Florida State Seminoles: Jerome Smith

The NFL draft concluded with 42 ACC players selected last weekend, and a slew more ended up signing free-agent deals in the days afterward.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PITTSBURGH
P Matt Yoklic, Atlanta Falcons

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

VIRGINIA
DE Jake Snyder, Minnesota Vikings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reviewing the ACC pro days

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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Pro days are now in the rearview mirror, with a month remaining between now and the NFL draft. With that, let's take a look back at some notable performances from ACC pro days this year.

Boston College (March 12)
Big name: RB Andre Williams. Representatives from 29 NFL teams were on hand to see the nation's top running back from last season. Williams says he improved on his combine 40-yard-dash time of 4.56. Also of note: Nate Freese, who went 20 of 20 last season on field goal tries, did not disappoint in front of his future employers, hitting a 60-yard try.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
AP Photo/Michael ConroyClemson WR Sammy Watkins in all likelihood will be the first ACC player drafted in May.
Clemson (March 6)
Big name: WR Sammy Watkins. Watkins stood on his 40 time of 4.43 from the combine but was there to help out quarterback Tajh Boyd, doing little to change the general consensus that he is the top receiver in this year's draft. Boyd said scouts told him his performance was much better than his showings at the combine and Senior Bowl, as he connected on short, intermediate and deep routes with familiar receivers in familiar environs.

Duke (March 26)
Big name: CB Ross Cockrell. Cockrell improved on his combine results, with Duke saying that his 40 time was sub-4.4, which is better than what he ran in Indianapolis (4.56).

Florida State (March 17)
Big name: Where to begin? DL Timmy Jernigan slightly improved his combine 40-time from 5.06 to 5.03. S Terrence Brooks, LB Telvin Smith, DB Lamarcus Joyner and LB Christian Jones all drew a crowd, but they declined to run the 40 in front of reps from all 32 NFL teams, content to sit on their combine performances.

Georgia Tech (March 28)
Big name: LB Jeremiah Attaochu. Attaochu ran drills at both linebacker and defensive lineman, recovering nicely from a hamstring injury in the Senior Bowl that forced him out of the combine. He said his 40 time was in the 4.5s. DB Jemea Thomas also impressed, reportedly running a 4.38 40.

Louisville (March 17)
Big name: QB Teddy Bridgewater. With scouts from 29 teams watching, Bridgewater was off target with several of his throws. He ran an unofficial 4.78 40 time, but the potential No. 1 pick misfired on at least 10 passes, leaving some questions lingering heading into the draft.

Miami (April 3)
Big name: OT Seantrel Henderson. This is the name that is going to stick out, as Henderson did not finish his workouts. His agent later told reporters that it was due to dehydration. With 30 NFL teams represented, quarterback Stephen Morris took a strong step forward, reportedly completed almost all of his 67 throws.

North Carolina (March 25)
Big name: TE Eric Ebron. Ebron stood on his 40 time from the combine of 4.60, but his pro day was marred by several dropped passes, though the always upbeat tight end was not stressed about the drops when speaking to reporters afterward.

NC State (March 25)
Big name: CB Dontae Johnson. Johnson showed his versatility, as he can play corner or safety, and he said he felt better than he did at the combine, where he ran a 40 time of 4.45 and jumped 38.5 inches in the vertical.

Pittsburgh (March 3)
Big name: DT Aaron Donald. College football's best defensive player rested on his combine numbers in the 40 (4.68) and bench press (35 times), but teammates Tom Savage and Devin Street helped themselves. Savage impressed during a scripted 100-throw workout while Street said he ran a sub-4.5 40.

Syracuse
Big name: LB Marquis Spruill. Spruill recovered nicely from a combine snub, weighing in at 231 pounds, nine pounds heavier than his playing weight. He did not disclose numbers. Running back Jerome Smith, meanwhile, said he ran in the 4.5-4.6 range, which would be an improvement over his combine time of 4.84.

Virginia (March 17)
Big name: OT Morgan Moses. A considerably different-looking Moses showed up at 311 pounds, roughly 20 pounds lighter from his playing days with the Cavaliers. After clocking in at 5.35 in the 40 at the combine, he unofficially ran between 4.9 and 5.06 at his pro day, though he pulled a hamstring during one of the runs, forcing him to miss the remainder of his drills.

