Florida State Seminoles: DeAndre Hopkins

Planning for success: Florida State

October, 17, 2013
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- There were two lasting images following Florida State's emotional 49-37 victory over Clemson last year. The first was of the Seminoles' jubilant celebration on the field in Tallahassee after the clock hit zeroes. The second was of safety Terrence Brooks, head hung, watching his teammates from the bench.

It's been more than a year, but as Florida State prepares for this year's showdown against Clemson, Brooks' frustration after allowing two touchdowns in that game still weighs heavily on the senior safety.

"I want to get a little payback," Brooks said. "I hate people scoring on me. I feel like that game last year really threw people off on how I can play, and it makes no sense to me."

[+] EnlargeTerrence Brooks
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTerrence Brooks (31) had 12 tackles in Florida State's victory over Clemson last season, but he was down after the game after the Tigers scored on two touchdown passes against him.
The way it all happened remains skewed by perspective -- both for fans and for Brooks.

The reality of last year's game was that Brooks finished with a team-high 12 tackles. He allowed one long touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins, who is now playing in the NFL. He allowed another short TD late in the fourth quarter, with FSU already up big. It wasn't even Brooks' assignment, and he nearly picked off the pass that floated just out of his reach. In the year since, Brooks has established himself as one of the ACC's most consistent defensive backs.

And yet, the perception of fans, Brooks said, is much different.

"It makes me mad that people let that overshadow my whole play," he said. "Plenty of people in history have gotten scored on, and I'm pretty sure they didn't think like that. But it is what it is. Florida State holds a standard, and I understand how people want you to play. I hold a standard to myself that I play better than that. I know I was mad that I gave up the touchdown."

Brooks was mad then, and he's mad now. And that anger has fueled a year of hard work with an eye on redemption.

When Brooks took the field against Clemson last year, it was a new experience. In his first season as a full-time starter, the Tigers' offense was a whirlwind. He hadn't faced a unit that worked at such a rapid tempo, and he hadn't encountered a quarterback as dangerous as Tajh Boyd. He paid the price for his inexperience, but he learned from it.

"I hate people scoring on me, and I'm going into this game with a much stronger attitude," Brooks said. "I feel like a totally different player. I'm definitely not how I was last year. I'm going out there to play my game."

For the past year, Brooks' game has been as good as anyone's. He finished last season with 52 tackles -- tops among FSU's defensive backs -- and two interceptions on a unit that led the nation in passing defense. So far this season, he's chalked up 24 tackles and a pick, and he's been the anchor of a secondary that features new starters at every other position, including true freshman Jalen Ramsey at the other safety spot.

As much as his performance against Clemson last year stung, it's made him better.

"From that point on, I drew a line and said, 'I'm not going to get scored on again,' " Brooks said. "That started from that game to now, how I've been working. I'm prepared for big games like this, and I plan on having a big game."

Fellow senior Lamarcus Joyner likes to hear that confidence, but he said he hopes Brooks hasn't let what happened a year ago define him. Brooks came to Florida State as the three-star recruit alongside touted prospects, and he's always played with a chip on his shoulder, but there's a time to let go, Joyner said.

That time for Brooks might be Saturday, when he finally gets his shot at redemption against Boyd and the Tigers.

"I still know what I can do, and I know I can go out there and play with the best of them," Brooks said. "I feel like I've been showing it this season and really trying to take it to the next level."

Diagnosing the ACC

September, 18, 2013
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The ACC has to be thrilled with the first three weeks of the season: three top-25 teams, including two in the top 10, a 2-2 record against the SEC in early nonconference games and six unbeatens so far.

What could be ailing this conference? Take a closer look at the numbers, and you will find that offense is generally down across the league.

What’s ailing the ACC

Remember, the ACC set all sorts of single-season offensive records in 2012 -- scoring 40 or more points in a game (42 times), topping 500 yards of total offense in a game (38) and 100-yard receiving days (69), as well. And the league had its highest-scoring game in history between Georgia Tech and North Carolina (a 68-50 Yellow Jackets victory).

