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: Duke Blue Devils

Anthony Boone Looks Prepared to Lead Duke at Quarterback This Spring

Anthony Boone Looks Prepared to Lead Duke at Quarterback This Spring

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: Duke Blue Devils

Spring Practice Start Date: March 4

Spring Game Date: April 13

Following Duke’s bowl bid in 18 years, 2012 ended with a lot of question marks for the Blue Devils. Was this the end goal? If not, could this be sustained? And would they be able to quickly rebuild without program cornerstones Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon? Well, after one day of spring practice, it looks as if David Cutcliffe’s program may actually be just fine.

For all the naysayers regarding what this offense would be without the aforementioned Renfree and Vernon, they seemingly forgot about who’s stuck around for Duke. Former backup QB Anthony Boone is already more than capable of stepping into the role as starter, as evidenced by the limited time he spent under center last season. In the only game he started (a win over Virginia) he threw for 212 yards and four touchdowns. And yet, despite performances like that, he’s not taking his role as favorite for granted either, as evidenced by yesterday’s feature in the Durham Herald-Sun. Similarly, former second-option Jamison Crowder also has an opportunity to be one of the ACC’s standout receivers (some would say he already was last year). Both Crowder and Boone will have the advantage of dealing with an experienced offensive line (returning four of five starters), so now the big challenge revolves around the effectiveness of the new(ish) offense. If they can put in some solid work in the more sped-up, athletic attack this spring, it could be a surprising new fold against conference defenses come the fall.

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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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ACC Football Top 25 Players of 2012: #11, Conner Vernon

More Than Any Other Player, Conner Vernon's Proof of Just How Far This Duke Team's Evolved

More Than Any Other Player, Conner Vernon’s Proof of Just How Far This Duke Team’s Evolved

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. 11, Conner Vernon, WR/Duke (Preseason Rank: 12)

With 283 career catches, Conner Vernon is both Duke’s and the ACC‘s all-time leading receiver. While this may qualify as one of the most “ACC” things ever, put aside the snark for a second and realize just how impressive that figure is. Four years averaging over 70 catches per season. And all while playing for a team that only managed to win six games once in that stretch. If there’s any player who deserves credit more than the others for the Blue Devils’ resurgence, it must be Vernon — the star who chose to stick it out for a four-year degree in Durham over putting up these elite numbers elsewhere. Not just a statistical monster, Vernon was the heart of this Duke team during their season to remember. Even during the team’s late-season swoon, he was still on his game, managing to amass 21 catches, 228 yards and three touchdowns in his final two collegiate games (both losses, unfortunately). With somewhere between average and below-average height and weight, mixed with below-average speed, he’s certainly going to take a dip on draft boards in April. But there’s no denying what an asset a player like Vernon — a devoted student of the game, and tireless worker — is capable of at the next level. Any warts scouts may see in his game could all very well be ironed out by the time his name’s called that weekend.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Duke Blue Devils

Thanks to Conner Vernon (And Others), Duke's 18-Year Bowl Drought Was Put to an End in 2012

Thanks to Conner Vernon (And Others), Duke’s 18-Year Bowl Drought Was Put to an End in 2012

Team: Duke Blue Devils

W-L: 6-7 (3-5)

Postseason: 48-34 Belk Bowl loss to Cincinnati

Top Offensive Performer: Conner Vernon, WR

Top Defensive Performer: Ross Cockrell, CB

It almost feels like two separate seasons for Duke. First there was the 6-2 start, culminating in their exciting last-minute victory over archrival North Carolina that gave the Blue Devils their first six-win season since 1994. And then there was the rest; an 0-5 finish that saw them outscored by a combined score of 246-130. So while we’ll certainly commend Duke for ending an 18-year postseason drought, it’s also difficult to look upon 2012 as a complete success in hindsight, considering how disappointing the end was. But when looking at the successful part of the equation, you don’t have to look past the offense.

