ACC: North Carolina Tar Heels

Make-or-break time for North Carolina

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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North Carolina has only played two games this season, but it is not an exaggeration to say the Tar Heels are about to embark on make-or-break time.

Starting at East Carolina on Saturday, North Carolina begins its toughest stretch of the season -- seven straight games against teams that currently have winning records. Three of the next four are on the road, including games next week at No. 22 Clemson and at No. 9 Notre Dame on Oct. 11. Also in the mix are games against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Miami.

"We know that the next couple games are tough and of course they’re all away, but we know we have to buckle down and we don’t need to start as slow as we have and hopefully we’ll get it together starting ECU week," defensive back Tim Scott said. "We’ll be ready for the games when they count."

North Carolina certainly has not looked ready in its first two games, closer-than-expected contests that turned on defensive plays. That defense has been a puzzle to figure out in the early going. It has the capability of creating turnovers -- it has forced nine in the first two games. Scott's interception in the end zone saved the win against San Diego State in Week 2.

But the defense also has given up way too many big plays. North Carolina ranks last in the ACC in total defense and scoring defense, and No. 13 in the league in pass defense.

None of that is encouraging considering the team it faces Saturday. East Carolina has one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country in Shane Carden, who already has 1,031 yards passing in three games.

Getting off to a slow start in a third straight game cannot be an option. It is not as if North Carolina needs any more reminders, given the way the Pirates beat them in 2013. In that game, East Carolina jumped out to a 28-10 lead at halftime and North Carolina never recovered. Then last week, East Carolina built an early 21-0 lead on Virginia Tech and won.

Scott said he would give his team a C-plus for its performance in the first two games.

"We’ve come out with the Ws but we came out both games very slow, very unenthusiastic," Scott said. "San Diego State, they were a big test and they showed they were a good team and we weren’t ready to play at the time but in the second half we came to play and we showed what our team is capable of doing."

When asked for an explanation about why there have been lapses, Scott said, "We’re not sure. Our effort’s there at times. On defense, if you’re not running to the ball, then the big plays show up. That’s what happened. We weren’t running to the ball. Coach just has us making sure we’re running to the ball and making sure we get in our positions really quick because ECU, they’re one of those spread teams that likes to go fast and they can expose you if you don’t get there."

North Carolina is headed into this tough stretch off a bye, so the hope is that extra time in practice going over the fundamentals and getting extra reps for its young players will help. Coach Larry Fedora said he was happy the bye week came so early because it would help his young team get more work in "so that we can continue to get better at each and every position, which is going to help us as we get into that stretch."

Based on its showing in the first two games, North Carolina could use all the help it can get headed into the next seven weeks.

North Carolina's upcoming schedule

Saturday at East Carolina

Sept. 27 at Clemson

Oct. 4 Virginia Tech

Oct. 11 at Notre Dame

Oct. 18 Georgia Tech

Oct. 25 at Virginia

Nov. 1 at Miami

ACC Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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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
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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 …

ACC playoff watch: Week 4

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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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.

ACC morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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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.

ACC Upset Watch: Week 4

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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Two teams we had on upset watch last week ended up losing: Louisville and Virginia Tech. That is all the warning needed for this week's edition.

Eds note: We are including ACC underdogs with a chance to pull upsets, too.

1. Maryland (2-1) at Syracuse (2-0), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Syracuse by 2. The Orange posted a 40-3 win against Central Michigan last week. That counts as a big win considering the double-overtime scare they survived in Week 1. Still, how much do we really know about Syracuse right now? Is Terrel Hunt as good as he was last week or as average as he was in the first half against Villanova? Is the defense as feisty as the one we saw against the Chippewas or the one that was not very physical against Villanova? Maryland has not exactly impressed anyone with a close win over USF and then a 40-37 loss to West Virginia last week in which the Mountaineers ran 108 plays and Clint Trickett passed for 511 yards. Still, the Terps have a veteran quarterback in C.J. Brown and top-notch receiver in Stefon Diggs -- two players who missed Syracuse's 20-3 win against Maryland a year ago.

