ACC: Atlantic Division

We have come to Week 4 in our Ultimate ACC Road Trip, where each week we pretend we have all the power to decide where we're going to watch some football.

This is a no-brainer choice.

Week 4 schedule

Saturday, Sept. 20
  • Maine at Boston College
  • Tulane at Duke
  • Clemson at Florida State
  • Louisville at Florida International
  • Miami at Nebraska
  • North Carolina at East Carolina
  • Presbyterian at NC State
  • Iowa at Pitt
  • Maryland at Syracuse
  • Virginia at BYU
  • Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
  • Army at Wake Forest
Our pick: Clemson at Florida State

Why you should come along: Pretty simple, really. The winner of this game has gone on to play in five straight ACC championship games. Odds are this season will be no different, with Florida State and Clemson going into the season as the top teams in the Atlantic Division once again. Florida State has won two straight in the series and three of the last four and would seem to have the upper hand going into this one, with Jameis Winston and several playmakers back on both offense and defense. Clemson, meanwhile, has to replace its leading passer, rusher and receiver from a year ago.

But the Tigers have the potential to be extremely tough on defense, especially with their front seven. Last year, Clemson was completely outclassed in every phase of the game. The Tigers never really had a chance to be in the game, not with all the turnovers to start. And that was at home, with a veteran quarterback behind center. If the offense can hold on to the ball and make a few plays, the defense will be in much better position to affect the outcome of the game in Tallahassee.

There is little doubt Dabo Swinney has elevated the Clemson program. But Florida State, along with South Carolina, has become a must-win game. The coach has delivered two wins over Florida State since 2008 and one against South Carolina in the same time period, making him 3-9 against his team's two biggest rivals. Nobody wants to hear that this might be a rebuilding year for Clemson. When you put together three straight 10-win seasons, you don't rebuild. You reload. But are they reloaded enough to catch Florida State?

We find out in September.

Road trips

ACC mailblog

April, 11, 2014
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Lots of mail this week. Thanks to everybody who wrote in. Now to some questions ...

theschnauzers writes: Re: the Miami offense with (Kevin) Olsen and Duke (Johnson). I wouldn't underestimate Kevin Olsen in this situation, which I think both you and Heather are doing in your recent articles and blog entries. There are those of us who felt that if all other things were equal it was likely Kevin might have been the starter before season's end; what is clear is that unlike Morris and Harris, Kevin does read the defense and the plays, and based on all reports about the two closed scrimmages, he has done as well as Ryan Williams did before the injury in the second scrimmage, and Golden has used the words "exceptional" and "excellent" to Kevin's performance in the second half of that scrimmage. Guess we'll know more after the "spring game" Saturday, but I am among those U alumni who have confidence Kevin will step up and get the job done.

Andrea Adelson: Here is my point of view on Olsen. He is a terrific talent, and we could very well be underestimating him. But during my visit down to Coral Gables three weeks ago, I was not given any indication that the competition between Olsen and Williams was particularly close. Williams was clearly going to start, and Olsen still had a lot of learning to do to even really push Williams. The fact there was no "real" competition before Williams got hurt speaks more to where Olsen stands, in my opinion. Yes, Miami started giving Olsen more reps with the first team and he handled them nicely. But there is no denying that Williams had an edge both in terms of maturity and game experience. That could be a factor for Miami this year.

 




Ted in Lexington, Ky., writes: I think Wake Forest pulled off a steal in getting Dave Clawson. He turned around three programs, but this year I am scared because (1) Wake is so young; (2) our nonconference schedule is rough, especially Sept. 13 at Utah State. They knocked off Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl. If Wake Forest wins six, Dave Clawson should be the ACC Coach of the Year.

Adelson writes: I also like this hire. I think most impressive is the fact he won at smaller schools that have a similar type of profile as Wake Forest, the smallest school in the ACC. That should absolutely give Deacs fans hope for the future. But I agree 2014 might not be the year Wake goes back to a bowl game. Not only are the players young, they are learning entirely new schemes and have depth issues at several positions. Utah State will be a very tough game, but so will going on the road to play ULM, which beat the Deacs a year ago. If Clawson can scratch out six wins, he should be mentioned for national coach of the year given what he has to work with this year.

 




Kevin Portale in Louisville writes: I just read your article on the Cards. I really enjoyed it. It was short and to the point. Since Louisville is new to the ACC, how well do you think their chances are to be in the top three of the conference?

Adelson writes: Thanks, Kevin. At this point, I think there is a gap between Louisville and Florida State/Clemson but no real gap between the Cards and everybody else in the league. Despite the changes, this is a team that should still have an opportunity to win every game it plays. After talking to players, watching practice and spending time with the staff, I still think Louisville finishes third in the Atlantic. But given the difficulty of the schedule and some of the personnel losses the Cardinals have to overcome, I am not sure this team ends the season ranked in the Top 25.

 




Alex in Syracuse writes: Why do you think Pitt will be so good and expect nothing from Syracuse? If Aaron Donald doesn't block an extra point, if (Paul) Chryst doesn't barely get a timeout in, Syracuse would have had eight wins last year and Pitt does not even make a bowl game. Syracuse was a pretty good program only a little over a decade ago and then went through a down period. They're coming back up now, why doesn't anyone care or see this happening?

Adelson writes: I think you are making an assumption here that because I think Pitt has a chance to win the Coastal, I expect nothing out of Syracuse. One does not really correlate with the other. Pitt is in a much more winnable division and has an easier nonconference schedule than the Orange, which is why my expectations might be slightly higher. I thought Syracuse did a nice job toward the end of last season but it's hard to overlook how the Orange got blown out by the top two teams in the division. I do think they should be a bowl team this year given what they return on offense, but they are not quite ready to compete for a division title.

