Tag Archives: MacKensie Alexander

All Aboard the Tar Heel Bandwagon

Down the stretch last fall, a good buddy of mine hopped on the North Carolina Tar Heels’ bandwagon.  He’s a big fan of this guy, Ryan Switzer.  Why exactly, I couldn’t tell you.

Now, contrary to popular belief, being a bandwagon fan is not a bad thing.  If your hometown team sucks, or if you lack one altogether, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking up an alternate rooting interest.

Doing so can revitalize your love for the game.  Believe me, as a Michigan fan that spent his high school and college years watching Rich Rodriguez and Brady Hoke coached teams, I know.  If you have a true love for the game, you’ll be able to pick up that side team no problem.

Anyway, I had been watching last year’s Heels somewhat closely ever since they’d proven me wrong, winning at Georgia Tech in early October.  Then, when they popped Pitt on the road at the end of the month, I was ready to ride the Fighting Michael Jordans all the way to a surprise playoff appearance.

I called for the upset in the ACC Championship Game, but the Heels and I can’t get no (dunh nuh nuh) satis-faction.  So, I’m here now to double down.

ACC Ripe for Picking

The Tar Heels are the team to beat on the East Coast this fall.

A quick aside: UNC’s athletic director’s name is Bubba Cunningham.  Without knowing anything about him personally, that’s a man I want to see succeed, if only because we’ll get to hear the name Bubba Cunningham more often.

Clemson is good, yes.  DeShaun Watson will likely be the best quarterback in the draft class.  Florida State is also good.  Dalvin Cook will be a top pick, too.  The Tigers and the Seminoles will come up short this season, though.

What Clemson did last year was captivating.  We all wanted that team to succeed so we could watch Dabo Swinney act a fool after big wins.  Realistically, a repeat performance will be tremendously difficult.

Say goodbye to seven key members of last year’s defense, including ends Shaw Lawson and Kevin Dodd, corner Mackensie Alexander, and safety T.J. Green, who all went in the first two rounds of the draft.

Overwhelming firepower only takes you so far when you lack proper fortifications.  I’ll err on the side of Clemson’s replacements not being as sturdy as the now pros they’re taking over for.

Florida State is the new USC.  That 2013 national championship was supposed to be a springboard for FSU, not the pinnacle.

We keep hearing about how loaded Jimbo Fisher’s group is but we’ve not seen enough supporting evidence the past two years to legitimize the hype.  The Seminoles have lost the benefit of the doubt.  They’ve got a lot to prove in order to earn it back.

Closing Statement

North Carolina wins the ACC this year because it replaces its gamebreaker with a steady hand that can utilize all the returning talent around him.  Mitch Trubisky is taking over for Marquise Williams and with a name like that he’s got to be good.

Five All-ACC selections return on the offensive side.  Switzer, along with running back Elijah Hood, receiver Mack Hollins, guard Caleb Peterson, and tackle Jon Heck will all be reliable cogs in the UNC machine.  Receiver Bug Howard, tackle Bentley Spain, and center Lucas Crowley are all back as well.

Interestingly enough, former Illinois head coach Tim Beckman is now a volunteer coach for the Tar Heels.  Beckman, who was fired almost a year ago to the day for mistreatment of players, will help scout and evaluate film.

This is an excellent move by head coach Larry Fedora, who’s familiar with Beckman from their time together on the 2007 Oklahoma State staff.  Basically, Fedora is getting a major bargain, adding a veteran defensive-minded coach with plenty of incentive to get his act together at no cost.

Normally, having to replace a quarterback, particularly one of Williams’ stature, is a great way for me to not pick you to do much.  However, the progress report on Trubisky and the supporting cast he’ll be able to lean on have me sipping the Carolina blue kool-aid.

No, it won’t be either one of the usual suspects representing the ACC in this season’s playoff.  It’ll be the team whose bandwagon is about to pick up many more interested travelers along the way.

Feature image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @GreatGatzke.

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

Who Takes the Power 5 Conference Crowns in 2015

Only one open Saturday remains before opening kick-off of this year’s college football season. Sounds like it’s about high time we put some predictions out there I’d say. This year feels much more difficult in that regard than last year. After Ohio State, there doesn’t appear to be a dominant team, one you can just pencil into the playoff along with the Buckeyes.

TCU, a common #2 on many people’s list, should have one of the Top 5 scoring offenses in the country but is replacing key players all over the defense. Alabama, Baylor, Oregon, and Auburn fill out the remainder of a lot of predicted playoff brackets, but each will be trotting out a new starting quarterback. Though first-year quarterback have had incredible success lately, predicting which one can lead his team to the playoff is a whole other ballgame. As far as the rest of the Top 25? You could pick a name out of a hat, because I think they all have about an equal chance of winning double-digit games or going 8-4 and disappointing the fan base. Let’s start with the conference races.

