ACC: North Carolina Tar Heels

ACC bowl predictions

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
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Quick Lane Bowl

Hale: Who knows what to make of the Jekyll-and-Hyde Tar Heels? Their defense isn’t good, but neither is Rutgers’. The offense looked stagnant in its last outing, but Larry Fedora will have had a month of prep time to fix any flaws. UNC at least beat some quality opponents (Georgia Tech, Duke), while Rutgers was 2-5 against teams that finished .500 or better, allowing 457 yards and 36 points per game. North Carolina 38, Rutgers 28.

Fortuna: Fans of defense will have to close their eyes and look away in horror. Though Marquise Williams has been phenomenal for much of the season, the Rutgers' offense is riding high off its comeback win at Maryland. With the chance at an eight-win season in its inaugural Big Ten campaign. Leonte Carroo will be a handful for a UNC defense that has already seen its coordinator get fired. Rutgers 38, UNC 31

Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl

Adelson: The Wolfpack ended the season on a high note after a total domination of in-state rival North Carolina. The defense has started to gain momentum and play a little more aggressively, while the run game has started to find some footing, too. Jacoby Brissett and Shadrach Thornton each had 100 yards rushing against the Tar Heels. Look for that combination to be the difference. NC State 28, UCF 27.

Shanker: UCF has their own Jacoby to combat NC State’s Brissett. The Knights' Jacoby Glenn was the AAC’s defensive player of the year. UCF will keep NC State offense in check and score just enough points. UCF 24, NC State 17

Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman

Adelson: The Hokies have not been consistently reliable this season, but they did show signs of life offensively last time out against Virginia. J.C. Coleman ran hard -- and that run game will be a big key against a Cincinnati run D that ranks No. 80 in the nation. Here is betting Virginia Tech will get its run game going to make the difference. Virginia Tech 24, Cincinnati 21.

Shanker: This should be an interesting battle of strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. Cincinnati’s offense and Virginia Tech’s defense are among the country’s best. Each team’s other unit is among the worst. The Bearcats will have more motivation in this game, though. Cincinnati 20, Virginia Tech 17

Duck Commander Independence Bowl

Shanker: It was an ugly finish for Miami, but South Carolina couldn’t beat a Clemson team that had a one-legged Deshaun Watson at quarterback. Miami 23, South Carolina 14

Adelson: In a game that presents such even matchups, this one might come down to coaching. That is where South Carolina has the edge. Miami has lost four straight bowl games; South Carolina has won three straight. The Hurricanes have shown no motivation to play; Spurrier will find one for the Gamecocks. South Carolina 27, Miami 24.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl

Fortuna: Points will be hard to come by at Yankee Stadium. Penn State might have the nation's No. 1 rushing defense, but it struggled the one time it faced a mobile quarterback in J.T. Barrett, as Ohio State rushed for 219 yards. Tyler Murphy is an even bigger threat with his legs, and he'll be able to make a few big plays that will ultimately prove to be the difference for an Eagles team that just keeps getting better. BC 17, Penn State 13

Hale: OK, Penn State’s offense isn’t much to rave about, but what has been lost in the Nittany Lions’ season is that the defense has been exceptional. Penn State allowed just 85 yards per game on the ground -- tops in the country -- which could negate BC’s top offensive threats. Expect a low-scoring game, with the Lions having a slight edge. Penn State 17, BC 14

Russell Athletic Bowl

Adelson: It is hard to forget how different Clemson looks offensively with Cole Stoudt behind center, so all the attention in this one will be squarely focused on the Tigers' No. 1-ranked defense. Oklahoma expects Samaje Perine to play, but he will not have much running room against Vic Beasley & Co. Clemson 20, Oklahoma 17

Hale: Since their respective regular-season finales, Oklahoma has gotten healthier and Clemson has learned it will be without star QB Deshaun Watson. The Tigers’ D is terrific, and perhaps that will be enough to secure a win, but odds are the offense is going to have to muster at least a few sustained drives, and Cole Stoudt is averaging just 5.6 yards-per-attempt since Oct. 1 with four TDs and eight interceptions. Oklahoma 17, Clemson 13

Hyundai Sun Bowl

Adelson: Duke has improved defensively this season, but the Blue Devils have not faced many teams as explosive as Arizona State. Plus, they beat only one team with a winning record. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but Arizona State has a better body of work and offense, so expect a Sun Devils victory. Arizona State 35, Duke 28.

Fortuna: These types of games usually come down to who has more to play for, and in this case it is certainly Duke. The Blue Devils are aiming for their second straight 10-win season and for their first bowl win in 53 years after falling just short against Johnny Football last year. Expect a clean offensive performance and just enough stops on defense to escape victorious. Duke 34, ASU 27

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl

Hale: The Fighting Irish have lost five of six and didn’t beat a team with better than a 7-5 record this season. LSU’s offense might not be stellar, but the Tigers took Alabama to overtime, fell five points shy of beating Mississippi State and have wins over Wisconsin and Ole Miss. We’ll take the LSU defense, with just enough help from Leonard Fournette, to get the job done. LSU 24, Notre Dame 20.

Belk Bowl

Fortuna: Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Grantham will have his work cut out for him in trying to stop a Bulldogs offense that's No. 8 nationally in scoring (41.7 ppg), but his defensive unit has been among the nation's best as well. If quarterback Reggie Bonnafon is at full health, he and the Louisville run game should be able to open things up for DeVante Parker and the passing attack. Louisville 31, Georgia 24

Shanker: Louisville’s sixth-ranked defense is allowing 364 yards per game against teams with winning records. Behind Nick Chubb, Georgia will be able to score. Georgia 30, Louisville 24

Capital One Orange Bowl

Hale: The bottom line for the Yellow Jackets is that the D has to do a much better job against Dak Prescott than it did against Jameis Winston in the ACC Championship Game. If Prescott gets time to move in the pocket and make throws downfield, it will be hard to corral Mississippi State. If Tech’s D can limit his big plays and force a couple turnovers, the offense will do more than enough to get the win. We’re betting on the latter. Georgia Tech 41, Mississippi State 38

