Florida State Seminoles: Anthony Boone

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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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).

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 17, 2013
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Football. Tonight.

ACC predictions: Week 8

October, 17, 2013
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AA missed on her upset pick last week, and both of us missed the Syracuse upset over NC State. Heather won the week, going 5-1, and now we are tied 50-9 overall.

Let's see what Week 8 has in store.

Thursday night

No. 10 Miami (5-0, 1-0) at North Carolina (1-4, 0-2), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #MIAvsUNC. The Tar Heels host just the second Thursday night home game in school history, desperately hoping to turn around their season. They face a tall task against the surging Hurricanes, who are making their first trip outside the state of Florida this season. North Carolina has won four of the past six meetings, including an 18-14 victory last season. Quarterback Bryn Renner is expected back in the starting lineup, but the big question is whether this Tar Heels squad will find its running game against a much-improved Miami D that's ranked No. 12 in the nation in total defense. Miami should be able to put up some points on a shaky North Carolina D. It is just hard to imagine the Tar Heels being able to keep up. AA picks: Miami 35, North Carolina 21

HD picks: Miami 38, North Carolina 24

Saturday

Syracuse (3-3, 1-1) at Georgia Tech (3-3, 2-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CUSEvsGT. This game most certainly has bowl implications for both teams as the second half of the season gets underway. The Orange have momentum on their side after a big road win over NC State last week, while the Jackets have dropped three straight. But those three losses have come against teams with a combined 15-3 mark. This is going to be a ground-and-pound type of game, and Georgia Tech gets the edge based on the scheme. Syracuse has put up monster rushing numbers in the past two games, but the Tech defense has allowed just five running plays of 20 yards or more this season and is in the top 25 in rush defense. So is Syracuse's defense, but I think the Jackets' run offense will be able to make more plays. AA pick: Georgia Tech 28, Syracuse 23.

HD pick: Syracuse 31, Georgia Tech 28: The Orange will win because of their ability to run the ball and control the clock -- the most effective defense there is against Paul Johnson’s spread-option offense. In a game that will feature two struggling quarterbacks in Vad Lee and Terrel Hunt, Cuse’s ground game will be the difference. Syracuse has rushed for more than 300 yards in each of the past two games and will continue that success on the road.

Maryland (5-1, 1-1) at Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2), 3:30 p.m, ESPNU. #MDvsWAKE. Quarterback C.J. Brown is back in the starting lineup -- great news for Maryland, which is trying to become bowl eligible. But injuries have started to take a toll on the defense. The Terps already lost starting cornerback Dexter McDougle for the season and now starting linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, who was playing very well before he got hurt last week. Maryland gave up more than 500 yards to Virginia Saturday, a team with no playmakers. While the Wake offense has been shaky at times, we saw much improvement last time out against NC State. Wake Forest has won three straight in the series at home. AA likes the Deacons in an upset: Wake Forest 24, Maryland 23.

HD pick: Maryland 28, Wake Forest 21 -- Brown's return to the lineup after missing last week with a concussion will be the difference in the game. The Terps’ ability to run the option and Brown’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback will make life difficult for the Deacs. Wake Forest has one of the ACC’s best receivers in Michael Campanaro, but Brown has more playmakers around him. The Terps will become bowl eligible for the first time under Randy Edsall -- and they’ll get it done in Winston-Salem.

Duke (4-2, 0-2) at Virginia (2-4, 0-2), ESPN3. #DUKEvsUVA. Duke has won four of the past five in the series and got a major boost when Anthony Boone returned to the starting lineup last week, earning ACC weekly honors. Boone made his first career start against the Hoos in 2012 and had four touchdown passes. Virginia, meanwhile, has looked a little better on offense the past few weeks, but it has not been able to get into the win column since Sept. 21. The defense has been inconsistent as well. Boone makes the difference in this game for the Blue Devils. AA picks: Duke 35, Virginia 28

HD picks: Duke 28, Virginia 24

Old Dominion (4-2) at Pitt (3-2), 7 p.m., ESPN3. #ODUvsPITT. The Panthers get a break from ACC play against Old Dominion, which lost to Maryland earlier this season 47-10. Pitt has worked on shoring up the offensive line and establishing the run game at practice this week. Believe it or not, it is the defense that has played more consistently the past several weeks. The Panthers really do need to get their run game going to help take some pressure off Tom Savage. AA picks: Pitt 40, Old Dominion 3

