ACC Upset Watch: Week 6

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
3:00
PM ET
Golden Rule No. 1 when covering the ACC: No such thing as a guaranteed W.

That is why nearly the entire league is on Upset Watch headed into Week 6. Florida State gets a reprieve at home against Wake.

Friday

Louisville (4-1, 2-1) at Syracuse (2-2), 7 p.m., ESPN. Line: Louisville by 4. The last time the Cardinals took a trip to the Carrier Dome, they were unbeaten and ranked No. 9 in the country. They promptly lost, as Scott Shafer completely befuddled Teddy Bridgewater and company while serving as defensive coordinator. Shafer is now the head coach, though Louisville looks radically different than the team that came to town in 2012. The offense has been running in starts and stops, and quarterback remains up in the air. Meanwhile, Syracuse had some highlights on defense in a loss to Notre Dame that it can perhaps build upon headed into its league opener.

Saturday

Virginia Tech (3-2, 0-1) at North Carolina (2-2, 0-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Virginia Tech by 1. As colleague David Hale points out, no Power 5 teams have allowed plays of 20-plus yards at a higher rate than Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Perhaps East Carolina has a little bit to do with that, a common opponent both teams lost to earlier in the season. North Carolina has allowed 120 points over its last two games, but nobody will ever confuse Virginia Tech's offense for East Carolina or Clemson. Given some of the shaky play in the Virginia Tech secondary, the Tar Heels will have an opportunity to make some plays in the pass game. Marquise Williams showed he could do that against the Tigers. We are still waiting to see that consistently out of Michael Brewer and Virginia Tech.

NC State (4-1, 0-1) at Clemson (2-2, 1-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Line: Clemson by 14. Based on Jacoby Brissett's performance against Florida State, the Wolfpack cannot be counted out against the Tigers -- especially after North Carolina exposed some flaws in the Clemson pass defense. North Carolina threw for nearly 400 yards last week. Now comes Brissett, who threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns – without an interception -- on Florida State The Wolfpack generally play Clemson close, too, and this one could end up being a shootout, just like the last time NC State visited Death Valley.

Miami (3-2, 1-1) at Georgia Tech (4-0, 1-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN2. Line: Miami by 1. The Hurricanes put forth a far better defensive effort in a win over Duke, though they will be put to a far bigger test against the Jackets. Can Miami continue to tackle as well as it did last week against Duke, especially given the way Georgia Tech runs the ball? Brad Kaaya has shown the ability to make some plays, and has improved each passing week. The opportunities against an inconsistent Georgia Tech D will be there, but the Jackets have proven to be a team that has the most resilience in the ACC. Justin Thomas also is an upgrade over Vad Lee, so the Miami D must remain on alert.

Pitt (3-2, 1-0) at Virginia (3-2, 1-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Virginia by 5. Bet nobody expected the Hoos to be favored in this game when the season began. While Virginia has looked like the better team to date, Pitt has played extremely well at times this season. Yes the Panthers are coming in off two straight losses, but they do have one of the top running backs and receivers in the ACC. If James Conner can get going and Chad Voytik can make some plays to Tyler Boyd, Pitt will have an opportunity to pull the upset.
Frank Beamer and Larry Fedora Getty Images, AP ImagesIn the Coastal division race, Frank Beamer and Larry Fedora can't afford another loss in ACC play.
The film has been tough to watch, Michael Brewer said. He’s always taken pride in protecting the football, but for the past four weeks, Brewer has fed a steady dose of wayward passes to Virginia Tech’s opposition, and the results have been ugly.

Four games, nine picks, two losses.

“That’s on me, and I’ve got to understand that when you have a defense like [ours], it's OK to go three-and-out or take a sack,” Brewer said. “I have to get better in that aspect of the game.”

At North Carolina, the tape from the last two games should probably just be burned. The Tar Heels’ secondary has been a mess, and ECU and Clemson combined for 882 passing yards, 10 passing touchdowns and 120 total points against them.

Larry Fedora has watched the film, and there’s really not much left to say.

"Believe it or not, we don’t have defensive schemes where you turn a guy loose,” Fedora said. “But it may look like it."

And so it’s come to this for Virginia Tech and North Carolina: A date Saturday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, that just six weeks into the season ostensibly serves as an elimination game in the crowded Coastal Division for two teams that dropped their ACC openers and are reeling from self-inflicted wounds.

Brewer’s 10 interceptions are tied for the most by any QB in the nation, and the opposition has scored 43 points off his turnovers.

