ACC: Duke Blue Devils

ACC Week 10 predictions

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
Shanker: It's not as if this team has not dealt with media circuses before, and this week was no different with the news that police are investigating running back Karlos Williams for domestic assault. Whether Williams plays, the constant for FSU the past two years is Jameis Winston, and he will be on the field Thursday. While the Cardinals' defense ranks as No. 1 nationally, no defense has been able to stop Winston yet. History suggests the Cards will need to score in the 30s, and their offense has struggled to score at times this season. Florida State 30, Louisville 24

Fortuna: This is not a very favorable matchup for FSU, and it cannot come at a worse time: Thursday, the night before Halloween, the site of a major upset 12 years ago. Louisville's defense is relentless, especially against the run, and the Seminoles' already struggling ground game probably won't be turning a corner in this one, as Mario Pender (ankle) is out again and Williams has been engulfed in controversy all week. Who knows if Williams is as adept at blocking out off-the-field issues as Winston is, but it might not matter. The Cardinals finally have their weapons -- namely, DeVante Parker — back at full strength, and the offense might just look like what we all expected it to when Bobby Petrino took over. Can the underwhelming FSU defense step up? Getting pressure on Will Gardner will be key. Playing from behind is no way to live, though, and the Noles can overcome only so many slow starts (Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame) before paying a price. Louisville 23, FSU 17

Shanker: The Eagles run the ball very well and don't ask quarterback Tyler Murphy to do too much through the air. So that sounds like the same formula Miami used to beat Virginia Tech last week. Duke Johnson ran all over the Hokies, and Murphy and BC's stable of backs are capable of running for close to 300 yards combined. Defensively, the BC defense is stout, and it is hard to imagine the Virginia Tech offense finding much success. Boston College 17, Virginia Tech 14

Adelson: The Hokies played their worst game of the season last week against Miami and now have to face the best running quarterback in the country in Murphy, who is on his way to a 1,000-yard season. The matchup advantages seem to skew toward BC, but expect Virginia Tech to really place an emphasis on its run game. The Eagles have had trouble closing out games this season, so the Hokies will have a chance to survive in a slog. Virginia Tech 21, Boston College 20.

Hale: The simplest answer here is the Wolfpack have to win an ACC game eventually, right? Sure, we've been fooled into thinking the streak would come to an end before, but this seems like a must-win for the program. Dave Doeren has had a week off to prepare. Jacoby Brissett has had the bye week to get healthy. The defense gets back a handful of suspended players. Syracuse is coming off a tough, physical loss to Clemson and is playing with a true freshman at QB. Meanwhile, the fans in Raleigh are getting restless, and the goodwill engendered by NC State’s close loss to Florida State has all but evaporated. It’s time for a Wolfpack victory in conference play, and, really, it feels like now or never. NC State 21, Syracuse 14

Fortuna: A.J. Long finally looked like a freshman last week for Syracuse, getting sacked four times, but he was facing a nasty Clemson defense. He'll be better off for that test in the long run, including this week against an NC State team that averages less than two sacks per game. The Wolfpack have struggled against the run in ACC play, surrendering 217 rushing yards per outing, which give the Orange some opportunities to open up the offense and let Long breathe a bit. Brissett, meanwhile, has not looked like the same player in his three outings since the FSU game. A Syracuse defense that gave its offense a chance despite four turnovers should be strong enough to keep Brissett and the Pack offense from regaining its touch. Syracuse 24, NC State 13

Hale: Georgia Tech runs the football. Virginia is 10th in the nation in rushing defense (based on yards-per-carry). And if that strength-on-strength battle ends in something resembling a draw, the Hoos have a clear advantage nearly everywhere else. The Hoos can get after the quarterback, which should negate Georgia Tech’s big-play threat. Georgia Tech has struggled to affect the passing game, which should help Virginia’s inconsistent passing attack. The Yellow Jackets are allowing 5.4 yards per carry, meaning the Cavaliers should be able to run early and often. But perhaps most important, it’s an issue of motivation. Virginia needs this game desperately -- both for its bowl chances and for coach Mike London to keep his job. Virginia 30, Georgia Tech 27

Adelson: Though Virginia has been excellent against the run this season, the defense has been gashed for some big plays. It happened last week against North Carolina, and now the Hoos have to play a Georgia Tech offense that not only pounds the ball but has a nose for big gains. Georgia Tech has 48 offensive plays that have gone for 25 or more yards this season -- including 15 in the past two games. If Virginia cannot stop the big play or score off takeaways, the Jackets will win. Georgia Tech 30, Virginia 27.

