ACC: Syracuse Orange

ACC bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
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If predicting the order of finish in each division is tough duty this time of year, figuring out the bowl scenarios is an even crazier endeavor. Still, we'll take a crack at it each week of the season, beginning with our preseason projections.

A few quick caveats:
  • If the Orange Bowl selects a Big Ten team this year, a spot would open up in the Capital One Bowl for the ACC. We're not banking on that just yet.
  • Either the TaxSlayer Bowl or Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl gets an ACC team, but not both. For the purposes of our preseason projections, we're slotting a team into the TaxSlayer Bowl, but that could change down the road.
  • For bowl selection purposes, Notre Dame is treated as an ACC team, meaning the Fighting Irish will grab one of the conference's tie-ins unless it is invited to the College Football Playoff.
  • The Birmingham Bowl serves as a backup for the ACC should enough teams become eligible. We're not projecting that yet either.
  • After the playoff committee makes its selections and the Orange Bowl makes its pick, the Russell Athletic gets the next choice of teams. After that, the next group of four work together to decide on selections with geography and a fan base's likelihood to travel to the game playing a role. We attempted to account for that below.

With all that said, here's our best guess at what awaits the ACC in December and January.

College Football Playoff: Florida State Seminoles
Orange Bowl (Miami): Clemson Tigers
Russell Athletic Bowl (Orlando, Florida): Virginia Tech
TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Florida): Miami
Belk Bowl (Charlotte, North Carolina): North Carolina
Hyundai Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas): Louisville
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx, New York): Notre Dame
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman (Annapolis, Maryland): Pitt
Duck Commander Independence Bowl (Shreveport, Louisiana): Duke
Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit): Syracuse
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: Georgia Tech
It’s impossible to debate the 2014 season for Syracuse without the discussion eventually boiling down to this: Terrel Hunt is the ultimate wild card.

Earlier this summer, Dyshawn Davis told us that the Orange would go only as far as Hunt could take them.

Earlier this week, coach Scott Shafer said he was sleeping better at night, knowing the offense was in good hands with Hunt.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipSyracuse QB Terrel Hunt is looking to benefit from improved throwing mechanics this season.
The stats from last season, however, might warrant a few more sleepless nights.

As a runner in 2013, Hunt was pretty good, and his legs clearly helped Syracuse win enough football games to finish its inaugural ACC season with a winning record.

As a passer, however, Hunt was pretty bad.

Throw out his first two starts against Wagner and Tulane — two clearly overmatched opponents that the Orange pounded by a combined score of 106-17 — and it’s hard to see how Syracuse could be overly enthusiastic going into 2014. In 10 games against teams from AQ conferences, Hunt completed 58 percent of his throws, averaged 5.1 yards per attempt and tossed just three TDs to go with eight interceptions.

How bad are those numbers?

Among the 269 QBs in the last five years who attempted at least 200 passes against AQ teams, here’s where Hunt ranks:

  • His 5.1 yards per attempt is the third worst
  • His 8.8 yards per completions is the second worst
  • His rate of 1 TD pass every 78 attempts is the second worst
  • His passer rating of 98.3 is the sixth worst

So, why is Syracuse so optimistic that Hunt can develop into a legitimate passing threat in 2014?

“His elbow is way up,” quarterbacks coach Tim Lester said. “[Last year], he had a tendency to be a little bit below 90 degrees, he’d have a sore elbow and he wouldn’t get his hand on top of the ball. The ball would end up sailing on him, and he wasn’t able to throw the deep ball very well, and that also caused him to over-stride a little bit. It was really all one thing. Keep your elbow up and your hand on top of the ball, and you’ll have control over anything you want to do. And he did it. He could see it on film. I think he understands it now. He believes it. He can feel it. It hasn’t been an issue this year.”

Lester said he tried to work on some of the mechanical flaws in Hunt’s delivery last year, but the quarterback had been thrown into the fire, taking over the starting job in Week 4, and messing with technique is tough in season.

When the season ended, however, Lester and Hunt went to work.

