ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #6, Bryn Renner

Bryn Renner, Now Settled in Larry Fedora's Offense, is Out to Break Records for North Carolina

Bryn Renner, Now Settled in Larry Fedora’s Offense, is Out to Break Records for UNC

It’s finally game week! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 6, Bryn Renner, QB/North Carolina (Last Season: 13)

Going into last season, Bryn Renner was uncertain about how things would go for him under Larry Fedora. Previously thought of as a pro-style passer, Fedora’s new system demanded he turn on a dime and change into a spread quarterback. Renner was a quick study though, and ended up thriving in the new offense. The demands for a quick-release allowed him the luxury of going with his first instinct, and best of all, he didn’t even lose much on accuracy (down to 65 percent, from 68 in 2011). In one less game (technically more if you count the two he was benched early on account of blowouts), he completed 27 more passes for 270 more yards and two more touchdowns. Interceptions were nearly cut in half and sacks were down by 15. In just a season in the spread, he’d morphed from a mildly effective passer to a highly effective one, with minimal losses in efficiency.

And that was really just the beginning of his and the North Carolina offense’s respective transformations. Last season’s group featured very little in terms of spread-specific personnel and the wideouts were not as quick to adjust as Renner. Things are different this year, as Quinshad Davis and Eric Ebron step up into larger roles in the passing game, and give Renner the weapons he needs to progress his skill set even further. While he certainly had his hits and misses in terms of individual game performances last season, you could also see him begin to get comfortable toward the end of the schedule. Over 2012’s final three games, he threw for at least 305 yards per contest, with 10 scores and one pick, all on 73 percent accuracy. Keeping up that pace may sound silly sure, but with more experience under his belt, is it really that far-fetched?

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ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

Do Bryn Renner and the Tar Heels Have What it Takes to Win the ACC Championship?

Do Bryn Renner and the Tar Heels Have What it Takes to Win the ACC Football Championship?

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels

2012 W-L: 8-4 (5-3)

Head Coach: Larry Fedora (8-4; second season)

Returning Starters: 13 (6 Offense, 7 Defense)

Last year appeared uneventful for the Tar Heels from the opening whistle: A bowl ban prevented them from going anywhere in the postseason, they had a new coach in Larry Fedora and in an ACC Coastal Division dominated by Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech since its inception, it looked as if they had no shot. But then the team caught on to Fedora’s spread offense quicker than expected, halfback Giovani Bernard put together one of the country’s best all-around seasons and the team road a very manageable schedule to a tie for the division title (despite not being able to compete for it). After all that, now the stakes are much higher for North Carolina — a team that’s spent several years knocking on the door of upper-level success, and may finally be able to break through this year.

Offensively, the Heels were only really stopped by themselves last year. A lack of focus here and there, and no true top receiving target left things to question more often than likely anyone would be comfortable with. And yet, in a completely new scheme, it’s frightening to think things could’ve gone better than they did last year. But they honestly could this fall. Before Fedora arrived in Chapel Hill, Bryn Renner was a simple pro-style passer, accurate and methodical in his delivery. Now, he appears to be a master of the spread, losing very little in accuracy while throwing 72 more passes (in one less game) and increasing touchdown and yardage numbers while decreasing sacks to a paltry 11. He still doesn’t have a top-flight wideout this season, but there’s thought this team’s progressed on that front too (a welcome sign for the senior QB). Quinshad Davis showed off some flashes of brilliance as a real deep threat receiver last year, and tight end Eric Ebron is being talked about as one of his position’s best in the country. Even if just those two pass-catching options can make good on some preseason hype, that’ll be more than enough for Renner to work with. Despite losing standout guard Jonathan Cooper to the NFL, this year’s group is still strong, and should be able to protect their quarterback just the same as always.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #14, Eric Ebron

North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is #14 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

North Carolina’s Eric Ebron is #14 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Less than one week until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 14, Eric Ebron, TE/North Carolina (Last Season: NR)

In a quick-release offense, a tight end can be among the most important players on the field, and that’s certainly true when it comes to Eric Ebron and UNC. Now a junior, the huge (6’4″ and around 250 pounds) tight end is being hyped at one of the best in the country at his position. And why not? He’s built like a tank and can keep pace with most wideouts. Whether he’s up against linebackers or defensive backs, there are mismatches galore all over the field, and there are few tight ends built to exploit them like he can.

