Florida State Seminoles: Conner Vernon

ACC's best moments of 2012

January, 14, 2013
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It was a rough year for the ACC, but in retrospect, there were too many highlights to narrow it down to 10. From Blair Holliday’s return, to the ACC’s impressive performances during bowl season, to individual performances and games, the conference had plenty of memorable moments in 2012.

The following is a list of 10 moments and memories that best captured the 2012 ACC season, according to ESPN.com. ACC fans are bound to have more, and we’d love to hear them. What did we miss? Feel free to drop us a note in the mailbag, and we’ll highlight the best nominations in a separate mailblog. Until then, here are your top 10 moments from 2012, starting with the best:

1. Chandler Catanzaro's game-winning field goal versus LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl: It was the ACC’s biggest win of the season, and the highest-ranked team Clemson has beaten in a bowl game since the 2004 (2003 season) Chick-fil-A Bowl, when the Tigers defeated sixth-ranked Tennessee 27-14. Catanzaro’s 37-yard field goal as time expired gave No. 14 Clemson a wild 25-24 win against No. 8 LSU, and it was the highest-ranked SEC team an ACC team has beaten in the past nine years.

2. Duke becomes bowl eligible for the first time since 1994: Sean Renfree's 5-yard touchdown pass to Jamison Crowder on fourth down with 13 seconds left lifted Duke past North Carolina 33-30 and made the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Renfree converted three third-and-longs during the game-winning, 87-yard drive.

[+] EnlargeGiovani Bernard
Bob Donnan/US PresswireGiovani Bernard's 74-yard game-winning punt return to lift UNC past rival NCSU was a play to remember.
3. Giovani Bernard versus NC State: Bernard returned a punt 74 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds left, helping North Carolina stun rival NC State 43-35 to end a five-year losing streak in the series. That day, Bernard also ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns, and had eight catches for 95 yards.

4. Karlos Williams' tip and interception in the ACC title game: In what turned out to be the final game for FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, FSU's D came up big against Georgia Tech, and no play was bigger than Williams'. The game wasn't decided until Williams intercepted Tevin Washington with less than a minute remaining. It was FSU's first ACC title since 2005.

5. The ACC posting its first winning bowl record since 2005: With marquee wins over LSU and USC and a victory in the Discover Orange Bowl, the ACC finally came out on the right end of bowl season, and will enter 2013 will some much-needed positive momentum. The Noles took another step toward national relevance with a 31-10 win against No. 15 Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl -- their first BCS bowl win since they beat Virginia Tech in 2000.

6. FSU quarterback EJ Manuel’s performance versus Clemson: It was Manuel’s one true Heisman moment of the season, as he completed 27 of 35 passes for a career-high 380 yards while rushing for another 102 to become the first Seminoles quarterback since Charlie Ward in 1992 to pass for more than 300 yards and run for more than 100 in a game.

7. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd accounts for eight touchdowns: The ACC Player of the Year set school and ACC records when he scored five passing and three rushing touchdowns in a 62-48 win over NC State. The Tigers gained 754 yards and ran 102 plays, the most in school history. Boyd was responsible for every Clemson touchdown. Boyd was 30-for-44 for 426 yards and ran for 105 yards -- the combined 531 yards set another school record.

8. Johnson leads Canes to Coastal title: In the regular-season finale against Duke, Miami freshman Duke Johnson rushed for season highs of 176 yards and three touchdowns. He scored on runs of 18, 6 and 65 yards. He finished his freshman year with 947 yards rushing, easily surpassing Clinton Portis' 13-year-old school freshman rushing record of 838 yards.

9. NC State’s game-winning TD in its upset of No. 3-ranked FSU. This isn’t a “best moment” for FSU fans, but it was by far one of the most memorable plays in the ACC and a highlight for the Wolfpack. Quarterback Mike Glennon found Bryan Underwood for a 2-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 16 seconds left, helping the Wolfpack beat the Seminoles 17-16 on Oct. 6.