 




Tim in Christiansburg, Va., writes: re: ACC dream games. I understand all the love for FSU. I can see UT/Duke and the Petrino bowls. Clemson/Oregon would be exhausting to watch. But think outside the box a little. What sets college football apart is what happens off the field as much as on the field sometimes. The pageantry and hoopla that surrounds college football is what makes it so unique. That being said, what about VT/Texas A&M? These are the only two public schools with regular students that maintain on campus cadet corps that feed directly into the military. VT always marches out the cadets prior to the game for the national anthem. They are an important part of every home game, as they should be. Some military alum flies a billion dollar plane overhead. Skipper roars. Now multiply that by two. Plus the game would be pretty good, too. The first two were.

Adelson writes: Add it on the list!

ACC race update: Week 12

November, 13, 2013
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The ACC’s Coastal Division race has never lacked drama in November, and yet somehow the result always seems to be the same: Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech are usually the last teams standing.

This year isn’t much different.

None of the four teams remaining with two losses –- Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Duke and Miami –- control their destinies. Each team needs somebody else to lose in order to get to Charlotte. One thing we do know: The Coastal Division winner will be playing Florida State, which has already locked up its spot in the ACC title game, but can win the Atlantic Division title outright with a win over Syracuse. A win by Florida State would give the program its eighth unbeaten ACC regular season since joining the league in 1992, but the first since 2000.

A win by Georgia Tech over Clemson on Thursday night would give the Jackets a 6-2 league record and no worse than a share of the Coastal Division title. Georgia Tech, which lost to both Miami and Virginia Tech, would need to avoid ties with both of those teams.

The only possible Coastal Division-clinching scenario this week would be if Georgia Tech beats Clemson AND Virginia Tech AND Miami both lose. That would send the Jackets to Charlotte.

Here’s exactly what your team needs to get to Charlotte:

What Duke needs: Win out and have somebody beat Georgia Tech

What Miami needs: Win out and have somebody beat Virginia Tech

What Georgia Tech needs: Beat Clemson and have Miami AND Virginia Tech lose

What Virginia Tech needs: Win out and have somebody beat Duke

The latter seems the most likely. At this point, we have the Hokies in Charlotte.

ACC race update: Week 11

November, 6, 2013
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The race in the Atlantic is all but over. The Coastal is a different matter, as four teams remain in serious contention.

ATLANTIC DIVISION
  • Florida State (8-0, 6-0) clinches a berth in the ACC championship game with a win against Wake Forest on Saturday. Wins against Wake Forest and Syracuse next week give the Seminoles the outright Atlantic Division title.
  • Clemson (8-1, 6-1) can make the ACC championship game with a win against Georgia Tech on Nov. 14 and Florida State losses its final two ACC games. OR Clemson can win the Atlantic with a loss to Georgia Tech should Syracuse win out and FSU drop its games against Wake Forest and Syracuse. Under this scenario, Clemson, Syracuse and FSU would end up in a three-way tie in the Atlantic, each 1-1 against the other two teams. The next tiebreaker is divisional record. Syracuse and Clemson would be 5-1 in the division (Syracuse lost to Clemson, Clemson lost to FSU) while the Seminoles would be 4-2 (losses to Wake and Syracuse). This would then revert to the two-team procedure, in which Clemson beat the Orange head-to-head.
COASTAL DIVISION
  • Miami (7-1, 3-1) remains in control of the race to the ACC championship. If the Hurricanes win all four of their remaining games -- Virginia Tech, at Duke, Virginia at Pittsburgh -- they are in. The Canes' next two games, against Virginia Tech and Duke, could potentially serve as Coastal Division elimination games.
  • Virginia Tech (6-3, 5-2), on a two-game losing streak, will stay in the race for the division crown with a win against the Hurricanes. If the Hokies win out, they need Duke to lose at least once more because the Hokies would lose a head-to-head tiebreaker. OR Virginia Tech can win the Coastal if it wins out and finishes in a three-way tie with Duke and Georgia Tech. The teams would be 1-1 against each other and the tiebreaker would go to divisional records. The Hokies would be 5-1 in the Coastal (loss to Duke), while Georgia Tech and Duke would both be 4-2 (GT losses to VT and Miami, Duke losses to GT and Pittsburgh).
  • Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2) and Duke (6-2, 2-2) also have two conference losses each. Duke can win the Coastal with wins in its final four games -- NC State, Miami, at Wake Forest, at North Carolina -- AND a Georgia Tech loss to Clemson. The Jackets need help to make a return trip to Charlotte. They have to beat Clemson next week, then avoid tie-breaking scenarios with Miami and Virginia Tech -- the teams responsible for their losses this season.

Deacs need receivers to emerge soon

November, 5, 2013
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Here’s the good news for Wake Forest: they have plenty of wide receivers. They’ve over-recruited the position.

[+] EnlargeJonathan Williams
Fred Kfoury III/Icon SMIWith 15 catches, freshman wideout Jonathan Williams is the Demon Deacons' second-leading receiver.
The bad news? Not only do they not have their No. 1 wide receiver anymore, but they’re still looking for their No. 2.

Oh, and they’re playing Florida State this weekend.

Wake Forest has been devastated by Saturday’s news that Michael Campanaro, the team’s top offensive player, is likely out for the rest of the season with a broken collarbone. Following a 13-0 road loss to Syracuse, news of Campanaro’s injury trickled through the visitors’ locker room. He was injured in the first quarter and taken to the hospital during the game. Wake Forest has struggled to run the ball this season and has developed its identity in recent weeks as a pass-first team. With a young offensive line, the coaching staff is looking for receivers to help take some pressure off of quarterback Tanner Price. The Deacs are trying to salvage the season and win two of their last three games to become bowl eligible.

“We’ve just got a whole group of guys right now who have not been either very dependable from a physical standpoint, or very dependable from a knowledge standpoint,” coach Jim Grobe said. “We had a lot of missed assignments Saturday. And then consistently catching the football and blocking the way we needed to. Like my old buddy Skip Prosser used to say, it’s a conundrum. We’ve got a bunch of talented guys and none of them have really played very good so far.”

