Florida State Seminoles: T.J. Logan

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

Previous installments of this series can be found HERE.

Next up: The running game

Best of the best: Florida State

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

Next up: Miami

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

Possible sleeper: North Carolina

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

Potential problem: Virginia Tech

The Hokies' backfield was a disaster last season. Set aside the work of now-departed QB Logan Thomas, and the running backs tallied a mere 3.98 yards-per-carry last season and managed just 11 third-down conversions. Against FBS teams, Tech managed just 2.88 yards-per-carry, the ninth-worst mark in the nation. The eight teams that were worse had a combined record of 18-79. Now the Hokies add a first-year starter at quarterback, and the situation looks even more dire.

Video: ACC special teams analysis

June, 5, 2014
Jun 5
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Andrea Adelson takes a look at special teams in the ACC, where some of the top players in the country are set to return for 2014.

Best and worst of ACC bowl season

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
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The ACC had a record 11 teams make bowl games. Did you have a hard time keeping them all straight? We got you covered, with a look back at the best and worst of bowl season in the ACC.

[+] EnlargeLevonte Whitfield
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKermit Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return was one of two big special teams plays for Florida State in the national title game.
Best game: Florida State 34, Auburn 31. The biggest, most important game of the season delivered the best game of the season as the Seminoles won their third national championship with a frantic second-half rally. The final 4:31 provided one highlight after another: Levonte "Kermit" Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return gave Florida State its first lead; Auburn answered back with Tre Mason's 37-yard run; and then the capper, Heisman winner Jameis Winston delivering the game-winning score to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds remaining. Let the debate rage about whether this game tops USC-Texas as the best BCS national championship game.

Best game, II: Clemson 40, Ohio State 35. In the second-best win for the ACC, the Tigers also needed a second-half comeback to beat Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, but got the school’s first BCS win thanks to the talented tandem of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd had 505 yards of total offense and threw the game-winning score to tight end Stanton Seckinger with 6:16 remaining for the final margin.

Best wheels: Kermit Whitfield. The nation got the true definition of "track speed" when Whitfield returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score in the national championship game. It only took 11 seconds in real time for Whitfield to go from end zone to end zone, his jaw-dropping speed on full display. This set off a debate on Twitter about who would win a race between Whitfield and former Florida State receiver Marvin Bracy, who left the team to concentrate on his track career. The two are cousins. No surprise, they each claim victory.

Best impersonation of Tony Dorsett: James Conner. Pitt struggled all season to get its run game going, so watching the Little Caesars Bowl unfold you could not help but wonder, 'Where was this all year!' Conner broke the school bowl rushing record held by Tony Dorsett, running for 229 yards -- tied for the highest total among all players during bowl season. He averaged a whopping 8.8 yards per carry, and also got some reps on defense, too.

Best individual performance: Sammy Watkins. Boyd may have had 505 total yards, but it was Watkins who was the best player on the field in the Orange Bowl. He set a school and Orange Bowl record with 227 yards receiving -- tops among all players during bowl season. Ohio State's overmatched defensive backs were helpless to stop him. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Watkins gained 202 yards after the catch, eclipsing his previous career high of 137 yards after catch against Auburn in 2011.

Best play call: Florida State's fake punt. Jimbo Fisher was largely outcoached in the first half of the national championship game, but he made the call of his career late in the second quarter, with the Seminoles trailing 21-3. On fourth-and-4 at their own 40-yard line, Fisher had Karlos Williams take the ball on a reverse from the up man. Williams turned the corner and got the first down. The Seminoles ended up scoring a much-needed touchdown on the drive, one of the key turning points in their comeback win. Fisher explained the decision behind the call quite simply: he did it in an effort to spark his team and avoid a blowout.

