Florida State Seminoles: Stefon Diggs

ACC Week 12: Did you know?

November, 15, 2013
There are just three weeks remaining in the regular season, and eight of the ACC's 14 teams have either two or three losses in conference. In other words, there's still much to be decided. Here are a few tidbits to shed some light on Week 12's action.

Boston College: Andre Williams rushed for a career-best 295 yards last week against New Mexico State, his third game topping 200 yards this season. For the year, Williams leads the nation in rushes, rushing yards and rushing yards per game. His 2013 total of 1,471 yards on the ground is nearly 400 more than Boston College accounted for as a team all of last season.

Duke: Blue Devils quarterbacks are just 27-of-60 (45 percent) passing with seven interceptions and no touchdown throws in their last two games, but Duke won both contests. In the past five seasons, Duke had been 1-12 in games in which it did not having a passing touchdown.

Florida State: The Seminoles created seven turnovers in last week's win over Wake Forest, and they now have 23 takeaways on the season -- one more than they had all last season. Florida State also scored twice on defense last week, giving the Seminoles five defensive touchdowns this season. That's one more than the FSU defense had in three years under former coordinator Mark Stoops.

Maryland: Freshman William Likely is averaging 27.4 yards per kick return this season, good for ninth nationally among players with at least 15 returns and tops among freshmen. Likely's season average ranks third in school history, but is 1.1 yards per return shy of Stefon Diggs' school record for freshmen (28.5), set just last year.

Miami: Stephen Morris' efforts weren't enough to pull out the win last week against Virginia Tech, but he did find his way into the record books with two long completions. Morris connected on an 81-yarder to Stacy Coley, followed by an 84-yard throw to Allen Hurns. They were Miami's two longest passing plays of the season.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels have scored 32 touchdowns this season, with a whopping 24 scored by freshmen or sophomores. Only eight (25 percent) have been scored by juniors or seniors. That total is matched by sophomore receiver Quinshad Davis, who leads the team with eight scores.

NC State: The Wolfpack turned a close game into an 18-point loss last week with three fourth-quarter interceptions in a span of six plays. NC State quarterbacks have now thrown 15 interceptions this year, tied for eighth-most in the nation. The Wolfpack have thrown at least one interception in every game this season -- and 10 straight dating back to last year.

Pittsburgh: Defensive tackle Aaron Donald has the chance to be the first Pitt player in six years to finish the season leading the nation in any statistical category. Donald currently has 19.5 tackles for loss (2.2 per game), which is the best in the country. The last Pitt player to lead the nation in any category was linebacker Scott McKillop, who averaged 12.58 tackles per game in 2007.

Syracuse: The key to Syracuse's two-game winning streak has been its defense. A third-quarter field goal by Maryland last week was the only scoring the Orange have allowed in its past two games, and from the fourth quarter against Georgia Tech three weeks ago until the field goal by the Terrapins, Syracuse went 113 minutes, 22 seconds between points allowed. The past two games mark the first consecutive contests in which Syracuse didn't allow a touchdown since 1997 (East Carolina and Rutgers).

Virginia Tech: Logan Thomas completed 25-of-31 passes for 366 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in last week's win over Miami. For his career as a starter, Thomas is 15-0 when he doesn't throw an interception.

As always, thanks to the ACC and teams' sports information departments for supplying many of these stats.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 11

November, 7, 2013
Clemson and Georgia Tech have the weekend off. The other 12 ACC teams take the field for Week 11, which includes two nonconference contests, with one serving just slightly bigger than the other.

Here is what to keep an eye on as we enter the home stretch in the ACC:

1. FSU looks to avoid letdown: The Seminoles have a lot to lose the rest of the way, starting Saturday in Winston-Salem, N.C., where they lost two years ago. It is telling, in a good way, that the word "adversity" has been thrown around so much in regard to Florida State's most recent contest. It was a 41-14 win against a previously undefeated and seventh-ranked Miami team. And its quarterback, despite whatever criticisms were lobbied his way, finished with an adjusted total QBR of 94.6, sixth best in the nation for the week. If this team ever got its act together …

2. Wake adjusts to life without Campanaro: Wake Forest is without all-time leading receiver Michael Campanaro, probably for the season, after the redshirt senior broke his collarbone in a loss at Syracuse. Coach Jim Grobe was honest about how difficult things now are offensively without Campanaro, who, despite missing the first game of the season, had 67 catches -- or 52 more than Jonathan Williams and Sherman Ragland III, the Demon Deacons' next-highest catchers, with 15 apiece.

[+] EnlargeMarquise Williams
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesCan Marquise Williams lead North Carolina to a bowl game?
3. Marquise Williams' time at UNC: Bryn Renner's North Carolina career is over because of a detached labrum and fracture in his non-throwing shoulder suffered in a win over NC State. He had split plenty of time lately with Williams, who started the Virginia Tech game, but now it is the redshirt sophomore's chance to carry the Tar Heels to the postseason. They can inch a step closer toward with a win over Virginia that would make them 4-5. Williams has completed better than 60 percent of his passes this season for 537 yards with six touchdowns and three picks, adding 201 yards and a score on the ground.

4. C.J. Brown's return: Maryland is on the brink of its first bowl berth under third-year coach Randy Edsall, and the expected return of its quarterback should provide a big boost against Syracuse. Caleb Rowe has been so-so in Brown's place as starter, going 1-2. Brown's return after a concussion and then a "trunk injury" cannot come at a better time for a Terrapins team that has dropped three of four, though he will have to adjust to a receiving corps that has been decimated by season-ending injuries to Stefon Diggs and Deon Long.

5. Terps honor former Cuse halfback: Kudos to Maryland, which will pay tribute Saturday to Wilmeth Sidat-Singh, who was barred from the Syracuse-Maryland 1937 game because he was black. Orange players will wear No. 19 decals on their helmets in memory of Sidat-Singh, whose family will join both schools' athletic directors and Maryland pioneer Darryl Hill between the first and second quarters for an on-field tribute. Sidat-Singh had joined the Army after Pearl Harbor and was in the first graduating class of the group later known as Tuskegee Airmen. He was killed on a training flight in 1943 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

6. Duke looks to finish strong: Whether it is fair to criticize the Blue Devils' late-season slide last season, the fact remains that they went winless after clinching bowl eligibility in 2012. Things are different this time around, especially with a defense playing night and day from earlier this season and with the Coastal Division potentially up for grabs. Duke will need to keep its foot on the pedal as it comes off a historic win and a bye week to face a desperate NC State team that has dropped four straight and remains winless in ACC play.

7. Logan Thomas looks to rebound: Virginia Tech's redshirt senior quarterback was unusually defiant this week when speaking to reporters in Blacksburg, Va., about criticism that has come his way. Thomas had appeared to turn a corner midseason but his turnovers woes have bubbled to the surface these last two weeks, as he threw four picks in a loss to Duke and threw two more, and lost two fumbles, in a loss at Boston College. Still, a strong performance at a Miami team coming off its first loss of the season could play the Hokies right back into the thick of things in the Coastal Division race.

8. Crawford, Miami look to rebound: It's Dallas Crawford's time to step up, as the Hurricanes will turn to the redshirt sophomore first after losing Duke Johnson for the season. In looking to rebound from its loss No. 1 and maintain control of the Coastal Division, coach Al Golden said all three backs will probably see time in the first quarter Saturday against Virginia Tech. Crawford is expected to get the bulk of the carries after rushing for 294 yards and nine touchdowns so far this season.

