NCF Nation: Clemson Tigers

ACC bowl predictions

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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Quick Lane Bowl

Hale: Who knows what to make of the Jekyll-and-Hyde Tar Heels? Their defense isn’t good, but neither is Rutgers’. The offense looked stagnant in its last outing, but Larry Fedora will have had a month of prep time to fix any flaws. UNC at least beat some quality opponents (Georgia Tech, Duke), while Rutgers was 2-5 against teams that finished .500 or better, allowing 457 yards and 36 points per game. North Carolina 38, Rutgers 28.

Fortuna: Fans of defense will have to close their eyes and look away in horror. Though Marquise Williams has been phenomenal for much of the season, the Rutgers' offense is riding high off its comeback win at Maryland. With the chance at an eight-win season in its inaugural Big Ten campaign. Leonte Carroo will be a handful for a UNC defense that has already seen its coordinator get fired. Rutgers 38, UNC 31

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl

Adelson: The Wolfpack ended the season on a high note after a total domination of in-state rival North Carolina. The defense has started to gain momentum and play a little more aggressively, while the run game has started to find some footing, too. Jacoby Brissett and Shadrach Thornton each had 100 yards rushing against the Tar Heels. Look for that combination to be the difference. NC State 28, UCF 27.

Shanker: UCF has their own Jacoby to combat NC State’s Brissett. The Knights' Jacoby Glenn was the AAC’s defensive player of the year. UCF will keep NC State offense in check and score just enough points. UCF 24, NC State 17

Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman

Adelson: The Hokies have not been consistently reliable this season, but they did show signs of life offensively last time out against Virginia. J.C. Coleman ran hard -- and that run game will be a big key against a Cincinnati run D that ranks No. 80 in the nation. Here is betting Virginia Tech will get its run game going to make the difference. Virginia Tech 24, Cincinnati 21.

Shanker: This should be an interesting battle of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. Cincinnati’s offense and Virginia Tech’s defense are among the country’s best. Each team’s other unit is among the worst. The Bearcats will have more motivation in this game, though. Cincinnati 20, Virginia Tech 17

Duck Commander Independence Bowl

Shanker: It was an ugly finish for Miami, but South Carolina couldn’t beat a Clemson team that had a one-legged Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Miami 23, South Carolina 14

Adelson: In a game that presents such even matchups, this one might come down to coaching. That is where South Carolina has the edge. Miami has lost four straight bowl games; South Carolina has won three straight. The Hurricanes have shown no motivation to play; Spurrier will find one for the Gamecocks. South Carolina 27, Miami 24.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Fortuna: Points will be hard to come by at Yankee Stadium. Penn State might have the nation's No. 1 rushing defense, but it struggled the one time it faced a mobile quarterback in J.T. Barrett, as Ohio State rushed for 219 yards. Tyler Murphy is an even bigger threat with his legs, and he'll be able to make a few big plays that will ultimately prove to be the difference for an Eagles team that just keeps getting better. BC 17, Penn State 13

Hale: OK, Penn State’s offense isn’t much to rave about, but what has been lost in the Nittany Lions’ season is that the defense has been exceptional. Penn State allowed just 85 yards per game on the ground -- tops in the country -- which could negate BC’s top offensive threats. Expect a low-scoring game, with the Lions having a slight edge. Penn State 17, BC 14

Russell Athletic Bowl

Adelson: It is hard to forget how different Clemson looks offensively with Cole Stoudt behind center, so all the attention in this one will be squarely focused on the Tigers' No. 1-ranked defense. Oklahoma expects Samaje Perine to play, but he will not have much running room against Vic Beasley & Co. Clemson 20, Oklahoma 17

Hale: Since their respective regular-season finales, Oklahoma has gotten healthier and Clemson has learned it will be without star QB Deshaun Watson. The Tigers’ D is terrific, and perhaps that will be enough to secure a win, but odds are the offense is going to have to muster at least a few sustained drives, and Cole Stoudt is averaging just 5.6 yards-per-attempt since Oct. 1 with four TDs and eight interceptions. Oklahoma 17, Clemson 13

Hyundai Sun Bowl

Adelson: Duke has improved defensively this season, but the Blue Devils have not faced many teams as explosive as Arizona State. Plus, they beat only one team with a winning record. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but Arizona State has a better body of work and offense, so expect a Sun Devils victory. Arizona State 35, Duke 28.

Fortuna: These types of games usually come down to who has more to play for, and in this case it is certainly Duke. The Blue Devils are aiming for their second straight 10-win season and for their first bowl win in 53 years after falling just short against Johnny Football last year. Expect a clean offensive performance and just enough stops on defense to escape victorious. Duke 34, ASU 27

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Hale: The Fighting Irish have lost five of six and didn’t beat a team with better than a 7-5 record this season. LSU’s offense might not be stellar, but the Tigers took Alabama to overtime, fell five points shy of beating Mississippi State and have wins over Wisconsin and Ole Miss. We’ll take the LSU defense, with just enough help from Leonard Fournette, to get the job done. LSU 24, Notre Dame 20.

