FSU Seminoles: Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Recruiting is the lifeblood of every program in the country, and every conference has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to landing top prospects. This week, we are examining the BCS conferences plus Notre Dame to find each one's strength, the biggest obstacle each faces and the overall view of the conference. The ACC is up today.
Biggest obstacle: Getting out from under the SEC's shadow. This conference shares the same player pool and it needs every matchup versus the SEC to count. Clemson beating LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl in 2012 was big, but over the course of the past few years Clemson, Virginia Tech and FSU haven't always fared as well, and South Carolina has been a thorn in the side of Clemson. This conference needs a resurgence from Miami and North Carolina as well as NC State. The middle- and bottom-tier teams in these two conferences are very comparable. The ACC needs its powers to consistently dominate on and off the field, and for recruiting classes from the likes of FSU, Clemson and Miami to produce double-digit wins.
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1. Clemson Tigers (Oct. 19 in Clemson, S.C.): There are 11 other games on the schedule, and Florida State can't afford to overlook anyone. But for most fans and prognosticators, the 2013 season comes down to this one. FSU and Clemson figure to be playing for the division title, and Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and an improved Tigers defense will offer plenty of concerns for Jimbo Fisher's crew. The winner of this game has won the Atlantic Division in each of the last four seasons.
2. Florida Gators (Nov. 30 in Gainesville, Fla.): Last year's debacle in Tallahassee might have been FSU's ugliest game of the year, and the task won't get any easier this time around when the Seminoles close out the season on the road in Gainesville. If FSU can protect the football better than it did a year ago it has a chance, but that tough Gators defense might be the biggest test Jameis Winston will face all year.
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You bet we’re counting.
If you’re Scot Loeffler, Virginia Tech's new offensive coordinator, 100 days must feel like a nanosecond. The Hokies aren’t the only ones, though, with plenty of work to do before the season begins. Here’s a checklist of five things the ACC and its teams must accomplish before the opening kickoff:
1. Name starting quarterbacks. Syracuse can’t even talk about Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen yet because he’s not on campus and won’t enroll until next month, but the Orange are just one of several teams in the ACC that still have an ongoing quarterback competition. Virginia’s quarterback controversy has seemingly gone on for years, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher has yet to officially anoint Jameis Winston as EJ Manuel’s successor. Pitt is also still searching for a dependable leader, along with NC State.
2. Find an offense in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech has become one of the ACC’s brand-name programs, a consistent winner and a representative in the Top 25 and BCS standings. That changed last season when the Hokies bumbled their way through their most disappointing season in 20 years. Coach Frank Beamer made sweeping changes to his offensive staff, but little improvement was seen in the spring game. Loeffler said it wasn’t a true indication of the progress that was made in the other 13 practices, but also conceded there is still a lot of work to be done. With Alabama looming in the season opener, all eyes will be on the ACC in Week 1. When the Hokies are good, the ACC is better.
3. Improve defensively. With the exception of Florida State, which finished the season ranked No. 6 in the country in scoring defense, 2012 wasn’t a banner year for ACC defenses. The conference usually has some of the nation’s best defenses -- including Boston College -- but there was no Luke Kuechly and no identity for the Eagles last fall. Miami beat Duke 52-45. Georgia Tech beat North Carolina 68-50. Clemson beat NC State 62-48. Clemson took a major step forward defensively with its bowl win against LSU, but the defense must become elite in its second season under coordinator Brent Venables if Clemson is going to be a national-title contender.
4. Minimize the turnovers. Virginia Tech was No. 86 in turnover margin last year, and quarterback Logan Thomas threw three picks in the spring game. Boston College was No. 88 in the country in turnover margin, FSU No. 93, NC State No. 99, Maryland No. 104, Virginia No. 110. That’s almost half the league ranked among the worst in the country in turnover margin. The Hokies play Alabama. Virginia plays Oregon. BC plays at USC. FSU is at Florida, and the Seminoles turned it over five times versus the Gators in FSU's 37-26 loss last year. The Gators scored 10 points off turnovers in that game. If the ACC is going to stand a chance, it can’t give away freebies.
