Too-Early 2013 ACC Football Power Rankings (June 10)

Can FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston Live Up to His Growing Hype?

Can FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston Live Up to His Growing Hype Around Tallahassee?

The college football season is in sight! No, seriously it is. I received my Athlon Sports 2013 season preview magazine a couple weeks ago. Football Study Hall was able to amass a power poll based on all the preseason rankings thus far. Things are happening! And with that, we’re edging closer and closer to late August. Until then, these rankings are just conjecture, but oh well — we all need something to pass the time until kickoff.

1. Clemson Tigers (Last: 1): Clemson’s season is very likely to boil down to the first and last weekends, with 10 trap games in the middle. Vegas obviously likes the Tigers, but will the pressures of being a National Championship contender finally get to the team at some point? That’s why they play the games, of course, but win or lose the opening game against Georgia, it’s worth circling September 19 vs. NC State and October 19 vs. FSU as some potential bumps in the road.

2. Louisville Cardinals (Last: 2): Is is ridiculous to say that anything short of an undefeated season will be a disappointment for Louisville? The Cardinals play the 90th-most difficult schedule in the country in 2013 — a nice way of saying “nobody.” Like Clemson, though, they’ll be up against the weight of expectations, which could end up being the toughest opponent they face all season.

3. Florida State Seminoles (Last: 3): Jameis Winston will need a couple of games to adjust as the Seminoles’ starting passer, but until then he’ll have plenty of support from his defense, which is more experienced than the “returning starters” numbers let on. FSU doesn’t face a major-conference team with a winning record until October (Clemson), so there’s ample time for everyone — players and coaches — to get settled in.

4. North Carolina Tar Heels (Last: 4): North Carolina had one of the top 15 offenses in the country last season, and that was just the first season under Larry Fedora’s system. As he continues to burn up the recruiting trail, this is a team poised to be even better in 2013 as they adapt to Fedora’s spread style. The Heels’ defense may be a trouble spot, but if they’re scoring as they should, it may not matter much. Continue reading

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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: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia QB Phillip Simms Won't Be Handed the Starting Job This Spring, Making for an Interesting Early Position Battle

Virginia QB Phillip Sims Won’t Be Handed the Starting Job This Spring, Making for an Interesting Early Position Battle

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: Virginia Cavaliers

Spring Practice Start Date: March 18

Spring Game Date: April 6

Head coach Mike London felt some heat after a disappointing third season, replacing both his offensive and defensive coordinators in the hopes of sparking a new fire with his players. Now, he’ll need to hope that does the trick for a group returning 14 starters from last season; a decent amount of leadership coming back that should at least give the team a leg up compared to last year’s project (especially on defense). Virginia has also elected to schedule pretty aggressively this year (and for the foreseeable future), meaning progress may end up being tougher to spot in clear sight.

With a strong group of receivers returning, along with leading rusher Kevin Parks and most of the offensive line (four of five), you’d think the Hoos’ offense would be largely settled. Unfortunately, though, that’s not the case. Last year’s quarterback platoon of incumbent starter Michael Rocco and Alabama transfer Phillip Sims led to Rocco leaving the program, yet that doesn’t mean Simms automatically has the job. Junior David Watford‘s been around the program longer, though that may not matter in new O-coordinator Steve Fairchild’s system. As a former quarterback himself, Fairchild’s likely to favor the best arm, meaning Simms’s dual-threat capabilities may not be as important. It’s likely the offense sees some additional pro-style influence from former NC State head coach Tom O’Brien, now an offensive assistant with UVa. This spring will be a telling sign toward the direction the squad takes this fall, but at this point, expect anything — Watford or Simms as the starter, or maybe even both. While there are certainly critics of how London ran a two-passer system last year, I’m unsure whether that’ll deter him from doing so again if the two players are in a close competition.

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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia's 2012 Season Was About as Tumultuous as They Come; But Is There Hope on the Horizon?

Virginia’s 2012 Season Was About as Tumultuous as They Come; But Is There Hope on the Horizon?

Team: Virginia Cavaliers

W-L: 4-8 (2-6)

Postseason: None

Top Offensive Performer: Oday Aboushi, OT

Top Defensive Performer: Steve Greer, LB

Coming off a breakout 2011 season, and another big recruiting class, Mike London’s Virginia team was poised to take the leap in 2012; or so many thought. Rather than progression, what the Hoos saw this past fall was a severe regression. Not only was the team’s win total cut in half when compared to the year before, but a squad that appeared built on continuity was suddenly in a tumultuous state. The Cavaliers’ secondary — as young as expected, took nearly two months to truly get their acts together. The running game, a formidable two-back system, was suddenly as unproductive as they come. And most glaring was the quarterback issue which would shape every narrative for Virginia, from August, all the way through the final, excruciating loss.

One would assume the thought process when bringing in Alabama QB transfer Phillip Sims was that he’d sit this season before taking the reigns in 2013. With returning starter Michael Rocco at the helm, that route seemed to make the most sense — until Sims was granted a waiver allowing him to suit up this season. With a quarterback controversy brewing, Rocco held onto the job, but never quite stopped looking over his shoulder, and the results were mostly hazardous. Thought the UVA passing game would finish a very respectable 37th in the FBS (in terms of yardage), it sorely lacked for efficiency or success. Rocco and Sims combined for 15 interceptions on the season (93rd in the country) and both passers’ accuracy turned out a staggered curve of inconsistency. For each game Rocco would have like the 41-40 upset of Miami (in which he threw for four scores), he’d have another like the 27-7 loss to TCU (126 passing yards, 2 INTs). And with so much riding on quarterback play, the ground game suffered as well. Regularly faced with dire straits, or simply two quarterbacks splitting snaps for the same job, their strong run game was suddenly pass-first. UVA was 98th in the country in both overall carries (417) and yards per game (128.5), and this with two highly skilled backs in Kevin Parks and Perry Jones. While no one would call them a high-flying group in 2011 (23.8 points per game), 2012 was absolutely dreadful from a scoring standpoint (22.8 points per game) — especially without a strong defense to bail them out.

