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Predicted: 2016 Power 5 Conference Champions

This week’s piece is the second of three pieces i will be writing previewing the college football season. Last week was a focus on predicting the champions of the group of 5 conferences, and if you want to read that first, you can find it here. Next week will be the finale of the preview series, with a look at the NY6 Bowl Games and the College Football Playoff.

Atlantic Coast Conference

Clemson Tigers (12-0) vs. Miami Hurricanes (9-3)

Both sides of the ACC are going to be races between the top 2-3 teams. In the Atlantic decision, those teams are Clemson, FSU, and a sleeper Louisville, while in the Coastal those teams are Miami, UNC and VT. I expect the Clemson Tigers to ride Deshaun Watson to another undefeated regular season, with its biggest challenge obviously being down at FSU. None the less, I expect Clemson to be matured by its title game run last season, and I see the Tigers edging out FSU in a tightly contested match.

In the Coastal Division, while VT could pose a threat, I think this division title is really between Miami and UNC. And that being said, UNC’s out of conference schedule is much more difficult, with a game vs. Georgia at the Georgia Dome to kick off the season. Miami, on the other hand, starts off its season with three super tough opponents…Florida A&M, Florida Atlantic and Appalachian State. Given that start to the season, I think Miami advances to the ACC Championship by a game over the Heels. It is important to note that FSU, with only a single loss to Clemson, would still be a huge contender for the CFP.

Conference Champion: Clemson Tigers

Big 12

Conference Contenders: Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State and Baylor

While 2017 may be the return of a championship game for the Big 12, the lack of one this year will make the conference title race an interesting one to say the least. While OSU and Baylor will factor in, this race should and will come down to Oklahoma and TCU. And looking at its respective schedules, it’s hard to not see a difference between the two. TCU starts off with South Dakota State, Arkansas, Iowa State (who, for the record, always has an upset up its sleeve) and SMU. I would be surprised if going into its week 5 matchup with Oklahoma, TCU was not undefeated. Now, Oklahoma’s road to that matchup is extremely different. Going into the TCU matchup, Oklahoma has to battle through Houston and Ohio State, and to a much, much lesser degree the ULM Warhawks. Personally, I think the Sooners drop both the UH and Buckeye games. But, even if Oklahoma makes it out of those games without a loss, it will be exhausted from the extreme competition it has faced already. Even with two weeks to prepare for the TCU matchup, I believe the Sooners will be at a disadvantage, and lose to the Horned Frogs. After that matchup, I think the Big 12 conference matchups will give both TCU and Oklahoma some trouble, and I see both dropping a total of 2 in conference matchups.

 

Conference Champion: TCU (10-2)

Big Ten

Prediction: Ohio State (12-0) vs. Iowa (9-3)

Oh boy, here we go again. We finally have a Big Ten that is properly returned to form. And with that return to form, I have a bold prediction. On November 26th, ten years and 8 days after the historic matchup, we will see “The Game of the Century” Part 2 in Columbus, Ohio. Going into, what I believe, is the biggest rivalry in college, and maybe all of, sports, other than Ohio State’s challenge in Oklahoma, and both of their needs to beat Michigan State, we could easily see both the Buckeyes and the Wolverines be undefeated going into the matchup. Now, for me personally, this idea sends shivers down my spine, as, having grown up in the great state of Ohio, I both hate Michigan and also attended the 1 vs 2 game back in 2006. Now because of J.T. Barrett, Heisman finalist (and for my sanity as an Ohioan), I see the Horseshoe being stormed with Buckeye fans after a thrilling victory over the team up north. …oh, sorry, Big Ten West, I (and everyone else in the country) almost forgot about you. Iowa should be able to take the Big Ten west crown, and I see them doing so at a pace of 9-3.

Conference Champion: The Ohio State Buckeyes

Southeastern Conference

Prediction: Alabama (11-1) vs. Tennessee (10-2)

The SEC division titles seem to be two sets of three team races. Tennessee, Georgia and Florida will fight for the East, whilst ‘Bama, LSU and Ole Miss will fight for the West. I would be shocked, given the strength of the conference as a whole, to see any team come out of the SEC undefeated. That being said, however, Alabama is an easy pick for a division champ, as the Crimson Tide are of course, the reigning national campions. And nothing has shown me anything to doubt ‘Bama coming into 2016. LSU, behind Fournette, a Heisman candidate, will give Alabama a run for its money, but I think ‘Bama will prove to be the superior team.

Now in the East Division, things are more of a crapshoot. While Tennessee may be the most likely division champ, the Volunteer’s inconsistent play over the last several years is what the Bulldogs and Gators are counting on. If Tennessee falters, even slightly, one of those two will look to poach the division. However, I think Florida’s current QB situation makes it a less likely champion than UGA or Tennessee. Expect Tennessee to, despite some struggles, grind out the East.

