Florida State Seminoles: Pete Thomas

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.
Setting up spring in the ACC Atlantic.

Boston College

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Big shoes to fill: Steve Addazio helped BC make huge strides in 2013, but the task of keeping the momentum going gets much harder without star running back and Heisman finalist Andre Williams, who rushed for an NCAA-best 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns. Tyler Rouse and Myles Willis will attempt to fill the vacancy this spring, and both have potential. Willis averaged nearly 6 yards per carry as Williams’ primary backup last year. The real intrigue might wait until fall, however, when four freshmen running backs arrive on campus.
  • Murphy makes the move: It’s an open competition at quarterback after Chase Rettig’s departure, but there’s no question the most intriguing player in the race is Florida transfer Tyler Murphy. The fifth-year senior worked with Addazio at Florida, and he’ll open the spring competing with redshirt freshman James Walsh and early enrollee Darius Wade. That’s a deep enough bench that BC didn’t worry about moving Josh Bordner, last year’s backup, to tight end. With both of last year’s starting tackles gone, too, Murphy’s experience could be even more important in determining the outcome of the QB battle.
  • Restocking the LBs: Even at its low points in recent years, Boston College managed to churn out plenty of talented linebackers, but the position gets a massive overhaul this year. First-team All-ACC star Kevin Pierre-Louis (108 tackles in 2013) is gone, as is Steele Divitto (112 tackles). That leaves junior Steven Daniels (88 tackles, 5 sacks) as the lone returning starter. Josh Keyes adds some experience, but it’ll be a group in transition this spring.
Clemson

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Replacing Boyd: The talk of Clemson’s spring camp will no doubt surround the quarterbacks, as senior Cole Stoudt, sophomore Chad Kelly and early enrollee Deshaun Watson vie for the job. Stoudt’s experience makes him the early favorite, but it’s Watson, a dual-threat QB with immense talent, who could steal the show. Coach Dabo Swinney has already lauded Watson as perhaps the most talented quarterback Clemson has signed, so all eyes will be on the freshman to see if he can back up all that hype with a strong spring.
  • Skill-position shuffling: If the QB battle is the headliner, there are plenty of significant sideshows on offense this spring. Clemson waved goodbye to receivers Sammy Watkins (1,464 yards, 12 TDs) and Martavis Bryant (828 yards, 7 TDs) and tailback Roderick McDowell (1,025 yards, 5 TDs). That means a massive overhaul on offense, where there’s no clear-cut bell cow at running back (Zac Brooks and D.J. Howard return as potential options) and the receiving corps will be looking for some new top targets.
  • Dominance up front: On offense for Clemson, there’s plenty of concern for what the Tigers lost. On defense, however, the excitement is all about what they’re bringing back. Clemson’s defensive line, in particular, could be one of the nation’s best. When All-American Vic Beasley announced his return for his senior season, the Tigers knew they could have something special. Add sophomore lineman Shaq Lawson and senior Stephone Anthony at linebacker and Clemson has all the makings of a dominant pass rush.
Florida State

Spring start: March 19

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The running backs: After leading FSU in rushing three straight years, Devonta Freeman is gone. So, too, is James Wilder Jr. But the Seminoles enter spring with a quartet of intriguing options to replace their departed stars, led by Karlos Williams (730 yards, 11 TDs in 2013) and Dalvin Cook (No. 21 on the 2013 ESPN300). Mario Pender, who missed last year with academic issues, also figures to be in the mix.
  • The defensive front: There are a wealth of question marks here, both in terms of personnel and scheme. With Timmy Jernigan, Telvin Smith and Christian Jones gone, there are plenty of jobs up for grabs. The development of Mario Edwards Jr., Eddie Goldman and Terrance Smith will be key, but with Charles Kelly taking over the defense, it’s also still a bit unclear how much the scheme will deviate from what Jeremy Pruitt ran with so much success in 2013.
  • Jameis Winston’s swing: A year ago, the big question was who would win the QB battle. Now, Winston’s got a Heisman Trophy and will be a favorite to win it again in 2014. So the intrigue surrounding the FSU star QB is more on the baseball field, where once again, he’ll be splitting time this spring. Perhaps the bigger question is how the rest of the QB depth chart shakes out, with Sean Maguire the elder statesman and John Franklin III looking to make his move.
Louisville

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:
  • Bobby’s back: After a seven-year hiatus that included an abrupt departure from the Atlanta Falcons and a damaging scandal at Arkansas, Bobby Petrino is back in charge at Louisville insisting he’s a changed man. Fans will be watching closely to see if he has changed his stripes away from the field, but also whether he can rekindle the same offensive fireworks he delivered in his first stint with the Cardinals.
  • Replacing Bridgewater: It’s an open QB battle, and for Petrino, it’s among the first chances he’ll have to see the players vying to replace departed star Teddy Bridgewater in action. Sophomore Will Gardner is perhaps the favorite, but he has just 12 career pass attempts. Redshirt freshman Kyle Bolin is close behind, while Reggie Bonnafon is set to arrive in the fall.
  • New look on D: Louisville finished the 2013 season ranked second nationally in scoring defense, trailing only national champion Florida State. But this spring, things will look a bit different for the Cardinals, as Todd Grantham takes over as the new defensive coordinator after being lured from Georgia. Grantham figures to bring a 3-4 scheme to Louisville, which will certainly shake things up a bit. Defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin missing the spring with a shoulder injury only clouds the situation further.
NC State

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Brissett takes the reins: The sting of last year’s winless ACC season was barely in the rearview mirror before coach Dave Doeren named Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett his new starting quarterback. Brissett spent last year on the sideline, but apparently Doeren saw enough during practice to comfortably wave goodbye to Pete Thomas, who announced his transfer. There will be ample spotlight on Brissett this spring as he tries to revive the underperforming NC State passing game.
  • The new faces: If 2013 was about cleaning house, this spring begins the far more difficult project of rebuilding. For NC State, that means plenty of new faces, including a whopping seven early enrollees headlined by safety Germain Pratt. While there are ample holes for Doeren to fill in Year 2, these incoming freshmen could certainly push for starting jobs and bring an influx of depth that the Wolfpack sorely missed last year.
  • Shoring up the lines: NC State’s 2014 signing class included 11 offensive and defensive linemen, and that’s just the start of the overhaul at the line of scrimmage. Last season, the Wolfpack allowed the second most sacks in the ACC (35) on offense while its defensive front recorded the fewest sacks in the conference (20). That’s a formula for disaster, and Doeren understands NC State must get much better in the trenches. Brissett’s arrival at QB could help, but the bottom line is NC State needs to see improvement on both sides of the line, and it needs to start this spring.
Syracuse

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Hunt’s next step: 2013 was a roller coaster season for Terrel Hunt. He lost the QB battle in fall camp, stepped in as starter after two weeks and was dominant, struggled badly through the midsection of the season, then closed strong with back-to-back come-from-behind wins. Now that he has experience, it will be interesting this spring to see how much he’s progressed. The talent is there, and spring practice should give Hunt a chance to refine it a bit more.
  • The defensive front: Syracuse finished its first ACC season ranked fourth in rushing defense and third in sacks despite myriad personnel issues entering the year, but more questions remain as the Orange look toward 2014. With star lineman Jay Bromley and veteran linebacker Marquis Spruill gone, the Orange are looking to fill sizable holes. Robert Welsh figures to be the anchor of the Syracuse pass rush, and the Orange could benefit from the return of Donnie Simmons, who missed 2013 with a knee injury.
  • Secondary concerns: Syracuse got a chance to learn what life was like without top cover corner Keon Lyn after the senior fractured his kneecap late last year, but while Brandon Reddish did an admirable job as his replacement, a whole new set of questions crops up in the secondary this spring. Syracuse figures to have openings at both corner and safety, and while Julian Whigham, Darius Kelly and Ritchy Desir offer options, there’s a lot to be decided on the practice field this spring.
Wake Forest

