NCF Nation: Clemson Tigers

A lot of talent has already come off the board, but there’s still quality at the top of the ESPN 300 that could give at least 10 teams a shot at the second-best class. Plus, Penn State's James Franklin continues to be the most talked about coach in the Washington D.C. metro area.

Clemson's Choice out with torn ligament

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said leading running back Adam Choice is lost for the season after tearing a knee ligament, according to the Associated Press.

The 21st-ranked Tigers (5-2, 4-1 ACC) will also be without tight end Jordan Leggett for several weeks after he also suffered a knee injury. Swinney said both players were injured in last Saturday's 17-13 victory at Boston College.

Clemson faces Syracuse (3-4, 1-2) on Saturday night.

Choice, a freshman, led Clemson with 218 yards and a touchdown. Swinney said Choice would need surgery in a couple of weeks to repair the ACL injury.

Swinney said Leggett tore his meniscus and sprained an MCL. He's caught 10 passes for 131 yards and a touchdown.

The coach did not provide any further details on the injuries, per athletic department policy.

Read more on this story.
There is a simple bit of clarity confronting the ACC and Florida State eight weeks into the season: Perfection seems the only way to get the Seminoles into the College Football Playoff.

No other Power 5 program will be held to such a standard. But no other Power 5 conference has its reputation in a sinkhole the way the ACC does. That is why it was so important for Florida State to beat Notre Dame on Saturday. As long as the Noles keep winning, they are assured of a spot in the top four. But lose? Florida State may as well be playing in Conference USA. That is how little respect the ACC has nationally right now.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Melina Vastola/USA TODAY SportsJameis Winston was fired up after Saturday's victory over Notre Dame, but the Noles will have to keep winning if they hope to make the playoff.
Just look at the most recent AP and coaches Top 25 polls. While the College Football Playoff selection committee will put together its own rankings next week, it is instructive to look at how the media and coaches perceive the ACC -- outside Florida State.

Because the league as a whole is what will drag Florida State down if the Noles lose a game.

Besides Florida State, the ACC has only one ranked team. In the AP poll, Clemson (5-2) is No. 21 behind two other two-loss teams: Oklahoma and USC. Reigning Coastal champion Duke (6-1) cannot even crack the Top 25 after back-to-back victories over ACC teams with winning records. East Carolina (5-1), with wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina, is ranked No. 18.

Duke and Minnesota are the only 6-1 teams from Power 5 conferences that are unranked. That fact not only speaks to their status as “non-football powers,” but to the idea that their respective leagues are weak. The Big Ten has been panned for its mediocrity this season. But the ACC ranks lower than the Big Ten in the ESPN.com conference power rankings, sitting last among the Power 5 conferences.

Everything we heard during media days about the ACC being stronger? Everything we heard about the ACC gaining more respect since it boasted the national champion? False propaganda. As it turns out, an ACC world with the reigning national champion does not look much different.

Florida State is still alone holding the flag, while Clemson is a distant second. It is hard for a program to fight off the weak-conference stigma when it does not beat its most difficult opponents (Clemson) or play anybody tough out of conference (Duke).

Clemson lost to two Top 10 teams this season -- to Georgia and Florida State. Both teams were ranked higher than the Tigers at the time they played. Yet Oklahoma lost to two teams ranked lower (TCU and Kansas State) and is still four spots higher than Clemson in the AP poll.

These are the ingrained notions that follow programs around, no matter what they do. Clemson “chokes” and the ACC is constantly disrespected. Put them both together and you get critics completely dismissing Florida State’s win over the Tigers earlier this season.

Falling flat nationally hurts, too. While ACC teams like Virginia Tech, Boston College and Florida State have big wins over then-Top 10 opponents, the league also has some head-scratching losses to Colorado State, Akron and ULM. Plus, there were blown opportunities against UCLA, Nebraska, Iowa and Maryland.

So essentially, Florida State gets no lifelines from its conference foes. Even a beefed-up nonconference schedule has not engendered much goodwill from the rest of the country.

Funny to think that before the season started, many believed a one-loss Florida State team would survive and make it into the College Football Playoff based on a strength of schedule that looked much better than it did last season.

As it stands today, Florida State is on pace to play fewer ranked teams than it played in 2013. Right now, the Noles have two ranked teams behind them and none remaining. Last season, they played four Top 25 teams at the time of the matchup (two of them ended the season unranked).

Four of Florida State's remaining five games are against teams with winning records. But nobody wants to hear that going to Louisville and Miami won’t be easy; that Virginia is vastly improved; that Boston College gave the Noles fits last season. Florida State will be expected to win them all.

That’s really the only way the Noles can guarantee themselves a spot in the playoff.

Once again, Florida State is on its own.

ACC bowl projections: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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The win over Notre Dame certainly wasn’t the final piece to Florida State’s playoff puzzle, but it was clearly the biggest hurdle the Seminoles had remaining on the schedule. That has secured FSU’s spot in our postseason projections, but for now, we’re still predicting the Irish will get a bowl game shot at another ACC power.

