Five Predictions For Atlantic Coast Conference In 2016
The 2016 College Football season is coming fast and that means prediction time. Below are five predictions for Atlantic Coast Conference for the 2016 season. Some predictions will be right, some predictions will be wrong, and some will be spectacularly awful (or correct) by the end of the season.
There are no changes for the Atlantic Coast Conference as the fourteen teams remain the same and are split into Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. The seven teams in the Atlantic Division are Boston College, Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, North Carolina State, Syracuse, and Wake Forest. The seven teams in the Coastal Division are Duke, Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia, and Virginia Tech.
Here are five predictions for the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2016:
1. Georgia Tech will get back to a bowl game – 2015 was not a good year for the Yellow Jackets. They went 3-9 overall and saw their offensive output fall below 30 points per game for the first time since 2010. Georgia Tech did lose five games by seven points or less and if they can flip some of those to wins, they will easily make a bowl game. The offense has six starters back including quarterback Justin Thomas as well as running backs Marcus Marshall (led team with 654 yards in 2015) and Clinton Lynch (457 yards and 5 touchdowns). Top receiver Ricky Jeune is also back after recording 24 catches for 520 yards and 4 touchdowns. The defense has only five starters back from a unit that gave up 25.8 points and 368 yards per game last year. That group may struggle at times, but the front four has three starters back after allowing 165 rushing yards per game.
The schedule is what favors Georgia Tech to make it back to a bowl. They face Boston College on the opening weekend in Ireland before getting Mercer, Vanderbilt, Clemson, and Miami (FL) all at home the next four weeks. After a road game at Pittsburgh, they will play Georgia Southern and Duke at home. They end the season with three road games in their last four with North Carolina (road), Virginia Tech (road), Virginia (home), and Georgia (road). Even if GT is able to beat the teams that look most likely (BC, Mercer, Vandy, GS, Duke, and Virginia) they will make a bowl game.
2. The ACC Champion will make the National Championship – This prediction is mainly tied to Florida State and Clemson out of the Atlantic. It appears it will come down to that game between them on October 29th at Doak Campbell. Florida State has all their offensive starters returning and will also have six starters back form a defense that allowed 17.5 points and 337 yards per game in 2015.
Clemson made the National Championship last year playing the incredible game against Alabama that they lost 45-40. They have eight starters back on offense led by DeShaun Watson and running back WayneGallman. The defense has only four starters back, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Entering 2015, the Tigers had only three starters returning and still only allowed 21.7 points and 313 yards per game. Assuming it is one of these two teams that plays in the College Football Playoffs, they will be extremely tough to beat in the Semifinals and the National Championship.
3. Pittsburgh will have a double digit win season – There is potential for Pittsburgh to have a great season led by the return of running back James Conner. The Panthers went 8-5 in Pat Narduzzi’s first season and there is no reason to think they cannot improve again. The offense has eight starters back from 2015 after putting up 28.2 points and 377 yards per game. Conner’s absence was filled by Qadree Ollison who was named 2nd Team ACC and ACC Rookie of the year after rushing for 1,121 yards and 11 touchdowns (5.3 YPC). They provide a one-two punch with quarterback Nathan Peterman back as well. The receiving unit is a bit of a worry as they lose Tyler Boyd and only have Dontez Ford (26 catches for 505 yards and 2 touchdowns) back from 2015’s top three.
The defense has eight starters back from a group that allowed 26.1 points and 363 yards per game. They will be in the second year of Narduzzi’s schemes with the top three tacklers back. They also add in Tennessee transfer DeWayne Hendrix on the line and highly touted freshman Damar Hamlin in the secondary. This group should improve noticeably in 2016.
The schedule is manageable for Pittsburgh early on. They face Villanova and Penn State at home before back-to-back road games at Oklahoma State and North Carolina. They will then face Marshall and Georgia Tech at home to start October which will go a long way to determining if they hit 10 wins. They finish October at Virginia and home to Virginia Tech before playing Miami and Clemson in back-to-back road games to kick off November. They close the regular season against Duke and Syracuse, two more winnable games for them. The potential is there for Pittsburgh to reach 10 wins and they can certainly do it with this team. As usual, the big question with potential is will they actually show it?
4. Boston College will average at least 25 points per game on offense and give up less than 20 points per game on defense – 2015 was a year to forget for Boston College as they went 3-9 and failed to win a game in conference. The offense was horrendous as they averaged a putrid 17.2 points and 276 yards per game, but they did have only two starters back. The defense, however, was excellent as they allowed only 15.3 points and 254 yards per contest with six starters back.
It was by committee at nearly every position in 2015 for the offense. The top running back had 450 yards rushing while the top quarterback had 464 yards passing. Patrick Towles transferred in from Kentucky and he has the potential to top those 464 yards in just a single game. The top three receivers are back from 2015 and the presence of Towles alone should double the numbers of Thadid Smith (17 catches for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Charlie Callinan (14 catches for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns). The offensive line has three starters back and there is no reason the offense should come close to the terrible numbers they put up in 2015.
The defense was stout last year and this year’s group has seven starters returning. The defense allowed just 83 yards rushing per game and 172 through the air. The secondary will have three starters back while middle linebacker Connor Strachan (75 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss) returns to anchor the middle three. There will be a new defensive coordinator with Jim Reid, but this group is very good.
It will be worth watching to see if the improvement on offense can lead to Boston College flirting with bowl eligibility
5. Duke’s bowl streak will end at four – This is a tough prediction to make and quite frankly, one that we hope is wrong because Duke’s resurgence is great to see. Each side of the ball has six starters back on each side, which is similar to last year’s numbers (six on offense and five on defense in 2015). They put up 31.5 points and 439 yards per game while giving up 25.4 points and 395 yards per game in 2015.
The challenge for Duke is the schedule. The open with FCS North Carolina Central and Wake Forest at home before back-to-back away games against Northwestern and Notre Dame. Next up are two games that are winnable, but will still be a challenge at home against Virginia and Army. The final six games are killer for Duke as they face Louisville (away), Georgia Tech (away), Virginia Tech (home), North Carolina (home), Pittsburgh (away), and Miami (away). It will take a few of those Duke upsets to get back to a bowl game in 2016.
The Prediction Schedule
With the ACC predictions above, there are now predictions for eight conferences in the books. Below are the predictions completed and which conference is next.
Illinois Fighting Illini at North Carolina Tar Heels
Result: North Carolina Win 48-14 (Saturday, September 19)
Illinois took a huge step up in competition from their first two games and it showed. They struggled in all phases of the game in a 48-14 blowout loss.
Wes Lunt struggled passing, as he connected on just 15 of 32 passes for 140 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. The one bright spot was Josh Ferguson, who ran for 133 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.
The defense was horrendous against Marquise Williams, who had 203 yards with 3 touchdowns and a pick on 17 of 24 passing. Williams also ran for 105 yards on 9 carries while Elijah Hood had 129 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.
Ryan Switzer led the Tar Heels on the special teams front with a nice 85 yard punt return for a touchdown and he also caught 3 passes for 50 yards and a touchdown through the air.
Illinois found out they will need to be far better to contend in the Big Ten West division. They have their final non-conference game next week at home against Middle Tennessee. They will have to fix their big issues in that game before the Big Ten conference schedule begins in October.