2. Army (1-1) at Wake Forest (1-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Army by 2. Wake Forest has not exactly given its fans reason for hope but the Deacs did show signs of life last week in a loss to Utah State. After trailing 29-7 at halftime, Wake Forest cut the deficit to 29-21 before losing 36-24. Turnovers have been a huge killer in both losses. Last week, the Aggies scored on a pick-six and a fumble return for a touchdown. ULM also scored on a pick-six in the opener to win 17-10. If Wake Forest can limit such damaging mistakes, then they will be in some games down the road. Because the defense is respectable. Better than respectable, actually, ranking in the top half of the ACC in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense. Wake Forest beat Army last season and has won seven straight in the series. The Demon Deacons are 6-0 vs. Army at BB&T Field and have not lost to the Black Knights since 1989.

3. North Carolina (2-0) at East Carolina (2-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Line: East Carolina by 2. The Pirates are riding high after their win against Virginia Tech, and have something else going for them, too -- they embarrassed North Carolina in Chapel Hill one season ago. So if Shane Carden and company had a huge day against the Tar Heels last season, what will prevent them from having a big day against the Tar Heels this year? North Carolina ranks No. 94 in the nation in passing yards allowed (average 265 per game) and has been in a dogfight with its first two opponents -- neither of them as good as East Carolina. Meanwhile, the North Carolina offense will be without starting guard Landon Turner, and is expected to start true freshman Jared Cohen in his place. But not all is bleak. North Carolina can score with the best of them, and the Tar Heels will not overlook the Pirates the way they did a season ago. With a week off to prepare, North Carolina will be ready.

4. Virginia (2-1) at BYU (3-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPN. Line: BYU by 15. The Cougars have looked the part in the early going, but Virginia has not been a walkover for anybody. Virginia was not even a walkover for BYU last season -- the Hoos beat the Cougars to start the season before everything else went south. So how can Virginia pull the upset? Follow the same blueprint it did last week in a win over Louisville. Virginia totally shut down dual-threat quarterback Brett Hundley so the Hoos will have that experience under their belts when they take on dual-threat Taysom Hill. The Hoos also have been terrific at creating turnovers. Their nine turnovers gained is tied for second in the country. The offense still has to find some consistency and a ground game, but with a take-charge defense leading the way, Virginia will be a threat to pull off the upset.

ECU looks to do it again vs. ACC

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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Ruffin McNeill has not approached East Carolina's rugged three-game nonconference stretch here as proving grounds. The fifth-year Pirates coach has always believed his teams belong with whoever they're playing, Power 5 program or not. They entered South Carolina two weeks ago intending to leave with a win, the same way they entered this past weekend at Virginia Tech, the same way they will approach a home tilt with North Carolina this Saturday.

"We did not go down thinking 'upset,'" McNeill told ESPN.com, referring to the loss to the Gamecocks. "We went down expecting to win, and that's saying it as humble as I can. And that's how much I believe in our staff and our team."

[+] EnlargeShane Carden
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsThrough three games this season, East Carolina senior QB Shane Carden has already thrown for 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns.
Such a mentality hardly hindered ECU last season during its 100-plus mile trip to Chapel Hill, as the Pirates had their way with the Tar Heels in a 55-31 rout. It helped earn them more notoriety nationally three days ago in Blacksburg, Virginia, as they jumped on the Hokies early and scored late for a 28-21 win.

This week? ECU is actually favored over in-state neighbor UNC, the first-year American Athletic Conference program looking to make it back-to-back wins against the Heels before it embarks on league play.

"Oh it's been brought up since we lost to them," UNC safety Tim Scott said. "For 365. Every day our coaches remind us if we don't come ready to play, they already showed us the results when we don't come to play and this year we're trying to make sure that doesn't happen again."

To do that, UNC needs to do what it couldn't do last season, and what few have been able to do since, including NC State late in 2013: Stop Shane Carden.

