ACC: Duke Blue Devils

ACC morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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When operating out of an option-based offense, it is no secret converting third downs -- preferably third-and-short -- is of pivotal importance. So the Georgia Tech offense's ability to sustain drives is a priority in every game as long as Paul Johnson is the Yellow Jackets' coach.

Through three weeks, few teams are better than Georgia Tech at converting third-down attempts. Only one team, in fact. The Yellow Jackets rank No. 2 nationally with a 64 percent conversion rate, according to a post from Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The Georgia Tech offense, however, has done that against the likes of FCS Wofford, Tulane and recent FBS addition Georgia Southern. The unit will get its first test Saturday against Virginia Tech, which has been terrific at getting off the field; the Hokies are No. 3 nationally, allowing opponents to convert only 23.3 percent of third-down attempts.

If the Yellow Jackets find success moving the chains, they face another test once they near the Virginia Tech goal line. The Hokies are No. 15 nationally in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score on 66.7 percent of its trips. They are No. 35 in red zone touchdown percentage at 50.

The Tech-Tech showdown has traditionally been a heated game, as five of the last six games have been decided by a single score. The last two meetings have been low scoring, too, so third-down and red zone defense will be of critical importance Saturday.
  • The quarterback situation at Miami might not be any clearer without Kevin Olsen. Freshman Brad Kaaya is starting, but senior Ryan Williams, who tore his ACL in the spring, is nearing a return. Miami coach Al Golden would not commit to sticking with Kaaya once Williams is ready to play.
  • Florida State offensive tackle Cam Erving stymied Clemson's Vic Beasley last season, and that will once again be a one-on-one battle that figures to play an important part in deciding Saturday's winner between the two nationally ranked teams.
  • Clemson coach Dabo Swinney still feels Clemson would beat Florida State five out of 10 times. He initially said that after last season's disaster in Death Valley.
  • Virginia Tech has struggled mightily to run the football the last two weeks, so the Hokies are hoping Trey Edmunds comes back sooner rather than later from a tibia injury.
  • It initially looked bleak for two Duke linemen, but coach David Cutcliffe said Lucas Patrick and Dezmond Johnson avoided serious injuries Saturday. However, the offensive and defensive lines are preparing as if they will not have either this coming weekend.
  • Louisville quarterback Will Gardner was pulled in the loss against Virginia, and Gardner is putting the blame squarely on his own shoulders. And keep Reggie Bonnafon, who replaced Gardner on Saturday, in your thoughts as he deals with the death of his father.
  • After a loss to ECU a season ago, North Carolina coach Larry Fedora would be shocked if his team had the audacity to overlook the Pirates a second straight season. ECU, of course, upset Virginia Tech last weekend.
  • NC State coach Dave Doeren offered coachspeak when asked if the Wolfpack already had its eyes on No. 1 Florida State. He insists Presbyterian has his focus.
  • Syracuse coach Scott Shafer might have talked with Doeren, too. He offered a similar response, although the Orange have former member Maryland before a game against Notre Dame.
  • Boston College coach Steve Addazio had an out-of-character week of practice leading up to Pittsburgh because of a short week. He lightened the intensity. He learned his lesson in advance of the USC game, and it clearly paid off as the Eagles manhandled the then-No. 9 Trojans.
  • Canaan Severin was buried on the depth chart last season, and many of those players ahead of him returned for 2014. However, Severin has started two games already this season.
  • Pitt has not decided who will play center against Iowa.

By the numbers: ACC Week 3 recap

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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A look around the league at some of the more interesting statistical performances from Week 3.

* Saturday's win over FIU marked James Conner’s second straight game with at least 31 rushing attempts. Since the start of 2012, only five other running backs have had consecutive games with as many attempts.

Conner also racked up a whopping 177 yards on the ground against FIU, his fourth straight game with at least 150 rushing yards. In the last decade, here’s the complete list of Power 5 conference backs who’ve had at least four games in a row of 150-plus rushing yards:
  • BC’s Andre Williams, 5 games (2013)
  • Arizona’s Kadeem Carey, 5 games (2012-13)
  • Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, 4 games (2011)
  • Pitt’s Dion Lewis, 4 games (2009)

Among non-Power 5 runners, only NIU’s Garrett Wolfe (11), UCF’s Kevin Smith (7) and UConn’s Donald Brown (5) have had streaks longer than Conner’s current one.

* Conner leads all ACC players in rushing yards for the season (543). Next up is BC QB Tyler Murphy (401) and Duke’s Shaun Wilson (334).

Wilson set the Duke school record Saturday, rushing for 245 yards on just 12 carries. Overall, Wilson is averaging a whopping 15.9 yards per rush so far this season — 6.2 yards per rush more than any other player in the nation (min. 20 attempts).

Wilson had three touchdowns against Kansas on Saturday — runs of 69, 68 and 45. Since the start of the 2004 season, only two other players have had three touchdown runs of at least 45 yards against a Power 5 conference team: Maurice Jones-Drew (9/18/04 vs. Washington) and Nebraska’s Roy Helu Jr. (10/30/10 vs. Missouri).

* Murphy averaged 4.2 yards per pass attempt and 14.7 yards per rush against USC. Only three quarterbacks have rushed for more yardage against a Power 5 team since the start of last season: Daniel Sams (199 vs. Baylor, 11/23/13), Nick Marshall (214 vs. Tennessee, 11/9/13) and Taysom Hill (259 vs. Texas, 9/7/13).

And for what it’s worth, the only Power 5 teams averaging fewer pass attempts per game than Boston College this year: Georgia Tech, Pitt, Arkansas, Minnesota and LSU.

