ACC Football 2013 Power Rankings: Week 3

Miami Florida Gators Hurricanes Upset 2013 ACC Football SEC Stephen Morris

Miami’s Big Upset of Florida Has Them Thinking ACC Championship, and Possibly More

Two weeks into this young season and things seem awfully positive for the ACC. There’s a collective conference pride rooted not just in hilarious gestures of solidarity, but in actual on-field results. The ACC is beating the SEC on the field, and (at least from a public relations standpoint) putting to bed the rhetoric about it being a weak league. As always, the poll includes all 14 current ACC members, plus future member Louisville. Feel like I’m totally right or completely off-base? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

ACC Football Power Rankings 2013 (Week 3)

1. Clemson Tigers (2-0) (0-0) (Last: 1): Even without Tajh Boyd for most of the game, Clemson was able to breeze through South Carolina State on Saturday. But the biggest win may have been what happened in Georgia. The Bulldogs beat up on South Carolina in front of a national audience and staked their claim to the SEC East crown. But if Georgia’s the best team in the SEC East, then how good is Clemson? It appears the answer is “very” and now everyone seems to be buying in on the Tigers. The team moved up to no. 3 in the AP rankings this week and even received a first-place vote.

2. Florida State Seminoles (1-0) (1-0) (Last: 2): Florida State had the week off, but it doesn’t mean the hype around Jameis Winston vanished. If anything, it just continued to grow as pundits began to wonder what he might do for an encore. Against Nevada on Saturday, he should have ample opportunity to replicate his success from Labor Day, though it does feel like we’re already entering Clowney-type territory when it comes to expectations for him. At some point, he’ll remind folks he’s a freshman quarterback and the ESPN hivemind will inevitably turn on him. But until then, FSU fans will certainly enjoy the ride.

3. Louisville Cardinals (2-0) (0-0) (Last: 3): What does Louisville have to do to make their case for a national championship? Simply put: just win. And so far, they’ve done that, winning two contests by a combined score of 93-14. Teddy Bridgewater is on an absolutely torrid pace in terms of statistics, and with the American Athletic Conference looking even worse off than people thought this season, we could be seeing something truly special from him this year.

4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (2-0) (0-0) (Last: 4): Is the U back? That depends on your point of view, though Saturday’s upset over Florida is certainly a nice start to that conversation. The Hurricanes weren’t perfect against the Gators, but maybe that’s what makes this victory resonate a bit more. Everyone has a tendency to celebrate a team for playing a flawless game en route to a big victory, when it’s the team that can win an ugly contest that’s probably better set up for long-term success. While the offense had its moments, the biggest plus from Saturday was the defense, which (Florida’s inept offense aside) did appear to have taken major leaps forward from last season’s disastrous effort.

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ACC Football 2013 Previews & Predictions: Week 2 (Part 1)

Duke Johnson Should Hold the Key to Whether or Not Miami Can Take Down Florida

Duke Johnson Should Hold the Key to Whether or Not Miami Can Take Down Florida on Saturday

Nice start for the ACC this season — now let’s see if the conference can keep it up. Just like normal, we’re running down the list of every ACC (plus Louisville) game and predicting outcomes that will almost undoubtedly be wrong. As is customary when the games are primarily of the out-of-conference variety, we’re splitting things up into two posts to make things more easily digestible. You’re welcome, and happy football season!

Game of the Week

Florida Gators (1-0) at Miami Hurricanes (1-0) (0-0): The in-state rivals meet again, though maybe for the last time for the foreseeable future. Still, Saturday’s matchup ends up being one of the marquee early non-conference contests, as both squads are in the top 25. The Gators’ strength is their strong defense, while the offense continues to sputter along, similar to last season. Obviously a defensive struggle doesn’t suit this high-scoring Miami team, but it may be the only way to beat Florida. Against an aggressive secondary and pass-rush, there’s no guarantee Stephen Morris will be able to pass the ball effectively, which puts productivity on Duke Johnson‘s shoulders. Florida’s got a strong run defense, but I believe Johnson can allow Miami to control the clock and pull out a big (and atypical) win. Prediction: Miami 20, Florida 17

The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-0) (0-0) at Boston College Eagles (1-0) (0-0): Messy first halves for both teams last week gave way to much stronger second halves and ultimately wins against FCS schools. So which versions of Wake and BC are we going to see tomorrow night? From what we’ve observed so far, it looks like defense will be guiding force for both, which means a low-scoring affair. But who has the edge? The Deacons’ secondary forced six turnovers against an overmatched Presbyterian team, while the Eagles notched four against Villanova. Wake held the Blue Hose to a lot less yardage, but the Wildcats are definitely the better of the two FCS opponents. It’ll be close, though it’ll be the Deacs’ offense that comes up with the late play for the victory. Prediction: Wake Forest 21, Boston College 17

Eastern Kentucky Colonels (1-0) at Louisville Cardinals (1-0): Louisville had made the conscious decision to just be a death machine this season, and I don’t really see the problem with it. After flying right through Ohio last week, it’s very unlikely Eastern Kentucky gives them many — if any — problems at all. Teddy Bridgewater should make short work of the Colonels’ secondary, and is likely to be pulled by mid-way through the third. Expect a lot of points. Prediction: Louisville 70, Eastern Kentucky 7

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ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

Do Bryn Renner and the Tar Heels Have What it Takes to Win the ACC Championship?