Under David Cutcliffe, Duke’s program has mostly grown gradually as a result of their passing offense and the star tandem of QB Sean Renfree and WR Conner Vernon. However, in 2012, that improvement was sped up immensely, as the team scored 31.5 points per game (versus just 22.4 last season). The Blue Devils scored 35 points or more five different times, and most importantly, possessed one of the country’s best passing attacks. Whether it was Renfree or backup (and 2013 starter) Anthony Boone, Duke’s quarterbacks averaged over 280 yards per game through the air (good for 31st in the country). And while the passers were/are certainly a big part of that, there’s also plenty of credit due to the team’s expert wide receivers. Vernon and Jamison Crowder were outstanding this season, even by their elevated standards. Combined, they had 161 catches, 2,148 yards and 16 touchdowns — all among the most impressive figures in the country for a receiving duo. The running game, while underwhelming overall (ranked 100th in the FBS), also showed marked improvement over 2011 (115th), and was a big part of many of the team’s big victories this time around.

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ACC Football 2012 Week 12 Lessons: Maryland Move Shows Conference Realignment Truly Never Ends

Just When We Thought Realignment Was Over, Maryland Jumps to the Big Ten

Each Monday morning, we compile our top five takeaways from the weekend’s action. Here’s what we got out of Week 12 of ACC football action:

1. Conference realignment never stops: With Maryland and Rutgers headed to the Big Ten, the wheels are turning once again, and no one’s really sure what the next steps are. We thought it was over after Notre Dame joined the ACC. And then again when the playoff system was hashed out. Instead, any number of things can happen now — from the Big East ceasing to exist, to the Big 12 getting aggressive or even the ACC imploding. As an ACC blog, we’re obviously on edge until there’s some indication of what’s next, but even then, realignment will always be there to ambush fans and conferences alike.

2. Someone hand Tajh Boyd an award… any award: The Clemson quarterback has lit the league on fire all season, but Saturday’s performance may have taken the cake. Rewriting the school and conference record books, the junior accounted for 529 total yards and EIGHT scores. I don’t care whose defense you’re facing; those are impressive figures. But yet, Boyd has heard very little chatter in terms of any individual awards. He has over 3,500 total yards and 41 touchdowns on the season, with two games to go. You can’t tell me he’s not deserving of some sort of recognition.

3. Georgia Tech‘s season is reborn: Winning versus Duke on Saturday, coupled with Miami‘s announcement today that they’ll be imposing yet another postseason ban, means the Yellow Jackets are headed to the ACC Championship Game. And regardless of the circumstances around the division title, it counts, and can be considered a huge mark of resilience for this team. Sitting at 3-5 around Halloween, all looked lost in Atlanta. Instead, the squad is one big upset from ending the regular season at 7-5, and could still wind up in the Orange Bowl.

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ACC Football Player of the Week, Week 8: Sean Renfree, Duke

Duke QB Sean Renfree is the ACC Player of the Week for Week 8

Each week, we’ll be identifying the best ACC player from that weekend’s games. As always, it’s a completely arbitrary award with no specific criteria beyond the vague concept of “excellence.” No, we don’t take write-ins.

ACC Player of the Week, Week Eight: Sean Renfree, QB/Duke

For four years, Duke senior QB Sean Renfree has waited to play in a bowl game. And in that time, he’s been constantly reminded how long it’s been since his team participated in one. So when the face of coach David Cutcliffe’s program revival delivered the game-winning strike with just 13 seconds to go on Saturday, it was a mix of a joy and relief. The Blue Devils, bowl-less since 1994, had notched their sixth win of the season and were officially eligible for the postseason. Renfree, already in the midst of a stellar season (and career), added to his resume by leading one of the most important drives in school history. His 276 yards passing amounted to his third-highest total on the year, but it was the final five to Jamison Crowder that counted most of all.

Honorable Mention:

Giovani Bernard, RB/North Carolina (209 total yards, 2 TD)

Devonta Freeman, RB/Florida State (70 yards rushing, 2 TD)

Jonathan Meeks, S/Clemson (3 tackles, 2 INT, 1 TD)

Alec Lemon, WR/Syracuse (8 catches, 166 yards, 1 TD)

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