Florida State Seminoles: Marquise Williams

ACC's lunchtime links

July, 21, 2014
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From Florida State’s veteran line to Clemson’s fearsome defensive front, the ACC projects to have some of the country’s best position groups this fall, while a few other contenders will enter 2014 with some major question marks in key areas. With that in mind, we’re looking at the ACC’s best units, a few more that might surprise in 2014 and the top teams with holes that could keep them from an ACC title.

Previous installments of this series can be found HERE.

Next up: The running game

Best of the best: Florida State

There's plenty of competition for the top spot, but we're giving the edge to FSU's revamped ground game in spite of the losses of Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. While the Seminoles said goodbye to two of their top runners, they return a senior-laden offensive line that has opened holes to the tune of 5.6 yards-per-carry last season, as well as a dynamic (if inexperienced) group of ball carriers. At the top of the depth chart, Karlos Williams tallied 730 yards and 11 TDs last season in a limited role, and his size/speed combination makes him as tough to bring down as any runner in the country. Behind him, Ryan Green and Mario Pender offer speedy alternatives, while true freshman Dalvin Cook oozes potential and could emerge as FSU's No. 2 option. Jimbo Fisher has made a point of distributing carries in recent years, so expect all four to see plenty of work.

Next up: Miami

It's easy enough to make a case for Georgia Tech (300 rush yards per game last year), Louisville (veteran offensive line and deep backfield) or Pitt (two 700-yard tailbacks returning), but we'll give the slight edge to Miami because there may be no more dynamic or productive runner in the conference than Duke Johnson. True, Johnson is coming off a severe ankle injury that cost him the final five games of 2013, but he's back and feeling good already, and he promises to be the foundation of the Canes' offense. With a healthy Johnson in the backfield last season, Miami averaged 5.4 yards per carry -- which would've been good for 13th nationally and third in the ACC.

Possible sleeper: North Carolina

Against FBS foes last season, North Carolina mustered a mere 148 yards per game on the ground -- good for 11th in the ACC. But that doesn't mean the ground game won't be a strength for the Tar Heels in 2014. In the early going, UNC mustered a meager 2.8 yards-per-carry and six TDs in its first seven games of the year (in which the Heels finished 2-5). After the calendar flipped to November, however, North Carolina's ground game flourished, averaging 5.1 yards-per-carry and scoring 13 times, while helping the Heels to a 5-1 finish. Now, T.J. Logan is back to lead a particularly deep corps of runners, and Marquise Williams is as good a threat to run as any QB in the league. If the offensive line can hold up, North Carolina's ground game should be vastly improved in 2014.

Potential problem: Virginia Tech

The Hokies' backfield was a disaster last season. Set aside the work of now-departed QB Logan Thomas, and the running backs tallied a mere 3.98 yards-per-carry last season and managed just 11 third-down conversions. Against FBS teams, Tech managed just 2.88 yards-per-carry, the ninth-worst mark in the nation. The eight teams that were worse had a combined record of 18-79. Now the Hokies add a first-year starter at quarterback, and the situation looks even more dire.
AthlonSports was the latest publication to release a preseason All-ACC team, joining Phil Steele from a week ago. We already broke down Steele's teams, but now that we have multiple forecasts to look at, it's worth checking out some trends and differences.

The one similarity that jumps out immediately is that North Carolina's Marquise Williams is Athlon's second-team quarterback, just like he was Steele's. As we said last week, this could very well turn out to be the case, but the fact that Williams remains engaged in a highly competitive quarterback race with Mitch Trubisky speaks to just how much uncertainty there is at the position throughout the ACC.

Duke's Anthony Boone is the third-team quarterback on both teams, while Athlon has Clemson's Cole Stoudt as its fourth-team quarterback. (Steele had Louisville's Will Gardner.)

Athlon does list Pitt's Tyler Boyd as a first-team receiver, along with Florida State's Rashad Greene. Boyd was a second-teamer on Steele's list, which featured Greene, Duke's Jamison Crowder and Louisville's DeVante Parker as first-teamers.

Athlon, however, listed just two receivers per team, and 26 total players per team (11 offense/11 defense/four special teams). Steele listed 28 total players per team (12/12/4).

Boston College's Andy Gallik gets the nod as Athlon's first-team center over Louisville's Jake Smith, who was a first-teamer on Steele's list. FSU's Bobby Hart gets the nod as one of Athlon's first-team tackles over Syracuse's Sean Hickey, who made Steele's first team.

Defensively, the biggest (and only real) difference comes at one of the safety spots, where Athlon has FSU's Jalen Ramsey as a first-teamer and Steele has him as a third-teamer. Duke safety Jeremy Cash made Steele's first team, as did teammate Kelby Brown at linebacker, where Steele had four players per team. (Athlon had three per team. Both Cash and Brown were second-teamers.)

Punter is the only difference on the first-team special teams squad, with Athlon picking Virginia Tech's A.J. Hughes and Steele taking UNC's Tommy Hibbard. Hibbard was on Athlon's second team, while Hughes was on Steele's third team.

Also of note: No Andrew Brown on Athlon's list. The five-star Virginia freshman was on Steele's fourth team at defensive tackle.
Phil Steele released his preseason All-ACC teams earlier this week, and it might have been noteworthy to some that the player he listed as his second-team quarterback — North Carolina’s Marquise Williams — isn’t currently assured of even keeping his starting job. That, of course, speaks to the quality of Williams’ competition (Mitch Trubisky has a little talent, too), but mostly to the lack of any established experience at the position around the ACC.

