ACC: Auburn Tigers
He said he connected with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
“He’s a church guy like me,” Alexander said in an interview on ESPNU. “I trust in them guys. I’m going to be in a great position.”
Will the Tigers be able to overcome this loss in a tough opening test?
Led by Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd, Clemson’s high-powered passing attack finished 12th in the nation last season with 3,952 passing yards.
As the duo went, so did the Tigers. Boyd had 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions when targeting Watkins in Clemson’s 10 wins, but just two touchdowns and three picks when throwing to Watkins in the team’s four losses. (Watkins also missed one game, a loss to NC State.)
Watkins was sensational in Clemson’s matchup against Auburn last season. He hauled in 10 of 12 passes thrown to him for 155 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard touchdown reception.
He was Boyd’s best deep threat all season, targeted 25 times on Boyd's throws of at least 20 yards. One out of every five of those targets resulted in a touchdown.
Who steps in?
The numbers show Clemson will have a big hole to fill in the passing game, but the Tigers may have the depth to do so. Junior DeAndre Hopkins was second on the team last season with 70 receptions and finished just shy of 1,000 yards (952). Hopkins was also a downfield threat as he and Watkins combined for 16 catches on throws of 20 yards or more.
Another name to keep an eye on is 6-foot-5-inch sophomore Martavis Bryant. As a freshman Bryant had just nine catches, but showed big-play ability averaging 24.6 yards per catch with two touchdowns. Three of his nine catches were on throws of 20 yards or more from Boyd, including both of his touchdowns.
Other names to watch at wide receiver are Jaron Brown and Charone Peake. The senior Brown was a reliable receiver for Boyd last season, finishing fourth on the Tigers with 31 receptions. Peake had just four catches for 71 yards last season as a freshman, but the former No. 2 overall wide receiver recruit in 2011 may see more action.
Dec. 31, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Virginia take from ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Just getting to a bowl game was an accomplishment for Virginia, which hasn’t been to one since 2007, but to be chosen as high as the top pick behind the Discover Orange Bowl exceeded expectations once again in Mike London’s second season.
The Hoos got some help from rival Virginia Tech, whose bid in the Sugar Bowl bumped everyone up a notch in the selection process. It’s a legitimate place for Virginia, though, which beat Florida State on the road during the regular season, and was in contention for the Coastal Division title through the final game, when it lost to Virginia Tech.
The Cavaliers had won four straight heading into the regular-season finale, before losing 38-0 to the Hokies. Despite the loss, London was named the ACC Coach of the Year, as his team had been picked by the media to finish fifth in the division this year.
The Cavaliers’ strengths are their front seven on defense, which is a veteran group, and an offensive line that has had the same lineup all season. The Hoos have been able to run the ball well for most of the season. It will be Virginia’s fourth appearance in the bowl, but the program hasn’t been there since 1998 -- also the last time UVa faced Auburn, a 19-0 win for the Hoos at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Auburn take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: Along with replacing the nation’s best player in Cam Newton, the Tigers had to find players to fill in for just about everyone who was a part of the 2010 championship team.
Coach Gene Chizik and his team never let youth be an excuse for a team that had freshmen making up almost half of the entire roster. Auburn began 4-1, and while the Tigers were sloppy at times, when the game was on the line late, Auburn found ways to win. That included beating preseason East favorite South Carolina 16-13 on the road.
However, as the season continued, the team's youth began to show. The physicality that Auburn showed in close games started to die down and as the struggles continued, the Tigers found themselves dealing with a quarterback shuffle.
Junior Barrett Trotter began as the starter, but saw highly touted true freshman Kiehl Frazier take more and more snaps. But everything changed in Auburn’s 17-6 win over Florida, when sophomore Clint Moseley took the starting job after a solid second-half performance against the Gators.
Moseley remained the starter, but Auburn never really looked like the same team that opened the year. Outside of solid play from running back Michael Dyer, the Tigers’ offense struggled along, ranking 10th in the SEC (328.2 yards per game), while the defense stayed near the bottom of the league, giving up 405.8 yards and 29.3 points per game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
The votes are in, as the USA TODAY Coaches' poll came out Friday. Here are the ones you're looking for:
No. 9 Clemson -- No doubt Clemson should start off as a Top 10 team, and the Tigers have more answers right now than Texas and Auburn, but I'd be surprised if those two programs don't eventually push past Clemson in the rankings. And yes, West Virginia should be good - Pat White will get Heisman consideration -- but to have the Mountaineers ranked above Clemson right now seems high, especially without Steve Slaton and Owen Schmitt.
No. 15 Virginia Tech -- Wow. That's saying something for Frank Beamer and his staff. Considering how many questions the Hokies have heading into Monday's practice (we don't really need to rehash it again, do we?), that's a little high. Jim Grobe and the Demon Deacons should be ranked higher at this point, but neither team should be above 20 right now.
No. 23 Wake Forest -- This seems just about right. The program is still asserting itself on the national level, but this ranking is further proof Wake Forest is getting taken more seriously and that maybe 2006 wasn't a fluke, but the start of a trend. Wake was just one of two ACC teams to win its bowl game last year. They've got 16 starters back, including two of the league's best playmakers on defense in Alphonso Smith and Aaron Curry.