Tag Archives: James Conner

2016 ACC Football: Proof That They Aren’t Just Good at Basketball

Now is when I tell you about the good and the bad from this past season of ACC football. I’ve been brainstorming for this article since the day after Clemson won it all, but I’ve still run into a problem of sorts. All in all, there was just much more good in ACC football than there was bad this season.

That isn’t to say that there was no bad in ACC football. Trust me, there was. There is even one play from one particular ACC game this season that still bothers me. I’ll get to that later, though.

What all the good did do for the conference was offer evidence that maybe these schools are capable of being among the best in the country in more than just one sport. Without further ado, I present you with the proof.

The Best of ACC Football

Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship game. I am sure nothing else that any conference carried out can top that. But Clemson’s victory over mighty Alabama in that game wasn’t all the good they provided for ACC football this year. The Tigers were 14-1 by the end of it all, having lost that one game by a single point. They also shut out Ohio State in their first playoff game.

Deshaun Watson, our favorite (black) dual-threat quarterback, ended up accounting for a total of 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards between passing and rushing for Clemson. Running back Wayne Gallman contributed 17 more touchdowns this season. And there was wide receiver Mike Williams who came back from injury and ended up having quite the season as well, racking up 11 touchdowns.

The Clemson defense was also nothing to scoff at, allowing an average of 314 yards per game. Clemson was very good for the ACC.

Florida State, overall, was also pretty dang good for ACC football. There was some definite bad in that 63-20 loss to Louisville early in the season, but the Seminoles still managed to bounce back and have an impressive year. Star running back Dalvin Cook was essential to Florida State’s success, with 288 carries for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. The fact that he was not a Heisman finalist still baffles me. But aside from Dalvin Cook’s success, the team was successful as well, finishing the year at 10-3. Not to mention, Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in its bowl game when Michigan was arguably a playoff contender at the end of the season.

There’s also Virginia Tech and coach Justin Fuente on the “good” side of things. In his first season as head coach of the Hokies, Fuente took the team to the ACC Championship Game. And, the Hokies actually gave Clemson a good game. Fuente and the Hokies finished with a record of 9-4 and an impressive comeback win over Arkansas in their bowl game. This is why Fuente, in my mind, was clearly the best coaching hire from last year.

There’s one more name I’d be crazy for not mentioning, regardless of how his season ended. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson had an incredible year. It was so incredible that he won the Heisman trophy. With 51 touchdowns throughout the season, it’s safe to say that Jackson was the key to Louisville’s success. Jackson is also only a sophomore, which means he has at least one year left with the Cardinals. That’s very good for them.

I can think of one last name I should also mention when praising the good in ACC football. Pittsburgh running back James Conner returned this season after being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. He clearly didn’t let his cancer slow him down considering he had 16 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns this year. Here’s to Conner, because he’s about as good as it gets–aside from Clemson’s championship.

The Worst of ACC Football

The few bad things I could come up with off the top of my head require much less explanation.

There are the only three teams from the ACC that did not play in bowl games: Virginia, Duke and Syracuse. Virginia and Duke both were 1-7 in conference play while Syracuse was 2-6. None of these teams won more than four games this season. When you’re a member of a Power Five conference, those kinds of records are beyond bad.

The other major “bad” that I saw in ACC football this year was Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson did get some help from his teammates at times. But most the work rested on Jackson’s shoulders, and because of that the Cardinals had a hard time winning when their opponents could contain him.

This brings me to the one horrible play I mentioned above. The Louisville vs. Clemson game was one of the best games of the regular season. That game really did come down to the wire. And the Cardinals could’ve beaten the Tigers if it weren’t for a huge mistake James Quick made on a pass play from Jackson at the end of the game. Instead of getting the yardage necessary to get a first down, Quick went out of bounds to stop the clock only to realize he had done so on fourth down and had not gained enough to get the first down. And that was the end of the game. SO BAD!

