ACC: Florida State Seminoles

ACC Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
9:00
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The ACC has a full slate of interesting games in Week 4. Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna, David Hale and Jared Shanker give their takes on who will win and why.

Andrea Adelson: If East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden can rack up 417 yards on one of the best secondaries in the ACC, what hope does North Carolina have in this game? North Carolina can talk revenge all it wants, hoping for a little payback for its embarrassing loss last year. But the Tar Heels have come out flat in both of their games this season, have had problems on the offensive and defensive lines and have been inconsistent in their run and return games. Just about every matchup arrow points in East Carolina's favor. East Carolina 31, North Carolina 21.

David Hale: If we learned anything from last week’s game, it should be this: In September, momentum swings quickly. Virginia Tech was riding high, ECU was overlooked and the end result was a dramatic win for the Pirates. Fast-forward to this week, and we have an overlooked North Carolina against an ECU team with an increasingly crowded bandwagon. The Tar Heels have a chip on their shoulder, remembering what happened last season. UNC’s secondary is solid, and Carden completed just 15 of 36 passes last week after ECU’s first two drives. The Pirates won’t sneak up on North Carolina this time around, and that’s the biggest advantage for the Heels. North Carolina 28, East Carolina 24.

Hale: It was just last year that Virginia’s underrated defense helped knock off BYU in Charlottesville, and those Hoos certainly weren’t as good as this year’s group. Yes, BYU has improved, but the Cougars still don’t have the most explosive offense. More importantly, BYU has thrown four interceptions and fumbled six times (four lost) in its first three games, and UVa’s defense will be by far the best the Cougars have seen so far. The onus will be on the Cavaliers’ offense to put a few points on the board -- no easy task against BYU -- but this could be a game in which the first team to find the end zone twice wins. Virginia 20, BYU 17.

Matt Fortuna: UVa is clearly a much-improved squad from last season and shouldn't need a two-hour rain delay to pull off the upset, as may have been the case last season. But the Hoos will still have their work cut out for them in Provo, Utah. Taysom Hill is a much better quarterback than he was a year ago. He has rushed for 356 yards through three games, second most nationally. Further complicating matters is the altitude of LaVell Edwards Stadium, which will test the depth of the UVa defense. The BYU defense has been flat-out salty against the run, and too much will be put on the Hoos' passing attack. BYU 30, Virginia 27.

Adelson: The Deacs showed some signs of life on offense in the second half against Utah State a week ago. Now the trick is to limit the turnovers and get the run game going. The bet is that will happen this week against Army, which has a run defense that ranks 84th in the nation, allowing 176 yards per game. The Wake Forest defense has played well for the most part, ranking 17th in the nation in total D, and will do enough to slow down the Black Knights. Wake Forest 21, Army 20.

Jared Shanker: It is not the sexiest matchup in Week 4, as both Army and Wake Forest have struggled in recent seasons. Army has not had a winning season since 2010, and Wake Forest is considered by many to be the worst Power 5 team in 2014. It isn't as much a case of having confidence in Army as it is questioning what Wake Forest will bring to the table. Stanford shut out Army last weekend, but the Black Knights were able to score 47 points against Buffalo, a team much more comparable to Wake Forest than the Cardinal. Wake Forest is playing a true freshman at quarterback and Army has a more experienced player leading the offense, and I think that will be the deciding factor. This will be a game decided in the final four minutes. Army 13, Wake Forest 10.

Fortuna: The Tigers know they are better than what they showed last season in a humiliating home loss to Florida State. Jameis Winston's declaration that Memorial Stadium is his house this past spring only fueled that fire, and now Winston won't even be around for the first half. All of that plays perfectly into the formula for a Tigers upset. Their highly touted defensive front has not lived up to expectations through two games, but if Clemson can create pressure early, get to backup QB Sean Maguire and force him to throw to someone other than Rashad Greene, the Tigers will give themselves a chance. Clemson 31, Florida State 27.

Shanker: It's almost as if this whole Winston half-game suspension sets up for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to add to his legacy. Maguire is a solid backup, so the smart money is on him keeping the game close heading into halftime. At that point, the offense's keys are handed back to Winston, who torched the Tigers last season. The Florida State defense stifled Clemson's offense last season, and this version of Chad Morris' offense is not quite as talented as last season's. If the Florida State defense is motivated, it certainly could give Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson fits. Florida State 24, Clemson 17.

Unanimous predictions

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech: The Hokies have won four straight in the series, as defensive coordinator Bud Foster seems to always find a way to slow down the Jackets’ triple-option offense. Though Virginia Tech is coming in off a loss, it has looked like the stronger team in the first three games. Virginia Tech 20, Georgia Tech 17.

Iowa at Pitt: If there is anyone in the ACC who should be familiar with the Hawkeyes, it is coach Paul Chryst, who coached against them during his time at Wisconsin. Though Iowa ranks No. 6 in the nation in rush defense, James Conner will find a way to get his 100 yards and lead the Panthers to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2000. Pitt 28, Iowa 17.

Maryland at Syracuse: The Orange beat the Terps 20-3 last year in their first meeting as ACC members, though Maryland was missing several of its best players in the game. In a battle of mobile quarterbacks, Terrel Hunt will better C.J. Brown and get Syracuse to 3-0 for the first time since 1991. Syracuse 28, Maryland 24.