Ebron also appears to have the mental makeup to succeed at this level and beyond, despite some bumps in the road as a freshman. In a recent feature with Fox Sports Carolinas, Lauren Brownlow was able to get inside Ebron’s head and what she found was an intriguing character — focused, but introverted; humble, but still keeping some lofty goals in mind. North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora’s put up 12 touchdowns as a goal for Ebron, and instead of shying away from it, he’s set his own goal of 15. But his top priority is simply improvement, and unexamined improvement at that. As he told Brownlow:

“I’d rather live my life in the dark and improve without people telling me I’m improving or telling me I’m this or telling me I’m that. I’d rather see it for myself or hear it from the people that actually matter… You get tired of everyone telling you what you are. … I don’t like to listen to All-ACC this and All-American that. I’d like to go out and prove it instead of having it all come to me.”

ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #32, Quinshad Davis

North Carolina’s Quinshad Davis is #32 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

North Carolina’s Quinshad Davis is #32 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Off-topic: I’ve been gone for the past few weeks for my wedding and honeymoon (thank you), but now the site will be charging full-bore toward the start of college football season. Appreciate everyone for continuing to stop by — even during my absence — and rest assured, we’ve got plenty of content set for the next few weeks.

Less than three weeks until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 32, Quinshad Davis, WR/North Carolina (Last Season: NR)

Through the early part of North Carolina’s 2012 schedule (the very easy part), you didn’t know what to think of then-freshman wide receiver Quinshad Davis. His first four games yielded just 11 catches and a little over 100 yards, plus zero touchdowns. But over the next eight games, it was an entirely different story. Maybe even more so than tight end Eric Ebron, Davis was the Heels’ top receiving target for the rest of the season, nabbing 50 catches, 665 yards and five touchdowns. His final three games in particular were a show of force for what may be to come for the rising ACC wideout. In three stellar team offensive performances, he had 32 catches, 417 yards and three scores. So yes, his production may have appeared to be spiked by a few great games. But it’s easy to see how this could be a harbinger of some exciting things to come.

Part of that is due to the team’s quick transition to coach Larry Fedora’s spread offense. After it appeared there would be a slight learning curve for the group of formerly pro-style players, they wound up averaging over 40 points per game and looked to get stronger as the season progressed. In just 12 games, the team ran 898 plays (nothing too stellar), but averaged a highly efficient 6.49 yards per (tied for 14th in the country). For 2013, Fedora wants to go faster. If they manage to, while still maintaining that level of efficiency, that offense becomes nearly impossible to stop, and makes it much easier for Davis (and his fellow receivers) to find holes in opposing defenses likely to already be on their heels.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #41, A.J. Blue

North Carolina’s A.J. Blue is #41 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

North Carolina’s A.J. Blue is #41 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

We’re less than two months away from the start of the 2013 college football season, and that means preview countdowns! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 41, A.J. Blue, RB/North Carolina (Last Season: NR)

After a superb offensive campaign in 2012, there’s worry that North Carolina will fall off a bit without star running back Giovani Bernard. But anyone who’s watched Bernard’s former backup, A.J. Blue, run the ball is likely to disagree with that sentiment. Despite serving in a reserve role last season, Blue still managed 513 total yards and 10 scores on just 91 touches. Obviously it would be a bit difficult to maintain that rate over the course of a full season and extended minutes — however, just think about that scoring rate. That, in a microcosm, is what blue brings to the table. An efficient, explosive mindset.