One last fact worth mentioning when speaking of the bad in ACC football this season has to do with the North Carolina Tar Heels. They were actually a pretty good team this season with a top 20 defense. But somehow the Tar Heels managed to only grab one interception (as a team) during the entire season. For most of the season, it looked like they might make history and not end up with any interceptions at all. That one interception came against The Citadel, too, so it wasn’t even all that impressive. What gives, Tar Heels?

 

Even with these bad things I just mentioned, it stays clear that this was a mostly good season for ACC football. Only three teams in the entire conference weren’t bowl eligible. Then, the ACC won eight of its eleven bowl games, not including the National Championship Game. Dabo Swinney took down Nick Saban in that one. I’d say that’s good—especially for a basketball conference.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Photo from Flickr user Jason A G.

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.

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

ACC Coastal – That’s All Folks!

The jumble that was the 2014 ACC Coastal division has finally sorted itself out. The final results look nothing like the pre-season predictions, which should surprise no one.

David Tulis / AP Photo
David Tulis / AP Photo

Kudos to Georgia Tech, they earned it

Georgia Tech was predicted to be an “also ran” in 2014 and started the year looking like just that with lackluster wins against an equally lackluster schedule. However, after distressing back-to-back losses to Duke and UNC, the Jackets ripped 5 consecutive impressive wins, including a drubbing of Atlantic division runner-up Clemson and a thrilling road victory against a resurgent Georgia team. As noted last week, of the potential sacrificial lambs offered from the Coastal to play Atlantic Division champion Florida State, Georgia Tech clearly has the best chance to win. A credible passing threat in 2014 has done wonders for the effectiveness of Georgia Tech’s run-first offense and might be enough to trip the over-confident Seminoles…but don’t bet more than the pocket-change sitting in your sock drawer on it.

If Duke beats Wake Forest and no one is there to see it, did Duke really win? Discuss amongst yourselves.

“Duke is Duke” means a lot of things to a lot of people. In basketball it is usually a comment of resignation from opposing fans. In football, the meaning is more ambiguous. For over a decade it was a comment on Duke’s annual exercise in futility. After two very successful seasons, maybe “Duke is Duke” means that regardless of how many games they win, no one cares about Duke football. The group project for the 2014-2015 off season is to figure out how many games Duke football has to win before fans actually show up to their home games. Without question, 19 wins over 2 seasons is not enough. It always looks so lonely at Duke games. Duke sold out Wallace-Wade when they played Alabama a few years back, but a home game crowd rooting for ‘Bama in Durham isn’t a ringing statement about the level of enthusiasm for the Blue Devils of the gridiron. Maybe next year the “Duke Crazies” will post during football season, but then again…maybe they won’t.

For Virginia, ‘tis always the Season of Giving

It is past time that someone let the Virginia coaching staff know that while it is truly more blessed to give than receive, giving doesn’t cut the muster in college football. Generosity might score big points for getting into heaven, but it doesn’t put points on the scoreboard or fans in the seats on college football Saturdays. For the fourth time this season (UCLA, UNC, & Duke being the others) Virginia gave away a victory in a game they clearly should have won. Virginia Tech always finds a way to beat Virginia, but this is the first time in several years that Virginia was teed up for the win and decided to give it away. The Virginia Tech defense, as has been the recent trend, played a solid game Saturday. In an ironic twist of fate, when the chips were down and Virginia Tech needed a score, the much maligned VT offense delivered a game-winning touchdown, greatly aided by a mindless roughing the passer penalty and silly pass coverage breakdown. The Hokie Nation can rejoice that they kept their consecutive bowl streak alive at 22, but there is little joy in Blacksburg as the Hokies greatly underperformed expectations in 2014, especially after what was, in hindsight, a truly shocking win over Ohio State. Virginia, on the other hand, leads the ACC is moral victories, which is of no solace to Virginia fans as they again get to watch the ACC bowl lineup on TV while hoping for continued improvement next year.