Unanimous picks

Duke at Pitt: Both defenses are light years ahead of where they were since last season's meeting in Durham (a 58-55 Panthers win), but Pitt's offense needs to regroup in a hurry after its turnover-plagued performance against Georgia Tech. Facing a Blue Devils' offense that is coming off a bye is no easy task the week after defending the Yellow Jackets' attack, either. Duke 31, Pitt 27

North Carolina at Miami: There is something to be said for UNC's recent resurgence. Its defense has made several big plays lately, too. But Brad Kaaya has only grown as a passer, and Duke Johnson might be running as well as he ever has. The Hurricanes have just too much offensively for the Tar Heels to handle. Miami 40, UNC 35

Current Standings
Shanker: 51-12
Adelson: 50-13
Fortuna: 49-14
Hale: 48-15

ACC morning links

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
The game plan for Clemson’s offense with Cole Stoudt has been conservative to say the least.

As The Post & Courier writes, Stoudt isn’t looking downfield often. Of his 35 attempts last week against Syracuse, 21 were thrown to targets behind the line of scrimmage. Ten were thrown downfield at least 15 yards, and he completed just two. And that’s a big reason for the lack of real productivity for the Tigers.

As we noted in our weekly By the Numbers post, of the 93 quarterbacks with at least 150 pass attempts vs. FBS competition, Stoudt ranks 92nd in yards-per-completion at just 9.0.

Add to the lack of a downfield threat the fact that Clemson’s running game has been stagnant — just 3.5 yards-per-rush on non-sack plays, the worst among Power 5 teams save Wake Forest — and you’ve got a real problem.

The end result is that Clemson is averaging just 4.73 yards-per-play in the month of October, which ranks 105th nationally. Who would’ve thought we’d ever be saying that about a Chad Morris offense?

The good news is that Deshaun Watson continues to make progress from his broken finger, and while it’s unlikely he’s back for Wake Forest in a week’s time, the Georgia Tech game on Nov. 15 seems like a legitimate possibility. Meanwhile, Wayne Gallman ran for 101 yards on 28 carries last week against Syracuse, which marked the first 100-yard game by a Clemson tailback this season.

A few more links for your Thursday reading pleasure:

The Orlando Sentinel takes a look at what makes Louisville’s defense so dominant.

DeVante Parker should be an interesting challenge for Florida State’s secondary, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.

Karlos Williams will play against Louisville, according to Jimbo Fisher, but he’s the subject of a university inquiry, as Yahoo notes.

Tonight will be a major recruiting night for Louisville as it hosts the defending champs, writes The Courier-Journal.

Anthony Harris hasn’t racked up the interceptions for Virginia as he did a year ago, but he’s still playing at a high level, writes the Daily Progress.

Miami will be missing a key contributor on the offensive line against North Carolina, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

If AJ Long is going to turn things around from last week’s struggles vs. Clemson, NC State looks like the right defense to do it against, writes

Duke isn't getting distracted by its Top 25 ranking, writes the Associated Press.

In spite of Virginia Tech's struggles, Steve Addazio knows Lane Stadium is no easy place to win, writes BC Interruption.

ACC Show: Week 10

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
Join ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna, David Hale and Jared Shanker as they discuss the inclusion of four ACC teams in the College Football Playoff Committee's initial rankings, No. 2 Florida State's big road test and answer your questions live on screen.

ACC playoff tracker: Oct. 29

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
The first round of rankings from the College Football Playoff committee are here, and while it was top-heavy for the SEC, Florida State’s place at No. 2 bodes well for the ACC. It helps, too, that while Louisville and Clemson are all but eliminated from the playoff picture, they both found their way into the Top 25 -- adding some overall value to the conference.

Plenty will change in the coming weeks as those SEC teams knock one another down the rankings, so the key for both of the ACC’s remaining contenders is simple: Just keep winning.

Florida State Seminoles

Record: 7-0 (4-0 ACC)
Rank: No. 2
Next big obstacle: Thursday night's game at Louisville

Reason for optimism: Florida State is undefeated, and that’s something only two other teams in the nation can say. That alone is the biggest check mark in FSU’s column, and the Seminoles' position at No. 2 in the first playoff committee rankings -- as, it’s worth noting, the only non-SEC team in the top four -- puts them squarely in control of their own destiny. Aside from Thursday’s showdown in Louisville against the Cardinals’ tough D, the worst of FSU’s schedule is behind it, and coach Jimbo Fisher has said from the outset of the season, this was a team that would get stronger as the year progressed.

Cause for concern: Start with this week’s game. Louisville is getting healthy at just the right time on offense, and the Cardinals’ defense is clearly one of the best units in the nation. FSU, meanwhile, is dealing with a new round of off-field controversy and coming off a win that was both emotionally and physically draining. Yes, FSU’s No. 2 ranking is a good place to be at the moment, but the question still remains: Can the Seminoles withstand a loss?

