ACC: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Notre Dame and the ACC announced their playing dates Tuesday through 2025, which rounds out the average of five league opponents a year for the Irish for 12 years.

"The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a release. "Notre Dame not only adds to our league's already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there's no question that this partnership is significant."

Dates were finalized through 2019, with opponents and sites set up for the six years after that. The full 2015 and 2016 schedules had already been announced last December, when this season's schedule -- the first of the ACC football agreement for Notre Dame -- was released.

"Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a release. "Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.

"On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once."

Some notes on the Irish's future schedules:
  • Notre Dame will get its shot at redemption against Florida State in four years, when the Seminoles visit South Bend on Nov. 10, 2018 -- three days shy of the 25th anniversary of the 1993 "Game of the Century" between these two. The Irish will return to Tallahassee on Sept. 6, 2021, Labor Day, before the Noles go back to Notre Dame Stadium sometime in 2024.
  • That holiday date at FSU is actually the second of two Labor Day road games for the Irish, who travel to Louisville on Sept. 2 (Labor Day) in 2019. As of now, it does not look like Notre Dame will play any Thursday night games.
  • That 2019 opener at Louisville is the first of a strenuous slate of road games for the Irish in 2019: They also go to Georgia (Sept. 21), Georgia Tech (Oct. 19) and Duke (Nov. 9). They are also expected to travel to Stanford that year, since it is an odd-number year, though no official date has been set. You can bet the Irish staff will point out this year to Peach State recruits, who will get a pair of trips back to their home state in a span of a month.
  • Notre Dame gets six ACC games in 2019 and 2023, while playing just four in 2022 and 2024. The Irish, of course, have just four ACC games this year, but will play six next season.
  • Notre Dame will play seven of the ACC's 14 teams in consecutive years: Miami in 2016 and 2017 and 2024 and 2025; NC State in 2016 and 2017; Wake Forest in 2017 and 2018; Virginia Tech in 2018 and 2019; Duke in 2019 and 2020; UNC in 2021 and 2022; Clemson in 2022 and 2023.
  • There remains no clarity on Notre Dame's Shamrock Series game -- in which it moves a home game off-site to a metropolitan area -- beyond 2016, when it faces Army in San Antonio. Next year's game against BC is at Fenway Park.
  • Not pictured in the graphic (and not-ACC related): As of this past summer, Notre Dame and Michigan State had a verbal agreement for two games in the 2020s, though they have said they may look at a single neutral-site contest.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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ACC viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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Pittsburgh snapped a three-game skid Thursday by beating Virginia Tech. Here's the rest of the ACC action for Week 8.

Noon

Syracuse at Wake Forest, ESPN, #CUSEvsWAKE: AJ Long gets the start for Syracuse after Terrel Hunt and Austin Wilson both went down. The true freshman saw extended action last week against defending national champion Florida State, and he now faces a stingy Wake Forest defense that is coming off a bye. The Demon Deacons also start a true freshman under center, though John Wolford has been the guy for Wake since Day 1. Expect defense to rule the day in this contest.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia at Duke, ESPN3, #UVAvsDUKE: It is the current Coastal Division leaders against the reigning division champions. What gives? The Cavaliers are coming off a bye after looking impressive in wins over Pitt and, earlier this season, Louisville. Can the Hoos' defense deliver once again? The Blue Devils did hand Georgia Tech its first loss of the season last week, but their offense needs to play within themselves.

3:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsWill Gardner is expected to get the nod at quarterback for Louisville, which hosts NC State on Saturday.
NC State at Louisville, ESPN3, #NCSUvsLOU: It's 11 straight ACC losses for the Wolfpack, who are still seeking that first league win under Dave Doeren. A team that looked so good so early this season has struggled immensely on the offensive side of the ball in the past two weeks against Clemson and Boston College. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are looking to erase the sour taste from their mouths after last week's heartbreaker against the Tigers. They will turn back to Will Gardner under center to try to get them back on track. Receiver DeVante Parker, who has yet to play this season, is questionable.

No. 24 Clemson at Boston College, ESPNU, #CLEMvsBC: Alumni Stadium holds a special place in Dabo Swinney's heart, as it was the site of his first career win as Clemson's head coach. The Eagles nearly shocked the Tigers last year back in Death Valley, and they did manage to knock off USC earlier this season, so they cannot be taken lightly. BC's run game has been simply astounding at times, with the Eagles outrushing their opposition 1,513-134 in their four wins. Clemson turns back to Cole Stoudt this week at quarterback after Deshaun Watson suffered a broken finger last week.

7 p.m.