HD picks: Pitt 48, Old Dominion 7

No. 5 Florida State (5-0, 3-0) at No. 3 Clemson (6-0, 4-0), 8 p.m., ABC. #FSUvsCLEM. One of the biggest games in ACC history is nearly here, putting the spotlight squarely on the conference at the midway point of the season. We don't think either team will disappoint. The big story everybody has focused on pits Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, but really, we should be talking about how each will fare against the best defenses they have seen to date. It may all come down to how they both handle pressure. Winston has been slightly better than Boyd in this respect, completing 69.6 percent of his passes when teams bring five or more pass-rushers. Boyd is completing just 57 percent of his passes in similar situations, and both his interceptions this season have come against the blitz, according to ESPN Stats & Information. But Winston has not seen a pass rush as good as the one Clemson has this season, nor anybody as talented as end Vic Beasley. Boyd, meanwhile, has been in these big-game situations before, so he gets a slight edge. Home-field advantage also gives the Tigers a big edge in the intangibles department. AA picks: Clemson 31, Florida State 30

HD picks: Clemson 35, Florida State 31

ACC's lunchtime links

September, 27, 2013
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Been saying it since the summer: Virginia Tech is a contender.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
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Week 3 in the ACC didn't have the same high-stakes fireworks as the first two, but there were still a few stories of note.

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech's Vad Lee threw for four touchdown passes and ran for another score against Duke.
The good: Any worries Georgia Tech fans might have had about new starting quarterback Vad Lee should have been alleviated when the Durham, N.C., native torched his hometown team, throwing four touchdown passes and running for a fifth score in a 38-14 victory over Duke. Lee threw for 126 yards, ran for 76 more and directed the Yellow Jackets' option offense with precision. The four TD passes represented a single-game high in the Paul Johnson era at Georgia Tech, and Lee's six passing scores already have him halfway to last year's total of 12.

The bad: Riding the high of a two-game winning streak to start the season, Boston College was thinking upset when it headed west to take on a struggling USC team. The Eagles might be improved under new coach Steve Addazio, but they're not quite ready to play with the big boys. The Trojans' languishing offense found plenty of room to work in a 35-7 win, and BC's Chase Rettig completed just 11 of 24 passes in a homecoming game for the Southern California native.

The ugly: Head coach Jim Grobe was optimistic before the season. But three games in, things look awfully bad for Wake Forest. The Deacons lost their second game in a row -- 21-19 to Louisiana-Monroe after a failed two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter -- mustering just 15 yards on the ground in the game. Through three games, Wake Forest ranks 120th nationally at just 2.4 yards per rush.

The playmaker: Pittsburgh might not be quite ready to compete with the ACC's royalty, but the Panthers clearly have some skill on offense, led by freshman phenom Tyler Boyd. After racking up 151 all-purpose yards in Week 1 against Florida State, Boyd demolished New Mexico with a 33-yard TD run and a 34-yard TD reception. Overall, Boyd has averaged 20.4 yards every time he's touched the ball.

The rebound: Jameis Winston admitted he might have been a bit too excited for his home debut at Florida State and it showed. He opened the game 2-of-5 passing and threw his first career interception early in the second quarter. But Winston wasn't rattled by the struggles. He followed the pick by completing his final 13 passes and leading six consecutive touchdown drives in the Seminoles' blowout win over Nevada.

The rebound, part II: After two dismal weeks offensively, Syracuse finally got things going behind quarterback Terrel Hunt. Drew Allen struggled in Syracuse's first two games -- both losses -- and Scott Shafer announced he'd open up the competition. Hunt made a quick impression, completing 15 of 18 passes for 265 yards and three TDs in a 54-0 win over Wagner. What remains to be seen is whether Hunt can keep up the big numbers against better competition.

The homecoming: Randy Edsall helped usher Connecticut into the FBS as head coach of the Huskies, but he didn't do his former team many favors when he led Maryland back to his old stomping grounds. The Terps racked up 501 yards of offense and only three turnovers kept UConn in the game. Quarterback C.J. Brown gained more than 100 yards rushing for the second time in three games in the 32-21 Maryland victory.

