CFT Predicts: the ACC

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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.

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John Taylor’s Prediction:

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

COASTAL
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

Will Arden Key play in LSU’s opener vs. BYU? ‘I don’t think so’ says Ed Orgeron

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In late July, Ed Orgeron was non-committal when it came to the availability of one of the most talented pass rushers in the nation for the opener. Thursday, the head coach was a little more committed, but not in a positive way for Arden Key‘s availability for LSU’s lid-lifter against BYU.

“I don’t think so,” Orgeron said according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune when asked if Key will play vs. the Cougars. “I’m not sure but I don’t think so. I’m not expecting it. But nothing that dude does surprises me. He’s going to go to his doctor next week and we should know pretty soon when he’s going to play.”

In mid-February, LSU announced that Key had “decided to take some time away from football… for personal reasons.” Four months later, the football program announced the defensive end had rejoined the team; at the same time, it was announced that Key had recently undergone shoulder surgery.

It’s the shoulder issue that will very likely sideline Key for the Sept. 2 opener in Houston.  Especially if the issue extends beyond that opener, this would be a huge loss for the Tigers.

A four-star 2015 signee, Key was a consensus Freshman All-American his first season with the Tigers after starting nine games. Last season as a true sophomore, he led the team with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks. The latter total set a school record.

Following that breakout campaign, he was named second-team All-SEC.

CFT 2017 Season Previews: Heisman Watch List

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While every college football player dreams of being on the last team standing at the end of a season and winning a national title, just about all of them have struck the stiff arm pose and imagined holding up the Heisman Trophy as well. It may be a team sport when all is said and done, but the most prestigious individual award around is the entry ticket to one of the most exclusive clubs on the planet.

Adding to the normal intrigue surrounding the race to be the most outstanding college football player, the 2017 campaign for the Heisman is shaping up to be the most exciting — and wide open — in a long time. To start with, there’s a dynamic quarterback in Lamar Jackson who won the award last December and could be even better after an offseason developing as a passer. Add in veterans with plenty of name recognition like Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett, to go along with an eye-popping group of tailbacks, and the amount of players who have the potential to be holding up the bronze statue is both lengthy and impressive.

Who are the favorites? Here’s CFTalk’s look at all things Heisman and which players will be in the running for the most famous award in all of college football.

SAM DARNOLD, QB, USC
2016 Stats: 3,086 yards passing, 31 TD, 9 INT, 250 yards rushing, 2 TD
The golden boy of Troy is the prohibitive favorite to take home the Heisman Trophy this year and it’s hard not to figure out why. Playing the marquee position on the field for a powerhouse like USC helps but make no mistake, Darnold showed everybody what he could do in reeling off nine straight wins with the Trojans and capping it off with a thrilling five-score performance in the Rose Bowl. He’ll put up plenty of numbers through the air and on the ground and should be in thick of the race even if the Trojans take a loss.

BAKER MAYFIELD, QB, OKLAHOMA
2016 Stats: 3,965 yards, 40 TD, 8 INT, 177 yards rushing, 6 TD
Mayfield has finished in the top five of voting for the Heisman… twice. Could the third time be the charm in 2017? Based only on the numbers, you would think so as the Sooners signal-caller is as efficient as he is insanely productive. The return of the Big 12 title game presents one additional opportunity for Oklahoma’s quarterback to leave a lasting impression on voters and that might just be enough for one of the best in the game to finally be recognized as such.

LAMAR JACKSON, QB, LOUISVILLE
2016 Stats: 3,543 yards passing, 30 TD, 9 INT, 1,571 yards rushing, 21 TD
Could Archie Griffin have company? Jackson has a shot to repeat and win the Heisman again but the road will not be easy if history is any indication. That said, few possess  the kind of talent that the Cardinals’ QB does as a true dual threat who can find the end zone on any play. He’s expected to be even sharper throwing the ball going into his junior year and if he can stave off the losing streak like the one at the end of last year, he’ll be right back in New York again.

J.T. BARRETT, QB, OHIO STATE
2016 Stats: 2,555 yards passing, 24 TD, 7 INT, 845 yards rushing, 9 TD
Barrett became a household name when he helped lead the Buckeyes to a national title but the old man of this year’s Heisman frontrunners is hoping to go out with a bang by returning to that form he showed early on. While the OSU passing game hasn’t quite been explosive the past two years, the addition of offensive innovator Kevin Wilson as the new coordinator should provide a huge boost in terms of playcalling and developing Barrett as a passer. Playing for a marquee team that will once again be in playoff contention is a plus already and all the QB needs to do is follow through and deliver.

