ACC Football 2013 Payback Games: Virginia Tech

Pittsburgh Manhandled Virginia Tech Last Season; Can the Hokies Bounce Back in 2013?

Pittsburgh Manhandled Virginia Tech Last Season; Can the Hokies Bounce Back in 2013?

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2012. 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 2013.

As part of our 2013 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: Pittsburgh Panthers

Last Year: Loss, 35-17 at Pittsburgh

This Year: October 12 vs. Pittsburgh

Of Virginia Tech’s six losses last season, just two were close games, but unfortunately, the Hokies won’t get a crack at either of those teams (Florida State and Cincinnati) this season. But despite the 18-point margin, last year’s loss to Pittsburgh still holds plenty of importance. Going into the game, Tech was 2-0, looking impressive as always on defense. The Panthers, on the other hand, were 0-2 following two straight embarrassing efforts. The two teams were not conference foes just yet, but the excitement was there for the Pitt faithful, looking forward to the first of many annual matchups with Virginia Tech. And then suddenly, Pittsburgh was up 21-3 at halftime, and they never looked back.

It was the first sign of trouble for the Hokies; a hint they wouldn’t be up to the standard they’ve set since arriving in the ACC by winning at least 10 games in each season from 2004 through 2011. The contest was an absolute disaster, especially offensively. Tech had just 14 first downs, only picked up 324 yards (just 59 rushing) and committed four turnovers. No one knew it yet, but Pitt had just written the book on how to dominate the 2012 iteration of the Hokies (ball control and pressure Logan Thomas); a formula that would be repeated several more times last fall.

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Early 2013 ACC Football Betting Lines

"Clean, Old Fashioned Hate" is One of 48 ACC Matchups With Current Betting Odds in Vegas

“Clean, Old Fashioned Hate” is One of 48 ACC Matchups With Current Betting Odds in Vegas

While I’m not endorsing gambling (unless you’re in Las Vegas, then go right ahead), it’s always a great sign that college football’s right around the corner when you can start betting on games. To that end, Golden Nugget’s sports books have published lines for almost 250 games this fall — 48 of which are involving ACC squads. The full list of ACC games, which I’ve included below, are gleaned from the list provided by Don Best via SB Nation.

Week One

North Carolina at South Carolina (-12)

Penn State at Syracuse (+6.5) (at East Rutherford, NJ)

BYU at Virginia (+3.5)

Alabama at Virginia Tech (+17) (at Atlanta)

Georgia at Clemson (+3.5)

Florida State at Pittsburgh (+13)

Week Two

Syracuse at Northwestern (-13)

Oregon at Virginia (+21)

Florida at Miami (+2.5)

Week Three

Boston College at USC (-21.5)

Nevada at Florida State (-26)

Louisville at Kentucky (+14)

Week Four

Clemson at NC State (+11)

North Carolina at Georgia Tech (-4.5)

West Virginia at Maryland (+2)

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ACC Football Standout Senior 2013: Syracuse

Jerome Smith Had a Breakout 2012 Campaign for SU; Can He Improve Upon it in 2013?

Jerome Smith Had a Breakout 2012 Campaign for Syracuse; Can He Improve Upon it in 2013?

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.

Syracuse Orange: Jerome Smith, RB

Jerome Smith’s not the only key senior in the Syracuse offense — in fact, he’s not even the only key senior running back. But as last season showed, the Orange were markedly better when he performed well, and with all the buzz about the SU ground game this season, all conversations must start with Smith.

Syracuse was 6-1 when Smith racked up 90 or more yards — the only loss being a turnover-riddled disaster against Cincinnati in which he ran for 116 yards. And while that loss stung, it was right in the midst of Smith and the entire SU running game hitting their respective strides; the most important factor in the team’s turnaround from 2-4 midseason to 8-5 by the end. Now, without a proven passing game to drive things, it’ll be up to Smith and fellow senior back Prince-Tyson Gulley to keep the offense on pace with last year’s prolific attack. Both showed off how they could function in featured roles during December’s Pinstripe Bowl (Smith, in particular, amassed 152 rushing yards on 29 carries), and this team could be relying on similar production from both moving forward.
But is that realistic?