Conference Champion: Alabama Crimson Tide

Pac-12

Prediction: Stanford (10-2) vs. UCLA (9-3)

The Pac-12 is a mess. It currently lacks a single team to help bring the conference back into prominence. Oregon will be good this year but not great, as the Ducks will get between 7-9 wins in the North. Oregon needs to watch out for its out of conference games against Virginia and Nebraska, as both teams could send the Ducks into a tail spin (pun intended) early in the season. I think Washington State, though the current favorite for conference champion, will struggle with its early conference matchups, as they play a large number of difficult conference opponents to start the Cougars conference play. I think the consistently decent Stanford Cardinal will be able to once again claim the North.

The South is in no better shape, as UCLA, USC, Utah, ASU, and Arizona are all decent teams, but not one of them stands out from the field. I think UCLA, being the program at the highest level of the current South Contenders, will be able to take the South in fairly mild fashion. The Bruins biggest challenge is facing BYU and Stanford in back to back weeks, but UCLA needs to make sure that they can recover in the possibility that it loses both games. If UCLA does start to falter, the South could still be very much up for grabs.

Conference Champion: Stanford Cardinal

E-mail Cooper at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @uf_goetz.

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Image courtesy of James Santelli, Neon Tommy – Flickr

Creating the New ACC Football Schedule: 9+1=10, But So Does 8+2

Back in July, it was finally announced that there would be an ACC Network. If you missed this news then I’m surprised you even clicked on my article. But by all means, keep reading and educate yourself about this exciting time for ACC football.

This new network, formed through a partnership with ESPN, will obviously generate income for all parties involved when it launches in August 2019. But to make it most profitable, ESPN is asking the athletic directors of the conference to pick one of two options for their future football schedules. Better games mean higher viewership and higher viewership means more money. You may not realize it, but football really is all about money.

Obviously, nothing worth having (the long-awaited ACC Network in this case) comes easily. In fact, the programs are currently deadlocked between their two options for schedules moving forward. It comes down to what would be best for the most competitive schools and what would be easiest for all schools.

What Are the Options?

There is the obvious option to increase the required number of conference games each season from eight to nine. Teams would then also have to schedule one Power Five opponent annually.

The other option is to leave the conference games at only eight. But, this would require all teams in the conference to schedule two Power Five opponents annually.

It should be noted that for these purposes, Notre Dame is considered a Power Five opponent.

So What’s the Holdup?

If you know anything about the way ACC football has been going lately, then you can probably take a pretty good guess at which programs are on what side of this debate. The programs that are more competitive nationally and would like a better chance to reach the College Football Playoffs are in favor of keeping only eight required conference games. On the other hand, the programs that aren’t quite as competitive would rather have an extra conference game.

Why does this even matter? Can it actually affect their schedules all that much? Why are the athletic directors so dang disagreeable?

It matters because it can cause scheduling nightmares for some programs. On each end of the spectrum, there are different problems that the schools would face if forced to implement the type of schedule they aren’t currently supporting.

Clemson, FSU, Georgia Tech, and Louisville all already have a Power Five game built into their schedule each season due to in-state non-conference rivals. If these programs were required to have nine conference games, then that means the one Power Five game they play would always be the same. Yawn Granted, who’s to say that they couldn’t step up and schedule two Power Five games anyways? The logistics of the scheduling wouldn’t be easy, and their resulting record may not be as pretty but they could just suck it up.

There are teams like NC State and Virginia that are on the other side of this argument though. NC State hasn’t played two Power Five opponents in one season since 2003. And as of right now, that rarity will only happen one more time through 2028. Having to find another Power Five team to add to their schedule every season would be much more difficult than just rotating in an extra ACC opponent. Virginia currently has the same line of thinking. Coach Bronco Mendenhall says the nine-game model is an easy way to already have another good game built into the team’s schedule.

What About Us?

For fans of the game overall, it could be a Catch-22. Games like the North Carolina-Georgia game would become much less desirable for a school to schedule if they have to devote nine weekends to conference play. But fans of the ACC itself would get to see more cross-divisional ACC matchups on a yearly basis, and some of those games are actually pretty exciting.

At the end of the day, one set of programs is going to have to compromise here. The premier programs like Clemson and FSU would be hard-pressed to give up the chance to play a more formidable Power Five opponent instead of an extra conference one. But the less successful ACC football programs would be hard-pressed to find another Power Five opponent to fit into their schedule each season if they had to.

It’s a lose-lose. But it’s also a win-win…if you really like ACC football. The 2019 season may be three years away (which will feel like 21 years away because football time goes by like dog years), but when it gets here they will finally have their own network. We can watch more ACC football games than ever before while our favorite teams make more money. Now that’s pretty sweet, regardless of the possible scheduling woes.

Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Image Courtesy of Flickr user Emily Baron.

Notre Dame Football Traditions Hold it back

PSA: If you are a Notre Dame fan over the age of 35, you probably will not like what you are about to read.

“Tradition:” A word more synonymous with Notre Dame Football than “winning” at this point. In an age of big players, big bucks, and big scandals, Notre Dame has managed to preserve a certain throwback quality to the way it operates. And besides a vintage love affair with Knute Rockne, Irish Football’s most evergreen trademark is its non-conference schedule.

For years the Irish brutally clashed with football juggernauts and bitter rivals under the holy name of Independent. The Irish have never been bound to crush conference cellar-dwellers on the path to a National Title. Now, the College Football Playoff has ushered in a new era of college football. An era in which, quite frankly, the Independent method just doesn’t fit. It’s time to face the music, pronto.

This system—or rather, this refusal to adapt to a system—has rankled the rest of the college football world, with naysayers claiming it gives the Irish an unfair advantage. On paper, this logic seems valid. Notre Dame can schedule whomever it chooses while other programs are shackled to schedules assigned from on high.

Notre Dame can theoretically rake in TV revenue for primetime road match-ups and its home contract with NBC. When Notre Dame plays on the road against a 2-7 Boston College team, it goes on ESPN at 8:00. When any other team plays at Boston College it’s a 12:00 game that might blackout on WatchESPN. This unfair advantage in the ways of scheduling and television coverage gives the Irish freedom and exposure that other teams just don’t have.

But the reality of the last two decades tells a different story. Notre Dame hasn’t won a national championship in 28 years, and only twice since then has it come close to contention. Perhaps the way to Make Notre Dame Great Again is to loosen the grip on tradition, starting with its logistical relationship to the wider college football galaxy.

Yet, the Irish stay independent. Before their half-assed deal with the ACC, each year the Irish faced the same core group of teams: Michigan, Michigan State, USC, Stanford, Navy, Boston College, and Pittsburgh. This was essentially Notre Dame’s “conference” schedule and each year it would attempt to buff its schedule with a couple of strong teams, essentially like a non-conference slate.

If Notre Dame is really to explode from the history books of college football back to the top, it is pivotal that it joins a conference.

Notre Dame must put tradition aside for the sake of the program. For years the Irish have maintained that they are different from the rest of college football. That Notre Dame is Notre Dame and everyone else isn’t, thus it supersedes the conference system.

That is wrong. All of the beautiful tradition that surrounds Notre Dame Football does not have to be eliminated, but it’s time for that tradition to stop blinding Notre Dame fans and management from realizing that to win, things have to change.

I don’t mean the termination of all the beloved Notre Dame rivalries, I just mean that some games cannot be annual.

USC is a staple game, and it can easily be worked into a schedule the way it stands now. That leaves two non-conference games each season, with which the Irish can schedule Michigan, Michigan State, Stanford, or any other team for that matter.

The most important part is that Notre Dame will finally have a rigid conference system to support it. All of a sudden, a two-loss Notre Dame team that wins the ACC Championship game has a chance to make the playoff.

Notre Dame can become the powerhouse it once was, conquering college football in the name of Touchdown Jesus. This can only be achieved if it aligns with the rest of the College Football world.

E-mail John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @John_Horlander.

Photo: Christopher Aloi/Flickr

Correction: August 5, 2016
An earlier version of this article stated Notre Dame hadn’t won a national championship in 19 years. Notre Dame’s last national championship was in 1988.

Can the ACC Network Finally Force Notre Dame to Join the ACC in Football?

For many, many years I was among a large group of college football fans who insisted that Notre Dame need not join a conference to remain competitive, but I’m starting to shift my thinking. The creation of the ACC Network, the Irish signing their grant of rights away until 2036 and the College Football Playoff have created a perfect storm that might lead to end of Irish independence.

Obviously, Notre Dame wouldn’t do anything until its home television contract with NBC expires in 2025, but by then it will either be painfully obvious it needs to join a conference or that it can survive on its own*. The College Football Playoff contract also expires in 2025.

One of the reasons, other than being different, that I like Notre Dame being independent is because it spreads great football games across networks that aren’t tied to ESPN. I really had hope that the Big Ten would do something similar and break at least partially away from ESPN and give its rights to FOX (which partially owns the Big Ten Network) or NBC. It didn’t happen, and while Notre Dame’s contract with NBC made a lot of sense initially, the school now makes less than almost every other Power 5 school.

