Chalk up 2012 as a year to forget for fans of the ACC. Florida State and Clemson were easily the class of the conference, but in-state SEC rivals handled both teams last Saturday. The Coastal had three teams finish at 5-3 in conference play, with Georgia Tech representing the division in Charlotte. With Miami and North Carolina banned from postseason play, the Yellow Jackets at 6-6 are just one win away from a BCS bowl. Maryland showed signs of progress in Randy Edsall’s second year, but quarterback injuries doomed its season. Virginia Tech was one of college football’s top disappointments, finishing 6-6 after having preseason top-15 expectations.
ACC Offensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson – It’s a close call between Boyd and Giovani Bernard for the No. 1 spot. However, a slight edge goes to Boyd, despite closing out the season with a lackluster performance against South Carolina. The junior quarterback threw for 34 touchdowns and 3,550 yards this year and added 492 yards and nine scores on the ground.
2. Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina – Despite dealing with a knee injury earlier this year, Bernard rushed for 1,228 yards and 12 touchdowns, along with catching 47 passes for 490 yards and five scores. Bernard rushed for 262 yards and one touchdown in a 48-34 win over Virginia Tech.
3. EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State – While Boyd and Bernard are clearly the No. 1 and No. 2 players in this category, it’s really anyone’s guess for the third spot. Even though Manuel was inconsistent at times and struggled against Florida, the senior gets the nod over Clemson receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
ACC Defensive Player of the Year Standings
1. Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State – It’s really a tossup between Werner and Carradine for the top spot. We’ll give a slight edge to Werner, who finished with 13 sacks, 18 tackles for a loss and one forced fumble.
2. Tank Carradine, DE, Florida State – If Werner is the No. 1 player at this spot, Carradine is really 1b. The senior led the team with 80 tackles and finished just behind Bjoern Werner with 13 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks this year. Unfortunately for Carradine, he suffered a torn ACL in Saturday’s loss to Florida.
3. Joe Vellano, DT, Maryland – Vellano battled injuries late in the season but still finished with 61 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss and six sacks.
ACC Coach of the Year Standings
1. Al Golden, Miami – There’s really not a clear No. 1 coach of the year candidate, but we will give a slight edge to Golden. Despite pending NCAA sanctions hanging over the program, Miami finished 7-5 with a host of young players receiving significant snaps. The Hurricanes could be a top 25-team in 2013.
2. David Cutcliffe, Duke – Even though the Blue Devils tailed off at the end of 2012, Cutcliffe has this program back in a bowl for the first time since 1994.
3. Larry Fedora, North Carolina – Just like Al Golden, Fedora did a good job of keeping his team on track with NCAA issues circulating over the program. Fedora went 8-4 overall and should have the Tar Heels in the thick of the Coastal race in 2013.
10 Things We Learned/What's Next in the ACC
1. Clemson is the ACC’s frontrunner in 2013
Yes, it’s a little early to talk about 2013, but Clemson should be the ACC’s No. 1 team next season. The Tigers lost only one game in conference play this year, which happened to be a 49-37 shootout defeat to the ACC’s No. 1 team – Florida State. Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver DeAndre Hopkins are considering an early entry into the NFL Draft but most expect Boyd will return to Clemson next season. Even if Hopkins leaves, the Tigers have plenty of depth and talent at receiver. The defense should be more comfortable in the second year under coordinator Brent Venables but needs to replace the production from departing seniors Malliciah Goodman, Xavier Brewer and Rashard Hall.
2. Miami is getting better…but awaits NCAA sanctions
Winning 13 games over the last two years certainly isn’t going to invoke memories of Miami’s national title seasons, but the Hurricanes are moving back in the right direction under Al Golden. With pending NCAA sanctions, Miami decided to self-impose a bowl ban for the second consecutive season. However, the Hurricanes return nearly everyone on the two-deep for next season and despite any scholarship limitations, should be the favorite to win the Coastal in 2013. Miami’s defense was a huge liability but has to be better with another offseason to jell and work under coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. Al Golden has Miami moving in the right direction and with the uncertainty surrounding the program, his name will pop up with open jobs across the nation. Assuming Golden returns next year, the Hurricanes should take another step forward in 2013.
3. Virginia Tech needs a spark on offense
Considering the expectations that surrounded this team in the preseason, the Hokies have to be one of college football’s top 10 disappointments this season. A variety of reasons are to blame, but an offense that failed to show progress from 2011 is the primary culprit. Quarterback Logan Thomas had to deal with a revamped offensive line and receiving corps and tossed four more interceptions on fewer passing attempts than last season. The junior completed only 52.6 percent of his throws and was forced to led the team in rushing without a running back emerging as a clear No. 1 option. Coordinator Bryan Stinespring and quarterback coach Mike O’Cain deserve their share of criticism, and both coaches have to find some answers this offseason. An offense doesn’t have to have flash to be effective, but it seems Virginia Tech’s attack needs some spice. Whether it’s the scheme, offensive line, receiving corps, running backs or Thomas, every unit needs to be thoroughly evaluated before spring practice.