South Florida Bulls at Maryland Terrapins
Result: Maryland Win 35-17 (Saturday, September 19)
Maryland fell behind 7-0 early in the game, but they rebounded nicely to end the game on a 35-10 run. It was not always pretty, however, as Caleb Rowe struggled at times behind center. Rowe went 21 of 33 for 297 yards with 4 touchdowns, but also threw 3 interceptions. Two of those picks led to touchdowns for South Florida
Maryland lost running back Wes Brown early in the second quarter due to a targeting call, but BrandonRoss stepped up for 68 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The duo of Levern Jacobs (8 catches for 107 yards) and Taivon Jacobs (2 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown) led the Terps in receiving. AveryEdwards had 3 catches for 36 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The defense looked better and the first touchdown was hardly their fault as the USF offense started at the Maryland four yard line. The Terps did struggle against the run as they allowed 240 yards and a touchdown on 50 carries. However, they allowed only 60 yards and a touchdown through the air to USF, which helped them win this game. Sean Davis picked off two passes for Maryland with his second setting up a touchdown for the offense.
Maryland looked better this week, but they are going to be tested again next week against rival West Virginia with the game in Morgantown.
UNLV Rebels at Michigan Wolverines
Result: Michigan Win 28-7 (Saturday, September 19)
The Wolverines improved to 2-1 on the season, but it was not pretty once again. Jake Rudock went a paltry 14 of 22 for 123 yards with a touchdown an interception. The interception did not lead to anything, but it was Rudock’s fifth of the season – the same amount he threw in all of 2014.
The Michigan running game was strong against UNLV with 39 rushes for 254 yards and 3 touchdowns as a team. Ty Isaac led the way with 114 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries. The touchdown came on a nice 76 yard dash to the end zone. Jehu Chesson had one rush that resulted in a 36 yard touchdown while De’Veon Smith was held to 33 yards on 13 carries. Smith did catch a five yard touchdown as well.
The Michigan defense was stout again this week giving up 235 total yards with 143 through the air and 92 on the ground. The defense allowed only 88 yards of offense in the first half while Channing Stribling’s interception on the opening drive allowed the offense to get a head start early on.
Michigan has played well at home the last two weeks and the defense looks particularly stingy. They will have to be really good next week with BYU coming into the Big House.
Air Force Falcons at #4 Michigan State Spartans
Result: Michigan State Win 35-21 (Saturday, September 19)
Michigan State played well in the first half to race out to a big lead over Air Force, but there were some concerns out of this game. One of them was not Connor Cook.
Cook threw for 247 yards and 4 touchdowns on 15 of 23 passing and found a new favorite target in AaronBurbridge, who had 8 catches for 156 yards and 3 touchdowns. R.J. Shelton had a solid game with 5 catches for 68 yards as well. The Spartans did not run the ball well at all with just 77 yards on 42 carries as a team. Madre London was the top rusher with 40 yards on 17 carries.
The defense gave up a lot of yards on the ground to Air Force, which is not really a surprise given the triple option offense they run. What was shocking was the amount of passing yards they gave up. Karson Roberts only went 6 of 9, but had 149 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Several of those completions showed wide open Air Force receivers including two passes to Jalen Robinette, who had no one around him. Considering Robinette is the biggest passing threat for Air Force, that is inexcusable for the Spartans.
The defense did play well for most of the first half as they built a 28-7 lead at the break. Kicker MichaelGeiger had a kick blocked late in the second quarter on a low attempt.
Michigan State stays home for their final non-conference game with Central Michigan visiting.
Kent State Golden Flashes at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Result: Minnesota Win 10-7 (Saturday, September 19)
Minnesota struggled mightily against Kent State in a sloppy 10-7 win. Both teams struggled on offense (as if the score was not an indication) with neither team have more than 300 yards of total offense.
Mitch Leidner went 17 of 27 for 184 yards with a touchdown, but also threw 2 interceptions. Both of those picks were in the first half and did not result in points for Kent State. Rodney Smith had a hard time getting big chunks of yards as he finished with 73 yards on 30 carries.
The defense did very well in this game giving up only 142 yards with 63 through the air and 79 on the ground. Incredibly, the Kent State offense did not run a play in Minnesota territory until the fourth quarter.
One Kent State player who deserves a massive shout out is Demetrius Monday. Monday had both of Leidner’s interceptions and also returned a fumble 80 yards for a touchdown. He played incredible during this game.
Minnesota faces Ohio next week at home in their final non-conference game.
#23 Northwestern Wildcats at Duke Blue Devils
Result: Northwestern Win 19-10 (Saturday, September 19)
It was an ugly win for Northwestern on the road at Duke, but all wins count the same. A massive second half from the offense and special teams spurred them to a 3-0 record. The Northwestern offense had only 57 yards on their first nine drives, which encompassed the entire first half. Their first drive of the second half resulted in 53 yards and a field goal.
Clayton Thorson struggled at times and he finished the game going 9 of 23 with just 70 yards through the air. He also had 2 interceptions, both of which were poor decisions with multiple defenders in the area. Justin Jackson ran for 120 yards on 35 carries while Warren Long’s 55 yard touchdown run helped put the Wildcats up for good.
The defense gave up a touchdown early in the first quarter after an interception by Thorson, but they allowed just a field goal the rest of the game. Defensive end Dean Lowry had a big game and picked off a pass with Duke in the red zone late in the second quarter to keep it a 7-0 game. The defense allowed 327 yards of offense to Duke, but did not allow them to get into a rhythm at all during the game.
The special teams were also huge as Solomon Vault took the opening kick of the second half 98 yards to the house. They missed the extra point on the ensuing try, but Jack Mitchell was also two-for-two on his field goal attempts.
The Wildcats continue to be stifling on defense and will face Ball State at home next week.
Nebraska Cornhuskers at Miami Hurricanes
Result: Miami Win 36-33 in 1 overtime (Saturday, September 19)
This was an odd game. Miami looked well on their way to a big win as they led 33-10 early in the fourth quarter. Nebraska made a furious rally to tie the game at 33 and send the game into overtime. However, Nebraska fell short in overtime as they lost 36-33.
Nebraska could not get anything going in the first half as they tallied 137 yards of offense and only three points. Tommy Armstrong had another good game with 309 yards, 4 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions on 21 of 45 passing. He also ran for 49 yards on 11 carries while Terrell Newby had 82 yards on 14 rushes. Armstrong was able to lead Nebraska to 23 fourth quarter points including the game tying drive with an 8 yard pass to Stanley Morgan (had 4 catches for 78 yards and a score) and the 2 point conversion to Jordan Westerkamp (5 receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown).
The defense looked lost early on as they were blitzed in the first quarter with 17 points allowed on Miami’s first three drives. They were better in the fourth quarter as the team made its comeback. The defense allowed 511 yards in this game, but held the Hurricanes to 3 of 14 on third down.
Nebraska will have to find a way to bounce back off a second devastating loss this year and they have Southern Miss next week at home to help.
Northern Illinois Huskies at #1 Ohio State Buckeyes
Result: Ohio State Win 20-13 (Saturday, September 19)
Ohio State played an ugly game against Northern Illinois, but survived in their bid to win a second straight national title.
The quarterback play was uneven once again with Cardale Jones going 4 of 9 for 36 yards, but also had two interceptions. He was replaced by JT Barrett, who did better, but was also not overwhelming. He went 11 of 19 for 97 yards with 1 touchdown and an interception. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 108 yards on 23 carries while Michael Thomas was the top wide receiver with 3 catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. The Buckeyes put up only 298 yards of offense while they committed five turnovers that led to 10 NIU points. It was an incredibly poor performance and the Buckeyes also went only 2 of 13 on third down.
The defense was strong in this game allowing only 190 yards of offense to NIU with 80 through the air and 110 on the ground. Darron Lee had a 41 yard pick six that ultimately proved to be the game winning score. The defensive line was disruptive as well during the game as the defense bailed out a putrid offensive performance.
Sometimes a team just has to win and survive and that appears to be the case for Ohio State. They have another MAC team next week at home again in Western Michigan.