Injuries haven’t helped the situation.

Orville Reynolds has been out with an ankle sprain. John Armstrong has been out with a concussion. Tyree Harris, who looked on the verge of having a breakout game against Miami, tried to catch a low pass against the Canes, fell on the football, and bruised his collarbone. Grobe said Harris has had some trouble breathing.

“The first half we thought, ‘Hey, here we go. We’ve got a guy who’s balancing out Campanaro,'" Grobe said. “And then he missed the second half against Miami. Hopefully we can get Tyree back.”

Time is running out. Wake Forest has three games remaining: Saturday against Florida State, Nov. 23 against Duke, and at Vanderbilt to end the regular season. The Deacs are No. 110 in the country in scoring offense, averaging just 19.4 points. They’re No. 116 in rushing offense, at just 91.2 yards per game.

They’re banking on the passing game without Campanaro to keep their bowl hopes alive.

Campanaro had a team-high 67 catches this year. Nobody else on the roster has caught more than 15 passes. Redshirt freshman Jonathan Williams is second on the team with 212 yards on 15 catches, no touchdowns. Sherman Ragland III has 15 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. He led the team against Syracuse with 10 catches for 91 yards, but overall, Grobe wasn’t satisfied with what he saw from the group.

“Saturday it was disappointing to me because we had really inconsistent play out of all of those wide receivers,” Grobe said. “We didn’t have anybody step up and do it.”

They don’t have much of a choice now.

ACC race update: Week 10

October, 30, 2013
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Now that we are down to the final month of the regular season, it is time to begin our weekly look at the conference race in both divisions. We are going to keep this as simple as possible, focused on the teams with the best chances today of winning their respective divisions.

ATLANTIC DIVISION
Florida State is in the driver's seat. In fact, the Noles could clinch as early as Saturday. For that to happen, Florida State needs to beat Miami; Wake Forest needs to beat Syracuse; and Virginia needs to beat Clemson. If all that happens, Florida State would be guaranteed no worse than a tie with Clemson. Because of the head-to-head win, the Noles would clinch the Atlantic Division berth in the ACC championship game.

Clemson is the only team in the Atlantic with one loss, but it needs to help to get back to the ACC title game. The Tigers need to win out in league play and have Florida State lose two conference games.

COASTAL DIVISION
Miami is the only team unbeaten in conference play in the division at 3-0, so the Hurricanes are in control. Even if Miami loses to Florida State, the Canes would make the ACC title game if they win their remaining conference games.

Virginia Tech is next, with one conference loss (3-1). The Hokies go to the ACC title game if they win out. Indeed, the Coastal might very well be decided next weekend in Miami when the Canes and Hokies play.

Georgia Tech, Duke and Pitt each have two conference losses. Of the three, Duke has the least convoluted scenario to get into the ACC title game. Duke needs to win out -- that means a victory over Miami -- and then have Virginia Tech and the Canes finish with at least two conference losses. If Duke, Miami and Virginia Tech finish in a three-way tie with two conference losses apiece, Duke goes because it has the head-to-head wins over the Canes and Hokies. Pitt already lost to Virginia Tech and has Miami to close the regular season, so the Panthers are still alive but need to win out and then get some help. Georgia Tech is at the biggest disadvantage of the three because it lost head-to-head against Miami and Virginia Tech.
Yes, Florida State is that good.

After Saturday’s 51-14 dismantling of Clemson, the question now is not whether FSU is the best team in the ACC, the debate is over whether it’s the best team in the country.

Saturday’s win in Death Valley was less of an indictment on Clemson and more of a statement about Florida State as a program under coach Jimbo Fisher. Clemson is a top 10 team and the mighty Seminoles blew past them at warp speed. On the road. With a redshirt freshman quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicWhile everyone debates if the Seminoles are the nation's best team, Jimbo Fisher has kept FSU focused on playing one game at a time.
In four quarters on Saturday, the gap between Florida State and the rest of the conference grew as long as the ride from Tallahassee to Chestnut Hill.

Florida State replaced six assistants this offseason. The Noles lost 11 draft picks, including every starter on the defensive line, and their starting quarterback. And yet somehow, they’re even better.

Florida State, which is ranked No. 2 in the latest BCS standings, should finish the season undefeated – and that includes a potential matchup against Virginia Tech or Miami in the ACC championship game.

Anyone who thinks NC State has a prayer at pulling off what it did a year ago in Raleigh on Saturday forgot to turn the calendar to 2013. The Wolfpack is a beleaguered bunch that is banking on the return of quarterback Brandon Mitchell to get it to a bowl game. They can get there, but they won’t get any closer to it on Saturday. Former coach Bobby Bowden will be planting the spear before the game. The school is expecting up to 300 former players to be in attendance. And after what happened last year? There’s no way this group is going to let it happen again -- especially on their home turf with so many former Noles watching.

If you thought what happened in Death Valley was ugly, you might just have to look away on Saturday.

NC State is merely a formality standing between FSU and rival Miami. The Canes will be the toughest opponent remaining on the schedule -- and that includes a trip to the Swamp. Florida has fallen out of the rankings, and they’re not the same team they were when Miami knocked them off in Week 2. Miami’s ability to run the ball and its sheer determination in a storied rivalry could make the game interesting. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Canes won -- but they shouldn’t, not based on what we’ve seen so far: i.e. Miami turnovers and FSU’s deep roster.

Jameis Winston is the best quarterback in the ACC. He has arguably the best receiving corps in the country. And yet the Noles’ defense was the story of the game at Clemson. Granted, part of Clemson’s letdown can be attributed to the fact that quarterback Tajh Boyd, determined to leave a legacy and win a national title, tried to do too much. The bottom line, though, was that Florida State had the better team. The Noles dominated up front on both sides of the ball against Clemson, creating pressure to allow their players in the secondary to snag the interceptions. The coaches did an excellent job of preparing the players and keeping them focused through what was easily the most anticipated matchup since 2005.

