ACC: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Wake Forest season preview

August, 21, 2014
Aug 21
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons:

Key returners: WR Tyree Harris, LB Brandon Chubb, SS Ryan Janvion, CB Kevin Johnson, CB Merrill Noel, P Alexander Kinal, K Chad Hedlund

Key losses: QB Tanner Price, RB Josh Harris, WR Michael Campanaro, DT Nikita Whitlock, LB Mike Olson

Instant impact newcomer: First-year coach Dave Clawson hopes the biggest impact comes from freshman John Wolford, who was recently named the Demon Deacons’ starting quarterback. Wolford had a solid offer sheet coming out of high school, as Mississippi State and Penn State both recruited the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Jacksonville, Florida, native. Clawson ideally won’t have to ask too much of his quarterback, but he will need to find a viable running back to ease the pressure off Wolford.

[+] EnlargeKevin Johnson
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonWake Forest will rely on its veteran players this season, including senior cornerback Kevin Johnson.
Most important 2014 games: Aug. 28 at Louisiana-Monroe, Nov. 15 at NC State, Nov. 29 at Duke

Projected win percentage: 30 percent

Over/under Vegas odds:

Best-case scenario for 2014: Clawson knows he has a serious rebuilding project at Wake Forest, and he will not be judged on how the Demon Deacons fare in his inaugural season. There is an opportunity for a few early wins before conference play begins, though. The opener against Louisiana-Monroe won’t be easy, as the Warhawks have been a solid Sun Belt team of late. But Wake Forest also plays Gardner-Webb and Army in the nonconference. If Wake can get to three wins and Wolford shows promise, this will be a good first season for Clawson.

Worst-case scenario: No one would be shocked if the Demon Deacons did not pick up a single win, which would mean they had an ugly loss to Gardner-Webb. Even if Wake Forest goes winless, Clawson is playing for the future. If Wolford doesn’t progress throughout the season, that could be the biggest setback to Wake’s future.

They said it: “We will try and redshirt players, but if a freshman gives us the best chance to win, we’re going to play him. It’s not fair to the juniors and the seniors in the program to make a decision based on what’s best five years from now. He gives us the best chance to win, so we will now prepare him as our starting quarterback.” -- Clawson
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.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Dave Clawson needed just a few weeks to earn his next promotion, at 26 years old. His responsibilities were growing, his pay was increasing and, with a master's degree in hand, he was on the fast track to success, just like the rest of his college buddies.

"I was waiting tables in Columbus, Ohio, at the Cooker Bar and Grill," Clawson said. "I was four-table rated, by the way. That was a big moment, now, because when you go from three tables to four tables your tips increase by a third."

Clawson's roommate from his undergraduate days was a manager at the restaurant and offered his old friend a place to crash and a path to cash while he bided his time after he lost his job at Buffalo, where he was coaching defensive backs, quarterbacks and running backs.

Clawson had degrees from Williams College and Albany, he had friends working on Wall Street, and he had his whole life ahead of him.

If there were a time to push the restart button, this was it.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDave Clawson was hired by Wake Forest away from Bowling Green, where he was 32-31 over five seasons.
"I would take as many shifts as I could for the two weeks, and then go try to go to clinics or go visit other schools or try to interview for jobs," Clawson said. "And the only job I ended up getting was Lehigh University, $3,000 a year to be their running backs coach.”

Twenty-one years later, his decision has paid off nicely. Clawson is undertaking his biggest reclamation project yet at Wake Forest, where he’s replacing longtime coach Jim Grobe. It is the latest program Clawson aims to rebuild, after lifting Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green to heights not seen in recent memory.

The 47-year-old Clawson has, in many ways, come full circle. The product of a private, academic-minded Division III program is now in charge of the football team at the smallest Power Five school.

"There's not too many problems or too many things that can happen in a football program that I haven't experienced first-hand," he said.