“The frustrating part is that’s always been one of the best parts of my game is protecting the football, and it just hasn’t happened this year,” he said.

North Carolina has allowed at least 50 points and 500 yards in consecutive games. Only one other ACC team in the last decade has done that.

“Those are just mental mistakes,” Fedora said of the defensive lapses. “They’re base things. They weren’t something that was exotic that we put in for that game. They're just basic mental mistakes.”

It’s Virginia Tech’s resistible force vs. North Carolina’s movable object.

But perhaps it’s not all so bad.

The Hokies did topple Ohio State on the road just three weeks ago, back when it seemed they might be a dark horse for the College Football Playoff. Even in spite of Brewer’s turnovers, Virginia Tech was tied or ahead in the final minutes of both games it eventually lost.

More importantly, perhaps, Brewer’s offensive weapons are incredibly young and still improving. Freshmen account for 59 percent of Tech’s receiving yardage and 71 percent of its rushing. Even Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, just arrived on campus this summer.

In other words, there were bound to be growing pains.

“There’s a lot of young guys playing out there, a lot of new faces on the offense,” Brewer said. “We knew there’d be ups and downs coming in. But we feel at this point, we’re far enough along that we should be out there producing on a consistent basis and translating those into wins. It’s time to step up and the learning process is over.”

For the Tar Heels, it’s clear where the learning process remains ongoing.

UNC’s offense has averaged 41 points per game, tops in the ACC. Against Clemson, the defensive front was solid. The Tigers’ run game allowed just 92 yards on 44 carries, making the case that the big boys in the trenches did their job. The back end, however, has been boom or bust -- and mostly bust. Carolina’s seven interceptions rank tied for sixth among all Power 5 teams, but the Heels have also allowed 8.7 yards per pass, 353 passing yards per game and 17 passing plays of 25 yards or more -- all dead last among Power 5 teams.

"I think as a group as a unit, as a front seven, we did what we were supposed to do, we stopped the run,” tackle Ethan Farmer said. “We’ve just got to get better in the secondary."

Maybe Brewer does North Carolina a few favors Saturday. If he throws multiple interceptions, he’ll be just the fifth quarterback in the last decade to do so in five straight games.

Or maybe a date with the beleaguered Heels is just what Brewer needs to right the ship. UNC risks becoming just the second ACC team in the last decade to allow 500 yards in four straight games.

For one team, there’s a strong chance that Saturday marks its last flicker of hope in the Coastal Division. For the other, September’s struggles could finally begin to fade.

It’s not the matchup of the ACC’s best this weekend, but it’s a huge game for both sides.

“At this point,” Brewer said, “every game we feel like is a must-win.”

Is Georgia Tech for real?

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
12:00
PM ET
The stats do not scream perfect team! But through four games, Georgia Tech has an unblemished record, emerging as one of the big surprises in the ACC through the first month.

Still, it is hard to get a gauge on just how good these Jackets are, considering how they have gotten to 4-0. They looked uninspired in a win over Wofford. They trailed early to Tulane. They needed a last-ditch rally to beat Georgia Southern. And they needed a last-second field goal to beat Virginia Tech.

Are they lucky or good?

We may have an answer Saturday, when the Jackets face Miami in a crucial Coastal Division game. Their overall defensive performance to date may not inspire much confidence, but a big reason Georgia Tech has remained undefeated has been its ability to make game-changing plays.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia Tech's Paul Johnson and Justin Thomas
Michael Shroyer/Getty ImagesCoach Paul Johnson, QB Justin Thomas and the Yellow Jackets have opened the season 4-0.
All seven Georgia Tech takeaways have resulted in points. In each of Georgia Tech’s last two games, the Jackets have gone on game-winning drives thanks to takeaways. Down 38-35 with Georgia Southern driving to the Jackets’ 24 in the closing minutes, Jamal Golden forced a fumble that KeShun Freeman recovered.

Quarterback Justin Thomas marched the Yellow Jackets 72 yards for the winning score, capping the drive with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Deon Hill with 20 seconds remaining.

Then against Virginia Tech the following week, D.J. White got an interception with 1:58 to play, setting up Harrison Butker's 24-yard field goal to win.

“I think we've gotten better each week. I wouldn't sleep too much on Georgia Southern,” coach Paul Johnson said during the ACC coaches call last week. “They got a pretty good football team. We got off to a big lead, 35-10 at halftime. As a young team, we relaxed. They got the momentum and it was hard to get it back. To our credit, we found a way to get it back.

