FSU Seminoles: Frank Beamer
You bet we’re counting.
If you’re Scot Loeffler, Virginia Tech's new offensive coordinator, 100 days must feel like a nanosecond. The Hokies aren’t the only ones, though, with plenty of work to do before the season begins. Here’s a checklist of five things the ACC and its teams must accomplish before the opening kickoff:
1. Name starting quarterbacks. Syracuse can’t even talk about Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen yet because he’s not on campus and won’t enroll until next month, but the Orange are just one of several teams in the ACC that still have an ongoing quarterback competition. Virginia’s quarterback controversy has seemingly gone on for years, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has yet to officially anoint Jameis Winston as EJ Manuel’s successor. Pitt is also still searching for a dependable leader, along with NC State.
2. Find an offense in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech has become one of the ACC’s brand-name programs, a consistent winner and a representative in the Top 25 and BCS standings. That changed last season when the Hokies bumbled their way through their most disappointing season in 20 years. Coach Frank Beamer made sweeping changes to his offensive staff, but little improvement was seen in the spring game. Loeffler said it wasn’t a true indication of the progress that was made in the other 13 practices, but also conceded there is still a lot of work to be done. With Alabama looming in the season opener, all eyes will be on the ACC in Week 1. When the Hokies are good, the ACC is better.
3. Improve defensively. With the exception of Florida State, which finished the season ranked No. 6 in the country in scoring defense, 2012 wasn’t a banner year for ACC defenses. The conference usually has some of the nation’s best defenses -- including Boston College -- but there was no Luke Kuechly and no identity for the Eagles last fall. Miami beat Duke 52-45. Georgia Tech beat North Carolina 68-50. Clemson beat NC State 62-48. Clemson took a major step forward defensively with its bowl win against LSU, but the defense must become elite in its second season under coordinator Brent Venables if Clemson is going to be a national-title contender.
4. Minimize the turnovers. Virginia Tech was No. 86 in turnover margin last year, and quarterback Logan Thomas threw three picks in the spring game. Boston College was No. 88 in the country in turnover margin, FSU No. 93, NC State No. 99, Maryland No. 104, Virginia No. 110. That’s almost half the league ranked among the worst in the country in turnover margin. The Hokies play Alabama. Virginia plays Oregon. BC plays at USC. FSU is at Florida, and the Seminoles turned it over five times versus the Gators in FSU's 37-26 loss last year. The Gators scored 10 points off turnovers in that game. If the ACC is going to stand a chance, it can’t give away freebies.
5. Stay out of the trainer’s room. Virginia Tech standout corner Antone Exum is still rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in a pickup basketball game. The bulk of Wake Forest’s offensive line was walking wounded all spring, and that group will make or break the Deacons' season. Clemson backup quarterback Chad Kelly and starting tight end Sam Cooper both tore their ACLs this spring. If the ACC is going to beat the best this fall, it needs its best players on the field. For some programs, like Boston College, the depth isn’t there to afford injuries.
1. Florida State (12-2, 7-1 ACC; Previous ranking: No. 1) -- Clemson has the more impressive bowl win, but there’s no denying Florida State’s accomplishments this season. The Noles won the program’s first BCS bowl since 2000, defeating Northern Illinois 31-10 in the Discover Orange Bowl. An ACC title and Orange Bowl win make FSU the ACC’s undisputed No. 1 in 2012.
2. Clemson (11-2, 7-1; PR: No. 2) -- The Tigers hung on to beat No. 8 LSU 25-24 thanks to a 37-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro as time expired in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has yet to announce if he will return for his senior season. Regardless, it was a monumental win for the program and the ACC.
3. Georgia Tech (7-7, 5-3; PR: No. 4) -- The Jackets’ 21-7 win over USC was a huge boost for their program, and it also was significant for the ACC. Georgia Tech’s defense was the highlight against the Trojans. It also was Paul Johnson’s first bowl win as coach at Georgia Tech.
4. North Carolina (8-4, 5-3; PR: No. 5) -- There’s no question the Tar Heels were one of the best teams in the Coastal Division in Larry Fedora’s first season, but they were ineligible for a bowl because of NCAA sanctions. Fedora will be challenged to replace standout running back Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL draft, and his lead blocker, Jonathan Cooper.