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Obviously, the Seminoles will be rooting for themselves on Thursday. That’s the biggest issue of the week. Beyond that, the SEC promises to feast on itself a bit more this weekend, which should clarify a top six that’s crowded with four SEC teams. And just in case Florida State is saddled with a loss somewhere along the way, it would be a big boost if Clemson and Notre Dame could keep winning to help solidify the Seminoles’ overall profile. But none would be bigger than an Oklahoma State win over Kansas State that would both knock off another top contender and add some cache to FSU’s nonconference schedule.

Duke Blue Devils

Record: 6-1 (2-1 ACC)
Rank: No. 24
Next big obstacle: Duke is a four-point underdog on the road against Pitt this week, so the Blue Devils should worry about taking care of immediate business before looking too far ahead.

Reason for optimism: David Cutcliffe has made a habit of shrugging off the prognosticators and focusing his team on simply winning the next game. The preseason rankings meant nothing to Duke, and so he’ll no doubt have the Blue Devils primed for this week’s matchup, regardless of their standing in the first playoff committee rankings. And while Duke does remain a long shot at No. 24, it can also afford to sit back and watch the other conferences beat up on one another at the top, while it wouldn’t have to face another ranked team until the ACC title game. It’s a clear path to an 11-1 season, and with a win over FSU in the ACC championship game, Duke could be one of the few one-loss teams with a conference title to its credit.

Cause for concern: That relatively easy path to the ACC championship game is both a blessing and a curse for Duke. It might make the final record look impressive, but the committee is clearly examining schedules in search of big wins, and Duke simply won’t have them. The nonconference slate was brutal, and the ACC’s pedigree -- particularly in the Coastal -- won’t help. In essence, even if everything falls perfectly into place for Duke, it would reach decision time for the committee with a win over FSU as its only impressive victory.

Whom they’ll be rooting for this week: The better the Coastal performs, the better things are for Duke, but there’s only so much rebuilding to be done there. What the Blue Devils really have to hope for is utter chaos around them, and that starts with some serious upsets. Wins for Arkansas, Stanford, Illinois and, particularly, Kansas, a team Duke thumped in September, would all set the dominoes falling.

ACC morning links

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
Having four teams in the initial College Football Playoff rankings is nothing to write home about and is fourth among the Power 5 conferences, but the ACC should be pleased with its showing in the rankings.

The positive news is that all four teams have the kind of schedules that should allow them to stick around in the rankings and move up as the season progresses. At minimum, Florida State will remain in the top two, unless you buy into the selection committee's SEC conspiracy. If the Seminoles can escape Louisville with a win, they should have one of the easier paths to the playoff.

Clemson's schedule provides few challenges the rest of the way, and quarterback Deshaun Watson should return in time for Georgia Tech. The Tigers, ranked No. 21, should keep climbing, and this could be the year they beat South Carolina. Both Brett McMurphy and Mark Schlabach predict the Tigers will make it back to the Orange Bowl.

When it was announced college football will get a playoff, how many people thought Duke would make the first ever rankings? Probably not even Duke coach David Cutcliffe could have envisioned that. With a relatively easy final five games, the No. 24-ranked Blue Devils should keep moving up before the ACC championship game, which they would play in if they keep winning.

Louisville, which rounds out the top 25, has one of the tougher final stretches of the season. The Cardinals host Florida State and Kentucky and travel to Boston College and No. 10 Notre Dame. Those teams are a combined 23-7. If the Cards win out, they could push for that Orange Bowl bid. But even if they finish 2-2 and close out the regular season 8-4, history suggests a four-loss team can still make the final regular-season rankings. There are always a few four-loss teams still ranked at the end of the regular season, including at least two four-loss teams in each of the last two final AP Top 25 regular-season polls.

ACC bowl projections: Week 9

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
Bowl eligibility in the ACC is locked up for five teams: Florida State, Clemson, Louisville, Duke and Georgia Tech. Boston College and Miami need just one more win to get in, and we like their chances. Wake Forest needs to win out, which seems unlikely. That leaves six teams still on the fence.

With a number of matchups between 3-5 and 4-4 teams on the docket this week, we should have more clarity in five days, but for now, here’s what we’ve got:

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

* Note: If Notre Dame is not invited to the College Football Playoff or a New Year’s Six bowl game, it will assume one of the ACC’s bowl spots.

ACC Upset Watch: Week 10

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28
Everybody is on Upset Alert this week!

Thursday night

No. 2 Florida State (7-0, 4-0) at Louisville (6-2, 4-2), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. Line: Florida State by 3.5. Many believe this is the toughest game remaining on the schedule for the Noles. There are several reasons for that. Louisville brings the No. 1 defense in the nation to the game, a group that is holding opponents to 14.6 points per game. Not only have the Cards kept scoring down, they rank No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense, No. 2 in interceptions (15), No. 7 in sacks (29). Safe to say Louisville will be coming after Jameis Winston early and often. But do the Cards have enough offense with receiver DeVante Parker back in the mix to pull the upset?


