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Thread: Cnotes 2017 College Football News-Rumours-Etc !

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  1. #126  
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    Fuente urges right perspective for Hokies

    Justin Fuente's successful opening season as Virginia Tech's head coach can now be spun two ways.

    There will be pundits who say Virginia Tech can't possibly repeat last season's success -- a 10-4 record, ACC Coastal Division championship and Belk Bowl win -- after losing so much talent in the offseason.

    Other observers will assume last season was just a launching pad to bigger success for the Hokies, who were ranked 22nd in the preseason coaches' poll.

    "I don't buy into the whole, 'We can't be good because guys aren't here,'" Fuente said. "Or, 'We should be good because guys are here.'

    "I told my team when we were starting back after Christmas break, they've got a difficult job, because people are going to say two things about them. One, they're going to say that they can't have success because all the good players have left. And that's not true. We have this opportunity in front of us. It's up to us.

    "And then the other half of the people are going to say you're going to have success because you had success last year. You've arrived. And that's not true either. It's right here in the middle. We're neither born winners or losers, but we are what we make ourselves. Every single day, let's go about building this thing forward."

    The Hokies tied or broke 10 school offensive records last season, including for points (490), touchdowns (61) and total yards (6,223), but they must replace a group of players that accounted for most of that production.

    Tech must replace its starting quarterback, Jerod Evans, its top wide receiver, Isaiah Ford, game-breaking tight end Bucky Hodges and versatile fullback Sam Rogers.

    Much of the spotlight this preseason is on the quarterback battle among redshirt freshman Josh Jackson, freshman Hendon Hooker and junior college transfer A.J. Bush, but the Hokies also have critical battles at running back, wide receiver and along the offensive line.

    "Regardless of what we lost, I still think we have a large nucleus of talent, especially on defense, and on the offensive side we have experience as well along with great coaching, which is very important," said wide receiver Cam Phillips.

    "The senior leadership and the experience that we have in myself and (running back) Travon McMillian and (offensive lineman) Wyatt Teller, I think that can help us greatly to bring along some of these young guys."

    Tech will have an elite-caliber defense, however, capable of keeping opponents at bay while the offense comes around.

    Led by longtime coordinator Bud Foster, the Hokies' defense returns seven starters and a host of other players who saw critical action last season in reserve roles.

    Tech is especially deep in the back seven, where it returns three starting linebackers, three big-play cornerbacks and a strong group of safeties led by Terrell Edmunds, who had a team-leading four interceptions last season.

    "I think we're going to have a pretty thin margin for error," Fuente told reporters at the start of camp. "We're going to have to do some things really well. Execute on a fundamental level and a consistent basis in terms of taking care of the football, taking the football away.

    "There are going to be some young guys in there mixed in with some very experienced, very good players. And I'm anxious to continue camp and get to see those young guys grow and develop and mold in there with some very talented older guys."

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: WR Cam Phillips -- Phillips is the most seasoned skill player on the roster following the departures of top wideout Isaiah Ford, tight end Bucky Hodges and jack-of-all-trades fullback Sam Rogers. The experienced Phillips caught 76 passes for 983 yards and five touchdowns last year and is on pace to break the school career records for receptions and receiving yards. He will help ease the transition of a new quarterback and an otherwise unproven cast of wide receivers.

    BREAKOUT STAR: DT Tim Settle -- A much-ballyhooed recruit out of high school, the 6-foot-3, 335-pound redshirt sophomore spent his first couple of years in Blacksburg learning the ropes. Now is his time to star as a gap-plugging, disruptive defensive tackle, one of the biggest interior linemen to ever suit up for the Hokies. Settle had seven tackles for loss as a reserve last year. His contributions as a backup provided a welcome glimpse of what he could be as a starter. The Hokies will need Settle and junior Ricky Walker to fill the sizeable shoes of Woody Baron and Nigel Williams on a re-tooled defensive line that could use more depth.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: SS Devon Hunter -- The five-star freshman is arguably Virginia Tech's most touted recruit from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, aka "The 757," since quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Hunter may not crack the starting lineup right away -- he has competition for the strong safety spot from sophomore Reggie Floyd -- but if his credentials are any indication, he may force his way into the rotation sooner rather than later. Hunter was rated the No. 3 player in Virginia last year by ESPN and was selected to play in the prestigious U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

    --CB Brandon Facyson has been limited this preseason after having surgery on his right wrist in the offseason. He ramped up his activity through the first couple of weeks of preseason practice, however, and has participated in non-contact drills while wearing a cast on his right forearm.

    --WR Caleb Farley suffered a season-ending knee injury while doing non-contact drills on the first day of preseason practice. Farley is a true freshman who enrolled early and made the move from defensive back in the spring. He was expected to at least provide depth at a thin receiver position this season.

    --OL Parker Osterloh has returned after sitting out spring practice with an ankle injury. He is battling with Braxton Pfaff and Kyle Chung for the open right guard spot.

    --DE Houshun Gaines has been reinstated after missing spring ball because of an academic suspension. Gaines had five tackles as a reserve last year.
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    Orange must get defensive in Babers' second season

    The irony of Dino Babers' first go-round with Syracuse was -- despite an overhaul in rhetoric, scheme and process -- the Orange had the same record (4-8) as the previous season.

    First-season doldrums were predictable. Babers lacked the personnel for his up-tempo offense, inheriting more bruisers than speedsters. Injuries exacerbated problems at crucial spots, and the Atlantic Coast Conference schedule brutalized an inexperienced roster.

    There are positives heading into year two.

    Back under center is Eric Dungey, who battled injuries last season but managed to complete 230 of 355 passes for 2,679 yards, with 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Dungey, who also scored six touchdowns on the ground, distributes the ball well to playmakers like wideouts Erv Philips and Steve Ishmael.

    Replacing last season's breakout star wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo is an obstacle, but Syracuse has unusual depth at the position.

    By and large, it was a lackluster defense that derailed Syracuse's season.

    The Orange was one of seven teams in the nation that allowed 500 yards per game. Syracuse was 115th in sacks (16) and 122nd in passes defended (26). Injuries this summer left the Orange with one practicing scholarship contributor (Kendall Coleman) at defensive end. Junior college transfers, converted linebackers and freshmen round out the position group in camp.

    Linebacker will presumably be a position of strength for the defense, as seniors Zaire Franklin, Parris Bennett and Jonathan Thomas are set to start. Up front at defensive tackle are Chris Slayton and McKinley Williams, two of the more gifted athletes, pound for pound, on the roster.

    This season might boil down to the performance of Syracuse's defensive backs. Graduate transfer cornerbacks Devin Butler and Jordan Martin are expected to see significant snaps right away. But Babers has said as many as six cornerbacks could play, with sophomores Scoop Bradshaw and Chris Fredrick having entered camp listed among the first team.

    Antwan Cordy returns at strong safety after suffering a season-ending forearm injury last September. Next to him at free safety will be Evan Foster, who saw limited time as a freshman.

