Monday, August 25, 2014

full-fledged 2014 ACC preview

Whew.  All 13 opposing-team previews are out - finally - after busting my butt all weekend on that stuff.  Because of that I'm letting myself brag again: if you can find a more in-depth free preview, lemme know so I can beat it next year.  I mean, sure, Phil Steele kicks my ass, but you gotta pay him for the privilege.

We're not all the way done, though, because it's time to put the whole thing together.  I liked how this worked last year so I'm only making a few tweaks.  Your table of contents is:

-- Positional rankings
-- Cumulative rankings
-- Schedule rankings
-- Hot-seat coaches
-- Bowl predictions

For reference, here are the links to the individual previews:

Boston College
Florida State
Georgia Tech
North Carolina
NC State
Virginia Tech
Wake Forest

Time to get crackin'.

Positional rankings

-- Quarterback:

1. Florida State - Jameis Winston
2. Duke - Anthony Boone
3. North Carolina - Marquise Williams
4. Clemson - Cole Stoudt
5. Syracuse - Terrel Hunt
6. NC State - Jacoby Brissett
7. Pittsburgh - Chad Voytik
8. Boston College - Tyler Murphy
9. Miami - Brad Kaaya
10. Virginia - Greyson Lambert
11. Louisville - Will Gardner
12. Georgia Tech - Justin Thomas
13. Virginia Tech - Michael Brewer
14. Wake Forest - John Wolford

Yeesh.  Do you realize that 10 of 14 ACC teams will be breaking in a new starting quarterback this year?  And that doesn't even count UNC, which still has an OR on the QB depth chart and apparently plans to either platoon Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky, or hide their intentions as long as they can.  If Trubisky starts for UNC this weekend, there'll be three freshman starters in the ACC, to go with five redshirt sophomores.

This is a long way of saying that half of this ranking is voodoo magic.  OK, Jameis Winston goes up top.  A little bonus for returning starters, and then a huge helping of my own opinion.  Chad Voytik?  Brad Kaaya?  Greyson Lambert?  Who knows, man.  With all but the very top and the very bottom, almost just pull 'em out of a hat.

-- Pass catchers (WR/TE)

1. Pittsburgh - Tyler Boyd, Manasseh Garner
2. Duke - Jamison Crowder, Max McCaffrey
3. Louisville - DeVante Parker, Eli Rogers
4. Florida State - Rashad Greene, Nick O'Leary
5. North Carolina - Quinshad Davis, Ryan Switzer
6. Miami - Phillip Dorsett, Stacy Coley
7. Clemson - Charone Peake, Mike Williams
8. Syracuse - Ashton Broyld, Jarrod West
9. Virginia Tech - Joshua Stanford, Willie Byrn
10. NC State - Bryan Underwood, Jumichael Ramos
11. Georgia Tech - DeAndre Smelter, Micheal Summers
12. Virginia - Darius Jennings, Keeon Johnson
13. Boston College - Bobby Swigert, Shakim Phillips
14. Wake Forest - Matt James, E.J. Scott

Another tough ranking, and here it's a matter of philosophy.  Do you like a team with a proven big-time star but little depth, or do you prefer a team with a couple of decent players but some five-star freshmen waiting in the wings?  To make things worse, there aren't many impact tight ends in the conference, a situation only exacerbated when Duke lost Braxton Deaver for the season.

We'll go with the big-timers on top, since Tyler Boyd and Jamison Crowder are clearly the top two receivers in the conference, and they have at least one dependable secondary target to take some of the defensive edge off the coverage.  I'll just have to accept the possibility that teams like Clemson and FSU will use their freshman talent to make me look silly by November.

-- Running backs

1. Miami - Duke Johnson, Gus Edwards
2. Pittsburgh - James Conner, Isaac Bennett
3. Florida State - Karlos Williams, Dalvin Cook
4. Louisville - Dominique Brown, Michael Dyer
5. Virginia - Kevin Parks, Taquan Mizzell
6. North Carolina - T.J. Logan, Elijah Hood
7. Duke - Shaq Powell, Josh Snead
8. Syracuse - Prince-Tyson Gulley, George Morris
9. Virginia Tech - Trey Edmunds, J.C. Coleman
10. Georgia Tech - Zach Laskey, Tony Zenon
11. NC State - Shadrach Thornton, Tony Creecy
12. Clemson - D.J. Howard, C.J. Davidson
13. Boston College - Myles Willis, Tyler Rouse
14. Wake Forest - Orville Reynolds, Dominique Gibson

This might the skill position where the ACC is deepest.  A couple star receivers, but not too many - maybe wait til November to see who else emerges.  But at running back, Duke Johnson is a superstar if healthy and Karlos Williams might turn out to be one too.  Pitt boasts two quality, proven backs, one of whom is completely huge.  Michael Dyer is a former MVP of the BCS CG and he's not even the best on his team right now.  Kevin Parks ground out 1,000 yards last year, and the possibilities for Elijah Hood are through the roof.  I enjoy this state of affairs, because a dominant running back is my favorite thing in football.  Last year I underestimated things, for example by putting eventual 2,000-yard rusher Andre Williams of BC 10th.  Nice work.  This year I'm sippin' on the Kool-Aid.

