ACC: Syracuse Orange

ACC morning links

February, 27, 2015
Feb 27
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Athlon put together a list of 20 running backs on the rise for 2015, and it’s an ACC-heavy club.

The top 20 includes FSU’s Dalvin Cook, Clemson’s Wayne Gallman, BC’s Jon Hilliman, Virginia’s Taquan Mizzell and Miami’s Joseph Yearby. Georgia Tech’s C.J. Leggett also cracks the “others to watch” list. So that’s six running backs from the conference’s 14 teams, but it’s possible the list could’ve been even longer.

NC State’s combo of Shad Thornton and Matt Dayes was exceptionally good last season. Had their combined stats belonged to just one runner, their 23 touchdowns and 1,934 scrimmage yards would’ve ranked second in the ACC.

North Carolina’s T.J. Logan has been a reflection of his team the past two years -- slow starts followed by strong finishes, but he topped 92 yards in three of his final four games last year, and from Nov. 1 on, 43 percent of his rushes gained at least 5 yards.

Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff had to share the backfield with a trio of other productive runners throughout last season, but he still ran for 12 scores (third in the ACC) and had 22 carries of 10 yards or more, trailing only James Conner of Pittsburgh and Cook among returning ACC runners.

Duke’s Shaun Wilson will likely still share plenty of snaps with Shaq Powell, but no Power 5 back in the nation with at least 75 carries had a higher yards per carry average than the freshman last year.

At Virginia Tech, J.C. Coleman will be No. 1 on the depth chart after a strong finish to the season, but Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams both showed flashes of brilliance as true freshmen last year behind a lackluster offensive line.

And since this was an “on the rise” list, it didn’t even include the ACC’s player of the year in Conner.

In other words, the ACC should have a really strong corps of runners next season, and it certainly wouldn’t be out of the question for the league to end up with a half-dozen 1,000-yard backs or more.

A few more links:
In a year in which Wake Forest posted historically bad numbers on offense, it's telling that there might actually be less optimism about what's in store for 2015 at Syracuse than there is in Winston-Salem. At Wake, there's at least the hope that a young team will learn from the struggles and get better. At Syracuse, the situation feels far more untenable.

Here's why: As bad as Wake was throughout 2014, there was at least small fragments of progress. And over the final half of the season, there's no question Syracuse actually had the worse offense.

Over those last five games, Syracuse scored 47 points, the fewest in the nation by a touchdown. In the past decade, there have been 734 seasons played by AQ or Power 5 teams, and only two -- 2008 Washington and 2009 Washington State -- scored fewer points over their final five games. Those two teams finished a combined 1-23.

That's about as bad as it gets -- and in some areas, markedly worse even than what was happening at Wake Forest at the same time. It's not surprising either that, despite a defense that ranked 18th nationally during that same stretch, the Orange finished by losing five straight.

Now that defense figures to have grave concerns, too. Eight of Syracuse's top 10 tacklers from 2014 are gone, including Dyshawn Davis, Durell Eskridge and Cameron Lynch. As coordinator Chuck Bullough told Syracuse.com, it's going to be “a challenging year” on D.

So, is there any hope for the Orange in 2015?

The reality is that Syracuse isn't going to challenge for the Atlantic, and the most likely scenario is another long, painful season. But historical precedent doesn't necessarily doom the Orange, and there's reason to think last year's dreadful conclusion wasn't an accurate representation of the real Syracuse offense.

Tim Lester took over as offensive coordinator midyear, and he couldn't change much at the time.

Terrel Hunt was injured, and Syracuse cycled through young QBs after that. The offensive line was bruised and battered with numerous starters missing time.

"It was the perfect storm," Lester said.

In other words, the Syracuse offense of 2015 won't be the Syracuse offense of 2014 by any real approximation, and change of any sort after a stretch like that is an upgrade.

Overall last year, Syracuse had a touchdown rate (TD/drives) of just 8.4 percent vs. its Power 5 opponents. Since 2004, only three teams have posted a lower rate, and only 14 total have posted a rate worse than 10 percent. Oddly, three of those others happened in 2014 (Wake, Vanderbilt and Penn State, which miraculously finished 7-6).

Seven of those teams improved their win total the following year, which is good news for Syracuse. Of course, since the average team on that list won only 2.5 games, there wasn't much room to go but up.