Virginia Tech Hokies at Purdue Boilermakers
Result: Virginia Tech Win 51-24 (Saturday, September 19)
Purdue had a massive test at home against Virginia Tech and were clearly not up to par, but did show some flashes on offense.
Austin Appleby struggled going 9 of 28 for 110 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Appleby also ran 13 times for only 11 yards, but had a rushing touchdown. MarkellJones had a big day thanks to his 60 yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The offense did struggle against the Virginia Tech defense as they only converted 2 of 15 third down conversions and had three turnovers with the fumble being returned for a touchdown by Virginia Tech.
The defense struggled as well giving up 471 yards of offense and allowing 7 of 16 third down conversions to Virginia Tech. The defense did get a 90 yard fumble return for a touchdown via Danny Ezechukwu that gave Purdue a 14-10 lead. The special teams unit had a punt blocked and it was returned for a touchdown by Virginia Tech.
Purdue has another stiff test next week at home against Bowling Green. It will test their defense again with the high-powered Falcons offense.
Troy Trojans at #24 Wisconsin Badgers
Result: Wisconsin Win 28-3 (Saturday, September 19)
The Wisconsin Badgers were without Corey Clement for a second straight game due to a groin injury, but they had little trouble defeating Troy. The score was not flashy, but they were dominant particularly on defense.
Joel Stave was very efficient going 13 of 17 for 202 yards and a touchdown while also having a rushing touchdown from 4 yards out. Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale split carries in the absence of Clement. Deal led the team with 84 yards on 16 carries while Ogunbowale had 75 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Tanner McEvoy saw some action at quarterback in the wildcat and he had a nice 32 yard touchdown run to finish the day with 41 yards on 2 carries.
Alex Erickson was the leading receiver with 3 catches for 87 yards while Robert Wheelwright had 2 grabs for 50 yards. Tight End Austin Traylor had 2 catches for 39 yards and a touchdown with both of those catches coming late in the fourth quarter. The offense will need to work on the 3 for 10 on third down conversions, but there was more signs of life on the offensive line and in the running game.
The defense was stout with only 255 yards of offense given up. They held Troy to 81 yards rushing on 33 carries and 174 yards passing through the air. The defense forced only one turnover and allowed 7 of 16 on third down conversions. Overall, the defense was very good in this game.
Wisconsin has Hawaii next week at home in their final non-conference tune up.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Indiana Hoosiers
Result: Indiana Win 38-35 (Saturday, September 19)
Indiana had a massive third quarter that allowed them to win another shootout. They survived a 35 of 46 for 484 yards and 3 touchdowns passing performance from Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty.
The offense looked good for Indiana as Nate Sudfeld threw for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns on 20 of 27 passing. Jordan Howard ran wild with 203 yards on 31 carries and Devine Redding had 79 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Ricky Jones had his second 100 yard performance of the season with 5 catches for 126 yards and a touchdown. The offense finished with 639 yards and went 8 of 12 on third down.
As usual, the defense is the worry for Indiana. They allowed 9 catches for 196 yards and a score from Taywan Taylor while Tyler Higbee had 11 catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. They allowed a total of 568 yards of offense, but did force two interceptions out of Doughty that were turned into 14 points.
It will probably need to be the offense that gets the job done for Indiana as their defense will struggle. They face Wake Forest next week on the road in a big game for Indiana’s bowl hopes in 2015.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Penn State Nittany Lions
Result: Penn State Win 28-3 (Saturday, September 19)
The first Big Ten conference game of the season resulted in an easy win for the Nittany Lions. Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg was not overly impressive going just 10 of 19 for 141 yards with no touchdowns and a pick, but the rushing game sure was for PSU.
Saquon Barkley carried the ball 21 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns while Akeel Lynch ran for 120 yards and a score on just 10 carries. Those two were very impressive as was the offensive line that paved the way for them.
Rutgers, on the other hand, could not run the ball as they managed just 43 yards on 32 carries as a team. Chris Laviano had a little success through the air, but was largely stymied by the Penn State defense. Laviano finished 27 of 42 for 251 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Rutgers defense was not very good as they allowed 491 yards to Penn State.
Rutgers faces Kansas next week in their third non-conference game. Penn State takes on San Diego State at home next week.
Pittsburgh Panthers at Iowa Hawkeyes
Result: Iowa Win 27-24 (Saturday, September 19)
I was able to take a 10 point lead into halftime, but needed a last second, 57 yard field goal from MarshallKoehn to win the game 27-24.
C.J. Beathard had a decent game going 27 of 40 for 258 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. It largely fell on him to get the big plays as the rushing offense managed 105 yards on 29 carries. JordanCanzeri had 12 carries for 49 yards and 2 scores while Beathard had 39 yards and a touchdown. Beathard led the Hawkeyes late in the game to set up Koehn’s 57 yard field goal.
The defense played a solid game giving up 282 yards and held the Panthers to just 55 yards on the ground. They forced two picks from Pittsburgh on their first two drives including one in the end zone. DesmondKing came up with both of the interceptions and now has three on the season. The defense will be important for Iowa to continue strong start.
North Texas will visit next week in Iowa’s final non-conference game.
Check back next week for the round up of the Big Ten action in week four.
Below are some thoughts from each game that a Big Ten team participated in from the opening week of College Football. One thing to keep in mind is that was only week one, which means there is plenty of room for improvement for both winners and losers in the game.
Michigan Wolverines at Utah Utes
Result: Utah Win 24-17 (Thursday, September 3)
The most visible thing about Michigan’s opening week loss and Jim Harbaugh’s debut to Utah was the three interceptions by quarterback Jake Rudock. His most egregious was the pick 6 he threw midway through the fourth quarter that gave Utah a 24-10 lead.
Outside of the interceptions, Rudock played solidly. He missed some wide open throws, but his touchdown pass to Jake Butt late in the third quarter (into triple coverage) showed he has the ability to make good. Speaking of Butt, he had a good game by making 8 receptions for 93 yards. Also playing well was AmaraDarboh, who had 8 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Another concern for Michigan was the running game and offensive line. The Wolverines gained just 76 yards on 29 carries as a team for only a 2.6 yards per carry average. The offensive line also has issues getting a good push, especially in short yardage situation.
Overall, it was not the worst start for Michigan. There were positives and they have three consecutive home games versus Oregon State, UNLV, and BYU.
#2 TCU Horned Frogs at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Result: TCU Win 23-17 (Thursday, September 3)
There is a lot to take out of this game for Minnesota. They played a top ranked offense from 2014 and held them to 23 points and forced two turnovers.
The Gophers were able to get a solid game from Rodney Smith, who ran for 88 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. That was good considering their opponent and they lost David Cobb from last year’s squad. Mitch Leidner played well with 197 yards and 1 touchdown through the air, but he also lost a fumble midway through the first quarter that led to a TCU touchdown. One final note is that Rodrick Williams had a fumble as he was about to score that cost the Gophers points.
Then there was the Gophers’ defense that played a bend, but do not break style. They gave up 449 yards to TCU’s offense and were able to get an interception off Trevone Boykin that stopped a scoring threat. They also forced a fumble inside their own red zone to save more points. It was a really good performance for Minnesota given how many yards they allowed.
Minnesota will be on the road next week to play Colorado State.
#5 Michigan State Spartans at Western Michigan Broncos
Result: Michigan State Win 37-24 (Friday, September 4)
Michigan State had a tricky game to open the season against a talented Western Michigan squad. ConnorCook looked good throwing for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns, but completed only 15 of 31 passes. The running game for the Spartans looked really good between freshman LJ Scott (13 carries for 77 yards), Madre London (13 carries for 59 yards and 2 touchdowns), and Gerald Holmes (9 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown). Aaron Burbridge had an excellent showing at wide receiver catching 4 passes for 117 yards.
