Florida State Seminoles: David Cutcliffe
When Duke went on the road in late October and shocked then- No. 14 Virginia Tech, the Blue Devils did so without converting a single third down. Quarterback Anthony Boone threw zero touchdown passes -- and four interceptions. And yet Duke rolled out of Blacksburg having snapped a 42-year losing streak against ranked teams on the road.
The difference? Duke was finally able to win a game with defense and special teams.
If Duke is going to have a shot at upending No. 1 Florida State on Saturday in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, it will need to be sharp in every phase of the game. It will have to rely most heavily upon what has become an opportunistic defense, and a special teams unit that has the ability to score and create good field position.
Duke has scored four times on kick returns (two punt return touchdowns and two kickoff return touchdowns), and freshman safety DeVon Edwards leads the nation in kickoff return average (32.7).The defense has caused turnovers in 11 of 12 games (including three in the red zone), and enters the ACC title game with 16 interceptions, nine forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. Duke is tied for fifth in the ACC with 21 takeaways and the 16 interceptions are the most in the David Cutcliffe era.
“A lot of guys have stepped up into new roles, and our D-line is really experienced now,” Brown said. “They’re doing a great job up front of allowing the linebackers to fly around and make tackles. That’s something, just old-school, 4-3 style defense, the way Boston College has always run it, a great D-line that holds up the line and that’s been huge for us. And I think we’re the most athletic we’ve ever been in the secondary. Even though we have some young guys back there, they have speed and they can tackle. It’s all kind of clicked from the front line all the way to the back.”
Duke, a heavy underdog, knows it has no margin for error. The Blue Devils have never beaten Florida State in 18 tries, and the Noles have won every game this season by at least 14 points. In 2012, Duke’s defense was steamrolled by FSU in a 48-7 loss, and many are predicting a similar result. Of all the times these two programs have faced each other, though, only one other time has Duke been ranked -- in 1994, when it was No. 16.
The numbers prove, though, that Duke’s defense is the best it’s been in over a decade.
Duke is allowing just 23.0 points per game, which would rank as the program’s best mark since the 1994 season (22.45 points per game). Duke has 22 sacks this season, and linebackers David Helton and Kelby Brown and safety Jeremy Cash are the top three tacklers in the ACC.
We have a very good offense who can put up points on anybody. We've just got to make sure that we limit people, and the best way to limit people is by making them drive the length of the field on you and not giving up the 50 and 60 yard passes.
-- Ross Cockrell, on how Duke's defense can find success against Florida State
Duke’s fourth-quarter defense has also been outstanding. It's allowing an average of just 9.1 points in the second half compared to 13.9 in the first half. Duke has surrendered only 3.1 points and outscored opponents 113-37 in the fourth quarter.
“Well, we run better on defense,” Cutcliffe said. “First thing you've got to be able to do is get to them to get them on the ground. You can't get them on the ground if you can't run. We run better. We'd better run better in this one because these guys have I think more weapons than anybody in the country.”
Starting with Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.
“We don't have anybody that can line up and match up physically with Benjamin,” Cutcliffe said. “He's just a monster and with great skills.”
Against Florida’s stingy defense last week, Benjamin single-handedly outgained the Gators’ offensive output (212 yards to 193). He scored three touchdowns, and had nine receptions. Last season against Duke, Benjamin had three catches for 77 yards.
“Yeah, we've done a great job, I think, defensively,” said Ross Cockrell, one of the top defenders in the ACC. “But one of the things that we took away from last year was that you can't give up a lot of big plays, especially in the passing game, the deep passes that we gave up. We can't give up those kinds of plays and expect to win ballgames. We know we have a very good team. We have a very good offense who can put up points on anybody. We've just got to make sure that we limit people, and the best way to limit people is by making them drive the length of the field on you and not giving up the 50 and 60 yard passes.”
Duke’s defense and special teams have been good enough to win the Coastal Division, but they will have to be great to win it all on Saturday.
Cutcliffe received 62 of the 65 votes in balloting done by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. Boston College first-year coach Steve Addazio received two votes, and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher received the other.
This is the second straight ACC Coach of the Year award for Cutcliffe and the first time the Blue Devils have had a back-to-back ACC Coach of the Year winner since Steve Spurrier in 1988 and 1989.
"(I’m) very appreciative of our staff and all of the support people that surround Duke football," Cutcliffe said in a statement. “It’s the best group of people, including the entire Duke football family -- best group of people I’ve been around."
In other conference awards, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was selected the overall ACC Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year, while Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller was selected ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Winston was the choice of 56 of the 65 ACSMA members casting ballots for the overall honor. Duke safety DeVon Edwards received four votes, and Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd got two. Maryland cornerback William Likely, Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley and Fuller each received one vote.
- Boston College is taking a ride on the bowl carousel. Andre Williams' Heisman hopes took a hit in a loss to Syracuse.
- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says the Tigers deserve a BCS bowl bid.
- Duke has followed David Cutcliffe's path to success.
- Three things learned in Florida State's win over Florida.
- Gripping drama led to a most painful conclusion for Georgia Tech.
- The Maryland defense stood strong against NC State.
- Miami coach Al Golden says his team is ready to go bowling.
- NC State coach Dave Doeren said this was a "long, long season."
- A familiar loss haunts Pitt players.
- Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross says he believes in Scott Shafer's future.
- Virginia looks ahead to 2014.
- Virginia Tech continued its long dominance over the Hoos.
- Wake Forest lost a heartbreaker to Vanderbilt.
Florida State played a 6-6 Georgia Tech team, representing the Coastal Division only because Miami was ineligible. Interest waned. Large swaths of empty blue seats shown on television essentially flipped the conversation from the players on the field to the issues the ACC faced off the field in trying to sell tickets to a game that lacked both national and regional interest.
