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Put Everyone on Alert: ACC Football Deserves Some Respect

The title says it all. I think it’s finally time to show ACC football some respect. Listen, I know it’s a bit early in the season to make a statement as bold as this one, but I have my reasons.

At the end of last season, I could’ve argued the same thing. If it weren’t for Florida State’s bowl loss to the Houston Cougars, I probably would’ve argued the same thing actually. About eight months later I’m finally ready to convince people that the ACC may be more than just a basketball conference now.

Let’s start with its overall record during the opening weekend of this college football season, 11-3. That looks really impressive at first glance, but we do still have to keep in mind that the opposition they faced was nothing worth celebrating.

ACC teams played Charlotte, Tulane, William & Mary, Colgate, Liberty, Villanova, Richmond, Georgia, NC Central, Florida A&M, Auburn, and Ole Miss. They lost two of these games and there was also one conference matchup. Surprisingly, the two games lost were not both against SEC teams. While North Carolina did lose to Georgia in Atlanta, Virginia managed to lose to Richmond in Charlottesville.

The ACC went 2-1 against the SEC in Week 1. Yes, Clemson was favored over Auburn and FSU was favored over Ole Miss, but both of those still count as big wins for ACC football in my book. So how did they fare so well in the first weekend?

Well, I know they say that defense wins championships, but the ACC has something else that also proves to be instrumental in winning football games. The ACC easily has the best quarterbacks in college football right now. The Clemson Tigers have Deshaun Watson; the Florida State Seminoles have Deondre Francois. The Louisville Cardinals have Lamar Jackson; the Miami Hurricanes have Brad Kaaya. I rest my case.

Okay, I don’t rest my case. Some people probably don’t get just how good these quarterbacks I listed really are. Let me give you a crash course in the nation’s best quarterbacks.

On Thursday night, Lamar Jackson led the Louisville Cardinals to a 70-14 victory over Charlotte. In that game, Jackson accounted for eight touchdowns and 405 yards of offense. He was unstoppable. Now we have to wait and see if he will be just as unstoppable against more formidable opponents.

On Saturday night, Brad Kaaya led the Miami Hurricanes as they demolished the Florida A&M Rattlers 70-3. Kaaya didn’t have the same stat lines as Jackson, but he did have four touchdowns and did complete two-thirds of his passes. Miami won’t really be tested until October. We already know from last season that Kaaya is a solid quarterback.

Also on Saturday night, Deshaun Watson led his team to victory over the Tigers at Auburn, 19-13. Auburn’s defense did a good job containing Watson, but he still completed over half his passes, threw for 248 yards, and had a touchdown pass. That may not sound particularly impressive, but we already know what a great dual-threat quarterback Watson is.

On Monday night, Deondre Francois helped the Florida State Seminoles dig out of a 22-point hole to beat the Ole Miss Rebels, 45-34. Francois completed 33 of 52 passes for 419 yards and two touchdowns. He also added 59 yards on the ground. And unlike Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly, he didn’t throw any costly interceptions. That’s not bad for his first start in this offense against a swarming Ole Miss defense.

There are plenty of other bright spots around ACC football if you’re willing to look for them. At this point, most of us aren’t willing to look for them because the ACC has been mostly irrelevant to college football over the past decade. I’m not going to jump to crazy conclusions after one week and say this is their year…but this might be the ACC’s year.

Clemson is still Clemson, even if they did struggle against Auburn. Florida State is still Florida State, even if they did have to overcome a huge deficit to beat Ole Miss. And as for the rest of the teams, many are on their way up. Louisville moved up in the Top 25 after a strong showing against Charlotte. Miami made it into the AP Top 25 this week, as expectations soar for Mark Richt and Brad Kaaya. And even though North Carolina dropped in the polls, they put up a good fight against Georgia. Not to mention this is a Georgia team that might have the eventual Heisman trophy winner in running back Nick Chubb.

I know it’s early, but it isn’t too early to put everyone on alert. ACC football is not to be taken lightly this season. Its quarterbacks are some of the best in the country and its programs are on the rise. I admittedly haven’t always been the biggest ACC football fan, but it’s time to give credit where credit is due.

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

Image courtesy of Wikimedia user Perthsider.

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.

Top 10 NCAA Quarterbacks for 2016

Quarterback is the most important position in football. (I’ll give you a moment to recover from this earth-shattering news) but this is especially the case in college football. Because of the talent discrepancies between top and bottom tier teams, even within a conference, a quarterback can single-handedly propel his team to the college football playoff. Additionally, top-notch quarterbacks who have exceptionally running ability can take over a game simply in that manner in a way that isn’t possible in the NFL. A great quarterback can make up for losses at the skill positions and keep his team in the game during shootouts.

Today, we’ll look at the top 10 quarterbacks heading into the 2016 season. This isn’t simply which quarterbacks had the best stats last year and are returning this year, or the ones that will have the best stats this year. It is a combination of statistical proficiency, pro potential, and who could lead their team to great things in 2016.

10. Chad Kelly – Ole Miss

Kelly is basically the de facto best quarterback in the SEC as he is the only returning quarterback to even finish in the top half of the nation in passing yards in 2015. That shouldn’t be a slight against Kelly since he put together a great year in his first season as the Rebels starting quarterback. It will be much tougher this year however without Laremy Tunsil protecting his blindside and fellow NFL draftees Laquan Treadwell and Cody Core gone from the receiving core.

9. Brad Kaaya – Miami (Fl.)

If Kaaya can regain his touchdown total from his freshman year (26) and add that to his improving accuracy (61% last year) it might be enough to make this list. It’s his potential however that has scouts salivating. Deshaun Watson is the favorite to be the number one pick in next year’s draft, but Kaaya is getting first round buzz as well. That buzz partially stems from the arrival of new coach Mark Richt, who has produced a plethora of quality quarterbacks in his career (Matthew Stafford, David Greene, Aaron Murray to name a few). If Kaaya wants to move into the top five, he’ll have to prove he can elevate Miami to outperform its run-of-the-mill expectations.

8. Notre Dame Starting QB

Alright this is a bit of a copout, but whoever ends up getting the starting gig for the Irish cannot be ignored. DeShone Kizer stepped in last year after Maliz Zaire got hurt early in 2015 and nearly led the Irish to a playoff spot. Zaire now returns as a junior after showing vast potential in his limited playing time for the Irish. If he’s able to beat out Kizer after the season Kizer had, Notre Dame fans know they are in good hands. On a team that is poised to make a run at a playoff spot again, whoever starts for the Irish will be a household name.

7. Josh Rosen – UCLA

There is a lot of potential put into this ranking of the UCLA sophomore, but it’s not as if Rosen has done nothing to warrant such hope. It can be tough to walk in as a prized recruit and perform from the moment you step on campus, but all Josh Rosen did was throw for 23 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, and finish top 20 in the nation in passing yards as a true freshman. He’ll look to build on those numbers and to help him do so, he’s packed on some muscle which should help prevent him from wearing down as the year goes on. The Pac-12 doesn’t have a clear contender entering 2016, and Rosen has the talent to make the Bruins the front-runner as the year goes on.

6. Greg Ward Jr. – Houston

Ward might be the preeminent dual-threat quarterback in the country after rushing for 21 touchdowns and over 1,100 yards a season ago. First-year coach Tom Herman took Greg Ward’s (and Houston’s) offensive performance to the next level, and if they make even the slightest improvements from last year, Ward may find himself at the Heisman ceremony. Not just a runner, Ward Jr had a respectable 8.2 yards per attempt and a near 3:1 TD:INT ratio. Adding to his importance? The Cougars only loss of 2015 came in the game he all but missed.

