Florida State Seminoles: Chase Rettig

Phil Steele released his preseason All-ACC teams earlier this week, and it might have been noteworthy to some that the player he listed as his second-team quarterback — North Carolina’s Marquise Williams — isn’t currently assured of even keeping his starting job. That, of course, speaks to the quality of Williams’ competition (Mitch Trubisky has a little talent, too), but mostly to the lack of any established experience at the position around the ACC.

Of the ACC’s 14 teams, only Florida State and Virginia return quarterbacks who appeared in every one of their games last season — and Virginia's David Watford isn’t currently listed as the team’s starter this year.

None of this is a new story, of course, and we’ve already touched on what impact the turnover at quarterback might have this season around the league. Looking at last year’s records, the teams that returned quarterbacks saw an aggregate increase of nine wins, while teams with turnover at the position broke even.

Those victory totals only tell us so much, though. Florida State only increased its victory total by two with a new quarterback, but those were two pretty important wins. UNC’s victory total dipped by one game, but its returning quarterback wasn’t the one on the field when the Tar Heels were playing their best.

So we dug a little deeper into the numbers to see what impact, if any, a change at quarterback might have on the offense.

Looking just at 2013, there were five ACC teams that had the same starting quarterback in at least 75 percent of its games as it did the preceding year. Seven had changes at the position. The results were about what you might expect.



Overall, teams replacing a quarterback had a 1 percent dip in total offense and a 4 percent dip in yards per attempt, while the teams with returning experience improved in both areas.

It’s probably worth noting, too, that both Florida State and Maryland represent outliers in this discussion. Florida State had a new QB, but Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy. He’s a unique talent. Maryland, meanwhile, was using a linebacker at quarterback by the end of 2012, so change was inherently a good thing for the Terps. If we take those two teams out of the equation, the numbers change a bit: Teams undergoing change at QB had a 6 percent dip in total offense and a 9 percent decline in yards per attempt.

So, that settles it, right? Change at quarterback means a decline in offensive production, which is bad news for the ACC in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesFlorida State had a new quarterback last season, and the Seminoles certainly didn't take a step back with Jameis Winston.
Not exactly.

In 2012, the vast majority of the ACC (9 of 12 teams) returned their starting QBs from 2011, and while those teams did have a slight increase in offensive production (1.75 percent, compared to a 4 percent decline for the three teams with turnover), the actual passing performances told a different story. The nine teams returning QBs actually had a 3 percent dip in yards per attempt, while the teams with turnover (Maryland, Miami,Virginia) had a 6 percent increase.

Look at the numbers in 2011 for teams returning QBs, and the outcome is even more counter-intuitive. Five teams returned quarterbacks and had a 2.25 percent increase in yards per attempt and essentially broke even in total offense. The teams with turnover at QB, however, increased total offense by more than 3 percent and had a whopping 9.5 percent increase in yards per attempt from 2010.

In other words, in 2011 and 2012, change at quarterback didn’t make much of a difference. In fact, during the last three years collectively, teams that made a change at QB saw no discernible change in total offense and enjoyed a 2 percent increase in yards per attempt (better than the 0.67 percent increase for teams returning QBs).

So why did last year’s numbers paint such a scary picture?

The answer is probably that the returning quarterbacks in the league actually played a far smaller role in their respective offenses. Overall, the five teams returning QBs from 2012 had a whopping 15 percent decline in passing attempts per game, with Boston College being a prime example. Chase Rettig returned as QB, but BC’s attempts per game dipped from 39 in 2012 to 20 in 2013, while its yards per attempt jumped from 6.5 in 2012 to 7.5 last season.

In other words, the veteran quarterbacks probably had a little more help surrounding them (such as Andre Williams), while the young QBs were left to figure a lot out on their own (such as Pete Thomas).

As we look to 2014, there will no doubt be major question marks at QB for a lot of teams, but for many, there’s nowhere to go but up. And based on the numbers, there’s no reason a first-time starter can’t engineer those recoveries.

ACC's lunchtime links

June, 2, 2014
Jun 2
12:00
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Kings-Rangers. Let's Go.
The NFL draft concluded with 42 ACC players selected last weekend, and a slew more ended up signing free-agent deals in the days afterward.

Here’s a quick rundown of where the ACC’s undrafted free agents landed.

