Florida State Seminoles: Roderick McDowell

What to watch in the ACC: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
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We've already reached Week 12 of the season, with just two regular-season weekends left. Thankfully we have a Thursday night game to help kick things off. Here's what to watch in that contest and more in this weekend's ACC lineup.

1. Georgia Tech D looks to keep it going. The Yellow Jackets had an extra week to prepare for Clemson, though they have regained their edge defensively in a three-game winning streak. They held a Pitt team that ended up beating Notre Dame to just 10 points, and they shut out Syracuse back on Oct. 19 to kick-start this little run. A win would put Georgia Tech right in the middle of things in this wild Coastal Division race.

[+] EnlargeRoderick McDowell
MCT via Getty ImagesClemson RB Roderick McDowell is a little under the radar, but he's averaging nearly 100 yards a game over the Tigers' last four contests.
2. Clemson run game. Remember the Tigers? Everyone seemingly forgot about these guys after the Florida State game, but they, too, are back after a bye for a Thursday night home game against Georgia Tech. Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins have been their normal selves, but Roderick McDowell's play in recent weeks could prove helpful against an option offense. McDowell has three touchdowns over his last two games, and he is averaging 95.75 yards per contest in his last four outings.

3. BC goes for bowl-eligibility. Boston College's turnaround in Year 1 under Steve Addazio has been among the nation's biggest surprises. Andre Williams carried the Eagles to their first road win of the season last week, and he will likely be relied upon again as BC goes for win No. 6 and tries to keep NC State winless in ACC play.

4. Marquise Williams. The North Carolina offense is his, and he did not disappoint last week in throwing, rushing and catching touchdowns for a win over Virginia. The Tar Heels are riding a three-game winning streak into Pittsburgh, where the Panthers ended Notre Dame's BCS bowl hopes last week.

5. Pitt's D looks for another strong outing. The Panthers played respectable defense against option offense in consecutive weeks -- good enough to win -- before finally breaking through in the win last week over the Irish. They forced three turnovers and now find themselves also a win away from a second-straight bowl berth under Paul Chryst if they can fend off UNC at Heinz Field.

6. Logan Thomas tries to finish out strong. Thomas answered his critics emphatically last week in a big win at Miami, as he connected on 25 of 31 passes for 366 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. He will look for another strong outing against Maryland on Senior Day, as he can help change the narrative around his career with the Hokies, who are also right in the middle of the cluttered Coastal Division race.

7. Syracuse D tries to slow down FSU. The Orange shut out Wake Forest and held Maryland to a field goal in last week's 20-3 road win. Now they, too, are -- tell me if you've heard this before -- a win away from bowl-eligibility, though the challenge will be just a bit more difficult Saturday against the No. 2 Seminoles.

8. Winston bouncing back. The first real test Jameis Winston faced all season? A negative off-field headline, which came Wednesday. There is no use speculating at this point, and Syracuse isn't Clemson or Miami. But how Winston responds to his first real dose of controversy will be a storyline that follows him for as long as the ongoing investigation lasts.

9. Can Miami ground game recover? One game without Duke Johnson yielded unfavorable results for the Hurricanes, who gained just 28 rushing yards as a team in the 42-24 home loss to Virginia Tech. Dallas Crawford led Miami with 37 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries, but he and the rest of the backfield will need to do more if the Canes hope to escape Durham with a win.

10. Duke's D looks to continue hot streak. The Blue Devils cannot stop turning the ball over on offense. Fortunately for them, their defense has turned a corner during this five-game winning streak, forcing eight turnovers themselves in their last two outings and giving up just 14.75 points per contest over their last four. Duke is 7-2 but wants more in a matchup with Miami that has major division implications, something that probably would have sounded laughable as far as a month back when looking ahead on the schedule.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
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For the second time in three weeks, the ACC has the national stage with a top-10 matchup. Florida State and Miami will be the headlining act, but there’s plenty to watch across the conference in Week 10.

