FSU Seminoles: Logan Thomas
Now that the dust has settled from a prolonged coaching search and the departures of a few key juniors, the attention of Florida State fans will no doubt turn to what promises to be the dominant storyline from now until -- well, really, there's no end in sight.
For Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles, the next few months (at least) will be all about the quarterback, and in what might be both a blessing and a curse, there is no shortage of contenders for the job.
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Best case: Duke wins. Look, getting to a bowl game for the first time since 1994 was huge, but it has been even longer since the program has actually won a bowl game. A win against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl would give Duke its first bowl win since 1961, when Duke beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.
Worst case: Duke’s defense allows its fifth straight opponent more than 40 points, and the ACC Coach of the Year goes 6-7.
Best case: Quarterback Logan Thomas plays an interception-free game, the Hokies get their running game going, Virginia Tech beats Rutgers for its first win of the season against a Big East team, and coach Frank Beamer announces he will hire a new offensive coordinator.
Worst case: The Hokies’ offense continues to look as anemic as it has all season, the program suffers its first losing season since 1992, and Beamer decides not to make any changes to his staff after an 0-3 finish against Big East teams.
Best case: Quarterback Mike Glennon plays four quarters like he did the final drive against Florida State, and the Pack has something positive to build on heading into the offseason with first-year coach Dave Doeren.
Worst case: The Pack’s mediocre rushing defense has no answer for All-SEC running back Zac Stacy, interim coach Dana Bible loses his first game as a head coach, and the ACC takes another punch in the gut from the SEC.
Best case: Paul Johnson has a reason to celebrate. The Jackets coach has lost all four bowls he has coached with the program. He could win his first if Georgia Tech’s defense looks like it had a month to prepare for Matt Barkley, the offense controls the clock with sustained drives, and the team wins the turnover battle.
Worst case: The Jackets secondary gets burned repeatedly by USC All-American receiver Marqise Lee, Johnson drops to 0-5 in bowl games, and Georgia Tech decides to follow Maryland to the Big Ten.
Best case: ACC 1, SEC 0. Clemson beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl would do wonders for both the program and the ACC. The offensive line wins the battle up front and keeps LSU at bay in time for quarterback Tajh Boyd to work his magic.
Worst case: The Tigers lose the game and their offensive coordinator and their quarterback. Chad Morris goes to Texas Tech, Boyd leaves early for the NFL draft, and receiver DeAndre Hopkins follows.
Best case: Florida State cruises, quarterback EJ Manuel looks like he did against Clemson -- not Florida -- and the defense stifles highly touted quarterback Jordan Lynch.
Worst case: The Noles lose to Northern Illinois. Nuff said. Well, that and Jimbo Fisher's entire staff leaves for the SEC.
When fans perused the schedule before the season began, it was the Thursday night showdown against Virginia Tech most often circled as the key to Florida State's fortunes. As the season developed, however, the Hokies slumped, and with each passing week, that road trip to Blacksburg, Va., in mid-November felt less and less significant.
Florida State went into the game with still faint hopes of a national title and was cruising toward a conference title. Virginia Tech's season was already on life support, and pride and a bowl appearance were the last vestiges of inspiration. Still, the Hokies showed plenty of fight.
FSU battled to a narrow lead at the half then took what seemed to be a commanding 20-10 lead on a 10-yard touchdown throw from EJ Manuel to Greg Dent midway through the third quarter. Then the wheels came off.
The running game never could get going, and the Seminoles finished with a historically bad minus-15 yards on the ground. The offensive line was a mess, and Manuel was sacked five times. Dent and Rashad Greene carried the load for the receiving corps.
A Logan Thomas touchdown, a brutally ugly safety on a Devonta Freeman run and a Tech field goal quickly turned the tide, and with 2:13 left to play in the game, the Hokies clung to a two-point lead.
It was disaster for Florida State. To lose again as a heavy favorite after the offense disappeared in the second half would've been a huge blow, and for all of Manuel's accomplishments during his five years in Tallahassee, leading a game-winning drive of this magnitude wasn't on his resume.
