Frank Beamer

CFT predicts: the ACC

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Like the Big East, the ACC’s reputation in football has taken a dive in recent years. The conference has an insulting BCS bowl record and traditional powers (i.e, Florida State and Miami) can’t get back into the national championship picture.

That has an opportunity to change this season. Florida State is one of those preseason media darlings getting the “Watch out, this team’s back!” treatment. The Seminoles have fallen flat in the face of high expectations, though. Will this year be any different?

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the ACC should shake out:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

Atlantic Division

1. Florida State (last season: 9-4; won Champs Sports Bowl) 
I know, I know. This is the year the Seminoles finally get back in the BCS championship picture, right? Eh, I’ve heard that musical number before. Florida State should be good this season, but that good? The defense, though? Holy cow. One of the best in the nation last year in points allowed should be equally stout this time around. My concern continues to be the FSU offense. The ‘Noles couldn’t run the ball at all last year and the offensive line was downright awful at times. While the O-line should be more cohesive this season, the emphasis is currently on “should.”

2. Clemson (last season: 10-4; lost Orange Bowl) 
Clemson returns practically all its offensive weapons from a year ago, minus tight end Dwayne Allen and backup running back Mike Bellamy. The real loss for the Tigers is in the trenches along the offensive and defensive line — not to mention receiver Sammy Watkins for the first two games of the season due to a drug-related suspension. That could end up being problematic, and to me, that’s the difference between the Tigers and the ‘Noles. Tajh Boyd put up good numbers last year, but he can’t be under pressure the whole year. New defensive coordinator Brent Venables will try to turn the defense around.

3. North Carolina State (last season: 8-5; won Belk Bowl) 
The Wolfpack has one of the best players in the secondary in all of college football in David Amerson … who somehow was not a unanimous preseason All-ACC first-team selection. Anyway, N.C. State also has one of the better, yet under-the-radar quarterbacks in Mike Glennon. The Wolfpack return most of their starters from a year ago and get the benefit of skipping Virginia Tech on this season’s schedule.

4. Wake Forest (last season: 6-7; lost Music City Bowl) 
Jim Grobe enters his 12th season as the head coach of Wake Forest with an overall record of 68-67. The Demon Deacons were trending down for a few years after their 2007 Orange Bowl appearance, but this program seems to have regained some of its mojo last season. There’s some heavy turnover on the offense, especially along the O-line, but conference slate is manageable enough that Wake can manage a middle-of-the-pack finish.

5. Maryland (last season: 2-10) 
Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Randy Edsall in his first season with Maryland. As much as I don’t think Edsall is the right fit for the Terps, he’s too good a coach — yes, he is; he took UConn (UConn!) to a BCS bowl — to have another season as disastrous as his first. In fact, Maryland can get off to a good start with an easy non-conference schedule (save West Virginia) to give the Terps some confidence heading into their Oct. 6 game against Wake Forest. Once November rolls around, though, things get tough with games against Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina.

6. Boston College (last season: 4-8)
Boston College lost its two best players on either side of the ball — running back Montel Harris (rushed for 3,735 career yards) and linebacker Luke Kuechly — and Frank Spaziani has a grueling year ahead of him to try to save his job. BC’s program has tanked fast.

Coastal Division

1. Virginia Tech (last season: 11-3; lost Sugar Bowl) 
The Hokies are almost always the favorite to win the Coastal, and this year is no exception. Logan Thomas is gaining a lot of offseason whispers as a potential high-round NFL draft pick because of his size, but keep in mind this will only be his second full year as a starter. Tech is just one of those teams that always knows who they are, which is why Frank Beamer enjoys annual success. The back-end of the schedule features two big games for the Hokies: at Clemson on Oct. 20 — the Tigers swept Va. Tech in two games last year — and at home against Florida State Nov. 8. According to these projections, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this, it could be the first of two games between the Hokies and the Seminoles.

2. North Carolina (last season: 7-6; lost Independence Bowl)
Larry Fedora takes over a program that was firmly in the crosshairs of NCAA — the Tar Heels aren’t eligible to go to a bowl this season. The offense has playmakers in quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Giovani Bernard, so the scoring potential for Fedora’s spread offense is certainly there. Protecting Renner will be an offensive line featuring two all-conference selections in James Hurst and Jonathan Cooper.