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Clawson’s early impact: It’s been 14 years since Wake Forest opened a spring camp with someone other than Jim Grobe calling the shots, so there’s no question this will be an intriguing few weeks in Winston-Salem. Dave Clawson takes over after leading Bowling Green to a MAC championship, and he inherits a major rebuilding job. First up for the coach will likely be creating an offensive identity -- something Grobe couldn’t do in 2013.
  • Identifying some offense: If 2013 was an offensive slog for Wake Forest, 2014 threatens to be much, much worse. As bad as things got at times last year, the Deacons at least had veterans to rely on. This season, Wake’s leading passer (Tanner Price), rusher (Josh Harris), receiver (Michael Campanaro) and top tight end (Spencer Bishop) are all gone. On the plus side, plenty of younger players saw action in 2013. The job this spring is to figure out who can take a big step forward entering the 2014 campaign.
  • The defensive scheme: Wake appears to be moving away from the 3-4 that was a hallmark of recent seasons, as new coordinator Mike Elko tries to maximize the talent remaining on the roster. Without veteran lineman Nikita Whitlock, Wake’s defensive front will have a far different look in 2014, and this spring will largely be about Elko identifying playmakers and tweaking his system to fit their skill sets.
1. Back to football on Michael Sam for a moment. Even as SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Missouri defensive end is projected as a middle-round pick because he hasn’t shown the flexibility or the lateral movement that NFL scouts want at that position. From what I am told of his work at the Senior Bowl, he had trouble changing direction. Sam’s strengths: good hands, which are critical to his demonstrated ability to get off blocks.

2. What a year the California Golden Bears have had: a new coach and a new coaching staff, a 1-11 record, with the victory coming against an FCS team, an average losing margin of 28 points in the Pac-12, a revamped coaching staff, massive debt, dwindling crowds, and all of that pales in comparison to the death of defensive end Ted Agu after he collapsed during conditioning on Friday. It simply has to start getting better.

3. The graduate-and-transfer rule that Jacob Coker (Florida State to Alabama) and Max Wittek (USC to …?) are using is eight years old, and it seems to me that football coaches are finally accepting it. I like what North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren said when graduate quarterback Pete Thomas decided to transfer. “I have really enjoyed coaching him and want him to be successful as a player and in life. Going forward I will do anything I can to help him through his transition as a transfer.” Here’s hoping Thomas has as much success as the last Wolfpack quarterback to use the rule: Russell Wilson.

ACC predictions: Week 13

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
9:00
AM ET
Hard to believe that only two weeks remain in the regular season. Andrea is clinging to a one-game lead on Heather in the overall predictions standings at 71-20, after they each went 4-2 last week. Neither saw Maryland coming into Blacksburg, Va., and upsetting Virginia Tech. Bet we were not alone there.

On to the picks!

OLD DOMINION (8-3) at NORTH CAROLINA (5-5), noon, ESPN3. #ODUvsUNC. The Tar Heels are going for their fifth straight win and bowl eligibility against a team that is 0-2 against ACC competition already this year. Old Dominion has put up some points this season, but the Tar Heels' D has been vastly improved in this recent winning streak and will be able to shut the Monarchs down. With another punt return for score, Ryan Switzer would tie the ACC single-season record.

AA picks: North Carolina 40, Old Dominion 17

HD's pick: North Carolina 44, Old Dominion 24

DUKE (8-2, 4-2) at WAKE FOREST (4-6, 2-5), noon, ESPN2. #DUKEvsWF. Before winning last season, Duke had lost 12 straight games to the Deacs. But the Blue Devils today are the superior program, with better athletes all the way around. They have successfully used two quarterbacks all season, and their defense is filled with young talent and playmakers at linebacker. Duke is 3-0 on the road and should pick up another win against an offensively challenged Deacs team still trying to find some answers with Michael Campanaro out.

AA picks: Duke 35, Wake Forest 20

HD's pick: Duke 24, Wake Forest 21

CITADEL (5-6) at No. 7 CLEMSON (9-1), noon, ESPN3. #CITvsCLEM. It's senior day at Clemson, giving the Tigers the opportunity to honor Tajh Boyd and his fellow seniors. The question is just how much Boyd will play after bruising his collarbone last week, especially with a big game looming next week against South Carolina. Coach Dabo Swinney says he prefers to have an FCS opponent in this slot, giving the Tigers ample time to prepare for their in-state nemesis.

AA picks: Clemson 56, The Citadel 3

HD's pick: Clemson 45, The Citadel 10

VIRGINIA (2-8, 0-6) at MIAMI (7-3, 3-3), noon, ESPNU. #UVAvsMIA. Miami's issues against UVa are common knowledge, so this game sets up to be closer than what some might anticipate. Plus, the Hurricanes have lost three straight after a 7-0 start and have seen their defense drop off considerably. Virginia does not scream offensive juggernaut, but neither did Virginia Tech and the Hokies racked up 42 points in a win two weeks ago. The Hoos have a solid back in Kevin Parks, No. 3 in the ACC in rushing, and a good tight end in Jake McGee, who will make some plays, but ultimately, Stephen Morris and the Miami offense will make a few more plays to win.

AA picks: Miami 28, Virginia 27

HD's pick: Miami 34, Virginia 24

EAST CAROLINA (8-2) at NC STATE (3-7), ESPN3. #ECUvsNCST. The Pirates took down North Carolina earlier this year, nearly beat Virginia Tech, and go into this game as the favorites. NC State has looked like a ragged bunch, losing six straight in its worst season since 2006. There is no doubt East Carolina has the much better quarterback, as Shane Carden has turned in an outstanding season. But NC State is going to find a way to dig deep and come out with a win thanks to a few big plays from its pass game.

AA picks: NC State 28, East Carolina 24

HD's pick: East Carolina 41, NC State 14: ECU is No. 10 in the country in scoring offense at 41.5 points per game, and Carden leads the No. 8 passing offense in the country. The Pirates undoubtedly have the edge at quarterback, as NC State has struggled with both Brandon Mitchell and Pete Thomas. The two have combined for 15 interceptions and five touchdowns. Carden threw that many TDs by himself last week. If North Carolina was embarrassed by the Pirates at home, there’s no reason to believe the Wolfpack will fare much better. ECU is a solid eight-win team that, unlike NC State, is bowl eligible.

PITT (5-5, 2-4) at SYRACUSE (5-5, 3-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PITTvsCUSE. This game is a toss-up, as is nearly every league game these two teams have played this season (excluding Clemson and Florida State). Both are coming off losses, and both need one win for bowl eligibility. The problem for the Panthers is they have no real identity on offense. Syracuse does, and that is pounding the football. The Orange will get enough out of their run game and keep Aaron Donald at bay to win a close one.

AA picks: Syracuse 24, Pitt 23

HD's pick: Syracuse 21, Pitt 17

ALABAMA A&M (4-7) at GEORGIA TECH (6-4), 1:30 p.m., ESPN3. #AAMUvsGT. Like Clemson and Florida State, Georgia Tech also gets a warm-up game before it closes with its in-state rival next week. Coach Paul Johnson says the focus is on getting better at what his team does this week. You can bet Robert Godhigh will have another terrific performance, following his 100-yard rushing/100-yard receiving day against Clemson. Godhigh is on pace to set the ACC mark for highest average yards per carry, currently at 9.5.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 55, Alabama A&M 3

HD's pick: Georgia Tech 56, Alabama A&M 10

IDAHO (1-9) at No. 2 FLORIDA STATE (10-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #IDAHOvsFSU. Once again, the question is how long will Jimbo Fisher keep his starters in, especially with a bigger game against rival Florida looming. This also seems as good a time as any to get backup quarterback Sean Maguire some reps. Idaho is one of the worst teams in the entire country, and this game should be out of hand by the end of the first quarter.

AA picks: Florida State 65, Idaho 0

HD's pick: FSU 72, Idaho 3

BOSTON COLLEGE (6-4, 3-3) at MARYLAND (6-4, 2-4), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #BCvsMD. This may have been the toughest game to pick this week. Maryland is coming off an impressive win at Virginia Tech, while Andre Williams has put together two straight games of incredible performances. So which direction will this game go? It is hard to pick against the Eagles given what Williams and the offensive line have done this season. Simply put, they have worn the opposition down. Maryland has had injuries to contend with on defense, so I think BC will end up wearing the Terps down in the end.