But so far, nine teams are below their total offense average from a year ago. That includes high-flying Clemson, which ranks "only" No. 35 in total offense so far. Miami (No. 91 overall) and North Carolina (No. 71 overall), expected to be two of the better offenses in the league, also have had problems with consistency. Virginia Tech, Boston College and Wake Forest -- three of the worst teams in total offense a year ago -- are all statistically worse.

Having said that, part of the reason the numbers are lower from some of these schools is the opponents they have played. Miami, North Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech all played SEC competition within the first two weeks of the season. Virginia played BYU and Oregon. Eight teams also have had byes within the first three weeks, so the body of work is not nearly as large. But it is still an interesting trend to note.

What’s the cure

Another reason for some of these struggles has been mediocre quarterback play. But there are a few factors to consider.

Of the nine teams whose offensive production has dipped, five have either new head coaches or new offensive coordinators (Syracuse, Miami, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Boston College). In Miami, for example, Stephen Morris' completion percentage has dropped to 52 percent. Others, such as Virginia, Duke and Syracuse, have new starting quarterbacks.

Other programs have had to deal with personnel changes around them. North Carolina went into the season with a revamped offensive line and questions at running back following Giovani Bernard's departure to the NFL. Clemson has had to replace DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Ellington.

As these players and coaches get more comfortable with one another, then some of these offenses should look better as the season goes on. Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas, for example, says he felt more in sync with offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler in a victory over East Carolina last week. That was his best game of the young season.

It's very early in the season to start drawing definitive conclusions, but there's no question there's room for improvement everywhere.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A hundred yards of green spread out ahead of him, and Terrence Brooks saw himself galloping across each hash mark along the way.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Hopkins
AP Photo/Phil SearsClemson's high-powered attack burned Terrence Brooks (31) a couple of times in 2012.
Even now, more than six months after Brooks mistimed a jump that would've inevitably led to a late -- albeit unnecessary -- touchdown against Clemson, he can still see the ball hanging in the air, picture himself snagging it from the receiver and darting toward the end zone at the opposite end of the field.

"I have dreams about it," Brooks said of the Tajh Boyd pass that sailed just out of reach and into the arms of Brandon Ford for a touchdown.

For a player who started every game, finished with 52 tackles and picked off two passes in 2012, it's that play that was the most memorable.

That's OK, Brooks said.

After that game, Brooks sat on the bench with his head hung while teammates celebrated, but now he celebrates it, too. After that game, his teammates begged him to forget the performance, but now he's glad to remember. Before that game, he questioned himself, but afterward, he knew.

(Read full post)

Best case/worst case: ACC bowls

December, 13, 2012
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The ACC is looking for its first winning bowl record since 2005 and will have six opportunities this season to help its cause. ESPN.com is taking a look at the best- and worst-case scenario for each team going bowling. Here’s a look at what could happen in the ACC:

Duke

Best case: Duke wins. Look, getting to a bowl game for the first time since 1994 was huge, but it has been even longer since the program has actually won a bowl game. A win against Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl would give Duke its first bowl win since 1961, when Duke beat Arkansas in the Cotton Bowl.

Worst case: Duke’s defense allows its fifth straight opponent more than 40 points, and the ACC Coach of the Year goes 6-7.

Virginia Tech

Best case: Quarterback Logan Thomas plays an interception-free game, the Hokies get their running game going, Virginia Tech beats Rutgers for its first win of the season against a Big East team, and coach Frank Beamer announces he will hire a new offensive coordinator.

Worst case: The Hokies’ offense continues to look as anemic as it has all season, the program suffers its first losing season since 1992, and Beamer decides not to make any changes to his staff after an 0-3 finish against Big East teams.

NC State

Best case: Quarterback Mike Glennon plays four quarters like he did the final drive against Florida State, and the Pack has something positive to build on heading into the offseason with first-year coach Dave Doeren.

Worst case: The Pack’s mediocre rushing defense has no answer for All-SEC running back Zac Stacy, interim coach Dana Bible loses his first game as a head coach, and the ACC takes another punch in the gut from the SEC.

