2011 ACC Season Recap: North Carolina Tar Heels

Giovanni Bernard Was UNC's Top Performer in 2011 and Figures to Be Again in 2012Mi

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels

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

Postseason: 41-24 Independence Bowl loss to Missouri

Top Offensive Performer: Giovani Bernard, RB

Top Defensive Performer: Quinton Coples, DE

Another team marred by NCAA allegations, the Tar Heels’ coaching change left their program seemingly in disarray going into 2011. Yet, with strong play by contributors young and old on offense, and a talented cast of characters on the defensive side, they still managed to qualify for a bowl game. Among their most impressive contributors, first-time starters Giovani Bernard and Bryn Renner turned in phenomenal performances, ranking among the best running backs and quarterbacks, respectively, in the ACC. Even more stunning was that despite 10 games (out of 13) against bowl competition, the Heels held their own in a little over half, and only truly found themselves out of two contests all season.

For an offense with as many weapons as UNC possessed — Bernard, Renner and All-ACC receiver Dwight Jones — one would’ve expected a lot out of this offense. And yet, they were nothing special, scoring just above 28 points per game and finishing around the middle of the pack in most major offensive categories. As good as the freshman Bernard was, he was the only effective rusher the team had. However, in the passing game, Renner would prove to be the conference’s most efficient signal-caller, and combining with Jones’s stellar efforts, were a lethal mix ready to blow up any game without warning. Predictably, with such a pass-heavy offense, they’d finish with some of the lowest time-of-possession numbers in the league, along with ACC bookends Maryland (2-10) and Clemson (10-4). Continue reading

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ACC’s Top 25 Players of 2011: No. 12, Giovani Bernard

North Carolina's Giovani Bernard is Number 12 On Our Countdown of the ACC's Top 25 Players

To recap the 2011 season of ACC football, we’ll be ranking the top 25 players in the conference this year, starting at 25, and heading all the way to the number-one slot. While these rankings can surely be debated, it’s still entertaining to assemble them. And on we go…

No. 12: Giovani Bernard, RB/North Carolina

The freshman running back was one of the standout first-year players in the entire country this season, rushing for nearly 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns on the year. Those totals would rank him third in rushing yardage in the ACC, and tied for first in total touchdowns, with 14 (13 rush, one receiving). On top of his rushing prowess, the quick also displayed a penchant for catching balls out of the backfield, taking in 45 receptions for 362 yards. Teaming with star receiver Dwight Jones, the duo was able to keep most defenses off-guard, allowing for a more balanced attack as well. Bernard scored at least two touchdowns in four different games, most notably a three-touchdown effort against Wake Forest. He’s expected to be the focal point of the Carolina offense come 2012. Continue reading

ACC’s Top 25 Players of 2011: No. 14, Dwight Jones

North Carolina's Dwight Jones is Number 14 On Our Countdown of the ACC's Top 25 Players

To recap the 2011 season of ACC football, we’ll be ranking the top 25 players in the conference this year, starting at 25, and heading all the way to the number-one slot. While these rankings can surely be debated, it’s still entertaining to assemble them. And on we go…

No. 14: Dwight Jones, WR/North Carolina

With the birthday party fiasco behind him, what we’ll still likely remember from Dwight Jones’ senior season at UNC are his impressive statistic totals and a standout three-touchdown game against Duke to end the regular season. After what was seemingly a breakout junior year (his first as a starter) in which he recorded 62 receptions, Jones’s encore was the stuff prospects dream of. He led the ACC in catches, with 85. He finished third in receiving yards (1,196) and yards per reception (14.1). His 12 touchdowns were fifth in the conference at any position. Plus, for a troubled UNC team always looking to push its offseason behind it, Jones served as a sense of stability and all-around excellence on the field. And what’s next for the obviously NFL-ready receiver? A likely second-or-third round phone call that he’ll be playing on Sundays next season. Whoever gets to draft him will likely have a valuable contributor on their hands right out of the box. Continue reading

ACC’s Top 25 Players of 2011: No. 19, Bryn Renner

North Carolina's Bryn Renner is Number 19 On Our Countdown of the ACC's Top 25 Players

To recap the 2011 season of ACC football, we’ll be ranking the top 25 players in the conference this year, starting at 25, and heading all the way to the number-one slot. While these rankings can surely be debated, it’s still entertaining to assemble them. And on we go…

No. 19: Bryn Renner, WR/North Carolina

In the first real minutes of his college career, the sophomore took over a beleaguered UNC team and provided some semblance of normalcy (on the offensive end, at least). The results were instant — as he developed an immediate rapport with senior receiver Dwight Jones en route to 12 touchdown connections between the two. Including the Heels’ bowl loss, Renner managed to pass for over 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns (plus another rushing score). In terms of efficiency, Renner ranked first overall among ACC quarterbacks in the regular season, was third in touchdown passes and finished first in accuracy with a 68.3 completion percentage. He was so stunningly accurate this season that he completed over 70 percent of his passes in five different games, and even recorded a 95.7 percentage in week one. Though a future without Jones will be trying, Renner’s junior season looks to build on what’s already been a impressive, albeit brief career.

