ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: NC State Wolfpack

Shadrach Thornton is One of Just a Few Returning State Players on Offense

Halfback Shadrach Thornton is One of Just a Few Returning NC State Players on Offense This Year

Team: NC State Wolfpack

2012 W-L: 7-6 (4-4)

Head Coach: Dave Doeren (0-0; first season)

Returning Starters: 8 (4 Offense, 4 Defense)

As SB Nation’s Bill Connelly astutely pointed out a couple weeks back, NC State under Tom O’Brien was a perfectly average team — rarely better or worse than a six- or seven-win team. And so despite another trip to the postseason in 2012, people got antsy, things felt stale, and O’Brien was relived of his duties. Now former Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren’s the head man in Raleigh and the big question is whether or not anything will change. For what feels like forever, the Wolfpack have been a team that can play respectable football, energize a highly underrated fan base and swing an upset once a season. And that’s it. So why now, with a coach whose success is notable but not long-standing, would they suddenly turn into a 10- or 11-win juggernaut? That’s what we try and figure out today…

NC State was a highly one-dimensional team last season with Mike Glennon at the helm. They managed to throw for 310 yards per game (great!), but that was while completing 58 percent of their passes — they threw 569 passes, by the way (seventh in the FBS). So for the most part, a highly inefficient attack. And it’s not as if they didn’t turn the ball over either. Right off the bat, those points must be addressed by Doeren and his staff, but with what personnel? Three-fifths of the offensive line is gone, as is Glennon and last year’s top pass-catcher Tobais Palmer. Glennon’s replacement is also still TBD, as transfers Brandon Mitchell (Arkansas) and Pete Thomas (Colorado State) continue to vie for the job in camp. Though Thomas may be the more polished and experienced player, Mitchell’s more of an athlete in the mold of Doeren’s highly agile QB at NIU, Jordan Lynch. Mitchell also has just one year of eligibility left, which makes me think he’ll grab the inside track at the starting job early on.

Running the ball, State was terrible — mostly as a result of Glennon’s ridiculous volume of passes. They also failed to ever establish a true starter last season, resulting in inconsistent carries for those who did actually get to touch the ball. Now-sophomore Shadrach Thornton showed the most promise in that regard, however, racking up nearly 700 yards based largely on five games of 17 or more carries (and another five of 12 or less with much lesser gains). He’ll come into the 2013 season now as the starter, with some additional help from Tony Creecy too. Creecy came in as the more experienced back, but can still flourish in a relief role this year nonetheless. Both can get involved in catching the ball, which of course plays right into the type of hybrid pistol offense Doeren is likely to run this season while he works to get more players in specifically made for his system.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks

Clemson, Led by Tajh Boyd and Cole Stoudt, Have the ACC's Top Quarterback Unit for 2013

Clemson, Led by Tajh Boyd and Cole Stoudt, Have the ACC’s Top Quarterback Unit for 2013

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 start with the quarterback position. Last year it was a strength — or at least it was supposed to be — and while it could be once again in 2013, that will rely on some new starters stepping up in a big way. Though it may not be as top-heavy as last year’s crop (especially after seeing EJ Manuel, Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib and Sean Renfree headed to the NFL), the ACC still possesses a really strong group of passers who all look to either start or end their careers on a positive note.

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: Quarterbacks

1. Clemson Tigers: Seeing both Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris return was a godsend for the Tigers, who get one more year of the potent passing attack led by those two men. In 2012, Boyd broke out for over 4,400 total yards and now he has his eyes set on both a Heisman Trophy and a national title. Beyond Boyd, the team will lean mostly on Cole Stoudt in garbage time, after losing Chad Kelly tore his ACL in the spring. Stoudt, a junior, threw for 212 yards and three scores last season in relief of Boyd.

2. Louisville Cardinals: Teddy Bridgwater has all the hype and expectations anyone could possibly deal with in one season, yet I think he’ll still succeed. The Heisman contender and possible first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft is the core of a young Cardinals team that’s aiming to be unbeaten this fall. For when games get out of hand, the ball will likely be handed to Jerry Arlinghaus, the 6’4″ sophomore from nearby Covington, KY with a nice arm.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels: Bryn Renner‘s ability to transition to Larry Fedora’s spread offense has made him a rising star in the ACC, and don’t be surprised to see him put up even more impressive numbers as he closes out his senior season at Chapel Hill. Behind him, Fedora’s also stock-piling players who fit right into his system, with big passers like redshirt freshman Kanler Coker and true freshman Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky was named as “the next Johnny Manziel” by ESPN’s Joe Luginbill back in December, which is quite the name to live up to.

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Too-Early 2013 ACC Football Power Rankings (June 10)

Can FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston Live Up to His Growing Hype?