Hunt’s coaches rave about his work ethic and willingness to make adjustments. His athleticism is impressive enough that he’s capable of making plays with his legs, which should open up more passing opportunities, and he’s smart enough to understand how to read a defense and go through his progressions.

In fact, if there was one encouraging sign amid all the ugly stats last year, it was that Hunt always knew why he’d made a mistake.

“There were deep balls he took shots at, it was the right time to take a shot, and he just wasn’t able to put it where he wanted to,” Lester said. “Late in the year, he’d come off the field and tell me exactly what was going on, he was seeing it all, and that’s a good sign for the future.”

Still, it’s fair to wonder if Syracuse’s optimism is misplaced. After all, how many quarterbacks who posted numbers as bad as Hunt’s managed to turn things around?

If we look from 2008 through last season at every QB who attempted at least 200 passes versus AQ competition, completed fewer than 60 percent of those attempts, averaged less than 6 yards per attempt and threw more INTs than TDs, we get 16 names.

Oddly, five of those seasons came last year, including Hunt and another QB in the ACC — David Watford at Virginia. Three more were seniors, so we can’t collect any data on how they performed the following year. So that leaves us with eight QBs who posted numbers similar to Hunt’s and had an opportunity to come back the next season in hopes of improving.

Here’s the list:



So, how’d they do the year after those dismal seasons?

The ugly

Craft lost his starting job in 2009 and attempted just 107 passes, with largely the same results (56.1 percent completions, 6.7 YPA, 2 TD, 3 INT).

The same was true for Smith, who threw 96 passes and was just as bad as a senior (57.3, 5.7, 3 TD, 6 INT).

McEntee attempted just 25 passes his senior season after being passed on the depth chart by sophomore Chandler Whitmer.

Fouch threw just one pass the rest of his career.

And, it’s worth noting, that Watford lost his job at Virginia, too.

The bad comparisons

Scheelhaase was a junior when he had his ugly year in 2012. He was on a terrible team, and his numbers suffered. But he’d started as both a freshman and sophomore and posted solid stats, so when his numbers jumped to 66.7 percent completions, 7.6 YPA and a 21-to-13 TD:INT ratio last year, it was more a return to his career norms than a sudden leap in ability.

It’s the same story for Yates, who was far from great as a freshman and sophomore, but showed signs of promise, starting games both seasons. As a senior, he put together his best season, completing 66.4 percent of his passes against AQ schools, including 16 TDs and just eight picks.

The mixed bag

Gilbert’s story is already pretty well known. After his tough sophomore season in 2010, he played in just two games for Texas in 2011. In 2012, he transferred to SMU and showed some mild improvement, tossing 15 TDs to go with 15 INTs, but still completed just 53 percent of his passes and averaged a lousy 5.8 yards per attempt.

But as a senior in 2013, he put it all together, upping his completion percentage to 66.5, his YPA to 7.0 and tossing 21 touchdowns to just seven INTs. Of course, the level of competition for SMU probably won’t match exactly what Hunt will see in the ACC this year.

The happy ending

The crown jewel of the list is Ponder, and he might be Hunt’s best comparison.

Like Hunt, Ponder was thrown into the fire as a sophomore at Florida State. Like Hunt, he was praised for being an incredibly smart QB with exceptional leadership skills and good athleticism. Like Hunt, his problems came more from being raw rather than untalented.

When Ponder returned for his junior season, he looked like a different player. His completion percentage against AQ teams jumped from 54.8 to 68.4. His YPA jumped from 5.8 to 8.2. As a sophomore, he threw 8 TDs and 13 picks against AQ competition. A year later, he reversed those numbers — 12 touchdowns, 7 interceptions. By the time he was a senior in 2010, Ponder was a legitimate prospect, and he ended up being selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Is that the future for Hunt?

Obviously that’s a lofty standard, but perhaps it’s not unattainable. The quest begins this week against Villanova, but Syracuse’s coaches and Hunt’s teammates already believe they know the ending.