5. Luke Falk – Washington State

I could go on and on about Falk, but our guy Mike Wilson did a great job detailing the Wazzou quarterback this past week. What I will say about Falk is this: he threw for 300 yards, 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in a blizzard in Washington State’s bowl game. As a fan of Miami (the Cougars’ opponent that day) I was thankful there was a snowstorm because it felt like he could go for 500 easily.

4. Baker Mayfield – Oklahoma

Getting to some heavy hitters here as many thought Mayfield deserved to be a Heisman finalist in 2015 after leading the Sooners to a spot in the college football playoff. He enters this year with the fourth best odds to take home the honor, and team expectations will be high as well with Oklahoma assuredly starting the year in the top 10. Mayfield was often the force behind keeping the Sooners’ hopes alive last year, but they may prove more difficult in 2016 without the help of superb wideout Sterling Shephard. Mayfield also won’t get the numbers that other top quarterbacks may achieve because of the running back tandem of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, maybe the best duo in the nation.

3. Seth Russell – Baylor

Russell is just the next quarterback in line to lead a prolific Baylor Bears offense. After stepping into the role a year ago, Russell was carving up opponents to the tune of 29 touchdowns, six picks, and an astonishing 10.5 yards per attempt just halfway through the season before a neck injury ended his year. Russell will be without first-round draft pick Corey Coleman this year, but Baylor is stocked with top WR recruits and with a usually questionable defense, Russell will be slinging it well into the second half. Well, when the Bears are playing a real team anyway.

2. J.T. Barrett – Ohio State

It’s easy to forget just how good Barrett was in 2014 after Cardale Jones’ 3-game run to end the year and the subsequent season-long offensive non-sense in Columbus in 2015. Barrett merely completed 64-plus percent of his passes on 9.0 yards per attempt, accounting for 45 touchdowns during his freshman campaign two years ago. Now that the team is his again, I expect a lot more of 2014 J.T. Barrett to come.

1. Deshaun Watson – Clemson

Sometimes the right answer is the most obvious one. Watson fulfilled the potential he showed in his freshman year by leading Clemson to a national title appearance, falling short against Alabama even though he threw for 400 yards and four touchdowns against arguably the nation’s best defense. After finishing as a Heisman finalist in 2015, Watson is the favorite to land the award in 2016 when he’ll lead an offense that returns eight starters, in addition to potential first-round pick at WR Mike Williams, who missed basically all of last year.

Featured image courtesy Tom Magliery

 

College Football’s Next Stars

The 2016 NFL Draft has now come and gone. While the draft has exploded into a huge event for NFL fans, it’s also fun for college football fans to look back on the best players from the previous year or two. With each pick, highlights are shown that take you back to those explosive plays that show the skills that went into first-round picks terrorizing opponents. Now that the draft is over, it’s a good time to look toward next year. Which players will we be talking about during the 2017 NFL Draft? Here are some players who may not be household names yet, but could dominate the college gridiron this fall on their way to becoming a first-round pick in next year’s draft.

Brad Kaaya – QB, Miami (Fl)

Kaaya has been a good quarterback for the Hurricanes since starting as a true freshman in 2014. Though his touchdowns decreased in his sophomore year, he improved his accuracy to 61% and threw just five interceptions in 389 attempts. With prototypical size (6’4’’, 210 lbs) and Mark Richt there to help develop him, Kaaya could have his name called early in 2017.

Jamal Adams – S, LSU

Adams has been terrorizing the SEC since stepping on the field as a freshman. At 6’1’’, 210 pounds, he packs a punch and makes receivers think twice about going over the middle. On a Tigers team that is loaded this fall, Adams might be the best pro prospect of the bunch.

Justin Davis – RB, USC

Next year’s NFL draft may see an influx of RB talent that we haven’t seen in years, so Davis will be flying under the radar. He didn’t become the Trojans primary ball-carrier until halfway through 2015, but finished the year by averaging at least 5.2 yards per carry in his last five regular season games. After earning now-permanent head coach Clay Helton’s trust and behind an elite offensive line, Davis is primed to burst onto the national scene in 2016.

Mike Williams – WR, Clemson

The Clemson wideout could have heard his name called early this year if not for a neck injury suffered in the first game of the Tigers’ season last year. That injury cause Williams to miss the entire season but if he’s back to 100 percent, it won’t take long for everyone to remember his name. Using his great size, Williams had over 1,000 yards on 18 yards per catch in his sophomore year, and if he had been healthy in 2015, likely would have been the first WR off the board in last week’s draft.

Roderick Johnson – OT, Florida State

A lot was made about Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson’s play as a freshman in 2014, but over in Tallahassee Johnson was having a similar impact. He was so good that Cameron Irving was moved to center and later ended up a first-round pick himself. At 6’7” and 300+ pounds, Johnson has the size and athleticism NFL teams look for in a franchise tackle.

Derek Barnett – DE, Tennessee

Barnett isn’t exactly flying under the radar after notching double-digit sacks a year ago, but when it comes to collegiate pass-rushers, Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett gets all the hype. With the SEC not exactly churning out high level quarterbacks lately, Barnett will wreak havoc on the conference once again.

Eddie Vanderdoes – DT, UCLA

A five star recruit coming out of high school, Vanderdoes has had a rocky college career, transferring to UCLA and then suffering a season-ending injury in the 2015 opener. He was having an excellent game before the injury and looked to live up to his hype. If he can do that for a full season in 2016, Pac-12 offensive coordinators will pray that he leaves for the NFL.

Raekwon McMillan – LB, Ohio State

McMillan was one of the top recruits coming out of high school and hasn’t disappointed to this point. He’s produced on a defense that had plenty of veteran NFL talent in front of him. With much of that talent now in the NFL after last Thursday, it’s McMillan’s time to shine. There is little doubt he will be one of the Big Ten’s best players this fall, if not the country.

TreDavious White – CB, LSU

White could have entered this year’s draft and went on the second day but decided to stay with the Tigers to be part of a loaded defense. He doesn’t have the type of size most first round defensive backs have, but his speed and quickness can help him succeed in a football world that is more wide open than ever.

Desmond King – CB, Iowa

It’s hard to say the Jim Thrope Award winner isn’t a household name, but that’s what happens when you play for Iowa. King was the best player on a defense that helped lead Iowa to its surprise season in 2015 and will look to do so again after returning to school. King had eight interceptions this past year and would have been a first round pick already this year.

Quin Blanding – S, Virginia

Quin Blanding has size, Quin Blanding has speed. What Blanding doesn’t have is a team that’s good enough to get him national recognition, after the five-star recruit decided to pass up on offers from schools like Alabama, Ohio State, and Michigan. He was first-team all-ACC last year and if he continues to develop and takes that next step it wouldn’t matter if he played for a Group of Five school, everyone will know his name.

Feature image courtesy

2016 ACC Football: The Struggle is Real

Last week I took a look at the 2015 year that was in the ACC, some good and bad for each school. This week we’re going to put the past behind us and take a look at what 2016 may hold for ACC football.

Boston College

What needs to get better – The passing game and 3rd down conversions. The two go a bit hand in hand. BC had one of the worst passing games in the nation, ranking 125th in yards per game. None of their quarterbacks threw for more than 464 yards on the season. Yes, you read that correctly. The quarterbacks combined to complete 44.6% of their passes. This all lead to an offense that was 126th out of 127 in 3rd down conversion rate, getting a first down on just 26.7% of their third down attempts. If the offense wants improvement in 2016, it’ll need to start here.

