Florida State Seminoles: Anthony Boone

AthlonSports was the latest publication to release a preseason All-ACC team, joining Phil Steele from a week ago. We already broke down Steele's teams, but now that we have multiple forecasts to look at, it's worth checking out some trends and differences.

The one similarity that jumps out immediately is that North Carolina's Marquise Williams is Athlon's second-team quarterback, just like he was Steele's. As we said last week, this could very well turn out to be the case, but the fact that Williams remains engaged in a highly competitive quarterback race with Mitch Trubisky speaks to just how much uncertainty there is at the position throughout the ACC.

Duke's Anthony Boone is the third-team quarterback on both teams, while Athlon has Clemson's Cole Stoudt as its fourth-team quarterback. (Steele had Louisville's Will Gardner.)

Athlon does list Pitt's Tyler Boyd as a first-team receiver, along with Florida State's Rashad Greene. Boyd was a second-teamer on Steele's list, which featured Greene, Duke's Jamison Crowder and Louisville's DeVante Parker as first-teamers.

Athlon, however, listed just two receivers per team, and 26 total players per team (11 offense/11 defense/four special teams). Steele listed 28 total players per team (12/12/4).

Boston College's Andy Gallik gets the nod as Athlon's first-team center over Louisville's Jake Smith, who was a first-teamer on Steele's list. FSU's Bobby Hart gets the nod as one of Athlon's first-team tackles over Syracuse's Sean Hickey, who made Steele's first team.

Defensively, the biggest (and only real) difference comes at one of the safety spots, where Athlon has FSU's Jalen Ramsey as a first-teamer and Steele has him as a third-teamer. Duke safety Jeremy Cash made Steele's first team, as did teammate Kelby Brown at linebacker, where Steele had four players per team. (Athlon had three per team. Both Cash and Brown were second-teamers.)

Punter is the only difference on the first-team special teams squad, with Athlon picking Virginia Tech's A.J. Hughes and Steele taking UNC's Tommy Hibbard. Hibbard was on Athlon's second team, while Hughes was on Steele's third team.

Also of note: No Andrew Brown on Athlon's list. The five-star Virginia freshman was on Steele's fourth team at defensive tackle.
If you're a big college football fan (and if you're reading this, it is safe to assume that you are), then you probably get excited every summer for the release of Phil Steele's preseason magazine. Luckily for all of us, Steele released his preseason All-ACC teams on Wednesday, giving us an early look at who he thinks will stand out in the league in 2014.

There are, of course, the usual suspects on the first team -- Jameis Winston, Duke Johnson, Vic Beasley, et al. But the interesting wrinkles usually come further down the list. In this case, the second team presents plenty of surprises and room for debate, along with a looming uncertainty about the conference as it enters 2014.

North Carolina's Marquise Williams is the second-team quarterback, with Steele presumably seeing Williams building off his strong performance down the stretch last season with the Tar Heels. Williams might very well be that good, and he’ll likely need to be if UNC wants to make a Duke-like leap this year and win the Coastal Division. But Williams also exited the spring in a battle with Mitch Trubisky for his starting job, and there is no clear ending to that race in the immediate future.

Speaking of Duke, Anthony Boone is the third-team quarterback. Louisville's Will Gardner is the fourth-team QB, which might also sound like a stretch, but again underscores just how little experience returns at the quarterback position throughout the league this year.

The placing of Pitt's Tyler Boyd on the second-team might be eye-opening at first, but it is hard to argue against the first-team receivers: Florida State's Rashad Greene, Duke's Jamison Crowder and Louisville's DeVante Parker. That is a position with no shortage of star power in the league.

Elsewhere, Seminoles safety Jalen Ramsey is on the third team following an impressive freshman season with the national champions. His quick adjustment to the college game after arriving to Tallahassee as ESPN's No. 14 overall player in the nation suggests that he could find himself on the first team when all is said and done this season.

Also of note is Virginia prized five-star freshman defensive tackle Andrew Brown debuting on the fourth team.

ACC's lunchtime links

May, 22, 2014
May 22
12:00
PM ET
ACC baseball rolls on.
Last weekend’s NFL draft in which 42 ACC players were selected was a reminder of how much talent was departing the conference. But just as Sammy Watkins, Aaron Donald and Kyle Fuller say goodbye, the focus turns to the players who’ll step into the spotlight in 2014.

With that in mind, here’s a quick look at the top returning players in the ACC this upcoming season, based on their stats from 2013. (Last year’s ACC ranking in parentheses.)

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsMiami tailback Duke Johnson rushed for 920 yards in 2013, despite missing five games due to injury.
PASSING YARDS
1. Jameis Winston, FSU - 4,057 (1st)
2. Anthony Boone, Duke - 2,260 (6th)
3. David Watford, Virginia - 2,202 (9th)

Of note: The turnover at the quarterback position has already gotten its share of press, but it’s almost impossible to overstate how green the QBs across the ACC will be in 2014. Of the 23 players who passed for at least 250 yards in 2013, only seven will be back in 2014. Watford, the third-leading returning QB, isn’t projected to start at Virginia, and Marquise Williams, who ranks fourth among returners, is locked in a battle for the starting job at North Carolina, too. Next up among definitive starters is Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt, who finished 14th in the league in passing last season.

RUSHING YARDS
1. Kevin Parks, Virginia - 1,031 (2nd)
2. Duke Johnson, Miami - 920 (5th)
3. James Conner, Pitt - 799 (8th)
4. Isaac Bennett, Pitt - 797 (9th)
5. Shad Thornton, NC State - 768 (11th)

Of note: Louisville’s Dominique Brown would actually rank third on this list after racking up 825 rushing yards last season, good for fourth in the AAC. Including Brown, the ACC returns 11 running backs this year who accounted for at least 500 yards on the ground in 2013, though Miami’s Dallas Crawford (558 yards) is currently working with the Hurricanes’ secondary. Parks returns after a 1,000-yard season. The last running backs to return following a 1,000-yard effort in the ACC were Gio Bernard and Andre Ellington in 2012. Both topped 1,000 again in their follow-up campaigns.

RECEIVING YARDS
1. Jamison Crowder, Duke - 1,360 (2nd)
2. Tyler Boyd, Pitt - 1,174 (3rd)
3. Rashad Greene, FSU - 1,128 (5th)
4. Quinshad Davis, UNC - 730 (13th)
5. Willie Byrn, Virginia Tech - 660 (14th)

Of note: Louisville’s DeVante Parker would rank fourth on this list. He had 885 yards last season, good for seventh in the AAC. Crowder is in position to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season and is 1,153 yards shy of breaking former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record. The Hokies have three of the top seven returning receivers in terms of yards.

TACKLES PER GAME
1. David Helton, Duke - 9.5 (1st)
2. Jeremy Cash, Duke - 8.6 (3rd)
3. Denzel Perryman, Miami - 8.3 (5th)
4. Kelby Brown, Duke - 8.1 (7th)
5. Ryan Janvion, Wake Forest - 7.9 (8th)

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley has 21 sacks in his career.
Of note: Duke’s front four took a big hit with the loss of three senior starters, but the back seven should be one of the most experienced and productive in the conference. Of the 25 ACC players with at least 50 solo tackles last season, 12 return this season.

