2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Miami Hurricanes

Amidst Perceived Turmoil, Miami Ended Up Putting in an Impressive 2012 Season

Amidst Perceived Turmoil, Miami Ended Up Logging an Impressive 2012 Season (On Offense)

Team: Miami Hurricanes

W-L: 7-5 (5-3)

Postseason: None

Top Offensive Performer: Duke Johnson, RB

Top Defensive Performer: Denzel Perryman, LB

The 2012 season was an interesting one for Miami, albeit still another disappointing campaign for the team since joining the ACC. Starting the year with the threat of the NCAA hammer coming down on the program and replacing a ton of NFL draft departures, no one knew what to expect from Miami. I myself was on the pessimistic end of expectations for the team, queuing up a 3-9 finish (admittedly, misguided). And yet, even with a dark cloud and tons of questions, things couldn’t have turned out much better for the ‘Canes on the offensive end. In Stephen Morris, the team found someone who could potentially be a program-defining passer. The junior threw for 3,345 yards and 21 scores, including a 566-yard record-breaking performance against NC State early in the year. And in running back Duke Johnson, Miami found the player most likely to carry them back to prominence. Just a freshman, Johnson still tallied up over 2,000 all-purpose yards (tops in the ACC) to go with 13 touchdowns. His dynamic speed and game-changing ability on both offense and special teams were a big reason why the U took several opponents by surprise in 2012, and a large reason why they’ll continue to succeed in 2013.

But the offensive fireworks weren’t just relegated to Morris and Johnson, either. Miami’s offense as a whole was top-50 in the country in points scored, with 31.4 per game, and tied for 36th in total yards per game (440.2). Those numbers were huge spikes in production when compared to 2011’s figures as well, with Miami posting a 63-yards-per-game jump year-over-year, and a five-points-per-game increase, respectively. Between the passing game’s improvement behind Morris and top receivers Phillip Dorsett (842 receiving yards) and Rayshawn Scott (512 receiving yards), and the running game led by Johnson and senior Mike James, you start to get a much easier sense of why this team looked so much better than the editions of recent past.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Maryland Terrapins

Injuries Aside, Stefon Diggs and the Maryland Defense At Least Had Impressive Seasons

Injuries Aside, At Least Stefon Diggs and the Maryland Defense Had Impressive Seasons

Team: Maryland Terrapins

W-L: 4-8 (2-6)

Postseason: None

Top Offensive Performer: Stefon Diggs, WR

Top Defensive Performer: Joe Vellano, DL

Before the 2012 season even started, the Terrapins appeared to be cursed last year. Incumbent starting quarterback C.J. Brown was lost for the season with a torn ACL in practice, and with his loss, so vanished a promising season for Maryland. But surprisingly, that was not the case — at least initially, anyway. Replacement Perry Hills was learning on the fly, but had still led the Terps to a 4-3 record… until he was injured as well. The Angry Maryland QB-Hating God joke/nightmare grew when Hills’s replacements, Caleb Rowe and Caleb Rowe were also injured, leaving the team to lean on linebacker Shawn Petty for the remainder of the year. So before laughing at the Terrapins’ 123rd-ranked offense or 109th scoring offense in the country, consider the situation. On offense, they were virtually set up to fail from day one, with the only saving grace being standout freshman receiver Stefon Diggs. The receiver and kick returner had 1,896 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns, all while routinely being the fastest player on the field. Playing with a linebacker at quarterback, they still nearly beat North Carolina in the final week of the season — the same UNC team that would’ve taken home the ACC’s Coastal division. So sure, you could call it all bad, but there’s also plenty of foundation for the future.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech's Up-and-Down Season Leaves Everyone in Search of a True Verdict; Positive or Negative?

Georgia Tech’s Up-and-Down Season Leaves Everyone in Search of a True Verdict; Positive or Negative?

Team: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

W-L: 7-7 (5-3)

Postseason: 21-7 Hyundai Sun Bowl win over USC

Top Offensive Performer: Tevin Washington, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Jeremiah Attaochu, LB

It’s hard to get a handle on just what happened during Georgia Tech’s roller coaster season. After starting the year with a close loss to then-no. 16 Virginia Tech, hopes were high in Atlanta. But soon after, the wheels came off and three straight losses would land them at a very disappointing 2-4 record. Three in-conference wins in a row and two postseason bans would catapult them into the ACC Championship Game somehow, but not before they were embarrassed by rival Georgia. Though they lost the ACC title game to Florida State, they’d aptly put up a fight, before ending the odd season with a dominating win over USC (preseason no. 1 team in the country). Have you followed all that so far?

