Yesterday, I told you there are a lot of big games in Week 1. Today, we keep it rolling. Here are some notes on three more games you’ll be watching this holiday weekend: Continue reading Not Another List of Big Games: Week 1 (Pt. 2)
Will ACC football do it again? I could answer this question in a couple sentences, but that wouldn’t be any fun for anyone.
ACC football was on a roll at the end of the year last year, with ACC teams winning the overwhelming majority of the bowl games in which they played. Not to mention, Clemson eventually won the National Championship Game.
With a new season less than a few weeks away, now is definitely the time to ponder whether the ACC can (and will) do it again. For me, it depends on what exactly “it” is. If the ACC must win the title and win the same number of bowl games, I just don’t see that happening again. If the ACC simply must have a playoff participant and win most of its bowl games, then maybe “it” can be done.
The playoff participant I’d expect to emerge from the ACC this season would not be the Clemson Tigers, though. If anything, I expect the Florida State Seminoles to earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs this postseason and be the ACC team mostly likely to win the title. Vegas says I’m not alone in this expectation.
Florida State may have lost running back Dalvin Cook, but it looks ready to reload and move forward this season. Cam Akers is expected to pick up where Cook left off, so Seminole fans need not worry about that loss. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois also has an entire season of experience now, which should help him better lead the Florida State offense. The Seminole defense returns countless starters and will have Derwin James back this season (if he can stay healthy). This combination of offensive and defensive power is what makes Vegas (and me) hot on Florida State this year.
On the other hand, Clemson is in for a rebuilding year after losing its dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL. The Tigers lost multiple other starters that leave a few big holes on both sides of the ball. Two major departures that come to mind are Ben Boulware (defense) and Mike Williams (offense). Clemson fans might place their confidence in Dorian O’Daniel and Hunter Renfrow to step up to replace those two, but I don’t have that same confidence—yet.
As far as the non-conference games during the season and the bowl games during the postseason go, there are countless other ACC football teams that look ready to take on formidable opponents. I’ll be brief, but here are a few teams worth giving some attention.
Virginia Tech had a great first season under one of my favorite head coaches, Justin Fuente. If the Hokies can improve their ball security, they may even finish above that 9-3 mark from last season.
Miami had a solid season under Mark Richt as well. Hurricane fans remain confident as ever, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of this team now that quarterback Brad Kaaya is gone. He may not have been elite, but he was an important part of Richt’s offense.
Louisville was flying high behind Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson early last season, but fell from grace by the end of the year. After watching that collapse, the Cardinals are another team that I really don’t know what to think about yet.
Georgia Tech had an interesting season last year, finishing 8-4 in the regular season and beating two SEC teams during that time. The Yellow Jackets beat the Vanderbilt Commodores and the in-state rival Georgia Bulldogs during the regular season. Georgia Tech also went on to beat Kentucky in its bowl game. This season, Georgia Tech gets a chance to prove itself early against another SEC foe—the Tennessee Volunteers. Let it be known right now that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yellow Jackets take down the Vols in this season opener.
The Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels, and NC State Wolfpack are a few other teams to keep on the radar in the ACC this season.
To wrap things up I’m also going to give you my prediction for the end-of-year standings in the ACC.
ACC Atlantic Division:
- Florida State
- NC State
- Wake Forest
- Boston College
ACC Coastal Division:
- Virginia Tech
- Georgia Tech
- North Carolina
With those being my standings, I would expect Florida State to beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and secure a spot in the College Football Playoffs.
While the ACC may not be quite as good as last year, I do still expect a championship contender from the conference and a strong record in non-conference games.
You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.
Featured photo courtesy of Ashley Romanosky.
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.
If you’ve read my articles here before, then you know I am admittedly a huge SEC homer. I was raised on SEC football and would not feel the way I do about the sport of football as a whole if it weren’t for the SEC.
Last year, the SEC did pretty well overall in bowl play. I would’ve given them props for that. In fact, I probably did. This year, it was a mixed bag for the conference I love.
But, there was a conference that really did shine in the most unimportant games of the season. That conference, to most people’s surprise, was the ACC.
