Florida State Seminoles: Brandon Connette
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.
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."
"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.
We wrote about the big-name receivers headed for the NFL draft, but the ACC also has three wideouts returning who accounted for 1,000 receiving yards in 2013, too.
But how about the tailbacks? How many 1,000-yard rushers from 2013 will be back again this season?
Believe it or not, the lone representative on that list is Virginia’s Kevin Parks, who racked up 1,031 yards on the ground for a team that didn’t win a single conference game.
The depth chart among returning running backs in the conference doesn’t get much better beyond Parks, either. Duke Johnson is probably the ACC’s best returning running back. He racked up 920 yards in eight games before getting hurt. Beyond that, only Louisville’s Dominique Brown, who played in the AAC last year, returns with at least 800 yards on the ground from 2013.
So, if there aren’t a ton of top tailbacks returning for 2014, which teams are poised for the most success on the ground this year?
I think the issue is, if we collectively agree that we're going to schedule up, we don't have to come up with a hard rule we have to go to nine games or everybody has to schedule one game against an SEC school. It's just a matter of getting everybody to agree to that.” -- FSU athletic director Stan Wilcox
If we break down the numbers by tailbacks only, Pittsburgh is the clear front runner. No ACC team’s returning running backs accounted for a higher percentage of its 2013 carries (76 percent) than Pitt’s, and thanks to the negative rushing totals courtesy of sacks, James Conner (799 yards), Isaac Bennett (776 yards) and Co. actually accounted for 106 percent of the Panthers’ rushing yards from 2013. (A neat trick that comes courtesy of Tom Savage's 76 carries for minus-208 yards.)
With Parks back for 2014 along with highly touted sophomore Taquan Mizzell, UVA’s returning backs account for 74 percent of last season's rushes, along with 91 percent of its yards. Of course, without star lineman Morgan Moses, those yards might be a bit tougher to come by this season.
Virginia Tech, NC State and Louisville all return running backs responsible for at least 50 percent of last season's ground gains, too (with Miami falling just short after swapping Dallas Crawford to the secondary).
The bottom of the list might be even more intriguing. Wake Forest’s stable of running backs is a mess, but that’s been well documented. The rest of the bottom six, however, include BC (which lost a Heisman finalist) and the top four offenses in the league from 2013 (Florida State, Clemson, Duke and Georgia Tech).
In other words, the best offenses lost big-time runners, and the shakiest (aside from Wake) have talent returning. So, does that mean there’s reason for some serious shakeups in the ACC’s offensive standings?
Yes, the ground game is essential for most teams to succeed. Of the 10 teams that played in BCS bowl games last season, seven returned a tailback who rushed for at least 500 yards in 2012.
But the ground game isn’t defined entirely by the men toting the rock. FSU returns four starters on a veteran offensive line, along with a Heisman-winning quarterback. That should provide some room for its relatively green stable of running backs to roam.
And, of course, just because there’s talent departing doesn’t mean there isn’t more waiting in the wings. Florida State’s returning running backs (Karlos Williams and Ryan Green) averaged 7 yards per carry in reserve roles last season. Georgia Tech’s averaged 5.9, and Duke’s averaged 5.8 (QB Brandon Connette’s departure is the biggest blow to the Blue Devils’ ground attack). Even Clemson has cause to be excited about its rushing game in 2014 with the development of C.J. Davidson and Zac Brooks and the debut of uber-talented redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman.
The veteran presence in the backfield for Pitt, Virginia and NC State should offer some hope to teams in need of some offensive optimism, but it’s also a likely scenario that FSU, Clemson, and others will supply a few names to the ACC’s rushing leaderboard in 2014, too.
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.
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.
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.
- Florida transfer Ian Silberman gives "O-Line U" a boost at BC, Rich Thompson writes in the Boston Herald.
- Clemson's O-line is seeking answers, Aaron Brenner writes in the (Charleston) Post and Courier.
- Could Brandon Connette be transferring from Duke? CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler has more.
