For Miami fans, there's been perhaps no better reason for optimism this season than the development of quarterback Brad Kaaya.

The true freshman won the starting job in part on talent and in part due to a lack of alternatives, but the bottom line is that he's acclimated himself well. Since an opening-week loss at Louisville, Kaaya ranks eighth among Power 5 QBs in touchdowns (22), seventh in passer efficiency (157.5) and second in yards-per-attempt (9.20, trailing only Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota).

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesMiami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya has completed just 30 percent of his deep throws in the last four games.
It's hard to argue with those results, and Kaaya's big arm combined with Miami's speed on the outside has helped the Hurricanes become one of the best big-play offenses in the nation. For the year, 10.3 percent of Miami's total offensive plays have gone for 20 yards or more -- the best of any Power 5 program and trailing only Marshall nationally.

Of course, this is partly based on scheme, too. Even last season, when Stephen Morris was considered a mediocre QB at best, his yards-per-attempt ranked 15th nationally (8.8).

But Kaaya's talent and rapid growth as a passer have taken things to the next level, and as such, Miami has been happy to rely on that big-play threat -- often based off play-action -- to keep defenses honest.

The problem, however, is that over the past few weeks, the Canes have seen diminished returns on the investment.

After last week's loss to Virginia, Kaaya was quick to point out that the Hoos' blitz gave Miami problems.

From the Miami Herald:
"I have to be better," Kaaya said. "I have to make better plays. If they are blitzing, so what? I take ownership, for this too."

The problem is, the blitz didn't fluster Kaaya too much -- at least judging by the numbers.

Per ESPN Stats & Info, Kaaya was 5-of-9 for 117 yards, a touchdown and no picks against UVA's blitz, which was right about on par with his season averages against Power 5 squads (53 percent completions, 13.9 yards-per-attempt). In fact, since Week 2 against Florida A&M, Kaaya hasn't thrown a single interception against the opposition's blitz. Beating the blitz has arguably been his best asset.

The problem against UVA, as it turned out, was the big-play threat -- or lack thereof.

Kaaya was just 2-of-7 for 67 yards, one touchdown and one pick on throws of 15 yards or more. Forty-seven of those yards came on a bomb to Phillip Dorsett for Miami's only score, but beyond that, Miami offered little to no downfield threat the entire game.

But if we examine Kaaya's season more closely, we'll see that's no coincidence.

In Miami's six wins this season, Kaaya has been superb with the deep ball. In its four losses, he's struggled.

It's also worth noting that Kaaya has completed just 30 percent of his deep balls (with two TDs and two picks) in his last four games. Perhaps the more relevant information is that, when Kaaya has struggled to throw deep (vs. Louisville, Nebraska, Florida State and UVA) are also the four games in which Duke Johnson has had his four lowest yards-per-rush numbers.

The bottom line here should be pretty self-explanatory: Kaaya's a legitimate big-play threat, and as he gains experience he'll be even more dangerous. For now, it's tough to put too much of the game plan into his hands. He needs the help from the ground game to get play-action working, and when Miami hasn't moved the ball successfully on the ground, those big plays downfield aren't nearly so easy to find.

What does all that mean for this week's matchup against Pitt?

The Panthers have actually been pretty good at avoiding big plays. They rank 31st nationally in percentage of 20-yard plays allowed vs. FBS teams, but their defensive success against big plays has been cut in half during the last month. Pitt is also allowing 5.2 yards-per-carry in ACC play -- the worst number in the conference -- and its 14 sacks vs FBS foes ranks 108th nationally.

So as Miami wraps up the regular season, this matchup bodes well for Kaaya and Co., which for Miami fans, should mean a disappointing season can at least end on a positive note.

Inside the Office: Dabo Swinney

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
2:30
PM ET
video

Find out which All-American left his trophies behind in Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s colorful office. Inside the Office »
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said he will feel “nothing” if the No. 3 Seminoles wrap a bow on consecutive undefeated regular seasons Saturday.

“We’ll get ready for Georgia Tech,” he said.

Publicly, Fisher has avoided smelling the roses he’s planted. The immediate goal after winning the national championship last January was to win another. He’s not paraded around the Seminoles’ 27-game winning streak and said luck has as much to do with the streak as any (a sentiment many analysts share regarding this recent Florida State run). During this holiday season of reflection, don’t expect the word “undefeated” at the Fisher table.

