ACC: North Carolina State Wolfpack
Ethan in New York writes: OK. Let's say that at the end of the regular season, we have two undefeated teams: Alabama and Baylor. Oregon is a one-loss Pac-12 champ. Ohio State is a one-loss BIG champ. Florida State runs the table in the regular season. Virginia Tech beats Ohio State, but loses to, say, North Carolina. However, the Hokies defeat the Seminoles in the ACC championship game. So you have Ohio State (BIG champs) at 12-1 with a loss to VT; VT at 12-1 (ACC champs) with a loss to UNC; Florida State at 12-1 with a loss to VT; Auburn at 12-1 with a loss to Bama; Alabama at 13-0 (SEC champs), Baylor at 12-0 (Big 12 champs) and Oregon at 12-1 (Pac-12 champs) with a loss to, say USC. For fun, let's throw in Michigan State at 11-1 with a loss to Ohio State, Stanford at 11-1 with a loss to Oregon, and Oklahoma at 11-1 with a loss to Baylor. In this scenario, who would YOU (not the selection committee) pick as the four teams in the playoff?
Andrea Adelson: This scenario needs a tweak, because Michigan State and Oregon play in Week 2. So let's just say Oregon's loss is to the Spartans instead of USC to make this slightly more accurate. My final decision ... my head hurts. In all seriousness, it is really tough to even make a guess because there are so many other factors at play. How do these teams actually look? Were the losses blowouts or close? How did the rest of the schedule shape up? Is it better or worse than it looked in the preseason? Those should all come into play when starting to compare one-loss teams against another. Having said that, I would give conference champions the first look. In this case, Alabama and Baylor are unbeaten and conference champs, they get in. Oregon gets in because it's a conference champion and lost to a high-quality team early in the season. Virginia Tech would look appealing in this scenario, too, with wins over No. 1 Florida State and ranked Ohio State, plus Miami and an ACC championship. The bottom line is strength of schedule is going to be quite different at the end of the season than it is today, and there are too many unknowns to start guessing which one-loss team would make it in. Can't wait to see how it all plays out.
Adelson writes: I looked back at the rushing attempts and passing attempts on Petrino-coached teams at Louisville, Arkansas and Western Kentucky. In his first four seasons at Louisville, Petrino's teams ran the ball slightly more than they passed it. In four seasons at Arkansas, they passed the ball slightly more than they ran it. Last season, Western Kentucky ran the ball slightly more. You are correct that whether the run or pass was favored, the split hovered around 55-45. In 2004, 60 percent of the Louisville offense went to rushing attempts. That's the highest it ever went. Last year at Western Kentucky, rushing attempts accounted for 53 percent of the offensive plays. As you point out, the reason people think Petrino chucks it all over the field is because his offenses are more effective at throwing the ball regardless of the split between run and pass. In those nine seasons, the passing offense ranked higher than the rushing offense six times in the NCAA stats. Louisville has depth in the backfield and should be good on the offensive line, so make sure to keep an eye on the Cardinals' running game Monday night.
Adelson: Generally, the polls make little sense. SEC teams get the benefit of the doubt always. Good thing, then, that polls are virtually meaningless in the new College Football Playoff era. I am most interested in see how the selection committee ranks its Top 25. The first set will be unveiled Oct. 28.
Adelson: As athletic director Whit Babcock told me, time will tell. But as I mentioned last week, this Hokies team is looking like a better choice to win the Coastal with each passing day. We will see whether that is an accurate assessment soon enough.
Adelson: I actually agree with most of what David wrote. I think voters will find a reason not to give Jameis Winston the Heisman unless he is far and away the best candidate in the country. I do not envision that being the case with some of the talented players back for this season. Virginia Tech has grown on me; Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy are good additions for their respective teams. I don't think Stacy Coley will catch passes from three different quarterbacks, and I'm not ready to call UVa a bowl team -- though I think the Hoos will get to five wins. Not sure on six.
-- Andrea Adelson
Why Georgia will win: Early-season games against nationally recognized teams have not been kind to Georgia coach Mark Richt over the years (see: Clemson, Oklahoma State, Boise State, South Carolina x 2), so the law of averages says he has to win some, right? Well, there's more than just cosmic balancing in the Bulldogs' favor. While the Tigers made huge gains on defense a season ago, they also allowed an average of 38 points per game against Florida State, Georgia, Ohio State and South Carolina. We're not quite sure what to expect out of new Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason, but the duo of Gurley and Marshall at running back is unmatched anywhere else in the country. Last season's game might have played out differently had Gurley not strained a quad on a 75-yard touchdown run.
-- Jared Shanker
Why Miami will win: Duke Johnson changes everything for the Canes, as he keeps their offense moving and takes plenty of pressure off Brad Kaaya. Likewise, the loss of DeVante Parker takes plenty of punch out of Louisville's offense. A new coach, a new league and a new quarterback create too much uncertainty around a Cardinals team that has the target on its back after embarrassing Miami last time around. -- Matt Fortuna
Why Louisville will win: It's not that I'm supremely confident in this pick, but the Cardinals have a few things going for them. First, it's a marquee game for the program, its first as a member of the ACC. Secondly, while a lot has changed on defense for Louisville, it was the top-ranked rushing D in the country last season, which should help Todd Grantham's crew deal with the dynamic Duke Johnson. Most important, however, at quarterback Miami is starting a true freshman in his first career game on the road in a frenzied atmosphere. It won't be a gimme, but Louisville will pull off the victory. -- David Hale
Upset pick of the weekWhy ULM will win: ULM has three advantages: It beat Wake Forest a year ago and is familiar with some of the returning personnel; the WarHawks bring back 14 starters; and they are playing at home. Wake Forest is starting true freshmen at quarterback and center. It's never easy to go on the road and make your first career start, let alone on national television. Factor in all the youth and inexperience for the Deacs, and you see why ULM has the edge. -- Andrea Adelson
More consensus picks: Syracuse over Villanova; Pittsburgh over Delaware; UCLA over Virginia; Georgia Tech over Wofford; NC State over Georgia Southern; Boston College over UMass; Virginia Tech over William & Mary; Duke over Elon; North Carolina over Liberty; Florida State over Oklahoma State
No. 9 never quite fit Byrd, anyway. He was wearing No. 14 when he won a starting job in the Wolfpack's secondary as a true freshman in 2009, and when he tore his ACL in that season finale, and when he fought his way back twice into the starting lineup -- and twice more, was felled by knee injuries. It was No. 14 he was wearing the previous time he was on a field, writhing in pain, assuming his career was done.