There will probably be some worry about Michigan State giving up 24 points to Western Michigan, but the duo of quarterback Zach Terrell and running back Jarvion Franklin are good. The Spartans were solid in the running game holding Franklin to just 23 yards on 8 carries before he left midway through the third quarter with a head injury. Overall, the Spartans allowed only 18 yards on 23 carries. The Spartans did give up over 100 yards to the receiving couple of Corey Davis (10 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown) and Daniel Braverman (13 catches for 109 yards). However, the Spartans played well on the road and shut down the running game forcing the Broncos to play catch up.
Michigan State has a massive game next weekend against Oregon at home.
#21 Stanford Cardinal at Northwestern Wildcats
Result: Northwestern Win 16-6 (Saturday, September 5)
The high point for the Big Ten was right around 2 PM Central Time on Saturday with Northwestern’s 16-6 victory over Stanford. It was a dominating performance from the Wildcats in a statement game for a team that is coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons.
The Wildcats decided to let freshman Clayton Thorson handle the quarterback duties and he played mistake-free in his first start. He threw for 105 yards on 12 of 24 passing, but was impressive with a 42 yard dash for the lone touchdown of the game. He finished with 8 carries for 68 yards and that touchdown. Also helping Thorson out was running back Justin Jackson, who had 28 carries for 134 yards.
On both sides of the ball, Northwestern was the more physical and dominant team. The Wildcats rushed for 225 yards as a team compared to just 85 for Stanford. The defense for Northwestern had a rough first drive giving up 64 yards and a field goal, but were clearly best after that. The defense was led by AnthonyWalker’s impressive performance. He finished with 10 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and 2 pass breakups.
Northwestern already looks like a handful after one game, but it is useful to remember that is has been only one game. The Wildcats have Eastern Illinois at home next weekend.
Illinois State Redbirds at Iowa Hawkeyes
Result: Iowa Win 31-14 (Saturday, September 5)
Most games against FCS competition do not yield much in the way of impressions, but this is different. Illinois State made the FCS National Championship in 2014, but lost narrowly to North Dakota State 29-27. They have a high powered offense, but were held to just 14 points and 231 yards.
C.J. Beathard looked good for Iowa going 15 of 24 for 211 yards and 1 touchdown. His top two targets were Jordan Canzeri (4 catches for 80 yards) and Matt VandeBerg (6 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown). The nice surprise was LeShun Daniels‘ 123 rushing yards on 26 carries.
The defense was very good for Iowa until the final quarter. They gave up 152 yards in the fourth quarter as well as the 14 points that Illinois State scored. However, they were able shut down Tre Roberson, who had just 49 yards on 5 of 12 passing before leaving with cramps. Marshaun Coprich had only 32 on 13 carries.
Yes, it was only the FCS Illinois State Redbirds, but this was a good start. Iowa has an in-state rivalry game next week on the road at Iowa State.
Richmond Spiders at Maryland Terrapins
Result: Maryland Win 50-21 (Saturday, September 5)
Maryland took a while to get going against Richmond, but eventually all phases of the games got in gear. Quarterback Perry Hills had an okay game going 12 of 21 for 138 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
The running game was excellent for the Terps by gaining 341 yards on 45 carries and scored 3 touchdowns. Brandon Ross led the team 150 yards and a touchdown, Ty Johnson had 83 yards and 1 touchdown, and Wes Brown ran for 74 yards and a touchdown.
The star on Saturday for Maryland was return man William Likely. He had 2 kickoff returns for 63 yards, but did his damage on punt returns. He had 8 returns for 233 yards including a 67 yard return for a touchdown.
The defense is a bit of a concern having given up a lot of yards in the first half, but they settled down nicely in the final 30 minutes. The Terps will be playing Bowling Green next week at home.
Norfolk State Spartans at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Result: Rutgers Win 63-13 (Saturday, September 5)
Of all the games this weekend, this was the hardest to decipher if anything significant happened. Rutgers demolished a sub par Norfolk State team, but they looked good doing it. Both quarterbacks were excellent with Chris Laviano going a perfect 4 for 4 with 138 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hayden Rettig threw for 110 yards and a touchdown on 9 of 11 passing. Neither passer hurt their chances of winning the job against Norfolk State.
Josh Hicks ran the ball well with 118 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries while Paul James had 15 carries for 82 yards. Leonte Carroo had a field day by catching 3 passes for 129 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The defense was pretty solid after giving up 75 yards and a touchdown to start the game. For the game, Rutgers allowed only 196 yards and actually held Norfolk State to -3 yards rushing.
Kent State Golden Flashes at Illinois Fighting Illini
Result: Illinois Win 52-3 (Saturday, September 5)
Another Big Ten team that was in turmoil to start the season was Illinois. They were originally scheduled to play on Friday night, but constant lightning forced the game to Saturday afternoon. That proved to be no issues as the Illini crushed Kent State.
Wes Lunt was efficient by throwing for 162 yards and 4 touchdowns on 11 of 19 passing. The offense scored touchdowns on both of the first 2 drives courtesy of Lunt’s arm. Josh Ferguson ran for 76 yards and a touchdown to lead the Illini while Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 43 yards and a score. 10 different receivers caught a pass with the most catches by one player being 2 (four different receivers had two catches). Geronimo Allison led the team in receiver with 57 yards and a touchdown on 2 catches.
The defense was determined for Illinois as they forced 4 turnovers and allowed only 245 yards. MasonMonheim, Eaton Spence, and Taylor Barton were the trio that picked off passes. V’Angelo Bentley looked dangerous in the return game with 3 punt returns for 85 yards with a long of 48.
The Illini showed no effects of losing Tim Beckman as their head coach and Bill Cubit had them ready. They will take on Western Illinois at home next week.
Penn State Nittany Lions at Temple Owls
Result: Temple Win 27-10 (Saturday, September 5)
This game marked a negative turning point for the Big Ten for the opening weekend. Penn State was out of sorts against Temple as they suffered a bad defeat.
By now, most people know how this went. The offensive line was horrendous by giving up 10 sacks. Christian Hackenberg had no time to throw and it showed by his stat line of 11 completions on 25 attempts for 103 yards and an interception. That interception was a terrible throw by Hackenberg that nearly resulted in a pick 6. The Owls did score a touchdown as a result.
Akeel Lynch was decent for Penn State by gaining 78 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Brandon Polk was electric on his two carries with a total of 50 yards including a 33 yarder. The Nittany Lions finished the game with 77 yards rushing and only 180 yards of total offense.
Penn State’s defense was not terrible early on was they forced 4 punts and a fumble to start the game. They did give up a 93 yard drive that ended in a touchdown for Temple in the second quarter. The second half was much worse as they were constantly on the field.
Penn State has a chance to fix their issues next week at home with Buffalo going to Happy Valley.
BYU Cougars at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Result: BYU Win 33-28 (Saturday, September 5)
The Penn State game was bad for the Big Ten, but the ending to this game was brutal. A Hail Mary by BYU’s Tanner Mangum fell into the waiting arms of Mitch Mathews for the 33-28 win and a crushing blow to Nebraska in Mike Riley’s Nebraska debut.
Nebraska’s offense was pretty good especially Tommy Armstrong. He threw for 319 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception on 24 of 41 passing. The Cornhuskers ran for 126 yards as a team, but Terrell Newby was the high mark at 43 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Jordan Westerkamp was all over the field with 7 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. BrandonReilly also had 5 catches for 70 yards.
The real issue for Nebraska, as it has been for many years now, was the defense. They allowed 511 yards to BYU and that includes a stretch when the Cougars were without Taysom Hill. It has to be disconcerting to see Nebraska’s defense constantly be unable to finish a game. Another worrisome issue has to be kicker Drew Brown, who missed both of his field goals on Saturday.