“We don’t ever say undefeated. National championships are the goal here,” Fisher said.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards Jr.
AP Photo/Steve CannonMario Edwards Jr. and Florida State can complete consecutive undefeated regular seasons with a victory Saturday over Florida. That's never happened in school history.
Goal or not, Fisher is on the verge of consecutive unblemished regular seasons. It’s dangerous territory comparing current coaches to lionized predecessors. There’s the risk of being labeled an iconoclast for uttering any perceived blasphemous statements toward Bobby Bowden.

That’s not the basis this post is built on -- there's no Venn diagram to weigh the accomplishments of Fisher and Bowden, who turned what was once the nation’s third-largest women’s college into a football power.

So save the pitchforks for the selection committee.

However, with a victory Saturday over Florida, Fisher and the Seminoles would finish the regular season undefeated in consecutive years, and that has never happened at Florida State.

It is an apples-to-oranges comparison with Bowden, who had only one undefeated season but regularly played Florida and Miami -- and Nebraska and Notre Dame and Ohio State and Pitt -- most at their peak. Bowden was playing an SEC-style schedule before it was the fashionable thing to do, and it’s hard to envision Fisher's Seminoles avoiding the landmines that were in front of Bowden annually during the 1980s and ’90s.

That shouldn’t take away from what Fisher has done in his short time as head coach in Tallahassee. Outside of the Florida State constituency, Fisher has been fairly criticized for several significant off-field issues, the allegations of sexual assault against Jameis Winston the most polarizing. During the last two seasons on the field, though, Fisher has been bulletproof and in the process has established himself as one of college football’s top coaches.

“Coach Jimbo, that’s what he tells us: We have a chance to do what people -- Deion [Sanders], [Terrell] Buckley, Coach [Lawrence] Dawsey and all those guys back when it was dominant -- we have a chance to do things they weren’t able to do,” junior defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said. “He constantly lets us know we have an opportunity in front of us to do things even the great ones haven’t.”

Edwards was part of the 2012 recruiting class, signing following an 8-4 regular season. It was the eighth straight season in which Florida State failed to secure double-digit wins in the regular season. Edwards bought into Fisher’s vision and the upward trajectory at Florida State in the same way senior Karlos Williams bought in the year before and Lamarcus Joyner and Telvin Smith the previous cycle.

“Being a part of something like this, and from when I first came in and how [Fisher] has changed the program and built it into something like this and contributing to it means a lot,” Williams said.

As Fisher said, though, undefeated regular seasons are secondary to Florida State’s ultimate goal, which doesn’t truly begin until after the regular season takes a bow and exits stage left.

“This season is far from over,” fourth-year junior Terrance Smith said, “so we don’t necessarily see that light [at the end] yet.”
To get Georgia Tech back to the ACC title game, Paul Johnson had to get back to his roots. To do that, the seventh-year Yellow Jackets coach needed the right quarterback to run his famed triple-option offense.

Who knew the answer to the Jackets' offensive uneasiness lied in a redshirt sophomore with no starting experience -- after a transfer few saw coming, at that?

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsJustin Thomas' 15 touchdown passes are the most by a Tech QB since 2006.
Justin Thomas has proved to be the key ingredient this season for Johnson, turning in one of the ACC's top quarterback campaigns, and perhaps the most surprising one. He ascended to the top of the depth chart upon Vad Lee's transfer this past January and never really looked back. He was voted a captain by teammates within the season's first month. He has orchestrated a 9-2 campaign since. He will go into Athens this weekend leading the preseason No. 5 team in the ACC's Coastal division, looking to knock off rival Georgia. A week after that, he will enter Charlotte with a shot at knocking off defending national champion Florida State.

"I thought our quarterback was a better fit," Johnson said. "We went back to old school, what I’d done for years offensively, and we go out of the gun and did our stuff, and he’s got a great skill set for what we want to do. He’s quick, he’s been really good with reading the option. He’s an accurate passer when we get him out and he can see, and we have a couple good receivers and we’re probably more athletic."

Chief among those weapons is DeAndre Smelter, a 6-foot-3, 222-pounder who is a reliable deep threat, ranking second in the ACC in yards per catch (21.0) and, according to Thomas, "playing on a different level right now."

