CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: ACC Predictions

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As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the ACC. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. Florida State (Last year: 14-0; beat Auburn in BCS Championship Game)
It is easy to make the Seminoles the chalk favorite when evaluating the rest of the ACC. Despite losing some key players from a national championship roster, Florida State returns Heisman Trophy winning Jameis Winston and a deep roster that has benefitted and prepared for this moment since the day Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach. The depth is there with loads of quality all around. Karlos Williams should have a big year at running back and Winston’s top targets in the open field will be Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary. The defense has a few holes to plug, but that should not be of much concern. Florida State looks to have the top unit or second-best unit in the entire ACC at every position on the field. There is not one game on the 2014 schedule Florida State should not be the favorite in, and they could keep this winning streak going into the playoffs. This team is clearly in College Football Playoff or bust mode with this amount of talent and the level of expectations in Tallahassee. Of all teams around the country, Florida State looks to be the most likely to be able to afford a blip in the loss column and still be invited to the playoff. But who can beat them? Anybody?

2. Clemson (Last year: 11-2; beat Ohio State in Orange Bowl)
The distance between Clemson and Florida State at the top of the Atlantic Division is not as widespread as last season’s meeting might suggest, but it did widen a bit heading into 2014 with the loss of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Having Vic Beasley back on defense is rather nice. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris could have his work cut out for him in 2014 and Clemson could fall behind early if adjustments are not made. Getting to October with a winning record is not exactly a given with road trips to Georgia and Florida State lined up. Clemson should be a better team by the end of the season once they go through some growing pains early on.

3. Louisville (Last year: 12-1; beat Miami in Russell Athletic Bowl as member of AAC)
This Louisville team may be a far cry from the team we saw a year ago, but they could have a better debut season lined up compared to last year’s ACC rookies at Syracuse and Pittsburgh (and they both went to a bowl game and returned home with a win). The question is what does Bobby Petrino to get the Cardinals off on the right foot and can he continue to work some quarterback magic as the Cardinals enter the post-Teddy Bridgewater era? For starters, he feeds Dominique Brown and Michael Dyer on the ground and gets the ball to DeVante Parker through the air. Will Gardner will be the likely heir to Bridgewater’s throne under center, with just 12 pass attempts last season. The defense should be prepared for an adjustment period after returning juts four starters from last season.

4. Syracuse (Last year: 7-6; beat Minnesota in Texas Bowl)
Syracuse turned out to be a nice little surprise last season, but running back Terrell Hunt is no longer a secret. The Orange will let him carry the offense with his legs and his arm once again. If he can cut down on the interceptions and tack on a few more touchdowns through the air he will give defenses a little something extra to think about. With 15 starters back, the Orange look to have a good amount of experience on both sides of the football. They are not at a level ready to compete for a top spot in the division, but Syracuse could make a push for a third place finish if some pieces come together. The Orange have a schedule that could set up for a great start, but a challenging October will see Syracuse go through some rough spots. How they play through it will tell how their season will end.

5. Boston College (Last year: 7-6; lost to Arizona in Advocare V100 Bowl)
Steve Addazio has already breathed new life into this program, but what happens this season could be crucial. Boston College only brings back a handful of players from last season’s 7-6 squad, and they must find a way to replace 2,000-yard rusher and Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams. The primary running duties will likely be handed off to Myles Willis, and quarterback transfer Tyler Murphy from Florida should embrace a fresh opportunity with a head coach who knows all about him. The spring showed Boston College will once again be likely to rely on the running game, but help could be on the way in the passing game with some receivers getting into the mix.

6. North Carolina State (Last year: 3-9)
The 2013 season was a painful one for the Wolfpack, somewhat literally. With a rash of injuries across the roster, NC State hardly got a chance to see what it could do with new head coach Dave Doeren on the sideline. With any luck that should change this season, with 14 starters due to return this season. There is plenty of work to be done on offense and defense in Raleigh, but having a steady quarterback situation with the transfer of Jacoby Brisset from Florida could help.

