ACC: North Carolina Tar Heels

By the numbers: Week 8 recap

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
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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
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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
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ACC helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
Oct 19
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How about a few helmet stickers for a job well done:

Louisville RB Michael Dyer. For the first time all season, Dyer was completely healthy -- and he showed what he is capable of in a 30-18 win over NC State. Dyer had 173 yards and a touchdown -- his 46-yard score late in the fourth quarter sealed the win. It was Dyer's first 100-yard rushing game since Nov. 19, 2011, when he had 157 yards against Samford while still playing for Auburn.

Syracuse defensive front. You cannot give Robert Welsh a helmet sticker without giving Micah Robinson a helmet sticker, as both scored touchdowns for Syracuse in a 30-7 win over Wake Forest. So they both get one, along with their defensive teammates in an impressive performance. Welsh returned an interception 42 yards for one touchdown while Robinson returned a fumble 51 yards for another. Welsh also had two tackles for a loss and a pass breakup. In all, Syracuse had 10 tackles for loss, three sacks and held Wake Forest to 170 yards.

Pitt QB Chad Voytik. Voytik took plenty of criticism during the Panthers' recent three-game losing streak. But in a 21-16 win over Virginia Tech on Thursday night, Voytik was the biggest difference in the game -- running for 118 yards on 19 carries while going 10-of-17 for 92 yards with one touchdown and an interception. His 49-yard run set up the game-clinching touchdown. In fact, the designed runs kept the Virginia Tech defense off balance all night and should be something the Panthers do more as the season goes on.

North Carolina QB Marquise Williams. For the second straight week, Williams was phenomenal -- but this time, the Tar Heels picked up a 48-43 come-from-behind win over Georgia Tech. Williams threw for 390 yards, ran for 73 more, completed a school-record 38 passes and had five total touchdowns. On the game-winning drive, Williams completed six passes -- the biggest reason why the Tar Heels ended a four-game losing streak. In the past two games, Williams has 696 yards passing, 205 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. He played every snap in both games, too.

Florida State QB Jameis Winston. There is no doubt Winston is the biggest reason the Seminoles came from behind to beat No. 5 Notre Dame 31-27 to keep their College Football Playoff chances alive. After a subpar first half, in which he went 8-of-15 for 92 yards with a score and interception, Winston was nearly flawless. In the second half, Winston went 15-of-16 for 181 yards and a touchdown, flashing the form that allowed him to win the Heisman Trophy a year ago. Perhaps most impressive, he was so effective despite facing heavy blitzes from Notre Dame on virtually every play. Winston calmly delivered in the face of pressure.

ACC viewer's guide: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17
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Pittsburgh snapped a three-game skid Thursday by beating Virginia Tech. Here's the rest of the ACC action for Week 8.

Noon

Syracuse at Wake Forest, ESPN, #CUSEvsWAKE: AJ Long gets the start for Syracuse after Terrel Hunt and Austin Wilson both went down. The true freshman saw extended action last week against defending national champion Florida State, and he now faces a stingy Wake Forest defense that is coming off a bye. The Demon Deacons also start a true freshman under center, though John Wolford has been the guy for Wake since Day 1. Expect defense to rule the day in this contest.

12:30 p.m.

Virginia at Duke, ESPN3, #UVAvsDUKE: It is the current Coastal Division leaders against the reigning division champions. What gives? The Cavaliers are coming off a bye after looking impressive in wins over Pitt and, earlier this season, Louisville. Can the Hoos' defense deliver once again? The Blue Devils did hand Georgia Tech its first loss of the season last week, but their offense needs to play within themselves.

3:30 p.m.

[+] EnlargeWill Gardner
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsWill Gardner is expected to get the nod at quarterback for Louisville, which hosts NC State on Saturday.
NC State at Louisville, ESPN3, #NCSUvsLOU: It's 11 straight ACC losses for the Wolfpack, who are still seeking that first league win under Dave Doeren. A team that looked so good so early this season has struggled immensely on the offensive side of the ball in the past two weeks against Clemson and Boston College. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are looking to erase the sour taste from their mouths after last week's heartbreaker against the Tigers. They will turn back to Will Gardner under center to try to get them back on track. Receiver DeVante Parker, who has yet to play this season, is questionable.

