and capping a spring that was filled with quarterback news throughout the conference.

[+] EnlargeKevin Olsen
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKevin Olsen became Miami's first-string quarterback when Ryan Williams tore his ACL.
At Miami, quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL, leaving Kevin Olsen the undisputed starter heading into summer camp.

At Duke, Brandon Connette announced his decision to transfer to the West Coast, leaving Anthony Boone in an unfamiliar role of being the lone leader.

Boston College named Florida transfer Tyler Murphy its starter, Syracuse reaffirmed Terrel Hunt as its starter, Justin Thomas is the main man at Georgia Tech, Will Gardner took the lead at Louisville and Chad Voytik became the obvious choice at Pitt.

What began as a position up for grabs in the ACC is largely no longer a mystery, as many schools determined their starting quarterback this spring, or at least had separation occur -- if not by performance, then by default. While most of the quarterbacks throughout the league are still unproven (six schools don’t have any starting experience returning to the position, and four schools brought in transfers to help), many enter summer camp at least sure of where they stand on the depth chart.

"I had my meeting with the coaches before all that happened, and I felt comfortable with where I was," said Stoudt, who will make his first career start in the season opener at Georgia. "They said I was going to be the guy and everything. I know there were some things that happened, but I'm happy with the situation, and I'm happy I'm the guy going into fall camp, so it's exciting."

Nine of the 14 schools in the ACC will introduce a first-year starting quarterback this fall. Of the 11 teams that entered spring with quarterback competitions, eight found answers -- or at least had an obvious front-runner emerge.

At Miami, Williams had distanced himself from Olsen through his decision-making and accuracy, but the torn ACL meant an instant promotion for Olsen. Still, coach Al Golden said his confidence in the position remains high.

"I think we're not going to change what we do," Golden said. "We need to do a really good job of establishing the running game, keeping it simple, doing what we do best. Getting into more third-and-manageables. We were in way too many third-and-longs last year to possess the ball and convert. Clearly the two young men we have here on campus right now can do it. The two coming in will also have an opportunity to compete."

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsVirginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is still looking for a starting quarterback to emerge.
The only three schools that didn’t come close to naming a starter this spring were Virginia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest. It's not a stretch to say that the Hokies' hopes of returning to the ACC title game hinge on having a dependable quarterback emerge, and as one of the premier programs in the Coastal Division, it will continue to be one of the most-watched storylines of the summer. Those within the program have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and true freshman Chris Durkin. The staff has made it perfectly clear they won’t name a starter until those two are added to the competition this summer.

"The big question really is the quarterback," coach Frank Beamer said. "I think Mark Leal, Brenden Motley and Andrew Ford all have had their moments. Some of it's good; some of it's not as good as you like. I think Michael Brewer coming in, Chris Durkin coming in, will enter into the competition there. We'll see how that ends up. But that's certainly the critical question for our football team right now."

The critical question for the rest of the conference becomes how these new starters will perform when it counts. Now that most of them have earned their starting jobs, there's pressure to keep them.

"I've said that if we were to play tomorrow, [Will Gardner] would run out there as our starter," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "… There will certainly be competition for it in the fall. He’ll have a chance to go out each day and prove that he's either the better quarterback, or someone passes him by."

More often than not, the ACC's new quarterbacks were able to prove it this spring.

ACC's lunch links

April, 24, 2014
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I write the ACC lunch links one week out of every month, and still I was somehow left off Time’s list of its 100 most influential people. Something is seriously wrong with their criteria.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 16, 2014
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Never forget.

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 13, 2014
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Taking questions for the mailbag. Send them along here.

ACC's lunch links

March, 11, 2014
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Miami, NC State, North Carolina and UVa are all on spring break and resume practice next week.
Virginia Tech quarterback Mark Leal looked around his position meeting room this winter and realized just how empty it was. True freshman Andrew Ford, who enrolled early, and redshirt freshman Brenden Motley were his only company.

None of them has ever started a game.

“This is probably the most slim it’s been since I’ve been here,” said Leal, a fifth-year senior. “We’ve always had at least five or six guys, but right now it’s only three.”