Once is enough for UNC

I can only assume that after playing one game to the potential everyone expected of them in 2014 in their win against Duke, UNC decided they’d had enough and packed it in a week early. It has become clear this season that if Marquise Williams doesn’t produce over 400 yards of total offense and 4 or more touchdowns, the Tar Heels have no chance to win. (The gift victory from Virginia excepted, when Williams only produced 300+ yards and 3 TDs) As has been their standard this season, the UNC defense surrendered over 500 yards of total offense and 35 points to rival NC State. With Williams all but shut down and held to season lows in offensive production, Carolina’s probability of winning Saturday was statistically insignificant and they lost in a lopsided blowout to an average NC State team. UNC ends the season with a tepid 6-6 record and should make for easy pickings for their to-be-named bowl opponent.

Pitt going up, Miami while Miami goes down

In a game of divergent streaks, Pitt won its second game in a row after losing 6 out of their prior 7 and Miami lost their third consecutive game after riding a 3-game win streak. The good news for both teams is that they are bowl eligible, though Pitt had to view this as their “play-in game” and played as well as they have all year against a talented, but seemingly demoralized Miami team.

Coastal Observations:

Every Coastal team with the exception of Virginia is eligible for postseason play.

At least the Wahoos didn’t finish in sole possession of last place, but rather shared it with a scrabble of 3-5 teams that were smart enough to schedule enough cupcake games in their out-of-conference games to ensure the requisite 6 wins.

It is hard to fathom that the same Virginia Tech team that convincingly beat Ohio State on the road also lost to Wake Forrest 6-3 in a pitcher’s duel that had to go into extra innings.

Al Golden has to be wondering what might have been if Miami had not collapsed against Florida State while Paul Chryst has to wonder how in the heck he lost to the Zips of Akron.

Duke’s OoC scheduling strategy doesn’t change in 2015 and neither does Virginia’s. Duke plays Tulane, NC Central, Northwestern, & Army. Meanwhile Virginia plays UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary, and Boise St. Guess which team has a higher probability of winning 3 out of 4 OoS games?

James Connor and Duke Johnson are an outstanding pair of running backs who both richly deserved first team all-ACC honors.

In yet another robbery for which he will not be punished, Jameis Winston robbed Marquise Williams of first team all-ACC honors.

 

 

 

 

He’s Back! Get Ready for Mike London in 2015…

Strap yourselves in Virginia fans, Mike London is going to be running the Cavalier program in 2015. Some fans will give a reserved cheer, others will throw their hands up in disgust and exclaim they will never enter Scott Stadium again until a coaching change is made. By the way, this is a decades-old threat from Virginia fans who frequently lay down the gauntlet, but rarely follow through. The rant goes something like this: “If (fill in the blank – Sonny Randall, Dick Bestwick, Al Groh, Mike London) is coaching this team next year, I’m not going to another game until he’s gone, maybe ever again!” Okay! See you next year! Don’t forget to send in your VAF donation early so you get the most points for your parking spot.

Mike London is coming back and here is why:

(AP Photo/Steve Helber)
(AP Photo/Steve Helber)

While improving over the 2013 edition of Virginia football is an horrifically low bar to clear, the 2014 team is not a bad team by any measure. They are not a good team yet, but they are a much better team than 2013 and I would argue much better than 2012 as well.

For starters, the defense is good to very good. First team All-ACC running backs James Conner and Duke Johnson average 146 and 130 yards rushing per game. Against Virginia, they had 83 and 88 yards respectively. The Virginia defense is ranked 26th nationally in total defense. It has sacked opposing quarterbacks 32 times (18th nationally) and generated 26 turnovers (12th nationally). Virginia played the toughest schedule in the ACC and the defense kept the Cavaliers in every game, Georgia Tech excepted. Led by the All-ACC play of senior linebacker Henry Coley, Virginia is a defense that teams don’t want to play. Jon Tenuta has shown himself to be a top-shelf coordinator and has put a very solid unit on the field.