Still, there were noteworthy names.
  • In 2006, Stanford went 1-11 while posting a TD rate of 6.0 percent -- the worst (by a wide margin) of any Power 5 team in this study. A year later, with Jim Harbaugh on board as coach, the Cardinal added three wins to their total and doubled its TD rate to 12.4 percent.
  • In 2008, Auburn finished 5-7 with a TD rate of 8.5 percent. A year later, with Gene Chizik taking over as head coach, the Tigers jumped to eight wins with a TD rate of 24.4 percent.
  • In 2011, Ole Miss was a dismal 2-10 with a TD rate of 10 percent. A year later, Hugh Freeze came aboard as head coach and the Rebels won seven games and upped their TD rate to 22.6 percent.
  • And most notably, in 2012, Auburn again was awful offensively, posting a TD rate of 8.2 percent and finishing the year just 3-9. A year later, with Gus Malzahn taking over as head coach, Auburn scored TDs on 32.7 percent of its drives vs. Power 5 foes and played for a national championship.

Perhaps you've noticed a common thread here. Each improved dramatically only after a change in leadership at the top. Malzahn, Freeze and Harbaugh were all offensive-minded head coaches, and while Chizik was not, he did have Malzahn as his OC in 2009.

At Syracuse, the 2015 season will feature many of the same key players -- Lester, Hunt and head coach Scott Shafer chief among them -- who were around last year. That's got a lot of Orange fans doubtful that much will change.

But perhaps things aren't quite so bad. A healthy Hunt has to be an improvement over the QB quagmire of last year's second half, and he spent the latter half of last season in the coaches box with Lester, learning and watching the game from a new angle. Lester now has a chance to install his own offense, and he's focused on using his quarterback's strengths. The Atlantic was stacked with strong defenses a year ago, but that should shift a bit in 2015. Maybe.

"[Last year,] I didn't put anything in moving forward with the offense. I just did the best job with the things we'd been doing since I got here," Lester said. "At this point, I'm putting in my offense, our offense, and it's formations, names, cadence, everything. If we're going to go, we're going with something I've run, I have experience with, and our coaches can do a great job teaching. We've carried over two or three pass names or formation names, but other than that, everything else is new."

It's spring -- even in a place like Syracuse, where there's still snow on the ground and dismal memories of last season in the air -- so there's hope.

"We're trying to make the transition as easy possible, but they're all fired up about what we're doing," Lester said. "It's a fresh start."
If you're perusing the nonconference schedules for ACC teams in 2015, you've no doubt noticed that Boston College isn't exactly wowing its fan base by signing up for two games against FCS foes. But before you go and point fingers at the Eagles for stacking the decks for two easy wins, BC Interruption goes through the agonizing details of the long, unpleasant journey that led to this slate of games.

Long story short, the ACC's flip-flop on a nine-game schedule two years ago and the ongoing conference reshuffling elsewhere were the biggest dominoes to fall, but when you get into the nitty gritty of it, the saga really underscores just how difficult scheduling has become.

In 2012, Florida State faced a similar problem. West Virginia bailed on a nonconference agreement, and in its place, the Seminoles could do no better than Savannah State -- a game so lopsided, they didn't even finish playing it.

Clemson and Georgia Tech both had multiple FCS foes on their schedules in 2013, and even those late-season rivalries against the SEC probably weren't enough to make matchups against Elon or South Carolina State seem worthwhile. But that's the breaks when the conference changes scheduling tactics at the last minute.

Scheduling has become a brutal business. Teams don't see conference foes often enough in the ACC, SEC and Big Ten. No one wants to lose the revenue of a seventh home game, so slating home-and-homes against anyone becomes tricky. Lower-tier FBS schools know their services as punching bags are in high demand, so they want big bucks in return. Contracts for future games aren't worth much more than the paper they're printed on.

Which brings us to the biggest problem: Scheduling matters a lot in this new playoff era. In fact, scheduling was probably the No. 1 topic of discussion as we all debated who was in and who should be left out. But was it Florida State's fault that Oklahoma State wasn't very good? Should Baylor have been made to suffer for keeping scheduling agreements that were signed long before there was such a thing as a playoff committee? How many people were giving extra credit to Ohio State for losing to Virginia Tech rather than thumping four punching bags like Mississippi State did?

One way around the problems may be to ink more nonconference conference games, as UNC and Wake Forest did, and as the Post & Courier suggests Clemson and South Carolina should also do. But if we're getting to that point, why not just move to that nine-game conference slate that was such a source of frustration two years ago?

What's more realistic in the short term is that the committee -- which includes its share of ADs who should be familiar with these issues -- needs to seriously re-evaluate how much scheduling factors into its rankings.

A few more links:
The frustration that Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt felt last season has given way to a new sense of excitement and hope.

Now that he is back on the field for spring practice, Hunt has reclaimed his spot as the leader on offense -- a spot he has no plans to relinquish.

“It feels like I never left," Hunt said in a phone interview with ESPN.com. "I earned my teammates’ respect throughout the years I’ve been here. As long as I continue to work hard, they’re going to respect me. The minute I slack, they’re going to let me know. I feel like I haven’t missed a beat.”

