ACC: Florida State

ACC viewer's guide: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
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Much of the drama is already gone from the ACC slate, and the SEC rivalry games are still a week away. But there is still plenty to watch for in Week 13.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia Tech at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #VTvsWAKE
The Hokies can wrap up bowl eligibility with a win against Wake Forest, which given the litany of injuries Virginia Tech has suffered this season -- including tailback Marshawn Williams, who tore his ACL last week -- is probably commendable. The Hokies are coming off their second road win of the season against a top-25 foe, so the trip to Winston-Salem against a Demon Deacons team still looking for its first ACC victory shouldn’t be a huge test. Wake hasn’t been able to run the ball on anyone this season, but Virginia Tech’s defense allows 5.64 yards-per-carry on non-sack rushing attempts this season -- 104th nationally.

[+] EnlargeJameis Winston
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesJameis Winston and Florida State will try to produce a rare fast start this week against Boston College.
3:30 p.m.

Boston College at No. 3 Florida State, ABC/ESPN2, #BCvsFSU
A year ago, it was the Eagles who gave FSU its toughest game of the regular season. Now, BC is the ACC’s last chance to send the Seminoles to a conference loss. The matchup isn’t ideal for an FSU defense that has been gashed by the run on a few occasions this season, and after escaping a physical matchup against Miami last week, it will be interesting to see how focused the Seminoles are for this one. But with a season of close calls already in their rearview mirror, Jimbo Fisher no doubt has emphasized the importance of a fast start this week, and for FSU, it needs to start thinking about earning some style points to impress the CFB playoff committee.

Syracuse at Pittsburgh, ESPNU, #CUSEvsPITT
Pitt has lost three straight despite 1,040 yards of offense from James Conner and Tyler Boyd. The Panthers have actually dropped six of their past seven after a 3-0 start to the season, and now they must win out to have a shot at a bowl game. Four of Pitt’s six losses have been by five points or less, however, and Conner and Boyd remain two of the most potent threats in the ACC. Whether Syracuse’s underrated defense can slow down Pitt’s stars might be paramount, but the Orange will also need to find some offense against a Panthers team that has allowed 147 points in its past three games.

No. 24 Louisville at Notre Dame, NBC
The Cardinals are back in the top 25, but they will go to battle in South Bend without starting quarterback Will Gardner. Reggie Bonnafon will take over at QB coming off his best game as a college player last week when he threw for 69 yards, ran for 76 more and scored three times against Boston College. But the real intrigue might come on the other side of the ball, where Everett Golson leads an Irish offense that leads all Power 5 teams in turnovers against Louisville’s stout defense, led by safety Gerod Holliman and his 13 interceptions.

Georgia State at No. 22 Clemson, ESPN3, #GSUvsCLEM
Since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury last month, Clemson’s offense has more turnovers (11) than touchdowns (7), and that downward spiral hit rock bottom last week when Cole Stoudt threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns. But as bad as Stoudt’s performance was, Dabo Swinney and the Tigers believe he’s still a capable quarterback, and certainly the job gets a lot easier this week. The bigger question now is whether it will be Stoudt’s job in two weeks when Clemson looks to end a five-game losing streak against rival South Carolina.

7 p.m.

Miami at Virginia, ESPN2, #MIAvsUVA
The Hurricanes are coming off a physical and emotional loss to Florida State and looking to rebound. Virginia is still clinging to bowl hopes, and might need to win out to salvage coach Mike London’s job. The key to the game might be how well the Hoos’ defense can slow Duke Johnson and the Miami running game, but as FSU found out last week, quarterback Brad Kaaya is certainly capable of doing some damage. Virginia, on the other hand, has just 59 rushing yards combined in its past two games, and it has scored on the ground just once in its past five.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The “Body Blow Theory” might be the macho cousin of the popular TV show. Instead of men working in a lab, the “Body Blow Theory” tapes just about every Saturday and stars men who look like they were built in a lab.

Conceived by Bruce Feldman, the “Body Blow Theory” is the aftermath of what happens to a team after being bludgeoned for 60 minutes and 160 plays by one of the country’s most physical teams. The following week, those opponents don’t have as much in the tank after so many successive shots to the body the prior Saturday.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State
Rob Kinnan/USA Today SportsBoston College hopes to outlast Jimbo Fisher's Seminoles on Saturday.
 Evidence supporting the “Body Blow Theory” is hard to come by statistically, but anecdotal evidence from coaches attest to its validity.

“No doubt,” Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said when asked if he believes in the body blow cumulative toll. “… That’s why football is never easy. It’s physical. That’s why it is such a different game. It’s time to man up and play.”

The No. 3 Seminoles’ next opponent, Boston College, seemingly took advantage of the theory earlier this season. A week after Stanford and depleted USC physically beat each other in Week 2, the Trojans were unable to recover for next weekend’s tilt at Boston College. The Eagles ran roughshod over USC to the tune of 452 rushing yards.

The Eagles hope Florida State (10-0, 7-0 ACC) is similarly tired Saturday (ABC, 3:30 ET). Boston College (6-4, 3-3) travels to Tallahassee where Florida State is in the midst of a month-long experiment testing the durability of the country’s last remaining Power 5 undefeated.

The body blows began with Louisville carving a beleaguered Florida State front seven for 158 yards on 33 rushes. Although Virginia didn’t run successfully the following week, the Cavaliers are built on physicality and defensively they tried to impose their will on a Seminoles team unable to generate enough push to run the football. Quarterback Jameis Winston, playing on a hurt ankle, was hit repeatedly, too. And last week, rival Miami played with the most energy it had all season, and the Canes ran 13 more plays than FSU, rushed 40 times and totaled 492 yards.

