ACC: Virginia Cavaliers

By the numbers: Week 4 recap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC morning links

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Florida State’s win without its Heisman-winning quarterback helped solidify that the Seminoles are playoff-bound. Beyond that, Week 4 only served to further muddy the waters. Clemson may still be the second-best team in the conference, but the Tigers are 1-2. NC State and Duke are undefeated but also untested. Georgia Tech has trailed in all four games but won them all. Nothing is simple, but luckily we’re getting into the meat of the ACC slate now, so the picture should clear up in the next few weeks.

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

* 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 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
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Video: UVa coach Mike London's miracle

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
10:58
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video
Ten years ago, Virginia Cavaliers coach Mike London saved his daughter Ticynn's life with a bone marrow transplant.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 4

September, 20, 2014
Sep 20
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The best day of the week is finally here. Is the best league game of the year here as well? Probably. Here's a primer on all of the action throughout the day. Be sure to follow along on Twitter with all of the hashtags below.

Noon

Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, ESPN, #GTvsVT: The Yellow Jackets have gotten to 3-0 in the most wayward of fashions. The Hokies are coming off a home loss to East Carolina, one week after upsetting a top-10 Ohio State team on the road. Could their trouble be on defense? Brandon Facyson has been playing hurt all season, sure, but Virginia Tech has surrendered 22 plays of 20 yards or more this season, fourth-most in the nation and half its total from last season (44). The big-play threat might not exactly be there with Georgia Tech, but as Jared Shanker noted this week, the visitors do bring with them a knack for converting third downs. Virginia Tech has won the past four games in this matchup.

Iowa at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #IOWAvsPITT: Third-year Panthers coach Paul Chryst hosts a familiar foe this weekend, as he faced the Hawkeyes six times while he was offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, going 3-3. Pitt is looking for its first 4-0 start since 2000, and it will likely turn to the nation's leading rusher, James Conner, to try to get there, despite Iowa's stingy run defense (No. 7 nationally). Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, by the way, will experience a homecoming of sorts, as he went to Upper St. Clair High in Pittsburgh.

12:30 p.m.

Maryland at Syracuse, 12:30, ESPN3, #MDvsCUSE: The Terrapins are in their first year away from the "basketball" conference that is the ACC, as coach Randy Edsall said this summer, and the Big Ten newcomers will look to avenge last year's 20-3 home loss to the Orange, which came without receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Syracuse, meanwhile, looked like a new team in last week's 40-3 win at Central Michigan, as it came off a bye and had quarterback Terrel Hunt back running the show on offense. Syracuse is looking to get to 3-0 for the first time since 1991, which would provide a big boost to a team that will embark on a difficult three-week stretch against Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State.

Tulane at Duke, ESPN3, #TULNvsDUKE: Has there been a more overlooked team than Duke recently? All the Blue Devils have done is take care of business, coming off a 10-win, division-title season and starting 3-0 this season in methodical fashion (albeit against bad competition). In any event, the unranked Blue Devils close their nonconference slate against American Athletic Conference newcomer Tulane, which is no stranger to the ACC this season, having lost to Georgia Tech two weeks ago. Here's one interesting stat surrounding Duke quarterback Anthony Boone, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: The Blue Devils have lost yardage on just three percent of Boone's snaps, the lowest percentage of any Power Five quarterback with at least 150 plays.

[+] EnlargeTyler Murphy
Winslow Townson/Getty ImagesTyler Murphy and Boston College hope to avoid a letdown after their upset of USC when they face FCS Maine on Saturday.
1 p.m.

Maine at Boston College, ESPN3, #MEvsBC: It's all about avoiding a letdown this week in Chestnut Hill, where the Eagles produced one of the young season's greatest upsets last weekend against USC. The Black Bears should hardly pose a huge challenge to BC, which, with Tyler Murphy under center, has been able to stretch the field much more than last season, even if the run game is still its bread and butter. Murphy leads all quarterbacks in rushing yards this season with 401, 40 more yards than he has tallied passing the ball (361).

