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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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week Four (Part Two)

Georgia Tech QB Tevin Washington Faces a Porous Miami Run Defense This Week, While Looking to Pad the Stat Line

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

Miami Hurricanes (2-1) (1-0)) at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-1) (0-1): Beyond the emergence of freshman Duke Johnson, the Hurricanes’ season has gone poorly to this point, despite their two wins. And Saturday’s contest with Georgia Tech may make things worse. Through three games, the ‘Canes have allowed 617 yards on the ground (an average of over 205 per game). Conversely, the Yellow Jackets have averaged 374 rushing yards per game, in three contests of their own. Given the versatility of their weapons, Tech has a real fundamental advantage against Miami, and will exploit it continuously throughout the game. Prediction: Georgia Tech 45, Miami 24

East Carolina Pirates (2-1) at North Carolina Tar Heels (1-2) (0-1): ECU comes in as a much-improved team on defense, though their offense (a trademark in 2011) appears to be struggling to find a rhythm. And UNC can likely say the same. After their strong start to the year, the Heels have dropped a big game to Wake Forest, and fell way behind Louisville last weekend, before coming back to make it a close contest. Yes, star back Giovani Bernard is out, but that can’t be an excuse for Larry Fedora and QB Bryn Renner. Renner has targets on the field — something the ball carrier doesn’t much change. Prediction: UNC 40, ECU 26

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ACC Football 2012 Week 3 Lessons: Pitt Panthers Show Signs of Life Versus Virginia Tech

Pitt Ran the Ball Down Virginia Tech’s Throats on Saturday, Coming Out with a Very Unexpected Upset

Each Monday morning, we compile our top five takeaways from the weekend’s action. Here’s what we got out of Week 3 of ACC football action:

1. Pitt‘s season has been resuscitated: There’s no doubt the Panthers heard the talk about their season being dead in the water (guilty!) and were glad to prove everyone wrong. For a full 60 minutes, it was very easy to forget those first two losses, and instead, see the team we all expected to begin with: fantastic running game, sound defense. Ray Graham looked a lot like his old self, while Rushel Shell is sure to give the rest of the ACC nightmares while imagining him in Pitt’s backfield for the next four seasons.

2. Virginia Tech‘s offense is a major concern: We questioned this unit’s effectiveness in the offseason, and that was before D.J. Coles was lost for the year. Now, with an iffy offensive line, unproven receivers and a very green running game, there’s a lot of concern surrounding how they’ll be able to score points. QB Logan Thomas looked shaky against Pitt, and will need to take full ownership of his role if this team hopes to continue winning ball games.

3. Coastal Division confusion: Georgia Tech was its most impressive team this weekend, but they’ve already lost to Virginia Tech. Miami is 1-0, but there’s uncertainty on defense. North Carolina is ineligible. Virginia was just waxed by the Yellow Jackets. This group has lacked the strength of the Atlantic since the league split into divisions, but 2012 may set a new bar for parity.

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ACC 2012 Season Preview: Pittsburgh Panthers

Can Pitt Running Back Ray Graham Regain His Place As the Leader of the Panthers’ Rushing Attack in 2012?

Team: Pittsburgh Panthers

2011 W-L: 6-7 (4-3)

Head Coach: Paul Chryst (first season)

Returning Starters: 12 (8 Offense, 4 Defense)

After another offseason of transition in the program, the Pittsburgh Panthers are once again trying to enter a new season with a clean slate. Out goes Todd Graham, the known carpetbagger now despised by Pitt fans everywhere. In comes Paul Chryst, who spent the last seven years as Wisconsin‘s offensive coordinator. And while the first-team head coach inherits a challenging job with the program as currently comprised, he may also spot some similar surroundings. With a strong defense and a deadly running game, the coach is already taking to his new team just like his old one. Now, with a skeptical senior class (three different head coaches), he just has to hope they take to him.

