ACC: Louisville Cardinals

ACC Upset Watch: Week 6

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

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

Friday

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

Saturday

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

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

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

Pitt (3-2, 1-0) at Virginia (3-2, 1-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Virginia by 5. Bet nobody expected the Hoos to be favored in this game when the season began. While Virginia has looked like the better team to date, Pitt has played extremely well at times this season. Yes the Panthers are coming in off two straight losses, but they do have one of the top running backs and receivers in the ACC. If James Conner can get going and Chad Voytik can make some plays to Tyler Boyd, Pitt will have an opportunity to pull the upset.

Planning for success: Syracuse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC morning links

September, 30, 2014
Sep 30
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It appears things are getting a bit salty between a pair of ACC coaches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

On to the rest of your ACC links ...

By the numbers: Week 5 recap

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
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Breaking down some interesting stats after five weeks of games in the ACC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC morning links

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for the rest of your ACC links ...

ACC bowl projections: Week 5

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

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

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

ACC Power Rankings: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
2:00
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What we learned in the ACC: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
12:18
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Let's take a look at what we learned in the ACC for Week 5:

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeNC State's Jacoby Brissett dazzled again this week, but Florida State rallied to stay undefeated.
1. Survival State. Florida State is not as good as it was a season ago. That much seems pretty clear. But despite some of their flaws, the Seminoles have found ways to win in consecutive weeks, keeping themselves in College Football Playoff contention. A week after surviving Clemson in overtime, No. 1 Florida State had to overcome a 24-7 first quarter deficit at NC State -- a house of horrors that has haunted the program going for a decade. Given the horrible start and the history, Florida State looked ready to go down. But the Seminoles scored on three straight possessions between the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth to come away with the 56-41 win. Florida State ended up outscoring the Wolfpack 49-17 after that dreadful opening period. Good teams are often tested during the season. But Florida State has now been tested in all three of its FBS games. Wake Forest and Syracuse are ahead before a big showdown against No. 8 Notre Dame on Oct. 18. The Seminoles have plenty of work to do before then.

2. Do not count out Miami. A week ago, Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio was the most wanted man in South Florida after the Canes looked completely out of it in a loss to Nebraska. Would you look at that defense a week later? Miami completely shut down Duke and its run game, holding the Blue Devils to 264 total yards and 2-of-16 on third down while forcing three turnovers. But maybe the best news of all in its 22-10 victory -- Miami made some exceptional tackles and that has to be encouraging moving forward. While critics might want to quickly dismiss the win because it came against a Duke team that feasted on weak competition to date, Miami deserves credit for bouncing back from a dreadful tackling day against the Huskers. Duke Johnson finally got to 100 yards rushing and Brad Kaaya keeps getting better. The rest of the Coastal is a mess, so why not Miami?

3. Jacoby Brissett is for real. We thought Brissett might be for real based on his first four games, but after his performance against Florida State, we know it now to be true. Brissett had some pretty terrific Houdini moments and ended up going 32-of-48 for 359 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 13 rushes for 38 yards. His presence in the offense makes NC State a radically different team. Just look at the difference in the games between these two teams over the span of a year. Last season, NC State trailed 35-0 after the first quarter. This season, Brissett had NC State on the verge of an upset. The Wolfpack have improved as the season has worn on -- having Brissett behind center is a big reason why.

4. Pitt, BC are not for real. On a day when the ACC kept its College Football Playoff hopes alive, the league took yet another double-whammy hit from its middle-of-the-pack teams. Pitt and Boston College lost to Group of 5 programs and it’s hard to gauge which home defeat was more stunning. Was it the Panthers, who showed no signs of life in a 21-10 loss to Akron? Or was it Boston College, blowing a fourth-quarter lead and losing 24-21 to Colorado State? Just two weeks ago, the Eagles pulled their own stunner, beating down USC in a performance that should have served notice. Instead, BC falls into the same trap Virginia Tech did, albeit a few weeks apart. Neither team could keep up the momentum it created after taking down a ranked team. As for Pitt, the nonconference schedule presented four winnable games. The Panthers only won two. They failed in just about every area against Akron, most notably rushing the ball. James Conner had his 100-yard streak snapped. If Pitt can’t run, it has little hope to win.

