Notre Dame and the ACC announced their playing dates Tuesday through 2025, which rounds out the average of five league opponents a year for the Irish for 12 years.

"The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a release. "Notre Dame not only adds to our league's already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there's no question that this partnership is significant."

Dates were finalized through 2019, with opponents and sites set up for the six years after that. The full 2015 and 2016 schedules had already been announced last December, when this season's schedule -- the first of the ACC football agreement for Notre Dame -- was released.

"Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a release. "Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.

"On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once."

Some notes on the Irish's future schedules:
  • Notre Dame will get its shot at redemption against Florida State in four years, when the Seminoles visit South Bend on Nov. 10, 2018 -- three days shy of the 25th anniversary of the 1993 "Game of the Century" between these two. The Irish will return to Tallahassee on Sept. 6, 2021, Labor Day, before the Noles go back to Notre Dame Stadium sometime in 2024.
  • That holiday date at FSU is actually the second of two Labor Day road games for the Irish, who travel to Louisville on Sept. 2 (Labor Day) in 2019. As of now, it does not look like Notre Dame will play any Thursday night games.
  • That 2019 opener at Louisville is the first of a strenuous slate of road games for the Irish in 2019: They also go to Georgia (Sept. 21), Georgia Tech (Oct. 19) and Duke (Nov. 9). They are also expected to travel to Stanford that year, since it is an odd-number year, though no official date has been set. You can bet the Irish staff will point out this year to Peach State recruits, who will get a pair of trips back to their home state in a span of a month.
  • Notre Dame gets six ACC games in 2019 and 2023, while playing just four in 2022 and 2024. The Irish, of course, have just four ACC games this year, but will play six next season.
  • Notre Dame will play seven of the ACC's 14 teams in consecutive years: Miami in 2016 and 2017 and 2024 and 2025; NC State in 2016 and 2017; Wake Forest in 2017 and 2018; Virginia Tech in 2018 and 2019; Duke in 2019 and 2020; UNC in 2021 and 2022; Clemson in 2022 and 2023.
  • There remains no clarity on Notre Dame's Shamrock Series game -- in which it moves a home game off-site to a metropolitan area -- beyond 2016, when it faces Army in San Antonio. Next year's game against BC is at Fenway Park.
  • Not pictured in the graphic (and not-ACC related): As of this past summer, Notre Dame and Michigan State had a verbal agreement for two games in the 2020s, though they have said they may look at a single neutral-site contest.

Hokies search for offensive answers

October, 21, 2014
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Shane Beamer walked into the door of his home at 2:45 a.m. Friday. He was up in time to drop his daughter off at school before getting to the office by 9. By lunchtime, he was through with film of Virginia Tech's 21-16 loss at Pitt from the previous night. It was on to Miami, on to another Thursday night ACC game, a schedule quirk that broke somewhat favorably for the Hokies, especially as the Hurricanes come off a bye week.

As for what awaits the Virginia Tech running backs coach in the lead-up to this game, well, that's where the breaks end. The Hokies have been down three running backs --- Trey Edmunds, Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams -- and have little experience around them. They mustered just 26 yards on the ground in the loss to the Panthers, putting plenty of pressure on quarterback Michael Brewer to deliver.

Problem is, of course, that most of the guys Brewer is throwing to are not as well-versed in the team's offensive lexicon as the staff would like them to be. And Brewer, of course, arrived just this past summer from Texas Tech, so his veteran presence can only go so far.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewer
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsMichael Brewer and the Hokies hope to turn things around against Miami.
"I can't recall, not just at the running back position, but any position that I've been around. To lose your top three guys in the first six games of the season, that's tough," Beamer said. "It makes it tough when you feel like a guy's getting a feel for it and then gets hurt."

Williams could provide some reinforcements Thursday, as he is expected back after missing two games with a right ankle sprain. He remains the team's leading rusher with 337 yards. McKenzie, the man right behind him with 269 yards, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee in a Sept. 27 win, this after suffering an injury in the same knee last year as a prep senior. Edmunds, the leading rusher last year (675), broke his clavicle in the same game Williams went down in after battling back from his recovery from a leg fracture last season.