When his unlikely comeback began this spring, Byrd switched to No. 9, but that was short-lived. The number, which once belonged to NC State great Mario Williams, is being retired, so Byrd needed an alternative. Last week, coach Dave Doeren called him with a plan.
Doeren wanted a single player to don the No. 1 jersey this season. It would have a special meaning, he told his players on Monday.
"This guy's been through three ACL surgeries," Doeren told the team, "and he didn't have to come back.
"This guy loves the team.
"This guy has shown commitment from Day 1.
"This guy is unselfish.
"This guy is a leader."
The jersey went to Byrd, who earned it not with his play on the field but his determination off it. The room erupted in cheers.
He hasn't made it back yet, but this was a start.
"That was a big moment," Byrd said. "Something I'll always remember."
One of NC State's top recruits in 2009 out of Pahokee, Florida, Byrd won the starting cornerback job by November. He was wrapping up an impressive rookie campaign when in the third quarter of the season finale against rival North Carolina, he tore his right ACL.
The first knee injury was probably the easiest, because for an optimist like Byrd, who had never been seriously injured, it was easier to find hope in the unknown.
The ACL healed, but Byrd's psyche took longer. As he began his comeback, he was reluctant to make sharp cuts and test the knee. Looking back, that was his big mistake.
"When I had to break on the right [knee], I was scared to do it," Byrd said. "And I was just walking back to the huddle [in a summer 7-on-7 drill] when I tore my left ACL. It just popped."
The second one was the hardest, because Byrd realized how much he had to lose, how far he'd have to go and how long he'd be away from the game he loved. So much of the process of rebuilding the knee was familiar, but his optimism was muted.
"I had doubts about coming back," Byrd said. "But I had a bigger goal and purpose to overcome the second one. I felt like I was doing it for my team the second time around instead of myself. That gave me a new drive to overcome the second injury."
By the start of the 2012 season, he was back on the field, but again, his season ended early after he suffered a thigh injury against Virginia.
Back home, friends and family tried to offer encouragement, but that only hurt more. Byrd's family was struggling financially and visits were rare. He felt alone and thought it might be time to go home to Pahokee. Byrd called a friend who played for Florida Atlantic and asked about transferring, but his teammates at NC State weren't ready to say goodbye.
"I had a great group of friends here and those guys helped me get through it," Byrd said. "Anything I needed, they provided. Without them, I never would've made it."
By the time the 2013 season began, the darkest times seemed a distant memory, and Byrd, who switched from corner to safety, was once again a starter and a key member of first-year coach Doeren's new defensive scheme. Through four games, it looked like Byrd's story might have a happy ending.
On Oct. 5, game day against Wake Forest, the usually exuberant Byrd was down. He had friends on the Demon Deacons' sideline, which should've been enough to make it a big game, but he felt flat.
"I wasn't myself," Byrd said. "The sun was draining my energy, the turf was hot. Then I got a cheap shot on my leg and tore my left ACL again."
That should've been the end for Byrd. He had spent five years at NC State and been named a starter three times but played in just 14 games. He had never finished a season healthy.
Byrd told his family and coaches his career was over and told himself he was out of chances. But deep down, he couldn't believe it.
"I wasn't ready to be done," he said. "I went home and was thinking about it the whole time. I couldn't focus on school, on life in general. I was thinking about football all day long."
He had already gone to his senior banquet and said his goodbyes. He put off starting rehab following knee surgery because there was no rush to get back.
He checked in with teammates, who raved about how much stronger the team looked this season, and Byrd realized he didn't want to miss out. He went to Doeren and asked what it would take to get a sixth year of eligibility -- a rare exception that must be granted by the NCAA.
If Byrd wanted, he could return as a graduate assistant, Doeren said. He could still be around the team, help as a coach.
"But I was still thinking about football," Byrd said.
He applied for an appeal, and this spring, the NCAA accepted. He had one more shot to finish his career healthy. And so the process began again.
There were 5 a.m. wake-up calls to get to rehab and long days in the training room, film room and weight room. And there were plenty of people who wondered why he was doing all this in the first place.
"If I'm able to push these guys and we're able to have a good year, I'll be happy. If I can play a whole season and walk out on senior day with my parents by my side, and I can walk out there healthy -- I've never had a healthy season -- I'm perfectly fine with that. I can live with myself without regrets and say I did what I wanted to do."
Byrd spent the spring game on the sideline, drawing up plays and coaching his younger teammates. But just putting on the jersey again felt good. The reluctance that followed past surgeries evaporated. Now, he had nothing to lose.
"I came back the first time and was cautious. The second time, it was like, 'If I get hurt again I may not have a shot,' " Byrd said. "Now, I don't care. I'm giving it all I've got. I just want to get back out there and play the game like I did when I was 6 years old. I want to play for the love of the game."
The process has been challenging. Byrd knows the pain is around each corner. During camp, his knee would swell after a few straight days of practice and he'd be relegated to the sideline again. During one practice, he turned sharply and heard a pop in his knee. He knew that it was simply scar tissue breaking up, but the fear still overwhelmed him. He has had to learn to fight through that fear.
There are no guarantees this season. Doeren said he's confident Byrd will contribute in some way. Byrd said he may not play the first few weeks, but trainers have told him he'll be full-go by the time ACC play begins at the end of September.