3. Georgia Tech (last season: 8-5; lost Sun Bowl) 
The ACC Coastal field levels off and fast here. Georgia Tech returns 17 starters from a year ago, including quarterback Tevin Washington. Who Washington will throw to — when the Yellow Jackets throw — remains a question mark. For a team that runs the triple option, Ga. Tech has had some good receivers come out of the program in recent years, most recently Stephen Hill. The defense is a veteran group led by linebacker Julian Burnett.

4. Virginia (last season: 8-5; lost Chick-fil-A Bowl)
The Cavaliers upgrade their quarterback spot with Alabama transfer Phillip Sims. Linebacker Steve Greer returns after earning all-conference honors last year. I like the direction Mike London has Virginia headed and the schedule this season sets up well. No Florida State. No Clemson.

5. Miami (last season: 6-6)
The Hurricanes are dealing with a lot of turnover on offense and losing Ray-Ray Armstrong due to off-the-field issues hurts this team’s secondary. There really aren’t any guaranteed wins between mid-September and the season-ending game against Duke, either. Al Golden has one year under his belt in Miami, but this could shape up to be a rough one.

6. Duke (last season: 3-9)
The Blue Devils have 16 returning starters. Unfortunately, this team will be playing with wide receiver Blair Holliday on its mind. Holliday was involved in an offseason jet ski accident that put him temporarily in a coma. Coach David Cutcliffe will use it as a rallying point for his team, but it looks like another tough season for the Blue Devils. The final six games for this team (at VT, UNC, at FSU, Clemson, at GT, Miami) are brutal.

ACC champion: Virginia Tech

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ’em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Reports: Joe Paterno, Penn State assistants knew of Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 09:  Penn State University head football coach Joe Paterno watches his team during practice on November 9, 2011 in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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On Thursday, Penn Live uncovered a line in a trail over an insurance claim alleging Joe Paterno may have learned of Jerry Sandusky‘s sexual abuse of children as far back as 1976.

A day later, that kindling has exploded into a bonfire.

Our own Tom Winter and Hannah Rappleye of our own NBC News reported Friday that “as many as six” Penn State assistant coaches witnessed abusive acts by Sandusky, dating back to the 1970’s. “You won’t believe what I just saw,” an unnamed Penn State assistant reportedly said to a room full of football staffers.

Additionally, Sandusky’s adopted son Matt Sandusky told NBC News he was informed by investigators that a Nittany Lions employee witnessed Sandusky molesting him in the team’s locker room in the 1990’s.

“The university is facing and has faced a number of litigation matters and claims related to the Sandusky events. Allegations of various kinds have been made, and will likely continue to be made,” Penn State said in a statement to NBC News.

“The university does not speculate publicly or hypothesize about individual allegations. These are sensitive matters, and we want to be respectful of the rights of all individuals involved. It would be inappropriate to do otherwise.”

Separately, Sara Ganim of CNN reported simultaneously of another man who accused Sandusky of raping him in 1971, and told CNN he informed Paterno of Sandusky’s crime. He said Paterno then threatened him.

“I’d be willing to sit on a witness stand and confront Joe Paterno,” the man CNN last year. “Unfortunately he died and I didn’t get to.”

The man was not included in the state of Pennsylvania’s investigation into Sandusky because it fell outside the statute of limitations.

The crime occurred when the victim was 15 and the coach was 27.

Victim A says he was hitchhiking when Sandusky picked him up, bought him beer, gave him pot — and then attacked him as he was standing at a urinal in a Penn State bathroom.

“I felt his presence behind me,” he said. “I felt his left knee on the back of my knee, and his arms went around me, grabbing my …” he trails off. “He said, ‘Let me help you with this.'”

Victim A said he jerked his head back, hitting Sandusky in the jaw. His head started bleeding and they both fell to the floor.

“Then there was a wrestling session,” he says. “And I lost. One thing led to another and the crime happened.”

The victim says he informed Penn State authorities — who accused him of making the story up and threatened to go to the authorities themselves — one of whom, he says, was undoubtedly Paterno.

Paterno passed away of lung cancer in January 2012 shortly after being fired by Penn State. Sandusky will spend the rest of his natural life in prison, and Penn State is litigating a claim against its insurance company arguing the university is owed reimbursement for the more than $60 million in payments it has made to Sandusky’s victims.

