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Virginia Tech teammates celebrate their 2009 Orange Bowl victory (Doug Benc, Getty Images)

     On Tuesday morning, the Atlantic Coast Conference signed a 12 year contract with the Discover Orange Bowl set to begin following the 2014 season. The ACC has sent its conference champion to the Orange Bowl since 2006, and the new agreement guarantees that this affiliation will continue.

     This offseason, the BCS announced that conferences with “Automatic Qualifying Status” will be stripped of this privilege. Prior to this declaration, champions from the ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Big East, Pac 12, and SEC were all guaranteed spots in BCS bowl games regardless of ranking and record. This is no longer the case, and all BCS bowl participants will now be hand-picked by the BCS in an “at-large” fashion. By signing this contract with the Orange Bowl, the ACC secured themselves a form of AQ status, as their conference champion will always have a BCS game to participate in regardless of their ranking and record.

     In 2014, when college football embarks on its four-team playoff championship format, the Discover Orange Bowl is destined to be in the rotation to host one of the semifinal games along with five other bowls (likely the Sugar, Cotton, Rose, Champions, and Chick fil-A). According to this contract, during seasons when the ACC champion is not selected as a member of the four-team playoff and the Orange Bowl is a host site for a semifinal game, the ACC champion is guaranteed a spot in one of the five aforementioned bowl games not in the playoff rotation for that season. For example, if the Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl are hosting semifinal games, the ACC champion would likely play in the Chick fil-A Bowl if they are not chosen to be part of the four-team playoff.

     If the ACC champion is selected as a participant in the four-team playoff, the ACC runner-up would then play in the Discover Orange Bowl (or one of the other major bowls if the Orange Bowl is in the playoff rotation that season). If two ACC teams are selected for the four-team playoff, the conference’s third best team would play in the Orange Bowl.

     It’s unlikely that the Orange Bowl will sign a similar contract with another conference (like the Big East), and the ACC’s opponent in the Orange Bowl for the next 12 years will likely be an at-large team from a different conference or Notre Dame.

     In addition to guaranteed participation in the Orange Bowl, the ACC also will own the television rights for the game and are free to negotiate a deal with any network they choose (ESPN, Fox, CBS, etc.).

     What does this mean for the ACC? It’s a game changer; this agreement gives the ACC a seat at the table along with the four other power conferences (Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, SEC). Just days ago, the ACC appeared on the verge of oblivion due to the disappointing television deal they struck with ESPN. Following this contract with the Orange Bowl, it’s likely that the conference will remain intact.

     If ACC commissioner John Swofford is able to negotiate a respectable deal for the Orange Bowl with a major television network, it would make up for the lackluster contract he signed with ESPN. This could potentially raise each ACC school’s annual football-related revenue to Big 12/Big Ten type levels, therefore enticing the likes of Florida State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech to remain in the ACC. Also, if Notre Dame does give up its independence and joins a conference, the ACC’s chances of landing the Fighting Irish just increased dramatically.

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Another disappointing season in Knoxville could spell doom for coach Derek Dooley (photo credit: al.com)

Dear Dave Hart  (AD at the University of Tennessee),

I write to you today as a fan of college football. More so, however, I am writing to you as an optimistic person; somebody who believes in honesty, integrity, and justice. As you must know, your head football coach, Derek Dooley, is one of the most scrutinized coaches in the country. Few men enter 2012/2013 with more pressure from the national and local media to succeed. Tennessee football is about excellence, and the 22 players that Coach Dooley has placed on the field during his tenure have certainly been far from excellent. Despite the numerous poor performances that the orange-clad UT fans have witnessed at Neyland Stadium during the past two seasons, I believe Coach Dooley has made significant progress in rebuilding this historic Volunteer football program and that he deserves to keep his job. The purpose of this letter is to convince you of this idea that I accept wholeheartedly to be the truth.