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/Phil SearsTerrel Hunt learned a lot about playing quarterback by watching after his injury.
Hunt broke his leg last October and was forced to miss the final seven games of the season. With Hunt out and many other injuries making an impact on the team, the Orange struggled to 3-9. The injury provided its own set of frustrations to Hunt, but it also provided him an opportunity to grow as well.

During games, Hunt would sit in the coaches’ box with quite a different view of the playing field.

“The game’s a lot slower up top,” Hunt said. “You can see all the little tendencies that may give away a Cover 4 or a Cover 2, little things like that. It’s definitely a blessing in disguise. As a player, everything moves so fast and sometimes you forget the coaches are up there and see everything. They see way more than you do. It helped me a lot to recognize defenses and understand the tendencies.”

Hunt watches film in an entirely different way now because he knows what to look for and how to evaluate what he is seeing. Already that has translated on the field during the first set of practices.

“The first day, I was talking football with my coach and there was one play where I threw a post, and he was like, ‘Why did you go there?’” Hunt said. “I told him they were playing low over the top and it was Cover 4. It was a one-on-one matchup outside, and he said, ‘Good job.’ Even if you don’t complete it, just the fact that you’re thinking that goes a long way.”

As for his physical health, Hunt tried to stay as active as possible while he was rehabbing. He lives on the third floor of his building, so when it was time to go downstairs, he’d use his arms to swing himself down – ensuring a good arm workout. On his way up, he’d walk on one leg, then he eventually put pressure on his broken leg when it was more stable.

The strength and conditioning staff had him do work with medicine balls to maintain his balance. His strength exercises also required more reps with lighter weights. So far during practice he has felt no pain, though he acknowledged there remains soreness once he hits the sideline.

But it is nothing he believes will slow him down. Hunt has a new offense to master, one that he says he loves because “it creates a lot of mismatches.” The goal, of course, is to get back to a bowl. Motivation is not difficult to come by, either.

“If one of us is slacking on a run or bending over during a run, we yell 3-9, 3-9!” Hunt said. “Nobody ever wants to go back to that because you feel like a failure.”
What does it say about the ACC that the Power 5 coach rankings of the worst jobs included five schools from the conference?

It says coaching in the ACC does not exactly qualify as a cakewalk, given the challenges schools such as Boston College, Syracuse, Duke and Wake Forest face on a daily basis.

Rather than describing them as the "worst" jobs, we can acknowledge that these four programs present tough jobs for any head coach. They are all private, all relatively small with small stadiums and all in catch-up mode with their facilities. Perhaps the rankings speak more to the jobs Steve Addazio and David Cutcliffe have done, winning at places deemed so difficult. Scott Shafer took his Orange to a bowl game in 2013 too.

Their placement in the bottom tier was not completely surprising, though Duke at No. 58 overall seemed low. The biggest surprise was Virginia ranked among the worst jobs in the Power 5 conferences, at No. 51.

You are going to have a hard time convincing me Oregon State, Minnesota and Illinois are better jobs. Same goes for Kentucky and several others ranked a little higher.

On paper, Virginia has many advantages. There are ways to recruit top talent from the area, which produces ESPN 300 players year in and year out. The campus and academics are huge selling points, the facilities are good, and Virginia has a strong track record of placing guys into the NFL. Plus, the Cavaliers are in the easier division in the ACC, which means winning the conference is a little less challenging than it is for Atlantic Division teams.

Despite those advantages, Virginia hasn't thrived as a football program in recent times, with zero ACC championship game appearances and zero 10-win seasons since 1989. While in-state rival Virginia Tech has flourished, Virginia has been an underachiever. Due to that, the job has been downgraded in the rankings.

There is some logic to that evaluation. Winning should make a job more desirable. Would Baylor or TCU have been a Top-30 job 20 years ago? Would Miami have been a lower-tier, Top-25 job 20 years ago?

But winning cannot be the only factor taken into consideration. Virginia is brimming with potential, which makes the job appealing in many ways. It's certainly more appealing than No. 51 out of 65 Power 5 programs.

ACC morning links

February, 25, 2015
Feb 25
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Miami going 6-7 with all of its talent was not only head-scratching to its fans and those who follow the team regularly, it was head scratching to scouts in Indianapolis at the combine last week.

Bruce Feldman of FoxSports.com was there to get a gauge on what exactly went wrong. He spoke to Miami players at the combine, and none of them pointed the finger at coach Al Golden. Still, one unnamed scout echoed the thoughts of many when he told Feldman:
"They had more front-line talent than half the teams in the SEC. They didn't have as much talent as Florida State, but they were still pretty loaded. How does that team not win at least nine games in that league?"