That was about to change.
The drive started badly -- a penalty, an incompletion, and a short, 6-yard pass. Manuel's third-down pass to Kenny Shaw left FSU a yard short of a first down, and given the struggles of the running game, it might as well have been a mile.
Still, Jimbo Fisher trusted his sophomore tailback, and the bruising James Wilder Jr. plowed forward -- first held up at the line of scrimmage, then fighting through for a 7-yard gain and a first down.
"I lost yards two of the four times I ran the ball, but we got that 1 yard when we needed it," Wilder said.
A 13-yard completion to Dent moved FSU into range for a long field goal try, but Greene wasn't interested in risking a kick. With 40 seconds to play, he hauled in a short slant from Manuel, dodged defenders and raced 39 yards for the touchdown.
In a season in which he earned nearly as much criticism as acclaim, this was a highlight for Manuel, who finished the day with 326 yards and three TDs, and the final drive -- which was followed by a game-securing interception by Tyler Hunter -- kept Florida State's ACC championship dreams alive.
"I've always watched great quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning, all those guys have done it time and time again," Manuel said of the late-game drive. "When you're actually in those shoes making those plays, and you see a receiver make a catch and go down the field and score the winning touchdown, there is no more gratifying feeling as a quarterback. It was a huge, huge momentous event."
The same could be true for junior Bjoern Werner, too, should he decide to enter the NFL draft at year's end, but he's choosing not to look at it that way.
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesAn injury at the end of last season kept CB Xavier Rhodes at FSU another year, but now the emotional player faces a huge decision.
Werner is one of a handful of Florida State underclassmen who could forgo a final season with the Seminoles in favor of an NFL career, which could make Saturday's game all the more significant if they let the weight of the decision sink in.
So far, however, they all appear to be following Werner's lead.
"I never put that pressure on me," said safety Lamarcus Joyner, whose draft future is perhaps the most uncertain of any of FSU's potential early departures. "That's something that has to be evaluated definitely at the end of the season."
Werner figures to be a sure first-round pick if he departs early, and cornerback Xavier Rhodes could be as well.
A year ago, as a redshirt sophomore, Rhodes weighed the decision, too, but an injury during FSU's bowl game made the choice easy. This time around, he's acutely aware that the finality of a season and a career can sneak up on a player -- whether or not he's thinking of heading to the NFL.
"Every game to me is emotional," Rhodes said. "You've got to cherish every second of it. That's how I go into every game."
Rhodes, Werner, Joyner and linebacker Christian Jones could all choose to leave at year's end, but that's still a decision that doesn't need to be made for a few weeks.
In the interim, there's a game with Florida -- a team none of the four juniors have lost to as active players. Keeping that streak alive means a lot more at this point than a career that may soon be ending.
The running game rebounded, the pass rush dominated, and FSU jumped out to a quick 27-0 lead after dominating the first half. While it didn't require fans to sweat out the finish the way last week's win over Virginia Tech did, there were still some notable performances.
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In the end, do you blame players for flubbing big plays that put FSU in a late hole? Or do you give them credit for bailing the Seminoles out in the final two minutes to ensure a 28-22 win? There's no easy answer, but here's our best crack at breaking it down anyway.
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Don’t even insinuate it.
Because in the end, it really didn’t matter.
Fisher, quarterback EJ Manuel, and probably everyone else within the program left Lane Stadium on Thursday night deservedly ecstatic and validated by their 28-22 come-from-behind victory against a gritty Virginia Tech team that refused to quit. It was an important win not only for the ACC, but also for the Seminoles (9-1, 6-1 ACC), who are now just one win away from clinching the Atlantic Division title for the second time under Fisher. Florida State reached 9-1 for the first time since the 2000 team played for a national championship.
Much like the stunning 17-16 loss at NC State on Oct. 6, it was another down-to-the-wire thriller, but this time, Florida State avoided another disaster on the road in the final minute of the game.