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Clemson versus Notre Dame*
Russell Athletic Bowl: Duke
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville
Belk Bowl: Virginia
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Miami
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman: Georgia Tech
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Virginia Tech
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: NC State

* Note: If Notre Dame is not invited to the College Football Playoff or a New Year’s Six bowl game, it will assume one of the ACC’s bowl spots.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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Video: No. 24 Clemson 17, BC 13

October, 18, 2014
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video 
C.J. Davidson's 32-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter was the difference in Clemson's 17-13 win over Boston College.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
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Pittsburgh snapped a three-game skid Thursday by beating Virginia Tech. Here's the rest of the ACC action for Week 8.

Noon

Syracuse at Wake Forest, ESPN, #CUSEvsWAKE: AJ Long gets the start for Syracuse after Terrel Hunt and Austin Wilson both went down. The true freshman saw extended action last week against defending national champion Florida State, and he now faces a stingy Wake Forest defense that is coming off a bye. The Demon Deacons also start a true freshman under center, though John Wolford has been the guy for Wake since Day 1. Expect defense to rule the day in this contest.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia at Duke, ESPN3, #UVAvsDUKE: It is the current Coastal Division leaders against the reigning division champions. What gives? The Cavaliers are coming off a bye after looking impressive in wins over Pitt and, earlier this season, Louisville. Can the Hoos' defense deliver once again? The Blue Devils did hand Georgia Tech its first loss of the season last week, but their offense needs to play within themselves.

3:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsWill Gardner is expected to get the nod at quarterback for Louisville, which hosts NC State on Saturday.
NC State at Louisville, ESPN3, #NCSUvsLOU: It's 11 straight ACC losses for the Wolfpack, who are still seeking that first league win under Dave Doeren. A team that looked so good so early this season has struggled immensely on the offensive side of the ball in the past two weeks against Clemson and Boston College. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are looking to erase the sour taste from their mouths after last week's heartbreaker against the Tigers. They will turn back to Will Gardner under center to try to get them back on track. Receiver DeVante Parker, who has yet to play this season, is questionable.

No. 24 Clemson at Boston College, ESPNU, #CLEMvsBC: Alumni Stadium holds a special place in Dabo Swinney's heart, as it was the site of his first career win as Clemson's head coach. The Eagles nearly shocked the Tigers last year back in Death Valley, and they did manage to knock off USC earlier this season, so they cannot be taken lightly. BC's run game has been simply astounding at times, with the Eagles outrushing their opposition 1,513-134 in their four wins. Clemson turns back to Cole Stoudt this week at quarterback after Deshaun Watson suffered a broken finger last week.

7 p.m.

Georgia Tech at North Carolina, ESPNU, #GTvsUNC: The Yellow Jackets lost their first game of the season last week, a delay-filled affair against Duke. But that option attack might still be tough to defend for a UNC defense that cannot seem to get out of its own way. Marquise Williams played a terrific game last week at Notre Dame, giving the Tar Heels a tremendous chance to win. But surrendering 50 points for the third time this season did the Heels no good, and, unless that changes, questions will remain about this team.

8 p.m.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State, ABC, #NDvsFSU: Everett Golson is 16-1 as a starter. Jameis Winston is 19-0. "College GameDay" is on hand for this game with huge College Football Playoff implications. Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher are both in their fifth season with the Fighting Irish and Seminoles, respectively, and [at least] one might have the chance to be in the national title mix for the second time in three seasons. Notre Dame lost in the title game in 2012; FSU won it all in 2013. Chaos has subsided with the Irish, who finally know the fate of the five players who were suspended back in August as part of an internal academic probe. FSU, meanwhile, has dealt with the circus that is Winston seemingly all season long, with the heat amped up this week amid news of a potential disciplinary hearing and an autograph controversy.

ACC Week 8 predictions

October, 16, 2014
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Adelson: Pitt has not done much of anything right during its three-game losing streak, but the Panthers are facing an opponent that has some issues of its own headed into this game. Virginia Tech is banged up at running back and will rely on J.C. Coleman and Joel Caleb to carry the load. So essentially, the Hokies are down to their fourth and fifth options. That bodes well for the Pitt defense, which has had issues stopping the run. Without an effective run game, Virginia Tech will have a tough time offensively. While the Hokies have a formidable defensive front, James Conner and Tyler Boyd will make enough plays to scramble up the Coastal again. Plus, Virginia Tech is 0-3 at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh 24, Virginia Tech 23