No. 24 Duke (6-1, 2-1) at Pitt (4-4, 2-2), noon, ESPNU. Line: Pitt by 3.5. These two teams played a wild game a season ago, with the Panthers prevailing 58-55. Duke comes into this one off a bye, while Pitt has to shake off a miserable game against Georgia Tech in which it turned the ball over on its first five possessions. Duke has been the better team this season, so it is a little surprising to see Pitt favored, especially off such a bad performance.

Boston College (5-3, 2-2) at Virginia Tech (4-4, 1-3), 12:30 p.m, ESPN3. Line: Virginia Tech by 3. Easy to envision a BC win in this one when you look at one key factor: Virginia Tech has been unable to stop running quarterbacks this season. Couple that with a terrible performance last week against Miami, and maybe the Eagles win again. Tyler Murphy has failed to run for 100 yards just once this season -- against USC.

North Carolina (4-4, 2-2) at Miami (5-3, 2-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Miami by 17. The line in this game seems a bit high considering the Tar Heels are on a bit of a roll after two straight wins. There is no doubt Miami presents many more challenges to a struggling UNC defense -- both from Duke Johnson and its speedy receivers. But the North Carolina offense presents more challenges than Virginia Tech did. Marquise Williams and Mack Hollins are playing at a high level and will force Miami to have a different defensive plan this weekend.

NC State (4-4, 0-4) at Syracuse (3-5, 1-3), 3 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Syracuse by 3.5. The Wolfpack go into this game off a much-needed bye week, while Syracuse could be emotionally spent after losing a close game to Clemson last week. Both need this game to help their bowl hopes. While the Syracuse defense has looked impressive the last two weeks, Jacoby Brissett presents a tougher matchup than Wake Forest and Clemson did. If Syracuse cannot get its offense going, NC State could get its first ACC victory since 2012.

Virginia (4-4, 2-2) at Georgia Tech (6-2, 3-2), 3:30 p.m. ESPNU. Line: Georgia Tech by 3.5. This is another must-win Coastal game for both teams, trying to keep pace with Duke atop the standings. Virginia has now dropped two straight after its impressive start to the season and it does not get any easier from here. But its defense will have a chance to slow down the run game because it has one of the stronger front sevens in the league. If the Hoos can get back to forcing turnovers the way they did in their first six games, their victory chances improve greatly.

ACC morning links

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
A funny thing happened for the ACC in the final AP poll that will matter for the remainder of the regular season.

Florida State had the week off and yet it gained a little ground on No. 1 Mississippi State. The Seminoles are still No. 2, but the difference between first and second is slim.

Duke took the week off, too, but for the first time this season the Blue Devils snuck into the poll. They check in at No. 24.

But Clemson, which actually played and won on the back of a stellar defensive effort, took a step back in the poll from 21 to 22.

It was hardly a major shake-up for any of the three, and of course, the College Football Playoff committee will release its first rankings of the season on Tuesday, making all of this a moot point.

It will be interesting, however, to see how the committee evaluates the ACC’s few remaining contenders.

Does Florida State get credit for close wins over good teams, or does the national narrative of a flawed team carry sway with the committee?

Will the longtime perceptions of Duke as a second-tier program mean the Blue Devils, even at 6-1, are a long way from playoff consideration, or will last year’s success and this year’s strong start give the ACC a legitimate second option for the playoff?

And will the committee reward Clemson for two relatively close losses to top-10 teams or consider the eventual return of star QB Deshaun Watson? Or will the struggling offense and close game against Syracuse define the Tigers?

In other words, even in a league where there’s a clear favorite for the playoff, the release of the first committee poll still has some serious drama to it.

For what it’s worth, ESPN projects Florida State as the team best positioned for a playoff bid, while our FPI rankings have the Seminoles at No. 6 -- behind five SEC teams.

A few more links for your Monday reading pleasure…

The continued emergence of Boston College running back Jon Hilliman was one of the big bright spots of Saturday’s win over Wake Forest, writes BC Interruption.

Before the Clemson game, there was a QB controversy brewing at Syracuse. But against that Tigers’ D, A.J. Long looked like a true freshman, writes

The running backs played a big role in Georgia Tech righting the ship against Pitt, writes From the Rumble Seat.

Virginia’s late loss to North Carolina may have erased whatever safety net was left in Mike London’s quest to save his job, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly is on Virginia Tech’s radar, writes the Fighting Gobbler.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 9

October, 26, 2014
Oct 26

ACC mailblog

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
Enjoy the weekend, gang.

Ramon Capra (@RCap_UM) writes: Duke Johnson, ACC's best chance of Heisman?