Georgia Tech

Best case: Paul Johnson has a reason to celebrate. The Jackets coach has lost all four bowls he has coached with the program. He could win his first if Georgia Tech’s defense looks like it had a month to prepare for Matt Barkley, the offense controls the clock with sustained drives, and the team wins the turnover battle.

Worst case: The Jackets secondary gets burned repeatedly by USC All-American receiver Marqise Lee, Johnson drops to 0-5 in bowl games, and Georgia Tech decides to follow Maryland to the Big Ten.

Clemson

Best case: ACC 1, SEC 0. Clemson beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl would do wonders for both the program and the ACC. The offensive line wins the battle up front and keeps LSU at bay in time for quarterback Tajh Boyd to work his magic.

Worst case: The Tigers lose the game and their offensive coordinator and their quarterback. Chad Morris goes to Texas Tech, Boyd leaves early for the NFL draft, and receiver DeAndre Hopkins follows.

Florida State

Best case: Florida State cruises, quarterback EJ Manuel looks like he did against Clemson -- not Florida -- and the defense stifles highly touted quarterback Jordan Lynch.

Worst case: The Noles lose to Northern Illinois. Nuff said. Well, that and Jimbo Fisher's entire staff leaves for the SEC.

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.

(Read full post)

2012 ACC midseason report

October, 15, 2012
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The ACC has done it again.

From hope to heartache in a matter of weeks, ACC fans and their teams have run the gamut of emotions in the first half of the season.

The conference started out strong with a nationally televised showdown between top-10 teams Florida State and Clemson. It was prime-time entertainment with ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew in Tallahassee, Fla., and both teams lived up to the billing and looked worthy of their preseason hype and rankings. The conference puffed out its chest even more with the news that Notre Dame would commit to playing five games against the ACC annually, a solid steppingstone to the Irish possibly joining the conference full-time one day.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Benjamin
Rob Kinnan/US PresswireFlorida State's stunning loss at NC State not only hurt Seminoles receiver Kelvin Benjamin, it resonated throughout the ACC, depriving the league of its best hope for a national champion.
For six weeks, the ACC had its national title contender in unbeaten and No. 3-ranked Florida State. It had its Heisman hopeful in FSU quarterback EJ Manuel. And it had enhanced its stability and reputation for the future with its partnership with Notre Dame.

And then came the crash.

What was pure bliss for NC State in Week 6 was devastating to the ACC. In stunning, dramatic fashion, NC State quarterback Mike Glennon completed three fourth-down passes in the final drive of the fourth quarter, leading the Pack to a 17-16 upset of Florida State. Instantaneously, the league faded back into irrelevance in the national picture. No longer could the ACC mask an otherwise abysmal season with its top-five team.

Suddenly, the rest of the ACC’s warts seemed uglier.

Georgia Tech fired its defensive coordinator, Al Groh. After coming up short in losses to two Big East teams, Bud Foster’s Virginia Tech defense allowed North Carolina to score more points -- 48 -- than any other ACC team has ever scored against the Hokies. Boston College lost to a previously winless Army team, further indicating this could be Frank Spaziani’s last season as head coach. Wake Forest suspended six players for its game at Maryland and two more the following week. Two of the league’s brightest stars -- NC State cornerback David Amerson and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins -- have yet to shine like they did a year ago, but two rookies -- Maryland’s Stefon Diggs and Miami’s Duke Johnson -- emerged as household names in ACC country.

With Duke and Miami briefly leading the Coastal Division standings, and Maryland atop the Atlantic Division standings, the ACC was officially turned upside down in the first half of the season. Preseason Coastal favorite Virginia Tech was out of the Top 25 by Week 3 and Georgia Tech sank into a four-loss crater, leaving the door wide open. The Blue Devils knocked it down with a 5-1 start, and the wildly unpredictable Cardiac Canes elbowed their way to the top of the division standings. Miami overcame its youth, and Duke found a way to overcome numerous injuries -- including ones to several key starters on defense and also to starting quarterback Sean Renfree -- for its best start since 1994. Duke entered Week 7 with the best record in the state of North Carolina, but couldn't hold onto the magic and was shut out for the final three quarters of a 41-20 loss at Virginia Tech. Meanwhile, the postseason-ineligible Tar Heels looked like the most complete team in the division.