5. Mixed bag for young QBs. Clemson's Deshaun Watson got his first career start and wowed just about everybody, setting a school record with six touchdown passes in a 50-35 win over North Carolina. If only he had started against Georgia and Florida State. … Meanwhile, Kaaya keeps showing growth in the Miami offense, going 20-of-34 for 223 yards and two scores. These two look like future quarterback stars in the ACC. As for some of the others? Louisville fans clamored for Reggie Bonnafon the way Clemson fans wanted Watson. Bonnafon got his shot against Wake Forest with an injured Will Gardner on the sideline and showed some flashes, going 16-of-32 for 206 yards. But he also had two critical fumbles, including one in the end zone Wake Forest converted into a touchdown. The offensive line did him no favors, and his receivers also had several drops in the 20-10 win. Wake quarterback John Wolford continues to have a tough time, throwing three interceptions.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 5

September, 27, 2014
Sep 27
8:00
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Plenty of ACC teams wrap up their nonconference slate on Saturday, but there are several important league games, too, in addition to Notre Dame's foray into semi-ACC play. Here's what's on deck. Be sure to follow along on Twitter using the hashtags below.

12:30 p.m.

Colorado State at Boston College, ESPN3, #CSUvsBC: A 4-1 start would be huge for the Eagles, with the heart of ACC play fast approaching. They are the nation's No. 2 rushing team, tallying 1,345 yards, a by-product of Florida transfer quarterback Tyler Murphy, who has tallied at least 99 rushing yards in each game so far. The defense hasn't been too shabby, either, surrendering less than 20 points per game despite plenty of new faces. Garrett Grayson and the Rams can throw the ball, but they'll need more to go their way if they want to escape Alumni Stadium with an upset.

Western Michigan at Virginia Tech, ESPN3, #WMUvsVT: Which Michael Brewer will the Hokies get? The transfer signal-caller was a tremendous ball distributor in Virginia Tech's Week 2 upset win at Ohio State, but last week he had three costly turnovers in letting a home tilt slip away against Georgia Tech for the Hokies' second straight home loss. Coach Frank Beamer liked what he saw out of his quarterback otherwise, and the Broncos should provide an opportunity for Brewer and the rest of the Hokies to shake out of their rut and gain some momentum heading into the rest of league play.

1:30 p.m.

Akron at Pitt, ESPN3: Can Pitt bounce back from a tough home loss to Iowa? The Panthers probably let one get away, but the Zips are not to be slept on, as the 1-2 squad has had no shortage of early-season tests itself so far, losing to Penn State and Marshall. This is a homecoming of sorts for Akron coach Terry Bowden, a Morgantown, West Virginia, native who went to Pittsburgh regularly. The Panthers need this win more, though, as they look to get back on track before their first Coastal game next week at Virginia.

3:30 p.m.

Wake Forest at Louisville, ESPNU, #WAKEvsLOU: This here is a battle of the ACC's two first-year head coaches, Dave Clawson and Bobby Petrino. It's also a rematch of the 2007 Orange Bowl, which Petrino was a part of with the Cardinals. Both teams will be starting true freshmen under center, with John Wolford showing plenty of growth in his fourth start last week against Army and Reggie Bonnafon returning to Louisville after the tragic loss of his father, and after starter Will Gardner suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of action against the Demon Deacons.

[+] EnlargeNiklas Sade
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesNC State shocked FSU on the Seminoles' last visit to Raleigh, North Carolina, in 2012.

No. 1 Florida State at NC State, ABC/ESPN2, #FSUvsNCSU: We know all about how Carter-Finley Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Seminoles lately, as the Wolfpack have won three of their past four home contests against FSU. A win would be a very tall order for the still-growing Pack, who are in their second year under Dave Doeren. But this could be a great measuring-stick game for them after a 4-0 start against subpar competition. NC State has already topped its win total from last season, and Jacoby Brissett has been magnificent under center. The Noles, by the way, will trot out a certain Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback after surviving a one-game suspension without him.

