Florida State Seminoles: Tyler Boyd

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April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
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Boston strong.

ACC lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
Apr 4
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Lots of news out of Tallahassee ...

ACC's lunchtime links

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
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My uncle once tried to convince my grandmother our family is actually (a small) part Scottish instead of Irish. She wasn't having it. Happy St. Patrick's Day!

(*Target totals courtesy ESPN Stats & Info.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

SportsNation

Who will be the ACC's best receiver in 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 4,023)

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC's lunchtime links

January, 7, 2014
Jan 7
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So, how about that premier of “The Bachelor” last night? Riveting.
 

ACC's lunchtime links

December, 23, 2013
12/23/13
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Shopping days are nearly gone.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe won ACC Coach of the Year honors Tuesday after leading the Blue Devils to an unprecedented 10-win season and a first-ever spot in the ACC championship game.

Cutcliffe received 62 of the 65 votes in balloting done by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. Boston College first-year coach Steve Addazio received two votes, and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher received the other.

This is the second straight ACC Coach of the Year award for Cutcliffe and the first time the Blue Devils have had a back-to-back ACC Coach of the Year winner since Steve Spurrier in 1988 and 1989.

"(I’m) very appreciative of our staff and all of the support people that surround Duke football," Cutcliffe said in a statement. “It’s the best group of people, including the entire Duke football family -- best group of people I’ve been around."

In other conference awards, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was selected the overall ACC Rookie of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year, while Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller was selected ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Winston was the choice of 56 of the 65 ACSMA members casting ballots for the overall honor. Duke safety DeVon Edwards received four votes, and Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd got two. Maryland cornerback William Likely, Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley and Fuller each received one vote.

ACC Week 14: Did you know?

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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As always, thanks to ESPN Stats & Info and sports information departments everywhere for these tidbits.

MIAMI: Against Virginia, Miami had 45 points with only 11 first downs. The last time that happened at the FBS level was Sept. 13, 1997, when Minnesota (with 11 first downs) beat Iowa State 53-29.

PITTSBURGH: Tyler Boyd is having one of the most productive seasons by a freshman receiver in school history. With one regular-season game left, Boyd has 68 catches, the most of any freshman in the country and one catch shy of Larry Fitzgerald’s Pitt rookie record of 69.

FLORIDA STATE: Alabama and Florida State are 1-2 in the Championship Drive Ratings, while the only other undefeated team, Ohio State, was three spots back at No. 5. FSU has a Championship Drive Rating of 94.3, OSU has a 93.3. While both teams are 11-0, Florida State has controlled in-game win probability (84.6 percent to 81.2) more and has played a slightly tougher schedule (81st to 86th).

DUKE: At 9-2, Duke has already tied its most wins in season (most recently done in 1941) and will be going for its first 10-win season. Duke is looking for its first conference championship since 1989 (co-champion in ACC). The Blue Devils have won seven straight games for the first time since 1994 and are looking for their first eight-game winning streak since 1941 (won nine in a row).

NORTH CAROLINA: The Tar Heels are 21-2 against Duke in their last 23 meetings, but they dropped last year's contest in Durham, N.C. They have not lost consecutive contests to the Blue Devils since dropping three in a row from 1987-89.

WAKE FOREST: The Demon Deacons will play their final game Saturday at Vanderbilt, but they have a few records worth aiming for. Jim Grobe remains tied with "Peahead" Walker for the most wins as a head coach in school history with 77. And quarterback Tanner Price (64 total TDs -- 52 passing, 11 rushing, one receiving) remains one off the school record of 65 career touchdowns held by Riley Skinner (60 passing, four rushing, one receiving).

MARYLAND: Following Alex Amidon’s 74-yard touchdown reception for BC, linebacker Marcus Whitfield blocked the ensuing point-after attempt. Defensive back Anthony Nixon grabbed the ball and went 98 yards for the defensive extra point. It marked the first time in program history that the Terrapins have scored a defensive extra point and it is the first defensive extra point scored by an ACC team since Duke’s Kyler Brown intercepted a two-point attempt against FIU on Sept. 1, 2012. Whitfield is the first Terp to block a PAT since A.J. Francis did it against Georgia Tech on Nov. 3, 2012.