1. Winston in a rivalry: We’ve seen Jameis Winston embrace the big stage of his first spring game, his first regular-season game and his first top-five game. Now the Florida State quarterback gets introduced to his first true rivalry game when the Seminoles host No. 7 Miami. Winston has thrown for at least 290 yards and three touchdowns in all five of his ACC matchups, and another big performance against a longtime rival on a national stage could go a long way toward winning over Heisman Trophy voters.

2. Return of the rivalry: There’s plenty more to watch in this rivalry game than just Winston, of course. It’s the first time in nine years that FSU and Miami are both ranked in the top 10 at the time of their meeting, giving the ACC a matchup it dreamed about when the Hurricanes first joined the league. For FSU, it’s a chance at another marquee victory as the Seminoles try to sway voters in the razor-thin BCS standings. For Miami, it’s a chance at a signature victory in the Al Golden era and an opportunity to go 4-0 against in-state opponents.

3. Johnson versus FSU defense: Perhaps the most intriguing matchup in Saturday’s top-10 showdown is Miami’s Duke Johnson going against the stout Florida State defensive front. Johnson was the hero in last Saturday's rally over Wake Forest, carrying a career-high 30 times and scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns. FSU’s defense has improved dramatically in the past month, particularly up front. Still, the Seminoles' success came largely against spread offenses. Johnson and Miami bring more of a power attack. Boston College gained 200 yards on the ground and scored 34 points against the Seminoles in September with its power-based approach.

[+] EnlargeBryn Renner
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesBryn Renner and North Carolina have shown signs of life heading into their matchup against in-state rival NC State.
4. That other rivalry: Well outside the spotlight of FSU and Miami’s top-10 matchup of in-state rivals is North Carolina and NC State. The two programs are a combined 1-7 in ACC play this year, serving as two of the conference’s bigger disappointments. But for two schools separated by only 25 miles, there’s always a lot at stake. UNC finally showed signs of life in last Saturday's victory over BC, while NC State continued to fight even after FSU jumped out to a big lead. Neither program will be taking this week's showdown lightly.

5. Doubting Thomas: It’s been a rocky two years in Blacksburg for Logan Thomas, but last week’s disaster against Duke might have been a low point. Virginia Tech dominated the game by virtually any statistical measure, but the Blue Devils still emerged with a 13-10 victory, at least in part due to another shaky performance from Thomas, who threw four interceptions, including a game-clincher late in the fourth quarter. Thomas will look to rebound this week against a Boston College pass defense that ranks last in the ACC in QB rating allowed.

6. Williams versus Hokies: The conference’s leading rusher faces off against the ACC’s best rushing defense as both sides look to remedy ugly Week 9 losses. Virginia Tech is allowing just 2.6 yards per carry and has given up just five rushing touchdowns. Andre Williams scored five times in one game against Army, and he’s one of just six players nationally to have cracked the 1,000-yard mark.

7. Battle for a bowl: Wake Forest and Syracuse face off at the Carrier Dome in a game that could push the winner toward bowl eligibility and leave the loser with long-shot odds at a postseason berth. With a loss, Wake would need to win two of its final three games (FSU, Duke, Vanderbilt). Syracuse would need three of its last four (Maryland, FSU, Pitt, BC). The Deacons are playing better football at the moment, but both teams have much to lose.

8. Clemson’s playmakers: After a rocky performance against Florida State, Clemson’s big three responded with monster performances in last Saturday's victory over Maryland. Tajh Boyd collected his 15th career 300-yard game, Sammy Watkins reeled in 14 passes for 163 yards and Roderick McDowell rushed 30 times for 161 yards and two TDs. The trio gets a crack at Virginia this week. The Cavaliers have allowed at least 468 yards of offense to five of their past six FBS opponents.