No. 24 Clemson at Boston College, ESPNU, #CLEMvsBC: Alumni Stadium holds a special place in Dabo Swinney's heart, as it was the site of his first career win as Clemson's head coach. The Eagles nearly shocked the Tigers last year back in Death Valley, and they did manage to knock off USC earlier this season, so they cannot be taken lightly. BC's run game has been simply astounding at times, with the Eagles outrushing their opposition 1,513-134 in their four wins. Clemson turns back to Cole Stoudt this week at quarterback after Deshaun Watson suffered a broken finger last week.

7 p.m.

Georgia Tech at North Carolina, ESPNU, #GTvsUNC: The Yellow Jackets lost their first game of the season last week, a delay-filled affair against Duke. But that option attack might still be tough to defend for a UNC defense that cannot seem to get out of its own way. Marquise Williams played a terrific game last week at Notre Dame, giving the Tar Heels a tremendous chance to win. But surrendering 50 points for the third time this season did the Heels no good, and, unless that changes, questions will remain about this team.

8 p.m.

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State, ABC, #NDvsFSU: Everett Golson is 16-1 as a starter. Jameis Winston is 19-0. "College GameDay" is on hand for this game with huge College Football Playoff implications. Brian Kelly and Jimbo Fisher are both in their fifth season with the Fighting Irish and Seminoles, respectively, and [at least] one might have the chance to be in the national title mix for the second time in three seasons. Notre Dame lost in the title game in 2012; FSU won it all in 2013. Chaos has subsided with the Irish, who finally know the fate of the five players who were suspended back in August as part of an internal academic probe. FSU, meanwhile, has dealt with the circus that is Winston seemingly all season long, with the heat amped up this week amid news of a potential disciplinary hearing and an autograph controversy.

ACC Week 8 predictions

October, 16, 2014
Oct 16
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Adelson: Pitt has not done much of anything right during its three-game losing streak, but the Panthers are facing an opponent that has some issues of its own headed into this game. Virginia Tech is banged up at running back and will rely on J.C. Coleman and Joel Caleb to carry the load. So essentially, the Hokies are down to their fourth and fifth options. That bodes well for the Pitt defense, which has had issues stopping the run. Without an effective run game, Virginia Tech will have a tough time offensively. While the Hokies have a formidable defensive front, James Conner and Tyler Boyd will make enough plays to scramble up the Coastal again. Plus, Virginia Tech is 0-3 at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh 24, Virginia Tech 23

Hale: The story for the Hokies remains the same every week: Don't screw it up. The Virginia Tech defense has been prone to big plays, but during its three-game losing streak Pitt has had just 12 plays of 20 yards or more (85th nationally during that span). Virginia Tech's offense hasn't been terrific, but it's been effective when avoiding turnovers. Among ACC teams, only Boston College has created fewer takeaways than Pitt. In other words, it's a good matchup for Virginia Tech to avoid disaster, and with a bye week to iron out a few kinks the Hokies should be at their best. The wild card, however, could be the ground games. Tech is down two of its top three runners, while Pitt features the ACC's rushing leader in Conner. He'd been struggling of late after a heavy early workload, but last week's bye came at the right time. Still, Virginia Tech has allowed just 412 yards to opposing running backs this season, the sixth-lowest total in the nation. Virginia Tech 27, Pittsburgh 24

Adelson: In a battle between two true freshman quarterbacks and uninspiring offenses, I am going with the defense that has made more plays over the course of the season. The nod goes to Wake Forest by a hair. The Deacs have played well enough defensively to stay in every game but the Florida State contest this season, and they will play well enough at home against Syracuse to score the game-winning points. Wake Forest 13, Syracuse 10

Fortuna: It's AJ Long time for Syracuse, and the freshman will feel all the more comfortable in Winston-Salem after debuting last week against the defending national champions. The Orange's stout front should be able to have its way against Wake Forest's offensive line, as the Deacs have surrendered 24 sacks this season. Wake's defense will give the home team a chance, but it will likely need more than that to get an ACC win. Syracuse 23, Wake Forest 10

Hale: Here's how the season has gone in the Coastal: A favorite emerges, then loses, then is brushed aside by the prognosticators in favor of another trendy team that's bound to lose, too. Last week, it was the Yellow Jackets that were the Coastal darlings, and they fell to Duke, a team that had been swept aside after its own dismal game against Miami. The struggles against Duke were largely Georgia Tech's own doing. For just the second time all season, the Yellow Jackets coughed up the football multiple times, and it cost them. If they can avoid those mistakes against North Carolina and keep their offense on the field, they should have a distinct advantage. The Tar Heels are young along the defensive line and lack significant depth. Tech can run the option, control time of possession to keep UNC's explosive offense off the field, then wear down the Heels' defense in the second half. As Duke showed last week, one loss in the Coastal hardly means a team is done. Georgia Tech 42, North Carolina 38