ACC Week 1 predictions

August, 28, 2014
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Why Clemson will win: Defense. It wins championships, right? It will win this game for the Tigers, who led the nation in tackles for loss last season and return every single major contributor to the group. An improved front seven means better results slowing down Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall, the two players Clemson needs to slow down the most. Rather than the shootout we saw a year ago, the defenses will have a much bigger role this season. Right now, Clemson is better than Georgia there, so I'm calling for the upset.
-- 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 week

Why 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

ACC morning links

August, 28, 2014
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It's a tradition unlike any other. And it may be coming to an end. Or at least a pause.

Defending national champion Florida State Seminoles opens its season Saturday against Oklahoma State. And the Seminoles still have not visited the White House.

What gives?

"The window for a team visit has likely closed altogether," a Florida State spokesman told the Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ's Ben Cohen and Jonathan Clegg report that FSU offered the White House six available dates in April. The Noles then offered six potential dates in May and June. The president was unavailable for any of them. Nothing materialized in the summer.

FSU would be the first non-repeat college football champion to not make the D.C. trip since 1990. USC's 2004 title team did not visit the nation's capital, but the Trojans had made the trip a year earlier.

UConn's title-winning men's and women's basketball teams made their trip in June, two months after winning their national titles. Hmmm ...

Perhaps old Jimbo Fisher friend Nick Saban cut a deal with President Obama to not let any other college football teams in? The two may be close, after all, as Saban has taken three different Alabama teams to the White House since Obama first took office.

An in-season visit for the Noles is not entirely off the table, but a school spokesman told the WSJ that it would be "very, very difficult."

In other ACC news today …

ACC morning links

August, 27, 2014
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If the first season is usually when a coach gets the benefit of the doubt, Year 2 is when fans want to see improvement so that by Year 3 the coaching staff's plan is coming to fruition.

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!

ACC fearless predictions

August, 26, 2014
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The college football season is finally ready to kick off. No doubt all the time we’ve spent studying depth charts and devouring news will be rendered meaningless by September’s end, but that won’t stop us from making a few bold predictions about what’s to come in 2014. If we get half of them right, we’ll call it a success.

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.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
AP Photo/Garry JonesUnder coach Bobby Petrino, Will Gardner has a chance to flourish as Louisville's starting QB.
2. Louisville’s Will Gardner will be the ACC’s second-best quarterback.

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.

ACC links: Hokies start from scratch

August, 25, 2014
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Here's how crazy the ACC Coastal Division is: Virginia Tech and Miami have as good a chance as anyone to win the division, and both teams will open the season with starting quarterbacks who weren't on campus during spring practice.

Virginia Tech announced Saturday that Michael Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, would get the starting nod.

On Sunday, Miami followed up with the news that true freshman Brad Kaaya will be its starter when it opens the season against Louisville.

There are only five QBs in the ACC who threw more than 100 passes in the league in 2013 returning for this season, and three of them are in the Coastal. But two of those three -- David Watford at UVA and Marquise Williams at UNC -- aren't guaranteed a starting job when the season opens. In fact, Watford is out as Virginia's starter with Greyson Lambert penciled in atop the depth chart, and Tar Heels' coach Larry Fedora said he won't announce a decision between Williams and Mitch Trubisky until North Carolina kicks off its opener.

That could mean as many as six of the ACC's 14 opening day starting QBs would never have taken a snap with their respective teams before, and Clemson's Deshaun Watson, who will play but not start, adds more to that mix.

Of course, all these situations are different, and Kaaya certainly has the advantage of talent surrounding him at Miami. Perhaps no school in the conference has a better RB-WR combo than the Hurricanes Stacy Coley and Duke Johnson.

At Virginia Tech, on the other hand, Brewer will open the season with little experience around him. As The Roanoke Times notes, leading rusher Trey Edmunds is currently fourth on the depth chart at tailback (partially due to injury) and the Hokies' top two receivers, Demitri Knowles and Willie Byrn, aren't in the starting lineup either.