The elder statesmen of the trio as a sophomore, Edmunds will not be back for another month. Joel Caleb and J.C. Coleman were the go-to guys entering the Pitt game. They never gained much traction last Thursday but remain confident that they can turn things around.

"I think we had self-inflicted mistakes that hurt us a lot," Caleb said. "I feel like a lot of those thing we can correct, a few of them have been hurting us the last couple of weeks, just with like false-start penalties and things like that. So they're things that we can correct, and we've just got to go to work and fix them and go in the right direction."

The offense looked sharp in a Week 2 upset at Ohio State, with Brewer hitting seven different targets and looking like he would shake the unit out of the rut that played a large part in limiting Virginia Tech to just 15 total wins over the last two seasons.

Fast-forward to last Thursday, and Cam Phillips hauled in the Hokies' only touchdown, meaning 17 of the team's 23 touchdowns this season have come from freshmen. The starting receiver opposite him, Isaiah Ford, is also a freshman, while Virginia Tech's top two tight ends are Ryan Malleck, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, and Bucky Hodges, who is a redshirt freshman.

The offensive line has not been immune to change, either, as Wyatt Teller will get his first start at left guard Thursday and David Wang will shift to center in place of Caleb Ferris, adjustments that were made during the loss to the Panthers.

The future may be promising, but the present, at times, can be maddening.

"For all these guys, everything that you do as an offense, it's new to them," said Beamer, also the program's associate head coach. "It might be something that we did last year, that some guys have some familiarity with. For example, we put in something this week: Offensively, just a play that we had done last year. Well, it's the first time for the majority of our offensive guys to hear it -- Michael Brewer, all these guys. So you've got to be careful as far as what you're doing offensively from a scheme standpoint, it is a lot of new faces.

"And then when you add injuries it makes it tough, but at the same time we're over halfway done with season, we're almost into November. In our mind these young guys aren't freshmen anymore. They've played almost a full season of college football now and we've got to take another step."

ACC Upset Watch: Week 9

October, 21, 2014
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No favorite is ever safe in the Coastal Division. ...

Thursday night

Miami (4-3, 1-2) at Virginia Tech (4-3, 1-2), 8 p.m., ESPN. Line: Miami by 2.5. A little surprised Miami is favored in this game, considering the history. Virginia Tech has won four of its last five meetings with the Canes, and is 11-4 in Thursday night home games. Plus, Miami is 0-3 on the road this season. But on the flip side, the Hokies have not inspired much confidence since their upset win over Ohio State in Week 2. After that victory, Virginia Tech is just 2-3, including a loss at Pittsburgh last Thursday night. The Hokies have an ineffective run game and a quarterback that makes too many mistakes (sound familiar) plus a defense that is missing several injured players. Maybe all that works in Miami's favor. Or maybe Virginia Tech bears down at home, jump starts its run game with Marshawn Williams back in the lineup and uses an aggressive, physical defense to flummox freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya.

Saturday

North Carolina (3-4, 1-2) at Virginia (4-3, 2-1), noon, ESPN3. Line: Virginia by 7. We saw Virginia in a nutshell last week in a loss to Duke. If its defense cannot create pressure or turnovers, the offense cannot win games on its own. So how the defense handles suddenly unstoppable Marquise Williams is going to be the biggest key in this game. Williams has 901 yards of offense and nine total touchdowns in the last two games and now, the Tar Heels have a bit of confidence going for them. They have won four straight in the series. And oh by the way, Williams had a rushing, passing and receiving touchdown in a 45-14 win in this game a season ago. That victory got UNC to four wins. A win here could get UNC to four wins.

Georgia Tech (5-2, 2-2) at Pitt (4-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Line: Pitt by 3.5. Georgia Tech has dropped two straight, while Pitt had a big win over Virginia Tech -- does that mean the script has been flipped and the Panthers are now one of the favorites in the Coastal? Nobody can be declared a favorite in the most unpredictable division in America. Georgia Tech handled Pitt well in a 21-10 victory a year ago, and brings a far more effective run game to Pittsburgh than Virginia Tech did. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels did far more damage through the air in a win over the Jackets last week. Pitt has no real passing game outside Chad Voytik to Tyler Boyd, ranking No. 13 in the ACC in pass offense. So the matchups here could work in Georgia Tech's favor.
Two stats paint a bleak picture as Miami prepares to hit the road to play Virginia Tech on Thursday night.

