Florida State Seminoles: Atlantic Division

We have come to Week 4 in our Ultimate ACC Road Trip, where each week we pretend we have all the power to decide where we're going to watch some football.

This is a no-brainer choice.

Week 4 schedule

Saturday, Sept. 20
  • Maine at Boston College
  • Tulane at Duke
  • Clemson at Florida State
  • Louisville at Florida International
  • Miami at Nebraska
  • North Carolina at East Carolina
  • Presbyterian at NC State
  • Iowa at Pitt
  • Maryland at Syracuse
  • Virginia at BYU
  • Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
  • Army at Wake Forest
Our pick: Clemson at Florida State

Why you should come along: Pretty simple, really. The winner of this game has gone on to play in five straight ACC championship games. Odds are this season will be no different, with Florida State and Clemson going into the season as the top teams in the Atlantic Division once again. Florida State has won two straight in the series and three of the last four and would seem to have the upper hand going into this one, with Jameis Winston and several playmakers back on both offense and defense. Clemson, meanwhile, has to replace its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a year ago.

But the Tigers have the potential to be extremely tough on defense, especially with their front seven. Last year, Clemson was completely outclassed in every phase of the game. The Tigers never really had a chance to be in the game, not with all the turnovers to start. And that was at home, with a veteran quarterback behind center. If the offense can hold on to the ball and make a few plays, the defense will be in much better position to affect the outcome of the game in Tallahassee.

There is little doubt Dabo Swinney has elevated the Clemson program. But Florida State, along with South Carolina, has become a must-win game. The coach has delivered two wins over Florida State since 2008 and one against South Carolina in the same time period, making him 3-9 against his team's two biggest rivals. Nobody wants to hear that this might be a rebuilding year for Clemson. When you put together three straight 10-win seasons, you don't rebuild. You reload. But are they reloaded enough to catch Florida State?

We find out in September.

Road trips

ACC mailblog

April, 11, 2014
Lots of mail this week. Thanks to everybody who wrote in. Now to some questions ...

theschnauzers writes: Re: the Miami offense with (Kevin) Olsen and Duke (Johnson). I wouldn't underestimate Kevin Olsen in this situation, which I think both you and Heather are doing in your recent articles and blog entries. There are those of us who felt that if all other things were equal it was likely Kevin might have been the starter before season's end; what is clear is that unlike Morris and Harris, Kevin does read the defense and the plays, and based on all reports about the two closed scrimmages, he has done as well as Ryan Williams did before the injury in the second scrimmage, and Golden has used the words "exceptional" and "excellent" to Kevin's performance in the second half of that scrimmage. Guess we'll know more after the "spring game" Saturday, but I am among those U alumni who have confidence Kevin will step up and get the job done.

Andrea Adelson: Here is my point of view on Olsen. He is a terrific talent, and we could very well be underestimating him. But during my visit down to Coral Gables three weeks ago, I was not given any indication that the competition between Olsen and Williams was particularly close. Williams was clearly going to start, and Olsen still had a lot of learning to do to even really push Williams. The fact there was no "real" competition before Williams got hurt speaks more to where Olsen stands, in my opinion. Yes, Miami started giving Olsen more reps with the first team and he handled them nicely. But there is no denying that Williams had an edge both in terms of maturity and game experience. That could be a factor for Miami this year.


Ted in Lexington, Ky., writes: I think Wake Forest pulled off a steal in getting Dave Clawson. He turned around three programs, but this year I am scared because (1) Wake is so young; (2) our nonconference schedule is rough, especially Sept. 13 at Utah State. They knocked off Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. If Wake Forest wins six, Dave Clawson should be the ACC Coach of the Year.

Adelson writes: I also like this hire. I think most impressive is the fact he won at smaller schools that have a similar type of profile as Wake Forest, the smallest school in the ACC. That should absolutely give Deacs fans hope for the future. But I agree 2014 might not be the year Wake goes back to a bowl game. Not only are the players young, they are learning entirely new schemes and have depth issues at several positions. Utah State will be a very tough game, but so will going on the road to play ULM, which beat the Deacs a year ago. If Clawson can scratch out six wins, he should be mentioned for national coach of the year given what he has to work with this year.


Kevin Portale in Louisville writes: I just read your article on the Cards. I really enjoyed it. It was short and to the point. Since Louisville is new to the ACC, how well do you think their chances are to be in the top three of the conference?

Adelson writes: Thanks, Kevin. At this point, I think there is a gap between Louisville and Florida State/Clemson but no real gap between the Cards and everybody else in the league. Despite the changes, this is a team that should still have an opportunity to win every game it plays. After talking to players, watching practice and spending time with the staff, I still think Louisville finishes third in the Atlantic. But given the difficulty of the schedule and some of the personnel losses the Cardinals have to overcome, I am not sure this team ends the season ranked in the Top 25.


Alex in Syracuse writes: Why do you think Pitt will be so good and expect nothing from Syracuse? If Aaron Donald doesn't block an extra point, if (Paul) Chryst doesn't barely get a timeout in, Syracuse would have had eight wins last year and Pitt does not even make a bowl game. Syracuse was a pretty good program only a little over a decade ago and then went through a down period. They're coming back up now, why doesn't anyone care or see this happening?

Adelson writes: I think you are making an assumption here that because I think Pitt has a chance to win the Coastal, I expect nothing out of Syracuse. One does not really correlate with the other. Pitt is in a much more winnable division and has an easier nonconference schedule than the Orange, which is why my expectations might be slightly higher. I thought Syracuse did a nice job toward the end of last season but it's hard to overlook how the Orange got blown out by the top two teams in the division. I do think they should be a bowl team this year given what they return on offense, but they are not quite ready to compete for a division title.


Tim in Christiansburg, Va., writes: re: ACC dream games. I understand all the love for FSU. I can see UT/Duke and the Petrino bowls. Clemson/Oregon would be exhausting to watch. But think outside the box a little. What sets college football apart is what happens off the field as much as on the field sometimes. The pageantry and hoopla that surrounds college football is what makes it so unique. That being said, what about VT/Texas A&M? These are the only two public schools with regular students that maintain on campus cadet corps that feed directly into the military. VT always marches out the cadets prior to the game for the national anthem. They are an important part of every home game, as they should be. Some military alum flies a billion dollar plane overhead. Skipper roars. Now multiply that by two. Plus the game would be pretty good, too. The first two were.