Earlier this year I wrote an article trying to tell people to show ACC football some respect. After all, you don’t have to like the ACC to respect it. And now those of you that did read that article back then will see that sometimes I’m right. (I’m also wrong sometimes, too.)
But instead of just bragging about being right about that call, I will walk you through exactly how the ACC proved that I was right this bowl season. As I said above, bowl games are largely unimportant. That being said, they do come with bragging rights for the teams and conferences that fare well.
So, here’s to the ACC. Enjoy your bragging rights for the next eight months, and we’ll see what happens next year.
The ACC did take 3 L’s in bowl play. One of those really wasn’t that bad, in my opinion. But Louisville’s (vs. LSU) loss and Pittsburgh’s (vs. Northwestern) loss were both inexcusable. In a somewhat comical manner, I did manage to call the outcome of that LSU game on Twitter though. #SorryNotSorry
It will be funny to see Great Value DBU shut down the Heisman winner though. I must say…
— Kristen 🏈 Botica (@OGKristenB) December 11, 2016
Let’s face it: Lamar Jackson had to carry Louisville this season, and if he was shut down then the team was hopeless. LSU shut him down and the Cardinals were hopeless.
And as for Pitt, I really didn’t see that loss coming. I guess that’s what happens when you cough up the ball four times. Northwestern wasn’t bad this year, but it also wasn’t good. Even with four turnovers, I’m still surprised Pitt dropped this game.
The other ACC bowl loss, the one that I don’t think was all that bad, was North Carolina’s loss to Stanford. North Carolina had some great moments this season, including victories over both Miami and Florida State. The Stanford Cardinal had a more solid season overall so I wouldn’t have expected a win from North Carolina in this one. Keeping the game as close as the Tar Heels did was actually pretty impressive. Here’s to moral victories!
Now, let’s discuss the ACC’s wins. And as I write this, there are eight of them. There could potentially be nine after the College Football Championship game. But I won’t get into that. My SEC bias might start showing again.
Boston College beat Maryland. But who really cares? Maryland is only recognizable in the college football world because of its hideous uniforms. Not to mention, Maryland left the ACC. The joke’s on them now.
Going into the bowl game with Wake Forest, Temple had actually put together a pretty good season. The Owls finished out the season with a convincing win over Navy, which was actually doing pretty well this year. The Demon Deacons jumped out to an early lead over the Owls and managed to hold onto that lead for the remainder of the game. They also had cool shiny helmets, so that’s a win too.
I never thought I would say beating Kentucky in football is a good win, but I’m saying it now. Georgia Tech’s win over Kentucky may not be as impressive as the win over Georgia during rivalry week. But now the Yellow Jackets are on a roll against the SEC East, having won their last three games against teams in the division. As we all know, the SEC East is not exactly full of formidable opponents. It’ll be interesting to see how the Yellow Jackets fare against one of the SEC East’s better teams, the Tennessee Volunteers.
Speaking of SEC East opponents that aren’t formidable, N.C. State dominated Vanderbilt in a game that was never close. N.C. State wasn’t exactly impressive during regular season play either but it did finish the season on a high note with a big rivalry win over North Carolina on the road. With that win and this dominant performance against Vanderbilt, it seems that the Wolfpack may be gaining momentum.
Arkansas may not be in the SEC East, but the ACC did notch another win over the SEC as a whole when Virginia Tech topped Arkansas in comeback fashion. Arkansas has always been confusing under Bret Bielema, and you never know what to expect from the team. Virginia Tech under Justin Fuente has been incredibly impressive, and the win over Arkansas just solidified that.
I don’t like West Virginia and I never have, but watching Miami get a relatively easy victory over the Mountaineers wasn’t any fun for me as a Gator fan. Mark Richt has done pretty well in his first season with the Hurricanes, and topping that off with a bowl win over a ranked opponent was a great sign for Miami fans. Maybe they’ll finally be able to forget the dark days of Al Golden.
Floridians can be proud of the college teams in their state because Florida State also managed to get an impressive win over Michigan. Michigan was supposedly a playoff contender but after an embarrassing first half in this game, Florida State made the Wolverines look like pretenders. As much as I may dislike both teams, I have to admit that this was a great win for the Seminoles and for the ACC.
