Florida State Seminoles: Aaron Murray

Editor’s note: Each day this week Florida State reporter David M. Hale and Auburn reporter Greg Ostendorf will preview a position battle in Monday’s VIZIO BCS National Championship Game. Today’s matchup is between Florida State’s wide receivers and Auburn’s secondary.

Florida State’s wide receivers: It’s not a deep group, but there may not be a more dynamic set of receivers in the country than what Jameis Winston has at his disposal at Florida State.

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Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFSU WR Kelvin Benjamin is a physical presence who can also break free and make big plays.
Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw are all within striking distance of 1,000 yards. Greene is one of the nation’s most consistent threats, and while he’s not imposing physically, he runs precise routes and rarely drops a pass. Shaw is the lone senior in the group, and he’s averaging 18 yards a catch and has topped 89 yards receiving seven times. But it’s Benjamin who should keep Auburn defenders awake at night.

At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, Benjamin is as physical a receiving threat as there is in college football. He excels at jump balls, is physical at the line of scrimmage, and loves blocking downfield. His career has been marked by inconsistency, but he was red hot to end the regular season, with 17 catches for 458 yards and eight TDs in his last four games.

Even if Auburn manages to corral all of Florida State’s deep threats, tight end Nick O’Leary is a wild card. O’Leary has 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns this season and is one of Winston’s favorite targets. As the big three receivers draw attention downfield, O’Leary provides a dangerous weapon underneath and is capable of picking up big chunks of yards after the catch.

And, of course, the key to all of it is Winston, the Heisman winner and one of the country’s most aggressive quarterbacks. Winston completes 55.8 percent of his passes of 15 yards or more (second only to Baylor’s Bryce Petty among AQ QBs) and has 19 TDs without an INT in the red zone this season.

Auburn’s secondary: In the last three games, Auburn has had a difficult time defending the pass. Aaron Murray threw for 415 yards and two touchdowns. AJ McCarron threw for 277 yards and three touchdowns. And in the SEC championship game, James Franklin threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Now, the Tigers are about to face the Heisman Trophy winner and the nation’s leader in opponent-adjusted QBR (90.8).

It’s a group that remains confident in their ability, but they know they have a steep challenge ahead of them.

The most notable name is cornerback Chris Davis, but that’s more because of his field-goal return to beat Alabama than his pass coverage. Still, he’s the No. 1 cornerback and the team’s best chance of shutting down an opposing wide receiver. It’s the cornerback opposite Davis, Jonathon Mincy, who teams have been able to pick on this season.

Mincy was defending Amari Cooper when the Alabama wide receiver hauled in a 99-yard touchdown pass in the Iron Bowl. He also had no answer for Missouri wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who finished with six catches for 144 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn. If he draws the assignment of defending Benjamin, which is what he wants, it could be a long day for the Tigers.

The X-factor could be Robenson Therezie who plays the Star position in Ellis Johnson’s 4-2-5 defense. He leads the team in interceptions (four) and is fourth in tackles (55). He’ll primarily focus on covering the slot receiver, but he might also be asked to cover O’Leary at times or even blitz from time to time. Auburn isn’t going to stop Winston, but Therezie could make life a little more difficult for the Florida State quarterback.

Hale: Big edge Florida State

Ostendorf: Edge Florida State

ACC Week 14: Did you know?

November, 29, 2013
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As always, thanks to ESPN Stats & Info and sports information departments everywhere for these tidbits.

MIAMI: Against Virginia, Miami had 45 points with only 11 first downs. The last time that happened at the FBS level was Sept. 13, 1997, when Minnesota (with 11 first downs) beat Iowa State 53-29.

PITTSBURGH: Tyler Boyd is having one of the most productive seasons by a freshman receiver in school history. With one regular-season game left, Boyd has 68 catches, the most of any freshman in the country and one catch shy of Larry Fitzgerald’s Pitt rookie record of 69.

FLORIDA STATE: Alabama and Florida State are 1-2 in the Championship Drive Ratings, while the only other undefeated team, Ohio State, was three spots back at No. 5. FSU has a Championship Drive Rating of 94.3, OSU has a 93.3. While both teams are 11-0, Florida State has controlled in-game win probability (84.6 percent to 81.2) more and has played a slightly tougher schedule (81st to 86th).

