ACC spring game wrap-ups

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Some news, notes, quotes and other assorted tidbits from the three spring games contested across the ACC Saturday afternoon…

NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Dave Doeren concisely summed up his first-ever spring game as the Wolfpack’s head coach when he told reporters, “well, we won.”

Yes you did, coach.  Yes you did.

Specifically, the Red team downed the White team 20-10 in the first Kay Yow Spring Football Game.  Or, even more specifically, the defense dominated the offense in the glorified scrimmage.

The fact that the defense is significantly ahead of the offense at this point in his tenure — neither side scored an offensive touchdown in the first half doesn’t appear to bother Doeren at all.

“Offensively there are a lot of new guys in the lineup,” said Doeren.  “The plays are not that much different, but the names of the plays and the tempo are a lot different.  I think that’s the biggest thing.

“We are ahead defensively and that’s not a bad thing.  I would rather be ahead on the defensive side than the offense. I think we’ll catch up.”

— Defensive tackle T.Y. McGill was credited with a game-high three tackles for loss, while linebacker M.J. Salahuddin totaled eight tackles.

Pete Thomas, listed as the co-starter back on NCSU’s most recent depth chart, completed 15-of-26 passes for 168 yards with neither a touchdown nor an interception on the stat sheet.  Thomas worked with the first-team offense, for what it’s worth.  Thomas’ competition, Manny Stocker, directed the second-team offense and completed 11-of-20 passes for 96 yards.  He had the lone touchdown toss of the two, connecting on a 30-yard strike in the fourth quarter.

— Florida transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett threw a 39-yard touchdown pass in the Red team’s win.  Brissett, who announced he was leaving the Gators for NCSU in January, is not a part of the competition this year as he will have to sit out the 2013 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.

— The spring game raised more than $20,000 for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund.  Yow was the Wolfpack’s beloved Hall of Fame women’s basketball coach who lost her long battle with breast cancer in January of 2009.

VIRGINIA TECH
With a significantly revamped coaching staff on that side of the ball, there was significant anticipation as to how the Hokies’ offense would look in Saturday’s spring game.  The reality, however, is they still have some significant work left to do before opening the season against two-time defending BCS champion Alabama.

The White team, composed mainly of backups, downed the Orange team, almost entirely starters, by the count of 27-9.  Yes, the reserves were spotted 13 points before the game even began; still, that merely means the non-starters merely edged the starters 14-9.

The offensive numbers were, well, offensive.  Just 41 yards rushing on 23 carries (1.78 yards per carry); 3-23 on third-down conversions and 1-3 on fourth-down conversions; 214 yards passing but three interceptions — two of which were brought back for touchdowns — by returning starting quarterback Logan Thomas (pictured, parallel to the ground); and just one offensive touchdown to go along with a lone trip to the red zone.

Frank Beamer tried to downplay the offensive struggles, but acknowledged things still need to be ironed out over the next four months or so.

“Today is kind of where we are right now,” the longtime head coach said. “Good defense. Good kicking game. And an offense that’s gotta function better. …

“On offense, we’ve got to get more consistent. We’ve heard that before. …  It’s not so important where we are today. It’s important where we can get to when we line up against Alabama.”

— The two defenses combined for 14 tackles for loss (for minus-48 yards) and three sacks.

— Backup quarterback Mark Leal led the Hokies to their lone touchdown of the game, a drive culminating with a Leal 30-yard pass to Ryan Malleck.

— New offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler wasn’t available to speak to reporters after the game due to recruiting obligations.  From the sounds of it, he wasn’t available during the game, either.  In fairness, Beamer noted that only roughly 25-percent of the offense has been installed.

— “I think all you all, and people are going to say I had a bad day today, but I can’t complain about how I played,” Thomas, the Hokies spring offensive MVP, said following his three-pick performance. “The ball was going where I wanted it to. I hit my spots. I was accurate. My mechanics have gotten better. My accuracy has gotten better. That’s all I can ask for.”

WAKE FOREST
Speaking of defense, the Demon Deacons’ offense scored just once in its spring game, and that was a 39-yard field goal by Chad Hedlund.

That effort came despite — or because of? — what head coach Jim Grobe described as a dumbed-down defense.

“The defense was awesome today,” said Grobe. “I thought they played great. We really dumbed the defense down today, we didn’t blitz and we didn’t play a lot of different coverages. It’s amazing how good they played when they know what to do and didn’t have a lot of thinking going on. That ought to be a lesson for our coaches.”

— Deacon ballcarriers ran 32 running plays on the day and netted a total of minus-five yards on the ground.  Wake quarterbacks weren’t much better, accounting for four interceptions.

— To go along with the four picks, Wake’s defense accounted for 12 tackles for loss and five sacks.  The offense was 2-18 on third downs and did not reach the red zone on any drive.

— “On offense, we really haven’t thrown the ball much this spring,” said Grobe. “We have to run the ball better. There’s no question about it. We’ve spent a lot of time this spring running the ball and we thought today would be a great day to come out and throw it more. … The defense had the upper hand today and hopefully we learned a few things about the quarterbacks today and know what we have to work on when we come back in August.”

Tennessee WR Josh Smith to miss start of season with broken collarbone

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Tennessee will be without wide receiver Josh Smith at the start of the season, including the season opener in Atlanta against Georgia Tech next week. Smith will be out of action for the next four to eight weeks with a broken collarbone.

This is the latest injury setback for MSith, who has had ankle surgery in the past as well as a groin injury in January. After catching 13 passes for 97 yards and a touchdown last season, MSith was expected to be a larger contributor to the offense this season as a slot receiver. That may eventually to prove true, but just how soon he can get back on the practice field, let alone a game field, remains to be seen.

