ACC: Pittsburgh Panthers

ACC Week 4 predictions

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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The ACC has a full slate of interesting games in Week 4. Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna, David Hale and Jared Shanker give their takes on who will win and why.

Andrea Adelson: If East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden can rack up 417 yards on one of the best secondaries in the ACC, what hope does North Carolina have in this game? North Carolina can talk revenge all it wants, hoping for a little payback for its embarrassing loss last year. But the Tar Heels have come out flat in both of their games this season, have had problems on the offensive and defensive lines and have been inconsistent in their run and return games. Just about every matchup arrow points in East Carolina's favor. East Carolina 31, North Carolina 21.

David Hale: If we learned anything from last week’s game, it should be this: In September, momentum swings quickly. Virginia Tech was riding high, ECU was overlooked and the end result was a dramatic win for the Pirates. Fast-forward to this week, and we have an overlooked North Carolina against an ECU team with an increasingly crowded bandwagon. The Tar Heels have a chip on their shoulder, remembering what happened last season. UNC’s secondary is solid, and Carden completed just 15 of 36 passes last week after ECU’s first two drives. The Pirates won’t sneak up on North Carolina this time around, and that’s the biggest advantage for the Heels. North Carolina 28, East Carolina 24.

Hale: It was just last year that Virginia’s underrated defense helped knock off BYU in Charlottesville, and those Hoos certainly weren’t as good as this year’s group. Yes, BYU has improved, but the Cougars still don’t have the most explosive offense. More importantly, BYU has thrown four interceptions and fumbled six times (four lost) in its first three games, and UVa’s defense will be by far the best the Cougars have seen so far. The onus will be on the Cavaliers’ offense to put a few points on the board -- no easy task against BYU -- but this could be a game in which the first team to find the end zone twice wins. Virginia 20, BYU 17.

Matt Fortuna: UVa is clearly a much-improved squad from last season and shouldn't need a two-hour rain delay to pull off the upset, as may have been the case last season. But the Hoos will still have their work cut out for them in Provo, Utah. Taysom Hill is a much better quarterback than he was a year ago. He has rushed for 356 yards through three games, second most nationally. Further complicating matters is the altitude of LaVell Edwards Stadium, which will test the depth of the UVa defense. The BYU defense has been flat-out salty against the run, and too much will be put on the Hoos' passing attack. BYU 30, Virginia 27.

Adelson: The Deacs showed some signs of life on offense in the second half against Utah State a week ago. Now the trick is to limit the turnovers and get the run game going. The bet is that will happen this week against Army, which has a run defense that ranks 84th in the nation, allowing 176 yards per game. The Wake Forest defense has played well for the most part, ranking 17th in the nation in total D, and will do enough to slow down the Black Knights. Wake Forest 21, Army 20.

Jared Shanker: It is not the sexiest matchup in Week 4, as both Army and Wake Forest have struggled in recent seasons. Army has not had a winning season since 2010, and Wake Forest is considered by many to be the worst Power 5 team in 2014. It isn't as much a case of having confidence in Army as it is questioning what Wake Forest will bring to the table. Stanford shut out Army last weekend, but the Black Knights were able to score 47 points against Buffalo, a team much more comparable to Wake Forest than the Cardinal. Wake Forest is playing a true freshman at quarterback and Army has a more experienced player leading the offense, and I think that will be the deciding factor. This will be a game decided in the final four minutes. Army 13, Wake Forest 10.

Fortuna: The Tigers know they are better than what they showed last season in a humiliating home loss to Florida State. Jameis Winston's declaration that Memorial Stadium is his house this past spring only fueled that fire, and now Winston won't even be around for the first half. All of that plays perfectly into the formula for a Tigers upset. Their highly touted defensive front has not lived up to expectations through two games, but if Clemson can create pressure early, get to backup QB Sean Maguire and force him to throw to someone other than Rashad Greene, the Tigers will give themselves a chance. Clemson 31, Florida State 27.

Shanker: It's almost as if this whole Winston half-game suspension sets up for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to add to his legacy. Maguire is a solid backup, so the smart money is on him keeping the game close heading into halftime. At that point, the offense's keys are handed back to Winston, who torched the Tigers last season. The Florida State defense stifled Clemson's offense last season, and this version of Chad Morris' offense is not quite as talented as last season's. If the Florida State defense is motivated, it certainly could give Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson fits. Florida State 24, Clemson 17.

Unanimous predictions

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech: The Hokies have won four straight in the series, as defensive coordinator Bud Foster seems to always find a way to slow down the Jackets’ triple-option offense. Though Virginia Tech is coming in off a loss, it has looked like the stronger team in the first three games. Virginia Tech 20, Georgia Tech 17.

Iowa at Pitt: If there is anyone in the ACC who should be familiar with the Hawkeyes, it is coach Paul Chryst, who coached against them during his time at Wisconsin. Though Iowa ranks No. 6 in the nation in rush defense, James Conner will find a way to get his 100 yards and lead the Panthers to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2000. Pitt 28, Iowa 17.

