ACC: ESPN Stats & Info

Conference races gaining clarity

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
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Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesMelvin Gordon and the Wisconsin Badgers have won five straight games to take the Big Ten West lead.

After another week of games with conference championship implications, the conference races are gaining clarity.

The Wisconsin Badgers took hold of the Big Ten West, and the Alabama Crimson Tide control the SEC West after significant divisional wins Saturday.

Using projections by ESPN’s Football Power Index, let’s break down how each of the Power 5 conferences are projected to finish, starting with the most likely conference winners.

ACC
FPI’s projected winner:
Florida State Seminoles (75 percent), Duke Blue Devils (15 percent), Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (10 percent)

After Miami’s loss to Florida State, there are three remaining potential conference champions in the ACC. Florida State has already clinched the ACC Atlantic, and FPI projects the Seminoles have a 75 percent chance to beat the ACC Coastal winner in the championship game.

Despite its loss Saturday, Duke remains the most likely ACC Coastal champion (69 percent) because of its schedule and the head-to-head win over Georgia Tech on Oct. 11, but FPI projects Georgia Tech, which is ranked 11 spots ahead of Duke in the FPI rankings, would give the Seminoles a tougher test.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Georgia Tech clinches with a Duke loss.

Big 12
FPI’s projected winner:
Baylor Bears (74 percent), TCU Horned Frogs (22 percent), Kansas State Wildcats (4 percent)

FPI projects Baylor has a 68 percent chance to win out, best among the one-loss Power 5 teams. If the Bears win out (including a win over Kansas State on Dec. 6), they own the head-to-head tiebreaker over TCU and would be the Big 12 champion. Based on these facts, FPI projects Baylor has a 74 percent chance to win the Big 12.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: None.

Pac-12
FPI’s projected winner:
Oregon Ducks (69 percent), UCLA Bruins (15 percent), USC Trojans (9 percent), Arizona State Sun Devils (5 percent)

Oregon clinched the Pac-12 North division before last week’s games, but the South might be the most interesting division in the FBS. There are currently four teams in the Pac-12 South with two conference losses. FPI projects UCLA has the best chance to win the division because of its strength (highest ranking in FPI) and schedule. The Bruins have already beat Arizona State and Arizona, so if they beat USC on Saturday, they would be in great position to win the South. If USC defeats UCLA, however, the Trojans would become the favorite and would clinch the division with a loss by Arizona State earlier in the day. FPI projects UCLA has a 59 percent chance to beat USC at home.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: USC clinches with win AND Arizona State loss.

Big Ten
FPI’s projected winner:
Ohio State Buckeyes (61 percent), Wisconsin (36 percent), Minnesota Golden Gophers (1 percent)

Ohio State and Wisconsin are in control of their respective divisions. Ohio State has to win one of its remaining two games -- versus Indiana and versus Michigan -- to win the Big Ten East without the help of a Michigan State loss. FPI projects Ohio State has a 99 percent chance to win one of those games. The Big Ten West is a little more interesting, with Wisconsin still to face Minnesota. FPI projects Wisconsin has an 87 percent chance to win the division, but Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska are all still alive.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Wisconsin clinches a berth in the conference championship game with win AND a Minnesota loss. Ohio State clinches a berth in the conference championship game with win OR a Michigan State loss.

SEC
FPI’s projected winner:
Alabama (46 percent), Georgia Bulldogs (39 percent), Ole Miss Rebels (8 percent), Mississippi State Bulldogs (4 percent), Missouri (2 percent)

The SEC remains the most wide-open Power 5 conference. Alabama’s win against Mississippi State added some clarity; if the Tide defeat Auburn on Nov. 29, they will win the SEC West (they can also clinch via losses by Ole Miss AND Mississippi State). FPI projects the Tide have a 76 percent chance to win the West, followed by Ole Miss (14 percent) and Mississippi State (10 percent). In the SEC East, Georgia would win the head-to-head tiebreaker over Missouri, but the Tigers currently have a one-game lead in the loss column. Georgia has completed its conference schedule, and Missouri has two remaining SEC games, so if Missouri loses at Tennessee or versus Arkansas, Georgia wins the division. FPI projects Missouri has an 85 percent chance to lose either of those games.