5. Miami (7-5, 5-3; PR: No. 3) -- The Canes weren’t a great team in 2012, but they overachieved enough to earn respect and could have played for the ACC title had they not self-imposed a bowl ban. The program is still waiting for closure from the NCAA.
6. Virginia Tech (7-6, 4-4; PR: No. 8) -- In what was one of the most painful-to-watch bowl games of the season, the Hokies beat Rutgers 13-10 in overtime of the Russell Athletic Bowl. The program avoided its first losing season since 1992, but didn’t earn any style points in the process. Many questions still face Frank Beamer.
7. NC State (7-6, 4-4; PR: No. 7) -- Under the direction of interim coach Dana Bible, the Pack ended the season the same way it began 2012 -- with an embarrassing performance in a loss to an SEC team. NC State turned it over five times in a 38-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
8. Duke (6-7, 3-5; PR: No. 6) -- This season will always be remembered as the year Duke got back to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. The Blue Devils, however, lost a 48-34 heartbreaker to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. With the score tied at 34 and Duke driving to score the game winner, Josh Snead fumbled at the Cincy 5-yard line with 1:20 left.
9. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5; PR: No. 9) -- The Deacs ended their season losing three straight and four of their last five to miss bowl eligibility. Recruiting has been the biggest priority for the Deacs since their season ended with a home loss to Vanderbilt.
10. Virginia (4-8, 2-6; PR: No. 10) -- The Hoos had to win their last two games to become bowl eligible and couldn’t do it, but Mike London wasted no time in making offseason changes. He fired defensive coordinator Jim Reid and has since hired former NC State coach Tom O’Brien and former NC State linebackers coach Jon Tenuta.
11. Maryland (4-8, 2-6; PR: No. 11) -- The Terps put on a respectable performance this past season despite the unbelievable amount of injuries to starting quarterbacks. The biggest news, of course, was that Maryland will play one more season in the ACC before joining the Big Ten.
12. Boston College (2-10, 1-7; PR: No. 12) -- The Eagles hired Steve Addazio to turn things around, and he has hired several of his former assistants from Temple, including former BC assistant Ryan Day as offensive coordinator.
Best case: Duke wins. Look, getting to a bowl game for the first time since 1994 was huge, but it has been even longer since the program has actually won a bowl game. A win against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl would give Duke its first bowl win since 1961, when Duke beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
Worst case: Duke’s defense allows its fifth straight opponent more than 40 points, and the ACC Coach of the Year goes 6-7.
Best case: Quarterback Logan Thomas plays an interception-free game, the Hokies get their running game going, Virginia Tech beats Rutgers for its first win of the season against a Big East team, and coach Frank Beamer announces he will hire a new offensive coordinator.
Worst case: The Hokies’ offense continues to look as anemic as it has all season, the program suffers its first losing season since 1992, and Beamer decides not to make any changes to his staff after an 0-3 finish against Big East teams.
Best case: Quarterback Mike Glennon plays four quarters like he did the final drive against Florida State, and the Pack has something positive to build on heading into the offseason with first-year coach Dave Doeren.
Worst case: The Pack’s mediocre rushing defense has no answer for All-SEC running back Zac Stacy, interim coach Dana Bible loses his first game as a head coach, and the ACC takes another punch in the gut from the SEC.
Best case: Paul Johnson has a reason to celebrate. The Jackets coach has lost all four bowls he has coached with the program. He could win his first if Georgia Tech’s defense looks like it had a month to prepare for Matt Barkley, the offense controls the clock with sustained drives, and the team wins the turnover battle.
Worst case: The Jackets secondary gets burned repeatedly by USC All-American receiver Marqise Lee, Johnson drops to 0-5 in bowl games, and Georgia Tech decides to follow Maryland to the Big Ten.
Best case: ACC 1, SEC 0. Clemson beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl would do wonders for both the program and the ACC. The offensive line wins the battle up front and keeps LSU at bay in time for quarterback Tajh Boyd to work his magic.
Worst case: The Tigers lose the game and their offensive coordinator and their quarterback. Chad Morris goes to Texas Tech, Boyd leaves early for the NFL draft, and receiver DeAndre Hopkins follows.
Best case: Florida State cruises, quarterback EJ Manuel looks like he did against Clemson -- not Florida -- and the defense stifles highly touted quarterback Jordan Lynch.