Shanker: Although the offense received a lot of help from Notre Dame last week, the Tar Heels showed some fight and nearly pulled off the upset. That has to count for something, right? Plus, Georgia Tech is coming off a loss to Duke that would have given the Yellow Jackets a vice grip on the ACC Coastal with a game against Virginia looking like the last tough intra-division game. Let's be honest, I'm grasping at straws. But for some reason I see the Heels winning. North Carolina 38, Georgia Tech 24

Shanker: It's easy to see the circus once again around Florida State and expect the Seminoles to come out flat or distracted, but that's never been the case the past year. The more scrutiny on Jameis Winston, the better he usually performs. I do think it will take its toll a little bit this time, but it's not entirely the reason Florida State edges out a close win. Notre Dame is better than people give it credit for, and if Everett Golson limits turnovers, the Irish are a much harder team to beat. Winston has turned the ball over at critical times, too, and if that continues against Notre Dame, it could end up haunting the Seminoles this time. As we've seen through the first six games, though, the Seminoles know how to win and once again they'll find a way Saturday. Florida State 38, Notre Dame 35

Fortuna: Assuming Winston plays, FSU's offense is simply, as Brian Kelly said last week, another animal compared to what Notre Dame has faced so far. Rashad Greene won bowl MVP honors against the Irish as a freshman three years ago, and the Noles' record-holder should have another big day against a secondary down one more body in fifth-year senior and captain Austin Collinsworth. Golson, provided he avoids the turnover bug of recent weeks, will keep the Irish in the game, but FSU has more offensive firepower, giving the home team the edge in this shootout. Florida State 44, Notre Dame 30

Other unanimous picks

Virginia at Duke: The key for Virginia is at the line of scrimmage. After a slow start to the season, the Hoos have averaged 224 yards per game on the ground in their past three. They'll need to be able to run the ball to beat Duke -- something Georgia Tech struggled with a week ago. More importantly, however, Virginia's ferocious defensive front needs to attack the Blue Devils' offensive line. Slow down Duke's ground game and rattle Anthony Boone into some mistakes and, for one week at least, the new trendy pick for the Coastal can survive. Virginia 24, Duke 17

Clemson at Boston College: Tyler Murphy has been exceptional running BC's option attack this season, but he's yet to face a front as good as Clemson's. After their opening-week struggles against Todd Gurley and Georgia, the Tigers have allowed just one running play of 20 yards or more (a garbage time 40-yard run by South Carolina State) and have surrendered just 275 yards total on the ground, the fewest in the nation. Clemson 24, Boston College 10

NC State at Louisville: It's hard not to feel a little bad for the Wolfpack. This game ends a four-week stretch in which they got Florida State (with Winston fresh off a suspension), Clemson (with a healthy and poised Deshaun Watson) and Boston College (coming off a bye week). Now, the scuffling State offense runs into the buzz saw that is Louisville's top-ranked D. Oh, and the Cardinals are poised to get star receiver DeVante Parker back from injury this week, too. The Wolfpack will end their ACC losing streak soon, but not this week. Louisville 20, NC State 10

Current standings
Shanker: 44-7
Adelson: 41-10
Fortuna: 41-10
Hale: 41-10

ACC playoff watch: Week 8

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
3:00
PM ET
For the ACC's playoff picture, we've effectively reached critical mass with Saturday's showdown between Florida State and Notre Dame.

Where the ACC stands: Florida State and Notre Dame did what they had to last week to ensure a marquee event in Tallahassee on Saturday, but the rest of the ACC took another hit. The league slid back behind the Big Ten in ESPN's conference power rankings, and beyond FSU and Clemson, no other ACC team ranks in our FPI top 30 (Virginia Tech is next at No. 34).

Top playoff contenders: Florida State (No. 2 AP, No. 4 FPI), Duke (No. 39 FPI), Georgia Tech (No. 47 FPI)

Nonconference record: 35-14 overall (1-1 last week), 21-11 vs. FBS, 4-7 vs. Power 5 (plus Notre Dame)

Week 7 recap: With Louisville's loss to Clemson, another ACC team was officially eliminated from playoff contention, according to ESPN's Eliminator. The Cardinals had an outside shot at the playoff with a win over the Tigers and victories later in the season against Florida State and Notre Dame, but as it stands now, just three ACC teams remain.