In fact, here's a quick look at Virginia Tech's skill position starters on offense:

QB: Brewer: Transfer, no previous ACC experience

RBs: Junior J.C. Coleman and freshman Marshawn Williams were responsible for a total of 84 carries for 284 yards last season (17 percent of the Hokies' total rushing attempts). Another freshman, Shai McKenzie is behind them.

WRs: Sophomore Joshua Stanford and freshman Isaiah Ford grab the starting nods here, again accounting for just a fraction of last year's passing game (16 percent of total receptions).

TE: Junior Ryan Malleck missed all of last season and has 17 career receptions.

I talked with Frank Beamer last week, and he was wildly enthusiastic about the future, raving about the opportunities at tight end, his freshmen receivers and Williams at tailback.

It's a risk, certainly, to start so much youth on a team coming off two down years, but Beamer clearly has decided that winning 10 games with mediocre talent isn't any better than winning eight games with developing talent. And the truth is, with Virginia Tech's schedule, there will be plenty of opportunity for the young pups to gain experience without necessarily costing the Hokies any games anyway.

It's a shrewd decision on Beamer's part, and one worthy of praise. Many coaches in his situation would go worry about the present first and foremost, but he's clearly concerned about Virginia Tech's future. That's a strong sentiment as the 2014 campaign gets set to kick off in a wide open Coastal Division.

A few more links for your morning reading:
Mariota-WinstonAP Photo, Getty ImagesOregon's Marcus Mariota and Florida State's Jameis Winston are the consensus top two quarterbacks in the country. Winston was better in 2013, but many think 2014 will be Mariota's year.
Reel it in, Florida State fans. They’re only projections.

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:

Preseason All-ACC team

August, 21, 2014
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Presenting the 2014 ESPN.com preseason All-ACC team:

Offense

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke. One of the most dynamic receivers in the ACC, Crowder has had consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and gets the nod over Louisville receiver DeVante Parker in a close call. Given Crowder's past production in the offense, he should be in line to break school receiving records this season.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State. Perhaps one of the most underrated receivers in the country, Greene is a virtual lock to catch every pass that comes his way. He is the picture of consistency, and as the top returning target for Jameis Winston, should reach 1,000 yards again.

TE: Nick O'Leary, Florida State. One of the best tight ends in the country, O'Leary had 33 receptions for 557 yards and seven touchdowns last season. He should improve on all those numbers this season.

T: Cameron Erving, Florida State. Erving thought about leaving school early last season for the NFL draft but decided to return, and he now anchors the best offensive line in the country.

T: Sean Hickey, Syracuse. Hickey is going into his third season as a starter and has developed into one of the best tackles in the league. He also may be the strongest player in the ACC, too.

C: Andy Gallik, Boston College. Gallik helped spearhead a Boston College run game last season that averaged 212.5 yards on the ground. As a three-year starter, Gallik has grown into the best center in the league.

G: Tre' Jackson, Florida State. One of the best guards in the country, Jackson also opted to return to school for his senior year. He and Erving are the best players on that line.

G: Laken Tomlinson, Duke. A first-team All-ACC player a year ago, Tomlinson will be relied upon even more to lead an offensive line that has to replace two of its best players. If he has another stellar season, Tomlinson could be one of the first guards taken in next year's draft.

QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State. The returning Heisman Trophy winner had a rough season off-the-field but there is no questioning his credentials on the field. After throwing for more than 4,000 yards a year ago, the expectation is he will be even better this year.

RB: Duke Johnson, Miami. Johnson is one of the best backs in the country, averaging 6.6 yards every time he touches the ball. If he can stay healthy for the entire season, he's a virtual lock to gain 1,000 yards.

RB: Kevin Parks, Virginia. Parks is the only returning 1,000-yard back in the ACC and is hoping for more in 2014. Tough call here between Parks and Karlos Williams, the next two best backs in the league behind Johnson.

Defense

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson. Beasley finished last season with 13 sacks (tops in ACC) and 23 TFL (4th in nation). He’s a preseason All-American and the biggest star on one of the country's top defensive fronts.