Georgia Tech at North Carolina, ESPNU, #GTvsUNC: The Yellow Jackets lost their first game of the season last week, a delay-filled affair against Duke. But that option attack might still be tough to defend for a UNC defense that cannot seem to get out of its own way. Marquise Williams played a terrific game last week at Notre Dame, giving the Tar Heels a tremendous chance to win. But surrendering 50 points for the third time this season did the Heels no good, and, unless that changes, questions will remain about this team.

8 p.m.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State, ABC, #NDvsFSU: Everett Golson is 16-1 as a starter. Jameis Winston is 19-0. "College GameDay" is on hand for this game with huge College Football Playoff implications. Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher are both in their fifth season with the Fighting Irish and Seminoles, respectively, and [at least] one might have the chance to be in the national title mix for the second time in three seasons. Notre Dame lost in the title game in 2012; FSU won it all in 2013. Chaos has subsided with the Irish, who finally know the fate of the five players who were suspended back in August as part of an internal academic probe. FSU, meanwhile, has dealt with the circus that is Winston seemingly all season long, with the heat amped up this week amid news of a potential disciplinary hearing and an autograph controversy.

ACC Week 8 predictions

October, 16, 2014
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Adelson: Pitt has not done much of anything right during its three-game losing streak, but the Panthers are facing an opponent that has some issues of its own headed into this game. Virginia Tech is banged up at running back and will rely on J.C. Coleman and Joel Caleb to carry the load. So essentially, the Hokies are down to their fourth and fifth options. That bodes well for the Pitt defense, which has had issues stopping the run. Without an effective run game, Virginia Tech will have a tough time offensively. While the Hokies have a formidable defensive front, James Conner and Tyler Boyd will make enough plays to scramble up the Coastal again. Plus, Virginia Tech is 0-3 at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh 24, Virginia Tech 23

Hale: The story for the Hokies remains the same every week: Don't screw it up. The Virginia Tech defense has been prone to big plays, but during its three-game losing streak Pitt has had just 12 plays of 20 yards or more (85th nationally during that span). Virginia Tech's offense hasn't been terrific, but it's been effective when avoiding turnovers. Among ACC teams, only Boston College has created fewer takeaways than Pitt. In other words, it's a good matchup for Virginia Tech to avoid disaster, and with a bye week to iron out a few kinks the Hokies should be at their best. The wild card, however, could be the ground games. Tech is down two of its top three runners, while Pitt features the ACC's rushing leader in Conner. He'd been struggling of late after a heavy early workload, but last week's bye came at the right time. Still, Virginia Tech has allowed just 412 yards to opposing running backs this season, the sixth-lowest total in the nation. Virginia Tech 27, Pittsburgh 24

Adelson: In a battle between two true freshman quarterbacks and uninspiring offenses, I am going with the defense that has made more plays over the course of the season. The nod goes to Wake Forest by a hair. The Deacs have played well enough defensively to stay in every game but the Florida State contest this season, and they will play well enough at home against Syracuse to score the game-winning points. Wake Forest 13, Syracuse 10

Fortuna: It's AJ Long time for Syracuse, and the freshman will feel all the more comfortable in Winston-Salem after debuting last week against the defending national champions. The Orange's stout front should be able to have its way against Wake Forest's offensive line, as the Deacs have surrendered 24 sacks this season. Wake's defense will give the home team a chance, but it will likely need more than that to get an ACC win. Syracuse 23, Wake Forest 10

Hale: Here's how the season has gone in the Coastal: A favorite emerges, then loses, then is brushed aside by the prognosticators in favor of another trendy team that's bound to lose, too. Last week, it was the Yellow Jackets that were the Coastal darlings, and they fell to Duke, a team that had been swept aside after its own dismal game against Miami. The struggles against Duke were largely Georgia Tech's own doing. For just the second time all season, the Yellow Jackets coughed up the football multiple times, and it cost them. If they can avoid those mistakes against North Carolina and keep their offense on the field, they should have a distinct advantage. The Tar Heels are young along the defensive line and lack significant depth. Tech can run the option, control time of possession to keep UNC's explosive offense off the field, then wear down the Heels' defense in the second half. As Duke showed last week, one loss in the Coastal hardly means a team is done. Georgia Tech 42, North Carolina 38

Shanker: Although the offense received a lot of help from Notre Dame last week, the Tar Heels showed some fight and nearly pulled off the upset. That has to count for something, right? Plus, Georgia Tech is coming off a loss to Duke that would have given the Yellow Jackets a vice grip on the ACC Coastal with a game against Virginia looking like the last tough intra-division game. Let's be honest, I'm grasping at straws. But for some reason I see the Heels winning. North Carolina 38, Georgia Tech 24

