ACC

5 Reasons Why the Miami Hurricanes Can Win the ACC Coastal in 2016

Brad Kaaya should thrive in his first season in new head coach Mark Richt's offense
5 Reasons Why the Miami Hurricanes Can Win the ACC Coastal in 2016

When Mark Richt accepted the head coaching job at the University of Miami last December, many experts said he can have the Hurricanes competing for an ACC championship as early as 2016.

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#27 Miami Hurricanes

NATIONAL FORECAST

#27

ACC Coastal PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Mark RIcht, 0-0 (1st year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Mark Richt | DEF. COORDINATOR: Manny Diaz

Having a new sheriff in town with Mark Richt might be the key ingredient to getting Miami back to a perennial power. Richt comes into a great quarterback situation with star quarterback Brad Kaaya returning, but will that be enough to knock off the ACC’s best - Clemson and Florida State - for a conference title? 

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Previewing Miami’s Offense

If the Hurricanes can find a way to protect Brad Kaaya, this has the makings of a highly productive attack. Kaaya returns for his junior year after finishing in the top three in the ACC in yards per game, fewest interceptions, yards per attempt and passer rating. There’s a new, offensively gifted head coach, Mark Richt, who is excited to call plays for the first time since he surrendered those duties at Georgia in 2007. There’s a stable of running backs — 1,000-yard rusher Joe Yearby may not even start, since sophomore Mark Walton came on strong in the offseason and bruiser Gus Edwards is healthy after a season-ending foot injury. There’s a group of wide receivers that includes Stacy Coley (47 catches for 689 yards and four touchdowns), who opted to forgo an NFL career to return to school, and a three-headed monster at tight end that includes rising star David Njoku (6'4", 244).

What Miami does not have, however, is a reliable offensive line. The Hurricanes struggled to run block last year (112th in yards per carry) and allowed sacks galore in spring scrimmages. It remains to be seen whether that’s a sign of a recalibrated, reenergized Miami defense or an impending season-long headache for Richt — and aches and pains all over for Kaaya.

Previewing Miami’s Defense
 

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Looking for an overhaul, Richt brought on Manny Diaz, formerly of Mississippi State (and most notably before that, Texas). Gone are the 3-4, read-and-react principles of Al Golden and coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. Diaz, a Miami native and son of the city’s former mayor, wants his charges to be as aggressive and relentless as the 4-3 defenses he grew up watching in the Orange Bowl.

The Hurricanes have a few players who wouldn’t look out of place on those national championship teams — though not nearly enough of them. Start with ends Chad Thomas and Al-Quadin Muhammad, both juniors who have high-round NFL Draft potential. Tackles Gerald Willis, Courtel Jenkins and Kendrick Norton will be nice pieces for former Missouri defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski, who has produced four first-rounders since 2009.

It gets a little worrisome from there. While senior linebacker Jermaine Grace is a lightning-fast rover who led UM in tackles (79, six for a loss), that unit is depending on sophomore Darrion Owens to return from a major knee injury and talented freshmen Shaq Quarterman, Michael Pinckney and Zach McCloud to be ready for action.

The secondary has a trio of capable safeties in seniors Jamal Carter and Rayshawn Jenkins and sophomore Jaquan Johnson, but the cornerback unit has one tested player in senior Corn Elder. Diaz’ blitz-happy front seven should improve Miami’s tackles for a loss (96th) and sack (64th) rankings, but leaks on the back end could be troublesome all year.

Previewing Miami’s Specialists
 

Elder was Miami’s top weapon last season, averaging 13.8 yards per punt and 33.8 yards per kick return. He scored punt and kick return touchdowns — the latter the controversial eight-lateral, 91-yard score at Duke — and had two more TDs called back because of penalties. But his duties at corner may cause the team to look elsewhere. Placekicker Michael Badgley, a Lou Groza Award semifinalist, made 25-of-30 field goals and hit from 57 yards. Punter Justin Vogel was steady and had a long of 73.

Final Analysis 
 

A gust of fresh air blew into Coral Gables with the arrival of Richt, a 1982 UM graduate and former backup to Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. After a successful three decades as an assistant at Florida State and coach at Georgia, the 56-year-old Richt came home. You can bet after five mediocre years under Golden, he was well received. He takes over a program that has talent but ultimately not enough depth to unseat Florida State and Clemson atop the ACC.  

The Debate

Is Mark Richt the best coaching hire for 2016?

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5 Reasons Florida State Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2016

Left tackle Roderick Johnson is the anchor of the Seminoles' stout offensive line
5 Reasons Florida State Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2016

Big things are expected of Florida State in 2016 as the Seminoles look to win at least 10 games for a fifth consecutive year, reclaim the ACC and try to work their way into the College Football Playoff.

