ACC Football 2013 Preseason Power Rankings

Behind Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, Clemson Appears Ready to Fly Past the Rest of the ACC

Behind Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, Clemson Appears Ready to Fly Past the Rest of the ACC

We’re just a couple days away! I know, this has been an incredibly drawn out offseason, but at long last, kickoff is finally (just about) here. To celebrate that, we’re unveiling the final offseason power rankings, before basing these on actual games starting next Tuesday. As always, the poll includes all 14 current ACC members, plus future member Louisville. Feel like I’m totally right or completely off-base? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

ACC Football Power Rankings 2013 (August 27)

1. Clemson Tigers (Last: 1): Clemson will be tested very early in a rivalry redux versus Georgia, and should they get past the Bulldogs, they’ll be favored in the next 10 games. If this team has truly buried the term “Clemsoning” (and for what it’s worth, I firmly believe they have), they should be able to run through to the final weekend at a perfect 11-0. There, South Carolina awaits them, but it’s a long season and in order to be undefeated, you’ve got to go week-by-week.

2. Florida State Seminoles (Last: 3): The more preseason prep you do, the more you end up buying into this year’s Seminoles team being just as talented as last year’s edition. Though the pass-rush might be a bit weaker, the very strong back seven give this team the type of edge they’ll need to notch another season of double-digit wins. But again, the key is Jameis Winston at QB, and whether or not he’s up to the task of jumping in and producing right away.

3. Louisville Cardinals (Last: 2): Playing out a season in purgatory is a daunting task, believe it or not, and we’re about to find out if Louisville’s up to the challenge. With a very big target on their backs and favorable odds in all 12 games on the slate, this Cardinals team will be challenged to get up for each and every game. Charlie Strong can provide the motivation, but it’ll be interesting to watch nonetheless as the year keeps going and the pressure around the squad builds.

4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (Last: 5): Miami likely has the most complete set of offensive tools in the entire conference, with certifiable playmakers at all three major skill positions. This year’s slate is also much easier than 2012′s, with no Notre Dame or Kansas State, though we’ll get a quick sense of what they’re made of in a week two matchup against Florida. Win that one, and who knows how far this team might end up going.

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ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Syracuse Orange

Jerome Smith and the Syracuse Running Game Hope to Guide the Orange Back to the Postseason

Jerome Smith and the Syracuse Running Game Hope to Guide the Orange Back to the Postseason

Team: Syracuse Orange

2012 W-L: 8-5 (5-2 in Big East)

Head Coach: Scott Shafer (0-0; first season)

Returning Starters: 12 (6 Offense, 6 Defense)

After pulling his alma mater out from college football exile (more or less), former Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone headed off to “greener” pastures this offseason: Buffalo, to coach the NFL’s Bills. While some might argue that he wasn’t exactly done with the job — after all, this was a program that just a decade or so ago was finishing in the top 15-20 every year — you can’t say he didn’t leave the program in infinitely better shape than how he inherited it. Most important in that is the Orange’s move to the ACC, and now without Marrone, they’ve got quite the challenge ahead of them. There’s faith that new coach Scott Shafer should keep the team on an upward trajectory, but it won’t be easy to keep the small private school from Upstate New York climbing.

All the concern — for this season, anyway — starts off with the changes on offense. QB Ryan Nassib is gone after a superb senior campaign, and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett (the architect of last year’s attack) followed Marrone to Buffalo. Last year’s top two receivers are gone too, as are standout linemen Justin Pugh and Zach Chibane. So needless to say, there’s plenty of rebuilding to be done. To replace Nassib, the team is still deciding between Terrel Hunt and Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, both of whom look ready for the job (though my money’s on Allen) and a nice change of pace from the former SU record-breaker. Hunt, a junior, is a dual-threat, while Allen is a more polished pro-style passer, and it’s likely both will see plenty of playing time this year. As far as who’s catching passes, it’s Jarrod West and tight end Beckett Wales, most importantly, with a lot of unproven alternatives along with them. The line has more experience than most realize — Sean Hickey and Macky MacPherson have both seen plenty of playing time — and despite the losses, I think this group actually holds up compared to last season. Finally, George McDonald takes over the offense, and admittedly, we don’t really know what we’re getting there.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #10, Jerome Smith

Syracuse’s Jerome Smith is #10 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Syracuse’s Jerome Smith is #10 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. 10, Jerome Smith, RB/Syracuse (Last Season: NR)

Halfway through last season, Syracuse and its pass-happy offense was 2-4 and struggling to move the ball. The running game had grown stale — though without getting a ton of carries, it was hard for the backs to actually get in the rhythm of the game. Things would change course mid-year though, as a balanced attack led SU to a 6-1 record the rest of the way. And while he wasn’t the only ball-carrier (far from it), starter Jerome Smith was at the center of it all. After amassing just 355 yards over the first six games, he had 816 over the final seven, proving himself to be a primary back, fully capable of carrying the load for this offense. He also racked up the Orange’s fifth straight 1,000-yard rushing season, entering him into an already elite fraternity and knocking on the door for much more in the team’s history books.