DUKE: At 9-2, Duke has already tied its most wins in season (most recently done in 1941) and will be going for its first 10-win season. Duke is looking for its first conference championship since 1989 (co-champion in ACC). The Blue Devils have won seven straight games for the first time since 1994 and are looking for their first eight-game winning streak since 1941 (won nine in a row).

NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels are 21-2 against Duke in their last 23 meetings, but they dropped last year's contest in Durham, N.C. They have not lost consecutive contests to the Blue Devils since dropping three in a row from 1987-89.

WAKE FOREST: The Demon Deacons will play their final game Saturday at Vanderbilt, but they have a few records worth aiming for. Jim Grobe remains tied with "Peahead" Walker for the most wins as a head coach in school history with 77. And quarterback Tanner Price (64 total TDs -- 52 passing, 11 rushing, one receiving) remains one off the school record of 65 career touchdowns held by Riley Skinner (60 passing, four rushing, one receiving).

MARYLAND: Following Alex Amidon’s 74-yard touchdown reception for BC, linebacker Marcus Whitfield blocked the ensuing point-after attempt. Defensive back Anthony Nixon grabbed the ball and went 98 yards for the defensive extra point. It marked the first time in program history that the Terrapins have scored a defensive extra point and it is the first defensive extra point scored by an ACC team since Duke’s Kyler Brown intercepted a two-point attempt against FIU on Sept. 1, 2012. Whitfield is the first Terp to block a PAT since A.J. Francis did it against Georgia Tech on Nov. 3, 2012.

NC STATE: With the exception of one game (vs. No. 2 Florida State), Wolfpack conference games have been relatively competitive. In the Wolfpack's other ACC contests, the average difference in the score after the third quarter has been just 7.1 points. In only one game (vs. then-No. 3 Clemson) did the Pack trail by more than a touchdown, and that was only by 13 points following the third quarter.

GEORGIA TECH: Senior A-back Robert Godhigh is one of the nation’s most explosive all-around players. The 5-foot-7 former walk-on has 961 yards from scrimmage (623 rush, 338 catch), and his average of 13 yards per play leads all FBS running backs. 55 percent of his offensive touches result in rst downs or touchdowns. Godhigh has 13 plays from scrimmage of 30-plus yards, which is the fth-most among all FBS players. Of Godhigh’s 961 yards, 389 yards (40.5 percent) have come after contact.

BOSTON COLLEGE: Andre Williams has gained 958 of his FBS-leading 2,073 yards after contact, 254 more such yards than any other AQ running back. Only 35 FBS players have more total rushing yards than Williams has after contact. Williams has broken 28 tackles this season, seven more than any other AQ running back.

SYRACUSE: The Orange have played BC 46 times, the fifth-most frequent opponent in school history. Syracuse owns the series record, 28-18, including an 18-6 mark at home. The old Big East rivals have not met since 2010, when the Eagles won 16-7. A win Saturday would make Syracuse bowl-eligible for the third time in four years. Syracuse is one of three teams (Ohio State and Wisconsin) to not allow a 100-yard rusher this season, though it will certainly get a test from Williams.

VIRGINIA TECH: Florida's nation-best streak of 22 straight bowl appearances will be snapped, meaning the Hokies will be the new leaders, as they will go to their 21st straight bowl this postseason. Opponents have failed to gain a first down on 49 percent of their drives against the Hokies, the highest percentage in the nation. Virginia Tech is also fourth nationally in fewest yards allowed before contact per game on designed runs, giving up just 52.5 ypg.

VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers' eight-game losing streak is their longest in a single season since 1975. They actually outgained Miami by a margin of 483-304, but they were hurt by the Hurricanes' two defensive touchdowns. They are 37-52-5 all-time against Virginia Tech, but the important number to keep an eye on is 32, as Virginia has scored at least that much in each of its last seven Commonwealth Cup wins dating back to 1989.

