2013 ACC Preview
June 9, 2013
By Marc Lawrence
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Sure, Tobacco Road is a path most recognized and well traveled by its basketball brethren. However, the ACC has more than held it’s own on the gridiron of late.
Looking back, in its eight years as a 12-member league, the ACC has sent 64 teams to a bowl game, topped only by the SEC (69) in that span.
And after leading the nation with the most players selected in the first-round of the NFL Draft (30) from 2007-2010, 15 of the top 60 players in the 2011 draft either chewed, puffed or spit some form of tobacco. It was more of the same in 2012 when 15 of the first 100 players selected called the ACC home. And this season the six ACC players selected in the first round was second only to the SEC, increasing the ACC’s tally to 51-first-rounders plucked by the NFL since 2005.
New to the loop in 2013 are Pittsburgh and Syracuse, who join former Big East squads Boston College, Miami Florida and Virginia Tech in this burgeoning conference.
This season figures to be the ‘Year of the Quarterback’ in the ACC with no less than five QB’s owning more than 6,000 career passing yards.
While life is good in the ACC these days they will battle the nation’s toughest non-conference opponent agenda this season. And, much like the tobacco products produced in this region, this year’s non-ACC schedule of games comes with a WARNING: the 56 non-conference BCS AQ foes on tap this season owned a salty .558 win percentage last season.
Wagering on those games could be dangerous to your wealth.
Note: Numbers following team name represent the amount of returning starters on offense and defense, with an asterisk (*) designating a returning quarterback. Potential designated ‘Play On’ and ‘Play Against’ Best Bets follow each team’s preview.
BOSTON COLLEGE (*5/4)
Team Theme: CLIMBING TO NEW HEIGHTS
After an initial two-year tenure with Temple, Eagles head coach Steve Addazio has worked his way up the food chain to take over a free-falling Eagles’ program that has regressed in the win column each of the last five years. The good news for Addazio is that the cupboard is not bare with 16 starters back on both sides of the ball, including all four linebackers and QB Chase Rettig who tossed for 3,065 yards and 17 TDs last season. While Rettig will be working with his 4th OC in as many years, the good news is this year it’s Ryan Day, a former OC with the Eagles. “He is one of the bright minds and best young coaches in the country,” said former Oregon coach Chip Kelly.
Stat You Will Like: Off their worst record since 1978, four of BC’s losses last year were by single-digits, including one in overtime.
PLAY ON: vs. Wake Forest (9/6)
Team Theme: RAISING THE BAR
Off their fourth 11-win season in school history, highlighted with a statement-making win over LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, the Tigers became the favorite to win the ACC in 2013 when star QB Tajh Boyd decided to skip the NFL draft. Along with Sammy Watkins, arguably the best wide receiver in college football, they each are legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates, leading a Chad Morris offense that has improved dramatically each of his first two years with Clemson. And speaking of heavyweight tandems, OC Morris (1.3M) and DC Brent Venables (800K) combine to haul down over $2 million dollars per year. It’s Venables’ turn to ratchet up the defense, one that has regressed each and every season under head coach Dabo Swinney. Katie bar the door should that happen.
Stat You Will Like: The Tigers are 7-0 ATS at home versus an opponent off a SUATS loss under Swinney.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. South Carolina (11/30)
FLORIDA STATE (6/4)
Team Theme: GOING, GOING, GONE
If, as they say, the price of success is often measured after the fact, then the Seminoles paid a heavy cost after their first 12-win season this millennium in 2012. For openers a school record eleven players were selected in this year’s NFL draft - more than Miami and Florida combined -including QB EJ Manuel, 25-6 as a starter and only the 2nd quarterback in NCAA history (West Virginia’s Pat White was the first) to go 4-0 in bowl games in his career. Then to make matters worse, backup QB Clint Trickett transferred to White’s alma mater. Additionally, they need to replace nearly the entire front seven from the nations 2nd ranked defense, not to mention that six assistant coaches left for new jobs. To say this is a team in transition would be a dramatic understatement. The sign above Jimbo Fisher’s office says it all… Gone Fishin’.
Stat You Will Like: The Seminoles have registered 36 winning seasons in a row and have appeared in 31 straight bowl games, tops in the nation.
PLAY ON: vs. NC State (10/26)
Team Theme: A TURTLE WAX SHINE
A marked 120 YPG defensive improvement was squandered last season when QB Perry Hills went down with an ACL after seven games. As a result the Terps lost their final five games of the 2012 campaign. The good news is that not only is Hills back but also QB C.J. Brown, the 2011 starter who sat out the entire 2012 season with an ACL, as well. They will have plenty of targets with WR Stefon Diggs returning after an electrifying freshmen season along with JUCO transfer WR Deon Long, a 1st-team all JUCO receiver with 100 receptions last season. Adding to the mix is RB Brandon Ross who led the team in rushing as a freshman last year. Yes, the Terrapins appear to be coming out of their shell.