9. Pitt versus the option: If nothing else, the beleaguered Panthers will at least be ready for what’s in store when they travel to Georgia Tech this week, having just faced Navy, which runs a similar option offense. But that Navy game didn’t go too well -- Pitt allowed 220 rushing yards in a 24-21 loss -- and Georgia Tech appears to have righted the ship after a rocky stretch. Tech has won its past two games by a combined 91-25, racking up 788 rushing yards and 12 rushing TDs in the process.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 9

October, 28, 2013
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Another top-10 clash between undefeated teams is on the horizon. Before we get to that, however, we'll take a look back at how we got there in our Week 9 weekend rewind.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Mark Dolejs/US PresswireDavid Cutcliffe has Duke pointed in the right direction.
The good: Duke may deserve its own "great" category (more on that in a bit), but the ACC finds itself at the center of the college football world for the second time in three weeks. Florida State took care of business against NC State, Miami survived a scare from Wake Forest and here we go again, as the No. 3 Seminoles and No. 7 Hurricanes take aim for conference (and possibly national) supremacy. ESPN's "College GameDay" will be in Tallahassee for the clash between the in-state rivals, marking the third time in 10 weeks that the show will originate from an ACC campus.

The bad: Pitt players used the words "complacent" and "overconfident" to describe the second half of their 24-21 loss to Navy, per the Post-Gazette's Sam Werner. What exactly the 4-3 Panthers were complacent or overconfident about is up for debate. Pitt lost a lot of leeway in its quest for another bowl berth, as it dropped a very winnable game and the chance to carry the momentum of a two-game winning streak into Saturday's trip to Georgia Tech. Navy scored 10 points in the final 3:52 to steal the victory. The schedule will be considerably more difficult for the Panthers down the stretch, as they face both Notre Dame and Miami over the final four weeks of the season. (On a positive note, congratulations to Devin Street for becoming the school's all-time receptions leader with 186.)

The ugly: Georgia Tech turned the ball over five times and still won at Virginia by 10, which should probably tell you all that you need to know right now about the Cavaliers. The Yellow Jackets escaped with the victory despite forcing just one turnover and holding the ball for nearly 10 fewer minutes than Virginia. Mike London took two huge gambles, first failing on an early fourth-and-1 try in field goal range and then calling a run play from the 1 with six seconds left that was stuffed for the last play of the first half. Georgia Tech, by the way, had Vad Lee throw the ball a whopping five times, completing three of those throws for 75 yards with no touchdowns and one pick. Kudos to the ground game, which had three 100-yard rushers, but this contest otherwise filled the "ugly" column capably.

The Blue Devils: Because really, what more can you say about them? Duke is 6-2 and likely going to a bowl for the second year in a row, which would be a school first. It is simply a remarkable feat for a program that, until last season, had not been to a bowl since 1994. The Blue Devils' 13-10 win over No. 14 Virginia Tech was their first victory over a ranked team since 1994, and their first road win over a ranked team since 1971. Hats off to David Cutcliffe for his rebuilding job in Durham, something everyone can appreciate a little more after seeing the coach get doused with a Gatorade shower following the stunning upset in Blacksburg.

Speaking of Tobacco Road … : About time, North Carolina. The Tar Heels finally put a complete game together, running over Boston College in a 34-10 win that ended a four-game losing streak. Bryn Renner was on point, completing 18 of 21 passes for 227 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. And the defense was stout, holding the Eagles to just 261 total yards of offense and limiting Chase Rettig to 10-for-20 passing for 57 yards. Maybe, maybe, things can open up a bit now for UNC, which is 2-5 but has a much easier second-half slate that should give it a chance to gain bowl eligibility, starting this week at NC State.

The refreshing take: Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher lifted his starters for most of the second half after a 42-0 halftime lead. NC State made the 49-17 final seem a lot closer than it was in the second half, but credit Fisher for why he would not put his starters back in: "I’m not going to go out there and embarrass this game and the integrity of how you’ve got to play. If that’s the way they’re going to do it, they need to re-evaluate. If they can’t tell we dominated that game early and put it away -- I just think that's bad for college football, in my opinion." FSU fell to No. 3 Sunday in the latest BCS standings. In State College, they probably wish the nation's No. 4 team had such perspective.

