Florida State Seminoles: Giovani Bernard

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.

NoleNation Q&A: Previewing Duke

October, 25, 2012
10/25/12
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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.

(Read full post)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The intention was never for the trash talk to be kept secret.

Miami freshman Duke Johnson boasted to his high school coach, then made sure his coach knew to pass along the comments to former Norland teammate Xavier Rhodes.

"Duke knows I'm gonna kill him," Rhodes joked this week. "He's talking a lot of trash, and [our coach] comes back and tells me what he's been saying."

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMiami is 3-0 in games in which freshman Duke Johnson rushes for at least 70 yards.
Of course, Johnson's confidence -- and his talent -- has never been much of a secret.

The freshman tailback burst onto the scene this season by racking up 100 yards from scrimmage in three of his first four games and displaying a few fireworks on special teams to boot.

Miami might lack the stockpile of NFL talent it once boasted, but Johnson has the potential to be as electric as any player to wear a Hurricanes jersey in the last decade. He's definitely got Florida State's attention.

"If it was me last season, I would've been like, 'He's a freshman,' " safety Lamarcus Joyner said. "But after experiencing the nightmare that is Sammy Watkins, we're definitely going to prepare for him and treat him like a man."

Watkins, a freshman receiver at Clemson last season, torched Florida State for 141 yards and two touchdowns last season, but for Joyner to even put Johnson in the same class offers some indication of the dangers presented by the Miami running back.

"He was a heck of a player in high school," Jimbo Fisher said. "He's bright guy, and I'm not surprised. What he's doing, he's a big-play guy."

Rhodes and Johnson alternated at tailback in high school -- Rhodes as a senior, Johnson as a freshman.

"Man, he was good as a freshman in high school," Rhodes said. "Real good."

Miami has its share of offensive weapons this season, and the Hurricanes have averaged nearly 300 yards per game. Johnson's numbers have dwindled a bit in the past three weeks, too, as defenses have become aware of his big-play ability.

But with Miami quarterback Stephen Morris nursing an ankle injury, Johnson will need to be a significant piece in the Miami offense this week, and while Florida State's defense is stout, it was just one week ago that Boston College's Andre Williams ran for 104 yards against the Seminoles. It was the first time in more than a year FSU's defense had allowed a running back to top 100.

"You got our attention. You came in, you're highly recruited, and you're doing well," Joyner said of Johnson. "So we're going to treat him like a man. We're going to come at him, we're going to game plan, we know he's a threat so we're going to go hard."

(Read full post)

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 Week 8 sneak peek

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
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Let's take a sneak peek at the top three games in the ACC in Week 8, and the rest of the schedule.

Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1) at No. 19 Clemson (5-1, 2-1). These two teams got quite familiar with each other last year, when they played twice -- once during the regular season and once in the ACC Championship Game. Clemson won both -- the only time in Virginia Tech history it lost to the same team twice in one season. Are the Hokies truly back, or did they get the benefit of playing a Duke team last week that was not quite ready for prime time? They got an incredible performance from running back J.C. Coleman, who ran for 183 yards against the Blue Devils. He will be a key to watch, as Clemson has struggled once again to stop the run, ranking No. 99 in the nation. Clemson, meanwhile, goes into the game off a bye and brings its own outstanding running back to the table in Andre Ellington. Virginia Tech also has struggled to slow down the run, so Ellington could be in line for a big game.

NC State (4-2, 1-1) at Maryland (4-2, 2-0). Your Atlantic Division leaders ladies and gentlemen -- Maryland! Bet you did not think this game would be critical in the race for the division crown back when the season started. But this is the ACC, so we always expect the unexpected. NC State has to win this game if it wants to keep pace in the race. The Wolfpack had a bye after their huge victory over then-No. 3 Florida State, so we will see if they can pick up where they left off and avoid any letdowns. They will face a huge test in slowing down Stefon Diggs, who had 239 all-purpose yards last week in a win over Virginia. Maryland, meanwhile, has to find a way to cut down on its turnovers to give itself a chance. The Terps rank No. 110 in the nation in turnover margin.

