Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: The ACC

1 Comment

It was not so long ago ACC commissioner was setting the challenge to the entire ACC membership to start representing the conference better on the national stage in spotlight opportunities. In 2016, the ACC could not have done much better. The conference took all of the bragging rights with an impressive bowl record, the national champion (taking down the SEC champion in the process), and the Heisman Trophy winner. So, what does the ACC do for an encore?

ACC ATLANTIC

1. Florida State (10-3 in 2016; won Orange Bowl vs. Michigan)
After watching division rival Clemson capture back-to-back ACC crowns and play in two consecutive national championship games, the 2016 season appears to be Florida State’s time to ascend back to the top of the conference to wave the ACC banner in the College Football Playoff. Florida State, the preseason favorite in the ACC this fall, will have one of the most difficult schedules in the nation, starting with a season-opening tilt against Alabama in Atlanta. The offense must replace Dalvin Cook and hope Deondre Francois blossoms as a sophomore in an offense lacking in returning starters but not in potential and talent. FSU’s defense will be in much better shape at the start of the year with a loaded unit with plenty of starting experience, highlighted by safety Derwin James.

2. Clemson (14-1, ACC champion, won College Football Playoff national championship vs. Alabama)
To say Clemson football lost its identity with the departure of so many key players from their championship run would be a slight exaggeration. Dabo Swinney is still the coach and the Tigers will still be a talented bunch despite having big shoes to fill. Expect Clemson to take a slight step back, but the Tigers will still be in the way of Florida State. They even get the Noles at home. Early back-to-back tests against Auburn (home) and Louisville (away) will give an early idea of whether or not there is a championship hangover with Clemson. With a stacked offensive line in gear, whoever takes over at quarterback (likely Kelly Bryant) should be protected.

3. Louisville (9-4, lost Citrus Bowl vs. LSU)
After the way last season ended, the theme to the 2017 season for the Cardinals should be something along the lines of “unfinished business.” The Cardinals dropped the last three games of the season, including a 26-point loss at Houston, a three-point loss to in-state rival Kentucky and a 20-point setback against LSU in the bowl game. After the red-hot start Lamar Jackson and the offense got off to, the end to the year was stunning. Jackson still won the Heisman Trophy and the schedule sets up well for another hot start this fall. But three new offensive line starters must be filled and the offense must cut down on turnovers if Louisville is to make a push in the division.

4. North Carolina State (7-6, won Independence Bowl vs. Vanderbilt)
If there is one thing to like about NC State in 2017, it will be the amount of starting experience the team brings back. This is especially true on the defensive side of the football where a front four led by defensive end Bradley Chubb and three other seniors could cause problems for even the best offenses in the ACC. The offensive line is also looking to be in solid shape with veteran starting experience across the line to protect junior quarterback Ryan Finley. Dave Doeren is in his fourth year with the program, and this one could be his best team yet.

5. Boston College (7-6, won Quick Lane Bowl vs. Maryland)
Head coach Steve Addazio could find himself back on the hot seat at some point this season, even after seemingly cool the temperature with a positive finish to the 2016 season to take into the offseason. The Eagles return a good number of starters on both sides of the football, but the talent gap between Boston College and some of the other teams in the division and conference is telling. Dual-threat quarterback Anthony Brown, a freshman, could provide a spark to the offense, but expect the Eagles to keep pounding the ball in the hands of running back Jon Hilliman. On defense, Boston College has one of the top defensive players in the ACC in defensive end Harold Landry and an experienced defensive mid and backfield to rely on.

6. Syracuse Orange (4-8)
Dino Babers has started to put together a game plan for the Orange with the idea of having a long way to go to restoring pride in the program. With some glimpses at what could be coming for the Orange showed last season (including an upset of Virginia Tech), Babers can count on having a roster returning nearly all of its starters from a year ago on both sides of the football, including quarterback Eric Dungey and linebacker Zaire Franklin. If experience counts for something, then the Orange could be in decent shape to get back to a bowl game. Getting to the postseason will be a challenge. After three winnable games to start the season, Syracuse plays at LSU and later must play games at Florida State and Louisville. They also have a crossover game against Miami to worry about.

7. Wake Forest (7-6, won Military Bowl vs. Temple)
The Demon Deacons could cause some trouble for most teams on their schedule, but Dave Clawson will have to overcome a good amount of youth on the roster this season in order to coach the team back to a bowl game. Wake Forest has struggled to score with an offense that fails to protect its quarterback and a running game that can easily be stopped at the line. The good news is Clawson feels this is the best offensive line he has had since coming to Wake Forest, although depth will be a significant concern. But at least there won’t be rogue radio broadcasters trying to sell off and distribute Wake Forest’s game plan this season, hopefully.

ACC COASTAL

1. Miami (9-4 in 2016, won Russell Athletic Bowl vs. West Virginia)
Get ready to ask all of your college football friends a familiar question at some point this season. Is Miami back? The Hurricanes should take some steps forward as a program and could end up winning its first division since joining the ACC, but there is still a good amount of ground to makeup to be on the same level as Florida State and Clemson, and maybe Louisville. But in this division, anything could go. Miami will play some defense with linebacker Shaq Quarterman leading the charge, but the Hurricanes have a serious quarterback question following the loss of Brad Kaaya to the NFL. Florida State on the road is tricky, but home games against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech could be good.