9. ND-Pitt theatrics: Will it be like the four-overtime game from 2008? The ugly 15-12 contest from 2011, a game that, fittingly, featured 666 total yards of offense? Or last year's triple-overtime near upset? When the Irish and Panthers take the field, craziness ensues, and who knows what awaits a prime-time audience at Heinz Field in a game featuring two banged-up teams.

10. Pitt's offense looks to get it together: The Panthers defended the option well in recent weeks, holding Navy and Georgia Tech to 24 and 21 points, respectively. But the offense simply has to score points after breaking the 21-point plateau just once in its past five games, against Old Dominion (35). The run game in particular has struggled, tallying minus-5 yards last week against the Yellow Jackets, but the passing game could use some big plays as well.

Happy Halloween in the ACC

October, 31, 2013
Happy Halloween! Or, as I like to call it, Movember Eve.

For the second consecutive year, I have gone with the highly-original costume of wearing a "Hello, My Name Is" sticker, writing in the word "Maybe."

You guys and gals all go/went to ACC schools and are smart, so you can figure out what to, ahem, "Call Me." (I actually got the idea from my aunt, who should start charging for her ideas.)

Anyway, let's turn our attention to the people and schools we cover here in the blog. And to you, the readers. You guys blew up the Twitter feed yesterday with great pumpkin carvings, a majority of which can be found here.

There are plenty of tricks and treats to hand out through the season's first nine weeks, and what better day to do that than today?

Without further ado …

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron, Antonio Crawford
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsDon't sleep on the Tar Heels, as North Carolina could be ready to go on a season-ending winning streak.
Freddy Krueger: One team not to sleep on in this final month? North Carolina. Yes, the Tar Heels' 2-5 record is hardly intimidating, but their schedule was very front-loaded. UNC just routed Boston College, and its remaining games are at NC State, against Virginia, at Pitt, against Old Dominion and against Duke. You don't think they could go 4-1 down the stretch and clinch a bowl bid?

Jason Voorhees: Miami is the team that just won't die. The Hurricanes had turned the ball over four times in three straight contests before Saturday's game against Wake Forest … and still won all of them. They then found themselves trailing throughout the afternoon against the overmatched Demon Deacons but still managed to escape victorious in the final minute. Miami has a 7-0 record to show for all of its closecalls, though playing like this is simply no way to live.

Cursed: This isn't your 2012 Maryland team, but it is hardly a healthy one, either. Things were going so great this season for the Terrapins after their 4-0 start and No. 25 spot in the AP poll. Then they met Florida State, losing quarterback C.J. Brown to a concussion in the process. Then they lost top receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long for the season. Linebacker Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil and defensive back Dexter McDougle are also done for the year. Maryland is 1-3 over its last four games, though it put up a nice effort against No. 9 Clemson with Caleb Rowe under center and should still go bowling for the first time in the Randy Edsall era.

Graveyard: Virginia Tech's defensive backfield is where all quarterbacks' throws go to die. The Hokies have picked off a nation-best 17 passes this season, even without Antone Exum for all but this past weekend's contest against Duke, and despite having freshmen Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller see extended time. Even in the loss to the Blue Devils, the Hokies managed to come up with four interceptions.

Paranormal activity: A two-hour rain delay in the season opener at Scott Stadium portended what was to come: Virginia's 19-16 win over BYU. The win becomes more of a headscratcher by the week, as the Cavaliers have won just one game since and find themselves at 2-6 and 0-4 in ACC play. The Cougars, meanwhile, are 6-2 and were so dominating in their win over Texas that Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz in the aftermath. Strange times, indeed.

Boo: That is what quarterbacks and offensive linemen must think every single time they see Aaron Donald line up across from them. The Pitt defensive tackle is second in the nation with 1.9 tackles for loss per game (13.5 total), and his 1.1 sacks per game rank fifth nationally (eight total). He also has 26.5 career sacks, the most among active college football players. Donald is one of just two defensive tackles to be named a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation's outstanding defensive player of the year.

And, because we can never have enough fun, let's take a look at what some of the conference's notable characters are dressing up as tonight:
  • Jameis Winston is MC Hammer. Because, after routing Clemson, he did say that Florida State was "too legit to quit." And because this.
  • David Cutcliffe is David Copperfield. And for his most recent trick, Cutcliffe has made Duke bowl-eligible in consecutive seasons! A program first!
  • Jimbo Fisher is Nick Saban. I know I'm not the only one who sees the facial resemblance. And Fisher's Seminoles have looked a lot like Saban's Crimson Tide this year, to understate it.
  • Steve Addazio is Jesse "The Body" Ventura. This is not up for debate.
  • Duke Johnson is Saul Goodman from "Breaking Bad." Looking for a big kickoff return? Need an insurance touchdown to clinch an upset victory over Florida? Trailing Wake Forest two different times in the fourth quarter with a perfect season on the line? Better call Duke, who has pulled all sorts of tricks up his sleeve to bail Miami out and help lift the Hurricanes to a 7-0 start.

What to watch in the ACC: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
With only Syracuse on a bye this week, there will be plenty to keep an eye on in the conference. Here’s a look at what to watch in Week 9, in no particular order:

1. Florida State flashback: All eyes will be on the pregame scene in Tallahassee, where former Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden will make his first return to Doak Campbell Stadium since he was ousted following the 2009 season. Bowden will plant the famous spear at midfield, and nearly 400 former players are expected to attend the No. 2-ranked Seminoles’ game against NC State. "There's no nerves," Bowden told ESPN.com’s David Hale. "I'm excited about it, getting to see a lot of people."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Mitchell
Lance King/Getty ImagesBrandon Mitchell has been out since the opener for NC State.
2. Brandon Mitchell's return: While Florida State will be celebrating the return of its legendary coach, the Wolfpack will be celebrating the return of its injured starting quarterback. Mitchell broke his left foot in the season opener and hasn’t played since. He won the job over Pete Thomas this preseason, and his athleticism seemed to fit first-year coach Dave Doeren’s no-huddle offense well. He’ll face one of the toughest defenses in the country, though, on Saturday.

3. Wake’s hopes at an upset: The Demon Deacons are on a roll, having won back-to-back Atlantic Division games, and while the Canes lead the series 7-3, all three of Wake’s wins have come at Miami. Wake is looking to snap a six-game losing streak against ranked teams -- and Saturday is the 67th anniversary of the program’s win over No. 4 Tennessee, the highest-ranked team Wake has ever defeated. If the Deacs can continue to get the ball to receiver Michael Campanaro and play stingy defense, they could have a chance. Especially considering …

4. Miami’s ball security: You’ve heard it a million times this week. Miami has turned it over 12 times in the past three weeks. The Hurricanes the only team in the country to have at least four turnovers in three consecutive games this season and the first since East Carolina in 2011. Miami has also had four red-zone turnovers in its past three games. Meanwhile, Wake’s defense forced three turnovers in the Deacs’ victory over Maryland last week. Speaking of the Terps, watch out for …

5. Maryland’s quarterback controversy: It’s C.J. Brown OR Caleb Rowe listed as the starter on this week’s depth chart for Saturday’s game against Clemson, and coach Randy Edsall has played coy about Brown’s status since last week. Edsall said the indecision on his starter is health-related, not performance-related, but wouldn’t specify what’s wrong with Brown. Brown struggled in last week’s loss at Wake Forest, and Edsall said it was because of an injury unrelated to the concussion Brown suffered against Florida State. Stay tuned for which QB will be leading the Terps’ offense against a stingy Clemson D.