No. 14 Florida State (6-1, 3-1) at Miami (4-3, 3-1). It has been years since this game had the national spotlight, but this remains an intense in-state rivalry. Florida State has won three of the last four in the series and can become bowl eligible with a victory. Miami, meanwhile, could be without starting quarterback Stephen Morris, whose availability is in question because of a sprained ankle. Florida State will no doubt try to attack Miami on the ground with Chris Thompson, who is having a resurgent season after a back injury forced him out in 2011. The Hurricanes are giving up an average of 253.7 yards rushing, and until they figure out how to stop the run, this is going to be an area that will be attacked for the remainder of the season.

The rest of the schedule

North Carolina (5-2, 2-1) at Duke (5-2, 2-1). This will be the 99th meeting between the two programs. The Blue Devils are trying to win their first game over the rival Tar Heels since 2003, and their first in Durham since 1988. The question is whether Duke can rebound after blowing a 20-0 first-quarter lead on Virginia Tech. The player to watch will be North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard, who has 439 yards rushing in the last two weeks.

Wake Forest (3-3, 1-3) at Virginia (2-5, 0-3). These teams are mired with struggles right now. Virginia has the longest losing streak in the ACC (five straight defeats); Wake Forest has lost three of its last four. The Deacs were off last week and hope to be healthier going into this game, but recent suspensions have just added to what has been a tough season.

Boston College (1-5, 0-3) at Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3). The Eagles are still looking for their first win over an FBS team after getting blown out at Tallahassee. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, comes into this game off a bye. We will get our first chance to see interim defensive coordinator Charles Kelly in his new role. How much improvement will we see out of the defense?

ACC power rankings: Week 8

October, 15, 2012
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Last week was all out of whack. Virginia Tech restored some normalcy to the league with its win over Duke, and North Carolina did its part by humbling Miami in Sun Life Stadium. That’s not to say this pecking order isn’t still in flux. The Coastal Division race is wide open, and there are plenty of teams still jockeying for position in the division standings. Here’s a look at how the league shakes out at the midway point of the season:

1. Florida State (6-1, 3-1 ACC; LW: No. 1) -- The Seminoles bounced back from their deflating loss to NC State with a convincing 51-7 drubbing of Boston College. They’ll get more of a fight this week when they face rival Miami on the road, but on paper, this is another game the Noles should win.

2. Clemson (5-1, 2-1; LW: No. 2) -- The Tigers had a bye week, and they’re going to be catching Virginia Tech right when the Hokies might have turned the corner with an historic comeback win against Duke. Clemson owned the Hokies in two wins last year, including the ACC title game.

3. NC State (4-2, 1-1; LW: No. 5) -- The Wolfpack had a bye week to digest their upset of then-No. 3-ranked Florida State and turn their focus to Saturday’s trip to Maryland. Quarterback Mike Glennon made three fourth-down completions in the fourth quarter last week and will be looking for another important Atlantic Division win.

4. North Carolina (5-2, 2-1; LW: No. 6) -- The Tar Heels got their first road win of the season against Miami, but UNC committed 15 penalties for 140 yards in the 18-14 win over the Canes. It didn’t matter in the end because Miami had no answer for running back Giovani Bernard, who ran for 177 yards and two touchdowns.

5. Virginia Tech (4-3, 2-1; LW: No. 8) -- The Hokies scored 41 unanswered points in the final three quarters to beat Duke 41-20 on Saturday in the biggest comeback the program has seen under coach Frank Beamer. Virginia Tech avoided a second Coastal Division loss and has some momentum heading into Death Valley.

6. Maryland (4-2, 2-0; LW: No. 7) -- The Terps are the only ACC team still undefeated in league play, and they are leading the Atlantic Division standings. They’ll face much stiffer competition when NC State visits on Saturday, but Maryland’s defense has kept it in every game this season and is one of the best in the ACC.

7. Miami (4-3, 3-1; LW: No. 4) -- The Hurricanes’ rushing defense has been one of its weakest links this season, as Miami is allowing 253.71 rushing yards per game. UNC ran for 272 yards against the Canes, and Florida State has the capability to do the same this weekend.