For Smith, it would appear so. Once he started receiving a consistent number of carries in 2012, he seemed to flourish in his role as an impact runner. At 5’11” and 213 pounds, he’s a bit of a bruiser, but when paired with the lightning quick Gulley, it’s an exciting mix. Smith can be productive on limited carries (still had over five yards per rush last year), but ideally, you’re looking at him as the featured rusher at 20 carries or so. He ran for 95 yards or more in all seven games in which he saw 18 or more touches, and it’s likely the coaching staff’s already caught on to that. What they will have to work on a bit, however, is his involvement in the passing game.

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ACC Football Chat: Discussing Non-Conference Rivals and the Evolving Recruiting Landscape

Florida and Miami Have No Intentions on Renewing Their Rivalry Past 2013

Florida and Miami Have No Intentions on Renewing Their Gridiron Rivalry Past 2013

Earlier in the week, our own Hokie Mark started up a conversation surrounding three- and four-way rivalries over on SB Nation’s Every Day Should Be Saturday. The basics: there are several three-way rivalries being played out this season, and some of them are going away for a long time after that. Some due to disinterest, others due to scheduling. But what Mark was getting at was the unique setup for three- and four-way rivalries, and which are some of the most- and least-heralded in the country.

Of course, this turned into a jumping-off point for an email conversation between he and I, which I’ve compiled below for everyone. While the main topic focused on non-conference rivals, we also branched out into what’s become an increasingly year-round discussion for everyone: recruiting. Check it out:

Mark: Hello again, John! Only 100 days until the football season begins — a very special one for Syracuse and Pittsburgh, to be sure. For the Orange, the season essentially begins and ends with old rivals: Penn State and Boston College. How do you feel about renewing those rivalries, and are there other rivalries for ‘Cuse that you’d like to see reawakened?

John: I’m about as excited as you can get, considering we’re still about 100 days out. Rekindling the rivalry with Boston College has been one of my favorite aspects of the ACC move, since it easily addresses our crisis of football identity (though much of the media doesn’t think so). Penn State, while arguably our oldest and most storied rival, hasn’t filled that role in over 20 years. It’s nice to play them when we can, but I think most fans have kind of moved on from the Nittany Lions — especially those of us who aren’t old enough to remember when SU and PSU were rivals to begin with.

As far as other rivalries worth rekindling, only two come to mind, and one’s not necessarily a “rivalry” at all. West Virginia‘s always been among our most-hated opponents, and with Syracuse beating the Mountaineers the last three times out (including last December’s Pinstripe Bowl), it’s only created a more hostile tension between the two fan bases. I was at the game in December, and ‘Neers fans were not what you would call “friendly” toward the Orange contingent, by any means. The other aforementioned opponent was Virginia Tech. While never traditionally considered one of Syracuse’s rivals, the Hokies and SU played plenty of heated games toward the latter years of the original Big East football conference that are worth rehashing. Of course, the ACC’s divisional setup won’t do much to help us play Tech more often, so that one’s also kind of off the table.

What about you, from a VaTech perspective? Any rivalries you’d like to start back up — feasible or not? Have any ill will left toward Syracuse from the Big East days?

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Rushel Shell Transfer: Where to, and What’s Next for Pitt’s Backfield?

Rushel Shell's Leaving Pittsburgh, But Where Could He End Up Next?

We Know Rushel Shell’s Leaving Pittsburgh, But Where Could He End Up Next?

As has been the news for nearly a week now, presumed starting running back Rushel Shell has elected to transfer out of Pittsburgh’s football program. SB Nation’s Cardiac Hill has a detailed breakdown of the various puzzling aspects of this move, so for discussion around that front, feel free to wander in that general direction.

What we’re interested in here is where he could potentially end up (touched upon over at CH as well), and then what’s next for the Panthers’ backfield as they continue with spring practice. With little information available right now, please keep in mind this is almost entirely speculation at the moment.

Where could Rushel Shell transfer to?

Just one year ago, Shell was in high demand as one of the top-rated running back prospects in the nation, and he was expected to deliver on those lofty goals as Pitt’s featured back in 2013. Now, he’s an impressive sophomore runner with 641 rushing yards and four scores under his belt, looking for a new home where he’ll sit out a year before regaining eligibility in 2014.