    The difficulties facing Syracuse in 2017 are immense, as highlighted by a schedule featuring LSU, Clemson, Miami, Florida State and Louisville. To compete for a bowl bid, Syracuse will need to win its first three games (mild contests in the Carrier Dome) and stay reasonably healthy into November.

    Late season home games against Wake Forest and Boston College could determine whether or not Babers can claim his first postseason berth at Syracuse.

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: LB Zaire Franklin -- He likely will be named as the first three-year captain at Syracuse since 1990. It is difficult to imagine where Syracuse would be without Franklin manning the middle of the defense, bridging the gap between systems and ushering in young starters across the board. Franklin had 101 tackles and tied for the team lead with 10 tackles for loss in 2016. If Franklin is complemented by more competent play in the secondary, he could be more of a factor rushing the quarterback.

    BREAKOUT STAR: S Antwan Cordy -- Any chance at defensive stability last season took a huge hit when Cordy suffered a season-ending injury in week two. A dynamic player with great instincts, Cordy amassed 12 tackles for loss and two interceptions as a starter in 2015. Two years later, Cordy should benefit the most directly from coach Dino Babers' move to the Tampa-2 system. Protection from an experienced linebacker corps should allow Cordy to roam the field and make plays on the ball. Leading the ACC in defensive turnovers is not out of the realm of possibility for the 5-foot-8 Cordy, who was nicknamed "Giant" under the previous coaching staff.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: TE Ravian Pierce -- For years, it has been puzzling that Syracuse could not cultivate the tight end position into more of a threat in the passing game. Perhaps coach Dino Babers has finally brought a player into the fold who can change that. Pierce, from Southwest Mississippi Community College, was ranked 21st among all junior college transfers by The 6-foot-4, 225-pound tight end was also offered by Mississippi State and LSU. Back in February, the coaching staff described Pierce as a potential downfield threat in the ACC.

    --QB Tommy DeVito was coach Dino Babers' most prized recruit in 2017, listed by's composite ranking as the No. 15 pro-style quarterback in the country. After committing to Syracuse in 2016, DeVito rose in popularity after being named an Elite-11 finalist and Under Armour All-American. DeVito received attention from schools around the country, including in the SEC, but Babers credits the quarterback's unwavering commitment to Syracuse in bringing the rest of the class together.

    Time will tell when DeVito gets his first crack at playing quarterback for Syracuse, as incumbent starter Eric Dungey has two years of eligibility left. DeVito is currently behind former walk-on Zack Mahoney for the backup quarterback job. Mahoney has appeared in 16 games and thrown 253 passes for the Orange over the past two seasons. Untimely injuries to Dungey thrust Mahoney into games against nationally-ranked opponents such as LSU, Clemson and Florida State.

    --CB Devin Butler comes to Syracuse with promise but also some baggage that he hopes to put behind him. The 6-foot-1, 189-pound Butler appeared in 37 games for Notre Dame between 2014 and 2016. He was pushing for a starting job with the Fighting Irish before being suspended following a controversial altercation with a police officer last August.

    --S Kielan Whitner burst onto the scene in his second season, starting three games at safety. At 6-feet, 200 pounds, Whitner has excellent size for a safety, and he can also be used at strong-side linebacker.

    --WR Jamal Custis (6-5, 224) has long tantalized Syracuse fans as an apparent basketball prospect in shoulder pads. Used minimally for two seasons under Scott Shafer, Custis has only two remaining seasons of eligibility after redshirting in 2016. Custis reportedly caught a pair of touchdowns passes from Eric Dungey in a closed scrimmage early in camp, perhaps an indication he will help see the field consistently for the first time.
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    Pitt's defense will start season short-handed

    Pitt had five players selected in the 2017 NFL Draft, so the Panthers knew there would be a difficult transition at some positions.

    But the Panthers had even more adversity to get through before they ever set foot on the field for training camp.

    Senior defensive linemen Rori Blair and Jeremiah Taleni were dismissed from the team for disciplinary reasons, leaving that unit without a returning starter and just one senior.

    Senior linebacker Quintin Wirginis and junior safety Jordan Whitehead were suspended for the first three games of the season, meaning they will miss an important rivalry game against Penn State in Week 2 and a visit from nationally ranked Oklahoma State in Week 3.

    Wirginis is the team's lone senior linebacker; Whitehead was an All-ACC selection a year ago. That is a lot of experience and talent that will be temporarily missing from a defense that finished 101st in the country in yards allowed per game a year ago.

    Pitt's offense wasn't exempt from offseason losses, either. Running back James Conner declared for the NFL Draft with a season of eligibility remaining, sophomore wide receiver Tre Tipton suffered a season-ending injury in an off-the field accident over the summer and his likely replacement, sophomore Aaron Mathews, missed the first two weeks of training camp due to personal reasons.

    In the press box, offensive coordinator Matt Canada, who managed the Panthers' attack in 2016 to the tune of a program-high 532 points and a top-10 national finish in scoring, left for the same job at LSU, meaning that new offensive coordinator Shawn Watson will be installing the third offense in three seasons under Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi.

    The offseason wasn't all doom and gloom, though.

    The Panthers brought in three graduate transfers, by far the biggest of whom was quarterback Max Browne, who spent four years at USC. Browne was one of the most highly sought-after quarterbacks in the nation coming out of high school, but got limited opportunities to show what he could do with the Trojans and was passed by Sam Darnold on the depth chart early in 2016.

    Eager to show what he's capable of, Browne joined the Panthers for their spring practices and summer workouts. Browne has been able to spend valuable time meshing with his new offensive teammates.

    "I think if you get an offensive tackle in August, it will be OK, but if you get a quarterback in August, it's little bit more difficult," Narduzzi said. "He's been able to go through spring ball, and go through the entire summer, which the summer is a major thing."

    Said Browne: "With each week, I become less and less a new guy. Learning a new offense isn't the easiest thing, but now I have it down, which is a big reason I came in January and I'm glad I did that."

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: OT Brian O'Neill -- O'Neill made headlines a season ago for doing some very unlineman-like things. The 300-pounder scored two touchdowns, one on a screen pass and the other on a reverse handoff. But this season, the converted tight end will shift from right tackle to left tackle and while there's still a chance for some chicanery, the serious task of protecting Max Browne's blind side will be his primary duty.

    BREAKOUT STAR: DE Dwayne Hendrix -- A transfer from Tennessee before the 2015 season, Hendrix spent an entire year getting rave reviews as a defensive lineman with a mean streak on Pitt's scout team. He seemed poise for a starting role and breakout season in 2016, but was lost for the season to an injury in the opener against Villanova. A healthy Hendrix would go a long way to replacing the production of graduated end Ejuan Price, who finished third in the ACC with 13 sacks a year ago.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: OL Brandon Hodges -- Hodges came from the University of Texas as a graduate transfer at the last minute, joining the team a week into training camp. The former junior college star started eight games for the Longhorns last year and could be an immediate upgrade to the depth on Pitt's offensive line. Hodges is starting out at right tackle, competing with senior Jaryd Jones-Smith, who has worked back from a catastrophic knee injury in 2015.