Blue averaged over five yards per carry in seven of 12 games last season, including his only 100-yard effort of the year: a 19-carry, 106-yard (and one TD) performance versus Wake Forest. Like Bernard, his running will be integral to setting up the team’s dynamic passing attack. However, unlike his predecessor, Blue actually has the physical makeup to wear down opposing defenses. Bernard’s game was mostly about finesse, though he certainly took advantage of a low center of gravity mixed with a decent weight (5’9″ and 208 pounds). Blue isn’t much heavier (215 pounds), though his past experience as a linebacker, greater size (6’2″) and speed (4.5-second 40-yard dash time) all set him up to be much more durable than Bernard. Just like Bernard too, he has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, making the transition a much simpler one than advertised this fall.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Sammy Watkins is the ACC's Top Receiver, But Does a Different Team's Wideouts Outpace Clemson's?

Sammy Watkins is the ACC’s Top Receiver, But Do a Different Team’s Wideouts Outpace Clemson’s?

While we’re still (barely) over two months away from the season, it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off till July and August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we’re on to the wide receivers and tight ends (we’ve also covered running backs and quarterbacks thus far). Like virtually every other conference in the country, you can’t necessarily call the overall receiving product in the ACC “stellar.” For some reason we’ve arrived at a dearth of talent at the position of late. But nonetheless, the league still possesses a strong group of receivers at the top, plus a ton of depth, even on the teams that are lower on this list.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual wide receiver or tight end is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of pass catchers is. Also note: Louisville (as has been the case since November) is included here. Additionally, since these are completely subjective rankings, the difference between the seventh and eighth team is almost entirely negligible (especially in the case of this position). Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

1. Florida State Seminoles: FSU just has too many players who can catch the ball in the open field, and that’s a good thing, especially when fielding an inexperienced quarterback. After a productive season last year (57 catches, 741 yards, six scores), Rashad Greene looks ready to take a huge leap forward for this group, and could be one of the better pass catchers in the ACC. Along with Greene, look out for Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, especially Benjamin, who could end up being a breakout player for the ‘Noles this season following a productive freshman campaign. At tight end, Nick O’Leary should continue his improvement, but with so man other players looking for the ball, it’s uncertain how many passes are thrown his way.

2. Clemson Tigers: Replacing Brandon Ford (TE) and leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson certainly has their work cut out for them. But you can’t underestimate the receiving depth Chad Morris and Dabo Swinney have built on this Tigers roster. After an uneventful offseason, Sammy Watkins should be back to his freshman year form, which immediately takes the load off of Adam Humphries and Charone Peake. While not overly experienced, the two still caught 66 combined passes last year, which should trend even higher in 2013. Tight end is a question mark, though Stanton Seckinger likely has the inside track to starting there.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels: In year two of Larry Fedora’s offense, it’s time opposing teams started to fear this group. Quinshad Davis put up one of the best freshman receiving seasons in ACC history last year and there’s little doubt he’ll continue to produce at that level again. And he’ll have help, too. Fellow starter Sean Tapley brings further speed on the outside, while tight end Eric Ebron will be putting his athleticism to use against linebackers and corners alike. Ebron’s slated to be one of the best TEs in the country this year, and one look at his 6’4″ 245-pound frame leaves little question as to why.

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Phil Steele’s 2013 Preseason All-ACC Team

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Headlines Phil Steele's Preseason All-ACC Team

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Headlines Phil Steele’s Preseason All-ACC Team

As part of Phil Steele’s extensive 2013 season preview activities, today he released his picks for the All-ACC team. Not an overwhelming number of surprises to be found, but that said, there’s certainly some switches partisan fans might make here and there between first- and second-teams or third- and fourth-teams. Most notably, I’d probably move up UNC‘s Bryn Renner to the second team, while moving Virginia Tech‘s Logan Thomas down to the third — but the difference is negligible, really.

We won’t lay out the entire list for you here, but below we’ve included the first-team offense and defense, plus a school-by-school count of all players included on all four teams compiled by Steele. Regarding the latter, Florida State led the way with 19 players out of the 112 named, while Maryland had the least, with just three.

First Team All-ACC: Offense

QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson

RB: Duke Johnson, Miami

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State

WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State

WR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland

TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina

C: Bryan Stork, Florida State

OG: Tre’ Jackson, Florida State

OG: Brandon Linder, Miami

OT: Morgan Moses, Virginia

OT: James Hurst, North Carolina

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