NCF Nation: Florida State Seminoles

What we learned in the ACC in Week 13

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
Thirteen weeks into the season, and we got some surprises (Wake Forest wins!) and some not-so-surprising results (Florida State narrowly escapes!). Here’s what we learned from the penultimate week of the regular season.

North Carolina is going bowling: No, the Tar Heels haven’t lived up to expectations this season, but just as they did a season ago, they’ve proven to be one of the most resilient teams in the nation. Marquise Williams turned in another phenomenal performance against Duke on Thursday, accounting for four touchdowns in a 45-20 win that eliminated the Blue Devils from the Coastal Division race, returned the Victory Bell to Chapel Hill, and officially made UNC bowl eligible for the second straight season.

[+] EnlargeCam McDaniel
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsLouisville's victory over Notre Dame on Saturday kept the Cardinals alive for a New Year's Six bowl appearance.
Georgia Tech wins the Coastal: From rumblings about Paul Johnson’s job security in August to a division title in November, it’s been a stellar season for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets actually had Week 13 off in preparation for another rivalry showdown against Georgia, but thanks to Duke’s Thursday night loss to North Carolina, Johnson’s crew officially wrapped up the Coastal and a trip to Charlotte to face Florida State in the ACC Championship game. Tech’s players are, of course, clearly focused on upending Georgia for just the second time since 2000, but the matchup for the conference title promises to be as intriguing as, perhaps, any in ACC championship game history.

The battle for the Orange Bowl is heating up: Sure, there’s no longer any drama about who’ll make it to Charlotte, and FSU is the league’s only chance at the playoff, but the question of which ACC team will take its turn in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day is awfully interesting. First off, FSU needs to make the playoff -- and after another close call against Boston College, that’s certainly not etched in stone. But if the Seminoles go to the playoff, then the three-team battle between Georgia Tech, Louisville and Clemson for a trip to South Florida could be awfully tight. Tech is currently the highest ranked of the group, but it’s got two games against top-10 teams remaining. Clemson currently would be next up, but it’s been a long time since the Tigers have beaten South Carolina -- their Week 14 foe. And then there’s Louisville, still alive for a shot after narrowly knocking off Notre Dame 31-28. The highest-ranked team after the ACC title game gets its ticket punched.

Wake Forest doesn’t roll over: It’s been a brutal season in Winston-Salem. Wake’s offense isn’t just bad, but historically so. It would’ve been easy for the team to have cashed it in -- particularly the veterans who won’t be around to see the fruits of this rebuilding project. But it’s a huge credit to Dave Clawson’s motivational tactics and the pride of the players on the roster that they continue to fight. The Demon Deacons couldn’t muster much offense again Saturday, but their stout D overwhelmed Virginia Tech and they prevailed 6-3 in double overtime. Wake certainly hasn’t been a great team this season, but four of its six conference losses were by 14 points or less and it’s played every game tough. That bodes well for the future for Clawson and Co.

Bowl bids on the line in Week 14: With Virginia’s dominant 30-13 win over Miami, Virginia Tech’s loss to Wake and Pittsburgh’s 30-7 drubbing of Syracuse, there will be three ACC teams playing for bowl eligibility in the final week of the season. Pitt gets its shot against reeling Miami, while UVA and Virginia Tech face off in their annual rivalry game, with one gaining that crucial sixth win and the other facing a long, ugly offseason. With a win, Mike London could secure another year on the sideline for the Cavaliers. With a loss, Frank Beamer’s future is going to move from debatable topic to outright controversy.
Another week, another close win for Florida State. The Seminoles booted a field goal in the final seconds of the game to upend Boston College 20-17 and keep their playoff hopes alive.

How the game was won: Florida State's final drive was all about the two sure things on offense -- Jameis Winston and Rashad Greene -- along with emerging star tailback Dalvin Cook. Winston connected with Greene twice for 26 yards -- the latter made Greene FSU's all-time leading receiver -- and Cook handled the rest. He had six touches for 29 yards to eat up clock and push the ball to the BC 13. Roberto Aguayo finished things off with a 26-yard field goal to secure the win.

Game ball goes to: Winston. It was hardly his finest game. In fact, it's the first time in his career as a starter Florida State failed to score 30. But Winston was better than his numbers showed, with several drops and misplays negating potential big gains, and a tip leading to his lone interception. Overall, Winston finished 22-of-32 for 281 yards and a touchdown, but most importantly, he won yet again.