NC STATE: With the exception of one game (vs. No. 2 Florida State), Wolfpack conference games have been relatively competitive. In the Wolfpack's other ACC contests, the average difference in the score after the third quarter has been just 7.1 points. In only one game (vs. then-No. 3 Clemson) did the Pack trail by more than a touchdown, and that was only by 13 points following the third quarter.

GEORGIA TECH: Senior A-back Robert Godhigh is one of the nation’s most explosive all-around players. The 5-foot-7 former walk-on has 961 yards from scrimmage (623 rush, 338 catch), and his average of 13 yards per play leads all FBS running backs. 55 percent of his offensive touches result in rst downs or touchdowns. Godhigh has 13 plays from scrimmage of 30-plus yards, which is the fth-most among all FBS players. Of Godhigh’s 961 yards, 389 yards (40.5 percent) have come after contact.

BOSTON COLLEGE: Andre Williams has gained 958 of his FBS-leading 2,073 yards after contact, 254 more such yards than any other AQ running back. Only 35 FBS players have more total rushing yards than Williams has after contact. Williams has broken 28 tackles this season, seven more than any other AQ running back.

SYRACUSE: The Orange have played BC 46 times, the fifth-most frequent opponent in school history. Syracuse owns the series record, 28-18, including an 18-6 mark at home. The old Big East rivals have not met since 2010, when the Eagles won 16-7. A win Saturday would make Syracuse bowl-eligible for the third time in four years. Syracuse is one of three teams (Ohio State and Wisconsin) to not allow a 100-yard rusher this season, though it will certainly get a test from Williams.

VIRGINIA TECH: Florida's nation-best streak of 22 straight bowl appearances will be snapped, meaning the Hokies will be the new leaders, as they will go to their 21st straight bowl this postseason. Opponents have failed to gain a first down on 49 percent of their drives against the Hokies, the highest percentage in the nation. Virginia Tech is also fourth nationally in fewest yards allowed before contact per game on designed runs, giving up just 52.5 ypg.

VIRGINIA: The Cavaliers' eight-game losing streak is their longest in a single season since 1975. They actually outgained Miami by a margin of 483-304, but they were hurt by the Hurricanes' two defensive touchdowns. They are 37-52-5 all-time against Virginia Tech, but the important number to keep an eye on is 32, as Virginia has scored at least that much in each of its last seven Commonwealth Cup wins dating back to 1989.

CLEMSON: Tajh Boyd's five touchdown passes in a 52-6 Senior Day win over The Citadel gave him 102 for his career. The only other active quarterbacks in the FBS with 100 career touchdown passes are Georgia’s Aaron Murray and Old Dominion’s Taylor Heinicke. But the biggest challenge for Boyd comes Saturday at South Carolina, which is 4-0 against the Tigers during Boyd's career, with Clemson failing to score more than 17 points in any of the contests.

ACC lunchtime links

November, 6, 2013
11/06/13
12:00
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So wait, there’s not going to be a “Full House” remake? Stop teasing me like that, Internet.

No hoaxes in today's ACC links though.

After allowing Florida State to convert 11 of 15 third down tries last week, Miami’s defense is focused on getting off the field against Virginia Tech, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

Duke Johnson’s surgery to repair a broken ankle was a success, writes the Miami Herald.

Among a myriad of news and notes out of Blacksburg, cornerback Kyle Fuller says he’s getting close to 100 percent healthy for this week’s Coastal Division showdown against Miami, writes the Roanoke Times.

Florida State receiver Kelvin Benjamin has made downfield blocking into an art form, writes the Tallahassee Democrat.

Seminoles safety Terrence Brooks sat out practice again Tuesday after suffering a concussion against Miami. FSU’s deep secondary hasn’t missed a beat, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

With Michael Campanaro out, it’s open auditions for a new playmaker at Wake Forest, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

Emotions overwhelmed Bryn Renner as he spoke about his career at North Carolina coming to an end because of a shoulder injury, writes the Charlotte Observer.

Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown is still looking to play his first full ACC game of the season, but he’s hopeful last week’s bye has helped, writes the Washington Post.

After an upset win over Virginia Tech, Boston College has its sights set on bowl eligibility, writes the Boston Herald.

Remember when Duke’s defense allowed 127 points in a three-game stretch to Georgia Tech, Pitt and Troy? The Blue Devils look like a different team now, and it’s based on a stingy defensive effort, writes the Associated Press.

