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CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: The ACC

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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…

Overwhelming favorites Alabama, Tua Tagovailoa see Bovada title, Heisman odds shorten

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During this current college football season, three of the surest things are upsets, Rutgers continuing to embarrass the Big Ten and oddsmakers really loving the defending national champions in general and one of its players specifically.

Bovada.lv has released its latest set of odds to win the 2018 College Football Playoff championship, with Alabama yet again the overwhelming favorite to claim the title at 1/2. Those odds are a bit shorter than the 5/9 the Crimson Tide was at just a week ago.

Clemson and Notre Dame both saw their odds shorten as well, with the former going from 13/2 to 5/1 and the latter from 19/2 to 13/2. Ohio State, meanwhile, fell from 7/1 to 12/1, the same as rival Michigan. The Wolverines, coming off a big road win over Michigan State, were also at 12/1 last week at this time.

Individually, Tua Tagovailoa saw his stranglehold on the odds to win the 2018 Heisman Trophy increase. A week ago, the Alabama quarterback was at 2/3; he’s now at 4/11.

Tagovailoa’s two main competitors saw their odds lengthen, with Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray at 7/2 (3/1 a week ago) and Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins at 12/1 (3/1).

The biggest climber has been Michigan’s Shea Patterson, with the quarterback going from off the board last week to 12/1 and behind only Tagovailoa and Murray.

Below are the complete set of national championship and Heisman odds, again courtesy of Bovada.lv:

Suspension stands: LSU’s Devin White to miss first half of Alabama game

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Right or wrong (mostly the latter), LSU will be missing a significant piece of its defense for the first half of its huge Week 9 matchup with Alabama.

In the second half of LSU’s win over Mississippi State this past Saturday, Devin White was ejected after being called for targeting on MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald.  As a result, White, one of the top linebackers in the country, would be in line to miss the first two quarters of next Saturday’s game against the Crimson Tide.

The subsequent outrage over what was, at best, an asinine targeting call — a call that was inexplicably upheld upon further review — led to a GoFundMe page being created to funnel donations toward billboards that would be erected in and around SEC headquarters in Birmingham, Ala.  Those billboards would’ve carried the hashtag #FreeDevinWhite, an attempt to get the conference to bend to public pressure and rescind the half-game suspension.

Additionally, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva very publicly looked to put pressure on the SEC to reverse what was seemingly an irreversible punishment.  In the end, we’re right back where we were three days ago — White will be watching from the sidelines when the LSU-Alabama game kicks off and will continue doing so until the second half kicks off.

“Discussions with the SEC made clear there is no process for appeal,” LSU senior associate athletic director Robert Munson told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “The suspension will stand.”

White currently leads the Tigers in tackles with 76, and is tied for second on the team in tackles for loss with seven.  Additionally, he leads the team with six quarterback hits and two fumble recoveries.  His four pass breakups are tied for second as well, while his four passes defensed are tied for fourth.

Michigan losing four-star 2017 signee James Hudson to transfer

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For the second time in less than a week, Michigan has lost a four-star member of its 2017 recruiting class.

Amidst speculation regarding James Hudson‘s future with the football program, a U-M spokesperson has confirmed that the offensive tackle has decided to transfer from the Wolverines. The move away from Ann Arbor comes a couple of days after Hudson, the No. 2 right tackle, did not enter the win over Michigan State when starter Juwann Bushell-Beatty went out with an injury.

Instead, redshirt freshman Andrew Stueber took over on the right side of the line. After the game, Jim Harbaugh explained that Hudson has been dealing with a dislocated finger sustained the week before and that’s the reason Stueber entered the game.

That turn of events was also the likely trigger for Hudson’s decision to transfer.

A four-star member of the Wolverines’ recruiting class last year, Hudson was rated as the No. 13 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Ohio. Only one other defensive tackle in that class, Aubrey Solomon, was rated higher than Hudson, although he was moved to the other side of the ball this offseason.

After redshirting as a true freshman, Hudson played in three games this season.

In the middle of last week, another four-star 2017 signee, linebacker Drew Singleton, asked for and was granted a release from his U-M scholarship.

‘Mutual agreement’ sees RB Trelon Smith, Arizona State ‘part ways’

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A coach’s decision had kept Trelon Smith on the sidelines for the first half or so of the 2018 season. A player’s decision, in concert with the football program, will now keep the running back sidelined permanently, at least at Arizona State.

Both 247Sports.com and the Arizona Republic have reported that Smith has decided to transfer from the Sun Devils. The former website tweeted that Smith is “no longer a part of the team… [after] a mutual agreement [was reached],” while the latter wrote that “Smith and the ASU football program are parting ways” for unspecified reasons.

Smith did not play the first three games this season because of a coach’s decision/violation of unspecified team rules.

Smith was a three-star 2017 signee who played in nine games as a true freshman, carrying the ball just once for four yards. This season, after climbing out of his head coach’s doghouse, he carried the ball 11 times for 56 yards. Eight of those attempts and 45 of the yards came in his first game back, a loss to Washington Sept. 22.

Because he played in just four games and hasn’t yet used his redshirt, he’ll be able to keep a year of eligibility thanks to the new NCAA rule that has played a significant role in roster attrition this season. Including next season, Smith will have three years of eligibility at his disposal.