Oklahoma RB/KR Alex Ross joins graduate transfer market

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 28: Alex Ross #28 of the Oklahoma Sooners returns a kick off against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Stillwater, Oklahoma. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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One of the most dangerous kick returners in college football just joined the graduate transfer market.

Oklahoma announced Friday running back Alex Ross will graduate this spring and ply his craft elsewhere for his final collegiate seasons.

Considering his plight on the Sooners’ depth chart, Ross’s decision to transfer is entirely understandable. After accumulating 88 carries in 2014, second-most on the team, Ross saw his usage drop to just 32 attempts (for 172 yards and one touchdown) last fall as Joe Mixon gained eligibility and Baker Mayfield‘s presence in the running game rendered Ross largely to the bench. Both will return next season — along with presumptive Heisman candidate Samaje Perine — so Ross will not.

“Alex has been a great teammate and team guy for four years for us, and we’ve always been proud of him,” OU head coach Bob Stoops said in a statement. “This is an opportunity for him to go somewhere else and play full time. We wish him the best.”

Ross ranks third in Oklahoma history with a 25.7-yard kickoff return average and surely would have broken the Sooners’ all-time kick return yardage record had he returned to Norman this fall. He took kickoffs back for touchdowns against West Virginia and Texas in 2014, and logged a 90-yard return in OU’s 58-23 Big 12-title clinching beatdown of Oklahoma State last November.

Ross was a second-team All-American kick returner on CBS Sports‘s list in 2014.

Charges against ex-Orange DB Howard upgraded in Syracuse stabbing incident

SYRACUSE, NY - SEPTEMBER 26:  Syracuse Orange takes the field amidst a cloud of pyrotechnic smoke before the game against the LSU Tigers on September 26, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Former Syracuse defensive back Nasean Howard was arraigned last month on two counts of assault in the second degree after allegedly stabbing two of his former teammates.

On Thursday, Howard’s charges were upgraded to first degree assault, in addition to the second degree charges and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

The first-degree charge states Howard intended to cause “serious physical injury” — a safe bet considering he allegedly came at the two men with a knife — and carries a sentence stretching up to 25 years.

The 20-year-old Howard is accused of attacking Chauncey Scissum and Corey Winfield unprovoked during an on-campus birthday party for an unnamed Syracuse student. Scissum was stabbed in the jaw and, unable to protect himself due to a recent surgery, was protected by Winfield, who took stabbings in the arms, chest and ribs on Scissum’s behalf.

Defense attorney Irene Aurora Flores stated “there’s a lot more to the story” but declined further comment, according to the Associated Press.

Howard remains free on bail.

Pitt RB Chris James completes transfer to Wisconsin

SYRACUSE, NY - OCTOBER 24:  Chris James #5 of the Pittsburgh Panthers carries the ball during the first half against the Syracuse Orange on October 24, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.  Pittsburgh defeats Syracuse 23-20.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Hailing out of Chicago, Chris James hoped to sign with Wisconsin after leaving Notre Dame College Prep but wound up heading east to play for head coach Paul Chryst, offensive coordinator Joe Rudolph and running backs coach John Settle at Pittsburgh.

All three of whom are now at Wisconsin.

So, naturally, James is now set to join them. The rising junior has planned to transfer to Wisconsin for months, and on Thursday received confirmation he’d been admitted to the Big Ten school.

“Coach Settle sent me a text, saying ‘welcome to the Badger family,’” James told Badger Nation. “I am really excited. It’s definitely been a long journey.”

James said, naturally, that his childhood love for the Badgers combined with his former coaches now employed in Madison drew him to Wisconsin. The presence of Ron DayneMontee BallMelvin Gordon and a handful of other 1,000-yard backs couldn’t have hurt, either.

“It was funny because everybody who I knew was wearing red now,” James said. “It was kind of weird but I’m glad I got to chance to go back up there. Things really haven’t changed that much. Stepping into Camp Randall, I got chills, man. As crazy as it feels, it felt like home.”

James rushed 87 times for 437 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman in 2014, and accumulated 56 carries for 253 yards last season.

Two of Wisconsin’s top three running backs will be seniors this fall, so James figures to be a regular in the Badgers’ running back rotation when his eligibility resumes in 2017.