Potential clinching scenarios this week: Georgia clinches division with Missouri loss. Alabama clinches division with losses by Mississippi State AND Ole Miss.

Breaking down the conference races

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
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After a weekend that featured six matchups between ranked teams, we have emerged with newfound clarity in the conference races.

Ohio State, Baylor, Oregon and Alabama each beat a top-20 opponent on Saturday and now controls its own destiny in conference races.

Using projections by ESPN’s Football Power Index, let’s break down how each of the Power 5 conferences are projected to finish, starting the with most likely conference winners.

ACC
FPI’s Projected Winner: Florida State (75 percent), Duke (19 percent)

Florida State has the best chance of any Power 5 school to win its conference. FPI projects that the Seminoles have a 99 percent chance to win their division and a 77 percent chance to beat the winner of the ACC Coastal division in the ACC Championship Game, should they get there.

Duke is in the driver’s seat in the Coastal division, one game ahead in the loss column over Miami (FL) and Georgia Tech. The Blue Devils hold the head-to-head tiebreaker versus the Yellow Jackets, and although they lost to Miami (FL), the Hurricanes still have Florida State left on their schedule.

Big 12
FPI’s Projected Winner: Baylor (72 percent), TCU (24 percent), Kansas State (4 percent)

After its win against Oklahoma, Baylor’s chance of winning the Big 12 rose from 27 percent to 72 percent. By most measures, TCU has a more impressive résumé than Baylor, but the Bears hold the head-to-head tiebreaker after defeating the Horned Frogs on Oct. 11 in an unlikely 21-point fourth-quarter comeback.

TCU (68 percent) and Baylor (67 percent) have the best chances among Power 5 one-loss teams to win out. If both teams run the table, Baylor will be the Big 12 champion.

FPI projects that Kansas State, which also has one conference loss, has a four percent chance to win the Big 12 because of its schedule. The Wildcats have to play West Virginia and Baylor on the road, but if they beat Baylor in the final week of the season, things could get interesting. FPI projects that there is a 29 percent chance that Baylor, TCU and Kansas State win their other remaining games, resulting in a three-way tie.

Pac-12
FPI’s Projected Winner: Oregon (71 percent), Arizona State (13 percent), UCLA (10 percent)

Oregon has already clinched the Pac-12 North, so its only barrier to a conference championship will come in that Pac-12 Championship Game. Arizona State, which is one of nine remaining one-loss teams, has a 51 percent chance to win the Pac-12 South, according to FPI, followed by UCLA (30 percent).

The Sun Devils have three remaining conference games, including a tough road test against rival Arizona on Nov. 28, while the Bruins have two. If these teams were to finish with the same record, UCLA owns the head-to-head tiebreaker, and would face Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship game – a game that FPI projects the Ducks have more than a 70 percent chance to win.

Big Ten
FPI’s Projected Winner: Ohio State (65 percent), Wisconsin (22 percent), Nebraska (11 percent)

Ohio State’s win against Michigan State on Saturday may have been the biggest win of the weekend in terms of conference championships. Not only did Ohio State put itself in a great position to win its division (FPI projects the Buckeyes have a 98 percent chance to win the Big Ten East), but it knocked its greatest competition out of the race.

One of the biggest games of this upcoming weekend in terms of divisional races features the top two teams in the Big Ten West – Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Because the game is in Madison, FPI projects that Wisconsin has a 64 percent chance to win. Whichever team wins will put itself in a prime position to win the division and likely face Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game.

SEC
FPI’s Projected Winner: Alabama (36 percent), Georgia (27 percent), Mississippi State (19 percent)

The SEC is the most wide open conference. FPI projects that there are three teams – Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi State – with more than a 15 percent chance to win the conference. No other Power 5 conference has more than two such teams.

