ACC: Florida State Seminoles

What we learned in the ACC in Week 13

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
Thirteen weeks into the season, and we got some surprises (Wake Forest wins!) and some not-so-surprising results (Florida State narrowly escapes!). Here’s what we learned from the penultimate week of the regular season.

North Carolina is going bowling: No, the Tar Heels haven’t lived up to expectations this season, but just as they did a season ago, they’ve proven to be one of the most resilient teams in the nation. Marquise Williams turned in another phenomenal performance against Duke on Thursday, accounting for four touchdowns in a 45-20 win that eliminated the Blue Devils from the Coastal Division race, returned the Victory Bell to Chapel Hill, and officially made UNC bowl eligible for the second straight season.

[+] EnlargeCam McDaniel
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsLouisville's victory over Notre Dame on Saturday kept the Cardinals alive for a New Year's Six bowl appearance.
Georgia Tech wins the Coastal: From rumblings about Paul Johnson’s job security in August to a division title in November, it’s been a stellar season for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets actually had Week 13 off in preparation for another rivalry showdown against Georgia, but thanks to Duke’s Thursday night loss to North Carolina, Johnson’s crew officially wrapped up the Coastal and a trip to Charlotte to face Florida State in the ACC Championship game. Tech’s players are, of course, clearly focused on upending Georgia for just the second time since 2000, but the matchup for the conference title promises to be as intriguing as, perhaps, any in ACC championship game history.

The battle for the Orange Bowl is heating up: Sure, there’s no longer any drama about who’ll make it to Charlotte, and FSU is the league’s only chance at the playoff, but the question of which ACC team will take its turn in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day is awfully interesting. First off, FSU needs to make the playoff -- and after another close call against Boston College, that’s certainly not etched in stone. But if the Seminoles go to the playoff, then the three-team battle between Georgia Tech, Louisville and Clemson for a trip to South Florida could be awfully tight. Tech is currently the highest ranked of the group, but it’s got two games against top-10 teams remaining. Clemson currently would be next up, but it’s been a long time since the Tigers have beaten South Carolina -- their Week 14 foe. And then there’s Louisville, still alive for a shot after narrowly knocking off Notre Dame 31-28. The highest-ranked team after the ACC title game gets its ticket punched.

Wake Forest doesn’t roll over: It’s been a brutal season in Winston-Salem. Wake’s offense isn’t just bad, but historically so. It would’ve been easy for the team to have cashed it in -- particularly the veterans who won’t be around to see the fruits of this rebuilding project. But it’s a huge credit to Dave Clawson’s motivational tactics and the pride of the players on the roster that they continue to fight. The Demon Deacons couldn’t muster much offense again Saturday, but their stout D overwhelmed Virginia Tech and they prevailed 6-3 in double overtime. Wake certainly hasn’t been a great team this season, but four of its six conference losses were by 14 points or less and it’s played every game tough. That bodes well for the future for Clawson and Co.

Bowl bids on the line in Week 14: With Virginia’s dominant 30-13 win over Miami, Virginia Tech’s loss to Wake and Pittsburgh’s 30-7 drubbing of Syracuse, there will be three ACC teams playing for bowl eligibility in the final week of the season. Pitt gets its shot against reeling Miami, while UVA and Virginia Tech face off in their annual rivalry game, with one gaining that crucial sixth win and the other facing a long, ugly offseason. With a win, Mike London could secure another year on the sideline for the Cavaliers. With a loss, Frank Beamer’s future is going to move from debatable topic to outright controversy.
Another week, another close win for Florida State. The Seminoles booted a field goal in the final seconds of the game to upend Boston College 20-17 and keep their playoff hopes alive.

How the game was won: Florida State's final drive was all about the two sure things on offense -- Jameis Winston and Rashad Greene -- along with emerging star tailback Dalvin Cook. Winston connected with Greene twice for 26 yards -- the latter made Greene FSU's all-time leading receiver -- and Cook handled the rest. He had six touches for 29 yards to eat up clock and push the ball to the BC 13. Roberto Aguayo finished things off with a 26-yard field goal to secure the win.