Hale: The story for the Hokies remains the same every week: Don't screw it up. The Virginia Tech defense has been prone to big plays, but during its three-game losing streak Pitt has had just 12 plays of 20 yards or more (85th nationally during that span). Virginia Tech's offense hasn't been terrific, but it's been effective when avoiding turnovers. Among ACC teams, only Boston College has created fewer takeaways than Pitt. In other words, it's a good matchup for Virginia Tech to avoid disaster, and with a bye week to iron out a few kinks the Hokies should be at their best. The wild card, however, could be the ground games. Tech is down two of its top three runners, while Pitt features the ACC's rushing leader in Conner. He'd been struggling of late after a heavy early workload, but last week's bye came at the right time. Still, Virginia Tech has allowed just 412 yards to opposing running backs this season, the sixth-lowest total in the nation. Virginia Tech 27, Pittsburgh 24

Adelson: In a battle between two true freshman quarterbacks and uninspiring offenses, I am going with the defense that has made more plays over the course of the season. The nod goes to Wake Forest by a hair. The Deacs have played well enough defensively to stay in every game but the Florida State contest this season, and they will play well enough at home against Syracuse to score the game-winning points. Wake Forest 13, Syracuse 10

Fortuna: It's AJ Long time for Syracuse, and the freshman will feel all the more comfortable in Winston-Salem after debuting last week against the defending national champions. The Orange's stout front should be able to have its way against Wake Forest's offensive line, as the Deacs have surrendered 24 sacks this season. Wake's defense will give the home team a chance, but it will likely need more than that to get an ACC win. Syracuse 23, Wake Forest 10

Hale: Here's how the season has gone in the Coastal: A favorite emerges, then loses, then is brushed aside by the prognosticators in favor of another trendy team that's bound to lose, too. Last week, it was the Yellow Jackets that were the Coastal darlings, and they fell to Duke, a team that had been swept aside after its own dismal game against Miami. The struggles against Duke were largely Georgia Tech's own doing. For just the second time all season, the Yellow Jackets coughed up the football multiple times, and it cost them. If they can avoid those mistakes against North Carolina and keep their offense on the field, they should have a distinct advantage. The Tar Heels are young along the defensive line and lack significant depth. Tech can run the option, control time of possession to keep UNC's explosive offense off the field, then wear down the Heels' defense in the second half. As Duke showed last week, one loss in the Coastal hardly means a team is done. Georgia Tech 42, North Carolina 38

Shanker: Although the offense received a lot of help from Notre Dame last week, the Tar Heels showed some fight and nearly pulled off the upset. That has to count for something, right? Plus, Georgia Tech is coming off a loss to Duke that would have given the Yellow Jackets a vice grip on the ACC Coastal with a game against Virginia looking like the last tough intra-division game. Let's be honest, I'm grasping at straws. But for some reason I see the Heels winning. North Carolina 38, Georgia Tech 24

Shanker: It's easy to see the circus once again around Florida State and expect the Seminoles to come out flat or distracted, but that's never been the case the past year. The more scrutiny on Jameis Winston, the better he usually performs. I do think it will take its toll a little bit this time, but it's not entirely the reason Florida State edges out a close win. Notre Dame is better than people give it credit for, and if Everett Golson limits turnovers, the Irish are a much harder team to beat. Winston has turned the ball over at critical times, too, and if that continues against Notre Dame, it could end up haunting the Seminoles this time. As we've seen through the first six games, though, the Seminoles know how to win and once again they'll find a way Saturday. Florida State 38, Notre Dame 35

Fortuna: Assuming Winston plays, FSU's offense is simply, as Brian Kelly said last week, another animal compared to what Notre Dame has faced so far. Rashad Greene won bowl MVP honors against the Irish as a freshman three years ago, and the Noles' record-holder should have another big day against a secondary down one more body in fifth-year senior and captain Austin Collinsworth. Golson, provided he avoids the turnover bug of recent weeks, will keep the Irish in the game, but FSU has more offensive firepower, giving the home team the edge in this shootout. Florida State 44, Notre Dame 30

Other unanimous picks

Virginia at Duke: The key for Virginia is at the line of scrimmage. After a slow start to the season, the Hoos have averaged 224 yards per game on the ground in their past three. They'll need to be able to run the ball to beat Duke -- something Georgia Tech struggled with a week ago. More importantly, however, Virginia's ferocious defensive front needs to attack the Blue Devils' offensive line. Slow down Duke's ground game and rattle Anthony Boone into some mistakes and, for one week at least, the new trendy pick for the Coastal can survive. Virginia 24, Duke 17

Clemson at Boston College: Tyler Murphy has been exceptional running BC's option attack this season, but he's yet to face a front as good as Clemson's. After their opening-week struggles against Todd Gurley and Georgia, the Tigers have allowed just one running play of 20 yards or more (a garbage time 40-yard run by South Carolina State) and have surrendered just 275 yards total on the ground, the fewest in the nation. Clemson 24, Boston College 10

NC State at Louisville: It's hard not to feel a little bad for the Wolfpack. This game ends a four-week stretch in which they got Florida State (with Winston fresh off a suspension), Clemson (with a healthy and poised Deshaun Watson) and Boston College (coming off a bye week). Now, the scuffling State offense runs into the buzz saw that is Louisville's top-ranked D. Oh, and the Cardinals are poised to get star receiver DeVante Parker back from injury this week, too. The Wolfpack will end their ACC losing streak soon, but not this week. Louisville 20, NC State 10

Current standings
Shanker: 44-7
Adelson: 41-10
Fortuna: 41-10
Hale: 41-10
The text messages are still on his phone, because Dabo Swinney cannot bear to delete them.

