ACC Championship - Virginia Tech v Clemson

CFT Predicts: the ACC


As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the ACC.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SECBig Ten, Pac-12

Atlantic Division

1. Clemson (Last year: 11-2; beat LSU in Chick-fil-A Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Tigers shook their ‘Clemsoning’ curse and previous Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia by going 11-2 and beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

So why are they ranked here?
Offense, offense, offense. And some offense sprinkled in. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is a legitimate Heisman candidate and he’ll have Sammy Watkins to throw to for a third straight year. Watkins had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2012 — at least by his standards — because of a variety of issues, from a suspension to injuries, but he still finished second on the team in receiving yards. His touchdown production should rise again after getting in the end zone just four times.

Anything else?
The defense improved under first-year coordinator Brent Venables. With as good as the Tigers offense projects to be, there’s more wiggle room on that side of the ball. Also, can Clemson finally beat South Carolina after dropping four straight games?

2. Florida State (Last year: 12-2; beat NIU in Orange Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The ‘Noles won the ACC and beat NIU in the Orange Bowl. They also pulled their annual head-scratcher by losing to North Carolina State. The circle never ends, it seems.

So why are they ranked here?
Talent isn’t a question Tallahassee, but there are a lot of new faces. Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston has a ton of upside at the quarterback spot, it just remains to be seen at this point how he handles his first year as starter. Wide receiver depth is becoming an issue too. The defensive line loses two pass rushers in Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner, but that’s an area stacked — almost unfairly — with capable players.

Anything else?
Florida State had a whopping 11 NFL draft picks in April, but Jimbo Fisher also had to replace roughly half his coaching staff. That’s a lot of turnover and it’ll be interesting to see how players and coaches jell this year.

3. Maryland (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Randy Edsall doubled his win total in year two with the Terps, but a linebacker was starting at quarterback by the end of the year because of injuries. Apparently, being a quarterback at Maryland can be equated to playing drums for Spinal Tap.

So why are they ranked here?
The quarterbacks are finally back with working knees and there is some talent on that side of the ball, namely wide receiver Sefon Diggs. Another running back will have to step up with Wes Brown being suspended for the year, though the running game in general needs to improve. The Terps also have to replace a sizable portion of their starting defensive front seven. Several of Maryland’s toughest games (Florida State, Virginia Tech) are on the road too.

Anything else?
It feels like wide receiver Deon Long has led the life of a traveled NFL veteran more than a college player, but he finally at Maryland. He was suspended this spring, but he should be a good addition to the passing game. He has the physical tools to make an impact, so he could be a player to watch.

4. Wake Forest (Last year: 5-7) 
What happened last season?
It was a tough season in hindsight for the Deacs when you consider they lost two games by an average of six points (against Maryland, Duke) that could have propelled them back into the postseason.

So why are they ranked here?
There’s some potential for this team, which returns a good portion of its starting 22 from a year ago. Tanner Price is a veteran quarterback and leading running back Josh Harris will be eligible to play in 2013. The problem is Wake Forest couldn’t find the end zone last year and were shut out twice. The defense wasn’t much better, but it does return eight guys from 2012.

Anything else?
There are plenty of manageable games on Wake’s schedule this year, including in the non-conference department. Getting back to a bowl is a realistic goal.

5. North Carolina State (Last year: 7-6; lost to Vanderbilt in Music City Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Though NC State hadn’t had a losing season since 2009, and despite upsetting Florida State, Tom O’Brien couldn’t keep his job. He’s replaced by former NIU coach Dave Doeren.

So why are they ranked here?
Turnover is rarely easy, and there’s a lot of it for the Wolfpack in 2013. In addition to a new coaching staff, this team loses quarterback Mike Glennon and, even though he had some disappointing moments in 2012, cornerback David Amerson. There’s plenty to be excited about with Doeren, but his first year could be rough.

Anything else?
If there’s one area of improvement to look for right away, it would be the ground game. NC State was among the worst rushing teams a year ago while NIU ranked 12th in the nation in that category. The offense does return its top two leading rushers from a year ago in Shadrach Thornton and Tony Creecy.