Kent State at Virginia, ESPN3: First things first: How about those sharp throwback unis the Cavaliers will be wearing? As for who will be under center wearing them when things kick off, well, that appears less clear, as Greyson Lambert recovers from an ankle injury he suffered in last week's loss at BYU. The Hoos know the offense is in capable hands with Matt Johns regardless, and their defense will look to revert to its early-season form after stumbling in Provo, Utah.

7 p.m.

North Carolina at Clemson, ESPNU, #UNCvsCLEM: The Tigers might be getting the perfect medicine following a heartbreaking overtime defeat at Florida State. They have a talented and growing offense, led by Deshaun Watson, who will be making his first career start. And they are facing a UNC team that laid a major egg defensively last week against East Carolina, surrendering 70 points and nearly 800 yards of total offense. The Tar Heels have given little indication through three games they are ready for the challenge that awaits them in Death Valley, but that's why they play the games, right?

7:30 p.m.

Duke at Miami, ESPN2, #DUKEvsMIA: We should learn much more about both of these teams when they face off at Sun Life Stadium. The Blue Devils are 4-0 but were hardly challenged during nonconference play, while Miami struggled against the two good teams it faced. It will be interesting to see what kind of response the Hurricanes defense shows after Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah gashed it for 229 yards and two touchdowns last Saturday. Perhaps more importantly, Duke dominated the Canes' D to the tune of 358 rushing yards last year, running away in the fourth quarter. If Miami has any hopes of competing for the Coastal crown this year, it has to show more this time around at home.

8 p.m.

No. 8 Notre Dame at Syracuse, ABC, #NDvsCUSE: The Irish unofficially kick off their ACC football alliance by taking on old Big East (hoops) foe Syracuse at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. It is the first "road" game for the 3-0 Irish, though they will likely have most of the home crowd on their side. One thing to watch out for is how Notre Dame's offensive line performs, as it used the bye week to shake up a so-so unit and will now take the field featuring four players in different spots than before. Can the Orange's aggressive defense take advantage of this? Ball protection is key for Syracuse if it wishes to pull the upset, as Terrel Hunt and the offense are capable of putting points on the board when they stay out of their own way.

ACC morning links

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26
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College football too often can be too cynical. We’re all guilty of it sometimes.

Well, maybe not everyone.

Meet Caleb Pressley, formerly a backup quarterback at North Carolina and now the Tar Heels' “supervisor of morale.” Pressley figured it was time to quit football when he skipped spring practice.

Here’s a good feature on Pressley from Nicole Auerbach of USA Today.

As Pressley puts it, his job is pretty easy.

"All I have to do is come in, signal plays, talk to my friends and dance around on the sidelines,” he told USA Today.

That has us thinking which other ACC players would make good “supervisors of morale” once their career ends. Karlos Williams could fill that role for the No. 1 Seminoles. The senior running back is affable and is never at a loss for supportive words. Duke safety Jeremy Cash knows a thing or two about keeping spirits up after originally transferring from Ohio State. Clemson could use a morale boost from defensive tackle Grady Jarrett after Saturday’s heartbreaking loss to Florida State.

But we all know no one will ever motivate as well as this guy. Hammocks!

ACC morning links

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
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It is two days until game day, but it is beginning to look like Louisville will go into Saturday's tilt against Wake Forest without starting quarterback Will Gardner.

Gardner missed practice again Wednesday following an unspecified knee injury suffered in this past weekend's game at FIU, the (Louisville) Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer writes, and the Cardinals are prepared to go with Reggie Bonnafon against the Demon Deacons if need be.

Bonnafon returned to the team Sunday after the funeral for his father, Wallace. The true freshman missed the win over the Golden Panthers.

The former ESPN four-star quarterback saw meaningful time in the Cardinals' Sept. 13 loss at Virginia, completing 6 of 9 throws for 39 yards. He is 14-for-20 on the season with 151 yards and one touchdown. The local product was the No. 2 player in the state and No. 8 quarterback in the country from the class of 2014.