Fortuna: The Bulldogs' rush defense has been solid (No. 31 nationally), which should improve with nearly a month to prepare for Georgia Tech's triple-option attack. MSU also has a really good quarterback in Dak Prescott, who was near the top of the Heisman discussion before losing at Alabama. The Yellow Jackets need to force several Prescott turnovers to give their offense a chance to have its desired effect, and that might be a tall order. Mississippi State 35, Georgia Tech 30

Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual
Adelson: The Seminoles are in a different position -- playing as the underdog. There is little doubt that will serve as motivation. But beyond the intangibles, Florida State will find a way to win behind Jameis Winston and Dalvin Cook, who has emerged to make the Seminoles more balanced and effective. Florida State 35, Oregon 31

Shanker: It was tough to pull the trigger on Oregon after going with Florida State all season. The rash of injuries are continuing for Oregon, but I think they will be able to run the ball effectively against the Seminoles. The Ducks will blow an early lead but put together a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Oregon 35, Florida State 34

Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl

Shanker: Both teams lost their coach, so it will be interesting to see how each team responds. The talent is clearly in the Panthers’ favor as they have James Conner and Tyler Boyd on offense. Pitt 31, Houston 13

ACC morning links

December, 19, 2014
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Boston College took the proper steps to wrapping up Steve Addazio on Thursday, signing the second-year coach to an extension through the 2020 season. The deal should, at the very least, provide some security for a program that has done nothing but overachieve in Addazio's first two years on the job, making consecutive bowl games despite massive personnel losses.

Addazio's name has been floated around plenty during silly season, but Eagles fans can at least rest a little bit easier knowing that his rebuilding plan is still on schedule. But clarity throughout ACC regimes remains difficult to find after Wednesday.

Pittsburgh still needs a new athletic director, in addition to a new head coach, and it is unclear which will come first, or the effect one will have on the other. As colleague Andrea Adelson wrote this week, you cannot blame the Panthers for third-year coach Paul Chryst leaving for his dream job, as he went home to Wisconsin. But it is clear now more than ever that the program needs some stability, something Chryst was able to bring to the program after so much turnover.

The Panthers have plenty of young weapons on offense and are in a much better position now than they were when Chryst took over, but the cumulative effect of a fourth coaching search -- and an AD search -- since 2010 cannot be overstated.

Here are the rest of your ACC links:
The most aggressive offense in the ACC in 2014 was Clemson, which might not have been a surprise in 2012 or 2013, but in a year in which there were so many personnel issues for the Tigers’ offense, it’s a bit shocking.

Clemson threw deep (20-plus yards) on 7.46 percent of its total plays, well above the league average of 5.93 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Info. And that was probably not the best idea either, because while Clemson went deep more often than anyone else, the Tigers also averaged the second-fewest yards-per-attempt on those throws (trailing only Syracuse) and nearly 10 yards per attempt less than what Tajh Boyd mustered last year for Clemson. That’s not exactly a recipe for offensive success.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtDeshaun Watson completed nearly 50 percent of his deep balls in 2014 with seven touchdowns and just one interception.
But, of course, personnel had a lot to do with that, and it only goes to show how much a healthy Deshaun Watson affects Clemson’s overall offensive success, because those aggregate numbers hardly tell the whole story.

Watson completed nearly 50 percent of his deep balls in 2014 with seven touchdowns and just one interception. He averaged 15.9 yards per attempt, which would’ve been tops in the ACC if he’d been the only quarterback throwing for the Tigers in 2014. But he wasn’t.

Cole Stoudt and Nick Schuessler completed just 15 percent of their deep balls this season with one TD, two interceptions and a woeful 5.2 yards-per-attempt average. To put that in perspective, if they’d been the only quarterbacks throwing for Clemson this year, the Tigers would’ve been dead last in the league in YPA by nearly four full yards.

That’s just one of the interesting facts we find when we dig into the ACC’s deep-ball numbers for 2014.

A few more, with deep-ball stats courtesy ESPN Stats & Info:

  • No team was worse on the deep ball in the ACC than Syracuse. This is no surprise. The Orange completed just 27.8 percent of its deep balls (worst in the ACC), averaged 9.2 yards per attempt (again, worst), had just two touchdowns (13th) and five interceptions (t-12th). That’s down a bit from last year, but the Orange have struggled on those throws ever since Ryan Nassib left.
  • Perhaps the most improved team on the deep ball this year was Virginia. Last season, the Hoos were just 7-of-50 on throws of 20 yards or more. This year, they more than doubled their deep-ball yards, completion percentage and TD throws.
  • North Carolina had one of the ACC’s most potent offenses, but it wasn’t because of the deep ball. This is one of the reasons Larry Fedora was so high on Mitch Trubisky, but the numbers didn’t back up that confidence. Overall, UNC’s completion percentage of 28 percent on deep balls was third-worst in the league and its 9.93 YPA was fourth worst, but Marquise Williams was far better than his counterpart. Williams wasn’t great (28 percent completions, 12.2 YPA) but Trubisky really struggled (3-of-15 for 100 yards with a pick).
  • Only Wake Forest went deep less often than Pittsburgh (4.28 percent of total plays), which seems a bit odd considering that the Panthers could’ve used play-action well (given the strong running game) and they actually had the highest completion percentage of any ACC team on throws of 20-plus yards (44.4 percent).
  • Florida State was far less successful on the deep ball this year than last, with its completion percentage down (48.8 in 2013 to 35.7 in 2014) and TDs way off (16 last year, nine this). But FSU also threw five fewer interceptions on deep throws this year, and when it did get a completion, it’s YPC was actually improved (40 YPA this year, 32 YPA last year).
  • No team was better on the deep ball than Miami in 2014. Brad Kaaya proved to be an excellent downfield thrower, matched with a good running game and speed at receiver. For the year, Miami completed 41.3 percent of its deep balls (second in ACC), averaged 14.6 yards per attempt (first) and had nine touchdowns on those throws (tied for first). It’s worth noting though that just 12 percent of Miami’s passes in 2014 were 20 yards or more, the third fewest in the league.
  • No team gained a higher percentage of its total offense in 2014 via the deep ball than Louisville (15.9 percent), which is interesting given that DeVante Parker missed seven games and Bobby Petrino cycled through three different quarterbacks. Overall, Louisville’s deep-ball numbers were virtually the same as 2013, in spite of losing its star receiver for more than half the year and a first-round draft pick at quarterback. That’s a real credit to the work Petrino did this season.
  • Not surprisingly, Georgia Tech and Boston College had the highest percentage of their pass attempts be deep balls. Next up though? NC State (17 percent).
  • Virginia Tech wasn’t great on the deep ball (10.5 YPA, four TDs, four INTs), but it was a necessary part of the Hokies’ offense. For the year, 74.1 percent of Tech’s plays of 20-plus yards came on throws of 20-plus yards -- meaning if the Hokies didn’t look deep, they rarely had a shot at a big play. The league average on that stat was 45.6 percent, meaning the rest of the ACC got more than half of its big plays from plays that weren’t deep balls. Virtually all of Virginia Tech’s big-play threat relied on the arm of Michael Brewer. That speaks volumes about the Hokies’ season.