Nebraska welcomes South Alabama to Lincoln next week.
Southern Illinois Salukis at Indiana Hoosiers
Result: Indiana Win 48-47 (Saturday, September 5)
Indiana did everything they could to not win against Southern Illinois, but managed to win 48-47 thanks to stopping a 2 point conversion in the final minute of the game.
The Indiana offense was scoring at will with Nate Sudfeld throwing for 349 yards and a touchdown. UAB transfer Jordan Howard ran for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns and wide receiver Ricky Jones caught 6 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown.
As usual, the worry is all about the defense for Indiana. They allowed a whopping 659 yards off offense including 411 through the air. Mark Iannotti threw for all 411 of those yards as well as 4 touchdowns on 24 of 31 passing. He also led the Salukis in rushing with 106 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries bringing his offensive yardage total up to 517 for the game.
#20 Wisconsin Badgers versus #3 Alabama Crimson Tide
Result: Alabama Win 35-17 (Saturday, September 5)
The main showcase for the Big Ten on Saturday was Wisconsin and Alabama squaring off in Arlington, Texas. It was not a good showing for Wisconsin as they wilted in the second half.
The Badgers were crushed in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They managed just 40 yards rushing on 21 carries for the entire game with Alex Erickson’s 25 yard rush making him the leading rusher. Corey Clement had 16 yards on 8 carries, but was hampered by injuries that caused him to miss significant playing time.
Despite the poor rushing performance, the Badgers got to see a pretty good game out of Joel Stave. He went 26 of 39 for 228 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception (which came late in the fourth quarter with the outcome determined). He still has a good target in Alex Erickson, who also led the team in receiving with 73 yards and a touchdown on 6 grabs.
The defense for Wisconsin gave up 502 yards, but the game was all about Derrick Henry for Alabama. He ran 147 yards and 3 touchdowns on 13 carries and made the Badgers’ defenders look silly. The defense will need to get much better, especially on the line. It is also worth noting that safety Michael Caputo left after getting hit in the had making a tackle in the first half.
The Badgers get some serious competition relief with Miami (OH) going to Madison next week. The Badgers will be delighted to have them in town to work on their issues.
Purdue Boilermakers at Marshall Thundering Herd
Result: Marshall Win 41-31 (Sunday, September 6)
Purdue continued the Big Ten’s downward slide, but they had a chance to pull the upset as a touchdown underdog. A couple of interceptions thrown by Austin Appleby were returned for a pick six. The first happened on the opening play of the game and the other happened as the Boilermakers were mounting a drive to have a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Both times it was Tiquan Lang who brought the ball back to the house for Marshall.
If you take away the two pick sixes, Appleby played pretty well. He went 29 of 45 for 244 yards with 1 touchdown and he also had another touchdown on the ground on a sneak. He made smart decisions for the most part (again outside of the two pick sixes). He did throw two other interceptions with one coming late in the game after the pick 6 put the game beyond a doubt.
DeAngelo Yancey led the team in receiving with 5 catches for 78 yards while Anthony Mahoungou was second with 4 catches for 59 yards. Nine different receivers caught a pass for Purdue, which is good news for the depth.
The rushing game for Purdue was good with D.J. Knox leading the team with 102 yards and a touchdown while making himself very difficult to tackle. Markell Jones ran for 72 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries as well. Overall, the offense seemed to have a good rhythm going between the two pick sixes, but it fell apart with those turning points.
The defense was okay for Purdue. They gave up 397 yards, but were able to recover two fumbles and got an interception. However, the interception was squandered by the offense with a missed field goal. In crunch time, the defense allowed Marshall to go down the field on an 11 play, 84 yard drive to make it a 34-31 lead for Marshall. It was a decent performance that is better than the 41 points would indicate.
Purdue faces Indiana State at home next weekend.
#1 Ohio State Buckeyes at Virginia Tech Hokies
Result: Ohio State Win 42-24 (Monday, September 7)
Ohio State ended the bad run for the Big Ten, but they were not without some nervous moments. The Buckeyes rushed out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a touchdown pass from Cardale Jones and an 80 yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. After that, the offense stalled for the rest of the first half thanks to adjustments by Virginia Tech and turnovers. Virginia Tech came back to scored 17 unanswered points while the Hokies took a 17-14 lead at halftime.
Elliott finished the game with 122 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, but the game plan was not conducive to him running a lot. Jones settled down after his interception and finished with 186 yards and 2 touchdowns on 9 of 18 passing. He also ran the ball for 99 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
The biggest performance came from former quarterback Braxton Miller who was in the wildcat and catching passes. His first catch was an excellent diving grab for 24 yards before he caught a 54 yard touchdown pass early in the second half. Then there was his incredible spin on a rushing play that went for 53 yards and a touchdown. JT Barrett also saw action in the fourth quarter at quarterback. He had a 26 yard touchdown pass and also had a nice run of 40 yards.
The offense was solid early and in the second half, but Jones will need to cut down on the turnovers and bad decisions (his interception was tipped and intercepted on a bad decision to throw). The Buckeyes finished with 572 yards of total offense and were only 3 of 9 on third down. Nevertheless, the offense is going to be incredible the rest of the year.
The Ohio State defense was solid early on, even with the absence of Joey Bosa. They did let some receivers get free on the touchdown drives, but were pretty good outside of those. One area of concern is that Virginia Tech was 8 of 17 on third down conversions and also lost contain at times. The latter will be helped with the return of Bosa next week.
Ohio State has a quick turnaround with a home game against Hawaii in week two.
Check back next week for thoughts from the Big Ten performances in week two.
We have reached the Power 5 conference previews with the Big 12 on Friday, July 31 and we continue on with the ACC’s Coastal Division. It is a contentious group of seven programs that nearly have a chance to claim a piece of the division title on paper. Below is the schedule of previews left, as well as the previews already published.
Larry Fedora has been with North Carolina for three years and came in with academic issues plaguing the program. The Tar Heels went 8-4 in Fedora’s first year, but were not eligible for a bowl game. In 2013, UNC went 7-6 and then 6-7 last season. Fedora will be under pressure to turn the program back around with his most experienced team in his tenure.
The offense has 10 starters returning form a unit that put up 33.2 points and 430 yards per game. Quarterback Marquise Williams threw for 3,068 yards with 21 touchdowns and 9 interceptions and was also the leading rusher with 788 yards and 13 touchdowns. Running back has TJ Logan (582 yards and 3 touchdowns), Romar Morris (278 yards and 4 touchdowns), and Elijah Hood (259 yards and 4 touchdowns) all back while one of those three should rush for more yards than the QB. The top four receivers also return with Ryan Switzer leading the team last year with 61 catches for 757 yards and 4 touchdowns. Mack Hollins caught 35 passes for 613 yards and 8 touchdowns as well. With the entire offensive line returning intact, the offense should be one of the most explosive in the ACC.
The defense was uncharacteristically bad last season giving up 39 points and 498 yards per game with seven starters back. Fedora’s defenses had given up 24.5 points and 25.7 points in his first two seasons. Seven starters return again this season with only three in the front seven. Linebacker Jeff Schoettmer was second on the team in tackles with 74 while also recording 6 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, 2 interceptions. The entire secondary is back as well as some experienced backups. Desmond Lawrence was the top defensive back with 71 tackles, 0.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, and an interception. The defense will bounce back in a big way in 2015.
North Carolina opens with South Carolina in Charlotte before welcoming North Carolina A&T, Illinois, and Delaware to town the next three weeks. In conference, UNC faces Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech on the road. They will also face Virginia, Duke, and Miami (FL) at home. From the Atlantic they face Wake Forest (home) and North Carolina State (road). In a wide open ACC Coastal, North Carolina will have one of the top offenses and improved defense to help them back to a winning record and possible ACC title game appearance.