What it means: Florida State survives yet again. For the fourth time in the past five games, FSU was on the brink of a loss late, but the Seminoles rallied to get the win. The buzzword of the week was “game control” after committee chair Jeff Long cited that metric in the rankings, but opponents at this point can never feel safe playing Florida State.

Playoff implication: As long as FSU keeps winning, it'll be in the playoff. And now the Seminoles have just two more to go to assure that happens. The close call against Boston College certainly won't have fans feeling overly confident the rest of the way, but it's been two full years since the Seminoles lost a game, so it's hard to envision a scenario they won't get it done.

Best play: Winston's lone TD was a 30-yarder to Nick O'Leary that gave FSU a 17-10 lead late in the third quarter.


What's next: For Boston College, the Eagles wrap up the regular season against Syracuse with a chance to ensure they finish above .500. For FSU, rival Florida is up next, and it'll be Will Muschamp's last game as the Gators' coach. That doesn't mean Florida is going to roll over. If all these close calls have taught the Seminoles anything, it's that they can't take any team lightly.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The “Body Blow Theory” might be the macho cousin of the popular TV show. Instead of men working in a lab, the “Body Blow Theory” tapes just about every Saturday and stars men who look like they were built in a lab.

Conceived by Bruce Feldman, the “Body Blow Theory” is the aftermath of what happens to a team after being bludgeoned for 60 minutes and 160 plays by one of the country’s most physical teams. The following week, those opponents don’t have as much in the tank after so many successive shots to the body the prior Saturday.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State
Rob Kinnan/USA Today SportsBoston College hopes to outlast Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles on Saturday.
 Evidence supporting the “Body Blow Theory” is hard to come by statistically, but anecdotal evidence from coaches attest to its validity.

“No doubt,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said when asked if he believes in the body blow cumulative toll. “… That’s why football is never easy. It’s physical. That’s why it is such a different game. It’s time to man up and play.”

The No. 3 Seminoles’ next opponent, Boston College, seemingly took advantage of the theory earlier this season. A week after Stanford and depleted USC physically beat each other in Week 2, the Trojans were unable to recover for next weekend’s tilt at Boston College. The Eagles ran roughshod over USC to the tune of 452 rushing yards.

The Eagles hope Florida State (10-0, 7-0 ACC) is similarly tired Saturday (ABC, 3:30 ET). Boston College (6-4, 3-3) travels to Tallahassee where Florida State is in the midst of a month-long experiment testing the durability of the country’s last remaining Power 5 undefeated.

The body blows began with Louisville carving a beleaguered Florida State front seven for 158 yards on 33 rushes. Although Virginia didn’t run successfully the following week, the Cavaliers are built on physicality and defensively they tried to impose their will on a Seminoles team unable to generate enough push to run the football. Quarterback Jameis Winston, playing on a hurt ankle, was hit repeatedly, too. And last week, rival Miami played with the most energy it had all season, and the Canes ran 13 more plays than FSU, rushed 40 times and totaled 492 yards.

“We have to go down there and play a really physically tough and strong football game,” BC coach Steve Addazio said.

Addazio, who cut his teeth as an offensive line coach, has built Boston College into a college football throwback. The Eagles embrace hitting, and they’re usually the ones delivering them. With an offense that ranks 10th nationally in rushes per game (49) and 16th in total defense (323.5 yards), they are built to win at the line of scrimmage.

 That game plan keeps games close in the fourth quarter, where Boston College is then able to outlast teams running on their own exhaust.

“You've got to find a way to exceed in the fourth quarter, which is very difficult to do because the sign of a good championship team is that when it gets the hardest the best play comes out, and they've shown that when the game is on the line, they play at a high level that I haven't seen in a long time,” Addazio said. “If everyone does their job and plays physical and intense, we’ll have a chance to get the game into the fourth quarter, and when we get it there, we all know we have a chance to win it.”

The fourth quarter is where Florida State has been at its best, and Seminoles nickelback Jalen Ramsey said last week they take pride in dominating the final 15 minutes. Three times this season Florida State has trailed in the fourth quarter yet won all three times and covered the point spread on top of that.

Part of that has to do with the way the Seminoles track each player’s health with GPS tracking. The system provides real-time data for the staff during practice, which gives Fisher an idea of when to give players a rest. Fisher likes the overall health of his team during a physical five-game stretch.