“We have to go down there and play a really physically tough and strong football game,” BC coach Steve Addazio said.

Addazio, who cut his teeth as an offensive line coach, has built Boston College into a college football throwback. The Eagles embrace hitting, and they’re usually the ones delivering them. With an offense that ranks 10th nationally in rushes per game (49) and 16th in total defense (323.5 yards), they are built to win at the line of scrimmage.

 That game plan keeps games close in the fourth quarter, where Boston College is then able to outlast teams running on their own exhaust.

“You've got to find a way to exceed in the fourth quarter, which is very difficult to do because the sign of a good championship team is that when it gets the hardest the best play comes out, and they've shown that when the game is on the line, they play at a high level that I haven't seen in a long time,” Addazio said. “If everyone does their job and plays physical and intense, we’ll have a chance to get the game into the fourth quarter, and when we get it there, we all know we have a chance to win it.”

The fourth quarter is where Florida State has been at its best, and Seminoles nickelback Jalen Ramsey said last week they take pride in dominating the final 15 minutes. Three times this season Florida State has trailed in the fourth quarter yet won all three times and covered the point spread on top of that.

Part of that has to do with the way the Seminoles track each player’s health with GPS tracking. The system provides real-time data for the staff during practice, which gives Fisher an idea of when to give players a rest. Fisher likes the overall health of his team during a physical five-game stretch.

“That’s one of the reasons I believe so whole-heartedly in that GPS. I can guess all I want but it gives me a parameter, which I can set and look at,” he said. “I think that’s why it’s very critical for these guys and their health.”

The Eagles will test that health, and Florida and Georgia Tech will thank them for it.
As Florida State's playoff résumé is debated, the central discussion comes back to two things:

1. Florida State hasn't played a tough schedule.

2. Florida State has struggled to win the games it has played.

Certainly there's evidence to suggest both of those statements are true and should be considered when deciding FSU's postseason fate -- both in terms of making the playoff and its seeding.

But, of course, there's more to the story, too.

Let's look at the first item. Is FSU's schedule easy?

With no opponents currently ranked in the top 20 (and likely none the rest of the way until, perhaps, the ACC championship game), the obvious answer is yes. (Of note, however: FSU has played two teams ranked in the top 25 and four in the top 40 of ESPN's FPI).

But there are a few other points worth noting, including this one from @NOTSCTheLegend.



Indeed, when Florida State takes on Boston College on Saturday, it will be the fifth time this season that an opponent had either a bye week or an FCS opponent in its previous game. Florida will be No. 6 on that list the following week. That's half of Florida State's entire schedule.

Is the same true for the other playoff contenders? Not exactly.

Here's how many similar games the others have had, with remaining games in parentheses:

(*Note, FCS opponents and season-opening games were not included.)

Ohio State, 4 (0)
Oregon, 3 (1)
Alabama, 3 (1)
TCU, 2 (1)
Baylor, 2 (0)
Mississippi State, 0 (1)

Has that made a real difference in FSU's performance? The Seminoles' first-half struggles suggest that's possible. In the four games that meet this criteria already played, FSU was outscored 78-41. In FSU's other five FBS games, it outscored its opponents 92-49.

Now, that's not entirely a fair representation because the bulk of the latter lopsided scoring came against Oklahoma State, Wake Forest and Syracuse. In games vs. Notre Dame and Virginia, the Seminoles struggled in the first halves, too, in spite of the fact that their opposition had a real opponent the previous week.

Additionally, FSU had a bye to prepare for both Clemson and Louisville, too, so any advantages should've been evened out. (And, yes, we're aware FSU had a distinct disadvantage against Clemson that had nothing to do with bye weeks, other than maybe Jameis Winston got a little bored during his.)

The point, however, is that there's more that goes into creating a tough schedule than just the teams on it.

This shows up a bit in how ESPN measures schedule strength. Based purely on the standard metric, FSU checks in at No. 38. But if we go on strength of record, which measures the odds an average Top 25 team could play the same schedule and end up with the same record, FSU ranks second -- behind Alabama. (Keep this in mind for a little later in the post.)

But let's move on to the second critique of Florida State's play -- that even though it has kept winning, it's not been dominant enough.

Again, if we look at some standard metrics, this makes sense. Here's the margin of victory for the top playoff contenders against Power 5 opponents this year:

Baylor +18.5
TCU +17.2
Ohio State +17.1
Oregon +15.9
Alabama +13.9
Florida State +13.1
Mississippi State +8.8

The Seminoles rank near the bottom, and when you add the perception of a weak schedule to that, it makes things look even worse.

Even if we get into more advanced measures, FSU doesn't look good. ESPN's Game Control metric -- which, for the purposes of simplicity, measures how nervous a team's fans are during a game -- FSU ranks 34th. The other contenders are all in the top 10.

But there's something else to be considered here. The game control is ugly for FSU because it has had to fight back, while others have jumped out early but cruised late.

In the first half of games, FSU has a +0.7 scoring margin against Power 5 foes -- by far the worst of the playoff contenders. But in the second half of those games, its margin is +12.4 -- the best margin in the nation by any team.

That leads to an interesting question from @SwainJP



Well, it turns out we don't need a hypothetical for this, because there's a perfect real-world example (see chart).