Of the ACC’s 14 teams, only Florida State and Virginia return quarterbacks who appeared in every one of their games last season — and Virginia's David Watford isn’t currently listed as the team’s starter this year.

None of this is a new story, of course, and we’ve already touched on what impact the turnover at quarterback might have this season around the league. Looking at last year’s records, the teams that returned quarterbacks saw an aggregate increase of nine wins, while teams with turnover at the position broke even.

Those victory totals only tell us so much, though. Florida State only increased its victory total by two with a new quarterback, but those were two pretty important wins. UNC’s victory total dipped by one game, but its returning quarterback wasn’t the one on the field when the Tar Heels were playing their best.

So we dug a little deeper into the numbers to see what impact, if any, a change at quarterback might have on the offense.

Looking just at 2013, there were five ACC teams that had the same starting quarterback in at least 75 percent of its games as it did the preceding year. Seven had changes at the position. The results were about what you might expect.



Overall, teams replacing a quarterback had a 1 percent dip in total offense and a 4 percent dip in yards per attempt, while the teams with returning experience improved in both areas.

It’s probably worth noting, too, that both Florida State and Maryland represent outliers in this discussion. Florida State had a new QB, but Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy. He’s a unique talent. Maryland, meanwhile, was using a linebacker at quarterback by the end of 2012, so change was inherently a good thing for the Terps. If we take those two teams out of the equation, the numbers change a bit: Teams undergoing change at QB had a 6 percent dip in total offense and a 9 percent decline in yards per attempt.

So, that settles it, right? Change at quarterback means a decline in offensive production, which is bad news for the ACC in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesFlorida State had a new quarterback last season, and the Seminoles certainly didn't take a step back with Jameis Winston.
Not exactly.

In 2012, the vast majority of the ACC (9 of 12 teams) returned their starting QBs from 2011, and while those teams did have a slight increase in offensive production (1.75 percent, compared to a 4 percent decline for the three teams with turnover), the actual passing performances told a different story. The nine teams returning QBs actually had a 3 percent dip in yards per attempt, while the teams with turnover (Maryland, Miami,Virginia) had a 6 percent increase.

Look at the numbers in 2011 for teams returning QBs, and the outcome is even more counter-intuitive. Five teams returned quarterbacks and had a 2.25 percent increase in yards per attempt and essentially broke even in total offense. The teams with turnover at QB, however, increased total offense by more than 3 percent and had a whopping 9.5 percent increase in yards per attempt from 2010.

In other words, in 2011 and 2012, change at quarterback didn’t make much of a difference. In fact, during the last three years collectively, teams that made a change at QB saw no discernible change in total offense and enjoyed a 2 percent increase in yards per attempt (better than the 0.67 percent increase for teams returning QBs).

So why did last year’s numbers paint such a scary picture?

The answer is probably that the returning quarterbacks in the league actually played a far smaller role in their respective offenses. Overall, the five teams returning QBs from 2012 had a whopping 15 percent decline in passing attempts per game, with Boston College being a prime example. Chase Rettig returned as QB, but BC’s attempts per game dipped from 39 in 2012 to 20 in 2013, while its yards per attempt jumped from 6.5 in 2012 to 7.5 last season.

In other words, the veteran quarterbacks probably had a little more help surrounding them (such as Andre Williams), while the young QBs were left to figure a lot out on their own (such as Pete Thomas).

As we look to 2014, there will no doubt be major question marks at QB for a lot of teams, but for many, there’s nowhere to go but up. And based on the numbers, there’s no reason a first-time starter can’t engineer those recoveries.
If you're a big college football fan (and if you're reading this, it is safe to assume that you are), then you probably get excited every summer for the release of Phil Steele's preseason magazine. Luckily for all of us, Steele released his preseason All-ACC teams on Wednesday, giving us an early look at who he thinks will stand out in the league in 2014.

There are, of course, the usual suspects on the first team -- Jameis Winston, Duke Johnson, Vic Beasley, et al. But the interesting wrinkles usually come further down the list. In this case, the second team presents plenty of surprises and room for debate, along with a looming uncertainty about the conference as it enters 2014.

North Carolina's Marquise Williams is the second-team quarterback, with Steele presumably seeing Williams building off his strong performance down the stretch last season with the Tar Heels. Williams might very well be that good, and he’ll likely need to be if UNC wants to make a Duke-like leap this year and win the Coastal Division. But Williams also exited the spring in a battle with Mitch Trubisky for his starting job, and there is no clear ending to that race in the immediate future.

Speaking of Duke, Anthony Boone is the third-team quarterback. Louisville's Will Gardner is the fourth-team QB, which might also sound like a stretch, but again underscores just how little experience returns at the quarterback position throughout the league this year.

The placing of Pitt's Tyler Boyd on the second-team might be eye-opening at first, but it is hard to argue against the first-team receivers: Florida State's Rashad Greene, Duke's Jamison Crowder and Louisville's DeVante Parker. That is a position with no shortage of star power in the league.

Elsewhere, Seminoles safety Jalen Ramsey is on the third team following an impressive freshman season with the national champions. His quick adjustment to the college game after arriving to Tallahassee as ESPN's No. 14 overall player in the nation suggests that he could find himself on the first team when all is said and done this season.

Also of note is Virginia prized five-star freshman defensive tackle Andrew Brown debuting on the fourth team.
Last weekend’s NFL draft in which 42 ACC players were selected was a reminder of how much talent was departing the conference. But just as Sammy Watkins, Aaron Donald and Kyle Fuller say goodbye, the focus turns to the players who’ll step into the spotlight in 2014.

With that in mind, here’s a quick look at the top returning players in the ACC this upcoming season, based on their stats from 2013. (Last year’s ACC ranking in parentheses.)