Four teams in the Coastal Division have one league loss. Maryland is the only ACC team still undefeated in conference play. About the only predictable thing in this conference is its unpredictability -- and its failure to maintain a national title contender through November.

Offensive MVP: Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins needed only the season opener to set the Clemson single-game record for receptions with 13 against Auburn. Hopkins has been near the ACC lead in receiving yards per game all season, and has a 129.5 average entering the game with Virginia Tech. He has 370 receiving yards on 18 catches in the past two games and was leading the nation in total receiving yards entering games of Oct. 13.

Defensive MVP: FSU DE Bjoern Werner: Werner has looked like a pro this season. Nobody had more sacks in the opening weekend of FBS college football, and he has been relentless in pursuit of opposing quarterbacks. Of Werner’s 21 tackles on the season, 10 are tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks.

Biggest surprise: Duke. The Blue Devils’ 5-1 start was their best since 1994, also the last time the program went to a bowl game. Duke started out 2-0 in ACC play with wins against Wake Forest and Virginia. That the team was able to overcome so many injuries to key players and leap Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division standings was evidence the recruiting and depth have improved significantly.

Biggest disappointment: Virginia Tech. The Hokies were ranked No. 16 in The Associated Press Top 25 preseason poll, but fell out entirely after an embarrassing road loss to Pitt in Week 3. Instead of that being an anomaly, Virginia Tech went 0-2 against the Big East and lost back-to-back games against Cincinnati and North Carolina. With eight starters having to be replaced on offense, struggles were expected, but the defense fell far below expectations.

Best game: Florida State at NC State. This one changed the entire season, and it couldn’t have come in more thrilling fashion. On fourth down with 16 seconds left, Mike Glennon threw what would be the game-winning 2-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Underwood for the 17-16 win. It was the highest-ranked opponent NC State has defeated since beating No. 2 Florida State 24-7 in 1998, and it opened up the Atlantic Division race.

Newcomer of the year: Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs. He became the only Maryland freshman to record back-to-back 100-yard receiving games since at least 1985, and one of those performances came against West Virginia. Diggs is the only player in the ACC, and one of two nationally, with 350 receiving yards, 150 punt return yards and 150 kickoff return yards (joining Bernard Reedy of Toledo). Diggs leads the ACC and ranks third nationally with 21.5 yards per catch.

Best coach: David Cutcliffe, Duke: He kept his players believing, and the program turned the corner in his fifth season. It is only the third Duke start of 5-1 or better in the past 30 years (5-1 in 2012; 6-0 in 1994; 5-1 in 1988). With home wins against FIU, N.C. Central, Memphis and Virginia this season, the Blue Devils also have opened the year with four consecutive home wins for the first time since 1994.

ACC power rankings: Week 6

October, 1, 2012
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Hello, Duke ...

1. Florida State (5-0, 2-0 ACC) – There wasn’t anything spectacular about the Noles’ 30-17 road win over South Florida, but it didn’t matter. FSU won its first road game, avoided a letdown and is still undefeated. FSU will have a difficult trip to NC State this weekend, but likely got a good wake-up call from the Bulls.

2. Clemson (4-1, 1-1) – One week after a disappointing loss to Florida State, the Tigers avoided an upset at Boston College despite a respectable performance from the Eagles’ offense. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver DeAndre Hopkins stole the show again without Sammy Watkins in the lineup.

3. Miami (4-1, 3-0) – The Hurricanes are a scrappy young team that keeps finding ways to win. They’re in the midst of a three-game winning streak for the first time since 2009, and quarterback Stephen Morris seems like he can’t miss in each of the past two games.

4. Virginia Tech (3-2, 1-0) – Ugh. This game could have gone either way in the end, and just when it looked like the Hokies were going to win it, Cincinnati’s Munchie Legaux threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 13 seconds remaining. The Hokies are now 0-2 against the Big East this year.