In the SEC West, FPI projects that Alabama has a 50 percent chance to win the division, largely because it hosts its two biggest competitors – Mississippi State and Auburn – in the next few weeks.

On Saturday, Mississippi State heads to Tuscaloosa in a game with conference and playoff implications. The winner of this game will control its own destiny in the vaunted SEC West and have a great chance to play the SEC East champion in the conference championship game.

Like the SEC West, the East is also quite unsettled.

Although Georgia is currently behind Missouri in the SEC East standings, FPI projects that the Bulldogs have a 60 percent chance to win the division because Missouri has three difficult remaining conference games, while Georgia has one.

Winston makes the difference for FSU

November, 4, 2014
Nov 4
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Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston displayed his come-from-behind ability in a victory at Louisville on Thursday.
Florida State is not dominating teams as it did last season. The Seminoles are undefeated but have trailed at halftime in four of eight games, and their average win probability at halftime (58%) ranks 50th in FBS.

But the 2014 Seminoles don’t have to compete with the 2013 Seminoles to make the first College Football Playoff. They only have to be judged one of the four best teams by the selection committee. And regardless of their diminished dominance compared with last season, they have something no other team has: the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

Playing from behind
This season, the Seminoles have run almost twice as many plays while trailing (184) than they did all of last season (93). More than half of those plays (55) from last season were in the BCS Championship game against Auburn.

Florida State ranks 28th in Game Control, which accounts for average in-game win probability and adjusts for opponents faced. Last season, Florida State led the nation in Game Control, and since 2005, only one team entered bowls undefeated (Hawaii 2007) with a Game Control outside the top 20.

Here’s where Jameis Winston comes in. He is 21-0 as a starter. His career Total QBR (86.8) is the fourth-best mark for a player with at least 10 starts in the QBR era (since 2004) behind Cam Newton, Marcus Mariota and Johnny Manziel.

Winston has played his best when his team has needed him the most. He has led four second-half comebacks in his career, including a game-winning drive in the BCS Championship game.

In the Seminoles’ 42-31 win last week at Louisville, Winston helped rally his team from a 17-point deficit with 11:22 left in the third quarter. From that point on, he completed 15-of-25 passes for 278 yards and three touchdowns. He did this against a team that entered the game allowing the lowest Total QBR in the nation and that had given up a total of three passing touchdowns in the previous six games.

In the postgame news conference, Winston said, “Being down is nothing when you’ve got heart and you persevere. Personally, we play better when we’re down, honestly.”

Numbers back him up
That appears to be true for Winston. He ranks among the top 10 in FBS in Total QBR (81.4), completion percentage (68.3%) and yards per attempt (9.7) when his team is trailing.

He has been better when trailing in the second half. In that situation, he leads the FBS in yards per attempt (10.5) and third-down conversion percentage (75%) and ranks fourth in Total QBR (90.3).

His best performance might have come against Notre Dame on Oct. 18. He completed 15-of-16 second-half passes (all when trailing), including all eight of his passes thrown 10 yards or longer.
Third-down efficiency has separated Winston from the pack. He has converted a first down on 54% of his third-down passing plays in his career, on pace to be the best for any FBS quarterback in the last 10 seasons (min. 10 games started).

There is a first half/second-half divide with his third downs, too. Look no further than last week against Louisville, when Winston completed 2-of-5 third-down passes in the first half for 19 yards and an interception. In the second half he was 5-of-6 for 169 yards and three touchdowns.>Not surprisingly, Winston leads the FBS in third-down Total QBR in the second half.

The Seminoles might not be winning every week by 40 points like last season, but they are 8-0. According to ESPN’s Football Power Index, the Seminoles have a 34% chance of winning the rest of their games, including the ACC Championship game. An undefeated Power 5 team that is the reigning national champion and has a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback sounds a lot like a playoff team.