Tulane at Duke: The Blue Devils have gone through their nonconference schedule with ease, but cannot get caught looking ahead to a looming showdown with Miami. The big question is whether Shaun Wilson can duplicate his 245-yard performance against the No. 94 rush defense in the country. Duke 41, Tulane 10.

Maine at BC: BC has to guard against a letdown after an emotional win over No. 9 USC last week. Coach Steve Addazio kept the intensity going at practice this week, hoping his team can carry on the momentum it has gained. Bank on that, behind another 100-yard rushing game from Tyler Murphy. Boston College 34, Maine 7.

Louisville at FIU: FIU put a scare into Pitt last week, so Louisville has to ward against overconfidence. Of course, the last time these two teams met a season ago, Louisville won 72-0. This should be a bounce-back game for the Cards’ offense, which struggled a week ago in a loss to Virginia. Louisville 45, FIU 0.

Presbyterian at NC State: The Wolfpack looked good last week in a road win over USF, and need to build off that win against Presbyterian, with a showdown against Florida State set for next weekend. The nonconference schedule has been weak, but after winning three games all of last season, NC State will take win No. 4. NC State 42, Presbyterian 10.

Miami at Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have a big edge on the Hurricanes in the trenches, and that is where this game will be decided. Miami’s defense has played better, but it will have a tough time slowing down Heisman contender Ameer Abdullah on the road in a nationally televised game. Nebraska 35, Miami 24.

Records this season
Shanker: 32-3
Adelson: 29-6
Fortuna: 29-6
Hale: 29-6

ACC morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
8:00
AM ET
We start today with Jameis Winston, because the reigning Heisman Trophy winner dominated conversation Wednesday, again for all the wrong reasons.

Florida State suspended Winston for the first half of Saturday's primetime game against No. 22 Clemson. But is that enough? Our Mark Schlabach thinks the consequences could have a reverse effect if a certain scenario plays out.
Some might argue that Winston's punishment for the latest incident isn't severe enough. In fact, FSU officials might have set him up to return to the spotlight once again after getting a slight slap on the wrist. What if backup quarterback Sean Maguire, who has attempted only 26 passes in his college career, struggles against Clemson, only to have Winston come into the game after halftime and lead the Seminoles to another victory? Winston will be the hero once again.

Others have expressed similar sentiments, including USA Today's Dan Wolken. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, meanwhile, wonders if Winston has learned anything at all, especially in light of comments both the player and head coach Jimbo Fisher made this summer. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde also thinks Winston's half-game suspension is a half-measure taken by FSU.

SI.com's Zac Ellis says the message from the school to Winston to shape up is loud and clear.

How any of this affects the Noles in their chase to repeat as national champions remains unclear. But it is more evident than ever before that Winston needs to grow up, and grow up fast. Incident after incident figured to show him that, but it appears that has not been the case just yet. Now he has let down his teammates as they prepare for their biggest game of the season so far. How they respond -- and whether that will teach Winston a lesson -- remains to be seen.

Elsewhere in the ACC …
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Nick O’Leary is the definition of a player who allows his play to speak for him. Any reporter looking to speak with the talented Florida State tight end is surely a glutton for punishment.

His teammates weren’t much help initially, either, expounding on O’Leary’s succinct, stone-faced answers, but that primarily was because of their exuberant and gleeful expressions watching the Mackey Award candidate’s highlights from the Clemson game last season.

“Nooo! Oh my goodness!” cornerback P.J. Williams said before repeating himself.

“Haha! You’re going to see more of that,” safety Jalen Ramsey said.

“Hehe. … It looks like buddy lost that one,” linebacker Terrance Smith added.

[+] EnlargeNick O'Leary
AP Photo/Mike StewartLike in last season's game, Nick O'Leary is looking to get physical against Clemson on Saturday.
All three were shown the video clip of O’Leary sending Clemson safety Travis Blanks tumbling out of bounds after the 6-foot-3, 247-pound tight end lowered the boom on the Tallahassee, Florida, native (a tidbit not lost on Smith. “He’s actually from Tallahassee, ain’t he?”)

As O’Leary watches the replay, he breaks character and cracks a smile, however fleeting. He calls it “just a play that happened in a game” before walking.

The play and explanation define O’Leary’s business-like approach to tight end. He is a throwback to a position that is in the midst of transformation. Rare are tight ends in this pass-heavy era that are capable of blocking a defensive end at the point of attack one play and registering a 94-yard reception the next.

And whether he’s blocking or breaking tackles, at the end of the play, he lifts himself from the turf and jogs back to the huddle without as much as a word. He’s the lone receiver on Florida State’s team that doesn’t wear gloves, either. He wore them for one play and dropped a pass, so since then he has went with the bare hands approach, which, of course, only accentuates his renaissance act.

“Nick’s just a football player, man,” Smith said. “He doesn’t get all that flashy stuff. He goes out and plays. He’s going to block anybody, catch on anybody. His routes are some of the best routes I’ve had to cover. Nick is just an old-school football player. He just comes to play ball.”

“He likes to get nasty,” receiver Jesus Wilson said.