The Canes are winless away from home this season; and they have not won in Blacksburg since 2005. In order to change that narrative and get back into the Coastal Division race, the objective seems pretty simple. Play better on the road.

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsTaking care of the ball will be key for Brad Kaaya and Miami on Thursday night at Virginia Tech.
How do the Canes do that? Miami lost each of its games at Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech for different reasons. Against Louisville, the Canes limited their playbook and ran a conservative offense, contributing to stalled drives; in Lincoln, Miami could not stop the run; in Atlanta, Miami ran less than 50 plays.

However, one common thread emerged in each -- close games turned into double-digit losses thanks to untimely turnovers that turned momentum the other way. Of the eight turnovers Miami has committed on the road, seven came in its opponents’ territory.

Among the costliest:

  • With the game tied at 7 against Louisville in the second quarter, Miami forced Will Gardner to fumble deep inside his own territory. The Canes faced a first-and-goal at the 7, the perfect opportunity to quiet the hostile road crowd. But Stacy Coley fumbled on the first play. Miami never got closer to the end zone.
  • Down 24-21 against Nebraska late in the third quarter, Duke Johnson fumbled inside Nebraska territory. The Cornhuskers picked up the ball and returned it 57 yards for a score.
  • With the game tied at 14 against Georgia Tech midway through the second quarter, Brad Kaaya threw an interception from the Jackets 27. Miami scored a field goal the rest of the game.

Turnovers always hurt, but giving the ball away in such critical situations is painful, especially with a freshman behind center. Kaaya has thrown nine interceptions, third worst among ACC quarterbacks who have started every game this season. He has not thrown an interception in two games this year -- his last two home games against Duke and Cincinnati.

The good news for Miami, though, is that Kaaya already has played in front of two electric prime-time crowds at Louisville and Nebraska. Virginia Tech is known for its wild Thursday night atmospheres, but there may not be a full crowd at Lane Stadium. Since he already has been road tested, Kaaya should not show many jitters.

Even better news rests with the Coastal Division, where every team has at least one loss. At 1-2 in ACC play, Miami is only one game behind Duke, Virginia and Pitt -- all 2-1. Miami already has a head-to-head win over the Blue Devils, which could help if there is a tiebreaker down the road.

“Maybe when we got back from Atlanta, we had some guys that maybe didn’t understand how early it was in the race,” coach Al Golden told reporters in Miami on Monday. “Based on what’s transpired since then, maybe they’re believing now. Maybe they have a little more faith that this thing is far from over. We’ve got to take care of our business and not worry about anything else. It’s a one-game season right now and when we get back from Blacksburg, it’ll be another one game season. That’s all that matters.”

Winning on the road matters, too. Miami will have a tough time winning the division if it keeps falling flat away from home.

Weekend recruiting wrap: ACC 

October, 21, 2014
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The weekend has come and gone without a single commitment to an ACC program. With that said, there is plenty to talk about within the conference including huge official visitors for Florida State, a key offer by Louisville and a look at some players that could flip.

Planning for success: Clemson

October, 21, 2014
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At the outset of the season, Robert Smith joked that he felt a bit like the old man in a room full of rookies in Clemson’s secondary, but that was nearly two months ago. The unit has done a lot of growing up since then.

It’s partially Smith’s influence, of course. That’s the purview of the group’s elder statesman. The senior safety made a decision during the spring that his final season would be his best, and his work ethic would be the template for success. So he set the standard, and the young pups around him followed his lead.

“I was going to meet like a pro, talk like a pro, watch film like a pro, practice like a pro, do everything possible like a pro,” Smith said. “I wanted to set that example to the guys that, if you want to make it to the next level, don’t wait until then to mature.”

[+] EnlargeJayron Kearse, Elijah Hood
Bob Leverone/Associated PressSophomore safety Jayron Kearse is part of a young Clemson secondary that is improving rapidly.
For the Tigers’ defensive backs, it was less a demand than an opportunity. They’d been waiting for their chance to show they belonged.