CLEMSON: Tajh Boyd's five touchdown passes in a 52-6 Senior Day win over The Citadel gave him 102 for his career. The only other active quarterbacks in the FBS with 100 career touchdown passes are Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Old Dominion’s Taylor Heinicke. But the biggest challenge for Boyd comes Saturday at South Carolina, which is 4-0 against the Tigers during Boyd's career, with Clemson failing to score more than 17 points in any of the contests.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
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It seems like just yesterday we were wondering if Florida State could manage with a freshman quarterback, if Syracuse and Pittsburgh would adjust to their new conference, if Miami was ready to rejoin the national conversation, and if Clemson could hang with the big boys in the SEC. With 13 weeks of football now in the rearview mirror, some of those questions have been answered (this just in: Jameis Winston is good) and a few others remain. Here’s what to watch for as the ACC wraps up its regular season.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMIQuarterback Anthony Boone and the Blue Devils have won seven games in a row.
1. ACC vs. SEC: After years toiling in the spotlight of the big, bad SEC, the ACC finally has a chance to deliver a punishing blow to their neighboring conference. Florida State has a huge edge over reeling Florida, after the Gators just lost to an FCS foe. Georgia Tech won’t have as clear a path to victory against Georgia, but after QB Aaron Murray became the latest Bulldogs star to be lost to injury, the Yellow Jackets certainly enter the game much healthier. Wake Forest can salvage some enthusiasm for the season by upending Vanderbilt, though that might be a tall order if Michael Campanaro can’t play. Then there’s the swing vote in the trio of inter-conference matchups: Clemson and South Carolina. Both teams are ranked in the top 10, and a win by the Tigers could be the single most significant nonconference victory of the year for the ACC.

2. Coastal showdown: For Duke, a win secures history. It would be the Blue Devils’ first trip to the ACC title game as well as their first 10-win season. Standing in Duke’s way, however, is red-shot North Carolina, which has won five games in a row after a 1-5 start to the season. Should the Tar Heels win -- and they’re actually favored -- the Coastal Division becomes a complete mess, with as many as five teams staking a claim to a share of the division title.

3. FSU’s defense vs. Florida’s offense: It really can’t get much worse offensively for the Gators, who haven’t topped 20 points in their past six games. Meanwhile, Florida State’s defense has been making plenty of teams look bad this year. The Seminoles are allowing just 4 yards per play this season, and in its past six games have racked up 18 takeaways, including six touchdowns.

4. Boyd’s curtain call: Few quarterbacks in ACC history have accomplished more on the field than Tajh Boyd, who now owns the conference record for touchdown passes and has thrown for more than 11,000 yards in his Clemson career. And aside from a disappointing loss to Florida State, 2013 has been a banner year for Boyd, who has 29 touchdown passes and is averaging a career-high 9.4 yards per attempt. But it’s hard to shrug off that loss to FSU or the fact that Clemson won’t play for an ACC title for the second straight season. Add to that, Boyd has never beaten South Carolina as the Tigers’ starting quarterback, and there’s a large part of his legacy on the line as he prepares to take the field against the Gamecocks for the final time.

5. Hokies stay hungry: Virginia Tech opened the season 6-1, the lone loss to No. 1 Alabama. It looked like the start of a banner season in Blacksburg, but it fell apart quickly. The Hokies have lost three of four now, and much of the early season goodwill has evaporated. But here’s the thing: If Tech can beat Virginia for the 14th time in 15 seasons this week, and Duke falls to UNC on the road, it will be the Hokies heading to Charlotte for the ACC championship game.

6. Terps say goodbye: Injuries certainly unraveled Maryland’s season, but coach Randy Edsall’s crew can wrap up its final year in the ACC with a winning record by beating reeling NC State on Saturday. When the season is over, Maryland moves on to the Big Ten, replaced by Louisville in 2014. But a winning season amid so much off-field chaos would be a solid finale for Edsall and the Terps, who have already locked up bowl eligibility.