6. Syracuse (Last year: 8-5; beat West Virginia in Pinstripe Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Orange got off to a bit of a bumpy start, but won six of their final seven games in 2012. Two of those wins came in convincing fashion against Louisville and West Virginia.

So why are they ranked here?
The ‘Cuse lose coach Doug Marrone to the NFL and in comes Scott Shafer. The Orange are also entering a new conference with some key departures, including quarterback Ryan Nassib, wide receiver Alec Lemon and defensive back Shamarko Thomas — all leaders in their respective positions.

Anything else?
If there is one person to watch, it’s Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen. Though Shafer doesn’t plan on announcing a QB until the last possible moment, Allen is believed to be in a position to win the starting job. He played sparingly for the Sooners, but could be a key member of the offense for the Orange.

7. Boston College (Last year: 2-10)
What happened last season?
The Eagles won two games and Frank Spaziani got the long-awaited boot.

So why are they ranked here?
Former Temple coach Steve Addazio takes over and has, by all accounts, injected some energy into a program that desperately needs some. Whether that energy will turn into wins remains to be seen. This was an offense that couldn’t run the ball or score a year ago, but the passing duo of quarterback Chase Rettig and wide receiver Alex Amidon do give experience and play making ability to the passing game.

Anything else?
The front part of BC’s schedule is brutal, but there’s some room for the Eagles to make some noise toward the end of the year and build some momentum heading into 2014. The final two games against Maryland and Syracuse are on the road, but those aren’t impossible games to win.

Coastal Division

1. Miami (Last year: 7-5)
What happened last season?
The Hurricanes actually won a share of the Coastal Division, but they also self-imposed a postseason ban for the second straight year because of the ongoing NCAA investigation of the program.

So why are they ranked here?
Miami figures to have one of the more potent offenses in the entire conference thanks to the return of quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson, with the latter considered to be among the most exciting players to watch in the game. It’s the defense that has all the question marks for the ‘Canes. This was a team that was simply pushed around up front and gave up at least 40 points four times last year.

Anything else?
Give Al Golden credit. He’s identified the weakness on defense (not that it was too difficult) and recruited some immediate help. David Gilbert and Justin Renfrow join the team from Wisconsin and Virginia, respectively, and add an immediate boost along the defensive line.

2. North Carolina (Last year: 8-4)
What happened last season?
Like Miami, North Carolina had to watch the postseason from home thanks to a postseason ban. Unlike the Hurricanes, this was NCAA-mandated. Still the Tar Heels won eight games under first-year coach Larry Fedora.

So why are they ranked here?
There are two major departures from last year’s team: running back Giovani Bernard and offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper. Bernard received a bulk of the carries in the run game and had over 1,200 yards. So whether it’s one player — perhaps A.J. Blue — or a committee, that production will have to be replaced. But there are plenty of other playmakers on offense, including veteran QB Bryn Renner. Defense returns its entire secondary and should be an overall improved unit that fared well enough in Year 1 under Fedora.

Anything else?
UNC’s key stretch comes in the middle of the season. It starts with a road game at divisional opponent Georgia Tech and ends with another road game at North Carolina State. Get through that and a bulk of the Coastal Divsion contenders should be behind them by that point.

3. Virginia Tech (Last year: 7-6; beat Rutgers in Russell Athletic Bowl) 
What happened last season?
2012 was a disappointment by Virginia Tech’s standards. The Hokies needed overtime three times to pull out wins and there were some tough losses to Pitt and Cincinnati mixed in.

So why are they ranked here?
Primarily because health and depth are already concerns for Virginia Tech before a single regular season snap has been taken. Star cornerback Antone Exum will miss the season opener against Alabama and perhaps longer. The knee injury he sustained early this year was serious and there are few guarantees when it comes to a timeline for return. There’s been some attrition on both sides of the ball with various injuries and departures. If this team can get healthy as the season goes on, maybe it can make a run for the divisional title late in the season.

Anything else?
Scot Loeffler takes over as offensive coordinator. Quarterback Logan Thomas was, to say the least, inconsistent last year with just over a 50 percent completion rate and 18 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. He’s shown at times he can make tremendous throws, but he needs to be able to do it without a handful of bad throws and decisions in between. With Loeffler calling the plays, Thomas doesn’t need to throw for 4,000 yards — he just needs to play smarter.

