ACC: North Carolina State Wolfpack

ACC morning links: Kaaya's big step

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

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

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

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

On Saturday, however, things were much different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC Power Rankings: Week 3

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:00
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What we learned in the ACC: Week 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC viewer's guide: Week 3

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

Noon

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

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

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

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

12:30 p.m.

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

3:30 p.m.

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

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

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

7 p.m.

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

8 p.m.

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

Missed tackles plaguing NC State

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12
10:30
AM ET
It’s been two weeks of close games for NC State, but it’s also been two wins. For a team that hadn’t celebrated a victory since Sept. 28 of last year, that’s progress.

Still, there’s no question the Wolfpack have work to do still, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

In the first two weeks of the season, NC State faced Georgia Southern and Old Dominion -- hardly teams that will be confused for Texas A&M or Oregon -- but the defensive numbers were not pretty.

Georgia Southern racked up 438 yards of offense, including 246 on the ground, and led the game in the final two minutes.

Old Dominion topped those numbers, totaling 504 yards of offense (196 on the ground) and also took a lead into the second half.

The early struggles aren’t entirely a surprise for the Wolfpack, who have plenty of youth on the roster, but that doesn’t mean the two wins will overshadow the bad mistakes.

“A win’s a win. But now we’ve got to get those mistakes off the film,” said senior defensive tackle T.Y. McGill.

Indeed, the mistakes are easy to spot.

After two weeks, the Wolfpack have allowed the second-most rushing yards after contact in the nation (345). No Power 5-conference team has surrendered more yards after contact per rush than NC State (4.11). Overall, 78 percent of the rushing yards it has surrendered came after contact.

“You can’t be at a D-I program and have all those missed tackles,” McGill said.

That’s particularly discouraging since the defensive line, which features seniors McGill, Art Norman and Thomas Teal, along with fourth-year junior Mike Rose, is one of the Wolfpack’s rare groups stocked with veterans.

Still, the best part of mistakes on film, McGill said, is that the problems are obvious. The job now is to correct them.

Unlike last season, however, the Wolfpack have the luxury of an offense that appears poised to make up for a few missed tackles and missed assignments. Jacoby Brissett has the NC State offense rolling to the tune of 959 yards and 70 points. Brissett leads the ACC in passer rating, while no receiver in the conference has hauled in a higher rate of targets than freshman Bo Hines.

A road trip to South Florida this week should be a bit bigger test for the NC State offense, however, which means it’s incumbent upon that defense to take a big step forward in Week 3, too.

“It’s great having an offense that can drive the ball down the field,” McGill said, “but the defense has got to step up.”
Virginia Tech’s tight ends have made a big difference for the Hokies’ offense so far this season, writes The Roanoke Times.

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

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

Other tight end production around the ACC through two weeks:

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

A few more links:

ACC playoff watch: Week 3

September, 10, 2014
Sep 10
3:00
PM ET
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 hits the road vs. Group of 5

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

"On the road again ... "

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

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

This all begs the all-important question: Why?

The answer: It's complicated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC Upset Watch

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
3:00
PM ET
It's baaaaack.

That's right, folks, our famous Upset Watch post is back and better than ever. OK, you got me. It's back.

And, really, there is no better time to start the Upset Watch back up than Week 3. Can you say "classic trap week," everyone? The ACC set a league record with an 11-0 performance in Week 2, drawing praise across the board. That praise was absolutely merited, but we cannot pretend as if every game was neatly tied up in a bow by halftime.

Not everybody looks the part. And, well, it has traditionally been the ACC way to lose games to inferior opponents. So to prove things truly have changed, the ACC needs its teams to get past some sneaky dangerous games on the slate this weekend. More than half, in fact. So we are putting Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Louisville, Miami and NC State on upset watch. Wake Forest is a 14-point underdog at Utah State, so the Deacs get left off.

Why those six? Glad you asked.

East Carolina at No. 17 Virginia Tech, noon, ESPN. Line: VT by 11. The Hokies are coming off an emotional win at Ohio State and have a big conference opener next week against Georgia Tech, so this perfectly fits the definition of a trap game. East Carolina gave the Hokies a serious run last year, losing 15-10 at home. The Pirates also kept it close with South Carolina last week, coming within a touchdown in the fourth quarter before giving up a long drive to seal the game. They simply cannot be overlooked, not with quarterback Shane Carden leading the way.

Georgia Southern at Georgia Tech, noon, ESPN3. Line: Georgia Tech by 21. We all know what the Eagles are capable of after watching them upset Florida last year and nearly upset NC State in the season opener. The Wolfpack pulled out the win with 1:37 left. Safe to say they were outplayed the majority of the game. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, has had to overcome two slow starts in both their games. Its defensive front has been particularly inconsistent, and its offense cannot avoid fumbling the ball. Oh, and Virginia Tech looms next week. The Eagles cannot be overlooked, either.