What we know: Notre Dame pulls about $15 million from NBC and another $6.2 million from the ACC/ESPN deal, as it stands right now. It’s believed another $5-$8 million in revenue from ACC Network will close the gap between it and most of the other Power 5 schools that aren’t in the ACC, but why the need for income source complexity?

Right. Tradition.

Let’s talk about tradition for a moment. I’m not a fan of Notre Dame playing Michigan, Ohio State, Purdue, or any other team in the Big Ten. I really believe the only thing it promotes are the other schools its playing. Michigan and Ohio State provide no obvious recruiting benefit to Notre Dame. Since I didn’t grow up watching Michigan and Notre Dame, it isn’t something I need to see every year.

Side note: I don’t want to see Michigan play Ohio State every year either, but television insists that it’s a great game, when clearly it is not.

I understand that the same history I just derided also says Notre Dame and Navy play each other and I understand the history the two schools have dating back to World War II. Fine.

Keep it.

But I really like when Notre Dame plays opponents that are out of their region and provide them a recruiting benefit. And this is where playing in the ACC will help them recruit. Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, New York. Seemingly everyone from the Midwest is traveling to those states to recruit and very few are traveling to the Midwest to recruit. Why? Because no one wants to live in the Midwest anymore and there’s no advantage for an up-and-coming prospect to live there.

So, while keeping their ‘traditional’ rivals would keep old school fans happy, it does very little to help recruiting or anything else that seems to matter.

The next, last and most important complication: The College Football Playoff. As long as the committee is going to put an emphasis on winning a conference then Notre Dame is going to take a perceived hit no matter what. Now that the Big 12 has decided to hold a conference championship game, the Irish can’t say they’re not the only team without a chance to play a conference title game.

Joining the ACC as a full time member and consistently facing Florida State, Clemson, Louisville is more important than playing region ‘rivals’ who impact nothing. Notre Dame will continue to sell out its home games and probably the stadiums of the teams it visits for the foreseeable future. The Irish will command – and receive – more money once they become full-time ACC members and the rest of us will wonder why we defended their lack of a conference home for so long.

All this is, of course, pre-mature, because I don’t suspect Notre Dame will be able to join the ACC while its contract remains with NBC. Under any other circumstances, NBC probably wouldn’t care if they joined a conference, but NBC pays all that money for a national schedule and beyond two or three non-conference games, the Irish cannot guarantee great home opponents as part of its conference schedule.

I did mention all of this is pre-mature? Right. Notre Dame will be a full participant in the ACC by 2025 at the latest.

E-mail Damien at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @damienbowman.

Photo: MGoBlog/Flickr.

The Dark-Horse Candidates for the 2016 College Football Playoffs

Conference media days are heating up as we venture into the heat of August. That also means that we are not only closer to summer college football camp but we are also closer to the games actually kicking off. I do not know about you, but I am ready to do this 2016 season!

As I day dream about what 2016 will bring, I find myself thinking about the College Football Playoff and who may be some of the surprise, dark-horse teams that could be in contention for one of the four coveted spots.

Here are the teams from each of the Power 5 conferences that I believe could be dark-horse contenders for the playoff.

SEC

Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks are my dark-horse pick from the SEC. Bielema has been in Fayetteville long enough that his system should be considered established. That means that he has “his” players in place to go along with his system.

His roster is littered with established players on both sides of the ball. This includes a knowledgeable and capable quarterback in Austin Allen, a beast of an offensive lineman in Dan Skipper, a stud of a running back in Kody Walker and a top tier wide receiver in Keon Hatcher.

The defensive side of the ball may not be quite on par with Bielema’s offensive depth chart but there are known commodities on the defensive line with Taiwan Johnson and Bijhon Jackson.

And let us not forget that they have an advantageous schedule. At least it is as advantageous as an SEC West team could hope for. They have a great resume building opportunity with a non-conference road game against TCU and then get Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and Florida all in Fayetteville.

The ingredients are there for a surprise playoff run.

Pac-12

The Pac-12 could be the year of the pirate. That is right, Washington State with head coach Mike Leach is my pick for the Pac-12’s dark-horse playoff team.

Wazzu is my pick for no other reason than quarterback Luke Falk. Falk can sling the ball around in a wide open offense as he guides a Cougar offense that should outwork scoreboards across the conference. They are not one of the best teams in the conference, but with Falk and Leach, they will put enough pressure on opposing teams that they should be a threat to the conference.

The Cougars play Oregon, UCLA, Arizona, California, and Washington all in Pullman. Their toughest road game will be at Arizona State and they do not have to deal with USC.

If Leach’s Cougars play even a little defense, this team will be a handful week in and week out.

