NCF Nation: Florida State Seminoles

2015 ACC schedule breakdown

January, 30, 2015
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Now that we have all had some time to digest the 2015 ACC schedule, let us look at the most noteable takeaways.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDeshaun Watson and Clemson will get a later shot at Florida State in 2015, which is a positive development.
The good: Moving Florida State-Clemson to November. If both teams are as good as they have been in recent years, then their game will again determine the Atlantic Division. And there is nothing better than a high-stakes division contest in November, as opposed to September. There was absolutely no drama in the Atlantic this past season after Florida State beat the Tigers in Week 4; the Noles' spot in the ACC championship game was virtually solidified. As Jared Shanker pointed out, the ACC will have nationally relevant games in all three months of the 2015 regular season. That is absolutely huge.

The bad: North Carolina and Boston College are saddled with two FCS games apiece, a fact that did not go unnoticed Thursday. There is a simple explanation: previously scheduled games fell through and both schools were left scrambling. North Carolina had initially scheduled Ohio State for 2015. The game was moved, then subsequently canceled when the Big Ten voted to play nine conference games. Two more factors were at play: the ACC reversed course on a nine-game league schedule when it agreed to a partnership with Notre Dame. North Carolina wanted to wait on that schedule rotation to see how it would shake out. While having two FCS teams on the schedule is far from ideal, North Carolina does play two power-five teams with Illinois and South Carolina. As for Boston College, New Mexico State recently backed out of a 2015 game against the Eagles because it overscheduled. That left a hole the Boston College had to fill on very short notice. So Howard was added. Nobody is running around throwing a party over the FCS opponents. Sometimes these dilemmas happen. (Remember when Florida State had to replace West Virginia with Savannah State?)

The ugly: Poor Syracuse. Not only do the Orange get LSU in nonconference play, they also have the toughest three-game conference stretch of anybody in the ACC: at Florida State, at Louisville and Clemson on three straight weekends spanning the end of October into November. Nobody else in the Atlantic has to face the division's top three teams consecutively. Miami also faces a tough three-game stretch in October that could make or break Coastal Division hopes: at Florida State, Virginia Tech and Clemson. Nope, the Canes got no favors when they traded Louisville from the Atlantic for the Tigers. But there might not be anything uglier than the NC State nonconference schedule: Troy, Eastern Kentucky and then road games (yes, road games) against Old Dominion and South Alabama.

The byes: A 13-week scheduling window wreaked some havoc with the way the schedules were created because there was only space for one open week. ACC senior associate commissioner of football operations Michael Strickland had some good insight into how that was handled. Some teams are going to suffer more than others. Boston College has 10 straight games before its open date. Opening with the two FCS games might not serve as any consolation. Wake Forest, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech each have to play nine straight games to open the season; Florida State, Miami, Pitt and Clemson have to play nine straight games to end the season. The bye week is placed at an odd time for Clemson. The Tigers play Louisville on Thursday, Sept. 17 then go 15 days until they play again, Oct. 3 against Notre Dame. That is the longest regular-season layoff in school history.

The different: Friday night is the new weekday favorite in the ACC, with more announced dates than Thursday night, the former go-to spot. David Teel of the Daily Press has a great explainer piece on the topic, but it all comes down to television. The ACC will feature its top four teams from 2014 on either Thursday or Friday night this upcoming season. Strategery is definitely involved there.

The impossible: Once again, Virginia has the toughest schedule in the ACC, facing 10 teams that made bowl games in 2014. The move to overschedule is an interesting one, especially when you look at the nonconference scheduling models that NC State and Duke have followed. Both those programs have the worst nonconference schedules in 2015, choosing an easier route toward bowl eligibility. Last season, for example, Virginia was vastly improved, but still finished 5-7 with a backbreaking nonconference schedule. NC State finished 8-5 with a bowl victory, thanks to a cupcake nonconference schedule. NC State has scheduled up in the future to meet the requirement that ACC teams play at least one Power 5 opponent. But for right now, this schedule is hugely beneficial in the wins column. In the case of Virginia, the Hoos would be pleased if they make it out of their first four games against UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary and Boise State 2-2.

As former Virginia offensive lineman Luke Bowanko tweeted Thursday after the schedule was released:

The ACC will have an opportunity to make a big-time statement when the 2015 season kicks off.

That has become par for the course.

In what has become an annual rite of passage, the ACC has four blockbuster meetings against Power 5 opponents set for Week 1:
  • North Carolina vs. South Carolina on Thurs., Sept. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Louisville vs. Auburn on Sat., Sept. 5 in the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. On the same day, Virginia travels to face UCLA at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
  • Then, perhaps the most anticipated game of the weekend: defending national champion Ohio State travels to play Virginia Tech on Labor Day Night. This marks the Hokies' third appearance on Labor Day Monday; the game will be nationally televised by ESPN.

Those were among the big games spotlighted when the ACC released its schedule on Thursday. In all, ACC teams will play more games against teams that are ranked in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early 2015 Top 25 rankings (12) than any of the other Power 5 conferences. ACC teams also are playing a higher percentage of Power 5 teams (38 percent) than any other Power 5 conference.

