ACC: North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC viewer's guide: Week 9

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
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Miami silenced Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium fairly early Thursday night. Will we find more drama in the rest of the Week 9 slate?

Noon

North Carolina at Virginia, ESPN3, #UNCvsUVA: Marquise Williams is coming off consecutive career outings. Virginia is looking to get back on the winning track after losing to reigning Coastal division champion Duke last week. Can its defense make another big stand and make life difficult for the red-hot UNC offense? Or have the Heels found their second-half groove after a poor start, much like they did last year?

3:30 p.m.

Boston College at Wake Forest, ESPN3, #BCvsWAKE: John Wolford is good to go for Wake after leaving last week's 30-7 home loss to Syracuse. He'll face a BC team that gave Clemson all it could handle last week before falling just short. Still, the 4-3 Eagles are on the brink of back-to-back bowl games under Steve Addazio in his first two years, and their rushing game (No. 9 nationally) should be a handful for a Demon Deacons defense that has been stout this season.

Georgia Tech at Pitt, ESPNU, #GTvsPITT: Is it panic time in Atlanta? A 5-0 start has been met with consecutive losses, including a 48-43 defeat last week at North Carolina in which the defense simply could not make a stop late. Pitt hopes it turned the corner last Thursday in its win over Virginia Tech, but it needs more diversity on the offensive side of the ball, which has been too reliant on James Conner and Tyler Boyd. Its defense does not have Aaron Donald and his dominant performance last year against the Yellow Jackets, but it has been playing well so far this season, ranking 14th nationally in scoring average (18.6).

7 p.m.

Syracuse at No. 21 Clemson, ESPNU, #CUSEvsCLEM: Scott Shafer and Dabo Swinney have made up after last year's Tigers rout in the Carrier Dome. Both teams are in their second straight week with their current signal-caller, as freshman AJ Long led the Orange past Wake Forest in their first career start and Cole Stoudt returned as Clemson's starter in its win at BC. Will the Orange's offensive line give Long a chance against the Tigers' stout front? This game ends a brutal stretch for the Orange, who faced Notre Dame, Louisville and Florida State before Wake last week.

ACC morning links

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
8:00
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Clemson and Texas A&M announced late Thursday that the Tigers would replace Oregon on the Aggies' schedule in 2018 and 2019.

How about a round of applause for Clemson, everyone?

Seriously, look at the Tigers' future nonconference schedules. In addition to the Aggies, they get Auburn in 2016 and 2017. They get rival South Carolina every year. They get Notre Dame in 2015, 2020, 2022 and 2023. (Yes, those games with the Irish are not entirely their doing, but rather part of the ACC's agreement with Notre Dame.)

Still. This is a program that faced Georgia this year and last year. It faced Auburn in the three years before that.

We know all about how the College Football Playoff has forced others to schedule tougher. Having an athletic director on the selection committee in Dan Radakovich only drives home that point for Clemson. Can others step up to the plate now, too?

Here are the rest of your Friday links:

Assessing the ACC's slow starters

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:00
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Last week we looked at some of the best performances at the midpoint of the season, but there are more than a few stars off to slow starts, too. We dug into the struggles of five to try to figure out what has gone wrong.

Stacy Coley (WR, Miami)

The hype: As a true freshman in 2013, Coley averaged 18 yards-per-catch and finished with 1,461 all-purpose yards, fifth-most in the ACC. With a year of experience under his belt, expectations were high.

The reality: In six games, Coley has 11 receptions for 59 yards. He has yet to catch a single pass of 18 yards or more after averaging that last season.

The explanation: Coley suffered a shoulder injury in Week 2 that has hindered him all season. He hasn’t been able to match up with physical cornerbacks, and his routes have suffered as a result. The early season injury also kept him from building a rapport with new quarterback Brad Kaaya, and overall Coley has been targeted just 17 times in the passing game.

The fallout: Coley’s numbers are way down, but Miami’s passing game has remained solid. Kaaya has improved each week and become one of the top deep-ball passers in the nation, even without one of his top deep threats. With Coley struggling, however, Phillip Dorsett has stepped up. His 34.4 yards-per-catch average is the best in the nation.

Jamison Crowder (WR, Duke)

The hype: As a junior in 2013, Crowder led the ACC with 108 catches and topped 1,000 yards for the second straight season. He was a fixture of Duke’s passing game, earning the second most targets of any receiver in the nation. His senior season was to be a culmination of an exceptional career, including a good chance Crowder would set the conference record for receiving yards.

The reality: Crowder’s 40 catches are the second-most in the ACC this season, which is good. But he has yet to find the end zone against an FBS foe, and before a solid eight-catch, 99-yard day against Virginia last week, he had managed just 12 receptions for 90 yards in three games vs. Power 5 competition.