A year ago, cornerback Mackensie Alexander was one of the top recruits in the nation, but injuries in fall camp left him with a redshirt. Safety Jayron Kearse was a bit luckier. He saw action and racked up 55 tackles and four interceptions as a freshman last season but couldn't secure a full-time spot in the starting lineup. T.J. Green, Korrin Wiggins, Jadar Johnson, Cordrea Tankersley -- they all got tastes of action but wanted more.

So Smith’s philosophy played well and as the 2014 season approached, the young DBs were eager to follow suit. The jobs were there for the taking; they just had to be ready.

“Just going through summer workouts with these guys, we always feel like we could contribute,” Kearse said. “We feel like we’re a good secondary, working to be great. We’ve been this way since we got here.”

Still, it was hard not to see the Clemson secondary as the weak link on a defense that features stars such as Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and Grady Jarrett. The front seven was chock full of proven commodities.

It was no surprise then that the season started a bit slower than Smith and the DBs might’ve liked. There was a feeling-out process, and that was expected.

“Everybody was getting their feet wet,” Smith said. “After a few games, you get in the flow.”

The unit got more comfortable working together, but it also took disaster for the entirety of the defense to pull together. That was the fallout of the Florida State game, when Clemson won battle after battle but still came up short.

After the game, the locker room was in mourning. The emotion was overwhelming, but also galvanizing.

“I’ve never seen so many men in the locker room cry so hard off a loss,” Smith said. “We played hard and to the best of our ability and let that one get away. So when you see your teammates hurt and crying, it makes you want to work that much harder, makes you want to do more. So I think our secondary looked at it and said we’re going to get better and progress from here.”

The progress has been obvious in the weeks since.

In three October games, Clemson’s pass defense has allowed opposing QBs to complete just 40.6 percent of their throws, the second-best mark in the country. Their October passer rating allowed is 102.4, the second-best mark in the ACC, trailing only Louisville. While that vaunted defensive front has created havoc at the line of scrimmage, the young DBs are coming into their own in the back end.

“We knew coming into the season we had the potential to be one of the best defenses in the country, and our front line was handling business, but we had a lot of young guys in the secondary and it took some time just to gel and get on the same page,” Smith said. “As soon as that happened, you could tell the difference and the cohesiveness has all come together and we’re starting to show the kind of defense we can be.”

Alexander always had the work ethic, Smith said, he just needed the experience. Kearse was always driven, he just needed to embrace the opportunity. And while no one is ignoring that ferocious defensive front, the kids in secondary are starting to get some attention, too.

“It takes time to understand the level of competitiveness at this stage,” Kearse said. “But now, it’s rewarding. They’re putting a lot on me and Mackenzie’s back, and we’re taking on the challenge.”

This week’s opponent, Syracuse, will start a freshman at QB, and that’s a frightening proposition against the Tigers. Smith said they won’t take anyone lightly, and Kearse compared Orange QB AJ Long to the QB the Tigers saw a week ago, Boston College’s Tyler Murphy, but even that praise doesn’t offer much hope for Syracuse. Murphy completed just nine balls, and BC was held to nearly 200 yards below its season average on the ground.

Kearse called the BC game a chance for a lot of the young defenders to grow up. It was proof they could play sound, assignment football against a dangerous opponent.

Now comes the next step, he said. They don’t want to take a backseat to the big boys up front, and they don’t want to hear that qualifier that, yes, they’re pretty good -- for freshmen and sophomores.

“We made it known we wanted to draw some of that attention to us, and we took that challenge,” Kearse said. “So far we’ve been doing it, but we have five more games to prove we’re one of the best defenses in the nation.”

ACC morning links

October, 21, 2014
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It appears as if Virginia Tech will lose its second defensive starter to a medical redshirt this season.

Starting defensive tackle Luther Maddy said Monday night on Twitter that he needs a second surgery on his knee and will sit out the rest of the season.
Maddy initially tore the meniscus in his right knee against East Carolina in Week 3, but played 48 snaps with the injury against Georgia Tech. He underwent surgery last month, and the timetable for his return was listed as two-to-four weeks. Though he was listed as probable to play against Pitt, Maddy did not and was not scheduled to play against Miami on Thursday night.

