ACC shows solidarity off the field
The best thing to happen to the ACC this spring had nothing to do with the 15 practices each team was allotted, and everything to do with the 15 teams that will soon comprise the conference.
On April 22, the ACC announced that all 15 university presidents -- including Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Louisville, and excluding Maryland -- signed a grant of media rights agreement, effective immediately. With one swift, unanimous motion, the conference put a halt to any rumors of defection and reinforced the message it had been repeating but many still refused to believe: The ACC is sticking together. It was a historic moment for the conference, and one that overshadowed Florida State's spring quarterback battle, Virginia Tech's subpar spring game and Miami's never-ending wrestling match with the NCAA.
Despite all of the instability on the field this spring in the conference -- new coaching staffs, new quarterbacks, and new schemes -- the ACC will enter this fall on more stable ground than ever before.
And that is easily the biggest win the ACC has had in years.
The next step is to come out on the winning end of what will be arguably the toughest nonconference schedule in league history, but this spring revealed few concrete answers for many programs in transition.
Florida State, NC State, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Virginia still have ongoing quarterback competitions. Duke and Georgia Tech will have first-year starters at quarterback, leaving half of the conference with unproven players at the most important position. The transfer of quarterback Clint Trickett at Florida State opened the door for Jameis Winston, and he knocked it down in the spring game with one of the ACC's most impressive performances. Still, coach Jimbo Fisher is keeping the competition open with Jacob Coker.
The Hokies' offense under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler left Virginia Tech fans in a panic after totaling just 23 yards on the ground, and the situation only worsened when running back Michael Holmes was charged with a felony. Pitt's running game also took a hit when leading returning rusher Rushel Shell decided to transfer, and three Panthers, all reserves, were suspended from the team.
Several potential stars emerged, as Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett, North Carolina running back A.J. Blue, Wake Forest receiver Orville Reynolds, Duke quarterback Anthony Boone and Boston College running back Andre Williams drew rave reviews from within their respective programs. Miami running back Dallas Crawford showed the potential to emerge from the shadow of Duke Johnson, and Maryland's running backs highlighted their spring.
For Boston College, Syracuse and NC State, this was a spring of transition for first-year head coaches Steve Addazio, Scott Shafer and Dave Doeren, respectively, but they were hardly the only ones in the league in need of introductions. Fisher had six new assistants on his staff and Virginia coach Mike London had a staff overhaul, as did Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer. This spring was spent learning the foreign languages in the playbooks and working on fundamentals and techniques.
More importantly, it was spent solidifying the future of the conference.
Thanks to the grant of rights, the ACC has all of the pieces in place to remain one of the country's power conferences, but on the field, it will have to find more answers this summer if it is going to move up in the conference power rankings.
What we learned this spring
The final spring games are in the books, and spring practices in the ACC have officially come to a close. The biggest news in the ACC this spring was the grant of rights agreement, which further solidified the league's future. On the field, though, there was much less certainty.
Here's a look back at three lessons learned in the ACC this spring, in no particular order:
1. Virginia Tech's new offense looks a lot like the old offense: It was ugly. Virginia Tech gained a total of 23 yards on the ground. Quarterback Logan Thomas threw three interceptions -- including two that were returned for touchdowns. [Insert cringe here.] While the spring game was hardly a revelation of the playbook under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, the Hokies struggled to even execute the basics -- against a second-string defense that was spotted 13 points. Thomas was selected by the coaching staff as one of the most improved players of the spring, but it wasn't reflected in the spring game.
2. Quarterback questions remain. While some separation began to take place across the ACC, the programs with quarterback questions still hesitated to name a starter. At Pittsburgh, Tom Savage took the most reps with the first team, but Chad Voytik was the star of the spring game. At NC State, Pete Thomas got the most meaningful reps this spring, but the staff will let the competition with Manny Stocker play out into the summer. Florida State quarterback Clint Trickett decided to transfer not long after Jameis Winston had a strong performance in the Noles' spring game. Syracuse might have had the least amount of separation, and the transfer of Oklahoma quarterback Drew Allen further muddled the picture. Virginia is still looking for a starter, and that has become a theme under coach Mike London.
3. Transfers have changed the picture. Pittsburgh dealt with the transfer of leading returning rusher Rushel Shell, Florida State lost Trickett and Syracuse was the beneficiary of the transfer of Allen. All three of them affected key positions and the two-deep, if not the starting lineup. Shell was next in line to take over for Ray Graham, Trickett was right in the mix to replace former starter EJ Manuel and Allen isn't even expected to enroll until the summer. Shell left little experience behind at the running back position at Pitt, but in the long run it could be addition by subtraction because the players there want to be there. Trickett's departure hurt the depth at the position at FSU, and he did have game experience as Manuel's backup each of the past two seasons. Overall, all three of these transfers should continue to resonate this summer with each team.