ACC morning links

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
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The public and awkward tango Paul Chryst, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh have been dancing -- made all the more uncomfortable after the music stopped playing last week and left them in the middle of the circle -- looks to be over.

Chryst appears set to be named as the Badgers’ next coach, according to Benjamin Worgull of BadgerNation.com.

The Madison, Wisconsin, native and former Badgers player and assistant was the focus of Badgers athletic director Barry Alvarez’s search and was identified as the likely successor to Gary Andersen a week ago. However, Wisconsin state law prevents Alvarez from making a hire until Wednesday, which left Chryst and Pittsburgh in limbo for the last few days.

Considering how the situation has played out, Chryst leaving for Wisconsin is best for all parties. His desire was to go to Wisconsin, and, with all of his ties to the university, it’s hard to blame Chryst for wanting to return. Chryst seemed to handle the situation with class, fulfilling his duties as Pitt’s coach as best he could, conducting bowl practices and recruiting visits. Reports suggest Chryst was upfront with administration and his players over the last few days about his interest in the Wisconsin job.

Pitt was in a tough situation, too, knowing it needed a resolution but also aware it would be unwise to unload Chryst financially. There is no concrete figure being reported, but it is likely Chryst has a buyout that will be owed to Pitt now that it’s only a matter of some red tape before becoming Wisconsin coach.

The Panthers were 19-19 under Chryst and underachieved in 2014, but he laid a foundation during his three years. Offensively, the new staff will inherit running back James Conner and receiver Tyler Boyd, who are two of the best players at their position in the country. Both were named to the ESPN.com All-ACC team last week. The offensive line will also return three starters that average 6-foot-5 and 313 pounds.

Colleague Travis Haney offered up a few names that Pitt AD Steve Pedersen could call upon for an interview, and Pedersen has been proactive despite Chryst still not officially being named Wisconsin’s coach. Sam Werner of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Pitt has contacted former Rutgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano.

Hopefully, the new Pitt coach can hit the ground running and bring some stability to a program that has had a revolving door at coach since the end of the 2010 season. With the right hire, Pitt can possibly make a run at the Coastal Division crown in 2015 as the schedule is far from daunting. The Panthers avoid Florida State and Clemson, instead getting Syracuse and Virginia (and Louisville) from the Atlantic. Syracuse and Virginia failed to reach bowl eligibility this fall.

Here’s a few more links for your Wednesday.

ACC morning links: Tech's pass rush

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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If Georgia Tech is going to win the Orange Bowl, it's going to have to have a much better game up front on defense than it did in the ACC Championship.

The Dispatch takes a look at the battles along the line of scrimmage in the Orange Bowl and notes that Dak Prescott is more than capable of having a huge game if his offensive line handles Tech's D-line.

Tech got virtually no pass rush against Florida State in the ACC title game, and Jameis Winston used that cozy pocket to pick apart the Yellow Jackets' pass rush while tailback Dalvin Cook racked up one big run after another.

The lack of a serious pass rush was an ongoing problem for Georgia Tech -- despite KeShun Freeman's spot on ESPN's Freshman All-America team. Against Power 5 opponents, Tech had a sack rate of just 4.1 percent -- the eighth-worst of any Power 5 team. And those numbers made a big difference.

This season, Tech had six games in which it recorded at least two sacks. It was 6-0 in those games and opposing quarterbacks completed 58 percent of their throws with six touchdowns and 11 interceptions. The defense allowed an average of 18 points per game.

In the seven games in which Tech had zero or one sack, the Yellow Jackets were 4-3 and the opposing QBs completed 67 percent of their throws with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. Tech's D surrendered an average of 31 points per game in those contests.

There could be some potentially good news on that front for Georgia Tech as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution says Jabari Hunt-Days could potentially return to action after sitting out the fall semester for academic reasons.

Regardless of Hunt-Days' status, however, Prescott figures to be a formidable foe and Josh Robinson adds some extra punch to the Mississippi State ground game. How well Tech can disrupt the Bulldogs' backfield may well tell the story of whether it takes home a win in Miami.

A few more links:

ACC's 2015 Heisman hopefuls

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
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Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy on Saturday, and while the ACC had plenty of impressive performances in 2014, Jameis Winston was the lone representative from the conference to finish in the top 10 in voting.

That could certainly change in 2015, when the ACC has several emerging stars who could contend for the award. Here’s a quick look at the league’s top challengers for the 2015 Heisman Trophy.

(Note: We’re assuming that Winston and Miami’s Duke Johnson won’t return for 2015, but if either does come back, he would immediately jump to the top of our rankings.)

1. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

If he had stayed healthy all season, Watson might have been a contender for the award as a true freshman. Assuming he can stay on the field in 2015, he looks poised to be the biggest playmaker in the conference for an offense in which he will be surrounded by young talent.