5. Stay out of the trainer’s room. Virginia Tech standout corner Antone Exum is still rehabbing from the torn ACL he suffered in a pickup basketball game. The bulk of Wake Forest’s offensive line was walking wounded all spring, and that group will make or break the Deacons' season. Clemson backup quarterback Chad Kelly and starting tight end Sam Cooper both tore their ACLs this spring. If the ACC is going to beat the best this fall, it needs its best players on the field. For some programs, like Boston College, the depth isn’t there to afford injuries.
Wilson’s father is the defensive coordinator and the defensive backs coach at the University School, so Wilson jokes that he gets no respite.
“Oh no, there’s no break, there’s no break,” Wilson said. “Monday through Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Yeah, I get it at practice, before practice, after practice, in the car, at the dinner table ...”
The talented junior laughed about the nonstop instruction but he also credited his father with making him the player he is today -- one of the most coveted safeties in Florida.
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Therefore, it should come as no surprise that athletic directors have seen their salaries grow as well.
USA Today, which annually compiles head coaching salaries, recently found FBS athletic directors make an average of $515,000. That is an increase of more than 14 percent since USA Today last reported on AD salaries in 2011.
The ACC beats that average. Of the available salaries compiled by USA Today, ACC athletic directors were set to make an average of $602,829 in 2013. All but two made more than $500,000 -- Kevin Anderson at Maryland ($499,490), and Randy Spetman at Florida State ($350,00).
That doesn't count incoming Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich, who makes a cool $1.4 million -- the highest paid athletic director at a public school. Only nine athletic directors make $1 million or more. The next highest paid public school AD is Dan Radakovich at Clemson, checking in at $725,000.
Boston College and Miami, two private schools, did not disclose figures.
While Spetman's salary has remained the same for the past several years, it still surprises me that the athletic director at one of the most high-profile football programs in the nation is the lowest paid in his league. And one of the lowest paid in the entire state of Florida. Florida AD Jeremy Foley makes more than $1 million; USF AD Doug Woolard makes nearly $500,000; Todd Stansbury at UCF makes just a smidge more ($375,000); and FIU AD Pete Garcia makes $441,832.
I know Spetman has faced his share of criticism, and the Noles have fought through some financial problems. They do pay Jimbo Fisher $2.75 million -- the highest paid coach in the ACC. But something seems off when the ADs at FIU, UCF and USF make more than the guy at Florida State.
Here are is the complete list of AD salaries in the ACC, thanks to USA Today.
- Tom Jurich, Louisville: $1.4 million*
- Kevin White, Duke, $906,536
- Dan Radakovich, Clemson: $725,000
- Ron Wellman, Wake Forest: $688,000
- Mike Bobinski, Georgia Tech: $625,000
- Jim Weaver, Virginia Tech: $621,529
- Steve Pederson, Pitt: $596,595
- Craig Littlepage, Virginia: $586,750
- Daryl Gross, Syracuse: $570,057
- Bubba Cunningham, North Carolina: $565,000
- Debbie Yow, NC State: $500,000
- Kevin Anderson, Maryland: $499,490**
- Randy Spetman, Florida State: $350,000
- Brad Bates, Boston College: NA
- Blake James, Miami: NA
*Louisville expected to join ACC in 2014
** Maryland will depart ACC in 2014
1. Florida State (12-2, 7-1 ACC; Previous ranking: No. 1) -- Clemson has the more impressive bowl win, but there’s no denying Florida State’s accomplishments this season. The Noles won the program’s first BCS bowl since 2000, defeating Northern Illinois 31-10 in the Discover Orange Bowl. An ACC title and Orange Bowl win make FSU the ACC’s undisputed No. 1 in 2012.
2. Clemson (11-2, 7-1; PR: No. 2) -- The Tigers hung on to beat No. 8 LSU 25-24 thanks to a 37-yard field goal by Chandler Catanzaro as time expired in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has yet to announce if he will return for his senior season. Regardless, it was a monumental win for the program and the ACC.
3. Georgia Tech (7-7, 5-3; PR: No. 4) -- The Jackets’ 21-7 win over USC was a huge boost for their program, and it also was significant for the ACC. Georgia Tech’s defense was the highlight against the Trojans. It also was Paul Johnson’s first bowl win as coach at Georgia Tech.