Virginia Tech (March 19)
Big name: QB Logan Thomas. Thomas remains a fascinating prospect to keep an eye on in the NFL, and he threw well in front of NFL scouts at pro day. Corner Antone Exum impressed as well, running 40 times of 4.53 and 4.55.

Wake Forest (March 17)
Big name: WR Michael Campanaro. After seeing his final year end prematurely because of a shoulder injury, Campanaro, the only Demon Deacon to have garnered a combine invite, again impressed in receiver drills, making his case to become a potential mid-round pick. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock, meanwhile, saw himself lining up as a fullback for the first time in his career. Weather conditions were less than ideal for the NFL hopefuls.

ACC's lunchtime links

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
12:00
PM ET
Your time-waster of the day: An oral history of the movie “Reality Bites.”

ACC and the NFL combine

February, 11, 2014
Feb 11
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The NFL draft combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis will be held from Feb. 19-25 and will feature workouts, medical examinations, psychological testing and interviews for the 335 invited prospects. The ACC has a total of 46 players who will participate, including at least one player from every school (we included Maryland and not Louisville in this post, because it is from the 2013 season). National champion Florida State led the league with eight players heading to the combine, but UNC was right behind with seven. Don't cry ... you're gonna miss some of these names next year. Good luck to these guys.

Here is the official list of the ACC attendees:

BOSTON COLLEGE (5)
CLEMSON (4)
DUKE (1)
FLORIDA STATE (8)
GEORGIA TECH (2)
MARYLAND (1)
MIAMI (5)
NORTH CAROLINA (7)
NC STATE (1)
PITTSBURGH (3)
SYRACUSE (2)
VIRGINIA (2)
VIRGINIA TECH (4)
WAKE FOREST (1)

The ACC has lost 10 players who have decided to forgo their final seasons of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. It’s not a mass exodus, but their departures definitely leave some holes. Florida State is losing some talent, but Clemson arguably has the biggest shoes to fill, as the Tigers are losing their top two receivers from 2013, including All-American Sammy Watkins. With spring football around the corner, there will be plenty of competition throughout the league, but based on what we know now, here is the best guess at who the replacements will be for each of the ACC’s early entrees:

Leaving: Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Jones
AP Photo/Phil SearsIsaiah Jones (right) caught only two passes as a freshman, but Kelvin Benjamin's departure means he'll have to play a bigger role.
The replacement: Isaiah Jones. He is 6-foot-4, but he lacks Benjamin's physical strength (he weighs about 35 pounds less). Christian Green also could be an answer after playing sparingly the past two seasons. He's 6-foot-2 and known for his speed. He had 26 catches for 450 yards as a freshman in 2011 but has just 16 catches for 190 yards in the two seasons since. As far as a true red zone target and receiver who can win the jump balls, tight end Nick O'Leary will likely get the bulk of the throws that went to Benjamin in 2013.

Leaving: North Carolina C Russell Bodine

The replacement: Lucas Crowley. As a freshman, Crowley made his collegiate debut against rival NC State. He played 11 snaps and graded out at 90 percent. An encouraging sign for UNC fans should be Crowley’s performance against Pitt, where he played a respectable game opposite All-American defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He played 66 snaps at center in that game and had five knockdowns.

Leaving: Clemson DB Bashaud Breeland

The replacement: Garry Peters. He was one of Clemson’s rising stars at cornerback in 2012, but an injury last season set him back. He still played in 10 games and enters this fall with 54 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one interception, 12 pass breakups, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in 33 games (five starts) in his career.

Leaving: Clemson WR Martavis Bryant

The replacement: Mike Williams. The true freshman played in all 13 games and started three, finishing 2013 with 20 catches for 316 yards and three touchdowns. His first career start came against Wake Forest, and Williams had a 14-yard touchdown. As a prep, he was rated the No. 3 player in South Carolina by ESPN.com. Williams has a lot of potential, and the Tigers will need him to reach it quickly.

Leaving: North Carolina TE Eric Ebron

The replacement: Jack Tabb. He played in 10 games at tight end and on special teams, and he also saw some time at linebacker. He finished with six catches for 116 yards and 10 tackles. UNC also signed two tight ends in the 2014 class, including one, Brandon Fritts, who enrolled in January. The other, Avery Edwards, is regarded as the top TE in North Carolina.