The quarterback situation for Virginia this weekend also remains unclear, as Greyson Lambert suffered a right ankle injury in the Cavalier's 41-33 loss at BYU.

"Tuesdays are first days of practice, and Wednesday, he was out here today, took some limited reps," coach Mike London said during Wednesday's ACC coaches' teleconference. "The ACC's requirement of turning in the probability of players is (Thursday), and I would say that although he looked OK, if he's not 100 percent, he's not going to play, but we feel really confident about Matt Johns being the guy, even in a backup role or a situation where David Watford can go in the game, as well.

"Again, it's tentative, and after (Thursday's) practice we'll release his status for the game. But we feel good about whoever the quarterback is going to be to be able to go in and lead the team. "

Here are the rest of your ACC links ...

ACC Live: Week 5 (2 p.m. ET)

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
10:15
AM ET
Join ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna, David Hale and Jared Shanker as they delve into the state of the conference after the first quarter of the season and look ahead to Week 5 action. They will also take your questions live on-screen.

ACC morning links

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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Virginia kicker Ian Frye went through quite a harrowing ordeal during the BYU game last weekend.

When the team started to walk to the locker room at halftime, Frye noticed his mother coming down a set of stairs toward him. She yelled to Frye that his dad, Mark, was having chest pains. Frye went into the locker room briefly before finding his dad, who was seated just outside the door having a hard time breathing. He spoke with his dad and the paramedics, before his parents urged him to go back to his team.

Mark Frye, 58, was transported to a local hospital after suffering a heart attack. Ian Frye was left to play the rest of the game, worrying about his dad. But that did not keep him from nailing a 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

"Just sitting there on the sideline was tough," Frye told local reporters Monday. "But I wanted to be there with my team, support them, and do what I needed to do. I was called out for a 46-yard field goal. That was probably one of my hardest kicks that I've ever had to do, just knowing about my dad and what he was going through and having to perform still for the team. I kicked it for him."

After the game ended, BYU police escorted Frye to the hospital to see his dad, who had undergone successful surgery. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe visited in the hospital and brought Ian a meal. Ian Frye stayed overnight in Utah and returned to Charlottesville on Monday after a lengthy flight delay in Atlanta.

Mark Frye remains in a Provo hospital but is expected to recover. He has taken great pride in Ian's career, never missing a game. The 46-yard field goal Frye nailed was the first kick Mark Frye had ever missed his son attempt.

But he is not completely out of the loop. He was the first one to text Ian on Monday and let him know the ACC named him its Specialist of the Week after making all four field goal attempts in the game.

He is now 10-of-11 on field goal attempts this season.

Pretty amazing story.

In some other Virginia news, quarterback Greyson Lambert had a walking boot on Sunday and will be evaluated throughout the week. Matt Johns and David Watford will get increased reps at quarterback in case Lambert is not ready to go against Kent State this weekend. He is not the only ACC quarterback who is day-to-day.

Louisville quarterback Will Gardner is having his knee examined after he tweaked it against FIU. Coach Bobby Petrino told reporters Monday that it was too early to tell whether Gardner will be able to play against Wake Forest. If he can't, Reggie Bonnafon will be ready to go after missing last week following his father's death.

Now a quick look around the ACC:

By the numbers: Week 4 recap

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
2:00
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Plenty of coaches around the ACC are sifting through some ugly numbers this week, but we’ll start with one of the best performances of the weekend.

* Florida State’s Rashad Greene was a hero yet again Saturday night. His 74-yard touchdown grab with 6:04 to play tied the game at 17 and gave the Seminoles a chance to win in overtime.