    --DB Paris Ford, a four-star recruit, had yet to be cleared academically as of the start of the third week of camp. Ford was expected to compete for a starting job at one of the safety spots, but his lengthy absence brings into question whether he'll play this season, even if he is eligible.

    --RG Alex Bookser will serve a one-game suspension for an off-the field incident in which he was arrested and charged with DUI in March. Bookser started all 13 games at right guard in 2016.

    --FB George Aston is expected to miss considerable time with an undisclosed injury. Aston scored 10 touchdowns in 2016. Instead replacing Aston directly, QB Max Browne said the offense is utilizing more tight ends and three-receiver sets.

    --RB Qadree Ollison will attempt to hold off a deep group at the running back position in an effort to replace James Conner, who moved to the other side of the building shared by the Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Ollison rushed for 1,121 yards when Conner was sidelined with a knee injury in 2015, but talented young backs A.J. Davis, Darrin Hall, Chawntez Moss and Todd Sibley will challenge for playing time.

    --WR/KR Quadree Henderson was one of the nation's most dominant players with the ball in his hands a year ago. A consensus All-American at kick returner, Henderson also had 630 yards rushing and 286 yards receiving. Now a junior, Henderson is expected to be asked to do a lot more down-the-field pass catching than he has in the past.
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    Wolfpack looks poised for a breakthrough

    North Carolina State has been mostly flying under the radar going into the season, but there are reasons to tab the Wolfpack as having Top 25 potential.

    Those reasons mostly come because of a well-tested defense, led by defensive end Bradley Chubb and a defensive front that is bound to receive accolades.

    The offense is seasoned, as well, with key playmakers such as Ryan Finley, who is in his second season as the starting quarterback after transferring from Boise State.

    "I feel the sky is the limit on everything we do," Chubb said.

    So it's a matter of keeping things in perspective for N.C. State, which competes in the stout Atlantic Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Almost all preseason predictions place the Wolfpack behind Florida State, Clemson and Louisville.

    "We don't worry about the outside," junior running back Reggie Gillaspy said. "Put our heads down and work hard."

    The Wolfpack is coming off a 7-6 season, winning three of its final four games. Earlier, narrow losses to Clemson (24-17 in overtime) and Florida State (24-20) showed the team's potential.

    N.C. State will have a chance to make some early waves, opening the season against South Carolina in a neutral-site game Sept. 2 in Charlotte, N.C.

    Finley, a redshirt junior, proved to be efficient in directing the offense in his first season. He has tools to use, most notably H-back Jaylen Samuels and speedy running back Nyheim Hines, who had played at receiver and also is a key returner on special teams.

    "We're worried about getting better every day," Finley said, noting that going against an experienced defense in practice should help the offense's growth. "Our whole team is closer than ever."

    On defense, Chubb is bound to receive extra attention, so that could benefit the teammates around him on the front. Plus, senior linebackers Airius Moore and Jerod Fernandez each have 30 career starts.

    With so many players having already established themselves, the Wolfpack hasn't had a lot of competition at some positions.

    "There are still some places that we've talked about that are in competition and that could go for a while," fifth-year coach Dave Doeren said. "Last year, there were so many open positions. We don't have a lot of competitions we're dealing with right now. Just trying to develop some depth."

    Doeren's record with N.C. State is 25-26 in four seasons, so this figures to be a crucial year, particularly with the amount of returning players.

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: H-back Jaylen Samuels -- Yes, defensive end Bradley Chubb is the team's headliner, but the offense really needs Samuels. He can line up in a variety of roles, often making it difficult for defenses to keep track of his whereabouts. He's coming off an MVP performance in the Independence Bowl, when he caught three touchdown passes against Vanderbilt. He enters the season with 126 career receptions (including a streak of at least one catch in 28 consecutive games), already ranking seventh in school history in receptions. He also has racked up 700 career rushing yards.

    BREAKOUT STAR: S Shawn Boone -- He goes into his senior season as the most experienced of the defensive backs, and he is embracing his new leadership role in the secondary. He'll be shifting among the safety spots depending on the defensive packages, and there's no doubt he wants to take advantage of opportunities that might come for defensive backs because of the expected pressure applied by the defensive front.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: K Carson Wise -- He arrived from Division II Carson-Newman as a graduate transfer with two seasons remaining. Given the Wolfpack's kicking woes the past two seasons, Wise could be a critical upgrade at the position. He has range up to 55 yards, but consistency will be something that could be most important. "He has definitely started with the 1s (first team), and hasn't given it back," coach Dave Doeren said during preseason camp.

    --RB Reggie Gallaspy, a candidate to be the starting tailback after two seasons as the backup, has shed some weight in an effort to be sleeker. He's checking in at about 223 pounds and figures to be shiftier with the ball.

    --C Garrett Bradbury, a redshirt junior who started every 2016 game as a guard, is moving to center.

    --WR JuMichael Ramos has made plays during the preseason as he attempts to come back after missing the 2016 season with a knee injury. "We don't want to rush him," coach Dave Doeren said.

    --K Kyle Bambard, who was the starting kicker as a freshman in 2015 and for more than half of the games last year, is pegged to continue to handle kickoffs.

    --TE Dylan Parham, a redshirt freshman, has switched from quarterback to tight end. The tight end position has been identified as an area of need by the coaching staff.
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    Heels have holes to fill on offense

    North Carolina has won 19 games over the last two seasons and pushed then-No. 1 and undefeated Clemson to the max in the 2015 ACC Championship game, but coach Larry Fedora faces a major rebuilding project on offense as he heads into his sixth year in Chapel Hill.

    The Tar Heels lose quarterback Mitch Trubisky, running backs Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan, receivers Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, and Mack Hollins, and three starters on the offensive line, but Fedora is bullish on the offense's potential.

    "My expectation will not change for the offense because of personnel," Fedora said after camp opened. "It's going to be the same as what it has been. They'll either meet it, surpass it, or they won't."

    The spot that gets the most attention is quarterback.

    Though Brandon Harris, a graduate transfer from LSU, is the expected starter, Fedora said he is "excited about all four guys" in the competition. In addition to Harris, who had a disappointing three years with the Tigers, sophomore Nathan Elliott and redshirt freshmen Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd are competing for the job.

    Elliott backed up Trubisky last year but got in only four games, going 8 of 9 for 55 yards. Harris played in four games for the Tigers with two starts. He was 13 of 25 for 139 yards and a touchdown, but had two intercepted.

    Despite the unimpressive numbers, Fedora is confident in the newcomer.

    "He can make every throw there is," Fedora said. "And I've really been impressed with his accuracy. It's easy to tell when he's not going to be accurate because his feet are messed up. When his feet are messed up, he's usually not accurate.

    "So it's not about arm strength. He's got plenty of arm strength. He can be accurate when he knows where he is going with the ball, and he can run. So he's got all the tools."

    The decision on the starter will come "as soon as possible" or, Fedora said, joking, at least by Sept. 2 -- the date of the opener against California.

