Florida State Seminoles: Dallas Crawford
With that in mind, here’s a quick look at the top returning players in the ACC this upcoming season, based on their stats from 2013. (Last year’s ACC ranking in parentheses.)
1. Jameis Winston, FSU - 4,057 (1st)
2. Anthony Boone, Duke - 2,260 (6th)
3. David Watford, Virginia - 2,202 (9th)
Of note: The turnover at the quarterback position has already gotten its share of press, but it’s almost impossible to overstate how green the QBs across the ACC will be in 2014. Of the 23 players who passed for at least 250 yards in 2013, only seven will be back in 2014. Watford, the third-leading returning QB, isn’t projected to start at Virginia, and Marquise Williams, who ranks fourth among returners, is locked in a battle for the starting job at North Carolina, too. Next up among definitive starters is Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt, who finished 14th in the league in passing last season.
1. Kevin Parks, Virginia - 1,031 (2nd)
2. Duke Johnson, Miami - 920 (5th)
3. James Conner, Pitt - 799 (8th)
4. Isaac Bennett, Pitt - 797 (9th)
5. Shad Thornton, NC State - 768 (11th)
Of note: Louisville’s Dominique Brown would actually rank third on this list after racking up 825 rushing yards last season, good for fourth in the AAC. Including Brown, the ACC returns 11 running backs this year who accounted for at least 500 yards on the ground in 2013, though Miami’s Dallas Crawford (558 yards) is currently working with the Hurricanes’ secondary. Parks returns after a 1,000-yard season. The last running backs to return following a 1,000-yard effort in the ACC were Gio Bernard and Andre Ellington in 2012. Both topped 1,000 again in their follow-up campaigns.
1. Jamison Crowder, Duke - 1,360 (2nd)
2. Tyler Boyd, Pitt - 1,174 (3rd)
3. Rashad Greene, FSU - 1,128 (5th)
4. Quinshad Davis, UNC - 730 (13th)
5. Willie Byrn, Virginia Tech - 660 (14th)
Of note: Louisville’s DeVante Parker would rank fourth on this list. He had 885 yards last season, good for seventh in the AAC. Crowder is in position to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season and is 1,153 yards shy of breaking former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record. The Hokies have three of the top seven returning receivers in terms of yards.
TACKLES PER GAME
1. David Helton, Duke - 9.5 (1st)
2. Jeremy Cash, Duke - 8.6 (3rd)
3. Denzel Perryman, Miami - 8.3 (5th)
4. Kelby Brown, Duke - 8.1 (7th)
5. Ryan Janvion, Wake Forest - 7.9 (8th)
1. Ant Harris, Virginia - 8 (1st)
2. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech - 6 (2nd)
3. Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech - 5 (3rd)
Of note: Eleven ACC players had at least four interceptions last season, and a whopping nine of them return in 2014, including sophomores Facyson and Fuller at Virginia Tech. Add to that list two more returners from Louisville in Charles Gaines (5 picks) and Terell Floyd (4 picks), and the young QBs in the ACC in 2014 are going to have a lot to worry about.
1. Vic Beasley, Clemson - 13 (1st)
2. Eli Harold, Virginia - 8.5 (9th)
2. Norkeithus Otis, UNC - 8.5 (9th)
4. Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech - 6.5 (12th)
5. Adam Gostis, Georgia Tech - 5.5 (16th)
Of note: Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin (9.5 sacks) would be second on this list. And here’s a number that should have a lot of Clemson fans excited: Of the 32 players who finished with at least 10 tackles for loss last season, just 13 will be back in the ACC in 2014. Of those 13 returners, five play for the Tigers.
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.
1. Georgia Tech D looks to keep it going. The Yellow Jackets had an extra week to prepare for Clemson, though they have regained their edge defensively in a three-game winning streak. They held a Pitt team that ended up beating Notre Dame to just 10 points, and they shut out Syracuse back on Oct. 19 to kick-start this little run. A win would put Georgia Tech right in the middle of things in this wild Coastal Division race.
3. BC goes for bowl-eligibility. Boston College's turnaround in Year 1 under Steve Addazio has been among the nation's biggest surprises. Andre Williams carried the Eagles to their first road win of the season last week, and he will likely be relied upon again as BC goes for win No. 6 and tries to keep NC State winless in ACC play.
4. Marquise Williams. The North Carolina offense is his, and he did not disappoint last week in throwing, rushing and catching touchdowns for a win over Virginia. The Tar Heels are riding a three-game winning streak into Pittsburgh, where the Panthers ended Notre Dame's BCS bowl hopes last week.
5. Pitt's D looks for another strong outing. The Panthers played respectable defense against option offense in consecutive weeks -- good enough to win -- before finally breaking through in the win last week over the Irish. They forced three turnovers and now find themselves also a win away from a second-straight bowl berth under Paul Chryst if they can fend off UNC at Heinz Field.
6. Logan Thomas tries to finish out strong. Thomas answered his critics emphatically last week in a big win at Miami, as he connected on 25 of 31 passes for 366 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. He will look for another strong outing against Maryland on Senior Day, as he can help change the narrative around his career with the Hokies, who are also right in the middle of the cluttered Coastal Division race.
7. Syracuse D tries to slow down FSU. The Orange shut out Wake Forest and held Maryland to a field goal in last week's 20-3 road win. Now they, too, are -- tell me if you've heard this before -- a win away from bowl-eligibility, though the challenge will be just a bit more difficult Saturday against the No. 2 Seminoles.