None of this comes as a surprise, considering how strongly the ACC has scheduled nonconference opponents in recent years. For the ACC to continue to make inroads toward changing national perception, it will have to keep winning the spotlight games. As it stands, the ACC most likely will be the underdog in those four opening -weekend contests. And many people believe the only way an ACC team can make it into the playoff is with an unblemished record.

In addition to those marquee nonconference games, all eyes will be squarely on Florida State, Clemson and Georgia Tech as prime playoff contenders.

We should know more about their ACC and College Football Playoff fates over a four-week period spanning October and November.

Circle your calendars for:
  • Georgia Tech at Clemson, Oct. 10
  • Florida State at Georgia Tech, Oct. 24
  • Florida State at Clemson, Nov. 7

As for the always important mid-week games, Virginia Tech might not be hosting a Thursday night contest in 2015, but it does have Labor Day against the Buckeyes and a Friday night home game against NC State on Oct. 9. The Hokies also travel to play Georgia Tech on Thurs., Nov. 12.

Florida State and Clemson have mid-week games as well: Louisville will host the Tigers on Thurs., Sept. 17 in a game that should have Atlantic Division implications, while Florida State plays at Boston College the next day. Boise State at Virginia (Sept. 25); Louisville at Wake Forest (Oct. 30); and Miami at Pitt (Nov. 27) round out the Friday night slate. North Carolina at Pitt on Oct. 29 is the only other Thursday night game.
Jimbo FisherDon Juan Moore/Getty ImagesJimbo Fisher has been able to attract top recruits to continue Florida State's success.
Alabama and Nick Saban have set the national recruiting pace the past five years, and that won't change in the week leading up to signing day as they close on a fifth consecutive recruiting title.

However, Florida State is not far off, and in Saban’s rearview mirror is the familiar face of his former offensive coordinator, Jimbo Fisher.

Florida State was the last program to finish ahead of Alabama in the rankings (2011), and the Seminoles are the only other team that will have a top-three class for the fourth time in the past five cycles. Their five-year average finish of 3.4 is second to only Alabama's five-year average of 1.6.

That’s why the FSU program is the strongest it has been in the past decade and why there should be optimism among Seminoles fans now that award-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, as well as a bevy of starters, are now off to the NFL.

The reality is 2015 is a transitional period for the Seminoles. Twelve players have left early for the NFL over the past three years. They’re replacing nearly the entire offensive line and their two best receivers, defensive linemen and cornerbacks. And gone, of course, is one of the greatest players in program history.

Two losses in the 2015 season is not out of the question for Florida State, which has lost only once in its past 30 games.

A fourth consecutive ACC championship would be equally unsurprising. There was the thought that Florida State might have missed a championship window in the 2012 season, which ended with two losses. Eleven players were drafted from that team, including five in the first two rounds. It’s hard to compensate for that many meaningful departures.

Of course, the Seminoles went undefeated the next season and went on to claim their first national title since 1999, and did it with key players from Fisher’s first recruiting class.

As many as a dozen former Seminoles could be selected in this upcoming NFL draft. Although that means Florida State is losing a significant amount of talent, it also indicates how well Fisher and his staff are recruiting. It shows the sustained recruiting success that Fisher has had over the course of his five-year tenure, and it’s why blue-chip prospects are stampeding down Interstate 10 toward Tallahassee.

Half of the Seminoles’ 22 commitments are ESPN 300 prospects, and with a few more scholarships remaining, that number figures to grow. The Seminoles have the No. 1 athlete and top-rated safety. They also have top-five players at quarterback, running back, defensive end, cornerback and linebacker.

To replace Winston, Fisher has three ESPN 300 quarterback commits (if including athlete Kai Locksley) to go along with 2014 ESPN 300 signee JJ Cosentino and Sean Maguire, who started in place of Winston against Clemson. Down the line, 2016 No. 1 quarterback Malik Henry plans to leave Southern California and head east to Florida State. (Henry is one of six 2016 FSU commitments, and five are among the top 184 players nationally.)

Although all of those players have the high school credentials, there are countless quarterbacks and high school players who fail to live up to the hype. Fisher has a track record of helping his players realize their potential, which is why the draft numbers have skyrocketed. Winston could be the second No. 1 overall pick Fisher has tutored. (JaMarcus Russell was the first.)

Before Fisher, the Seminoles finished in the top 12 of the rankings in three of Bobby Bowden’s last four recruiting classes, but there were too many misses during those cycles.

Florida State’s ability to develop players has been a key recruiting pitch, and it’s the reason Abdul Bello, No. 4 among offensive tackles, committed to Florida State. The ESPN 300 lineman immigrated to Florida from Nigeria in 2013 and admits he still doesn’t know many of the nuances to the game. He was looking for a coaching staff that would be able to help his raw athleticism mature, and it’s why he said so many top recruits are joining him.