Bob Donnan/US Presswire"I'm just so happy for our team, ecstatic," Florida State QB EJ Manuel, a Virginia native, said.
Florida State proved it can win on the road outside of the state of Florida. This was arguably FSU's toughest road trip of the year, but the Noles made it more difficult than it had to be.
An astounding minus-15 yards rushing by the No. 14 rushing offense in the country? No problem -- the Noles came up with enough big pass plays.
Two turnovers? Small potatoes. The Hokies (4-6, 2-4 ACC) couldn’t convert them into points.
Five sacks? No sweat. Manuel delivered in the clutch.
Only 3-of-14 on third downs? James Wilder Jr.’s fourth-down conversion on the game-winning drive was bigger.
“People might look and see we didn’t execute on a lot of things, and we have to go back and fix those things, but that being said, Virginia Tech, historically, they’ve always played well on Thursday nights, especially at home,” FSU kicker Dustin Hopkins said. “I expect more from our guys, and I know everybody else in the locker room does, it’s not just me saying that, but at the same time it does feel good to come out of Lane Stadium with a win, because it’s not easy.”
Even against a Virginia Tech team in the midst of its worst season in 20 years. The Hokies have lost three straight and five of their past six.
Yet somehow they looked like the preseason Coastal Division favorites many expected them to be this season.
That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, considering the Hokies are 11-3 in Thursday night games, and Lane Stadium is one of the most unforgiving road venues in all of college football. Virginia Tech's defense played its best game of the season.
“I told our teammates you’re not going to see the same team you see on film,” Manuel said. “Virginia Tech is always going to be up and ready to play, especially us. And me being from Virginia, I know those guys, they want to beat me. I’m just so happy for our team, ecstatic."
With 40 seconds remaining, FSU receiver Rashad Greene took what probably should have been an 8-yard catch and instead sprinted 39 yards downfield to give the Noles a 28-22 lead. It was a situation and a scenario the team has practiced numerous times, in its two-minute drills at practice every Thursday.
“When I told them what we were going to call and do, they said, ‘That’s just like Thursday,’” Fisher said. “I said, ‘You’re right, here we go.’”
The defense, which had underperformed for much of the game (Tech had 385 total yards and 5.5 yards per play), came up with its most crucial stop when Tyler Hunter intercepted Logan Thomas with 27 seconds remaining.
Virginia Tech’s defense blitzed over and over and over again, leaving the Hokies’ defensive backs on an island, and eventually, Florida State exposed that. In a live-by-the-sword, die-by-the-sword gamble, defensive coordinator Bud Foster went with man coverage on the Seminoles’ final touchdown drive. For the majority of the night, though, the Hokies had the better defense.
Until the final minute.
The Noles have now beaten the top three teams from the Coastal Division most likely to earn a spot in the ACC championship game: Miami, Duke and Virginia Tech.
They’re not quite ready, though, to take the crown.
“We’ve got to go win a game at Maryland,” Fisher said. “I don’t ever feel like we’ve got anything wrapped up. I’ve been in this long enough to know that. No matter how you play somebody, a second time makes a difference. I just hope we get that opportunity.”
With the win over Virginia Tech, FSU got one step closer to it.
BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Here's a quick recap of No. 10 Florida State's bizarre come-from-behind 28-22 win over Virginia Tech in Lane Stadium:
It was over when: Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas threw an interception on the Hokies' final possession of the game, squandering a last chance at a comeback. FSU safety Tyler Hunter grabbed the interception with 27 seconds remaining. The pass was intended for Corey Fuller. Thomas squatted down in dispair and FSU took over at its own 33.
Game ball goes to: FSU receiver Rashad Greene. He had six catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns. His 76 receiving yards in the first half was his best effort of the season. His second-quarter touchdown was his first since the Clemson game.
Stat of the game: FSU was held to minus-15 yards rushing. Manuel was sacked five times, the most given up by the Seminoles this season.