If his only impact this season is occasional special teams work, he said that's OK. If he can win a starting job for the fourth time, that will be even better. If he hurts the knee again and the dream ends without warning -- well, Byrd has been through that before.
"If it doesn't work out, I'll be OK with it. I gave it another shot," he said. "I never stopped going after what I really wanted. If I hadn't gone for that sixth year, I wouldn't have been OK with that. I would've always had that on my mind."
However Byrd's story ends isn't important. His teammates have seen the chapters written, one agonizing step at a time, and no matter what happens this season, that will have been his legacy at NC State. That's his real impact. That's why he'll be wearing No. 1 this season.
"I can live with myself without regrets," Byrd said. "I did what I wanted to do."
The ACC has three second-year coaches, each with differing expectations. Athlon Sports took a look at those coaches and what the 2014 outlook is for each coach's program.
Writer Steven Lassan states Boston College's Steve Addazio exceeded expectations in his inaugural season as BC's coach, and there is little doubt Addazio did a great job getting to a bowl game. Without Andre Williams it will be a challenge to get back to a bowl game, but the first half of the schedule sets up pretty nicely.
A bowl game in 2013 and key returners has Syracuse fans believing Scott Shafer will keep the Orange moving in the right direction. There are only two games on the schedule where the Orange will not be given a great chance to win, so there is an expectation for Syracuse to once again be bowl eligible.
At NC State, Dave Doeren is given a partial pass last season after losing his starting quarterback. While the Wolfpack have a long way to go, Doeren has his quarterback in Jacoby Brissett. There is definitely an expectation the Wolfpack will be better, and they can't be much worse after going winless in the ACC last season. Brissett was a highly regarded quarterback coming out of high school, so there is the potential NC State can surprise some teams this season and pull off an upset or two.
Here's a few more links to help you through the day. Remember, we get FBS football tomorrow!
- West Virginia and former Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett says Nick Saban's daughter was his first kiss. (He was 6 years old.) I'm guessing Saban will have a conversation with his defensive line before the opener against the Mountaineers.
- Scandal once again is hitting North Carolina, as allegations of hazing arose Tuesday. The Tar Heels are no strangers to off-the-field issues, and this is another black eye for the university athletic department.
- An eye-opening feature on the plight of Devaughn Darling's family as they wait for the remaining $1.8 million from a settlement in the Florida State football player's 2001 death.
- FSU running back Dalvin Cook could see significant playing time as a reserve this season.
- Miami's quarterback situation will be one to watch all season as true freshman Brad Kaaya, named the starter earlier this week, still has seniors Jake Heaps and Ryan Williams pushing for the role. Williams tore his ACL in April and is hoping to return at some point during the season.
- Many of Duke quarterback Anthony Boone's interceptions came when he put too much pressure on himself to make a play.
- Recovering from injury, Virginia Tech running back Marshawn Williams was initially hesitant, but he moved past that rather quickly.
- Could Georgia be more of a threat passing than rushing for Clemson?
- Last season, Pitt relied on freshmen stars Tyler Boyd and James Conner. The 2014 recruiting class will be counted on to make freshmen contributions, too.
- Expectations have been raised for Louisville's receivers now that DeVante Parker will miss significant time.
- Attendance is an issue across college football stadiums, but the decrease in Virginia's numbers is significant.
1. Jameis Winston will post better numbers -- but won’t win the Heisman.
Much has been made of the depletion of Winston’s receiving corps, but losing Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw won’t spell doom for the Florida State QB. In fact, Winston struggled at times last year when getting too greedy down the field, and a renewed emphasis on a shorter passing game could up his numbers. When throwing to RBs or TEs last year, Winston completed 79 percent of his throws and averaged 11.6 yards per attempt, with 11 of his 86 passes going for touchdowns. Add the likelihood he’ll play more fourth quarters this season, and his numbers could well go up in 2014 -- but, of course, winning back-to-back Heisman Trophies is no easy task, and neither Winston nor coach Jimbo Fisher has ever shown much interest in chasing individual awards.
It’s telling that what could’ve been one of the most discussed QB vacancies in the conference was actually among the least interesting this offseason. Coach Bobby Petrino waited until Sunday to make it official, but Gardner was the obvious choice since the spring. Then there’s this: In nine years as a head coach, Petrino’s starting QBs have averaged 63 percent completions, 8.8 yards per attempt, 21 TDs and 8 interceptions -- stats that would’ve rivaled any QB in the league last year, save Winston and Tajh Boyd.
3. Virginia Tech wins 10 again.
The Hokies won at least 10 games in each of their first eight seasons in the ACC, but that streak ended in 2012 and the team is just 10-10 against Power Five conference foes in the past two years. But coach Frank Beamer is giving his young talent a chance to shine, the Week 2 date with Ohio State suddenly looks a lot more winnable and the rest of the schedule shapes up nicely for the Hokies. The offense needs to get a lot better to be a legit College Football Playoff contender, but Virginia Tech will at least be in the conversation.
4. Virginia goes bowling.
The schedule makes this a tough sell. Ten of Virginia’s 12 opponents played in a bowl game last year, and there may not be a single easy win on the slate. But there’s talent in Charlottesville, including 19 four- or five-star recruits inked in the past four years. That’s more than Louisville (16) and just one fewer than Virginia Tech (20). That talent has to translate to wins eventually, right? It’ll take some upsets, but the Hoos will get to six wins.
5. Clemson is a running team.
With Boyd and Sammy Watkins stealing the bulk of the headlines the past three years, Clemson’s passing game got a lot of credit for the team’s success. But the Tigers actually ranked in the top three in the ACC in rushing attempts in each of those three seasons. Now with a new QB and significant turnover at receiver, the passing game is a question, but Dabo Swinney loves his tailbacks. Don’t be surprised if freshman Wayne Gallman tops 1,000 yards -- something a Clemson tailback has done each of the past three seasons.