His loss is a big one for the Hokies, who have had to make do without him for the last three games. Nigel Williams replaced him in the lineup, but it's tough to make up for Maddy's experience and skill-set. The four-year starter was a preseason All-ACC team selection after he had 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries a season ago. In four games this season, Maddy had seven hurries.

Virginia Tech also plans on redshirting Brandon Facyson, who started the season at cornerback opposite Kendall Fuller. Facyson has been slow to heal from a stress fracture to his shin and has not played since Week 3.

In one other Virginia Tech injury note, running back Marshawn Williams is expected to play against the Hurricanes after missing last week with a sprained ankle.

Over at Georgia Tech, the Jackets got some tough injury news of their own when coach Paul Johnson said that starting B-back Zach Laskey probably won't play at Pitt on Saturday. Laskey hurt his shoulder late against North Carolina last week and was in a sling Monday. Laskey has been terrific this season, with a team-high 120 carries for 595 yards and five touchdowns.

He gained 70 or more yards in each game this season.

Now let's see what else is making headlines in the ACC:
The celebration in the Duke locker room was rather subdued. It was a big ACC win against a Coastal contender for the Blue Devils, but no one in Durham, North Carolina, is satisfied.

Bowl eligibility, even if only 16 FBS team can boast the claim through Week 8, doesn’t provide an overwhelming sense of accomplishment, a stark contrast from just two years ago. For a Duke program in its seventh season under coach David Cutcliffe, bowl eligibility is no longer enough.

"I wasn’t even on my mind [Saturday]," Cutcliffe said. "... We have young people now that expect to compete for an opportunity to play for a championship. They prepare for it."

[+] Enlarge Josh Snead
AP Photo/John BazemoreThe Blue Devils have lost only one of their past 15 regular-season conference games.
With its win against Virginia, which several believed to be the Coastal’s best team, the Blue Devils are 6-1 and tied atop the division. They have a bye this weekend before traveling to Pittsburgh, and a win against the Panthers would give Duke a head-to-head advantage over probably the two teams best positioned in terms of remaining schedule -- Pitt and Georgia Tech --- to win the division.

It wasn’t long ago -- 2012 to be exact -- that the Blue Devils were in the midst of an 18-year bowl drought. But then came double-digit wins in 2013, a trip to an ACC title game and bowl game in which Duke nearly ruined Johnny Football’s finale.

Last season was a giant leap for the Blue Devils but a surprising one. Duke was the feel-good story -- a perennial pitied program turned title game participant -- but nationally the perception was of a mediocre team that took advantage of a volatile division widely considered the worst within the Power 5. Even the Blue Devils were built more on hope than belief as it puts it team together that spring.

There still is a sense the Blue Devils aren’t respected nationally or regionally -- they are unranked and were not picked to win the division by ACC media -- but there is a different sense at Duke. Cutcliffe felt that this spring.

"I thought our spring practice was different. I go back to that point: This team prepared different in spring ball," he said. "I told our staff that’s a significant change from what we had to do and what we got out of spring practice [in 2013]."

Duke has been building toward annual ACC success under Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils have lost only one of their past 15 regular-season conference games, and their 22 overall wins since 2012 is fourth in the conference.

Now, with a schedule that sets up nicely in the second half -- only Pitt has a winning conference record among future opponents -- the Blue Devils are moving toward a second consecutive berth in the conference title game.

That is something worth getting excited over at Duke.

Said Cutcliffe: "It’s been a long time coming."

Recruiter Rankings: Oct. update

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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Tony HughesAP Photo/Don Juan MooreMississippi State's Tony Hughes has had a big hand recruiting the team that has risen to No. 1 in the rankings.


The recruiter power rankings examine which assistant coaches have already done damage on the recruiting trail in the 2015 class. Beyond looking at how many four- or five-star recruits a coach lands, the rankings take into account the needs those recruits will fill at the next level.

With the season and official visits off and running and more than 200 players in the ESPN 300 having already committed, the coaches are working extra hard to bolster their classes.

Previous rankings: Feb. 6 | April 17 | June 19 | Aug. 25 | Sept. 22



To read this month's update, click here Insider.