Syracuse at Central Michigan, noon, ESPNews. Line: Syracuse by 7. The last time we saw the Orange on the field, they needed two overtimes to beat FCS Villanova. The last time we saw the Chippewas on the field, they were housing Purdue, 38-17. We know Purdue is no great shakes, but a win over a Power-5 team is still a win over a Power-5 team. And going on the road to play a geeked up MAC opponent is not the perfect scenario. Quite honestly, this is a must-win for the Orange considering the stretch that follows: Maryland, Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State in consecutive weeks.

No. 21 Louisville at Virginia, 12:30 p.m., ESPN3. Line: Louisville by 7. The Cardinals hit the road for the first time this season to face a much-improved Virginia team boasting an opportunistic defense that is tied for first in the ACC with nine takeaways and second in the league with nine sacks. While Virginia remains unsettled on offense, the improvement alone on defense should make this one more challenging than it appeared before the season began.

Arkansas State at Miami, 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Line: Miami by 17. Do not sleep on the Red Wolves. This is a team that has made three straight bowl games and won its conference championship twice in the past three years. They also played Tennessee close in Knoxville last week before eventually losing, 34-19. Miami's defense has been better, but its offense remains a work in progress. Even after a 41-7 win over Florida A&M, Miami ranks No. 12 in the ACC in total offense, No. 13 in rushing offense and No. 11 in scoring offense.

NC State at USF, 3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network. Line: NC State by 3. The Wolfpack may very well be the shakiest 2-0 team in the country after needing come-from-behind wins against Georgia Southern and Old Dominion. USF nearly upset Maryland last week, holding a halftime lead before losing, in part, to a blocked punt. But the Wolfpack have to be on guard for running back Marlon Mack. NC State ranks No. 104 in the nation in rush D.

ACC morning links

September, 9, 2014
Sep 9
8:00
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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:

ACC morning links

September, 8, 2014
Sep 8
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Is it time to start worrying about Florida State?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACC Power Rankings: Week 2

September, 7, 2014
Sep 7
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Here's a look at what we learned in the ACC in Week 2.

1. Virginia Tech is for real. Virginia Tech defensive tackle Luther Maddy guaranteed the Hokies would beat Ohio State during ACC Kickoff back in July. Not many people took him seriously until Saturday night. Virginia Tech went into Columbus and took down the No. 8 Buckeyes 35-21 behind an aggressive, attacking defense and an offense that has finally found its footing behind Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer. When Braxton Miller got hurt, many thought this game would be more winnable for the Hokies, but not many predicted the upset. Coach Frank Beamer has been telling reporters since the fall he liked the makeup of this team. It was easy to see why during the game. Brewer brings poise and moxie to the quarterback spot, and young players such as Marshawn Williams, Shai McKenzie and Deon Newsome add a dimension to the offense that has been missing the past several years. Couple that with an always-stellar defense -- Virginia Tech finished with seven sacks and three interceptions -- and the Hokies have the makings of a darkhorse playoff contender. There. I said it.

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech's Dadi Nicolas
AP Photo/Paul VernonDadi Nicolas sacks Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett during Virginia Tech's 35-21 win.
2. #goACC. Those who follow the ACC on Twitter know the #goacc hashtag has been a way to poke fun at the league when something goes horribly wrong. But on Saturday night, all was perfect in ACC land. While the Big Ten fell flat on its face, the ACC skipped along to a happier tune and went 11-0 in nonconference play. That set an ACC record for the most nonconference games ever won on a single day and a single weekend. The ACC had previously won eight nonconference games in a single day on Sept. 12, 2009, and Aug. 31, 2013. The league won 10 nonconference games in a weekend on Sept. 2 to 6, 2010.

Several crises were averted -- Georgia Tech, NC State, Duke and North Carolina all had to come from behind to beat their non-Power Five opponents. Virginia Tech grabbed the biggest win, of course, and there’s no diminishing its significance for the program. The Hokies earned a reputation for failing to win the big game because of their BCS failures. But Beamer can hold his head high. Virginia Tech posted its first win in 35 tries away from home against top-8 teams.

3. Watch out for Pitt. It was easy to dismiss the Panthers’ 62-0 win over Delaware in Week 1. But it’s not so easy to dismiss the Panthers now, after a 30-20 win over Boston College on Friday night that was not as close as the final score indicates. Once again, James Conner bulldozed through the opposing defense and racked up 214 yards on a career-high 36 carries. He accounted for more than half of Pitt’s offensive yards. The offensive line continued to block well, and Tyler Boyd had 108 all-purpose yards of his own. The Pitt defense also held firm, especially up front, and limited BC to 276 total yards. Up next is FIU, so the Panthers’ train should keep on rolling.