Two of those three went head-to-head last week, with Duke ending Georgia Tech's undefeated season. The Blue Devils remain alive for the playoff they win out and get a lot of help around the country, but their weak nonconference slate means the path will be particularly tough.

Georgia Tech's loss doesn't completely doom the Yellow Jackets, who could still win the wild Coastal and potentially finish up with wins over Clemson (No. 13 FPI), Georgia (No. 2 FPI) and Florida State (No. 4 FPI). That would certainly be a résumé worth considering for the playoff committee, but there was little in Tech's performance Saturday to suggest it's capable of pulling off that trifecta.

That leaves Florida State, which took care of business against Syracuse last week, while Notre Dame struggled but eventually emerged victorious over UNC to set up a top-five showdown in Tallahassee on Saturday.

Week 8 preview: If Duke and Georgia Tech's playoff hopes remain on life support, the plug could be pulled this week. The Blue Devils host Virginia, the Coastal Division leader, and the Hoos' stout defense should be an interesting challenge for a Blue Devils' offense still looking for a consistent identity.

Georgia Tech, meanwhile, travels to North Carolina in a game that features the two worst defenses in the ACC, by yards-per-play surrendered vs. FBS teams. It was this time last year that the Tar Heels' turned around their season, and they certainly appeared improved last week against Notre Dame.

But again, the clear headliner this week -- and, really, for the rest of the season in the ACC -- is the Irish and the Seminoles. The two QBs are a combined 35-1 as starters (with Everett Golson's lone loss coming in the BCS national championship game), but there's also plenty of drama looming off the field.

It's become a seemingly weekly occurrence for Jameis Winston to find himself in hot water, but this week's revelations about autographs is an issue of compliance rather than a legal matter or a coach's discretion. Winston has shown he's more than capable of shrugging off controversy to perform at a high level on Saturdays, but the biggest question moving forward is how many more Saturdays Winston will be available.

Regardless, the showdown in Tallahassee could be a de facto play-in game for both teams. If Notre Dame wins, it's in position to swipe a playoff spot, which means there will be just three remaining vacancies for the Power 5 conferences. And with the SEC gearing up for multiple bids -- it has five of the FPI's top six teams right now -- there's little margin for error for FSU and no additional marquee games on the schedule to rebrand its narrative.

ACC Show: Week 8 (2 ET)

October, 15, 2014
Oct 15
10:00
AM ET
ESPN.com ACC reporters Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna, David Hale and Jared shanker meet up to discuss this week's battle of Top 25 unbeatens -- Notre Dame vs. Syracuse -- and answer your questions live on screen.

ACC Upset Watch: Week 8

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
3:00
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We are only keeping one team off Upset Watch this week. Which means there might be a better than 50 percent chance the #ACCBlackCat will strike Louisville. As for the other six games ...

Thursday night

Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-1) at Pitt (3-3, 1-1), 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. Line: Virginia Tech by 1. The Panthers have lost three straight and have called this a "must win" given the division stakes on the line. While on paper the matchups seem to favor Virginia Tech, the Hokies have not yet faced a runner like James Conner, whose size and athleticism makes him difficult to bring down. Plus, Virginia Tech is banged up at running back. The Hokies may end up starting J.C. Coleman, who began the year No. 4 on the depth chart. Will they still be able to run on a porous Pitt defense without their best backs? Note: Pitt has won the last three games between the teams in Pittsburgh.

Saturday

Syracuse (2-4, 0-2) at Wake Forest (2-4, 0-2), noon ET, ESPN3. Line: Syracuse by 4.5. The Orange are one of the most banged-up teams in the ACC and are now dealing with another injury to quarterback Austin Wilson, who is day-to-day. A.J. Long will get the majority of the reps with the first team. Injuries and offensive upheaval never bode well, especially on the road against a defense that has held its own in nearly every game this season.

Virginia (4-2, 2-0) at Duke (5-1, 1-1), 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3. Line: Duke by 2.5. Virginia is all alone atop the Coastal Division but is the underdog. That is Coastal life for you. Duke has won five of the last six matchups and is coming in with some confidence after a huge road win at Georgia Tech. But let's not forget why Virginia is playing well this season. Its defense is among the best in the ACC and will give the Hoos a chance to pick up the win here.

No. 24 Clemson (4-2, 3-1) at Boston College (4-2, 1-1), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU. Line: Clemson by 6.5. The Eagles are not a pushover, having upset USC earlier this season. Even last year, BC nearly upset Clemson in Death Valley thanks to its power run game. Well the power run game is back, albeit with different runners, and that could present a challenge once again. Plus, Clemson will start Cole Stoudt, who has struggled in his time as quarterback. The Tigers scored no offensive touchdowns a week ago and have not had much of an identity when Deshaun Watson is out of the mix.