INTERCEPTIONS
1. Ant Harris, Virginia - 8 (1st)
2. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech - 6 (2nd)
3. Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech - 5 (3rd)

Of note: Eleven ACC players had at least four interceptions last season, and a whopping nine of them return in 2014, including sophomores Facyson and Fuller at Virginia Tech. Add to that list two more returners from Louisville in Charles Gaines (5 picks) and Terell Floyd (4 picks), and the young QBs in the ACC in 2014 are going to have a lot to worry about.

SACKS
1. Vic Beasley, Clemson - 13 (1st)
2. Eli Harold, Virginia - 8.5 (9th)
2. Norkeithus Otis, UNC - 8.5 (9th)
4. Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech - 6.5 (12th)
5. Adam Gostis, Georgia Tech - 5.5 (16th)

Of note: Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin (9.5 sacks) would be second on this list. And here’s a number that should have a lot of Clemson fans excited: Of the 32 players who finished with at least 10 tackles for loss last season, just 13 will be back in the ACC in 2014. Of those 13 returners, five play for the Tigers.


Clemson coach Dabo Swinney didn't want to do it.

When he met with former quarterback Chad Kelly on the Monday following Clemson's spring game, Swinney said his original plan was to suspend Kelly -- not dismiss him from the team entirely -- but the meeting "just didn’t go well."

"There’s just certain things you can’t tolerate, and that’s just the bottom line," Swinney said. "It wasn’t a good meeting. It was a simple decision that was made. He moved on and we moved on."

So did more than half the ACC this spring, to a new era of quarterbacks.

Cole Stoudt’s tenure began swiftly at Clemson, ending what was one of the most intriguing quarterback competitions in the ACC and capping a spring that was filled with quarterback news throughout the conference.

[+] EnlargeKevin Olsen
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsKevin Olsen became Miami's first-string quarterback when Ryan Williams tore his ACL.
At Miami, quarterback Ryan Williams tore his ACL, leaving Kevin Olsen the undisputed starter heading into summer camp.

At Duke, Brandon Connette announced his decision to transfer to the West Coast, leaving Anthony Boone in an unfamiliar role of being the lone leader.

Boston College named Florida transfer Tyler Murphy its starter, Syracuse reaffirmed Terrel Hunt as its starter, Justin Thomas is the main man at Georgia Tech, Will Gardner took the lead at Louisville and Chad Voytik became the obvious choice at Pitt.

What began as a position up for grabs in the ACC is largely no longer a mystery, as many schools determined their starting quarterback this spring, or at least had separation occur -- if not by performance, then by default. While most of the quarterbacks throughout the league are still unproven (six schools don’t have any starting experience returning to the position, and four schools brought in transfers to help), many enter summer camp at least sure of where they stand on the depth chart.

"I had my meeting with the coaches before all that happened, and I felt comfortable with where I was," said Stoudt, who will make his first career start in the season opener at Georgia. "They said I was going to be the guy and everything. I know there were some things that happened, but I'm happy with the situation, and I'm happy I'm the guy going into fall camp, so it's exciting."

Nine of the 14 schools in the ACC will introduce a first-year starting quarterback this fall. Of the 11 teams that entered spring with quarterback competitions, eight found answers -- or at least had an obvious front-runner emerge.

At Miami, Williams had distanced himself from Olsen through his decision-making and accuracy, but the torn ACL meant an instant promotion for Olsen. Still, coach Al Golden said his confidence in the position remains high.

"I think we're not going to change what we do," Golden said. "We need to do a really good job of establishing the running game, keeping it simple, doing what we do best. Getting into more third-and-manageables. We were in way too many third-and-longs last year to possess the ball and convert. Clearly the two young men we have here on campus right now can do it. The two coming in will also have an opportunity to compete."

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsVirginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is still looking for a starting quarterback to emerge.
The only three schools that didn’t come close to naming a starter this spring were Virginia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest. It's not a stretch to say that the Hokies' hopes of returning to the ACC title game hinge on having a dependable quarterback emerge, and as one of the premier programs in the Coastal Division, it will continue to be one of the most-watched storylines of the summer. Those within the program have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer and true freshman Chris Durkin. The staff has made it perfectly clear they won’t name a starter until those two are added to the competition this summer.

"The big question really is the quarterback," coach Frank Beamer said. "I think Mark Leal, Brenden Motley and Andrew Ford all have had their moments. Some of it's good; some of it's not as good as you like. I think Michael Brewer coming in, Chris Durkin coming in, will enter into the competition there. We'll see how that ends up. But that's certainly the critical question for our football team right now."

The critical question for the rest of the conference becomes how these new starters will perform when it counts. Now that most of them have earned their starting jobs, there's pressure to keep them.

"I've said that if we were to play tomorrow, [Will Gardner] would run out there as our starter," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "… There will certainly be competition for it in the fall. He’ll have a chance to go out each day and prove that he's either the better quarterback, or someone passes him by."

More often than not, the ACC's new quarterbacks were able to prove it this spring.
Scottie Montgomery returned to Duke last year from an NFL world where quarterbacks were never, ever hit in practice.

So when his quarterbacks started begging him to go live this spring, his first reaction was, ‘No way!’ He was in protection mode, the way he was as a Steelers assistant. But veterans Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette persisted, and he slowly relented -- only a few times, and with clear instructions to the defense.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Jimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Phil SearsFlorida State coach Jimbo Fisher had Jameis Winston go live last spring when he was dueling Jacob Coker for the starting job.
“My initial feel is, ‘Don't ever let anybody get touched, so I have to fight myself at times, because I want to protect these guys and these guys want to compete for jobs,” said Montgomery, the offensive coordinator.

His is a dilemma that many coaches across the league have faced this spring. Do you allow your quarterbacks to get hit in practice to help simulate game situations and foster competition, knowing you have increased their injury risk? Or do you never even broach the subject because the priority should always be to protect the quarterback?

Four ACC teams allowed their quarterbacks to go live at some point during spring practice, more than any other power-five league. Clemson did it for the first time under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, believing he would see more out of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Early enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson ended up getting hurt and missing the spring game.

Florida State allowed its younger quarterbacks to go live this spring. Coach Jimbo Fisher said he did the same last year, when Jameis Winston was a redshirt freshman competing to win the starting job.

“They’ve got to be able to feel things around them and react,” Fisher said. “They get in a false security blanket sometimes.”

Does that cause him extra worry?

“It’s no different than when we run the running backs, and I get nervous in the scrimmages when the backs are running and get tackled,” Fisher said. “Our guys know if they’ve got a kill shot, not to. There’s a certain limit of how we practice with each other. You know those shots that everyone wants to have? We won’t take those on each other even if we’re in a live scrimmage because it’s not productive to the organization. Tough to me is when you’re eyeball to eyeball, not when a guy’s exposed and you can do that.”

