ACC: Florida State Seminoles

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- We leave you alone for one weekend, ACC, and this is what you do. That has to be what Clemson and Florida State were thinking as they checked box scores Sunday morning after their bye week.

Virginia Tech loses all team and conference momentum with a home loss to East Carolina. Georgia Southern was once again 90 seconds from upsetting an ACC team. Louisville, who many felt was now Florida State's biggest threat to an undefeated season, loses at Virginia. And, off all teams, it was reeling Boston College left to extinguish the flames, and the Eagles salvaged the Saturday with the biggest upset of the season, according to the Football Power Index, with a bulldozing of No. 9 USC, shocking even the staunchest ACC supporters.

So here we are, at the outset of Week 4 and exactly where we thought we would be before the season kicked off: the ACC seemingly comes down to Clemson and Florida State for the third consecutive season. The two will play in prime time Saturday, and the winner controls its destiny in the Atlantic Division and, with the lack of clarity in the Coastal, conference.

It is what we have grown accustom in the ACC as of late as both programs have been on a similar linear ascent to the top of the conference. Only the Tigers and Seminoles have represented the Atlantic in the ACC championship game since 2009, but the Coastal was superior then. Now, the two have won the past three conference titles and that looks to be the case once again in 2014, too.

Except this year, winning the conference has an entirely new significance. A College Football Playoff invitation is on the line now. Technically, the ACC has seven undefeated teams, but Clemson and Florida State are the conference's prized horses capable of carrying the league to the inaugural final four. The other five would likely need an undefeated run, and that's a wager I'm not sure anyone outside of Atlanta, Pittsburgh, central New York or the Triangle is willing to make right now.

"There's no doubt" the Tigers are a rival, Seminoles coach Jimbo Fisher said. "...It's a game in which you like to be at Florida State to play in because of the ramifications and the national attention it brings."

Despite No. 22 Clemson entering the game with a loss, the national implications will be near the level it was last season because of the dawn of the playoff era. There's the sense conference titles won't mean what they used to for the elite programs, and Fisher has said as much multiple times, pondering whether fans will deem any playoff-less season as a failure. And for two teams that have each won conference titles and played in multiple BCS games the past few seasons, there is the argument that a conference title might not be enough, especially for Florida State.

If Clemson loses big, it almost certainly ends the Tigers' playoff hopes. A Florida State loss and now the nation's top-ranked program and the conference's best chance at a playoff bid needs to not only play close to perfect football against a tough remaining slate but solicit help from the supernatural to even play in the conference championship.

It might only be September but the ACC's playoff chances potentially hinge on this game between conference heavyweights.

Three reasons Clemson can upset FSU

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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No. 22 Clemson faces No. 1 Florida State on Saturday in a huge Atlantic Division showdown. But nobody is giving the Tigers much of a chance to win the game.

They are a 19-point underdog -- the largest point-spread they have faced going back to 2004. The oddsmakers clearly do not have much confidence in a team that lost badly to the Noles at home last season, and fell apart in the second half against Georgia in the opener.

But maybe all is not lost. Here are three reasons Clemson has a shot at pulling the upset.

1. No Todd Gurley: Gurley was an absolute menace in the opener, running for 198 yards and three touchdowns and also returning a kickoff for another score. He set a school record with 293 all-purpose yards and averaged 13.2 yards per carry. Clemson knew exactly what type of runner it would be facing, yet the Tigers could not contain him. Tackling was a factor, but so was Gurley's superior strength. He just ran through people. Florida State back Karlos Williams is not in the same category, at least not yet. Williams does present nearly identical size -- both are 6-foot-1, 225 pounds -- but he has not started the season the way Gurley has. Gurley had more yards and touchdowns against Clemson than Williams has in two games combined (132 yards, one touchdown). Gurley is averaging 9.4 yards per carry; Williams is averaging 4.1 yards per carry. The Florida State offensive line has not played as well as everybody expected heading into the season, so that has played a role. The Seminoles rank No. 77 in the nation in rush offense; Georgia ranks No. 10.