Matt Fortuna: Ramon, no one is taking away from Johnson's dominance Thursday night, and throughout much of the season. But you still cannot ignore Jameis Winston. Yes, having won the Heisman last year makes it all the more difficult to win it this year. Yes, his childish antics cost him a chance to face Clemson (and nearly cost his team the game, division and repeat national title shot in the process). But on the field he has been, again, superb, especially in the second half last Saturday against Notre Dame, completing 15 of 16 throws for 181 yards and a touchdown. If the Seminoles win out and make the College Football Playoff, he will remain the Heisman front-runner from the ACC.

Stephen Lackey (@Slackeys) writes: If Duke wins out and beats FSU in the ACC championship game, do they go to the playoffs?

Matt Fortuna: Stephen, Duke reminds me a lot of Minnesota, in the sense that both lost an early game convincingly, have quietly won out since and now we're all realizing, "Holy cow, do we need to start talking about these guys in the playoff discussion?" The scenario you present is a big if — at least the beating FSU part — but there are still so many unknowns for me to really lean one way or the other. You have to assume the SEC winner will get in, and that conference might even get two, especially if Georgia or someone from the East tops the West in the league title game. If Michigan State wins out, I'd imagine that the Spartans are in good shape, considering their lone loss is at Oregon. Do Pac-12 and Big 12 teams then just beat each other up and ruin each league's chances? A 12-1 Duke team with a win over FSU could possibly knock out a potential 11-1 Notre Dame team, too, as the Irish's lone loss (at Florida State) would look worse, and they'd have no win to match Duke's best win. There will be so many fascinating subplots to all of this as we hit the home stretch in the inaugural year of the playoff. Also, wins such as Miami's rout at Virginia Tech last night certainly help Duke, too, considering the Hurricanes were the only team to beat the Blue Devils.

Wayne from Tallahassee, Florida, writes: So what's your take on the play in the FSU-ND game? I think the correct call was made and applaud the officials to make the call at that point in the game. I have always hated the philosophy to swallow the whistle in the final minutes. How far do you go with that --do you allow the receiver to just tackle a defender? I guarantee they wouldn't swallow the whistle on a late hit on the quarterback. PJ should have been flagged; that is one thing we can all agree on. I didn't see him remove his helmet live, but saw it on a replay.

Fortuna: Couldn't have said it better myself, Wayne. Well done.

Lynn Turk from Valley Center writes: Oh, oh! What about this view? From this vantage point, ND was robbed. Neither Fuller nor Prosise committed any fouls. FSU the aggressor in both cases. If ND wins out, will they be 11-1** (actually won)

Fortuna: Lynn, a wide receiver cannot block a defensive back on a forward pass like that. The call was correct. Now, if you want to talk about P.J. Williams not getting flagged for taking his helmet off after the play, as Wayne from Tallahassee just mentioned, then you have a valid argument, in my mind.

Assessing the ACC's slow starters

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
Last week we looked at some of the best performances at the midpoint of the season, but there are more than a few stars off to slow starts, too. We dug into the struggles of five to try to figure out what has gone wrong.

Stacy Coley (WR, Miami)

The hype: As a true freshman in 2013, Coley averaged 18 yards-per-catch and finished with 1,461 all-purpose yards, fifth-most in the ACC. With a year of experience under his belt, expectations were high.

The reality: In six games, Coley has 11 receptions for 59 yards. He has yet to catch a single pass of 18 yards or more after averaging that last season.

The explanation: Coley suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 that has hindered him all season. He hasn’t been able to match up with physical cornerbacks, and his routes have suffered as a result. The early season injury also kept him from building a rapport with new quarterback Brad Kaaya, and overall Coley has been targeted just 17 times in the passing game.

The fallout: Coley’s numbers are way down, but Miami’s passing game has remained solid. Kaaya has improved each week and become one of the top deep-ball passers in the nation, even without one of his top deep threats. With Coley struggling, however, Phillip Dorsett has stepped up. His 34.4 yards-per-catch average is the best in the nation.

Jamison Crowder (WR, Duke)

The hype: As a junior in 2013, Crowder led the ACC with 108 catches and topped 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He was a fixture of Duke’s passing game, earning the second most targets of any receiver in the nation. His senior season was to be a culmination of an exceptional career, including a good chance Crowder would set the conference record for receiving yards.

The reality: Crowder’s 40 catches are the second-most in the ACC this season, which is good. But he has yet to find the end zone against an FBS foe, and before a solid eight-catch, 99-yard day against Virginia last week, he had managed just 12 receptions for 90 yards in three games vs. Power 5 competition.

The explanation: The preseason injury to tight end Braxton Deaver, Duke’s second-leading receiver in 2013, meant there would be ample focus on Crowder from opposing defenses this season, so he has found a bit less room to maneuver. He has been a bit more prone to drops -- three so far -- but he is also catching just 47.6 percent of his targets, down from 62 percent a year ago.