AA picks: BC 24, Maryland 21

HD's pick: Maryland 21, Boston College 17: This game could go either way, but with it being the final home game in Byrd Stadium, it was hard to pick against the Terps. More importantly, Maryland has fared well this year in stopping the run, and is ranked No. 30 in the country in rushing defense, holding opponents to 139.8 yards per game. Boston College has made its living this fall with its running game, and Williams is certainly no secret. The Terps will be looking to slow down the ACC’s all-time single-season rushing leader, and they’ve also got the advantage in quarterback with C.J. Brown.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
10:15
AM ET
After a few weeks of mediocre games, the ACC gets down to business with a top-25 showdown in Tallahassee and a battle of Coastal Division contenders in Miami. Here are some of the top storylines as the ACC gets rolling in Week 6:

Battle of undefeated teams: At this point, Maryland and Florida State are both playing second fiddle to Clemson in the Atlantic Division, but the winner of Saturday's showdown in Tallahassee will firmly establish itself as the Tigers' top rival. FSU remains the heavy favorite, having never lost to Maryland in 11 previous games at Doak Campbell Stadium, but its defense was exposed last week against Boston College, and the Terps have plenty of offensive firepower. Still, the Seminoles are easily the most talented team Maryland has faced during its 4-0 start, and even coach Randy Edsall said it will take a stellar effort to overcome a long track record of struggles against FSU.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
Mark Konezny/USA TODAY SportsSyracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt has thrown for seven touchdowns and no interceptions since replacing Drew Allen as the starter.
Coastal Division showdown: In the span of four quarters against Virginia Tech's formidable defense, Georgia Tech went from potential favorite to divisional life support last week. The Yellow Jackets couldn't find an answer to the Hokies' defensive scheme, and they're now faced with a showdown against undefeated Miami in South Florida. A second conference loss -- both to teams ahead of them in the standings -- would likely spell doom for the Jackets' hopes of returning to the ACC championship game. Miami, meanwhile, needs to keep pace with the resurgent Hokies, and Georgia Tech promises a far bigger test than the Hurricanes have gotten in the past two weeks, when they beat Savannah State and USF by a combined 126-28.

The rich get richer: After eight months of rehab on his injured knee, Virginia Tech corner Antone Exum has finally been cleared to play, though a decision on whether he'll take the field this weekend isn't expected until after today's practice. That's not exactly good news for ACC offenses already at a loss for how to solve the Hokies' stingy defense. With Exum out of the lineup, freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller have been phenomenal, combining for six interceptions and 12 passes defended in five games. Exum, meanwhile, was a second-team All-ACC corner last season. With Exum's return imminent, Facyson is getting reps at receiver, but it'll be up to coordinator Bud Foster to deal with the rather pleasant of finding reps for everyone.

Under the Dome: Syracuse kicks off ACC play for the first time, but the welcoming committee isn't likely to be particularly accommodating. Clemson heads to the Carrier Dome fresh off a throttling of Wake Forest and figures to present the Orange with a far bigger challenge than they've faced during their two-game winning streak against Wagner and Tulane. Still, Syracuse is far more optimistic about the season now that new starting QB Terrel Hunt has the offense rolling, and the Orange are expecting a nearly packed house.

Heisman watch in the ACC: Tajh Boyd has been an early favorite since the season started, and he burnished his credentials nicely last week against Wake Forest, completing 17 of 24 passes for 311 yards and three TDs, while rushing for a fourth. The upstart in the race is Winston, who led another ferocious offensive outburst for Florida State by completing 17 of 27 passes for 330 yards and four TDs. Both QBs get another shot to add to their increasingly impressive totals this week as the crowded field vying for the Heisman jockeys for the spotlight.

QB injuries: In Pittsburgh, Tom Savage faced a battery of concussion tests after being knocked around against Virginia. At Miami, the Hurricanes host Georgia Tech with starting quarterback Stephen Morris still nursing an ankle injury that he aggravated against USF. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas is coming off his best game of the season, but he has been hampered with an abdominal injury for weeks. If any of those injuries prove more serious than initial reports, the always-fluid Coastal Division race could be in for another shakeup.

North Carolina's effort: After a stunning 55-31 loss to East Carolina last week, UNC tailback A.J. Blue publicly questioned whether his team had overlooked a supposedly subpar opponent. The same result isn't likely this week, as the Tar Heels travel to Virginia Tech hoping to salvage their season. A win could reinvigorate North Carolina's hopes in the division, but a loss would send the Heels to 1-4 with another tough game against Miami to follow. It's only Week 5, but North Carolina appears to already be in a must-win situation.

Virginia's slumbering offense: After a 14-3 loss to Pittsburgh, coach Mike London and QB David Watford both lamented Virginia's sluggish offensive performance. London promised changes on the O-line, Watford insisted on extra work with his receivers and the entirety of the unit really has nowhere to go but up this week against Ball State. Virginia ranks 13th in the ACC in scoring offense and passing offense, and its minus-4 turnover margin ranks 110th nationally. Meanwhile, Ball State QB Keith Wenning has thrown for more than 300 yards in every game so far, meaning the Cavaliers are likely going to need some offensive fireworks of their own to keep pace.

Return of Mitchell: If all goes according to plan, this week's game against Wake Forest will be NC State's last without starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, who broke a bone in his foot in the opener. Pete Thomas has done a solid enough job in Mitchell's absence, but there's a clear gap in playmaking ability. Thomas' 80-yard TD throw to Bryan Underwood in last week's win was his first passing touchdown of the season (to go with five INTs), but the Wolfpack are 3-1 with him as the starter.

Boston College bounce-back: Now that the Defense Department has given Army the OK to travel for the game, it's safe for Boston College to start planning for a rebound performance after last week's loss to Florida State. In spite of the outcome from a week ago, BC should have plenty of confidence. The Eagles offense scored 34 points, its high in an ACC game since 2009, and ran the ball successfully against what was thought to be a stout FSU defense. A loss is still a loss, but the impressive offensive performance was yet another sign that BC has taken some big steps forward under first-year coach Steve Addazio.

ACC predictions: Week 6

October, 3, 2013
10/03/13
9:00
AM ET
Andrea correctly picked the Virginia Tech upset over Georgia Tech, but neither she nor Heather called the East Carolina upset over North Carolina. For the week, Andrea went 7-1 to bring her season total to 41-5. Heather went 6-2 and is now two behind at 39-7 overall.

Let's see what Week 6 has in store.

No. 25 Maryland (4-0) at No. 8 Florida State (4-0, 2-0), noon, ESPN. Maryland has never won in Tallahassee. Florida State has now won eight straight conference games, the first time the Noles have accomplished that feat since the 2001-02 seasons. Those two stats alone give Florida State the edge. Still, most expect this to be a competitive game. All eyes are on dual-threat quarterbacks C.J. Brown and Jameis Winston, who rank 1-2 in the ACC in total offense and are a big reason why their teams are unbeaten. Maryland is vastly improved on defense -- ranking just ahead of Florida State. But the Terps have not played anybody as good as this FSU offense. You could say the same for the FSU D. Still, the Noles have faced better competition (3 FBS teams .500 or better; Maryland two winless FBS teams) and have more depth and speed.

AA says: Florida State 30, Maryland 21

HD says: Florida State 28, Maryland 27

Ball State (4-1) at Virginia (2-2, 0-1), noon, ESPN3. Virginia is on upset alert after its dreadful offensive performance against Pitt. Given the way Ball State scores, Virginia cannot win a shootout. It will have to rely on its stellar defense to slow down the prolific Cardinals and hope changes made to the offensive line and other positions on offense work. The good news for the Hoos is that Ball State has not been particularly adept at stopping the run, giving up about 200 yards a game. Of course, Pitt had been a sieve, too, and UVa only managed three points last week. AA says: Virginia 20, Ball State 17

HD says: Virginia is having trouble scoring on air right now, and Ball State is hot. Yes, UVa’s defense has been much-improved under coordinator Jon Tenuta, but it’s October and coach Mike London has just opened up some of his starting jobs on offense to competition. That's not a good sign. Meanwhile, Ball State is No. 10 in the country in passing offense, and averaging 40 points per game. Virginia’s defense will keep it in the game, but a costly turnover or two and the Hoos’ inability to convert on third downs will be the difference. Ball State 14, Virginia 13

North Carolina (1-3, 0-1) at Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Nobody has to remind Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer about what happened in this game a year ago, when the Tar Heels racked up 339 yards rushing and won 48-34. But much has changed since their last meeting. Giovani Bernard -- who had a career-high 262 yards rushing -- is gone, and the North Carolina run game has fallen off in dramatic fashion. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is vastly improved and ranks No. 4 in the nation in total defense. Given the way North Carolina has played on offense and the way Virginia Tech has played on defense this year, it is hard to give the Tar Heels much of a shot.