2. No Jeremy Pruitt: That has to be a relief to Clemson coaches, who probably never ever want to see him again. Last season when he was defensive coordinator at Florida State, Pruitt had the perfect game plan to shut down Clemson and its vaunted offensive stars Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. The Tigers had four turnovers and were never in the game after going down 17-0 in the first quarter. Boyd finished 17-of-37 for 156 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions (quarterback rating 34.6), and Watkins had 68 yards and a score. Pruitt moved on to Georgia in the offseason, and though the Tigers had success early against the Bulldogs, all that changed in the second half. Pruitt made terrific halftime adjustments and outcoached Chad Morris and company. Clemson had one first down and 15 total yards in the second half. The game was tied at halftime. Florida State's defense has been slow out of the gate with so many key starters gone. But Pruitt is gone, too. Perhaps this gives Clemson an edge.

3. Deshaun Watson: Though coach Dabo Swinney does not want to incite a quarterback controversy, we have seen first-hand just how dynamic Watson is when he gets into the game. Cole Stoudt does remain the starter, but Watson is effective when he gets his turn. Of the six drives Watson has led, Clemson has scored a touchdown on five of them. Granted, most came against South Carolina State, but it is hard to ignore how much more dynamic the Clemson offense is when Watson is in the game. His mobility makes him a tremendous asset, and Clemson should use that to its advantage. Plus, he is averaging 16.4 yards per pass attempt and 21.3 yards per completion. The bye week gave Clemson coaches the opportunity to figure out how they want to use him, and when they want to use him.

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 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
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What we learned in the ACC: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
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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 mailblog

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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Time to open up the mailbag. And don't forget to follow me on Twitter!

Ernest Brooks in New York writes: You are giving Louisville's defense the Rodney Dangerfield treatment ... no respect. Miami only scored 13 points on our defense (three points are a turnover on the 5-yard line). ... No way Virginia scores 17 points. All you writers at ESPN will realize soon enough that Louisville is for real. My thoughts have not changed ... we will win the division. Go Cards!

Andrea Adelson writes: Well, we do have the Cards No. 3 in the power rankings, so I don't think anyone here believes they are pretenders. As for the score, Virginia has done a terrific job creating turnovers. I got to 17 penciling in a defensive score.

 
Kirk Bare in Arlington, Virginia, writes: Ms. Adelson, respectfully, Maryland was not the second-most important rivalry for UVa. Yes, most Wahoos consider it a big game, but they do not look at the schedule and figure out a way to get to the game like we do for Tar Heels and Hokies games. It was always a much bigger game for the Maryland fans than UVa fans. ... They had no other game to be considered a rivalry. North Carolina vs. Virginia is a much bigger rivalry in football than the UVa-Maryland ever was. Many"'old timer" wahoos still believe it is a bigger rivalry than with VPI (the old-school way of referring to the college in Blacksburg). UVa-UNC, I believe, is the fourth-oldest rivalry in college football and the oldest in the South. ... I do agree with you 100 percent that in order for Louisville to become a rivalry with UVa, some pretty big games need to occur. I can only hope that the Wahoos become more competitive in football and make that a possibility. It is interesting to note that overall, the two athletic programs are some of the most well-funded and competitive in nonrevenue sports in the country. There will be rivalries in other sports definitely. The ACC is very lucky to have Louisville as a member school.

Adelson: Thanks for sharing, Kirk! Great perspective.

 
Kevin in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, writes: Does a double standard exist for the ACC and other conferences? Florida State plays three big-time nonconference programs, but somehow they have an easy schedule, according to the media. I can't think of any other Power 5 conference team that plays three big-time nonconference programs though. Virginia Tech just beat Ohio State, but somehow they are still ranked behind Ohio State in the coaches poll? People scream strength of schedule as the ACC started the season with only three ranked teams, but teams climb in and out of the rankings as the season goes on, so how does anyone in the media know how strong a schedule truly is before a single game gets played? ... USC had a nice win against Stanford, but how do we know Stanford is a great team? UCLA has struggled, but they retain a high ranking. What do we really know about Arizona State after the two wins they had, considering the opponents they played? Oregon proved themselves against Michigan State, but their other two nonconference opponents are a complete joke. ... Virginia Tech and Louisville are very underrated teams. After the season Duke had, I thought they might get some more respect this season. I do think the SEC is the best conference, but after that, I really think it's a tie for second place between the Big 12, ACC and Pac-12. I don't see anything tangible that makes the Pac-12 the second-best conference. It just appears that some conferences get a pass while other conferences have it earn it more to get the same recognition.