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsMiami tailback Duke Johnson rushed for 920 yards in 2013, despite missing five games due to injury.
PASSING YARDS
1. Jameis Winston, FSU - 4,057 (1st)
2. Anthony Boone, Duke - 2,260 (6th)
3. David Watford, Virginia - 2,202 (9th)

Of note: The turnover at the quarterback position has already gotten its share of press, but it’s almost impossible to overstate how green the QBs across the ACC will be in 2014. Of the 23 players who passed for at least 250 yards in 2013, only seven will be back in 2014. Watford, the third-leading returning QB, isn’t projected to start at Virginia, and Marquise Williams, who ranks fourth among returners, is locked in a battle for the starting job at North Carolina, too. Next up among definitive starters is Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt, who finished 14th in the league in passing last season.

RUSHING YARDS
1. Kevin Parks, Virginia - 1,031 (2nd)
2. Duke Johnson, Miami - 920 (5th)
3. James Conner, Pitt - 799 (8th)
4. Isaac Bennett, Pitt - 797 (9th)
5. Shad Thornton, NC State - 768 (11th)

Of note: Louisville’s Dominique Brown would actually rank third on this list after racking up 825 rushing yards last season, good for fourth in the AAC. Including Brown, the ACC returns 11 running backs this year who accounted for at least 500 yards on the ground in 2013, though Miami’s Dallas Crawford (558 yards) is currently working with the Hurricanes’ secondary. Parks returns after a 1,000-yard season. The last running backs to return following a 1,000-yard effort in the ACC were Gio Bernard and Andre Ellington in 2012. Both topped 1,000 again in their follow-up campaigns.

RECEIVING YARDS
1. Jamison Crowder, Duke - 1,360 (2nd)
2. Tyler Boyd, Pitt - 1,174 (3rd)
3. Rashad Greene, FSU - 1,128 (5th)
4. Quinshad Davis, UNC - 730 (13th)
5. Willie Byrn, Virginia Tech - 660 (14th)

Of note: Louisville’s DeVante Parker would rank fourth on this list. He had 885 yards last season, good for seventh in the AAC. Crowder is in position to reach 1,000 receiving yards for the third straight season and is 1,153 yards shy of breaking former teammate Conner Vernon’s ACC record. The Hokies have three of the top seven returning receivers in terms of yards.

TACKLES PER GAME
1. David Helton, Duke - 9.5 (1st)
2. Jeremy Cash, Duke - 8.6 (3rd)
3. Denzel Perryman, Miami - 8.3 (5th)
4. Kelby Brown, Duke - 8.1 (7th)
5. Ryan Janvion, Wake Forest - 7.9 (8th)

[+] EnlargeVic Beasley
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesClemson's Vic Beasley has 21 sacks in his career.
Of note: Duke’s front four took a big hit with the loss of three senior starters, but the back seven should be one of the most experienced and productive in the conference. Of the 25 ACC players with at least 50 solo tackles last season, 12 return this season.

INTERCEPTIONS
1. Ant Harris, Virginia - 8 (1st)
2. Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech - 6 (2nd)
3. Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech - 5 (3rd)

Of note: Eleven ACC players had at least four interceptions last season, and a whopping nine of them return in 2014, including sophomores Facyson and Fuller at Virginia Tech. Add to that list two more returners from Louisville in Charles Gaines (5 picks) and Terell Floyd (4 picks), and the young QBs in the ACC in 2014 are going to have a lot to worry about.

SACKS
1. Vic Beasley, Clemson - 13 (1st)
2. Eli Harold, Virginia - 8.5 (9th)
2. Norkeithus Otis, UNC - 8.5 (9th)
4. Luther Maddy, Virginia Tech - 6.5 (12th)
5. Adam Gostis, Georgia Tech - 5.5 (16th)

Of note: Louisville’s Lorenzo Mauldin (9.5 sacks) would be second on this list. And here’s a number that should have a lot of Clemson fans excited: Of the 32 players who finished with at least 10 tackles for loss last season, just 13 will be back in the ACC in 2014. Of those 13 returners, five play for the Tigers.
Scottie Montgomery returned to Duke last year from an NFL world where quarterbacks were never, ever hit in practice.

So when his quarterbacks started begging him to go live this spring, his first reaction was, ‘No way!’ He was in protection mode, the way he was as a Steelers assistant. But veterans Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette persisted, and he slowly relented -- only a few times, and with clear instructions to the defense.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston, Jimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Phil SearsFlorida State coach Jimbo Fisher had Jameis Winston go live last spring when he was dueling Jacob Coker for the starting job.
“My initial feel is, ‘Don't ever let anybody get touched, so I have to fight myself at times, because I want to protect these guys and these guys want to compete for jobs,” said Montgomery, the offensive coordinator.

His is a dilemma that many coaches across the league have faced this spring. Do you allow your quarterbacks to get hit in practice to help simulate game situations and foster competition, knowing you have increased their injury risk? Or do you never even broach the subject because the priority should always be to protect the quarterback?

Four ACC teams allowed their quarterbacks to go live at some point during spring practice, more than any other power-five league. Clemson did it for the first time under offensive coordinator Chad Morris, believing he would see more out of the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Early enrollee freshman Deshaun Watson ended up getting hurt and missing the spring game.

Florida State allowed its younger quarterbacks to go live this spring. Coach Jimbo Fisher said he did the same last year, when Jameis Winston was a redshirt freshman competing to win the starting job.

“They’ve got to be able to feel things around them and react,” Fisher said. “They get in a false security blanket sometimes.”

Does that cause him extra worry?