The explanation: The preseason injury to tight end Braxton Deaver, Duke’s second-leading receiver in 2013, meant there would be ample focus on Crowder from opposing defenses this season, so he has found a bit less room to maneuver. He has been a bit more prone to drops -- three so far -- but he is also catching just 47.6 percent of his targets, down from 62 percent a year ago.

The fallout: Duke’s passing game has been inconsistent this season, in part because of Crowder’s diminished numbers, but other receivers have stepped up. Max McCaffrey and Issac Blakeney have 50 catches and six touchdowns between them, better numbers than they tallied all of last season. But a more consistent Crowder would certainly be a big asset to quarterback Anthony Boone and the Duke offense, and last week's game could be a sign of what's to come.

Karlos Williams (RB, Florida State)

The hype: Williams was third on FSU’s depth chart last season, but he still rushed for 730 yards and 11 touchdowns. Moving into the starting role in 2014 behind a senior-laden offensive line, he was considered a darkhorse Heisman threat.

The reality: Last season, 23 of Williams’ 82 rushing attempts vs. FBS teams went for 10 yards or more. This season, just 11 of 73 have. He has rushed for nearly 2.5 yards-per-carry less than a year ago, and he already has more negative runs (12) than he did all of last season (8).

The explanation: Part of the Williams hype was conjecture. He posted big numbers in 2013, but he had just 18 carries in the first halves of games, with the bulk of his production coming in the latter half of blowouts. More problematic for Williams this season, however, has been the struggles of his offensive line. In 2013, he averaged 3.7 yards-per-carry before contact. This year, just 2.0.

The fallout: Florida State’s ground game has taken a major step backward from a year ago. In 2013, the Seminoles averaged 6.3 yards-per-carry on non-quarterback runs vs. FBS opponents (fourth-best in the nation). This season, they are getting just 4.4 (80th). As a result, Jimbo Fisher has been far more reliant on his passing game, calling for throws 55 percent of the time on first and second down, while averaging a yard-and-a-half less.

Ryan Switzer (PR, North Carolina)

The hype: As a true freshman, Switzer tied an NCAA record with five punt returns for touchdowns, earning All-America status for the effort.

The reality: After averaging 21 yards-per-return a year ago, Switzer has just 20 punt-return yards total against FBS teams this season. He hasn’t found the end zone, and he has managed double-digit yardage in the return game just once since the opener vs. Liberty.

The explanation: The dangers of Switzer’s immense success in 2013 were obvious this offseason. Teams simply wouldn’t kick to him because they didn’t want to get burned. Still, he had just 24 return attempts last season, the same number he has had through seven games this season. More likely, Switzer is trying to make something out of nothing a bit too often, and the blockers leading the way haven’t been quite as good.

The fallout: Beyond the lack of special-teams touchdowns, there really hasn’t been much of an impact. In fact, last season UNC’s average starting field position after a punt was its own 28. This season, it’s the 29. Moreover, what Switzer has lacked in special-teams flair, he has made up for on offense. Through seven games last season, he caught 16 balls for 121 yards and one touchdown. This season he has 34 receptions for 429 yards and three scores.

Florida State’s defensive backs

The hype: The Seminoles led the nation in pass defense in 2012 and 2013, and under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt last season, they utterly dominated opposing quarterbacks, allowing just 5.1 yards-per-attempt (best in the country) and picking off 26 passes (also tops in the nation). With rising stars like Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams, Nate Andrews and Jalen Ramsey all returning, the stage was set for another big season.

The reality: Through seven games, FSU’s pass defense ranks 61st nationally. The Seminoles are allowing a far more hospitable 6.8 yards-per-attempt, have allowed 11 touchdowns after surrendering just 14 all season in 2013, and have picked off just seven passes.

The explanation: Personnel has something to do with it. The Seminoles clearly miss Terrence Brooks and Lamarcus Joyner's leadership and playmaking ability. The transition from Pruitt to new coordinator Charles Kelly has earned some of the blame from fans, too. But perhaps the biggest culprit is the lack of pressure up front. FSU’s sack rate has dropped from 7.6 percent of dropbacks a year ago to just 4.5 percent this season.

The fallout: Florida State avoided the worst possible consequence last week when an offensive pass interference call kept its undefeated season alive. Beyond that, teams are completing a higher percentage of third-down throws (54.4 percent, up from 46 percent last year) and converting a higher rate for first downs (37 percent, up from 28 percent), keeping drives alive and keeping Jameis Winston and the offense off the field. More impactful, perhaps, is that FSU scored 197 points off turnovers last season. So far this season, it has scored just 45.