Adelson: Certain conferences that have had teams in the national championship conversation on a yearly basis are perceived to be better. And, well, there is an annual love fest with Oregon, and I think that has influenced how much people gush about the Pac-12. I looked at the Ducks' schedule, and they have two ranked teams remaining, as of right now. Florida State has three. Having said that, there is absolutely no explanation for Ohio State being voted ahead of Virginia Tech in the coaches' poll. That is an embarrassment. Thankfully, that poll is irrelevant now. Having said all this, I think rankings should start mid-October. Preseason polls make no sense for a host of reasons. Mostly, we have no idea which teams will actually be good until the season begins. I also believe those perceptions are formed in the preseason and then carried through, hurting conferences and programs.

 
Ethan in New York writes: Hi Andrea! As a Hokies fan, I am elated at Virginia Tech's win in the'Shoe Saturday night, especially seeing it wasn't just a win, it was domination. I have been very impressed with our new quarterback, Michael Brewer, and the defense stood tall as usual. Does this win put Virginia Tech as the front-runners in the Coastal race, even though it wasn't a conference win? And what do you put their chances at running the table in the regular season at?

Adelson: I changed my mind about the Hokies before the season started and pegged them as the Coastal favorites. The win at Ohio State reinforced my opinion. The defense was great, as usual, but it was Brewer that carried this team through. He is a difference-maker. So couple an effective offense with a stellar defense and you have the recipe Virginia Tech has used to win Coastal titles in the past. As for running the table ... I think the biggest test ahead is at Pitt on Oct. 16. The Hokies should be undefeated headed into that game. Based on just two games, I am going to say 50 percent chance right now at running the table. Not enough of a sample size to go higher than that right now.

 
Daniel in York, South Carolina, writes: I know I am coming from the side of the glasses that make everything seem orange, but I have to address your Week 2 power rankings for the ACC. First, here is my slow clap for Virginia Tech beating an Ohio State team, judging on the first two games, that shouldn't be in the top 20, much less top eight. Do you, Andrea Adelson, see a top-10 team in Ohio State the first two games? I don't. OK, on to the standings. After Week 1, you had Louisville and Clemson tied at second. Then, after Week 2, not only do you have Virginia Tech skyrocketing to second place, but you have Louisville jumping Clemson while falling to third and Clemson at fourth. OK, I need your help to understand the love for Virginia Tech jumping to second and Clemson being jumped by Louisville all the way to fourth. I do not understand your mathematical equation you used to come up with the placement of each team, seeing how they were tied the week before and that both teams played outmatched opponents, basically making the results null.

Adelson: The four ACC reporters -- myself, David Hale, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker -- rank the teams 1-14 and assign point values. First-place gets 14 points, all the way down to one point for No. 14. The reason there was a tie last week was because Clemson and Louisville received the same number of points. The reason there was no tie this week is because three of us had Louisville No. 3. I can only speak for my own rankings. After Week 1, I had Louisville No. 2 and Clemson No. 3. The Cards beat Miami pretty handily; Clemson lost to Georgia. After Week 2, I moved Virginia Tech to No. 2 because I deemed that a better win, on the road against a Top 10 nonconference opponent. Clemson still has only one victory, against an FCS team. So, essentially, I do my power rankings based on the win quality and the way the team played, and they are adjusted every week. Maybe Ohio State was over-ranked, but I still count winning in Columbus as a solid victory. If Ohio State ends up being mediocre, I will take that into account in my ranking. If Clemson beats Florida State, then I absolutely will consider the Tigers for the No. 1 spot based on strength of victory. That's why we do these every week!

ACC morning links

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
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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:
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- All offseason, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher did not want to touch any question about comparisons between his 2013 national championship team and the 2014 version with its sights set on a repeat.

“Last year’s team ain’t on the schedule,” Fisher says.

The fifth-year coach began standard filibuster procedures Tuesday, deflecting a comparison question between last season’s defense and the current unit, one that allowed 250 rushing yards to The Citadel. (They’re an FCS team … and not a particularly good one.)

[+] EnlargeFlorida State defense
AP Photo/Steve CannonThe Citadel gashed Florida State's inexperienced defense on the ground last Saturday.
“Early in the season [the 2013 defense] wasn't that angry,” Fisher said. “I keep going back to that. Early in the year there were a lot of questions on this defense.”