Adelson writes: Add it on the list!

ACC race update: Week 12

November, 13, 2013
The ACC’s Coastal Division race has never lacked drama in November, and yet somehow the result always seems to be the same: Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech are usually the last teams standing.

This year isn’t much different.

None of the four teams remaining with two losses –- Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke and Miami –- control their destinies. Each team needs somebody else to lose in order to get to Charlotte. One thing we do know: The Coastal Division winner will be playing Florida State, which has already locked up its spot in the ACC title game, but can win the Atlantic Division title outright with a win over Syracuse. A win by Florida State would give the program its eighth unbeaten ACC regular season since joining the league in 1992, but the first since 2000.

A win by Georgia Tech over Clemson on Thursday night would give the Jackets a 6-2 league record and no worse than a share of the Coastal Division title. Georgia Tech, which lost to both Miami and Virginia Tech, would need to avoid ties with both of those teams.

The only possible Coastal Division-clinching scenario this week would be if Georgia Tech beats Clemson AND Virginia Tech AND Miami both lose. That would send the Jackets to Charlotte.

Here’s exactly what your team needs to get to Charlotte:

What Duke needs: Win out and have somebody beat Georgia Tech

What Miami needs: Win out and have somebody beat Virginia Tech

What Georgia Tech needs: Beat Clemson and have Miami AND Virginia Tech lose

What Virginia Tech needs: Win out and have somebody beat Duke

The latter seems the most likely. At this point, we have the Hokies in Charlotte.

ACC race update: Week 11

November, 6, 2013
The race in the Atlantic is all but over. The Coastal is a different matter, as four teams remain in serious contention.

  • Florida State (8-0, 6-0) clinches a berth in the ACC championship game with a win against Wake Forest on Saturday. Wins against Wake Forest and Syracuse next week give the Seminoles the outright Atlantic Division title.
  • Clemson (8-1, 6-1) can make the ACC championship game with a win against Georgia Tech on Nov. 14 and Florida State losses its final two ACC games. OR Clemson can win the Atlantic with a loss to Georgia Tech should Syracuse win out and FSU drop its games against Wake Forest and Syracuse. Under this scenario, Clemson, Syracuse and FSU would end up in a three-way tie in the Atlantic, each 1-1 against the other two teams. The next tiebreaker is divisional record. Syracuse and Clemson would be 5-1 in the division (Syracuse lost to Clemson, Clemson lost to FSU) while the Seminoles would be 4-2 (losses to Wake and Syracuse). This would then revert to the two-team procedure, in which Clemson beat the Orange head-to-head.
  • Miami (7-1, 3-1) remains in control of the race to the ACC championship. If the Hurricanes win all four of their remaining games -- Virginia Tech, at Duke, Virginia at Pittsburgh -- they are in. The Canes' next two games, against Virginia Tech and Duke, could potentially serve as Coastal Division elimination games.
  • Virginia Tech (6-3, 5-2), on a two-game losing streak, will stay in the race for the division crown with a win against the Hurricanes. If the Hokies win out, they need Duke to lose at least once more because the Hokies would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker. OR Virginia Tech can win the Coastal if it wins out and finishes in a three-way tie with Duke and Georgia Tech. The teams would be 1-1 against each other and the tiebreaker would go to divisional records. The Hokies would be 5-1 in the Coastal (loss to Duke), while Georgia Tech and Duke would both be 4-2 (GT losses to VT and Miami, Duke losses to GT and Pittsburgh).
  • Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2) and Duke (6-2, 2-2) also have two conference losses each. Duke can win the Coastal with wins in its final four games -- NC State, Miami, at Wake Forest, at North Carolina -- AND a Georgia Tech loss to Clemson. The Jackets need help to make a return trip to Charlotte. They have to beat Clemson next week, then avoid tie-breaking scenarios with Miami and Virginia Tech -- the teams responsible for their losses this season.

ACC race update: Week 10

October, 30, 2013
Now that we are down to the final month of the regular season, it is time to begin our weekly look at the conference race in both divisions. We are going to keep this as simple as possible, focused on the teams with the best chances today of winning their respective divisions.

Florida State is in the driver's seat. In fact, the Noles could clinch as early as Saturday. For that to happen, Florida State needs to beat Miami; Wake Forest needs to beat Syracuse; and Virginia needs to beat Clemson. If all that happens, Florida State would be guaranteed no worse than a tie with Clemson. Because of the head-to-head win, the Noles would clinch the Atlantic Division berth in the ACC championship game.

Clemson is the only team in the Atlantic with one loss, but it needs to help to get back to the ACC title game. The Tigers need to win out in league play and have Florida State lose two conference games.

Miami is the only team unbeaten in conference play in the division at 3-0, so the Hurricanes are in control. Even if Miami loses to Florida State, the Canes would make the ACC title game if they win their remaining conference games.

Virginia Tech is next, with one conference loss (3-1). The Hokies go to the ACC title game if they win out. Indeed, the Coastal might very well be decided next weekend in Miami when the Canes and Hokies play.

Georgia Tech, Duke and Pitt each have two conference losses. Of the three, Duke has the least convoluted scenario to get into the ACC title game. Duke needs to win out -- that means a victory over Miami -- and then have Virginia Tech and the Canes finish with at least two conference losses. If Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech finish in a three-way tie with two conference losses apiece, Duke goes because it has the head-to-head wins over the Canes and Hokies. Pitt already lost to Virginia Tech and has Miami to close the regular season, so the Panthers are still alive but need to win out and then get some help. Georgia Tech is at the biggest disadvantage of the three because it lost head-to-head against Miami and Virginia Tech.
Yes, Florida State is that good.

After Saturday’s 51-14 dismantling of Clemson, the question now is not whether FSU is the best team in the ACC, the debate is over whether it’s the best team in the country.