5. Duke (4-1, 1-0) – It’s time to give the Blue Devils some credit. You could even argue they deserve to be ranked above Virginia Tech at this point, but I'm still not sold on that move. Duke has a better overall record than the Hokies, and right now, the Blue Devils have got a more potent offense. Duke is off to its best start since 1994, the last time the program went to a bowl game.

6. NC State (3-2, 0-1) – The Pack had 14 penalties for 100 yards. Six turnovers. Repeat: Six turnovers. Did Miami win, or was NC State its toughest opponent?

7. Wake Forest (3-2, 1-2) – The Deacs’ 12-game winning streak over Duke came to an end, and star receiver Michael Campanaro injured his hand in the process. It was a rough weekend for Wake Forest, which is going to need its best effort the rest of the season to get to a bowl game.

8. North Carolina (3-2, 0-1) – If the Tar Heels weren’t playing a winless Idaho team that is statistically one of the worst programs in the country, their 66-0 win might mean something. Instead, it was more of a glorified practice before the heart of their league schedule begins. We still don’t know if this team is the one we saw in the first half against Louisville (not good) or the second half (much better).

9. Georgia Tech (2-3, 1-2) – The loss to Middle Tennessee was like a black X on Paul Johnson’s résumé. For the second straight weekend, the Jackets lost at home. They looked unenthused. There was no sense of urgency. And the defense was an open door. Johnson has to make the bleeding stop quickly before this season becomes a disaster.

10. Virginia (2-3, 0-1) – The Hoos’ loss to Louisiana Tech wasn’t entirely unexpected considering La Tech had gone on the road and beaten Illinois the previous week and was scoring more than 50 points per game. It still wasn’t good, though, for UVa or for the ACC. Virginia needs to put an end to the turnovers and figure out if it’s sticking with Michael Rocco at quarterback.

11. Maryland (2-2, 0-0) – The Terps had a bye week but will host Wake Forest this weekend in their first league game of the season. The Deacs are coming off a tough, emotional home loss to Duke and now have to travel to face a team that had a week to prepare.

12. Boston College (1-3, 0-2) – The bend-but-don’t-break defensive strategy broke against Clemson’s uber-talented offense, and the Eagles have now lost back-to-back games. It’s not going to get any easier, as the next three games are on the road.
Tajh Boyd's third pass went for 60 yards, and with that, the shine was off Florida State's suit of armor.

After a year of hype about the Seminoles' impenetrable defense, Clemson found a work-around, racking up 37 points and 427 yards in a losing effort.

But there's a silver lining to the gaudy numbers, and Florida State's defenders have been quick to point it out.

"They were hitting a lot of big things on trick plays," Timmy Jernigan said. "We knew that was going to come. Teams aren't going to play us straight up."

(Read full post)

By the Numbers: FSU 49, Clemson 37 

September, 23, 2012
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EJ Manuel keyed an offensive explosion, and the Florida State defense rebounded from a rocky first half to pull off a come-from-behind win over Clemson on Saturday. Here are five stats from the game that tell the story and offer some insight into where FSU goes from here.

11 for 11: That was Manuel's completions and attempts after Clemson scored on its first drive of the second half to open a 14-point lead. Manuel had been solid early, completing 16 of 24 passes for 192 yards in the first half and the first drive of the second, but he was brilliant down the stretch. His 11 straight completions went for 188 yards and two touchdowns. Manuel became the first FSU quarterback to throw for 300 yards and rush for 100 since Charlie Ward in 1992.

1,124: That's Florida State's rushing total through four games this season, after adding 287 more against Clemson on Saturday. That's just 334 yards shy of the Seminoles' total for the entirety of the 2011 season. A healthy Chris Thompson, who rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson, has been a key, but it's the marked improvement from Florida State's offensive line that has allowed the running game to flourish.