* More from ESPN Stats & Information: This was the first time an unranked Boston College beat a top-10 opponent since knocking off Notre Dame in 2002. (Remember those green Irish jerseys?) Moreover, ESPN’s Football Power Index says this was the biggest upset in an FBS vs. FBS game so far this year. The Eagles had a 9 percent chance to win.

* Duke's Anthony Boone has thrown seven touchdowns without an interception through three games. How significant is that? Last year, Boone didn’t throw his seventh TD pass until Nov. 23 against Wake Forest, and nationally, the only QBs with at least seven TDs and no interceptions is short: USC’s Cody Kessler, along with Heisman candidates Everett Golson, Kenny Hill and Marcus Mariota.

Overall, Duke QBs have combined for eight touchdowns on 119 attempts without a pick. No other team in the nation has attempted more passes without a pick this year.

* Syracuse’s easy win over Central Michigan was lost in the shuffle a bit Saturday, but two weeks after struggling against Villanova, the Orange had no trouble in their first road test of the year.

What was particularly encouraging was that QB Terrel Hunt played well — something he didn’t do away from the Carrier Dome a year ago. In six games away from home last season, Hunt completed 57.8 percent of his throws, averaged 5.2 yards per attempt, threw four interceptions without a TD. Against CMU, he completed 20-of-30 for 175 yards with a touchdown and no picks. Hunt also added three touchdowns on the ground.

* Virginia Tech clearly isn't completely past the troubles of 2013.

Lost in the shuffle of the win over Ohio State was another troubling performance by the Hokies’ ground game. Its three tailbacks — Shai McKenzie, Marshawn Williams and J.C. Coleman — had 22 rushes for just 43 yards. Those troubles showed up again against ECU. While McKenzie and Williams did combine for 92 yards on 24 carries, 21 of those yards came on a single run. On the other 23 attempts, the Hokies mustered just 3.1 yards-per-rush.

Virginia Tech is averaging 3.5 yards per carry on first down this year — the second lowest tally among ACC teams (Wake Forest, 1.65).

* Another relic of last year’s problems for Virginia Tech: Hokies receivers were credited with seven drops against ECU. No other ACC team has had more than four in a game this season. Only West Virginia, in its opener against Alabama, had as many among all Power 5 conference teams. The seven drops also came after Tech had just two combined in its first two games.

* Silver lining for Wake Forest: The 24 points scored by the Demon Deacons against Utah State on Saturday were the most against an FBS opponent since Oct. 19 of last year — a span of seven games. It was the second most in a road game against an FBS team since the start of the 2012 season (25 vs. Army on 9/21/13).

The 110 attempts by QB John Wolford are the most by any true freshman in the country (conference-mate Brad Kaaya is second at 75), and while the results haven’t been terrific, he has shown some signs of progress. After a brutal first half against Utah State, Wolford was decent enough in the second half, completing 14-of-31 attempts for 179 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. And, of course, he’s been asked to do all of this while his ground game is averaging 0.8 yards-per-rush. Only SMU has been worse on the ground.

Consistency still missing in ACC

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Boston CollegeAP Photo/Stephan SavoiaBC's upset over USC shows that ACC teams are capable of winning big nonconference games.

The yin and yang that is the ACC was on full display this past weekend.

Boston College pulled an upset for the ages over No. 9 USC on Saturday night, giving the ACC five wins against top 10 nonconference opponents in a two-year span for the first time in league history!

Oh, but both No. 17 Virginia Tech and No. 21 Louisville lost to unranked teams.

But hey, the ACC is 27-5 against nonconference teams! And for the second time in league history, two unranked ACC teams upset top 10 opponents this year (BC, plus the Hokies over Ohio State in Week 2).

Oh, but look at those rankings. Only two teams remain in the AP poll this week.

But hey, maybe the bottom of the league is starting to rise up if cellar dweller UVa can shock a team like the Cards! Virginia had six wins over the last two seasons while Louisville had 23!

Oh, but look closer at the AP rankings. Only one ACC team sits in the top 15, compared to seven from the SEC.

But hey, at least the ACC is not the Big Ten!

Back and forth we go in our yearly game entitled: What will you turn out to be, ACC?

If only the ACC could get all its pieces to fit nicely into one pretty looking College Football Playoff picture.

Instead, we are left with the all too familiar, a disjointed puzzle that remains hard to comprehend and even harder to predict. Virginia Tech had its offense and defense in sync at Ohio State in Week 2; the Hokies were totally out of sync Saturday at home against East Carolina, a team everybody knew would have a shot at the upset. Boston College allowed 300-plus yards rushing in a loss to Pitt in Week 2. Against USC? The Eagles gave up 20 yards on the ground. Total.

Then there is Louisville, a team that had two turnovers in its first two games. The Cards doubled that total against Virginia and lost.

The season is obviously still young and we only have a few games to go on, but the ACC already is falling into its usual habits despite some of those jazzy stats mentioned above. Big wins end up being fluky wins; four ranked teams dwindle to two; and lo and behold, Florida State and Clemson are left to carry the league.

You know, the way the two are doing this week. "College GameDay" will be in Tallahassee, Florida, for the showdown between the only remaining ranked ACC teams, a game that has determined the Atlantic champion three straight years.

While Florida State has looked shaky and Clemson is playing one of the most daunting schedules in the country to open the season, there is no dispute everybody else inside the ACC is still chasing these two. A host of teams still have a chance to get into the Top 25 rankings this season -- Duke, Pitt and North Carolina are on deck while Virginia Tech and Louisville will have every opportunity to get back in, too. If Miami gets past Nebraska this weekend, who knows what happens.