-- Offensive line

1. Florida State - LT Cameron Erving
2. Boston College - C Andy Gallik
3. Louisville - LG John Miller
4. Duke - RG Laken Tomlinson
5. Syracuse - LT Sean Hickey
6. Clemson - C Ryan Norton
7. Miami - LG Jon Feliciano
8. Virginia Tech - LG David Wang
9. NC State - RT Tyson Chandler
10. North Carolina - RG Landon Turner
11. Pittsburgh - LG Matt Rotheram
12. Georgia Tech - RG Shaquille Mason
13. Virginia - RG Conner Davis
14. Wake Forest - RT Dylan Intemann

What struck me in going through the O-line rankings was how many of the ACC's lines have guards as their experienced anchors.  Not too many big-time left tackles.  That's nice for the running games, I suppose - it's probably also nice for the ACC's defensive ends.

Also: thank heavens for Wake Forest, because I look at some of these lines in this league and then I look at ours and I go: well crap.  BC and FSU don't start a single player who isn't a senior.  Isn't that kind of the goal?  Our injury-riddled mess is saved from the cellar by the fact that Wake is starting a true freshman at center.  That was the tiebreaker right there.  But anyone consumed with optimism over our O-line, well, should probably take a look at the upper echelons of those rankings to see what things look like if you've been doing it right.

-- Defensive line

1. Clemson - Vic Beasley
2. Virginia Tech - Luther Maddy
3. NC State - Thomas Teal
4. Virginia - Eli Harold
5. Florida State - Mario Edwards
6. Boston College - Connor Wujciak
7. Miami - Anthony Chickillo
8. Syracuse - Robert Welsh
9. North Carolina - Norkeithus Otis
10. Louisville - B.J. Dubose
11. Pittsburgh - Shakir Soto
12. Georgia Tech - Adam Gotsis
13. Duke - Jamal Bruce
14. Wake Forest - Zachary Allen

If there's a saving grace for UVA's offensive line, it's the state of defensive lines in the conference.  Lots of graduation means lots of inexperience up and down the coast, and frankly, just some plain bad defensive lines here.  Again, Wake is stinking up the joint.  Duke is full of career backups.  GT would be worse than both of those two if not for the star power of Adam Gotsis, who will probably be quadruple-teamed on every play.  It gives the Hoos, with Eli Harold and David Dean, and major potential in Andrew Brown, a chance to shine.

Up top, Clemson gets the nod not only because Vic Beasley is disgustingly good, but the line is completely loaded down with seniors, and Grady Jarrett is almost as good as Beasley.  The Clemson-Wake Forest game - oh dear God.

-- Linebackers

1. Virginia - Henry Coley
2. Clemson - Stephone Anthony
3. Syracuse - Cameron Lynch
4. Louisville - Lorenzo Mauldin
5. North Carolina - Travis Hughes
6. Georgia Tech - Quayshawn Nealy
7. Pittsburgh - Anthony Gonzalez
8. Boston College - Steven Daniels
9. Florida State - Terrance Smith
10. Duke - David Helton
11. Wake Forest - Brandon Chubb
12. Miami - Denzel Perryman
13. NC State - Brandon Pittman
14. Virginia Tech - Deon Clarke

Well, well.  This is not the orange glasses talking here; I legitimately think UVA has the best linebackers in the conference.  Only a small handful of teams can claim they return two top-producing LBs the way UVA does, and when they do they're not the tackle monsters Coley and Romero are; those two got into way too many backfields to ignore what they do.  Clemson's Stephone Anthony is probably the best individual 'backer in the ACC, and there are some solid players up and down the list.  Even Wake gets in on the act, finally getting out of the cellar and leaving that to VT(!), where inexperience abounds.

The sudden proliferation of 4-2-5 nickel defenses in the ACC admittedly clouds up the evaluation a little bit here.  Something like five or six teams are headed that way, and that's just who's announced it; there's probably more coaches figuring they'll be in a nickel at least two-thirds of the time.  Why cover a tight end or a slot receiver with a linebacker when you can use an extra safety?  Sometimes it's as simple as renaming the Sam the Rover or something like that, but that also tends to make a smaller player out of that position, too.  At any rate, teams are not developing the linebacker depth that they used to.