Maryland at Syracuse: The Orange beat the Terps 20-3 last year in their first meeting as ACC members, though Maryland was missing several of its best players in the game. In a battle of mobile quarterbacks, Terrel Hunt will better C.J. Brown and get Syracuse to 3-0 for the first time since 1991. Syracuse 28, Maryland 24.

Tulane at Duke: The Blue Devils have gone through their nonconference schedule with ease, but cannot get caught looking ahead to a looming showdown with Miami. The big question is whether Shaun Wilson can duplicate his 245-yard performance against the No. 94 rush defense in the country. Duke 41, Tulane 10.

Maine at BC: BC has to guard against a letdown after an emotional win over No. 9 USC last week. Coach Steve Addazio kept the intensity going at practice this week, hoping his team can carry on the momentum it has gained. Bank on that, behind another 100-yard rushing game from Tyler Murphy. Boston College 34, Maine 7.

Louisville at FIU: FIU put a scare into Pitt last week, so Louisville has to ward against overconfidence. Of course, the last time these two teams met a season ago, Louisville won 72-0. This should be a bounce-back game for the Cards’ offense, which struggled a week ago in a loss to Virginia. Louisville 45, FIU 0.

Presbyterian at NC State: The Wolfpack looked good last week in a road win over USF, and need to build off that win against Presbyterian, with a showdown against Florida State set for next weekend. The nonconference schedule has been weak, but after winning three games all of last season, NC State will take win No. 4. NC State 42, Presbyterian 10.

Miami at Nebraska: The Cornhuskers have a big edge on the Hurricanes in the trenches, and that is where this game will be decided. Miami’s defense has played better, but it will have a tough time slowing down Heisman contender Ameer Abdullah on the road in a nationally televised game. Nebraska 35, Miami 24.

Records this season
Shanker: 32-3
Adelson: 29-6
Fortuna: 29-6
Hale: 29-6

ACC morning links

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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We start today with Jameis Winston, because the reigning Heisman Trophy winner dominated conversation Wednesday, again for all the wrong reasons.

Florida State suspended Winston for the first half of Saturday's primetime game against No. 22 Clemson. But is that enough? Our Mark Schlabach thinks the consequences could have a reverse effect if a certain scenario plays out.
Some might argue that Winston's punishment for the latest incident isn't severe enough. In fact, FSU officials might have set him up to return to the spotlight once again after getting a slight slap on the wrist. What if backup quarterback Sean Maguire, who has attempted only 26 passes in his college career, struggles against Clemson, only to have Winston come into the game after halftime and lead the Seminoles to another victory? Winston will be the hero once again.

Others have expressed similar sentiments, including USA Today's Dan Wolken. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman, meanwhile, wonders if Winston has learned anything at all, especially in light of comments both the player and head coach Jimbo Fisher made this summer. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde also thinks Winston's half-game suspension is a half-measure taken by FSU.

SI.com's Zac Ellis says the message from the school to Winston to shape up is loud and clear.

How any of this affects the Noles in their chase to repeat as national champions remains unclear. But it is more evident than ever before that Winston needs to grow up, and grow up fast. Incident after incident figured to show him that, but it appears that has not been the case just yet. Now he has let down his teammates as they prepare for their biggest game of the season so far. How they respond -- and whether that will teach Winston a lesson -- remains to be seen.

Elsewhere in the ACC …

ACC morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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When operating out of an option-based offense, it is no secret converting third downs -- preferably third-and-short -- is of pivotal importance. So the Georgia Tech offense's ability to sustain drives is a priority in every game as long as Paul Johnson is the Yellow Jackets' coach.

Through three weeks, few teams are better than Georgia Tech at converting third-down attempts. Only one team, in fact. The Yellow Jackets rank No. 2 nationally with a 64 percent conversion rate, according to a post from Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Georgia Tech offense, however, has done that against the likes of FCS Wofford, Tulane and recent FBS addition Georgia Southern. The unit will get its first test Saturday against Virginia Tech, which has been terrific at getting off the field; the Hokies are No. 3 nationally, allowing opponents to convert only 23.3 percent of third-down attempts.

If the Yellow Jackets find success moving the chains, they face another test once they near the Virginia Tech goal line. The Hokies are No. 15 nationally in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 66.7 percent of its trips. They are No. 35 in red zone touchdown percentage at 50.