The fallout: Duke’s passing game has been inconsistent this season, in part because of Crowder’s diminished numbers, but other receivers have stepped up. Max McCaffrey and Issac Blakeney have 50 catches and six touchdowns between them, better numbers than they tallied all of last season. But a more consistent Crowder would certainly be a big asset to quarterback Anthony Boone and the Duke offense, and last week's game could be a sign of what's to come.

Karlos Williams (RB, Florida State)

The hype: Williams was third on FSU’s depth chart last season, but he still rushed for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns. Moving into the starting role in 2014 behind a senior-laden offensive line, he was considered a darkhorse Heisman threat.

The reality: Last season, 23 of Williams’ 82 rushing attempts vs. FBS teams went for 10 yards or more. This season, just 11 of 73 have. He has rushed for nearly 2.5 yards-per-carry less than a year ago, and he already has more negative runs (12) than he did all of last season (8).

The explanation: Part of the Williams hype was conjecture. He posted big numbers in 2013, but he had just 18 carries in the first halves of games, with the bulk of his production coming in the latter half of blowouts. More problematic for Williams this season, however, has been the struggles of his offensive line. In 2013, he averaged 3.7 yards-per-carry before contact. This year, just 2.0.

The fallout: Florida State’s ground game has taken a major step backward from a year ago. In 2013, the Seminoles averaged 6.3 yards-per-carry on non-quarterback runs vs. FBS opponents (fourth-best in the nation). This season, they are getting just 4.4 (80th). As a result, Jimbo Fisher has been far more reliant on his passing game, calling for throws 55 percent of the time on first and second down, while averaging a yard-and-a-half less.

Ryan Switzer (PR, North Carolina)

The hype: As a true freshman, Switzer tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdowns, earning All-America status for the effort.

The reality: After averaging 21 yards-per-return a year ago, Switzer has just 20 punt-return yards total against FBS teams this season. He hasn’t found the end zone, and he has managed double-digit yardage in the return game just once since the opener vs. Liberty.

The explanation: The dangers of Switzer’s immense success in 2013 were obvious this offseason. Teams simply wouldn’t kick to him because they didn’t want to get burned. Still, he had just 24 return attempts last season, the same number he has had through seven games this season. More likely, Switzer is trying to make something out of nothing a bit too often, and the blockers leading the way haven’t been quite as good.

The fallout: Beyond the lack of special-teams touchdowns, there really hasn’t been much of an impact. In fact, last season UNC’s average starting field position after a punt was its own 28. This season, it’s the 29. Moreover, what Switzer has lacked in special-teams flair, he has made up for on offense. Through seven games last season, he caught 16 balls for 121 yards and one touchdown. This season he has 34 receptions for 429 yards and three scores.

Florida State’s defensive backs

The hype: The Seminoles led the nation in pass defense in 2012 and 2013, and under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt last season, they utterly dominated opposing quarterbacks, allowing just 5.1 yards-per-attempt (best in the country) and picking off 26 passes (also tops in the nation). With rising stars like Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams, Nate Andrews and Jalen Ramsey all returning, the stage was set for another big season.

The reality: Through seven games, FSU’s pass defense ranks 61st nationally. The Seminoles are allowing a far more hospitable 6.8 yards-per-attempt, have allowed 11 touchdowns after surrendering just 14 all season in 2013, and have picked off just seven passes.

The explanation: Personnel has something to do with it. The Seminoles clearly miss Terrence Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner's leadership and playmaking ability. The transition from Pruitt to new coordinator Charles Kelly has earned some of the blame from fans, too. But perhaps the biggest culprit is the lack of pressure up front. FSU’s sack rate has dropped from 7.6 percent of dropbacks a year ago to just 4.5 percent this season.

The fallout: Florida State avoided the worst possible consequence last week when an offensive pass interference call kept its undefeated season alive. Beyond that, teams are completing a higher percentage of third-down throws (54.4 percent, up from 46 percent last year) and converting a higher rate for first downs (37 percent, up from 28 percent), keeping drives alive and keeping Jameis Winston and the offense off the field. More impactful, perhaps, is that FSU scored 197 points off turnovers last season. So far this season, it has scored just 45.