Syracuse’s streak of 1,000-yard rushers could be coming to an end, writes the Troy Nunes blog. Prince-Tyson Gulley ranks fifth in the ACC (min. 50 rushes) in yards per carry (5.75) and Jerome Smith is 12th (5.06), but both would need to finish strong to crack 1,000.

DeAndre Smelter has been an ‘X-factor’ for Georgia Tech in his first year playing football, writes the Macon Telegraph.

With Demetrious Nicholson done for the year, Virginia turns to Drequan Hoskey to step up in a battered secondary, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Those national title hopes might have been dashed, but Clemson’s Tajh Boyd has no regrets about returning to school for his senior season, writes The State.

Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd has benefited from working with former NFL star Bobby Engram this season, writes the Post-Gazette.

ACC Upset Watch: Week 10

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
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Last week, we were lulled into believing there would be no upsets in the ACC. So we skipped the upset watch. I mean, would Duke really beat Virginia Tech? Would Pitt really lose to Navy? Would Wake Forest nearly beat Miami?

D'oh!

We have learned our lesson. No matter how much better the ACC has fared this year, there still is a little bit of #goacc to go around the league. So the upset watch is back at its regularly scheduled time, with three games to keep an eye on Saturday. Remember, these are not predictions. These are simply games we think the underdog could make some noise and potentially win.

1. Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1) at Boston College (3-4, 1-3). There are no more gimmes on the Hokies schedule, not after they lost to Duke last weekend. This team has been living on the edge all season, and it finally caught up to them against the Blue Devils. Clearly Virginia Tech will not be able to win on defense alone. Because its defense did enough to beat Duke. More than enough, really. Simply put, it is the offense that has to get itself in gear, something that has yet to happen through eight games. Beyond the four interceptions Logan Thomas threw, Virginia Tech had way too many critical penalties and only converted on four third-down attempts. That makes it tough to win games, no matter how good the defense performs. Even though the Eagles got blown out in Chapel Hill, they are a much better team than a year ago and gave panic attacks to both Florida State and Clemson earlier this season. Boston College took Virginia Tech to overtime a season ago, too. There is no doubt Boston College faces a tough task against the Virginia Tech defense, but the Eagles will not have to score 30 to win.

2. Pitt (4-3, 2-2) at Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2). The Jackets are a double-digit favorite, but they are coming off a victory over Virginia in which they had five turnovers and nine penalties. They are not going to be able to get away with such a sloppy game against a better team in Pitt. While it is true the Panthers lost to Navy last week, the key here is they faced an offense similar to the one they will see Saturday against Georgia Tech. Pitt held Navy to 70 yards below its season rushing average. Facing this type of offense in consecutive weeks gives the Panthers an advantage that many other teams simply do not get. The Panthers also have one of the best receiving duos in the ACC in Devin Street and Tyler Boyd, the only ACC players in the top 10 in both receiving yards per game and receptions per game. Last week, Georgia Tech allowed two 100-yard receivers in Darius Jennings and Tim Smith. Consider Smith had only 13 catches going into the game before catching 10 passes against the Jackets; Jennings had only 15 receptions before catching 13 last week.

3. No. 7 Miami (7-0, 3-0) at No. 3 Florida State (7-0, 5-0). In a rivalry game between unbeaten teams, anything can happen. Are we going to pick Florida State to lose? No. But Miami could give the Noles some trouble. The Canes have the best offensive line Florida State has faced to this point in the season, and a dynamic runner in Duke Johnson. Miami is not afraid to play smash-mouth football, and that is a completely different style than what the Noles have faced over the last three games. The Canes also have played in close games essentially all season long, and have had to overcome double-digit deficits in their last three wins. While it is true the last two should have never gone down to the wire, Miami does know what it takes to play in and win close games. In years past, there might have been panic on the sideline at the prospect of having to come back to win. There is no panic anymore. This is a more mature, confident group. Florida State, on the other hand, has yet to play a game where the fourth quarter mattered. Perhaps Miami had a hard time getting up for games against North Carolina and Wake Forest and played down to its competition. There is no doubt Miami will be up and supremely motivated for this game. The Canes still have plenty to prove.