Shanker: It's easy to see the circus once again around Florida State and expect the Seminoles to come out flat or distracted, but that's never been the case the past year. The more scrutiny on Jameis Winston, the better he usually performs. I do think it will take its toll a little bit this time, but it's not entirely the reason Florida State edges out a close win. Notre Dame is better than people give it credit for, and if Everett Golson limits turnovers, the Irish are a much harder team to beat. Winston has turned the ball over at critical times, too, and if that continues against Notre Dame, it could end up haunting the Seminoles this time. As we've seen through the first six games, though, the Seminoles know how to win and once again they'll find a way Saturday. Florida State 38, Notre Dame 35

Fortuna: Assuming Winston plays, FSU's offense is simply, as Brian Kelly said last week, another animal compared to what Notre Dame has faced so far. Rashad Greene won bowl MVP honors against the Irish as a freshman three years ago, and the Noles' record-holder should have another big day against a secondary down one more body in fifth-year senior and captain Austin Collinsworth. Golson, provided he avoids the turnover bug of recent weeks, will keep the Irish in the game, but FSU has more offensive firepower, giving the home team the edge in this shootout. Florida State 44, Notre Dame 30

Other unanimous picks

Virginia at Duke: The key for Virginia is at the line of scrimmage. After a slow start to the season, the Hoos have averaged 224 yards per game on the ground in their past three. They'll need to be able to run the ball to beat Duke -- something Georgia Tech struggled with a week ago. More importantly, however, Virginia's ferocious defensive front needs to attack the Blue Devils' offensive line. Slow down Duke's ground game and rattle Anthony Boone into some mistakes and, for one week at least, the new trendy pick for the Coastal can survive. Virginia 24, Duke 17

Clemson at Boston College: Tyler Murphy has been exceptional running BC's option attack this season, but he's yet to face a front as good as Clemson's. After their opening-week struggles against Todd Gurley and Georgia, the Tigers have allowed just one running play of 20 yards or more (a garbage time 40-yard run by South Carolina State) and have surrendered just 275 yards total on the ground, the fewest in the nation. Clemson 24, Boston College 10

NC State at Louisville: It's hard not to feel a little bad for the Wolfpack. This game ends a four-week stretch in which they got Florida State (with Winston fresh off a suspension), Clemson (with a healthy and poised Deshaun Watson) and Boston College (coming off a bye week). Now, the scuffling State offense runs into the buzz saw that is Louisville's top-ranked D. Oh, and the Cardinals are poised to get star receiver DeVante Parker back from injury this week, too. The Wolfpack will end their ACC losing streak soon, but not this week. Louisville 20, NC State 10

Current standings
Shanker: 44-7
Adelson: 41-10
Fortuna: 41-10
Hale: 41-10

ACC Show: Week 8 (2 ET)

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
10:00
AM ET
ESPN.com ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna, David Hale and Jared shanker meet up to discuss this week's battle of Top 25 unbeatens -- Notre Dame vs. Syracuse -- and answer your questions live on screen.

ACC Upset Watch: Week 8

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
3:00
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We are only keeping one team off Upset Watch this week. Which means there might be a better than 50 percent chance the #ACCBlackCat will strike Louisville. As for the other six games ...

Thursday night

Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-1) at Pitt (3-3, 1-1), 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. Line: Virginia Tech by 1. The Panthers have lost three straight and have called this a "must win" given the division stakes on the line. While on paper the matchups seem to favor Virginia Tech, the Hokies have not yet faced a runner like James Conner, whose size and athleticism makes him difficult to bring down. Plus, Virginia Tech is banged up at running back. The Hokies may end up starting J.C. Coleman, who began the year No. 4 on the depth chart. Will they still be able to run on a porous Pitt defense without their best backs? Note: Pitt has won the last three games between the teams in Pittsburgh.

Saturday

Syracuse (2-4, 0-2) at Wake Forest (2-4, 0-2), noon ET, ESPN3. Line: Syracuse by 4.5. The Orange are one of the most banged-up teams in the ACC and are now dealing with another injury to quarterback Austin Wilson, who is day-to-day. A.J. Long will get the majority of the reps with the first team. Injuries and offensive upheaval never bode well, especially on the road against a defense that has held its own in nearly every game this season.

Virginia (4-2, 2-0) at Duke (5-1, 1-1), 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3. Line: Duke by 2.5. Virginia is all alone atop the Coastal Division but is the underdog. That is Coastal life for you. Duke has won five of the last six matchups and is coming in with some confidence after a huge road win at Georgia Tech. But let's not forget why Virginia is playing well this season. Its defense is among the best in the ACC and will give the Hoos a chance to pick up the win here.

