ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #17, Stephen Morris

Miami’s Stephen Morris is #17 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Miami’s Stephen Morris is #17 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. 17, Stephen Morris, QB/Miami (Last Season: NR)

Last season, Miami passed a lot. In fact, a bit too much, as we discussed in today’s season preview, given the fact they had two high quality running backs. But the success of that passing game — and it was pretty successful — was largely due in part to Stephen Morris, who came on strong last season as the Hurricanes’ starting quarterback. He wasn’t always putting up a ton of yardage, and also didn’t have to. Sometimes his best games were actually when he attempted less passes, and simply made the throws he needed to make in order to keep the offense moving effectively. Of course, everyone sort of forgot about efficiency in his game though, after he exploded for 566 passing yards against NC State in late September. Fans have seen what he’s capable of, and now, despite what should be a fairly balanced attack, there’s a major expectation for fireworks on every play. So what happens next?

First off, that game was an anomaly played against a highly overrated Wolfpack secondary. Morris also wasn’t that accurate. It’s unlikely those numbers are ever replicated by him or anyone else in the ACC. So to figure out what we’re getting from the senior quarterback this season, it starts with tossing that game out. Getting rid of a few less-than-stellar performances too, what you’re left with is a pretty accurate passer (58 percent last year, but at 60 or above late in the season) who has a strong arm and can take over games when called upon. He’s a leader on this young team, and one who cuts down on mistakes (just seven interceptions) and also doesn’t run unless he absolutely has to. More than the statistics (and those should be there too this year), he’s going to be the steadying force amidst a rising tide of team-wide pressure. With every win, the talk of Miami’s triumphant “return” will continue. And as a seasoned veteran, he’ll be working with the coaches to keep everyone calm, cool and collected.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #43, Phillip Dorsett

Miami’s Phillip Dorsett is #43 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Miami’s Phillip Dorsett is #43 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. 43, Phillip Dorsett, WR/Miami (Last Season: NR)

Miami’s passing game was a roller coaster ride last season, sometimes way up (see the ACC-record 566 yards through the air against NC State) and others, way down (just 155 yards two weeks later against North Carolina). So you’ll have to excuse Phillip Dorsett for a resume that wasn’t overly gaudy in 2012: 58 catches, 842 yards, four TDs. But just like the passing game overall, when Dorsett was at his best, it appeared the Hurricanes’ offense was as well. Miami was 3-1 when he had at least 100 yards receiving, and 4-1 when he caught at least six passes. In two separate games he amassed over 180 yards (both wins), plus had three different games where he averaged over 20 yards per reception. He may not be utilized to his full potential just yet, but Dorsett has the makings of being one of the conference’s top big play threats now as a junior.

Beyond a slightly erratic passing game that slows him down somewhat, Dorsett must also compete with the fact that he’s just 5’9″ — smaller than many corners and just about any safety. But he uses his speed (4.4-second 40-yard dash time) and strength (weighs in at a solid 187 pounds) to beat defensive backs off the snap when they play him a bit too close to the line of scrimmage. There’s a distinct possibility Dorsett could get shifted to a more distinct slot role this year — especially since he’ll be lining up opposite the 6’2″ Rashawn Scott — but that also may not be a bad thing. He’s got the speed to beat cornerbacks in confined spaces, and can outrun any linebacker in the conference. In sets where Duke Johnson is also in a pass-receiving role, defenses could end up with their hands full, even if one or both just serve as a decoy to get Scott into a one-on-one coverage situation down the field.

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ACC Football 2013 Payback Games: Florida State

NC State Scored a Memorable Upset Over Florida State Last Year; Can the 'Noles Exact Revenge in 2013?

NC State Scored a Memorable Upset Over Florida State Last Year; Can the ‘Noles Exact Revenge in 2013?

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2012. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2013.

As part of our 2013 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: Florida State Seminoles

Opponent: NC State Wolfpack

Last Year: Loss, 17-16 at NC State

This Year: October 26, vs. NC State

Yes, Florida State lost two games last year, and one of them was to archrival Florida. But this — the major upset loss to NC State on the road — was the one that likely hurt the most for ‘Noles players and fans alike. After beating highly-ranked Clemson in front of a national audience just two weeks prior, FSU suddenly looked flat in comparison to its no. 3 national ranking. With a manageable schedule, it appeared everyone was willing to push fears aside though; the Seminoles were set to compete for a national championship for the first time in more than a half-decade. And then the offense went overly conservative in the second half. The Wolfpack made the plays they needed to late in the contest. And we were left with a downtrodden, upset FSU team, a beleaguered conference and this indelible .gif.

The Seminoles course-corrected immediately following the loss — hi, 51-7 drubbing of Boston College — but the issue of Jimbo Fisher’s overly conservative play-calling at times never truly went away. One could argue it’s what kept the contests against overmatched Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech teams so close, and maybe what kept Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl for at least a half. It’s certainly what drove now-Miami offensive coordinator James Coley out of Tallahassee, being handcuffed by Fisher calling plays. So while the personnel is certainly different — both teams have new starting quarterbacks and offensive coordinators this year — there’s still plenty to learn from last year’s loss that can help bring FSU success against the Pack in 2013.

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Way-Too-Early 2013 ACC Football Power Rankings

Can Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee Lead the Yellow Jackets Back to the ACC Title Game?

Can Georgia Tech QB Vad Lee Lead the Yellow Jackets Back to the ACC Title Game?