Belk Bowl

Fortuna: Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will have his work cut out for him in trying to stop a Bulldogs offense that's No. 8 nationally in scoring (41.7 ppg), but his defensive unit has been among the nation's best as well. If quarterback Reggie Bonnafon is at full health, he and the Louisville run game should be able to open things up for DeVante Parker and the passing attack. Louisville 31, Georgia 24

Shanker: Louisville’s sixth-ranked defense is allowing 364 yards per game against teams with winning records. Behind Nick Chubb, Georgia will be able to score. Georgia 30, Louisville 24

Capital One Orange Bowl

Hale: The bottom line for the Yellow Jackets is that the D has to do a much better job against Dak Prescott than it did against Jameis Winston in the ACC Championship Game. If Prescott gets time to move in the pocket and make throws downfield, it will be hard to corral Mississippi State. If Tech’s D can limit his big plays and force a couple turnovers, the offense will do more than enough to get the win. We’re betting on the latter. Georgia Tech 41, Mississippi State 38

Fortuna: The Bulldogs' rush defense has been solid (No. 31 nationally), which should improve with nearly a month to prepare for Georgia Tech's triple-option attack. MSU also has a really good quarterback in Dak Prescott, who was near the top of the Heisman discussion before losing at Alabama. The Yellow Jackets need to force several Prescott turnovers to give their offense a chance to have its desired effect, and that might be a tall order. Mississippi State 35, Georgia Tech 30

Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual
Adelson: The Seminoles are in a different position -- playing as the underdog. There is little doubt that will serve as motivation. But beyond the intangibles, Florida State will find a way to win behind Jameis Winston and Dalvin Cook, who has emerged to make the Seminoles more balanced and effective. Florida State 35, Oregon 31

Shanker: It was tough to pull the trigger on Oregon after going with Florida State all season. The rash of injuries are continuing for Oregon, but I think they will be able to run the ball effectively against the Seminoles. The Ducks will blow an early lead but put together a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Oregon 35, Florida State 34

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Shanker: Both teams lost their coach, so it will be interesting to see how each team responds. The talent is clearly in the Panthers’ favor as they have James Conner and Tyler Boyd on offense. Pitt 31, Houston 13

Play that changed the ACC race

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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It was the scene every Florida State fan feared. Sean Maguire, still in the game in the fourth quarter because of a second suspension handed down to Jameis Winston less than a day before the game, was walking off the field having seemingly cost the Seminoles a chance at consecutive national titles.

With a little more than two minutes left in a tied game, Maguire threw an interception on the Seminoles' side of the field. Clemson began what it hoped would be the game's final drive at the FSU 26-yard line with 2:14 remaining. A win would give the Tigers a vise grip on the Atlantic Division title.

The Seminoles still had all three timeouts, though, and Clemson kicker Ammon Lakip missed field goals of 23 and 40 yards earlier in the game. The Tigers couldn’t just sit on the ball and hand it off to Lakip for an easy go-ahead kick. So the Tigers ran quarterback Deshaun Watson on first down before handing the ball to C.J. Davidson on second-and-short.

The offensive line paved a nice hole for Davidson, who looked as if he might be able to take the ball the final 18 yards. However, Seminoles defensive tackle Eddie Goldman got his big left paw on Davidson and the football and ripped the ball loose as he took Davidson to the ground. Nate Andrews was there to dive on the ball and push the game to a fifth quarter.

video

The play, pure and simple, is the epitome of “Clemsoning.” In about a five-second span, that play sums up all that "Clemsoning" is and is potentially the defining "Clemsoning" moment considering it happened in a game with so many Tigers miscues that it generated this headline from The Washington Post.

Despite all the missed field goals and bad snaps, the Tigers were in the red zone with time winding down. Any score would have given Clemson the lead and forced the Seminoles to drive the field with Winston relegated to the sideline in jeans and a baseball cap. For Clemson fans, it might have been a satisfactory resolution for what happened in Death Valley in 2013.

If the remaining results of the 2014 ACC schedule held, the Seminoles would have been shut out of the conference championship game and the playoff. Clemson would possibly be playing in its third Orange Bowl in the last four seasons.

Instead, Florida State kept winning games in similar fashion and is on the cusp of having a 30-game winning streak.
Clemson made the right decision to have quarterback Deshaun Watson have surgery to repair his torn ACL, forcing him to miss the bowl game.

That matchup against Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Florida, this month is one Watson can afford to miss, even if it means handicapping the offense for one more game.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson's Deshaun Watson will have about eight months in recovery time following ACL surgery before fall practice begins.
Because the most important contests loom ahead, with a promising 2015 season awaiting.