The coaches are not the only ones who wrestle with the idea. NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was not live this spring. But when he was competing for the starting job at Florida with Jeff Driskel back in 2012, both were allowed to go live early on in fall practice. The first day they were allowed to take hits, Driskel hurt his shoulder.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail/Mark CrammerClemson freshman Deshaun Watson was injured in practice and missed the spring game.
“There's a right time and wrong time for quarterbacks to be live,” Brissett said. “We haven't done live practices, but in the fall sometimes we will have a live scrimmage on a Saturday. It helps out with the game speed reps.”

For a running quarterback such as Brissett, that helps. Same for the Duke quarterbacks. Georgia Tech has its quarterbacks live during practice for that reason.

Some coaches believe going live helps separate the competition. But Clemson was the only school with an open quarterback competition to allow its quarterbacks to go live during scrimmage situations. North Carolina, for example, has Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battling to win the starting job, but offensive coordinator Seth Littrell does not believe it is necessary to allow quarterbacks to get hit. “I’ve never done it,” he said.

Virginia Tech also is in the middle of an intense competition, but quarterbacks have been off limits so far this spring. Veteran Mark Leal would have no problem if the coaches changed their minds.

“Honestly, I'd like to be live,” he said. “I think the rest of the quarterbacks would, too, because it gives more of a game feel. If you're not live, sometimes the whistle gets blown early when you don't think you should have been sacked or the play gets messed up because when there's a rush around you, the first thing the coaches want to do is blow the whistle, rather than you continue to play or go through your reads and progressions and finish the play.”

Depth concerns often dictate what coaches do. Pitt only had two scholarship quarterbacks this spring, so there was no way they were going live. Virginia Tech only has three quarterbacks on the roster this spring.

Still, all the protections most coaches take are not enough to keep their quarterbacks injury-free. Miami quarterbacks were off limits this spring, but Ryan Williams tore his ACL during a scrimmage.

It was a noncontact injury.
The theme throughout this spring across the ACC has been turnover and uncertainty at quarterback.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesWith Anthony Boone (and Brandon Connette), Duke has plenty of experience at the QB position in 2014.
But what about those schools that return a good amount of starting experience? Duke returns more career starts than any team in the ACC, just ahead of Florida State. Quarterbacks Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette have combined to start 16 games for the Blue Devils, while Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has 14 starts for the Noles.

That should give both teams and edge when it comes to defending their respective division crowns. How much of an edge? Depends on the viewpoint. Relying on returning quarterback data alone to predict how a team will do often fails to look at the big picture.

Go back to last season. Duke and Florida State went into 2013 having to replace veterans at quarterback — EJ Manuel had 31 career starts for the Noles, while Sean Renfree had 35 career starts for the Blue Devils. Questions about experience at quarterback followed both teams into the season. Indeed, Clemson was picked to finish ahead of Florida State thanks in large part to returning starter Tajh Boyd, going into his third season behind center.

Those questions, however, were quickly answered as both Duke and Florida State went on to play for the ACC championship. Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina -- all picked to finish ahead of Duke -- returned multi-year starters at quarterback but that was not enough to win the division. Boyd did not help Clemson win an ACC title, but the Tigers did make a BCS game and won 11 contests. Tanner Price, one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the ACC last season, could not help Wake Forest get back to a bowl game.

Still, returning a starting quarterback is almost always preferable. Not every redshirt freshman is going to win the Heisman the way Winston did in Year 1 as a starter. Boone, who had his share of ups and downs early last season as he transitioned to a starting role, has now been on both sides.

“You’re obviously going to have some growing pains with quarterbacks who haven’t played many snaps, young quarterbacks going into their first year as a starter,” Boone said recently. “I just feel like that’s something we’re capable of avoiding, that’s something that should be to our advantage, having the knowledge of different teams in our league, just knowing tendencies of what team plays what kind of defense, just having that knowledge going into next year. I feel like it’s good to if you have one, but we have two who have been there. It’s a good feeling. It lets our offensive coordinator be at ease because we have the ability to fix a lot of play calls that have been called, if something happens. I feel that knowledge is a huge winning edge for us, compared to guys who may not know the system as well.”

Returning career starts at quarterback:

Duke: 16
Florida State: 14
Virginia: 12
Syracuse 10
Miami: 10*
Boston College: 6*
North Carolina: 5
NC State: 3*
Clemson: 0
Georgia Tech: 0
Louisville: 0
Pittsburgh: 0
Virginia Tech: 0
Wake Forest: 0

*-QBs at these schools made their starts while playing for other programs.


Change in W-L record for teams that returned starting quarterbacks in 2013.

Boston College: +5
Miami: +2
Louisville: +1
Virginia Tech: +1
North Carolina: -1
Clemson: No change
Wake Forest: -1


Change in W-L record for teams that started first-time quarterbacks in 2013.

Duke: +4
Florida State: +2
Pitt: +1
Georgia Tech: No change
Syracuse: -1
Virginia: -2
NC State: -4

(*Target totals courtesy ESPN Stats & Info.)

Much has been made about the enormous turnover at quarterback in the ACC, where nine of the league’s 14 teams will feature a different starter in Week 1 of 2014 than at the conclusion of 2013.

The new arms throwing the football will be a major storyline for the spring, but the players on the other end of those passes will be much different this year, too. Eight of the top 12 receivers in the ACC last season are moving on, including likely first-round NFL draft picks Sammy Watkins, Eric Ebron and Kelvin Benjamin.

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh's Tyler Boyd could be one of the ACC's top wideouts in 2014.
Combine the high turnover at quarterback with the loss of so many top receivers, and it’s fair to say the passing games in the ACC will look much different in 2014. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some impressive returning talent. Nine receivers who were targeted at least 70 times last season return.

The obvious standout is Jamison Crowder, who was targeted a whopping 174 times in 2013. Nationally, only Fresno State’s Davante Adams (180 targets) was thrown to more often, according to ESPN Stats & Info. It’s also worth noting that Fresno State had 203 more passing attempts than Duke did. Crowder was on the receiving end of 37 percent of Duke’s passing attempts last season, compared with just 27 percent for Adams. Among ACC receivers, only Boston College’s Alex Amidon accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s throws (41 percent). Given his contributions on special teams, too, there's a case to be made that, aside from Jameis Winston, no player in the ACC means more to his team than Crowder.

It’s worth noting, too, that Duke is one of the five ACC teams with the quarterback position already settled, with Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette both returning for 2014, giving the Blue Devils easily the most tested quarterback-receiver combo in the conference.

Beyond Duke’s established QB/WR combo, Florida State is in good hands with senior Rashad Greene returning for his senior season. In 2013, he was on the receiving end of 27 percent of Winston’s throws, and with Benjamin and Kenny Shaw both gone, Greene’s role figures to only get bigger in 2014.