4. North Carolina (8-4, 5-3; PR: No. 5) -- There’s no question the Tar Heels were one of the best teams in the Coastal Division in Larry Fedora’s first season, but they were ineligible for a bowl because of NCAA sanctions. Fedora will be challenged to replace standout running back Giovani Bernard, who left early for the NFL draft, and his lead blocker, Jonathan Cooper.
5. Miami (7-5, 5-3; PR: No. 3) -- The Canes weren’t a great team in 2012, but they overachieved enough to earn respect and could have played for the ACC title had they not self-imposed a bowl ban. The program is still waiting for closure from the NCAA.
6. Virginia Tech (7-6, 4-4; PR: No. 8) -- In what was one of the most painful-to-watch bowl games of the season, the Hokies beat Rutgers 13-10 in overtime of the Russell Athletic Bowl. The program avoided its first losing season since 1992, but didn’t earn any style points in the process. Many questions still face Frank Beamer.
7. NC State (7-6, 4-4; PR: No. 7) -- Under the direction of interim coach Dana Bible, the Pack ended the season the same way it began 2012 -- with an embarrassing performance in a loss to an SEC team. NC State turned it over five times in a 38-24 loss to Vanderbilt in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl.
8. Duke (6-7, 3-5; PR: No. 6) -- This season will always be remembered as the year Duke got back to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. The Blue Devils, however, lost a 48-34 heartbreaker to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. With the score tied at 34 and Duke driving to score the game winner, Josh Snead fumbled at the Cincy 5-yard line with 1:20 left.
9. Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5; PR: No. 9) -- The Deacs ended their season losing three straight and four of their last five to miss bowl eligibility. Recruiting has been the biggest priority for the Deacs since their season ended with a home loss to Vanderbilt.
10. Virginia (4-8, 2-6; PR: No. 10) -- The Hoos had to win their last two games to become bowl eligible and couldn’t do it, but Mike London wasted no time in making offseason changes. He fired defensive coordinator Jim Reid and has since hired former NC State coach Tom O’Brien and former NC State linebackers coach Jon Tenuta.
11. Maryland (4-8, 2-6; PR: No. 11) -- The Terps put on a respectable performance this past season despite the unbelievable amount of injuries to starting quarterbacks. The biggest news, of course, was that Maryland will play one more season in the ACC before joining the Big Ten.
12. Boston College (2-10, 1-7; PR: No. 12) -- The Eagles hired Steve Addazio to turn things around, and he has hired several of his former assistants from Temple, including former BC assistant Ryan Day as offensive coordinator.
“I think I picked up the terminology well, but my route-running needs to sharpen up,” Richard said. “I am able to stretch the field as a big receiver, but I need to do better in a three-point stance because I am used to working out of a spread.”
The ESPN Watch List selection has double-digit offers, but he said two schools are standing out in his mind.
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But 6-foot-1, 210-pound junior linebacker got another ringing endorsement this week when Florida State offered him.
"I found out from my coaches," he said. "I was surprised, but I was happy. I had been there for a camp over the summer. Their school, their team, is pretty good."
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1. SEC > ACC. And it is not even close. It was a disastrous weekend for the ACC in its head-to-head matchups against the top conference in all the land, going 0-4 on a pitiful Saturday. No. 10 Florida State wanted to prove all its doubters wrong. Instead, the Seminoles were physically manhandled in a 37-26 loss to their in-state rival, No. 4 Florida. No. 11 Clemson wanted to prove this was the year it could get past South Carolina, with starting quarterback Connor Shaw and starting running back Marcus Lattimore out. Instead, the high-flying Tigers offense had no answers for Jadeveon Clowney, and scored a season low in points in a 27-17 loss -- their fourth straight in the series. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech was clobbered by No. 3 Georgia and Wake Forest was walloped by Vanderbilt for the second consecutive season. The average score in those four ACC-SEC matchups was not pretty: SEC 40-19. And it was the first time since 2009 that Clemson, Florida State and Georgia Tech all lost their in-state rivalry games.