“This game was blown off the charts,” Winston said. “Everybody was like, ‘Oh my god,’ and then, ‘We’re three-point favorites.’ We’re not going to let nothing like that affect us. We’re a great football team and we’re here to play football. We’re not here to do all the partying, all the rah-rah stuff and celebrate for being a great team. We have to play every game one game at a time.”

Asked after the game -- twice -- if he thought he was coaching the No. 1 team in the country, Fisher wouldn’t bite, but he did say he’s “not scared to play anyone.”

“I think we have a heckuva team,” he said. “I’m not doubting our team or anything. We’ve got a lot of ball to play. If we keep taking care of business, the country will see, and we’ll get to where we’ve gotta go.”

At No. 2, they’re already as close as they need to be. It’s just a matter of staying there, and nobody else in the ACC has looked good enough to change that.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q&A: Clemson QB Tajh Boyd

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
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I spoke at length recently with Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd about his career at Clemson, his maturation process and his desire to leave a legacy in Death Valley. Most of that conversation led to this story, but not all of it. Here are some more highlights from Boyd as he prepares to face No. 5 Florida State in Death Valley on Saturday.

Why is that so important to you, leaving a legacy?

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesClemson signal-caller Tajh Boyd has only thrown two interceptions this season in 185 passing attempts.
Tajh Boyd: I look at everything from a life standpoint. If you leave this world without leaving an imprint on anything, then your time on this earth was useless because you didn’t impact anything or anybody. You’re only there for your selfish reasons. That’s the same way I think about football, the same way I think about programs. Your mark has to be left at some point or another. If not, you’re going to get lost and never going to be remembered and in a way, just not significant. That’s why it’s so important to carry yourself in the right way, so you can be remembered in a good way. Lasting impressions are the best ones and the most useful ones. It was just important for me to even be that first quarterback, be in that first class. Coach [Dabo] Swinney dubbed it as “The Dandy Dozen.” It was a fun time, and that’s something we’ll always remember.

What’s it been like having your parents there with you throughout your whole career?

TB: It’s been really good. It’s good because through my time in college, my time here, I’ve grown from a kid to a man, to an adult. It’s good they’ve seen the process, they’ve seen the transition. It’s all new for them as well. Same way with the process of getting ready for the NFL. It’s good they’re here to see how everything goes, how everything works. It won’t be new to just me, but for all of us to be in it together at the same time. They’ve seen the ups and downs that I’ve had here, moments where I didn’t feel so good. Moments where I was really excited. They got a chance to see all of that. They were my shoulder to lean on, especially in the early years. Now it’s to the point where I handle everything in stride. But it was good to have them here, especially during that redshirt sophomore year.

What are some of the obstacles you’ve gone through? What are some of the tough times you’ve had at Clemson?

TB: It was mainly the sophomore year. There was a lot of things happening. First-year starter, not knowing how to handle certain things. We’re 8-0. We go on the road, lose to Georgia Tech. I’m a Heisman candidate at this point -- it’s going to be three years, it’s time to win one now -- but I come home, the house is egged. I’m sure you remember that, right there. You go through that and you’re in a slump. We lost four out of the last six games that year. It was a time where I needed somebody to talk to and I felt like I was alone. That stage right there helped develop me into the person I am right now and the player I am right now. I mean, especially in this position, playing the quarterback role, you have to be prepared for everything in every situation. All of those games helped shape me for sure.

Adam Humphries told me you sit in on the offensive staff meetings. Do they just treat you like one of the guys? How does that work?

TB: They treat me like one of the guys. It’s fun to sit down and have a [conversation] with those guys. When we’re in the quarterback room, in the second half of meetings, coaches explain stuff, but when you’re in with the staff, you understand why they do things the way they do. You hear the bickering between the coaches about how we should protect this, how we should do that. It gives me an appreciation for the job they do.

For this offense to be at its peak performance, I have to be at my peak performance.

Boyd, on working hard in the offseason to prepare for the 2013 season.
Do you weigh in, or do you sit there quietly?

TB: Oh, I weigh in. I’ve got input and things of that nature.

Humphries told me this past offseason is really when he noticed a rededication on your part to your body and what you eat and losing weight. Is that true, and what was your mentality on that?

TB: For this offense to be at its peak performance, I have to be at my peak performance. It’s really true. Coach always says this offense is going to go how I go. It’s important the way I carry myself, the way I carry myself in front of my teammates. It all correlates. I want to be the hardest worker every time I step on that field. I’m not going to say it happens every time, but it’s kind of easy to get caught up and you want to just be one of the guys, but you can’t be, because you’re leading. Your emotions weigh heavily, your body language, your demeanor. That’s one of the things coach says to me all the time, because those guys look at what I do and the way I handle myself, carry myself. If we’re up in a game, if we’re down in a game, I have to be an extension of those coaches when I’m out on that football field.

What do you think is the biggest difference in you from the last time you played Florida State?

TB: The maturation process. The thing about playing guys like that, is those guys are really competitive at all times. They’re going to have the athletes to match up. You have to play the whole game. You can’t take a quarter off. You can’t take a series off, because those guys capitalize on it. When you’re playing teams like that -- especially on the road, especially on the road -- you have to be dialed in as a team, not just on offense. Last year one of the changing points was when they ran a kickoff – I don’t know if they ran it back, but it was damn near close, like the 2- or 3-yard line or something. We were up and then the momentum shifted so heavily. I looked at the crowd and I was like, ‘Wow.’ In my mind, I was like, ‘We’ve gotta spark something right here.’ We got pinned deep, got a sack on third down, and it just erupted. It’s tough in a situation like that. In a crowd like that, and an environment where a team gets hyped up, you’ve gotta go out there and try and find a way to weather it. We’ve grown in those aspects, and we’ve grown as a defense tremendously, as well. Even if you look at the Syracuse game, there were times we weren’t doing what we were supposed to do and the defense just kept responding, kept fighting.

It was the same thing at NC State, too.