6. UNC’s run defense: Miami gashed the Tar Heels for 234 yards on the ground last week -- and that was with their leading rusher, Duke Johnson, sidelined for three quarters and four turnovers from the Canes. Boston College makes its living on the running game, led by senior Andre Williams, who leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally in rushing yards per game (139.7).

7. Clemson’s rebound: Last week’s 51-14 home loss to Florida State was humbling and devastating to the Tigers. It knocked them out of the national championship picture, all but ruined quarterback Tajh Boyd's chances at winning the Heisman Trophy, and put them behind the Seminoles in the ACC race. How will the Tigers respond on the road? They’ve got more talent than the depleted Terps, but emotion could be a factor early.

8. Virginia Tech’s secondary: Veteran cornerback Antone Exum is expected to finally return for Saturday’s home game against Duke, more than eight months after he had offseason surgery to repair his ACL and a bone fracture. Exum was cleared Sept. 30, but he and the staff have played it cautious. Senior CB Kyle Fuller has broken up 10 passes in seven games and ranks fourth in the nation in passes defended (1.71 per game). They will come in handy against quarterback Duke, which is averaging 269 passing yards per game.

9. Replacement receivers: The ACC will be missing three of its top receivers, with Maryland’s Stefon Diggs and Deon Long and Miami’s Phillip Dorsett all out with injuries. Levern Jacobs will step in at the slot position in place of Diggs, and redshirt freshman Amba Etta-Tawo will take over Long’s spot. With Dorsett out at Miami, that likely means an increased role for Malcolm Lewis, who is listed as a backup at two spots, and true freshman Stacy Coley, who is listed as a co-starter at wide receiver, a starting kick returner and co-starter at punt returner.

10. BC WR Alex Amidon: The Eagles can do more than just run the ball, and Amidon needs just 144 receiving yards to become BC’s all-time leading pass receiver. He has three 100-plus yard receiving games this season and a school-record 10 for his 39-game collegiate career.

ACC predictions: Week 9

October, 24, 2013
The big miss last week was pretty gigantic in retrospect. Neither one of us picked Florida State to beat Clemson. D'oh! We can admit when we are wrong, and we were very wrong. HD also missed on two other picks, going 3-3 for the week, while AA correctly called Georgia Tech and Wake Forest wins to go to 5-1.

AA has a two-game lead on HD, with an overall record of 55-10. There won't be any separation this week. Read on to find out more.

Wake Forest (4-3, 2-2) at No. 7 Miami (6-0, 2-0), noon, ESPNU. #WAKEvsMIA. Miami is not only on distraction alert thanks to the NCAA, it also is on lookahead alert with a potential top-10 showdown against in-state rival Florida State next weekend. Miami simply cannot afford to overlook Wake Forest, which has won two straight. Though Miami leads the series 7-3, all three Wake Forest wins have come in South Florida. One of the bigger matchups to watch features Michael Campanaro against a banged-up Miami secondary. Campanaro has been his usual productive self and also threw a touchdown pass against Maryland last week. Miami gets Duke Johnson back, good news for a team that will be without Phillip Dorsett.

AA picks: Miami 35, Wake Forest 17

HD’s pick: Miami 35, Wake Forest 21

Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2) at Virginia (2-5, 0-3), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #GTvsUVA. The Jackets looked unstoppable last week in a shutout win over Syracuse, while Virginia stopped itself from picking up its first ACC win, blowing a 22-point lead on Duke. The Jackets played nearly flawlessly, with zero penalties and just one turnover and might have turned a corner on offense. They have won three of the past four in the series. Given how low morale must be in Charlottesville, Georgia Tech has the edge.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 30, Virginia 17

HD’s pick: Georgia Tech 38, Virginia 17

Pitt (4-2) at Navy (3-3), 1 p.m., CBS Sports Network. Pitt beat Duke, which beat Navy pretty handily, so therefore Pitt should win this game. Right? Do not be surprised if the Midshipmen put a scare into the Panthers, who had to survive a closer game than anticipated last week against Old Dominion. Isaac Bennett had a career game with 240 yards rushing but all eyes will be on the Pitt defense and how it handles the Navy option. Pitt gets a similar test next week against Georgia Tech.

AA picks: Pitt 30, Navy 23

HD’s pick: Pitt 31, Navy 21

NC State (3-3, 0-3) at No. 2 Florida State (6-0, 4-0), 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. #NCSTvsFSU. Given past history, there are those who believe the Noles are on upset alert. Not so fast. The Wolfpack and Noles are vastly different teams today than they were a year ago. First and foremost, Florida State has a game-changer at quarterback who, quite frankly, seems too good to be true. NC State did a nice job getting pressure on Tajh Boyd in their matchup earlier this year, but Jameis Winston does a better job than any quarterback in the country at handling guys in his face. NC State does get Brandon Mitchell back, but the Wolfpack simply do not have the type of offense to stay in this game, averaging 12.3 points in three ACC games.

AA picks: Florida State 45, NC State 13

HD’s pick: Florida State 48, NC State 10

No. 9 Clemson (6-1, 4-1) at Maryland (5-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m., ESPN. #CLEMvsMD. The Tigers have to be careful not to let the Florida State loss beat them twice. Players seem to realize they are still in good position to get an at-large BCS berth if they can win out. Maryland might have provided tougher competition last month, but right now, the Terps are reeling thanks to their familiar foe -- injuries. Not only are Stefon Diggs and Deon Long out for the season, but quarterback C.J. Brown's status remains up in the air because of an undisclosed injury. The defense also has been hurt because of injuries too, leaving this team too depleted to pull the upset.

AA picks: Clemson 40, Maryland 17

HD’s pick: Clemson 38, Maryland 17

Boston College (3-3, 1-2) at North Carolina (1-5, 0-3), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #BCvsUNC. The Eagles have done a terrific job running the ball, so you know the game plan going in will be to beat the Tar Heels with the power run game. North Carolina ranks No. 102 in the nation in rushing defense, and lost to Miami in part because it could not stop Dallas Crawford in the fourth quarter. You have to wonder how North Carolina picks itself up after such a devastating home defeat to Miami. The Tar Heels had some great moments, especially tight end Eric Ebron, but they have found ways to lose games all season.

AA picks: Boston College 27, North Carolina 24

HD’s pick: Boston College 21, UNC 17

Duke (5-2, 1-2) at No. 14 Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #DUKEvsVT. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer had high praise for the way Duke coach David Cutcliffe has turned around the Blue Devils program, but Duke is still a long way from being in the upper echelon of the ACC. Last season, against a down Virginia Tech team, Duke could not hang on to a 20-0 first-quarter lead and lost. This Virginia Tech team is much better. The best matchup to watch in this one features Duke receiver Jamison Crowder against the supremely talented Virginia Tech secondary. Antone Exum is expected to make his long-awaited return. He faces a big test against Crowder.

AA picks: Virginia Tech 27, Duke 14

HD’s pick: Virginia Tech 34, Duke 21

ACC's lunchtime links

October, 21, 2013
Will Florida State run the table?