3. Forget about filling every bowl slot. With Wake Forest losing, and Miami and North Carolina ineligible while serving postseason bans, the ACC will not be able to fill all its bowl slots this season. As of right now, the ACC has six teams eligible for eight available slots. Georgia Tech is one of those teams eligible. The Yellow Jackets are in a very interesting situation at 6-6. Because they play in the ACC title game, they could very well finish with a losing record. If there are 70 or more bowl-eligible teams, they would have to ask for a waiver from the NCAA to participate in the bowl game. UCLA had its waiver granted last season in a similar situation. If there are not 70 bowl-eligible teams, Georgia Tech might not need to file a waiver based on revised NCAA bowl eligibility rules. There are currently 69 bowl-eligible teams, with Pittsburgh and Connecticut vying for eligibility next weekend.
4. Virginia Tech is in. The Hokies left no room to spare in their quest to make it to their 20th consecutive bowl game. This has been one of the most difficult seasons in quite a while for Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech, but the Hokies found a way to beat in-state rival Virginia for the ninth straight time when Cody Journell nailed a 29-yard field goal as time ran out. It was probably fitting that Virginia cost itself a chance to win thanks to a turnover. Antone Exum intercepted Michael Rocco in the closing minutes, setting up the winning field goal for Journell. Virginia Tech overcame a second-half deficit for the second straight week, and has been as close to living on the edge as a bowl team can be. But the Hokies live on to see another game.
5. Miami: woulda, shoulda, coulda. I am sure Miami fans have been wondering what could have been after the Hurricanes won a 52-45 shootout with Duke on Saturday. We know now that Miami cost itself a chance to play in its first ACC title game after it self-imposed a bowl ban early last week. The move was necessary with an NCAA investigation ongoing. But I am sure it still hurts the players who never quit on the season, who put in an incredible effort to far exceed any expectations that folks had for them. Miami was picked to finish fifth in the Coastal and ended up in a tie for first with a team that essentially returns everybody next season. Last season, Miami lost the game after a postseason ban was announced. We have seen how far this team has come, maturitywise, this season -- as the Hurricanes refused to give up Saturday and pulled out the win.
Clemson should beat South Carolina. Florida State is better than Florida.
Now prove it.
The ACC will face four SEC opponents this weekend, as Georgia Tech also travels to Georgia, and Wake Forest hosts Vanderbilt in a game that will determine the Demon Deacons’ bowl eligibility. While a clean sweep would be ideal, the ACC at least needs to come out of the final week of the regular season with wins against Florida and South Carolina. No less. Those are the two most important games on the schedule -- bigger than any league game that will be played. They will help shape the perception of the ACC heading into bowl season, and they will also determine whether or not the conference can cling to its hopes of having two BCS bowl teams for the second straight season.
The winner of the ACC title game is guaranteed a spot in the Discover Orange Bowl, but a Clemson win against South Carolina and a Florida State win against Florida would keep the Tigers in the conversation for an at-large BCS bid. Both teams have to win in order to keep Clemson’s at-large hopes alive. If Florida beats Florida State, the Gators would almost certainly be bumped up to No. 3 in the BCS standings and automatically wind up in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. BCS guru Brad Edwards has Oklahoma, Clemson and Texas in the mix for the opposing spot.
BCS bowls aside, this is a chance for the ACC to put an otherwise dreadful week behind it and give the fans in the conference something to celebrate -- and brag about. In a week in which Maryland decided to bolt for the Big Ten, and Miami self-imposed a postseason ban, the ACC’s reputation and stability have been hit hard. Wins against South Carolina and Florida would do a lot to help ease that pain.
The ACC enters this week with a 1-1 record against the SEC this season after Clemson’s win against Auburn and NC State’s loss to Tennessee. The ACC is looking for its first winning record against the SEC since 2003, when it finished 5-4.
This isn’t the first time the ACC has faced high expectations going into these games.
You might remember 2009, when Georgia Tech was ranked No. 7, heading to the ACC title game, and lost, 30-24, to Georgia. That same weekend, Clemson was ranked No. 18 in the country and also heading to the ACC title game to face Georgia Tech. The Tigers lost 34-17 to a mediocre South Carolina team.
The ACC has already proven the rankings can be irrelevant.
This season, the ACC needs to prove it’s not irrelevant, too.
Let's take a look:
Boston College. The Eagles are going to end up with consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1997 and '98. At 2-7, the goal has to be avoiding their worst season since going 2-9 in 1989. That, and trying to save coach Frank Spaziani's job -- if they can.