TB: For sure. I think last year, if we don’t score on offense, we’re praying on offense, like, ‘I hope the defense gets a stop.’ Now it’s like, we know these guys are going to get a stop, we just have to go out there and do our jobs. It’s good to have balance all over the field. It’s just been a pretty impressive year just to see the maturation and growth of this team in general.

FSU vs. Clemson: Who wins?

October, 16, 2013
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No. 3 Clemson and No. 5 Florida State will have fans divided all over the country this week as to which team is actually going to win this game. We’re here to help. ACC reporters David Hale and Heather Dinich each came up with three good reasons each team can pull off the win. Check them out, and then cast your vote as to who will finish Saturday atop the Atlantic Division standings.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTajh Boyd's experience and leadership will go a long way against FSU.
WHY CLEMSON WILL WIN:

1. Tajh Boyd. The story of the game and the most intriguing matchup will between the quarterbacks, Boyd and Jameis Winston. They both have had fantastic seasons so far, and are both winners, but Boyd has the edge in experience, and that will be the difference in the game. He’s beaten Georgia. He’s beaten LSU. He’s experienced the pangs of losing and matured from the setbacks. He is also a senior in his last chance to win a national title. Winston hasn’t gotten that far and hasn’t faced a lot of adversity. His biggest spotlight on the national stage was in the season opener at Pitt. Boyd has already played in front of a nationally televised GameDay crowd -- and won. Overall, Winston’s numbers have actually been slightly better, but Boyd’s intangibles and experience will outweigh the stats.

2. Defensive improvement. This isn’t the same defense that allowed FSU 49 points and 667 total yards last year. Clemson’s defensive progress has been the missing link in the Tigers’ hopes for a national title. Defensive end Vic Beasley leads the nation in sacks, and the Tigers are good enough to pressure Winston into some mistakes. Clemson’s defense has now held five straight opponents to 14 points or less and is 10th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 16.2 points per game. Clemson, which has built its success on Chad Morris’ offense, actually has a higher national ranking in scoring defense than scoring offense (17th, 40.8) right now. Clemson opponents have converted just .237 on third down, best in the nation. It is even better in ACC games as opponents have converted just 11 of 65 opportunities, just 17 percent. The Tigers also rank fourth in the nation in red zone defense, first in the nation in sacks, first in tackles for loss per game, and 12th in forcing turnovers.

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3. The 12th Man. It ain’t easy to win in Death Valley. The home field advantage cannot be overlooked in this game. In 10 of the past 11 years, the home team has won in this series. Clemson has won five in a row against FSU in Memorial Stadium with the Noles last win coming in 2001. No freshman quarterback has won in Death Valley since former Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor in 2007. Boyd, meanwhile, is 17-1 as a starter at home. This is a nationally televised night game, the GameDay crew will be there, and Clemson has experienced it all just eight weeks ago against Georgia. If Death Valley is anything like the scene it was on the opening week, the crowd alone is worth a few points.

-- Heather Dinich

WHY FLORDIA STATE WILL WIN:

1. Jameis Winston. The quarterbacks are obviously going to get most of the attention heading into this game, and Clemson has the guy with the better credentials so far. But through five career starts, Winston has exceeded every expectation, so it's certainly possible he'll deliver his best performance yet on the biggest stage. In his three ACC games so far, he's thrown for at least 300 yards and four touchdowns in each, and his 91.0 adjusted QBR ranks fifth nationally -- 36 spots ahead of Tajh Boyd. Winston is coming off his best game (393 yards, 5 touchdowns) and has had an extra week to prepare for Clemson's D. For a quarterback with a remarkably flat learning curve, that could be a recipe for another big game this week.

[+] EnlargeJalen Ramsey
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesHow Jalen Ramsey and the Noles secondary matches up with Sammy Watkins and Co. will be a key matchup for FSU-Clemson.
2. The running game. There's no questioning the playmaking ability of Clemson's defensive line, with the Tigers leading the nation in tackles for loss. But it's also worth noting that on runs that cross the line of scrimmage, Clemson is allowing 6.6 yards per carry this year. In fairness, Clemson's competition -- Todd Gurley (UGA), Jerome Smith (Syracuse) -- have certainly had a lot to do with those numbers, but Florida State has a trio of tailbacks capable of big games, too. Last year, FSU averaged 7.2 yards per rush and scored five times on the ground and Devonta Freeman, James Wilder Jr. and Karlos Williams will be looking for a repeat performance in Death Valley.

3. The secondary. Boyd and Sammy Watkins are as good a playmaking duo as there is in the ACC, and Florida State's defenders don't try to hide their admiration for Clemson's stars. But while Boyd and Watkins are off to an excellent start this year, they haven't played a defense quite as good as Florida State's either. The Seminoles held Watkins to just 24 receiving yards and Boyd to his second-lowest QBR of the season in last year's win. So far in 2013, FSU's secondary is allowing just 149 passing yards per game (fifth fewest in the country), and opponents are converting just 22 percent of third-down throws (ninth nationally).

-- David Hale

ACC Upset Watch: Week 8

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
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With two teams ranked in the top five facing off this weekend in Death Valley, somebody’s gotta lose. Welcome back to the Upset Watch, ACC’s elite:


1. No. 5 Florida State at No. 3 Clemson. You know the history by now: Florida State has not won in Death Valley since 2001. That doesn’t mean the streak won’t end on Saturday. Yes, Clemson is ranked higher, and the two programs have seemingly switched positions from last season, but this Florida State team is equally as talented, will give Clemson’s defensive line some pushback up front and will challenge the Tigers’ wide receivers. FSU quarterback Jameis Winston has already proven that he can handle adversity with road wins against Boston College and Pitt. The Noles also had a bye week to prepare for this game. We won’t know how much of a gap truly exists between the two programs until they play on Saturday, but as of right now, it looks as thin as paper. This should be anyone’s game.


