ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Syracuse Orange

Can Charley Loeb Succeed Ryan Nassib As the Orange QB This Spring, Or is it Someone Else's Job to Lose?

Can Charley Loeb Succeed Ryan Nassib As the Orange QB This Spring, Or is it Someone Else’s Job to Lose?

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: Syracuse Orange

Spring Practice Start Date: March 19

Spring Game Date: April 20

Syracuse wrapped up a wild 2012 season by winning six of seven games… and then watching their head coach, Doug Marrone, and seven other staff members walk out the door for the Buffalo Bills. Since then, panic has subsidized for the Orange faithful, but there are still plenty of questions for this group. New head coach Scott Shafer’s committed to keeping the transition as simple as possible (he was the team’s defensive coordinator last year after all), but the success of that strategy relies largely on the personnel. SU must replace several key contributors on both sides of the ball, and it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to alleviate those issues by the end of spring ball.

First and foremost, the team is faced with as tough a challenge as any in the nation, replacing departed senior quarterback (and program poster boy) Ryan Nassib. After a record-setting career that brought the program back from the depths, Nassib’s off to the NFL (and likely the Bills), and in his place is a massive hole to fill. As of right now, there are four candidates for the job — Charley Loeb, John Kinder, Terrell Hunt and Ashton Broyld — and without much experience (Nassib was a three-year starter), it’s virtually anyone’s game. Plus, whoever this new passer may be will also have to figure out who he’s throwing to. Top targets Alec Lemon and Marcus Sales are both gone as well, leaving the team to wonder if Jarrod West, Jeremiah Kobena and Arkansas transfer Quinta Funderburk can step up as the main receiving options. There’s also the issue of the offensive line, which must try to replace star lineman Justin Pugh as well. In the early goings this spring, the squad’s biggest saving grace may be the backfield, which returns all three top rushers from last year and looks to build upon a strong finish.

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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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Discover Orange Bowl Preview: Florida State Seminoles vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

Which EJ Manuel Will Show Up in the Orange Bowl -- the Elite Playmaker, or the Struggling Veteran?

Which EJ Manuel Will Show Up in the Orange Bowl — the Elite Playmaker, or the Struggling Veteran?

While Florida State reached the Orange Bowl, just as many expected, there’s also an air of lost potential about the ‘Noles this season. It’s why, despite never playing in a game of this caliber, many think that Northern Illinois has a shot at an upset. So do they? We take a look at how the matchup shakes out.

Bowl Game: Discover Orange Bowl

Location: Miami Gardens, Fla.

First Year: 1935

2012 Participants: Florida State Seminoles (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1)

Last Meeting: None

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Florida State (previous bowl game: 18-14 win vs. Notre Dame in 2011 Champs Sports Bowl)

On paper, Florida State was one of the country’s most dominant teams. Conference champions, 12th in scoring in the country (39.9 points per game) and sixth in scoring defense (15.1 points allowed per game). Yet, what will stand out most is how they struggled in key moments. Up 16-0 against NC State early in the season, the team began showing its deficiencies on offense. Then in the regular season finale, the defense showed its own issues, letting rival Florida rack up 24 points in the fourth quarter of an FSU loss. The common thread when they struggled most? EJ Manuel‘s consistency, or lack thereof. In four of their closest games, Manuel put up just two scores to five picks — not exactly the type of performances a championship-caliber team wants out of its senior quarterback. While all of their games certainly weren’t against “elite” competition, NIU’s defense did manage to force 15 interceptions and allow just 10 scores (seventh-best in the country), so that’s certainly something the ‘Noles should be prepared for. On defense, Florida State showed some holes without star defensive end Tank Carradine during the ACC title game, and it’s unlikely the team’s front-seven will be as aggressive without him in this matchup either. The Huskies allowed just 14 sacks all season — in part due to an elite offensive line, and also due to quarterback Jordan Lynch‘s elusiveness. It’s not impossible, but FSU will have to crack the code on containing Lynch if they hope to pull out a win.

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ACC Football Preseason Power Rankings 2012

Kyle Fuller and the Virginia Tech Defense Are a Large Part of the Team’s High Ranking Coming Into 2012

Just days before kickoff, we’ve compiled our final offseason power rankings before the new ACC football season begins. Starting after week one (this weekend), these will go back to their typical, weekly format. Read the full rankings below, and enjoy the season!

1. Florida State Seminoles (LW: 1): Florida State’s hype has gone through the roof as we’ve gotten closer to the season. On top of the typical talk of an ACC title, notable pundits have also pegged them as a true national title contender (and perhaps, winner, too). In the end, it’ll all come down to EJ Manuel‘s readiness to take them to the next level. It’s obvious the defense is fully capable already, despite the loss of Greg Reid (not as vital as some would have you think).