2. Miami QB Brad Kaaya

Kaaya had his ups and downs as a true freshman in 2014, but he showed plenty of poise and was arguably the ACC’s top deep-ball threat. Miami’s offense has plenty of skill-position talent, but Kaaya will need the Hurricanes to finish better than 6-6 if he wants a crack at the Heisman.

3. Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

There will be plenty of enthusiasm surrounding Cook’s sophomore campaign in 2015, and if Florida State makes another run at the playoff, he would likely be in the Heisman conversation. The problem for Cook is that he will likely be starring on an offense forced to replace its top receiver, top tight end, four starting linemen and Heisman-winning quarterback.

[+] EnlargeJames Conner, Detrick Bonner
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsPitt running back James Conner rushed for a school-record 24 touchdowns in 2014.
4. Pittsburgh RB James Conner

Few players in the country carried a heavier share of their team’s offensive load in 2014 than Conner did for Pitt. While he was a bit overshadowed by the Big Ten's top running backs, his 1,675 yards and 24 rushing TDs would have had him in the Heisman Trophy discussion most seasons. He could certainly match or exceed those numbers next year.

5. Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas

In his first year running Paul Johnson’s offense, Thomas was exceptional, but as the Georgia Tech coach was quick to point out, this could be just the tip of the iceberg. With a year of experience and wider latitude in directing the offense in 2015, Thomas could easily emerge as one of the country’s most explosive offensive threats.

6. North Carolina QB Marquise Williams

Williams’ numbers in 2014 were exceptional, but he was largely overshadowed by UNC’s rocky season defensively. If the Tar Heels can finally emerge into a Coastal contender with Williams leading a high-powered offensive attack, he could emerge as one of the nation’s biggest dual threats at quarterback. His numbers this year were already similar to Dak Prescott, so perhaps 2015 will be Williams’ chance to spend the season getting the Heisman hype.

7. Pittsburgh WR Tyler Boyd

It’s tough for wide receivers to push their way into the Heisman campaign, but Boyd’s numbers in 2014 were exceptional. Whether he can turn in a 2015 season similar to what Alabama’s Amari Cooper did this year depends greatly on whether there is a new coaching regime at Pitt and the progress of Panthers QB Chad Voytik. But Boyd’s talent as a receiver and on special teams certainly will be worth monitoring.

8. Miami RB Joseph Yearby

He played second fiddle to Johnson this year, but it’s easy to see why Miami fans are so excited about the future for Yearby. As a true freshman, he averaged 6.1 yards per carry and 600 yards of total offense. With a starter’s share of the offense next season, Yearby could emerge into an all-purpose star for the Hurricanes.

[+] EnlargeRonald Darby, Jalen Ramsey
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsJalen Ramsey (8) will be a leader on a Florida State defense that might have a little more on its shoulders in 2015.
9. Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey

Defensive players aren’t usually in the Heisman conversation, but with so much turnover expected on FSU’s offense in 2015, it will be up to Ramsey and the defense to keep the Seminoles afloat. Ramsey is already one of the nation’s top defensive backs, and in his third year as a starter, he could easily take the next step into the Heisman Trophy conversation with a few big plays at crucial times -- much as Notre Dame’s Manti Te'o did in 2012.

10. Duke RB Shaun Wilson

Here’s an under-the-radar player to watch as a potential Heisman hopeful in 2015. Wilson wasn’t Duke’s starter this season, but as a true freshman he still led the Blue Devils in rushing (590 yards) and was second in TDs (5) while finishing sixth in the nation in yards per rush (8.0). He could secure the starting job next year on an offense that could be more run-heavy, giving Wilson a chance to rack up huge numbers as one of the league’s most explosive runners.

Others to watch: Boston College RB Jon Hilliman, Louisville RB Brandon Radcliff, NC State QB Jacoby Brissett, Virginia RB Taquan Mizzell
Quick Lane Bowl: North Carolina Tar Heels (6-6) vs. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (7-5)

Dec. 26, 4:30 p.m. ET, Ford Field, Detroit (ESPN)

Key matchup: Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo vs. UNC secondary

Why it matters: Carroo is on his way to rewriting the Rutgers record books. The junior earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's media and honorable mention status from the coaches. He is fourth in the conference in catches (53), tops in receiving yards (1,043) and second in receiving touchdowns (10), with that last number tying the school's single-season record. With quarterback Gary Nova throwing him the ball in his Nova's college finale, Carroo will be looking to have a field day against a UNC secondary that has played — how shall we say this politely? — not good. The Tar Heels rank 105th nationally in passing defense, which might actually be better than the rest of the team's defensive units, considering the Heels rank 116th in scoring average and 115th in total defense.

Who wins: As has been the case most of the season, this game really depends on which North Carolina team shows up. The Heels are talented, as evidenced by their rout of Duke and win over Georgia Tech. They also have a tendency to not show up, as we all saw in the regular-season finale at rival NC State, an inexplicable 35-7 loss. If Nova and the Scarlet Knights can avoid turnovers, they should find themselves with an eight-win season in their inaugural Big Ten campaign. Rutgers wins 38-31.

All-ACC team's toughest omissions

December, 12, 2014
Dec 12
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ESPN released its All-ACC team today, and though we certainly won’t expect much sympathy, it’s worth mentioning that putting those lists together is no easy task. This year, in particular, there were so many strong performances around the ACC that narrowing down the top guards, linebackers, defensive ends -- even the quarterback -- was an arduous task destined to leave some deserving players off the final list.

But since we don’t want to ignore those near-misses entirely, here is a quick look at some of the toughest decisions we had to make for this year’s All-ACC team.

Quarterback: The bottom line is that there is no better player in the conference than Jameis Winston when he’s on, but unlike last season, he had his share of struggles, too. Meanwhile, Marquise Williams emerged as a tremendous dual threat for UNC, helping to overcome a lot of the Tar Heels’ defensive struggles with some huge performances on offense, and Justin Thomas injected new life into Paul Johnson’s old option offense at Georgia Tech. Both Thomas and Williams were deserving candidates for first team — and Clemson’s Deshaun Watson would have been, too, if he had stayed healthy all season. Overall, it was a stellar year for quarterback play in the ACC.

