ACC Football 2012 Power Rankings: Week 14

Tajh Boyd and the Clemson Offense Were No Match for South Carolina, as the Gamecocks Embarrassed the Tigers Once Again

With the regular season officially over, we check back in with the ACC’s teams to assess the damage of 2012. The good: two teams won ten games during the regular season, just one team won less than four games, and 10 teams (could be 11 if Pitt wins this weekend) won at least six games. The bad: No team won more than 10 games, two of the league’s top five teams are ineligible, and eight teams (out of 14) won between five and seven games. Oh, and Maryland decided to leave. Which is bad.

1. Florida State Seminoles (10-2) (7-1) (LW: 1): Favored against archrival Florida, the Seminoles had a very manageable game at home and seemed poised for their first 11-win regular season in years. But then they struggled out the gate, and closed just as poorly en route to a 37-26 defeat. As a team, FSU looked outmatched everywhere but the defensive line, and quarterback EJ Manuel‘s four turnovers were the stuff of a worst-case nightmare. They’ll be favored again in the ACC Championship Game, and under no circumstances can the conference really afford for them to lose.

2. Clemson Tigers (10-2) (7-1) (LW: 2): Clemson’s BCS dreams are all but dead after they came up very short against South Carolina and its vaunted defensive front. The Tigers impressive offense was shut down in a way no one had really figured out up until Saturday, and the result exposed a team that can’t run the ball with consistency, nor can they manage to stop anyone on defense either. If Clemson hopes to take the next step and become a truly elite program under coach Dabo Swinney, they need to take full advantage of opportunities against top-tier competition. They had just three games against teams with winning records all season, and went 1-2 in those contests, while being outscored 124-116.

3. Miami (FL) Hurricanes (7-5) (5-3) (LW: 5): It’s unfortunate for the conference to see Miami sit out another postseason, but if the alternative is seeing an even better, more experienced version of this group next year, it may be the best option for everyone. In line to play in its first ACC title game, we miss out on a ‘Canes/’Noles matchup this year in exchange for what’s hopefully many more to come. Anyone who watched Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson in action this season knows there are good times ahead, so long as the defense starts to clean up its act.

4. North Carolina Tar Heels (8-4) (5-3) (LW: 4): As the year’s wore on, we’ve caught glimpses of what this Heels offense could truly become under Larry Fedora and his spread attack. But on Saturday, quarterback Bryn Renner really delivered on that potential by putting up over 300 yards and five touchdowns. The junior’s obviously taken a bit more time to adapt to the new system than initially expected, but all in all, you still can’t argue with 3,356 yards and 28 scores. Expect even better production next year, as Fedora really turns him loose.

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ACC Football Player of the Week, Week 13: Sean Renfree, Duke

Duke QB Sean Renfree Was the ACC Player of the Week for Week 13

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 13: Sean Renfree, QB/Duke

While Renfree’s team failed to win the last regular season game of Renfree’s career, that fact is far from his fault. The senior threw 36 passes for 432 yards and four touchdowns, all with zero turnovers in their tough loss to Miami on Saturday. In an odd way, it’s sort of indicative of his entire career at Duke, too. When looking at the losses they’ve piled up during Renfree’s time as the starter, it’s a rarity to view him as culpable, and more often than not, he was putting up numbers like this in the process. Obviously, it doesn’t excuse this defeat, nor the free-fall the Blue Devils have experienced since getting to bowl eligibility at 6-2, but it’s worth noting the quarterback’s consistent effort in the face of superior opponents and a lagging defense on his own side. I’d also be remiss not to mention his 99-yard touchdown connection with Jamison Crowder on Saturday (no video unfortunately), which ended up being the longest play in school history.

Honorable Mention:

Bryn Renner, WR/North Carolina (28/39 passing, 305 yards, 5 TD)

Jamison Crowder, WR/Duke (8 catches, 203 yards, 2 TD)

Bjoern Werner, DE/Florida State (6 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 fumble recovery)

Duke Johnson, RB/Miami (277 all-purpose yards, 3 TD)

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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.

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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week 10

Can Miami Run By Virginia Tech Tonight, Or Will the Hokies Shut Down the ‘Canes Offense?

The main goal for the ACC this weekend? Establish some order in the Coastal division. Three teams are still vying for the division crown — which would normally be fine and exciting — but all are seriously flawed teams, and just setting themselves up for an inevitable drubbing in the conference championship game at the hands of Florida State. You want to know how a conference earns respect? By not sending a 6-6 team to its conference title game. I’m all about giving the ACC credit where credit is due, but the best way to combat outside criticisms — especially legitimate ones — is to win games on the field and have a respectable number of “elite” teams. Right now, both of those concepts remain a work in progress.

