ACC: Coastal Division

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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    7%
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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
12:00
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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
10:00
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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
7:00
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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

ACC race update: Week 14

November, 27, 2013
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The Coastal Division race has come down to this, the final week of the regular season. Duke, the team that was picked by the media in July to finish last in its division, is one win away from finishing first. Duke already has clinched at least a share of the Coastal Division title. A win at North Carolina on Saturday and the Blue Devils head to Charlotte for the ACC championship game. A loss at North Carolina? Well, that’s where things get interesting.

We’ve got you covered:

What Duke needs: Beat North Carolina.

What Miami needs: Beat Pitt, AND a Duke loss, AND a Virginia Tech loss.

What Georgia Tech needs: A Duke loss, AND a Miami loss, AND a Virginia Tech loss.

What Virginia Tech needs: A win over Virginia, AND a Duke loss, AND a Miami win would create a five-way tie, which would send Virginia Tech to the title game. The Hokies also could get to Charlotte with a win over Virginia, a Miami loss and a Duke loss. Basically, Miami’s outcome is irrelevant to the Hokies’ hopes.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
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Here's a look back at the lessons learned in the ACC in Week 13, in no particular order:

1. The Coastal is Duke's division to lose, but there are still no definitive answers yet. Duke beat Wake Forest 28-21 to reach the nine-win mark for the first time since 1941 and is just one win away from playing in the ACC championship game, but there's still no clear-cut division winner. That will come down to the final week of the regular season. Duke's win tied a school record for victories and earned the program at least a share of the division title, but the door is still open for Miami, Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech to sneak in. Miami needs to win and have Virginia Tech and Duke lose. Georgia Tech needs Virginia Tech, Miami and Duke to lose. Virginia Tech might actually have the best shot if Duke loses. Regardless, we only learned one thing about the race: Duke is guaranteed at least a share of the division title.

2. The ACC is ready for the SEC, Take 2. Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson combined to score 198 points against unheralded teams with losing records, but those are exactly the kind of cupcake games -- and dominating performances -- they needed before heading into their SEC rivalry games this week. And Florida?! The Gators were flat-out embarrassed in a 26-20 home loss to Georgia Southern and have been lapped by Florida State's progress. The ACC began the season with a 2-2 record against the SEC, with wins over Florida and Georgia, and now has a chance to improve upon that -- with some momentum in its favor.

[+] EnlargeAndre Williams
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyAndre Williams posted his third straight 200-yard rushing game and topped 2,000 yards on the season.
3. East Carolina is one of the best teams in the state. With a 42-28 win at NC State, and a 55-31 win at North Carolina earlier this year -- emphasis on the fact they were both road games -- there's no denying that the Pirates are one of the better programs in the state this year. According to The Associated Press and pictures on Twitter, there were more ECU fans in the stands at Carter-Finley in the fourth quarter than there were Wolfpack fans. It was ECU's first win there since 2006 and the first time in program history that it had defeated both UNC and NC State in the same season. NC State now has lost seven straight games, including three straight by double digits, and has gone backwards in the first season under coach Dave Doeren. ECU, meanwhile, reached nine wins for the third time in six years and finished the year 2-1 against the ACC, its lone loss to Virginia Tech.

4. #Andre2000 reaches 2,000. It was another Heisman-worthy performance for Boston College running back Andre Williams, who passed the 2,000-yard rushing mark in the Eagles' wild 29-26 win at Maryland. Williams finished with 263 yards -- his third straight game with more than 200 rushing yards -- to become the 16th player in NCAA history to top 2,000 in a single season. Williams scored two touchdowns against the Terps and now has 2,073 yards on the ground this year. On third down, with the game tied at 26 in the final seconds, Williams cut to the outside for a 36-yard run that set up the game-winning field goal. It was his second game-changing play of the day, as his 72-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter closed the gap to 24-20. That play also put him over the 2,000 yd mark.

5. Pitt and North Carolina are bowl-eligible, Wake Forest is not. It's official: Every team in the Coastal Division is now bowl-eligible with the exception of Virginia. North Carolina reached the six-win mark in an 80-20 dismantling of Old Dominion, the program's fifth straight win after losing four straight and starting the season 1-5. Pitt reached the milestone with its 17-16 win over Syracuse. Syracuse is the only team in the ACC that still has its bowl hopes hanging in the balance, as the Orange still can become bowl eligible with a win over Boston College in the regular-season finale. Wake Forest had to win out to reach the six-win mark but squandered a 14-point lead at home against Duke.