“When those players [from earlier classes] were going there, they were good players, but when they went there … the coaches gave them good coaching,” Bello said. “We’ll get that same great coaching, same attitude, same hunger and that same will to win with this coaching. We’ll be really good.”

Fisher’s recruiting efforts are boosted now that Florida State has joined the college football arms race. The school received cosmetic upgrades recently with a new indoor practice facility and overhauled football offices and locker rooms. The school is also allocating more money to be spent on assistant coaches. The recruiting budget has increased to where the Seminoles are at least competitive with other top schools. Florida State might always struggle to keep up with the Joneses in Tuscaloosa and throughout the SEC, but Fisher has the pivotal pieces in place.

“I'm not a spoiled kid. If I want it, it's because it's going to make our organization better. Every decision we make is about winning and developing our players,” Fisher said not long after FSU unveiled its latest facility upgrades in July. “... I always ask folks, when you walk into an organization, you go into a business, the minute you walk in, you make a first impression: Is this place committed to excellence, is it a championship organization?”

Florida State is one of those organizations now, which is why the future is promising for the Seminoles even with so many unknowns awaiting them in 2015.

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Kyler Murray isn't the only high-profile Texan who will shape the future of Lone Star State recruiting, as ESPN 300 defensive backs Kris Boyd and Holton Hill will announce their decisions together Friday.

Every team has issues to address this offseason, and this week, we're taking a look at the most glaring holes for each ACC team and figuring out where they might find answers between now and the season opener.

Florida State Seminoles

Position to improve: Linebacker

Why it was a problem: It's not often that a defense can lose a playmaker such as Telvin Smith (and DE/OLB Christian Jones to an extent) and move on without missing a beat. With the talent Jimbo Fisher has recruited, some thought the Seminoles might have minimal drop-off. But the unit had its ups and downs for a variety of reasons. There were injuries and suspensions, and there also a lot of inexperience and not as much athleticism. The linebackers struggled at times against the run and the pass, and there was not a great pass-rusher among the group.

How it can be fixed: A healthy Terrance Smith Jr. will obviously help, and so will a full season from redshirt sophomore Matthew Thomas. Smith battled a sprained knee throughout the second half of the season, and Thomas was suspended for the first six games. The Seminoles need one of their younger linebackers to step up, though, especially with the losses of E.J. Levenberry and Reggie Northrup (ACL surgery). Jacob Pugh played sparingly as a freshman, and Delvin Purifoy never played a down after a season-ending injury. The good news is Pugh, Purifoy and defensive end/linebacker Lorenzo Featherston were all blue-chip recruits in the 2014 class and will have a full year under their belts.

Early 2015 outlook: There are definite reasons for optimism, as Smith and Thomas will be joined by one of the younger players. The 2014 class was filled with talent, and there will be an opportunity for the second-year linebackers to step up. The Seminoles also went the junior college route in the 2015 class with linebacker Lorenzo Phillips. He was the third-ranked outside linebacker among junior college players, and the idea is for him to make an immediate impact. But while the outlook is hardly bleak, one of the younger players has to step up and help the defense return to the top of the national rankings.
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It's tough to imagine a more exhausting and stressful conclusion to a recruiting process than the one Iman Marshall orchestrated. Over the past 10 days, Marshall has taken official visits to Florida State, LSU and Michigan, as well as hosted several coaches at his home and school. But just like on the football field, the nation's No. 4 overall prospect doesn't appear to be fazed at all by what's being thrown at him.

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It obviously takes talented players to put together a 29-game winning streak.

How talented? Florida State could be in rarefied air once the draft is completed in early May. With a nation-leading five early entrants in the draft, Florida State is on course to have at least 11 players selected.

If that happens, Florida State will have 29 players drafted over the last three years, more than any other team since the draft was cut down to seven rounds in 1994. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the last school that had at least 29 players drafted over a three-year period was Texas, with 31 taken from 1982-84.

Only two programs have had 28 players taken since 2002: Miami (2002-04) and USC (2008-10).

Those Miami teams are widely regarded as among the best all-time at producing NFL talent. Of those 28 drafted, 15 went in the first round. Florida State will not come close to that first-round number, having had four first-round picks in 2013 and 2014 with a handful projected for 2015.

But there is an interesting debate to be had between this recent Florida State stretch that produced a national championship, 29 straight wins and potentially more overall picks, and the Miami stretch that produced a national championship, 34 straight wins and more first-round picks.

Is the 2001 Miami championship team head-and-shoulders above the 2013 Florida State championship team? That question is worth discussion.

What is not up for debate is where this Florida State group stands compared to its other talented teams. This three-year stretch blows any other in school history away. Until now, its most drafted three-year group was 22 from 1993-95.

It goes without saying that coach Jimbo Fisher has done a tremendous job on the recruiting trail. Not only is he signing top-flight classes, he is taken the highly skilled players in those groups and developing them into professional talents at rapid-fire rates. Fisher can boast that better than just about anyone.

