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ACC spring storylines

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Fair or not, the lasting image of the ACC’s 2011 season is the 70 points hung on conference champion Clemson by West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

The good news for the conference is there’s plenty of talent to get beyond that image.  As noted by ESPN.com ACC blogger Heather Dinich, a wealth of experienced and talented quarterbacks will return in 2012, including Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas.

Of course, there are many questions entering the spring for members of the ACC.  Can Clemson stop Clemsoning itself and put together a won-loss record that matches its talent level?  Can the Hokies reascend to its traditional spot atop the conference?  Or, will a surprise team — London calling? — shakeup the top of league?

The answers to those questions and many, many more won’t be answered for several months, but we can take a look into some of the storylines that will be woven into the ACC’s spring story.

Tigers need to get defensive
Arguably the biggest move for Clemson this offseason was one that didn’t happen, with head coach Dabo Swinney and the athletic department’s bank account being able to beat back a significant push by Ohio State for the services of offensive coordinator Chad Morris.  The biggest move that did come to fruition?  Replacing defensive coordinator Kevin Steele with Oklahoma’s Brent Venables.  After the 70-point bowl debacle, parting ways with Steele was inevitable and necessary outside of the bowl debacle; the Tigers finished 81st in points allowed and 71st in total yards per game in 2011.  Venables’ defense will begin its implementation during the spring.  While the fruits of change won’t be realized until September — at the earliest — there may not have been a more significant change in the conference, one that needs to work if Clemson wants to become more than a bit player on the national scene.

Water wet, sky blue, FSU’s back
Like flowers blooming or getting gouged by the tax man, trumpeting Florida State’s return to relevance on the national stage has become an annual rite of spring.  The Seminoles were preseason sweethearts last year — some dolt had them as high as No. 2 before the start of the 2011 season — but stumbled its way to an 8-4 record in the regular season that included losses to Wake Forest and Virginia.  It’s undeniable that, on paper, the talent is there with top-ten recruiting classes each of the past four years and 15 starters returning from last year’s squad.  Perhaps the biggest question mark for FSU entering the spring?  The offensive line, a group sorely lacking in experience and a unit that must begin to find some clarity in these upcoming offseason sessions.

Edsall, Edsel, whatever… it’s still a lemon
It seems that the embarrassing offseason at Maryland has overshadowed somewhat the abysmal on-field product during Randy Edsall‘s first season with the Terps.  And what an abysmal mess it was.  After opening the Edsall era — a loose term, for obvious reasons — with a win over Miami, the Terps proceeded to win just one of its next 11 games to cap a 10-loss season.  And things didn’t get much better after that two-win debacle; a change at coordinator on both sides of the ball and the transfer of erstwhile starting quarterback Danny O’Brien along with both starting offensive tackles and several other key contributors makes this second spring wrought with more uncertainty than the first one.  Changing offensive and defensive schemes, several quality players fleeing what looks, smells and feels like a sinking ship?  Not exactly what Edsall and his program needs coming into a season that has must-have turnaround written all over it, regardless of how staunch his boss’ support is at this time.

Everything’s Hokie-dory in Blacksburg
Lather, rinse, repeat, right?  Well, maybe.  Here’s the known for the Hokies entering the spring: they will be really good on defense, returning nine starters from a Bud Foster-led squad that finished in the Top Ten nationally last year.  On offense, there’s Thomas and… well… a lot of question marks.  Starting running back David Wilson and his 1,709 yards needs replaced.  As does his backup.  As do the Hokies’ two leading receivers, with the departed Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin accounting for nearly half (121) of the Hokies’ 243 receptions.  How to replace that offensive production — over 3,700 yards among the four out of nearly 5,800 yards of total offense in 2011 — will be the Hokies’ top priority this spring and go a long way in determining how far Tech can go this season.  Then again, given the fact that Frank Beamer & Company play the plug-and-succeed game as well as anyone in the country — eight consecutive 10-win-plus seasons, 13 in his 21 seasons in Blacksburg — anything less than another division/conference crown would be more than a mild surprise even with the offensive attrition.