10. Duke receiver Conner Vernon rewrites the record books: In a 42-17 win against Virginia, Vernon surpassed Clemson's Aaron Kelly as the ACC's all-time leader in career receptions when he made a catch for minus-2 yards in the first quarter. In the 42-24 loss to Georgia Tech, Vernon became the ACC's all-time leader in yards receiving, passing former Florida State star Peter Warrick's record of 3,517 yards.

TOP 3 OFF-FIELD MOMENTS

[+] EnlargeBlair Holliday
Courtesy of Duke Sports InformationBlair Holliday (No. 8) walks with his Duke teammates in his return to the field following a terrible jet ski accident that sidelined the wide receiver.
So as not to trivialize these moments by tossing them in with touchdowns, here are three more memories you won't want to forget:

1. Blair Holliday joins his Duke captains for the coin toss against NC Central: It was a miraculous recovery, and the most inspirational story in the conference. Holliday, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a jet ski accident on July 4 that left him in critical condition, led the team on the Devil Walk in what was an emotional comeback for the entire team.

2. Clemson receiver Daniel Rodriguez leads the Tigers on Military Appreciation Day: The Army veteran led the team down the hill carrying the American flag prior to the Virginia Tech game on Military Appreciation Day at Clemson on Oct. 20.

3. The ACC adds Louisville: The ACC's presidents and chancellors voted to add Louisville to replace Maryland, a move that looked better and better as the Cardinals' football season ended with a win against Florida in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. ACC officials conceded the move was an athletics-first, academics-second decision, but it was one the conference should eventually benefit from.
With Chris Thompson -- last week's No. 1 player in our Florida State power rankings -- gone for the season, the Seminoles need others to step up on offense. If Saturday was any indication, that won't be a concern.

Florida State's offense racked up five touchdowns in a dominant win over Duke, and had it not been for four fumbles, it might have been a lot more.

So, with a bye week finally at hand, here's how the power rankings stack up after nine games. (Last week's ranks in parentheses.)

By the Numbers: FSU 48, Duke 7 

October, 28, 2012
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On paper, the scenario simply doesn't add up. Florida State lost the turnover battle 4-0. Its star quarterback completed just eight passes. It was without its starting running back, and it was playing a division leader.

Most of the time, that adds up to a bad loss. On Saturday against Duke, it was a formula for a blowout win.

But while the 48-7 final score hardly tells the story of all that happened, these five numbers do.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The game was billed as a battle of division leaders, but Duke hardly looked the part Saturday as Florida State dominated the Blue Devils en route to a 48-7 victory.

Despite Duke's upstart status this season, little has changed in its rivalry with the Seminoles. EJ Manuel threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns, Tyler Hunter added a 75-yard punt return for a score and Florida State cruised to its 18th victory in as many tries against the Blue Devils.

It was over when: James Wilder Jr. rumbled into the end zone from 1 yard out just 1:50 into the second quarter. That touchdown put Florida State ahead 24-0, and it was already clear that in spite of all the buzz leading up to the game surrounding Duke's sudden resurgence, the Blue Devils simply weren't in the same class as the Seminoles.

Game ball goes to: Wilder and Devonta Freeman. There were plenty of stout performances, from Manuel's long passes to stellar defensive work by Cornellius Carradine and Christian Jones. But coming into the game, the big question was how Florida State's ground game would respond to the loss of starting tailback Chris Thompson, and Freeman and Wilder offered an emphatic answer. The pair combined for 174 yards on 25 carries and scored three times on the ground. Since Thompson's injury, Wilder and Freeman have averaged 6.8 yards per carry.

Stat of the game: Manuel wasn't asked to do much against Duke, but when he unloaded in the passing game, it was usually for a big play. Manuel averaged 17.6 yards per attempt against Duke -- the highest average of his career. Five of Manuel's eight completions gained at least 30 yards, and he finished with 282 yards passing. In his two career starts against Duke, Manuel has completed just 17 passes, but five have gained 50 yards or more. Meanwhile, Duke's quarterbacks averaged just 3.6 yards per attempt Saturday.

Unsung hero: Dustin Hopkins. OK, so neither of his field goals meant a whole lot in determining the outcome, but Hopkins connected on a 56-yard kick with 9:40 to go in the fourth quarter to set the ACC's all-time record for most field goals in a career, eclipsing former Maryland kicker Nick Novak. Hopkins has 15 field goals in his last five games, but the 58-yarder was a career-long for the senior. He's just 10 points shy of setting the NCAA record for most points scored in a career.