Can FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston Live Up to His Growing Hype Around Tallahassee?

The college football season is in sight! No, seriously it is. I received my Athlon Sports 2013 season preview magazine a couple weeks ago. Football Study Hall was able to amass a power poll based on all the preseason rankings thus far. Things are happening! And with that, we’re edging closer and closer to late August. Until then, these rankings are just conjecture, but oh well — we all need something to pass the time until kickoff.

1. Clemson Tigers (Last: 1): Clemson’s season is very likely to boil down to the first and last weekends, with 10 trap games in the middle. Vegas obviously likes the Tigers, but will the pressures of being a National Championship contender finally get to the team at some point? That’s why they play the games, of course, but win or lose the opening game against Georgia, it’s worth circling September 19 vs. NC State and October 19 vs. FSU as some potential bumps in the road.

2. Louisville Cardinals (Last: 2): Is is ridiculous to say that anything short of an undefeated season will be a disappointment for Louisville? The Cardinals play the 90th-most difficult schedule in the country in 2013 — a nice way of saying “nobody.” Like Clemson, though, they’ll be up against the weight of expectations, which could end up being the toughest opponent they face all season.

3. Florida State Seminoles (Last: 3): Jameis Winston will need a couple of games to adjust as the Seminoles’ starting passer, but until then he’ll have plenty of support from his defense, which is more experienced than the “returning starters” numbers let on. FSU doesn’t face a major-conference team with a winning record until October (Clemson), so there’s ample time for everyone — players and coaches — to get settled in.

4. North Carolina Tar Heels (Last: 4): North Carolina had one of the top 15 offenses in the country last season, and that was just the first season under Larry Fedora’s system. As he continues to burn up the recruiting trail, this is a team poised to be even better in 2013 as they adapt to Fedora’s spread style. The Heels’ defense may be a trouble spot, but if they’re scoring as they should, it may not matter much. Continue reading

ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Syracuse Orange

Can Charley Loeb Succeed Ryan Nassib As the Orange QB This Spring, Or is it Someone Else's Job to Lose?

Can Charley Loeb Succeed Ryan Nassib As the Orange QB This Spring, Or is it Someone Else’s Job to Lose?

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: Syracuse Orange

Spring Practice Start Date: March 19

Spring Game Date: April 20

Syracuse wrapped up a wild 2012 season by winning six of seven games… and then watching their head coach, Doug Marrone, and seven other staff members walk out the door for the Buffalo Bills. Since then, panic has subsidized for the Orange faithful, but there are still plenty of questions for this group. New head coach Scott Shafer’s committed to keeping the transition as simple as possible (he was the team’s defensive coordinator last year after all), but the success of that strategy relies largely on the personnel. SU must replace several key contributors on both sides of the ball, and it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to alleviate those issues by the end of spring ball.

First and foremost, the team is faced with as tough a challenge as any in the nation, replacing departed senior quarterback (and program poster boy) Ryan Nassib. After a record-setting career that brought the program back from the depths, Nassib’s off to the NFL (and likely the Bills), and in his place is a massive hole to fill. As of right now, there are four candidates for the job — Charley Loeb, John Kinder, Terrell Hunt and Ashton Broyld — and without much experience (Nassib was a three-year starter), it’s virtually anyone’s game. Plus, whoever this new passer may be will also have to figure out who he’s throwing to. Top targets Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales are both gone as well, leaving the team to wonder if Jarrod West, Jeremiah Kobena and Arkansas transfer Quinta Funderburk can step up as the main receiving options. There’s also the issue of the offensive line, which must try to replace star lineman Justin Pugh as well. In the early goings this spring, the squad’s biggest saving grace may be the backfield, which returns all three top rushers from last year and looks to build upon a strong finish.

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ACC National Signing Day 2013 Recap: Looking Back at Our Predictions

Committing to the U in Style, WR Stacy Coley Looks to Bring Some Swag Back to Miami

Committing to the U in Style, WR Stacy Coley Looks to Bring Some Swag Back to Miami

Yesterday, we rolled the dice and tried to predict where all the top uncommitted ACC recruiting prospects would land on National Signing Day. Some we got right, while others we got resoundingly incorrect. A look at yesterday’s predictions, with notes on what we got right/wrong.