4. Georgia Tech (Last year: 7-7; beat USC in the Sun Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Yellow Jackets backed their way into the ACC championship game, but embarrassed USC in the Sun Bowl. So, yeah. Georgia Tech came out ahead on that one.

So why are they ranked here?
Some key pieces of GT’s triple option are leaving, including Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith. But, Vad Lee moves in to take control of the offense, and he already saw plenty of game action last year. The defense ended up playing much better down the stretch last year after Al Groh was fired, so there’s definitely room to continue growing on that side of the ball.

Anything else?
Despite being a run-heavy offense, Georgia Tech has been known to have one big, physical receiver under Paul Johnson. Jeff Greene looked to be that guy until he left for Ohio State. Who will step up for the Yellow Jackets in that spot in 2013?

5. Pitt (Last year: 6-7; lost to Ole Miss in BBVA Compass Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Pitt got off to a tough start in Year 1 under Paul Chryst by losing to Youngstown State to start the season, but rebounded quickly by beating Virginia Tech in Week 3. The Panthers actually won and lost games in alternating pairs the entire way through the year before falling to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

So why are they ranked here?
After 14 years, 10 head coaches and 500 sacks, the Tino Sunseri era is finally over. Tom Savage, the former Rutgers quarterback who is also a veteran of the college game, enters 2013 as the starter. But there are a lot of concerns on offense, namely the running game. Ray Graham is gone and Rushel Shell, the running back figured to take bulk of the carries going forward, has moved on to West Virginia. Defense should be the strength of the team with defensive tackle Aaron Donald coming back along with a solid secondary that has safety Jason Hendricks, who led the team in tackles a year ago.

Anything else?
Pitt has the opportunity to make a huge first impression in the ACC if it can beat Florida State at home in Week 1. There are some tough games for the Panthers this season, including a road trip to Virginia Tech, and the Panthers are an unknown heading into ACC play.

6. Duke (Last year: 6-7; lost to Cincinnati in Belk Bowl)
What happened last season?
Duke became bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 under coach David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils ultimately lost a close game to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, but there was a lot to be happy with in 2012.

So why are they ranked here?
There’s little concern on offense. Even though quarterback Sean Renfree is gone, there’s a lot of buzz on Anthony Boone. Boone is a mobile guy who gives Cutcliffe another dimension to add to the offensive attack. If the ground game can improve, this is a team that could be tough to stop. Defense is a concern as it ranked among the worst in the country a year ago. The Blue Devils will probably find themselves in more than a couple shootouts this fall.

Anything else?
No matter where Duke finishes in the ACC this season, there’s something to be said for what Cutcliffe is building there. He’s had other opportunities to leave, and he’s chosen to stay. He’s one of the most well-regarded X’s and O’s coaches in the game and the Blue Devils should be in a position at the end of the year to possibly make it to a second straight bowl game.

7. Virginia (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Virginia got an early season win against Penn State when the Nittany Lions were struggling, and a late-season win over Miami. In between was when things were rough.

So why are they ranked here?
Mike London went with a coaching overhaul that brings in former North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien and Jon Tenuta as defensive coordinator. Defense should be the greater strength for UVA this year with a seasoned secondary. It’s the offense that needs work. Two quarterbacks from 2012 — Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco — are gone, so this is a team that will probably have to rely on its run game.

Anything else?
It’ll be interesting to see if Virginia can make strides with a restructured coaching staff, but wins could still be hard to come by with a tough schedule. BYU, Oregon and even Ball State make up a difficult non-conference slate, and the last four games against Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech is a rough way to end the year.


John Taylor’s Prediction:

1. Clemson
2. Florida State
3. North Carolina State
4. Wake Forest
5. Maryland
6. Syracuse
7. Boston College

1. Miami
2. North Carolina
3. Georgia Tech
4. Virginia Tech
5. Pittsburgh
6. Virginia
7. Duke

Ben’s ACC champ: Clemson
John’s ACC champ: Clemson

LSU AD: ‘Les Miles is our coach and will continue to be our coach’

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers celebrates after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies 19-7 at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Never mind people.  Move on.  There’s nothing to see here.