When Derek Dooley became head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers in 2010, he inherited one of the worst rosters in the Southeastern Conference. The firing of former coach Phillip Fulmer followed by the subsequent hiring of Lane Kiffin caused many Vol players to transfer and numerous Tennessee recruits to sign elsewhere. When Kiffin left Knoxville to accept the head coaching job at USC one year later, this attrition only worsened. Dooley was left with a roster made up of way too few scholarship players and way too many walk-ons. At this point, it was clear that Tennessee had a multi-year rebuilding job ahead of them.

Nothing illuminates Coach Dooley’s attrition problem more than what happened to Lane Kiffin’s 2009 recruiting class; the Tennessee Vol seniors in 2012/2013. The class consisted of 22 players, 11 of whom were ranked with at least 4 stars by Rivals.com. This highly-regarded collection of talent was expected to return Tennessee football to national prominence. Then, everything went wrong. Kiffin departed for Southern Cal, and over the course of three years, 13 of the 22 players who originally signed with the Vols left the team, including top ranked players Bryce Brown and Janzen Jackson. A mere 40% of the original class remains on scholarship, and only one player from the entire class of 2009 is expected to start for the Vols next season, that being defensive end Marlon Walls.

Receiver Da’Rick Rogers is one of the reasons Tennessee football has a bright future (Times Free Press)

In addition to roster erosion, Tennessee also has had terrible luck with injuries under Coach Dooley. Following a surprising 6-win 2010 campaign, the Vols entered 2011 with cautious signs of hope. Some impressive young players were expected to make significant strides last season such as quarterback Tyler Bray, and wide receivers Da’Rick Rogers and Justin Hunter. Rogers’ emerged as one of the top performers in the SEC, when he snagged 67 passes for 1,040 yards and 9 touchdowns. The same cannot be said for Bray and Hunter, though. Hunter tore his ACL in the third game of the season, while Bray broke his thumb two games later against Georgia and was nowhere near 100% for the rest of the year. Without two of of its top players, the Vol offense sputtered, and a promising 3-1 start ended as a disappointing 5-7 finish. All three players are now healthy as we head into the 2012/2013 season.

The Southeastern Conference is no safe place for teams lacking top talent and quality depth; just ask Kentucky. For reasons out of Coach Derek Dooley’s control, talent and depth have been severely deficient in Knoxville over the past few seasons, and it’s unfair to blame Dooley for the lack of wins during his tenure. With each recruiting class, the outlook on Tennessee football only gets brighter, and it’s no stretch to say that the Vols could be competing for SEC championships within the next three years. So, Mr. Hart, I petition that you respect the contract of your head football coach Derek Dooley and allow him to rebuild Tennessee football into what it deserves to be: a winner.

Sincerely,

Griffin Hanekamp

Editor & Author – Gridiron Digest

Where can I begin? Your devoted writer has had some very strong opinions about ESPN’s ACC blogger Heather Dinich for a long time. I’ve agreed with many posts she has written in the past, and Heather generally puts out some nice work for the ESPN website. However, some of her articles just irk me, and her most recent post definitely did so. The article in its entirety can be found here. (click on that sentence) It details the recent conference realignment involving the ACC, and Heather writes about what she expects to happen to the conference in the near future. My post about conference realignment can be found here. (again, click on it) Multiple points that Heather make in her article are questionable to say the least, and I plan on refuting them right now.

It’s obviously in the best interest of the conference for the league to stay intact, but every school has to make its own decisions.

Oh really? How riveting. Here’s what this sentence means: “It’s in the best interest of the ACC for the ACC to not fall apart.” Are there editors at ESPN?

Prediction: The ACC will keep its current membership and stay content to add Syracuse and Pittsburgh as early as 2013. The biggest changes to the league will come in the postseason, where commissioner John Swofford has a chance to boost the ACC’s bowl tie-ins. The ACC with ditch the Big East and find a way to partner with Notre Dame or a conference that will be more appealing to fans and bring the conference more revenue.