3:30 p.m.

Louisville at FIU, Fox Sports 1: The Cardinals are looking to rebound from their first defeat of the second Bobby Petrino era, while the Golden Panthers welcome their second straight ACC foe to Miami. FIU gave Pitt a handful last week before the Panthers pulled away, but Louisville will probably not be so kind coming off the loss at Virginia. Louisville beat FIU 72-0 a year ago, and while there are plenty of new faces, quarterback Will Gardner will try to bounce back after getting pulled a week ago. His offensive line will look to get its act together as well.

Virginia at No. 21 BYU, ESPN, #UVAvsBYU: Speaking of the Cavaliers, they should serve as one of the toughest tests the Cougars face all season, as the home team has the best chance of anyone in the nation at running the regular-season table (21.7 percent, per ESPN's FPI). We'll see just how good this Virginia defense really is after strong showings through the first three weeks, as BYU quarterback Taysom Hill and his home field will be a handful to handle. Virginia beat BYU last year in the season opener, one of just two games it won all season.

Army at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #ARMYvsWAKE: The Demon Deacons' defense has actually been pretty good through three games despite a 1-2 record. And while the offense showed signs of life late in last week's loss at Utah State, it cannot afford to give away points, and it would help to develop some form of a ground game. The Black Knights were shut out last week at Stanford. They also boast, at this point, the nation's slowest offense at 31.1 seconds per play, according to data from ESPN Stats & Info.

North Carolina at East Carolina, ESPNU, #UNCvsECU: The Pirates came awfully close to beating a South Carolina team that is probably better than we initially gave it credit for, and they went into Blacksburg, Virginia, last week and took down the Hokies. Now they get the Tar Heels in a rematch of last year's 55-31 ECU rout in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have looked underwhelming through two games, and they will be without starting guard Landon Turner. But their offense is still capable of putting plenty of points on the board, and this is a team that certainly has not forgotten about the way it was embarrassed by the Pirates last season. A shootout between Marquise Williams and Shane Carden could be on the horizon. And given UNC's upcoming slate -- at Clemson, Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame -- it better hope it can keep up this time around before league play starts. One thing to keep in mind: With Brian Walker's 100-yard interception return for a touchdown two weeks ago at San Diego State, UNC now has 10 non-offensive touchdowns since last season, according to ESPN Stats & Info. That is tied with North Texas for the second-best mark in the nation during that span, trailing only Florida State's 11.

6 p.m.

Presbyterian at NC State, ESPN3, #PREvsNCSU: The Wolfpack's laughable nonconference slate concludes, and a win here would make them 4-0 after a disappointing 3-9 mark last season. Still, it should do wonders for a young team looking to go bowling in Dave Doeren's second year at the helm, especially if it can replicate its dominant performance from last week at USF. Like its rival in Chapel Hill, NC State needs to do itself a favor, with back-to-back games against FSU and Clemson awaiting in the next two weeks to open conference play. As David Hale notes, quarterback Jacoby Brissett has been invaluable so far for the Pack, leading the ACC in touchdowns and yards and second only to Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas in passer rating.

8 p.m.

Miami at No. 24 Nebraska, ESPN2, #MIAvsNEB: Andrea Adelson and Mitch Sherman did a wonderful job recapping some of the great matchups between these old rivals. What might be the difference at Memorial Stadium, however, is the ground game. Duke Johnson has rushed for at least 90 yards in each of his past five games dating back to last season, while Ameer Abdullah has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 12 of his past 14 games and has tallied more than 100 yards from scrimmage in 16 straight games, the longest active streak in the nation. The ACC is 6-3 against the Cornhuskers in the past nine meetings, though the Hurricanes are just 1-6 in their past seven games against AP-ranked teams, with an average point margin of minus-22.4.

8 p.m.