Clawson thanked donors and private planes for helping him salvage Wake Forest's recruiting class this year. He has lengthy experience with the former, having landed his first head-coaching job at Fordham in 1999. At 31 years old, Clawson was the nation's youngest Division I head coach. Tasked with reviving a program short on success since the Vince Lombardi days, he was, in some ways, in a CEO role.

"I was very lucky at Fordham that I made mistakes and I was able to do that in an environment that wasn't so public and with some people that understood that I was young and I was going to be aggressive," Clawson said.

His career highlight up until that point was coordinating Villanova's offense during Brian Westbrook's historic 1,000/1,000 season in 1998. Responsibilities at previous stops included equipment, laundry and field-painting.

Upon graduating from Williams in 1989, the former defensive back became a graduate assistant at Albany, coaching quarterbacks and running backs while living with six other coaches. He also worked as a dishwasher, bounced at a local bar and taught physical education to elementary school students.

Clawson's coach at Williams, Dick Farley, wanted to apologize to Clawson's parents at graduation. Most of the other graduates were bound for law school or medical school, but Clawson set out on his own path.

"That's one of the attractions about him," Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman said. "I described him as being very intentional, and probably that was the first indication of it."




When Clawson took over Richmond in 2004, Wake Forest was among the programs he modeled his after.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
AP Photo/Knoxville News Sentinel, Clay OwenClawson's only Power Five experience was as Phillip Fulmer's, right, offensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2008.
"At Richmond we were the smallest and arguably the most academic of all the schools in that conference," he said. "We didn't play Florida State and Clemson, but at the time Delaware and James Madison and programs like that were powers, so we had to figure out a way."

The prevailing theme of Clawson's career has been his adaptation to his personnel. At Richmond, he focused his recruiting efforts in the South, selling meaty, cerebral linemen on a ground-and-pound path to glory.

At Fordham, he sold New York, recruiting inner-city Catholic school players to run a flashier, pro-style offense, while helping the program nearly double its budget over five years.

"What he did at Fordham was just incredible," said Hank Small, who hired Clawson at Lehigh. "At that point you could really tell he could do a lot of different things."

Clawson started 3-19 in his first two years at Fordham before finishing 26-10 the last three, winning the Patriot League in 2002. He parlayed a 3-8 debut season at Richmond into a 26-12 finish with two league titles, laying the foundation for a team that won the FCS crown in 2008. By then, Clawson was Tennessee's offensive coordinator, with the possibility of perhaps succeeding Phillip Fulmer.

A 5-7 2008 season and Fulmer's firing proved otherwise.

"I thought he was going to get enough of a buyout where he could go play golf or vacation or live a normal life," Farley cracked. "He said he thought he was young and that he continued to want to coach and he didn't want to sit out and take the easy money and do something else."

Instead, Clawson landed at Bowling Green. In a contrast from his past, Clawson implemented a defense-first approach, improving a two-win team in 2010 by at least two games every year. The Falcons had the MAC's top defense last year, went 10-3 and routed unbeaten Northern Illinois to win the conference.




The reality of the Demon Deacons' situation is that they lose a four-year starting quarterback (Tanner Price), the top pass-catcher in school history (Michael Campanaro) and the runner-up in league defensive player of the year voting (Nikita Whitlock). With them, Wake won four games last year.

Wake Forest was picked last in the Atlantic Division, and while the cupboard seems bare, Clawson sees a sliver of light ahead.

"It's not like this isn't a place that's never won, that we've had success, and some of it is recent," he said, referring to a 2006 ACC title.
[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesClawson is taking over a Wake Forest program that was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division.

Recruiting, retaining and developing are keys. Wake Forest cannot afford to miss on players because its nearly $63,000 a year price tag for its nearly 5,000 students makes counting on walk-ons difficult.

"He has obviously been successful wherever he's been, and all of us knew that going in," fullback Jordan Garside said, "so we kind of trusted him and the system that he's trying to instill."

The truth is he’s coached every position group except for defensive linemen and linebackers in his career. Teaching so many areas at so many places helps him hold people accountable, he said, and he cannot help but get involved.

