ACC: North Carolina Tar Heels

By the numbers: Week 13 recap

November, 24, 2014
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A tour of some intriguing statistical performances from Week 13 in the ACC.

FSU’s hangover effect

Florida State fans have been quick to point to the number of well-rested teams getting their shot at the Seminoles this season as an explanation for some of FSU’s struggles. Indeed, four opponents faced FSU the week after byes and another had an FCS foe the week before (and that doesn’t include the season opener or this week’s game against Florida). In other words, seven of FSU’s 12 opponents would have had an extra week to focus on getting ready for the Seminoles.

But in addition to what came before the FSU game, what came after is interesting, too. Here’s a rundown of how FSU’s opponents fared the week after playing the Seminoles.

Oklahoma State: FCS opponent
Clemson: Beat North Carolina 50-35
NC State: Lost to Clemson 41-0
Wake Forest: Bye week
Syracuse: Fell behind Wake 7-0 but rebounded for 30-7 win
Notre Dame: Trailed Navy 31-28 entering fourth quarter before winning 49-39
Louisville: Trailed Boston College 13-3 before winning 38-19
Virginia: Bye week
Miami: Lost to Virginia 30-13

So of Florida State's six opponents to play an FBS team the following week, all but Clemson started sluggish, and two lost outright. Is that the hangover effect of teams giving FSU their best shot and coming up empty? It’s certainly not proof, but it’s worth consideration.

Marquise the magician

[+] EnlargeMarquise Williams
Gerry Broome/Associated PressNorth Carolina's Marquise Williams is one of two quarterbacks in the country with at least 2,500 passing yards, 700 rushing yards, 20 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns.
It’s largely flown beneath the radar because North Carolina’s defense faltered so badly in the early going, but Tar Heels QB Marquise Williams has emerged as one of the top players in the conference, if not the country.

Williams’ 33 touchdowns this season are the seventh-most by any player in the country, trailing only Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Notre Dame's Everett Golson and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott among Power 5 QBs.

Williams and Prescott are the only quarterbacks in the nation with at least 2,500 passing yards, 700 rushing yards, 20 passing TDs and 10 rushing TDs. In fact, in the last decade, only seven other Power 5 quarterbacks have done that: Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, James Franklin, Taylor Martinez, Brett Hundley and Johnny Manziel.

And since Williams stopped splitting reps with Mitch Trubisky at the end of September, he’s thrown 12 touchdowns, four interceptions, completed 63 percent of his throws and rushed for 10 more scores. His adjusted QBR of 78.9 is 10th-best among Power 5 quarterbacks during that span.

Ramsey’s all-purpose D

Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey had another exceptional game against Boston College, racking up eight tackles, 1.5 for a loss and a sack. Ramsey now has 68 tackles, 9.5 for a loss and 11 passes defended this year.

The 9.5 tackles for loss are tied for the third-most by a defensive back in the nation, and only USC’s Su’a Cravens also has at least 10 passes defended to go with the TFLs.

Hat tip to the kids

Four true freshmen started in the penultimate week of the regular season, and Reggie Bonnafon and John Wolford both came away with wins. But the youth movement has been rampant in the league all year.

Here’s a strange coincidence: Senior QBs have thrown 1,018 passes in the ACC this year. True freshman QBs have thrown 1,017. So, since they’ve thrown virtually the exact same amount of passes, who’s doing better?

No question the edge goes to the kids, which should certainly bode well for the future of offenses in the conference.

Changes coming in Blacksburg?

After a disastrous, 6-3 loss to Wake Forest, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer admitted the QB position would be evaluated moving forward. Here’s why: Michael Brewer completed just 15 of 28 passes for 126 yards and an interception in the loss to Wake Forest. His QBR for the game was just 6.0 — the fourth-lowest by a starting QB in the ACC this season.

Since beating North Carolina on Oct. 4, Brewer’s Adjusted QBR is 29.8, the lowest of any ACC quarterback with at least 50 pass attempts.

Of course, if changes are in store, Beamer’s position could be under review, too. The Hokies are just 17-17 against FBS teams since the start of 2012, and six of those games required overtime. In regulation, Virginia Tech is just 13-15-2, and it has just four wins by two touchdowns or more against Power 5 foes.

