ACC: Coastal Division

Miami and Virginia Tech now have their answers at starting quarterback, though they went different routes in making their decisions.

Both brought in transfers in the offseason to compete for the starting job. But only the Hokies went the transfer route, as they announced that Michael Brewer would take over for Logan Thomas when the season opens Saturday.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewer
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsMichael Brewer brings a measure of experience to the starting quarterback job for the Hokies.
Miami went the more unconventional route, announcing Sunday that true freshman Brad Kaaya had won the starting job over fifth-year senior Jake Heaps.

Ultimately, those decisions will have a major impact on each team's Coastal Division hopes.

The choice Miami made was slightly more surprising for a few reasons. First, Heaps has valuable game experience, having started at two stops before arriving at Miami in the summer. Second, Miami opens the season on the road at Louisville. Many thought Al Golden would tab Heaps based on these two facts alone.

But Kaaya has intrigued Miami from the moment he committed in 2013. The Canes were the first team to extend him a scholarship offer, and he stuck with them despite the distance (he is from California) and several in-state schools putting on the hard sell. Offensive coordinator James Coley told local reporters after practice Sunday that three months ago he never would have envisioned starting a true freshman on the road to open the season.

Then again, Coley also said Kaaya is "not your regular freshman."

Kaaya has drawn nothing but raves since arriving on campus, and he has drawn particular attention for his unflappable demeanor. Miami has been desperate for a standout at the position for 12 years and counting. His predecessor, Stephen Morris, was solid but never rose to the elite level that people have come to expect from anybody playing the position at Miami. Now Kaaya gets to put that pressure on his shoulders.

Brewer at least has more game experience than Kaaya, having played as a backup at Texas Tech the past two seasons. When he made his decision to transfer to Virginia Tech, many expected him to win the starting job. Mark Leal, who served as the backup to Thomas the past several seasons, struggled in the bowl game and during the spring, opening the door for Brewer.

Where Kaaya has an edge over Brewer, then, is in the talent around him. Miami has the best running back in the ACC in Duke Johnson, one of the deepest and most talented receiver groups in the league, solid tight ends and a good offensive line. Virginia Tech is expected to be better at running back, receiver and tight end as well as on the offensive line, but Miami is better at all four spots headed into the season.

Perhaps that gives Golden and Coley more confidence lining up a true freshman on the road. He has a supporting cast to truly support him. Ultimately, though, both programs and both head coaches will be judged on the quarterback decisions they made this weekend. The Coastal could depend on it.

Duke's bad luck continues

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
4:50
PM ET
Just when you thought it was safe to believe Duke could win the Coastal Division again, the football gods have conspired against the Blue Devils.

Duke good in football?

Again?

Unacceptable!

Over the span of a week, Duke has lost starting tight end Braxton Deaver and starting middle linebacker Kelby Brown to torn ACLs. If they were the only two losses, that’d be enough. But going back to the end of last season, Duke has lost four key contributors from its record-breaking 2013 team.

Running back Jela Duncan is academically ineligible; backup quarterback Brandon Connette, who had 27 touchdowns passing and rushing a season ago, has transferred to Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.

So all told, Duke has lost players who had a hand in 34 of the team’s 54 total offensive touchdowns last season, plus its lone All-ACC linebacker in Brown, who had 114 tackles as the heart of the Duke D.

Given the latest setbacks, it is hard to peg Duke as a favorite in the Coastal now. A program like Florida State can lose a few starters and reload. A program like Duke is still working to build adequate depth across the board. The Blue Devils are certainly capable of winning the division, but their task just got significantly harder.

You know what that means: The Coastal Division just got even crazier. You thought that was impossible? Try picking a favorite from this motley crew.
  • Duke not only has holes to plug on offense and defense, it has to replace its two biggest leaders from a year ago in Brown and cornerback Ross Cockrell, who is now playing with the Buffalo Bills.
  • Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech have no starting quarterback.
  • The Tar Heels, Canes, Georgia Tech and Pitt have questions on defense that need to be resolved.

Yet you could make the case for all six teams to win the Coastal. Or maybe even finish in a wacky six-way tie where 40 tiebreakers must be used to determine who gets into the ACC championship game against preseason favorite Florida State.

Every team needs a little bit of luck on the way to a championship. Duke had some luck on its side last season. The Blue Devils had relatively good health and found ways to win -- four of their victories were by a touchdown or less.

Less than three weeks into camp, the Blue Devils do not seem as fortunate. David Cutcliffe has proven he knows how to get the most out of his players. But with the losses to date, does he have the players he needs to keep building on the foundation set last year?

The Coastal may hinge on that.

ACC mailblog

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
3:00
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Step into my office ...

Richard in Raleigh writes: I beg you to put this in the mailbag. It involves the preseason predictions for UNC. Let me first state my bias against UNC so it is known. I'm a NC State grad and Miami fan. I hate Carolina, but I still think I'm right on this point. Most people have UNC ranked. Many project them to win the Coastal. Now I have to imagine some of this is based on projection of talent and belief in Larry Fedora and his system, but I have to imagine that a large part of it was based on their change in quarterback and improvement at the end of the year, starting 1-5 and finishing 6-1. It aggravated me as soon as the season ended and this talk started, but today I looked at a few more numbers and am shocked I haven't seen anyone bring it up. The teams UNC beat were a combined 44-44. The teams they lost to were a combined 55-24. They only had two road wins and only one was against an above .500 team (Pitt). The closest thing they have to a quality win are victories against 7-6 Pitt and BC and a bowl win against 9-4 Cincinnati in a stadium two hours from their campus. All of this would seem to suggest to me that rather than UNC improving at the end of the year, they just finally started playing teams they were capable of beating. I think what UNC showed at the end of the season is the same thing they showed at the beginning of the season. They are capable of beating bad teams. They are not capable of beating good teams. And all of that makes them remarkably average. Now you add to that no offensive or defensive line, an incredibly young group of players ... None of that points to improvement to me. Now UNC certainly has the talent on the roster to fix their holes and improve this season. I just see little to suggest that so far. So please tell me how all this is being overlooked.

Andrea Adelson writes: No need to beg, Richard. You make some good points. For the record, I do not have North Carolina winning the Coastal but I do have the Tar Heels No. 2. Why? A few reasons. First, to your concerns about who North Carolina beat last year. I think this team deserves credit for turning around the season after staring in such a massive hole. Were the opponents weaker in the latter part of the season? Yes. But other teams could have folded at 1-5 no matter the opponent. This team found a way to win and that should count for something. I did not use the momentum from last season in my projection, however. I based mine on the talent returning and the schedule this season, not last. North Carolina is extremely talented at the skill positions, and I think the offensive line will solidify itself early in the season. The Tar Heels have four winnable nonconference games, and they get Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home (though there are some toughies at Clemson, Miami and Duke). Plus, there is little to no separation between the teams in the Coastal. So regardless of what happened last season, North Carolina has as good a shot as any to win the division.


Mike D in Hamilton, Ontario, writes: Whenever you guys do write about Miami and their impact players Phillip Dorsett is rarely mentioned. Have people forgotten he was Stacy Coley (the speedy deep threat) before he got hurt? I don't think he gets nearly enough credit. If he's healthy, and Miami can find a serviceable QB, he and Coley will should put up some good numbers.