Previously:

#20, Chris Givens

#21, Josh Bush

#22, Aaron Donald

#23, Sean Renfree

#24, Julian Burnett

#25, Terrell Manning

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl Preview: North Carolina vs. Missouri

This Year's Independence Bowl Pits North Carolina Against Missouri

Welcome to ACC bowl season! Crazy that postseason festivities have been going on for over a week already without the conference’s participation, but the resulting eight-team, 10-day whirlwind (Pittsburgh doesn’t play until a few days after the Orange Bowl) promises to be exciting, even if it’s not necessarily fruitful for the conference’s less-than-stunning bowl reputation. We start off with an evenly matched contest between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Big 12‘s Missouri Tigers in the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl.

Bowl Game: (Advocare V100) Independence Bowl

Location: Shreveport, La.

First Year: 1976

2011 Participants: North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5) vs. Missouri Tigers (7-5)

Last Meeting: 1976, a 24-3 home win by Missouri

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North Carolina (previous bowl game: 30-27 win over Tennessee in 2010 Music City Bowl)

Rather than talking about how wide receiver Dwight Jones could improve his draft stock during his final game as a collegiate athlete, we were too busy worrying about his likeness on club posters last week. In spite of those shenanigans, Jones will play and promises to be a major factor in the Tar Heels. Based on their offense’s performance at times this season, he’ll need to be, too. Finishing 57th overall while scoring 28 points per game, UNC also had three games where they only managed two touchdowns or less (including an embarrassing shutout at the hands of NC State). Their defense, while good, still let up an average of 23.5 points per game — a bit concerning considering the level of competition UNC faced this season. While Missouri is hardly the best team these ‘Heels have faced (they’ve previously lost to far superior Clemson and Virginia Tech squads this year), their most impressive win is a 28-17 victory over an unranked Virginia outfit. Needless to say, they still have something to prove.

Missouri Tigers (previous bowl game: 27-24 loss to Iowa in 2010 Insight Bowl)

I recall last year’s Iowa-Missouri bowl game being utterly confusing, since both teams wear the same colors (yellow and black). Glad bowl organizers avoided such a mix-up this year. Of note about these Tigers, they won four of their last five games to get here, have a better offense (32.2 points per game) and a very similar defense (same amount of points per game as the Heels — 23.5). Missouri quarterback James Franklin appears very similar when compared to UNC counterpart Bryn Renner, both racking up around 2,700 yards passing along with 20 or so touchdowns — until you see Franklin’s eye-popping 839 yards on the ground, too. If one of these teams excels at anything, it’s the Tigers and their run-game, which was ranked 11th in the FBS (against Big 12 competition, to boot).

Verdict

Missouri’s proficiency running the ball will likely be the difference in a game of mostly equal competitors. It can also be argued that the Tigers were only truly “out” of one game all year, a 45-24 drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma State (who actually beat Oklahoma by even more than that margin, so take from that what you will). North Carolina, on the other hand, was truly dominated in two of their games — a respectable loss to Clemson and the previously mentioned shutout to NC State. Looking at the quality of opponents though, the nod here (based on resume) goes to Missouri, with four losses to ranked teams. Plus, with their forthcoming move to the SEC, it would only be fair that they torched an ACC squad to kick things off. I’ve heard it’s part of the initiation process. Prediction: Missouri 38, UNC 24

The Case of Dwight Jones’s Birthday Party, And Supposed NCAA Infractions

The Case of Dwight Jones's Birthday Was Open-And-Shut

Before most people even heard about North Carolina wide receiver Dwight Jones‘s alleged birthday party eligibility scare, it was already non-news. Jones, who the university (already in trouble with the powers-that-be) declared ineligible for their upcoming Independence Bowl date with Missouri, said he was sorry and was magically reinstated. His birthday bash — which probably would have gone down as his most consequential yet — may or may not happen at 778 Sports Lounge now, but will surely fail to include his likeness, and fail to give out $500 cash to some “lucky ladies” in attendance. Given how quick this whole thing was dismissed, you can all go back to laughing at the NCAA’s “enforcement” of the “rules” they come out and preach about every so often. While I’m not in favor of stupid penalties like this one (especially for seniors in their final game), if you’re going to pursue in one instance (see: the Great Sammy Watkins Caper of Eight Days Ago), then pursue in all instances. These folks, being college-educated as they are, understand this perception. So it was no surprise when the following occurred before the dust even settled on Jones’s situation:

South Carolina‘s C.C. Whitlock and Jadeveon “Doo Doo” Clowney (of all the nicknames?) are plastered all over a Facebook event sponsored by #TeamCascade (sure, hashtags!). They’re still debating who-knew-what about the circumstances (if the players agreed berforehand, if they’re getting paid, etc.), but one thing’s for certain — no one cares anymore. So much so that if you follow the previous link, you’ll find a Deadspin story starting with the phrase “Not This Shit Again.” That piece also echoes my earlier sentiment: Yes these rules are stupid, but since they exist, just knock it off, athletes. We wouldn’t watch the games if we didn’t think you were good, so please try your best to stay on the field. Much appreciated.