Duke, by the way, lost something like six spots in this ranking when Kelby Brown was lost for the season.  David Helton is a solid player but that's a huge loss regardless.

-- Secondaries

1. Virginia Tech - Kendall Fuller
2. Wake Forest - Ryan Janvion
3. Florida State - Nate Andrews
4. Boston College - Sean Sylvia
5. Duke - Jeremy Cash
6. North Carolina - Tim Scott
7. Louisville - Terrell Floyd
8. Virginia - Anthony Harris
9. Miami - Tracy Howard
10. Syracuse - Durell Eskridge
11. NC State - Jarvis Byrd
12. Georgia Tech - Isaiah Johnson
13. Clemson - Robert Smith
14. Pittsburgh - Ray Vinopal

Finally, Wake gets their day in the sun.  That is a very impressive secondary they run, and most years it'd be the best in the conference without any doubt.  Unfortunately, VT's is even better.  You have two extremely experienced safeties and two ballhawking cornerbacks, with depth behind them to boot.  It's probably the best unit of any kind in the conference, and makes a strong case for the same on a national level.

As for UVA's ranking, Demetrious Nicholson's complete absence from the depth chart - which may or may not stretch into December - is worth a bump downwards.  More production in the form of INTs from someone like Maurice Canady would've helped.  There's depth, and a hell of a lot of intrigue with Quin Blanding lining up as a starter, but athletic abilities aside, freshman safeties have a tendency to run really fast in the wrong direction.  The conference is hardly bereft of quality defensive backs, so it's hard to justify moving us any higher for now.

Cumulative rankings

-- Atlantic offense

1. Florida State
2. Louisville
3. Syracuse
4. Clemson
5. Boston College
6. NC State
7. Wake Forest

-- Coastal offense

1. Duke
2. Pittsburgh
3. Miami
4. North Carolina
5. Virginia Tech
6. Virginia
7. Georgia Tech

-- Conference offense

1. Florida State
2. Duke
3. Louisville
4. Pittsburgh
5. Miami
6. North Carolina
7. Syracuse
8. Clemson
9. Boston College
10. NC State
11. Virginia Tech
12. Virginia
13. Georgia Tech
14. Wake Forest

I think it's a little odd that Pitt ended up with the Coastal's 2nd best offense, ranking above Miami, UNC, Clemson, etc.  You can move them down a few spots if, for example, you like Brad Kaaya better than Chad Voytik.  I'm not offended if you do, but do keep in mind Tyler Boyd as well.  Clemson is down that far primarily because there's so little proven talent at WR and RB, particularly the latter.  I already did mention that their WRs could make me look dumb, but the RBs look rather less dynamic.

-- Atlantic defense

1. Clemson
2. Florida State
3. Boston College
4. Louisville
5. Syracuse
6. NC State
7. Wake Forest

-- Coastal defense

1. Virginia
2. Virginia Tech
3. North Carolina
4. Duke
5. Miami
6. Georgia Tech
7. Pittsburgh

-- Conference defense

1. Virginia
2. Clemson
3. Florida State
4. Virginia Tech
5. Boston College
6. North Carolina
7. Louisville
8. Syracuse
9. NC State
10. Wake Forest
11. Duke
12. Miami
13. Georgia Tech
14. Pittsburgh

Call me a homer, call me what you will.  I admit that the flaw in the methodology here is that if you have one really good unit or one really bad one, you're probably gonna look better or worse than you should.  Hence Wake, whose massive defensive flaws up front won't be entirely covered up by their secondary, and VT, who can probably cover up their linebackers (and Bud Foster will probably have them crapping thunder by October anyway but whatever.)  And none of this takes into account coaching.

Still, it's UVA with the top linebackers, last year's national INT leader, depth in the secondary, a solid and improving defensive line, and two elite recruits jumping right in.  There's very little separation in the top five anyway.  Also, it's interesting that the four worst defenses are all Coastal teams - now you know why nobody can figure out who's supposed to win the damn thing.

-- Atlantic overall

1. Florida State
2. Louisville
3. Clemson
4. Syracuse
5. Boston College
6. NC State
7. Wake Forest

-- Coastal overall

1. Duke
2. North Carolina
3. Miami
4. Virginia
5. Pittsburgh
6. Virginia Tech
7. Georgia Tech

-- Conference overall

1. Florida State
2. Louisville
3. Duke
4. North Carolina
5. Clemson
6. Syracuse
7. Miami
8. Virginia
9. Pittsburgh
10. Boston College
11. Virginia Tech
12. NC State
13. Georgia Tech
14. Wake Forest

Yes, VT looks awfully odd down there on the bottom, below that crappy 2-10 team from last year.  I can't help that Texas Tech's 3rd-string QB is now their starter.  Just know that coaching matters, this doesn't take into account coaching, and if they had even middling linebackers (they probably will by October; that's where that coaching stuff comes in) they'd jump to 3rd in the division.