ACC Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
9:00
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Fortuna: UNC's confidence is extremely high, coming off a close loss at Notre Dame and a last-second shootout win over Georgia Tech. Marquise Williams is playing the best ball of his life, hoping to turn the Heels' season around in the second half like he did a year ago. Virginia's defense will be challenged by the UNC tempo, and if that defense can't create scoring opportunities for itself, the Cavaliers' offense may not have the weapons to keep up if this contest turns into a shootout. Williams and the offense bail the Heels' defense out once again, signaling a recovery not unlike last year's for UNC.
North Carolina 42, Virginia 31

Hale: Yes, North Carolina got up off the mat last week to eek out a last-minute win over one of the most generous defenses in the ACC, but let's not assume all the Tar Heels' woes are behind them. They still allowed Georgia Tech to rack up 611 yards of offense, and they won't find nearly as many yards of their own against Virginia's stout D. The Hoos' pass rush should play havoc against UNC's work-in-progress O-line (remember what Virginia did to UCLA?). Virginia's improving passing attack threw for 325 yards last week against a good Duke secondary. What do you think the Hoos might do against those struggling UNC defensive backs? Kevin Parks has been waiting for a breakthrough performance, and North Carolina has nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in its past two games. Add a home-field advantage for the Hoos, and last week's momentum for UNC won't last long. Virginia 30, North Carolina 24


Adelson: The Jackets match up much better against Pittsburgh than they did against North Carolina a week ago. The Tar Heels did a majority of their damage offensively through the air, as Williams threw for 390 yards on the Jackets' D. Pitt does not have the same type of passing-game threat, and there will be room to run on the Pitt defense. Though the Panthers shut down Virginia Tech's ground game a week ago, the Hokies are the worst rushing team this group has faced. As long as Georgia Tech holds on to the football, the Jackets should be able to gain yards on the ground and hold on to the ball long enough to win. Georgia Tech 24, Pitt 21

Shanker: At least on paper, the Panthers look as if they could be Georgia Tech and the option offense's kryptonite. The Panthers get off the field on third downs (No. 7 nationally), stop the run (18) and limit the number of long rushes by an opponent. Pittsburgh is a ball-control offense, too, relying on James Conner to move the chains and wear out defenses. The Yellow Jackets are 95th in run defense, too. Pittsburgh has an average time of possession of 33:09, which should keep its defense fresh against Georgia Tech.
Pitt 28, Georgia Tech 27

Unanimous picks

Miami at Virginia Tech: Duke Johnson is a beast, and the Hokies will be without Luther Maddy and Chase Williams. Brad Kaaya has been a magician with the deep ball, and Virginia Tech has allowed 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards. The Hokies are used to Thursday night magic, but this offense might need more than that to get going. Miami 27, Virginia Tech 17

Syracuse at Clemson: Clemson's offense has been stuck in neutral since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury, but its defense has more than made up for it. Now, Syracuse sends true freshman AJ Long to deal with that dominant pass rush, and it could get ugly. Clemson 20, Syracuse 7

Boston College at Wake Forest: The Deacons have scored just one offensive touchdown and averaged just 2.2 yards per play in ACC games so far, with more than half their drives failing to garner a first down. Wake won't be able to keep Tyler Murphy and the BC offense off the field, and that's going to lead to a long day for the Deacons' defense. Boston College 31, Wake Forest 10

Current standings
Shanker: 48-10
Adelson: 46-12
Fortuna: 45-13
Hale: 44-14

ACC morning links

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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We start Thursday with the fallout of the Wainstein Report, which stated Wednesday that North Carolina academic advisers pushed athletes toward sham classes from 1993-2011.

You can read all about it here, and even though no head coaches were directly implicated, the report is not favorable for a once-proud academic institution that has been in the spotlight for the wrong reasons in recent years.

As the (Raleigh) News & Observer's Luke DeCock says, UNC finally got some real answers, revealing an ugly truth and an apology from chancellor Carol Folt.

What's next, though? FoxSports' Stewart Mandel looks at how the NCAA Committee on Infractions came down on Minnesota's men's basketball program in 2000. What happened with the Tar Heels certainly looks worse, and it cuts right to the heart of what the NCAA says it is about.

The NCAA announced in June that it was re-opening the UNC case. Has or will it make the same kind of progress and/or conclusions that the Wainstein Report did? When? Does it use the Wainstein Report to take matters into its own hands, as it did with the Freeh Report on Penn State -- a move that probably cost the NCAA credibility after reducing Penn State's sanctions on two different occasions. Maybe UNC takes the initiative and self-sanctions?

So much is up in the air right now, but Wednesday appeared to be at least a start for UNC in escaping this cloud of controversy.