Adelson writes: I certainly have not forgotten Dorsett. In fact, I think it is a tight race for top receiving group in the ACC between Louisville and Miami. The Dorsett-Coley combination has a chance to be the best in the league. I look forward to watching them both this season.


Josh in Syracuse, N.Y., writes: Miami should definitely be ranked higher in your power rankings. While I understand the uncertainty at the quarterback position factored into their ranking, Miami will be one of the strongest, fastest and most talented teams in the conference even with a MEDIOCRE quarterback. You could say that Stephen Morris was a "mediocre" quarterback last year and they started 7-0, I mean he wasn't a Jameis Winston. Though this year the schedule is tougher, one can honestly argue that Miami has one of if not THE best WR corps in the conference. THE best running back in the conference, even after injury. They are also the deepest they have been on the defensive line in recent years and have one of the best LB's in the nation (Denzel Perryman) with a legitimate shutdown corner in Tracy Howard. Their O-line was pretty decent last year and returns key guys. I feel as though underestimating this team because of uncertainty at QB is a mistake because whoever it is will have a boatload of talent and speed to utilize. I don't think they necessarily need a "superstar" at QB to compete for an ACC championship. They just need someone who's "good enough" to distribute the ball effectively to the many weapons they have on offense. Thanks Andrea!

Adelson writes: The ranking was not only because of quarterback uncertainty. Neither you nor I know for certain this defense will develop the type of physicality and aggressiveness up front to change its fortunes. So Miami is deep up front. Are they bigger? Stronger? Will they push into the backfield? Perryman is terrific. So is Howard. But they need help around them. I applaud the move of Dallas Crawford to safety, an area in major need of an upgrade. But that defensive line still worries me, maybe moreso than quarterback.


Dusty in Hunstville, Ala., writes: Hi Andrea, I love the blog, but I have to ask...Syracuse above Georgia Tech in the power rankings? Did you happen to miss GT winning 56-0 last year? In a game where returning GT players Justin Thomas and Zach Laskey were the top two yardage gainers? And where Syracuse QB's couldn't muster a QBR above 8.8?

Adelson writes: Dusty, we arrived at the first power rankings after taking rankings from our four ACC reporters: myself, David Hale, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker, using a weighted point system to come up with the end result. In my ballot, I had Georgia Tech ahead of Syracuse. I cannot speak for my colleagues, but I think there is some genuine skepticism about the Jackets this season.


Greg in Annapolis, Md., writes: So I went through all those "best seasons" ever that were listed in all the blogs. How is Peter Boulware's 20 sack season, an NCAA record at the time, in 1996 not on the ACC list? Not only was it left off the list, but it should have been No. 1 for the best defensive season ever in the ACC. I love Deion Sanders and he was exciting, but 20 sacks in only 12 games, for a team that played for the national championship that year? This definitely blows away all the other guys on the ACC defensive list as well.

Adelson writes: Thanks, Greg. Shoutout to Peter Boulware for an outstanding season. Just to clarify: We did not rank the best individual defensive performances in ACC history. We merely listed the best single-season performance in school history for all 14 ACC schools. Jameis Winston took that honor for Florida State. Chris Low ranked the 10 best defensive seasons of all-time.
Earlier this week, I asked: Will Miami win the Coastal Division? Over 3,000 votes were cast, and the overwhelming majority say absolutely not.

Let's dig into the mailbag to see what you had to say.

Richard in Raleigh writes: You mentioned Miami had far too many concerns to overlook to be named the preseason Coastal favorites. Can this not also be said for the other 5 teams with a shot of winning the Coastal?

Andrea Adelson: Absolutely. But the Miami Hurricanes have a backbreaking schedule; and headed into the season, I am more confident in the quarterbacks for four of those teams (Duke Blue Devils, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels). As for the Virginia Tech Hokies, as long as their defense plays up to standards, the Hokies will always be in contention.




Ryan in Charlotte writes: Agree with Duke winning the Coastal. Duke's D-Line lost three, but I really don't think there will be a huge drop off in terms of production. Miami has an incompetent coaching staff, otherwise they should win it and [Frank] Beamer for not getting a real offensive coordinator prevents VT from being the favorite. Carolina every year is projected to win it and chokes consistently despite NFL talent. GT is also underrated, [Paul] Johnson has never finished lower than third in his time at GT. Pitt lost their QB and [Aaron] Donald, don't see them as being a dark horse. All of this coming from a die-hard Duke Fan.

Patrick Clark in Durham, North Carolina, writes: I'm quite surprised that you and I seem to be in the minority picking Duke to win the Coastal. Duke returns their top three tacklers, All-ACC WR Jamison Crowder, and are one of only three teams in the conference to return their starting QB in senior Anthony Boone. Throw in one of the easiest schedules in the conference and it seems to me, if you're able to put past history and stigmas aside, that Duke is the obvious choice to represent the Coastal Division and make it back to Charlotte. Are we crazy?

Adelson writes: Crazy like foxes!




Jason Freeman in Cumming, Georgia, writes: I would just like to know the insistence on picking a UNC, Miami, and now Duke! Until Duke did it last year, there has been only TWO schools that have represented the Coastal. And one of them is absolutely NEVER picked, I think you know which one I'm talking about! But what baffles me is, Duke is the favorite this season, but Georgia Tech went to Duke and embarrassed them, one of only two teams that beat them in the regular season! ... Oh and by the way, Georgia Tech beat the only other team to beat Duke in the regular season last year! And I know that Johnson isn't living up to what we thought he would do after the first two seasons. Keeping that in mind, we then were picked at the bottom in the Coastal and way surpassed expectations! But the same teams keep getting these exaggerated picks, and constantly fall under what is expected of them.

Rich in Atlanta writes: Shocking...that the media would pick Miami for the Coastal. Also funny that UNC & VT are ahead of GT. Duke maybe. Year after year, GT has the No. 1 offense in points and yardage for the Coastal (No. 1 in both categories again last year). What everyone is overlooking is that GT had the No. 2 defense in those categories last year only trailing VT. GT's average finishing rank in the Coastal is second since Coach Johnson arrived. D is on the upswing, O will produce as it always does. When has CPJ's O not been No. 1 in Coastal? Never.

Ryan in New York City writes: I'm definitely not one to downplay the Canes' woes of the last several seasons, particularly on defense. But I think most people are being really unfair in their evaluation of [Jake] Heaps. He had a very solid freshmen year at BYU before transferring due to a scheme change. Then he went to play for one of the worst coaches (Charlie Weis) at one of the worst programs (Kansas) where he got no help from his O-Line or receivers. At the very least, he's a mature player who has experienced a lot of different schemes, and will be in an offense with playmakers EVERYWHERE around him. By no means do I expect us to win the division (particularly because of the complete lack of defense), but I expect Heaps to earn the starting nod and surprise some people early in the season.

Phil in New York writes: Duke Johnson. Anthony Chickillo. Stacy Coley. Clive Walford. Phillip Dorsett. Herb Waters. Tyriq McCord. Tracy Howard.Get ready for your Coastal champs - the University of Miami Hurricanes!!!