Stat You Will Like: Randy Edsall played and coached at Syracuse. His wife, Eileen, is in the Syracuse Hall Of Fame as a basketball and volleyball player.
PLAY ON: vs. NC State (11/30)
NC STATE (5/5)
Team Theme: ALL JACKED UP
New head coach Dave Doeren, former boss at Northern Illinois, assumes the reins and he’s as excited as can be. “I didn’t take any short cuts to get here. I’ve been coaching 17 years at the college level and I’ve lined the field and driven the bus… I was a GA twice. I’ve coached high school. I’ve been a 1-AA non-scholarship coach. I’ve been a co-coordinator, a recruiting co-coordinator… and I’m now standing here in the ACC and I’m jacked up about it,” exclaims Doeren. Unfortunately he inherits a green team returning just 5 starters on each side of the ball, with only 3 players having made starts in each of the last 3 years. Relief comes in the form of having only 4 road games.
Stat You Will Like: Doeren is 9-1-1 ATS vs. opponents off a pointspread win of 7 or more points.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. Wake Forest (10/5)
Team Theme: WELCOME TO THE NEIGHBORHOOD
An original Big East member, Syracuse makes its move to the ACC along with former partner Pittsburgh as the transformation of the next super-conferences is officially under way. The Orange arrives in a new neighborhood with new head coach Scott Shafer, the defensive coordinator for Syracuse over the last four seasons under former HC Doug Marrone. In addition to losing four members from last year’s coaching staff, Shafer also loses QB Ryan Nassib, who started every game the past three years, and top WR Alec Lemon, the Big East’s leader in receptions last season. Instead, Shafer will concentrate heavily on getting the football to his top two returning RB’s Jerome Smith (1,171 rushing yards) and Prince-Tyson Gulley (617 rushing yards). Yes, there’s a dramatic new look to the Cuse.
Stat You Will Like: Center Macky MacPherson, a Rimington award candidate, is the grandson of Dick MacPherson, the legendary Syracuse coach.
PLAY ON: at Northwestern (9/7)
WAKE FOREST (*8/8)
Team Theme: FALL AWAKENING
With losses in its final three games of the season last year, Wake Forest has failed to field a winning team since 2008. Look for that to change in 2013 behind a veteran team loaded with playing experience. Head coach Jim Grobe, who is just five wins shy of becoming the winningest coach in Demon Deacons’ history since “Peahead” Walker (1937-50), welcomes a squad that features an offense of players totaling 146 combined starts and a defense with 158 starts. Leading the charge is QB Tanner Price (34 starts) who completed 228 of 410 passes for 2,300 yards and 12 TD’s last season. With his favorite target and top two running backs returning, look for the slumber to come to a sudden halt this campaign.
Stat You Will Like: The Deacons have been dreadful during the final six games of the season, going 5-29 SU the last four years.
PLAY ON: vs. NC State (10/5)
Team Theme: STILL SMARTING
David Cutcliffe, the reigning ACC Coach of the Year, has led the Devils to 21 wins in his five years at Duke. That’s 11 more than the program totaled in the previous eight years. The good news this season is the offensive line lost just one starter for the 2nd straight year, and the top six RB’s return. The bad news is QB Sean Renfree and WR Conner Vernon are both departed. Vernon is the ACC all-time leader in pass receptions and receiving yards. The tandem hooked up for 20 TD’s, the primary reason the Devils tallied a school record 410 points last season. Anxious to hit the field after making its first bowl appearance last year since 1994, our best guess is Duke will have a devil of a time mirroring last year’s success.
Stat You Will Like: 21 players made the ACC all-academics team last season, the most in the conference. Second most was Clemson with 6.
PLAY AGAINST: vs. NC State (11/9)
GEORGIA TECH (7/8)
Team Theme: WHAT A RUSH
For the 2nd year in a row Paul Johnson will field an offensive line led by 4 returning starters – this group helped set a school rushing record of 6,175 yards on the ground last season. Opponents know what they are up against as this overland juggernaut has rushed for more yards than any FBS team since 2008. All 7 losses last year for the Wreck came against bowl eligible opponents. Adding to the task of making it to a bowl game for the 17th straight season (only three teams have longer streaks) is the fact that 10 opponents on this year’s schedule won 6 or more games last season. New defensive coordinator Ted Roof, an ex-alum and former head coach at Duke, was DC with Penn State last year and also with 2008 national champion Auburn. The Yellow Jackets have the second best record in Coastal Division since 2005 (42-22).