Thomas is quick to toss out praise like that, crediting his teammates for helping him grow up fast after news of Lee's departure broke.

"When it first happened, a lot of the guys called me up," Thomas said. "It was my time now. They supported me 100 percent. It was the type of feeling that gave me more confidence, knowing that guys around me were ready to help me."

Thomas admitted to not being completely comfortable with the playbook early on in his career. He saw action here and there last season, tallying 131 yards passing and 234 yards rushing, but he never really emerged as a legitimate threat to take Lee's job during an uneven 7-6 season.

"We did but he wasn’t quite ready I don’t think," Johnson said of considering a quarterback switch in 2013. "He’s gotten better as the year has gone on, too. He’s more confident. He’s starting to get a really good understanding of what we’re trying to do. Just like (against Clemson), he came over and before I even talked to him and he told me exactly what they were trying to do to him on the option. He’s got a pretty good understanding, pretty calm. He’s a good leader."

In that upset of the Tigers and their No. 1-ranked defense, Thomas was his efficient self: 8-of-11 passing for 102 yards and a touchdown, 11 carries for 46 yards. He has 15 touchdown passes on the season, the most by any quarterback of the Johnson era. His 827 rushing yards lead the team. His 18.61 yards per completion lead the nation.

Silencing the chorus of preseason critics has been fun. Doing this all as a quarterback has been more rewarding.

The 5-foot-11, 189-pound Thomas said he has played the position since he was 5 years old. A one-time Alabama defensive back commit out of Prattville High, the former four-star athlete eventually flipped to Johnson and the Jackets because he saw himself as a signal-caller.

His 10.79-speed in the 100 meters out of high school made him an intriguing prospect in Georgia Tech's scheme. Thomas now leads an offense that ranks fourth nationally in points per drive (3.24), one spot ahead of the Bulldogs team that the Jackets are aiming to beat for the first time since 2008, Johnson's first year.

Do that, and the undersized underclassman will gain even more attention heading into next weekend's showdown with reigning Heisman Trophy winner and fellow Alabama native Jameis Winston.

"I think just being out on the field, just playing as hard as I could, making plays for the team for us to win, just showed (teammates) that I was willing to lead them in the right direction," Thomas said.
This one might not get the national love of UCLA-USC, Ohio State-Michigan or Auburn-Alabama, but there aren’t many rivalries in the country more fun than Clemson vs. South Carolina. The two programs share virtually nothing in common aside from geography, so picking sides isn’t tough. But the war of words between Steve Spurrier and Dabo Swinney over the years has elevated the proceedings from national afterthought to comedy gold. While the on-field product has been owned by the Gamecocks, the arrival of Deshaun Watson at Clemson and the underperformance by South Carolina this season makes for a far more interesting matchup between the lines, too. ACC reporter David Hale and SEC reporter Alex Scarborough take a look at how the 2014 installment of Clemson vs. South Carolina breaks down.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsClemson's chances of breaking a five-game losing streak to South Carolina might depend on whether or not Deshaun Watson can go at QB.
Key to victory for South Carolina: The Gamecocks offense isn’t terrible with Mike Davis running the football and Pharoh Cooper at receiver. AJ Cann is one of the best linemen in the country, as a matter of fact. But where South Carolina goes wrong is when it turns the football over, particularly in the passing game. In six wins, quarterback Dylan Thompson has three interceptions. In four losses, he has eight picks. There’s simply not enough on the defensive side of the ball for South Carolina to give away free possessions.

Key to victory for Clemson: For the Tigers, this isn’t a complicated formula. The defensive front needs to stuff South Carolina’s ground game -- something Clemson has done effectively all season, save the opener against Georgia. The offense needs to run the ball, something Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye have done a far better job of the past few weeks. And, most importantly, the QB needs to protect the football. If it’s Watson, Clemson fans will feel a bit more comfortable. If it’s Cole Stoudt, then there are legitimate concerns. But regardless, South Carolina’s pass rush has been nonexistent this season, which should help the Tigers play it safe, even if Stoudt is the one pulling the trigger.