Various theories have been floated. After investing everything they had in the game against Florida State -- only to come up short in the fourth quarter -- Miami never recovered and lost its final four games. Golden admitted he needed to do a better job of getting his team to refocus after such a tough loss. But last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya also implied there were schisms in the Miami locker room that contributed to the disappointing season.

What is interesting in the comments made to Feldman from the former Miami players is they all use the same excuse various players have used for years: That players often are not in position to make plays for one reason or another. Former receiver Phillip Dorsett said, "We'd go watch film the next day and there'd be certain guys out of place, and if the guy was in place, that play would've been made. Stuff like that."

Needless to say, Miami remains one of the most interesting teams to watch in the ACC this spring and into the fall.

Elsewhere around the ACC:

Best of the combine: ACC

February, 24, 2015
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Now that the NFL combine has wrapped up, let us take a quick look at how prospects from across the ACC fared.

First, here are the top overall performances, regardless of position, in the seven drills players are asked to complete:

40-yard dash
3. Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami, 4.33
7. Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State, 4.38

Bench press
1. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami, 37
t3. Vic Beasley, LB, Clemson, 35
t3. Sean Hickey, OL, Syracuse, 35
9. Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State, 32
t13. Cameron Erving, OL, Florida State, 30

Vertical jump
t7. Darby, 41.5
11. Beasley, 41

Broad jump
4. P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State, 11
t8. Beasley, 10-10

3-cone drill
6. Dorsett, 6.7
13. Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest, 6.79

20-yard shuttle
2. Johnson, 3.89
10. Garry Peters, CB, Clemson, 4.00
12. Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson 4.03

60-yard shuttle
t4. Peters, 11.10

Other notes:
  • Florida State running back Karlos Williams posted a 40-time of 4.48, ranking No. 2 among all running backs. Other top times among backs from the ACC: Duke Johnson ran a 4.54 and Michael Dyer ran a 4.58. After an impressive showing, count Williams as a "sleeper" running back prospect. His Speed Score was the best in the group.
  • Beasley and Anthony had impressive performances in Indianapolis. Not only did Beasley show out on the bench press and vertical jump, he ran the top 40-time among linebackers, clocking a 4.53. Anthony was third at the position, in 4.56, giving the Tigers two of the top three fastest linebacker prospects. In all, Beasley had the top performances at linebacker in the 40, bench press, 3-cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle, making him an instant riser.
  • Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby had a great weekend, and now buzz is starting to build about his potential as a Top 40 prospect.
  • Meanwhile, quarterback Jameis Winston did not blow anybody away with his 40 time, but he was not expected to. ESPN's John Clayton believes Winston "appears to be a lock" to go No. 1 overall to Tampa Bay. Todd McShay writes that Winston impressed during his interviews, but didn't make any guarantees about where the quarterback will end up.
  • Louisville cornerback Charles Gaines had a great 40-time as well, at 4.44, and made it onto this SI.com list as a riser after his combine performance.

ACC morning links

February, 24, 2015
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First, the better of the good news: Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer is doing well. The dean of FBS coaches -- no head coach has been at his current program longer than Beamer (29th season) -- is recovering from throat surgery but is progressing fine, Beamer's son, Shane, said.

"He’s working on getting that speech back to normal," Shane told BeamerBall.com. "We had a couple of guys who, let’s say, upset the head coach a bit, and I can tell you his voice sounded more than okay when he was in there getting his point across to those guys. He’s on the right track. Is his voice back to where he wants it? No. But he’s a lot farther along than where he was. The doctors have said he’d be back to normal by the spring practices and so far it looks like they’re right."

The other good news is the offensive backfield is recovering from the bevy of injuries it suffered in 2014. Rising sophomores Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams suffered ACL injuries during the season, and Trey Edmunds battled injuries throughout 2014, too.

It's no secret 2015 could be a make-or-break year for Beamer, and another disappointing season could lead to a coaching change. Beamer probably deserves the benefit of the doubt based on his career record and the fact the team was devastated by injuries a season ago. Offensively, Beamer would like to rely on a running back group that is not short on talent. And quarterback Michael Brewer is a much better player when the pressure does not rest solely on his shoulders and has shown he can be a capable quarterback with the backing of a solid rush attack.

So as the Hokies get ready for spring practice in about a month, there is positive news on several fronts.

Here are a few more links for your Tuesday:

ACC's most intriguing: Nos. 21-25

February, 23, 2015
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We're still 26 long weeks away from the start of the 2015 season, but there promises to be plenty of twists and turns for ACC teams before the action kicks off. While some of the drama will come as a surprise, there are a number of key figures around the ACC that are already big stories. With that in mind, we're counting down the 25 most intriguing figures in the conference this offseason -- from players to coaches to administrators -- and digging into the impact they might make on how 2015 unfolds once the games finally begin. First up, numbers 21 through 25.