This is an ideal situation for the ACC, but its a scenario that could never occur. The reason the ACC signed such a bad contract with ESPN was because they had no leverage; their collective performances in BCS games and national televised games have been so poor that they were forced to accept the $17 million per year deal. Why would the Pac-12 or the Big 10 ever want to commit to a long term bowl commitment with a conference that is, at most, the fifth best in the country? Clearly the goal of the ACC is to become more appealing to fans and bring in more revenue, but that cannot be done at the drop of a hat. The ACC needs to improve its own image before it can begin negotiating with other conferences.

Everyone seems to be forgetting that it now costs ACC schools between $20-25 million to leave the conference. Aren’t Florida State’s financial woes one of the main reasons fans are ready to bolt

The Big 12 will be ready and willing to pay at least half ($10-12 million) of FSU’s exit fee. The increased revenue that comes with Big 12 membership (at least $3 million per year) will offset the minimal exit fee FSU would have to deal with over the next few years. Nothing else to see here. Moving on…

Other factors, such as the logistics and expense of travel – and the importance of academics to the ACC can’t be understated – also have to be considered.

When Syracuse and Pitt join the ACC next fall, FSU will have to fly to 12 schools out of 14 in order to play conference road games. If FSU and Clemson join the Big 12, the Seminoles would have to fly to 11 schools out of 12 in order to play conference road games. The idea that travel expenses will increase substantially if FSU moves to the Big 12 is ridiculous. Secondly, academics matter to the ACC, not to Florida State. Big 12 member Texas is a world-renowned educational institution. Have they thought about switching conferences to improve their academic reputation? Of course not. Football and money trump everything for programs such as FSU and Texas.

 Factor in the competition – and that either school would have an easier road to the national title in the ACC than it would in the Big 12 or SEC, and it seems like a no-brainer to stay.

This so called “easier road” would only exist for one season; the BCS is done after this year and will likely be replaced by a four team playoff. Picture a scenario in which FSU goes undefeated through ACC play and finishes the year ranked #4 in the country. The three teams ahead of the ‘Noles are LSU, Alabama, and Texas, who have more money, better coaches, and better facilities, and have spent the past few years significantly out-recruiting FSU. This is the best case scenario for Florida State if they remain in the ACC, and it’s starting to look more like David vs. Goliath. Seeing as this situation is almost inevitable, how could the FSU administration possibly dig themselves such a hole by remaining in the ACC, when a better option (Big 12) is knocking at the door? Seems like a “no-brainer” to leave.

 

Three Teams That Could Surprise

     

NC State quarterback Mike Glennon (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)

NC State Wolfpack – Few teams were hotter at the end of last season than NC State, who rattled off three wins in a row over Clemson, Maryland, and Louisville by a combined score of 124-78. The Wolfpack were decimated by injuries on the defensive line a season ago, and NC State started winning when this unit got healthy. The ‘Pack returns one of the nation’s most undervalued quarterbacks in Mike Glennon (3,054 yards 31 td’s) along with leading rusher James Washington (897 yards).

Louisville Cardinals – What Charlie Strong has accomplished in his two years running the Louisville program has been tremendous, and this 2012/2013 squad should be his best team yet. Freshman All-America quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will have a deep and talented receiving corps to throw to led by Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris, and the defensive line could be the most dominant unit in the Big East. The schedule is far from scary, leaving a BCS birth quite possible for this young Louisville team.

UCLA Bruins – When Jim Mora Jr. arrived in L.A. to begin coaching the Bruins, he brought along a much needed new attitude for the UCLA program. There’s no question that talent exists on the roster, and it appears that motivation and work ethic have long been an issue. Leading rusher Jonathan Franklin and top receiver Nelson Rosario are back, and there are some studs on defense. If the Bruins get anything close to good quarterback play, watch for UCLA to make some noise in the Pac-12 South.

 

Three Teams That Could Disappoint

 

Florida Gators – Florida has no place in ESPN’s Preseason Top 25. Starting positively, the Gator defense should be stout and one of the best in the SEC; the starting front seven is one of the scariest units nationally. Offensively, UF has no identity. A pair of sophomore quarterbacks are competing for the starting job, them being Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. Florida’s passing game was abysmal last season, and could be even more dreadful this year as leading receiver (and rusher) Chris Rainey has graduated. To make matters worse, there are no playmaking running backs or receivers on the roster. In short: Florida has a new quarterback, no good receivers, and zero proven running backs.