Clemson's Choice out with torn ligament

October, 20, 2014
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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.

By the numbers: Week 8 recap

October, 20, 2014
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Digging into some numbers from Week 8 in the ACC ...

Winston is the comeback kid

Amid all the off-field chaos, it's easy to forget how good Jameis Winston is on the field, and he's been particularly impressive when his team needs him most. Winston is awfully good at rallying his team. In the second-half comeback against Notre Dame on Saturday, Winston was a sterling 15-of-16 for 181 yards, leading two touchdown drives.

This is nothing new. While Winston hasn't been tested often, his numbers when playing from behind are off the charts. Since the start of last season, Winston has completed 81-of-109 passes (74 percent) for 1,104 yards (13.6 yards-per-attempt) with 12 touchdowns and one interception when FSU is trailing. That's absurd.

Winston also excelled against the blitz Saturday. In 2013, he completed 69 percent of his throws, averaged 11.8 yards-per-attempt and tossed 21 TDs to just three picks vs. the blitz, but to start this season, his YPA dropped to 8.1 and he had just three TDs on 54 attempts. Against the Irish, however, Winston was 9-of-11 for 113 yards with two TDs and no picks when facing the blitz.

Noles' ground game struggling

On Saturday, FSU mustered just 50 yards on 26 rushing attempts -- a dismal 1.92 YPC. Last season, FSU averaged 5.6 yards per rush, but it has yet to hit that mark in any game against an FBS foe this season.

It's not all on the tailbacks, however. The biggest difference appears to be the O-line.

.

FSU's runners are averaging roughly the exact same number of yards after first contact as they did in the previous two seasons, but they're getting more than two yards-per-carry less before contact than they did in 2012.

Boyd and nothing else

Pitt toppled Virginia Tech on Thursday despite QB Chad Voytik completing just 10 passes (on 17 attempts). What's perhaps even more noteworthy about Pitt's passing game, however, is that the only wide receiver to catch a pass was Tyler Boyd, who had six receptions on nine targets.

That's hardly a surprise. For the season, Boyd has 34 catches against FBS teams. The rest of Pitt's receiving corps has 22.

Overall, Boyd has accounted for 41.4 percent of Pitt's targets and 49.7 percent of its receiving yards vs. FBS foes -- both the highest rates in the nation.

Clemson stuffs the run

Remember in the opener when Todd Gurley ran all over Clemson's defense? Georgia racked up 328 rushing yards and five TDs on 41 carries. It was ugly.

Since then, however, the Tigers have surrendered just 395 more yards in six games. Clemson is allowing just 2.0 yards-per-carry since the opener, the best rate in the nation. Against Boston College on Saturday, it held the Eagles to nearly 200 yards below their season rushing average, and the Tigers racked up 14 tackles for loss. It was the fourth time in the last six games Clemson has had double-digit TFLs, and since that opening game against UGA, no defense in the country has created a higher percentage of negative rushing plays than Clemson's (36.5 percent).

Marquise the magician

For the second straight week, North Carolina QB Marquise Williams was terrific. Williams enjoyed his third 300-yard game of the season (Winston is the only other ACC QB with as many), chucking four TD passes and adding a fifth score -- along with 70 rushing yards -- on the ground in a win against Georgia Tech.

It's the second straight game Williams had 300 passing yards, 70 rushing yards and at least three total touchdowns. In the past decade, the only other Power 5 conference QB to do that in back-to-back games was Heisman winner Robert Griffin III.

Heels, Jackets struggle on D

Entering Saturday's game, the only Power 5 conference team allowing more yards-per-play than Georgia Tech (6.3) and North Carolina (6.2) was South Carolina (6.35), so it was no surprise that the two defenses coughed up 1,190 yards and 91 points when they faced off.

For Georgia Tech, it's the continuation of a downward trend. In Ted Roof's first eight games against FBS teams as Tech's defensive coordinator, the Yellow Jackets allowed 5.5 yards-per-play and held five opponents below 101 yards rushing. In his last nine, opponents have rushed for an average of 173 yards per game and are averaging 6.5 yards-per-play overall, good for 115th in the nation in that span.