8. Winston bouncing back. The first real test Jameis Winston faced all season? A negative off-field headline, which came Wednesday. There is no use speculating at this point, and Syracuse isn't Clemson or Miami. But how Winston responds to his first real dose of controversy will be a storyline that follows him for as long as the ongoing investigation lasts.
9. Can Miami ground game recover? One game without Duke Johnson yielded unfavorable results for the Hurricanes, who gained just 28 rushing yards as a team in the 42-24 home loss to Virginia Tech. Dallas Crawford led Miami with 37 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, but he and the rest of the backfield will need to do more if the Canes hope to escape Durham with a win.
10. Duke's D looks to continue hot streak. The Blue Devils cannot stop turning the ball over on offense. Fortunately for them, their defense has turned a corner during this five-game winning streak, forcing eight turnovers themselves in their last two outings and giving up just 14.75 points per contest over their last four. Duke is 7-2 but wants more in a matchup with Miami that has major division implications, something that probably would have sounded laughable as far as a month back when looking ahead on the schedule.
Thanks, as always, to the ACC and each school’s sports information departments for providing many of the stats.
Boston College: After making eight tackles in a win over Virginia Tech last week, Kevin Pierre-Louis now has 73 for the season -- an average of 9.13 per game. That total ranks second, just behind Duke’s David Helton (9.75). A member of the Boston College defense has led the ACC in tackles per game every year since 2009. Pierre-Louis finished third in the ACC last season (9.44).
Duke: With a win over Virginia Tech in its last game, Duke has now won four straight. It’s the second consecutive season in which the Blue Devils have enjoyed a four-game winning streak. Prior to that, Duke hadn’t won four straight in any season since 1994, and it had only won four games total in a year four times in the interim. The last time Duke had winning streaks that long in consecutive seasons was 1988 and 1989.
Maryland: Linebacker Cole Farrand racked up a whopping 23 tackles in Maryland’s last game, a loss to Clemson. That’s not only a career high for Farrand, but it was the most by a player in a single game in the ACC this season and the second-best tally nationally. The last Maryland player to eclipse that total was Scott Rosen, who recorded 30 tackles against North Carolina in 1990.
Miami: The Hurricanes lost star tailback Duke Johnson for the season with a broken ankle in last week’s game against Florida State, but they have a capable alternative in Dallas Crawford. On just 67 carries this season, Crawford has scored nine times. Crawford’s rate of a touchdown every 7.4 rushes is the second best in the ACC behind FSU’s Karlos Williams (one every 7.0 rushes).
Florida State: The Seminoles rank third nationally in third-down conversions in spite of the fact that just 24 percent of their third-down tries need 3 yards or fewer for a conversion (94th nationally). Florida State more than makes up for it by covering a whopping 46 percent of its third-and-longs (7 yards or more), the best ratio in the country and nearly double the national average.
NC State: The Wolfpack have won 11 of the last 12 meetings against Duke, but NC State hasn’t exactly dominated the rivalry between the schools, which are separated by only about 20 miles. Seven of those wins came by a touchdown or less, and in 12 of the last 19 games between the two schools, the margin of victory has been eight points or less, including seven decided by a field goal or less.
North Carolina: Eric Ebron caught nine passes for 70 yards in a win over NC State last week, bringing his season total to 44 receptions and 669 receiving yards. Ebron is just 202 yards shy of breaking the ACC record for receiving yards in a season for a tight end, set by Maryland’s Vernon Davis in 2005. He’s 26 catches shy of the conference record held by Virginia’s Heath Miller, set in 2003. Ebron has had at least four catches and 60 yards in each of his last seven games.
Pittsburgh: Pitt’s recent offensive struggles start with the ground game. Against Old Dominion, New Mexico and Navy, the Panthers racked up 684 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. But against ACC competition, Pitt is averaging just 1.91 yards per carry this year. In games against teams from automatic-qualifier conferences, only Purdue averages less among AQ schools. Pitt finished with minus-5 yards rushing on 21 carries against Georgia Tech last week.
Syracuse: Orange quarterbacks have thrown just two touchdowns against teams from other BCS automatic-qualifier conferences this year to go with 14 interceptions. That’s the worst TD-to-INT rate of any AQ team in the nation in those games. At 4-4, however, the Orange are one of just two teams ranked in the bottom 10 in TD-to-INT ratio with a record of .500 or better (Utah is the other).
Virginia: The Cavaliers lost cornerback Demetrious Nicholson for the season, which is bad news for a secondary that has given up the most passing yards of any ACC team. But while Virginia’s DBs have been picked on, it’s also worth noting that the unit allows just 50.7 percent completions to opposing quarterbacks this year -- the ninth-best mark in the country.
Virginia Tech: Since the start of the 2012 season, Virginia Tech’s defense has intercepted 30 passes, 11th most in the country and tops in the ACC. On the flip side, however, Hokies quarterbacks have thrown 29 interceptions in that span, the ninth most in the nation and tied with North Carolina for the most in the ACC. Virginia Tech has eight turnovers in its last two games (both losses) after going three straight without a turnover (all wins).
Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons host No. 2 Florida State on Saturday, marking their third matchup against a top-10 team this season (Sept. 28 vs. No. 3 Clemson, Oct. 25 vs. No. 7 Miami). That’s the first time in program history Wake Forest has faced three top-10 teams in the same year. Only twice has under head coach Jim Grobe have the Deacons played even two games against top-10 foes — 2005 and 2012.