Clemson. ACC title/BCS chances are at stake. If the Tigers win out, they will have broken their three-game losing streak to South Carolina AND will get a chance at securing an at-large berth in the BCS. If they win out AND Florida State loses to either Virginia Tech or Maryland, the Tigers are back in the ACC championship game.
Florida State. If the Seminoles win their last two ACC games, they are in the ACC title game. If they win out, they have their first 11-win season since 2000.
Maryland. Even though the Terps have been the unluckiest team in America, they still have a shot at bowl eligibility if they win two of their final three games. That is a big "if" with Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina left. But at least they doubled their win total from a year ago.
NC State. The Wolfpack have to end a two-game losing streak and finish strong -- they need only one more win to clinch their third straight bowl season.
Wake Forest. For a program that has seen its best players miss games because of injuries, being on the precipice of bowl eligibility is a huge accomplishment. The Deacs need one win over NC State, Notre Dame or Vanderbilt to go to consecutive bowl games for the first time since 2007 and '08.
Duke. If the Blue Devils win out, they are in the ACC championship game for the first time.
Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets need two wins in their final three games to keep their 15-year bowl streak alive. They also have an outside shot at the Coastal Division.
Miami. If the Hurricanes win out, they are in the ACC championship game for the first time.
North Carolina. The Tar Heels do not have postseason hopes because they are ineligible, but finishing first in the Coastal Division has been a huge goal for this team. It is called playing for pride.
Virginia. The Hoos have not been mathematically eliminated from Coastal Division contention, but the more immediate goal is to win out to become bowl-eligible again.
Virginia Tech. The Hokies are having one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory. They still have an outside shot at the Coastal Division. But At 4-5, they must avoid finishing with their worst record since going 8-5 in 2003. The last time they had a losing record? Try 2-8-1 in 1992.
1. What happens at quarterback for Miami? Starter Stephen Morris has been held out of full contact practice all week because of a sprained ankle, and his status against Florida State seems pretty doubtful. Coach Al Golden has said Morris would be a game-time decision, but the Hurricanes are preparing for Ryan Williams to start. If that happens, Williams will be making his first Miami start against in-state rival Florida State and one of the best defenses in the nation.
3. How does NC State respond after a bye? This is our first chance to see the Wolfpack since their 17-16 upset of then-No. 3 Florida State two weeks ago. So what can we expect? Their opponent, Maryland, is the only undefeated team in ACC play and has one of the best defenses in the nation. So there is no overstating how important this game is in the Atlantic race. NC State is 4-2 under Tom O'Brien after a bye. The results have been decided by an average of only nine points per game.
4. Speaking of byes ... Clemson, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech were off last week as well, so we will see whether the time off works to their advantage. In the cases of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, the time away seemed to come at a perfect time. The Deacs are reeling, having lost three of four, with off-the-field issues threatening to overshadow the season. The Yellow Jackets have been working hard to simplify their defensive scheme under interim coordinator Charles Kelly and coach Paul Johnson. The new theme on defense: less is more.
5. Run games to watch, Part I. Can Duke stop Giovani Bernard? A week after giving up 183 yards to freshman J.C. Coleman, how do the Blue Devils go about slowing down Bernard? The North Carolina running back has been sensational the past two weeks, with 439 yards rushing and two touchdowns combined. Bernard would be leading the league in rushing if he had enough carries to qualify. Duke is hoping for a win against North Carolina for the first time since 2003, a victory that would make the Blue Devils bowl eligible.
6. Run games to watch, Part II. Can the Hokies run on Clemson? As noted above, Virginia Tech got its ground game going last week, racking up a season-high 269 yards rushing. Coach Frank Beamer says he is not going to just stick with J.C. Coleman -- he will continue to rotate his backs against the Tigers. Clemson has had its share of struggles stopping the run, holding only Boston College under 100 yards on the ground this season.
7. Run games to watch, Part III. Will Maryland be able to solve its rushing woes against NC State? The Terps are one of the worst teams in the nation when it comes to running the football, averaging 71.3 yards per game and a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. They are on pace to set program lows in the modern era for average rushing yards per game and average yards per carry. The current program-low is 81.3 rushing yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry, set in 1966. The last time Maryland failed to average more than 100 yards rushing per game was in 1997 (88.5 ypg). (Note: the Maryland stats record book goes back to 1947.)