Here are the rest of your ACC morning links ...
The exchange between coach and player was fairly straightforward, Marquise Williams said. North Carolina's defense had just given up a long touchdown, again. The Tar Heels were on the brink of losing a shootout, again. But Larry Fedora pulled his quarterback aside for a quick chat, confident he could be the guy to shake UNC out of its recent misery.

"Coach said, 'We have three timeouts and there's 3:07. Marquise, you do this every Wednesday,'" Williams said. "'This is how much confidence I have in you. You just won the two-minute drill on Wednesday against our defense, so I know you can do it again.' I told Coach, 'You're right. We can do this. We can do it as an offense. We're going to do this.'"

Williams executed a 12-play drive that used all but the remaining 11 seconds, with T.J. Logan running it in for the winning score over Georgia Tech. It was ACC victory No. 1 for the Heels and the end of a four-game skid caused mostly by a defense that is still searching for answers as it enters Virginia this Saturday. But it was finally validation for Williams, who will take consecutive career performances into Charlottesville, hoping he can engineer a UNC turnaround similar to last season's.

[+] EnlargeMarquise Williams
Gerry Broome/Associated PressMarquise Williams accounted for five touchdowns and led a game-winning drive for the Tar Heels against Georgia Tech.
"I looked at it as something that we needed very badly, this football team needed badly," Fedora said of beating the Yellow Jackets. "They needed (it) for their confidence level, for their ability to keep believing in each other and what they were doing and to keep practicing hard. I think we were getting to a point where we really needed it, and they got it done. It was all about, just find a way to win the football game. When you find a way to win football games, you start realizing, if you don't screw it up, you've got a pretty good chance."

Williams forced a third-down throw that was picked off late at Notre Dame 11 days ago, one of several minor screw-ups by the Heels that cost them a shot at a major upset in a 50-43 loss. Still, the redshirt junior became the first player in school history to pass for 300 yards (303) and rush for 100 (132) in the same game. He also caught a touchdown pass. Williams topped that this past Saturday by completing a school-record 38 passes (on 47 attempts) for 390 yards with four touchdowns and just one interception, adding 16 rushes for 73 yards and another score.

The 6-foot-2, 220-pounder seized control of the offense at Notre Dame, the first game he played from start to finish without rotating with Mitch Trubisky. He did not look back against Georgia Tech, winning ACC offensive back of the week honors for the second straight week.

Williams bragged about spending as much time in the film room now as his coaches do, adding that his confidence level is at an all-time high. He said he is playing with a swagger, and that he remains calm under otherwise-stressful situations on the field.

His previous two-minute drill experience before this past weekend came in last year's regular-season finale against Duke, which ended with him throwing a pick that gave the rival Blue Devils the Coastal division title. He was set on not letting that happen again Saturday, taking advantage of the talent and situations around him and not forcing anything unless it was there.

"He's gotten into a pretty good rhythm and he feels comfortable," Fedora said, adding, "There was no panic in him. Just go out there and play. He did a really good job of not forcing the ball on that series, checking it down on the swing to the back. He was pretty methodical actually. I was proud of him."

Williams has been diplomatic about his recent success, mentioning, unprompted and in order, his offensive line, his receivers and his running backs as reasons for the big numbers. He had helped engineer a 6-1 finish for the Heels last season following a 1-5 start, raising 2014 expectations that made the program's 2-4 start this fall all the more disappointing. Still, with Williams back in charge with five games to go, last year's finish is a good starting point for how UNC can turn things around again.

"That's what we're planning on doing, the same thing," Williams said. "Come back and play better Carolina football in the second half. Play smart and fast.

"We haven't been that smart. We're getting a lot of penalties. We just haven't been doing what we need to do. And now we've found something. It's time to get it going because guys are tired of losing."

ACC Show: Week 9 (2 ET)

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:00
AM ET
Join ESPN.com ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker as they discuss the Week 9 slate and answer your questions live on screen.
UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley ranks 19th nationally in total offense. But against Virginia in the season opener, a game in which Hundley was supposed to formally announce his Heisman candidacy, the Cavaliers made him look like the 119th-ranked quarterback.

The Cavaliers will need another dynamite effort on defense Saturday as their bowl hopes hang in the balance. North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams, who ranks 17th in total offense at 318 yards per game, is coming to Charlottesville and is playing the best football of his career.

[+] EnlargeNorth Carolina's Marquise Williams
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesNorth Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams has rushed for 299 yards in his past three games and passed for more than 300 yards in his past two.
"He is a guy that is definitely, if you want to characterize a dual-threat guy, he can run the ball, he can escape from his pass drops, he can throw the ball," Virginia coach Mike London said. "… He's improved the last couple games for sure."

The Virginia defense has been among the best in the country, though, and Williams will have his hands full just as the Virginia defense will have its issues with Williams. The Cavaliers are ninth in total defense when playing FBS competition, and few teams attack the quarterback better than Virginia. The Cavs have 22 sacks, which ranks 12th in the nation.