X-factor for South Carolina: History is most definitely on the Gamecocks’ side. Spurrier, as he’s quick to remind everyone, has won the last five contests against his in-state rivals. In fact, none have been close as South Carolina has won each by at least two possessions. The players have changed, but Spurrier clearly has something on Swinney. Rest assured that the Head Ball Coach will have a few tricks up his sleeve as he attempts to extend his bragging rights another year.

X-Factor for Clemson: Is it an X-factor if it’s the only thing anyone is talking about? Watson is clearly the difference maker in this game, and whether he takes the field or not (he’s currently day-to-day with a knee injury) likely tells the story of whether the Tigers’ offense can move the ball enough to win. Clemson has certainly found ample ways to lose this game in recent years, but for Tigers fans, Watson represents a changing of the guard. He brings an air of confidence that Clemson has clearly been lacking, but he also brings by far the Tigers’ most potent offensive threat. But perhaps as big a question as whether he’ll even play is whether that knee will afford him the mobility that has been so crucial to his success.

Scarborough’s favorite moment from the rivalry: Sorry, South Carolina, but great games have great finishes, and it’s amazing to think that for as long as these two teams have been playing one another there has been only one game end with a score at the buzzer. That seminal moment belonged to the leg of Clemson kicker Mark Buchholz, whose 35-yard try was true, giving the Tigers a come-from-behind win in Columbia in 2007.

Hale’s favorite moment from the rivalry: It’s probably wrong to say it’s my favorite moment, but the fight between the two teams 10 years ago certainly turned the rivalry from a local one into a national one. Of course, the best moments of this rivalry have always had little to do with what’s happening on the field. In the parlance of Steve Spurrier, “talking season” is always more fun, and perhaps no rivalry in American has had more pointed and amusing jabs than this one (again, largely courtesy of the Ol’ Ball Coach). Is there a second Death Valley besides the one at LSU? Now that’s some expert trolling.

Updated recruiting class rankings

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
11:30
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Success on the recruiting trail has given some programs much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving and that includes a few teams whose recent triumphs have led to a rise in the class rankings.

One of those teams is UCLA, which, just prior to beating cross-town rival USC Saturday, were able to score a victory on the recruiting trail as well, landing a key in-state commitment. ESPN 300 DE Keisean Lucier-South became the Bruins?? fifth 300 prospect and first on the defensive side of the ball. A rangy and promising prospect, the top-five defensive end has the ability to give UCLA a defender that can create problems coming off the edge as both a run defender and likely more immediately as a pass-rusher.

Ole Miss also landed a key in-state commit in ESPN 300 OG Javon Patterson, a big and athletic prospect at the position, who combined with 2014 signee Rod Taylor, could allow the Rebels to anchor their O-Line with a formidable pair of guards.

Check out the full rankings here.

Video: Herbstreit's Gameplan Breakdown

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:47
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video

Kirk Herbstreit looks at the five big rivalry games of the week that not only give state bragging rights but also have direct implications on the College Football Playoff.

ACC Week 14 predictions

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
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Jared Shanker: In college football, there is no denying emotion plays a pivotal role, and playing for a coach and a bowl can be the tipping point for a team hoping to rally. No doubt Virginia will have no shortage of motivation against its in-state rival, but the Cavaliers are also the better team. Greyson Lambert is improving, and the Virginia defense is every bit as good as the one in Blacksburg. Virginia needs to limit mistakes, as the Cavs turned it over eight times during a four-game skid. The Hokies are struggling to create turnovers, though, which plays into UVa's favor. Mike London returns UVa to a bowl. Virginia 20, Virginia Tech 10

David Hale: If we’re slaves to whatever happened most recently, then Virginia Tech certainly looks like a lost cause. But let’s think bigger picture. The Hokies know what’s at stake here: A 22-year bowl streak, state bragging rights in a rivalry they’ve owned for a decade, perhaps the future of their longtime head coach. Is this a game where Virginia Tech is a no-show? No way. The Wake Forest game was brutal, but lessons were certainly learned. Brenden Motley will get a longer look at quarterback, and his mobility can help offset the Virginia pass rush. The ground game has actually looked better with J.C. Coleman the past two weeks. And while the Hokies clearly overlooked Wake Forest, that won’t be the case against rival Virginia. Plus, let’s not forget that, in spite of the record, Virginia Tech still features one of the most potent defenses in the country -- and it’ll give Lambert and the UVA offense fits. Virginia Tech 17, Virginia 14