Here is a look at the recent three-year stretches Florida State, Miami and USC have put together in the NFL draft:

MIAMI, 2002-04

2002 draftees: 11
First round: Five -- Bryant McKinnie, Jeremy Shockey, Phillip Buchanon, Ed Reed, Mike Rumph

2003 draftees: Eight
First round: Four -- Andre Johnson, Jerome McDougle, Willis McGahee, William Joseph

2004 draftees: Nine
First round: Six -- Sean Taylor, Kellen Winslow, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, Vernon Carey, Vince Wilfork

USC, 2008-10

2008 draftees: 10
First round: Four -- Sedrick Ellis, Keith Rivers, Sam Baker, Lawrence Jackson

2009 draftees: 11
First round: Three -- Mark Sanchez, Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews

2010 draftees: Seven
First round: None

FLORIDA STATE, 2013-15

2013 draftees: 11
First round: Three -- EJ Manuel, Bjoern Werner, Xavier Rhodes

2014 draftees: Seven
First round: One -- Kelvin Benjamin.

2015 draftees: TBD
Most likely to be drafted: Jameis Winston, Eddie Goldman, P.J. Williams, Mario Edwards Jr., Ronald Darby, Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Karlos Williams, Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary, Tre' Jackson
The end of our countdown has finally arrived. Here are the ACC's top five players of the 2014 season.

To see the full list, click here.

1. James Conner, Pittsburgh
Position: Running back
Year: Sophomore
Tough to go with anybody else at No. 1 after watching Conner bulldoze the competition en route to ACC Offensive Player of the Year and ACC Player of the Year honors. And, well, it is not every day that Tony Dorsett's long-standing school records are shattered. Conner led the league in rushing yards (1,765), rushing touchdowns (26), rushing yards per game (135.8) and scoring (156 points). His touchdown and scoring totals broke the Pitt single-season records Dorsett set in 1976. Conner had three 200-yard games and seven 100-yard games, often taking multiple defenders on his back along for a ride. He was downright dominant, and in a year of powerful backs, he deserves the No. 1 spot.

2. Jameis Winston, Florida State
Position: Quarterback
Year: Redshirt sophomore
If there is one player on this list you would take with the game on the line, it would be Winston. But this list is an evaluation of the top performances week in and week out, and Winston was simply not consistent enough to merit the top spot this year. He made too many mistakes, whether he was trying too hard with an inexperienced receiving corps or just making the wrong decisions. But those mistakes do not diminish the fact that Winston remains one of the best (and most dangerous) players in the nation. Winston ended the season with an ACC-leading 3,907 yards passing, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions, all down from a year ago. But he did lead Florida State to a third straight ACC title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

3. Vic Beasley, Clemson
Position: Defensive end
Year: Senior
Beasley returned to school for his senior season and was even better -- despite facing more double- and triple-teams than at any point in his career. He won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors and was a finalist for the Bednarik and Lombardi awards after racking up a team-high 21.5 tackles for loss, a team-high 12 sacks, nine quarterback pressures, three pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Nobody in the ACC was better off the edge than Beasley, and he was a nightmare for many teams to block.

4. Duke Johnson, Miami
Position: Running back
Year: Junior
Johnson had the best season of his career because he was able to stay healthy and play all 13 games, finishing second behind Conner in the ACC in rushing with 1,652 yards. But Johnson led the league in all-purpose yards with 2,073, emerging as a much bigger pass-catching threat out of the backfield. When the season ended, he stood above all the other Miami greats on the career rushing and all-purpose yards lists. But maybe most impressive of all, he averaged 7.4 yards every time he touched the ball.

5. Gerod Holliman, Louisville
Position: Safety
Year: Redshirt sophomore
There were plenty of questions about the Louisville secondary heading into the season, following the loss of Hakeem Smith and Calvin Pryor, two of the best players on the 2013 defense. But Holliman stepped right into the starting lineup and made an immediate impact in Todd Grantham's 3-4 scheme, using his athleticism to make plays all over the field. When it was over, Holliman had tied an NCAA record with 14 interceptions and won the Jim Thorpe Award as the best defensive back in college football.

Story of the season: Florida State

January, 22, 2015
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There was no shortage of adversity for Florida State during the 2014 season. We're not talking about the off-field controversies, often self-inflicted, that swirled around this team.

On the field, few teams had to scale steeper second-half inclines than Florida State and none had the potential history on the line the way the Seminoles did. It began with a near-upset defeat in the August opener, and by the end of September it was clear any loss would put Florida State on the College Football Playoff periphery and end an opportunity for back-to-back national championships.

[+] EnlargeTony Washington, Jameis Winston
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesAgainst Oregon in the Rose Bowl, Florida State finally met an obstacle it couldn't hurdle.
Through the first 13 games, Florida State responded to the adversity with timely forced fumbles and clutch touchdown drives. However, in the penultimate game of what would have been an unprecedented second straight national title season for Florida State, the dike fractured and the floodgates opened, unleashing a five-turnover torrent that Oregon rode to a 59-20 win.

"During the whole season, we would put ourselves in difficult binds that we always fought our way out of," departing defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said after the Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual. "My dad would always say, 'It only catches up with you when it catches up with you.' Tonight is one of those nights where I think we let the points add up too much."

