Louisville won 17 games over the past two seasons with 2016 Heisman winner Lamar Jackson as the team’s starting quarterback. Now that Jackson is off to the NFL, the team figures to take a step back, right?
Not necessarily, according to coach Bobby Petrino. He said Thursday at ACC Media Days that he expected his team to be “better” in 2018.
“I expect us to be more balanced, the ability to get more guys involved, particularly in the running game,” Petrino said. I really like our receiving corps coming back. I really think it’s one of the strongest corps coming back. I forgot Jaylen [Smith] missed three games and still had that many catches  and that many touchdowns , and Dez [Fitzpatrick] is a guy that can really go get the ball and adjust to the ball. Seth is a big, physical guy that really runs well after the catch.
“And like Jaylen said, we have some really good young speed guys that will be able to come in and help us create plays and maybe give us a little different flavor in the run after the catch, and guys that can create more after the catch. And then I think that we’ll do well at quarterback. [Jawon Pass] is a really good player that’s really been an inspiration to all of us because at the quarterback position it’s one of transfer throughout the country. He’s a very highly recruited young guy with high expectations and came in and sat and supported Lamar at everything that he did. He never once came into my office with any talk about transferring, and I really respect that, and I know he has the respect of all of his teammates on how he’s performed every time that he’s went out on the field.”
Pass played well in limited action in 2017 and is the team’s undisputed starter. With seven returning offensive starters, including nearly the entire offensive line, Louisville may not have much of a dropoff — Jackson was scrambling for his life at times in 2017.
The defense could be the question. Four starters are back from a unit that underperformed in 2017 and former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder takes over. The Cardinals will get a stiff test in Week 1 against Alabama in Orlando.
Clelin Ferrell impressed with Clemson’s young D-Line talent
The starters on Clemson’s defensive line are pretty damn good. The backups should be as well.
Clemson returns all four starters along the defensive line in Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant. Many thought Lawrence would be the only member of the starting unit back in 2018, but the three others returned to form what should be one of the best defensive lines in college football again.
And not only did Clemson get back all of its starters, it had a heck of a recruiting haul as well. The Tigers signed five-star defensive ends Xavier Thomas and K.J. Henry and four-star linemen Josh Belk and Justin Mascoll.
“Man, they’ve been great,” Ferrell said of the young players. “I’ve always wondered like with just the hype that our defensive line gets, the front four, and then you still have guys like the No. 1 player coming in or a KJ Henry who’s regarded as a five star. And people ask them why are you going to a school where they’re already so-called deep in the defensive line.
But it’s because they know that they’re not afraid to come in and compete. They understand the great tradition there, and they understand that they have guys that aren’t just about themselves. We’re all about each other. And I see those guys come in and be able to take constructive criticism and come in and work hard and make the progressions that they’ve made throughout the summer. Man, it’s been huge, and I love that about them. I’m very hard on them because I want the best for them because if I see the best coming from them, it’s only going to make me better.”
Boston College wants to go even faster in 2018
Believe it or not, Boston College had one of the fastest offenses in the country in 2017.
The Eagles were 25th in the country in tempo and averaged just under 77 plays per game a season ago. And BC plans to be even faster in 2018.
“We made a conscious decision two years ago going into the bowl season, something I’d been looking at for a long time,” Boston College coach Steve Addazio said. “I wanted to take what amounts to 12 personnel, okay, where you can be in a spread set, you can be in a closed set and you can keep the defense on the field and go as fast as we can go and not allow them to substitute and make them deal with the combinations of a spread game and a power game together. And we wanted to get more plays, more opportunities for explosives, and we finally broke out of that. Now we’ve been fine-tuning that.”
“This year we want to take it to another level. So last year we got ourselves up — you mentioned it. We went from whatever to whatever in terms of total plays run, and I’d like to be in the top, without question, Top 5 in the country in the amount of plays that we can run. So that’s absolutely a goal and done by design.”
Boston College returns nearly everyone on offense in 2018 including running back AJ Dillon, who rushed for 1,589 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2017. Given that BC ran the ball over 60 percent of the time in 2017, Dillon should be in line for another big performance this season.
Willie Taggart ‘ready to see’ who will win the Florida State QB job
Florida State coach Willie Taggart almost made it out of his news conference without getting asked about his team’s quarterback competition.
Deondre Francois was the team’s undisputed starter heading into 2017 but suffered a knee injury in the first game of the season against Alabama. James Blackman took over as the starter for the rest of the season. Both are back for 2018 and aren’t the only two competing for the starting job according to Taggart.