2. Virginia Tech Hokies
Virginia Tech joined the ACC in 2004 and ripped off eight straight years of double digit victories. The Hokies won 4 ACC Championships and appeared in another two title games between 2004 and 2011. Since then, VT has failed to win more than eight games in a season. Will another mediocre season turn up the heat on Frank Beamer?
The offense has eight starters back from a unit that put up 24.1 points and 365 yards per game in 2014. Michael Brewer is back at quarterback after throwing 2,692 yards with 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The entire running back unit returns led by JC Coleman with 533 yards and 5 touchdowns and Marshawn Williams with 475 yards and 4 touchdowns. The top three wide receivers return as well in Isaiah Ford (56 catches for 709 yards and 6 touchdowns), Bucky Hodges (45 catches for 526 yards and 7 touchdowns), and Cam Phillips (40 catches for 498 yards and 3 touchdowns). The losses are on the offensive line where only two starters are back. There may be some issues on the line to start the season, but the offense should be able to put up better numbers in 2015.
The defense for Virginia Tech is usually one of the best in the nation each season. Last year, with only five starters back, the defense gave up 20.2 points and 344 yards per game. This year, eight starters return including the entire defensive line. Dadi Nicolas had 72 tackles, 9 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss en route to landing on the 2nd Team ACC squad. The unit allowed 145 rushing yards per game, which is the second worst in the last seven years. Expect that number to improve. Deon Clarke is the only linebacker returning, but he was the second leading tackler last year with 74 stops, 5 sacks, 6 tackles for loss, and an interception. Three in the secondary are back led by the dominant corner Kendall Fuller. Fuller had 54 tackles, 2 sacks, 2.5 tackles for loss, 15 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions last year while being named 2nd Team All-American. The defense will be stout once again under Beamer and Bud Foster.
Virginia Tech opens the season with a game at home on Labor Day against Ohio State, the same team they beat last year on the road. OSU went on to win the National Title. After that, they will take on Furman (home), Purdue (road), and East Carolina (road) to round out their non-conference schedule. In conference, VT will face Pittsburgh, Duke, and North Carolina at home while going on the road to lay Miami (FL), Georgia Tech, and Virginia. From the Atlantic division, VT will be taking on North Carolina State at home and Boston College on the road. It should be a bounce back year for Virginia Tech and they have a good shot at reaching the ACC Championship Game as well.
3. Duke Blue Devils
Duke’s athletic department showed a lot of patience with David Cutcliffe in the first four years. Cutcliffe did not have a winning season in his first four years before reaching a bowl game in 2012 for the first time since 1994. Duke then won the ACC Coastal in 2013 and went 9-4 last year. Cutcliffe is excellent at getting his Duke teams to overachieve.
The offense for Duke has six starters back, but loses their top quarterback in Anthony Boone (2,700 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions; 375 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns). ThomasSirk is likely to get the starting QB duties after showing the ability to throw and run (238 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns). The top rushing duo of Shaquille Powell (618 yards and 2 touchdowns) and Shaun Wilson (598 yards and 5 touchdowns) return, but the top two receivers do not. Jamison Crowder was easily the best receiver last year with 85 catches for 1,044 yards and 6 touchdowns, but he is gone. Max McCaffrey will move into a bigger role after catching 37 passes for 385 yards and 3 touchdowns. The offensive line has three starters back as well, but it will be hard to match last year’s output of 32.4 points and 398 yards per game without some of the weapons.
The defense returns seven starters from a unit that allowed 21.8 points and 400 yards per game in 2014. Carlos Wray is the only returning starter on the line, who had 39 tackles, 1.5 sacks, and 0.5 tackles for loss. Nose guard AJ Wolf did not start a game, but managed to record 23 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss last year. Kelby Brown is back at linebacker after missing 2014 due to a torn ACL. Brown had 114 tackles and 11 tackles for loss as a first team ACC selection in 2013. He is a welcomed addition to the defense this year. The secondary is back with all five starters from a group that allowed only 207 passing yards per game and 55.8% completions. DeVon Edwards (133 tackles), Jeremy Cash (111 tackles), DeondreSingleton (70 tackles), and Byron Fields (70 tackles) were the second, third, fourth, and fifth leading tacklers respectively last season. The secondary will be the strength once again 2015.
Duke opens with a road game against Tulane before welcoming North Carolina Central and Northwestern to Durham. They also face Army on the road in October as their final non-conference game. In conference, they will face Georgia Tech, Miami (FL), and Pittsburgh at home. On the road, they will have Virginia Tech, North Carolina, and Virginia. From the Atlantic division, Duke has winnable games against Boston College (home) and Wake Forest (road). Duke may not be as good on offense, but Cutcliffe has been excellent with Duke the past two years and the schedule is quite favorable with their Atlantic opponents. Expect another solid year from Duke.
4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Paul Johnson has been at Georgia Tech seven years and has led them to a bowl game each year. Johnson has also led Georgia Tech to three ACC Championship Games (1-2 record) including two in the last three years (0-2 with both losses to Florida State). Georgia Tech lost 37-35 to Florida State last year in the ACC title game and finished with a 49-34 win over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.
The offense has suffered heavy losses with only five starters back. Luckily for GT, one of the returning starters is quarterback Justin Thomas. Thomas threw for 1,719 yards with 18 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. More importantly, he was the leading rusher on the team with 1,986 yards and 8 touchdowns. A heavy burden will be placed on him without any of the other top rushers back. One of the projected starting running backs is Broderick Snoddy who had 283 yards and 3 touchdowns. Another is Dennis Andrews, but he ran for only 106 yards last year on 16 carries. The top returning receiver is Snoddy, who had 3 catches for 100 yards. There are four starters back on the offensive line to help ease the transition as well. The last time only five starters were back for GT was in Johnson’s first year in 2008. That offense put up only 24.4 points and 372 yards per game. Expect the offense in 2015 to eclipse those numbers, but will not come close to matching last year’s output of 37.9 points and 477 yards per game.
The defense has eight starters back in 2015, tying for the most returning starters under Johnson’s tenure (2010). 2014’s defense allowed only 25.7 points and 411 yards per game despite only four starters back. The defensive line has three starters back anchored by 2nd Team ACC nose tackle Adam Gotsis. Gotsis had 36 tackles, 3 sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. Also on the line is KeShun Freeman, who had 54 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss. PJ Davis is only one of two linebackers in this scheme, but he is a big returning starter. He led GT with 119 tackles while also recording 4 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. The entire secondary, except for nickelback, returns led by DJ White. He had 66 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, and 4 interceptions last year. The defense should improve on the yardage total, if not the points total as well.
Georgia Tech opens the year with Alcorn State and Tulane at home before a road trip to Notre Dame. Their last non-conference game is the season finale against arch-rival Georgia with the game at home. In conference, they will have Duke, Virginia, and Miami (FL) on the road while facing North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech at home. From the Atlantic Division, they have to face Clemson on the road and Florida State at home making this schedule quite difficult. Georgia Tech’s offense will need to get going if they are to win the division again. However, they can still expect a bowl game appearance and the defense will be keeping them in most games.
5. Miami Hurricanes
Al Golden arrived in Coral Gables in December 2010 amidst controversy within the football program. He finished 6-6 in 2011 and 7-5 in 2012, but the Hurricanes were not eligible for a bowl game due to an NCAA investigation. Miami went 9-4 in 2013 and 6-7 in 2014 leaving some to wonder if Golden is on the hot seat in 2015.