Power rankings: Big 12 solidly second

October, 13, 2014
Oct 13
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Tom Pennington/Getty ImagesBryce Petty and kicker Chris Callahan survived TCU. The teams are part of the top-heavy Big 12.
The “hot” debate entering the season was whether the Pac-12 could surpass the SEC as the top conference in the nation. The Big 12 was rarely mentioned as a top conference, however, despite returning the majority of its starting quarterbacks and having two of the top five defenses in ESPN’s preseason defensive efficiency rankings.

Five of the Big 12’s 10 teams are in the top 15 of The Associated Press poll, tied with the SEC (which has 14 teams) for the most top-15 teams in the nation. Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Oklahoma State all have one or fewer losses and a legitimate shot at the College Football Playoff.

All of those teams will not finish the season with one loss, but it’s worth noting that two of their losses came in close games against the teams that played for the 2014 BCS National Championship (Auburn defeated Kansas State and Florida State defeated Oklahoma State).

The bottom of the Big 12, however, is not as strong as that of the Pac-12 or SEC. The Big 12’s average FPI ranking, which is designed to measure a conference’s depth, ranks below that of those two conferences.

The SEC remains at the top of the conference power rankings. It has the top team in the AP poll (Mississippi State) and in the FPI (Auburn), the two components of these power rankings. The SEC West remains unbeaten against any team not in the SEC West as the Magnolia State has catapulted to the forefront of the college football world.

The Pac-12 will rise in the conference rankings if its top teams can continue to win. Last week, we discussed how the Pac-12 is missing an elite team. Oregon looked strong against UCLA, and the defenses of Stanford and Washington defenses looked solid against explosive offenses in Week 7. The issue is that the Pac-12 does not have a team in the top eight of the AP poll.

In other conference action, next week is a big one for the ACC as Notre Dame heads to Florida State. The Seminoles are the best team in the ACC, but if they lose to Notre Dame at home, the conference could take a big hit in perceived strength and in the College Football Playoff race.


Is it too early to question Florida State?

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
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AP Photo/Tony GutierrezDespite two wins, Florida State has dropped from 1st to 4th in ESPN's FPI rankings.
Florida State began the season with by far the best chance to enter bowl season undefeated, but a slower-than-expected start and the better-than-projected performances by many of its opponents have dropped Florida State to the third-best chance to run the table behind BYU and Oklahoma.

As noted, many of Florida State’s opponents have improved in FPI; Louisville, Notre Dame and Florida all jumped at least seven spots in the FPI rankings through two weeks.

In addition, the Seminoles had a 94 percent and 93 percent chance of beating Notre Dame (Oct. 18) and Louisville (Oct. 30), respectively, in the preseason. But after two weeks, that percentage is down to 66 against the Irish and 76 against the Cardinals.

Last season, Florida State won by an average margin of 39.5 points per game and had the highest average in-game win probability in the nation.

This season, Florida State has the 44th-best scoring margin (+15.5) and ranks 17th in average win probability.

Defense has been the biggest issue.

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 has been a below-average defense (85th in the FBS) this season after leading the FBS in defensive efficiency in 2013.

Big Ten plummets in conference rankings

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
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The Big Ten’s struggles in Week 2 have been well documented. The conference lost all four of its games against opponents ranked in the top 50 of the Football Power Index, and its top win according to FPI came when Minnesota defeated No. 73 Middle Tennessee at home.

The next tier of Big Ten teams struggled too, as Nebraska, Iowa, Maryland, and Illinois all were tested into the fourth quarter against teams they were favored to beat.

The Big Ten is now 11-7 against non-conference FBS opponents, by far the lowest win percentage (61 percent) of any Power Five conference. Against other Power Five teams and Notre Dame, the Big Ten is 1-5 with an average point margin of -12 points per game.