AA says: Virginia Tech 24, North Carolina 7

HD says: Virginia Tech 28, North Carolina 17

Army (2-3) at Boston College (2-2, 1-1), 1 p.m., ESPN3. After some uncertainty as a result of the government shutdown, BC announced Thursday morning this game would be played as scheduled. Coach Steve Addazio says preparation during the week has focused on slowing down the Army option. Army is averaging 325 yards on the ground this season, and BC has had a tough time slowing down the run. To make matters worse, the Eagles have lost starting defensive tackle Mehdi Abdesmad for the season with a torn left patellar tendon. This is going to be a ground 'n' pound type of game. If Josh Harris at Wake Forest can lead the Deacs to a win over Army, then Andre Williams can do the same for BC.

AA says: Boston College 28, Army 17

HD says: Boston College 28, Army 21

NC State (3-1, 0-1) at Wake Forest (2-3, 0-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. The home team has won every game going back to 2007, but that streak is going to come to an end Saturday. Here is why. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe conceded this week his offense still has not found its niche and the coaches are trying to figure out what works well. Never good to hear that nearly midway through the season. The Deacs have improved on defense, but their offense remains sub-par and Grobe acknowledged they need Tanner Price to play better. NC State, meanwhile, has gotten terrific production from Bryan Underwood lately and has seen Pete Thomas improve each week. Plus, its defense leads the ACC with 37 tackles for loss.

AA says: NC State 31, Wake Forest 17

HD says: NC State 28, Wake 17

No. 3 Clemson (4-0, 2-0) at Syracuse (2-2), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. We have heard a lot of Syracuse players speak confidently about their chances at pulling the upset this weekend. The Orange have, after all, pulled an upset or two over a ranked team at home the last several years. The plan will be the same as the one that flustered Teddy Bridgewater and Geno Smith -- put pressure on Tajh Boyd and hope that does enough to limit the skill players on the perimeter and keep the scoring down. But if the Tigers can handle the pressure, watch out. The Syracuse secondary has been a weak spot defensively this year. Terrel Hunt has played well in the last two games for Syracuse. But he has not seen anybody that compares to Vic Beasley or this Clemson defensive front yet. The Dome crowd will be loud, but ultimately Clemson will prevail in large part because it will win the matchups up front.

AA says: Clemson 30, Syracuse 20

HD says: Clemson 35, Syracuse 21

Georgia Tech (3-1, 2-1) at No. 14 Miami (4-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Perhaps the most surprising stat headed into this game relates to the defenses -- both teams rank in the Top 10 in the nation in total D and scoring D. Consider where both were a year ago at this time, and that is a remarkable turnaround. Though Heather projects another shootout in this one, Andrea believes this is going to be a close, low-scoring game because of said defenses. The difference here is Miami is much better on offense, and has many more reliable playmakers. Stephen Morris and Duke Johnson will make enough plays on the Jackets' defense to get the Canes to 5-0.

AA says: Miami 24, Georgia Tech 20

HD says: Miami 41, Georgia Tech 31

ACC weekend rewind: Week 5

September, 30, 2013
9/30/13
11:00
AM ET
Here is one last look back at the weekend that was in the ACC:

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLogan Thomas came through for Virginia Tech against Georgia Tech.
The good: Logan Thomas completed his first nine passes, his defense made its case as one of the nation's best and Virginia Tech pulled off the 17-10 upset Thursday night at Georgia Tech, potentially revitalizing a Hokies program that had been facing several questions following a 7-6 campaign and mostly underwhelming performances through its 3-1 start entering Atlanta. Thomas finished 19-of-25 for 221 yards and a touchdown, adding 58 yards and another score on the ground. Virginia Tech's defense held the vaunted triple-option offense of the Yellow Jackets to 10 points and 273 total yards -- on a short week, no less. The Coastal division race is very interesting, to say the least.

The bad: Paging North Carolina. What in the world happened to the Tar Heels? They dropped a 55-31 home contest Saturday to East Carolina to fall to 1-3, and their offense and defense might share equal blame. The offense for failing to score in the final 39-plus minutes last week at Georgia Tech, then not scoring a touchdown until late in the second quarter Saturday, while already facing a 21-3 hole. The defense for, well, giving up 55 points and 603 total yards to the Pirates. Games on deck at Virginia Tech and then against Miami (Fla.) won't be any easier on the offense, but UNC needs answers fast.

The ugly: Miami's 49-21 win at USF was rather uneventful in terms of competitiveness, but Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris added some spice to the postgame talk after he accused the Bulls of being a "dirty team." Morris had thrown 222 yards and two scores before leaving in the second quarter after reinjuring his ankle, which he hurt the week before against Savannah State. Said Morris, according to the Palm Beach Post: "South Florida's a dirty team. When you're down and tackled and everyone's on top, they're going to try to go for your ankles. We were up three, four touchdowns. Ain't no point for me to mess with these guys who are going to play dirty. It is what it is. I wanted to score 70 points on them. They disrespected us, so I had no respect for them. At that point, I felt like we should just keep pushing it, keep killing them."

The slugfest: OK, maybe we're being generous here, but credit Pittsburgh for being able to outlast Virginia 14-3 one week after running away from Duke in a 58-55 win. The Panthers outgained the Cavaliers 199-188. They rushed for just eight yards. They had three turnovers and forced two themselves. The teams combined for 17 punts. Tom Savage was sacked nine times and left with concussion-like symptoms late in the fourth quarter. But Pitt has won three in a row after a rough opener against Florida State, and that's all that matters.

The history: Tajh Boyd eclipsed the 100-touchdown mark for his career in Clemson's 56-7 win Saturday over Wake Forest, making him the second quarterback in ACC history to accomplish the feat for his career, joining Philip Rivers. Boyd completed 17 of 24 passes for 311 yards with three touchdowns and no picks, and he added 69 rushing yards and another touchdown. He bounced back from a so-so outing at NC State a week earlier and reignited the Heisman talk surrounding him. He took offensive coordinator Chad Morris' advice to "have fun" and helped the Tigers make easy work of the Demon Deacons.

The big quarter: NC State scored four touchdowns in the second frame of its 48-14 win over Central Michigan, recovering from the loss to Clemson and improving to 3-1. Pete Thomas threw his first touchdown pass of the season, an 80-yard strike to Bryan Underwood late in the fourth quarter, as the Wolfpack rolled. The quarterback finished 14-of-20 for 244 yards with one touchdown and one pick, plus another rushing score. He connected all day with Underwood, who caught five passes for 148 yards and added 42 rushing yards.

The rebound: It was only against Troy, but Brandon Connette completed 20 of 28 passes for 324 yards with three touchdowns and just one pick in Duke's 38-31 win over the Trojans, while adding 55 rushing yards and two more scores on the ground. The redshirt junior's numbers were similar last week against Pitt, but his four picks against the Panthers proved to be costly. Saturday was far from pretty, but the Blue Devils got a win they simply had to have it they want to go bowling for a second straight season. Their 514 yards of offense helped them get to 3-2.

The quote: In losing a tightly contested, 48-34 shootout to Florida State, Boston College exceeded everyone's expectations. Everyone's but their own. Said coach Steve Addazio, according to ESPN Boston's Jack McCluskey: “Don’t let people tell you, ‘Oh boy, you played Florida State nose up.’ Who cares? We didn’t come out there to play them nose up. I heard that crap early in the media. People asking me about, ‘What are you gonna do to keep it close?’ I had all I could do not to explode. What do you think, you coach or play to keep it close? What are you talking about here? You play to win. We played that game physically enough to win it. We let up too many big plays, and that cost us a football game. And it didn’t have to happen. I don’t care who the heck we played.”