No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State, ABC, #CLEMvsFSU: Here's the matchup we've all been waiting for, but it won't include Jameis Winston. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner will sit out the entire game, the school announced late Friday, after reportedly making profane remarks in public. It will be Sean Maguire's turn to run the show. Maguire has not started a game since Nov. 12, 2011, his senior year at Seton Hall Prep (New Jersey). Coach Jimbo Fisher is 3-1 against Clemson since arriving in Tallahassee, but the lower-ranked team has won two of the past three meetings. The Tigers, meanwhile, are 0-4 all time against AP No. 1 teams, with the last such game coming in the 1999 "Bowden Bowl I" against FSU, a 17-14 Seminoles win. Coming into this contest, ESPN's FPI ranks Clemson 19th, FSU 2nd, and it gives the Seminoles a 77 percent chance to win.

ACC Week 4 predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unanimous predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC morning links

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

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

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

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

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

Elsewhere in the ACC …

ACC playoff watch: Week 4

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
3:00
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The roller coaster ride of perception for the ACC has already had its share of highs and lows, and this week figures to be about as big as any when it comes to setting the table for the College Football Playoff. So let’s see where the conference stacks up through the first three weeks of the season.

Where the ACC stands: Once again, the conference is stationed in the No. 4 spot in ESPN’s power rankings, still well behind the Big 12 and down a net of 8 points in the ratings compared with its nearest competitor. The Big Ten actually gained ground on the ACC last week, and with three ACC-Big Ten matchups Saturday, that lead could be precarious.

Top playoff contenders: Florida State (No. 1 AP, No. 2 FPI), Clemson (22/19), Pitt (NR/27).

Nonconference record: 27-5 overall (7-2 last week), 15-5 vs. FBS, 4-2 vs. Power 5.

Week 3 recap: How bad was the Hokies loss to ECU really? The Hokies started slow but powered back in what would’ve been the biggest comeback in program history had they pulled it off. ECU might be the best team from the Group of 5, and its performance the previous week against South Carolina only looks better now. And just as Virginia Tech’s hype machine probably revved up a bit too fast after the Ohio State game, the Hokies probably aren’t as bad as they’re being portrayed now.

The problem, however, is that perception drives so much in college football, and all you need to do is look at the polls, where Ohio State remains a top-20 team after routing a listless Kent State, while Virginia Tech has tumbled well down the list of "others receiving votes."

On the upside, however, Boston College did a lot to win back any mojo Virginia Tech lost with its punishing of USC. It was a stellar performance from the Eagles defense and ground game, and BC was clearly the deeper, more physical team throughout.

Really, what Week 3 probably illustrated more than anything is that the ACC can certainly play with just about anyone in the Power 5 conferences, but it also isn’t that far ahead of the elite teams from the Group of 5. As a result, the conference has just two teams ranked in the Top 25 in ESPN’s FPI, but has seven ranked in the next 25.

Week 4 preview: When it comes time for the selection committee to judge the ACC, there’s a good chance this week’s games will tell a big part of the story.

Start with the three games against the Big Ten. That league is so down at this point that any losses by the ACC would look bad, but Miami could actually benefit a bit from a win over Nebraska, one of two still unbeaten Big Ten teams. The Hurricanes have improved at QB the last two weeks, and this is a big chance to show the Week 1 loss to Louisville was more growing pains than anything.

Then there's the matter of Pitt and Iowa. The Hawkeyes' loss to Iowa State took most of the luster off this game, but Pitt is still poised as a fringe playoff contender and the ACC's third-highest-ranked team. The league and the Panthers would take a big blow with a loss here.

Virginia Tech gets a good test with Georgia Tech, and it will be interesting to see how the Hokies respond to last week's loss and the departure of receiver Josh Stanford. It's worth remembering that Virginia Tech has the easiest remaining schedule in the ACC, and if it were to win out and knock off an undefeated Florida State in the ACC title game, the playoff would still be a realistic possibility.

Meanwhile, North Carolina has a chance to revitalize its playoff chances with a win at ECU, while a loss might actually help bolster Virginia Tech's chances by illustrating that last week's result was no fluke and the Pirates are the real deal.