It’s been a couple months since we last checked in on the ACC’s football teams, and in that time, we’ve been able to digest recent recruits, coaching changes and the new directions of each squad. And with spring practices in full swing, chances are we’ll get to know even more over the coming weeks. Until then, here’s where the ACC‘s 14 (15) teams stand in our way-too-early assessment:

1. Clemson Tigers (Last: 1): Clemson’s offseason focus is obviously on the defensive side of the ball, as they look to build upon the positives of last year. While Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be the motors that guide the success of the offense, it really is that defensive unit that will guide just how far this team can go, and if they can achieve their ultimate goal (a national title).

2. Louisville Cardinals (Last: 2): Far too many players are coming back for the defending Sugar Bowl champs to accept anything but another trip to a BCS game. But yet, it seems far too many critics see them doing just that. If coach Charlie Strong can keep that chip on the Cardinals’ shoulders, we may just be looking at a darkhorse contender for the BCS title game.

3. Florida State Seminoles (Last: 3): Can they effectively replace EJ Manuel at the quarterback position? That’s really the linchpin of FSU’s year, and the key question this spring as well. If they can come out of spring with a great handle on who their starting passer is, it means the offense also progresses faster come August, too.

4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (Last: 4): Too much returning talent on offense for the ‘Canes to go anywhere but up. And while the continuing off-the-field nonsense certainly doesn’t help matters for this group, it could also work to their advantage. With new offensive coordinator James Coley now officially plugged in, I’d highly expect results to come in the form of big season from key playmakers Duke Johnson and Stephen Morris.

5. North Carolina Tar Heels (Last: 6): Technically, the Tar Heels are your defending Coastal division champ, so expectations should be pretty high right off the bat. But as year two of Larry Fedora’s offense takes shape, this team does have a pretty clear shot to challenge for the conference title. The difference-maker may end up being the defense, though, which struggled at times last season, and must replace several key starters.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Miami Hurricanes

Duke Johnson is One of 20 Starters Returning From Last Year's Hurricanes Team

Duke Johnson is One of 20 Starters Returning From Last Year’s Hurricanes Team

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: Miami Hurricanes

Spring Practice Start Date: March 2

Spring Game Date: April 13

The ‘Canes offseason has been a mess of rumors; from Al Golden leaving the team, to the botched NCAA investigation and then the “lack of institutional control” verdict passed down. But on the field, things are actually looking up quite a bit for Miami. Should they be able to compete in this year’s postseason (I say it’s likely), they’re one of several contenders for the Coastal division crown, sporting some of the conference’s youngest offensive stars. And after robbing one of Florida State‘s top coaches (new offensive coordinator James Coley) and scoring another highly regarded recruiting class, suddenly things are appearing sunny again in South Florida.

In 2012, Miami’s offense fluctuated between awful and amazing with regularity, at times struggling to top 20 points, and at others, looking like a runaway freight train (scored 40 or more on five separate instances). So the goal this spring while installing James Coley’s new offense is to harness the latter energy even more often. With playmakers like QB Stephen Morris and halfback/returner Duke Johnson (darkhorse for conference player of the year), that doesn’t seem too hard on paper, and no doubt returning all 11 offensive starters is set to pay huge dividends. Though Coley’s value is mainly on the recruiting trail, his move within the state was actually about play-calling. Not handling those duties up in Tallahassee is what drove Coley to look elsewhere, and now he’ll look to re-harness what made him such a hot commodity after a stint as FIU‘s head play-caller. Coley relies on speed and a balanced attack — both of which Miami’s well-suited to handle, meaning we’re in for an up-tempo spring, the likes of which should please everyone at the U.

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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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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Florida State Seminoles

If 2012 Proved Anything, It's That Florida State is Officially "Back" As an Elite Football Program

If 2012 Proved Anything, It’s That Florida State is Officially “Back” As an Elite Football Program

Team: Florida State Seminoles

W-L: 12-2 (7-1)

Postseason: 31-10 Discover Orange Bowl win over Northern Illinois

Top Offensive Performer: EJ Manuel, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Bjoern Werner, DE

Florida State had a checklist prior to this season. The ‘Noles were determined to win 10 games (check, and then some), the ACC Championship Game (check) and the Orange Bowl (check). So why do most accounts of this season seem to view it as a bit of a failure? It might just be a product of Jimbo Fisher succeeding in bringing FSU back to prominence.

Expectations were high for Florida State’s defense, but it was the offense that really needed to deliver if the Seminoles hoped to climb all the way back to the top. With some help of a manageable schedule (just one opponent ended the year ranked), they’d do just that, to the tune of 39.3 points per game (10th in the FBS). FSU outscored their opponents by an average of over 24 points per game, and managed to rank top-40 in both passing and rushing yards per game. For stretches during the season, it seemed as if the offense — led by senior passer EJ Manuel — was absolutely unstoppable, scoring more than 40 points seven different times. In prior years, what alluded. Manuel was consistency, but that was not the case in 2012. His completions, accuracy, yards, touchdowns and passer rating all went up in comparison to last year, as he showed a newfound poise and leadership whether in the pocket or on the run. Despite his own proficiency running the football (he amassed 310 yards and four scores this year), he was still largely helped by efficient play from his running backs. The Seminoles’ 40 rushing touchdowns ranked ninth in the country, made even more impressive by the distribution of the seven scorers, respectively. Devonta Freeman, James Wilder and Lonnie Pryor each scored eight or more times,  while Manuel, leading rusher Chris Thompson and Debrale Smiley each had between three and five. The constant change kept defenses off-balance and provided Manuel with the balanced attack he needed to run this group at optimum efficiency.

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