But what was reinforced this weekend is the importance of following through. One big win is great. But that big win needs to beget another big win and another, until the ACC has got a solid group of teams that become more predictable week in and week out. Watering down the schedule like the folks over in SEC land is not the answer. The ACC needs to continue to be at the forefront of playing big nonconference games.

The league is clearly capable of winning them. It is the consistency that remains elusive.

ACC morning links: Kaaya's big step

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
8:00
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Miami knew there would be bumps in the road for true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, and so it wasn’t entirely surprising when he started off the year looking like, well, a true freshman. But the upside for Kaaya was always obvious, and against Arkansas State on Saturday, all that potential was on display.

As the Miami Herald noted, Kaaya set a Miami record for true freshmen, throwing for 342 yards -- just 9 less than his total from the first two games of the season. After the game, wideout Phillip Dorsett told the Sun Sentinel that Kaaya “grew up a lot.”

Kaaya certainly looked like a veteran against Arkansas State, but as significant as his comfort in the pocket was his ability to make some big throws when given the chance.

Miami fans were more than a bit displeased with the play calling in the first two games, noting that Kaaya wasn’t exactly given much of a chance to make many big throws. On the other hand, his success rate on those throws provided little encouragement.

On Saturday, however, things were much different.

Below are Kaaya’s numbers on throws of 10 yards or more.

Weeks 1 and 2: 7-of-17 for 187 yards, one TD and four interceptions
Week 3: 3-of-4 for 132 yards, two TDs and no interceptions

The opportunities for deep balls actually declined against Arkansas State, but Kaaya’s accuracy on those throws was much improved. Two of those completions went to Dorsett, who had receptions of 63, 63 and 51. He became just the second ACC receiver in the last decade to have three catches of 50 yards or more in a single game, joining Clemson’s Sammy Watkins (Oct. 25, 2012, against Wake Forest).

Kaaya was sacked three times, and Miami’s shaky offensive line continues to be a concern, but the freshman showed plenty of poise, including going 3-of-4 for 106 yards and two touchdowns against the blitz. And all of this without star receiver Stacy Coley, who missed the game with a shoulder injury.

There will be bigger tests and more bumps in the road ahead for Kaaya, but Saturday was a good reminder of why the Hurricanes liked the kid so much in the first place and a great chance for him to build a little confidence for the future.

A few more links:
  • We're back to blaming the offense at Virginia Tech after the Hokies lost to ECU and dropped out of the polls, writes the Richmond Times-Dispatch. To be fair, though, the defense has allowed 11 pass plays of 25-plus yards in three games, the most of any Power 5 team. It allowed just 18 all of last year.
  • We’re three weeks into the season and we’ve already seen two starting QBs pulled when struggling, with Will Gardner the latest to ride the bench. The Louisville Courier-Journal wonders if Reggie Bonnafon should be the starter for the Cardinals.
  • Saturday’s thrashing of Kansas was a good reminder that Duke has a lot more weapons on offense than Jamison Crowder, writes the Raleigh News & Observer. Crowder had just two catches for 14 yards against the Jayhawks, his lowest production since a 2/10 performance in a loss to Georgia Tech in 2012.
  • BC Interruption relives the many things for the Eagles to be excited about after Saturday’s upset of USC.
  • For NC State, there were a lot of numbers from Saturday’s thumping of USF that could be followed with the phrase “first time since” and a date from at least two years ago. Backing the Pack looks at a few, including a stretch for the Wolfpack defense that was particularly encouraging.
  • With Terrel Hunt getting his first extended action of the season, we finally got a look at the up-tempo Orange offense, and the numbers show Syracuse looked comfortable working quickly, writes The Post-Standard.
  • The schedule makes it tough to get too excited at Virginia, with the Hoos set to face down another big challenge in Week 4, writes The Roanoke Times.
  • Georgia Tech’s collapse against Georgia Southern probably speaks less to the team’s talent than its focus, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
  • Life’s not easy at Wake Forest right now, and a short turnaround before Army comes to town won’t help, writes the Winston-Salem Journal.

ACC bowl projections: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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The ACC makes no sense right now. Virginia Tech thumps Ohio State on the road, then loses to East Carolina at home. Boston College coughs up 214 rushing yards to James Conner one week, then holds USC to 20 yards on the ground the next. Georgia Tech is 3-0, but has hardly looked impressive yet. Oh, and there’s that little matter of the conference’s top two teams facing off this coming Saturday.

For now, we’re doing the best we can with a fluid situation, so fair warning that these projections are a moving target at this point in the season.

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

*Note: Notre Dame is eligible for a bid to any ACC tie-in game unless it is selected for a New Year’s Six game, which can include playing an ACC team in the Orange Bowl.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:00
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ACC helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
9:00
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Week 3 was chock full of big plays on both sides of the ball, meaning there were plenty of contenders for ACC helmet stickers. Here are the top performers.

Syracuse LB Cameron Lynch: Two weeks after a discouraging opener against Villanova, the Orange looked much improved against Central Michigan in their 40-3 win. Quarterback Terrel Hunt was exceptional, accounting for four touchdowns, but it was the defense that really set the tone. Syracuse had five sacks in the game, led by Lynch, who recorded eight tackles, 3.5 for a loss and 2.5 sacks while helping to hold CMU to just 34 yards rushing on 23 carries.

Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas: There are concerns for the Yellow Jackets, who’ve been tested against three lower-tier opponents early this season, but Georgia Tech has to be pleased with the performance of its new starting quarterback. Thomas rushed for a team-high 137 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown while throwing for four more scores, including the game-winning 13-yard pass to Deon Hill with 23 seconds remaining, as Georgia Tech rallied past Georgia Southern 42-38. Thomas already has six TDs on the year — halfway to the team’s total through the air from 2013.

Virginia LB Henry Coley: The Hoos got their first ACC win since 2012 thanks to another dominant defensive effort. Coley helped lead the charge in the 23-21 victory, racking up seven tackles, including two for a loss, one sack and a pass breakup. The Virginia front seven tormented Louisville throughout, while the secondary came up with two big interceptions. Overall, UVA had three takeaways, and all three led to points.

Pitt RB James Conner: Another week, another helmet sticker for the ACC’s most prolific runner. Conner had 31 carries — his second straight week with 30-plus — for 177 yards and three scores, leading Pitt to a 42-25 road win over FIU. Conner has topped 150 yards in four straight games dating back to last season, just the fifth Power 5-conference runner to do that since the start of 2009.

Miami QB Brad Kaaya: In the first two games of his career, Kaaya looked every bit a true freshman, completing 57 percent of his passes, throwing just three TDs to go with four picks and racking up 351 yards. In his third start, Kaaya made a huge improvement, throwing for 341 yards and four touchdowns while playing without star receiver Stacy Coley. With Coley out, however, Phillip Dorsett shined in Miami's 41-20 win with four catches for 201 yards, including a pair of 63-yard scores.

Duke RB Shaun Wilson: The true freshman had just nine career carries on his resume entering the weekend, but he finished Saturday’s 41-3 win with the Duke school record for yards by a running back. Wilson had TD runs of 69, 68 and 45 yards and finished the game with 245 yards on just 12 carries — but it was an 8-yard carry on the game’s final play that set the record. The 245 yards were the 10th most by an ACC running back since 2004, and he was just the third player with three touchdown runs of 45 yards or more against a Power 5 team in the past decade.

And rather than a helmet sticker, how about a red bandana to everyone at Boston College? The Eagles looked fantastic in upending No. 9 USC while wearing red bandana designs on their uniforms to honor 9/11 victim and former BC lacrosse player Welles Crowther. It was a group effort for the Eagles. Quarterback Tyler Murphy was electric in the 37-31 win, accounting for 244 yards of offense. Freshman RB Jon Hilliman had 89 yards and two touchdowns. The ground game racked up 452 yards, while the defense had five sacks and held USC to just 20 yards rushing. And for the second time in as many weeks, an ACC team knocked off a Top-10, nonconference foe.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
1:03
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Here’s what we learned in the ACC following the Week 3 slate of games. One thing we already knew -- and which the ACC proved again Saturday -- is that this can often be a befuddling league.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Smith celebration
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsEast Carolina's stunning upset of Virginia Tech knocked the Hokies out as a College Football Playoff contender.
1. Two more ACC schools are knocked from the College Football Playoff discussion.
And that could change again by the end of next week, as No. 23 Clemson travels to No. 1 Florida State on Sept. 20. With Saturday’s results, the ACC turns its eyes to you, Clemson, Duke, Florida State and Pittsburgh. And to be honest, most aren’t considering Duke or Pitt legitimate contenders just yet, considering each school’s nonconference schedule. Virginia Tech offered hope that a Coastal team might be able to crack the playoff four, but the Hokies laid an egg in the first quarter against East Carolina and were knocked off. Considering it came a week after their big road win at Ohio State, it leaves a sour taste in ACC mouths. Louisville was loading up the hype train after a nice win against Miami in a prime-time setting, but the Cardinals’ offense was suffocated by upset-minded Virginia. Pittsburgh has a manageable schedule and would almost certainly get in if undefeated, but the Panthers don't have the look of a team destined for a spotless record just yet. So once more, the ACC is looking to you, Clemson and FSU.

2. The ACC Coastal: 'Bring your brooms, because it’s a mess.'
Marty Huggins from “The Campaign” said it best, and there’s really no need to compound on what he said as far as the ACC Coastal goes. Following last week, it seemed Virginia Tech was the team to beat in the division. It certainly could still be that team as the East Carolina loss was out of conference, but there isn’t nearly as much confidence in the Hokies any longer. Pittsburgh was the flavor of the hour last week after a dominating win on a Friday night, but the Panthers struggled against a terrible Florida International team. Georgia Tech is 3-0 but has been less than impressive in all three wins. North Carolina hasn’t looked great, either. Right now, it is only Duke quietly taking care of business, which is what it did last season, too.

3a. Boston College was a bunch of Dudes on Saturday. So was the Virginia defense.
That is Steve Addazio’s motto for his team, and that is an apt way to describe what we saw from the Eagles against No. 9 USC. Many felt the Eagles had a chance to keep it close, but few felt they would be able to upset a USC team coming off a win at Stanford. Boston College followed the lead of its quarterback, Tyler Murphy, beating up the Trojans on the ground to the tune of 452 rushing yards. After a lopsided loss to Pittsburgh last week, it seemed Boston College was destined for a down year, but now the Eagles have the look of a bowl team. They’re not going to win the Atlantic, but that defense is nasty, and with Murphy running the option, the offense is efficient enough that this might not be the last upset the Eagles pull off in 2014.