As coach Dabo Swinney explained, the earlier surgery date means Watson gains nearly one month in recovery and rehab time.

"Those 3 1/2 weeks will be critical in the back end," Swinney said in a recent interview. "We want to get him back for our summer skills and drills. We really need him to lead the squad through the summer. We want to do everything we can to get him back, and we feel pretty good we can meet that timeline so he can be ready to go before we start camp in the fall."

Watson will have about eight months in recovery time before the heart of fall practice begins. Swinney noted that two players who tore ACLs last spring, tight end Sam Cooper and former quarterback Chad Kelly, had their recoveries fast-tracked. Cooper had recovered just four months after his knee injury. He would have played in the opener against Georgia, but he broke his leg during pregame warm-ups.

Though it is hard to avoid comparisons, Clemson cannot afford to rush Watson and risk having him come back too early, because he means so much to the offense. That was plain to see this past season, when the Tigers looked like a hyper-charged version of itself with Watson behind center.

But Watson could not find a way to stay healthy as a true freshman, leading some to wonder whether he is injury-prone so early in his career. In the spring, he broke his collarbone and missed the spring game. After waiting his turn, Watson finally got the starting nod against North Carolina. Two games later, he broke his finger against Louisville.

When he returned a month later against Georgia Tech, he injured his knee on what looked like a routine run. Watson was able to play the season finale against South Carolina and lead a victory on the partially torn ligament. Because he played in that game, Swinney initially said Watson would be able to play in the bowl game.

But the timing did not make much sense for that to happen.

In the end, this turned out to be the first time Swinney has had his starting quarterback miss time because of injury.

"Sometimes you have some crazy things like that," Swinney said. "It’s just the game. You can’t play this game worried about that kind of stuff. Sometimes, you have some freak things. Had he hurt his finger on the left hand he would have never missed a snap. Or had he not been a quarterback, he wouldn’t have missed a snap, but because he was a quarterback, he really needed to throw the ball. It really wasn’t a big injury, it was just something he couldn’t do his job with.

"He’s never really been hurt his whole career. Sometimes you have some spells like that, but adversity builds a little character and toughness and makes you appreciate the opportunities when you are healthy. He’ll bounce back and be better than ever."

ACC's 2015 Heisman hopefuls

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, and while the ACC had plenty of impressive performances in 2014, Jameis Winston was the lone representative from the conference to finish in the top 10 in voting.

That could certainly change in 2015, when the ACC has several emerging stars who could contend for the award. Here’s a quick look at the league’s top challengers for the 2015 Heisman Trophy.

(Note: We’re assuming that Winston and Miami’s Duke Johnson won’t return for 2015, but if either does come back, he would immediately jump to the top of our rankings.)

1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

If he had stayed healthy all season, Watson might have been a contender for the award as a true freshman. Assuming he can stay on the field in 2015, he looks poised to be the biggest playmaker in the conference for an offense in which he will be surrounded by young talent.

2. Miami QB Brad Kaaya

Kaaya had his ups and downs as a true freshman in 2014, but he showed plenty of poise and was arguably the ACC’s top deep-ball threat. Miami’s offense has plenty of skill-position talent, but Kaaya will need the Hurricanes to finish better than 6-6 if he wants a crack at the Heisman.

3. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

There will be plenty of enthusiasm surrounding Cook’s sophomore campaign in 2015, and if Florida State makes another run at the playoff, he would likely be in the Heisman conversation. The problem for Cook is that he will likely be starring on an offense forced to replace its top receiver, top tight end, four starting linemen and Heisman-winning quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJames Conner, Detrick Bonner
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPitt running back James Conner rushed for a school-record 24 touchdowns in 2014.
4. Pittsburgh RB James Conner

Few players in the country carried a heavier share of their team’s offensive load in 2014 than Conner did for Pitt. While he was a bit overshadowed by the Big Ten's top running backs, his 1,675 yards and 24 rushing TDs would have had him in the Heisman Trophy discussion most seasons. He could certainly match or exceed those numbers next year.

5. Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas

In his first year running Paul Johnson’s offense, Thomas was exceptional, but as the Georgia Tech coach was quick to point out, this could be just the tip of the iceberg. With a year of experience and wider latitude in directing the offense in 2015, Thomas could easily emerge as one of the country’s most explosive offensive threats.

6. North Carolina QB Marquise Williams

Williams’ numbers in 2014 were exceptional, but he was largely overshadowed by UNC’s rocky season defensively. If the Tar Heels can finally emerge into a Coastal contender with Williams leading a high-powered offensive attack, he could emerge as one of the nation’s biggest dual threats at quarterback. His numbers this year were already similar to Dak Prescott, so perhaps 2015 will be Williams’ chance to spend the season getting the Heisman hype.