Saturday’s win in Death Valley was less of an indictment on Clemson and more of a statement about Florida State as a program under coach Jimbo Fisher. Clemson is a top 10 team and the mighty Seminoles blew past them at warp speed. On the road. With a redshirt freshman quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicWhile everyone debates if the Seminoles are the nation's best team, Jimbo Fisher has kept FSU focused on playing one game at a time.
In four quarters on Saturday, the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference grew as long as the ride from Tallahassee to Chestnut Hill.

Florida State replaced six assistants this offseason. The Noles lost 11 draft picks, including every starter on the defensive line, and their starting quarterback. And yet somehow, they’re even better.

Florida State, which is ranked No. 2 in the latest BCS standings, should finish the season undefeated – and that includes a potential matchup against Virginia Tech or Miami in the ACC championship game.

Anyone who thinks NC State has a prayer at pulling off what it did a year ago in Raleigh on Saturday forgot to turn the calendar to 2013. The Wolfpack is a beleaguered bunch that is banking on the return of quarterback Brandon Mitchell to get it to a bowl game. They can get there, but they won’t get any closer to it on Saturday. Former coach Bobby Bowden will be planting the spear before the game. The school is expecting up to 300 former players to be in attendance. And after what happened last year? There’s no way this group is going to let it happen again -- especially on their home turf with so many former Noles watching.

If you thought what happened in Death Valley was ugly, you might just have to look away on Saturday.

NC State is merely a formality standing between FSU and rival Miami. The Canes will be the toughest opponent remaining on the schedule -- and that includes a trip to the Swamp. Florida has fallen out of the rankings, and they’re not the same team they were when Miami knocked them off in Week 2. Miami’s ability to run the ball and its sheer determination in a storied rivalry could make the game interesting. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Canes won -- but they shouldn’t, not based on what we’ve seen so far: i.e. Miami turnovers and FSU’s deep roster.

Jameis Winston is the best quarterback in the ACC. He has arguably the best receiving corps in the country. And yet the Noles’ defense was the story of the game at Clemson. Granted, part of Clemson’s letdown can be attributed to the fact that quarterback Tajh Boyd, determined to leave a legacy and win a national title, tried to do too much. The bottom line, though, was that Florida State had the better team. The Noles dominated up front on both sides of the ball against Clemson, creating pressure to allow their players in the secondary to snag the interceptions. The coaches did an excellent job of preparing the players and keeping them focused through what was easily the most anticipated matchup since 2005.

“This game was blown off the charts,” Winston said. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh my god,’ and then, ‘We’re three-point favorites.’ We’re not going to let nothing like that affect us. We’re a great football team and we’re here to play football. We’re not here to do all the partying, all the rah-rah stuff and celebrate for being a great team. We have to play every game one game at a time.”

Asked after the game -- twice -- if he thought he was coaching the No. 1 team in the country, Fisher wouldn’t bite, but he did say he’s “not scared to play anyone.”

“I think we have a heckuva team,” he said. “I’m not doubting our team or anything. We’ve got a lot of ball to play. If we keep taking care of business, the country will see, and we’ll get to where we’ve gotta go.”

At No. 2, they’re already as close as they need to be. It’s just a matter of staying there, and nobody else in the ACC has looked good enough to change that.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
There was a definite shake-up in the ACC hierarchy this weekend, as No. 5-ranked Florida State went to Death Valley and humbled No. 3-ranked Clemson 51-14 on Saturday night. The Seminoles, led by their unflappable 19-year-old quarterback, Jameis Winston, dominated the Tigers from start to finish. For the first time this season, the ACC has a new No. 1:

1. Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC, last week: 2): The defense was the storyline, as the Seminoles flustered veteran quarterback Tajh Boyd into what was easily the worst outing of his career. He threw two picks and just one touchdown and completed only 46 percent of his passes. Florida State converted two turnovers into touchdowns early and never looked back. The Noles host NC State this weekend, but this Florida State team is light years better than the one that was upset by the Wolfpack a season ago. There’s not even a hint of an upset brewing in Tallahassee.

2. Miami (6-0, 2-0, LW: 3): The Hurricanes didn’t look like a top-10 team on Thursday night in Chapel Hill, N.C., where they needed a game-winning touchdown from backup running back Dallas Crawford with 16 seconds left to beat a North Carolina team that has now sunk to 1-5. Miami quarterback Stephen Morris threw four interceptions and the Canes lost two of their top playmakers -- receiver Phillip Dorsett and running back Duke Johnson -- to injuries. Miami found a way to win, though, and only Wake Forest stands between the Canes and their showdown with the rival Noles in two weeks. Expect both to be undefeated for that game.

3. Clemson (6-1, 4-1, LW: 1) : If Clemson had lost to FSU in a close, hard-fought game, it wouldn’t have taken so much criticism, but because the Tigers lost so convincingly, it’s clear the gap between Florida State and Clemson was as wide as the lopsided score indicated. Clemson’s chances at a national title were devastated, along with Boyd’s Heisman Trophy hopes, all in four quarters. The spotlight has shifted to Florida State while the Tigers try to regroup on Saturday at Maryland.

4. Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0, LW: 4): The Hokies had a bye week to prepare for Duke on Saturday, but they have quietly continued to work their way up the conference standings this fall. Quarterback Logan Thomas has made significant strides and cut down on his interceptions, and the defense continues to look like one of the best in the country. The matchup in Miami should determine the Coastal division winner this fall, and if the Canes continue to turn it over at this disconcerting rate, it’s the Hokies’ title to lose.

5. Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2, LW: 11): The Yellow Jackets played as if they had something to prove on Saturday, ending a three-game losing streak with a complete pummeling of Syracuse. Georgia Tech scored seven rushing touchdowns in a 56-0 rout of the Orange. It was the program’s biggest margin of victory in an ACC game. The Jackets need to win three of their next five to become bowl eligible, and a road trip to struggling Virginia is up next.

6. Pittsburgh (4-2, 2-2, LW: 6): It wasn’t exactly a flawless performance in a 35-24 win against Old Dominion, but the Panthers took care of business, and their only two losses are to Florida State and Virginia Tech, two of the top teams in the ACC right now. The Panthers got what they needed from Isaac Bennett, who ran for a career-high 240 yards and three touchdowns. They’re going to have to sharpen their game, though, for back-to-back road trips to Navy and Georgia Tech.

