2013 CFN ACC Preview
Georgia Tech DE Jeremiah Attaochu
CFN ACC Preview 2013 - After years of concern, the conference might finally be stable - and good.
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Remove the dirt from the Atlantic Coast Conference. The league has never been on more stable ground in football than it is right now.
Wasn't it just last year that the ACC was getting throttled in the court of public opinion, while dealing with rumors that signature programs Florida State and Clemson might consider bolting for a stronger league? Yup, feels like a long time ago. Since then, commissioner John Swofford struck two crucial deals that will impact the conference's future.
First, Notre Dame will have an unmistakable presence in the ACC beginning in 2014, playing five league members a year. Hello, attendance and visibility boost. And then in the spring, Swofford convinced his schools to sign a grant of rights, which states that a school can leave the ACC, but its TV rights—and a whole lot of revenue—stay put. Goodbye, poachers, for the foreseeable future.
The ACC will feature a robust 14 schools this fall, with Louisville swapping places with Big Ten-bound Maryland in 2014. The Terrapins struck their deal before the grant of rights agreement. The conference has also added a footprint in Western Pennsylvania and the Northeast with the additions of Pitt and Syracuse, respectively. The Big East imports will make ACC hoops stronger than ever, while goosing the bottom line by broadening the conference's overall television reach into new markets.
Go ahead and exhale, ACC. You've earned it with your off-field machinations. On grass, though, you still have a reputation in need of a little sprucing up. The conference is just 3-14 all-time in BCS bowl games, and has not produced a national champion since the end of the last century. While it's a steady pipeline to the NFL, the league also lacks the heft of an SEC or the tradition of a Big Ten or a Pac-12. Clemson and Florida State are now in charge of carrying the ACC banner to a wider audience.
The Tigers and the Seminoles are the league's leading men, for 2013 and beyond. Dabo Swinney and Jimbo Fisher, respectively, have done outstanding jobs of signing elite recruits, coaching those kids up and creating winning atmospheres. Clemson, led by QB Tajh Boyd and the high-powered offense, is coming off just its fourth 11-win season in school history. Florida State, fueled by the conference's nastiest D, won the ACC last year for the first time since 2005. The schools meet in Death Valley on Oct. 19 in the ACC game of the year.
Clemson and Florida State have built a blockade around the Atlantic Division. Everyone else is fighting for third place and bowl positioning. Wake Forest returns a slew of starters to a veteran team determined to return to the postseason. In a season rife with change at Syracuse, new head coach Scott Shafer is hoping Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen can succeed Ryan Nassib at quarterback. After being snake-bitten by injuries in 2012, Maryland and beleaguered head coach Randy Edsall need something to cheer about in the worst way. NC State and Boston College begin new eras with Dave Doeren and Steve Addazio, respectively, on the sidelines.
The Coastal Division is deep and more tightly packed than the Miami O-line in a Smart car. Little, if any, separates the Canes, North Carolina, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, each of whom wants a crack at either Clemson or Florida State on Dec. 7 in Charlotte. Having been dogged by the NCAA in recent years, both Miami and Carolina are hoping to play beyond the regular season in 2013. The Yellow Jackets have sleeper potential, but only if new coordinator Ted Roof can transform the D. The Hokies are in search of a rebound following last year's worst season in two decades. Pitt, Virginia and Duke will scrap to avoid the division cellar, while bucking for the necessary wins to become bowl-eligible.
The ACC is one of the cool kids of the FBS, and one of the five power conferences as it pertains to access into the sport's marquee postseason events. Sure, it still has a lot to prove on Saturdays. But the league has come a very long way over the past 12 months, taking the necessary administrative measures that'll benefit each of its 14 member schools long after the 2013 season.