3 Up, 3 Down: FSU 49, Clemson 37 

September, 23, 2012
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The hype built for months, but really, the questions about Florida State's resurgence had been offered for nearly a decade. On Saturday, however, the buzz finally intersected with reality, and Florida State issued an emphatic statement, toppling No. 10 Clemson 49-37.

From EJ Manuel's marquee performance to the second-half defensive resurgence, there were plenty of heroes. And throughout Clemson's torrid first half, marked by self-inflicted wounds by FSU, there were some goats, too.

Here's a look at who played the biggest role in digging Florida State's early hole and who made the biggest impact as they climbed back out.

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Halftime Analysis: Clemson 21, FSU 14

September, 22, 2012
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Tajh Boyd needed just five plays to solve Florida State's vaunted defense, hitting DeAndre Hopkins with a 60-yard touchdown pass on third down in what set the precedent for a high-scoring first half, with Clemson holding a 21-14 halftime lead.

The two teams combined for 564 yards of offense in the first half, with EJ Manuel carving up the Clemson defense as easily as Boyd moved the Tigers' offense, but two missed field goals and a fumbled punt doomed Florida State through the first 30 minutes.

Stat of the half: 8.1 That's Florida State's average gain per rush in the first half, and it's the Seminoles' best hope for a turnaround in the second half. Manuel and Chris Thompson have done their share of damage on the ground, and Clemson hasn't had an answer. Both of the Seminoles' touchdowns came on the ground, too -- a 13-yard run by Lonnie Pryor and a 5-yard run by James Wilder Jr.

Player of the half: Boyd. The Clemson quarterback was 12-of-17 passing for 189 yards and two touchdowns, including the 60-yard bomb to Hopkins on the Tigers' opening drive that quieted a raucous crowd. Boyd has hit six different receivers in the first half. Manuel nearly matched him -- 15 of 20 for 181 yards -- but two FSU drives stalled thanks to penalties, forcing field-goal tries.

What's working for FSU: Manuel's legs. There's been plenty of room underneath for the FSU offense, and when the big plays haven't developed down field, Manuel has made his mark on the ground, picking up 53 yards on six carries.

What's not working for FSU: Clemson has done its share of damage, which was to be expected. But the self-inflicted wounds are the difference right now for FSU. Dustin Hopkins' two missed field goals, four penalties and, most importantly, Rashad Greene's fumbled punt return have squandered scoring chances and bolstered an already potent Tigers' attack.

Noteworthy: FSU defensive end Cornellius Carradine has two sacks in the first half. ... Clemson's Sammy Watkins has five touches but just 35 yards through the first half. He ha been matched against Nick Waisome and Ronald Darby throughout. ... The 21 first-half points by Clemson snaps a streak of 11 consecutive games in which the FSU defense had held opponents to 19 or fewer points.
The term "replacement player" in football conjures up images of bumbling and stumbling guys that are poor imitations of the real thing.

[+] EnlargeCornellius 'Tank' Carradine
Phil Sears/AP PhotoDE Cornellius "Tank" Carradine is adjusting to the Seminoles' starting lineup quite well.
But at Florida State, replacement players for two standouts -- defensive end Brandon Jenkins, lost to injury, and cornerback/kick returner Greg Reid, dismissed from the team -- have more than proven their worth. Through the first three games of the season, the Noles have used three players to plug those holes -- defensive end Tank Carradine, cornerback Nick Waisome and punt returner Rashad Greene -- and gotten fantastic results.

Nobody is quite saying Brandon Jenkins who? Or Greg Reid who? But these three players have made what appears to be a seamless transition into their starting roles. Of course, the biggest test comes Saturday when No. 4 Florida State hosts No. 10 Clemson. Carradine and Waisome have never started a game against an offense filled with this many playmakers.

But at least they have notched the first starts of their careers going into this one, something that Carradine says has been hugely important for him. Carradine played behind Bjoern Werner last season but going into 2012, coach Jimbo Fisher labeled Werner, Jenkins and Carradine his 1A, 1B and 1C defensive ends, respectively. When Jenkins was lost for the season with a foot injury sustained in the season opener, it was time for Carradine to move into the starting lineup.