Here is what to keep an eye on as we enter the home stretch in the ACC:
1. FSU looks to avoid letdown: The Seminoles have a lot to lose the rest of the way, starting Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., where they lost two years ago. It is telling, in a good way, that the word "adversity" has been thrown around so much in regard to Florida State's most recent contest. It was a 41-14 win against a previously undefeated and seventh-ranked Miami team. And its quarterback, despite whatever criticisms were lobbied his way, finished with an adjusted total QBR of 94.6, sixth best in the nation for the week. If this team ever got its act together
2. Wake adjusts to life without Campanaro: Wake Forest is without all-time leading receiver Michael Campanaro, probably for the season, after the redshirt senior broke his collarbone in a loss at Syracuse. Coach Jim Grobe was honest about how difficult things now are offensively without Campanaro, who, despite missing the first game of the season, had 67 catches -- or 52 more than Jonathan Williams and Sherman Ragland III, the Demon Deacons' next-highest catchers, with 15 apiece.
4. C.J. Brown's return: Maryland is on the brink of its first bowl berth under third-year coach Randy Edsall, and the expected return of its quarterback should provide a big boost against Syracuse. Caleb Rowe has been so-so in Brown's place as starter, going 1-2. Brown's return after a concussion and then a "trunk injury" cannot come at a better time for a Terrapins team that has dropped three of four, though he will have to adjust to a receiving corps that has been decimated by season-ending injuries to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.
5. Terps honor former Cuse halfback: Kudos to Maryland, which will pay tribute Saturday to Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, who was barred from the Syracuse-Maryland 1937 game because he was black. Orange players will wear No. 19 decals on their helmets in memory of Sidat-Singh, whose family will join both schools' athletic directors and Maryland pioneer Darryl Hill between the first and second quarters for an on-field tribute. Sidat-Singh had joined the Army after Pearl Harbor and was in the first graduating class of the group later known as Tuskegee Airmen. He was killed on a training flight in 1943 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
6. Duke looks to finish strong: Whether it is fair to criticize the Blue Devils' late-season slide last season, the fact remains that they went winless after clinching bowl eligibility in 2012. Things are different this time around, especially with a defense playing night and day from earlier this season and with the Coastal Division potentially up for grabs. Duke will need to keep its foot on the pedal as it comes off a historic win and a bye week to face a desperate NC State team that has dropped four straight and remains winless in ACC play.
7. Logan Thomas looks to rebound: Virginia Tech's redshirt senior quarterback was unusually defiant this week when speaking to reporters in Blacksburg, Va., about criticism that has come his way. Thomas had appeared to turn a corner midseason but his turnovers woes have bubbled to the surface these last two weeks, as he threw four picks in a loss to Duke and threw two more, and lost two fumbles, in a loss at Boston College. Still, a strong performance at a Miami team coming off its first loss of the season could play the Hokies right back into the thick of things in the Coastal Division race.
8. Crawford, Miami look to rebound: It's Dallas Crawford's time to step up, as the Hurricanes will turn to the redshirt sophomore first after losing Duke Johnson for the season. In looking to rebound from its loss No. 1 and maintain control of the Coastal Division, coach Al Golden said all three backs will probably see time in the first quarter Saturday against Virginia Tech. Crawford is expected to get the bulk of the carries after rushing for 294 yards and nine touchdowns so far this season.
9. ND-Pitt theatrics: Will it be like the four-overtime game from 2008? The ugly 15-12 contest from 2011, a game that, fittingly, featured 666 total yards of offense? Or last year's triple-overtime near upset? When the Irish and Panthers take the field, craziness ensues, and who knows what awaits a prime-time audience at Heinz Field in a game featuring two banged-up teams.
10. Pitt's offense looks to get it together: The Panthers defended the option well in recent weeks, holding Navy and Georgia Tech to 24 and 21 points, respectively. But the offense simply has to score points after breaking the 21-point plateau just once in its past five games, against Old Dominion (35). The run game in particular has struggled, tallying minus-5 yards last week against the Yellow Jackets, but the passing game could use some big plays as well.
Heather got back at AA in Week 10, making the right call with Boston College over Virginia Tech and North Carolina over NC State. Bravo to a 5-1 week. AA came up 3-3, so we are all square again at 62-16 overall. Let's see what Week 11 has in store.
No. 2 Florida State (8-0, 6-0) at Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4), noon, ABC. #FSUvsWAKE. The Noles clinch a spot in the ACC title game with a win over Wake Forest. It is tough to anticipate this one being much of a game, especially with Wake receiver Michael Campanaro out. The Deacs did nothing offensively without him last week against Syracuse (a team that lost 59-0 against Georgia Tech), and coach Jim Grobe concedes he has nobody on his roster to fill those shoes. Not only that, Wake Forest has a run game that ranks last in the ACC. It is going to be a long day for the Deacs.
AA picks: Florida State 54, Wake Forest 6
HD picks: Florida State 48, Wake Forest 10
Virginia (2-7, 0-5) at North Carolina (3-5, 2-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #UVAvsUNC. The Tar Heels have gotten themselves back into bowl contention with two straight wins, but they must play the rest of the season without quarterback Bryn Renner. The good news is Marquise Williams has played in the past four games, so at least he has experience under center. More good news for UNC this week: UVa is a bad football team, having lost six straight games. The Hoos have given up more than 1,000 yards of offense in their past two losses combined.