Alabama's margins are almost a perfect mirror image of Florida State's, and when we look back to those strength of record numbers, Alabama is also the only team that's played a schedule tougher than FSU's, so it makes some sense. Yet the narrative surrounding the Crimson Tide certainly is quite a bit different. Add in the fact that Alabama's scoring margin benefits greatly from a 59-0 win over Texas A&M, and the narrative shifts even further.

The irony to this is that usually in sports we reward the “clutch” teams that pull through in the most dramatic fashion (see 2013 Auburn for reference). For Florida State, however, the opposite seems to be true.

In truth, most statisticians would suggest “clutch” is a myth anyway. It's simply a matter of the cream rising to the top. In either case, it should burnish FSU's argument rather than damage it.

All of this isn't to say Florida State is clearly the best team in the country. That's sort of a foolish argument to begin with, since the whole reason we have a playoff now is the collective admission that we can't know who the best team is without playing the games on the field.

But what these numbers should clearly show is that the simple narrative surrounding FSU isn't the full story, and when measuring the top four teams — which is really all we need to do — the Seminoles clearly belong.

ACC morning links

November, 20, 2014
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If Clemson coach Dabo Swinney goes to Florida, it might force Steve Spurrier to retire. How would the Ol' Ball Coach handle Swinney, the preferred target of Spurrier's snipes, becoming the coach at the school where Spurrier won a Heisman and national title?

All joking aside, The Clemson Insider is reporting Swinney is on the short list of Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, although Swinney said he has not spoken to anyone at Florida.

At the very least, it certainly makes sense Swinney's name would at least be brought up, whether in the media or behind closed doors in Gainesville, Florida. He's eliminated much of the underachieving stigma at Clemson, where the fan base expects conference championships and New Year's Day bowl games. He cut his teeth as an offensive assistant and had some of the country's top offenses at Clemson. Defensively, Swinney has coached some poor units but credit him for making a great hire in Brent Venables and turning it around. Clemson ranks No. 2 nationally in total defense.

From a recruiting standpoint, there are not many better recruiters than Swinney, who is only 45. Clemson's 2015 class is ranked No. 3, and Swinney told reporters he's putting together "the best recruiting class we have ever had." That is saying something, too, considering he pulled Deshaun Watson out of the SEC's backyard last cycle and has signed a top-15 class the last four years.

Despite Clemson's campus being six hours from the Florida border, Swinney has been wildly successful recruiting the state. Four Floridians ranked in the ESPN 300 are committed to Clemson, and since 2011 he has received 15 four-star commitments from Florida prospects. Sammy Watkins was one of them.

Of course, with two games left and an Orange Bowl berth still a possibility -- the program's third in four seasons -- Swinney is not entertaining any questions about his name being linked to Florida.

"We are not even going to acknowledge that kind of stuff," he told reporters. "Ya'll know I love Clemson.

"We will see how it all pans out, but that is where our focus is -- great finish, great bowl game, great recruiting class and build Clemson into a College Football Playoff team so we can get to where we want to be."

Breathe easy, Spurrier.

ACC morning links

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
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Florida State receiver Rashad Greene said he does not “entertain the foolishness” of the selection committee’s College Football Playoff rankings.

Foolish might be a strong word for the rankings, which once again placed Florida State at No. 3, but they are questionable. It’s not limited to just Florida State either, but the Seminoles are one of the lightning rods through the first few weeks.

Committee chairman Jeff Long offered several different reasons as to why teams are ranked where they are, which underscores one of the biggest issues with the rankings: There are no parameters or guidelines for the committee to follow.

Opining on FSU’s ranking is equivalent to returning to the stable each Wednesday to beat a dead horse, so we’ll relent. But at some point, game control needs to take a back seat to game, set, match. Most coaches would prefer come-from-behind wins against a schedule with 11 Power 5 schools rather than superior statistical measures.

Former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden (or whoever is tasked with his Facebook statuses) argued the Seminoles are doing what every coach preaches all year: finish.

“How many times have you heard a Coach say," We didn't finish"? Coaches harp on it continuously,” the post stated. “… Every team in the Top Ten failed to 'finish' their game at least one time, but not Florida State . One thing they have done is 'finish' the game.They have 'finished' 10 straight times this season and the last 26 games in a row.”

Elsewhere in the ACC, Clemson remains ranked despite a blowout loss to Georgia Tech in which it lost starting quarterback Deshaun Watson again. It appears the committee rightfully took that into consideration, especially since the hope is Watson will return again this season as he rehabs a sprained knee.

Clemson is a legitimate Top 25 team when it has its star freshman, although he has struggled to remain healthy. This is the third significant injury Watson has suffered since the spring. The Tigers were once again strong defensively against Georgia Tech, as the score belies their effort because of two Cole Stoudt pick sixes.

Louisville is also back in the rankings at No. 24 but Duke dropped out, and Georgia Tech moved up to No. 18. All four ACC teams are rightfully ranked.

ACC bowl projections: Week 12

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
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NC State wrapped up bowl eligibility this week, and Virginia Tech can do the same Saturday against Wake Forest, but there’s still some drama left as UNC, Pitt and Virginia scramble for more wins and the shuffle for a spot in the Orange Bowl remains chaotic. Here’s where we’re at in the ACC as of now.

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

Note: Notre Dame takes one of the ACC’s bowl slots if it is not invited to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

* Bowl eligible

Planning for success: Florida State

November, 18, 2014
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The weak link in Florida State’s offensive game plan this season was clearly up the middle.

It’s no knock on the potential of redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld, who was forced into action when senior Austin Barron went down with injury, but the drop-off from last year’s starter, Bryan Stork, was significant.