2. Maryland at Wake Forest. The Terps need just one more win to become bowl eligible for the first time under coach Randy Edsall. They’re not going to let an unheralded Wake Forest team get in the way, are they? Not with quarterback C.J. Brown returning to the lineup after healing from a concussion, right? Well, the Deacs might have something to say about that. They had a bye week to prepare for Maryland, they’ll have home field advantage, and they know their chances to become bowl eligible are quickly shrinking. Plus, they’re coming off a 28-13 win over NC State in which the offense finally seemed to find a groove. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from watching “the rest of the Atlantic Division,” i.e. everyone but FSU and Clemson, it’s that they’re a muddled mess, and everyone has a chance to win.

3. No. 10 Miami at North Carolina. There’s no reason the Canes should lose this game, and there was hesitation in putting them on the list this week, considering how poorly UNC has played this season. Miami, though, has not fared well against the Tar Heels, losing four of the past six games. UNC also had a bye week to prepare for this game, they know their margin for error is slim with bowl hopes still on the line, and they’re still looking for their first league win. Miami has also had eight turnovers in the past two games. At some point, that’s going to come back to haunt it. Oh, and the last time UNC beat a top-10 team? A 31-28 win over No. 4 Miami in 2004.

Let The Game begin

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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The Game has changed -- and it’s even better.

This year, the best game in the ACC will feature two top-five teams instead of two top-10 teams.

On Saturday, No. 3 Clemson will host No. 5 Florida State in what will be a season-defining game in the Atlantic Division. In each of the past four seasons, the winner of The Game has gone on to play in the ACC championship, but for the second straight year, the stakes are even higher. Both teams are legitimate contenders for the national title, and on Sunday, the first BCS standings will be released. Both teams have Heisman hopeful quarterbacks, and the competition between veteran signal-caller Tajh Boyd and FSU rookie Jameis Winston is as compelling as any matchup in the country right now.

The simultaneous ascension of Florida State and Clemson in recent years has reached a pinnacle this fall, as both teams have avoided the pitfalls that have plagued them for so long and stayed the course on the field and in the rankings. What makes The Game so special, though, is that it has been further legitimized by the consistency of both programs. Saturday will mark the first time the ACC has had two top-10 teams play each other in back-to-back seasons. Last year, Florida State was No. 4 and Clemson was No. 10.

“It’s gotten really big,” Boyd said. “That’s the way essentially it’s supposed to be, championship runs for Florida State and Clemson every year. I think that’s what it was intended for. No disrespecting the other schools, but it’s just kind of the way things are working, especially in the latter years.”

With all due respect to the “other schools,” every other game on the ACC schedule to this point has merely been an appetizer.

Fans have come to know the date (Oct. 19) as well as Dec. 25. As soon as the ACC schedule was released this past February, talk began of the potential for both teams to be undefeated on Saturday. The sheer magnitude of The Game has made it the ACC's version of LSU-Alabama. It’s even arguably more intriguing than the ACC’s conference championship game. And it will capture the country’s attention on Saturday as ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew returns to Death Valley for the second time in the first eight weeks of the season -- a first even for ESPN.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsClemson QB Tajh Boyd expected the matchup with Florida State to have big implications.
Ironically, the toughest opponent both Florida State and Clemson have played so far has been Boston College -- a two-win team a year ago that has found some spunk under first-year coach Steve Addazio. The Eagles pushed both FSU and Clemson to the brink in their respective games before reality set in in the second half.

Even Addazio is looking forward to The Game.

"They both have great talent on their teams and they are very explosive and fast,” he said. “It will be one of the better games of the year. They both have really good defenses and both have two really good quarterbacks. Plain and simple, they are both really good football teams."

Only one of them, though, can ascend from good to great.

"We've been waiting for this for a while,” said Clemson receiver Adam Humphries. “We understand the repercussions and what's on the line. We'll be ready."

In order to truly understand the sheer magnitude of The Game, consider that it’s only the fourth time in ACC history -- and the first time since Nov. 5, 2005 -- that the conference has had two top-five teams face each other.

“That's why you come to Florida State, to be in those games, to be in those positions,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. “You've got other common opponents which are in the league; Clemson is doing a tremendous job, Miami is doing a great job, Virginia Tech. All these teams are all doing a great job, so it's a great league. But that's why you play in college football, and that's what you want to do as a player to get in these games that matter. We're very blessed to be there and to have a great opponent like Clemson.”

Boyd got a chance to know Florida State senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner this past summer at the ACC Football Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C.

Boyd said he might give his new friend a call this week.

“He’s a funny guy,” Boyd said. “I love talking trash, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more fun to actually know who you’re talking trash to.”

Let The Game begin.

ACC midseason report

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
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The ACC has arrived.

At the halfway point of the season, the once-beleaguered conference now has top 10 teams in No. 3 Clemson, No. 5 Florida State and No. 10 Miami. It has Heisman candidates in Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. It has four ranked teams, including No. 19 Virginia Tech. It has wins over Florida and Georgia. And it’s the No. 3 conference in the country, trailing only the SEC and the Pac-12.

Doesn’t matter that Virginia can’t score in the red zone, Syracuse can’t find a consistent quarterback and Georgia Tech has lost three in a row. All of the blemishes and imperfections of the others can be overlooked when there are two striking beauties walking down the runway first. With not one but two legitimate national title contenders, and the resurgence of Virginia Tech and Miami in the Coastal Division, the ACC’s premier programs have helped elevate the league’s perception through the first half of the season.

[+] EnlargeRoderick McDowell
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsRoderick McDowell and Clemson announced the ACC's presence in the season opener with a win over SEC power Georgia.
Even Boston College, a program that has won just six games in the past two seasons, has earned respect under first-year coach Steve Addazio. Nobody has played Atlantic Division heavyweights FSU and Clemson tougher than the Eagles, who have adopted their new coach’s blue-collar work ethic and passion. The Eagles have proven to be a fundamentally sound, well-coached team intent on running the ball first, and Clemson was lucky to escape with a win on Saturday night.