Extra points

  • Pitt’s Tyler Boyd accounted for 126 of the Panthers’ 189 receiving yards Saturday, but that’s no surprise. For the season, Boyd is responsible for 52.3 percent of Pitt’s receiving yards — by far the highest percentage for any player in the country. Next up is Alabama’s Amari Cooper, who has 43.8 percent of the Tide’s receiving yards.
  • Virginia’s Quin Blanding had seven tackles and an interception in the victory over Miami, and he is second behind Duke’s David Helton in tackles in the ACC. More impressive, though: Of the top 100 tacklers in the nation this year, Blanding is the only freshman.
  • Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff has had four games with more than 95 rushing yards this season, and four games with less than 10. He gained 136 yards on 17 carries Saturday.
  • Duke Johnson could have set Miami’s all-time rushing record with 122 yards on the ground Saturday. Instead, he finished with just 88 — snapping a streak of 12 consecutive games with at least 90 rushing yards. He did have an additional 44 receiving yards, giving him 132 total scrimmage yards — his ninth straight game topping the century mark.
  • Wake Forest was the first team since 2012 to win a game when scoring six points or fewer (BYU beat Utah State 6-3) and the Deacons are just the fifth Power 5 team in the last decade to win a game with just six points scored. UTSA is the only other team this season to win a game in which it didn’t score a touchdown.
  • There were 13 field goals missed by ACC kickers in Week 13, and one more missed in an ACC game. That last one was by Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza against Louisville, which cost the Irish the game. For the season, ACC kickers were connecting at a 78.2-percent clip. In Week 13, they made just 51.9 percent of their field-goal tries.
  • Defensive lineman Ron Thompson scored a rushing TD for Syracuse on Saturday — just the 11th rushing score of the year for the Orange, which rank 106th nationally in that category. But no running back has scored on the ground for Syracuse against an FBS team since Jerome Smith in last year’s bowl game.
  • Clemson’s Tyshon Dye missed all of last season and the first seven games of this year with injuries. Entering Saturday, he had just five career carries. Against Georgia State, however, he ran 20 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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ACC helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
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Here are the men whose play stood out above all others during another wild weekend in the ACC:

North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams: Williams turned in another outstanding game, keying a 45-20 rout of favored rival Duke on Thursday. He completed 18 of 27 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns, adding 98 rushing yards and two more scores on 21 carries. His 374 total yards gave Williams 3,499 total yards on the season, breaking Bryn Renner's single-season UNC record (3,394). Williams also has 32 touchdowns he has been responsible for this season, which also breaks Renner's single-season record (29 in 2012).

Florida State wide receiver Rashad Greene: Greene hauled in eight passes for 106 yards, and FSU needed every single one of them to extend its winning streak to 27 games and keep its repeat national title hopes alive. The Seminoles beat Boston College, 20-17, and Greene etched his name into the school record books Saturday, as his final catch helped him break Ron Sellers' FSU record for career receiving yards. Greene now has 3,613 career receiving yards, and the senior now has a personal-best 75 catches on the season. He still has at least three games left in his Noles career, too.

Wake Forest linebacker Marquel Lee: When you engineer a defensive effort that holds a team scoreless in regulation -- one that ends with your first league win of the season, no less -- you get recognition here. Lee, a sophomore, had a game-high 12 total tackles, including three for loss (2.5 sacks) and one forced fumble. The Demon Deacons shocked Virginia Tech in double overtime, winning 6-3.

Louisville running back Brandon Radcliff: Radcliff ran wild in the second half, carrying the ball 15 times for 129 yards and a touchdown in Louisville's 31-28 win over Notre Dame. He finished the day with 17 carries for 136 yards and a touchdown, the leader of a Cardinals rushing attack that set the tone for the day, finishing with 229 yards on the ground.

Clemson defense: There are too many people to name here, so the Tigers' defense will have to share this award. Yes, it was against Georgia State, but Clemson had nine different players record a tackle for loss, and three different players record an interception in the 28-0 win. The Tigers held Georgia State to 155 total yards of offense, the fifth different opponent they have held under 200 yards this season. This was also Clemson's second shutout of the season, marking its first multi-shutout season since 1998.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 13

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

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

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

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

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

Bowl bids on the line in Week 14: With Virginia’s dominant 30-13 win over Miami, Virginia Tech’s loss to Wake and Pittsburgh’s 30-7 drubbing of Syracuse, there will be three ACC teams playing for bowl eligibility in the final week of the season. Pitt gets its shot against reeling Miami, while UVA and Virginia Tech face off in their annual rivalry game, with one gaining that crucial sixth win and the other facing a long, ugly offseason. With a win, Mike London could secure another year on the sideline for the Cavaliers. With a loss, Frank Beamer’s future is going to move from debatable topic to outright controversy.
This wasn’t how Willie Byrn wanted his career at Virginia Tech to end, but in a way, maybe it was a relief.