There is no question that offense has been more of a struggle for Virginia this season and frankly is the reason why Virginia football is 5-6 after 11 games and hence, why many Virginia fans are clamoring for a coaching change. However, despite the problems on offense, there have been several bright spots as well. The Virginia offensive line was predicted by all prognosticators to be the weak link in the Virginia program. A makeshift group with no clear leaders, many predicted that Virginia’s young quarterbacks would spend the 2014 season running for their lives. In a delicious twist of irony, the Virginia offensive line has been the brightest of bright spots for the Virginia program. The Virginia OL has given up a scant 12 sacks through 11 games, and delivered multiple games yielding zero sacks including this past week’s win against Miami. The Virginia running game has improved throughout the year. In the second half of Saturday’s win, the Virginia offensive line imposed its will on Miami, running on all but 5 plays, moving the ball consistently. The Virginia wide receiving corps has been more than capable in 2014 and shows great promise moving forward. The Virginia quarterbacks have delivered 17 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. While this is not the ratio Virginia fans hoped for in 2014, it is a marked improvement over 2013. There are clearly areas for improvement on offense. Tight end play has been deficient and interceptions have been too frequent and unusually ill-timed. Play calling has been questionable, with the screen pass being the most predictable, over-used, and under-performing play in the Virginia arsenal. Steve Fairchild bears much of the responsibility for the struggles on offense. The running-back-by-committee seems to take Kevin Parks out of his rhythm and the lack of commitment to the vertical passing game has made the Virginia offense predictable and therefore easier to defend.

Despite the noted shortcomings, this team is not far from turning the corner. A wholesale cleansing of the coaching staff would likely set Virginia back instead of keeping forward momentum. The reality is, Virginia is one badly botched screen pass against UNC from delivering enough on-field success to keep a restless and impatient fan base in check. Looking at the schedule before the season began, most fans would have been reasonably pleased with a 6-6 season. Given the early success of the program, the fan base got greedy, and now 5-7 or even 6-6 is reason to go through the cost and disruption of a coaching change. It’s not happening.

There is another big reason Mike London is coming back, field performance aside. The donor community and the administration don’t want him gone yet. Mike London brings a lot to the University of Virginia and its stakeholders. The Virginia program, from all indications to the public, is a solid group of admirable young men. Graduation rates are up and disciplinary problems are down. When Virginia administrators, donors, and fans read about the garbage going on at Florida State and UNC, everyone looks thankfully to Mike London as a leader who shares the ideals that are important to UVa community.

On balance, it was a bad week for the University. Given the publicity of the Rolling Stone article and the pressure that will bring for Virginia to take a leadership position in driving structural change to better protect its students, the last thing UVa needs right now is to fire its head football coach, which smacks of “business as usual” and focusing on the wrong things. All eyes are on Virginia right now, and the clear focus needs to be on addressing sexual assault problems, not mollifying impatient football fans. Mike London will be back in 2015. I have seen enough improvement in the program to be glad about it. If UVa is going to make headlines with changes in its leadership, it needs to be centered on addressing the problems on grounds that threaten the well-being of its students, not quibbling over whether 6 wins is good enough to keep the coaching staff in place.

 

 

 

 

Pros and Con for Staying Status Quo

Will one more year matter? That seems to be the questions that the University of Pittsburgh Athletic Department and administration face at the end of this season. The current season for the team has been a disaster so will anything change next season with Pitt and head coach Paul Chryst at the helm. The way I make some decisions is making a pro/con list so lets try that and help upper management make this decision.

Pro: Stud running back James Conner who is racking up the numbers and accolades is a true sophomore meaning he will be back for at least one more year.

Con: The Panther offensive line has been a rotating vortex of inconsistency. They have basically changed the lineup every game and after this many games a set squad should have been a fore gone conclusion (injuries aside). This is unacceptable.

Pro: Quarterback Chad Voytik is also a sophomore and making steady strides in his passing skills and understanding what his opponents are throwing at him as well as the coaches are finally coaching to his strengths and athletic ability.

Con: The Special Teams has cost the team at least one victory if not more. Kicker Blewitt missed a 26-yard field goal that would have beat Duke but missed it and the Panthers ending up losing in 2 overtimes.