Big 12

Most of my fellow writers at Campus Pressbox are probably expecting me to select Texas as my dark-horse playoff contender from the Big 12, but, not so fast, my pick here is Oklahoma State

Mike Gundy will not only have a talented roster that is led by quarterback Mason Rudolph, but he will also have a schedule that is beyond favorable. All three of the Cowboys’ non-conference games will be played in Stillwater. If this were not enough, the Cowboys also welcome Texas, West Virginia, and Texas Tech all to Stillwater. All three of those opponents could be considered dark-horse candidates and Oklahoma State gets them all in Stillwater.

ACC

It would be easy to choose Louisville simply because they play a beast of a non-conference opponent when the go on the road to play Marshall. My omission of Louisville as my ACC dark-horse playoff candidate should not be taken as a show of disrespect to the Thundering Herd.

My ACC dark-horse is Miami. Everyone seemed to pick Georgia each year to with the SEC East with Mark Richt, so it is only fitting to go with Miami here. Surely Richt will not bring his system of bitter disappointment to the ACC, will he?

Richt will have talent in Miami, because, well, it is Miami and talent was never the problem for the Hurricanes. As a first year Miami head coach, Richt should have the players and fans energized and the team will play enough of its high profile games at home as they host Florida State, North Carolina, and Duke.

It will not be easy for Miami, but it will not be easy for any team who is considered a dark-horse candidate for the playoffs.

Big Ten

As someone who gets labeled as “another SEC homer,” it pains me to say this, but the Big Ten is going to be Murderer’s Row this year. Each time that I wanted to make a particular team my choice as the Big Ten dark-horse, I looked at their schedule. Brutal.

So with that said, I am considering any team not named Michigan or Ohio State to be in consideration as my Big Ten dark-horse. And Michigan State is my pick.

From a personnel perspective, the Spartans may have the most questions of the teams I have chosen in this article. However, they do have LJ Scott at running back, are still coached by Mark Dantonio and have as favorable a schedule as you are likely to find in the Big Ten.

They do play both Michigan and Ohio State, but both games are in East Lansing. And if that were not enough good fortune, the Spartans also host Northwestern and Wisconsin.

It will not be easy this year in the Big Ten, but if there is a team that could turn the conference upside down, it is Sparty with Dantonio.

Oh, and do not forget, they will also face a fierce test in the second game of the season as they travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org

Will History Repeat Itself with the Southwest Conference and Big 12?

The reason for college football expansion all starts with the state of Texas. In 1982, SMU finished second in the polls. This was the last time a Southwestern Conference team competed for a national title.

What really hurt the Southwestern Conference was the constant NCAA violations. The last eight Southwestern Champions lost their bowl games. They didn’t have any powerhouses anymore because the NCAA went after them because of how dirty they were.

Arkansas, one of the three teams (Arkansas, Baylor and Rice) not hit by sanctions, left for the SEC to gain part of their television deal and to get out of a dying conference due to the constant punishments handed down by the NCAA.

Once Arkansas left, the remaining members of the Southwestern Conference had to get a fresh start to help their image and become prominent once again. The SEC expanded in 1990 from 10 to 12 teams. In the same year the Big Ten added Penn State and in 1991 the ACC expanded to nine teams by adding Florida State.

With all of these conferences expanding, they also added television deals with major television companies. While all of this was going on Texas became desperate and decided to leach on to a conference so they could become prominent again in the eyes of the nation.

Fast forward to 2010. What caused Texas A&M, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska to want to leave the Big 12? The state of Texas, once again. Texas came into the Big 12 making demands, creating television deals and looking out for its own well-being before every other team in the conference.

Texas did everything in its power to keep Texas A&M and the rest of the conference down by creating the Longhorn Network. Texas got rid of the prop 48 or partial qualifying players that the Big 8 once had. Texas also attacked Nebraska’s Association of American Universities status causing a major rift between the two schools. With Nebraska and Texas A&M both feeling wronged they began to looking to leave the Big 12 Conference. With two major players in the Big 12 looking to get out Missouri and Colorado began searching for safer conferences to align with.

So once the second wave of conference realignment started the Big 12 lost four members. Colorado to the Pac 12, Missouri and Texas A&M to the SEC and Nebraska to the Big Ten. The Big 12 was then forced to look for less nationally predominate teams to keep its head above water, taking in West Virginia and TCU to help the conference survive.

This third wave of conference realignment threatens the Big 12 yet again with rumors of Kansas and Oklahoma going to the Big Ten, with West Virginia rumored to go to the ACC and Texas not budging on their money losing Longhorn Network. What conference will want to deal with Texas and all of its conference imploding tendencies regardless of their television deals? Texas has been in two conferences, one has dissolved and the other on the verge. What will happen next?