CaliNative in SF/Miami writes: Miami and Virginia have the hardest conference schedules in the Coastal this year (Virginia's is harder because they play @FSU instead of UL). But my question is do you think if you switch Duke (or even VTech's) and Miami's schedule, do you think Miami becomes the overwhelming favorites? I mean Duke's schedule is set up only to lose to VT, UNC, and Miami. I think Miami (and UNC) are just set up so that they have to sweep the Coastal, or only have one loss, to win it. And honestly, that is the only reason I can see for not having Miami or UNC winning the Coastal.

Adelson writes: The schedule Miami has to play would be difficult for any team. One of the reasons why the Hurricanes want a nine-game league schedule is to even out the slate a little more for everyone. They have to play the Florida State Seminoles every year; their Coastal brethren don't. If Duke played Miami's schedule, then I would not pick the Blue Devils. Schedule is a huge reason why I think Duke has an edge, as I stated in the post. The schedule you play impacts how you finish, no matter how talented you are.




Al in Florida writes: You love to talk Miami down don't you, AA? I don't blame you, I would still be salty if I was a Gator fan. All Miami needs at QB is someone to get the ball to the playmakers without turning the ball over. We have the playmakers, more so than FSU or Clemson. Plus our O-line isn't too shabby. If (James) Coley can improve the O and if (Mark D'Onofrio's) D is half as good as it was last year, you can buy me a beer in North Carolina come December.

AJ Brown in Plantation, Fla., writes: The one true reason in my mind that Miami is favored to win the Coastal is because you can't ignore the talent that Miami possesses. Firstly, Miami has the best group of receivers RIGHT NOW in the entire ACC. That means that whoever starts at QB for Miami does not have to be STELLAR, but a game manager instead. Last year, the problem Miami had on offense was that Stephen Morris could not make the right reads and could not make the intermediate throws. Often times he was a one-trick pony who could only throw the deep ball. Jake Heaps, for example, may not have the arm or the pretty deep ball, but he can make the intermediate throws that Morris could not. As far as the defense, Miami SHOULD BE a lot better because of addition by subtraction. Miami had starters on the defense last season who had absolutely no business starting, like Tyrone Cornelius, Shayon Green, Jimmy Gaines, Kacy Rodgers and AJ Highsmith. The players replacing them are without a doubt more talented with way more athleticism, like Dallas Crawford, Jermaine Grace, Quan Muhammad, Jamal Carter, Tyriq McCord etc. Bottom line is, I don't think you can compare the talent level between Miami and Duke as Miami has a clear advantage there. I'm not saying Miami WILL win the Coastal, but I think you're drinking too much Blue Devil Kool-Aid because you're looking at Duke's Cinderella year from last season and the fact that they're returning their starting QB.

Adelson writes: I could not resist a parting shot. Duke beat the far more talented Miami head-to-head a year ago.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- We can all agree just about every team in the cluttered Coastal Division has a chance to win it.

Yet, it was still a surprise to see Miami selected as the media’s preseason choice to play in its first ACC championship game. Sure, the Canes have a shot just like the other five teams that earned first-place votes, but it is hard to see how they have the best shot to make it to Charlotte.

Duke is my choice to finish first. Here is why I believe the Blue Devils have more of an edge than Miami headed into the season.

1. Quarterback. Duke is one of three teams in the league to return its starting quarterback. Senior Anthony Boone showed tremendous growth through 2013, and has used his fourth-quarter performance in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl as an opportunity to grow and learn, too. Coach David Cutcliffe says Boone has taken on much more leadership, responsibility and accountability. He should, especially with Brandon Connette out of the mix.

SportsNation

Will Miami win the Coastal Division?

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    30%
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    70%

Discuss (Total votes: 3,622)

Miami, meanwhile, has no answers at quarterback -- not until Ryan Williams returns from a torn ACL. Kevin Olsen or Jake Heaps will have to pilot the Canes until then and there are major question marks around both. You don't need to read much into these comments from Johnson to wonder: Has Olsen matured? Can Heaps live up to the hype that trailed him out of high school? And even when Williams does return, he is no sure thing. He’s only taken a handful of snaps in mop-up duty at Miami and just two against Top 25 competition (garbage time in a blowout to Kansas State). Duke Johnson is one of the best players in the country, but Miami needs an effective quarterback to help him out. We don’t know yet whether he does.

2. Schedule. Miami plays one of the toughest schedules in the ACC. The Hurricanes get both Florida State and Louisville out of the Atlantic, and then have to play at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night. No other bona fide Coastal contender has to face that trifecta. Miami will definitively be without Williams for the opener at Louisville, a team that destroyed the Canes in the Russell Athletic Bowl in December. Louisville has a radically different look, but the Cards already are favored to win. Duke, meanwhile, avoids Florida State, Clemson Tigers and Louisville, playing Syracuse Orange and Wake Forest from the Atlantic. In addition, the Blue Devils get Virginia Tech and North Carolina at home. It seems pretty clear Duke has the schedule advantage.

3. Defense. The truth is, neither defense was stellar last season. Miami and Duke ranked toward the bottom in the ACC in just about every major defensive category. But no coordinator is under fire more than Mark D'Onofrio at Miami. There is a level of play people have come to expect from the Miami defense, and nobody has seen it in years. Al Golden has talked up his group headed into this season, but acknowledges the defensive line needs to transform itself into a dominating group. For Miami to make the jump to a championship, it needs a vastly improved group. I’m just not sure the Canes will field a dominating defense this year.

Certainly, Miami has the talent to make it to the title game. The Canes had early momentum last year before they fell back, mostly because Johnson was hurt. A healthy Johnson gives Miami an opportunity to win all its games. But remember, even when Johnson was healthy last season Miami was living on the edge, needing fourth-quarter comebacks against Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, North Carolina and Wake Forest.

The bottom line is this: There are far too many questions to overlook to believe in Miami as the preseason Coastal favorites.

Agree? Disagree? Vote in our poll and drop me a line in the mailbag with your thoughts. Best comments go up Friday.
Headed to Greensboro for media day. Make sure you follow the ACC blog team on Twitter: Andrea will be tweeting from @ESPN_ACC, in addition to @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN.

James in North Carolina writes: Do you think there is another division in college football as wide open as the Coastal? I think Duke, VT, Miami, and North Carolina are all very close talent wise, and any of them could beat each other on any given day. I don't feel that Pitt is on the same level, but with the other teams dishing out losses to each other, they could be right there in the mix. The same could be said for Georgia Tech. In my opinion, the only team that I don't think will compete is UVA, but strange things tend to happen in the ACC.

Andrea Adelson writes: The Coastal is without a doubt the most wide open division in college football. I have seen Duke, Virginia Tech and North Carolina all listed as preseason favorites; Miami won nine games last season; I expect Pitt to be much better; Georgia Tech has a long history of success in the Coastal and cannot be counted out; and Virginia will be much better and much more competitive. I would not be surprised if the entire division ended up with bowl eligibility this season, even the Hoos. I still think Duke and North Carolina are the front-runners, followed closely by Virginia Tech, Pitt, Georgia Tech and Miami. The Hokies have a favorable schedule (BC and Wake from the Atlantic) and I am going to go ahead and guarantee they will be better on offense. Virginia Tech and Pitt might be slightly ahead of Georgia Tech and Miami. The Jackets have a lot of question marks on defense, and so does Miami (along with uncertainty at quarterback). Check back next week to see how we each voted in the ACC preseason poll. I wouldn't be surprised if we all pick a different Coastal champ.