“This is the last question and somebody finally asked me about the quarterback, huh? I mean, we have — I know everyone talks about James Blackman and Deondre Francois — and we’re leaving out Bailey Hockman, he’s another quarterback on our roster that’s talented and is going to have an opportunity to compete for the job,” Taggart said. “I’m kind of like the rest of you all, I’m ready to see who’s going to be our quarterback, as well. I’m excited.”
This is the first time I’ve been in a position as a head football coach to have three guys that can play for you. I’m looking forward to training camp and looking forward to these three young men competing for the job.”
Ryan Finley wanted ‘one more chance’ at NC State
NC State senior QB Ryan Finley flirted with heading to the NFL after the 2017 season but made the decision to come back for his senior year. He said a conversation with a friend helped him realize how important playing at NC State in 2018 would be. It probably also helped that Finley could leave college after 2018 as one of the best QBs in what’s considered to be a weak draft class.
“So many relationships and friendships I’ve made in Raleigh and on our team that were just too special to me,” Finley said. “I just wanted to enjoy it one last time. I think that’s what college football is all about.”
“I had somebody close to me tell me that they’d give their right arm to play another college football game, so I took that to heart, and that was one of the big things for coming back. Just everything it stands for, just the day-to-day stuff throughout the year as a student-athlete, and just with so many of your different friends, it’s just — there’s really nothing else like it in life, and I just wanted one more chance.”
NC State went 9-4 in 2017, the best season in Dave Doeren’s five-year tenure. The Wolfpack defense returns just three starters and all of them are in the secondary. That means every starter from a ferocious 2017 front seven that featured Bradley Chubb must be replaced.
Wake Forest has no set role for QB Kendall Hinton upon his return
Presumed Wake Forest starting quarterback Kendall Hinton was suspended for the first three games of the season this spring because of a violation of team rules. Hinton served as the team’s backup quarterback in 2017 and with John Wolford’s eligibility up, he was the first in line to take over as the team’s starter.
Hinton is set to return Sept. 22 against Notre Dame. But don’t pencil him in as the team’s starter for that game just yet.
“What his role is going to be, it’s hard to say, because until week 4 — what we think we are now and what we become by week 4 can be two different things,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “Again, we’ve just got to be fluid with it, and we’ll see where it evolves.”
Wake Forest will have the services of WR Greg Dortch to start the year. Dortch had 53 catches for 722 yards in eight games a year ago before suffering an abdominal injury against Louisville that meant a trip to the hospital and surgery. According to Clawson, Dortch was hurt in a play that involved a pylon.
“He was off to a great start last year, and that was an unfortunate injury. I’ve never seen that happen before, that a guy gets injured on the pylon,” Clawson said. “But he looks good. He’s healthy, and obviously he’s a big part of our offense, so we need Greg to be Greg Dortch. We need him to be elusive, and certainly he can be a huge role on special teams for us. But a lot of what we do on offense goes through the slot position, and we feel we have a pretty good one there.”
Dino Babers: ‘My gut tells me I’m right’ about Dabo Swinney’s personality
Syracuse pulled one of the biggest upsets of the 2017 season with a Friday-night win over Clemson. After the game, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney went to Syracuse’s locker room to address the team. That happened while Syracuse coach Dino Babers was at his post-game press conference and Babers complimented Swinney for the type of person that he is.
“I have a great respect for Dabo, and if I was there, I’d have let him do it. He is a very unique person, a very — I think I see him as a very truthful person. His personality and his ethics is on his sleeve, and I think he’s one of those individuals in college football where what you see is what you get. I think he’s exactly what you guys appear him to be. Now, I may be wrong. I’ve been wrong before. I’ve been old enough to be wrong before. But my gut tells me that I’m right about Dabo Swinney.”
Syracuse heads to Clemson in 2018 along with games against Florida State, Louisville, NC State in a tough ACC Atlantic and a non-conference game against Notre Dame. It’s going to be an uphill climb for the Orange’s first bowl appearance since 2013.
“This conference is no joke,” Babers said. “People talk about other conferences. I’ve been in the Big Ten. I’ve been in the Pac-12. I’ve been in the Pac-12 when it was the Pac-10. I’ve been in the Big 12. You know, coaches come up here and they read their lines and they try to reinforce their conference, and everybody does that, okay. This is no baloney cheese for me. This conference is a real football conference. And the diversity of the coaches and the different ways that they try to attack you, I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.
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