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ACC National Signing Day recap: Florida State, Clemson impress once again

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Few leagues have transformed their reputation on the field more than the ACC has the past several seasons and the biggest reason for that has been because Clemson and Florida State captured national titles. As a result, it should come as no surprise that those two programs once again paced recruiting for the league when all was said and done on National Signing Day.

The Seminoles remained among the national elite with another stellar class while the Tigers used their limited number of scholarships to land some top-notch talent, possibly including Deshaun Watson’s successor in five-star QB Hunter Johnson (who’s already on campus).

In addition to the league’s two powerhouses, Miami put together another solid class to help them close the gap under Mark Richt while other schools like Pitt and North Carolina pleasantly surprised with some good hauls. It should all make for an even more competitive ACC in the coming seasons and allow us to look back to Wednesday and see where it all began.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 2 overall Cam Akers (RB, Florida State), No. 6 overall Marvin Wilson (DT, FSU), No. 19 overall Tee Higgins (WR, Clemson), No. 28 Khalan Laborn (RB, FSU), No. 30 overall Hunter Johnson (QB, Clemson)

Top 25 classes: No. 7 Florida State, No. 13 Miami, No. 16 Clemson, No. 25 Virginia Tech

Biggest storyline: Florida State and Clemson continue to keep pace with college football’s elite, Miami closing the gap

Same ol’, same ol’ in the ACC when it comes to the recruiting rankings. The league’s past two title winners both turned in great classes full of impact players and continue to keep pace with the elite programs in the sport. The Tigers’ class wasn’t as highly rated as many expected coming off that championship down in Tampa but a lot of that has to do with the limited number of spots that the program had and nothing to do with the talented that signed with Dabo Swinney. The Hurricanes once again signed a quality group and even went outside the state to land speedy four-star receiver Jeff Thomas from Missouri.

Biggest surprise: Wilson heads to Tallahassee.

Wilson was one of the few recruits that had any drama surrounding his decision on Signing Day. While many expected it to come down to either LSU or Ohio State, it was the Seminoles who closed strong to add another top 25 player into the fold. The last five-star defensive tackle the team landed from the Lone Star State worked out well and history might repeat itself with the very talented Wilson.

Don’t sleep on: Louisville

It was a banner season in many ways for the Cardinals and that was true even if the ending was a bit rough on the field. After seeing quarterback Lamar Jackson capture the Heisman Trophy, Bobby Petrino’s staff really went after addressing needs along the offensive line while also adding size and speed on defense. It may not be as highly rated as the top tier ACC programs, but this a good effort on the recruiting trail for Louisville once again.

We’ll see about: Everybody else

The ACC is full of programs that are hard to peg when it comes to recruiting classes simply because they rely so much on developing recruits over several seasons. Duke landed a top 50 classes while Georgia Tech was right around the same area in most team rankings. We probably won’t know about those two or the Wake Forests of the world until a few years down the road so stay patient if you’re a fan of an ACC program that isn’t in the top 25.

ACC unveils 2017 football schedule

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The ACC ended this past football season as the home of the 2016 national champion as well as the best bowl record of any FBS conference as well.  Tuesday, the league turned its attention to next season as the conference released its schedule for 2017.

Wake Forest will kick off the ACC’s 2017 season with a home date against FCS Presbyterian on Thursday, Aug. 31.  The first game against an FBS program comes one day later as Boston College travels to Northern Illinois.  The first conference games will be played in Week 2, and includes Boston College-Wake Forest and North Carolina-Louisville.  Both of those games will be played Sept. 9.

ACC teams will play five neutral site games on the opening weekend of the season: Florida State-Alabama (Sept. 2) and Georgia Tech-Tennessee (Sept. 4) at the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as part of the annual Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games; Virginia Tech-West Virginia at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland; Louisville-Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis; and North Carolina State-South Carolina at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte in the Belk College Kickoff Game.

As has been the case the past couple of seasons, there will be five games against Notre Dame: Boston College (Sept. 16), North Carolina (Oct. 7) and Miami (Nov. 11) all will play host to the football independent. NC State (Oct. 28) and Wake Forest (Nov. 4) will both travel to South Bend.

College Football Playoff champions Clemson will open defense of its title with a home date against Kent State.