7. Donald vs. Morris: For Miami, the season has gone into a tailspin since losing star tailback Duke Johnson, leaving QB Stephen Morris as the best vestige of hope on offense. He’ll try to carry the Canes to a second straight win this week against Pitt, but the task won’t be easy. Panthers defensive tackle Aaron Donald is making a push for ACC defensive player of the year honors after nearly single-handedly delivering a win over Syracuse last week. For the season, Donald leads the nation with 26.5 tackles for loss, six more than his closest competitor.

8. Williams keeps climbing: With his fifth 200-yard rushing game of the season last week, Boston College’s Andre Williams crossed the 2,000-yard mark for the season. He now leads the country with 2,073 yards, nearly 500 yards more than his closest competition. In the past decade, just two FBS players have run for more -- UCF’s Kevin Smith (2,567) and Tulane’s Matt Forte (2,127), both in 2007 -- and Williams still has two more games to pad his totals.

9. Can Cuse make it 11? North Carolina and Pittsburgh became the ninth and 10th ACC teams to clinch bowl eligibility last week, and Syracuse can make it 11 with a win over Boston College on Saturday. A one-point loss kept the Orange from clinching No. 6 last week. Syracuse made it to a bowl game in two of the past three seasons.

10. Pack, Hoos face ignominy: The last time an ACC team other than Duke finished its conference slate without a win was 1995. On Saturday, that dismal fate could befall two teams: NC State and Virginia. The Wolfpack have lost seven straight games, but will try to salvage one ACC win against Maryland. Virginia is in even worse shape. It hosts rival Virginia Tech having lost 14 of its past 16 conference games and nine straight against the Hokies.

ACC has chance to sweep SEC rivals

November, 25, 2013
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The ACC has a great chance this week to make history, to do something it hasn’t done in over a decade -- sweep its big three SEC rivals.

Georgia is down. Florida is out. And South Carolina is beatable.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Don Juan Moore/Getty ImagesQB Jameis Winston and the Seminoles are a win over Florida away from heading to the ACC title game.
Not since 2000 has the ACC gone 3-0 in those games, and the conference hasn’t had a winning record against the SEC since 2003, when it finished 5-4. The ACC started the season with gusto, as Clemson beat Georgia in a matchup of two top-10 teams, and Miami beat Florida, giving coach Al Golden his first true marquee win with the Canes. The perception of those wins -- and those opponents -- has since been tarnished, thanks to the decline of both SEC teams this fall, but the value of wins over those programs still far outweighs the negativity that would surround the ACC should it lose those games this week.

Every season, pressure is on the ACC -- and every other BCS conference -- to close the gap with the SEC. The difference between the ACC and the rest of the college football world, though, is that the SEC’s shadow overlaps with ACC country like no other, and nobody lines up against the nation’s best conference more than the ACC. The comparisons are inevitable not only because of the close proximity and the shared recruiting turf, but also because of the built-in rivalries that highlight every November.

The difference this year is that not only can the ACC win these games, but it should be expected to.

Georgia, which dropped out of the rankings in Week 9, has lost starting quarterback Aaron Murray for the rest of the season with a torn ACL -- a devastating blow to a team already riddled with injuries. The senior injured his left knee in Saturday’s 59-17 win against Kentucky. For the first time since 2009, the Bulldogs will line up with a different quarterback under center. Hutson Mason, who redshirted last year, will face a much-improved Georgia Tech defense. The Jackets have won four of their past five games, the lone loss coming to Clemson. The bigger issue in Atlanta, though, has been the lopsided results in the series. Last season's 42-10 drubbing in Athens was the 11th time in 12 years that Georgia had won. The exception was in 2008, Paul Johnson’s first season, when Georgia Tech pulled off a stunning 45-42 upset of No. 11-ranked Georgia.

This season, it wouldn’t be so stunning. And it wouldn’t exactly be an upset. In fact, of the ranked teams playing this week, the ACC has the upper hand.

For both No. 6 Clemson and No. 2 Florida State, BCS bowls are at stake, though many would agree that Clemson could actually afford to lose to South Carolina and still be a top pick for the Discover Orange Bowl. Those within the program, though, would obviously prefer not to lose to the Gamecocks for a fifth straight time. That losing streak, coupled with the fact that it is senior quarterback Tajh Boyd’s final shot at beating his rival, are distinct motivating factors. For the Seminoles, a win against the Gators would get them one step closer to playing for the national title.