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Believe it or not, the third-most tested combo in the conference is at Virginia, where QB David Watford returns along with receiver Darius Jennings, who was targeted 78 times last year. Of course, the Virginia passing game was far from effective for much of the season -- and Jennings only hauled in 49 percent of his targets with a paltry 4.3 yards/target average -- but the rapport Watford and Jennings were able to build throughout 2013 offers some hope for the Cavaliers’ offense.

In terms of pure explosiveness, North Carolina could have an interesting combination with Marquise Williams back at quarterback and emerging talent Quinshad Davis at receiver. Davis hauled in an impressive 67 percent of his targets and gained an average of 10.1 yards per target last season, including 10 touchdowns. Of course, he’ll need to prove he’s as effective without Ebron hogging so much of the attention from opposing defenses this year.

Similarly, the ACC will get its introduction to Louisville standout DeVante Parker in 2014. While Parker won't have the luxury of Teddy Bridgewater throwing to him, his numbers last season were immensely impressive. He averaged nearly 11 yards each time he was thrown to, and he hauled in two-thirds of his targets.

While Crowder and Greene represent the cream of the crop for receivers with returning quarterbacks, the player with perhaps the most upside of the group is Tyler Boyd. Pitt might be in search of a new starting quarterback to replace Tom Savage, but few first-year starters will have a weapon as reliable and explosive in the passing game as Pitt has in Boyd. As a true freshman in 2013, Boyd finished third in the conference in targets (behind only Crowder and Watkins), hauled in nearly 70 percent of his targets (tops among returning receivers with at least 70 targets) and his 10 catches of 25 yards or more is second only to Crowder among returning receivers in the conference.

But perhaps the most intriguing names on this list are the trio from Virginia Tech. The Hokies account for one-third of all the ACC’s returning receivers with at least 70 targets, meaning that while Frank Beamer works to find his new quarterback, he’ll have a veteran group of receivers to target. Of course, experience only matters if there’s talent to back it up and that’s the big question in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech ranked 63rd nationally in passing offense last season, 68th in yards per attempt and 89th in QB rating. While Demitri Knowles, Willie Byrn and Joshua Stanford were all among the ACC’s most targeted receivers, they also hauled in just 56 percent of the balls thrown their way and averaged just 7.9 yards per target. They’ll need to be far more reliable in 2014 with a new QB throwing to them.

Best and worst of ACC bowl season

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
10:00
AM ET
The ACC had a record 11 teams make bowl games. Did you have a hard time keeping them all straight? We got you covered, with a look back at the best and worst of bowl season in the ACC.

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return was one of two big special teams plays for Florida State in the national title game.
Best game: Florida State 34, Auburn 31. The biggest, most important game of the season delivered the best game of the season as the Seminoles won their third national championship with a frantic second-half rally. The final 4:31 provided one highlight after another: Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return gave Florida State its first lead; Auburn answered back with Tre Mason's 37-yard run; and then the capper, Heisman winner Jameis Winston delivering the game-winning score to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining. Let the debate rage about whether this game tops USC-Texas as the best BCS national championship game.

Best game, II: Clemson 40, Ohio State 35. In the second-best win for the ACC, the Tigers also needed a second-half comeback to beat Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, but got the school’s first BCS win thanks to the talented tandem of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd had 505 yards of total offense and threw the game-winning score to tight end Stanton Seckinger with 6:16 remaining for the final margin.

Best wheels: Kermit Whitfield. The nation got the true definition of "track speed" when Whitfield returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score in the national championship game. It only took 11 seconds in real time for Whitfield to go from end zone to end zone, his jaw-dropping speed on full display. This set off a debate on Twitter about who would win a race between Whitfield and former Florida State receiver Marvin Bracy, who left the team to concentrate on his track career. The two are cousins. No surprise, they each claim victory.

Best impersonation of Tony Dorsett: James Conner. Pitt struggled all season to get its run game going, so watching the Little Caesars Bowl unfold you could not help but wonder, 'Where was this all year!' Conner broke the school bowl rushing record held by Tony Dorsett, running for 229 yards -- tied for the highest total among all players during bowl season. He averaged a whopping 8.8 yards per carry, and also got some reps on defense, too.

Best individual performance: Sammy Watkins. Boyd may have had 505 total yards, but it was Watkins who was the best player on the field in the Orange Bowl. He set a school and Orange Bowl record with 227 yards receiving -- tops among all players during bowl season. Ohio State's overmatched defensive backs were helpless to stop him. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Watkins gained 202 yards after the catch, eclipsing his previous career high of 137 yards after catch against Auburn in 2011.

Best play call: Florida State's fake punt. Jimbo Fisher was largely outcoached in the first half of the national championship game, but he made the call of his career late in the second quarter, with the Seminoles trailing 21-3. On fourth-and-4 at their own 40-yard line, Fisher had Karlos Williams take the ball on a reverse from the up man. Williams turned the corner and got the first down. The Seminoles ended up scoring a much-needed touchdown on the drive, one of the key turning points in their comeback win. Fisher explained the decision behind the call quite simply: he did it in an effort to spark his team and avoid a blowout.

Best performance in a loss: Duke. What a heartbreaking end to the season for the Blue Devils, who came oh so close to upsetting Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Duke led 38-17 at halftime, perhaps the most stunning result of bowl season to that point and had done a good job containing Manziel. But there was little the Blue Devils could do to stop some of the plays Manziel made late in the game. Anthony Boone did not help matters, either, throwing two costly fourth-quarter interceptions -- including one that was returned for the game-winning touchdown.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesSammy Watkins shredded Ohio State for an Orange Bowl record 227 receiving yards.
Best comeback performance: Terrel Hunt. Syracuse did not have a great year from its quarterbacks, but give Hunt an A-plus for keeping his head up and finally catching on late in the season. His last-second touchdown pass to Josh Parris to beat Boston College in the regular-season finale got the Orange into the Texas Bowl. He pulled out more heroics against Minnesota in said bowl game. Hunt ran for a 12-yard touchdown with 1:14 remaining to give Syracuse the 21-17 win and finished with 262 yards of total offense, winning MVP honors (along with a 10-gallon hat!).

Best special teams: North Carolina. It is tough enough to have on return for a score in a game. How about two? The Tar Heels did that in their 39-17 domination of Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. Ryan Switzer had an 86-yard punt return for a score, giving him an NCAA record five on the season. T.J. Logan also returned a free kick following a safety 78 yards for a touchdown, the first kickoff return for a touchdown in a bowl game in school history. Switzer was named game MVP for his efforts.

Best quote: "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after the 40-35 win over Ohio State, stirring the pot with rival South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

Worst stat: 0-11. Miami got embarrassed by Louisville, 36-9, in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Maybe worse than that final score was the 0-fer the Hurricanes posted on third downs.

Worst stat, II: 32.3. The ACC did not have a particularly outstanding defensive showing throughout bowl season. Teams gave up an average of 32.3 points per game. Only two of 11 teams allowed less than 20 points (North Carolina, Syracuse), seven gave up 30 or more and three gave up 40 or more.