ACC Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23

Fortuna: UNC's confidence is extremely high, coming off a close loss at Notre Dame and a last-second shootout win over Georgia Tech. Marquise Williams is playing the best ball of his life, hoping to turn the Heels' season around in the second half like he did a year ago. Virginia's defense will be challenged by the UNC tempo, and if that defense can't create scoring opportunities for itself, the Cavaliers' offense may not have the weapons to keep up if this contest turns into a shootout. Williams and the offense bail the Heels' defense out once again, signaling a recovery not unlike last year's for UNC.
North Carolina 42, Virginia 31

Hale: Yes, North Carolina got up off the mat last week to eek out a last-minute win over one of the most generous defenses in the ACC, but let's not assume all the Tar Heels' woes are behind them. They still allowed Georgia Tech to rack up 611 yards of offense, and they won't find nearly as many yards of their own against Virginia's stout D. The Hoos' pass rush should play havoc against UNC's work-in-progress O-line (remember what Virginia did to UCLA?). Virginia's improving passing attack threw for 325 yards last week against a good Duke secondary. What do you think the Hoos might do against those struggling UNC defensive backs? Kevin Parks has been waiting for a breakthrough performance, and North Carolina has nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in its past two games. Add a home-field advantage for the Hoos, and last week's momentum for UNC won't last long. Virginia 30, North Carolina 24

Adelson: The Jackets match up much better against Pittsburgh than they did against North Carolina a week ago. The Tar Heels did a majority of their damage offensively through the air, as Williams threw for 390 yards on the Jackets' D. Pitt does not have the same type of passing-game threat, and there will be room to run on the Pitt defense. Though the Panthers shut down Virginia Tech's ground game a week ago, the Hokies are the worst rushing team this group has faced. As long as Georgia Tech holds on to the football, the Jackets should be able to gain yards on the ground and hold on to the ball long enough to win. Georgia Tech 24, Pitt 21

Shanker: At least on paper, the Panthers look as if they could be Georgia Tech and the option offense's kryptonite. The Panthers get off the field on third downs (No. 7 nationally), stop the run (18) and limit the number of long rushes by an opponent. Pittsburgh is a ball-control offense, too, relying on James Conner to move the chains and wear out defenses. The Yellow Jackets are 95th in run defense, too. Pittsburgh has an average time of possession of 33:09, which should keep its defense fresh against Georgia Tech.
Pitt 28, Georgia Tech 27

Unanimous picks

Miami at Virginia Tech: Duke Johnson is a beast, and the Hokies will be without Luther Maddy and Chase Williams. Brad Kaaya has been a magician with the deep ball, and Virginia Tech has allowed 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards. The Hokies are used to Thursday night magic, but this offense might need more than that to get going. Miami 27, Virginia Tech 17

Syracuse at Clemson: Clemson's offense has been stuck in neutral since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury, but its defense has more than made up for it. Now, Syracuse sends true freshman AJ Long to deal with that dominant pass rush, and it could get ugly. Clemson 20, Syracuse 7

Boston College at Wake Forest: The Deacons have scored just one offensive touchdown and averaged just 2.2 yards per play in ACC games so far, with more than half their drives failing to garner a first down. Wake won't be able to keep Tyler Murphy and the BC offense off the field, and that's going to lead to a long day for the Deacons' defense. Boston College 31, Wake Forest 10

Current standings
Shanker: 48-10
Adelson: 46-12
Fortuna: 45-13
Hale: 44-14

ACC playoff watch: Week 9

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
We’re down to two playoff contenders left in the ACC, and as top teams around the country continue to tumble, the urgency of each upcoming matchup is magnified more than ever. Here’s how things stack up for the ACC after eight weeks.

Where the ACC stands: From now until the end of the season, it’s not about profile or reputation for the ACC. It’s simply about wins and, more specifically, wins for Florida State. The league continues to have just two ranked teams and now has just two officially alive for the playoff. That would be FSU, which beat Notre Dame in controversial fashion, and Duke, the defending Coastal champs that continue to chug along.

[+] EnlargeShaun Wilson
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesShaun Wilson and Duke have quietly put together a 6-1 record and are still a College Football Playoff contender.
Top playoff contenders: Florida State (No. 2 AP, No. 7 FPI), Duke (NR AP, No. 38 FPI)

Nonconference record: 36-14 (1-0 last week), 22-14 vs. FBS, 5-7 vs. Power 5 and Notre Dame

Week 8 recap: Let’s start with Duke, perhaps the most overlooked playoff contender in America. There are 23 teams yet to be plucked from the ranks of playoff possibilities according to our Eliminator, and only two -- Duke and Minnesota -- remain unranked in the AP poll.

But if any team is used to being overlooked, it’s Duke. The Blue Devils don’t seem to care. They just keep winning. One week after ending Georgia Tech’s time atop the division, they pulled the same trick with Virginia, and suddenly the chances of Duke finishing out the regular season at 11-1 seem somewhat realistic.

If that happens, it will almost certainly be Florida State that awaits the Blue Devils in Charlotte. More and more, the narrative around the Seminoles is that they’re a flawed team teetering on the brink of a loss.

FSU reinforced that storyline against Notre Dame, struggling throughout the first half and requiring a controversial penalty that overturned what would’ve been a game-winning TD for the Fighting Irish with just seconds to play.