Take, for instance, his restaurant background, which shows while out eating with his wife and two kids. Great service equals great tips, bad service equals bad tips, and he knows every excuse in the book.

"Sometimes the kitchen gets backed up and there's nothing they can do about it and you shouldn't penalize them," Clawson said. "But if they're in the corner texting and not coming back, you know they're blowing you off."

The former four-table-rated server can afford to dine a little fancier now, starting his fourth head-coaching job. But his appetite to succeed remains as big as ever.

ACC morning links

August, 20, 2014
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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
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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:
Because the world needs one more preseason All-America team, and because there has to be a reason to talk about this one differently than the last, USA Today has its out, and the most noteworthy item is the guy atop its quarterback depth chart.

That would be the Oregon Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota and not the reigning Heisman winner, Florida State Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston.

It's not that picking Mariota is such a silly idea. He's exceptional, and he's a candidate to unseat Winston as the Heisman winner.

But lots of folks seem to be a good bit higher on Mariota now than Winston, and it's tough to follow that logic beyond the fact that Winston's off-field troubles make people want to look elsewhere. (Though, Chantel Jennings and Jared Shanker did their part to debate the battle rationally.)

Yes, Mariota was exceptional to start last season before sliding a bit in November due to an injury that severely limited his mobility. But how much did that really matter?

Pre-injury, here's how their numbers stacked up.

Mariota: 64 completion percentage, 10.1 yards per attempt, 2,562 total yards, 29 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
Winston: 70 completion percentage, 11.8 yards per attempt, 2,608 total yards, 27 touchdowns, 6 interceptions

The big mark in Mariota's corner is the zero in the interceptions department, but he had fumbled four times (two were lost). Mariota also played in a more stat-friendly offense (that averaged seven more plays per game) and had yet to play his most difficult opposition of the season. Winston had already dominated two top-10 opponents in Clemson and Miami.

There's a case for Mariota, certainly, but it's not as if he was head and shoulders better even before the injury. And, the funny thing is, he wasn't that much worse even afterward.

Post-injury numbers for both QBs:

Mariota: 63 completion percentage, 8.6 yards per attempt, 1,466 total yards, 11 touchdowns, 4 interceptions
Winston: 63 completion percentage, 9.0 yards per attempt, 1,621 total yards, 17 touchdowns, 4 interceptions

Winston's totals came with one extra game, too, so aside from the picks, they were pretty close. The only difference is, Mariota was hurt, Winston had off-field troubles, and Florida State won a national title while Oregon lost twice.

So what will change in that equation this season?

Maybe Mariota stays healthy and Oregon runs the table. That seems less likely though, given the tougher slate the Ducks face in the Pac-12 and the more hits Mariota figures to take compared with Winston. And Winston, at least for the time being, has a healthy left tackle.

Either way though, it should be a fun battle to watch. They're both in prime position for a Heisman, for a run to the College Football Playoff and, perhaps, for a shot to be the first player taken in the 2015 NFL draft.

Oh, and on that subject, I wrote a bit about Winston's approach to 2014 earlier in the week, and that story involved a lot of interviews with friends and family. One thing his father, Antonor, made clear: The talk about staying for two more seasons at FSU was hardly a guarantee.

"What I said was, that was our original plan was to get his degree," Antonor Winston said. "That was our original plan. I didn't know when they offered a scholarship, he's guaranteed to go to the NFL. If they'd told me that, I'd have said he's going to the NFL.

"I will never look at it in that way because whatever the situation is at the end of the season, that's the situation we're going to take. You really don't know what path you're going to be taken. But we know we want that degree no matter what."

In other words, if Winston is in line to go in the first five to 10 picks of the draft, the decision will be easy.

One other Winston tidbit: Yes, he's lost Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, but his high school coach, Matt Stephens, said he fully expects Winston to adapt by checking down to underneath receivers, using his speed in the slot and his running backs out of the backfield far more often. He also said that Winston wanted to prove he was a legitimate pocket passer last season, but not to be surprised if he runs a lot more often this season.