However, I am willing to draw the following conclusions from this:

- Louisville could unseat Clemson as FSU's primary challenger, more easily than people might think.  It's close, though.
- Duke is still pretty good, and won't be a flash in the pan.  But defense wins championships, so I've got UNC as the actual favorite in the Coastal.
- GT is primed for a huge fall.  It won't be purty.
- If Wake so much as wins four games, Dave Clawson should be COY.
- Miami is probably not as good as people think.  Not bad, but not ready for the ACC CG.

Schedule rankings

For these, I'll simply build on the above, and use the point totals - not the rankings, but the point totals, which is to say, FSU's rankings add up to 26 - to divine the toughest and easiest conference schedules.  A multiplier of 0.75 is applied to road games and 1.25 to home games.  This is just simple math.  Easiest schedules listed first.

1. Florida State
2. Duke
3. Virginia Tech
4. North Carolina
5. NC State
6. Louisville
7. Pittsburgh
8. Clemson
9. Boston College
10. Georgia Tech
11. Syracuse
12. Virginia
13. Wake Forest
14. Miami

- All the more reason not to like Miami as a contender - crossovers against Louisville and FSU.
- And all the more reason not to see Duke as a flash in the pan.
- I swear VT has incriminating pictures of people in the ACC scheduling department - look who got Wake Forest this year.
- FSU gets the easiest schedule simply because they're the only Atlantic team not to have to play FSU.

Hot seat coaches

Broken down into three groups: safe, safe-ish, and look out below.  First, the guys with job security:

Steve Addazio - BC
Frank Beamer - VT
Paul Chryst - Pitt
Dave Clawson - Wake
David Cutcliffe - Duke
Dave Doeren - NC State
Larry Fedora - UNC
Jimbo Fisher - FSU
Al Golden - Miami
Bobby Petrino - Louisville
Scott Shafer - Syracuse
Dabo Swinney - Clemson

OK, so, that's most of the conference.  Many of them (Addazio, Chryst, Clawson, Doeren, Fedora, Petrino, Shafer) are too new to be in much danger no matter what happens.  Beamer's got a few years of mediocrity cushion before the natives get too restless.  Golden steered the program through scandal and has improved every year.  Addazio got a team to a bowl game that didn't think they could buy tickets to one.  Fisher won a trophy of some kind, which should buy him a few years; ordinarily, the FSU coach just sort of occupies a perpetually warm seat just because.  Of these, Swinney is probably the closest to anything like a hot seat, but he's had plenty of success lately.

One coach resides in the land where he's probably not out the door after this year, but can't afford a bad season or the headhunters will start gearing up: Paul Johnson.  A really bad season could see him canned; he's burned through a couple DCs now, and the program has trended pretty flat, if not a bit downward.

So I think you can figure out the rest on your own.  The Syracuse newspaper wasn't wrong when they wrote that there was only one real hot-seat coach in the ACC this year.

Bowl predictions

That brings us to brass tacks.  Real reputation-on-the-line stuff.  First, the actual predicted order of finish, or, how I'd vote in a preseason media poll:

-- Atlantic

1. Florida State
2. Clemson
3. Louisville
4. Syracuse
5. Boston College
6. NC State
7. Wake Forest

-- Coastal

1. North Carolina
2. Duke
3. Virginia Tech
4. Miami
5. Pittsburgh
6. Virginia
7. Georgia Tech

Most of the deviation from the rankings above has to do with 1. schedule strength and 2. coaching.

And finally, the bowls - not forgetting that Notre Dame gets to piggyback:

Sugar Bowl: Florida State (playoff)
Orange Bowl: Clemson
ex-Citrus: Louisville
ex-Tangerine (RA): Notre Dame
ex-Tire: North Carolina
Pinstripe: Syracuse
Sun: Miami
Military: Virginia Tech
QL: NC State**
Independence: Boston College
St. Petersburg: Pittsburgh

No bowl: Virginia, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech

**This is the bowl game in Detroit.  I believe it's actually supposed to be announced Tuesday (today, that is, when you're most likely to be reading this) but the bowl has a name which I'd probably irritate my employer by saying out loud before that happens.

Coming this week: actual UVA previews!

1 comment:

spinozista said...

The only thing I want this season is that there be permanently and prominently displayed throughout every single home game, visible from every seat in Scott Stadium, the dollar figure that represents the difference between what the buyout/severance pay would have been last year and what it will be this year - because that is the only thing we are playing for this season, and I want people to judge every week whether they think it's worth it.