Game ball goes to: Winston. It was hardly his finest game. In fact, it's the first time in his career as a starter Florida State failed to score 30. But Winston was better than his numbers showed, with several drops and misplays negating potential big gains, and a tip leading to his lone interception. Overall, Winston finished 22-of-32 for 281 yards and a touchdown, but most importantly, he won yet again.

What it means: Florida State survives yet again. For the fourth time in the past five games, FSU was on the brink of a loss late, but the Seminoles rallied to get the win. The buzzword of the week was “game control” after committee chair Jeff Long cited that metric in the rankings, but opponents at this point can never feel safe playing Florida State.

Playoff implication: As long as FSU keeps winning, it'll be in the playoff. And now the Seminoles have just two more to go to assure that happens. The close call against Boston College certainly won't have fans feeling overly confident the rest of the way, but it's been two full years since the Seminoles lost a game, so it's hard to envision a scenario they won't get it done.

Best play: Winston's lone TD was a 30-yarder to Nick O'Leary that gave FSU a 17-10 lead late in the third quarter.


What's next: For Boston College, the Eagles wrap up the regular season against Syracuse with a chance to ensure they finish above .500. For FSU, rival Florida is up next, and it'll be Will Muschamp's last game as the Gators' coach. That doesn't mean Florida is going to roll over. If all these close calls have taught the Seminoles anything, it's that they can't take any team lightly.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The “Body Blow Theory” might be the macho cousin of the popular TV show. Instead of men working in a lab, the “Body Blow Theory” tapes just about every Saturday and stars men who look like they were built in a lab.

Conceived by Bruce Feldman, the “Body Blow Theory” is the aftermath of what happens to a team after being bludgeoned for 60 minutes and 160 plays by one of the country’s most physical teams. The following week, those opponents don’t have as much in the tank after so many successive shots to the body the prior Saturday.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State
Rob Kinnan/USA Today SportsBoston College hopes to outlast Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles on Saturday.
 Evidence supporting the “Body Blow Theory” is hard to come by statistically, but anecdotal evidence from coaches attest to its validity.

“No doubt,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said when asked if he believes in the body blow cumulative toll. “… That’s why football is never easy. It’s physical. That’s why it is such a different game. It’s time to man up and play.”

The No. 3 Seminoles’ next opponent, Boston College, seemingly took advantage of the theory earlier this season. A week after Stanford and depleted USC physically beat each other in Week 2, the Trojans were unable to recover for next weekend’s tilt at Boston College. The Eagles ran roughshod over USC to the tune of 452 rushing yards.

The Eagles hope Florida State (10-0, 7-0 ACC) is similarly tired Saturday (ABC, 3:30 ET). Boston College (6-4, 3-3) travels to Tallahassee where Florida State is in the midst of a month-long experiment testing the durability of the country’s last remaining Power 5 undefeated.

The body blows began with Louisville carving a beleaguered Florida State front seven for 158 yards on 33 rushes. Although Virginia didn’t run successfully the following week, the Cavaliers are built on physicality and defensively they tried to impose their will on a Seminoles team unable to generate enough push to run the football. Quarterback Jameis Winston, playing on a hurt ankle, was hit repeatedly, too. And last week, rival Miami played with the most energy it had all season, and the Canes ran 13 more plays than FSU, rushed 40 times and totaled 492 yards.

“We have to go down there and play a really physically tough and strong football game,” BC coach Steve Addazio said.

Addazio, who cut his teeth as an offensive line coach, has built Boston College into a college football throwback. The Eagles embrace hitting, and they’re usually the ones delivering them. With an offense that ranks 10th nationally in rushes per game (49) and 16th in total defense (323.5 yards), they are built to win at the line of scrimmage.

 That game plan keeps games close in the fourth quarter, where Boston College is then able to outlast teams running on their own exhaust.

“You've got to find a way to exceed in the fourth quarter, which is very difficult to do because the sign of a good championship team is that when it gets the hardest the best play comes out, and they've shown that when the game is on the line, they play at a high level that I haven't seen in a long time,” Addazio said. “If everyone does their job and plays physical and intense, we’ll have a chance to get the game into the fourth quarter, and when we get it there, we all know we have a chance to win it.”

The fourth quarter is where Florida State has been at its best, and Seminoles nickelback Jalen Ramsey said last week they take pride in dominating the final 15 minutes. Three times this season Florida State has trailed in the fourth quarter yet won all three times and covered the point spread on top of that.