ACC weekend rewind: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
Well that was quite a weekend, huh? And after all of that ... the ACC still has three top-10 teams going into Week 9. But before we look ahead, let's take one last look back at the week that was in the conference.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesRashad Greene and the Seminoles, who are ranked No. 2 in the first BCS standings, dominated Clemson, 51-14.
The good: The ACC has a clear national title contender, and that is what is needed most for this conference to establish itself as a legitimate force atop college football. Looking for someone to dethrone Alabama and the mighty SEC? You might need to look no further than Saturday night's game at Clemson, when Florida State punched the Tigers in the mouth early and dominated from start to finish, deflating a much-hyped game in a way that had not been seen in this sport since the Crimson Tide did the same to Notre Dame in last season's BCS title game. The ACC has not had so much as a one-loss conference champion since the Seminoles' 12-0 national title campaign in 1999, and it is extremely difficult to see an outfit as talented as the one that owned Death Valley this weekend dropping two contests, based on its schedule. One loss will be hard enough for any other conference foe to deliver, as Florida State checked in at No. 2 in the first BCS standings and now has every reason to believe it can compete for a national title. (Its quarterback could be pretty busy come awards time, too.)

The bad: No, this was not "pulling a Clemson." The Tigers simply got beat, badly, by a better team. And you can very well make the argument that they could and would beat every other ACC team outside of Florida State. But this was their moment, complete with a second visit from "College GameDay" and another prime-time showcase for a program with national title aspirations. Instead, this game was over shortly after it started, with Tajh Boyd not performing up to expectations and the highly touted, improved defense proving to be no match for the Seminoles' skill players. This has to be, in some ways, disheartening, considering this was Clemson's shot at home with a senior quarterback against a Seminoles team that had lost 11 NFL draft picks and will only get better moving forward. Clemson, currently ranked ninth, can still have a very strong season, so long as it doesn't reel from Saturday's rude awakening.

The ugly: Syracuse went into Atlanta with a bit of momentum after registering its first ACC win, at NC State. Instead a Georgia Tech team that had lost three in a row smacked the Orange from start to finish, winning 56-0 for its second shutout of the season, marking the first time the Yellow Jackets had shut out two opponents in a season since defensive coordinator Ted Roof was a team captain in 1985. Terrel Hunt struggled in his third conference game, failing again to reach the 100-yard passing mark and this time getting pulled for Drew Allen. Defensive tackle John Raymon was lost for the season as well with a right knee injury. The Orange could use the bye to regroup before hosting Wake Forest on Nov. 2.

The walking wounded: It was bad enough that Maryland struggled throughout a 34-10 loss to Wake Forest. But the Terrapins also lost two of their top offensive weapons, with receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffering season-ending leg injuries. Diggs broke his fibula and Long broke his fibula and tibia. Maryland had started 4-0 before losing 63-0 at Florida State, barely beating Virginia and then getting routed by the Demon Deacons. It had already suffered a handful of defensive injuries before Saturday, and things won't get any easier this coming Saturday as it hosts No. 9 Clemson, which is coming off its first loss.

[+] EnlargeDabo Swinney, DeShawn Williams
AP Photo/Mike StewartCan Dabo Swinney's Clemson team bounce back from its big loss to Florida State?
The history: On the other end of that matchup in Winston-Salem, N.C., Wake Forest saw a new receiver etch his name to the top of the school record book. Michael Campanaro had 11 catches for 122 yards and a touchdown, becoming the Demon Deacons' career leader in receptions with 217, passing Desmond Clark. He is second in the ACC in both catches (55) and receiving yards (704) on the season, and he also threw a touchdown pass for good measure against the Terrapins.

The second-half charge: Duke finds itself on the cusp of bowl eligibility for the second straight year after overcoming a 22-point deficit at Virginia and pulling out a 35-22 win to improve to 5-2. The Blue Devils got a boost from both quarterbacks as Anthony Boone threw two touchdown passes and Brandon Connette ran one in for a score. Duke converted four fourth-down second-half plays as it scored the game's final 35 points and delivered the reeling Cavaliers another blow as they fell to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in conference play. Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage publicly backed coach Mike London last week, but questions will continue to mount if the Cavaliers continues to struggle.

The anomaly: Miami is No. 7 in the BCS standings after eking out a victory Thursday at one-win North Carolina. Stephen Morris struggled, throwing four interceptions, which marked the third straight game the Hurricanes had turned the ball over four times (Miami somehow won all three games). The Canes are 6-0 and host Wake Forest this weekend before traveling to Florida State on Nov. 2, but they lost Duke Johnson (head) and Phillip Dorsett (knee) to injuries in Chapel Hill. Johnson is expected to be fine, but Dorsett will miss four to six weeks with an MCL tear.

The ground boost: Pitt finally got the lift it needed from its rushing game, as Isaac Bennett carried the ball 30 times for 240 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-24 win over Old Dominion. The Panthers improved from 105th to 91st nationally in rushing yards per game (141.67). For a program that had tallied just 8 and 23 yards rushing in its previous two games, the timing could not have been better.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 21, 2013
There was a definite shake-up in the ACC hierarchy this weekend, as No. 5-ranked Florida State went to Death Valley and humbled No. 3-ranked Clemson 51-14 on Saturday night. The Seminoles, led by their unflappable 19-year-old quarterback, Jameis Winston, dominated the Tigers from start to finish. For the first time this season, the ACC has a new No. 1:

1. Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC, last week: 2): The defense was the storyline, as the Seminoles flustered veteran quarterback Tajh Boyd into what was easily the worst outing of his career. He threw two picks and just one touchdown and completed only 46 percent of his passes. Florida State converted two turnovers into touchdowns early and never looked back. The Noles host NC State this weekend, but this Florida State team is light years better than the one that was upset by the Wolfpack a season ago. There’s not even a hint of an upset brewing in Tallahassee.

2. Miami (6-0, 2-0, LW: 3): The Hurricanes didn’t look like a top-10 team on Thursday night in Chapel Hill, N.C., where they needed a game-winning touchdown from backup running back Dallas Crawford with 16 seconds left to beat a North Carolina team that has now sunk to 1-5. Miami quarterback Stephen Morris threw four interceptions and the Canes lost two of their top playmakers -- receiver Phillip Dorsett and running back Duke Johnson -- to injuries. Miami found a way to win, though, and only Wake Forest stands between the Canes and their showdown with the rival Noles in two weeks. Expect both to be undefeated for that game.

3. Clemson (6-1, 4-1, LW: 1) : If Clemson had lost to FSU in a close, hard-fought game, it wouldn’t have taken so much criticism, but because the Tigers lost so convincingly, it’s clear the gap between Florida State and Clemson was as wide as the lopsided score indicated. Clemson’s chances at a national title were devastated, along with Boyd’s Heisman Trophy hopes, all in four quarters. The spotlight has shifted to Florida State while the Tigers try to regroup on Saturday at Maryland.

4. Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0, LW: 4): The Hokies had a bye week to prepare for Duke on Saturday, but they have quietly continued to work their way up the conference standings this fall. Quarterback Logan Thomas has made significant strides and cut down on his interceptions, and the defense continues to look like one of the best in the country. The matchup in Miami should determine the Coastal division winner this fall, and if the Canes continue to turn it over at this disconcerting rate, it’s the Hokies’ title to lose.