BOSTON COLLEGE
QB Chase Rettig, Green Bay Packers
OLB Kasim Edebali, New Orleans Saints
LB Steele Divitto, New York Jets
OT Ian White, San Diego Chargers
OT Matt Patchan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DB Albert Louis-Jean, Chicago Bears

CLEMSON
K Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona Cardinals
G Tyler Shatley, Jacksonville Jaguars
LB Spencer Shuey, Jacksonville Jaguars
CB Darius Robinson, Buffalo Bills

DUKE
RB Juwan Thompson, Denver Broncos
DE Kenny Anunike, Denver Broncos

FLORIDA STATE
LB Christian Jones, Chicago Bears
RB James Wilder Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
WR Kenny Shaw, Cleveland Browns
FB Chad Abram, Detroit Lions
DT Demonte McAllister, Seattle Seahawks
DT Jacobbi McDaniel, Cleveland Browns

GEORGIA TECH
DT Euclid Cummings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
CB Lou Young, Denver Broncos
DE Emmanuel Dieke, New York Giants

LOUISVILLE
DT Roy Philon, Pittsburgh Steelers
S Hakeem Smith, Tennessee Titans
DT Brandon Dunn, Chicago Bears
WR Damian Copeland, Jacksonville Jaguars

MIAMI
WR Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
QB Stephen Morris, Jacksonville Jaguars
TE Asante Cleveland, San Francisco 49ers
DT Justin Renfrow, Arizona Cardinals
FB Maurice Hagens, Atlanta Falcons
S A.J. Highsmith, San Francisco 49ers
OG Jared Wheeler, Carolina Panthers
LB Jimmy Gaines, Buffalo Bills

NORTH CAROLINA
OT James Hurst, Baltimore Ravens
QB Bryn Renner, Denver Broncos

NC STATE
DE Carlos Gray, Green Bay Packers
TE Asa Watson, New England Patriots
DL Deylan Buntyn, New England Patriots

PITTSBURGH
P Matt Yoklic, Atlanta Falcons

SYRACUSE
CB Keon Lyn, Indianapolis Colts
CB Ri’Shard Anderson, Tennessee Titans
RB Jerome Smith, Atlanta Falcons

VIRGINIA
DE Jake Snyder, Minnesota Vikings

VIRGINIA TECH
DT Derrick Hopkins, Baltimore Ravens
LB Tariq Edwards, Miami Dolphins
WR D.J. Coles, Oakland Raiders
G Andrew Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DE James Gayle, Tennessee Titans

WAKE FOREST
DT Nikita Whitlock, Cincinnati Bengals
LB Justin Jackson, Detroit Lions
LB Zach Thompson, New York Jets
The dust has settled after the NFL draft, and it was another solid showing by the ACC. Overall, the league had 42 players selected, the second most in ACC history and the second most by any conference this year (trailing only the SEC’s 48).

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Elsa/Getty ImagesFormer Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was the first ACC player selected (No. 4 overall) in the NFL draft.
Four of the first 14 players selected in this year’s draft came from the ACC, led by Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (No. 4 overall to the Buffalo Bills) and UNC tight end Eric Ebron (No. 10 to the Detroit Lions). Five ACC players were taken in the first round and 10 more were selected in the second and third rounds.

For the second straight year, Florida State led all ACC schools in players drafted. Seven Seminoles were selected throughout the weekend, starting with wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin in round 1 by the Carolina Panthers and ending with linebacker Telvin Smith in round 5 by the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the past two years, Florida State has had 18 players drafted by NFL teams.

Of course, it wasn’t just strength at the top for the ACC. All 14 programs had at least one player selected this year, including five apiece from Clemson and North Carolina and four from Boston College.

New addition Louisville, which officially enters the ACC next month, had four players selected this year, including three (Calvin Pryor, Marcus Smith and Teddy Bridgewater) in the first round.

Three ACC quarterbacks were selected, led by Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas (No. 120). Pitt’s Tom Savage (No. 135) and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (No. 213) were also taken.

Duke corner Ross Cockrell was taken with pick No. 109 by the Bills, becoming just the third Blue Devils player drafted since 2001. He was also the highest-selected Duke defensive player since Mike Junkin was taken fifth overall in 1987.

Miami had three players selected over the weekend (Brandon Linder, Pat O'Donnell and Seantrel Henderson), extending its streak of consecutive years with at least one player drafted to 41. Florida State and Virginia extended streaks of their own to 32 years.