O’Leary is the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus, but he resembles a grizzly bear more than the Golden Bear. O’Leary needed a sport that was a little more violent. As O’Leary hauled in Jameis Winston’s pass against Clemson, he closed in on the sideline but decided to turn up field for extra yardage. Oh, and the score was 34-7 at the time, and the game was decidedly in hand.

“I’ve always had the mentality of being the more physical guy out there,” O’Leary said. “[On the Clemson play], I knew that one guy wasn’t going to take me down.”

Teammates aren’t immune either from getting embarrassed at the hands -- and shoulder -- of O’Leary. Defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. said O’Leary is just as intense and physical in practice, calling the Clemson play “normal for him to do.”

So, allow the Florida State defenders to offer No. 22 Clemson’s defense advice on what to do if O’Leary is bearing down Saturday night.

“You got to know how to hit that person and know how fast and know high or low. Shoot, you see right here [Blanks] really didn’t know,” Williams said. “I guess he didn’t know what he had coming.”
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Clemson has not had much luck against Florida State over the past few years, a high hurdle that coach Dabo Swinney knows he must clear.

He may have gotten a little help in their matchup Saturday night. Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston will sit out the first half for yelling obscenities on campus, opening the game right up for Clemson to steal.

The week did not exactly start with many people believing the Tigers could pull the upset. They have lost three of their last four games against Florida State -- including an embarrassing 51-14 loss at home last season -- and were a 20-point underdog on Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyDabo Swinney needs a victory over Florida State regardless of which Noles play in which half.
While it is easy to infer that the punishment is a slap at Clemson -- hey, look, we can beat you with our backup quarterback! -- Florida State would have presumably made the same call no matter who was on the schedule this weekend.

It just so happens to be the biggest game of the season for both teams. The winner of this game has gone on to play for the ACC championship the last five seasons, bumping up not only league title stakes but College Football Playoff stakes as well.

While every team wants to get credit for beating its opponent at full strength, Clemson has to take advantage of the opportunity that awaits. That means its supremely hyped defense needs to seize the moment.

All eyes must be on a veteran defensive line that saw its players take 3,079 combined snaps last season. Vic Beasley has had a quiet start to the season. It's time for him to make some noise. The same goes for Grady Jarrett and all the rest. So far, Clemson has 19 tackles for loss on the season -- but only five in the opener against Georgia. The game against the Bulldogs was a mixed bag for the defense. While the Tigers started off well, they fell apart in the second half and allowed Todd Gurley to have a field day.

While the offense did not make enough first downs to help keep the defense off the field, defensive coordinator Brent Venables has said he was disappointed with the fourth quarter. Clemson had 13 missed tackles in the final 16 minutes of that game as players got tired and less aggressive. Florida State essentially owned the Clemson defensive front a year ago. Virtually the same groups of players return on both sides. While the Seminoles have not played up to standards on the offensive line, Clemson cannot allow Florida State to be the more physical group again.

Especially with Winston out.

Because a victory with Winston out for a half still counts, especially if Clemson can shut him down in the second half.

Detractors may want to downplay it if the Tigers win in Tallahassee for the first time since 2006. But that should not matter. An asterisk will not go into the record book next to this game (*-Winston played only a half).

A W will. A W that would allow Swinney to leap over one hurdle and allow Clemson to control its ACC destiny.

ACC playoff watch: Week 4

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
3:00
PM ET
The roller coaster ride of perception for the ACC has already had its share of highs and lows, and this week figures to be about as big as any when it comes to setting the table for the College Football Playoff. So let’s see where the conference stacks up through the first three weeks of the season.

Where the ACC stands: Once again, the conference is stationed in the No. 4 spot in ESPN’s power rankings, still well behind the Big 12 and down a net of 8 points in the ratings compared with its nearest competitor. The Big Ten actually gained ground on the ACC last week, and with three ACC-Big Ten matchups Saturday, that lead could be precarious.

Top playoff contenders: Florida State (No. 1 AP, No. 2 FPI), Clemson (22/19), Pitt (NR/27).

Nonconference record: 27-5 overall (7-2 last week), 15-5 vs. FBS, 4-2 vs. Power 5.

Week 3 recap: How bad was the Hokies loss to ECU really? The Hokies started slow but powered back in what would’ve been the biggest comeback in program history had they pulled it off. ECU might be the best team from the Group of 5, and its performance the previous week against South Carolina only looks better now. And just as Virginia Tech’s hype machine probably revved up a bit too fast after the Ohio State game, the Hokies probably aren’t as bad as they’re being portrayed now.

The problem, however, is that perception drives so much in college football, and all you need to do is look at the polls, where Ohio State remains a top-20 team after routing a listless Kent State, while Virginia Tech has tumbled well down the list of "others receiving votes."

On the upside, however, Boston College did a lot to win back any mojo Virginia Tech lost with its punishing of USC. It was a stellar performance from the Eagles defense and ground game, and BC was clearly the deeper, more physical team throughout.

Really, what Week 3 probably illustrated more than anything is that the ACC can certainly play with just about anyone in the Power 5 conferences, but it also isn’t that far ahead of the elite teams from the Group of 5. As a result, the conference has just two teams ranked in the Top 25 in ESPN’s FPI, but has seven ranked in the next 25.

Week 4 preview: When it comes time for the selection committee to judge the ACC, there’s a good chance this week’s games will tell a big part of the story.