Worst bowl game: Russell Athletic Bowl. The Hyundai Sun Bowl had the most lopsided score of ACC bowl season, but the Russell Athletic Bowl is the choice here. This was one of the most anticipated non-BCS games on the schedule, but this was never really a game. Miami looked unmotivated despite waiting two years for a shot at a bowl game and allowed Teddy Bridgewater to throw for 447 yards and three touchdowns.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
11/10/13
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What did we learn in the ACC in Week 11? Glad you asked.

1. Florida State controls its national championship destiny. The nation watched No. 3 Oregon lose to No. 5 Stanford on Thursday, then saw No. 2 Florida State completely dominate Wake Forest 59-3 Saturday to clinch a spot in the ACC title game. There is little doubt the Seminoles will remain at No. 2 when the BCS standings are released later Sunday. Nor is there any real doubt Florida State is one of the best teams in the country, not after a third win this season by 50 or more points. Florida State has won all nine of its games by double figures and got big-time contributions from its defense and special teams against the Deacs. The Noles ended up with six interceptions -- nearly the same number of Wake Forest pass completions (seven). There are other unbeaten teams lurking, namely Ohio State and Baylor, but Florida State is in control of its championship destiny.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech
Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/Getty ImagesVirginia Tech left Miami lying helpless and reinserted itself into the Coastal Division race.
2. The Coastal, however ... up for grabs! If you thought this weekend would provide a much clearer picture in the Coastal, then you do not truly know ACC football. Four teams have two conference losses each -- Miami, Virginia Tech, Duke and Georgia Tech. So start getting yourselves reacquainted with the tiebreaker scenarios that seem to come into play just about every season. The Hokies put themselves back into the thick of the race with a 42-24 win over Miami on a rainy Saturday night, thanks to a mistake-free performance from Logan Thomas and some pretty shoddy special teams play from the Canes. Duke sat on the brink of disaster against NC State, trailing 20-17 with 6:37 to go. The Blue Devils benched starter Anthony Boone after an uneven performance. Brandon Connette delivered the game-winning drive, then DeVon Edwards sealed the win with back-to-back pick-6s. Georgia Tech was off and needs a win over Clemson on Thursday night to keep its hopes alive. The lucky winner to emerge from this muddled mess gets to play Florida State in the ACC championship game.

3. Miami falling back to earth. We all saw the warning signs that Miami was not as good as its ranking when it struggled to beat North Carolina and Wake Forest in back-to-back weeks. Now the Canes are back to reality after consecutive losses to Florida State and Virginia Tech. Miami was able to get away with turnovers early in the season, but the Hokies made them pay for their mistakes. Two early fumbles on special teams led directly to 14 Virginia Tech points, and Miami could never seem to recover. Perhaps most disheartening for Miami -- the loss was the worst defensive performance of the season, against an offense that ranks among the worst in the nation. The Hokies scored more points and gained more yards on the Canes than the Noles did last week. Miami has given up 400 yards or more in four of its last five games. And the run game without Duke Johnson? Miami ended up with 28 yards rushing, its lowest total since gaining 29 against Florida State last year.

4. Breakthrough win for Pitt. It was easy to doubt the Panthers heading into their game against Notre Dame. They entered the contest off back-to-back losses, and their run game was nearly nonexistent. But something about the Irish brings out the best in Pitt, which came oh-so-close to pulling the upset in each of the previous two seasons. Well, the Panthers finally broke through Saturday night, forcing three turnovers and getting inspired play from their offensive line and Tom Savage in a 28-21 win. It certainly helped Pitt's cause that Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt was ejected on a questionable targeting call early in the game, further depleting an injury-riddled group. But Pitt earned this win. The Panthers moved one victory away from bowl eligibility and gave coach Paul Chryst victories over ranked teams in consecutive seasons.

5. Bowl mania. Six teams are already bowl eligible, but the ACC could have as many as 11 by the time the season ends. Four teams have five wins: Maryland, Syracuse, Pitt and Boston College. North Carolina has four wins but has won three straight after a 1-5 start and is now in contention to get to six. How did the ACC get here? Syracuse once again used its power run game in a 20-3 win over Maryland, winning its second straight contest. Boston College also used its power run game to win a tricky contest over New Mexico State. We know what Pitt did Saturday. Interestingly enough, Maryland might have the worst chance of becoming bowl eligible out of this group. While North Carolina is on an upswing, the Terps have lost three straight following a 5-1 start with games remaining against Virginia Tech, Boston College and NC State. There are winnable games in that bunch, but not if Maryland commits four turnovers the way it did against Syracuse. Key injuries on both offense and defense have severely hampered this squad.

ACC predictions: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
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Heather got back at AA in Week 10, making the right call with Boston College over Virginia Tech and North Carolina over NC State. Bravo to a 5-1 week. AA came up 3-3, so we are all square again at 62-16 overall. Let's see what Week 11 has in store.

No. 2 Florida State (8-0, 6-0) at Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4), noon, ABC. #FSUvsWAKE. The Noles clinch a spot in the ACC title game with a win over Wake Forest. It is tough to anticipate this one being much of a game, especially with Wake receiver Michael Campanaro out. The Deacs did nothing offensively without him last week against Syracuse (a team that lost 59-0 against Georgia Tech), and coach Jim Grobe concedes he has nobody on his roster to fill those shoes. Not only that, Wake Forest has a run game that ranks last in the ACC. It is going to be a long day for the Deacs.

AA picks: Florida State 54, Wake Forest 6

HD picks: Florida State 48, Wake Forest 10

Virginia (2-7, 0-5) at North Carolina (3-5, 2-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #UVAvsUNC. The Tar Heels have gotten themselves back into bowl contention with two straight wins, but they must play the rest of the season without quarterback Bryn Renner. The good news is Marquise Williams has played in the past four games, so at least he has experience under center. More good news for UNC this week: UVa is a bad football team, having lost six straight games. The Hoos have given up more than 1,000 yards of offense in their past two losses combined.

AA picks: North Carolina 34, Virginia 17

HD picks: North Carolina 24, Virginia 14

Syracuse (4-4, 2-2) at Maryland (5-3, 1-3), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CUSEvsMD. As experts picking games every week, Syracuse has easily been the toughest team to predict throughout the entire season. One week after getting shut out at Georgia Tech, the Orange were the ones delivering the shut out to Wake Forest. Syracuse has won away from home just once this season and has yet to get any consistency out of the quarterback position. Meanwhile, quarterback C.J. Brown is healthy again for the Terps. Brown will be the difference in the game, and Maryland becomes bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.

AA picks: Maryland 23, Syracuse 20

HD picks: Maryland 24, Syracuse 10

Boston College (4-4) at New Mexico State (1-8), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #BCvsNMSU. The Eagles get to follow up their impressive win over Virginia Tech with a 2,300-mile trip to its first game in New Mexico. Ever. Not exactly the type of trek that a team from a power conference ever wants to make, let alone in November. Having said that, the Eagles have an opportunity to win for the first time on the road this season and inch closer to bowl eligibility against one of the worst teams in FBS. New Mexico State coach Doug Martin served as BC offensive coordinator a season ago, but there won't be much the Aggies can do to slow down Andre Williams. New Mexico State is giving up a whopping 312 yards per game on the ground.