The pressure can only build for so long before it finds an outlet, but the result should not overshadow a season unlike any other. For three months, Florida State dug its feet in and refused to give ground during a white-knuckle season. The Seminoles trailed nine times during the first 13 games, sometimes by as many as three scores.

There were times the offense was punchless and others when the defense was toothless, but the adversity fostered an inverse relationship. When one unit wasn't clicking, the other raised its game. There was luck too -- ricocheted touchdowns and goal-line penalties -- but few teams were better suited to take advantage.

The burden of a second undefeated season only grew heavier with the selection committee's rankings. The Seminoles nearly slipped out of the top four until, for the first time all season, they moved up to No. 3 -- in the final rankings. The Seminoles had fallen from No. 2 to No. 4, behind three one-loss teams, less than a week before the final rankings. Chair Jeff Long said the committee was not in the business of making statements, but the message was clear: Florida State had little room for error.

The pressure was felt in the locker room, which Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher admitted at the end of the regular season. Yet it never had an adverse effect in the win column. Their 13 wins to start the season extended their streak to 29 in a row, the fourth-longest streak since the 1968 season.

"It was a great run," Fisher said at the Rose Bowl. "What our guys accomplished and what they've been able to play and do and the quality of games in which they've been able to play in, it was an extremely great run."

Now the 2015 Seminoles face an entirely new kind of adversity. For the first time since 2012, Florida State is responding to a loss. Next year's starting 22 might feature just four players (with three starts among them) who played an active part of that 2012 team.

"Hopefully," Fisher said after the Rose Bowl loss, "we can put together another [streak]."
We’re winding down our list of the ACC’s top 25 players from 2014. To view the previous entries, click here. Now, on to Nos. 6 through 10.

6. Rashad Greene, Florida State

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

There’s never been any question about Greene’s talent, but in 2014 he firmly established himself as one of the great leaders in FSU history. Surrounded by an inexperienced group of receivers, Greene stepped up to become one of the most consistent targets in the nation and caught 99 passes for 1,365 yards -- with numerous game-changing plays along the way. His 74-yard touchdown against Clemson preserved FSU’s win streak, and he finished with double-digit receptions in three games and topped 100 yards receiving eight times. Greene wrapped up his career as FSU’s leading receiver in each of his four seasons.

7. Grady Jarrett, Clemson

Position: Defensive tackle

Year: Senior

Jarrett was the vocal leader of Clemson’s dynamic defensive front, and few tackles in the country made a bigger impact on a week-to-week basis than he did. His 45 tackles paced all Clemson defensive linemen, and his 10 tackles for loss were the most by an ACC interior lineman. Jarrett was a key cog in the nation’s fifth-ranked rushing defense, and he helped solidify the middle for a unit that racked up 254 tackles for loss over the past two seasons.

8. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech

Position: Quarterback

Year: Sophomore

Entering the season, fans were beginning to wonder if Paul Johnson’s option offense had run its course at Georgia Tech. Then Thomas was added to the fray, and everything changed. The sophomore proved a perfect fit for Johnson’s scheme and threw for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns while becoming just the second Tech QB in the past decade to top 1,000 yards on the ground. Thomas is one of just 13 Power 5 QBs in the past decade to top both benchmarks in a single season. Thomas helped Georgia Tech become the nation’s most prolific rushing offense and led the Yellow Jackets to an 11-3 season, a Coastal Division title and a win in the Capital One Orange Bowl.

9. DeVante Parker, Louisville

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

How do you make a case for a player who missed the first seven games of the year to rank in the top 10? With Parker, it’s actually pretty easy. A foot injury during fall camp sidelined Parker early, but the Cardinals’ receiver debuted Oct. 18 against NC State with nine catches for 132 yards, and he never slowed down. In his six games this season, he topped 120 yards five times, including a 214-yard performance against Florida State. Despite missing half the season, Parker finished seventh in the ACC in receiving yards, and among Power 5 receivers with at least 40 catches, none averaged more yards per reception than Parker, at 19.9.

10. Jamison Crowder, Duke

Position: Receiver

Year: Senior

Crowder finished with 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season, after turning in his fourth 100-yard game of the year in Duke’s bowl game against Arizona State. One of the ACC’s most consistent receiving threats in each of the past three seasons, Crowder was an all-purpose star who finished third in the ACC in receiving yards, second in receptions, first in punt-return yardage and sixth in all-purpose yards. Also, he was the only ACC player with multiple special-teams touchdowns this season.
We’re counting down the ACC’s top players of the 2014 season, with a look today at Nos. 11 through 15.

To read the rest of the list, click here.

11. Clive Walford, Miami

Position: Tight end

Year: Senior

Walford emerged as a go-to receiver for freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, becoming one of the most reliable targets on the team. That speaks volumes to his growth because Miami has no shortage of players at the skill positions. Walford ended up leading the team with 44 receptions -- one of just nine tight ends in the country to lead his team in that category. His 676 yards and seven touchdowns ranked second on the team.

