ACC Football Head Coaching Hot Seats 2013

Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson is One of Several ACC Coaches on Tentative Ground Right Now

Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson is One of Several ACC Coaches on Tentative Ground Right Now

We’re just jumping into spring practice (you can look at every ACC team’s previews here), but for all 14 (15) squads, this is the start of the 2013 season. And for head coaches, this is where the year’s evaluations start; from their players, the school administrations, the fans and the boosters that can easily pull the plug on their position. While some of the ACC‘s head coaches are firmly entrenched where they’re at, there are also plenty that find themselves in precarious situations. Regarding both, we provide a quick evaluation of where all of them stand, new coaches and all.

Completely Safe (5)

Dabo Swinney, Clemson (sixth year): Swinney has brought the Tigers to an extended period of success they haven’t seen in decades, winning the ACC, becoming a perennial top-20 program and taking home a huge victory in the 2012 Chick-fil-a Bowl. The only things left? Consistently beating South Carolina and winning a national championship.

David Cutcliffe, Duke (sixth year): After getting Duke to their first bowl game since 1994, it appears that Cutcliffe can do no wrong in Durham. Of course, now the question begs whether he can keep it up. So long as he can consistently win between five and seven games, Cutcliffe will be just fine at Duke.

Charlie Strong, Louisville (fourth year): Strong had a real opportunity to leave this past offseason, yet chose to stick around at Louisville to finish what he started. While there’s always the threat he could head to the SEC, Strong’s ability to rebuild this program and contend on a national stage (see: Sugar Bowl) have him here long-term if he wants to be.

Larry Fedora, North Carolina (second year): Just a small sample size for Fedora thus far, but in his one season, he’s already brought UNC to a place of far more prominence than they’ve been in a decade. He’ll get several seasons to continue implementing his system, but if trends continue, he’ll be fine in Chapel Hill.

Paul Chryst, Pittsburgh (second year): Another second-year coach, Chryst has seen some results after a season at the helm, but it appears he’s set to grow the program further after (especially after a nice recruiting haul this spring). If they take a step back, questions may start, but he’s got plenty of runway to work with.

Fine for Now (4)

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State (fourth year): Expectations are always high at FSU, so it’s no surprise Fisher sits here, despite winning 12 games and an ACC title last year. Now, of course, it’ll be interesting to see if he can live up year-to-year. If Fisher can’t contend more than every few seasons, patience will grow short very quickly around Florida State.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Wake Forest Struggled in Every Aspect of the Game in 2012, Making 2013 a Long Road Back

Wake Forest Struggled in Every Aspect of the Game in 2012, Making 2013 a Long Road Back

Team: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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

Postseason: N/A

Top Offensive Performer: Michael Campanaro, WR

Top Defensive Performer: Kevin Johnson, CB

It’s difficult to figure out what Wake Forest’s 2012 season actually was. Apologists cite numerous injuries along with off-the-field issues. Those more critical may even go after coach Jim Grobe’s diminishing returns over the past few seasons. But regardless of who/what is at fault — and all of the above (and more) are — there’s no denying there was just something decidedly listless about the Demon Deacons this year.

After September 29, Wake scored more than 20 points in a game just twice, and on the season, it happened just six times (and only one of those times did they top 28). To call the group “anemic” would actually be a compliment, as evidenced by their 18.5 points per game (116th in the country) and just 301 yards per game (120th). And really no player — maybe outside of receiver Michael Campanaro — is outside of criticism here. QB Tanner Price, who many thought was ready for a breakout season, regressed mightily to the tune of just 2,300 passing yards and 12 scores. The offensive line, which failed to block for him last year (allowed 34 sacks), didn’t really improve all that much this season (allowed 25), but it was his Price’s (in)accuracy that truly killed him. Five different times, he completed less than 50 percent of his passes, and even his most impressive effort (a 28-27 victory over North Carolina) featured zero passing scores (though he ran in two touchdowns). But was it because he felt too much pressure to carry the team? The Deacs averaged just 100 yards per game on the ground, with starter Josh Harris stacking up an immensely underwhelming campaign on his own, along with the rest of the backfield. And it only got worse as the season wore on. Wake couldn’t even amass 200 rushing yards over its final three games, even when one of those efforts amounted to 124 yards. One dimensional offenses can work, but that dimension needs to be effective. For this team in 2012, the offense can only be described as “no-dimensional.”

