ACC: North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC viewer's guide: Week 14

November, 28, 2014
Nov 28
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It seems like just yesterday we were kicking off the ACC season, but here we are at the finish line. Week 14 may be the end of the regular season, but there’s still plenty of intrigue -- from crucial rivalry showdowns to three teams playing for bowl eligibility. Here’s what to watch for.

Friday, 8 p.m.

Virginia at Virginia Tech, ESPN, #UVAvsVT

Few rivalries in the country have been as lopsided as this one, with the Hokies winning 10 in a row and 14 of the last 15. But this year’s matchup feels entirely different. UVa is coming off an emphatic win over Miami, a win that helped save Mike London's job. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is coming off one of its most embarrassing losses in history, a 6-3 defeat to Wake Forest. Changes on the Hokies’ staff appear all but certain at this point. To add to the intrigue, both teams are playing for bowl eligibility, with the winner getting that crucial sixth win and the loser on to what promises to be a tumultuous offseason.

Saturday, noon

Georgia Tech at Georgia, SEC Network, #GTvsUGA

The Yellow Jackets toppled Georgia in Athens in 2008 in Paul Johnson’s first season as coach, and it appeared that perhaps the power structure in the state was beginning to change, but in the five years since, it’s been all UGA. In last year’s game, Tech led 20-0 in the second quarter only to lose 41-34 in double overtime. This year, the Jackets’ players are hoping to finally get some revenge, and with Tech playing its best football of the year, an upset is certainly possible. Georgia fell to Florida last month when it couldn’t stop the ground game, and Tech figures to employ the same philosophy this weekend.

Kentucky at Louisville, ESPN2, #UKvsLOU

There’s plenty on the line for both sides in the ACC’s newest rivalry game against the SEC. Kentucky has lost five straight, but a win here could get Mark Stoops’ squad bowl eligible. Louisville’s offense is finally clicking, as Reggie Bonnafon looks comfortable in his role as starter. A win for the Cardinals would keep them in the hunt for an Orange Bowl berth. But, of course, state bragging rights may top all of those goals.

South Carolina at Clemson, ESPN, #SCvsCLEM

Like Virginia and Georgia Tech, Clemson has been on the wrong side of a lopsided rivalry in recent years. Dabo Swinney beat South Carolina to secure the head-coaching job at Clemson in 2008, but he hasn’t been able to repeat the feat since. But freshman QB Deshaun Watson could return for this one, and he offers hope. Add to that a South Carolina defense that offers little in the way of a pass rush and has been gouged repeatedly this year, and things certainly look a bit more positive for the Tigers. It will be up to Vic Beasley & Co. to quell the South Carolina ground game, but Clemson fans are clearly hoping this is the year the Gamecocks’ run comes to an end.

12:30 p.m.

Syracuse at Boston College, ESPN3, #CUSEvsBC

Tyler Murphy & Co. nearly upended defending champ Florida State last week in Tallahassee, but fell just short. Whether the emotions of a close loss in a big game carry over may be the biggest factor in this matchup. Syracuse is reeling, with an offense that has mustered just 40 points in its last four games -- all losses. BC’s defense is one of the more underrated units in the country, which won’t make it easy for the Orange to bust out of their offensive slump, and Murphy’s big-play ability could be the spark for BC’s seventh win of the season.

NC State at North Carolina, ESPN3, #NCSTvsUNC

North Carolina had plenty to celebrate last week, knocking off rival Duke for the first time in three years, taking back the Victory Bell and earning bowl eligibility. Can the Tar Heels keep that momentum going against another rival in the regular-season finale? UNC has won four of five and played its best defensive game of the year a week ago, while NC State hasn’t beaten a bowl-eligible team since its opener against Georgia Southern. This could be a nice feather in North Carolina’s cap, but a win for NC State would be a signature victory for Dave Doeren.

3:30 p.m.

Florida at Florida State, ESPN, #UFvsFSU

It’s been exactly two years since Florida State last lost a game, and that one came at home against rival Florida. The two programs have trended in opposite directions since, with Jimbo Fisher poised for a run at a second straight national championship, while Will Muschamp will be coaching his final game for the Gators after resigning two weeks ago. Still, FSU hasn’t shown a propensity for blowing away anyone this season, and Florida has the ground game to frustrate the Seminoles’ D and the secondary to test Jameis Winston. A decade ago, Ron Zook upended FSU after he’d been axed by Florida. Muschamp will try to do the same this time around.

7 p.m.