The quote: Virginia Tech receiver Willie Byrn, via The Virginian-Pilot's Andy Bitter: "What more can the defense do, really?" The Hokies held Duke to 198 total yards of offense, picked off four passes and held the ball for nearly twice as long as the Blue Devils. Credit Byrn for being more humble in defeat than defensive coordinator Bud Foster, though.

Mr. Reliable: Clemson went blue collar in its recovery from the Florida State loss, relying on fifth-year senior running back Roderick McDowell to help the Tigers escape Maryland with a 40-27 win. McDowell carried the ball 30 times for 161 yards, and the Tigers ran the ball 57 times for a season-best 247 yards. McDowell notched two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, his first two scores of the season. He lost one fumble, as did Sammy Watkins, but the Tigers were still able to impose their will on a defense that had been stout against the run.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 9

October, 27, 2013
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In a week of sluggish performances around the ACC, a handful of players stood out, carrying their teams to much-needed wins. Here are the five who made the biggest impact.

Miami running back Duke Johnson: Twice on Saturday the Hurricanes' undefeated season appeared doomed, and twice Johnson responded with a game-saving run. The sophomore finished with 168 yards on 30 carries -- eight more than his previous career high -- and scored twice in the fourth quarter to help Miami sneak past Wake Forest. The Hurricanes took their first lead of the game with 5:36 left on a 51-yard TD drive in which Johnson carried six times for 44 yards. Wake responded with a score of its own, but Johnson clinched the win by carrying seven times for 42 yards, including the 1-yard go-ahead TD.

Duke linebacker David Helton: On a day when the Blue Devils' offense struggled mightily, it was Helton and the defense that came up with one big play after another. Helton finished with a game-high 19 tackles -- he was one of three Duke defenders with double-digit tackles -- and deflected a Logan Thomas pass on Virginia Tech's final drive that was picked off by Kelby Brown. Brown's INT was one of four by the Blue Devils, and he finished the game with 14 tackles.

Florida State receiver Rashad Greene: Jameis Winston was sharp once again, throwing three TD passes in Florida State's win over NC State, but plenty of credit is due to his receiving corps, which was led, once again, by Greene. The junior finished with eight catches for 137 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown grab. It's Greene's fourth 100-yard game of the year. Seven of his eight catches went for Florida State first downs.

Clemson's Sammy Watkins and Roderick McDowell: The Tigers rebounded from last week's devastating loss to Florida State and this week's slow start against Maryland largely because of two of their best offensive weapons. Watkins caught a career-high 14 passes for 163 yards, while McDowell carried the ground game, rushing 30 times for 161 yards and two touchdowns.

Georgia Tech running backs: The Yellow Jackets had three runners top 100 yards in their win over Virginia, led by junior Zach Laskey, who rushed 16 times for 133 yards and two touchdowns. David Sims scored twice as well, and finished with 107 yards on 12 carries, while Robert Godhigh's 65-yard TD run highlighted a five-carry, 111-yard performance. The 394 rushing yards matched a season high for Georgia Tech, while Jemea Thomas (15 tackles) and the defense sealed the game.

ACC assessments at the quarter pole

September, 24, 2013
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For the past decade, the ACC has shared the regional stage with the SEC, but it has been a clear second-class citizen. In the first month of the 2013 season, however, the conference did its best to shed that reputation and deliver a few blows to its neighbor with the long run of national titles. Clemson knocked off Georgia, Miami upended Florida and along with Florida State, the ACC looks to have at least three teams with sights set on the BCS.

Best game: Clemson's win over Georgia

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Liz Condo/USA TODAY SportsTajh Boyd has lived up to his Heisman candidate hype during the first quarter of the season, leading Clemson to a No. 3 ranking.
No one doubted Clemson's offensive potential before the season, but for the Tigers -- and the ACC -- to establish their national-title credentials, they needed a big win, and Georgia provided the perfect foil on the first Saturday of the season. Tajh Boyd accounted for five touchdowns, Roderick McDowell ran for 132 yards, Sammy Watkins hauled in six catches for 127 yards and the Clemson defense did just enough to secure a 38-35 win that set the stage for the ACC's emergence as a challenger to SEC dominance.