Part of that has to do with the way the Seminoles track each player’s health with GPS tracking. The system provides real-time data for the staff during practice, which gives Fisher an idea of when to give players a rest. Fisher likes the overall health of his team during a physical five-game stretch.

“That’s one of the reasons I believe so whole-heartedly in that GPS. I can guess all I want but it gives me a parameter, which I can set and look at,” he said. “I think that’s why it’s very critical for these guys and their health.”

The Eagles will test that health, and Florida and Georgia Tech will thank them for it.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
Much of the drama is already gone from the ACC slate, and the SEC rivalry games are still a week away. But there is still plenty to watch for in Week 13.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #VTvsWAKE
The Hokies can wrap up bowl eligibility with a win against Wake Forest, which given the litany of injuries Virginia Tech has suffered this season -- including tailback Marshawn Williams, who tore his ACL last week -- is probably commendable. The Hokies are coming off their second road win of the season against a top-25 foe, so the trip to Winston-Salem against a Demon Deacons team still looking for its first ACC victory shouldn’t be a huge test. Wake hasn’t been able to run the ball on anyone this season, but Virginia Tech’s defense allows 5.64 yards-per-carry on non-sack rushing attempts this season -- 104th nationally.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State will try to produce a rare fast start this week against Boston College.
3:30 p.m.

Boston College at No. 3 Florida State, ABC/ESPN2, #BCvsFSU
A year ago, it was the Eagles who gave FSU its toughest game of the regular season. Now, BC is the ACC’s last chance to send the Seminoles to a conference loss. The matchup isn’t ideal for an FSU defense that has been gashed by the run on a few occasions this season, and after escaping a physical matchup against Miami last week, it will be interesting to see how focused the Seminoles are for this one. But with a season of close calls already in their rearview mirror, Jimbo Fisher no doubt has emphasized the importance of a fast start this week, and for FSU, it needs to start thinking about earning some style points to impress the CFB playoff committee.

Syracuse at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #CUSEvsPITT
Pitt has lost three straight despite 1,040 yards of offense from James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The Panthers have actually dropped six of their past seven after a 3-0 start to the season, and now they must win out to have a shot at a bowl game. Four of Pitt’s six losses have been by five points or less, however, and Conner and Boyd remain two of the most potent threats in the ACC. Whether Syracuse’s underrated defense can slow down Pitt’s stars might be paramount, but the Orange will also need to find some offense against a Panthers team that has allowed 147 points in its past three games.

No. 24 Louisville at Notre Dame, NBC
The Cardinals are back in the top 25, but they will go to battle in South Bend without starting quarterback Will Gardner. Reggie Bonnafon will take over at QB coming off his best game as a college player last week when he threw for 69 yards, ran for 76 more and scored three times against Boston College. But the real intrigue might come on the other side of the ball, where Everett Golson leads an Irish offense that leads all Power 5 teams in turnovers against Louisville’s stout defense, led by safety Gerod Holliman and his 13 interceptions.

Georgia State at No. 22 Clemson, ESPN3, #GSUvsCLEM
Since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury last month, Clemson’s offense has more turnovers (11) than touchdowns (7), and that downward spiral hit rock bottom last week when Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. But as bad as Stoudt’s performance was, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers believe he’s still a capable quarterback, and certainly the job gets a lot easier this week. The bigger question now is whether it will be Stoudt’s job in two weeks when Clemson looks to end a five-game losing streak against rival South Carolina.

7 p.m.

Miami at Virginia, ESPN2, #MIAvsUVA
The Hurricanes are coming off a physical and emotional loss to Florida State and looking to rebound. Virginia is still clinging to bowl hopes, and might need to win out to salvage coach Mike London’s job. The key to the game might be how well the Hoos’ defense can slow Duke Johnson and the Miami running game, but as FSU found out last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya is certainly capable of doing some damage. Virginia, on the other hand, has just 59 rushing yards combined in its past two games, and it has scored on the ground just once in its past five.

ACC morning links

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
Dabo Swinney turned 45 on Thursday. And while he has had obvious success during his run at Clemson, his early body of work might surprise you, especially when compared to other big-name coaches.