ACC working on London time?
Virginia doesn’t have the talent that conference foes Clemson or Virginia Tech or Florida State or Miami can throw out on any given Saturday, but it does have something those perennial ACC contenders don’t: arguably the best football coach in the conference.  Mike London — and the underrated coaching staff he’s assembled — has the Cavaliers on the verge of a borderline miracle — making the Hoos a have year-in and year-out.  Last year was a glimpse into what the future may hold for the Cavs as a loss in the regular-season finale to in-state rival Tech was the only thing keeping them from the Coastal’s spot in the conference title game.  If the Hoos are hoping for a repeat or better in 2012, however, London must do something about a defense that will be forced to replace six starters from last year’s team.

Reports: Lane Kiffin to FAU hits stumbling block

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks on the field before the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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As of last night, there was a deal in place for Lane Kiffin to become the next head coach at Florida Atlantic.

As of Saturday morning, it appears the deal is off.

FootballScoop, who broke the news of the two sides’ talking, reported Saturday morning that the talks hit a “stumbling block.” (Full disclosure: I also write for FootballScoop.)

ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit corroborated that report on SportsCenter.

Herbstreit went as far as saying Kiffin, back in Tuscaloosa, was back on the market pursuing offensive coordinator jobs. That would be good news for LSU, who has placed him as their top target to serve as Ed Orgeron‘s offensive coordinator.

How do Jackson, Mayfield and Watson stack up with recent Heisman QBs?

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 17:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals  runs for a touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles  at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The 82nd Heisman Trophy winner will be crowned tonight, and it will probably be Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. If not him, it will almost certainly be Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. And if some freak accident occurs where most of the votes from east of the Mississippi River somehow become destroyed, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield will take home the trophy.

With three quarterbacks among the five finalists, we thought it was time to trot out this old feature and compare this year’s signal-callers with recent Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

First, let’s recap the Heisman-winning signal callers since 2000, when college football’s most prestigious honor shifted to becoming a much more quarterback-centric award:

2000 – Chris Weinke, Florida State
2001 – Eric Crouch, Nebraska
2002 – Carson Palmer, USC
2003 – Jason White, Oklahoma
2004 – Matt Leinart, USC
2006 – Troy Smith, Ohio State
2007 – Tim Tebow, Florida
2008 – Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
2010 – Cam Newton, Auburn
2011 – Robert Griffin III, Baylor
2012 – Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2013 – Jameis Winston, Florida State
2014 – Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Without further ado:

Passing Efficiency
1. Mayfield – 197.8
2. Griffin – 189.5
3. Winston – 184.9
4. Newton – 182.1
5. Mariota – 181.8
— Watson – 154.0
— Jackson – 153.3

Yards Per Attempt
1. Mayfield – 11.1
2. Griffin – 10.7
3. Winston – 10.6
4. Newton – 10.2
5. Mariota – 10.0
— Jackson – 8.9
— Watson – 8.0

Completion Percentage
1. Griffin – 72.4
2. Mayfield – 71.2
3. Mariota – 68.3
4. Manziel – 68.0
5. Bradford – 67.9
— Watson – 67.6
— Jackson – 57.6

Touchdown Percentage
1. Mayfield – 11.5
2. Newton – 10.7
3. Bradford – 10.44
4. Winston – 10.42
5. Smith – 9.6
— Jackson – 7.9
— Watson – 7.6

Interception Percentage
1. Mariota – 0.9
2. Griffin – 1.5
Leinart – 1.5
4. Bradford – 1.7
Tebow – 1.7
— Jackson – 2.4
— Mayfield – 2.4
— Watson – 3.1

Yards Per Carry
1. Manziel – 7.0
2. Jackson — 6.6
3. Mariota – 5.7
4. Newton – 5.6
5. Crouch – 5.5
— Watson – 4.1
— Mayfield – 1.9

Rushing Touchdown Percentage
1. Mariota – 12.0
2. Bradford – 11.9
3. Tebow – 11.0
4. Manziel – 10.4
5. Jackson – 9.0
— Mayfield – 8.1
— Watson – 4.7

Yards Per Play
1. Mayfield – 9.4
2. Winston – 9.08
3. Bradford – 9.06
4. Mariota – 9.0
5. Weinke – 8.8
— Jackson – 8.0
— Watson 7.21

So, what did we learn? Other than an appreciation for RG3’s 2011 season, not much.