That may actually help Winston's numbers a bit. That decline in completion percentage down the stretch was, in part, a result of looking deep a bit too often.

OK, a few more links before getting ready for the weekend:
  • Duke has a plan in place to replace injured linebacker Kelby Brown, writes the Charlotte Observer.
  • Florida State looks like its found an answer to fill a linebacking void, too, writes the Orlando Sentinel.
  • Louisville could be looking at a stadium expansion, writes The Courier-Journal.
  • Special teams are getting special attention at Wake Forest, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.
  • If you're a Boston College fan stoked for a trip to Columbus … well, make yourself comfortable. It'll be a while. The proposed series with Ohio State was pushed back to 2023-24, as BC Interruption notes. Just think what the world will be like by then: iPhone 15 will be on the market, North West will have his own reality show and clothing line, the College Football Playoff will include 32 teams. The possibilities are endless.

Enjoy the weekend, folks. After this one, just one Saturday left without college football.

ACC recruits who fill biggest needs 

August, 12, 2014
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RecruitingNation takes a look at the 2015 recruits who most fill the needs of each of the ACC schools.

ACC morning links

August, 12, 2014
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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was in his element Sunday during his media day news conference. He was no longer answering questions about Jameis Winston or crab legs. Fisher was talking X's and O's, talking Football 101.

Fisher talked at length about how he studies a player to determine a his physical ceiling and what kind of bone structure and body type recruits possess. Fisher said it is not the deciding factor when he recruits a prospect, but it is without a doubt a factor. He likened it to basketball, where coaches often are more in love with a player's wingspan or vertical jump than his ability to shoot the basketball from 15 to 18 feet.

A protege of Nick Saban, Fisher likes physically stout players along the defensive line. Some of his defensive ends tip the scales at 300 pounds but still move as if they were 25 pounds lighter. He and Saban had them at LSU a decade ago, and Fisher has one at Florida State in Mario Edwards Jr., who was able to chase down Auburn's Nick Marshall on an option play.

Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel took a look at how Fisher has recruited during his tenure and the size of the players he has brought in.The class that signed in February averages 6-foot-3.5 and weighs 249 pounds. To put that into perspective, Bobby Bowden's final class at Florida State was two inches shorter and 26 pounds lighter.

While this 2014 class could be a bit of an outlier due to the sheer numbers of linemen Fisher signed, the statistics still offer an insight into how Fisher recruits. Defensive coordinator Charles Kelly also said Sunday that he knows Fisher is looking for a certain body type depending on the position, so Kelly needs to take that into account when he's visiting high schools.

Here's a few more links to get your Tuesday started.

ACC morning links

August, 11, 2014
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Good morning!

First thing's first: Starting today, links will be the first post each week day to get you started with everything you need to know across the ACC. So say good bye to lunchtime links and hello to morning links.

What's sizzling this Monday morning?

We're talkin' about scrimmages, media days and fan days that provided a few bits of headlines and newsworthy notes over the weekend.

First up: Florida State held its media day Sunday, and, well, there was a bit of unnecessary drama. The Seminoles asked fans, via Twitter, to submit questions to Jameis Winston using the hashtag #AskJameis. Predictably, the questions devolved in a matter of minutes. Search the hashtag, and you will find maybe five usable queries. The rest were on the order of crab legs, butter preferences for said crab legs and Winston's other legal entanglements.

As my fellow SNL fans are asking right about now, "Who are the ad wizards who came up with this one?"

Meanwhile, Clemson held its first scrimmage of the fall Saturday with some drama of its own. The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina, reported that quarterback Cole Stoudt sustained a minor leg injury when a defensive lineman rolled up on his leg. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said afterward he was unaware of an injury. The intrigue! Clemson returns to practice this morning so perhaps there will be more clarity. In any event, Dabo Swinney said both Stoudt and Deshaun Watson performed well in the scrimmage, which was closed to the media.