But things are even worse for the Tar Heels. In the last decade, just five Power 5 conference teams have allowed more yards in their first seven games than UNC (3,659) and only four have allowed more touchdowns (40).

Quick hitters
  • Entering the game, Virginia QBs were completing 63 percent of their throws to wide receivers this season, but against Duke, the Hoos completed just 45 percent. Matt Johns targeted wideouts on 70.2 percent of his throws in the game — the second-highest percentage of throws to WRs for Virginia quarterbacks this season. Cavaliers wideouts haven't caught a touchdown pass in their past three games after hauling in six in the first four.
  • Johns did hit running back Khalek Shepherd for a passing touchdown. It was just the third one Duke has allowed this season. Only San Jose State and Ole Miss have allowed a lower rate of touchdown throws in the nation.
  • Ryan Switzer in 13 games last season: 32 catches, 341 yards, three TDs. Switzer in seven games this season: 34 catches, 429 yards, three TDs.
  • The two highest completion percentages for Power 5 wideouts (min. 30 targets) reside in the ACC, and both are true freshmen: Clemson's Artavis Scott (38 catches on 46 targets) and NC State's Bo Hines (28 catches on 35 targets).
  • UNC's defense has struggled, but it has also been opportunistic. The Heels have 80 points off turnovers this year, the third-best total in the country. On the flip side, the Heels have allowed 77 points off turnovers, the second-worst total in the country.
Let's play the What-If Game. (Florida State followers can play, too, but first they have to take off their "The World Is Against Us" T-shirts and quit being so sensitive about everything.)

There's only one rule: You have to be brutally honest.

If Florida State played Mississippi State on a neutral field, who would you take?

If FSU played Ole Miss, who would you take?

If the Seminoles played Notre Dame again, or Georgia, or Alabama, who would you take?

Would you like their chances if they faced Auburn, Kansas State, Baylor or TCU?

How about Arizona, Oregon or Michigan State?

I can already hear some of FSU's most paranoid fans: "Is this a trick question?"... "I'd like to use a lifeline." ... "Lose to Kansas State? Hell, we could beat the Kansas City Chiefs."

Those people can't play this game. But the FSU realists, even the most ardent FSU optimists, have to admit that the 2014 version of the Seminoles isn't anywhere near as good as the 2013 national-championship version.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Red Lightning is beloved at Florida State. No opponent dare lay a hand on a Seminoles player on the sideline lest they wish a shove and a confrontation with Florida State’s red-bearded ball boy.

But as he ran onto the field and waded through the ongoing Florida State party at the 10-yard line, he was a little overzealous trying to get the football. Offensive lineman Cam Erving had a vise grip locked around it and just gave a Red Lightning a glare. Erving wasn’t handing it over.

Asked what he planned with the ball, an emotionally spent Erving pointed to the tape around his right wrist: RT, it read. This ball was for offensive line coach Rick Trickett, who was watching the game on a hospital monitor as he lay in bed.

[+] EnlargeRick Trickett
AP Photo/Phil CoaleFlorida State gave the game ball for Saturday's win against Notre Dame to offensive line coach Rick Trickett, who was in the hospital but has since been released.
"I’ve never been around a guy who takes more pride in his work, works any harder, is a better line coach than he is," Jimbo Fisher said after the game. "When I talked to him [Saturday] on the phone, he broke down. He cried, [and] that guy don’t cry over nothing. He felt he was letting me down and letting his team down and those kids down. ... We gave him the game ball. That game was for him."

Less than 24 hours before kickoff Saturday night, Trickett suffered what the athletic department called a personal health issue and would not coach.

In his postgame team address after No. 2 Florida State’s 31-27 win against Notre Dame, Fisher announced the ball would go to Trickett, who came with Fisher to FSU in 2007. One of Trickett’s sons, Chance, works in the Seminoles’ recruiting department and was handed the ball to deliver to his father, who was released from hospital Sunday afternoon and is expected to rejoin the team by Wednesday.

Considering the circumstances, Saturday had to be a proud day for Trickett. The second half of the day began with his son Clint, a quarterback at West Virginia, playing one of the best games of his career, throwing three touchdowns in a 41-27 upset of then-No. 4 Baylor. And in the nightcap, the former Marine and Vietnam War veteran is known for coaching his players hard, but in a show of solidarity, the offensive line all wrote RT on their right wrists. The Seminoles won even though their backs were against the wall much of the game.