DE: Mario Edwards Jr., Florida State. The No. 1 overall recruit in the nation three years ago, Edwards is poised to come into his own in 2014. He was a critical piece of Florida State’s run-stuffing defense a year ago, finishing with 9.5 TFL and 3.5 sacks.

DT: Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech. No returning interior lineman in the ACC had more TFL last year than Maddy’s 13.5, and he was a key for the Hokies' dominant defense. This season, he'll be the centerpiece of a new-look D line.

DT: Grady Jarrett, Clemson. Dabo Swinney calls Jarrett one of the best defenders in the nation, even if he hasn’t gotten much national acclaim. He finished last season with 59 tackles, including 10.5 for a loss, and should be the foundation for a dominant defensive line at Clemson this season.

LB: Denzel Perryman, Miami. Perryman is Miami’s most productive defender, finishing with 108 tackles last season (fifth in the ACC). He’s the lone ACC defender returning for 2014 to have recorded at least 60 tackles in each of the previous three seasons.

LB: Stephone Anthony, Clemson. His 15 TFL last season ranked eighth in the ACC, and no returning linebacker in the conference had more. He added 86 tackles and 4.5 sacks to boot.

CB: Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech. One of the top freshman defenders in the nation last season, Fuller picked off six passes as part of Virginia Tech's exceptional secondary. His 17 passes defended tied for eighth nationally.

CB: P.J. Williams, Florida State. Williams racked up three interceptions and was dominant in coverage for Florida State, which finished with the best pass defense in the nation. He also won defensive MVP honors in the BCS national championship.

S: Anthony Harris, Virginia. Led the nation with eight interceptions last season for Virginia, including picking off at least one pass in five straight games in conference play in October and November.

S: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State. The first true freshman to start at cornerback for Florida State since Deion Sanders, Ramsey made the transition to safety midseason and didn’t miss a beat, finishing with 49 tackles and an INT.

S: Jeremy Cash, Duke. Cash finished last season second in the ACC in tackles (121), fifth in interceptions (4) and recorded 9.5 TFL, tops in the conference among defensive backs.

Specialists

K: Roberto Aguayo, Florida State. The Lou Groza Award winner in 2013, Aguayo broke the national record for points by a kicker in a season with 157 points. He is virtually automatic every time he steps onto the field, missing just one field goal attempt and zero extra points last season.

P: A.J. Hughes, Virginia Tech. A second-team All-ACC selection a year ago, Hughes averaged 44.1 yards per punt. He placed 24 inside the 20, and had 22 punts of 50 yards or longer.

KR: Kermit Whitfield, Florida State. Whitfield led the nation last year in kickoffs, with an average of 36.4 yards per return. His speed makes him extremely difficult to stop, let alone slow down.

PR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina. Teams have probably learned to kick away from Switzer at all times. Last season, he had five returns for touchdowns, tying an NCAA record.
With the news that Ohio State lost quarterback Braxton Miller for the season, USA Today wondered what the effect might be of a major injury on a few of the other top College Football Playoff candidates, including Florida State.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsEven with second-stringer Sean Maguire at quarterback, Florida State would be an ACC favorite. But maybe not a national favorite.
According to the story, a switch from Jameis Winston to Sean Maguire at QB would mean roughly 10 fewer points per game and two fewer wins for FSU.
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.

ACC morning links

August, 20, 2014
Aug 20
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Wake Forest received some encouraging news following a scary situation over the weekend, as tight end Zach Gordon is responding to treatment and improving after leaving Sunday's scrimmage on a stretcher and being taken to the hospital.

Team physician Dr. David Martin and head athletic trainer Nick Richey released a statement saying that Gordon's injury is non-life threatening.

From the statement, per the Star News' Brett Friedlander:
“During Sunday’s scrimmage, Zach Gordon sustained a serious, non-life threatening spinal injury,” the statement said. “All of our structural testing thus far has been favorable. He remains hospitalized at Wake Forest Baptist Health. Zach is improving and based on all indications, we expect him to continue to improve. We do not yet have a firm timeline for his return to activity.”