“It’s no different than when we run the running backs, and I get nervous in the scrimmages when the backs are running and get tackled,” Fisher said. “Our guys know if they’ve got a kill shot, not to. There’s a certain limit of how we practice with each other. You know those shots that everyone wants to have? We won’t take those on each other even if we’re in a live scrimmage because it’s not productive to the organization. Tough to me is when you’re eyeball to eyeball, not when a guy’s exposed and you can do that.”

The coaches are not the only ones who wrestle with the idea. NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett was not live this spring. But when he was competing for the starting job at Florida with Jeff Driskel back in 2012, both were allowed to go live early on in fall practice. The first day they were allowed to take hits, Driskel hurt his shoulder.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail/Mark CrammerClemson freshman Deshaun Watson was injured in practice and missed the spring game.
“There's a right time and wrong time for quarterbacks to be live,” Brissett said. “We haven't done live practices, but in the fall sometimes we will have a live scrimmage on a Saturday. It helps out with the game speed reps.”

For a running quarterback such as Brissett, that helps. Same for the Duke quarterbacks. Georgia Tech has its quarterbacks live during practice for that reason.

Some coaches believe going live helps separate the competition. But Clemson was the only school with an open quarterback competition to allow its quarterbacks to go live during scrimmage situations. North Carolina, for example, has Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky battling to win the starting job, but offensive coordinator Seth Littrell does not believe it is necessary to allow quarterbacks to get hit. “I’ve never done it,” he said.

Virginia Tech also is in the middle of an intense competition, but quarterbacks have been off limits so far this spring. Veteran Mark Leal would have no problem if the coaches changed their minds.

“Honestly, I'd like to be live,” he said. “I think the rest of the quarterbacks would, too, because it gives more of a game feel. If you're not live, sometimes the whistle gets blown early when you don't think you should have been sacked or the play gets messed up because when there's a rush around you, the first thing the coaches want to do is blow the whistle, rather than you continue to play or go through your reads and progressions and finish the play.”

Depth concerns often dictate what coaches do. Pitt only had two scholarship quarterbacks this spring, so there was no way they were going live. Virginia Tech only has three quarterbacks on the roster this spring.

Still, all the protections most coaches take are not enough to keep their quarterbacks injury-free. Miami quarterbacks were off limits this spring, but Ryan Williams tore his ACL during a scrimmage.

It was a noncontact injury.

ACC's lunchtime links

April, 8, 2014
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First prediction I've gotten right all tourney.

(*Target totals courtesy ESPN Stats & Info.)

Much has been made about the enormous turnover at quarterback in the ACC, where nine of the league’s 14 teams will feature a different starter in Week 1 of 2014 than at the conclusion of 2013.

The new arms throwing the football will be a major storyline for the spring, but the players on the other end of those passes will be much different this year, too. Eight of the top 12 receivers in the ACC last season are moving on, including likely first-round NFL draft picks Sammy Watkins, Eric Ebron and Kelvin Benjamin.

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPittsburgh's Tyler Boyd could be one of the ACC's top wideouts in 2014.
Combine the high turnover at quarterback with the loss of so many top receivers, and it’s fair to say the passing games in the ACC will look much different in 2014. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some impressive returning talent. Nine receivers who were targeted at least 70 times last season return.

The obvious standout is Jamison Crowder, who was targeted a whopping 174 times in 2013. Nationally, only Fresno State’s Davante Adams (180 targets) was thrown to more often, according to ESPN Stats & Info. It’s also worth noting that Fresno State had 203 more passing attempts than Duke did. Crowder was on the receiving end of 37 percent of Duke’s passing attempts last season, compared with just 27 percent for Adams. Among ACC receivers, only Boston College’s Alex Amidon accounted for a higher percentage of his team’s throws (41 percent). Given his contributions on special teams, too, there's a case to be made that, aside from Jameis Winston, no player in the ACC means more to his team than Crowder.

It’s worth noting, too, that Duke is one of the five ACC teams with the quarterback position already settled, with Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette both returning for 2014, giving the Blue Devils easily the most tested quarterback-receiver combo in the conference.

Beyond Duke’s established QB/WR combo, Florida State is in good hands with senior Rashad Greene returning for his senior season. In 2013, he was on the receiving end of 27 percent of Winston’s throws, and with Benjamin and Kenny Shaw both gone, Greene’s role figures to only get bigger in 2014.

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Believe it or not, the third-most tested combo in the conference is at Virginia, where QB David Watford returns along with receiver Darius Jennings, who was targeted 78 times last year. Of course, the Virginia passing game was far from effective for much of the season -- and Jennings only hauled in 49 percent of his targets with a paltry 4.3 yards/target average -- but the rapport Watford and Jennings were able to build throughout 2013 offers some hope for the Cavaliers’ offense.

In terms of pure explosiveness, North Carolina could have an interesting combination with Marquise Williams back at quarterback and emerging talent Quinshad Davis at receiver. Davis hauled in an impressive 67 percent of his targets and gained an average of 10.1 yards per target last season, including 10 touchdowns. Of course, he’ll need to prove he’s as effective without Ebron hogging so much of the attention from opposing defenses this year.

Similarly, the ACC will get its introduction to Louisville standout DeVante Parker in 2014. While Parker won't have the luxury of Teddy Bridgewater throwing to him, his numbers last season were immensely impressive. He averaged nearly 11 yards each time he was thrown to, and he hauled in two-thirds of his targets.