So rather than simply sticking with the cards he’d been dealt, Jimbo Fisher rolled the dice. He moved Cameron Erving, his All-ACC left tackle, to the middle of the line and placed true freshman Roderick Johnson into the starting lineup to protect Jameis Winston’s blind side.

[+] EnlargeCameron Erving
Lynne Sladky/Associated PressThe move of Cameron Erving from tackle to center bolstered Florida State's inside-run game against Miami.
It was a gamble, but it worked -- at least for this week -- and now Fisher seems happy to stick with the new format for his offensive line.

“Inside, Cam is so athletic, he can move, can pull,” Fisher said. “As good as Stork was, Cam is such an athlete ... and he can clog up the middle.”

The improvement wasn’t particularly visible in terms of pass protection against the Hurricanes. Miami recorded just one sack, but Winston was hit or pressured on six of his 37 dropbacks -- roughly the same as his season average, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Status quo is certainly acceptable, though it’s worth noting that Miami entered the game with one of the least productive pass rushes in the ACC, and starting defensive end Anthony Chickillo missed time after getting hurt in Saturday’s game.

Chalk that up to Johnson getting his first heavy dose of work at left tackle, but FSU has seen enough of him in practice to think there’s a high ceiling there.

"Sometimes he does better against Mario Edwards than I do [in practice],” Erving said. “That's being honest. He has a lot of potential."

The potential in pass protection is one thing. Where FSU saw a marked improvement was on the ground.

Entering the game, Florida State had struggled mightily running the ball between the tackles, averaging just 3.2 yards-per-carry -- a significant drop-off from last season’s production.

Against Miami, however, the Seminoles rushed for 5.8 yards per carry, including 2.0 before contact -- both season highs. The yards before contact more than doubled FSU’s season average on rushes up the middle, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

The caveat to the instant impact the swap on the line might have had is that Florida State ran the ball between the tackles just nine times -- its lowest total of the season. That was due in part to an early deficit that forced FSU to throw more, but also likely a desire to get Erving used to his new role.

But Fisher sees this as the future for the line, and given that Barron was officially listed as available for the Miami game, even his return to health is unlikely to change that in the near term.

It’s a savvy move for Florida State, which goes against a Boston College team this week that ranks fourth nationally in rushing defense and third in the ACC in tackles for loss.

“It’s a move that we felt we needed to make to help us in the future to take us where we wanted to go,” Fisher said.

ACC morning links

November, 18, 2014
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We’re nearing awards season -- two ACC tight ends were announced as Mackey Award finalists on Monday -- so, of course, the talk turns to the Heisman Trophy.

There’s still plenty of debate over who deserves to win the award, but the Orlando Sentinel notes that it’s unlikely Jameis Winston will repeat.

Winston's off-field issues -- his code of conduct hearing with Florida State has been postponed to Dec. 2 -- are likely to turn off many voters, and his 11 interceptions and declining touchdown totals certainly will disqualify him from a few more ballots.

In ESPN’s latest Heisman watch, Winston checks in at No. 7 -- behind another ACC name, Miami’s Duke Johnson.

That ranking certainly begs a more interesting question than whether Winston will win: Will he even get an invite to New York?

Since the Heisman Trophy began in 1935, only three winners returned for the following season and didn’t finish in the top 5 in voting: Ohio State’s Vic Janowicz in 1951, Navy’s Roger Staubach in 1964 and Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford in 2009. It’s worth noting, too, that it was an injury that kept Bradford from New York -- not performance.

So could Winston become the first healthy returnee to finish outside the top five in 50 years?

If Florida State finishes undefeated, Winston might still earn his trip. He’s obviously gone to battle with a weaker supporting cast this season, his passing yardage is actually up from last season, and he’s been exceptional in leading the Seminoles back from big deficits -- a narrative that might have a less controversial QB as the Heisman frontrunner in most years.

It’s also worth noting that, in the past decade, no Power 5 team that was undefeated leading up to the Heisman presentation failed to have a representative in New York City.

Of course, if there’s one thing we can probably all agree on regarding Winston, it’s that there isn’t too much in the way of precedent. He’s a unique talent and a unique character -- for better or worse. So in his case, history might not be much of a guide.

A few more links for your Tuesday reading ...

By the numbers: Week 12 recap

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
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Just two weeks left in the regular season, and the conference's top performers are finishing strong. Here's a look at some of the key numbers from Week 12.

ACC's top QB: Thomas or Winston?

Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas may be the biggest reason the Yellow Jackets appear so rejuvenated in 2014. His 15 touchdown passes are the most by a Tech QB since 2006. His 827 rushing yards lead Tech and are the third-most by a QB there in the past decade. His 18.6 yards-per-completion leads the nation and his TD/attempt rate of 10.3 percent trails only J.T. Barrett and Marcus Mariota. Thomas' Adjusted QBR of 83.9 is sixth nationally and tops in the ACC.

So, perhaps it's worth asking the question: Who is the first-team All-ACC QB this year?

Jameis Winston is responsible for more yards because he throws more often, but Thomas has coughed up six fewer turnovers. Thomas plays in a bit safer offense, too, and Winston has had to work with a lot of youngsters around him.

But here are a few more numbers worth noting: Thomas leads the ACC in QBR on third/fourth down (96.2) and is second nationally. Winston is second in the ACC at 83.8. Thomas also leads the ACC in QBR when tied or trailing (71.7) while Winston is fifth (65.0). But change that to tied or trailing in the second half, and Winston leads the way (86.7) while Thomas is fourth (57.3).