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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Get it together, Homeland.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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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 5

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Like the ACC, we went 7-0 with our picks last week. Andrea is now 34-4 through four weeks, while Heather is 33-5, but Week 5 brings one big disagreement.

On to the picks!

Thursday

Virginia Tech (3-1, 0-0) at Georgia Tech (3-0, 2-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #VTvsGT. One of these teams has gone to the ACC title game every single year. Will the same hold true in 2013? Both teams come in off a short week and hard-fought wins, but this happens to be the ACC opener for Virginia Tech. The Hokies are 8-1 in ACC openers, with the lone loss coming from Clemson in 2011. They also are good at beating the Jackets, winning three straight meetings and five of the last six. AA gives the nod to Virginia Tech this year based on the defense, ranked No. 5 in the nation. Bud Foster generally finds a way to slow down the Georgia Tech offense enough to give the Hokies a chance at the win. In the last two years, Georgia Tech posted rushing and total offense numbers below its season averages. The Jackets, meanwhile, looked sluggish for most of the day offensively last week against North Carolina. Virginia Tech is much better defensively and that is the difference. AA calls for an UPSET. Virginia Tech 21, Georgia Tech 20.

HD picks: Georgia Tech 24, Virginia Tech 21. The Hokies are coming off a triple-overtime win against Marshall and had a five-day turnaround to prepare for a completely different offense. Foster said he is going to be relying on the retention of his veteran defenders who have played against the spread option offense and have had success against it before. Georgia Tech, though, is No. 2 in the country in third-down conversion percentage, and while the Hokies’ D will do enough to keep them in this game, the offense will struggle enough again that this time it won’t be enough to win it.

Saturday

No. 15 Miami (3-0) at USF (0-3), noon, ESPNU. #MIAvsUSF. Only three seasons ago, USF upset Miami to end the regular season. But things have been downhill for the Bulls since then. USF is off to an 0-3 start for the first time in school history, in large part to its offense and its tendency to turn the ball over. Five times in three games so far, the opponents have scored defensive touchdowns. Penn State transfer Steven Bench gets the start at quarterback this week, while Miami plans to play Stephen Morris, working through a bruised ankle. Truthfully, Miami could win this game even without Morris.

AA says: Miami 35, USF 3

HD says: Miami 51, USF 10

East Carolina (2-1) at North Carolina (1-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #ECUvsUNC. East Carolina plays its second straight ACC opponent, having lost to Virginia Tech a few years ago. The Pirates run the same type of tempo offense the Tar Heels run so there will be plenty of no huddle in this game. What North Carolina coach Larry Fedora wants to see is better offense overall. He called the performance of the group in the second half of a loss to Georgia Tech "inept." Bottom line -- the Tar Heels are averaging more than 100 yards fewer on offense this year than last. North Carolina, in fact, ranks an unsightly No. 82 in the nation in total offense.

AA says: North Carolina 35, East Carolina 17

HD says: North Carolina 31, East Carolina 28

Virginia (2-1, 0-0) at Pitt (2-1, 1-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #UVAvsPITT. The Hoos cannot afford to get in a shootout with the Panthers because they do not have the type of offense that can keep up. What Virginia does have is a more aggressive defense that will try to ramp up the pressure on Tom Savage, rattling him enough so he has a more difficult time getting the ball to Tyler Boyd and Devin Street on the perimeter. Pitt has its own problems on defense it has to deal with, but Virginia is still trying to find its identity there with a consistent run game. Give the nod to the Panthers based on their offensive playmakers.

AA says: Pitt 30, Virginia 23

HD says: Pitt 28, Virginia 24

Troy (2-2) at Duke (2-2), 3 p.m., ESPN3. #TROYvsDUKE. The Blue Devils need to find a way to fix their problems on defense in a hurry after dropping two straight ACC games. The big key is limiting the explosive plays. In the loss to Pitt, the Panthers had 17 plays that picked up 25 or more yards. Troy does not have the same type of offensive skill players as Pitt, or even Georgia Tech for that matter. The Trojans also do not have anybody on their roster like Duke receiver Jamison Crowder, who had nearly 300 all-purpose yards in the loss to the Panthers.