7. Wake Forest (Last year: 4-8)
New head coach Dave Clawson will have to be patient as he takes over a Wake Forest team in need of improvement across the field. The offense has averaged fewer than 19 points per game each of the past two seasons. Can that possibly go one more year? Competing in this division does not make anything easier for the Demon Deacons. They could jump out to a promising start (3-1 is not completely unrealistic), but once ACC play opens it could be a long fall.

COASTAL DIVISION

1. North Carolina (Last year: 7-6; beat Cincinnati in Belk Bowl)
The biggest thing going for North Carolina is momentum. After getting off to a rough start in 2013 (1-5), the Tar Heels kicked things in gear and ended the season winning six of the final seven games of the year, including a bowl victory. Larry Fedora finally seems to have things in order for a potential run to a division title, and he does so with 15 starters coming back this season. Marquise Williams will keep the dual-threat going for the Tar Heels after leading the team in rushing in 2013 and second to Bryn Renner in passing, but getting running back TJ Logan more involved should be in the plans. North Carolina may be a little in development on the defensive line, but the linebackers and secondary are in really good shape this fall.

2. Miami (Last year: 9-4; lost to Louisville in Russell Athletic Bowl)

It is hard to believe but Miami is entering its 11th season as a member of the ACC and is still searching for a trip to the ACC Championship Game. Could this finally be the year for the Hurricanes? Al Golden certainly has a running back to lead his offense there with Duke Johnson and the defense did put up some better numbers in 2013 compared to 2012 by knocking off roughly four points and 60 yards per game. And for the first time in a while Miami posted back-to-back seasons with a positive turnover margin. Want more? The offense has increased its average scoring each season Golden has been in Miami. Yet, they can’t seem to take a firm grasp on the Coastal Division. Why? Inconsistent play. Miami will be challenged early with road games at Louisville and Nebraska and a home date against Arkansas State is no guarantee. Miami also catches Florida State on the schedule, which could hurt their chances in the division race when other possible contenders skip FSU (and Clemson).

3. Virginia Tech (Last year: 8-5; lost to UCLA in Sun Bowl)
Virginia Tech returns nine starters on offense, but the Hokies break in a new starting quarterback. Fortunately, transfer Michael Brewer is not without experience and could be ready to step right into action in Blacksburg. The offensive line has just one hold to fill as well, so stability and uniformity should not be a concern. Virginia Tech’s biggest concern will just be scoring points after averaging just 22.5 points per game last season. And that’s the catch. Virginia Tech only allowed 19.3 points per game last season, so the Hokies probably should have won more than eight games. There is a chance to get off to a good start too, because the road trip at Ohio State looks much more manageable now with Braxton Miller out for the season.

4. Pittsburgh (Last year: 7-6; beat Bowling Green in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl)
Pittsburgh loses a monster on the defensive line with Aaron Donald now in the NFL, and the secondary is extremely thin in light of some offseason news, so to say the defense is a concern is putting it nicely for the Panthers. The Panthers also allowed more points per game than they scored, which tends to be a rarity for a team with a winning record.  If the defense can clamp down just a bit more, Pittsburgh could easily play their way to a Coastal title, although they will win ugly at times. Pittsburgh has young receiver Tyler Boyd, already one of the top receivers in the ACC, and a steady running stable of James Conner and Isaac Bennett. The schedule is also extremely favorable for Pittsburgh, with no Florida State or Clemson and home games against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke.

5. Duke (Last year: 10-4; lost to Texas A&M in Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Let us not attempt to take anything away from the great work done in Durham by David Cutcliffe and his Blue Devils the last two seasons. Duke going to back-to-back bowl games was something that could once only be dreamed of. Can they get back to the postseason for a third straight year? Absolutely, but will the rest of the division and the typical football powers rebound a little to block a return trip to the ACC Championship? Duke was set to return 14 starters, but injuries have already taken a toll with an ACL tear to All-ACC linebacker Kelby Brown and another to tight end Braxton Deaver. On top of that, Duke lost quarterback Brandon Connette to a transfer to Fresno State. All is not lost though. Duke still has receiver Jamison Crowder, one of the best in the ACC, and the schedule avoids Florida State and Clemson once again. No school in the country will have an easier October either.