Start with the three games against the Big Ten. That league is so down at this point that any losses by the ACC would look bad, but Miami could actually benefit a bit from a win over Nebraska, one of two still unbeaten Big Ten teams. The Hurricanes have improved at QB the last two weeks, and this is a big chance to show the Week 1 loss to Louisville was more growing pains than anything.

Then there's the matter of Pitt and Iowa. The Hawkeyes' loss to Iowa State took most of the luster off this game, but Pitt is still poised as a fringe playoff contender and the ACC's third-highest-ranked team. The league and the Panthers would take a big blow with a loss here.

Virginia Tech gets a good test with Georgia Tech, and it will be interesting to see how the Hokies respond to last week's loss and the departure of receiver Josh Stanford. It's worth remembering that Virginia Tech has the easiest remaining schedule in the ACC, and if it were to win out and knock off an undefeated Florida State in the ACC title game, the playoff would still be a realistic possibility.

Meanwhile, North Carolina has a chance to revitalize its playoff chances with a win at ECU, while a loss might actually help bolster Virginia Tech's chances by illustrating that last week's result was no fluke and the Pirates are the real deal.

The biggest game of the week for the ACC might be Virginia at BYU. It figures to be a defensive battle, but UVa knocked off the Cougars at home last year, and certainly the Hoos are a better team now. BYU is No. 18 in the FPI, the highest-ranked foe for any ACC team this week.

Then there's the big question of the week: What’s better for the ACC? If Florida State wins, it keeps the Seminoles on the path toward the playoff, but it knocks Clemson down to 1-2 and out of the Top 25, meaning it won’t even be much of a marquee win for FSU. If Clemson wins, the ACC can trumpet another legitimate contender, but it’s at the expense of the league’s best hope for a national title. The one sure thing is that Clemson needs the game more than Florida State for playoff purposes, but the Seminoles could probably reassure a lot of uneasy fans with another impressive win.
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A year ago, Jameis Winston marched his offense onto the field in Death Valley, cracked a few jokes in the huddle to lighten the mood, then proceeded to dismantle the Clemson defense for 60 minutes straight. He threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns, and when the carnage had ended, Florida State was a legitimate contender for the national title and Winston was a national celebrity.

In the 11 months since, that spotlight has unraveled so much of the veneer Winston’s win over Clemson created, and now, just four days before the rematch, the scenario for Florida State and its star-crossed QB feels entirely different.

Sean Maguire will be the man leading Florida State’s offense onto the field this time around, thanks to a half-game suspension levied against Winston for his latest off-field troubles. The Seminoles will remain favorites to win, but Wednesday’s news means Florida State is hardly the safe bet it once seemed.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State is hoping that quarterback Sean Maguire will be a quick study this week.
Really, the questions began long before Winston stood atop a table in (or near) FSU’s student union and shouted obscenities that resonated around the country in a matter of moments, thanks to social media.

Winston’s offseason was a whirlwind of awards ceremonies and off-field scrutiny, and when the season began with a sluggish win over Oklahoma State, fans immediately began to wonder whether he was the same QB who’d looked so unflappable as a freshman.

Seminoles stars departed for the NFL, including Lamarcus Joyner, who forced the fumble that started the FSU avalanche in Death Valley last season, along with offensive stalwarts Kenny Shaw, Kelvin Benjamin and Devonta Freeman. Through the first two games of 2014, those absences were felt by Florida State, and the Seminoles were clearly searching for the right replacements to step up.

But even throughout all the turbulence since Jimbo Fisher hoisted the national championship trophy a year ago, Florida State remained the nation’s safest bet for the College Football Playoff, and Winston was the constant.

Now, for the first 30 minutes of a game that will likely decide the ACC Atlantic Division, nothing seems certain.

Make no mistake, Maguire is capable of handling the role. He’s spent two full seasons learning Fisher’s system. He spent three chaotic weeks in November 2013 as FSU’s top backup during a time when the courts held Winston’s future in limbo. Winston said Wednesday he'd be spending extra time watching film and studying the playbook with Maguire to get him ready for his first career start. Maguire is prepared for this moment, but all the preparation in the world won’t entirely close the gap in talent between the Heisman winner and the anonymous backup.

Clemson’s pass rush is as good as any in the nation, and Maguire’s calm under pressure will be tested. That was always Winston’s strength.

Karlos Williams is a talented runner who could help ease the transition for the backup QB, but look no further than the Week 1 game against Oklahoma State to find serious concerns about Florida State’s ground game. Without Winston, the Tigers will almost certainly stack the box and dare Maguire to beat them downfield.

And while Rashad Greene remains as consistently productive a player as there is in the conference, there were already nagging questions surrounding the receiving corps' supporting cast. Now the burden falls on Maguire to help inexperienced targets like Jesus Wilson, Kermit Whitfield and Ermon Lane develop on the fly.

It’s just 30 minutes of football, and the stage will be set for Winston to return to action in the second half and erase a few more demons on the field. But last year, those first 30 minutes meant everything, with the Seminoles jumping out to a 27-7 lead that never allowed Clemson to get out of the starting blocks.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney grabbed headlines afterward, suggesting the talent on the field was split evenly, but the early momentum of the game tipped the scales Florida State’s way. This time around, there will be no excuse for the Tigers to cede the game within the first few drives. If the talent really is evenly split, Winston’s loss tips the scales back in Swinney’s favor.

