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

Ex-Alabama QB Blake Barnett commits to Arizona State

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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After leaving the FBS level in September, a formerly highly-touted quarterback has confirmed he’ll be back next season.

On Twitter late Monday night, Blake Barnett announced that he has committed to continuing his collegiate playing career at Arizona State. The announcement comes a little over three months after Barnett left Alabama.

Because Barnett enrolled at a junior college almost immediately after transferring from Alabama, it’s thought that he’ll be eligible to play for Arizona State after the first month of the 2017 season. He’d then have two full seasons of eligibility remaining after next year.

In late September, reports began to surface that Barnett had decided to leave Alabama.  A short time later, and after Nick Saban expressed hope Barnett would stay, the program confirmed that Barnett had officially withdrawn from school.

Barnett, who started the opener against USC but held on to the job for just two series, was a five-star 2015 recruit who 247Sports.com rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in the country.  The California high school product originally committed to Notre Dame in November of 2013 before decommitting from the Irish in June of the following year.

After leaving Alabama, Barnett had drawn the interest of, among others, Cal, Florida, Miami, Michigan State, Oregon, Texas A&M, UCLA and Washington

Alabama’s Jonathan Allen wins Nagurski Trophy

TUSCALOOSA, AL - OCTOBER 22:  Jonathan Allen #93 of the Alabama Crimson Tide sacks Trevor Knight #8 of 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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One of the most dominant defensive players in the country has gotten his just due. I’m thinking it might not be the last.

Very late Monday night, the Football Writers Association of America announced that Alabama’s Jonathan Allen has been named as the 2016 Bronko Nagurski Trophy winner, given annually to the best defensive player in the country.  The defensive end was one of five finalists for the award, players that included a teammate, linebacker Reuben Foster, as well as Florida State cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers and Clemson defensive end Christian Wilkins.

Seven times the last eight years, a Crimson Tide player has been a finalist for the award.  This is the first time a player from that school has taken home the trophy.

“I’m honestly speechless right now. I never in a million years thought I would even be up for this award, yet win it,” Allen said. “I’ve got to thank all the guys back at Alabama, God, my parents, my girlfriend, everyone who’s had a part in shaping me and making me who I am. This is just a tremendous award.”

Allen’s statistical resume is encapsulated by the FWAA:

Allen is second on the Crimson Tide’s career sack list with 26.5 and has nine sacks for 72 yards in losses this season. He has 15 quarterback hurries, has broken up two passes, and blocked a kick. He has scored touchdowns on two fumble recoveries – a 75-yard return against Ole Miss and a 30-yard return against Texas A&M.

His worthiness, video-wise, can be summed up thusly:

Ole Miss WR Damore’ea Stringfellow jumping early to NFL

COLLEGE STATION, TX - NOVEMBER 12:  Damore'ea Stringfellow #3 of the Mississippi Rebels makes a one handed catch in the fourth quarter as he gets behind Nick Harvey #1 of the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field on November 12, 2016 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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Not surprisingly, one of the most physically-gifted wide receivers in the country is making himself available to the next level.

Ole Miss confirmed Monday that Damore'ea Stringfellow has decided to forego his senior season and will enter the 2017 NFL draft. The receiver had long been expected to make the leap; the official announcement served to confirm the obvious.

“I cannot begin to express to Rebel Nation what an honor and privilege these last three years have been putting on the Ole Miss jersey each Saturday,” Stringfellow said in a statement. “The fans’ endless support, both on and off the field, has allowed me to grow and develop into the athlete and man that I am today.

“In that light, after much reflection and prayer, it pleases and saddens me to announce that I have decided to forgo my senior year and declare for the 2017 NFL Draft to pursue my dream of playing on Sundays. I would like to thank my family, coaches, professors and most of all the fans that have given me the love, courage and much needed prayer to go out and make Oxford proud. I truly would not have this amazing opportunity without you.”

After a May of 2014 departure from his original collegiate home, Washington, that revolved around an off-field legal incident, Stringfellow had initially stated he would be transferring to Nebraska.  Less than a month later, though, the receiver landed at Ole Miss.

The past two seasons, after he sat out the 2014 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, the 6-2, 219-pound Stringfellow caught 82 passes for 1,219 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“I am grateful to Damore’ea for his commitment to our program,” said Rebel head coach Hugh Freeze. “He has a tremendous opportunity, and we are excited for him to enter the next phase of his life. We look forward to seeing another Rebel receiver in the NFL.”

Lamar Jackson, OU tandem headline list of five Heisman finalists

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 22:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The Heisman Trophy finalists were announced in a made-for-awkward-television moment during ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown on sight from MetLife Stadium. The Heisman trust revealed a list of five finalists including: Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, Michigan linebacker Jabrill Peppers, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook.

Described my some (read: yours truly) as Allen Iverson in cleats, Jackson’s slippery explosiveness led to 4,928 yards of total offense and a nation-leading 51 touchdowns responsible for. He is regarded as the overwhelming favorite to win the stiffarm trophy.

Mayfield has thrown for 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns against eight interceptions. His 197.75 quarterback rating is on pace to break the FBS single-season record, and he pilots an offense that ranks third nationally in scoring and yards per play. Mayfield’s efforts helped Oklahoma win its second straight Big 12 title and complete the first 9-0 run in the league’s 6-year round-robin era.

Peppers is the swiss army knife of a threat for the Wolverines. He ranks second on Michigan’s elite defense in tackles and tackles for loss while also returning punts and kicks and serving as a running back on offense.

Watson has led Clemson to back-to-back ACC championships and College Football Playoff appearances while firing 37 touchdown passes and throwing for 3,914 yards on the year.

Mayfield’s top target, Westbrook recorded 74 receptions for 1,465 yards and 14 touchdowns on the year. Westbrook’s inclusion makes Oklahoma the first team to send teammates to New York since Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush did the same for USC in 2005. They’re just the fifth set of teammates to do so overall (Leinart and Bush did so twice.)

That’s also the last time the SEC did not place a player in the top five vote-getters.

The Heisman Trophy ceremony will be held Saturday night in New York.