Not exactly the easiest transition, but Carradine says he is now fully acclimated to his new role.

"Being a starter and coming off the bench is totally different," Carradine said in a phone interview this week. "When you're a starter, the team expects more out of you and you come across plays you wouldn’t come across if you weren't a starter. You come across certain situations by having more playing time. It’s much better starting because you get to see the first snaps of the ball, what keys this person is going to take, and feeling of this person you are up against right off the bat."

Carradine was one of the ACC players of the week following his performance against Wake Forest, in which he had a career-high 2 1/2 sacks. He and Werner are the top two sack leaders in the ACC -- Werner has 6.5 total sacks, Carradine has 3.5. Carradine also ranks No. 3 in the league in tackles for loss, with 4.5. And he also leads the FSU defense with 12 total tackles.

His play has even drawn an "I told you so," from Werner, who has repeatedly said the Noles would be fine without Jenkins.

"I’m feeling very comfortable," Carradine said. "I think it was a shock to me at first because I wasn’t expecting it, but I feel comfortable now that I’m out there playing, having a chance to start a game and be out there, I have the feeling of being a starter. Playing last year a lot, it also helped me prepare as well."

Waisome mostly played on special teams as a true freshman in 2011, and ended the year with one tackle. But he got his opportunity to start after Reid was kicked off the team this summer. Waisome won a summer competition with true freshman Ronald Darby and has done a nice job in the secondary.

With only three career starts under his belt, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Waisome now faces the biggest challenge of his young career, in trying to defend Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and all the other talented Clemson receivers.

What has he learned in his three starts that will help him going into this game?

"Probably just staying with the play, finishing the play all the way to the end," Waisome said. "When you get to the end of the route, when you figure out the receiver is done with the route, you can ease off a little bit sometimes. I feel like you have to stay on them because sometimes those quarterbacks scramble out -- with Tajh Boyd being such a great quarterback, we've got to stay on our receivers and play the play out."

As for Greene, he took over punt return duties from Reid and is leading the ACC with a 19.6-yard punt return average and two punt returns for touchdowns. Marcus Murphy of Missouri is the only other player in the nation with two punt returns for touchdowns so far in the season.

Fisher was quick to point out that he is really pleased with the way his team has responded, and believes they are much more confident this year than they were going into their game against Clemson a year ago.

"I think I've got some young guys that have really developed, some older guys that have really changed who they are and what they've done and really grown, like you want guys to grow and mature as they do in college," Fisher said.

We'll know more about them after Saturday.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 4

September, 20, 2012
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Time to take a look at what to watch in the ACC in Week 4. I think you probably already have a good idea of what is in store.

1. Top-10 clash. By now, you probably already know the matchup between No. 10 Clemson and No. 4 Florida State is only the ninth meeting featuring two ACC teams ranked in the top 10. So yes, it is a big game, one of the biggest games in league history, even. I have been asked this question several times during the week: What is the best possible outcome for the ACC? Clearly one team has to win and one has to lose. But in the best-case scenario, this game is competitive, thrilling and pretty clean, and goes down to the wire. To me, that validates having two teams ranked in the top 10 and keeps the loser somewhere in the top-15 range.

2. Offense vs. defense. This is your classic matchup of terrific offense against terrific defense. So which unit gets the edge? We find out Saturday. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Florida State is one of two teams that has yet to allow a touchdown this season (TCU is the other) and has forced 22 three-and-outs in 42 opponent drives. Clemson, meanwhile, is averaging 39.7 points per game this season. The Tigers have 17 plays that gained 25 yards or more this season, tied for the most in the nation.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
Joshua S. Kelly/US PresswireAndre Ellington and Clemson can give the ACC a lift by knocking off SEC power LSU.
3. Andre Ellington vs. FSU run D. One of the matchups that has not been given too much attention this week is between Clemson running back Andre Ellington and the Florida State run defense. While much of the media focus has been on Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, Ellington is an absolute player to watch. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Ellington has gained more yards after contact (199) than Florida State has allowed in total rushing yards (101) this season. As for the FSU defense, the Noles have forced their opponents into no gain or negative yardage on 40 of 85 rushes (47.1 percent), the highest percentage in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Ellington has failed to gain yards on just four of his 53 rushes this season (7.5 percent) and has been hit in the backfield on just seven runs.