The season opened with lofty goals, but after a 4-5 start and a series of demoralizing losses, nearly all those goals the Hokies had set this summer had evaporated, and what was left was a three-game stretch that offered little beyond a potential bowl bid and a chance to simply keep playing football. For Byrn, that was enough.

“There’s kind of an energy,” Byrn said. “All the scenarios are out the window, and what we’re thinking about is letting go, having fun and really focusing on getting better. It’s not about that one place to get at the end of the season, but just taking it day by day. I think when you do that, it takes the pressure off.”

Maybe it was that ability to get back to basics, or maybe it was simply the talent on Virginia Tech’s defense playing to its full potential, but the recipe worked. The Hokies upended Duke on Saturday for their second road win of the season over a ranked team, and with a win this week against Wake Forest, the Hokies will go bowling for the 22nd straight season.

[+] EnlargeWillie Byrn
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsWhile the season hasn't gone the way Willie Byrn (82) had hoped, Virginia Tech still has its eyes on a bowl game.
The scenarios are similar at Pittsburgh and North Carolina. Both schools opened the season with high hopes and spent time in the AP Top 25 in September. But those early expectations faded quickly and both teams are now teetering on the brink of bowl eligibility.

At Virginia, too, simply getting to six wins means something. The Cavaliers were hardly Coastal Division darlings to open the season, but at the time of their first bye week, they stood atop the division and Mike London looked like a coach of the year candidate. Now, with two games left, Virginia needs to win out to extend its season.

A conference crown or a New Year’s Day bowl are out of the question in Chapel Hill, Charlottesville, Pittsburgh and Blacksburg, but there’s still an emphasis on making these final two weeks of the season count for something.

“Since I’ve been playing football, I’ve gone to a championship game or beyond the regular season,” Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd said. “We’ve been practicing all year to get to a bigger stage. So at the end of the year, I always want to continue, and I feel like the other guys want to be a part of what I’m trying to do. We’re striving for what we want.”

Pitt has lost six of its last seven games after starting the year 3-0, and for Boyd, it’s been tough to diagnose the problems. He’s been outstanding, topping 120 receiving yards in three straight games — all Pitt losses. Figuring out what’s gone wrong and finding a recipe for redemption is better done now, Boyd said, than waiting for next year.

“It’s hurt me, and it’s hurt others, but I don’t really know what it is that we’re not able to finish these games out,” Boyd said. “But guys are going to continue to work on their craft and get better. We’re still working on trying to find ways to win those close games.”

At North Carolina, the goals are twofold. The Tar Heels are trying to make a bowl, but they also wrap up with games against Duke and NC State — the team’s two biggest rivals. But like 2013, UNC also has a chance to erase a lot of bad memories by finishing on a high note.

A year ago, North Carolina opened the season 1-5 and was left for dead. It wrapped up the year by winning six of seven, however, and that was a major reason so many pundits liked the Heels to win the Coastal in 2014. That, of course, didn’t happen, but quarterback Marquise Williams wants to rewrite that familiar script.

“When people think things are not going so good, we look back at last year and say, 'Hey, we were in the same predicament, so why can’t we do it two years in a row?'" Williams said. “There are things we wish hadn’t happened and we wish there was a different outcome, but we’re where we are right now and we just want to finish these two games strong and hopefully we can be remembered as the best team in November.”

Virginia’s scenario stands in stark contrast to the struggles at North Carolina. Six weeks ago, the Hoos were the toast of the Coastal, with a narrow loss to UCLA and a win over Louisville inspiring hope that maybe all the talent on the roster would finally lead to a winning season.

Instead, UVa has lost four straight and it now must beat Miami and rival Virginia Tech to get bowl eligible and, possibly, to save London’s job. Beating Miami will be tough, but that final weekend against the Hokies is the biggest domino. Virginia hasn’t beaten Tech in 11 years, and the senior class knows its legacy can be written in Blacksburg.

“That’s the one game guys are ready for no matter what,” safety Anthony Harris said. “It’s a game players and coaches and fans remember. To have an opportunity to get bowl eligible with a win against your rival is always a plus.”

Whether it’s getting a win over a rival, making a bowl or simply finishing on a positive note, with two weeks left in the regular season, motivation isn’t entirely hard to come by for the also-rans of the ACC. It’s just about finding it in the right spots.