With much of last year’s passing game gone, the Syracuse attack will be taking on a very different look this season (or so it’s thought), likely running the ball at a much higher rate. Smith is the catalyst behind that strategy, as the 6’0″ 217-pound back mixes between-the-tackles running with home run abilities to keep defenses on their feet. Mixed with Prince-Tyson Gulley, who’s quicker and runs along the edge, you’ve got a perfect mixture of “thunder and lightning” the likes of which are difficult to fully prepare for. The two-back system already has folks excited this year — primarily offensive coordinator George McDonald, who’s regularly gushed to the media about the backfield’s abilities multiple times.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC's Running Backs for the 2013 Season

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC’s Running Backs for the 2013 Season

While we’re still 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 running backs (you can check out last week’s feature on quarterbacks, too). Though there’s not a whole lot of experience at the position — just one returning back (Syracuse’s Jerome Smith) rushed for 1,000 yards last year — this group makes up for a lot of that in potential. Many of the most talented runners this year will be sophomores or juniors, so that aforementioned experience will come with time. As for those who are seniors, many possess a significant leg-up, which you’ll find reflected here as well.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual quarterback is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of passers is. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

1. Florida State Seminoles: Injuries ravaged the Florida State backfield in 2012. But because of that, the team’s top two returning rushers, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., actually have quite a bit of experience under their respective belts (221 carries between them last year). They’re both vertical runners for the most part, doing most of their work in the middle of the line, but Wilder, in particular, also has some pass-catching ability out of the backfield (19 catches for 136 yards and two scores last year). Expect that role to expand this year, while also incorporating Mario Pender, who’s the quickest back on the roster and anxious to contribute after red-shirting last season.

2. Miami Hurricanes: Miami’s ranking here is purely on the strength of sophomore Duke Johnson, and his success is likely to decide how far the ‘Canes go this season. Despite splitting carries with Mike James last year, Johnson still ran for 947 yards and 10 scores, while tacking on another 1,133 yards from receiving and kick returns. With that on his resume in just one season, he’s now being listed among the most dynamic players in the country and will be the focal point of every gameplan against Miami. He won’t be acting alone in the backfield, but there’s no telling what to expect from backups Dallas Crawford or Eduardo Clements either.

3. Syracuse Orange: SU’s offense was largely seen as a pass-first attack in 2012, but its success in the season’s second half was heavily reliant on the running game. The Orange bring back everybody this year, and arguably have one of the deepest backfields in the country. The group will be guided by Jerome Smith (1,171 yards last year), but this will be a multi-back, run-first system. Expect Prince-Tyson Gulley to approach the 200-carry mark as well, while the team gets additional contributions from short-yardage specialist Adonis Ameen-Moore and jack-of-all-trades Ashton Broyld in hybrid WR/RB slot role.

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ACC Football Standout Senior 2013: Syracuse

Jerome Smith Had a Breakout 2012 Campaign for SU; Can He Improve Upon it in 2013?

Jerome Smith Had a Breakout 2012 Campaign for Syracuse; Can He Improve Upon it in 2013?

Last season’s juniors are now this season’s seniors, and with that comes extra responsibility and expectations. In the ACC, while there were plenty of players selected in the NFL Draft, the conference still returns a strong group of seniors — many of whom are set to make a strong impact in their final seasons of eligibility.

Over these few weeks, we’re going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his respective squad, and why he’s so important. Think we should’ve featured another player, though? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

Syracuse Orange: Jerome Smith, RB

Jerome Smith’s not the only key senior in the Syracuse offense — in fact, he’s not even the only key senior running back. But as last season showed, the Orange were markedly better when he performed well, and with all the buzz about the SU ground game this season, all conversations must start with Smith.