“We've got a young team. Hopefully they're going to get better each week. We're going to have to play better than we played.”

Doomsday scenarios and dark clouds seemed to hover around the program headed into the season, as Johnson had to deflect questions about fan discontent and his own future as head coach after four straight seasons with mediocre results.

Yet the Jackets have found ways to win. Sometimes, that means getting a little lucky.

Like all teams, they are a work in progress. Johnson wants to see more consistency, especially on defense. For all the big plays the Georgia Tech D has made, the Jackets rank No. 11 in scoring defense in the ACC, No. 14 in rush defense, No. 12 in total defense, last in sacks and No. 12 in opponents’ third down conversions.

They have fit the "bend-but-don’t-break" motto this season. As for the offense, Thomas has been an upgrade over Vad Lee. Thomas ranks No. 3 in the ACC in rushing, and Georgia Tech has gone from No. 9 in the ACC in pass efficiency to No. 2 because Thomas is better throwing the football.

His connection with DeAndre Smelter finally gives the Jackets the type of passing combination they need to keep defenses off balance. Still, improvements must be made there. Georgia Tech missed on several big pass plays against Virginia Tech and Thomas is completing just under 50 percent of his passes.

But there are plenty of reasons for encouragement. In addition to scoring off the takeaways, the Jackets have been able to hold onto the football. Georgia Tech only has four turnovers -- second fewest in the ACC. Last year, Georgia Tech turned the ball over 24 times.

And beating Virginia Tech was big, considering it ended a four-game losing streak in the series. So now that they have ended one losing streak, the Jackets have a chance to break a five-game skid against the Canes on Saturday. Johnson has never beaten Virginia Tech and Miami in the same season.

The last time Georgia Tech did that was 2006, the year they lost to Wake Forest in the ACC title game. There is little doubt, then, that a "prove it" moment awaits this weekend.

Weekend recruiting wrap: ACC 

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
10:00
AM ET
Another weekend in the ACC has come and gone. As expected, North Carolina State made a splash after giving top-ranked Florida State a scare and an unexpected flip became the news of the day Friday.

Planning for success: Syracuse

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
9:00
AM ET
When Scott Shafer met with his team last Tuesday, he did not harp on Syracuse's home loss to Maryland so much as what lied ahead for the Orange. The ACC scheduling gods seemed to do the second-year ACC program little favor, after all, with the slate in front of it.

From (a previously scheduled) game with Notre Dame this past Saturday, to Louisville and Florida State visiting the Carrier Dome in the next two weeks, to a trip to Clemson at the end of the month, Syracuse has its hands full as it tries to build off last year's surprising 7-6 campaign in Shafer's debut season.

But the second-year head coach has taken a big-picture approach with his program, now 2-2 after a 31-15 loss to the Fighting Irish at MetLife Stadium. And Shafer is hoping it serves them well, especially with ACC newcomer Louisville awaiting this Friday night.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesNotre Dame was just the start of a brutal stretch for Syracuse, which plays Louisville, Florida State and Clemson in the next month.
"How many times have you guys as a kid dreamt about being in this situation?" Shafer told ESPN.com, recalling what he asked his players last week. "You guys realize, 'Hey you're living the dream right now.' The daily grind can numb us and put us in a situation where we're not always in touch with our emotional state of 'Hey, we're doing exactly what we wanted to do ever since we were little, when we first put the pads on, and now it's right here, right now. It's real.'

"We're living in real time and we're living that dream, so let's go have a blast. Let's enjoy it. Let's make it a great dream. Let's go after it. Let's not worry about things the outsiders will ask us questions about. Let's focus in on each other and playing the best football that we can."

Syracuse is coming off a performance that can best be described as uneven: The Orange forced five Irish turnovers and scored a defensive touchdown, but also fell victim to 25 straight completions from Everett Golson. They failed to establish much of a rhythm offensively, but also were a highly-questionable spike/fumble call by the officials from entering halftime down just one possession, which would have given the second half a far different tone.

"After these first four games I know that we can compete with anybody, I will tell you that," running back Prince-Tyson Gulley said after the loss. "We just have to execute what we are doing. I do not think there is any team out there that is just so much better than us. I don’t see that out there. We really have to go back to work and go to the drawing boards and do what we have to do."

