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ACC weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
11:00
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Here is one last look back at the week that was in the ACC.

The good: Perhaps Clemson teams of the past would have faltered when adversity struck early Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. But the defensive line stood up, and the offense made plays when it needed to, turning a close contest into a more comfortable 26-14 win, allowing the Tigers to remain the ACC's most likely national title contender.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty ImagesThe Clemson defense played well in the win over North Carolina State.
The bad: Pitt's defense avoids this distinction only because Duke's was worse. The Panthers escaped Durham, N.C., with a 58-55 win Saturday for their first ACC victory. The Blue Devils surrendered 598 yards of offense and did not force a single turnover, while committing four themselves. Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Sunday that he had never been a part of any game like it before.

The ugly: Virginia Tech beat Marshall 29-21 in three overtimes to get to 3-1. The first two overtimes featured no scores. The game had five total turnovers. Marshall committed 11 penalties. Oh, and both kickers combined to go 0-for-5 on field goal attempts, with the Hokies' Ethan Keyserling going 0-for-3 while replacing Cody Journell, who was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. The one bright spot was Derrick Hopkins coming oh-so-close to a walk-off fat guy touchdown after a Rakeem Cato fumble in overtime No. 2.

The wake me when it's over: The fourth quarter of Miami's 77-7 win over Savannah State was shortened to 12 minutes, as mutually agreed upon by both coaches. What more needs to be said about this matchup?

The wake me when it's over, Parts 2 and 3: In case one FCS beatdown wasn't enough for you, Virginia beat VMI 49-0 and Florida State beat Bethune-Cookman 54-6. For those keeping count, that's a combined 180-13 margin for the three ACC squads against FCS foes this past weekend.

The rebound: Wake Forest needed a win in the worst way, and the Demon Deacons came through Saturday at Army. Josh Harris had two second-half touchdowns and Nikita Whitlock notched 14 tackles, giving the Deacs a 25-11 win before they prepare to head to Clemson this week.

The statement: Nice little stories don't force six turnovers and beat West Virginia 37-0. They don't hold the Mountaineers to six first downs and 175 total yards of offense. And they don't start 4-0. It may be time to take Maryland seriously after its rout of WVU, as the Terrapins are two wins shy of their previous two-year total under Randy Edsall, who refused to call the win a signature one but is surely pleased with his team's start this season.

The what-could-have-been: Hindsight is 20/20. We don't know how ready Terrel Hunt would have been to start for Syracuse in the season opener. And Wagner and Tulane are not as good as Penn State and Northwestern. That said, the loss to the Nittany Lions was a winnable game. And Hunt's two starts after the Orange's first two losses with Drew Allen under center have been great, as he completed 16 of 21 passes Saturday against the Green Wave for 181 yards and four touchdowns. He added 39 yards and another score on the ground, and he did not turn the ball over. Hunt, as Anish Shroff pointed out, has the highest Total QBR rating in the country, though he has not played enough yet to qualify for the top spot.

The stand: Georgia Tech improved to 2-0 in the conference with a 28-20 home win over North Carolina, and it did it with its defense. The Yellow Jackets trailed by 13 twice in the first half. But they held the Tar Heels without a point over the game's final 39-plus minutes and held UNC to just 319 total yards of offense.

ACC predictions: Week 1

August, 29, 2013
8/29/13
9:05
AM ET
The most anticipated post of Week 1 has finally arrived: Prediction time! Heather and I both got out our crystal balls and looked into the future. Here is what each of us sees for opening week in the ACC:

Thursday

North Carolina at No. 6 South Carolina, 6 p.m., ESPN. #UNCvsSC. The headliner in this game is Jadeveon Clowney, for obvious reasons. If North Carolina still had its offensive line from a year ago, I would like its chances in this game more. But with two redshirt freshmen starting on the offensive line and a new starting running back, the Tar Heels have major questions at the two strongest positions on the team in 2012. Defensively, North Carolina is thin at linebacker, so that is a concern, along with replacing Sylvester Williams up front. Bryn Renner will be able to keep North Carolina in the game, but South Carolina will ultimately win because it is stronger on the offensive and defensive lines.

AA picks: South Carolina 34, North Carolina 21

HD picks: South Carolina 24, North Carolina 21

Presbyterian at Wake Forest, 6:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PREvsWAKE. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe goes into the season needing four victories to become the all-time winningest coach in school history. After this game, that number should shrink to three. Presbyterian won only two games last season, so I am not sure how much of a challenge a bad FCS team will present. Still, a few things to keep an eye on: the Wake Forest running game -- both Josh Harris and the offensive line. How much more will Tanner Price be used in running situations? Wake has a big game in Week 2 against BC, so Grobe is going to want to see what he can build on.