In the aftermath of the BC win, we almost forgot the effort from Virginia, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Virginia deserves the recognition, and while it doesn’t use the same "Be A Dude" motto, you can certainly apply it to that Cavaliers defense after its performance against Bobby Petrino’s Louisville offense. All afternoon, quarterback Will Gardner was harassed and made uncomfortable. He was hit, chased and had passes batted back into his face. Eventually, Petrino turned to his backup quarterback. And just like Boston College, the Virginia offense never gave Louisville the ball back in the final minutes after forcing a Cardinals punt. If the Cavs can get any help from their offense, this is a bowl-worthy team. Good for Mike London and his team, which went winless in the ACC last season.

3b. The ACC owns prime time.
Virginia Tech last week. Boston College this week. Just let us have this one.

4. Speaking of Pitt and Georgia Tech, what do we make of their scares?
That one depends on the team. First, there is something to be said to still being undefeated at this point even if the competition is not very good. Now that that is out of the way, I’d be much less concerned with Pitt’s first-half struggles in its 42-25 win than Georgia Tech’s second-half nightmare against Georgia Southern. The Panthers were playing in a noon game against a dreadful FIU team. They came out flat. It happens in college football, and it happens a lot. Ideally, a coach never has those performances, but they’re hard to avoid. Expect a much more focused Pitt team against Iowa. As for the Yellow Jackets, this is becoming a trend. They did not look great against FCS teams Wofford or Tulane, and Saturday they blew a 25-point second-half lead to Georgia Southern. Georgia Tech needed an 11-play, 72-yard drive to score the game-winning touchdown with 23 seconds remaining and earn a 42-38 victory.

5. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya can sling it.
The Hurricanes opened up the playbook a little more for Kaaya, and he responded with 342 passing yards, a school record for a true freshman. The Miami offense was balanced on first down, which allowed Kaaya to throw in situations in which defenses weren’t always expecting it. What really stood out to coach Al Golden in the Hurricanes' 41-20 win over Arkansas State was how Kaaya audibled into a new play at the line of scrimmage several times, including on two touchdowns. “Brad hits the quick out that Phillip [Dorsett] ends up taking. That’s all him. The other check that we ended up scoring on, the run, [it was] the same thing there. That was all him on the line of scrimmage,” Golden said. And the first touchdown was a deep throw, which Kaaya struggled with in the first two games. On throws of at least 10 yards in the first two weeks, he was 7-of-17 for 188 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 3

September, 13, 2014
Sep 13
8:00
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It's Saturday, and we're here to catch you up on all that you should be watching throughout the day as 11 ACC teams take the field. Use the hashtags below to follow each game on Twitter. All times are ET.

Noon

East Carolina at No. 17 Virginia Tech, ESPN, #ECUvsVT: The Hokies are riding high after notching the upset at Ohio State last week. But the Pirates can help bring them back to earth if they aren't careful. ECU itself is amid a tough three-game stretch against South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, and its offense, led by the dangerous Shane Carden under center, is certainly capable of testing the home team's D. If that's not enough to have the Hokies ready, these teams' past two meetings should: Narrow Virginia Tech wins in 2013 (15-10) and 2011 (17-10).

Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech, ESPN3, #GASOvsGT: Can the Eagles notch a signature road win over a Power 5 team for the second year in a row? A year after winning at Florida, they came awfully close in Week 1, falling at NC State by one after leading throughout. Now the FBS newcomers travel to face former head coach Paul Johnson and in-state neighbor Georgia Tech. Georgia Southern is coming off an 83-9 win over Savannah State last week, while the Yellow Jackets are still trying to get on-track offensively after a three-turnover performance in a win last week at Tulane.

Pitt at FIU, Fox Sports 1: Stat-watching might be a priority in this lackluster contest. Panthers running back James Conner enters with 50 carries, 367 yards and five touchdowns to his name through two weeks. Can he play himself further into early-season Heisman discussions? His coach, Paul Chryst, has not ruled out the chance that Conner still lines up at defensive end at some point this season. Still, given the workhorse he has been -- and will need to be if Pitt is to contend for the Coastal -- this might be a good chance to limit his workload in the heat and let Chad Voytik grow as a passer. Also worth keeping an eye on is the man snapping Voytik the ball, as center Artie Rowell is lost for the year after an ACL tear last week. Gabe Roberts and Alex Officer could both see action there in place of Rowell.

Syracuse at Central Michigan, ESPNEWS, #CUSEvsCMU: This game sure looks a lot more interesting than it did two weeks ago, no? The Orange have not even played a half this season with Terrel Hunt under center, as the starter was ejected from the opener after throwing a punch at a Villanova player. The offense struggled immensely without Hunt, needing two overtimes to hold off the FCS Wildcats. The Chippewas, meanwhile, ran Purdue out of their own building last week in West Lafayette, Indiana. Syracuse hopes to have gathered itself during its bye last week and unveil the faster-paced offense it had hoped to run this season.

12:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeDominique Brown
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsThe Cardinals should provide Virginia with an early-season measuring stick of where the team stands.
No. 21 Louisville at Virginia, ESPN3, #LOUvsUVA: We should have a much better answer after this game as to just how improved Virginia really is this season. The Cardinals present a great early-season league test in Charlottesville, and Bobby Petrino's offense going up against the Cavaliers' stout defense in Louisville's first-ever ACC road game will be fascinating to watch. But can the Hoos avoid offensive miscues? That is what cost them a chance to upset UCLA in Week 1, and there is still some uncertainty at quarterback, where Matt Johns has looked better than Greyson Lambert through two games.

3:30 p.m.

Arkansas State at Miami, ESPNU, #ARSTvsMIA: Now would be a good time to see what Brad Kaaya is capable of doing, what with a game at Nebraska next week and a pair of league games after. The true freshman quarterback hasn't been bad through two games, but he hasn't really been asked to do too much, either. If the Hurricanes want to contend for the Coastal crown this season, they'll need more production out of him, and better to throw him to the (Red) Wolves of Arkansas State now than the Blackshirts of Nebraska next week under the lights.