While on the subject of quarterbacks, watch out for Wake Forest true freshman John Wolford, now in the mix with Kevin Sousa and Tyler Cameron for the starting quarterback job. In the Deacs' scrimmage Sunday, Wolford scored on a 12-yard run and went 7-of-14 for 122 yards with an interception. Cameron, meanwhile, only threw for 52 yards, going 6-of-13.

In Atlanta, coach Paul Johnson limited quarterback Justin Thomas to one series and held out Zach Laskey from the weekend scrimmage for precautionary reasons.

And in one of the bigger injuries so far during fall practice, NC State coach Dave Doeren announced at media day that starting linebacker M.J. Salahuddin is out indefinitely with a knee injury. Salahuddin needs surgery and could end up taking a redshirt. It's a tough break for NC State, lacking in experienced depth at just about every position on the field. The Wolfpack simply cannot afford to lose veteran players like Salahuddin.

Now here's a quick look at other headlines:

Beyond top 25: ACC's breakout candidates

August, 4, 2014
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Last week, ESPN.com ranked its top 100 players in college football, and here on the ACC blog, we counted down the top 25 in the conference. Of course, these lists are fun for the preseason, but once the games get going, what we all believed was true in August has a way of looking pretty silly by December. In fact, of our 2013 preseason top 25, just 12 also made our end-of-season top 25.

In other words, there were no doubt a few ACC players whose names were left on the cutting room floor in our countdown, but who may well be among the league’s elite this season. Here’s an admittedly imprecise look at a few to keep an eye on.

JUST MISSED

If we’d been making a top 30 or 40 list instead of 25, these guys definitely would’ve made the cut. As it stands, they'll likely see their names on our end-of-year list.

WR Stacy Coley (Miami): Don’t be surprised if the Canes’ sophomore receiver ranks in the top five of our end-of-season list. No returning ACC player averaged more yards per touch last year (min. 50 touches) than Coley (21.8). He’ll need some help from an unproven quarterback, but Coley has the talent to be an All-American if things break right for him this season.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville): Already a star with 9.5 sacks and 12 TFL last season, Mauldin is poised to explode as he moves from defensive end to outside linebacker in Todd Grantham’s new 3-4 system. At Grantham’s previous stop at Georgia, he helped Justin Houston and Jarvis Jones parlay similar moves into super stardom.

DE Eli Harold (UVA): Virginia’s defensive line may not get much national publicity, but it’s jam-packed with talent, headed up by Harold, who racked up 8.5 sacks and 15 TFL last season. Both of those totals rank second among returning ACC players behind Clemson All-American Vic Beasley.

GETTING HEALTHY

Injuries set them back, but these players are poised for big comebacks in 2014.

S Isaiah Johnson (GT): A burgeoning star on Georgia Tech’s defense, a knee injury cost Johnson all of 2013. He’s “past 100 percent” now though and expects to make a huge impact after a long wait to get back onto the field.

S Tyler Hunter (FSU): Last summer, Hunter was the unquestioned leader of FSU’s revamped defense, but a scary neck injury ended his season in Week 3. What might’ve been a career-ending injury turned out to be just a setback, and now Hunter will be the veteran voice in an immensely talented secondary that has led the nation in passing defense the past two years.

DT Mehdi Abdesmad (BC): As a junior last season, the 6-foot-7 Abdesmad looked poised for a breakthrough, recording sacks against USC and Florida State before a knee injury ended his season. If he can return to form quickly, he's in position to replace the 8.5 sacks BC lost with the departure of Kasim Edebali from its D-line.

WR Charone Peake (Clemson): When they arrived on campus as freshmen, Peake and Sammy Watkins were both considered can't-miss prospects. Now Watkins is impressing in Buffalo Bills camp and Peake is still looking for his breakthrough season. Despite an injury-ravaged 2013, he's being counted on as the top option for Cole Stoudt in 2014.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATES

These players have already made some noise in the past but could make the jump to the league’s elite in 2014.

S Durrell Eskridge (Syracuse): Eskridge blossomed into a key contributor on Syracuse’s defense last year, recording 6.5 tackles per game (14th among returning ACC players) and four interceptions, but as the Orange look to replace key starters inside, Eskridge’s impact in 2014 only figures to expand.