What will go well – The run game. Part of the inability to throw the ball has been due to the dual-threat nature of the quarterbacks that the Eagles trot out there. This obviously helps the ground game. After five games of not getting double digit carries, junior RB Tyler Rouse had 24 for 111 yards and two touchdowns in the final game against Syracuse. Hopefully that leads to a big senior year for him. Helping will be the offensive line, which returns three starters that were only underclassmen last year.

What will be a struggle – Passing game. Once again. There really isn’t much hope here. Even if there is moderate improvement it’s hard to see a team jumping from the bottom five in the country to anywhere near average. Last year BC’s leading receiver had 17 catches for 233 yards. If someone approaches 500 yards in 2016 it would be a miracle.

Clemson

What needs to get better – Big plays allowed. Clemson had a great season, but they gave up some big plays in the ACC Championship to North Carolina which allowed the Tar Heels to hang around and stay in the game. Those big plays basically cost them the title, with multiple breakdowns in the secondary resulting in long touchdowns for the Crimson Tide.

What will go well – The offense. I know, I’m a such a genius, but this is about as obvious as it gets. Deshaun Watson was coming off a knee injury and still was a Heisman finalist this season. Now he’ll be further removed from that injury and back with him will play explosive playmakers Wayne Gallman, Artavis Scott, and Mike Williams, who would have been the Tigers’ best WR but was lost for the year in the season opener.

What will be a struggle – The defense. Clemson is going to be in a lot of shootouts in 2016. Brent Venables was able to rebound from losses to the NFL draft going into 2015 to lead one of the nation’s best defenses yet again. It’s hard to overcome that multiple years in a row however, just ask LSU. This time the Tigers lose both starting DEs (who just happened to be numbers 1 and 2 in the country in tackles for loss) as well as 3/4ths of the secondary. They lose seven defensive starters in total, an astonishing five of them early entrants to the NFL draft.

Duke

What needs to get better – The defense. It gave up almost 31 points per game, including 40+ to the explosive offenses that were Virginia and Virginia Tech. They pass defense in particular was a sieve, finishing 73rd in yards allowed, but there is hope. All five secondary starters return in their 4-2-5 alignment.

What will go well – The running game. Duke’s ground attack was pretty versatile in 2015, led by QB Thomas Sirk. Sirk led the team with 803 yards rushing, but they also had three different running backs all rush for over 400. In total the Blue Devils ran for over 2500 yards on the season on almost five yards per rush.

What will be a struggle – The passing game. It’s not all Sirk’s fault, he just doesn’t have much to work with. A measley 6.15 yards per attempt won’t put fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators, and Duke will not see much improvement unless someone steps up and produces some of the play-making that vanished when Jamison Crowder took his talents to the NFL after the 2014 season.

Florida State

What needs to get better – The passing game. You couldn’t expect FSU’s passing to be as good when Jameis Winston left for the NFL. Outside of a couple nice efforts, the it couldn’t be counted on consistently, and certainly not against the better teams on the schedule. Whether Sean Maguire retains the starting job going into 2016 or a younger, more talented signal caller takes the spot, there’s no reason for this area not to improve with the talent the Seminoles have at receiver.

What will go well – Handing the ball off. FSU could probably just do that every play in 2016 and win double digit games. Dalvin Cook averaged 7.4 ypc last year and he’ll be back. He’ll also be running behind an offensive line that returns all five starters. I already feel bad for the rest of the ACC.

What will be a struggle – Kicking game. The Seminoles have been spoiled the last few years with Roberto Aguayo, one of the best college kickers in years. Aguayo never missed an extra point and was almost as automatic on field goals, converting over 90% of them (64-70) from under 50 yards. With Aguayo off to the pros, Seminoles fans will have to hope their kicking situation doesn’t turn into the one present in Gainesville.

Georgia Tech

What needs to get better – Ball security. It might be expected that a team that runs the triple option would have more chances at fumbling. But you’d also think that they’d preach protecting the ball even more. Whatever they do didn’t work in 2015 as the Yellow Jackets lost 14 fumbles (only three teams lost more). Navy, another triple option team, only lost six. Add the Yellow Jackets’ 10 interceptions, another astonishing number considering how little they throw it, and the result is finishing 105th in turnover margin.

What will go well – The run game. Georgia Tech wasn’t able to stay in games with their rush attack like in previous years, but there are plenty of reasons for optimism. The line was extremely young (they had a freshman at center and both tackles spots by the end of the year) so it should improve. Add that to QB Justin Thomas and their stable of running backs returning and the offense should rebound.

What will be a struggle – Pass defense. It wasn’t bad in 2015, ranking 37th in pass yards allowed, but the Yellow Jackets were also 120th in sacks. They now lose all four starters from the secondary. If the front seven can’t find a way to put pressure on the opposing quarterback, the defense could get burnt through the air with a less experienced defensive back corps.

Louisville

What needs to get better – The offense. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Bobby Petrino team but the offense was pretty disappointing. The quarterbacks were average, finishing 61st in QBR. That is a little more understandable with Lamar Jackson getting so much playing time, but with a dual-threat guy like himself, the Cardinals should have been able to finish better than 81st in rushing.

What will go well – Defense. The Cardinals defense could be one of the best in the country in 2016. They were T-10th in sacks last year and return stud Devonte Fields who was T-10th in individual sacks. As if a ferocious pass rush wasn’t enough, the ‘Ville will also get all their secondary starters back, including NFL prospects Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons.

What will be a struggle – The passing game. Bobby Petrino can work whatever magic and QB voodoo he wants, I just don’t think he’s going to be able to do what he traditionally has with Lamar Jackson. It doesn’t mean Jackson won’t improve, I just don’t think there will be any game to game consistency, which will frustrate the coaching staff as well as Cardinals fans.

Miami

What needs to get better – 3rd downs. I talked about how bad Boston College was on third downs, but that’s a little more understandable considering their quarterback situation and well, because of the fact that they’re Boston College. But Miami was almost as bad, finishing 107th at 35%. Considering the talent at the skill positions and at quarterback, there’s no excuse for that and Miami needs to see drastic improvement in this area if they want any shot at competing for the division in 2016.

What will go well – Pass attack. The offensive line was extremely young last year, with four underclassmen starters at year’s end. With improvement Kaaya should have time to throw. With talent at WR in Stacy Coley and Braxton Berrios and at TE in Standish Dobard and David Njoku, Kaaya will have plenty of options at his disposal.

What will be a struggle – Pass defense. Miami was 70th last year in sacks, and they have had a non-existent pass rush for years. Last year the pass defense was able to survive because of how good the secondary was. That won’t be the case this year. Miami loses both starting safeties as well as CB Artie Burns, who led the ACC with six interceptions. In 2016, no lead will be safe.

NC State

What needs to get better – Explosive passing plays. Jacoby Brissett had a mediocre yards per attempt, and it showed when you look at the receivers. The Wolfpack’s leading WR averaged under 10 ypc (9.2). That’s embarrassing. And their second leading receiver had just 34 catches. Not the ideal way to keep a defense honest.

What will go well – Run game. At least NC State has this going for them. They have their top three running backs return, and all three averaged over six yards per rush in 2015. But the biggest reason will be the return of Matthew Dayes. Dayes was averaging over 100 yards per game on 6.5 ypc and had 12 touchdowns through just 7+ games. He ended up missing the last five games due to a foot injury but will be back next season.

What will be a struggle – Passing attack. NC State might be able to get some plays off play-action thanks to their run game, but a standard passing game will not be forte. They have limited wide receivers and with Jacoby Brissett no longer around, will have a new starting quarterback as well.