SAQUON BARKLEY, RB, PENN STATE
2016 Stats: 1,496 yards rushing, 18 TD, 402 yards receiving, 4 TD
Quarterbacks always have a leg up when it comes to the Heisman but it was just two years ago that running backs were the talk of the town when it came time to vote. That could be the case once again with freaky athletes like Barkley around. He was terrific in helping the Nittany Lions to a Big Ten title and has a chance to rack up even more numbers in the team’s explosive offense.

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
2016 Stats: 1,387 yards rushing, 15 TD, 106 yards receiving, 1 TD
Leonard Fournette received all the Heisman hype for the Tigers but his former backup may prove to be the one who can actually bring home the award to the bayou. Even splitting carries last year he managed to rack up over 1,300 yards and average nearly seven yards a touch. If LSU can threaten to win the SEC West behind Guice, he certainly could run all the way to the Big Apple to capture the trophy.

Chasing the Pack:

Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama — Heisman buzz started late in the year after he led the Tide to the national title so it stands to reason the dual-threat QB on one of the top teams in the country will be in the mix as a sophomore.

Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama — Tide tailbacks have fared well when it comes to the Heisman the past few years and Scarbrough looks to be next in line based on the way he finished 2016 up.

Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State — He’ll have a big time opportunity to state his case by knocking off Alabama in the opener and put up numbers the rest of the way in ACC play.

Derwin James, DB, Florida State — Defenders are almost an afterthought for the trophy but Jabrill Peppers was a finalist last year and James is just as versatile — and perhaps more dangerous.

Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn — Gus Malzahn has already turned one transfer QB into a Heisman winner and one-year wonder, what’s another?

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State — The Cowboys signal-caller has the best receiving corps in the country and will be able to pile up numbers every week against Big 12 defenses.

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA — He drew plenty of attention this offseason for his mouth, now he’ll try to wow voters with his arm by sparking a turnaround in Los Angeles.

Quinton Flowers, QB, USF — Group of Five candidates have a steep hill to climb but if anybody can emulate Lamar Jackson and overwhelm through the air and on the ground, it’s a dynamic player like Flowers.

Twice-arrested Nate Howard dismissed by Mizzou

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Not surprisingly, Nate Howard‘s time at Missouri has come to an unceremonious end.

Thursday evening, Howard (pictured, No. 88) tweeted a missive that, along with some emojis, read “Once a Tiger Always a Tiger! farewell Mizzou Nation!” Not long after, the football program confirmed that Howard has been dismissed from Barry Odom‘s team.

Per the school, Odom will actively help the former Tiger find a new college football home.

In June, the defensive lineman was charged with possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana and no vehicle registration. The controlled substance charge is a felony. For that, he was indefinitely suspended.

While still on suspension, Howard was arrested on an out-of-county warrant related to his failure to appear on a speeding ticket this week. That proved to be the final straw for Odom.

A three-star member of the Tigers’ 2015 recruiting class, Howard was rated as the No. 7 player at any position in the state of Missouri. He played in 11 games as a true freshman, recording 12 tackles and two tackles for loss.

While his playing time dipped to four games last year, he exited spring practice this year in line to claim a starting job this season.

For ‘personal reasons,’ starting BYU LB Francis Bernard will redshirt the 2017 season

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BYU’s linebacking corps has taken a significant and somewhat unexpected hit on the brink of the start of a new season.

The football program announced Thursday that Francis Bernard (pictured, No. 13) will miss the 2017 season because of what were described as unspecified “personal reasons.” The linebacker, at least for now, is scheduled to return as a playing member of the Cougars as a fourth-year junior in 2018.

Despite not playing in games, the school stated in its release that “the 6-foot-1, 240-pound outside linebacker will continue to participate in all team practices, meetings and activities during the upcoming season.”

“The fact that he is still around means we will still have his presence here,” senior captain Fred Warner said according to the Daily Herald. “We lift each other up. Anytime we face any adversity, we are all there for each other. We’re a tight-knit group.”

Bernard started 12 games for the Cougars last season. His 80 tackles in 2016 were third on the team.