Carden accounted for six total touchdowns last season against the Heels, throwing for 376 yards. Saturday at Virginia Tech, he was responsible for all four ECU touchdowns and threw for 427 yards. The Houston native's rise has mirrored that of his staff's, each in their fifth years in Greenville.

With McNeill getting hired at ECU roughly two weeks before signing day, Carden appeared to be Stephen F. Austin-bound. Former Texas Tech quarterback B.J. Symons, who had played for the Red Raiders while McNeill was an assistant there, called McNeill about Carden, whose dad was Symons' wife's boss. Carden visited ECU, was intrigued by the idea of running an offense designed by Mike Leach proteges and signed with the Pirates a week later.

"He's always been pretty strong on the mental toughness, the leadership, being one of the guys, the guy that they can rally behind," offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Lincoln Riley told ESPN.com. "Some of that can be taught, but some of that is natural, God-given ability. Sometimes people just follow people and you can't really nail down exactly why. Some people just have that presence about them, and Shane has that."

Carden's first career pass was picked off, at South Carolina in 2012. But he found his footing late that year, leading the Pirates to five wins in their final six regular-season games, during which they scored 42 points per game. Last season, Carden finished in the top-10 nationally of virtually every passing category, leading ECU to a 10-3 mark while making a leap that McNeill described as going from the quarterback of the offense to the quarterback of the team.

"He works every day like he's losing his job, and he works on his craft," said McNeill, who played defensive back at ECU from 1976-80. "The kids call him cap'n: C-A-P-apostrophe-N."

The 31-year-old Riley, meanwhile, has become one of the hottest names on the assistant coaching circuit, based largely off his work with Carden and before that with Michael Crabtree, whom he mentored when coaching receivers at Texas Tech.

Everything seems to be falling into place right now for ECU, which has one of its favorite sons ushering it into this new era in a new league.

"I'm beginning to see it come into fruition, because one thing with Coach (Steve) Spurrier and Coach (Frank) Beamer: They don't just win for a season, they win for seasons, and I would like to get our program where it's understood that we are going to be successful for seasons, not a season," McNeill said. "And the belief and commitment to the team and belief and commitment to our mission and vision -- it's very important that that is continued."

Another win Saturday over a bigger program from down the road would only further that progress, as it would make ECU 4-1 against the ACC in the past two years and serve notice to the rest of its new league brethren.

"You always hear about teams that went undefeated or only lost one game and everybody says, 'Who'd they play?' And they don't have anything to show for it," Carden said. "Well, ECU always has a chance to play these good teams and give us a chance to put our name in the mix with some big-name schools if we go out and win those games."

Consistency still missing in ACC

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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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
Sep 14
8:00
PM ET
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.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:00
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What we learned in the ACC: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
1:03
AM ET
Here’s what we learned in the ACC following the Week 3 slate of games. One thing we already knew -- and which the ACC proved again Saturday -- is that this can often be a befuddling league.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Smith celebration
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsEast Carolina's stunning upset of Virginia Tech knocked the Hokies out as a College Football Playoff contender.
1. Two more ACC schools are knocked from the College Football Playoff discussion.
And that could change again by the end of next week, as No. 23 Clemson travels to No. 1 Florida State on Sept. 20. With Saturday’s results, the ACC turns its eyes to you, Clemson, Duke, Florida State and Pittsburgh. And to be honest, most aren’t considering Duke or Pitt legitimate contenders just yet, considering each school’s nonconference schedule. Virginia Tech offered hope that a Coastal team might be able to crack the playoff four, but the Hokies laid an egg in the first quarter against East Carolina and were knocked off. Considering it came a week after their big road win at Ohio State, it leaves a sour taste in ACC mouths. Louisville was loading up the hype train after a nice win against Miami in a prime-time setting, but the Cardinals’ offense was suffocated by upset-minded Virginia. Pittsburgh has a manageable schedule and would almost certainly get in if undefeated, but the Panthers don't have the look of a team destined for a spotless record just yet. So once more, the ACC is looking to you, Clemson and FSU.