6. Young runners make a big impact.
Gallman won’t be the only rookie runner to make noise in 2014. The ACC has some impressive veterans in Duke Johnson, Karlos Williams, Kevin Parks and Dominique Brown, but there are plenty of fresh faces eager to make an impact, too. Virginia Tech’s Marshawn Williams, North Carolina’s Elijah Hood and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook could join Gallman as freshman sensations, while sophomores like T.J. Logan, James Conner, Myles Willis, Matt Dayes and Taquan Mizzell could all have big seasons, too.
7. Stacy Coley catches a TD from three different QBs.
If there was a more settled QB situation at Miami, Coley might be a niche pick for Heisman honors as one of the game’s most explosive players. Unfortunately, it could be a revolving door at QB for the Canes. Freshman Brad Kaaya gets first crack, and the hope is that Ryan Williams will return from an ACL injury sooner than later. Don’t be surprised if Jake Heaps or Kevin Olsen gets a shot to start at some point, too. Coley will make them all look better, but he’d benefit from some stability at QB.
8. Jamison Crowder sets the standard.
Crowder had 30 more targets last season than any other ACC receiver, and now Duke is without its second-best pass-catcher in Braxton Deaver. That makes Crowder an even more integral part of the Blue Devils’ passing game, and it means he should cruise past former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record for receiving yards. Crowder is just 1,152 yards short entering the season.
9. Tyler Murphy and Jacoby Brissett look good.
Boston College and NC State will both be starting QBs who transferred from Florida, and both have a chance to put up solid numbers. In fact, we're predicting both Murphy and Brissett post better stats this season than Jeff Driskel, the man who kept them both on the bench in Gainesville.
10. The Coastal champ will be ...
Is there really any answer here that would feel remotely safe? Heck, Georgia Tech could win the division or miss out on a bowl game. Anything seems possible. But since it’s prediction time, we’ll ante up, just so you can remind us how wrong we were in December. So, let’s say ... Virginia Tech.
What if I told you the ACC was ranked fifth?
Not surprising in the least.
At this point, it is hard to see the ranking as a huge slap at the league, considering the ACC also was ranked fifth in the final 2013 conference power rankings with a national championship and Orange Bowl win to brag about. The ranking speaks to the state of the entire conference, which we all can agree needs to upgrade its product behind the Noles and Tigers.
The key difference between last season and this season, though, is the College Football Playoff. And conference ranking could come into play when the selection committee begins its evaluations. Because strength of schedule will matter. As our friends at Stats & Info point out in their post:
Among Power Five conferences, the ACC is considered the weakest by both the AP Poll and FPI. That means that if the top four conferences place a team in the playoff, it would leave the ACC on the outside looking in. Yet, there is a lot more that goes into those decisions, including the fact that the ACC has the clear No. 1 team in the country. Florida State received 57 of 60 first place votes in the AP Poll and has by far the best chance (39 percent) to finish the season undefeated according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
However, what if Florida State loses a conference game? Does the relative strength of the ACC come into play?
All fun questions to ponder before the season begins.
Let's take a tour around the rest of the ACC as the games quickly approach:
- Boston College may use its running backs out of the backfield more than it did a year ago.
- Clemson has studied tape from its game against Florida State last year for clues on how Jeremy Pruitt will run the Georgia defense.
- Duke football has come so far, what if it takes a step back?
- More fun predictions! Stewart Mandel at FoxSports has Florida State in the playoff and Clemson facing Alabama in the Discover Orange Bowl.
- Louisville running back Michael Dyer remains doubtful for the opener against Miami.
- Ryan Williams and Jake Heaps talk about Brad Kaaya winning the Miami quarterback job.
- Joe Giglio has a great read on NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has high expectations for himself headed into the season.
- Is North Carolina going to be the Coastal champ? One columnist says yes.
- Apparently, Larry Fedora takes pleasure in tormenting people.
- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer compared freshman receiver Isaiah Ford to Antonio Freeman.
- Could Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel be Wake Forest's best cornerbacks ... ever?
For two seasons, Jacoby Brissett and Tyler Murphy worked alongside each other on Florida's practice fields and film room, in the weight room and the meeting rooms, but throughout the entirety of 2011 and 2012 they combined to make just one start. They'd push each other to get better, but more often, they bonded during long conversations about stifled dreams and brighter futures.
For years, there was a nebulous finish line, a point when Murphy and Brissett hoped at least one of them might be a starter. Now, there's a date circled on the calendar for both quarterbacks: Oct. 11, 2014. It's the day Brissett, now the starting QB at NC State, and Murphy, now the starter at Boston College, will go head to head on the field.
After it became clear Brissett's career at Florida had plateaued in 2012, he decided it was time to transfer. He sat down with Murphy and mapped out his options. West Virginia seemed a possibility, but the coaching staff there was eager to compare Brissett with former Moutaineers QB Geno Smith, and Brissett had already spent too much time living in the shadows of other players.
"I was like, 'I'm not the next Geno,'" Brissett said. "I wanted to be Jacoby, and I felt like [NC State] was a place I could do that."
Brissett already knew NC State coach Dave Doeren from his recruitment, which made the transition a bit easier. Still, Brissett would have to sit out a year because of NCAA transfer rules, which meant one more year watching from the sidelines.
At Florida, a season-ending injury to incumbent Jeff Driskel finally gave Murphy his first opportunity to start. He threw the first pass of his four-year career on Sept. 21, 2013 against Tennessee, and he started the next six games for the Gators -- four of them losses. Although Murphy had some solid outings, the losses dogged him. A shoulder injury ended his season in November, and by then it was clear Driskel would be back atop the depth chart when he was healthy.
With one year of eligibility left, Murphy began to think about following Brissett out the door, and, as a New England native, Boston College seemed like an ideal fit.