ACC helmet stickers: Week 5

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
9:00
AM ET
The two ACC quarterbacks contending for the Heisman turned in outstanding performances in Week 5, while one of the league's most maligned quarterbacks joined them. Here are this week's helmet stickers.

Virginia Tech QB Logan Thomas: Perhaps no player in the ACC has faced more criticism in the first month of the season, but in spite of his struggles, Thomas now has his Hokies in position to win the Coastal thanks to an upset of Georgia Tech in which he was nearly flawless. Thomas completed 19-of-25 passes (just his second career game completing better than 70 percent of his throws) for 221 yards and a TD. He also rushed 16 times for 58 yards and another touchdown. Plenty of credit again goes to the Virginia Tech D, which sealed the game with a late interception, but it was Thomas' sterling performance that provides hope the Hokies still have a shot at a BCS game.

Pitt DT Aaron Donald: One week after being gashed for 55 points by Duke, the Pitt defense stepped up and shut down Virginia. The Cavaliers mustered just three points and 188 yards of offense, with Donald leading the charge in the middle of the line. Donald finished the game with two sacks, two QB hurries, three tackles and a forced fumble. Virginia managed just 2 yards per rush.

Florida State QB Jameis Winston: The defense struggled, the special teams were bad, but FSU's dynamic freshman quarterback staved off Boston College's upset bid almost single-handedly. Winston completed 17-of-27 passes for 330 yards and four touchdowns, including a 55-yard Hail Mary throw at the end of the first half to Kenny Shaw. Winston was dazzling, leading FSU back from a 17-3 deficit with three completions of 40-plus yards. He also paced FSU's rushing game, carrying 14 times for 67 yards.

NC State WR Bryan Underwood: The Wolfpack kept things close with Clemson last week but came up just short. They've found a good bit more success outside the conference, including Saturday's 48-14 thrashing of Central Michigan when Underwood led the way with 190 yards of offense and a touchdown. Underwood caught five passes for a career-high 148 yards. Underwood hauled in an 80-yard touchdown pass from Pete Thomas, the first of the season for the NC State quarterback.

Clemson QB Tajh Boyd: After a somewhat shaky outing against NC State a week ago, Boyd bounced back into Heisman form against woefully overmatched Wake Forest. The senior QB completed 17-of-24 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns. He also served as Clemson's leading rusher, carrying the ball 17 times for 69 yards and a score. Boyd has accounted for at least three touchdowns in each of his three starts against FBS opponents (and 14 of his last 15 dating to last season).

What to watch in the ACC: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
10:15
AM ET
The Week 5 slate has a handful of conference showdowns on tap, but the weekend figures to have its share of mismatches, too. Here are a few storylines to watch as the ACC closes out the season's first month:

[+] EnlargeVad Lee
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee and the Yellow Jackets face a tough Virginia Tech defense on Thursday.
Vad Lee's big test: It's been a sterling start for the Georgia Tech QB, but the test gets much tougher this week. Lee has thrown seven touchdowns and rushed for three more through three games, and Georgia Tech's offense looks primed for a big season. But Virginia Tech's defense ranks among the nation's best thus far. The Hokies lead the ACC in rushing defense (96.5 yards per game) and have allowed just two passing plays of 25 yards or more through four weeks -- the two areas the Yellow Jackets have thrived. Georgia Tech took a big step toward establishing itself as a contender last week, but if Lee can find a way to break Virginia Tech's defensive stranglehold this week, the Yellow Jackets just might be the new favorite in the Coastal Division.

As Logan Thomas goes ...: The Hokies' offense has been brutal through four games, with Thomas shouldering the bulk of the criticism -- for good reason. He's completing fewer than 50 percent of his passes with just four TDs to go with six interceptions. But when Thomas is sharp, there's hope. On Tech's three scoring drives vs. Marshall last week, he was 10-of-13 for 106 yards. The rest of the game, he was just 8-of-10 for 75 yards. One key may be running Thomas more often. He had 23 rushing attempts against Marshall -- nearly double his total from the first three games combined.

Supporting the cause: As big as Georgia Tech's win over North Carolina last week was in the standings, it was the message Lee and others wore on wristbands designed to draw attention toward a push to reform NCAA regulations on player compensation and other issues. Coach Paul Johnson said this week that there should have been a team vote before any players took such a public stand, so it will be interesting to see if Tech's protesters take a step back or if more players -- both on the Yellow Jackets and around the nation -- step up to make a stand.

North Carolina's struggles: The Tar Heels figured to be at the top of the ACC's second tier this season, but they've hardly looked the part so far. UNC never really challenged South Carolina in a marquee nonconference opener, and the Heels blew a lead against Georgia Tech last week that puts them in an early hole in the division. Bryn Renner and the offense haven't been nearly as potent as the talent on the roster suggests, and the defense has struggled to stop the run all year. North Carolina tries to rebound against East Carolina this week, but the Pirates took Virginia Tech to the brink just two weeks ago and won't be a pushover.

More highlights from Crowder: In last week's loss, junior Jamison Crowder ran for a touchdown, caught a touchdown and returned a punt for a score -- the first time that feat had been accomplished at Duke since 1999. The Blue Devils' defense appears to be in complete disarray, but Crowder has injected enough life into the offense and special teams that Duke has at least remained competitive -- including last week's ferocious comeback attempt against Pitt. For the year, Crowder ranks among the ACC leaders in receptions (30), receiving yards (381), touchdowns (4) and all-purpose yards (668).

Keeping the faith at NC State: The Wolfpack nearly pulled the upset last week against Clemson, but concerns remain at quarterback, where Pete Thomas has yet to throw a TD pass this year. Still, NC State has kept itself afloat with a 2-1 start, and Brandon Mitchell could be back in a few weeks. The Wolfpack don't figure to be tested much against Central Michigan, and with a manageable schedule leading up to an Oct. 26 showdown against Florida State, Thomas simply needs to steady the ship and avoid catastrophe to keep NC State in the mix in the ACC.

Battle of the ground games: In the past 35 games, just four players have managed to exceed 100 yards on the ground against Florida State's defense. One of them is Boston College's Andre Williams, who is off to a strong start in 2013. He'll be the key to any potential BC upset, but the Seminoles have plenty of weapons in their backfield, too. Devonta Freeman has run for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games and ranks fourth in the nation in yards per carry. Offensive newcomer Karlos Williams has racked up 193 yards and three scores on just 17 carries so far. Overall, FSU ranks third in the country averaging 7.2 yards per rush so far this season.

Clemson building momentum: The general consensus after last week's near miss against NC State is that Clemson got lucky to escape with a win. A close call on what appeared to be a long touchdown for the Wolfpack was followed by a key turnover, swinging the momentum in a 26-14 Tigers win, but Tajh Boyd wasn't at his best and Clemson showed some vulnerability. The task against struggling Wake Forest this week will be to regain that air of invincibility, getting Boyd's Heisman campaign back on track and establishing that the Tigers are still the team to beat in the ACC.

Stephen Morris' health: The Miami quarterback left last week's blowout win over Savannah State early with a bone bruise in his right ankle, but he insists the injury isn't serious. He said he expects to be in the lineup when Miami takes on winless South Florida this week, and it could be a good chance for him to jump-start his season. While the Hurricanes are off to a 3-0 start, Morris is completing just 53 percent of his throws and has just four touchdowns to go with two INTs. USF's D hasn't been tested much through the air so far, but the unit figures to provide a bigger challenge than woeful Savannah State.

Pitt's O vs. Virginia's D: Aside from the blowout loss to Oregon -- a fate shared by many of the Ducks' opponents in recent years -- the Virginia defense has been solid, led by playmakers such as Eli Harold and Anthony Harris. But Virginia figures to be tested this week with an offense that might have playmakers to rival even Oregon's gaudy numbers. Pitt QB Tom Savage threw six touchdowns against Duke last week, while Devin Street, Tyler Boyd and James Conner all rank among the ACC's offensive leaders so far this season.

ACC predictions: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
9:00
AM ET
We have a little separation in the ACC picks after Andrea went 7-1 last week and Heather went 6-2, missing on her upset special selection. Andrea is now 27-4 through three weeks, while Heather is 26-5. Let's see what Week 4 has in store.