Last but not least, there’s Clemson’s College Football Playoff beatdown of Ohio State. This was a glorious moment for me as an Ohio State/Urban Meyer hater. The one team from the Big Ten that did make it to the Playoff wasn’t even able to score a single point against Clemson. Talk about pretenders! I truly have a huge smile on my face as I write this. Clemson absolutely destroyed Ohio State, just showing the rest of us how overrated the Buckeyes (and the Big Ten teams) were this season.
Here it is: Yes, the ACC had a couple bad losses and one loss that was a moral victory so to speak. Still, the ACC had numerous good wins and a few great wins this bowl season. Like I said before, maybe it’s time to finally give credit where credit is due.
You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.
Photo courtesy of Ken Lund.
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Now that the season is over, I can confidently say that Justin Fuente is my pick for best head coaching hire after last season. The Virginia Tech Hokies have become (somewhat) relevant this season and that isn’t just a fluke.
The Hokies finished the regular season at 9-3, winning the ACC Coastal Division. Granted, winning the ACC Coastal is about the equivalent of winning the SEC East these days. But I’ll get to my SEC East comparison. Virginia Tech then went on to lose in a pretty close game to Clemson at the ACC Championship in Orlando.
Virginia Tech beat UNC, Miami, Pitt, Duke, Notre Dame and a few other opponents. Who did it lose to? Virginia Tech’s three regular season losses were to Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Syracuse is the least excusable loss of the three. And you can blame the Tennessee and Georgia Tech losses almost entirely on turnovers.
In fact, I was at that Tennessee game. I remember just how sloppy it was. Virginia Tech outgained Tennessee by 70 yards, had the ball for two and a half minutes longer and had five more first downs than Tennessee did. But because of the Hokies’ five turnovers (and the Vols’ one), they fell to Tennessee in what turned out to be a bit of a rout.
Virginia Tech outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards and had ten more first downs than the Yellow Jackets did. But Virginia Tech lost by ten points after giving up four turnovers. Georgia Tech only gave up one.
The Syracuse game is a bit of a different story. The Hokies only had one more turnover than the Orange did. But Syracuse quarterback channeled his inner Lamar Jackson and had 311 yards passing as well as 106 yards on the ground.
Aside from these three hiccups, the Hokies really did have a great season under first-year head coach Justin Fuente. Transfer quarterback Jerod Evans may not have been a Cam Newton, but he did what Fuente needed him to do. He racked up over 3,000 passing yards and also led the team in rushing yards.
Compare this to last season when Virginia Tech finished in a tie with Duke for fourth place in the ACC Coastal and you’ll see why I’m impressed. The Hokies, in one year, went from being 4-4 in conference play and unranked to being 6-2 in conference play and ranked somewhere in the Top 25 depending on which rankings you look at.
Just like it was miraculous for Jim McElwain to take the Florida Gators from 4-4 in the SEC to 7-1 last season, it was nearly miraculous for Fuente to do what he did with the Hokies this season. And just like I was anxious to see what McElwain would do this season, I’m very anxious to see what Fuente could do next season.
Now, I know he won’t be the national coach of the year. Some other coaches had even more success this season on a national level. But Fuente’s ACC Coach of the Year honor is well deserved. And of course I think calling him the best first-year head coach for a program is equally well deserved. Heck, I almost wish Florida had held out another year so we could have gotten Fuente instead.
What Fuente did for the Memphis Tigers football program in his four years there was incredible. And it seems like he’s on track to make equally incredible strides with his Hokies.
So here’s to you, Justin Fuente. You may not have the same name recognition as some of these other coaches, but you are truly a coach to keep our eyes on over the next few years. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see you repeat as division champions, just like McElwain did in the SEC East. In fact, I may even be rooting for you to join that club.
You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.
Photo: Kristen Botica
I have waited two long years for this game—the Battle at Bristol. And now that it’s here I’m just ready to watch my Tennessee Volunteers run circles around the Virginia Tech Hokies. Run circles…at a NASCAR track…get it?!