Andrea Adelson: The Jackets and Bulldogs are running the ball extremely well this season, so both teams should be able to get some yards on the ground. The key in this game is going to be in the turnover category. Both teams have been excellent at taking the ball away this season. While Georgia Tech has converted 24 takeaways into 116 points, Georgia has allowed only six total points off its own turnovers. There is going to be quite the battle there. Given the way Georgia Tech has played during its winning streak, the Jackets will pull out a close one after one defensive score. Georgia Tech 35, Georgia 31

Matt Fortuna: Much like Georgia Tech, Georgia has proven its rushing attack can keep up the pace no matter who is in the backfield, as we've all seen what has happened even without the ridiculously gifted Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs' defense has greatly improved under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt this season, too, ranking 13th nationally. Has it shored up the loose ends that Florida exposed by repeatedly running on it earlier this month, to the tune of 418 yards? The Yellow Jackets' attack is different, sure, but the Dawgs have too much pride to fall to another rival, especially as they play for a chance at the SEC title game next week. Georgia 40, Georgia Tech 34

Shanker: If South Carolina manages to pull off the upset, Dabo Swinney will be hearing about it for as long as Steve Spurrier is hanging around college football. This is an absolute must-win game for Clemson, but dark clouds are already starting to form with star freshman Deshaun Watson still listed as day-to-day with a sprained knee. If Cole Stoudt starts, will he be able to take advantage of a vulnerable South Carolina defense? The Tigers have the No. 1 defense, but South Carolina is No. 18 in scoring against Power 5 competition. That means the Gamecocks could score just enough, and with Stoudt at quarterback "just enough" might be 17 points. South Carolina 17, Clemson 14

Adelson: The Tigers have relied on their defense all season, and will do it again to finally break their long losing streak to South Carolina. Clemson ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense and will make life difficult for Dylan Thompson, who is not having the type of season anybody expected. While the prospects on offense look shaky if Watson is out, Clemson has won squeakers this season with an inconsistent Stoudt behind center. As long as Clemson takes care of the football, the defense will lead the victory. Clemson 17, South Carolina 14

Hale: Strictly from a matchup standpoint, Pitt doesn’t have a distinct edge, but this game may be a question of motivation. The storyline for Miami is a familiar one right now. Just like last year, the season built to Florida State, and the Hurricanes came up short. Last year, Miami responded by losing four of six to close out the season. This year, the follow-up to the FSU game was perhaps Miami’s worst performance of the season, which certainly bodes well for Pitt. On the flip side, the Panthers are desperately seeking win No. 6 to get bowl eligible, so there’s no question which team has more to play for. Add the fact that Chad Voytik is playing his best football of the season now, and Pitt is in position to move the ball even if James Conner isn’t at 100 percent. Pitt 21, Miami 20

Fortuna: Pitt is the more desperate team here, fighting to extend its season and make a bowl game for the third straight season under third-year coach Paul Chryst. But the Panthers could be without Conner, which will put much more pressure on Voytik and the passing attack. Is Miami's defense ready to take care of business after consecutive letdowns? Its offense should not be a problem in this one. Miami 38, Pitt 24

Adelson: Everybody expects Florida to play an emotional game for outgoing coach Will Muschamp. That should serve the Gators well in the early going, and they will have opportunities to establish the run against a Florida State defensive front that has had its up and downs this season. Dante Fowler, Vernon Hargreaves and company will throw some different looks at Jameis Winston and force him out of his comfort zone. But ultimately, Winston will do what he always does -- find a way to win a close game. Florida State 28, Florida 27

More unanimous picks

Syracuse at Boston College: The Eagles were the latest team to nearly upend Florida State last week, but that hasn’t always been a recipe for success afterward. It will be interesting to see if the physical and emotional toll of that loss carries over, but Syracuse certainly hasn’t been playing good football either. BC 33, Syracuse 13

Kentucky at Louisville: The ACC’s newest rivalry game may not offer much in the way of fireworks in Year 1. Reggie Bonnafon finally looks comfortable running Bobby Petrino’s offense, and Louisville is still fighting for an Orange Bowl berth. Kentucky is desperate to get win No. 6, but the Wildcats have lost five straight. Louisville 24, Kentucky 20