But a year ago, there were questions about Winston, too, when Florida State’s bus motored into Death Valley, and he emerged a conquering hero.

Don’t expect the first chapter of the legend of Sean Maguire to be written in Tallahassee on Saturday. But the backup to college football’s biggest star will have a chance to script one heck of a footnote in the story of the Seminoles' 2014 season.

Winston suspended for half versus Clemson

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
12:03
PM ET
videoFlorida State quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended for the first half of Saturday's game against Clemson after he was seen shouting an obscene sexual phrase on campus Tuesday.

FSU interim president Dr. Garnett S. Stokes and athletics director Stan Wilcox issued the statement Wednesday announcing the punishment.

As the university's most visible ambassadors, student-athletes at Florida State are expected to uphold at all times high standards of integrity and behavior that reflect well upon themselves, their families, coaches, teammates, the Department of Athletics and Florida State University. Student-athletes are expected to act in a way that reflects dignity and respect for others.

"It was not a good decision," coach Jimbo Fisher said of the incident during Wednesday's ACC teleconference. "You can't make certain statements that are derogatory or inflammatory to any person, race or gender. You have to understand that. You have to be very intelligent about what you say, (because) it matters."

To read the full story, click here.

ACC Live: Week 4 (3:30 ET)

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
10:14
AM ET
It is going to be an exciting weekend of football in the ACC with Clemson heading to No. 1 Florida State, Georgia Tech tripping to Virginia Tech and Miami renewing its rivalry with Nebraska. ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Jared Shanker and David Hale meet up to discuss those matchups and more Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

ACC morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
8:00
AM ET
When operating out of an option-based offense, it is no secret converting third downs -- preferably third-and-short -- is of pivotal importance. So the Georgia Tech offense's ability to sustain drives is a priority in every game as long as Paul Johnson is the Yellow Jackets' coach.

Through three weeks, few teams are better than Georgia Tech at converting third-down attempts. Only one team, in fact. The Yellow Jackets rank No. 2 nationally with a 64 percent conversion rate, according to a post from Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Georgia Tech offense, however, has done that against the likes of FCS Wofford, Tulane and recent FBS addition Georgia Southern. The unit will get its first test Saturday against Virginia Tech, which has been terrific at getting off the field; the Hokies are No. 3 nationally, allowing opponents to convert only 23.3 percent of third-down attempts.

If the Yellow Jackets find success moving the chains, they face another test once they near the Virginia Tech goal line. The Hokies are No. 15 nationally in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 66.7 percent of its trips. They are No. 35 in red zone touchdown percentage at 50.

The Tech-Tech showdown has traditionally been a heated game, as five of the last six games have been decided by a single score. The last two meetings have been low scoring, too, so third-down and red zone defense will be of critical importance Saturday.
  • The quarterback situation at Miami might not be any clearer without Kevin Olsen. Freshman Brad Kaaya is starting, but senior Ryan Williams, who tore his ACL in the spring, is nearing a return. Miami coach Al Golden would not commit to sticking with Kaaya once Williams is ready to play.
  • Florida State offensive tackle Cam Erving stymied Clemson's Vic Beasley last season, and that will once again be a one-on-one battle that figures to play an important part in deciding Saturday's winner between the two nationally ranked teams.
  • Clemson coach Dabo Swinney still feels Clemson would beat Florida State five out of 10 times. He initially said that after last season's disaster in Death Valley.
  • Virginia Tech has struggled mightily to run the football the last two weeks, so the Hokies are hoping Trey Edmunds comes back sooner rather than later from a tibia injury.
  • It initially looked bleak for two Duke linemen, but coach David Cutcliffe said Lucas Patrick and Dezmond Johnson avoided serious injuries Saturday. However, the offensive and defensive lines are preparing as if they will not have either this coming weekend.
  • Louisville quarterback Will Gardner was pulled in the loss against Virginia, and Gardner is putting the blame squarely on his own shoulders. And keep Reggie Bonnafon, who replaced Gardner on Saturday, in your thoughts as he deals with the death of his father.
  • After a loss to ECU a season ago, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora would be shocked if his team had the audacity to overlook the Pirates a second straight season. ECU, of course, upset Virginia Tech last weekend.
  • NC State coach Dave Doeren offered coachspeak when asked if the Wolfpack already had its eyes on No. 1 Florida State. He insists Presbyterian has his focus.
  • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer might have talked with Doeren, too. He offered a similar response, although the Orange have former member Maryland before a game against Notre Dame.
  • Boston College coach Steve Addazio had an out-of-character week of practice leading up to Pittsburgh because of a short week. He lightened the intensity. He learned his lesson in advance of the USC game, and it clearly paid off as the Eagles manhandled the then-No. 9 Trojans.
  • Canaan Severin was buried on the depth chart last season, and many of those players ahead of him returned for 2014. However, Severin has started two games already this season.
  • Pitt has not decided who will play center against Iowa.
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If Clemson has been busy cooking up a few new wrinkles for Florida State during the bye week, the trigger men on offense certainly aren't tipping their hand.

Chad Morris loves Deshaun Watson, but he downplayed the freshman's role in Saturday's game plan.

QB Cole Stoudt wants to look deep a bit more often against Florida State, but of course, he'll take what he's given.