Of course, the best answer to the debate could well come in Charlotte on Dec. 6.

Florida State's magic acts

In the last eight games, Florida State has had 110 offensive drives, of which 65 percent came when tied or trailing. And yet the Seminoles are 8-0 in those games. It's pretty amazing.

For the season, Florida State has now recovered from three different deficits of 15 or more points (vs. Miami, Louisville and NC State). According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Seminoles are the first team to do that in three different games in the same season since UCLA did so in 2005.

So the obvious conclusion is that FSU is flawed but resilient, right? That's possibly fair, but keep this in mind, too: No team in the country has dominated the second halves of games more than Florida State (average margin of +12.4 points). It's just those first halves when the Seminoles struggle.

Pitt's dynamic duo

Pittsburgh might be the ACC's biggest disappointment this year, but you can't blame Tyler Boyd or James Conner. The duo has combined for 1,040 yards of offense in the last three games -- and Pitt has lost all three.

[+] EnlargeJames Conner
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsJames Conner has topped 200 rushing in each of his past two games, yet the Panthers have lost both.
Conner has actually gone over 200 yards rushing in each of his past two games, becoming just the eighth running back in the last decade to do so in back-to-back games against Power 5 teams. Surprisingly, he's not the first to lose both of those games. Washington State's Jerome Harrison endured the same ignominious feat in 2005.

Conner had four rushing touchdowns against UNC on Saturday, and as Pitt SID E.J. Broghetti notes, Conner now has 21 on the year -- tied for the ACC's all-time mark with two games left to play. Conner has also scored three or more times on the ground in three straight games. In the past decade, only two other players have longer streaks: Colorado State's Kapri Bibbs (5 straight in 2013) and Stanford's Toby Gerhart (4 straight in 2009).

In the last decade, the only other Power 5 player to lose a game with 200 rushing yards and four touchdowns also came from the ACC: Clemson's C.J. Spiller in 2009 vs. Georgia Tech (courtesy ESPN Stats & Info).

Boyd, meanwhile, topped 120 receiving yards for the third straight game, and he ranks second in the ACC in receiving yards with 951. With another 49 yards, he'll top the 1,000 mark in each of his first two seasons. In the last decade, only two other players from AQ schools topped 1,000 receiving yards as both a true freshman and sophomore (USC's Marqise Lee and Washington State's Marquess Wilson).

Dayes is all-purpose star

Matt Dayes had a huge game against Wake Forest scoring three times to propel NC State to bowl eligibility. For the season, Dayes now has 469 rushing yards and six TDs on the ground, 303 receiving yards and five TDs through the air, plus another 379 yards returning kicks.

Dayes is one of just two players in the country to top 300 yards in rushing, receiving and returns this year, but he's the only player with 300-plus yards rushing and receiving along with five or more TDs rushing and receiving.

That dual-threat stat (300/300 and 5/5) is something just 12 other AQ-conference players have done in the past decade, and some of the names are worth noting: Todd Gurley, De'Anthony Thomas, Giovanni Bernard, Montee Ball, Randall Cobb, DeMarco Murray, Brian Leonard and Percy Harvin. Not bad company for NC State's sophomore tailback.

Quick hitters

  • Duke ran 46 of its 82 plays Saturday in Virginia Tech territory, but came away with just one touchdown. In its two losses, Duke has two touchdowns on just two of 18 drives into opponent territory. In its eight wins, Duke scores 50 percent of the time it crosses midfield.
  • From ESPN Stats & Info: Georgia Tech has won four straight ACC games by 20 points or more. That ties the second-longest streak in the conference in the last decade.
  • Duke Johnson topped 90 yards rushing for the 12th straight game. In the last decade, only two other Power 5 running backs have had longer streaks.
  • FSU running back Dalvin Cook is averaging 10.7 yards-per-rush when the Seminoles are trailing.
  • North Carolina is the only team in the country to have scored 40 points in five different games and also allowed 40 points in five different games.
  • More from ESPN Stats & Info: Brad Kaaya was 5-of-6 for 150 yards and two touchdowns against FSU's blitz in the first half Saturday. He was 1-of-6 for 9 yards against the blitz in the second half.
  • Both Kaaya and Virginia Tech's Michael Brewer saw extended streaks without an INT end last week. That leaves the ACC's longest active streak of passes without a pick in the hands of Chad Voytik (66).
  • Oddly, the Hokies are now 5-2 in games when Brewer throws an interception and 0-3 when he doesn't.
  • Three of the top six Power 5 quarterbacks in non-sack rushing yards reside in the ACC. Tyler Murphy (1,117) is first, Thomas (881) is fourth and Marquise Williams (763) is sixth. Voytik ranks 12th with 527 and Jacoby Brissett is 13th with 517.
  • Georgia Tech failed to score a rushing touchdown in a game for the first time since Oct. 27, 2012 in a loss to BYU. The last time Tech didn't rush for a TD and still won was a 24-20 victory over Wake Forest in 2010.

ACC morning links: The case for FSU

November, 17, 2014
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Florida State returned to the top of both the AP and Coaches polls, writes the Sporting News.

In ESPN’s Power Rankings, the Seminoles remain No. 2, now behind Alabama, which knocked off the committee’s previous No. 1 team, Mississippi State, on Saturday.

When the committee announces its rankings on Tuesday, Florida State could be anywhere from No. 1 to No. 3, which should make for some interesting debate.

On one hand, FSU remains unbeaten -- which is something neither Alabama nor Oregon can boast. For that matter, only Marshall can also make that claim.