ACC Top 10 Single-Game Performances of 2011

Who Had the Best Single-Game Performance of an Exciting 2011 ACC Football Season?

Continuing our extensive recap of an entertaining 2011 season of ACC (plus Syracuse and Pittsburgh) football, we move on to the top 10 single-game performances of the 2011 season. These were the best offensive and defensive efforts by one single player, that stood out above all others. As you’d imagine, with so many evenly-matched teams and players this season, no part of this selection was easy. Nonetheless, your top 10 single-game performances. Please feel free to disagree in the comments below.

10. Andre Branch, DE/Clemson (11 tackles, 4.0 sacks @ Virginia Tech): Established early as the class of the ACC this year, Clemson and Virginia Tech’s October clash was supposed to be a very close matchup. What happened instead, however, was a 23-3 blowout — a direct result of the Tigers’ defensive pressure, led by Branch. Seemingly all over the field, the senior defensive end helped hold the Hokies to just 125 passing yards on the day.

9. Sammy Watkins, WR/Clemson (345 all-purpose yards, 3 TD @ Maryland): Watkins and the high-powered Tigers’ offense spend most of the second half of this game mounting an enormous comeback, but don’t blame the deficit on the freshman receiver. One of the nation’s standout first-year players, his highlight reel in this game alone included two big third-quarter receiving TDs, as well as a stunning 89-yard kickoff return to take the lead for good.

8. Dwight Jones, WR/North Carolina (10 catches, 101 yards, 3 TD vs. Duke): Saving his best game of the season for the final regular season match of his career, the senior set season-highs with 10 catches and three touchdowns. While Jones was the Heels’ most impressive offensive weapon all season, it was this performance that really put him into the upper echelon of a talented ACC receiving group.

7. Luke Kuechly, LB/Boston College (23 tackles vs. Duke): Kuechly was a tackling machine for the Eagles in 2011, racking up a grand total of 191 in just 12 games of action. His ultimate reward: the Bronko Nagurski Award, for the nation’s top defensive player. While every game he played was impressive, this one in particular was one of the year’s best tackling performances for any player.

6. Ryan Nassib, QB/Syracuse (24 of 32 passing, 240 total yards, 5 total TD vs. West Virginia): Who knew that this fantastic performance on a Friday night in October would end up being the last hurrah of both Nassib’s and Syracuse’s seasons? In spite of their five-game collapse to close out the slate, this Orange fan will still try to remember their stunning 49-23 win over the Mountaineers most of all. You could occasionally get a glimpse of how much Nassib improved from 2010 to 2011, and this game was an all-out tour-de-force of that growth as a leader on the field.

5. Rolandon Finch, RB/Boston College (243 rushing yards, 2 TD @ Maryland): Finch recorded just 705 yards and three TDs rushing this entire season. So, when looking at his numbers from this late October game versus the Terps, the totals look even more impressive. The Eagles would record 372 yards on the ground that day, to just 32 passing. An embarrassing display for a Maryland defense that expected an easy day against BC’s 112th-ranked offense.

4. Rodney McLeod, CB/Virginia (7 tackles, 3 interceptions @ Maryland): I’m sure you’re sensing a theme with Maryland by now. While McLeod had just four interceptions all season, he managed to pick off three passes in one game against the Terps. The number is currently half of his career total of six. It appears Maryland just has that effect on people.

3. Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (30 of 42 passing, 416 total yards, 4 passing TD vs. Auburn): What better way to announce your arrival in the national consciousness than versus the defending BCS champs? After looking shaky the previous Saturday against FCS competition, Boyd and Clemson came out swinging against Auburn and it paid huge dividends. Sure, the SEC still looks down on their southern brethren, but Clemson, behind some scary-good numbers from its sophomore quarterback, at least quieted the scoffing for a day.

2. Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (27 of 46 passing, 367 passing yards, 6 total TD vs. North Carolina): The only player to appear on this list twice, Boyd and his performance in this October victory was as a huge resume-booster for the quarterback’s then-budding Heisman trophy campaign. The dominating performance would also double as one of the Tigers’ biggest claims to a top-ten ranking. Much of the damage in this one occurred during a horrifying third-quarter in which Clemson scored 35 points to really stick a dagger in UNC’s hopes.

1. Mike Glennon, QB/NC State (36 of 55 passing, 306 passing yards, 6 total TD vs. Maryland): Who else but the Terps’ defense could’ve given up this performance? Down 41-14 in the third quarter, with a bowl berth on the line, Glennon would account for four touchdowns over the final 20 minutes of the game. The incredible, 27-point comeback to win would be a rubber-stamp on a surprisingly successful Wolfpack season, and an exclamation point on Glennon’s career (limited ’till this point).