7. Duke (5-2, 1-2, LW: 7): The Blue Devils didn’t quit on the road, and they’re just one win away from bowl eligibility for the second straight season under coach David Cutcliffe. Duke overcame a 22-0 deficit at Virginia to scrape its way back to a 35-22 win. It was a remarkable comeback by Duke and an utter meltdown by the Hoos. Duke has now won three straight heading into Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech.

8. Wake Forest (4-3, 2-2, LW: 10): The Deacs have hit their stride offensively, and receiver Michael Campanaro continues to be the face of the team. Wake’s defense, though, was a highlight in the its win over Maryland, and the team has helped keep its bowl hopes alive. Wake Forest will face a tough test this week, as it has to travel to undefeated Miami.

9. Maryland (5-2, 1-2, LW: 5): Not only do the Terps seem to have a quarterback controversy between starter C.J. Brown and backup Caleb Rowe, but they’ve also got injuries to two of their top receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Brown was benched in the loss to Wake Forest and replaced by Rowe, but neither of them could overcome a gritty performance by the Deacs’ veteran defense. What once seemed like a guaranteed return to the postseason has now become a shrinking window with no margin for error.

10. Boston College (3-3, 1-2, LW: 9): The Eagles have lost three of their past four but have developed a reputation as one of the toughest teams in the ACC nonetheless. Two of those losses have come to Atlantic division leaders FSU and Clemson. The Eagles had a bye week to prepare for their road trip to North Carolina, and, considering how poorly UNC has played this season, the Eagles have a good shot at their second league win.

11. Syracuse (3-4, 1-2, LW: 8): It’s been an unpleasant introduction into the ACC for the Orange, to say the least. Georgia Tech put on a clinic against Cuse on Saturday, and the defense went into shutdown mode. Terrel Hunt has struggled, completing 43.1 percent of his passes against league opponents. The Orange have a much-needed bye week before facing Wake Forest on Nov. 2.

12. NC State (3-3, 0-3, LW: 12): Like BC, the Pack has lost three of its past four. The difference is that NC State is still winless in conference play under first-year coach Dave Doeren. Starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell is expected to return for Saturday’s game at Florida State, his first time playing since he broke a bone in his left foot in the season opener.

13. North Carolina (1-5, 0-3, LW: 13): The Tar Heels got their best defensive performance of the season on Thursday night against Miami, and tight end Eric Ebron put on quite an audition for the NFL scouts in attendance, but the Tar Heels couldn’t stop the run and are now off to their worst start since 2006. UNC has lost four straight and will try to rebound on Saturday at home against BC.

14. Virginia (2-5, 0-3, LW: 14): After squandering a 22-point lead at home against Duke on Saturday, Mike London’s career is seemingly hanging by a thread. Whether the Hoos can win another game is a legitimate question, and, despite the administration’s continued support for London, there doesn’t seem to be any way he could survive a 2-10 season.

FSU vs. Clemson: Who wins?

October, 16, 2013

No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Florida State will have fans divided all over the country this week as to which team is actually going to win this game. We’re here to help. ACC reporters David Hale and Heather Dinich each came up with three good reasons each team can pull off the win. Check them out, and then cast your vote as to who will finish Saturday atop the Atlantic Division standings.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTajh Boyd's experience and leadership will go a long way against FSU.

1. Tajh Boyd. The story of the game and the most intriguing matchup will between the quarterbacks, Boyd and Jameis Winston. They both have had fantastic seasons so far, and are both winners, but Boyd has the edge in experience, and that will be the difference in the game. He’s beaten Georgia. He’s beaten LSU. He’s experienced the pangs of losing and matured from the setbacks. He is also a senior in his last chance to win a national title. Winston hasn’t gotten that far and hasn’t faced a lot of adversity. His biggest spotlight on the national stage was in the season opener at Pitt. Boyd has already played in front of a nationally televised GameDay crowd -- and won. Overall, Winston’s numbers have actually been slightly better, but Boyd’s intangibles and experience will outweigh the stats.

2. Defensive improvement. This isn’t the same defense that allowed FSU 49 points and 667 total yards last year. Clemson’s defensive progress has been the missing link in the Tigers’ hopes for a national title. Defensive end Vic Beasley leads the nation in sacks, and the Tigers are good enough to pressure Winston into some mistakes. Clemson’s defense has now held five straight opponents to 14 points or less and is 10th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 16.2 points per game. Clemson, which has built its success on Chad Morris’ offense, actually has a higher national ranking in scoring defense than scoring offense (17th, 40.8) right now. Clemson opponents have converted just .237 on third down, best in the nation. It is even better in ACC games as opponents have converted just 11 of 65 opportunities, just 17 percent. The Tigers also rank fourth in the nation in red zone defense, first in the nation in sacks, first in tackles for loss per game, and 12th in forcing turnovers.


Which team will win Saturday's game at Clemson? (8 p.m. ET, ABC)


Discuss (Total votes: 116,820)

3. The 12th Man. It ain’t easy to win in Death Valley. The home field advantage cannot be overlooked in this game. In 10 of the past 11 years, the home team has won in this series. Clemson has won five in a row against FSU in Memorial Stadium with the Noles last win coming in 2001. No freshman quarterback has won in Death Valley since former Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor in 2007. Boyd, meanwhile, is 17-1 as a starter at home. This is a nationally televised night game, the GameDay crew will be there, and Clemson has experienced it all just eight weeks ago against Georgia. If Death Valley is anything like the scene it was on the opening week, the crowd alone is worth a few points.

-- Heather Dinich


1. Jameis Winston. The quarterbacks are obviously going to get most of the attention heading into this game, and Clemson has the guy with the better credentials so far. But through five career starts, Winston has exceeded every expectation, so it's certainly possible he'll deliver his best performance yet on the biggest stage. In his three ACC games so far, he's thrown for at least 300 yards and four touchdowns in each, and his 91.0 adjusted QBR ranks fifth nationally -- 36 spots ahead of Tajh Boyd. Winston is coming off his best game (393 yards, 5 touchdowns) and has had an extra week to prepare for Clemson's D. For a quarterback with a remarkably flat learning curve, that could be a recipe for another big game this week.