AA picks: North Carolina 34, Virginia 17
HD picks: North Carolina 24, Virginia 14
Syracuse (4-4, 2-2) at Maryland (5-3, 1-3), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CUSEvsMD. As experts picking games every week, Syracuse has easily been the toughest team to predict throughout the entire season. One week after getting shut out at Georgia Tech, the Orange were the ones delivering the shut out to Wake Forest. Syracuse has won away from home just once this season and has yet to get any consistency out of the quarterback position. Meanwhile, quarterback C.J. Brown is healthy again for the Terps. Brown will be the difference in the game, and Maryland becomes bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.
AA picks: Maryland 23, Syracuse 20
HD picks: Maryland 24, Syracuse 10
Boston College (4-4) at New Mexico State (1-8), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #BCvsNMSU. The Eagles get to follow up their impressive win over Virginia Tech with a 2,300-mile trip to its first game in New Mexico. Ever. Not exactly the type of trek that a team from a power conference ever wants to make, let alone in November. Having said that, the Eagles have an opportunity to win for the first time on the road this season and inch closer to bowl eligibility against one of the worst teams in FBS. New Mexico State coach Doug Martin served as BC offensive coordinator a season ago, but there won't be much the Aggies can do to slow down Andre Williams. New Mexico State is giving up a whopping 312 yards per game on the ground.
AA picks: Boston College 35, New Mexico State 7
HD picks: Boston College 49, New Mexico State 6
NC State (3-5, 0-5) at Duke (6-2, 2-2), 4 p.m., ESPNU. #NCSTvsDUKE. Some anticipated NC State could struggle this year with a new head coach and so many veterans gone. But not many could have expected the Wolfpack to start 0-5 in league play and fall a notch below in-state rival Duke. Injuries have been a big culprit, but so has an inability to make plays with the game on the line. NC State has more quarterback drama to deal with as well. Duke, meanwhile, had a week to enjoy its win over Virginia Tech and bowl eligibility for a second straight season. The Blue Devils were not great on offense in that win, but expect a completely healthy Anthony Boone to bounce back.
AA picks: Duke 30, NC State 16
HD picks: Duke 45, NC State 14
Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2) at No. 11 Miami (7-1, 3-1), 7 p.m., ESPN. #VTvsMIA. Both teams come in off losses but remain in contention to win the Coastal Division. As Heather pointed out earlier in the week, it's gut-check time for both teams. The Hokies continue to have one of the best defenses in the country. It's the offense that has cost them in the past two games, as Logan Thomas has turned the ball over eight times. AA thinks Miami is going to struggle against this defense without Duke Johnson, and Thomas will redeem himself with a solid game. A solid game means Thomas won't have four turnovers. Miami has not won back-to-back games in the series since winning three straight from 2000-02. AA picks: Virginia Tech 21, Miami 20.
HD picks: Miami 28, Virginia Tech 17: Even without Johnson, the Canes will be able to run the ball with Dallas Crawford, and they’ll make fewer mistakes than turnover-prone Virginia Tech. The Hokies simply have too many questions marks on offense and not enough playmakers surrounding the embattled Thomas. Virginia Tech hasn’t fared well against ranked opponents, and that trend will continue on Saturday.
No. 23 Notre Dame (7-2) at Pitt (4-4, 2-3), 8 p.m., ABC. #NDvsPITT. It is really tempting to pick Pitt to upset the Irish given the recent history between the two teams and all the injuries Notre Dame has on its defense. But Pitt has done little to nothing offensively since its wild 58-55 win over Duke in September. In the five games since, Pitt is averaging 269 yards per game. Its run game has been nearly nonexistent. Against Georgia Tech last week, the Panthers were held to minus-5 yards rushing. Against Virginia and Virginia Tech, the Panthers managed a combined 31 yards on the ground. Pitt was able to run on Notre Dame last year. But it won't be able to this time around.
AA picks: Notre Dame 27, Pitt 20
HD picks: Notre Dame 24, Pitt 21
- Jimbo Fisher won’t say whether he was responsible for one of the three first-place votes Florida State received in the USA Today Coaches Poll, writes the Orlando Sentinel.
- After FSU’s big win over Miami, Fisher is getting some encouraging feedback from recruits, writes Tomahawk Nation.
- Brent Venables likes the direction of Clemson’s defense after it handled Virginia, writes TigerNet.com.
- With Duke Johnson’s season over, Dallas Crawford is eager to pick up the slack at tailback, writes the Miami Herald.
- Logan Thomas has coughed up the football eight times during Virginia Tech’s consecutive losses, but his job isn’t in jeopardy, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch. For the season, Thomas is responsible for 14 of the Hokies’ 15 turnovers (12 interceptions, two fumbles).
- After another surprising win, Boston College QB Chase Rettig is quieting the doubters with his solid play, writes The Heights. Rettig has floated beneath the radar a bit because of Andre Williams’ big season, but he’s thrown just four INTs all year (after throwing 13 in 2012).
- From the Rumble Seat digs deeper into the box score after Georgia Tech’s decisive win over Pittsburgh.
- At Pitt, however, big questions loom for an offense that appears to have lost its way, writes The Post-Gazette. In its first three games against FBS teams, Pitt averaged 40 points and 474 yards of offense. In its last four, it's averaged 13 points and 244 yards of offense.