Team That'll Surprise
Miami – After being forced to dodge on-field and off-field arrows over the past few seasons, the Canes are poised to begin showing some much-needed progress on Saturdays. No, the defensively-challenged program isn't up to the level of Clemson or Florida State in the ACC, but it just might be the class of a middling Coastal Division. Miami returns a bunch of starters on offense and a coach, Al Golden, whose roots are burrowing deeper into the campus and the community. The Hurricanes are capable of winning eight regular-season games for the first time since 2009, because the backfield tandem of QB Stephen Morris and RB Duke Johnson is as potent as any in the conference. Oh, and the duo will have the luxury of operating behind an O-line welcoming back all five starters.
Team That'll Disappoint
Clemson – It's all relative. Sure, the Tigers just might be the class of the ACC in 2013, but those folks banking on a top 10 finish and national championship contention could be a little bummed by early December. Clemson is facing a tough schedule that starts with Georgia, ends with South Carolina and has Florida State lurking in the middle. Now, a team can travel far with Tajh Boyd under center and Sammy Watkins running patterns. But the Tigers are not without their worries on both sides of the ball. The offense must replace leading rusher Andre Ellington, top receiver DeAndre Hopkins and all-league C Dalton Freeman. The D is breaking in three new starters in the secondary, and might still get exposed by physical ground games. Clemson is a very good football team, and it'll probably win the ACC title with the Seminoles coming to Death Valley, but the bar is set in a whole different galaxy than in recent years.
Game of the Year …
Florida State at Clemson, Oct. 19 - This annual meeting between the Tigers and the Seminoles has picked up an enormous head of steam as one of the must-see games each fall … regardless of the conference. QB Tajh Boyd and the Clemson attack vs. the nasty Florida State D is about as good a game-within-the-game matchup that there'll be in 2013. Obviously, the winner in Death Valley jumps out to a commanding lead in the Atlantic Division race. And who knows? The Week 8 survivor could also be a contender for a spot in the BCS National Championship Game. Among the many tantalizing storylines in this one will be the play of young Noles' QB Jameis Winston, who hopes to someday be the heir apparent to Boyd as the most dangerous quarterback in the ACC.
5 Big-Time Players Who Deserve a Bigger Spotlight ...
1. CB Lamarcus Joyner, Sr. Florida State
2. QB Bryn Renner, Sr. North Carolina
3. WR Stefon Diggs, Soph. Maryland
4. WR Michael Campanaro, Sr. Wake Forest
5. CB Jemea Thomas, Sr. Georgia Tech
Coach on the Hot Seat
Randy Edsall, Maryland – Edsall has had two seasons to put his stamp on the Terrapins program. It's time for some dividends to start being doled out. It's been a rocky couple of years for the former hot-shot Connecticut head coach, who's gone 6-18 in College Park. Yeah, progress is being made, especially in the area of recruiting. And few coaches would have done much better than last year's four wins after three Maryland quarterbacks suffered season-ending knee injuries. But a third consecutive losing season will leave Edsall short on both viable excuses and delivered promises. It cannot be helping Edsall that the Terps went 9-4 the year before he arrived. Or that James Franklin, the coach-in-waiting on that 2010 team, has become a star at Vanderbilt.
5 Non-Conference Games the ACC better take very, very seriously
1. Nevada at Florida State, Sept. 14
2. Miami at South Florida, Sept. 28
3. Marshall at Virginia Tech, Sept. 21
4. Georgia Tech at BYU, Oct. 12
5. Middle Tennessee at North Carolina, Sept. 7
- After three teams tied atop the Coastal Division in 2012, a four-team deadlock involving Miami, Virginia Tech, Carolina and Georgia Tech will send everyone scrambling for the league's divisional tiebreaker rules.
- Wake Forest WR Michael Campanaro will finally earn the recognition he deserves. One of the ACC's best-kept secrets is the kind of player who won't be fully appreciated until he begins piling up numbers on Sundays.
- Blue Devil Anthony Boone will make locals forget Sean Renfree was a four-year starting quarterback at Duke. Boone does things Renfree couldn't, like extend plays with his feet.