“Our ACC football programs are coming off a record-setting season that was capped off with nine postseason wins, including Clemson’s National Championship and Florida State’s Orange Bowl Title,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford in a statement. “Our football success over the last few years has helped put the ACC in one of the strongest positions we have ever enjoyed as a league. As we look ahead to 2017, conference games will continue to be extremely competitive and our schools are once again playing what is arguably the top non-conference schedule in the country. This is a great tribute to our schools and programs, and it will be exciting on a weekly basis for our fans.”

For a complete look at the ACC’s 2017 football schedule, click HERE or HERE or HERE.

Shai McKenzie details restrictions Virginia Tech placed on transfer

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Right or wrong, but unsurprisingly, Shai McKenzie‘s departure from Blacksburg comes with some strings attached.

Nearly two weeks ago, McKenzie took to Twitter to announce his decision to transfer from Virginia Tech and continue his collegiate playing career elsewhere.  On the same social media site Monday, the running back revealed that his future elsewhere won’t include any ACC schools as well as none of the teams on the Hokies’ 2017 and 2018 non-conference schedules.

The latter group includes Notre Dame, West Virginia, East Carolina, Old Dominion, Delaware and William & Mary.

A four-star 2014 recruit, only one signee was rated higher than McKenzie in Tech’s class that year.

The Pennsylvania native’s career actually began with promise as he was second on the team in rushing as a true freshman when he went down with a torn ACL in the fifth game of the season.  At that time, McKenzie had 269 yards on the ground; in the two years since, he ran for a combined 126 yards.  His 2015 season was limited to two games because of the lingering effects of the ACL injury.

Georgia Tech fends off Kentucky for TaxSlayer Bowl victory

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Georgia Tech (9-4) held off a late rally attempt by Kentucky (7-6) and pulled out a well-timed pass play to lead to a cushion-padding touchdown to win the TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, 33-18. Dedrick Mills rushed for 169 yards and a touchdown for Georgia Tech and Justin Thomas passed for 105 yards and ran for 42 more yards and a touchdown in the win over the Wildcats.

Georgia Tech got things started early with the defense putting the first points on the scoreboard. P.J. Davis picked up a loose ball fumbled away by Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson on a third down play on the game’s third play of the game. Davis returned the recovered fumble for a touchdown, which was later followed by a Georgia Tech field goal on the first offensive series for the Yellow Jackets in the first quarter. After Kentucky put a dent on the scoreboard with a field goal early in the second quarter, Georgia Tech padded its lead with 10 more points before halftime. Quarterback Justin Thomas took off running for a 21-yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Georgia Tech continued to pad its decisive lead with a pair of second-half field goals, while Kentucky finally got a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Johnson completed a pass to Dorian Baker from 20 yards out, which needed a video review to confirm. The Wildcats needed 12 plays to cover 75 yards for the score, but Georgia Tech responded by putting together a time-consuming drive over 12 plays resulting in a field goal to create a 16-point advantage with 6:16 left to play.

The win by Georgia Tech helps improve the ACC 7-3 in the bowl season (Louisville lost in the Citrus Bowl at the time this game was played). The ACC will end the bowl season with a winning record against the SEC, even if Clemson should happen to lose to Alabama in the national championship game. Georgia Tech now has three bowl victories under head coach Paul Johnson and ends the season with its second-highest win total under Johnson (Johnson won 11 games twice at Georgia Tech).

Georgia Tech’s 2017 season will begin with another game against an SEC East opponent. The Yellow Jackets are scheduled to face Tennessee on Monday, September 4, 2017 in the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta as one half of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, with Alabama and Florida State playing in the spotlight game of the opening weekend two days prior. For Georgia Tech, this will mark three straight games against SEC East opponents with a regular season finale against rival Georgia, this bowl game against Kentucky and the 2017 opener against Tennessee.

Kentucky will start the 2017 season on the road against Southern Miss on Saturday, September 2, 2017. Kentucky avoids the toughest of crossover opponents from the SEC West next season by getting Ole Miss at home and Mississippi State on the road. Kentucky will not face Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Arkansas or Texas A&M. Kentucky will also host rival Louisville in Lexington at the end of the 2017 season. The Wildcats will hope to back a second-straight postseason bowl trip for the first time since going to five straight bowl games from 2006 through 2010.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 31 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 31 bowl menu, which today features two ACC vs. SEC matchups as well as a pair of games that may garner a little bit of attention beginning mid-afternoon and onto the night.