12. Nick O'Leary, Florida State

Position: Tight end

Year: Senior

O'Leary won the John Mackey Award as the best tight end in the nation, but we have him ranked just behind Walford. The truth is, you can split hairs on who was better this season. A case can be made for both. O'Leary set career highs with 48 receptions for 618 yards to finish second on his team in both categories, while adding six touchdown catches. As David Hale pointed out in December, Walford had the stats edge in receptions per game, receiving yards, touchdowns and yards per catch, all while playing with a true freshman quarterback. None of that is to diminish what O'Leary did. It is a great year when two tight ends are worthy of such a high ranking.

13. Eddie Goldman, Florida State

Position: Defensive tackle

Year: Junior

Goldman was the glue that held the Florida State defensive front together through injuries and some depth issues, racking up 35 tackles, including eight for loss and a team-high four sacks. But his impact goes beyond the stat sheet. Goldman held down the inside in the same way Tim Jernigan did the year before. In his biggest game against Clemson, Goldman forced a crucial fumble late in the fourth quarter and also had a sack and made a fourth-down stop in overtime to help the Seminoles win.

14. Denzel Perryman, Miami

Position: Linebacker

Year: Senior

If Miami needed a play to be made on defense, Perryman was its man. Perryman led the team with 110 tackles and 9.5 tackles for loss and was named one of five finalists for the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in the nation. There were many who questioned the Canes' overall defense, but nobody questioned Perryman, his talent and the impact he made on that unit. He ended his career on the school's top-10 list for tackles.

15. Stephone Anthony, Clemson

Position: Linebacker

Year: Senior

Like Perryman, Anthony started to come into his own in 2013 and made an even bigger impact in 2014. Anthony had a team-high 90 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, 11 quarterback pressures, one interception, four pass breakups and two caused fumbles en route to a spot on the media and coaches All-ACC first team. Clemson earned a lot of attention for its play up front. Anthony deserves credit for that because he was a big key to the group's overall success.
We’re counting down the ACC’s top players of the 2014 season, with a look today at Nos. 16 through 20.

To see the rest of the list, click here.

16. Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville

Position: Linebacker

Year: Senior

When Todd Grantham switched up Louisville’s defensive scheme in his first season as defensive coordinator, many predicted Mauldin would thrive in his new role as an outside linebacker and pass-rush specialist, and the senior didn’t disappoint. His 6.5 sacks were good for ninth in the ACC, and his 13 tackles for loss ranked seventh as the Cardinals’ defense ranked near the top of the national rankings for the bulk of the season. A nagging hamstring injury slowed Mauldin a bit down the stretch, but before the injury Louisville had allowed the third-fewest touchdowns per drive of any defense in the country.

17. Tyler Boyd, Pitt

Position: Wide receiver

Year: Sophomore

No receiver in the nation was as vital to his team as Boyd, who accounted for 52.2 percent of Pitt’s receiving yards this season. Boyd finished second in the ACC in receiving (1,261 yards), third in catches (78) and second in receiving touchdowns (8), while chipping in with 1,928 all-purpose yards, good for second in the conference. Boyd finished the season with six 100-yard receiving games, including topping the century mark in five of Pitt’s final six.

18. Jalen Ramsey, FSU

Position: Defensive back

Year: Sophomore

One of the most dynamic defensive backs in the country, Ramsey was the linchpin for Florida State’s defense in 2014. Ramsey finished the year with 80 tackles -- ninth in the ACC among defensive backs -- and two interceptions, but it was his versatility and leadership that set him apart. Ramsey was a crucial piece to FSU’s scheme, starring in coverage, where he racked up 12 pass breakups, and supporting against the run, tallying 9.5 tackles for loss. He was the only player in the nation who had at least 12 pass breakups and nine tackles for loss.

19. Cameron Erving, FSU

Position: Offensive line

Year: RS Senior

Erving entered the season as perhaps the most heralded offensive lineman in the ACC, the veteran left tackle on a senior-laden line for Florida State. But while much was expected of the Seminoles' line, the production was missing early in the year as FSU cycled through centers and the ground game failed to coalesce. Midway through the season, however, Erving made the switch from tackle to center, and everything clicked. Dalvin Cook and the running game found their footing, and Erving looked right at home in the middle of the line. For the year, FSU’s line helped cut Jameis Winston’s sack rate nearly in half, and Erving went on to win the ACC’s top blocker award for the second straight season.

20. Dadi Nicolas, Virginia Tech

Position: Defensive end

Year: RS junior

The Hokies’ defense lost five seniors from its 2013 defensive front, then star tackle Luther Maddy went down just four games into 2014, but the unit remained one of the most effective in the country thanks in large part to the work of Nicolas. His 8.5 sacks ranked third in the ACC and his 18 tackles for loss ranked second, and Nicolas single-handedly took over several games for Virginia Tech when the Hokies needed him most -- including racking up two sacks against both Ohio State and Duke.
One of the biggest success stories in the 2015 recruiting class has been Arkansas with its in-state recruits. The Razorbacks were 10-for-10 on players they had offered in Arkansas, but that changed Sunday when ESPN 300 receiver K.J. Hill backed off his pledge.