One more win, and Duke takes Coastal

November, 23, 2013
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Before the 2013 season began, ACC watchers believed the Coastal Division could go a number of different ways. Indeed, four teams received first-place votes in preseason polling in July.

None of those teams was named Duke.

Now, with one final week left in the regular season, the Blue Devils -- not Miami, or Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech or North Carolina -- sit in control of the Coastal Division. After a hard-fought 28-21 win over Wake Forest on Saturday, all Duke needs to do is beat North Carolina next week in Chapel Hill to win the Coastal Division outright, secure its first trip to the ACC championship game and earn a date with Atlantic Division champ Florida State.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Ellen Ozier/USA TODAY SportsDavid Cutcliffe and Duke clinched a share of the Coastal Division and can win it outright with a win over rival North Carolina.
It sounds so simple, right?

And yet, this will be perhaps the most pressure-packed game Duke football has played in its modern history, against a surging archrival that put up 80 in a victory over Old Dominion on Saturday. Both teams enter the game on long winning streaks -- Duke has won seven straight; UNC has won five straight to become bowl-eligible after a horrendous 1-5 start.

If Duke falters, well, the door remains open for several other Coastal contenders. Miami beat Virginia 45-26 on Saturday to keep its slim division hopes alive. The Canes need to beat Pitt on Friday, and then have Duke and Virginia Tech lose.

Virginia Tech must beat Virginia next week to have any shot at the crown. Georgia Tech, already in the clubhouse with a 5-3 mark in the ACC, needs Virginia Tech to lose to have any chance.

A five-way tie atop the division remains possible. If North Carolina beats Duke, and Miami and Virginia Tech win, then they would join the Jackets at 5-3 in division play. Virginia Tech would win in a five-way tie based on its 5-1 Coastal Division record.

Got all that?

The Coastal Division generally is a muddled mess up until the very end, but never once has the division ended in a five-way tie. Only twice since divisional play began has the Coastal finished without an outright champion. So more often than not, the division works itself out.

This could very well be Duke’s year. The Blue Devils clinched at least a share of the Coastal and tied the school record with nine wins, last accomplished in 1941. And they stayed perfect on the road (4-0) after overcoming an early 14-0 deficit.

Wake Forest hung around until the end, briefly holding a 21-14 third-quarter lead before Duke scored on consecutive drives to make the difference. In 11 games this year, Duke has allowed the opponents to score only 34 fourth-quarter points.

But this D has to now contend with a North Carolina squad that has found new life with Marquise Williams under center. Williams set the school record for total offense in a game with 469 yards and tied the school record with five passing touchdowns in the 80-20 win over the Monarchs. Ryan Switzer returned his fourth punt for a score, tying the ACC record.

North Carolina set the school record with 80 points, and both sides agreed to mutually shorten the fourth quarter to 10 minutes.

But the Tar Heels were not the only ACC team involved in an out-of-hand nonconference game Saturday. No. 2 Florida State also scored 80 in an easy win over Idaho; Georgia Tech handled Alabama A&M 66-7; and No. 7 Clemson beat the Citadel 52-6 as Tajh Boyd also threw five touchdown passes. NC State was the only team to lose in nonconference play this weekend, falling 42-28 to East Carolina, a team that also beat North Carolina early in the season.

The Tar Heels today are a different team than the group that took the field against the Pirates in September. Duke, on the other hand, is a different team than the group that has taken the field year after year.

An epic showdown awaits.

“I'm just a little bit almost at loss for words because the emotions are pretty strong of what those guys accomplished,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe told reporters after the victory. “Seventy-two years is a long time. That’s pretty significant. … The thing that pleased me is every time we’ve won a game, the next one gets bigger. The challenge gets bigger. This will be our greatest challenge of the year coming forward. Who knows what’s going to happen?”

ACC race update: Week 13

November, 20, 2013
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The race to play Florida State in the ACC championship gets zanier and more unpredictable each week.

First, Miami was in control of its destiny. Now, the Canes face the longest odds of making it to Charlotte thanks to a three-game losing streak.

Then Virginia Tech seemed like the favorite. Until the Hokies lost to Maryland last week.

Now all eyes are on Duke (8-2), the only team in control of the Coastal Division. If the Blue Devils win out, they get their first trip to the ACC title game. Sounds simple enough, right? Well, when is anything ever this simple in the ACC?

Our friend Patrick Stevens over at Syracuse.com, bless his heart, laid out all 32 scenarios that could unfold in the Coastal over the next two weeks. Here, we present the simplest scenarios for the four teams with the best odds of making it to the ACC title game.