Jon in Atlanta writes: Hey AA, I've been looking at a few projections about the ACC Coastal. I think it's pretty safe to say, that no one is a stand out winner. Some have UNC, some VT and some Duke. I would love for my Jackets to sneak in and win it. However, with a new QB and a few questions on the "D" side, I think that will be a tough stretch. I'm thinking it's going to be another 7 win season for us, what's your thoughts? Can we win more?

Adelson writes: I have not been overly optimistic about Georgia Tech this season. Then I read some interesting notes about the Jackets in the Phil Steele college football preview magazine. Did you know the Jackets have a .500 record or better in ACC play for 19 straight seasons -- the longest streak in the country? That stat alone makes it hard to completely discount Georgia Tech. I think Justin Thomas will be an upgrade over Vad Lee, and the offense will be fine. My biggest concern is the defense, particularly up front. Having said that, the nonconference schedule is easier than it has been over the past two seasons, Miami, Clemson and Duke all play in Atlanta and there are no midweek games on the schedule. This team has the potential to win more than seven games.




UM student in SF, Calif., writes: The past month Miami has been tearing it up on the recruiting trail. I mean the 2016 class is already shaping up to be special. I was wondering how much the fact that the NCAA cloud has passed played into this, and how long you think Golden has to step up and win some real games now. Do you think he gets like a clean slate or something?

Adelson writes: NCAA closure has been absolutely huge for Miami. Players who shied away from the Canes, even in-state, are now really giving Miami a close look. I wrote a little bit about the impact in the Tampa area. Golden is not on the hot seat by any stretch. Everybody in the administration knows what he was saddled with over the past three seasons, especially since he took the job and had no idea there would be a major NCAA investigation that would essentially take up every single season he has had to date. As for winning some real games, let's not forget about last season. Yes, it ended in disappointment, but Miami won nine and also beat Florida. The Gators ended up having a disastrous season, but at the time they played, Florida was viewed as the better team. I thought that was a big win for Golden and the program. Now, I know what you are getting at -- getting back to beating Florida State and playing for an ACC championship. Miami has assembled some talent over the past several years, but I still think the Canes are a few years away from consistent 10-12 win seasons. Having said that, I do think Golden deserves some patience. I know expectations are always sky-high at Miami. He wouldn't want it any other way. But at the same time, he has had more on his hands than any other coach in the league.




Wayne in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Can my Noles learn to stay out of trouble? I know you have to wait for the all facts, but kick (Jesus Wilson) off the team and set an example. I'm tired of seeing this!

Adelson writes: I understand your frustration. Certainly, you are not the first college football fan tired of seeing athletes getting into trouble. Will kicking him off the team set an example? This year, Jimbo Fisher kicked Ira Denson off the team after he was charged with petty theft and the illegal use of a credit card. Wilson still got into trouble. Now, I realize the cases are different and it is sometimes hard to compare each offense. Denson allegedly perpetrated a crime against a teammate; Wilson allegedly stole a scooter. Should a coach kick every player off the team who is arrested and charged with a crime? How does a coach prevent athletes from getting arrested? These are all difficult questions each coach must face.

Eds note: Earlier this week, I profiled Clemson offensive lineman Kalon Davis and his study abroad trip to Kyoto, Japan. Tragically, professor E. Leslie Williams -- who led the trip -- died suddenly last week. Thoughts and prayers are with Davis, Williams and the Clemson family.

ACC mailblog

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
4:00
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Friday the 13th!

Bruce in Amarillo, Texas, writes: I am scared for Virginia's season. We have a bad schedule. We open vs. UCLA. Has the AD gone nuts! UCLA will win the Pac-12 South and we have gone through QBs like glasses of water. Can Mike London save his job? I am not optimistic.

Andrea Adelson writes: Bruce, not many are optimistic about this season for the Hoos. I think they will be better than last year, but I have a hard time finding six wins on this schedule. Having Florida State as its crossover opponent from the Atlantic is an absolute killer, given the nonconference schedule. I predict going 2-2 in nonconference play and winning between two and three conference games. If Virginia can get to five wins and looks competitive for most of the season, I think London can keep his job given a) the extremely challenging schedule; and b) the young talent he has signed in the last few years. Five wins after that dreadful season should be considered progress, especially because there will be plenty left to build on into 2015.

 




Bruce in Lexington, South Carolina, writes: Riddle me this, Andrea: How can Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia all lose key personnel on offense and defense, including the quarterback for all three schools, yet all the pundits have Clemson barely in the Top 25 and South Carolina and Georgia in the top 10? Do you get an automatic boost just because you play in the SEC? I know the media loves Georgia no matter what, and they are definitely drinking the Spurrier Kool-Aid, so tell me, what gives?

Adelson: You answered yourself. I truly believe consistently successful SEC programs get an automatic boost based on conference perception. How many years in a row now has Georgia underachieved? Makes no difference to voters. Part of the reason, at least in Georgia's case, is the belief that all the success on the recruiting trail translates automatically into great teams year in and year out. As for Clemson, I think voters are still getting used to seeing the Tigers as a perennial 10-win team, and have yet to give Dabo Swinney full credit for his recruiting successes. Still, it's hard to argue this is a program that should be ahead of South Carolina right now. The Tigers have got to end that streak.

 




Kenneth Miller in Georgia writes: I'm getting the feeling that ESPN is not giving Georgia Tech a chance to win the ACC Coastal. But when you look at the ACC schedule, I'm seeing one potential loss between Virginia Tech or Clemson, so who do you think will win the Coastal, and also do you think the victor of the Coastal will have a chance to beat the Atlantic winner (cough, cough, FSU) because two years ago, FSU was projected to destroy Georgia Tech but the Yellow Jackets were one drive away from a meeting with Oklahoma or Northern Illinois.

Adelson writes: I tend to believe Georgia Tech will finish in the bottom half of the Coastal this season. There are far too many questions at key positions and some major depth concerns on the defensive line for me to pencil them in as a Coastal contender right now. I think the division will come down to North Carolina and Duke, and I do not see the Coastal champion beating Florida State in the ACC title game.

 




Roger in Atlanta writes: Andrea, can you give insight on Virginia Tech's QB situation? I can't seem to find anyone saying much about the competition there. From what I've read in the past, Frank Beamer gave Mark Leal the nod at the end of last season, but that was before Michael Brewer was going to be transferring in and before the two incoming freshmen were ever there.What used to be a thin position has now become problematically thick, in my opinion. I guess my questions are: Which QB do you think gives the Hokies the best chance to win, and will Beamer/Scot Loeffler make that decision?

Adelson: There has not been much news on the Virginia Tech quarterback front. Brewer just arrived on campus and has not even taken a snap in practice. Leal was overtaken in the spring by Brenden Motley, but that does not really mean much of anything because the job remains open. Beamer is going to give all three of these players, along with the incoming freshmen, the opportunity to win the starting job once fall rolls around. I know a lot of people believe Brewer is going to ultimately win out. The logic there says Brewer would not have transferred in if Leal was the hands-down No. 1 quarterback. But there are plenty of unknowns about Brewer as well. I think it is too early to say right now who gives the Hokies the best chance to win because I've never seen Brewer in the Virginia Tech offense. But there is no doubt in my mind Beamer and Loeffler will play the guy who can get the job done.