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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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Final 2012 ACC Football Power Rankings

Clemson's Big Upset Over LSU Was One of Several Wins to Help the ACC Save Face This Postseason

Clemson’s Big Upset Over LSU Was One of Several Wins to Help the ACC Save Face This Postseason

Well that was a pleasant surprise now, wasn’t it? After getting knocked around on and off the field all season, the ACC found itself when it counted — the postseason — and (including Pitt & SU) managed a 5-3 slate, it’s first winning bowl record since 2005. If you want to include Louisville (and I sure do, given their big Sugar Bowl win), that brings the league to 6-3, with wins over the SEC (LSU & Florida), Big 12 (West Virginia) and Pac-12 (pre-season no. 1 USC). But sure, keep laughing at this league. They proved themselves and more during this year’s bowl season, and hopefully it’s a building block for even more excellent football.

1. Florida State Seminoles (12-2) (7-1) (LW: 1): Knock FSU for their schedule, their two losses (why are we criticizing a 12-win team again?) or their lack of a chance at a national title this season. But at the end of the day, they’re exactly where they were slated to be. The ‘Noles will be back in that conversation again this decade. It just takes some time, and this — winning both the ACC and the Orange Bowl — was the first step. Jimbo Fisher’s team will need to get past several big losses going forward, most notably Bjoern Werner and EJ Manuel, but the foundation’s there for a bright future.

2. Clemson Tigers (11-2) (7-1) (LW: 2): Despite not making it to a BCS bowl game, I’d say the Tigers’ consolation prize was still well-worth the trouble, no? On a national stage, Clemson beat mighty SEC’s LSU Tigers, and in the process, ended up being part of the most-watched non-BCS college football game in ESPN’s history. Most stunning in Clemson’s 25-24 victory, however, was the oft-maligned defense. Down 11 points heading into the fourth, the Bayou Bengals could’ve just run the clock out throughout the final stanza. Instead, it was Clemson that stayed strong, shutting out LSU and setting up a defining win for the Dabo Swinney era.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4) (5-3) (LW: 4): It’s tough to look at UNC’s 2012 season without imagining what could’ve been for a squad that seemed to finally turn the corner here in Larry Fedora’s first year. Knocking on the door of a division title for quite some time, the Heels finally put it all together, only to be ineligible for the postseason. So while it’s a disappointment for North Carolina fans to watch an eight-win season get laid to waste, it’s also built this program some street cred. Despite Giovani Bernard‘s departure to the NFL Draft, QB Bryn Renner will stick around for his senior year, meaning this team returns plenty of firepower; most of which this season only served as a preview for.

4. Syracuse Orange (8-5) (LW: 5): As if it was meant to be, Syracuse closed out their time in the Big East — the conference they built — by putting together its most impressive season in a decade. Up against one of the nation’s toughest non-conference schedules, and a top-heavy league to boot, the Orange still managed to win six of their final seven games. The exclamation point, however (on top of a split conference title), was their resounding victory over rival West Virginia in the Pinstripe Bowl. As someone who braved the cold to watch in-person, it was amazing to see this squad’s transformation from the season’s opening-week struggles to the machine-like execution against the Mountaineers.

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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week Eight

Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas Wants to Improve From His Performances Against Clemson Last Season

Could we finally start to see a bit of a shakeout in the ACC, with league title contenders putting some space between themselves and the conference’s various also-rans? Well, maybe. That statement also implies we know who the also-rans are (we don’t). And in terms of the Coastal division, are we even sold on the contenders? Again, there’s plenty still up in the air. Should be a fun group of games this weekend, at any rate.

Game of the Week

Virginia Tech Hokies (4-3) (2-1) at Clemson Tigers (5-1) (2-1): If the Hokies had held up their end of the bargain and just remained in the top 15 or so, there’s a chance this matchup could’ve been the site of College Gameday. We still get an interesting matchup here though, despite what it looks like on paper. Tech, while struggling to stop the rush (ranked 76th nationally in yards-per-game on the ground), has actually been much more effective against the pass (37th in FBS, yards-per-game). Their eight interceptions are also tied for second in the conference, so Tajh Boyd must deliver his passes with precision. Clemson should win, but again, don’t be surprised to see Logan Thomas put up his best game thus far while exploiting an overmatched Tigers defense, either. Prediction: Clemson 38, Virginia Tech 27

The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):

Connecticut Huskies (3-4) at Syracuse Orange (2-4): Another Friday night game for Syracuse, and another must-win for a school whose season is currently hanging in the balance. The big key for the Orange is simply cutting down turnovers (their margin is -10 on the season), and playing efficiently enough on offense to put up a few touchdowns. UConn has proven itself to be forgettable on offense, outside of running back Lyle McCombs, so it won’t be a high-scoring affair. But if SU quarterback Ryan Nassib can simply stay standing up against the Huskies pass rush anchored by DE Trevardo Williams, the Orange stand a good chance to advance and keep fighting for the postseason. Prediction: Syracuse 20, UConn 16

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