After a couple of weeks worth of speculation it appeared as if today’s game against Texas A&M would be Les Miles‘ last as LSU’s head coach.  There were at least two reports, though, that indicated a win would go a long way in helping to save Miles’ job.

With a 19-7 victory over the Aggies in the books, all eyes turned toward Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva.  And, in one fell swoop, the A.D. did something that could’ve been done a week or more ago instead of leaving his long-time head coach out to dry — he came out and publicly announced that Miles will remain on as the program’s head football coach.

“I ant to make it clear that Les Miles is our football coach and will continue to be our football coach,” Alleva stated. “My policy is to wait until the end of the season, and obviously it’s the end of the regular season right now.”

Certainly there’s more back-channel intrigue simmering just below and will likely surface in the coming days and weeks, but Miles will remain at LSU for the foreseeable future.  And with a seemingly weakened boss for good measure while his own personal profile among the fan base and his players — and some boosters, who haven’t appreciated how he’s been treated — has done nothing but grow stronger.

Simply put, it’d be hard to find a way to screw up a non-firing firing more than LSU just did.  And the worst thing about it for the university, it’s done nothing but embolden Miles and his supporters, making it potentially even harder to get rid of him if/when they actually do want to pull the trigger.

The speculation has already begun that Alleva’s job is on the line.  Here’s to guessing that his head likely won’t be the only one to roll because of how mismanaged the situation became.

Oklahoma makes playoff statement on behalf of Big 12

Dimitri Flowers, Trace Clark

If Oklahoma had anything to say about it Saturday night in Stillwater, the Big 12 is not in danger of missing out on the College Football Playoff this year. The No. 3 Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) locked up the outright Big 12 championship with a 58-23 victory over No. 11 Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) to close out regular season play. The ball is now in the playoff selection committee’s court. There is no way Oklahoma should not be in the top four when the final playoff rankings are updated after next weekend’s conference championship games.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 17 of 25 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, but the Sooners offense was a two-man show between running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The two each rushed for over 130 yards (136 yards for Mixon, 131 for Perine) and each scored two rushing touchdowns. Mayfield also got involved running the football, taking off for 77 yards and a touchdown of his own. Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh got the start at quarterback with Mason Rudolph banged up. Walsh passed for 325 yards and two touchdowns, but that was mostly while the Cowboys were attempting to catch up in the second half.

Oklahoma finished its season with the three best consecutive wins any College Football Playoff contender or participant likely will have played with wins over ranked opponents Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State. Two of those wins were on the road too. The Big 12’s back loaded scheduled needed one team to rise up and prove worthy of playoff hype, and Oklahoma turned out to be that team. Throw in a nice road win earlier in the season at Tennessee, and Oklahoma’s overall body of work is solid, perhaps even more so than that of Alabama’s. Michigan State could prove to be a different argument, as the Spartans could have road wins at Michigan and Ohio State to go with a win against Oregon and an undefeated Iowa if Michigan State wins the Big Ten Championship Game next week.

Oklahoma’s fate as the Big 12’s playoff hope was further cemented with Notre Dame falling out of the running with a close loss at Stanford. It is not likely Oklahoma would be at risk of dropping behind Stanford as a two-loss Pac-12 champion. Oklahoma would have the edge, even if Stanford blasted USC 59-0 next week in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Sooners will be a solid lock for one of the top four spots in the playoff, and may have a chance to wiggle up the rankings while not playing a game. Whatever the case, the Big 12 will be sending its one true champion to the playoff fun, once again showing the conference is not in need of expansion or a conference championship game. Some years it will work out, some years it will not. Such will be life in the Big 12.

Oklahoma will be fine with that.

Dalvin Cook, defense lead No. 13 Florida State to pounding of No. 12 Gators

Dalvin Cook, Justin Simmons, John Johnson

Keeping Florida State running back Dalvin Cook contained is no easy task, but Florida managed to do that for much of the night. But as many previous opponents can confirm, Cook is bound to make a spectacular play. He did just that with a run right up the middle of the defense and powered his way into the end zone in the fourth quarter of No. 13 Florida State’s (10-2) 27-2 victory over No. 12 Florida (10-2).