St. Patrick's Day in the ACC

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
4:00
PM ET
Today is your lucky day, ACC.

In honor of the Irish (not you, Notre Dame), we’re handing out some four-leaf clovers, which could serve as good luck charms for teams, players and coaches who could use a wee bit o’ luck this season. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone, especially to the following, who have been down on their luck lately:

1. Coastal Division coaches: Virginia coach Mike London is trying to reverse a 2-10 season, while his rival, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, is feeling some heat after winning eight games last season. Many Georgia Tech fans have grown weary of coach Paul Johnson, and Miami coach Al Golden knows that even a nine-win season doesn’t cut it in Coral Gables. The entire division yielded criticism last year for its mediocrity, but with a little luck -- and a few good quarterbacks -- that could change.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Byrd
AP Photo/Tomasso DeRosaNC State's Jarvis Byrd, recently granted a sixth year of eligibility because of injuries, could use a bit of luck.
2. NC State safety Jarvis Byrd: If anyone needs an Irish blessing, it’s this guy. After three torn ACLs, Byrd recently was granted a sixth year of eligibility. He missed all of 2010 and 2011 with separate ACL injuries, and then last year he suffered another one in the fifth game of the season. Irish eyes should be smiling on Byrd this season. He’ll be a much-needed veteran on a young Wolfpack roster.

3. Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio: His defense is looking for a pot of gold, but Miami fans can’t even find the rainbow. D’Onofrio has unofficially replaced former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring as the coordinator fans love to hate. In eight conference games, Miami managed 12 sacks and ranked last in total defense, No. 12 in scoring defense and No. 13 in rushing defense. The Hurricanes were statistically worse in scoring defense and rushing defense in ACC play in 2013 and only had three more sacks than a year ago. Mark, “May the road rise up to meet you / May the wind always be at your back / May your defense find the quarterbacks / and remember how to get a sack.”

4. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler: Is the name Leal Irish? Because Loeffler needs some luck at quarterback, and it’s up to first-year starter Mark Leal to bring him some this spring. After suffering through back-to-back seasons of offensive ineptitude, Virginia Tech fans are looking for some significant improvement in Loeffler’s second season. The Hokies were No. 12 in the ACC in scoring offense last year and No. 13 in total offense.

5. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino: Where to begin? He needs a new quarterback. He needs to replace his leading tackler. He’s missing an all-conference duo at safety and his top sack-producer from a year ago. Not to mention the fact he’s got a new staff, is playing in a new conference and is in the same division as defending national champion Florida State and Orange Bowl champ Clemson. “May you always walk in sunshine / May you never want for more / May Irish angles leave you a quarterback at your door.”
Full disclosure: Andrea Adelson and I have no idea who is going to win the Coastal Division this year. (Shocking, I know, in spite of our heaps of expertise.) Don’t believe anyone who tells you they do. There’s not a coach or player in this league who can figure out that division, which has turned into a showdown between two basketball schools.

AA and I both think Duke and North Carolina are the front-runners in the division, and we’re leaning toward picking the Blue Devils as the preseason winners. We’ve watched the ACC too long, though, to declare anyone king before, well, Nov. 29.

SportsNation

Who will win the ACC's Coastal Division?

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Discuss (Total votes: 8,069)

Based on what we know now, here’s a look at our top five contenders to win the division. Take a look, and then cast your own vote:

Duke: The Blue Devils had a special season last year that ended with the program’s first appearance in the ACC championship and a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Coach David Cutcliffe has said that the 2013 season won’t be a flash in the pan, and he’s got good reason to believe it. Duke has 17 starters returning from a team that won a school-record 10 games last fall, including quarterback Anthony Boone, who is just one of five quarterbacks in the conference who started last year. Duke also returns Jamison Crowder, who set the school single-season record for pass receptions (108, also an ACC record), and three starters along the offensive line.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels ended 2013 with positive momentum, winning five of their last six regular-season games and punctuating the season with a 39-17 win over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. They return experience at quarterback with Marquise Williams, and they’ve got one of the top punt returners in the country in Ryan Switzer. There’s a lot of young talent on the roster that got valuable reps last fall, and the team should be even more cohesive now that coach Larry Fedora has been there for two seasons. If the Tar Heels can find some answers on their offensive line this spring, and get more out of their running game – and win at Duke – they could find themselves in Charlotte.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesCan Duke Johnson and Miami finally break through in the ACC Coastal?
Pitt: The Panthers had an average first season in the ACC, finishing 7-6 with a bowl victory over Bowling Green. They’ve got to do better, though, against their own division. Pitt went 2-4 last year against the rest of the Coastal Division, beating Duke and Virginia in September. Quarterback Chad Voytik is the leading candidate to replace Tom Savage, and the Panthers will also sorely miss defensive tackle Aaron Donald and wide receiver Devin Street. They’ve got some special talent returning, though, in receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner. They ranked 102nd in the country, though, in rushing yards, and constantly struggled to protect Savage. They’ve got to be better up front to be a contender.

Miami: There are two main storylines this spring for the Canes: Finding a new starting quarterback and getting better on defense. If Miami can figure out those two issues before the season opener against Louisville, they’ve got a chance to take the next step and play for the school’s first ACC title. Of course, neither of those are small tasks. Ryan Williams is the front-runner to replace Stephen Morris, and he has some dynamic players around him to make his job easier. Running back Duke Johnson is one of the country’s most exciting players, and the Canes also return wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and Stacy Coley. The defense should get a big boost from the return of linebacker Denzel Perryman, but Miami fans are expecting more from embattled coordinator Mark D’Onofrio.

Virginia Tech: Offense, offense, offense. The Hokies need to find it if they’re going to move up this list. Fifth-year senior Mark Leal is the front-runner to replace Logan Thomas this spring, but the quarterback position is hardly the only question facing coordinator Scot Loeffler this spring. Virginia Tech needs to get more out of its running game. It needs the wide receivers to be more physical, more consistent, and a deep threat must be found. It needs better blocking from the offensive line and fewer errors. Sure, the Hokies have some big shoes to fill on defense, but the standard has already been set under Bud Foster, and the expectation is to reload. If this season is going to be different for Virginia Tech, it’s on the offense to get them there.