Do Bryn Renner and the Tar Heels Have What it Takes to Win the ACC Football Championship?

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels

2012 W-L: 8-4 (5-3)

Head Coach: Larry Fedora (8-4; second season)

Returning Starters: 13 (6 Offense, 7 Defense)

Last year appeared uneventful for the Tar Heels from the opening whistle: A bowl ban prevented them from going anywhere in the postseason, they had a new coach in Larry Fedora and in an ACC Coastal Division dominated by Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech since its inception, it looked as if they had no shot. But then the team caught on to Fedora’s spread offense quicker than expected, halfback Giovani Bernard put together one of the country’s best all-around seasons and the team road a very manageable schedule to a tie for the division title (despite not being able to compete for it). After all that, now the stakes are much higher for North Carolina — a team that’s spent several years knocking on the door of upper-level success, and may finally be able to break through this year.

Offensively, the Heels were only really stopped by themselves last year. A lack of focus here and there, and no true top receiving target left things to question more often than likely anyone would be comfortable with. And yet, in a completely new scheme, it’s frightening to think things could’ve gone better than they did last year. But they honestly could this fall. Before Fedora arrived in Chapel Hill, Bryn Renner was a simple pro-style passer, accurate and methodical in his delivery. Now, he appears to be a master of the spread, losing very little in accuracy while throwing 72 more passes (in one less game) and increasing touchdown and yardage numbers while decreasing sacks to a paltry 11. He still doesn’t have a top-flight wideout this season, but there’s thought this team’s progressed on that front too (a welcome sign for the senior QB). Quinshad Davis showed off some flashes of brilliance as a real deep threat receiver last year, and tight end Eric Ebron is being talked about as one of his position’s best in the country. Even if just those two pass-catching options can make good on some preseason hype, that’ll be more than enough for Renner to work with. Despite losing standout guard Jonathan Cooper to the NFL, this year’s group is still strong, and should be able to protect their quarterback just the same as always.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #14, Eric Ebron

North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is #14 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is #14 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Less than one week until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 14, Eric Ebron, TE/North Carolina (Last Season: NR)

In a quick-release offense, a tight end can be among the most important players on the field, and that’s certainly true when it comes to Eric Ebron and UNC. Now a junior, the huge (6’4″ and around 250 pounds) tight end is being hyped at one of the best in the country at his position. And why not? He’s built like a tank and can keep pace with most wideouts. Whether he’s up against linebackers or defensive backs, there are mismatches galore all over the field, and there are few tight ends built to exploit them like he can.

Ebron also appears to have the mental makeup to succeed at this level and beyond, despite some bumps in the road as a freshman. In a recent feature with Fox Sports Carolinas, Lauren Brownlow was able to get inside Ebron’s head and what she found was an intriguing character — focused, but introverted; humble, but still keeping some lofty goals in mind. North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora’s put up 12 touchdowns as a goal for Ebron, and instead of shying away from it, he’s set his own goal of 15. But his top priority is simply improvement, and unexamined improvement at that. As he told Brownlow:

“I’d rather live my life in the dark and improve without people telling me I’m improving or telling me I’m this or telling me I’m that. I’d rather see it for myself or hear it from the people that actually matter… You get tired of everyone telling you what you are. … I don’t like to listen to All-ACC this and All-American that. I’d like to go out and prove it instead of having it all come to me.”

ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #41, A.J. Blue

North Carolina’s A.J. Blue is #41 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

North Carolina’s A.J. Blue is #41 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

We’re less than two months away from the start of the 2013 college football season, and that means preview countdowns! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 41, A.J. Blue, RB/North Carolina (Last Season: NR)

After a superb offensive campaign in 2012, there’s worry that North Carolina will fall off a bit without star running back Giovani Bernard. But anyone who’s watched Bernard’s former backup, A.J. Blue, run the ball is likely to disagree with that sentiment. Despite serving in a reserve role last season, Blue still managed 513 total yards and 10 scores on just 91 touches. Obviously it would be a bit difficult to maintain that rate over the course of a full season and extended minutes — however, just think about that scoring rate. That, in a microcosm, is what blue brings to the table. An efficient, explosive mindset.