AA says: Duke 35, Troy 20

HD says: Duke 52, Troy 21

No. 8 Florida State (3-0, 1-0) at Boston College (2-1, 1-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #FSUvsBC. The Eagles had a bye to prepare for Florida State, along with the experience of playing against one of the best defenses in the nation in a loss to USC two weeks ago. But those combined may not really do much to help the Eagles in their upset bid. Here is a stat that sums up how good the Seminoles have been early: Through their first three games, 11 different players have scored touchdowns.

AA picks: Florida State 45, Boston College 13

HD picks: Florida State 35, Boston College 17

Central Michigan (1-3) at NC State (2-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #CMUvsNCST. NC State coach Dave Doeren is quite familiar with Central Michigan, having played the Chippewas the last two years as Northern Illinois coach. He went 1-1 in those games. The key here is to see how the Wolfpack bounce back after a tough loss to Clemson last Thursday night. The last time they played a team they were favored to beat, they struggled with Richmond. The focus has to be better.

AA picks: NC State 35, Central Michigan 13

HD picks: NC State 31, Central Michigan 10

Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1) at No. 3 Clemson (3-0, 1-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #WAKEvsCLEM. Wake Forest has not won in Death Valley since 1998. That streak is not going to end Saturday. The Deacs have too many problems on offense to keep pace with the Tigers, who are trying to get back in sync after an up-and-down performance against NC State. Two of the best receivers in the ACC will be featured in this game – Sammy Watkins and Michael Campanaro – but Vic Beasley could end up making headlines once again for the Tigers.

AA picks: Clemson 45, Wake Forest 10

HD picks: Clemson 48, Wake Forest 13

Ranking the ACC's impact freshmen

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is a throwback, and he's never been eager to play his freshmen too early. In his career at the helm of the Demon Deacons, just 22 true freshmen have seen action. And yet, in 2013, Grobe has already played 11 more.

It's a sign of the times that true freshmen are making an instant impact, and that's been particularly true in the ACC. And while virtually every program has seen some results from its Class of 2013 already, these five classes have produced the most through four weeks.

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesIn FSU's season opener, Jalen Ramsey became the Noles' first true freshman cornerback to start a game since Deion Sanders in 1986.
1. Pittsburgh: According to ESPN's rankings, Pitt had the 41st-ranked recruiting class last season, but few programs have gotten more production from their freshmen right off the bat than the Panthers. Pitt has played 12 true freshmen already this season, including two of the nation's best. Tailback James Conner ranks second in the ACC in rushing, and receiver Tyler Boyd has been electric, ranking fifth in the nation in all-purpose yards. Including receiver Scott Orndoff and kicker Chris Blewitt, freshmen have accounted for 70 percent of Pittsburgh's scoring this season.

2. Virginia Tech: The Hokies opened the season with two freshman defensive backs aiming to shut down the two-time defending champions. It was a major question mark, but Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller answered emphatically. Facyson has three interceptions and four passes defended so far, while Fuller has racked up 12 tackles, seven defended passes, six pass breakups and an interception. With the two freshmen starting all four games, Virginia Tech's passing defense ranks sixth in the nation.

3. NC State: Without starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell, the Wolfpack have had to find offense wherever they can, and two true freshmen have answered the call. Tailback Matt Dayes has racked up 143 yards on 37 carries so far, scoring three touchdowns. Meanwhile, receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling ranks in the top 15 in the ACC in receiving yards, yards per reception and yards per game.

4. Florida State: Jalen Ramsey became the first Florida State cornerback to earn a starting assignment as a true freshman since Deion Sanders in the opener, and he didn't disappoint, picking off Pitt QB Tom Savage for the Seminoles' first takeaway of the season. Ramsey ranks sixth on the team with 12 tackles, and he's recorded one of FSU's six sacks. Defensive end DeMarcus Walker earned a start, too, and Matthew Thomas has two tackles for loss. In all, 13 freshmen have seen the field for FSU.

5. Miami: The Hurricanes have yet to see significant contributions from a number of members of their 15th-ranked recruiting class, but the early results from Gus Edwards, Alex Figueroa and Stacy Coley have offered a glimpse of what's to come. Edwards has carried just 18 times, but he's scored on three of those runs, and his 7.3 yards-per-carry average ranks fourth in the ACC. Coley has just five catches, but one went for a touchdown, and Figueroa has eight tackles and a sack for a particularly tough Miami linebacking corps.