Thursday

No. 3 Clemson (2-0) at NC State (2-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #CLEMvsNCST. The Wolfpack have beaten Top 10 teams in consecutive seasons. That includes Clemson in 2011. But this NC State team has a new coach and a vastly different look on both offense and defense and is still adjusting, as a close call against Richmond showed a few weeks ago. Tajh Boyd, meanwhile, threw for 426 yards and five touchdown passes last year against a much more experienced Wolfpack secondary. To have a shot at another upset, NC State has got to pressure Boyd and get a near perfect game from quarterback Pete Thomas. The odds say the Clemson offense will be too much to handle again.

AA picks: Clemson 38, NC State 20

HD picks: Clemson 42, NC State 21

Saturday

North Carolina (1-1) at Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0), noon, ESPN. #UNCvsGT. The Tar Heels got an extra week to prepare for Georgia Tech, but that did little good last year, when they gave up 68 points in a high-scoring loss. The defense, without its best players from 2012, has not looked a whole lot better in two games so far this year. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has an added dimension on offense with the way Vad Lee has been able to pass the ball. Given those questions on defense, Georgia Tech gets the edge in this game.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 35, North Carolina 24

HD picks: Georgia Tech 38, North Carolina 28

Marshall (2-1) at Virginia Tech (2-1), noon, ESPNU. #MRSHvsVT. The Hokies are the type of team that will continue to win with a solid defense and an offense that does enough to get the job done. The offense showed signs of improvement last week against East Carolina, while the defense turned in another outstanding performance and shut down quarterback Shane Carden. Expect much of the same this week against another good quarterback in Rakeem Cato.

AA picks: Virginia Tech 23, Marshall 7

HD picks: Virginia Tech 17, Marshall 7

Wake Forest (1-2) at Army (1-2), noon, CBS Sports Network. This game is a toss-up, based mostly on the way Wake Forest has struggled on offense the last two games. What has been alarming has not only been an inability to run the football, but no sense of urgency on the sideline. The Deacs have to win this game with a tough stretch looming. In their matchup last year, Michael Campanaro had 184 yards of total offense and two rushers went over 100 yards on the ground. They will find enough offense to squeak by, even though the last two games point to continue struggles.

AA picks: Wake Forest 28, Army 27

HD picks: Wake Forest 21, Army 20

Pitt (1-1, 0-1) at Duke (2-1, 0-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PITTvsDUKE. The Panthers hit the road for the first time this season after a big win over New Mexico that featured some freshmen stars, including receiver Tyler Boyd. Duke, meanwhile, hopes to rebound after a tough loss to Georgia Tech. Coach David Cutcliffe expects Brandon Connette to play better in his second start but Pitt presents a tough challenge, particularly up front. Pitt needs to work on holding onto the ball if it is going to win -- six turnovers in two games is unacceptable.

AA picks: Pitt 27, Duke 20

HD picks: Pitt 28, Duke 24

Tulane (2-1) at Syracuse (1-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #TULNvsCUSE. The Orange finally picked up their first win of the season but it came against FCS Wagner. So we will see how many improvements they have made this week against Tulane, a much improved team already this season. Terrel Hunt gets the start at quarterback, hoping to build off a strong performance last week. Tulane is led by quarterback Nick Montana, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana. Expect Hunt to have another good game.

AA picks: Syracuse 35, Tulane 17

HD picks: Syracuse 35, Tulane 10

West Virginia (2-1) vs. Maryland (3-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #WVUvsMD. We had Maryland on upset watch this week, but feel confident the Terps will be able to beat the Mountaineers for the first time since the 2003 Gator Bowl. West Virginia has not developed the type of rhythm it wants on offense yet this season in two games against FBS competition. Ford Childress did show good signs last week against Georgia State, but this will be his first true test of the year. Maryland, meanwhile, has been much more effective on offense than West Virginia. This year, the C.J. Brown-Stefon Diggs combination will be too tough to stop.

AA picks: Maryland 33, West Virginia 27

HD picks: Maryland 27, West Virginia 21

VMI (1-2) at Virginia (1-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #VMIvsUVA. The Hoos return to the field after a bye, hoping to improve their ground game. A key there will be getting quarterback David Watford more involved because of his ability to make plays in the open field. Coach Mike London also wants to get the downfield passing game working, too, as his receivers need to get more involved in the offense.

AA picks: Virginia 45, VMI 3

HD picks: Virginia 28, VMI 7

Bethune-Cookman (3-0) at No. 8 Florida State (2-0), 6 p.m., ESPN3. #BCUvsFSU. Coach Jimbo Fisher has played up what Bethune-Cookman has done so far this year -- an FCS ranking and win over FIU. But make no mistake, the Seminoles are not going to be tested much in this game.

AA picks: Florida State 55, Bethune-Cookman 3

HD picks: Florida State 62, Bethune-Cookman 0

Savannah State (1-2) at No. 16 Miami (2-0), 7 p.m., ESPN3. #SAVvsMIA. FCS punching bag Savannah State arrives in Miami to collect another paycheck, having given up 77 points to Georgia State and 66 to Troy earlier this season. The only thing left to wonder is how badly the Canes will beat this squad.

AA picks: Miami 60, Savannah State 3

HD picks: Miami 52, Savannah State 0

ACC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
9:00
AM ET
No movement at the top this week, just some reshuffling in the middle and at the bottom.

1. Clemson (2-0, 0-0, ACC last week: 1). The Tigers were off but remain the highest ranked ACC team in the national polls at No. 3. The first conference game of the year awaits Thursday at NC State. Clemson lost the last time it played in Raleigh.

2. Florida State (2-0, 1-0 ACC, last week: 2). The Seminoles crushed Nevada this past weekend, rolling up 62 points on the Wolf Pack in another easy victory. They won't get much of a challenge this weekend, either, against FCS Bethune-Cookman.

3. Miami (2-0, 0-0 ACC, last week: 3). The Hurricanes enjoyed a bye week after their big win over Florida. We won't know much more about this team after this weekend, either, because Miami plays FCS Savannah State. Noles fans can fill you in on what to expect.

4. Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0 ACC, last week: 4). Game 1 of a tough four-game Coastal stretch is in the books, and the Jackets looked good in beating up on Duke -- their 10th straight win in the series. Vad Lee threw four touchdown passes, leaving us all wondering whether this is the year Georgia Tech can complement its rushing game with an above-average passing game.

5. North Carolina (1-1, 0-0 ACC, last week: 5). The Tar Heels got an extra week to prepare for the Georgia Tech offense. Now we'll see whether the added time was put to good use. Nobody has quite forgotten the defensive debacle that unfolded for both teams in their matchup last year.

6. Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-0 ACC, last week: 6). The Hokies squeaked out a victory over East Carolina, with yet another outstanding defensive effort. If they get performances like that every week, they will be a serious threat in the Coastal. Top D in the league and it's not even close.

7. Maryland (3-0, 0-0 ACC, last week: 8). We moved the Terps ahead of Virginia this week thanks to their 3-0 start. It didn't look pretty at times against UConn, but they found a way to win. No, they haven't beaten anybody with a winning record yet, but they are unbeaten and that counts in these rankings, too.

8. Virginia (1-1, 0-0 ACC, last week: 7). The Hoos were off this past week after a blowout loss to Oregon and get VMI this Saturday. We won't know much more about this team until it plays at Pitt on Sept. 28.

9. NC State (2-0, 0-0 ACC, last week: 10). The Wolfpack also were off this past weekend as they prepare to host Clemson. They are going to need a much better performance out of Pete Thomas to have any shot at another upset in the series.

10. Pitt (1-1, 0-1 ACC, last week: 12). The Panthers completely dominated New Mexico and got standout performances from several freshmen, including Tyler Boyd and James Conner. They travel to Duke this weekend with a chance to even up their ACC record.

11. Duke (2-1, 0-1 ACC, last week: 9). The Blue Devils could not muster enough offensively with backup quarterback Brandon Connette running the offense in a loss to Georgia Tech. There is no time to look back, because another important Coastal Division game against Pitt looms.