The Seminoles haven't exactly looked as dominant on defense as they did a season ago, but don't go asking the Tigers if they've found a weakness to exploit.

"It's all in the strategy and game plan," Stoudt said. "We could have the same thing [as earlier games]. We could have something different. We'll mix it up."

In other words, don't bother asking. You'll find out Saturday.

But just because Clemson isn't touting any matchup advantages this week doesn't mean it hasn't been studying hard for what promises to be its biggest test of the season.

There's some juicy tape to watch on both sides of this matchup, Morris said, and that's a good thing.

Clemson's offensive hibernation in the second half against Georgia was an eye opener, and the fireworks the freshmen set off a week later against South Carolina State provided some much-needed reps for some inexperienced offensive talent.

On the flip side, Oklahoma State helped magnify some of the weak links on Florida State's defense, and while Morris certainly isn't suggesting the Seminoles aren't still loaded with talent, he said one of the big takeaways of the early season has been how much FSU misses some of last year's key contributors.

"The guys they lost were big-time players," Morris said. "To find the right combination -- they're a lot like we are offensively -- it takes some time to find the guys to play that role. The dynamics for them have changed because of the playmakers they've lost. That's what you see out of the first two games with those guys."

[+] EnlargeCole Stoudt
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsThere are plenty of unanswered questions for QB Cole Stoudt and Clemson's offense as the Tigers enter their Week 4 game at Florida State.
That's what makes this matchup so intriguing. FSU is trying to adjust to life without Telvin Smith and Christian Jones and Timmy Jernigan up front. Clemson is wondering just how sharp its offense can be with Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd gone and Stoudt and a cast of unknowns taking their place.

The first two games of the season set a template. This week's matchup should answer some major questions for both teams.

"Even if you're a veteran, you haven't gotten into the groove of playing and first games are like Forrest Gumps. They're a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get," Jimbo Fisher said of his young defenders in new roles. "At time we were in good shape and at time we became hesitant. Those are things we can't let happen, you have to go and play those guys and that's what we did last week and we'll continue to do this week."

The same is true on Clemson's offense, where Morris spent much of Week 2 giving his young talent a long look. Watson saw increased action and looked sharp. Freshman receiver Artavis Scott emerged with six catches for 164 yards and a TD. Adam Choice and Wayne Gallman -- both freshmen -- led the ground game.

The strong running of the young backs is particularly encouraging as Clemson looks to establish a ground game against a battered Florida State front.

"Those guys are good," Clemson defensive lineman D.J. Reader said. "They work hard in practice, and there's a bunch of guys back there that run hard. They find the holes."

But, of course, big numbers against South Carolina State won't mean much against Florida State.

"They've got to continue to grow, absolutely," Morris said. "We knew they would be great players for us, but it's bringing them along at the right time."

For Florida State, the bye week has provided some answers. Defensive tackle Eddie Goldman returned to practice this week and should be good to go against Clemson. Linebacker Ukeme Eligwe could be back, too, which would be a huge boost to the Seminoles' defensive front.

At Clemson, Morris thinks he has a better handle on his players, too, even if he's not sharing much of that information yet.

Will Watson play more? Will FSU's young linemen take a step forward? Will the Tigers' ground game be a focal point?

That's the fun of a mid-September matchup, really. No one really knows much of anything yet.

"We'll have to see when we get to game day what works best," Stoudt said. "Sometimes you go into games thinking one thing and then something else works better. We'll have to see when we get out there."
Pitt's off to a 3-0 start, and while some early struggles against FIU last week were enough to put a scare into the Panthers, there's no question they're now squarely in the mix for the Coastal Division. A win this week would give Pitt its first 4-0 start since 2000.

Of course, for the hype to keep building, Pitt will need to pounce on reeling Iowa this weekend, and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review expects Paul Chryst to open up the playbook a bit.
In three games, Pitt has thrown for only 304 yards, which is just short of 23 percent of the offense and only about 100 yards per game. [James] Conner is overshadowing the passing game, running for 544 of Pitt's 1,033 yards on the ground. Quarterback Chad Voytik's 29 completions in 50 attempts have gained only 284 yards, an average of less than 10 per completion.

Through three weeks, Pitt has thrown 53 passes out of 213 plays -- or about 25 percent of the time. The only FBS schools passing less often so far this year are the three service academies, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and New Mexico.

That's a sharp change from last season, when Pitt threw the ball 47 percent of the time, but it's also a game plan that's been easy to follow with the success of tailback James Conner. His 80 rushes are 14 more than any other Power 5-conference back, and only two other Power 5 rushers are within 100 yards of his rushing total this season.

Still, there will come a point in which the Panthers need to show they can move the ball through the air, too, and that remains something of a questions with new QB Chad Voytik at the helm.

Chryst already took the time to bench his QB for a series against FIU last week, a move he explained as an opportunity for Voytik to “catch his breath.”

Voytik hasn't been bad, but he also hasn't been asked to do too much. His attempts-per-game is the lowest among ACC starters outside of Georgia Tech, his yards-per-attempt is ahead of only Tyler Murphy in the conference, and his 58 percent completions ranks 10th, trailing true freshman Brad Kaaya.