21. Josh Sweat

Role: Defensive end, Florida State

[+] EnlargeJosh Sweat
Tom Hauck for Student SportsJosh Sweat, FSU's top recruit from the 2015 class, could see some playing time as a starter on the defensive line this fall.
Intrigue: Jimbo Fisher brought in another impressive haul of recruits for 2015, including three of the top 11 in the ESPN 300. While many freshmen could make an instant impact for FSU this season, Sweat might be the most interesting because he's at a position where the Seminoles have a glaring need following the departures of Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman from the defensive line. Sweat enrolled early, but he's also still recovering from a serious knee injury suffered last September.

Potential impact: Last season, Florida State had the fourth-worst sack rate of any Power 5 school, mustering just 17 in 14 games. Meanwhile, the run defense has allowed a higher yards-per-carry in each of the past three seasons. Add to that the departure of last year's top two defensive linemen, and there's a gaping need up front without a lot of obvious frontrunners for jobs. If Sweat can rehab the knee and get comfortable in the defense this spring, he could easily challenge for a starting job in fall camp.

22. Stacy Coley

Role: Wide receiver, Miami

Intrigue: When the 2013 season ended, Coley looked like he might be the next big star at Miami. Instead, 2014 was a disaster, and the sophomore finished with just 23 catches for 184 yards and no touchdowns. As Brad Kaaya gets set for his sophomore campaign at QB without veterans Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett to help him out, Coley needs to show he can regain his rookie form and blossom into a weapon once again for Miami.

Potential impact: Injuries and a new QB help explain some of Coley's downfall last season, but his momentous decline in performance remains something of a mystery. Still, there's no ignoring how good he was as a true freshman, and if he can get back to that level of production, Kaaya's development offers a lot of encouragement for just how dangerous the Miami passing attack could be in 2015.

23. Taquan Mizzell

Role: Running back, Virginia

Intrigue: Mizzell arrived at UVA as one of Mike London's most heralded offensive recruits, but after two years on the field, his impact still hasn't been all that significant. He made strides as a sophomore in 2014, but with the departures of Kevin Parks and a host of receivers, Mizzell's all-purpose skill set won't just be a luxury this season. He needs to blossom into a star.

Potential impact: Mizzell was one of just four ACC backs to rack up 250 rushing and 250 receiving yards last season. His 39 receptions were the most in the league by a running back, but his 4.4 yards-per-rush average ranked just 25th among ACC tailbacks. He's clearly a weapon on offense for the Hoos, but Mizzell needs to flash more elusiveness out of the backfield to blossom into a true star.

24. Terrel Hunt

Role: Quarterback, Syracuse

Intrigue: All offseason last year, the talk was that Hunt had developed into a leader, built off his late-season success in 2013 and was ready for a breakout campaign. Then he was tossed from the opener for throwing a punch, struggled through much of the early season, went down with an injury in Week 6 and missed the rest of the season. Without him, however, Syracuse's QB play went from bad to abysmal. So is he still the Orange's best hope or is Scott Shafer better off handing the passing game over to AJ Long or another young QB?

Potential impact: At this point, perhaps we've seen enough of Hunt to get too excited about what he might provide this season, but there's still that glimmer of hope he can put things all together. Coaches still applaud his work ethic, and his athleticism has never been a question. If he can stay healthy and improve his mechanics, he at least offers Syracuse a chance to move the football on offense -- something it wasn't able to do at all once Hunt went down in 2014.

25. Dave Clawson

Role: Head coach, Wake Forest

Intrigue: It's Year 2 for the coach with arguably one of the toughest jobs in college football, and the strides Wake made in 2014 weren't always easy to see. Still, the fact the Demon Deacons played a number of close games was evidence Clawson has his team's attention, and as he gets more and more of his own players in house, there's plenty of curiosity about how far he can take the Deacons in 2015.

Potential impact: Wake isn't going to challenge for a division title, but as the offensive skill positions gain some depth and the line gets stronger, Clawson's vision is beginning to take shape. If the Deacons play with the same tenacity in 2015 that they did last season, they're certainly capable of shaking things up across the ACC and pulling off a handful of upsets.
When Dave Clawson took the head-coaching job at Wake Forest last year, he knew it would be a massive rebuilding project Insider. His roster lacked any experienced talent at the offensive skill positions. His offensive line was woefully undersized. His recruiting base was dominated by bigger schools, spending more money. There was, he believed, a plan to turn Wake into a winner, but it would be a long and treacherous road. When the Demon Deacons finished 1-7 in ACC play in 2014, most chalked it up as a surprisingly successful first step.