    Auburn transfer running back Stanton Truitt should make the loss of Hood and Logan easier to take. But early in camp, Fedora could name only a handful of others as potential starters on offense.

    Those would be returning starter Austin Proehl at wide receiver, Bentley Spain at left tackle, Florida transfer Cam Dillard at center, and Brandon Fritts and Carl Tucker at tight end.

    "I think that's about it offensively," Fedora said.

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: WR Austin Proehl -- Proehl is the only proven weapon North Carolina has returning at the skill positions, which counts wide receivers Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard and Mack Hollins among the losses from last season. Proehl was third on the team in receiving yards (597) and had three touchdown receptions. He has 70 receptions in his career after recording 43 last year and looks to be the No. 1 offensive threat going into the season.

    BREAKOUT STAR: LB Cole Holcomb -- A former walk-on who played mostly on special teams in 2015, Holcomb stepped up to become North Carolina's leading tackler last season with 115 stops, an average of 8.5 per game that ranked fifth in the ACC. Among those numbers were five tackles for loss (one sack), and he also broke up five passes. He also came up big in big games, recording 13 tackles in the win over Florida State. With his former coach, linebackers coach John Pauchis, moving up to defensive coordinator, Holcomb could play an even bigger role in the pass rush this fall and add sacks to his totals.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: RB Stanton Truitt -- Truitt comes from Auburn as a graduate transfer with two seasons of eligibility left. He rushed for 187 yards and two touchdowns and had seven receptions for 100 yards and a touchdown last year after seeing limited playing time the previous two years because of injuries. With RB Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan both gone, Truitt likely will become North Carolina's primary ball carrier.

    --C Cameron Dillard figures to start for North Carolina after playing three seasons for Florida. He started eight games for the Gators in 2016 before requiring season-ending knee surgery.

    --OL Khaliel Rodgers surprisingly announced after camp had opened that he was "retiring" from football. A graduate transfer from Southern California, Rodgers had nine starts on the offensive line in 2014 and '15 -- six at center and three at guard -- but was moved to the defensive line in 2016. "We hated to see him go," coach Larry Fedora said.

    --DT Marlon Dunlap is transferring to Florida after playing in seven games as a true freshman for North Carolina last year. He will sit out the 2017 season.

    --Freshman LB Kayne Roberts has moved to running back. He played both positions in high school, but the Tar Heels have a greater need at running back right now.
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    Louisville, Jackson look for more magic in 2017

    Louisville went 9-4 last season with a win over Florida State, and quarterback Lamar Jackson won the Heisman Trophy. And yet it didn't quite seem like enough.

    The Cardinals ended up wishing for more because of the way last season finished -- three consecutive losses, including disappointing performances against rival Kentucky and the bowl stinker vs. LSU.

    The good news? Jackson is back for his junior season, and a good number of talented players join him on both sides of the ball. Louisville figures to be an ACC contender again this season.

    "We have high expectations for this team," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said.

    "I know our coaching staff does. I know our players do. Certainly our fans and our administration have high expectations for us, and this is a really tough conference. It's going to be very competitive. Every team that we play has really good players. Every team that we play is very, very well-coached, so we're going to have to do a great job of being in great condition, developing our depth, and being able to perform in the fourth quarter when the pressure is on.

    "I think that's what you're going to see, a lot of fourth-quarter wins or fourth-quarter losses this year throughout the conference."

    As noted, the "fourth quarter" of Louisville's 2016 season didn't go well. After the bowl, Petrino made some changes -- bringing in new defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon to simplify the scheme, offensive line coach Mike Summers from Florida and defensive backs coach Lorenzo Ward from South Carolina to help the Cardinals eliminate the big plays that plagued them in the final two weeks of the regular season.

    Petrino and Co. will have to be ready quickly this season, with the first three weeks including Purdue then a road trip to North Carolina before a home-opening showdown with defending national champion Clemson.

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Lamar Jackson -- With Jackson in the pocket for Year 3, Louisville figures to have the most-dangerous offense in the ACC and perhaps the nation. He finished 2016 with 3,542 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, also rushing for 1,571 yards and 21 scores. Jackson broke Michael Vick's ACC records last season while he was still figuring out Bobby Petrino's full offense. How good could he be this season? That will depend on how new offensive line coach Mike Summers reforms an offensive line that gave up 47 sacks last season.

    BREAKOUT STAR: WR Jaylen Smith -- Louisville lost its top three receivers from 2016 -- wideouts James Quick and Jamari Staples and tight end Cole Hikutini. Stepping into the spotlight will be Smith, who has all the physical tools to be an elite wide receiver. He caught 27 passes for 599 yards and six touchdowns last season. Those numbers could double in 2017.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: OL Mekhi Becton -- With offensive line being Louisville's biggest question mark after the 2016 season, Petrino signed the Cardinals' highest-ranked recruiting class ever on the lines, including this massive freshman. Becton is nearly 6-foot-8 and easily carries 345 pounds. "He reminds me of Jonathan Ogden, who I coached against in the NFL," coach Bobby Petrino said. "He's a massive individual and he doesn't have a lot of bad weight. He can really move with that frame." Becton could start Game 1 at tackle for Louisville.

    --RB Reggie Bonnafon, a senior who has also played wide receiver and quarterback for Louisville, is expected to be a key weapon in Lamar Jackson's backfield. Bonnafon is a physical freak with a 4.40 40-yard dash and a 43-inch vertical.

    --DE Trevon Young, an All-ACC talent at outside linebacker in 2015, is back from a gruesome hip injury that happened in the first half of Louisville's 2015 Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M. Young and fellow pass-rusher James Hearns figure to be a strong duo for the Cardinals.

    --DB Jaire Alexander is a preseason selection for All-ACC and he might be the best cornerback in a Louisville uniform since Sam Madison. Alexander had five interceptions and 39 tackles last season.

    --DL Drew Bailey will try to step into the shoes left behind by Saints first-round pick Sheldon Rankins and Tennessee Titans rookie DeAngelo Brown as Louisville's next star defensive lineman. Bailey says he wears 14 because he's "Channel 14 -- must-see TV."

    --WR Seth Dawkins averaged 17.4 yards per catch in 2016 and Bobby Petrino say he wants to work him into the lineup more this season. The 6-4 wideout reminds insiders of former first-round pick DeVante Parker, who is now with the Miami Dolphins.
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    QB only missing piece for Yellow Jackets

    Georgia Tech, with 18 players returning who started games a year ago, could be ready to return to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2014.

    But the Yellow Jackets' success mostly could ride on finding a quarterback to replace three-year starter Justin Thomas, who wound up being the quintessential leader for coach Paul Johnson's option offense.

    There is a four-man battle for the position in camp, although Johnson said the job belongs to Matthew Jordan, until someone comes and takes it away.

    "I feel good about that position," Johnson said. "You know, it's Matthew's job to lose, but I think we've got four guys at that position that I could call a game for right now."