While Crowder and Greene represent the cream of the crop for receivers with returning quarterbacks, the player with perhaps the most upside of the group is Tyler Boyd. Pitt might be in search of a new starting quarterback to replace Tom Savage, but few first-year starters will have a weapon as reliable and explosive in the passing game as Pitt has in Boyd. As a true freshman in 2013, Boyd finished third in the conference in targets (behind only Crowder and Watkins), hauled in nearly 70 percent of his targets (tops among returning receivers with at least 70 targets) and his 10 catches of 25 yards or more is second only to Crowder among returning receivers in the conference.

But perhaps the most intriguing names on this list are the trio from Virginia Tech. The Hokies account for one-third of all the ACC’s returning receivers with at least 70 targets, meaning that while Frank Beamer works to find his new quarterback, he’ll have a veteran group of receivers to target. Of course, experience only matters if there’s talent to back it up and that’s the big question in Blacksburg.

Virginia Tech ranked 63rd nationally in passing offense last season, 68th in yards per attempt and 89th in QB rating. While Demitri Knowles, Willie Byrn and Joshua Stanford were all among the ACC’s most targeted receivers, they also hauled in just 56 percent of the balls thrown their way and averaged just 7.9 yards per target. They’ll need to be far more reliable in 2014 with a new QB throwing to them.

Did you know? ACC bowl games

December, 26, 2013
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Thanks to ESPN Stats & Info, the ACC office and sports information departments for these tidbits.
  • This marks the first time in the ACC's 61-year history that three ACC teams have ended the regular season with at least 10 wins (Florida State, Duke and Clemson).
  • Throughout the year, the ACC has had three different top-10 teams (Three teams in the top 10 for three weeks, two teams in the top 10 for all but two weeks.)
  • ACC student-athletes have combined to win as many national individual awards as the other Power 5 conferences combined.
  • The ACC is the first conference in history to sweep the Heisman, Doak Walker, Davey O’Brien, Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik, and Nagurski awards in the same year.
  • As of Dec. 18, the ACC ranked second nationally with a total of 97 selections to postseason All-America teams (Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, Football Writers Association of America, Walter Camp, Sporting News, USA Today, ESPN, CBS and Sports Illustrated.) The ACC’s 57 total first-team selections were also the second-most of any conference.
  • For the first time, the ACC boasted two of the top five vote recipients for the Heisman Trophy in Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Boston College running back Andre Williams. They were also among the five finalists for the Walter Camp Foundation National Player of the Year, with Winston receiving that honor.
  • Duke will try to do something it hasn’t done in 53 years: Win a bowl game. The Blue Devils haven’t won a bowl since the Cotton Bowl following the 1960 season. They’ll battle Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A bowl on Dec. 31 (8 ET, ESPN). It could be the final collegiate game for Johnny Manziel. The Aggies haven’t beaten a ranked team this season (0-4).
  • The AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec. 31, 12:30 ET on ESPN), features two of the best running backs in the nation in Boston College’s Williams and Arizona’s Ka'Deem Carey. Williams finished fourth in the Heisman voting, while Carey finished 10th. One big difference is the load each player has been forced to carry. Williams has accounted for 80 percent of the Eagles rushing yards this season, while Carey has some help in the running game and has only accounted for 54 percent of Arizona’s rushing total.
  • Pitt is appearing in a bowl for the sixth straight season, but this will be its first bowl game not named the BBVA Compass Bowl since 2009. The Panthers have won just two of their last seven bowl appearances. Bowling Green has lost its last three bowl appearances with its last win coming in the 2004 GMAC Bowl.
  • One of the keys to Maryland’s improvement this season has been health at the quarterback position. Last season four players took snaps at quarterback, including four starts by Shawn Petty, who started the season as a linebacker. C.J. Brown, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury, has thrown for over 2,000 yards and accounted for 23 touchdowns this season.
  • Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt finished the regular season with 426 rushing yards, fourth among ACC quarterbacks in 2013. According to the school's game notes, it's already the most by an Orange QB since Donovan McNabb in 1998 (510).
  • North Carolina’s redshirt-sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams, who grew up in Charlotte, leads a very young Tar Heel offense. 42 of their 50 touchdowns this season have come from freshmen or sophomores, including the last 26.
  • Miami receiver Allen Hurns needs just 19 more receiving yards to set the school single-season record. Hurns already is one of just four players in school history with a 1,000-yard receiving season. Hurns hasn’t found the end zone as frequently as one might expect, though. Only two ACC players have more receiving yards than Hurns this season, but nine players have more touchdown catches than Hurns’ six.
  • The last time Georgia Tech and Ole Miss met in football was exactly 42 years ago: the Dec. 30, 1971 Peach Bowl. Ole Miss won that game, 41-18, its only win in three all-time meetings vs Georgia Tech. A bit of a surprise that this is just the fourth meeting all-time, considering that both were conference opponents when Georgia Tech was in the SEC from 1933-63.
  • Virginia Tech is making its 21st straight bowl appearance, the longest active streak recognized by the NCAA (Florida State is making its 32nd straight bowl appearance this season but vacated the 2006 Emerald Bowl). Rivals Georgia and Georgia Tech are tied for the second-longest active streak with 17 straight appearances. The Hokies need a win to avoid posting consecutive five-loss seasons for the first time since 1990-92 (three straight). To put that streak into perspective, all other current members of the ACC have notched consecutive five-loss seasons since the Hokies joined the league in 2004.
  • Florida State can become only the third team since 1950 to win all of its games by at least 14 points. The last to do it was Utah in 2004. The other was national champion Nebraska in 1995. FSU’s Winston can become just the third QB since 1950 to go undefeated with a national championship and a Heisman Trophy all in the same season. The two to do it were Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010 and USC’s Matt Leinart in 2004.

