ACC 2012 Season Preview: Clemson Tigers

Clemson’s Offense Will Once Again Be Among the Nation’s Best, But Can the Defense Improve Enough?

Team: Clemson Tigers

2011 W-L: 10-4 (6-2)

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (29-19; four seasons)

Returning Starters: 14 (7 Offense, 7 Defense)

Clemson enjoyed a banner season in 2011, clinching the ACC for the first time in 20 years and playing in their first Orange Bowl since 1981, they’d announced their resurgence on the national scene. Or at least they would have…

Despite their obvious and numerous accomplishments last year, the one glaring thing the Clemson Tigers will be remembered for is being annihilated by the West Virginia Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl, 70-33. It’s unfortunate, sure, but moments like this can also spark a change, and in this case, they did almost immediately. Within a week of the drubbing, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele was out, and in came long-time Oklahoma defensive guru Brent Venables. He vowed to change things, and erase that game from everyone’s memory. While there are far too many memes to let us ever do that (West Virginia just scored again, guys), a new coordinator was probably the best remedy for a group whom tackling was not a specialty.

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ACC Football 2012 Payback Games: Virginia Tech Hokies

If Virginia Tech Hopes to Beat Clemson in 2012, Logan Thomas Will Need to Learn How to Better Handle Pressure in the Pocket

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2011. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2012.

As part of our 2012 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: Virginia Tech Hokies

Opponent: Clemson

Last Year: Loss, 23-3 vs. Clemson/Loss, 38-10 vs. Clemson

This Year: October 20, @ Clemson

The only double-loss occurrence on our list, the Hokies suffered the rare feat in embarrassing fashion last season. Even though they boasted one of the nation’s best defensive units, Virginia Tech was blasted for a combined 61 points in the two meetings, as Clemson’s play-calling managed to keep them consistently on their toes. The keys — run-and-gun (a big part of the Tigers’ 2011 offense, which had a very low time-of-possession) and a balanced attack that got the team’s bevy of weapons involved. With four big targets, plus QB Tajh Boyd, Tech couldn’t account for every man, and paid the price repeatedly (especially in the ACC title game). Continue reading

NFL Draft 2012: Luke Kuechly, David Wilson, Andre Branch Among 31 ACC Players Selected

Luke Kuechly Headlines a Long List of ACC Football Players Drafted By NFL Teams This Weekend

The 2012 NFL Draft is officially in the books, after 253 selections from the NFL’s 32 franchises. In total, the ACC saw 31 players chosen in this year’s draft — 33, if you include the two draftees from Syracuse (for argument’s sake, we will here). That number — regardless of which you decide to use — puts the conference behind just the SEC and Big Ten in terms of NFL-bound talent this season. While not the only thing that counts by any means, moving players on to the NFL resonates with potential recruits, and does help all 14 schools in one way or another.

We’ve included various breakdowns below — from school-by-school, to conference comparisons, an NFL team-by-team list, as well as the full roster of ACC players chosen between Thursday and Saturday. Also, stop by later on, to see our compilation of the most confusing non-selections from the ACC. Continue reading

2012 NFL Draft Preview: Top 10 ACC Prospects

On the Day Before the NFL Draft, Boston College’s Luke Kuechly Looks Like He’ll Be the ACC’s First Selection

Over the last few weeks, we took a look at the ACC players that would find themselves selected in the 2012 NFL Draft, which begins this Thursday, April 26. And now, that day is nearly here, and we can finally end the charade of these athletes not getting paid to do what they do (only half-joking)…

If you’d like to take a more thorough look at how each of these prospects stack up, feel free to glance over all 14 teams’ draft preview posts, which you’ll find links to in the series’ final post for Wake Forest. As for this post, however, we’ll be listing the top 10 prospects, with a quick note on their skill set, and where they could possibly end up. Feel free to disagree with these, of course, since no one actually talks about when projecting out the NFL Draft.

Top 10 ACC Prospects for the 2012 NFL Draft

1. Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College (Projected Round: 1)

As the top linebacker in the 2012 NFL Draft class, Kuechly could go to a myriad of teams, depending on need, but consensus says he’s a surefire top-10 selection. With this in mind, his most likely destinations (barring trades) are the Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins or Carolina Panthers.

2. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina (Projected Round: 1)

The New York Giants have proven continuously that a consistent pass rush can lead teams single-handedly to the Super Bowl — a strategy that will benefit players like Coples this year, who know how to get after the quarterback. Nearly every team in the middle of the first round could use him, but odds are on the New York Jets, Cincinnati Bengals or San Diego Chargers. Continue reading

2012 NFL Draft Preview: Clemson

Clemson’s Andre Branch Looks To Be An Early First-Rounder and Should Contribute Immediately

Leading up to April’s NFL Draft, we’ll be taking a look at each ACC‘s school’s prospects and where they’re slated to be chosen. While 43 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 26 and 28.

Our next featured team, Clemson, could have as many as nine players selected on draft weekend, so let’s get right to it:

Andre Branch, DE, Senior

The agile, yet physical Branch is seen as a top-flight prospect, and someone who could end up as a top-15 selection. During his career at Clemson, he showed a penchant for pursuing the quarterback, and though mildly undersized for a defensive end, still managed to get his fair share of sacks. Most intriguing, beyond his combination of decent speed (4.7 40) and strength, could be his ability to make tackles in various parts of the field. Scouts have him pegged as a possible switch to outside linebacker, similar to current Ravens star Terrell Suggs’ move upon entering the league. While needing some polish, Branch is NFL-ready and should anchor the line of whichever team drafts him.

Brandon Thompson, DT, Senior

Distinctly benefiting from his cohort above’s presence on the Tigers’ line, Thompson was given ample opportunity to make plays. Even in the shadow of his more-hyped teammate though, Thompson made waves and has continued to impress scouts as an enormous talent, despite a higher 40 time (5.24). On the other hand, Thompson can also push out 35 bench reps at 225 lbs. — the type of strength you can’t really teach. He may struggle against quicker offensive lines, but with a quick first step, could have a real advantage against the average pro line. Some lucky team could take a flier in the late-first, otherwise he’ll be snatched up early in the second. Continue reading

ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Clemson Tigers

Teams Thought Clemson's Sammy Watkins Was Intimdating Before, But Just Wait 'Till He Starts Handling Punts

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Clemson Tigers

Clemson enters 2012’s spring practice with the harsh, yet thrilling reality of inflated expectations. And why shouldn’t they? Sure, the Orange Bowl loss stung. But look at all the good that came from 2011: the schools’ best football season in 20 years, their first conference title in 20 years, three wins over ranked opponents… just to name a few of the accomplishments under head coach Dabo Swinney. Most of all, the team discovered the types of weapons it has at its disposal on offense. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington were all stellar last season, and all are projected to improve this season, too. Yet it all starts here in spring. For Boyd, he’ll look to improve upon his accuracy and decision-making under pressure (below average in 2011), while Ellington’s likely to gain more involvement in the passing game. As for Watkins — one of the most dangerously fast men in football — he’s actually demanding to take on punt return duties as well. When someone leads the conference in all-purpose yards as a freshman, are you honestly going to doubt him? The other key for the offense will be quickly developing camaraderie on  line tasked with protecting Boyd and their season. The less Boyd is flushed out of the pocket, the more effective he’ll be as the year wears on — the central cog in Clemson’s offense continuing to be as explosive as it was for most of 2011. Continue reading

Top 15 ACC Players at the 2012 NFL Draft Combine

Boston College LB Luke Kuechly Leads a Strong Crop of ACC Players to the NFL Draft Combine

Another crop of players leaves the college ranks this spring to take part in one of my favorite events growing up (that is, until Roger Goodell ruined it): the NFL Draft. In preparation for their selections come April, the league released its official Combine invite list, and there are plenty of ACC players in attendance. In total, the 14 teams had 51 selections, with Miami scoring the most (eight). No surprise with the questions still looming over that program.

Below, we’ll list the top 15 prospects invited to the Combine, followed by a quick team-by-team list based on total numbers.

Top 15 ACC Players at the 2012 NFL Draft Combine

1. Luke Kuechly, LB/Boston College

2. David Wilson, RB/Virginia Tech

3. Andre Branch, DE/Clemson

4. Lamar Miller, RB/Miami

5. Dwight Jones, WR/North Carolina

6. T.J. Graham, WR/NC State

7. Sean Spence, LB/Miami

8. Chris Givens, WR/Wake Forest Continue reading