ACC: NCF Next Level

Conference races gaining clarity

November, 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Potential clinching scenarios this week: None.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winston's hot start has FSU among elite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tigers' big plays test FSU streak of no TDs

September, 20, 2012
College GameDay travels to Tallahassee this weekend for the second top-10 showdown of the season, when the fourth-ranked Florida State Seminoles host the 10th-ranked Clemson Tigers at 8 ET Saturday night on ABC.

This is the ACC’s chance to take center stage on national television. The winner of this game likely emerges as the conference’s best (and only) threat to play in the BCS National Championship Game, as Virginia Tech’s loss last week to Pittsburgh took the Hokies out of contention.

These teams have met every year since 1992 -- the year Florida State joined the ACC. What started as a lopsided affair has turned in Clemson’s favor. Starting in 1992, Florida State won 11 straight meetings. Since then, Clemson has won six of the nine meetings, including a 35-30 victory last year.

Seminoles dominating ‘D’
Florida State has outscored its three opponents this season 176-3, by far the best point differential in FBS this season. The Seminoles are the first team since Texas Tech in 2005 to win three straight games by at least 50 points each.

Florida State’s defense has been absolutely dominant. Among teams that have played three games, FSU is the only one to not allow a touchdown this season. The Seminoles have also forced 22 “3 and Outs” in 42 opponent drives, the most of any team.

The Tigers powerful offense will be the toughest test yet for the Seminoles defense. Clemson is averaging nearly 40 points per game and has had 17 plays that gained 25 yards or more this season, tied for the most in FBS.

Andre Ellington is averaging an ACC-best 109 rush yards per game and has gained more yards after contact (199) than Florida State has allowed total rush yards (101) this season. Ellington has also broken for seven runs of 10 yards or longer this season, which is five more than Florida State has given up in three games.

Clemson’s dynamic duo
Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins have combined for more than 2,500 yards receiving and 21 touchdown catches since the start of last season. Hopkins stepped up in the absence of Watkins at the start of this season, catching 26-of-29 targets for 319 yards and four touchdowns.

Since 2011, Watkins has been dynamic after the catch, gaining more than 60 percent of his yards after the catch, including 105 against Florida State last season. Hopkins has been more reliable moving the chains, converting 20 more first downs than Watkins.

Stats of the game
Florida State is looking for its first 4-0 start since 2005, when it went on to win the ACC and play in the Orange Bowl. Winning their first four games used to be common for the Seminoles. From 1990-2005, they had a 4-0 start 13 times. They haven’t done it since.

Clemson is looking to start 4-0 in back-to-back seasons. The last time Clemson started 4-0 in back-to-back seasons was more than 70 years ago – in 1940 and 1941.

Blitz could be key vs. Hokies QB

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Clemson's deep options without Watkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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