Georgia Tech (5-1, 2-1) at North Carolina (2-4, 0-2), 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU. Line: Georgia Tech by 2.5. Given the matchup, Georgia Tech should be able to run all day on North Carolina. But if last week is any indication, the Tar Heels might be finding a rhythm on offense. Marquise Williams nearly single-handedly upset Notre Dame on the road. There will be opportunities to make some big plays on the inconsistent Georgia Tech defense. This could become a shootout, and if that happens it could be anyone's game to win.

No. 5 Notre Dame (6-0) at No. 2 Florida State (6-0), 8 p.m. ET, ABC. Line: FSU by 12. Florida State has not blown out its elite competition to date, but Notre Dame comes into the game after a shaky performance against North Carolina so the double-digit line is somewhat understandable. Still, the Noles have yet to dominate a complete game from start to finish. If Everett Golson can hold on to the ball -- he has nine turnovers in the last three games -- he will give the Irish a chance to pull the big road upset.

ACC midseason overview

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
10:30
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It's the midpoint for the ACC, and in a lot of ways, things aren't too much different from a year ago.

Florida State is the league's lone hope for the playoff, and while the Seminoles are riding high at 6-0, plenty of questions remain both on and off the field, starting with this week's showdown against No. 5 Notre Dame.

In the Coastal, things are as wild as ever. Virginia leads the way, but each time a new favorite has emerged, it has faltered a week later.

There have been some big wins -- Virginia Tech over Ohio State, Boston College over USC -- and some major disappointments (we're looking at you, Pitt and North Carolina). Established stars like Duke Johnson and Jameis Winston have looked good, if not Heisman quality, while new arrivals like Jacoby Brissett and Deshaun Watson have turned in some of the season's finest performances.

But if there's much to be said about the ACC's first half in 2014, it's that it will serve as a worthy prologue for most teams only if the latter half of the season develops as planned. So much of what we thought we knew went out the window quickly, and so much of the story of the season is yet to be written. Florida State's playoff hopes remain, but so, too, do some significant hurdles. Clemson's season unraveled with September losses to two top-10 teams, but perhaps Watson can lead the Tigers to a long-awaited win over South Carolina at year's end. Virginia Tech has been up and down, but Frank Beamer has so much young talent developing that the Hokies can be excited about the future. Mike London has gone from the hot seat to potential division favorite if his team can hang on to its early momentum.

In other words, the silver linings haven't always been easy to find this season in the ACC, but, as so often seems to be the case in this league, there's hope that the rest of this year's storylines will be better.

[+] EnlargeRashad Greene
Rob Kinnan/USA Today SportsRashad Greene has amassed almost 700 receiving yards halfway through the season.
Offensive MVP: Florida State receiver Rashad Greene. It's been a rockier start to the season than the defending champions might've hoped, but the one consistent piece throughout the first six games of the year has been Greene. He has 130 more receiving yards than anyone else in the conference. He set the school record for receptions against Syracuse, bringing his career total to 215. He's topped 100 yards in four of his five games against FBS foes despite being the only consistent threat in the Seminoles' passing game. And most importantly, his performances against Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State were the biggest difference between an FSU team that's scuffling at 3-3 or headed toward the playoff at 6-0.

Defensive MVP: Louisville safety Gerod Holliman. There are plenty of quality candidates for the honor, many of them on Holliman's own defense, but he gets the nod based on the sheer ridiculousness of his seven picks through seven games. A year ago, only one player in the nation had more than seven interceptions for the entire season, but Holliman has continued to rack up the takeaways as his defensive front punishes opposing quarterbacks. Overall, Louisville's defense has been on the field for 93 drives against FBS foes. Fifteen resulted in points. Sixteen resulted in turnovers, including seven that ended up in the hands of Louisville's sophomore safety.

Biggest surprise: Virginia's strong start. When the preseason prognosticators got together, the only Coastal Division team that didn't earn a first-place vote was Virginia. Midway through the season, however, it's the Cavaliers atop the Coastal. Chalk it up to a terrific defense, led by Henry Coley (6 sacks), Eli Harold (5.5 sacks) and freshman Quin Blanding (ACC-leading 61 tackles). Meanwhile, London's crew has navigated a quarterback carousel to find an offense that's developing each week. A team that was once the consensus cellar dweller is the lone Coastal player without a loss in conference play.

