CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: ACC Predictions

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The ACC is starting to gain some confidence as a conference based on success in recent seasons. Florida State won a BCS title and Clemson defeated Ohio State in the Orange Bowl two postseasons ago. Last year the Seminoles were invited to the College Football Playoff and Georgia Tech topped the SEC’s Cinderella team from Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, and Clemson smacked Oklahoma up and down the field in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The ACC will work the numbers to their liking to prove they are among the elite power conferences right now, but the numbers can just as easily tell a different story as well. Regardless, things look to be lining up for a fun season in the ACC with Clemson a preseason favorite of many, Florida State likely to remain in the hunt and Louisville proving to be a tough out. And then there is the ACC Coastal Division, where mediocrity across the division makes for another wide-open division race this fall.

Let’s put my money where my mouth is and go on the record with some predictions for the ACC this season. Feel free to hold me accountable at the end of the season when these surely go wrong.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. Florida State (Last year: 13-1, lost to Oregon in College Football Playoff semifinal)
Florida State has entered the stage of program development where it is appropriate to suggest the program is reloading, rather than rebuilding. The Florida State offense returns just three starters from last year’s squad, but it does add Notre Dame transfer quarterback Everett Golson. With Dalvin Cook recently being found not guilty of battery charges, he should remain a featured asset in Florida State’s offense . Getting at Louisville in Tallahassee will be key, but the road game at Clemson could prove difficult. I have Florida State, Clemson and Louisville all ending the season with identical division records and splitting game sin the three-way head-to-head. This one comes down to the 27th ACC division tiebreaker, which may end up in Florida State’s favor when all is said and done.

2. Clemson (Last year: 10-3, beat Oklahoma in Russell Athletic Bowl)
The Clemson Tigers are returning perhaps the top quarterback in the conference with Deshaun Watson. Many are already pegging him as a strong Heisman Trophy contender, and having one of the top wide receiving units in the ACC will certainly help his case. The offensive line returns just two starters from last season though, and the entire offense has just four returning starters. The defense is in even more of a shaky ground with a pair of starters back in 2015. But place some trust in Brent Venables to have the defense up to speed enough to work things out along the way. An early Thursday night game at Louisville could be tricky, and the final game of the regular season at South Carolina is rarely easy. But Clemson gets Florida State at home in Week 10, by which most of Clemson’s concerns could very well have been put to rest.

3. Louisville (Last year: 9-4, lost to Georgia in Belk Bowl)
Another team that has a bunch of starters to replace, Louisville returns just seven starters from last season’s team. And things could very well get off to a bumpy start with Auburn in the season opener and Clemson just a couple of weeks later. But I think they manage to split those games, winning the important ACC Atlantic Division match-up on Thursday night in Week 3. The addition of defensive end Devonte Fields should be a really good addition to the defensive line. Louisville’s defense should be very good, and perhaps one of the best in the ACC, but the secondary will have to step up and make some plays if Louisville is going to make the kind of noise I expect from them this season.

4. Boston College (Last year: 7-6, lost to Penn State in Pinstripe Bowl)
Boston College is going to be one of those teams that gives opponents a tough game, but ultimately will not have enough offense to make the Eagles any serious threat in the ACC. The defense can hold its own, but Steve Addazio has just three returning starters this season. None of them are on the offensive line. I suspect Boston College will try trusting the running game with Jon Hilliman capable of going for 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Things may very well improve at Boston College as the season progresses, but there is a brutal stretch that includes back-to-back road games at Clemson and Louisville and that is followed by a home game against Virginia Tech. Playing Notre Dame in Fenway Park late in the year should be interesting as well. Boston College should have what it takes to go bowling, and a return trip to the Pinstripe Bowl may not be unlikely.

5. North Carolina State (Last year: 8-5, beat UCF in St. Petersburg Bowl)
North Carolina State is a team many people think is capable of making some noise in the ACC this season, and they very well could. The reason is the Wolfpack return seven starters on offense and seven more on defense. If experience is the key, no team in the ACC Atlantic Division has more of it heading into the 2015 season. There is not one thing NC State does exceptionally well, but they are pretty well-rounded in all areas of the game. Jacoby Brisset is back to start at quarterback, after helping the team improve dramatically last season. Now we will see if he is capable of taking NC State to the next step forward. The Wolfpack should get off to a good start with a favorable schedule, but I’m seeing some bumps in the road once they get into ACC play. NC State gets Louisville and Clemson at home, which is good and easily a recipe for potential upset alerts. I still will go with the favorites for now.