NC State at North Carolina: Ready for some offensive fireworks? Both of these teams are allowing an average of more than 400 yards per game to FBS foes, and both have potentially explosive offenses. That should make for a fun rivalry matchup to end the regular season, but UNC gets the edge after playing easily its most complete game of the season last week against Duke. North Carolina 45, NC State 33

Wake Forest at Duke: Last week’s win over Virginia Tech was a fitting moment for a Wake Forest team that has continued to fight in spite of adverse circumstances all season, and the Deacons' D is legit. Meanwhile, Duke is reeling from two straight losses. This game may end up close, but it’s still hard to see Wake pulling off the upset in two straight. Duke 24, Wake Forest 10

Current standings
Shanker: 66-20
Adelson: 66-20
Fortuna: 65-21
Hale: 65-21

Kickoff Show: Week 14 (1 ET)

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
10:25
AM ET
ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel, Ted Miller and Adam Rittenberg join host Chantel Jennings to discuss rivalry week in college football and its impact of the playoff landscape. They will also answer your questions live.

ACC playoff tracker: Nov. 26

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
9:00
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It’s the final week of the regular season, and Florida State continues to avert disaster, and thus its playoff hopes remain alive and well. Here’s where things stand.

Florida State Seminoles

Record: 11-0 (8-0 ACC)

Rank: No. 3

Next big obstacle: vs. Florida on Saturday

Reason for optimism: As seems to be the case each week, Florida State’s biggest reason for optimism remains its record, which remains perfect -- even if FSU’s performances on the field haven’t been. The Seminoles narrowly escaped Boston College on Saturday in yet another close call, but that’s simply a narrative. If the Seminoles can knock off an SEC team in Florida this week, the argument that FSU is a team that rises in the face of adversity gets stronger.

Cause for concern: FSU’s run defense has to be a worry at this point. Boston College carried 51 times for 240 yards in a losing effort last week, mustering a 7:34 time-of-possession advantage in the process. It marked the eighth time in 11 games this season that the Seminoles have surrendered at least 150 yards on the ground -- something that happened just six times from 2011-13. Why is that such an issue? This week’s opponent, Florida, is fourth in the SEC in rushing yards per game versus FBS foes and toppled Georgia earlier this season on the strength of its ground game. Following the Gators, FSU gets Georgia Tech, which ranks fourth nationally in rushing.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Start with the teams that can still help Florida State’s strength of schedule, namely the entire ACC. Clemson, Louisville and Georgia Tech can all upend SEC teams, which certainly would make the ACC look better in comparison. A Tech win, in particular, would be big, with UGA ranked in the top 10 and the Yellow Jackets awaiting FSU in the ACC title game. Beyond conference status, however, FSU wouldn’t mind seeing Auburn upend Alabama, Texas knock off TCU, Oregon State upset Oregon or Ole Miss topple Mississippi State. A little chaos at the top of the polls would only make a 12-0 record look all that much more impressive for Florida State.

On the fringes: If Georgia Tech could win out by beating two top-10 teams, Yellow Jackets fans will certainly want to make their case. They’ll have an uphill battle with plenty of teams still ranked ahead of Tech, but it’s at least worth monitoring as long as the Jackets keep winning.

ACC morning links

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
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Deshaun Watson's status remains up in the air midweek as Clemson readies for its regular-season finale against rival South Carolina.

"He did practice yesterday in a green jersey," coach Dabo Swinney said, according to the (Charleston) Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner. "Monday practice is a short practice. We're only out there about an hour. Today we'll find out a lot more. We'll put him in a normal jersey, and he'll practice at normal tempo with the rest of the guys and we'll see where he is.

"It really is a day-to-day thing, and I'm not trying to have some conspiracy or anything like that. We just don't know. It may be a decision that's game time. I don't know. But he is getting better each day. He had a new brace on yesterday that he seemed pretty comfortable with. So we'll see how he does today with some good, competitive work, good-on-good and stuff like that where the speed of the game is going to be a little better today."

Watson had suffered a sprained LCL and a bone bruise in his left knee early in the Tigers' 28-6 loss Nov. 15 at Georgia Tech.

Asked if Watson could start Saturday at anything less than 100 percent, Swinney said: "Well, I think, again, as long as he can do the things that we need him to do to win the game, he's our starter. I mean, he's proven that, but he's got to be able to do those things. We can't change our offense.