Offensive guard: The problem with debating the merits of offensive linemen is that there aren’t many stats to use to break a tie, and when it came to our top three choices at guard -- Laken Tomlinson, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson -- there was ample debate. In the end, we went with the first two, but Jackson’s contributions -- particularly with the revolving door at center for FSU this season -- shouldn’t go unnoticed. He might have been the Seminoles’ best offensive lineman.

Tight end: In the end, numbers set Clive Walford apart here. He led all ACC tight ends in yards, touchdowns, first downs, yards-per-catch and receptions per game while working with a true freshman quarterback. Still, it’s hard to ignore Nick O'Leary’s fine season (plus bonus points for taking on a bus and winning). Bucky Hodges, Gerald Christian, David Grinnage and Cam Serigne all had fine seasons as well.

Defensive end: OK, we cheated here. Vic Beasley was the obvious choice, but for the opposite side of the line, the debate between Dadi Nicolas and Mario Edwards Jr. was intense, with viable arguments made for both players. Edwards was a crucial cog on FSU’s defense, one of the most dynamic mixes of size and speed in college football. Nicolas was a force throughout the season and stepped up when interior lineman Luther Maddy went down with an injury. In the end, we followed the playoff selection committee’s precedent and avoided the tough question altogether by making our defense a 3-4 unit instead. Sorry, Dadi and Mario -- but now you know how Baylor and TCU feel.

Linebacker: There probably isn’t a more stacked position in the ACC than linebacker. Denzel Perryman and Stephone Anthony were exceptional. David Helton led the ACC in tackles. Lorenzo Mauldin was the most dynamic pass-rusher on Louisville’s stout defense. They all made the cut, but it meant a host of deserving options were left out, including BC’s Josh Keyes, Virginia’s Max Valles and Henry Coley, Syracuse’s Cameron Lynch and Georgia Tech’s Paul Davis.

ACC morning links

December, 11, 2014
Dec 11
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USA Today released a comprehensive list of college football assistant coaches' salaries Wednesday, and there is a name familiar to readers of this space at the top.

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster took home more than any other assistant across the country this past year, clearing a total of $1,369,500. He is not alone near the summit, as three of the nation's six highest-paid assistants come from the ACC: Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris -- who was hired as SMU's head coach last week -- is No. 5 ($1.3 million), while Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is No. 6 ($975,000).

Foster's ranking this year comes with some fine print: The longtime Hokies defensive coordinator will receive an $800,000 longevity payment for four-plus years of service if he remains in his position through Dec. 31, according to the paper.

It's important to note that most of this information comes from public records request, which private schools don't have to abide by. So you won't see any numbers from the staffs of Boston College, Duke, Miami, Syracuse or Wake Forest. The same goes for Pitt, which is covered under state law exempting it from releasing such information.

Another way of looking at this may be through the salary pool programs afford their assistant coaches.

Those ACC rankings, with the national ranking in parantheses, are:

1) Clemson $4,448,225 (4th)
2) Virginia Tech $3,583,250 (8th)
3) Florida State $3,386,000 (11th)
4) Louisville $3,225,000 (18th)
5) Virginia $2,908,670 (24th)
6) NC State $2,692,560 (32nd)
7) Georgia Tech $2,233,600 (44th)
8) North Carolina $2,051,667 (53rd)

Here are the rest of your Thursday links:

By the numbers: ACC bowl perception

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
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There are some legitimate concerns with evaluating a conference based on its bowl performance — uneven matchups, the long wait between games, etc. — but the reality is that a league’s performance in those high-profile events tends to dictate perception. For the ACC, that’s been a problem through the years.

In the last decade, the pecking order in bowl performance has pretty clearly mirrored national perception:

SEC: 55-31 (.640)
Pac-12: 34-28 (.548)
Big 12: 41-36 (.532)
ACC: 36-45 (.444)
Big Ten: 27-47 (.365)

In other words, the SEC is great, the Pac 12 and Big 12 are solid, and the ACC and (especially) the Big Ten are bad. It’s that simple, right?

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsFlorida State's success has done a lot to change the perception of the ACC nationally, and the Seminoles' matchup against Oregon can do a lot more.
Well, there is some truth to the logic. At the very least, the ACC and Big Ten haven’t done much to change perceptions. And even this year, when the ACC sends 11 teams (plus Notre Dame) to bowl games, less than half the league’s representatives will be favored to win.

But there is a bit more to those numbers than meets the eye.

For one, things are changing for the better. Nine of the ACC’s 36 wins in the past decade came in the last two years, and after going 1-8 against the SEC from 2004 through 2008, the ACC is a far more respectable 6-5 against the big, bad SEC since then.

Secondly, the league has made some shrewd moves in changing the bowl tie-ins, giving the ACC some better postseason matchups. Even with a rather lackluster overall record in the last decade, the ACC only had two ranked teams lose to unranked foes in bowl games, but often the matchups didn’t do the conference any favors.

Again, that’s beginning to change. From 2004 through 2011, the ACC was just 3-13 in matchups of ranked vs. ranked teams, but in the past two seasons, the conference has a more impressive 4-1 record in those games, with the only loss the shootout between Duke and Texas A&M last season.

And if we look at aggregate performance, close losses were clearly the norm. In the last decade’s worth of bowl games, the ACC has been outscored by just 75 points — or roughly a touchdown per season. In five of those 10 seasons, the ACC actually scored more points than its opposition in total, but the league has a winning record in bowl games just twice (2005 and 2012).

Plus, there are some notable outliers in performance. In 2007, 2008 and 2011, the league was woeful, sporting a combined record of 3-14 against Power 5 conference foes in the bowl games. But in the other seven seasons, the ACC actually is 13-14 against the other Power 5 conferences — not great, but certainly not particularly underwhelming.