The Tech-Tech showdown has traditionally been a heated game, as five of the last six games have been decided by a single score. The last two meetings have been low scoring, too, so third-down and red zone defense will be of critical importance Saturday.
  • The quarterback situation at Miami might not be any clearer without Kevin Olsen. Freshman Brad Kaaya is starting, but senior Ryan Williams, who tore his ACL in the spring, is nearing a return. Miami coach Al Golden would not commit to sticking with Kaaya once Williams is ready to play.
  • Florida State offensive tackle Cam Erving stymied Clemson's Vic Beasley last season, and that will once again be a one-on-one battle that figures to play an important part in deciding Saturday's winner between the two nationally ranked teams.
  • Clemson coach Dabo Swinney still feels Clemson would beat Florida State five out of 10 times. He initially said that after last season's disaster in Death Valley.
  • Virginia Tech has struggled mightily to run the football the last two weeks, so the Hokies are hoping Trey Edmunds comes back sooner rather than later from a tibia injury.
  • It initially looked bleak for two Duke linemen, but coach David Cutcliffe said Lucas Patrick and Dezmond Johnson avoided serious injuries Saturday. However, the offensive and defensive lines are preparing as if they will not have either this coming weekend.
  • Louisville quarterback Will Gardner was pulled in the loss against Virginia, and Gardner is putting the blame squarely on his own shoulders. And keep Reggie Bonnafon, who replaced Gardner on Saturday, in your thoughts as he deals with the death of his father.
  • After a loss to ECU a season ago, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora would be shocked if his team had the audacity to overlook the Pirates a second straight season. ECU, of course, upset Virginia Tech last weekend.
  • NC State coach Dave Doeren offered coachspeak when asked if the Wolfpack already had its eyes on No. 1 Florida State. He insists Presbyterian has his focus.
  • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer might have talked with Doeren, too. He offered a similar response, although the Orange have former member Maryland before a game against Notre Dame.
  • Boston College coach Steve Addazio had an out-of-character week of practice leading up to Pittsburgh because of a short week. He lightened the intensity. He learned his lesson in advance of the USC game, and it clearly paid off as the Eagles manhandled the then-No. 9 Trojans.
  • Canaan Severin was buried on the depth chart last season, and many of those players ahead of him returned for 2014. However, Severin has started two games already this season.
  • Pitt has not decided who will play center against Iowa.

Familiar foe awaits Pitt's Paul Chryst

September, 16, 2014
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Manasseh Garner was playing a different position at a different school in 2010, so forgive him if he does not know exactly how to attack Iowa's defense. But the former Wisconsin defensive end and current Pitt receiver is in a familiar spot this week as his Panthers ready to welcome the Hawkeyes to Heinz Field.

"It seems long, but it really seems like it was just yesterday," Garner laughed.

[+] EnlargeManasseh Garner
Gregory J. Fisher/USA TODAY SportsPanthers WR Manasseh Garner and his head coach will face a familiar opponent in Iowa in Week 4.
He's not alone.

Garner and third-year Pitt head coach Paul Chryst will recognize what they see across the field Saturday, having become quite familiar with Iowa in their previous lives at Wisconsin, where Chryst was the offensive coordinator. Chryst went 3-3 when the Heartland Trophy was up for grabs against Iowa, with the effects of the game usually leaving marks on his players in one fashion or another. The Badgers averaged just 18 points in those six games, and they failed to crack even that much on four different occasions.

There are new faces now, sure, most notably with Phil Parker having taken over as Iowa's defensive coordinator in 2012, replacing Norm Parker (no relation), who died this past January. But many of the hallmarks of 16th-year head coach Kirk Ferentz's program remain the same.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kirk Ferentz, and it's going to be a well-coached team," Chryst said. "He believes in physical offense, physical defense. It's always going to be a challenge. I'm excited for our guys to play. It's going to be a good atmosphere. It'll be a good physical game, and we've got to rise up and meet that challenge. It's a great opportunity for us. The amount of success that he's had for a long time -- there's a lot of programs across the country trying to do that."

Chryst and Garner have had the last laugh against Iowa since 2010, escaping Kinnick Stadium with a 31-30 win that helped propel their Wisconsin squad to the first of three straight Rose Bowls, two of which they were a part of.
Four years later, Garner remembers the feeling of his lone meeting with the Hawkeyes.

"Just the physical nature that they bring -- I feel like Big Ten teams, they pride themselves on being physical, physical, physical," Garner said. "Relentless, four quarters, smash mouth. So that's one of the things I really got to see in my two years up in the Big Ten. That was something at Wisconsin, something we took pride in, wear and tearing you, and beating you to the punch, making sure that you felt the beatdown through four quarters. I'm sure that's what Iowa's preaching to their players as well. We're a physical team, smash-mouth and we want to wear you down. And that's one of the things that I've seen and I've witnessed, I went through it when playing them at their house. They're definitely a physical team and I respect them for being the team that they are."

Saturday will be akin to the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object, as Pitt enters as the nation's No. 3 rushing team (1,086 yards), while Iowa ranks seventh against the run (65.67 yards per game). James Conner, the burly 250-pound sophomore, leads the nation with 544 rushing yards, and is the ideal antidote for a stout front-seven.

Chryst said he looks forward to facing teams like Iowa, knowing that every yard comes with a price. Asked if he sees Chryst putting a similar stamp on the Panthers, Garner couldn't help but laugh.

"Oh without question, yeah," Garner said. "That's one of the main things Coach emphasizes: Let it go, let it go. Don't hold anything back. Just be instinctive and be physical. You have nothing if you're not physical, especially in this type of offense. Your front men, if they're not laying a foundation, (if) they're not winning the fight at the line of scrimmage, you really have nothing."
Pitt's off to a 3-0 start, and while some early struggles against FIU last week were enough to put a scare into the Panthers, there's no question they're now squarely in the mix for the Coastal Division. A win this week would give Pitt its first 4-0 start since 2000.