Leaving: Florida State RB Devonta Freeman

The replacement: Ryan Green. He played in all 12 games (no starts), and finished with 163 yards and one touchdown on 33 carries. He showed some explosiveness in his limited playing time, as six of his carries went for 10 yards or more. His blocking and ability to take advantage of open holes still need to improve.

Leaving: Florida State DT Timmy Jernigan

The replacement: Nile Lawrence-Stample. He played in 13 games and started six alongside Jernigan at defensive tackle. He finished the season with 15 tackles, including 1.5 for loss. He also had two quarterback hurries. He made his first career start against Pitt and had a season-high three tackles against both Boston College and Maryland. He had one tackle in the national championship game.

Leaving: Syracuse RB Jerome Smith

The replacement: Prince-Tyson Gulley. He was granted a fifth season of eligibility and as of now is expected to play this fall. Gulley qualified for a medical hardship waiver because he broke his collarbone in 2011 and played just four games. He was third on the team in rushing in 2013 and finished with 456 yards and four touchdowns on 83 carries. He also had 15 catches and one receiving touchdown.

Leaving: Clemson WR Sammy Watkins

The replacement: Charone Peake. Watkins was one of a kind, and his record-setting production nearly impossible to duplicate, but Peake is the next man up. He was the Tigers’ second-leading receiver before he tore his ACL during a simple non-contact drill in practice on Sept. 10. Prior to the injury, Peake had eight catches for 84 yards and a touchdown, second only to Watkins in both receptions and yards. In 2012, Peake had 25 receptions for 172 yards and two scores.

Leaving: Florida State RB James Wilder Jr.

The replacement: Karlos Williams. He moved from safety to tailback in Week 2 and finished his first season at the position with 91 carries for 730 yards. His 8.02 yards-per-carry average was sixth in the nation. His 11 rushing touchdowns tied for seventh in the ACC. No running back from an automatic-qualifier conference school scored more routinely than Williams, who scored once every 8.3 carries.
The deadline to declare for the NFL draft has passed so let us take a look at the ACC players who have decided to turn pro:
Mel Kiper Jr. has several of these underclassmen going in the first round in his first edition of the 2014 NFL mock draft:
  • No. 5 Sammy Watkins to Oakland
  • No. 14 Timmy Jernigan to Chicago
  • No. 16 Eric Ebron to Baltimore
  • No. 22 Kelvin Benjamin to Philadelphia

Kiper took into account draft needs for each team when making his selections. To that end, he has Ebron rated higher on his Big Board, which ranks the Top 25 best players available in the draft. Kiper lists Ebron No. 7 there, and has called him "A QB's best friend." Bryn Renner would know.

Jernigan also is rated higher on the Big Board at No. 12 overall.

The NFL draft evaluation process has only just begun so all these mock drafts and big boards will change between now and the draft, which is in May. One constant, at this point, is Watkins as the top-rated ACC player headed into the draft. Barring unforeseen circumstances, his place at the top is not expected to change.

ACC underclassmen watch

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
11:00
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The deadline to declare for the NFL draft is one week from today. Let us take a quick look at who has already announced their intentions, and who is still mulling over their decision.

Turning pro

Also, a source told ESPN's Joe Schad that Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. will enter for the draft. Of these players who have already declared, only Watkins and Ebron are listed on the latest Mel Kiper Big Board. Watkins and Ebron are near locks to go early in the draft. But the prospects are less certain for the others who have already declared.

Still waiting on

Jernigan, Benjamin and Beasley are all listed on the Kiper Big Board. Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said Tuesday at his post-championship news conference he expects only a few players to leave early for the draft.

Also of note, Virginia Tech safety Kyshoen Jarrett announced on Twitter that he will return to school for his senior season.

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
12:00
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Not bad, Week 17. Not bad at all.

ACC bowl predictions

December, 26, 2013
12/26/13
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Time to dive into a few ACC bowl projections. OK, scratch that. A LOT of ACC bowl projections. A record 11 teams in bowl games has the league flying high for now. But there are some really difficult matchups in here, and the ACC faces a tall task to finish with a winning bowl record.