- It'll become increasingly apparent that Boston College's Steve Addazio was one of the best hires of the offseason. The Eagles needed a coach like Addazio to get this once-proud program back on track.
- New NC State head coach Dave Doeren will experiment with his quarterbacks during the first month. With a September schedule that includes home games versus Louisiana Tech, Richmond and Central Michigan, the Pack could take long looks at Manny Stocker, Pete Thomas and recent Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell.
- Pitt DT Aaron Donald will be the ACC's best import from the old Big East. Like Wake Forest NT Nikita Whitlock, Donald isn't the prototype on the interior, but, boy, is he tough to block one-on-one.
- Maryland playmaker Stefon Diggs is the new Sammy Watkins in the ACC. Diggs was sensational in his debut, even more so considering the Terps used so many inadequate quarterbacks in 2012.
- Gio Bernard will be missed at Carolina, just not as much as many expect. The combination of bruising A.J. Blue and shift Romar Morris will nicely nuance the underrated play of QB Bryn Renner.
- At some point, Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas will be benched in favor of steady-handed backup Mark Leal. The feast-or-famine Thomas could eventually drive the staff to do the unimaginable, sitting a player once believed to be a possible first-round NFL Draft pick.
- Fueled by first-time starting QB Vad Lee and new defensive coordinator Ted Roof, Georgia Tech will author its best season since winning the ACC in 2009. And just in the nick of time for head coach Paul Johnson, who's lost some of his goodwill on the Flats over the past three years.
- Without much help from the defense, Miami will flash intermittent signs of building a bridge to the glory days. The Canes finally have a top-notch quarterback again, Stephen Morris, to pair with electrifying young RB Duke Johnson.
- Florida State's Jameis Winston will build on his breakout spring by blooming into one of the best young quarterbacks in America. The redshirt freshman is a franchise player in every sense of the term.
- Clemson DE Vic Beasley will make the rare leap from backup in 2012 to the league-leader in sacks in 2013. He'll prove to be too explosive off the snap for most opposing tackles to handle.
- Sammy Watkins will join Tajh Boyd in the Heisman discussion. After slumping in 2012, Watkins will play with something to prove in what figures to be his final year as an unpaid amateur.
- All of the talk about the rebuilt front seven in Tallahassee will dissipate after a week or two. With increased roles, DT Timmy Jernigan and LB Telvin Smith, in particular, will erupt into ACC stars.
- By the end of the year, whispers will begin to surface that Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer has lost his touch, a la Mack Brown in Austin. It won't be true, but that won't stop observers from zinging Beamer following a second so-so campaign in a row.
- It'll become apparent that Larry Fedora is the best thing to happen to Carolina since Mack Brown left Tulane for Chapel Hill in 1988. The Heels will surprise out of the Coastal if the D starts pulling a little more weight.
- The productive Syracuse running tandem of Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley will find yards a lot tougher to come by in 2013. New league, new coach, new quarterback, new left side of the line—none of those things will make life any better for Smith or Gulley.
- Virginia LT Morgan Moses will—finally—start blocking like a first-round NFL talent. The 6-6, 325-pound behemoth understands that this is final chance to impress scouts who've patiently waited for him to blossom.
- Wake Forest will win seven games, appear in a second-rate bowl game and take some heat off embattled head coach Jim Grobe. There are too many vets in Winston-Salem for the Deacons not to earn a bonus game.
5 Best Pro Prospects
1. DT Timmy Jernigan, Jr. Florida State
2. OT James Hurst, Sr. North Carolina
3. WR Sammy Watkins, Jr. Clemson
4. LB Christian Jones, Sr. Florida State
5. DE Jeremiah Attaochu, Sr. Georgia Tech
5 Biggest Shoes to Fill
1. QB Jameis Winston for EJ Manuel, Florida State
2. RB A.J. Blue for Giovani Bernard, North Carolina
3. WR Charone Peake for DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson
4. DE Mario Edwards Jr. for Bjoern Werner, Florida State
5. C Ryan Norton for Dalton Freeman, Clemson