With a short turnaround, Shafer and Syracuse could take a cue from what they did in 2012. Back then, a 9-0, 11th-ranked Louisville team led by Teddy Bridgewater marched into the Carrier Dome and received a rude awakening. The Orange defense -- whose coordinator at the time was Shafer -- forced two turnovers, completely negated the Cardinals' ground game and watched Louisville's perfect season go up in flames en route to a 45-26 Syracuse win.

That contest was two years ago, two head coaches ago (Louisville's Charlie Strong's now at Texas, Syracuse's Doug Marrone's now with the Bills) and one old conference ago (both teams exited the Big East, which is now the American Athletic Conference). But Louisville hardly enters Friday as high as it did in November 2012. While Bridgewater was off dazzling in his first NFL start Sunday, the status of quarterback Will Gardner remains uncertain after he suffered a left knee injury in a Sept. 20 win at FIU. True freshman Reggie Bonnafon replaced him Saturday and was so-so in a win over Wake Forest, which sacked Bonnafon four times and pressured him on three other occasions.

The Orange will look to do the same regardless of who's under center for the Cardinals, who have surrendered 16 sacks through five games and who have been bailed out by a defense that ranks fifth nationally with 13 takeaways.

For Shafer, another primetime opportunity -- and the stiff tests afterward -- is something for his kids to get excited about.

"Now we're in it, man. We're in that environment that we all wanted to be in," Shafer said. "That's what it's all about. So let's enjoy the process. Let's have fun. Understand everything's really overrated except for playing the play in front of us, and let's see if we have the discipline and the pride to play at the highest level possible with the most effort and the most physicality that we can bring to the table, and let the cards fall where they may. But enjoy playing the game; that's what it's all about."

ACC morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
8:00
AM ET
It appears things are getting a bit salty between a pair of ACC coaches.

Florida State's Jimbo Fisher fired back Monday at NC State coach Dave Doeren, two days after Doeren had accused the Seminoles of faking injuries in FSU's 56-41 win.

"Well, I accuse him of not knowing what he's talking about," Fisher said Monday, as our Jared Shanker wrote. "They're not fake injuries. No one faked injuries, and we wouldn't do that. We'll coach Florida State, and he can coach North Carolina State."

As Shanker writes, Eddie Goldman, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Terrance Smith needed help off the field Saturday in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Doeren softened his stance Monday but did not exactly back down, saying that the issue is not specific to FSU and that a rule should be in place that a player has to sit out for more than one play if he leaves the game in such a situation.

None of this, of course, is particularly new to college football, which has publicly wrestled with the hurry-up, no-huddle debate going on three years now. There is no real clear answer yet.

Surprisingly, a poll embedded in Shanker's story shows fans are overwhelmingly OK with Doeren's suggestions, saying that he did not cross a line. But our David Hale likely had a point Saturday when he tweeted that if you're going to fake injuries to slow the offense's tempo, you probably don't do it with Goldman in the red zone.

On to the rest of your ACC links ...

By the numbers: Week 5 recap

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
2:00
PM ET
Breaking down some interesting stats after five weeks of games in the ACC.

* Jameis Winston’s Heisman campaign shouldn’t be on life support just yet. His numbers are down from last year, but not by as much as you might think.

Last season, Winston led 137 drives and Florida State scored on 66 percent of them, averaging 4.1 points per drive.

This season, Winston has led 33 drives and the Seminoles have scored 61 percent of the time and averaged 3.7 points per drive.

It’s really a small blip, and given that Winston is breaking in a lot of new faces in new roles at the skill positions, it’s certainly not too surprising.

Winston also ranks 10th nationally in passing yards per game, 15th in yards per attempt and 19th in passer rating. Again, off a bit from last season, but certainly well within range of climbing back into the Heisman race by year’s end.

* In Florida State’s first eight quarters of action against Power 5 opponents, it had tallied just 131 yards and two TDs on 45 non-QB rushing attempts (2.9 yards per carry). Since the start of overtime against Clemson, however, those numbers have jumped to 194 yards and five TDs on 30 carries (6.5 YPC).

* Rashad Greene is FSU’s Mr. Reliable. Since he arrived in 2011, he’s responsible for 36 percent of all of the Noles’ receptions on third or fourth down (48). This season, he's been targeted on 11 of 21 third-down passes.

More Greene: He's played in 19 games decided by two touchdowns or less. In those games, he's caught 118 passes for 1,658 yards and 12 TDs. No other FSU receiver has had more than three touchdown catches in those games.

* The bad news for FSU is the defense. The Seminoles have allowed more than 400 yards of offense to ACC teams in consecutive games for the first time since 2009 — a season in which Florida State finished 108th nationally in total defense.