I’ve been waiting for a while to get this off my chest. I hate to break it to you, Virginia Tech, but having Justin Fuente won’t just magically turn you into last year’s Memphis Tigers team. And no, Jerod Evans is not the next Cam Newton. Calm down.
Virginia Tech seems like just another wannabe SEC team to me. You hire Justin Fuente after a 37-24 upset over SEC West power Ole Miss. You bring in a junior college quarterback who is most often compared to Cam Newton. I see what you’re doing, but it’s not going to work. You’re like the cheap knockoff version of an SEC team that you’ll find being sold on a street corner in New York City. You look good from a distance, but once you get close enough you’re just another mediocre ACC football team.
And speaking of being a mediocre ACC team, when was the last time you won a championship trophy? No, the ACC Conference Championship doesn’t count. I’m talking about a national title. Spoiler alert: the answer is never. Another acceptable answer would be: in your dreams.
See, I just can’t relate to that. I was raised in East Tennessee in the heart of Vol Country. I may have been too young to know what was happening, but the Vols did win a championship—a national one—in my lifetime. While life as a Volunteers fan has been a little turbulent since then, I can rest easy knowing I’m lucky enough to not be a Hokie fan.
But enough about history, let’s talk about now. I’m sure Virginia Tech fans were licking their lips watching the Vols struggle against Appalachian State last weekend. But if you ask the experts at CBS, they’ll tell you that the Mountaineers are actually ranked ahead of the Hokies. No, I’m not joking. They have Appalachian State ranked 39th and Virginia Tech ranked 50th.
So now you might be resorting to something like, “Well the Vols looked awful and they’re lucky they won that game anyway.” I don’t want to hear it. The Hokies played a mediocre FCS team last weekend and struggled in the first quarter and even the beginning of the second quarter. Virginia Tech only won 36-13. Excuse me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to beat an unheard of FCS team by a lot more than 23 points. There is absolutely no room to talk about last weekend’s football game for the Vols against a tough FBS team. At the end of the day, Tennessee got a win that was at least as good as Virginia Tech’s win, when you consider the opponents.
As a Vol fan, part of me is honestly glad that last week was a real struggle for Tennessee. There have been ridiculously high expectations for the Vols this offseason and with good reason. But if Tennessee hadn’t been humbled prior to this matchup in the Battle at Bristol, I think the Hokies could’ve taken them by surprise. Now that Tennessee knows its weaknesses, has seen them on game film, and can address them, there will be no element of surprise for the Hokies on Saturday.
Saturday is going to be about just one thing: the talent playing out on that football field. Virginia Tech may have their own knock-off Cam Newton and some good targets for him on offense, but the Vols have more. Tennessee returns 17 starters from last year’s team, a team that finished at No. 22 in last year’s final AP poll. Head coach Butch Jones has a loaded offense behind Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and Alvin Kamara. And unlike the Hokies, they also have a loaded defense. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Derek Barnett, and Cam Sutton are just a few of the players that come to mind when I think of that good ole SEC defense.
Virginia Tech fans, I’m glad we could get your hopes up with that mess of a football game we played last weekend. But I hope you spend the entire day in Bristol tailgating very hard so you don’t have to hold onto any painful memories of what this Tennessee team is going to do to you.
You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.
Photo: Bristol Motor Speedway
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The SEC faces a gauntlet of a schedule this weekend with Samford, Western Carolina, South Alabama, Charleston Southern, Eastern Kentucky, and Vanderbilt (oops, my mistake) all coming from their “respected” conferences. These juggernauts will have their hands full of the overrated SEC teams this week, so I will not even touch on the games.
Unfortunately, with the season coming to a close and coaches getting fired, we can’t help but to already look to next season, right? Will Muschamp is out as Florida’s head coach and Florida has some high profile coaches on their desired list heading into the offseason. Florida has been and always will be a desired destination for any coach whether serving in the ranks of collegiate or professional football. Though recently, the program has simmered down from its elite-like status and has just been average in Muschamp’s final two seasons.
Does that mean this job is less attractive for other coaches? Absolutely not.