But after Saturday’s games, the Seminoles officially have zero wins over currently ranked teams, and the fact that so many of those games involved FSU struggling to play catch-up, the argument against putting Jimbo Fisher’s crew at the top of the polls makes some sense.

In margin of victory versus FBS teams, FSU (13.1) falls well behind Alabama (19.2) and Oregon (17.9).

In opponent winning percentage, FSU (.573) is again well behind its competitors (Alabama’s is .621, Oregon’s is .647).

Using ESPN’s Football Power Index, FSU is actually seventh, with Alabama at No. 1 and Oregon at No. 2.

But of course, there’s a lot of context that goes into these debates, too. Oregon, for example, has a whopping +15 turnover margin, which accounts for much of its additional scoring. Its yardage margin mirrors FSU almost exactly. And while Alabama burnishes its scoring margin with a 59-0 thumping of Texas A&M, in its other seven games versus Power 5 opponents, it’s average margin of victory is just 7.4 -- or just about half that of FSU’s margin against Power 5 foes.

In other words, FSU’s case largely depends on how deeply the committee wants to look and what stats it values most. The important thing for the Seminoles is that they keep winning, which if they can continue for three more games, will put them in the playoffs.

More Monday links:

FSU defensive back Jalen Ramsey is emerging as a legitimate star, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

Rod Johnson’s quick progress at left tackle has allowed Florida State to tweak its biggest offensive weakness, writes Tomahawk Nation.

Boston College is a huge underdog against Florida State this week, notes BC Interruption.

Really great news for Clemson: Deshaun Watson’s knee injury isn’t serious, and he won’t miss the rest of the season.

North Carolina has been resilient this year, and now the Tar Heels are in good position for a bowl game, writes the Raleigh News & Observer.

The running back woes continue for Virginia Tech, but credit the Hokies for a gutty performance that has relieved a lot of stress in Blacksburg, writes The Roanoke Times.

Georgia Tech climbed into the top 20 in both the AP and Coaches polls after a big win over Clemson writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Pitt’s season may be going south, but James Conner is showing no signs of slowing down, writes the Pittsburgh Tribune.

NC State defensive end Kentavius Street went down with a leg injury on Saturday, but he says he’ll be back for the UNC game, writes Backing the Pack.

Bowl eligibility means NC State met its minimum expectations, writes the Raleigh News & Observer.

Duke needs to quickly turn its attention to North Carolina, writes The Herald-Sun.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 12

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
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ACC mailblog

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
4:00
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It’s Friday, so let’s dig into the mailbag to see what burning ACC questions you’ve got for us...

Nick in Fort Lauderdale writes: Could an undefeated Florida State actually get left out of the playoffs? … I can see Mississippi State staying in the top four with a loss to Alabama. If the committee will jump Oregon over an undefeated FSU, then why not TCU, and that could push FSU out of the top four altogether.

David Hale: I just don’t buy that talk. Credibility is going to be a concern for the committee in Year 1 for obvious reasons, and leaving out a defending national champ without a loss just seems like it would undermine so much of what the playoff was created to accomplish. I agree with you that a loss might doom FSU’s season, but until that happens, I think the Seminoles are safe. Besides, TCU’s remaining schedule is atrocious, so if the Horned Frogs were going to jump Florida State, it would’ve had to have happened already.


Vinny writes: FSU has always tried to rotate D-linemen, but it seems they aren’t using guys like [Justin] Justin Shanks and [Keith] Keith Bryant as much. Matchup? Scheme? Injuries? Also, do you think Mario Edwards would be more effective from the tackle spot?

David Hale: Scheme has a lot to do with this. When Mark Stoops left for Kentucky, the defensive scheme changed a lot, and the Seminoles have worked so much in nickel packages this year, we’re seeing a lot fewer snaps for the down linemen. Add the fact that you have two stars in Edwards and Eddie Goldman, and the drop-off in talent for those rotations is much more noticeable. With the injuries and inexperience at linebacker, keeping those guys on the field is paramount. Shanks was also banged up early in the year and hasn’t quite recovered that playing time, while Bryant perhaps hasn’t developed quite as quickly as Derrick Nnadi and Desmond Hollin. As for Edwards, he's such a mismatch where he is because of his size-speed combination. I think that's the best spot for him.


Steve in New Jersey writes: Can you tell me what is going wrong with my Hokies? Is it the talent? Bad Coaching? Bad playing? Or all the above?

David Hale: It’s a lot of factors — as it almost always is when a program declines steeply — which makes it harder to isolate one thing that needs to change. I think Virginia Tech has a lot more talent this year than the last few, and I’d credit Frank Beamer for giving so much playing time to young players. You’ve got to take the good with the bad in those scenarios, but in the long run, it will be a big benefit for the Hokies.

Beyond that though, I think there are two big concerns: The first is injuries. Virginia Tech has been devastated by them this year, and the hope should be that the bad luck evens out in 2015. The second is the offensive line, which has been a massive disappointment throughout the last few years. The run-blocking has been really bad, and without a steady run game, the Hokies are going to have a tough time getting back to 10 wins. The recruiting philosophy has shifted a bit and Stacy Searels is a good coach, but that part will take some time.


Dave in VT Land writes: So, it looks like the alphabetical listing of the Coastal Division teams is turning out to be the most accurate prediction! Who'd have thought?

David Hale: Akron is applying for Coastal Division membership as we speak… (And the Zips already have a win over Pitt!)


Jon in Atlanta writes: I cannot say enough on how surprised I am to see Georgia Tech with seven wins. Early in the season, I would have laughed if 7-8 wins this season was even mentioned. With a really good recruiting class coming in, how good do you see GT getting down the road?