Chance Trickett told ESPN.com on Sunday that his father is "doing well" and in "high spirits." He said he learned of his father’s issue just hours before the game and that quarterback Jameis Winston sought him out before kickoff to offer his support.

"Jameis Winston came up to [me] before the game and said this one’s for him," Chance Trickett said.

Then Winston spoke to his line, which he still considers the country’s best.

"I kept reminding them that you got to do this for your coach. We’re a family, and one of our 'dads' was down. Our daddy was down. I was like, 'You all got to protect your daddy’s house,'" Winston said.

Before the game, injured center Austin Barron spoke to Trickett and relayed a message to the starting linemen. However, the offensive line struggled in the first half without its patriarch. When the line wasn’t being confused by exotic blitzes that allowed free rushers, it was getting beat at the line of scrimmage.

David Spurlock, a graduate assistant who played under Trickett, and tight ends coach Tim Brewster were left making the offensive line calls, and Fisher and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders helped with adjustments. Trickett even spent parts of the game on the phone trying to relay messages and fixes to his players.

The second half was different. The group that has been criticized much of the season stepped up. It still whiffed on some blitzes, but it was not playing with an edge. In the third quarter, the offensive line pushed Karlos Williams into the end zone after he was initially stopped at the 2-yard line, and it was a fourth-quarter Williams touchdown that was the winner.

"We just had to learn to fight through adversity," guard Josue Matias said. "That’s Coach Trickett’s attitude."
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 morning links: A loss for Clemson

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
8:00
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The last thing Clemson needed was more bad news on offense, but that's exactly what was in store Sunday.

The Tigers' leading rusher, freshman Adam Choice, is done for the season with a knee injury, as the Charleston Post & Courier writes.

Choice suffered a torn ACL in Saturday's 17-13 win against Boston College, adding more grim news to a running game that has struggled to find any footing this season. Through seven games, Choice was Clemson's leading rusher with 218 yards and also averaged a team-best 4.4 yards per carry.

Choice actually would have redshirted this season, but he was thrust into the tailback mix when Zac Brooks went down with a season-ending injury in fall camp. Choice's injury leaves the trio of Wayne Gallman, C.J. Davidson and D.J. Howard to pick up the slack in the Tigers' backfield.

In fairness, the bulk of Choice's production this year came against South Carolina State. Against FBS foes, he's carried 38 times for 144 yards -- an average of 3.8 per carry -- good for 38th among ACC tailbacks.

Still, his replacements don't offer much alternative. Howard, Davidson and Gallman have averaged a woeful 3.6 yards-per-carry against FBS foes and just seven of their 113 rushes (6 percent) went for 10 yards or more. Add the fact the Tigers will be without dual-threat QB Deshaun Watson for at least another few weeks, and the offensive struggles of the past two games don't seem like they'll diminish any time soon.

A few more links:

Jameis Winston is a near lock to enter the NFL draft, according to CBS Sports. Well, yeah. Of course. The whole “will he or won't he” discussion has been silly for a while, and when I spoke with Winston's father, Antonor, in August, he said the talk about returning was entirely dependent on Jameis' draft status. And that was before all the new off-field chaos.

Matthew Thomas, who had been suspended for the first half of the season, added some much-needed athleticism to Florida State's defense, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

Georgia Tech's defense was a complete disaster against North Carolina, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Virginia Tech is shaking up its offensive line after another ugly offensive performance against Pitt, writes the Roanoke Times.

More from the Roanoke Times: Matt Johns should've run more often against Duke, according to Virginia coach Mike London.

Marquise Williams has been tremendous over the past two games, including leading a comeback win for North Carolina on Saturday, writes the Charlotte Observer.

After A.J. Long led Syracuse to a much-needed win over Wake Forest, is Terrel Hunt still the starting QB when he's healthy? It's an interesting question, writes Syracuse.com.

Duke Johnson has been a crucial mentor in the development of fellow Miami tailback Joseph Yearby, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

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