    Jordan missed spring practice with a foot injury but remained the No. 1 quarterback because of his experience. Jordan took over for an injured Thomas a year ago and led the Yellow Jackets to a crucial win at Virginia Tech. That accomplishment alone means a lot when it comes to establishing starting credentials.

    "Matthew Jordan had to go up to Blacksburg, which is a really tough place to play, and start the game, and we were fortunate that he won the game there," Johnson said. "I think that gave him come confidence and gave our guys some confidence in him."

    With Jordan out this spring, three backups soaked up most of the minutes. TaQuon Marshall, Jay Jones and Lucas Johnson all played well during the spring game. The trio brings quickness and game-breaking skills.

    Jones and Johnson are redshirt freshman who, according to Johnson, "may actually be the most talented kids we've had at Georgia Tech since I've been there at quarterback."

    Replacing a three-year starter like Thomas won't be easy, but the transition should be made smoother by the number of established starters at the other positions. Four starting offensive linemen return, as well as the top two receivers and top running backs.

    "He's going to be surrounded, whoever it is, by a group of guys that have played a lot," Johnson said.

    "It's very similar to three years ago when Justin was first starting and he was surrounded by a bunch of guys that had experience and had played a lot of football. That season worked out pretty good. We ended up in the Orange Bowl and beating Mississippi State. Hopefully we'll have another year like that."

    The Yellow Jackets were 9-4 in 2016 and won their final five games. They defeated Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville.

    Georgia Tech will be tested immediately in the season opener, the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic against Tennessee at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. In addition to ending the season against rival Georgia, the Yellow Jackets have a crossover ACC game against defending national champion Clemson.

    The Yellow Jackets were picked to finish third in the ACC Coastal Division behind Miami and Virginia Tech at the ACC Kickoff event in July.

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: FB Dedrick Mills -- A year ago the bruising runner was one of six true freshmen to play for the Yellow Jackets. Mills emerged as a star and gave the team its best B-back - the team's equivalent of a fullback -- in five years. Mills led the team in rushing (771 yards) and scored 13 touchdowns, despite missing four games. He was the MVP of the TaxSlayer Bowl. Mills must stay healthy and remain effective to help the new quarterback get his footing.

    BREAKOUT STAR: S A.J. Gray -- The junior played in 10 games as a freshman and started all 13 games last season. He will be a key piece of the experienced secondary. At 6-1, 218 pounds, Gray is a hard hitter who doesn't shy away from contact. He's also a smart player who is getting better in pass coverage. He could be an all-conference-caliber player before he's finished. Gray had 72 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, and forced a fumble in 2016.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: PK Brenton King -- The true freshman was a two-time Georgia all-state selection from Mill Creek High School. He has a big leg and is expected to replace Harrison Butker, a four-year starter who graduated as the program's all-time leading scorer. King's range extends to 50 yards and he's capable of burying kickoffs in the end zone, which was a hallmark of the Butker years.

    --LG Parker Braun (6-3, 280) started the last eight games of the 2016 season as a true freshman and was good enough to be named to the ESPN True Freshman All-America team. Braun is big and strong and has a nasty streak. In his eight starts, the Yellow Jackets averaged 277.6 rushing yards and 31.1 points.

    --DE KeShun Freeman (6-2, 250) is a fourth-year starter who is expected to ramp up the pass rush, something the Yellow Jackets have lacked in the past two years. Freeman has seven sacks and 17.5 tackles for loss in three seasons.

    --WR Ricky Jeune is overlooked because he's a receiver in a running offense. Jeune is trying to follow in the footsteps of great receivers like Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas, who produced great numbers at Tech. Jeune is tall (6-3, 210) and athletic and typically comes down with anything thrown his way. Last year he averaged 17.1 yards on 25 catches, with one touchdown.

    --RB Clinton Lynch (6-1, 190) is a dual threat. He led the team in receiving yards (490) and was fourth in rushing (415). Last season averaged 17.1 yards per touch and scored eight touchdowns, six of them covering 40 or more yards.

    --DB Corey Griffin (6-2, 200) is one of the team's most vocal leaders. He started all 13 games last season at strong safety and led the team with 82 total tackles. Griffin had two interceptions, one of them against Virginia Tech to set up the winning touchdown.

    --LB Brant Mitchell (6-2, 235) always seems to be around the ball. Last year he had three takeaways (two interceptions, one fumble recovery) and had at least three tackles in every game. He had 42 tackles over the final five games, including 10 in the key win at Virginia Tech.

    --DT Brandon Adams (6-2, 330) dropped about 30 pounds in the offseason and should be able to expand his role. Adams was almost limited to one-play appearances in run-stuffing situations, normally on the goal line. He should get more playing time now that his endurance has improved.
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    Renewed focus might spark Blue Devils

    Duke slipped to a 4-8 mark last season after reaching a bowl game in four consecutive seasons, which had represented the best stretch for the Blue Devils in a generation.

    "I wish it was a blip on the radar," coach David Cutcliffe said. "I don't want anyone around here to forget (what that felt like)."

    The reminders are constant as Duke heads toward a season in which it is tagged as a major underdog following five losses in its last six outings a year ago.

    That might have been the jolt needed to draw the Blue Devils back in line in some ways. From what fifth-year senior center Austin Davis has seen, the focus has returned.

    "I think a lot has changed because our attitude has changed," Davis said. "It was painful to watch all those (bowl) games. We don't plan on sitting home in December ever again."

    Despite what might be described as growing pains last year, there was value in the process. The payoff could come this season.

    "The familiarity," said Cutcliffe, who enters his 10th season with a 52-61 record at the school. "We have a very young team, but at the same time we have enough veterans."

    Much attention will be on redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones, who was rushed into duty last year when an August preseason injury to incumbent Thomas Sirk left the reins in his hands. Sirk has since transferred to East Carolina.

    Cutcliffe regularly praised Jones for being savvy enough to figure things out along the way last season. He might have seemed overmatched in some situations, but Jones also showed toughness and a calm demeanor that helps set the tone for him going into another season.

    "I need to be more assertive," Jones said. "Naturally, I'm not the most vocal guy, but I'm willing to do that."

    Now, his improvements are evident in many ways.

    "His strength, his speed," Cutcliffe said. "He had an incredible touch on the ball (in a recent practice), which is something we're still working on. ... If he continues to be all in to do every little thing better, he is going to be better than a year ago I can promise you that."

    Among the other skill positions on offense, running back Shaun Wilson, receiver T.J. Rahming and tight end Daniel Helm seemed to solidify positions.

    "They've certainly had, to this point, outstanding camps," Cutcliffe said.

    Throughout the roster, Cutcliffe has noted the potential impact from freshmen. They might simply be needed to plug holes, but their arrivals also serve notice to upperclassmen that the status quo isn't acceptable following the 2016 season.

    The schedule is top-heavy with home games as the Blue Devils play four September games in Durham and six of their first eight overall at Wallace Wade Stadium.