7. Pittsburgh WR Tyler Boyd

It’s tough for wide receivers to push their way into the Heisman campaign, but Boyd’s numbers in 2014 were exceptional. Whether he can turn in a 2015 season similar to what Alabama’s Amari Cooper did this year depends greatly on whether there is a new coaching regime at Pitt and the progress of Panthers QB Chad Voytik. But Boyd’s talent as a receiver and on special teams certainly will be worth monitoring.

8. Miami RB Joseph Yearby

He played second fiddle to Johnson this year, but it’s easy to see why Miami fans are so excited about the future for Yearby. As a true freshman, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 600 yards of total offense. With a starter’s share of the offense next season, Yearby could emerge into an all-purpose star for the Hurricanes.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby, Jalen Ramsey
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsJalen Ramsey (8) will be a leader on a Florida State defense that might have a little more on its shoulders in 2015.
9. Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey

Defensive players aren’t usually in the Heisman conversation, but with so much turnover expected on FSU’s offense in 2015, it will be up to Ramsey and the defense to keep the Seminoles afloat. Ramsey is already one of the nation’s top defensive backs, and in his third year as a starter, he could easily take the next step into the Heisman Trophy conversation with a few big plays at crucial times -- much as Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o did in 2012.

10. Duke RB Shaun Wilson

Here’s an under-the-radar player to watch as a potential Heisman hopeful in 2015. Wilson wasn’t Duke’s starter this season, but as a true freshman he still led the Blue Devils in rushing (590 yards) and was second in TDs (5) while finishing sixth in the nation in yards per rush (8.0). He could secure the starting job next year on an offense that could be more run-heavy, giving Wilson a chance to rack up huge numbers as one of the league’s most explosive runners.

Others to watch: Boston College RB Jon Hilliman, Louisville RB Brandon Radcliff, NC State QB Jacoby Brissett, Virginia RB Taquan Mizzell

All-ACC team's toughest omissions

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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ESPN released its All-ACC team today, and though we certainly won’t expect much sympathy, it’s worth mentioning that putting those lists together is no easy task. This year, in particular, there were so many strong performances around the ACC that narrowing down the top guards, linebackers, defensive ends -- even the quarterback -- was an arduous task destined to leave some deserving players off the final list.

But since we don’t want to ignore those near-misses entirely, here is a quick look at some of the toughest decisions we had to make for this year’s All-ACC team.

Quarterback: The bottom line is that there is no better player in the conference than Jameis Winston when he’s on, but unlike last season, he had his share of struggles, too. Meanwhile, Marquise Williams emerged as a tremendous dual threat for UNC, helping to overcome a lot of the Tar Heels’ defensive struggles with some huge performances on offense, and Justin Thomas injected new life into Paul Johnson’s old option offense at Georgia Tech. Both Thomas and Williams were deserving candidates for first team — and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson would have been, too, if he had stayed healthy all season. Overall, it was a stellar year for quarterback play in the ACC.

Offensive guard: The problem with debating the merits of offensive linemen is that there aren’t many stats to use to break a tie, and when it came to our top three choices at guard -- Laken Tomlinson, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson -- there was ample debate. In the end, we went with the first two, but Jackson’s contributions -- particularly with the revolving door at center for FSU this season -- shouldn’t go unnoticed. He might have been the Seminoles’ best offensive lineman.

Tight end: In the end, numbers set Clive Walford apart here. He led all ACC tight ends in yards, touchdowns, first downs, yards-per-catch and receptions per game while working with a true freshman quarterback. Still, it’s hard to ignore Nick O'Leary’s fine season (plus bonus points for taking on a bus and winning). Bucky Hodges, Gerald Christian, David Grinnage and Cam Serigne all had fine seasons as well.

Defensive end: OK, we cheated here. Vic Beasley was the obvious choice, but for the opposite side of the line, the debate between Dadi Nicolas and Mario Edwards Jr. was intense, with viable arguments made for both players. Edwards was a crucial cog on FSU’s defense, one of the most dynamic mixes of size and speed in college football. Nicolas was a force throughout the season and stepped up when interior lineman Luther Maddy went down with an injury. In the end, we followed the playoff selection committee’s precedent and avoided the tough question altogether by making our defense a 3-4 unit instead. Sorry, Dadi and Mario -- but now you know how Baylor and TCU feel.

Linebacker: There probably isn’t a more stacked position in the ACC than linebacker. Denzel Perryman and Stephone Anthony were exceptional. David Helton led the ACC in tackles. Lorenzo Mauldin was the most dynamic pass-rusher on Louisville’s stout defense. They all made the cut, but it meant a host of deserving options were left out, including BC’s Josh Keyes, Virginia’s Max Valles and Henry Coley, Syracuse’s Cameron Lynch and Georgia Tech’s Paul Davis.