The argument is solid that last year’s defense was better. Five starters from that defense were on NFL opening-day rosters. This 2014 team doesn’t have a single senior starter, and just two seniors are among the 23 players listed on the two-deep defense.

But the 2013 case study in dominant defense is a bigger file, a collection of evidence over a four-month and 14-game period. It’s only been two games into the 2014 season.

“Go back to the first games of last year,” Fisher said. “Bethune Cookman ran for 180 or 190 yards on us and everybody thought the sky was falling on us. Then Boston College ran for [200 yards].”

At Fisher’s behest, we looked at the early portion of Florida State’s 2013 season. Florida State was 42nd in yards allowed per rush (3.7) and 60th in rushing yards allowed per game (151.5) through September last season, but when you account for Florida State’s nine sacks during that timeframe, its yards allowed per rush jumps to 4.4. Bethune Cookman had 53 non-sack rushing attempts for 211 yards (4.0 yards per carry), and Boston College ran 42 times for 222 yards (5.2).

So far in 2014, Florida State is 84th in yards per rush (4.2) and 103rd in yards per game (205.5). When you account for Florida State’s one sack, however, it allows on average 4.4 yards per rush -- the same as last season. And those 2014 numbers are skewed by big rushing numbers for both Oklahoma State and The Citadel at the end of games. Oklahoma State ran 13 times for 79 yards in the fourth quarter, and all 13 runs came with Florida State leading by double digits. Nearly half of the Cowboys’ rushing yards came in the final quarter.

The Citadel totaled 250 yards rushing against Florida State, but 113 came against the second-string defense.

In 2013, Pitt ran just once in the fourth quarter and seven times overall in the second half. Nevada rushed the ball six times in the fourth quarter, and Bethune Cookman ran 14 times for 49 yards over the final 15 minutes.

There have been missed tackles through the first two weeks this season. Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill eliminated angles like few players nationally can do, and the Citadel outran and outmuscled would-be tacklers Saturday.

But that might be a common thread between the Florida State defenses. After the Bethune Cookman game, Fisher said: “We have to tackle in space better," Fisher said. “I wasn't happy with the way we tackled in space at times tonight. We have to do a better job.”

Third-down defense has been iffy for Florida State so far this season, too. The Citadel converted 11-of-17 third-down attempts, many of which came on rushing plays despite third-and-long situations. Against the starters, the Bulldogs converted 6-of-12 third-down attempts, including five that were at least five yards. All came on rushing plays.

However, over the course of last season, Florida State allowed 18-of-26 third-down attempts and 3.5 yards per rush on third-and-3 or less. When opponents ran on third-and-4-6, they converted 6-of-12 attempts.

It should be noted Florida State has been without linebackers Ukeme Eligwe (foot) and Matthew Thomas (suspension), and Fisher said those are among the most athletic linebackers he has coached during his tenure at Florida State. Eligwe practiced for the first time since the spring Tuesday and could play Sept. 20 against Clemson. Against The Citadel, the Seminoles were also without three of its five starting defensive tackles, including starters Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample.

There are realistic concerns on this defense -- few would argue otherwise -- although it is not as if the unit has played poorly eight consecutive quarters to start the season. But it’s unrealistic to assume a defense missing five NFL-caliber players and a single senior starter would immediately look like the top-five defense nationally it was the three previous seasons. It’s time to temper expectations, which were too high to begin with all things considered, and allow the defense time to evolve before a much tougher second half of the season.

Ultimately, the defense could be what prevents Florida State from repeating, but it’s too early to make that distinction.

ACC playoff watch: Week 3

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
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The march to the College Football Playoff figures to include plenty of twists and turns, and at season’s end, the ACC is hoping to have at least one team with a chance to win a national championship. Throughout the year, we’ll monitor the league’s chances and preview the biggest battles still ahead.

Where the ACC stands: After a perfect week against nonconference foes and an implosion by the Big Ten, the ACC jumped into the No. 4 spot in the latest ESPN conference power rankings. The conference increased its rating 7.2 points — by far the best week of any FBS league. The problem for the conference, however, is that there still aren’t a ton of teams widely considered elite, with Florida State checking in at No. 4 in ESPN’s Football Power Index, but no other team ranked higher than 17th.

Top playoff contenders: FSU (No. 1 AP poll, No. 4 FPI), Virginia Tech (17/28), Louisville (21/31), Clemson (23/17), Pitt (NR, 25).