David Hale: I’m not sure any team in the country has exceeded my expectations as much as Georgia Tech this season. There were just so many areas of concern entering the season, and to Paul Johnson’s credit, he’s found ways of plugging all of those holes. The D isn’t good, and that remains a big concern, but the offensive philosophy makes up for that in a lot of ways, and Justin Thomas has really added that missing element to the option. The other big knock on Johnson in recent years has been recruiting, and as you said, even that is starting to change. It’s really tough for longtime coaches to turn the tide when a program starts going south (see: Virginia Tech) but Johnson has done a splendid job of it this year.


David Hale: I’ll be surprised if Clemson isn’t the overwhelming favorite in the Atlantic to open next season because Watson is back with a very talented young offense around him. Mike Williams and Artavis Scott have been exceptional this year despite the revolving door at QB, and Wayne Gallman is finally beginning to make some progress for the running game. Yes, a lot of talent will be leaving on the defensive side of the ball, but Mackensie Alexander, Shaq Lawson and Jayson Kearse will be back to ease the transition. Meanwhile, Florida State figures to see a mass exodus of talent after this season, including the entirety of the offensive line, along with Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene and likely Mario Edwards Jr. and Eddie Goldman.

The bottom line though is that Watson is a star in the making. He’s a perfect fit for Chad Morris’ offense, and he’ll have a good bit of talent around him, so there is plenty of cause for excitement if you’re a Clemson fan. The one big concern though: Can the Tigers keep their two coordinators?

ACC viewer's guide: Week 12

November, 14, 2014
Nov 14
10:00
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If the Coastal teams want people to stop making jokes at their expense, then this is their weekend to make a stand.

12 p.m.

No. 19 Clemson at No. 22 Georgia Tech, ESPN, #CLEMvsGT
This game as close to a must-win if either team wants an opportunity to play in the Orange Bowl. As is the case with most every game that involves the Yellow Jackets, it probably will come down to rush and third-down defense. Clemson provides stiff competition in those areas, which makes for an intriguing game within the game. Georgia Tech ranks third in average rushing yards per game and leads the country with a third-down conversion rate of 59 percent, four points better than any other team. Clemson allows an average of only 91 yards on the ground, however, and no team is better than the Tigers at getting off the field on third downs. Just like Georgia Tech on third downs, no team is close to Clemson on third-down defense. If Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson can play the way he did before the injury and keep the Tigers' offense on the field, Clemson has the upper hand.

Virginia Tech at No. 21 Duke, ESPNU, #VTvsDUKE
This does not classify as a game Virginia Tech needs to win to reach bowl eligibility, but it would give the Hokies relief if they can steal a win against the Coastal-leading Blue Devils. Given how the Virginia Tech offense has played over the course of the season and now coupled with a defense that is not playing its best, it will be a tough task to upset Duke. For the Blue Devils, will they be caught looking ahead to a Thursday night matchup against classic rival North Carolina? The Duke offense was not playing to the best of its capabilities last week, so success against Virginia Tech would be a good boost before the UNC game. The Tar Heels know how to light up a scoreboard -- both by scoring points and allowing them.

12:30 p.m.

Pittsburgh at North Carolina, ESPN3, #PITTvsUNC
This is another game in which a win is desperately needed to help keep the hope of a bowl game alive. Both Pitt and UNC are sitting two wins shy of bowl eligibility with three games to go. The Tar Heels have quarterback Marquise Williams, who several teams have had an issue stopping, and Pitt is keeping its secondary together with adhesive at this point. However, the Panthers have James Conner and the Tar Heels don't stop the run well. Or the pass. Or anything really. Ideally, the Panthers would like Conner to keep moving the chains and eat up the clock, but this could end up being a high-scoring affair.

3 p.m.

Wake Forest at North Carolina State, ESPN3, #WAKEvsNCSU
The good news is somebody has to win this game. The bad news is it won't save either team's season, although the Wolfpack can get to six wins and a bowl game with a win. That still is a mild disappointment considering the program's 4-0 start this season. NC State has the potential to score with QB Jacoby Brissett, but the Demon Deacons have an underrated defense. If the Wake offense can sustain a few drives and find the end zone even twice, it could be enough to leave Raleigh with a win.

8 p.m.

No. 3 Florida State at Miami
The message was pretty clear from the selection committee Saturday: If the Seminoles lose, they can kiss the playoffs goodbye. That might have been assumed previously, but now it is understood. This will be a much tougher game for the Seminoles than it looked like it would be just a few weeks ago as Miami is playing the best it has all season. The Hurricanes present matchup problems for Florida State as they are able to run the ball effectively with a variety of backs, including Duke Johnson. The junior could be the country's best running back, and his backup Joseph Yearby is destined for stardom. If Miami controls the clock and piles up the rushing yards, it will be meaningless if it cannot cash in when it reaches the red zone. Otherwise, Miami leaves the door open for Jameis Winston and potentially another wild comeback for the Seminoles. Florida State's opportunity at consecutive national championships could end Saturday, which would close the door on the ACC making it into the inaugural playoff, too.
Oregon leapfrogged Florida State in the rankings on Tuesday, which left us wondering: If these two teams were to meet on a neutral field right now, which team would come out with the win?

ACC writer Jared Shanker says it’d be FSU. Pac-12 writer Chantel Jennings thinks it’d be the Ducks. Debate…

Jennings: OK, let’s break this down.