North Carolina

What needs to get better – The defense. It was abysmal the second half of the year. They gave up at least 31 points in 4 of 6 games. The two that they didn’t were against Miami and Virginia Tech, not exactly the Marcus Mariota-led Oregon Ducks.

What will go well – Offense. The Tar Heels’ offense was explosive in 2015 and have most of it returning in tact for next year. 4/5 offensive linemen return along with the top two receivers and stud running back Elijah Hood. While starting quarterback Marquise Williams departs, he’ll be replaced by Mitch Trubisky, who fans have been high on.

What will be a struggle – The defense. It’s hard to see much improvement from a unit that allowed over 400 yards per game. It was 110th in run defense, stamped off by their embarrassing showing in the bowl game when the allowed a bowl record 645 rushing yards to Baylor. Now they lose a DT and MLB who were defensive captains.

Pittsburgh

What needs to get better – Their “passing attack”. It wasn’t Boston College level putrid, but it left a lot to be desired. Pitt can run the ball, so mild improvement in the passing game is all they need to have a competitive offense.

What will go well – The run game. James Conner was an ACC player of the year candidate before missing basically the whole season. In his place was Qadree Ollison who ran his way to a nice little 1,100 yard, 11 touchdown season in Conner’s place. Both will be back in 2016 to run behind an offensive line that returns 4/5 starters.

What will be a struggle – The passing game. The Panthers need their passing game to be competent, but I don’t see how it improves from last year. It wasn’t good to begin with and now the Panthers are losing WR Tyler Boyd early to the NFL draft. Boyd accounted for 91 of the team’s 212 receptions in 2015.

Syracuse

What needs to get better – The whole offense. They were 119th in yards per game. Brutal to watch and not able to move the ball consistently as evidenced by their 100 ranking in red zone opportunities. But the Orangemen were actually pretty good once they got there, ranking 8th in red zone scoring percentage. If the offense can move the ball a little more, they can put their red zone efficiency to better use.

What will go well – Defense. It wasn’t exactly good this past year, but it was young. They return seven starters so with the experience they should be better just from that. Additionally, the defense played better at home in 2015, not surprising for a young unit. A year older and they should be able to carry some of that success on the road more frequently.

What will be a struggle – Getting to a bowl game. It’s hard as a fan to go into a year knowing your team probably won’t make a bowl. What’s more difficult is seeing how Syracuse gets to one. Along with divisional home games against FSU and Louisville, they have to go on the road in conference to play BC, Pitt and Clemson. Add in non-conference games at Connecticut and with Notre Dame and this year will be about building for 2017.

Virginia

What needs to get better – Performance in close games. Virginia had their chances last year. They had a halftime lead against Notre Dame and a second half lead against Miami, neither of which they could hold. They were also tied at half with North Carolina and tied in the 4th quarter with Louisville. An ability to finish games and the Cavaliers may have not been looking for a new coach.

What will go well – Off-season. If nothing else there will be positive vibes around the Cavaliers before the season starts. Tiquan Mizzell is a player fans can be excited about watching. There’s always hope when a new head coach comes in, which is what Virginia has in Bronco Mendenhall. Throw that in with a senior quarterback and fans may talk themselves into a sneaky good season.

What will be a struggle – The offense. An experienced quarterback returns, yes, but also a limited one. He’ll be looking for new targets as well since the offenses loses its top two receivers from last year. Just like 2015, it appears 2016 will be the Mizzell show.

Virginia Tech

What needs to get better – The running game. As bad as Virginia Tech’s offense has been, you could usually count on a decent running game if nothing else. Last year the Hokies didn’t even have that, ranking 112th in yards per carry. If you’re going to win games by keeping them close and playing good defense, you need a good running game to take pressure off the quarterback.

What will go well – Pass defense. This is one thing you can count on with the Hokies. They were 17th in passing yards allowed per game and return everyone in the secondary besides Kendall Fuller. He can be adequately replaced by Brandon Facyson, the next in line for NFL-caliber Hokie corners.

What will be a struggle – The passing offense. It’s going to be a shock for new coach Justin Fuente going from possible 1st rounder Paxton Lynch to new Hokies starter Brenden Motley. Motley got his feet wet last year when Michael Brewer got hurt and I don’t think fans liked what they saw. He had success in his first couple starts against against Furman and Purdue (congratulations), but the rest of the way was mostly a disaster.

Wake Forest

What needs to get better – Pass protection. Wake Forest is Wake Forest, so they’re going to be playing from behind a lot. Because of this it would be nice if the quarterback wasn’t running for his life every other play. That’s probably what it felt like for Demon Deacons quarterbacks last year, when they were sacked on 8.94% of drop-backs, 113th in the country.

What will go well – “Offensive fireworks”. OK fireworks might be a strong word. But Wake’s offensive should be vastly improved from a unit that was almost last (125th) in scoring at 17.4 ppg. The offense only loses two seniors, one at WR and one at guard, and 7/11 starters last year were freshmen or sophomores. On top of that, QB John Wolford improved his accuracy from 58.3% to 60.9% while also increasing his yards per attempt by over two full yards (5.55 to 7.69). Why do I feel like I’m talking myself into Wake Forest? I can’t wait to look back on this in November when Wake is eliminated from bowl contention and the offense is still a disaster.

What will be a struggle – Speaking of bowl games, making one will be tough for Wake Forest next year. The first month of the season is manageable but with a road slate that includes games against Florida State, Louisville, NC State, and Duke, it’s going to be a nail-biter for fans the second half of the season.

E-mail Jason at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JLindy87.

Featured image courtesy of Thomson20192

2015 ACC Football: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

2015 was a typical year for the ACC. By typical of course, I mean one team outclassing the rest and trying to remove itself as far as possible from the negative connotations that “ACC football team” brings. The ACC has long been considered the worst of the Power 5 football conferences and did little to dispel that notion this season. Clemson did its best by not only reaching the playoff, but dispatching Oklahoma and going toe-to-toe with Alabama in what may have been one of the three best title games of all time. Florida State and North Carolina each won double-digit games but I think many, myself included, would say that was more a byproduct of the conference’s weakness than the strength of those two football teams.

Today we’ll take a look at the Good, the Bad, and the downright Ugly for each ACC team in 2015. As far as the Atlantic Coast Conference itself? The good could really only come from the aforementioned Clemson. The bad was harder to choose if only because there were so many more options, but we’ll go with defense, something that will be a common theme throughout this piece. Ten of the conference’s fourteen teams ranked 43rd or worse in scoring defense. The ACC misery saved its best (the Ugly) for last. That would be bowl season, where ACC teams not named Clemson went 3-5. Even those wins weren’t a lot to hang their hat on. Duke defeated Indiana who had one of the worst defenses on college football. Virginia Tech beat Tulsa, giving up 52 points in the process. Then there’s Louisville, who scored a 27-21 victory over a Texas A&M team that had just seen its top two quarterbacks transfer.

This article would have been much easier if it was just “The Bad and the Ugly”. Can we find some good from the 2015 season for each team? I gave it my best shot.

Boston College Eagles

Good – I mentioned defense in the intro. Well Boston College was one of the four ACC teams not abysmal on that side of the ball. BC ranked fourth in the country, allowing just 15.3 points per game. This included giving up just 34 to Clemson, 14 to Florida State, and 19 to Notre Dame. Sure they shortened games by running the ball a ton on offense, but only three times all year did they give up more than 20 points in a game.

Bad – As stellar as the defense was, the offense was the complete opposite. After the first two games of the season against non-D1 schools, Boston College didn’t top 17 points even once the rest of the year. Spearheading this vaunted offense was a leading passer that only had 464 yards on the season.