But, of course, perception remains, so the question is, what does the ACC need to do to begin changing that perception this season?

Start with Florida State. There is no more high-profile game than the Seminoles’ Rose Bowl matchup against Oregon. FSU was dinged all year for playing close games against the ACC — something that wouldn't have been as big an issue in the SEC or Pac-12. It was a direct indictment of the ACC’s prowess, so a solid victory for the Seminoles over a Pac-12 power would, in turn, give some credence to the notion that the conference is a lot deeper than critics assumed.

Secondly, with 11 representatives playing in bowl games, a winning record is a must. During the past decade, the ACC hasn’t won more than five bowl games in a single year, while the SEC has had six or more seven times. So even a 6-5 record for the ACC this season would be real progress.

Third, the league needs to avoid embarrassment. That means no 70-33 scores like Clemson’s Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia in 2011, a game that still stands (unfairly) as a tribute to ACC ineptitude. But the league also has a rather unimpressive 20-17 mark against non-Power 5 foes in the last decade. That’s partially skewed by matchups against teams such as Louisville, West Virginia and Utah — current Power 5 squads — previously playing in leagues that wouldn’t count in that metric, but it also includes Marshall thumping Maryland last year, Cincinnati beating Duke the previous year and Air Force knocking off Georgia Tech in 2010. The ACC has three bowl games this year against non-Power 5 foes, and it really needs to win them all.

And lastly, there’s the SEC. The regular season ended on a particularly upbeat note on that front as the ACC went 4-0 in rivalry games against the SEC, and now it has three more chances to earn victories — though none will come easily. Georgia Tech is an underdog against Mississippi State. Miami has looked lackluster lately, but needs to knock off South Carolina. And Louisville — the league’s newest member — gets a crack at Georgia. Winning at least two of those games — particularly the Orange Bowl against an SEC West foe — would be huge.

So, can the ACC do all of that? And even if it does, will it really matter?

Perceptions don’t change overnight, but every little bit helps, and the ACC has been taking some small steps. A bigger leap this season certainly seems possible.

All-ACC team, coaches' awards unveiled

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
11:15
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The ACC coaches' awards and all-conference teams looked a lot like the media's version from last week, as Pitt running back James Conner led the way by winning offensive and overall player of the year honors.

Likewise, Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley one again took home defensive player of the year honors, while Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was named both overall and offensive rookie of the year. Virginia safety Quin Blanding was again named defensive rookie of the year.

Coach of the year? That would be Georgia Tech's Paul Johnson, who received 10 of the 14 votes from his peers.

Defending national champion Florida State led the way in all-league teams, tallying 18 players across the three teams.

The team with the second-most? Virginia, surprisingly enough, as the Cavaliers landed nine players on the all-league teams despite finishing with a 5-7 record.

First-team

WR: Rashad Greene (FSU)
WR: Jamison Crowder (Duke)
WR: Tyler Boyd (Pitt)
TE: Nick O’Leary (FSU)
T: Cameron Erving (FSU)
T: T.J. Clemmings (Pitt)
G: Laken Tomlinson (Duke)
G: Tre' Jackson (FSU)
C: Shane McDermott (Miami)
QB: Jameis Winston (FSU)
RB: James Conner (Pitt)
RB: Duke Johnson (Miami)
K: Roberto Aguayo (FSU)
SP: Jamison Crowder (Duke)

DE: Vic Beasley (Clemson)
DE: Mario Edwards Jr. (FSU)
DT: Grady Jarrett (Clemson)
DT: Eddie Goldman (FSU)
LB: Denzel Perryman (Miami)
LB: Stephone Anthony (Clemson)
LB: Lorenzo Mauldin (Louisville)
CB: Kendall Fuller (Virginia Tech)
CB: Garry Peters (Clemson)
S: Gerod Holliman (Louisville)
S: Jalen Ramsey (FSU)
P: Wil Baumann (NC State)


To see the full roster, click here.

Among the biggest differences between the coaches' and media's voting: Boston College center Andy Gallik was relegated to the second team this time around, with Miami's Shane McDermott taking the top spot on the coaches' team. McDermott received only honorable mention status from the media last week. Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin was also a first-team newcomer, replacing Duke's David Helton, who made the media's first-team and who took home some pretty impressive hardware of his own Tuesday night in New York. Clemson cornerback Garry Peters was also a first-team addition, leaping the media's selection of FSU's P.J. Williams.

Louisville receiver DeVante Parker made the coaches' second-team after playing in just five games. Parker had made the media's third-team. The coaches flipped the media's second- and third-team quarterbacks, putting Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas on the second-team and North Carolina's Marquise Williams on the third-team.

The coaches' third-team ended up containing five linebackers, as four tied in the voting, as well as two cornerbacks and two punters.

To see the media's All-ACC picks from last week, click here.

Ranking the ACC's bowl games

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
9:00
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We finally have our bowl matchups set, but unfortunately we have to wait another few weeks before we get to watch more football. So to fill that void, we’re ranking the bowl games from the most exciting to the least.

1. Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual: Florida State vs. Oregon

The Seminoles could win a lot of respect for the ACC with a win over Oregon here, but what should make this game fun is the showdown between last year’s Heisman winner and the odds-on favorite for this year’s award. It’s only happened three previous times that two Heisman winners faced off.

2. Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. Georgia

What’s not to like about this ACC-SEC showdown? Georgia’s powerful ground game vs. Louisville’s stout defense. Gerod Holliman trying to set the NCAA interceptions record in Hutson Mason's last game. And, of course, Todd Grantham vs. his old team.

3. Capital One Orange Bowl: Georgia Tech vs. Mississippi State

All year, ACC fans had to hear about the big, bad SEC West. Now Georgia Tech gets a chance to prove that all that hype was just bluster by knocking off the upstart Bulldogs. If FSU can land the biggest blow for the ACC this postseason, the Yellow Jackets are a close second on that list.

4. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Notre Dame vs. LSU

We’re including the Fighting Irish on this list since they grabbed one of the ACC’s slots and have a chance to do some damage to the SEC West. But don’t worry, if they lose, we can pretend they never had anything to do with the ACC in the first place.

