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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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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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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Final 2012 ACC Football Power Rankings

Clemson's Big Upset Over LSU Was One of Several Wins to Help the ACC Save Face This Postseason

Clemson’s Big Upset Over LSU Was One of Several Wins to Help the ACC Save Face This Postseason

Well that was a pleasant surprise now, wasn’t it? After getting knocked around on and off the field all season, the ACC found itself when it counted — the postseason — and (including Pitt & SU) managed a 5-3 slate, it’s first winning bowl record since 2005. If you want to include Louisville (and I sure do, given their big Sugar Bowl win), that brings the league to 6-3, with wins over the SEC (LSU & Florida), Big 12 (West Virginia) and Pac-12 (pre-season no. 1 USC). But sure, keep laughing at this league. They proved themselves and more during this year’s bowl season, and hopefully it’s a building block for even more excellent football.

1. Florida State Seminoles (12-2) (7-1) (LW: 1): Knock FSU for their schedule, their two losses (why are we criticizing a 12-win team again?) or their lack of a chance at a national title this season. But at the end of the day, they’re exactly where they were slated to be. The ‘Noles will be back in that conversation again this decade. It just takes some time, and this — winning both the ACC and the Orange Bowl — was the first step. Jimbo Fisher’s team will need to get past several big losses going forward, most notably Bjoern Werner and EJ Manuel, but the foundation’s there for a bright future.

2. Clemson Tigers (11-2) (7-1) (LW: 2): Despite not making it to a BCS bowl game, I’d say the Tigers’ consolation prize was still well-worth the trouble, no? On a national stage, Clemson beat mighty SEC’s LSU Tigers, and in the process, ended up being part of the most-watched non-BCS college football game in ESPN’s history. Most stunning in Clemson’s 25-24 victory, however, was the oft-maligned defense. Down 11 points heading into the fourth, the Bayou Bengals could’ve just run the clock out throughout the final stanza. Instead, it was Clemson that stayed strong, shutting out LSU and setting up a defining win for the Dabo Swinney era.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4) (5-3) (LW: 4): It’s tough to look at UNC’s 2012 season without imagining what could’ve been for a squad that seemed to finally turn the corner here in Larry Fedora’s first year. Knocking on the door of a division title for quite some time, the Heels finally put it all together, only to be ineligible for the postseason. So while it’s a disappointment for North Carolina fans to watch an eight-win season get laid to waste, it’s also built this program some street cred. Despite Giovani Bernard‘s departure to the NFL Draft, QB Bryn Renner will stick around for his senior year, meaning this team returns plenty of firepower; most of which this season only served as a preview for.

4. Syracuse Orange (8-5) (LW: 5): As if it was meant to be, Syracuse closed out their time in the Big East — the conference they built — by putting together its most impressive season in a decade. Up against one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules, and a top-heavy league to boot, the Orange still managed to win six of their final seven games. The exclamation point, however (on top of a split conference title), was their resounding victory over rival West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. As someone who braved the cold to watch in-person, it was amazing to see this squad’s transformation from the season’s opening-week struggles to the machine-like execution against the Mountaineers.

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ACC Football 2012 Power Rankings: Week 14

Tajh Boyd and the Clemson Offense Were No Match for South Carolina, as the Gamecocks Embarrassed the Tigers Once Again

With the regular season officially over, we check back in with the ACC’s teams to assess the damage of 2012. The good: two teams won ten games during the regular season, just one team won less than four games, and 10 teams (could be 11 if Pitt wins this weekend) won at least six games. The bad: No team won more than 10 games, two of the league’s top five teams are ineligible, and eight teams (out of 14) won between five and seven games. Oh, and Maryland decided to leave. Which is bad.

1. Florida State Seminoles (10-2) (7-1) (LW: 1): Favored against archrival Florida, the Seminoles had a very manageable game at home and seemed poised for their first 11-win regular season in years. But then they struggled out the gate, and closed just as poorly en route to a 37-26 defeat. As a team, FSU looked outmatched everywhere but the defensive line, and quarterback EJ Manuel‘s four turnovers were the stuff of a worst-case nightmare. They’ll be favored again in the ACC Championship Game, and under no circumstances can the conference really afford for them to lose.

2. Clemson Tigers (10-2) (7-1) (LW: 2): Clemson’s BCS dreams are all but dead after they came up very short against South Carolina and its vaunted defensive front. The Tigers impressive offense was shut down in a way no one had really figured out up until Saturday, and the result exposed a team that can’t run the ball with consistency, nor can they manage to stop anyone on defense either. If Clemson hopes to take the next step and become a truly elite program under coach Dabo Swinney, they need to take full advantage of opportunities against top-tier competition. They had just three games against teams with winning records all season, and went 1-2 in those contests, while being outscored 124-116.