Game of the Week

Virginia Tech Hokies (4-4) (2-2) at Miami Hurricanes (4-4) (3-2): The winner of this game gets a big leg up in the Coastal division, especially the Hokies, who would own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the other two teams in the race. But even with a division lead, both of these teams are still incredibly difficult to figure out. At times, Miami’s offense appears to be full of weapons and capable of scoring on anyone. But then at other moments, and especially against higher quality competition, the ‘Canes look utterly outgunned and toothless. Tech, on the other hand has its own issues stemming from an under-performing and passive defense, as well as a one-man show of an offense. Inevitably, it may turn into a similar game to last year’s, with one quarterback making a play at the end, while the other simply couldn’t. So is that Logan Thomas or Stephen Morris? With Miami’s inability to generate pressure, I’ll go with Thomas. Prediction: Virginia Tech 33, Miami 28

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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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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week Nine (UPDATE: With Devin Burns Injury Note)

Can NC State Continue Its Hot Streak Against UNC, Or Will the Wolfpack Finally Cool Off?

The ACC continues to battle perception this weekend, as teams looking to differentiate themselves face tough in-conference tests. While it would be great for Duke’s feel-good story to continue versus FSU, obviously the league would suffer mightily with a Seminoles loss. And while the Heels may be the Coastal division’s best hope to finish with a team above .500, they might just be outmatched by a Wolfpack team gunning for their first division title. At any rate, just another exciting weekend of ACC football…

Game of the Week

NC State Wolfpack (5-2) (2-1) at North Carolina Tar Heels (5-3) (2-2): Opinions differ on whether or not this is an actual rivalry, and given State’s recent 5-0 run, maybe the real mistake is the Heels discounting it. And if their recent cold streak against the Wolfpack wasn’t enough, UNC also has a score to settle after last week’s last-minute loss to Duke; a crushing loss made worse by the Blue Devils clinching a bowl bid with the victory. If they hope to stop NC State, though, the Tar Heels must play better defense than they did last week. Duke came into that game with one of the worst rushing attacks in the country, yet managed over 230 yards on the ground. If State’s similarly terrible running game can have a performance like that, coupled with a serviceable effort from Mike Glennon, UNC has little hope to pull this one out. Prediction: NC State 26, UNC 23

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

Clemson Tigers (6-1) (3-1) at Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-3) (2-3): Did Clemson’s defense wake up last weekend, or did the offense shut down? The answer is crucial for the Tigers, as they hope to finish the regular season on a much more positive note than last year. And it all starts tonight. If it weren’t already enough that Wake gets star receiver Michael Campanaro back, both of the Tigers’ starting cornerbacks are inactive tonight. So suddenly, an easy matchup between Clemson’s improving defense and the Deacs’ stagnant offense gets a lot more hairy. It’ll all come down to stopping the pass, but if Wake Forest can get a running game going — not out of the question against a questionable front four for Clemson — it could be a very long night for Dabo Swinney’s team. Prediction: Clemson 31, Wake Forest 27

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ACC Football Power Rankings: Week Nine

Florida State Defeats Miami, Referee Issues and Remains Atop the Power Rankings

Yet another crazy weekend of ACC football, and we still find ourselves no closer to figuring out who’ll be playing in Charlotte for the league championship. The one thing we may be getting a handle on, though? Who is NOT playing in that game. And if eventually that list allows us to fill out the who IS list, then so be it (pray this isn’t what actually happens). Jimbo Fisher’s team deserves to be on top of these rankings, but I’m scared he’d have me suspended if that weren’t the case…

1. Florida State Seminoles (7-1) (4-1) (LW: 1): Never a good thing to hear your best running back is out for the season (again). But when you’re Florida State, you’ve got two more great options ready to go. Referees aside, the ‘Noles looked sloppy for a good portion of their Saturday night matchup with Miami — something that should concern them since the ‘Canes have no defense to speak of. It’s fine if EJ Manuel‘s taking more risks, but he must also keep the rest of the offense focused. Those fumbles were unforgivable, and could cause some real damage against a better team.

2. Clemson Tigers (6-1) (3-1) (LW: 2): The story of the game somehow ended up being the Tigers’ defense, which forced four turnovers and scored a touchdown of its own against Virginia Tech. So was this the turning point Brent Venables seemed to promise when he took over as defensive coordinator? Perhaps, though let’s give it a few more games. The Hokies’ offense has been putrid all season, and Clemson’s had their number these past two seasons. Still, it’s something they can potentially build off of.

3. NC State Wolfpack (5-2) (2-1) (LW: 4): State got very lucky at the end of this weekend’s game, due to a missed field goal — so don’t mistake their one-spot promotion as a ringing endorsement. But nonetheless, this is a Woflpack team that seems to know how to get the job done in crunch time. After their respective rocky starts, both Mike Glennon and David Amerson may have finally turned things around. The biggest issue now is how they’ll get by over the course of the season if they can’t run the ball.

4. Duke Blue Devils (6-2) (3-1) (LW: 7): Make no mistake about it, this Duke team is a legitimate threat to win the down-and-out Coastal division after their big comeback the other night. While there are certainly some kinks still to work out, this is a group that came into its own on that final 87-yard touchdown drive, and now look prepared for anything. That theory will be put to the test immediately against FSU this coming weekend. All eyes will be on Sean Renfree and how he reacts to the constant pressure the ‘Noles bring on D.

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