Of course, for the hype to keep building, Pitt will need to pounce on reeling Iowa this weekend, and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review expects Paul Chryst to open up the playbook a bit.
In three games, Pitt has thrown for only 304 yards, which is just short of 23 percent of the offense and only about 100 yards per game. [James] Conner is overshadowing the passing game, running for 544 of Pitt's 1,033 yards on the ground. Quarterback Chad Voytik's 29 completions in 50 attempts have gained only 284 yards, an average of less than 10 per completion.

Through three weeks, Pitt has thrown 53 passes out of 213 plays -- or about 25 percent of the time. The only FBS schools passing less often so far this year are the three service academies, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern and New Mexico.

That's a sharp change from last season, when Pitt threw the ball 47 percent of the time, but it's also a game plan that's been easy to follow with the success of tailback James Conner. His 80 rushes are 14 more than any other Power 5-conference back, and only two other Power 5 rushers are within 100 yards of his rushing total this season.

Still, there will come a point in which the Panthers need to show they can move the ball through the air, too, and that remains something of a questions with new QB Chad Voytik at the helm.

Chryst already took the time to bench his QB for a series against FIU last week, a move he explained as an opportunity for Voytik to “catch his breath.”

Voytik hasn't been bad, but he also hasn't been asked to do too much. His attempts-per-game is the lowest among ACC starters outside of Georgia Tech, his yards-per-attempt is ahead of only Tyler Murphy in the conference, and his 58 percent completions ranks 10th, trailing true freshman Brad Kaaya.

The fact remains that Conner and the ground game will be Pitt's bread and butter this year, but getting Voytik some reps in advance of a tougher ACC slate that will have him face off against the stout defenses at Virginia and Virginia Tech to kick off the month of October is probably a wise decision.

Conner has been astounding thus far, but the workload has been heavy, and Pitt also has another budding superstar named Tyler Boyd who needs to be fed a few more touches, too.

Some more links for your Tuesday reading:
  • DeVante Parker is getting some high-tech help in healing his foot injury, writes The Courier-Journal. His return can't come soon enough. The Cards are already having QB concerns, and the receiving corps hasn't exactly wowed anyone. Louisville's top two wideouts — Eli Rogers (20 targets) and James Quick (18) — have caught just 57 percent of their targets and averaged 5.9 yards per target. Last year, Parker caught 69 percent and averaged 11 yards per attempt.
  • Ryan Williams' continued progress recovering from an ACL injury means Miami isn't worried about QB depth following Kevin Olsen's suspension, writes the Miami Herald.
  • North Carolina will be without guard Landon Turner for its matchup with ECU, notes CBS Sports. Turner was UNC's most experienced lineman (19 career starts), and the Tar Heels already ranked just 51st out of 65 Power 5 teams when running between the tackles.
  • Don't expect Chad Morris to slow his offense to keep Florida State off the field, writes The Post and Courier.
  • The emergence of Derrick Mitchell on Florida State's defensive line is a much-needed boost for the ailing Seminoles, writes the Miami Herald.
  • For Virginia, the early success this season is all about having an identity, writes the Daily Progress.
  • Virginia Tech is optimistic Corey Marshall will be able to play this week when the Hokies open up their ACC slate, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

By the numbers: ACC Week 3 recap

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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A look around the league at some of the more interesting statistical performances from Week 3.

* Saturday's win over FIU marked James Conner’s second straight game with at least 31 rushing attempts. Since the start of 2012, only five other running backs have had consecutive games with as many attempts.

Conner also racked up a whopping 177 yards on the ground against FIU, his fourth straight game with at least 150 rushing yards. In the last decade, here’s the complete list of Power 5 conference backs who’ve had at least four games in a row of 150-plus rushing yards:
  • BC’s Andre Williams, 5 games (2013)
  • Arizona’s Kadeem Carey, 5 games (2012-13)
  • Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, 4 games (2011)
  • Pitt’s Dion Lewis, 4 games (2009)

Among non-Power 5 runners, only NIU’s Garrett Wolfe (11), UCF’s Kevin Smith (7) and UConn’s Donald Brown (5) have had streaks longer than Conner’s current one.

* Conner leads all ACC players in rushing yards for the season (543). Next up is BC QB Tyler Murphy (401) and Duke’s Shaun Wilson (334).

Wilson set the Duke school record Saturday, rushing for 245 yards on just 12 carries. Overall, Wilson is averaging a whopping 15.9 yards per rush so far this season — 6.2 yards per rush more than any other player in the nation (min. 20 attempts).

Wilson had three touchdowns against Kansas on Saturday — runs of 69, 68 and 45. Since the start of the 2004 season, only two other players have had three touchdown runs of at least 45 yards against a Power 5 conference team: Maurice Jones-Drew (9/18/04 vs. Washington) and Nebraska’s Roy Helu Jr. (10/30/10 vs. Missouri).

* Murphy averaged 4.2 yards per pass attempt and 14.7 yards per rush against USC. Only three quarterbacks have rushed for more yardage against a Power 5 team since the start of last season: Daniel Sams (199 vs. Baylor, 11/23/13), Nick Marshall (214 vs. Tennessee, 11/9/13) and Taysom Hill (259 vs. Texas, 9/7/13).