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesHow Jalen Ramsey and the Noles secondary matches up with Sammy Watkins and Co. will be a key matchup for FSU-Clemson.
2. The running game. There's no questioning the playmaking ability of Clemson's defensive line, with the Tigers leading the nation in tackles for loss. But it's also worth noting that on runs that cross the line of scrimmage, Clemson is allowing 6.6 yards per carry this year. In fairness, Clemson's competition -- Todd Gurley (UGA), Jerome Smith (Syracuse) -- have certainly had a lot to do with those numbers, but Florida State has a trio of tailbacks capable of big games, too. Last year, FSU averaged 7.2 yards per rush and scored five times on the ground and Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams will be looking for a repeat performance in Death Valley.

3. The secondary. Boyd and Sammy Watkins are as good a playmaking duo as there is in the ACC, and Florida State's defenders don't try to hide their admiration for Clemson's stars. But while Boyd and Watkins are off to an excellent start this year, they haven't played a defense quite as good as Florida State's either. The Seminoles held Watkins to just 24 receiving yards and Boyd to his second-lowest QBR of the season in last year's win. So far in 2013, FSU's secondary is allowing just 149 passing yards per game (fifth fewest in the country), and opponents are converting just 22 percent of third-down throws (ninth nationally).

-- David Hale

ACC Upset Watch: Week 8

October, 15, 2013
With two teams ranked in the top five facing off this weekend in Death Valley, somebody’s gotta lose. Welcome back to the Upset Watch, ACC’s elite:

1. No. 5 Florida State at No. 3 Clemson. You know the history by now: Florida State has not won in Death Valley since 2001. That doesn’t mean the streak won’t end on Saturday. Yes, Clemson is ranked higher, and the two programs have seemingly switched positions from last season, but this Florida State team is equally as talented, will give Clemson’s defensive line some pushback up front and will challenge the Tigers’ wide receivers. FSU quarterback Jameis Winston has already proven that he can handle adversity with road wins against Boston College and Pitt. The Noles also had a bye week to prepare for this game. We won’t know how much of a gap truly exists between the two programs until they play on Saturday, but as of right now, it looks as thin as paper. This should be anyone’s game.

2. Maryland at Wake Forest. The Terps need just one more win to become bowl eligible for the first time under coach Randy Edsall. They’re not going to let an unheralded Wake Forest team get in the way, are they? Not with quarterback C.J. Brown returning to the lineup after healing from a concussion, right? Well, the Deacs might have something to say about that. They had a bye week to prepare for Maryland, they’ll have home field advantage, and they know their chances to become bowl eligible are quickly shrinking. Plus, they’re coming off a 28-13 win over NC State in which the offense finally seemed to find a groove. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching “the rest of the Atlantic Division,” i.e. everyone but FSU and Clemson, it’s that they’re a muddled mess, and everyone has a chance to win.

3. No. 10 Miami at North Carolina. There’s no reason the Canes should lose this game, and there was hesitation in putting them on the list this week, considering how poorly UNC has played this season. Miami, though, has not fared well against the Tar Heels, losing four of the past six games. UNC also had a bye week to prepare for this game, they know their margin for error is slim with bowl hopes still on the line, and they’re still looking for their first league win. Miami has also had eight turnovers in the past two games. At some point, that’s going to come back to haunt it. Oh, and the last time UNC beat a top-10 team? A 31-28 win over No. 4 Miami in 2004.

Let The Game begin

October, 14, 2013
The Game has changed -- and it’s even better.

This year, the best game in the ACC will feature two top-five teams instead of two top-10 teams.

On Saturday, No. 3 Clemson will host No. 5 Florida State in what will be a season-defining game in the Atlantic Division. In each of the past four seasons, the winner of The Game has gone on to play in the ACC championship, but for the second straight year, the stakes are even higher. Both teams are legitimate contenders for the national title, and on Sunday, the first BCS standings will be released. Both teams have Heisman hopeful quarterbacks, and the competition between veteran signal-caller Tajh Boyd and FSU rookie Jameis Winston is as compelling as any matchup in the country right now.

The simultaneous ascension of Florida State and Clemson in recent years has reached a pinnacle this fall, as both teams have avoided the pitfalls that have plagued them for so long and stayed the course on the field and in the rankings. What makes The Game so special, though, is that it has been further legitimized by the consistency of both programs. Saturday will mark the first time the ACC has had two top-10 teams play each other in back-to-back seasons. Last year, Florida State was No. 4 and Clemson was No. 10.

“It’s gotten really big,” Boyd said. “That’s the way essentially it’s supposed to be, championship runs for Florida State and Clemson every year. I think that’s what it was intended for. No disrespecting the other schools, but it’s just kind of the way things are working, especially in the latter years.”

With all due respect to the “other schools,” every other game on the ACC schedule to this point has merely been an appetizer.

Fans have come to know the date (Oct. 19) as well as Dec. 25. As soon as the ACC schedule was released this past February, talk began of the potential for both teams to be undefeated on Saturday. The sheer magnitude of The Game has made it the ACC's version of LSU-Alabama. It’s even arguably more intriguing than the ACC’s conference championship game. And it will capture the country’s attention on Saturday as ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew returns to Death Valley for the second time in the first eight weeks of the season -- a first even for ESPN.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson QB Tajh Boyd expected the matchup with Florida State to have big implications.
Ironically, the toughest opponent both Florida State and Clemson have played so far has been Boston College -- a two-win team a year ago that has found some spunk under first-year coach Steve Addazio. The Eagles pushed both FSU and Clemson to the brink in their respective games before reality set in in the second half.

Even Addazio is looking forward to The Game.

"They both have great talent on their teams and they are very explosive and fast,” he said. “It will be one of the better games of the year. They both have really good defenses and both have two really good quarterbacks. Plain and simple, they are both really good football teams."

Only one of them, though, can ascend from good to great.