“Things don’t get better unless you take initiative and continue to fight,” Harris said. “We started off well, and we want to finish strong and get as many wins as we can. The message for the young guys is to keep fighting. We’re all playing for something different, but also something similar, which is to make the most of what’s in front of us.”
When Quinshad Davis arrived at North Carolina in 2012, losing to Duke was not within the realm of possibility.

The Tar Heels had dominated the series against their bitter rivals. The expectation was for the dominance to continue. But two years later, Davis has no idea what it feels like to beat Duke. The Blue Devils have won the past two in the series while they have surpassed their foes as the top team in the state.

Not only are they trying to win their third straight in the series for the first time since 1987-89 on Thursday night, they are also trying to keep their Coastal Division hopes alive. Duke (8-2, 4-2) needs to win out to get to the ACC championship game.

[+] EnlargeKelby Brown
MCT via Getty ImagesDuke has won the past two meetings over previously dominant North Carolina.
You can bet North Carolina (5-5, 3-3) would love nothing more than to end those dreams, while getting the Victory Bell back and clinching bowl eligibility again.

"We're motivated because we want the Bell back," Davis said earlier this week. "We haven't had it over here in two years and that's a big deal around here. Of course, we want to be bowl eligible. As far as Duke going to the ACC championship, we never want them to go. We definitely want to get the win, especially against Duke."

Georgia Tech also wants North Carolina to get the win. A Duke loss means the No. 18 Jackets (9-2, 6-2) will go back to the ACC title game. Though Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson is giving his players the weekend off, there will be a viewing party at the football facility for those players remaining in town.

North Carolina beat Georgia Tech earlier this year, so it is not out of the question for the Tar Heels to pull off the upset. They have plenty to prove. What has been a disappointment for North Carolina in the series has meant bragging rights for Duke, which has won 16 of its past 18 regular-season games.

"It's been a huge program thing for us, being able to have a year where I don't have to hear anybody talk trash to me about being a Dukie and this and that," Duke quarterback Anthony Boone said. "It's kind of like bragging rights when you go back home. That's what this game means to guys from my team in the state, the rivalry and the fans, understanding what this game really means."

The past two games have been decided by a combined five points, so another close game is anticipated. Davis remembers watching Duke celebrate on his home field last year, calling it a "terrible feeling." Duke came from behind to win with a field goal late in the fourth quarter, clinching its first Coastal Division title.

"That doesn't have to be said, but of course Coach [Larry Fedora] mentioned it in a team meeting before practice," Davis said. "He said 21 of the last 24 years the Victory Bell has been over here and the last two, it hasn't. It has to change."

If it does not change, Duke will be the prohibitive favorite to make it back to Charlotte, North Carolina, and face a rematch against No. 3 Florida State. Duke faces Wake Forest in the regular-season finale next week. Beating North Carolina, of course, remains the top priority. How both teams respond on a short week of rest could end up impacting the outcome.

Duke is playing on Thursday night for just the second time ever as part of the ESPN/ACC Thursday night package. Its last appearance came in 1996; its only home appearance in 1994. North Carolina has much more experience with midweek games. The Tar Heels have 12 previous appearances, including four since 2011.

But Boone and coach David Cutcliffe believe the team has handled the quick turnaround well. Plus, the national exposure is huge for a program that is still trying to gain more credibility.

"It's a huge platform for people to see what Duke football is all about," Boone said. "A lot of people may have not seen us play or may hear about us on ESPN or see us in the Top 25 and think, ‘Well who are they playing? We haven't seen them.' So it's a chance for our program to get exposure, a chance for us to go out there and compete against a great team, in a rivalry game at home to clinch the division for another year. There's a lot of emotions going into the game. It's going to be a fun one for sure."

ACC Week 13 predictions

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

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

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

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

Unanimous selections

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC morning links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breathe easy, Spurrier.
When September opened, Marquise Williams wasn’t sure how long he’d be North Carolina’s starting quarterback. He’d battled Mitch Trubisky throughout the offseason and was splitting playing time with him when the season began.

When October began, Williams’ place on the Tar Heels’ pecking order seemed more certain, and his confidence grew.

Now, with two weeks left to play, there might not be a quarterback in the ACC playing any better than he is, and the perspective on a season that’s been a roller-coaster ride in Chapel Hill has shifted significantly thanks to Williams’ emergence.