And for what it’s worth, the only Power 5 teams averaging fewer pass attempts per game than Boston College this year: Georgia Tech, Pitt, Arkansas, Minnesota and LSU.

* More from ESPN Stats & Information: This was the first time an unranked Boston College beat a top-10 opponent since knocking off Notre Dame in 2002. (Remember those green Irish jerseys?) Moreover, ESPN’s Football Power Index says this was the biggest upset in an FBS vs. FBS game so far this year. The Eagles had a 9 percent chance to win.

* Duke's Anthony Boone has thrown seven touchdowns without an interception through three games. How significant is that? Last year, Boone didn’t throw his seventh TD pass until Nov. 23 against Wake Forest, and nationally, the only QBs with at least seven TDs and no interceptions is short: USC’s Cody Kessler, along with Heisman candidates Everett Golson, Kenny Hill and Marcus Mariota.

Overall, Duke QBs have combined for eight touchdowns on 119 attempts without a pick. No other team in the nation has attempted more passes without a pick this year.

* Syracuse’s easy win over Central Michigan was lost in the shuffle a bit Saturday, but two weeks after struggling against Villanova, the Orange had no trouble in their first road test of the year.

What was particularly encouraging was that QB Terrel Hunt played well — something he didn’t do away from the Carrier Dome a year ago. In six games away from home last season, Hunt completed 57.8 percent of his throws, averaged 5.2 yards per attempt, threw four interceptions without a TD. Against CMU, he completed 20-of-30 for 175 yards with a touchdown and no picks. Hunt also added three touchdowns on the ground.

* Virginia Tech clearly isn't completely past the troubles of 2013.

Lost in the shuffle of the win over Ohio State was another troubling performance by the Hokies’ ground game. Its three tailbacks — Shai McKenzie, Marshawn Williams and J.C. Coleman — had 22 rushes for just 43 yards. Those troubles showed up again against ECU. While McKenzie and Williams did combine for 92 yards on 24 carries, 21 of those yards came on a single run. On the other 23 attempts, the Hokies mustered just 3.1 yards-per-rush.

Virginia Tech is averaging 3.5 yards per carry on first down this year — the second lowest tally among ACC teams (Wake Forest, 1.65).

* Another relic of last year’s problems for Virginia Tech: Hokies receivers were credited with seven drops against ECU. No other ACC team has had more than four in a game this season. Only West Virginia, in its opener against Alabama, had as many among all Power 5 conference teams. The seven drops also came after Tech had just two combined in its first two games.

* Silver lining for Wake Forest: The 24 points scored by the Demon Deacons against Utah State on Saturday were the most against an FBS opponent since Oct. 19 of last year — a span of seven games. It was the second most in a road game against an FBS team since the start of the 2012 season (25 vs. Army on 9/21/13).

The 110 attempts by QB John Wolford are the most by any true freshman in the country (conference-mate Brad Kaaya is second at 75), and while the results haven’t been terrific, he has shown some signs of progress. After a brutal first half against Utah State, Wolford was decent enough in the second half, completing 14-of-31 attempts for 179 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. And, of course, he’s been asked to do all of this while his ground game is averaging 0.8 yards-per-rush. Only SMU has been worse on the ground.

Consistency still missing in ACC

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Boston CollegeAP Photo/Stephan SavoiaBC's upset over USC shows that ACC teams are capable of winning big nonconference games.

The yin and yang that is the ACC was on full display this past weekend.

Boston College pulled an upset for the ages over No. 9 USC on Saturday night, giving the ACC five wins against top 10 nonconference opponents in a two-year span for the first time in league history!

Oh, but both No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 21 Louisville lost to unranked teams.

But hey, the ACC is 27-5 against nonconference teams! And for the second time in league history, two unranked ACC teams upset top 10 opponents this year (BC, plus the Hokies over Ohio State in Week 2).

Oh, but look at those rankings. Only two teams remain in the AP poll this week.

But hey, maybe the bottom of the league is starting to rise up if cellar dweller UVa can shock a team like the Cards! Virginia had six wins over the last two seasons while Louisville had 23!

Oh, but look closer at the AP rankings. Only one ACC team sits in the top 15, compared to seven from the SEC.

But hey, at least the ACC is not the Big Ten!

Back and forth we go in our yearly game entitled: What will you turn out to be, ACC?

If only the ACC could get all its pieces to fit nicely into one pretty looking College Football Playoff picture.

Instead, we are left with the all too familiar, a disjointed puzzle that remains hard to comprehend and even harder to predict. Virginia Tech had its offense and defense in sync at Ohio State in Week 2; the Hokies were totally out of sync Saturday at home against East Carolina, a team everybody knew would have a shot at the upset. Boston College allowed 300-plus yards rushing in a loss to Pitt in Week 2. Against USC? The Eagles gave up 20 yards on the ground. Total.

Then there is Louisville, a team that had two turnovers in its first two games. The Cards doubled that total against Virginia and lost.

The season is obviously still young and we only have a few games to go on, but the ACC already is falling into its usual habits despite some of those jazzy stats mentioned above. Big wins end up being fluky wins; four ranked teams dwindle to two; and lo and behold, Florida State and Clemson are left to carry the league.