They are just another way to keep Lisa Lamb close. Six months have passed since his sister-in-law died, leaving a hole in the Swinney family that can never be filled. Sometimes, Swinney just looks at her texts for a good chuckle.

Like the one she sent while she was still in the hospital battling cancer. She wrote: "I cannot believe you're allowing your wife to dress our father this way" and attached a picture of him wearing crazy pants.

[+] EnlargeLisa Lamb, Mike Lamb, Jacob Lamb, Zach Lamb
Courtesy of Kathleen SwinneyLisa Lamb pictured with her husband, Mike, and sons Jacob and Zach, died in April following her second bout with cancer.
"That was just her personality," Swinney recalled with a laugh. "She would say anything, but she could get away with it."

Lamb is never far from his thoughts, or those of his wife, Kathleen -- one of Lamb's younger sisters. Most especially in October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Lisa Lamb fought breast cancer and won in 2003. But nine years later, the cancer returned -- this time in her brain and lungs.

She spent two years in and out of hospitals before she died in April, two days after Easter. She was 49.

But in illness, and in death, Lamb gave life. Sometimes, that is hard for Kathleen to accept, because tragedy rarely leads to hope. How can death provide a gift? How can Kathleen be happy for herself, knowing her parents lost their first-born child, her nephews lost their mom, her brother-in-law lost his wife?

The grief comes in waves. The guilt does, too. But the gratefulness is permanent, because Kathleen knows better than anyone that Lamb died knowing she had potentially saved her sisters from the same hideous disease she could no longer fight.

When Lamb was first diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent a double mastectomy and chemotherapy, and the treatments worked. She was cancer free and happy, but she soon learned she carried a mutated gene linked with breast cancer.

The genes are hereditary; Carriers have a much higher rate of developing breast cancer than the general population.

Lamb urged Kathleen and their youngest sister, Ann, to get tested. One of their cousins was fighting breast cancer at the time, and she also had the gene. Kathleen hesitated initially. She had three young boys and felt fine.

So she waited -- until she realized she could not wait any longer.

"Seeing what my sister went through, it would almost insult her if I didn't do something about it," Kathleen Swinney said. "She never said any of this, but it was almost like, 'You can have this knowledge. I wish I would have had this knowledge.'"

Finally, in 2005, Kathleen went to see a genetic counselor. She had her blood drawn and was called in a month later to hear the results.

She was a carrier.

"It was a surreal moment when we sat down with the doctor and he said, 'Look, here's the deal,'" Dabo Swinney said. "'You carry the gene, and there's a 90 percent chance you're going to get breast cancer. It's just a matter of when.'"

They listened, in shock, as the doctor laid out her options. Kathleen could be more vigilant with mammograms and screenings. Or she could take a drug that would potentially decrease her risk. Or she could get a double mastectomy, which would reduce her chances of getting breast cancer to about 1 percent.

"By the time I left the office, I got in the car and told Dabo, 'I need to have a double mastectomy," Kathleen said. "I didn't even waver. I was 34 at the time, but I felt my heart racing -- Lisa got this at 38, I don't have much longer, it's going to come, it's going to come."

Three months later -- in the middle of football season -- Kathleen had the surgery. Her sister, Ann, also was a carrier and had the same procedure. At age 40, Kathleen also had a hysterectomy to cut down her chances of developing ovarian cancer.

All seemed well with Lamb, but in 2011, everything changed. Lamb's doctors decided to take her off her cancer medication because she was doing so well. One year later, Lamb started to feel funny. She was tired, developed a cough and had trouble walking.

[+] EnlargeAnn Cicero, Kathleen Swinney, Lisa Lamb, Bette Bassett
Courtesy of Kathleen SwinneyAnn Cicero, Kathleen Swinney and Lisa Lamb with their mom, Bette Bassett.
She went for another round of tests. Doctors found the cancer had returned. Lamb underwent successful brain surgery. But with the cancer in her lungs, there was not much the doctors could do.

Despite their positivity, the family knew they would eventually lose Lamb. So they tried to make the most of the time they had together. Over Memorial Day weekend in 2013, they all took a beach vacation. She got to be home for Thanksgiving, to celebrate the birth of Ann's first child. She got to be home for Christmas, too.

But in January 2014, Lamb was hospitalized for good. Kathleen drove from Clemson to Birmingham, Alabama, as much as possible. So did Dabo. Their final visit was on Easter Sunday. Dabo Swinney knew that was the last time he would see Lamb alive.