If irrelevance is Duke’s burden, lofty standards are Florida State’s. When Auburn pulled off one miracle after another last year, it was hailed as a team of destiny and marched into the BCS title game at 12-1 riding two of the more unlikely wins of all time against Georgia and Alabama. Florida State has fought back to win games against Clemson, NC State and Notre Dame, but the storyline seems to be much different. The Seminoles are no team of destiny. They’re a team that keeps narrowly scraping by. Chalk it up to the high standard set by last year's national championship crew. It might not be fair, but it’s reality.

What's that mean for FSU? Well, just look at the FPI rankings. Despite beating a top-5 team, FSU tumbled from No. 4 to No. 7 -- now trailing five SEC teams and an Ohio State squad that lost at home to Virginia Tech in Week 2. Again, FSU belongs in the playoff, but it still can't afford a loss in spite of clearing its biggest obstacle of the season.

Paradoxically, Notre Dame's loss appears to have only burnished its playoff pedigree, which might also be a good thing for the ACC. Given that the league plays four games against the Irish this year, and that they’ll likely be the highest-ranked team FSU plays all season, respect for Notre Dame is respect for the ACC.

That loss, however, did knock another team from the ranks of the undefeated, as did Baylor’s stumble against West Virginia. Florida State is now one of just four teams in the nation without a loss.

Also of note, Georgia Tech fell to North Carolina in the final minute Saturday, thus officially eliminating the Yellow Jackets from playoff contention.

Week 9 preview: The slate in the ACC is ugly, with both of the remaining playoff contenders enjoying a bye. FSU has a particularly daunting task against Louisville the following week, and Duke has a showdown with Pittsburgh that could decide the leader of the Coastal Division. For Week 9, however, it’ll be a little bit of scoreboard watching for the league’s contenders.

Oregon, Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss -- all ranked in the top 10 -- go on the road for conference games this week, which could set up for some more chaos in what’s already been a chaotic season. While the first three teams are favored by at least two touchdowns, Ole Miss heads to LSU for a night game in Baton Rouge -- always a tough place to win. At this point, chaos is good for Florida State, assuming the Seminoles can avoid the absurdity. The more top contenders that have a loss on their resume, the better Florida State’s winning streak looks -- even if those wins came in close calls.

ACC Show: Week 9 (2 ET)

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
Join ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker as they discuss the Week 9 slate and answer your questions live on screen.
Notre Dame and the ACC announced their playing dates Tuesday through 2025, which rounds out the average of five league opponents a year for the Irish for 12 years.

"The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a release. "Notre Dame not only adds to our league's already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there's no question that this partnership is significant."

Dates were finalized through 2019, with opponents and sites set up for the six years after that. The full 2015 and 2016 schedules had already been announced last December, when this season's schedule -- the first of the ACC football agreement for Notre Dame -- was released.

"Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a release. "Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.

"On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once."

Some notes on the Irish's future schedules:
  • Notre Dame will get its shot at redemption against Florida State in four years, when the Seminoles visit South Bend on Nov. 10, 2018 -- three days shy of the 25th anniversary of the 1993 "Game of the Century" between these two. The Irish will return to Tallahassee on Sept. 6, 2021, Labor Day, before the Noles go back to Notre Dame Stadium sometime in 2024.
  • That holiday date at FSU is actually the second of two Labor Day road games for the Irish, who travel to Louisville on Sept. 2 (Labor Day) in 2019. As of now, it does not look like Notre Dame will play any Thursday night games.
  • That 2019 opener at Louisville is the first of a strenuous slate of road games for the Irish in 2019: They also go to Georgia (Sept. 21), Georgia Tech (Oct. 19) and Duke (Nov. 9). They are also expected to travel to Stanford that year, since it is an odd-number year, though no official date has been set. You can bet the Irish staff will point out this year to Peach State recruits, who will get a pair of trips back to their home state in a span of a month.
  • Notre Dame gets six ACC games in 2019 and 2023, while playing just four in 2022 and 2024. The Irish, of course, have just four ACC games this year, but will play six next season.
  • Notre Dame will play seven of the ACC's 14 teams in consecutive years: Miami in 2016 and 2017 and 2024 and 2025; NC State in 2016 and 2017; Wake Forest in 2017 and 2018; Virginia Tech in 2018 and 2019; Duke in 2019 and 2020; UNC in 2021 and 2022; Clemson in 2022 and 2023.
  • There remains no clarity on Notre Dame's Shamrock Series game -- in which it moves a home game off-site to a metropolitan area -- beyond 2016, when it faces Army in San Antonio. Next year's game against BC is at Fenway Park.
  • Not pictured in the graphic (and not-ACC related): As of this past summer, Notre Dame and Michigan State had a verbal agreement for two games in the 2020s, though they have said they may look at a single neutral-site contest.