* Looking for a dark horse for the ACC’s top freshman? How about NC State’s Bo Hines, who has 24 catches for 312 yards already this season. Only three other true freshmen in the nation have more catches and only two have more yards than Hines, and no Power 5 conference receiver in the nation (min. 25 targets) has caught a higher percentage of his passes (87.5).

* Jacoby Brissett was exceptional against Florida State, with Jimbo Fisher comparing the NC State QB’s game to that of his own Heisman winner. But beyond the highlight plays, what’s perhaps been so impressive about Brissett so far this season is that he hasn’t made many mistakes. In fact, the NC State QB currently has a streak of 156 straight attempts without an interception — the longest streak by any quarterback since Baylor’s Bryce Petty went 229 straight throws from Oct. 5 through Nov. 30 of last season.

* While Brissett avoided picks, Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer keeps racking them up. Brewer threw two more against Western Michigan, giving him 10 for the year, which is tied with Wake Forest’s John Wolford for the most in the country. Brewer has thrown multiple interceptions in four straight games. That’s the longest streak by a Power 5 QB since USC’s Matt Barkley tossed multiple INTs in four straight in 2012. In the last decade, the only Power 5 QB with two or more picks in five straight games was Oregon State’s Matt Moore in 2005.

* Speaking of Wolford, he threw three more picks Saturday, which Louisville turned into two touchdowns and a missed field goal. Overall, Wake Forest has allowed 59 points off turnovers this year, the third most by any Power 5 team. Those 59 points account for 59 percent of all the points the Demon Deacons have surrendered this season, third most of any team in the country.

Worse news for Wake: It has Florida State up next on the schedule. Last year, the Deacons turned the ball over seven times against FSU, leading to 38 points for the Seminoles. Ouch.

* Saturday marked the first time this season that Pitt’s James Conner failed to reach 100 yards rushing and the first time that Miami’s Duke Johnson topped the century mark. Still, Conner and Johnson are the only running backs in the nation to have exceeded 90 yards in every game so far this season.

For Johnson, Saturday’s win over Duke was his 14th career game topping 90 yards rushing. Only three other active Power 5 running backs have had more since the start of 2012: Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (22), Georgia’s Todd Gurley (18) and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (15). That’s pretty good company.

* Of course Deshaun Watson is great, but here are a few numbers to illustrate how good he’s been: Watson leads the nation in yards per attempt (11.9). He’s second only to Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in passer rating (212.7). He’s third behind Mariota and Alabama’s Blake Sims in completion percentage (72.7). He has the third-best rate of TD-to-attempts in the country behind Mariota and Cal’s Jared Goff. And no QB in the nation has had a higher percentage of his passes result in plays of 20 yards or more than Watson (21.1).

* Impressive early work by Todd Grantham. Louisville currently leads the nation in total defense (208.5 yards per game) against FBS teams. Virginia is the next closest in the ACC, allowing more than 100 additional yards per game than the Cardinals (313.0). Louisville’s 18 sacks and nine interceptions against FBS teams are also tops in the nation, and only TCU has had a higher percentage of opponent drives end without gaining a first down (58%). ESPN’s metrics note the Cardinals’ defensive win probability added of 2.40 nearly doubles any other team in the country (Ole Miss and Utah State are next at 1.23).

* Virginia’s offense still won’t be confused with Oregon or Baylor, but the Hoos have scored 20 points or more in five straight games for the first time since Oct. 6, 2007. They haven’t hit that mark in six straight since 2002, but that could change Saturday against reeling Pittsburgh.

No. 1 ranking least of FSU's concerns

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
12:00
PM ET
All offseason, many shared opinions on how the traditional polls are essentially meaningless in this new College Football Playoff era. Yet when the coaches dropped Florida State from the top spot to No. 2 on Sunday, Seminoles fans already began to lament the loss of a wire-to-wire No. 1, at least in one poll. The vitriol was reminiscent of the good ol’ days of the BCS.

There are two schools of thought on why the Seminoles dropped: The first is that to be the man, you've got to beat the man, as pro wrestler Ric Flair has so eloquently put it for the last 40 years. The other is that 2013 should have no bearing on 2014, and the reigning champion is on equal footing with the rest of the country; every undefeated team has a rightful claim to the No. 1 ranking at this point.