Pro/Con: The secondary of the Pitt defense is pretty much composed of all freshmen except senior safety Ray Vinopal. They are making mistakes that are ending up in huge plays but by the same token gaining invaluable on the field experience that should pay off in the future.

Pro: A linebacking core that will lose only one starter after this year.

Con: The defensive line has been horrible this year and that is putting is kindly. No one expected the line to be able to replace All American Aaron Donald, but they have not produced at all and that has really hindered the defense.

Con: The defense as a whole seems to be ill prepared at the start of games for what their offensive counterparts are throwing at them. I am not even taking about trick plays which would be understandable but the basic sets the defense seems to be confused and out of position. That is poor game preparation and film management.

Pro: The in-game adjustments that the defense makes always seem to work. The real problem is that by the time these adjustments are made the team is down by a substantial margin.

Con: Not fully utilizing the talents and superstar nature of sophomore wide receiver Tyler Boyd. The best part of his game has been his returns. With the progression of quarterback Chad Voytik should have been the numbers for Boyd but that has not been the case. Boyd needs to be given the ball in a bigger more dynamic capacity.

Pro: Tyler Boyd is only a sophomore and another year with Voytik can only make each of them better but only if the coaches can find ways to get Boyd the ball in tight and open spaces.

Con: The Coastal Division in the ACC is very weak this year and the Panthers were supposed to make a run at it but they have faltered greatly and proved yet again that they are mediocre.

Con: Aside from their few superstars, the talent level is not comparable to their opponents and that falls squarely on the coach. Unless you get better players and take advantage greatly recruiting areas the Panthers will always be middle or bottom of the pack.

The Panthers have to win 2 of their final 3 games against North Carolina, Syracuse and Miami to become bowl eligible. If not they will miss out on a bowl no matter how low level for the first time since 2007 and that is unacceptable. Head Coach is 17-18 in his three seasons and I don’t see that as every changing but the problem is if the Panthers would seek another coach would it matter. Not unless the mentality of being satisfied with mediocre is changed and wanting to be on top.

Invariably Chyrst will stay but I think defensive coordinator Matt House will be fired and his staff and everyone at Pitt will say that a change for the better is taking place at Pitt. Coach Chyrst will have one more year with his sophomore studs and if another year of 6-6 is had then he will be gone but to no avail.

A Darkhorse Heisman: Can anyone catch Marcus Mariota?

As the first third of the college football season comes to a close, most of the focus has been on which teams are in the best position to make the playoff. And rightfully so, as it is the most exciting thing about this young season. But in every other year, more talk would have focused on which players are off to great starts and can use their early season momentum into a Heisman campaign. The Heisman talk has taken somewhat of a backseat to the playoff discussion. This year, like all others, we are already seeing a few players separate themselves from the rest of the pack as favorites to be invited to the ceremony.
I won’t spend much time on the current favorites since they’re pretty obvious and universal at this point. Marcus Mariota was on his way to a possible trophy last year before a mid-season injury, and has picked up right where he left off. Combined with the potential for an undefeated season, he is the clear front runner having accounted for 16 touchdowns and 0 interceptions so far this year. In either order close behind him are Todd Gurley and Amari Cooper. Gurley is averaging on astonishing 9.8 ypc up to this point and has dominated in Georgia’s two biggest games of the year, versus Clemson and South Carolina. Meanwhile Amari Cooper is merely leading the nation in receptions and receiving yards for a Top 5 Alabama team. Both players will put up ridiculous stats this year, but it will still be difficult for them to bring home the award since neither are a quarterback.
Currently rounding out my Top 5 are Dak Prescott and Ameer Abdullah. I’m not sure why Prescott isn’t getting more love. He has as impressive of stats as the other “non-Top 3” Top Heisman contenders on ESPN’s Heisman Watch and led his team to the best win out of those players (with the possible exception of Kenny Hill vs. South Carolina). He’s only completing 60% of his passes, but has thrown for 11 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions and has added 378 yards and 3 scores on the ground. He’ll get more chances to prove himself in the next couple weeks with visits from Texas A&M and Auburn. If he plays well, Prescott will remain in the Heisman conversation for most of the year as long as Mississippi State is able to go 1-1 in those games. Abdullah hasn’t led Nebraska to a huge win yet, but he has been racking up the rushing yards and had his best game in his team’s biggest game of the season so far against Miami (Fl.) last week. He also already has his Heisman moment with his incredible touchdown reception to save the day against McNeese St.
There are some fairly common other players being mentioned just on the fringe of the Heisman discussion, but I’m going to skip past them and look at some long-shots. There are a few players who have played really well, and even though most people know who they are, they haven’t really been mentioned in Heisman talks for one reason or another. These are my Top 5 sleeper picks to make it to the Heisman ceremony.
1. Blake Sims – QB Alabama