6. Georgia Tech (Last year: 7-6; lost to Mississippi in Music City Bowl)
Georgia Tech’s strategy will be the same as it has always been under head coach Paul Johnson; Run, run, option run. Will the Yellow Jackets be able to use that offensive style effectively enough to take the heat off of Johnson? The depth on offense is not great, although six starters return from 2013. One starter not back this season is quarterback Vad Lee, who decided to transfer this offseason. That opens the door for sophomore Justin Thomas under center, and he played sparingly last season. The big concern will be the defense. Georgia Tech allowed just 22.8 points per game last season, the lowest average since 2008, but just four starters return for the new year. Georgia Tech may still have enough to make a run at the wide-open Coastal Division (avoiding Florida State on the schedule helps, and they get Clemson at home).

7. Virginia (Last year: 2-10)
If there is one coach that is latched into the hot seat in the ACC, it may just be Virginia’s Mike London. The head coach of the Cavaliers. Virginia lost their top offensive player in tight end Jake McGee (he went to Florida), so the need for returning players to step up in 2014 cannot be overstated. Virginia does return eight starters on offense, with a handful of young players scattered throughout. Running back Kevin Parks should be the focus of the offense after a 1,000-yard season with 11 touchdowns. The defense returns nine starters from 2013, and the hope is playing experience last season will help slow down a trend in allowing more points per game each of the past three seasons. The defense was gashed for 404 yards per game last season, the highest per-game average dating back to 2007. One positive might be the number of sacks (28) was the highest sack total for Virginia since recording 29 in 2008. But Virginia has a long way to go to improve on two wins from last season.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Kliff Kingsbury admitted to doing something at Texas Tech a number of coaches in college football probably do

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Former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, now the head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, recently admitted to using fake social media accounts as a way to monitor what his players were doing in social media. The NFL world is reacting to the story now as Kingsbury prepares for his first season as an NFL head coach, with Pro Football Talk‘s Mike Florio noting Kingsbury will likely be asked about his social media conduct when he addresses the media for the first time since the story broke in the Arizona Republic at training camp.

The question college football people are probably wondering is “so what?”

The act of using fake social media profiles to keep tabs on others can be a risky move. Not only can it come off as deceiving because, well, it is, but improper use of fake social media accounts can lead to more trouble than it is worth sometimes. But was Kingsbury doing anything he should not have been doing with regard to his players at Texas Tech?

More and more often, college football coaches and staff members are stressing the importance of players keep their noses clean when it comes to social media habits. The problem is there are some difficult ways to constantly monitor and act on any player’s personal account, which is why going under the radar with a fake account seems to make sense. If a player is more likely to respond or react to another online profile they think is not their coach, they may be more open to expressing themselves more naturally. And that may be exactly the point for Kingsbury or any other coach who chooses to check in on players through a fake account.

We may never know for sure, but there could potentially be hundreds of college football or athletics staffers who are tasked with chatting with players through a fake account. And if anything fishy or questionable comes up, the staff can act on it accordingly as they best see fit. Coaches and staff members are there not only to win games but also pave a solid path for their players for life beyond the football field. In today’s world, having a good sense of how to appropriately handle social media can never be stressed enough.

Every coach and staff has a different way to handle social media, of course. Some programs force players to log out of their social media accounts during the season. Others don’t set any limits on social media screen time. There may not be a perfect solution, but with players getting more chances to express themselves directly, it is increasingly more important to have staffers logged in and tuned in to what is going on in the world of social media to ensure their program and university, and the player, will not cross any lines that don’t need to be crossed.