We do not disagree on many of these picks, so that means AA will end up as the picks champion. As of now, Andrea has a four-game lead on Heather with an overall 86-23 record. Heather will be sent a "blogger-do" list after Jan. 6.

Now on to our picks!

Note: All times ET.

Pitt (6-6) vs. Bowling Green (10-3), Little Caesars Bowl, Dec. 26, 6 p.m., ESPN. Bowling Green is on a roll, having won five straight, including an impressive upset win over Northern Illinois in the MAC title game. Quarterback Matt Johnson has thrown for over 3,000 yards this season, so Pitt has got to focus on slowing him down. This is where the Panthers have an edge on Bowling Green. Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has been the most disruptive player in America and the Eagles have not faced anyone like him this season. He will be able to make plays against the Bowling Green offensive line, and Pitt will score just enough to win a close game.

AA picks: Pitt 28, Bowling Green 24

HD pick: Pittsburgh 24, Bowling Green 21

Marshall (9-4) vs. Maryland (7-5), Military Bowl presented by Northrup Grumman, Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m., ESPN. Marshall is not going to be an easy out for Maryland. The Herd took Virginia Tech to triple overtime earlier this year, played in the Conference USA championship game and have the league's Offensive Player of the Year in Rakeem Cato. The first priority is slowing down the Marshall offense. Maryland will have some help there, getting cornerback Jeremiah Johnson back for the game. Plus, linebacker Marcus Whitfield has nine sacks on the year, so watch for him to get pressure on the quarterback. Maryland is 4-0 when quarterback C.J. Brown rushes for 100 yards in a game, including two of the final three wins on the season. Brown will be the difference in the ACC finale for the Terps.

AA picks: Maryland 33, Marshall 30

HD pick: Maryland 28, Marshall 24

Syracuse (6-6) vs. Minnesota (8-4), Texas Bowl, Dec. 27, 6 p.m., ESPN. Syracuse squeaked into the postseason with a last-second win over Boston College and now gets to play its third Big Ten team of the season. The Orange also must play without leading tackler Durrell Eskridge, who is out with an upper body injury. Both teams are going to most likely try to pound the ball to win. Syracuse back Jerome Smith will be playing in his final game in a Syracuse uniform; Minnesota back David Cobb will be going for his sixth 100-yard game in his last seven contests. Minnesota has run the ball more consistently than Syracuse this year, so we give the edge to the Gophers.

AA picks: Minnesota 28, Syracuse 24

HD pick: Minnesota 31, Syracuse 21

Cincinnati (9-3) vs. North Carolina (6-6), Belk Bowl, Dec. 28, 3:20 p.m., ESPN. North Carolina overcame a 1-5 start to get back to a bowl, and you can bet there will be some extra motivation after having to sit out the postseason a year ago. The Tar Heels will be without offensive coordinator Blake Anderson, who took the Arkansas State head coaching job, so his loss could have an impact. But North Carolina does have a matchup advantage with the versatile Marquise Williams and a group of talented receivers, along with tight end Eric Ebron, and they should be enough to get the Tar Heels the win.

AA picks: North Carolina 30, Cincinnati 27

HD pick: North Carolina 35, Cincinnati 31

Miami (9-3) vs. No. 18 Louisville (11-1), Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 28, 6:45 p.m., ESPN. This is one of the most anticipated games of the entire postseason, as Louisville gets an early sneak peak at what awaits in the ACC. The Cardinals have an edge with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who could be playing in his final college game against his hometown team. Where Miami could take advantage is with some big plays from receivers Allen Hurns and Stacy Coley, who have a speed advantage. Stephen Morris excels at throwing the deep pass, and that is something Louisville coaches know they need to guard against in this game. But Louisville should be able to put up enough points on an inconsistent Miami D.

AA picks: Louisville 35, Miami 24

HD pick: Louisville 35, Miami 28

Ole Miss (7-5) vs. Georgia Tech (7-5), Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30, 3:15 p.m., ESPN. Neither team ended the season the way they wanted, losing tough rivalry games. The Rebels have lost two straight headed into the game and need a much better performance from Bo Wallace to end the season on the right note. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, must hold on to the football, something that has been an issue all season long. Ole Miss, meanwhile, is one of the best in the nation in turnover margin. That will be the key difference in the game. And by the way, the Jackets have not beaten an SEC team since 2009. AA picks: Ole Miss 28, Georgia Tech 24.

