ACC Media Days 2012: Top 10 Storylines

We Give a Rundown of the Top 10 Topics You’ll Be Hearing About at ACC Media Days, Which Start This Sunday

It’s nearly football season. Or at least I keep telling myself as much. But it’s getting even closer with ACC Media Days starting this Sunday, July 22. While I’ll be down in North Carolina myself next week, it sadly won’t be for the event. Nonetheless, I’ll be paying a visit to Chapel Hill and hopefully engaging in some lively banter with locals about BBQ and the upcoming football season.

Below, I’ve compiled a list of the top 10 talking points we’re likely to see addressed at media days. Some topics (like the top item), commissioner John Swofford and the coaches will have plenty to say about. While others, like the ongoing institutional issues at two universities in particular, will be pushed aside in a valiant attempt to forget about them for two days. Without further ado, your guide to ACC Media Days 2012:

1. Syracuse & Pittsburgh Joining in 2013: After both schools announced separate $7.5M settlements for early exits from the Big East, there’s finally a date attached to their arrival. And while there won’t be any representatives from either institution at the event, there’s bound to be a ton of questions. With the 14-team model now ready to go for next season, we’ll hear all about the new scheduling conventions, permanent rivals, and overall feelings about traveling up to New York and Pittsburgh (odds are no one beyond Boston College is that thrilled). All of this will be framed within the “new era of the ACC” narrative, and everyone will be told how much bigger, better and different things will be.

2. Where are Discussions With Notre Dame at?: This will be a hot topic amongst media attendees, even if Swofford will likely try and pretend there’s nothing going on whatsoever. The league offices have admitted to conversations about the Orange Bowl (we’ll get to that). But what about expansion? If those conversations have started at all, no one’s saying, and rightfully so. As we’ve seen during the last two rounds of expansion, Swofford pulls off deals like this in the dead of night. If something happens, everyone but his secretary will be surprised when it’s announced. Continue reading

Breaking News: ACC and Orange Bowl Reach 12-Year Agreement

12-Year Agreement Looks Like Good News for the ACC

The Discover Orange Bowl will be played annually on New Year’s Day at 1 p.m. ET, and will feature the ACC champion. The agreement is set to begin in 2014, the same year as the new playoff system. If the ACC champion is selected to play in the 4 team playoff, then a replacement ACC team will compete instead.

The ACC champ has played in the Orange Bowl every year since 2006, so this may not seem like much of a story, but believe it, it is. The ACC joins the other major conferences with a tie-in with a major “BCS” bowl. The Orange Bowl has seen some lackluster matchups in recent years, but is still one of the premier bowl destinations. If you also consider that the Orange Bowl anticipates it will be one of the alternating playoff destinations, then this partnership looks even better for the ACC.

“The Discover Orange Bowl has a rich history of prestige, is located within the league’s footprint and is a great destination for our student-athletes, alumni and fans. In addition to our continued partnership, we are very pleased to be playing annually on New Year’s Day” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. Translation: tune in and see us in prime time, at the same time, every year, just like the big boy conferences.  Undoubtedly, more news and analysis will come on this partnership; but for now this looks like a nice move by the ACC.

College Football Playoffs: Negative Impacts for ACC, Orange Bowl

To the ACC, a College Football Playoff May Seem Great, Until the League Takes a Look at the Disadvantage It's Dealt

As we’ve detailed before, a college football playoff is happening. There’s no turning back, and the most likely outcome is a four-team “event” matching the top four teams at neutral locations. The twist now, is whether they’ll implement the “Mandel Plan” — a design that gives a slight nod to its possible architect, Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel. Under the “Mandel Plan,” the two semifinal matchups are played at the traditional conference bowl tie-in sites of the one- and two-seeds, respectively. The theory goes that this preserves the bowls (the Rose Bowl would still host at least one of the Pac-12/Big Ten champs, unless they were the third and fourth seeds) and ensures higher seeds aren’t forced to “host” games in hostile environments.

For the five power leagues, this all would make perfectly equitable sense… if everything were perfectly equitable, that is. A look at how the four-team playoff would have been set up over these past 14 years, using the BCS standings as our ranking tool (a revised version of the same rankings will probably be deciding the actual playoff participants, albeit under a different moniker): Continue reading

ACC 2012 Spring Practice Expectations: Clemson Tigers

Teams Thought Clemson's Sammy Watkins Was Intimdating Before, But Just Wait 'Till He Starts Handling Punts

As spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing what needs to happen for the teams and players of the ACC, culminating with notes on all 14 spring games.

Today’s featured team: Clemson Tigers

Clemson enters 2012’s spring practice with the harsh, yet thrilling reality of inflated expectations. And why shouldn’t they? Sure, the Orange Bowl loss stung. But look at all the good that came from 2011: the schools’ best football season in 20 years, their first conference title in 20 years, three wins over ranked opponents… just to name a few of the accomplishments under head coach Dabo Swinney. Most of all, the team discovered the types of weapons it has at its disposal on offense. Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Andre Ellington were all stellar last season, and all are projected to improve this season, too. Yet it all starts here in spring. For Boyd, he’ll look to improve upon his accuracy and decision-making under pressure (below average in 2011), while Ellington’s likely to gain more involvement in the passing game. As for Watkins — one of the most dangerously fast men in football — he’s actually demanding to take on punt return duties as well. When someone leads the conference in all-purpose yards as a freshman, are you honestly going to doubt him? The other key for the offense will be quickly developing camaraderie on  line tasked with protecting Boyd and their season. The less Boyd is flushed out of the pocket, the more effective he’ll be as the year wears on — the central cog in Clemson’s offense continuing to be as explosive as it was for most of 2011. Continue reading

