ACC Football 2012 Heisman Watch: Week Nine

Don’t Look Now, But UNC’s Giovani Bernard is Flying Up Our List of the ACC’s Top Playmakers

The ACC no longer has a viable national title contender, thus we have no Heisman candidate to speak of, either. So as promised, for the remainder of this season, we’ll now be compiling a watch list for the fictional Chris Weinke Award, to honor the best player in the ACC. These posts will remain under “Heisman Watch” for the purposes of consistency and SEO, however. Have other nominees? Submit your ballots below.

1. Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (2,095 total yards, 19 total TD, 6 INT, 67.1 percent completion) (LW: 1)

Boyd and the Clemson offense failed to look all that great against Virginia Tech, but that’s only when compared to their usual standards of individual and collective excellence. Though the junior passer was just 12-for-21 with 160 yards passing, he also managed 27 yards on the ground. His three touchdowns on the day were still well worth praise, too. The accuracy drop under pressure — especially when they had a lead for the large majority of the contest — is still a concern, but no need to extrapolate it out until we see a trend.

2. EJ Manuel, QB/Florida State (2,253 total yards, 15 total TD, 4 INT, 71.5 percent completion) (LW: 2)

EJ Manuel shook off a rocky start against Miami to set up a decisive victory in the fourth quarter, but without a single touchdown directly attributable to him, it’s hard to move him up from second. On the other hand, his passing improved throughout the evening, and once again, he made smart decisions to tuck it and run when necessary. With Chris Thompson now out for the season, we may see the weight of the offense transferred back to Manuel; an interesting development as he tries to improve his team’s title chances and his draft stock, too.

3. Giovani Bernard, RB/North Carolina (1,194 all-purpose yards, 12 TD) (LW: 4)

When taking into account the time he’s missed (2.5 games), Bernard’s numbers stand out even more, and they’re already pretty impressive. And Saturday’s game was more of the same, as he racked up 209 total yards. But it doesn’t even tell the full story. In one of the zanier plays of the weekend, Erik Highsmith‘s late fumble ended up in the hands of Bernard for the touchdown, thanks to the running back’s heads-up play. While the Heels ultimately lost, it was that fumble recovery that put them in position to win with just three minutes to go.

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ACC 2012 Season Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

First-Year Head Coach Larry Fedora Has Lofty Goals for His High-Octane Attack at North Carolina This Year

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels

2011 W-L: 7-6 (3-5)

Head Coach: Larry Fedora (first season)

Returning Starters: 13 (8 Offense, 5 Defense)

While the narrative for UNC’s 2012 football season will ultimately be the postseason ban they must serve, new head coach Larry Fedora will probably play a close second. The former Southern Mississippi coach, known for a high-octane attack on both sides of the ball, has brought the same energy to Chapel Hill with the promise of a new era in Tar Heels football. Between the talent already on the team, and his dedicated work on the recruiting front, Fedora could be building one of the country’s most entertaining squads to watch.

Last year, Clemson‘s pace blew away much of the rest of the ACC, as they utilized superior speed on offense to simply run other opponents right off the field. With a similar group of athletes at his disposal at UNC, Fedora is attempting to recreate it for himself. The first step is getting QB Bryn Renner on board with the high-octane spread — something he’s already driven headlong into in order to master. If Renner is fully up to the transition from Butch Davis’s pro-style set to this spread, then that’s half the battle. Second, the team will also lean significantly on the agility of sophomore back Giovani Bernard. The speedy rusher was one of the big surprises of the conference last season, and it’s a necessity for him to be effective in order to properly set up the pass. Bernard, who also caught 45 balls for 362 yards last year, can also expect even more involvement in the passing game this year, putting 60 receptions well within reach. And he’ll desperately need to get there if the receiving corps remain as muddled as they’ve been. Senior Erik Highsmith is obviously the star of the group, but beyond him, there’s a lot of uncertainty. With T.J. Thorpe out of the year, Jheranie Boyd becomes the only other experienced option out there; not the best scenario for Renner at all.

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ACC Football 2012 Standout Seniors Recap & Full List

Clemson Running Back Andre Ellington is One of Many Standout Senior Players in the ACC for 2012

On Monday, we reached the end of our “Standout Seniors” list, which highlighted 14 of the ACC’s best football players entering their final year of school. As mentioned, these were not always the teams’ star attractions, but the player deemed to have the most impact on the 2012 season, regardless of how quietly it came about.

Disagree with any of these picks? Let us know in the comments who you would have chosen instead. And as you’ll see immediately below, we’re going to need a new selection for BC.

Boston College: Montel Harris, RB (yes, we did start this list a while ago)

Clemson: Andre Ellington, RB

Duke: Sean Renfree, QB

Florida State: E.J. Manuel, QB

Georgia Tech: Tevin Washington, QB

Maryland: Joe Vellano, DT

Miami (FL): Mike James, RB

NC State: Mike Glennon, QB

North Carolina: Erik Highsmith, WR

Pittsburgh: Ray Graham, RB

Syracuse: Ryan Nassib, QB

Virginia: Steve Greer, LB

Virginia Tech: Bruce Taylor, LB

Wake Forest: Scott Betros, LB

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ACC Football Standout Senior 2012: North Carolina

Taking Over for Dwight Jones, UNC’s Erik Highsmith Has A Lot to Prove as a Number-One Receiver

While we won’t be naive (and/or like Rick Reilly/Peter King/insert-your-own-cliched-columnist) and claim there’s some sort of pristine or pure honor in playing out your four years that other players just don’t get to experience, we’d still like to point out the senior players that are likely to stand out in 2012. These players have put in the time during their college careers, and now serve as the cornerstones of their respective teams’ potential success this season.

We’ll be going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his team, and why. Have a different thought on the matter? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

As the number-two target for North Carolina last season, receiver Erik Highsmith set career-highs across the board, and even saw some carries from the backfield for the first time. With Dwight Jones off to the NFL, however, he’ll be called upon as Bryn Renner‘s big-play option — an imperative counterbalance to the rushing attack led by Giovani Bernard. If either of Highsmith’s cohorts look to repeat 2011’s impressive performances, it’ll likely start with the receiver’s ability to step up into that leading role. Continue reading

ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: North Carolina Tar Heels

Tailback Giovani Bernard Will Be the Motor That Runs the North Carolina Offense in 2012

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: North Carolina Tar Heels

The Tar Heels’ spring practice preview couldn’t have had worse timing, really. While first-year head coach Larry Fedora will continue to implement his system, the NCAA’s ruling yesterday to ban his team from the postseason obviously looms large. Postseason aside though, Carolina’s offense alone should put them in line to contend for a Coastal Division championship they’re ineligible to win. As much as they’ll spend the spring trying to replace star receiver Dwight Jones, this team is built for a balanced, high-powered attack, even without the assumed first-round pick. In his first season as a starter last year, quarterback Bryn Renner racked up over 3,000 yards to go along with 26 touchdowns. In his own first season of college football, halfback Giovani Bernard recorded 1,615 total yards and 14 scores. So irregardless of who else participates, UNC should be okay as both players progress. That said, it’ll take some additional consistency from the running game outside of Bernard too, especially reserve A.J. Blue. Passing-wise, Brenner will spend the spring targeting seniors Jheranie Boyd and Erik Highsmith, who are both capable targets ready to pick up the slack for Jones’ departure. Continue reading