Much like Boston College, Maryland has already surpassed last year’s win total with its 5-1 record. Even with starting quarterback C.J. Brown sidelined with a concussion on Saturday, the Terps found a way to beat Virginia and come within one win of bowl eligibility. Virginia Tech, which needed a win over rival Virginia last year in the regular-season finale to become bowl eligible, has already reached that milestone with Saturday’s win against Pitt. Much improved from a year ago, and with one of the premier defenses in the country, the Hokies are now bowl eligible for the 21st consecutive year. Quarterback Logan Thomas continues to improve each week, and the players around him have gotten noticeably better. The Hokies are starting to hit their stride offensively just when it matters most.

The ACC enters the second half of the season with three unbeaten teams remaining in Clemson, Florida State and Miami, and four teams (Virginia Tech is the other) undefeated in league play.

Of course, it hasn’t all been Heisman happy.

League newcomers Pitt and Syracuse already have played themselves into irrelevance in their respective division races. Virginia coach Mike London’s seat is starting to sizzle. And Tobacco Road is ready for basketball season.

North Carolina, Duke and NC State are a combined 0-7 in league play. Wake Forest, with its lone ACC win coming against the Wolfpack, has underachieved and spent the first half of the season trying to find an identity on offense. UNC, meanwhile, has to win five of the final seven games just to get to a bowl game, and it doesn’t look good.

That’s not what the rest of the nation is watching, though, and that’s why the ACC is sitting pretty through the first half of the season.

Offensive MVP: Clemson QB Tajh Boyd -- He recently became the program’s all-time leader in passing yards with 9,836. He is second in total offense in ACC history. He has won 27 games as Clemson’s starter, and he’s the ACC’s best hope at a Heisman Trophy winner this year. Boyd’s leadership is one of the biggest reasons Clemson is ranked No. 3 in the country and in contention for a national title.

Defensive MVP: Clemson DE Vic Beasley -- The redshirt junior has emerged as one of the top pass-rushers in the country this fall. He’s No. 2 in the country in sacks at 1.5 per game, and he’s tied for fourth in the country in tackles for loss with two per game and 12 total.

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
AP Photo/Mary SchwalmFirst-year coach Steve Addazio has Boston College playing at a higher level than any preseason prognostication.
Biggest surprise: Boston College -- After winning just two games a year ago, expectations were tempered for the Eagles, who are under the direction of first-year coach Steve Addazio. The Eagles have already surpassed last year’s two-win total, though, and have played with an intensity in every game that has exceeded the expectations of most.

Biggest disappointment: North Carolina -- The Tar Heels won eight games last year, but this season they might not even get to a bowl game under Larry Fedora. The offense and the defense have looked atrocious, and UNC has lost three in a row heading into Thursday night’s game against Miami. Despite losing Giovani Bernard and Jonathan Cooper, Fedora said this year’s offense could be better, but it only has gotten worse.

Newcomer of the year: FSU QB Jameis Winston -- He arguably has been the most exciting redshirt freshman in the country this year. He has gone from being Florida State’s biggest question to its biggest asset. He’s No. 2 in the country in passing efficiency, and he’s No. 4 in the country with a QBR of 91.3 In his first season as a starter, he’s already in the Heisman mix.

Best coach: Miami’s Al Golden -- He beat Florida. He has the Canes at 5-0 and ranked in the top 10 for the first time since 2009. Oh, and the program still hasn’t heard if it will face further sanctions from the NCAA. Golden has kept his team focused and winning, and brought the Canes back to relevance in the national picture.

Best game: Clemson 38, Georgia 35. This was the game that changed the entire perception of the ACC and legitimized Clemson’s hopes at a national title. Finally, the ACC had the upper hand against the SEC on the big stage in a season opener. Not only was it a win for the ACC, but the seesaw game lived up to all of the preseason hype and was an instant classic.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 6

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
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There were a few tweaks to the lineup this week. And congrats to Wake Forest, you got a promotion:

1. Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC; LW: No. 1): The Tigers had no trouble playing in the Dome at Syracuse, as quarterback Tajh Boyd had another Heisman-worthy performance, throwing for 455 yards and five touchdowns in just three quarters of a 49-14 win at Syracuse. Clemson faces a relentless Boston College team at home this week before the Oct. 19 showdown against Florida State.

2. Florida State (5-0, 3-0; LW: No. 2): The Seminoles’ defense was called into question this past week and it answered with a resounding 63-0 shutout of the Terps. It was a dominating performance in all facets of the game, and just what the Noles needed heading into their bye week as they begin preparing for Clemson.

3. Miami (5-0, 1-0; LW: No. 3): The Canes continue to find a way to win, and have established themselves as the team to beat in the Coastal Division. Miami’s 45-30 win over Georgia Tech sets the stage for a season-defining game against Virginia Tech on Nov. 9, but a Thursday night game against the struggling Tar Heels looms first. The Canes are on a bye this week.

4. Virginia Tech (5-1, 2-0; LW: No. 5): The Hokies have now had two straight games in which quarterback Logan Thomas looked much-improved from a season ago, and it has made a difference. Virginia Tech's 27-17 win over North Carolina put the program back in the top 25 as it prepares to host Pitt his weekend.

5. Pitt (3-1, 2-1; LW: No. 6): The Panthers are coming off a bye week, but they’ve won three straight, including back-to-back conference games against Duke and Virginia. This will be their first road trip against a top-25 opponent, and while they’ve won the past four games in the series against Virginia Tech, they’re the ones with something to prove in Blacksburg.

6. Maryland (4-1, 0-1; LW: No. 4): The Terps came crashing back to reality with their humbling loss in Tallahassee, and they lost starting quarterback C.J. Brown to a concussion in the process. Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Maryland, but the schedule is conducive to a rebound if Maryland doesn’t let the Noles beat them twice. The Terps will face Virginia at home this weekend.