- In what has been something of a season-long storyline, the quarterback position is still a question mark at NC State, writes the Charlotte Observer.
- Syracuse credits a rousing speech from Donovan McNabb as inspiration before a win over Wake Forest, writes The Post-Standard.
- Virginia will be without cornerback Demetrious Nicholson for the remainder of the season, writes the Roanoke Times.
WHY FLORIDA STATE WILL WIN
2. The rejuvenated defense. It took the Seminoles a while to adjust to new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s scheme, but they seem to have things pointed in the right direction now. They ended September by allowing 200 yards rushing to Boston College, and for the month, they coughed up an average of 152 yards per game on the ground. In October, however, they’ve trimmed that average by nearly 40 yards (against better teams). Moving Christian Jones to defensive end and getting Mario Edwards Jr. healthy has been a big part of the improvement, but much of the difference is simply experience in the new system. Add in FSU’s aggressive blitzing strategy against a quarterback who’s battled an ankle injury all season, and there’s a good chance the Seminoles’ D could have a big day.
3. The intangibles. The numbers already suggest a pretty clear advantage on the field for Florida State, which enters the game as a three-touchdown favorite. But more than that, all the off-the-field markers are tipped in FSU’s favor, too. Seniors like Lamarcus Joyner, Terrence Brooks and Telvin Smith are eager to wrap up a 4-0 career against their archrivals. Florida State is expecting a sellout crowd at Doak Campbell for the first time this season. It’s a big-game environment, but FSU already knows that feeling, having played two prime-time games already, including one against Clemson just two weeks ago.
WHY MIAMI WILL WIN
1. Duke Johnson and the run game. The Hurricanes have relied heavily on their run game all season, specifically to pull out comeback wins in the fourth quarter of their past two games. Miami is averaging 214.7 yards per game on the ground this season -- its highest total going back to 1960. In fact, Miami has averaged more than 200 yards rushing just twice in that time span. Johnson leads the way with a league-high 6.7 yards per rush. Dallas Crawford runs hard, too, and he won the North Carolina game for the Canes. Do not overlook this offensive line, either. Miami only has one underclassman in its starting lineup and presents the best line the Seminoles have seen to date.
2. Stephen Morris is finally healthy. Morris is the healthiest he has been since the start of the season after playing through a lingering ankle injury in the past five games. That injury forced him to change his footwork and mechanics, and it did not allow him to take snaps under center as much as Miami wanted. The Canes are hoping a healthy Morris means fewer mistakes and better decisions. "Definitely need to be better on first-down efficiency, making the right decision on first down," Morris said. "Setting up an easy second and third down is huge for us, and when we get into our third down, our money downs, we have to stay on the field. I need to make better decisions, I need to see the field better, and especially in the red zone, converting touchdowns instead of field goals."
3. Improved pass defense. As was mentioned above, Miami is much better defensively this season than last. One of the biggest keys to slowing down Winston is not so much flustering him or blitzing him, because he does well under pressure. Rather, the Hurricanes need to take away the guys who make plays for him. In this instance, Miami must do an excellent job covering receivers Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, along with tight end Nick O'Leary. That means tackling well and not allow those guys to get behind them for a big play. Miami has forced 19 turnovers in 2013, second-highest in the ACC and better than Florida State. Of those, 12 are interceptions, which is tied for No. 12 in the nation.
With the game on the line, in the fourth quarter, Miami's sophomore running back was tough enough and strong enough to put the team on his back. Last season? That would not have been the case.
Indeed, more impressive than his two fourth-quarter touchdown runs was the way he ran in that final period. Johnson finished with a career-high 30 carries for 168 yards in the 24-21 win. In the fourth quarter alone, Johnson had 14 of the team’s 18 carries for 85 yards -- and saved the game.
Those two stats alone underscore just how different Johnson is in 2013, compared to the last time Miami and Florida State played, a year ago.
"This time last year I was banged up a lot, ankle injuries and toe injuries to where I couldn’t provide the best for the team," Johnson said on a teleconference with reporters. "Now, I’m bigger and stronger than I was last year so I’m able to take the pounding I couldn’t last year.
Johnson and the Miami run game have been the most consistent part of the Canes' offense so far this season, and the past two games provide the perfect example. While quarterback Stephen Morris has struggled because of a lingering ankle injury, Miami has been able to turn to its run game in the pair of victories.
In a come-from-behind win over North Carolina, it was Dallas Crawford who shouldered the rushing load with Johnson out because of a head injury. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Miami has averaged 99.5 yards rushing in the fourth quarter in its past two games, compared to 117.5 yards in the first three quarters combined.
Having good running backs helps. As Morris said afterward, “Duke did Duke. He ran.” But having a veteran offensive line that has risen to the occasion at the end of games is a big help, too. Johnson said the linemen have asked the coaches to let them help win the game.
“I see a toughness,” Johnson said. “The guys are asking to run the ball, telling coaches to trust them, that they’re going to get us where we need to go, and telling me to run right behind them, that they’ve got me. There’s a lot of trust. They haven’t proven us wrong yet.”
That toughness is something Florida State will have to deal with right from the start. Miami ranks No. 2 in the ACC in rushing, just a tick ahead of Florida State. Power offenses like the one Miami presents have provided the biggest challenges to this Florida State defense so far this season. Boston College, for example, ran for a season-high 200 yards rushing on the Seminoles behind ACC leading rusher Andre Williams.