The league announced a crowd of 64,778, but Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte only looked half-full. Florida State won, but the school lost money on the game because it did not sell its complete ticket allotment, underscoring once again how matchup-sensitive this game has become.
Interest should be high.
However, the Noles are nearly 30-point favorites and the expectation is for another blowout win in a season full of Florida State blowout wins. Duke never has come close to upsetting Florida State, losing all 18 previous matchups by an average of 34 points. While the league has been ripped in the past for having an irrelevant game, it is getting ripped today for featuring the undisputed No. 1 team in America in such a lopsided matchup.
Of the four championship games among the power conferences this weekend, the ACC has the worst game. So that leaves many to wonder once again what type of crowd will show up Saturday in Charlotte. Will Florida State fans travel, knowing a trip to Pasadena, Calif., looms on the horizon? Will Duke fans travel the short distance from Durham to see what could be an ugly loss, just to say they were a part of history?
ACC officials would not hazard a guess on potential attendance, but they are certainly aware that interest might be as low as it was last season. Of course, attendance issues are nothing new for the ACC championship game. Tampa and Jacksonville proved to be bad choices to host the game. The low point came in 2008, when 27,360 showed up to watch Boston College and Virginia Tech in Tampa.
Charlotte has been better, despite what unfolded last season. More than 70,000 fans went to the game in 2010 and 2011, but the matchups then featured three league powers in competitive games – Virginia Tech, Clemson and Florida State.
The last two seasons have not featured matchups anybody wants to see, though Duke and Florida State are the two most deserving teams to make the game. Questions have been raised about whether the league would be better off on campus sites, but that is not a topic of discussion in the ACC office. Moving to campus sites is not a complete remedy. Look at the poor attendance Stanford had last season in its on-campus Pac-12 title game.
The Big Ten title game also suffered attendance-wise last year, when neither Nebraska nor Wisconsin had any relevance nationally.
One change has been made to avoid the same issue Florida State faced a year ago. In October, the league voted to reduce the ticket allotment requirement for each school headed to the ACC championship game from 10,000 tickets to 5,500 tickets.
Both schools believe they will be able to sell this allotment. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said there was a lot of excitement in Tallahassee about the game.
“I promise you, if there's five people in the stands or it's sold out, we're going to be there and play, I promise you that,” Fisher said. “I think it'll be a tremendous following.”
Duke had already sold out several of its ticket packages Sunday night, and coach David Cutcliffe has urged Blue Devils fans to make the 140-mile trip by the “thousands and thousands.”
“Our last two home games have been full houses with people that were really cranked up,” Cutcliffe said. “[Charlotte is] obviously a great geographic location for Duke fans. Last year, we had probably 25,000 Duke fans at the Belk Bowl. So I certainly think we can match that in this circumstance.”
There is no doubt the ACC needs more fans in the seats this year to keep the focus Saturday on the game itself. If there is a lackluster showing and a lackluster game, the ACC is going to be faced with the same old questions.
The bad. It was a weekend of blown opportunities for the ACC against the SEC, which got the upper hand in three of four matchups. After FSU beat Florida -- as it should have -- Georgia Tech blew a 20-0 first-half lead and fell at home in double overtime to an Aaron Murray-less Georgia 41-34. Wake Forest let a four-point lead late get away at Vanderbilt, which kicked a pair of fourth-quarter field goals to escape with the victory. And then, for the cherry on top, Clemson turned the ball over six times to drop its fifth straight to rival South Carolina.
The ugly. Virginia fell to Virginia Tech 16-6, a fitting margin of defeat for a team that has now dropped 10 straight to the rival Hokies in the Commonwealth Cup, and one that has now ended the season on a 10-game slide. NC State did not fare much better, as Maryland beat the Wolfpack 41-21, in the Terrapins' final ACC game, meaning NC State also finishes winless in conference play under first-year coach Dave Doeren, losing its last eight and nine of its final 10. Kudos to Florida State for carrying the ACC flag to the top overall ranking this year, but the bottom of the league was as ugly as ever in 2013.
Now what? These last few years are tough to put in perspective for Clemson. Dabo Swinney and Tajh Boyd have, in some ways, taken the Tigers to new heights, amassing great recruiting classes and breaking records. At 10-2, Clemson has its third straight season with double-digit wins; it had not posted consecutive 10-win seasons since 1989-90. At No. 13 in the BCS standings, a second Orange Bowl berth in three years remains a real possibility. Yet Swinney and Boyd are 0-5 against rival South Carolina, and just 2-3 against top ACC competitor Florida State -- including an 0-4 mark against those teams in the last two years while going 21-0 against everyone else. The Tigers deserve credit for taking a sledgehammer to the word "Clemsoning" and erasing it from everyone's vernacular in recent years, but knowing that it still came up short against its toughest foes during a historic run has to be a tough pill to swallow, especially with no sign of the Seminoles slowing down.
Happy Thanksgiving. Pitt might have had a Black Friday to forget, as it lost at home to Miami,41-31. But the Panthers can be forgiven if they were in an extra-festive mood Thanksgiving night. That's because Mississippi State topped Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, assuring the SEC of 10 bowl-eligible teams and, more importantly, eliminating the potential vacant spot in the BBVA Compass Bowl, where Pitt has closed its last three seasons in Birmingham, Ala. Happy Thanksgiving, indeed.
Heisman hopes hurting. While it was a day of celebration for the Orange, it might have also been a blow to Boston College's hopes of getting its first Heisman Trophy winner since Doug Flutie. Andre Williams left the game with an injury in the third quarter, meaning his final impression on the voters was a line of nine carries for 29 yards and a touchdown. Syracuse and Ohio State now remain the only teams in the nation not to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. Williams still has a solid chance of making it to New York for the Heisman ceremony, but you have to think his chances of winning the trophy now are slim.