That all makes for hotly debated Sunday afternoons, but not much else. The only ranking that matters now is the one the playoff committee will release next month.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State are not No. 1 in the USA Today coaches' poll anymore. But that should be of little concern.
Could Florida State use it as motivation and start playing better? Of course, they certainly could, but I’d imagine Jimbo Fisher is concerning himself with rounding into form a team that by all accounts has not been as dominant as it was last season.

Following Saturday’s 56-41 victory over NC State, Fisher said it is “frustrating” the Seminoles have not played as well as he would like through the first third of the regular season. Here are the bigger takeaways from Saturday's game moving forward. The loosening grip on the No. 1 ranking is not one of them.

1. The rushing attack found some life

Based purely on talent, there was a faction of Florida State fans who expected Karlos Williams, a former five-star recruit, to be one of the Seminoles’ most prolific running backs since Warrick Dunn. The numbers were paltry through three games, however, as the running backs and offensive lines tagged each other in and out of Fisher’s doghouse. Against NC State, however, Williams ran for a career-high 126 yards and three touchdowns. That was a product of much better blocking, too, as a Florida State running back made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage before getting touched an astonishing six times in the second half, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That is a sign of an offensive line paving the way, and the rushing attack needs to be clicking by the time Notre Dame rolls into town on Oct. 18. The offensive line was criticized heavily following the Clemson victory, but the unit can be proud of the holes it opened Saturday and use that confidence moving forward.

2. A battered defense is struggling at the line of scrimmage

It is tougher to gauge this Florida State defense when it is without two starting defensive linemen, but the injury bug has bitten the unit hard. Playing without Mario Edwards Jr. (concussion) and Nile Lawrence-Stample (pectoral, out for season), NC State carved up the Seminoles defense. It is not an issue that will be fixed over the course of a week, if it can be fixed at all. The Florida State defense is not as talented as it was last season at every level. Shoddy tackling has added to the mediocre defensive numbers, too. Whether it was a running back, receiver or a scrambling Jacoby Brissett, the Seminoles whiffed far too many times. But with the limited bodies, does Fisher even risk increasing the physicality in practice? To the defense’s credit, after a program-worst 24 points allowed in the first quarter, the defense tightened up and allowed touchdowns only following FSU turnovers the remainder of the game. Young bodies along the defensive line also played major roles in the second half and showed the promise you would expect out of a freshman class ranked No. 3 in the country.

3. The offense is hitting its stride …

... and that should compensate for a defense still finding its bearings. It is no surprise the offensive production is apples and oranges when it is Jameis Winston at quarterback vs. anybody else. Winston was brilliant the majority of the game and showed no signs of rust. Complementing the passing game was a rushing attack that sealed the victory in the fourth quarter. The Seminoles converted 8 of 11 third-down attempts, and Winston was 7-of-9 passing on third down, with an average of 12 yards per attempt. While receiver Rashad Greene continues to state his case as the country’s best receiver, the Seminoles found a competent option outside of the senior. Sophomore Jesus "Bobo" Wilson had 109 yards and two scores. One issue is the offensive line did not pass block particularly well for a second consecutive game.
Back in July, the media pundits took a crack at predicting the ACC Coastal Division.

Miami was picked to finish No. 1. Virginia was picked to finish No. 7. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team was selected second, described the randomness we all expected to see out of the division when he said:
"If you look at the Coastal Division, you could really do a real serious one through seven and then for fun, right on the other piece of paper, flip it, make seven to one and go right back down. It would be interesting to see which one was the most accurate."

Time for some fun.

[+] EnlargeDaquan Romero
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsWith its defensive play stellar, Virginia appears to be a top contender for the ACC Coastal crown.
Now that each team in the Coastal division has played a conference game, let us take a look at the odds each one has of winning the ACC based on the ESPN Football Power Index calculations. Keep in mind Florida State remains the runaway favorite to win the league after surviving yet another scare at NC State this past Saturday.

It is pretty clear the Noles are carrying the flag for the entire ACC, a league that suffered a little more embarrassment over the weekend when Pitt lost to Akron and Boston College lost to Colorado State. Florida State has not looked unstoppable, but thankfully for the league, the Noles remain in the thick of the College Football Playoff discussion.

To make an undefeated run and secure their spot in the final four, they will have to win the ACC championship game. Who are the two most likely teams take them down in Charlotte?

None other than Virginia and Pitt, the two teams picked to finish last in the Coastal. As of Monday morning, Pitt's chances of winning the ACC were 3.7 percent, based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season. The Hoos -- the only team that failed to receive a first-place vote to win the Coastal -- have been given a 2.8 percent chance to win the ACC.