- Jameis Winston had some fun during a rain delay.
- Broderick Snoddy's transition to A-back at Georgia Tech may be complete, Ken Sugiura writes in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
- Former Georgia safety Josh Harvey-Clemons could be on his way to Louisville.
- Athlon's Steven Lassan looks at which ACC unit is a bigger concern in 2014: Miami's defense or Virginia Tech's offense.
- UNC came in like a wrecking ball. (I'll see myself out, thanks.)
- Pitt's backfield injuries have provided Rachid Ibrahim an opportunity, Jerry DiPaola writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Syracuse added a commitment Wednesday from 2014 kicker/punter Evan Jakubowski, Nate Mink writes in the (Syracuse) Post-Standard.
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:
Florida State: 14
Boston College: 6*
North Carolina: 5
NC State: 3*
Georgia Tech: 0
Virginia Tech: 0
Wake Forest: 0
*-QBs at these schools made their starts while playing for other programs.
Boston College: +5
Virginia Tech: +1
North Carolina: -1
Clemson: No change
Wake Forest: -1
Florida State: +2
Georgia Tech: No change
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.
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.
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.
So which team has the best chance to unseat them from their throne? Let's look at some of the top contenders:
Clemson: Skeptical fans will ask how the Tigers will take down Florida State considering: 1. They have lost to the Noles the last two years; 2. They play in Tallahassee in 2014; 3. They do not have Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Roderick McDowell, just to name four. Well, the truth is Clemson is not going anywhere anytime soon. Florida State had a lot of questions last season about replacing 11 NFL draft picks -- including its starting quarterback. But thanks to recruiting, the Seminoles were even better. Now, this is not to say Clemson will be even better in 2014 than it was a year ago, but it is to say the Tigers are not going to go back to winning seven games. They have kept pace with Florida State on the recruiting trail, have outstanding candidates to step in at quarterback, should be better at running back and will have one of the strongest defensive lines in the ACC. Boyd and Watkins might be gone, but Clemson is here to stay.
Duke: The Blue Devils, you say? Well, yes, they are a big-time dark horse, especially because the gap between the two programs was exposed for the world to see in the ACC championship game last December. Still, Duke will be one of the favorites to repeat as Coastal champions for several reasons. First, the Blue Devils return eight starters on offense, including All-ACC receiver Jamison Crowder, starting quarterback Anthony Boone and backup Brandon Connette. Second, they have some excellent players back on defense, including linebacker Kelby Brown and safeties Jeremy Cash and DeVon Edwards. Third, their schedule should make them favorites as they avoid playing Florida State, Clemson, Louisville and Notre Dame. Given the progress that has been made, this team could easily win 10 games again.
Louisville: The Cards are a bit of a wild card for a host of reasons. Not only do they have to replace potential No. 1 draft pick Teddy Bridgewater, their front seven has to be rebuilt and they have a new coach and new schemes to get used to in a short period of time. The schedule is much more challenging in 2014, too, with games against Florida State, Clemson, Notre Dame and Miami. The program is a step behind Florida State and Clemson, but Bobby Petrino sure knows how to coach. He won 10 or more games in the SEC West. Twice. Their chances are remote, but they should still be one of the top-tier ACC teams this year.
Miami: While it is true the in-state rivals are lagging behind the Seminoles, the Hurricanes have made some major strides on the recruiting trail and have talent all over the roster. If Duke Johnson had not gotten hurt last season, perhaps Miami would have stayed in the game. The Canes have a receiving group that can challenge the Florida State secondary. A healthy Johnson is a game-changer. And they meet in Miami this year in mid-November. Still, there are questions at quarterback and on defense that make Miami a long shot to unseat the Seminoles.
Other: Is it North Carolina? Virginia Tech? Anybody else? Now it's time for you to weigh in with our handy dandy poll.
Florida State (11-0) at Florida (4-7), noon, ESPN
What's at stake: A win would move Florida State to 12-0 for the first time since finishing the 1999 national championship season with a 12-0 mark. A loss would ruin any shot at a national championship.