Gordon was expected to play a big role this season for the Demon Deacons after being limited to a special teams role last season, when he played in all 12 games. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder from Carrollton, Georgia, was in line for a starting job. Obviously, football takes a backseat at this moment, as the status of his playing future remains up in the air. But the news from Wake's medical staff certainly comes as a sigh of relief.

In other, seemingly minor injury news from earlier this week, Syracuse took a big hit offensively as top tight end Josh Parris suffered a knee injury that will require surgery Wednesday and places his status in doubt for the beginning of the season, and possibly more. In the meantime, the Orange will be forced to turn to Kendall Moore and Tyler Provo moving forward.

Elsewhere in the ACC ...

ACC morning links

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
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It is nearly time to begin preparing for Week 1 matchups. Does it surprise anybody that there are still unanswered questions at quarterback for three Coastal Division contenders?

Miami held a scrimmage Monday night in which true freshman Brad Kaaya continued to impress, throwing two touchdown passes. Transfer Jake Heaps, competing for the starting job, sat out the scrimmage to rest his arm. Coach Al Golden has repeatedly said he would name his starter following both scrimmages. Kevin Olsen is suspended for at least the opener; Kaaya played in both scrimmages; Heaps in just one. Do we read anything into where this leads headed into the opener against Louisville?

Meanwhile in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, coach Larry Fedora said he will not publicly announce his starter before kickoff against Liberty on Aug. 30. Returning starter Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky have been in a dogged competition. The Tar Heels will begin game prep Wednesday.

"We'll make a decision before the 30th," Fedora said. "I mean, you guys won't know it. But we will make a decision before the 30th. We'll start as we get into the game-planning, we'll have a plan what we're going to do and how we're going to implement it and those guys will be aware of it.

"It won't be like we walk out there on the 30th and I flip a coin and throw one of them out there."

Finally, the race to start at Virginia Tech is down to Michael Brewer and Mark Leal. Brenden Motley, who left the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, has been dealing with back issues throughout fall camp and has fallen out of the competition. Brewer and Leal split first-team reps during a weekend scrimmage, but a decision remains up in the air.

Now here is quick look at other headlines across the ACC:

Syracuse Orange season preview

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Syracuse Orange:

Key returners: QB Terrel Hunt, RB Prince-Tyson Gulley, WR Ashton Broyld, LT Sean Hickey, LG Rob Trudo, DT Eric Crume, LB Dyshawn Davis, LB Cameron Lynch, CB Brandon Reddish, S Durell Eskridge

Key losses: RB Jerome Smith, C Macky MacPherson, LB Marquis Spruill, DT Jay Bromley, CB Ri'Shard Anderson, S Jeremi Wilkes

Most Important 2014 games: Sept. 27 vs. Notre Dame (in East Rutherford, New Jersey), Oct. 3 vs. Louisville, Nov. 8 vs. Duke, Nov. 22 at Pitt, Nov. 29 at Boston College

Projected win percentage (from ESPN Stats & Information): 51 percent

Over/under Vegas odds: 5.5

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/Phil SearsTerrel Hunt passed for 1,638 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. He added another 500 yards rushing with seven touchdowns on the ground.
Instant impact newcomer: John Miller best fits this bill, as he is a junior college transfer who saw just limited time last season, his first with the Orange. Now the former Los Angeles Harbor College player looks to build off a spring that saw him emerge as one of the team's most improved players and as a leader on offense. Miller is the front-runner to start at center for Syracuse and should allow others around him to stay in their natural positions.

High point from 2013: Terrel Hunt hit Josh Parris for an 8-yard touchdown pass with six seconds left in the regular-season finale to top rival Boston College 34-31 and earn win No. 6. This was a major boost for Syracuse, which ended up beating Minnesota in the Texas Bowl to finish 7-6 in Year 1 of both the Scott Shafer and the ACC eras. It might have been a watershed moment for Hunt, too, as he enters 2014 looking to take the next step as a leader of this offense.