Worst case: The Noles lose to Northern Illinois. Nuff said. Well, that and Jimbo Fisher's entire staff leaves for the SEC.
1. SEC > ACC. And it is not even close. It was a disastrous weekend for the ACC in its head-to-head matchups against the top conference in all the land, going 0-4 on a pitiful Saturday. No. 10 Florida State wanted to prove all its doubters wrong. Instead, the Seminoles were physically manhandled in a 37-26 loss to their in-state rival, No. 4 Florida. No. 11 Clemson wanted to prove this was the year it could get past South Carolina, with starting quarterback Connor Shaw and starting running back Marcus Lattimore out. Instead, the high-flying Tigers offense had no answers for Jadeveon Clowney, and scored a season low in points in a 27-17 loss -- their fourth straight in the series. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech was clobbered by No. 3 Georgia and Wake Forest was walloped by Vanderbilt for the second consecutive season. The average score in those four ACC-SEC matchups was not pretty: SEC 40-19. And it was the first time since 2009 that Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech all lost their in-state rivalry games.
AP Photo/Richard ShiroDabo Swinney and Clemson were manhandled on their home turf by SEC foe South Carolina.
3. Forget about filling every bowl slot. With Wake Forest losing, and Miami and North Carolina ineligible while serving postseason bans, the ACC will not be able to fill all its bowl slots this season. As of right now, the ACC has six teams eligible for eight available slots. Georgia Tech is one of those teams eligible. The Yellow Jackets are in a very interesting situation at 6-6. Because they play in the ACC title game, they could very well finish with a losing record. If there are 70 or more bowl-eligible teams, they would have to ask for a waiver from the NCAA to participate in the bowl game. UCLA had its waiver granted last season in a similar situation. If there are not 70 bowl-eligible teams, Georgia Tech might not need to file a waiver based on revised NCAA bowl eligibility rules. There are currently 69 bowl-eligible teams, with Pittsburgh and Connecticut vying for eligibility next weekend.
4. Virginia Tech is in. The Hokies left no room to spare in their quest to make it to their 20th consecutive bowl game. This has been one of the most difficult seasons in quite a while for Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech, but the Hokies found a way to beat in-state rival Virginia for the ninth straight time when Cody Journell nailed a 29-yard field goal as time ran out. It was probably fitting that Virginia cost itself a chance to win thanks to a turnover. Antone Exum intercepted Michael Rocco in the closing minutes, setting up the winning field goal for Journell. Virginia Tech overcame a second-half deficit for the second straight week, and has been as close to living on the edge as a bowl team can be. But the Hokies live on to see another game.
5. Miami: woulda, shoulda, coulda. I am sure Miami fans have been wondering what could have been after the Hurricanes won a 52-45 shootout with Duke on Saturday. We know now that Miami cost itself a chance to play in its first ACC title game after it self-imposed a bowl ban early last week. The move was necessary with an NCAA investigation ongoing. But I am sure it still hurts the players who never quit on the season, who put in an incredible effort to far exceed any expectations that folks had for them. Miami was picked to finish fifth in the Coastal and ended up in a tie for first with a team that essentially returns everybody next season. Last season, Miami lost the game after a postseason ban was announced. We have seen how far this team has come, maturitywise, this season -- as the Hurricanes refused to give up Saturday and pulled out the win.
If FSU wins, only battered Maryland sits between the Seminoles and the ACC championship game. If the Hokies win, it means a small bit of redemption during a lost season and a chance to avoid the ignominy of finishing at .500 or worse.
"It's a hard environment," EJ Manuel said of Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium. "Any team that goes in there and gets a win, you've earned it. We'd be fools to think we're not going to get their best game of the year. They may not have played as good as they had in years past, but I don't think we're going to see the same team we've seen on film the past couple weeks. We're going to see a great team, extreme energy, guys flying around. I know we're going to get their 'A' game."
With that in mind, here are a few key matchups and numbers to watch as Florida State and Virginia Tech get ready to face off.
NOLES TO WATCH
James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Florida State would love to control the ground game, and Wilder and Freeman have shown they're more than capable of doing that, even without injured starter Chris Thompson. Where they're more likely to be tested, however, is in the passing game, where Virginia Tech loves to bring the blitz on defense. How well the two young running backs can recognize and pick up blitzes will likely play a big role in how well FSU can throw the ball on the Hokies' D.