QB Jacoby Brissett (NC State): Dave Doeren believes Brissett, a transfer from Florida who spent last season waiting in the wings, is a perfect fit for his offense, and the veteran has the confidence and trust of his teammates -- something NC State sorely missed at the position last year. Our preseason top 25 lists just one quarterback (Jameis Winston), so a few others have to state their case, too. Brissett should be chief among them, but fellow transfers Tyler Murphy (BC) and Michael Brewer (Virginia Tech) could certainly be in the mix, too.

OT Matt Rotheram (Pitt): Pitt's O-line was a disaster last year, but adding a more mobile quarterback in the backfield and a year of experience to the unit should help. Rotheram was the one bright spot through much of 2013, and he's now poised to get a hefty share of the credit should the revamped line take the next step in 2014.

UNPROVEN TALENT

They haven't seen the field (much) yet, but they’re in line for significant roles this season and could make the most of the opportunity.

LB Matthew Thomas (FSU): The Seminoles return plenty of talent from their national-championship run, but the linebacking crew is definitely an area with a few question marks. It’s a talented, but unproven group, but Thomas tasted action early last season before going down with an injury, and he showed he can make an instant impact -- perhaps in an edge-rusher role similar to what Christian Jones did for FSU's D last season.

RB Wayne Gallman (Clemson): It’s hard to project how the carries will be distributed in a crowded Clemson backfield, but two things are clear: The Tigers want to run the ball more in 2014, and Gallman has the potential to be a star. Coaches and teammates raved about his improvement in the spring, and Gallman will get every shot to win a job as a centerpiece of the new-look Clemson offense in fall camp.

OT Bentley Spain (UNC): Larry Fedora admits he doesn’t know quite what to make of Spain yet after the early enrollee missed a hefty chunk of the spring with an injury. Still, Spain is in line for the starting left tackle job at UNC, and with talent at quarterback and tailback behind him, it could be a quick start to his career.

DEEP SLEEPERS

The names aren’t familiar outside their own fan bases, but don’t be surprised if they’re making some noise by year’s end.

LB Marquel Lee (Wake): New Deacons coach Dave Clawson has his work cut out for him trying to find talent to fill out the depth chart, but he may have discovered an early gem in Lee. The sophomore was the star of Wake's spring game, and with so much turnover up front for the Deacons, Lee will get plenty of chances to make plays once the season begins.

CB DreQuan Hoskey (UVA): Here’s an interesting tidbit, courtesy of STATS LLC: No defender in the ACC was picked on more last season than Hoskey, who was targeted by opposing quarterbacks 81 times in 12 games. There were mixed results, of course, but it's worth noting that he wasn't burned for a TD on any of those plays. Next most targets without surrendering a touchdown among ACC defensive backs? Lamarcus Joyner with 37. He's part of a very crowded secondary, but Hoskey will get his chances to make an impact in 2014.

RB Shaquille Powell (Duke): He's overlooked because Duke returns its leading rusher from 2013 (Josh Snead) but teammates have raved about Powell's progress, and it's worth noting that while Snead is back, the Blue Devils still must replace 51 percent of last year’s rushing attempts after losing Brandon Connette, Juwan Thompson and Jela Duncan.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has one of the toughest coaching jobs in the ACC, tasked with turning around a Deacs program that has depth concerns and major uncertainty on offense.

So the last thing he needed was one of his veteran defensive players to go down. Senior nose guard Johnny Garcia tore his ACL and is done for the season, a big blow for a group that has to find somebody to step in and replace All-ACC performer Nikita Whitlock. Garcia has had a rough go of it at Wake. He tore his ACL as a true freshman in 2010, then switched over from tight end to defensive line, and has waited two years on his chance to start.

The Wake Forest defensive line already was lacking in depth. Back in the spring, defensive coordinator Mike Elko said the situation wasn't ideal, especially since Wake Forest has switched alignment from three down linemen to four. Losing Garcia means there won't be much doubt that the Deacs will have to rely on freshmen to play.