Low point from 2013: Losing big to heavyweights Florida State and Clemson is one thing. But a 56-0 loss at Georgia Tech, a team that went just 7-6 and enters 2014 with major questions, is pretty much inexcusable. It stands out even more considering the Orange entered the game coming off a win at NC State and won two straight contests right after the Atlanta trip. (It also stands out after Shafer made his thoughts known about Atlanta winters, and after the Twitterverse replied as the Twitterverse is wont to do.)

Best-case scenario for 2014: Hunt evolves as a passer and as a runner, orchestrating an offense that has made it known it would like to push the tempo in 2014. Unlike last year, the Orange enter the season knowing who their No. 1 quarterback is, and that proves beneficial as they race out to an early 3-0 start. The front seven steps up and Syracuse is able to steal a win during a tough three-game stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State, emerging on the other end ready to tackle a final month that concludes with road contests at former Big East foes Pitt and BC. Syracuse improves in Shafer's second season, hitting his goal of at least eight wins, and the future looks bright for a program looking to emerge as a legitimate No. 3 team in a top-heavy Atlantic division behind FSU and Clemson.

Worst-case scenario for 2014: Hunt struggles to command the offense with more responsibility, the defense can't seem to make up for the loss of Bromley up front and the Orange get eaten alive by a tough schedule. A trip to Wake Forest provides a reprieve during a five-game stretch that features the aforementioned teams above plus Clemson on the other end. No matter, though, as a physically beaten team staggers into the final month with only NC State as a winnable game. Syracuse wins four games, its worst season since Doug Marrone's inaugural 2009 campaign.

They said it: "I was happy with the way we finished the season. I thought both Terrel [Hunt] and the wide receivers did a nice job finishing up with the victory over Minnesota in the Texas Bowl, but we need to take it to the next level to get to the next level. We're always going to really work hard to run the football. I believe in running the football, I believe in stopping the run. I think that's where it starts with our philosophy. But in this day and age, you've got to be able to open it up, and we put the onus on our passing game, our wide receivers, to take their game up." -- Shafer, on the passing game becoming more explosive

ACC morning links

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher says he’s checking homework.

“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.

ACC mailblog

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
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Step into my office ...

Richard in Raleigh writes: I beg you to put this in the mailbag. It involves the preseason predictions for UNC. Let me first state my bias against UNC so it is known. I'm a NC State grad and Miami fan. I hate Carolina, but I still think I'm right on this point. Most people have UNC ranked. Many project them to win the Coastal. Now I have to imagine some of this is based on projection of talent and belief in Larry Fedora and his system, but I have to imagine that a large part of it was based on their change in quarterback and improvement at the end of the year, starting 1-5 and finishing 6-1. It aggravated me as soon as the season ended and this talk started, but today I looked at a few more numbers and am shocked I haven't seen anyone bring it up. The teams UNC beat were a combined 44-44. The teams they lost to were a combined 55-24. They only had two road wins and only one was against an above .500 team (Pitt). The closest thing they have to a quality win are victories against 7-6 Pitt and BC and a bowl win against 9-4 Cincinnati in a stadium two hours from their campus. All of this would seem to suggest to me that rather than UNC improving at the end of the year, they just finally started playing teams they were capable of beating. I think what UNC showed at the end of the season is the same thing they showed at the beginning of the season. They are capable of beating bad teams. They are not capable of beating good teams. And all of that makes them remarkably average. Now you add to that no offensive or defensive line, an incredibly young group of players ... None of that points to improvement to me. Now UNC certainly has the talent on the roster to fix their holes and improve this season. I just see little to suggest that so far. So please tell me how all this is being overlooked.