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Harbaugh Does What He Wants, You Would Too

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the Michigan Wolverines have been busy scheduling a ton of satellite camps for this summer. The staggering number, which continues to rise, now stands at 37 total camps spanning 21 states and the country of American Samoa. Australia was also on the list but was cancelled due to potential violations of NCAA rules, specifically one that would classify the hosting organization as a recruiting service. The cost will more than likely exceed $1 million, compared to eight days of camps last summer, which cost the school over $200,000.

Satellite camps became a hot topic of national debate last summer when Michigan had a seven-state, nine-camp tour of the South in June named the Summer Swarm Tour. The invasion of territory drew the ire of SEC and ACC programs. Why was it such a big deal? NCAA said colleges were prohibited from having camps outside a 50-mile radius of their campuses but nothing prevented them from being guests at camps hosted by other institutions. For awhile, SEC and ACC rules prohibited their coaches from going outside the 50-mile radius, even if invited as guests. This meant coaches from Michigan could get personal, face-to-face time with prospects in the South while SEC teams couldn’t.

Fast forward to April 8, 2016. After a vote by all Power 5 conferences, the NCAA Division I Council banned all satellite camps and said FBS programs had to host all clinics at facilities regularly used for practice or competition. Of course, the SEC and ACC rejoiced and unsurprisingly, the Big Ten was the only conference to vote in favor of satellite camps.

Then, in an interesting turn of events three weeks later, the NCAA Board of Directors rescinded the ban on satellite camps, but told the Division I Council to conduct a broad review and assessment of the college football recruiting process, which could (and will likely) bring modifications to the camps.

With this in mind, Harbaugh has taken advantage of the freedom he maintains and has piled on as many camps as he can before restrictions are put in place.

As unfair as the practice seemed, Harbaugh was just seizing an opportunity that was never fully exploited and was leaving no stone left unturned in terms of finding players. Why should the SEC be able to hoard all the top recruits just because they are in close proximity?

And if the SEC is so great and has all these awesome football schools, why should they be worried about an outsider in their neck of the woods? Are they actually afraid of Harbaugh?

Another point is the SEC had a self-imposed rule that put its coaches on a leash and prevented them from setting up camps outside the 50-mile radius. I know there was this unwritten agreement not to invade other school’s territories that was part of the reason for this rule but it shouldn’t have even been made in the first place. There are people who don’t mind disturbing the peace and Harbaugh is one of those people. Listen, he was tasked with turning around a program to its former glory no matter the cost. He isn’t afraid to get dirty, no harm, no foul.

I also find it interesting that the SEC was so against these camps but after the ban was rescinded, it said their coaches could now do satellite camps anywhere. A bunch of them, including LSU’s Les Miles and Georgia’s Kirby Smart, have now started their own summer tours.

You might be thinking to yourself, this is getting ridiculous, Harbaugh needs to stop this madness, enough is enough. I can understand your frustration and that your getting sick of this but what would you do if you were the head coach of Michigan? Would you wave the white flag and say I’m done or would you continue to schedule camps knowing full well this might be the last time you will be able to, all the while pissing off all of your haters? I think you know the answer. You can’t deny it’s fun to be the villain at times. So what if it’s just an ego-driven publicity stunt on steroids? This has shined every ounce of attention on Michigan and from a marketing standpoint it’s pure genius. Also, why be mad if un-recruited prospects are getting an opportunity to showcase their skills?

Great coaches are confident in their abilities and aren’t swayed by public opinion. He is showing us how to actually have a pair of balls and be indifferent to all the noise. Honestly, when was the last time you cared what people thought of you?

Hate him or love him, no one can deny this has turned out brilliantly for Harbaugh and if you were him, you’d be doing the exact same thing.

Image courtesy of wikimedia user Ericupchurch

ACC Links: The Weakest Link Edition

Boston College’s ACC Struggles

The Boston College Eagles have had a history of success in their athletic program, especially in football. This past season they managed to lose every single conference game they played. To make matters worse, the Boston College basketball team also lost every single one of its conference games. The Eagles have seemed to slowly decline since they joined the ACC in 2005. As in previous years, the ACC was clearly trying to become more of a “football conference.” And, as in previous years, the program that they chose to add only became worse after becoming a part of the conference. This raises all sorts of questions about what happens to a team when they start playing ACC football, or any ACC sport, for that matter. So is it time to vote Boston College off the ACC Island? Well, I’m just going to go ahead and vote for everybody and say yes. Boston College, you are the weakest link. Goodbye.