NC State at USF, CBS Sports Network: USF forced six turnovers last week against Maryland but still could not pull out the win. Jacoby Brissett has played well through two games, but the ground game has been every bit as instrumental so far, averaging 207.5 yards per contest. Still, the Wolfpack need to start faster after falling behind at home to Georgia Southern and Old Dominion before mounting comeback wins. A 3-0 start for coach Dave Doeren after a 3-9 debut season would be absolutely huge, and it would make a bowl berth a real possibility for the Pack.

Kansas at Duke, ESPN3, #KUvsDUKE: The Jayhawks are undefeated. And Charlie Weis was set to be David Cutcliffe's boss nearly a decade ago. And Duke clearly needs to get off to a better start than it did last week at Troy after falling behind by 11 early. Still, the Blue Devils have a very balanced attack that will test Kansas far more than Southeast Missouri State did last week. And quarterback Anthony Boone has looked very, very good through two games. Expect more of the same against Kansas.

7 p.m.

Wake Forest at Utah State, CBS Sports Network: Dave Clawson did some house-cleaning this week, kicking running back Dominique Gibson and center Cody Preble off the team for a violation of team rules, in addition to suspending reserve quarterback Kevin Sousa. Clawson is coming off his first win as the Demon Deacons' head coach, but the Aggies will provide a much stiffer test than Gardner-Webb did last week. True freshman signal-caller John Wolford got much better protection last week (two sacks) than he did in a season-opening loss at Louisiana-Monroe (five), but he has to improve his decision-making after throwing three picks last week.

8 p.m.

No. 9 USC at Boston College, ESPN, #USCvsBC: USC has been among the country's most impressive teams through two weeks. BC hopes it is catching the Trojans at the right time. Steve Sarkisian's squad travels cross-country after an upset win at Stanford to face an Eagles team coming off a home loss to Pitt. Still, it's worth pointing out just how well Steve Addazio got BC to play last year against heavy favorites Clemson and Florida State, with the latter contest proving to be the Seminoles' biggest test before the national title game. Also, kudos to BC for its attire for this contest, as it honors Sept. 11 hero and lacrosse alum Welles Crowther.

ACC morning links

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
8:00
AM ET
Let's get the morning started with a few quick news items:

Miami receiver Stacy Coley is out against Arkansas State on Saturday with a shoulder injury. The announcement is not a huge shock, considering Coley was in a non-contact jersey during practice this week after getting hurt against Florida A&M. Still, Coley has not gotten off to the start the Hurricanes anticipated after a breakout freshman season.

He only has three catches for 9 yards, all in the opener against Louisville, as the Miami offense has struggled to find consistency and production in the passing game. Coley was a major deep threat for Miami a year ago, averaging 17.9 yards per catch. But with freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya, Miami has not been able to get its downfield passing game going the way it did with Stephen Morris, who excelled at the deep ball.

The season is early, and Coley is not seriously injured. Perhaps he will be back next week when the Hurricanes travel to Nebraska. But there's no doubt Miami is going to need a Kaaya-to-Coley connection to develop for the passing game to be seen as a serious threat. Miami does have depth at the position with Phillip Dorsett, Malcolm Lewis, freshman Braxton Berrios, and Herb Waters. But Coley is the most dynamic player in that group.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech defensive tackle Corey Marshall is questionable for the East Carolina game with a sprained ankle. Marshall was hurt last week against Ohio State, and would be a pretty big loss for the group up front. As the Roanoke Times notes, Marshall has six quarterback hurries already this season and was the MVP of the spring for the Hokies. Facing a veteran quarterback in Shane Carden, the Hokies will want to keep the pressure on to disrupt his timing in the pass game.

If he can't play, Woody Baron would get the start. Tight end Kalvin Cline also is out for his third straight game.

Finally, North Carolina announced it had concluded its investigation into an alleged hazing incident between football players last month. But that is basically all the school said. No details were provided on what exactly happened; on the players involved; or whether what happened was, indeed, a hazing incident. The information gathered has been given to the student attorney general, who will decide whether any player will be charged through the honor court.

Strangely enough, the Raleigh News & Observer reported earlier this week that a police report on the alleged incident was riddled with errors. The truth, it seems, remains elusive.

Now here's a look at what else is happening in the ACC:
Virginia Tech’s tight ends have made a big difference for the Hokies’ offense so far this season, writes The Roanoke Times.

Bucky Hodges and Ryan Malleck have been excellent, and even without Kalvin Cline, the only tight end to catch a pass for the Hokies last season, the position has been a big plus through two games.

I noted the significant uptick in tight end targets earlier this week, too, in our stats column, but here are a few more tidbits worth passing along:
  • Virginia Tech’s tight ends have combined for 163 receiving yards so far this season -- the fifth-most by any team in the country.
  • The 23 targets for the Hokies’ tight ends ranks third nationally, trailing only Oregon State and Penn State. The Hokies have only targeted their wide receivers 27 times so far this year.
  • Among teams targeting tight ends at least 15 times so far this season, only Purdue and UAB’s position groups have caught a higher percentage of passes thrown their way.
  • Among ACC teams, only Louisville comes close to the Hokies in terms of targeting its tight ends. The Cardinals have thrown to tight ends 21 times. That makes sense since Louisville has a star tight end in Gerald Christian and is playing without its top receiver in Devante Parker.
  • Syracuse should have its tight end, Josh Parris, back in time for the Maryland game next week, writes The Post-Standard. That’s good news for the Orange, who targeted a tight end just twice in their opener.