Johnson ranks right behind Williams in the ACC rushing stats. Miami is not afraid to line up and run it down the opposition’s throats, and that is one aspect Miami brings into this game that Clemson, for example, does not.
Everything starts with Johnson, of course. As a backup last year to Mike James, Johnson never carried the ball more than 16 times in one game. This year as the featured back, he has 19 or more carries in four games. In the two games he did not hit double-digit carries, he left early with injury.
Coach Al Golden promised that Miami would get much more out of Johnson, and he has been true to his word. Johnson has 122 carries in seven games, compared to 139 carries all of last season.
“How about his conditioning?” Golden said after the victory over the Demon Deacons. “What tremendous conditioning. He gets knocked out of the game last week [against North Carolina] and this week he is lowering the pads all day, second and third effort. What can you say about the effort that he gave?”
The effort has been there. And when Johnson does get his hands on the ball, he is hard to bring down.
Johnson is averaging 6.78 yards per carry in his career. If that holds, the per-carry average would rank as the seventh-best in ACC history. He also ranks No. 3 nationally in all-purpose yardage, with 182.9 yards per game. That is 11 yards more per game than a season ago.
There is little doubt Johnson has improved from a phenomenal freshman season. He gets another chance to prove how much he has grown come Saturday.
AA has a two-game lead on HD, with an overall record of 55-10. There won't be any separation this week. Read on to find out more.
Wake Forest (4-3, 2-2) at No. 7 Miami (6-0, 2-0), noon, ESPNU. #WAKEvsMIA. Miami is not only on distraction alert thanks to the NCAA, it also is on lookahead alert with a potential top-10 showdown against in-state rival Florida State next weekend. Miami simply cannot afford to overlook Wake Forest, which has won two straight. Though Miami leads the series 7-3, all three Wake Forest wins have come in South Florida. One of the bigger matchups to watch features Michael Campanaro against a banged-up Miami secondary. Campanaro has been his usual productive self and also threw a touchdown pass against Maryland last week. Miami gets Duke Johnson back, good news for a team that will be without Phillip Dorsett.
AA picks: Miami 35, Wake Forest 17
HD’s pick: Miami 35, Wake Forest 21
Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2) at Virginia (2-5, 0-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #GTvsUVA. The Jackets looked unstoppable last week in a shutout win over Syracuse, while Virginia stopped itself from picking up its first ACC win, blowing a 22-point lead on Duke. The Jackets played nearly flawlessly, with zero penalties and just one turnover and might have turned a corner on offense. They have won three of the past four in the series. Given how low morale must be in Charlottesville, Georgia Tech has the edge.
AA picks: Georgia Tech 30, Virginia 17
HD’s pick: Georgia Tech 38, Virginia 17
Pitt (4-2) at Navy (3-3), 1 p.m., CBS Sports Network. Pitt beat Duke, which beat Navy pretty handily, so therefore Pitt should win this game. Right? Do not be surprised if the Midshipmen put a scare into the Panthers, who had to survive a closer game than anticipated last week against Old Dominion. Isaac Bennett had a career game with 240 yards rushing but all eyes will be on the Pitt defense and how it handles the Navy option. Pitt gets a similar test next week against Georgia Tech.
AA picks: Pitt 30, Navy 23
HD’s pick: Pitt 31, Navy 21
NC State (3-3, 0-3) at No. 2 Florida State (6-0, 4-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #NCSTvsFSU. Given past history, there are those who believe the Noles are on upset alert. Not so fast. The Wolfpack and Noles are vastly different teams today than they were a year ago. First and foremost, Florida State has a game-changer at quarterback who, quite frankly, seems too good to be true. NC State did a nice job getting pressure on Tajh Boyd in their matchup earlier this year, but Jameis Winston does a better job than any quarterback in the country at handling guys in his face. NC State does get Brandon Mitchell back, but the Wolfpack simply do not have the type of offense to stay in this game, averaging 12.3 points in three ACC games.
AA picks: Florida State 45, NC State 13
HD’s pick: Florida State 48, NC State 10
No. 9 Clemson (6-1, 4-1) at Maryland (5-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN. #CLEMvsMD. The Tigers have to be careful not to let the Florida State loss beat them twice. Players seem to realize they are still in good position to get an at-large BCS berth if they can win out. Maryland might have provided tougher competition last month, but right now, the Terps are reeling thanks to their familiar foe -- injuries. Not only are Stefon Diggs and Deon Long out for the season, but quarterback C.J. Brown's status remains up in the air because of an undisclosed injury. The defense also has been hurt because of injuries too, leaving this team too depleted to pull the upset.
AA picks: Clemson 40, Maryland 17
HD’s pick: Clemson 38, Maryland 17
Boston College (3-3, 1-2) at North Carolina (1-5, 0-3), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #BCvsUNC. The Eagles have done a terrific job running the ball, so you know the game plan going in will be to beat the Tar Heels with the power run game. North Carolina ranks No. 102 in the nation in rushing defense, and lost to Miami in part because it could not stop Dallas Crawford in the fourth quarter. You have to wonder how North Carolina picks itself up after such a devastating home defeat to Miami. The Tar Heels had some great moments, especially tight end Eric Ebron, but they have found ways to lose games all season.