Of the ACC underclassmen who declared for this year’s draft, four went undrafted. FSU running back James Wilder Jr. inked a free-agent deal with the Cincinnati Bengals, Syracuse running back Jerome Smith signed with the Atlanta Falcons and NC State defensive lineman Carlos Gray signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Among other notable undrafted free agents in the league, former Miami quarterback Stephen Morris signed with Jacksonville, UNC quarterback Bryn Renner inked a deal with Denver, FSU receiver Kenny Shaw signed with Cleveland, Tar Heels offensive lineman James Hurst signed with the Ravens and former BC quarterback Chase Rettig signed with Green Bay.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
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Here’s a quick look back at five lessons learned in the ACC in the final week of the regular season, in no particular order:

1. Duke is the outright Coastal Division winner. No tiebreaker scenarios needed. No back doors opened. Duke marched right into the ACC championship game with a thrilling 27-25 win at North Carolina, leaving no doubt it was the best team in the division and the most deserving to line up against Atlantic Division winner Florida State. Duke’s fate was sealed when DeVon Edwards intercepted Marquise Williams with 13 seconds remaining. It was a fairytale ending to Duke’s Cinderella season, which included eight straight wins to end the season and an undefeated season on the road. With its 10 wins, Duke broke the school record for wins in a season. Duke’s six ACC wins were the program’s most since 1989 -- also the same year that Duke last won an ACC title.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Gerry Melendez/The State/Getty ImagesTajh Boyd and Clemson again struggled in their rivalry game with South Carolina.
2. The ACC couldn’t get it done against the SEC (again). Six turnovers for Clemson. Six. It was déjà vu for the Tigers in their fifth straight loss to South Carolina. The turnovers continued to haunt Clemson in the series and be the difference in the game, just as they had in their past four losses to the Gamecocks. This looked like a prime year for the ACC to come out on the winning end against the SEC -- especially with Georgia veteran quarterback Aaron Murray done for the season with a torn ACL. Instead, Wake lost to Vandy, and Georgia Tech lost to Georgia. Florida State beat Florida, but you knew that was coming. And considering the state of the Gators, it wasn’t much worth bragging about. Georgia Tech squandered a 20-point lead and the defense came up short in the second overtime, losing a 41-34 heartbreaker. The ACC went 1-3 against the SEC this week, losing yet another chance to close the gap with its neighboring rival.

3. Syracuse is bowl eligible. In what was another one of the ACC’s most thrilling and entertaining down-to-the-wire games, Syracuse ended the season with a 34-31 home win over Boston College to reach bowl eligibility in its final chance to do so. With six seconds remaining, Terrel Hunt threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Parris to win the game. It snapped BC’s four-game winning streak and was one of the best offensive performances of the season for the Orange. Unfortunately for BC, Heisman hopeful running back Andre Williams was injured in the third quarter and didn’t return. BC quarterback Chase Rettig accounted for three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough, as Syracuse racked up 480 yards and won the turnover battle.

4. Maryland leaves the ACC on a winning note. The Terps won their final regular-season game as members of the ACC, a convincing 41-21 drubbing of an inept NC State team, to finish 7-5. It was a significant -- and much-needed -- turnaround for Maryland and coach Randy Edsall before heading to the Big Ten next season. It was also a terrific sendoff for quarterback C.J. Brown, who ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more in the win. It was Maryland’s first seven-win season since 2010. Maryland is likely bound for the Military Bowl, but as the Terps finish their season, they do so with the ACC’s lawsuit still hanging over their heads.

5. The Hokies still own the state. As much as Virginia Tech’s offense has struggled this season, rival Virginia’s offense was even worse on Saturday in a 16-6 loss. The Hokies’ defense held Virginia without a touchdown on its home field, and both quarterbacks -- starter David Watford and his backup, Greyson Lambert -- were ineffective. It was the 10th straight win against UVa for the Hokies, who have won 18 of the past 22 games in the series. Much has been made about Virginia’s strong recruiting class, but it has yet to add up in this rivalry or in the win column under coach Mike London. UVa ended the season on a 10-game losing streak and winless in the ACC for the first time since 1981.

ACC lunchtime links

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
12:00
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Sad to see Carlos Ruiz and Roy Halladay likely won't be back in Philly. They teamed up for the best sports event I’ve ever covered.
 