Other tight end production around the ACC through two weeks:

Wake Forest -- 14 targets
Florida State -- 12
Miami -- 10
UNC -- 8
NC State -- 8
Duke -- 8
Clemson -- 8
Pitt -- 5
Virginia -- 4
Boston College -- 0
Georgia Tech -- 0

A few more links:

ACC hits the road vs. Group of 5

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
10:30
AM ET
The ACC schedule this weekend should come with some theme music.

"On the road again ... "

Nobody travels to quite as many nonconference road games as the ACC, most especially road games against Group of 5 opponents. Four are on the docket for this weekend when Syracuse plays at Central Michigan; Pitt goes to FIU; NC State travels to USF and Wake Forest hightails it across the country to Utah State.

In all, the ACC has 11 road games this season against Group of 5 opponents, twice as many as the next-closest Power 5 conference. By comparison, the SEC plays just three road games against Group of 5 opponents.

This all begs the all-important question: Why?

The answer: It's complicated.

Every team faces scheduling dilemmas at one time or another. Realignment has wreaked havoc on some schedules. Sometimes, series are abruptly canceled without much advance warning. And not everybody has millions of dollars to shell out for multiple guarantee games like the SEC does. So sometimes, programs schedule home-and-home games against smaller conference schools to help fill holes that need to be filled.

[+] EnlargeDuke's Issac Blakeney
Kevin Liles/USA TODAY SportsLast week Duke traveled to Group of 5 member Troy. This week four more ACC teams will travel to Group of 5 venues.
Ideally, each conference team wants seven home games. But in some cases, that does not work out. Take Wake Forest. The Deacs had seven home games scheduled for 2014. But last year, their series with Vanderbilt was canceled, taking a home game with the Commodores off the schedule. A game against Northern Illinois also was postponed.

Wake Forest also was supposed to play Notre Dame as part of the new ACC scheduling rotation, but the Irish couldn't make it work. The two are scheduled to play next season.

So Wake Forest had to scramble to fill some holes quickly and agreed to a series with Utah State. It just so happens the Deacs have to travel out to Logan this year, the same season they already had a road game scheduled with Louisiana-Monroe. Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman said Utah State will play at Wake Forest twice as part of the contract.

"We were in a situation in both of those circumstances where it was very late in the scheduling process, one had postponed their game with us and we had a hole in our schedule so those were the teams that were available and they ended up being good to schedule series with us," Wellman said.

As for Pitt, some of the home-and-homes against Group of 5 teams still on the schedule were made when the Panthers were still in the Big East. Scheduling in that conference was much more difficult because teams had to find five nonconference games.

The game at FIU is a return game from the first meeting in 2010. Pitt athletic director Steve Pederson said FIU was good enough to fill a hole in the schedule for that season, but the school wanted a return game in exchange. He agreed to avoid having to play two FCS teams in one year.

"We're grateful to them for helping us out of that tough situation," Pederson said. "I guess we approach it as the best deal we can make at the time in general terms. If we have to go on the road, we'll have to go on the road in some cases. That's not where we generally want to start, but we also understand they have schedules to fill and games to play as well."

What about strictly sticking to guarantee games to ensure more home games? That also is not so easy in the ACC. Many schools in the SEC can dish out the cash to spend up to $1 million each for multiple opponents. Guarantee games exist in the ACC, but it is difficult for many league teams to schedule more than one.

The most Wake Forest ever has paid for a guarantee game is $400,000. Because of its small stadium, the program simply does not have the revenue stream to pay out hefty guarantees. Pederson said sometimes schools don't want the guarantee money -- they want a home game in return.

"We've tried to be reasonable in what we can pay in guarantees," Pederson said. "There doesn't seem to be any consistent theme to how these things all work out. Sometimes, it's just important for schools to have you come down. Sometimes, they'll come here twice, you'll go there once. That's the way it goes."

Balancing the schedule is obviously important, too. NC State's game against USF has been on the books since 2006. While there's no issue with a game in Florida, NC State's future schedules feature road games against Group of 5 schools in the same geographic vicinity as a way to limit travel and also help recruiting.

Duke has not been shy about playing Group of 5 teams on the road, either. Last week, the Blue Devils went to Troy and won, 34-17. They have also played at Memphis, FIU, Army and Navy under David Cutcliffe.

"If we weren't on the road, our first road test would be Miami in Miami so I think it's good for your team," Cutcliffe said. "It's a little bit of the things you see basketball teams do before they get into their conference games, so I think it's been beneficial to us. Most years we've played pretty well doing this."

Ties run deep between Cutcliffe, Weis

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
9:00
AM ET
David Cutcliffe can't help but think sometimes at how he ended up where he is now. Duke's head coach -- the reigning winner of numerous national coach of the year awards -- had been hired by Charlie Weis at Notre Dame just nine short years ago, but never got to coach a down with the Fighting Irish.

He suffered chest pains. He underwent open-heart surgery. He had numerous other complications, and he eventually had to walk away from a potential dream opportunity.

[+] EnlargeDavid Cutcliffe
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsDavid Cutcliffe agreed to join Charlie Weis' staff at Notre Dame before health problems prevented that.
"It was an emotional time for me and I knew that at that point, and I told Charlie Weis, 'I can’t earn my paycheck there,' " Cutcliffe said. "No way that I can get myself back and ready to benefit Notre Dame’s football program. I was very appreciative of the opportunity he had given me there."