4. Bounce-back week. Now on to some of the other matchups. This could be called "bounce-back week in the ACC" for a few of the other teams in the league: Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina and Virginia -- teams that all lost last week. I left out Maryland because the Terps play No. 8 West Virginia and face the biggest challenge of all these teams. Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and North Carolina all are expected to win. Virginia? The Hoos are a double-digit underdog at No. 17 TCU.

5. Logan Thomas. Speaking of Virginia Tech, which Logan Thomas will we see Saturday against Bowling Green? Thomas played poorly against Pitt last week, throwing three interceptions. The mistakes were absolute killers, as Pitt used the turnovers to pull the upset. One of the big problems for Thomas and the Hokies has been an inability to run the ball. That, combined with ineffective quarterback play, has left this team stagnant on offense. We'll see what the Hokies try to do to jump-start both Thomas and the run game this weekend.

6. Can Georgia Tech beat Miami? The Hurricanes have won three straight in the series, but all signs are pointing to Georgia Tech this season. Last week against Virginia, the Jackets scored seven rushing touchdowns -- tied for the most under coach Paul Johnson. This is a pretty confident group on offense going into the game. The bigger question for Tech is how to slow down Miami freshman sensation Duke Johnson, who scored three different ways against Bethune-Cookman. Tech has not faced anybody nearly as good as Johnson in its first three games this season, and the Jackets have had problems slowing down some of the speed and athleticism Miami has presented in the past.

7. Does Maryland have a chance? There is always a chance in any game, but the Terps are going to have their work cut out for them. I got to watch Geno Smith play last year when West Virginia was in the Big East, and the only time I saw him flustered was when he faced heavy pressure. Maryland does have a good defense that can apply pressure, but there are two problems: 1. Smith is better this season and 2. He gets rid of the ball so fast. Maryland's only chance in this game is with a studly defensive performance, but I just don't think the Terps have the players to slow down Smith, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin.

8. Does Virginia have a chance? Late news Wednesday night -- TCU will be without running back Waymon James for the rest of the season. The Horned Frogs have depth concerns at that position, but the bigger problem for Virginia will be slowing down Casey Pachall and the passing game. Virginia is so green in the secondary, the advantage might go in TCU's favor.

9. Will the real North Carolina please stand up? Are the Tar Heels the team that trailed Louisville 36-7 at halftime last week or the one that outscored the Cardinals 27-3 in the second half and nearly won? Coach Larry Fedora sure would love to find out against East Carolina on Saturday. This is a game that should have plenty of juice in-state. East Carolina sold out its ticket allotment for the game.

10. Could be a good day for the state of North Carolina. Wake Forest plays Army, NC State plays the Citadel and Duke plays Memphis in games almost everybody expects to go the ACC's way. The hope for these teams is that there is no look-ahead factor with conference games set for next week: Duke travels to play Wake, and NC State will be at Miami.

Five storylines: Clemson at Florida State 

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
8:55
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After three consecutive easy victories, Florida State faces what will likely be its biggest challenge of the regular season, when No. 10 Clemson comes to town. The Tigers have won six of the last nine meetings between the two teams, but FSU is the heavy favorite this time around. Here are the five biggest storylines heading into Saturday's showdown.

1. What will EJ Manuel do on the big stage?
The hype for this game isn't getting to the Florida State quarterback, Manuel insists, but after sitting out last year's loss to Clemson with an injured shoulder, he's eager to get a chance to make his mark. Clint Trickett threw for 336 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start last season, and Manuel might need to do better this year.

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NoleNation Q&A: Previewing Clemson 

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
10:45
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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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College Football Minute - Sept. 30
Florida State and NC State are still taking shots at each other, an Ole Miss player takes a jab at Alabama and LSU is going with a freshman quarterback at Auburn. It's all ahead in your College Football Minute.
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