ESPN.com's All-ACC team

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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Presenting the 2014 ESPN.com All-ACC team:

Offense

WR Rashad Greene, Florida State: Whenever FSU was in trouble, Greene was there to save the day. He made big catch after big catch, took big hit after big hit, and ended the season with 93 catches for 1,306 yards, helping him break both FSU's records for receptions and receiving yards.

WR DeVante Parker, Louisville: The senior caught 35 passes for 735 yards and five touchdowns, the latter two numbers among the top 10 in the ACC. Oh, did we mention he missed the first seven games?

TE Clive Walford, Miami: Was there a more complete tight end in the country? The numbers say there might not be: 44 catches (third nationally), 676 yards (third), 7 TDs (third nationally). Walford did this all with a true freshman QB, too.

OT Cameron Erving, Florida State: Erving repeated as the ACC's blocking trophy winner, moving from left tackle to center in Game No. 10 this season and staying there, further showing his value to a unit that had dealt with interior injuries but came on strong late to help running back Dalvin Cook bloom into one of the country's finest freshmen.

OT T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh: Clemmings ought to get at least a piece of James Conner's player of the year trophy. The converted defensive end was among the nation's most improved players, starting every game for the second season in a row while using his athleticism to ace a position switch he had resisted earlier in his career.

C Andy Gallik, Boston College: BC lost a Heisman finalist at running back and actually improved its rushing totals this season. A dual-threat QB explains part of that, but so, too, does a powerful offensive line, led by Gallik in the middle, who helped pave the way for the league's No. 2 rushing attack.

OG Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech: The only ACC team that rushed for more than BC? The only one that kept its QB unscathed more than Duke? The Yellow Jackets are the answer to both, with Mason captaining an oft-overlooked unit that was absolutely integral to the program's resurgence this season while running its famed triple-option attack.

OG Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The future pro turned in his best season yet, helping a Blue Devils offensive line that anchored a balanced offensive attack and kept QB Anthony Boone upright all season long, as Duke surrendered just 13 sacks, tied for 11th-best nationally.

QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: The reigning Heisman winner was not as sharp as last season, but he once again put up big numbers (3,559 yards, 24 TDs) while leading FSU to another perfect mark. Winston is 26-0 for his career as a starter. You simply cannot beat that.

RB James Conner, Pitt: The ACC player of the year rewrote the Pitt record books -- no easy feat for a place that boasts names like Tony Dorsett, Curtis Martin and LeSean McCoy. Conner rushed for 1,675 yards and 24 TDs, responding to each defense's best shot game after game.

RB Duke Johnson, Miami: Like Conner, Johnson set himself above his peers at a program that has produced plenty of great running backs. Coming off an injury-shortened 2013 season, the junior ran for 1,520 yards and 13 TDs, becoming Miami's all-time leading rusher and its career leader in all-purpose yards.

Defense

DE Vic Beasley, Clemson: The ACC's defensive player of the year has seen his decision to return for his senior season pay off, as Beasley led the ACC in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (18.5) while making Clemson's defense the top-ranked unit nationally.

DT Eddie Goldman, Florida State: Who can forget Goldman forcing a Clemson fumble late to keep FSU's perfect season alive? The junior was in the right place at the right time often, a versatile threat who moved back inside this season after playing end. He dominated the line of scrimmage, and one just needs to look at how FSU fared without Goldman -- giving up 331 rushing yards to Georgia Tech as he went down early -- to see his value.

DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson: Ends might get all the stats and glory, but Jarrett's impact on offenses might have been as big as Beasley's, as he helped form arguably the top defensive line in the country. Jarrett had 6.5 TFLs and 11 QB hurries, freeing up those around him and making running the ball next to impossible down the stretch for opponents.

LB David Helton, Duke: The senior led the ACC in tackles (125) and ranked 11th nationally. Helton helped Duke overcome the preseason loss of linebacker Kelby Brown and led a unit that continued its ascension under coordinator Jim Knowles, finishing fifth in the ACC in scoring average (20.6 ppg), and 20th nationally.

LB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville: A step-up in competition for Mauldin and the Cardinals meant even better results, as the hybrid notched a career-best 45 tackles and led the team in tackles for loss (13), while notching 6.5 sacks. Louisville's defense was one of the most surprising units in the country this season in its first year under coordinator Todd Grantham, ranking No. 6 nationally.

LB Stephone Anthony, Clemson: The leading tackler (73) on the nation's top defense, Anthony impacted games in a number of ways for the Tigers, making 9.5 stops behind the line of scrimmage while forcing two fumbles and picking off one pass.

LB Denzel Perryman, Miami: The senior led the Hurricanes in virtually ever major category: Tackles (102), TFLs (8.5) and forced fumbles (3) among them. He validated his decision to return after last season, recording yet another 100-tackle season and making his case as perhaps the top linebacker in the ACC.