"He was telling me Boston College was one of the schools he was looking at, and I was like, 'Oh, Boston College is one of the teams we play,'" Brissett said. "So as much as I wanted to tell him to be positive as the season went, I was hoping he'd go to Boston College just so I could play him. But I remember him countless times saying he wanted to stay, he didn't want to transfer."
But what Murphy wanted more than anything was a chance to play, so Brissett offered some advice: Make a decision and don't look back.
"You can't say I'm going to transfer and then say never mind because everybody knows you want to leave," Brissett said. "So just do it and get it over with, know where you want to go. And no matter where you go, if they're taking you right now, you're pretty much going to be the starter. So make sure when you go there, play how you play and you'll be fine. Everything else will take care of itself."
So far, it has.
Murphy didn't have the luxury of preparation at Boston College, but the Eagles' depth chart offered few other options, and he was installed as the team's starter almost from Day 1.
The two QBs still talk nearly every day -- no longer trading stories about what it might be like to start, but instead debating the ways they still needed to get better now that they're No. 1 on their respective depth charts.
And yes, there's still some sour feelings about Florida, about the opportunities that never developed there. It's not anger or frustration, but rather a drive to prove something to the coaches who doubted them.
"You want to show them why you transferred and show them you could play at the highest level," Brissett said. "Whatever they said you couldn't do, you go out there and do it. All it takes is the right person, the right situation and the right coach to say, 'You're my guy.' And I'm pretty sure Murph's thinking the same thing. It's not worrying about Florida, it's worrying about ourselves."
And of course there's still that date looming on the calendar, when Brissett and Murphy are finally reunited. They've talked about that a lot, too.
But just like those long days of practice at Florida, the chatter isn't about competition so much as it is about the future, about what they've worked so hard to achieve.
"It will definitely be kind of weird to go up against somebody you've grinded with and stayed after practice and done drills with and watched film with, and give each other tips to get better," Murphy said. "But I think it'll be exciting and I think it'll be a fun game to play and I think it'll be a great atmosphere."
After all, it's the perfect scenario for both QBs. On every snap from scrimmage, either Murphy or Brissett will be on the field, and that's really all they ever wanted.
"As corny as it sounds, it puts a smile on your face to see one of your good friends doing what you know he wants to do," Brissett said. "We had those countless talks when we were playing with each other -- 'Man I wish I was out there playing.' And now I'm going to get to see first hand, see him play."
You're forgiven if this entire exercise seems foreign. But at least 10 of the ACC's 14 teams will start new faces under center when games kick off next week. And there is a good chance that four of those 10 will have quarterbacks who began their college careers elsewhere.
"I really don't know," Miami coach Al Golden said of the surplus of ACC quarterback transfers. "We liked where we were in the spring, and clearly Ryan [Williams] went down the week before the spring game. It's really not a function of not being confident in the guys that are on campus. It's more a function of just wanting to get a guy that has been in the game and has the experience."
Golden acknowledged the quarterback market has been busier than usual, particularly in his league. He brought in former BYU and Kansas quarterback Jake Heaps this summer after Williams, the Hurricanes' No. 1 quarterback, suffered a right ACL injury that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. (Williams, naturally, began his career elsewhere, at Memphis.)
Heaps, eligible immediately as a graduate transfer, is battling true freshman Brad Kaaya to start Miami's opener.
"I think the quarterback position has grown in terms of talent over the last few years," said Heaps, who set several freshman records at BYU in 2010 before losing his job both with the Cougars and later at Kansas. "There’s a lot of great, quality quarterbacks in college football right now and they all want a chance to play. That’s where you’re seeing a lot of these guys transfer. They’re in their situation but they know they can play somewhere else so they make those moves and try and find the best situation for them and in some cases it works out, in others it doesn’t. Just knowing they have that opportunity is first and foremost.
"Sometimes things just don’t work out. Recruiting is the way it is and sometimes a situation isn’t what you think it will be when you get there. It’s been a unique trend in the last little bit, but I think if a guy has an opportunity to go play, he should go explore that."
Likewise, fellow Coastal member Virginia Tech turned to the free-agent route following an underwhelming spring from its three quarterbacks, welcoming Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer (and two true freshmen) to the race to replace Logan Thomas and kick-start an offense in need of a jolt after just 15 wins in the past two seasons. In an odd twist, Brewer, who has two seasons left to play after graduating from Texas Tech, was recommended to the Hokies' staff by Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who coached Brewer back at Lake Travis (Texas) High.
Brewer brings with him a nearly 71 percent completion percentage from his limited action with the Red Raiders, including 440 passing yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
On the other side, in the more daunting Atlantic, a pair of second-year coaches are turning to former Gators quarterbacks to command their offenses.
Boston College coach Steve Addazio goes back with Tyler Murphy, a fellow Connecticut native whom Addazio had initially recruited to Gainesville, Florida, during his time as an assistant there. Jacoby Brissett transferred to NC State shortly after coach Dave Doeren was hired there, sitting out last season and taking enough initiative behind the scenes to earn the starting nod before spring ball this year.
“Last year we brought in Brandon Mitchell [from Arkansas] through the one-year loophole, and then at the end of the year, Pete Thomas and Manny Stocker left to go to [Louisiana-Monroe and UT-Martin]," Doeren said. "While that was going on, Jacoby transferred here from Florida. So I’ve seen about all of it that can go around. It’s just part of what recruiting is now. Guys want to play and people don’t want to wait their turn much anymore."
Murphy, who transferred in January, has one year to add some pizzazz to an Eagles' offense looking to spread the field more after last season's run-heavy approach. He spoke often with Brissett (who has two years left at NC State) back when both were still weighing their options when departing Florida.
The familiarity was more than enough to reunite Murphy with Addazio, who said a guy like Murphy probably should have gone to BC in the first place.
"Being a New England guy and growing up around BC, I watched a lot of BC and Matt Ryan in the early 2000s," Murphy said. "So it feels good to be a part of this institution, this program and I'm looking forward to the season."