AA picks: Boston College 27, North Carolina 24
HD’s pick: Boston College 21, UNC 17
Duke (5-2, 1-2) at No. 14 Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #DUKEvsVT. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer had high praise for the way Duke coach David Cutcliffe has turned around the Blue Devils program, but Duke is still a long way from being in the upper echelon of the ACC. Last season, against a down Virginia Tech team, Duke could not hang on to a 20-0 first-quarter lead and lost. This Virginia Tech team is much better. The best matchup to watch in this one features Duke receiver Jamison Crowder against the supremely talented Virginia Tech secondary. Antone Exum is expected to make his long-awaited return. He faces a big test against Crowder.
AA picks: Virginia Tech 27, Duke 14
HD’s pick: Virginia Tech 34, Duke 21
1. Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC, last week: 2): The defense was the storyline, as the Seminoles flustered veteran quarterback Tajh Boyd into what was easily the worst outing of his career. He threw two picks and just one touchdown and completed only 46 percent of his passes. Florida State converted two turnovers into touchdowns early and never looked back. The Noles host NC State this weekend, but this Florida State team is light years better than the one that was upset by the Wolfpack a season ago. There’s not even a hint of an upset brewing in Tallahassee.
2. Miami (6-0, 2-0, LW: 3): The Hurricanes didn’t look like a top-10 team on Thursday night in Chapel Hill, N.C., where they needed a game-winning touchdown from backup running back Dallas Crawford with 16 seconds left to beat a North Carolina team that has now sunk to 1-5. Miami quarterback Stephen Morris threw four interceptions and the Canes lost two of their top playmakers -- receiver Phillip Dorsett and running back Duke Johnson -- to injuries. Miami found a way to win, though, and only Wake Forest stands between the Canes and their showdown with the rival Noles in two weeks. Expect both to be undefeated for that game.
3. Clemson (6-1, 4-1, LW: 1) : If Clemson had lost to FSU in a close, hard-fought game, it wouldn’t have taken so much criticism, but because the Tigers lost so convincingly, it’s clear the gap between Florida State and Clemson was as wide as the lopsided score indicated. Clemson’s chances at a national title were devastated, along with Boyd’s Heisman Trophy hopes, all in four quarters. The spotlight has shifted to Florida State while the Tigers try to regroup on Saturday at Maryland.
4. Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0, LW: 4): The Hokies had a bye week to prepare for Duke on Saturday, but they have quietly continued to work their way up the conference standings this fall. Quarterback Logan Thomas has made significant strides and cut down on his interceptions, and the defense continues to look like one of the best in the country. The matchup in Miami should determine the Coastal division winner this fall, and if the Canes continue to turn it over at this disconcerting rate, it’s the Hokies’ title to lose.
5. Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2, LW: 11): The Yellow Jackets played as if they had something to prove on Saturday, ending a three-game losing streak with a complete pummeling of Syracuse. Georgia Tech scored seven rushing touchdowns in a 56-0 rout of the Orange. It was the program’s biggest margin of victory in an ACC game. The Jackets need to win three of their next five to become bowl eligible, and a road trip to struggling Virginia is up next.
6. Pittsburgh (4-2, 2-2, LW: 6): It wasn’t exactly a flawless performance in a 35-24 win against Old Dominion, but the Panthers took care of business, and their only two losses are to Florida State and Virginia Tech, two of the top teams in the ACC right now. The Panthers got what they needed from Isaac Bennett, who ran for a career-high 240 yards and three touchdowns. They’re going to have to sharpen their game, though, for back-to-back road trips to Navy and Georgia Tech.
7. Duke (5-2, 1-2, LW: 7): The Blue Devils didn’t quit on the road, and they’re just one win away from bowl eligibility for the second straight season under coach David Cutcliffe. Duke overcame a 22-0 deficit at Virginia to scrape its way back to a 35-22 win. It was a remarkable comeback by Duke and an utter meltdown by the Hoos. Duke has now won three straight heading into Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech.
8. Wake Forest (4-3, 2-2, LW: 10): The Deacs have hit their stride offensively, and receiver Michael Campanaro continues to be the face of the team. Wake’s defense, though, was a highlight in the its win over Maryland, and the team has helped keep its bowl hopes alive. Wake Forest will face a tough test this week, as it has to travel to undefeated Miami.
9. Maryland (5-2, 1-2, LW: 5): Not only do the Terps seem to have a quarterback controversy between starter C.J. Brown and backup Caleb Rowe, but they’ve also got injuries to two of their top receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Brown was benched in the loss to Wake Forest and replaced by Rowe, but neither of them could overcome a gritty performance by the Deacs’ veteran defense. What once seemed like a guaranteed return to the postseason has now become a shrinking window with no margin for error.
10. Boston College (3-3, 1-2, LW: 9): The Eagles have lost three of their past four but have developed a reputation as one of the toughest teams in the ACC nonetheless. Two of those losses have come to Atlantic division leaders FSU and Clemson. The Eagles had a bye week to prepare for their road trip to North Carolina, and, considering how poorly UNC has played this season, the Eagles have a good shot at their second league win.
11. Syracuse (3-4, 1-2, LW: 8): It’s been an unpleasant introduction into the ACC for the Orange, to say the least. Georgia Tech put on a clinic against Cuse on Saturday, and the defense went into shutdown mode. Terrel Hunt has struggled, completing 43.1 percent of his passes against league opponents. The Orange have a much-needed bye week before facing Wake Forest on Nov. 2.