“That’s one of the reasons I believe so whole-heartedly in that GPS. I can guess all I want but it gives me a parameter, which I can set and look at,” he said. “I think that’s why it’s very critical for these guys and their health.”

The Eagles will test that health, and Florida and Georgia Tech will thank them for it.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
Much of the drama is already gone from the ACC slate, and the SEC rivalry games are still a week away. But there is still plenty to watch for in Week 13.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #VTvsWAKE
The Hokies can wrap up bowl eligibility with a win against Wake Forest, which given the litany of injuries Virginia Tech has suffered this season -- including tailback Marshawn Williams, who tore his ACL last week -- is probably commendable. The Hokies are coming off their second road win of the season against a top-25 foe, so the trip to Winston-Salem against a Demon Deacons team still looking for its first ACC victory shouldn’t be a huge test. Wake hasn’t been able to run the ball on anyone this season, but Virginia Tech’s defense allows 5.64 yards-per-carry on non-sack rushing attempts this season -- 104th nationally.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State will try to produce a rare fast start this week against Boston College.
3:30 p.m.

Boston College at No. 3 Florida State, ABC/ESPN2, #BCvsFSU
A year ago, it was the Eagles who gave FSU its toughest game of the regular season. Now, BC is the ACC’s last chance to send the Seminoles to a conference loss. The matchup isn’t ideal for an FSU defense that has been gashed by the run on a few occasions this season, and after escaping a physical matchup against Miami last week, it will be interesting to see how focused the Seminoles are for this one. But with a season of close calls already in their rearview mirror, Jimbo Fisher no doubt has emphasized the importance of a fast start this week, and for FSU, it needs to start thinking about earning some style points to impress the CFB playoff committee.

Syracuse at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #CUSEvsPITT
Pitt has lost three straight despite 1,040 yards of offense from James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The Panthers have actually dropped six of their past seven after a 3-0 start to the season, and now they must win out to have a shot at a bowl game. Four of Pitt’s six losses have been by five points or less, however, and Conner and Boyd remain two of the most potent threats in the ACC. Whether Syracuse’s underrated defense can slow down Pitt’s stars might be paramount, but the Orange will also need to find some offense against a Panthers team that has allowed 147 points in its past three games.

No. 24 Louisville at Notre Dame, NBC
The Cardinals are back in the top 25, but they will go to battle in South Bend without starting quarterback Will Gardner. Reggie Bonnafon will take over at QB coming off his best game as a college player last week when he threw for 69 yards, ran for 76 more and scored three times against Boston College. But the real intrigue might come on the other side of the ball, where Everett Golson leads an Irish offense that leads all Power 5 teams in turnovers against Louisville’s stout defense, led by safety Gerod Holliman and his 13 interceptions.

Georgia State at No. 22 Clemson, ESPN3, #GSUvsCLEM
Since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury last month, Clemson’s offense has more turnovers (11) than touchdowns (7), and that downward spiral hit rock bottom last week when Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. But as bad as Stoudt’s performance was, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers believe he’s still a capable quarterback, and certainly the job gets a lot easier this week. The bigger question now is whether it will be Stoudt’s job in two weeks when Clemson looks to end a five-game losing streak against rival South Carolina.

7 p.m.

Miami at Virginia, ESPN2, #MIAvsUVA
The Hurricanes are coming off a physical and emotional loss to Florida State and looking to rebound. Virginia is still clinging to bowl hopes, and might need to win out to salvage coach Mike London’s job. The key to the game might be how well the Hoos’ defense can slow Duke Johnson and the Miami running game, but as FSU found out last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya is certainly capable of doing some damage. Virginia, on the other hand, has just 59 rushing yards combined in its past two games, and it has scored on the ground just once in its past five.

Georgia Tech celebrates Coastal title

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
Georgia Tech is off this week, but about 60 players gathered at the team's facilities, where the staff set up a projector to watch Thursday night's North Carolina-Duke game.

The cheers rang out each time North Carolina scored.

They rang out again as Duke fumbled away several early possessions.

In Atlanta, there were as many Tar Heel fans as there were in Chapel Hill, and when the 45-20 UNC victory came to a close, Georgia Tech was ready to celebrate as the ACC's Coastal Division champions.

"It was pretty good just watching some football and knowing each time North Carolina scored, it was a good feeling," Tech defensive end Adam Gotsis said. "It was good to see them get the win for us. We needed that one."