When Florida State travels to Virginia Tech on Thursday night, it will be a homecoming of sorts for quarterback EJ Manuel, who grew up in Virginia Beach, Va., and was recruited by the Hokies.
Manuel and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, a native of Lynchburg, Va., have gone in different directions this season, despite similar beginnings. Manuel ranks second nationally in passing efficiency (174.03) having completed 70 percent of his passes this season for 2,315 yards. Thomas has plummeted from a first-round draft hopeful to off the boards after throwing 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said he recruited Manuel, but understood his decision to go to Florida State, especially considering former quarterback Tyrod Taylor already had a firm grasp on the position at the time.
“We like the one we got from the state of Virginia,” Beamer said. “I think Logan is an excellent quarterback.”
Thomas has just taken the brunt of the criticism this year for the Hokies’ struggling offense, which is No. 7 in the ACC at 27.1 points per game. Beamer said he spoke with Thomas following the Hokies’ 30-12 loss to Miami last week and continued to encourage him. Thomas threw two interceptions against the Canes, but he also ran for 124 yards and a touchdown and threw for 199 yards.
“My thing with him is, I appreciate his toughness very much,” Beamer said. “I don’t want him to put too much load on himself. I think the quarterback is always going to be a key point. … It’s just one of those things where you’ve just got to play your game. He is certainly playing good enough. I really admire how he has played. He wants to win so badly and it hurts him when he doesn’t, and that’s the kind of guy you appreciate.”
For Manuel, this will be his first game in his home state since high school. Despite Virginia Tech fans' displeasure with their own offense, Manuel said he is expecting their venom to come his way in Lane Stadium.
"It's going to be crazy," Manuel said, according to Seminoles.com. "They are going to hate us, I know that. They are going to hate me being that I am from Virginia and I came here. I already know what to expect."
Unfortunately, so does Thomas.
1. What happens at quarterback for Miami? Starter Stephen Morris has been held out of full contact practice all week because of a sprained ankle, and his status against Florida State seems pretty doubtful. Coach Al Golden has said Morris would be a game-time decision, but the Hurricanes are preparing for Ryan Williams to start. If that happens, Williams will be making his first Miami start against in-state rival Florida State and one of the best defenses in the nation.
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireCoach Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech face Clemson in a game that could shape their season.
3. How does NC State respond after a bye? This is our first chance to see the Wolfpack since their 17-16 upset of then-No. 3 Florida State two weeks ago. So what can we expect? Their opponent, Maryland, is the only undefeated team in ACC play and has one of the best defenses in the nation. So there is no overstating how important this game is in the Atlantic race. NC State is 4-2 under Tom O'Brien after a bye. The results have been decided by an average of only nine points per game.
4. Speaking of byes ... Clemson, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech were off last week as well, so we will see whether the time off works to their advantage. In the cases of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, the time away seemed to come at a perfect time. The Deacs are reeling, having lost three of four, with off-the-field issues threatening to overshadow the season. The Yellow Jackets have been working hard to simplify their defensive scheme under interim coordinator Charles Kelly and coach Paul Johnson. The new theme on defense: less is more.
5. Run games to watch, Part I. Can Duke stop Giovani Bernard? A week after giving up 183 yards to freshman J.C. Coleman, how do the Blue Devils go about slowing down Bernard? The North Carolina running back has been sensational the past two weeks, with 439 yards rushing and two touchdowns combined. Bernard would be leading the league in rushing if he had enough carries to qualify. Duke is hoping for a win against North Carolina for the first time since 2003, a victory that would make the Blue Devils bowl eligible.
6. Run games to watch, Part II. Can the Hokies run on Clemson? As noted above, Virginia Tech got its ground game going last week, racking up a season-high 269 yards rushing. Coach Frank Beamer says he is not going to just stick with J.C. Coleman -- he will continue to rotate his backs against the Tigers. Clemson has had its share of struggles stopping the run, holding only Boston College under 100 yards on the ground this season.
7. Run games to watch, Part III. Will Maryland be able to solve its rushing woes against NC State? The Terps are one of the worst teams in the nation when it comes to running the football, averaging 71.3 yards per game and a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. They are on pace to set program lows in the modern era for average rushing yards per game and average yards per carry. The current program-low is 81.3 rushing yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry, set in 1966. The last time Maryland failed to average more than 100 yards rushing per game was in 1997 (88.5 ypg). (Note: the Maryland stats record book goes back to 1947.)