"We've been waiting for this for a while,” said Clemson receiver Adam Humphries. “We understand the repercussions and what's on the line. We'll be ready."

In order to truly understand the sheer magnitude of The Game, consider that it’s only the fourth time in ACC history -- and the first time since Nov. 5, 2005 -- that the conference has had two top-five teams face each other.

“That's why you come to Florida State, to be in those games, to be in those positions,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You've got other common opponents which are in the league; Clemson is doing a tremendous job, Miami is doing a great job, Virginia Tech. All these teams are all doing a great job, so it's a great league. But that's why you play in college football, and that's what you want to do as a player to get in these games that matter. We're very blessed to be there and to have a great opponent like Clemson.”

Boyd got a chance to know Florida State senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner this past summer at the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C.

Boyd said he might give his new friend a call this week.

“He’s a funny guy,” Boyd said. “I love talking trash, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more fun to actually know who you’re talking trash to.”

Let The Game begin.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
There were a few tweaks to the lineup this week. And congrats to Wake Forest, you got a promotion:

1. Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC; LW: No. 1): The Tigers had no trouble playing in the Dome at Syracuse, as quarterback Tajh Boyd had another Heisman-worthy performance, throwing for 455 yards and five touchdowns in just three quarters of a 49-14 win at Syracuse. Clemson faces a relentless Boston College team at home this week before the Oct. 19 showdown against Florida State.

2. Florida State (5-0, 3-0; LW: No. 2): The Seminoles’ defense was called into question this past week and it answered with a resounding 63-0 shutout of the Terps. It was a dominating performance in all facets of the game, and just what the Noles needed heading into their bye week as they begin preparing for Clemson.

3. Miami (5-0, 1-0; LW: No. 3): The Canes continue to find a way to win, and have established themselves as the team to beat in the Coastal Division. Miami’s 45-30 win over Georgia Tech sets the stage for a season-defining game against Virginia Tech on Nov. 9, but a Thursday night game against the struggling Tar Heels looms first. The Canes are on a bye this week.

4. Virginia Tech (5-1, 2-0; LW: No. 5): The Hokies have now had two straight games in which quarterback Logan Thomas looked much-improved from a season ago, and it has made a difference. Virginia Tech's 27-17 win over North Carolina put the program back in the top 25 as it prepares to host Pitt his weekend.

5. Pitt (3-1, 2-1; LW: No. 6): The Panthers are coming off a bye week, but they’ve won three straight, including back-to-back conference games against Duke and Virginia. This will be their first road trip against a top-25 opponent, and while they’ve won the past four games in the series against Virginia Tech, they’re the ones with something to prove in Blacksburg.

6. Maryland (4-1, 0-1; LW: No. 4): The Terps came crashing back to reality with their humbling loss in Tallahassee, and they lost starting quarterback C.J. Brown to a concussion in the process. Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Maryland, but the schedule is conducive to a rebound if Maryland doesn’t let the Noles beat them twice. The Terps will face Virginia at home this weekend.

7. Georgia Tech (3-2, 2-2; LW: No. 7): The Yellow Jackets started the season strong, but back-to-back Coastal Division losses to Virginia Tech and Miami have them on the outside looking in at the Coastal Division race. It’s not going to get any easier with a road trip to BYU this week, and starting quarterback Vad Lee has been inconsistent and turnover-prone.

8. NC State (3-2, 0-2; LW: No. 8): The Pack just can’t seem to shake the curse of Winston-Salem, as NC State lost to Wake Forest for the sixth straight time on the road. It has been 12 years since NC State won at Wake Forest, and two turnovers contributed to it this season. The Pack returns home to host Syracuse this weekend.

9. Boston College (3-2, 1-1; LW: No. 9): Running back Andre Williams ran for 263 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-27 win over Army. The Eagles just don’t quit, and their ability to continuously run the ball through Williams has been their identity. They’re going to need more than that, though, to pull off the upset of No. 3-ranked Clemson this weekend in Death Valley.

10. Duke (3-2, 0-2; LW: No. 11): The Blue Devils had a bye this week and are trying to string together back-to-back wins with another against Navy on Saturday. Having played Georgia Tech about a month ago should help the defense, considering they run similar option offenses.

11. Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2; LW: No. 14): The Deacs finally got their offense going in a 28-13 win over NC State, thanks to quarterback Tanner Price and standout receiver Michael Campanaro. A little home-field advantage over the Pack never hurts, either. It was a big win that helped keep the Deacs’ bowl hopes alive. They’ve got a bye week to continue to get better before hosting Maryland.

12. Syracuse (2-3, 0-1; LW: No. 10): The Orange had no answer for Tajh Boyd & Co., and they missed out on their own opportunities with mistakes like dropped passes, four turnovers and an inability to convert on third down. It wasn’t the introduction to the ACC Syracuse was hoping for, but the Orange has a chance to rebound this weekend at NC State.

13. North Carolina (1-4, 0-2; LW: No. 13): The Tar Heels have fallen far and fast, but we’d still pick ‘em to beat the Hoos right now, in spite of the fact they have the worst record in the ACC. The difference against the Hokies was three turnovers, and while backup quarterback Marquise Williams played a respectable game in place of injured starter Bryn Renner, it was his final pick in the fourth quarter that sealed it for Virginia Tech.

14. Virginia (2-3, 0-1; LW: No. 12): Virginia’s defense had been a highlight, until it allowed Ball State 506 yards. It lost 48-27 on Saturday to a MAC team -- at home. Virginia coach Mike London insisted this offseason that he’s not concerned about his job security, but it’s hard not to wonder if that sentiment has since changed.

Friday mailblog

October, 4, 2013
Step into my office …

Paul in Chicago writes: Hey Heather, The Pac-12 North and the ACC Atlantic are the only two divisions in the FBS with three undefeated teams, all ranked to boot. Tougher division, go.