Florida State could see a pair of its former quarterbacks start against each other next week, as Jake Coker transferred to Alabama one year after Clint Trickett transferred to West Virginia.
Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher was supportive of both, with Trickett being familiar with WVU (his dad used to coach there before moving to FSU) and Coker heading to his home-state program after backing up Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Fisher likened the rash of quarterback departures to that of college basketball transfers, because both are possession-dominated athletes.
The graduate-transfer rule, popularized by Russell Wilson three years ago, has only added to that. And, in many ways, it has been a boon for both sides.
"[It] gives some opportunities for guys that are worried about situations like Tyler's," Addazio said, referring to Murphy's injury-shortened 2013. "He's like, 'I've got one shot at this thing. I want to go where I feel like I've got the best opportunity to be the starter.' So you're seeing a lot of this right now. I like this opportunity."
ESPN.com and FoxSports.com released their preseason All-American teams Thursday, and Marcus Mariota received the quarterback nod above Jameis Winston in both, unleashing the hounds in Tallahassee and the Florida panhandle.
At the end of the day, there can be only one quarterback on the preseason team, and Mariota and Winston have the strongest cases for the nomination, without question. But while Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and had an unprecedented season for a freshman, it is quite conceivable that Mariota will have a better 2014 season, at least statistically. An All-American selection isn’t a qualifier to be the best player in the country, which Winston was voted in ESPN.com’s player rankings. Tom Brady has three Super Bowl rings and a 21-game winning streak, yet has only been a first-team All-Pro selection twice.
Last season, Mariota threw 31 touchdowns to just four interceptions. He has only 10 interceptions in his two seasons. He’s totaled 700 yards rushing in both of his seasons, too. In Oregon’s up-tempo offense, if Mariota remains healthy, he could improve on all of those numbers.
The narrative all offseason was how it will be tough for Winston to replicate his 2013 numbers, which consisted of more than 4,000 passing yards and 40 touchdowns. With two of his top receivers gone, the passing game might not be as efficient, and coach Jimbo Fisher could rely on his rushing attack more in 2014.
Is it contrarian to select Mariota over the reigning Heisman winner and a quarterback yet to lose a game? Sure, but that does not mean there is not a legitimate argument for Mariota to be an All-American at the end of the season. And if the preseason team is a projection based on 2014 and not a reflection of 2013, Mariota has a sensible case for the quarterback nomination.
Here are a few more ACC links to get your weekend started:
- Did anyone know there was a quarterback competition going on at Pitt? Coach Paul Chryst named redshirt sophomore Chad Voytik his starter Thursday.
- Clemson fans are hoping bad news really does not come in groups of three after losing a potential starter at running back and depth along the offensive line the last few days.
- Miami quarterback Jake Heaps was back at practice Wednesday. There were a lot of raised eyebrows when Heaps missed a scrimmage.
- Boston College held its final scrimmage before the season opener this week.
- Not sure it's the best way to draw in readers, but here are 10 notes on Georgia Tech that do not qualify as "must read."
- Louisville QB Will Gardner took the long road to Louisville, literally, and he's now on the final stretch of the long road to the starting quarterback position.
- NC State coach Dave Doeren is still offering positive vibes about the 2014 season despite a poor start to his Wolfpack tenure.
- Three things we learned during Syracuse's preseason camp.
- Duke QB Anthony Boone says the silver lining in Braxton Deaver's season-ending injury is that Boone spent time throwing to his other tight ends during the early portion of camp.
Substitute Maguire for Winston and the Noles still win the ACC championship, but without Winston they only average 33.9 points per game and win 9.4 games on average.
The Orlando Sentinel digs a bit deeper, looking at what the ramifications of a Winston injury might be for the Seminoles.
I didn’t crunch any serious numbers, as USA Today did, or dig too deep into the roster the way the Sentinel did, but if I was putting together a list of the ACC’s most irreplaceable players, it’d probably look something like this:
1. Winston — for obvious reasons, as discussed above.
2. Duke Johnson — We saw what happened last year when he went down. Miami was 7-0 with him healthy, 2-4 when he wasn’t on the field the whole game. Not to mention the Hurricanes' rushing average was cut in half.
3. Jamison Crowder - The guy was targeted 174 times last year (40 more than Sammy Watkins) and that was before Duke lost Braxton Deaver and Brandon Connette.
4. Eli Harold - The guy averaged 24 more snaps per game than All-American Vic Beasley did, and Virginia’s defense is predicated on penetrating the line of scrimmage.
5. Jacoby Brissett — OK, NC State might not do much this year even with Brissett, but what’s the option if he goes down? The Pack’s hopes for 2014 are riding almost entirely on his shoulders, and unlike last year, there’s actually some reason for optimism.
Beyond that top five, Mario Edwards Jr., Luther Maddy, Norkeithus Otis and Tyler Boyd come to mind, too.
Of course, there’s surely a few more players left off the list that warrant discussion. So, who’d we miss?
A few more links:
- The (Syracuse) Post-Standard has Virginia’s Mike London as the ACC’s only coach on the hot seat this season. One reason London is on the hot seat: a lack of production in spite of talent. Virginia is 18-31 under London. Only eight other teams have performed worse during the past four years, and of that group, only Cal has signed more four-star and five-star recruits than the 19 signed by London, according to ESPN’s rankings. (Of note: Kentucky has signed 16, but 14 have come in the last two years since Mark Stoops was hired as head coach. The other six programs with worse records than Virginia during that stretch have signed just 30 four-star or five-star recruits.)
- The Wall Street Journal took a look at how each Power 5 conference coach has done against top-25 opposition in his career. The Louisville Courier-Journal followed up with a deeper look at Bobby Petrino’s credentials as well as a look at the individual ACC coaches.
- There are still plenty of starting jobs up for grabs on the Virginia Tech offensive depth chart, as The Roanoke Times points out.