Biggest disappointment: North Carolina. The Tar Heels are 2-4, but they've trailed in every game they've played this season. They were torched by ECU in one of the most atrocious defensive performances in recent memory, then were lit up for six touchdown passes by a true freshman making his first career start a week later. A game performance against Notre Dame last week at least offers some optimism that a turnaround similar to 2013 is possible, but it's been another rough start for UNC.

Newcomer of the year: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. The freshman opened the season as Cole Stoudt's backup but won the starting job after a stellar performance against Florida State. He looked poised and precise and ran Chad Morris' offense with ease through the next few games, leading the nation in QBR in the process. But a broken finger suffered against Louisville has doomed Watson to the sidelines for at least the next three to four weeks, meaning a few other newcomers -- Blanding, Miami's Brad Kaaya, Virginia Tech's Isaiah Ford and NC State's Jacoby Brissett (a transfer) -- still have a chance to take this award by year's end.

Best coach: FSU's Jimbo Fisher. He probably doesn't get the credit he deserves because he clearly has the league's most talented team, but through all the trials and tribulations of the past year, Fisher has directed the Seminoles to 22 straight wins. He's kept an even keel for a team replacing a host of departed NFL talent, he's overseen a win against Clemson with his backup quarterback, and he's kept the wolves at bay despite nearly constant controversy.

Best game: Florida State 23, Clemson 17. Winston was suspended, and that would've been enough drama on its own to make this the game of the year so far. But there was so much more. Watson's emergence in a hostile environment was exciting. The resilience of Sean Maguire, Winston's backup, in spite of early struggles was impressive. His touchdown pass to Greene to tie the game late was dramatic. Eddie Goldman's forced fumble to keep Clemson out of the end zone in the final minutes was miraculous. And, of course, Florida State's win in overtime kept the ACC alive for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Best games of the second half: Notre Dame at Florida State this week will be the pinnacle of the ACC's remaining slate, and it likely defines the season for both top-five teams. But beyond that matchup, a few more intriguing battles remain, including the Seminoles' trip to Louisville (Oct. 30), Duke and Virginia Tech in a potential division-defining battle on Nov. 15, and, of course, the annual state championship between Clemson and South Carolina to close out the regular season.

ACC morning links

October, 14, 2014
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Virginia Tech heads to Pittsburgh for a big game on Thursday night, and will have to do so without two of its better players.

Defensive tackle Luther Maddy is out for the game, while super freshman running back Marshawn Williams is "very doubtful." Maddy has missed two straight games after having surgery on a torn meniscus, while Williams sprained his ankle in a win at North Carolina on Oct. 4.

The Williams injury may be tougher to overcome, considering the Hokies are getting thin at running back. Trey Edmunds and Shai McKenzie already are out, leaving J.C. Coleman as the probable starter against the Panthers. Joel Caleb and Sam Rogers will be in the rotation as well.

In other ACC injury news, Virginia coach Mike London was not yet ready to announce who would start at quarterback against Duke on Saturday. Greyson Lambert practiced on Sunday so if he is ready to go after an ankle injury, he will start. If he is not quite ready, then Matt Johns will.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino also was mum on his starting quarterback against NC State. Both Reggie Bonnafon and Will Gardner played last week in a loss to Clemson. There also is still not decision on when receiver DeVante Parker will return from a foot injury. He has resumed practicing but was not quite ready to play last week.

Meanwhile, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said quarterback Justin Thomas was OK after injuring his ankle in a loss to Duke.

Now let's take a quick look at what else is happening in the ACC:

By the numbers: Week 7 recap

October, 13, 2014
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Digging into some of Week 7's statistical trivia...

-- This spring we wrote that Florida State's offensive line had been exceptional in creating space for the ground game, but had some work to do when it came to pass protection (though we also noted some of the high sack rate was attributed to Jameis Winston hanging on to the ball a bit too long). Oddly, the reverse is true this season.

On non-QB runs, the ground game has seen its yards-per-carry drop from 6.5 to 5.1, its percentage of negative runs jump from 17 percent to 19.5, and its yards-per-rush before contact dip from 3.8 to 2.4. Meanwhile, Winston was sacked last season once every 16.4 dropbacks, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This season, that number has improved to once every 24.6.

Before we go crediting the O-line for an improvement in pass protection though, it's probably good to remember our earlier caveat about FSU's sack rate. Winston is being blitzed at roughly the same rate as last season and completing roughly the same percentage of passes against the blitz, but a couple of numbers have changed dramatically.