[+] EnlargeTrey Edmunds
Darren McCollester/Getty ImagesHokies running back Trey Edmunds has been cleared to practice.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech released its preseason injury report Monday with a few notable players taking the headlines:

Running back Trey Edmunds, who broke his leg at the end of last season and missed spring practice, has been fully cleared to participate when practice opens on Monday. This news is not a surprise, but still comes as a relief considering how big a role he will have in this offense. But just as there was good news from Edmunds, there was not-so-good news for the rest of the running back group.

Freshman Marshawn Williams, who had a solid spring, underwent hernia surgery last month and is questionable for the opener against William & Mary on Aug. 30. In addition, backup Chris Mangus decided to transfer.

Also on offense, senior offensive lineman Brent Benedict will not play this season because of a medical condition; Starting receiver Demitri Knowles has a sprained right ankle and will not be available when camp opens, but he should be able to play in the opener.

Defensively, the Hokies also are considering redshirting backup defensive tackle Woody Baron, who is still recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Starting cornerback Brandon Facyson has a right hip flexor injury and will be limited when practice opens. This is a different injury than the stress reaction in his leg that caused him to miss spring practice.

ACC mailblog

August, 1, 2014
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Keep your notes coming. Mailbag is always open!

Jon in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writes: I thought you were decent until I read the recent article about whether ND was good for the ACC. In particular, talking about FSU's SOS this year (2014) with the big bad Oklahoma State and "improved" UF team... my goodness, that's a load. Your "improved" UF team is still fielding an awful offensive line, an inept quarterback, no wide receivers, a serviceable running backand a decent defense. Have you looked at the FSU team? I'm pretty sure we're going to steamroll Oklahoma State in Dallas and ND & UF at home. And ND is an awesome addition to the ACC, even if they beat FSU. This is college football and sports in general. If you were scared to lose, don't come to play. I'm sure you were just playing devil's advocate, but I expected more of you, even if you are a UF grad.

Andrea Adelson: When in doubt, blame the Gator. I hope you guys have figured out by now that I call 'em like I see 'em. Regardless of where I attended college, my job is to present different points of view. Florida State has a more challenging schedule this year than last. That doesn't mean I'm against Florida State. It means I think they have much bigger tests this year, tests that will challenge this team in ways it was not challenged a year ago. Oklahoma State is not Nevada; Notre Dame is not Idaho; and Florida will win more than four games this year. Will Florida State be favored in those three big nonconference games? Yes. Does Florida State deserve to start the season ranked No. 1? Yes. But that is not a guarantee the Noles will win all their games again. Part of the fun in the offseason, and in college football in general, is to speculate and hypothesize, to debate topics of interest. I think Notre Dame is a fascinating one from a football perspective. The Irish are a great addition in all other sports. But this quasi-scheduling agreement in football is no sure thing. The Irish could wreak havoc this season. Or they could slump and hurt strength of schedule. Or they could very well be the perfect addition. Nobody knows how it will play out.


Trevor in Miami writes: Just curious as to you being "more confident" in the quarterbacks at Pitt and Georgia Tech than Miami. Care to elaborate?

Adelson: Jake Heaps' addition is big for Miami from a depth and experience standpoint, but will he win the starting job until Ryan Williams returns? Nobody has the answer there. At least Pitt and Georgia Tech go into the season with a solid idea of what they will be getting out of the position. Chad Voytik played a good bowl game and has been in the Pitt system for two years now. I think he is in line for a great season. Justin Thomas played extensively a year ago for the Jackets, and those close to the program believe he is better suited to run the offense than Vad Lee. Tim Byerly provides a nice 1-2 punch there as well. Miami simply has no answers at quarterback right now. Kevin Olsen still has to prove he is the right man for the job (forget the fact he has never taken a snap in a college game). If he's not, Miami turns to a fifth-year senior in his third different program learning a new scheme essentially on the fly. Easy to see why I have concerns about Miami's quarterback.