5. Georgia Tech (4-3, 3-2, LW: 11): The Yellow Jackets played as if they had something to prove on Saturday, ending a three-game losing streak with a complete pummeling of Syracuse. Georgia Tech scored seven rushing touchdowns in a 56-0 rout of the Orange. It was the program’s biggest margin of victory in an ACC game. The Jackets need to win three of their next five to become bowl eligible, and a road trip to struggling Virginia is up next.

6. Pittsburgh (4-2, 2-2, LW: 6): It wasn’t exactly a flawless performance in a 35-24 win against Old Dominion, but the Panthers took care of business, and their only two losses are to Florida State and Virginia Tech, two of the top teams in the ACC right now. The Panthers got what they needed from Isaac Bennett, who ran for a career-high 240 yards and three touchdowns. They’re going to have to sharpen their game, though, for back-to-back road trips to Navy and Georgia Tech.

7. Duke (5-2, 1-2, LW: 7): The Blue Devils didn’t quit on the road, and they’re just one win away from bowl eligibility for the second straight season under coach David Cutcliffe. Duke overcame a 22-0 deficit at Virginia to scrape its way back to a 35-22 win. It was a remarkable comeback by Duke and an utter meltdown by the Hoos. Duke has now won three straight heading into Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech.

8. Wake Forest (4-3, 2-2, LW: 10): The Deacs have hit their stride offensively, and receiver Michael Campanaro continues to be the face of the team. Wake’s defense, though, was a highlight in the its win over Maryland, and the team has helped keep its bowl hopes alive. Wake Forest will face a tough test this week, as it has to travel to undefeated Miami.

9. Maryland (5-2, 1-2, LW: 5): Not only do the Terps seem to have a quarterback controversy between starter C.J. Brown and backup Caleb Rowe, but they’ve also got injuries to two of their top receivers in Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. Brown was benched in the loss to Wake Forest and replaced by Rowe, but neither of them could overcome a gritty performance by the Deacs’ veteran defense. What once seemed like a guaranteed return to the postseason has now become a shrinking window with no margin for error.

10. Boston College (3-3, 1-2, LW: 9): The Eagles have lost three of their past four but have developed a reputation as one of the toughest teams in the ACC nonetheless. Two of those losses have come to Atlantic division leaders FSU and Clemson. The Eagles had a bye week to prepare for their road trip to North Carolina, and, considering how poorly UNC has played this season, the Eagles have a good shot at their second league win.

11. Syracuse (3-4, 1-2, LW: 8): It’s been an unpleasant introduction into the ACC for the Orange, to say the least. Georgia Tech put on a clinic against Cuse on Saturday, and the defense went into shutdown mode. Terrel Hunt has struggled, completing 43.1 percent of his passes against league opponents. The Orange have a much-needed bye week before facing Wake Forest on Nov. 2.

12. NC State (3-3, 0-3, LW: 12): Like BC, the Pack has lost three of its past four. The difference is that NC State is still winless in conference play under first-year coach Dave Doeren. Starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell is expected to return for Saturday’s game at Florida State, his first time playing since he broke a bone in his left foot in the season opener.

13. North Carolina (1-5, 0-3, LW: 13): The Tar Heels got their best defensive performance of the season on Thursday night against Miami, and tight end Eric Ebron put on quite an audition for the NFL scouts in attendance, but the Tar Heels couldn’t stop the run and are now off to their worst start since 2006. UNC has lost four straight and will try to rebound on Saturday at home against BC.

14. Virginia (2-5, 0-3, LW: 14): After squandering a 22-point lead at home against Duke on Saturday, Mike London’s career is seemingly hanging by a thread. Whether the Hoos can win another game is a legitimate question, and, despite the administration’s continued support for London, there doesn’t seem to be any way he could survive a 2-10 season.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
After the early-season scrum, a line of demarcation is emerging in both divisions in the ACC, and Saturday's games helped draw that line a bit more clearly. Here's what we learned.

Clemson and Florida State are on a collision course: There was buzz in Syracuse that the Carrier Dome would make it tough for Clemson's up-tempo offense. Tajh Boyd responded by throwing for 455 yards and five touchdowns. FSU's defense was criticized all week after struggling against Boston College. The Seminoles responded by holding Maryland to 33 yards rushing while pitching a shutout. Only two weeks remain before the ACC's top two teams face off in Death Valley, and Boyd and Jameis Winston both look like Heisman contenders while the Tigers and Seminoles have their sights set on a national championship.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesMiami running back Duke Johnson finished with 325 all-purpose yards, including 184 yards rushing.
Miami and Virginia Tech are rolling, too: The Coastal Division race hasn't gotten the same national attention as the Atlantic, but the battle at the top looks nearly as intriguing. The Hokies had little trouble shrugging off North Carolina, and Logan Thomas seems to be rounding into form. He's completed 38 of 53 passes (72 percent) for 514 yards, four TDs (plus one rushing) and no interceptions in his last two games. Meanwhile, Duke Johnson carried Miami to a huge win over Georgia Tech, keeping the Hurricanes undefeated and effectively burying the Yellow Jackets in the division. Johnson racked up 325 all-purpose yards, while Stephen Morris threw for 324 yards and three TDs. Miami and Virginia Tech will go head to head on Nov. 9.

There were big performances on smaller stages: While the big boys hogged the bulk of the ACC spotlight Saturday, Wake Forest and Boston College managed to make some noise of their own behind some big-time performances from their stars. BC's Andre Williams continued his torrid start to the 2013 season, racking up a whopping 263 rushing yards and five TDs against Army. Williams has gone over 100 yards in four of five games this year, including twice topping 200. Meanwhile, Michael Campanaro continues to shine for the Demon Deacons, who got their first ACC win of the year. The ACC's leading receiver hauled in 12 catches for 153 yards and two touchdowns. It was Campanaro's fifth game with 12 or more receptions since the start of last season.

Syracuse and Maryland were exposed: There was ample enthusiasm for both programs leading up to Saturday's games, but they came up well short in showdown games against the ACC's elite. At Syracuse, the Orange had hoped they'd turned a corner behind new starting QB Terrel Hunt. That might still happen, but Hunt struggled badly against Clemson, completing 8 of 24 passes for 52 yards and three INTs. Meanwhile, Maryland showed it wasn't ready to compete for the Atlantic Division title, getting smoked 63-0 in Tallahassee. C.J. Brown went out early with a concussion, and Stefon Diggs left a quarter later. The Orange and Terrapins could still find success this year, but they're both 0-1 in ACC play and all that enthusiasm from a week ago seems a distant memory.

Problems in the Triangle: North Carolina was already reeling before it had to go on the road to face one of the nation's top defenses without its starting quarterback. The outcome was predictably ugly, as the Tar Heels fell to 1-4. Meanwhile, NC State hoped it had made strides under first-year coach Dave Doeren, but instead the Wolfpack lost in Winston-Salem for the sixth straight time. Add in Duke's rough start to conference play (the Blue Devils were off this week) and the three teams in the Triangle are a combined 0-6 in the ACC.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- After the onslaught was over, Jameis Winston relaxed in a folding chair in front of a throng of reporters eager to sing his praises yet again.

Florida State's quarterback had been dazzling, throwing five touchdown passes in a 63-0 victory over No. 25 Maryland, and one of his inquisitors pushed him on the offensive juggernaut. Winston wouldn't take the bait.

"The defense was clicking," he said.

He was pressed again on the offense.

"No," Winston said. "The defense kept giving us the ball."