 

5 Players That Need to Step Up for Clemson in 2016

Jadar Johnson is one of several young Tigers who will have larger roles this season
5 Players That Need to Step Up for Clemson in 2016

With a Heisman Trophy finalist surrounded by a slew of talented offensive skill players returning, nothing short of a return trip to the College Football Playoff will be deemed a success for Clemson.

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#2 Florida State Seminoles

NATIONAL FORECAST

#2

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#1

HEAD COACH: Jimbo Fisher, 68-14 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jimbo Fisher | DEF. COORDINATOR: Charles Kelly

After finishing 10-3 in a rebuilding season, Florida State is loaded for another run at a national championship in 2016. The biggest question mark for coach Jimbo Fisher is at the quarterback position, but the Seminoles aren’t hurting for talent. Redshirt freshman Deondre Francois and true freshman Malik Henry will push Sean Maguire for the starting job, with Francois expected to start. Helping Francois ease into the starting role is a talented supporting cast, headlined by Heisman Trophy contender Dalvin Cook at running back. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey will be missed, but Florida State’s defense could be better than the 2015 version that limited opponents to 17.5 points a game. Another huge advantage for Florida State? Clemson has to visit Tallahassee this season.

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Previewing Florida State’s Offense 
 

During a remarkable sophomore campaign, tailback Dalvin Cook established new FSU records for rushing yards (1,691) and all-purpose yards (1,935) in a season. He averaged 7.4 yards per carry and 140.9 yards per game. What made Cook’s performance even more impressive were the circumstances. Not only did he play through hamstring and ankle injuries that caused him to miss one game and parts of others, but he also was running behind an inconsistent and injury-plagued offensive line. FSU’s inability to establish a vertical passing game also allowed opposing defenses to crowd the line of scrimmage.

The offensive line should be much improved with seven players returning with starting experience, including All-America candidate Roderick Johnson at left tackle, and the wide receiver group is deep and talented. The biggest question mark is at quarterback, where senior Sean Maguire returns but will be pushed by a pair of talented underclassmen — redshirt freshman Deondre Francois and true freshman Malik Henry — who were very impressive in spring drills.

Previewing Florida State’s Defense 
 

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After recording career highs with 58 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks, DeMarcus Walker flirted with a jump to the NFL before returning for his senior year. That decision gives the Seminoles an elite pair of defensive ends, with Walker on one side and sophomore Josh Sweat, a former five-star recruit, on the other.

FSU must replace All-America cornerback Jalen Ramsey, but the Seminoles have recruited so well in the secondary that it shouldn’t be much of a concern. Senior Marquez White returns at one corner, and much-hyped sophomores Tarvarus McFadden and Marcus Lewis are battling it out for the other. The rest of the secondary is filled with experienced players, including senior Nate Andrews, junior Trey Marshall and super sophomore Derwin James.

If there is one area of concern on a defense that ranked No. 9 nationally in scoring defense (17.5 ppg) last season, it’s at linebacker, where FSU lost seniors Reggie Northrup and Terrance Smith. Projected starters Matthew Thomas and Ro’Derrick Hoskins are talented, but Thomas has yet to play a full season of college football. He was suspended for half of the 2014 season and was ineligible for all of 2015.

Previewing Florida State’s Specialists
 

The Seminoles have major holes to fill here as All-America placekicker Roberto Aguayo bolted early for the NFL and four-year starting punter Cason Beatty graduated. Aguayo’s younger brother, Ricky, enrolled in January and should take over field goals and kickoffs. Fellow freshman Logan Tyler is expected to win the punting job.

Final Analysis 
 

To understand just how much talent Jimbo Fisher has ushered into Florida State’s locker room during the first six years of his tenure, one needs only consider this simple fact: The Seminoles are coming off of a rebuilding year that saw them go 10–3 and earn a coveted spot in a New Year’s Six bowl. Did we mention that it was a rebuilding year?

Despite losing No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Jameis Winston at quarterback and another dozen starters, the Seminoles reached double-digit wins for the fifth time in six years and once again swept rivals Florida and Miami. Now, FSU appears to have the experience to go with that talent. Florida State returns nine starters on offense and six on defense. They even bring back several key reserves who have started games in the past.

The schedule won’t necessarily be easy, but the always-crucial ACC Atlantic Division battle against Clemson will be played in Tallahassee. The winner of that game has advanced to the College Football Playoff in both of its first two years of existence.

The Debate

Is Dalvin Cook the best running back in the nation?