With Duke's loss, Georgia Tech officially won the division for the second time in three years. Gotsis, who is from Australia, said he was getting texts from friends and family back home -- where it was already 3 in the afternoon -- as soon as the game ended.

It was obviously a moment worth celebrating, even in the unorthodox scenario of a Thursday night during a bye week.

This marks the fourth time Georgia Tech has won the division, but it might be the most unlikely.

To open the year, the Yellow Jackets were picked to finish sixth in the division, with pundits wondering whether Paul Johnson's early magic had worn off. But Georgia Tech has done nothing but prove the doubters wrong all season.

"All the guys are even more fired up," Gotsis said. "But we've got to take care of this one [against Georgia] and then move on to the next one."

The Yellow Jackets' offense is potent, ranked 10th nationally in yards per play and 14th nationally in scoring. Johnson's option attack is rushing for more yards per game this season (328) than in any year since he arrived in Atlanta. And with this year's ACC championship game opponent, Florida State, struggling to stop the run at times -- the Seminoles have allowed seven out of 10 opponents to rush for at least 150 yards -- the matchup in Charlotte on Dec. 6 could be intriguing.

But if there's been a key to Georgia Tech's run to the Coastal Division title, it's been a resurgent defense. The unit struggled mightily early in the season, but in its last four games -- all wins -- Tech has allowed just eight touchdowns and created 14 turnovers.

"We've come a long way," Gotsis said. "It's easy to say that, but you can really feel it on the field every day."

Of course, for Tech there's still the sizable obstacle of a rivalry game on the horizon. The Yellow Jackets wrap up the regular season against Georgia next week, hoping to knock off the 10th-ranked Bulldogs for just the second time since 2000.

But in two weeks, Florida State awaits, and Tech knows it will have its chance to finish proving the doubters wrong and walk away with its first conference title since 2009. It would also provide a bit of retribution for Georgia Tech's veterans who were on the field when FSU beat them for an ACC title in 2012.

"It's an exciting feeling knowing we get to go to that," Gotsis said. "We're a better team this year, and we've got some better players. So we'll see what we can do."

ACC Week 13 predictions

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
Fortuna: Can Duke handle its first Thursday night game? Can it withstand the very real target on its back that has come from beating UNC two years in a row? Can it clean up its offensive miscues from this past week against Virginia Tech? That last question will matter most Thursday, as the Blue Devils will have to score plenty of points to keep up with QB Marquise Williams and the Heels offense. Turnovers will be key for Duke's defense, but here's guessing that Williams rebounds and delivers after throwing the game-sealing pick in last year's game. UNC 35, Duke 30

Hale: Saturday’s loss was a tough one for the Blue Devils, but it was hardly a game in which Duke was outplayed. David Cutcliffe's team has thrived all season by getting all the little things right -- but against Virginia Tech, Duke looked like a different team. So what’s more likely to happen: Duke falls apart again in a must-win game or it reverts to its status as one of the most fundamentally sound teams in the country? I’m betting on the latter, but I don’t need a leap of faith to get there. The biggest difference against the Hokies was a ferocious Virginia Tech pass rush, and UNC doesn’t bring anything close to that caliber of defense to the table. Anthony Boone will have time to throw, Jamison Crowder will find space downfield, and the Duke running game should have room to run. Duke has no choice but to get a win here, and Cutcliffe will have his team ready to get it done. Duke 31, North Carolina 27

Adelson: There is one stat that illustrates why Louisville will win: Everett Golson has 19 total turnovers in his past seven games. The Louisville defense has forced 25 turnovers this season, one of the best marks in the country. And Golson will be playing with a bum shoulder. So the focus has to be on whether Golson can finally start taking care of the football the way he did earlier in the season, something coach Brian Kelly has stated publicly for weeks now. Notre Dame is coming off an emotional overtime loss; Louisville had a bye to prepare. The Cards are not going to be intimidated, either, having played in big-time atmospheres over the past several years. Louisville 27, Notre Dame 24

Fortuna: Notre Dame was not as good as its 6-0 start indicated. But it's not as bad as this current slump indicates, either. Saturday against Northwestern was the perfect storm of miscues that left the Irish vulnerable to defeat. And while the defense remains banged up, there are some talented newcomers who have slowly grown into their roles. Golson, for all of his giveaways, remains a dynamic quarterback, one who was on the fringe of the Heisman Trophy discussion as recently as two weeks ago. If he can protect the ball -- and if the Irish can go through field goals without any pre-kick issues -- Notre Dame has enough talent to resemble the offense of a month ago and withstand the Cardinals' pressure up front. Notre Dame 31, Louisville 25