Andrea Adelson writes: No need to beg, Richard. You make some good points. For the record, I do not have North Carolina winning the Coastal but I do have the Tar Heels No. 2. Why? A few reasons. First, to your concerns about who North Carolina beat last year. I think this team deserves credit for turning around the season after staring in such a massive hole. Were the opponents weaker in the latter part of the season? Yes. But other teams could have folded at 1-5 no matter the opponent. This team found a way to win and that should count for something. I did not use the momentum from last season in my projection, however. I based mine on the talent returning and the schedule this season, not last. North Carolina is extremely talented at the skill positions, and I think the offensive line will solidify itself early in the season. The Tar Heels have four winnable nonconference games, and they get Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home (though there are some toughies at Clemson, Miami and Duke). Plus, there is little to no separation between the teams in the Coastal. So regardless of what happened last season, North Carolina has as good a shot as any to win the division.


Mike D in Hamilton, Ontario, writes: Whenever you guys do write about Miami and their impact players Phillip Dorsett is rarely mentioned. Have people forgotten he was Stacy Coley (the speedy deep threat) before he got hurt? I don't think he gets nearly enough credit. If he's healthy, and Miami can find a serviceable QB, he and Coley will should put up some good numbers.

Adelson writes: I certainly have not forgotten Dorsett. In fact, I think it is a tight race for top receiving group in the ACC between Louisville and Miami. The Dorsett-Coley combination has a chance to be the best in the league. I look forward to watching them both this season.


Josh in Syracuse, N.Y., writes: Miami should definitely be ranked higher in your power rankings. While I understand the uncertainty at the quarterback position factored into their ranking, Miami will be one of the strongest, fastest and most talented teams in the conference even with a MEDIOCRE quarterback. You could say that Stephen Morris was a "mediocre" quarterback last year and they started 7-0, I mean he wasn't a Jameis Winston. Though this year the schedule is tougher, one can honestly argue that Miami has one of if not THE best WR corps in the conference. THE best running back in the conference, even after injury. They are also the deepest they have been on the defensive line in recent years and have one of the best LB's in the nation (Denzel Perryman) with a legitimate shutdown corner in Tracy Howard. Their O-line was pretty decent last year and returns key guys. I feel as though underestimating this team because of uncertainty at QB is a mistake because whoever it is will have a boatload of talent and speed to utilize. I don't think they necessarily need a "superstar" at QB to compete for an ACC championship. They just need someone who's "good enough" to distribute the ball effectively to the many weapons they have on offense. Thanks Andrea!

Adelson writes: The ranking was not only because of quarterback uncertainty. Neither you nor I know for certain this defense will develop the type of physicality and aggressiveness up front to change its fortunes. So Miami is deep up front. Are they bigger? Stronger? Will they push into the backfield? Perryman is terrific. So is Howard. But they need help around them. I applaud the move of Dallas Crawford to safety, an area in major need of an upgrade. But that defensive line still worries me, maybe moreso than quarterback.


Dusty in Hunstville, Ala., writes: Hi Andrea, I love the blog, but I have to ask...Syracuse above Georgia Tech in the power rankings? Did you happen to miss GT winning 56-0 last year? In a game where returning GT players Justin Thomas and Zach Laskey were the top two yardage gainers? And where Syracuse QB's couldn't muster a QBR above 8.8?

Adelson writes: Dusty, we arrived at the first power rankings after taking rankings from our four ACC reporters: myself, David Hale, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker, using a weighted point system to come up with the end result. In my ballot, I had Georgia Tech ahead of Syracuse. I cannot speak for my colleagues, but I think there is some genuine skepticism about the Jackets this season.


Greg in Annapolis, Md., writes: So I went through all those "best seasons" ever that were listed in all the blogs. How is Peter Boulware's 20 sack season, an NCAA record at the time, in 1996 not on the ACC list? Not only was it left off the list, but it should have been No. 1 for the best defensive season ever in the ACC. I love Deion Sanders and he was exciting, but 20 sacks in only 12 games, for a team that played for the national championship that year? This definitely blows away all the other guys on the ACC defensive list as well.

Adelson writes: Thanks, Greg. Shoutout to Peter Boulware for an outstanding season. Just to clarify: We did not rank the best individual defensive performances in ACC history. We merely listed the best single-season performance in school history for all 14 ACC schools. Jameis Winston took that honor for Florida State. Chris Low ranked the 10 best defensive seasons of all-time.

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