Ugly – We’re staying with the offense here. In a time when offenses are upping the tempo and putting up 40s and 50s left and right, the Eagles would struggle to outscore the Red Sox. BC put up 76 points against Howard the second week of the season. They then proceeded to score just 73 points COMBINED in their eight conference games. The cherry on top of this offensive ineptitude sundae was an October contest where they ran the ball 54 times and didn’t even get to 200 yards, getting shut out at home by Wake Forest.

Clemson Tigers

Good – Does the whole season count? Clemson had its best season in recent memory, finding itself at the top spot every week of the playoff committee’s rankings. After losing most of the starters off college football’s top defense of 2014, the Tigers managed to have one of the best defenses again. DeShaun Watson, coming off a torn ACL, was a Heisman finalist in just his sophomore season and led the Tigers to the national title game. Though falling just short against the Alabama empire, Watson had a scintillating performance against the Tide defense that will propel him to be the Heisman favorite going into 2016.

Bad – It’s hard to find the bad for a team that started the year 14-0. In this spot we have to look at the defense, which might have to do more re-tooling for next year. Brent Venables did an incredible job in 2015 but it may take more next year. That’s because the Tigers may lose DE Shaq Lawson and CB Mackensie Alexander to the NFL draft, both of whom were stars of the Clemson defense. It always hurts to lose players early to the NFL, it hurts even worse when those players are just redshirt sophomores.

Ugly – The Tigers had every opportunity to win the championship on Monday night, but big plays allowed Alabama to stay in the game. They gave up a 50 yard touchdown run to Derrick Henry. Besides that long run, they held the Heisman winner to just 108 yards on 35 carries, barely over three yards per carry. The defense was also smothering QB Jacob Coker, but mental breakdowns allowed him to have a big second half. Blown coverages accounted for two 50+ yard touchdowns to OJ Howard, which also accounted for almost 1/3 of Coker’s passing yards. Then there was the back-breaking kickoff-return touchdown by Kenyan Drake. While Clemson’s offense consistently moved the ball on Alabama throughout the game, it felt the opposite for the Tide’s offense. Clemson shut down Alabama for longer stretches, but the coverage breakdowns allowed the Crimson Tide to not just stay in the game, but ultimately win it.

Duke Blue Devils

Good – While 2015 saw the fewest wins from the Duke football team in the last three years, it’s hard not to consider an 8-5 season a success for a basketball school. To top it off, they had the aforementioned bowl win against Indiana, a 44-41 OT thriller. It just so happened to be the first bowl win in 55 years.

Bad – The Blue Devils were riding high at one point, sitting at a stellar 6-1. Then the Miami game happened. And the last play lateral controversy happened. Duke didn’t handle the outcome of that ending well and it showed. They went on a slide that saw them lose three more games with the defense getting torched in all three.

Ugly – Duke had the unfortunate position of having to face a rival following that Miami game. Normally heading to Chapel Hill for a football game isn’t something you’d worry too much about, but this year happened to be the one wear Larry Fedora had the Tar Heels’ offense humming. The Blue Devils had their worst defensive performance in a year that was full of bad ones, giving up 66 points and over 700 yards in a game that was 38-10 at halftime.

Florida State Seminoles

Good – There are never really lowered expectations at Florida State, but after losing Jameis Winston and a plethora of defensive talent to the NFL, it’s hard not to consider the Seminole’s season a success considering the drop-off in QB play. Winning ten games in a down year tells you your program is in a good place. The brightest spot of the season had to be Dalvin Cook. Cook dazzled every time he was on the field and if not for a hamstring injury may have been a Heisman finalist.

Bad – Injuries. Cook’s injury was the biggest bummer for Seminoles fans. He only had 229 carries on the year (about 5 games for Alabama’s Derrick Henry) and basically missed two full games, robbing him of a shot at 2,000 yards. QB Sean Maguire’s injury in the bowl game was another tough one. While Maguire didn’t take over until the second half of the season and didn’t play all that great once he did, he was a reshirt junior who had waited a while for his chance. After waiting around another half of a season thanks to Everett Golson showing up, he was able to lead the Seminoles to a New Year’s Six bowl game but got hurt early on. He was able to finish the game but his play was clearly impacted by the injury.

Ugly – That bowl game. Maguire may have played injured, but that wasn’t the reason Florida State lost. Other aspects of the team were abysmal and it was clear Florida State was not nearly as amped up to be there as Houston. FSU rushed for just 16 yards and had five turnovers which were only partially to blame for giving up 38 points to an offense that had Greg Ward Jr. and not much else.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Good – Ugh..Umm. Can anybody help here? The Yellow Jackets had a dismal season from the start. One bright spot however was that Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack still resulted in the 7th most rushing yards per game in the country.

Bad – Here’s another team that more than struggled on the defensive side of the ball. The Yellow Jackets couldn’t put pressure on the quarterback (121st in sacks) or create turnovers (T-92nd in interceptions). The defense was at its worst during a five game mid-season stretch that saw them allow over 30 points in each game.

Ugly – This whole year couldn’t get over soon enough. Tech started the year in the Top 25 and after beating two doormats by a combined 134-16 to start the year it was hard to tell anything was wrong. After being ranked 14th heading into Week 3, the Yellow Jackets went 1-9 in their last ten games with their only win coming in improbable fashion, scoring a touchdown off a blocked field goal as time expired.

Louisville Cardinals

Good – The Cardinals began the year on some sleeper lists but that was quickly vanquished after starting 0-3. Though the opening season loss to Auburn isn’t exactly one to put on the resume, looking back the three-point losses to Houston and Clemson don’t look so bad. It would have been easy to fold after that start, but the Cardinals bounced back by finishing strong and winning eight of their last ten games.

Bad – You would expect teams to play worse on the road, but Louisville definitely underwhelmed away from home considering the talent level on the team. A couple of single-digit wins over NC State and Wake Forest hardly make up for getting crushed at Florida State and losing by 11 against Pitt.

Ugly – For a Bobby Petrino-led team, the offense was awfully hard to watch at times. Petrino couldn’t settle on a quarterback and it seemed like no matter if Lamar Jackson or Kyle Bolin were behind center, the offense could never find consistency. Jackson often dazzled as a runner, but was nowhere near good enough as a passer to provide the type of threat we’ve come accustomed to seeing out of Petrino passing attacks.

Miami Hurricanes

Good – The improvement of young offensive players. The Hurricanes started an incredibly young offensive line in its bowl game. Though the team lost, the line wasn’t a disaster and bodes well heading into next season. Sophomore RB Joe Yearby quietly surpassed 1,000 yards on almost five yards per carry and should grow with the offensive line. The brightest sign however was the improvement of sophomore QB Brad Kaaya. Kaaya improved his completion percentage and threw one less interception on 11 more throws.

Bad – Head Coach Al Golden was fired. While in the long run this was probably needed for the program, it’s a definite sign that things aren’t going well if the coach is getting fired.

Ugly – Part of the reason Golden got fired? How about a 58-0 loss to Clemson. At home. I don’t care who you’re playing, if you are a Power 5 conference team you shouldn’t lose by this much, especially at home. This game was embarrassing. Almost as embarrassing was Miami giving up 59 in a 38 point loss to North Carolina. Those two games put a dark cloud over an otherwise solid 8-4 regular season.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Good – The Tar Heels had one of the best seasons in school history, going 11-3 and not losing a conference game until the ACC Championship against title runner-up Clemson. It was led by a balanced and explosive offense that finished 11th in the country in scoring at 41 points per game.

