ACC Championship - Virginia Tech v Clemson

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.

———————————————

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

FCS may rebrand its championship game as a bowl game

Members of the North Dakota State football team hold the championship trophy following their FCS Championship NCAA college football game against Illinois State, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Frisco, Texas. North Dakota State won the game 29-27 for their fourth straight national championship.  (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
AP Photo/Tim Sharp
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As if there were not enough bowl game sin college football, we could be on our way to adding one more. Well, at least in name.

The Football Championship Subdivision national championship game could be rebranded as a bowl game in an attempt to spark more interest from the casual college football fans. Inspired by the relative success of the inaugural Celebration Bowl, played between the champions of the MEAC and SWAC, the Missouri Valley Conference is reportedly leading the charge to rename the FCS national championship game in a marketing ploy to generate more buzz with the help of the NCAA and television partner ESPN, which broadcast the national championship game in addition to providing coverage for additional playoff game sin the FCS postseason.

“The public understands playoffs, so we benefit from that for the first rounds of the championship,” said Patty Viverito, commissioner of  the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Pioneer League (just imagine if Jim Delany was the commissioner of the Big Ten and the MAC). “But then when it comes time for the championship game, because it’s in the mix of what is the bowl frenzy, it gets lost. So we think we can have the best of both worlds by having the playoffs leading up to the ‘Football Championship Bowl’ – however it is branded, but with the name ‘bowl’ so that we become part of the bowl lineup.”

This past season’s FCS national championship game was played on January 9, 2016. The championship game moved to January starting during the 2010 season. Previously the game had been played in mid-December. The move to push the championship game back closer to the BCS Championship Game was a strategic move to draw more attention to its national title game. This occurred a year after the game relocated to Frisco, Texas from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“To be in the same space, if you will, as the FBS bowls was absolutely tremendous,” MEAC commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas said, referring to the Celebration Bowl, which preceded the New Mexico Bowl and its official kickoff to the FBS bowl season. “We were the first game on ABC to start the bowl season. It was branded that way, it was marketed that way, it was promoted that way.”

Changing the championship game’s name to a bowl could have a downfall attached to it. While bowls certainly spark interest for some, it could also lead the game to fall under the radar amid a full slate of bowl games during bowl season. Having the game defined in title as being a national championship game could have a more positive effect on how the game is viewed by the casual fan.

VIDEO: Pitt RB James Conner working out with Panthers

James Conner
AP Photo/The News & Observer, Robert Willett
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Pittsburgh running back James Conner is continuing tow work out with his Panther teammates despite an ongoing battle with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest. If you need video evidence to serve as a reminder just how tough Conner is, here he is putting work in, complete with a summersault at the end of his drill.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi previously said he believes Conner will be able to play for the Panthers in the fall.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said last week. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Judging by that one short video clip shared on Narduzzi’s Twitter account, Conner certainly doesn’t look as though he has missed a beat.

LSU adds RB coach Jabbar Juluke from Texas Tech

LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. LSU won 19-7. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman
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If there ends up being college football in the state of Louisiana in 2016, LSU has a running backs coach lined up. LSU announced the hiring of running backs coach Jabbar Juluke Saturday morning. Juluke joins LSU after previously coaching at Texas Tech. He fills the vacancy left on the staff by Frank Wilson, who accepted a position as head coach at UTSA.

“Jabbar is a veteran running backs coach with strong ties to New Orleans,” LSU head coach Les Miles said in a released statement. “He has a proven track record of success at both the college and high school level and he’s going to do a great job of continuing to develop our players both on and off the field. Jabbar is a great fit for us and we are excited to have him join our program.”

Juluke spent three years coaching running backs at Louisiana Tech before heading to Texas Tech. The New Orleans native was  a high school head coach for nine years and graduated from Southern University, so it goes without saying he has a good feel for the landscape in Louisiana, which has clearly been a big recruiting factory for LSU over the years. At Louisiana Tech, Juluke coached Kenneth Dixon, who would go on to set NCAA all-time rushing records for touchdowns (which was then topped by Navy’s Keenan Reynolds), points scored and games with a touchdown scored. Now he will get the opportunity to coach one of the nation’s best running backs, Leonard Fournette.

LSU also announced the departure of wide receivers coach Tony Ball, who is leaving to pursue other coaching opportunities.

Urban Meyer speaks out against early signing period in recruiting

FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2015, file photo, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer leads his team onto the Michigan Stadium field before an NCAA college football game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. Ohio State University has extended its current sponsorship contract with Nike by 15 years in a deal worth $252 million. The university and the Beaverton, Oregon-based athletic apparel company announced the deal on Thursday. The current partnership had been scheduled to end in July 2018. It will now continue to 2033. (AP Photo/Tony Ding, File)
AP Photo/Tony Ding, File
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Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is no fan of the idea of signing recruits earlier than the traditional signing day in early February. Having pulled in the top classes in the Big Ten each season since his arrival in Columbus, what reason would he have to change the recruiting guidelines? With the topic of a possible early signing period continuing to be discussed at multiple levels, Meyer is standing firm on his stance.

I’m not a fan of that,” Meyer said this week, according to Cleveland.com. “You’re moving it just forward and forward, what if a kid wants to change his mind? (If) he wants to change his mind because of coaching changes or other circumstances, the player should be allowed to change his mind.”

Meyer knows all about recruits changing their minds. In the weeks leading up to National Signing Day, Meyer and Ohio State managed to flip a pair of four-star players previously committed to Maryland on the same day; quarterback Dwayne Haskins and linebacker Keandre Jones. Had either of those two been locked to a commitment with Maryland by way of an early signing period, Ohio State never would have benefitted from the late switches. That also addresses another concern over the early signing period. What happens when a kid commits early only to see the head coach fired or accept another job elsewhere? Should that player be bound to his agreement or be allowed to reopen his recruitment later in the recruiting cycle? That in itself opens a door for concerns, as time could be running out on a recruit as scholarships fill up and programs may be lacking the interest they once had for a variety of reasons (of course, if a four or five-star athlete goes back on the market it is doubtful that kid would not find a decent landing spot even late in the recruiting cycle).

Meyer also addressed another concern with an early signing period that delves into the shadier aspects of recruiting, including contacting high school juniors.”Also, if you’re going to let people contact a junior in a high school in spring, just visualize a great player, what that will look like,” he said. “So don’t go to class the month of May because you’re going to be meeting with coaches all day long.

“Also, if you’re going to let people contact a junior in a high school in spring, just visualize a great player, what that will look like,” Meyer said. “So don’t go to class the month of May because you’re going to be meeting with coaches all day long.”

That could potentially be a tad extreme, but Meyer knows this stuff happens already.

“And they say, well, coaches are doing it anyways. Well fire the coaches, fine the coaches, and then put the schools on probation for the schools that are doing that,” Meyer continued. “So that’s just not the Ohio State — I don’t want to speak for Gene Smith — but I speak for our coaching staff. We feel very strongly about strong regulation and keeping the recruiting calendar as is.”

It would be interesting to know if Meyer felt the same way about this early signing period topic if he were still the head coach at Bowling Green or Utah, but given his current situation — a mighty fine position indeed — as a head coach with a national championship and in charge of one of the true recruiting giants in the game right now, it is only natural Meyer would prefer the status quo. Have no doubt, however, that if an early signing period is adopted and implemented, Meyer and the Buckeyes will be one of the more aggressive programs in the game. Ohio State is already doing a fine job lining up top recruits (Ohio State already has seven four or five-star commitments for the Class of 2017), and a chance to get some of those commitments signed earlier would most certainly be welcomed in Columbus.