The offense returns five starters from 2014 in which they put up 29.2 points and 430 yards per game. One player who will not be back is Duke Johnson, who had 1,652 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing while also being the third leading receiver with 38 catches for 421 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brad Kaaya, who will be back this season, threw for 3,198 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The top returning rusher is Joseph Yearby, who had 509 yards and a touchdown on 86 carries. Gus Edwards also returns after rushing for 349 yards and 6 touchdowns on 61 carries. The receiving corps took a hit with Phillip Dorsett and Clive Walford, the top two receivers in 2014, moving on. Herb Waters had 20 catches for 277 yards and a touchdown while Malcolm Lewis had 25 catches for 248 yards and a touchdown. The offensive line has only two starters back and the offense may struggle without the top playmakers from a year ago.
The defense returns six starters from a group that allowed 24.3 points and only 330 yards per game in 2014. The defensive line has only one starter back in Calvin Heurtelou (25 tackles), but Ufomba Kamalu performed well despite only one start. Kamalu had 34 tackles and 3.5 sacks last year. Two linebackers return in Tyriq McCord (48 tackles, 3 sacks, and 3.5 tackles for loss) and Raphael Kirby (54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions). The secondary has three starters back led by DeonBush with 53 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 tackles for loss, and 2 interceptions. Golden’s defenses usually perform well and that should continue in 2015 as well.
Miami has an easy start to the season with Bethune-Cookman coming to Coral Gables before a road trip to face Florida Atlantic. The second half of the non-conference schedule is far more difficult with Nebraska visiting and then Miami going on the road to face Cincinnati. Miami will face Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Georgia Tech at home while playing Duke, North Carolina, and Pittsburgh on the road. They have the worst draw from the Atlantic division with Florida State (road) and Clemson (home). Miami’s offense will be the concern this year without their top players from 2014 and the schedule is tough. However, Miami should make a bowl game and could surprise with a higher finish.
6. Pittsburgh Panthers
Todd Graham became Pittsburgh’s head coach in 2011, but led them to a 6-6 record before leaving for Arizona State. Paul Chryst took over in 2012 and led the Panthers to three straight 6-6 regular seasons. They lost the 2012 bowl game to finish 6-7, won in 2013 to finish 7-6, and he left for Wisconsin before Pitt lost the Armed Forces Bowl 35-34 to Houston and finished 6-7 again. Pat Narduzzi is the new head coach in 2015 and he was the defensive coordinator at Michigan State from 2007 through 2014.
Narduzzi will have eight starters back on offense including his biggest playmakers. Chad Voytik threw for 2,233 yards with 16 touchdowns and 7 interceptions and he will be returning along with wide receiver TylerBoyd. Boyd caught 78 passes for 1,261 yards and 8 touchdowns and is one of the top receivers in all of college football. Boyd will miss the opening game against Youngstown State. Also returning for 2015 is running back James Conner. He had 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns giving Pittsburgh a nice 1-2 punch in the passing and rushing game. The offense put up 31.8 points and 435 yards per game in 2014 and could match those numbers this year. However, the Panthers need to develop second and third options in the passing game behind Boyd.
The defense, which is Narduzzi’s specialty, will have seven starters back from a group that allowed 26.3 points and 360 yards per game in 2014. Three starters are back on the defensive line led by Darryl Render. Render had 32 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 4 pass breakups. Matt Galambos is the lone returning linebacker and he was third on the team in tackles last year. He had 72 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and an interception. the secondary return three starters including Reggie Mitchell. Mitchell had 52 tackles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for loss, and 7 pass breakups. The defense should be solid even with new schemes under Narduzzi.
Pittsburgh opens the season against Youngstown State at home before back-to-back road games against Akron and Iowa. They conclude their non-conference slate at home against Notre Dame on November 7. In conference, they will face Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Duke on the road while playing Virginia, North Carolina, and Miami (FL) at home. From the Atlantic, they will have a road game at Syracuse and get Louisville at home. Pat Narduzzi enters a great situation with the offensive firepower and Pittsburgh should be back in another bowl game, if not pulling a few surprises in the ACC.
7. Virginia Cavaliers
Mike London went 4-8 in his first season in 2010 before having an excellent 8-5 season in 2011. Since then it has been rough. Virginia went 4-8 in 2012 and then fell to 2-10 in 2013. Last year, the Cavaliers went 5-7 and several close loss throughout the season prevented them from reaching a second bowl game under London. The pressure is on to get Virginia back to a bowl game for Mike London.
The offense returns five starters this year from a unit that put up 25.8 points and 374 yards of offense per game. The quarterback position was not settled last year and Matt Johns is expected to be the starter. Johns threw for 1,109 yards with 8 touchdowns and 5 interceptions while starting on three games and playing in all 12. The top two running backs are gone, but highly touted Taquan Mizzell ran for 280 yards and 2 touchdowns on 64 rushes last season. The top receiver is back in Canaan Severin, who had 42 catches for 578 yards and 5 touchdowns. The offensive line does return four starters, but there are some serious concerns with the running backs and wide receivers this year.
The defense has five starters back as well after giving up only 24.1 points and 353 yards per game last year. That group had nine starters returning. Three defensive linemen are back including Mike Moore (36 tackles, 3 sacks, and 5 tackles for loss) and David Dean (40 tackles, 1 sack, and 7 tackles for loss). The line gave up only 121 rushing yards per game and they may not be able to match that, but could come close. The linebackers were hit hard with all of the starters from 2014 departing, but there is plenty of talent in the group. The secondary has only two starters back, but one of the is Quin Blanding. He led Virginia in tackles last year with 123, but also recorded 1 sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions. The defense will be hard-pressed to match last year’s numbers.
Virginia has a brutal out of conference schedule with games against UCLA, Notre Dame, William & Mary, and Boise State. They do have the last three of those games at home, but two are against quality opponents. In conference, Virginia will play Pittsburgh, North Carolina, and Miami (FL) on the road and welcome Georgia Tech, Duke, and Virginia Tech to Charlottesville. From the Atlantic, they will play Syracuse at home and travel to Louisville. It will be tough for Virginia to reach bowl eligibility and Mike London will most likely be relieved of his duties if they cannot get back to a bowl.
Other than Virginia, it appears that the other six teams all have a chance at making noise in the ACC Coastal Division. North Carolina is tapped to win the division, but Virginia Tech, Duke, Georgia Tech, and Miami (FL) could also have a chance. Pittsburgh has a new coach in Pat Narduzzi, but a lot of pieces in place for him and cannot be discounted. It could be the end for Mike London at Virginia this year. Here is the predicted order of finish.
1. North Carolina
2. Virginia Tech
4. Georgia Tech
5. Miami (FL)
Check back on Friday for the ACC Atlantic Division preview as well as a look at who will be predicted to win the ACC Championship Game.
Final scores do not always tell the tale of how a game truly went or how comprehensive a team performed. This article is intended to shed light on some of those discrepancies and highlight some stats put up by teams and individuals alike.
Virginia Tech Hokies at Pittsburgh Panthers (Pittsburgh won 21-16 on Thursday (10/16))
The Hokies ran for only 26 yards on 22 carries as a team against Pittsburgh. That comes out to an average of 1.2 yards per carry. Even worse, the offense was 2 of 14 on third down yet the Hokies managed to stay in the game until late in the fourth quarter.
For Pittsburgh, James Conner ran for 85 yards on 16 carries, but he did have two touchdowns. This marked his third straight game where he failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark. His first four games saw him run for at least 153 yards each game and total 699 rushing yards. In the last three games, Conner has produced 260 yards. That total is respectable, but it is quite a drop off from his early season output.