Best player: Boyd

Four weeks into the season, Boyd's numbers have only burnished the preseason Heisman hype. He has racked up six passing touchdowns and three more on the ground, and he has yet to throw an interception. His numbers aren't buffered by a stat-padding game against weak opposition, either. He saw a limited workload against South Carolina State, saving his best for a surprisingly close game against NC State and a season-defining win over Georgia.

Best performance: Jameis Winston's debut

There was plenty of buzz surrounding the Florida State quarterback before he ever took a snap, but Winston still managed to exceed expectations in his first game. Winston completed his first 11 passes, finished 25-of-27 for 356 yards and accounted for five touchdowns in a blowout win over Pittsburgh. He followed that up with two more solid games, but his debut ranks among the best for any quarterback in the past decade.

Best surprise: Maryland's hot start

It's not that the Terrapins didn't have talent, but there were so many question marks to open the season. C.J. Brown returned after missing all of 2012, a bevy of defensive stalwarts were gone and the Terrapins were riding out their final ACC campaign before moving to the Big Ten. Through four games, though, things have worked out beautifully. Brown and Stefon Diggs helped the Maryland offense rack up more than 500 yards in its first three games, the defense pitched a shutout against West Virginia last week, and the Terps will enter their Oct. 5 clash with Florida State undefeated.

Biggest disappointment: Virginia Tech's offense

It wasn't so long ago Logan Thomas was being discussed as a future first-round NFL draft pick. Now, he's among the most criticized quarterbacks in the country. His 42.3 Total QBR ranks 98th nationally, and he has more sacks (5) and interceptions (6) than touchdown passes (4). Virginia Tech's offense ranks 106th nationally in yards per play (4.68), and everyone has contributed. The receivers can't get open, the ground game has been stuck in neutral and the line is doing little to open running lanes.

ACC's lunchtime links

September, 10, 2013
9/10/13
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Welcome to the NFL, Chip.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 1

September, 3, 2013
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Clemson stole the show in Week 1, solidifying its hold on the top spot, but it was Virginia that made the most noise by knocking off BYU. Here's how the power rankings shake out after the first round of games.

1. Clemson (1-0, 0-0 ACC; LW No. 1): They are who we thought they were. Tajh Boyd and the Tigers proved they were every bit the national championship contender with a huge win over Georgia on Saturday, and while a handful of significant obstacles remain, Clemson is clearly in control of its destiny from here. Boyd was the star, but the Tigers should be thrilled, too, to see a rejuvenated Sammy Watkins, a disruptive Vic Beasley and a punishing running performance by Roderick McDowell.

2. Florida State (1-0, 1-0 ACC; LW No. 2): If Boyd set the bar for ACC quarterbacks on Saturday, Jameis Winston eagerly leapt over it Monday. The much-hyped freshman had a debut for the ages against Pitt, completing 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four TDs, while rushing for another. Jimbo Fisher spent the offseason trying to quiet the buzz around his QB, but it's only getting louder.

3. Miami (1-0, 0-0 ACC, LW No. 3): This just in: Duke Johnson is pretty darned good. The Miami sophomore stole the show in a 34-6 win, burnishing the hopes that Miami has finally turned things around. That theory will be put to the test this week though, when SEC foe Florida comes to town. The Hurricanes have won 11 of the past 15 games against Florida, but this marks only the second time the two schools have faced off since 2004.

4. Georgia Tech (1-0, 0-0 ACC, LW No. 6): It's hard to take too much from a big win over Elon, but it's also hard to find any faults after one week for the Yellow Jackets. Vad Lee looked good, the running game didn't miss a beat, the defense was impressive, and the end result was the largest margin of victory for an ACC team in history.

5. Virginia Tech (0-1, 0-0 ACC, LW No. 5): This was one of those good news-bad news games for the Hokies. The good news was, the defense looked great, holding the two-time defending champs to only 206 yards of offense (and sending Alabama fans into panic mode in the process). The bad news is, Virginia Tech still got smoked thanks to repeated special-teams breakdowns and a woeful performance by the passing game. Logan Thomas struggled mightily, and the receiving corps looks dreadful. But hey, at least they don't have to play Alabama again.