What Duke needs: Win out. A win over Wake Forest on Saturday would give Duke at least a co-division championship.

What Miami needs: Win out and have Virginia Tech lose and Duke lose; Miami would win a four-way tie with Duke, Georgia Tech and North Carolina (this assumes a Tar Heels win over the Blue Devils next week).

What Georgia Tech needs: The Jackets have finished league play with a 5-3 record. They have a win over Duke but loses to Miami and Virginia Tech. The Jackets need Virginia Tech to lose to Virginia, first and foremost. If that happens, scenarios that favor Georgia Tech include head-to-head tiebreakers with Duke and North Carolina; and a three-way tie with Duke and North Carolina.

What Virginia Tech needs: Beat Virginia on the final weekend of the regular season and have somebody beat Duke. Virginia Tech lost to the Blue Devils, but beat Miami, Georgia Tech and North Carolina. The Hokies would have the edge in several three, four and five-way tiebreaker scenarios based on those head-to-head wins and 5-1 Coastal record. Must avoid head-to-head tiebreaker with Duke.

Duke deserving of shot at ACC title

November, 20, 2013
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The Coastal Division race could become very confusing in the next two weeks, with possible tiebreaker scenarios looming and yet another season filled with unpredictable results. Don’t get too overwhelmed, though, because as of right now, the picture is very clear: Duke is the team to beat.

[+] EnlargeShaquille Powell
Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty ImagesShaquille Powell is one of five Duke players with more than 200 yards rushing.
The Blue Devils are just two wins away from playing Florida State in the ACC championship game on Dec. 7 in Charlotte, N.C., and will end the season with back-to-back road trips against in-state rivals Wake Forest and North Carolina. Duke’s job is not done yet -- it has to win out to leave no doubt that it is the best team in the division -- but based on what we’ve seen so far, Duke is the most deserving team in the Coastal. That’s based on the Blue Devils’ résumé, which includes two wins against ranked teams -- not on the fact that Duke also happens to be the feel-good-story-of-the-year in the ACC.

"We all do believe we deserve it, we worked hard over the summer and throughout the whole season we've been grinding out there, but to say we're deserving over other teams that would be a little cocky,” said Duke running back Shaquille Powell. “As a team, I think these next two wins is what we're focusing on. To say we deserve it over other teams is pushing it, but deep down we know we’re really working for this and hopefully it will all pay off in the end."

Powell is being polite. It’s just how they are at Duke. An 8-2 team, though, is a far more attractive championship prospect than any four- or five-loss team, regardless of history -- and that’s exactly what we’re looking at this week. Duke enters Saturday’s game at Wake Forest riding a six-game winning streak and is the only team in its division ranked among the Associated Press Top 25.

Nobody else in the division has done anything to separate itself.

This is not Virginia Tech’s year. The Hokies lost to Duke and Maryland ... at home?! And they couldn’t stop Boston College. Virginia Tech has lost three of its last four heading into the final week of the regular season. Not exactly screaming championship material in Blacksburg.

Georgia Tech? The Jackets have lost four games -- twice as many as Duke. Granted, they won the head-to-head battle, but that was also Duke’s first game without starting quarterback Anthony Boone, who suffered a broken collarbone the previous week against Memphis. That win over Duke, though, gives Georgia Tech the best argument in a tiebreaker scenario. Virginia Tech and Miami can’t say the same.

Miami isn’t back, it’s going backwards. The defense is regressing. It has lost three straight, including a 48-30 loss to Duke. If Miami is going to earn its way to the ACC title game, this isn’t the way to do it.

That's one of the best coaching jobs in college football in a long time. What he's done at Duke is amazing.

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, a former assistant at Duke, on Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe.
It’s very possible the Coastal Division could still finish in a five-way tie at 5-3, but do ACC fans really want to see a five-loss North Carolina team representing the division? That’s almost as bad as a six-loss Georgia Tech team playing for it all (see: 2012).

Duke, meanwhile, has something to brag about.

Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Duke in 2005 and 2006, knows how far the program has come.

“I can’t say enough about what he’s accomplished there,” O’Brien said of Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “Duke, when I was at Duke with Ted Roof, it was tough. We had great kids there, but I don’t think we for one second felt we had the support of our administration. Coach Cutcliffe obviously does ... That’s one of the best coaching jobs in college football in a long time. What he’s done at Duke is amazing.”

It’s the first time since 1971 that the program has defeated two ranked opponents in a season -- and they did it with only 11 seniors on scholarship (two fewer than last season). All four of Duke’s running backs are averaging at least five yards per carry. Boone is 7-0 in his first season as a starter. Duke ranks second in the ACC in red zone defense (.750). This is a smart, well-coached team that has earned its spot at the top of the standings.