DeVon, again. DeVon Edwards can change a game in an instant, as evidenced by his consecutive pick-sixes -- and kickoff returns for a touchdown -- in Duke's win over NC State earlier this month. But the versatile 5-foot-9 redshirt freshman was not done for the month, as he made it a November to remember by returning a kickoff 99 yards for a score and then coming up with the game-sealing interception in the Blue Devils' 27-25 win at North Carolina to clinch a spot in the ACC title game. Coach David Cutcliffe was carried off the field after the win, Duke's record 10th of the season. It will now take aim at the Seminoles as it goes for its first ACC title since 1989.
In Tallahassee, Fla., and Durham, N.C., Week 14 was historic.
A month ago, Florida State fans wondered whether Oregon or Alabama would win out and whether the Seminoles would be shut out of a title bid. Turns out, the Ducks and Crimson Tide have combined for three losses since then -- including Alabama's dramatic upset by Auburn on Saturday -- and for the first time since Oct. 1, 2000 (4,810 days), Florida State is ranked No. 1 in the nation. Now Duke is likely all that stands in the way of FSU giving the ACC its first chance at a national championship since that 2000 season. FSU was No. 1 in all three components of the BCS standings and has a .0715 margin over No. 3 Auburn, a sizable gap the Tigers would need to overcome in order to knock the Seminoles out of the title picture.
The Blue Devils will be decided underdogs in the ACC championship game, but it's hard to discount a team that keeps overcoming the odds.
Duke upended North Carolina for the second straight year on Saturday, adding a program-best 10th win to its résumé and securing a trip to the ACC championship game. While Stanford, Baylor and Vanderbilt have already made it trendy for the academic institutions to put together winning football programs, Duke’s story remains uniquely improbable. Ten weeks ago, the Blue Devils were buried near the bottom of the ACC. Now they’re playing for a trip to the Orange Bowl, with a No. 20 ranking in the latest BCS standings.
“I’ve told them all along, if you keep winning, the next one gets even bigger,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “And now this one is the biggest of all.”
The biggest game for Florida State, meanwhile, could still be more than a month away. But while the Seminoles’ date in the BCS championship appears ever more likely, that could clear the way for Clemson to sneak into a BCS bowl, too.
On a weekend that provided cause for celebration for Florida State and Duke, it was another bitter disappointment for Clemson, as the Tigers fell to in-state rival South Carolina for the fifth straight year. Despite the loss, Clemson is No. 13 in the latest BCS standings, leaving the Tigers a strong option for the Orange Bowl as an at-large option, assuming Florida State heads to the title game. That would mark the second time in three years the ACC sent multiple teams to BCS bowls, but it's a narrow margin for the Tigers, which must be ranked 14th or better to qualify for a BCS bowl bid. No. 14 Northern Illinois, No. 16 UCF and No. 17 Oklahoma all have games remaining this weekend.
Go ahead, make your cliché David versus Goliath comparisons as the Blue Devils prepare to face what should be the No. 1 team in the nation in Florida State, if you must. A 10-win team, though, one ranked in the BCS standings -- an opponent that earned its way into the title game, as opposed to sneaking in through the backdoor or needing to win a tiebreaker scenario -- was the best matchup the conference could possibly hope for at this point. Virginia Tech is a four-loss team, Georgia Tech now a five-loss team. Miami? Well, we saw what happened the last time they played Florida State.
“When you get right down to what you want to train young folks to do, it’s that: be where you’re supposed to be, doing what you’re supposed to be doing as well as you can possibly do it,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s our one team rule, and that means on the practice field, in the classroom and socially. I have never been around a group of young men that have done that better.”
In the eight seasons of ACC divisional play prior to this year, Duke won a total of nine league games. This fall, the program won six ACC games -- the most in a season since 1989.
With the ACC finishing 1-3 against its SEC opponents in Week 14, the lone win coming from FSU over Florida, Duke was again highlight of the weekend. Clemson lost to South Carolina for the fifth straight time and committed six turnovers in the process, Georgia Tech blew a 20-point lead and lost in double overtime to Georgia, and Wake lost a heartbreaker to Vandy in the fourth quarter. It was a flop as far as the national spotlight was concerned, but Duke’s story has captured the attention of many fans across the country this fall.
The Blue Devils should be a heavy underdog to Florida State in the ACC championship game, and they know it. They also know they were picked to finish last in their division.
And Duke isn't done playing yet.
Game: Duke (8-2) at Wake Forest (4-6)
What’s at stake: The Coastal Division title is on the line for Duke, which can win it outright with two more wins, against Wake Forest and North Carolina. A win would guarantee Duke at least a share of the division title, while a loss by the Blue Devils would send them into a tie with Georgia Tech, and also possibly Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A win would also give Duke a ninth win for the first time since 1971. Wake Forest, meanwhile, has to win out just to become bowl eligible.
Statistically speaking: All four of Duke’s running backs -- Jela Duncan, Shaquille Powell, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson -- average at least five yards per rushing attempt this season. A total of 43.8 percent of Duke’s offense has come from its ground game this year.
Quotable: “This isn't a flash in the pan. We're going to be good next year if our team has the kind of work ethic that this team has.” -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe
Game: Virginia (2-8) at Miami (7-3)
What’s at stake: Miami still has a slim chance at playing in the ACC title game. It needs to win its final two games and hope Duke loses, for starts, so there is no margin for error against the Hoos. Virginia is looking to snap a seven-game winning streak and finish on a strong note.