“My thing is not trying to prove people wrong but just doing what I need to to win football games,” Williams said. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

[+] EnlargeMarquise Williams
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina junior quarterback Marquise Williams is putting up big numbers since earning a full-time role.
What the numbers say is that Williams has been as dynamic a threat as almost any quarterback in the country in the past six weeks.

Since Oct. 1, Williams leads the ACC in Total QBR and is eighth nationally. His 574 rushing yards are third in the ACC in that span, and his 1,606 passing yards trails only Jameis Winston in the conference. He’s accounted for 18 touchdowns — tops in the league — and just four turnovers since then.

And while UNC’s defense has made winning a murky proposition at times, Williams’ heroics have kept the Tar Heels in virtually every game.

“He’s playing lights-out,” receiver Quinshad Davis said. “He’s just watching film, going through reads, taking off when he has to and making the throws when he needs to. He’s just a ballplayer, and when the lights are on, he’s a go-to guy and he makes plays for us. We need it.”

The biggest difference for Williams isn’t as much a massive shift in performance as it is a boost in confidence — both from his coach and in himself.

During North Carolina’s early games, Trubisky had a set schedule for playing time — usually getting in on the third drive of the game — and while Williams was the nominal starter, his grasp on the job seemed tenuous.

But Trubisky didn’t fare particularly well in his limited role, and after a month-long trial, the experiment came to an end.

“A little bit during the season, it threw me off, just worried about if I turn the ball over, am I going to come out of the game or am I up the next series or not,” Williams said.

Fedora dismisses this thought process, saying Trubisky’s role was predetermined and Williams knew he had the team’s support. Instead, he said Williams’ injection of confidence has been the difference.

Regardless, the significance of Williams as the clear-cut No. 1 was perfectly illustrated against Pitt last Saturday.

Williams started off slow and UNC fell behind 21-7. But on the final drive of the half, Williams got hot, capped an 80-yard drive with a touchdown run and dominated the second half. For the game, Williams finished with four touchdowns.

“I just found my groove and kept going,” Williams said. “Once I find my rhythm, I’m good, and that’s what it’s been like the past couple weeks — starting at Notre Dame. Just getting in that rhythm and going with the flow is probably the best thing ever for me and I’ve just been thankful and grateful that I’m in this position.”

By getting into his groove, Williams has North Carolina on the precipice of getting to a bowl game after a horrendous start to the season, which is an accomplishment in itself. Of course, it’s also the same thing Williams did for the Heels last season, and it wasn’t enough to earn him his coach’s endorsement when the season ended.

So what happens in 2015? Trubisky is still immensely talented and was highly recruited. Fedora obviously likes what he has in the freshman and wants him to get playing time. But after Williams has proven again he’s capable of putting up big numbers, is there any way he won’t hang on to the job?

“To be honest, I think it’s just me going forward and leaving my mark and going off what I started this year to finish out strong,” Williams said.

Fedora has made a point of saying jobs have to be won every offseason, and he said he’s not close to thinking about those decisions now. With a huge matchup Thursday against Duke, his priorities are on the immediate decisions, not the long-term ones.

That’s perhaps fair, but it also means Williams has a few more chances to make his mark. And with each passing game, the conversation has shifted further from whether he’s UNC’s best quarterback to whether he’s one of the best in the ACC.

For both Williams and North Carolina, how the season began isn’t so important anymore. It’s all about finishing strong.

“These last two games are very important to us and our fans and this whole staff,” Williams said. “We want to finish the season strong because people are going to remember us for what we did in November. That’s all we care about right now.”
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The top five remains steady, but Ohio State has moved a step closer to potentially breaking into that group. The Buckeyes, whose class is led by three five-star prospects, added a commitment from an eighth ESPN 300 player in offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. The top-10 OG is a big, tough and competitive player. He needs to continue to better blend technique with his aggressive nature, but with some work he can be a physical and productive presence in the trenches for Ohio State.

It has been a challenging season for North Carolina, but the Tar Heels, who have won three of their past four games, were able to score a big victory on the recruiting trail. With a commitment from ESPN 300 DE Jalen Dalton, North Carolina was able to keep the state's No. 3-ranked prospect at home. A lengthy and athletic defender with good upside, Dalton is a promising player who could grow into a potential playmaker for a team that needs major help on defense. Despite some of the struggles this season UNC has still managed to put together a strong class that now sits at No. 21 and features five ESPN 300 prospects.