[+] EnlargeTelvin Smith
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsTelvin Smith (22) and the Seminoles held Maryland to 33 rushing yards.
Winston was superb, no doubt. He completed 23-of-32 passes for 393 yards and his day was done before the fourth quarter began. He's thrown for at least 300 yards and four touchdowns in all three of his ACC games.

But Winston was right to turn the spotlight back to the defense. For a Florida State team already eminently aware of its quarterback's potential, it was the shutout pitched by the maligned defense that was the day's revelation, and it comes at an ideal time.

A week earlier, Florida State looked dazed against a mundane Boston College power-running game. For just the third time since Jimbo Fisher took over as head coach, the defense allowed 200 rushing yards. After just four games in coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's new defensive scheme, patience was wearing thin.

"Who wouldn't doubt us, based on how we performed in the previous week?" defensive tackle Jacobbi McDaniel asked. "As a team, as a defense, we knew we had to come out and dominate."

On Saturday, everything clicked.

As impressive as Winston's performance was, the defensive statistics were every bit as staggering.

Maryland entered the game averaging 227 rushing yards. The Terrapins managed just 33 on 25 carries Saturday.

The Terps' offense had topped 500 yards in three of four games this year. They tallied less than half that against Florida State.

Maryland was a woeful 2-of-15 on third down, mustered just nine first downs in the game and was shut out for the first time since 2008.

"We went out there and said, 'We're going to dominate,'" linebacker Telvin Smith said. "We didn't say we want to or we can. We said we were going to, and that's what we went out there and did."

C.J. Brown, Stefon Diggs and Brandon Ross had been among the most productive offensive trios in the ACC this season. Only Ross finished the game healthy, and his final line included three rushes for minus-1 yard.

Brown was sandwiched between Christian Jones and McDaniel on a pass in the second quarter. He was taken for X-rays and didn't return. Diggs was smacked on an incomplete pass near midfield in the third quarter on his final play of the day.

Maryland coach Randy Edsall was displeased with the hit that ended Brown's game, but Florida State chalked it up as part of a punishingly physical approach.

"In practice, you heard pads every day -- even when we just had on shorts and shoulder pads," Smith said. "We were out there hitting. That showed up in the game."

The fallout from the Boston College game stung, but it was also a necessary wake-up call, McDaniel said. The defense assembled in the film room last Monday and relived the carnage, then set about finding solutions.

Fisher said it was clear his team hadn't been prepared for Boston College, but the energy on the practice field was noticeable. That carried over to Saturday's thrashing of the Terps.

"They played with urgency," Fisher said. "They stopped the run, took on blocks and our eye discipline was excellent. And this team was harder to [defend] than [Boston College]."

The key now is maintaining that level of discipline through a two-week wait before heading to No. 3 Clemson for a showdown that figures to determine the ACC's Atlantic Division champion.

If Saturday represented how good Florida State could be when Winston is in a groove and the defense is angry, there is reason for excitement.

"Everybody told us, 'Don't look forward to the Clemson game,'" Winston said. "But the time is here, and we've got to get everything right."

Five things: FSU vs. Maryland

October, 5, 2013
The big knock on both Florida State and Maryland thus far has been that neither team has faced stiff competition. That won't be the case after Saturday, as the two undefeated teams face off at Doak Campbell Stadium. Here are a few key stats and matchups to watch.

Protecting Winston: Florida State has one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country, but quarterback Jameis Winston still found himself under pressure routinely last week against Boston College. Winston was sacked four times, and Jimbo Fisher was tepid in his review of the line's performance. Winston chalked up the sacks to his own eagerness to look downfield rather than checking down to quicker throws, although his patience was rewarded with a handful of big plays, too. Regardless, Winston and the line figure to be tested this week. Maryland leads the nation with 17 sacks, and Winston said he expects the Terrapins to be aggressive.

Eyes on Brown: Fisher chalked up FSU's struggles against Boston College to a lack of eye discipline, saying a minority of players were too quick to react to motion and misdirection rather than stick to their assignments. That could play perfectly into what Maryland likes to do with quarterback C.J. Brown, who has the legs to break plays on the ground and the arm to take advantage of any overzealous safeties willing to leave a receiver in one-on-one coverage. Brown always has been a strong running QB -- he had three 100-yard rushing days as a sophomore -- but he has developed as a passer this season. So far this year, Brown is completing nearly 67 percent of his throws, averaging 10.5 yards per attempt, and he has seven passing TDs.

The deep ball: Both Florida State and Maryland have enjoyed their share of success by looking downfield this season. The teams have combined for 26 passing plays of 25 or more yards, with Winston consistently looking for big-play opportunities and Brown using misdirection and play-action to open up receivers. Meanwhile, the Seminoles and Terps have been among the stingiest defenses when it comes to big-play chances. They've each allowed just four passing plays of 25 or more yards this year, tied for the ninth fewest in the nation.

Dynamic Diggs: A week ago, Florida State's special teams struggled mightily, coughing up a handful of big plays on returns, giving Boston College an average starting field position at its own 34. The Seminoles must hope they've gotten those problems fixed this week, when Stefon Diggs arrives in Tallahassee. The Terrapins receiver and return man is one of the country's best all-purpose players. He finished 2012 with nearly 1,000 return yards to go with 848 receiving yards. This year, he's averaging 3 more yards per touch. Diggs hasn't had quite as many opportunities in the return game as he got a year ago -- he has returned just five kicks -- but he's as dangerous a weapon as ever.

The ground game: Maryland's ground game has largely been predicated on Brown's mobility, but Brandon Ross has shown some flash, too. For the season, the Terps are averaging 227 rushing yards per game, which is a concern for a Florida State team that just allowed 200 yards on the ground to Boston College last week. Since Fisher took over as head coach in 2010, the FSU D had allowed 200 or more rushing yards just two other times. Meanwhile, the Seminoles are looking to jump-start their running game, too. Their 6.52 yards/rush average ranks fourth nationally, but that number drops to 4.50 per rush in their two ACC games.

Planning for success: Florida State

October, 3, 2013
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The preparation for Florida State's defense has been monotonously similar through each of its first four games this season. Teams have worked tirelessly to run the ball against the Seminoles, and for a defense eager to get after the quarterback, it's been a bit frustrating.

In spite of four easy wins, the opposition has run the ball 63.1 percent of the time this year -- the ninth highest percentage any team in the country has faced. Up next for FSU is Maryland, and the Terrapins’ game plan this year has been eerily similar -- 63 percent runs for the season.

But there's one big difference between what Maryland offers and what Florida State has seen already. The Terps run the ball to set up the pass, hoping to lure defenses into a routine before exploding for a big play.

"They kind of remind me a little bit of Clemson," Florida State linebacker Christian Jones said. "They like to do a lot of motion and play action and try to hit you with big plays, just get your eyes out of whack."

That makes this week's matchup a particularly intriguing one on many levels for the Seminoles.

In last week's win over Boston College, the FSU defense struggled to stop the Eagles' power running game and BC scored 34 points. Jimbo Fisher chalked up most of the problems to eye violations -- defenders looking in the wrong place and missing an assignment -- and he's made it a focus in practice this week.

Maryland's offense figures to test how far the Seminoles have come this week, and that test comes just in time for FSU's next game -- against Clemson.

“Getting our stuff right is definitely a priority right now," safety Terrence Brooks said. "We see what can happen when we don’t do our job and every guy doesn’t work together cohesively."

The Terps have a mobile quarterback in C.J. Brown and a star playmaker at receiver in Stefon Diggs, and both are capable of exploiting defenders who are out of position.