Breaking down the spring in the ACC Coastal division:

Duke

Spring practice over

What we learned:
  • Momentum rolls on. It's hard to believe the Blue Devils are already done with spring ball, but coach David Cutcliffe opted to open practice in February to capitalize on the momentum that was created last season. After the spring game ended Saturday, he praised the way his players handled the practices. There was a great deal of retention and not a lot of re-teaching, so coaches were able to get much more out of their players this spring.
  • Max McCaffrey emerges. Jamison Crowder had a spectacular 2013 season, but it was essentially him and then everybody else in the receiver group. That may not be the case this season. McCaffrey earned praise from coaches and teammates for the way he improved during the spring. Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery said McCaffrey made as many plays as anybody else on the offense this spring.
  • Stepping up on the line. The Blue Devils lost three starters on their defensive line -- both ends in Kenny Anunike and Justin Foxx, and defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento. But it appears as if the players behind them are ready to step up and make a seamless transition. Defensive ends Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Dezmond Johnson each had two sacks in the spring game. Kyler Brown also made the switch from linebacker to defensive end and had a sack in the spring game as well.
Georgia Tech

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 18

What to watch:
  • Justin Thomas takes over. After Vad Lee announced his transfer from Georgia Tech, the quarterback reigns fell to Thomas, who played in 10 games this season. The Jackets had their share of highs and lows under Lee, but what the staff is going to be looking for first and foremost is Thomas’ ability to hold on to the football. Georgia Tech had 24 giveaways and ranked No. 12 in the ACC in turnover margin.
  • Defensive line questions. The Jackets lose three starters on the defensive line, including All-ACC defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu -- who had 22.5 sacks over the last two seasons. Who will step up and fill that type of production? The most experienced backups returning are sophomores Tyler Stargel and Patrick Gamble. Also, Travin Henry will get a look at defensive end after playing wide receiver last season.
  • Offensive line questions. Georgia Tech also loses three starters on the offensive line -- tackles Ray Beno and Will Jackson and center Jay Finch. The trio combined to start 117 games in their careers, so there is no doubt this is going to be a much less experienced unit in 2014. The good news is All-ACC guard Shaq Mason returns to help anchor the new-look line.
Miami

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Quarterback derby. Stephen Morris is gone, but the Canes do have at least one experienced quarterback on the roster in Ryan Williams, a Memphis transfer who has served as Morris’ backup the last two seasons. As a true freshman with the Tigers, Williams started 10 games -- all the way back in 2010. Challenging Williams is redshirt freshman Kevin Olsen, who had a bit of a rocky first year in Miami, along with Gray Crow.
  • Defensive improvements. Perhaps more than what happens at quarterback, Miami must see improvements out of its defense this season. Embattled defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio kept his job but the status quo cannot persist. Every single area of the defense must be upgraded. Ranking No. 13 in the ACC in total defense just can’t happen again.
  • Defensive improvements, Part II. To try and help the secondary, Miami already moved Dallas Crawford over to safety, where the Canes could use the help. But Miami must be stronger on the defensive front. The Canes only had 12 sacks in eight conference games. By comparison, BC led the way with 25 sacks in conference games. This is a big opportunity for guys like Al-Quadin Muhammad, Tyriq McCord and Ufomba Kamalu to really step up.
North Carolina

Spring start: Started March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Marquise Williams took over as the starter when Bryn Renner was gone for the season and ended up helping the Tar Heels make a bowl game after a 1-5 start. But coach Larry Fedora said the competition is open this spring. Look for Mitch Trubisky and Kanler Coker to give Williams a major push.
  • Defensive line questions. Kareem Martin and Tim Jackson are both gone, leaving big holes in the North Carolina front. Martin ended up notching 21.5 tackles for loss to rank No. 3 in the ACC. So who are the next guys up? At end, Junior Gnonkonde and Jessie Rogers are the top two contenders, while Shawn Underwood, Devonte Brown and Justin Thomason will compete for one of the tackle spots.
  • Replacing Ebron. Eric Ebron was dynamic at tight end for the Tar Heels last season, leading the team with 62 receptions for 973 yards, while adding three touchdowns. Will the Tar Heels be able to replace that type of production with just one player? Jack Tabb would be next in line among the tight ends, but this is a huge opportunity for the North Carolina receiving group as well. We saw plenty of promise out of young guys like Bug Howard, T.J. Thorpe and Ryan Switzer.
Pitt

Spring start: March 16

Spring game: No spring game. Last day of practice April 13

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. Chad Voytik played really well in relief of an injured Tom Savage in the bowl game, but coach Paul Chryst said the competition to win the starting job is open headed into the spring. At this point, Voytik and Trey Anderson are the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster. So you can bet the biggest goal of all is to keep them both healthy.
  • Replacing Aaron Donald. One of the biggest surprises in all of college football this past season was the emergence and utter dominance of Donald at defensive tackle. Donald swept every major defensive award after notching 28.5 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 16 quarterback hurries and four forced fumbles. Darryl Render is the next man up.
  • Complementary receiver. Devin Street is gone, leaving Tyler Boyd as the only standout receiver on the roster. Not only do the Panthers have to develop a consistent No. 2 receiver, they also have to develop some depth. Watch for Manasseh Garner, a former H-back who moved to receiver late last season when Street got hurt. He is more physical than Boyd, and has some extended playing experience.
Virginia

Spring start: Started March 1

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks. David Watford is not guaranteed to win his starting job back after last season, when he threw eight touchdown passes to 15 interceptions. Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns are also in the mix and reps with the first team will be split. In fact, Lambert got the first-team reps when the Hoos opened spring ball last weekend.
  • Andrew Brown. The highly-touted freshman will have every opportunity to win a starting job at defensive tackle, and it all starts in spring ball. The No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN 300 comes in with tons of hype; now can he translate that into on-field success? He, Donte Wilkins and Chris Brathwaite will be competing to start next to David Dean.
  • Mr. McGee. Jake McGee was the best player the Hoos had among the group of tight ends and receivers a year ago, leading the team with 43 catches for 395 yards. This spring, McGee has now moved over to receiver so the Hoos can take advantage of his athletic ability. Plus, Virginia is lacking playmakers at the position, so we’ll see how much this move benefits both McGee and the offense.
Virginia Tech

Spring start: March 27

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Quarterback. Mark Leal heads into the spring with a leg up in the quarterback competition but make no mistake, there is no set starter. He will get competition from freshmen Andrew Ford and Brenden Motley in the spring, with freshman Chris Durkin and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer arriving in summer. This competition will likely drag on into the fall.
  • Front seven. The Hokies are losing five terrific players up front, including ends James Gayle and J.R. Collins, and linebacker Jack Tyler, who racked up 100 tackles in back-to-back seasons. There is no doubt a major priority this spring is finding their replacements and building depth along the line and at linebacker. Who will step up as the leader of this group with Tyler gone?
  • Skill players. This has been an ongoing theme over the last two seasons and will continue to be a theme until the Hokies have consistently good players at running back and receiver. Offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler is excited about the return of tight end Ryan Malleck, and his entire tight end group for that matter. A healthy Malleck and improvement from Kalvin Cline means the Hokies could simultaneously improve their run and pass game.
After a 2-10 finish in 2013 that included a winless record in ACC play, the pressure is mounting on Virginia coach Mike London to turn things around, but athletic director Craig Littlepage gave London a vote of confidence on Monday in an interview with ESPN.com.

[+] EnlargeMike London
AP Photo/Steve Helber Mike London is 18-31 overall in his four seasons at Virginia.
“I think he will get things back on track, yes,” Littlepage said. “He’s recruited well, A, and B, I think he’s assembled a phenomenal staff, and C, I think that he has the right values and understand the University of Virginia and what it takes to be successful here as well as anybody. Those three things would lead me to believe he’s going to get things back on track.”

It can only get better from here … right?