12. Boston College (2-1, 1-0 ACC, last week: 11). Heather thought the Eagles had a chance to pull the upset, but Lane Kiffin had everybody fooled. BC was unable to keep up with supremely talented USC and got beat soundly. The Eagles are off this week before facing another tough opponent -- Florida State on Sept. 28.

13. Syracuse (1-2, 0-0 ACC, last week: 14). The Orange are finally in the win column thanks to a blowout win over Wagner. Terrel Hunt looks like he is ready to run this offense. Syracuse gets a chance to even up its record Saturday against Tulane before opening conference play against Clemson on Oct. 5.

14. Wake Forest (1-2, 0-1 ACC, last week: 13). The Deacs are officially the biggest disappointment in the ACC after losing to ULM at home. What we can't figure out is how a team so laden with seniors, who vowed not to repeat the missteps from a year ago, is perhaps even worse than that 2012 group.
Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has not disappointed. Neither has Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston -- at least for one game, anyway.

Even Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown has impressed in his return from a major knee injury.

The rest of the quarterbacks in the ACC? Well, their performances have not exactly risen to elite levels. Not yet, anyway.

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
AP Photo/J Pat CarterStephen Morris is completing only 52 percent of his passes thus far.
You figured there could be some early struggles at the position, with seven teams featuring new starters. Two of those teams -- Duke and NC State -- are already playing backups after their starters got hurt. Still, several quarterbacks expected to be among the best in the league have struggled so far, too.

The latest QBR stats show the ACC has more quarterbacks underperforming than the other power conferences.

Six ACC quarterbacks rank in the bottom 38 in QBR, which measures the way a signal caller plays by taking into account his stats combined with game situations. That ranks last among the Big 12 (two), Pac-12 (two), Big Ten (three) and SEC (two). In addition, six ACC quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns so far this season.

Part of the reason for some of the early struggles can be attributed to the schedule. Three players went against top-10 defenses -- Miami quarterback Stephen Morris against Florida; Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas against Alabama; and Syracuse quarterback Drew Allen against Penn State. In addition, Virginia quarterback David Watford faced BYU and Oregon, while Pitt quarterback Tom Savage went against Florida State, a top-10 defense a year ago.

Each quarterback ranks in the bottom 38 in QBR. Morris (No. 100) and Thomas (No. 132) stand out the most in that group. Morris in particular has not been as crisp as he was when he ended the last four games of 2012 with 11 touchdown passes, zero interceptions and 1,131 passing yards.

Going into the year, Morris drew raves as a potential first-round pick thanks to his arm strength and football savvy. Many pegged him as the second-best quarterback in the league behind Boyd. So far in two games, Morris is completing only 52 percent -- down from the 58 percent he posted in 2012. He also has three touchdown passes to two interceptions and has thrown for a total of 322 yards.

Miami coach Al Golden says Morris' performance has been a function of both games the Hurricanes have played. In the opener against FAU, their ground game had more than 300 yards. Last week in a win over Florida, the entire Miami offense struggled against one of the best defenses it will face this year. Still, there were several miscommunications in the pass game, in particular between Morris and Phillip Dorsett.

"There's a lot of things we have to fix, but Stephen's not on a different page or anything like that," Golden said. "We're anxious to get in here this week and work. I know he is. We're just going to get better and move forward."

Thomas' struggles have continued, despite a new coordinator and new offensive scheme. He has one touchdown pass to three interceptions and is not even ranked among the top 10 players in passing efficiency in the latest ACC statistics. His completion percentage is down around 39 percent. Not all the problems fall on Thomas' shoulders. His receivers have not helped him out, and the run game remains inconsistent.

But given his talent and starting experience, Thomas should not rank last among all ACC quarterbacks in QBR. Many expected improvement this year after a down 2012. The tangible results have not been there for him just yet.

One other returning veteran has not been completely on point, either. North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner, also rated right behind Boyd among returning starters, ranks No. 66 in QBR and is at No. 7 in passing efficiency in the ACC. He has not been terrible; but he has not been outstanding, either.

"Bryn is playing well," coach Larry Fedora said. "The pieces of the puzzle around Bryn are a little different this year. We still have to come together as an offense. I don't think we're hitting on all cylinders yet. We have to become more effective running the football to take some of that pressure off Bryn so he can be who he can be."

Among the first-year starters, Allen has probably struggled more than anyone. He has one touchdown pass to six interceptions -- including four last week in a loss to Northwestern. Coach Scott Shafer says he will play Allen and backup Terrel Hunt against Wagner on Saturday.

"It's been frustrating going through growing pains but at the same time I think they continue to attack practice every day and continue to get better and we've just got to eliminate the major mistakes and I think we can have one or maybe two great players," Syracuse quarterbacks coach Tim Lester said.

Boyd and Winston have lived up to the early hype. Brown has been terrific, ranking No. 3 in the nation in QBR to lead all ACC quarterbacks.

But there's no doubt this is a position that must see improvement across the league as the year goes on.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
9:04
AM ET
It's time for a fresh set of power rankings with another week in the books. The top four teams remain the same from last week, but there was some shuffling the rest of the way down.

1. Clemson (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 1): The Tigers did what we all expected in a 52-13 win over South Carolina State. They also ended up moving up one spot in the AP poll to No. 3. Their big win over Georgia in Week 1 remains the crown jewel in the ACC crown after two weeks.

2. Florida State (1-0, 1-0 ACC; last week: 2): The Seminoles were off this past week after beating Pittsburgh in the opener. Let's see what Game 2 has in store for Jameis Winston this weekend against Nevada.

3. Miami (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 3): The Hurricanes had the most impressive win in Week 2, over No. 12 Florida, which vaults them to No. 15 in the latest AP poll. But that win does nothing to change their standing in the ACC. There remains a clear gap between Clemson, Florida State and the rest of the league. Miami looks like it is starting to close the gap, but the Canes still have a long way to go -- especially after their offense struggled for most of the day against the Gators.

4. Georgia Tech (1-0 0-0 ACC; last week: 4): The Jackets were also off in Week 2, so all we have to judge them on is a blowout win over FCS Elon. The next five weeks will tell us what we need to know about this team, as the Jackets prepare to play at Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, at Miami and at BYU. That is one of the most brutal stretches any ACC team has to play this season.

5. North Carolina (1-1, 0-0 ACC; last week: 7): The truth is, you could flip flop the Tar Heels and Virginia Tech at this point. Despite their victories over the weekend, both have problems that must be addressed. For starters, North Carolina has to get the coin toss figured out. The defense was once again up and down. They need a more consistent, better effort out of that group.

6. Virginia Tech (1-1, 0-0 ACC; last week: 5): North Carolina gets the nod ahead of Virginia Tech for this week based on the quality of opponent it just played. The Tar Heels beat an FBS team, Virginia Tech an FCS team. I think we can all agree the Hokies have a formidable defense -- better than North Carolina's -- but the offense still has a ways to go to be respectable. Logan Thomas now has one touchdown pass and three interceptions on the season.

7. Virginia (1-1, 0-0 ACC; last week: 6): No. 2 Oregon boatraced the Hoos on Saturday, but the truth is, nobody really expected them to win the game. They stay in the top half of the rankings this week based on their win over BYU in the opener. That win looks a lot better today after BYU clobbered No. 15 Texas. Virginia enters a five-game stretch now with winnable games. If the Hoos can take advantage, they will be looking good for a bowl spot.

8. Maryland (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 8): The Terps have beaten their first two opponents by a combined 90-20 and have not faced much of a test. The opponents' strength has been really weak, hence their spot here. Still, this is a team that has showed off its talent on offense in the first two weeks. C.J. Brown, in his return from a knee injury, ranks No. 3 in the nation in total QBR to lead all ACC quarterbacks. Chew on that one for a while.

9. Duke (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 10): Give the Blue Devils credit for pulling out a road win in Memphis with backup quarterback Brandon Connette this past Saturday. You can write the win off by saying it was "only Memphis," but the Tigers are a rapidly improving team and Duke was on the ropes. Any road win is a good win for a team that won only once away from home last season.