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett, Garrett Leatham
Lance King/Getty ImagesJacoby Brissett (12) is one of several transfers who could move into starting roles in the ACC in 2014.
Sounds like the entire ACC, where six schools have absolutely zero quarterbacks returning with any starting experience, and four schools brought in transfers to help.

As spring practices begin throughout the conference, the ACC kicks off its 2014 season with a complete overhaul at the quarterback position. It was only a year ago that Florida State’s Jameis Winston was an unproven rookie who had yet to start a game. Now, the 20-year-old reigning Heisman Trophy winner is the veteran of the league, as nine of the 14 schools will have a first-year starting quarterback, and the competition is open at 11 programs. Florida State, Duke and NC State are the only programs that have definitively named starters, and even NC State doesn’t know what to expect out of first-year starter and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett, though, knows what’s expected.

“Go make sure it was earned,” he said, “not given.”

Count on that to be a trend in the conference this spring.

Clemson, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest are all starting from scratch, without any starting experience at the quarterback position. Some of the league’s most recognizable names have to be replaced, including Tajh Boyd, Logan Thomas and Teddy Bridgewater. Coaches at North Carolina, Syracuse and Virginia have deemed their competitions open, in spite of experienced starters returning.

“I looked at that and was kind of surprised,” said Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, the frontrunner to take over the job after Vad Lee’s decision to transfer. “It should even the playing field out a little bit, but at the same time, we all have to go through our parts.”

Not to mention spring and summer auditions.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said it’s likely the competition between Chad Kelly, Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson will extend beyond this spring -- and possibly into the season.

“Going in, Cole starts out as No. 1 simply because of where we finished the season -- basically by default, if you will,” Swinney said. “He’s the senior. It’s basically his to lose going in, but it’s incredibly close. You’re talking about -- in my opinion -- three guys who are going to play in the NFL. I believe with all my heart that Cole Stoudt is going to play in the NFL. And the same thing with Chad Kelly, and the same thing with Deshaun Watson, if they stay healthy. So you’ve got three NFL players competing to be the guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Some people say, well, if you don’t have one quarterback then you have none. But that’s not the case here.”

It could be the case elsewhere, though.

Virginia Tech (Michael Brewer), Boston College (Tyler Murphy), Miami (Ryan Williams) and NC State (Brissett) are all hoping that transfers can give the position an immediate boost, but former Texas Tech quarterback Brewer won’t join the Hokies until this summer. While none of them has started a game at their current schools, all but Brewer have started at least three games at their previous programs.

Williams started 10 games while he was at Memphis, and he’s the leading candidate to replace Stephen Morris, but “it is wide open,” according to offensive coordinator James Coley. And Williams knows it.

"You have to earn it, you have to earn everything,” Williams told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “I don't want anything given to me. If it's given to me, I didn't work hard enough.”

Brissett started three games at Florida, and Murphy started six games for the Gators after starter Jeff Driskel was lost for the season. Murphy went 2-4 with 1,216 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions before missing the final three games of the season with a shoulder injury.

Nothing is guaranteed in Chestnut Hill this spring, either, as the Eagles also have Darius Wade, a true freshman who enrolled early, and James Walsh, who will be a redshirt freshman.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
David Manning/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals are about to embark on life without Teddy Bridgewater.
“They’re all real green,” offensive coordinator Ryan Day said of the Eagles’ quarterbacks. “It’s obviously an open competition. I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing them throw and run the offense. We’ll see. All three of these guys are mobile, they can run. They’re dual threats. We’re going to use that as a weapon for us. We’re not going to totally change what we do, but we’ll add that component to it.”

All eyes will be on Louisville’s quarterback competition, as the Cardinals enter their first season in the ACC without Bridgewater, who left early to enter the NFL draft. Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin will be the top two candidates this spring, and they’ll be joined by incoming freshman Reggie Bonnafon this summer.

“It’s wide open,” first-year coach Bobby Petrino said. “We’ll go through spring and see who comes out 1-2-3 and then obviously we’ll give Reggie an opportunity in the fall to compete with those guys.”

With the addition of Louisville, the ACC enters this season perceived by many to be the strongest it has ever been.

Now it just needs to find a few quarterbacks to help prove it.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 14, 2014
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Thoughts are with the BC family today on the passing of Dick Kelley.

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