6. Syracuse (Last year: 3-9)
It looks to be a long season at Syracuse. The move to the ACC has not shown much improvement in the recruiting game under Scott Shafer, who could very well be coaching for his job this season. Syracuse could get off to a quick 3-0 start this season, but even that might be difficult. Then LSU comes to the dome in Week 4. Syracuse will get a bye after the big game with the LSU Tigers, and a road trip to USF comes after that, but then ACC play resumes and Syracuse’s next win may not come until 2016 at that point.

7. Wake Forest (Last year: 3-9)
If you thought Syracuse had it rough, take a look at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons will be a young team in 2015, giving head coach Dave Clawson some more expected growing pains this fall. Wake Forest could get off to a 2-1 start with wins over Elon and Army (losing to Syracuse), but it will be a long stretch of demoralization after that. If Wake Forest manages to get to four wins to improve on last season’s win total, that should be considered a solid victory for Clawson and company.

COASTAL DIVISION

1. Virginia Tech (Last year: 7-6, beat Cincinnati in Military Bowl – they also beat Ohio State, in case you forgot)
Virginia Tech has the best defense in the ACC this season, and that should be enough to push the Hokies ahead fo the rest of the seemingly always up-for-grabs Coastal Division. The biggest question for Virginia Tech is whether or not the offense can avoid giving it away. Having Marshawn Williams back and healthy at running back should help. I look for the Hokies to give Ohio State a respectable fight in the Labor Day season opener, bu the Buckeyes leave with revenge after last season’s meeting in Columbus. From there, things look good for Virginia Tech with no Clemson, Florida State or Louisville on the schedule. Pittsburgh and UNC are both at home too. The schedule and defense should come in handy this season in Blacksburg.

2. North Carolina (Last year: 6-7, lost to Rutgers in Quick Lane Bowl)
No offense in the ACC returns as many starters this season than the North Carolina Tar Heels. A total of 10 starters are back for UNC, including a healthy Marquise Williams at quarterback, but how much will he have to carry the offense this season? In addition to being the leading passer, Williams is also UNC’s leading returning rusher from a year ago (788 yards, 13 touchdowns). I’d like to see others take some of the pressure off Williams to do everything if UNC is going to make a serious run to the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. Looking at the schedule, I see real potential for a possible 7-0 start, but I also see the possibility of a rough finish to the season. That would seem to be the opposite of what happened last season after UNC closed on a hot streak to overcome a dismal start to the season.

3. Pittsburgh (Last year: 6-7, lost to Houston in Armed Forces Bowl)
I seem to have said this the past couple of years and I will do so once more; Why not Pitt? Pat Narduzzi takes over the Pittsburgh program and that should help lock things down on defense, with seven returning starters. The former Michigan State defensive coordinator also inherits some of the top offensive players in the ACC with wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner, but it will be up to quarterback Chad Voytik to keep things moving consistently for the Panthers. If the Panthers can get off to better than a 2-2 start (as I predict), they could make a run in the wide open division.

4. Miami (Last year: 6-7, lost to South Carolina in Independence Bowl)
Another year, another season of wondering if this could possibly be the year Miami finally plays in the ACC Championship Game. They have yet to do so since leaving the Big East to provide the ACC with more football balance, and it looks as though this could be another season that sees early promise and hype ultimately fizzle out in an up-and-down second half of the season. They have the quarterback in Brad Kaaya, but do they have the ability to pull it together everywhere else? I have Miami getting out to a nice little 4-0 start before visiting Florida State in Week 6. From there it should be on-off-on-off for the Hurricanes. That could put head coach Al Golden on as hot a seat as possible at the end of the season.