Syracuse was 6-1 when Smith racked up 90 or more yards — the only loss being a turnover-riddled disaster against Cincinnati in which he ran for 116 yards. And while that loss stung, it was right in the midst of Smith and the entire SU running game hitting their respective strides; the most important factor in the team’s turnaround from 2-4 midseason to 8-5 by the end. Now, without a proven passing game to drive things, it’ll be up to Smith and fellow senior back Prince-Tyson Gulley to keep the offense on pace with last year’s prolific attack. Both showed off how they could function in featured roles during December’s Pinstripe Bowl (Smith, in particular, amassed 152 rushing yards on 29 carries), and this team could be relying on similar production from both moving forward.
But is that realistic?

For Smith, it would appear so. Once he started receiving a consistent number of carries in 2012, he seemed to flourish in his role as an impact runner. At 5’11″ and 213 pounds, he’s a bit of a bruiser, but when paired with the lightning quick Gulley, it’s an exciting mix. Smith can be productive on limited carries (still had over five yards per rush last year), but ideally, you’re looking at him as the featured rusher at 20 carries or so. He ran for 95 yards or more in all seven games in which he saw 18 or more touches, and it’s likely the coaching staff’s already caught on to that. What they will have to work on a bit, however, is his involvement in the passing game.

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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Prediction: Week 2 (Part Two)

Boston College’s New-Look Offense Hopes to Put Up Big Numbers Against Maine This Weekend

This is Part Two of this week’s Previews & Predictions feature. Also check out Part One.

Maine Black Bears (0-0) at Boston College Eagles (0-1) (0-1): As disappointing as last week’s loss to Miami was, you couldn’t help but notice that spark from BC’s players that’s been missing these past few seasons. New offensive coordinator Doug Martin’s already performed a miracle after Chase Rettig‘s phenomenal passing day, and something tells me we’ll be seeing much more of the same against Maine. If they go five-wide all day I wouldn’t be surprised. The Black Bears are far too rusty to keep up with a team fresh off an exciting, active first game. Prediction: Boston College 48, Maine 20

Austin Peay Governors (0-1) at Virginia Tech Hokies (1-0) (1-0): Austin Peay got absolutely smoked by Western Kentucky last week. So if that’s any indication of the team that will be facing the Hokies, expect this one to be quick. Now, Tech is coming off a short week, having just played on Monday. But a lowly FCS school is exactly what they need to shake off the final cobwebs. The Pistol formation looked like it had a lot of potential, so Logan Thomas would be well-advised to give it some more practice runs against the Governors. Prediction: Virginia Tech 41, Austin Peay 0

North Carolina Tar Heels (1-0) at Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-0): Two North Carolina schools faced FCS opponents last weekend. One came out of it looking like they had one of the country’s best offenses. The other looked as if they’d struggle to win four games. After tallying 62 points on Saturday, there’s no telling what Larry Fedora’s UNC offense will do next. So long as running back Giovani Bernard‘s knee doesn’t become an issue, they’ll give defenses issues all season. Wake has a defense (sometimes) so it appears they’ll be having some issues. Prediction: UNC 45, Wake 24

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ACC Football Goat of the Week, Week 1: David Amerson, NC State

After Struggling against Tennessee on Friday, NC State’s David Amerson is This Week’s Goat

No one enjoys piling on when things go wrong. But nonetheless, we’ve got to call out the ACC players who were counter-productive in helping their teams grab a victory this weekend. On the bright side for them, they can always get off this list next week. And for their sake, let’s hope they do.

ACC Goat of the Week, Week 1: David Amerson, CB/NC State

We’ve already talked about all the issues NC State experienced in their opening game against Tennessee, but it’s worth rehashing just the same. David Amerson, the team’s best weapon, was effectively torched for the entirety of Friday’s matchup. So now what? Was last year an anomaly, or was the first game just a case of Amerson shaking off the rust? It’s obviously too soon to tell, but Friday set an effective blueprint for how to defeat the Wolpack, mostly centered on attacking their two best players incessantly. No, the year isn’t over just yet, but State and Amerson need to figure out a way to rebound quickly, or else a promising season could spiral quickly out of control.

Honorable Mention:

Tevin Washington, QB/Georgia Tech (10/15 passing, 96 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT)

Mike Glennon, QB/NC State (27/46 passing, 288 yards, 1 TD, 4 INT)

Perry Hills, QB/Maryland (16/25 passing, 145 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT)

Jerome Smith, RB/Syracuse (10 rushes, 34 yards, 1 fumble)

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