Statistically speaking: Coach Jimbo Fisher is looking to improve his record to 7-1 against in-state rivals Florida and Miami.
Quotable: "What we have to do is worry about playing well this weekend in Gainesville and if we do that, then the outcomes come. When you’re asked about it and you’re 18-22 years old, they can create distractions. It’s how much you believe in the system we have and what’s going on and can you compartmentalize all the other things and the questions that are going on about that. It is very tough. If it wasn’t tough, people would do it all the time." --- Fisher
No. 24 Duke (9-2, 5-2) at North Carolina (6-5, 4-3), noon, ESPN2
What's at stake: If Duke wins, the Blue Devils clinch a spot in the ACC championship game opposite Florida State, their first 10-win season and their first outright Coastal Division title.
Statistically speaking: Duke and Georgia Tech are the only teams in the nation that have converted 100 percent of their goal-to-go opportunities into touchdowns. The Blue Devils have converted all 22 of their chances, headlined by Brandon Connette’s 13 rushing scores.
Quotable: "You start out 1-5 then every one of them is more important. Each time you’re successful, the game becomes more important and a bigger game. They know where it’s at right now. I can assure you I’m not going to have to do anything to create more motivation for our guys. They’re going to be prepared and they’re going to be excited to play." -- North Carolina coach Larry Fedora
Wake Forest (4-7) at Vanderbilt (7-4), 12:21 p.m., GamePlan
What's at stake: The Deacs are trying to avoid their worst season since going 3-9 in 2010. A win would break a two-game losing streak in the series.
Statistically speaking: Wake Forest nose guard Nikita Whitlock has recorded a tackle for loss in 10 of 11 games this season. On the year, he has nine sacks (tied for No. 5 in the ACC) and 17 tackles for loss (third in the ACC). Both totals are team highs.
Quotable: "I think the thing that stands out with most of our seniors is that they've kind of maxed out what they can do. We may see a couple of guys that could have played better or could of had better careers, but most of these guys in the senior class really tried every year to be the best they could be and that's what you feel good about. I think these guys are a pretty close group and they care about each other and they've just tried as much as possible to be the best players they can be in our program." -- Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe
Maryland (6-5, 2-5) at NC State (3-8, 0-7), 12:30 p.m., GamePlan
What's at stake: The Terps surely want to win their final conference game ever, while NC State is hoping to avoid its first winless season in ACC play since 1959.
Statistically speaking: The games in this series are generally close. Of the last 13 contests between them, 11 have been decided by 10 points or fewer. Five of those 13 games have been decided by four or less points and 10 by less than 10 points.
Quotable: "As hard as it’s been we’ve grown very close as a team and these guys want to see our seniors finish the season the way they want to finish it. Playing at home, playing an ACC team at home and playing in our last game with these guys is enough of a reason for these guys to want to play well." -- NC State coach Dave Doeren
Georgia (7-4) at Georgia Tech (7-4), 3:30 p.m., ABC
What's at stake: Georgia Tech has an opportunity to beat the Bulldogs for the first time since 2008 and just the second time since 2000.
Statistically speaking: Georgia Tech, Ohio State and Wisconsin are the only teams in the nation to rank in the top 10 nationally in both rushing offense and rushing defense. The Jackets rank fourth in rush offense, 10th in rush defense.
Quotable: "I never had a chance to coach against him, but Herschel Walker. He's a big guy who runs through people and is fast. I mean he's a good player and he's going to be a good player for a long time if he doesn't get hurt. He's not only going to be good at Georgia, he's going to be a heck of an NFL running back too. He's got all the tools that they look for. He's good at running the football and is big and physical. He's a good receiver coming out of the backfield. He can do a lot of things." -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson on what player compares to Georgia running back Todd Gurley
Boston College (7-4, 4-3) at Syracuse (5-6, 3-4), 3:30 p.m, GamePlan
What's at stake: The Orange must win out to become bowl eligible for the second straight season. As for BC, running back Andre Williams is now in the Heisman race. Another 200-yard performance will certainly help the cause.
