ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #11, James Hurst

North Carolina’s James Hurst is #11 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

North Carolina’s James Hurst is #11 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

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. 11, James Hurst, OT/North Carolina (Last Season: NR)

Last year’s North Carolina offense prided itself on a strong line most of all. It was the reason Bryn Renner took so few sacks, and the reason Giovani Bernard was able to put together the impressive campaign he did at running back. So it’s understandable that there’s some concern this season when the team no longer has Jonathan Cooper operating at the guard spot, along with fellow linemen Travis Bond and Brennan Williams. But that doesn’t mean this team’s suddenly vulnerable either. It’ll be no easy task to replace those players, but starting with James Hurst, there’s hope the Heels see very little drop-off this year. Just one look at Hurst and you’ll get why.

At 6’7″ and 305 pounds, Hurst is a looming individual; one of the biggest linemen UNC has, actually. And now as a senior, his leadership must loom over his teammates as well. Hurst is already under a ton of pressure at tackle, and it’s been made a bit more nerve-racking by the man he’ll be blocking in the first game this season: South Carolina‘s Jadeveon Clowney. He gets the hype and importance, of course. But Hurst is also taking everything in stride — almost sounding calm about the prospect of the matchup in a conversation with the Charlotte Observer:

“There’s a lot riding on you. They’re going to look at that game film, and (ask) how did he play against him? But on the other side of the coin, it is one game of the year, and it is the first game of the year. So there’s a lot on it, but at the same time you’ve got to take a little off of it because you know it’s the whole season that matters. But to me, it is the first game, and at that point it’s the only game I’ve played.”

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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 Football Positional Rankings 2013: Offensive Line

Seantrel Henderson is One of Several Standout O-Linemen for Miami's Top-Ranked Unit

Seantrel Henderson is One of Several Standout O-Linemen for Miami’s Top-Ranked Unit

Less than two months from the start of the 2013 college football season! And 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 until 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 offensive lines (check out previous rankings of ACC quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers/tight ends). The conference has been churning out pro prospects across the offensive line for years, and this season also possesses at least a few (if not more) players who will be suiting up on Sundays within the next few years.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual center/tackle/guard is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of offensive linemen is (though it certainly does help). Also note: Louisville (as has been the case since November) is included here, despite playing in the American this season. Additionally, since these are completely subjective rankings, the difference between one number to the following one is almost entirely negligible. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Offensive Line

1. Miami Hurricanes: This is the group responsible for Duke Johnson‘s breakout 2012 campaign, and will ultimately decide just how far the ‘Canes go this fall as well. You could dub guard Brandon Linder the “leader” of this line, but then you’d also be selling the other four returning starters short. In Linder and fellow senior Seantrel Henderson, Miami has as experienced and solid a right side of the line as you’ll find anywhere in the country. If you’re looking for prospective NFL players, this is the spot, with Linder and Henderson as the clear highlights.

2. Florida State Seminoles: In center Bryan Stork and guard Tre’ Jackson, Florida State returns two of the conference’s best offensive linemen — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Four out of five starters from 2012’s group are back in total and the only addition is right tackle Bobby Hart, who saw significant playing time last season as well. They’ll be challenged this year, protecting an inexperienced passer, while also receiving the luxury of two veteran running backs to help improve upon last year’s 24th-ranked rushing offense.

3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: When you have the run-heavy triple-option attack that Georgia Tech does, you need as many big bodies on the line as possible. Lucky for this year’s squad, they’ve got plenty of those, and experienced ones at that. All five starters have at least a season’s-worth of time in their current roles, with guard Will Jackson starting since his freshman season (at both guard and tackle). Should the team pass the ball more this year (seems likely), it may be a slight mindset adjustment. But considering Tech only allowed 14 sacks all of last season — even on fewer dropbacks — it may end up being a simple transition.

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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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2012 All-ACC Football Team: Offense

Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins Was One of Several Star Performers in the ACC This Season

Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins Was One of Several Star Performers in the ACC This Season

As most other publications have also done, we’ve put together an All-ACC team here at Atlantic Coast Convos, honoring the best players from the 2012 football season. We’ve also included players from Syracuse and Pittsburgh, as that has always been our policy, and once bowl season is over, all ACC football news will have to involve them anyway. In this post, you’ll find both the first- and second-team offense, with choices for All-ACC defense now live as well.

See any selections you agree with? Disagree with? Feel free to voice your concerns in the comments below.

2012 Atlantic Coast Convos All-ACC Team: Offense

First Team

QB Tajh Boyd, Clemson

RB Giovani Bernard, North Carolina

RB Ray Graham, Pittsburgh

WR DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson

WR Alec Lemon, Syracuse

TE Brandon Ford, Clemson

G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina

G Omoregie Uzzi, Georgia Tech

C Dalton Freeman, Clemson

OT James Hurst, North Carolina

OT Justin Pugh, Syracuse

Second Team

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