Blitzing and wildly pursuing the passer could leave the Virginia defense susceptible to the 6-foot-2, 220-pound junior Williams' athleticism. Over his last three games, Williams, who has solidified his position atop the depth chart, has rushed for 299 yards. If Virginia gets out of its rushing lanes and does not try to collapse the pocket with discipline, Williams could take off.

"The biggest thing is break down before you tackle ... and not going in to take someone's head off," said linebacker Max Valles, whose four sacks ranks 10th in the ACC.

When Valles does blitz, he knows Williams won't afford him much time to freelance. Valles expects the Tar Heels to get the ball out of Williams' hands quickly on passing plays, so the Virginia defense will need to get into their pass rush right at the snap. As a passer, Williams has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the last two games, which means the Cavs will need to make him uncomfortable in the pocket, even if it doesn't equate to sacks.

"We have to get in our moves much quicker and not waste any time," he said.

North Carolina looks like it could be on the same delayed linear trajectory it was a year ago -- abysmal first half of the season with marked improvements in the second half. The Heels nearly upset Notre Dame two weekends ago, and last Saturday they dealt Georgia Tech a painful blow in the Coastal Division.

As bad as North Carolina has been, it is only one game behind in the loss column in the division, and it has remaining games against all three Coastal teams with just one conference loss.

One of those teams is Virginia, although the Cavaliers have a brutal schedule -- not just in the second half of the season but overall. It is an especially tough stretch to close out the season, though, with road games at Georgia Tech, Florida Ste and Virginia Tech plus a home game against Miami.

Still two games from bowl eligibility, the Cavaliers understand every game is crucial. A win against UNC begins with stopping Williams.

"Every game from here on out is a must win," Valles said, "so we can get to where we want to be, which is to be on top of the Coastal."

ACC morning links

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
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It's rarely a good sign when a defensive coordinator is imploring a fanbase to respect the job his defense has done, but that's what Miami assistant Mark D'Onofrio was doing this week.

"Give the guys some credit," D'Onofrio said in this article from Matt Porter of The Palm Beach (Florida) Post.

The truth is the Miami defense has played well this season. The problem is the defense is not stepping up in the games the Miami program needs it to.

Against Nebraska, the Hurricanes were torched on the ground and allowed the Cornhuskers to convert 70 percent of their third-down attempts. In the Hurricanes' three losses, all on the road, they are allowing opponents to convert nearly 60 percent of their third-down attempts. With the Miami offense improving each week, the defense needs to do a much better job of giving quarterback Brad Kaaya the ball.

There have also been two games already in which Miami allowed more than 300 rushing yards, and if the Hurricanes were able to get a few stops against Georgia Tech, there was a good chance they could have won the game.

But D'Onofrio is right in that the defense is seemingly taking steps in the right direction. The unit played well in the first half against Cincinnati, and it put the clamps on Duke at the end of September.

The problem is the Georgia Tech loss was sandwiched between those games, and that inconsistency is causing Canes fans to pull their hair out.

With a date against Virginia Tech on Thursday, the odds are the defense will limit the Hokies, who rank 83rd nationally in total offense. But what will happen the next two games against North Carolina and Florida State?
  • Virginia Tech's defense needs to be prepared on Thursday night, too.
  • Once North Carolina began racking up the points, the Georgia Tech defense began playing without discipline by trying to make the big play instead executing the called play.
  • For the Tar Heels to truly turn this season around, the defense will need to begin making strides.
  • Clemson is right where most people expected them to be at 5-2, but Dabo Swinney still sees greatness for this team.
  • Syracuse still expects its indoor facility to be ready in December.
  • Florida State linebacker Matthew Thomas, who was suspended the first six games, saw quite a bit of action in his first game back.
  • Miles Gooch was a productive high school quarterback, but like so many star athletes at the position, a change was needed in college. Now Gooch is Virginia's leading receiver.
  • Louisville will wear alternate uniforms for next week's game against Florida State. Do you like them? More importantly: does it matter? I don't buy the theory that alternate uniforms -- black, gray, turquoise -- have any impact on a game.
  • If you like Pittsburgh football and like math, here's a breakdown of James Conner's bounce back from a drop off. While Conner was better against Virginia Tech, he still wasn't the dominating runner Pitt fans saw the first few weeks.
Notre Dame and the ACC announced their playing dates Tuesday through 2025, which rounds out the average of five league opponents a year for the Irish for 12 years.

"The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a release. "Notre Dame not only adds to our league's already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there's no question that this partnership is significant."