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Daniel Jones -- He was thrust into a starting role last season as a redshirt freshman; he should be more equipped to handle all that comes at him after a season of experience. His durability last year was commendable on several levels, and now he looks physically stronger, listed at 6-foot-5, 215 pounds. He completed 270 of 430 passes last season for 2,836 yards, with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also ran for 486 yards in what became a pass-oriented offense as the Blue Devils often were playing catch-up.

    BREAKOUT STAR: LB Joe Giles-Harris -- He's a redshirt sophomore coming off a season when he led the team with 107 tackles, one more than Ben Humphreys (who's generally viewed as the leader of the defense). Giles-Harris has a knack for making key plays and could step into a more visible role, though his 9.5 tackles for losses last year was a pretty good start. That also helped him to some freshman All-American accolades.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Scott Bracey -- He's a redshirt freshman with a reputation as a big-play receiver. He likely would have suited up for games last year if not for a preseason injury; by the time he recovered it wasn't worth using a season of eligibility. He checks in at 6-foot-2 with a nice stride. If Bracey is as good as advertised, he'll solve some of the questions regarding the team's receiving corps.

    --S Jeremy McDuffie figures to play the strike role in the secondary. He converted from cornerback during spring drills.

    --CB Bryon Fields was nicked up after a week of practice, which limited some of his work. His experience makes some missed repetitions not a huge concern.

    --DE Ben Frye, a freshman, made an early impression and could work his way into playing time.

    --OG Rakavius Chambers might be in line for an immediate role. If nothing else, the freshman has added to the competition along the offensive front.

    --P/K Austin Parker, the returning starting punter, emerged as the early favorite to be the main kicker after a rough freshman season for PK AJ. Reed.

    --DT Quaven Ferguson (leg injury) has missed time during the preseason.
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    Defense will be Clemson's strong suit

    Clemson will embark on the 2017 season with a hard-earned but potentially burdensome tag -- defending national champion -- and coach Dabo Swinney doesn't particularly care for the description.

    "We're not defending a national championship," Swinney said. "We're just chasing another one."

    Defending, chasing, contending -- whatever the case, there's no question that the Tigers have joined the exclusive club of college football elites.

    Under Swinney's guidance, Clemson has won 70 games in the past six years, including a 35-31 victory against Alabama in the national title game in January for the program's first championship in 35 years.

    The Tigers' next challenge is maintaining that lofty status.

    "I'm excited about it," said Swinney, whose team finished 14-1 last season. "It means new opportunities for a lot of people. Our goal is to be the best that we can be."

    Despite the loss of much of last season's offensive firepower, including quarterback Deshaun Watson, wide receiver Mike Williams, tight end Jordan Leggett and running back Wayne Gallman, Swinney's team has the potential to be a playoff player for a third consecutive year.

    Much of Clemson success in 2017 will depend on who replaces Watson and Gallman.

    Kelly Bryant, a junior who has great running skills but has completed only 13 passes in two seasons, is the most experienced quarterback and the odds-on favorite to start in the season opener against Kent State on Sept. 2, but he's being pushed in fall camp by freshman Hunter Johnson and sophomore Zerrick Cooper.

    A three-way battle at running back is expected to continue through fall camp as well, with C.J. Fuller, Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice the candidates. The Tigers lost Williams and all-time leading receiver Artavis Scott, but the return of Deon Cain and championship game hero Hunter Renfrow bodes well for a receiving corps that has received an influx of rookie talent as well.

    While the offense plays catch-up, Clemson's strength, at least early in the season, will be built around a defense that returns seven starters. Defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are All-America candidates, and defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant are potential stars as well.

    This much is certain: It won't take long for the Tigers to see what their shortcomings might be. After the opener, Clemson faces Auburn at home and then Louisville and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson on the road in Week 3.

    "The natural thing is to focus on who's gone," Swinney said. "But we'll focus on who's here. We've got a lot of talented young men, a lot of experienced people. We have most everybody back in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and that's always kind of where it all starts.

    "For us, we want to try to win this league. To do that, you've got to win your division, so that's all we're focused on. Just put our best foot forward and be the best version of this team that we can be and we'll see where we get down the road.

    "I think it's going to be fun. It's exciting when you've got some new pieces that are going to have to emerge."

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: WR Deon Cain -- Cain is poised to replace Mike Williams, who was drafted No. 7 overall by the Chargers last April, as Clemson's primary deep-ball threat. Despite being a back-up, the junior already has had his share of big moments as well as showing a knack for finding the end zone. With 14 touchdowns on only 72 receptions in his first two seasons, Cain is averaging a touchdown roughly every five catches, and his 18.1 yards per catch ranks fourth in school history. "This is one of the best receivers in the country," coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's been there, done that. In my mind, he's a proven player."

    BREAKOUT STAR: DE Clelin Ferrell -- Ferrell broke out in many ways in 2016, but he appears to be set for an even more productive year in 2017. The redshirt sophomore, who had 50 tackles, including 12.5 for loss and six sacks last season, will benefit from having potential all-star Austin Bryant returning at the other end spot and All-America candidates Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence ready to collapse the middle of opposing lines. Given the talent, size and ability of Clemson's defensive front, Ferrell could be in line to post a double-digit sack total and continue Clemson's tradition of outstanding defensive ends.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Tee Higgins -- At 6-foot-4, 190 pounds, Higgins looks like the next Mike Williams, both in stature and ability. The freshman receiver has wowed with his "ability to go get it," coach Dabo Swinney said. "He's got great body control, he's physical and I'm very encouraged by his toughness. He hasn't backed down a bit. He has zero fear." It's not surprising that Higgins may emerge as an early contributor; he was the top-rated player in Clemson's 2017 recruiting class after 68 receptions for 1,044 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior at Oak Ridge (Tenn.) High.

    --WR Ray-Ray McCloud, a junior with 78 career receptions, has split practice time between receiver and cornerback in fall camp. "He was originally recruited as a defensive back," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. McCloud also will returns punts this season.

    --LB Dorian O'Daniel, C Justin Falcinelli and OG Tyrone Crowder received their diplomas on Aug. 11, earning a day off from practice. Coach Dabo Swinney has had 157 of 162 senior lettermen earn their degrees over his nine seasons.

    --DE Richard Yeargin will miss the season after suffering a neck injury in an auto accident in June. A junior from Fort Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., Yeargin was listed as a second-team defensive end. He had 29 tackles in his first two seasons, including 14 stops and four tackles for loss in 12 games in 2016.

    --LB Logan Rudolph, the younger brother of Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, has moved to defensive end. The freshman might miss the season; coach Dabo Swinney said Rudolph might be able to play through pain this season but will need shoulder surgery at some point.
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    QB battle highlights BC's fall camp

    Darius Wade or Anthony Brown?

    The hope is one of them will emerge to run what should be a high-paced offense as the Eagles come off a 7-6 season that ended with three straight wins, including a 36-30 victory over Maryland in the Quick Lane Bowl.

    After the team's second preseason scrimmage, it appeared the quarterbacks were even as the team progressed toward its Sept. 1 opener at Northern Illinois.