Best of the ACC
Best spring game performance: That belongs to none other than "Famous" Jameis Winston, whose performance sent Clint Trickett packing his bags less than a week later. While coach Jimbo Fisher did not proclaim Winston his starter, Trickett probably knew what was coming after being outplayed in the spring game. Winston went 12-of-15 for 205 yards and two touchdowns -- one of them a long score on his first throw. This, by the way, while he moonlights for the baseball team. Talk about taking advantage when the spotlight is on.
Best overall spring: Nobody had a better spring than commissioner John Swofford. Nobody. A league many believed to be teetering on the brink of another raid solidified itself well into the future with a grant of rights agreement that makes it next to impossible for any school to leave without incurring major financial debt for a lifetime. While all these football teams worked on their techniques, Swofford was mastering his. That's all that matters right now in the ACC.
Best addition: Syracuse has been enmeshed in a quarterback controversy all spring, but it's not going to let up until the fall, not with Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen coming onboard later this summer. Allen sat behind Sam Bradford and Landry Jones and is hoping to find his way into the starting lineup. He gives Syracuse a high-quality transfer from a high-quality program, but he's going to have to fight off hard-charging Terrel Hunt and Charley Loeb for the starting job.
Best performance by an early enrollee: Two-way tie here between Virginia Tech cornerback Brandon Facyson and Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett. Facyson turned heads when spring practice opened, so much so that he has given himself an opportunity to be on the field when the season opens against Alabama. Leggett, meanwhile, has got a terrific opportunity to start at tight end when the season opens against Georgia because of a knee injury to Sam Cooper. Leggett had a great spring game, with seven receptions for 97 yards and the game-winning touchdown.
Best underdog story: Take a look at the spring Virginia center Jackson Matteo had. The walk-on opened practice as the backup behind senior Luke Bowanko, who started every game last year. By the end of spring, Bowanko was moved to left guard and Matteo was listed as the starting center. Matteo, a redshirt freshman, turned down a scholarship offer from Temple to be a preferred walk-on for the Hoos last year. And yes, he remains walk-on, though he has an opportunity to earn a scholarship in the fall.
Projecting the ACC
Spring practices have wrapped up across the country, and there's not much more data we can pull into our projection model for the fall. At Football Outsiders, factors such as five-year program ratings, returning starters, quarterback reliance and more have featured into the projections. We'll publish final projections based on play and drive efficiency in the Football Outsiders Almanac later this summer, but we can take a sneak peak at preliminary projections through the lens of our drive-based FEI ratings.
For this series, we first ran preliminary projections for team, offense and defensive efficiency. Then we calculated win likelihoods in each scheduled game, producing a projected record and win total range. Running the win likelihoods through 1,000 simulated seasons, we then calculated the frequency with which each team claimed a conference crown.
On Tuesday we're looking at the projections for the ACC, which features two very intriguing divisional races.
To read the rest of the projections for the ACC, click here .
Post-spring power rankings
1. Clemson: The Tigers reinforced their spot atop the power rankings after a spring that featured the re-emergence of Sammy Watkins in the receiver group, and what appeared to be added growth of the front seven on defense. Questions remain in the secondary, but with Watkins and Tajh Boyd leading the way, the Tigers remain the favorites to win the ACC.
2. Florida State: There is no doubt the Seminoles have a lot of production to replace. But Jameis Winston looked like an emerging star this spring, there is depth at running back and the Noles should be dominant again on the offensive and defensive lines. A new aggressive defensive style has hopes high in Tallahassee that this team can reload rather than rebuild.
3. Miami: Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson looked fantastic throughout the spring, raising hopes that Miami can once again get itself back into the Top 25 and perhaps even make some noise nationally. Defense remains a concern, though with 20 starters returning on both sides of the ball, something should be said for having a more experienced team coming back.
4. North Carolina: The Tar Heels have found some answers for their holes on the offensive and defensive lines and believe they will be able to replace Giovani Bernard with the trio of A.J. Blue, Romar Morris and Khris Francis. The big key this spring was having a second season learning Larry Fedora's offense. With Bryn Renner back, the expectation is for this group to play even faster and score even more.
5. Georgia Tech: Vad Lee and Justin Thomas impressed coach Paul Johnson this spring, and so did the way the defense took to the new scheme coordinator Ted Roof has brought in. There is some major depth at the A-back and B-back positions as well, putting the Jackets in position to make another run at the ACC championship.