Nonconference record: 20-3 overall (11-0 last week), 8-3 vs. FBS, 2-2 vs. Power 5

Week 2 recap: It was a perfect week for the ACC and an utter implosion for the league’s closest competition, the Big Ten. While the ACC added another legitimate contender to the playoff mix with Virginia Tech’s upset of Ohio State in The Horseshoe, the Big Ten saw the Buckeyes, Michigan State and Michigan all lose. This followed a loss for Wisconsin in Week 1, meaning four of the league’s top teams all now have an "L."

The Hokies did their part, but much the rest of the ACC continued to look flawed, as one-time chic pick North Carolina needed a furious comeback to beat San Diego State at home and top-ranked Florida State left some fans grumbling after a less-than-gaudy 37-12 win over The Citadel. After winning all of its games by an average of nearly 40 points last season, the Seminoles are again 2-0, but by an average margin of just 15. That certainly shouldn’t undermine FSU’s playoff chances, but it does provide the appearance of vulnerability, and in this new College Football Playoff era, appearances can be important.

Week 3 preview: Well, Week 2 was fun, right? Hopefully you got your fill of ACC action because Week 3 doesn’t offer much other than opportunities for the league to take a big step back.

Virginia Tech proved its value at Ohio State, but this week the Hokies welcome pesky East Carolina. The history for the two programs includes plenty of good games, including last year’s contest in which Tech came back from a three-point, second-half deficit to win 15-10. This certainly appears to be a much improved Hokies team, but after the big win in Columbus, a let-down game certainly wouldn’t be unexpected.

Meanwhile, Pitt travels to Florida International after two dominant wins to start the season. The Panthers should be able to handle FIU, but road games are rarely easy. The same goes for Syracuse, NC State and Wake Forest — all of whom travel to play on the home turf of non-Power 5 opposition.

But if possible upsets are the key story line for Week 3, we’d be remiss not to mention Boston College, too. The Eagles could deal another big blow for the ACC if they can pull off an upset over No. 9 USC in Chestnut Hill. Boston College was torched by Pitt’s James Conner last week, which doesn’t offer much hope for slowing down the Trojans’ Javorius Allen, but perhaps the Eagles can use those low expectations to fuel an unlikely victory. If they did, the ACC’s status as a distant fourth in the conference power rankings could be erased quickly.

ACC morning links

September, 10, 2014
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Terrel Hunt met the media Tuesday for the first time since his Week 1 ejection, saying that he apologized to the team twice and spoke with a number of high-profile former Syracuse players, vowing that it will never happen again.

As for his side of the story -- which involved Hunt getting kicked out in the second quarter for throwing a punch on a Villanova defender -- the Orange quarterback said that there were things going on in the game that people didn't see.

"I'm not going to speak on it, but, you know, dirty things that happened," Hunt said, according to Syracuse.com's Nate Mink. "I let it affect me. I let it get the best of me."

Hunt had hit Wildcats linebacker Dillon Lucas and missed the second half and the two overtime periods of the Orange's Aug. 29 win. His head coach, Scott Shafer, had said that he was wrong. The ACC determined no other punishment was necessary.

Hunt spoke with former Orange players Donovan McNabb, Floyd Little and Jason Poles, saying that he learned that, as the leader of the team, he cannot afford to lose his cool the way he did. He is hoping to put the incident behind him as Syracuse enters its second game of the season Saturday at Central Michigan.

Elsewhere in the ACC ...
For the third consecutive season, this could be the game that dictates the Atlantic Division and potentially the ACC: Clemson-Florida State.

It was a highly anticipated showdown in October, and while the hype machine isn't quite rolling like it was in 2013, the Sept. 20 version could end up being a much better game. That is because both teams have a bye, and will have two weeks to prepare.

But which team benefits more from the extra week?

Florida State benefits most, says Jared Shanker:

There is certainly a case for each school needing the bye week more, but, for starters, Florida State's defensive line is reeling after The Citadel game when three tackles, including starters Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample, exited early with lower leg injuries. The Seminoles were considerably luckier in 2013, dealing with very few injuries, especially at marquee positions.