7. Georgia Tech (3-2, 2-2; LW: No. 7): The Yellow Jackets started the season strong, but back-to-back Coastal Division losses to Virginia Tech and Miami have them on the outside looking in at the Coastal Division race. It’s not going to get any easier with a road trip to BYU this week, and starting quarterback Vad Lee has been inconsistent and turnover-prone.

8. NC State (3-2, 0-2; LW: No. 8): The Pack just can’t seem to shake the curse of Winston-Salem, as NC State lost to Wake Forest for the sixth straight time on the road. It has been 12 years since NC State won at Wake Forest, and two turnovers contributed to it this season. The Pack returns home to host Syracuse this weekend.

9. Boston College (3-2, 1-1; LW: No. 9): Running back Andre Williams ran for 263 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-27 win over Army. The Eagles just don’t quit, and their ability to continuously run the ball through Williams has been their identity. They’re going to need more than that, though, to pull off the upset of No. 3-ranked Clemson this weekend in Death Valley.

10. Duke (3-2, 0-2; LW: No. 11): The Blue Devils had a bye this week and are trying to string together back-to-back wins with another against Navy on Saturday. Having played Georgia Tech about a month ago should help the defense, considering they run similar option offenses.

11. Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2; LW: No. 14): The Deacs finally got their offense going in a 28-13 win over NC State, thanks to quarterback Tanner Price and standout receiver Michael Campanaro. A little home-field advantage over the Pack never hurts, either. It was a big win that helped keep the Deacs’ bowl hopes alive. They’ve got a bye week to continue to get better before hosting Maryland.

12. Syracuse (2-3, 0-1; LW: No. 10): The Orange had no answer for Tajh Boyd & Co., and they missed out on their own opportunities with mistakes like dropped passes, four turnovers and an inability to convert on third down. It wasn’t the introduction to the ACC Syracuse was hoping for, but the Orange has a chance to rebound this weekend at NC State.

13. North Carolina (1-4, 0-2; LW: No. 13): The Tar Heels have fallen far and fast, but we’d still pick ‘em to beat the Hoos right now, in spite of the fact they have the worst record in the ACC. The difference against the Hokies was three turnovers, and while backup quarterback Marquise Williams played a respectable game in place of injured starter Bryn Renner, it was his final pick in the fourth quarter that sealed it for Virginia Tech.

14. Virginia (2-3, 0-1; LW: No. 12): Virginia’s defense had been a highlight, until it allowed Ball State 506 yards. It lost 48-27 on Saturday to a MAC team -- at home. Virginia coach Mike London insisted this offseason that he’s not concerned about his job security, but it’s hard not to wonder if that sentiment has since changed.

Now that the calendar has flipped to October, the race to the ACC championship game begins in earnest.

Five conference games are set for Saturday, and by the end of the day, all 14 teams will have played at least one league game. But none of that means we will have a clear picture in either division.

We could see expected front-runners emerge. Or we could begin to see the early stages of another muddled mess. Since the ACC split into divisions in 2005, the Atlantic Division has finished with two teams in a tie for first three times. The Coastal has had ties atop the division twice.

Only one team has run through division play unbeaten: Virginia Tech, in 2010. So history tells us to expect chaos. Does that mean chaos ensues Saturday?

All four ranked and unbeaten ACC teams face challenges this weekend in conference games. Start in the Atlantic, where No. 3 Clemson travels to play Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, where the Orange traditionally enjoy a big home-field advantage. In fact, Syracuse has the longest home winning streak in the ACC, with six in a row.

[+] EnlargePaul Johnson
AP Photo/John BazemorePaul Johnson and Georgia Tech can muddle the picture in the Coastal Division if they can beat Miami.
The focus is on the quarterbacks -- Heisman hopeful Tajh Boyd and Terrel Hunt, making the second start of his career. The two have combined for 16 touchdown passes this year and zero interceptions. NC State had early success slowing down the Clemson offense last month thanks to pressure up front. Syracuse plays aggressively, too, so it stands to reason this will be a big part of the game to watch.

In Tallahassee, No. 25 Maryland will try to beat No. 8 Florida State for the first time at Doak Campbell Stadium. There are many skeptics about this Terps team because of its resume to date, victories over two winless FBS teams (UConn and FIU) and a schizophrenic West Virginia team that just upset Oklahoma State.

We know both quarterbacks C.J. Brown and Jameis Winston like to run and pass. In fact, Maryland coach Randy Edsall and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher used nearly the same quote to describe the opposing signal-caller on the ACC call: "He can beat you with his legs. He can beat you with his arm." But watch for the turnover battle. Maryland has forced 13 turnovers in four games, tied for the fifth-highest total in FBS. Florida State, meanwhile, has turned the ball over just three times.

NC State and Wake Forest are not unbeaten, but each is looking for its first conference win of the season. This one might not be such a slam dunk for the Wolfpack, who have done their fair share to derail championship hopes in the ACC in seasons past. NC State has not won in Winston-Salem since 2001, and Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is 20-3 against in-state opponents at home.

Now to the Coastal. Georgia Tech plays No. 14 Miami, 4-0 for the first time since 2004. The Hurricanes are playing their first conference game, while Georgia Tech is finishing up a tough four-game Coastal stretch that more than likely will make or break its ACC title game hopes. If the Jackets lose, they will fall to 2-2 in ACC play with losses against Virginia Tech and Miami.

But if they win, the Jackets and Canes will each have one conference loss. Further -- if North Carolina upsets Virginia Tech in the other Coastal Division game Saturday, then every team in the Coastal will have at least one loss. Division wins take on greater importance in a tiebreaker scenario, something Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson can talk about first-hand. He was involved in both Coastal ties, losing to Virginia Tech in 2008, then benefiting from Miami and North Carolina being ineligible for postseason play in 2012.

"It's kind of the way the conference unfolds. You never know because it's kind of a crap shoot on who you play on the other side of the division, as far as the teams go," Johnson said. "So it makes the division games that much more important."

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