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Now that the season is over, it is time to rank the top 25 players in the ACC based on 2014 performance. Needless to say, we had tough choices to make -- so tough, in fact, that we could not break a tie between two exceptional offensive guards. So there are in fact 26 players on our top-25 list, and we are just fine with that decision.

What went into the ranking? In addition to performance this season, we also took into account each of the players' value to their team, value at their respective position and game-changing ability. With that, here is a look at players Nos. 21-25 (plus No. 26).

21. Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State

Position: defensive end

Year: junior

Edwards was dominant at times but also lacked the consistency many were hoping to see out of him in his second year as a starter. Weight continued to be a problem. When he was on, he was effective, racking up 44 tackles -- 11 for loss -- and three sacks this season. But against Oregon, he was essentially a nonfactor. Cherry on top for being one of the best quotes in the ACC this season, though!

22. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech

Position: cornerback

Year: sophomore

Fuller was the best cornerback in the ACC -- and he won that designation despite playing the entire season with a broken wrist. Coming off a successful freshman campaign, Fuller finished tied for first in the ACC with 17 passes defended (15 breakups, two interceptions), while earning All-ACC honors and second-team All-America honors from the Walter Camp Foundation and Football Writers Association of America.

T-23. Shaq Mason, Georgia Tech AND Laken Tomlinson, Duke

Position: offensive guards

Year: seniors

The ACC had All-American play at offensive guard this season -- Tre Jackson at Florida State also deserves mention -- so we are making an exception here and going with a tie between two of them because they are both equally deserving of recognition. Mason helped pave the way for a Georgia Tech rushing offense that led the nation with 342.1 yards per carry, the best average in the Paul Johnson era. Meanwhile, Tomlinson was a consensus All-American and first-team All-ACC selection after helping Duke average 180-plus rushing yards and 210-plus passing yards for the first time in school history.

25. Jeremy Cash, Duke

Position: safety

Year: junior

Cash was an impressive force in the defensive backfield once again for the Blue Devils, racking up more than 100 tackles for a second straight season. In fact, Cash was the only defensive back in the nation to record 100-plus tackles, 10 or more tackles for loss and five or more sacks. He also forced four fumbles on the season, tied for the second most in the ACC. With the news that Cash is returning for his senior season, expect his name to be on this list again come 2015.

26. Tyler Murphy, Boston College

Position: quarterback

Year: senior

Murphy was the engine that made the BC offense go, and he set a host of records in the process. His 1,184 yards on the ground set a new ACC and school record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and he ranked second among all quarterbacks in yards rushing. Murphy accounted for 56 percent of the Eagles' total offense in 2014 and had five 100-yard games. The highlight, of course, was his MVP performance in a 37-31 upset win over USC in September, in which Murphy ran for 191 yards and a score, averaging 14.7 yards per carry.

ACC all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
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It wasn’t the finest bowl season for the ACC, which won just four games, but there were still some strong performances. Here’s our 2014-15 all-bowl team for the ACC.

OFFENSE

QB: Justin Thomas (Georgia Tech)

Thomas thoroughly dominated the Mississippi State defense in the Orange Bowl, accounting for 246 yards of offense and four touchdowns. Credit. though, to Clemson’s Cole Stoudt, who was pressed into action with Deshaun Watson out with injury and threw for 319 yards with four total touchdowns, too.

[+] EnlargeSynjyn Days
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsSynjyn Days scored three of Georgia Tech's seven touchdowns against Mississippi State.
RB: Synjyn Days (Georgia Tech)

His 171 yards on the ground led all ACC runners during bowl season to cap off an extraordinary second half of the year for Days. He scored three times on the ground versus Mississippi State, as the Bulldogs never stood a chance against Georgia Tech’s dominant rushing attack.

RB: J.C. Coleman (Virginia Tech)

The running game was a problem all year for Virginia Tech, but once the Hokies were down to their fourth option at tailback, things got figured out. Coleman finished up a strong final four games with his best performance of the year, carrying 25 times for 157 yards and a touchdown in Tech’s win over Cincinnati.

WR: DeVante Parker (Louisville)

Louisville’s quarterback play was dreadful against Georgia in the Belk Bowl, and it cost the Cardinals a chance to win. But Parker, as usual, was excellent. He had eight catches, six of which went for first downs, and he led all ACC receivers with 120 yards. He also had one of the most impressive touchdown grabs of the season called back because he stepped out of bounds before the catch.

WR: Mike Williams (Clemson)

There’s plenty of competition for the second receiver spot, with six players chiming in with between 96 and 114 yards through the air during bowl season, but we’ll give Williams the slight nod. He had nine catches (tied for most in the ACC) for 112 yards and a touchdown, and six of his catches went for first downs.

TE: Jack Tabb (North Carolina)

It wasn’t a sterling season for tight ends in the bowl games despite so many fine performances during the regular season. Still, Tabb hauled in five catches for 51 yards and a score, which easily set the pace at the position.