Statistically speaking: UVa true freshman Keeon Johnson made his collegiate debut in the Cavaliers’ fifth game of the season after originally being slated to redshirt. He has 17 catches for 226 yards (13.3 yards per catch) and one touchdown. He’s on pace to have the best true freshman receiving season for a UVa wide receiver since Billy McMullen had 28 catches for 483 yards (17.2 yards per catch) and six touchdowns in 1999.
Quotable: “A lot of players on this team have been successful against Miami. It's one of those things you have to create that mindset, that balance of, we got two games left, and we want to play to the best of our ability to send these seniors out.” -- Uva coach Mike London
Game: Old Dominion (8-3) at North Carolina (5-5)
What’s at stake: North Carolina would become bowl eligible with a win, completing one of the best turnarounds in college football this year. The Tar Heels started out 1-5, but enter this game on a four-game winning streak.
Statistically speaking: UNC freshman Ryan Switzer has the single-season school record with three punt return touchdowns. The ACC single-season record is four by Maryland’s Steve Suter in 2002. The ACC career mark is six, also held by Suter. Three of Switzer’s last five punt returns have gone for touchdowns.
Quotable: “The kids kept believing. They kept working extremely hard. They had great attitudes. And that's one thing that I can say about these guys: Their attitude after a game or going into a game has been the same each and every week. That has been very consistent, which is what we're looking for.” -- North Carolina coach Larry Fedora
Game: The Citadel (5-6) at (7, 8, 6) Clemson (9-1)
What’s at stake: A BCS bowl. Pride. Senior Day. There shouldn’t even be a whiff of an upset in Death Valley, and this should be an easy week before ending the regular season against rival South Carolina. Clemson has to keep winning, though, to help ensure a shot at a BCS bowl. If Clemson can defeat The Citadel, it will give the Tigers 31 wins over the last three years, the most in a three-year period in school history.
Statistically speaking: Saturday will be the final home game for Clemson’s 19 seniors. Only 10 of the 19 are scholarship players. The class has a 36-14 record over the last four years, the sixth-most wins for a class in Clemson history. That includes 24 wins over ACC teams, the most in school history in a four-year period.
Quotable: “He has I think been the best receiver in the country. I don't think there's any doubt about it in my mind.” – Dabo Swinney on WR Sammy Watkins
Game: East Carolina (8-2) at NC State (3-7)
What’s at stake: Pride. Recruiting. There’s plenty of history between ECU and NC State, as the Pirates are located in Greenville, N.C. The two teams met every season from 1970-1987, but since then have played just nine times. This one is important because of the state of both programs within the state -- ECU is trending up and NC State? Well, the Pack have lost six straight and are winless in league play. This is a chance for first-year coach Dave Doeren to reassert the program’s place within the state, and to avoid what could be an embarrassing home loss.
Statistically speaking: Freshman wide receiver Jumichael Ramos has 18 catches this season, and eight of them have been to convert a third or fourth down. Only one time when Ramos was targeted on a third or fourth down play did the rookie fail to convert and that was a third and 15 against Syracuse when he gained 11 yards.
Quotable: “I know what they're saying at that school. Those things have been talked about here. We feel like we have a lot to prove, probably more than them to be honest with you. It's a game that means a lot for a lot of reasons.” – NC State coach Dave Doeren
Game: Pitt (5-5) at Syracuse (5-5)
What’s at stake: Bowl eligibility and bragging rights. These former Big East teams will play for the first time as ACC opponents, and one of them will finish bowl eligible. The loser of the game will have one more chance to reach the six-win mark in the regular-season finale. This is also a chance for Pitt to redeem itself from last year’s 14-13 loss to the Orange.
Statistically speaking: S Ray Vinopal has created four turnovers in his last two games, including a forced fumble and recovery to set up a Panthers’ touchdown against North Carolina.
Quotable: “With the push towards the big mega-conferences, to some degree, I'm saddened that some of the rivalries are not played anymore. We don't play West Virginia anymore. That was a great game. So I'm glad that we are able to do two things, first and foremost, this week playing a Pitt team that we've been playing for the last 55 years; I think it's great for the fans in both towns and for the fans in the northeast that have watched these games for so many years,” -- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer
Game: Alabama A&M (4-7) at Georgia Tech (6-4)
What’s at stake: It’s the first meeting between the schools, and the first time Georgia Tech will play a team from the SWAC, and the first time coach Paul Johnson will coach against a team from that conference. As far as the ACC race goes, Georgia Tech has to wait and see how it plays out, as the Jackets have wrapped up their ACC play at 5-3. They’re in sole possession of second place in the division this week. The only thing at stake here for Georgia Tech really is avoiding an embarrassing loss and using an unheralded opponent to tune up for the regular-season finale against Georgia.
Statistically speaking: Georgia Tech’s defense has not allowed a rushing play longer than 34 yards. The Yellow Jackets are one of just 10 FBS teams that have not allowed any rushing plays of 40 yards or longer. In Georgia Tech’s six wins this season, the defense has allowed just 11.5 points per game.
Quotable: “We could have -- had we played better Thursday night and found a way to beat a good Clemson team; we knew going into that game we had a chance. If we won that game, I felt like we had a chance to win the division without the tiebreaker or outright. There's still that chance. I think the Coastal is pretty well balanced and I don't know that there's one team that's head and shoulders better than the rest. You just step back and let the guys play out and see what happens.” -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson
Game: Boston College (6-4) at Maryland (6-4)
What’s at stake: Maryland is trying to break a two-game losing streak to the Eagles, and with two more wins, the Terps could finish the ACC season at .500 -- a huge improvement from the past two seasons under Randy Edsall. It would also be a strong finish for Maryland in what will be the program’s final year in the ACC before moving to the Big Ten. Both teams are already bowl eligible, so this game is about continuing the positive momentum, and positioning themselves for one of the better bowls.