The Big Ten’s difficulties begin at the top of the conference. The highest ranked Big Ten team in the Football Power Index is No. 22 Michigan, who lost 31-0 at Notre Dame on Saturday. Every other Power Five conference has at least two teams in the top 20 of the FPI, and the SEC has nine teams.

In the AP Poll, the other component of the conference power rankings, three of the four Big Ten teams ranked in the poll last week fell at least six spots.

As a result of the Big Ten’s dreadful weekend, the conference fell 17.3 points in the conference power rankings, the largest single-week plunge of any conference in the last three years.

On the flip side, the ACC rose by 7.2 points and jumped over the Big Ten for fourth place. The ACC went 11-0 in non-conference games in Week 2, bringing its non-conference win percentage to 87 percent in the first two weeks. Only the SEC (95 percent) has a higher non-conference win percentage.

The Pac-12 barely budged in the conference rankings, but Oregon's win against Michigan State may end up being the biggest win for a conference in terms of national perception this season. The Ducks showed that they could play a physical style of football against one of the toughest defenses in the nation.

Next week is a big one for the Big 12 as the conference has seven non-conference games against Power Five opponents. Oklahoma hosts Tennessee (8 ET, ABC), Iowa State travels to Iowa (3:30 ET, ESPN) and Texas Tech faces off with Arkansas (3:30 ET, ABC) in games that could help solidify the conference as the third-best in the nation.

The conference power rankings are a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.


SEC extends lead in Power Rankings

September, 3, 2014
Sep 3
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AP Photo/Tony GutierrezSEC teams went 8-1 in Week 1 as the race for the national championship trophy began.
A quick refresher: Last week, ESPN Stats & Information released its preseason conference power rankings, a formula that equally weighs the rankings from the AP Poll and ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) in order to determine the best and worst conferences in the country. For more information on the rankings and FPI, click here and here.

After an exciting slate of non-conference games in Week 1, the SEC proved why it was considered the top conference in the nation entering the season. The SEC went 8-1 in non-conference games, the best winning percentage of any FBS conference.

Ole Miss, Georgia and LSU all beat opponents ranked in the top 50 in the preseason Football Power Index, while Tennessee and Alabama took care of business against improved FBS teams. What may be surprising is the way that some of these SEC teams won the games, though.

The SEC was not nearly as dominant in its wins as some may have expected. LSU had the lowest average in-game win probability (34%) of any team that won this weekend, and Alabama, Ole Miss and Georgia were all in one-score games in the second half.

Nonetheless, the SEC pulled out these wins and jumped 1.4 points in the conference power rankings. The strength of the top of the conference (six teams in top 15 of the AP Poll) is unmatched by any other conference.

Big Ten falls despite strong Week 1
The Big Ten had the second-best winning percentage in non-conference games of any of FBS conference. Notable wins include: Rutgers beating Washington State in Seattle, Penn State defeating UCF in Ireland, and Ohio State outlasting Navy in Baltimore.

However, the other nine wins for the Big Ten were against six FCS teams and three lower-tier FBS opponents.

The main reason that the Big Ten fell in the ratings, however, is that last week’s numbers were based off of the preseason AP Poll that did not account for Braxton Miller’s injury.

Ohio State struggled in the first half against Navy without Miller, and as a result, the AP voters dropped the Buckeyes from fifth to eighth despite a win. That was the second largest drop in AP ranking for a team that won last weekend (UCLA went from 7 to 11).

ACC falls further behind rest of Power Five
The ACC dropped five more points in the conference power rankings after Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe, Syracuse almost lost to Villanova, North Carolina struggled against Liberty and Florida State played a closer-than-expected game against Oklahoma State.

Clemson's loss to Georgia also significantly affected the ACC in the ratings because the top of the ACC is considered even weaker than when it began the season.

Florida State is the only team from the ACC ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll; every other Power Five conference has at least three top-20 teams.

In terms of the bottom of the ACC, Syracuse, Boston College, North Carolina State and Wake Forest all have an FPI below zero (zero is considered an average FBS team by FPI). No other Power Five conference has more than two such teams.