Last season, Winston was sacked 13 times when blitzed (once for every 10 pass attempts), while this season, he's been sacked just once (with 56 pass attempts) against the blitz. The difference is he's checking down quicker instead of looking for the big play downfield. His yards-per-attempt vs. the blitz has fallen from 11.8 to 8.1, and his percentage of throws of 10 yards or more on plays when the opposition brings the blitz has dropped from 53 percent to 36 percent.

-- Duke Johnson has rushed for at least 90 yards in nine straight games, the longest active streak among Power 5 tailbacks in the nation and the longest by an ACC runner since Tashard Choice went nine straight games in 2006-07. No ACC running back has had a 10-game streak of 90-plus rushing yards since at least 2003.

Against Cincinnati on Saturday, Johnson ran for 162 yards on 10 carries and added 16 more receiving yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, those numbers pushed Johnson past Santana Moss for Miami's all-time record for all-purpose yards and past Clinton Portis for fifth on the school's career rushing list.

Johnson's 80-yard touchdown run was the longest by a Miami tailback since Portis had an 82-yard run in 2000, and no ACC runner had a longer run against FBS competition since Virginia Tech's J.C. Coleman went for 86 on Oct. 13, 2012.

-- Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett is averaging 34.4 yards per catch this season, which is more than 8 yards-per-catch better than the next closest receiver in the nation (min. 15 receptions). One-quarter of Dorsett's catches this season have gone for 50 yards or more.

-- With its 23-17 victory over Louisville, Clemson became the first team this season to win a game in which it did not score an offensive touchdown. In fact, it's something that has happened against a Power 5 conference team just 24 times in the past decade -- and strangely, it's the third time Clemson has done it (2009 vs. Boston College and 2005 vs. Texas A&M).

-- That Clemson couldn't muster an offensive touchdown against the Cardinals is not a big surprise. Against FBS foes, Louisville's defense has been on the field for 93 drives and allowed just three touchdowns. That TD rate of 3.2 percent for Louisville's FBS opposition is by far the lowest in the country. In fact, it's more than half the rate of any other team (Ole Miss is next at 7.7 percent) and one of just three defenses in the nation surrendering TDs less than 10 percent of the time.

In fact, here's how good Louisville's defense has been: Against FBS foes, 12.9 percent of opponents' drives ended in points, while 16.1 percent ended in a turnover. The only other team in the country in which the opposition is more likely to turn the ball over than record points is Ole Miss (16.7 percent scoring, 19.2 percent turnovers).

-- Tyler Murphy's legs have been a huge weapon for Boston College all season, and he was a big reason why the Eagles upended NC State on Saturday. Murphy ran for 132 yards on 15 carries, scoring twice. It was his third 100-yard game of the season (he also had 99 against Maine) and it puts him on pace for better than 1,400 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns for the year. The only QBs to reach those rushing numbers in the last decade are pretty well known: Jordan Lynch, Johnny Manziel and Cam Newton. Even if Murphy only hits 1,000 yards and 10 TDs (a virtual lock if he stays healthy), he'd be just the second ACC quarterback in a decade to do that.

-- North Carolina QB Marquise Williams did a little of everything against Notre Dame, including a passing, rushing and receiving touchdown. The last ACC player to do that? Well, that'd be Marquise Williams, who also accomplished the feat a year ago against Virginia. The only other player to have a rushing, receiving and passing TD in the same game more than once in the past decade was Rice's James Casey.

But Williams wasn't done there. He also racked up 300 passing yards and 100 rushing yards against the Irish, becoming the first player this season to manage that feat.

Put them together, however, and you get a truly rare accomplishment. The last player to throw for 300 yards, rush for 100 yards and add TDs rushing, receiving and passing was Kent State's Josh Cribbs in 2004.

-- Duke's 250 rushing yards against Georgia Tech on Saturday represented the second-most the Blue Devils have tallied in a conference game in the last decade. It also represented the third time this season that the Yellow Jackets had surrendered at least 250 yards on the ground. From 2009 through 2013, Georgia Tech had allowed an opponent to run for more than 250 yards just six times total.

ACC morning links

October, 13, 2014
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It wasn’t just Clemson fans who held their breath as freshman sensation Deshaun Watson headed for the locker room in the first half Saturday, it was college football fans across the country.

The news was grim after the game, though, as Watson was diagnosed with a broken bone in his throwing hand. On Sunday, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Watson will have surgery Monday and miss a month.