Best performance in a loss: Duke. What a heartbreaking end to the season for the Blue Devils, who came oh so close to upsetting Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. Duke led 38-17 at halftime, perhaps the most stunning result of bowl season to that point and had done a good job containing Manziel. But there was little the Blue Devils could do to stop some of the plays Manziel made late in the game. Anthony Boone did not help matters, either, throwing two costly fourth-quarter interceptions -- including one that was returned for the game-winning touchdown.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesSammy Watkins shredded Ohio State for an Orange Bowl record 227 receiving yards.
Best comeback performance: Terrel Hunt. Syracuse did not have a great year from its quarterbacks, but give Hunt an A-plus for keeping his head up and finally catching on late in the season. His last-second touchdown pass to Josh Parris to beat Boston College in the regular-season finale got the Orange into the Texas Bowl. He pulled out more heroics against Minnesota in said bowl game. Hunt ran for a 12-yard touchdown with 1:14 remaining to give Syracuse the 21-17 win and finished with 262 yards of total offense, winning MVP honors (along with a 10-gallon hat!).

Best special teams: North Carolina. It is tough enough to have on return for a score in a game. How about two? The Tar Heels did that in their 39-17 domination of Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. Ryan Switzer had an 86-yard punt return for a score, giving him an NCAA record five on the season. T.J. Logan also returned a free kick following a safety 78 yards for a touchdown, the first kickoff return for a touchdown in a bowl game in school history. Switzer was named game MVP for his efforts.

Best quote: "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after the 40-35 win over Ohio State, stirring the pot with rival South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.

Worst stat: 0-11. Miami got embarrassed by Louisville, 36-9, in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Maybe worse than that final score was the 0-fer the Hurricanes posted on third downs.

Worst stat, II: 32.3. The ACC did not have a particularly outstanding defensive showing throughout bowl season. Teams gave up an average of 32.3 points per game. Only two of 11 teams allowed less than 20 points (North Carolina, Syracuse), seven gave up 30 or more and three gave up 40 or more.

Worst bowl game: Russell Athletic Bowl. The Hyundai Sun Bowl had the most lopsided score of ACC bowl season, but the Russell Athletic Bowl is the choice here. This was one of the most anticipated non-BCS games on the schedule, but this was never really a game. Miami looked unmotivated despite waiting two years for a shot at a bowl game and allowed Teddy Bridgewater to throw for 447 yards and three touchdowns.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC helmet stickers: Week 13

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC predictions: Week 12

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
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Last week saw a few upsets in the ACC, costing Heather a little more than Andrea. Heather went 4-3 on the week after picking Maryland, Notre Dame and Miami to win. Andrea went 5-2, correctly picking the Hokies to upset the Canes. Andrea now has a one-game lead in the overall standings with a 67-18 mark. Plenty of time for Heather to walk away with the highly coveted, extremely prestigious ACC predictions trophy.

Now on to the picks!

Thursday night

Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2) at No. 8 Clemson (8-1, 6-1), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #GTvsCLEM. Recent history suggests this game is going to be close, so expect the same this season. Both teams have plenty on the line in this one, which is the final ACC contest for each. The Yellow Jackets need a win to stay in contention for the Coastal Division crown. Clemson needs a win to stay in contention for an at-large BCS berth. Georgia Tech's defense is much better than the group that allowed Clemson to rack up 601 yards of total offense a year ago, but the Tigers’ defense is better than it was a year ago, too. Tajh Boyd will find a way to make enough plays on this D. He needs three touchdown passes to break the ACC career mark of 95 set by former NC State All-American Philip Rivers (2000-03).

AA picks: Clemson 38, Georgia Tech 33

HD’s pick: Clemson 35, Georgia Tech 28

Saturday

NC State (3-6, 0-6) at Boston College (5-4, 2-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #NCSTvsBC. The Wolfpack have not been able to find a way to win games in the fourth quarter this season. They continue to struggle with quarterback issues, the biggest reasons why they remain winless in ACC play. Meanwhile, BC has found ways to win the last two weeks in the fourth quarter and now stands one victory away from bowl eligibility. The Wolfpack are getting several key players back on their defensive front, but Andre Williams seems like an unstoppable force right now. Williams needs 256 yards to break Mike Cloud's single-season school record for rushing yards.

