Getty Images

CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: The ACC

3 Comments

It was not so long ago ACC commissioner John Swofford set the public challenge to the entire conference to step up their game on the big stage when the opportunities to impress and change the narrative about the ACC as a whole was needed. Fast-forward a few years, and the ACC has done just that. Heading into the 2018 season, the ACC is in position to once again make a solid case for being considered the top conference in the sport.

Leading the way once again should be Clemson, with Dabo Swinney looking to take the Tigers to a fourth straight postseason berth. The Tigers begin the season ranked second in the major polls (and sitting on top of our own CFT Top 25), which has become the new norm for the three-time defending ACC champions. The biggest question Clemson seems to have is who should play quarterback, but that should not get in the way of what Clemson’s season could yield. Whether it is Kelly Bryant or Trevor Lawrence, the Tigers offense should continue humming right along to the ACC Championship Game, with a playoff spot within sight for a fourth consecutive season. Only Alabama has a longer streak of playoff appearances going, as Clemson is well aware after playing the Crimson Tide each of the past three years, including twice in the national championship and last year’s semifinal round. Clemson wasn’t quite up to par to take on eventual national champion Alabama last year, but this year’s Tigers will grow from that experience and thrive behind arguably the nation’s top defensive line starring Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, and Christian Wilkins.

If Clemson is the model of consistency in the ACC, then Miami is the program looking to prove last year was not a fluke. Mark Richt took Miami to its first appearance in the ACC Championship Game in his second season on the job, but Miami’s playoff bubble burst by losing the final game of the regular season at Pitt and then against Clemson in the conference championship. Miami’s season ended with a third straight loss in the Orange Bowl against Wisconsin so the ‘Canes will look to take their turnover chain swag and shrug off a rough ending to the 2017 season. Miami’s offense may still have room for improvement even with Malik Rosier returning at quarterback, but the defense should make Miami a formidable foe once again. With Shaq Quarterman and Jaquan Johnson leading the defense, the Hurricanes will look for an early statement to start off the year in the season opener against LSU in Arlington. If Miami beats LSU, then the Hurricanes will be in great position to flirt with an undefeated regular season once again, at least until a showdown in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech in mid-November.

Justin Fuente has done well with the Hokies, although he will have one of his youngest teams yet hoping to make a run in the ACC Coastal Division this fall. That may not be a tremendous setback given how the schedule will allow for that talent to come together and find their groove before the bulk of the ACC schedule (Virginia Tech opens on the road at Florida State though). Virginia Tech should be a team that improves as the season plays on, and they could be a team capable of knocking Miami out of the ACC title hunt. At the very least, Virginia Tech could be Miami’s biggest division threat, although nobody should ever underestimate a Georgia Tech team returning nine offensive starters, including senior quarterback TaQuon Marshall, this could be one of those years Georgia Tech makes something happen. The Yellow Jackets could pull a pivotal conference upset with home games against Clemson and Miami.

This could be a year of lower expectations at programs like Louisville (so long Lamar Jackson and nearly everyone on defense, but hello wide receiver Jaylen Smith) and NC State (although the Wolfpack do have Ryan Finley at QB, but like Louisville, nearly everyone on defense is gone, including Bradley Chubb). And a program like Boston College (perhaps the best Steve Addazio has coached yet with nine returning offensive starters including sophomore running back stud AJ Dillon and a strong defensive ability). Syracuse might even sniff a bowl game, while North Carolina and Virginia could have tough paths to the postseason.

And, of course, Florida State is coming in with some new energy provided by new head coach Willie Taggart. Expecting the Seminoles to flip a switch and dethrone Clemson may be premature this season, but after a rough 2017 season, Taggart may be just the guy to turn the page as Florida State begins bouncing back to being what you expect from Florida State. Having running back Cam Akers sure helps. The defense may not have all of the pieces in place just yet with so much roster turnover, but the defensive line is solid with senior Demarcus Christmas and potential breakout player Marvin Wilson. Florida State won’t stay down for long, but making a serious run at Clemson in 2018 may not be likely. 2019, however, could be a different story.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

ACC ATLANTIC DIVISION

  1. Clemson
  2. Florida State
  3. NC State
  4. Louisville
  5. Boston College
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Syracuse

ACC COASTAL DIVISION

  1. Virginia Tech
  2. Miami
  3. Pittsburgh
  4. Georgia Tech
  5. Duke
  6. North Carolina
  7. Virginia

IN SHORT…

Florida State hires Randy Clements as offensive line coach

Getty Images
Leave a comment

You knew this was coming as soon as Kendal Briles was hired.

Florida State on Thursday announced Randy Clements as its offensive line coach, ending weeks of speculation and idle waiting for this to happen. Much like an architect prefers a specific contractor or a director only works with a certain cinematographer, Briles and Clements are a package deal. An OG member of the Art Briles tree, Clements has been with dad and/or son dating back to 1990, when Art was the head coach at Stephenville High School and Clements was his offensive line coach.

After Art broke away to serve as Texas Tech’s running backs coach from 2000-02, Clements reunited with Briles at Houston in 2003, where Kendal was along for the ride as a wide receiver and safety. Clements then followed the Briles men to Baylor.