Record performance: Hopkins provided the only ACC record of the day, as Duke's Conner Vernon will have to wait to set the conference record for receiving yards. Vernon entered play needing 94 yards to break Peter Warrick's career mark for ACC receivers, but he managed just three catches for 12 yards.

Cause for concern: It was an easy win for Florida State, but fumbles remained a big problem for the second consecutive game. FSU coughed up the football four times Saturday, with Duke recovering each of them. This comes on the heels of a six-fumble performance against Miami last week. The problems were across the board, too, with Manuel fumbling on a QB run, Rodney Smith fumbling after a long reception, Freeman coughing up the football on a running play and Hunter muffing a return.

Matchups to watch: FSU-Duke

October, 26, 2012
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Things to keep an eye on when Florida State takes on Duke on Saturday.

[+] EnlargeE.J. Manuel
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesE.J. Manuel has been extremely accurate when passing outside of the pocket.
Noles to watch:
1. EJ Manuel. It's been a Jekyll-and-Hyde season for Manuel depending on the venue. He's been mediocre on the road, throwing just two TD passes in three games, completing 66 percent of his throws and averaging just 230 yards per game. Manuel has been unstoppable at home, though. In five home games, he's completing nearly 75 percent of his throws with eight TDs and averaging 332 yards per game.

2. Tyler Hunter. After his third fumble of the season on special teams last week, Rashad Greene was benched as FSU's top punt returner, and Hunter will now get his chance. But while Greene struggled to hold onto the football, he was also a big-play threat, with two touchdowns already. Hunter provides the same home-run potential, Fisher said, having played on offense through much of his high school career.

3. James Wilder Jr. and Devonta Freeman. Chris Thompson's season is over and the burden of picking up the FSU ground game now falls to a pair of sophomores. Both runners are averaging better than 6 yards per carry this season and combined for 119 yards and two touchdowns after Thompson departed last week's game, so there's ample reason for optimism.

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NoleNation Q&A: Previewing Duke

October, 25, 2012
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In August, it would have been pretty easy to assume this week's game would feature one team in control of its own destiny in the ACC and another looking for help. Of course, who would've guessed the team with its sights set on the ACC championship game would be Duke, and it would be Florida State that was still on the outside looking in?

[+] EnlargeSean Renfree
Liz Condo/US PresswireQuarterback Sean Renfree is a big reason why Duke is bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994.
Still, history suggests there's little room for concern for Florida State this week, even if Duke is playing its best football in nearly two decades. But the Seminoles know what can happen when they take an opponent lightly, and the Blue Devils have talent.

So, what are the keys to running up another big win over Duke? We checked in with Blue Devils beat writer Laura Keeley from the Raleigh News & Observer for some answers.

NoleNation: Duke is 0-17 all-time against FSU, has never lost by fewer than 19 points and has allowed at least 44 points in 14 of the 17 previous meetings. Obviously this year's Duke team is the best they've had in a while, but do these Blue Devils really believe they have a chance to knock off FSU?

Laura Keeley: They do. This is not your Duke team of old, and I present you three different situations as evidence:

1) Wake Forest scored 10 points in the final 2:26 of the third quarter to tie that Sept. 29 game at 20-20. Duke scored 14 straight points and won 34-27 to snap a 12-year losing streak to the Demon Deacons.

2) Duke came out of the tunnel at Blacksburg and built a 20-0 lead against a physically superior Virginia Tech team in the first quarter. That's the second-highest total ever surrendered by the Hokies in the Frank Beamer era, and it took the largest comeback of the Beamer era for Virginia Tech to win.

3) So yes, in the above game Virginia Tech scored 41 unanswered points to win 41-20. But the Blue Devils shook that off and came out and beat UNC 33-30 to end an 8-year losing streak to the Tar Heels and clinch bowl eligibility. The game-winning drive came after Duke CB Ross Cockrell failed to corral a loose ball that would have sealed the deal for Duke, but instead UNC RB Giovani Bernard scooped and scored and gave UNC the temporary lead.