ACC weekend rewind: Week 10

November, 4, 2013
11/04/13
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Florida State once again made its case as a national title contender. North Carolina showed that its postseason hopes are still very much alive. And we likely said some unfortunate goodbyes to a couple of the ACC's biggest playmakers Saturday, as they went down with tough injuries. Here is one last look back at the week that was in the conference:

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Phil SearsJameis Winston helped Florida State win and stay in the national title conversation.
The good: The ACC's biggest claim toward national respectability remains alive, as Florida State again looked like a national title contender in its 41-14 win over Miami. The Seminoles are up to No. 2 in the BCS standings after passing their biggest remaining regular-season test with flying colors. If Jameis Winston's night -- 21-of-29 passing for 325 yards, a touchdown and two picks -- is to be considered an "off" one, then we should all pity the remaining defenses on FSU's schedule once he gets his act together.

The bad: What's gotten into Virginia Tech? The Hokies had looked like a squad with a legitimate shot at being the second-best team in the conference, but have lost two in a row to Duke and Boston College as they enter a must-win game at division rival Miami. Logan Thomas turned the ball over four times, including a costly pick-six in the fourth quarter that gave the Eagles a lead they would never relinquish. The defense struggled to contain Andre Williams and the BC rushing attack, which gained 196 yards.

The ugly: Duke Johnson's season is over after the Miami running back went down with a broken right ankle on a fourth-down play late in the third quarter of the Hurricanes' loss at Florida State. Michael Campanaro broke his collarbone in Wake Forest's 13-0 loss at Syracuse and is out four to six weeks. Given that timetable, and the possibility that the Demon Deacons may not make a bowl game, there is a chance we may have seen the last of the fifth-year senior in a Wake Forest uniform, which would be an unfortunate ending for a guy who became the school's all-time receptions leader just two weeks earlier.

The turnaround: Boston College has already doubled its win total from last season under new coach Steve Addazio, who just keeps pushing after his team gave Florida State and Clemson all it could handle earlier in the season. It all came together in Saturday's win over Virginia Tech, with the defense making plays, Chase Rettig effectively managing the offense and Andre Williams being Andre Williams. A 34-27 win has the Eagles at 4-4 and in striking distance of bowl eligibility with four games left to play.

The awakening: North Carolina won at rival NC State 27-19 for its second straight win after a 1-5 start. While the Wolfpack are searching for answers at 0-5 in ACC play, the Tar Heels find themselves with new life as they enter a stretch of games against Virginia, Pitt, Old Dominion and Duke. It has been said in this space before but it is worth repeating: A 3-1 stretch in those games is very possible, which would be a remarkable turnaround for a team that seemingly could not do anything right through the season's first half.

The history: Tajh Boyd had a pretty nice day at the office at Virginia, completing 24 of 29 passes for 377 yards with three passing touchdowns, one rushing touchdown and one interception through one half and one series played. He also improved to 4-0 in games against teams from his home state. The 59-10 Tigers win marked the Cavaliers' second defeat by that score this season (Oregon). Boyd became the ACC's career leader in touchdowns accounted for, as his 33-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Watkins less than 90 seconds into the game broke a tie at 112 touchdowns with Philip Rivers. Boyd had a 96-yard touchdown strike to Watkins early in the third quarter, the longest pass of his career.

The postseason-bound: Georgia Tech's 21-10 win over Pitt gave it a third straight win after a three-game losing streak. The Yellow Jackets clinched bowl eligibility for the 17th straight season, becoming the sixth ACC team to win six games so far this season. Syracuse's win over Wake Forest, meanwhile, has the Orange at 4-4 and making a late push for the postseason, and only Virginia has been eliminated after suffering its seventh loss Saturday. There will be plenty of postseason implications throughout most of the ACC's remaining games.

The freak: His team fell to 4-4 after losing its second straight game, but we must recognize Aaron Donald for his ridiculous stat line in Pitt's loss at Georgia Tech. The defensive tackle had 11 total tackles (all solo), two forced fumbles, one sack and an outstanding six tackles for loss, the most by an FBS player this season. To put that into perspective, the Yellow Jackets ran 63 offensive plays Saturday. As my dear friend Jerry DiPaola notes, that meant nearly 10 percent of its snaps ended in a Donald tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

ACC predictions: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Week 9 was not kind to your ACC bloggers. We missed the same three games, going 4-3. AA keeps her two-game edge overall on HD at 59-13. Hopefully Week 10 will be kinder to us.

On to the picks!

Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1) at Boston College (3-4, 1-3), noon ET, ABC/ESPN2. #VTvsBC. Well, this one ought to be fun. Two of the worst offenses in the entire country square off -- No. 110 Virginia Tech vs. No. 108 Boston College. Those offensive struggles cost both teams last week in losses. Logan Thomas threw four interceptions against Duke; Chase Rettig threw for 57 yards against North Carolina -- which has the worst statistical defense in the ACC. If Rettig struggled that badly against the Tar Heels, what will happen against the No. 3 defense in the nation? Nothing has come easily for the Hokies on offense, putting extra stress on the defense to play nearly perfectly to win. AA says bank on the Virginia Tech offense and Thomas to play better. Not like an offensive juggernaut, but efficient enough to win. AA picks: Virginia Tech 21, Boston College 13.

HD picks: Boston College 24, Virginia Tech 21: The Eagles have home-field advantage -- and the edge on the ground. In a game that will feature two embattled quarterbacks, the difference will be the Eagles’ ability to run the ball consistently. BC is averaging 176.6 rushing yards per game; the Hokies are No. 105 in the country in rushing offense at 124.5 yards. Andre Williams leads the ACC and is fifth in the nation in rushing. He’s not going to have a career day, but he’ll have a good enough performance -- and Virginia Tech will make enough mistakes -- for the Eagles to win.

North Carolina (2-5, 1-3) at NC State (3-4, 0-4), 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3. #UNCvsNCST. The Wolfpack have taken a bit of a nosedive in the month of October, losing three straight in some pretty disappointing performances. Their previous win? Sept. 28 against Central Michigan. Meanwhile, North Carolina seems reinvigorated after nearly upsetting Miami, then beating Boston College. The Tar Heels pulled out the win over NC State in one of the best ACC games last season. But AA is going with NC State in this one. The Wolfpack are going to be able to gain yards with their running game, and the NC State defensive front will do enough to keep Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams out of rhythm. North Carolina has not won in Raleigh since 2005. AA picks: NC State 30, North Carolina 27.

HD picks: North Carolina 35, NC State 21: The Tar Heels are simply the more talented of the two teams right now, they’ve got an NFL-caliber tight end in Eric Ebron, and they’ve got the edge at quarterback. UNC has started to play better on defense and has made fewer mistakes in each of the past two games. The 10 points allowed against Boston College on Saturday was its fewest allowed against an ACC opponent since a 44-10 win at Virginia on Oct. 16, 2010. North Carolina’s defense allowed just 59 passing yards, the fewest by an opponent since Clemson threw for 37 yards in a UNC win in Death Valley on Nov. 15, 1997. UNC will continue that progress against a Pack offense that is averaging just 23.6 points per game.

Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3) at Syracuse (3-4, 1-2), 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3. #WAKEvsCUSE. The Deacs might have lost last week but they sure did put a scare into the No. 7 Hurricanes, leading for all but a few minutes. Wake is playing much better at this point compared to the beginning of the season, and all eyes once again are going to be on Michael Campanaro, who has double-digit receptions in three straight games. He needs six receptions to move into second place on the ACC's career list. Syracuse has been depleted in the secondary, so Wake Forest gets the edge there. The Orange looked miserable offensively the last time out against Georgia Tech. We don't anticipate a similar performance, but Nikita Whitlock and his teammates up front will do enough to disrupt the run game to get the Deacs closer to bowl eligibility. AA picks: Wake Forest 24, Syracuse 23.

HD picks: Wake Forest 21, Syracuse 17

No. 8 Clemson (7-1, 5-1) at Virginia (2-6, 0-4), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. #CLEMvsUVA. The Tigers have been slow out of the gate in their past three games and have not wowed anybody with their defensive play in the past two. Perhaps that all changes against the worst team in the league. Though Virginia did show signs of life in a loss to Georgia Tech last week, the fact that the Cavaliers scored only once off five Jackets turnovers tells you where this offense -- and this program -- stands. They can make a few plays here and there but for the most part, Virginia has been unable to take advantage of opportunities to win, and killed itself with too many mistakes and penalties. Because of the ACC's unbalanced schedule moving forward, this is the last meeting between the programs until 2020. AA picks: Clemson 38, Virginia 17.

HD picks: Clemson 41, Virginia 27

Pitt (4-3, 2-2) at Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2), 7 p.m., ESPNU. #PITTvsGT. The Panthers faced a similar offense last week against Navy, so they have some preparation under their belts. But they also lost the game, giving up two scores in the fourth quarter after taking a 21-14 lead. Meanwhile, the offense has struggled since putting up 58 points in a win over Duke in September. In the four games since, the Panthers are averaging 19.8 points a game. In two ACC games, they scored a total of 23 points. Georgia Tech has won two straight, and had three players go over 100 yards rushing last week against Virginia. The Jackets did have some defensive breakdowns and too many turnovers, but the previous time they played at home, they gave a near-flawless effort. AA picks: Georgia Tech 30, Pitt 24.