- For years, Jim Grobe avoided playing true freshmen at Wake Forest. In the first season under Dave Clawson, it appears as many as nine will get a chance to play in this year’s opener, the Winston-Salem Journal writes.
- And on related notes, earlier this week Matt Fortuna wrote a bit about Clawson’s journey to Wake Forest, and Jared Shanker looked at the programs most apt to play true freshmen.
- Duke certainly projects to have a speedy secondary, which has earned the unit a unique nickname, writes the Charlotte Observer.
- Steven Daniels is in line to be the next great middle linebacker at Boston College, writes the Boston Herald.
- And lastly, if you don’t hear from me for the next 10 days, it’s because FXX is marathoning every “The Simpsons” episode ever, starting today. Here’s the full schedule if you’re portioning out your time to the most important episodes (“Marge vs. the Monorail is tomorrow at 9 p.m.) and here’s your requisite Simpsons gif to showcase my feelings about the event.
“We have notepads and pencils and you’re required to take notes,” Fisher said last week. “We’ll check them periodically.”
The fifth-year Seminoles coach was referring to his mandate that his players keep their eyes forward and jot down diligent outlines during positional meetings. I asked Fisher’s policy on taking notes after the Wall Street Journal published an article on the philosophy of the Cleveland Browns' Mike Pettine, a first-time head coach.
A former high school coach, Pettine found out from other teachers how actually putting pen to paper improves the odds a student will retain the information and retrieve the lesson when it’s test time. Kevin Clark, the WSJ writer, spoke with a UCLA professor who co-authored a paper on how writing instead of typing is often more useful, this at a time when there might be more laptops than notepads in college classrooms throughout the country.
It’s an interesting concept as it relates to football, which is catching up to the rest of the country in its fascination with technology. Several professional and college teams are using GPS tracking during practice. A handful, Florida State included, have armed players with tablets, and the Seminoles have a tablet in each player’s locker. Advanced metrics, usually reserved for baseball stat heads, are creeping their way onto football coaches’ desks. Drones are even being used to add yet another camera angle of practices.
But, even during football's technological revolution, it goes to show that sometimes simpler is better -- at least when it comes to filing away that the fullback is always option No. 1 on Spider 2 Y Banana.
“They’re taking a test every week, except they have to do it in front of 83,000 instead of a classroom,” Fisher said.
Here are a few more links to check out:
- FSU is No. 1 in both preseason polls. That is due in large part to QB Jameis Winston, who took on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and then nominated his coach to do the same.
- Miami was in the bottom half of the ACC blog's preseason power rankings, and much of that has to do with questions at quarterback and the defensive line. However, freshman QB Brad Kaaya is impressing the team with his maturity, and the defensive front is improving through camp.
- Clemson opens the season at Georgia, but the Tigers will open up their home stadium so their fans can watch the game from inside Death Valley. The Bulldogs might be hurting on defense with a few losses during the offseason, but the Tigers' offense has not consistently impressed the Clemson coaches yet this fall. Chad Morris said quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson made some "really lousy decisions" in the latest scrimmage.
- Louisville also held a weekend scrimmage, and Cardinals fans should be happy with the offense. The unit's pace and its future quarterback were among the five biggest takeaways.
- Boston College's scrimmage looked like Christmas morning, which is not a good thing for an offense. Hint: They gift-wrapped turnovers.
- An Atlantic division outlook from the (Charlottesville, Virginia) Daily Progress.
- A few notes from Syracuse's Saturday practice.
- Defense was optional in the Triangle in 2013, but there are defensive playmakers at Duke, NC State and North Carolina.
- Nobody is quite sure what to expect out of Blacksburg, Virginia, this season: Does Virginia Tech continue to slide or are the Hokies poised for a return to double-digit wins? Frank Beamer believes it is the latter.
- Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof sees signs that the Yellow Jackets' defense is improving, but that doesn't mean the unit is where it needs to be.
- The name Kenechi Udeze might ring a bell for some football fans. He was a first-round NFL draft pick not long ago, but cancer cut his career short. He's back involved with the sport he loves, though, as a first-year assistant strength and conditioning coach at Pitt.
Previewing the 2014 season for the NC State Wolfpack:
Key returners: RB Shadrach Thornton (768 yards, 4 TD), WR Bryan Underwood (32 catches, 382 yards), OT Joe Thuney, DE Art Norman (9 TFL, 4.5 sacks), DT Thomas Teal (10.5 TFL, 3 sacks), S Hakim Jones (61 tackles, 2 INT), LB Brandon Pittman (63 tackles, 8 TFL, 3 sacks)
Key losses: WR Rashard Smith, WR Quintin Payton, DB Dontae Johnson, LB D.J. Green, LB Robert Caldwell
Most important games: Sept. 27 versus FSU, Oct. 4 at Clemson, Oct. 18 at Louisville, Nov. 29 at North Carolina
Projected win percentage: .479
Vegas over/under: 5.5 wins
Biggest question mark: For a team that went winless in ACC play last year, there are plenty of question marks. Brissett’s emergence is chief among them, but coach Dave Doeren seems more than pleased with his QB. Who will emerge among the young receivers for Brissett to throw to? Can the offensive line protect better than it did a year ago? Can the defensive line be more consistently disruptive? Can injured veterans like Underwood, Rob Crisp and Jarvis Byrd come back to make an impact? The list goes on and on, but there’s certainly hope that the Wolfpack have far more answers than they did a year ago.
Best-case scenario for 2014: Brissett proves to be the answer to many of last year’s offensive woes and instantly transforms the Wolfpack into a more dynamic team. The running game proves a strength and the defensive line routinely disrupts the opposition’s game plan. Injured veterans return and young depth emerges. NC State improves as the season progresses, pulls off an upset or two, and returns to postseason play with seven or eight wins.