As mentioned, the Panthers’ offense will go primarily through the running game, which I think may actually be among the best in the country (O-line permitting). So long as he’s healthy, the bulk of the carries should go to senior Ray Graham, who makes a surprise return after an ACL tear last year. At the time of the injury last season, Graham was second in the country in rushing yards, and appears to have some unfinished business to attend to. He’ll also be spelled by sophomore Isaac Bennett. After some flashes of potential late in 2011, and a very strong spring workout, he’ll be the favored back if Graham fails to return at 100-percent. Carries may also get doled out to freshman Rushel Shell as well. The highly-touted recruit runs a 4.45 40-yard dash. If given an opportunity for extended touches, he has the talent to jump right in and produce. Continue reading

ACC Preseason Top 25 Players of 2012: #10, Ray Graham

Pittsburgh’s Ray Graham is #10 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 25 Players for 2012

As part of our 2012 season preview, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC for this season, from 25 to one. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective, so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

No. 10, Ray Graham, RB/Pittsburgh

Through what amounts to six-and-a-half games in 2011, Pitt running back Ray Graham managed to rack up over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns — a pace that had him among the best in all of college football. He had two games of three touchdowns each, another two games where he amassed over 200 yards on the ground. The stage was set for a special season for the junior, even if his team looked as if they’d fall short of expectations. But then, an ACL injury against Connecticut in October made it all come crashing down.

For 2012, Graham is looking to make a big comeback as the leader of a strong group of Panthers running backs. While he won’t be counting his chickens ’till they hatch, he was encouraged by his first day of contact in practice last week (per CBS Sports):

“I felt good. As the days go on, I’m going to get better and better. I felt stronger than I thought I would be,” Graham said. “This is just the first day so I have to be smart and I want to participate every day. As of now, I plan on playing September 1 against Youngstown State.”

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ACC Football 2012 Payback Games: Pittsburgh Panthers

Will Pittsburgh Continue Its Fourth-Quarter Struggles Versus Cincinnati, Or Finally Hold On to a Victory in 2012?

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2011. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2012.

As part of our 2012 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: PIttsburgh Panthers

Opponent: Cincinnati

Last Year: Loss, 26-23 vs. Cincinnati

This Year: September 6, @ Cincinnati

In a struggle to keep their heads above water all season, the Panthers came in to their November game versus Cincinnati needing a win. With star running back Ray Graham lost for the season with a torn ACL, the wins were just as crucial, yet more difficult to come by than ever. Their first test without Graham started well enough. Managing three-point halftime lead against a 6-1 squad, which quickly turned into a 10-point lead in the third, Pitt looked like they had every intention of righting their season, and getting back in the driver’s seat for the Big East title. But the Bearcats’ offense would wake up, their defense would buckle down and the Pitt offense would fail to score again. At Cincy’s 33 with seconds to go, the 50-yard kick was way off the mark, sending the team to another rough defeat (in a season full of them). Continue reading

Too-Early 2012 ACC Football Power Rankings (June 13)

With a New-Look Offensive Line, Virginia Tech’s Title Hopes Will Fall on QB Logan Thomas

With the calendar quickly creeping into the summer months, we also have another installment of our early power rankings for the entirety of the ACC. As you’ll notice, these are no longer “far too early” — a welcome sign that football season is near). Just like always, we take into account what’s happened both on and off the field to compile these completely subjective evaluations. This will be revised monthly throughout the offseason, before returning to our weekly format come September.

1. Florida State Seminoles (LW: 1): Ten starters return from one of the nation’s top defenses, so it’s only natural to see the Seminoles sitting atop the rest of the conference in preseason. But as touched on before, what takes this team from conference title contender to National Title contender is E.J. Manuel, and how he responds to the implied expectations.

2. Clemson Tigers (LW: 2): Some say the Tigers have three Heisman contenders this fall. True or not, it won’t matter a bit if the defense continues its shoddy fundamentals and focus from last year. New defensive coordinator Brent Venables may have his work cut out for him, sure. But from early returns in practice, it already looks like he’s making a huge difference.

3. Virginia Tech Hokies (LW: 3): Like the ‘Noles, VPI returns the overwhelming majority of its players from a top-ranked defense. But just like their counterparts at FSU, it’ll come down to quarterback play to determine how far the Hokies can go. Logan Thomas showed tremendous growth in 2011, and he’ll need to do even more of it to cope with an inexperienced O-line in 2012.

4. NC State Wolfpack (LW: 4): For all the talent the Wolfpack have (and they do have a ton of it, they’ll still be battling two big weaknesses that could (fortunately or unfortunately) define their season. The run game and linebacker play are huge areas of concern, and if the team can’t lock down suitable solutions in camp, the year will be off to a very rough start versus Tennessee. Continue reading