The top transfer choices are the ones in closest proximity: West Virginia and Penn State, but there’s chatter that Pitt would not allow him to head to either long-time rival program. Same goes for Arizona State, where former Panthers coach Todd Graham currently resides as head coach. The Cardiac Hill guys believe Pitt would block any move to those three schools, but is that the right move? Not siding with Shell here, but based on a recent tweet from the mother of Shell’s children, it would almost seem like he’s trying to run from some issues (purely speculation). However, rewind the clock a year, and let’s remember what happened when former Terps QB Danny O’Brien was trying to leave Maryland and head coach Randy Edsall was adamant about limiting his possibilities. The backlash was pretty far-reaching and ultimately, amounted to nothing since O’Brien failed to go to a future scheduled opponent or another ACC team (he went to Wisconsin).

So with that said, where could he potentially land? The top two choices are obvious:

Arizona State: Graham and his staff initially recruited Shell, and perhaps that was part of the initial appeal to the Panthers program (beyond just local tie-ins). The Sun Devils currently have a veteran backfield set for fall, giving Shell ample opportunity to contribute come fall 2014.

West Virginia: Still local, and like many Pitt players, Shell certainly knows plenty of Mountaineers players. With the Big 12 sort of lacking for an elite back, Shell could get an opportunity to really shine in that conference, though who knows how much opportunity he’d get in Dana Holgorsen’s air-raid offense.

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ACC Football Recruiting 2013: Border Wars, and Leaving Your Footprint to Find Talent

Does UGA Control Georgia Recruiting So Much That Tech Must Look Elsewhere?

Does UGA Control Georgia Recruiting So Much That Tech Must Look Elsewhere?

ACC teams pulled in an impressive haul on National Signing Day last month, but with so many conference schools located in states/general regions that overlap with (current and future) Big Ten and SEC schools’ territories, it can be a real uphill slog to lock down local recruits. For some schools like Georgia Tech (14th ranked class out of 15 in the ACC), the overriding opinion is that their own home state, Georgia, may be lost for good to the likes of rival Georgia, and perhaps Georgia State in the future, so why not “go national?

As a key football brand, there’s not doubt the ‘Wreck will ultimately find success leaving the state of Georgia. But for other schools, they can’t afford a bad recruiting class to tell them now is the time to alter course. This year in particular, several schools actually went on the offensive, grabbing some of their best players from bordering states (and in turn, rival institutions from other conferences).

To help frame the conversation, I’ve enlisted our own Hokie Mark (who runs his own ACCFootballRx site along with the work he helps with here) to parse through his immense collection of recruiting data, and give us a starting point. From Mark’s companion piece on ACC schools losing in-state recruits, here’s how we’ll be classifying states:

ACC-Exclusive States: Massachusetts, North Carolina, New York, Virginia

Battleground States: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, South Carolina

Border States: Alabama, Connecticut, Washington D.C., Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee

In “Border States,” there were a total of 68 players who received a four- or five-star rating from Rivals.com (we’ll be using this for consistency, and because that’s where Mark’s data is from). Of those 68, here’s how the recruits were broken down (by conference):

ACC: 9

B1G: 26

Big 12: 2

Notre Dame: 2

Pac-12: 3

SEC: 24

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ACC Football Top 25 Players of 2012: #18, Ross Cockrell

Duke's Ross Cockrell Was an Integral Part of the Blue Devils' Surprising 2012 Season

Duke’s Ross Cockrell Was an Integral Part of the Blue Devils’ Surprising 2012 Season

As part of our 2012 season review, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC this season, from no. 25 to no. 1. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof, obviously — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 18, Ross Cockrell, CB/Duke (Preseason Rank: NR)

Going into 2012, it was thought that Duke’s offense, led by Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon, would impress, though most were unsure about the Blue Devils defense. In the season’s early goings, it appeared as if Ross Cockrell took that as a challenge, guiding the way during an impressive opening effort. Through the first six games, the junior corner had four interceptions, defended nine passes and scored a touchdown on top of that. Even in the admittedly rocky Stanford game, where I myself called out Cockrell and the entire secondary for their failings, he still managed a pick and six tackles. Possibly the biggest statement about Cockrell’s skill set, however, came from how the end of the season played out. Four straight miserable losses for the Blue Devils took some of the luster off their surprising season, and there’s two ways of looking at those defeats. Either that Cockrell, as a veteran leader, needed to step up and failed to (just one INT, 20 tackles in four games). Or he was such an integral part of their success, that they couldn’t come away with a victory unless he played at an elite level. I won’t take a guess at which situation’s true, but take a look at their final, and fifth loss in a row — to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. Duke allowed nearly 70 passing yards above their already poor average (267 passing yards allowed per game) without him playing. Ultimately, it ended up being the difference in a close loss.

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