AA picks: Boston College 24, NC State 21

HD’s pick: Boston College 28, NC State 21

North Carolina (4-5, 3-3) at Pitt (5-4, 2-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #UNCvsPITT. Both teams have experienced a youth movement of sorts this season. Twelve true freshmen have played for Pitt, and the Panthers are led in seven statistical categories by freshmen. Meanwhile, 24 of North Carolina's 32 touchdowns this season have been scored by freshmen or sophomores. Young players like Ryan Switzer, Bug Howard, T.J. Logan and Khris Francis have been critical to North Carolina's recent turnaround. With an improving defense, North Carolina has not given up nearly as many big plays over its three-game winning streak: only 12 of 46 "big plays" given up have come during this streak. The Tar Heels are on a hot streak, and that continues against a Pitt team that might have a letdown following an upset of rival Notre Dame.

AA picks: North Carolina 28, Pitt 24

HD's pick: Pitt 24, North Carolina 21: The Panthers are confident from their win against the Irish, and this is the win they need to become bowl eligible in front of a home crowd. More importantly, quarterback Tom Savage was sacked only one time by Notre Dame -- a huge improvement in the pass protection. Pitt’s offense is taking care of the ball well and will continue to open up the play-action against UNC with a strong running game. Another big reason the Panthers get it done? Defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He’ll make himself comfortable in the Tar Heels’ backfield.

Maryland (5-4, 1-4) at Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #MDvsVT. Well look who has played its way back into the Coastal Division race? None other than the familiar Hokies, who are riding high off an impressive win at Miami. Logan Thomas had one of the best performances of his career, and the run game was outstanding. Virginia Tech hopes to carry that momentum against the Terps, who are on a three-game losing streak. A sputtering Maryland offense is not going to be able to do much against the No. 3-ranked defense in the country.

AA picks: Virginia Tech 30, Maryland 10

HD’s pick: Virginia Tech 31, Maryland 13

Syracuse (5-4, 3-2) at No. 2 Florida State (9-0, 7-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC. #CUSEvsFSU. Everybody already has penciled in wins for Florida State the rest of the way out, but the Seminoles are going to have to guard against complacency if they want a spot in the national championship game. Syracuse has shown improvement with its run game and on defense over the last two weeks. In five wins this year, the Orange are averaging 244.4 yards rushing. To have any shot at the upset, Syracuse is going to have to maintain that average. That is a tall task.

AA picks: Florida State 49, Syracuse 13

HD’s pick: Florida State 42, Syracuse 10

No. 23 Miami (7-2, 3-2) at Duke (7-2, 3-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #MIAvsDUKE. Miami is not going to lose three straight games. It doesn't matter how bad its defense has looked over the last two weeks or how badly it missed Duke Johnson against Virginia Tech. That game got out of control because of special teams miscues that put Miami in a hole from the outset. Duke has its own issues to deal with on offense, with nine turnovers over its last three games, all wins. A big reason has been the play of the defense, which has forced nine turnovers over the same stretch. Miami simply has way more talent on offense than anybody the Blue Devils have faced this season, and Stephen Morris will find a way to get Miami back in the win column.

AA picks: Miami 30, Duke 21

HD’s pick: Duke 28, Miami 24: Going out on a limb here, but it’s not a typical week in the ACC if there isn’t at least one shocker. The main reason for this pick, though? Duke has an honest-to-goodness belief it can win. The Blue Devils went on the road and beat Virginia Tech. There’s no reason they can’t beat an average Miami team at home if they play smart, disciplined, mistake-free football. Sure, Miami has more “athletes,” but right now, Duke has the better defense and all of the momentum it needs for its second upset of the season.

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 25, 2013
10/25/13
12:00
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@KingRondo09 When people compare Wiggins are they comparing him to Lebron and Durant in high school #AskcoachB

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