The (Charleston) Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner broke down the numbers Thursday, illustrating just how well Swinney has fared before his 45th birthday.

Swinney has a career record of 58-26 during his tenure with the Tigers.

How did Nick Saban fare by the time he turned 45? 20-10-1.

Steve Spurrier? 20-13-1.

Frank Beamer? 19-30-1.

Jimbo Fisher? 5-1.

On and on it goes, a who's who of coaching legends current and past that Swinney is currently out-pacing. It really puts into perspective what he has accomplished since taking over in 2008.

Of course, he still has a ways to go when looking at a pair of his predecessors in Death Valley: Danny Ford had 96 wins before leaving Clemson at the age of 42, while Frank Howard had 72 wins by 45.

Georgia Tech celebrates Coastal title

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
Georgia Tech is off this week, but about 60 players gathered at the team's facilities, where the staff set up a projector to watch Thursday night's North Carolina-Duke game.

The cheers rang out each time North Carolina scored.

They rang out again as Duke fumbled away several early possessions.

In Atlanta, there were as many Tar Heel fans as there were in Chapel Hill, and when the 45-20 UNC victory came to a close, Georgia Tech was ready to celebrate as the ACC's Coastal Division champions.

"It was pretty good just watching some football and knowing each time North Carolina scored, it was a good feeling," Tech defensive end Adam Gotsis said. "It was good to see them get the win for us. We needed that one."

With Duke's loss, Georgia Tech officially won the division for the second time in three years. Gotsis, who is from Australia, said he was getting texts from friends and family back home -- where it was already 3 in the afternoon -- as soon as the game ended.

It was obviously a moment worth celebrating, even in the unorthodox scenario of a Thursday night during a bye week.

This marks the fourth time Georgia Tech has won the division, but it might be the most unlikely.

To open the year, the Yellow Jackets were picked to finish sixth in the division, with pundits wondering whether Paul Johnson's early magic had worn off. But Georgia Tech has done nothing but prove the doubters wrong all season.

"All the guys are even more fired up," Gotsis said. "But we've got to take care of this one [against Georgia] and then move on to the next one."

The Yellow Jackets' offense is potent, ranked 10th nationally in yards per play and 14th nationally in scoring. Johnson's option attack is rushing for more yards per game this season (328) than in any year since he arrived in Atlanta. And with this year's ACC championship game opponent, Florida State, struggling to stop the run at times -- the Seminoles have allowed seven out of 10 opponents to rush for at least 150 yards -- the matchup in Charlotte on Dec. 6 could be intriguing.

But if there's been a key to Georgia Tech's run to the Coastal Division title, it's been a resurgent defense. The unit struggled mightily early in the season, but in its last four games -- all wins -- Tech has allowed just eight touchdowns and created 14 turnovers.

"We've come a long way," Gotsis said. "It's easy to say that, but you can really feel it on the field every day."

Of course, for Tech there's still the sizable obstacle of a rivalry game on the horizon. The Yellow Jackets wrap up the regular season against Georgia next week, hoping to knock off the 10th-ranked Bulldogs for just the second time since 2000.

But in two weeks, Florida State awaits, and Tech knows it will have its chance to finish proving the doubters wrong and walk away with its first conference title since 2009. It would also provide a bit of retribution for Georgia Tech's veterans who were on the field when FSU beat them for an ACC title in 2012.

"It's an exciting feeling knowing we get to go to that," Gotsis said. "We're a better team this year, and we've got some better players. So we'll see what we can do."
As Florida State's playoff résumé is debated, the central discussion comes back to two things:

1. Florida State hasn't played a tough schedule.

2. Florida State has struggled to win the games it has played.

Certainly there's evidence to suggest both of those statements are true and should be considered when deciding FSU's postseason fate -- both in terms of making the playoff and its seeding.

But, of course, there's more to the story, too.

Let's look at the first item. Is FSU's schedule easy?

With no opponents currently ranked in the top 20 (and likely none the rest of the way until, perhaps, the ACC championship game), the obvious answer is yes. (Of note, however: FSU has played two teams ranked in the top 25 and four in the top 40 of ESPN's FPI).

But there are a few other points worth noting, including this one from @NOTSCTheLegend.