HD pick: Georgia Tech 31, Ole Miss 27: Georgia Tech will take advantage of an inconsistent Ole Miss offense, which ended the season on a sour note, and the Yellow Jackets’ spread option offense will fare well against the Rebels’ defense. Georgia Tech ranked sixth in the FBS with 311.7 rushing yards per game -- not a good sign for the Rebels, who allowed an average of 188.4 rushing yards this year against major conference opponents. Ole Miss also ended the season with back-to-back losses, and the offense was stagnant in both games, totaling just 20 points. Wallace failed to throw a touchdown pass and had four of his nine interceptions. Georgia Tech will prove that last year’s bowl win was the start of a new trend, not an anomaly that snapped a seven-game bowl losing streak.

Arizona (7-5) vs. Boston College (7-5), AdvoCare V100 Bowl, Dec. 31, 12:30 p.m., ESPN. The two best running backs in the nation square off in Shreveport, La., giving this bowl game some added luster. Andre Williams ran for over 2,000 yards for the Eagles, while Ka'Deem Carey ran for 100 or more yards in every game he played this season. The key difference, though, is at quarterback, where the Wildcats have dual-threat B.J. Denker. The Arizona offense is more varied, and that gives the Wildcats the edge going into this game.

AA picks: Arizona 30, Boston College 27

HD pick: Arizona 24, Boston College 21

Virginia Tech (8-4) vs. No. 17 UCLA (9-3), Hyundai Sun Bowl, Dec. 31, 2 p.m., CBS. We are excited to see the matchup between UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley and the Virginia Tech defense, which ranks as one of the best in the nation. The problem, once again, is the Virginia Tech offense. Without starting running back Trey Edmunds, it is hard to see how the Hokies will be able to get many points on the board. That was difficult enough even with Edmunds. Logan Thomas wants to end his career on a high note, but he just doesn't have the supporting cast to keep up with the more dynamic Bruins.

AA picks: UCLA 20, Virginia Tech 13

HD pick: UCLA 21, Virginia Tech 10

No. 24 Duke (10-3) vs. No. 21 Texas A&M (8-4), Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31, 8 p.m., ESPN. This is another measuring stick game for Duke, in back-to-back bowl games for the first time in school history. The Blue Devils already posted the best season in school history but got blown out in the ACC title game. Will they have a chance against former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and the Aggies? The good news is Texas A&M does not have a great defense. But the bad news is they have to defend Manziel and Mike Evans. Duke will be able to keep it close early before A&M pulls away.

AA picks: Texas A&M 38, Duke 28

HD pick: Texas A&M 41, Duke 21

No. 12 Clemson (10-2) vs. No. 7 Ohio State (12-1), Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 3, 8:30 p.m., ESPN.The Tigers are back at the scene of one of the most embarrassing losses in school history but they vow this time, everything will be different. There is no doubt this is one of the more intriguing games of bowl season, with Braxton Miller and Tajh Boyd going head to head. Miller and Carlos Hyde are a tough duo to stop. But here is where Clemson will win -- the Tigers will be able to throw on a suspect Ohio State secondary. Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant have combined for 2,037 yards this year (1,237 by Watkins, 800 for Bryant), second-best in school history. Boyd will get them the ball enough to win a see-saw contest.

AA picks: Clemson 40, Ohio State 38

HD pick: Clemson 31, Ohio State 28

No. 1 Florida State (13-0) vs. No. 2 Auburn (12-1), VIZIO BCS National Championship, Jan. 6, 8:30 p.m., ESPN. The ACC gets its shot at taking down the SEC with the No. 1 team in the nation, a group that has gone virtually unchallenged for the majority of the year. Nobody has been more impressive in dispatching opponents than the Seminoles, who not only have the Heisman Trophy winner in Jameis Winston but future NFL players at virtually every position on the field. Auburn has shown proclivity at running the ball but not much else. Its passing game is virtually nonexistent (No. 107 in the nation) and its defense is mediocre (No. 88 in the nation). The Tigers may break off a few runs, but how will they slow down the Florida State offense? They won't. AA sees a bigger blowout than HD.