Stat You Will Like: The Yellow Jackets have finished .500 or better 18 straight years in the ACC, the longest stretch in the nation.
PLAY ON: vs. Georgia (11/30)
MIAMI FLORIDA (*10/10)
Team Theme: GOLDEN THEM THAR HILLS
The Canes made forward strides in season two under Al Golden, mainly behind an offense that improved 62 net YPG, and a turnover margin that went from -4 to +7. And with only four winning foes on this year’s schedule, the 20 returning starters that dominate this year’s roster are anxious to put a self-imposed two-year bowl ban behind them and regain a bit of gleam from the glory days of years past. QB Stephen Morris, fresh off breaking Bernie Kosar’s school record for total offense last year, leads the charge. Super-soph RB Duke Johnson broke Clinton Portis’ 13-year school freshman rushing record with 947 yards and 10 TD’s as well. With 21 freshmen having seen action last year, the rush is on.
Stat You Will Like: Miami’s last conference championship was in 2003 in the Big East.
PLAY ON: as a dog vs. Florida (9/7)
NORTH CAROLINA (*6/7)
Team Theme: WELL HEELED
When Larry Fedora accepted the UNC job last season he did so knowing the Tar Heels were on probation from the Butch Davis years and not eligible to go bowling. Nonetheless, he led Big Blue to its first winning record in ACC play since 2004 while also managing to beat Virginia Tech at home for the first time since 1938. Best of all last year’s 8-win effort was accomplished while playing 28 freshmen, tying LSU and TCU for most combined first-year players to see action. Quarterback Bryn Renner, ranked 2nd in pass efficiency (160.3) last season among active players, returns after throwing for 3,356 yards on 67% completions. The healing process is under way.
Stat You Will Like: Fedora is 7-0 ATS in his career versus a .714 or less opponent off back-to-back wins.
PLAY AGAINST: as a favorite vs. NC State (11/2)
Team Theme: HOLY CHRYST
After being hired as its fourth coach in 13 years last season, it appeared Paul Chryst was the next head on the chopping block after a 0-2 start, punctuated by a season-opening home loss to (yikes) Youngstown State. However, the football gods answered his prayers when the Panthers went on to win 6 of their next 10 games and land a bowl berth again Ole Miss. Gone is 4-year starting QB Tino Sunseri, likely to be replaced by former Rutgers signal caller Tom Savage, a senior who was a scholarship player at Arizona in 2011 but did not play. Also graduated is star RB Ray Graham who rushed for 3,271 yards in four seasons, second at Pitt only to Tony Dorsett. In his first season in the ACC, Chryst will once again be a regular at the local house of worship.
Stat You Will Like: The Panthers are 0-6-1 SU and 0-7 ATS away versus ACC opponents, and 0-6 ATS as a single-digit dog versus the ACC.
PLAY ON: at Syracuse (11/23)
Team Theme: LONDON CALLING
The Cavaliers saw their win total slashed in half last season despite posting comparable stats from an 8-win effort in 2011. With 14 starters back, this year’s squad could fly under the radar and improve on all fronts. The loss, however, of former 5-star high school recruit QB Phillip Sims to academic suspension hurts. Sims, a transfer from Alabama’s 2011 national championship team, played in all 12 games last season, starting four times. The Cavs will be put to the test against 8 bowl teams and 2 others who were bowl eligible. Mike London’s three basic tenets delivered to his players (Go to class; Show class; Treat people with respect and dignity) are paying dividends. In his 4th year at the helm, and with 8 home games, it’s now time for this team to fulfill their coach’s lofty expectations.
Stat You Will Like: 6 of Virginia’s 16 wins under London have been by 3 or less points.
PLAY ON: vs. Maryland (10/12)
VIRGINIA TECH (*6/9)
Team Theme: BACK ON THE BEAM
The Hokies were the nation’s only team with 10 or more wins the previous eight seasons, and 8 or more wins the last 14 years – until 2012. That’s when the whole thing nearly went to hell in a handbag. Were it not for a pair of 3-point wins in the last game of the season and in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Hokies would have endured their first losing season since 1992. With the attack falling off dramatically, Frank Beamer brings in three new offensive assistants, including an OC and QB coach. They will be hands on in hopes of better grooming 6’6”, 255-lb senior QB Logan Thomas for the NFL, who endured an inconsistent campaign last year after a breakout season in 2011. Like General MacArthur, they shall return.
Stat You Will Like: The Hokies are 13-1 SU in the state of North Carolina during the regular season since joining the ACC in 2004 (only loss last year at UNC).
PLAY AGAINST: as a dog vs. Miami Florida (11/8)