London is 18-31 overall in his four seasons at Virginia, has won 36.7 percent of his games and had only one winning season. He is 5-16 against his Coastal Division opponents, having never beaten rival Virginia Tech or North Carolina. The only Coastal Division opponent London has a winning record against is Miami (3-1). The highlight season was an 8-5 record in 2011 when he was named ACC Coach of the Year, tied Georgia Tech for second place in the Coastal Division and earned a trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, the program’s first bowl appearance since 2007.

That season, Virginia overachieved. Last season? The Hoos underachieved.

London exceeded all expectations on the recruiting trail, though, and lured in a Top 25 class Insider that included five players from the ESPN 300, two five-star players and four five-star recruits. He signed the No. 1 defensive tackle, Andrew Brown, and the No. 1-ranked safety, Quin Blanding, who both are in-state prospects.

Virginia’s problems have hardly been limited to London’s tenure, as the program has only seen two winning seasons in the past eight years (2011 and 2007). London has been instrumental in changing the culture off the field, raising expectations in the classroom, boosting recruiting and adding an indoor practice field.

All of those benefits, though, have yet to translate into wins. Still, Littlepage said he wouldn’t put London -- or any of his staff members -- on the proverbial hot seat.

“I think coaches all see themselves on the hot seat,” Littlepage said. “The nature of our business is we are all driven, [and] in many cases [they are] type A people who strive for success and hold ourselves to a very high standard. I wouldn’t categorize any one coach or any one athletic director or any specific staff member to be on the hot seat because we all push ourselves toward the optimum in terms of performance.”

ACC's lunch links

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
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Can't play much better than Duke did Monday.
We’ve spent some time this week looking back at the ACC’s accomplishments in 2013, but there’s always room for improvement -- even in a national championship season. The poor performances by Wake Forest and NC State in the Atlantic Division were glaring, and the lack of separation in the Coastal Division elicited criticism of mediocrity, not parity. So how can the ACC do better in 2014? Well, dream big.

Here are three things the ACC could do in 2014 to further build upon this past season’s success:

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Mark Dolejs/USA TODAY SportsDuke's rise in the Coastal Division was a great story, but the ACC needs more out of the other teams in the division.
1. Boost the strength of the Coastal Division. Five of the seven teams in the division finished with at least five losses. Duke was the only team in the division to finish the season ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll. North Carolina and Pitt were the only teams in the division to win bowl games. The entire division could use a face lift, starting with Virginia Tech and Miami. After back-to-back pedestrian seasons, the Hokies have faded into the background of the Coastal Division race. Once one of the league’s premier and consistently ranked teams, Virginia Tech has been leapfrogged -- and beaten -- by Duke. Miami, meanwhile, has yet to play in the ACC championship game since joining the league, and the better Miami is, the better the ACC looks. From top to bottom, this division has to get better.

2. Have at least four teams ranked in the Top 25. It would certainly help make an argument against the SEC, which finished with four teams ranked in the top 10. Or the Pac-12, which finished with six ranked teams. Two ranked teams from each division would be ideal, reflecting strength throughout the conference and enhancing the league’s title game. Although Duke was ranked No. 20 at the time it played Florida State for the title, it was hardly a blockbuster matchup. With all due respect to Duke, the ACC needs more established programs such as Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Miami pushing for a spot in that game and carrying a top-15 ranking heading into it.

3. Finish with winning nonconference records against the big boys. The ACC went 4-9 during the regular season against teams from the other power-five conferences, and overall, the ACC went 0-for-4 against the Pac-12, with huge strikeouts in the bowl season against UCLA and Arizona. The ACC finished 4-6 against the SEC, which wasn’t bad, especially considering one of those victories was FSU over Auburn in the national title game, and Clemson beat Georgia when the Dawgs were ranked No. 5. That’s two wins over top-5 SEC teams. The bigger problem was the poor performances against the Pac-12, which was the ACC was measured closely against this past fall. Again, we’re talking about building upon the success of 2013, and if the ACC could end its streak of 10 consecutive losing seasons against the SEC and finish with a winning bowl record (it went 5-6 in 2013), it would make its case for a conference that goes deeper than just Florida State and Clemson.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 14

December, 1, 2013
12/01/13
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Here’s a quick look back at five lessons learned in the ACC in the final week of the regular season, in no particular order:

1. Duke is the outright Coastal Division winner. No tiebreaker scenarios needed. No back doors opened. Duke marched right into the ACC championship game with a thrilling 27-25 win at North Carolina, leaving no doubt it was the best team in the division and the most deserving to line up against Atlantic Division winner Florida State. Duke’s fate was sealed when DeVon Edwards intercepted Marquise Williams with 13 seconds remaining. It was a fairytale ending to Duke’s Cinderella season, which included eight straight wins to end the season and an undefeated season on the road. With its 10 wins, Duke broke the school record for wins in a season. Duke’s six ACC wins were the program’s most since 1989 -- also the same year that Duke last won an ACC title.

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Gerry Melendez/The State/Getty ImagesTajh Boyd and Clemson again struggled in their rivalry game with South Carolina.
2. The ACC couldn’t get it done against the SEC (again). Six turnovers for Clemson. Six. It was déjà vu for the Tigers in their fifth straight loss to South Carolina. The turnovers continued to haunt Clemson in the series and be the difference in the game, just as they had in their past four losses to the Gamecocks. This looked like a prime year for the ACC to come out on the winning end against the SEC -- especially with Georgia veteran quarterback Aaron Murray done for the season with a torn ACL. Instead, Wake lost to Vandy, and Georgia Tech lost to Georgia. Florida State beat Florida, but you knew that was coming. And considering the state of the Gators, it wasn’t much worth bragging about. Georgia Tech squandered a 20-point lead and the defense came up short in the second overtime, losing a 41-34 heartbreaker. The ACC went 1-3 against the SEC this week, losing yet another chance to close the gap with its neighboring rival.

3. Syracuse is bowl eligible. In what was another one of the ACC’s most thrilling and entertaining down-to-the-wire games, Syracuse ended the season with a 34-31 home win over Boston College to reach bowl eligibility in its final chance to do so. With six seconds remaining, Terrel Hunt threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Josh Parris to win the game. It snapped BC’s four-game winning streak and was one of the best offensive performances of the season for the Orange. Unfortunately for BC, Heisman hopeful running back Andre Williams was injured in the third quarter and didn’t return. BC quarterback Chase Rettig accounted for three touchdowns, but it wasn’t enough, as Syracuse racked up 480 yards and won the turnover battle.

4. Maryland leaves the ACC on a winning note. The Terps won their final regular-season game as members of the ACC, a convincing 41-21 drubbing of an inept NC State team, to finish 7-5. It was a significant -- and much-needed -- turnaround for Maryland and coach Randy Edsall before heading to the Big Ten next season. It was also a terrific sendoff for quarterback C.J. Brown, who ran for three touchdowns and threw for two more in the win. It was Maryland’s first seven-win season since 2010. Maryland is likely bound for the Military Bowl, but as the Terps finish their season, they do so with the ACC’s lawsuit still hanging over their heads.