Wake Forest at Duke, ESPNU, #WAKEvsDUKE

The record certainly won’t wow anyone this season, but Wake Forest has, in some ways, been one of the most impressive teams in the ACC. With huge holes across the offense, points have been at a premium all season, and the Deacons knew going into the year it would be an uphill battle. But they’ve continued to fight all season, which is a tribute to the work being done behind the scenes by head coach Dave Clawson. The work paid off with a 6-3 win over Virginia Tech last week -- Wake’s first conference victory in more than a year -- but the test is much tougher this week. Duke enters this game riding a two-game losing streak, and David Cutcliffe will surely want to send his seniors out with a win in their last home game.

Pittsburgh at Miami, ESPN2, #PITTvsMIA

James Conner's availability looks doubtful, which means it’ll be up to Chad Voytik and Tyler Boyd to spark Pitt’s offense. The bigger question, however, may be whether Miami is motivated to finish up the season. Last week’s game against Virginia was as listless as the Hurricanes have looked all year, and another poor showing in the regular-season finale could ratchet up those hot-seat rumors for Al Golden. There’s no question which side wins this game on paper, but with Pitt playing for a bowl game and Miami simply playing out the string, motivation could be the differentiating factor.

ACC Week 14 predictions

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
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Jared Shanker: In college football, there is no denying emotion plays a pivotal role, and playing for a coach and a bowl can be the tipping point for a team hoping to rally. No doubt Virginia will have no shortage of motivation against its in-state rival, but the Cavaliers are also the better team. Greyson Lambert is improving, and the Virginia defense is every bit as good as the one in Blacksburg. Virginia needs to limit mistakes, as the Cavs turned it over eight times during a four-game skid. The Hokies are struggling to create turnovers, though, which plays into UVa's favor. Mike London returns UVa to a bowl. Virginia 20, Virginia Tech 10

David Hale: If we’re slaves to whatever happened most recently, then Virginia Tech certainly looks like a lost cause. But let’s think bigger picture. The Hokies know what’s at stake here: A 22-year bowl streak, state bragging rights in a rivalry they’ve owned for a decade, perhaps the future of their longtime head coach. Is this a game where Virginia Tech is a no-show? No way. The Wake Forest game was brutal, but lessons were certainly learned. Brenden Motley will get a longer look at quarterback, and his mobility can help offset the Virginia pass rush. The ground game has actually looked better with J.C. Coleman the past two weeks. And while the Hokies clearly overlooked Wake Forest, that won’t be the case against rival Virginia. Plus, let’s not forget that, in spite of the record, Virginia Tech still features one of the most potent defenses in the country -- and it’ll give Lambert and the UVA offense fits. Virginia Tech 17, Virginia 14

Andrea Adelson: The Jackets and Bulldogs are running the ball extremely well this season, so both teams should be able to get some yards on the ground. The key in this game is going to be in the turnover category. Both teams have been excellent at taking the ball away this season. While Georgia Tech has converted 24 takeaways into 116 points, Georgia has allowed only six total points off its own turnovers. There is going to be quite the battle there. Given the way Georgia Tech has played during its winning streak, the Jackets will pull out a close one after one defensive score. Georgia Tech 35, Georgia 31

Matt Fortuna: Much like Georgia Tech, Georgia has proven its rushing attack can keep up the pace no matter who is in the backfield, as we've all seen what has happened even without the ridiculously gifted Todd Gurley. The Bulldogs' defense has greatly improved under coordinator Jeremy Pruitt this season, too, ranking 13th nationally. Has it shored up the loose ends that Florida exposed by repeatedly running on it earlier this month, to the tune of 418 yards? The Yellow Jackets' attack is different, sure, but the Dawgs have too much pride to fall to another rival, especially as they play for a chance at the SEC title game next week. Georgia 40, Georgia Tech 34

Shanker: If South Carolina manages to pull off the upset, Dabo Swinney will be hearing about it for as long as Steve Spurrier is hanging around college football. This is an absolute must-win game for Clemson, but dark clouds are already starting to form with star freshman Deshaun Watson still listed as day-to-day with a sprained knee. If Cole Stoudt starts, will he be able to take advantage of a vulnerable South Carolina defense? The Tigers have the No. 1 defense, but South Carolina is No. 18 in scoring against Power 5 competition. That means the Gamecocks could score just enough, and with Stoudt at quarterback "just enough" might be 17 points. South Carolina 17, Clemson 14

Adelson: The Tigers have relied on their defense all season, and will do it again to finally break their long losing streak to South Carolina. Clemson ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense and will make life difficult for Dylan Thompson, who is not having the type of season anybody expected. While the prospects on offense look shaky if Watson is out, Clemson has won squeakers this season with an inconsistent Stoudt behind center. As long as Clemson takes care of the football, the defense will lead the victory. Clemson 17, South Carolina 14