National Signing Day 2012: ACC Team Recruiting Rankings

With Players Like Mario Edwards, Florida State's Recruiting Class May Be the ACC's (and the Nation's) Best

We previously covered the top-ranked players successfully recruited by ACC schools on National Signing Day. Now, we take a closer look at each team’s haul and how it stacks up against their conferencemates, 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 (19 commitments; 10 in ESPNU Top 150): Florida State cleaned house, going blow-for-blow with the SEC‘s top programs and ultimately landing either the nation’s best, or second-best recruiting class. With a focus on team speed, the Seminoles bolstered themselves on both sides of the ball with a frighteningly good batch of players — some of whom will jump right in to contribute. Top Recruit: Mario Edwards, DE (No. 1 overall, Grade: 90)

2. Miami Hurricanes (33 commitments, 6 in ESPNU top 150): It would appear that off-the-field issues matter very little to this incoming class, which is great for the Hurricanes. In spite of the threat of a multiple-year postseason ban, the ‘Canes lured in an enormous class, mostly based on tradition and their locale. If nothing else, it’s a PR victory for coach Al Golden and his staff. Top Recruit: Tracy Howard, CB (No. 18 overall, Grade: 83)

3. Clemson Tigers (20 commitments, 6 in ESPNU top 150): Either Clemson’s recruits didn’t tune in to their Orange Bowl thrashing last month, or they did, and see it as an opportunity. While offense was surely a big part of this class, the Tigers grabbed plenty of help on defense, too, with the hopes of improving an effort that appeared subpar more often than not (see 70-33 bowl beatdown). Top Recruit: Travis Blanks, S (No. 15 overall, Grade: 84)

4. Virginia Tech Hokies (30 commitments, 1 in ESPNU top 150): As always, Frank Beamer stressed going after athletes who could play football first of all, and then worry about plugging them into his system (especially on the defensive side of the ball). While lacking a huge star, it’s a deep class of quality guys (there’s an enormous concentration of players rated at a grade of 78) that will play where they’re needed. Top Recruit: Joel Caleb, ATH (No. 83, Grade: 81)

5. Virginia Cavaliers (26 commitments, 1 in ESPNU top 150): The Cavaliers 2012 class is all over the map — covering all positions, and most of the eastern seaboard. After a surprisingly successful season, it appears word spread quickly, and the result was a shockingly good group coming in, keeping the program on its apparent upswing. Top Recruit: Eli Harold, DE (No. 124 overall, Grade: 80) Continue reading

ACC’s Top 25 Players of 2011: No. 1, Tajh Boyd

Clemson's Tajh Boyd is Number One On Our Countdown of the ACC's Top 25 Players

To recap the 2011 season of ACC football, we’ll be ranking the top 25 players in the conference this year, starting at 25, and heading all the way to the number-one slot. While these rankings can surely be debated, it’s still entertaining to assemble them. We end today with…

No. 1, Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson

Anyone who’s come upon this blog since its inception should’ve seen this one coming. Of all the ACC players in 2011, none was more important to his team than Boyd, whose first season as a starter went about as well as could be imagined. He was his team’s MVP, the offensive player of the year in the league, was the main man behind the Tigers’ 8-0 start and even a Heisman hopeful for some time. And still, all of that only scratches the surface of what this sophomore quarterback did. Through those first eight contests, he had 24 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. On the season, he accounted for the most total yards in the conference, with 4,046 rushing and passing; 600 more than his closest competitor. Boyd’s 38 touchdowns (33 passing, five rush) were tops in the ACC, as were his passing yards. He’d finish the season with three wins against top-25 competition, his school’s first conference title in two decades and the most excitement around football-rabid Clemson since their title season back in 1981. If not for a demoralizing performance versus West Virginia in the Orange Bowl, they could’ve finished in the top 10. Nonetheless, Boyd’s given fans a reason to believe — both in him and his team — and he’s due to make waves in 2012 along with playmaking teammate Sammy Watkins. Continue reading

2011 ACC Season Recap: Clemson Tigers

Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd Were Two of the ACC's Most Exciting Players in 2011

Team: Clemson Tigers

W-L: 10-4 (7-2)

Postseason: 70-33 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia

Top Offensive Performer: Tajh Boyd, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Andre Branch, DE

After a fiery 8-0 start that saw sophomore quarterback Tajh Boyd dominating defenses unlike any ACC signal-caller had done in years, suddenly the wheels came off in shocking fashion. Losses to Georgia Tech, NC State and South Carolina were shocks to the system, and if not for a last-second field-goal against Wake Forest, the Tigers may not have even won the Atlantic Division crown. Nonetheless, the Tigers finished in impressive fashion, polishing off the odds-on favorite Virginia Tech Hokies twice — the second time for the ACC title. With momentum, and some of the league’s best playmakers in Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and standout freshman receiver Sammy Watkins, Clemson was ready to cap off one of their best seasons in two decades. Alas, it was not to be. The Tigers choked in epic fashion in the Orange Bowl, and despite scoring 33 points of their own, they were doubled-up by West Virginia. Brutally embarrassing bowl performance aside, Clemson was still among the nation’s best offenses all season, specifically through the air, and averaged nearly 34 points per game. Boyd and Watkins would connect for 12 scores, as both were getting Heisman buzz well through midseason. Continue reading