New Era Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Syracuse Orange vs. West Virginia Mountaineers

Syracuse and West Virginia Have Two of the Country's Best Passing Attacks, But Which Will Prevail?

Syracuse and West Virginia Have Two of the Country’s Best Passing Attacks, But Which Will Prevail?

Syracuse‘s year certainly started rough — a 2-4 start that appeared to be spiraling into another disappointing season for the Orange after last year’s 5-7 campaign — until they wrapped up on a hot streak that saw them win five of their final six wins, and capture a share of the Big East title. West Virginia, on the other hand, shot out of the gate at 5-0, and had a national championship on their minds. A few months later, they’re 7-5 and playing in one of the Big 12’s lesser bowls. So who’s got the upper hand in this rivalry renewal (despite the Schwartzwalder Trophy’s absence)?

Bowl Game: New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Location: Bronx, N.Y.

First Year: 2010

2012 Participants: Syracuse Orange (7-5) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (7-5)

Last Meeting: Syracuse over West Virginia, 49-23 (2011)

***

Syracuse (previous bowl game: 36-34 win vs. Kansas State in 2010 Pinstripe Bowl)

Dynamic. Disappointing. Surprising. Frustrating… any or all of these adjectives apply to Syracuse football during a 2012 season that saw them both struggle and succeed in spurts. The passing game, behind senior quarterback Ryan Nassib, put up some of the best numbers in team history: 301.6 yards per game through the air, which would rank them 21st in the entire country. While the defense could never truly gain its footing from week to week, the group still allowed just 25.7 points per game (good for 52nd in the FBS), though it admittedly struggled against both mobile quarterbacks and the passing game in general (21 passing TDs allowed). The bright side for them, however, is that they also thrived in high-scoring situations. Six different times they scored 30 or more points, and in five of those instances, they were victorious. Syracuse knew how to play close to the vest too, with a 3-3 record in games decided by a score or less (including two straight victories in such games — October 27 vs. USF and November 17 at Missouri). Against a West Virginia team that can throw with the best of them, while failing to stop anyone in the same breath, it’s hard to see this as anything but a strength. The Orange defense will need to find some consistent pass-rushing from the defensive front, and lock down receivers on deep routes (a struggle all season). But if they can’t, SU’s offense has shown it can beat teams through both the running and passing games, respectively, piling up over 250 yards on the ground in two of their last three games.

Continue reading

Top 10 ACC Football Games of 2012

Could Jamison Crowder and the Blue Devils Claim the Top Spot For Duke's Impressive Win Over UNC?

Could Jamison Crowder and the Blue Devils Claim the Top Spot For Duke’s Impressive Win Over UNC?

In a season full of parity, it’s understandable that the ACC had so many memorable contests to choose from when compiling this list. So many last-second scores, one-possession ball games and overtime battles, it was truly difficult to decipher which really were the “best” the league had to offer. Nonetheless, we make an attempt below, nodding to the 10 contests that — more than any others the ACC gave us this season — really gave us a reason to remember them. Agree or disagree with our picks? Share away in the comments.

Top 10 Games of 2012

10. Syracuse 37, USF 36: Down 20 points at the half, this was supposed to be the tombstone in another disappointing Syracuse season. And yet, as they did all year, this Orange squad refused to quit, and battled all the way back in the second half. Down five with just seconds on the clock, Ryan Nassib delivered a gutsy touchdown pass to Alec Lemon on fourth-and-goal, sealing the win and adding to his reputation as a master of the comeback.

9. Syracuse 31, Missouri 27: We promise this is the last you hear about Syracuse on this list. Once again facing a late deficit — this time 27-24 — Nassib and Lemon would complete their furious comeback with a wide-open 17-yard touchdown pass. The strike, with just 20 seconds remaining, would end up being the game-winner, sending ‘Cuse bowling for the second time in three seasons.

8. Florida State 28, Virginia Tech 22: From sloppy, to boring, to inexplicable and then miraculous, this game truly ran the gambit of emotions for players and fans. What should have been a quick win over a lackluster Hokies squad would turn into a struggle for FSU; one they were certainly lucky to come away with. Even now, the final few minutes rush by like a blur: Devonta Freeman‘s idiotic safety, EJ Manuel‘s easy 39-yard TD pass, and then Logan Thomas‘s ultimate hero-turned-goat act. Just another Thursday night ACC showdown.

Continue reading

Top 10 Individual Performances of the 2012 ACC Football Season

Tajh Boyd Turned In a Slew of Top Performances in 2012, But Did He Have the ACC's Best One?

Tajh Boyd Turned In a Slew of Great Performances, But Did He Have the ACC’s Best One of 2012?

During a season in which the ACC took plenty of lumps on and off the field, there were still plenty of individual performances worth bragging about; so we’ll make sure to do so in this space. Below are our picks for the top 10 individual performances of the 2012 season, highlighting the best players the ACC had to offer.

