ACC playoff watch: Week 9

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
3:00
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We’re down to two playoff contenders left in the ACC, and as top teams around the country continue to tumble, the urgency of each upcoming matchup is magnified more than ever. Here’s how things stack up for the ACC after eight weeks.

Where the ACC stands: From now until the end of the season, it’s not about profile or reputation for the ACC. It’s simply about wins and, more specifically, wins for Florida State. The league continues to have just two ranked teams and now has just two officially alive for the playoff. That would be FSU, which beat Notre Dame in controversial fashion, and Duke, the defending Coastal champs that continue to chug along.

[+] EnlargeShaun Wilson
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesShaun Wilson and Duke have quietly put together a 6-1 record and are still a College Football Playoff contender.
Top playoff contenders: Florida State (No. 2 AP, No. 7 FPI), Duke (NR AP, No. 38 FPI)

Nonconference record: 36-14 (1-0 last week), 22-14 vs. FBS, 5-7 vs. Power 5 and Notre Dame

Week 8 recap: Let’s start with Duke, perhaps the most overlooked playoff contender in America. There are 23 teams yet to be plucked from the ranks of playoff possibilities according to our Eliminator, and only two -- Duke and Minnesota -- remain unranked in the AP poll.

But if any team is used to being overlooked, it’s Duke. The Blue Devils don’t seem to care. They just keep winning. One week after ending Georgia Tech’s time atop the division, they pulled the same trick with Virginia, and suddenly the chances of Duke finishing out the regular season at 11-1 seem somewhat realistic.

If that happens, it will almost certainly be Florida State that awaits the Blue Devils in Charlotte. More and more, the narrative around the Seminoles is that they’re a flawed team teetering on the brink of a loss.

FSU reinforced that storyline against Notre Dame, struggling throughout the first half and requiring a controversial penalty that overturned what would’ve been a game-winning TD for the Fighting Irish with just seconds to play.

If irrelevance is Duke’s burden, lofty standards are Florida State’s. When Auburn pulled off one miracle after another last year, it was hailed as a team of destiny and marched into the BCS title game at 12-1 riding two of the more unlikely wins of all time against Georgia and Alabama. Florida State has fought back to win games against Clemson, NC State and Notre Dame, but the storyline seems to be much different. The Seminoles are no team of destiny. They’re a team that keeps narrowly scraping by. Chalk it up to the high standard set by last year's national championship crew. It might not be fair, but it’s reality.

What's that mean for FSU? Well, just look at the FPI rankings. Despite beating a top-5 team, FSU tumbled from No. 4 to No. 7 -- now trailing five SEC teams and an Ohio State squad that lost at home to Virginia Tech in Week 2. Again, FSU belongs in the playoff, but it still can't afford a loss in spite of clearing its biggest obstacle of the season.

Paradoxically, Notre Dame's loss appears to have only burnished its playoff pedigree, which might also be a good thing for the ACC. Given that the league plays four games against the Irish this year, and that they’ll likely be the highest-ranked team FSU plays all season, respect for Notre Dame is respect for the ACC.

That loss, however, did knock another team from the ranks of the undefeated, as did Baylor’s stumble against West Virginia. Florida State is now one of just four teams in the nation without a loss.

Also of note, Georgia Tech fell to North Carolina in the final minute Saturday, thus officially eliminating the Yellow Jackets from playoff contention.

Week 9 preview: The slate in the ACC is ugly, with both of the remaining playoff contenders enjoying a bye. FSU has a particularly daunting task against Louisville the following week, and Duke has a showdown with Pittsburgh that could decide the leader of the Coastal Division. For Week 9, however, it’ll be a little bit of scoreboard watching for the league’s contenders.

Oregon, Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss -- all ranked in the top 10 -- go on the road for conference games this week, which could set up for some more chaos in what’s already been a chaotic season. While the first three teams are favored by at least two touchdowns, Ole Miss heads to LSU for a night game in Baton Rouge -- always a tough place to win. At this point, chaos is good for Florida State, assuming the Seminoles can avoid the absurdity. The more top contenders that have a loss on their resume, the better Florida State’s winning streak looks -- even if those wins came in close calls.