5. Georgia Tech (Last year: 11-3, beat Mississippi State in Orange Bowl)
The formula for Georgia Tech’s success never seems to change, although the effectiveness of it seems to have mixed results. Paul Johnson‘s offensive style picked up 11 wins last season and gave Florida State one of many close calls last season in the ACC Championship Game. Playing in this wide open division, you can easily make a case for Georgia Tech to make a return trip to Charlotte at the end of the season, and a steady defense helps support that argument. I just think there are some tough battles ahead this season with a road trip to Notre Dame followed by ACC contests against Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Pittsburgh and Florida State all in a row. That can be a tough stretch for the Yellow Jackets, as could the final two games of the season, at Miami and home against Georgia. Georgia Tech will still be a decent team, but they may skate on thin ice en route to the postseason.

6. Virginia (Last year: 5-7)
Virginia has had a rough stretch under Mike London, and this might be the final straw for the head coach if things do not show potential moving forward. Unfortunately for London, there may not be much progress shown with a three-win season. Yet, I have them somehow managing to avoid last place and staying ahead of Duke? Strange, I admit, but I think Virginia manages to win a pair of home games in ACC play, against Syracuse and Duke, and that is good enough to sneak just ahead of the Blue Devils in the standings. It may not, however, be enough to assure London a job in Charlottesville next season. Early games against UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State (and William & Mary) might be rough to watch at times.

7. Duke (Last year: 9-4, lost to Arizona State in Sun Bowl)
Do not be fooled by a last-place finish in the ACC Coastal. As you no doubt have learned by now, I view this division as a wide-open race, and I still predict Duke will be bowl-eligible this year. That will be because Duke has a very favorable schedule this season with likely wins in non-conference play and no Clemson, Florida State or Louisville on the conference schedule. Yet I still see Duke struggling to find much consistency in conference play. David Cutcliffe has done a remarkable job in Durham, but this year’s team may be lacking in enough playmakers outside of safety Jeremy Cash to find enough wins to make a run at the division.

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Florida State over Virginia Tech
After coming out on top of a clouded three-team tie in the ACC Atlantic Division, Florida State once again manages to win the ACC championship game for a fourth straight season. As will be the story all season, the Hokies defense keeps them in the game but the offense simply will not have enough firepower to get by a team with as much talent as Florida State. But will this Florida State team have done enough to convince the College Football Playoff selection committee it deserves a second straight invite to the postseason party?

Middle Tennessee State brings back ex-Blue Raiders RB Shane Tucker as grad assistant

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There will be a very familiar face in the Middle Tennessee State football building when the Conference USA school reconvenes.

Memorial Day, Middle Tennessee State announced that Shane Tucker has been added to the extended football staff.  Specifically, Tucker will serve as a graduate assistant for Rick Stockstill.  Tucker will work on the offensive side of the ball for the Blue Raiders.

From 2013-2017, Tucker was a running back at MTSU.  And a wide receiver as well.

In 39 appearances, Tucker started 17 of those games.  He started contests in 2013 (three), 2014 (two), 2015 (four) and 2017 (eight).  The Memphis native’s 2016 season ended before it started because of an offseason injury.

During his time in Murfreesboro, Tucker ran for 1,162 yards and 15 touchdowns on 271 carries.  He also caught 67 passed for 869 yards and another seven touchdowns.

In 2014, Tucker earned honorable mention All-Conference USA honors.  As a fifth-year senior in 2017, he was named a permanent captain.

Middle Tennessee State is coming off a 4-8 2019 football campaign.  That was the program’s worst record since going 2-10 in 2011.  MTSU also saw its school-record streak of bowl appearances end at four in a row.

One of the players Tucker Will Likely work with?  Martell Pettaway.  The West Virginia running back transferred to the Conference USA school in January.

Ex-Georgia State RB Gerald Howse, 28, found dead in his home

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Georgia State is mourning the loss of a member of its football family.

Sunday, Georgia State announced the passing of former Panther football player Gerald Howse.  Howse was just 28.

According to one report, Howse was found dead at his home in Cookeville, Tenn.  A cause of death has not yet been released.

From GSU’s release:

Howse, from Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Siegel High School, lettered at running back for the Panthers in 2013-14 after transferring from NE Oklahoma A&M.

After graduating with his degree in sociology, he entered the coaching profession, beginning with stints at Oklahoma Baptist (2015) and NE Oklahoma A&M (2016-19). He was honored as the NJCAA Top Assistant Coach in 2017.