Indeed, when Florida State takes on Boston College on Saturday, it will be the fifth time this season that an opponent had either a bye week or an FCS opponent in its previous game. Florida will be No. 6 on that list the following week. That's half of Florida State's entire schedule.

Is the same true for the other playoff contenders? Not exactly.

Here's how many similar games the others have had, with remaining games in parentheses:

(*Note, FCS opponents and season-opening games were not included.)

Ohio State, 4 (0)
Oregon, 3 (1)
Alabama, 3 (1)
TCU, 2 (1)
Baylor, 2 (0)
Mississippi State, 0 (1)

Has that made a real difference in FSU's performance? The Seminoles' first-half struggles suggest that's possible. In the four games that meet this criteria already played, FSU was outscored 78-41. In FSU's other five FBS games, it outscored its opponents 92-49.

Now, that's not entirely a fair representation because the bulk of the latter lopsided scoring came against Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and Syracuse. In games vs. Notre Dame and Virginia, the Seminoles struggled in the first halves, too, in spite of the fact that their opposition had a real opponent the previous week.

Additionally, FSU had a bye to prepare for both Clemson and Louisville, too, so any advantages should've been evened out. (And, yes, we're aware FSU had a distinct disadvantage against Clemson that had nothing to do with bye weeks, other than maybe Jameis Winston got a little bored during his.)

The point, however, is that there's more that goes into creating a tough schedule than just the teams on it.

This shows up a bit in how ESPN measures schedule strength. Based purely on the standard metric, FSU checks in at No. 38. But if we go on strength of record, which measures the odds an average Top 25 team could play the same schedule and end up with the same record, FSU ranks second -- behind Alabama. (Keep this in mind for a little later in the post.)

But let's move on to the second critique of Florida State's play -- that even though it has kept winning, it's not been dominant enough.

Again, if we look at some standard metrics, this makes sense. Here's the margin of victory for the top playoff contenders against Power 5 opponents this year:

Baylor +18.5
TCU +17.2
Ohio State +17.1
Oregon +15.9
Alabama +13.9
Florida State +13.1
Mississippi State +8.8

The Seminoles rank near the bottom, and when you add the perception of a weak schedule to that, it makes things look even worse.

Even if we get into more advanced measures, FSU doesn't look good. ESPN's Game Control metric -- which, for the purposes of simplicity, measures how nervous a team's fans are during a game -- FSU ranks 34th. The other contenders are all in the top 10.

But there's something else to be considered here. The game control is ugly for FSU because it has had to fight back, while others have jumped out early but cruised late.

In the first half of games, FSU has a +0.7 scoring margin against Power 5 foes -- by far the worst of the playoff contenders. But in the second half of those games, its margin is +12.4 -- the best margin in the nation by any team.

That leads to an interesting question from @SwainJP

Well, it turns out we don't need a hypothetical for this, because there's a perfect real-world example (see chart).

Alabama's margins are almost a perfect mirror image of Florida State's, and when we look back to those strength of record numbers, Alabama is also the only team that's played a schedule tougher than FSU's, so it makes some sense. Yet the narrative surrounding the Crimson Tide certainly is quite a bit different. Add in the fact that Alabama's scoring margin benefits greatly from a 59-0 win over Texas A&M, and the narrative shifts even further.

The irony to this is that usually in sports we reward the “clutch” teams that pull through in the most dramatic fashion (see 2013 Auburn for reference). For Florida State, however, the opposite seems to be true.

In truth, most statisticians would suggest “clutch” is a myth anyway. It's simply a matter of the cream rising to the top. In either case, it should burnish FSU's argument rather than damage it.

All of this isn't to say Florida State is clearly the best team in the country. That's sort of a foolish argument to begin with, since the whole reason we have a playoff now is the collective admission that we can't know who the best team is without playing the games on the field.

But what these numbers should clearly show is that the simple narrative surrounding FSU isn't the full story, and when measuring the top four teams — which is really all we need to do — the Seminoles clearly belong.