Agree or disagree with any of these choices? Feel free to add your own commentary below.

Top 10 Individual Performances of 2012

10. Bjoern Werner, DE/Florida State (4 sacks vs. Murray State): One of FSU’s standout seniors on defense set the tone for a big year with his opening effort against Murray State. Of Werner’s five tackles in limited action (the team was pulling starters early in the blowout), four of them were sacks. He also defended a pass during a very productive day that was impressive, regardless of opponent.

9. Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (428 yards, 5 TDs vs. Wake Forest): In a Thursday night game many billed as an “upset special,” Boyd had quieted all the critics by halftime. The junior completed 71 percent of his passes, and threw all five touchdowns in the first half (and four of them were in the second quarter).

8. Giovani Bernard, RB/North Carolina (262 yards, 1 TD vs. Virginia Tech): Like many of the stars we’re highlighting in this feature, this is just one of many phenomenal games from Bernard. In his first full game of the season (he was cut short or out during the first five), he put in the fifth-highest rushing total in UNC history and played a central part in one of the Heels’ key victories of the season.

7. EJ Manuel, QB/Florida State (439 yards 4 TDs vs. Boston College): Coming back from the Seminoles’ first loss of the season, Manuel played like a man on fire against the Eagles in a 51-7 victory. The senior completed nearly 80 percent of his 34 throws, and appeared to have his team and his offense right back on track. Regardless of whether or not that was the case, it was a dazzling air display that really showed just how much Manuel could do when given an opportunity.

Continue reading

ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week 13 (Part 1)

Florida State and Florida Headline a Big Weekend of Rivalry Games for the ACC

Not much left to be decided on the last regular season weekend of ACC action. Florida State and Georgia Tech have their respective division titles clinched, and Miami and UNC are officially staying home for the postseason. But luckily, it’s Rivalry Week, so still plenty on the line for many schools. It’s also a prime weekend for the ACC to help out its reputation. Four teams go up against SEC foes this week. If the ACC can come out ahead in at least two of those (three are against teams in the top 13 of the BCS rankings), it would be a huge statement to close a forgettable regular season.

Game of the Week

Florida Gators (10-1) at Florida State Seminoles (10-1) (7-1): With both teams ranked in the top 10, there’s an extra spark in this rivalry not seen in a few years. The Gators, currently ranked fourth in the BCS standings, could very well be playing for a chance at a national championship shot. Florida State, on the other hand, is looking to take home the Florida Cup for the second straight year, and would love to put a damper on UF’s aspirations. Florida has struggled in recent weeks, but with starting quarterback Jeff Driskel back on Saturday, they’re hoping the offense receives a shot in the arm. They’ll need it if they hope to get by the ‘Noles stifling defense, which has allowed 20 points or more just three times all season. Prediction: Florida State 26, Florida 21

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

Syracuse Orange (6-5) at Temple Owls (4-6): The Orange are riding high after two straight victories earned them bowl eligibility. Can they keep up momentum in their final Big East football game, though? It’s tough to tell. There’s a 90-percent chance that regardless of what happens, SU is headed to the Pinstripe Bowl, and Temple also has no means to get to the postseason themselves, with only 11 games on the schedule. Still, given the number of seniors taking the field for the Orange, we may see another rave-worthy performance — to give a boost to draft stocks if nothing else. In particular, offensive stars Alec Lemon and Ryan Nassib have been getting buzz to go on the first or second day of the NFL Draft next spring. They’d hate to slip up now, especially with just two games remaining. Prediction: Syracuse 38, Temple 20

Continue reading

ACC Football 2012 Power Rankings: Week 13

Florida State Clinched a Spot in the ACC Title Game, But Still Have Bigger Goals in Mind

Avoiding realignment talk is difficult, but we’ll try here, as there is still an actual football season still going on, with actual games being played. Due to the design of the ACC schedule, the conference championship game is set, and this week is mostly about BCS positioning and a few teams wrapping up bowl bids. The conference is bound to fall short of its allotment of bowl slots, but the question now begs how many. In an absolute worst-case scenario, the season may end up with just five bowl-eligible teams. Just pray that doesn’t happen.

1. Florida State Seminoles (10-1) (7-1) (LW: 1): Florida State took care of business last Saturday, wrapping up its third Atlantic division title via tiebreaker advantage with Clemson (who it beat back in September). But there’s still more left to do — namely beating archrival Florida in their annual grudge match for state supremacy. The Gators sit at no. 4 in the most recent BCS rankings, and FSU would love nothing more than to drop them from that perch. Vegas likes their odds, and there’s little chance the ‘Noles aren’t up for this game, which will be played at home in Tallahassee.