Departed Cowboy tandem Justin Blackmon (81) and Brandon Weeden (3) (Sue Ogrocki, AP)

Oklahoma State Cowboys – Oklahoma State won games last year because of two strategies: Chuck the ball to wide receiver Justin Blackmon and force turnovers on defense. Both quarterback Brandon Weeden and Blackmon were first round picks in the NFL Draft, leaving 18 year old true freshman Wes Lunt under center for coach Mike Gundy. OK State’s best defensive playmaker, safety Markelle Martin, graduated and is now playing for the Tennessee Titans. The Cowboys’ two biggest strengths from a season ago have been taken away, leaving a solid running game and the remnants of a mediocre defense behind. Running back Joseph Randle (1,216 yards) will be the lone focal point for opponents in 2012/2013.

Kansas State Wildcats – Quarterback Collin Klein is arguably the most irreplaceable player in the Big 12, as he accounted for almost 70% of K-State’s total offense in 2011/2012. Klein returns, but only two offensive line starters are back to block for him. The Wildcats finished 10-3 last year and were a remarkable 8-1 in games decided by 7 points or less, despite being dominated yardage-wise even in games they won. Also, the injury bug seemingly never arrived in Manhattan; this Wildcat team which was light on depth somehow managed to stay healthy. It’s unlikely that Kansas State will receive this amount of good fortune on 2012/2013.

If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past two weeks, you must have seen the phrase “FSU to the Big 12?” plastered on the front page of every sports website there is. (If you have been living under a rock, then God help you) Now, I understand that many of you don’t read those 1,000+ word articles detailing every reason for this potential switch; unfortunately your faithful author must do so. To simplify the process for you all, I’m going to explain what this conference realignment garbage really is in 400 words or less. Also, congratulations to everyone who took their last semester exams today. Have a great summer everybody.

 

Florida State Coach Jimbo Fisher’s days in the ACC could be numbered (Getty Images)

The ACC recently signed a new television contract worth a grand total of $3.6 billion over the next 15 years. This equates to about $17 million a year per school. Sounds great right? It’s not. This monetary value puts the ACC third behind the Big 10 and Pac 12 in terms of TV revenue, and the SEC and Big 12 are expected to rework their contracts with ESPN to be worth at least $20 million a year per school. Another point that should be noted is that this new contract took away the ACC’s third tier football TV rights. What does this mean? I’m not really sure. All you need to know is that it is very bad for the ACC’s football schools (FSU, Clemson, VT) and not as bad for the basketball schools (Duke, UNC).

So why does FSU want to leave for the Big 12? FSU fancies themselves as having the potential to compete with the likes of LSU and Alabama for National Championships. Under this current TV contract, doing so would be very challenging. Money drives college football, and it’s hard to compete with a program who is simply richer than you are. The Big 12’s new television contract, which should be around $20 million, would give FSU a better chance to compete with their SEC neighbors. Florida State is, in fact, the most valuable team in the ACC, so it’s no surprise that the Big 12 is very interested in them. Secondarily, the ACC has long been a basketball conference, and the FSU administration and fan base is frustrated with the fact that ACC Commissioner John Swofford caters to the Duke and UNC basketball programs. FSU (and Clemson) feels like they’re being shafted, and they want no more of it.

What would this mean for the ACC? It would mean a quick, painful death. If FSU leaves for the Big 12, it’s almost inevitable that Clemson would tag along. Seeing the apocalypse coming, Virginia Tech and NC State would seek new homes as well, and it’s rumored that the SEC would take them immediately. Georgia Tech has been in talks with the Big 12, and the valuable Atlanta TV market has apparently grabbed the Big 10’s attention too. Without these “football schools”, the ACC would have no chance of sustaining itself in this new era of FBS football. The ball is currently in FSU’s court and their decision will determine a lot about the future of the ACC.

(511 words. pretty close right?)