8. Duke (5-2, 2-1; LW: No. 3) -- The Blue Devils probably wouldn’t have dropped so far in the rankings so fast had they played a more respectable final three quarters, but squandering a 20-point lead brought Duke crashing back to reality. The team had a chance at a marquee win for the program, but four turnovers put the bowl bid on hold for now.

9. Wake Forest (3-3, 1-3; LW: No. 10) -- The Deacs had a bye week, and they needed it after losing back-to-back conference games and suspending eight players in the past two weeks. Wake Forest travels to UVa this weekend in a game that will be critical to the Deacs’ bowl hopes.

10. Georgia Tech (2-4, 1-3; LW: No. 9) -- It’s been a tumultuous season for the Jackets, who fired former defensive coordinator Al Groh last week. Interim Charles Kelly at least had the bye week to make the transition in preparation of Saturday’s game against Boston College. The main game plan, coach Paul Johnson said last week, is to simplify things for the defense.

11. Virginia (2-5, 0-3; LW: No. 11) -- Not much has gone right for the Hoos, who have lost five straight games heading into Saturday’s matchup against Wake Forest. Virginia is No. 99 in the country in scoring defense, allowing 33 points per game, but has also struggled offensively with quarterbacks Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims.

12. Boston College (1-5, 0-3; LW: No. 12) -- The Eagles are still looking for their first conference win of the season, and have lost four straight as they head into their third straight road game. The Eagles haven’t been able to run the ball or stop the run this season, but the passing game has shown improvement under coordinator Doug Martin.

ACC predictions: Week 7

October, 11, 2012
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Another week, another one nobody saw coming. NC State’s win over Florida State was an epic upset and an instant classic. It was also another black mark on my record. I finished 5-2 last week for an overall record of 44-11 (80 percent). If I drop below 80 percent this year, I will be very disappointed. I would like to point out, however, that last week I predicted Clemson to win 48-35 and the actual score was 47-31. I should get bonus points for such a close range. Then you guys would be trying to take points away, though, when I’m far off. So we’ll just keep it at 80 percent. The margin of error decreases this week with fewer games. Here are your Week 7 picks:

Florida State 42, Boston College 17: The Eagles are going to be overmatched in this game, plain and simple. Florida State is going to take out its frustrations from last week’s loss to NC State, and it could get ugly in Tallahassee. FSU has the No. 7 scoring offense and the No. 7 scoring defense in the country. BC, meanwhile, hasn’t been able to stop anybody and allowed three 100-yard rushers in last week’s loss at Army. FSU running back Chris Thompson will set the tone in the first half.

North Carolina 35, Miami 31: The Tar Heels are getting it done on offense and defense, now the key is to do it on the road. UNC is 0-2 in road games this year, but it has scored 45 or more points in back-to-back games for the first time since 1993. UNC has the No. 9 scoring offense in the country, and it will be a handful for Miami’s struggling defense, which is last in the ACC in scoring defense at 35 points per game. The Canes won’t be able to stop running back Giovani Bernard and quarterback Bryn Renner.

Maryland 21, Virginia 17: The Hoos have had too much inconsistency from quarterbacks Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco, and Maryland’s defense has quietly become one of the best in the ACC. Virginia has won four of the past five in the series, but Maryland’s defense is holding opponents to just 2.3 yards per carry. The Terps rank seventh nationally in rushing and total defense.

Virginia Tech 28, Duke 21: Make no mistake: Duke can win this game. It would be surprising, though, if Virginia Tech didn’t play better at home. The Hokies are always tough to beat in Lane Stadium, no matter what the circumstances, and at this point, their pride is on the line, not to mention bowl eligibility. This one is going to come down to the fourth quarter, but in the end, quarterback Logan Thomas will come through in the clutch.

ACC power rankings: Week 3

September, 10, 2012
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Once again, the middle of the pack in the ACC is clear as mud. It’s still a little bit too early to tell how this pecking order is going to shake out in November, but the top of the conference remains the same. Congrats to Maryland for getting a small promotion.

1. Florida State (2-0, 0-0; LW: No. 1): The Seminoles enter Week 3 with a firm grasp on the top spot after a 55-0 drubbing of Savannah State. That went about as expected, as the Noles outscored their FCS opponents 124-3 in the first two weeks. FSU will finally be tested this weekend against a Wake Forest team confident from its win over UNC.