Unsung hero of the game: Virginia Tech's defense. The Hokies played lights out for a majority of the game and were suffocating against the run.
What it means: The Noles maintained their grasp on the lead in the Atlantic Division race, further closing the door on Clemson, and they proved they can win outside of the state of Florida.
If FSU wins, only battered Maryland sits between the Seminoles and the ACC championship game. If the Hokies win, it means a small bit of redemption during a lost season and a chance to avoid the ignominy of finishing at .500 or worse.
"It's a hard environment," EJ Manuel said of Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium. "Any team that goes in there and gets a win, you've earned it. We'd be fools to think we're not going to get their best game of the year. They may not have played as good as they had in years past, but I don't think we're going to see the same team we've seen on film the past couple weeks. We're going to see a great team, extreme energy, guys flying around. I know we're going to get their 'A' game."
With that in mind, here are a few key matchups and numbers to watch as Florida State and Virginia Tech get ready to face off.
NOLES TO WATCH
James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Florida State would love to control the ground game, and Wilder and Freeman have shown they're more than capable of doing that, even without injured starter Chris Thompson. Where they're more likely to be tested, however, is in the passing game, where Virginia Tech loves to bring the blitz on defense. How well the two young running backs can recognize and pick up blitzes will likely play a big role in how well FSU can throw the ball on the Hokies' D.
The Hokies are 4-0 at home this season, and Logan Thomas and Co. still provide an imposing obstacle for the Seminoles, who haven't always looked particularly sharp on the road.
So, which Virginia Tech team are we likely to see during this week's game? To find out, we checked in with Mike Barber, the Hokies beat writer for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
NoleNation: After last week's loss to Miami, Virginia Tech's chances for a division title were dashed. What's the attitude among the players now? Have the losses started to take their toll or is Florida State viewed as a chance to salvage the season?
Mike Barber: Virginia Tech’s players had maintained a high level of confidence and good morale in the face of the early season losses, always pointing to the fact that they were still in the hunt for the Coastal title. Thursday’s loss to Miami ended that and ended the team’s streak of eight straight years with 10 wins. That hit the players, especially QB Logan Thomas, very hard. The talk has shifted to clichés about playing for pride, and extending the 19-year bowl streak, humble goals for a team that opened as the favorite to win the Coastal. But the players do say an upset over FSU would take a lot of the sting out of this ugly season.
NN: Virginia Tech has played much better at home than on the road this season, but the level of competition -- Georgia Tech, Autin Peay, Bowling Green and Duke -- hasn't been as tough either. Has there been real differences in how the Hokies have played at Lane Stadium thus far?
Barber: I base the difference on the opponents. Tech, until now, has had an easy home schedule. But veteran players, like senior linebacker Bruce Taylor, said the team lacks the intensity it has at home when it plays on the road. Obviously a Thursday night crowd at Lane Stadium for the FSU game will provide a great atmosphere, and Tech is 11-3 at home on ESPN’s Thursday night football. Not sure that makes up the talent gap.
NN: The Hokies' up-and-down performance this year has been mirrored largely by Logan Thomas. Why has he struggled so badly at times, and what does he hope to do differently against FSU?
Barber: Tech’s coaches have stood behind Logan Thomas, praising his toughness, competitiveness and effort. But it’s hard to argue that he’s executed well. Against Miami his miscues came out the worst possible times, throwing a red zone interception in the first quarter, fumbling a third-and-1 snap in the third and missing a fourth-and-1 throw in the fourth quarter. But the truth is, Thomas has missed throws like that all season long. He is playing behind a new line, with new WRs and new RBs, but his accuracy just seems off.
NN: The Virginia Tech pass rush figured to be among the best in the ACC entering the season, but the performance has been mediocre thus far. What's the plan for attacking EJ Manuel this week? Will the Hokies bring the blitz or do their best to keep Manuel in the pocket?