Statistically speaking: BC is fifth in the country and second in the ACC in red zone offense, having scored on 21 of 22 chances. BC has scored 13 touchdowns (six rushing and seven passing ) and has kicked eight field goals to account for their 18 scores from inside the red zone.
Quotable: “I think Andre is an outstanding football player. The answer to that is yes. The definition is being a dominant football player, leading rusher in America. High, high character. A great human being. A real student-athlete. Certainly extremely valuable to our football team. I would say he fits all that criteria.” -- BC coach Steve Addazio on whether RB Andre Williams is a Heisman contender
Game: Idaho (1-9) at (2, 2, 2) Florida State (10-0)
What’s at stake: The national championship. It doesn’t change for Florida State, which must win out to maintain its No. 2 spot in the BCS standings.
Statistically speaking: The Seminoles have outscored their opponents 170-21 before halftime during their last five games -- a stretch that featured two top 10 opponents (No. 3 Clemson and No. 7 Miami). During the five-game span, FSU has nearly tripled its opponent’s yardage in the first half -- averaging 301 yards before halftime and allowing just 110 yards to opponents. With Florida State resting most of its starters for the better portion of the second half in these games, opponents have gained nearly 50 percent more yards after halftime (156.8).
Quotable: “We have played good football, but there are still things we need to clean up and we know that. We have not played our best football yet in my opinion.” -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher
1. Florida State (10-0, 8-0 ACC; LW: No. 1) -- The Seminoles had no problem picking apart Syracuse in a 59-3 win, staying on course to play for the national title. Quarterback Jameis Winston showed no signs of being distracted by recent allegations of his possible involvement in an investigation that is almost a year old. He completed all but two pass attempts (19-of-21) for 277 yards and two touchdowns.
2. Clemson (9-1, 7-1; LW: No. 2) -- The Tigers cruised past Georgia Tech 55-31 in a nationally televised Thursday night game. It was an opponent that in recent years had given Clemson’s defense some trouble. Quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for four touchdowns and missed only six passes. He also ran for 43 yards and a touchdown.
3. Duke (8-2, 4-2; LW: No. 4) -- The Blue Devils are just two wins away from playing in the ACC championship game in Charlotte, as they finish the season with back-to-back road games against Wake Forest and North Carolina. With the 48-30 win over No. 23 Miami, Duke beat its second ranked team of the season. Duke has won six straight games and is ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 this week.
4. Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3; LW: No. 5) -- The Hokies were shocked at home in a 27-24 overtime loss to a struggling Maryland team, and have now lost three of their past four games. It was too little, too late against the Terps, who jumped out to a 21-7 lead. The Hokies have a bye week before finishing the regular season at rival Virginia.
5. Miami (7-3, 3-3; LW: No. 3) -- The Canes defense continues to regress, as Miami has allowed over 40 points in three straight losses. Duke rushed for 358 yards in the 48-30 win -- the most ever under coach David Cutcliffe at both Duke and Mississippi -- and Brandon Connette rushed for a career-high four touchdowns. Miami ends the season against Virginia and Pitt.
6. Georgia Tech (6-4, 5-3; LW: No. 6) -- The Jackets defense didn’t have an answer for Boyd and the Tigers offense. The loss ended a three-game winning streak, and it was the last ACC game of the season for Georgia Tech. The Jackets still face Alabama A&M and rival Georgia, but their hopes of playing in the ACC title game now hinge entirely on others.
7. North Carolina (5-5, 4-3; LW: No. 10) -- The Tar Heels continued their remarkable turnaround with a 34-27 win at Pitt. After starting the season 1-5, UNC has now won four straight and is one win shy of bowl eligibility with two games remaining. UNC should get that win this weekend against Old Dominion, and it will face Duke in the final game of the regular season.
8. Boston College (6-4, 3-3; LW: No. 8) -- In what was the final home game of the regular season for BC, running back Andre Williams helped rush the Eagles back to bowl eligibility in a 38-21 win over NC State. Williams ran for an astounding 339 yards to break Boston College's single-season and single-game rushing records. He had over 100 yards in the first quarter alone. BC ends the season with back-to-back road games at Maryland and Syracuse.
9. Syracuse (5-5, 3-3; LW: No. 9) -- The Orange was just the latest victim of Florida State, and it couldn’t even keep it interesting, being held scoreless until the fourth quarter. Syracuse can still become bowl eligible, though, by winning at least one of its last two games, against either Pitt or Boston College.
10. Maryland (6-4, 2-4; LW: No. 12) -- The Terps did the inexplicable and found a way to win in Blacksburg despite having lost three straight and four of their past five. They have quarterback C.J. Brown to thank for it, as Brown was the difference in the 27-24 overtime win. He ran for 122 yards, including a touchdown in overtime. Maryland held the Hokies to a field goal in overtime before Brown sealed the deal.
11. Pittsburgh (5-5, 2-4; LW: No. 7) -- A week after knocking off Notre Dame, the Panthers fell at home to UNC and once again couldn’t protect quarterback Tom Savage, who was sacked seven times. Pitt had no answer for UNC’s Ryan Switzer, who returned two punts for touchdowns, including the game winner with 4:46 remaining. Pitt can still become bowl eligible by winning at least one of its two remaining games, which include Syracuse and Miami.
12. Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5; LW: No. 11) -- The Deacs had a bye week to regroup after three straight losses, and they’re going to need it, as they’ll be facing a surging Duke team with everything to lose. The Deacs, meanwhile, are in a must-win situation and have to win out to become bowl eligible.