Hale: Strictly from a matchup standpoint, Pitt doesn’t have a distinct edge, but this game may be a question of motivation. The storyline for Miami is a familiar one right now. Just like last year, the season built to Florida State, and the Hurricanes came up short. Last year, Miami responded by losing four of six to close out the season. This year, the follow-up to the FSU game was perhaps Miami’s worst performance of the season, which certainly bodes well for Pitt. On the flip side, the Panthers are desperately seeking win No. 6 to get bowl eligible, so there’s no question which team has more to play for. Add the fact that Chad Voytik is playing his best football of the season now, and Pitt is in position to move the ball even if James Conner isn’t at 100 percent. Pitt 21, Miami 20

Fortuna: Pitt is the more desperate team here, fighting to extend its season and make a bowl game for the third straight season under third-year coach Paul Chryst. But the Panthers could be without Conner, which will put much more pressure on Voytik and the passing attack. Is Miami's defense ready to take care of business after consecutive letdowns? Its offense should not be a problem in this one. Miami 38, Pitt 24

Adelson: Everybody expects Florida to play an emotional game for outgoing coach Will Muschamp. That should serve the Gators well in the early going, and they will have opportunities to establish the run against a Florida State defensive front that has had its up and downs this season. Dante Fowler, Vernon Hargreaves and company will throw some different looks at Jameis Winston and force him out of his comfort zone. But ultimately, Winston will do what he always does -- find a way to win a close game. Florida State 28, Florida 27

More unanimous picks

Syracuse at Boston College: The Eagles were the latest team to nearly upend Florida State last week, but that hasn’t always been a recipe for success afterward. It will be interesting to see if the physical and emotional toll of that loss carries over, but Syracuse certainly hasn’t been playing good football either. BC 33, Syracuse 13

Kentucky at Louisville: The ACC’s newest rivalry game may not offer much in the way of fireworks in Year 1. Reggie Bonnafon finally looks comfortable running Bobby Petrino’s offense, and Louisville is still fighting for an Orange Bowl berth. Kentucky is desperate to get win No. 6, but the Wildcats have lost five straight. Louisville 24, Kentucky 20

NC State at North Carolina: Ready for some offensive fireworks? Both of these teams are allowing an average of more than 400 yards per game to FBS foes, and both have potentially explosive offenses. That should make for a fun rivalry matchup to end the regular season, but UNC gets the edge after playing easily its most complete game of the season last week against Duke. North Carolina 45, NC State 33

Wake Forest at Duke: Last week’s win over Virginia Tech was a fitting moment for a Wake Forest team that has continued to fight in spite of adverse circumstances all season, and the Deacons' D is legit. Meanwhile, Duke is reeling from two straight losses. This game may end up close, but it’s still hard to see Wake pulling off the upset in two straight. Duke 24, Wake Forest 10

Current standings
Shanker: 66-20
Adelson: 66-20
Fortuna: 65-21
Hale: 65-21

ACC morning links

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
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Deshaun Watson's status remains up in the air midweek as Clemson readies for its regular-season finale against rival South Carolina.

"He did practice yesterday in a green jersey," coach Dabo Swinney said, according to the (Charleston) Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner. "Monday practice is a short practice. We're only out there about an hour. Today we'll find out a lot more. We'll put him in a normal jersey, and he'll practice at normal tempo with the rest of the guys and we'll see where he is.

"It really is a day-to-day thing, and I'm not trying to have some conspiracy or anything like that. We just don't know. It may be a decision that's game time. I don't know. But he is getting better each day. He had a new brace on yesterday that he seemed pretty comfortable with. So we'll see how he does today with some good, competitive work, good-on-good and stuff like that where the speed of the game is going to be a little better today."

Watson had suffered a sprained LCL and a bone bruise in his left knee early in the Tigers' 28-6 loss Nov. 15 at Georgia Tech.

Asked if Watson could start Saturday at anything less than 100 percent, Swinney said: "Well, I think, again, as long as he can do the things that we need him to do to win the game, he's our starter. I mean, he's proven that, but he's got to be able to do those things. We can't change our offense.

"He's got to be able to play and execute. He's got to be able to escape. He has to be able to run our system. Those are things that he has to demonstrate throughout the week of practice."

Elsewhere, the status of another ACC star, James Conner, also remains unclear, though it appears he was not a full participant in Tuesday's practice.


Here are the rest of your ACC links:

ACC bowl projections: Week 13

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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North Carolina earned bowl eligibility and dealt the final blow to Duke's Orange Bowl chances in Week 13, while Pitt and Virginia each kept bowl hopes alive. Virginia Tech had a shot to wrap up win No. 6, but fell to Wake Forest in ugly fashion. So with one week left, the ACC is guaranteed at least 11 bowl-eligible teams (including Notre Dame) with as many as 12 possible.

