ACC: Pitt, Wake Forest out to keep momentum, Clemson hits reset

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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The Atlantic Coast Conference changed significantly last season with Pitt winning the league title, Wake Forest taking the Atlantic Division and conference powerhouse Clemson largely out of the mix by mid-October.

Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi and Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson believe their teams worked hard this spring to stay on top. Pitt defeated Wake Forest 45-21 in the ACC title game, ending Clemson’s run of six straight championships.

Narduzzi spent the spring seeking a successor to Kenny Pickett, who was expected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft.

“I was happy we got a lot of work done,” Narduzzi said. “We saw enough in 14 practices that we know who we are and I’m happy.”

The Panthers watched as Nick Patti competed with Southern Cal transfer Kedon Slovis for the starting spot. Slovis, who threw 30 touchdowns as a Trojans’ freshman, called it a “no-brainer” joining his new team.

Wake Forest, the first team other than Clemson to win the Atlantic since Florida State in 2014, won a program record-tying 11 games last year. Clawson took some offseason steps to improve a defense that was 10th in the ACC in points (28.9) and yards (413.2) allowed last season.

Clawson hired Brad Lambert as defensive coordinator. Lambert was linebackers coach at Wake Forest under Jim Grobe in 2006, the only other time the Deacons were 11-3.

“I’m encouraged by some things, and I’ve got a pit in my stomach about others,” Clawson said. “Were we better on defense because we are better on defense? Or because we did not play as well on offense.”

He will know for sure in about five months.

CLEMSON BACK?

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney was pleased with what he saw this spring, especially with starting quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who struggled early with injuries and off-target throws.

Uiagalelei went 17 of 36 for 175 yards in the Tigers’ spring game earlier this month. Still, his body of work was more than good enough to keep him the starter over freshman Cade Klubnik.

Uiagalelei “has had a great spring,” Swinney said. “He has not done anything to not be the starter. Cade is a really talented player. We got two guys, I think, that can win at a high level, just like when Trevor (Lawrence) and DJ were coming out of the spring” in 2020.

It helps that receiver Joseph Ngata has had a injury-free spring. He finished with four catches for 50 yards in the spring game.

NEW FACES

All four new ACC coaching hires after last season came in the Coastal, highlighted by Miami bringing in Oregon’s Mario Cristobal for Manny Diaz. Cristobal was a former Miami offensive tackle who was part of two national title teams. He’s charged with bringing “The U” back to prominence.

The first spring under Cristobal ended April 16 with a commitment to the little details that the new coach regularly preached will determine how far the Hurricanes go this fall.

“There’s no more excuses,” quarterback Tyler Van Dyke said.

The other first-year coaches are former Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko taking over at Duke for longtime coach Dave Cutcliffe; ex-Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry succeeding Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech; and Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott moving to Virginia after Bronco Mendenhall‘s surprising move to step away.

The Cavaliers had the ACC’s final spring game this past Saturday and Elliott saw what he expected four months in.

“I thought that the majority of the guys were going to buy in, but I was still going to have a couple that were skeptical and kind of one foot in the water,” Elliott said. “And I’ve got a couple of those.”

CLOSING IN

In the Atlantic Division, Boston College, Louisville and North Carolina State all have experienced, play-making quarterbacks.

The Eagles hope for a healthy Phil Jurkovec, the Notre Dame transfer who played just six games last year due to a broken bone in his throwing hand. He completed 8 of 17 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in the Boston College spring game.

Louisville’s Malik Cunningham threw for 2,941 yards and ran for 1,034 yards last season. The Cardinals have had losing seasons in three of the previous four years and are hoping Cunningham can lead a turnaround.

The Wolfpack feature Devin Leary, who threw 35 touchdowns last season to break Philip Rivers’ school record. Along with finding receivers, Leary has just five picks in 431 attempts.

Clemson gives raises, contract extensions to staff

Ken Ruinard/USA TODAY NETWORK
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson’s board of trustees approved raises for special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach Mike Reed and defensive tackles coach Nick Eason.

Reed and Eason also received one-year extensions keeping them tied to the Tigers through Jan. 31, 2026.

Reed, who’s been with the Tigers since 2013, had his yearly salary increased $50,000 to $800,000. Eason, the former Clemson standout defensive lineman, joined the staff this past season. He also had his compensation upped by $50,000 to $800,000.

Seven other assistants were given one-year extensions by the trustees’ compensation committee, but without a raise in salary.

Co-defensive coordinators Wes Goodwin and Mickey Conn had their contracts extended through Jan. 31, 2026.

Defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall, tight ends coach Kyle Richardson, offensive line coach Thomas Austin, running backs coach C.J. Spiller and wide receivers coach Tyler Grisham all got one-year extensions through Jan. 31, 2025.

New offensive coordinator Garrett Riley last month received a three-year contract at $1.75 million per season.

Clemson will pay its 10 on-field assistants $7.475 million this season, an increase of $925,000 from the total for 2022.

The Tigers went 11-3 last season, winning the Atlantic Coast Conference title for the seventh time in the past eight seasons.

South Carolina’s Beamer suspends three freshmen from program

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Corey Perrine/USA TODAY NETWORK
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said freshmen Monteque Rhames II, Anthony Rose and Cameron Upshaw were suspended from the football program.

There was no reason given for the suspensions in the school’s statement Friday. Online records showed Rhames, 18, was booked last night and was being held at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center on charges of carrying weapons on school property and obstructing justice.

“Our student-athletes know what is expected of them,” Beamer said. “They know that both the university and the football program will hold them accountable for their actions and decisions.”

None of the three have played for the Gamecocks.

Rose is a 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back from Miami who enrolled in January 2022 and redshirted this season. Rhames and Upshaw were part of South Carolina’s latest recruiting class and enrolled last month.

Rhames is a 6-5, 235-pound defensive lineman from Sumter and Upshaw is a 6-2, 193-pound safety from Perry, Florida.