The fact remains that Conner and the ground game will be Pitt's bread and butter this year, but getting Voytik some reps in advance of a tougher ACC slate that will have him face off against the stout defenses at Virginia and Virginia Tech to kick off the month of October is probably a wise decision.

Conner has been astounding thus far, but the workload has been heavy, and Pitt also has another budding superstar named Tyler Boyd who needs to be fed a few more touches, too.

Some more links for your Tuesday reading:
  • DeVante Parker is getting some high-tech help in healing his foot injury, writes The Courier-Journal. His return can't come soon enough. The Cards are already having QB concerns, and the receiving corps hasn't exactly wowed anyone. Louisville's top two wideouts — Eli Rogers (20 targets) and James Quick (18) — have caught just 57 percent of their targets and averaged 5.9 yards per target. Last year, Parker caught 69 percent and averaged 11 yards per attempt.
  • Ryan Williams' continued progress recovering from an ACL injury means Miami isn't worried about QB depth following Kevin Olsen's suspension, writes the Miami Herald.
  • North Carolina will be without guard Landon Turner for its matchup with ECU, notes CBS Sports. Turner was UNC's most experienced lineman (19 career starts), and the Tar Heels already ranked just 51st out of 65 Power 5 teams when running between the tackles.
  • Don't expect Chad Morris to slow his offense to keep Florida State off the field, writes The Post and Courier.
  • The emergence of Derrick Mitchell on Florida State's defensive line is a much-needed boost for the ailing Seminoles, writes the Miami Herald.
  • For Virginia, the early success this season is all about having an identity, writes the Daily Progress.
  • Virginia Tech is optimistic Corey Marshall will be able to play this week when the Hokies open up their ACC slate, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- We leave you alone for one weekend, ACC, and this is what you do. That has to be what Clemson and Florida State were thinking as they checked box scores Sunday morning after their bye week.

Virginia Tech loses all team and conference momentum with a home loss to East Carolina. Georgia Southern was once again 90 seconds from upsetting an ACC team. Louisville, who many felt was now Florida State's biggest threat to an undefeated season, loses at Virginia. And, off all teams, it was reeling Boston College left to extinguish the flames, and the Eagles salvaged the Saturday with the biggest upset of the season, according to the Football Power Index, with a bulldozing of No. 9 USC, shocking even the staunchest ACC supporters.

So here we are, at the outset of Week 4 and exactly where we thought we would be before the season kicked off: the ACC seemingly comes down to Clemson and Florida State for the third consecutive season. The two will play in prime time Saturday, and the winner controls its destiny in the Atlantic Division and, with the lack of clarity in the Coastal, conference.

It is what we have grown accustom in the ACC as of late as both programs have been on a similar linear ascent to the top of the conference. Only the Tigers and Seminoles have represented the Atlantic in the ACC championship game since 2009, but the Coastal was superior then. Now, the two have won the past three conference titles and that looks to be the case once again in 2014, too.

Except this year, winning the conference has an entirely new significance. A College Football Playoff invitation is on the line now. Technically, the ACC has seven undefeated teams, but Clemson and Florida State are the conference's prized horses capable of carrying the league to the inaugural final four. The other five would likely need an undefeated run, and that's a wager I'm not sure anyone outside of Atlanta, Pittsburgh, central New York or the Triangle is willing to make right now.

"There's no doubt" the Tigers are a rival, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. "...It's a game in which you like to be at Florida State to play in because of the ramifications and the national attention it brings."

Despite No. 22 Clemson entering the game with a loss, the national implications will be near the level it was last season because of the dawn of the playoff era. There's the sense conference titles won't mean what they used to for the elite programs, and Fisher has said as much multiple times, pondering whether fans will deem any playoff-less season as a failure. And for two teams that have each won conference titles and played in multiple BCS games the past few seasons, there is the argument that a conference title might not be enough, especially for Florida State.

If Clemson loses big, it almost certainly ends the Tigers' playoff hopes. A Florida State loss and now the nation's top-ranked program and the conference's best chance at a playoff bid needs to not only play close to perfect football against a tough remaining slate but solicit help from the supernatural to even play in the conference championship.

It might only be September but the ACC's playoff chances potentially hinge on this game between conference heavyweights.

Three reasons Clemson can upset FSU

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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No. 22 Clemson faces No. 1 Florida State on Saturday in a huge Atlantic Division showdown. But nobody is giving the Tigers much of a chance to win the game.

They are a 19-point underdog -- the largest point-spread they have faced going back to 2004. The oddsmakers clearly do not have much confidence in a team that lost badly to the Noles at home last season, and fell apart in the second half against Georgia in the opener.

But maybe all is not lost. Here are three reasons Clemson has a shot at pulling the upset.

1. No Todd Gurley: Gurley was an absolute menace in the opener, running for 198 yards and three touchdowns and also returning a kickoff for another score. He set a school record with 293 all-purpose yards and averaged 13.2 yards per carry. Clemson knew exactly what type of runner it would be facing, yet the Tigers could not contain him. Tackling was a factor, but so was Gurley's superior strength. He just ran through people. Florida State back Karlos Williams is not in the same category, at least not yet. Williams does present nearly identical size -- both are 6-foot-1, 225 pounds -- but he has not started the season the way Gurley has. Gurley had more yards and touchdowns against Clemson than Williams has in two games combined (132 yards, one touchdown). Gurley is averaging 9.4 yards per carry; Williams is averaging 4.1 yards per carry. The Florida State offensive line has not played as well as everybody expected heading into the season, so that has played a role. The Seminoles rank No. 77 in the nation in rush offense; Georgia ranks No. 10.