Georgia Tech’s offense performed mostly as advertised in 2012; running the ball using Paul Johnson’s triple-option, while throwing it sparingly. The group’s 33.6 points per game (33rd in the FBS) were similar to last season (34.3), but admittedly, that doesn’t tell the whole story. In the 2012 season preview I wrote up for Georgia Tech, I emphasized that although their run-first offense certainly worked, there was a ceiling applied unless the team learned how to pass with efficiency. Not surprisingly after losing star receiver Stephen Hill to the NFL Draft last year, the passing numbers did go down (by 14 yards per game). It should also be noted that departing senior QB Tevin Washington — while a natural for the triple-option — is hardly a “passer” by any FBS standards. In his four years at Tech, he’s managed just 21 touchdown passes and 50.7-percent completions. His passing yardage diminished by 400 yards despite playing in one additional game this season, though it would be remiss to leave out his reduced playing time, too. Running the ball, however, was truly his forte. The senior ran for 20 scores this year, giving him 38 on his career. He was always more comfortable advancing the ball on the ground, which is what made him (and the Tech offense) overly consistent during his career, too.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Florida State Seminoles

If 2012 Proved Anything, It's That Florida State is Officially "Back" As an Elite Football Program

If 2012 Proved Anything, It’s That Florida State is Officially “Back” As an Elite Football Program

Team: Florida State Seminoles

W-L: 12-2 (7-1)

Postseason: 31-10 Discover Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois

Top Offensive Performer: EJ Manuel, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Bjoern Werner, DE

Florida State had a checklist prior to this season. The ‘Noles were determined to win 10 games (check, and then some), the ACC Championship Game (check) and the Orange Bowl (check). So why do most accounts of this season seem to view it as a bit of a failure? It might just be a product of Jimbo Fisher succeeding in bringing FSU back to prominence.

Expectations were high for Florida State’s defense, but it was the offense that really needed to deliver if the Seminoles hoped to climb all the way back to the top. With some help of a manageable schedule (just one opponent ended the year ranked), they’d do just that, to the tune of 39.3 points per game (10th in the FBS). FSU outscored their opponents by an average of over 24 points per game, and managed to rank top-40 in both passing and rushing yards per game. For stretches during the season, it seemed as if the offense — led by senior passer EJ Manuel — was absolutely unstoppable, scoring more than 40 points seven different times. In prior years, what alluded. Manuel was consistency, but that was not the case in 2012. His completions, accuracy, yards, touchdowns and passer rating all went up in comparison to last year, as he showed a newfound poise and leadership whether in the pocket or on the run. Despite his own proficiency running the football (he amassed 310 yards and four scores this year), he was still largely helped by efficient play from his running backs. The Seminoles’ 40 rushing touchdowns ranked ninth in the country, made even more impressive by the distribution of the seven scorers, respectively. Devonta Freeman, James Wilder and Lonnie Pryor each scored eight or more times,  while Manuel, leading rusher Chris Thompson and Debrale Smiley each had between three and five. The constant change kept defenses off-balance and provided Manuel with the balanced attack he needed to run this group at optimum efficiency.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Duke Blue Devils

Thanks to Conner Vernon (And Others), Duke's 18-Year Bowl Drought Was Put to an End in 2012

Thanks to Conner Vernon (And Others), Duke’s 18-Year Bowl Drought Was Put to an End in 2012

Team: Duke Blue Devils

W-L: 6-7 (3-5)

Postseason: 48-34 Belk Bowl loss to Cincinnati

Top Offensive Performer: Conner Vernon, WR

Top Defensive Performer: Ross Cockrell, CB

It almost feels like two separate seasons for Duke. First there was the 6-2 start, culminating in their exciting last-minute victory over archrival North Carolina that gave the Blue Devils their first six-win season since 1994. And then there was the rest; an 0-5 finish that saw them outscored by a combined score of 246-130. So while we’ll certainly commend Duke for ending an 18-year postseason drought, it’s also difficult to look upon 2012 as a complete success in hindsight, considering how disappointing the end was. But when looking at the successful part of the equation, you don’t have to look past the offense.