Unanimous selections

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest: The Hokies believe the upset of Duke last week will spur a late-season rally, and the good news is Wake Forest should help boost that push. Virginia Tech should become bowl eligible after this game as it is hard to see the Demon Deacons' offense doing enough to beat the Hokies. Virginia Tech 21, Wake Forest 7

Syracuse at Pittsburgh: It has been a rough few weeks for the Panthers, who are fighting to make a bowl game. The Panthers have two of the conference's best offensive players in James Conner and Tyler Boyd, and it will be tough for Syracuse and its struggling offense to match the production of those two. The Panthers defense should get a bit of a break this week after allowing 147 points in their past three games. Pitt 34, Syracuse 24

Boston College at Florida State: Boston College has the ability to annoy and potentially upset FSU because of the Eagles' ground attack and stout defense. However, Jimbo Fisher said the Seminoles are physically ready for the Eagles. It would not be a shock if this game was close -- every FSU game is -- but at this point no one has been able to beat the Noles and that should continue. Florida State 27, Boston College 17

Georgia State at Clemson: The Tigers are playing Georgia State, which is 1-9 with all nine losses coming in a row. No matter who plays quarterback for Clemson, this should be an easy win. Clemson 49, Georgia State 0

Miami at Virginia: The Canes are reeling after a devastating loss to Florida State, and there certainly could be a hangover. The loss proved how far Miami has come and how talented the Canes are, though, and they should be able to beat Virginia. But don't count out the Cavaliers. The defense is good and the offense is getting better. They also had an extra week to prepare and need a win to keep their bowl hopes alive. Miami 24, Virginia 20

Current standings
Shanker: 63-16
Adelson: 62-17
Fortuna: 61-18
Hale: 61-18
There have been some interesting names linked to the Florida opening, but several coaches believe Marshall's Doc Holliday could be a good recruiting fit in Gainesville. Plus, many expected ESPN 300 OT Chuma Edoga to flip from USC to Georgia, but it looks like the Trojans have won the battle in the end.

ACC bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
NC State wrapped up bowl eligibility this week, and Virginia Tech can do the same Saturday against Wake Forest, but there’s still some drama left as UNC, Pitt and Virginia scramble for more wins and the shuffle for a spot in the Orange Bowl remains chaotic. Here’s where we’re at in the ACC as of now.

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

Note: Notre Dame takes one of the ACC’s bowl slots if it is not invited to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

* Bowl eligible
This week, USA Today, in the latest of its fan index lists, catalogued the top 10 traditions in college football.

Among them, dotting the "i" at Ohio State, lighting the Tower at Texas and rolling Toomer's Corner at Auburn. All fine events, but no list of such customs in the sport is complete without the latest craze: the wait for Tuesday night.

I say that somewhat jokingly, so refrain from the angry tweets. No, I don't really think it's more fun to dream about the details of a five-minute interview with Jeff Long than to decorate an intersection with toilet paper.

But it's close.

So welcome to the fourth of seven Tuesday College Football Playoff poll unveils, where it finally gets real in the selection-committee room.

Why is this Tuesday different? Because after last Saturday, none of the remaining unbeaten or one-loss Power 5 contenders will meet in the regular season or in conference-title games.

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Lucky and good are not mutually exclusive, even if the plight of finding the four best teams ignores that fact as each win is weighted, measured and filed.

The College Football Playoff and the résumé scrutiny it requires make it easy to forget a team needs to be both lucky and good to compete for a national title. Auburn was fortunate Alabama missed the Kick Six field goal, but only because the Tigers had a wonderfully designed return prepped. Alabama could be No. 1 on Tuesday because it was lucky LSU kicked the ball out of bounds and good enough to drive 55 yards in less than a minute to score.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsPart of Florida State's makeup is that they are good enough to always capitalize on lucky breaks.
The luck badge is only found on the lapels of winners.

No. 3 Florida State is lucky, a fact that maybe gets highlighted because the Seminoles are public enemy No. 1. They embrace the role of villain and like that they're unlikable.