Statistically speaking: The most recent meeting between these teams came at the Carrier Dome in 2010, with Boston College winning 16-7. Williams, then a backup freshman, filled in for injured starter Montel Harris and rushed for 185 yards on a school-record 42 carries to lead the Eagles.
Quotable: “We always knew at Syracuse that we were going to come into this game at the end of the year and it was going to be a really rough, physical, black-and-blue game. We prided ourselves at that time on being a physical team, and I know BC did, and we just knew that it was going to be one of those games at the end where it was going to be a real fistfight. Everyone was jacked about it and everybody couldn’t wait to get to that game. It was targeted, it was red letter game. I learned that when I went to Syracuse my first year as an assistant coach. It was quickly explained to me how important the BC-Syracuse game was, and I never lost that. I have a unique perspective on it obviously and I have a great appreciation for it.” -- Boston College coach Steve Addazio
Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3) at Virginia (2-9, 0-7), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU
What's at stake: Virginia Tech should know before this game starts whether it still has a shot at making the ACC championship game. The Hokies need Duke to lose to North Carolina, and then have to go out and beat the Hoos.
Statistically speaking: The Hokies have actually fared better on the road than at home over the last 11 seasons against the Cavaliers. In the five games at Scott Stadium since 2002, the Hokies have averaged 37.2 points per game. In six games at Lane Stadium since 2002, Virginia Tech has averaged just 18.7 points per game.
Quotable: "Well I think both of us compete very, very hard against each other. You try to have success against their program. I don’t think what has happened in the past makes a lot of difference, I think what happens this Saturday makes all the difference. Every year it’s a new year, different teams, different people and what happens this Saturday is what is really important for us." -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer
No. 6 Clemson (10-1) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-2), 7 p.m., ESPN2
What's at stake: South Carolina has an opportunity to extend its winning streak in the series to a school-record five games. BCS hopes are on the line for both teams as well.
Statistically speaking: This is the third straight season Clemson and South Carolina have both been ranked in the AP top 20 entering the game. This series is one of just four nationally where that has been the case. The others are LSU-Florida, LSU-Alabama and Oregon-Stanford.
Quotable: "They are what you would expect when you look at a top-10 football team. They are a top-10 football team because they have a bunch of great players. They play hard and play tough and play with a lot of confidence. Our focus is on trying to finish and it has been. We want to have the best finish that we possibly can and, obviously, winning this game is huge part of that." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney
The bad: What happened to you, Miami? Just three weeks ago you entered a prime-time showdown at rival FSU riding high, undefeated, free of the NCAA cloud and ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings. You've lost three games since, the latest a 48-30 contest at Duke, which wrestled away control of the Coastal Division from you. You gave up 358 rushing yards to a team that entered averaging just 165.9 per contest. Fortunately, you have Virginia on deck this weekend for Senior Day.
The ugly: Speaking of Virginia, the Cavaliers have some company in the cellar of the ACC, as NC State lost again, this time a 38-21 contest at Boston College. The Wolfpack fell to 0-7 in ACC play for the first time in program history, and they are now guaranteed to miss a bowl game in Year 1 under Dave Doeren. Andre Williams did a lot of this to them, too.
The history: Williams keeps finding records to chase. This time the Eagles senior rushed for an ACC single-game record of 339 yards, giving him an ACC single-season record of 1,810 rushing yards on the season. The previous ACC single-game record was 329 by Wake Forest's John Leach in 1993 versus Maryland, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And the previous league single-season record was 1,798 by Virginia's Thomas Jones in 1999. Williams' 339 yards Saturday were the most by an FBS player in a game this season, though it was not the most across college football Saturday: That would belong to Cartel Brooks and his 465 yards for Div. III Heidelberg, a new NCAA record.