No. 24 Clemson (4-2, 3-1) at Boston College (4-2, 1-1), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU. Line: Clemson by 6.5. The Eagles are not a pushover, having upset USC earlier this season. Even last year, BC nearly upset Clemson in Death Valley thanks to its power run game. Well the power run game is back, albeit with different runners, and that could present a challenge once again. Plus, Clemson will start Cole Stoudt, who has struggled in his time as quarterback. The Tigers scored no offensive touchdowns a week ago and have not had much of an identity when Deshaun Watson is out of the mix.

Georgia Tech (5-1, 2-1) at North Carolina (2-4, 0-2), 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU. Line: Georgia Tech by 2.5. Given the matchup, Georgia Tech should be able to run all day on North Carolina. But if last week is any indication, the Tar Heels might be finding a rhythm on offense. Marquise Williams nearly single-handedly upset Notre Dame on the road. There will be opportunities to make some big plays on the inconsistent Georgia Tech defense. This could become a shootout, and if that happens it could be anyone's game to win.

No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0) at No. 2 Florida State (6-0), 8 p.m. ET, ABC. Line: FSU by 12. Florida State has not blown out its elite competition to date, but Notre Dame comes into the game after a shaky performance against North Carolina so the double-digit line is somewhat understandable. Still, the Noles have yet to dominate a complete game from start to finish. If Everett Golson can hold on to the ball -- he has nine turnovers in the last three games -- he will give the Irish a chance to pull the big road upset.

ACC midseason overview

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
10:30
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It's the midpoint for the ACC, and in a lot of ways, things aren't too much different from a year ago.

Florida State is the league's lone hope for the playoff, and while the Seminoles are riding high at 6-0, plenty of questions remain both on and off the field, starting with this week's showdown against No. 5 Notre Dame.

In the Coastal, things are as wild as ever. Virginia leads the way, but each time a new favorite has emerged, it has faltered a week later.

There have been some big wins -- Virginia Tech over Ohio State, Boston College over USC -- and some major disappointments (we're looking at you, Pitt and North Carolina). Established stars like Duke Johnson and Jameis Winston have looked good, if not Heisman quality, while new arrivals like Jacoby Brissett and Deshaun Watson have turned in some of the season's finest performances.

But if there's much to be said about the ACC's first half in 2014, it's that it will serve as a worthy prologue for most teams only if the latter half of the season develops as planned. So much of what we thought we knew went out the window quickly, and so much of the story of the season is yet to be written. Florida State's playoff hopes remain, but so, too, do some significant hurdles. Clemson's season unraveled with September losses to two top-10 teams, but perhaps Watson can lead the Tigers to a long-awaited win over South Carolina at year's end. Virginia Tech has been up and down, but Frank Beamer has so much young talent developing that the Hokies can be excited about the future. Mike London has gone from the hot seat to potential division favorite if his team can hang on to its early momentum.

In other words, the silver linings haven't always been easy to find this season in the ACC, but, as so often seems to be the case in this league, there's hope that the rest of this year's storylines will be better.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Rob Kinnan/USA Today SportsRashad Greene has amassed almost 700 receiving yards halfway through the season.
Offensive MVP: Florida State receiver Rashad Greene. It's been a rockier start to the season than the defending champions might've hoped, but the one consistent piece throughout the first six games of the year has been Greene. He has 130 more receiving yards than anyone else in the conference. He set the school record for receptions against Syracuse, bringing his career total to 215. He's topped 100 yards in four of his five games against FBS foes despite being the only consistent threat in the Seminoles' passing game. And most importantly, his performances against Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State were the biggest difference between an FSU team that's scuffling at 3-3 or headed toward the playoff at 6-0.

Defensive MVP: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman. There are plenty of quality candidates for the honor, many of them on Holliman's own defense, but he gets the nod based on the sheer ridiculousness of his seven picks through seven games. A year ago, only one player in the nation had more than seven interceptions for the entire season, but Holliman has continued to rack up the takeaways as his defensive front punishes opposing quarterbacks. Overall, Louisville's defense has been on the field for 93 drives against FBS foes. Fifteen resulted in points. Sixteen resulted in turnovers, including seven that ended up in the hands of Louisville's sophomore safety.

Biggest surprise: Virginia's strong start. When the preseason prognosticators got together, the only Coastal Division team that didn't earn a first-place vote was Virginia. Midway through the season, however, it's the Cavaliers atop the Coastal. Chalk it up to a terrific defense, led by Henry Coley (6 sacks), Eli Harold (5.5 sacks) and freshman Quin Blanding (ACC-leading 61 tackles). Meanwhile, London's crew has navigated a quarterback carousel to find an offense that's developing each week. A team that was once the consensus cellar dweller is the lone Coastal player without a loss in conference play.