ACC bowl predictions

December, 26, 2013
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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 Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
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Not much movement in the latest installment of the Power Rankings. As has been the case this season, there is a clear top and a clear bottom. The others can duke it out in the middle.

1. Florida State (12-0, 8-0; last week: No. 1). The Noles are the new No. 1 team in the nation after they completed their regular season unbeaten and Alabama lost. All that is left to secure a spot in the BCS title game is a win over Duke in the ACC championship game Saturday. This FSU team has been utterly dominant all season long, beating its opponents by an average of 42 points per game.

2. Clemson (10-2, 7-1; LW: No. 2). The same old problems plagued the Tigers in their fifth straight loss to rival South Carolina: turnovers. Six of them, to be exact, in a 31-17 loss. Though this team ends the regular season with 10 wins for just the fifth time in school history, losing to both Florida State and South Carolina has to be utterly disappointing for a group that went into the season with national championship aspirations.

3. Duke (10-2, 6-2; LW: No. 3). The history-making season continues. Duke beat in-state rival North Carolina 27-25 to post the first 10-win season in school history and win the Coastal Division outright. The challenge grows steeper now against Florida State in the ACC title game. Winning the Coastal is one thing. But now Duke will see how it measures up against the best team in the nation.

4. Virginia Tech (8-4, 5-3; LW: No. 4). It was not pretty, but Virginia Tech beat Virginia yet again to close the season on a high note. There will be plenty of "what could have beens" spoken among Hokies fans, considering some of the ugly losses that ended up costing them dearly. Still, this season was an improvement over last even if it didn't feel that way at times.

5. Miami (9-3, 5-3; LW: No. 5). Give the Hurricanes credit for finishing the season out the right way after a three-game losing streak threatened to derail them. Miami soundly beat Pittsburgh on the road and has won nine games for the first time since 2009. A win in the bowl game would give Miami at least 10 wins for the first time since going 11-2 in 2003. There is no doubt progress is being made.

6. Georgia Tech (7-5, 5-3; LW: No. 6). What a heartbreaking way to end the season for the Jackets, who blew a 20-0 lead on in-state rival Georgia and lost in double overtime. This team can take pride in its effort, though it is little consolation today. Still, Georgia Tech did beat Duke soundly in September. It could not get out of its own way in losses to Virginia Tech and Miami, and that ended up costing it a spot in Charlotte.

7. North Carolina (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 7). The Tar Heels saw their five-game winning streak come to an end in a loss to Duke, but that should not take away from what this team accomplished in the second half of the season. There is not much doubt this team is playing some of the best football in the ACC right now and has rising stars on its roster in Marquise Williams, Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, Quinshad Davis and T.J. Logan.

8. Syracuse (6-6, 4-4; LW: No. 11). The Orange could not have waited any longer to become bowl eligible, running out all but six seconds on the season before beating Boston College with a last-second scoring pass. Though this was not as successful a season as last season, give the Orange props for standing on the verge of making consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1998-99.

9. Boston College (7-5, 4-4; LW: No. 8). One week after winning a heart-stopper over Maryland, the Eagles lost a heart-stopper to Syracuse. Still, there is no way to look at this season as anything other than a rousing success. Boston College is going back to a bowl game and has instilled a toughness on this team that will be a signature as long as Steve Addazio is the coach.

10. Maryland (7-5, 3-5; LW: No. 10). The Terps closed out their final ACC season with a 41-21 win over NC State in another outstanding performance for quarterback C.J. Brown. Definite progress was made after two miserable losing seasons, but the Terps are headed into the unknown as they switch over to the Big Ten.

11. Pitt (6-6, 3-5; LW: No. 9). The Panthers closed the season 2-4 and are lucky to be bowl eligible given the way they have played for a majority of the season. Special teams did them in again in a 41-31 loss to Miami to end the year. Among the myriad issues this team dealt with, it was an inability to run the ball that probably vexed it most. Tom Savage was simply asked to do too much.

12. Wake Forest (4-8, 2-6; LW: No. 12). The Deacs closed another tough season with a heartbreaking loss to Vanderbilt. On the season, they lost four games by a touchdown or less. Wins in two of those would have gotten them to bowl eligibility again. Instead, coach Jim Grobe is facing another long offseason full of questions.

13. NC State (3-9, 0-8; LW: No. 13). Nobody anticipated the Wolfpack would go from a bowl team to one of the worst teams in the ACC under new coach Dave Doeren. But injuries, scheme changes on offense and defense and instability at quarterback sent this team spiraling. The Wolfpack lost eight of their nine games by double digits.

14. Virginia (2-10, 0-8; LW: No. 14). The Hoos completed their worst season since 1982 with a 10th straight loss to in-state rival Virginia Tech. Athletic director Craig Littlepage has given coach Mike London a vote of confidence headed into next season, but there cannot be any margin for error in 2014. London must win to save his job.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
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On a week in which Florida State and North Carolina scored 80, Duke tied its all-time record with nine wins, and Pitt and the Tar Heels gave the conference 10 bowl-eligible teams, there's plenty of love to go around. Here are our helmet stickers for Week 13.

Duke QB Anthony Boone: After falling behind 14-0 to Wake Forest, the Blue Devils stormed back with Boone running the show. He completed 24-of-29 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns with another seven carries for 57 yards on the ground. Two of Boone's TD passes landed in the hands of Jamison Crowder, who caught 10 passes for 121 yards in the game. It was win No. 9 for Duke, assuring the Blue Devils at least a share of the Coastal Division title. Another win next Saturday against UNC gives them a berth in the conference championship game.