[+] EnlargeRoyce Freeman
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesRunning back Royce Freeman has helped Oregon average over 5 yards per carry this season.
Oregon’s offense versus FSU’s defense: I’d take the Ducks by a landslide. We’ll start up front. The Seminoles are giving up 3.5 yards per rush and that’s against teams that aren’t even in the same realm as the Ducks. FSU has faced just one top-60 rushing team (NC State). Oregon, on the other hand, has the nation’s 22nd-best rushing attack, averaging 5.4 yards per rush. Against the Florida State defense -- with Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and Marcus Mariota taking off when need be -- it’d be chaos. FSU would have to bring guys up to try and contain the run, which would leave gaps open downfield and guys like Devon Allen and Byron Marshall are going to make those plays for the Ducks.

Oregon defense versus FSU’s offense: This is where it gets tricky. The Ducks' defense has struggled a bit and the Seminoles have a pretty talented QB of their own. Up front, I think Oregon would be OK as FSU has only averaged 4.0 yards per rushing attempt this season (and again, that’s against a weaker schedule). The secondary might struggle a bit more. The Seminoles average 8.5 yards per pass attempt and the Ducks have only played one team (Michigan State) that is currently averaging more.

Special teams: OK, so the Seminoles might have the best kicker in the country. But guess what, he scores three points at a time and Oregon is accustomed to scoring seven points at a time. In the return game, my money is on freshman Charles Nelson. He has been so impressive, averaging 17.6 yards per punt return, including two punts returned for touchdowns. Nelson hasn’t done as well in kick returns (just 19.2 yards per return), but I’ll give the Ducks the benefit of the doubt that he’d be returning more punts than kickoffs…

At the end of the day, I think FSU would be able to score against Oregon, but not as much as the Ducks would score on the ‘Noles. It wouldn’t be a blowout by any means, but a 7-10 point win would be what I’d put my money on.

Shanker: Everyone loves to quote the adage “defense wins championships” but nobody ever wants to apply it -- at least when it comes to the Ducks, with their turf acrobatics and kooky uniform combinations. Once again we’re blinded by the Oregon offense -- or maybe it’s the helmets.

[+] EnlargeMario Edwards Jr.
AP Photo/Steve CannonMario Edwards Jr. and the Florida State defense have shined in the second half of games this season.
But what happens to Oregon in low-scoring games, which championship games tend to be (the past six title games have averaged a total of 46.5 points)? The last time Oregon won a game in which it didn’t score 30 points was 2010. Since then, the Ducks have lost all six games in which they didn’t reach the 30-point plateau.

I’ll get to that Winston guy in a second, but I want to talk about the Florida State defense first. Yes, the FSU defense that ranks 50th in total defense.

The Florida State defense is not what it was a season ago. Nobody would argue that. However, it has the type of talent along the defensive front that has historically caused Oregon problems.

Mario Edwards Jr. was dominant against the spread last January. Few defensive tackles are playing better than Eddie Goldman. Those two defensive stalwarts are built to frustrate spread attacks.

Oregon is ranked 106th in total defense. Worse, the Ducks are ranked 125th in allowing passing plays that gain 10-plus yards, and Florida State has Jameis Winston, who has keyed FSU’s season. The Seminoles average 12 pass plays of at least 10 yards per game, good for ninth nationally.

And when this game is close in the fourth quarter, the smart money is on Winston. He’s been the best crunch-time quarterback, and there’s anecdotal and statistical evidence to support that. His QBR is 90.3 when trailing in the second half.

Faced with stopping the Arizona offense in the second half of a close game, Oregon allowed three touchdown drives of at least 80 yards.

Take away Oklahoma State’s 21-point second half in the opener, and Florida State is allowing just 9.3 points in the second half against FBS teams this season.

Those are the marks of a team that is resilient, which is synonymous with unimpressive, at least when talking about Florida State. The adjective is normally applied to only Oregon, which has rebounded so strongly from the adversity of losing … and winners of low-scoring SEC games (this fulfills the requisite SEC jab).

So, if these two ever met on a neutral field, give me the Seminoles.

ACC morning links

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
8:00
AM ET
Wednesday was a busy news day for the Florida State backfield. Jameis Winston’s code of conduct hearing is delayed until December; running back Karlos Williams, FSU's leading rusher, is no longer being investigated for an alleged domestic assault; and fellow running back Dalvin Cook practiced fully for the first time this week.

Limiting it to just the running back position, if Cook is cleared for Saturday’s game, it will give Florida State its full complement of running backs for the first time all season. Williams, Cook, Mario Pender and Ryan Green have all spent time dealing with injuries this season.

They have all looked good at times this season, too, with the exception of Green, who has yet to see the field. Williams, the No. 3 Seminoles’ leading rusher, has played well over the course of the last two games. He would have been on his way to a 100-yard game against Louisville if Cook did not announce himself to the college football world that night. And there is an opinion held by many that Pender could be the best running back on the roster, although injuries and academics have kept him from the field.

With only three games remaining in the regular season, it is a crucial time for Florida State to start generating more of a rushing attack. Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher continues to say he is pleased with how the rushing offense is looking during critical situations, but the Noles rank 104th in rushing offense. That’s a tough statistic to swallow considering they have four running backs that were ranked among the top 72 high school players in each player’s respective class.

Miami ranks 34th in rushing defense, but the Hurricanes have been gashed on the ground in each of their three losses. The opportunity is there for the Florida State running backs to lay the groundwork for the kind of improvement that could carry the Seminoles into the postseason and potentially a championship, which they won in 2013 after finishing 28th in rushing a season ago.

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