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The first few weeks made us wonder if the quarterback position would hold Alabama back from being a true national title contender. This was understandable considering the relative lack of passing game the Tide showed in the first few weeks. But Blake Sims was unleashed last week against Florida, and proved he is capable of making big plays in the passing game. Because of the conservative nature of the offense the first few games, the counting stats aren’t there yet for Sims. But he’s completing just fewer than 70% of his passes and last week showed he can rack up the yards and touchdowns if OC Lane Kiffin continues to air it out. He’ll need to finish with at least 35 touchdowns, but as the QB for one of the nation’s top teams, he has the stage and talent around him to make it happen.
2. DJ Foster – RB Arizona State
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri
AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

DJ Foster is an explosive RB in the Reggie Bush mold. The Sun Devils have only played three games so far, but Foster has already rang up 649 yards from scrimmage to go with 6 touchdowns, all while averaging 9.4 ypc. Though they haven’t played much quality opposition, Foster’s worst game of the year so far is 173 yards and 3 touchdowns. The opposition will get tougher now that Pac-12 play is starting, and Foster gets the chance to make a huge statement tonight. With starting quarterback Taylor Kelly out due to injury, if Foster has a huge game and leads Arizona State to an upset win at home over UCLA, Foster will start to gain momentum in the Heisman race.
3. James Conner – RB Pittsburgh
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Conner, the 250 pound running back for the Pittsburgh Panthers, is tallying impressive rushing totals. He has 699 yards and 9 touchdowns already on 6.4 ypc. He also doesn’t have a game with less than 5.3 ypc. The competition may have not been the greatest, but that’s something that isn’t going to change. The Panthers play a weak schedule even by ACC standards, avoiding Florida State and Clemson. Last year Andre Williams finished 4th in the Heisman voting for a 7-5 Boston College team simply because his stats were so impressive. With Pittsburgh’s dedication to the run game (or unwillingness to risk throwing), I see no reason Conner doesn’t have a good chance at putting up a stat line that gets him close to New York.
4. Shane Carden – QB East Carolina

shane-carden

Carden’s candidacy is based both on putting up stats and quality wins. Playing in the American Conference he will certainly not have the big stage other contenders do so he will have to total astonishing stats. That is something he is on pace to do, currently totaling 1,469 yards through the air with 11 passing touchdowns to go along with 3 on the ground. He led East Carolina to a close defeat at South Carolina and followed that up by toasting Virginia Tech and North Carolina to the tune of 865 yards with 10 touchdowns and only 1 interception in the next two games. While he doesn’t have any marquee games left, if he could light up those ACC schools just imagine what he’ll do in American Conference play. They’ll have to win out and go 11-1, but a 4,500 yard season with 40+ touchdowns isn’t out of the question; those are stats that would keep him in the discussion.

5. Dylan Thompson – QB South Carolina

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Dylan Thompson is another case where his team will need to win out for him to have a chance. But if the Gamecocks can rattle off 12 straight wins after an opening loss and win the SEC, Thompson is the quarterback for what would be a Top 3 team. He has completed 66.7% of his passes since the opener and even in that opening game loss he threw 4 touchdowns. In South Carolina’s last two games, which came against SEC opponents, Thompson threw 8 touchdowns and only 1 interception. A lot would need to go right, but if Thompson can keep up that kind of efficiency throughout conference play, seeing him finish in the Top 5 wouldn’t be all that far-fetched.