AA picks: Wake Forest 50, Presbyterian 3

HD picks: Wake Forest 45, Presbyterian 10

Friday

FAU at Miami, 8 p.m., ESPNU. #FAUvsMIA. The Hurricanes open the season without a resolution from the NCAA. Shocking, right? But that should not be a distraction. The bigger distraction could be the "look-ahead factor," with Miami playing rival Florida the following week. FAU has a long way to go if it wants to compete with Miami. Simply put, this won't be much of a test for the Hurricanes. The talent gap is too wide. Coach Al Golden just has to make sure his team remains focused on FAU.

AA picks: Miami 45, FAU 10

HD picks: Miami 42, FAU 17

Saturday

Elon at Georgia Tech, noon, ESPN3. #ELONvsGT. This is the schools' first meeting in football. It is not much of a matchup, either. Elon only won three games last year, so the Jackets should not have many problems in this game. They do have some injuries at a few spots, but with a bye the following week, Georgia Tech should be much healthier for its Sept. 14 game at Duke. It will be good to see how Vad Lee plays, what type of backs rotation Paul Johnson uses and how Ted Roof's new defense looks.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 55, Elon 3

HD picks: Georgia Tech 55, Elon 0

Villanova at Boston College, noon, ESPNews. #VILLvsBC. Coach Steve Addazio is pretty familiar with Villanova. When he was head coach at Temple in 2011 and 2012, the Owls opened the season against Villanova and won both games easily. This will be a good early test for the Eagles with Addazio in charge. First priority is to see how much better the offensive line and running game do. Second priority is to see more physicality from both sides of the ball. Both will be important, with the league opener against Wake Forest the following week.

AA picks: Boston College 35, Villanova 13

HD picks: Boston College 35, Villanova 17

FIU at Maryland (12:30 p.m., GamePlan/ESPN3. #FIUvsMD. Maryland has a very favorable nonconference schedule to open the season and kicks things off against an FIU team that took a big step back in 2012. The Panthers have a new head coach and only eight returning starters, to boot. Maryland, meanwhile, has a healthy C.J. Brown ready to open the season and the best player on the field in Stefon Diggs. Three keys to watch for the Terps: 1. How does the retooled offensive line hold up? 2. Will the running game be better? 3. How does the retooled defense with six new starters fare?

AA picks: Maryland 33, FIU 10

HD picks: Maryland 38, FIU 21

Louisiana Tech at NC State, 12:30 p.m., GamePlan/ESPN3. #LATECHvsNCST. The Dave Doeren era begins against one of the better teams from outside the power conferences a year ago. Louisiana Tech has a new coach in Skip Holtz and a first-year starting quarterback, but it also returns 1,000-yard rusher Kenneth Dixon and defensive end IK Enemkpali, a first-team WAC selection a year ago. NC State has not named a starting quarterback yet, and running back Shadrach Thornton is suspended for this one. Plus, the Wolfpack will have new offensive and defensive schemes and return only 11 starters. I expect for it to take some time to work out the kinks. Louisiana Tech upset Virginia a year ago, so this is not a team to overlook. This will be a good first test for Doeren.

AA picks: NC State 35, Louisiana Tech 24

HD picks: NC State 42, Louisiana Tech 7

Syracuse vs. Penn State, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #CUSEvsPSU. Neither team plans on naming a starting quarterback going into this one, so the big unknown is who will be under center when the game kicks off. What is known is that Syracuse should have a powerful running game going into the season with 1,000-yard rusher Jerome Smith returning, along with Prince-Tyson Gulley. There are definite questions for the Orange not only at quarterback, but at receiver, offensive tackle and along the defensive line. But I like what coach Scott Shafer has preached so far. His team is going to be hard-nosed and physical, and I believe it will be able to eke out a very close win.

AA picks: Syracuse 24, Penn State 21

HD picks: Penn State 31, Syracuse 21

BYU at Virginia, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #BYUvsUVA. There is no doubt the Cougars go into the game with a stout defense, led by outstanding linebacker Kyle Van Noy. But I am going with the Hoos in this game for a few reasons. First, they are at home and should have an advantage with BYU traveling from the Mountain time zone. Second, I think they will be a much more sound team on offense and defense. David Watford's mobility should help against the Cougars' D. Third, BYU has not been as good on offense in recently. If the Hoos can establish the run the way they did in 2011 and be more aggressive on D, they win. One more note: In his career as a head coach, Mike London has won all five of his openers. This will be his first as UVa coach against an FBS team.

AA picks: Virginia 21, BYU 20

HD picks: BYU 28, Virginia 21

NC Central at Duke, 4 p.m., ESPN3. #NCCUvsDUKE. The Blue Devils should have a relatively easy time against NC Central, the way they did last season. What they want to see is how Anthony Boone plays in his first game as starting quarterback and what types of strides the defense has made since last season. Both are going to be big keys for Duke if it wants to get back to a bowl game.