Big Week for Big Ten/Pac-12
Week 2 is a big week to prove conference superiority. Highlighted by Michigan State traveling to Oregon, the Big Ten is a part of three marquee games next weekend.

Michigan will look to build upon a strong Week 1 at Notre Dame and Ohio State will look to prove it can be successful without Braxton Miller as it hosts Virginia Tech.

In the Pac-12, Oregon likely needs to win at home against Michigan State in order for it to stay alive in the playoff.

Also out west, USC and Stanford will meet in one of the top Pac-12 games of the season.

Is Miami this year’s Notre Dame?

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsMiami has needed 4th quarter comebacks in its last two wins to remain unbeaten.

No. 7 Miami (FL) enters its Week 10 matchups with No. 3 Florida State undefeated and looking to jump into the BCS National Championship conversation.

The Hurricanes needed two fourth-quarter comebacks in their last two games in order to remain undefeated. In both of those games, they had less than a 25 percent chance of winning at one point in the fourth quarter, according to ESPN’s win probability model.

Miami’s win against Wake Forest was its third win by seven or fewer points, which brings up the question, “Could Miami be this year’s Notre Dame?”

Last season, Notre Dame won five games by seven points or fewer en route to its 12-0 record entering the BCS National Championship.

The Fighting Irish had a difficult schedule, but also failed to dominate some of their lesser opponents. Notre Dame’s average margin of victory against its unranked FBS opponents was 18.6 points compared to 35.9 for Alabama last season.

Further, their average in-game win probability ranked ninth in the FBS entering the BCS National Championship, meaning that despite winning all of their games they were not dominant in those wins. In-game win probability measures the chance that a team has of winning across all of its plays.

Miami currently has the 18th-best average in-game win probability, but has faced only one ranked opponent. Adjusting for strength of schedule, Miami’s in-game win probability rank falls to 34th, according to ESPN’s win probability model.

Another potential similarity upcoming
Arguably, Notre Dame’s biggest win of last season came at No. 8 Oklahoma in its eighth game of the season. The Irish entered the game as double-digit underdogs, and, like Miami, they needed fourth-quarter comebacks in their previous two games against Stanford and BYU to remain undefeated.

Miami enters its eighth game of the season as more than a three-touchdown underdog at Florida State. The Hurricanes’ offense was slowed in its last two games, and it will face a Florida State defense that has held its last two ranked opponents to 14 combined points.

One of the keys to Notre Dame’s win against Oklahoma was its run game. The Irish gained 179 yards and all three of their touchdowns on designed runs. They were able to control the clock and keep Landry Jones off the field.

Look for Miami to employ a similar plan Saturday. In the fourth quarter of its past two games, Miami ran the ball on 76 percent of its plays and averaged 99.5 rush yards.

They scored all four of their fourth-quarter touchdowns on the ground in those two comebacks. If Florida State has a weakness, it is its run defense; the Seminoles lead the nation in pass defense, but rank 29th in rush defense.

Florida State has scored a touchdown on 52 percent of its drives, second best in the FBS. If Miami is able to keep them off the field, the Hurricanes might be able to continue their unbeaten season.

Winston's hot start has FSU among elite

October, 5, 2013
10/05/13
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Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJameis Winston had five passing touchdowns against Maryland.
Jameis Winston has Florida State on its way possibly to its best season of the 21st century.

The redshirt freshman has been quite impressive in his first five games as the Seminoles' starting quarterback.

Winston had five passing touchdowns against Maryland, the most by a Florida State quarterback since Christian Ponder had five in 2009 against Georgia Tech.

Winston now has 17 passing touchdowns, the most by anyone in a player's first five career games over the past 10 seasons.

Winston joins Boise State’s Kellen Moore as the only FBS players over the past 10 seasons with a QBR of at least 75 in each of their first five career games.