Cook scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the win, including one in the final minutes that served as the cherry on top of the sundae for the Seminoles. With 183 rushing yards, Cook ended his season with one last solid performance to merit discussion about a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy, although this one got off to a slow start by comparison as Florida’s defense was as good as it could be for a while. Florida State’s defense was also clicking on all cylinders in this one, holding the Gators to just 262 yards of offense. As Florida prepares to play for the SEC championship next week against Alabama, after this performance against the Seminoles and last week’s effort against FAU, there should be some serious concerns about Florida’s ability to do anything on offense that will challenge Alabama.

To be fair, Florida’s defense really was pretty good, although the final score may not suggest so. Cook’s two fourth quarter touchdowns turned a defensive battle into a bit more of a blowout than it really was for the majority of the night. Florida held Florida State to just two third-down conversions out of 13 and 304 yards of offense.

The win for the Seminoles clinched a fourth straight season with double-digit victories. Florida State may not be playing for an ACC title (Clemson will be facing North Carolina next week in Charlotte), but Florida State has not had four straight 10-win seasons since the height of the Bobby Bowden era from 1987 through 2000. Under Jimbo Fisher, Florida State has won at least 10 games in all but one season (2011). With that kind of track record it is easy to see why LSU, hypothetically, would be interested in Fisher as a possible successor to Les Miles, but Fisher says he is not leaving Tallahassee.

Florida State looked to be on track to pitch its first shutout of the Gators in the history of the series, but all of that changed in spectacular fashion. Sean Maguire had a ball knocked out of his hand as he was attempting to pass by Cece Jefferson. The ball wiggled loose and was not easy for anyone to pounce on. After a mad scramble for the ball 25 yards back from the line of scrimmage, it was Maguire who finally landed on it in the endzone for a safety, giving Florida two points. Florida looked to have a great return by Valdez Showers on the free kick return, but an illegal block in the back took the ball all the way back to Florida’s 14-yard line.

Florida State has now won three in a row against the Gators for the first time since stringing together three straight wins from 1998 through 2000. The win also marks Florida State’s third straight win in The Swamp, the first time Florida State has done that in the history of the rivalry.

Stanford keeps faint playoff hopes alive, extinguishes Irish’s in last-second win

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Devon Cajuste #89 of the Stanford Cardinal catches the ball while covered by Cole Luke #36 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Getty Images

For both Notre Dame and Stanford, tonight’s game down on The Farm was one that each needed to keep any playoff hopes that they entertained alive.  In the end, it’s the latter that holds the lone remaining hope for the rivalry.

With both teams throwing punches on either side of the ball, it was the Cardinal that was able to withstand the body blows and leave Foster Field with a thrilling 38-36 win.  It wasn’t looking that way, though, after DeShone Kizer led the Irish on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown run with :30 left and gave the visitors a 36-35 lead.

Kevin Hogan, playing his last home game as a member of the Cardinal, proceeded to ensure he left one more indelible mark in the program’s history books.  Taking over at their own 28-yard line, a face-mask penalty on the Irish moved the ball out to the 43-yard line with :15 left.  An incomplete pass on first down was followed by the play of the game, a 27-yard Hogan-to-Devon Cajuste that put the Cardinal in field goal range; a Christian McCaffrey two-yard run positioned the Cardinal for a 45-yard field goal attempt, which Conrad Ukropina absolutely piped with no time left for the 36-35 win.

Hogan was superb throughout the night, finishing with 269 yards and four touchdown passes on 17-of-21 passing in a back-and-forth affair that saw the lead change six times.  The Irish had a pair of 100-yard runners, with Josh Adams leading the way with 168 and Kizer contributing 128.

The win improves Stanford to 10-2, and sends them into the Pac-12 championship game against USC with hopes of a playoff berth still intact, however faint they may be.  Even if the Cardinal can take down the Trojans, they would still need significant upheaval ahead of them — think Clemson, Iowa and Alabama losing their title games — in order to even begin any type of realistic playoff talk.

But still…

For Notre Dame, it’s their second loss of the season and, with no championship game to leave another impression on the committee, it appears their playoff hopes have been officially dashed.  Still, given the myriad injuries with which the Domers have had to deal, it’s a minor miracle that they were even in the playoff discussion this late in the season, and a testament to Brian Kelly and his coaching staff.