8. Losing streaks, Part I: Virginia. The Hoos have lost five straight, the longest losing streak in the ACC. It is their longest losing streak since dropping six straight to close the 2009 season. Virginia gets Wake Forest this week, another team that is on a bit of a losing skid as well. For Virginia to maintain any bowl hopes, it has to win this game. If not, the Hoos face the prospect of having to win out to become bowl eligible.
9. Losing streaks, Part II: Boston College and Georgia Tech. These teams also have had their share of adversity to overcome. The Yellow Jackets have lost three straight; the Eagles four straight. The good news is somebody will end their losing streak. The bad news is somebody will have a lot more questions to answer about the direction of the program.
10. Record watch. Here are some marks to keep an eye on this weekend. Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington needs 51 rushing yards to join Joshua Nesbitt as the only players in school history with 2,500 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards. ... Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has 5,905 yards passing and should pass Woodrow Dantzler (6,037) for second place against Virginia Tech. ... Duke receiver Conner Vernon is 111 yards away from the school career mark of 3,318 yards receiving, set by Clarkston Hine. Vernon is 217 yards short of the ACC career mark of 3,517 held by Florida State’s Peter Warrick.
Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1) at No. 19 Clemson (5-1, 2-1). These two teams got quite familiar with each other last year, when they played twice -- once during the regular season and once in the ACC Championship Game. Clemson won both -- the only time in Virginia Tech history it lost to the same team twice in one season. Are the Hokies truly back, or did they get the benefit of playing a Duke team last week that was not quite ready for prime time? They got an incredible performance from running back J.C. Coleman, who ran for 183 yards against the Blue Devils. He will be a key to watch, as Clemson has struggled once again to stop the run, ranking No. 99 in the nation. Clemson, meanwhile, goes into the game off a bye and brings its own outstanding running back to the table in Andre Ellington. Virginia Tech also has struggled to slow down the run, so Ellington could be in line for a big game.
NC State (4-2, 1-1) at Maryland (4-2, 2-0). Your Atlantic Division leaders ladies and gentlemen -- Maryland! Bet you did not think this game would be critical in the race for the division crown back when the season started. But this is the ACC, so we always expect the unexpected. NC State has to win this game if it wants to keep pace in the race. The Wolfpack had a bye after their huge victory over then-No. 3 Florida State, so we will see if they can pick up where they left off and avoid any letdowns. They will face a huge test in slowing down Stefon Diggs, who had 239 all-purpose yards last week in a win over Virginia. Maryland, meanwhile, has to find a way to cut down on its turnovers to give itself a chance. The Terps rank No. 110 in the nation in turnover margin.
No. 14 Florida State (6-1, 3-1) at Miami (4-3, 3-1). It has been years since this game had the national spotlight, but this remains an intense in-state rivalry. Florida State has won three of the last four in the series and can become bowl eligible with a victory. Miami, meanwhile, could be without starting quarterback Stephen Morris, whose availability is in question because of a sprained ankle. Florida State will no doubt try to attack Miami on the ground with Chris Thompson, who is having a resurgent season after a back injury forced him out in 2011. The Hurricanes are giving up an average of 253.7 yards rushing, and until they figure out how to stop the run, this is going to be an area that will be attacked for the remainder of the season.
The rest of the schedule
North Carolina (5-2, 2-1) at Duke (5-2, 2-1). This will be the 99th meeting between the two programs. The Blue Devils are trying to win their first game over the rival Tar Heels since 2003, and their first in Durham since 1988. The question is whether Duke can rebound after blowing a 20-0 first-quarter lead on Virginia Tech. The player to watch will be North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard, who has 439 yards rushing in the last two weeks.
Wake Forest (3-3, 1-3) at Virginia (2-5, 0-3). These teams are mired with struggles right now. Virginia has the longest losing streak in the ACC (five straight defeats); Wake Forest has lost three of its last four. The Deacs were off last week and hope to be healthier going into this game, but recent suspensions have just added to what has been a tough season.
Boston College (1-5, 0-3) at Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3). The Eagles are still looking for their first win over an FBS team after getting blown out at Tallahassee. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, comes into this game off a bye. We will get our first chance to see interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly in his new role. How much improvement will we see out of the defense?
From hope to heartache in a matter of weeks, ACC fans and their teams have run the gamut of emotions in the first half of the season.