Barber: After a really slow start, Virginia Tech’s defensive line has played well the past three weeks. Against Duke and Clemson, it recorded five sacks in each game. Against Miami it had no sacks but felt like it got great pressure on the Hurricanes’ QB and that was a big reason it held Miami to 1-for-12 on third down conversions. FSU has so many offensive weapons, Tech will likely try to get by with rushing three or four defenders and dropping seven or eight in coverage.
NN: What are the two or three keys for Virginia Tech this week if they want to pull the upset?
Barber: Virginia Tech is a big-time underdog Thursday night against FSU. To pull the upset, it needs to get off to a fast start, something it’s struggled with this year. It’s important because that will keep the crowd into the game and make Lane an actual advantage. But with the way the team has performed this year, it’s also important to give the players reason to believe. X’s and O’s wise, Tech has to be able to control the ball through the running game, to eat some clock. It also needs to score touchdowns in the red zone. Defensively, it can’t give up big plays. A few easy scores to the Seminoles and this game could get ugly in a hurry.
Great info from Mike. If you're interested in reading more of his Virginia Tech coverage, you can find it HERE or follow him on Twitter at @RTD_MikeBarber.
Still, there's plenty on the line for both teams Thursday as the Hokies try to salvage some respect and Jimbo Fisher's crew closes in on an ACC championship game berth.
So as we get set for the penultimate conference game of the season for FSU, here are five key storylines to watch.
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When Florida State travels to Virginia Tech on Thursday night, it will be a homecoming of sorts for quarterback EJ Manuel, who grew up in Virginia Beach, Va., and was recruited by the Hokies.
Manuel and Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, a native of Lynchburg, Va., have gone in different directions this season, despite similar beginnings. Manuel ranks second nationally in passing efficiency (174.03) having completed 70 percent of his passes this season for 2,315 yards. Thomas has plummeted from a first-round draft hopeful to off the boards after throwing 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions this season.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said he recruited Manuel, but understood his decision to go to Florida State, especially considering former quarterback Tyrod Taylor already had a firm grasp on the position at the time.
“We like the one we got from the state of Virginia,” Beamer said. “I think Logan is an excellent quarterback.”
Thomas has just taken the brunt of the criticism this year for the Hokies’ struggling offense, which is No. 7 in the ACC at 27.1 points per game. Beamer said he spoke with Thomas following the Hokies’ 30-12 loss to Miami last week and continued to encourage him. Thomas threw two interceptions against the Canes, but he also ran for 124 yards and a touchdown and threw for 199 yards.
“My thing with him is, I appreciate his toughness very much,” Beamer said. “I don’t want him to put too much load on himself. I think the quarterback is always going to be a key point. … It’s just one of those things where you’ve just got to play your game. He is certainly playing good enough. I really admire how he has played. He wants to win so badly and it hurts him when he doesn’t, and that’s the kind of guy you appreciate.”
For Manuel, this will be his first game in his home state since high school. Despite Virginia Tech fans' displeasure with their own offense, Manuel said he is expecting their venom to come his way in Lane Stadium.
"It's going to be crazy," Manuel said, according to Seminoles.com. "They are going to hate us, I know that. They are going to hate me being that I am from Virginia and I came here. I already know what to expect."
Unfortunately, so does Thomas.
1. Top-10 clash. By now, you probably already know the matchup between No. 10 Clemson and No. 4 Florida State is only the ninth meeting featuring two ACC teams ranked in the top 10. So yes, it is a big game, one of the biggest games in league history, even. I have been asked this question several times during the week: What is the best possible outcome for the ACC? Clearly one team has to win and one has to lose. But in the best-case scenario, this game is competitive, thrilling and pretty clean, and goes down to the wire. To me, that validates having two teams ranked in the top 10 and keeps the loser somewhere in the top-15 range.
2. Offense vs. defense. This is your classic matchup of terrific offense against terrific defense. So which unit gets the edge? We find out Saturday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Florida State is one of two teams that has yet to allow a touchdown this season (TCU is the other) and has forced 22 three-and-outs in 42 opponent drives. Clemson, meanwhile, is averaging 39.7 points per game this season. The Tigers have 17 plays that gained 25 yards or more this season, tied for the most in the nation.