2. The ACC Coastal: 'Bring your brooms, because it’s a mess.'
Marty Huggins from “The Campaign” said it best, and there’s really no need to compound on what he said as far as the ACC Coastal goes. Following last week, it seemed Virginia Tech was the team to beat in the division. It certainly could still be that team as the East Carolina loss was out of conference, but there isn’t nearly as much confidence in the Hokies any longer. Pittsburgh was the flavor of the hour last week after a dominating win on a Friday night, but the Panthers struggled against a terrible Florida International team. Georgia Tech is 3-0 but has been less than impressive in all three wins. North Carolina hasn’t looked great, either. Right now, it is only Duke quietly taking care of business, which is what it did last season, too.

3a. Boston College was a bunch of Dudes on Saturday. So was the Virginia defense.
That is Steve Addazio’s motto for his team, and that is an apt way to describe what we saw from the Eagles against No. 9 USC. Many felt the Eagles had a chance to keep it close, but few felt they would be able to upset a USC team coming off a win at Stanford. Boston College followed the lead of its quarterback, Tyler Murphy, beating up the Trojans on the ground to the tune of 452 rushing yards. After a lopsided loss to Pittsburgh last week, it seemed Boston College was destined for a down year, but now the Eagles have the look of a bowl team. They’re not going to win the Atlantic, but that defense is nasty, and with Murphy running the option, the offense is efficient enough that this might not be the last upset the Eagles pull off in 2014.

In the aftermath of the BC win, we almost forgot the effort from Virginia, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Virginia deserves the recognition, and while it doesn’t use the same "Be A Dude" motto, you can certainly apply it to that Cavaliers defense after its performance against Bobby Petrino’s Louisville offense. All afternoon, quarterback Will Gardner was harassed and made uncomfortable. He was hit, chased and had passes batted back into his face. Eventually, Petrino turned to his backup quarterback. And just like Boston College, the Virginia offense never gave Louisville the ball back in the final minutes after forcing a Cardinals punt. If the Cavs can get any help from their offense, this is a bowl-worthy team. Good for Mike London and his team, which went winless in the ACC last season.

3b. The ACC owns prime time.
Virginia Tech last week. Boston College this week. Just let us have this one.

4. Speaking of Pitt and Georgia Tech, what do we make of their scares?
That one depends on the team. First, there is something to be said to still being undefeated at this point even if the competition is not very good. Now that that is out of the way, I’d be much less concerned with Pitt’s first-half struggles in its 42-25 win than Georgia Tech’s second-half nightmare against Georgia Southern. The Panthers were playing in a noon game against a dreadful FIU team. They came out flat. It happens in college football, and it happens a lot. Ideally, a coach never has those performances, but they’re hard to avoid. Expect a much more focused Pitt team against Iowa. As for the Yellow Jackets, this is becoming a trend. They did not look great against FCS teams Wofford or Tulane, and Saturday they blew a 25-point second-half lead to Georgia Southern. Georgia Tech needed an 11-play, 72-yard drive to score the game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds remaining and earn a 42-38 victory.

5. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya can sling it.
The Hurricanes opened up the playbook a little more for Kaaya, and he responded with 342 passing yards, a school record for a true freshman. The Miami offense was balanced on first down, which allowed Kaaya to throw in situations in which defenses weren’t always expecting it. What really stood out to coach Al Golden in the Hurricanes' 41-20 win over Arkansas State was how Kaaya audibled into a new play at the line of scrimmage several times, including on two touchdowns. “Brad hits the quick out that Phillip [Dorsett] ends up taking. That’s all him. The other check that we ended up scoring on, the run, [it was] the same thing there. That was all him on the line of scrimmage,” Golden said. And the first touchdown was a deep throw, which Kaaya struggled with in the first two games. On throws of at least 10 yards in the first two weeks, he was 7-of-17 for 188 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.