Heisman Potential in ACC Football

The ACC had outstanding offensive talent scattered throughout the conference last season. Much of that talent is returning this year, leaving a pretty decent list of the conference’s top five Heisman Trophy candidates. This list obviously includes Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who I discussed in last week’s ACC football links. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook was also clearly included in the list after being an integral part of the Seminole offensive attack last season. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was also included, as he had a solid season last year and is expected to grow even more under Mark Richt. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson is on this list despite having a quiet season last year since he shared reps. Finishing out the list is North Carolina running back Elijah Hood, who rushed for nearly 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. With players like these playing huge roles in each team’s offensive attack, I would not be surprised to see a Heisman winner from an ACC football program this year. I guess you could say that these guys are definitely not the weakest links.

Jimbo Fisher’s Toughest Schedule

Much has been said about Florida State’s strength of schedule in previous seasons. This year, the Seminoles are playing what is arguably their most difficult schedule since Jimbo Fisher took over the team in 2010. Florida State opens the season against Ole Miss and also plays Louisville, North Carolina, Miami, Clemson, and Florida. The teams on their schedule actually posted a combined record of 96-61 during last season, which puts them at a win percentage of over 61 percent. If Florida State can navigate their way through this schedule and win the ACC, there should be no argument about whether or not they deserve to be included in this year’s College Football Playoff. To continue with the theme of weakest links, clearly Florida State’s competition does not fit that bill.

Pittsburgh’s James Conner is Cancer-Free

Last December, Pittsburgh running back James Conner announced that he had been diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma. Conner was nursing a knee injury last year after having a great sophomore season in 2014. During that season alone, he ran for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns. His fighting spirit has been an inspiration to Pittsburgh fans as well as many others throughout the country. Conner recently made an appearance on the Ellen Degeneres Show, only to be surprised by another football player who fought Hodgkin lymphoma, Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry. Just a few days ago, he announced that his body is clean of cancer. Here’s to hoping he pulls an Eric Berry, coming back even stronger than he was before his battle with cancer. That would be scary for the rest of the ACC football teams. And James Conner, you are ACC football’s strongest link.

Image courtesy of wikimedia user Ayzmo.

Eight Noteworthy Non-Conference Games for ACC Football

One of my favorite things to do when looking ahead at a football season is to pick out big non-conference matchups and take a closer look at them. In this case, I’m only going to go through eight games, which will include just over half of the conference. But these eight games could all go a long way in convincing the rest of the country that the ACC as a whole isn’t only good at basketball. It may be early, but it’s definitely not too early to get a quick look at the games you should make your schedule around this fall if you’re an ACC football fan.

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Georgia Bulldogs

September 3rd at 5:30 PM EST

North Carolina was ranked at number 15 in last season’s final AP poll. While Georgia was not ranked, they finished last season at 10-2 and beat the Penn State Nittany Lions in their bowl game. The Tar Heels had an even better season last year, only losing to the South Carolina Gamecocks during their opening game. With a healthy Nick Chubb and coach Kirby Smart leading the Bulldogs, the Tar Heels may drop another season opener if they don’t come ready to play.

Clemson Tigers @ Auburn Tigers

September 3rd at 9:00 PM EST

Clemson finished second in last season’s final AP poll, with only the Alabama Crimson Tide ahead of them. Clemson had an impressive undefeated season, won the ACC Championship, and fell just short in the National Championship game. Auburn admittedly had a down season last year, but they could be a dangerous team for Clemson to overlook. With Clemson returning many key players from last year’s team, I expect them to be able to handle Auburn with ease.

Florida State Seminoles vs. Ole Miss Rebels

September 5th at 8:00 PM EST

The Florida State Seminoles finished at number 14 last season and Ole Miss finished ranked tenth. The Seminoles may have lost one heck of a kicker, but they’ll be returning plenty of talent this season. Ole Miss lost their star receiver, a key offensive tackle, and a strong defensive tackle. Although the Rebels will have quarterback Chad Kelly, the Seminoles should be able to overpower their defense.

Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Tennessee Volunteers

September 10th, time TBA

The Tennessee Volunteers finished at number 22 last season, while the Viginia Tech Hokies were unranked. These two teams look like a lop-sided matchup from the start, but this game has a huge unknown factor that may play a role in its outcome. This is the game that will be played at Bristol Motor Speedway in front of about 150,000 fans. The layout will be different, the crowd will be ridiculous, and the hype is already out of control. With most of their important players returning, the Vols should beat Virginia Tech relatively easily, but the Hokies may not go down without a fight in this exhilarating environment.

Duke Blue Devils @ Northwestern Wildcats

September 17th at 8:00 PM EST

The Northwestern Wildcats finished ranked at number 23 last season after losing in embarrassing fashion to the Tennessee Volunteers during their bowl game. The Duke Blue Devils, on the other hand, won their bowl game. But the Blue Devils had a little less impressive of a season than the Wildcats did. This looks to be a good matchup for the Blue Devils and a great opportunity to get a quality win over a Big Ten opponent early in the season.