Looks like Cutcliffe may have been on to something.

We will have a chance to see just how well Virginia matches up with Florida State when the two play in the regular season Nov. 8 in Tallahassee. But the Hoos will not be penciled in as an automatic W for anyone, not based on the way their defense has played. They are relentless, an opportunistic group that has 19 sacks, 39 tackles for loss and 18 takeaways in five games.

Based on the defense alone, Virginia should be in each of its Coastal games this season. That includes Virginia Tech, which has won 10 straight and 14 of the past 15 in the series. But that is getting way ahead. First, the Hoos are in one of three critical Coastal showdowns this weekend against Pitt. Miami-Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech-North Carolina are the others.

Would it surprise you to know that nobody is favored by more than five in any of these games? Miami and Virginia Tech are each one point favorites; Virginia is the biggest favorite, with the five-point line over the Panthers. The line makes perfect sense based on what we have seen out of Pitt the past two weeks.

Plus, Virginia has one big advantage against Pitt. Its run defense is giving up less than 100 yards a game; Pitt’s strength is its run game behind James Conner. As Akron showed this past weekend, neutralizing Conner means relying on quarterback Chad Voytik to be a difference maker. Voytik, as we have seen, has been unable to deliver the past two weeks late in games.

It is obviously way too early to start crowning any Coastal champs. It may be too early to crown anybody until the final week of the regular season. Nothing can be counted on, not even these percentages.

Expect them to fluctuate wildly from week to week based on the inevitable upsets and unpredictability that come with Coastal life.

But headed into a big weekend for the division, it seems pretty safe to say there is no way Virginia should be overlooked the way it was in July.

ACC morning links

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
8:00
AM ET
So much of Virginia Tech's production has come from its freshmen. Just look at Saturday's 35-17 win over Western Michigan.

All four Hokies touchdowns were scored by first-year players. Fifteen of the team's 19 touchdowns on the season have been scored by freshmen.

So the news that came down Sunday about freshman running back Shai McKenzie had to be discouraging. McKenzie suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, as our Jared Shanker wrote. This is the same knee that McKenzie injured in September of his senior year of high school last season. He had enrolled at Virginia Tech in the winter to help rehabilitate the knee.

McKenzie rushed for 87 yards Saturday before suffering the injury, helping a Hokies rushing attack as good as any in the last four years: Their 308 rushing yards were the most in a game since 2010, when they rushed for 317 yards against N.C. State.

Fellow freshman Marshawn Williams led the effort, tallying 119 yards on just 14 carries. He is also the team's leading rusher on the season, just edging McKenzie, 290-269, so Virginia Tech is not without weapons in the backfield.

Still, you have to feel for McKenzie after all the work he put in, and after all the early success he experienced in Blacksburg.

As for the rest of your ACC links ...

ACC bowl projections: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
8:00
PM ET
Another week in which the middle of the pack in the ACC took another big step backward but may have actually cleared up the bowl picture a bit. Miami and Clemson are on the rise, while Duke, Pitt and BC are headed in the wrong direction -- but as of now, they’re all still on track to play in a bowl.

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Clemson versus Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Louisville
TaxSlayer Bowl: Georgia Tech
Belk Bowl: Virginia Tech
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: NC State
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Virginia
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Duke
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: Boston College

* Note: Notre Dame is eligible for a bid to any ACC tie-in game unless it is selected for a New Year’s Six game, which can include playing an ACC team in the Orange Bowl.

Best of the visits: ACC

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
3:00
PM ET
This weekend in the ACC, there were a number of key games that played host to some of the top prospects in the 2015 and 2016 classes. As expected, NC State featured an impressive visitor list with the No. 1-ranked Florida State Seminoles in town.

Here is a look at some of the recruiting visitors this weekend in the ACC, with a focus on Virginia Tech, Miami and NC State.

NC State played host to a number of big-time and key visitors Saturday, including ESPN 300 No. 86 and Florida State commit Johnny Frasier, No. 149 Nyheim Hines, No. 209 Bryce Love and three-star running back Reggie Gallaspy.

Following the Wolfpack’s 56-41 loss to the Seminoles, Dave Doeren and staff picked up a commitment from Gallaspy.

 

Along with all the impressive skill prospects on hand was Michigan commit and ESPN 300 No. 165 Darian Roseboro on an official visit and four-star offensive tackle and former North Carolina pledge Emanuel McGirt, who snapped this picture with the Wolfpack cheerleaders prior to the game.