2. Clemson Tigers (LW: 2): Things won’t be easy without game-changing receiver Sammy Watkins during the first two games of the season. But there’s still plenty of firepower in this offense, even in his absence. We know they can score. But unfortunately, we’re still unsure whether or not this defense can stop anyone. Week one versus Auburn will be a tough test early on.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies (LW: 3): As always, the Virginia Tech defense (led by Kyle Fuller) is on board. Now, we’ll have to see just how well this revamped Hokies offensive line holds up. If Logan Thomas can get some time to throw — instead of being relegated to scrambling too often — they’ll be just fine.

4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (LW: 5): Manageable schedule, veteran group; the whole thing seems to lead to a big year for the Ramblin’ Wreck. The key, as mentioned far too many times before, is Tevin Washington‘s ability to throw the ball. If he’s made strides, and the passing game at least appears to be a threat to the defense, the triple-option becomes that much more dangerous.

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Atlantic Coast Convos Early 2012 Top 25 (July 10)

Les Miles and LSU are Eying Another Championship After Falling in Last Year’s Title Game

Once every month until college football returns, this blog will be posting a top 25 ranking list that (similar to the polls that decide who plays in the National Championship Game) matters very little overall. Obviously, these can change based on new recruits, depth chart changes and other, unpredictable off-the-field factors (transfers, TCU weed bonanza, haphazard arrests, etc.). Disagree with these? (likely) Share your thoughts below.

Atlantic Coast Convos Top 25 (Early for 2012: July 10 Edition)

1. LSU Tigers (LW: 3) (First-place votes: 1)

2. USC Trojans (LW: 1) (2)

3. Alabama Crimson Tide (LW: 2)

4. Oklahoma Sooners (LW: 4)

5. Oregon Ducks (LW: 7)

6. Florida State Seminoles (LW: 5)

7. West Virginia Mountaineers (LW: 9)

8. Georgia Bulldogs (LW: 6)

9. South Carolina Gamecocks (LW: 12)

10. Michigan Wolverines (LW: 8) Continue reading

Allstate Sugar Bowl Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Michigan

The 2012 Allstate Sugar Bowl Matches Virginia Tech Against Michigan

After suffering an embarrassing loss at the hands of Clemson in the ACC title game, few outside of Blacksburg gave Virginia Tech much of a chance to get to a BCS bowl. Yet, the Allstate Sugar Bowl organizers found the Hokies more appealing than the rest of the at-large field, despite owning zero wins against top-25 competition. They’ll face a resurgent Michigan team in what is arguably their toughest test to date.

Bowl Game: (Allstate) Sugar Bowl

Location: New Orleans, La.

First Year: 1935

2012 Participants: Virginia Tech Hokies (11-2) vs. Michigan Wolverines (10-2)

Last Meeting: None

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Virginia Tech (previous bowl game: 40-12 loss to Stanford in 2011 Orange Bowl)

Virginia Tech ran roughshod over its competition for much of the regular season, with its only loss coming to Clemson back in October. Though the Tigers would get the better of them once again in the ACC Championship Game, the Hokies defense remains one of the premiere units in the country — finishing eighth overall (FBS) in points allowed per game. While always a strong point, this year’s edition of the Tech D was first in the conference in sacks, second in interceptions, first in opponents third down conversion rate and second in turnover margin. On the other hand (as mentioned earlier), Virginia Tech lost their only two games to teams ranked in the final top 25 (both to Clemson) and was tested very little in the non-conference schedule. Also of note, they’ve been shown to struggle against mobile quarterbacks (Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, and for three quarters, Georgia Tech‘s Tevin Washington, in particular).

Michigan (previous bowl game: 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in 2011 Gator Bowl)

First-year coach Brady Hoke has brought the Wolverines back to the national spotlight, with a new, exciting brand of Michigan football that was regularly a must-watch game of the week. Quarterback Denard Robinson, their mobile and exciting captain, has delivered clutch play and an increased sense of maturity in 2011 — with come-from-behind victories and over 3,200 total yards. As frightening as Robinson is, however, he’s not the only piece of the puzzle. Michigan sports their own impressive defensive attack, ranking one spot ahead of Virginia Tech at seventh overall in points allowed. With so many ways to beat you, the Wolverines have scored at least 30 points in nine of their 12 games, and held opponents to 14 points or less in six games. Given time to gameplan for Robinson however, defenses have been prone to containing him (Iowa and Michigan State both did the job this season).

Verdict

In a game that could potentially be about two great defenses, this matchup may actually come down to who executes best on offense. With weapons like Robinson and the Hokies’ Logan Thomas on either side, points may actually hit the 30s for both teams, nullifying both defenses. Ultimately, the teams’ similar rushing attacks also equal off, leaving it up to their respective passing capabilities. In spite of Thomas’s superior numbers, Robinson is truly the better creator when passing the ball. And, since he’s been involved in more lopsided victories, his opportunities for late throws have been fewer. It may seem to be an inexact science, but the nod goes to Michigan and their high-powered attack. Prediction: Michigan 33, Virginia Tech 28

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