8. Losing streaks, Part I: Virginia. The Hoos have lost five straight, the longest losing streak in the ACC. It is their longest losing streak since dropping six straight to close the 2009 season. Virginia gets Wake Forest this week, another team that is on a bit of a losing skid as well. For Virginia to maintain any bowl hopes, it has to win this game. If not, the Hoos face the prospect of having to win out to become bowl eligible.
9. Losing streaks, Part II: Boston College and Georgia Tech. These teams also have had their share of adversity to overcome. The Yellow Jackets have lost three straight; the Eagles four straight. The good news is somebody will end their losing streak. The bad news is somebody will have a lot more questions to answer about the direction of the program.
10. Record watch. Here are some marks to keep an eye on this weekend. Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington needs 51 rushing yards to join Joshua Nesbitt as the only players in school history with 2,500 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards. ... Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has 5,905 yards passing and should pass Woodrow Dantzler (6,037) for second place against Virginia Tech. ... Duke receiver Conner Vernon is 111 yards away from the school career mark of 3,318 yards receiving, set by Clarkston Hine. Vernon is 217 yards short of the ACC career mark of 3,517 held by Florida State’s Peter Warrick.
The ACC had its weekly coaches' conference call shortly after the Notre Dame news broke. Here is a sampling of what some of the league coaches had to say about the addition of Notre Dame, which will play five games annually against ACC teams.
Frank Spaziani, Boston College: “We have a mutual respect for each other, an appreciation for each other. We understand what a great institution it is. So I think it’s tremendous for our league and certainly for Boston College. We play them; now to be playing them in other sports, it’s valuable. It’s very valuable. … It’s a marquee brand. I think any time you add a marquee brand to your established tradition and the wonderful stuff that you have, it enhances it.”
Then a joke: "From our perspective, we play them every year. I thought they were in the ACC, to be honest with you."
Dabo Swinney, Clemson: "I’m sure they could have their pick of conferences, and for them to choose the ACC is, I think, a great thing. They’re making a commitment to play five conference football games. Even though they’re not going to be a football member right now, for them to make that commitment, I think that’s very strong, so it’s exciting. It further secures this conference’s strength of schedule and moving forward as we get into the playoff scenarios. I think it’s a real positive for the ACC."
Randy Edsall, Maryland: "Personally, yes I wish they were all in for football, but again, until I get all the information in terms of how those five games are going to be structured and is it going to be a home-and-home situation, or who are the five teams they are going to play. There’s still so much information, but for the overall good of the league, it is a quality institution and a quality program."
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest: "It brings a lot of respect to our conference to have Notre Dame affiliated. Our game last year with them was probably the most exciting environment and fun night that we’ve had playing football. The problem is they’re good and we had a chance late to tie it and go into overtime. We didn’t get the job done; that was tough in the locker room after the game. But the excitement and the experience having Notre Dame come to town was fantastic."
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech: "I think it's great for the ACC and great for Notre Dame. Both of us benefit ... helps us with the bowls in every way."
Al Golden, Miami, on the hope that Notre Dame becomes a full-time football member: "I think I share the sentiment of everybody: We’d love to have them. They represent all the things we represent in the Atlantic Coast Conference. I would hope it would be that at some point. I just think it’s great, and I can’t say enough about the leadership in our conference for what we’ve gotten done in the last year."
1. Virginia Tech: Frank Beamer has proven the Hokies can be national title contenders, and established Virginia Tech as the premier program in the state. The state is loaded with talent, the players can qualify, and Lane Stadium sells itself, especially on a Thursday night.
2. Florida State: This storied program is also in a recruiting hotbed, and it’s willing to spend the money needed to be a national title contender. Beating Florida is a must, of course.
3. Clemson: This is another program where talent and money aren’t problems, and it’s got one of the best game-day atmospheres in college football. Just don’t lose to South Carolina.
4. Miami: It shouldn’t be difficult to lure in top talent to sunny South Florida, and the tradition is already in place. It’s quite an upgrade for a coach coming from, say, inner-city Philadelphia, but you're coaching under a microscope, don't have a stadium on campus, and don't always have the finances.