Inside the rankings

The biggest challenge for Urban Meyer and his staff since he arrived in Columbus has been luring top-flight defensive front personnel and overall skill from the Midwest that is comparable to what he had at Florida. It has been a down period in Ohio for the 2014 and 2015 classes in terms of sheer numbers and caliber of players, which led to the Buckeyes going after guys like Joey Bosa (Florida), Raekwon McMillan (Georgia), Vonn Bell (Georgia) and many others to help supplement the roster. That trend is continuing with the commitment of 2015 athlete Torrance Gibson.

The good news for the Buckeyes is that the upcoming in-state 2016 class is much stronger and deeper, which hopefully will allow for them to not have to venture too far south this time around to supplement the roster. The Buckeyes already have four players committed in 2016 and all are from Ohio.



To read the full class rankings, click here.

ACC Show: Week 13 replay

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
10:30
AM ET
Join ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, David Hale, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker as they get into the Week 13 schedule, the Coastal race and Florida State's lack of national respect. They'll also answer your questions live on screen.

ACC morning links

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
8:00
AM ET
Florida State receiver Rashad Greene said he does not “entertain the foolishness” of the selection committee’s College Football Playoff rankings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
8:00
PM ET
NC State wrapped up bowl eligibility this week, and Virginia Tech can do the same Saturday against Wake Forest, but there’s still some drama left as UNC, Pitt and Virginia scramble for more wins and the shuffle for a spot in the Orange Bowl remains chaotic. Here’s where we’re at in the ACC as of now.

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

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

* Bowl eligible

ACC morning links: The case for FSU

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
8:00
AM ET
Florida State returned to the top of both the AP and Coaches polls, writes the Sporting News.

In ESPN’s Power Rankings, the Seminoles remain No. 2, now behind Alabama, which knocked off the committee’s previous No. 1 team, Mississippi State, on Saturday.

When the committee announces its rankings on Tuesday, Florida State could be anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3, which should make for some interesting debate.

On one hand, FSU remains unbeaten -- which is something neither Alabama nor Oregon can boast. For that matter, only Marshall can also make that claim.

But after Saturday’s games, the Seminoles officially have zero wins over currently ranked teams, and the fact that so many of those games involved FSU struggling to play catch-up, the argument against putting Jimbo Fisher’s crew at the top of the polls makes some sense.

In margin of victory versus FBS teams, FSU (13.1) falls well behind Alabama (19.2) and Oregon (17.9).

In opponent winning percentage, FSU (.573) is again well behind its competitors (Alabama’s is .621, Oregon’s is .647).

Using ESPN’s Football Power Index, FSU is actually seventh, with Alabama at No. 1 and Oregon at No. 2.

But of course, there’s a lot of context that goes into these debates, too. Oregon, for example, has a whopping +15 turnover margin, which accounts for much of its additional scoring. Its yardage margin mirrors FSU almost exactly. And while Alabama burnishes its scoring margin with a 59-0 thumping of Texas A&M, in its other seven games versus Power 5 opponents, it’s average margin of victory is just 7.4 -- or just about half that of FSU’s margin against Power 5 foes.

In other words, FSU’s case largely depends on how deeply the committee wants to look and what stats it values most. The important thing for the Seminoles is that they keep winning, which if they can continue for three more games, will put them in the playoffs.

More Monday links:

FSU defensive back Jalen Ramsey is emerging as a legitimate star, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

Rod Johnson’s quick progress at left tackle has allowed Florida State to tweak its biggest offensive weakness, writes Tomahawk Nation.

Boston College is a huge underdog against Florida State this week, notes BC Interruption.

Really great news for Clemson: Deshaun Watson’s knee injury isn’t serious, and he won’t miss the rest of the season.

North Carolina has been resilient this year, and now the Tar Heels are in good position for a bowl game, writes the Raleigh News & Observer.

The running back woes continue for Virginia Tech, but credit the Hokies for a gutty performance that has relieved a lot of stress in Blacksburg, writes The Roanoke Times.

Georgia Tech climbed into the top 20 in both the AP and Coaches polls after a big win over Clemson writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Pitt’s season may be going south, but James Conner is showing no signs of slowing down, writes the Pittsburgh Tribune.

NC State defensive end Kentavius Street went down with a leg injury on Saturday, but he says he’ll be back for the UNC game, writes Backing the Pack.

Bowl eligibility means NC State met its minimum expectations, writes the Raleigh News & Observer.

Duke needs to quickly turn its attention to North Carolina, writes The Herald-Sun.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
2:00
PM ET

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