13. NC State (3-7, 0-7; LW: No. 13) -- A dreadful first season for Dave Doeren continued with the Pack’s sixth straight loss. NC State allowed BC 420 rushing yards, and had no answer for Andre Williams. The Pack also was held to just 35 rushing yards. NC State has yet to win a league game and only one more chance to get it -- the regular-season finale against Maryland. This weekend, NC State hosts East Carolina.
14. Virginia (2-8, 0-6; LW: No. 14) -- The Cavaliers had a bye week after losing seven straight. Coach Mike London said the team has focused on getting the younger players some meaningful reps. They travel to Miami this week before ending the season at home against rival Virginia Tech.
2. Duke is for real, folks. Make that six in a row for the Blue Devils, now 4-2 in the ACC and in sole possession of first place of the Coastal Division. They ran over, around and through Miami in delivering the Hurricanes their third straight loss, as they reached the eight-win mark for the first time since 1994 and beat Miami for the first time since 1976, and just the second time ever. Duke has won consecutive games against ranked opponents for the first time since 1989. Hats off to David Cutcliffe & Co., who close at Wake Forest and at North Carolina, and may just be ranked when the polls are released later today.
3. BC, Maryland going bowling. Give credit to both schools for big performances Saturday. Andre Williams was his ridiculous self again, setting the ACC single-game and single-season rushing record as he went for 339 yards (1,810 on the season) as the Eagles closed out Senior Day with a 38-21 win over NC State. C.J. Brown, meanwhile, rushed for 122 yards and two scores, including the game-winning 3-yard rush as Maryland upset Virginia Tech in overtime. North Carolina edged a step closer to the postseason with a win over Pitt. The Panthers, meanwhile, play fellow five-win team Syracuse this Saturday, meaning at least one will become bowl eligible as well. NC State's postseason hopes, meanwhile, are officially over with its loss at BC.
4. UNC keeps rolling. Speaking of North Carolina ... what a turnaround for the folks in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have won four in a row after racing out to a 27-3 lead versus Pittsburgh, blowing it, then hanging on for dear life as Ryan Switzer clinched the win with a 61-yard punt return for a score in the fourth quarter. Marquise Williams continued to impress stepping in for the injured Bryn Renner, as he completed 15 of 27 passes for 173 yards and added 79 rushing yards and two scores on 15 carries. The defense sacked Tom Savage seven times, and now all UNC needs to do is beat Old Dominion at home Saturday to clinch bowl eligibility.
5. Remember Clemson? BCS bowl executives probably should. The Tigers became the forgotten team after getting routed at home by Florida State. And they will probably need to win at rival South Carolina in the regular-season finale. But they are looking pretty good right now at 9-1, impressively routing Georgia Tech 55-31 on Thursday night behind Tajh Boyd's 340 passing yards, 43 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. Boyd broke Philip Rivers' ACC record for career touchdown passes (he now has 97) and is one 300-yard game shy of Rivers' ACC record (18) in that category, too.
NC State (3-6, 0-6) at Boston College (5-4, 2-3), 12:30 ET, GamePlan/ESPN3. #NCSTvsBC
What's at stake: It's Senior Day for the Eagles, who not only can triple their win total from a season ago, but clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. The Wolfpack will need to win out over these last three weeks to achieve that, but they can start by winning league game No. 1 under first-year coach Dave Doeren. They are off to their worst start in ACC play since 1959, when they also went 0-6. They still play East Carolina and Maryland, so who knows what could happen if they go into Alumni Stadium and escape with the victory?
Statistically speaking: Boston College is one of three teams (Georgia Tech and Duke) to score a touchdown on all its drives that had a goal-to-go situations this season (7-for-7).
Quotable: "Well, what means the world to us is our seniors really want to leave a legacy of bringing the program back. This is a great group of seniors. A group of guys that are totally bought in, totally committed to the program, to our staff, really playing some of their best football right now. This is very, very important to them. So I want to see that so badly for them. They want to leave that legacy." -- BC coach Steve Addazio on potential bowl eligibility
North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) at Pittsburgh (5-4, 2-3), 12:30 ET, GamePlan/ESPN3. #UNCvsPITT
What's at stake: The Tar Heels are going for their fourth straight win after a 1-5 start and it would put them in great position to get a bowl berth. They have turned the offense over to Marquise Williams since Bryn Renner's season ended with a shoulder injury. The new QB has not disappointed, as he accounted for touchdowns passing, running and receiving last week. Pitt hopes it turned a corner with its upset over Notre Dame last week. The Panthers can clinch bowl eligibility themselves with another win, which would make them 2-for-2 under coach Paul Chryst in reaching the postseason.
Statistically speaking: Despite this being the Panthers' first season in ACC play, they actually played the Tar Heels just four years ago, winning the Meineke Car Care Bowl by a 19-17 margin on a late field goal.
Quotable: "He's a one-man wrecking crew. The guy is all over the place. Paul and his staff have done a great job with him. They'll have him lined up at the left tackle. He's played at right tackle. He's played at the right end, left end. They move him all over the place. They put him in position to make plays. And the guy comes through. For a big guy like that he's quick as a cat now. He can move. He's like a skilled athlete but in a big body. And he's just got a knack and he plays hard. What a great player." -- UNC coach Larry Fedora on Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald
Maryland (5-4, 1-4) at Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2), 12:30 ET, GamePlan/ESPN3. #MDvsVT
What's at stake: More bowl-eligibility scenarios? Sure. The Terrapins have been in this position the last three weeks, but losses to Wake Forest, Clemson and Syracuse have kept them from clinching. It's Senior Day, meanwhile, for the Hokies, who will look to get a similar performance from Logan Thomas to last week's, and who will be using a place-kicker in Eric Kristensen who made the team in September tryouts. The Hokies need to continue winning and hope that Duke loses if they want to clinch the Coastal Division.