Biggest disappointment: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 2-4, but they've trailed in every game they've played this season. They were torched by ECU in one of the most atrocious defensive performances in recent memory, then were lit up for six touchdown passes by a true freshman making his first career start a week later. A game performance against Notre Dame last week at least offers some optimism that a turnaround similar to 2013 is possible, but it's been another rough start for UNC.

Newcomer of the year: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. The freshman opened the season as Cole Stoudt's backup but won the starting job after a stellar performance against Florida State. He looked poised and precise and ran Chad Morris' offense with ease through the next few games, leading the nation in QBR in the process. But a broken finger suffered against Louisville has doomed Watson to the sidelines for at least the next three to four weeks, meaning a few other newcomers -- Blanding, Miami's Brad Kaaya, Virginia Tech's Isaiah Ford and NC State's Jacoby Brissett (a transfer) -- still have a chance to take this award by year's end.

Best coach: FSU's Jimbo Fisher. He probably doesn't get the credit he deserves because he clearly has the league's most talented team, but through all the trials and tribulations of the past year, Fisher has directed the Seminoles to 22 straight wins. He's kept an even keel for a team replacing a host of departed NFL talent, he's overseen a win against Clemson with his backup quarterback, and he's kept the wolves at bay despite nearly constant controversy.

Best game: Florida State 23, Clemson 17. Winston was suspended, and that would've been enough drama on its own to make this the game of the year so far. But there was so much more. Watson's emergence in a hostile environment was exciting. The resilience of Sean Maguire, Winston's backup, in spite of early struggles was impressive. His touchdown pass to Greene to tie the game late was dramatic. Eddie Goldman's forced fumble to keep Clemson out of the end zone in the final minutes was miraculous. And, of course, Florida State's win in overtime kept the ACC alive for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Best games of the second half: Notre Dame at Florida State this week will be the pinnacle of the ACC's remaining slate, and it likely defines the season for both top-five teams. But beyond that matchup, a few more intriguing battles remain, including the Seminoles' trip to Louisville (Oct. 30), Duke and Virginia Tech in a potential division-defining battle on Nov. 15, and, of course, the annual state championship between Clemson and South Carolina to close out the regular season.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
Oct 12
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ACC Week 7 predictions

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9
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Adelson: Will the real NC State please stand up? The Wolfpack looked so good early on against Florida State in a close loss, then so bad in a blowout to Clemson. Which version will show up against BC? Jacoby Brissett should be in line to have another good day against a BC defense that has been inconsistent all season. Brissett struggled against Clemson, in part, because the Tigers' front seven controlled the game. BC is not as strong up front, so that should allow NC State opportunities to make some plays both running and passing. This is as close to a must-win for Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren, still looking for his first career ACC victory. NC State 28, Boston College 24

Hale: If NC State turned heads with an impressive offensive showing against Florida State, the Wolfpack quickly erased much of that goodwill by getting shut out last week against Clemson. The common denominator in both games? That’d be the dismal defense that’s allowed 97 points in its past two games. Boston College is sixth in the nation in rushing, and NC State is 119th in yards allowed after contact on running plays. Only two Power 5 teams have more runs of 20-plus yards this year than the Eagles. NC State has allowed 31 plays of 20-plus yards, 107th nationally. But perhaps more than anything, it’s fair to wonder where the Wolfpack’s morale is at the moment. For all their progress, they’ve still lost 10 straight ACC games, and the past two defeats both stung. Boston College has the battle-tested ground game, the better defense and little in the way of expectations. Eagles head coach Steve Addazio’s teams have thrived under those conditions. Boston College 24, NC State 20.

Fortuna: If Louisville gets DeVante Parker back, the Cardinals will receive a huge offensive boost. And, frankly, they need it, as the unit has not looked all that great so far, ranking 13th in the ACC in yards per game. This matchup is also a nightmare for the Cards' offensive line, which has surrendered 19 sacks through six games and is walking into Death Valley to face arguably the best front seven in the league. Louisville's really, really good defense (first in the ACC in most major categories) will have to create some scoring opportunities for its offense. And while Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's unit is certainly capable of slowing down the sensation that is Deshaun Watson (and his talented group of pass-catchers), the mismatch on the other side of the ball will be just too much for Louisville to overcome. Clemson 28, Louisville 14