"I told Kath when we left, I think it was the first time I had seen her peaceful -- like she wasn't fighting," Dabo Swinney said.

Kathleen Swinney is alive because of her sister, and because of breast cancer research -- a cause the Swinneys have championed through their All In Team Foundation. They have raised between $250,000-$300,000 for breast cancer causes alone.

Clemson designated the Louisville game last Saturday as its breast cancer awareness game. Kathleen's family attended, including her brother-in-law, nephews and parents. There were hugs and tears. But mostly, there was love.

"Time will help heal the pain a little bit, but Lisa fought so hard," Kathleen said. "It's a gut-wrenching, horrific disease and just to watch somebody slowly die ... it's just really, really awful. It makes you definitely appreciate every day. You feel so blessed for every one moment."

ACC midseason overview

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
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It's the midpoint for the ACC, and in a lot of ways, things aren't too much different from a year ago.

Florida State is the league's lone hope for the playoff, and while the Seminoles are riding high at 6-0, plenty of questions remain both on and off the field, starting with this week's showdown against No. 5 Notre Dame.

In the Coastal, things are as wild as ever. Virginia leads the way, but each time a new favorite has emerged, it has faltered a week later.

There have been some big wins -- Virginia Tech over Ohio State, Boston College over USC -- and some major disappointments (we're looking at you, Pitt and North Carolina). Established stars like Duke Johnson and Jameis Winston have looked good, if not Heisman quality, while new arrivals like Jacoby Brissett and Deshaun Watson have turned in some of the season's finest performances.

But if there's much to be said about the ACC's first half in 2014, it's that it will serve as a worthy prologue for most teams only if the latter half of the season develops as planned. So much of what we thought we knew went out the window quickly, and so much of the story of the season is yet to be written. Florida State's playoff hopes remain, but so, too, do some significant hurdles. Clemson's season unraveled with September losses to two top-10 teams, but perhaps Watson can lead the Tigers to a long-awaited win over South Carolina at year's end. Virginia Tech has been up and down, but Frank Beamer has so much young talent developing that the Hokies can be excited about the future. Mike London has gone from the hot seat to potential division favorite if his team can hang on to its early momentum.

In other words, the silver linings haven't always been easy to find this season in the ACC, but, as so often seems to be the case in this league, there's hope that the rest of this year's storylines will be better.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Rob Kinnan/USA Today SportsRashad Greene has amassed almost 700 receiving yards halfway through the season.
Offensive MVP: Florida State receiver Rashad Greene. It's been a rockier start to the season than the defending champions might've hoped, but the one consistent piece throughout the first six games of the year has been Greene. He has 130 more receiving yards than anyone else in the conference. He set the school record for receptions against Syracuse, bringing his career total to 215. He's topped 100 yards in four of his five games against FBS foes despite being the only consistent threat in the Seminoles' passing game. And most importantly, his performances against Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State were the biggest difference between an FSU team that's scuffling at 3-3 or headed toward the playoff at 6-0.

Defensive MVP: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman. There are plenty of quality candidates for the honor, many of them on Holliman's own defense, but he gets the nod based on the sheer ridiculousness of his seven picks through seven games. A year ago, only one player in the nation had more than seven interceptions for the entire season, but Holliman has continued to rack up the takeaways as his defensive front punishes opposing quarterbacks. Overall, Louisville's defense has been on the field for 93 drives against FBS foes. Fifteen resulted in points. Sixteen resulted in turnovers, including seven that ended up in the hands of Louisville's sophomore safety.

Biggest surprise: Virginia's strong start. When the preseason prognosticators got together, the only Coastal Division team that didn't earn a first-place vote was Virginia. Midway through the season, however, it's the Cavaliers atop the Coastal. Chalk it up to a terrific defense, led by Henry Coley (6 sacks), Eli Harold (5.5 sacks) and freshman Quin Blanding (ACC-leading 61 tackles). Meanwhile, London's crew has navigated a quarterback carousel to find an offense that's developing each week. A team that was once the consensus cellar dweller is the lone Coastal player without a loss in conference play.

Biggest disappointment: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 2-4, but they've trailed in every game they've played this season. They were torched by ECU in one of the most atrocious defensive performances in recent memory, then were lit up for six touchdown passes by a true freshman making his first career start a week later. A game performance against Notre Dame last week at least offers some optimism that a turnaround similar to 2013 is possible, but it's been another rough start for UNC.

Newcomer of the year: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. The freshman opened the season as Cole Stoudt's backup but won the starting job after a stellar performance against Florida State. He looked poised and precise and ran Chad Morris' offense with ease through the next few games, leading the nation in QBR in the process. But a broken finger suffered against Louisville has doomed Watson to the sidelines for at least the next three to four weeks, meaning a few other newcomers -- Blanding, Miami's Brad Kaaya, Virginia Tech's Isaiah Ford and NC State's Jacoby Brissett (a transfer) -- still have a chance to take this award by year's end.