    "I like our tempo offense because it's an advantage," Wade said.

    "It's a lot of fun because you can run around, make calls at the line and just play football. That's something we did during my junior and senior years in high school. It fits my game because it gives me freedom to make my own checks and own calls of that nature."

    Said Brown, a redshirt freshman: "We've been working at this for a good amount of time. Catching onto the speed of the game is getting easier and easier as we get going. ... It feels great (to make big plays), but we just have to keep doing it."

    Wade has the experience edge, having started three games in 2015 before being injured and missing the rest of the season. He attempted 19 passes last season.

    Coach Steve Addazio will continue to look for a healthy competition at quarterback in camp. He said he liked the way the team was progressing, even though the Eagles were picked to finish last in the ACC's Atlantic Division.

    "I've got a great football team full of guys that love football, that work really hard at football," Addazio said.

    "They love being at BC. Their degree and their education is extremely important to them, so I walk into work every day, and every day I'm just like smiling, having an opportunity to work with these guys. I think the talent level is the best we've had, and I think that will parlay into a great season for us this year."

    And, make no mistake, there are stars.

    Harold Landry, a defensive end/linebacker hybrid, is one of the best players in the country. On offense, versatile receiver Jeff Smith is always a threat on the outside, while Tim Sweeney is the Eagles' best tight end in years.

    "I think we can have an amazing season this year on defense," said Landry, the 2016 national sack leader who passed up the NFL Draft for a shot at a senior year.

    "The chemistry our defense has, specifically with like my senior class, leading the defense this year, we have so much chemistry. We all have one common goal, which is go out and dominate. We want to go three-and-out as much as we can to give the offense as many chances, so they can get the rhythm going so they can start clicking in every game."

    Notre Dame visits for the second game of the season and, after Central Michigan comes to Chestnut Hill, the Eagles host open ACC play at home against Wake Forest.

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: DE Harold Landry -- He led the nation in sacks, with 16.5, and also led the ACC with 22 tackles for loss. He's back for a senior season, with his eye on earning a first-round grade. He is rated the 39th-best player by Landry is a hybrid who can play inside or out and is one of those guys who covers a lot of ground. Lindy's magazine rated him as the country's second-best defensive end in its 2017 preseason rankings.

    BREAKOUT STAR: TE Tommy Sweeney -- He caught 26 passes for 353 total yards and three touchdowns last season as a sophomore. The junior is likely to get a lot of work in an offense that knows how to work the tight end and is expected to play at a faster tempo this season.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: RB A.J. Dillon -- It didn't take long for this true freshman, a hometown product who de-committed from Michigan, to force his way into the crowded -- and talented -- running game. He was already listed on preseason depth charts. Coach Steve Addazio calls this the strongest backfield he's had in his five seasons with the school, with Dillon expected to fill out the rotation with junior John Hilliman and sophomore Davon Jones.

    --DE Harold Landry was named preseason All-ACC and was on the watch lists for the Walter Camp (player of the year) and Nagurski (top defensive player) awards.

    --WR Jeff Smith is on the watch list for the Hornung Award for the most versatile player.

    --RB Jon Hilliman is on the Doak Walker watch list for the nation's top runner.

    --LB Connor Strachan was working at both outside and inside linebacker and was all over the field in the scrimmages.

    --K Max Schulze-Geisthovel, a senior soccer player at the school, has forced his way into the kicking battle, which had been between Mike Knoll and Colton Lichtenberg.

    --OL Elijah Johnson was working his way back from a spring injury and didn't play in the second scrimmage.

    --DE Wyatt Ray was opening eyes in camp and should be part of a defensive charge that makes things difficult for opposing quarterbacks.

    --OL Marcell Lazard, a graduate transfer from West Virginia, is likely to start at right tackle.
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    No. 1 quarterback still undetermined for Hurricanes

    Miami came out of the spring with no established No. 1 quarterback. After two weeks of fall camp, only one thing has changed.

    Instead of three candidates for the job, there are now four with true freshman N'Kosi Perry joining junior Malik Rosier, sophomore Evan Shirreffs and true freshman Cade Weldon, who enrolled early to take part in spring practice.

    Coming out of the team's first major scrimmage, coach Mark Richt rated all four about even. Rosier, who was a backup last year and had one start in place of an injured Brad Kaaya in 2015, and Shirreffs have a slight advantage because of their maturity and familiarity with the program, but that is about it.

    Each has gotten a similar number of reps in practice and each had his moments in the initial scrimmage, which was closed to the public and media. Rosier was 8 of 14 passing for 181 yards; Shirreffs 10 of 14 for 132; Perry 6 of 15 for 68; Weldon was 2 of 10 for 40 yards.

    "The good news is that all four guys competing can really play," Richt said.

    Senior Braxton Berrios gave his rundown on the four candidates from his prospective as a wide receiver, starting with the most experienced, Rosier.

    "He has a start under his belt and has more experience than any of the other ones," Berrios said. "Which is a plus. He's a veteran as well. He's been here as long as I have. Obviously, he hasn't started as many games, but he's a veteran as well so he knows how this offense works."

    Shirreffs didn't get on the field last year but had a good spring.

    "He's an athletic guy," Berrios said. "He can sling the ball. It's just making the right decisions all the time. He's actually a really good quarterback. Very smart. He knows everything. He knows what to do. He knows where he's going with the ball. Very decisive, and again he can run as well. He's athletic as well."

    Perry got the most attention of any of the signees in a highly rated class.

    "He probably has the strongest arm, just pure arm," Berrios said. "He can get that ball to hum. He's a young guy. All the little things he has to get right, but he's a smart guy and very athletic, as you can tell."

    Weldon, the son of former Florida State quarterback Casey Weldon, also has a strong arm.

    "Just a young guy," Berrios said. "He has all the potential in the world. It's just a matter of him getting up to speed with the other guys."

    The hope is that one will begin to emerge after the second scrimmage. The Hurricanes open the season Sept. 2 against Bethune-Cookman.

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: RB Mark Walton -- With Miami looking to get its passing game going with a new quarterback, Walton looks to be a steadying influence in the running game. He rushed for 1,117 yards in earning a starting role in coach Mark Richt's first season. He is a tough inside runner as well as a solid receiver out of the backfield with 49 receptions for 533 yards in his two seasons. Walton returned kickoffs as a freshman in 2015 but gave up that role when he became the primary ball carrier in the offense.

    BREAKOUT STAR: WR Ahmmon Richards -- Richards got his collegiate career off to an outstanding start, earning third-team All-ACC recognition after catching 49 passes for a Miami freshman record 934 yards. His 19.1 average yards per catch led NCAA freshmen. But he no longer is an unknown commodity as he goes into his sophomore season. "I told him all offseason, 'Hey, the honeymoon is over.' He's not the unknown guy anymore," receivers coach Ron Dugan said. "Now you've got a target on your back."