HD picks: Georgia Tech 31, Pitt 21

No. 7 Miami (7-0, 3-0) at No. 3 Florida State (7-0, 5-0), 8 p.m., ABC. #MIAvsFSU. Nobody is giving Miami a chance to win this game. Indeed, the oddsmakers are treating the Canes as if they are a middle-of-the-pack ACC team, installing them as 22-point underdogs. So does Miami have a shot? Only if the Canes can control the clock, play a power-run game and limit the big plays defensively. Easier said than done. The most concern for Miami has to be on defense, where the Canes lose every single matchup against Florida State. The Seminoles have the stronger offensive line; a talented and deep group of receivers; solid running backs; a Heisman Trophy contender in Jameis Winston; and a terrific tight end in Nick O'Leary. Given how UNC's Eric Ebron torched Miami, slowing down O'Leary has to be a top priority. He has the most red zone touchdown receptions (five) in the ACC. Miami might not be as good as its record indicates, but you can be assured the Canes will be amped for this game and keenly aware that they have been disrespected at every turn. That won't be enough to get them a win, but it will be enough for them to stay closer than everybody believes. AA picks: Florida State 40, Miami 24.

HD’s pick: Florida State 42, Miami 35

ACC weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
10/28/13
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Another top-10 clash between undefeated teams is on the horizon. Before we get to that, however, we'll take a look back at how we got there in our Week 9 weekend rewind.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireDavid Cutcliffe has Duke pointed in the right direction.
The good: Duke may deserve its own "great" category (more on that in a bit), but the ACC finds itself at the center of the college football world for the second time in three weeks. Florida State took care of business against NC State, Miami survived a scare from Wake Forest and here we go again, as the No. 3 Seminoles and No. 7 Hurricanes take aim for conference (and possibly national) supremacy. ESPN's "College GameDay" will be in Tallahassee for the clash between the in-state rivals, marking the third time in 10 weeks that the show will originate from an ACC campus.

The bad: Pitt players used the words "complacent" and "overconfident" to describe the second half of their 24-21 loss to Navy, per the Post-Gazette's Sam Werner. What exactly the 4-3 Panthers were complacent or overconfident about is up for debate. Pitt lost a lot of leeway in its quest for another bowl berth, as it dropped a very winnable game and the chance to carry the momentum of a two-game winning streak into Saturday's trip to Georgia Tech. Navy scored 10 points in the final 3:52 to steal the victory. The schedule will be considerably more difficult for the Panthers down the stretch, as they face both Notre Dame and Miami over the final four weeks of the season. (On a positive note, congratulations to Devin Street for becoming the school's all-time receptions leader with 186.)

The ugly: Georgia Tech turned the ball over five times and still won at Virginia by 10, which should probably tell you all that you need to know right now about the Cavaliers. The Yellow Jackets escaped with the victory despite forcing just one turnover and holding the ball for nearly 10 fewer minutes than Virginia. Mike London took two huge gambles, first failing on an early fourth-and-1 try in field goal range and then calling a run play from the 1 with six seconds left that was stuffed for the last play of the first half. Georgia Tech, by the way, had Vad Lee throw the ball a whopping five times, completing three of those throws for 75 yards with no touchdowns and one pick. Kudos to the ground game, which had three 100-yard rushers, but this contest otherwise filled the "ugly" column capably.

The Blue Devils: Because really, what more can you say about them? Duke is 6-2 and likely going to a bowl for the second year in a row, which would be a school first. It is simply a remarkable feat for a program that, until last season, had not been to a bowl since 1994. The Blue Devils' 13-10 win over No. 14 Virginia Tech was their first victory over a ranked team since 1994, and their first road win over a ranked team since 1971. Hats off to David Cutcliffe for his rebuilding job in Durham, something everyone can appreciate a little more after seeing the coach get doused with a Gatorade shower following the stunning upset in Blacksburg.