At the minimum four weeks, Smith would likely not be returning to the field until a Week 3 matchup with UMass in Knoxville or the Week 4 SEC East battle with Georgia, also in Neyland Stadium. Tennessee has a bye week after the Georgia game to allow for an extra week of rest and recovery if needed. If Smith is out for a full eight weeks, his first game back for the Vols could potentially be the October 21 game at Alabama.

Smith also returned six punts last season for a total of 35 yards.

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: Playoff Predictions

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Fair warning: CFT’s 2017 College Football Playoff predictions are boring

But, sometimes, reality is boring.

Alabama and Ohio State have pulled ahead of the pack in recruiting, return a number of players — or, at least, a large enough number to outflank the competition — and are still coached by Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. As such, our staff is picking (with one outlier) those two to square off for the 2017 national championship, with different views on how the title game goes down.

Kevin
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over Florida State
Sugar Bowl: Alabama over Penn State
CFP National Championship: Ohio State over Alabama

Bryan
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over Florida State
Sugar Bowl: Alabama over USC
CFP National Championship: Ohio State over Alabama

Zach
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over Stanford
Sugar Bowl: Alabama over Florida State
CFP National Championship: Alabama over Ohio State

John
Rose Bowl: Ohio State over USC
Sugar Bowl: Florida State over Alabama
CFP National Championship: Ohio State over Florida State

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: Playoff Dark Horses

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I was in charge of picking Playoff dark horses last year and did… pretty darn decent. After exempting myself from selecting Washington (who, obviously, made the Playoff) I selected Florida, winner of the SEC East, Louisville, who was in the hunt into November and UCL…. let’s just move on.

Here’s a look at who will be this year’s Washington, this year’s Louisville and, yes, probably this year’s UCLA.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are college football’s most consistent bet to be good and not great. That will likely be the case again this year, but Wisconsin’s schedule is tailor-made for a 2015 Iowa-like run. The Badgers get five of their first seven at home, and their next two games after that are road trips to Illinois and Indiana. After that, Iowa and Michigan come to Madison before the regular season finale at Minnesota. The Gophers should be better under P.J. Fleck than they were with Tracy Claeys, but Wisconsin owns a massive mental edge in this series with 13 straight wins. As long as Wisconsin wins two of its three games against Nebraska, Michigan and Iowa (and only the first is on the road, remember) they’ll be back in Indianapolis, where only an anything-can-happen 60 minutes will stand between Paul Chryst and a Playoff berth.

TCU: It seems every time we forget Gary Patterson is one of the very best coaches in the game, he reminds us in a big way. So let’s look back to the last two times Patterson finished under .500, and then what happened the year after. In 2004, TCU went 5-6. A year later the Frogs finished 11-1, won the Mountain West Conference in their first year in the league and closed the year with the first of Patterson’s top-10 final rankings. In 2013, TCU stumbled to a 4-8 mark and roared back to a 12-1 2014 season, narrowly missing the Playoff but ending the year at No. 3 in both polls. TCU went 6-7 in 2016, and return one of the most talented quarterbacks in the country in Kenny Hill. If quarterbacks coach and play-caller Sonny Cumbie can coax the bad plays out of time, TCU will be a factor yet again.

Notre Dame: Yes, yes, save your jokes. Notre Dame went 4-8 last season. Last year is over. Brian Kelly has refocused himself to the job, and helped himself out greatly by hiring Mike Elko to fix his defense, one of the absolute best hires of the offseason. Brandon Wimbush is a star in the making at quarterback, and the schedule is difficult without being impossible.

Colorado AD says Denver won’t be option for future CU-CSU games after 2020

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Colorado and Colorado State are scheduled to wrap up their current scheduling agreement in 2020, and the future of the in-state rivalry remains in question beyond that. Both schools are in talks to continue the series beyond 2020 once scheduling vacancies are available, but there is no target date currently in sight. What is known, however, is any such scheduling arrangement will not include games being played in Denver if Colorado’s athletics director has his say.

We won’t have any future games in Denver with CSU in any kind of new relationship,” Colorado athletic director Rick George said in a story published by The Daily Camera.  George did state he and his counterpart at Colorado State, Joe Parker, share an interest in keeping the series going on in the years beyond the current deal in place.

As it stands right now, Colorado State will host the final game in the current arrangement in 2020. No games will be possible in 2021 and 2022 because Colorado’s non-conference schedule is currently booked. The Buffs will face UMass, Texas A&M, and Minnesota in 2021 and TCU, Air Force, and Minnesota in 2022. Colorado currently has scheduling vacancies in 2023 and beyond, making 2023 the earliest possible year the series could be rekindled. The concern, at least for Colorado, will be overexerting the strength of schedule with games against TCU and Nebraska already lined up in 2023.

“With this College Football Playoff game now, there’s a lot of discussion on strength of schedules,” George said. “We certainly don’t want to over-schedule ourselves, but at the same time, we want to be in a position as we continue to compete on a yearly basis for championships, we want to be in the conversation. We don’t want the schedule to be a deterrent to us longer term.”

Geroge has previously expressed his interest in continuing the series if it could be agreed to play the games on campus sites instead of neutral fields. George has said it is not in Colorado’s best interest to continue the series. His latest statements about the strength of schedule keep in line with that logic. Having a potentially very good Group of Five program on top of previously announced games against power conference opponents in addition to a nine-game Pac-12 schedule becomes quite challenging. Having a less threatening opponent from the FCS provides a better chance to keep making money on a home game and increasing the chances for a win to rely on.

Colorado and Colorado State have faced off 88 times since 1893, with the Buffs holding a 64-22-2 edge in the all-time series. Colorado won last year’s meeting in Denver by a score of 44-7 for its most lopsided victory in the series since a 47-7 victory in Boulder in 1956. Colorado and Colorado State have played annually since 1995.