We’re going over a test from last week, and my 9 combined hours of sleep over prom weekend has made it a little challenging to pay attention. My mind has wandered, and here’s what I’m thinking.

Texas’ running game, which has been so disappointing over the past few seasons, will (and should) be leaned on heavily in 2012/2013. Coach Mack Brown has his first true feature back since the Jamaal Charles days, this one being Malcolm Brown. The sophomore had an impressive freshman campaign and should only improve with another year of seasoning. Incoming freshman Jonathan Gray is a two-time national player of the year and should carve his own niche in the Texas backfield this season.

I still don’t understand how people have Boise State ranked. They lose the winningest quarterback in college football history (Kellen Moore), stud running back Doug Martin, and ten starters on defense. Chris Petersen is without a doubt one of the top five head coaches in the country, but this team doesn’t appear to have the horses of years past. Boise may still win 9 or 10 games simply because of the level of competition, but this isn’t a BCS- caliber team. We’ll find out a lot about the Broncos early, as they open the season in East Lansing against Michigan State.

If FSU and/or Clemson were to jump ship for the Big 12, ACC football would not survive. If these two teams left, there’s no question that Virginia Tech would begin scrambling to find a new home as well, leaving the Tobacco Road basketball schools and the likes of Miami and Georgia Tech left to battle it out for the conference title. The new TV deal that the ACC recently struck with ESPN simply isn’t good enough for the conference’s football powers, and it’s no surprise that they’ve begun flirting with other leagues. The ACC higher ups are making it clear that they care about basketball more than football, and this new contract could spell doom for ACC football.

Knile Davis’ return clears the way for another top 10 ranking for Arkansas (Flint Harris)

 

Editor’s Note: Take this list with a grain of salt. We still have a long way to go until fall practice starts, and a lot can change over the next four months. Secondly, this is a list of the 25 BEST teams in the country; not the teams that will win the most games. If the latter was true, Boise State would be ranked #3. Here we go.

 

 

 

1. LSU Tigers

Running game should be one of the best in the country

2. USC Trojans

Ridiculous amount of offensive talent

3. Oklahoma Sooners

Landry Jones should have another huge year

4. Alabama Crimson Tide

Tide loses a ton off last years squad; more than enough talent returns though

5. Georgia Bulldogs

Talent and experience on both sides of the ball

6. Oregon Ducks

Can the Ducks be as explosive without Darron Thomas and LaMichael James?

7. South Carolina Gamecocks

Defense should be as dominant as ever

8. Florida State Seminoles

Offensive line questions still linger, Seminoles look stacked everywhere else

9. Arkansas Razorbacks

Knile Davis returns after missing all of last season

10. Michigan Wolverines

Year one under Brady Hoke was a success; defensive line needs rebuilding

11. West Virginia Mountaineers

Tavon Austin is one of the nation’s most underrated playmakers

12. Virginia Tech Hokies

Veteran defense should lead the way; replacements needed on offense

13. Nebraska Cornhuskers

Martinez and Burkhead lead one of the Big 10’s best rushing attacks

14. Texas Longhorns

Potentially the best Texas defense we’ve seen in years

15. Michigan State Spartans

Replacing Kirk Cousins is priority #1 for the Spartans

16. Kansas State Wildcats

Offensive line needs to be rebuilt; Klein and company return behind them

17. Wisconsin Badgers

Ball, O’Brien, and Abbrederis form a great trio for the Badgers

18. TCU Horned Frogs

Another year of development for quarterback Casey Paschall

19. Clemson Tigers

Skill position talent can’t be beat, defense can

20. Utah Utes

Star Lotulelei is a name we should all start learning to pronounce

21. Stanford Cardinal

Strong ground attack and defense help supplement the loss of Luck and Fleener

22. Louisville Cardinals

Level of talent in Louisville keeps getting better for Coach Strong

23. NC State Wolfpack

Glennon and Co. finished last year on a tear; defense should be better

24. Washington Huskies

Keith Price is the best Pac-12 quarterback you haven’t heard of

25. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Could be the best offensive line in Paul Johnson’s tenure