Florida, though, is a mere formality.

The Gators were just embarrassed royally at home in a 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern, Florida’s first loss to an FCS program. It was the worst loss in school history, and a new low for coach Will Muschamp, whose job security is hanging by a thread. Florida, which is in the midst of its first losing season since 1979, will face a Florida State team that has outscored its past three opponents 198-20.

The tables have turned for those rivals.

They could turn for the entire ACC this weekend, too.
1. I don’t know who’s going to win the Campbell Trophy, sometimes referred to the Academic Heisman, but among the 16 finalists announced Thursday by the National Football Foundation are several players who could be All-Americans. Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough, Nebraska guard Spencer Long, Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray could stand on their athletic feats alone. Turns out they grade out well on days besides Saturdays. My Campbell favorite is Penn State guard John Urschel, a graduate student with a 4.00 who teaches math classes.

2. What do you do in an off week? Alabama coach Nick Saban spent his 62nd birthday on, yes, Halloween, doing what he does. “It’s a Thursday,” Saban told me in an ESPNU College Football Podcast interview. Oregon coach Mark Helfrich ran a midweek practice, with the bonus of the scout team offense and defense facing each other. Then there’s Stanford coach David Shaw. He flew to Washington to watch his former Cardinal teammate and close friend Cory Booker sworn in as a U. S. senator from New Jersey.

3. This is the 13th time that Florida State and Miami will play as top-10 teams. That’s not so surprising. Here are a few things that are, according to ESPN Stats & Info: it’s the first time they have met as top-10 teams since 2004; Miami has won the last four of these matchups and leads them 9-3; and the ‘Canes are 4-2 when the lower-ranked of the two. That said, it’s safe to say that in none of those six games were the Seminoles three-touchdown favorites. Miami has a big gap to close.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The enthusiasm eventually overwhelms even the most strident purveyors of moderation, which is why it was hard for even Jimbo Fisher to quash a smile after Saturday's 63-0 win against Maryland in which his quarterback somehow managed to astonish a fan base that has come to expect almost anything from him.

There were the five touchdown passes, a career high.

There were the 393 yards, also a career best.

And there was the escape act, as Jameis Winston slipped through the arms of a would-be tackler, rolled out of the pocket and added more salt in an already gaping wound for the overwhelmed Terrapins.

"It was a tremendous play," Fisher said. "It really was."

Don't expect much more exuberance than that from Fisher, who has worked as hard as anyone to downplay the excitement surrounding Winston since the buzz first began to build this spring, but the seemingly endless series of highlights the redshirt freshman has provided speaks for itself.

In ESPN's latest adjusted QBR rankings, Winston ranks sixth, behind a handful of top Heisman contenders, and a closer examination only underscores how good he's been. In games when FSU has trailed, Winston's QBR is 94.5, second best in the nation behind Georgia's Aaron Murray. On third down, Winston's QBR is 99.1, behind Bryce Petty, Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota. On passing plays this year, Winston's 97.3 QBR trails only Petty.

Winston has compiled those numbers with remarkable consistency, too. In each of his first five starts, Winston has finished with a QBR of at least 75 (on a scale to 100). From 2008 to 2012, only three other quarterbacks did that in their first five games of a season, according to ESPN Stats and Info, and all three -- Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson -- are starting in the NFL.

And then, of course, there's the comparison fans have wanted to make since Winston starred in Florida State's spring game. If a Heisman is in Winston's future, it's largely because Manziel blazed that path as a freshman just a year ago.

So how does Winston stack up to Manziel's first five games from 2012?


(* Manziel had 495 rushing yards in his first five games. Winston has just 135.)

The numbers are close enough that even Fisher can't deny that the Heisman talk isn't so far-fetched -- and that's a statement unto itself.

"When we keep winning games," Fisher said of an appropriate time to discuss Winston's Heisman chances. "The Heisman is the team that wins the most games and the best player on that team. We have to keep having success."

Still, that's a big step from Fisher's stance on the award just a year ago.