Maryland has racked up its share of big plays, both on the ground (12 runs of 20-plus yards, seventh most in the country) and through the air (30 passing plays of 15 yards or more).

Brown, in particularly, is a dangerous weapon. He's accounted for seven passing TDs and six more on the ground this season, and his mobility makes him difficult to defend. But even after last week's struggles, Jones said Florida State's defense is eager to get its shot.

"A lot of those guys think they can just outrun us but we have an athletic defense," Jones said. "He's athletic and we can't let little plays get out because he can hurt us. But so far we've been doing a good job game planning against him."

Freshman Jonathan Franklin has played the part of Brown on Florida State's scout team, and the speedy quarterback has given the Seminoles' starters a good look at what's in store on Saturday.

Meanwhile, coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has made a point of focusing on the mistakes that cost the Seminoles against Boston College. He's thrown in myriad trick plays at random, keeping FSU on its toes and testing his players to ensure their eyes are trained on their assignments, not the football.

“It’s a part of just adjusting as a defense," tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "There’s never going to be such a thing as a perfect game. You’re always going to make mistakes. We just have to do better by getting things fixed before the game starts.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The scenes flickered across the screen as Jimbo Fisher broke down the film on Sunday, and the Florida State coach breathed a sigh of relief.

The outcomes were just as he'd remembered. Boston College's rather mundane attack gashed the Seminoles' defense again and again, big chunks of yardage adding up to 34 points -- the most BC had scored in an ACC game in nearly four years.

Florida State still escaped with a win, thanks to another dynamic effort from Jameis Winston, but the defense was exposed, and the future schedule promised to be far less forgiving. Fisher assumed the worst, but the film eased his mind.

[+] EnlargeAndre Williams
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaBoston College rushed for 200 yards against the Seminoles, led by Andre Williams with 149.
"I wasn't as distraught as I thought I would be," Fisher said Monday, putting a happy face on an otherwise troubling effort. "It was more two or three individuals that caused all the problems."

There is ample room for big-picture concerns. Players admit to being slow to latch on to the subtleties of new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt's defensive scheme. The aggressive approach has yielded a handful of big plays but also surrendered a few more to the opposition. The Seminoles' performance through four games has fans wondering if disaster looms just over the horizon, as the explosive offenses of Maryland and Clemson await.

Instead, what Fisher saw on film were a few minor glitches -- easily correctable mental errors. A few missed assignments here, a few sets of eyes focused on the wrong things there. Rather than panicking, Florida State's defense seems relieved.

“Those mistakes are going to help you," safety Terrence Brooks said. "It’s bad, but it also can be good for you, too. Those are things you know you’ve got to key in on. It’s just room for improvement.”

That's the upbeat spin. These are the raw numbers: Through four games, Florida State has coughed up 606 yards on the ground, nearly half the total its defense allowed in 14 games last year. Boston College amassed 397 total yards Saturday; only Clemson (2010 and 2011) managed more against FSU since the start of the 2011 season -- and the Tigers' high-flying attack gets its shot against the Seminoles in just three weeks. The defense has started slowly in every game, and as a result, FSU has trailed in three of four games. It's a particularly disconcerting picture given that this week's opponent, Maryland, has topped 500 yards of offense three times, is averaging better than 7 yards per play, has a dual-threat quarterback and one of the ACC's most explosive playmakers in receiver Stefon Diggs.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Brown
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyC.J. Brown is averaging 261 yards passing and 71 yards rushing through four games.
And yet, Florida State's players insist they're not worried. The fixes aren't physical failures, but rather mental miscues -- a product of new personnel seeing an increased workload, a handful of gimmick plays by the opposition and a continuing adjustment to Pruitt's new scheme.

"We had some little, stupid mental errors in that game -- letting our guys go, trying to do too much and getting out of gaps," Brooks said. "That’s the only reason they were able to get all those points they did get."

It's not an entirely unfair accounting. Two of Boston College's touchdowns came on nearly identical plays, when the offense shifted heavily to one side, then threw the opposite way. FSU's defense aggressively pursued the ball and left a receiver wide open.

Of course, Pruitt's approach also might be part of the problem. As FSU's players raved about the new scheme this offseason, the buzzword used again and again was "aggressive." Pruitt promised to turn the Seminoles' athletes loose to make plays, and the players loved the concept. It all sounded good until Boston College used that mindset against them.

"We’re a very aggressive defense, and we want to get to the ball fast," Brooks said. "That right there kind of killed us a little bit."

It's not that the scheme is flawed, however. Pruitt essentially is installing a defense similar to what Alabama used to win three of the past four national titles. There's a track record of success.

The difference is that when Pruitt took over as defensive backs coach at Alabama in 2010, that scheme was already in place, and the veterans already knew it well. At Florida State, it's all new, and the learning process requires time.

"When you come in during the spring and put in a new defense, especially as complex as this one, it’s not like you’re coaching a team full of guys that have already been in the system," defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan said. "It’s almost like you’re coaching a defense full of freshmen, technically. We’re all learning it."

Jernigan insists his teammates have bought in, but the learning process has come more quickly for some. Fisher praised Jernigan's work against BC, saying the junior played perhaps the best game of his career. Eddie Goldman earned raves, too, and linebacker Telvin Smith earned player of the week honors in the ACC after finishing with 10 tackles.

So where are the problems?

Fisher did his best to avoid criticizing specific players, though the absence of senior Christian Jones from his synopsis was noteworthy. Dan Hicks was burned for a touchdown, as well, though he was noticeably overmatched in his assignment. Defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. and safety Tyler Hunter sat out for the second straight game against BC, too, and there are no assurances they'll be ready this week.

But to hear Fisher's analysis, there's no cause for alarm. It's not a matter of a flawed scheme, a too-steep learning curve or a lack of personnel. It's simply about getting the little things right.

Florida State's players are convinced of that, too, and the film from Boston College only burnished that optimism. But even so, this week's practices come with a mandate for improvement.

"Having that happen with these good teams that have mobile quarterbacks, people who can run and pass better, better receivers," Brooks said, "it’s just more of a problem at that point."

ACC assessments at the quarter pole

September, 24, 2013
For the past decade, the ACC has shared the regional stage with the SEC, but it has been a clear second-class citizen. In the first month of the 2013 season, however, the conference did its best to shed that reputation and deliver a few blows to its neighbor with the long run of national titles. Clemson knocked off Georgia, Miami upended Florida and along with Florida State, the ACC looks to have at least three teams with sights set on the BCS.

Best game: Clemson's win over Georgia

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Liz Condo/USA TODAY SportsTajh Boyd has lived up to his Heisman candidate hype during the first quarter of the season, leading Clemson to a No. 3 ranking.
No one doubted Clemson's offensive potential before the season, but for the Tigers -- and the ACC -- to establish their national-title credentials, they needed a big win, and Georgia provided the perfect foil on the first Saturday of the season. Tajh Boyd accounted for five touchdowns, Roderick McDowell ran for 132 yards, Sammy Watkins hauled in six catches for 127 yards and the Clemson defense did just enough to secure a 38-35 win that set the stage for the ACC's emergence as a challenger to SEC dominance.