 

The performance by NC State was a sign the Wolfpack are headed in the right direction in the minds of prospects, and that can do nothing but help the cause with Roseboro and McGirt. Considering the unknown future of Michigan head coach Brady Hoke, the Wolfpack are attempting to strike at the right time with one of the top prospects on the board in Roseboro. McGirt has Georgia, LSU, NC State and North Carolina strongly under consideration.

Roseboro caused a stir Sunday morning with this tweet from his protected account.

@DarianRoseboro: I'm going to do what's best for me

Also on hand for the NC State game was 2015 quarterback commitment Austin King. As expected, King walked away impressed with what the future holds for the Wolfpack.

 

The visitors at the NC State game Saturday weren’t just football players. Early in the game when the Wolfpack were up big, ESPN 60 No. 3 hoops prospect Harry Giles was active on twitter from the stands.

 

The Virginia Tech Hokies have hosted a number of big-time and important visitors in the last three weeks of home games. This weekend, none was bigger than ESPN 300 No. 15 and Under Armour All-America Game defensive tackle Tim Settle. The explosive tackle made his official visit to Blacksburg over the weekend, which was his first official visit.

 

Virginia Tech continues to move up the list for five-star defensive tackle Settle. Tennessee and Penn State are also high on the list along with Florida State and West Virginia, where Settle made an unofficial visit last weekend. The Hokies are expected to be in the race for Settle until the very end after making up significant ground since Settle’s unofficial visit for Virginia Tech’s season opener.

Meanwhile, at Sun Life Stadium for the Miami Hurricanes' win over Duke, a number of top prospects were on hand, including ESPN Junior 300 No. 34 Sam Bruce. The electric playmaker is one of seven ESPN Junior 300 prospects committed to the Hurricanes.

 

The win by the Hurricanes was a big one both on the field and for recruiting purposes. In Bruce, Miami has one of the top receivers and return men in the 2016 class committed and a prospect who has the ability to help recruit others to Coral Gables.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
2:00
PM ET

ACC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
9:00
AM ET
Here are the players who stood out above the rest during a wild Week 5 in the ACC:

NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett: How can you overlook Brissett's efforts in NC State's 56-41 loss to top-ranked Florida State? The Florida transfer completed 32 of 38 passes for 359 yards with three touchdowns, while rushing for 38 yards as well. It was a loss, yes, and it will be tough to get up for every game the way you do when the No. 1 team in the country comes to your backyard, but Brissett gives NC State a completely new look offensively, and the program has to be excited about the rest of the season going forward.

Wake Forest defensive end Tylor Harris: When you set a national record, you likely end up with a helmet sticker. The junior did just that for the Demon Deacons in a tough 20-10 loss at Louisville. Harris set a new FBS record by recovering three fumbles in a game. No FBS players has totaled three fumble recoveries since it became an official stat in 1992. Harris now has four on the year, one shy of the school single-season record of five. He had a strip-sack and fumble recovery in the end zone for a score in the third quarter to give Wake the 10-7 lead at the time. This defense will give the Deacs opportunities to stick around in some games in which they are overmatched this year. Hats off to Harris.

Miami linebacker Denzel Perryman: The Hurricanes looked like a completely different team than the one that was run over by Duke late last season, topping the Blue Devils, 22-10. Perryman was a big part of that, forcing a fumble, picking of one pass and breaking up another. His interception with 1:55 left all but clinched the win for Miami, handing Duke its first loss and shaking up the entire Coastal Division race once more.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson: How about this for a first career start: 27-of-36 passing for 435 yards, six touchdowns, one interception, in addition to 28 yards rushing. The Tigers bounced back appropriately from last week's heartbreaker at Florida State and beat North Carolina, 50-35. With a true freshman quarterback already this good, it's easy to get excited about the future for the Tigers, both short- and long-term.

Florida State running back Karlos Williams: If FSU has plans on repeating as national champions, it is going to need some production out of its backfield. And the Seminoles finally got that Saturday in their 56-41 come-from-behind win at NC State. Williams carried the ball 21 times for 126 yards and scored three touchdowns. He added three catches for 29 yards. As our David Hale noted, before overtime of the Clemson game last week, Williams had tallied just 152 yards and a touchdown on 40 carries. This was a huge development during an otherwise concerning afternoon for the Noles.

Video: Miami RB Duke Johnson

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
12:46
AM ET
video Duke Johnson's 155 yards and one touchdown pushed Miami by Duke on a rainy night in South Florida.

SPONSORED HEADLINES