WHO: No. 20 LSU (7-4) vs. No. 13 Louisville (9-3)
WHAT: The 70th Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl
WHEN: 11 a.m. ET on ABC
WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
THE SKINNY
: Of all the non-playoff games, and aside from the Orange Bowl, this might be the most anticipated bowl game of the 2016-17 postseason cycle, at least from my perch on this part of the world.  The most obvious — and deliciously delectable — storyline for the first-ever meeting between the two football programs is Louisville’s high-powered offense, triggered by Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, that’s second nationally in points per game (45.3) squaring off with an LSU defense that’s sixth in the country in keeping the opposition off the scoreboard (16.4 ppg).  The Tigers allowed more than 21 points in a game just once this season, a 54-39 win over Texas A&M in the regular-season finale; the Cardinals scored 24 or more points in every game but one in 2016, a 36-10 loss to Houston in their penultimate regular-season game.  One of the more underrated, under-the-radar matchups in this game?   A U of L run defense that’s a very stingy ninth (110 ypg) versus an LSU rushing attack that, despite Leonard Fournette sitting this one out, is 19th at 238.1 yards per game.  That said, this game is all about how a pair of defensive masterminds, Ed Orgeron, the permanent replacement for Les Miles as head coach, and coordinator Dave Aranda, plan to handle the dynamic, all-purpose talent that is Jackson.  Houston provided LSU a road map of sorts, limiting Jackson to 211 yards through the air (on 20-of-43 passing) and a season-low 33 yards rushing in a Nov. 17 win that officially eliminated the U of L from playoff contention.  Orgeron and Aranda have had nearly four weeks to devise a game plan to mirror and match the Cougars’ success, albeit with athletes vastly superior overall to what UH has at its disposal.  Watching the chess match between the Jackson-led Bobby Petrino offense and the Tigers defense will be absolutely fascinating to see unfold.  One potential X factor: Danny Etling.  Since taking over as the starting quarterback the first month of the season, Etling has steadily righted a listing passing ship, culminating a mini resurgence in that phase of the offense with a 324-yard performance in the last game of the regular season.   Given how prolific Louisville’s offense has been, and the stoutness of their run defense, Etling may be forced to match or exceed that statistical breakout just to keep pace.  Fun fact: the last six Citrus Bowls were all decided by at least 10 points, with five of those decided by 14 or more and two by 34 or more.  The last single-digit game?  The one following the 2009 season, which saw Penn State come away with a 19-17 win over… LSU, of course.
THE LINE: Louisville, +3
THE PREDICTION: LSU 31, Louisville 30

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WHO: Georgia Tech (8-4) vs. Kentucky (7-5)
WHAT: The 71st TaxSlayer Bowl
WHEN: 11 a.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Florida
THE SKINNY
: A 2-3 start to the season that included a nine-point loss to Southern Miss had the pitchfork, torch-carrying Lexington mob howling at Mark Stoops‘ door, with the Kentucky head coach’s seat that was already warm entering 2016 heating up significantly.  A 5-2 close to the year, including a win over in-state rival Louisville, however, completely changed the tenor of the conversation, with the Wildcats qualifying for a bowl for the first time in the four-year Stoops era and first time for the football program overall since 2010.  A win in this game would give UK eight this season, the most since hitting the same mark in 2007.  Kentucky’s opponent comes into this game on an uptick as well, with Georgia Tech winning five of their last six games, a stretch that included road wins over then-No. 14 Virginia Tech and in-state rival Georgia.  If you’re a fan of rushing offense, this game is for you as Tech is 10th nationally at 257.4 ypg while UK is not far behind at 16th at 241.3.  The Wildcats, though, are tied for 107th in stopping the run at 225 per game (the Yellow Jackets are a middling 65th, more than 50 yards fewer than their SEC opponent).  Speaking of the SEC, that conference has claimed the last two TaxSlayer Bowls and four of the last six.  The ACC hasn’t won one since after the 2009 season, a Florida State triumph in what was Bobby Bowden‘s final game of a Hall of Fame career.
THE LINE: Kentucky, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Georgia Tech 24, Kentucky 20

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WHO: No. 4 Washington (12-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (13-0)
WHAT: The College Football Playoff at the 49th Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl
WHEN: 3 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Georgia Dome, Atlanta, Georgia
THE LINE: Washington, +14½
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.

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WHO: No. 3 Ohio State (11-1) vs. No. 2 Clemson (12-1)
WHAT
: The College Football Playoff at the 46th PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
WHEN
: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE
: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
THE LINE
: Clemson, +3
For the remainder of an extended preview, click HERE.