In January of 2020, Howse was named as the running backs coach at Tennessee Tech of the FCS.  The football program’s head coach, Dewayne Alexander, released a statement addressing his assistant’s passing as well.

Gerald was a first-class young man. He was highly thought of by so many people. His coaches at Siegel High School – Greg Wyatt and David Watson – always brought him up whenever we had positions come open. He displayed a very positive attitude. He was a man of character who lived out faith, family and football. He was so close to his family – his mom, dad and sister – that it was one of the biggest reasons he came here to Tennessee Tech: coach in the area, be back in Middle Tennessee and be close to his family. He was an outstanding coach and a man every coach would want on his staff. Gerald made a huge impact on our players in the short time he was here. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends, as well as the Tennessee Tech football family. Anytime you lose a staff member, it affects a lot of people.

Pac-12 targets June 15 for return of players for voluntary in-person workouts

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The Pac-12 is the latest to contribute to the measured return of college football.

Last week, the NCAA announced that it would allow schools to bring its student-athletes back to campus for voluntary workouts starting June 1. Friday, the SEC announced that it will allow players to return starting June 8.  That same day, the Big 12 announced its target date is June 15.

Monday, the Pac-12 followed the Big 12’s lead, with that Power Five confirming a return date of June 15 for voluntary in-person athletic workouts. The league came to its decision to allow student-athletes to return to campus following a meeting of the Pac-12 CEO Group earlier in the day.

The conference also made sure to note in its release that the universities will “determine whether and how to open its sporting facilities in accordance with relevant county and state guidelines.”

“As educational institutions, our highest obligation is to the health and welfare of our students, faculty, and staff,” said Pac-12 CEO Group Chair and University of Colorado Boulder Chancellor Philip DiStefano in a statement. “As we considered the pros and cons of taking steps that can pave a path to returning to play, those considerations were foremost, guided by the advice of our own medical experts along with public health officials.”

“The Pac-12 is committed to the well-being of our student-athletes, and the decision to allow for voluntary workouts, subject to a determination by each school, is guided by the advice of our medical experts and will be supported by the detailed protocols established by our medical advisory committee in concert with our campus’ own safety guidelines,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “As states have either already opened or begin to open up access to parks, gyms and other training facilities, student-athletes should have the option at this time to be in, what for many, will be a much safer environment on campus, where they can have access to the best available health, well-being and training support.”

The ACC and Big Ten are the only Power Fives to not announce a uniform plan for a return.  Both Ohio State and Illinois, though, will allow players to return June 8, for example.  Ditto for Clemson and Louisville as well.

Arizona’s leader in receiving yards underwent surgery on a fractured foot earlier this month

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A key piece of the passing game for Arizona football is recovering from a health issue.  Fortunately, it doesn’t appear it will impact his availability for the upcoming season.

Prior to Arizona shuttering spring football practice because of the coronavirus pandemic, Jamarye Joiner suffered a fractured left foot.  It was reported at the time that the wide receiver was “believed to have suffered a Jones fracture, which is a break between the base of the foot and the fifth metatarsal.”

According to The Athletic, Joiner underwent surgery to repair the damage May 12.  The procedure was delayed as elective surgeries were scuttled because of the pandemic.

The same website reported that the receiver will be sidelined for a period of 6-12 weeks.  Such a timeline would extend, at the long end, to early August.  Arizona is scheduled to open the 2020 football season Aug. 29 against Hawaii.

Joiner was a three-star member of the Arizona football Class of 2018.  The Tucson native was rated as the No. 6 prospect regardless of position in the state of Arizona.

Originally signing as a quarterback, Joiner completed three of his four pass attempts for 17 yards in two games a true freshman.  Playing in less than four games allowed Joiner to preserve a year of eligibility.

Prior to the start of summer camp, Joiner made the move from quarterback to wide receiver.  In his first season at the position, the redshirt freshman led the Wildcats in receiving yards with 552 and receiving touchdowns with five.  His 34 receptions were third on the team, while his 16.2 yards per catch was second among the nine players with at least 10 receptions.

Arizona head football coach Kevin Sumlin this month became one of a handful of coaches to take a pay cut.