OL: T.J. Clemmings (Pittsburgh)

Pitt’s defense couldn’t hold a big lead in its bowl game against Houston, but no blame goes to the offensive line, which was strong. Pitt ran for 227 yards and three touchdowns and allowed just one sack on 37 attempts, with Clemmings grading out once again as the Panthers’ top blocker.

OL: Shaq Mason (Georgia Tech)

Georgia Tech ran for 52 more yards than any other team during bowl season. Credit goes to the entire offense for the strong performance, but there’s no question Mason has been the on- and off-field leader of the offensive line all season.

OL: Joe Thuney (NC State)

NC State’s 3.82 yards-per-carry average wasn’t great, but the ground-and-pound approach against UCF did the trick. The Wolfpack scored twice on the ground and had eight runs of 10 yards or more, with Thuney grading out as their top performer.

OL: Tre Jackson (Florida State)

It’s easy to dismiss Florida State’s Rose Bowl performance, but the offensive line had nothing to do with the five turnovers the offense coughed up. In fact, Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams were cruising through a stellar outing thanks to the blocking of Jackson and his linemates before the bottom fell out.

C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)

The Eagles’ problems with PATs haunted them again in bowl season, but the ground game that paced the offense all season was once again terrific. BC ran for 285 yards and two scores against a Penn State defense that had been among the best in the nation against the run. Ample credit to the whole group, but Gallik has been a star all season.

DEFENSE

DE: Tyriq McCord (Miami)

McCord had five tackles, including one sack, in the loss to South Carolina, and while his secondary couldn’t cover Pharoh Cooper, the Hurricanes’ front did manage to keep the Gamecocks’ powerful ground game in check, holding Mike Davis to just 55 yards.

[+] EnlargeGrady Jarrett
AP Photo/John RaouxGrady Jarrett's performance in the Russell Athletic Bowl helped Clemson limit the Sooners to just six points.
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)

Perhaps the ACC’s best defensive player during bowl season, Jarrett was a beast in thwarting Oklahoma’s high-octane offense. Jarrett had 3.5 tackles for loss, one quarterback hurry and a forced fumble as Clemson dominated the Sooners’ through the first 3½ quarters of action.

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)

Beasley’s early sack against Trevor Knight was a harbinger of a long day to come for the Oklahoma quarterback, who mustered just 2.8 yards per attempt in the game. Beasley was at the heart of the pass rush, tallying five tackles, including three for a loss.

LB: Rodman Noel (NC State)

Led NC State’s defense with eight tackles, including two for a loss, and helped hold UCF to just 2.9 yards per carry on the ground and disrupting the Knights’ passing game throughout. UCF quarterback Justin Holman completed just 43 percent of his throws.

LB: Ben Boulware (Clemson)

Boulware had five tackles and a fumble recovery in the win over Oklahoma, but it was his 47-yard interception return for a touchdown to give Clemson a 17-0 lead late in the first quarter that made the biggest impact.

LB: P.J. Davis (Georgia Tech)

Davis led all players in the Orange Bowl with 11 tackles, and while Mississippi State’s offense did manage to move the ball to the tune of 605 yards, the game was never particularly close because Davis helped prevent big plays -- just three of 20 yards or more through the first three quarters -- and held Dak Prescott to just 4-of-10 passing on third down.

LB: Deon Clark (Virginia Tech)

Clark led all Virginia Tech defenders with 11 total tackles, including a sack and a forced fumble, as the Hokies thwarted Cincinnati’s high-flying offense in the Military Bowl.

S: DeVon Edwards (Duke)

The Blue Devils’ defense was hardly great against Arizona State, but Edwards did lead the pack with 14 tackles, including one for a loss, a forced fumble and a sack.

S: Chris Milton (Georgia Tech)

Milton’s eight tackles and support against the run were crucial for Georgia Tech’s defense against Mississippi State, but his interception on Prescott’s second throw of the game set the tone for a dominant Yellow Jackets win.

CB: Jack Tocho (NC State)

While NC State’s defensive front tormented the UCF passing game, the defensive backs did their part, too. Tocho had three tackles and two pass breakups, while UCF’s passing game mustered just 4.85 yards per attempt through the first three quarters as the Wolfpack built a 31-13 lead.

CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)

Fuller had four tackles, broke up a pass and had and an interception against Cincinnati, as quarterback Gunner Kiel, one of the nation’s most dangerous passers, completed just 14 of 26 throws.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: Bradley Pinion (Clemson)

Pinion’s net punting average against Oklahoma was 43.4 yards -- just one-tenth of a yard shy of tops in the conference. He had two punts downed inside the 10, and none of his five boots were returned.

K: Joey Slye (Virginia Tech)

Slye connected on all four field goal attempts, including two outside of 40 yards, and was 3-of-3 on PATs in Virginia Tech’s win over Cincinnati.

KR/PR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

Crowder has been a star on special teams for much of his career, and he ended it on a high note by returning a punt 68 yards for a touchdown against Arizona State -- his second of the season. He accounted for 66 percent of all the punt returns in the ACC in 2014.

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