Statistically speaking: Virginia Tech is 30-5 in the ACC in the month of November since 2004, including 28-5 in ACC games.
Quotable: "You know, I'm proud of the football team and coaches. We had two tough losses. Both teams that beat us played great, but it was tough losses. Then going to Miami and trying to beat a team that I think is really, really good. They were ranked last week. To go in there and play as good a football game as we did when our backs were definitely against the wall, then to play the way we did, you know, it's just you have real pride in your football team that they came back like that. But now it's week to week, and we've got to come back and get ready to play this week. If we don't play well this week, Maryland is very capable, and what happened last week doesn't make very much difference at all." — Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer on bouncing back from a two-game losing streak
Syracuse (5-4, 3-2) at No. 2 Florida State (9-0, 7-0), ABC/ESPN2. #CUSEvsFSU
What's at stake: Yes, bowl eligibility factors in this game, too, this time for the Orange in Year 1 in the ACC and under coach Scott Shafer. He helped pull of an upset of similar proportions six years ago as the defensive coordinator at Stanford, which went into USC and came away with a win despite being 40-plus point underdogs. The Seminoles, meanwhile, look to close out ACC play in style. They have already won the Atlantic Division, but a victory today will clinch the program's eighth unbeaten ACC regular season since joining the league in 1992 (and its first since 2000). It will get FSU one step closer to the national title game.
Statistically speaking: Florida State's offense is leading the FBS in points per drive (3.75) and scoring percentage (60.2), defined as the percentage of drives that end in either a touchdown or a field goal. Among all FBS teams over the last 10 seasons, that scoring percentage is tied for the highest.
Quotable: "I think I always felt like stats are for losers. But your stats are better, so that's a good thing. But I think more than anything the physicality, I think they're playing top brand of defensive football. And tackling well. And we need to do that. More than anything, it's that physicality, that's probably the part that I'm most pleased with. They're playing with great attitude and effort and then finishing with tough, hard nosed, physical style tackling, and I think I've seen that from our kids really the whole season. But it's becoming more consistent the last couple of games." -- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer on his team's defensive turnaround in the last two weeks
No. 23 Miami (7-2, 3-2) at Duke (7-2, 3-2), ESPNU/WatchESPN. #MIAvsDUKE
What's at stake: Major Coastal Division implications, for one. If the Hurricanes can snap their two-game winning streak and come away with a win, they will need to win out and have someone beat Virginia Tech in order to win the division. As for the Blue Devils, they got some big help Thursday night from Clemson, which beat Georgia Tech, giving Duke complete control of its own destiny in the Coastal. Win out, and Duke gets its shot at the Seminoles in the ACC title game.
Statistically speaking: Duke snapped a 47-game losing streak against ranked opponents two games ago at Virginia Tech. The last time Duke won consecutive games against ranked opponents came in 1989 under Steve Spurrier.
Quotable: "I think it's huge. The thing that we've done is we've put ourselves in position to be playing in a big game in November, and we've done that two years in a row. You hope lessons learned and opportunities are coming your way that you take advantage of it. But we had a great home crowd a week ago with North Carolina State here, and we're certainly looking forward to the same with Miami coming to town." -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe on the stakes this weekend
So who deserves ACC Coach of the Year honors -- David Cutcliffe or Jimbo Fisher? Heather Dinich and Andrea Adelson debate that topic.
Over the past five recruiting classes, Duke has added zero players to its program from the ESPN 300 and just one four-star prospect -- punter Will Monday.
On Saturday, those unheralded Blue Devils players -- athletes who made a commitment to turning around one of the worst football programs in the country -- have a chance to get one step closer to the ACC championship game. Last season, becoming bowl eligible was reason to celebrate. This season? Been there, done that. Duke is playing for more. The program is relevant in November. And right now it’s the best team in the state.
If that’s not a Coach of the Year performance, we need to redefine the award.
What David Cutcliffe has done in his sixth season at Duke is simply amazing. For the first time since 1994, Duke has won seven games in a season, guaranteeing the first winning season the program has had since then. Duke enters Saturday’s game against Miami on a five-game winning streak, including an epic upset at Virginia Tech two weeks ago. If Duke wins its final three games -- against Miami, at Wake Forest and at North Carolina – AND Georgia Tech loses on Thursday night at Clemson, the Blue Devils will win the Coastal Division.
Repeat: Duke can win the Coastal Division. Again.
Don’t forget Duke was a contender last year, too, right up until the next-to-last week of the regular season.
beat NC State, 38-20. In order to truly understand how far the program has come, you have to understand where it has been. In his first five seasons at Duke, Cutcliffe won more games (21) than the program had in its 12 previous years combined (19). Even though Cutcliffe took the 2012 Duke team to the program’s first bowl game since 1994 and beat rival UNC for the first time in nine seasons, the perception of Duke still hadn’t changed. This was a team that was predicted by the media in July to finish last in the division. And yet here they are, bowl eligible and winning with defense.
Duke hasn’t lost since Sept. 21.
It’s hardly as if this is a veteran group. The Blue Devils have a first-year starting quarterback who broke his collarbone in the first half of the season. Duke has played the past six quarters with a secondary comprised of three true freshmen, one redshirt freshman, and a redshirt sophomore who hasn’t played a meaningful defensive snap since he was a senior in high school in 2010.
Redshirt freshman safety DeVon Edwards? The one who had a jaw-dropping day in the win over NC State with 10 total tackles, two interception returns for touchdowns and a 100-yard kickoff return for a third touchdown?
Yeah, he had zero BCS offers out of high school.
Doesn’t matter. Duke doesn’t need five-star recruits.
Not when it has the ACC’s Coach of the Year.