Wayne in Tallahassee, Florida, writes: Will you remind these "Cane fans" they lost to Duke last year! I'm getting tired of this fan base claiming "Da U Da best." For a school that prides itself on academics, it sure does have a lot of illiterate fans/alumni! I know it may seem like a shot at Duke, but it isn't. Just a friendly reminder you can't say a school is garbage and call your school " the best" when said school beat you!

Adelson: I think you just reminded them yourself!


Jerry Ballard in Richmond, Virginia, writes: I do realize that UVa has not had much to be positive about in recent years... But is it wrong to think they will be a lot more successful, now that we have a legit QB playing this season? Fewer interceptions means better ball control, better field positioning, better time possession for our offense. Do you feel that UVa can turn the tide on our losing ways, now that we have a smart QB?

Adelson: Of the ACC teams that finished with losing records last season, I think Virginia will have the best win total increase this season. There is no doubt this team has been hurt because of its recent quarterback struggles. If Greyson Lambert plays well, Virginia is capable of being a bowl team. Having said that, the schedule is absolutely brutal. With a nonconference schedule like NC State's, Virginia absolutely would make a bowl. Instead, I think the Hoos will have a tough time getting to six.


Jay in Pittsburgh writes: Andrea, isn't No. 93 low for Tyler Boyd in the top 100? Don't you think he's a potential Heisman candidate this year?

Adelson: Yes, it is low. We had Boyd ranked in the top 15 of our ACC player countdown. Part of the issue there is I don't think he has a national name just yet, so perhaps folks outside this region who contributed to the Top 100 rankings undervalued what type of impact he makes in a game. As for the Heisman, I'd call Boyd a big-time dark horse at the outset.


Juan in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writes: With what looks like a mas exodus of scholly players from UNC, whom would you now have as the Coastal favorite?

Adelson: Still got Duke there.


Greg in Washington, D.C., writes: Andrea, that no Wake Forest players (rightfully) made it onto your preseason list of ACC Top 25 players is a testament to the barren cupboard of talent left for Dave Clawson. Are there any incoming (or young and unproven) players we should keep an eye on for a future top-25 list? Or maybe even your end-of-2014 list?

Adelson: He is not young, but cornerback Kevin Johnson is somebody to keep an eye on for the final Top 25. Not many people know who he is, but he is in the next tier of ACC cornerbacks behind the elite players at Florida State and Virginia Tech.

ACC's lunchtime links

August, 1, 2014
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As many schools open fall camp this weekend, talking season will die down.
And if you've been following along during this seemingly eternal offseason, you know that this year's chatter among coaches in particular has been extra salty.

Colleague Chris Low examined the dynamic in a column Thursday, looking at some of the jabs between coaches during July. The Wall Street Journal takes a different spin on things, looking at which coaches from each conference are the biggest chatterboxes.

The result, at least in the ACC, is a bit surprising.

Syracuse's Scott Shafer comes away with the title, having said 2,075 words on a transcript the WSJ analyzed. Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer was the least talkative, at 1,153 words.

The Beamer bit is not all that shocking. But the fact that Jimbo Fisher or Dabo Swinney is not at the top certainly raised an eyebrow. Math is math and it is difficult to argue, so we'll reason that Fisher's fast-talking ways make it seem like he says a lot more than he actually does. And, well, who can forget some of Dabo's jabs last month?

As the old adage goes, sometimes it's about quality, not quantity, especially during talking season.

As for the rest of your ACC links ...
The time of year we've all been waiting for has finally arrived.

That's right, we're talkin' about practice.

Georgia Tech takes the field Thursday to kick off practice across the league. Here is a quick look at opening practice dates around the ACC:

Friday
Saturday
Monday, Aug. 4
Tuesday, Aug. 5
In every class there are must-get recruits for schools. They can be a top uncommitted prospect or even a pledge who is essential to keep in the fold.

Here are the picks for the teams in the ACC, with the prospect's overall ranking.


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