AA picks: Florida State 40, Auburn 24

HD pick: Florida State 38, Auburn 35

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
12:00
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Shopping days are nearly gone.

Five things: FSU vs. Syracuse

November, 16, 2013
11/16/13
7:00
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Florida State officially wraps up its ACC slate today when it hosts Syracuse. The Seminoles have already locked up their spot in the ACC championship game, but with the 1993 title team on hand, they’ll look to take another step toward a berth in the BCS National Championship Game. The Orange, meanwhile, are a win away from bowl eligibility. There’s plenty on the line for both sides, and these could be the five keys to the game.

1. Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: In last week’s win over Wake Forest, Florida State’s defense forced a whopping seven turnovers, including six interceptions of Deacons’ QBs. That doesn’t bode well for a Syracuse passing attack that has been horrific this season. In seven games against BCS automatic qualifier schools, Orange quarterbacks have thrown just two touchdowns (tied for fewest in the nation among AQ teams) and 15 interceptions (third-most among AQ teams). Syracuse is already fighting an uphill battle against the stout Seminoles defense, and turnovers would likely shut the door on any upset chances.

2. Stop the run: If the Syracuse passing game has been an eyesore, the running game has been its lifeline. The Orange ranks second in the ACC in rushing (203.3 yards per game) and have two talented tailbacks capable of busting a big run. Jerome Smith is in search of his second 100-yard rushing season, while Prince-Tyson Gulley is eighth in the ACC in yards-per-carry (5.7). Syracuse doesn’t hide what it wants to do, FSU’s Mario Edwards Jr. said, but FSU will be ready. The Noles are allowing just 3.7 yards-per-rush the past five games (not including sacks), despite the second-team defense being on the field for large stretches.

3. Find a rhythm: Florida State’s offense looked out of sync for much of last week’s win over Wake Forest, largely due to the long stretches when the defense dominated the game, keeping Jameis Winston and Co. on the sideline. For one 10-minute stretch in the first half, FSU’s offense ran just four plays. It was a reasonable explanation for some of the struggles and lapses in concentration (two turnovers, three key drops), but as Winston explained afterward, the unit still needs to perform better. Given the 38-point spread for Saturday’s game, they figure to get another shot at playing with a big lead.

4. Put on a show: With Oregon’s loss last week, Florida State is in prime position to make the BCS title game if it wins out. But the schedule down the stretch doesn’t come with many headliners, so the Seminoles would still be wise to put on an impressive showing to remind voters that, even if the competition isn’t stout, they’re still playing hard. FSU is the only team in the nation to have won all of its games by at least 14 points, and it would be smart to continue that streak.

5. Keep Winston healthy: Winston hasn’t played much in the second half this season, and Jimbo Fisher would be fine if that trend carried over this week. Balancing the need to keep Winston sharp with the desire to keep him healthy will require some delicate decision-making for Fisher, particularly now that backup quarterback Jacob Coker will miss the remainder of the season following knee surgery.

Planning for success: Florida State

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It’s easy to respect an offense like Syracuse’s, Jimbo Fisher said. Sure, the stats and the win-loss record might not be overwhelming, but the Orange has a plan, and they stick to it.

They line up, they run the ball, and they keep running.

“They know their identity, that’s what they do, and they’re very patient,” the FSU coach said. “They’ll pound you and all of a sudden, boom, there’s a big one.”

Linebacker Telvin Smith compared Syracuse favorably to the Boston College, an offense than racked up 200 yards on the ground against Florida State earlier this year. It’s an apt comparison.

Syracuse ranks second in the ACC in rushing, and it has two of the conference’s top tailbacks in Jerome Smith and Prince-Tyson Gulley. The Orange offensive line is strong, particularly up the middle.

[+] EnlargeJerome Smith
Alan Schwartz/Icon SMIFlorida State can expect a heavy dose of Syracuse running back Jerome Smith, who ranks fourth in the ACC in rushing.
“Those guards and the center are just as good as anyone we’ve played this year,” FSU defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said.

What’s even more impressive about Syracuse’s run game is that its success isn’t based on tricks or misdirection. It’s a team that happily goes toe to toe with defenses crowding the box, knowing it’s capable of winning those battles at the line of scrimmage.