S Gerod Holliman, Louisville: Fourteen interceptions. Fourteen! What more needs to be said? Holliman broke the ACC record and tied the NCAA mark. He had four multi-pick games, including a three-pick performance at BC. And he did this all after transitioning from corner to safety under Grantham's tutelage.

S Jalen Ramsey, Florida State: The sophomore made big play after big play, giving FSU's D an edge at the star position. He clinched the Miami game with a late pick and had two on the season to go with two forced fumbles, 11 break-ups, 13 passes defended and 9.5 TFLs. He blocked a kick, too.

CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech: The last in line of the storied Fuller family to come through Blacksburg, the sophomore showed plenty of the same NFL promise that has guided his older brothers. One of only a handful of Hokies to start every game, Fuller finished second in the ACC in passes defended (15), recorded 4.5 TFLs and recovered one fumble.

CB Garry Peters, Clemson: As overlooked as one can be on a defense loaded with stars, Peters quietly executed his job to a T, picking off one pass, breaking up 11 and defending 12. He forced a fumble and managed eight TFLs as well on a pass defense that ranked No. 3 nationally.

Special teams

K Roberto Aguayo, Florida State: Just another year at the office for Aguayo: 25-of-27 on field-goal attempts, perfect on extra points and a number of crucial kicks, which wasn't always required last year when he first stepped into the national spotlight. Aguayo is a whopping 46-of-49 for his career on field-goal attempts.

P Will Monday, Duke: Monday averaged 43.4 yards per punt, with 12 of his boots going for 50 or more yards. Eight of his punts were touchbacks, 19 were fair caught and 17 were inside the 20-yard line.

KR DeVon Edwards, Duke: Edwards averaged 25.4 yards per kick return, including a 99-yard touchdown in a high-scoring affair at Pitt, which the Blue Devils ended up winning in OT.

AP Tyler Boyd, Pitt: Boyd was a jack-of-all trades for Pitt, catching 69 passes for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns. He was also the ACC's top punt returner, averaging 10.8 yards per return, which ranked 15th nationally.
OKLAHOMA SOONERS (8-4) vs. CLEMSON TIGERS (9-3)
DEC. 29, 5:30 P.M. ET, FLORIDA CITRUS BOWL, ORLANDO, FLA. (ESPN)


OKLAHOMA BREAKDOWN

Season highlights:
This season could be remembered for the excellence of Samaje Perine and Sterling Shepard. Perine, the true freshman running back, had 200 rushing yards or more on three occasions, including his FBS-record 427 yards against Kansas. Shepard, a junior receiver, was a game-breaking target with five 100-yard games before a groin injury slowed him late in the season. Wins over West Virginia and Texas showed the potential this team had despite its roller-coaster season, and defensive standouts Jordan Phillips and Eric Striker had special moments.

Season lowlights: OU’s Bedlam loss to Oklahoma State on the regular season’s final day was a glimpse at the Sooners’ struggles in 2014. Miscues and mistakes became all too common for Bob Stoops’ team in losses to TCU, Baylor and Kansas State, and the Sooners capped it off by surrendering a two-touchdown lead in the final five minutes of Bedlam before losing in overtime. OU stumbles into the postseason with a beat-up roster and minimal momentum.

Player to watch: Perine has become the Sooners’ symbol of hope for the future with his vision, physical running style and toughness. At 5-foot-11, 243 pounds with surprising speed, he is a joy to watch. But Striker has the ability to leave blockers grasping at air with his quickness and speed off the edge in pass-rush situations. The junior linebacker is a terror for every quarterback he faces, amassing a team-high 7.5 sacks.

Motivation factor: When is the last time the Sooners looked like one of the best teams in college football? Or the Big 12 for that matter? OU needs to get healthy, first and foremost, then play well in the bowl game to finish its 2014 season strong. Otherwise it will enter the offseason with plenty of questions and not many answers.
-- Brandon Chatmon

vs.
CLEMSON BREAKDOWN

Season highlights:
Deshaun Watson's emergence against Florida State helped Tigers fans find a silver lining in a tough loss. A week later, the freshman quarterback threw six touchdown passes against North Carolina. Watson was one of a number of freshmen to step up for Clemson this season, and the youth movement provided the bulk of the Tigers’ offensive highlights. The season’s high-water mark, however, likely came against South Carolina, when Watson and fellow freshman Artavis Scott connected for two touchdowns to help the Tigers finally knock off their in-state rival for the first time since 2008.

Season lowlights: The Tigers knew from the outset that September would make or break their season. Unfortunately for them, it was the latter. The offense couldn’t muster much of anything with Cole Stoudt at the helm in the second half against Georgia, and the Bulldogs’ ground game eventually overwhelmed Clemson’s staunch D. Three weeks later, Clemson had Florida State on the ropes but couldn’t finish the job, coughing up a late fumble that allowed FSU to win in overtime. An injury to Watson against Georgia Tech keyed Clemson’s third loss in what was without question the Tigers’ ugliest performance, a 28-6 pounding at the hands of the Yellow Jackets.