2. Clemson (2-0, 0-0; LW: No. 2): The Tigers left no doubt they were the better team in a convincing win over Ball State. The offense continues to flourish, and it should get even better this weekend against Furman with the return of suspended receiver Sammy Watkins.

3. Virginia Tech (2-0, 1-0 ACC; LW: No. 3): The Hokies took care of business in a 42-7 win over Austin Peay, and they’ve got a small but important lead in the Coastal Division standings. Virginia Tech will travel to Pitt this weekend for a sneak peak at the ACC’s next member.

4. Wake Forest (2-0, 1-0; LW: No. 7): A conference win over a solid North Carolina team was enough for this boost. Tanner Price scored on a 1-yard sneak with 2:09 left to beat the Tar Heels 28-27, and receiver Michael Campanaro had a career-high 13 catches for 164 yards. Can they keep it up against FSU?

5. Virginia (2-0, 0-0; LW: No. 8): It wasn’t a pretty 17-16 win over Penn State, as four turnovers and 10 penalties were costly, but it’s another 2-0 start for Mike London, and they’ll need all the momentum they can get heading into a tough three-week stretch.

6. North Carolina (1-1, 0-1; LW: No. 4): The Tar Heels are clearly less effective when running back Giovani Bernard is on the sideline with an undisclosed injury. Coach Larry Fedora told reporters this week that he’s not concerned about Bernard’s availability for Saturday’s game at Louisville.

7. Georgia Tech (1-1, 0-1); LW: No. 5): The Jackets’ conference loss is what’s hurting them the most right now on this list, plus they need to show more offensively against somebody other than Presbyterian. They’re good enough to do that, and Saturday’s game against Virginia will determine who takes the lead in next week’s power rankings.

8. NC State (1-1, 0-0; LW: No. 6): Anyone else not convinced in this team despite Saturday’s 10-7 win over UConn? Mike Glennon was sacked six times and the Pack were held to 54 rushing yards. Expectations were higher for this veteran offensive line.

9. Miami (1-1, 1-0; LW: No. 9): Both Duke and Miami lost to ranked opponents this past weekend, and could very well be tied for this spot with the way their defenses played Saturday. The Canes at least have an ACC win on the road, though. They should have a chance to correct some mistakes against Bethune-Cookman this weekend, and it’s the only breather they have.

10. Duke (1-1, 0-0; LW: No. 10): Last year’s home game against Stanford was a better performance for the Blue Devils. Duke was held to 27 rushing yards and had three turnovers in a 50-13 loss. The Blue Devils should rebound this week against NC Central.

11. Maryland (2-0, 0-0; LW: No. 12): That’s right, Maryland is undefeated. Never saw that coming after quarterback C.J. Brown suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Terps surprised Temple on the road, and have a chance to start 3-0 with a win this weekend over Randy Edsall’s former team, Connecticut.

12. Boston College (1-1, 0-0; LW: No. 11): The Eagles bounced back from their loss to Miami with a 34-3 drubbing of Maine, but that’s what they were supposed to do. We’ll find out how much progress they’ve really made when they travel to Northwestern -- a team they lost at home to a year ago.
Last week, the ACC went down the runway in a pair of Wranglers. Comfortable? Yes. Style points? No.

Let’s dress it up a little bit this week, shall we, guys?

Week 1 was good but not great for the conference. NC State was outplayed by a faster Tennessee team, but Clemson looked impressive in its victory over Auburn. Miami and Boston College entertained us, while Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech lulled us to sleep before a surprisingly fantastic finish in the first overtime game in Lane Stadium history. Wake Forest, though, barely beat Liberty, and Maryland mucked its way to a 7-6 win over FCS William & Mary with four turnovers along the way.

In Week 2 -- which is mostly a dud as far as the national spotlight is concerned -- ACC teams need to leave no doubt they’re the best on the field.