More history: Tajh Boyd broke Phillip Rivers' ACC record for career touchdown passes, as he now has 97. And the Clemson quarterback had 340 passing yards in Thursday's win over Georgia Tech, leaving him one 300-yard game shy of Rivers' ACC record of 18.
(We want) more history: OK, fine. Duke quarterback Brandon Connette rushed for four touchdowns, giving him 29 rushing touchdowns for his career, breaking the previous school record of 28, set by Tom Davis from 1941-44.
The fun and games: Hey, who doesn't like a game of Hangman? It's not like the end of the Florida State-Syracuse game featured anything more dramatic, anyway.
The consistently inconsistent: Pitt was thisclose to keeping Notre Dame out of the national title game last season. It then followed things up by laying an egg at UConn. The Panthers finally took down the Irish this year, so how did they respond? Naturally, by falling behind by 24 points in the second half in an eventual 34-27 home loss to red-hot North Carolina. Give credit to Pitt for mounting a furious comeback to tie the game, and to Tom Savage and Devin Street for playing hurt, but surrendering a pair of punt return touchdowns to Ryan Switzer did not help matters. The Panthers remain at five wins, with a game this weekend at the always-tricky Carrier Dome on deck before the season finale against Miami.
The celebration: Did you see how happy Randy Edsall was? Maryland finally got to bowl eligibility under the third-year coach, snapping a three-game losing streak by pulling off the overtime upset at Virginia Tech. This was a big deal for Edsall & Co., as evidenced by his oh-so-happy postgame demeanor.
North Carolina wide receiver Ryan Switzer. As a receiver, Switzer put up a modest two catches for 21 yards. But the true freshman was a game-changer as a punt returner, as he brought back kicks of 65 and 61 yards, the latter breaking a 27-27 tie with 4:46 left in the fourth quarter and helping the Tar Heels escape Pittsburgh with the 34-27 win, their fourth in a row. North Carolina is on the verge of a bowl berth after a 1-5 start, and they have the 5-foot-10, 175-pound rookie in large part to thank for that after blowing a 27-3 second-half lead.
Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown. Brown delivered when his team needed him most, helping engineer a big upset in Blacksburg, Va., as the Terrapins escaped with a 27-24 overtime win. Brown was just 12 of 25 passing for 135 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but he made some big plays with his legs, including the three-yard game-winning run in the extra session as he moved left and dived into the pylon to clinch the victory. Brown finished with 122 rushing yards and two scores on 23 carries, helping Maryland snap a three-game winning streak and clinching bowl eligibility for the first time in three seasons under coach Randy Edsall.
Boston College running back Andre Williams. He seemingly has reserved a spot in this post every week, as the senior powered the Eagles to a sixth win, tripling last year's total. They gained bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010 with a 38-21 Senior Day win over NC State. Williams rushed for 339 yards and two touchdowns on 42 carries, breaking the ACC's single-game and single-season rushing record (he has 1,810 rushing yards on the season). Williams now has four 200-yard rushing games on the year, and he has amassed 634 rushing yards and four touchdowns in his last two games.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston played just a half, but he made it count. The redshirt freshman completed 19 of 21 passes for 277 yards with two touchdowns and no picks, leading the Seminoles to a 38-0 lead at the break, en route to a 59-3 win. Keep in mind the Syracuse defense he was facing had not given up a touchdown in its previous two games, too. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Winston is now the only player since at least 2000 with two games of at least 90 percent comp pct (min. 20 att) in a season.
Duke's rushing game. The Blue Devils entered Saturday's contest averaging 165.9 rushing yards per game. Against Miami, they rushed for 358 and five scores, doing whatever they wanted as they overcame an early 17-7 deficit and scored the game's final 20 points to win 48-30. Josh Snead led the ground attack with 138 yards on nine carries, and Jela Duncan added 98 yards on 16 carries. Let's not overlook Brandon Connette, who scored four rushing touchdowns on 11 carries, totaling 37 yards on the night.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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).