ACC morning links

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
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Let's get the morning started with a few quick news items:

Miami receiver Stacy Coley is out against Arkansas State on Saturday with a shoulder injury. The announcement is not a huge shock, considering Coley was in a non-contact jersey during practice this week after getting hurt against Florida A&M. Still, Coley has not gotten off to the start the Hurricanes anticipated after a breakout freshman season.

He only has three catches for 9 yards, all in the opener against Louisville, as the Miami offense has struggled to find consistency and production in the passing game. Coley was a major deep threat for Miami a year ago, averaging 17.9 yards per catch. But with freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, Miami has not been able to get its downfield passing game going the way it did with Stephen Morris, who excelled at the deep ball.

The season is early, and Coley is not seriously injured. Perhaps he will be back next week when the Hurricanes travel to Nebraska. But there's no doubt Miami is going to need a Kaaya-to-Coley connection to develop for the passing game to be seen as a serious threat. Miami does have depth at the position with Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Lewis, freshman Braxton Berrios, and Herb Waters. But Coley is the most dynamic player in that group.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech defensive tackle Corey Marshall is questionable for the East Carolina game with a sprained ankle. Marshall was hurt last week against Ohio State, and would be a pretty big loss for the group up front. As the Roanoke Times notes, Marshall has six quarterback hurries already this season and was the MVP of the spring for the Hokies. Facing a veteran quarterback in Shane Carden, the Hokies will want to keep the pressure on to disrupt his timing in the pass game.

If he can't play, Woody Baron would get the start. Tight end Kalvin Cline also is out for his third straight game.

Finally, North Carolina announced it had concluded its investigation into an alleged hazing incident between football players last month. But that is basically all the school said. No details were provided on what exactly happened; on the players involved; or whether what happened was, indeed, a hazing incident. The information gathered has been given to the student attorney general, who will decide whether any player will be charged through the honor court.

Strangely enough, the Raleigh News & Observer reported earlier this week that a police report on the alleged incident was riddled with errors. The truth, it seems, remains elusive.

Now here's a look at what else is happening in the ACC:
Virginia Tech’s tight ends have made a big difference for the Hokies’ offense so far this season, writes The Roanoke Times.

Bucky Hodges and Ryan Malleck have been excellent, and even without Kalvin Cline, the only tight end to catch a pass for the Hokies last season, the position has been a big plus through two games.

I noted the significant uptick in tight end targets earlier this week, too, in our stats column, but here are a few more tidbits worth passing along:
  • Virginia Tech’s tight ends have combined for 163 receiving yards so far this season -- the fifth-most by any team in the country.
  • The 23 targets for the Hokies’ tight ends ranks third nationally, trailing only Oregon State and Penn State. The Hokies have only targeted their wide receivers 27 times so far this year.
  • Among teams targeting tight ends at least 15 times so far this season, only Purdue and UAB’s position groups have caught a higher percentage of passes thrown their way.
  • Among ACC teams, only Louisville comes close to the Hokies in terms of targeting its tight ends. The Cardinals have thrown to tight ends 21 times. That makes sense since Louisville has a star tight end in Gerald Christian and is playing without its top receiver in Devante Parker.
  • Syracuse should have its tight end, Josh Parris, back in time for the Maryland game next week, writes The Post-Standard. That’s good news for the Orange, who targeted a tight end just twice in their opener.

Other tight end production around the ACC through two weeks:

Wake Forest -- 14 targets
Florida State -- 12
Miami -- 10
UNC -- 8
NC State -- 8
Duke -- 8
Clemson -- 8
Pitt -- 5
Virginia -- 4
Boston College -- 0
Georgia Tech -- 0

A few more links:

ACC playoff watch: Week 3

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
3:00
PM ET
The march to the College Football Playoff figures to include plenty of twists and turns, and at season’s end, the ACC is hoping to have at least one team with a chance to win a national championship. Throughout the year, we’ll monitor the league’s chances and preview the biggest battles still ahead.