[+] EnlargeTom O'Brien
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesTom O'Brien and NC State, the only ACC squad to lose to a nonconference foe in week 1, aim to rebound Saturday at Connecticut.
Boston College needs a convincing win over Maine. NC State needs a no-nonsense rebound at Connecticut. Duke needs to maintain the momentum it gained by beating Florida International on the road against an unimpressive Stanford team. Virginia needs to stay focused against Penn State. And Maryland? Well, it would be nice if the Terps could just score in Philly.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the first week was filled with mistakes and near-upsets as teams figured themselves out and worked their way through the kinks and opening-day jitters. The ACC was hardly alone in its lackluster start, as Wisconsin got a scare from Northern Iowa, Stanford snuck past mighty San Jose State, 20-17, and Pittsburgh lost to Youngstown State. The offenses we saw in Blacksburg on Monday night were underwhelming, as the defenses stole the show until late in the fourth quarter. Both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech can and will get better as the season goes on, and both will have glorified practices against unheralded opponents this weekend in Presbyterian and Austin Peay, respectively. There’s no reason either should be on upset alert.

In fact, it should be an uneventful weekend for the ACC. With the exception of Duke’s trip to Stanford and Miami’s trip to Kansas State, the ACC should come out a winner against its nonconference opponents again. That’s not to say Duke or Miami won’t win -- but those games aren’t gimmes like, say, Florida State-Savannah State. Virginia could have a tough time at home against Penn State, which is trying to avoid an 0-2 start in its first road trip under Bill O’Brien, and NC State might struggle at Connecticut, but they’re hardly matchups against ranked opponents.

While it was a disappointing loss for NC State, the ACC doesn’t have anything to be ashamed about in Week 1. The league went 7-0 against its nonconference opponents Saturday, and 7-1 overall. Clearly, though, there is room for improvement. Even Virginia left something to be desired in its 43-19 victory over Richmond. This week’s lineup is less about making a statement on the national level -- there aren’t enough ranked opponents on the schedule to do that -- and more about playing polished. Wake Forest will host North Carolina in the only league game of the week, and coach Jim Grobe knows that 42 total yards of offense midway through the second quarter won’t cut it against the Heels. UNC put up 62 points against Elon -- and did it with style, as running back Giovani Bernard scored on a reception, a run and a punt return.

“There were a handful of FBS teams that lost to FCS teams this weekend, so we’re fortunate to get a win,” Grobe said. “But we need to play better. I don’t want to take anything away from Liberty; I thought they had a great plan and a great coaching staff with a lot of good players. We were fortunate to get a win, but we’ve got a lot of improvements to make.”

Winning ugly is better than not winning at all, but with four FCS schools, one MAC school and two Big East schools on the schedule this week, the ACC shouldn’t have to cut it close.

Herbstreit picks FSU to win ACC

August, 21, 2012
8/21/12
2:30
PM ET
Florida State is the popular choice to win the ACC, so it comes as little surprise to see ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit go with the Seminoles as his choice as well.

Herbstreit unveils his Herbie Awards tonight at 7 on ESPN but we got a little sneak peek this afternoon. There are plenty of ACC players featured prominently.

Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas is Herbstreit's choice to win ACC player of the year; and Thomas is also listed as the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback. A Florida State duo makes the list for game-changing defensive ends: Brandon Jenkins is ranked No. 2, while Bjoern Werner is ranked No. 5.

Kevin Reddick, set for a more productive year getting after the quarterback at North Carolina, is Herbstreit's top choice at inside linebacker. No surprise here: NC State's David Amerson tops the list of cornerbacks, with Xavier Rhodes of Florida State right behind at No. 2. Though folks in ACC country know all about Amerson, Herbstreit ranks him as the No. 1 player in the country in search of more respect. Werner checks in at No. 5 in that category, also known as "Rodney Dangerfields."

Clemson's Sammy Watkins checks in at No. 4 among the most exciting players in the nation.

How about a best kept secret? North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard ranks No. 2 in the category. Virginia Tech's Kyle Fuller leads the way on the "Don't Turn your Back: Backyard Football" list. Virginia Tech running back Michael Holmes is also No. 3 in the "Ahead of the Curve" category.

And who made the All-Herbie team? Thomas is on at quarterback; Rhodes and Fuller at cornerback; and Virginia's Oday Aboushi at tackle.
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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