"He's got to be able to play and execute. He's got to be able to escape. He has to be able to run our system. Those are things that he has to demonstrate throughout the week of practice."

Elsewhere, the status of another ACC star, James Conner, also remains unclear, though it appears he was not a full participant in Tuesday's practice.


Here are the rest of your ACC links:
video
No team in the top seven of last week’s College Football Playoff Rankings lost, and the selection committee obviously saw nothing to prompt a change in that order this week. So, we’re right back where we were last Tuesday night, except that there are now only two weeks remaining for any upsets to occur.

[+] EnlargeOhio State
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioOhio State is sitting pretty with two weeks left in the regular season.
With no possible head-to-head matchups between the current top seven, there’s a possibility they could all win out -- but not a good one. The Football Power Index says there’s a 10 percent chance that those teams go 7-0 this week, and barely over a 1 percent chance that they go 13-0 between now and Dec. 7 (Mississippi State would play only one more game if Alabama wins Saturday). In fact, FPI gives only a 14 percent chance for Alabama, Oregon and Florida State all to win out.

Each forthcoming loss among the top teams could make the selection committee’s job a little easier. But for now, let’s look at the committee’s worst-case scenarios.

In the unlikely event that the seven all run the table

ACC bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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North Carolina earned bowl eligibility and dealt the final blow to Duke's Orange Bowl chances in Week 13, while Pitt and Virginia each kept bowl hopes alive. Virginia Tech had a shot to wrap up win No. 6, but fell to Wake Forest in ugly fashion. So with one week left, the ACC is guaranteed at least 11 bowl-eligible teams (including Notre Dame) with as many as 12 possible.

College Football Playoff: Florida State*
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Notre Dame*
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville*
Belk Bowl: Clemson*
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami*
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Duke*
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: North Carolina*
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Virginia
Quick Lane Bowl: Boston College*
BITCOIN Bowl: NC State*

Note: Notre Dame takes one of the ACC's bowl slots if it is not invited to a New Year's Six bowl game.

* Bowl eligible
video
For the first time this season, the top seven teams in the College Football Playoff Top 25 have remained the same, as determined by 11 members of the 12-member selection committee (Mike Tranghese was sick and unable to travel to Dallas for the meetings).

No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 3 Florida State and No. 4 Mississippi State each won in Week 13, and in spite of another close win for the Seminoles, FSU did not drop another spot. The only difference at the top was that No. 8 UCLA, No. 9 Georgia and No. 10 Michigan State all slid up one notch to take the spot of Ole Miss, which sank nine spots to No. 19 after being shut out by Arkansas.

Here's what the bracket would look like today:

NCF Playoffespn


TCU is still the first team on the bubble at No. 5, followed by No. 6 Ohio State and No. 7 Baylor. No. 11 Arizona jumped four spots, and No. 17 Missouri is up three spots. Another big mover was No. 18 Minnesota, which rose seven spots after beating Nebraska.

The biggest surprise this week was that not one but two Group of 5 teams were ranked: No. 23 Boise State and No. 24 Marshall. It was a controversial call, as Boise State is a two-loss team just one win away from clinching the Mountain West's Mountain Division, and Marshall is the only undefeated team remaining in the Group of 5. Marshall has already clinched the Conference USA East title.

Marshall is ranked No. 19 in the latest Associated Press poll, followed by No. 21 Colorado State and No. 25 Boise State. This is the first time since Week 10, when East Carolina was ranked in the selection committee's first Top 25, that the Group of 5 has been represented in the CFP rankings.

That would make Boise State the frontrunner to represent the Group of 5 in a New Year's Six Bowl.

As for the other major bowls, here's a projection based on the current rankings:

The Orange Bowl lost the ACC champion (FSU) so it gets the next highest-ranked ACC team, No. 16 Georgia Tech. The Orange Bowl then selects the next highest-ranked nonconference championship team from the Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame. By contract, displaced conference champs from the SEC and Big Ten don't go to the Orange Bowl. That would pit the Yellow Jackets against No. 10 Michigan State because the committee would look to avoid a rematch with No. 9 Georgia.