Bad – Thanks to UNC’s loss to Clemson in the conference championship game, their opening season loss to South Carolina didn’t cost them an undefeated season and shot at the playoff. But man was that a bad loss. South Carolina went on to be a dumpster fire, with Steve Spurrier quitting in the middle of the year. Somehow that high-scoring Tar Heel offense was held to just 13 points by a team that’s only other wins on the year came against UCF and Vandy.

Ugly – UNC managed to one-up its opening season loss with its bowl performance, bookending its season with an equally embarrassing loss to Baylor. As good as the offense had been all year, the defense was just as bad if not worse in the bowl game. Going up against a team that had seemingly every offensive playmakers out and wasn’t a threat to pass, the Tar Heels allowed the Bears to rush for a bowl record 645 yards.

North Carolina State Wolfpack

Good – NC State was a mediocre team, just as their 7-6 record would have you believe. But unlike other undermanned squads (ahem, Miami) the Wolfpack didn’t roll over against superior competition. NC State brought their A game when they had to, losing by a respectable 17 at Doak Campbell against Florida State, by 15 to Clemson, and just 11 to North Carolina after giving their rival a scare for much of that game.

Bad – Overall it was a disappointing year, but particularly for Jacoby Brissett. Brissett came out of high school as a somewhat highly regarded prospect and after transferring to NC State following two years at Florida, he put up 23 touchdowns and just 5 interceptions for the Wolfpack in 2014 while adding over 500 yards on the ground. Because of this, he came into 2015 with some deep sleeper Heisman buzz and high hopes for his team. It never came together for either as the senior QB saw a regression in almost every passing category.

Ugly – The kicking game. Teams like Florida have gotten more national attention for their kicking woes, but NC State was right there with them, resulting in the team attempting the 7th most 4th down conversions in the country. Nothing outside of 30 yards was a gimme, as just 6/9 field goals from 30-39 yards were converted and a grand total of zero field goals made from beyond 37 yards.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Good – The run game for the Panthers showed that it isn’t just a one-man show. Lead back James Conner went down in the first game after running for 1,700 yards and 26 touchdowns last year. With an iffy passing attack, it was fare to wonder how Pitt would score. But Qadre Ollison stepped in and was a nice surprise, leading the Panthers ground attack finishing with a more than respectable 1,100 yards and 11 touchdowns on 5.3 ypc.

Bad – Pitt had a good regular season, going 8-4 and hovering around the fringe of the Top 25 for much of the year. That’s what made the team’s bowl performance so disappointing. Even with extra weeks to prepare for Navy’s triple option offense, the Panthers defense was trampled, giving up four touchdowns to Keenan Reynolds.

Ugly – As nice of a surprise as the running game was post-Conner, the passing “attack” was not a surprise. It was awful. Pitt finished 95th in passing yards per game, a number you’d expect to see from a team like Georgia Tech or Navy. Further illustrating how ineffective the passing game was, the Panthers threw for less than 200 yards in 8 of the team’s 13 games.

Syracuse Orangemen

Good – They say you need to defend home turf. Well as limited as Syracuse was talent wise, they did everything they could to give the hometown faithful something to cheer about. ‘Cuse went 4-3 at home with those three losses coming to Pittsburgh by just three, Clemson by just ten and LSU by just ten as well. That’s how you keep the Carrier Dome rockin’.

Bad – Ok maybe “rockin” wasn’t the right term for Syracuse home games. Though the Orangemen kept things close against good teams, it certainly wasn’t keeping the fans awake with an exciting offense. They struggled to score points and even though they ran the ball 139 more times than they passed it, they still only finished 76th in rushing yards per game.

Ugly – They must have spent all of their energy during home games, because Syracuse road games usually weren’t close. They lost all five contests away from home by an average of 18 points.

Virginia Cavaliers

Good – There wasn’t much to cheer about for Cavaliers fans in a season that resulted in the team hiring a new coach, but Taquan Mizzell was a lone bright spot. Mizzell showed play-making abilities that at least gave fans hopes of a big play when the ball was in his hands. A running back, Mizzell actually had more yards receiving (721) than rushing (671) but scored four times each via both methods.

Bad – Like most bad teams, they can usual salvage something at the end of a bad season by beating a rival. Virginia had that opportunity in the season finale against Virginia Tech in a game they had control of in the fourth quarter. A defensive meltdown and turnovers allowed the Hokies to take it to over time and get the comeback win. On top of it, it gave Frank Beamer the opportunity to do this.

Ugly – Usually for bad Power 5 teams, the offense or defense is at least average. This was not the case for Virginia, where there was little hope no matter what side of the ball was on the field. Their scoring offense finished 93rd in the nation. Not to be outdone, the defense was 96th.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Good – Virginia Tech has slid from ACC powerhouse to mediocrity for the last few years and 2015 was no different. Considering Frank Beamer basically built the program, it was nice for the Hokies to not only get that comeback win against rival Virginia, but also send Beamer into retirement with a win, notching a 55-52 victory in their bowl game.

Bad – Even though the Hokies haven’t been relevant on the national scene in a while, folks in Blacksburg could still always rely on the defense to be nasty and make difficult for even the best of the opponents. But even that slipped in Beamer’s final year where the Hokies had just the 47th best scoring defense.

UglyBeamer dabbing, again. And I’m not just one of those people who hates what “the kids are doing these days” but I can’t stand the Dab to begin with and Beamer’s rendition frankly makes me cringe.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Good – Wake Forest was probably the toughest team to find something good for. I think QB John Wolford did enough to give Demon Deacon fans some hope for the future. Given that he was just a sophomore, he did about as reasonably well as you could expect in a five-game stretch that included games at North Carolina, home to Louisville, at Notre Dame, and at Clemson.

Bad – Believe it or not, Wake was actually 3-3 at one point with their eyes on a potential bowl bid. Their wins weren’t anything to write home about but they also played tough against Indiana and Florida State. And then reality hit and the team lost their last six, most in ugly fashion.

Ugly – 120th in scoring, as a Power 5 team, is unacceptable. Oh and 33 PLAYERS had more rushing yards than Wake Forest had as a team all season.

 

 

Featured Image courtesy of Lauren Nelson

Miami’s Rays of Hope Snowed Out in El Paso

It was a dismal season for the Miami Hurricanes by most accounts. Two weeks after failing to beat rival Florida State for what would have been the first time in what has felt like decades, the season hit its low point. A 58-0 loss to Clemson that was never in doubt after the first few minutes. Nothing could save coach Al Golden after that, and he was fired. The remainder of the year already had the feel of a lost season, but it could have been worse. The Canes went 4-1 under interim Head Coach Larry Scott but refusing to go a month without any major negatives, that loss happened to be a 59-21 embarrassment to North Carolina. For a season that felt like a disaster, Miami still finished 8-4 and with a chance to head into the off-season with even more momentum after hiring Mark Richt as their new Head Coach.

The Hurricanes went head to head with Washington State in the Sun Bowl, which was anything but. It started snowing in the first half and save for a brief period after halftime, continued to do so throughout the game. The Canes and Cougars each scored on their opening possession. After forcing a Washington State punt, Miami continued rolling on offense. An endzone snag by Senior WR Rashawn Scott was a half-second short of being a touchdown, but was stripped out by a Cougars defender and tipped up for an interception. Instead of being up 14-7, it was still tied and it took Miami until the 4th quarter to recover. They turned the ball over on downs on their next possession before punting six straight times.