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: OT George Brown -- After sitting out last season following his transfer from LSU, Brown looks ready to contribute this fall. The O-line looks to be a solid position for the Hurricanes, but depth took a hit with a couple of transfers opening up an opportunity for Brown. Brown also redshirted at LSU in his freshman year, so he will be getting his first playing time since 2014. He was a three- or four-star prospect, depending on the recruiting service, coming out of high school in Cincinnati.

    --C Nick Linder announced he was leaving Miami and will sit out this season before transferring to another school. He had 25 starts in three seasons for the Hurricanes.

    --OT Sunny Odogwu, who left Miami earlier in the summer, will play at UCLA as a graduate transfer. Odogwu played in only four games in 2016 before sustaining a season-ending ankle injury.

    --DT Gerald Willis is taking a leave of absence from the team and won't play in 2017, but coach Mark Richt apparently has left the door open for the junior to return. Willis transferred to Miami from Florida in 2014. He played in nine games last season despite injuring his knee in the loss to Florida State; he recorded 19 tackles (1.5 sacks).

    --CB Terrance Henley, who mostly played on special teams last year, left the team in July to seek more playing time elsewhere.

    --TE Jovani Haskins, a redshirt freshman, has transferred to West Virginia, where he joins former Miami quarterback Jack Allison, who left the Hurricanes after spring practice.

    --DB Ryan Mayes, a junior who recorded little playing time in his first two seasons, has left the Miami program.

    --LB Michael Pinckey, who had an outstanding season in starting as a freshman in 2016, has been limited by a hamstring issue. His absence has given junior LB Darrion Owens more opportunities.

    --TE Michael Irvin Jr. was dealing with hydration issues and missed some early time in camp
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    Stacked Seminoles ready for epic opener

    TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It doesn't get better than Florida State vs. Alabama to start the season.

    The Crimson Tide opened at No. 1 in the coaches' poll, with the Seminoles at No. 3. By the rankings, that would be the biggest season opener in college football history.

    Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher doesn't much care for the historical relevance.

    "Hype goes away. Fundamentals win," Fisher said during Florida State's Media Day in early August. "We have respect for them, but they have to play us too."

    The last time two teams this highly ranked in the preseason faced off in an opener was 1986 when No. 1 Oklahoma played No. 4 UCLA.

    "I think (this game) is one of those things ... you can test yourself. And (Alabama is) going to test themselves with us. You find out where you're team is at," Fisher said.

    He is entering his eighth season as the Seminoles' head coach after spending seven years at LSU working under then-head coach Nick Saban, now the head coach at Alabama.

    This matchup will be the first between the two titans of college football coaching.

    "Who knew we were going to be two of the top two teams or three teams -- or whatever the heck it is," Fisher said.

    "We didn't know that at the time (we made the matchup). But we knew they'd have a great program, and I think they think the same thing here. And if you can play those games early at certain times, I think it's good."

    There is once again a lot of good for the Seminoles, who are coming off a 10-3 season and a thrilling Orange Bowl win against Michigan. They return 15 starters -- nine on defense and six on offense, including sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois, who was selected ACC Rookie of the Year after he passed for 3,320 yards, threw 20 touchdowns and rushed for five more in 2016.

    The offense's biggest question marks come on the offensive line -- which allowed 36 sacks last year -- and also at running back.

    Florida State career leading rusher Dalvin Cook left for the NFL after his junior year and was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round, leaving big shoes that will likely be filled by junior running back Jacques Patrick and freshman phenom Cam Akers, the U.S. Army High School Player of the Year who was the Seminoles' top five-star prospect of their 2017 signing class.

    Florida State's defense, meanwhile, appears to be in great shape heading into Atlanta.

    Star defensive back Derwin James was injured in Week 2 last year with a lateral meniscus tear in his knee, but after a medical redshirt, he's expected to wreak havoc on opposing offenses all season. He was chosen as the top-rated player in college football by ESPN.

    "It put a bigger target on my back," James said of the No. 1 billing. "But I don't just want to be No. 1 in preseason, I want to be No. 1 at the end of the season, too."

    The Seminoles get to host typically tough games against Miami, Louisville and N.C. State in the early part of the season and don't face a tough road test until the final month: Nov. 11 at defending national champ Clemson and Nov. 25 at Florida.

    At least one Florida State player likes what he sees when he looks at the Seminoles' 2017 roadmap to a national title.

    "If we don't get a national championship, we will feel like we failed," junior cornerback Tavarus McFadden said. "I feel like the only people who are going to stop us are ourselves."

    MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: DB Derwin James --- Florida State needs James more than any other player -- and it needs him for all 12 games. When James, a redshirt sophomore, went down in Week 2 last year, the Seminoles' defense was shell-shocked, giving up 135 points in its next three games -- two of them losses -- following their leader's season-ending exit. James used the down-time to rehab and learn every position on defense, so expect to also see him line up at linebacker and defensive end this year. He was the best freshman defensive player in the country two years ago, recording 91 tackles, including 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks.

    BREAKOUT STAR: WR Keith Gavin -- Hard to call Gavin, a sophomore, a potential "breakout star" when he became a household name after the Seminoles' Orange Bowl win against Michigan last year. In the final two minutes, and with Florida State trailing 32-27, Gavin fielded the Wolverines' kickoff deep in the end zone and -- to the shock of many -- still ran it out. Rather than the decision ending in disaster, Gavin galloped 66 yards to set up the game-winning score. It was Gavin's breakout moment after seeing limited action as a freshman, appearing in just eight games and recording zero catches. But at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Gavin possesses a rare combination of size and burning speed, and Seminoles receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey compared him to both Terrell Owens and Dwayne Bowe during the Seminoles' Media Day. "I expect Keith to have an enormous season for us. He's ready," Dawsey said.

    NEWCOMER TO WATCH: RB Cam Akers -- Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher anointed junior running back Jacques Patrick the starter on the opening day of practice, but Fisher will no doubt make sure Akers, a heralded five-star freshman, sees playing time. Akers, the U.S. Army High School Player of the Year last season, led Clinton (Miss.) High School to the state title his senior season as a dual-threat quarterback. The early enrollee finished his prep career with 8,140 yards passing and 78 touchdowns, while rushing for 5,103 yards and 71 scores.

    --WR De'Vante Phillips, a junior who was competing for a starting role this year, was suspended indefinitely on Aug. 4 after being charged with four counts of felony fraud for allegedly trying to deposit altered checks. Phillips only had four catches last season, but receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey expected big things from Phillips and said in the offseason, "This is his time. We need him."

    --OL Brady Scott, a freshman offensive lineman, was the only player listed on the injury report when Florida State opened fall camp. Scott was hit by a car while on his scooter on campus and suffered a broken foot, which was expected to keep him out for eight weeks. Scott, a 6-6, 285-pound offensive tackle wasn't expected to vie for much playing time in his first year.

    --LB Matthew Thomas, a redshirt senior linebacker and leading tackler from last season (77 solos), missed six straight practices and the Seminoles' first preseason scrimmage. Head coach Jimbo Fisher said Thomas was held out of practice due to illness, but he expected him back soon.
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