4. Earth to North Carolina. The Tar Heels seem to start every preseason with high expectations, only to crash and burn. This year might not be so different. For the second week in a row, No. 21 North Carolina struggled to put away an opponent from a non-Power Five conference. Last week, it used a second-half blitz to beat Liberty. But on Saturday, the Tar Heels nearly lost. Tim Scott saved the day when he secured an interception with mere seconds remaining in the game and gave North Carolina the 31-27 win over San Diego State. The Aztecs had more first downs, total yards and dominated time of possession. But they also turned the ball over three times, including a pick-six that Brian Walker returned for a touchdown. In two games, North Carolina has given up 855 total yards and has looked totally out of sync on offense and defense. The schedule only gets tougher from here. Following a bye, they play at East Carolina, at Clemson, Virginia Tech and at Notre Dame.

5. Lots of young faces. We saw plenty of young faces play well across the league in Week 2. In addition to the aforementioned players at Virginia Tech, freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon went 8-of-11 for 112 yards and a score, and freshman running back L.J. Scott had 126 yards and a touchdown for Louisville. Clemson freshman receiver Artavis Scott set the school’s single-game record for receiving yards by a freshman with 164 yards, while Tigers freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson went 8-of-9 for 154 yards and three touchdowns, and Tigers running back Adam Choice had 72 yards and a touchdown. Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford went 30-of-38 for 291 yards with two touchdowns, but he also threw three interceptions. Florida State running back Dalvin Cook led the Seminoles with 13 carries for 67 yards and a score, while Miami running back Joe Yearby had 14 carries for 95 yards. Plenty to look forward to from all these players into the future.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 2

September, 6, 2014
Sep 6
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This won’t be the most inspiring slate of games this season has to offer, but the ACC at least showed in Week 1 that it knows how to make matchups against FCS teams exciting. Here’s a look at your Saturday schedule.

12:30 p.m.

South Carolina State at Clemson, Raycom, #SCSTvsCLEM: The Tigers look to rebound after a punishing loss to Georgia in Week 1. While Clemson looked sharp at times in the first half against the Bulldogs, the second half was a disaster. Getting the ground game going will be Step 1. Clemson averaged just 2 yards per carry in its opener. But the focus from fans will likely be on the quarterbacks, as freshman Deshaun Watson could push for more playing time against an FCS opponent. With No. 1 Florida State up next for Clemson, this is the last chance to iron out the issues that plagued the offense during its final 30 minutes in the opener.

3:30 p.m.

Richmond at Virginia, ESPN3, #RICHvsUVA: Mike London has waited all week to announce his starting quarterback, with Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns both expected to play. Johns performed admirably in relief of Lambert last week against UCLA, and the Virginia defense nearly allowed the Hoos to pull off the upset. Adding some intrigue to the proceedings this week, Richmond features two more former UVA QBs in transfers Michael Rocco and Michael Strauss.

4 p.m.

[+] EnlargeJustin Thomas
Kevin Liles/USA TODAY SportsGeorgia Tech put an a rare show through the air against Wofford, with QB Justin Thomas throwing for 282 yards and 2 TDs.
Georgia Tech at Tulane, ESPNews, #GTvsTULN: Has Paul Johnson gone mad? In last week’s opener, Georgia Tech threw for 282 yards and ran for just 226 -- the first time the Yellow Jackets had more passing offense than rushing in a win since 2009 and the largest differential in favor of the air attack of Johnson’s tenure at Tech. Whether that’s a trend that continues this week against Tulane remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting that it was the arm of QB Justin Thomas that helped Tech pull away after struggling early against FCS foe Wofford last week.

6 p.m.

Old Dominion at NC State, ESPN3, #ODUvsNCSU: The Wolfpack needed some late-game drama to escape Georgia Southern with a win in their opener, and while the early struggles weren’t necessarily encouraging, Dave Doeren hopes Jacoby Brissett’s impressive second half -- 18-of-23 for 213 yards, three TDs and no interceptions -- was a better indicator of what’s to come for the Wolfpack’s offense. In its opener, Old Dominion allowed 407 yards of passing offense to Hampton.

6:30 p.m.

Gardner-Webb at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #WEBBvsWAKE: The Dave Clawson era got off to a rocky start as the Demon Deacons couldn’t muster any offense against Louisiana-Monroe in their opener. Wake’s total of 94 yards of offense was the second worst in the nation in Week 1, as was its rushing total of minus-3 yards. Clawson hopes to find some answers against FCS Gardner-Webb, but the Deacons clearly have a long way to go.