Speaking of Tobacco Road … : About time, North Carolina. The Tar Heels finally put a complete game together, running over Boston College in a 34-10 win that ended a four-game losing streak. Bryn Renner was on point, completing 18 of 21 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. And the defense was stout, holding the Eagles to just 261 total yards of offense and limiting Chase Rettig to 10-for-20 passing for 57 yards. Maybe, maybe, things can open up a bit now for UNC, which is 2-5 but has a much easier second-half slate that should give it a chance to gain bowl eligibility, starting this week at NC State.

The refreshing take: Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher lifted his starters for most of the second half after a 42-0 halftime lead. NC State made the 49-17 final seem a lot closer than it was in the second half, but credit Fisher for why he would not put his starters back in: "I’m not going to go out there and embarrass this game and the integrity of how you’ve got to play. If that’s the way they’re going to do it, they need to re-evaluate. If they can’t tell we dominated that game early and put it away -- I just think that's bad for college football, in my opinion." FSU fell to No. 3 Sunday in the latest BCS standings. In State College, they probably wish the nation's No. 4 team had such perspective.

The quote: Virginia Tech receiver Willie Byrn, via The Virginian-Pilot's Andy Bitter: "What more can the defense do, really?" The Hokies held Duke to 198 total yards of offense, picked off four passes and held the ball for nearly twice as long as the Blue Devils. Credit Byrn for being more humble in defeat than defensive coordinator Bud Foster, though.

Mr. Reliable: Clemson went blue collar in its recovery from the Florida State loss, relying on fifth-year senior running back Roderick McDowell to help the Tigers escape Maryland with a 40-27 win. McDowell carried the ball 30 times for 161 yards, and the Tigers ran the ball 57 times for a season-best 247 yards. McDowell notched two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, his first two scores of the season. He lost one fumble, as did Sammy Watkins, but the Tigers were still able to impose their will on a defense that had been stout against the run.

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 1, 2013
10/01/13
12:00
PM ET
Officially throwing my hat in the ring for the vacant Cubs managerial job. Just waiting on Theo's call...

Days after aggravating an ankle injury against USF, Stephen Morris says he's feeling better and regrets comments critical of the Bulls, writes the Sun Sentinel.

NC State QB Brandon Mitchell is close to returning from a foot injury he suffered in Week 1, writes the Charlotte Observer.

After showing concussion symptoms following a win over Virginia, Pitt QB Tom Savage appears to be on track to start this week's game, writes the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

More walking wounded among the ACC QB ranks: Logan Thomas is dealing with foot and abdominal problems as the Hokies get set for UNC, writes the Richmond Times Dispatch.

As the offensive struggles mount, the wide receivers are taking their share of criticism at Virginia, writes The Roanoke Times.

Maryland kicker Brad Craddock has gotten some help from an accomplished mentor en route to a strong start in 2013, writes the Baltimore Sun.

Clemson's ground game is getting an injection of talent as D.J. Howard finally appears healthy and ready to contribute, writes the Post and Courier.

Florida State's defense knows it needs to make some improvements before high-flying Maryland arrives, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

After Boston College's ground game paced a solid effort against FSU, The Boston Herald writes that Chase Rettig will get his shot to put up big numbers this week against Army.

History doesn't exactly favor Georgia Tech this week when it takes on Miami in a huge Coastal Division matchup, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The News & Observer breaks down Duke's win over Troy and says the Blue Devils must cut down on all the big plays they've allowed.

Terrel Hunt could be the key to making Syracuse's pistol offense run smoothly, writes Orange Fizz.

In the wake of some critical comments from tailback A.J. Blue, Tar Heel Blog wonders if there might be some problems brewing inside the North Carolina locker room.

 

What we learned: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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If nothing else, Saturday's 48-34 win over Boston College proved to be a good test of just where Florida State is and how much still needs to be done before the Seminoles take on undefeated Maryland next week. Here's what we learned in Week 5.

Jameis Winston is a miracle worker: There might come a time when Winston has a truly bad game. There might be an obstacle he can't overcome, a contest when mistakes around him put him in a hole he can't climb out of. But Winston sure hasn't shown any signs that will happen just yet. Four minutes into the second quarter, FSU was in a 17-3 hole, and then Winston took over. The FSU QB finished 17-of-27 for 330 yards and four touchdowns, and his 55-yard Hail Mary throw to Kenny Shaw as time expired in the first half drove the biggest dagger of the night through Boston College's heart. Winston was no one-trick pony either. Subtract sacks, and Winston had 10 rushes for 96 yards, both career highs. Through four weeks, Winston has accounted for 14 touchdowns. EJ Manuel didn't reach that mark in 2012 until the eighth game of the season.