Dates were finalized through 2019, with opponents and sites set up for the six years after that. The full 2015 and 2016 schedules had already been announced last December, when this season's schedule -- the first of the ACC football agreement for Notre Dame -- was released.

"Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a release. "Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.

"On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once."

Some notes on the Irish's future schedules:
  • Notre Dame will get its shot at redemption against Florida State in four years, when the Seminoles visit South Bend on Nov. 10, 2018 -- three days shy of the 25th anniversary of the 1993 "Game of the Century" between these two. The Irish will return to Tallahassee on Sept. 6, 2021, Labor Day, before the Noles go back to Notre Dame Stadium sometime in 2024.
  • That holiday date at FSU is actually the second of two Labor Day road games for the Irish, who travel to Louisville on Sept. 2 (Labor Day) in 2019. As of now, it does not look like Notre Dame will play any Thursday night games.
  • That 2019 opener at Louisville is the first of a strenuous slate of road games for the Irish in 2019: They also go to Georgia (Sept. 21), Georgia Tech (Oct. 19) and Duke (Nov. 9). They are also expected to travel to Stanford that year, since it is an odd-number year, though no official date has been set. You can bet the Irish staff will point out this year to Peach State recruits, who will get a pair of trips back to their home state in a span of a month.
  • Notre Dame gets six ACC games in 2019 and 2023, while playing just four in 2022 and 2024. The Irish, of course, have just four ACC games this year, but will play six next season.
  • Notre Dame will play seven of the ACC's 14 teams in consecutive years: Miami in 2016 and 2017 and 2024 and 2025; NC State in 2016 and 2017; Wake Forest in 2017 and 2018; Virginia Tech in 2018 and 2019; Duke in 2019 and 2020; UNC in 2021 and 2022; Clemson in 2022 and 2023.
  • There remains no clarity on Notre Dame's Shamrock Series game -- in which it moves a home game off-site to a metropolitan area -- beyond 2016, when it faces Army in San Antonio. Next year's game against BC is at Fenway Park.
  • Not pictured in the graphic (and not-ACC related): As of this past summer, Notre Dame and Michigan State had a verbal agreement for two games in the 2020s, though they have said they may look at a single neutral-site contest.

ACC Upset Watch: Week 9

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
3:00
PM ET
No favorite is ever safe in the Coastal Division. ...

Thursday night

Miami (4-3, 1-2) at Virginia Tech (4-3, 1-2), 8 p.m., ESPN. Line: Miami by 2.5. A little surprised Miami is favored in this game, considering the history. Virginia Tech has won four of its last five meetings with the Canes, and is 11-4 in Thursday night home games. Plus, Miami is 0-3 on the road this season. But on the flip side, the Hokies have not inspired much confidence since their upset win over Ohio State in Week 2. After that victory, Virginia Tech is just 2-3, including a loss at Pittsburgh last Thursday night. The Hokies have an ineffective run game and a quarterback that makes too many mistakes (sound familiar) plus a defense that is missing several injured players. Maybe all that works in Miami's favor. Or maybe Virginia Tech bears down at home, jump starts its run game with Marshawn Williams back in the lineup and uses an aggressive, physical defense to flummox freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya.

Saturday

North Carolina (3-4, 1-2) at Virginia (4-3, 2-1), noon, ESPN3. Line: Virginia by 7. We saw Virginia in a nutshell last week in a loss to Duke. If its defense cannot create pressure or turnovers, the offense cannot win games on its own. So how the defense handles suddenly unstoppable Marquise Williams is going to be the biggest key in this game. Williams has 901 yards of offense and nine total touchdowns in the last two games and now, the Tar Heels have a bit of confidence going for them. They have won four straight in the series. And oh by the way, Williams had a rushing, passing and receiving touchdown in a 45-14 win in this game a season ago. That victory got UNC to four wins. A win here could get UNC to four wins.

Georgia Tech (5-2, 2-2) at Pitt (4-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m., ESPNU. Line: Pitt by 3.5. Georgia Tech has dropped two straight, while Pitt had a big win over Virginia Tech -- does that mean the script has been flipped and the Panthers are now one of the favorites in the Coastal? Nobody can be declared a favorite in the most unpredictable division in America. Georgia Tech handled Pitt well in a 21-10 victory a year ago, and brings a far more effective run game to Pittsburgh than Virginia Tech did. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels did far more damage through the air in a win over the Jackets last week. Pitt has no real passing game outside Chad Voytik to Tyler Boyd, ranking No. 13 in the ACC in pass offense. So the matchups here could work in Georgia Tech's favor.

ACC morning links

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
8:00
AM ET
It appears as if Virginia Tech will lose its second defensive starter to a medical redshirt this season.