The biggest game of the week for the ACC might be Virginia at BYU. It figures to be a defensive battle, but UVa knocked off the Cougars at home last year, and certainly the Hoos are a better team now. BYU is No. 18 in the FPI, the highest-ranked foe for any ACC team this week.

Then there's the big question of the week: What’s better for the ACC? If Florida State wins, it keeps the Seminoles on the path toward the playoff, but it knocks Clemson down to 1-2 and out of the Top 25, meaning it won’t even be much of a marquee win for FSU. If Clemson wins, the ACC can trumpet another legitimate contender, but it’s at the expense of the league’s best hope for a national title. The one sure thing is that Clemson needs the game more than Florida State for playoff purposes, but the Seminoles could probably reassure a lot of uneasy fans with another impressive win.

ACC morning links

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

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

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

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

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

ACC Upset Watch: Week 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning for success: Virginia

September, 16, 2014
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In the hours after his team sprung the upset of Louisville on Saturday, Virginia linebacker Henry Coley dialed up head coach Mike London, asking what the protocol was for calling a team meeting Sunday. The high of beating the No. 21 team in the country had worn off, and Coley and his three fellow Cavaliers captains needed to ensure that the rest of their teammates were not looking back.

"They told us we can't just get complacent, because in the past two years we started off 2-0, 2-1 and then we ended up going 4-8 (and 2-10)," safety Brandon Phelps told ESPN.com. "They said we've got to find it in ourselves to keep this thing going, to stay motivated, to stay hungry so we can win some games."

[+] EnlargeVirginia's Mike London
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsAfter going winless in the ACC last season, coach Mike London and Virginia are already 1-0 following an upset of No. 21 Louisville.
Through three weeks, the Hoos have already matched last year's win total, and they were dangerously close to upsetting then-No. 7 UCLA in Week 1. Awaiting them this weekend is a trip to Provo, Utah, to face a BYU team that has replaced Louisville at No. 21 in the AP poll. The Cougars boast a dynamic dual-threat quarterback in Taysom Hill. According to ESPN's Football Power Index, they have the nation's best chance at an undefeated regular-season record (21.7 percent).

But discussion about what the College Football Playoff selection committee should do in the event a schedule-challenged independent team runs the table is the last thing on the minds of the Hoos, who are used to being overlooked. BYU, after all, was one of only two teams to lose to Virginia last season during an otherwise-hapless year for the ACC program.

Phelps said that last year's two-win season was embarrassing, and that the players carried that sting this offseason through everything from workout competitions to video-game battles in order to stoke the competitive edge. Still, in what looked to be (and still is) a wide-open Coastal Division, Virginia entered the season as an afterthought, and Phelps said he and his teammates have embraced the underdog role.

Through three games, the Hoos have shown signs that this year won't be a repeat of last year. The defense has been relentless up front, tallying 12 sacks (No. 6 nationally) and allowing just 2.62 yards per rush (No. 16). That will be tested against the elusive Hill, whose 356 rushing yards this season trail only Boston College's Tyler Murphy (401) among quarterbacks. BYU runs more than 85 plays per game, fourth-most nationally. And its home field, LaVell Edwards Stadium, sits more than 4,600 feet above sea level, with the altitude further stretching visiting teams physically.

Fans ran onto the field at Scott Stadium this past weekend after Virginia's win over Louisville, marking the home team's first field-storming since an upset over 12th-ranked Georgia Tech three years ago. The milestone meant plenty to London, who was emotional afterward and whose job has been the topic of much discussion after a winless league campaign a year ago.

His players are well-aware of the hot-seat talk, and they were thrilled to help change the narrative.

"He's doesn't think about it, we don't think about it," Phelps said. "We're going to go out and play for him and we're going to win games. He's a great coach. He really cares about each and every single one of his players, and it's a great feeling to see a big smile on his face after we won that game."

The most important gesture, however, came back in the locker room following London's postgame speech, as he said that one player held the rest up to deliver parting words on the dawn of another game week.