After Florida State upended Clemson at home behind a stellar performance from EJ Manuel, the FSU QB vaulted to the top of the Heisman predictions. Fisher was quick to downplay the buzz. He compared Manuel to a hunting dog, and he said the Heisman was for show dogs.

In that win over Clemson, Manuel threw for 380 and two touchdowns. Winston has topped 300 yards and thrown at least four touchdowns in all three of the ACC games he's played so far.

Of course, Manuel's numbers -- and FSU's record -- didn't keep him in contention the rest of last season, and Manziel's strong start proved to be just the beginning. Manziel's final eight games of 2012 were staggering: 67 percent completions, 15 passing TDs and 14 more on the ground, 915 rushing yards, and six games with an adjusted QBR better than 90.

The question now, with No. 3 Clemson looming and expectations rising with every dazzling performance, is how Winston will finish.

Matching Manziel won't be easy, but it's also possible Winston is only getting better.

"With the team I have, it's always been easy," Winston said of his strong start. "It's probably slowing down a little bit more, but those guys around me -- I have so many weapons, I think it's always been looking like that out there."

SEC Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 3, 2013
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The first week of college football is in the books, and it's time to see where we think all 14 SEC teams stack up in our weekly power rankings:

1. Alabama (1-0; LW: 1): OK, Alabama isn't perfect. Contrary to what AJ McCarron said, the offensive line looked ugly for most of the night in Alabama's win over Virginia Tech. It has to get better in a hurry. But when your defense and special teams are clicking like they were on Saturday, who needs offense?

2. South Carolina (1-0; LW: 4): Two players I've been saying to keep an eye on since the spring: Mike Davis and Shaq Roland. Both looked pretty good, especially Davis, in that opening win, and both will be fun to watch this weekend. The defensive front looked great, but can someone please give Jadeveon Clowney some vitamin C and an extra Gatorade?

3. LSU (1-0; LW: 6): Don't sleep on these Tigers. They're undervalued, but were very impressive in their 37-27 victory over a ranked TCU team in their own backyard. The defense still looks fast, and the offense racked up nearly 450 yards behind some explosive plays. The return of running back Jeremy Hill should make this team even better.

4. Texas A&M (1-0; LW: 2): Johnny Manziel looked good when he was actually playing football Saturday. He went through his progressions and didn't think "run" first. But his antics have to stop (just ask Kevin Sumlin), and that defense has to get much, much, MUCH better before Alabama rolls into town in two weeks.

5. Florida (1-0; LW: 5): It doesn't look like the Gators will miss much of a beat defensively after they suffocated Toledo and that uptempo offense. The offense? Well, it did look more polished and the passing game actually moved down the field, but the Gators were very vanilla. Expect that to change against Miami.

6. Georgia (0-1; LW: 3): We knew the defense would struggle against Clemson's high-octane offense, but the Bulldogs looked really bad in the tackling department. This group has to go back to the basics, and that isn't a good thing with physical South Carolina coming to town this weekend. Also, that offensive line has to protect Aaron Murray better because Todd Gurley can't do it all himself on offense.

7. Ole Miss (1-0; LW: 8): The future certainly looks bright in Oxford, Miss., but this program is hoping the present is just as bright. The Rebels kicked off the college football season with an electric, back-and-forth win over Vanderbilt. This offense looks built to go the distance, but depth is still a major concern. Health is key.

8. Vanderbilt (0-1; LW: 7): The Commodores lost a heartbreaker to the Rebels at home, but this team still looks as explosive as it was last year. The defense has some things to clean up, but defensive coordinator Bob Shoop should make sure that happens. Jordan Matthews has star status, but not having Chris Boyd on the other side of him hurts the offense.

9. Auburn (1-0; LW: 9): The Tigers had quite a fun opener. Both the offense and defense were up and down, but it had to be nice for Gus Malzahn to see his running game put up 295 yards on Washington State. The pass defense has some work to do and injuries won't help.

10. Missouri (1-0; LW: 11): The 58-point, 694-yard performance from the Tigers' offense looked more like what people in Columbia, Mo., expected to see more often last year. Granted, it was against Murray State, but that sort of outing will build some confidence within this group. It was good to see James Franklin and Henry Josey on the field and healthy again.

