ACC: Pitt, Wake Forest out to keep momentum, Clemson hits reset

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

The Atlantic Coast Conference changed significantly last season with Pitt winning the league title, Wake Forest taking the Atlantic Division and conference powerhouse Clemson largely out of the mix by mid-October.

Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi and Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson believe their teams worked hard this spring to stay on top. Pitt defeated Wake Forest 45-21 in the ACC title game, ending Clemson’s run of six straight championships.

Narduzzi spent the spring seeking a successor to Kenny Pickett, who was expected to be one of the first quarterbacks taken in the NFL draft.

“I was happy we got a lot of work done,” Narduzzi said. “We saw enough in 14 practices that we know who we are and I’m happy.”

The Panthers watched as Nick Patti competed with Southern Cal transfer Kedon Slovis for the starting spot. Slovis, who threw 30 touchdowns as a Trojans’ freshman, called it a “no-brainer” joining his new team.

Wake Forest, the first team other than Clemson to win the Atlantic since Florida State in 2014, won a program record-tying 11 games last year. Clawson took some offseason steps to improve a defense that was 10th in the ACC in points (28.9) and yards (413.2) allowed last season.

Clawson hired Brad Lambert as defensive coordinator. Lambert was linebackers coach at Wake Forest under Jim Grobe in 2006, the only other time the Deacons were 11-3.

“I’m encouraged by some things, and I’ve got a pit in my stomach about others,” Clawson said. “Were we better on defense because we are better on defense? Or because we did not play as well on offense.”

He will know for sure in about five months.

CLEMSON BACK?

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney was pleased with what he saw this spring, especially with starting quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who struggled early with injuries and off-target throws.

Uiagalelei went 17 of 36 for 175 yards in the Tigers’ spring game earlier this month. Still, his body of work was more than good enough to keep him the starter over freshman Cade Klubnik.

Uiagalelei “has had a great spring,” Swinney said. “He has not done anything to not be the starter. Cade is a really talented player. We got two guys, I think, that can win at a high level, just like when Trevor (Lawrence) and DJ were coming out of the spring” in 2020.

It helps that receiver Joseph Ngata has had a injury-free spring. He finished with four catches for 50 yards in the spring game.

NEW FACES

All four new ACC coaching hires after last season came in the Coastal, highlighted by Miami bringing in Oregon’s Mario Cristobal for Manny Diaz. Cristobal was a former Miami offensive tackle who was part of two national title teams. He’s charged with bringing “The U” back to prominence.

The first spring under Cristobal ended April 16 with a commitment to the little details that the new coach regularly preached will determine how far the Hurricanes go this fall.

“There’s no more excuses,” quarterback Tyler Van Dyke said.

The other first-year coaches are former Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko taking over at Duke for longtime coach Dave Cutcliffe; ex-Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry succeeding Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech; and Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott moving to Virginia after Bronco Mendenhall‘s surprising move to step away.

The Cavaliers had the ACC’s final spring game this past Saturday and Elliott saw what he expected four months in.

“I thought that the majority of the guys were going to buy in, but I was still going to have a couple that were skeptical and kind of one foot in the water,” Elliott said. “And I’ve got a couple of those.”

CLOSING IN

In the Atlantic Division, Boston College, Louisville and North Carolina State all have experienced, play-making quarterbacks.

The Eagles hope for a healthy Phil Jurkovec, the Notre Dame transfer who played just six games last year due to a broken bone in his throwing hand. He completed 8 of 17 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown in the Boston College spring game.

Louisville’s Malik Cunningham threw for 2,941 yards and ran for 1,034 yards last season. The Cardinals have had losing seasons in three of the previous four years and are hoping Cunningham can lead a turnaround.

The Wolfpack feature Devin Leary, who threw 35 touchdowns last season to break Philip Rivers’ school record. Along with finding receivers, Leary has just five picks in 431 attempts.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

florida gators
Donald Page/Getty Images
0 Comments

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.