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswireAndre Ellington and Clemson can give the ACC a lift by knocking off SEC power LSU.
4. Bounce-back week. Now on to some of the other matchups. This could be called "bounce-back week in the ACC" for a few of the other teams in the league: Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Virginia -- teams that all lost last week. I left out Maryland because the Terps play No. 8 West Virginia and face the biggest challenge of all these teams. Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina all are expected to win. Virginia? The Hoos are a double-digit underdog at No. 17 TCU.
5. Logan Thomas. Speaking of Virginia Tech, which Logan Thomas will we see Saturday against Bowling Green? Thomas played poorly against Pitt last week, throwing three interceptions. The mistakes were absolute killers, as Pitt used the turnovers to pull the upset. One of the big problems for Thomas and the Hokies has been an inability to run the ball. That, combined with ineffective quarterback play, has left this team stagnant on offense. We'll see what the Hokies try to do to jump-start both Thomas and the run game this weekend.
6. Can Georgia Tech beat Miami? The Hurricanes have won three straight in the series, but all signs are pointing to Georgia Tech this season. Last week against Virginia, the Jackets scored seven rushing touchdowns -- tied for the most under coach Paul Johnson. This is a pretty confident group on offense going into the game. The bigger question for Tech is how to slow down Miami freshman sensation Duke Johnson, who scored three different ways against Bethune-Cookman. Tech has not faced anybody nearly as good as Johnson in its first three games this season, and the Jackets have had problems slowing down some of the speed and athleticism Miami has presented in the past.
7. Does Maryland have a chance? There is always a chance in any game, but the Terps are going to have their work cut out for them. I got to watch Geno Smith play last year when West Virginia was in the Big East, and the only time I saw him flustered was when he faced heavy pressure. Maryland does have a good defense that can apply pressure, but there are two problems: 1. Smith is better this season and 2. He gets rid of the ball so fast. Maryland's only chance in this game is with a studly defensive performance, but I just don't think the Terps have the players to slow down Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.
8. Does Virginia have a chance? Late news Wednesday night -- TCU will be without running back Waymon James for the rest of the season. The Horned Frogs have depth concerns at that position, but the bigger problem for Virginia will be slowing down Casey Pachall and the passing game. Virginia is so green in the secondary, the advantage might go in TCU's favor.
9. Will the real North Carolina please stand up? Are the Tar Heels the team that trailed Louisville 36-7 at halftime last week or the one that outscored the Cardinals 27-3 in the second half and nearly won? Coach Larry Fedora sure would love to find out against East Carolina on Saturday. This is a game that should have plenty of juice in-state. East Carolina sold out its ticket allotment for the game.
10. Could be a good day for the state of North Carolina. Wake Forest plays Army, NC State plays the Citadel and Duke plays Memphis in games almost everybody expects to go the ACC's way. The hope for these teams is that there is no look-ahead factor with conference games set for next week: Duke travels to play Wake, and NC State will be at Miami.
No. 1: Quarterbacks. What was once a weakness throughout the ACC should be a position of strength in 2012. There are legitimate Heisman contenders, and players who could collectively or individually raise the profile of the entire league. For the first time in conference history, the ACC had five quarterbacks top 3,000 passing yards in 2011, and all five return -- also a new high for the conference. A total of six quarterbacks return who have thrown for 3,000 or more yards in a season as Duke’s Sean Renfree threw for 3,131 yards as a sophomore in 2010.
Only Miami, which loses starter Jacory Harris, and Maryland, which lost C.J. Brown to a season-ending injury in pre-season camp, does not return its starting signal-caller. But the Hurricanes will start junior Stephen Morris (Miami) who has started five games (4 in 2010, one in 2011).