The Key to Pitt’s Success

chad_voytik
The lynchpin for the Pitt Panthers in 2014 is quarterback Chad Voytik. Yes I realize that is the case with most teams from Pop Warner to the NFL but with Pitt is will ultimately define whether they contend in the weak Coastal Division in the ACC or fight to make .500.
Sophomore quarterback Chad Voytik is replacing now Houston Texan Tom Savage. Voytik played in 4 games last year with his most on field time being in the Little Ceasar’s Bowl victory over Bowling Green, so if nothing else Voytik and the coaches got a glimpse of the future and realized more than ever what his strengths and weaknesses are.
Voytik is very athletic which will help when the offensive line breaks coverage but by the say token it hinders his progress when staying in the pocket and going through his progressions. His arm strength is suspect as is his accuracy. His arm strength may always be an issue but as his reps increase his accuracy will increase as well. The greatest strength for Voytik is Pitt’s overall strength in fellow standout sophomores Tyler Boyd and James Conner. Boyd will make passing easier for Voytik as he is a great receiver already with good hands, range and a nose for the ball. Conner is a football player plain and simple and his running style will wear down defenses unfortunately Conner will also wear down because he will also be playing defense.
Voytik will be developing right along with his offensive line who will need to gel in a hurry in camp for Voytik to be able to concentrate on his passing skills and not rely on his feet. The line is young and inexperienced and was erratic at best last year but if they get any consistent play especially from their tackles, Voytik will be able to relax and focus on the game down the field.
I have a very good feeling at Voytik and the progress he will make this year. I think his mobility will help save the offensive line as well force defenses to keep a spy on him opening up more lanes for Conner to run and Boyd to exploit in the slot.
Pitt head coach Paul Chryst is now in his third season but his previous job was offensive coordinator at Wisconsin where he helped another athletic quarterback with suspect arm strength and accuracy, his name: Russell Wilson. I am not comparing Voytik to Wilson but just be aware that Chryst knows what he’s doing with quarterbacks.

Switch Now, Don’t Wait

You are having the best game in your young college football career, running all over your opponent and then you get a tap on the shoulder and before you know it you are playing defensive end, in a bowl game no less, when you last played defense in high school. Seems strange, well its true just ask James Conner sophomore (then a freshman) at the University of Pittsburgh. The game was the Little Ceaser’s Bowl where Conner broke Tony Dorsett’s bowl game rushing record despite playing some downs on defense.

James Conner

I’m of the opinion that Conner will end up on defense this year coming year but will it happen at the beginning of the season or in the middle when Head Coach Paul Chryst realizes he desperately needs help on defense. Let me point out some factors that I think the coaching staff at Pitt is considering:

1)       Pitt returns just five starters on defense and very importantly they lost they two best defensive lineman (Aaron Donald was a first round pick)

2)      A couple of freshmen, Chris James and Qadree Ollison, will push incumbent Isaac Bennett for carries, so if they pan out like Conner did as a freshman who is getting all the carries

3)      Despite Conner’s bowl game record setting performance, he was very inconsistent throughout the year (i.e. Virginia 27 yards on 15 carries, Georgia Tech 3 yards on 8 carries

4)      Conner sustained a “minor” knee injury early in spring practices subsequently eliminating him from further practicing or workouts. According to coaches he should be ready for summer conditioning but did that injury actually seal his fate

5)      Head Coach Chryst has yet to guarantee Conner that he will stay on offense (at least publicly)

In my view the decision has been made but is it the right decision for Pitt and Conner I guess we will all find out in a few months when Pitt kicks off against Delaware. I just hope that once they make a decision they stick with it one way or the other and also that they have told Conner and have his conditioning program geared toward his new position on defense.

Keep him where he can excel on offense, he could be a force and ease the transition of new starting quarterback Chad Voytik, is a complete new offensive backfield the way to go…no.