Starting defensive tackle Luther Maddy said Monday night on Twitter that he needs a second surgery on his knee and will sit out the rest of the season.
Maddy initially tore the meniscus in his right knee against East Carolina in Week 3, but played 48 snaps with the injury against Georgia Tech. He underwent surgery last month, and the timetable for his return was listed as two-to-four weeks. Though he was listed as probable to play against Pitt, Maddy did not and was not scheduled to play against Miami on Thursday night.

His loss is a big one for the Hokies, who have had to make do without him for the last three games. Nigel Williams replaced him in the lineup, but it's tough to make up for Maddy's experience and skill-set. The four-year starter was a preseason All-ACC team selection after he had 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries a season ago. In four games this season, Maddy had seven hurries.

Virginia Tech also plans on redshirting Brandon Facyson, who started the season at cornerback opposite Kendall Fuller. Facyson has been slow to heal from a stress fracture to his shin and has not played since Week 3.

In one other Virginia Tech injury note, running back Marshawn Williams is expected to play against the Hurricanes after missing last week with a sprained ankle.

Over at Georgia Tech, the Jackets got some tough injury news of their own when coach Paul Johnson said that starting B-back Zach Laskey probably won't play at Pitt on Saturday. Laskey hurt his shoulder late against North Carolina last week and was in a sling Monday. Laskey has been terrific this season, with a team-high 120 carries for 595 yards and five touchdowns.

He gained 70 or more yards in each game this season.

Now let's see what else is making headlines in the ACC:

By the numbers: Week 8 recap

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
2:00
PM ET
Digging into some numbers from Week 8 in the ACC ...

Winston is the comeback kid

Amid all the off-field chaos, it's easy to forget how good Jameis Winston is on the field, and he's been particularly impressive when his team needs him most. Winston is awfully good at rallying his team. In the second-half comeback against Notre Dame on Saturday, Winston was a sterling 15-of-16 for 181 yards, leading two touchdown drives.

This is nothing new. While Winston hasn't been tested often, his numbers when playing from behind are off the charts. Since the start of last season, Winston has completed 81-of-109 passes (74 percent) for 1,104 yards (13.6 yards-per-attempt) with 12 touchdowns and one interception when FSU is trailing. That's absurd.

Winston also excelled against the blitz Saturday. In 2013, he completed 69 percent of his throws, averaged 11.8 yards-per-attempt and tossed 21 TDs to just three picks vs. the blitz, but to start this season, his YPA dropped to 8.1 and he had just three TDs on 54 attempts. Against the Irish, however, Winston was 9-of-11 for 113 yards with two TDs and no picks when facing the blitz.

Noles' ground game struggling

On Saturday, FSU mustered just 50 yards on 26 rushing attempts -- a dismal 1.92 YPC. Last season, FSU averaged 5.6 yards per rush, but it has yet to hit that mark in any game against an FBS foe this season.

It's not all on the tailbacks, however. The biggest difference appears to be the O-line.

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FSU's runners are averaging roughly the exact same number of yards after first contact as they did in the previous two seasons, but they're getting more than two yards-per-carry less before contact than they did in 2012.

Boyd and nothing else

Pitt toppled Virginia Tech on Thursday despite QB Chad Voytik completing just 10 passes (on 17 attempts). What's perhaps even more noteworthy about Pitt's passing game, however, is that the only wide receiver to catch a pass was Tyler Boyd, who had six receptions on nine targets.

That's hardly a surprise. For the season, Boyd has 34 catches against FBS teams. The rest of Pitt's receiving corps has 22.

Overall, Boyd has accounted for 41.4 percent of Pitt's targets and 49.7 percent of its receiving yards vs. FBS foes -- both the highest rates in the nation.

Clemson stuffs the run

Remember in the opener when Todd Gurley ran all over Clemson's defense? Georgia racked up 328 rushing yards and five TDs on 41 carries. It was ugly.

Since then, however, the Tigers have surrendered just 395 more yards in six games. Clemson is allowing just 2.0 yards-per-carry since the opener, the best rate in the nation. Against Boston College on Saturday, it held the Eagles to nearly 200 yards below their season rushing average, and the Tigers racked up 14 tackles for loss. It was the fourth time in the last six games Clemson has had double-digit TFLs, and since that opening game against UGA, no defense in the country has created a higher percentage of negative rushing plays than Clemson's (36.5 percent).

Marquise the magician

For the second straight week, North Carolina QB Marquise Williams was terrific. Williams enjoyed his third 300-yard game of the season (Winston is the only other ACC QB with as many), chucking four TD passes and adding a fifth score -- along with 70 rushing yards -- on the ground in a win against Georgia Tech.

It's the second straight game Williams had 300 passing yards, 70 rushing yards and at least three total touchdowns. In the past decade, the only other Power 5 conference QB to do that in back-to-back games was Heisman winner Robert Griffin III.