Tyler Boyd leads ACC youth movement

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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True freshman receiver Tyler Boyd had one clear objective when he arrived at Pitt.

He wanted to make a statement.

Boyd had no intentions of redshirting. Not at all. So he went about practice to make one play after another, to impress his coaches enough to not only earn some reps in games -- but also to win a starting job.

[+] EnlargeTyler Boyd
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News&Observer/Getty ImagesPitt receiver Tyler Boyd is one of many true freshmen who are making an impact in the ACC this season.
So far, Boyd has been one of the most impressive all-around players in the entire country, ranking No. 1 among all freshmen with an average of 195 all-purpose yards per game. But he is not unique to Pitt or to the ACC. There has been a youth movement across the league this season, featuring true freshmen starters at nearly every position on the field.

Five ACC teams have played double-digit true freshmen, tied with the SEC for the most in the nation. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe have played more true freshmen than at any point in their respective tenures. Of the 14 teams in the ACC, only four have not started a true freshman.

Pitt stands above the rest when it comes to true freshmen contributions, as Boyd is not the only one who has put up impressive numbers. Running back James Conner ranks No. 2 in the ACC in rushing yards per game (108.7). The Panthers also feature true freshman kicker Chris Blewitt, the first time in 11 years they have started a first-year player at the position.

Overall, true freshmen have accounted for 70 percent of Pitt’s scoring output so far.

“I just knew I had a real strong opportunity to come in here and make a huge impact, especially since it’s my hometown,” Boyd said in a recent phone interview. “I wanted to have everybody on board; my family, all my friends -- I wanted to make sure everybody was around to watch me do what I had to do.”

Virginia Tech is not far behind Pitt when it comes to immediate contributions from true freshmen. Ten have played, and five have started already this season. Four have started every game -- left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin, cornerback Brandon Facyson, whip Kendall Fuller and kickoff specialist Mitchell Ludwig.

It is the first time Beamer has started a true freshman at left tackle and a true freshman at cornerback. Facyson already has three interceptions, tied for the ACC lead. Four games into the season, he also has tied the school record for interceptions by a freshman, set by DeAngelo Hall in 2001.

“It's been a great experience so far,” Facyson said in a recent phone interview. “Me and Kendall, we both had aspirations of coming in here and getting to work right away and helping the team out as much as we could. That's what we want to do is become a reliable source for the team. Even being true freshmen coming in, we didn't want the team to not believe in us so we had to come in here and really have our minds focused, and so far we've done that.”

Both the Pitt and Virginia Tech freshmen did not get eased into their college careers. The Panthers opened against No. 8 Florida State, while the Hokies opened against No. 1 Alabama. But the true freshmen were not intimidated.

Boyd had 151 all-purpose yards; the Hokies essentially shut down Alabama and top receiver Amari Cooper, holding him to four catches for 38 yards.

“I was a little bit nervous and cautious about everything,” Boyd said. “I didn’t want to mess up but my coaches and my teammates kept telling me to go out there and be calm, just relax, just stay comfortable with everything. Once I got the ball in my hand, I wanted to help my team.”

Facyson and Fuller have been able to help each other as true freshmen playing together on defense. The two are roommates, so they sometimes spend their down time in the dorm quizzing each other on formations and responsibilities.

“It’s honestly a good feeling just to have someone back there in my situation as well because you’re on the same level with them and only they truly understand the pressure,” Facyson said. “So we try to calm each other down, we try to hype each other up when it’s needed. We just want to have fun. We want to help our team out and just play for each other.”

Florida State (13), NC State (11) and Wake Forest (11) also have played double-digit freshmen. Like Pitt, NC State has gotten major contributions from true freshmen on offense. True freshmen lead the Wolfpack in both rushing (Matt Dayes, 37 carries for 143 yards) and receiving (Marquez Valdes-Scantling, 14 receptions for 201 yards).

As for Wake, the true freshmen numbers are simply astounding. Before this year, the highest number of true freshman to ever play in a season under Grobe was three. Center Cory Helms is the lone true freshman starter -- the first true freshman to start his first collegiate game since defensive tackle Marvin Mitchell in 1987.

All around, freshmen are contributing. Now that we have seen so many talented youngsters so early in their careers, the question is: How good will they become in a few years’ time?

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