Worst-case scenario for 2014: Brissett isn’t the answer State’s fans had hoped for, and he struggles with a shaky supporting cast. The offensive line never comes together and the defensive front can’t stop the run. Early tests against FSU and Clemson sink the season, and the Wolfpack limp to another lowly finish in an increasingly difficult division.
Number to know: 100, 100, 100. State tailback Matt Dayes is one of just four returning ACC players to accumulate 100 yards rushing, receiving and in the return game last year. He’s not exactly entrenched atop the Wolfpack’s depth chart now, but Doeren did show a propensity for utilizing his most versatile talent last season, when Rashard Smith topped 100 yards rushing (121), receiving (530), on kick returns (310) and punt returns (240). Dayes could easily fill a similar all-purpose role this year.
They said it: “He wants to win, and it's personal. He's got to go do it. We've got to get players around him to help him and all those things, but he has the skill set and the intangibles that you look for when you recruit that position.” - Doeren on Brissett’s role as the team’s leader
Frank Beamer says Brenden Motley is due to return to practice following a back injury next week, but with the Hokies scrimmaging Saturday, all indications point to a two-man race with the winner likely being decided this weekend. Beamer says he wants a decision made sooner than later so the team has time to build a rapport with the new starter.
I talked with Beamer on Wednesday, and he spoke highly of Brewer’s ability to grasp the system in a hurry and command the huddle.
“His personality, who he is, it lends himself to that,” Beamer said. “He’s a take-charge guy, likes being in control. It lends itself to him coming in and feeling at ease with the position he’s in.”
Beamer praised Brewer’s accuracy, too, but he said the key for either QB will be more consistency from the receivers when it comes to route running and drops. And on the subject of the receivers, Beamer absolutely raved about freshmen Cameron Phillips and Isaiah Ford.
“Those are two guys that are going to really help our group,” Beamer said. “They’re two athletic guys.”
A few more links:
- Dabo Swinney was none too happy with his team after its scrimmage Wednesday, telling reporters, “I thought we hit the wall.” Probably not worth reading too much into the outburst. Good coaches always pick at least one practice to publicly call out their team, and as we hit the midpoint of August, it was probably time for Swinney to give Clemson a minor wake-up call.
- Sports Illustrated has its preseason All-America teams out, with 14 ACC players making first- or second-team status. Only the SEC (16) had more. A few ACC names not on the list that we wouldn’t be surprised to see at year’s end? Clemson’s Grady Jarrett, FSU’s Karlos Williams and Ronald Darby and Miami’s Duke Johnson.
- Speaking of Johnson, he looked 100 percent as Miami scrimmaged for the first time, writes the Miami Herald. The QB race, however, remains as murky as ever, with Jake Heaps and freshman Brad Kaaya doing battle Wednesday.
- With Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, Terrance Smith is taking command of the Florida State linebacking crew, writes the Tallahassee Democrat. Smith has 69 career tackles. Reggie Northrup has 55. The rest of the linebacking corps combined has just 71.
- NC State QB Garrett Leatham wasn’t even one of the top 20 walk-ons to make it into fall camp a year ago. Now, writes the Charlotte Observer, he’s got a scholarship and the No. 2 spot on the Wolfpack’s depth chart. Good for Leatham, of course, but it does suggest just how critical a healthy Jacoby Brissett will be for NC State in 2014.
- Duke checks in at No. 24 on USA Today’s college football countdown. Their “dream season” scenario for Duke is an 11-1 campaign with the lone loss coming to Virginia Tech. Of course, the Blue Devils beat the Hokies in Blacksburg last year while mustering 198 yards of offense and failing to convert a third down. So, it’s all relative.
- Breaking news of your impending transfer via Instagram is apparently a thing now, as freshman receiver Corey Cooper announced he was leaving the Orange, writes Syracuse.com. Can recruiting via Tinder be too far off?
Fisher talked at length about how he studies a player to determine a his physical ceiling and what kind of bone structure and body type recruits possess. Fisher said it is not the deciding factor when he recruits a prospect, but it is without a doubt a factor. He likened it to basketball, where coaches often are more in love with a player's wingspan or vertical jump than his ability to shoot the basketball from 15 to 18 feet.
A protege of Nick Saban, Fisher likes physically stout players along the defensive line. Some of his defensive ends tip the scales at 300 pounds but still move as if they were 25 pounds lighter. He and Saban had them at LSU a decade ago, and Fisher has one at Florida State in Mario Edwards Jr., who was able to chase down Auburn's Nick Marshall on an option play.
Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel took a look at how Fisher has recruited during his tenure and the size of the players he has brought in.The class that signed in February averages 6-foot-3.5 and weighs 249 pounds. To put that into perspective, Bobby Bowden's final class at Florida State was two inches shorter and 26 pounds lighter.
While this 2014 class could be a bit of an outlier due to the sheer numbers of linemen Fisher signed, the statistics still offer an insight into how Fisher recruits. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly also said Sunday that he knows Fisher is looking for a certain body type depending on the position, so Kelly needs to take that into account when he's visiting high schools.
Here's a few more links to get your Tuesday started.
- Clemson's staff has some tough decisions to make before it can carve out a starting defense.
- Pittsburgh running back Isaac Bennett is still protecting his surgically repaired shoulder as the Panthers enter their second week of practice.
- Sad news for Duke linebacker Kelby Brown, who went down with a knee injury Tuesday. He's already rehabbed two torn ACLs in his career.
- Syracuse has three freshman cornerbacks looking to break into the starting lineup this season.
- Wake Forest is going with freshman John Wolford as its starting quarterback.
- North Carolina needs a player to step up on the defensive line. NC State needs players to emerge at several positions.
- Louisville held a practice closed to the media, but Lorenzo Mauldin offered up details as to what went down.
- Kendall Fuller is looking to uphold the tradition of the Fuller last name in Blacksburg.
- A preview of Boston College's game this season against Virginia.
- Al Golden insists the quarterback race at Miami is tighter than ever.