ACC Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
Fortuna: Can Duke handle its first Thursday night game? Can it withstand the very real target on its back that has come from beating UNC two years in a row? Can it clean up its offensive miscues from this past week against Virginia Tech? That last question will matter most Thursday, as the Blue Devils will have to score plenty of points to keep up with QB Marquise Williams and the Heels offense. Turnovers will be key for Duke's defense, but here's guessing that Williams rebounds and delivers after throwing the game-sealing pick in last year's game. UNC 35, Duke 30

Hale: Saturday’s loss was a tough one for the Blue Devils, but it was hardly a game in which Duke was outplayed. David Cutcliffe's team has thrived all season by getting all the little things right -- but against Virginia Tech, Duke looked like a different team. So what’s more likely to happen: Duke falls apart again in a must-win game or it reverts to its status as one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the country? I’m betting on the latter, but I don’t need a leap of faith to get there. The biggest difference against the Hokies was a ferocious Virginia Tech pass rush, and UNC doesn’t bring anything close to that caliber of defense to the table. Anthony Boone will have time to throw, Jamison Crowder will find space downfield, and the Duke running game should have room to run. Duke has no choice but to get a win here, and Cutcliffe will have his team ready to get it done. Duke 31, North Carolina 27

Adelson: There is one stat that illustrates why Louisville will win: Everett Golson has 19 total turnovers in his past seven games. The Louisville defense has forced 25 turnovers this season, one of the best marks in the country. And Golson will be playing with a bum shoulder. So the focus has to be on whether Golson can finally start taking care of the football the way he did earlier in the season, something coach Brian Kelly has stated publicly for weeks now. Notre Dame is coming off an emotional overtime loss; Louisville had a bye to prepare. The Cards are not going to be intimidated, either, having played in big-time atmospheres over the past several years. Louisville 27, Notre Dame 24

Fortuna: Notre Dame was not as good as its 6-0 start indicated. But it's not as bad as this current slump indicates, either. Saturday against Northwestern was the perfect storm of miscues that left the Irish vulnerable to defeat. And while the defense remains banged up, there are some talented newcomers who have slowly grown into their roles. Golson, for all of his giveaways, remains a dynamic quarterback, one who was on the fringe of the Heisman Trophy discussion as recently as two weeks ago. If he can protect the ball -- and if the Irish can go through field goals without any pre-kick issues -- Notre Dame has enough talent to resemble the offense of a month ago and withstand the Cardinals' pressure up front. Notre Dame 31, Louisville 25

Unanimous selections

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest: The Hokies believe the upset of Duke last week will spur a late-season rally, and the good news is Wake Forest should help boost that push. Virginia Tech should become bowl eligible after this game as it is hard to see the Demon Deacons' offense doing enough to beat the Hokies. Virginia Tech 21, Wake Forest 7

Syracuse at Pittsburgh: It has been a rough few weeks for the Panthers, who are fighting to make a bowl game. The Panthers have two of the conference's best offensive players in James Conner and Tyler Boyd, and it will be tough for Syracuse and its struggling offense to match the production of those two. The Panthers defense should get a bit of a break this week after allowing 147 points in their past three games. Pitt 34, Syracuse 24

Boston College at Florida State: Boston College has the ability to annoy and potentially upset FSU because of the Eagles' ground attack and stout defense. However, Jimbo Fisher said the Seminoles are physically ready for the Eagles. It would not be a shock if this game was close -- every FSU game is -- but at this point no one has been able to beat the Noles and that should continue. Florida State 27, Boston College 17

Georgia State at Clemson: The Tigers are playing Georgia State, which is 1-9 with all nine losses coming in a row. No matter who plays quarterback for Clemson, this should be an easy win. Clemson 49, Georgia State 0

Miami at Virginia: The Canes are reeling after a devastating loss to Florida State, and there certainly could be a hangover. The loss proved how far Miami has come and how talented the Canes are, though, and they should be able to beat Virginia. But don't count out the Cavaliers. The defense is good and the offense is getting better. They also had an extra week to prepare and need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive. Miami 24, Virginia 20

Current standings
Shanker: 63-16
Adelson: 62-17
Fortuna: 61-18
Hale: 61-18

ACC morning links

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
If Clemson coach Dabo Swinney goes to Florida, it might force Steve Spurrier to retire. How would the Ol' Ball Coach handle Swinney, the preferred target of Spurrier's snipes, becoming the coach at the school where Spurrier won a Heisman and national title?

All joking aside, The Clemson Insider is reporting Swinney is on the short list of Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, although Swinney said he has not spoken to anyone at Florida.