Temple Owls at Houston Cougars (Houston won 31-10 on Friday (10/17))
The story of this game was the four turnovers by Temple quarterback P.J. Walker. He had three interceptions and a fumble lost. One interception was returned for pick-six and another led to a Houston touchdown. The lost fumble came on the doorstep of Houston’s end zone at the one yard line. Those three turnovers combined were a 17 to 21 point swing, which undoubtedly cost the Owls a chance to win.
South Florida Bulls at Tulsa Golden Hurricane (South Florida won 38-30 on Saturday (10/18))
South Florida trailed 27-7 at halftime, but outscored Tulsa 31-3 in the final minutes to win the game. Outside of their first drive of the third quarter, Tulsa ran only 7 plays in South Florida territory and failed to score a point.
Baylor Bears at West Virginia Mountaineers (West Virginia won 41-27 on Saturday)
This game had several noticeable stats. First, Baylor committed 18 penalties for 215 yards!! West Virginia committed 14 penalties for 138 yards. Combined, the two teams had 32 penalties for 353 yards. Those 353 penalties yards are more than Baylor put up on offense (318 yards)!
As impressive (or pathetic) as those penalty yards are, the Mountaineers did everything they could early on to let Baylor put up points. Clint Trickett had a lost fumble and an interception that led to 10 Baylor points in the first quarter. Daryl Worley lost a fumble on a punt return, but Baylor could not take advantage of that turnover.
Kansas State Wildcats at Oklahoma Sooners (Kansas State won 31-30 on Saturday)
We will not dwell on this game too much because this is obvious why the Sooners lost. Oklahoma kicker Michael Hunnicutt missed two field goals (including a horrendous shank late in the game) and an extra point. One could also point to DanzelMcDaniel’s 5 yard pick-six as another reason.
Texas A&M Aggies at Alabama Crimson Tide (Alabama won 59-0 on Saturday)
This one has to be included for the way Alabama utterly dominated the Aggies. The Tide were up 45-0 at the break and held the high-flying Aggies offense to 172 yards for the entire game!! The Tide scored 35 second quarter points, the most ever in a single quarter for an Alabama team.
The shutout is even more impressive because it marks the first time Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin has been shut out as a coach in 86 games at the FBS level.
We all know Nick Saban is looking for something to critique in this performance and there are few he can sheepishly use. The first is that the Aggies managed to convert two third downs… out of 13 attempts. In addition, the Tide only forced one turnover. There are your areas for improvement, coach Saban.
Michigan State Spartans at Indiana Hoosiers (Michigan State won 56-17 on Saturday)
Indiana actually led 17-14 with 5:25 left in the second quarter, but Michigan State quickly put an end to that. They scored 14 points in the final 4 minutes to take a 28-17 lead and then poured on 28 more points in the second half.
The most striking stat was that Indiana had 11 yards passing. Zander Diamont went 5 of 15 for all 11 yards in his first start as a true freshman. He has drawn comparisons to Johnny Manziel, but that is all hyperbole for a kid who had a total of one negative yard on the game (Diamont also ran 10 times for -12 yards).
The Hoosiers had 224 yards of offense, even without a passing game from Diamont, who was replacing the injured Nate Sudfeld. Tevin Coleman had 132 yards on 15 carries, which is excellent for a one-dimensional offense against the Spartans.
Colorado Buffaloes at USC Trojans (USC won 56-28 on Saturday)
USC quarterback Cody Kessler went 19 of 26 for 391 yards and 7 touchdowns. Yes, 7 touchdowns for Cody Kessler. It is a pretty good day when 27% of your attempts go for a touchdown and 37% of your completions end up as a score. Unsurprisingly, Kessler is now the USC single game record holder for touchdown passes in a game. He also tied the Pac-12 record with 7 touchdown passes in a game with Mike Pagel of Arizona State in the 1981 season.
Tennessee Volunteers at Ole Miss Rebels (Ole Miss won 34-3 on Saturday)
Ole Miss gave up a total 191 yards of offense to Tennessee on Saturday night. All 191 yards came through the air, as the Volunteers did not gain a single yard via the ground game. Jalen Hurd had 40 yards rushing, but that was cancelled out by JustinWorley’s 8 rushes for -41 yards performance. One caveat, however, is that sack yardage goes against the rushing stats in college football.
Missouri Tigers at Florida Gators (Missouri won 42-13 on Saturday)
Most people probably heard this on Saturday night or Sunday morning, but it is worth repeating. Missouri had 119 yards of total offense (20 passing and 99 rushing), yet the won by 29 points over Florida. How? Turnovers and touchdown returns.
Missouri had a kickoff return for a touchdown, a punt return for a touchdown, a fumble return for a touchdown, and an interception return for a touchdown. Marcus Murphy had both the kickoff and punt returns for a touchdown from 96 and 86 yards respectively. Markus Golden had a 21 yard fumble return and Darvin Ruise had a 46 yard interception return.
The Gators committed 6 turnovers, three fumbles and three interceptions, which led to 24 points for Missouri.
Will Muschamp should start packing his bags now because he is well on his way out of Gainesville.
Utah State Aggies at Colorado State Rams (Colorado State won 16-13 on Saturday)
The highlight of this game was Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins. He caught 10 passes for 187 yards during the game while the Rams threw for 243 yards. That equates to Higgins accounting for 77% of the receiving yardage. Higgins managed to account for only 59% of the total offense for Colorado State.
Iowa State Cyclones at Texas Longhorns (Texas won 48-45 on Saturday)
This needs a bit of context to explain why it makes it here. According to Las Vegas Insider, the over/under of this game closed at 45.5 points, which makes them believe it would be a defensive game. Texas closed as an 11-point favorite so it was expected that Texas would not give up many points.
Boy, those expectations were way off.
The two teams combined for 1,036 yards of total offense with the yardage nearly split 50/50. Iowa State had 524 yards and Texas amassed 512 yards. By halftime, the score was 28-28, well over the 45.5 points expected for the ENTIRE GAME.
Both quarterbacks had over 300 yards passing with Sam B. Richardson (ISU) having 345 yards and Tyrone Swoopes (UT) throwing for 321 yards. Iowa State ran for 179 yards while the Longhorns had 191 yards on the ground.
This just goes to show that even Vegas can be way off once in a while.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Florida State Seminoles (Florida State won 31-27 on Saturday)
Controversial ending aside, this game did feature one incredible strength. That was the run defense of Notre Dame. They allowed only 50 yards rushing on 26 carries for the Seminoles.
There may be recipe in there to beat Florida State. By stopping the run, they put the pressure on Jameis Winston to lead the Seminoles offense with his arm. If a team can force Winston into mistakes and turnovers, they can pull the upset. However, it is far more difficult to force Jameis into mistakes on the football field as opposed to off of the field.
Nevada Wolf Pack at BYU Cougars (Nevada won 42-35 on Saturday)
This was a late night game, but it had plenty of fireworks and not a lot of defense. The two teams combined for 58 first downs, 1,012 yards of total offense, and 20 third down conversion out of 38 attempts.
BYU led 28-13 at the break, but saw their lead evaporate with four scoring drives by Nevada in the second half. All four of those scoring drives resulted in touchdowns and a 42-28 lead with less than 6 minutes remaining. The Wolf Pack held on for a 42-35 win to send BYU to their third straight loss without Taysom Hill.
Filling in for Hill has been Christian Stewart who looked excellent in this game until the fourth quarter. For the game, he went 39 of 63 for 408 yards with 4 passing touchdowns. He did not have a single interception, but he lost two fumbles in the final seven and a half minutes to dent BYU’s chances of winning. The first led to a touchdown by Nevada to take a 42-28 lead and the second occurred at the Nevada 34 yard line when the Cougars were driving for the game-tying score.
It was an unfitting end to a game in which Stewart played so well.