The paradox: Virginia Tech's third game was a lot like its first. The good news was that the Hokies' defense looks legit. After an opening-drive TD, East Carolina managed just 129 yards the rest of the game and Virginia Tech forced three turnovers in a 15-10 victory. On the flip side, Logan Thomas and the offense continues to struggle. Tech had just 311 yards of its own, was 10-of-22 on third and fourth downs and averaged just 1.6 yards per rush. Meanwhile, kicker Cody Journell missed two field goals and a PAT.

The wake-up call: Duke might still get to six victories and bowl eligibility for the second consecutive season, but it seemed clear after Saturday's loss to Georgia Tech that the Blue Devils aren't quite ready to compete for a division title. Lee torched the Duke defense and quarterback Brandon Connette averaged just 4.4 yards per attempt in his first start since replacing the injured Anthony Boone.

The quote: "When I got out there, it was nothing but green grass." -- Florida State's Karlos Williams on the toss sweep that went for a 65-yard touchdown on his first career carry. He moved from safety to tailback last week.

ACC Week 3: Did you know?

September, 13, 2013
9/13/13
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After two weeks of conference-defining wins, the ACC flies a bit under the radar this week, without a nonconference game against a ranked foe. But that doesn't mean there's no intrigue.

As always, thanks to ESPN Stats and Information and the ACC sports information departments for the research.

BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles travel to Los Angeles to take on Southern Cal, marking just their fourth trip to California for a regular-season game. Boston College has played in the state three other times in bowl games, including as recently as 2011, but its last trip to USC came in 1987. This marks a homecoming for quarterback Chase Rettig, who grew up in nearby Sierra Madre -- about 20 miles from the L.A. Coliseum.

DUKE: The Blue Devils open ACC play this weekend against Georgia Tech, with backup QB Brandon Connette getting his first career start in place of injured Anthony Boone. But despite the lack of starts, Connette is hardly green. He's accounted for multiple touchdowns in four straight games and has scored 25 times in 28 career appearances (17 rushing, seven passing, one receiving). His four passing touchdowns in 2013 are tied for the second-most among ACC QBs so far this season.

GEORGIA TECH: Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson was born in Newland, N.C. and attended Western Carolina University, in Cullowhee, but he hasn't been entirely kind to the schools in his home state. During his 17-year career, Johnson is 33-8 (.805) against teams from North Carolina, including a 15-2 mark since taking over at Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets open ACC play this week against Duke.

FLORIDA STATE: Jameis Winston's debut against Pittsburgh turned plenty of heads. He accounted for five touchdowns and threw just two incomplete passes. Winston was particularly good on deep balls, completing 7-of-8 throws of 15 yards or longer, accounting for 170 yards and two TDs. His 88 percent completion rate on such throws is the highest for any QB this season (minimum five attempts) and his seven completions tied for the most so far in 2013.

MARYLAND: The Terps picked off Old Dominion QB Taylor Heinicke three times in the first half of last week's win. It marked the first time a Maryland defense secured three interceptions in a single half since 2005, when Virginia Tech's Marcus Vick was picked off three times in the third quarter. The Terps lost that game, however, 28-9.

PITTSBURGH: Senior receiver Devin Street had a monster game in Pitt's opener, catching six passes for 141 yards. It was his seventh career 100-yard game, and the six receptions gave him 157 for his career. If Street can haul in five passes this week against New Mexico, he would pass Larry Fitzgerald for third in school history. Latef Grim holds the school record for catches with 178.

SYRACUSE: It's been a lackluster start to 2013 for the Orange offense, but tailback Jerome Smith continues to impress. A year ago, Smith was among the most dynamic backs in the Big East, racking up 1,176 yards rushing on 227 carries -- but managed just three touchdowns. It took Smith just 27 carries this year to match that total. He scored twice in the opener against Penn State and once more in last week's loss to Northwestern.

VIRGINIA TECH: Chris Mangus' 76-yard touchdown run against Western Carolina marked the second straight week in which Virginia Tech had a player score on a carry of 75 yards or more. Trey Edmunds ripped off a 77-yard touchdown against Alabama in the opener. That accounts for half of all the touchdown runs of 75 yards or more by Hokies players in the past decade. Oddly, the past three (Mangus, Edmunds and J.C. Coleman in 2012) to accomplish the feat were all freshmen.