Mayfield is clearly having a historically efficient season. For the year he’s 235-of-330 passing for 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions while adding 74 carries for 143 yards and six touchdowns. But that can be written away by a historically poor Big 12 schedule. Add in that Mayfield had his worst performance of the season in Oklahoma’s biggest game — he was 17-of-32 for 226 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 45-24 loss to Ohio State in September — it’s clear to see why Mayfield is running a distant third in Heisman projections.

Watson has had a nice year — he’s 329-of-487 for 3,914 yards with 37 touchdowns against 15 picks while rushing 129 times for 529 yards with six scores — but his candidacy is built around his career accomplishments. Two straight ACC championships and back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances say more than his numbers ever could.

Jackson’s argument is built around bulk numbers over efficiency. He’s 220-of-382 for 3,390 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing 234 times for 1,538 yards with 21 touchdowns. That 30/20 number — a club occupied only by Newton and Tebow until this season — is likely what will push Jackson over the top tonight.

 

Report: Cincinnati will name Ohio State’s Luke Fickell as new head coach on Saturday

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 26:  Head coach Luke Fickell of the Ohio State Buckeyes looks on from the sideline while playing the Michigan Wolverines at Michigan Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan won the game 40-34. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Looks like Cincinnati didn’t need to go far to find their replacement for Tommy Tuberville.

According to Toledo sports reporter Jordan Strack, the Bearcats will make the hire of Ohio State co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell official on Saturday.

A person told USA Today that talks between the two parties were progressing on Friday night but not yet complete.

The move makes plenty of sense for Fickell, a Columbus, Ohio native who has spent nearly his entire career in the state not too far from Cincinnati. He did serve as interim head coach of the Buckeyes back when Jim Tressel was fired and was retained by Urban Meyer and served as one of the mainstays of the defensive staff.

Cincinnati has served as a bit of a stepping-stone job to major openings around the Midwest and has proven to be one of the more desirable jobs in the AAC given the resources at the school and the local talent base. The hiring of somebody like Fickell makes plenty of sense on both ends and it seems like the only unknown at this point is whether he sticks around for Ohio State’s semifinal game against Clemson or heads to Cincinnati right away.

Reports: FAU pursuing Alabama OC Lane Kiffin as next head coach

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22:  Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks off the field after their 33-14 win over the Texas A&M Aggies at Bryant-Denny Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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After missing out on becoming head coach at Houston, it appears Lane Kiffin’s pursuit of a new job is moving on.

Moving on down to Boca Raton apparently.

First reported by FootballScoop, two sources confirmed to the Associated Press on Friday evening that Florida Atlantic is pursuing Kiffin to become the Owls’ next football coach.

Kiffin has also reportedly been in the mix at South Florida but it looks as though the Bulls are moving quickly to getting a deal done with Charlie Strong. If the former Texas coach turns USF down, the Alabama offensive coordinator could get back in the running in his old hometown of Tampa.

The Owls would represent an interesting destination if the two parties come together however. Combined with his offensive background and ability to recruit, the area known as a retirement mecca could instead be the perfect place for the young Kiffin to continue to rehabilitate his image. The program is looking to replace Charlie Partridge after three 3-9 seasons but FAU has solid facilities for a CUSA team and is located in a talent-rich area.

It seems like quite the drop from being the offensive coordinator at a program like Alabama but the drive to be a head coach is clearly a strong one for Kiffin.