6. Virginia (1-0, 0-0 ACC, LW No. 13): The task is daunting in Week 2, when the Cavaliers host Oregon, but for now, fans should bask in the beauty of a tremendous defensive performance in a win over BYU -- easily the second-best win of the week for an ACC team. Anthony Harris was the star with 11 tackles, a sack, a blocked punt and an interception that set up the winning score, but he was just one of five UVA defenders with double-digit tackles in the game.

7. North Carolina (0-1, 0-0 ACC, LW No. 4): The good news is, North Carolina largely contained Jadeveon Clowney -- even if a few pundits chalked it up to the South Carolina defender's condition or apathy. Beyond that, however, it wasn't much of a debut for the Heels, who were burned by big plays and never really recovered from an early 14-0 hole.

8. Maryland (1-0, 0-0 ACC, LW No. 9): Well, it looks as though the Terrapins found their quarterback. C.J. Brown turned in a dominant performance in his return from an ACL injury that forced him to miss all of 2012. He accounted for five first-half touchdowns, while throwing for nearly 300 yards and running for more than 100. With a relatively manageable schedule ahead, it's not impossible to think Maryland could be riding high at 4-0 when it heads to Florida State on Oct. 5.

9. NC State (1-0, 0-0 ACC, LW No. 8): Dave Doeren's Wolfpack did a nice job in thumping a Louisiana Tech team that didn't figure to be a pushover. The key was the time of possession, where NC State held a whopping 30-minute edge, keeping Louisiana Tech's offense off the field. The only downside was the loss of starting QB Brandon Mitchell, which is why the Wolfpack drop a spot behind the suddenly QB-stacked Terrapins.

10. Duke (1-0, 0-0 ACC, LW No. 12): No Sean Renfree? No Connor Vernon? No problem for the Blue Devils in their 2013 debut. A 45-0 win over NC Central was hardly a major test, but Duke looked good in all phases of the game -- outgaining NC Central by nearly 300 yards and racking up a 76-yard punt return TD from super sophomore Jamison Crowder.

11. Wake Forest (1-0, 0-0 ACC, LW No. 7): The Deacons won easily, so why the drop in the Power Rankings? Mostly, it's splitting hairs. The early struggles against Presbyterian weren't exactly inspiring, and with a cluster of teams in the middle of the pack, Wake Forest simply was the least impressive of a group that mostly looked pretty good.

12. Pittsburgh (0-1, 0-1 ACC, LW No. 10): It's hard to say whether Pittsburgh was that bad or Winston was that good. Either way, the result was a blowout in the Panthers’ ACC debut. Pitt should be encouraged that it moved the ball relatively well against an athletic FSU defense, and the Panthers appear to have some legitimate playmakers.

13. Syracuse (0-1, 0-0 ACC, LW No. 11): It was obvious Scott Shafer was going to have to do some rebuilding in 2013, but a 23-17 loss to start the season against Penn State only underscored how far the Orange have to go. Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen was supposed to be an answer at QB, but he didn't look good (16-of-37 for 189 yards and two INTs). This week's game against Northwestern won't get any easier.

14. Boston College (1-0, 0-0, LW No. 14): Sure, the Eagles won. That's worth celebrating. But they struggled early against Villanova, and it's clear Steve Addazio still has his work cut out for him. Make it two in a row this week against Wake Forest, however, and BC is guaranteed to climb out of the basement.

NoleNation Q&A: Previewing Clemson 

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
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For months, Florida State's soft schedule has had many fans clamoring for a perfect regular season, but the biggest speed bump on the way to that goal comes Saturday.

Clemson enters this game ranked 10th in the nation, sports one of the most dynamic offenses in the country, and the Tigers have beaten FSU in six of the last nine matchups, including a 35-30 win last season.

So, what can the Seminoles do to topple the Tigers?

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