12. NC State (3-3, 0-3, LW: 12): Like BC, the Pack has lost three of its past four. The difference is that NC State is still winless in conference play under first-year coach Dave Doeren. Starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell is expected to return for Saturday’s game at Florida State, his first time playing since he broke a bone in his left foot in the season opener.
13. North Carolina (1-5, 0-3, LW: 13): The Tar Heels got their best defensive performance of the season on Thursday night against Miami, and tight end Eric Ebron put on quite an audition for the NFL scouts in attendance, but the Tar Heels couldn’t stop the run and are now off to their worst start since 2006. UNC has lost four straight and will try to rebound on Saturday at home against BC.
14. Virginia (2-5, 0-3, LW: 14): After squandering a 22-point lead at home against Duke on Saturday, Mike London’s career is seemingly hanging by a thread. Whether the Hoos can win another game is a legitimate question, and, despite the administration’s continued support for London, there doesn’t seem to be any way he could survive a 2-10 season.
Duke tight end Braxton Deaver. When the Blue Devils needed a big play against Virginia, it was Deaver who responded. Twice. Trailing 22-17 in the fourth quarter, Deaver turned a flip pass from Brandon Connette on fourth down into the 47-yard, game-winning touchdown. He added a 24-yard touchdown pass from Anthony Boone later in the quarter to help Duke reel off 35 straight points and beat the Hoos 35-22. Deaver finished with a career-high 96 yards receiving.
Florida State cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. The man most responsible for helping Florida State build an early lead in the big 51-14 win over No. 3 Clemson. Joyner forced three first-half turnovers that led to 17 Seminoles points. It all started with the first play of the game, when he stripped Stanton Seckinger of the ball. Later in the quarter, Joyner forced Tajh Boyd to fumble. Joyner picked up an interception in the second quarter, as well.
Georgia Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy. It was tough to narrow this down to just one. Georgia Tech ran for 394 yards in its 56-0 win over Syracuse, but the run game was spread out among 14 different players -- including four with 10 or more carries. So we are going with Nealy, who had an interception, a fumble recovery and a pass break-up as the defense pitched a shutout. The last time Georgia Tech pitched two shutouts in the same season came in 1985, when defensive coordinator Ted Roof was team captain. Saturday's win also was Tech’s largest margin of victory in an ACC game.
Miami running back Dallas Crawford. With starting running back Duke Johnson out because of a head injury, Crawford picked up the slack for the Canes' running game and scored the winning touchdown on a 3-yard run in the 27-23 victory over North Carolina on Thursday night. Crawford ran for a career-high 137 yards on 33 carries, and scored twice in the decisive fourth quarter. On the game-winning drive, Crawford had eight carries for 29 yards. He has now rushed for a touchdown in four straight games.
North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. We usually do not give out stickers to players on losing teams, but Ebron deserves one for his performance Thursday night against Miami. Ebron was the biggest reason why the Tar Heels had any shot at the upset victory, with a career-high eight catches for a career-high 199 yards and a touchdown. The 199 yards are a single-game UNC record for receiving yards by a tight end. The previous mark was 144, set by Tony Blanchard against Wake Forest in 1968. Ebron is now second in the country among tight ends with 88.7 yards per game.
Wake Forest receiver Michael Campanaro. Campanaro had 11 receptions for 122 yards and a touchdown, and also threw a scoring pass in a 34-10 domination of Maryland. He now has seven 100 yard games in his career. What's more, Campanaro set the school career record for receptions, breaking the mark Desmond Clark set from 1995-98.
Here is a glimpse at how talented he thinks this team is headed into 2013: He has Florida State ranked among his Top 15 teams in the nation at: running back , receiver and defensive line . That means Florida State is featured in three of the four position rankings Steele has unveiled on ESPN.com so far.
Of those three groups, he has receiver rated highest of all, which surprises me quite frankly. Florida State has talent, yes, but there is no true national headliner among them. Steele admits as much, writing, "Although there are not a lot of household names in this group, the Noles could have some by the end of the year, including Kelvin Benjamin, who is 6-foot-5, 242 pounds."
No doubt Benjamin is a freak of an athlete, but he has got to be more consistent this season to really strike some fear into the heart of the opposition. Greg Dent is suspended indefinitely following his arrest this week, but Florida State has plenty of talent to make up for his loss. This is pretty high billing for a group that has a bunch of players that still need to prove themselves. We'll see if the Noles receivers can live up to these expectations.
One more ACC team to note in the receiver rankings: Maryland at No. 15, thanks to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.
As for the other rankings, Steele has Florida State ranked No. 12 at running back and No. 8 at defensive line. Interestingly enough, he has the Florida State running back group ranked ahead of Miami, which checks in at No. 13. I understand the reason for that. Florida State returns two very solid backs in Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., and they add Mario Pender.
Miami counters with ACC Freshman of the Year Duke Johnson and Eduardo Clements, along with spring surprise Dallas Crawford. The Canes get the nod in the headliner category with Johnson; but Florida State has more depth.
There is one ACC team ranked ahead of Florida State on the defensive line -- No. 7 Virginia Tech. No arguments here on that ranking. The Hokies should have a pretty solid front, with seven of their top eight linemen back from a year ago, including end James Gayle. Clemson also made into the rankings at No. 15. Vic Beasley is on course to have a huge season.
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