When Jimbo Fisher took over for legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State in 2010, the path to rebuilding a winner wasn’t nearly as tough. The Seminoles had tradition and money and a passionate alumni base, and once Fisher got the right staff in place he made an instant impact on the recruiting trail and won a division title in his first season. Still, by the time he finished the 2012 campaign with FSU’s first ACC championship in seven years, a vocal contingent of the fan base remained dubious that Fisher was the right man for the job. They’d hoped for more, and a 12-2 record was labeled something of a disappointment.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsIs Dave Clawson's job at Wake Forest tougher than Jimbo Fisher's at Florida State? Depends on your perspective.
Pinpointing the toughest coaching job in the ACC is really a matter of semantics. At Wake, resources are thin but expectations are modest. A coach gets time to build. At Florida State, there are ample tools to create a juggernaut, but the fan base doesn’t accept excuses when winning doesn’t come quickly. The difficulty of the job is really in the eye of the beholder.

Of course, there’s plenty of room for debate between those two counterpoints, too.

David Cutcliffe took over a Duke program that had spent the previous 15 years as one of the worst teams in the FBS, but he slowly rebuilt the on-field product, pushed for more investment and led the charge for stadium upgrades and now the Blue Devils have played in three straight bowl games. What was once universally considered one of the toughest jobs in college football now looks like a pretty cushy gig.

At Miami, Al Golden is living the alternate side of that story. The Hurricanes were a powerhouse for two decades, but, after an extended dry spell marred by an NCAA investigation, piecing together a consistent winner at Miami has proved to be an arduous project. The Canes have brought in talent, including potentially three first-round picks in the upcoming NFL draft, but Golden has just a .500 record in ACC play to show for it, and the fan base is understandably restless.

Places such as Syracuse and Boston College have rich football traditions, but geography makes recruiting a tougher task. North Carolina and Virginia have resources and more fertile recruiting bases, but they’ve combined for just three ACC titles since 1980, and none in the past 20 years.

Deciding on the ACC’s toughest job is really about where the line between expectations and opportunity converge. At places such as Wake and Syracuse, no doubt more legwork is required to simply get to a bowl game. At Florida State and Miami, finding the talent is easy but meeting the lofty expectations that come with it can be a challenge.

It’s fair to say most coaches would prefer the latter problem, of course, and there’s a reason FSU is a destination job while Syracuse is more likely a place to get fired or a steppingstone to a better gig. But sometimes it’s simply about finding the right fit. Cutcliffe has said he hopes never to leave Duke -- a job most coaches would’ve run from screaming a decade ago. Meanwhile, Dabo Swinney has led Clemson to four straight 10-win seasons, but when he was rumored to be a candidate for the Florida job in December, he didn’t deny he might someday move on from Death Valley for the right opportunity elsewhere. The best jobs are often a matter of perspective, too.

In the end, a great coach finds a way to mine for resources, even in less fertile areas. He wins enough that expectations climb, even in places where winning had been an afterthought for years. At Virginia Tech, Frank Beamer is an institution -- the man responsible for building the program over the course of three decades. That success helped him snag a top-25 recruiting class this year, and it also has the fan base up in arms after three straight subpar seasons.

In other words, it’s not as much about the job as it is about the coach. Clawson hasn’t shied away from the task at hand. Instead, he has embraced the difficulty of winning at Wake Forest. And one year after Fisher was criticized for failing to meet expectations in 2012, he won a national title at Florida State with one of the most dominant teams in recent history.

Every job has its challenges, but the right coach finds a way to meet them regardless.

ACC morning links

February, 23, 2015
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Over the last five NFL drafts, the ACC has the second-most picks (169), second only to the SEC. Based on the showings of several players from the ACC at the NFL combine over the weekend, the conference has a chance at a half-dozen first-round picks in 2015, if not more.

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was the most anticipated combine participant from the ACC since, well, last year. The 2013 Heisman Trophy winner opened his news conference with reporters admitting he made mistakes at FSU, but he reportedly impressed several teams during his interviews -- with both his answers to questions about his past and his football intellect in whiteboard sessions. It's hardly a surprise Winston excelled, as he has lost a public speaking engagement about as often as he lost games.

Winston was spectacular as a passer Insider and left no doubt his skill set translates well to the NFL.

While Winston stole the headlines, there were several other former ACC stars who improved their draft stocks as well. Former Clemson defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley was the big winner Sunday, putting together one of the best performances for a linebacker. There has been talk that Beasley is a fringe NFL defensive end and fringe NFL linebacker. Beasley added weight and measured at 246 pounds, but he did it while keeping his athleticism and speed. He ran a 4.53 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds 35 times, which were tops among both defensive linemen and linebackers. According to Clemson's athletic department, no linebacker has done that since NFL.com began listing combine results in 2006.