In three ACC games, Winston has a 93.6 Total QBR, has completed 76 percent of his passes, and is averaging 360 passing yards per game with 13 passing touchdowns and one interception.

Heisman hopeful
How does Winston compare to past Heisman winners in their first five games of the season? He has more touchdowns responsible for (passing and rushing touchdowns) than Johnny Manziel (2012) and Cam Newton (2010). And he has fewer turnovers (two) than any of the past three Heisman winners –- Manziel, Robert Griffin III (2011) and Newton.

The rout was on
Winston’s superb play led the Seminoles to a dominant victory over No. 25 Maryland 63-0.

Florida State's 63-0 win over Maryland is tied for the largest margin of victory over a ranked team since the AP Poll began in 1936. In 1997, UCLA beat No. 11 Texas, 66-3.

It’s the largest margin of victory by any team in an ACC conference game.

It’s also the largest shutout win ever by Florida State over a ranked team.

The 5-0 Seminoles are idle next week before clashing with undefeated No. 3 Clemson on Oct. 19 at Death Valley.

Blitz could be key vs. Hokies QB

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
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Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesVirginia Tech QB Logan Thomas accumulated 3,482 yards of total offense last season.
When Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech face off tonight at 8 ET on ESPN, it will be all about the quarterbacks.

QUARTERBACKS

This game showcases two of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the country in Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas and Georgia Tech’s Tevin Washington. Both players accounted for double-digit touchdowns passing and rushing last season, a feat accomplished by only 11 players in FBS in 2011.

Thomas became only the second quarterback in Virginia Tech history to pass for more than 3,000 yards in a season and broke the school record with 3,482 yards of total offense.

But Thomas struggled throwing downfield early last season. In the first five games, he completed 22.9 percent of his passes that traveled 15 yards or more and he didn’t have a touchdown. During the last nine games, Thomas more than doubled his completion percentage on passes of this length, and he threw at least one touchdown in six of eight games.

Blitzing could be a key for the Georgia Tech defense. Thomas completed fewer than half of his passes when opponents sent five or more pass-rushers last season. In Virginia Tech’s three losses, Thomas threw two interceptions in 23 attempts when blitzed.

Thomas’ biggest strength is his running. He rushed for a first down on 51.8 percent of his third-down attempts last season, the highest percentage for a quarterback with at least 30 rushes. On third-and-2 or fewer, Thomas converted 20 of 21 rush attempts, which also led FBS.

Washington led FBS with 11.0 yards per pass attempt in 2011. Ten of his 11 touchdown passes last season were for 25 yards or more and seven of them were for at least 50 yards. He’ll need to get acquainted with completely new targets this year though, because there are no receivers on the roster with a single catch in their college career.

Georgia Tech’s success is highly dependent on Washington’s success as a passer. During the team’s 6-0 start last season, Washington threw for 175.3 yards per game, 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. The team then went 2-5 in its last seven games, and Washington threw for 85.7 yards per game, one touchdown and six interceptions.

BIG PLAYS FOR GEORGIA TECH

Since Paul Johnson’s first year as head coach in 2008, no team has been more effective in the running game than Georgia Tech. Running Johnson’s triple-option offense, the Yellow Jackets have averaged an FBS-best 302.0 rushing yards per game over the past four seasons. Last year, they ranked second in FBS with 316.5 yards per game on the ground.

Georgia Tech gained 20 or more yards on 35 of 167 pass plays last season, the highest percentage in FBS. Over the past eight seasons, no team passed for 20 yards or more at a higher rate than the Yellow Jackets. Overall, they gained 20 or more yards on 9.3 percent of their plays, the fourth-highest percentage in FBS.

ACC weekend rewind: Week 1

September, 3, 2012
9/03/12
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Here’s a look back at Week 1 in the ACC:

The good: Clemson’s offense against Auburn. The Tigers were able to win without suspended superstar Sammy Watkins, as the trio of quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Andre Ellington and receiver DeAndre Hopkins all made highlight reel-worthy plays against a decent Auburn defense. More importantly, though, the once-suspect offensive line paved the way for them to do it.