At the very least, it certainly makes sense Swinney's name would at least be brought up, whether in the media or behind closed doors in Gainesville, Florida. He's eliminated much of the underachieving stigma at Clemson, where the fan base expects conference championships and New Year's Day bowl games. He cut his teeth as an offensive assistant and had some of the country's top offenses at Clemson. Defensively, Swinney has coached some poor units but credit him for making a great hire in Brent Venables and turning it around. Clemson ranks No. 2 nationally in total defense.

From a recruiting standpoint, there are not many better recruiters than Swinney, who is only 45. Clemson's 2015 class is ranked No. 3, and Swinney told reporters he's putting together "the best recruiting class we have ever had." That is saying something, too, considering he pulled Deshaun Watson out of the SEC's backyard last cycle and has signed a top-15 class the last four years.

Despite Clemson's campus being six hours from the Florida border, Swinney has been wildly successful recruiting the state. Four Floridians ranked in the ESPN 300 are committed to Clemson, and since 2011 he has received 15 four-star commitments from Florida prospects. Sammy Watkins was one of them.

Of course, with two games left and an Orange Bowl berth still a possibility -- the program's third in four seasons -- Swinney is not entertaining any questions about his name being linked to Florida.

"We are not even going to acknowledge that kind of stuff," he told reporters. "Ya'll know I love Clemson.

"We will see how it all pans out, but that is where our focus is -- great finish, great bowl game, great recruiting class and build Clemson into a College Football Playoff team so we can get to where we want to be."

Breathe easy, Spurrier.

ACC Show: Week 13 replay

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
Join ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, David Hale, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker as they get into the Week 13 schedule, the Coastal race and Florida State's lack of national respect. They'll also answer your questions live on screen.

ACC morning links

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
Florida State receiver Rashad Greene said he does not “entertain the foolishness” of the selection committee’s College Football Playoff rankings.

Foolish might be a strong word for the rankings, which once again placed Florida State at No. 3, but they are questionable. It’s not limited to just Florida State either, but the Seminoles are one of the lightning rods through the first few weeks.

Committee chairman Jeff Long offered several different reasons as to why teams are ranked where they are, which underscores one of the biggest issues with the rankings: There are no parameters or guidelines for the committee to follow.

Opining on FSU’s ranking is equivalent to returning to the stable each Wednesday to beat a dead horse, so we’ll relent. But at some point, game control needs to take a back seat to game, set, match. Most coaches would prefer come-from-behind wins against a schedule with 11 Power 5 schools rather than superior statistical measures.

Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden (or whoever is tasked with his Facebook statuses) argued the Seminoles are doing what every coach preaches all year: finish.

“How many times have you heard a Coach say," We didn't finish"? Coaches harp on it continuously,” the post stated. “… Every team in the Top Ten failed to 'finish' their game at least one time, but not Florida State . One thing they have done is 'finish' the game.They have 'finished' 10 straight times this season and the last 26 games in a row.”

Elsewhere in the ACC, Clemson remains ranked despite a blowout loss to Georgia Tech in which it lost starting quarterback Deshaun Watson again. It appears the committee rightfully took that into consideration, especially since the hope is Watson will return again this season as he rehabs a sprained knee.

Clemson is a legitimate Top 25 team when it has its star freshman, although he has struggled to remain healthy. This is the third significant injury Watson has suffered since the spring. The Tigers were once again strong defensively against Georgia Tech, as the score belies their effort because of two Cole Stoudt pick sixes.

Louisville is also back in the rankings at No. 24 but Duke dropped out, and Georgia Tech moved up to No. 18. All four ACC teams are rightfully ranked.

ACC bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
NC State wrapped up bowl eligibility this week, and Virginia Tech can do the same Saturday against Wake Forest, but there’s still some drama left as UNC, Pitt and Virginia scramble for more wins and the shuffle for a spot in the Orange Bowl remains chaotic. Here’s where we’re at in the ACC as of now.

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

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

* Bowl eligible

Planning for success: Florida State

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
The weak link in Florida State’s offensive game plan this season was clearly up the middle.

It’s no knock on the potential of redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld, who was forced into action when senior Austin Barron went down with injury, but the drop-off from last year’s starter, Bryan Stork, was significant.