Here's what New Year's Eve and New Year's Day could look like, based on today's rankings:

Dec. 31

12:30 p.m. ET -- Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl -- No. 9 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor

4 p.m. ET -- VIZIO Fiesta Bowl -- No. 23 Boise State vs. No. 8 UCLA

8 p.m. ET -- Capital One Orange Bowl -- No. 16 Georgia Tech vs. No. 10 Michigan State

Jan. 1

12:30 p.m. ET -- Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic -- No. 5 TCU vs. No. 6 Ohio State

5 p.m. ET -- Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual -- No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Florida State

8:30 p.m. ET -- Allstate Sugar Bowl -- No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Mississippi State
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Florida carried Ron Zook off the field in his final game, an upset that remains so memorable, people continue to point to that win 10 years later.

Especially this week.

Because everybody wants to know: Can the Gators win one for Champ, the way they won one for the Zooker?

The similarities between Zook’s last triumph over Florida State and the 2014 Gators headed into the Florida State game on Saturday are too similar to ignore.

Both Florida teams 6-4. Both heavy underdogs. Both playing for an outgoing coach.

“We were in the same position those guys are in this year,” said former Florida running back Ciatrick Fason, a captain on the 2004 team. “Our coach got fired. We hadn’t beaten them in Tallahassee in a very long time, so it made us want to go out there and play for Coach Zook but also win at Doak. It happened to be on the same day they were naming the field for coach (Bobby) Bowden, so we wanted to go up there and upset every celebration they had.”

In the days leading up to the game, nobody gave down-and-out Florida much of a chance against the No. 10 Seminoles. Florida State had one of the best defenses in the country and had shut down just about every running back that came its way.

But Florida believed it had nothing to lose. To the Gators, all the pressure belonged to Florida State.

“Nobody expected us to win, and that just mentally makes you feel like, ‘We can go out here and cut it loose. Don’t worry about mistakes. We can go for it on fourth-and-2 or fourth-and-3 because we’ve got nothing to lose and Florida State has everything to lose,’" Fason said. "As a Gator, we know we’re trying to keep them from get a national championship, and it being a rival game with nothing to lose that works to our advantage.”

Fason also believes the way Florida played in 2004 caught Florida State off guard. He ended up with 100 yards rushing in the game and was a big reason why the Gators won, saying the Seminoles were not prepared for their smash-mouth style.

After Florida took a 10-3 lead into halftime, Fason told his teammates he wanted them to carry Zook off the field if they ended up winning. They assembled around him in the final minute, a 20-13 win theirs to celebrate.

“As soon as that final tick went off the clock, everybody picked up Coach Zook,” Fason said. “It was the best moment of my life.”

And it still remains one of the top moments not only in Gators football history, but in Zook's career. Mike Degory, the starting center on the 2004 team, later coached with Zook at Illinois. Even there, Zook talked about the way the Gators won his final game there.

“He always used to say how much it meant to him, and how much he felt the commitment from the players was there,” Degory recalled. “Everybody knows after this week, Coach Muschamp is going to be looking for another job, but the players feel a lot of commitment to that coach. We wanted to send Coach Zook out a winner. What we had 10 years ago was a connection with Coach Zook. Deep down in my heart, that is the guy that I wanted to play for and we wanted to echo that by giving him that victory.”

Muschamp was even asked about it during his press conference earlier this week in Gainesville.

“That isn't going to help us win the game. I can assure you of that,” he said. “So we'll prepare well and we'll go up there and play well. That's what we need to do.”

Florida has a history of doing that under Muschamp. It was two years ago Florida went into Doak Campbell Stadium and forced five turnovers in a 37-26 win. Florida was a much better team then -- ranked higher than Florida State, in fact. But it also happens to be the last time the Seminoles lost.

Since then, Florida has not come close to another 11-win season, while Jimbo Fisher has won two ACC championships, one national championship and 27 straight games. But this season, Florida State has played in so many close games, the expectation is this will be another close one.

Especially if the Gators play as emotionally as they did for Zook in 2004.

“Emotion always counts, but I think at the end of the day, execution wins,” Fisher said. “Hopefully, we'll be emotional. To play Florida, our kids will be high. Our kids will be excited. I think you'll see two teams that are emotionally and physically ready to play, and then who can go out and execute and win the battles in the physical and mental execution will be the team that wins.”

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