The conference started out strong with a nationally televised showdown between top-10 teams Florida State and Clemson. It was prime-time entertainment with ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew in Tallahassee, Fla., and both teams lived up to the billing and looked worthy of their preseason hype and rankings. The conference puffed out its chest even more with the news that Notre Dame would commit to playing five games against the ACC annually, a solid steppingstone to the Irish possibly joining the conference full-time one day.
And then came the crash.
What was pure bliss for NC State in Week 6 was devastating to the ACC. In stunning, dramatic fashion, NC State quarterback Mike Glennon completed three fourth-down passes in the final drive of the fourth quarter, leading the Pack to a 17-16 upset of Florida State. Instantaneously, the league faded back into irrelevance in the national picture. No longer could the ACC mask an otherwise abysmal season with its top-five team.
Suddenly, the rest of the ACC’s warts seemed uglier.
Georgia Tech fired its defensive coordinator, Al Groh. After coming up short in losses to two Big East teams, Bud Foster’s Virginia Tech defense allowed North Carolina to score more points -- 48 -- than any other ACC team has ever scored against the Hokies. Boston College lost to a previously winless Army team, further indicating this could be Frank Spaziani’s last season as head coach. Wake Forest suspended six players for its game at Maryland and two more the following week. Two of the league’s brightest stars -- NC State cornerback David Amerson and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins -- have yet to shine like they did a year ago, but two rookies -- Maryland’s Stefon Diggs and Miami’s Duke Johnson -- emerged as household names in ACC country.
With Duke and Miami briefly leading the Coastal Division standings, and Maryland atop the Atlantic Division standings, the ACC was officially turned upside down in the first half of the season. Preseason Coastal favorite Virginia Tech was out of the Top 25 by Week 3 and Georgia Tech sank into a four-loss crater, leaving the door wide open. The Blue Devils knocked it down with a 5-1 start, and the wildly unpredictable Cardiac Canes elbowed their way to the top of the division standings. Miami overcame its youth, and Duke found a way to overcome numerous injuries -- including ones to several key starters on defense and also to starting quarterback Sean Renfree -- for its best start since 1994. Duke entered Week 7 with the best record in the state of North Carolina, but couldn't hold onto the magic and was shut out for the final three quarters of a 41-20 loss at Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, the postseason-ineligible Tar Heels looked like the most complete team in the division.
Four teams in the Coastal Division have one league loss. Maryland is the only ACC team still undefeated in conference play. About the only predictable thing in this conference is its unpredictability -- and its failure to maintain a national title contender through November.
Offensive MVP: Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins needed only the season opener to set the Clemson single-game record for receptions with 13 against Auburn. Hopkins has been near the ACC lead in receiving yards per game all season, and has a 129.5 average entering the game with Virginia Tech. He has 370 receiving yards on 18 catches in the past two games and was leading the nation in total receiving yards entering games of Oct. 13.
Defensive MVP: FSU DE Bjoern Werner: Werner has looked like a pro this season. Nobody had more sacks in the opening weekend of FBS college football, and he has been relentless in pursuit of opposing quarterbacks. Of Werner’s 21 tackles on the season, 10 are tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks.
Biggest surprise: Duke. The Blue Devils’ 5-1 start was their best since 1994, also the last time the program went to a bowl game. Duke started out 2-0 in ACC play with wins against Wake Forest and Virginia. That the team was able to overcome so many injuries to key players and leap Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division standings was evidence the recruiting and depth have improved significantly.
Biggest disappointment: Virginia Tech. The Hokies were ranked No. 16 in The Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll, but fell out entirely after an embarrassing road loss to Pitt in Week 3. Instead of that being an anomaly, Virginia Tech went 0-2 against the Big East and lost back-to-back games against Cincinnati and North Carolina. With eight starters having to be replaced on offense, struggles were expected, but the defense fell far below expectations.
Best game: Florida State at NC State. This one changed the entire season, and it couldn’t have come in more thrilling fashion. On fourth down with 16 seconds left, Mike Glennon threw what would be the game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Underwood for the 17-16 win. It was the highest-ranked opponent NC State has defeated since beating No. 2 Florida State 24-7 in 1998, and it opened up the Atlantic Division race.