The defense has some major holes: Let's start with the positives. With Tyler Hunter out, the new-look secondary looked decent enough. Jalen Ramsey looked good once again in his first start at safety, and P.J. Williams and Nate Andrews each recorded interceptions. Lamarcus Joyner made a handful of big tackles after the front seven had let a ball carrier get deep into the secondary. But that only underscores the bad news. The defensive front struggled mightily. FSU knew Boston College planned to run early and often, and still, it had few answers for Andre Williams, who tallied 149 yards -- the most by a single rusher vs. the Seminoles since 2010. Overall, BC racked up 397 yards of offense, averaging 5.4 yards per play. FSU did record three sacks, but Chase Rettig was also able to escape pressure a number of times. Most troubling, the D opened the game completely flat once again, with BC jumping out to a 17-3 lead.

The special teams could use some work, too: Through the first three games, FSU had won so easily, there was little focus on the special teams. Kicker Roberto Aguayo still hasn't missed a kick, but the rest of the special teams looked bad on Saturday. FSU had surrendered just one punt return all season entering the game but coughed up two long returns to Spiffy Evans. Myles Willis added 114 yards on kick returns, including a 71-yarder. Cason Beatty's first punt was a disaster. BC's average starting field position was its own 34, and it began just two drives inside its own 20.

Five things: FSU vs. Boston College

September, 28, 2013
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Boston College's fast start was dealt a blow with an ugly loss to USC two weeks ago, while Florida State is riding high with three straight big wins but little in the way of stout competition. Here's what to watch for when the two teams face off Saturday in Chestnut Hill.

Stopping the run: Florida State's defense had run off a streak of 14 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher before Andre Williams came to Tallahassee last season. He'll be a focal point again -- for both teams. The Eagles have run the ball on 62 percent of their plays so far this season, and Williams leads the ACC in rushing (119 ypg). But if BC's ground game has the attention of Florida State's defense, Devonta Freeman and the Seminoles' offense should have the Eagles worried, too. Freeman is coming off consecutive 100-yard games, is fourth in the nation in yards per carry, and the Seminoles have run for nearly 650 yards in their last two games.

Take what's given: It's tough to find much fault in Jameis Winston's performance through three games. The freshman is second in the country with a 210.5 QB rating, and he has accounted for 10 touchdowns and just one interception thus far. But Winston says much of his success has come easily so far, and the tests promise to get bigger. That means he needs to be more patient, he said, instead of looking for the big play on every throw. He missed several open receivers against Bethune-Cookman by looking downfield, and his INT against Nevada came on a throw he admits he wasn't supposed to make. BC ranks 12th in the ACC in QB rating allowed, so there should be room for Winston to find yards -- if he doesn't try to do too much. Meanwhile, BC's Chase Rettig was just 15-of-31 for 122 yards in last season's game, and star wide receiver Alex Amidon had just three catches for 44 yards. They'll need to find more room to work this season if BC is to have a chance.

Quick starts: In last season's blowout loss, Boston College actually controlled the game early, driving to the FSU 1-yard line on its opening drive before being stuffed. Florida State has seen overmatched opponents enjoy similar early-game success this season, too. Seventeen of the 47 first downs FSU has allowed this year came in the first quarter, and teams are averaging half-a-yard more per play on their first four drives against FSU than they do the remainder of the game.

Get defensive: If Boston College has an advantage in this game, it's on defense, where the Eagles have racked up 22 TFLs and eight sacks in three games. The BC linebacking crew of Kevin Pierre-Louis, Steele Divitto and Spenser Rositano is among the league's best, and coordinator Don Brown likes bringing pressure. On the flip side, FSU's D looks like a work in progress, and after playing last week without four starters, there has been little time to refine the technique. Coach Jimbo Fisher said FSU missed far too many tackles against Bethune-Cookman, and that's been a focus throughout practice this week.

Looking ahead: On paper, this looks like a significant mismatch for Florida State, but if motivation is a factor, it's a big edge for Boston College. The Eagles are fresh off a stinging loss to USC and are eager to rebound. They've had an extra week to prepare for Florida State, too. The Seminoles, meanwhile, have had it easy through three games -- all blowouts -- and have matchups against undefeated Maryland and Clemson ahead on the schedule. Will FSU overlook its date with Boston College? Players insist they won't, but the sluggish effort a week ago against Bethune-Cookman suggests Fisher has his work cut out for him.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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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
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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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