The defense, aided by the snowfall, was doing its part to keep Miami in the game. Miami trimmed the deficit to 20-14 but couldn’t take the lead, continuously shooting itself in the foot. The aforementioned Rashawn Scott dropped at least five passes, often drive-killing. With under five minutes to go and their best chance to retake the lead, RB Mark Walton fumbled away the ball on the Washington State five yard line. The offense probably didn’t expect another chance, but a shanked punt gave them the ball back at the Cougars 28. Then came the dagger in the hearts of Canes fans. A halfback pass resulted in Joe Yearby throwing an interception that never had a chance coming off his hand, wobbling worse than a 2015 Peyton Manning duck. It was hard enough passing in the heavy snow, but offensive coordinator James Coley somehow thought it would be a good idea to let his running back give it a try.

The Sun Bowl was a microcosm of everything that has plagued the Hurricanes over the last few years. One problem has been the play-calling, rearing its ugly head on the previously discussed halfback pass. The other has been discipline, both on and off the field. Miami committed nine penalties for 94 yards in this contest. One penalty called back a huge run when Miami was trying to make its second half comeback. A second called back what would have been the go-ahead touchdown on the drive that ultimately ended in the Mark Walton fumble. It felt like Miami outplayed Washington State, but the little things cost them the game, a common theme when looking back at the Al Golden era.

Miami will be looking for those things to change under new coach Mark Richt. I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect much would result from Miami’s next coaching hire. I didn’t think they had the money to lure a big name coach, and it’s not a good enough job right now to have persuaded a hot-shot assistant to make the jump. With Richt, they got lucky. Lucky that Georgia had become sick of not getting over the hump under Richt and lucky that he is a Miami alum. Considering my expectations heading into the coaching search, I was ecstatic upon hearing the news that the former Georgia Bulldogs leader would be heading down to Coral Cables.

Richt won 145 games in 15 seasons at Georgia, almost 10 wins per year. He also won two SEC titles in his time at Georgia. He brings a proven track record that Miami hasn’t seen in decades. Al Golden was successful at Temple, but a Power 5 conference is a different animal. Before that, you have to go back to 1989 to find the last time Miami hired a coach with head coach experience. The biggest difference is that unlike Golden, Richt will be taking a step down in competition. He will go from coaching in the best conference during its stretch of overall dominance, to the weaker division in maybe the weakest Power 5 conference. The hope is that if he could succeed in the challenging SEC, he can do it at one of the best jobs in a weak conference. Good news is that Richt isn’t allowing a honeymoon period at his alma mater, as he got to recruiting the day after his press conference.

The Hurricanes currently have a Top 25 recruiting class and with a proven coach like Richt, they should be able to keep that status. As far as the current players? The cupboard isn’t bare. Miami played a young offensive line, especially in the bowl game. They had two talented underclassmen in the backfield in Joe Yearby and Mark Walton. WR Stacy Coley has been disappointing since his electric freshman year, but played extremely well in the bowl game. To top it off, he’ll have one of the best young quarterbacks in the country in Brad Kaaya who will only be a true junior. Richt has had success with much less talented quarterbacks.

Miami certainly missed an opportunity to head into the off-season with some momentum with their bowl performance. On the other hand, this is the best spot the program has been in in years. When Golden was hired, there was still the NCAA investigation hanging over the program. Now the Canes head into 2016 with a talented roster, its best quarterback in years, and a highly successful coach. All of that in a down division with many teams also in coaching flux. Miami needs to get to the point where it is at least competing for a conference championship. With the current state of its division, there can’t be a grace period. Richt’s best chance may come in his first season, in 2016.

 

 

Feature image courtesy of Visit El Paso

Washington State and Miami Tangle in the Sun Bowl

Spending Christmas in El Paso, Texas on purpose? Are you kidding me? Well, in the case of the Washington State Cougars and the Miami Hurricanes I am serious. The Cougars and Hurricanes get a chance to end their season on a high note when the two teams tangle the day after Christmas in what could be a most interesting matchup for college football fans to watch.

This will be the first time the two schools have met in football but, there is a little connection between the two schools. Back in the late 1980’s Dennis Erickson, then the head coach for Washington State took over the program at the University of Miami after some guy named Jimmy Johnson left for some football gig in Dallas.

What do these teams need to do for a win?

Let’s start with the Cougars. The first thing you should know about Washington State is that they love to throw the ball around the park quite a bit. Luke Falk, the Cougar quarterback, has had an excellent season by ranking fourth in the nation in passing. In 2015 he has thrown for 4,266 yards, 36 touchdowns, and only eight interceptions. However, the statistic that stands out to me is Falk’s completion percentage which is an astounding 70.7%. For Miami to have a chance for a win they have to make life difficult for Faulk and that will be something to watch for as the game progresses.

With gaudy stats like that, Faulk has to be thanking his lucky stars that he has the receivers that he does. In a wide-open offense like Washington State has it just isn’t one or two receivers that get the ball, it’s everybody. Falk does spread the ball around to his receivers which is one of the concepts of the “Air Raid” style of offense. The one downside for Head Coach Mike Leach is that his top receiver, Gabe Marks, will be out with an injury he suffered in the game against Washington. The number two receiver Dom Williams will certainly take up the slack for the offense.

Bottom line, the Cougars are going to throw the ball like 40-50 times and the response from the Miami Hurricanes will be something to watch. If people were to look at this game from the outside they would probably be a
bit worried about Miami.

Miami, as usual has athletes in the program, but they can be temperamental. When the offense is rolling and they are engaged in the game things tend to go well, but things can go to the dark side for them in a blink of an eye. How can they avoid things going sour on them?

Like I said, Miami has some pretty good athletes. The Hurricanes have a good three-headed monster developing for them on offense and with new head coach Mark Richt taking over the program after the season it could be something to grow on for 2016.

Quarterback Brad Kaaya has had a solid season by throwing for 3,019 yards, 15 touchdowns, and only four interceptions. When Kaaya isn’t throwing the ball around, he turns around to hand the ball off to Joe Yearby who can not only run the ball, but can also catch the ball out of the backfield. Yearby’s stats were pretty good. He ran for 939 yards, had 273 receiving yards, and had eight combined touchdowns. The third head of this monster is junior Stacy Coley who had 645 receiving yards and had a nice bounce back season after a very disappointing 2014 season.

With all this potential offense, what will be the thing to watch for?
I believe the difference will be whether or not Miami’s defense can hold this air raid attack down. As stated earlier, Washington State will throw the ball 40-50 times, but if the total yardage is around 250 yards, then Miami has a pretty good shot at winning this game. If the Cougars throw for about 400 yards or more, then Washington State wins the game, probably in convincing fashion.

In the end, I think Washington State wins this game by about 10 points. Mike Leach is out to prove some things after their embarrassing Apple Cup loss to Washington, so the Cougars will be motivated to show the rest of the country that should be taken a little more seriously. Not that Washington State is close to be national championship material, but that they could make things in the Pac-12 and maybe nationally more interesting in 2016.

To do that, it all starts in El Paso, Texas.

Miami Game Takeaways for FSU

Florida State defeated Miami 29-24 last Saturday night to remain undefeated, and remain atop the Atlantic Division within the ACC. With 53 seconds remaining in the game, the Seminoles held the Hurricanes on a 4th and 4 attempt to seal the victory and extend the Noles winning streak against Miami to six games. The Seminoles were led by RB Dalvin Cook’s 269 yards from scrimmage and Everett Golson’s steady play at quarterback.

This game was the first real test of the season for Florida State as Miami is the best team they’ve faced all year, and the outcome of the came had big implications on the rest of the season. With the win, the Seminoles championship hopes remain alive, and the victory will surely give the Noles added confidence and something to build off of going into the second half of the season. This game also told us more about the Seminoles team, bringing up some positives and negatives for the team to address.