Under David Cutcliffe, Duke’s program has mostly grown gradually as a result of their passing offense and the star tandem of QB Sean Renfree and WR Conner Vernon. However, in 2012, that improvement was sped up immensely, as the team scored 31.5 points per game (versus just 22.4 last season). The Blue Devils scored 35 points or more five different times, and most importantly, possessed one of the country’s best passing attacks. Whether it was Renfree or backup (and 2013 starter) Anthony Boone, Duke’s quarterbacks averaged over 280 yards per game through the air (good for 31st in the country). And while the passers were/are certainly a big part of that, there’s also plenty of credit due to the team’s expert wide receivers. Vernon and Jamison Crowder were outstanding this season, even by their elevated standards. Combined, they had 161 catches, 2,148 yards and 16 touchdowns — all among the most impressive figures in the country for a receiving duo. The running game, while underwhelming overall (ranked 100th in the FBS), also showed marked improvement over 2011 (115th), and was a big part of many of the team’s big victories this time around.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Clemson Tigers

Tajh Boyd Was Clemson's Star This Year, But He Wasn't the Only Elite Performer

Tajh Boyd Was Clemson’s Star This Year, But He Wasn’t the Only Elite Performer

Team: Clemson Tigers

W-L: 11-2 (7-1)

Postseason: 25-24 Chick-fil-a Bowl win over LSU

Top Offensive Performer: Tajh Boyd, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Jonathan Willard, LB

As a program, Clemson took a big, undeniable step forward in 2012. They beat an elite SEC opponent on a national stage, won 11 games for the first time since 1981, and even effectively put an end to “Clemson-ing.” Unlike their usual hiccup(s), the Tigers ran through a subpar group of ACC opponents this year, winning by an average margin of nearly 24 points against conference teams not named Florida State. And speaking of the Clemson offense, it’s impossible to get through a paragraph about the Tigers without discussing their record-setting high-flying attack led by QB Tajh Boyd and coordinator Chad Morris. Clemson finished sixth in the country in scoring average this season, putting up 41 points per game (one of just eight teams in the FBS to average 40 or more). Boyd, who had a stellar 2011 in his first full year as a starter, truly bloomed as a junior this season. While he didn’t get the Heisman trophy hype he well deserved, the passer showed marked improvement year-over-year, boosting his accuracy (up 7.5 percent) and touchdown passes (three more, in one less game), and managed to boost his running ability as well. With the help of some offseason conditioning, Boyd ran for nearly 300 more yards than he did in 2011, and tallied 10 scores on the ground, too.

And all of this — all the accolades and record-breaking performances — were somehow accomplished without star receiver Sammy Watkins operating at 100-percent (I’d argue he wasn’t even at 50-percent for most of the year). Following an offseason run-in with the law, Watkins was suspended for the first two games, and then missed a third with the flu. He was also a non-factor in the Chick-fil-a Bowl after an injury knocked him out for the game. Instead, it was DeAndre Hopkins that burst onto the scene, to the tune of 82 catches, 1,405 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. Frighteningly, for the ACC’s defenses, two of this offenses’ stars are back next season.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Boston College Eagles

After a Disastrous 2012 Season, We Try to Find a Silver Lining for Boston College Football

After a Disastrous 2012 Season, it’s Tough to Find Positives for Boston College — Though We Do Try

Team: Boston College Eagles

W-L: 2-10 (1-7)

Postseason: N/A

Top Offensive Performer: Alex Amidon, WR

Top Defensive Performer: Nick Clancy, LB

The talk heading into the 2012 season was that new offensive coordinator Doug Martin would be letting the reigns loose on a passing game that had been ranked 100th in the nation back in 2011. And sure, that did happen. The Eagles were ranked 45th in the country in passing yards per game this past season, and QB Chase Rettig — once thought to be a lost cause in a failing system — threw for more than 3,000 yards (nearly equaling his previous career total). But despite the increase, it didn’t really result in points scored. BC scored 19.8 points per game this season; more than last season’s paltry 18.2, but the team only moved from 112th to 111th in total scoring offense year-over-year. That average was also boosted by a four-game stretch in which they scored 31 points or more three times (but won just one of those contests).

Where Martin and the Boston College offense failed most, however, was the running game. After career leading rusher Montel Harris left the program this summer, the Eagles struggled to find any real consistency with his replacements, Rolandon “Deuce” Finch and Andre Williams. But it’s not entirely right to blame the backs, when it was Martin’s system that really caused the issue. In 2012, Boston College ran the ball just 345 times (versus 437 times in 2011). Predictably, the Eagles’ run game was a disaster as a result of the rushing/passing inequity, only racking up 90.5 yards per game (119th in the country). Even more predictably, Doug Martin is no longer with Boston College and will be taking his one-dimensional offense back to New Mexico State next season.

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