In light of this Kingsbury story, I fully expect one of the many anonymous coaches polls at conference media days to ask whether or not they or another staff member monitor players with fake accounts. And I’d wager a hefty sum the majority of them would confirm it.

Kingsbury was fired by Texas Tech last season. He then was named offensive coordinator at USC and eventually left the Trojans to become the next head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

The last time the Washington Huskies won the national championship…

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The top playoff contender from the Pac-12 in recent seasons has been Washington. The Huskies have risen to the top of the conference under head coach Chris Petersen with two Pac-12 titles and one appearance in the College Football Playoff, but the quest to win the school’s first national championship in football since earning a split title in 1991 continues as we approach the 2019 season.

Washington took home the coaches poll’s top spot for the 1991 season after polishing off a 12-0 record with a victory over No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The run to the split national championship was the first for head coach Don James, who won multiple coaching awards for the success of the 1991 season to pave his path to the College Football Hall of Fame. The Huskies also featured All-Americans Steve Emtman (who also won the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy), Mario Bailey, Dave Hoffman and Lincoln Kennedy. Washington’s defense remains one of the best college football has seen in the modern era.

Expectations were high for Washington in 1991 after coming off a 10-2 season the year before. Washington solidified their hype as a national title contender with a second-half rally on the road against No. 9 Nebraska and three straight blowouts before a big road win at No. 7 California in mid-October. Aside from a defensive battle on the road against USC in November, there was little standing in the way of Washington and a national championship claim. Even Big Ten champion Michigan was little match for the Huskies, who took the Rose Bowl with a 34-14 victory.

Washington fans continue to dream of seeing their Huskies experience similar feats as the program looks to defend their Pac-12 crown this fall. Let’s take a snapshot of the last time Washington won the national title, nearly three decades ago.

Last National Title Season: 1991 (28 years and counting)

Who was President?

George H. Bush was in the second half of his presidency when Washington was winning it all in 1991. The elder Bush was in the White House when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Dan Quayle was still a year away from making his “Murphy Brown” speech, and we didn’t know he was unaware how “potato” is spelled.

In related news, current President Donald Trump filed for the first of his six bankruptcy cases in 1991 with the Trump Taj Mahal.

What was on TV?

The top-rated TV programs of 1991 included NBC’s “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” and “Wings.” Other shows people were tuning into at the time included “Roseanne,” “Murphy Brown,” and newcomer “Home Improvement.”

Perhaps one of the more notable developments in television in 1991 was the return of Seinfeld to NBC. After five initial trial episodes from 1989 through 1990, Seinfeld became a mainstay in the NBC lineup beginning in 1991 with a 12-episode order.

What movies were hot?

There were some true masterpieces released at the box office in 1991, including the animated Disney adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” But nobody could overtake Arnold Schwarzenegger with the blockbuster release of “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” It may be the movie that really first alerted us to the dangers of technology thinking for itself and the term “liquid metal.”

How many more Terminator movies to come before Washington wins it all again?

We should also note that we were first introduced to the legendary Rufio in 1991 as well.

Who was on the cover of NCAA Football?

Nobody, because it didn’t exist yet.

Washington’s last national title claim was staked two years before the introduction of “Bill Walsh College Football,” which eventually evolved to be the “NCAA Football” franchise of games from EA Sports. Even the long-running Madden NFL franchise was still very early in its beginnings in 1991, with the release of John Madden Football II on the PC and John Madden Football ’92 on the SEGA Genesis.

There was, however, “All-American College Football,” a DOS college football simulator.

A blue hedgehog also became the mascot for the SEGA Genesis in 1991. Sonic the Hedgehog got a jump on the competition but Nintendo released the Super NES just before the 1991 college football season started, with Super Mario World included.

What else happened in 1991?

One of the greatest World Series came to a wild ending with the Minnesota Twins topping the Atlanta Braves with a 1-0 victory in Game 7. The Twins won Games 6 and 7 at home in extra innings to capture their most recent World Series championship.