Seminole Pass Defense Exposed

Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya completed 29/49 passed for 405 yards and 3 touchdowns and exposed a weakness for the Seminoles that is their secondary and linebacker play. The rush defense for Florida State played very well allowing only 20 yards on the ground, but Miami’s success in the air basically negated their poor rushing, as the Noles pass defense was a sieve for most of the game. This was the first real test for the secondary facing the best quarterback and passing attack they have faced all year and the secondary struggled. Missing linebacker Terrance Smith didn’t help, but the middle of the field was open to Kaaya all night, and the secondary couldn’t make any plays on the ball. This is something that needs to be fixed if the Seminoles are going to make the playoffs this year, as they will face better offenses as the season goes on.

Success Begins and Ends with Dalvin Cook

If anything is apparent five games into the season for the Seminoles it’s that Dalvin Cook is basically everything for this offense. Cook has been the best running back in college football not named Leonard Fournette, and he’s been doing this while being hampered by a hamstring injury all season. Everything the Noles do on offense is centered around him, and when he is running the ball like he has been it opens up things for Everett Golson and the rest of the offense. The Seminoles will rely heavily on him the rest of the season, Seminole fans just need to pray that he can stay healthy. So far this season, it seems like on every carry he gets he is either pulling up from that hamstring injury or scoring a touchdown, his importance can’t be overstated for the Seminoles and his durability the remainder of the season will have a big impact on the team’s success.

Golson’s Best Game as a Seminole

Golson keeps the ball and runs it for a crucial first down
Golson keeps the ball and runs it for a crucial first down

Something that has gone under the radar from the Miami game is how steady quarterback Everett Golson played. Golson completed 25/33 passes for 291 yards and a touchdown with zero turnovers. This is what Seminole fans were hoping Golson would be able to do, manage the game well while making a few good plays, and that’s exactly what he did. Golson looked more comfortable in the offense, and it seemed like the play calls coming down to him were designed to make it easier on him, as there weren’t very many deep passes attempted by Golson. The offense also incorporated a couple of quarterback keeper plays that worked well with Golson at the helm and using Cook’s presence to sell the run. Golson will need to continue playing like he did in this game for the remainder of the season if the Seminoles offense wants to take the next step.

 

The Seminoles take on Louisville at home Saturday the 17th at noon.

ACC Weekend Wrap Up 9/22

Coastal

Miami – Miami managed to escape Nebraska this weekend with an interception in overtime that essentially ended the game. Miami looked like they had the game wrapped up with a 23-point lead in the 4th quarter, when Nebraska rallied to force overtime. Losing a 23-point lead is never a good thing, but as QB Brad Kaaya said, “We won the game, that’s all that matters.” Miami heads into their bye week at 3-0.

Georgia Tech – Georgia Tech suffered a tough 30-22 defeat to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Even though they ended up losing by eight points, the score doesn’t really reflect the outcome of the game. Notre Dame and their front-seven controlled Georgia Tech’s triple-option run game for the whole game, and Notre Dame’s new quarterback played a pretty good game against the Yellow Jackets. This game represented something that is the downfall of a run based team, once you get down early it is hard to comeback. Georgia Tech faces Duke on the road this weekend.

Duke – Duke lost 19-10 in their first real test this year against a surprisingly good Northwestern team. This game was decided by a couple long touchdowns for Northwestern that Duke could never overcome as they only scored 10 points in the contest. Now 2-1, Duke has a big test in Georgia Tech coming into town. With a victory Duke is right back in conference contention, a loss could be detrimental to the team’s season outlook.

North Carolina – QB Marquise Williams led the Tarheels to victory behind his 3 touchdown passes and 100 rushing yards, beating Illinois handily 48-14. A lot of the Tarheels success this season will depend on how well Williams plays, and if he plays as well as he did this weekend the future is bright for this team. North Carloina faces Delaware this weekend with a tough matchup against Georgia Tech looming in two weeks.

Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh lost in heartbreaking fashion to the Iowa Hawkeyes. After a game-tying touchdown with 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Iowa traveled down the field and scored on a 57-yard field goal as time expired. After going down 10-0 to start the game, Pittsburgh came back to tie the game after a five minute 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended up not being enough for the Panthers. Heading into their bye week 2-1, the team looks to rebound before they travel to Virginia Tech next weekend.

Virginia Tech – Virginia Tech pulled away from Purdue in the second half, ultimately cruising to a 51-24 victory. Brenden Motley played well for the Hokies passing for 220 yards and 2 TD’s while also having a rushing TD and no turnovers. Hokie fans hope Motley can continue his play from this game into the future after replacing the injured Michael Brewer. Virginia Tech plays against East Carolina on the road this Saturday.

Virginia – Virginia won their first game of the season after a brutal schedule to start, defeating William and Mary 35-29. Heading into the fourth leading 35-20, Virginia was unable to score again as William and Mary mounted their comeback. William and Mary got to Virginia’s 30 yard line with a minute left, but turned the ball over on downs to give Virginia their first win. Virginia plays another tough opponent in Boise State this weekend.

Atlantic

Clemson – Clemson managed to hold onto a game that they probably should have lost last Thursday. Louisville failed to score at the end of the fourth after Clemson allowed them a couple of chances to grab the lead. At 3-0, Clemson heads into their bye week getting ready for their tough test against the undefeated Notre Dame Fighting Irish in a game that features #11 Clemson and #6 Notre Dame.

Florida State – Florida State shutout Boston College 14-0, relying on their defense the whole game. With the Seminoles’ offense sputtering and only scoring seven points, defensive standout Jalen Ramsey picked up a fumble and returned it for a touchdown that ended up sealing the game. Running back Dalvin Cook was injured in the game, but says that he is fine going forward. The Seminoles head into their by week 3-0, with their next game being Wake Forest on the road.

Syracuse – Syracuse defeated Central Michigan in overtime 30-27 with Jordan Frederick’s touchdown to seal it. At 3-0 Syracuse is in control of their destiny in the Atlantic division. Syracuse faces Leonard Fournette and #8 LSU at home this weekend.

NC State – NC State cruised to a 38-14 victory over Old Dominion and are now sitting at 3-0 after a pretty easy schedule to start the season. Jacoby Brissett has started the season without a turnover, and running back Matthew Dayes has had three straight 100-yard rushing games to start the season. NC State faces Southern Alabama before their first real test against Louisville in two weeks.

Boston College – Boston College lost 14-0 to the Seminoles in a game where their starting quarterback Darius Wade broke his ankle, forcing him out for the remainder of the season. This is a tough blow for the Eagles as they had a team that could surprise a few people, centered around their tough defense. It is uncertain who will be the starter for Boston College when they take on a Northern Illinois team that took Ohio State to the finish last weekend.

Wake Forest – Wake Forest defeated Army with a 47-yard field goal as the game expired. Wake Forest scored all of their points in the second half behind quarterback Kendall Hinton’s two rushing touchdowns. It wasn’t a good game for Hinton passing the ball as he threw two interceptions and no touchdowns, but he made up for it with his 101 yards on the ground. Wake Forest takes on Indiana this weekend leading up to their matchup against #10 FSU in two weeks.

Louisville – Louisville lost a tough game against Clemson after having a few chances in the fourth to tie the game. Louisville missed a game-tying field goal with two minutes left and threw an interception with time expiring. At 0-3, it has been a tough start to the season for Louisville, losing all of their games by only one score. They look to get their first victory at home against Samford this weekend.