Andrea says: Jimbo Fisher
Jimbo Fisher has his team four wins away from playing for a national championship. If he gets there, that fact alone should be enough to crown him ACC Coach of the Year.
Now, there certainly are arguments to be made for Cutcliffe, who has done an absolutely remarkable job at Duke. Or for Boston College coach Steve Addazio, who has done a terrific job turning around the Eagles.
That’s right, the Seminoles were picked to finish second in the Atlantic to Clemson for two main reasons: 1) There was no way they would they overcome the loss of 11 NFL draft picks. 2) There was no way quarterback Jameis Winston would be nearly as good as advertised. Given those two perceived knocks, Florida State started the season ranked No. 11 in the AP poll, just behind rival Florida.
But the ensuing months have proven the preseason logic to be illogical. Fisher has assembled one of the most talented teams in college football, a year after losing the most talent in school history. He has replaced great talent with superior talent and superior depth and now has a group of players who believe they can win a national championship.
That has translated on the field, where Florida State has been dominant, ranking in the Top 10 nationally in total offense, total defense, scoring offense and scoring defense. Florida State is beating teams by an average of 40 points per game, and now has the leading Heisman candidate in Winston.
All this leads to my main point. The ACC has not had a team play for a national championship since Florida State did it in 2000. There have only been two unbeaten, untied teams in league history -- 1981 Clemson and 1999 Florida State. My dear friend Heather wrote in September, “The odds of the ACC producing an undefeated team this year are as rocky as Virginia Tech’s new Hokie Stone helmets.”
Florida State could beat those odds. And believe it or not, Duke has had more winning seasons than the ACC has had unbeaten seasons. And Duke did have a shot to win the Coastal last year, too. But playing for a national championship, and potentially going unbeaten, is rarefied air. Alabama coach Nick Saban -- widely regarded as the best coach in the game today -- has only one unbeaten season in his entire head coaching career. Bear Bryant had two unbeaten, untied seasons in his entire head coaching career.
Playing for a conference championship is a big accomplishment. But potentially playing for a national championship, in a league that has been desperate for a contender, makes what Fisher has done more impressive.
For the second consecutive year, I have gone with the highly-original costume of wearing a "Hello, My Name Is" sticker, writing in the word "Maybe."
You guys and gals all go/went to ACC schools and are smart, so you can figure out what to, ahem, "Call Me." (I actually got the idea from my aunt, who should start charging for her ideas.)
Anyway, let's turn our attention to the people and schools we cover here in the blog. And to you, the readers. You guys blew up the Twitter feed yesterday with great pumpkin carvings, a majority of which can be found here.
There are plenty of tricks and treats to hand out through the season's first nine weeks, and what better day to do that than today?
Without further ado …
Jason Voorhees: Miami is the team that just won't die. The Hurricanes had turned the ball over four times in three straight contests before Saturday's game against Wake Forest … and still won all of them. They then found themselves trailing throughout the afternoon against the overmatched Demon Deacons but still managed to escape victorious in the final minute. Miami has a 7-0 record to show for all of its closecalls, though playing like this is simply no way to live.
Cursed: This isn't your 2012 Maryland team, but it is hardly a healthy one, either. Things were going so great this season for the Terrapins after their 4-0 start and No. 25 spot in the AP poll. Then they met Florida State, losing quarterback C.J. Brown to a concussion in the process. Then they lost top receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long for the season. Linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and defensive back Dexter McDougle are also done for the year. Maryland is 1-3 over its last four games, though it put up a nice effort against No. 9 Clemson with Caleb Rowe under center and should still go bowling for the first time in the Randy Edsall era.
Graveyard: Virginia Tech's defensive backfield is where all quarterbacks' throws go to die. The Hokies have picked off a nation-best 17 passes this season, even without Antone Exum for all but this past weekend's contest against Duke, and despite having freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller see extended time. Even in the loss to the Blue Devils, the Hokies managed to come up with four interceptions.
Paranormal activity: A two-hour rain delay in the season opener at Scott Stadium portended what was to come: Virginia's 19-16 win over BYU. The win becomes more of a headscratcher by the week, as the Cavaliers have won just one game since and find themselves at 2-6 and 0-4 in ACC play. The Cougars, meanwhile, are 6-2 and were so dominating in their win over Texas that Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz in the aftermath. Strange times, indeed.
Boo: That is what quarterbacks and offensive linemen must think every single time they see Aaron Donald line up across from them. The Pitt defensive tackle is second in the nation with 1.9 tackles for loss per game (13.5 total), and his 1.1 sacks per game rank fifth nationally (eight total). He also has 26.5 career sacks, the most among active college football players. Donald is one of just two defensive tackles to be named a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation's outstanding defensive player of the year.
And, because we can never have enough fun, let's take a look at what some of the conference's notable characters are dressing up as tonight:
- Jameis Winston is MC Hammer. Because, after routing Clemson, he did say that Florida State was "too legit to quit." And because this.
- David Cutcliffe is David Copperfield. And for his most recent trick, Cutcliffe has made Duke bowl-eligible in consecutive seasons! A program first!
- Jimbo Fisher is Nick Saban. I know I'm not the only one who sees the facial resemblance. And Fisher's Seminoles have looked a lot like Saban's Crimson Tide this year, to understate it.
- Steve Addazio is Jesse "The Body" Ventura. This is not up for debate.
- Duke Johnson is Saul Goodman from "Breaking Bad." Looking for a big kickoff return? Need an insurance touchdown to clinch an upset victory over Florida? Trailing Wake Forest two different times in the fourth quarter with a perfect season on the line? Better call Duke, who has pulled all sorts of tricks up his sleeve to bail Miami out and help lift the Hurricanes to a 7-0 start.
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.