You know, the way the two are doing this week. "College GameDay" will be in Tallahassee, Florida, for the showdown between the only remaining ranked ACC teams, a game that has determined the Atlantic champion three straight years.

While Florida State has looked shaky and Clemson is playing one of the most daunting schedules in the country to open the season, there is no dispute everybody else inside the ACC is still chasing these two. A host of teams still have a chance to get into the Top 25 rankings this season -- Duke, Pitt and North Carolina are on deck while Virginia Tech and Louisville will have every opportunity to get back in, too. If Miami gets past Nebraska this weekend, who knows what happens.

But what was reinforced this weekend is the importance of following through. One big win is great. But that big win needs to beget another big win and another, until the ACC has got a solid group of teams that become more predictable week in and week out. Watering down the schedule like the folks over in SEC land is not the answer. The ACC needs to continue to be at the forefront of playing big nonconference games.

The league is clearly capable of winning them. It is the consistency that remains elusive.

ACC bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
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The ACC makes no sense right now. Virginia Tech thumps Ohio State on the road, then loses to East Carolina at home. Boston College coughs up 214 rushing yards to James Conner one week, then holds USC to 20 yards on the ground the next. Georgia Tech is 3-0, but has hardly looked impressive yet. Oh, and there’s that little matter of the conference’s top two teams facing off this coming Saturday.

For now, we’re doing the best we can with a fluid situation, so fair warning that these projections are a moving target at this point in the season.

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

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

ACC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
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ACC helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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Week 3 was chock full of big plays on both sides of the ball, meaning there were plenty of contenders for ACC helmet stickers. Here are the top performers.

Syracuse LB Cameron Lynch: Two weeks after a discouraging opener against Villanova, the Orange looked much improved against Central Michigan in their 40-3 win. Quarterback Terrel Hunt was exceptional, accounting for four touchdowns, but it was the defense that really set the tone. Syracuse had five sacks in the game, led by Lynch, who recorded eight tackles, 3.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks while helping to hold CMU to just 34 yards rushing on 23 carries.

Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas: There are concerns for the Yellow Jackets, who’ve been tested against three lower-tier opponents early this season, but Georgia Tech has to be pleased with the performance of its new starting quarterback. Thomas rushed for a team-high 137 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown while throwing for four more scores, including the game-winning 13-yard pass to Deon Hill with 23 seconds remaining, as Georgia Tech rallied past Georgia Southern 42-38. Thomas already has six TDs on the year — halfway to the team’s total through the air from 2013.

Virginia LB Henry Coley: The Hoos got their first ACC win since 2012 thanks to another dominant defensive effort. Coley helped lead the charge in the 23-21 victory, racking up seven tackles, including two for a loss, one sack and a pass breakup. The Virginia front seven tormented Louisville throughout, while the secondary came up with two big interceptions. Overall, UVA had three takeaways, and all three led to points.

Pitt RB James Conner: Another week, another helmet sticker for the ACC’s most prolific runner. Conner had 31 carries — his second straight week with 30-plus — for 177 yards and three scores, leading Pitt to a 42-25 road win over FIU. Conner has topped 150 yards in four straight games dating back to last season, just the fifth Power 5-conference runner to do that since the start of 2009.

Miami QB Brad Kaaya: In the first two games of his career, Kaaya looked every bit a true freshman, completing 57 percent of his passes, throwing just three TDs to go with four picks and racking up 351 yards. In his third start, Kaaya made a huge improvement, throwing for 341 yards and four touchdowns while playing without star receiver Stacy Coley. With Coley out, however, Phillip Dorsett shined in Miami's 41-20 win with four catches for 201 yards, including a pair of 63-yard scores.

Duke RB Shaun Wilson: The true freshman had just nine career carries on his resume entering the weekend, but he finished Saturday’s 41-3 win with the Duke school record for yards by a running back. Wilson had TD runs of 69, 68 and 45 yards and finished the game with 245 yards on just 12 carries — but it was an 8-yard carry on the game’s final play that set the record. The 245 yards were the 10th most by an ACC running back since 2004, and he was just the third player with three touchdown runs of 45 yards or more against a Power 5 team in the past decade.

And rather than a helmet sticker, how about a red bandana to everyone at Boston College? The Eagles looked fantastic in upending No. 9 USC while wearing red bandana designs on their uniforms to honor 9/11 victim and former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther. It was a group effort for the Eagles. Quarterback Tyler Murphy was electric in the 37-31 win, accounting for 244 yards of offense. Freshman RB Jon Hilliman had 89 yards and two touchdowns. The ground game racked up 452 yards, while the defense had five sacks and held USC to just 20 yards rushing. And for the second time in as many weeks, an ACC team knocked off a Top-10, nonconference foe.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:00
AM ET
It's Saturday, and we're here to catch you up on all that you should be watching throughout the day as 11 ACC teams take the field. Use the hashtags below to follow each game on Twitter. All times are ET.

Noon

East Carolina at No. 17 Virginia Tech, ESPN, #ECUvsVT: The Hokies are riding high after notching the upset at Ohio State last week. But the Pirates can help bring them back to earth if they aren't careful. ECU itself is amid a tough three-game stretch against South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, and its offense, led by the dangerous Shane Carden under center, is certainly capable of testing the home team's D. If that's not enough to have the Hokies ready, these teams' past two meetings should: Narrow Virginia Tech wins in 2013 (15-10) and 2011 (17-10).

Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech, ESPN3, #GASOvsGT: Can the Eagles notch a signature road win over a Power 5 team for the second year in a row? A year after winning at Florida, they came awfully close in Week 1, falling at NC State by one after leading throughout. Now the FBS newcomers travel to face former head coach Paul Johnson and in-state neighbor Georgia Tech. Georgia Southern is coming off an 83-9 win over Savannah State last week, while the Yellow Jackets are still trying to get on-track offensively after a three-turnover performance in a win last week at Tulane.

Pitt at FIU, Fox Sports 1: Stat-watching might be a priority in this lackluster contest. Panthers running back James Conner enters with 50 carries, 367 yards and five touchdowns to his name through two weeks. Can he play himself further into early-season Heisman discussions? His coach, Paul Chryst, has not ruled out the chance that Conner still lines up at defensive end at some point this season. Still, given the workhorse he has been -- and will need to be if Pitt is to contend for the Coastal -- this might be a good chance to limit his workload in the heat and let Chad Voytik grow as a passer. Also worth keeping an eye on is the man snapping Voytik the ball, as center Artie Rowell is lost for the year after an ACL tear last week. Gabe Roberts and Alex Officer could both see action there in place of Rowell.

Syracuse at Central Michigan, ESPNEWS, #CUSEvsCMU: This game sure looks a lot more interesting than it did two weeks ago, no? The Orange have not even played a half this season with Terrel Hunt under center, as the starter was ejected from the opener after throwing a punch at a Villanova player. The offense struggled immensely without Hunt, needing two overtimes to hold off the FCS Wildcats. The Chippewas, meanwhile, ran Purdue out of their own building last week in West Lafayette, Indiana. Syracuse hopes to have gathered itself during its bye last week and unveil the faster-paced offense it had hoped to run this season.

12:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeDominique Brown
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals should provide Virginia with an early-season measuring stick of where the team stands.
No. 21 Louisville at Virginia, ESPN3, #LOUvsUVA: We should have a much better answer after this game as to just how improved Virginia really is this season. The Cardinals present a great early-season league test in Charlottesville, and Bobby Petrino's offense going up against the Cavaliers' stout defense in Louisville's first-ever ACC road game will be fascinating to watch. But can the Hoos avoid offensive miscues? That is what cost them a chance to upset UCLA in Week 1, and there is still some uncertainty at quarterback, where Matt Johns has looked better than Greyson Lambert through two games.

3:30 p.m.

Arkansas State at Miami, ESPNU, #ARSTvsMIA: Now would be a good time to see what Brad Kaaya is capable of doing, what with a game at Nebraska next week and a pair of league games after. The true freshman quarterback hasn't been bad through two games, but he hasn't really been asked to do too much, either. If the Hurricanes want to contend for the Coastal crown this season, they'll need more production out of him, and better to throw him to the (Red) Wolves of Arkansas State now than the Blackshirts of Nebraska next week under the lights.

NC State at USF, CBS Sports Network: USF forced six turnovers last week against Maryland but still could not pull out the win. Jacoby Brissett has played well through two games, but the ground game has been every bit as instrumental so far, averaging 207.5 yards per contest. Still, the Wolfpack need to start faster after falling behind at home to Georgia Southern and Old Dominion before mounting comeback wins. A 3-0 start for coach Dave Doeren after a 3-9 debut season would be absolutely huge, and it would make a bowl berth a real possibility for the Pack.

Kansas at Duke, ESPN3, #KUvsDUKE: The Jayhawks are undefeated. And Charlie Weis was set to be David Cutcliffe's boss nearly a decade ago. And Duke clearly needs to get off to a better start than it did last week at Troy after falling behind by 11 early. Still, the Blue Devils have a very balanced attack that will test Kansas far more than Southeast Missouri State did last week. And quarterback Anthony Boone has looked very, very good through two games. Expect more of the same against Kansas.

7 p.m.

Wake Forest at Utah State, CBS Sports Network: Dave Clawson did some house-cleaning this week, kicking running back Dominique Gibson and center Cody Preble off the team for a violation of team rules, in addition to suspending reserve quarterback Kevin Sousa. Clawson is coming off his first win as the Demon Deacons' head coach, but the Aggies will provide a much stiffer test than Gardner-Webb did last week. True freshman signal-caller John Wolford got much better protection last week (two sacks) than he did in a season-opening loss at Louisiana-Monroe (five), but he has to improve his decision-making after throwing three picks last week.

8 p.m.

No. 9 USC at Boston College, ESPN, #USCvsBC: USC has been among the country's most impressive teams through two weeks. BC hopes it is catching the Trojans at the right time. Steve Sarkisian's squad travels cross-country after an upset win at Stanford to face an Eagles team coming off a home loss to Pitt. Still, it's worth pointing out just how well Steve Addazio got BC to play last year against heavy favorites Clemson and Florida State, with the latter contest proving to be the Seminoles' biggest test before the national title game. Also, kudos to BC for its attire for this contest, as it honors Sept. 11 hero and lacrosse alum Welles Crowther.