Drawing Conclusions: Week 8

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
12:38
PM ET


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A look at the aftermath in the wake of all of the week 8 college football action.

Top trap games remaining for contenders 

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:15
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Oregon didn't see Arizona coming. Baylor was blindsided by West Virginia. Now those teams' playoff hopes are damaged, if not totaled.

It's often the surprising losses -- the trap games -- that derail promising seasons. Just ask Oklahoma State (Iowa State) in 2011 or USC (Oregon State) in 2008.

As for 2014, here are the most perilous traps remaining down the stretch for the top six in the AP poll. That includes Mississippi State, FSU and Ole Miss, the three remaining undefeated Power 5 teams.

1. Ole Miss
Trap game: at Arkansas (Nov. 22)
When they go to Fayetteville, the Rebels will essentially be coming off two open dates (they play Presbyterian on Nov. 8). But Arkansas still presents a classic look-ahead scenario, because Ole Miss has the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State the following week. The "biggest Egg Bowl ever" chatter is buzzing now; just imagine what it will be like a week before the game. If the Rebels' focus is waning, Arkansas is good enough to punish them for it. Mark it down: The Razorbacks are going to end their 16-game SEC losing streak this season, and it wouldn't surprise me if it happened in an impactful game. Mississippi State (Nov. 1) also should be on high alert. Arkansas will slow down the game. Even if Ole Miss isn't running as much up-tempo this season, pace is still something the Rebs want to dictate. The timing and matchup are as dangerous as it gets.

ACC Show: Week 9 (2 ET)

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:00
AM ET
Join ESPN.com ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker as they discuss the Week 9 slate and answer your questions live on screen.

ACC morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
8:00
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It's rarely a good sign when a defensive coordinator is imploring a fanbase to respect the job his defense has done, but that's what Miami assistant Mark D'Onofrio was doing this week.

"Give the guys some credit," D'Onofrio said in this article from Matt Porter of The Palm Beach (Florida) Post.

The truth is the Miami defense has played well this season. The problem is the defense is not stepping up in the games the Miami program needs it to.

Against Nebraska, the Hurricanes were torched on the ground and allowed the Cornhuskers to convert 70 percent of their third-down attempts. In the Hurricanes' three losses, all on the road, they are allowing opponents to convert nearly 60 percent of their third-down attempts. With the Miami offense improving each week, the defense needs to do a much better job of giving quarterback Brad Kaaya the ball.

There have also been two games already in which Miami allowed more than 300 rushing yards, and if the Hurricanes were able to get a few stops against Georgia Tech, there was a good chance they could have won the game.

But D'Onofrio is right in that the defense is seemingly taking steps in the right direction. The unit played well in the first half against Cincinnati, and it put the clamps on Duke at the end of September.

The problem is the Georgia Tech loss was sandwiched between those games, and that inconsistency is causing Canes fans to pull their hair out.

With a date against Virginia Tech on Thursday, the odds are the defense will limit the Hokies, who rank 83rd nationally in total offense. But what will happen the next two games against North Carolina and Florida State?
  • Virginia Tech's defense needs to be prepared on Thursday night, too.
  • Once North Carolina began racking up the points, the Georgia Tech defense began playing without discipline by trying to make the big play instead executing the called play.
  • For the Tar Heels to truly turn this season around, the defense will need to begin making strides.
  • Clemson is right where most people expected them to be at 5-2, but Dabo Swinney still sees greatness for this team.
  • Syracuse still expects its indoor facility to be ready in December.
  • Florida State linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was suspended the first six games, saw quite a bit of action in his first game back.
  • Miles Gooch was a productive high school quarterback, but like so many star athletes at the position, a change was needed in college. Now Gooch is Virginia's leading receiver.
  • Louisville will wear alternate uniforms for next week's game against Florida State. Do you like them? More importantly: does it matter? I don't buy the theory that alternate uniforms -- black, gray, turquoise -- have any impact on a game.
  • If you like Pittsburgh football and like math, here's a breakdown of James Conner's bounce back from a drop off. While Conner was better against Virginia Tech, he still wasn't the dominating runner Pitt fans saw the first few weeks.
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Real Money takes a look at BCS Championship, NBA Finals and World Series ticket prices.