Matthew Thomas, OLB (5 Stars)

Our PickFlorida State; Actual – Florida State

Montravious Adams, DT (5 Stars)

Our PickClemson; ActualAuburn

MacKensie Alexander, CB (5 Stars)

Our PickMississippi State; Actual – Clemson

Stacy Coley, WR (4 Stars)

Our Pick – Florida State; Actual Miami (FL)

James Clark, WR (4 Stars)

Our PickFlorida; Actual – Ohio State

Tyrone Crowder, OG (4 Stars)

Our Pick – Clemson; Actual – Clemson

Denver Kirkland, OG (4 Stars)

Our PickArkansas; Actual – Arkansas

E.J. Levenberry, ILB (4 Stars)

Our PickTennessee; Actual – Florida State

Keith Bryant, DT (4 Stars)

Our PickSouth Carolina; Actual – Florida State

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National Signing Day 2013 Predictions: How Will the ACC Fare Tomorrow?

We Try to Guess Where Top Recruits Like Matthew Thomas Are Headed Tomorrow

We Try to Guess Where Top Recruits Like Matthew Thomas Are Headed Tomorrow

National Signing Day is upon us (almost)! And before letters of intent start getting faxed to various institutions of higher education around the country, we wanted to take one final look at which of the country’s top undecided recruits could land at ACC schools. No, we won’t mention Robert Nkemdiche here… Robert Nkemdiche.

Matthew Thomas, OLB (5 Stars)

Our PickFlorida State; Also In ContentionMiami (FL), Alabama, Georgia

Montravious Adams, DT (5 Stars)

Our PickClemson; Also In ContentionAuburn, Georgia

MacKensie Alexander, CB (5 Stars)

Our PickMississippi State; Also In Contention – Clemson, Auburn

Stacy Coley, WR (4 Stars)

Our Pick – Florida State; Also in Contention – Miami (FL), Syracuse, Louisville

James Clark, WR (4 Stars)

Our PickFlorida; Also In Contention – Clemson, Ohio State

Tyrone Crowder, OG (4 Stars)

Our Pick – Clemson; Also in ContentionNorth Carolina, Georgia

Denver Kirkland, OG (4 Stars)

Our PickArkansas; Also in Contention – Florida State, Miami (FL)

E.J. Levenberry, ILB (4 Stars)

Our PickTennessee; Also in Contention – Florida State

Update (2/5, 5:38 p.m. PT): Florida State holds onto Levenberry (via Tomahawk Nation)

Keith Bryant, DT (4 Stars)

Our PickSouth Carolina; Also in Contention – Florida State, Miami (FL)

Cornelius Elder, ATH (4 Stars)

Our PickUCLA; Also In ContentionGeorgia Tech, Ohio State, Purdue

Myles Jack, OLB/RB (4 Stars)

Our Pick – UCLA; Also In Contention – Florida State, Washington, Georgia

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Can the Wake Forest Football Program Remain Competitive?

Is the College Football Landscape Making it Impossible for Schools Like Wake to Compete?

Is the College Football Landscape Making it Impossible for Schools Like Wake to Compete?

While assembling the daily links for Wednesday, I happened upon an interesting story from Rant Sports, “Can the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Stay Competitive in ACC Football?” On a top-level, author M. Shannon Smallwood, takes a quick look at how Wake Forest and head coach Jim Grobe have continued to compete despite lesser resources and prestige than many of their counterparts, both locally and nationally. But I wanted to dig a bit deeper into that discussion, and really talk about the factors the school’s up against in the evolving college football environment. So rather than just chat about it by myself, I decided to bring in the author himself. What follows is our email conversation from yesterday:

John Cassillo: Can Wake Forest hope to compete in football in the future? With the conference’s smallest athletic budget and an influx of “richer” teams (Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and “sort of” Notre Dame) coming in the ACC door, how are they going to play catch-up? Or better question: Can they play catch-up with the conference’s 14 other schools?

M. Shannon Smallwood: I am the eternal optimist so I have to believe the leadership in the Athletic Department and the President of the University are capable and smart enough to realize what decisions need to be made in order to keep the school afloat. But the reality is the landscape just got a lot more challenging for Wake Forest on every level.

I am working on my first ACC Football Power Rankings for Rant Sports (posting on Saturday) and I have Wake in the bottom three in the new-look ACC. I just don’t think the Demon Deacons will be able to put the depth of talent on the field to compete for four quarters in every game. I do think they can recruit and put 25 or so top level athletes on offense and defense, but its the athletes from 26 to 85, I am worried about.

I will say this is not a game of “catch up”. I think if you are a school looking at the landscape and, as an AD or President, you say “we need to catch up with the other members of the ACC,” you are setting yourself and your school up for disaster. Case-in-point: Maryland. The Terps made some terrible decisions and were/are bankrupt until the Big 10 bailed them out. Could Wake, Boston College or Duke ever be in a situation like Maryland? I don’t think so. I think there are some deep pockets and smarter folks at these three schools. But to be successful, you have to win. You have to create a buzz around campus, the town and the nation.

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