Best player: Boyd

Four weeks into the season, Boyd's numbers have only burnished the preseason Heisman hype. He has racked up six passing touchdowns and three more on the ground, and he has yet to throw an interception. His numbers aren't buffered by a stat-padding game against weak opposition, either. He saw a limited workload against South Carolina State, saving his best for a surprisingly close game against NC State and a season-defining win over Georgia.

Best performance: Jameis Winston's debut

There was plenty of buzz surrounding the Florida State quarterback before he ever took a snap, but Winston still managed to exceed expectations in his first game. Winston completed his first 11 passes, finished 25-of-27 for 356 yards and accounted for five touchdowns in a blowout win over Pittsburgh. He followed that up with two more solid games, but his debut ranks among the best for any quarterback in the past decade.

Best surprise: Maryland's hot start

It's not that the Terrapins didn't have talent, but there were so many question marks to open the season. C.J. Brown returned after missing all of 2012, a bevy of defensive stalwarts were gone and the Terrapins were riding out their final ACC campaign before moving to the Big Ten. Through four games, though, things have worked out beautifully. Brown and Stefon Diggs helped the Maryland offense rack up more than 500 yards in its first three games, the defense pitched a shutout against West Virginia last week, and the Terps will enter their Oct. 5 clash with Florida State undefeated.

Biggest disappointment: Virginia Tech's offense

It wasn't so long ago Logan Thomas was being discussed as a future first-round NFL draft pick. Now, he's among the most criticized quarterbacks in the country. His 42.3 Total QBR ranks 98th nationally, and he has more sacks (5) and interceptions (6) than touchdown passes (4). Virginia Tech's offense ranks 106th nationally in yards per play (4.68), and everyone has contributed. The receivers can't get open, the ground game has been stuck in neutral and the line is doing little to open running lanes.

ACC predictions: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
We have a little separation in the ACC picks after Andrea went 7-1 last week and Heather went 6-2, missing on her upset special selection. Andrea is now 27-4 through three weeks, while Heather is 26-5. Let's see what Week 4 has in store.


No. 3 Clemson (2-0) at NC State (2-0), 7:30 p.m., ESPN. #CLEMvsNCST. The Wolfpack have beaten Top 10 teams in consecutive seasons. That includes Clemson in 2011. But this NC State team has a new coach and a vastly different look on both offense and defense and is still adjusting, as a close call against Richmond showed a few weeks ago. Tajh Boyd, meanwhile, threw for 426 yards and five touchdown passes last year against a much more experienced Wolfpack secondary. To have a shot at another upset, NC State has got to pressure Boyd and get a near perfect game from quarterback Pete Thomas. The odds say the Clemson offense will be too much to handle again.

AA picks: Clemson 38, NC State 20

HD picks: Clemson 42, NC State 21


North Carolina (1-1) at Georgia Tech (2-0, 1-0), noon, ESPN. #UNCvsGT. The Tar Heels got an extra week to prepare for Georgia Tech, but that did little good last year, when they gave up 68 points in a high-scoring loss. The defense, without its best players from 2012, has not looked a whole lot better in two games so far this year. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has an added dimension on offense with the way Vad Lee has been able to pass the ball. Given those questions on defense, Georgia Tech gets the edge in this game.

AA picks: Georgia Tech 35, North Carolina 24

HD picks: Georgia Tech 38, North Carolina 28

Marshall (2-1) at Virginia Tech (2-1), noon, ESPNU. #MRSHvsVT. The Hokies are the type of team that will continue to win with a solid defense and an offense that does enough to get the job done. The offense showed signs of improvement last week against East Carolina, while the defense turned in another outstanding performance and shut down quarterback Shane Carden. Expect much of the same this week against another good quarterback in Rakeem Cato.

AA picks: Virginia Tech 23, Marshall 7

HD picks: Virginia Tech 17, Marshall 7

Wake Forest (1-2) at Army (1-2), noon, CBS Sports Network. This game is a toss-up, based mostly on the way Wake Forest has struggled on offense the last two games. What has been alarming has not only been an inability to run the football, but no sense of urgency on the sideline. The Deacs have to win this game with a tough stretch looming. In their matchup last year, Michael Campanaro had 184 yards of total offense and two rushers went over 100 yards on the ground. They will find enough offense to squeak by, even though the last two games point to continue struggles.

AA picks: Wake Forest 28, Army 27

HD picks: Wake Forest 21, Army 20

Pitt (1-1, 0-1) at Duke (2-1, 0-1), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #PITTvsDUKE. The Panthers hit the road for the first time this season after a big win over New Mexico that featured some freshmen stars, including receiver Tyler Boyd. Duke, meanwhile, hopes to rebound after a tough loss to Georgia Tech. Coach David Cutcliffe expects Brandon Connette to play better in his second start but Pitt presents a tough challenge, particularly up front. Pitt needs to work on holding onto the ball if it is going to win -- six turnovers in two games is unacceptable.

AA picks: Pitt 27, Duke 20

HD picks: Pitt 28, Duke 24

Tulane (2-1) at Syracuse (1-2), 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. #TULNvsCUSE. The Orange finally picked up their first win of the season but it came against FCS Wagner. So we will see how many improvements they have made this week against Tulane, a much improved team already this season. Terrel Hunt gets the start at quarterback, hoping to build off a strong performance last week. Tulane is led by quarterback Nick Montana, the son of NFL Hall of Famer Joe Montana. Expect Hunt to have another good game.

AA picks: Syracuse 35, Tulane 17

HD picks: Syracuse 35, Tulane 10

West Virginia (2-1) vs. Maryland (3-0), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. #WVUvsMD. We had Maryland on upset watch this week, but feel confident the Terps will be able to beat the Mountaineers for the first time since the 2003 Gator Bowl. West Virginia has not developed the type of rhythm it wants on offense yet this season in two games against FBS competition. Ford Childress did show good signs last week against Georgia State, but this will be his first true test of the year. Maryland, meanwhile, has been much more effective on offense than West Virginia. This year, the C.J. Brown-Stefon Diggs combination will be too tough to stop.

AA picks: Maryland 33, West Virginia 27

HD picks: Maryland 27, West Virginia 21

VMI (1-2) at Virginia (1-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPN3. #VMIvsUVA. The Hoos return to the field after a bye, hoping to improve their ground game. A key there will be getting quarterback David Watford more involved because of his ability to make plays in the open field. Coach Mike London also wants to get the downfield passing game working, too, as his receivers need to get more involved in the offense.

AA picks: Virginia 45, VMI 3

HD picks: Virginia 28, VMI 7

Bethune-Cookman (3-0) at No. 8 Florida State (2-0), 6 p.m., ESPN3. #BCUvsFSU. Coach Jimbo Fisher has played up what Bethune-Cookman has done so far this year -- an FCS ranking and win over FIU. But make no mistake, the Seminoles are not going to be tested much in this game.

AA picks: Florida State 55, Bethune-Cookman 3

HD picks: Florida State 62, Bethune-Cookman 0

Savannah State (1-2) at No. 16 Miami (2-0), 7 p.m., ESPN3. #SAVvsMIA. FCS punching bag Savannah State arrives in Miami to collect another paycheck, having given up 77 points to Georgia State and 66 to Troy earlier this season. The only thing left to wonder is how badly the Canes will beat this squad.

AA picks: Miami 60, Savannah State 3

HD picks: Miami 52, Savannah State 0


Goodell Has Sit-Down With Jameis Winston
ESPN NFL Insider Field Yates discusses Roger Goodell's meeting with presumptive No. 1 draft pick Jameis Winston.