WAKE FOREST: The Demon Deacons host Louisiana-Monroe this week, providing a homecoming for ULM tight ends coach Jerry McManus. He played quarterback for Wake Forest in 1975 and 1976, starting nine games. His son, Ryan, played at Wake from 2006 through 2009 and now serves as a graduate assistant for the Deacons.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has not disappointed. Neither has Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston -- at least for one game, anyway.

Even Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown has impressed in his return from a major knee injury.

The rest of the quarterbacks in the ACC? Well, their performances have not exactly risen to elite levels. Not yet, anyway.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
AP Photo/J Pat CarterStephen Morris is completing only 52 percent of his passes thus far.
You figured there could be some early struggles at the position, with seven teams featuring new starters. Two of those teams -- Duke and NC State -- are already playing backups after their starters got hurt. Still, several quarterbacks expected to be among the best in the league have struggled so far, too.

The latest QBR stats show the ACC has more quarterbacks underperforming than the other power conferences.

Six ACC quarterbacks rank in the bottom 38 in QBR, which measures the way a signal caller plays by taking into account his stats combined with game situations. That ranks last among the Big 12 (two), Pac-12 (two), Big Ten (three) and SEC (two). In addition, six ACC quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns so far this season.

Part of the reason for some of the early struggles can be attributed to the schedule. Three players went against top-10 defenses -- Miami quarterback Stephen Morris against Florida; Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas against Alabama; and Syracuse quarterback Drew Allen against Penn State. In addition, Virginia quarterback David Watford faced BYU and Oregon, while Pitt quarterback Tom Savage went against Florida State, a top-10 defense a year ago.

Each quarterback ranks in the bottom 38 in QBR. Morris (No. 100) and Thomas (No. 132) stand out the most in that group. Morris in particular has not been as crisp as he was when he ended the last four games of 2012 with 11 touchdown passes, zero interceptions and 1,131 passing yards.

Going into the year, Morris drew raves as a potential first-round pick thanks to his arm strength and football savvy. Many pegged him as the second-best quarterback in the league behind Boyd. So far in two games, Morris is completing only 52 percent -- down from the 58 percent he posted in 2012. He also has three touchdown passes to two interceptions and has thrown for a total of 322 yards.

Miami coach Al Golden says Morris' performance has been a function of both games the Hurricanes have played. In the opener against FAU, their ground game had more than 300 yards. Last week in a win over Florida, the entire Miami offense struggled against one of the best defenses it will face this year. Still, there were several miscommunications in the pass game, in particular between Morris and Phillip Dorsett.

"There's a lot of things we have to fix, but Stephen's not on a different page or anything like that," Golden said. "We're anxious to get in here this week and work. I know he is. We're just going to get better and move forward."

Thomas' struggles have continued, despite a new coordinator and new offensive scheme. He has one touchdown pass to three interceptions and is not even ranked among the top 10 players in passing efficiency in the latest ACC statistics. His completion percentage is down around 39 percent. Not all the problems fall on Thomas' shoulders. His receivers have not helped him out, and the run game remains inconsistent.

But given his talent and starting experience, Thomas should not rank last among all ACC quarterbacks in QBR. Many expected improvement this year after a down 2012. The tangible results have not been there for him just yet.

One other returning veteran has not been completely on point, either. North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner, also rated right behind Boyd among returning starters, ranks No. 66 in QBR and is at No. 7 in passing efficiency in the ACC. He has not been terrible; but he has not been outstanding, either.

"Bryn is playing well," coach Larry Fedora said. "The pieces of the puzzle around Bryn are a little different this year. We still have to come together as an offense. I don't think we're hitting on all cylinders yet. We have to become more effective running the football to take some of that pressure off Bryn so he can be who he can be."

Among the first-year starters, Allen has probably struggled more than anyone. He has one touchdown pass to six interceptions -- including four last week in a loss to Northwestern. Coach Scott Shafer says he will play Allen and backup Terrel Hunt against Wagner on Saturday.

"It's been frustrating going through growing pains but at the same time I think they continue to attack practice every day and continue to get better and we've just got to eliminate the major mistakes and I think we can have one or maybe two great players," Syracuse quarterbacks coach Tim Lester said.

Boyd and Winston have lived up to the early hype. Brown has been terrific, ranking No. 3 in the nation in QBR to lead all ACC quarterbacks.

But there's no doubt this is a position that must see improvement across the league as the year goes on.

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