To be redundant and state the obvious based off of all the other articles already written, Florida is one of the more attractive jobs in all of football due to the amazing facilities, the fertile recruiting grounds, and playing each week in the best conference in football.
Many articles have been written on who the Gators must get to be successful and who fits the mold of the Florida coaching profile (whatever that means). Here’s my list based off who I believe is not only a great fit, but one that should bring success based on his coaching methods, his ability to recruit, and his valuable experience that could suit him best in the Florida coaching position:
Dan Mullen, Mississippi State Head Coach
Let’s just go ahead and get this name out of the way because we know it’s everybody’s favorite to get the gig. Mullen spent years at Florida already under Urban Meyer and was wildly successful in running the spread with the phenomenal Florida athletes. There, he gained much respect and left Florida to take the head coaching job at State. But what would get Mullen out of Stark Vegas and to Gainesville? Sure, the money is greater and Mullen could shout out some zeroes and it would be given to him, but money might be the only thing that may pull Mullen back to Gator Nation. Mullen and Florida Athletic Director Jeremy Foley reportedly had a fishy relationship at Florida and it was quickly known that Mullen will not be a candidate for the job.
A positive for Mullen staying at State is that he can build off the momentum of 2014 and create a sturdy foundation at MSU for years to come, which is something the Bulldogs have never experienced. It’s a pride thing with coaches and Mullen deserves every right to boast in what he has created and accomplished at Mississippi State, whether that gets him the nod in Gainesville or not.
Kirby Smart, Alabama Defensive Coordinator
Jeremy Foley came out early and stated that he wants the next head coach at Florida to have an offensive mind because that has been lacking during Muschamp’s tenure and the Gators were very successful under Urban Meyer’s revolutionary spread offense. With that said, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart may just be too juicy to pass on. Smart’s defense has virtually been ranked first in every defensive category since coming over from Miami with Nick Saban.
Smart has learned under the best coach in football, but is that enough for Florida? Florida went down the same road with Muschamp and well I wouldn’t be writing this article if he was successful. Smart will be a candidate for the job, but will unlikely reach the final cut due to the qualifications and preferences Florida has already laid out.
Jim McElwain, Colorado State Head Coach
McElwain would not be the sexy pick, but sometimes that’s the way you have to go sometimes. McElwain in as little as three seasons has completely turned around his Colorado State squad with a current 9-1 record with the only loss coming to Boise State. McElwain was solid at Alabama as a coach and recruiter and could be the sleeper for the job and I would approve, but that doesn’t mean much.
Chad Morris, Clemson Offensive Coordinator
Could this finally be Chad Morris’ big break? And wow, it could come at an awesome place. Morris has flirted with head coaching destinations throughout his short stint at Clemson, but nothing seems to have caught his eye quite yet. This could be a golden opportunity for Morris and his high-powered offense, which is right on the money with what Florida is searching for.
Morris manages a similar offense that Meyer ran at Florida by spreading out the best athletes and running the offense around their best attributes and abilities. This hire would almost make too much since, but the experience as serving as only an offensive coordinator may not be enough.
Other candidates that deserve a look…
Justin Fuente, Memphis Head Coach
Fuente has been named recruiter of the year many times throughout his career while serving as an assistant at many high-profile programs. Fuente wouldn’t be very high on the list, but possibly could be a candidate for many other jobs this offseason, so write this name down on a sticky note and keep it near.
Adam Gase, Broncos Offensive Coordinator
This is a little stretch, but could be a logical choice for the Gators. The 36 year old has only served two years as offensive coordinator for the AFC champs, but his offense broke records in his first season and are playing just fine in his second. Gase served as a graduate assistant at LSU for a few years before jumping to the NFL. Gase’s offense will cater to the speed of Florida and will bring a new swagger to Gainesville.
Many other names like Gus Malzahn, Jim Harbaugh and even Chip Kelly have been thrown around, but c’mon let’s get real.
Gus Malzahn: Wesley Hitt/ Getty Images
Chip Kelly: Strength Power Speed
Jim Harbaugh: Scott Cunningham/ Getty Images