Heels, Jackets struggle on D

Entering Saturday's game, the only Power 5 conference team allowing more yards-per-play than Georgia Tech (6.3) and North Carolina (6.2) was South Carolina (6.35), so it was no surprise that the two defenses coughed up 1,190 yards and 91 points when they faced off.

For Georgia Tech, it's the continuation of a downward trend. In Ted Roof's first eight games against FBS teams as Tech's defensive coordinator, the Yellow Jackets allowed 5.5 yards-per-play and held five opponents below 101 yards rushing. In his last nine, opponents have rushed for an average of 173 yards per game and are averaging 6.5 yards-per-play overall, good for 115th in the nation in that span.

But things are even worse for the Tar Heels. In the last decade, just five Power 5 conference teams have allowed more yards in their first seven games than UNC (3,659) and only four have allowed more touchdowns (40).

Quick hitters
  • Entering the game, Virginia QBs were completing 63 percent of their throws to wide receivers this season, but against Duke, the Hoos completed just 45 percent. Matt Johns targeted wideouts on 70.2 percent of his throws in the game — the second-highest percentage of throws to WRs for Virginia quarterbacks this season. Cavaliers wideouts haven't caught a touchdown pass in their past three games after hauling in six in the first four.
  • Johns did hit running back Khalek Shepherd for a passing touchdown. It was just the third one Duke has allowed this season. Only San Jose State and Ole Miss have allowed a lower rate of touchdown throws in the nation.
  • Ryan Switzer in 13 games last season: 32 catches, 341 yards, three TDs. Switzer in seven games this season: 34 catches, 429 yards, three TDs.
  • The two highest completion percentages for Power 5 wideouts (min. 30 targets) reside in the ACC, and both are true freshmen: Clemson's Artavis Scott (38 catches on 46 targets) and NC State's Bo Hines (28 catches on 35 targets).
  • UNC's defense has struggled, but it has also been opportunistic. The Heels have 80 points off turnovers this year, the third-best total in the country. On the flip side, the Heels have allowed 77 points off turnovers, the second-worst total in the country.

ACC morning links: A loss for Clemson

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
8:00
AM ET
The last thing Clemson needed was more bad news on offense, but that's exactly what was in store Sunday.

The Tigers' leading rusher, freshman Adam Choice, is done for the season with a knee injury, as the Charleston Post & Courier writes.

Choice suffered a torn ACL in Saturday's 17-13 win against Boston College, adding more grim news to a running game that has struggled to find any footing this season. Through seven games, Choice was Clemson's leading rusher with 218 yards and also averaged a team-best 4.4 yards per carry.

Choice actually would have redshirted this season, but he was thrust into the tailback mix when Zac Brooks went down with a season-ending injury in fall camp. Choice's injury leaves the trio of Wayne Gallman, C.J. Davidson and D.J. Howard to pick up the slack in the Tigers' backfield.

In fairness, the bulk of Choice's production this year came against South Carolina State. Against FBS foes, he's carried 38 times for 144 yards -- an average of 3.8 per carry -- good for 38th among ACC tailbacks.

Still, his replacements don't offer much alternative. Howard, Davidson and Gallman have averaged a woeful 3.6 yards-per-carry against FBS foes and just seven of their 113 rushes (6 percent) went for 10 yards or more. Add the fact the Tigers will be without dual-threat QB Deshaun Watson for at least another few weeks, and the offensive struggles of the past two games don't seem like they'll diminish any time soon.

A few more links:

Jameis Winston is a near lock to enter the NFL draft, according to CBS Sports. Well, yeah. Of course. The whole “will he or won't he” discussion has been silly for a while, and when I spoke with Winston's father, Antonor, in August, he said the talk about returning was entirely dependent on Jameis' draft status. And that was before all the new off-field chaos.

Matthew Thomas, who had been suspended for the first half of the season, added some much-needed athleticism to Florida State's defense, writes the Orlando Sentinel.

Georgia Tech's defense was a complete disaster against North Carolina, writes the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Virginia Tech is shaking up its offensive line after another ugly offensive performance against Pitt, writes the Roanoke Times.

More from the Roanoke Times: Matt Johns should've run more often against Duke, according to Virginia coach Mike London.

Marquise Williams has been tremendous over the past two games, including leading a comeback win for North Carolina on Saturday, writes the Charlotte Observer.

After A.J. Long led Syracuse to a much-needed win over Wake Forest, is Terrel Hunt still the starting QB when he's healthy? It's an interesting question, writes Syracuse.com.

Duke Johnson has been a crucial mentor in the development of fellow Miami tailback Joseph Yearby, writes the Sun-Sentinel.

ACC Power Rankings: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
2:00
PM ET

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