ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #1, Tajh Boyd

Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is #1 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Clemson’s Tajh Boyd is #1 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. 1, Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (Last Season: 1)

Was there any surprise about who inhabited this top spot? Boyd’s actually been the only player to hold the title of “top player in the ACC” since this blog’s inception back in 2011, and we fully expect things to stay that way come season’s end. Following a sophomore season that saw plenty or promise but still left critics with some fodder as well, Boyd’s junior year was about everything he (and Clemson) could’ve asked for. Improved accuracy (from 59 percent up to 67), yards per attempt (7.67 to 9.12), touchdown throws — all of that was praise-worthy, though what really set him apart was his newfound mobility. Losing 20 pounds between 2011 and 2012, Boyd turned himself into a dual-threat, adding 500 rushing yards and 10 scores to his already sterling resume. Seasons like that put you in the same conversation with the likes of most recent Heisman winner Johnny Manziel, which brings us to Boyd’s mission this season.

Previously flying under the radar, Boyd no longer has the luxury of avoiding the conference or national spotlight anymore. When you account for 46 touchdowns in one season, it’s understandable, but there’s so much more on the senior quarterback’s mind this year. In what’s likely the last rodeo in Clemson for offensive coordinator Chad Morris as well, the two understand what’s at stake. They’ve largely built their legacies on each other, and now are looking to walk away with the one team honor that’s alluded them to this point: a national championship. It’s the main reason he decided to return for his final season of eligibility, and as a result, this team’s got all the hype that comes with that. So can he deliver?

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ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Clemson Tigers

Following a Big Postseason Win Over LSU, Expectations Are Sky-High at Clemson

Following a Big Postseason Win Over LSU, Expectations Are Sky-High at Clemson in 2013

Team: Clemson Tigers

2012 W-L: 11-2 (7-1)

Head Coach: Dabo Swinney (40-21; sixth season)

Returning Starters: 13 (6 Offense, 7 Defense)

The Tigers are on a rocket ship ride over the last couple seasons. Following countless years of underachievement (“Clemson-ing”), it appears that Dabo Swinney has righted the ship for a program that’s always knocking on the door of college football’s elite, but can never quite get in. Clemson seemingly won the lottery with Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who have changed the culture in Death Valley to one of top-10 recruiting classes and dreams of national titles. They’ve at least tied for first in the Atlantic Division in three of the past four seasons, with one ACC title. They’ve also won 21 games in the past two, capped by an impressive victory over LSU in the Chick-fil-a Bowl on New Year’s Eve. So was that victory indicative of the future, or just a lucky blip?

Offensively, there are very few questions facing this group, and rightfully so. Senior quarterback Tajh Boyd is entering his third season as the starter and is enjoying all the Heisman hype to go with it. Despite what may be perceived as a “down year” by top wideout Sammy Watkins last season, he’s returning to regain his all-world freshman year form. And maybe most importantly, Morris is back for another go-around. Near the top of every head coaching search for two years now, this may be his last season in Clemson, but he appears determined to go out with a bang. The 2012 Tigers were one of the top 10 attacks in the country, averaging 41 points per game, to go along with a staggering 512.7 yards per. If they manage to replicate those types of figures (and I’m firmly convinced they will), he’ll be leading another program come fall 2014.

But to say this offense is perfect would be foolish. The rushing attack will depend on unproven running backs, none of whom will be able to match former starter Andre Ellington’s numbers right away. And while Watkins is one of the country’s best receivers, there’s still a lot of production to replace in the absence of now-Houston Texan DeAndre Hopkins. On the bright side, no one really knew how good Hopkins could be before 2012, so perhaps we’re about to witness the arrival of another breakout Clemson receiver this fall. Looking at the depth chart, Charone Peake‘s probably the best bet, as he’ll benefit from Watkins drawing double teams nearly ever Saturday. Also worth noting: Clemson returns four of five starters on the offensive line, and actually possesses a ton of depth there, too. With a pass-first attack, they’ll need to have a solid rotation ready to handle constant blitzing, though — something to keep an eye on as the year wears on.

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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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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Clemson Tigers

Is Former Backup Roderick McDowell Ready to Take Over for Clemson at RB?

Is Former Backup Roderick McDowell Ready to Take Over for Clemson at RB?

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: Clemson Tigers

Spring Practice Start Date: March 6

Spring Game Date: April 13

Following two-straight seasons of more than 10 wins, Clemson’s suddenly in the national spotlight and a real threat to win the ACC and the National Championship (and maybe even the Heisman trophy too). But even as they bring back a strong group of both players and coaches, there’s still plenty left to figure out heading in 2013 if they’re going to live up to the very lofty expectations attached to them.