[+] EnlargeAndre Ellington
Josh D. Weiss/US PresswireClemson running back Andre Ellington opened up the 2012 season with 231 yards on the ground against Auburn.
The bad: David Amerson’s performance against Tennessee. The All-American record setter got burned twice -- both for touchdowns.

The ugly: Maryland’s 7-6 win against William & Mary. The Terps couldn’t score until the fourth quarter against the FCS program, and finished with four turnovers and 91 rushing yards.

The surprise: Miami true freshman Duke Johnson. Johnson scored his first career touchdown on a 54-yard run in the second quarter and added a 56-yard score in the third quarter. He totaled 135 yards for the game, the most by a UM true freshman since Javarris James racked up 148 yards against Houston (Sept. 30, 2006).

The stat: Andre Ellington ran for 231 yards in Clemson's win against Auburn. According to ESPN’s Stats & Info department, Ellington is only the third ACC player since 2004 with multiple 200-yard rushing games. Seven ACC teams don't even have multiple 200-yard rushing games by an individual in that period.

The record I: UNC set a school and ACC record for single-game punt return yards with 260 on nine returns. The previous UNC mark of 225 yards was set against VMI in 1935. The previous ACC mark was 227 by Clemson against Georgia Tech in 1987.

The record II: Duke receiver Conner Vernon caught 10 passes for 180 yards and one touchdown in the win over FIU, becoming Duke’s all-time leader in pass receptions (208) with a 3-yard catch midway through the fourth quarter. He moved into fourth place on the ACC’s all-time chart for pass receptions (208).

The overmatched: Poor Murray State. The Seminoles totaled 606 yards while holding the Racers to 156 yards. In Charlottesville, Virginia outgained Richmond 523-201 in the first three quarters.

Clemson's deep options without Watkins

August, 24, 2012
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The Clemson Tigers will be without standout sophomore wide receiver Sammy Watkins for their season opener against the Auburn Tigers at the Georgia Dome due to a suspension. Watkins burst on the scene as a freshman last season, leading the Tigers in receptions (82), receiving yards (1,219) and receiving touchdowns (12).
Will the Tigers be able to overcome this loss in a tough opening test?

Led by Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd, Clemson’s high-powered passing attack finished 12th in the nation last season with 3,952 passing yards.

As the duo went, so did the Tigers. Boyd had 10 touchdown passes and no interceptions when targeting Watkins in Clemson’s 10 wins, but just two touchdowns and three picks when throwing to Watkins in the team’s four losses. (Watkins also missed one game, a loss to NC State.)

Watkins was sensational in Clemson’s matchup against Auburn last season. He hauled in 10 of 12 passes thrown to him for 155 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard touchdown reception.

He was Boyd’s best deep threat all season, targeted 25 times on Boyd's throws of at least 20 yards. One out of every five of those targets resulted in a touchdown.

Who steps in?
The numbers show Clemson will have a big hole to fill in the passing game, but the Tigers may have the depth to do so. Junior DeAndre Hopkins was second on the team last season with 70 receptions and finished just shy of 1,000 yards (952). Hopkins was also a downfield threat as he and Watkins combined for 16 catches on throws of 20 yards or more.

Another name to keep an eye on is 6-foot-5-inch sophomore Martavis Bryant. As a freshman Bryant had just nine catches, but showed big-play ability averaging 24.6 yards per catch with two touchdowns. Three of his nine catches were on throws of 20 yards or more from Boyd, including both of his touchdowns.

Other names to watch at wide receiver are Jaron Brown and Charone Peake. The senior Brown was a reliable receiver for Boyd last season, finishing fourth on the Tigers with 31 receptions. Peake had just four catches for 71 yards last season as a freshman, but the former No. 2 overall wide receiver recruit in 2011 may see more action.

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