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#4 Clemson Tigers

NATIONAL FORECAST

#4

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#2

HEAD COACH: Dabo Swinney, 75-27 (7+ years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jeff Scott, Tony Elliott | DEF. COORDINATOR: Marion Hobby, Brent Venables

Dabo Swinney has raised expectations at Clemson, and last year's 14 wins in 2015 were the most in program history for a single season. However, the Tigers enter 2016 with unfinished business. Clemson fell just short in the national title game against Alabama, and the Tigers are hoping for another run to the championship in 2016. The pieces are certainly in place for Swinney’s team to win it all. Quarterback Deshaun Watson leads a dynamic offense, with the receiving corps and offensive line among the best in the nation. For the second year in a row, coordinator Brent Venables has work to do in rebuilding the defense. However, considering Venables’ success in rebuilding this group last season, there shouldn’t be too much of a drop in production. The Oct. 29 showdown at Florida State should decide the ACC Atlantic.

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Previewing Clemson’s Offense 
 

Following offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ departure to become SMU’s head coach, Clemson’s offense didn’t miss a beat under the watch of co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott. The Tigers averaged 38.5 points per game and finished as national runner-up to Alabama. The scary part? They could be even better this season. Clemson returns eight offensive starters, led by junior quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson, an elusive, dynamic run-pass threat with a big arm, finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting and became the first FBS player ever to pass for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. He’s the key to Clemson’s national title hopes.

The Tigers scored a major offseason victory when tailback Wayne Gallman returned for his junior season. Gallman is a powerful, violent runner who emerged as a star last fall, rushing for 1,527 yards with 13 scores as one of the ACC’s best backs.  A strong offensive line, led by sophomore tackle Mitch Hyatt, will open plenty of holes for him.

Watson will throw to a deep receiving corps that will be even better with the return of Mike Williams, who had 1,030 yards as a sophomore but redshirted after suffering a broken bone in his neck in Clemson’s opener. He’ll be a perfect complement to speedy junior Artavis Scott.

Previewing Clemson’s Defense 
 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2016 ACC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

A year ago, Brent Venables lost nine starters from the nation’s No. 1 defense and forged a unit that still finished No. 10 nationally. Following a major round of NFL Draft departures — led by defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd and cornerback Mackensie Alexander — repeating that production would be a feat. Senior defensive tackle Carlos Watkins and emerging star Christian Wilkins will hold down the middle, and freshman defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, the nation’s No. 2 overall recruit, will make an impact. Untested defensive ends Austin Bryant and Richard Yeargin must prove they’re ready for front-line action.

Senior Ben Boulware is Clemson’s leading returning tackler with 82. He is a fiery, intense competitor who’ll be the heart of the Tigers’ linebacker corps and the defense as a whole. Coaches love middle linebacker Kendall Joseph’s potential.

Beyond All-ACC-caliber senior cornerback Cordrea Tankersley, there are serious questions in the secondary, a group that gave up multiple big plays in 2015. Mark Fields and Ryan Carter are candidates to start across from Tankersley, and both must make the leap from trusted reserve to starter. The departures of starting safeties Jayron Kearse and T.J. Green to the NFL hurt. Senior Jadar Johnson will get a chance to shine in a starting safety role, but this group overall could give Venables some heartburn this fall.

Previewing Clemson’s Specialists 
 

Greg Huegel came up huge to begin 2015 after being thrown into the fire following senior Ammon Lakip’s DUI and cocaine possession-related suspension. The freshman made 27-of-32 field goals, including 21-of-22 from 40 yards and in. Punter Andy Teasdall was up-and-down but landed 23 punts inside the opponent’s 20 and averaged 39.5 yards per kick. Scott has major potential as a speedy kick returner.

Final Analysis 
 

Coming off its best season since 1981, Clemson has shaken labels like “soft” and “not clutch” that were remnants of the Tommy Bowden era. The Tigers are tough, deep and talented, and with Watson leading a potent offense, they have the ingredients to make sure 2015 wasn’t a fluke. Can Venables mold another inexperienced defense into a winning unit? If so, this group will challenge for another ACC title and College Football Playoff berth. The biggest concern is a trip to Florida State on Oct. 29, but Watson and a potent offense could be good enough to overcome a less talented defense. 

The Debate

Where does Dabo Swinney rank among the ACC's best coaches?

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10 FCS vs. FBS Football Games to Avoid Watching in 2016

Marquis Smith and his Savannah State teammates have never fared well against FBS teams
10 FCS vs. FBS Football Games to Avoid Watching in 2016

No doubt you’ve circled plenty of Saturdays on your calendar for this fall. College football is coming and not soon enough to its millions of fans.

 

Pitt Brings Back Script Logo and Unveils New Uniforms for 2016

The Panthers have new uniforms for 2016.
Pitt Brings Back Script Logo and Unveils New Uniforms for 2016

In a popular move among its fanbase, Pittsburgh is turning back the clock and making the move to its “Pitt” script as its full-time logo for 2016. One of the final pieces to the puzzle in the logo transition are new uniforms for its teams, including the football program for the upcoming year.