The depth at defensive tackle was already questionable for Florida State, so the bye week allows the Seminoles to rehab. If the tackles can't go, and Goldman might be the most likely candidate to sit out, the extra practices should help prepare backups Desmond Hollin, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and true freshman Derrick Nnadi for a significant number of snaps. And with Clemson's up-tempo approach, those three could be on the field a lot if the Tigers' offense finds a rhythm.

Florida State's defense could use the extra week to shore up a few early-season deficiencies. Both Oklahoma State and The Citadel found running room against the Seminoles, and ESPN metrics are not impressed with the defense thus far. Florida State ranks 85th among FBS schools in defensive efficiency after finishing No. 1 in that category last season.

It was known going into the season there would be some bumps for a defense that lost pieces throughout the unit, including the coaching staff. Linebackers coach Charles Kelly was promoted to defensive coordinator after Jeremy Pruitt resigned to become the DC at Georgia. The front seven was dealt major blows this offseason with the departures of Timmy Jernigan, Christian Jones and Telvin Smith. All three were on NFL opening-day rosters.

The offense is seemingly in good shape, although Florida State could stand to continue developing a threat opposite Rashad Greene at receiver. There is a lot of confidence in Jesus Wilson, who scored a touchdown in his first game back from suspension. The 5-foot-9 Wilson doesn't have prototypical size for an outside receiver, but coach Jimbo Fisher and quarterback Jameis Winston both believe Wilson more than makes up for his height with his speed and route running.

Overall, it isn't panic time in Tallahassee, but the early bye is definitely welcomed.

Clemson benefits most, says David Hale:

There's no doubt Clemson benefits from the bye week before the trip to Tallahassee, but just what coach Dabo Swinney and his staff plan to do with the time remains something of a mystery.

The biggest reason for that, clearly, is the topic Swinney doesn't want to talk about: Quarterbacks.

In the first two games of the season, Cole Stoudt has gotten the bulk of the reps, leading 21 drives. Freshman phenom Deshaun Watson has led just seven drives, but there are plenty of Tigers fans who believe he looks like the better option already.

That's not necessarily fair, because Stoudt was subjected to much more time on the field against Georgia, while Watson padded his stats a bit against South Carolina State. But it is true that the offense has been far more prolific with Watson under center -- nearly twice the yards-per-play -- through two games, and the freshman has made some very pretty throws while also proving to be a weapon as a runner. Stoudt's biggest asset is his experience, but even Swinney admitted after Saturday's game that Watson's knowledge of the playbook isn't far behind.

So what happens against Florida State?

Frankly, it would be a shock if Watson started, but it also would be a surprise if offensive coordinator Chad Morris hasn't gotten busy already dreaming up some new ways to utilize Watson against an FSU defense that has looked a bit vulnerable in the first two games -- particularly against a mobile QB in Oklahoma State's J.W. Walsh, who had 65 yards and two TDs on 10 carries in the opener.

It's not that an extra week of prep is suddenly going to allow Watson to morph into an experienced veteran, but after two weeks of real games -- one against tough competition, one not -- Clemson may have a better idea of what it has in the young QB, and Morris may have a few new ideas about how to use that ability as a weapon.

All the other bye-week narratives apply here, too: Getting healthier, getting rested, extra film study. But the real wild card is Watson, and even Florida State can't be sure what to expect when he's unleashed on Sept. 20.

ACC morning links

September, 9, 2014
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The coaching opening at SMU is one that should interest several head and assistant coaches, and with the university being located in Dallas, there is already talk of whether one of the ACC’s top assistants will be interested in taking over the Mustangs program.

Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris was a high school coach in Texas for 16 seasons before joining Tulsa’s staff in 2010. Whenever there is an opening at just about any school, Morris’ name is almost certain to come up. However, Morris has remained loyal to the Tigers and is waiting for the right opportunity.

On its surface, it might not make much sense considering SMU is not a Power 5 school, and Morris could possibly land at one of those programs if he waits for the right opportunity. However, just how much will the draw of returning to Texas interest Morris, who turns 46 in December? FOXSports.com’s Bruce Feldman listed seven potential replacements for June Jones, and Morris is one of them. (Ohio State assistant Tom Herman also has ties to the state and is the other popular name being mentioned.)

The season is still in its infancy and it’s early to speculate about potential candidates for the Mustangs job, but few would be surprised if Morris’ name begins popping up on the rumor mill.

Here are a few more links from around the conference:

Is it too early to question Florida State?

September, 8, 2014
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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.

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