7 p.m.

Murray State at Louisville, ESPN3, #MURRvsLOU: Coming off an impressive win over Miami in its first ACC contest, Louisville will need to avoid a letdown this week against Murray State. No. 2 rusher Michael Dyer is likely to miss his second straight game, but starter Dominique Brown proved in Week 1 he could provide the offensive foundation, carrying the ball 33 times -- three more than any other tailback in the nation.

Florida A&M at Miami, ESPN3, #FAMUvsMIA: Brad Kaaya's debut wasn’t one Miami fans will want to remember, but he should have an easier time of it this week against FCS foe Florida A&M. It may also be a chance for backup Jake Heaps to get in some reps, too. But regardless of the QB, the Hurricanes’ offensive line needs to show some improvement if Miami is really going to be a contender in the ACC Coastal.

Duke at Troy, ESPN3, #DUKEvsTROY: The Blue Devils didn’t have much trouble in their opener against Elon, but a road trip to coach David Cutcliffe’s home state of Alabama should prove a bit tougher. Jamison Crowder picked up right where he left off in 2013, hauling in 93 yards and two scores, but the bigger reason for optimism is that Issac Blakeney caught two more scores and could emerge as a reliable No. 2 option in the passing game. With linebacker C.J. France out with a leg injury, Duke’s battered defense could be tested, but Troy’s offense showed little flash in mustering just 4 yards per play (112th nationally) against UAB in Week 1.

7:30 p.m.

The Citadel at Florida State, ESPN3, #CITvsFSU: This certainly wouldn’t have been circled on No. 1 FSU’s schedule as a big game, but the opportunity for the younger players -- particularly on the defensive line and receiving corps -- to get some game action suddenly looks crucial after the Seminoles' turbulent Week 1 performance against Oklahoma State. Getting Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson (who is returning from a one-game suspension) and others involved in the passing game will be a major priority.

8 p.m.

San Diego State at North Carolina, ESPNEWS, #SDSUvsUNC: Larry Fedora says San Diego State’s chaotic defensive scheme should be an exceptional test for his young offensive line, which may be the Tar Heels’ weakest position group. Marquise Williams has solidified his spot as UNC’s starting quarterback, however, and the strong second half for the Heels in Week 1 offers some optimism that the preseason hype was warranted.

Virginia Tech at Ohio State, ESPN, #VTvsOSU: With conferences battling for marquee wins in the new era of the College Football Playoff, this game could be huge for both the Hokies and the ACC. Virginia Tech is eager to prove it’s ready to contend on a national stage again, and few stages are bigger than Columbus, Ohio. “Virginia Tech hasn’t been where we’d want to be in the past couple years, and this is a chance on a big stage to regain some confidence in people and put our name back up on the map,” QB Michael Brewer said. It’s also a chance for the ACC to garner a big win over a powerhouse program in the conference it’s chasing in ESPN’s FPI rankings.

ACC's top recruiting visits 

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
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video
The second weekend of the season in the ACC will feature a number of unofficial visits featuring two of the Tar Heel states top uncommitted prospects in Shy Tuttle and Emanuel McGirt. The marquee official visit involving an ACC program will take place at Ohio State with the nation's top-ranked prospect set to make a second trip to see the Buckeyes.

1. Shy Tuttle
ESPN 300: No. 31

[+] EnlargeShy Tuttle
Miller Safrit/ESPNShy Tuttle's visit to North Carolina is important as the offensive tackle is set to make a decision on September 26.
The nation's No. 5 defensive tackle will be in Chapel Hill Saturday night for the Tar Heels game against San Diego State. Simply put, this is a huge unofficial visit for Larry Fedora and staff with Tuttle scheduled to announce a decision September 26. Headed into the season, Tennessee was considered the favorite over North Carolina with N.C. State fighting to stay in the mix. Tuttle was on campus again in Knoxville last weekend for the Volunteers' season opener --making Saturday's visit to Chapel Hill that much more important for the Tar Heels. Tuttle will follow up his trip this weekend to North Carolina with a Sept. 20 unofficial visit to N.C. State's game against Presbyterian. There are two factors working in Tennessee's favor in the Tuttle recruitment headed into this weekend. One, the talk of Tuttle and No. 90 Jalen Dalton going to the same college is just that -- talk. Tuttle will make his decision independent of Dalton, so the package deal is more myth than reality at this point. Two, Tuttle has said his mom prefers North Carolina. While that may be the case, Tuttle's circle is more than just his mother, and there is some Tennessee pull within the group. This recruitment is seemingly close between the Volunteers and Tar Heels with all the pressure on Fedora to keep the best of the best at home.

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