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: North Carolina*
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Virginia
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 Upset Watch: Week 14

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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It is the last regular-season weekend of the year. You know what that means: expect the unexpected.

With that in mind, plenty of teams are on Upset Watch in Week 14.

Saturday

No. 18 Georgia Tech (9-2) at No. 10 Georgia (9-2), noon, SEC Network. Line: Georgia by 13. At first glance, this line appears to be rather large considering how well Georgia Tech is playing heading into the matchup. The Jackets have won four straight, beat No. 22 Clemson and had an entire off week to prepare. They nearly pulled the upset a year ago, and have a far better team this season. Then there is the matter of how Florida gashed Georgia on the ground. Georgia Tech has been so much more effective offensively with its triple option, if it hangs onto the ball and continues to eat chunks of time off the clock, the Jackets will have an excellent shot to win.

South Carolina (6-5) at No. 22 Clemson (8-3), noon, ESPN. Line: Clemson by 4.5. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has some weird voodoo going on over Clemson. Maybe he's just in their heads. How else to explain the turnover margin during the Gamecocks' five-game winning streak? South Carolina has turned it over three times; Clemson 15. That includes a whopping six Clemson turnovers a year ago. All those mistakes have ended in pretty miserable losses. Clemson has lost each game by double digits. Given the way South Carolina has played this season, all signs point to a Clemson breakthrough. But will the Tigers have Deshaun Watson available? If not, will Cole Stoudt do enough to break the losing streak?

NC State (6-5) at North Carolina (6-5), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: North Carolina by 6.5. The Tar Heels are riding high off an impressive 45-20 win against Duke, but now they face their second straight rivalry game against a Wolfpack team that had a week off to prepare. Though their run defense played much better, NC State will try to continue to exploit weaknesses in that group behind Matt Dayes and Shad Thornton. The bigger question is whether the NC State defense has enough to slow down the unstoppable Marquise Williams, who has put on quite the offensive show down the stretch. This one could end up being a shootout. If that happens, anyone can win.

Florida (6-4) at No. 3 Florida State (11-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPN. Line: FSU by 7.5. You are going to hear a lot about what Ron Zook and the Gators did to the Seminoles in 2004. A few similarities are hard to ignore -- Florida had nothing to lose in that game in Tallahassee, the final one under Zook. Florida was 6-4 going into the game; Florida State was a top-10 team. They are all points to keep in mind, especially given the way Florida State has squeaked by its opponents this season. Outgoing Florida coach Will Muschamp handed Florida State its last lost. Maybe he has something up his sleeve to give the Noles another on his way out. Plus, strange things happen in this game the last few years it has ended in a "4" -- 1994, Choke at Doak; 2004, Zookered!; 2014 ???

* Note: There is no line for the Pitt-Miami game with James Conner's status up in the air. Considering Miami (6-5, 3-4) is the home team, the Canes need to be on high alert for a Pitt team (5-6, 3-4) that will be desperate to become bowl eligible. Especially given their abysmal performance last week in a loss to Virginia.

** Note II: The line for Virginia-Virginia Tech is even, so tough to put anybody on upset watch in that game. The over/under, however, is set at 40.5. I would take the under on that.

ACC morning links

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
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The Pittsburgh-Miami game might be the hardest ACC game to predict this weekend, and it is based mostly on the unknowns.

What Miami team is going to show up in Sun Life Stadium on Saturday? Will it be the one we saw in the first half against Florida State and the previous three games, or will it be the defeated, uninterested group that was beat up by a Virginia team desperately trying to make a bowl game and save coach Mike London's job?

As for the Panthers, they need running back James Conner, who exited last weekend's game with a hip injury. At his Monday meeting with the media, Pitt coach Paul Chryst had no new information on Conner, who is one of the country's top running backs.

"We'll see how he goes," Chryst said. "After the game, he felt all right. Obviously [he] was hurting."

Without Conner, who is third nationally with 1,600 yards, it is hard to envision the Panthers beating Miami and getting to a bowl game. While Pitt has a great stable of young running backs that rushed for 214 yards in the last game, it came against woeful Syracuse. While the Canes and Orange are nearly identical in rushing yards allowed per game, Miami has a significantly better offense to relieve pressure on the defense, which has been porous at times.

Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik has not shown enough this season to instill enough confidence he can put the team on his back and carry Pitt to win, so the offense might see a lot of receiver and returner Tyler Boyd, who certainly has that ability.

If Conner cannot play and Pittsburgh loses, it would be an unfortunate ending to the sophomore's season as he was a dark horse Heisman contender through the early portion of the season.

Here are a few more links:

By the numbers: Week 13 recap

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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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
Nov 23
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ACC helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
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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
Nov 22
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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

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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

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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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