AA picks: Boston College 35, New Mexico State 7

HD picks: Boston College 49, New Mexico State 6

NC State (3-5, 0-5) at Duke (6-2, 2-2), 4 p.m., ESPNU. #NCSTvsDUKE. Some anticipated NC State could struggle this year with a new head coach and so many veterans gone. But not many could have expected the Wolfpack to start 0-5 in league play and fall a notch below in-state rival Duke. Injuries have been a big culprit, but so has an inability to make plays with the game on the line. NC State has more quarterback drama to deal with as well. Duke, meanwhile, had a week to enjoy its win over Virginia Tech and bowl eligibility for a second straight season. The Blue Devils were not great on offense in that win, but expect a completely healthy Anthony Boone to bounce back.

AA picks: Duke 30, NC State 16

HD picks: Duke 45, NC State 14

Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2) at No. 11 Miami (7-1, 3-1), 7 p.m., ESPN. #VTvsMIA. Both teams come in off losses but remain in contention to win the Coastal Division. As Heather pointed out earlier in the week, it's gut-check time for both teams. The Hokies continue to have one of the best defenses in the country. It's the offense that has cost them in the past two games, as Logan Thomas has turned the ball over eight times. AA thinks Miami is going to struggle against this defense without Duke Johnson, and Thomas will redeem himself with a solid game. A solid game means Thomas won't have four turnovers. Miami has not won back-to-back games in the series since winning three straight from 2000-02. AA picks: Virginia Tech 21, Miami 20.

HD picks: Miami 28, Virginia Tech 17: Even without Johnson, the Canes will be able to run the ball with Dallas Crawford, and they’ll make fewer mistakes than turnover-prone Virginia Tech. The Hokies simply have too many questions marks on offense and not enough playmakers surrounding the embattled Thomas. Virginia Tech hasn’t fared well against ranked opponents, and that trend will continue on Saturday.

No. 23 Notre Dame (7-2) at Pitt (4-4, 2-3), 8 p.m., ABC. #NDvsPITT. It is really tempting to pick Pitt to upset the Irish given the recent history between the two teams and all the injuries Notre Dame has on its defense. But Pitt has done little to nothing offensively since its wild 58-55 win over Duke in September. In the five games since, Pitt is averaging 269 yards per game. Its run game has been nearly nonexistent. Against Georgia Tech last week, the Panthers were held to minus-5 yards rushing. Against Virginia and Virginia Tech, the Panthers managed a combined 31 yards on the ground. Pitt was able to run on Notre Dame last year. But it won't be able to this time around.

AA picks: Notre Dame 27, Pitt 20

HD picks: Notre Dame 24, Pitt 21

ACC Week 9: Did you know?

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
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The ACC sent just six teams to bowl games last year, in part because of NCAA infractions. The conference already could have six bowl-eligible teams for 2013 after this week if Maryland and Duke pick up their sixth victories of the season. Florida State, Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech have already secured bowl eligibility.

Here are a handful of more Week 9 tidbits around the ACC.

(As always, thanks to the ACC’s sports information departments for their contributions.)

Boston College: Tailback Andre Williams needs just 162 more rushing yards to become BC’s first 1,000-yard back since Montel Harris rushed for 1,242 in 2010. Williams has already topped 162 yards in a game twice this year, and he’s on pace to finish the regular season with 1,696. In the past five years, only Virginia Tech’s David Wilson has finished with more yards in the ACC. Williams currently leads the conference in yards, attempts (157) and is fourth in rushing TDs (7).

Clemson: After allowing the most points to a visiting team in the history of Death Valley, Clemson heads on the road to take on Maryland this week — and that might be a blessing. The Tigers have won six in a row on the road, and a win over the Terps would give them their longest road winning streak since 1978-79, when they won nine straight. Clemson is averaging 45 more yards per game and 1.1 more yards per play on the road this season than it is at home.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsDuke quarterback Anthony Boone has won in the first five starts of his career.
Duke: The Blue Devils’ two-pronged attack at quarterback continues to impress after last week’s 35-22 win over Virginia. Anthony Boone became just the second Duke QB since 1950 to win the first five starts of his career, and Brandon Connette made the most of his second-half snaps, throwing a 47-yard touchdown pass to Braxton Deaver for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter. Connette is the first quarterback in Duke history with two game-winning, fourth-quarter TD passes in a season. His first came against Memphis in Week 2.

Florida State: The Seminoles forced four turnovers in last Saturday's win against Clemson, the first time they’d done that in a game since 2011. For the season, Florida State now has a plus-7 turnover margin, tied for the 12th-best mark in the nation. Since 2007, Florida State had never been better than plus-6 at any point in the season. The Seminoles have gone seven consecutive games without losing the turnover battle, which is also their longest stretch in the past seven years.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets pounded Syracuse 56-0 last week. It was Georgia Tech’s second shutout of the season after beating Elon 70-0 in its opener. That marks the first time since 1985 that a Tech defense has pitched two shutouts in a single season. That year, current defensive coordinator Ted Roof was one of the Yellow Jackets’ team captains.

Maryland: Caleb Rowe and C.J. Brown combined to throw for 344 yards in last Saturday's 34-10 loss to Wake Forest. It’s the fewest points a Maryland team has scored when throwing for at least 300 yards since a 31-7 defeat at the hands of Clemson in 2010. After struggling at the quarterback position following a rash of injuries last season, the Terps have topped at least 275 yards passing in five of seven games this year.

Miami: Tight end Clive Walford has just 13 receptions this year, but he’s made them at the most crucial moments. Nine of his catches have gone for first downs and two more ended as touchdowns. Dating to last season, 22 of Walford’s last 24 receptions have accounted for either first downs or touchdowns.

NC State: The Wolfpack are the decided underdogs this week against No. 2 Florida State, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Since 2002, NC State has played a ranked FSU team seven times and it’s won five of those games. The Wolfpack are 0-4 against Florida State, however, when the Seminoles are unranked. Still, this is a rare challenge for NC State. It hasn’t played a top-five team on the road since falling to then No. 1 Florida State 42-11 in Tallahassee in 1999.

North Carolina: In their Oct. 17 loss to Miami, tight end Eric Ebron had a career day. His eight catches were a career best and his 199 receiving yards marked the most in school history by a tight end and the sixth-most by any Tar Heels player.

Pittsburgh: Senior receiver Devin Street is averaging 21.12 yards per reception this season, the 10th-best mark in the nation and best in the ACC. That’s an improvement of nearly 8 yards per catch from last year. His big-play acumen has been crucial for Pitt’s offense. Of his 26 catches, 21 have gone for first downs (the highest rate in the ACC) and nearly 62 percent of his receptions have gone for 15 yards or more (the second-best rate in the conference).