They're also good, and if Florida State is a team of a destiny it's because it's a self-fulfilling destiny. How good the Seminoles are is subjective, but they're good enough to take advantage of the luck handed to them, a trait that underscores the Seminoles' greatest strength. No team is better than Florida State from the shoulders up. It's the theme to all of its wins, and it was on full display Saturday night.

"We spend so much money in our support system to develop and get these guys how to think and how to play with [mental conditioning coach] Trevor [Moawad]," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "The sports psychology and player development, I say is the most critical thing in college sports today."

There is never panic on the Florida State sideline, which Fisher said is the result of months of offseason mental conditioning. It's why Fisher said he would put this team against any in the country over the course of 60 minutes and why Florida State continues to be college football's toughest out. It takes a full 60-minute effort to down the Seminoles, even if they donate first halves like they're the Salvation Army.

It's why the Seminoles are riding a 26-game winning streak. They know an opportunity is going to come, and they will expose the other team for the slightest misstep.

"Nothing in sports happens by accident," Moawad said.

It's why labeling the Seminoles as lucky and nothing more is ill-fitting. The tipped third-down pass that fell into the waiting arms of Karlos Williams was lucky, nothing more than Florida State winning a scratch off. But that doesn't mean the Seminoles can't be one fine poker player, too. It's easy to let that lucky play overshadow a defense that held Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, who had a rating of 342 in the first quarter, to three points over the final 40 minutes. It's easy to remember that pick instead of Florida State's PAT block early in the game as Miami poured it. The block changed the complexion of Miami's final drive.

"Not for one second did we think because they jumped out that we were going to lose," defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. said. "If we calm down and play the way we're supposed to play we knew that we would come back and win the game."

This isn't a team rubbing a rabbit's foot to conjure up some luck to get back in the game. It's a team that prepares to seize opportunities in a game in which the prevailing thought is teams lose games more often than they win them.

There is no quantifying Florida State's relaxed approach, though, and it shouldn't be a factor in the committee's rankings. There are no points for mental toughness, for being battle tested and better for it.

Whether Florida State is the best team is up for debate, yet no team has separated from the pack in college football and staked claim to the title of No. 1. That makes the playoff a crapshoot no matter how the field shapes up, which means you can count on a little luck come January with so many flawed teams involved.

You can count on Florida State being prepared to take advantage of it, too.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16

What we learned in the ACC: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
It was another wild weekend in the ACC. Here are our takeaways from it:

The road still goes through FSU. This time the deficit was 16, on two separate occassions. No matter. Dalvin Cook's late touchdown clinched a 30-26 FSU win in Miami -- its 26th straight win and its fifth straight victory over the rival Hurricanes. Mississippi State fell at Alabama, which leaves the Seminoles as the lone unbeateen Power 5 team. Say what you want about their style, but the Noles are taking care of business, with just Boston College and Florida left before the ACC title game, in which they clinched a berth earlier Saturday.

[+] EnlargeDalvin Cook
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDalvin Cook's 26-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter completed Florida State's comeback.
Clemson can't catch a break at QB. In his first game back since breaking a bone in his right hand, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a knee injury, the severity of which is unknown. Coach Dabo Swinney said ligament damage is a possibility, which would be a crushing blow to the freshman sensation. Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions in Watson's place, including two pick-sixes, and the Tigers managed just 190 total yards of offense in the 28-6 loss.

Georgia Tech continues to shock us all. Who saw this coming? The Yellow Jackets routed Clemson to get their fourth straight win and improved to 9-2 on the season before their season finale against rival Georgia. They finish 6-2 in ACC play and have a shot at the ACC title after Duke's loss at Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils are 4-2 in league play and will hold the head-to-head tiebreaker if they win out.

NC State is going bowling. The Wolfpack ran away from Wake Forest early and notched a 42-13 victory that got them bowl-eligible for the fourth time in five years and the first time under second-year coach Dave Doeren. Matt Dayes tallied 113 total yards from scrimmage to lead the way.

Virginia Tech, UNC keep bowl hopes alive. The Hokies notched an upset at No. 21 Duke 17-16 to get to win No. 5 with two games remaining, at Wake Forest and vs. Virginia. Say what you want about the performance of the program this season, but it could not afford to see its bowl-game streak end. It probably won't now, after forcing three turnovers from a Blue Devils team that had been so sharp at protecting the ball. UNC got to the five-win mark as well, thanks to more late-game theatrics from Marquise Williams and T.J. Logan, who dealt Pitt a tough 40-35 loss.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 12

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
If the Coastal teams want people to stop making jokes at their expense, then this is their weekend to make a stand.