So, yeah, things are different in Durham this year. That said, the Blue Devils are aware of the monumental challenge Florida State presents and acknowledge that the Noles are bigger, faster and stronger. That's just a fact.

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Five Storylines: FSU vs. Duke 

October, 25, 2012
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Florida State has the best record in the ACC but can't afford a slip-up if it wants to have any chance at a conference title.

Duke leads the Coastal Division and is in control of its own destiny in an unlikely bid for a spot in the ACC championship game.

If it weren't for a history of Florida State dominance in the series, this would certainly have the status as one of the conference's marquee games of the season. Even with FSU installed as a heavy favorite, there are still plenty of interesting storylines to follow.

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What to watch in the ACC: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
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Here are the top storylines to watch in the ACC during Week 8.

1. What happens at quarterback for Miami? Starter Stephen Morris has been held out of full contact practice all week because of a sprained ankle, and his status against Florida State seems pretty doubtful. Coach Al Golden has said Morris would be a game-time decision, but the Hurricanes are preparing for Ryan Williams to start. If that happens, Williams will be making his first Miami start against in-state rival Florida State and one of the best defenses in the nation.

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Charles LeClaire/US PresswireCoach Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech face Clemson in a game that could shape their season.
2. Can Virginia Tech keep its momentum? Last week, most everybody had written off the Hokies. This week, everybody is wondering whether they can pull out the Coastal Division. Beating No. 19 Clemson would be a huge step in that direction. Clemson is not going to be an easy out by any stretch. The Tigers won both meetings with the Hokies last season -- the first time Virginia Tech had ever lost to the same team twice in one season. Factor in play at Death Valley as well. Clemson has won 13 of 15 ACC home games under coach Dabo Swinney.

3. How does NC State respond after a bye? This is our first chance to see the Wolfpack since their 17-16 upset of then-No. 3 Florida State two weeks ago. So what can we expect? Their opponent, Maryland, is the only undefeated team in ACC play and has one of the best defenses in the nation. So there is no overstating how important this game is in the Atlantic race. NC State is 4-2 under Tom O'Brien after a bye. The results have been decided by an average of only nine points per game.

4. Speaking of byes ... Clemson, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech were off last week as well, so we will see whether the time off works to their advantage. In the cases of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, the time away seemed to come at a perfect time. The Deacs are reeling, having lost three of four, with off-the-field issues threatening to overshadow the season. The Yellow Jackets have been working hard to simplify their defensive scheme under interim coordinator Charles Kelly and coach Paul Johnson. The new theme on defense: less is more.

5. Run games to watch, Part I. Can Duke stop Giovani Bernard? A week after giving up 183 yards to freshman J.C. Coleman, how do the Blue Devils go about slowing down Bernard? The North Carolina running back has been sensational the past two weeks, with 439 yards rushing and two touchdowns combined. Bernard would be leading the league in rushing if he had enough carries to qualify. Duke is hoping for a win against North Carolina for the first time since 2003, a victory that would make the Blue Devils bowl eligible.

6. Run games to watch, Part II. Can the Hokies run on Clemson? As noted above, Virginia Tech got its ground game going last week, racking up a season-high 269 yards rushing. Coach Frank Beamer says he is not going to just stick with J.C. Coleman -- he will continue to rotate his backs against the Tigers. Clemson has had its share of struggles stopping the run, holding only Boston College under 100 yards on the ground this season.

7. Run games to watch, Part III. Will Maryland be able to solve its rushing woes against NC State? The Terps are one of the worst teams in the nation when it comes to running the football, averaging 71.3 yards per game and a paltry 1.9 yards per carry. They are on pace to set program lows in the modern era for average rushing yards per game and average yards per carry. The current program-low is 81.3 rushing yards per game and 2.2 yards per carry, set in 1966. The last time Maryland failed to average more than 100 yards rushing per game was in 1997 (88.5 ypg). (Note: the Maryland stats record book goes back to 1947.)

8. Losing streaks, Part I: Virginia. The Hoos have lost five straight, the longest losing streak in the ACC. It is their longest losing streak since dropping six straight to close the 2009 season. Virginia gets Wake Forest this week, another team that is on a bit of a losing skid as well. For Virginia to maintain any bowl hopes, it has to win this game. If not, the Hoos face the prospect of having to win out to become bowl eligible.