2. No Jeremy Pruitt: That has to be a relief to Clemson coaches, who probably never ever want to see him again. Last season when he was defensive coordinator at Florida State, Pruitt had the perfect game plan to shut down Clemson and its vaunted offensive stars Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. The Tigers had four turnovers and were never in the game after going down 17-0 in the first quarter. Boyd finished 17-of-37 for 156 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions (quarterback rating 34.6), and Watkins had 68 yards and a score. Pruitt moved on to Georgia in the offseason, and though the Tigers had success early against the Bulldogs, all that changed in the second half. Pruitt made terrific halftime adjustments and outcoached Chad Morris and company. Clemson had one first down and 15 total yards in the second half. The game was tied at halftime. Florida State's defense has been slow out of the gate with so many key starters gone. But Pruitt is gone, too. Perhaps this gives Clemson an edge.

3. Deshaun Watson: Though coach Dabo Swinney does not want to incite a quarterback controversy, we have seen first-hand just how dynamic Watson is when he gets into the game. Cole Stoudt does remain the starter, but Watson is effective when he gets his turn. Of the six drives Watson has led, Clemson has scored a touchdown on five of them. Granted, most came against South Carolina State, but it is hard to ignore how much more dynamic the Clemson offense is when Watson is in the game. His mobility makes him a tremendous asset, and Clemson should use that to its advantage. Plus, he is averaging 16.4 yards per pass attempt and 21.3 yards per completion. The bye week gave Clemson coaches the opportunity to figure out how they want to use him, and when they want to use him.

Consistency still missing in ACC

September, 15, 2014
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Boston CollegeAP Photo/Stephan SavoiaBC's upset over USC shows that ACC teams are capable of winning big nonconference games.

The yin and yang that is the ACC was on full display this past weekend.

Boston College pulled an upset for the ages over No. 9 USC on Saturday night, giving the ACC five wins against top 10 nonconference opponents in a two-year span for the first time in league history!

Oh, but both No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 21 Louisville lost to unranked teams.

But hey, the ACC is 27-5 against nonconference teams! And for the second time in league history, two unranked ACC teams upset top 10 opponents this year (BC, plus the Hokies over Ohio State in Week 2).

Oh, but look at those rankings. Only two teams remain in the AP poll this week.

But hey, maybe the bottom of the league is starting to rise up if cellar dweller UVa can shock a team like the Cards! Virginia had six wins over the last two seasons while Louisville had 23!

Oh, but look closer at the AP rankings. Only one ACC team sits in the top 15, compared to seven from the SEC.

But hey, at least the ACC is not the Big Ten!

Back and forth we go in our yearly game entitled: What will you turn out to be, ACC?

If only the ACC could get all its pieces to fit nicely into one pretty looking College Football Playoff picture.

Instead, we are left with the all too familiar, a disjointed puzzle that remains hard to comprehend and even harder to predict. Virginia Tech had its offense and defense in sync at Ohio State in Week 2; the Hokies were totally out of sync Saturday at home against East Carolina, a team everybody knew would have a shot at the upset. Boston College allowed 300-plus yards rushing in a loss to Pitt in Week 2. Against USC? The Eagles gave up 20 yards on the ground. Total.

Then there is Louisville, a team that had two turnovers in its first two games. The Cards doubled that total against Virginia and lost.

The season is obviously still young and we only have a few games to go on, but the ACC already is falling into its usual habits despite some of those jazzy stats mentioned above. Big wins end up being fluky wins; four ranked teams dwindle to two; and lo and behold, Florida State and Clemson are left to carry the league.

You know, the way the two are doing this week. "College GameDay" will be in Tallahassee, Florida, for the showdown between the only remaining ranked ACC teams, a game that has determined the Atlantic champion three straight years.

While Florida State has looked shaky and Clemson is playing one of the most daunting schedules in the country to open the season, there is no dispute everybody else inside the ACC is still chasing these two. A host of teams still have a chance to get into the Top 25 rankings this season -- Duke, Pitt and North Carolina are on deck while Virginia Tech and Louisville will have every opportunity to get back in, too. If Miami gets past Nebraska this weekend, who knows what happens.

But what was reinforced this weekend is the importance of following through. One big win is great. But that big win needs to beget another big win and another, until the ACC has got a solid group of teams that become more predictable week in and week out. Watering down the schedule like the folks over in SEC land is not the answer. The ACC needs to continue to be at the forefront of playing big nonconference games.

The league is clearly capable of winning them. It is the consistency that remains elusive.

ACC bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
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The ACC makes no sense right now. Virginia Tech thumps Ohio State on the road, then loses to East Carolina at home. Boston College coughs up 214 rushing yards to James Conner one week, then holds USC to 20 yards on the ground the next. Georgia Tech is 3-0, but has hardly looked impressive yet. Oh, and there’s that little matter of the conference’s top two teams facing off this coming Saturday.

For now, we’re doing the best we can with a fluid situation, so fair warning that these projections are a moving target at this point in the season.

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

*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.

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