AA picks: Duke 48, NC Central 13

HD picks: Duke 48, NC Central 10

No. 1 Alabama vs. Virginia Tech, 5:30 p.m., ESPN. #BAMAvsVT. A few months ago, I thought the Hokies might have a fighting chance in this game. But I just don't think they have the personnel to do so now that game week has arrived. Given the uncertainty on the offensive line, at running back and in the secondary, it is going to be tough sledding for Virginia Tech to score more than two touchdowns against one of the best defenses in America. If Virginia Tech finds a way to win, it will be because it was able to establish the run, control the clock and pressure AJ McCarron into mistakes. Not out of the question. But it appears improbable at this point.

AA picks: Alabama 31, Virginia Tech 13

HD picks: Alabama 45, Virginia Tech 20

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson, 8 p.m., ABC. #UGAvsCLEM. The game of the year, or at least the game of the week, has finally arrived after months and months of buildup. We finally get to see whether the Tigers can continue the momentum they established in the bowl win over LSU last season. Georgia has a veteran quarterback and the best rushing duo in the country. How Clemson handles Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall is the biggest key for an improving defense. But this is why Clemson wins the game: Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and a veteran offensive line have the upper hand over a defense that only returns three starters, including just one up front.

AA picks: Clemson 35, Georgia 31

HD picks: Clemson 38, Georgia 35

Monday

No. 11 Florida State at Pitt, 8 p.m., ESPN. #FSUvsPITT. A big opening week concludes with a huge game for both teams. Pitt begins its first season in the ACC with a marquee opponent at home, while Florida State begins its quest for another ACC title with a freshman starting at quarterback. Heather put Florida State on preseason upset watch last month, but it's hard for me to see the Panthers pulling the upset for two reasons: 1. They are banged-up at running back and have no depth at the position. 2. Florida State has a big-time advantage on the offensive and defensive lines. Pitt will give Florida State all it can handle, but the talent disparity is too wide for the Panthers to overcome in the opener.

AA picks: Florida State 27, Pitt 17

HD picks: Florida State 31, Pitt 21

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August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
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I have a dream.

Most to prove in the ACC

August, 28, 2013
8/28/13
10:00
AM ET
Heading into the season, everyone has something to prove -- some more than others, of course. Here’s a look at which coaches, players and position groups have the most to prove in the ACC heading into Week 1:

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsQB Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech offense will face a stiff test from Alabama in Week 1.
1. Virginia Tech’s offense. Hands down, no other group in the conference is facing more doubt, especially going up against Alabama’s defense in the season opener. The Hokies were No. 81 in the country in scoring offense last year at 25.08 points per game. Quarterback Logan Thomas returns and has made strides under first-year coordinator Scot Loeffler, but questions remain with a young supporting cast.

2. Clemson’s secondary. This is one group that has remained a concern for coach Dabo Swinney through the summer, and rightfully so, especially with Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray coming to town on Saturday. Only Duke (29) and Maryland (24) gave up more passing touchdowns in the league last season than Clemson (23).

3. Miami defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio. The Canes’ defense was one of the worst in the country in 2012, ranking No. 116 in total defense and No. 82 in scoring defense. And ranking No. 113 in the country in sacks was well below Miami’s standards. With all four starters returning on the defensive line and such high hopes for the Canes this fall, the pressure to show major improvement is on.

4. Florida State’s staff: Despite the loss of 11 players to the NFL draft, Florida State still abounds with talent, but there are six new assistants on staff tasked with developing it. All of these hires will eventually be a reflection on coach Jimbo Fisher. The Noles will start 2013 with a new defensive coordinator in Jeremy Pruitt, new running backs coach, new quarterbacks coach, new tight ends coach and recruiting coordinator, new defensive ends coach and a new linebackers coach.

5. UNC’s offensive line: Two redshirt freshmen will be in the lineup when the Tar Heels open on Thursday night against South Carolina, which will have arguably the best defensive line in the SEC. While James Hurst has received plenty of preseason hype, he’s going to need some help, especially with so much inexperience around him. How UNC fares without Jonathan Cooper will help determine how it will do without Giovani Bernard, too.

6. Wake Forest running back Josh Harris: He has been plagued by injuries his whole career, and his durability has become a question both inside the program and out. Harris also struggled academically but received a waiver from the NCAA so he is eligible to play. The Deacs could use a big season from Harris to get their running game going.