Cutcliffe and Weis will meet again Saturday when Duke hosts Kansas, and it's hard not to look at how each's career has played out since initially agreeing to hook up in South Bend. Adding to the layer is the fact that Cutcliffe's current boss, Blue Devils athletic director Kevin White, was in charge of Weis back when both were with the Irish.

Weis couldn't overlook the connections this week, opening his Tuesday press conference by thanking White for the opportunity that the AD allowed the first-time head coach less than a decade ago.

"Probably one of the finest men that I've ever met in my entire life," Weis said of White. "He taught me a lot about college football. He taught me patience."

The parallels between Weis and Cutcliffe run a little bit deeper. Weis had initially hired the ex-Ole Miss head coach because of his reputation working with quarterbacks and calling plays. With eventual Heisman Trophy finalist Brady Quinn waiting in the wings, the pairing seemed perfect.

There are also the ties that linger in the NFL -- Cutcliffe from his well-publicized work with the Manning brothers, Weis with his three Super Bowl rings as Tom Brady's offensive coordinator. Weis said this week that he's never debated with Cutcliffe whose pro pupils are better, joking that he's too biased about Brady to even bother with an argument.

"I’m telling you, he’s the most knowledgeable, smartest football coach I’ve been around," Cutcliffe said of Weis. "He was like a machine, just the system. It was pretty amazing to watch him work and watch how his mind worked, and not only his football knowledge, but his motivational skills and his energy."

The little time Cutcliffe and Weis did spend together came on the heels of what Cutcliffe said was an unusual time in his life. He was unceremoniously fired from Ole Miss after his only losing season. Upon Weis hiring him, Cutcliffe lived with then-Irish and current Duke offensive line coach John Latina in South Bend before the health scare forced him out of coaching for a year.

Weis, meanwhile, made consecutive BCS bowls in his first two years at Notre Dame before getting fired after going 16-21 during his final three years. Assistant stops with the Kansas City Chiefs and Florida gave way to his hiring as the Jayhawks' head coach, where he's now 5-20 in his third season. During that time, Cutcliffe moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where his two sons attended college. He eventually became Tennessee's offensive coordinator from 2006-07 before landing the head job at Duke, where his work in getting the Blue Devils to the ACC title game in six years has further cemented his respect within the profession.

"What he's done there is what I would expect him to do anywhere," Weis said. "Just about anywhere he's gone in an ample amount of time he gets things going the right way, especially offensively. He's a very, very good coach."

How would things look today had the two quarterback gurus gotten the chance to collaborate with the Irish? That's for others to debate. Cutcliffe, for one, is content with how things turned out, as strange as the path that led him there might have been.

"I’d never been without a job in my life," Cutcliffe said. "We lived (in Knoxville) that spring, summer and fall. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know if I’d coach again, but I always think there’s purpose to things that happen if we do what we should do with them. I believe the couple years I spent back at Tennessee were rewarding, but I think I found my right place here.

"Not to be eerie and now to be, 'Oh this is all destiny.' I’m not saying that. I was able to find my right place, and that’s Duke University."

ACC morning links

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
8:00
AM ET
Is it time to start worrying about Florida State?

I was having that discussion Sunday afternoon and felt it is still too early to make any meaningful determination on the Seminoles. After all, our Brad Edwards has Florida State still in his predicted playoff field even if the Seminoles did drop to No. 4 in the Football Power Index (FPI).

Everyone agrees Florida State has not been as dominant as most expected, but Oklahoma State, despite the lineup overhaul, is probably better than many gave the Cowboys credit for. It's not as if the Seminoles played poorly in Dallas either, but rather did not win in a convincing manner.

In Week 2, Florida State beat The Citadel 37-12, and the defense struggled at times in the first half. But The Citadel is an FCS opponent and a team that runs the option, and it can be tricky defending those teams with just a week of practice.

ESPN metrics, however, raises questions on the Seminoles' defense. According to ESPN's defensive efficiency, which measures how many points a defense contributes to its team's net scoring margin and adjusts for the strength of opposing offenses, Florida State is ranked 85th among FBS teams. They Seminoles led the country in defensive efficiency last season.

I'm still not ready to judge Florida State based on the season's first two weeks, although it's clear this team has legitimate concerns. Every team does.

What is worth keeping an eye on is Florida State's schedule might be tougher than originally thought. Florida, Louisville and Notre Dame look to be bigger challenges as the three have combined to start the season 5-0 with a convincing win in each game. The FPI originally gave Florida State a 38 percent chance to finish the regular season undefeated, but that number has dropped to 13 percent.

Before the season began, the FPI gave Florida State a 94 percent chance to beat Notre Dame. That percentage has now dropped to 66. Their chances of winning dropped double-digit percentage points against Clemson (13 percentage points), Florida (20) and Louisville (17), too, according to the ESPN Production Analytics Team. The Seminoles' next game is Sept. 20 against Clemson.

Is Florida State as good as advertised this preseason? It's still probably too early to tell. What is clear is the Seminoles' road to a second undefeated season is much tougher, and that could pose the biggest threat.

Here are a few more links to help kick off Week 3:

ACC bowl projections: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
8:00
PM ET
Virginia Tech’s big win combined with a manageable schedule the rest of the way vaults the Hokies into the No. 2 spot in the ACC and a berth in the Orange Bowl in our projections. Notre Dame makes a nice jump, too, based on its dominant win over Michigan and the obvious allure for a top-tier bowl. The rest of this week’s projections are educated guesses, but so much is up in the air. For now, this is how the bowl picture stacks up.

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

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