3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (7-5) (5-3) (LW: 5): It’s unfortunate for the conference to see Miami sit out another postseason, but if the alternative is seeing an even better, more experienced version of this group next year, it may be the best option for everyone. In line to play in its first ACC title game, we miss out on a ‘Canes/’Noles matchup this year in exchange for what’s hopefully many more to come. Anyone who watched Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson in action this season knows there are good times ahead, so long as the defense starts to clean up its act.

4. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4) (5-3) (LW: 4): As the year’s wore on, we’ve caught glimpses of what this Heels offense could truly become under Larry Fedora and his spread attack. But on Saturday, quarterback Bryn Renner really delivered on that potential by putting up over 300 yards and five touchdowns. The junior’s obviously taken a bit more time to adapt to the new system than initially expected, but all in all, you still can’t argue with 3,356 yards and 28 scores. Expect even better production next year, as Fedora really turns him loose.

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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week 13 (Part 2)

Tajh Boyd and Clemson Are Looking for Their First Victory Over South Carolina Since 2008

This is part two of this week’s ACC previews and predictions. Check out part one for previews from the week’s featured game and the earlier contests.

The Rest of the Slate (continued, in order of start time):

Miami Hurricanes (6-5) (4-3) at Duke Blue Devils (6-5) (3-4): in the span of three days, this matchup went from critical to pointless, as Duke lost its chance at the division while losing to Georgia Tech, and Miami self-imposed yet another postseason ban. So will either side be motivated for this game? Duke seemingly has their Belk Bowl bid locked up, but riding a three-game losing streak, the wind has kind of vanished from the sails of their “comeback” season. Miami, despite the ban, has shown flashes of real talent all year, and against the Blue Devils’ overmatched secondary, this could be another breakout game. Prediction: Miami 36, Duke 27

Boston College Eagles (2-9) (1-6) at NC State Wolfpack (6-5) (3-4): The Lame Duck Bowl pits two coaches — BC’s Frank Spaziani and NC State’s Tom O’Brien — who are likely out of a job within a week of the final whistle. State has underperformed beyond most pundits’ wildest beliefs, with their biggest strengths, the secondary and quarterback Mike Glennon, also serving as their most serious question marks. And BC, which at first glance possessed a much more potent passing attack under new coordinator Doug Martin, has since fizzled back to a largely ineffective offense typical of Spaziani’s reign of terror. The Wolfpack have the talent to win this game going away, but you could’ve said that about a good deal of the games they played this season, too. Prediction: NC State 38, Boston College 23

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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week Nine (UPDATE: With Devin Burns Injury Note)

Can NC State Continue Its Hot Streak Against UNC, Or Will the Wolfpack Finally Cool Off?

The ACC continues to battle perception this weekend, as teams looking to differentiate themselves face tough in-conference tests. While it would be great for Duke’s feel-good story to continue versus FSU, obviously the league would suffer mightily with a Seminoles loss. And while the Heels may be the Coastal division’s best hope to finish with a team above .500, they might just be outmatched by a Wolfpack team gunning for their first division title. At any rate, just another exciting weekend of ACC football…

Game of the Week

NC State Wolfpack (5-2) (2-1) at North Carolina Tar Heels (5-3) (2-2): Opinions differ on whether or not this is an actual rivalry, and given State’s recent 5-0 run, maybe the real mistake is the Heels discounting it. And if their recent cold streak against the Wolfpack wasn’t enough, UNC also has a score to settle after last week’s last-minute loss to Duke; a crushing loss made worse by the Blue Devils clinching a bowl bid with the victory. If they hope to stop NC State, though, the Tar Heels must play better defense than they did last week. Duke came into that game with one of the worst rushing attacks in the country, yet managed over 230 yards on the ground. If State’s similarly terrible running game can have a performance like that, coupled with a serviceable effort from Mike Glennon, UNC has little hope to pull this one out. Prediction: NC State 26, UNC 23

The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):

Clemson Tigers (6-1) (3-1) at Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-3) (2-3): Did Clemson’s defense wake up last weekend, or did the offense shut down? The answer is crucial for the Tigers, as they hope to finish the regular season on a much more positive note than last year. And it all starts tonight. If it weren’t already enough that Wake gets star receiver Michael Campanaro back, both of the Tigers’ starting cornerbacks are inactive tonight. So suddenly, an easy matchup between Clemson’s improving defense and the Deacs’ stagnant offense gets a lot more hairy. It’ll all come down to stopping the pass, but if Wake Forest can get a running game going — not out of the question against a questionable front four for Clemson — it could be a very long night for Dabo Swinney’s team. Prediction: Clemson 31, Wake Forest 27

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