"(He) said, 'Hey, listen, don't do anything dumb tonight. We've still got a long way to go. We've got to focus on getting ready for BYU,' " London said. "That type of leadership is the kind that can take you a long way. There's a buy-in to these guys, and we'll continue to keep having that buy-in because we've got really good opponents ahead of us, but the first one, what's foremost on our mind is BYU."
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.

ACC morning links: Kaaya's big step

September, 15, 2014
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Miami knew there would be bumps in the road for true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, and so it wasn’t entirely surprising when he started off the year looking like, well, a true freshman. But the upside for Kaaya was always obvious, and against Arkansas State on Saturday, all that potential was on display.

As the Miami Herald noted, Kaaya set a Miami record for true freshmen, throwing for 342 yards -- just 9 less than his total from the first two games of the season. After the game, wideout Phillip Dorsett told the Sun Sentinel that Kaaya “grew up a lot.”

Kaaya certainly looked like a veteran against Arkansas State, but as significant as his comfort in the pocket was his ability to make some big throws when given the chance.

Miami fans were more than a bit displeased with the play calling in the first two games, noting that Kaaya wasn’t exactly given much of a chance to make many big throws. On the other hand, his success rate on those throws provided little encouragement.

On Saturday, however, things were much different.

Below are Kaaya’s numbers on throws of 10 yards or more.

Weeks 1 and 2: 7-of-17 for 187 yards, one TD and four interceptions
Week 3: 3-of-4 for 132 yards, two TDs and no interceptions

The opportunities for deep balls actually declined against Arkansas State, but Kaaya’s accuracy on those throws was much improved. Two of those completions went to Dorsett, who had receptions of 63, 63 and 51. He became just the second ACC receiver in the last decade to have three catches of 50 yards or more in a single game, joining Clemson’s Sammy Watkins (Oct. 25, 2012, against Wake Forest).

Kaaya was sacked three times, and Miami’s shaky offensive line continues to be a concern, but the freshman showed plenty of poise, including going 3-of-4 for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz. And all of this without star receiver Stacy Coley, who missed the game with a shoulder injury.

There will be bigger tests and more bumps in the road ahead for Kaaya, but Saturday was a good reminder of why the Hurricanes liked the kid so much in the first place and a great chance for him to build a little confidence for the future.

A few more links:
  • We're back to blaming the offense at Virginia Tech after the Hokies lost to ECU and dropped out of the polls, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch. To be fair, though, the defense has allowed 11 pass plays of 25-plus yards in three games, the most of any Power 5 team. It allowed just 18 all of last year.
  • We’re three weeks into the season and we’ve already seen two starting QBs pulled when struggling, with Will Gardner the latest to ride the bench. The Louisville Courier-Journal wonders if Reggie Bonnafon should be the starter for the Cardinals.
  • Saturday’s thrashing of Kansas was a good reminder that Duke has a lot more weapons on offense than Jamison Crowder, writes the Raleigh News & Observer. Crowder had just two catches for 14 yards against the Jayhawks, his lowest production since a 2/10 performance in a loss to Georgia Tech in 2012.
  • BC Interruption relives the many things for the Eagles to be excited about after Saturday’s upset of USC.
  • For NC State, there were a lot of numbers from Saturday’s thumping of USF that could be followed with the phrase “first time since” and a date from at least two years ago. Backing the Pack looks at a few, including a stretch for the Wolfpack defense that was particularly encouraging.
  • With Terrel Hunt getting his first extended action of the season, we finally got a look at the up-tempo Orange offense, and the numbers show Syracuse looked comfortable working quickly, writes The Post-Standard.
  • The schedule makes it tough to get too excited at Virginia, with the Hoos set to face down another big challenge in Week 4, writes The Roanoke Times.
  • Georgia Tech’s collapse against Georgia Southern probably speaks less to the team’s talent than its focus, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • Life’s not easy at Wake Forest right now, and a short turnaround before Army comes to town won’t help, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

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.

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