Pittsburgh Panthers @ Oklahoma State Cowboys

September 17th, time TBA

The Oklahoma State Cowboys finished last season at number 20, but the Pittsburgh Panthers were unranked. Although Pittsburgh lost their bowl game and had a quiet season last year, they did post a good conference record. Oklahoma State ended regular season play with two devastating losses and went on to lose to the Ole Miss Rebels in their bowl game. When you hear this matchup, you might be inclined to pick the Cowboys but the Panthers shouldn’t be overlooked this year.

Miami Hurricanes @ Notre Dame Fighting Irish

October 29th at 3:30 PM EST

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish finished ranked eleventh and the Miami Hurricanes were nowhere near being ranked. Notre Dame is nearly always a formidable opponent in recent years, but Miami is definitely not out of this game, by any means. The Hurricanes return a good amount of talent and will be playing under a very experienced coach in Mark Richt. The biggest key for the Hurricanes in this game will be taking advantage of Notre Dame’s defensive weaknesses that came to light at the end of the 2015 season. If Mark Richt can do that, they could have a very impressive non-conference win in his first season as head coach.

Louisville Cardinals @ Houston Cougars

November 17th, time TBA

The Houston Cougars finished surprisingly high last season, ranked eighth in the final AP poll and the Louisville Cardinals were unranked. The two played during the second weekend of the season last year, with Louisville just barely edging out Houston. Houston finished out the season with a somewhat surprising bowl victory over the Florida State Seminoles. While the Cardinals clearly have a chance to win this game, they need to play with urgency from the beginning, knowing that the Cougars are formidable opponents.

There are, of course, other noteworthy non-conference games in ACC football this season. But wins in these games would be key in gaining some respect for the conference as a whole when it comes to football. They would also give ACC teams quality wins that could help when it comes time for bowl games and even the playoffs.

Photo of Kenan Memorial Stadium courtesy of Yeungb.

ACC Links: Rivalries, Replays, and Deshaun Watson

Rivalry Games

Rivalry Week is always one of my favorite parts of the season. Of course, the worst part about it is that it signifies the end of the regular season. But the best part about it is that I always know which teams my favorite teams will be playing year after year. I can plan accordingly months in advance…more than months in advance, actually. While Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher admittedly has a pretty great Rivalry Week game with the Florida Gators on the schedule every season, apparently that set rivalry game isn’t quite enough for him. Fisher lobbies time and time again to try to get other coaches on board with set weekends for ACC football rivalries as well. What if Clemson and Florida State played on the same weekend every season? How would that affect the ACC? While the consistency is good in certain respects, it could also just make scheduling more difficult for other teams when you start adding in more games like that. So maybe Fisher isn’t going to get any immediate results, but it seems pretty clear that he won’t let go of this idea.

Instant Replay Officials

As football fans, we all experience it: that moment when it seems like we can see something so much clearer on television than the officials who are reviewing it at the stadium can. Or what about that moment when one play gets called a certain way in one game but gets called the opposite way in another game? The ACC has made a move to try to make those problems a thing of the past. It’s all about consistency. To achieve this consistency, they’ll be using instant-replay officials in the conference’s Greensboro, NC office to participate in every review discussion during home games at ACC football venues, as well as during Notre Dame’s home games. While this move is not a permanent one at the time, after testing it out this season, we can expect the NCAA Football Rules Committee to make its judgment about off-site replay officials after the end of the 2016 season. The SEC has recently opted to follow suit, and will be testing its own version of this system during the 2016 season as well.

Deshaun Watson and Clemson’s Offense

On Tuesday, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson officially accepted the Manning Award for his performance as the top-performing quarterback throughout the 2015 college football season. Watson had a phenomenal season last year, posting incredible numbers. He finished with 4,104 yards passing, 35 passing touchdowns, 1,105 yard rushing, and 12 additional scores. Watson actually nearly single-handedly led the Clemson Tigers in an incredible comeback against the Alabama Crimson Tide during that National Championship Game last season.

But what does this mean for Clemson’s offense looking ahead? Fortunately for the Tigers, Watson was only a sophomore last season and is therefore returning as their starting quarterback this season. Although Clemson wasn’t particularly strong when it came to rushing the ball, Watson’s talent as a passer and while scrambling gave them plenty of options to try. Last season, the Tigers threw mostly quick passes. This season, there’s hope that they’ll be able to burn teams on some deep pass plays as well. With the return of Mike Williams from injury, Watson should have a great target downfield for those longer plays. But the offensive line needs to execute better, too, if they want to give Watson enough time to get off those passes accurately. Either way, Watson returning is huge for the Tigers. Whether or not the rest of the team steps up to play closer to his level remains to be seen.

 

Picture courtesy of Ken Lund.