7. Pitt’s running backs: It went downhill when Rushel Shell decided to transfer. Now, the lead candidate to replace him, Isaac Bennett, has spent most of the summer with an injured knee. Pitt is missing its top two rushers from last fall -- and now the next two in line are question marks heading into the season. The situation is in limbo as the Panthers get set to make their ACC debut against Florida State on Monday, as freshman James Conner was also injured. Malcolm Crockett, who had 12 carries last year, could be the solution.

8. Duke’s defense: This has been the Blue Devils’ Achilles' heel, and it has to improve if Duke is to make back-to-back bowl appearances. It’s a veteran group, and last year was the second season in the 4-2-5 scheme. Still, Duke ranked No. 107 in the country in scoring defense in 2012, No. 105 in total defense and No. 101 in rushing defense. The only way to go is up.

9. Virginia coach Mike London: One year after being named the ACC’s Coach of the Year and taking the team to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, London led the Cavaliers to a 4-8 finish last fall. London made sweeping changes to his staff, including the hires of new coordinators. There have been some critics who have questioned whether the program is still heading in the right direction, but those within the program insist it is. Now is the time to prove it.

10. Maryland coach Randy Edsall: He’s won a total of six games in the past two seasons, and this fall, he has healthy quarterbacks to work with and more playmakers on offense, including one of the best in the country in receiver Stefon Diggs. Maryland also has a favorable schedule -- much more forgiving than the one it'll face next season as members of the Big Ten. There’s no reason Maryland fans shouldn't expect at least six wins.

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August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
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August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
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Happy Monday, folks. Get your week started with some ACC reading.

Grading the Game: FSU 52, Wake Forest 0 

September, 16, 2012
9/16/12
1:40
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Through the first two games, grades had to be scaled down a tad because the opponents weren't very good.

This week? Well, it's tough to say. The final score -- a 52-0 FSU win -- hardly indicates Wake Forest was much of a challenge either. On the other hand, there's a good case to be made that the Demon Deacons are still the fifth-best team FSU will face this year, so how easy could it have been?

In the end, there were a few causes for concern Saturday, mostly in the passing game, but it was such a complete all-around performance, with a dominant day from the running game, the defense and on special teams, that it's easy to understand why so many fans walked out of Doak Campbell believing they'd finally gotten an answer to the question: Is this the year Florida State is back?

Wake Forest, FSU lines will be tested

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
9:00
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TALLAHASEE, Fla. -- It's a familiar refrain when Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe talks about his offensive line. He's working around injuries, mixing and matching players at new positions, getting regular work for young linemen short on experience.

It sounds an awful lot like the problems FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has faced for much of the past year.

"Our offensive line is in flux," Grobe said, echoing a sentiment that had defined FSU's line until the start of this season.

In fact, a year ago no team in the ACC allowed more sacks than Florida State. Second on the list was Wake Forest.

Both teams have managed to turn things around a bit in 2012. The new-look Seminoles line has yet to allow a sack, while Wake has allowed just two. But plenty of questions remain.

(Read full post)

NoleNation Q&A: Previewing Wake Forest

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
9:00
AM ET
It's finally time for ACC games to get started, and Florida State's first conference adversary has been a thorn in its side in recent years.

To get the behind-the-scenes insight on Wake Forest and what it will take for the Demon Deacons to topple FSU for the fifth time in seven years, we caught up with Bob Sutton, who covers Wake for the Burlington Times-News. Here's what he had to say:

NoleNation: Wake Forest is a heavy underdog, and the Deacons have barely escaped in their first two games. But they've had a lot of success against FSU in recent years. What's the confidence level like for them heading into this game?

(Read full post)

The Big Board: Dominance against the run

August, 16, 2012
8/16/12
10:07
AM ET
It came during the low point of Florida State's season in 2011, rock bottom for all parties concerned.

Wake Forest running back Josh Harris carried just 13 times in a win over FSU, racking up a whopping 136 yards on the ground, including a stellar 57-yard run.

While the Seminoles' five turnovers in that game proved their undoing, Harris' big day on the ground might have been more noteworthy. He was the only player to rush for more than 100 yards against the FSU defense all season.

Florida State rebounded following the loss to Wake, and only Miami managed to top the 100-yard mark on the ground as a team against the Noles the rest of the season. After holding Notre Dame to just 2.7 yards per carry in their bowl game, the Seminoles finished up the 2011 season ranked No. 2 in the country in rush defense.

(Read full post)

Looking forward to real, live football, NoleNation takes a run through Florida State’s 2012 schedule, going game-by-game to find the best storylines and matchups of the upcoming season.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Saturday, Sept. 15: Noon, Doak Campbell Stadium

2011 record: 6-7 (5-3 ACC). Wake Forest opened 4-1 last year, with an overtime loss to Syracuse in Week 1 as the only blemish on its early record. But the Demon Deacons dropped six of their final eight games, including another fourth-quarter collapse to eventual conference champion Clemson.

(Read full post)

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