Shanker: There were a lot of questions surrounding Georgia Tech after the Yellow Jackets were nearly tripped up during their nonconference schedule several times, but they played the best game all season against Miami. The Duke offense was uninspiring against that same Miami defense two weeks ago, and if the Blue Devils can't move the football, Georgia Tech will control the clock and the game. The Yellow Jackets need to keep the Duke offense off the field, too, because the defense is still gaining its collective footing. Georgia Tech 17, Duke 14

Other unanimous picks:

Cincinnati at Miami: The Bearcats have struggled defensively in their past two contests, giving up 45.5 points per game. With quarterback Gunner Kiel likely out, Cincinnati's offense will have trouble keeping up with Miami's. Miami 35, Cincinnati 17

FSU at Syracuse: The Seminoles are likely without Sean Maguire, Karlos Williams and possibly even Rashad Greene. The Orange are without Terrel Hunt and have demoted their offensive coordinator. Something tells us the Noles can withstand their personnel hits better than the Orange can. FSU 38, Syracuse 14

North Carolina at Notre Dame: The Irish, like the Noles, could be caught looking ahead to next week's showdown. Still, Everett Golson will have his way with this Tar Heels defense, which has surrendered 51.3 points over its past three games. Notre Dame 42, UNC 24

Current Standings
Shanker: 39-6
Adelson: 37-8
Fortuna: 37-8
Hale: 36-9
It happened in the second half of last week’s win over Syracuse. It was nothing special, Louisville quarterback Reggie Bonnafon said, but he took notice. He’s thrown just 74 passes in his career, so each one is something of a new experience, but as the game wore on last week in the Carrier Dome, things finally felt a little more familiar.

“It’s still fast, but I can tell there are situations where I can see the game slowing down, where I’m processing things a little bit quicker,” Bonnafon said.

Bonnafon has now started two straight games for the Cardinals — both wins — and could be guiding the offense once again Saturday as Louisville heads to Death Valley to take on Clemson.

The Tigers, meanwhile, have their own true freshman leading the way at quarterback. Deshaun Watson has also started the last two games for Clemson — both wins — and is garnering national acclaim for his fast start.

[+] EnlargeReggie Bonnafon
Jim Owens/Icon SportswireLouisville quarterback Reggie Bonnafon says the game is starting to slow down for him.
It’s a rarity, of course, that two true freshmen would go head-to-head as starting QBs, but in the ACC this season, it’s something of a routine occurrence.

At Wake Forest, John Wolford has gotten a rough introduction to life as a college quarterback, taking 24 sacks in his first six games — most among Power 5 conference QBs.

At Miami, Brad Kaaya has endured something of an up-and-down start to his career, but he’s connected on enough big plays already that Hurricanes fans are eager to see what the future holds for their true freshman.

Overall, of the 106 quarterbacks to have attempted 100 passes so far this year, just four are true freshmen, and three of them — Watson, Kaaya and Wolford — reside in the ACC.

So, how are they acclimating to such big jobs?

As Bonnafon can attest, it’s usually a mixed bag with a few small steps forward to provide encouragement.

For Wolford, his youth is hardly an exception on Wake’s offense. Freshmen are playing big roles in many key areas, and that’s meant some tough games for the young QB. When he’s gotten protection, coach Dave Clawson said, Wolford has been good. When he hasn’t, he’s been — well, a freshman.

“He’s continuing to compete, and in the games that we’ve matched up up front, look at his numbers,” Clawson said. “He’s been incredibly accurate. The Gardner-Webb and Army numbers, that accuracy would be hard to do in practice without a pass rush. … Those other three games that we got overwhelmed up front, he’s not going to be as good. No quarterback in the country is.”

Well, maybe one.

Watson has been a revelation at Clemson. He didn’t win the job to open the year, but fans began clamoring for him after his first career drive ended with a gorgeous touchdown throw against Georgia. Three weeks later, he came on in relief of Cole Stoudt against No. 1 Florida State and looked poised and precise. He was tabbed as the starter the following game and made as grand a debut as any freshman could, tossing six touchdowns against North Carolina. Through six weeks, Watson leads the nation averaging 11.1 yards per attempt and posting a gaudy 91.6 Total QBR.

Louisville’s top-ranked defense figures to be Watson’s biggest test to date Saturday, but the early results suggest the freshman isn’t likely to be flustered.

“He’s way mature beyond his years,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s just his DNA, who he is. He’s mature.”

Kaaya’s shown maturity, too, but like most freshmen, he’s made some mistakes. Those mistakes have cost Miami handsomely at times.

Coach Al Golden said he’s been encouraged by Kaaya’s improved distribution of the football and the confidence and poise his displayed each time out. His 13 touchdown throws also leads the ACC.