6 Virginia Tech: The Hokies might have been ranked higher on this list if their offense did not have such a letdown in the spring game. Questions still remain at every single position on that side of the ball, from Logan Thomas to the running backs to the receivers to the offensive line. The defense, however, should return to the form we have often seen out of Bud Foster-coached groups.
7. Wake Forest: The Deacs are a senior-laded team, and as such, they should be expected to make it back to a bowl game. Watch out for a more versatile offense and some more explosiveness out of Tanner Price, Michael Campanaro and Orville Reynolds. After the nightmarish injury bug that hit this team last season, everybody should be healthy and ready to go for fall practice.
8. Syracuse: The Orange are still searching for candidates to replace several big-time players in Ryan Nassib and top receivers Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales. The quarterback competition continues, but the depth Syracuse has at running back will be tough to beat. The Orange should also be stingy on defense, with nose tackle Jay Bromley and linebackers Marquis Spruill and Dyshawn Davis returning.
9. Maryland: The Terps' running game took a major step forward this spring with the emergence of Brandon Ross as a dependable ball carrier, and quarterback C.J. Brown is expected to be cleared for full participation again this summer after tearing his ACL last year. The receivers should be a strength with Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, but can the defense hold its own?
10. Virginia: The tired storyline of a quarterback competition continues under Mike London, as Phillip Sims, David Watford and Greyson Lambert expect to learn who the starter will be in August. The running game remains a question, and the Cavaliers also have big shoes to fill at linebacker with the departure of leading tackler Steve Greer.
11. Pitt: It was a rough spring for the Panthers, who saw leading returning rusher Rushel Shell transfer and also had to dismiss three backups from the team. Tom Savage is leading the quarterback battle, but he's not a lock after Chad Voytik had an impressive spring game. Pitt also needs a second dependable receiver to emerge to help free up Devin Street.
12. Duke: Quarterback Anthony Boone drew high praise from those within the program as he took over the offense for the first time as the team's projected starter. There is plenty of talent returning on offense, but until proven otherwise, Duke's defense remains the weak link.
13. NC State: First-year coach Dave Doeren and his staff increased the tempo of the offense, and quarterback Pete Thomas got the most reps with the first team, but the competition with Manny Stocker continues. There is still a lot of work to do in Raleigh, as NC State has an entirely new coaching staff, new schemes and 12 starters to replace, including standout quarterback Mike Glennon.
14. Boston College: Nobody in the ACC has more work to do that first-year BC coach Steve Addazio, but he came out of the spring as enthusiastic as ever. Depth at all positions remains a concern, but particularly at running back. The good news is that veteran quarterback Chase Rettig returns, and he has a familiar face in former BC wide receivers coach Ryan Day, who is now the offensive coordinator.
Boston College: First-year coach Steve Addazio said the one thing he felt great about this spring was the team's willingness to adjust to the staff and its changes. For more on the Eagles, click here.
Clemson: Jordan Leggett enrolled in January, and not a moment too soon. For more on the Tigers, click here.
Duke: People will still wonder how the Blue Devils are going to do without Sean Renfree, but Anthony Boone proved this spring he is the real deal. For more on the Blue Devils, click here.
Florida State: New defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt brought a slew of new schemes with him from Alabama. For more on the Seminoles, click here.
Georgia Tech: Paul Johnson wanted to spend the spring getting both Vad Lee and Justin Thomas an adequate amount of reps, and he did that. For more on the Yellow Jackets, click here.
Maryland: The running game is improving and the receivers should be a strength. For more on the Terrapins, click here.
Miami: From the looks of things, it appears as if Miami has settled in quite nicely with new OC James Coley. For more on the Hurriances, click here.
North Carolina: Though the Tar Heels are losing three starters on the offensive line, they do have their starting five pretty set going into fall camp. For more on the Tar Heels, click here.
NC State: If there is one area the Pack shouldn't be concerned about this fall, it's the kicking game. For more on the Wolfpack, click here.
Pitt: No word yet on a starting quarterback, so the competition between Chad Voytik and Tom Savage will keep going into fall camp begins. For more on the Panthers, click here.
Syracuse: OC George McDonald compared the RBs to the talent he saw while an assistant at Miami. For more on the Orange, click here.
Virginia: The defense embraced first-year defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta's aggressive style with enthusiasm. For more on the Cavaliers, click here.
Virginia Tech: The offense needs to make strides before facing Alabama. For more on the Hokies, click here.
Wake Forest: There will be more option this season to get Tanner Price running more. For more on the Demon Deacons, click here.