11. Arkansas (1-0; LW: 13): By looking at the box score, you'd think Bobby Petrino's offense was back in Fayetteville, Ark., after the Hogs put up 522 yards on Louisiana-Lafayette. The Hogs could run and pass, and the defense held the Ragin' Cajuns to just 274 yards. The Hogs still have a couple of cupcakes to face before things get interesting at Rutgers.

12. Tennessee (1-0; LW: 12): We really don't know what to take from Tennessee's thumping of a very overmatched Austin Peay team, but the Vols looked to have some real legs in the running game. How long that will last is a mystery, but it was a good start. Things get tougher this weekend when Western Kentucky and Bobby Petrino visit Rocky Top.

13. Mississippi State (0-1; LW: 10): That was a bad offensive performance by the Bulldogs in their 21-3 loss to Oklahoma State. Mississippi State was 2-for-16 on third downs and Tyler Russell threw for only 133 yards against a defense that ranked 113th nationally in pass defense last year. The Bulldogs held the Cowboys to just 146 passing yards, but allowed nearly 286 rushing yards.

14. Kentucky (0-1; LW: 14): That was not the opener Mark Stoops wanted or needed. The Wildcats looked overmatched against Western Kentucky and are still struggling mightily to find playmakers in the passing game. What had to really upset Stoops was that his defensive line, which was supposed to be this team's best unit, didn't get enough pressure up front and allowed the Hilltoppers to rush for more than 200 yards.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
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With a bunch of big games for the conference, there figured to be some major implications from Week 1. Here's what we learned:

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTajh Boyd accounted for five touchdowns against Georgia in a statement win for Clemson.
Clemson is a legitimate national title contender. This game shouldn't have been a referendum on the Tigers' legitimacy, but the win nevertheless cements them as real contenders to win it all. The game lived up to its advanced billing, and both teams had their runs. In the end, Clemson proved it was just a little better, and that's due in large part to senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was exceptional. He accounted for five TDs, while Georgia's Aaron Murray once again struggled against a highly ranked opponent. There's still a lot of football to be played, but for now, Boyd is in line for a Heisman, and Clemson has a clear path to a championship.

The ACC's profile still hasn't changed much. This weekend was supposed to tell us a lot about the ACC, but after five games against teams from other AQ conferences, there's still plenty of room for debate. Yes, Clemson is in the national championship hunt, but that's not a huge surprise. Virginia was on the ropes against BYU, but a late turnover and lateral helped the Cavs eke out a win. Virginia Tech lost handily, but the Hokies did manage to expose some weaknesses in Alabama. And OK, Syracuse and North Carolina didn't do a lot to change hearts and minds. In the end, Clemson offered the big win, Virginia helped the cause, and at the end of the day, there probably weren't a lot of fans who changed their minds about the ACC one way or the other.

The Hokies' D is good. The offense and special teams need some work. The scoreboard showed a blowout, 35-10, but Virginia Tech actually outgained Alabama 212 yards to 206. So how'd things get so ugly? Alabama racked up two long touchdowns on special teams and returned an interception -- thrown by Logan Thomas -- 77 yards for a score. The special-teams breakdowns are galling for a program once known for success in that area, but Thomas' struggles might be an even bigger concern. The senior was a woeful 5-of-26 passing for 59 yards.

Maryland is better with its No. 1 QB than its No. 5 QB. No offense to Shawn Petty, who did a serviceable job in emergency duty down the stretch last year, but Randy Edsall has to be doing cartwheels that he has C.J. Brown back and healthy. After Brown missed all of the 2012 season, he returned to action Saturday and demolished FIU. Brown was 20-of-23 passing for 281 yards and rushed 11 times for 105 yards, and he tallied five touchdowns in the first half alone. It had been a decade since any Maryland quarterback accounted for five touchdowns in the same game. For the game, Maryland racked up 576 yards of total offense.