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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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Can the Wake Forest Football Program Remain Competitive?

Is the College Football Landscape Making it Impossible for Schools Like Wake to Compete?

Is the College Football Landscape Making it Impossible for Schools Like Wake to Compete?

While assembling the daily links for Wednesday, I happened upon an interesting story from Rant Sports, “Can the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Stay Competitive in ACC Football?” On a top-level, author M. Shannon Smallwood, takes a quick look at how Wake Forest and head coach Jim Grobe have continued to compete despite lesser resources and prestige than many of their counterparts, both locally and nationally. But I wanted to dig a bit deeper into that discussion, and really talk about the factors the school’s up against in the evolving college football environment. So rather than just chat about it by myself, I decided to bring in the author himself. What follows is our email conversation from yesterday:

John Cassillo: Can Wake Forest hope to compete in football in the future? With the conference’s smallest athletic budget and an influx of “richer” teams (Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and “sort of” Notre Dame) coming in the ACC door, how are they going to play catch-up? Or better question: Can they play catch-up with the conference’s 14 other schools?

M. Shannon Smallwood: I am the eternal optimist so I have to believe the leadership in the Athletic Department and the President of the University are capable and smart enough to realize what decisions need to be made in order to keep the school afloat. But the reality is the landscape just got a lot more challenging for Wake Forest on every level.

I am working on my first ACC Football Power Rankings for Rant Sports (posting on Saturday) and I have Wake in the bottom three in the new-look ACC. I just don’t think the Demon Deacons will be able to put the depth of talent on the field to compete for four quarters in every game. I do think they can recruit and put 25 or so top level athletes on offense and defense, but its the athletes from 26 to 85, I am worried about.

I will say this is not a game of “catch up”. I think if you are a school looking at the landscape and, as an AD or President, you say “we need to catch up with the other members of the ACC,” you are setting yourself and your school up for disaster. Case-in-point: Maryland. The Terps made some terrible decisions and were/are bankrupt until the Big 10 bailed them out. Could Wake, Boston College or Duke ever be in a situation like Maryland? I don’t think so. I think there are some deep pockets and smarter folks at these three schools. But to be successful, you have to win. You have to create a buzz around campus, the town and the nation.

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Way-Too-Early 2013 ACC Football Power Rankings

An Early Look at 2013 Shows Clemson to Be at the Head of the Class in the ACC

An Early Look at 2013 Shows Clemson to Be at the Head of the Class in the ACC

When we last left our teams, there appeared to be hope on the horizon. Though the 2012 season was a difficult one, the bowls showed some real glimmers of great things to come, as the ACC racked up its first winning postseason record in seven years. Beyond some long-awaited hope for greater success, 2013 also brings some change to these rankings. Syracuse and Pittsburgh will now actually be participating in the conference, after two seasons appearing in the power rankings despite not doing so. And Louisville, our newest pals set to join in 2014, will also be joining the party — meaning 15 teams will be listed for the remainder of this calendar year (and slightly beyond into bowl season 2014). Cheer up! It’s less than 230 days ’till kickoff.

1. Clemson Tigers (Last Year: 2): Tajh Boyd‘s back, and the defense is improving steadily. So even without DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington, this team will still be fine in 2013. In year two under defensive coordinator Brent Venables, expect an even more aggressive front-seven as the coach works on improving linebacker play in particular. That secondary will still get burned, but be certain they’ve also learned some lessons from last year, too.

2. Louisville Cardinals (LY: NR): After the show Teddy Bridgewater put on during the Sugar Bowl this year, the Cardinals are an extremely hot commodity, and are likely to start strong in their final season of Big East football. It’ll be interesting to see how coach Charlie Strong and his team respond to having a target on their backs from week one, when they’ll likely be handed a top-10 ranking to start the year.

3. Florida State Seminoles (LY: 1): They’re losing a lot on the defensive side of the football, along with QB and senior leader, EJ Manuel. But like those old, Bobby Bowden-coached teams of teams of the 90s, this ‘Noles squad has already reloaded. The offense may take a few to warm up, but the defense will still be very much their strength heading into next season.

4. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (LY: 5): After sitting out two straight years of postseason berths, the ‘Canes are really hoping they’re given a break from the NCAA in terms of leniency. With a ton of young talent eager to get a shot at a conference title, and arguably the best QB/RB tandem in the ACC in Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson, Miami could very well be out for blood come opening kickoff this fall.