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls topped Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 1991, bringing an end to the Showtime Lakers era and ushering in the Jordan Reign in the NBA. The summer after Washington’s national championship run would see Jordan and Johnson team up at the Olympics as members of the United States’s Dream Team.

At the end of the 1991 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills lost their second straight Super Bowl with a loss to the Washington Redskins (also the most recent title won by that Washington).

Washington defeated him in the Rose Bowl, but Michigan’s Desmond Howard won the Heisman Trophy in the 1991 season.

The 1991 season was also the first season the Big East sponsored football, although official standings would begin a year later. Inaugural conference members included Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia. Nebraska won the Big Eight. Texas A&M won the Southwest Conference. The Pac-12 was still the Pac-10.

A lot has changed in college football since 1991, although Clemson did win the ACC!

As for current head coach Petersen, he was a wide receivers coach at UC Davis. Alabama head coach Nick Saban was in his first year as a defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns (coached by Bill Belichick!), and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney was suiting up to play wide receiver for Alabama.

Washington remains the Pac-12’s most recent College Football Playoff team

There have been just two teams from the Pac-12 to reach the College Football Playoff. Oregon reached the national championship game in the inaugural season of the playoff format, but only Washington has been able to manage a single invitation to the playoff since. The Huskies were overpowered by Alabama in the Peach Bowl in 2016, with the Crimson Tide later being defeated by Clemson in the national championship game. Like the Big Ten, the Pac-12 has struggled to get its champion into the playoff at the end of the year largely due to the conference beating itself up at the worst possible times.

Washington’s bid for a possible playoff spot last year were given a hard speed bump right out of the gates with a neutral site loss to Auburn. Although the Huskies went on to win the Pac-12, a trip to the Rose Bowl was all that was ever in the cards for the Huskies, who were taken down by Big Ten champion Ohio State last January. Coming into the 2019 season, Washington figures to face some stiff competition once again from within the division as Oregon is being viewed as a team on the rise and the Huskies have some roster turnover in place.

Ex-Texas Tech RB Da’Leon Ward announces transfer to FCS program

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Former Texas Tech running back Da’Leon Ward is about to jump out of the transfer portal, ready to suit up for a brand new program. Ward announced on Twitter this week he is committed to Stephen F. Austin University, allowing him to stay in the state of Texas and remain eligible for the upcoming college football season.

Last season with Texas Tech, Ward was the second-leading rusher on the team with 341 yards and three touchdowns. Ward was out of the mix for the bulk of the spring practices under new Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells, although the reasoning behind that was never explained. ward was charged with a felony theft charge, although that case was dismissed.

Ward has two years of eligibility remaining, which he will begin using again this fall with his new program. Ward announced his decision to enter the transfer portal earlier this month.

Sadly, the Mike Leach home assistant device is not real

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Just as there is a seemingly endless supply of streaming services and battle royale-style video games, the home assistant device market continues to be flooded with options tailored for your preferences. Amazon has Alexa. Google has Google Home. Apple has a device. Now, Washington State has the Mike Leach Mini.

In a new season ticket promo, Washington State head coach Mike Leach is the inspiration for a fictional (yes, unfortunately, this is NOT a real device) home device that will answer any and all questions asked of it. “They say it knows everything, just like the real Mike Leach.”

If you have ever had a mystery question of life, the artificial intelligence version of the Cougars’ head coach delivers the charm expected of Leach with a dose of awe and blunt honesty.

Imagine getting to use a Mike Leach device to add items to your shopping lists, check the weather, check your email, or anything else that falls into your daily routine? I’m sure a digital Leach would offer a unique and introspective take on your daily chores and reminders.

It really would be the perfect addition to anyone’s home, or at least it would be if Washington State ever decides to make such a device available to the masses. Hey, Washington State. I would add this to my desk in the office. Just saying.