10. NC State (2-0, 0-0 ACC; last week: 9): The Wolfpack get downgraded slightly for struggling to beat Richmond. While it is true the Spiders have caused FBS opponents fits, the Wolfpack nearly handed the game away with their own miscues. NC State had four turnovers, including three inside Richmond territory. Quarterback Pete Thomas struggled, throwing two interceptions. While he did lead the team into field goal range for the game winner, he has some work to do to improve.

11. Boston College (2-0, 1-0 ACC; last week: 14): The Eagles climb out of the cellar for the first time in a long time after their 24-10 win over Wake Forest. You can already see the difference new coach Steve Addazio has made in the program. His team is playing a lot more physically and with a lot more energy. That is best illustrated in Andre Williams, who is now averaging 5.5 yards per carry -- one full yard better than last season. The BC run game has gone from awful to respectable in a matter of weeks. The Eagles have now matched their win total from 2012.

12. Pittsburgh (0-1, 0-1 ACC; last week: 12): The Panthers were off last week, so they stay put here. The good news is they will not have to play a team as strong as Florida State the rest of the way in the ACC. They get New Mexico this week.

13. Wake Forest (1-1, 0-1 ACC; last week: 11): The Deacs were supposed to be better this season with so many veterans returning, but they looked completely lost against BC. The defense got gashed on the ground. The offense could not run, nor could it execute the option effectively. Not sure why coaches insisted on sticking with it when it was not working. Their inability to run the ball was a bugaboo last season, and it looks to be the same this season.

14. Syracuse (0-2, 0-0 ACC; last week: 13): The Orange have been the biggest disappointment in the ACC so far based on the first two games. No doubt they played a tough schedule to start against two Big Ten teams, but they were not even competitive in a loss to Northwestern this past weekend in which Drew Allen got benched after throwing four interceptions and the defense gave up 581 yards of total offense. Scott Shafer has some serious questions to answer before the season gets away from him.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
10:00
AM ET
For the second straight week, an ACC team knocked off an SEC heavyweight, but that wasn't the only storyline from Week 2. Here's what we learned:

[+] EnlargeStephen Morris
AP Photo/J Pat CarterStephen Morris and Miami picked up another big win for the ACC over the SEC with their victory over Florida.
Miami might be back: After an offensive performance that included just 212 total yards, fewer than 50 percent of passes completed, just 1.8 yards per carry and just one conversion on 11 third-down attempts, there's still some room for doubt about Miami's resurgence. But a win is a win, and it's the second straight week the ACC has unseated an SEC heavyweight. The Hurricanes may not be back to the level of their national-championship past, but they have more offensive talent than they showed against Florida. The real surprise on Saturday was a dominant performance by the defensive front -- a big question mark entering the season that was answered resoundingly in Miami's biggest win in nearly a decade. It's also another feather in the ACC's cap after Clemson knocked off Georgia in Week 1, giving the league at least three teams -- along with Florida State, which was on a bye -- with legitimate hopes of a BCS bowl bid.

Syracuse and Virginia couldn't follow Miami's lead: The top of the conference did its job in the opening weeks of the season, proving that the best of the ACC can stand toe-to-toe with anyone. In the middle of the pack, however, things are a bit more jumbled after Syracuse and Virginia were clobbered in nonconference tilts against ranked opponents. On the heels of strong defensive performances by both schools in Week 1, the two teams combined to allow 107 points to No. 19 Northwestern and No. 2 Oregon. Neither game was close from the outset, with Syracuse trailing the Wildcats 34-7 at the half and Oregon throttling Virginia 28-10 at the half. So while the two big wins for Clemson and Miami offered ample cachet for the ACC in the season's first two weeks, the conference lost its other four games against ranked foes and was just 2-5 against teams from BCS automatic qualifier conferences overall.

Boston College won't be a pushover: After a dismal 2012, it was easy enough to write off the Eagles as a team destined for a rebuilding phase. Add a lackluster effort early against Villanova to start the season, and it seemed appropriate to shrug off the win over FCS competition. But BC dominated Wake Forest this week, looking like a team that knows what it wants to do on both sides of the football, which is to be a physical, punishing group that will not be an easy win for anyone. Andre Williams' 204-yard rushing performance was impressive, and he's now tallied 318 yards rushing already this season. That would account for nearly 30 percent of BC's total rushing offense from all of 2012.

Duke and NC State will live and die with backups: One week after Brandon Mitchell went down with a broken foot at NC State, Duke's Anthony Boone became the second ACC quarterback to suffer a significant injury. Boone left in the second quarter against Memphis with a broken collarbone, leaving backup Brandon Connette to pick up the slack. Connette rallied the Blue Devils to 21 second-half points, including two fourth-quarter TDs to secure the win. Meanwhile, with Mitchell sidelined, NC State nearly fell to FCS foe Richmond before backup Pete Thomas engineered a 48-yard drive in the final two minutes to set up a game-winning field goal. Thomas wasn't exactly stellar -- he completed 24 of 31 passes for 237 yards and two interceptions -- and shared the workload with freshman Bryant Shirreffs, who completed all three of his passes, including one for a TD. But the Wolfpack still escaped with a win. Both NC State and Duke are now 2-0 in spite of their quarterback concerns.

Concerns remain at Virginia Tech, North Carolina: Against clearly overmatched opponents, the Hokies and Tar Heels both rebounded nicely from opening-week losses, but in some key areas, concerns linger. Logan Thomas and the Virginia Tech passing game improved markedly after a dismal performance against Alabama, but against FCS foe Western Carolina, Thomas still threw two interceptions and didn't complete a pass longer than 20 yards. Meanwhile, North Carolina's run defense was torched by South Carolina in its opener, and while the Tar Heels' front found more success against Middle Tennessee -- four sacks, four QB hurries -- it still allowed 183 yards on the ground (not counting sacks), including 109 for tailback Jordan Parker. Through two weeks, UNC ranks 84th nationally in rushing defense.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 8, 2013
9/08/13
9:00
AM ET
Week 2 is in the books. Here are the ACC's top performers:

Miami's defense: Linebacker Denzel Perryman recorded 13 tackles and forced a fumble, and Tyriq McCord sacked Jeff Driskel late in the fourth quarter, forcing a fumble that proved the difference in the game. In all, Miami forced three fumbles, picked off two passes, sacked Driskel twice and held Florida to 2.8 yards per carry on the ground. Not bad for a group that ranked dead last in the ACC in rushing defense a year ago.

Boston College running back Andre Williams: The senior carried the ball a whopping 35 times en route to 204 yards rushing and a touchdown in a win over Wake Forest. It was Williams' second 100-yard performance of the season. Williams carried the ball eight straight times on BC's final drive, running the last five minutes off the clock and helping the Eagles to match their win total from 2012 after just two games.

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown: No, Brown didn't quite repeat his impressive Week 1 performance against Florida International, but he came close. The senior threw for 275 yards and two touchdowns and ran four times and scored twice more versus Old Dominion. Through two games, Brown has already collected nine touchdowns. A year ago, no Maryland QB accounted for more than 11 touchdowns all season. More good news for Maryland: Brown wasn't the only playmaker. Stefon Diggs racked up a career-best 179 yards receiving, and Brandon Ross ran for 149 yards and a score.

Duke quarterback Brandon Connette: Starter Anthony Boone went down with a broken collarbone in the second quarter, but that didn't doom Duke's chances at its first 2-0 start since 1998. Connette, a junior with just 45 career passing attempts entering the game, came on to rally the Blue Devils' offense. For the game, he completed 14 of 21 passes for 198 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns to help Duke to a 28-14 win over Memphis.

NC State's two-minute offense: In what was hardly a vintage performance for the Wolfpack against FCS foe Richmond, the two-minute drill to end the game worked to perfection, capped by kicker Niklas Sade's 48-yard, game-winning field goal with 33 seconds remaining. NC State trailed 21-13 at the half but forced a turnover deep in Richmond territory to set up a third-quarter touchdown, then drove the ball 48 yards on seven plays in the final two minutes of action, setting up Sade's game winner, which cleared the goal post with ease. QB Pete Thomas was 4-of-5 for 31 yards passing on the drive.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

ABC Primetime Pregame: Florida St. vs. Okla. St.
Heather Dinich previews the ABC Primetime game between No. 1 Florida State and Oklahoma State.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video