Players to watch: Watson is set to start at quarterback for Clemson in spite of what coach Dabo Swinney called a torn ACL. Tailback Wayne Gallman is coming off his best game of the season against South Carolina. The defense is one of the best in the nation, led by linemen Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett. Perhaps the most intriguing Tigers to watch, however, will be new offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott, who will be in charge of the offense for the first time after Chad Morris left to become head coach at SMU.

Motivation factor: That Watson continues to play in spite of the knee injury should be the best indication that Clemson desperately wants to win this bowl game and get to the 10-win plateau for the fourth straight season. Beyond ending the season with a nice round number in the win column, it’s also the final game in the careers of Beasley, Jarrett, Stephone Anthony, Robert Smith and a host of other seniors who have built Clemson’s defense from a national joke in 2011 to the No. 1 unit in the nation in 2014. The Tigers surely want to send their veteran leaders out on a high note.
-- David M. Hale

ACC Power Rankings: Week 15

December, 7, 2014
Dec 7
10:00
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ACC bowl projections: Week 15

December, 6, 2014
Dec 6
11:55
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We’ll know the answers for certain in just a few more hours, but for now, here’s our best guess as to where each ACC team lands for bowl season.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech
Russell Athletic Bowl: Louisville
Citrus Bowl: Clemson
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Notre Dame
Belk Bowl: NC State
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Boston College
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Duke
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Virginia Tech
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami
Quick Lane Bowl: Pittsburgh
BITCOIN Bowl: North Carolina
Pitt running back James Conner was honored as ACC Player of the Year on Wednesday, while Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley won Defensive Player of the Year honors.

Conner, also awarded ACC Offensive Player of the Year, edged Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston for overall honors in a vote among 55 members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. The sophomore back ranks No. 4 in the nation with 1,675 yards rushing. His 24 rushing touchdowns set an ACC single-season record and a Pitt school record, breaking the old mark of 22 set by Tony Dorsett in 1976.

"We are tremendously proud of James and all that he achieved this season," Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said in a statement. "In addition to his production on the field, James has been an excellent teammate and leader. I know our entire program takes pride in James receiving this prestigious honor.”

Beasley edged Louisville safety Gerod Holliman for defensive honors. The senior end leads the ACC in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (18.5), remaining a dominating force despite facing double- and triple-teams this season. He holds the Clemson school record and leads all active FBS players with 32 career sacks, and is a finalist for the Bednarik Award and Lombardi Trophy.

“He came back for his senior year to graduate, and to have a great season and improve as an all-around player,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement. "He has done that -- he is a complete player. He is a big reason we currently rank No. 1 in the nation in total defense and many other areas. He is the best defensive player in the ACC, and I really feel he is the best defensive player in the nation."

ACC Player of the Year (votes in parentheses)
1. James Conner, RB, Pitt (16)
2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (13)
3. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson (8)
4. Gerod Holliman, S, Louisville (6)
5. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (5)
t6. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State (2)
t6. Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech (2)
t6. Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina (2)
9. Quayshawn Nealy, LB, Georgia Tech (1)

ACC Offensive Player of the Year
1. Conner (23)
2. Winston (16)
3. Johnson (7)
4. Greene (4)
5. Thomas (3)
6. Williams (2)

ACC Defensive Player of the Year
1. Beasley (24)
2. Holliman (20)
3. Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami (7)
t4. David Helton, LB, Duke (2)
t4. Nealy (2)

ACC bowl projections: Week 14

December, 2, 2014
Dec 2
8:00
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The final week of the regular season meant bowl bids were locked up by Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh, giving the ACC 11 bowl-eligible teams (or 12, counting Notre Dame). That makes for a crowded field.

A quick refresher on how this will work.

Tier 1: The Orange Bowl takes the top-ranked nonplayoff team from the ACC. If a Big Ten team plays in the Orange Bowl, too, then the Citrus Bowl gets the next pick. If not, the Russell Athletic Bowl selects the third ACC team, and the Citrus Bowl will not include an ACC team at all.

Tier 2: The Belk Bowl, Sun Bowl and Pinstripe Bowl, along with either the Gator Bowl or Music City Bowl, will divide up the next group of four ACC teams.

Tier 3: The Military Bowl, Independence Bowl, Quick Lane Bowl and Bitcoin Bowl will then select in that order. The Birmingham Bowl was the ACC's conditional bowl, but it has already filled its primary obligations to other leagues.

Notre Dame will take one of the ACC's bowl bids.