Former Virginia defensive end Eli Harold, like Beasley, is looked at as a hybrid, too. He posted a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash. Mario Edwards Jr., formerly of Florida State, showed he could also play two positions: defensive end and defensive tackle.

The 6-foot-3, 209-pound DeVante Parker, formerly of Louisville, made a case to be the top receiver taken with a 4.45 in the 40-yard dash.

Once again, Apr. 30 could be a solid showing for the ACC.

Here are a few more links for your Monday.
When Syracuse opens spring practice Sunday, there will be an emphasis on getting back to its roots on offense.

That would be putting a priority on establishing the run.

Last season, the Orange were not nearly as effective on the ground. There were myriad reasons for that – the offensive line was never a cohesive unit as it dealt with one injury after another; injuries to the quarterbacks allowed defenses to load the box and key on the run; and offensive coordinator George McDonald favored more of a spread, high-tempo offense.

The shift in philosophy back to a pro-style, multiple-set under Tim Lester provides an opportunity to establish a more physical, powerful run game.

Last season, Syracuse ranked 12th in the ACC in rushing. Prince-Tyson Gulley led the team with 614 yards, the fewest yards by the team’s leading rusher since 2007. Between 2008-13, Syracuse’s top rusher had at least 900 yards. In its last two bowl appearances, Syracuse averaged 190.9 yards rushing per game.

So it is easy to see why Syracuse wants to be able to run the ball, and run it well.

While it is true that Lester was promoted to offensive coordinator last October, the offensive staff was caught in the awkward position of trying to run the scheme in place while also making adjustments to the style Lester preferred. The Orange could not radically shift gears midstream.

Once the offseason hit, players received a new playbook and will start to resemble the unit Lester wants to run once spring rolls around. To that end, Syracuse loses Gulley from the backfield but returns George Morris II, Devante McFarlane and Ervin Philips. Three freshman running backs signed this month.

What appeals to Shafer about the group is the way they can be used in different ways.

“Erv is a kid who can play right behind the quarterback and run all of our run game, but he also can move out into space and create mismatch problems with linebackers,” Shafer said. “A guy like Ashton Broyld is another kid we don’t have to just play outside. He can come inside, he can run the ball and he can catch the ball off linebackers.

“I feel good about the three running backs we recruited in this class coming in that are dynamic enough to play both behind the quarterback or offset into a slot family and once again match up against those linebackers.”

Terrel Hunt opens spring as the starting quarterback, so he will provide some help to the ground game as well. Though he only played in five games before getting hurt, Hunt finished third on the team with 292 yards rushing and led the team with six rushing touchdowns. That accounted for half of the team’s 12 total rushing touchdowns – a far cry from the 25 rushing TDs the team scored in 2013.

ACC morning links

February, 20, 2015
Feb 20
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Athlon Sports' David Fox took on the fun task of ranking the ACC's football/men's basketball coaching duos, and it should come as little surprise to see Duke at the top.

David Cutcliffe has turned around the culture of Blue Devil football, leading his team to three straight bowl games and winning multiple national coach of the year awards in 2013. His hardwood counterpart, of course, is arguably the greatest to ever walk the collegiate sidelines, Mike Krzyzewski.

The real debate comes after the top, as Fox has Louisville and Notre Dame at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively. While the jury may still be out on Bobby Petrino's redemption tour after Year 1 back with the Cardinals, his success is likely enough to help lift the Cards to the No. 2 spot, considering Hall of Famer Rick Pitino is his counterpart. The Irish have a nice showing as well, as Brian Kelly is easily the school's best football coach since Lou Holtz and Mike Brey has turned the hoops squad into a consistent tournament team, after years of mediocrity before his arrival.

The legitimacy of the rest of the list is really in the eye of the beholder, especially given the cyclical nature of the ACC's football and men's basketball programs. I, for one, can easily see Virginia Tech moving up from No. 6 in the near future if Frank Beamer can turn things around on the gridiron. And Buzz Williams was definitely a home run hire this year for the hoops program.

I'd probably move No. 11 Clemson a few spots up, and No. 8 Syracuse and No. 10 Pitt could certainly see their profiles grow if their relatively new football coaches can make names for themselves to go with Jim Boeheim and Jamie Dixon.

I'd also put stock in 15th-place Wake Forest, which is in Year 1 of both the Dave Clawson and Danny Manning eras. The Demon Deacons have shown early signs in both regimes that they don't plan on going away quietly, regardless of their limitations.

Here are the rest of your Friday links:
Is February the new March?

Perhaps it is in the ACC.