9. Losing streaks, Part II: Boston College and Georgia Tech. These teams also have had their share of adversity to overcome. The Yellow Jackets have lost three straight; the Eagles four straight. The good news is somebody will end their losing streak. The bad news is somebody will have a lot more questions to answer about the direction of the program.

10. Record watch. Here are some marks to keep an eye on this weekend. Georgia Tech quarterback Tevin Washington needs 51 rushing yards to join Joshua Nesbitt as the only players in school history with 2,500 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards. ... Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has 5,905 yards passing and should pass Woodrow Dantzler (6,037) for second place against Virginia Tech. ... Duke receiver Conner Vernon is 111 yards away from the school career mark of 3,318 yards receiving, set by Clarkston Hine. Vernon is 217 yards short of the ACC career mark of 3,517 held by Florida State’s Peter Warrick.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 5

October, 1, 2012
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Here’s a look back at Week 5 in the ACC:

[+] EnlargeChristian Jones
Kim Klement/US PresswireChristian Jones and Florida State kept their national title hopes alive with a win at South Florida.
The good: Ranked teams stayed ranked. Florida State held off a scrappy South Florida team for its first road win of the season, and Clemson avoided “pulling a Clemson” and escaped Boston College with a win. Through five weeks, the ACC still has a national title contender and a chance at two BCS bowl bids.

The bad: Turnovers. NC State had six. Georgia Tech had four. It would be nice to stop there, but Wake Forest had four, Virginia had three and so did Virginia Tech.

The ugly: The ACC’s 2-3 nonconference record. Georgia Tech’s home loss to Middle Tennessee, Virginia’s home loss to Louisiana Tech and the Hokies’ loss to Cincinnati at FedEx Field didn’t do the ACC's image any favors. Virginia Tech’s loss to Cincy dropped the Hokies to 0-2 against the Big East this year and the ACC to 3-4 overall against the Big East this season.

The streak: Wake Forest’s 12-game winning streak over Duke was snapped. It was the first time since 1999 that the Blue Devils found a way to beat the Deacs.

The record: Miami quarterback Stephen Morris threw for a school- and ACC-record 566 yards and five touchdowns. His final touchdown came with 19 seconds left and sealed the Canes' 44-37 win over NC State for their first three-game winning streak since 2009. Morris was 26-of-50 passing for Miami, which finished with 652 yards of offense.

The record II: UNC set a school single-game scoring record in its 66-0 win over Idaho. The Tar Heels had 371 yards and 45 points by halftime before finishing with 575 total yards.

The record III: Conner Vernon tied an ACC record with his 232nd career reception with about three minutes left for Duke.

The stat: Clemson’s defense had eight plays that resulted in negative yards for Boston College. Entering the game, the Clemson defense had just 20 for the season.

The quote: “I don’t know, in 38 years I’ve never been involved with a team that made this many mistakes,” -- NC State coach Tom O’Brien, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
No. 12. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

2011 stats: As part of a three-man starting rotation last season with Mike Harris and former Nole Greg Reid, Rhodes had 43 tackles (36 solo), with 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception and four pass breakups.

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Rhodes: At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Rhodes is a big, physical cover corner who should flourish in his fourth season in the program. Rhodes is the best corner on the Noles’ roster, and he has the speed and ability to change direction on a dime. He’s also got good hands and ball skills.

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March on 2012: FSU vs. Duke

July, 24, 2012
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Looking forward to real, live football, NoleNation takes a run through Florida State’s 2012 schedule, going game-by-game to find the best storylines and matchups of the upcoming season.

Duke Blue Devils

Saturday, Oct. 27: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee

2011 record: 3-9 (1-7). After an embarrassing opening-week loss to FCS opponent Richmond, the Blue Devils responded by winning three straight games in late September and early October to push their record above .500. Then the bottom fell out, and Duke dropped seven straight in ACC play to close out the year, including a 41-16 thrashing at the hands of FSU.

Coach: David Cutcliffe (15-33, fifth season)

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