That means 12 teams are available for 10 guaranteed slots with two leftover. Almost certainly, however, the ACC will send two teams to New Year's Six games (Florida State and Georgia Tech), which takes care of one extra slot. The Citrus Bowl contingent would take care of the other, but if that does not come to fruition, the league would be free to negotiate with any bowl that has an open slot and does not have an alternate agreement already in place with another league. Last year, the ACC had two teams unaccounted for by its bowl tie-ins and both found homes, so the league is not concerned a team will be left out this time around.

So, with all that said, here's how we project it shakes out.

College Football Playoff: Florida State
Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech
Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Louisville
Belk Bowl: Duke
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Notre Dame
New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Virginia Tech
Duck Commander Independence Bowl: North Carolina
Quick Lane Bowl: NC State
BITCOIN Bowl: Miami
Open slot: Pittsburgh
Since late October, Tuesday has been reserved for speculation and anticipation over the release of the College Football Playoff rankings. But not this week.

Michigan reluctantly takes center stage hours before the committee releases its sixth set of rankings.

Next week, the four-team playoff will be set. If things fall right Friday and Saturday in each of the Power 5 leagues, next Tuesday could be epic.

TCU or Baylor? Will Ohio State remain a factor? The debate alone over the order of the top four, which determine the semifinal matchups, will make it a day like no other in college football history.

Sadly, though, we’ve seen plenty of days like this Tuesday.

The ACC announced its 2014 all-conference selections Monday, with a handful of noteworthy winners and snubs.

Florida State once again led the way with 17 players named, including 10 named first-team All-ACC. Duke had nine players named, Virginia had eight, and Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech had seven.

The most noteworthy first-team selection was FSU quarterback Jameis Winston, who has led the Seminoles to a second straight undefeated season, but also leads the league in interceptions. The battle for the top spot at quarterback was particularly close, with UNC's Marquise Williams (second team), Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas (third team), Miami's Brad Kaaya, Clemson's Deshaun Watson and NC State's Jacoby Brissett all having strong seasons, too.

Here's the first-team All-ACC selections:

QB: Jameis Winston (FSU)
WR: Rashad Greene (FSU)
WR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)
WR: Tyler Boyd (Pitt)
RB: Duke Johnson (Miami)
RB: James Conner (Pitt)
C: Andy Gallik (Boston College)
G: Laken Tomlinson (Duke)
G: Tre Jackson (FSU)
T: T.J. Clemmings (Pitt)
T: Cameron Erving (FSU)

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)
DE: Mario Edwards Jr. (FSU)
DT: Eddie Goldman (FSU)
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)
LB: Denzel Perryman (Miami)
LB: David Helton (Duke)
LB: Stephone Anthony (Clemson)
CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
CB: P.J. Williams (FSU)
S: Jalen Ramsey (FSU)
S: Gerod Holliman (Louisville)

K: Roberto Aguayo (FSU)
P: Wil Baumann (NC State)
Ret: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

To see the full roster, click here.

Among the biggest snubs in the ACC:

Miami tight end Clive Walford is a Mackey Award finalist and has more yards, touchdowns and first downs and caught a higher percentage of his targets than fellow Mackey Finalist, Nick O'Leary. Still, O'Leary was named to the first team.

Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker was a third-team selection thanks to missing the first seven games of the season, but he ranks seventh in the league in yards in spite of just playing five games.

NC State's Shadrach Thornton is third among running backs in yards (811) but was not named to any of the All-ACC teams.

BC's Josh Keyes has 11 tackles for loss — good for 12th in the conference — but was not one of the 10 linebackers named to All-ACC teams.

Wake Forest's Marquel Lee ranks 10th in the league with 12 TFLs and ninth in tackles with 101 but did not even earn an honorable mention.

Georgia Tech's Shaq Mason has anchored one of the best offensive lines in the country, helping pave the way for the nation's No. 4 rushing offense, but he was not a first-team selection.
If multiple media reports on Sunday are correct, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is on the verge of becoming the first FBS school to eliminate its football program since Pacific in 1995.

Although UAB students and fans held a rally on Sunday night in a show of support for the football team, Sports Illustrated reports that the school will fire athletic director Brian Mackin and announce the elimination of football this week.

Sunday’s news was not a shock, as word began to spread around Birmingham a month ago that the university was studying football’s long-term financial viability. Although first-year coach Bill Clark led the Blazers to a remarkable turnaround, finishing 6-6 and achieving bowl eligibility for just the fourth time since UAB joined the FBS in 1996, UAB noticeably refused to commit to Clark or to the program’s future.

At the root of the issue are the decades of distrust between UAB, its supporters and the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees, which governs UAB, Alabama and Alabama-Huntsville. Blazers fans claim that the Board not only offers preferential treatment to the football factory in Tuscaloosa, but that it frequently undermines the UAB program -- and they cling to numerous conspiracy theories as to why that might be the case.

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ACC Power Rankings: Week 14

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
2:00
PM ET

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