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CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: The ACC

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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

Jon Runyan Jr. expected to play for Michigan this weekend at Wisconsin

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The Michigan Wolverines may have one of their best offensive linemen on the field this weekend when they hit the road to play at Wisconsin. Jon Runyan Jr. will make his season debut on Saturday against Wisconsin, according to Michigan offensive line coach Ed Warinner.

“We’ve had two weeks to work him through, so he’ll be ready to go,” Warinner said, according to MLive.com. “Jon will be excited to get some action.”

Runyan is a starting offensive lineman, although Warinner didn’t specifically say Runyan will get the start against the Badgers. However, that would be a safe assumption if Runyan is ready to get back on the field. Warinner did say Runyan will play left tackle. This will help solidify the left side of the offensive line as the Wolverines try to get their offense on track. The new-look Michigan offense hasn’t quite gotten going as hyped heading into the season, although the absence of Runyan is not believed to have been a major reason for the mild offensive struggles.

Runyan had been out for the start of the season due to an undisclosed injury. He was dressed for Michigan’s game against Army, but he was held out as a precaution. Michigan had a bye week last week, allowing more time to get ready for a game that should be quite a battle on the line of scrimmage against Wisconsin this weekend.

Bill proposed in New York aims to share college athletics revenue directly with student-athletes

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As the state of California moves forward with a push adopt a law that would allow student-athletes to receive compensation for the use of their name and likeness, a new bill proposed in New York aims to go one step farther. Senator Kevin Parker has proposed a bill that would allow student-athletes to be compensated directly from the school’s annual revenue.

As written, Senate Bill S6722A in New York seeks to allow student-athletes (including college football players) to be able to receive compensation for the use of their name, likeness or image; the ability to hire an agent; and to receive an even distribution directly from the school from the university’s athletics revenue. The bill intends to require schools to set aside 15 percent of revenue earned from ticket sales and distribute that evenly among every student-athlete at the school.

This could impact three FBS schools in New York; Syracuse, Buffalo, and Army. New York also has a handful of FCS programs as well, including Fordham, Stony Brook, and Colgate. If the bill gains any traction, it would impact each school differently due to the range in ticket revenue generated by each school. The proposed bill currently sits in committee right now and has not been scheduled for a date on the Senate floor in New York.

The NCAA will frown upon this bill, just as it has in California, and it would be expected schools in New York would not be in favor of such a bill. The NCAA has already threatened the state of California with potentially removing all championship events organized by the NCAA from the state. A similar threat to New York would be the typical response if needed. That may not impact the college football world much, although it could mean no NCAA basketball tournament games being played in New York, a state that has routinely hosted NCAA basketball tournament games across the state. The Pinstripe Bowl should be safe because it is not run by the NCAA (although the NCAA could refuse to certify the Pinstripe Bowl if it really wanted). But we are far from the point to have that discussion.

The Fair Pay for Play bill in California, which is currently waiting to be signed into law or vetoed by the state’s governor, merely allows student-athletes to seek representation and receive compensation for the use of their name, likeness, or image. This trend is certainly picking up steam, and it would not be a surprise to see other states attempt to challenge the NCAA’s model of amateurism.

Iowa and Iowa State release joint statement asking fans to treat the marching bands better

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Whatever happened to the Iowa marching band on Saturday at Iowa State must have crossed a fine line, because on Wednesday both Iowa and Iowa State released a statement addressing the concern.

“Both the University of Iowa and Iowa State University are committed to providing a safe environment for everyone attending events on their respective campuses. This includes members of the school’s marching bands,” the joint statement from Iowa athletic director Gary Barta and Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard said. “Unfortunately, both the Hawkeye and Cyclone marching bands have been the target of unacceptable behavior at football games in Iowa City and Ames in recent years. Some of the conduct directed at the students in our respective marching bands recently has been rude, vulgar, and in some cases, violent.”

Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for visiting marching bands to be harassed by hostile fans around the country. Sometimes, those shameful acts by fans of teams cause some bands to decide never to make the trip to a specific stadium ever again. Fortunately, it does appear Iowa and Iowa State are committed to ensuring the bands of both schools are treated respectfully in each other’s stadiums, as should always be the case for visiting bands, fans, and players.

“We should all feel embarrassed when students in the bands don’t feel safe when performing at an away game,” the joint statement continued. “Each of our athletics departments is committed to doing whatever is necessary to improve the environment for visiting school marching bands in the future. A significant part of the solution is insisting our fans help address this issue by showing more respect to our visitors. We owe it to these hardworking performers to have a safe stage on which they can showcase their spirit and talent.”

Make all the jokes you want, but a college band is part of what makes the college football atmosphere enjoyable and more authentic. It would be a shame to lose some of the sounds of the crowd because some idiots decided to be a bunch of jerks.

Former USC coach Pete Carroll never thought players needed to get paid

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The state of California recently passed a law that would allow college athletes to hire agents and be paid for the use of their name, image and likeness if they desire. The NCAA, naturally, has weighed in to protest the law and is hoping the governor of California decided to hear their case and not sign the bill into law. Former USC head coach Pete Carroll, now the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL with a Super Bowl championship to his name, was asked for his opinion on the developments in California. Perhaps not surprisingly, Carroll came on the side of the conversation which suggests players do not need any additional compensation beyond what is provided by a scholarship.

“I’ve never been of the thought that players need to get paid,” Carroll said, according to Joe Fann, Seattle Seahawks insider for NBC Sports Northwest.

Of course, nobody needs to be reminded Carroll was the head coach of former USC running back Reggie Bush (Ok, I guess I just reminded you anyway).The NCAA found Bush had received improper gifts from an agent, which ultimately dropped a series of sanctions on USC including four years of probation, forced the Trojans to vacate a national championship and the entire 2005 season. USC was also placed on a two-year postseason ban and was stripped of 30 scholarships over a period of three years. The Heisman Trust also vacated Bush’s Heisman Trophy from the record book, and USC has removed any ties and references to Bush from the program. USC was handed their sanctions after the 2009 season, at which time Carroll left the Trojans to coach in the NFL with Seattle.

Carroll’s thoughts on the idea of players receiving compensation (legally, of course) are not too surprising, and they are common thoughts expressed by other college football coaches who make millions. In 2009, it was reported Carroll was paid $4.4 million for the 2006-2007 fiscal year, four times as much as USC President Steven B. Sample at the time.

Carroll isn’t the only coach chiming in on the subject. Washington State head coach Mike Leach thinks California has some other issues to be concerned about.