The problem, of course, is that Kaaya also has nine interceptions to go with those 13 TDs, and those turnovers have been a huge problem for 3-3 Miami.

“He's our starter, so we don't really think of him as a freshman,” Golden said, “but it’s going to be important for him to protect the ball.”

That’s a tough lesson for a true freshman, but in a trial by fire, tough lessons are expected.

So as the foursome of freshmen look ahead to the second half of the season, the goal is for more of those small moments like Bonnafon had at Syracuse, where things slow down just a bit and the job seems a little simpler.

And eventually, it’ll all seem like old hat. It just takes some time.

“I’m just working on being more consistent,” Bonnafon said. “It’s all about reps and being consistent.”

Help is on the way: ACC 

October, 8, 2014
Oct 8
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Each year on the recruiting trail, schools are met with needs that need to be addressed to shore up depth issues both immediately and down the line. With four months until national signing day for the class of 2015, many teams have addressed and met needs.

Progress comes in small doses for Wake Forest

October, 6, 2014
Oct 6
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Perspective is everything this season at Wake Forest. Dave Clawson knew that when he took the job, and six rocky weeks to start his first season as the Demon Deacons' head coach hasn’t rattled his optimism about the future.

Still, there is the reality of today, too, and as Wake begins its bye week with a 2-4 record and one of the worst offenses in the nation, Clawson looks for progress wherever he can find it.

"Some of our improvement is not going to be visible," Clawson said. "I get excited when we have a good practice. I really do."

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsWake Forest coach Dave Clawson is excited about the way his young players are competing.
Here is where things stand for Wake Forest six games into the 2014 campaign: The Deacons have won two games, but aren’t likely to be favored to win another the rest of the way. The offense has failed to eclipse 130 yards in three of its six games. In the past decade, only one other team has done that in an entire season. Wake ranks last in the nation in rushing -- and no other team is particularly close. True freshman quarterback John Wolford is tied for the most interceptions in the country (11) and has been sacked more than any other Power 5-conference quarterback (24). The Deacons’ leading rusher ranks 44th in the ACC, leading receiver ranks 15th and among quarterbacks with at least 40 passes, Wolford ranks 18th in yards-per-attempt in a league with just 14 teams.

Yet, when Clawson turns on the film -- even after a 43-3 loss to No. 1 Florida State -- he’s not angry. If the tape doesn’t show an offense ready to compete in the ACC, it at least shows players who are competing until the clock hits zeroes.

"I haven’t yet put on the film questioning how much these guys care or the effort they’re giving," Clawson said. "They’re playing hard for us."

The easiest silver lining to find at Wake is the future. Wolford, tailback Isaiah Robinson and tight end Cam Serigne are just a few of the freshmen getting ample playing time, and -- assuming they can look past the final results -- valuable experience. So much opportunity for young players has Wake Forest making inroads on the recruiting trail, too, with some outlets ranking the Deacons’ 2015 class in the top 30 nationally. That would be a high-water mark in the program’s recent history.

But looking ahead is also the danger for Wake Forest this season. Clawson knew it would be a bumpy ride in 2014, but despite the dearth of veterans on offense, there were too many players in the program who had paid their dues to give the entire team a figurative redshirt year. That is a big reason why Wolford is out there each Saturday, taking his lumps behind a porous offensive line. It is why he’s continued throwing the football in a one-dimensional attack late in games when Wake still had hopes of pulling out a victory.

"If all you care about is ’17, ’18, ’19, you redshirt John," Clawson said. "But we felt he gave us the best chance to win."

Wake has certainly had chances to win. The Deacons were within a touchdown in the fourth quarter in each of their first five games, and though Florida State poured on the points late, Wake trailed by just 7 at the half on the road against the nation’s top-ranked team.

Credit the defense for so much of the success. ESPN ranks Wake’s defense as the No. 10 unit in the nation in win-probability-added, and 79 of the 144 points the Deacons have allowed came off turnovers by the struggling offense.

The defense is a sign that success can be built at Wake Forest. Unlike the offense, Wake’s defense has experienced veterans across the depth chart, and it has shown. Building to that same level of depth and experience on offense, however, means taking some lumps in the short-term.

"That is not a quick process when you have to rebuild an offensive line, and that right now is probably the biggest challenge we have, to get that group back to a level that you can execute an offense," Clawson said. "You’re not even sure where you are in some of the other places because of where we are up front."

But Clawson keeps putting on the tape and surveying the damage, seeing a line that continues to fight, a quarterback that has found success when he has gotten any type of protection, and freshmen taking small steps toward a brighter future.