Virginia: The Cavaliers tallied just 709 yards of offense and averaged 11 points per game in its first three contests against FBS opponents, but the offense has picked up of late. In its last three games, Virginia has nearly doubled that output, racking up 1,327 total yards and averaging 25 points per game.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies’ 27 sacks are tied for the most in the nation and they’ve racked up 13 interceptions this season, good for third nationally. Overall, one out of every 5.6 passing plays by Virginia Tech’s opposition ends with either a sack or an interception — by far the best rate in the country. Two other ACC teams, Clemson and Miami, rank second and third, respectively, on that list.

Wake Forest: In last week’s 34-10 victory over Maryland, the Demon Deacons ran 24 times for just 47 yards — a 1.96 yards-per-carry average. It’s just the second time in the past four years that Wake Forest won a game when it rushed for fewer than 2 yards per carry (UNC, 2011). Oddly, in those two games, Wake has scored six times on the ground.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
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Well that was quite a weekend, huh? And after all of that ... the ACC still has three top-10 teams going into Week 9. But before we look ahead, let's take one last look back at the week that was in the conference.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRashad Greene and the Seminoles, who are ranked No. 2 in the first BCS standings, dominated Clemson, 51-14.
The good: The ACC has a clear national title contender, and that is what is needed most for this conference to establish itself as a legitimate force atop college football. Looking for someone to dethrone Alabama and the mighty SEC? You might need to look no further than Saturday night's game at Clemson, when Florida State punched the Tigers in the mouth early and dominated from start to finish, deflating a much-hyped game in a way that had not been seen in this sport since the Crimson Tide did the same to Notre Dame in last season's BCS title game. The ACC has not had so much as a one-loss conference champion since the Seminoles' 12-0 national title campaign in 1999, and it is extremely difficult to see an outfit as talented as the one that owned Death Valley this weekend dropping two contests, based on its schedule. One loss will be hard enough for any other conference foe to deliver, as Florida State checked in at No. 2 in the first BCS standings and now has every reason to believe it can compete for a national title. (Its quarterback could be pretty busy come awards time, too.)

The bad: No, this was not "pulling a Clemson." The Tigers simply got beat, badly, by a better team. And you can very well make the argument that they could and would beat every other ACC team outside of Florida State. But this was their moment, complete with a second visit from "College GameDay" and another prime-time showcase for a program with national title aspirations. Instead, this game was over shortly after it started, with Tajh Boyd not performing up to expectations and the highly touted, improved defense proving to be no match for the Seminoles' skill players. This has to be, in some ways, disheartening, considering this was Clemson's shot at home with a senior quarterback against a Seminoles team that had lost 11 NFL draft picks and will only get better moving forward. Clemson, currently ranked ninth, can still have a very strong season, so long as it doesn't reel from Saturday's rude awakening.

The ugly: Syracuse went into Atlanta with a bit of momentum after registering its first ACC win, at NC State. Instead a Georgia Tech team that had lost three in a row smacked the Orange from start to finish, winning 56-0 for its second shutout of the season, marking the first time the Yellow Jackets had shut out two opponents in a season since defensive coordinator Ted Roof was a team captain in 1985. Terrel Hunt struggled in his third conference game, failing again to reach the 100-yard passing mark and this time getting pulled for Drew Allen. Defensive tackle John Raymon was lost for the season as well with a right knee injury. The Orange could use the bye to regroup before hosting Wake Forest on Nov. 2.

The walking wounded: It was bad enough that Maryland struggled throughout a 34-10 loss to Wake Forest. But the Terrapins also lost two of their top offensive weapons, with receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffering season-ending leg injuries. Diggs broke his fibula and Long broke his fibula and tibia. Maryland had started 4-0 before losing 63-0 at Florida State, barely beating Virginia and then getting routed by the Demon Deacons. It had already suffered a handful of defensive injuries before Saturday, and things won't get any easier this coming Saturday as it hosts No. 9 Clemson, which is coming off its first loss.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, DeShawn Williams
AP Photo/Mike StewartCan Dabo Swinney's Clemson team bounce back from its big loss to Florida State?
The history: On the other end of that matchup in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wake Forest saw a new receiver etch his name to the top of the school record book. Michael Campanaro had 11 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown, becoming the Demon Deacons' career leader in receptions with 217, passing Desmond Clark. He is second in the ACC in both catches (55) and receiving yards (704) on the season, and he also threw a touchdown pass for good measure against the Terrapins.

The second-half charge: Duke finds itself on the cusp of bowl eligibility for the second straight year after overcoming a 22-point deficit at Virginia and pulling out a 35-22 win to improve to 5-2. The Blue Devils got a boost from both quarterbacks as Anthony Boone threw two touchdown passes and Brandon Connette ran one in for a score. Duke converted four fourth-down second-half plays as it scored the game's final 35 points and delivered the reeling Cavaliers another blow as they fell to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in conference play. Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage publicly backed coach Mike London last week, but questions will continue to mount if the Cavaliers continues to struggle.

The anomaly: Miami is No. 7 in the BCS standings after eking out a victory Thursday at one-win North Carolina. Stephen Morris struggled, throwing four interceptions, which marked the third straight game the Hurricanes had turned the ball over four times (Miami somehow won all three games). The Canes are 6-0 and host Wake Forest this weekend before traveling to Florida State on Nov. 2, but they lost Duke Johnson (head) and Phillip Dorsett (knee) to injuries in Chapel Hill. Johnson is expected to be fine, but Dorsett will miss four to six weeks with an MCL tear.

The ground boost: Pitt finally got the lift it needed from its rushing game, as Isaac Bennett carried the ball 30 times for 240 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-24 win over Old Dominion. The Panthers improved from 105th to 91st nationally in rushing yards per game (141.67). For a program that had tallied just 8 and 23 yards rushing in its previous two games, the timing could not have been better.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 8

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
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We learned plenty about the ACC in Week 8:

1. Florida State looks like a national championship contender. If you watched the Noles' complete and utter dismantling of No. 3 Clemson on Saturday night, you probably had flashbacks of the swashbuckling, swaggering days of old. This group has the markings of some of the best teams that helped Florida State establish its rep as one of the most feared programs in the nation. What we saw in Death Valley was merely a continuation of what we have seen to this point in the season -- an outstanding quarterback in the thick of the Heisman race, talent and incredible depth at the skill positions, a dominant offensive line and a suffocating defense. But to see it on the road, in a stadium where the Noles had not won since 2001, cemented this Florida State team as a contender. Now the challenge is playing this way for the remainder of the season. No slip-ups against NC State or Wake Forest. Beating rivals Miami and Florida. This team is completely capable of running the table and winning every game by double digits. Time for these guys to shed their underachiever label and get the job done.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Scott Clarke/ESPN ImagesFlorida State signal-caller Jameis Winston was 22-of-34 passing vs. Clemson with 444 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.
2. Clemson does not. Clemson fumbled on the first play of the game, and it just went downhill from there. But here is the thing: Clemson is not a bad team. Florida State made Clemson look like a bad team; Florida State made Clemson look like Maryland. That is more a testament to Florida State than anything. Having said that, quarterback Tajh Boyd had perhaps the most disappointing game of his career. He has played poorly before and lost rival games before. But there was more on the line in this game than in any previous contest he started. Simply put, he did not rise to the occasion. Boyd and his teammates let the big moment swallow them up, and they let the mistakes they made early in the game rattle them. They were out of this game mentally by halftime. Boyd finished 17-of-37 for 156 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, along with a lost fumble and a Total QBR of 34.7. His counterpart, redshirt freshman QB Jameis Winston, was the one who remained calm, confident and poised.