The big catches are nothing new for Greene. In fact, you could argue that he’s been on the receiving end of the most significant throws in the college career of four different quarterbacks:

2014: Sean Maguire, 74-yard touchdown to tie game versus Clemson

2013: Jameis Winston, 49-yard completion with less than a minute to play to set up a game-winning touchdown in the BCS national championship

2012: EJ Manuel, 39-yard touchdown with 40 seconds left to beat Virginia Tech, keeping FSU’s hopes alive for Jimbo Fisher’s first ACC championship

2011: Clint Trickett, 56-yard touchdown with 9:32 left to tie Oklahoma

The last one occurred in a game FSU eventually lost, but it’s a play many Noles fans recall as the loudest Doak Campbell Stadium has ever been.

Beyond Greene’s contributions historically though, he’s on an immensely hot streak right now. In his last three games against Power 5 teams, he has 29 catches for 485 yards and two touchdowns. Nineteen of those 29 receptions have gone for first downs.

Currently Alabama’s Amari Cooper is the only receiver in the nation with a longer active streak of 100-yard games against Power 5 teams.

* Georgia Tech is 4-0, and a big reason for that success thus far has been quarterback Justin Thomas, who ranks 10th in ESPN’s Total QBR so far this season. The presumption is the Yellow Jackets are finally embracing the passing game, and therefore the offense is more dynamic.

But that’s not entirely true. Georgia Tech has had the QB drop back to pass on 27 percent of its plays this year, which is just a mild uptick from 2013, when the QB dropped back on 26 percent of its plays.

What’s different is the success Thomas has enjoyed on those dropbacks. Tech is averaging more yards per dropback, been sacked less often and those plays are accounting for a greater percentage of its total offense than it did a year ago with Vad Lee at quarterback.

* While Thomas has been sharp as a passer, DeAndre Smelter is blossoming into a star as a receiver. The former baseball player has three 100-yard games already this season (only Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White have more) and only Cooper, Pitt’s Tyler Boyd and Air Force’s Jalen Robinette have been responsible for a higher percentage of their team’s targets than Smelter (40.3 percent).

* Yes, Boston College’s game Saturday was only against Maine, but here’s a ridiculous stat for you: The Eagles rushed for 413 yards, while only allowing 16 yards on the ground.

More ridiculous: A week earlier, against USC, Boston College ran for 452 yards and allowed just 20.

In the past 10 seasons, there were just eight other examples of a team rushing for more than 400 while allowing 20 or fewer yards on the ground in a game, and BC managed to do it in back-to-back weeks.

* Panic time for some other ground games around the ACC?

Virginia Tech’s rushing game was bad last year and is again in 2014. Overall, the Hokies rank 10th in the ACC in yards-per-carry on non-QB rushes (4.29) and their running backs are averaging just 3.2 yards-per-carry against FBS teams.

North Carolina and Virginia (with 1,000-yard rusher Kevin Parks) are 12th and 13th, respectively, in non-QB yards-per-rush.

Clemson is 11th (4.02), and even with FSU’s best defensive lineman, Mario Edwards Jr., out for much of the game Saturday, the Tigers mustered just 3.2 yards-per-carry. Take away the Clemson QBs, and the ground game had just 47 yards.

Then there’s Louisville. Two weeks ago at Virginia, the Cards’ ground game averaged fewer than 4 yards per rush, and on Saturday against FIU, things were even worse. Set aside Dominique Brown’s 18-yard scamper on the first play of the game, and Louisville had just 34 yards on its final 30 attempts.

* Virginia Tech’s once-stifling defense has really struggled so far this year. Part of it is the game plan Bud Foster has implemented, but the big plays have killed the Hokies. In four games, Tech has coughed up 32 plays of 19 yards or more (once every eight plays). Last year, it allowed just 53 all season.

* Plenty of credit for Georgia Tech’s win should go to Ted Roof’s defense, which rattled Michael Brewer into three turnovers that translated to 17 points. So far this season, the Yellow Jackets have racked up 45 points following turnovers, tops in the ACC.

* And finally, here’s a number that pretty much sums up Clemson’s season so far: In two games against FBS teams, Clemson is averaging 2.37 yards-per-play in the fourth quarter and overtime (fourth-worst nationally) and has picked up just three first downs (worst in the nation).

ACC morning links

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
8:00
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No surprise, but Dabo Swinney made it official Sunday: Deshaun Watson will start at quarterback for Clemson, writes The Post and Courier.