12 p.m.

No. 19 Clemson at No. 22 Georgia Tech, ESPN, #CLEMvsGT
This game as close to a must-win if either team wants an opportunity to play in the Orange Bowl. As is the case with most every game that involves the Yellow Jackets, it probably will come down to rush and third-down defense. Clemson provides stiff competition in those areas, which makes for an intriguing game within the game. Georgia Tech ranks third in average rushing yards per game and leads the country with a third-down conversion rate of 59 percent, four points better than any other team. Clemson allows an average of only 91 yards on the ground, however, and no team is better than the Tigers at getting off the field on third downs. Just like Georgia Tech on third downs, no team is close to Clemson on third-down defense. If Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson can play the way he did before the injury and keep the Tigers' offense on the field, Clemson has the upper hand.

Virginia Tech at No. 21 Duke, ESPNU, #VTvsDUKE
This does not classify as a game Virginia Tech needs to win to reach bowl eligibility, but it would give the Hokies relief if they can steal a win against the Coastal-leading Blue Devils. Given how the Virginia Tech offense has played over the course of the season and now coupled with a defense that is not playing its best, it will be a tough task to upset Duke. For the Blue Devils, will they be caught looking ahead to a Thursday night matchup against classic rival North Carolina? The Duke offense was not playing to the best of its capabilities last week, so success against Virginia Tech would be a good boost before the UNC game. The Tar Heels know how to light up a scoreboard -- both by scoring points and allowing them.

12:30 p.m.

Pittsburgh at North Carolina, ESPN3, #PITTvsUNC
This is another game in which a win is desperately needed to help keep the hope of a bowl game alive. Both Pitt and UNC are sitting two wins shy of bowl eligibility with three games to go. The Tar Heels have quarterback Marquise Williams, who several teams have had an issue stopping, and Pitt is keeping its secondary together with adhesive at this point. However, the Panthers have James Conner and the Tar Heels don't stop the run well. Or the pass. Or anything really. Ideally, the Panthers would like Conner to keep moving the chains and eat up the clock, but this could end up being a high-scoring affair.

3 p.m.

Wake Forest at North Carolina State, ESPN3, #WAKEvsNCSU
The good news is somebody has to win this game. The bad news is it won't save either team's season, although the Wolfpack can get to six wins and a bowl game with a win. That still is a mild disappointment considering the program's 4-0 start this season. NC State has the potential to score with QB Jacoby Brissett, but the Demon Deacons have an underrated defense. If the Wake offense can sustain a few drives and find the end zone even twice, it could be enough to leave Raleigh with a win.

8 p.m.

No. 3 Florida State at Miami
The message was pretty clear from the selection committee Saturday: If the Seminoles lose, they can kiss the playoffs goodbye. That might have been assumed previously, but now it is understood. This will be a much tougher game for the Seminoles than it looked like it would be just a few weeks ago as Miami is playing the best it has all season. The Hurricanes present matchup problems for Florida State as they are able to run the ball effectively with a variety of backs, including Duke Johnson. The junior could be the country's best running back, and his backup Joseph Yearby is destined for stardom. If Miami controls the clock and piles up the rushing yards, it will be meaningless if it cannot cash in when it reaches the red zone. Otherwise, Miami leaves the door open for Jameis Winston and potentially another wild comeback for the Seminoles. Florida State's opportunity at consecutive national championships could end Saturday, which would close the door on the ACC making it into the inaugural playoff, too.
Scheduling is all the rage these days, as the College Football Playoff era has heightened the importance of who you play. (Just ask one-loss No. 2 Oregon and unbeaten No. 3 Florida State.) With that in mind, let's take a look at what some future ACC contenders (and Notre Dame) are doing through 2018 to ensure tougher competition year-in and year-out.

Remember, the ACC voted this summer to remain at eight league games, with at least one Power 5 nonconference requirement taking into effect come 2017. (Notre Dame fulfills that requirement, and many ACC teams already have permanent SEC rivalries.)


Who they’ve scheduled: South Carolina (every year), Auburn (2016-17), Texas A&M (2018)

Perhaps no Power 5 team nationally has consistently scheduled as strongly as Clemson. In addition to these three SEC opponents, the Tigers get Notre Dame next season and three other times before 2025. This isn't a particularly new trend for Clemson, either, as it faced Georgia in each of the past two seasons and Auburn in the three years before that. Kudos.