5. Hyundai Sun Bowl: Duke vs. Arizona State

Duke has gained plenty of respect during the past three seasons, but a weak nonconference slate has meant there are still some doubters. David Cutcliffe’s crew can do a lot to erase those doubts with a win here. And after the Blue Devils pushed Johnny Manziel to the limit in last year’s bowl game, we’re hoping for a few fireworks this year, too.

6. Russell Athletic Bowl: Clemson vs. Oklahoma

This might be No. 2 on our list if it weren't for all the injuries. Deshaun Watson may undergo knee surgery. Samaje Perine sprained his ankle in Oklahoma’s regular-season finale. Trevor Knight missed the last three games of the season, too. But on the upside, it’ll give us one last look at that terrific Clemson defense, led by departing seniors Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony.

7. Duck Commander Independence Bowl: Miami vs. South Carolina

OK, so two 6-6 teams don’t exactly equal a great matchup, and there’s a real question about how motivated Miami is after the Canes dropped their last three. But this is chance to hear from Steve Spurrier and watch Duke Johnson, so it can’t be that bad, right?

8. Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman: Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati

This isn’t a matchup with much cache, but it’s a chance to see one of the best young QBs in the country in Gunner Kiel go against one of the best defenses in the country, including Hokies’ superb sophomore corner Kendall Fuller. Add in a couple accomplished coaches in Frank Beamer and Tommy Tuberville and there’s plenty to like about this game.

9. New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Boston College vs. Penn State

We like the matchup, but there are two big problems here. First, it’s two teams from the Northeast, which isn’t going to spark much national love. More importantly, we don’t expect much offense as Penn State ranked second nationally in total defense and BC ranked 12th.

10. Quick Lane Bowl: North Carolina vs. Rutgers

It’s a bowl game in Detroit in late December, so there’s only so much excitement to go around, but we like watching Marquise Williams and Ryan Switzer, and given that UNC and Rutgers ranked 113th and 115th in yards-per-play allowed this season, there should be ample scoring to keep your attention.

11. Bitcoin St. Petersbug Bowl: NC State vs. UCF

We still don’t completely understand how bitcoin works, but we like the idea of Jacoby Brissett returning to his home state to take on the nation’s No. 3 defense.

12. Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl: Pitt vs. Houston

It’s the team none of the ACC bowls wanted vs. a team that fired its head coach, so that’s not an easy sell. But any game with James Conner and Tyler Boyd is one worth watching, so we’ll still be tuning in for this one.

ACC morning links

December, 10, 2014
Dec 10
8:00
AM ET
Caaarrlll!

I hope that's how Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson first addressed high school student Chandler Riggs, who doubles as Carl on "The Walking Dead." Johnson, while out recruiting in the Yellow Jackets' home state, came across Riggs, who is in his fifth season acting on the popular AMC show about vampires zombies. (It's always one or the other now.)

Will this photo swing recruiting in the Peach State to the Jackets' favor?



It's pretty hip of Johnson to tweet a photo of himself with Carl, who has a dubious history on the television show. Recruiting is all about connecting with teenagers, although posing with Riggs isn't going to light up social media for a college program the way Kentucky basketball players taking notes with Drake or esteemed rapper Bun B shouting out your quarterback would. But hey, it's better than A-Rod being on your sideline.

As Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution points out, the oft-surly Johnson does show another side on his Twitter account. One of his pictures includes Miss America. Just make it a selfie next time, CPJ.
Florida State is the only unbeaten team in the nation, but the Seminoles are not seeded No. 1 in the College Football Playoff. While its close victories are a big reason why, conference affiliation also has played a role. The ACC is viewed as the weakest Power 5 conference, even though the Noles are the defending national champions and 11 teams have made bowl games in back-to-back seasons.

There is a clear perception problem here. So what can the ACC do to gain respect and start gaining more credibility nationally?

ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, David Hale, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker weigh in with their thoughts.

What does the league need to do to gain respect around here?

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsIf Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles can hoist another one of these that would lift the ACC.
MF: The answer is fairly simple: The ACC needs more good teams to get better, and more bad teams to get good. Florida State winning it all last year helps. If the Seminoles could somehow do it again, that would be huge … though ACC detractors would surely find a way to chalk up a potential 31-game winning streak to poor competition, fairly or not. Alabama's last two title teams, remember, both lost. This year's Tide team has, too, and it is in the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. Regardless, the ACC needs Clemson to keep it up. The Tigers potentially winning 10 games this year in what could be qualified as a "rebuilding" year is huge for the trajectory of that program. And the ACC could really use the brand names — ahem, Miami and North Carolina —to provide the Coastal some flavor and create for a much more balanced conference. Louisville's 9-3 inaugural ACC campaign is a nice start, too.

JS: Well, there are a lot of complicated answers that involve money being pumped into the football programs, but the easiest way to gain respect is to not only keep winning but to have several teams do it. The league needs to have multiple teams in the playoff conversation every season. Florida State was basically the last playoff contender for the league by midseason. Nonconference rivalry and bowl game wins have a shelf life about as long as a glass of milk left on the counter. Spending weeks at a time toward the top of rankings and in the national conversation will do much more.

DH: The long-term key for the league is establishing depth beyond the top of the conference. The SEC saw the Mississippi schools rise up this year, and that has burnished the narrative that no game is easy. The same isn’t said for the ACC, where close games for Florida State were viewed as if they were losses. The onus is on North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech to emerge from their 6-6 seasons to become players nationally if the ACC is going to earn consistent respect.

AA: The facts are out there. Nobody wants to hear them, or believe them. As much as I respect John Swofford and the way he has begun to turn this into a football conference, he needs to take a page out of the Jim Delany/Mike Slive handbook and start shouting about his league’s strengths from every mountaintop he can find. That might not be his style, but enough is enough. He cannot sit idly by while everybody continues to trash his league. Especially given the way Florida State has been disrespected this year.