Clemson fans obviously wish that decision had come a few days earlier, but it’s hard to fault Swinney for showing loyalty to his veteran, Cole Stoudt, for as long as he could. Besides, most true freshmen would’ve been rattled by the big stage in Tallahassee on Saturday. It’s just that Watson isn’t like most freshmen, and that’s why this was an easy decision moving forward.

Four weeks into the season, Watson is the fourth backup QB in the ACC to see signifiant action, and he’s clearly been the best. Watson leads all ACC quarterbacks in Total QBR and is sixth nationally.

The true freshman has only been on campus since January and he missed the latter half of spring ball with an injury, but as we wrote last week, he's a quick study and Chad Morris' offense is second nature already.

Watson might be licking his chops for his first career start, which will come this week against a reeling North Carolina team that just coughed up 789 yards of offense to ECU and ranks 125th nationally in passing defense. It’s so bad for the Tar Heels that Larry Fedora admitted he needs to re-evaluate how he’s doing his job, writes the Charlotte Observer.

Of course, as Fedora tries to right the ship in Chapel Hill, it’s possible he could turn to his backup QB, too. Starter Marquise Williams struggled against ECU, completing 14 of 25 passes for 127 yards (just 5.1 per attempt) and tossed a disastrous interception that was returned for a TD. Two early scoring drives led by Williams were actually finished by TD throws from a wide receiver and punter, respectively.

Mitch Trubisky wasn’t markedly better, completing 8 of 16 throws for 103 yards and a touchdown, but it’s fair to wonder if UNC fans will start clamoring for the highly recruited freshman to start over the veteran QB soon, too, just as Clemson’s fans did.

Sean Maguire largely held his own in his first start for Florida State, and it was a wild ride for his family, writes Warchant. But he’s headed back to the bench as Jimbo Fisher made clear that Jameis Winston will be the starter again, effective today.

Then at Virginia, the Hoos remain optimistic despite a third straight 2-2 start, writes The Daily Progress. But questions still linger at QB, after Matt Johns finished things off for Virginia against BYU following an injury to starter Greyson Lambert. Lambert says he'll be back this week, but Johns has the better numbers through four games.

But if there’s QB drama in those places, there is none in Clemson, where Watson is clearly the future.

“Turn his tape on, watch him play and the moment was never too big for him, even as a freshman playing varsity,” Morris told me last week. And that was before Watson looked like a savvy veteran in raucous Doak Campbell Stadium.

The Tigers are 1-2, and for the third straight year, it looks like winning the ACC won’t happen. But after Clemson fans licked their wounds Sunday, they should certainly feel good about the future with their new QB.

A few more links:
  • There’s no doubt Winston was missed Saturday, but Florida State showed its depth in the win over Clemson, writes Sports Illustrated.
  • It was a lot of little things that let Florida State squash Clemson, writes Tomahawk Nation. Of note on those little things: Clemson was 2-of-5 converting third-and-short against the Seminoles.
  • This headline from the Washington Post certainly summed up Clemson's performance Saturday succinctly.
  • Michael Brewer took the blame after Virginia Tech’s loss to Georgia Tech, writes The Roanoke Times. No Power 5 QB in the country has thrown more interceptions this season than Brewer (eight).
  • There are plenty of numbers for Boston College to be happy about after four games, but BC Interruption points out a couple sobering stats: The Eagles didn’t force a turnover against Maine and currently rank 104th nationally with a minus-3 turnover margin. BC has just three points off turnovers this year, too. Only six FBS teams have less.
  • Another year, another long list of complaints about Miami’s defense, writes The Sun-Sentinel. Is there anyone in the ACC whose job seems less secure right now than Mark D’Onofrio? Since he came aboard in 2011, only Duke has allowed more yards per game to Power 5 teams than Miami (446.2) and no ACC team has allowed a higher percentage of third-down conversions (46.1).
  • James Quick’s breakout game against FIU was worth the wait for Louisville, writes The Courier-Journal.

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