ACC Football 2013 Preseason Power Rankings

Behind Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, Clemson Appears Ready to Fly Past the Rest of the ACC

Behind Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, Clemson Appears Ready to Fly Past the Rest of the ACC

We’re just a couple days away! I know, this has been an incredibly drawn out offseason, but at long last, kickoff is finally (just about) here. To celebrate that, we’re unveiling the final offseason power rankings, before basing these on actual games starting next Tuesday. 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 (August 27)

1. Clemson Tigers (Last: 1): Clemson will be tested very early in a rivalry redux versus Georgia, and should they get past the Bulldogs, they’ll be favored in the next 10 games. If this team has truly buried the term “Clemsoning” (and for what it’s worth, I firmly believe they have), they should be able to run through to the final weekend at a perfect 11-0. There, South Carolina awaits them, but it’s a long season and in order to be undefeated, you’ve got to go week-by-week.

2. Florida State Seminoles (Last: 3): The more preseason prep you do, the more you end up buying into this year’s Seminoles team being just as talented as last year’s edition. Though the pass-rush might be a bit weaker, the very strong back seven give this team the type of edge they’ll need to notch another season of double-digit wins. But again, the key is Jameis Winston at QB, and whether or not he’s up to the task of jumping in and producing right away.

3. Louisville Cardinals (Last: 2): Playing out a season in purgatory is a daunting task, believe it or not, and we’re about to find out if Louisville’s up to the challenge. With a very big target on their backs and favorable odds in all 12 games on the slate, this Cardinals team will be challenged to get up for each and every game. Charlie Strong can provide the motivation, but it’ll be interesting to watch nonetheless as the year keeps going and the pressure around the squad builds.

4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (Last: 5): Miami likely has the most complete set of offensive tools in the entire conference, with certifiable playmakers at all three major skill positions. This year’s slate is also much easier than 2012’s, with no Notre Dame or Kansas State, though we’ll get a quick sense of what they’re made of in a week two matchup against Florida. Win that one, and who knows how far this team might end up going.

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ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Louisville Cardinals

Can Louisville End Their Time in the Big East/AAC With an Unbeaten Season?

Can Louisville End Its Time in the Big East/AAC With an Unbeaten Season and Top-Five Ranking?

Team: Louisville Cardinals

2012 W-L: 11-2 (5-2 in the Big East)

Head Coach: Charlie Strong (25-14; fourth season)

Returning Starters: 14 (5 Offense, 9 Defense)

Just to get this out of the way first: the Louisville Cardinals will not be playing in the ACC until 2014, but obviously we’re covering them anyway. In their first and only season in the newly-formed American Athletic Conference, the Cards are the league’s best team by a mile and have a very real chance at going unbeaten. Their star junior quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, also has a very good shot at winning the Heisman Trophy. This all we know. But what we’re unsure of is the effect of those pressures on this team’s performance. Despite being the best team in the then-Big East last season, Louisville still managed to lose two conference games and escape several close calls versus overmatched opponents out of conference. So despite their blend of youth and experience, and a huge victory over Florida in the Sugar Bowl, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around this team, believe it or not.

One area where we can be virtually certain about the Cardinals is the quarterback position, though. Bridgewater more than proved himself to be the real deal in 2012, putting up over 3,700 passing yards to go with 27 TDs and just eight interceptions — capped by another strong performance against the Gators, one of the country’s top defenses. He’s been in the system long enough that he knows it like the back of his hand. The only concern could be his offensive line, which says goodbye to center Mario Benavides and also installs a sophomore, Abraham Garcia, at the all-important left tackle spot. Overall size across the board isn’t great, but Bridgwater’s agile enough to allude tacklers (despite needing to add a few pounds to his 193-pound frame if he wants to be able to absorb a few more hits).

Lucky for Bridgewater, his supporting playmakers should also be able to bail him out when necessary. Last year’s backfield was racked with injuries, so off the bat, it’ll be a huge help to have both Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry healthy. While Brown missed all of last season, he managed over 500 yards rushing in 2011 and Perry had over 700 last season himself. The two players have completely opposite rushing styles, and that could help improve upon 2012’s paltry 122 yards per game on the ground. At wideout, Bridgewater will have his pick of talented targets, as DeVante Parker and Damian Copeland alone combined for 90 catches and 12 touchdowns. Ball distribution was a bigger key last year though, as 11 different players caught 10 or more balls in their 24th-ranked passing offense, and it will be again if they’re hoping to achieve similar success in that regard.

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NFL Draft 2013 Preview: Louisville Prospects

After a Strong Senior Campaign, Louisville's Adrian Bushell is Likely to Be Drafted

After a Strong Senior Campaign, Louisville’s Adrian Bushell is Likely to Be Drafted

Leading up to this month’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 50 ACC players were invited to the NFL Draft Combine, those not in attendance also have ample opportunity to hear their name called between April 25 through 27.