Four league teams have opted to open spring football practice this month, more than any other Power 5 conference. That number is double what it was a year ago, when Duke and Boston College opted to start in February.

Miami and Syracuse decided to join them this year. The Hurricanes opened Tuesday while Syracuse made the most dramatic change, moving its first spring practice up three weeks. The Orange open Sunday thanks in large part to their newly completed indoor facility.

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesSteve Addazio and Boston College are enjoying the benefits of starting spring practice earlier.
Why the shift? For one, it helps teams get a jump on their evaluations. It also allows for injured players a little longer time to heal before the season while lengthening the offseason strength and conditioning program.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe shifted to an early February spring practice start date last year, hoping to capitalize on momentum from its bowl performance. It worked out so well for his team that he has no plans to go back.

Boston College starts Feb. 25 with one practice, then resumes in March after spring break, the same schedule coach Steve Addazio used last year. Addazio wanted to practice a few more days in February this year, but could not alter the schedule after he had to make several coaching hires this month.

Still, the one-day February practice is beneficial because it builds in more time spent working on the team.

“The reason I love it is because I want to have as much time post-spring until the start of the season so if you get an injury, you can get a guy back,” Addazio said. “My whole thing is I want to get spring ball in, I want to see where our team is and really figure out what we’re all about.”

Then there are the recruiting considerations, also a big factor in the earlier start dates.

“Our biggest recruiting time is then,” Addazio said. “We get our recruits to come through during practice, and I love it, they get here and we spend a lot of time with them, that’s where we build our bonds. That’s the early bite that we get, and that’s critical to our recruiting. The earlier our spring practice is, the faster we get a bite into our players.”

Earlier spring practices also allow teams to figure out what positions they need to target on the recruiting trail earlier.

“In years past, we were trying to evaluate our spring practice and our depth chart and recruit at the same time,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. “Now, we’re going to be able to say, ‘Let’s take the first week after spring ball, reevaluate everything we did during the spring, what was good, what wasn’t as good as we needed it to be and then close that chapter and jump full steam ahead into the recruiting process,’ which will help us be a little bit more on targets with who we need to go after. That is another area that’s going to be helpful in our process.”

More teams might follow suit in the near future. Second-year Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson also moved spring practice up three weeks to March 3 now that he is firmly in place with the Demon Deacons and not scrambling around in the first few months of the job.

Clawson said he would consider moving practice into late February next year once the new indoor practice facility is completed.

“When we had our spring game last year the third week in April, our coaches weren’t on the road until early May, and so other coaches in our division who had earlier spring football were out recruiting two weeks before we were, and in a day and age in which kids are committing earlier and earlier and changing their mind later and later, it was a recruiting disadvantage for us to not get out,” Clawson said. “We’d be out evaluating a kid and another school had been there twice before we even saw him.”

For staffs without much coaching turnover, the advantages are there. Makes spring football take on a slightly different meaning.

Spring start dates across the ACC

Duke, Miami already started
Feb. 22: Syracuse
Feb. 25: Boston College
March 1: North Carolina, NC State
March 2: Clemson
March 3: Wake Forest
March 15: Pittsburgh
March 17: Virginia
March 23: Georgia Tech
March 24: Virginia Tech, Louisville
TBA: Florida State

ACC morning links

February, 18, 2015
Feb 18
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This may be the offseason, but nobody is off in college football.

As proof, schools have taken to social media to show us exactly what their players are up to.

Clemson posted a video on its Instagram account showing a 5:30 a.m. workout.

#ALLIN #Clemson

A video posted by Clemson Football (@clemsonfb) on



At North Carolina, Blue Dawn is back -- the catchy phrase given to early conditioning workouts under Larry Fedora.



Wake Forest and Syracuse had their players up before dark, too. Syracuse even tagged its tweets #6AM.



Meanwhile, Pitt offensive line coach John Peterson reminded everybody via Twitter that players were set to begin their mat drills early Wednesday morning.

Of course, a few teams already have opened spring practice. Miami became the latest Tuesday. Though the practice was closed, quarterback Brad Kaaya told The Miami Herald in an interview last week that his main goal is to make sure he is leading a united team. There are now signs in the Miami locker room that read, "Cliques Kill."

Though nobody inside Miami has gone into much detail about team chemistry last season, dealing with a fractured locker room may help explain some of the issues the Hurricanes encountered toward the end of the season. It is not too difficult to read between the lines in the Kaaya comments to understand the team was splintered. This quote says it all: “You can’t have guys being outliers and kind of keeping to themselves or saying things under their breath. ... I feel like at times last year it was an offense and defense playing against our opponent, as opposed to the Miami Hurricanes playing against them."

Miami, it seems, has more than X's and O's to figure out.

Elsewhere across the ACC:

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