The bowl slate has been dramatically improved, with eight games against Power-5 teams. Which bowl do they absolutely have to win?

MF: Aside from the obvious ones, the playoffs and the Capital One Orange Bowl? Clemson cannot afford to lose a four-loss Oklahoma team. Louisville beating Georgia would be very big, too, as it would make the ACC 2-1 against the Bulldogs this season. Here's one that might indirectly help, too: Notre Dame beating LSU in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. The five-loss Irish had a disappointing season and yet almost knocked off FSU. And though that almost label can be applied to several teams this year, a pseudo-ACC team beating a brand-name SEC team on national TV will be good for perception moving forward. Especially next year, when the Irish play six ACC teams.

JS: It would behoove Georgia Tech to beat Mississippi State for personal and conference reasons. Georgia Tech is a team that rarely gets the recognition in the years the Jackets are strong, and they are quick to be criticized in down years because of a combination of a surly Paul Johnson and offense ridiculed as antiquated. The Bulldogs were media darlings through much of the season and had a Heisman candidate in Dak Prescott. Any major bowl game against the SEC is a must win for the ACC. Honestly, I don’t know if Tech winning would do much nationally for the league because Mississippi State has faltered late in the season. A Bulldogs win would allow the SEC to pound its chest, though, and the ACC just can’t have that.

DH: There’s no question it’s the Rose Bowl. It’s nothing new for Florida State to carry the torch for the conference, but this year it’s particularly true. FSU was knocked all season long for playing close games against supposedly weak competition, but a win over Oregon would certainly prove that even the middle of the ACC was better than most people thought, and it would put FSU — and the conference — in position for a second straight national title.

AA: First, a winning bowl record is a must. Since 2005, the ACC has posted a winning bowl record just twice. The priority has to be the Florida State game, and then all the games against the SEC, the league it is compared to the most. Going 4-0 in rivalry weekend is great, but the league has to keep building momentum there -- especially since it has a chance to post a winning record against the SEC for the first time since 2003.

Speaking of the SEC, will the ACC ever be on the same footing as the league still regarded as the best in the country?

MF: That's tough to say, especially given the size of the schools and their potential fan bases. Wake Forest is the smallest Power 5 conference school that plays football. The ACC has several private schools as well. And as historic as Boston College and Syracuse's programs are, allow this Northeast native to say that football fandom in that corner of the country isn't exactly what it is down south, where all of the SEC schools are. (As opposed to just some of the ACC schools.) I can't see the SEC's popularity ever really sinking. The population shift in that region, coupled with the enhanced stakes via expansion, TV deals and facilities upgrades, should ensure that football is always very, very important. That shouldn't stop the ACC from cashing in on those factors, though. Many of its programs — and especially its top ones — are well-positioned from a real-estate standpoint to recruit well and continue to grow. Whether that means it has programs on an annual basis that can go toe-to-toe with the Alabamas and LSUs of the world remain to be seen. What makes the SEC so great, though, is that even when some of those bluebloods are down (Florida, Tennessee), others seem to step up in their place (Mississippi State, Ole Miss).

JS: On the field or in the public eye? They might not be that far off right now on the field. Let’s start with the facts that the once beleaguered ACC was brutal on the big stages for several years. The numbers the last two seasons tell a different story, though. Florida State won the national title and is now in the playoff, the conference won two of the final BCS games and has two in New Year’s Six bowls this season and went a collective 4-0 against the SEC on rivalry weekend and 10-7 in nonconference Power-5 games. Why is important to mention the SEC? Because in a regional sport that’s where the game means most and audience and financial numbers attest. Eye balls are drawn to the SEC, so even though King SEC died last season, it’s easy to keep up the charade in a sport in which off-field conversation can trump on-field performance. The ACC doesn’t have the fan bases to generate conversation for all 14 teams, so each member has a responsibility to make its pro-ACC pitch on the football field. The old football axiom is winning cures all, though, and if the ACC keeps chipping away and generating playoff conversation, the respect should come.

DH: The SEC has the full package — the biggest stadiums, the die-hard fan bases, the top recruits, the highest-paid coaches and the most lucrative TV deal. That’s a combination that ensures long-term success, and that league has been forward-thinking about growing its brand. The ACC has been more of a work in progress, and while some programs are clearly making strides — FSU, Clemson, Louisville — to compete with the best of the best, the overall conference has a lot of catching up to do, and the SEC doesn’t seem poised to slow down any time soon.

AA: I don’t think it’s as much about being on equal footing, as making sure it has a more well-rounded middle. The ACC does well in recruiting; it does well with TV payouts; and it continually sends players to the NFL at a rate greater than any league but the SEC. But that talent does not necessarily translate into wins-and-losses across the ACC. Miami and North Carolina are perennial underachievers in that regard. I go back to the points we made earlier. The ACC has to continue to schedule aggressively in nonconference and win those games, and it needs six teams ranked on an annual basis, just like the SEC. When that happens then minds will start to change.

ACC morning links

December, 9, 2014
Dec 9
8:00
AM ET
The Heisman Trophy has its finalists, and only three players were invited to New York.

The reigning Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, is not among them. That shouldn't come as much of a surprise for several obvious reasons.

Foremost, his numbers didn't warrant inclusion to New York City no matter how brilliant he was down the stretch in games. The reality was he probably was going to need to be better than he was in 2013 statistically. There's a reason no player has won the Heisman in consecutive seasons since Archie Griffin in 1974-75. Winston threw for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns last season leading up to the Heisman ceremony. As a redshirt sophomore this season, Winston has thrown for 261 fewer yards and 14 fewer touchdowns. He's also thrown 17 interceptions this season, which ranks dead last among FBS quarterbacks.

Then there are the off-field issues that turned off some Heisman voters before the season even began. Winston was cited for stealing seafood at the end of April and was suspended in September for screaming an obscenity on campus.

Winston, of course, won't mind missing out on New York City if he gets his team to Arlington, Texas, for a shot at defending FSU's national championship. For a team looking to make history this season, the Heisman was always going to be secondary.

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