Louisville has a stockpile of sophomore and junior talent on the roster right now, so while this crop of NFL prospects may look diminutive, it’s because it’s just a precursor of things to come. Coach Charlie Strong’s created an impressive pipeline and a roster that’s aiming to go undefeated this coming season, with or without the two departing seniors below.

Adrian Bushell, CB, Senior (Projected: Fifth Round)

Bushell’s had a long and winding road to get to this point, but in the limited time he’s been a starting collegiate corner (19 games), all he’s done is impress coaches and scouts alike. Despite a smaller frame of just 5’10” and 186 pounds, he seemingly always manages to get a hand on the football and an arm on a ball-carrier. In 2012, he tallied 14 defended passes, one interception and 62 tackles. Overall, he’s great at keeping receives in front of him, and has become a real deterrent to passes on his side of the field. While he’ll certainly get drafted, his future employer will likely ask him to bulk up just slightly — enough so that he can take the physical punishment of the pro game, but not so much that it hampers his speed.

Mario Benavides, C, Senior (Projected: Seventh Round)

Benavides was widely viewed as a combine snub, something he’s likely used as a motivational chip during his workouts since. The senior has the size (6’3″ and 297 pounds) and speed (5.3 40-yard dash) to be a pro center, but it’s the brute strength piece of the equation that has some scouts unsure. Where he might lack a bit in that department, however, he excels in hand and feet speed — key to keeping the middle of the line clear. There’s talk he may end up positioning himself as a combo guard/center, which will likely increase his value to teams as they search for some offensive line depth late on day three of the draft. Either way, he could use a bit more upper-body strength, but that’s something he can work on once signed with a team as well.

Previously: Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech

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Way-Too-Early 2013 ACC Football Power Rankings

Can Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee Lead the Yellow Jackets Back to the ACC Title Game?

Can Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee Lead the Yellow Jackets Back to the ACC Title Game?

It’s been a couple months since we last checked in on the ACC’s football teams, and in that time, we’ve been able to digest recent recruits, coaching changes and the new directions of each squad. And with spring practices in full swing, chances are we’ll get to know even more over the coming weeks. Until then, here’s where the ACC‘s 14 (15) teams stand in our way-too-early assessment:

1. Clemson Tigers (Last: 1): Clemson’s offseason focus is obviously on the defensive side of the ball, as they look to build upon the positives of last year. While Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be the motors that guide the success of the offense, it really is that defensive unit that will guide just how far this team can go, and if they can achieve their ultimate goal (a national title).

2. Louisville Cardinals (Last: 2): Far too many players are coming back for the defending Sugar Bowl champs to accept anything but another trip to a BCS game. But yet, it seems far too many critics see them doing just that. If coach Charlie Strong can keep that chip on the Cardinals’ shoulders, we may just be looking at a darkhorse contender for the BCS title game.

3. Florida State Seminoles (Last: 3): Can they effectively replace EJ Manuel at the quarterback position? That’s really the linchpin of FSU’s year, and the key question this spring as well. If they can come out of spring with a great handle on who their starting passer is, it means the offense also progresses faster come August, too.

4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (Last: 4): Too much returning talent on offense for the ‘Canes to go anywhere but up. And while the continuing off-the-field nonsense certainly doesn’t help matters for this group, it could also work to their advantage. With new offensive coordinator James Coley now officially plugged in, I’d highly expect results to come in the form of big season from key playmakers Duke Johnson and Stephen Morris.

5. North Carolina Tar Heels (Last: 6): Technically, the Tar Heels are your defending Coastal division champ, so expectations should be pretty high right off the bat. But as year two of Larry Fedora’s offense takes shape, this team does have a pretty clear shot to challenge for the conference title. The difference-maker may end up being the defense, though, which struggled at times last season, and must replace several key starters.

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ACC Football Head Coaching Hot Seats 2013

Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson is One of Several ACC Coaches on Tentative Ground Right Now

Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson is One of Several ACC Coaches on Tentative Ground Right Now

We’re just jumping into spring practice (you can look at every ACC team’s previews here), but for all 14 (15) squads, this is the start of the 2013 season. And for head coaches, this is where the year’s evaluations start; from their players, the school administrations, the fans and the boosters that can easily pull the plug on their position. While some of the ACC‘s head coaches are firmly entrenched where they’re at, there are also plenty that find themselves in precarious situations. Regarding both, we provide a quick evaluation of where all of them stand, new coaches and all.

Completely Safe (5)

Dabo Swinney, Clemson (sixth year): Swinney has brought the Tigers to an extended period of success they haven’t seen in decades, winning the ACC, becoming a perennial top-20 program and taking home a huge victory in the 2012 Chick-fil-a Bowl. The only things left? Consistently beating South Carolina and winning a national championship.

David Cutcliffe, Duke (sixth year): After getting Duke to their first bowl game since 1994, it appears that Cutcliffe can do no wrong in Durham. Of course, now the question begs whether he can keep it up. So long as he can consistently win between five and seven games, Cutcliffe will be just fine at Duke.