Offensive coordinator Chad Morris has returned for another year with the Tigers, meaning and he couldn’t be stocked with a better weapon than quarterback Tajh Boyd. Around the senior, though, there’s questions at wide receiver and running back, along with a gaping hole at center, formerly filled by NFL-bound Dalton Freeman. The odds-on favorite to fill that center spot is currently Ryan Norton, though he could also be challenged by redshirt sophomore Jay Guillermo. At receiver, Sammy Watkins will be called upon to quickly regain the all-world stature he’d reached as a freshman in 2011, especially without an experienced safety net to remove the pressure this time around. With Watkins at the top spot on the depth chart, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant will likely take some time this spring to gain a better rapport with Boyd and prove they can handle a larger role in Clemson’s dynamic passing game. The Tigers must also replace the departed Andre Ellington at running back, but can luckily plug his experienced backup, Roderick McDowell (450 yards, five TDs in 2012), right into the role.

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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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Chick-fil-a Bowl Preview: Clemson Tigers vs. LSU Tigers

Clemson's High-Powered Passing Attack Meets A Formidable Foe in LSU's Defense

Clemson’s High-Powered Passing Attack Meets A Formidable Foe in LSU’s Defense

Both 10-2, Clemson and LSU appear to be worlds apart in terms of perceived success. While the former dropped their major rivalry game (and a possible BCS bid) in the year’s final contest, the latter’s only losses were close calls to the second- and third-ranked teams in the country (Alabama and Florida, respectively).

Bowl Game: Chick-fil-a Bowl

Location: Atlanta, Ga.

First Year: 1968 (Peach Bowl)

2012 Participants: Clemson Tigers (10-2) vs. LSU Tigers (10-2)

Last Meeting: LSU over Clemson, 10-7 (1996 Peach Bowl)


Clemson (previous bowl game: 70-33 loss vs. West Virginia in 2012 Orange Bowl)

The talk out of the Clemson camp leading up to this game has been all about learning from last year’s blowout postseason loss. Now, the Tigers will be tasked with turning that talk into action against an elite LSU defense. While the 2012 season was a phenomenal one for Clemson on offense, there are no guarantees they’ll be able to replicate the 42.3 points per game they averaged all season (6th in the FBS). In the team’s other two games against top-11 total defenses (Florida State and South Carolina), Clemson’s scoring average dips to just 27 points per game. In part, this is due to Tajh Boyd‘s struggles against extreme pressure — especially with a fairly young offensive line. But there’s also the issue of the Tigers’ reduced number of plays run under this duress. On average, Clemson calls 83.5 plays from scrimmage, yet against South Carolina, they ran just 57 (including just 16 in the second half). If the Tigers hope to move the ball against LSU, which runs a very similar defense to the Gamecocks, they’ll need to figure out a way to continue moving the ball as the pressure ramps up. In particular, this is where senior halfback Andre Ellington makes a huge difference. If he, and the rest of the Clemson backfield can move the ball effectively on the ground, they’ll be able to combat LSU’s pressure with at least moderate success. Contrary to Clemson’s typical play-calling, ball control may be their best offensive and defensive strategy.

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Ranking the ACC Bowl Games

Syracuse/West Virginia is Just One of Several Great ACC Bowl Matchups This Postseason

Syracuse/West Virginia is Just One of Several Great ACC Bowl Matchups This Postseason

After a frustrating regular season, the ACC earned itself six bowl bids (plus another three if you want to count the incoming members), and will now try and avoid the dismal showing it’s put on for more than half a decade now. Since 2005, the conference (if you’re including Pitt and Syracuse) is 18-32 in the postseason, with just one BCS bowl win in that time frame (Virginia Tech beat Cincinnati in 2009).

But maybe 2012 changes things? I make no guarantees, and these won’t be predictions just yet (we’ll get to those once bowl season officially starts), but there’s always hope the conference can turn things around. Below, all nine games involving ACC squads are ranked, in (reverse) order of game quality, with some brief notes on each matchup. Feel differently about any of these? Feel free to share your thoughts below:

9. Hyundai Sun Bowl (December 31): Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. USC Trojans

Tech’s defense didn’t look terrible against FSU in the ACC Championship Game, but this game could be a major black-eye for the Jackets and ACC as a whole. On paper, the Trojans have some of the country’s best offensive playmakers, and there’s a high potential for embarrassment here if Georgia Tech’s defense performs as it has for most of 2012.

8. Allstate Sugar Bowl (January 2): Louisville Cardinals vs. Florida Gators

While Louisville looked impressive in their final win over Rutgers, it’s hard to overlook their paltry schedule overall when trying to evaluate them against Florida. The Gators have tallied 11 wins against one of the nation’s toughest slates, and that defense will put a ton of pressure on QB Teddy Bridgewater from start to finish.

7. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (December 31): NC State Wolfpack vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

The ‘Dores have been on a roll, and are one victory away from tying the team record for a season (nine). NC State, on the other hand, has struggled for consistency all year, with a shaky defense and now, a departed head coach. Four of Vandy’s last five opponents haven’t come within two scores and their offense has been firing on all cylinders in the second half — both recipes for a potential win over the Pack.

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