 

On Wednesday night, Pitt unveiled its new uniforms for 2016, with coach Pat Narduzzi hinting there is a retro design on the way.

 

Ranking the ACC's College Football Coaches for 2016

Florida State's Jimbo Fisher ranks No. 1.
Ranking the ACC's College Football Coaches for 2016

Success with any college football team starts with coaching. Even if a program doesn’t have the resources of the nation’s elite jobs, a good coach can elevate a program into national title contention. However, similar to any position on the field, statistics may not tell the full story when judging a coaching tenure.

 

COLLEGE FOOTBALL 2016 PRESEASON TOP 25

#18 Louisville Cardinals

NATIONAL FORECAST

#18

ACC Atlantic PREDICTION

#3

HEAD COACH: Bobby Petrino, 58-18 (6 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Lonnie Galloway, Chris Klenikas | DEF. COORDINATOR: Todd Grantham

The ACC already features two of the nation’s best teams in Florida State and Clemson, but the Atlantic Division will get a little deeper with Louisville’s emergence in 2016. The Cardinals finished 2015 by winning six out of their last seven games and return 16 starters, including dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson. The sophomore is surrounded by a solid supporting cast but needs better play from the offensive line. The defense – anchored by linebackers Devonte Fields and Keith Kelsey – should rank among the best in the ACC. The Cardinals also have a favorable schedule. Bobby Petrino’s team could be favored in nine games and hosts Florida State on Sept. 17. 

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Previewing Louisville’s Offense
 

A surprising trend of winning with defense during the second Bobby Petrino era should end. So should two seasons of revolving quarterbacks. Lamar Jackson showed Kentucky and Texas A&M his game-breaking skills to close last season. He improved his accuracy and decision-making during the spring. Jackson led the Cards in passing and rushing last season and elevated himself to a fringe Heisman candidate with 227 yards passing, 226 rushing and four touchdowns (two rushing, two passing) during a Music City Bowl victory.

Petrino is comfortable with Jackson’s running skills but would be more comfortable if he took fewer hits. The top three running backs — Brandon Radcliff, Jeremy Smith and L.J. Scott — return, along with every important receiver and tight end. Jamari Staples averaged better than 17 yards per catch last season and emerged as the top deep threat. James Quick looked comfortable after moving into the slot.

All eyes remain on the offensive line, which too often struggled with run or pass-blocking last season. One reason was inexperience. The Cards relied on two true freshmen as well as a junior college transfer. Sophomores Geron Christian and Kenny Thomas, both 6'6" and 320 pounds, are determined to eliminate their first-year mistakes. Four starters return, and offensive line coach Chris Klenakis has been elevated to co-offensive coordinator.

Previewing Louisville’s Defense 
 

Order a copy of Athlon's 2016 ACC College Football Preview, which includes an in-depth look at all 14 teams, features and predictions for the upcoming season.

The four best recruits that Louisville secured were the four players on Todd Grantham’s defense who considered entering the 2016 NFL Draft but chose to return for a final college season.

The group includes three of the unit’s top four tacklers — linebackers Keith Kelsey and Devonte Fields as well as free safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. Tackle DeAngelo Brown should replace NFL Draft pick Sheldon Rankins as the primary run stuffer. They’re all full-sized hitters with considerable experience.

This remains a unit that feasts on turnovers, snatching 17 interceptions and grabbing nine fumbles. The most dynamic playmaker in the group is Fields. He needed nearly half the season to return to the form that made him the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year at TCU in 2012, delivering all but 2.5 of his 11.0 sacks in the final four games.

Previewing Louisville’s Specialists
 

John Wallace, the most prolific kicker in school history, has departed. So has Josh Appleby, a dependable punter. Mason King, a homegrown redshirt freshman, showed a powerful leg as a punter at St. Xavier High School. Four placekickers who played high school football in Kentucky will continue their fight to replace Wallace into fall camp. Jaire Alexander showed solid hands and the ability to change directions returning punts. Traveon Samuel, just 5'7", can hide behind blockers and find creases returning kickoffs.

Final Analysis 
 

This is the season Louisville expects to score and win the way the Cardinals scored and won during Petrino’s first four-year run at the program. The difference is those teams played in Conference USA and the Big East while this team competes in the Atlantic Division of the ACC and faces Clemson (away) and Florida State (home) during its first five games. There is also a daunting November trip to Houston, which won at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in 2015. After Jackson emerged as a formidable quarterback during the final two games in 2015, and with the four veteran playmakers as well as Grantham returning on defense, this is a team that should flirt with 10 wins in 2016. There are proven veterans at nearly every position. If the offensive line makes the expected jump to upgrade the running game, Louisville could surprise either Clemson or Florida State.




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