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd played his way into the Heisman conversation a year ago after the Tigers’ 8-0 start, and he could do it again, but so could Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas and Florida State’s EJ Manuel. Don’t forget about the Tobacco Road duo of UNC starter Bryn Renner and NC State’s Mike Glennon. Wake's Tanner Price, Virginia's Michael Rocco, BC's Chase Rettig and Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington also all return. There is a wealth of talent at the position and it should be one of the best seasons in recent memory for quarterback play in the ACC.
No. 2: A national title contender
No. 3 The Discover Orange Bowl
No. 4: Labor Day
No. 5: The winningest active coach in college football
No. 6: The ACC championship game
No. 7: Florida State's defensive line
No. 8: Thursday night games
No. 9: Atlanta
No. 10: NC State's secondary
No. 11: SEC rivalry games
No. 12: Virginia Tech's 10-game winning streak
No. 13: Florida State vs. Clemson
No. 14: North Carolina vs. NC State
No. 15: Unofficial state championships
No. 16: Talented true freshmen
No. 17: Unpredictability
No. 18: ACC vs. Notre Dame
No. 19: Clemson's offensive playmakers
No. 20: The ACC's record chasers
No. 21: Larry Fedora
No. 22: One of the nation's top rushing offenses
No. 23: The last season before expansion
No. 24: Brent Venables
No. 25: A fresh start at Maryland
1. NC State’s secondary vs. Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray. The Pack will be without starting cornerback C.J. Wilson, who has an “eligibility issue,” according to coach Tom O’Brien, but All-American David Amerson returns to help the Pack against Bray. Despite missing five games last season with a fractured thumb, Bray threw for 1,983 yards and 17 touchdowns.
2. Clemson in the trenches. Much of the focus leading up to the Auburn game has been on how Clemson will survive without suspended leading receiver Sammy Watkins, but more important is how Clemson will fare up front, on both the offensive and defensive lines. Depth on the offensive line remains a concern, and overall, Clemson had to replace six starters up front from last season.
3. True freshmen in College Park and Chestnut Hill. Maryland and Miami both will be depending heavily on true freshmen in their season openers. The Terps will have true freshman Perry Hills starting at quarterback, are likely to use two freshman running backs and will use receiver Stefon Diggs in several roles. Miami has more than a dozen freshmen in its two-deep.
AP Photo/John BazemoreGeorgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu gets another chance to bring down Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas this weekend.
5. Jeremiah Attaochu vs. Logan Thomas, Part 2. In this game last season, Attaochu was about to complete a third-down sack of Thomas but couldn’t bring the lumberjack down. Attaochu let his frustration and adrenaline get the better of him, and took a swing at Thomas, drawing a personal foul. The two have been friendly since, but getting pressure on Thomas will be key in this game.
6. Florida State’s offensive line. If there is one reason not to snooze on the Murray State game, this is it. The Seminoles showed a lot of progress up front this offseason, but they must continue it if FSU is going to live up to the expectations this season.
7. ACC vs. SEC. The ACC hasn't had a winning record against the SEC since it went 5-4 in 2003. The ACC could help itself change that this weekend with a 2-0 start against the SEC with victories by NC State and Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff.
8. North Carolina’s tempo. We finally get to see the “Fed Spread” in Chapel Hill, as UNC will unveil its new up-tempo spread offense under first-year coach Larry Fedora. How many more plays will the Tar Heels be able to run, and how well will they execute them? Bottom line: How fast can this team score? Time of possession could be deceiving.
9. Duke’s backups. The Blue Devils will be missing about a dozen injured scholarship players against Florida International, including receiver Blair Holliday, tight end Braxton Deaver, defensive tackle Jamal Bruce, safety Jordon Byas and linebacker Kelby Brown.
10. Virginia’s revamped secondary. UVa has no seniors in its secondary after having three senior starters last season. Only three other schools (Florida State, LSU and North Texas) have a senior-less secondary. More specifically, there are no upper-classmen at the cornerback position. Sophomore Demetrious Nicholson is now the elder statesman of the group.