All it has to do now is keep it.

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.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 11

November, 10, 2013
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What did we learn in the ACC in Week 11? Glad you asked.

1. Florida State controls its national championship destiny. The nation watched No. 3 Oregon lose to No. 5 Stanford on Thursday, then saw No. 2 Florida State completely dominate Wake Forest 59-3 Saturday to clinch a spot in the ACC title game. There is little doubt the Seminoles will remain at No. 2 when the BCS standings are released later Sunday. Nor is there any real doubt Florida State is one of the best teams in the country, not after a third win this season by 50 or more points. Florida State has won all nine of its games by double figures and got big-time contributions from its defense and special teams against the Deacs. The Noles ended up with six interceptions -- nearly the same number of Wake Forest pass completions (seven). There are other unbeaten teams lurking, namely Ohio State and Baylor, but Florida State is in control of its championship destiny.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech
Charles Trainor Jr./Miami Herald/Getty ImagesVirginia Tech left Miami lying helpless and reinserted itself into the Coastal Division race.
2. The Coastal, however ... up for grabs! If you thought this weekend would provide a much clearer picture in the Coastal, then you do not truly know ACC football. Four teams have two conference losses each -- Miami, Virginia Tech, Duke and Georgia Tech. So start getting yourselves reacquainted with the tiebreaker scenarios that seem to come into play just about every season. The Hokies put themselves back into the thick of the race with a 42-24 win over Miami on a rainy Saturday night, thanks to a mistake-free performance from Logan Thomas and some pretty shoddy special teams play from the Canes. Duke sat on the brink of disaster against NC State, trailing 20-17 with 6:37 to go. The Blue Devils benched starter Anthony Boone after an uneven performance. Brandon Connette delivered the game-winning drive, then DeVon Edwards sealed the win with back-to-back pick-6s. Georgia Tech was off and needs a win over Clemson on Thursday night to keep its hopes alive. The lucky winner to emerge from this muddled mess gets to play Florida State in the ACC championship game.

3. Miami falling back to earth. We all saw the warning signs that Miami was not as good as its ranking when it struggled to beat North Carolina and Wake Forest in back-to-back weeks. Now the Canes are back to reality after consecutive losses to Florida State and Virginia Tech. Miami was able to get away with turnovers early in the season, but the Hokies made them pay for their mistakes. Two early fumbles on special teams led directly to 14 Virginia Tech points, and Miami could never seem to recover. Perhaps most disheartening for Miami -- the loss was the worst defensive performance of the season, against an offense that ranks among the worst in the nation. The Hokies scored more points and gained more yards on the Canes than the Noles did last week. Miami has given up 400 yards or more in four of its last five games. And the run game without Duke Johnson? Miami ended up with 28 yards rushing, its lowest total since gaining 29 against Florida State last year.

4. Breakthrough win for Pitt. It was easy to doubt the Panthers heading into their game against Notre Dame. They entered the contest off back-to-back losses, and their run game was nearly nonexistent. But something about the Irish brings out the best in Pitt, which came oh-so-close to pulling the upset in each of the previous two seasons. Well, the Panthers finally broke through Saturday night, forcing three turnovers and getting inspired play from their offensive line and Tom Savage in a 28-21 win. It certainly helped Pitt's cause that Notre Dame's Stephon Tuitt was ejected on a questionable targeting call early in the game, further depleting an injury-riddled group. But Pitt earned this win. The Panthers moved one victory away from bowl eligibility and gave coach Paul Chryst victories over ranked teams in consecutive seasons.

5. Bowl mania. Six teams are already bowl eligible, but the ACC could have as many as 11 by the time the season ends. Four teams have five wins: Maryland, Syracuse, Pitt and Boston College. North Carolina has four wins but has won three straight after a 1-5 start and is now in contention to get to six. How did the ACC get here? Syracuse once again used its power run game in a 20-3 win over Maryland, winning its second straight contest. Boston College also used its power run game to win a tricky contest over New Mexico State. We know what Pitt did Saturday. Interestingly enough, Maryland might have the worst chance of becoming bowl eligible out of this group. While North Carolina is on an upswing, the Terps have lost three straight following a 5-1 start with games remaining against Virginia Tech, Boston College and NC State. There are winnable games in that bunch, but not if Maryland commits four turnovers the way it did against Syracuse. Key injuries on both offense and defense have severely hampered this squad.

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