4. David Cutcliffe has Duke on the right track
It’s hard for the Blue Devils to be a yearly contender for the Coastal Division crown, but there’s no reason why Duke can’t get to 6-6 or 7-5 most seasons. Credit David Cutcliffe and his staff for getting the Blue Devils over the hump this year, as Duke will make its first bowl appearance since 1994. Although the Blue Devils tailed off at the end of the year, they knocked off in-state rivals North Carolina and Wake Forest, along with a huge blowout victory over Virginia. The rest of the Coastal Division should be better next year, and Duke must replace quarterback Sean Renfree and record-setting receiver Conner Vernon. However, it seems Cutcliffe has developed some depth in the program, which should keep the Blue Devils right in the mix for a bowl bid in 2013.
5. Paul Johnson’s No. 1 offseason priority is the defense
The Yellow Jackets have no reason to apologize for making the ACC Championship with a 6-6 record. Although the Coastal Division was down this season and Miami and North Carolina’s self-imposed bowl ban helped, the Yellow Jackets won their last four ACC games to make it to Charlotte. While the late-season surge was good enough to represent the Coastal in the title game, this team has a lot of work to do to repeat this feat in 2013. After firing defensive coordinator Al Groh earlier this season, Georgia Tech didn’t make much progress on that side of the ball the rest of the year. The Yellow Jackets gave up at least 40 points in three out of their final five games. With an offense that returns nearly everyone next season, Georgia Tech has to fix its defense to push for seven or eight wins in 2013. Luckily for Johnson, there’s some good talent returning in the linebacking corps, but the defensive line will need some work. Along with finding the right coordinator, Georgia Tech needs to decide if the 3-4 scheme needs to stay, or a move back to the 4-3 is the better solution.
6. Maryland should be a bowl team in 2013
Just as we did with the Clemson projection above, it’s important to caution this is a very early pick and a lot could change before 2013. However, after a disastrous 2011 season, the Terrapins showed some signs of life in 2012. Despite losing four quarterbacks to season-ending injuries, Maryland doubled its win total from last season and had three conference losses by a touchdown or less. With C.J. Brown or Perry Hills back under center next season, along the return of standout sophomore receiver Stefon Diggs, the Terrapins should easily improve on offense next year. The defense will miss tackle Joe Vellano but most of the unit will return intact for 2013.
7. 7-5 won’t get it done at NC State
Even though Tom O’Brien led NC State to three consecutive bowl games, it wasn’t enough to save his job. The veteran coach’s dismissal came as a surprise to some, but it’s clear NC State wants to find a coach that can elevate the program to the next level. While O’Brien did a lot of good things in Raleigh, the school wants to push Clemson and Florida State for the Atlantic title on a consistent basis. Although it won’t be easy to knock off the Seminoles every year, this program has the resources to compete for the division title. And that’s the message athletic director Debbie Yow sent when she decided to part ways with O’Brien. Yes, O’Brien had turned NC State into a consistent winner but going 7-5 and 8-4 wasn’t good enough. It’s a risky move to fire a coach that went 24-14 over the last three years. However, Yow’s message is clear: Mediocrity won’t be tolerated at NC State.
8. The ACC needs an image boost
There’s really no way to positively spin the 2012 season for the ACC. Florida State held early national championship hopes but was knocked off by a NC State team that finished 7-5 and was dominated by Florida in the season finale. Virginia Tech – a team picked by most to win the Coastal and finish in the top 25 – went 6-6 and was 0-2 against teams from the Big East. Need more bad news? Georgia Tech (representing the Coastal Division in the title game) lost to MTSU and was clobbered 41-17 by BYU. Unless there’s a change after the bowl games, the ACC will have just two teams finish in the top 25. The conference will also struggle to fill out its bowl allotment, largely due to Miami and North Carolina’s postseason sanctions. However, six teams will qualify for bowl games and at least two will have just six wins. With Florida State losing some key pieces, it’s up to Clemson to give the ACC a national title contender in 2013.
9. Florida State’s QB battle will be one of the most intriguing ones to watch this spring
The Seminoles will suffer some key departures on defense but has a solid offensive line and playmakers at receiver and running back returning for 2013. However, for Florida State to contend for a top-10 finish next season, the quarterback battle has to get sorted out in a hurry this spring. Sophomore Clint Trickett will be the early frontrunner to replace EJ Manuel, but the job is far from settled. Top recruit Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker are expected to push Trickett in the spring but this is a battle that could wage into fall practice. If Florida State can get steady production from whichever quarterback wins the job, the Seminoles should easily push for 10 victories once again in 2013.
10. A new direction at Boston College
With a 6-18 mark in his last two years in Chestnut Hill, it’s clear it was time for Boston College and coach Frank Spaziani to part ways. Spaziani led the program to back-to-back bowl games in 2009 and 2010, but he wasn’t the right coach to lead Boston College in 2013 and beyond. This is a key hire for new athletic director Brad Bates, as the Eagles can’t afford to fall far behind in the 14-team ACC. There should be plenty of interest in this job, and the right coach should be able to turn Boston College back into a consistent bowl team. After two awful seasons, Bates needs to get someone who can make an instant impact in 2013, as well as build a successful program for the long haul.
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