Perspective is going to mean a lot as the schedule gets even tougher for Wake Forest, but that tape hasn’t been nearly as tough to watch as those final scores might suggest.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 5, 2014
Oct 5
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Thoughts from Florida State's 43-3 victory over visiting Wake Forest:

How the game was won: Wake Forest provides little offensive threat, and the Florida State defense dominated the Demon Deacons all afternoon. While the game was hardly in doubt once Florida State took the lead in the second quarter, cornerback P.J. Williams sealed the win with a third-quarter interception that set up an easy FSU touchdown to build a 23-3 lead.

Game ball goes to: For a second straight game, freshman defensive end Lorenzo Featherston deserves the game ball. He wreaked havoc in the second half against NC State last week and was disruptive early against Wake Forest. On the first two drives alone, Featherston recorded four tackles -- two for loss -- and a fumble recovery.

What it means: The Seminoles remain undefeated, but they didn’t give much reason for AP voters to keep them at the top of the rankings. The coaches already dropped Florida State last weekend. The offense needs to get back in sync next weekend against Syracuse so that it’s running on full cylinders for the Oct. 18 showdown with a stiff Notre Dame defense.

Playoff implication: As long as Florida State remains undefeated, it is squarely in the playoff picture. Just win, baby.

Best play: With the score 16-3 in the third quarter, Williams intercepts a John Wolford pass and returns it to the Wake Forest 9.

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What's next: The Seminoles will travel to Syracuse, which was abysmal Friday night against Louisville. Florida State needs to use it as a tuneup game before the Irish come to Tallahassee.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 6

October, 4, 2014
Oct 4
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Conference play all around! Let's take a quick look at what's on the docket.

Virginia Tech (3-2, 0-1) at North Carolina (2-2, 0-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Virginia Tech by 3. #VTvsUNC. The biggest storyline discussed in the run-up to this game focused on the propensity for both secondaries to give up big plays. But keep an eye on the Virginia Tech run game. Unlike East Carolina and Clemson, Virginia Tech will work hard to try to establish the run. But how will the overall unit look with Shai McKenzie out for the season? Coach Frank Beamer said the staff has not come up with a set rotation yet, but somebody else will have to step up to complement leading rusher Marshawn Williams.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
John David Mercer/USA TODAY SportsDeshaun Watson leads the nation in yards per attempt.
NC State (4-1, 0-1) at Clemson (2-2, 1-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Line: Clemson by 15. #NCSTvsCLEM. Quarterbacks take center stage in this meeting as NC State's Jacoby Brissett and Clemson's Deshaun Watson have emerged as two of the best signal-callers in the league. Brissett has thrown 13 touchdown passes to one interception; Watson has thrown 10 touchdown passes to one interception. Watson leads the nation in yards per pass attempt (11.9) and is second in the nation in pass efficiency; Brissett has thrown 156 passes without an interception. Both teams appear to be in good hands at the position for the foreseeable future.

Wake Forest (2-3, 0-1) at No. 1 Florida State (4-0, 2-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC. Line: Florida State by 38. #WAKEvsFSU. Will this be the first FBS game all season in which Florida State coasts? The Noles have needed comebacks to win their past two games, but Wake Forest should not present an upset threat. However, Wake Forest has been impressive on defense -- especially Tylor Harris, whose three fumble recoveries last week against Louisville are the most for any player in one game since the NCAA started keeping stats at the turn of the century. Where the Deacs will be totally overwhelmed is on offense. John Wolford already has 10 interceptions, and Wake has given up 25 sacks.

Miami (3-2, 1-1) at Georgia Tech (4-0, 1-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN2. Line: Georgia Tech by 2. #MIAvsGT. This is a big-time prove-it game for the Jackets, who had a bye to prepare for the Hurricanes after beating Virginia Tech a few weeks ago. Georgia Tech has not dominated anybody but has found ways to win. However, Duke Johnson may be too much for this Jackets defense to handle. Last year, Johnson had 184 yards against Georgia Tech. The Jackets rank last in the ACC in rush defense. Miami has handled the triple option well in five straight wins, but its defense can't simply rest on its performance against Duke last week. Miami also has to prove it can be consistent on that side of the ball.

Pitt (3-2, 1-0) at Virginia (3-2, 1-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Virginia by 6. #PITTvsUVA. Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert will be a game-time decision, though he is listed as questionable on the team's injury report. No matter who plays quarterback, the focus will be on the Virginia run defense against James Conner, who failed to reach 100 yards for the first time all season last week against Akron. The Hoos provide a bigger test, ranking No. 10 nationally against the run. If Virginia wins, the Hoos would be 2-0 in ACC play for the first time since 2009.

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