Best coach: FSU's Jimbo Fisher. He probably doesn't get the credit he deserves because he clearly has the league's most talented team, but through all the trials and tribulations of the past year, Fisher has directed the Seminoles to 22 straight wins. He's kept an even keel for a team replacing a host of departed NFL talent, he's overseen a win against Clemson with his backup quarterback, and he's kept the wolves at bay despite nearly constant controversy.

Best game: Florida State 23, Clemson 17. Winston was suspended, and that would've been enough drama on its own to make this the game of the year so far. But there was so much more. Watson's emergence in a hostile environment was exciting. The resilience of Sean Maguire, Winston's backup, in spite of early struggles was impressive. His touchdown pass to Greene to tie the game late was dramatic. Eddie Goldman's forced fumble to keep Clemson out of the end zone in the final minutes was miraculous. And, of course, Florida State's win in overtime kept the ACC alive for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Best games of the second half: Notre Dame at Florida State this week will be the pinnacle of the ACC's remaining slate, and it likely defines the season for both top-five teams. But beyond that matchup, a few more intriguing battles remain, including the Seminoles' trip to Louisville (Oct. 30), Duke and Virginia Tech in a potential division-defining battle on Nov. 15, and, of course, the annual state championship between Clemson and South Carolina to close out the regular season.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
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ACC helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
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The Coastal gets shaken up again as the ACC Black Cat struck in Atlanta. Duke’s Josh Snead is among those to earn a helmet sticker Saturday after helping the Blue Devils upset Georgia Tech.

Duke RB Josh Snead: The Blue Devils spread the carries around, which makes Snead’s 100-yard effort in Duke's 31-25 win over Georgia Tech all the more impressive. Snead totaled only 14 carries but registered 102 yards and a touchdown. He did most of his damage in the first half, as the Blue Devils worked into an offensive rhythm, before scoring a 4-yard touchdown in the second half. It was not a must-win game for Duke, but it was close to it after a loss to division foe Miami.

Boston College QB Tyler Murphy: Murphy and Boston College have suffered through ups and downs this season, but he was dominant on the ground and efficient through the air in a 30-14 win at NC State. Murphy had a 47-yard touchdown run in the first half and sealed the win in the fourth quarter with a 26-yard score. It was part of another 100-yard effort rushing to go along with 12-of-19 passing. In six games, Murphy has 711 rushing yards. The Eagles need Murphy at his best if they hope to make it back to a bowl game, as the schedule turns much tougher with road games at Virginia Tech and No. 1 Florida State and home contests against Clemson and Louisville.

Florida State WR Rashad Greene: The senior quietly topped 100 receiving yards again in FSU's 38-20 win over Syracuse, but in the process secured his place in Florida State football’s pantheon of receivers. Greene became the school’s career leader in receptions Saturday and now has 215 receptions over his four seasons. Greene has been the model of consistency, and with the loss of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, Greene is showing the Florida State fanbase just how valuable of a commodity he truly has been the last four years.

Miami QB Brad Kaaya, RB Duke Johnson and WR Phillip Dorsett: Cincinnati does not play much, if any, defense, but the Hurricanes’ offense was impressive nonetheless in a 55-34 win Saturday. Miami showed off its big-play ability with rushes of 80, 62 and 40 yards and a touchdown pass of 79 yards. Kaaya was 17-of-24 with 286 yards and three touchdowns. Duke Johnson needed only 10 rushes to put up 162 yards. Dorsett was slightly more impressive, totaling 143 yards on only three receptions. Dorsett entered the game averaging 31.3 yards per catch, and he actually improved upon that with Saturday’s performance.

Clemson PK Ammon Lakip: Widely criticized for a poor effort against No. 1 Florida State in a game the Tigers should have won, Lakip made three critical second-half field goals to stave off an upset-minded Louisville, 23-17. With backup quarterback Cole Stoudt unable to move the offense into the end zone, Dabo Swinney called upon Lakip for all nine of the Tigers’ second-half points. Lakip converted on all of his kicks, including a 45-yard field goal to open the half. And after the Cardinals tied the game at 17-17 in the third, Lakip hit the go-ahead field goal and added some insurance late in the fourth quarter. It was a pivotal three points, as the Cardinals were forced to go for the touchdown from inside the 5-yard line in the waning seconds.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 7

October, 11, 2014
Oct 11
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We're officially halfway through the regular season. Here's what we learned in the ACC in Week 7.