5. The Hokies still own the state. As much as Virginia Tech’s offense has struggled this season, rival Virginia’s offense was even worse on Saturday in a 16-6 loss. The Hokies’ defense held Virginia without a touchdown on its home field, and both quarterbacks -- starter David Watford and his backup, Greyson Lambert -- were ineffective. It was the 10th straight win against UVa for the Hokies, who have won 18 of the past 22 games in the series. Much has been made about Virginia’s strong recruiting class, but it has yet to add up in this rivalry or in the win column under coach Mike London. UVa ended the season on a 10-game losing streak and winless in the ACC for the first time since 1981.

ACC Saturday setup: Week 14

November, 30, 2013
11/30/13
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Here's one final look at what's on tap on the final regular-season weekend in the ACC. All times are ET.

Florida State (11-0) at Florida (4-7), noon, ESPN

What's at stake: A win would move Florida State to 12-0 for the first time since finishing the 1999 national championship season with a 12-0 mark. A loss would ruin any shot at a national championship.

Statistically speaking: Coach Jimbo Fisher is looking to improve his record to 7-1 against in-state rivals Florida and Miami.

Quotable: "What we have to do is worry about playing well this weekend in Gainesville and if we do that, then the outcomes come. When you’re asked about it and you’re 18-22 years old, they can create distractions. It’s how much you believe in the system we have and what’s going on and can you compartmentalize all the other things and the questions that are going on about that. It is very tough. If it wasn’t tough, people would do it all the time." --- Fisher

No. 24 Duke (9-2, 5-2) at North Carolina (6-5, 4-3), noon, ESPN2

What's at stake: If Duke wins, the Blue Devils clinch a spot in the ACC championship game opposite Florida State, their first 10-win season and their first outright Coastal Division title.

Statistically speaking: Duke and Georgia Tech are the only teams in the nation that have converted 100 percent of their goal-to-go opportunities into touchdowns. The Blue Devils have converted all 22 of their chances, headlined by Brandon Connette’s 13 rushing scores.

Quotable: "You start out 1-5 then every one of them is more important. Each time you’re successful, the game becomes more important and a bigger game. They know where it’s at right now. I can assure you I’m not going to have to do anything to create more motivation for our guys. They’re going to be prepared and they’re going to be excited to play." -- North Carolina coach Larry Fedora

Wake Forest (4-7) at Vanderbilt (7-4), 12:21 p.m., GamePlan

What's at stake: The Deacs are trying to avoid their worst season since going 3-9 in 2010. A win would break a two-game losing streak in the series.

Statistically speaking: Wake Forest nose guard Nikita Whitlock has recorded a tackle for loss in 10 of 11 games this season. On the year, he has nine sacks (tied for No. 5 in the ACC) and 17 tackles for loss (third in the ACC). Both totals are team highs.

Quotable: "I think the thing that stands out with most of our seniors is that they've kind of maxed out what they can do. We may see a couple of guys that could have played better or could of had better careers, but most of these guys in the senior class really tried every year to be the best they could be and that's what you feel good about. I think these guys are a pretty close group and they care about each other and they've just tried as much as possible to be the best players they can be in our program." -- Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe

Maryland (6-5, 2-5) at NC State (3-8, 0-7), 12:30 p.m., GamePlan

What's at stake: The Terps surely want to win their final conference game ever, while NC State is hoping to avoid its first winless season in ACC play since 1959.

Statistically speaking: The games in this series are generally close. Of the last 13 contests between them, 11 have been decided by 10 points or fewer. Five of those 13 games have been decided by four or less points and 10 by less than 10 points.

Quotable: "As hard as it’s been we’ve grown very close as a team and these guys want to see our seniors finish the season the way they want to finish it. Playing at home, playing an ACC team at home and playing in our last game with these guys is enough of a reason for these guys to want to play well." -- NC State coach Dave Doeren

Georgia (7-4) at Georgia Tech (7-4), 3:30 p.m., ABC

What's at stake: Georgia Tech has an opportunity to beat the Bulldogs for the first time since 2008 and just the second time since 2000.

Statistically speaking: Georgia Tech, Ohio State and Wisconsin are the only teams in the nation to rank in the top 10 nationally in both rushing offense and rushing defense. The Jackets rank fourth in rush offense, 10th in rush defense.

Quotable: "I never had a chance to coach against him, but Herschel Walker. He's a big guy who runs through people and is fast. I mean he's a good player and he's going to be a good player for a long time if he doesn't get hurt. He's not only going to be good at Georgia, he's going to be a heck of an NFL running back too. He's got all the tools that they look for. He's good at running the football and is big and physical. He's a good receiver coming out of the backfield. He can do a lot of things." -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson on what player compares to Georgia running back Todd Gurley

Boston College (7-4, 4-3) at Syracuse (5-6, 3-4), 3:30 p.m, GamePlan

What's at stake: The Orange must win out to become bowl eligible for the second straight season. As for BC, running back Andre Williams is now in the Heisman race. Another 200-yard performance will certainly help the cause.

Statistically speaking: The most recent meeting between these teams came at the Carrier Dome in 2010, with Boston College winning 16-7. Williams, then a backup freshman, filled in for injured starter Montel Harris and rushed for 185 yards on a school-record 42 carries to lead the Eagles.

Quotable: “We always knew at Syracuse that we were going to come into this game at the end of the year and it was going to be a really rough, physical, black-and-blue game. We prided ourselves at that time on being a physical team, and I know BC did, and we just knew that it was going to be one of those games at the end where it was going to be a real fistfight. Everyone was jacked about it and everybody couldn’t wait to get to that game. It was targeted, it was red letter game. I learned that when I went to Syracuse my first year as an assistant coach. It was quickly explained to me how important the BC-Syracuse game was, and I never lost that. I have a unique perspective on it obviously and I have a great appreciation for it.” -- Boston College coach Steve Addazio

Virginia Tech (7-4, 4-3) at Virginia (2-9, 0-7), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU

What's at stake: Virginia Tech should know before this game starts whether it still has a shot at making the ACC championship game. The Hokies need Duke to lose to North Carolina, and then have to go out and beat the Hoos.

Statistically speaking: The Hokies have actually fared better on the road than at home over the last 11 seasons against the Cavaliers. In the five games at Scott Stadium since 2002, the Hokies have averaged 37.2 points per game. In six games at Lane Stadium since 2002, Virginia Tech has averaged just 18.7 points per game.

Quotable: "Well I think both of us compete very, very hard against each other. You try to have success against their program. I don’t think what has happened in the past makes a lot of difference, I think what happens this Saturday makes all the difference. Every year it’s a new year, different teams, different people and what happens this Saturday is what is really important for us." -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer

No. 6 Clemson (10-1) at No. 10 South Carolina (9-2), 7 p.m., ESPN2

What's at stake: South Carolina has an opportunity to extend its winning streak in the series to a school-record five games. BCS hopes are on the line for both teams as well.

Statistically speaking: This is the third straight season Clemson and South Carolina have both been ranked in the AP top 20 entering the game. This series is one of just four nationally where that has been the case. The others are LSU-Florida, LSU-Alabama and Oregon-Stanford.

Quotable: "They are what you would expect when you look at a top-10 football team. They are a top-10 football team because they have a bunch of great players. They play hard and play tough and play with a lot of confidence. Our focus is on trying to finish and it has been. We want to have the best finish that we possibly can and, obviously, winning this game is huge part of that." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney

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