Playoff Field: Week 9

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
12:27
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Cary Chow, Heather Dinich, and Adam Rittenberg take a look at where things stand after week 8 of the college football season, and what the playoff selection committee will have to do when sorting out all of the one-loss teams.

Playoff Top 4: Week 9

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
12:21
PM ET


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Heather Dinich gives her weekly look at the College Football Playoff picture and picks the four teams she would put in the playoff if the season ended today.

Heisman Watch: Week 9

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
12:14
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After a pair of solid performances in their head-to-head matchup, Cary Chow and Adam Rittenberg wonder where Jameis Winston and Everett Golson should be ranked in the Heisman race.

Weekend recruiting wrap: ACC 

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
10:00
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The weekend has come and gone without a single commitment to an ACC program. With that said, there is plenty to talk about within the conference including huge official visitors for Florida State, a key offer by Louisville and a look at some players that could flip.


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Adam Rittenberg discusses the comment made by NCAA president Mark Emmert about the concept of allowing players to receive compensation for autographs.

ACC morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
8:00
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It appears as if Virginia Tech will lose its second defensive starter to a medical redshirt this season.

Starting defensive tackle Luther Maddy said Monday night on Twitter that he needs a second surgery on his knee and will sit out the rest of the season.
Maddy initially tore the meniscus in his right knee against East Carolina in Week 3, but played 48 snaps with the injury against Georgia Tech. He underwent surgery last month, and the timetable for his return was listed as two-to-four weeks. Though he was listed as probable to play against Pitt, Maddy did not and was not scheduled to play against Miami on Thursday night.

His loss is a big one for the Hokies, who have had to make do without him for the last three games. Nigel Williams replaced him in the lineup, but it's tough to make up for Maddy's experience and skill-set. The four-year starter was a preseason All-ACC team selection after he had 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries a season ago. In four games this season, Maddy had seven hurries.

Virginia Tech also plans on redshirting Brandon Facyson, who started the season at cornerback opposite Kendall Fuller. Facyson has been slow to heal from a stress fracture to his shin and has not played since Week 3.

In one other Virginia Tech injury note, running back Marshawn Williams is expected to play against the Hurricanes after missing last week with a sprained ankle.

Over at Georgia Tech, the Jackets got some tough injury news of their own when coach Paul Johnson said that starting B-back Zach Laskey probably won't play at Pitt on Saturday. Laskey hurt his shoulder late against North Carolina last week and was in a sling Monday. Laskey has been terrific this season, with a team-high 120 carries for 595 yards and five touchdowns.

He gained 70 or more yards in each game this season.

Now let's see what else is making headlines in the ACC:

Jimbo Fisher cuts short interview

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
10:25
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Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher cut short a media interview Monday after he was asked whether his reputation was taking a hit because of star quarterback Jameis Winston's off-field issues.

Fisher has faced heavy criticism for both standing up for Winston throughout the university's handling of the investigation about whether the quarterback sexually assaulted an FSU student in December 2012, and not coming out with a stronger suspension of Winston for a recent profane and sexually charged outburst.

Fisher was asked in an interview with AL.com and several other media outlets whether he thought his reputation as a no-nonsense coach had received any damaging blows in light of Winston's several off-field incidents and subsequent questionable behavior.

"Why is my reputation taking a hit? For backing a kid who has done nothing wrong?" Fisher said. "I don't want to get into this. The questions weren't supposed to be asked today. I'm done. I'm done."

The interview abruptly ended.

Later Monday, AL.com said Fisher contacted the website and agreed to answer several questions about his Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback he had earlier declined to answer.

The questions included whether any date had been set for an upcoming student judiciary hearing in which Winston might have violated the university's student conduct code for his behavior during the alleged 2012 sexual assault.

"They'll have to set the date for that and it'll be through our administration and their lawyers," Fisher said.

He also conceded he'd be open to disciplining Winston "if the facts change."


(Read full post)


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"SportsNation" discusses Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and the advice that he gave QB Jameis Winston after the Seminoles' 31-27 win over Notre Dame on Saturday.

Noles Keep On Winning

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
4:36
PM ET


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Despite loses to graduation, the NFL, injury, public relations, and many other things, Gene Wojciechowski explains that Florida State just keeps on winning.

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