So rather than simply sticking with the cards he’d been dealt, Jimbo Fisher rolled the dice. He moved Cameron Erving, his All-ACC left tackle, to the middle of the line and placed true freshman Roderick Johnson into the starting lineup to protect Jameis Winston’s blind side.

[+] EnlargeCameron Erving
Lynne Sladky/Associated PressThe move of Cameron Erving from tackle to center bolstered Florida State's inside-run game against Miami.
It was a gamble, but it worked -- at least for this week -- and now Fisher seems happy to stick with the new format for his offensive line.

“Inside, Cam is so athletic, he can move, can pull,” Fisher said. “As good as Stork was, Cam is such an athlete ... and he can clog up the middle.”

The improvement wasn’t particularly visible in terms of pass protection against the Hurricanes. Miami recorded just one sack, but Winston was hit or pressured on six of his 37 dropbacks -- roughly the same as his season average, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Status quo is certainly acceptable, though it’s worth noting that Miami entered the game with one of the least productive pass rushes in the ACC, and starting defensive end Anthony Chickillo missed time after getting hurt in Saturday’s game.

Chalk that up to Johnson getting his first heavy dose of work at left tackle, but FSU has seen enough of him in practice to think there’s a high ceiling there.

"Sometimes he does better against Mario Edwards than I do [in practice],” Erving said. “That's being honest. He has a lot of potential."

The potential in pass protection is one thing. Where FSU saw a marked improvement was on the ground.

Entering the game, Florida State had struggled mightily running the ball between the tackles, averaging just 3.2 yards-per-carry -- a significant drop-off from last season’s production.

Against Miami, however, the Seminoles rushed for 5.8 yards per carry, including 2.0 before contact -- both season highs. The yards before contact more than doubled FSU’s season average on rushes up the middle, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The caveat to the instant impact the swap on the line might have had is that Florida State ran the ball between the tackles just nine times -- its lowest total of the season. That was due in part to an early deficit that forced FSU to throw more, but also likely a desire to get Erving used to his new role.

But Fisher sees this as the future for the line, and given that Barron was officially listed as available for the Miami game, even his return to health is unlikely to change that in the near term.

It’s a savvy move for Florida State, which goes against a Boston College team this week that ranks fourth nationally in rushing defense and third in the ACC in tackles for loss.

“It’s a move that we felt we needed to make to help us in the future to take us where we wanted to go,” Fisher said.
This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

ACC morning links

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
We’re nearing awards season -- two ACC tight ends were announced as Mackey Award finalists on Monday -- so, of course, the talk turns to the Heisman Trophy.

There’s still plenty of debate over who deserves to win the award, but the Orlando Sentinel notes that it’s unlikely Jameis Winston will repeat.

Winston's off-field issues -- his code of conduct hearing with Florida State has been postponed to Dec. 2 -- are likely to turn off many voters, and his 11 interceptions and declining touchdown totals certainly will disqualify him from a few more ballots.

In ESPN’s latest Heisman watch, Winston checks in at No. 7 -- behind another ACC name, Miami’s Duke Johnson.

That ranking certainly begs a more interesting question than whether Winston will win: Will he even get an invite to New York?

Since the Heisman Trophy began in 1935, only three winners returned for the following season and didn’t finish in the top 5 in voting: Ohio State’s Vic Janowicz in 1951, Navy’s Roger Staubach in 1964 and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford in 2009. It’s worth noting, too, that it was an injury that kept Bradford from New York -- not performance.

So could Winston become the first healthy returnee to finish outside the top five in 50 years?

If Florida State finishes undefeated, Winston might still earn his trip. He’s obviously gone to battle with a weaker supporting cast this season, his passing yardage is actually up from last season, and he’s been exceptional in leading the Seminoles back from big deficits -- a narrative that might have a less controversial QB as the Heisman frontrunner in most years.

It’s also worth noting that, in the past decade, no Power 5 team that was undefeated leading up to the Heisman presentation failed to have a representative in New York City.

Of course, if there’s one thing we can probably all agree on regarding Winston, it’s that there isn’t too much in the way of precedent. He’s a unique talent and a unique character -- for better or worse. So in his case, history might not be much of a guide.

A few more links for your Tuesday reading ...