Winston isn't rattled: Jameis Winston has now faced Syracuse twice in his career, and both games were preceded by troubling off-the-field news about the FSU quarterback. We'll have to wait to see how this latest investigation by the university into whether Winston broke the school's code of conduct will play out, but his on-field performance was the same as a year ago. Winston completed 30 of 36 passes for 317 yards and three TDs in a 38-20 rout of the Orange. In his two games against Syracuse, he's thrown five touchdowns and eight incompletions.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State's Jameis Winston
Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesJameis Winston has now thrown five touchdowns and just eight incompletions in two games against Syracuse.
There will be a huge game in Tallahassee next week: North Carolina, for all its early-season struggles, was ready for its trip to South Bend, Indiana. The Tar Heels gave Notre Dame all it could handle and actually held a lead heading into the fourth quarter. Much as it did against a top-10 Miami team in Week 6 last year, UNC couldn't pull out the win, though, losing 50-43. That's bad for the Heels, but perhaps good for the ACC's profile, as the Irish now head to Florida State in Week 8 for a showdown between two undefeated top-10 teams.

Defense wins games, too: This isn't the Clemson Tigers we got to know under Chad Morris, but it's still an awfully tough team to beat. Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury in the first quarter Saturday, delivering a huge blow to the Tigers. But while the offense couldn't muster much of anything against Louisville's stout defense -- a unit, by the way, that has allowed touchdowns on just three of 92 FBS opponents' drives this season -- Clemson's own defense did enough to win, 23-17. The Tigers held Louisville to 1-of-17 on third downs and stuffed the Cardinals at the goal line in the final minute of action to preserve the win.

Duke isn't dead in the Coastal: It was easy to forget the defending division champs after a loss to Miami, but the Blue Devils showed they were still a force to be reckoned with by upending Georgia Tech 31-25. It was Duke's first win in Atlanta in 20 years. Duke beat Tech at its own game, protecting the football while forcing three Yellow Jackets turnovers, and running the football to the tune of 242 yards on 47 carries. Duke's win over previously unbeaten Georgia Tech actually vaults Virginia into first place in the Coastal, but as we've seen in so many previous seasons, that division could be a jumble all the way until the end.

Tyler Murphy was Florida's best QB: The QB issues for Will Muschamp's Gators have been well-documented, but the two quarterbacks he parted ways with met head-to-head in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday, and Murphy left no question about who would come out on top during Boston College's 30-14 win over NC State. Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett completed just 14 of 30 throws and tossed his first interception since Week 1 as NC State lost for the 11th straight time in ACC play. Murphy, on the other hand, was stupendous, rushing 15 times for 132 yards and scoring twice. No Power 5 quarterback is within 100 yards of Murphy's rushing total for the season.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 7

October, 10, 2014
Oct 10
10:00
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We're almost at the halfway point of the season. Here is your viewing guide for all of Saturday's ACC action.

Noon

No. 1 Florida State at Syracuse, ESPN, #FSUvsCUSE: This matchup is ... shall we say, not favorable for Syracuse? The Orange fell in Tallahassee, Florida, last year, 59-3, and they enter this game without quarterback Terrel Hunt, who is out 4-6 weeks with a broken fibula. They also enter the contest with a new offensive coordinator in Tim Lester, as head coach Scott Shafer stripped George McDonald of his duties this week, creating another series of drama. The Seminoles could be without several key pieces, and they could get caught looking ahead to next week's showdown with Notre Dame, but it probably won't matter.

Cincinnati at Miami, ESPN3, #CINvsMIA: Tommy Tuberville returns to the place where he won three national titles as an assistant, but he needs his defense to get up to speed after consecutive poor showings. He might also need to call upon familiar face Munchie Legaux, too, as Gunner Kiel is nursing a chest injury. The Hurricanes' offense should have a big game here, but the real question is if its defense can forget about last week's performance against Georgia Tech and look more like the unit that held Duke to 10 points two weeks ago.

12:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsPaul Johnson and Duke coach David Cutcliffe have been sniping at each other in the media in the lead-up to Saturday's Coastal Division matchup.
Duke at No. 22 Georgia Tech, #DUKEvsGT: Duke coach David Cutcliffe doesn't understand why a talented receiver would look at Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson thinks Cutcliffe should worry about his own team, which is coming off a bye, has dropped 10 straight to the Yellow Jackets, and has not won in Atlanta in 20 years. Sure, the talk leading up to this one has been fun, but the on-field implications are big: The Blue Devils are the reigning Coastal champions and looking for their first league win of the season; the Yellow Jackets are in the driver's seat in the division after a 5-0 start.

3:30 p.m.

Louisville at Clemson, ESPNU, #LOUvsCLEM: Honesty week has sure been fun in this league, huh? There was the Cutcliffe-Johnson back and forth that we mentioned above, and there was Cardinals coach Bobby Petrino comparing the noise of Death Valley to that of the Carrier Dome, where Louisville won last week by 22. Clemson fans did not take kindly to this, however unintentional the comments might have been. If the Tigers fans deliver on their "Silent Out," well, Petrino would technically be right, no? In any event, the defensive matchup should be fun to watch in this one, as both units have been flat-out salty in recent weeks. Louisville could get a much-needed boost offensively as well if DeVante Parker returns.