2. Clemson Tigers (10-1) (7-1) (LW: 2): The Tigers’ BCS chances took a bit of a hit last week when Oregon lost to Stanford, effectively slotting the Pac-12 back into two-bid territory. Still, Clemson can’t control what happens out west, and must focus on what it can control: beating South Carolina for the first time since 2008. The Gamecocks, while a bit banged-up on both sides of the ball, are still one of the country’s most formidable defenses, which should make this a fun matchup of strengths. Quarterback Tajh Boyd may still be able to put on a solid performance, but it won’t hold a candle to Saturday’s eight-touchdown day.

3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (6-5) (5-3) (LW: 10): It’s been a roller coaster season for the Wreck this year. And one that still has a few turns left in it as well. After clinching the ACC Coastal Division by virtue of Miami’s self-imposed postseason ban on Monday, they now have their sights set on beating no. 3 Georgia in Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate and then taking the ACC’s BCS berth, too. And in a season like this, would you really rule it out? Since their 3-5 start, the Yellow Jackets have rattled off three straight impressive wins, scoring a combined 143 points over that span. Win or lose, the ‘Dogs will certainly have their work cut out for them.

4. North Carolina Tar Heels (7-4) (4-3) (LW: 4): The Heels won a hard-fought game in the latest iteration of the South’s Oldest Rivalry, while further proving just how unpredictable they can be. After leaning heavily on running back Giovani Bernard for about seven straight games, they’ve pumped the breaks on his touches, and emphasized the passing game even more. Is Larry Fedora trying to prepare his team for life without their star back next season? Nothing’s confirmed yet, but it sure seems like that could be the case.

Continue reading

ACC Football Player of the Week, Week 12: Tajh Boyd, Clemson

With an 8-TD Performance on Saturday, Tajh Boyd Takes Home This Week’s Top Honors

Each week, we’ll be identifying the best ACC player from that weekend’s games. As always, it’s a completely arbitrary award with no specific criteria beyond the vague concept of “excellence.” No, we don’t take write-ins.

ACC Player of the Week, Week 12: Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson

What’s left to be said about the standout junior after yet another dominating performance? Remembering last year’s brutal upset at the hands of NC State, Boyd and Clemson came out firing this weekend, and had to keep their foot on the gas throughout in order to hold back the Wolfpack. And while it was Tiger defensive stops that would make the difference come the end, all the praise will ultimately go to Boyd for the record-breaking performance he put on. Adding to his stellar resume, the Clemson QB went 30-for-44 for 426 passing yards and five scores, and then added another 103 rushing yards and three touchdowns to boot. The eight touchdowns were both school and ACC records, and yet another glowing accomplishment for Boyd, who’s made a habit of huge stat lines this year. And yet, he’s not even on the Davey O’Brien Award (for the nation’s best quarterback) list of finalists. Over 3,500 total yards and 41 touchdowns. On a major-conference team. Unacceptable.

Honorable Mention:

Tobais Palmer, WR/NC State (496 all-purpose yards, 3 TD)

Alec Lemon, WR/Syracuse (12 catches, 244 yards, 2 TD; incl. go-ahead score with 20 seconds left)

Ryan Nassib, QB/Syracuse (26/40 passing, 385 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT)

Mike Glennon, QB/NC State (29/53 passing, 493 yards, 5 TD, 1 INT)

Comment, share this post, follow/like the blog and follow @JohnCassillo on Twitter

ACC Football Player of the Week, Week 11: Michael Rocco, Virginia

Virginia QB Michael Rocco is the ACC Player of the Week for Week 11

Each week, we’ll be identifying the best ACC player from that weekend’s games. As always, it’s a completely arbitrary award with no specific criteria beyond the vague concept of “excellence.” No, we don’t take write-ins.

ACC Player of the Week, Week 11: Michael Rocco, QB/Virginia

Considering what a mess this year has been for UVa and Rocco, it’s kind of amazing we’ve arrived here. With the Hoos’ season hanging in the balance, the junior passer finally appeared to step up and own the starting role, leading his team to a thrilling 41-40 victory over Miami on Saturday. After throwing just 38 total passes over the past four weeks, Rocco went 29-of-37 in this one, for 300 yards and four touchdowns. The completions (29), completion percentage (78.4) and touchdown total (four) were all career highs, as were his 18 consecutive completions during the game, but the focus should truly be on the final drive of the game. Down 40-35 with about two-and-a-half minutes remaining, Rocco led a 16-play, 87-yard drive culminating in a Jake McGee touchdown grab with just six seconds left on the clock. Obviously both the team and its quarterback have plenty of work to do if they truly hope to salvage the 2012 season, but this weekend, they took a definitive step in the right direction.

Honorable Mention:

Alec Lemon, WR/Syracuse (9 catches, 176 yards, 2 TD)

Ryan Nassib, QB/Syracuse (15/23 passing, 246 yards, 3 TD)

Rashad Greene, WR/Florida State (6 catches, 125 yards, 2 TD)

Duke Johnson, RB/Miami (368 all-purpose yards, 1 TD, 1 TD pass)

Comment, share this post, follow/like the blog and follow @JohnCassillo on Twitter