2. Virginia Tech (10-4, ACC Coastal champion, won Belk Bowl vs. Arkansas)
The defending division champs could just as easily get back to the ACC Championship Game this season, especially if redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson brings some versatility to the offense in Year 2 under head coach Justin Fuente. The Hokies also have new starters at running back and tight end and a couple of spots on the offensive line, but the defense should be in solid shape with a load of experience at linebacker (hello there, Andrew Motupuaka). The Hokies have a tough November with road games at Miami and Georgia Tech and they draw Clemson in inter-divisional play. Regardless, this looks like a solid top 25 team.

3. Pittsburgh (8-5, lost Pinstripe Bowl vs. Northwestern)
The Pitt Panthers scored wins against the eventual national champions (Clemson) and Big Ten champions (Penn State), yet they lost a total of four games by seven points or fewer. Can the Panthers flip a few of those close calls the other way? Pitt must replace James Conner but running back Qadree Ollison can do some damage on the ground. Former USC quarterback Max Browne also takes over at quarterback with one of the top wide receivers in the ACC to throw to (Quadree Henderson). How it all comes together with a new offensive coordinator remains to be seen, and the schedule is not kind with non-conference matchups at Penn State and home vs. Oklahoma State and conference road trips to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech before closing out the year at home against Miami. But no Florida State, Clemson, or Louisville gives the Panthers as healthy a conference schedule as possible for a run to the division title.

4. Georgia Tech (9-4, won TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Kentucky)
Never underestimate a team coached by Paul Johnson. This is especially true when he returns a good number of starters. After closing out the 2016 season on a four-game winning streak, including a bowl victory over Kentucky, the Yellow Jackets are not to be taken lightly. In fact, Georgia Tech may be the best sleeper pick you will find in the ACC as they bring back the most experience in a division that always seems to be up for grabs. Georgia Tech’s running game will always be the strength of the team, which will help ease the pressure on a defense that is lacking in overall talent.

5. North Carolina (8-5, lost Sun Bowl vs. Stanford)
Everything about UNC appears to be a valid question this season. Can the defense keep improving under a new defensive coordinator? Can the offense work with a quarterback who struggled at times at LSU? Who is going to make plays for the team? After losing Mitch Trubisky to the NFL, the UNC Tar Heels will place the football in the hands of former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris this season. He may be handing off to a freshman running back with Michael Carter being molded to carry the load.Special teams is also a concern for UNC after losing key special teams players from last year like Ryan Switzer and T.J. Logan. This could be a rough season in Chapel Hill.

6. Duke (4-8)
The Blue Devils could look like a dangerous team as the season plays out, and there is a schedule that gives Duke an opportunity to turn some heads if they can manage to win a couple of home games against Northwestern and Baylor. But despite Duke’s recent trend of being a team that catches you off guard, the 2017 season could end up only marginally better in the win column than 2016 ended. David Cutcliffe will continue to develop quarterback Daniel Jones, but a lack of playmakers to throw the ball too means Duke’s offense won’t be likely to keep opposing defensive coordinators up all night leading up to a game. The defense returns linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris, but the defense has concerns across the field as well. Getting to a bowl game this season would be a major accomplishment for Duke in 2017.

7. Virginia (2-10)
Virginia may still be in good hands with head coach Bronco Mendenhall, but he realized fairly quickly how much work was needed to make the Cavaliers competitive again. Virginia will have to take some baby steps forward as a program in 2017, because the player development and recruiting is going to take some time before Mendenhall has Virginia even thinking about going to a bowl game. Virginia will have to rely on a veteran-led defense to keep games close, and the scheduling gods have given Virginia a break with no crossover games against Clemson and Florida State, but they do have to go to Louisville and they travel to Boise State for a non-conference matchup. Virginia also misses Notre Dame on the rotation this season. Quarterback Kurt Benkert will look to have a rebound season after a rough 2016 season.

ACC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Florida State over Miami

Clay Helton is numb over season-ending ankle injury to USC LB Porter Gustin

Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images
1 Comment

USC linebacker Porter Gustin saw his 2018 season come to a close with a season-ending ankle injury suffered in the final minutes of USC’s Saturday night victory over Colorado. Gustin will undergo surgery this week and begin his rehab process.

“We are all kind of numb right now, to be honest with you,” USC head coach Clay Helton said Sunday night, per the Los Angeles Times. “He’s a force of nature, and you think of him as a superhero, as Thor, as we say, and to know that he’s not going to be with us for the remaining part of the season is obviously something that hurts us all.”

Unfortunately for Gustin, he has spent a bunch of time rehabbing from injuries during his time at USC. Gustin missed the start of this season due to an injury, and he may have missed some more playing time if the Pac-12 correctly called an obvious targeting call on him in a game against Washington State.