Blue averaged over five yards per carry in seven of 12 games last season, including his only 100-yard effort of the year: a 19-carry, 106-yard (and one TD) performance versus Wake Forest. Like Bernard, his running will be integral to setting up the team’s dynamic passing attack. However, unlike his predecessor, Blue actually has the physical makeup to wear down opposing defenses. Bernard’s game was mostly about finesse, though he certainly took advantage of a low center of gravity mixed with a decent weight (5’9″ and 208 pounds). Blue isn’t much heavier (215 pounds), though his past experience as a linebacker, greater size (6’2″) and speed (4.5-second 40-yard dash time) all set him up to be much more durable than Bernard. Just like Bernard too, he has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, making the transition a much simpler one than advertised this fall.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC's Running Backs for the 2013 Season

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC’s Running Backs for the 2013 Season

While we’re still over two months away from the season, it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off till July and August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we’re on to the running backs (you can check out last week’s feature on quarterbacks, too). Though there’s not a whole lot of experience at the position — just one returning back (Syracuse’s Jerome Smith) rushed for 1,000 yards last year — this group makes up for a lot of that in potential. Many of the most talented runners this year will be sophomores or juniors, so that aforementioned experience will come with time. As for those who are seniors, many possess a significant leg-up, which you’ll find reflected here as well.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual quarterback is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of passers is. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

1. Florida State Seminoles: Injuries ravaged the Florida State backfield in 2012. But because of that, the team’s top two returning rushers, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., actually have quite a bit of experience under their respective belts (221 carries between them last year). They’re both vertical runners for the most part, doing most of their work in the middle of the line, but Wilder, in particular, also has some pass-catching ability out of the backfield (19 catches for 136 yards and two scores last year). Expect that role to expand this year, while also incorporating Mario Pender, who’s the quickest back on the roster and anxious to contribute after red-shirting last season.

2. Miami Hurricanes: Miami’s ranking here is purely on the strength of sophomore Duke Johnson, and his success is likely to decide how far the ‘Canes go this season. Despite splitting carries with Mike James last year, Johnson still ran for 947 yards and 10 scores, while tacking on another 1,133 yards from receiving and kick returns. With that on his resume in just one season, he’s now being listed among the most dynamic players in the country and will be the focal point of every gameplan against Miami. He won’t be acting alone in the backfield, but there’s no telling what to expect from backups Dallas Crawford or Eduardo Clements either.

3. Syracuse Orange: SU’s offense was largely seen as a pass-first attack in 2012, but its success in the season’s second half was heavily reliant on the running game. The Orange bring back everybody this year, and arguably have one of the deepest backfields in the country. The group will be guided by Jerome Smith (1,171 yards last year), but this will be a multi-back, run-first system. Expect Prince-Tyson Gulley to approach the 200-carry mark as well, while the team gets additional contributions from short-yardage specialist Adonis Ameen-Moore and jack-of-all-trades Ashton Broyld in hybrid WR/RB slot role.

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ACC Football Standout Senior 2013: North Carolina

UNC Quarterback Bryn Renner Appears Poised for a Breakout Senior Campaign

North Carolina Quarterback Bryn Renner Appears Poised for a Breakout Senior Campaign

Last season’s juniors are now this season’s seniors, and with that comes extra responsibility and expectations. In the ACC, while there were plenty of players selected in the NFL Draft, the conference still returns a strong group of seniors — many of whom are set to make a strong impact in their final seasons of eligibility.

Over these few weeks, we’re going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his respective squad, and why he’s so important. Think we should’ve featured another player, though? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

North Carolina Tar Heels: Bryn Renner, QB

Last season, all the focus was on Giovani Bernard, and rightfully so. The now-Cincinnati Bengals running back put in one of the best seasons in UNC history at his position, and was a large part of the program’s eight wins last season. But by focusing in on Bernard, the team’s quarterback — Renner — ended up shuffled into the background; something that could end up being a blessing for him in his senior season. For those who may not be aware, Renner’s thrown for nearly 6,500 yards over the past two seasons, to go with 54 touchdowns and just 20 picks. While his accuracy may have taken a slight dip in 2012 (from 68-percent completion to 65), he’s still throwing better than most starters in the game. And all this while running a Larry Fedora offense that’s entirely based off of calling as many plays as possible, while worrying about efficiency later. While Renner was not a natural for the spread style Fedora installed upon coming to Chapel Hill, he sure looked like one by the end 2012, completing 81 of 110 passes (74 percent) for 970 yards and 10 scores over his final three games.

The biggest key for Renner, right off the bat, is the advantage he gains from a quick release. In 2011, he took 26 sacks in 13 games, but in 2012, he had just 11 all season. o course, some of that is due to the fact that he had a top-10 draft pick in front of him (Jonathan Cooper), but Cooper was there in 2011 as well. Even better, that quick release hasn’t created a huge discrepancy in yards-per-attempt either, as is typical. Throwing 72 less balls in 2012 (in one less game), he averaged nearly eight yards per attempt — versus nearly nine yards per throw in 2011. While “efficiency” isn’t the right word here, as he did complete a lower percentage of throws, I think it is safe to say that Renner was more effective as a passer in 2012 than the season before. And this year, despite some turnover on the line, we may see even more improvement.

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