“That’s the challenge right there,” Smith said. “They’re telling you what they’re going to do, and they’re coming out doing it. They’re not trying to hide it.”

The way the Syracuse passing game has played this season, it probably wouldn’t be fooling anyone anyway. In seven games against teams from automatic-qualifier conferences, Orange quarterbacks have contributed just two touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Given the success of Florida State’s secondary this season -- including five turnovers forced by defensive backs in last week’s win over Wake Forest -- Syracuse isn’t likely to find much success through the air. That Boston College game, however, offers some hope that the Orange’s ground attack could win a few battles.

Of course, this isn’t the same Seminoles defense that allowed the Eagles to run the ball with so much success. Mario Edwards Jr. missed that game with a hand injury, and the scheme and personnel hadn’t quite found the right meeting point in Jeremy Pruitt’s system. In Florida State’s last five games, the Seminoles have allowed three yards or fewer per carry four times. The lone exception was against NC State, when the first-team D held the Wolfpack to just 39 yards on 21 carries before the backups squandered a sterling stat line.

“We had to learn a whole new defense,” Edwards said of the early struggles. “We just kept to it and each week got better and better.”

Jernigan figures Syracuse has noticed that, too, so he wouldn’t be surprised if the Orange had a few new wrinkles they’ve been saving for Florida State. Quarterback Terrel Hunt can make plays with his legs, and Jerome Smith is angling for his second straight 1,000-yard season.

The Seminoles are expecting a challenge and that might actually make for a fun matchup, Fisher said. There’s something exciting about those battles -- strength against strength, when a team’s mental makeup means as much as its ability. The key, he said, is for Florida State to want to stop the run more than Syracuse wants to flourish with it.

“It’s their mentality, it’s their attitude,” Fisher said of Syracuse’s running game. “And we better have a good attitude and be ready to stop them.”

ACC lunchtime links

November, 11, 2013
11/11/13
12:00
PM ET
Thank you, veterans.

ACC lunchtime links

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
12:00
PM ET
So wait, there’s not going to be a “Full House” remake? Stop teasing me like that, Internet.

No hoaxes in today's ACC links though.

After allowing Florida State to convert 11 of 15 third down tries last week, Miami’s defense is focused on getting off the field against Virginia Tech, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

Duke Johnson’s surgery to repair a broken ankle was a success, writes the Miami Herald.

Among a myriad of news and notes out of Blacksburg, cornerback Kyle Fuller says he’s getting close to 100 percent healthy for this week’s Coastal Division showdown against Miami, writes the Roanoke Times.

Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin has made downfield blocking into an art form, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.

Seminoles safety Terrence Brooks sat out practice again Tuesday after suffering a concussion against Miami. FSU’s deep secondary hasn’t missed a beat, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

With Michael Campanaro out, it’s open auditions for a new playmaker at Wake Forest, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

Emotions overwhelmed Bryn Renner as he spoke about his career at North Carolina coming to an end because of a shoulder injury, writes the Charlotte Observer.

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown is still looking to play his first full ACC game of the season, but he’s hopeful last week’s bye has helped, writes the Washington Post.

After an upset win over Virginia Tech, Boston College has its sights set on bowl eligibility, writes the Boston Herald.

Remember when Duke’s defense allowed 127 points in a three-game stretch to Georgia Tech, Pitt and Troy? The Blue Devils look like a different team now, and it’s based on a stingy defensive effort, writes the Associated Press.

Syracuse’s streak of 1,000-yard rushers could be coming to an end, writes the Troy Nunes blog. Prince-Tyson Gulley ranks fifth in the ACC (min. 50 rushes) in yards per carry (5.75) and Jerome Smith is 12th (5.06), but both would need to finish strong to crack 1,000.

DeAndre Smelter has been an ‘X-factor’ for Georgia Tech in his first year playing football, writes the Macon Telegraph.

With Demetrious Nicholson done for the year, Virginia turns to Drequan Hoskey to step up in a battered secondary, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Those national title hopes might have been dashed, but Clemson’s Tajh Boyd has no regrets about returning to school for his senior season, writes The State.

Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd has benefited from working with former NFL star Bobby Engram this season, writes the Post-Gazette.

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