The loss of Gustin, one of USC’s top defensive players, could never come at a good time, but the injury comes at a critical time for the Trojans. Now in the position to take firm control of the Pac-12 South Division after a head-to-head win against Colorado, USC is heading on the road this week to play Utah. A win for USC will put the Trojans in the best spot in the division, while a loss leaves the door open for Utah to make their own run to the division crown.

Gustin was a watch list player for the Bednarik Award, Butkus Award, and Lott Trophy. Now, the injured senior will likely think about preparing for what comes next after this season, the NFL Draft.

Mike MacIntyre didn’t know Colorado scored a TD when Buffs went for two-point conversion vs. USC

Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images
5 Comments

Colorado lost for the first time late Saturday on the road at USC. The result was not entirely puzzling given Colorado may have been due for a loss and USC can be difficult to top in Los Angeles, but a decision to go for a two-point conversion after a late Colorado touchdown cut into the USC lead left many watching scratching their heads. After the game, Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre explained the rationale behind the two-point conversion attempt, and it was rather simple.

MacIntyre didn’t know Colorado scored a touchdown and thought it was a first-and-goal situation.

The two-point conversion attempt came following a Steven Montez 19-yard touchdown run with 3:23 to play. The touchdown cut the USC lead to 31-20. A successful two-point conversion would have made it a nine-point game whereas an extra point would have created a 10-point deficit for Colorado. You could argue Colorado still needed two scores in the final minutes anyway and a two-point try would allow for the possibility of a win. The conventional logic, however, suggests there is a better win probability if you only need a touchdown and a field goal. Not that Colorado had a great chance either way to come back and win (which of course, they did not), but the decision to go for two points was a bizarre one. And now we know why.

So, was MacIntyre given incorrect information on the field? Shouldn’t somebody on Colorado have known the team just scored a touchdown, be it an official, a staffer, or one of the players on the field? Who is to blame for this messy situation? The fault should fall on the shoulders of the head coach here. It may not have ultimately altered the outcome of the game, since Colorado did recover the onside kick after all fo this but failed to pick up a first down.

Mark Richt to assess entire State of the U during bye week

Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images
4 Comments

Miami head coach Mark Richt is going to be busy on Miami’s bye week taking a good hard look at his football program. After following up a wild come-from-behind victory against rival Florida State, Miami went on the road and took a difficult loss at Virginia. Just like that, Miami followed up an opportunity to take steps forward as a program by taking a step back. In his third season at Miami, Richt does not want to waste much time attempting to steer things back in the right direction.

“But maybe that’s exactly what we need, to assess everything top to bottom,” Richt said after Miami’s 16-13 loss at Virginia, according to The Miami Herald. “If there is a time in the season to make certain changes you can do them, whether it’s just scheme or maybe personnel or whatever it may be.

“Certainly there will be a couple sleepless night for me, I know.’’

Miami has a number of issues they are trying to overcome. Recent history against teams from power conference programs and simply playing on the road. The frustrations came to the table at the end of the 2017 season when Miami finished the regular season by being upset on the road at Pittsburgh and was followed by a loss in the ACC Championship Game against Clemson. Miami’s 2017 season ended in their home stadium for the Orange Bowl, but with a loss to Big Ten championship runner-up Wisconsin.

This season looked to get started on the right foot for Miami but the Hurricanes fell in Arlington, Texas against LSU. Now, with the most recent road loss to Virginia and ahead of a road trip to Boston College after the bye week, Richt has no area of the program that cannot benefit from a bit of self-assessment and reflection. Miami still has a good shot to return to the ACC championship game but that won’t happen if Richt and the Hurricanes don’t fix a few problems in the coming weeks.

Bowling Green fires Mike Jinks, names Carl Pelini interim head coach

Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images
6 Comments

The first head coaching change of the 2018 season has been made. Bowling Green announced on Sunday it has removed Mike Jinks from the position of head coach of the Falcons. Defensive coordinator Carl Pelini will take on the role of interim head coach for Bowling Green for the remainder of the season.

“I want to thank Coach Jinks for all of his efforts with our football program and in the BG community,” Bowling Green Director of Athletics Bob Moosbrugger said in a released statement. “However, we felt it was time to make a change in leadership. These are not easy decisions and we do not take this lightly. This affects 11 coaching families, 112 student-athletes and numerous support staff. We wish Mike and his family the best in their future endeavors.”

Jinks took on the role of head coach of Bowling Green after the 2015 season after serving as an assistant running back coach at Texas Tech from 2013 through 2015. Jinks replaced Dino Babers, who was hired away by Syracuse, and the hope was he would be able to continue the offensive momentum Babers had established following Dave Clawson. That just never materialized.

The last two and a half years have been tough for the program. Bowling Green went 4-8 in the first season under Jinks and followed that last season by going 2-10. Bowling Green dropped to 1-6 after a 42-35 loss at home against Western Michigan on Saturday. The only win of the 2018 season came against Eastern Kentucky, a 42-35 victory in Week 3.

Bowling Green will be on the road this week to play Ohio as Pelini steps into the head coaching role for the first time since being the head coach of Florida Atlantic in 2012 and 2013.