HD: Paul, I know it's not what ACC fans want to hear, but I think you have to go with the Pac-12 North. I'm just not convinced Florida State and Maryland are as elite as their 4-0 records might indicate. We'll learn more about both teams on Saturday, but I think Oregon-Stanford right now are both playing better than Clemson-Florida State. This is a great week to answer that question on the field, though, because Stanford and Washington both play, along with FSU-Maryland, so we'll be able to see how much of a gap there is between the second and third teams. I think Washington is going to fall off quickly because it has three straight games against ranked opponents, including back-to-back against No. 5 Stanford and No. 2 Oregon. Still, I give the Pac-12 North the nod because I'd pick Oregon to beat Clemson, and Stanford over Florida State. FSU and Maryland fans, of course, took exception to the fact that I questioned whether they're for real this week.

Stephen in South Salem, New York writes: Heather, so far, I didn't really expect Maryland to do this well considering that they had this many wins at the end of last season and went through 5 QBs. But this season looks different. How well do you think they will end up? According to an ESPN poll, they are the most surprising undefeated team in the country. CJ Brown at one point had the best QBR IN THE COUNTRY, over Johnny Football, Marcus Mariota, and that loser freshman at FSU. We have a pretty manageable schedule left besides in FSU and Clemson. Our defense is solid considering that we blanked West Virginia, a team that just upset #11 Oklahoma State. Couldn't Maryland go 10-2 or 9-3? I expect a bowl this season, I see us in either the Sun or the Russell. All I can say is that Maryland isn't a joke. Look for us to try to break the Top 25 and play hard in Tallahassee.

HD: Ouch. You hear that, #famousjameis? I expect the Terps' best shot in Tally, and so does FSU. But I didn't pick them to win. Still, I think you're right, Maryland's schedule is very favorable. They should be in a bowl game, and could finish with nine wins. As of right now, I'll give 'em eight.

Jason in Virginia writes: With the news that Exum is cleared to return, what do think would be the best solution for the Hokies' secondary? I know Exum has earned the right to start, but those true freshmen Fuller and Facyson I feel have earned the right to start as well. They are both playing out of their minds right now and I feel like making changes to the starting D now that the season is in full swing could create problems.

HD: Well, the staff has already decided to keep Exum at CB and try Facyson at WR, a move they had discussed this summer. Beamer said the most important thing is getting their best athletes on the field, and clearly Facyson and Exum both need to be out there -- if, of course, Facyson is even going to play. Beamer told me they should know that after Thursday's practice, but even if he does, how good will he be after eight months off to rehab a torn ACL? We'll see how it all plays out, but it's a good problem to have because they are all so talented.

Big Al in SC writes: In your bowl projections, have you ever picked an ACC team to go to the national championship. Also, at what point would you pick Clemson or even FSU to go to the big game? When Bama or Oregon loses and/or if Clemson/FSU wins out?

HD: No, I have not. I think those teams have to go undefeated to have a shot and Bama and or Oregon have to lose.

G3 in Houston, Texas writes: Both Maryland and Miami finished 4-0 in nonconference. How many teams in the ACC have gone undefeated in nonconference since the ACC expanded in 2004?

HD: Thanks to the ACC office for this info. It's happened 16 times since 2005, though in 2005 teams only had three nonconference games, four every year afterward. This doesn’t include bowl games.

Here are the teams and years that it has happened. (*denotes teams that also won their bowl games):

Boston College: (4) 2005*, 2006*, 2007*, 2008

Clemson: (2) 2005, 2007*

Georgia Tech: (1) 2008

Miami: (2) 2005, 2009

North Carolina: (2) 2009, 2011

Virginia: (1) 2005*

Virginia Tech: (3) 2005*, 2006, 2011.

Wake Forest: (1) 2006

Maryland has started 4-0 for the first time since 2001. The Terps are ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time since 2010. They’ve outscored their opponents 159-41.

And yet the question remains: Are they for real?

Florida State should help answer that. The Noles are ranked No. 8 in the country and are considered a contender for the national title. They’re No. 4 in the country in scoring offense, and they’ve got one of the most talented young quarterbacks in the county in redshirt freshman Jameis Winston.

And yet the question remains: Are they for real?

[+] EnlargeMaryland celebrates
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyMaryland has had a lot to celebrate so far in a 4-0 start, and now gets its final shot as an ACC member at No. 8 Florida State.
Saturday’s game in Tallahassee will be proving grounds for both teams, in spite of the fact they’re both 4-0. It’s the marquee matchup in the conference this week – the lone game between undefeated teams in the Atlantic Division -- and it should show just how far No. 25 Maryland has come in trying to close the gap with one of the ACC’s premier programs. It should also reveal if Florida State’s sluggish defensive performance at Boston College on Saturday was an anomaly or a deeper-rooted problem that Maryland can continue to expose.

On paper, it looks like the Terps could be exactly the kind of tricky opponent that has tripped up the Noles in the past. Maryland had a bye week to prepare for its first ranked opponent of the season, and Florida State allowed BC 200 rushing yards in a 48-34 victory at Boston College. How much of Maryland’s success, though, is simply a product of the poor competition it has played early, and have any of those teams prepared the Terps for what they’ll face in Tallahassee?

Maryland’s wins have come against Florida International, Old Dominion, Connecticut and West Virginia – teams that are a combined 6-12 this season, including two 0-4 programs in FIU and Connecticut. UConn hit a new low this season with losses to Towson and Buffalo, and on Monday fired coach Paul Pasqualoni. Maryland’s best victory was a 37-0 shutout of West Virginia in Baltimore, and it looks even better now that the Mountaineers just knocked off No. 11 Oklahoma State.

That was Baltimore. This is Tally. Maryland hasn’t beaten Florida State in Doak Campbell Stadium – well, ever. The Noles have won all 11 games there and seven straight in the series. This is only the second time Maryland has even been ranked when playing Florida State. For the Noles to go down, Maryland needs to be every bit as good as it looks right now on paper.

The Noles should and will be favored, but they fell behind 14-0 at Boston College and looked vulnerable. It was a surprising start for an opponent FSU was expected to handle with ease, and it’s only going to get more difficult. The Terps will be Florida State’s first ranked opponent as well. FSU padded its stats against Nevada and Bethune-Cookman and looked unprepared on Saturday for what BC had to dish out. The Eagles are a one-dimensional offense that depends heavily on Andre Williams and the running game. Maryland is not. The Terps have more depth and more playmakers and will be an even bigger challenge for the FSU defense.