The No. 1 quarterback in the 2014 recruiting cycle was emerging as one of the country’s best signal-callers regardless of class and led the nation in QBR entering the game. The Tigers, ranked No. 24 in the latest AP poll, were hitting their stride with Watson under center. In his first career start, Watson threw six touchdowns. His arm strength was surpassed only by his confidence as Watson was unafraid to fit the ball in tight windows against some of the country’s more talented defenses.

Now Clemson will have to turn back to senior Cole Stoudt, who was benched in favor of Watson after failing to move the offense against Georgia and Florida State. In the limited time Stoudt was seeing since being relegated to a backup role, he suffered a shoulder injury and was given a painkiller before Saturday's game, The (Charleston, South Carolina) Post and Courier reported.

"It's been tough," Stoudt told the newspaper. "Even though the situation wasn't great -- it wasn't fun -- I know the team's a lot bigger than me. I wanted what's best for the team, that's what I've always wanted."

Stoudt was shaky against a tough Louisville defense, but the positive is the schedule lightens up until a Nov. 15 road trip to Georgia Tech. Stoudt lost his first opportunity for a storybook senior season, but now the Tigers will need him to issue a rewrite. With the win against Louisville, the Tigers’ ACC championship hopes are still alive, albeit slim.

At the very least, Stoudt can help orchestrate a run back to the Orange Bowl for Clemson, which would be another major step for a program looking to continue establishing a sustained run of success.

Here are a few more links to help you through your Monday:

ACC Power Rankings: Week 7

October, 12, 2014
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What we learned in the ACC: Week 7

October, 11, 2014
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We're officially halfway through the regular season. Here's what we learned in the ACC in Week 7.

Winston isn't rattled: Jameis Winston has now faced Syracuse twice in his career, and both games were preceded by troubling off-the-field news about the FSU quarterback. We'll have to wait to see how this latest investigation by the university into whether Winston broke the school's code of conduct will play out, but his on-field performance was the same as a year ago. Winston completed 30 of 36 passes for 317 yards and three TDs in a 38-20 rout of the Orange. In his two games against Syracuse, he's thrown five touchdowns and eight incompletions.

[+] EnlargeFlorida State's Jameis Winston
Brett Carlsen/Getty ImagesJameis Winston has now thrown five touchdowns and just eight incompletions in two games against Syracuse.
There will be a huge game in Tallahassee next week: North Carolina, for all its early-season struggles, was ready for its trip to South Bend, Indiana. The Tar Heels gave Notre Dame all it could handle and actually held a lead heading into the fourth quarter. Much as it did against a top-10 Miami team in Week 6 last year, UNC couldn't pull out the win, though, losing 50-43. That's bad for the Heels, but perhaps good for the ACC's profile, as the Irish now head to Florida State in Week 8 for a showdown between two undefeated top-10 teams.

Defense wins games, too: This isn't the Clemson Tigers we got to know under Chad Morris, but it's still an awfully tough team to beat. Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury in the first quarter Saturday, delivering a huge blow to the Tigers. But while the offense couldn't muster much of anything against Louisville's stout defense -- a unit, by the way, that has allowed touchdowns on just three of 92 FBS opponents' drives this season -- Clemson's own defense did enough to win, 23-17. The Tigers held Louisville to 1-of-17 on third downs and stuffed the Cardinals at the goal line in the final minute of action to preserve the win.

Duke isn't dead in the Coastal: It was easy to forget the defending division champs after a loss to Miami, but the Blue Devils showed they were still a force to be reckoned with by upending Georgia Tech 31-25. It was Duke's first win in Atlanta in 20 years. Duke beat Tech at its own game, protecting the football while forcing three Yellow Jackets turnovers, and running the football to the tune of 242 yards on 47 carries. Duke's win over previously unbeaten Georgia Tech actually vaults Virginia into first place in the Coastal, but as we've seen in so many previous seasons, that division could be a jumble all the way until the end.

Tyler Murphy was Florida's best QB: The QB issues for Will Muschamp's Gators have been well-documented, but the two quarterbacks he parted ways with met head-to-head in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday, and Murphy left no question about who would come out on top during Boston College's 30-14 win over NC State. Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett completed just 14 of 30 throws and tossed his first interception since Week 1 as NC State lost for the 11th straight time in ACC play. Murphy, on the other hand, was stupendous, rushing 15 times for 132 yards and scoring twice. No Power 5 quarterback is within 100 yards of Murphy's rushing total for the season.

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