Where the ACC stands: After a perfect week against nonconference foes and an implosion by the Big Ten, the ACC jumped into the No. 4 spot in the latest ESPN conference power rankings. The conference increased its rating 7.2 points — by far the best week of any FBS league. The problem for the conference, however, is that there still aren’t a ton of teams widely considered elite, with Florida State checking in at No. 4 in ESPN’s Football Power Index, but no other team ranked higher than 17th.

Top playoff contenders: FSU (No. 1 AP poll, No. 4 FPI), Virginia Tech (17/28), Louisville (21/31), Clemson (23/17), Pitt (NR, 25).

Nonconference record: 20-3 overall (11-0 last week), 8-3 vs. FBS, 2-2 vs. Power 5

Week 2 recap: It was a perfect week for the ACC and an utter implosion for the league’s closest competition, the Big Ten. While the ACC added another legitimate contender to the playoff mix with Virginia Tech’s upset of Ohio State in The Horseshoe, the Big Ten saw the Buckeyes, Michigan State and Michigan all lose. This followed a loss for Wisconsin in Week 1, meaning four of the league’s top teams all now have an "L."

The Hokies did their part, but much the rest of the ACC continued to look flawed, as one-time chic pick North Carolina needed a furious comeback to beat San Diego State at home and top-ranked Florida State left some fans grumbling after a less-than-gaudy 37-12 win over The Citadel. After winning all of its games by an average of nearly 40 points last season, the Seminoles are again 2-0, but by an average margin of just 15. That certainly shouldn’t undermine FSU’s playoff chances, but it does provide the appearance of vulnerability, and in this new College Football Playoff era, appearances can be important.

Week 3 preview: Well, Week 2 was fun, right? Hopefully you got your fill of ACC action because Week 3 doesn’t offer much other than opportunities for the league to take a big step back.

Virginia Tech proved its value at Ohio State, but this week the Hokies welcome pesky East Carolina. The history for the two programs includes plenty of good games, including last year’s contest in which Tech came back from a three-point, second-half deficit to win 15-10. This certainly appears to be a much improved Hokies team, but after the big win in Columbus, a let-down game certainly wouldn’t be unexpected.

Meanwhile, Pitt travels to Florida International after two dominant wins to start the season. The Panthers should be able to handle FIU, but road games are rarely easy. The same goes for Syracuse, NC State and Wake Forest — all of whom travel to play on the home turf of non-Power 5 opposition.

But if possible upsets are the key story line for Week 3, we’d be remiss not to mention Boston College, too. The Eagles could deal another big blow for the ACC if they can pull off an upset over No. 9 USC in Chestnut Hill. Boston College was torched by Pitt’s James Conner last week, which doesn’t offer much hope for slowing down the Trojans’ Javorius Allen, but perhaps the Eagles can use those low expectations to fuel an unlikely victory. If they did, the ACC’s status as a distant fourth in the conference power rankings could be erased quickly.

ACC morning links

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
8:00
AM ET
Terrel Hunt met the media Tuesday for the first time since his Week 1 ejection, saying that he apologized to the team twice and spoke with a number of high-profile former Syracuse players, vowing that it will never happen again.

As for his side of the story -- which involved Hunt getting kicked out in the second quarter for throwing a punch on a Villanova defender -- the Orange quarterback said that there were things going on in the game that people didn't see.

"I'm not going to speak on it, but, you know, dirty things that happened," Hunt said, according to Syracuse.com's Nate Mink. "I let it affect me. I let it get the best of me."

Hunt had hit Wildcats linebacker Dillon Lucas and missed the second half and the two overtime periods of the Orange's Aug. 29 win. His head coach, Scott Shafer, had said that he was wrong. The ACC determined no other punishment was necessary.

Hunt spoke with former Orange players Donovan McNabb, Floyd Little and Jason Poles, saying that he learned that, as the leader of the team, he cannot afford to lose his cool the way he did. He is hoping to put the incident behind him as Syracuse enters its second game of the season Saturday at Central Michigan.

Elsewhere in the ACC ...

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