Charlie Strong, Louisville (fourth year): Strong had a real opportunity to leave this past offseason, yet chose to stick around at Louisville to finish what he started. While there’s always the threat he could head to the SEC, Strong’s ability to rebuild this program and contend on a national stage (see: Sugar Bowl) have him here long-term if he wants to be.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina (second year): Just a small sample size for Fedora thus far, but in his one season, he’s already brought UNC to a place of far more prominence than they’ve been in a decade. He’ll get several seasons to continue implementing his system, but if trends continue, he’ll be fine in Chapel Hill.

Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh (second year): Another second-year coach, Chryst has seen some results after a season at the helm, but it appears he’s set to grow the program further after (especially after a nice recruiting haul this spring). If they take a step back, questions may start, but he’s got plenty of runway to work with.

Fine for Now (4)

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State (fourth year): Expectations are always high at FSU, so it’s no surprise Fisher sits here, despite winning 12 games and an ACC title last year. Now, of course, it’ll be interesting to see if he can live up year-to-year. If Fisher can’t contend more than every few seasons, patience will grow short very quickly around Florida State.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Louisville Cardinals

Teddy Bridgewater Has Emerged as a True Star for Louisville, and a Heisman Hopeful This Fall

Teddy Bridgewater Has Emerged as a True Star for Louisville, and a Heisman Hopeful This Fall

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: Louisville Cardinals

Spring Practice Start Date: March 20

Spring Game Date: April 13

The big news for the Cardinals so far this offseason? Head coach Charlie Strong opted to return to the team despite SEC overtures, and they will opt to sell $1 beers during April’s spring football game. But to focus on those items is to miss the bigger point of what’s going on at Louisville. U of L has become one of the most profitable athletic departments in the country, and sees its institutional stature growing by the second. It’s why they received an invite to the ACC back in November, and why the Cardinals’ huge upset of Florida in the Sugar Bowl meant so much to the league. And it’s why now, after a breakout sophomore season, QB Teddy Bridgewater looks poised for a run at a top-five ranking and a Heisman campaign. Even with all that hype though, there’s still plenty to do this spring.

While Bridgewater’s hold on his job and the Louisville playbook are both about as strong as they come, the rest of the play-making positions on offense are not nearly as solid. At running back, both proven options — Senorise Perry and Jeremy Wright — will not be present for spring practice. The offense isn’t slated to move on without them, but at the same time, things can’t just wait for them either. Dominique Brown and Corvin Lamb will take on the majority of the carries, and if things remain unsettled with the more veteran backs come July, there could be a shake-up in the backfield. In terms of receivers, it’s clear which players will be lining up as starters, but Bridgewater may take spring to really figure out who his primary target(s) is/are. DeVante Parker, Damian Copeland and Eli Rogers all figure into the plans, but it’s anyone’s guess who leads the pack (though my money’s on Parker).

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National Signing Day 2013: ACC Team Recruiting Rankings

Matthew Thomas and Florida State Are the Class of the ACC's 2013 Recruiting Classes

Matthew Thomas and Florida State Are the Class of the ACC’s 2013 Recruiting Classes

Earlier today, we covered the ACC‘s top 15 recruits from National Signing Day. Now, we take a closer look at each team’s haul and how it stacks up against their conferencemates (plus Louisville), while also highlighting each school’s top recruit. Once again, we’ll be using ESPN’s rankings for consistency’s sake. Please don’t take that as us putting too much stock in these (or any) numbers, however.

1. Florida State Seminoles (22 commitments, 12 in ESPN300): FSU underwent a bit of a crisis a few weeks back, losing offensive coordinator James Coley to rival Miami, and possibly a ton of their recruits in the process. And yet, the collateral damage didn’t turn out all that bad. The ‘Noles still pulled down a boatload of top recruits from all across the south (especially Florida), filling most needs on both sides of the ball. This team will be forced to reload a bit in 2013, and this class helps them do that — most notably at linebacker, with five commits at the position. Top Recruit: Matthew Thomas, OLB (No. 6 overall, Grade: 90)

2. Clemson Tigers (23 commitments, 10 in ESPN300): Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney continued his recruiting hot streak, scoring another strong class packed with athletic defenders as he and D-coordinator Brent Venables fix this squad’s biggest weakness. While he wasn’t the most heralded member of the star-studded class, New York DE Ebenezer Ogundeko could end up being the hidden gem here, though he’ll need to bulk up a bit for the college game. Top Recruit: Mackensie Alexander, CB (No. 4 overall, Grade: 91)

3. Virginia Tech Hokies (22 commitments, 4 in ESPN300): Tech took advantage of a strong 2013 class coming out of Virginia, nabbing 14 in-state recruits. Overall, the group appears heavy on defense, which stays in line with what Frank Beamer’s staff has done consistently over the past two decades. Granted, that won’t help the team’s current offensive woes, but given some defensive issues this past season, bolstering that side can’t be a bad thing. Top Recruit: Kendall Fuller, CB (No. 18 overall, Grade: 88)

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