ACC

The best teams still reside in the Atlantic Division but the gap may have closed, at least for 2015. Clemson will have one of the best offenses in the country, which will give the Tigers’ many new defensive starters time to come around. Having a stud at DE (Shaq Lawson) and CB (Mackensie Alexander) doesn’t hurt either. Clemson will go 11-1 and face Virginia Tech who, thanks to a stout defense and a just-barely-respectable offense, will survive the garbage heap that is the Coastal Division. (Other Notables: Florida State: 9-3 Louisville 10-2 Georgia Tech 8-4)

Championship Game: Clemson over Virginia Tech

Big 10

It’s hard to predict anything but a repeat of last year’s Big 10 season, where Ohio State knocked Sparty out of playoff contention and followed it up with a beat-down of Wisconsin on their way to a playoff spot. Michigan State won’t have an easier time having to travel to Columbus this year, and while I could be talked into a different team getting pummeled in the conference championship, I think Bucky gets to double-digit wins and its reign continues in the Big 10 West. (Other Notables: Michigan State: 10-2 Michigan 9-3)

Championship Game: Ohio State over Wisconsin

Big 12

The conference that caused the most discussion last year only to be left out of the playoff kicks of the new season with what looks to be more of the same. TCU and Baylor both start off in the Top 5 and fans of the conference will be wondering once again if the lack of a conference championship game will cause them to lose out on a playoff spot. I think TCU carries the momentum from last season for much of the year, but their losses on defense will get to them in the end. Baylor is the most complete team in the conference, basically only having to replace the signal-caller, a position that has churned out Heisman candidates for the last few years in Baylor’s system. Baylor goes 11-1 and actually becomes the conference’s “One True Champion”. (Other Notables: TCU 10-2 Oklahoma 10-2)

Pac-12

Is any team going to be able to survive nine games in this conference? Will we see a three loss conference champion? Nothing will surprise in the Pac-12 this year which may have passed the SEC as the nation’s best conference and its deepest if nothing else. Oregon and USC are the favorites but USC hasn’t lived up to expectations since the Pete Carroll days, and Oregon is merely just trying to replace a Heisman winning QB and the best player in school history. After that? Arizona State, UCLA, and Stanford all will challenge the 10-win threshold. Transfer QB Vernon Adams may fit seamlessly into the Ducks’ offense, but a late-season stretch of at Arizona State (October 29th), at Stanford (November 14th), and USC (November 21) in a four-week period will do them in. The Ducks match Stanford’s 10-2 record, but Stanford’s win on The Farm is the tiebreaker.

So who will survive the nation’s toughest division to face the Cardinal? Any team outside of Colorado has a realistic shot. My pick is the Trojans. It’s going to be a close race between them, UCLA, and Arizona State but having the conference’s best quarterback will be the difference. USC heads to the Pac-12 title game having joined the conference’s double-digit win brigade at 10-2. (Other Notables: Arizona State: 9-3 UCLA: 9-3)

Championship Game: USC over Stanford

SEC

Hey it’s everybody’s favorite conference! Similar to the Pac-12, the SEC is going to be a bloodbath this year. The East Division favorite is Georgia, who never fails to disappoint when they start the year in the Top 10. The West favorite is Alabama, who still doesn’t know who its quarterback is going to be. Considering two of their first three games are against Wisconsin and Ole Miss, I’m going to go ahead and say that’s not a plus. Auburn’s defense is revamped and should be improved, but they’re also breaking in a new starter behind center, albeit one who has a little more momentum and experience than the Crimson Tide’s bunch.

But I’m not going with either of them. Last month one of my bold predictions was that Ole Miss would take the SEC and after a few weeks of pondering, I’m stickin to it. I think Ole Miss and Alabama are pretty similar teams. Both should have great defenses, good-to-great offensive lines, and are breaking in a new quarterback. When Ole Miss travels to Tuscaloosa the third week of the season, it will be hard for both teams to run the ball. The difference is the Rebels’ new signal caller will have receivers who can make key plays when the team needs them (WR Laquon Treadwell and TE Evan Engram). Ole Miss finishes what they couldn’t last year, heading to the SEC Title game at 11-1. In the East, I’ll take the perennially underrated Missouri over the perennially disappointing Georgia. (Other Notables: Alabama: 10-2 Georgia: 9-3 Auburn: 9-3 Tennessee 9-3)

Championship Game: Ole Miss over Missouri

USC, Ole Miss, Ohio State, Clemson, Baylor. Five conference champions, four playoff spots. Who gets left out? Who takes home the trophy for 2015? Check back next Monday for my playoff picks.