North Carolina's offense: My how things have changed for the Tar Heels. Granted, Old Dominion didn't present much of an obstacle, but North Carolina sure looks to be clicking on all cylinders with its fifth straight win. Marquise Williams threw for 409 yards and five touchdowns and ran for another 60, continuing to shine following Bryn Renner's season-ending injury. T.J. Logan ran for 137 yards and three TDs, and Quinshad Davis and Ryan Switzer combined for 242 yards receiving and three touchdowns.

Boston College RB Andre Williams: Ho-hum, another 200-yard game for the nation's leading rusher. Williams' spot in the helmet stickers has become a weekly occurrence, and he was dominant once again in helping the Eagles to their seventh win. Williams rushed 32 times for 263 yards and two touchdowns, including a 72-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter that helped spark a late comeback. Williams also eclipsed 2,000 yards for the season -- the first FBS player to do so since UConn's Donald Brown in 2008.

Pitt DT Aaron Donald: A front-runner for the ACC's defensive player of the year award, Donald was the catalyst in getting Pitt bowl eligible with a 17-16 win over Syracuse. Donald had nine tackles -- eight solo -- including 3.5 for a loss. He had two quarterback hurries, and his blocked PAT proved the difference in the game. For the season, he has a national-best 26 tackles for loss.

Miami's defense: For the fourth straight game, the Hurricanes didn't look sharp offensively, but they managed a fairly easy win over Virginia thanks to a stellar defensive performance. Tracy Howard returned a pick for a score, David Gilbert rumbled 72 yards for a touchdown following a fumble recovery, and Miami's D finished with four takeaways in a 45-26 win.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 12

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
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Here is what we make of this past weekend in the ACC:

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
AP Photo/Phil SearsQuarterback Jameis Winston had another huge day in Florida State's win over Syracuse. He completed 19 of 21 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns.
1. Noles keep rolling. No. 2 Florida State's 59-3 win over Syracuse gave the Seminoles their eighth perfect ACC season. But how about some of these nuggets, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info: FSU is the first team to score 59 or more points and hold an opponent to three or fewer points in consecutive games since 1988, when FSU did it then, too. The Seminoles became the first team to rush for 200-plus yards on 20 rushes or fewer since Hawaii did it against Purdue in 2006. They became the first team to run the ACC table by winning each game by 10 or more points since FSU did it in 1994. And the Noles are the first team in the last 10 seasons with three conference wins by 55-plus points. They have scored at least 40 points in all 10 games, too, one shy of Texas' 11 games with 40 or more points in 2005.

2. Duke is for real, folks. Make that six in a row for the Blue Devils, now 4-2 in the ACC and in sole possession of first place of the Coastal Division. They ran over, around and through Miami in delivering the Hurricanes their third straight loss, as they reached the eight-win mark for the first time since 1994 and beat Miami for the first time since 1976, and just the second time ever. Duke has won consecutive games against ranked opponents for the first time since 1989. Hats off to David Cutcliffe & Co., who close at Wake Forest and at North Carolina, and may just be ranked when the polls are released later today.

3. BC, Maryland going bowling. Give credit to both schools for big performances Saturday. Andre Williams was his ridiculous self again, setting the ACC single-game and single-season rushing record as he went for 339 yards (1,810 on the season) as the Eagles closed out Senior Day with a 38-21 win over NC State. C.J. Brown, meanwhile, rushed for 122 yards and two scores, including the game-winning 3-yard rush as Maryland upset Virginia Tech in overtime. North Carolina edged a step closer to the postseason with a win over Pitt. The Panthers, meanwhile, play fellow five-win team Syracuse this Saturday, meaning at least one will become bowl eligible as well. NC State's postseason hopes, meanwhile, are officially over with its loss at BC.

4. UNC keeps rolling. Speaking of North Carolina ... what a turnaround for the folks in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels have won four in a row after racing out to a 27-3 lead versus Pittsburgh, blowing it, then hanging on for dear life as Ryan Switzer clinched the win with a 61-yard punt return for a score in the fourth quarter. Marquise Williams continued to impress stepping in for the injured Bryn Renner, as he completed 15 of 27 passes for 173 yards and added 79 rushing yards and two scores on 15 carries. The defense sacked Tom Savage seven times, and now all UNC needs to do is beat Old Dominion at home Saturday to clinch bowl eligibility.

5. Remember Clemson? BCS bowl executives probably should. The Tigers became the forgotten team after getting routed at home by Florida State. And they will probably need to win at rival South Carolina in the regular-season finale. But they are looking pretty good right now at 9-1, impressively routing Georgia Tech 55-31 on Thursday night behind Tajh Boyd's 340 passing yards, 43 rushing yards and five total touchdowns. Boyd broke Philip Rivers' ACC record for career touchdown passes (he now has 97) and is one 300-yard game shy of Rivers' ACC record (18) in that category, too.

ACC Saturday setup: Week 12

November, 16, 2013
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Here is one more look at what awaits us today in the ACC:

NC State (3-6, 0-6) at Boston College (5-4, 2-3), 12:30 ET, GamePlan/ESPN3. #NCSTvsBC

What's at stake: It's Senior Day for the Eagles, who not only can triple their win total from a season ago, but clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010. The Wolfpack will need to win out over these last three weeks to achieve that, but they can start by winning league game No. 1 under first-year coach Dave Doeren. They are off to their worst start in ACC play since 1959, when they also went 0-6. They still play East Carolina and Maryland, so who knows what could happen if they go into Alumni Stadium and escape with the victory?

Statistically speaking: Boston College is one of three teams (Georgia Tech and Duke) to score a touchdown on all its drives that had a goal-to-go situations this season (7-for-7).