ACC morning links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here's a look at what else is happening in the ACC:

By the numbers: Heavy RB workloads

September, 11, 2014
Sep 11
4:00
PM ET
Last month, we wrote a bit about the shift toward backfields-by-committee, noting that most coaches now prefer to have at least two tailbacks with complementary skill sets that can, ideally, lighten the load on one another.

But look around the ACC during the first two weeks of the season, and you'll notice a couple of obvious counterpoints to that logic.

The first came in Week 1, when Louisville tailback Dominique Brown carried 33 times in a win against Miami. No other tailback in the nation had more than 30 rushes, but Brown's bell-cow effort helped the Cardinals out-muscle Miami and took some of the burden off a quarterback making his first career start.

[+] EnlargeDominique Brown
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsThrough two games, Cardinals RB Dominique Brown has rushed 38 times for 183 yards.
Four days later, it was Pitt's James Conner who set the standard for rushing attempts, toting the rock a whopping 36 times in a road win against Boston College. Again, Conner's tally was three more than any other tailback in the nation -- and six more than any other running back at a Power 5 school.

The rationale for all those carries, according to Pitt coach Paul Chryst, was simple: Necessity. From Yahoo!: "We feel like we've got a pretty good gauge for workloads," Chryst said. "We needed it, and [Conner] was rolling pretty good. I thought it was alright."

It's certainly not all that uncommon to have a tailback -- particularly big, bruising runners such as Conner and Brown -- get 30-plus carries in a game. It happened 72 times last season, including a herculean 48-carry effort by Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey against Oregon last November. Last season, 10 ACC games featured a running back getting 30 or more carries, though six of those games were turned in by BC's Andre Williams. (And, for what it's worth, Boston College running backs account for eight of the nine heaviest workloads in the ACC since 2008.)

What is a bit more unusual, however, is for tailbacks to carry such a big load so early in the season.

Among all Power 5 teams from 2009 through 2013, only 15 games played in August or September (an average of three per year) featured a tailback carrying the ball at least 33 times (Brown's total from Week 1) and only six matched or exceeded Conner's 36-carry effort. What's more, that list includes three runners -- Le'Veon Bell, Bishop Sankey and Marcus Lattimore -- who had at least 33 carries in an August/September game twice. In other words, Conner and Brown joined a club that includes just 12 other members from the past five seasons.

And if we look at those names, it's an impressive group.

Bell (Michigan State, 2012)
Sankey (Washington, 2013)
Montee Ball (Wisconsin, 2012)
Lattimore (South Carolina, 2010 and 2011)
Mark Weisman (Iowa, 2013)
A. Williams (Boston College, 2013)
Marcus Coker (Iowa, 2011)
DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma, 2010)
Kenjon Barner (Oregon, 2012)
Daniel Thomas (Kansas State, 2010)
Ryan Williams (Virginia Tech, 2009)
Malcolm Agnew (Oregon State, 2011)

(*Note: ACC players in italics.)

There are a lot of highly-touted, big-impact players there, and the vast majority have gone on to jobs in the NFL -- including Bell, Ball, Murray and Sankey as starters. That puts Conner and Brown in good company.

Of course, there's also a reason that 33-carry games don't happen much in September. There's a toll it takes on tailbacks getting hit that many times, and most coaches aren't interested in risking that for an early season game.

But does it really make an impact?

The answer is ... sort of.

Of those 15 early season games in which a tailback carried at least 33 times, there was only one example of that running back returning in his next game to exceed 100 yards on the ground. Sankey followed his 40-carry, 161-yard game against Arizona with a 27-carry, 125-yard game against Stanford, but the other 14 follow-up contests fell far short of the century mark.

So there does appear to be something of a hangover effect for the following week. On average, the 15 previous tailbacks to carry at least 33 times in a September game mustered 16 carries for 64 yards (and 4.0 yards-per-carry) in their follow-ups.

But down the road, it doesn't really seem to make much difference. Yes, Lattimore and Agnew dealt with injuries, but it's tough to draw any distinct correlation. And Weisman had just one more 100-yard game the rest of the season, but he's probably an anomaly in the group anyway. Aside from Lattimore and Agnew, the other 11 runners to make the list had finished their respective seasons with 302 rushes and five more 100-yard games, on average.

Brown's follow-up last week fit the trend: five carries, 40 yards and a TD. It was a light load against an inferior opponent, but he looked fine.

With Pitt traveling to take on a less-than-dangerous FIU team this week, don't be surprised if there's a similar recipe in store for Conner coming off his big game, but Chryst has made it clear, he's got a workhorse back and he plans to use Conner as such.

"I think that he's kind of built for it," Chryst said. "He's a big back, so obviously will take hits, but knock on wood, handles that. I think that he's one that he truly loves playing and competing, and I think that that's all part of it."
Virginia Tech’s tight ends have made a big difference for the Hokies’ offense so far this season, writes The Roanoke Times.

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

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

Other tight end production around the ACC through two weeks:

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

A few more links:

ACC playoff watch: Week 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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