Who they've scheduled: Northwestern (2015-18), Baylor (2017-18)

There is a reason the 8-1 Blue Devils are ranked just 21st by the selection committee: They have not faced anyone of note, especially in nonconference play. Kansas isn't going to cut it as a Power 5 opponent. Credit David Cutcliffe and the program for performing at heights unforeseen in these past three years, but if it wants to take yet another step, it has to play tougher teams. Future opponent Baylor can resonate. (Duke does travel to Notre Dame in 2016 and, like the rest of its ACC brethren, three more times before 2025.)

Florida State

Who they've scheduled: Florida (annually), Ole Miss (2016 in Orlando)

FSU is the perfect example of how fickle scheduling in college football can be: The Seminoles have three Power 5 teams on their four-team nonconference schedule this season: Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida. At this point, Notre Dame is probably the only of those three teams that has not underachieved this year. FSU returns the trip to Notre Dame in 2018 and -- drum roll, please -- gets the Irish two more times before 2025. USF (2015-16) and Boise State (2019-20) are also on the Noles' future slates, for whatever that may be worth at that time. (FSU has a few near-term openings, too.)

Georgia Tech

Who they've scheduled: Georgia (annually), Vanderbilt (2016)

The Yellow Jackets have a few future openings in the immediate short-term, and if they can build off this season's success, signature nonconference games will be crucial to helping make them a national player. A Notre Dame trip comes next year, too, with three more Irish games before 2025. There's a series with Ole Miss in 2022-23, too.


Who they've scheduled: Kentucky (annually), Auburn (2015 in Atlanta)

Schedule strength is what killed the Cardinals in their old league, and they need to schedule up more in their new one. The Wildcats are improved, but a win over them still means little nationally. Auburn is a terrific get, and Notre Dame is on the docket next Saturday (and, yes, three more times before 2025). Houston and Marshall are also on future schedules, too, though it's hard to imagine the Thundering Herd making another undefeated push without Rakeem Cato under center.


Who they've scheduled: Nebraska (2015), LSU (2018 in Arlington, Texas), Rutgers (2018)

There is Notre Dame in 2016, 2017 and twice more in the next 11 years. There is also Michigan State in 2020-21. (The Hurricanes faced Cincinnati, annually one of the best Group of Five teams, this year and will face them again next year, too.) It certainly helps the Canes' schedule strength that their annual crossover opponent in the Atlantic is none other than FSU.

Notre Dame

Who they've scheduled: Texas (2015-16), Michigan State (2016-17), Georgia (2017), Northwestern (2018)

To be clear, we took a different approach with Notre Dame: The Irish have an average of eight scheduled games in place annually between their rivalry games (USC, Stanford, Navy) and their average of five ACC opponents per year. So, for this exercise, we counted the four teams the Irish are left to schedule on their own. The Irish have some attractive matchups long-term as well, facing Ohio State in 2022-23 and Texas A&M in 2024-25. (Big Ten rival Purdue returns to the schedule in 2020-21 and 2024-26 as well.)

Virginia Tech

Who they've scheduled: Ohio State (2015), Purdue (2015), Tennessee (2016 at Bristol Motor Speedway), West Virginia (2017 in Landover, Md.)

The Hokies' short-term lineup is sufficient. Their long-term one is absolutely great for college football fans everywhere: Wisconsin (2019-20), Michigan (2020-21), WVU again (2021-22), Penn State (2022-23) and Purdue again (2023). Let's not overlook East Carolina, either, as the Hokies face the Pirates annually from now until 2020.

Coaches add to Baylor-TCU rivalry 

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
Here’s a subplot of the current playoff debate in the Big 12 between TCU and Baylor that has not been widely discussed: Gary Patterson and Art Briles do not care for one another.

When I visited with Patterson in his office in September, he talked at length about there being no beef with Briles, or really anyone in the Big 12 -- the league in which his TCU program has now resided for three seasons.

But other coaches tell me that, as friendly as Patterson tries to be in conference meetings, he still can rub his peers -- Briles, in particular -- the wrong way.

The friction provides another layer to the drama of the initial College Football Playoff stretch run, with TCU three spots ahead in the committee’s rankings despite the Bears’ head-to-head win on Oct. 11.

The Big 12 has said it would consider Baylor its champion, should both teams win out.

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