Some new QBs had a rough Saturday. NC State certainly looked like it had an answer at quarterback as Brandon Mitchell started strong, but a foot injury in the first quarter now means he'll miss the next 4-6 weeks. Meanwhile, Syracuse didn't get the emphatic performance it wanted from new quarterback Drew Allen, who completed just 16 of 37 passes for 189 yards and two interceptions. Virginia got slightly better results from its new quarterback, but David Watford still wasn't overly impressive, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 118 yards, a TD and an INT. The weather in Charlottesville did Watford no favors, but the Cavaliers certainly will expect more moving forward. Of course, the whole group can take solace that they were better than Virginia Tech's Thomas.

Most to prove in the ACC

August, 28, 2013
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Heading into the season, everyone has something to prove -- some more than others, of course. Here’s a look at which coaches, players and position groups have the most to prove in the ACC heading into Week 1:

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsQB Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech offense will face a stiff test from Alabama in Week 1.
1. Virginia Tech’s offense. Hands down, no other group in the conference is facing more doubt, especially going up against Alabama’s defense in the season opener. The Hokies were No. 81 in the country in scoring offense last year at 25.08 points per game. Quarterback Logan Thomas returns and has made strides under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, but questions remain with a young supporting cast.

2. Clemson’s secondary. This is one group that has remained a concern for coach Dabo Swinney through the summer, and rightfully so, especially with Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray coming to town on Saturday. Only Duke (29) and Maryland (24) gave up more passing touchdowns in the league last season than Clemson (23).

3. Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. The Canes’ defense was one of the worst in the country in 2012, ranking No. 116 in total defense and No. 82 in scoring defense. And ranking No. 113 in the country in sacks was well below Miami’s standards. With all four starters returning on the defensive line and such high hopes for the Canes this fall, the pressure to show major improvement is on.

4. Florida State’s staff: Despite the loss of 11 players to the NFL draft, Florida State still abounds with talent, but there are six new assistants on staff tasked with developing it. All of these hires will eventually be a reflection on coach Jimbo Fisher. The Noles will start 2013 with a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, new running backs coach, new quarterbacks coach, new tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, new defensive ends coach and a new linebackers coach.

5. UNC’s offensive line: Two redshirt freshmen will be in the lineup when the Tar Heels open on Thursday night against South Carolina, which will have arguably the best defensive line in the SEC. While James Hurst has received plenty of preseason hype, he’s going to need some help, especially with so much inexperience around him. How UNC fares without Jonathan Cooper will help determine how it will do without Giovani Bernard, too.

6. Wake Forest running back Josh Harris: He has been plagued by injuries his whole career, and his durability has become a question both inside the program and out. Harris also struggled academically but received a waiver from the NCAA so he is eligible to play. The Deacs could use a big season from Harris to get their running game going.

7. Pitt’s running backs: It went downhill when Rushel Shell decided to transfer. Now, the lead candidate to replace him, Isaac Bennett, has spent most of the summer with an injured knee. Pitt is missing its top two rushers from last fall -- and now the next two in line are question marks heading into the season. The situation is in limbo as the Panthers get set to make their ACC debut against Florida State on Monday, as freshman James Conner was also injured. Malcolm Crockett, who had 12 carries last year, could be the solution.

8. Duke’s defense: This has been the Blue Devils’ Achilles' heel, and it has to improve if Duke is to make back-to-back bowl appearances. It’s a veteran group, and last year was the second season in the 4-2-5 scheme. Still, Duke ranked No. 107 in the country in scoring defense in 2012, No. 105 in total defense and No. 101 in rushing defense. The only way to go is up.

9. Virginia coach Mike London: One year after being named the ACC’s Coach of the Year and taking the team to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, London led the Cavaliers to a 4-8 finish last fall. London made sweeping changes to his staff, including the hires of new coordinators. There have been some critics who have questioned whether the program is still heading in the right direction, but those within the program insist it is. Now is the time to prove it.

10. Maryland coach Randy Edsall: He’s won a total of six games in the past two seasons, and this fall, he has healthy quarterbacks to work with and more playmakers on offense, including one of the best in the country in receiver Stefon Diggs. Maryland also has a favorable schedule -- much more forgiving than the one it'll face next season as members of the Big Ten. There’s no reason Maryland fans shouldn't expect at least six wins.

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