Boston College at NC State, ESPN3, #BCvsNCSU: Somewhere, Will Muschamp and Gators fans everywhere weep. As Florida goes through even more quarterback turmoil this week, a pair of former Gainesville signal-callers meet up in Raleigh, as the Eagles' Tyler Murphy takes on the Wolfpack's Jacoby Brissett. Murphy orchestrated a huge upset of USC last month but is coming off a loss to Colorado State and a bye, while Brissett got his name on the national radar with a strong performance against FSU before getting shut out at Clemson last week. We won't exactly call this a "must-win" for either team, but a loss will not bode well -- especially for NC State, which, for all of its early-season excitement, has yet to win an ACC game in the two-year Dave Doeren era.

North Carolina at No. 6 Notre Dame, NBC: Everett Golson might find just the perfect opponent to help rid himself of a recent two-game rut and gain some momentum heading into next week's game at FSU. The fringe Heisman candidate is facing a UNC defense that has given up 51.3 points per game over its past three contests and is desperate for answers. Golson, remember, almost went to UNC, where he would've tried to play football and basketball. The Tar Heels boast plenty of athleticism, especially on offense, and it will be interesting to see if they can crack the code of one of the country's more surprising units of the first half: the Fighting Irish defense, which has overcome massive turnover and a coordinator change to tie for third nationally in scoring average (12 PPG).

ACC Week 7 predictions

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9
9:00
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Adelson: Will the real NC State please stand up? The Wolfpack looked so good early on against Florida State in a close loss, then so bad in a blowout to Clemson. Which version will show up against BC? Jacoby Brissett should be in line to have another good day against a BC defense that has been inconsistent all season. Brissett struggled against Clemson, in part, because the Tigers' front seven controlled the game. BC is not as strong up front, so that should allow NC State opportunities to make some plays both running and passing. This is as close to a must-win for Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren, still looking for his first career ACC victory. NC State 28, Boston College 24

Hale: If NC State turned heads with an impressive offensive showing against Florida State, the Wolfpack quickly erased much of that goodwill by getting shut out last week against Clemson. The common denominator in both games? That’d be the dismal defense that’s allowed 97 points in its past two games. Boston College is sixth in the nation in rushing, and NC State is 119th in yards allowed after contact on running plays. Only two Power 5 teams have more runs of 20-plus yards this year than the Eagles. NC State has allowed 31 plays of 20-plus yards, 107th nationally. But perhaps more than anything, it’s fair to wonder where the Wolfpack’s morale is at the moment. For all their progress, they’ve still lost 10 straight ACC games, and the past two defeats both stung. Boston College has the battle-tested ground game, the better defense and little in the way of expectations. Eagles head coach Steve Addazio’s teams have thrived under those conditions. Boston College 24, NC State 20.

Fortuna: If Louisville gets DeVante Parker back, the Cardinals will receive a huge offensive boost. And, frankly, they need it, as the unit has not looked all that great so far, ranking 13th in the ACC in yards per game. This matchup is also a nightmare for the Cards' offensive line, which has surrendered 19 sacks through six games and is walking into Death Valley to face arguably the best front seven in the league. Louisville's really, really good defense (first in the ACC in most major categories) will have to create some scoring opportunities for its offense. And while Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Grantham's unit is certainly capable of slowing down the sensation that is Deshaun Watson (and his talented group of pass-catchers), the mismatch on the other side of the ball will be just too much for Louisville to overcome. Clemson 28, Louisville 14

Shanker: There were a lot of questions surrounding Georgia Tech after the Yellow Jackets were nearly tripped up during their nonconference schedule several times, but they played the best game all season against Miami. The Duke offense was uninspiring against that same Miami defense two weeks ago, and if the Blue Devils can't move the football, Georgia Tech will control the clock and the game. The Yellow Jackets need to keep the Duke offense off the field, too, because the defense is still gaining its collective footing. Georgia Tech 17, Duke 14

Other unanimous picks:

Cincinnati at Miami: The Bearcats have struggled defensively in their past two contests, giving up 45.5 points per game. With quarterback Gunner Kiel likely out, Cincinnati's offense will have trouble keeping up with Miami's. Miami 35, Cincinnati 17

FSU at Syracuse: The Seminoles are likely without Sean Maguire, Karlos Williams and possibly even Rashad Greene. The Orange are without Terrel Hunt and have demoted their offensive coordinator. Something tells us the Noles can withstand their personnel hits better than the Orange can. FSU 38, Syracuse 14

North Carolina at Notre Dame: The Irish, like the Noles, could be caught looking ahead to next week's showdown. Still, Everett Golson will have his way with this Tar Heels defense, which has surrendered 51.3 points over its past three games. Notre Dame 42, UNC 24

Current Standings
Shanker: 39-6
Adelson: 37-8
Fortuna: 37-8
Hale: 36-9

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