Newcomer of the year: Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs. He became the only Maryland freshman to record back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since at least 1985, and one of those performances came against West Virginia. Diggs is the only player in the ACC, and one of two nationally, with 350 receiving yards, 150 punt return yards and 150 kickoff return yards (joining Bernard Reedy of Toledo). Diggs leads the ACC and ranks third nationally with 21.5 yards per catch.
Best coach: David Cutcliffe, Duke: He kept his players believing, and the program turned the corner in his fifth season. It is only the third Duke start of 5-1 or better in the past 30 years (5-1 in 2012; 6-0 in 1994; 5-1 in 1988). With home wins against FIU, N.C. Central, Memphis and Virginia this season, the Blue Devils also have opened the year with four consecutive home wins for the first time since 1994.
1. Florida State (6-1, 3-1 ACC; LW: No. 1) -- The Seminoles bounced back from their deflating loss to NC State with a convincing 51-7 drubbing of Boston College. They’ll get more of a fight this week when they face rival Miami on the road, but on paper, this is another game the Noles should win.
2. Clemson (5-1, 2-1; LW: No. 2) -- The Tigers had a bye week, and they’re going to be catching Virginia Tech right when the Hokies might have turned the corner with an historic comeback win against Duke. Clemson owned the Hokies in two wins last year, including the ACC title game.
3. NC State (4-2, 1-1; LW: No. 5) -- The Wolfpack had a bye week to digest their upset of then-No. 3-ranked Florida State and turn their focus to Saturday’s trip to Maryland. Quarterback Mike Glennon made three fourth-down completions in the fourth quarter last week and will be looking for another important Atlantic Division win.
4. North Carolina (5-2, 2-1; LW: No. 6) -- The Tar Heels got their first road win of the season against Miami, but UNC committed 15 penalties for 140 yards in the 18-14 win over the Canes. It didn’t matter in the end because Miami had no answer for running back Giovani Bernard, who ran for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
5. Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1; LW: No. 8) -- The Hokies scored 41 unanswered points in the final three quarters to beat Duke 41-20 on Saturday in the biggest comeback the program has seen under coach Frank Beamer. Virginia Tech avoided a second Coastal Division loss and has some momentum heading into Death Valley.
6. Maryland (4-2, 2-0; LW: No. 7) -- The Terps are the only ACC team still undefeated in league play, and they are leading the Atlantic Division standings. They’ll face much stiffer competition when NC State visits on Saturday, but Maryland’s defense has kept it in every game this season and is one of the best in the ACC.
7. Miami (4-3, 3-1; LW: No. 4) -- The Hurricanes’ rushing defense has been one of its weakest links this season, as Miami is allowing 253.71 rushing yards per game. UNC ran for 272 yards against the Canes, and Florida State has the capability to do the same this weekend.
8. Duke (5-2, 2-1; LW: No. 3) -- The Blue Devils probably wouldn’t have dropped so far in the rankings so fast had they played a more respectable final three quarters, but squandering a 20-point lead brought Duke crashing back to reality. The team had a chance at a marquee win for the program, but four turnovers put the bowl bid on hold for now.
9. Wake Forest (3-3, 1-3; LW: No. 10) -- The Deacs had a bye week, and they needed it after losing back-to-back conference games and suspending eight players in the past two weeks. Wake Forest travels to UVa this weekend in a game that will be critical to the Deacs’ bowl hopes.
10. Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3; LW: No. 9) -- It’s been a tumultuous season for the Jackets, who fired former defensive coordinator Al Groh last week. Interim Charles Kelly at least had the bye week to make the transition in preparation of Saturday’s game against Boston College. The main game plan, coach Paul Johnson said last week, is to simplify things for the defense.
11. Virginia (2-5, 0-3; LW: No. 11) -- Not much has gone right for the Hoos, who have lost five straight games heading into Saturday’s matchup against Wake Forest. Virginia is No. 99 in the country in scoring defense, allowing 33 points per game, but has also struggled offensively with quarterbacks Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims.
12. Boston College (1-5, 0-3; LW: No. 12) -- The Eagles are still looking for their first conference win of the season, and have lost four straight as they head into their third straight road game. The Eagles haven’t been able to run the ball or stop the run this season, but the passing game has shown improvement under coordinator Doug Martin.