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ACC Football 2012 Week 13 Lessons: SEC Dominates ACC on Showdown Saturday

Favored By a Touchdown, the Seminoles Still Proved No Match for the Rival Gators This Weekend

Each Monday morning, we compile our top five takeaways from the weekend’s action. Here’s what we got out of Week 13 of ACC football action:

1. Nothing’s changed: We thought that Clemson and Florida State — the class of the ACC — could come out of this weekend’s matchups with their SEC rivals victorious. We were so very, very wrong. FSU struggled right out the gate, and quarterback EJ Manuel was happy to hand the ball right to Florida several times during the mistake-laden, forgettable contest. Clemson’s high-flying offense — considered among the best in the nation — was held to just 17 points against South Carolina. Georgia Tech and Wake Forest were also thumped by SEC foes, making the ACC 4-0 against its southern brethren on Showdown Saturday. Instead of a perception boost, the weekend provided an even bigger hit for the already-wobbly ACC.

2. Notre Dame‘s never been further away: While the ACC would love to see Notre Dame’s continued success, both before and during their partnership, the Irish’s impending shot at a national title proves how far away they are. There was plenty of talk they could potentially be coaxed into a full-time membership with the ACC, but I doubt that’s likely anymore. In going 12-0 this season, Notre Dame proved they stand apart from the system. They don’t need a conference to compete for championships, and if they end this season with a title in hand, there’s little doubt they’ll remain independent for decades.

3. Realignment holding pattern: There are murmurs that a decision could come this week as to the ACC’s replacement for Maryland. But who will it be, and will there be more than one add? Thoughts of a 16-team superconference (adding Louisville, UConn and Cincinnati) have seemingly been shot down for the time being, but the choice has essentially come down to those three schools. Personally, I’d like to see the league make some calls to a few bigger fish first, but for all I know, they’ve already done this.

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ACC Football 2012 Power Rankings: Week 10

Florida State Ran Away From Duke Early on Saturday, and Now Control the Atlantic Division Race

Does anyone want to win the ACC‘s Coastal division? From the looks of it, no, though the only team that’s even looks remotely ready to do so is unfortunately ineligible for the postseason. In the meantime, the conference’s top two get further from the rest, while everyone else just continues to crash into each other. But let’s get more specific. What have we truly learned over this past weekend, and how do the ACC’s teams currently shake out?

1. Florida State Seminoles (8-1) (5-1) (LW: 1): Some felt that the 27-point spread between Duke and FSU was a bit of an exaggeration. Yet, it appeared as if the ‘Noles took it as a challenge in their 48-7 victory. Though it wasn’t all hearts and rainbows — Florida State committed four turnovers — the team still ran rings around the Blue Devils, locking up the contest by halftime. Beyond the lingering issues with fumbles, this Seminoles team appears to be clicking once again as it heads for the stretch run.

2. Clemson Tigers (7-1) (4-1) (LW: 2): Prior to kickoff last Thursday, there was concern with regards to the Clemson secondary, along with Sammy Watkins, who was slated not to start the game against Wake Forest. What happened instead was a clinic on everything fantastic about the Tigers offense. From the first snap, Clemson was a flurry of pure speed, connecting on long passes at will, and simply over-matching the Deacons’ secondary. The Clemson defense, too, looked like it had stepped up its game, sacking QB Tanner Price five times, while getting consistent pressure on him all night.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (6-3) (3-2) (LW: 5): After a hot start gave the Heels a 25-7 lead early, the team suddenly found itself down 35-25 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. And that’s when Giovani Bernard came alive. In the final 15 minutes, the Carolina back amassed 182 all-purpose yards and the game-winning score to give his team an eight-point victory. Obviously, the trouble with UNC’s recent gameplan is that it relies far too much on Bernard. But as long as it works — as it did here — you’ll see no complaints from this end.

4. NC State Wolfpack (5-3) (2-2) (LW: 3): What’s more crushing? Losing to your rival for the first time since 2006, or giving up your inside track at the Atlantic division title? Though those burns will likely sting with equal intensity for the Wolfpack, they must rebound quickly if they hope to stick around the divisional race. Should they win out, while FSU loses again, they’ll still find themselves in Charlotte for the title game. But they have to cut down on the dropped passes and fix mental errors in order to pull it off.

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