Quotable: "Well, what means the world to us is our seniors really want to leave a legacy of bringing the program back. This is a great group of seniors. A group of guys that are totally bought in, totally committed to the program, to our staff, really playing some of their best football right now. This is very, very important to them. So I want to see that so badly for them. They want to leave that legacy." -- BC coach Steve Addazio on potential bowl eligibility

North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) at Pittsburgh (5-4, 2-3), 12:30 ET, GamePlan/ESPN3. #UNCvsPITT

What's at stake: The Tar Heels are going for their fourth straight win after a 1-5 start and it would put them in great position to get a bowl berth. They have turned the offense over to Marquise Williams since Bryn Renner's season ended with a shoulder injury. The new QB has not disappointed, as he accounted for touchdowns passing, running and receiving last week. Pitt hopes it turned a corner with its upset over Notre Dame last week. The Panthers can clinch bowl eligibility themselves with another win, which would make them 2-for-2 under coach Paul Chryst in reaching the postseason.

Statistically speaking: Despite this being the Panthers' first season in ACC play, they actually played the Tar Heels just four years ago, winning the Meineke Car Care Bowl by a 19-17 margin on a late field goal.

Quotable: "He's a one-man wrecking crew. The guy is all over the place. Paul and his staff have done a great job with him. They'll have him lined up at the left tackle. He's played at right tackle. He's played at the right end, left end. They move him all over the place. They put him in position to make plays. And the guy comes through. For a big guy like that he's quick as a cat now. He can move. He's like a skilled athlete but in a big body. And he's just got a knack and he plays hard. What a great player." -- UNC coach Larry Fedora on Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald

Maryland (5-4, 1-4) at Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2), 12:30 ET, GamePlan/ESPN3. #MDvsVT

What's at stake: More bowl-eligibility scenarios? Sure. The Terrapins have been in this position the last three weeks, but losses to Wake Forest, Clemson and Syracuse have kept them from clinching. It's Senior Day, meanwhile, for the Hokies, who will look to get a similar performance from Logan Thomas to last week's, and who will be using a place-kicker in Eric Kristensen who made the team in September tryouts. The Hokies need to continue winning and hope that Duke loses if they want to clinch the Coastal Division.

Statistically speaking: Virginia Tech is 30-5 in the ACC in the month of November since 2004, including 28-5 in ACC games.

Quotable: "You know, I'm proud of the football team and coaches. We had two tough losses. Both teams that beat us played great, but it was tough losses. Then going to Miami and trying to beat a team that I think is really, really good. They were ranked last week. To go in there and play as good a football game as we did when our backs were definitely against the wall, then to play the way we did, you know, it's just you have real pride in your football team that they came back like that. But now it's week to week, and we've got to come back and get ready to play this week. If we don't play well this week, Maryland is very capable, and what happened last week doesn't make very much difference at all." — Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer on bouncing back from a two-game losing streak

Syracuse (5-4, 3-2) at No. 2 Florida State (9-0, 7-0), ABC/ESPN2. #CUSEvsFSU

What's at stake: Yes, bowl eligibility factors in this game, too, this time for the Orange in Year 1 in the ACC and under coach Scott Shafer. He helped pull of an upset of similar proportions six years ago as the defensive coordinator at Stanford, which went into USC and came away with a win despite being 40-plus point underdogs. The Seminoles, meanwhile, look to close out ACC play in style. They have already won the Atlantic Division, but a victory today will clinch the program's eighth unbeaten ACC regular season since joining the league in 1992 (and its first since 2000). It will get FSU one step closer to the national title game.

Statistically speaking: Florida State's offense is leading the FBS in points per drive (3.75) and scoring percentage (60.2), defined as the percentage of drives that end in either a touchdown or a field goal. Among all FBS teams over the last 10 seasons, that scoring percentage is tied for the highest.

Quotable: "I think I always felt like stats are for losers. But your stats are better, so that's a good thing. But I think more than anything the physicality, I think they're playing top brand of defensive football. And tackling well. And we need to do that. More than anything, it's that physicality, that's probably the part that I'm most pleased with. They're playing with great attitude and effort and then finishing with tough, hard nosed, physical style tackling, and I think I've seen that from our kids really the whole season. But it's becoming more consistent the last couple of games." -- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer on his team's defensive turnaround in the last two weeks

No. 23 Miami (7-2, 3-2) at Duke (7-2, 3-2), ESPNU/WatchESPN. #MIAvsDUKE

What's at stake: Major Coastal Division implications, for one. If the Hurricanes can snap their two-game winning streak and come away with a win, they will need to win out and have someone beat Virginia Tech in order to win the division. As for the Blue Devils, they got some big help Thursday night from Clemson, which beat Georgia Tech, giving Duke complete control of its own destiny in the Coastal. Win out, and Duke gets its shot at the Seminoles in the ACC title game.

Statistically speaking: Duke snapped a 47-game losing streak against ranked opponents two games ago at Virginia Tech. The last time Duke won consecutive games against ranked opponents came in 1989 under Steve Spurrier.

Quotable: "I think it's huge. The thing that we've done is we've put ourselves in position to be playing in a big game in November, and we've done that two years in a row. You hope lessons learned and opportunities are coming your way that you take advantage of it. But we had a great home crowd a week ago with North Carolina State here, and we're certainly looking forward to the same with Miami coming to town." -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe on the stakes this weekend

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Florida State at Louisville Preview
Antonietta Collins and Heather Dinich preview the big ACC clash between No. 2 Florida State and No. 25 Louisville and what the playoff implications for Florida State and the ACC would be if the Seminoles lost.
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