ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #11, James Hurst

North Carolina’s James Hurst is #11 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

North Carolina’s James Hurst is #11 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

It’s finally game week! 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. 11, James Hurst, OT/North Carolina (Last Season: NR)

Last year’s North Carolina offense prided itself on a strong line most of all. It was the reason Bryn Renner took so few sacks, and the reason Giovani Bernard was able to put together the impressive campaign he did at running back. So it’s understandable that there’s some concern this season when the team no longer has Jonathan Cooper operating at the guard spot, along with fellow linemen Travis Bond and Brennan Williams. But that doesn’t mean this team’s suddenly vulnerable either. It’ll be no easy task to replace those players, but starting with James Hurst, there’s hope the Heels see very little drop-off this year. Just one look at Hurst and you’ll get why.

At 6’7″ and 305 pounds, Hurst is a looming individual; one of the biggest linemen UNC has, actually. And now as a senior, his leadership must loom over his teammates as well. Hurst is already under a ton of pressure at tackle, and it’s been made a bit more nerve-racking by the man he’ll be blocking in the first game this season: South Carolina‘s Jadeveon Clowney. He gets the hype and importance, of course. But Hurst is also taking everything in stride — almost sounding calm about the prospect of the matchup in a conversation with the Charlotte Observer:

“There’s a lot riding on you. They’re going to look at that game film, and (ask) how did he play against him? But on the other side of the coin, it is one game of the year, and it is the first game of the year. So there’s a lot on it, but at the same time you’ve got to take a little off of it because you know it’s the whole season that matters. But to me, it is the first game, and at that point it’s the only game I’ve played.”

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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 Announces Student-Athlete Attendees for 2013 ACC Football Kickoff

Clemson Quarterback Tajh Boyd is One of 28 Players Attending the ACC Football Kickoff

Clemson Quarterback Tajh Boyd is One of 28 Players Attending the ACC Football Kickoff

The ACC has announced the list of football student-athlete attendees for the ACC Football Kickoff today. A fancy way of saying “Media Days,” the event will take place on July 21 and 22 at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro, N.C. Each schools’ coaches will be in attendance, as will two representatives per team.

The list:

Boston College: QB Chase Rettig (Sr.), LB Steele Divitto (Sr.)

Clemson: QB Tajh Boyd (Sr.), LB Spencer Shuey (Sr.)

Duke: QB Anthony Boone (Jr.), CB Ross Cockrell (Sr.)

Florida State: WR Rashad Greene (Jr.), CB Lamarcus Joyner (Sr.)

Georgia Tech: OT Will Jackson (Sr.), DE Jeremiah Attoachu (Sr.)

Maryland: QB C.J. Brown (Sr.), CB Dexter McDougle (Sr.)

Miami: QB Stephen Morris (Sr.), DE Shayon Green (Sr.)

North Carolina: QB Bryn Renner (Sr.), DE Kareem Martin (Sr.)

N.C. State: WR Rashard Smith (Sr.), CB Dantae Johnson (Sr.)

Pittsburgh: WR Devin Street (Sr.), DT Aaron Donald (Sr.)

Syracuse: C Macky MacPherson (Sr.), DT Jay Bromley (Sr.)

Virginia: OT Morgan Moses (Sr.), DE Jake Snyder (Sr.)

Virginia Tech: QB Logan Thomas (Sr.), LB Jack Tyler (Sr.)

Wake Forest: WR Michael Campanaro (Sr.), LB Justin Jackson (Sr.)

Some additional thoughts:

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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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Phil Steele’s 2013 Preseason All-ACC Team

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Headlines Phil Steele's Preseason All-ACC Team

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Headlines Phil Steele’s Preseason All-ACC Team

As part of Phil Steele’s extensive 2013 season preview activities, today he released his picks for the All-ACC team. Not an overwhelming number of surprises to be found, but that said, there’s certainly some switches partisan fans might make here and there between first- and second-teams or third- and fourth-teams. Most notably, I’d probably move up UNC‘s Bryn Renner to the second team, while moving Virginia Tech‘s Logan Thomas down to the third — but the difference is negligible, really.

We won’t lay out the entire list for you here, but below we’ve included the first-team offense and defense, plus a school-by-school count of all players included on all four teams compiled by Steele. Regarding the latter, Florida State led the way with 19 players out of the 112 named, while Maryland had the least, with just three.

First Team All-ACC: Offense

QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson

RB: Duke Johnson, Miami

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State

WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State

WR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland

TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina

C: Bryan Stork, Florida State

OG: Tre’ Jackson, Florida State

OG: Brandon Linder, Miami

OT: Morgan Moses, Virginia

OT: James Hurst, North Carolina

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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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