Maryland’s offense, which finished the 2012 season dead last in the ACC in total offense, averaging just 284 yards, now ranks second in the ACC at 498.5 yards per game, an improvement of 213.7 yards per game.

There’s no question Maryland is light years better than it was a year ago, when it finished the season with just four wins and a linebacker at quarterback. And there’s no question Florida State is still one of the top two teams in the ACC.

Just how good both of them truly are, though, has yet to be determined.
NC State coach Dave Doeren, Syracuse coach Scott Shafer, and Boston College coach Steve Addazio are new to the ACC, so they need to be let in on a little secret: Florida State and Clemson are beatable (shh).

[+] EnlargeDave Doeren
Andrew Weber/USA Today SportsNew Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren is tasked with breaking NC State into the ACC elite.
It’s a fact that is annually drowned out by the preseason hype, but it happens literally every year:
  • In 2007, Boston College made a dramatic comeback with 1:46 to go for a 20-17 win at No. 15-ranked Clemson.
  • In 2008, Maryland shocked No. 20 Clemson with a 20-17 win.
  • In 2009, Boston College recovered from blowing an 18-point lead and came back to beat FSU, 28-12.
  • In 2010, Boston College ended a five-game losing streak with a home win against Clemson.
  • In 2011, NC State stunned everyone with a 37-13 win against No. 7-ranked Clemson.
  • In 2012, NC State did it again, this time shocking No. 3-ranked Florida State, 17-16.

There’s no question that Florida State and Clemson are the premier teams in the ACC. They will likely be the league’s only two ranked programs heading into the fall, they out-recruit every other program in the conference, and they are the ACC’s best hopes at producing a national title contender. With all of their facilities, resources and talent, they should be dominating the division -- and they are. None of that, though, will stop the rest of the Atlantic Division from trying to close the gap. It’s what Doeren and Addazio were hired to do, and both have a plan that goes beyond recruiting.

“I think there’s two things you do,” Doeren said, “you get better players, and you do a better job of coaching. We’re going to do both. The third piece that I thought we were the masters of at Wisconsin is developing that talent. I thought we took a lot of players that were marked at whatever star for Rivals that weren’t as high as Ohio State’s guys, but when we played Ohio State our guys were just as good because we did a great job of making them bigger, stronger, faster, tougher and knowing how they were going to fit with what we were doing with the schemes. That’s the really unsung part of recruiting: are the guys you’re recruiting going to fit into what you do, and can you make them better once they get there?”

FSU currently has the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation, while Clemson is ranked No. 10. NC State and Boston College, though, have finally appeared in the ranking, checking in at Nos. 29 and 30, respectably. That’s a noticeable difference already for both programs.

Addazio said recruiting smart, tough-nosed players who fit the bill of a “BC kid,” or, these days, a “dude,” is a big part of it. It’s not the only aspect, though, of building the program.

Edsall In our division, everyone is looking up to Clemson and Florida State. If you want to find a way to get to the top, you have to find a way to beat them.

-- Maryland coach Randy Edsall
“You find your niche so to speak,” Addazio said. “We’ve got to be a real team. I know everyone wants to be a real team, but our key is to be a really close-knit team. ... We have really bright guys who come here. They’re smart. This is a tough school. We’ve gotta have great character, great team chemistry, smart guys who work hard, have toughness. BC had real success with that in the past. That’s important.

“We’re different than Florida State or Clemson. They have their niches and we have ours. We have to be true to what our niche is. That applies to recruiting, that relates to the style of play. Are we going to out-athlete one of those teams? I don’t know about that, but that doesn’t mean you can’t win. You can. Let’s take a look at Stanford. What has Stanford done? What has Northwestern done? They’re very similar schools. ... They’re real confident in their plan, and we have ours. You’ve got to be true to who you are and what your plan is.”

At Maryland, Randy Edsall is entering his final season in the ACC before ushering the Terps into the Big Ten conference. Last year, Maryland was outscored 86-24 in back-to-back losses to FSU and Clemson. This year, he said, has the potential to be different.

“Anything can happen on any given Saturday,” he said. “A lot of it has to be where we’ve got to make sure we can stay healthy. Offensively, we’ve got skill guys who can play with anybody in the country. Our offensive line, we still have to get better there, but defensively, I think we’ve got guys who understand how to play pretty good defense. What we’ve got to do is go out on the field and do that. In our division, everyone is looking up to Clemson and Florida State. If you want to find a way to get to the top, you have to find a way to beat them. That’s what our guys have been working on.”

It helps to know it’s been done before.

COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- This game went as many probably expected. Here's a quick look back at FSU's final and most important ACC win of the season:

It was over when: No. 10 Florida State walked into the stadium. In a matchup of the nation's No. 1 total defense against the nation's worst offense, the game played out on the field exactly as it looked on paper. FSU went 61 yards in 11 plays on the first drive of the game, which was capped by Devonta Freeman's 5-yard touchdown run. The Noles never looked back.

Game ball goes to: Freeman. He ran for 148 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries for 9.3 yards per carry. Since taking over for injured starter Chris Thompson, Freeman has kept the Noles' ground game going. He finished the first half with 77 rushing yards. It's the fourth time in the past five games Freeman has had at least 70 rushing yards in a game.

Stat of the game: Florida State held Maryland to 27 yards (all through the air) in the first half, which was the fewest yards the defense has held an opposing offense to in the first half. Maryland did not gain a rushing yard on 12 carries in the first half, the second fewest in a half since FSU held Miami to minus-12 rushing yards in the second half earlier this season.

What it means: Florida State clinches at least a share of the Atlantic Division title and will play in the ACC title game in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 1. It will be Florida State's second appearance in the title game under coach Jimbo Fisher, as the Noles won the Atlantic Division in 2010.

Unsung hero of the game: Maryland linebacker Kenny Tate. He had three sacks for a total loss of 11 yards and finished with five tackles. He became the first Maryland player to have three sacks in a game since 2002, when Shawne Merriman did it against North Carolina. Merriman was at the game Saturday.


Goodell Has Sit-Down With Jameis Winston
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