3. Miami has work to do. After the Canes struggled to beat North Carolina on Thursday night, just about everybody started to question whether they were a top-10 team. That win looks a lot different today after the chaos that unfolded Saturday. Miami is fortunate to have escaped Week 8 with a victory, and that will keep the unbeaten Canes in the top 10. Still, there are some issues to address. Two stand out: turnovers and QB Stephen Morris. To reiterate, Miami has 12 turnovers in its past three games. If the Canes keep giving the ball away at this clip, they will not stay unbeaten. Morris has been inconsistent all season, but he played his worst game Thursday against the Tar Heels, throwing four interceptions, zero touchdown passes and compiling an adjusted Total QBR of 46.1. All of a sudden, Virginia Tech looks like it has as much of a chance of winning the Coastal as Miami.

4. Wake, Duke, Georgia Tech bolstered bowl hopes. Believe it or not, Duke and Wake Forest are the class of North Carolina football to this point, the only two ACC programs in the state with winning records. The Blue Devils need just one more win to become bowl-eligible for a second straight season; Wake Forest needs two more after completely handling Maryland 34-10 in a game that featured quarterback Tanner Price scoring three different ways (passing, rushing and receiving). Meanwhile, the Jackets ended a three-game losing skid with a 56-0 win over Syracuse in the type of offensive performance coach Paul Johnson had been waiting on. The rushing game worked to near perfection (394 yards, 14 different rushers), and perhaps best of all, the Jackets had zero penalties.

5. Mike London watch. There is little doubt that Virginia coach Mike London is firmly on the hot seat after his team blew a 22-0 lead at home to Duke, giving up 35 unanswered points and losing 35-22. After building the lead, Virginia had five consecutive three-and-outs. Duke finally found a rhythm with both Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette after struggling early in the game. Virginia has now lost four straight, dropping to 0-3 in the ACC. The remainder of the schedule is brutal, too. Of the five games left, only one team -- North Carolina -- has a losing record. The Hoos might have blown their best shot at a victory the rest of the way. London is 6-13 since the start of last season, leaving you to wonder how much time he has left in Charlottesville.

ACC Week 8: Did you know?

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
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The first top-five matchup of the season is upon us, and it turns out both teams play in the ACC. That's a big step for the conference. It's just the fourth time since 1992 that two top-five ACC teams have faced off, but while it may be the league's marquee matchup, it's not the only one. Here are a few more bits of insight into Week 8 in the ACC.

(Hat tips, as always, to the ACC's sports information departments for providing many of the stats below.)

Clemson: Quarterback Tajh Boyd is just 164 passing yards shy of 10,000 for his career, which would make him only the third ACC quarterback to reach that milestone, joining NC State's Philip Rivers and Duke's Thaddeus Lewis. With his 334 passing yards last week against Boston College, Boyd passed Charlie Whitehurst to become Clemson's all-time leading passer. It was also his 14th career 300-yard game, second most in ACC history.

Duke: Anthony Boone didn't learn he'd be starting against Navy last week until 30 minutes before kickoff, but he responded with an exceptional performance, completing 31-of-38 passes for 295 yards and three TDs. Boone got the start because of an ankle injury suffered by Brandon Connette, but the two QBs have combined to complete 70 percent of their passes, throw for 1,592 yards and 14 touchdowns (accounting for eight more TDs rushing). If those numbers belonged to just one quarterback, they'd rank among the top two in every category in the ACC this season.

Florida State: Since the start of the 2012 season, Florida State's defense has allowed just 5.17 yards per pass attempt to opposing quarterbacks, the second-best mark in the nation. Meanwhile, this week's opponent, Clemson, has averaged 8.83 yards per attempt during that same span, the eighth-best mark in the country. In last year's matchup, Clemson averaged 7.4 yards per attempt -- its second lowest mark of the season, and the second highest Florida State allowed all year.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets are averaging 17.5 passing attempts per game this season, by far the most in any year since Paul Johnson took over as head coach in 2008. During the first five years of Johnson's triple option offense, Georgia Tech averaged just 12.9 attempts per game. The ground game, meanwhile, is averaging 5.15 yards per rush this season, the lowest of Johnson's tenure. During Tech's three-game losing streak, it has averaged just 4.5 yards per carry, while the QBs have completed 35 percent of their throws with just one touchdown and five INTs.

Maryland: Behind a stellar performance from Caleb Rowe, starting in place of injured QB C.J. Brown, Maryland racked up 468 yards of offense in a win over Virginia last week. That marks the fourth time in six games this season that the Terps have topped 450 yards of offense. In the previous four full seasons, Maryland had exceeded that number just five times.

Pittsburgh: Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has racked up a whopping eight sacks and 12 tackles for loss this season, both numbers tops in the nation on a per-game basis. That earned him a nod on ESPN's midseason All-America team earlier this week. After five games, Donald has already exceeded his sack total from all of last season (5.5) and is just 6.5 shy of his 2012 total TFLs. If he maintains his pace through a full season and bowl game, Donald would finish with the most TFLs in a year (31) since USF's George Selvie (31.5) in 2009.

Syracuse: The Orange have not lost a fumble since the second quarter of the season opener against Penn State, a stretch of 416 offensive snaps without coughing up the football. Syracuse has put the ball on the ground just twice all season, second only to Notre Dame (1), and the Orange are one of nine teams to have lost just one fumble this year, a list that includes fellow ACC members Virginia Tech and Florida State.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have lost their last three games, but their struggling offense has finally shown signs of life. In its first three contests vs. FBS teams, Virginia averaged just 236 yards of total offense and 3.1 yards per play. In its last two games, Virginia has essentially doubled those numbers, averaging 964 yards per game and 5.5 yards per play. In last week's loss to Maryland, Virginia set a season high (vs. FBS foes) in rush yards, pass yards and total plays. Its 505 yards of offense were the most it's tallied in an ACC game since Nov. 5, 2011, also against Maryland.

Wake Forest: Receiver Michael Campanaro enters this week's game against Maryland with 206 catches, just 10 shy of Desmond Clark's school record. Campanaro could tie the mark with 10 more grabs, something he's done in two games already this season and six times in his career. He's also 664 yards shy of Ricky Proehl's school record for receiving yards (2,949).

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