After the staff blew up in infamy in 2016, Clements and Kendal Briles spent 2017 in isolation from each other, with Kendal at Florida Atlantic and Clements at NAIA Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla.

But Briles’ overwhelming success in his one season at FAU led a desperate Major Applewhite to hire him, and he brought Clements along with him. The pair’s success at Houston has now led them to Tallahassee.

“Randy Clements has a remarkable resume filled with quantifiable results coaching offensive linemen,” Willie Taggart said in a statement. “He has proven to be a successful teacher and knows exactly how we want to operate in this offense. I am happy for our student-athletes to learn from him, and I’m enthusiastic about him joining our staff as we continue to build a championship culture at Florida State.”

Taggart made a well-renowned hire off the bat in luring Greg Frey, a member of FSU’s 1993 national championship team, away from Michigan, but the hire did not work out. Working with a patchwork line (to put it kindly), Frey’s offensive line helped FSU rank 110th in yards per play, 129th in yards per carry and 112th in sacks allowed, and he was relieved of duties last week to make room for Briles’ preferred contractor.

“I want to start by thanking Coach Taggart for this opportunity,” Clements said. “My family and I are thrilled to be part of this prestigious program. My background with Kendal will be valuable, but I’m also looking forward to integrating with the rest of the staff and can’t wait to get to know and work with the student-athletes on campus. I am excited to work toward our goal of bringing Florida State its next championship.”

Virginia Tech QB Hendon Hooker removes name from transfer portal

Getty Images
1 Comment

The transfer portal taketh, the transfer portal giveth back.

After announcing late last month that he will place his name in the portal, Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker on Thursday revealed he had removed his name and will return to Blacksburg.

“I am taking my name out of the transfer portal and I truly believe it’s best to continue my career as a Hokie,” Hooker said in a statement posted to his Twitter account. “I regret the time that I’ve missed with my teammates in preparation for spring ball. I apologize to them and my coaches if I appeared to have a lack of commitment in what we are trying to achieve here at Hokie Nation.”

A native of Greensboro, N.C., Hooker redshirted in 2017 and then saw action in six games last fall. He did not total many snaps while serving as a reserve quarterback, but he did open his collegiate career with a 69-yard touchdown scamper in a 62-17 win over William & Mary in September. Hooker finished the year with 57 rushing yards and did not throw a pass.

However, his path to the field has cleared greatly in recent days.

In a bit of news that is no doubt related to Hooker’s reversal of field, Josh Jackson announced his plans to transfer to Maryland earlier this week. With Jackson out of the picture, Hooker will compete with junior Ryan Willis (who threw 364 passes last season) and fellow sophomore Quincy Patterson II for playing time in 2019.

Oklahoma State transfer one of three Georgia Southern players arrested

Getty Images
1 Comment

I’m thinking this isn’t the most optimal of first impressions.

In a tweet posted to his Twitter account in early December, running back J.D. King, who announced his decision to transfer from Oklahoma State two weeks prior, confirmed that he would be continuing his collegiate playing career at Georgia Southern.  Very early Sunday morning, the Savannah Morning News has reported, King (pictured) and two of his new GSU teammates, quarterback Ivan Corbin and running back Logan Wright, were all arrested for disorderly conduct.

The details of what led to the misdemeanor charges have not been divulged.

“We are aware of the situation and it will be dealt with internally,” Eagles head coach Chad Lunsford said in a statement. “We are disappointed with the decisions that were made and hopefully we can use it as a learning experience for our entire team as we move forward.”

King, who will have to sit out the 2019 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, ran for 469 yards and four touchdowns on 99 carries as a true freshman for the Cowboys in 2017.  This past season, King’s production dropped to 153 yards and no touchdowns on 43 carries in 10 games.

After sitting out the upcoming season, King will have two years of eligibility remaining.

As a redshirt freshman in 2018, Wright was fifth on the team 308 yards rushing and tied for fourth with three rushing touchdowns.  Corbin, who has yet to attempt a pass at the collegiate level, will be fighting for a backup job as he enters his redshirt junior season.

NCAA grants Arizona State’s Tyler Whiley a sixth season

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The never-ending benevolence of the NCAA is on display yet again, with a playing member of the Arizona State football program the most recent beneficiary.

Citing multiple people directly familiar with the development, 247Sports.com has reported that Tyler Whiley has been granted a sixth season of eligibility by The Association.  Recent rule changes proved to be the impetus for the decision that will allow the defensive back to play in 2019.

From the website’s report:

Whiley… is benefitting from a change made to bylaw 12.8.1.7 called “redshirt year provision.” It allows relief from the five-year eligibility rule if an institutional decision is made to redshirt a student-athlete in his freshman season and a subsequent season is missed due to injury or other qualifying hardship.

Previously, players needed to have two seasons of incapacitation due to injury, illness or other issue in order to apply for a sixth year with the NCAA. That’s no longer the case and the rule change is retroactive to anyone still within their five-year eligibility window. Whiley is part of the first class of players able to benefit from the change.

While took a non-injury redshirt as a true freshman in 2014, then missed the entire 2018 season due to a serious injury to his right leg.  Those two factors triggered the affirmative decision for a sixth season of eligibility, which Whiley will be able to use in 2019.

Whiley played in 13 games in the season prior to his injury.  He will likely enter summer camp as a favorite to claim a starting job at safety.